Review: Paper Doll (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 7 – 18, 2017
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Martin Ashley-Jones, Lucy Goleby
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
At its most fundamental, theatre is an instrument that wishes to get us together, and have us find consensus, or at least to gain valuable awareness on issues of relevance. We share space and come to an understanding of what each other thinks, when we laugh together, or when we hear people gasp in demonstration of their disapproval or outrage.

Katy Warner’s Paper Doll is a topical work about sexual predation and paedophilia, depicting a grown woman meeting her abuser, years after the fact. Dialogue is well crafted, but the work takes a safe approach, rarely controversial in how the subject is handled. The plot and its characters offer little that is new to how we regard the matter, although individuals who might be personally affected, would probably identify more palpable qualities.

Director Lucy Clements’ obvious attempts at manufacturing dramatic tension vary in effectiveness. The show has many captivating moments, but can at times feel laboured, in its efforts at creating something theatrical out of a quiet piece of writing. Both performers are strong personalities, with impressive stage presences. Lucy Goleby’s intensity dictates the tone of proceedings, while Martin Ashley-Jones brings a more organic interpretation that reads with a better sense of authenticity. We may not always be convinced of the action on stage, but the production makes all of its assertions crystal clear.

In representing the zeitgeist’s hot topics, a conundrum exists when our minds are already made up before entering the auditorium. There can only be one way of considering issues surrounding rape, and unless the production takes exceptional risks, the chances of it being less than predictable, are close to none. Paper Dolls is careful to say all the right things, but we have heard it all too many times before, and it is not fair to expect fabricated controversy where none is permitted. We want our art to be inventive, but it seems that not everything can be talked about in unexpected ways.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Lucy Goleby and Martin Ashley Jones

Lucy Goleby

Martin Ashley Jones: What attracted you to this work?
Lucy Goleby: I have been a long-time admirer of Lucy Clements, our director, and would have agreed to work with her on anything! But when I read Katy Warner’s heartbreaking, poetic, provocative script, I absolutely had to be involved. I think Paper Doll is exactly what theatre, and especially new work, should always be – challenging, insightful and conflicting.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the rehearsal process?
You’d think the content would be the most challenging aspect in this sort of play, but actually we’ve had a very fun – and funny – rehearsal room. It’s primarily just been the three of us – Martin and the two Lucys. I think he’s had the challenge!

What has been the most enjoyable and/or rewarding aspect of the rehearsal process?
Definitely the freedom and space Martin and I have been given by both Lucy and Katy to really discover who these people are, what they want and when they’re lying. We’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with various interpretations of the script, really pushing each other to find the rawest truth possible in every moment.

What do you hope people leaving the play will think about?
I hope they’re as deeply conflicted as we have been. Katy has written a play about a deeply controversial issue and yet has managed to continually shift our allegiances, expectations and assumptions. I’m imagining many conversations about empathy – what it looks like, what is asks and when it’s deserved.

If you had the opportunity to play any Disney Princess which one would it be and would you prefer to play her in a musical, opera, stage play, on ice, multi series TV show or feature film? 😊
Definitely Sleeping Beauty. That’s gotta be the most restful role ever, right?!

Martin Ashley Jones

Lucy Goleby: What attracted you to this work?
Martin Ashley Jones: It’s always a privilege to be a part of bringing new work to life. When I received the audition sides I was captivated by how sparse and simple the text appeared but how complex, dark and disturbing the imagery is. I was intrigued and excited and immediately wanted to get the role.

What has been the biggest challenge rehearsing the play?
Initially I thought that the subject matter could be challenging but working with Katy, Lucy and Lucy has been a very interesting and enjoyable process, so I feel that the journey thus far has been rewarding and challenging only in a positive way.

What do you hope people leave the play thinking about?
The terrible impact one can have on another’s life when trust is violated and abused. To receive someone’s trust is a gift that must be respected and honoured always.

What’s your favourite line in the play?
I did my time. I paid the fucking price. It’s completely honest and such an insipid, disgusting and pathetic justification for the crimes he perpetrated.

Had any dreams lately?
I dream all the time but the most recent and vivid one was that I was at Machu Picchu, but it wasn’t in the Andes it was on the beach with warm water and perfect waves. It was beautiful, one of those dreams that it feels a bit of shame to wake up from.

