Review: The Cripple Of Inishmaan (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 11 – Aug 10, 2019
Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Sarah Aubrey, Alex Bryant-Smith, Laurence Coy, Jude Gibson, John Harding, Megan O’Connell, William Rees, Jane Watt
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
It is the Great Depression, and in the small Irish town of Inishmaan, we meet Billy who has grown up an orphan and with a disability. He is cared for by aunts, and by the town folk who are always in each other’s pockets, but the prejudice that he suffers, although fairly benign, is constant and unrelenting. When Hollywood comes calling, he takes no time at all to pack up and go, certain that greener pastures await. Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple Of Inishmaan is a witty examination of parochial rural societies, looking at the way we can be, when there is little to do but to occupy oneself with other people’s business. In the tension between staying and leaving, Billy demonstrates who we are, as dreamers always seeking something better. Hope is our way out, even if hope does on occasion prove itself empty.

Actor William Rees contributes a gentle innocence to the show. As Billy, his performance is unpretentious, relying only on honest impulses to tell the story. It is an accomplished ensemble. Although not quite as funny as the writing seems to require, there is certainly no lack of authenticity in the personalities they aim to portray. Jude Gibson and Laurence Coy are memorable as a mother-and-son team, with a wicked streak to their dynamic that unnerves and delights. Sarah Aubrey and Megan O’Connell are the aunts, captivating at each appearance with their marvellously sardonic approach, for a couple of sullen pessimists.

Claudia Barrie’s direction depicts a bleakness that accurately conveys the environment under scrutiny, but its lack of vibrancy makes compromises to the play’s humour that can cause the experience to feel underwhelming. Set design by Brianna Patrice Russell is effective in transporting us to a distant time and place, while Benjamin Brockman’s lights bring valuable visual variety to the narrative. Sound and music by Kailesh Reitmans is restrained, with a subtlety that adds a sense of tranquil beauty to the piece.

Sleepy towns are both idyllic and frustrating. They allow us to be slow with nature, but the peace that it promises tends to be short-lived. The corrupting forces so commonly found in urban existences, are not absent when we escape to rustic locales, they simply take on a different form. People will find trouble with one another, no matter where we structure our lives. As long as ignorance persists, and people are unable to recognise their bigotry, or see the consequences of their cruelty, we will struggle to find harmony. We care for Billy, but for him to be well, the world needs to change.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Eurydice (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 15, 2018
Playwright: Sarah Ruhl
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Alex Malone, Jamie Oxenbould, Nicholas Papademetriou, Ariadne Sgouros, Ebony Vagulans, Lincoln Vickery, Megan Wilding
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
In the afterlife, Eurydice is reunited first with her dead father, before briefly seeing her husband Orpheus come to rescue her. Having crossed over from one realm to another, things can no longer be the same, and in Sarah Ruhl’s version of Eurydice, we observe human consciousness undergo celestial transformations when the body fails, in a fantastical speculation of how it might be.

Mournful but awash with beauty, the play is deeply romantic, as it vacillates between optimism and hopelessness, for a theatrical experience that fills us with a sensation of melancholic longing. Claudia Barrie’s direction take us on a rocky ride, through sequences that vary in levels of efficacy. Although not always sufficiently compelling, Barrie’s work is consistently delicate, with ethereal atmospherics removing us temporarily from the unrefined tedium of our daily existences. Set design by Isabel Hudson provides the humble auditorium with a transfigured grandeur, along with the marvellous scent of fresh cut wood that dominates the space. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are relied upon for a lot of the heavy lifting. His meticulous imagination is determined to place us in one dream state after another, resulting in an impressive delivery of arresting imagery for every scene. Sounds by Ben Pierpoint are the soul of the event, precise in its calibrations of mood and impact.

Ebony Vagulans takes on the eponymous role with palpable conviction, slightly lacking in complexity with her renderings, but an endearing presence nonetheless. The three Stones, mystical ghost-like creatures, are played by Alex Malone, Ariadne Sgouros and Megan Wilding, who introduce a splendid sense of mischief to proceedings, refreshing at every appearance. Jamie Oxenbould and Lincoln Vickery play father and husband respectively, both actors finding moments of pathos that reveal the emotional investment we hold, perhaps surprisingly, for the story. A campy Nicholas Papademetriou offers valuable comedic balance to a show that can get very gloomy.

