Review: The Laden Table (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 10 – 25, 2017
Playwrights: Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan, Ruth Kliman, Yvonne Perczuk
Director: Suzanne Millar
Cast: Alex Chalwell, Doron Chester, Suz Mawer, Sarah Meacham, Mansoor Noor, Jessica Paterson, Abi Rayment, Monroe Reimers, Gigi Sawires, Geoff Sirmai, Donald Sword, Justina Ward
Image by Natasha Narula

Theatre review
A resplendent, but homely, dining table awaits, with twelve empty chairs anticipating two families and their stories about cultural displacement and historical discord. The Laden Table features Jewish and Muslim Australians, and the baggage they continue to carry after centuries of religious hostility. Their lives are in Sydney, but they exist beyond the here and now. What had happened in the past and what is yet to come, are crucial to how they act and think today.

It is a magnificent piece of writing, that interrogates, with unyielding severity, the nature of prejudice and more specifically, the way good people make enemies of each other through their religious affiliations. The Laden Table offers insight into how the layperson of the Jewish and Muslim faiths conceives of their own oppression, and how that manifests into hateful beliefs and behaviour. Structurally intricate, but with a vivid and coherent plot line, the play addresses issues of great profundity in a manner that is both elucidative and deeply affecting. It teaches some of the biggest lessons any individual could wish to learn.

The production is arresting in its poignancy, and thoroughly captivating. Director Suzanne Millar does a marvellous job of creating a work full of texture and nuance, with regular shifts in dramatic tone that secure our attention for the show’s entirety. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman provides instinctual logic to every one of The Laden Table‘s startling scene changes, and amplifies emotional impact throughout its narrative, whether subtle or sensational. Will Newnham’s sound design adds to the carefully calibrated atmosphere, moving us between unpredictable spaces, and leaving a remarkable impression with a special moment that fuses prayers of both faiths in surprising harmony.

Stakes are high in the story, and the ensemble overwhelms us with an authentic gravitas. War is happening elsewhere but in these two Australian households, we feel the reverberations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the sense of mortal danger faced by millions is more than a bleep on the nightly news. Gigi Sawires and Geoff Sirmai are the elders, both flamboyantly engaging and unconventionally colourful with what they bring to the table. Jessica Paterson and Monroe Reimers introduce convincing depth to their characters’suffering, and Suz Mawer is a powerful presence as a modern Muslim woman, constantly having to negotiate past and future, spirituality and logic. The vulnerable complexity that Mawer portrays so well, is embodiment of what the play represents; and to expect easy answers is impracticable.

Religion does a lot of good, but the harm it causes cannot be denied. Atheists will say that the eradication of religion will solve many of the world’s problems, but that utopia will never come, even within the next few lifetimes. The way our faith is ingrained, has a tenacious permanency that endures over generations. It shapes many minds and guides many deeds, but it is never beyond reproach or provocation. God will always be there, but how we relate to them changes, and how we want them reflected in our lives, is up to us.

www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au

5 Questions with Mansoor Noor and Jessica Paterson

Mansoor Noor

Mansoor Noor

Jessica Paterson: You’ve been involved with The Laden Table longer than I have. What has been your experience of the project so far?
Mansoor Noor: Not much longer, however the last development occurred before the election and I remember reading the play with the cast for the first time after Trump was announced POTUS and, sadly, finding even more relevance in what was being said, for example in a line as simple as, “after all you’re a man of Middle Eastern appearance, I’m surprised they let you back into the country.”

Do you relate to your character?
Other than having a complicated relationship with an attractive girlfriend (that’s right, Jess) I have a lot in common with Mousa. Sad face. He’s a boy who’s grown up in a somewhat religious Middle Eastern family, with sometimes narrow-minded perspectives on race and religion that have formed over a long period of war and displacement, and has had to develop his own understanding of the world through his personal experiences.

You’re a pretty top-notch photographer, I’ve heard. Do you approach your two art forms similarly?
Suzy is definitely going to think I’m using her blog to market myself. What of it Suzy? (Please don’t give me a bad review based on this empty threat). I guess working as a photographer sort of requires me to tap into a bit of the actor’s “director brain”. It’s important to make sure the artist isn’t tense and to help them find a thought process instead of becoming self-conscious / going into their own head. If you want to see just how relaxed people look in my photos you can find them at http://www.mansoornoor.com – thanks Suzy 😉 (Ed’s note: invoice in the mail, pal xx)

If you could swap lives with anyone else in the world for a day, who would it be and why?
I don’t want to get political… or I would say Mr. Turnbull and talk about letting in the refugees, which is actually a theme in the play… so I’ll say Mr. Trump. Not even to permanently reverse his numerous numb-headed executive orders but just so I can hang pictures of mini Trump all over the White House, and upscale stationary such as staplers and pens in the hope of giving him an even larger “small hands” complex. See, that wasn’t so political.

