Review: The Chapel Perilous (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 25 – May 27, 2017
Playwright: Dorothy Hewett
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Courtney Bell, Alison Chambers, Julia Christensen, Meg Clarke, Jasper Garner-Gore, Brett Heath, Madelaine Osborn, Tom Matthews, James Wright
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Defiant by nature, Sally faces a real challenge, having to live in the conservative times of 1930s Australia. In Dorothy Hewett’s The Chapel Perilous, we observe a young woman trying to be her own person, not hurting a soul in the process, but who constantly suffers injustice and oppression from a society that demands her gendered subjugation. Sally is a symbol of feminism, although she seems to be unfamiliar with the concept herself, unable to comprehend the futility of her insatiable need to make herself an object of desire to men who offer her little. She is not a hero, but she is like many of us, when we find ourselves motivated by pure desire, unafraid to want.

It is a dynamic production that Carissa Licciardello directs, with adventurous and vivid interpretations of scenes coinciding effectively with clever use of space. It is noteworthy that Kyle Jonsson’s set and Martin Kinnane’s lights are beautifully rendered, for a show that looks remarkably polished. There are moments however, where the politics of the piece becomes muddy, probably due to a conflict in ideologies between personnel and text, and the delivery of meanings end up less poignant than imagined.

Julia Christensen is a very exuberant Sally. The actor is extremely animated with her portrayal of the central role, bringing to the stage a sense of boundless energy, but that continuous vigour can turn alienating. Like the character she plays, Christensen has a hard time endearing herself to everyone in her presence. The charming duo of Alison Chambers and Brett Heath play figures of authority, with excellent nuance and flair. Both give commanding performances in what are admittedly less complex parts, leaving strong impressions in spite of that simplicity.

Sally has no compatriots in her struggle, so the chances of her emerging victorious are close to none. All of society objects to her behaviour, and when a person realises that she is one against the world, hope can only give way to hopelessness. The sadness in The Chapel Perilous however, belongs to the past. What we have today are radically improved circumstances. Feminists now join in a movement that gains momentum everyday, and although we feel the pain of our wronged protagonist (for we have experienced similar transgressions), we know that progress is taking place. Those whose resistance had counted little, are to be mourned, and those who continue to blaze our trails, must be celebrated.

Review: Consensual (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 14 – Apr 15, 2017
Playwright: Evan Placey
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Callum Alexander, Michael Brindley, Claire Crighton, Rhys Johnson, Eloise Martin-Jones, Eliza Nicholls, Eamon O’Flynn, Celeste Reardon, Lauren Richardson, Natasha Rose, Anton Smilek, Nicole Toum,
Benjamin Vickers, Paul Whiddon, Emma Wright
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Freddie was a 15 year-old schoolboy when a sexual tryst occurred between himself and his teacher, Diane. Seven years later, a confrontation takes place, with Freddie accusing Diane of rape. In Consensual, playwright Evan Placey poses a challenge to our ethics, not only in terms of what we consider to be sexual assault and what constitutes consent, but also how, as individuals and as society, we determine what is acceptable and what is abhorrent. The play is as much about where to draw the line, as it is about how we find consensus in the way that line should be drawn.

Placey’s gripping drama is often outrageous, but balance is offered by ethical and intellectual investigations that are as considered as they are controversial. Urging us to respond on levels that are both emotional and logical, the play leads us to experience states of struggle and confusion, while we attempt to negotiate right from wrong in all the grey areas of what we see on stage, and in those of our own real world experiences. Characters in Consensual are believable and quite frighteningly, we relate to all of them. Even when we wish to castigate certain behaviour, we understand the fallibility on display, and realise how easy it is to make those same mistakes.

Freddie is played by Paul Whiddon, perfectly cast as the male Lolita, vulnerable yet seductive, manipulative yet naive. We see a man domineering with his sexuality, as well as a lost boy not knowing what he is getting himself into. Whiddon brings a level of authenticity to the show that is quite arresting, allowing us to observe clearly, all the conflicting nuances that make his story so provocative.

Lauren Richardson takes on the highly complex role of Diane, portraying concurrent but contradictory layers of truth that has the audience squirming in nervousness. Some of her motivations could be played with greater conviction, so that the climactic moment can ring truer, but it is an accomplished performance that reveals the disconcerting depths of Diane’s story.

A strong ensemble of extraordinarily engaging young actors make up the high school classroom, typically rambunctious but surprisingly (and unnervingly) grown up in their exchanges about sex. Particularly impressive is Callum Alexander whose excellent focus and commitment, makes the supporting part of the very wise Nathan, especially memorable.

Production design is simple but effective. Renee Halse’s set and Liam O’Keefe’s lights are polished, efficient and unobtrusive, while music composer Nicky D’Silva’s exciting electronica in scene transitions, brings great vigour to the stage. Director Johann Walraven’s exhibits a valuable talent in making Consensual both intelligent and entertaining. More detailed work in dramaturgy would give greater finesse, but the show is nonetheless engrossing.

A child wants ice cream morning, noon and night. No amount of explanation could make the consequences more real than the yearning they experience. Likewise with teenagers and sex. Adults must protect the young, even when they appear headstrong with what they wish to explore. Sex and relationships are complicated, and we will continue to make mistakes no matter how grown up we feel, but as long as the more experienced can keep a watchful eye, the minimisation of harm must always be a priority.

5 Questions with Lauren Richardson and Paul Whiddon

Lauren Richardson

Paul Whiddon: Which pop star would you name your kid after?
Lauren Richardson: If it was a girl, Beyoncé. If it was a boy…Beyoncé.

What challenges did you have to face playing Diane?
Every day in the rehearsal room was a challenge, the role is quite confronting and I had to step outside of my comfort zone in terms of what I was (often quite literally) willing to bare. But I’ve learnt that that can be quite liberating.

What would you have done in Diane’s position as a 22 year old?
I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say I wouldn’t have opened the door.

Who would you go younger for?
I tend to prefer older men 😉 haha

Have you ever considered becoming a teacher?
I come from a family of teachers, my best friend is a teacher, and I’m a passionate advocate for public education. But there’s no way I could do it!!! Nothing but respect and admiration for teaches who work tirelessly and often without due thanks.

Paul Whiddon

Lauren Richardson: Pop star you’d name your kid after?
Paul Whiddon: Of it was a girl Ella, after Ella Fitzgerald. If it was a boy Benjamin, after Macklemore.

Did you ever have a crush on a teacher?
Yes. My Dance teacher. I actually nearly got her in trouble after I sent her a Valentine’s Day card as a joke.

Hardest part about playing Freddie?
Not to you use too much of my own experience. There are many similarities between how Freddie is and how I am. The hardest part was taking on the differences and separating Freddie from myself.

Geek or jock in high school?
I wasn’t really either. I was in second top classes, was pretty athletic all round, but really, I was a shit. The ‘group’ I suppose to could put me in was the smokers. I wagged, smoked cigarettes and weed through school. I wish I’d done more, but I was one of those kids you’d barely see except in school plays.

What do you like about the play?
I like that it isn’t too subjective to a particular character’s point of view. But rather sparks debate with with each audience member relating to different characters

Lauren Richardson and Paul Whiddon can be seen in Consensual by Evan Placey.
Dates: 14 Mar – 15 Apr, 2017
Venue: New Theatre

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