Nobody knows what the hereafter is, but our conjectures about it are crucial to the way we are. It is that sense of eternity that concerns us. Even the slightest chance of having to exist in an unrelenting permanency for all of tomorrow, is enough to terrify, so we occupy ourselves with fabrications of what could be, using instinct, desire and fear, to concoct visions that help provide semblances of assurance. There is a need to satisfy questions about the self, and about loved ones we have lost. Anxiety is a sensation that requires release, and grief is an emotion that must be eradicated. When we worry, and when we mourn, our capacity to see meaning in darkness becomes paramount.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

Review: You Got Older (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 13 – Aug 4, 2018
Playwright: Clare Barron
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Alex Beauman, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Ainslie McGlynn, Sarah Meacham, Gareth Rickards, Steve Rodgers, Cody Ross
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Mae has come home, to care for her father as he undergoes cancer treatment. Clare Barron’s You Got Older is a look at that moment, of suddenly becoming keenly aware of one’s parents’ mortality. In every process of healing, of trying to make someone better, is the salient reminder that life is fragile. Mae is strong for her father, but in the privacy of her own thoughts, anxiety and grief manifest in fantasies of sexual masochism. Role playing is after all, how we are able to get through most of our days.

The subject matter may be heavy, but like the resilience of our human spirit, the show is determined to keep buoyant and optimistic. Director Claudia Barrie brings excellent humour to the production. Although not exactly lighthearted, we are surprised by the delight and joy that the play brings, through its very enjoyable and richly authentic explorations of love and family dynamics. There is no angsty drama here, only a father and his beloved children grappling with the pain of inevitable separation.

A very solid cast takes us through this universal tale. Harriet Gordon-Anderson is entirely convincing as Mae, with all her contradictions and vulnerabilities, but the actor is particularly successful at conveying a strength that is neither heroic nor exceptional, but that is nonetheless profound in its representation of the good that we are capable of. The paternal character is played by a confidently understated Steve Rodgers, who introduces just enough pathos to have us engaged, leaving us grateful that no emotional blackmailing takes place in this presentation. Contributing to the somewhat unexpected elegance of You Got Older are its supporting actors, each one charming and funny, and as a group, perfectly timed and wonderfully captivating.

When someone close is suffering ill health, those on the sidelines might be left feeling helpless, but we also understand that fundamental to the patient’s well-being, is the spiritual care and support we are required to provide. In times of hardship, fear can easily overwhelm, but courage often appears, allowing love to do its job.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

5 Questions with Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Steve Rodgers

Harriet Gordon-Anderson

Steve Rodgers: What stands out to you about You Got Older?
Harriet Gordon-Anderson: It’s written by someone born after 1980. And it’s a female someone so, jackpot. I love how funny it is, especially when characters are in hospital, or poking worriedly at the lumps in their bodies, or brokenhearted – it’s in these ordinary and frightening everyday moments that Clare finds some hilarity.

Is there a dance routine in this show?
…Obviously.

Have you ever wanted to be a cowboy?
Yeah, somewhere between my Doctor Stage and Explorer Stage I reckon there was a Cowboy one. I did line dancing with my parents when I was about 5 years old, I think we have footage of that on VHS somewhere. I’ll set up a merch stall and sell copies in the foyer.

What kind of preparation have you been doing for the role?
I’ve trained myself to pee on cue. I needed something for the skills section of my resume.

Do you pee in the show?
Absolutely!

Steve Rodgers

Harriet Gordon-Anderson: You’re playing a dad in You Got Older to four adult children. You’re a dad in real life. Do you feel like there’s much of a cross over between you and the character?
Steve Rodgers: Both the character and I love our kids big time, and are constantly negotiating what it is to say too much, hold on too tight, how much to let go, to encourage, lift up, stay out of the way, and let your kids live their own life. Parenting – It’s a balancing act.

This is your first independent show in a long time. Why this one?
I saw Claudia’s Dry Land last year at KXT and it was one of the best things I saw that year. I was so moved by the partnership between those two young women and how one of them refused to walk away when her friend was going through this traumatic act. When Claudia sent me You Got Older I loved it, and it was time to do a job for my heart. Plus I get to work with you Sarah Meacham, Ainslie McGlynn, Alex Beauman, Gareth Rickards and Cody Ross, and oh yeah, Claudia Barry.

We spend a bit of time talking about your vegetable garden in the play, do you garden?
I love it. If I’m out of work, gardening and swimming are like therapy. I just put a Grevillea Banksii in my backyard on the weekend.

You write plays as well as act, what’s happening on that front at the moment?
I’ve got a play over at Redline at the Old Fitz that I wrote opening after us, called King Of Pigs, being directed by Blazey Best. It’s a tough one, but necessary I think. Get along!

Why should everyone come and see our play, You Got Older?
It’s funny, sexy in parts, and disturbing in parts. It’s about all the biggies – Intimacy between a parent and a kid, how we’re all going to die, and therefore how do we live well between moments of happy and sad. It’s about all of us, in all our complicated glory and I promise you’ll feel better about life after seeing it, which in the todays world, can only be a good thing.

Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Steve Rodgers are appearing in You Got Older, by Clare Barron.
Dates: 13 July – 4 August, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Dry Land (Mad March Hare / Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 28 – Aug 19, 2017
Playwright: Ruby Rae Spiegel
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Sarah Meacham, Michelle Ny, Patricia Pemberton, Julian Ramundi, Charles Upton
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Teenage years are but a flash in any lifetime, yet they are the most formative, and in many cases, offer the most exciting of experiences and memories. Before we are tamed into adults, and before we understand the price to be paid for every decision, the teen is a new person unleashed from childhood, ready to explore all that had been previously prohibited. In Dry Land, Ruby Rae Spiegel writes about the locker room at a girls’ swim squad, except where we expect banter, we discover some very hard truths being learned. Amy and Ester are in the process of figuring out the women they want to be, and with the bravery and fortitude they had gained from training in elite sport, they put themselves through the most brutal loss of innocence.

These fearless characters see the immensity of the world and rush head-on to devour its every promise, limited only by that same flesh and blood that is determined to keep each of us contained. It is a story about the spirit of youth, and how every person has to come to terms with their own corporeal limitations, as well as those psychological and social. Ester is fighting tooth and nail to excel in her swimming, while Amy exploits every resource to obtain an abortion without parental consent. They know what is best for them, regardless of our judgements, and Spiegel’s ruthless need to put on display every explicit detail of their confronting endeavours, makes Dry Land an extremely edgy work of theatre that challenges our personal and collective values.

It interrogates notions of youth and gender, and seeks to dismantle bourgeois constructs that dominate discourse in Western art. Claudia Barrie, as director of the piece, demonstrates a real passion for those subversive and feminist ideals, in her creation of a work that is absolutely uncompromising and forceful with what it has to say about our realities, and their accompanying structures of artifice, pretence and hypocrisy. Collaborative outcomes with designers are perhaps slightly predictable, but their efforts are undeniably effective in the production’s ability to manufacture atmosphere and pace, keeping us completely engaged with its narrative.

Barrie’s strength as guiding light for actors, shines brilliantly in Dry Land. All performances, including Julian Ramundi’s very small part as the apathetic Janitor who has seen it all before, are deeply evocative and resonant. No stage moment is allowed to go to waste, and we are thus enthralled. Sarah Meacham’s explorations as the ambitious Ester are as exhaustive as they are delightful. A character study that feels utterly intelligent and inventive, Meacham elevates the show from one that can easily be monotonously dark and serious, to something that is unexpectedly very funny, and overwhelming with compassion. Her comedy sits mischievously under every expression of trauma, giving Dry Land a unique quality of tragicomedy that brings perverse joy to those who can stomach it. Amy is played by Patricia Pemberton, whose resolute refusal to portray a simplistic victimhood, compels us to interpret her grievous circumstances beyond its instance of desperation. It is an extraordinarily rich and defiant personality that Pemberton presents, one who demands admiration over pity, and who reinforces the female as gloriously sovereign and interminably powerful.

When we look back at the salad days of one’s youth, it is with contradictory feelings of pride and embarrassment, exhilaration and regret. No matter how we choose to regard the past, there is no denying that the tougher the lessons, the greater we are today in every aspect of being. We have to try always to protect our young, but allowing them to face difficulty in every mishap and blunder will, as they say, build character. The young women we encounter in Dry Land are caught in a snapshot of suffering and struggle, but their futures are not diminished, only emboldened and bright.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com | www.outhousetheatre.org

5 Questions with Sarah Meacham and Patricia Pemberton

Sarah Meacham

Patricia Pemberton: Describe Dry Land in five words.
Sarah Meacham: Courageous. Honest. Bold. Uncomfortable. Necessary.

What attracted you to the role of Ester and the play initially?
It is such a dream, as an actor, to come across a text that explores such complex, honest and dense stories of young women. It is such a juicy text in that sense. The women have agency and are so interesting respectively. Ruby creates these characters and fills them with a shipping container full of life and truth. Jeremy and Claudia have done the Sydney independent theatre scene such a blessing by putting their story on a stage. In terms of Ester herself, I just fucking love her – no words.

Ahh the teenage years. Tell me about a classic ‘teenage moment’ you’ve had that makes you laugh.
One time I got really wasted with my friend in Albury. We went to this pub, Paddy’s I think it was called, and I remember feeling really close to losing it. I went outside and sat on the curb for about an hour. Then it was time to make tracks and my friend’s cousin picked us up. Then I have this blissful memory of opening the car window and feeling the wind on my face but then coupled with spewy mcgee all over the car door (inside and out) down my dress and on the floor. I woke up the next day with dried vomit in my eyelashes.

What has been the most unexpected moment of the process so far?
Realising the full scope of potential in the elasticity of a swimming cap.

Where should we get dinner – Ruby Tuesday’s or Denny’s?
Ruby’s. Duh.