Lucy Goleby and Martin Ashley Jones are appearing in Paper Doll, by Katy Warner.
Dates: 7 – 18 November, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: The Telescope (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 4 – 12, 2017
Playwright: Brooke Robinson
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Alison Chambers, Cecilia Morrow, Nicholas Papademetriou

Theatre review
Fighting technological progress is a futile exercise, but we can be certain that not all efforts at advancement are worthwhile. In this short play by Brooke Robinson, a family of four is being forced out of their home, because a giant telescope for the purposes of detecting alien life in space, is scheduled to be installed. Lenny has been fighting hard to prevent the loss of her home, but when the government’s generous compensation arrives, we discover that she is the only one who wishes to remain. Her parents and brother have decided to take the money and run, leaving Lenny to grapple with the fact that she has been abandoned, replaced by cold hard cash.

Replete with cynical wit, the humorous dialogue of The Telescope leads us into a delightful, and misanthropic, probe of the modern family. Kinship is no match for money and technology, but there is little melancholy in this staging, directed by Carissa Licciardello, who pushes her actors to extraordinary lengths of camp and slapstick. It is a marvellous cast, in a tightly rehearsed, exhilarating performance.

Alison Chambers and Nicholas Papademetriou are very charming as parents who cannot wait to fly the coop, both impressive with the accuracy at which their comic instincts are implemented, in this piece of absurdist theatre. There is a lot of exaggeration, but the points it makes ring true. Cecilia Morrow is the sentimental Lenny, and we recognise her helpless devotion to a hopeless cause. Her agoraphobic brother Daniel is portrayed with a goofy exuberance by Tel Benjamin, who brings to mind a generation unable to engage with life outside of the electrical.

It is much too late to lament the proliferation and impact of technology. Our trajectory is fixed, and we must sink or swim. The characters in The Telescope choose between love and realities of the times, but truth is that we have both. On the other hand, we must acknowledge the ridiculous spending of billions in space, while continents of people are left to languish in poverty. No matter how far we evolve, the morals of humanity’s story rarely change. In the discussion of tech and morality, we must always return to the simple idea, that selfishness, in whatever guise, is wrong.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

5 Questions with Gary Clementson and Clare Hennessy

Gary Clementson

Clare Hennessy: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of playing Parker?
Gary Clementson: Parker has it all going on. Great job, nice car, beach side apartment, life is running very smoothly. Until a young journalist, Mia, shows up and bursts his bubble. Parker is so enjoyable to play, because he is a man who is having his foundations rocked to the core, while exchanging banter over a tasty Sunday juice.

Parker is in Public Relations. What do you think the key to being good at PR is?
To be successful in the Public Relations realm I think you need to be a pretty good spin doctor with the truth. Parker is a pretty smooth talker, but I think Clare Hennessy says it best in the play:

MIA: Isn’t apologising your job?
PARKER: Not really. Public relations is about pretending everything’s fine.

Make up a name for a brand new flavour of juice! Go!
Errr… BeetSting. Beetroot, honey, apple, ginger. Add gin to suit.

What’s guaranteed to make your co-star Contessa laugh?
Hahahah! I spend half of my rehearsal time trying to make Contessa laugh on stage. We studied together at drama school, so I know a few buttons to push, but mostly she just laughs at me trying not to laugh. It’s a vicious cycle.

If you could give Parker one piece of advice, what would it be?
Parker, mate, you need to really think about the things you say before you say them. Sometimes we might just regurgitate things we have heard without actually taking into account what they really mean and how they effect other people.

Clare Hennessy

Gary Clementson: As this is a response piece to The Village Bike, what correlations did you make between the pieces?
Clare Hennessy: I’m really interested in putting exciting genres on stage, so as soon as I read The Village Bike I thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore the genre of “sexy drama”… (that’s a genre, look it up). In all seriousness, The Village Bike asks some incredibly interesting questions about sexual politics, so I leapt at the opportunity to explore that conversation from a different vantage point.

The character of Mia is a journalist, writer, and sharp as a whip. Who has inspired this powerful character?
Luckily for me, I know so many ladies who are smart, driven and passionate as hell. The character’s not based on anyone in particular, but it’s definitely a hark to the strong and outspoken female writers who are blazing trails at the moment. I was particularly interested in writing this kind of character because I wanted to explore how accepting a position as an activist and writer is potentially a lonely place to be, especially as a woman. We need these kinds of writers, but is it possible to do so without compromising other things?

Important question. You’re ordering dumplings, what do you get?
Great question, Gary! I get fried AND steamed pork and chive… but most importantly, I get eggplant dumplings.

The New Fitz program is running incredibly well. Do you find it challenging to write to a shorter running time?
I actually love writing to a short running time; I like pushing the audience in the deep end and asking them to play catch up. There are certainly challenges, especially when you want to create a world that’s rich and complex without being too complicated, but when it goes well it’s such a short and sweet treat for the audience.

