Review: Little Borders (Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 4 – 15, 2017
Playwright: Phillip Kavanagh
Director: Dominic Mercer
Cast: Lucy Goleby, Brandon McClelland
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Elle and Steve are moving houses, because they have convinced themselves that their Middle Eastern neighbour is a terrorist. Little Borders by Phillip Kavanagh, is about the paranoid, fearful and narcissistic people that many of us have become, in a confused world that has us believe that things will go wrong in an instant, and that other people are to blame.

The young couple is bestowed every social and economic privilege that could give them the best opportunity at a comfortable existence, yet they are full of volatility and hostility, obsessed with the idea that their lives are going to fall apart at any given moment. Their self-destructive behaviour is depicted with biting astuteness by Kavanagh, who reveals the insidious nature of hate in our contemporary communities.

The production is suitably dark, if slightly too predictable in its despair. The important messages of Little Borders are given remarkable elucidation by director Dominic Mercer, and we leave shaken by our disastrous reflection, but the show has a tendency to feel too safe and slightly unambitious in its interpretations of Kavanagh’s bold writing. We sense that the words provide room for a greater theatricality, although its minimalism is nonetheless effective, and beautifully executed. Set design by Charlie Edward Davis and Jeremy Allen, is understated but charming, and undeniably memorable.

Actors Lucy Goleby and Brandon McClelland prove themselves to be highly accomplished in the piece. Goleby’s intensity, although quiet and contained, is a captivating study of Elle, a woman gripped by insecurity and irrational anxiety. She keeps us inquisitive, and terrified, by her authentic manifestation of a person that we sometimes find ourselves being. McClelland is a charismatic presence, with immaculate hair and perfect teeth providing disguise for a character that has no redeeming features. His juxtaposition of clean cut suburban wellness against the pure evil of Steve’s words and actions, is chilling, and perversely entertaining.

It is a frightening look at the psyche of our worst neighbours. The play resonates with an alarming accuracy, even though the events that unfold are very dramatic and extreme. It is truthful in what it says about modern life; the interminable feeling of inadequacy, and the need to infringe upon the lives of others, as we proceed to suppress everything that we have no understanding of. We are not told however, how it is that Elle and Steve have become such monsters; Kavanagh’s deliberate omission is provocative. We should really know those reasons for ourselves. These are our middle class lives, and we know these people. All the evidence that would explain their madness must already be in plain sight, if we choose to examine it.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: This Is Not Mills And Boon (Glorious Thing Theatre Co)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Erica J Brennan
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Alison Bennett, Emma Chelsey, Gabe Fancourt, Lynden Jones
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
When we first meet Abby, she surprises us with her prudishness. We think of sex as being universally appealing, and in this day and age, talking about sex is certainly de rigueur, if not interminable, so we wonder what problems Abby is struggling with, that makes her so uncomfortable with the topic.

The story unfolds as Abby begins reading, in secret, a collection of erotic stories. Written by her boyfriend’s mother, Nikki Sex’s book is titillating and wild, but also deeply cheesy and frequently nonsensical. We watch as the far-fetched tales begin to unravel the riddle surrounding Abby’s mystifying sexual nature.

Erica J Brennan’s This Is Not Mills And Boon is a smart, ambitious piece that deals with a young woman’s sexual awakening, or more accurately, it is about Abby’s self-discovery beyond the indoctrination and traditions that our young are subject to. There is good attempt at depicting sexuality as being individualistic and idiosyncratic, and hence, a fundamentally deviant feature of what we consider to be human nature, but Brennan’s characters remain bound to an ideal of monogamy and heteronormativity, which prevents the play from foraging deeper into its philosophical interests, thus losing an opportunity to be truly subversive, or edifying, with its declarations.

Director Richard Hilliar introduces a wanton sense of humour to fantasy sequences that makes the show very enjoyable, but a tendency to be overly earnest with our protagonist’s central predicament, can make its naturalistic scenes needlessly severe. Abby needs to lighten up, as does the show.

Funny lady Alison Bennett delivers laughs in all of her extravagant guises. Sharply intuitive, and wonderfully campy, it is a very bawdy performance that pushes all the right buttons (look out for some physical work featuring Bennett’s extraordinarily dexterous tongue). Also very comedic is Gabe Fancourt as the endearing boyfriend Sol, whose unabashed approach to the portrayal of sex object, is as refreshing as it is hilarious.

Although Emma Chelsey’s interpretation of a plain and reserved personality can often feel too literal and hence lacklustre, her Abby is dignified and honest, with a sincerity that makes the whole exercise convincing. The troubling relationship between Abby and her father is a crucial part of the narrative, and Lynden Jones is strong in that role. His lines are perhaps not written with sufficient elegance, but Jones demonstrates excellent conviction even when the dialogue turns precarious.

The show makes fun of “Fifty Shades Of Beige”, but is itself shy with its own interrogations. It may not be Mills and Boon, but it is certainly no Marquis de Sade either. There is a naivety in how it thinks about sex, but its fervent need to reject convention in favour of a self-determined experience of sexuality and of identity, must be celebrated.

What makes each person feel good, is rarely the same, but what makes us all the same, is the need to discover the truth that lies within. It is human to want to poke and prod, to find something that feels resolutely at the core of our existence. Whether through art or through fucking, we can get to the thing that resides deep at the centre, that holds the meaning of life.

www.gloriousthingtheatreco.com

5 Questions with Emma Chelsey and Gabe Fancourt

Emma Chelsey

Gabe Fancourt: What’s the most challenging aspect of revisiting a character you’ve already played?
Emma Chelsey: I think it’s always important not to bring judgements or preconceived ideas of the character or comparisons to what you have done previously and just start again with a fresh set of eyes. This was challenging to do but I feel it was helpful. There was a lot of development to the script so a lot of it was new and hadn’t been investigated yet so I was able to go deeper having explored this person before and learn a lot more about her the second time around. It’s also easy to fall into a previous way of delivering lines so you have to break that vocal pattern and discover it again as if for the first time!

