Review: Trade (Hurrah Hurrah / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 4 – 15, 2017
Director: Alison Bennett
Cast/Devisers: Alison Bennett, Dymphna Carew, Alicia Gonzalez, Mathias Olofsson, Melissa Hume
Image by Maria Hansson

Theatre review
Corporations exist to make money for its stakeholders, that much is clear. Everything else they claim to do, are undertakings that must be taken with a pinch of salt. In Trade, we examine the nature of these organisations, and their perennial pretensions around social responsibility. If the point of their existence is to maximise profit, we must always hold a sceptical attitude toward their altruistic proclamations. It is a culture that defines itself by taking more than it gives, so our interactions with businesses should always be cautious, and if their people are anything like the vile characters in Trade‘s fictitious world, then the state of our affairs is very grim indeed.

The piece looks exaggerated, but what it communicates feels absolutely real. Its theatrical language is inventive, absurd and hyperbolic; the story is told with faces and bodies in a completely anti-naturalistic way, and through its performance art approach, we discover a surprising accuracy in its grotesque portrayal of greed and megalomania.

Alison Bennett’s direction is spectacularly entertaining while maintaining a raw unconventionality. In the absence of a complex narrative, details are located instead, in all the deliberate gestures of the five flamboyant players, each one presenting their own version of the unhinged corporate cannibal. Elaborate sequences involving an energetic ensemble and its strange movement vocabulary, keeps us fascinated and thoroughly amused. Their cohesiveness is deeply impressive, and the most persuasive element of the show.

It is a strong message that Trade wishes to impart, but for all its passionate assertions, what we do eventually leave with, is a simple and unoriginal idea about the darker sides of humanity. Also less satisfying, is the deficiency in commitment to visual design of the production. The audience’s eyes are thoroughly engaged in this dance of anthropological ugliness, but little is on offer when our sight shifts beyond the performers.

It is easy to want to participate in life with the principle of “eat or be eaten”. We can think of our capitalism as being fundamentally and inevitably cruel, and then allow ourselves to do harm unto others, to keep from falling prey to those who run faster. The fear of not succeeding can be overwhelming, and the voracious appetite for an unending more, is a force that few of us can hide from, but surely there must exist something more generous and compassionate, if not entirely more blissful, in a way of life that is abundantly honest and, dare we say, pure.

www.hurrahhurrah.com.au

5 Questions with Alison Bennett and Dymphna Carew

Alison Bennett

Dymphna Carew: What’s the best thing about devising your own work? What’s the worst thing?
Alison Bennett: Best thing would be letting your imagination run off to different places. Worst, is getting stuck and having no idea what to do.

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
A journalist or a bird.

What has been the highlight of creating and performing Trade so far?
Honestly, the highlight of Trade so far is seeing people turn up even when it’s really hard. Also, once we get into performance it is really fun.

Are you a romantic or a realist and why?
I am definitely a romantic but sometimes I think I’m a realist. It’s because I love to escape into my own world. When I was little I had an imaginary place called Ali Land. Not much room for realism in Ali Land.

During the creation of Trade, the biggest question we have had to ask ourselves is “how responsible are you?” What are some of the things you have discovered about yourself? Are you responsible? Have you changed after confronting yourself with this question?
This can get really dark because you start to think that the world can never change. Then I realised that I am responsible. I’m really responsible and I realised what a weird relief that was because that is something that can change. I had trouble seeing the light of the subject matter of change and I think that that’s it. If we can just put our hands up and recognise our own responsibility, then we can change. If it’s always bigger and scarier than us than it can’t.

Dymphna Carew

Alison Bennett: What would be your perfect Monday?
Dymphna Carew: My perfect Monday would be enjoying another day off after the weekend! Escaping for a long weekend and doing something active and adventurous.

What was the last dream you remember?
I had a really vivid dream a few nights ago and dreamt there was someone at my window trying to climb in. I remember desperately trying to move and call out to my partner, but I was paralysed. Then apparently I started to make some strange sounds and screamed, waking myself and my partner up. It was all a bit scary and weird. We probably watched too much Homeland before going to bed. Ooops.

What gets you really excited in the theatre?
I love live theatre and experiencing something so intimate with other people. When the space is used in an innovative and surprising way, that really gets me going. I appreciate experimentation and love original, imaginative and daring pieces of theatre. Any show that uses different art forms to make a story come to life and take the audience on a journey makes my heart sing.

