Review: If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You (Green Door Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 8 – 23, 2019
Playwright: John O’Donovan
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Eddie Orton, Elijah Williams
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Contrary to popular belief, love is not for everyone. Sure, Casey and Mikey have found each other, and the mutual attraction is undeniable, but their small town in the west of Ireland is certainly not going to let nature take its course. John O’Donovan’s debut play If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You takes place one night on a rooftop, after the couple had gone on a burglary spree, now trying to lay low and evade persecution. They are of course, hiding not just for the drugs and money that they had stolen, but also for their homosexuality. Leo Varadkar may have been installed as their country’s first gay Prime Minister, but away from the capital, things are less rosy. Discrimination persists, and violence remains normalised for those who dare deviate.

The writing is passionate, exciting in its very contemporary depiction of queer identities, but its vernacular is specific and can prove challenging for those of us who might be culturally uninitiated. The language of politics however is universal, and the young men’s struggle to bring to a tangible actualisation their emotional and spiritual connection, in a climate of dread and fear, needs no translation. Director Warwick Doddrell’s rendering of that crucial quality of intimacy is sublime, for a stage that absolutely burns with desire. Additionally, the amount of tension and dynamism he is able to build onto the restrictive setting of a small roof, is quite remarkable.

Set design by Jeremy Allen is a thoroughly convincing transformation of space that works perfectly in the auditorium’s traverse format. Lights by Kelsey Lee are similarly evocative, and admirable for its sense of accuracy, but the glare of misplaced lamps is unfortunate. Costumes may not be technically demanding for the show, but Stephanie Howe’s keen aesthetic eye for her characters’ looks proves to be very discerning indeed. Melanie Herbert does marvellous work with sound design, painstakingly calibrated to have us submerged in a poetic atmosphere, whilst delivering hints of realism when required.

The production is made memorable by a pair of brilliant performances, both actors wonderfully animated yet soulful, a match made in theatre heaven, for the benefit of our dramatic enjoyment. Eddie Orton is an enthralling presence, tremendously likeable in his portrayal of boyish innocence grappling with toxicity, as we watch his Mikey grow into the kind of masculinity dictated by his parochial environment. Elijah Williams is powerful as Casey, impressive with the depth he is able to convey, for a personality that keeps becoming richer as the show goes on. Chemistry between the two is excellent, and the rigour that they bring to the stage is simply riveting.

The irony of machismo, is the enormous fear that underlies it. Fear of being soft, fear of breaking from convention, fear of ostracism, can lead people to behaviour that betrays their true nature. We make our boys become less human, when we insist that they grow into models of patriarchy. This is immediately observable in our inter-racial gay lovers Casey and Mikey, who are suddenly aware of the threat to their social currency, should they decide to progress meaningfully with their relationship. Choices are inordinately scarce for those young and poor. They can only live according to preexisting structures, ones that are intolerant of difference, disdainful of the new, and it is this inhibition of people’s freedoms that turns us into monsters. As our protagonists wait for the sun to rise, we wonder if this moment constitutes a final glimpse of beauty, before they are robbed of their very essence.

www.greendoortheatreco.com

5 Questions with Eddie Orton and Elijah Williams

Eddie Orton

Elijah Williams: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not acting?
Eddie Orton: I love sport. Watching it, playing it, reading about it. I’m from Melbourne originally so AFL was my first love. None of this rugby league rubbish. A lot of my family is in Melbourne so I love seeing them.

What quality do you bring to the role of Mikey?
I think there’s of lots of things that I have been discovering about the character with Warwick the director. I would say I inherently bring a physicality to the role. The sporting background helps with that kind of thing.

What challenges have you experienced trying to break into the Sydney scene from Melbourne?
I was surprised that it’s totally different up here. Not bad different just different. I was told a lot at Uni that there was tonnes of crossover but having just Melbourne credits doesn’t necessarily mean a lot here. I’ve just tried to meet people and make friendships. Those genuine friendships through work and so on have lead to fun things happening.

Who do you look up to?
My family. My parents were very supportive of me deciding to do acting at the end of Year 12. My two older brothers who aren’t actors have been amazing as well. My parents and brothers are just good people. Open minded, hard working and caring. Couldn’t ask for more.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
I think I’d be in sports coaching in some way. I wasn’t good enough as an athlete to take that further, so coaching would be a great way to stay involved.

Elijah Williams

Eddie Orton: What part of the play are you most excited about?
Elijah Williams: I’m looking forward to bringing these two characters to life for the audience. And in particular holding up a mirror that reflects the time and age we currently live in. One filled with humour, friendship and sacrifice. It’s not every day that you also get to perform with such an awesome person such as Eddie, and this process has essentially bought us together, so sharing the story with him is a major phase that I’m excited about.

What do you like most about acting?
I love unearthing stories and pasts, and in particular learning about characters and imprinting a part of your soul in their world and life.

Who is your favourite actor?
I respect and appreciate everyone that is an actor because it is bloody hard to do. However, it comes down to Denzel Washington and Samuel L Jackson. Because of their dedication to the craft and the impacts and change that they have brought for many African actors.

Who has been your most influential mentor?
Suzanne Millar and John Harrison along with the women at Sophie Jermyn management have been my biggest pillars of mentorship. Starting in the industry without any formal training, they helped greatly in making the transition and learning process easy and enjoyable whilst pushing me to be a better actor and person in the same breath. I owe a lot of thanks to my coach Cathy Walsh, who outside the acting world trains me for track and field, an aspect of my life which I am very passionate about. Over the years she has taught me the value of a hard word, discipline and dedication. And the notion that doing something that one is passionate about, isn’t work.

If you could have one last meal, what would it be?
I LOVE FRIED CHICKEN and ice-cream. Separately!! NOT TOGETHER. I would smash a few kilos of chicken followed by a massive serving of ice cream, either raspberry or mango and roasted coconut. And for dessert I would have some rice and eat it one grain at a time, just to draw the process out a bit.

Eddie Orton and Elijah Williams can be seen in If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You by John O’Donovan.
Dates: 8 – 23 Feb, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Herringbone (Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 18 – Feb 2, 2019
Playwright: Tom Cone
Music: Skip Kennon
Lyrics: Ellen Fitzhugh
Directors: Jay James-Moody, Michael Ralph
Cast: Jay James-Moody
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
It was 1929, at the dawn of the Great Depression when eight-year-old George was assigned to be star of the stage, and bread winner at home. Billed as “a vaudevillian ghost story”, Tom Cone’s Herringbone tells the fantastical tale of George’s possession by a poltergeist named Lou who returns, determined to resume his prematurely terminated acting career. Wonderfully imaginative, with a flamboyant and quirky sensibility that transports us to realms of fascinating awe, the show also includes songs in a nostalgic style inspired by the era, all of them full of charm, certain to delight.

Jay James-Moody alone plays all ten of Herringbone‘s different characters, enthralling for the entire 90-minute duration. We witness superhuman talent, along with extraordinary skill and conviction, as the consummate storyteller takes us to the farthest reaches of what theatrical magic can achieve. His technical abilities prove as moving as the palpable love he has for the art form, so clearly discernible on this stage. James-Moody (who also co-directs) allows himself to be completely vulnerable, so that we can come in contact not only with the humanity of the piece, but also the staggeringly delicate nature of live performance. Creating theatre, especially at this intimate scale, is to fly without a safety net, and when we see the work soaring, the inspiration that it provides is incomparable.

Choreography by co-director Michael Ralph is thoroughly inventive, with a jubilant spirit that makes the experience an uplifting one (in spite of its dark themes). Adding to the visual splendour is Benjamin Brockman’s lights, extravagantly conceived to deliver luscious and dramatic imagery, much of which lingers on well after curtain call. Three musicians, Natalya Aynsley, Amanda Jenkins and Tom McCracken, electrify the space with their passionate interpretations of the score, having us impressed by their detailed and tight performance, no doubt due in large part to musical direction by Benjamin Kiehne.

Musical theatre is big business, and as such, much of what we see can tend to be predictable and formulaic. Even if there is undeniable professionalism on display, all the money in the world can never guarantee that our soul is touched by a production. Commerce is always risk averse, and by the same token, it can often be fearful of ingenuity and all things ephemeral, ingredients that great art can never do without. Herringbone has a little bit to say about how we care for children, but it is the very application of artistry, and the collaboration of disciplines, that makes this show so exquisite.

www.squabbalogic.com.au

Review: The Serpent’s Teeth (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 9 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Daniel Keene
Director: Kristine Landon-Smith
Cast: Danny Ball, Bernadette Fam, Phoebe Grainer, Nicholas Hasemann, Lisa Huyhn, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Steven Menteith, Jillian Nguyen, Angela Sullen, Jens Radda, Joseph Raggatt, Saleh Saqqaf, Chloe Schwank, Louis Segeuir, Ross Sharp
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The two very distinct halves of Daniel Keene’s The Serpent’s Teeth, contrast the repercussions of war and violence, as characterised by their distance from actual conflict. The play begins close to the action, and later takes us away from the borders, for a sensitive examination of human responses to trauma. Appropriately fractured, the writing bears an inherent chaos that understands our impulse to create cohesion out of disorder. We form narratives out of the rubble, to see both the familiar and the unfamiliar, although it is arguable if much of it proves to be satisfying.

