Review: Bad Day Insurance (Old 505 Theatre)

old505theatreVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 6 – 24, 2014
Playwright: Lisa Chappell
Director: Drew Fairley
Cast: Lisa Chappell, Sarah Hynter

Theatre review
The quote, “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die,” has been attributed to different sources, including Nelson Mandela. In Bad Day Insurance, two elderly women spend their days in each other’s company, secluded from the world except for people on telephones who ask for insurance payouts due to having a bad day for all kinds of reasons. Esther and Mavis have to listen to these first world complaints every waking moment, and we soon get the impression that their state of torture would have been for a lot more than a few years. They are watched over by an invisible non-human entity named Boob, who exercises absolute control over these women, although we wonder if, like many of our gods, its existence is entirely in their minds. Esther and Mavis are grey haired and grey skinned, having waited an inordinately long time in their “call centre” (they sleep and work there) for an inscrutable something, or perhaps simply for their days at Bad Day Insurance to come to an end. They are trapped, and we wonder why. We wonder if they have imprisoned themselves and are punishing each other for something that had happened. We never hear the other end of the phone lines, and they do not ring on their own accord. The women verbalise a “ring ring” if a call arrives to taunt the other.

Lisa Chappell’s script is humorous, but its more striking feature is its strange darkness. The mystery and intrigue that Chappell creates is riveting, and her brand of empathetic absurdity brings out an unexpected compassion in the viewing experience. There are many loose ends to the piece, but meaningful details are peppered throughout so that our imagination is kept busy. We are entertained by a lot of silliness, but at the same time, we are completely engrossed on a cerebral level, seduced by all its somber resonances that point to something deeper that wants to be unearthed.

Performances by Chappell and Sarah Hynter are flawless. The actors are energetic, mischievous and magnetic, with a consummate professionalism that easily convinces us that all bases are covered. We are taken on a ride that involves laughter, surprise, curiosity, terror and poignancy. Under the directorship of Drew Fairley who provides a sensitive, nuanced third eye, the production they have created is a prime example of how showbusiness and art can collude to communicate something enjoyable, disarming and very clever. Talent of this calibre is a rare and beautiful thing, and to see Chappell and Hynter invent something that moves us on so many levels, is awe-inspiring.

Freedom is prized by everyone. It is not available to all, but in places like Australia, it is certainly within reach. Understanding how to attain that emancipation depends largely on an understanding of one’s own circumstances. Bad Day Insurance shows us that we almost never see the completeness of our lives. There are always annoyances, disappointments and pains that hold our attention, and we are always waiting for something to facilitate a release. Esther and Mavis have suffered an eternity. Prisoners of fear, despair and defeat, they have formed a hellish life, unaware of their power for creating better days for themselves. They fail to see that the locks enslaving them require keys that only they can manufacture. This is a show about our freedom, and it challenges us to seize it.

On/Off (Bordello Theatre)

onoff2Venue: Bordello Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Nov 30 – Dec 15, 2013
Playwright: Lisa Chappell
Director: Scott Witt
Actors: Lisa Chappell, Marissa Dikkenberg
Image by Simon Dikkenberg

Theatre review
When an actor and a singer come together to create a work in the cabaret space, it is a sure sign that they are on a mission to break theatrical rules in order to create something unique and fresh. On/Off certainly gives us something new and innovative, but more than that, this is a work that entertains, fascinates, and connects on many levels. It takes its audience on an emotional roller coaster ride, well aware that it is the contrast of funny and sad that makes each reaction more powerful. We laugh and cry, and laugh again. With its unusual structure and excellent performances, the show forces us to let down our guard, and takes control of all our sentiments.

Scott Witt’s direction is superb. He constantly plays with juxtapositions, making use of the wildly different characteristics of the two actors, and the spacial concepts of on stage and off stage, and crafts a work that is as emotionally volatile as it is confident in its structure and plot. The journey is incredibly bumpy, but the destination is crystal clear. The experience of witnessing one actor on stage, and the other off, while listening to a familiar cabaret standard, is a pleasure that has to be seen to be believed.

