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.


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.


5 Questions with Fiona Hallenan-Barker and Benjamin Brockman

Fiona Hallenan-Barker

Fiona Hallenan-Barker

Benjamin Brockman: Tell me a bit about yourself?
Fiona Hallenan-Barker: My name is Fiona and I’m a theatre-holic… I am a freelance theatre director, part-time theatre programmer, graduate of Theatre Nepean and Victorian College of Arts, dramaturg, producer, teacher, photographer, arts advocate, wife to a classical archaeologist and co-owner of a cavoodle named Kubrick.

How did you come to be here?
I had worked with Mad March Hare a couple of years ago on fantastic project at The Old 505 Theatre called Still by Jane Bodie. My co-director Emma Louise and I have worked together many times before; the latest was when I directed Philip Ridley’s Piranha Heights for the Spare Room. Ridley is a brilliant writer and a very generous artist. Meeting him in London, seeing his work there and talking about his aesthetic, I became an even bigger fan. He has a tremendous body of work: The Pitchfork Disney, The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Vincent River, Mercury Fur, Radiant Vermin, Shivered and so many more plays and films. His kids’ books are tremendous too. So, of course I jumped at the chance to come on-board this beautiful, one-woman show.

In every show that you have done is there a reoccurring item, why?
Oh, the bed thing. Yes, I always seem to work with beds – I also never work with black-outs or clocks on stage (for obvious reasons). Beds are fantastic to work with as they are so meaningful in a range of contexts from domestic, to clinical, to public anonymous spaces. Of the 20 or so productions I have directed, only one or two haven’t had a bed; in the laboratory with actors they provide a safe area for violent, physical exploration as well. When Emma and I started delving into Dark Vanilla Jungle, one of the first things we talked about was having a bed; so, yes, we can guarantee that it will feature in this production too.

If you could pick one song that would form the soundtrack of your life, what would it be, and why?
That’s a good one, like most theatre makers my soundtrack to life is very much about the music used in each show, so it’s a very eclectic mix. In Dark Vanilla Jungle Philip Ridley wrote the lyrics to a beautiful song by Dreamskin Candle called Ladybird Fist. It is a beautiful, gentle Laura Marling-esque type melody with some amazing lyrics that are pure Ridley:

My lovers hands hold me close at night.
….His warm embrace fills my dark with light.
…But I have seen his fist sometimes and that fist is speckled in red
For red is the colour of love he said
Now kiss my ladybird fist, sweet love…

Have a listen on iTunes. Or – even better – come along to the show.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest 10 being the highest) how awesomely easy are you to work with?
Obviously a 10 out of 10, hang on, we haven’t even gone into tech week yet so maybe a 7 at this point. But my dog did eat your shoes in one of our design meetings so that’s at least an 8. Okay, how about 10 out of 10 for the overall project. You know Ben, we have the potential to go all the way to 11 if you will reconsider a revolve, live animals, and some pyro….

Benjamin Brockman

Benjamin Brockman

Fiona Hallenan-Barker: As one of Sydney’s most prolific designers, what have you been working on recently?
Benjamin Brockman: Prolific? Ha, in other words ‘a whore’! To answer this question I had to look at my website (www.benjaminbrockmandesigns.com shameless plug) and I counted that so far I have done 17 shows this year and so it is hard to remember what was when. But recently I lit Great Island at 107 Project on 24 hours’ notice; that was a blast (when in doubt add strobe lights). I then lit Detroit at Darlinghurst Theatre Company which I really enjoyed as I got to play with projection as a light source. Finally, Space Cats about a week ago was a showing of a new cabaret/musical about sexually depraved cats from outer space. Coming up I have The Aliens at the Old Fitz (August), Dark Vanilla Jungle and a tour of Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom to Melbourne.

What is your signature item (and no, it can’t be a gel colour)
What! I can’t pick a colour? Well if I could pick a colour it would be Lee 139 which is Primary Green. I am notorious for trying to sneak green into my shows whereever I can. But since I cannot pick a colour, I have to say I am a really big user and collector of gobos – which are a mixture of metal or glass discs that go in to lights to create texture or images with light. Not many can understand my love of gobos but they just add some much texture to light, giving a heightened sense of movement and a really easy way to give a sense of location. You have an outside scene? Just add cloud gobos!

How do you translate yours and the creative team’s vision of the play into the physical space in Philip Ridley’s world?
This is a hard one. When reading a play often I come up with one image that speaks to me the most and through discussion with other people it helps me to develop the ideas. We then settle on something after hours of arguing and scrunched up paper. I am much better when taking about ideas with others because it helps me to come up with new ones and I also like working with people and directors who are open to discussion from all departments rather than being dictated to on what someone wants. If you have more than one brilliant mind in the room – use them. That then leads to references and then it is just a case of starting to research and start sourcing materials to fill the design that we have come up with. Within budget, of course.

Favourite line from Dark Vanilla Jungle and why?
Page 15 “Where am I now?…The light is so bright. I… I am laying on something cold.” Basically this line inspired me to come up with the design we have created.

