Review: Permission To Spin (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 3 – 28, 2018
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Mary Rachel Brown, Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Yure Covich, Anna Houston, Arky Michael
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Cristobel is suffering an existential crisis, having learnt about her music being used for gravely nefarious purposes. After 14 years in the highly commercialised industry of children’s entertainment, her integrity is now unable to escape scrutiny, but corporate interests deny all her attempts to quit. Art and commerce are once again at loggerheads, in Mary Rachel Brown’s Permission To Spin, a dramedy that interrogates not only artistic purity, but also our general complicity and participation in the often ugly world of big money.

It begins with a big bang, two businessmen are snorting cocaine, in the midst of a lot of ruckus, wondering how to solve a problem like Cristobel. The laughs are loud and abundant, courtesy of Brown’s witty, often very incisive, dialogue. It is evident however, that the play is intent on seriously exploring our social, economic and political lives, and a gradual but marked change in tone occurs about midway through the hour-long presentation. Direction by Brown and Dino Dimitriadis provide good clarity to ideas, even when the writing turns dense. The contrast in mood, as the play crosses over from funny to heavy, involves an inevitable drop in energy levels, but we are kept attentive by some very resonant postulations.

Three excellent performers accompany us on this trip, helping us navigate the combative activity of Permisson To Spin, and in the process, locate a sense of our communal ethics. Anna Houston provides soul to the piece, simultaneously vulnerable and strong, with incredible nuance that speak volumes in her interpretation of Cristobel. Yure Covich is splendid as an obscene and irredeemably vile corporate asshole, powerful in his embodiment of our social ills and perfect as the show’s bad guy. Arky Michael is wonderfully comical, landing every punchline with remarkable precision and aplomb, displaying himself to be the kind of actor any production could rely on, for charm and interminable effervescence.

All our occupations contribute to greater consequences, even if we think them insignificant. Cristobel is meant to be creating music that is educational at best, innocuous at worst, but she is unable to stop her work from being repurposed in a manner that contradicts all that she believes in. There is a machine that absorbs and integrates us into its operations, to serve its purposes. We do not always have control over its desires, as is proven again and again, by the flaws and inadequacies of the way we execute our democracy. “It was music we were making here until they told us, all they wanted was a sound that could kill someone from a distance… I just pray that someone there can hit the switch.” Kate Bush, Experiment IV, 1986

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

5 Questions with Anna Houston and Arky Michael

Anna Houston

Arky Michael: What do you love about being an actor?
Anna Houston: I love exploring and living with complex characters that do and say all the things I could never get away with in my own fairly pedestrian life. I get to behave really badly in this show, and it’s thrilling. I also love gluing my script into a scrapbook on day one of rehearsals. No brag, but I’m pretty good at it. My corners are VERY TIDY.

What should audiences expect from Permission To Spin?
Some big questions about how we live and how we treat other. The show is tightly packed with big ideas that fly at you so swiftly, so brutally, that you may need days afterwards to untangle them and formulate a response to the work. Also, heaps of lols. It’s really funny.

What do you find challenging about being an actor?
The industry itself has never been easy. There are so many terrifically talented actors out there not working. Staying optimistic and secure between acting jobs hasn’t gotten any easier since I entered the industry.

When was the last time you felt bliss?
Last night, falling asleep on the couch, heater turned up. That was bliss. Being safe and warm at night shouldn’t be a privilege, but in the Sydney we live in, it is. It feels like a gift. I’m lucky.

What personality traits do you admire most in men?
Empathy. Imagination. Kindness. Generosity. Humility.

Arky Michael

Anna Houston: There are three very flawed characters in Permission To Spin. Which character – Jim, Martin or Cristobel – would you spend a year with on a desert island?
Arky Michael: I would spend a year in the tropics with Cristobel . Martin would turn cannibal and eat me and Jim would send me crazy with his weird neurosis. Cristobel would be the type who’d help me gather island detritus and flora to create and design our own line of natural fibre swimwear and resort wear which would occupy our years of marooned bliss. The label would be called PERMISSION TO SPIN – OUT, BABY!