What research did you do to explore the issue of sexual harassment in the work place covered in Tongue Tied?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot to draw from. There’s a heap of really important activism/journalism happening in universities and other institutions at the moment, cases that I’m constantly following. I’m hoping that some genuine change comes out of the efforts of these legends. I’ve also been diving into the legal end of sexual harassment, and there are some alarming blind spots in the legislation that contribute to the conditions in which sexual assaults slip through the cracks. It’s made me realise how important it is to hold institutions accountable, and if institutions can’t then we need to find other ways to aid women and men with the knowledge they need to protect themselves.

Gary Clementson is in Clare Hennessy’s Tongue Tied.
Dates: 27 June – 8 July, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Slut (Old Fitz Theatre / Edgeware Forum)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Julia Dray, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jessica Keogh, Danielle Stamoulos, Maryann Wright
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
For the girls in Patricia Cornelius’ Slut, nothing is more important than being popular. That hunger to be liked, by all and sundry, is a curious thing that many possess, and in Cornelius’ play, we explore the way teenage girls are socialised to place unparalleled value on attention, admiration and approval. We are at school, and Lolita is the first of five good friends, to bloom. Her breasts develop and the world begins to sexualise her, long before she feels those urges for herself.

She encounters lascivious attention, and learns to reciprocate. There is something powerful in being seen, and the effect of that recognition, and the accompanying scrutiny, becomes all-consuming. Lolita pursues that gaze with a frightful ferocity, quickly learning that her worth resides squarely in her ability to be objectified in that uncompromisingly sexual manner. She comes under attack, predictably, by her peers who consider her a pariah, after having previously marvelled at her new-found power. As a result, she discovers a deep and detrimental shame, and attaches it firmly to her sexual nature.

It is a cruel existence that Lolita has to endure, and director Erin Taylor’s portrayal of that brutality is certainly vivid. The production is rhythmically precise and in its half-hour duration, we are thoroughly captivated by all that it wishes to communicate. All five actors are very strong and the tautness of their performance is highly enjoyable, although it must be said, that the roles are undeniably simplistic. Jessica Keogh’s depiction of Lolita is suitably vivacious yet tragic, perfectly presenting the playwright’s perspective of a victimised and very sad protagonist.

It is unfortunate that Lolita never manages to negotiate between friendships and her sexual dominance. That the play structures the two as being mutually exclusive, is perhaps an accurate observation of what happens in our high schools, but the lack of nuance in this representation creates an impression that can feel overly convenient. The absence of parental figures is also a glaring omission that is never explained. If our young is left in the wild to fend for themselves, we can be sure that disasters will happen, but our society knows its duty of care. Slut talks about the way our girls cause harm to one another, but it is our guidance, not their ignorance, that should be questioned.

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Review: The Wind In The Underground (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Michael Abercromby, Rowan Davie, Whitney Richards, Bishanyia Vincent
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Wanderlust is meaningful only to those who understand that irresistible urge to travel. Simon returns home from a long trip away, and has to explain to his siblings why he had left them. There is resentment, and a lot of discontentment at home, but the love is nonetheless palpable. Sam O’Sullivan’s The Wind In The Underground is about seeing the world, but all the action lies within a domestic setting. The four characters are a volatile group, but they are not fragile. They fight only because they will always be able to reconcile.

There is little in terms of a compelling narrative that we can hang on to, and dramatic tensions are intermittent, but a superb cast enchants with their extraordinary chemistry. The actors share family secrets that we are only partially privy to. Its characters struggle with disclosures, but the performances leave no room for doubt that something deep and real underpins the exchanges we see on stage. It is a feeling we are all familiar with, and the remarkable talents represent it with an admirable accuracy.

Some people are comfortable with a parochial existence, but others need to explore further afield. This does not have to be about the physical movement that takes place. Our minds are all-powerful, and our beings can be transformed, as long as we wish to seek something higher. The play is about travel, and evolution. For those of us who can sail the seven seas, we will grow that way, but for those who prefer to stay home, every work of literature and art can provide the key to expanding life, far beyond the walls that try to hold us in.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

5 Questions with Sam O’Sullivan and Whitney Richards

Sam O’Sullivan

Whitney Richards: What was the seedling from Doubt that started this whole process?
Sam O’Sullivan: In the preface of Doubt, John Patrick Shanley, wrote about the feeling of doubt having negative, weak connotations, however he views it as a sign of strength. He wrote that doubt is the first step towards change and the ability to grow. If we’re too stuck in our ways, too certain of our world, we lose our capacity for empathy and risk isolating ourselves from our fellow humans. I loved this idea and it influenced my entire reading of Shanley’s play. From this, I knew I wanted to write something about doubt as strength.

