Review: Blue Christmas (New Ghosts Theatre Company)



Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 11 – 22, 2019
Images by Clare Hawley

Good People
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Laura Djanegara, Sasha Dyer, Chika Ikogwe, Jane Watt, Emma Wright

Shandy’s Corner
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Meg Clarke, Laura Djanegara, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Zoe Jensen, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Theatre review
It is Christmas time, when things come to a boiling point for two groups of women. In Katy Warner’s Good People, old friends have their holiday in Indonesia cut short by a state of emergency, as violence breaks out and tourists are corralled and confined to an airport. These Australians have witnessed the true face of poverty, and are now confronting the brutal implications of their privileged first world lives. Shandy’s Corner by Gretel Vella takes place in a women’s shelter, in first world Australia, where the consequences of our patriarchal systems are on full display, with broken individuals trying to regain their agency and a sense of dignity.

Both hour-long works are sensitively written and immensely contemplative, offering valuable perspectives on the kinds of lives we currently inhabit. Directed by Lucy Clements, the double-bill presentation grips from start to end. Good People is provocative, able to instigate meaningful conversations, while Shandy’s Corner is fabulously entertaining, with a dark humour that proves deeply satisfying. Clements injects an infectious passion into every scene, for a theatre that communicates with efficacious power.

An excellent impression is left by a very strong and cohesive cast, remarkably engaging in their delivery of two ensemble pieces, with not a single weak link. Clementine Anderson and Laura Djanegara perform in both stories, taking the opportunity to demonstrate versatility, but are especially memorable in Shandy’s Corner for their compelling portrayals of women overcoming adversity in wildly different ways. Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Emma Wright bring complex characterisations and excellent drama to the staging, intense with the emotions they convey. Funny ladies Meg Clarke and Zoe Jensen are thoroughly enjoyable in comedic roles, each actor with approaches as bold as their imaginations.

It is appropriate that the Christmas message here relates to the inherent injustices of our way of life. To respond to these plays, we can do no better than to think, “what would Jesus do?” in the face of these man-made tragedies. Christianity proclaims to be about caring for the poor and the oppressed, as it preaches in Proverbs 31:8-9, to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” When we look around us, there is little that can be construed as holy, but good art remains, and it is eternally sacred.

www.newghoststheatre.com

5 Questions with Chika Ikogwe and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Chika Ikogwe

Vaishnavi Suryaprakash: If you could use your acting platform to change one thing about the Australian performance scene, what would it be?
Chika Ikogwe: I would love to see a more diverse and inclusive industry here in Australia. I know there are a lot of people that are tired of hearing this, and even people that believe that the pendulum has swung so far, that now the industry only favours diversity. Which is just completely false. The majority of work on stage and screen still majorly lacks First Nations people, People of Colour and minorities in general. And there’s also a lack of stories that are being created / written by people from these minority groups. I absolutely acknowledge the amazing work and the great strides that have been made in the last few years to create a more diverse and inclusive industry, but there’s so much more work to be done on that front. I just want to see the Australia that I see as I walk down the street, as I catch the bus and as I do my grocery shopping, being reflected on stage and screen here in Australia. That’s what I’d change ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What has it been like growing up with the name “Chika Ikogwe”?
It has changed a lot over time. When I was younger, there were times when I absolutely hated my name, and wished I was called something else. I distinctly remember my first day of prep when the teacher called out my name on the roll, and all the kids just burst into laughter because for some reason they found my name so funny. One kid even yelled out ‘Chicken! Her name is chicken!’ That was the first time in my life I’d felt any kind of shame regarding my name. Then there’ve been other times when I’ve done over-the-phone job interviews, secured the job and have been greeted with perplexed facial expressions on my first day of work. Turns out some people don’t know Chika is also a Nigerian name. There’s been so much I’ve lost out on because of my name, but to balance that so much I’ve gained. Life is just funny like that though, and I kinda love it. It gives character. I wouldn’t trade my name for anything else… Except maybe Beyoncé?! Just kidding. I think…

What do you most love about the character you play in Good People?
Jess is an actor and she takes her best pals on a holiday so they can reunite and just, like, hang out?! That’s awesome and I hope one day I can do that with my friends. #Goals.

When you think about the vastness and contents of the universe, how do you feel?
Bruh, I feel a LOT. Sometimes I feel super overwhelmed at the fact that there’s so much out there that we don’t even know about. Sometimes I feel like I can do anything, and the world really is my oyster. Sometimes I feel incredibly small. Sometimes I wonder if the world’s richest people congregate monthly to discuss their plans to leave everyone on Earth behind to start a new life on Mars or Europa or something. Sometimes I wonder if Beyoncé remembers me from that one time we locked eyes at her concert back in 2013 (probably not, but I’ll keep lying to myself). Sometimes I ask myself, “Who the hell let Donald Trump, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson occupy any kind of political space, AT THE SAME TIME?!” I feel many feels. 