How do you feel about being nude on stage?
Hmm. I don’t personally have a huge issue with being nude on stage, however I wouldn’t be getting my kit off for any old reason.

Skinny dipping? Love or hate?
I don’t mind a little skinny dip now and then.

Alison Bennett and Dymphna Carew can be seen in Trade .
Dates: 4 – 15 Apr, 2017
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: A Period Piece (Glitterbomb / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 14 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Mikaela Atallah, Hannah Cheers, Julia Christensen, Clare Hennessy, Mat Lee, Julia Robertson, James Wright
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
In Gretel Vella’s A Period Piece, menstruation takes centre stage in each of its madcap episodes. Mischievous and irreverent, its collection of short skits takes a look at the absurd taboo that surrounds the subject, and its significance as a mechanism of misogyny in our daily lives. The work presents entertaining observations, and an important perspective on how society is taught to be afraid and ashamed of women’s bodies, and how that irrational aversion informs the way we have constructed sexism through the ages.

The production, directed by Carissa Licciardello, is delightfully high-spirited, with an energetic cast that zips gleefully from one comedic scene to another. A band of three musicians add even more vibrancy to the atmosphere, playing silly songs that keep us in a giddy mood, while driving home further, the show’s message of female empowerment. Set design by Nick Fry is a simple idea, but fastidiously executed to help illustrate the antiquated values we carry, with unforgivable obstinacy, in order that systems of patriarchy may be upheld.

There is a rawness to A Period Piece that is unapologetic, and very enjoyable. It is an untidy affair, but inviting and joyful, although a more philosophical approach could provide greater depth (and a more lasting impression) to its concerns. When Aristophanes dreamt up the story of Lysistrata and foregrounded the fact that a woman’s womb, and her sexuality, controls all our existence, we should have begun to see that her holding up half the sky is an understatement.

www.dasglitterbomb.com

5 Questions with Julia Christensen and James Wright

Julia Christensen

Julia Christensen

James Wright: Regardless of whether you believe in past lives, what/who would you like to imagine you were in a past life?
Julia Christensen: OK, I really can’t subscribe to believing in anything as utterly ludicrous as past lives, but also I COMPLETELY ONE HUNDO-PERCENTO BELIEVE I WAS A GENTLE TEXAN COWBOY. I was a renegade gun-slinger with a deadly aim and heart of gold.

What’s your perfect Sunday? And would it be different if money was no object?
My perfect Sunday involves no deadlines. My current day to day is on a super-tight-ship-shape schedule, so my ideal is wanting what I can’t have. Late morning start and some exercise with an animal (species irrelevant, I’ll walk an axolotl if necessary). Then great coffee, writing, reading and someone with a beautiful mind to talk about life and the world with. Head into rehearsals or see something/be in something on stage, debrief with aforementioned beautiful mind and hopefully passionately disagree with them so we can have a fantastic argument over a house red or four. If money were no object, it would just be a variation on a theme, probably featuring more dogs or teacup pigs and whiskey. While I’m at it, let’s transfer the whole scene to London at The National Theatre; I’ll catch a matinee followed by an early evening performance at The Donmar. And I’ll pay for Rose McGowan, Caitlin Stacey and Gang of Youths to join me. And you, Jamesy!

Is it better to live comfortably but be professionally uninspired or to live simply while following your passion?
Live simply and follow your passion. Straight up. I’m fuelled by instant coffee, rollies, art and beautiful human beings more so than I could ever be fuelled by material possessions. Bukowski once wrote, ‘find what you love and let it make you wonder how the fuck you’re going to make rent this week and hope to fuckery you’ve got enough money on your card to pay for this $3.30 coffee please say Approved, please sa- HAHA YES!’ Or something to that affect, I might be paraphrasing. (Just a call-out post to my privilege. As a cis-white-hetero the only way I could move through space with more privilege is if I had a dick. I live in heckin’ Marrickville; my version of ‘simple’ would be so many other’s ‘comfortable’)