What is your Concert of Shame? (ie are you going to shock us all by revealing you have seen Justin Bieber live three times?)
I am a religious watcher of Dance Moms. Each week I tune in to watch little girls get yelled at by Abby Lee Miller – and I love it! I have no shame…

Fiona Hallenan-Barker and Benjamin Brockman’s next show is Dark Vanilla Jungle by Philip Ridley, presenting as part of Sydney Fringe 2015.
Dates: 1 – 12 Sep, 2015
Venue: The Old 505 Theatre

Review: Shivered (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

madmarchVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), May 7 – 30, 2015
Playwright: Philip Ridley
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Joseph Del Re, Rhonda Doyl, Libby Fleming, Andrew Johnston, Brendan Miles, Liam Nunan

Theatre review
Illusory contours “are perceived where there is no physical luminance, colour or texture difference,” referring to our ability to see things that are not actually there. In the case of Philip Ridley’s Shivered, we form narratives and create meanings from a series of scenes that do not immediately relate to each other, almost as though in a state of delusion. Our human nature is explored not only in the stories being told, but also in the way the audience is encouraged to makes sense of all that is put on stage. Looking at our propensity to interpret events in a way that never strays far from “cause and effect”, it is an examination of logic, which the play suggests is sometimes insufficient, and indeed, futile. Ridley’s work deals with many of the worst things in life, and makes us wonder if we can ever think of our darkest moments as inevitable, and the ethical implications of being embroiled in disappointments and disasters that we do not have direct control over.

These are big philosophical considerations, but individual scenes are melodramatic, almost operatic, in nature. Director Claudia Barrie invests heavily into that duality of intellect and emotion, with a fierce dedication to her stagecraft, and her work here is effective on both those levels. We get caught up in intense family drama not unlike those favoured by tabloid journalism, but the work is unrelenting in placing us at a conceptual distance so that we are always analysing the catastrophic consequences from an abstract perspective, in addition to experiencing the anguish that is being performed. The text is an edgy one, and Barrie takes great care in having Ridley’s words articulated with excellent clarity, but with all the taboo subjects involved, the production often feels tame in its expression when compared to the controversies being discussed.

Light and set design by Benjamin Brockman delivers a sophisticated space that is able to portray abstraction or realism as required, sometimes simultaneously. It accommodates the haphazard timeline of the plot beautifully, and the starkness of his aesthetic matches the brutality of Ridley’s writing very well, but at over two hours, scene transitions become repetitive and predictable later in the piece. The economy of technology Brockman experiments with, though slightly restrictive, is a success story that signals a significant evolution in lighting for Sydney stages.

The cast is detailed and powerful. Every character in the show touches us, despite the outrageous contexts we find them in. Libby Fleming alternates between quite campy humour and palpable rawness, for an enthralling performance that is as fascinating as it is moving. Her impressive ability to portray depths of despair provides a solid core of empathy that keep us anxiously attentive. The connection Fleming establishes with her sons in the play is the crucial ingredient that secures the gravity for its various threads of turmoil. Also wonderfully engaging is Liam Nunan whose presentational style effervesces with extravagance, but with a surprisingly convincing focus that keeps us engaged. Josh Anderson plays the damaged young Ryan with quiet sensitivity, but the threatening intensity he produces teeters close to eruption, and we are fascinated by the complexity he consistently works into his role.

There are horrors around us, and they are by nature absurd, for if they were fathomable, they would also be preventable. Humanity necessitates that we make sense of things, but life often insists on defying logic to demonstrate its dominance over humans. Life is hard, but we are resilient. All the characters in Shivered struggle, and their persistence with survival means that in order to overcome, they have to figure things out, whether possible or not. No one in the play gives up, and that is the moral of the story.


Review: A Moment On The Lips (Mad March Hare Theatre Company / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

madmarchhareVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 4 – 22, 2014
Playwright: Jonathan Gavin
Director: Mackenzie Steele
Actors: Beth Aubrey, Sarah Aubrey, Claudia Barrie, Lucy Goleby, Sonya Kerr, Ainslie McGlynn, Sabryna Te’o
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
A Moment On The Lips is a play about the relationships between seven women in Sydney. Entangled as spouses, lovers, friends and sisters, they navigate a multitude of complex discordances, all of which are familiar and reflective of our personal lives. Jonathan Gavin’s script interweaves issues from personal and social spaces, with themes like ethnic and sexuality discrimination, converging with family and professional lives.

It is a tricky work to direct. The play seems to be about “first world problems”, so while we relate to the emotions being portrayed, there is a lack of gravity that makes the characters’ circumstances seem somewhat trivial. Mackenzie Steele succeeds in extracting passionate performances from his cast, and some of the tearful and emotional moments are excellent viewing, but the action always seems a little detached. The scenes are short, resulting in a fast-paced show that is entertaining and thoroughly engaging, but this also presents a challenge for creating depth in scenarios and personalities, making empathy difficult to establish.

Sabryna Te’o’s naturalistic portrayal as Bridget is a stand out in the cast. Her performance is a reactive one, which allows her to connect well with the other women. The importance of an actor who emphasises listening over speaking is demonstrated well here. The quality of understated authenticity Te’o brings to her role is refreshing. Ainslie McGlynn is a very funny actor. Her comic ability is truly excellent, giving a jolt of excitement whenever she appears to light up the stage as Anne. Her interpretation of mental illness is well handled. MGlynn loves to entertain, but takes care to give her character a sense of dignity through her multiple break downs. Lucy Goleby as Rowena is memorable in a scene where she confronts her homophobic sister. It is the single most powerful moment in the show, and a real visceral treat.

We are reminded several times, that “it is the little things”. The play wants us to realise not just the importance of relationships but also the subtleties within them. The things we say to each other may seem fleeting, but the words that sit a moment on our lips have effects that last beyond any intention. The destruction that comes from thoughtlessness can often be unpredictably severe. Relationships are hard, but it only takes a little care to turn love into a thing of nourishment.