Review: How To Change The World And Make Bank Doing It (Limelight On Oxford)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 17 – 27, 2019
Playwright: Michael Becker, Ian Warwick
Director: Michael Becker
Cast: Michael Becker, Skye Beker, Laneikka Denne, Jarryd Dobson, Susan Jordan, Barbara Papathanasopoulos, Dominique Purdue, Dashiell Wyndham
Images by Sam Lax

Theatre review
Eve works as a charity fundraiser, one of those whose job it is to accost you at a shopping centre, and guilt you into donating to one cause or another. She meets people of all kinds, whether patrons or colleagues, all of whom contribute to Eve’s development, as a young woman trying to find her way in the world. Michael Becker and Ian Warwick’s How To Change The World And Make Bank Doing It is however, less a narrative surrounding its protagonist, than it is a collection of anecdotes from that microcosm of retail philanthropy. We see facets of suburbia through the eyes of those who open themselves to all and sundry, in a place where most of us have learned to navigate with blinkers on, ignoring as much as possible, in order to get from point A to point B quickly, and hopefully, leave unscathed.

These are amusing stories, a consolidation of identities, that offers a glimpse into who we are as a community. Becker and Warwick put effort into their representation of what happens behind the scenes at those charity stands, but the plot that results from their rendering of those relationships can feel somewhat perfunctory, never really succeeding at having us invest in any of the play’s main characters. Its observational humour however, is delightful, with an authenticity to its representations that resonates, able to have us engaged for its entirety. Actor Barbara Papathanasopoulos is very funny as Eve, taking every opportunity to create laughter, for which we are deeply appreciative. Also effective with his comedy is Jarryd Dobson as Nico, who brings to the stage some thoroughly enjoyable theatrical flamboyance. All members of the eight-strong cast are accomplished, with Susan Jordan and Laneikka Devine especially noteworthy for playing multiple roles, each one considered and energetic.

Eve wants to do good, but does not really know how. Her conundrum is probably shared by all, although most would scarcely spend more than a fleeting moment to ponder this inordinately big question, of how our efforts for charity can extend beyond the extra dollars we conveniently give away every once in a while. The play also talks about the bad that we do, that necessitates the creation of these organisations in the first place. It makes no sense to invest in undertakings that only seek to undo the effects of our other organisations we know to be harmful. Eve understands that as an individual, her responsibilities extend far beyond the provision of her own sustenance. She leaves us to find a way to attain fulfilment that is honest and virtuous, and we wonder about communities that have no space for her pure intentions.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: Ditch (Dream Plane Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 3 – 13, 2019
Playwright: Beth Steel
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Laurence Coy, Angus Evans, Giles Gartrell-Mills, Fiona Press, Martin Quinn, Jasmin Simmons
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Beth Steel wrote about a very near future in her 2010 play Ditch, describing a nightmare scenario that seems to prophesy the currently ongoing Brexit ordeal, eventuating at the very worst possible place. We find ourselves in the middle of World War III, but this time, Great Britain is fighting as a fascist state, whilst its land is fast becoming submerged by rising sea levels. Steel’s work offers an alarming look at the world we are turning into. It shows us the horrors we are travelling towards, without dwelling on how we are getting ourselves there, leaving the audience to figure out the root of these problems, and making us go through a process of soul-searching, for an agonising reflective examination of the people that we are.

The play is heavy, but never alienating. A very strong cast turns what should be inconceivable, into an immediate and pressing tale full of frightening resonance. Fiona Press is a persuasive Mrs Peel, of an older generation (which makes her our contemporary) and has a lot to answer for. She keeps calm and carries on, trying to forge ahead as though blameless, or maybe more accurately, suppressing the guilty conscience that must plague her. The other elder of the group, Burns is played by a very nuanced Laurence Coy, able to distinctly represent both fragility and brutishness of the banal male archetype. Young Megan’s powerful presence is embodied by Jasmin Simmons, who impresses with her remarkably textured approach.

As the appropriately domineering and repulsive alpha soldier Turner, Giles Gartrel-Mills adds a subtle dimension of deception to the role, further enhancing the drama that he brings. Angus Evans is wonderfully authentic with the conviction, and precision, so discernible in his depiction of the traumatised Bug. New recruit James is effortlessly innocent, as performed by the incredibly earnest Martin Quinn.

Director Kim Hardwick’s insistence on her actors delivering accuracy and dynamism, proves to be very rewarding. The show’s crescendo grabs hold of us slowly and incrementally, as it builds to an explosive, and very satisfying, conclusion. The production is well designed on all fronts. Set and costumes by Victor Kalka, lights by Martin Kinnane, and sound by Stephanie Kelly, are all cleverly rendered for our easy suspension of disbelief, and for maximum tension. Ditch will not let us off the hook, in its tragedy about all our sins.

