Review: Before Lysistrata (Kings Cross Theatre / Montague Basement)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 10 – 22, 2017
Playwright: Ellana Costa
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Ellana Costa, Alex Francis, Michaela Savina
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
We know Lysistrata as the one who convinces the women of Greece to deprive themselves of sex, in order that their men would cease fighting each other in the Peloponnesian War. In Before Lysistrata, playwright Ellana Costa imagines a scenario that leads up to that audacious act. Lysistra and Lampito are the first ladies of Athens and Sparta, each representing a different side of politics.

It is the left and right wings of society, again at loggerheads. Whether 400 BC or 2017 AD it seems, we are determined to make enemies of one another, unable to be at peace with the idea of disagreement. The men go to war, determined to quash the other side, so that the world only needs contain one uniform ideology. With the death of sons that inevitably result, the ladyfolk band together, and hatch a plan to end the atrocities.

At points where the lines of good and evil are blurred, when us and them are disrupted, the show becomes refreshing. Its message can however, feel simplistic, as do its characters and dialogue. Wit and drama can be found in Costa’s well-meant text, but performances are unfledged, and the production never really builds enough tension that would allow sparks to fly. Few artistic risks are taken that will offer elements of surprise or intrigue. Its political interest holds court, central and singular.

Where there is solidarity, great things can be achieved. For each generation that experiences increasing social fragmentation, the idea of organised processes of action becomes correspondingly alien. That we can be unified, must not only be an abstraction, but how we get there, is more bewildering than ever before.

www.montaguebasement.com

5 Questions with Ellana Costa and Michaela Savina

Ellana Costa

Michaela Savina: Who do you believe is the most effective ancient Greek villain?
Ellana Costa: My favourite villains are the Sirens from the story of Jason And The Argonauts. I love that their power can be felt from a distance. I love the idea that these women play into the stereotype of the beautiful, mysterious woman that all men want, only so they can lure these men to their deaths. I also love the image of Jason, so desperate to see and hear the Siren song, that he ties himself to his ship. Talk about a glutton for punishment.

How do you find it performing your own writing?
I think every writer should be forced to perform that own writing at least once. It changes the way you see the writing process. I’ve always enjoyed working in a collaborative way and I’ve noticed a lot of changes I’ve decided to make from the script, to my character particularly, have come out of a realisation that the way I think doesn’t always translate well to the page. The exciting thing, however, about performing a character I’ve created, is that I really feel like I know Lampito. I feel like I understand her and why she is making the choices she’s making.

What’s your favourite thing about Lampito?
I think Lampito is incredibly strong, but I think what I love most about her is the way she shows her strength. She lives in a society where she is often looked down on because she is a women, but when she sees something she thinks is wrong, she say something. Even though she knows it will result in pain for her. She has a real moral backbone that I think is beautiful.

How would you define strength?
I define strength as resilience. To be strong doesn’t mean never falling, or never being upset, or never feeling like you can’t do it. For me, strength is feeling those things, acknowledging them, and then taking the steps you can to get back up. You can’t be strong without vulnerability, and when you are vulnerable you’re able to show your strength.

Who do you call to serve on your utopian action squad?
Well, it would be a combination of fictional and real world bad ass ladies. Let’s start with the obvious one: Wonder Woman. She is a n Amazonian goddess and will obviously be leading our party. I would then request Beyonce for soundtrack, general inspiration and fierce moves. I would also ask Black Widow from Avengers (for DC/Marvel mashup) and then I think I’d end with Geena Davis. That woman is an Olympian archer and super hilarious. Couldn’t image a better crew.

Michaela Savina

Ellana Costa: If you could be any one (or anything) from an ancient Greek myth, who would you be and why?
Michaela Savina: I think I would have to go for Circe because she’s got all of this badass magical power. Also in Odyssey she turned all the men in to pigs which is a move I really endorse.

Who is your feminist role model and why?
It’s like picking a favourite child this question, I think I’m going to go with Joan Didion as basically half my actions in life are just trying to make myself more like her.

What is the most interesting element of Lysistrata’s story for you?
In our adaption I think we’ve really drawn out the idea of sacrifice and what exactly that looks and feels like on a human level. I think understanding that sometimes the same sacrifice can land very differently for people is quite interesting.