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done on stage?
One time during Drama School I wheeled a bed onto the stage instead of a couch. It was third year American scene work… and fortunately it wasn’t my scene. I was also once caught playing UNO off-stage with my scene partner by an audience member during a very intense scene on stage. I didn’t even win 😦

Jessica Paterson

Jessica Paterson

Mansoor Noor: Why is it important to tell this story?
Jessica Paterson: This story looks at racism and cultural understanding in Australia from an intimate perspective. We’re all well versed in the absurdities of Trump and One Nation. But what happens when the people disagreeing with us are those we love the most?

Do you relate to your character?
I definitely relate to Ruth. She’s intellectual and critical of her world, but is a really emotional creature as well. And she can (mostly) keep her shit together. I love that sense of competency, of coping with the situations that are thrown her way. But she also has a complex religious and cultural background that is quite different to my own, which has been fascinating to explore.

Food is a really important aspect in the show. What’s your favourite food in the show?
Oh man. I love all the foods, but in rehearsals I’ve had my first experience with Challah, which I’m really enjoying getting into every night. It’s delicious!

Do you enjoy working with Mansoor? Tell us about how great he is.
Yeah, he’s alright.

What’s the strangest acting relating thing you’ve ever done?
Once I was housesitting and my friends had a whole wall of photo frames that they’d hung but not filled with pictures yet. So I filled them all with my headshots.

Mansoor Noor and Jessica Paterson can be seen in

Review: Blink (Stories Like These)

storiesliketheseVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 9 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Phil Porter
Director: Luke Rogers
Cast: James Raggatt, Charlotte Hazzard
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is a love story between a simple man and a complicated woman. Phil Porter’s Blink is a work of fantasy that magnifies the experience of infatuation, to sometimes inappropriate levels of obsession. We can choose to see Jonah as a creepy stalker, even though the play tries to show him only as naive and sweet. His actions are clearly harmless, but that of course, is what most men will say about their fixations. Sophie is made mastermind of Jonah’s actions, and although there is something gratifying in having a woman orchestrate her own experience of romance, the reprehensible fact that Jonah is a Peeping Tom who follows her everywhere, thinking that the object of his desire is completely oblivious, cannot be discounted.

Ultimately though, the characters do develop mutual feelings, and what the play does with their relationship is wistful, and very whimsical. Anna Gardiner’s set design corresponds with the quirkiness of the text, for a performance space imaginatively conceived to provide an enchanting sense of innocent wonder. Director Luke Rogers brings good coherence to a piece of unfettered mosaic-like writing, and his ability to balance upbeat energy with a daydream quality, gives the production its charming, and distinct style. In the role of Jonah is James Raggatt, awfully adorable and convincingly wide-eyed in his Tim Burton-esque interpretation of a young man smitten. His gentle but animated approach almost makes you believe his trespasses to be no more than a little innocuous skylarking. Sophie is a much more complex character, played by Charlotte Hazzard who portrays a woman’s need to be seen, with vital delicate care.

We all want to be acknowledged, for to be invisible is intolerable, but we are not always ready to pay the price for a bit of attention. Sophie wants to be on Jonah’s mind, but is unwilling to offer anything in return. Relationships do not always fit definitions or expectations. People can connect in unexpected ways, but convention can be agonising, and if we let it, can pull us apart. What a happy ending looks like, is familiar to everyone, but when destiny takes us in different directions, we may have to modify our beliefs, and see an alternate image of fulfilment.

www.storieslikethese.com

5 Questions with Charlotte Hazzard and James Raggatt

Charlotte Hazzard

Charlotte Hazzard

James Raggatt: What is your earliest memory of theatre that inspired you to become an actor?
Charlotte Hazzard: This is terrible, but I actually don’t have an early memory of theatre that made me want to be an actor… I have one memory of watching a production of Romeo And Juliet which involved a rap at some point, and remember thinking, this is just not right. However, I do remember watching Frances O’Connor in the film of The Importance Of Being Earnest and thinking ‘that’s what I want to do’.

If you could have been born and lived in any other period of history, which would it be and why?
Mmm tough question… Instantly I think I would want to live around the time of Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth, that could be because I’ve always wanted to play Queen Elizabeth the First and have always been interested in the stories from that era in history… interested but equally horrified.

Being an actor often requires continuous learning and adapting. In your career so far, what project have you learnt the most from?
It’s difficult to pinpoint as each project I’ve worked on has taught me something (or many things) and forced me to learn and adapt. However, I was lucky to work on a production of War Crimes by Angela Betzien for ATYP a couple of years ago. And in my career to date, it by far it has taught me the most in terms of life / skill / challenge / craft / everything. I think mostly because it really reignited in me the power and importance of storytelling.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever heard of anyone doing in the name of love?
I’m sure I’ve come across some other really crazy stories… However, the only thing I can think of right now is when I was in High School a friend of mine was seeing a boy and he got her name tattooed just above his pubic region. I remember thinking at the time that was very crazy. I think it has been covered over since.

