Review: Bluebeard (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 25 – 29, 2017
Original concept: Curly Fernandez
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Curly Fernandez, Melissa Hume, Gideon Payten-Griffiths

Theatre review
In this version of an old folktale, Bluebeard is a 42 year-old man who goes prowling in clubs, on nights known to be popular with students. They story begins for us, when he meets a 19 year-old girl. They drink and flirt, and everything seems quite normal, until she decides to go home with Bluebeard. Things begin to turn strange, with the man becoming increasingly menacing, and us wondering how much terror the girl is bound to undergo.

The story is unequivocally dark, but the show is whimsical, relentlessly quirky with all of its modes of expression. Situated in a beachside changing room, the staging space is unnerving, with its refusal of letting us hold on to our usual expectations of theatre. We should always think that “anything can happen” with art, but conventions are hard to defy. Bluebeard removes us from the security of a darkened auditorium, and successfully changes how we relate to the nature of live performance.

Having freed itself from the ordinary, the production is able to expose its audience to a truly creative and experimental exploration of the art form. Engulfed by the sound of rumbling pipes and the chill of concrete walls, our senses are more alive, and we want to read meaning into everything, because it all seems to embody significance.

Director Michael Dean embraces the exotic, making magic out of the impossible, to create an environment that allows us to share in his wonderful vision of a scary encounter. The absence of lighting design is restrictive in terms of the provision of atmospheric shifts for this grotesque piece, but the close proximity of performers ensures that we are kept engaged. All three are fascinating creatures. Curly Fernandez, Melissa Hume and Gideon Payten-Griffiths are completely vulnerable, unprotected from our unforgiving scrutiny at close range, under the cruel glare of fluorescent tubes. In a play where words are only a small element, their every move speaks volumes and the text we are presented is unexpectedly rich.

The girl is caught in a waking nightmare, but Bluebeard does not ask us for an emotional response. Our sympathy is not required. We absorb and analyse, finding an understanding of that which unfolds, and then relating that present event to the real world outside. Women are often disempowered, that is true, but how we navigate being in that position, is where things get interesting.

www.liesliesandpropaganda.com

5 Questions with Melissa Hume and Gideon Payten-Griffiths

Melissa Hume

Gideon Payten-Griffiths: What does the ancient story of Bluebeard make you think about?
Melissa Hume: It makes me think of deception, of a beast with a glistening smile, murder, a marriage mistake, a room full of blood and bones. All of the fun, juicy stuff. It also makes me think and question the concept of doubt. The nameless young woman becomes doubtful that Bluebeard was to blame for the multiple disappearances of his past wives. The doubt is enough for her to agree to marry him. What causes her doubt of his guilt? Is it his wealth, pressure from her family, or his kind, seemingly generous manner?

How does performing in a men’s change room and toilet make you feel and affect your devising process?
Performing in a men’s change room and toilets makes me feel like a theatre rebel! I’m really excited about it because there are so many interesting aspects and items to play with (toilets, taps, showers!) that you don’t usually have in a normal theatre. I’ve performed in site-specific works before and it’s always been an amazing experience. Often the preconceived ideas to how an audience should act are lifted, so it makes it all so immediate and exciting. It affects the devising process because the seating arrangement, architecture, layout and acoustics of the change room/toilets is really different from our rehearsal spaces. So these things need to be kept in mind when we devise and we also need to keep it somewhat flexible and adaptable.

Why are you an artist/performer/actor?
The idea of dying is frightening and the idea of living is also frightening. Somewhere amongst all of that is meaning, and I’m trying to find out what that meaning is through the lens of stories. There’s also nothing that makes me feel quite alive as when I’m working on and performing in a show.

5 desert island necessities?
Toothbrush. Floss. Tampons (such a luxury item). An avocado tree. Bear Grylls.

If you were not an artist/performer/actor, what would you be doing?
I’d be on a desert island with Bear Grylls.

