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

Review: Rats – Moonshine (Fledgling Theatre Co)

fledglingVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Oct 25 – Nov 5, 2016
Playwright: Chris Huntly-Turner
Director: Chris Huntly-Turner
Cast: Shelley Casey, Sylvia Keays, Carla Nirella, Abigail Honey, Jeremy Rodmell, David Woodland

Theatre review
It is the early 1940s, and women in the Central West region of NSW are figuring out a life at home, while their sons and husbands are away at war. Tired of pining for the men, and sick of being bored, their enterprising spirit begins to emerge. For a moment in (fictional) history, great success comes to a group of three peddlers of moonshine, who brew and sell alcohol to surrounding townships that are hungry for distraction from hard times. Moonshine by Chris Huntly-Turner takes time to establish itself, but its story becomes increasingly exciting as the women go on to discover their newfound freedom and learn to embrace their independence.

It is a joy seeing these characters transform unwittingly into outlaws, and the bond of sisterhood that develops is reassuring. There is vibrancy to each, but a lack of idiosyncrasy makes for personalities that can seem generic and consequently distant. Emotional scenes are actualised more effectively than in humorous sections where chemistry between actors can sometimes be hesitant. Live music accompaniment by David Woodland manipulates atmosphere cleverly, but several instances of the women’s dance-inspired flourishes require much greater finesse to achieve their desired elegance. The cast shows impressive conviction, and although not completely persuasive with their impetuses and narratives, the performers have a tenacious energy that holds our interest for the entire duration.

The play shows us what we are capable of, when the going gets tough. In a state of volatility and fear, brought on by countries going to war, individuals can escape into inspiration that lead to the creation of extraordinary things, but can also collapse into abject destruction. The women do their best, but remain vulnerable to external forces infinitely greater than their sphere of control. When days are dark, it seems easy to perpetuate hurt and injury, because making normalcy out of pain is deceptively sedating. When making lemonade from lemons feels to be a tall order, we must rise to that challenge. We can all be resilient, but it is in our efforts to overcome that our spirits shine the brightest.

www.fledglingtheatre.com

Review: Do Something Else (The Old 505 Theatre)

old505Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 4 – 22, 2016
Devisor / Director: Michael Pigott
Devisors / Cast: Cloé Fournier, Ryuichi Fujimura, Brigid Vidler
Image by Michael Pigott

Theatre review
Meaning can be derived from anything, because being human requires that we make sense of the things we come in contact with, even if their inherent characteristics are not readily intelligible. In Michael Pigott’s Do Something Else, the deliberate absence of a narrative relocates the audience from a position of passivity to one of mental vigour. The work provides visual and aural cues that seem to be, on a superficial level, incoherent, trusting that our response is a creative one that will formulate personally resonant symbols and messages.

It is an elegant work, but also surprising and challenging, with a confidence that allows its abstract approach to communicate with authority. Pigott’s work on sound and lights creates a hypnotically gripping atmosphere, balanced by the dynamic physical expressions he introduces to the piece. The three performers have distinct and strong presences that connect with us effortlessly. Cloé Fournier and Ryuichi Fujimura are memorable for their idiosyncratic and nuanced movement styles, while Brigid Vidler captivates with her incisive delivery of text. Fascinating words are also provided by Diana Shahinyan and Ari Mattes whose prerecorded voices guide us with scholarly ideas to reach an increasingly precise interpretation of the work.

A key concern of Do Something Else pertains to a neurosis that emerges with the rise of the metropolis. We can choose to see that city life drives us crazy, or we can adopt an alternate view that the innate insanity of life has proven to be untameable by a culture of industrialism. Our chaos simply takes on a different form. It is naive to think that nature is independent of technology, and falling into nostalgic fantasies for an imagined world of primitive perfection is futile, and erroneous. Technophobia however, is an interesting and helpful concept that can help us in discussions about ecology and environmentalism. It also encourages a healthy cynicism of progress that interrogates our priorities, and questions our values. Our societies run on a momentum that thinks that big is better, and more is good. Civilisations must move forward, but the choices we make within that propulsive trajectory must never be left unexamined.

www.old505theatre.com