Patricia Pemberton

Sarah Meacham: What’s your favourite food? I’ve heard you hate protein bars.
Patricia Pemberton: Hands down Nutella. If I could bathe in Nutella I would. Introduce me to a Nutella protein bar that doesn’t taste like a protein bar and you’ll have my attention.

As an actor, what is the greatest part of the rehearsal process?
Actually it’s the point of delirium at the end of a full day’s or week’s rehearsal. That’s either where the best epiphanies happen or you are all in stitches of laughter, both are equally great!

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done on stage?
Once I was in an interpretive dance where I was the sperm that won the race and was dressed in a form fitting white ensemble flailing about on stage? Not sure if that’s counts though, because I just think that’s funny.

Ruby Rae Spiegel discusses a lot of confrontational components that can come to play among puberty for young women, what do you think has distinguished this piece of writing from others in regards to the way she presents the voices of women today?
When I first read the script, I remember closing it and staring at the ceiling for a few minutes- processing and relating with my own experiences. The voices of these young women are universal in their high school setting, their coded lingo and journey of trying to find their place. I think what separates Ruby’s work from other works is that it is relentless in how emotive and cruel not only puberty but life can be. Nothing is off limits. It’s very ‘in yer face’, but who doesn’t love a bit of that?

We’re part of a pretty crazy independent theatre ‘power couple’ with Mad March Hare and Outhouse Theatre coming together. What are you most excited about in staging Dry Land?
Mad March x Outhouse is definitely the Beyonce & Jay Z of indie couplings. I’m so incredibly grateful to be working with the creatives that I am, that’s the most exciting part for me. That they saw something in me that they wanted to collaborate with and vice versa.

Sarah Meacham and Patricia Pemberton are appearing in Dry Land, by Ruby Rae Spiegel.
Dates: 28 July – 19 August, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 12 – May 6, 2017
Playwright: Rajiv Joseph
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Tyler De Nawi, Maggie Dence, Andrew Lindqvist, Stephen Multari, Megan Smart, Aanisa Vylet
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
It is a prayer of anguish and pain. In addressing God, Rajiv Joseph offers a meditation on the biggest challenges faced by humankind at this moment in time, from perspectives personal and global. Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo talks about the ceaseless wars that take place in the middle east, and the sacrifices made to all lives no matter which side of the battle they reside. It also deals heavily with guilt and regret, universal experiences that allow audiences to relate even closer to its characters and stories.

The writing is emotional and imaginative, with ghosts and paranoia haunting the living, and troubling philosophy interrogating the dead. Having Americans and Iraqis at the centre of the action might allow Australian viewers to distance ourselves from its very difficult themes, but the production’s extraordinary intensity is determined to have us embroiled. It is powerful work by director Claudia Barrie, who invests great detail and dynamism into all facets of her show.

An unrelenting atmosphere of tension akin to horror movies and war zones, is marvellously established by a bevy of design talents. Nate Edmondson’s music in particular, impresses with its exceptional precision in calibrating tonal shifts, allowing us to flow with the play’s many surprising and contrasting moods, with no apparent effort at all. Lights are appropriately colourful for a show that revels in its hallucinations, with Benjamin Brockman’s robust approach providing excellent visual variety to a small and restrictive stage. Stephanie Howe’s costumes and Isable Hudon’s set design are simple but always effective and convincing, especially admirable considering the economy at which they operate.

An ensemble of seven remarkable actors perform an unforgettable show, each one commanding, with strong interpretations of their individual parts but beautifully cohesive as a whole. Andrew Lindqvist is stunning as Musa, demonstrating a level of authenticity that makes theatre pure magic. The kinds of torment being described is, to most of us, quite unimaginable, but Musa’s story is laid bare in front of us, entirely convincing and heartbreaking. It is in the way Lindqvist brings meaning to his lines, and in the way his physicality manifests between those lines, that the essence of suffering can be so clearly observed. His work is dramatic and breathtaking, but also profound in its subtle assertions; the actor is fantastic. Josh Anderson and Stephen Multari play American soldiers, both engaging, and moving, with fascinating psychological complexities provides to what are usually reductive ways of portraying military personnel. The eponymous tiger is brought to life by Maggie Dence, who has a tendency to seem overly static, but the quality of omniscience she brings is invaluable. Tyler De Nawi, Megan Smart and Aanisa Vylet are all given scene-stealing opportunities, and although their appearances are relatively brief, they each leave an indelible mark on this stage.

Maybe God does exist out there in the ether, or maybe we are all gods in the here and now. We can crane our necks and ask for answers, but we will never be absolved from doing the best to make the world a better place. We must try to figure things out ourselves, for as we see here, divine intervention never did arrive. For good to happen, it is only up to us, but evil is real, and in Bengal Tiger, it does not know itself. In the play’s pessimism, our actions result in harm, and civilisation is on a downward spiral, but it is a work of fantasy, and how we respond, is another one of its mysteries.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com