Marissa Dikkenberg’s depiction of her character’s disintegration is marvellous. Her singing voice is strong, but she uses her skills carefully to maintain the believability of her character. Sara is a bland “Stepford housewife” type, who goes through a thorough and clamorous break down, progressing from a chirpy and sober state of delusion into a complete drunken mess. Lisa Chappell’s presence in the tiny Bordello Theatre is colossal, and her acting is faultless. Her drama and comedy are both high octane, but the gory authenticity she puts into her work makes every moment convincing. Chappell’s performance is determined to hit her audience like a ton of bricks. It is unabashed, unapologetic theatricality at its most flamboyant and audacious, and completely delicious.

This is alternative art, but formulated with the intention to communicate to wide audiences. It is a story about life’s disappointments, human resilience, and the value of friendship. These themes are universal, and also passionate. The words to one of the songs in the show sum things up best, “you’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little… and when the world is through with us, we’ve got each other’s arms.” Many things happen in On/Off, but what endures is The Glory Of Love.

5 Questions with Marissa Dikkenberg and Lisa Chappell

onoff1What is your favourite swear word?
MD – Fuck….said with a quiet & dramatic intensity when no one is listening…
LC – My favourite swear word is “bugger shit tit wees”.

What are you wearing?
MD – I would like to say I am dressed head to toe in something sexy & exquisite looking faaabulous but that would be a lie. I am in a t-shirt & tracky daks with mismatched underwear & no makeup! Puhleeeze don’t tell my Mum she is a style meister!
LC – I’m wearing floral cords and a baggy t.shirt. Yes I look slightly reminiscent of my grandmother’s lounge suite.

What is love?
MD – Love is action, it is also the ability to cherish and adore yourself and others without conditions.
LC – Love is my dog, George. Unconditional, loyal, affectionate, smart and makes you a better person.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
MD – Penelope by Siren Theatre Company. I LOVED it! I cherished & adored it without needing to change it… I still think about it, 5 stars.
LC – The last show I saw was Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. I didn’t make the second half, not a Stoppard fan, too much head not enough heart for my liking. 3 stars because everything else was great other than the writing for me.

Is your new show going to be any good?
MD – It will be vibrant, honest , fun & it’s R18 so hell YES it’ll be good x
LC – My next show ON/OFF is the opposite of Stoppard, it’s completely visceral. It’s coarse, funny, full of heart, and has great music. A rollicking night out!

Read Suzy’s review here

Marissa Dikkenberg and Lisa Chappell are starring in On/Off.
Show dates: 1 – 15 Dec, 2013
Show venue: Bordello Theatre

Fred (Old 505 Theatre)

lisachappellVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 28 – Sep 8, 2013
Playwright: Lisa Chappell
Director: Christopher Stollery
Actor: Lisa Chappell

Theatre review
One woman in an ugly costume, one chair, no set, no props, no “multimedia” elements. This is bare bones theatre that relies squarely on performance, writing and direction. The fact that Fred works so successfully is a real testament to the talent and hard work that Lisa Chappell and Christopher Stollery have put into their craft. This show is relentlessly dark, but also extremely funny. It strikes a balance between the horrific and the hilarious, creating an emotional effect that is painfully unsettling but entirely entrancing.

Chappell’s skill as an actor is exceptional. The thoroughness at which she maps out the frequent and dramatic changes in tone of performance and psychological states is the highlight of this production. Her ability to portray the insanity of being lost in an agonising and devastating memory in one second, and flicking back in an instant to frivolous silliness, is sublime. Also impressive, is that the audience is only ever allowed to see the character, Deidre on stage. The actor, Lisa, is perfectly hidden from view, even though she is right in front of your eyes, expertly casting her magic over a spellbound crowd. Her director Stollery provides a creative and critical “third eye”, and together, they have spawned a one-woman tour de force that is unmissable.

Equally noteworthy is Chappell’s script. Her work explores some of the most morbid crevices of the human imagination, but her storytelling stubbornly remains in the realm of jokes and laughter. This is a perfect (and intense) representation of trauma, mental illness and the human instinct for survival. While the play concludes abruptly, it does so with good reason. It might disrupt the audience’s sentimental response to the character in question, but it is in the awakening from the fantasy into stone cold sober reality that the truth hits home.