Gideon Payten-Griffiths

Melissa Hume: Bluebeard; Or, The Marriage Mistakes Of A Nameless Bride will be performed in the men’s toilets and change rooms at Bondi Pavilion. Tell me more about this and your experience with non-traditional venues?
Gideon Payten-Griffiths: Unusual contexts and audience relationships has become a big part of my practice. The unexpected can simply thrill the audience or keep them active. It can transform the viewer’s everyday experience of that space or the normally relatable; with this you might talk about what lurks underneath, reveal the unseen. Site specificity can exploit a fusion between art and ‘real life’, offering a beauty and/or an unsettling quality which can provoke or open up the audience. Suspending the everyday creates joy. A men’s change room and loo makes me think of social conventions, competition and intimacy which could reveal (darker) aspects of the (male) psyche. For women entering the space there layers of permission, trust and disgust heightening questions of gender and the roles we play, romance and the mystery of the other. This amplification of the binary has me thinking about seen and unseen sides to the same story. Responding to the physical aspects of this space is also inspiring; the hardness, greyness, moisture, seclusion, compartments, obscured vision, neon lighting. In playing clarinet and other sound in the space, the reverberation, the source of sound and the ambient sounds of Bondi have great potential.

How do you think the audience will be able to relate to this adaptation of the fairytale Bluebeard?
I think we are exploring Bluebeard in terms of what it says about emotional needs, desire, intimacy, fear, trust, aspiration, reputation, gender expectations; all sorts of things we all experience that are in there alongside the far out, suspense, horror and eroticism of a good serial killer tale. Or is it? There is no script, we are re-making this story from scratch and still creating; it will be a contemporary view. It may have some abstraction which might further allow the audience to relate in their own ways. I think we want to resist the simple moral conclusions of a fairytale; that a young woman should be less curious or that Bluebeard is pure evil. It’s a story of courtship and life-altering choices. Meanwhile, we’ve been asking what drives people to extremes, what makes a ‘bad’ person and what is the source cause of horrifying acts; where is the killer in all of us? By the way, its not just a fairytale! These stories of violence happen, today, just around the corner…

Can you tell me your story of how you came to be a performer?
I became a performer when I realised I always was a performer. Having made, sung, danced and acted since an early age it was in my bones. Yes Mel, that meaning and life/death thing can be terrifying. Maybe something about this self-awareness and sensitivity is part of what got me to this profession, or vice versa. After school I went listlessly, and at times pathologically, in other directions. Then, in 2005 I did a training program at PACT centre for emerging artists and remembered I didn’t have to pursue one discipline but could explore the fusion of different practices. I could simply be and artist (person). I realised that being an artist was the only thing I could do – there is a special kind of joy and transcendence it brings. After we’ve taken care of the basics, it’s what we do. When we haven’t or can’t take care of the basics, it’s what we do. I think art in life used to be less about the audience vs. performer and more about a community spirituality. I’m still coming to being a performer. There’s the ongoing research into knowing and harnessing the self, my embodied energy and how to move and project it (in the endless entropy of existence). I love making and performing as an act of empathy, compassion and connection. To question, reflect, break down and see anew. To speak truth to power. To be the jester. I guess it is the sense of purpose to the work that is the real story. Let alone the fun in the play of it!

If your life was to be written as a fairytale, what would the first sentence be?
There was once a fool who lived at the top of an empty hill in a warm little invisible house and dreamed of being a real person. (I reserve the right to change the fairytale at anytime).

Do you have any pre-show superstitions or rituals?
Urinating. Hugging my colleagues (you know like energetic, inter-corporeal ensemble building, we are one, we are many, listening with my feet, seeing you with my elbow!)

Melissa Hume and Gideon Payten-Griffiths are performing in Bluebeard; Or, The Marriage Mistakes Of A Nameless Bride, part of Bondi Feast 2017.
Dates: 25 – 29 July, 2017
Venue: Bondi Pavilion

Review: Orpheus (Lies, Lies And Propaganda / Suspicious Woman Productions)

liesliesVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Aug 18 – 27, 2016
Director: Michael Dean
Dramaturg: Jasper Garner Gore
Cast: Dymphna Carew, Curly Fernandez, Victoria Greiner, Lana Kershaw, Daniel Monks, Bodelle de Ronde, Michael Yore
Image by Sasha Cohen

Theatre review
Orpheus’ story is often told with emphasis on a husband’s drudgery in trying to rescue his wife from the mouths of danger, but in Michael Dean’s revision, we explore the possibility of Eurydice being a more provocative character, whose own desires are more complicated and less convenient for her husband’s legend. Hell is an Australian outback hick town, from which Eurydice finds herself unable to leave, but Orpheus is determined to bring her back to their life in the city, where a previously shared reality seems to be fading with the passage of time.

