Review: Telescope (Montague Basement)

montageubasementVenue: Leichhardt Town Hall (Leichhardt NSW), May 12 – 21, 2016
Playwright: Charles O’Grady
Director: Charles O’Grady
Cast: Shevvi Barret-Brown, Caillin McKay
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review
Experimentation often happens behind the scenes. A wealth of weird and wonderful things must happen in rehearsals before an audience is introduced to the mix. For Telescope, the experiment happens before our eyes but without us knowing. Each night, actors in the two-hander swap roles, which means that most would only ever see half of the picture. Charles O’Grady’s script is interested in the meanings of gender as experienced at home, and the surprising extent to which it pervades every corner of family life, insidious but unintended. Joss and Vic have a child going through early stages of gender transition. We do not meet Jem, but his presence is felt through the play, like a dark cloud that hangs over the living room in which all action is set. Sequences of mundanity and theatricality combine to form a plot that attempts to demonstrate the turbulent effect of gender coming into consciousness, and to explore the subtleties of how gender informs our relationships.

In between engaging scenes of argument and conflict, the production’s efforts at representing the banal can be overly indulgent. It takes a lot of time to cut to the chase, but while the audience desires drama, Telescope is interested in what happens in quiet moments. Joss and Vic are a very regular couple, but we are not allowed to disregard the minute conventionalities that inform us of their identities. We look for signs and gestures, usually hidden and ignored but sonorous on this stage, to come to an understanding of their relationship. We need to know who is the wife, who is the husband, but in that process of misgendering and determination, question the necessity of that very information. With our discovery of their respective genders, we consider its relevance to the story that unfolds, and indeed its machinations in real life outside of the auditorium.

Performances by Shevvi Barret-Brown and Caillin McKay are uneven, but effective when they find passion and when they are able to demonstrate hints of connection. There is a sense of detachment on the stage that, although challenging for a two-hour show, helps us observe human intimacy from an unusually critical standpoint.

Joss and Vic are unable to live and let live. They struggle to come to terms with Jem’s deviation, and are tormented by his self-determination. Their emotions are true, but also absurd. Vic and Jem are in a tug-of-war at opposite ends of the gender conceit, both insistent on what they deem irrefutable and real. Telescope not only makes us examine that binary, it leads us to its dissolution. The characters in the play speak only in terms of female and male, but what O’Grady puts on stage is a disruption of those simplistic and myopic ways of approaching life. Like feminism that works for the elimination of patriarchal systems, a revision to how we understand, practise and enforce gender in society would lead to greater equity, but that revision is of immense complexity, and we are only at the dawn of that political movement.

5 Questions with Shevvi Barrett-Brown and Caillin McKay

Shevvi Barrett-Brown

Shevvi Barrett-Brown

Caillin McKay: What is gender?
Shevvi Barrett-Brown: Lies, identities, forced roles, aesthetics, fluid, oppression, occasionally fun, mostly something to escape.

What is the most challenging things about doing this show?
Learning 88 pages of dialogue, playing a character that I wouldn’t want to talk to in real life – and so finding an in to the character is difficult, as I’ve actively tried NOT to identify with 40 year old cis male upper middle class transphobes. I’ve also been curled up in the foetal position for a lot of rehearsal with a mysterious illness. Cailin bought me a lot of mandarins.

Answer as your character Vic: why haven’t you taken the washing down yet?
I had a double shift at work, I took Chloe to tutoring, took my dad to his doctors appointment and organised things with the bank, I’m busy. I’ll get to it.

Answer as your character Joss: what’s your favourite thing about having children?
Teaching them about the wonders of the world.

If you could be any animal what would you be?
Unicorn. I am queer.

Caillin McKay

Caillin McKay

Shevvi Barrett-Brown: What is gender?
Caillin McKay: Pretty simple really! Of course, it depends on the person you talk to. For example, my gender is *a truck drives past, blaring its horn. Suddenly foghorns sound and air raid sirens shriek*. Hopefully that explains it.

What is the most challenging things about doing this show?
The intense focus on how I move and hold myself has been the hardest part of the show for me.

Answer as your character Vic: why haven’t you taken the washing down yet?
Joss, I did. Two hours ago. That is the new load on the line. Which, I’d like to remind you, you promised to put up.

Answer as your character Joss: what’s your favourite thing about having children?
I’ve always wanted to be a parent! I always knew I’d be a good one. And I have been! The kids love spending time with me.

If you could be any animal what would you be?
A cat. Being able to comfortably sit on the floor sounds like heaven.

Shevvi Barrett-Brown and Caillin McKay are appearing in Telescope by Charles O’Grady.
Dates: 12 – 21 May, 2016
Venue: Leichhardt Town Hall

5 Questions with Nat Jobe

natjobeWhat is your favourite swear word?
I have to admit that I have a bit of a crude mouth so picking one favourite is very difficult. But I am partial to dropping the old f-word or a smart c-bomb. And “eat a dick” would have to be one of my favourite phrases.

What are you wearing?
A Mickey Mouse onesie. I wish I was joking. But I’m deadly serious. It even has a tail.

What is love?
“Love” is my daughter. She’s pretty perfect in every way. And I’m not biased at all.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Last week I attended the opening night of Les Miserables at the Capitol Theatre. It was an incredible production and I’d have to give it 5 stars. Amazing performances, incredible music and brilliant design. Wait! Is 5 stars the highest rating? Or 10? Whichever it is, I give it the highest rating. Haha!

Is your new show going to be any good?
I think it’s going to be pretty remarkable. Katie’s writing has so much meat in it and there is such a strong message that every audience member will connect with. Add our incredible director, designer, creatives, cast and crew and it’s bound to be a winner. I’m really excited to share these amazing and powerful stories with Sydney audiences.

Nat Jobe will be appearing in Blue Italian & Nil By Sea a double bill by Katie Pollock.
Show dates: 29 Apr – 17 May, 2015
Show venue: Leichhardt Town Hall