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

5 Questions with Tyler De Nawi and Aanisa Vylet

Tyler De Nawi

Aanisa Vylet: I have been watching you play Uday Hussein. He is quite a cruel man and you as a person have the demeanour of a teddy bear. How do you channel his cruelty?
Tyler De Nawi: When I am behind closed doors in my own space I experiment with how far I can take something. I can have quite a lot of fun with myself… (I know that sounds dirty) but I know how to entertain myself. When I am alone, I can actually push myself to those extremes, to those states of anger, distress. I can drop my mask of Mr Nice Guy and play. It comes from play, playing at home, really taking time to understand what the text is saying. The play is written so well. I just try to let the text breathe on stage.

What is your relationship to Iraq as an Arab Australian?
I grew up with Iraqis and Asyrians in Western Sydney. The word ‘Saddam’ was thrown around loosely at school. Some loved Saddam, some hated Saddam, some didn’t even know how to feel about it… After more research, I have started to see the Husseins as ordinary people. Even though people considered him to be crazy, Uday Hussein was a boy who grew up with a father who would kill his own friends if they betrayed him. His father was unfaithful to his mum and Uday loved his mum. He was product of his own environment. Uday used to own tigers. To me, if he was an animal, he would be a tiger – a predator in captivity.

What is your favourite thing about your Uday Hussein costume?
He is like an “Arab Hugh Hefner”. He wears a three-piece suit with gold buttons on it and a gold tie. It is something else. We are so lucky to have found it. I am still trying to get my hands on a ring, a gold pinky ring. I think that will be my favourite part.

Have you ever been to Iraq?
Never. I have been to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Turkey… Wow, all the countries around Iraq but I never been there, no.

Do you feel targeted as an Arab?

I am proud to be Muslim. I am proud to be from an Arab background. We are complex just like every one else. We are messy. We are passionate. We are beautiful, just like everyone else. It is time to stop assuming you can label anyone. Just because I am Arab-Muslim does not mean you know me.

I believe art is the best way to help a society overcome these assumptions.

When I was a kid growing up, driving down the highway I saw big banners from world vision that showed an African child suffering. 20 years later, there are now Syrian kids on banners in the rubble that was once their city. How did we get to this? We haven’t even resolved what is happening in Africa. People from my own heritage have become a charity case. What is next?

Aanisa Vylet

Tyler De Nawi: In this play you are playing two characters – an Iraqi civilian whose home is being raided and a leper. I watch you embody these characters very well. To what extent do you go to embody a character?
Aanisa Vylet: I can inhabit distressed states of being very easily. I don’t know where it comes from. Perhaps it is in my blood, an ancestral pain. When I access those states I think about everyone who is currently suffering in Arab countries and the world right now. I channel anyone I know who is an outsider due to their health as the leper.

I also work in colours and through the physicality of that character. For the Iraqi woman, my feet are bare and I am trying to put on my scarf. As a person from an Islamic background, I understand the vulnerability and nakedness that she would feel when those parts of her body are bare in the presence of foreign military.

With the leper, my body is diagonal and made of sand. The leper is the color grey – the black moves inward, the white tries to reach out. The Iraqi woman is red – passionate and explosive.

If you were stranded in the middle of the desert as an outsider, decaying, what is the food that you would be wishing for?
My mother’s homemade vine leaves. Even though my mum hates cooking, her food is always made with love and makes me feel like I am at home. And Lebanese vine leaves with yoghurt and mint? That is the dish that describes my life. It takes forever to make but tastes so delicious you fight for the last mouthful.

What is your mission as an artist and why were you interested in telling this story?
My mission is to tell stories that are difficult to tell, stories that express the voices of people who are silenced who cannot tell their stories themselves. I aim to tell provocative and engaging stories that don’t exist yet.

And as for Bengal, when I first read the script I thought – “Fuck yes!” and then… “Thank God!” The writing hits the primal part of ourselves that we often forget in our daily life. We need writing like this. We need to be moved in our seats before our brain kicks in.

On top of that I was keen to share a narrative that dealt with “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and to work with the wonderful Mad March Hare Theatre Co.