Similarities with David Lynch’s surrealism where “this whole world is wild at heart and weird on top” can be observed in Dean’s portrayal of an ugly yet seductive foreboding, set within a seedy bar where the drawing of raffle tickets is “the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Michael Yore’s music and Liam O’Keefe’s lights provide splendid transportative atmospherics for an operatic expression of an ancient mystery suited to contemporary times, and Rachel Weiner’s illuminative choreography, although excessively demanding at certain points, demonstrates a healthy instinct for space as a fundamental device of communication.

With little in terms of dialogue that could be employed, the depiction of characters relies heavily on movement and presence, which the cast accomplishes with dexterity, but there is a gentleness to the overall approach that contradicts some of the darker elements in the piece. A greater sense of gravity and perhaps bigger personalities would generate a more sinister edge to fortify its enigmatic tone. Daniel Monks leaves a strong impression in the title role, authentic and captivating with his ability to meaningfully embody Orpheus’ sentimental qualities. The actor’s unequivocal focus and connection with all who are on and off stage, is the basis on which the production addresses its emotional dimensions.

Michael Dean’s vision of theatre as a dynamic and unpredictable art form is marvellously realised in Orpheus. Adventurous, playful and iconoclastic, Dean’s presentation is a surprising and delightful show that challenges not only notions of storytelling, but also conventions of our cultural endeavours. It is a virtuous exercise, made even more wonderful by sheer, undeniable talent and exquisite taste. There is exceptional work to be found here, the kind that makes us want more of the same from every stage, but it is the utter unorthodoxy and subversive nature of its appeal that provides its avant-garde lustre.

www.liesliesandpropaganda.com | www.suspiciouswomanproductions.com

5 Questions with Bodelle de Ronde and Curly Fernandez

Bodelle de Ronde

Bodelle de Ronde

Curly Fernandez: With your artistic practice are there any art movements through time you feel an affinity with or get strong inspiration from?
Bodelle de Ronde: There are certain artists who have inspired me with their images when I’ve been creating a character. For me it’s portraits that come alive and I get a strong feeling of who that person is, or landscapes/scenes that conjure up an atmosphere I can use in my work and captures my imagination. Artists like John Singer Sargent, Edvard Munch, John William Waterhouse, Marc Chagall, Sir John Everett Millais, Frida Kahlo.

What is your most exciting cultural heritage memory when you were growing up?
Realising I came from a large family of such a different culture from the one I grew up in. Whenever we had get-togethers in Bangkok I’d be surrounded by aunties and cousins all speaking in a language I learnt to pick up but didn’t quite understand but it didn’t matter because we still had so much fun together. I gained a strong sense of belonging, family and identity spending school holidays in Thailand.

Do you have any obsessive compulsive tendencies?
I’ll check the oven’s off before I go to sleep but because I live in a shared house that hasn’t been such a silly thing to do.

Five items you would take to a deserted island?
Photos. Music. A spear for catching fish (aka Cast Away!). A collection of Haruki Murakami. Pen and paper.

How does the Orpheus myth translate to modern audiences?
Hopefully a bond of love is something that audiences will always relate to. As well as his sense of displacement being in the underworld, surrounded by people whose actions seem familiar and yet ajar with normality. The struggle to fight for what you believe in and the question of how far you are willing to go for that cause is also very topical.

Curly Fernandez

Curly Fernandez

Bodelle de Ronde: What’s your most memorable moment on stage?
Curly Fernandez: I performed a one man show at La Mama many years ago. It was called The Delusionist. Famous speeches from history retold. My wife directed it, my newborn daughter crawled around the space whilst we rehearsed and teched. My sound designer was my babysitter and my SM was our best friend. It was a real family project. My mother in law came one night and led a standing ovation. It wasn’t so much for my performance but for our family. She was very proud of what Lauren and myself had done, made a life in art with our family.

What’s your biggest turn on?
Great physiques. Great coffee. Great underwear. Yes in that order.

