Review: Matriarch (Jinda Productions)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 3 – 7, 2019
Playwrights: Sandy Greenwood, Lauren Jarrett, Oliver V. Cowley
Director: Jasmin Sheppard
Cast: Sandy Greenwood
Images by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
Sandy Greenwood is a Koori woman deeply invested in her cultural heritage. In her one-woman show Matriarch, we learn that the experience of inter-generational trauma, makes it almost impossible for an individual like Greenwood to live without an intimate understanding of historical events that have affected her family. Greenwood’s story reaches back to her great-grandmother and beyond, involving Aboriginal women from three clans who had to battle unfathomable hardship, through colonisation, massacres and stolen generations, to raise children and to preserve bloodlines.

At just over an hour, the material we encounter is at once refreshing, and extraordinarily rich. The text of Matriarch often utilises slang and dialect unique to this land, and the voices that Greenwood channels in her portrayals of these marvellous mothers, are truly sublime. We witness their triumphs and their challenges, share in their humour and feel tremendous sadness for the injustices imposed upon them. Greenwood’s performance is relentlessly powerful. Her physical discipline, and her emotional range, insist that we are engaged and moved, by her honest expressions about life for Indigenous peoples in Australia.

Directed by Jasmin Sheppard, the show is both poignant and consistently entertaining. Every moment is given accurate focus, so that the audience responds precisely as the artists intend. Music by Sean Ryan enhances a sense of cultural specificity to the production, helpful in transporting us to regional locales that are so fundamental in the weaving of narratives about belonging and about land.

Before we can properly move forward, we need to own up completely to all the atrocities that have been committed in this process of colonisation. Problems cannot be adequately fixed, if the truth of these problems are not wholly revealed. The continual denial of responsibility, total or partial, means that those in power can only ever try to mend the surface of these issues. The passage of time means that the roots of our ills can only grow deeper. Indigenous voices must be listened to, and obeyed, right now.

www.jindaproductions.wordpress.com

Review: An Intervention (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 20 -31, 2019
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Bardiya McKinnon
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
They are best friends, perhaps even soul mates, but we meet them at a point where these unnamed characters begin to diverge, as they start developing in directions that seem to be in mutual conflict. There is no doubt however, that these two, in Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention, are bonded on a level of essence, that they connect on a fundamental level beyond the surprising choices that they now make. How people experience the world can only ever be unique, and friends growing apart seems almost inevitable. Bartlett’s play is keenly observed and irresistibly witty, a truthful work that reveals meaningful aspects of ourselves, able to demystify parts of human nature that we rarely bring articulation to.

Directed by Erin Taylor, the show is jaunty and engaging, sensitive in its rendering of a story about careless friendships. It is an attractive production, with Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design and Liam O’Keefe’s lights bringing a sense of flamboyant theatricality to the intimate two-hander. Actor Jessica-Belle Keogh is mesmerising as the one who drinks too much, impressive for the exquisite thoroughness with which she attacks the role. Her performance is intelligent and deliberate but never feels forced, consistently thought-provoking while keeping us wonderfully entertained. Bardiya McKinnon holds his own as the one who marries for convenience, convincing in his natural approach, if slightly too simple in comparison. Excellent chemistry between the two sets the stage alight, for 90 minutes of comedy delivered with an unexpected sophistication.

We may not always be able to intervene when friends make mistakes. Life is often out of our control, and many occasions seem to require that we sit back and watch the unfolding of a car crash. We can however, always be there to help pick up the pieces. The people in An Intervention spend an inordinate amount of time in judgement of each other, but it appears that this constant disapproval amounts to nothing. A life without fuck-ups is no life at all. To have good friends witness every embarrassment, is perhaps a crucial element in the foundation of real love.

www.old505theatre.com | www.facebook.com/LastOneStandingTheatreCo

5 Questions with Jess-Belle Keogh and Bardiya McKinnon

Jess-Belle Keogh

Bardiya McKinnon:What is your biggest pet peeve?
Jess-Belle Keogh: This is a great question, which one do I choose? Okay so, I’m a good walker, I’m quick, even when I’m lost, so people taking up the entire pavement and having no spatial awareness grinds my gears. On a larger scale, I’m very passionate about women’s rights, so violations of those rights does an angry Jessie make (frequently vocal about it, proud of that fact, thanks very much).