What is your favourite thing about playing Lysistrata?
I really love playing her personality quirks, even though she has all this expertise and intelligence her emotional intelligence and social skills are quite lacking and that’s always fun to play. She really does mean well but she just slightly misses the mark.

Dead or alive, who is present at Lysistrata’s symposium on 21st century politics?
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Arundati Roy, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Georgia O’Keefe and Patti Smith, I’m kind of thinking about the post symposium drinks, my god that’d be some fascinating conversation.

Ellana Costa and Michaela Savina can be seen in Before Lysistrata by Ellana Costa.
Dates: 10 – 22 July, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: The Taming Of The Shrew (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Nov 29 – Dec 10, 2016
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Caitlin West
Cast: Travis Ash, Tel Benjamin, Robert Boddington, Sam Brewer, Hannah Cox, Jane Watt
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew is about society’s need to subjugate women. The play takes issue with Katherine, characterising her as headstrong and troublesome, a young woman to be brought under control. The plot is kept basically the same under Caitlin West’s direction, but comedy is turned into tragedy in her version of events.

The production is a heavily edited, compressed revision of the, now objectionable tale. A more detailed approach to Katherine’s and her beau, Petruchio’s perspective backgrounds would allow us to feel more involved in the story, but the main concern here is the argument between West and Shakespeare, between where we are today and how we had been yesterday. The ideas are simple but powerful, and although the methodology would benefit from finding more nuance in its expressions, the resultant show is nonetheless, an exciting one.

There is good conviction from the actors who take the stage. The rapidity of their performance keeps things enjoyable, but by the same token, we are prevented from getting to know any of the characters very well. Robert Boddington and Hannah Cox are combustive as the lead couple, both passionate for the work, and able to achieve a valuable volatile connection that gives the show its dangerous, astringent quality.

We can leave the past behind, but have to acknowledge its influence on how we think and behave. In order to move forward, we must look back and address history. This cyclical concept of time requires that the scars we carry are being attended to, in order that progress may be found. Much of Shakespeare’s legacy involves the ugliness of humanity. Each generation of theatre makers that comes along will have amongst them, those who fall for the Bard’s words, and who must bear the burden of his failures.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: Macbeth (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Nov 29 – Dec 10, 2016
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Travis Ash, Robert Boddington, Hannah Cox, Alex Francis, Barret Griffin, Lulu Howes, Jem Rowe
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
It is a story of greed and betrayal, arising from unbridled ambition, but it is also a parable of retribution and punishment. The transgressions in Macbeth reveal dark and buried parts of our psyche, although neglected in much of daily life, we all know to exist beneath our amiable surfaces. Our conscience keeps things in check, but some of us use divine inspiration as permission to carry out less than pleasant deeds. Shakespeare’s characters know that the supernatural forces they conspire with are evil, but in our realities, they are never quite so undisguised.

Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s rendition of the play is a straightforward telling of the story. A few artistic licenses are taken in his effective conflation of characters, but the plot is left soundly, almost radically, unaltered. Good work on music selection by Lusty-Cavallari brings drama to the production, but the frequent use of stage blood has a tendency to look puerile. Flashes of strong acting by Hannah Cox as Lady Macbeth and Jem Rowe as Malcolm, introduce moments of elevation to a cast that is generally underwhelming. Robert Boddington as Macbeth is insufficiently expressive, in body and in voice, neither to entertain nor to provide psychological insight into one of Western theatre’s most infamous characters.

Countless other productions of Macbeth have come before, many of which have been huge successes. Artists have the right to take on any classic, should they think themselves capable, but they must remain conscious of their audience’s relationship with the text in question. It is highly likely that any performance of a work like Macbeth would be compared to memorable versions that have come prior. Young artists can choose between cutting their teeth with challenging material in the public domain, or settle for something more attainable. Impatience usually results in clumsiness, but it is also a valuable quality necessary for us to soar at great heights.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: Metamorphoses (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Creators: Imogen Gardam, Lulu Howes, Saro Lusty-Cavallari (based on the poem by Ovid)
Dramaturg: Pierce Wilcox
Cast: Lulu Howes, Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Turning Ovid’s two thousand year-old poem into a work for the theatre in Sydney today, is an exercise in adaptation full of possibilities. Every choice is a reflection of the interpreters’ relationship with the world, and with the art form itself. The very decision to take on a project of this nature, is indicative of a desire to experiment with the social aspects of both; theatre, and that immortal classic being interrogated. Imogen Gardam, Lulu Howes and Saro Lusty-Cavallari explore what a work represents when it refuses to be forgotten, and what it means in contemporary society when individuals meet at the theatre to relive it.