Do you think we’re all better off being unaware that were living under tyranny or aware but ultimately powerless in resisting it?
Thank you for fielding this question to your resident Baby Socialist. Democracy is a necessary tyranny. It’s the most defective political structure except for all the other ones we’ve tried. If tyranny is understood as cruel and oppressive government, there are so many current political policies that are being enforced (let’s go for an obvious target: Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers) that I would describe as such. So. People are unaware of the “tyranny” we exist under because we dress it up with the title ‘Democracy’, and people are therefore powerless in resisting it because they are compliant, and therefore complicit in their own oppression. We’re completely free… within a closely monitored, tightly confined structure. Although, take me with a pinch of salt and also the entire Dead Sea here, because this is all come from someone who pays rent of time every month with the money she makes from selling women things they don’t need, and the mere thought of not Tapping On makes me skittish. Sorry, I’ve turned the volume on this casual Q&A up to Full Hektik, but I have a chronic case of NO CHILL also SEXUALITY IS A SPECTRUM, GENDER ISN’T BINARY, THE CAKE IS A LIE. xoxo.

What is your all-time dream role?
Gimme a crack at Romeo or Mercutio. I’m hungry for Donna from Shanley’s The Dreamer Examines His Pillow. Martha from Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and Beatrice one day. But Donna soon, I hope.

James Wright

James Wright

Julia Christensen: In today’s competitive break-neck-pace capitalist society, can a man truly have it all?
I believe a man could achieve that perfect combination of a fulfilling career, decent income and work/life balance in today’s crazy world if they maybe free themselves from feeling the need to adhere to social expectations whether that be about gender roles or financial gain, if they can be driven and strive towards short term goals while also being open minded to the unplanned unpredictables, and if we all rise up and overthrow the fascist tyranny which both rules and abuses us at each step of our personal journeys.

When you reintroduced yourself to me at our second rehearsal because you forgot who I was and thought we hadn’t met, was that the first time that had happened to you or have you always been a self absorbed prick?
I have always been a self-absorbed, unobservant, forgetful prick who speaks first and thinks later.

If nothing of us is original and we are all just a swirling conglomerate of other people’s ideas and influences, how much of you is Toadie from Neighbours?
Ha well unfortunately for this moment only I have never watched Neighbours. I see myself as an awkward blend of Ace Ventura, Jesse Eisenberg and Withnail.

What would you get written on your tombstone?
Instead of a tombstone I just want a tree grown from seeds sprinkled onto my corpse… and because that’s what I want I’ll accept that someone will probably scratch WANKER on it once it’s grown.

Julia Christensen and James Wright can be seen in

Review: BU21 (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 8 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Stuart Slade
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Skyler Ellis, Emily Havea, Bardiya McKinnon, Whitney Richards, Jeremy Waters
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
In Stuart Slade’s BU21 a terrorist attack occurs in London, but it is not a work of documentary, and the event being investigated did not happen on the public transport system, 7 July 2005. The play presents as fiction, focusing on the aftermath as experienced by the humans of collateral damage, following the horrific incident of a plane crashing into an area where people live and work. The stories may not be true, but the trauma is real. Slade’s writing feels thoroughly researched, and his subjects are explored at extraordinary depth. A sense of theatricality is built around the main concern to provide greater structural complexity, but the value of BU21 is in the intimacy at which it allows us to observe unadulterated human responses to catastrophe.

Direction by Erin Taylor brings a certain minimal elegance that keeps our minds attentive only to what is important at each moment. There is great sensitivity to her storytelling that protects us from ever feeling alienated, no matter how the phenomenon of pain is expressed. The messy business of dealing with emotional devastation is often ugly, but Taylor is always able to let humanity emerge, and our empathy cannot help but connect with it. Atmosphere is calibrated gently, but brilliantly, by Christopher Page’s lights and Nate Edmondson’s sound and music. Both demonstrate acuity and artistic maturity with their respective disciplines, contributing significantly to a show that communicates with precision and confident ease.

The cast of six is exceptional. Each distinct character is brought to life with great vividness (and convincing London accents), by a team of talented and charming actors, all conspiring with a beautiful stylistic cohesion, to take us through a mesmerising journey of agony and truth. They are spirited, colourful, dramatic, but also honest and disarmingly vulnerable. Jessica-Belle Keogh is particularly moving as Ana, distressed with injuries inside and out, in a constant state of disorientated struggle, but she delivers the most life-affirming speeches, perhaps without herself being aware of their profundity. Keogh plunges deep, to reveal something raw and brazenly soulful, that makes the entire harrowing experience of BU21 a meaningful one.