What is it like working opposite only one other actor?
So the last two plays I did had at least 3-4 other actors in the room. This work has made me really check in with my own practice. It’s made me more passionate about current events. Ultimately, all of this fills me with enormous joy—it’s taught me to be more present and say “yes!” I don’t know, man– I like working with you too, I guess.

How do you put up with me?
Darling, thanks for checking in. To be frank with you, I’ve resorted to extensive periods of monastic silence in community gardens. It’s a spiritual overhaul. How the hell do you put up with me? God, you poor thing.

Friendship is the ongoing theme in An Intervention, how do your real world experiences feed this role?
The women I’ve surrounded myself with consistently operate with authenticity. The group consists of two sets of twins, and me. We’re all very different. They’re good people who keep me honest, and I love them a great deal. They’re my ride-or-dies, it isn’t shallow territory. We aren’t afraid to show each other love or say “hey, you’re being an asshole.” Wouldn’t trade them for anything. They’re my family. Likewise, I’ve got some incredible friends from a myriad of places who I love to the moon and back, like yourself. So that’s my approach to friendship. Does that answer your question?

What do you think the biggest message of this show is?
Look, not to sound woo-woo, but life has a funny way of making us feel like we’re alone in all of this. The world is in turmoil, after all, and we’re lonelier than ever watching atrocity after atrocity on our smartphones. Or, we’re Instagram distracted in other ways and unaware. We’re rendered inactive all of a sudden; self-conscious voyeurs. Don’t fall for it: apathy or cool indifference is a waste of your time. Be passionate about the big stuff. Do something. Lean into looking silly. Fail gloriously. Risk buggering it all up. But show up, look around, do something. Even if it’s scary or inconvenient or doesn’t suit your Instagram aesthetic. Show up for each other and for life. People are there to meet you. You aren’t alone and damn the thing that makes you feel that way. Lean in. I promise you won’t regret it.

Bardiya McKinnon

Jess-Belle Keogh: Bardiya, I think you’re great. Sorry, that wasn’t a question. Right. Bardiya, what do you like about Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention?
Bardiya McKinnon: I love the simplicity of it all. This show does everything in its power to draw audiences into the relationship between these two best friends. It strips away props, set, bells and whistles to focus on the beautiful space between these two “best” friends. In doing so it creates a very real, honest and genuine portrayal of life and 2 damaged people standing up for what they believe is right. I love it for that.

An Intervention involves spirited debate about socio-political matters on a global scale. We go head to head about these issues, often in bombastic ways. What cause do you feel strongly about at the moment?
This is a tough question to answer because I have never really been one for specific “causes”. I believe in the values that what I was brought up with – that all people no matter their skin colour, orientation, gender or belief system are entitled to love whoever they want, work in whichever field they so choose and believe in whatever cause they choose to as long as it doesn’t impede or harm anyone else. I know that sounds like a cop out answer but my belief system is completely inclusive and I’m sick of hearing about person/s or groups who use their power as a way of regulating how people should exist in their own skin.

We’ve been friends since 2017 (I know, don’t lose it). Perhaps tell the people about how we met? And who is Erin Taylor?
Holy crap 2017…so much has happened in my life since then. You and I met under circumstances that mirror our current situation quite closely. We worked on a show at the Old 505 in 2017, the Outhouse theatre company production of BU21 by Stuart Slade directed by our incredible director Erin Taylor. That show was an absolute highlight for me and every single member of that team was so so wonderful. After working with our wonderful director Erin Taylor on that show I knew exactly who should helm An Intervention once I had read it. Her voice and ability to tap into the fine human details that are easy to miss really make this production really special.

What have you seen recently that literally (or figuratively) knocked your socks off?
Apart from you crushing it in this show? Yeah, have you seen the wonderful promo video we made for this show where we asked a bunch of people in the street about certain events that affected their relationships. It’s super beautiful and super honest and captures our show really well. Now apart from that shameless plug my real answer is: That video of the raccoon dipping the fairy floss into a puddle… love that shit.