What did you learn about the play getting it in front of an audience the first time?
That it’s silly, funny, absurd and a thrill!

What is your character’s spirit animal?
Abby is a horse for sure. Flighty, skittish, easily affected by the energy around her, sensitive and can display both dominant and submissive behaviour depending on the situation!

How do you prepare for/ approach scenes that are sexual or intimate in nature?
With laughter. Literally that’s all you can do. You obviously make sure you and your scene partner are comfortable, you rehearse very specifically, everything is choreographed and then you laugh about it a lot…

What’s the strangest/ most unconventional thing about this play?
Sex on stage. It’s confronting and quite foreign to see in theatre and I am intrigued by what the audience reaction will be. Also, the sexual fantasies are strange and wonderful!

Gabe Fancourt

Emma Chelsey: Describe the play This Is Not Mills And Boon in five words.
Gabe Fancourt: Irreverent, playful, honest, dynamic, fun.

What is one of the questions you hope this play asks or answers?
I think with a large part of itself this play is grappling with the extent to which our identity, and in particular our sexual identity, is shaped by our sense of shame. How can we connect with our tastes and preferences when those impulses are met with reflexive shame?

What is the craziest acting related thing you’ve ever done?
In my first school play I was cast as a question mark. For research I interrogated people relentlessly with questions. I also hurt my back trying to get the physicality right.

What has been your favourite part of the process so far?
It sounds nerdy, but I really love the dramaturgical element involved in the development. Sitting down with a script and really sharpening in on how the scenes function and how the story is told in a clear and compelling way is something I find very satisfying.

What do you think is the naughtiest part of this production?
Definitely the fish on fish sex scene. (Spoiler alert)

Emma Chelsey and Gabe Fancourt can be seen in This Is Not Mills And Boon by Erica J Brennan.
Dates: 23 May – 3 June, 2017
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizás (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 2 – 13, 2017
Playwright: Gabriela Munoz
Director: Gabriela Munoz
Cast: Gabriela Munoz
Image by Ricardo Castillo Cuevas

Theatre review
It is so sad when a woman is unable to find a man to marry her. When a man stays single however, the situation is not nearly as dire. In Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizás, Greta spends all her time lamenting her spinsterhood, and goes about creating fantasy weddings to escape her misery. It is a woeful context for a show, but when coming face to face with a sad clown, we discover the unique discipline that conflates depression with comedy, and makes everything work.

In art, we have to be careful about the messages we send, but we must also be authentic with how lived experience is represented. Gabriela Munoz’s work may be highly stylised, but the accuracy at which she presents her character’s feelings, persuades us to connect with the unquestionably real human emotion that is being recreated. For a moment, we put judgement aside and share in her melancholy.

Munoz is a funny lady, and her show is often hilarious. We laugh because we recognise the struggles she face, and also because so much of what she does, makes us feel uneasy. A significant segment involves audience participation, and one lucky viewer gets to be on stage for more than a few minutes to help Greta indulge in her craziest delusions. It is as unnerving as it sounds.

The best of theatre happens when safety nets are removed, and everything comes to life. Munoz’s face might be hiding under chalk white pancake, but she opens herself up to our incontrovertible presence, accepting and encouraging our input into her performance. The vulnerability is moving, and the fragility is beautiful.

The truth is that we are sad about Greta’s sadness, rather than her failure to find a mate. Some of us wish that she gets her man some day, and some of us wish that she finds something else more meaningful on which to expend her energy. Life promises so much, but for most of us, it gives so little. There is always more to want, but to be in love with what we do have, is how the days become a bit sweeter.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: The Sylph (Harlos Productions / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 18 – 29, 2017
Playwright: Jodi Rose
Director: Colleen Cook
Cast: Gertraud Ingeborg

Theatre review
The legacy left behind by the celebrated 19th century ballerina Marie Taglioni, can be found in the world of dance, but in Jodi Rose’s The Sylph, we come to meet with her in a play. Stories from her life are relayed directly, to an audience curious about Taglioni’s biography. When we see dancers, they are picture perfect. What we see is effortless, often sublime, with all that happens behind the scenes kept tightly under wraps.

The monologue provides information about Taglioni’s history, but there is little in terms of drama that could be gleaned. There are no great eruptions of emotion, no spicy scandals, and few dark secrets. It is a meaningful existence from a distant past, discussed with a simplicity that is perhaps underwhelming for a generation accustom to much more outrageous tales of unrelenting impropriety by famous types.

Gertraud Ingeborg is in the starring role, impressive and convincing with her physical expressions as ballet expert. The graceful beauty she brings to the piece is commendable, along with an undeniable strength in her presence that keeps us engaged. It is a flattering image of both actor and character that the show presents, under the directorship of Colleen Cook, who demonstrates an elegant and effective use of space, but the plot structure would benefit from greater effort in manufacturing a sense of tension for The Sylph‘s storytelling.

Female geniuses are consistently obliterated from our history books and our consciousness. Works like The Sylph are important in finding redress to this injustice. To know that women have achieved as much as, or more than, our male counterparts, is crucial to how we see ourselves today and how future generations will be able to live out their potentials. For women who wish to be great mothers and wives, there are plenty of success stories, but for the rest of us who desire anything else, we need every opportunity to encounter our predecessors.

www.old505theatre.com

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