If you had three wishes from a lamp what would they be?
I would wish that we had proper world leaders again, like Nelson Mandela, leaders who perform not for themselves but for the people they represent. My second wish would be that we respect and improve our treatment of animals and the environment… and I would want my mum to get the operations she needs and my brother, who has Down Syndrome to receive the best and most inclusive life possible.

Why should someone pay $40 to come and see this play?
Because it is incredibly moving, everyone involved is generously bringing themselves and their hearts to the work. Because this play is so relevant to our lives today. Because the play is funny – it is a wonderful and entertaining night at the theatre. This isn’t a close and open your eyes “why the hell did I watch this?” show. At this show you will see artists at play, trying new things. This is ground-breaking, brave theatre. Do yourself a favour – go.

Tyler De Nawi and Aanisa Vylet can be seen in Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph.
Dates: 12 Apr – 6 May, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Belleville (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

madmarchhareVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 30 – May 12, 2016
Playwright: Amy Herzog
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Taylor Ferguson, Chantelle Jamieson, Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
Whether or not one believes in “happily ever after”, there is little doubt in the truth that relationships are never completely smooth-sailing. When people are bonded together, what keeps them from breaking up are not always snowdrops and daffodils. Amy Herzog’s Belleville is about the poison that can fester in romantic unions, observed through a married American couple, Abby and Zack, disquieted and displaced in Paris. We see them trying to make things work, but the only thing they share is a chronic anxiety about being together, the causes of which the playwright keeps concealed until the end. In our efforts to explain the mystery of their circumstance, we access our own understandings of how things can go awry between two people who have grown so close, thereby reflecting an unfortunate universality of the experience.

It is a play full of intrigue and danger, brought to the stage by director Claudia Barrie who creates a disarming tension from the unrelenting but subtle details of the couple’s relationship collapse. Their unnamed dysfunction is made palpable by Barrie’s flair for manufacturing suspense, and our minds are kept racing in response to the mysterious plot. The production is confidently designed by a team who taps into the undercurrents and subtexts of the writing, to address the less deliberate parts of our consciousness. The characters struggle to say what they mean, but their feelings are manifest in the atmosphere that we share. Performances are committed and thoughtful, with all actors proving to be dynamic and entertaining, although some moments could be less tentative. Abby is played by Taylor Ferguson who does a marvellous job of expressing physically what her role is unable to put in words, and Josh Anderson’s volatility as Zack keeps us on tenterhooks, wondering if and when he is going to reach a point of nervous breakdown.

Paris is the city of love, and many dream of its enchanting and exotic perfection, without ever having stepped foot in it. Indeed, Paris represents a kind of quixotic approach to romance that is fundamental to its appeal. We want what we have never experienced, certain of the fulfilment it will deliver without knowing what it actually contains and entails. Abby and Zack arrive at their point of difficulty because of decisions made on a basis of weakness, conformity and resignation. They went after something they knew nothing of, and find themselves stranded in a space of destruction and hopelessness. If they get out of it alive, they can leave ignorance behind and head into the future with brighter minds, but if they remain trapped, the end can only be calamitous.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

5 Questions with Chantelle Jamieson and Mansoor Noor

Chantelle Jamieson

Chantelle Jamieson

Mansoor Noor: What role would you love to play that you haven’t yet?
Chantelle Jamieson: I’d love to play Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Who wouldn’t love to be that witty.

What is a show you would never do again?
Unfortunately, Derek Walcott’s Caribbean version of The Odyssey. We did it at drama school and I think everyone involved would happily forget it. I was playing Athena and the only memory of the role I have is of putting more and more glitter on every night to try and distract from what was happening on stage.

What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out as an actor?
No matter how much glitter you wear, you can’t fix a bad performance.

What have you enjoyed the most about working on Belleville?
I know it’s sucky but, Claudia, our director. It’s been amazing to work with such a passionate gifted young female director. It takes so much out of you holding a team together over the journey of a show, but her indomitable attitude is infectious. Also the cast are pretty great. You’re welcome, Mansoor.

Any tips on speaking French?
When you see an ‘r’ in a word, forget about rolling it, think about clearing your throat. Comprenez vous? That means “do you understand?”… I had to use Google translate for that.