Right, let’s do the damn thing. Five words to describe the show— aaaaand go!:
Defiant, Flawed with Love and Wine. (I know that’s 6 but “and” is barely a word…)

Catch Jess-Belle Keogh and Bardiya McKinnon in An Intervention by Mike Bartlett.
Dates: 20 – 31 Aug, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Mars: An Interplanetary Cabaret (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 30 – Aug 3, 2019
Music: Chelsea Needham
Lyrics: Ang Collins
Director: Andrew McInnes
Cast: Monika Pieprzyk, Amelia Campbell, Tom Matthews, Jacob Mclean, Jack Richardson, Kieran Clancy-Lowe
Images by Zac Jay

Theatre review
Three Martians have landed, in a spaceship called Incel 9, because apparently, earth girls are easy. The male of that species have had to travel an enormous distance, after women on Mars had wised up to their misogynistic nonsense. Earthlings however, are being protected by Space Cops, who in Mars: An Interplanetary Cabaret, happen to be two women impervious to the sleazy tricks of pickup artists. Written by Ang Collins and Chelsea Needham, this fun-filled work features kooky characters and humorous songs, for a surprisingly wholesome style of entertainment that often feels like a contemporary take on the pantomime form. A show about dirty boys with no dirty jokes, Mars is a remarkably refreshing experience.

Directed by Andrew McInnes, the comedy balances flamboyance with irony, allowing its very broad approach to communicate at somewhat unexpected levels of nuance. The visual style is appropriately lo-fi, with Lucy McCullough’s production design and Tom Houghton’s lights, establishing a lot of playful charm to keep us engaged. Some of the singing is of questionable quality, but the cast is likeable, and they present a well-rehearsed staging that impresses with its verve and spirit of inventiveness. Tom Matthews and Jack Richardson are the more disciplined performers of the group, able to contribute a sheen of professionalism with their vocal and physical polish, although the general lack of refinement remains a major component of Mars‘ appeal.

It is appropriate for our current political climate, to talk as though men are from Mars, women are from, well, Earth. A new generation of feminists have declared that poor behaviour is not acceptable, and that the toxic culture of “boys will be boys” must be changed. We talk of the young as being overly fragile, but it is evident that they are on a mission to make the world a kinder place, that people should not be required to have the fortitude to put up with all manner of bullshit. We should no longer have to laugh along with “casually racist” jokes, just as we should no longer fabricate any reason to blame victims of sexual assault. Those who find this shift in codes of conduct frustrating, are on the wrong side of history.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Van De Maar Papers (Ratcatch / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 9 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Alexander Lee-Rekers
Director: Camilla Turnbull
Cast: Melissa Hume, Jessie Lancaster, Tom Matthews, Lucy Miller, Nathalie Murray, Terry Serio, Sophie Strykowski, Simon Thomson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A man of extraordinary wealth and influence has died, leaving behind a secret manuscript that he wishes to get published, now that he is no longer here to face the critics. The family however, will have to suffer the consequences of a book that could well destroy the family name. Alexander Lee-Rekers’ Van De Maar Papers is concerned with ambition. Levi Van De Maar, the deceased, had wanted to achieve something that he only saw possible after leaving this mortal coil. His wife Christine has her own priorities of self-preservation, as does Frank, a nephew trying to make his own mark in a world that only sees him as a surname.

Lee-Rekers’ writing is often fascinating, with an idiosyncratic humour that keeps us amused. The production can however feel too serious and slow, with director Camilla Turnbull placing emphasis on conveying psychological accuracy, and comedic impulses made somewhat secondary. Lucy Miller and Simon Thomson play the main surviving Van De Maars, both actors believable if slightly too subtle in their approach. The role of unscrupulous publisher Ron Huck is depicted with an enjoyable theatricality by Terry Serio, whose relentless vibrancy is a real asset for the show. At times, he seems to be the only one who is in on the joke with the audience.