Who’s your favourite tennis player and why?
The Williams sisters are my forever Queens. Particularly Serena Williams. I played tennis for about 6 years growing up, and Serena was one of the only players I could identify with. Not only was she a black woman, but she also had broad shoulders and a muscular build amongst players that were mostly tall, white and skinny. She played with such force and passion. I remember wanting to be just like her when I grew up. She made me feel so seen and inspired me so much. 

Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Chika Ikogwe: If you could use your acting platform to change one thing about the Australian performance scene, what would it be?
Vaishnavi Suryaprakash: I would get more young people from CALD backgrounds involved in theatre and performance art. I want an artistic career path to be contemplated by more of these children, and for them to feel encouraged to create art.
 
What’s the worst Christmas present you’ve ever received?
I actually can’t remember – nothing stands out! I think I’ve been pretty lucky. On a related note, I think Harry Potter’s worst Christmas present would be the tissue from the Dursleys (yes, I am currently re-reading Harry Potter, how did you know). Though I have often wondered how they sent their presents to Harry. Does Hedwig turn up every year a few days before Christmas? How do they know the reason she has turned up? How come they give Harry Christmas presents, but never birthday presents?
 
If your character in Shandy’s Corner had a catch phrase, what would it be?
“A lady never discusses the size of her yarn stash.”
 
You win a million dollars. What are the first 3 things you spend the money on? 
The very thought makes me stress out… so let me tell you instead what I love to buy: good quality tea, books (a guilty habit because libraries exist!), and hiking gear (ooh nothing beats the feeling of the perfect supportive backpack resting on your shoulders…)
 
Which actor would you cast to play “Vaishnavi Suryaprakash” in your biopic? 
Definitely Scarlett Johansson. 

Chika Ikogwe and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash can be seen in Blue Christmas, a double bill featuring two new Australian plays, by Katy Warner and Gretel Vella.
Dates: 11 – 22 Dec, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Yen (New Ghosts Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 27 – Oct 13, 2018
Playwright: Anna Jordan
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Jeremi Campese, Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson, Hayley Pearl
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Brothers Bobbie and Hench are young teenagers, left to fend for themselves with only media screens and addicts as role models. Maggie is their desperately incompetent single mother, having lost both her sons’ fathers to early deaths, in this world of substance abuse and poverty. A neighbour Jennifer enters their life as a ray of hope, but in Anna Jordan’s Yen, our capacity for optimism is put to the test, as we interrogate the nature of social change and its delusory qualities, in this hyperrealist depiction of inter-generational disadvantage.

Situated in the dingiest corners of an English council estate, where the boys disintegrate in the most spectacular fashion, we observe their loss of innocence, and in its place, all the evidence of imminent wasted lives. Jordan’s writing is undeniably moving, but also marvellously thrilling. Yen is a showcase that consolidates the many deficiencies of our communities, with pointed critiques that never feel excessively didactic.

It is very gripping drama, and under the astute direction of Lucy Clements, entertaining and immensely involving. Clements has us breathless for the show’s two-hour entirety, as the story takes us through universal themes of family, love, sex, violence and redemption. Visually compelling, the production is meticulously designed by Ester Karuso-Thurn (set and costumes) and Louise Mason (lights) who deliver a surprising range of spatial transformations within restrictive confines of the stifling context. Sound by Chrysoulla Markoulli is impressively exacting, in all its manipulations of atmosphere. There is remarkable sensitivity from all disciplines, that allows its audience to engage at exceptional depth.

The staging features four fantastic actors, each one convincing and enthralling in their respective parts. 14-year-old Bobbie is played by the very industrious Jeremi Campese, whose extremely detailed approach offers up an interminably fascinating study of troubling juvenility. His extraordinary vitality insists on our compassion, even when the going gets tough. Hayley Pearl’s portrayal of the neglectful mother, has us angered and heartbroken. It is a controversial character uncompromisingly presented, by a very sharp and daring performer. Meg Clarke and Ryan Hodson are the not-so-sweet sixteens, both authentic, and tremendously revelatory of the adolescent experience, through their beautifully naturalistic renderings of Jennifer and Hench. The coupling of vulnerability and aggression in all these interpretations, are a joy to behold, as well as being meaningfully confronting.