If you could have anyone in the world stalk you, who would it be?
Besides you James? I’m not too sure, maybe Beyonce. Because she is Queen B.

James Raggatt

James Raggatt

Charlotte Hazzard: If you weren’t an actor, and couldn’t pursue the arts, what would you be doing?
James Raggatt: I have a myriad of answers ranging from marine science to politics. But when I was a little boy I was obsessed with everything to do with trains, so I’d likely be a train driver. Legit. I’d love to be a professional traveller, write for Lonely Planet or National Geographic from bizarre global locations. I’ll stop here before I get carried away.

You can have one superpower. What is it?
I’d be ‘super-lingual’, able to speak fluently any language from anywhere in the world.

What’s the greatest gesture of love you’ve ever given or received?
Years ago I had someone write a song about me. It’s one of the sweetest memories I have. I think I still have the track somewhere…

The play focuses on observation; the act of observing and the need to be seen. What would you prefer, to be watched or do the watching?
I’m definitely an observer. I love soaking up information and learning about things and people.

Finally… From now until forever you can only have one… sweet or savoury?
Savoury all the way.

Charlotte Hazzard and James Raggatt are appearing in Blink by Phil Porter.
Dates: 9 Feb – 4 Mar, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Osama The Hero (Tooth And Sinew Theatre)

toothandsinewVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 21 – Feb 4, 2017
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Lynden Jones, Poppy Lynch, Joshua McElroy, Nicole Wineberg
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
Just slightly beneath the skin of every human existence lies the barely contained need for violence, but like every propensity that we try to suppress, it finds expression in unexpected ways. Dennis Kelly’s Osama The Hero discusses our thirst for blood, looking at where that appetite comes from, and how it manifests. We find ourselves in an English housing estate, observing a group of neighbours inflicting cruel harm on one of their own.

It is a tale about scapegoating, and the habitual transference of our evil desires onto easy targets. In the case of Kelly’s play, young Gary, and his innocence, become the object of the group’s brutality, and in the process of his persecution, revelations are made about our oft-unexplained and neglected violent selves.

Director Richard Hilliar goes to great pains for every one of the play’s savage moments to occur with great power. The transgressions are hideous, and they are presented as such. A cultural gap exists between us and the working classes of England located at the centre of the drama, and it is arguable if the production’s interest in that specificity of experience has been made to translate effectively. As we are kept dazzled by the uniqueness of a cultural other, we often lose sight of the universality that can allow the work to resonate more intimately.

The ensemble of five is unquestionably energetic and committed, but the challenge posed by Kelly’s language and its accompanying encumbrance of dialects, can be a cause for distraction. Our attention alternates between hearing meanings, and observing the unsatisfying labour put into achieving what is ultimately a cosmetic accuracy. At their best however, the actors provide masochistic delight in an atmosphere of terrifying menace, the kind of which one would hope to encounter only at the theatre. Nicole Wineberg is particularly memorable in a scene involving her character Louise’s obsession over a video showing a man being killed. She brings the show to an intense peak, with the palpable depiction of a woman lost in evil and dread.

Bad people are almost always other people. If Osama The Hero succeeds, we should see ourselves in its characters, and gain a better understanding of the way we operate, as individuals and collectives, in these post-9/11 times of terror and fear. There is perhaps no solution to our unyielding need to make enemies out of fellow human beings, but knowing how that process works is essential if our evolution is to be progressive. When Osama bin Laden was executed, we never really expected the world to suddenly become a better place, but it certainly quenched the thirst of our carnivorous vengeance, if only for a moment.

www.toothandsinew.com

5 Questions with Poppy Lynch and Joshua McElroy

Poppy Lynch

Poppy Lynch

Joshua McElroy: Do you think taking up an acting career will make you happy?
Poppy Lynch: When I was about 15 I gave up ballet dancing. Something that I had done for so long and at such a level. Up until that moment it was what I had in mind as the career for me. When I quit I had no artistic outlet and somehow found acting through school performances and drama class. And the rush I felt was unlike what I’d felt before. Cause I could now be all these characters and escape whatever teen angst I was suffering in the real world. The most important thing for me is that acting gives me happiness even when I fail. It is the one thing I’m passionate about. I don’t think those who is less than passionate should take up an acting career cause it’s such a hard and damaging business at times. So short answer is YES! And as soon as that’s not the answer I won’t bother doing it.