Completed pre-Brexit, about a post-Brexit world, Steel knew about the darkness that we were heading for, not because of some supernatural precognitive perception ability, but because our self-destruction is always written on the wall. Much as our catastrophes are unimaginable in scale, they were always foreseeable. Ditch does not wish expressly to be pessimistic, but the truth that it presents, would be challenging even for the most ardent of optimists. At this juncture of our evolution, or some might say devolution, the question seems to be moving away from “how do we survive this?” to something much more like “do we deserve to survive this?”

www.facebook.com/dreamplaneproductions

5 Questions with Fiona Press and Jasmin Simmons

Fiona Press

Jasmin Simmons: You recently appeared in a production of 1984, do you see any similarities between our world in Ditch and in Orwell’s?
Fiona Press: Yes! So many! Right down to tinned rations and Victory Gin – except in the Ditch world, we drink copious quantities of government-supplied whisky. And there’s no chocolate. Both worlds are governed by a fascistic totalitarian regime that controls the population by pitting the ’Security’ against ‘Civilian’ and turning both against the ‘Illegals’. The threat of amorphous foreign enemies rotates on a monthly basis (think Trump and North Korea) and there’s a touch of Margaret Atwood as well; women are controlled by having their reproductive rights totally denied.

Your character is somewhat of a mentor to mine, are there any women in our industry that have particularly inspired you?
Absolutely. First and most influential was the late Doreen Warburton, co-founder of the Q Theatre, which was my theatrical cradle. Doreen had been mentored by the legendary Joan Littlewood, and brought those same socialist and creative principles to bear in Penrith, which – at the time – had little cultural life. I spent three years attached to the Q, as a student, ASM, ran the box office, understudy (to Judy Davis, another enduring influence) – kind of an unofficial apprenticeship. Doreen was from Lancashire and was larger than life “with the bosom of a goddess and the carriage of an eagle” – PERFECT casting for Mrs Peel!

Do you share Mrs Peel’s green thumb?
Who doing indie theatre has time to garden?! I have a large messy block that’s basically a lizard and funnel web habitat at the moment. However, treat me nice and I might bake us a cake for tech week … my floury thumb is better than my green one.

My character, Megan, is just becoming politically aware, were you a politically aware teenager? Did you march and protest like Mrs Peel did when she was younger?
Oooh yeah – child of the 70s, me. That era defined my political convictions forever. With the Vietnam War on the news as we ate dinner every night, I can remember insisting to my primary school teacher that the topic of our first classroom debate should be ‘that conscription be abolished’. I was convinced my younger brothers would grow up to be drafted and die. I was ten. Then, as a twelve year old, I was the sole ‘It’s Time’ badge wearer at my ‘school for gels’ in 1972 when Gough swept to power and upon the Dismissal in 1975, swapped it for ‘Shame Fraser Shame’. My first overseas trip was in 1978 to the People’s Republic of China.

If you were transported to the world of Ditch in 2050, what are 3 things you would bring with you from 2019?
The small etymological dictionary that my grandfather gave me when I was eight. It still soothes me to open its yellow pages and skim the beauty of words and their origins, their connectedness. A folding hand fan to keep me from going spare in the humidity. And a crystal whisky glass – because if I’m going to drown in my sorrows while living in a ditch, I’m going to do it in style.

Jasmin Simmons

Fiona Press: So, Ditch was written by a young English woman ten years ago. What drew you, as a young Australian woman to this play right now?
Jasmin Simmons: First of all, the play is exceedingly relevant and remarkably fresh. Secondly, I was drawn to the team of inventive and assured women that I am fortunate enough to be working with.

How do the female characters deal within the hefty masculine world of Ditch?
Ditch is set in a post feminist world – the men of the play seem to be the most dominant. The women, however, are the great observers – and there is great power in that.

What’s the most useful skill you have brought to this production?
Multitasking!

‘Post apocalyptic, climate change, fascist dystopia’ sounds a tad depressing. Where’s the hope?
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the hope lies within the devastation – similar to a bushfire – destruction provokes regrowth, new life.

And are there laughs?
Believe it or not, yes! As well as much breakfast making, animal skinning and whisky drinking.

