Review: The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Jackrabbit Theatre / Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 2 – 13, 2019
Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Mathew Lee, Nicholas Papademetriou, Nicole Pingon, Callan Purcell, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Mike Ugo, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The theatrical action takes place in a rectangular sandpit, with nine people in disciplined formations, illustrating the 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Romanticist’s words are turned tangible, as we watch his ship’s adventures unfold, from an optimistic start, into a journey that becomes increasingly perilous. The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is parsed through the bodies of performers, for a transformation that takes the storytelling from one artistic form to another, and in the process, bending time to create a channel in which the past can visit the palpable present.

Directed by Julia Robertson, the production is whimsical, resolutely so, but it is insufficiently engaging, due mainly to the traverse arrangement of seating, which disallows the visual dimensions of the show to truly fulfil their intentions. Without an adequate backdrop, and without a raised stage, our eyes become restricted in what they are able to absorb and discern. The ensemble is focused, exquisitely cohesive with their offering. It is a spirited effort, especially inventive with the music and sounds that they generate, and along with composer Oliver Shermacher, auditory pleasures are a principal accomplishment of this work.

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner may not connect as potently as it should, but it bears an integrity that is reassuring. There is a purity to its approach that feels artistically uncompromising and, therefore, admirable. In what we term “independent theatre”, nobody pays your bills but yourself. The sacrifices involved in undertaking this often thankless work are mammoth, and artists should not placate or ingratiate, in the hope of some imaginary professional advancement that will result. Their only responsibility is to the truth, and that is what we are here for, wherever we find ourselves to be.

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5 Questions with Nicole Pingon and Mike Ugo

Nicole Pingon

Mike Ugo: If you were about to embark on a journey on the deep blue seas, what two things would you take with you and why?
Nicole Pingon: A waterproof notebook and stationery set. I don’t think this has been invented yet, (at least not that I know of), but I’d love to be able to write and doodle, without worrying about the risk of losing them to the ocean!

Why do you think this story is relevant today?
The ideas Coleridge lamented back in 1798, like reciprocity with the natural world, guilt and existentialism frankly couldn’t be more relevant today, as we live in a time where things aren’t exactly looking bright for our future – socially, politically or environmentally. Not only have Coleridge’s ideas have persisted over time because we are still flawed humans, I think the reason this particular story continues to resonate with us, is due to its exploration of these big scary ideas through a philosophical and moral lens. It deals with fundamental human concerns in a way that feels magical and otherworldly, yet undeniably human and close to home. This story continues to remind us that like the natural world around us, we are creatures of this earth and perhaps don’t have as much control over the future as we may believe we do. Because without Mother Nature, where does that leave us? This is a question Coleridge asked, and a question we will continue to ask ourselves until – I suppose until something changes.  

Working on this production, how has it impacted you?
I’m a firm believer in the fact that we’re constantly learning and growing, and being a part of this production has absolutely been a testament to that! I’m continuously growing throughout this process, both as an artist and a human. I’m so grateful to create with some of the most wondrous, generous and talented creatives, and am constantly inspired by them. Every moment in the room has honestly been such a joy. The excitement I feel is a reminder of how much I love being on the floor, collaborating, discovering and creating. As a human, it’s really encouraged me to read further, watch more and helped me deepen my own worldview, particularly surrounding environmentalism and the language we use to discuss it. It’s also ignited a spark in me to continue exploring new ways to communicate big ideas through performance.

Little Eggs Collective in a sentence?
A collective of passionate, ambitious and diverse storytellers, creating new work and new modes of storytelling, who also happen to be the most wonderful eggs you will ever meet!

Which country would you like to visit that you haven’t been to and why?
I’d really love to visit Iceland some time soon! Not only is it absolutely beautiful, it’s a country that genuinely puts the environment at the forefront. I’d love to immerse myself in their sustainable way of living, and see how it all works. Otherwise Antarctica would be super cool, because Antarctica!

Mike Ugo

Nicole Pingon:What is your favourite bird?
Mike Ugo: Favourite bird would have to be an eagle. My surname actually means eagle of God in my native language (Igbo). Shoutout to my dad, he is late now but I always carry him with me in my heart everywhere I go.

Why do you think this story is important to share?
As a society we can often place significance on the wrong things, whether that be on social media, an excessive indulgence in material goods, celebrity gossip/culture, standards of beauty, the list goes on. These things tend to be glorified in society; but when someone is dying, suddenly all of that becomes trivial.

What type of life did I live?
How did I treat people?
Did I travel enough?
Did I get to experience all the jewels of this beautiful earth?

This story urges you to look within yourself and ask yourself what it means to be human because at the end of the day we all bleed the same. But not only that, realising that it is a gift just to breathe fresh air and that it’s really in all of our best interests to protect and preserve our environment.

What would you love to see in the future of the Sydney theatre scene?
Well as well as having a brother, I have two sisters. If you add my mother, that’s three women in the household (lol) and I would love to just see more female related stories. That would be cool to see. When women win, we all win!!! There’s more than enough room for everyone to shine, so us as men shouldn’t ever feel threatened in any way, shape or form.

What have you learnt/enjoyed about the process of creating this show?
Everything. This type of theatre-making is new to me so just being patient with the whole process. I won’t disclose any gems haha because that stays in the room, but I will say I’m forever indebted to Julia Robertson because she’s the first person to give me an opportunity in the Sydney independent theatre scene. She’s a real genuine soul and you want to be around people like that. I’m still early in my development in terms of acting so every rehearsal has been a gift. It has been challenging because I’ve never been in this type of environment before and the level of excellence amongst everyone is high. But the energy is amazing and everyone is so warm.

What does it mean to be a person of colour in the arts in Sydney?
Well, thank God for my parents raising me with love and affording me with so much. This is why I’ve always loved who I am and translating that positive energy into stories for younger generations is something I find invigorating.

Nicole Pingon and Mike Ugo can be seen in The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.
Dates: 2 – 13 Apr, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Pinocchio (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: The Sydney Fringe Warehouse (Alexandria NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2017
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Max Harris, Mathew Lee, Oliver Shermacher, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Set in 1940 Italy, at the height of Mussolini’s rule as Prime Minister and leader of the National Fascist Party, this version of Pinocchio sees our poor woodcarver Geppetto in his work room alone with his marionettes, trying to keep to himself, as he shuts out the ugliness of the world outside. Wordless but vivaciously animated, the show utilises techniques from the disciplines of mime, dance, music and singing, to tell a story of the individual versus the state, of the personal and the political. Our current sensitivity regarding the rise of nationalist ideologies, gives this incarnation of Pinocchio a quiet but unyielding resonance.

Its serious themes notwithstanding, this modern reiteration, directed by Julia Robertson and choreographed by Georgia Britt, is a wonderfully enchanting take on the old tale. Geppetto’s fantasy land, innocent and pure, provides the platform for a performance that appeals to our childlike sensibilities. Set and lighting designer Nick Fry manufactures a nostalgic beauty for the unusual, and enormous, venue, containing the action and our attention, with a clever understanding of space and atmosphere.

The crucial element of tenderness is brought to the stage by Mathew Lee, who shines in the role of Geppetto. His depiction of naivety allows us to see with unequivocal clarity, evil forces that try to engulf. The scene-stealing Annie Stafford displays an irrepressible presence even when playing an insentient doll, especially captivating when given an opportunity to show off her divine soprano. Harmonies in this Pinocchio are ethereal, often exquisite, performed with marvellous acoustic effect by a cast of six, inside the surprising elegance of a repurposed concrete warehouse.

We thought everything had been finalised and decided, when the fascists lost the war. Not a century has passed, and we again hear those despicable murmurs beginning to resurface, trying for a second attempt at its tyranny. There are no elongating noses in Geppetto’s studio, because this time, the lies are on the outside. The artist’s efforts to hide and disengage are futile. He is required to fight back, if his dignity is to remain intact.

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