In Yen, we see our structural failures take place within spaces that are personal and isolated. We come to an understanding that the only way for individual lives to flourish, is for the environments in which they exist to actively promote that betterment. Little can be achieved, when we leave the needy to their own devices. We chastise and condemn those who suffer, unwilling to see our complicity in people’s inability to grow, choosing only to attribute blame to their otherness. Good lives cannot exist in isolation; it takes a village to raise a child, and to lavish care on most everything else.

www.newghoststheatre.com

5 Questions with Jeremi Campese and Meg Clarke

Jeremi Campese

Meg Clarke: If you could be any animal what would it be and why?
Jeremi Campese: My dog, Bobbie (genuinely his name). I guess domestic dogs in general; who wouldn’t? Everything’s covered: food, water, food, love, bed, cuddles, exercise and cuddles.

What would you like the audience to take away and learn from Yen?
Without insisting that the audience feel a certain way, it’d be great if they feel conflicted, particularly about the boys. They’re endearing in so many ways, but are the exact opposite in others; so I hope people will find themselves wanting to appreciate all their nuances. How our society raises boys is at the heart of the play, and I’d really like audiences to see that the way we meet them isn’t just on account of their choices, but is far more comprehensive than that. It’s a result of broader social perceptions of sex, women, and violence that they’ve internalised so quickly.

As a man do you feel any differently about men in society after this play? And what have you learnt about your own masculinity?
Certainly boys. In playing someone like Bobbie and researching boys in these contexts, you see how malleable and easily influenced they are by their circumstances. With the wrong role models and the wrong exposure, awful things happen. For me, I’m only 20. I’m still developing, learning and growing. So much of this play (apart from being an incredible piece of theatre) has been both cautionary tale and one of the most profound exercises in empathy.

What is your favourite sound and most hated noise?
Favourite sound is probably Cynthia Erivo singing. That woman’s vocal chords were crafted by angels. But my most hated noise is definitely my alarm clock… it is cruel; full of sound and fury.

What’s your favourite line in Yen?
So many to choose from! Anna is so good at bringing lines back throughout the show in different contexts. The one I think she does best is, “Family’s important, don’t you think?”

Meg Clarke

Jeremi Campese: What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?
Meg Clarke: It’s very hard to think of the biggest because I feel like I have a lot. Like any well adjusted 20 something year old, I’ve wasted many hours eating sloppy food in my bed and re-watching Gossip Girl and The O.C. probably about 16 times now (and that includes season 4 after Marissa dies… embarrassing but true). Sometimes I truly believe that the Black Eyed Peas are the most underrated musical phenomenon of all time and I really get into watching hours of YouTube footage of people falling over and injuring themselves in bike accidents… that last one really makes me sound sinister.

What was your reaction when you first read Yen?
It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster to be honest. I laughed my way through the first half, I cried somewhere in the middle and by the end felt incredibly ill. I also felt a very overwhelming desire to play the character of Hench, but now I can’t imagine anyone but the beautiful Ryan Hodson in that role. Halfway through the first page I knew I wanted to be a part of the production. I think it’s such an important piece of writing to be showing in the current climate and the content hits really close to home for me. I thought ‘thank god someone wrote a play about this!’ But I don’t want to give too much away! To be honest, the only apprehension I had on my first read was “how on earth do you do a Welsh accent?!” 

What do you love most about Anna Jordan’s writing?
Anna’s writing is so incredibly nuanced and delicate. It’s hyper realistic. I love how honest it is, no frills! Which makes it so much easier as an actor because every time you’re in doubt about your intention or how your character is feeling, the answers are all right there in the script. I’m also impressed by how well she can write completely from the inner truth of four very different people. 

Who is Jenny in 3 words?
Number 1: Empath (most empathetic person I know) 
Number 2: Fierce (I want to say fearless, but nobody really is) 
Number 3: Un-prejudiced 

What’s your favourite smell?
Jeremi’s mums cooking, haha. But also Basil, basil is ultimate smell joy. If it was socially acceptable to walk around with basil shoved up your nose, I’d be the face of that movement. In fact when Yen closes… 

Jeremi Campese and Meg Clarke can be seen in Yen by Anna Jordan.
Dates: 27 Sep – 13 Oct, 2018
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Lucy Clements and Brandon McClelland

Lucy Clements

Lucy Clements

Brandon McClelland: As a writer, which piece of literature or drama do you most wish could have had your name in place of the author’s? Conversely, which are you most glad your name is absent from?
Lucy Clements: To have my name on: Hamilton, Wicked or My Fair Lady. I’m such a fan girl for the great musicals. I’d get writing on my own, but my ridiculous lack of music knowledge and taste makes me nervous to try… but hey, why make excuses, I should get writing! And absent from… I’ll go Mao’s Little Red Book. Pretty glad my name’s not on that.