Fiona Press and Jasmin Simmons can be seen in Ditch by Beth Steel.
Dates: 3 – 13 Apr, 2019
Venue: Limelight On Oxford

Review: The Realistic Joneses (Patina Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 13 -30, 2019
Playwright: Will Eno
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Jeff Houston, Suzann James, David Jeffrey, Jodine Muir
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
There are two straight couples living across the street from each other, both named Jones. In The Realistic Joneses, characters go about their average mundane small town lives, but there is something distinctly strange about the way they talk. Playwright Will Eno’s dialogue feels like high art, bizarre yet completely believable, for a way of excavating truths about the human condition, that only the medium of performance can deliver. Resolutely quirky, The Realistic Joneses brings upheaval to concepts of normalcy that inform Western life. The Joneses speak what they are supposed to, but also what they are not. They portray the ordinary in a manner that creates turbulence, making us laugh because we understand all the arbitrariness of rules that fundamentally govern the politeness of society.

Actor David Jeffrey finds the right pitch for conveying the play’s humour, deadpan but deliberate in an interpretation of John that almost makes him seem an alien pretending to be human. There is no doubt that we can all relate to this sense of displacement, of being awkward in social situations. Director Julie Baz’s understated approach is surprisingly effective in depicting the comedy inherent in our daily lives, but an emphasis on naturalism can sometimes take away from Eno’s heightened style. The very subdued closing scenes abandon the laughs, in search of poignancy, which sadly never quite materialises.

It is a splendid title, that reveals so much about how we present our selves to the world. We aim to be realistic, of appearing to look real, probably because actually being real is not something our collective existence is able to cope with. Those who truly speak their minds are ostracised, maybe even cast as insane, so we learn where the limits are, and negotiate within those rigid borders. There is always something false in how we communicate, especially when in groups. The answer is not to withdraw and hide in arrogant isolation, but to question all that is shown to us. Cynicism, one would argue, is necessary in one’s participation in the world. The real challenge is making that cynicism sit side by side, with an earnestness we must never give up, in our involvement with this world.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

5 Questions with Suzann James and Jodine Muir

Suzann James

Jodine Muir: What was your first acting experience and what made you want to act as a career?
Suzann James: Ha ha! I was living in Hong Kong and was cast as an alter ego in Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song. I was also the choreographer but I didn’t know how to read music, so the whole cast had to put up with my learned harmonies whilst learning the dance routines. I knew I wanted to perform after seeing and being thoroughly captivated by a live performance of Steel Magnolias. I figured I was overseas, nobody knew me, so I had a license to fail… or not. So I went for it!

You have been a great support to your actress daughter, in particular keeping it ‘realistic’ to the highs and lows of an acting career. Did you have any similar support when you took up acting or did you learn on the job?
Yeah, no. I learnt on the job. And then got myself into a performing arts academy. And my daughter has kind of done the same thing. She was cast in an international musical, got the bug and now goes to a performing arts school. I guess we’re a little backwards in moving forwards.

What were your first impressions of the play The Realistic Joneses, what inspired you to get involved and do you have a personal connection to its themes?
Easy, I loved the script. And I kept getting so much more out of it every time I read it. I loved the way Will Eno’s quirky characters deal and react so differently to life’s dilemmas. It’s great how he can take the most mundane or depressing of subjects and make them funny and surprising. Actually I do have a nephew that has a similar challenge to the Joneses’ dilemma, and from my experience there are definitely parallels in the ways that they cope.

Your character in The Realistic Joneses seems to be the only one grounded in reality and has been called the ‘straight one’ to the other characters who appear to be avoiding reality. Do you feel this is true of your character and what other discoveries have you made?
Yes, she is sensible and has taken on the role as the responsible one. In her marriage she carries the intellectual and emotional burden, but funnily, resorts to her own quiet little crazy way of venting.

Why do you think these two odd couples in The Realistic Joneses are drawn together?
I think they all, just quietly, need each other. Filling voids, buoying spirits, entertaining, that sort of thing. It makes me think that we work better as a community. Friendships are invaluable. Feeling uncomfortable can be liberating and some issues are too big to deal with on your own. The challenges they’re facing have given them a greater appreciation of life, for living in the moment and of nature and the world around them.

Jodine Muir

Suzann James: What makes you laugh about your character, Pony?
Jodine Muir: Yes she does make me laugh a lot! I was drawn to Pony because she seemed to be having the most fun, at the expense of others! She says and does what she wants, whatever suits her mood. She doesn’t seem to be able to cope with much in her adult life and relies on others to help keep her together.

Have you ever had crazy neighbours?
Yes a few, they certainly keep things interesting! Right now I live next door to an aged care facility. One gentleman doesn’t have any noise awareness and mostly shouts his words in a muffled kind of way. Oddly enough, he manages to have many ongoing and engaging conversations with the staff and other occupants but I can never understand a word he says. It’s usually what wakes me up early in the morning!