Are you surprised with how the original idea has evolved into the final product?
Yes and no. My brief from Redline was always to take an element of the play – whatever spoke to me – and run with it. And Doubt is such a rich piece of writing, that there were a lot of directions I could have run. So I’m not too surprised that we have ended up where we are, but in saying that, I think I’ve always been conscious that we are on the same night as Doubt. We want to have a play that will interest the audiences who are coming to see Shanley’s play.

Do you think it’s a happy accident that the team is mostly WA migrants? How has that influenced the production?
It is a happy accident because, with the exception of my relationship with you (Whitney), none of us really knew each other before we started working on this play. But we definitely all bonded very quickly and I think Perth had something to do with that.

What has been different about this quick response process to how you usually work?
I always work for quite sporadic, intense periods and then shove scripts away in a drawer to ferment for a few months while I go something else. This time around, I haven’t been able walk away for too long, so to compensate I think I’ve been a lot more collaborative with the cast and production team to fast track some of the creative decisions.

As a writer/actor, what is it like to step back and hand your work over to other actors? Basically… do you love us?
It’s awful. I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of numpties make something so simple look so difficult. 🙂 But yes, I love you.

Whitney Richards

Sam O’Sullivan: What’s the best and worst thing about travelling alone?
Well, I’ve done this one a lot lately. Although it’s always been paired with touring a show which is really bloody stressful alone. You’re not sharing the workload of scheduling and plans which can be a bugger but also you get to do what you want when you want. At times I’ve felt a little vulnerable. Like I had to be hyper aware of personal safety. I did have my heart broken whilst overseas and that really sucked.

My travel self is my best self. I feel more alive and keen to push myself to try new things. When you travel alone you are without metaphorical baggage. No job title, no relationships. You become more present. You are forced to make friends. And fast track these relationships because you know your have limited time. People see you for who you are which I’ve found to be a confidence boost. I come home feeling more comfortable in my own skin. I do have moments of sadness when something at home triggers a memory from my travels; a song or a person or a show and I have no-one to rekindle the memory with.

What can your siblings do that still drive you nuts?
Actually, I’ve always completely admired my older sisters. They’re intelligent, fiery and hilarious women and mums. There’s a bit of an age gap between us so they never drove me nuts in the way my nieces and nephews do to each other. Such a power play there. It’s fascinating to watch the love and the hate. The care for each other and then the violence! Just like the characters in The Wind In The Underground. It’s been fun playing siblings that grew up together because my sisters and I didn’t get to do that. I’m younger than my sisters so I reckon I was probably the irritating one. I do remember visiting my sister when I had turned 18 and her saying to me “You’re so different. I can have a conversation with you now.”

Whats a private joke that only you and your siblings would find funny?
It might be a WA thing or an us thing…but we’ve always enjoyed the word “jobby”. Its means poo. Yep.

How has rehearsing The Wind In The Underground been different to other plays?
It’s always thrilling to be involved in new works. You get to witness and be a part of the changes that make it a stronger and stronger story. I love hearing from writers about the impetus for the story and characters. It was odd watching Doubt the other night and remembering that The Wind In The Underground is a response to that. It’s such a different world. I think people seeing the double will have an excellent night at the theatre.

The 40 minute slot is something I’ve never done before. The story has to be simpler than a 1hr+ show to have a satisfying beginning middle and end. Claire is an interesting person to explore. She doesn’t say a whole lot so finding a way to thread her emotional journey together continues to be an interesting process for me. She’s stuck in an place I found myself in a few years ago (pre-travel) so that’s been familiar territory.

I hadn’t worked with anyone on our team before, so it’s been a bloody delight getting to know these hilarious humans. We feel like a real family.

Whats your favourite thing about the Old Fitz?
I spend my nights ushering at Belvoir St and Sydney Theatre Company so when I have a night off, I usually try to spend it away from the theatre. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t see everything at the Old Fitz. I’ve really enjoyed my time there though. Firstly, the space itself is really great. The 60ish seater is truly my favourite. It’s perfect for really hearing and connecting with an audience. You’re much closer to the feedback loop. It reminds me of the beautiful Blue Room theatre in Perth. I’m enjoying the vom entrance very much too.

It seems like Redline have a great connection with the patrons of the pub, the people who run it and the theatre community. So from someone coming in with fresh eyes, that seems to be a beautiful functioning thing. I’m looking forward to our season and hope to see more shows there in the future.

Whitney Richards appears in The Wind In The Underground by Sam O’Sullivan.
Dates: 23 May – 3 June, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre