Review: Between The Streetlight And The Moon (Mophead Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 5 – 27, 2017
Playwright: Melita Rowston
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Joanna Downing, Ben McIvor, Lucy Miller, Suzanne Pereira, Lani Tupu
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Talent is a thing of mystery, and one of its elusive qualities surrounds the faith that an artist should have in their own abilities. In Melita Rowston’s Between The Streetlight And The Moon, we examine the ways in which painters are able to find a sense of belief in themselves, or more accurately, how their spirits can be dampened, by longstanding institutions that thrive on their own elitism and the implied deterrent of new individuals who wish to join the ranks.

The number of female names in the world of celebrated Western artists, is unquestionably paltry. The play looks at the way women painters and their work, are routinely subjugated and subsumed by their male mentors and counterparts. This chauvinism seems systematic, and it feels dangerously instinctual, and we wonder if this dynamic exists everywhere else in life.

Rowston’s writing is at its best when wistful and poetic. Her words are powerfully evocative, always passionate with advocacy for something meaningful. The plot is however, not as gripping as it wishes to be. Intrigue builds slowly, and when the story eventually becomes dramatic, we find ourselves more interested in Rowston’s philosophical ideas than the narrative being woven over them. Dialogue has a tendency to sound stilted when scenes attempt to be conversational, but the language turns beautifully sublime when characters move into more heightened modes of theatricality.

Actor Lucy Miller is an entrancing presence as painter-turned-academic, Zadie. Vulnerable, with an unmistakable gravitas, Miller brings authenticity to a protagonist who exists between shifting states of self-doubt and self-belief. Also impressive is Joanna Downing as the enthusiastic emergent, Dominique. Precise and considered, Downing’s portrayal of a brainy Millennial is truly delightful, even if her French accent is comically exaggerated.

Visual design is sparing but elegant. The use of projections to assist with our imagination of classic paintings is effective, and very gratifying, but an interpretation of The Seine requires much bolder execution. Live accompaniment by Benjamin Freeman on piano, adds brilliant flair to the show, a rare treat that theatregoers will find thoroughly enjoyable.

Zadie suffers humiliation when she mistakes a streetlight for the full moon. It is hard to conceive of creativity without sensitivity, but it is the artist’s responsibility to weather attacks on their pride, and return with greater vigour. It is also the responsibility of society to provide support to those who have the ability to give expression and meaning, to the human experience. In Australia, we have to give mindful emphasis to those artists whose voices continue to be silenced by a history of colonialism and its accompanying white patriarchy. Our art must strive for an accurate reflection of Australian life, and the white male artist is far from enough.

www.mophead.com.au

5 Questions with Joanna Downing and Ben McIvor

Joanna Downing

Ben McIvor: Jo, what do you love about your character Dominique?
Joanna Downing: I love that she can be so dry. I love her intelligence. I love that she is so considered – the way that she looks at the world, and art.

If Dom was an animal, what would she be, and why?
Cat. All lithe and bendy and somewhat mindless of other people’s space.

How do you prepare for a role?
Read the play as many times as humanly possible. Films and books invariably come up in conversation in the rehearsal room, so I try to watch/read as many as I can. I’m reading the Female Eunuch at the moment because of this one! I also started an image collection… Dom knows so much more about art and artists than I do, so I needed to familiarise myself with the images. Oh and of course, the French. I’ve been practising daily to get it up to scratch.

How has this play affected your understanding of art?
Well I hope it’s made me more conscientious. It’s definitely made me want to go to Musee D’Orsay and Marmottan to spend time with the real pieces. I think the play has given me an emotional attachment to the works, simply through Dom’s love of them, that I didn’t have before.

What’s it like working with Anthony Skuse?
Heaven! He is so considered and very open. The tone of the room was always warm and comfortable, but he also cuts through any extraneous bullshit. I have a sneaking suspicion that he can read me better than I can read myself.