Are you sympathetic to sick people? Or do you prefer to avoid them?
Quite the opposite of my character Pony, I would say that I am very nurturing and caring… probably to the point of being annoying! However, like Pony, if it impedes on my ability to sleep then my patience will be tested!

Have you seen anything else by Will Eno?
No I haven’t but I had heard of him and had planned to read some of his plays. That was the first reason I applied for the auditions. As soon as I read the play, I was hooked. I found the quirky behaviour and awkward dialogue between the characters delicious!

What do you think somebody might write about Pony after she’s gone?
Oh I love this question! Well, I think that they might say: “She made a few mistakes along the way but her heart was always in the right place!” Or perhaps… “She managed to avoid life and has instead found peace”.

Suzann James and Jodine Muir can be seen in The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno.
Dates: 13 – 30 Mar, 2019
Venue: Limelight On Oxford

Review: The Things I Could Never Tell Steven (Whimsical Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 20 – Mar 2, 2019
Music & Lyrics: Jye Bryant
Directors: Ghassan Kassisieh, Katherine Nheu
Cast: Julia Hyde, Joey Sheehan, Suzanne Chin, Tim Martin
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Steven is constantly evasive, nowhere to be seen, because he had done the wrong thing. After their recent nuptials, Steven’s wife finds that he often disappears, and we discover that he chooses to spend time instead with an ex, a male lover happy to rekindle the relationship, unaware of Steven’s change in marital status. Steven however would only stay for the sex, and vanish in between coitus, unable to extend intimacy beyond the flesh. Jye Bryant’s The Things I Could Never Tell Steven tells an intriguing story about sexual orientation for our times, to provoke questions about identity, and to discuss the quickly evolving meanings of marriage under our newly egalitarian legislation.

Bryant’s musical features songs that are beautifully melodic, with witty lyrics that offer plentiful amusement. Musical direction by Ghassan Kassisieh, who provides accompaniment on keyboard, is precise and pleasant. The production is minimally designed, but directors Kassisieh and Katherine Nheu offer elegant staging solutions that keep meaningful emphasis on the songs. Performer Julia Hyde is very impressive as Steven’s unnamed wife, with a wonderful voice that delivers considerable dynamism to the show. Her mother-in-law is played by Suzanne Chin who brings an excellent measure of comedic energy to proceedings. Joey Sheehan is less effective with the humour, but as Steven’s ex his falsetto is a real auditory joy, and Tim Martin who, although not sufficiently dramatic in approach, is nonetheless convincing in his portrayal of the reliably stoic father.

Steven is not present to plead his case, but he is clearly not the marrying type. In times past, we would have conveniently attributed his misbehaviour to him being a closet case, but now we are free to examine his tale as one about the relevance and purpose of marriage. It is possible that Steven’s regret is simply about attachment, of having to sacrifice his selfhood for no good reason, regardless of the genders at play in the musical. He should have known to interrogate rules around monogamy and fidelity before taking that solemn vow, and more importantly, he should have challenged notions of conformity and conventions, that have brought him to this point of dilemma.

www.whimsicalproductions.com.au

Review: Dorian Gray Naked (Popinjay Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 16, 2019
Libretto: Melvyn Morrow
Music: Dion Condack
Director: Melvyn Morrow
Cast: Blake Appelqvist

Theatre review
A fictional character provides the inside scoop on his author Oscar Wilde, in Melvyn Morrow’s Dorian Gray Naked. Resurrected to speculate on the inner workings of a novel, from a time when homosexuality was an abomination that would render entire existences underground and secret, Dorian the Adonis/Narcissus of queer literature offers a revised perspective for our comparatively liberated times.

Imaginative and appropriately flamboyant, Morrow waxes lyrical about what might have been. Together with Dion Condack’s music, Dorian Gray Naked paints a melancholic and often abstract picture, about artistic creation, highly sentimental but insufficiently witty. Performer Blake Appelqvist’s affected approach, punctuated by incessant sharp inhales, executed like DIY sound effects, can be alienating, but his presence is a strong one that fills the room effortlessly. It is basically a one-man show, but with Condack positioned onstage, passionate on the piano, interplay between the two men are inevitable in this exploration of gay culture and history.

Choreographer Nathan Mark Wright uses exaggerated body shapes to make a statement about camp, and to disrupt the meanings of masculinity in Wilde’s suspicious narrative of heterosexual love. The effect is skin deep, but it reveals an aspect of gayness that is obsessive about surface. Although Dorian Gray Naked is thorough with its reinventions and fabrications, it seems incapable of reaching greater emotional or psychological depths that will achieve meaningful resonance. It remains mainly a cerebral experience, and for some, that could be enough.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au