When disaster strikes people like us, we have the burden of getting back to business as usual, in lightning speed. Unlike war-torn countries where daily survival demands that one must sink or swim, our privileged existence forces troubles to be repressed, and in the face of apparent normalcy within a solitude of debilitation, all the wounds are made to subsist out of sight, and out of control. The people in BU21 seek salvation in different ways, but none of them believes that complete emancipation is possible, such is the power of hatred and terror.

www.outhousetheatre.org

5 Questions with Skyler Ellis and Emily Havea

Skyler Ellis

Skyler Ellis

Emily Havea: So you’ve got quite a doozy of a role to play here Sky! Anyone who knows you personally would know that you’re about as far from an aggressively masculine ‘alpha-male dickhead’ as I am! How have you found playing Alex?
Skyler Ellis: Yeah, it’s a toughie, to say the least! Look, it’s easy to see a character described as ‘hyper-masculine d*ckhead’ and play it as ‘bogan, testosterone-filled mofo that drinks too much and starts punching the nearest person’. But that is not only judgemental towards him, but also dismissive of a lot of other information about him provided in the play. After a while of exploring Alex like that, I had an extremely insightful conversation one rehearsal with our wonderful director, Erin, which made me question everything about him, including why I, as an actor, was cast as him, and what I offer naturally as a person. It made me realise that I have much more in common with him than I anticipated. The ‘hyper-masculine’ stuff is very different in a UK context, than it is through an ‘Australian’ lens, and I hadn’t taken that into consideration. He’s “posh”, he’s a banker and he’s a business man, too. It’s these kind of seismic revelations about him that make him SO fun to experiment with. It’s challenging to constantly be questioning his existence within a harshly capitalist society, but boy is it fun!

Classic drama school character question; Are they nice or nasty? (thanks Jen Hagen) What do you think about Alex?
Well, if any character is just one or the other, they’d be pretty bloody boring to watch! It’s much more interesting to see a character’s imperfections and inconsistencies, right? If at one point, Alex was to appear ‘nasty’, it makes you question your own judgement of someone who is going through a pretty traumatic situation. It could be a coping mechanism of someone in pain. NOW who’s being nasty! Sure, I think Alex approaches situations differently than I would, but I think finding his heart, is the key.

As we all know, indi theatre is a love job! It doesn’t exactly pay the big bucks haha. What was it about this play that made you wanna jump on board?
Oh, wait, you’re not getting paid equity rates for this show? Awkward… Jokes! The whole conversation about the appreciation (or lack thereof) of arts within our society and the expectation of artists (in most mediums) to do their profession for the love of it, is a conversation for another time. For BU21, as soon as I read the script before auditioning, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. All it takes is a quick scroll of Facebook to be hit with the repercussions of living in a world dominated by fear, and I really think Stuart Slade tackles this in his work. It’s a tough world to live in right now, especially if you believe in having respect and love for fellow humans. BU21 addresses the mechanism of coping, of hope, and of human decency in an unimaginable situation, and I think that can resonate with a lot of us right now.

If you had to summarise/ describe the show in 3 words, what would they be?
“Onwards and upwards.”

What’s been your favourite part of the process thus far?
Watching docos about human tragedy. Think 9/11, London Bombings, Westgate shootings. Too soon?

Emily Havea

Emily Havea

Skyler Ellis: BU21 has some pretty hectic content, but also calls upon humour and lightness. How have you found it, having to insert yourself into an unimaginable situation to convey your character, Thalissa, with truth?
I mean, you’re absolutely right. It is truly graphic and unimaginable stuff we’re dealing with so there has to be an element of self-preservation for the actor whilst still playing for truth. I think that lightness and humour that our director Erin has pushed for is what gets us all through and stops the play from being a relentless gut-wrencher. Also having a great, supportive and fun bunch of cast members helps! The humour and camaraderie offstage is equally as necessary as it is onstage. It just pops that tension bubble and let’s us all off the trauma hook for a second. After all ‘If you laugh at it you can fucking beat it, you know.’