The obsession with money and status in Van De Maar Papers encourages us to question our own values. Juxtaposed against the inevitability of death, we are struck by the intensity with which the shallow and the materialistic can overwhelm and determine every course of action. We know with absolute certainty the brevity of existence, yet we submit to meaningless pursuits, letting the appetite to outdo one another, take over the entirety of our being. There are better things to do than to invest in keeping up with neighbours; the tricky thing is to be able to identify that which will be truly fulfilling, and stick with it.

www.old505theatre.com

5 Questions with Chelsea Needham and Cassandra Sorrell

Chelsea Needham

Cassandra Sorrell: Did you always want to be an actor and musician?
I always wanted to be loud and untameable. There is nothing more exciting than sitting across from other humans an expressing yourself in the rawest way possible. Nothing more exciting for both parties.

Why do you think it’s important that these characters are both women?
I think it’s more important that these two figures identify similarly. The play is a universal exploration of the gray area between truth and lies that is essential to functioning human interaction and relationships.

What has been most challenging about this play?
Leaving rehearsals with an adjusted idea of what your truth is.

What’s your favourite line in I (Love) You?
‘It tastes like spinach but chunky.’

If you could design a piece of technology for the future what would it be?
An endless plant based goats cheese growing machine!

Cassandra Sorrell

Chelsea Needham: So I hear you write and act and do all sorts of amazing things, is there one thing that draws you in the most?
Cassandra Sorrell: Acting had always been my main drive until I discovered a confidence in my writing. Now the two ebb and flow in regards to what serves me more as an artist at any given time.

What’s the best and worst thing about being in a play set in the future?
The best thing is having the luxury to create a world in the room, throw around ideas and explore what could be possible. The worst thing is not having definitive facts to rely on.

Would you implant a ‘truth chip’ in your brain to stop you from lying?
Potentially. I would like to know who that person is and how I would relate to the world. I feel like I would be more authentic. At the same time…would it be to the detriment of creative license, as an artist?

What do you think is most important message about I (Love) You?
That truth must first be discovered in oneself before demanding it from another.

Is it true that the playwright’s dog comes to rehearsals?
No comment.

Chelsea Needham and Cassandra Sorrell can be seen in I (Love) You by Eliza Oliver.
Dates: 18 – 29 Jun, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Normal (The Uncertainty Principle / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 29 – Jun 15, 2019
Playwright: Katie Pollock
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Chika Ikogwe, Alexandra Morgan, Cecilia Morrow, Finley Penrose
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Teenager Poppy’s eyes begin to twitch one day, and before too long her entire being spasms, to the extent that she passes out in public without warning. It appears a disease has taken hold, one of a mysterious nature that compels all around her to formulate narratives, to impose judgement upon the young woman’s body. When the same symptoms are seen in her school friends, this spreading of an unexplained phenomenon, fractures Poppy’s community, with people seeing only difference of opinion, and not what binds them together. Katie Pollock’s Normal is an intriguing work, because it allows for ambiguity, even though its expressions are passionate. Poppy’s resistance of definition, of not wanting to be pinned down, is a tale about female bodily integrity. It refuses to fit into a structure that would make us comfortable, for its autonomy comes before our conventional stipulations.

Normal‘s politics are never obvious, but director Anthony Skuse makes sure that it speaks with an incontrovertible urgency. The ensemble of four conspire to deliver something quite intense, with Alexandra Morgan’s turn as Poppy bringing a satisfying mix of youthful innocence and exuberance to the play. Chika Ikogwe is wonderful in a variety of roles, always a striking presence, yet marvellously persuasive with her naturalistic style of presentation. Cecilia Morrow and Finley Penrose too are effective in the show, both infectious with their zeal and conviction.

The production is cleverly designed, with Kelsey Lee’s lights monitoring proceedings through a combined sense of dynamism and sensitivity, and her set providing an elegant visual cohesion to the many short scenes that comprise the plot. Sound by Cluny Edwards is imaginative, with a distinctive kooky edge, able to facilitate unexpected dimensions for the story and its characters.

One of the most dangerous things that could happen to society as we know it, is for women to reject any attempts to control our bodies. The radical notion that we can do what we want with our lives and with our corporeality, goes against so much of what constitutes the fundamental building blocks of what we are. Old religions and other old patriarchies require our subjugation and capitulation, so to have women take charge of our own destinies, can only mean devastation to life as we know it, which is absolutely a future to look forward to.

www.old505theatre.com