Each scene that corresponds to Ovid’s fifteen books, is given its own distinct identity and stylistic genre. Even though there is a conscious effort in manufacturing something quite erratic as inspired by the original, the use of only two actors with infrequent alterations to their appearance limits our ability to perceive the staging with as much variety as is evidently attempted. Our minds give in to a habitual need to create a sense of consistency with the faces we see before us, and the big range of characters is often conflated into a simplification of understanding involving one man and one woman. Perhaps the performers bring along a passion to their performance that has a tendency to appear homogeneous. It can also be said that although energetic in their approach, an ambiguity to their engagement with the work delivers an experience that can be elusive and frustrating. We wish for greater finesse either in the poetic nature of what is being created, or in the meanings that it is able to evoke.

There is abstract beauty to be found in this version of Metamorphoses, as well as political ideas that hold importance and relevance, but neither is willing to become concrete enough for us to grasp with a greater sense of enthralment. If a work aims to alienate, it should keep our feelings at bay but our minds captivated. Art is not always about earning likes, but it should secure attention, especially when it actively rejects the conventional and banal. Little of what we do can endure millennia, but the promise of a resonant instant is all it takes to keep us striving.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: Tammy & Kite (Montague Basement)

montagueVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Creators: Hannah Cox, Caitlin West
Cast: Hannah Cox, Caitlin West
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
We are at home with two very funny sisters. Kite is in year three, and although Tammy is seven years older, the siblings are extremely close, spending almost all of their stage time making each other, and their audience, laugh with joyful glee. We watch the playful pair weather thick and thin, and when things get rough, Tammy & Kite shows us that life can be cruel even for the very young. Hannah Cox and Caitlin West’s play is remarkably sensitive in its portrayal of childhood and innocence, with an impressive authenticity that lets any person, of any age or background, relate to its characters and all its situations. Their feelings are real, and we cannot help but share in them, happy or sad.

Our protagonists find it difficult to express their emotions through words, but the play accurately depicts their inner world through imaginative means. The show’s creators assemble precise and powerful manipulations of atmosphere to communicate through signs and symbols, helped by excellent work from lighting designer Saro Lusty-Cavallari and sound designers Josephine Gibson and Alexis Weaver. The audience’s instincts are called upon to find an understanding of the sisters’ story beyond what is being said to one another. In Tammy & Kite, important information is conveyed through everything that happens in the room, not just the words that manage to find their way out of the girls’ mouths.

Some things you can never be prepared for, no matter how old you may be, but to witness children deal with deep losses is truly heartbreaking. It must be noted that the production makes it a point not to wallow in the story’s dark sides, but the delicate glimpses of sorrow it does provide, are very moving indeed. We discover a love in Tammy & Kite that is wonderfully pure, uplifting and life-affirming. The special moments of togetherness enacted by Cox and West, are a reminder of the most important kind, but also the very simplest; to cherish and to hold, everything else can wait.

www.montaguebasement.com

5 Questions with Lulu Howes and Caitlin West

Lulu Howes

Lulu Howes

Caitlin West: So you’re condensing 15 books and 250 stories down to a single show. Is there a theme or set of themes that have guided and tied together your telling of these stories?
Lulu Howes: I’d say our approach to adapting such a large body of work was inspired by the vastness of Ovid’s original text. Metamorphoses is such a sprawling book, it picks up threads of myths and then drops them, tells half stories, revisits characters sporadically. Ovid really seems to pick and choose what he’s interested in, then loosely ties everything up in the theme of ‘metamorphoses’. So the myths we’ve chosen to work with and the way we’ve decided to adapt them is pretty eclectic. We were all drawn to different stories for different reasons, and I think this boundlessness is what binds them together, embracing that vastness rather than running away from it. That being said, there are definitely some themes that have continued to crop up. If I had to pick, the big three would probably be gender, politics and power.