Mansoor Noor

Mansoor Noor

Chantelle Jamieson: If a film was made about your life who would you want to play you and who would really get the part?
Mansoor Noor: Daniel Day Lewis or Meryl Streep. So transformational. Let’s face it though, it would probably be Dev Patel. Or Joel Edgerton, #diversity

What is the most valuable experience you’ve gained from working on Belleville?
Probably having to learn lines in another dialect. I already speak a second language so I didn’t think it would be this challenging but the slightest mispronunciation can change everything. My mother actually lived in Paris for 6 years. She didn’t help me at all.

You’re also a photographer, which do you get most enjoyment out of?
Being on stage is certainly one of the most thrilling things you can experience. I think as artists we sometimes forget that not everyone gets to have the feeling of walking around on stage pretending to be other people in front of complete strangers. But I also love shooting actors’ head shots. Is this your way of asking me to shoot you some new head shots Chantelle?

Favourite thing to say in French?
It’s actually one of the words you get to say in the play. Incredible or rather, in-croy-a-ble!
I’ve started using it in my everyday vernacular.
“How is your dating life Mansoor?”
“Oh! Incroyable… bad.”

What’s the first memory you have of performance?
My debut performance was in a production of Billy Goat Gruff And The Baby Troll in Grade 6. And I think it’s safe to say I stole the show with my unintentionally Middle Eastern sounding Billy Goat.

Chantelle Jamieson and Mansoor Noor can be seen in Belleville by Amy Herzog.
Dates: 13 April – 12 May, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Dark Vanilla Jungle (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

madmarchVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 1 -12, 2015
Playwright: Philip Ridley
Directors: Fiona Hallenan-Barker & Emma Louise
Cast: Claudia Barrie
Image by Daina Marie Photography

Theatre review
Finding a way to accurately articulate the problems that our societies face is never easy. We can come up with convenient sound bites that attempt to encapsulate what it is that we mean, but we risk trivialising issues through the abstractions that inevitably come with semantic abbreviations. Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle does the opposite. In his deeply harrowing one-woman play, teenager Andrea is the lightning rod at which our failures as a modern community converge. In its oppressive 90 minute duration, we are presented a life experienced through endless days of horror, none of which are due to any fault of Andrea’s own. Her innocence is the target of every evil that walks the planet, while all that is good lays comatose and unable to provide any protection. The story is about sexism, capitalism and poverty, the disintegration of community, and the dissolution of humanity that is occurring in our contemporary lives. It is raw, unflinchingly cruel, and devastating, but it is important.

Under the direction of Fiona Hallenan-Barker and Emma Louise, the production becomes an exercise in the depiction of pain. We are an audience numbed by the 24-hour news cycle, calloused by images of dead children appearing alongside idiot billionaires running for office. The need to communicate trauma is urgent in Dark Vanilla Jungle, and its persistence overwhelms our natural impulse to evade its barrage of very dark emotions. The long script is subtly broken up into sections presented with astute tonal variations that keep us engaged, and the gradual revelations in its narrative are handled with a finesse that provide just enough shock value so that their gravity is communicated without being unduly sensationalist or distracting. The use of a clear plastic curtain separating us from the action builds a sentimental and cerebral distance that may encourage more analysis in the viewing experience, but the sacrifice in terms of an opportunity for more emotional involvement is perhaps too great. The show is an undeniably intense one, but the plot structure requires greater care in its second half to sustain its power. After some unbelievably harsh details are divulged, the play falls into a disappointing slump, which it eventually does recover from, but the flaw is an apparent one in an otherwise extremely accomplished rendition of a very difficult text.

Claudia Barrie’s astounding performance as Andrea impresses with a savage depth that is rarely encountered. Her fearlessness in embodying such a degree of gruesome atrocity gives us nowhere to hide, and we can only respond with compassion. The earthly complexity she manufactures, together with the portrayal of her character’s fundamental pureness, gives Andrea a palpable authenticity that we connect closely and immediately with. We are angered by her torment and wish to protect her, and this instinct makes us examine stories like hers, and other injustices of our world, with renewed resolve and passion. Even in the darkest winters of the Antarctica, flowers are poised to bloom. Life is resilient beyond our conception, but our neglect of the disadvantaged is a transgression that needs to be rescinded at this moment.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com