What’s the biggest challenge for you when devising theatre?
For me personally it’s feeling ok with suggesting ideas or things that pop into your imagination that have no logical base and then seeing them fail and not being ashamed of it but honouring the idea or vision, as sometimes something exquisite arises from it.

What drew you to this project?
Michael Dean had seen me over summer and was keen to work with me, and had spoke with a friend of mine. Everyone talked highly of his devised work. Importantly in the audition it was that himself and myself were able to talk quite freely and honestly.That was the key. We also share similar heritage.

Your character, based on Persephone, is an outsider. How do you relate to this?
I’m black.

Bodelle de Ronde and Curly Fernandez are appearing in Orpheus.
Dates: 18 – 27 August, 2016
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

5 Questions with Danielle Baynes and Pip Dracakis

Danielle Baynes

Danielle Baynes

Pip Dracakis: What are the similarities between Lady and Danielle?
Danielle Baynes: I’m similar to who the Lady becomes at the end of the play. At the beginning I share her curious, romantic and cautious side. She’s very naïve though, I’m much more cynical. After a certain experience she has in the middle of the show we definitely become kindred spirits. She’s more talented than me but we’re both hilarious. We sort of look the same, except her face is much bigger.

What do you enjoy most about performing in live theater?
If it can only be one thing, then I’d say the audience. The shared experience, the instant feedback, the mixture of being completely in control and totally out of control at the same time. Nothing compares.

What is the most ridiculous thing a director has asked you to do in rehearsal?
Look I won’t name and shame, BUT Michael Dean once had a group of us running around a dodgy, empty car park late at night in Parramatta yelling “red alert”.

Who inspired you in the creation of the mysterious male character in Bicycle?
Oh Pip, the question you’ve been dying to ask all this time… I won’t go into detail about the personal inspiration, but I was inspired by an author named Bram, and a little bit inspired by Mads Mikkelson.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
At the moment it’s binge watching crime shows in bed until 3am. I also indulge in too much soft cheese. But Nigella Lawson said, “I don’t feel guilty about any pleasure. I think you should only feel guilty if you don’t feel pleasure”, and I try to take on that attitude as well.

Pip Dracakis

Pip Dracakis

Danielle Baynes: If you and I were musical instruments, what would we be?
Pip Dracakis: You would be a Steinway and I would be a Stradivarius.

You are a brilliant Actor Musician, what’s unique about this type of performer and how did you approach your role in Bicycle?
I see my role in Bicycle as a storyteller and try to serve the story and text in all my musical and physical choices. It’s great to be able to work on a show where you can think as an actor and communicate through music.

What’s the strangest thing someone has said to you after a performance (any performance)?
During one of our post-show Q&A’s for Merchant of Venice with Sport for Jove, we were asked how we all knew each other. The kid was in year 7. I think he was struggling with all the other questions about dealing with a racist play in the 21st century.

What was the process in creating the score for Bicycle?
I listened to a lot of different repertoire but most of my musical ideas were inspired by the text and born out of the organic rehearsal process. Lots of trial and error, seeing what enhanced the script and what moments were best left without any musical underscoring. In some scenes, the music is totally improvised and in others, there are prescribed excerpts by Bach or Bartok, for example.

And finally, if someone was to make a movie of your life, who would play me?
Fran Fine.

Danielle Baynes and Pip Dracakis can both be seen in Bicycle.
Dates: 21 June – 2 July, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Bicycle (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

liesliespropagandaVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 21 – Jul 2, 2016
Playwright: Danielle Baynes
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Danielle Baynes, Pip Dracakis

Theatre review
It is one woman against the world in Danielle Baynes’ Bicycle. The odds are stacked against our 19th century protagonist as she discovers not only her life’s passion, but also the injustices that women face when trying to carve out a self-determined existence. Coming of age in Baynes’ play means realising the discrimination that is systematically entrenched in a world that had previously seemed innocent. An awakening of desires demands that her eyes are open to truths, and her story of tragic enlightenment is told in a way that disallows us from denying its persisting relevance. The nameless Lady’s feelings and experiences, her perspective of the world, and her hunger for what is right, all find connection with our 21st century sensibilities, and shock us into seeing the intimate parallels between what we had considered to be bygone history and what we continue to retain. It is a passionate piece of writing, insightful and brilliantly elucidating through a narrative that is at once personal and universal. At the core of its many colourful permutations of form, is its unmistakeable feminist advocacy that many will find irresistibly inspiring.