Along with being a wonderfully gifted actor, you’re also a damn fine dancer, an angelic vocalist, and a very talented painter and drawer. You’re artistic, to say the least! Why are these different artistic fields important forms of expression to you, and do they influence your acting in any way?
Oh my gosh Sky stahhhhp! You’re like a human personification of my Showcast! Great question too. I definitely think I’m lucky to have a number of creative outlets to express myself through and although they all come from the same place (me, der) I do wonder if they speak to each other.. Acting and dance seems like an obvious one as inhabiting a character is as much an embodied thing for me as a mental thing. I’m one of those actors who likes to have their character’s shoes so I can feel what it’s like to walk like them and that definitely comes from my dance background. But I guess at the end of the day it’s all storytelling isn’t it? Singing, dancing, acting, writing, drawing -they’re all just ways for me to express something and I’d be a sadder person if I didn’t constantly get it out.

What has been your favourite memory from rehearsals so far?
My favourite rehearsal was just the other day when we got to sit and watch everyone’s monologues! I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying, it’s a monologue heavy show -which is a whole other challenge. But it was so nice to be able to watch everyone’s work cos there’s some REALLY great acting going on. Every time I’m in a show, I always wish I could just sit out and watch it for a run and, because of the monologue style, it was finally kinda possible!

The original UK production of BU21 has just been transferred to the West End. The play has had a successful run in Spain, is opening later this year in Germany, and we are premiering it here in Australia. Why do you think it is so relevant now, in 2017?
I don’t think this play could be more relevant if it tried. One of Thalissa’s lines sums it up best for me; “You know how on the news these days there’s just this endless stream of horrendous shit going down, like every single night? Suicide bombings, mass shootings, genocide, drone strikes, school massacres -It’s like the end of the world or something.” You don’t have to scroll very far to know that to be true! Stuart Slade has written a beautifully detailed, raw account of people dealing with some of today’s atrocities head on. Terrorism is a huge collective fear of society today and I think Slade does an incredible job of confronting that and pulling it apart with all its complexities.

F*ck, marry, kill. BU21 characters. Go!
Hahaha! It’s year 10 all over again! Ok here we go… so I’d fuck Clive because he has that whole monologue about love so he’d probably be a generous lover. Marry is a hard one…. You know I might marry Ana! I could use a sensible Romanian woman to keep me on the straight and narrow. Annnnd I’d kill Graham (sorry Jeremy). Straight up. I won’t reveal any spoilers but Graham and I have some moral differences so I wouldn’t feel too bad about killing him.

Skyler Ellis and Emily Havea can be seen in BU21 by Stuart Slade.
Dates: 8 – 25 Feb, 2017
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Flood (Old 505 Theatre)

lamberthouseVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Nov 8 – 19, 2016
Playwright: Chris Isaacs
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Chandel Brandimarti, Caitlin Burley, Olivia Jubb, Aaron Lucas, David Thomas, Jackson Williams, James Wright
Image by Alexandra Nell

Theatre review
6 young adults, all white, embark on a road trip into the Western Australia bush land. A dramatic transgression occurs involving Aboriginality, and the story attempts to move itself into high gear, except no black person ever shows up on stage to provide balance to the ideas being explored.

Chris Isaacs’ Flood is a well-meaning work about race relations and colonisation, but is woefully oblivious to the fact that it is entirely concerned with the guilt and hurt of white people, when the tragedy at the centre of its narrative strikes only Aboriginal people. It is a shocking and deeply disappointing indiscretion that should no longer surface in public storytelling, but its existence is reflective of the ignorance and insensitivity that remains commonplace in Australian society.

It must be said however, that the production is carried out well. Design elements are simple but elegantly implemented, and direction by Charles Sanders tunes rhythms and emotion levels appropriately for the narrative to make sense. All performers present a good amount of proficiency with their roles, and the relationships they cultivate are subtly but effectively conveyed. The pain and struggle these white kids experience might bear authenticity, but their side of the story pales in significance, and is frankly, tedious to witness.

We can acknowledge and thank the First Nations all we want, for the use of their land at every social occasion, but when talking about their place in our historical and contemporary lives, we must no longer usurp space that is rightfully theirs. The failure to engage Aboriginal voices (the programme lists Indigenous content consultants but the text does not present Aboriginal voices), and then for the colonialists to exclusively occupy an Australian stage, when attempting to address issues of regret and reconciliation, is hardly acceptable. Flood is earnest navel-gazing, but in its frustrating and empty introspective search for answers, it has forgotten to ask those who matter most.

www.old505theatre.com