In a small space that effectively magnifies creative intentions, the large cast of fifteen endeavour to represent the complexities and diversity of war-time experiences, by conveying nuanced portrayals usually absent from mainstream reportage of disaster and strife. Director Kristine Landon-Smith elicits contemplative performances from her actors, for a show though not always engaging, is dignified in its determination to maintain a restrained, rather than sensationalist, approach. Rare dramatic outbursts therefore become memorable, with Phoebe Grainer and Jillian Nguyen particularly strong in their theatrical moments, offering us a taste of something slightly indulgent, and therefore emotionally accessible.

All the people in The Serpent’s Teeth are acutely affected by wars taking place, whether in their own backyards or in foreign lands. The rest of us, although implicated in our nation’s battles, are often ignorant of those operations. It is this very ignorance that allows atrocities to be carried out on our behalf; we are culpable but are either blissfully unaware, or simply intimidated and turned helpless in the face of its enormity. Stories about war are careful to avoid its glorification, so the message is always unambiguous and predictable, yet our shared acknowledgement about these ravages, seem to do nothing to make this world a better place.

www.hbrcreatives.com.au

5 Questions with Phoebe Grainer and Jill Nguyen

Phoebe Grainer

Jill Nguyen: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind as an artist, actor, writer? How do you want to be remembered?
Phoebe Grainer: I don’t care for words like legacy or how I want to be remembered. I want to live my life creating work and doing things that are meaningful, that I am empowering and uplifting my mob, the Kuku Djungan people and other Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

What was the first play that captivated you and in some way defined you?
When I was in high school up in Broome, I went and seen a rehearsal of a play called Jandamarra. I’m not sure how I found out about it or even if I was allowed to go watch but I was there. Jandamarra is a legend of the the Bunuba people up that way, he is a warrior and a leader who defends his country, his mob. When I saw this rehearsal, all Aboriginal cast, talking language. It was beautiful. I had never seen anything like it. I just remember thinking wow, I want to do that.

What’s been the biggest learning lesson so far in your journey with The Serpent’s Teeth?
I think it’s been a reminder of how hard you need to work for things you want to do.

Favourite pre, during and post rehearsal snacks?
I have been eating so much Thai fried rice and chicken nuggets!

As an Indigenous Australian artist, what advice can you give for the next generation of young Indigenous people who want to pursue creative dreams?
Speak to the old people, Elders, your grandparents and parents. Culture is important and we need to keep it strong. Always know why you do the things you do, creatively, professionally and in everyday life, give back to your community. Critically think about the world. Know that you can do the things that you want to do.

Jill Nguyen

Phoebe Grainer: What was your experience like growing up as a Vietnamese-Australian woman in Melbourne?
Jill Nguyen: As a kid, I never felt that different to anyone else. The inner west of Melbourne where I grew up was super diverse, which was wonderful. Asian, black, white, everyone. It wasn’t until I went to university at 18, that I was quite shocked by how little some people knew about Asians in general. I did do Arts at Melbourne Uni, which was pretty white. I’ve experienced racism of all kinds, ranging from subtle to downright overt, and it’s only made me more resilient. In saying that, I am so lucky to have grown up in Melbourne. It’s my home.

How did you get into acting?
After 3 years of higher education, working full time at the bank and travelling overseas for a year and having my soul crushed in between, I came to my senses and decided to follow my dream. I started taking acting classes 2 years ago and I haven’t looked back since! I just jumped into the deep end and worked really, really, really hard to get myself out there. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Who did you look up to on your journey to becoming an actor?
Honestly, I didn’t have too many Asian females to look up to, but I always loved Marilyn Monroe a lot. In recent years, I have felt really empowered by Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh and Gemma Chan, all power houses in their own right. They light my fire.

Has the Vietnamese-Australian community reacted to your work, if so how? And how has the wider Australian community reacted to your work?
I guess my journey has just begun in some ways and I’m really excited for Viets all over the world to see my work. I was recently cast in Justin Kurzel’s True History Of The Kelly Gang, as Molly Kane. I act alongside Nicholas Hoult, George McKay and Thomasin McKenzie. I’m hoping a young and impressionable Vietnamese girl sees me in this feature and somehow has the confidence to follow her dreams too.

What does it mean for you to be a woman of colour in the arts?
It means everything to me. When people say things like “oh race doesn’t matter”, I feel an invisible slap in the face. Well, of course it matters. My heritage is Vietnamese, Chinese. I’m not going to run away from that. People of colour have been historically marginalised, purely based on the colour of their skin. I think my presence and contribution to the arts in film or theatre is political in its’ own right. I won’t stop creating, fighting and hustling. For so long, the realm of the art world and film, in the western world has been exclusively white, male dominated and right now, is the best time to change it up, completely. I feel a sense of solidarity with other women of colour artists too.