Baynes plays the Lady in the hour-long monologue, with Pip Dracakis providing an added female omnipresence with her person and violin. Space is restrictive, and the production relies squarely on the leading lady’s ability to keep our attention and imagination engaged, which she accomplishes remarkably well. Scenes are thoughtfully demarcated and given distinct flavour by director Michael Dean, but some sequences are more effective than others, resulting in a plot trajectory that can feel uneven in its resonance. Dracakis’ live music gives the show a dynamism that works seamlessly alongside Baynes’ actorly endeavours for a powerful statement about art, and the struggles in its creation.

Sex and art are linked in Bicycle, both are appetites ferocious in nature and indomitable. The Lady’s liberties are completely usurped by a patriarchy that is determined to diminish her wishes and talents. We live in a world where powerful people go to great lengths to maintain the status quo, for their position necessitates the subjugation of many. This seems to be part of human nature, never to change, but processes where disenfranchised groups work to destabilise and subvert oppressive forces are always ongoing. Not all will succeed, but the battle continues for the human spirit is at its most potent when the downtrodden are left with nothing else to lose. Her rights as a sexual being and an artist, are a threat to her father and his conspirators, who do all they can to disempower her, but we are glad to see her fight to the end, whether or not she comes out on top.

www.liesliesandpropaganda.com

Review: Roadkill Confidential (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

liesliesVenue: Kings Cross Theatre Kings Cross NSW), Nov 11 – 28, 2015
Playwright: Sheila Callaghan
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Alison Bennett, Sinead Curry, Michael Drysdale, Jasper Garner Gore, Nathaniel Scotcher
Image by Emily Elise

Theatre review
Trevor is not a happy artist. She watches the doom and gloom on the news to stay in touch with things so that her very high profile work in the field of visual art may be relevant to her public. In fact, her studio is highly secretive, maybe she is insecure about the unfinished product, or maybe she is trying to control the reaction to her controversial art. Meanwhile, a government agent is investigating her, and everything begins to look sinister. Sheila Callaghan’s Roadkill Confidential is however, no straightforward cop drama. It is an abstract and often surreal piece of writing that celebrates the dramatic art form by prioritising the stage’s unique abilities of relating to its audience. Beyond the use of a narrative to satisfy, the play features sequences that resonate independent of characters and stories. Its free form allows actors to create moments of wonder, in service of theatre and all its possibilities.

Michael Dean’s exuberant direction is concerned with creating an experience that fascinates and intrigues. The show’s plot is not always coherent, and we leave with uncertainty about the moral of the story, but there is much to get involved with at every step of the way. Lights by Richard Neville and Mandylights, along with Benjamin Garrard’s sound are playful and dynamic elements of a production that is determined to deliver whimsy and extravagance. Creativity is in abundance here, and there is little that holds it back from making its ubiquity felt in every nuance.

Performances are suitably colourful, from a committed ensemble, unified in style and tone. The charming Michael Drysdale plays the unnamed agent with a quirky flair, and a confident physicality that brings life to the stage. His work needs better polish to reflect a more precise grasp of the text, but Drysdale’s execution of the show’s anti-realistic scenes are consistently amusing, and memorable. The artist Trevor is depicted with admirable strength and vigour by Alison Bennett who introduces an alluring severity to the mysterious role. Her piteous neighbour Melanie becomes a force to be reckon with under Sinead Curry’s surprising interpretation. The actor’s flamboyant approach and magnetic presence provide her character with excellent entertainment value, and offers good balance to a show that has a tendency to bewilder.

There is no discussion about whether Trevor’s new work will be understood, yet its effects are gravely anticipated. We need to talk about theatre in a similar way; to allow it to do more than just telling stories. There is no fear of abstraction in this production of Roadkill Confidential because it believes in affecting its audience in a more inventive or perhaps, sophisticated manner. At the theatre, we share a space for a couple of hours, and when we go our separate ways, we will depart having grown a little. It is by that amount of extension that we can measure an artist’s worth.

www.liesliesandpropaganda.com