Why do you think the play is relevant for an Australian audience?
Right now the world is suffering a scare tactic war. People in power including our own government and media; are using fear to cement their lead. The terror groups of this time (which are a part of or surround ISIS) have become the tool for this fear tactic war. And people such as Donald Trump and our own Pauline Hanson use images and words of violence to encourage fear which is an emotion that often initiates hate. Those who are influenced fear ALL that come under the bracket of a terror threat. But this means that innocent people are also under fire. Because their beliefs or appearance somehow come under the bracket that the people in power have created. Osama The Hero is about people fearing something and going out to kill that fear with hate and violence. The clincher is that these people don’t have evidence. “You don’t need evidence for terrorists.”

What is your biggest fear?
I hate cockroaches! But that’s not the biggest fear I guess. I think being alone. I don’t mean at one specific moment I quite like doing things alone! I just mean at a later stage in life I fear losing all the people around me. Which is radical and might be far fetched but it’s often something I think about.

What do you and your character have in common?
She has been through a lot of horrible stuff. It’s hard for me to find something in common with the abuse she has copped and the life she has been given. But I think she has a high level of intrigue. She wants to be involved and I think she is observant. Those are some things I notice in me.

What is an artist’s biggest responsibility?
Oh this is a hard one. I think I like the idea that one of an artists biggest responsibilities is to confront. Because confrontation relates to exposing a certain level of truth that resonates with the audience. And I hope that that resonation would result in some sort of change being made. Osama The Hero relates to this I think. We want to confront to get the message across. That whole message about humans and how we hate what we fear and what that hate results in.

Joshua McElroy

Joshua McElroy

Poppy Lynch: When did acting become a career goal? Was there a moment or person that encouraged you to pursue it?
Joshus McElroy: I was always a very theatrical, attention seeking individual from a young age. Funnily enough Suzanne Millar who now runs bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company was the one who showed me I could turn that into performance. The moment I decided to 100% commit to the arts as a career choice was the moment I quit my Degree Of Commerce at Macquarie University.

Being a somewhat new and young artist in the business what are the main challenges (personal or career driven) that you’ve faced?
Cash. Cash is a hard to come by. Everything else is great fun.

What is the leading theme or concept in Osama The Hero? And how does that expect to appeal or interest a modern audience?
The most prevalent theme for me in the play is fear. Everyone is terrified of anyone who challenges the status quo. New ideas are deemed dangerous, the people who present them – bad. We silence, censor and label people rather than discuss ideas. Politics and the media are increasingly vicious and violent. I don’t think the audience will find it hard at all to relate.

You are stuck on a desert island. Who is the one character you’d choose to be there with?
I would probably choose Louise. Mandy is too young to be resourceful. I feel like me and Francis would kill each other before starvation or dehydration got to us. Mark is too old. Louise would have the strongest will to live out of the bunch I think.

What is something that the audience will come out of Osama The Hero with in mind? (Without ruining it too much)
Everyone will have different thoughts as they walk out of the theatre. But every time I finish reading this play two things come up for me. 1. Is there such thing as ‘good and evil or are there just mistakes and not mistakes?’. 2. Is there any situation where silencing someone is beneficial?

Poppy Lynch and Joshua McElroy can be seen in Osama The Hero by Dennis Kelly.
Dates: 21 Jan – 4 Feb, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: #Lads (Kings Cross Theatre)

kxtVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 13 – 14, 2017
Director: Danny Ball
Cast: Callan Colley, Ryan Morgan, Ben Schumann, Ross Walker

Theatre review
Presented early in its developmental stages, #Lads is unpolished and unresolved, but like any work of art fuelled by conviction, it is ready to be interacted with. Longstanding ideas about masculinity and youth are framed within contemporary, and trendy, concepts of entitlement and privilege, for a slightly updated look at the perennial problem of manhood, as seen through social distinctions of money, race, gender and sexuality.

The show sets up contexts that are perhaps too familiar, but the questions it inspires are nonetheless potent. We are always worried about the young, because their mistakes are always spectacularly glaring. The team is thankfully very conscious of its generation’s failures, and spends the entirety of the presentation expressing all that is undesired. There is no hint however, at what a better life would look like. The rebel without a cause, it seems, is here to stay.

A more refreshing perspective that #Lads touches on, is the dysfunction friendship that exists between the four boys. We want to know what keeps them together, and what they require of each other, to satisfy their individual twenty-first century narcissisms. We are interested to know how each of their impairments differ, and the extent to which they are isolated within their fragile facade of unity.

As Australians become increasingly wealthy, the problems and difficulties of bring up our children take on new dimensions. As our lives become more liberated and autonomous, our middle-classes are able to decide to procreate only when we become confident in our ability to provide, but offspring that have never witnessed poverty and other forms of struggle, cannot be expected to understand easily, the nature of hardship, and its accompanying qualities of humility and compassion. The millennials, like everyone else, will come into their own, and as always, time is the only one who holds the key to that revelation.

www.kingsxtheatre.com