How closely has the language of the original text shaped your telling of these stories?
I’m not even sure how many translations of Metamorphoses we now have between us – probably too many. Trying to find the right mode of expression to represent a myth has been half the battle of adaptation, so language has definitely played a massive part. Sometimes we’ll quote directly from a translation, or use the Elizabethan adaptation, or delve into how Ovid has presented a particular idea. More than anything else I think the comedy of the original text has worked its way into a lot of the play. There’s a lot of satire and a lot of silliness.

Saro has directed you in a few shows in the past. How have you found working with him as an actor?
The same but different. It’s been a very collaborative process – everyone’s open to each other’s ideas and feedback so in that regard it feels very familiar. Having done shows together in the past we went into Metamorphoses with a great friendship to work off and a good idea of what it might be like devising together. I think it’s been a really natural transition, especially with Imogen stepping into a more directorial role and just generally being amazing. Saro’s got great comic timing and likes improvisation more than I do, which is good because it keeps me on my toes and terrible because I can’t always keep a straight face.

Can you tell me a bit about how you’re approaching the task of characterisation in a show that presumably is dealing with multiple character voices?
There’s such a huge array of characters in the show, there hasn’t been a set approach. As almost none of the characters reappear in more than one scene, it’s been about establishing really strong voices or images in a short amount of time. Different methods have worked for different scenes, whether we’re improvising and working off each other in the room, or painstakingly going through the script to create these really defined voices for a two-minute scene. We’ve both been able to pick and choose who might play which character, with no expectation that if the character is a man it should be played by Saro or vice versa. In general there’s been a lot of freedom with how we tackle these characters, and way, way too many costume changes.

Seriously, will there be Kanye West references?
There are already too many, we need to be stopped.

Caitlin West

Caitlin West

Lulu Howes: Tammy & Kite is delving into the world of children and the things they ‘do or don’t see.’ What first drew you to this idea?
When Hannah and I first came together to make this show, we both knew that we wanted to talk about children, siblings and the imagination. As someone with a much younger sister, and with a personal interest in child play therapy, I was keen to look at how children process and express difficult emotions. This was complemented by Hannah, who came at this as an artist, and as someone with an incredible visual imagination. She had a million ideas for how we could translate those concepts into something really beautiful and tangible. So I guess it was kind of a crossover of our own personal interests and skills, and a shared desire to try to communicate and think about the way a child sees the world.

I am so excited to see you and Hannah (Cox) onstage together; you’re both such energetic, engaging performers. What does the inside of your rehearsal room look like at the moment?
Well, at the moment, I’m sitting here writing this, while Hannah plays a pretty intense game of handball with herself against the wall. There’s a pile of discarded toys and books on the floor, a half-finished Lego spaceship on the bed, and Phillip the duck is sitting next to me. We’ve just finished rehearsing a scene where Kite saves Tammy from a monster armed only with a light sabre, so we’re taking a break before we move on to some of the more tightly choreographed puppet scenes.

A ten year old wants to come see Tammy & Kite. How do you describe the play to them?
In this show we’re trying to use a language that will be accessible to both young people and adults (although perhaps for different reasons and in different ways) so to be honest, I think I’d tell them the same thing I’d tell an adult. In a nutshell in Tammy & Kite we’re taking the best and the worst parts about being a kid, and trying to translate them into something that grown-ups can understand.

What’s the scariest/hardest/most challenging part of devising your own show?
I think the scariest thing, when creating a show from scratch with another person, is knowing how to trust that person enough to fail. When you’re rehearsing a show with a bunch of other actors, or with a pre-written script, or with a director who’s always in the room with you, it can be easier in a sense to hide behind those things or to use them to fall back on when you get it wrong. Hannah and I were already great friends before we started working on this show, which was a big help, but over the rehearsal process I think we’ve both gotten a lot better at trying out new things, and not being afraid to do that. I think once you let go of the fear of trying something that might not work, that’s when you end up finding the seeds of the best stuff.

If you could go back in time and give kid Caitlin one piece of advice, what would it be?
When the ice cream truck plays “Greensleeves” that does not mean it has run out of ice cream and don’t let anyone tell you that it does.

Lulu Howes and Caitlin West can both be seen in Sydney Fringe Festival shows by Montague Basement.

Tammy & Kite
Dates: 13 – 17 September, 2016 at 8pm
Venue: Erskineville Town Hall

Metamorphoses
Dates: 13 – 17 September, 2016 at 10pm
Venue: Erskineville Town Hall