Ben McIvor

Joanna Downing: What do you like most about the space at KXT (Kings Cross Theatre)?
I hope this doesn’t sound too weird, but I absolutely love the foyer! The art, the furniture, the typewriter, that stunning lamp, the egg timer, the books, that creepy dream catcher blowing around in the air conditioning under the glow of the exit sign… it feels like you’ve stepped into a strange dream.

What’s the biggest point of difference between you and your character?
I tend to think ahead a lot, whereas the thing I admire most about Barry is he lives moment to moment. He doesn’t think, he just does.

Who is your favourite artist and why?
Oooh, good question! This is particularly hard to answer because doing this play with Mr Skuse has really opened up a world that seemed so foreign to me. I’m going to go with Scottie Marsh, though. Growing up in the Inner-West, Hip-hop and graffiti played a big part in shaping my youth, and “fine art” seemed like something so far away from street art. Sipping nice wine in white-walled galleries was a world away from Posca’d train cabins and “Bombed” walls. I think Mr Marsh seems to do a great job of blurring the line between graffiti and fine art… and if I was a youth in 2017 who was into street art, this type of work might spark my interest into the world of fine art. I hope that makes sense!?

Do you have any pre-show ‘rituals’ to get you into character?
I guess it depends on the role. I like to do character work early on in the rehearsal process and I have a long list of questions that I ask my character to discover more about how they view themselves and their world… I read some of the responses before each show, and think about the images they create.

What’s your favourite music and what’s your character’s favourite music?
I think Barry is very much a jazz man. I think when he paints, he doesn’t like typically structured songs with lyrics, a beginning, middle, and end. I think he likes improvisation- instruments talking with each other. Me? At the moment I’m really into Bossa Nova. It’s the kinda stuff you can relax to, dance to, cook to, drive to or jam to. I love the variety of instruments that are used in Bossa… the sound has a certain “charm” to it.

Joanna Downing and Ben McIvor can be seen in Between The Streetlight And The Moon by Melita Rowston.
Dates: 5 – 27 May, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: White Rabbit Red Rabbit (Freefall Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 4 – 15, 2017
Playwright: Nassim Soleimanpour
Cast: Ylaria Rogers
Image by

Theatre review
The play requires that its actor comes to the performance “blind”, not knowing anything about what lies on the pages of the playbook. It is a complete mystery to the person on stage, and also to those in the audience who are seeing Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit for the first time. It is significant that the 2010 work was created when its 29-year-old author was forbidden from leaving his country Iran. The autocratic regime that he had to endure is not directly denounced in Soleimanpour’s writing, but its presence and influence on the piece, are clear.

We are made to consider how a police state operates, especially in terms of the complicity and compliance of citizens that allow inhumanity to thrive. The play shifts attention away from the way authorities intrude upon private lives, and looks instead at how the everyday person monitors and subjugates one another unconsciously, especially in cultures where freedoms are severely restricted. We are urged to think about the deficiencies in free will, and how easy it is for society to manipulate our empathy and deprive us of compassion. It wants us to see the tragedy that exists in our exploitable susceptibility to mistreating each other, and our readiness at forming habits of intolerance, hate and violence. It is to the writer’s credit that these grave and important issues are not only communicated powerfully in spite of its need to be cryptic, White Rabbit Red Rabbit is surprisingly humorous and entertaining.

Like Soleimanpour at the time of writing this script, actor Ylaria Rogers is in a position of vulnerability as she moves through the lines and instructions of every page. She submits to the text that she holds in her hands, but like those of us who have gathered to witness this unusual theatrical moment, our volition is constantly called to question. Ylaria’s obedience, and ours, come into examination, leading us to confront the nature of authority, and how it is constructed. Authority is often imagined, but even when it is real and life-threatening, the power of the masses can overthrow any dictator that sits atop. The conundrum is in our inability to perceive that collective force, and our failure to understand that the fear we experience is shared and can only manifest if we allow it to.

www.freefallproductions.com.au

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 The Laden Table.
Dates: 10 – 25 March, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

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