Phoebe Grainer and Jill Nguyen can be seen in The Serpent’s Teeth by Daniel Keene.
Dates: 9 – 24 Nov, 2018
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Two Hearts (The Anchor Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 19 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Laura Lethlean
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Phoebe Grainer, Damon Manns, Eliza Scott
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Girl meets boy at an inner-city house party, and they quickly fall in love. What follows is predictable, in an inevitable way perhaps, with things between the young couple taking shape like all the romantic narratives before, as though human connections can never stray far from established repetitious forms. In Laura Lethlean’s Two Hearts, love and sex are an exhilarating phenomenon, yet simultaneously, nauseatingly benign, except for the inclusion of a mysterious figure roaming the periphery, occasionally interjecting for gentle disruptions to the very ordinary story.

Tranquil and delicate, director Jessica Arthur’s approach makes for a show distinctively ethereal in tone, with an endearing cast helping to sustain our interest. Leading lady Eliza Scott’s playful exuberance and impressive lack of pretension, are valuable components to her engaging presence. Damon Manns brings outstanding ingenuity to his role, cleverly creating unexpected dimensions, to elevate a character that could otherwise be awkwardly pedestrian. The tricky part of the hallucinatory third-wheel is played by Phoebe Grainer, whose quiet concentration and honest impulses, provide an elegant solution to the play’s surreal aspects.

Two Hearts is in some ways a work about regret, a painful state of being, involving intense emotions that refuse to dissipate. We are held hostage, suspended in time but heavy with irreconcilable memories, partially paralysed and acutely embittered. It endures, because we fear the duplication of those grave mistakes, unable to trust that lessons have been learned. To let go of regret, is a simple idea, but being human is seldom a convenient exercise; the journey between inspiration and fruition is almost never the straightest and shortest distance between two points. We can only try to visualise the destination, and try to move ourselves in the right direction. Success may or may not come to pass, but stagnation is the only failure we must avoid.

www.facebook.com/AnchorTheatre

Review: Yen (New Ghosts Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 27 – Oct 13, 2018
Playwright: Anna Jordan
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Jeremi Campese, Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson, Hayley Pearl
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Brothers Bobbie and Hench are young teenagers, left to fend for themselves with only media screens and addicts as role models. Maggie is their desperately incompetent single mother, having lost both her sons’ fathers to early deaths, in this world of substance abuse and poverty. A neighbour Jennifer enters their life as a ray of hope, but in Anna Jordan’s Yen, our capacity for optimism is put to the test, as we interrogate the nature of social change and its delusory qualities, in this hyperrealist depiction of inter-generational disadvantage.

Situated in the dingiest corners of an English council estate, where the boys disintegrate in the most spectacular fashion, we observe their loss of innocence, and in its place, all the evidence of imminent wasted lives. Jordan’s writing is undeniably moving, but also marvellously thrilling. Yen is a showcase that consolidates the many deficiencies of our communities, with pointed critiques that never feel excessively didactic.

It is very gripping drama, and under the astute direction of Lucy Clements, entertaining and immensely involving. Clements has us breathless for the show’s two-hour entirety, as the story takes us through universal themes of family, love, sex, violence and redemption. Visually compelling, the production is meticulously designed by Ester Karuso-Thurn (set and costumes) and Louise Mason (lights) who deliver a surprising range of spatial transformations within restrictive confines of the stifling context. Sound by Chrysoulla Markoulli is impressively exacting, in all its manipulations of atmosphere. There is remarkable sensitivity from all disciplines, that allows its audience to engage at exceptional depth.

The staging features four fantastic actors, each one convincing and enthralling in their respective parts. 14-year-old Bobbie is played by the very industrious Jeremi Campese, whose extremely detailed approach offers up an interminably fascinating study of troubling juvenility. His extraordinary vitality insists on our compassion, even when the going gets tough. Hayley Pearl’s portrayal of the neglectful mother, has us angered and heartbroken. It is a controversial character uncompromisingly presented, by a very sharp and daring performer. Meg Clarke and Ryan Hodson are the not-so-sweet sixteens, both authentic, and tremendously revelatory of the adolescent experience, through their beautifully naturalistic renderings of Jennifer and Hench. The coupling of vulnerability and aggression in all these interpretations, are a joy to behold, as well as being meaningfully confronting.

In Yen, we see our structural failures take place within spaces that are personal and isolated. We come to an understanding that the only way for individual lives to flourish, is for the environments in which they exist to actively promote that betterment. Little can be achieved, when we leave the needy to their own devices. We chastise and condemn those who suffer, unwilling to see our complicity in people’s inability to grow, choosing only to attribute blame to their otherness. Good lives cannot exist in isolation; it takes a village to raise a child, and to lavish care on most everything else.

www.newghoststheatre.com