If you could travel in time, but only in one direction and with no possibility of return, when would you travel to and why?
I’d definitely go forward, I think the unknown is so much more exciting than all the stuff we already know about from the past. But probably only one century max… as too much more and I’ll probably find myself in a global warming destroyed world and be consumed by man eating plants that have taken over the planet. And only if I could take you with me!

Fracture is a piece that has gone through extensive development, transformation and is a completely different iteration than its original Perth production. Since the first draft of Fracture to now, what has been the most significant change in your own life?
Meeting you of course! Because of our relationship I have moved out from my family home in Perth and am now living with you in the midst of the vibrant art scene of Sydney, I’m debuting my first work with you as my lead actor and co-producer… and I will soon be following to you to New York on your Broadway tour of STC’s The Present! If someone had told me that all of this was going to happen three years ago I never would have believed them.

Do you believe a playwright’s voice should be neutral (non-partisanal, apolitical, objective) or should they have a singular opinion that they back unreservedly? In relation to this, which of these do you think dominates the Australian theatrical landscape?
I don’t believe there is a “right” or “wrong”. There are many successful opinionated and neutral-voiced plays. My personal taste goes towards a voice that gives you both perspectives and lets you decide… so, a neutral voice. I recently read Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand. Although Rand is quite well known for her opinionated works, this particular play, set in a courtroom where the audience becomes the jury, plays on our own personal biases and how this can manipulate our judgment. The play does nothing to prove who is “good” or “bad”, but presents both sides of the story and challenges audiences to cast from this our own opinions. I loved this play. I find it much more challenging to have to find my own opinion with all the facts presented to me, rather than having one side of the story drummed into me as opinionated pieces can do. I believe Fracture has a neutral voice. It simply tells a story, and lets audiences decide what is good and what is truth within it. I think we’ve got both sides pretty covered in Australia, particularly with 44% of our programing being international scripts (which is also a very saddening statistic!).

You originally planned to be a nurse, so do you believe your earlier career aspirations have had an effect on who you are as a writer/artist?
Definitely! I’ve always been quite an empathetic person – hence my drive to become a nurse. I think all the characters I write are created from the same drive. In Fracture, my leading character (who you are playing) has abandoned his life partner without a goodbye or word of warning. But why do people make these choices? What’s going on inside them that from the outside can make them seem cowardly or cruel? Was it even in their control? What perspective can I tell this story from that could make audience’s understand, to question other people’s circumstances one more time before casting judgement? These are all the questions that Fracture interrogates – which are the questions that drive all of my plays.

Brandon McClelland

Brandon McClelland

Lucy Clements: Here’s a million bucks to put on a production in Sydney next year. What play, which venue, and do you have anyone in mind to direct and/or co-staring beside you?
Brandon McClelland: Well, a million dollars is a ridiculous amount of money. I’d most likely split it up and try to program a full season of independent shows from a range of different young writers and directors. Although if, like Highlander, there can be only one, then I would love to put that money towards a production of The Weir by Connor McPherson in a smaller theatre. I don’t know who’d direct it. Maybe I’d hold auditions just to turn the tables.

What’s the best and worst thing about dating your director?
Best thing is that we already have a shorthand in regards to communication and we can talk about the play pretty much round the clock. The worst thing is that there’s no excuses when it comes to doing my ‘homework’ as it were. You know everything about me. Example: I didn’t read the new addition to the scene because I was watching Mythbusters again.

What excites you most about realising Fracture?
It’s a show I’ve followed since its premiere in Perth. Being involved in the development and progression of the play over the past year it’s clear that it is a completely different beast and I think it’s an exciting project. The conversation it enables regarding mental health is particularly poignant and personally relevant. I’m fascinated to discover how audiences will react.

This is your second time taking on the dual role of producer and performer. What draws you to this combination?
I’m a sucker for punishment. I don’t know really. It’s a tough ask to take on both roles and I think you have to be a very special kind of mind to successfully operate and fulfil your duties equally. I don’t know how I’d do it without you. I really don’t.

You’re elected as Prime Minister of Australia. What’s your first call of action?
Treaty with the Indigenous, First Peoples with full recognition in the constitution. No hesitation.

Lucy Clements and Brandon McClelland are co-founders of New Ghosts Theatre Company, presenting Fracture in Sydney after a successful season in Perth last year.
Dates: 2 – 12 August, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre