5 Questions with Brett Rogers and Charles Upton

Brett Rogers

Brett Rogers

Charles Upton: Describe the play using a haiku.
Brett Rogers: Mitchell is a star, who lives life in the closet. Then he meets Alex.

What do you think makes this play important and how does it relate to your life?
This play is important because it forces audiences to look at the double-standards they hold, of which they might not even realise they have. Why can we happily believe an actor is a serial killer, bank-robber or S&M fetishist but we won’t believe that a gay actor is straight on screen? The Little Dog Laughed forces audiences to look at themselves and talks about the crushing pressure this puts on actors to choose between main-stream success and authentic happiness.

I relate strongly to this play. I have always been open about my sexuality but it creates barriers to getting work and being represented. I also have creative friends who refuse to live openly; they can achieve leading, main-stream roles more easily but it takes a heavy toll on their mental health.

The Little Dog Laughed is New Theatre’s Mardi Gras play for the year. What was your first experience of Mardi Gras?
My first experience of Mardi Gras was the FULL experience. I had just relocated to Sydney from Hobart and my new friends wanted me to experience Mardi Gras as there was nothing like it in Hobart. Dressed as Tom Cruise from Risky Business I marched in the parade on the Actors float and attended the official after party. Up until that point I had not been exposed to LGBT culture in such an open and celebratory way. It was an amazing introduction to Sydney and Mardi Gras that I hope more people from rural and remote areas, or more conservative areas, get to experience.

What do you find most rewarding about your creative life and career?
What I find most rewarding today is the same thing I found rewarding when I first started acting. Performing other people’s stories allows me to have greater empathy in my day to day life and a greater awareness of what’s happening around the world. One specific highlight was touring the Northern Territory with Terrapin Puppet Theatre for the Helpmann Award winning show Boats. We had the opportunity to perform in remote communities throughout the NT and conduct puppet making workshops with some of the most exciting, cheeky and infectious little personalities. Recently I have also worked with people with intellectual disabilities; bringing drama to this group will always be a career highlight.

Who is your favourite character in this play and why?
I really like Alex. Given one of the themes of the play is about the pursuit of happiness, I think Alex’s understanding of what happiness really means is more three dimensional, mature and authentic than the other characters.

Charles Upton

Charles Upton

Brett Rogers: Describe The Little Dog Laughed using a limerick.
There was a man named Mitchell Green, set for a life on the big screen. He meets a boy. His life fills with joy. What happens next could not be foreseen.

What drew you to this story and the role of Alex?
I was drawn to this story because it’s funny. It’s about people pursuing happiness, some of those people are lost or going in the entirely wrong direction, which makes it very funny sometimes but also very sad sometimes. But that’s the common thread. And I was drawn to Alex because he does his best to act courageously and be true to himself, because he’s a survivor.

What scenes challenge you most?
It honestly changes night to night. But my initial concern was a key sexual scene in the play where I have to get nude. My mind was constantly distracting me for every vain reason you can think of throughout rehearsals. I’d never had to do a scene like that before, but it was only challenging the first time, now it’s quite liberating. Also my main concern as an actor is always being truthful and in the moment, so whenever that’s not happening, I have a challenge on my hands.

Who do you think will see this play and who do you think should see this play?
Well The Little Dog Laughed is New Theatre’s Sydney Mardi Gras show for the year. So there will definitely be a lot of the Mardi Gras crowd coming to see it. Also it’s a comedy, I think anyone who wants to have a good laugh should come for sure, the play is a lot of fun. It pokes fun at the world of film and theatre and ultimately it makes fun of itself. So people who work in the creative arts should definitely come and see too, they’ll get some jokes not everyone will.

What was your first experience in the creative arts?
Professionally, I started working in the arts at 18 and it was actually my first official job. I’d moved to Sydney from Northern NSW and somehow managed to get a job at the Sydney Opera House working on an opera as a props assistant. I was over the moon. But my first experience I can remember was seeing Cats when I was about seven. It was this big regional tour and I was totally blown away. I was fascinated by every element of it, but particularly by how much fun the performers were having. I can remember thinking, I want to do that.

Brett Rogers and Charles Upton can be seen in The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane.
Dates: 7 Feb – 4 Mar, 2017
Venue: New Theatre

Review: The Little Dog Laughed (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Douglas Carter Beane
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Sarah Aubrey, Brett Rogers, Charles Upton, Madeline Beukers
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
It all feels a bit last century, with a movie star struggling to come out of the closet, and his agent seeming to model herself after the cutthroat antics of Wall Street corporate cannibal Gordon Gekko. Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed is not the trendiest of plays, but its old fashioned structure delivers all we want from a good night out; lots of laughs and a few patronising observations about people we look down upon.

The story is not particularly interesting, but Beane’s dialogue is never short of wit. Diane (the aforementioned agent) is a manic personality with one-liners to die for. Performed by the show-stealing Sarah Aubrey, who ignites the stage with every entrance, the actor leaves a marvellous impression with an approach full of acerbic intensity and scintillating comic timing. Her chemistry with Brett Rogers, who plays Mitchell the movie star, produces extraordinarily precise and delicious scenes of comedy that ensure entertainment value for any viewer.

Alice Livingstone’s direction is trim and taut, for a fun show that asks questions about our values, even if its plastic Hollywoodness feels a world away (Tom Bannerman’s glamorous set design is quite remarkable). We all exist in a commercial reality where honesty and integrity are constantly tested in every social exchange. The Little Dog Laughed looks at the ease with which we make psychological and spiritual compromises for selfish gains, not only preying on others but also eating into our own sense of self-worth. Diane and Mitchell work hard to make their dreams come true, even when their lives turn miserable, they persist, blinded by an unexamined promise of something that cannot exist outside of their imagination.


Review: Summer Rain (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 17, 2016
Book & Lyrics: Nick Enright
Music: Terence Clarke
Director: Trent Kidd
Cast: Rebecca Burchett, Daisy Cousens, Laurence Coy, Anna Freeland, Catty Hamilton, Tom Handley, David Hooley, Nat Jobe, Jaimie Leigh Johnson, Michele Lansdown, Joy Miller, Jacqui Rae Moloney, Clare Ellen O’Connor, Brett O’Neill, Steven Ritchie, Andrew Sharp, Chris Wilcox
Photography © Chris Lundie

Theatre review
In Nick Enright’s wonderful Summer Rain, we are transported back to 1945 Turnaround Creek, a sleepy town in the Australian outback. A show troop arrives Christmas time hoping to make a quick buck, and to reconnect with a place they had visited 15 years ago. The “showies” are received warmly by the township, buoyed by the promise of a jubilant reprieve from their daily humdrum, but patriarch of the Doyle family responds with hostility, indicating a hidden history that can only reveal itself in dramatic fashion.

The genius of this collaboration between Enright and composer Terence Clarke, is evidenced by how unmistakably moving Summer Rain is. Some of it is thoroughly conventional, and some of it is completely unexpected of the genre, but what results is full of heart. Trent Kidd does an extraordinary job of telling the melancholic yet whimsical story, as both director and choreographer of the production, delivering a theatrical experience that engages our emotions and captivates all our senses. It is a remarkably good looking show, highly detailed with its visual presentations. Mason Browne’s work on sets and costumes, along with Juz McGuire’s lights, are impressive elements that contribute to the overall sophistication and power of this staging.

A very large cast of 17 performers lend their talents to the show, with some very strong portrayals adding high polish and wow factor. Most notable is Anna Freeland, who plays Peggy with charm, conviction and a sensitive authenticity. Freeland’s voice is a highlight, confident and rich in its accurate depiction of Peggy’s inner world. Catty Hamilton is similarly likeable, and comparably beautiful a singer, additionally memorable for her dance sequences with Nat Jobe, both entertainers accomplished and delightful in their Fred & Ginger style offerings. Andrew Sharp anchors the show as troop leader Harold with gentle humour and excellent chemistry with every colleague, but it is Laurence Coy’s Barry who produces the most poignant moment of the show with “The Eyes of Nancy Keegan” a song of loss and yearning.

The halcyon days in Summer Rain give us more than nostalgia. It speaks to our sentimentality not only through various romantic touches, but more importantly, it depicts human connection in ways that are perhaps deeper than its familiar contexts would initially lead us to imagine. Each of its little narratives begin from ordinary points of departure, but Enright’s musical takes us to conclusions that are not about happily ever after, but about hope. The people we meet have not yet landed in a place of complete and fantastical resolution, but we see them embarking on a trip that looks to be brighter, and merrier, than before.


5 Questions with Nat Jobe and Clare Ellen O’Connor

Nat Jobe

Nat Jobe

Clare Ellen O’Connor: When did you first know you that you wanted to be a performer?
Nat Jobe: I think I’ve known ever since I was a kid. Growing up, we used to listen to a vinyl record of Phantom of the Opera on weekends and I was obsessed with it. We also used to watch the ridiculous tv comedy Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em which I was equally as obsessed with. Both were starring Michael Crawford. I just wanted to be him! I still want to be him! Can I be him?

Other than the stage, do you have a favourite/weird place where you like to sing? eg. the car, the bathroom, a rooftop?
I definitely love singing in my car. Loudly. Like, really loudly. Road trips are dangerous, they usually result in me needing to put myself on a few days of vocal rest.

If you could give one piece of advice to your 15 year old self what would it be?
I’d tell myself to always keep that positive, optimistic attitude because that outlook on life has always led me (and still continues to lead me) along the most amazing paths. I’d also tell myself to take of that mustard turtle-neck sweater and burn it, what was I thinking?

What has been your favourite part of the rehearsal process for Summer Rain?
I loved working with our director/choreographer, Trent Kidd, on mine and Catty Hamilton’s big number “Watch The Puddles”. Trent has created a beautiful, timeless piece of musical theatre in that number and I am loving every moment of rehearsing it.

What is the biggest similarity and the biggest difference between you and your character in Summer Rain, Clarrie Nugent?
I guess our biggest similarity is that we are both cheeky larrikins; Clarrie is a very fun, optimistic and energetic guy and I really relate to that. Our biggest difference is probably that Clarrie is the town bookie and in charge of all gambling and betting within the town. I am definitely not a gambling man, I’m way too much of a tight-ass! Haha!

Clare O'Connor

Clare O’Connor

Nat Jobe: What’s your dream role in music theatre or on film?
Clare Ellen O’Connor: Oh gosh this is so hard! I love every character I get to play and I feel like there are so many unique things to find with each character. So to pick ONE… Maybe Tracey Turnblad! From the first moment I saw Hairspray I fell in love with that character. I’ve always had a special spot for her.

What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage in your career?
Easy! I was singing on a cruise ship singing and it was my moment where all of the other girls burst into a dance break and was I supposed to come pelting down the centre of the stage to hit my big note. Except I slipped over during my strut forward and hit the deck. Literally! Tried to pass it off as a sexy slide, but it wasn’t graceful enough! The audience let out a loud “Woooahhhh!” Ah well.

Do you have any interesting pre-show rituals?
Not really, I’m a bit of a keen bean. I come in super early and get my make up done so I have time to stuff it up and start again. I am hopeless at doing my stage make up! Then just warm up my voice and go through the show with my script and my notes so I know what I’m doing!

In Summer Rain, your character, Lorna, gives birth to a little girl. How do you tackle a big life moment like this in a show? And how are you going at connecting with the creepy baby doll you’re using in rehearsals?
I have gotten so attached to that little stand-in Trump baby (it has a mass of blonde hair and kind of pink skin)! Everyone else in the cast thinks it’s the creepiest thing ever but I think she’s just beautiful! I have never thought of myself as particularly maternal so I have been shocked at how comfortable this whole pregnancy/new mother thing has felt to me! Although I guess a plastic Trump Baby is different to the real thing, just a tad.

Also the ladies in the cast who have had children have been so great sharing their pregnancy stories and sharing wisdom! I have nailed the pregnancy walk thanks to those gals!

Summer Rain is a beautiful and poignant show with some amazing moments. What’s your favourite moment in the show?
My favourite moment is probably your “Dark Handsome Chappy” number! You and Catty are hilarious and Trent Kidd’s choreography is just perfect for it! I am lapping it up in rehearsals as much as I can because I’ll be offstage in that part when we’re doing it in the season!

I also really love the character development in this show. I feel they’re quite real and being Australian, they’re ones that we can all relate to. I feel Nick Enright has very much written this as a play with music.

Nat Jobe and Clare Ellen O’Connor are appearing in Summer Rain the musical.
Dates: 15 November – 19 December, 2016
Venue: New Theatre

Review: Marat/Sade (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 5 – Nov 5, 2016
Playwright: Peter Weiss (translated by Geoffrey Skelton and Adrian Mitchell)
Director: Barry French
Cast: Tom Aldous, Kaiya Bartholomew, Andrea Blight, Debra Bryan, Lyn Collingwood, Garreth Cruikshank, Tahlia Hoffman Hayes, Tim De Sousa, Gregory Dias, Patrick Howard, Isaro Kayitesi, Mark Langham, Leilani Loau, Jim McCrudden, Lynn Roise, Emmanuel Said, Irene Sarrinikolaou, Alia Seror-O’Neill, Liam Smith, Peter Talmacs, Annette van Roden, Jacque Vickers
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Originally conceived as a work set inside a psychiatric hospital, director Barry French’s version moves the action to a modern day asylum centre, with characters transposed from the mentally ill to asylum seekers who have gone mad from incarceration. A lot of the production makes good sense, with the play’s concerns and motivations proving to stand the test of time, but the text remains a difficult one half a century after its 1964 premiere.

Fragmented and purposefully incoherent, Marat/Sade is a fiercely anti-capitalist work that challenges how we think of society and art, and was never meant to be an easy one to stomach. It relies on the creation of spectacle and a sense of presence unique to the experience of live theatre, to keep the audience intrigued and captivated. French does well at manufacturing a dynamic stage with powerful imagery, featuring excellent design work by Tom Bannerman (set), Spiros Hristias (lights) and Nicola Block (costumes). Further, the incorporation of a very large cast comprising over 20 actors provides a sumptuous visual majesty, but the calibre of performers are highly inconsistent.

Our attention fades in and out, depending on the quality of acting being showcased, and the general sense of visceral energy stirred by the writing’s violent insanity, is only occasionally authentic and seldom severe enough to fascinate or convince. There are however, memorable personalities in the show, including Jim McCrudden as the Herald who demonstrates exceptional flair and nuance in his charming theatrics, as well as Debra Bryan and Leilani Loau whose committed portrayals of tragic hysteria, deliver some of the play’s richer characterisations.

Also noteworthy is Nate Edmondson’s original music, thoroughly creative, with a welcome exuberance adding texture and depth to the staging. Performed to a backing track, we are struck by the beauty of the score’s arrangement, and are left hankering for an opportunity to hear the songs sung completely live in tandem with musicians.

On the surface, Marat/Sade urges the downtrodden to rise up for a revolution, but what it really does, is facilitate discussion on social injustices that have to be rectified. The play talks about the French Revolution of 1808, but with the passage of time, ideas of radical action seem to have lost their lustre. Many of us at the theatre are the complacent middle class, and shows like this aim to help expand our consciousness to include the lives of those who suffer under our oppression, but doing more than providing lip service seems always to remain a challenge. Stories of asylum seekers who ask for our mercy continue to be told, but how we respond is presently inadequate, if all we can do is talk.


Review: Bathhouse: The Musical (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 19 – 23, 2016
Music & Lyrics: Esther Daack, Tim Evanicki
Director: Alex Robson
Cast: Valentino Arico, Marcus Rivera, Alex Robson, Dyan Tai, Lucas Thomson
Image by Priya Prakash

Theatre review
In Esther Daack and Tim Evanicki’s Bathhouse: The Musical, we discover all the goings on in that longstanding institution of the gay experience. Of course, providing a venue for sexual activity is its primary purpose, but where a community exists, a distinct culture can be found, and in this case, a very funny slew of shenanigans is brought to light for both the uninitiated, and the veterans. Its bawdy humour is charming, sharp and surprisingly refreshing, and although deeply conventional, its music is nonetheless enjoyable.

Billy is a smalltown young man in the process of coming out. We follow him as he navigates the dark, mysterious world of the bathhouse, trying to find companions, and more importantly his own sense of self. Performed by Lucas Thomson, the innocent and naive qualities of our protagonist are splendidly conveyed, and through his eyes, an unusual microcosm of human behaviour begins to make sense. The cast begins with unmissable tentativeness, but slowly gain confidence as the show progresses. The production can often feel under-rehearsed, and its performers do seem inexperienced in the specific requirements of the musical’s form and genre, but a vibrant accompanist (Antonio Fernandez on piano) ensures that the show is kept cohesive and jaunty. Alex Robson provides some clever ideas with his direction, but it is his work with live voice over that is truly endearing.

Daack and Evanicki’s creation is ten years old, but the advent of smart phones over this short period, is a factor that plays in our minds through the piece. Life is change, but the need for human connection is an uncompromising constant. Billy went to the baths looking for other souls who may make him feel less alone, but if he had begun his journey today, it is likely that the phone is where he goes most, ironically, to escape solitude. Technology can give us plenty, but flesh is unlikely to be replicated or replaced. The touch of another person, stranger or friend, can at times seem a lot to ask, but life without sex is not an existence anyone of any sexuality, should endure.


Review: The Measure Of A Man (New Theatre)

gavinroachVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Playwright: Gavin Roach
Director: Lauren Hopley
Cast: Gavin Roach
Image by Jarrod Rose

Theatre review
The monologue begins with Gavin Roach talking about penis size, a discussion indicative of the inadequacies that men can feel. The Measure Of A Man is not entirely about genitals, but it is about sex, and the effects on one’s emotional well-being when sexual dysfunctions appear. Roach’s writing endeavours to be absolutely revealing, and its vulnerability can be disarming, but for a context of physical and mental health, his disclosures have a tendency to dwell on symptoms rather than a deeper exploration into the causes of his worries. We find out in great detail, many of the issues the unnamed character faces with regard to sexual activity, but there is little insight into the reasons that might let us identify more closely with his circumstances.

Roach is a charming performer, able to present both humour and pathos with excellent conviction. His strong presence has a vivacious energy that provides an essential liveliness to the one-man-show format, but the play’s strong tendency for melancholy misses many an opportunity for scenes of comedy and mirth. Sex is a serious matter, but it is also very funny, and joking about it does not diminish its resonance. We connect more with Roach when he is self-effacing and camp. When performing his distinct style of flirty and transparent frivolity, we sense an ironic but truer depiction of his inner-self than when he shifts into high drama. Perhaps the stakes are too low to match.

Frank descriptions of unreliable body parts and lustful misadventures in The Measure Of A Man represent a progressive sex positive attitude that many will find refreshing and liberating. Queer artists have often faced the problem of having to play to mainstream heteronormative audiences, and in the process, become compromised and misleadingly puritanical in their expressions. As societies become more embracing of diversity and honesty in how we talk about sex, sexuality and gender, queer work can begin to be less pandering. Good taste will always exist, but artists must find a way to let their truths protrude, even if just a few meagre inches.