We first worked together on a play in 2005. In the thirteen years that have followed, what’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in the Australian performing arts industry?
Big changes are the new technology platforms which have blown open the doors to multiple accessible forms of art practise : you can create your own podcasts, blogs, and make films with digital cameras and editing apps on your laptop. Also in the last 15 years, the welcome and long overdue implementation of a cultural shift to reflect the diversity of modern Australia on out stages and screens. What is worse is the continued lack of government policy to nurture the performing arts sector.

Your character Jim manages Miss Polkadot, a children’s entertainer. What was the first album you bought? How old were you?
I was thirteen or so, and I remember recording “Disco Inferno” from the radio onto a blank audio cassette in my purple themed bedroom. The curtains were purple , so were the furry bedspreads and there were a pair of lilac furry feet shaped mats on the floor. I remember this song sending me crazy with joy!

This play deals with some ethical grey areas. When faced with your own ethical dilemmas, who or what do you look to as your moral compass?
Unfortunately it is always a battle locating my moral compass in almost every situation. I’m not proud of this. My innate greed, selfishness and sheer opportunism make me a poor quality life companion candidate. Anything beautiful I want sole rights over, anything delicious I prefer not to share, any item of nice clothing that I covet, I will not stop scheming to acquire. I am a lonely man. But I do think Tanya Plibersek would be a good person to set moral standards by.

Arky Michael, you are not only a masterful actor, you are also a fashion savant. Which member of the Permission To Spin family would you most like to give a fashion makeover? (I know that several of my rehearsal room jumpers have been traumatising for you, so don’t hesitate to nominate me.)
Thank you for saying I’m a fashion icon, because this is a fact. I often hear youngsters yell out : “look mum, there’s a W.A.G.O.S.E.!” (walking art gallery of sartorial elegance). I’d give Anna Houston a makeover because she seems to be confused about what is appropriate clothing for sleeping and clothing when you are awake – she tends to favour ripped stockings, jeans her mum wore in 1935, jumpers that are for babies and she needs to increase the frequency of shampooing her hair. Is this too harsh? I fear it may be, but strangely I can’t find the delete button on this laptop.

Anna Houston and Arky Michael are appearing in Permission To Spin, by Mary Rachel Brown.
Dates: 3 – 28 July, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Toby Schmitz Live (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 26 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Toby Schmitz

Theatre review
It is a convention in autobiographies that they involve vignettes of major significance, with important occurrences that have shaped a person’s being, occupying centre stage. Typically, one gives a recount in chronology, from a childhood that reveals background and ancestry, through to career highlights and personal triumphs, always with a healthy dose of trauma placed strategically, to elicit some sort of poignancy from its audience. In Toby Schmitz Live, an actor-slash-playwright talks about himself in a disarmingly casual manner, rejecting the obvious constraints of aforementioned assumptions, to paint a self-portrait using rules of his own determination. We obtain an impression of the artist, entirely accurate and immediate, but secrets remain undisclosed.

There might be no dirty laundry to speak of, but Schmitz’s presentation is not devoid of vulnerability. The complete absence of a fourth wall exposes the performer to intense scrutiny. We watch him manifest a mode of presentation extraordinary with its degree of naturalism; as actor, Schmitz’s ability to render invisible the devices of theatre is deeply fascinating. Early sequences seek to explore the unpredictable nature of the live form. We are reminded of its title Toby Schmitz Live, and the show seems intent on delivering just that; Toby Schmitz is live, and anything can happen. There is a degree of daring and confidence that will no doubt impress, even if Australian audiences are guaranteed to always be excessively polite.

Much of the piece feels no different to genres of stand up comedy, but Schmitz’s penchant for theatricality often rears its head. It is an effective technique, to have us let down our guard in the presence of his spontaneity, then be met subsequently, with a more dramatic approach that he so cunningly, and effortlessly, weaves through unsuspectingly. The yarns that our star spins, are thoroughly amusing, although largely inconsequential. It is his charisma, and undeniable skill, that has us invested in the storytelling, but it is unclear if many of us will find lasting relevance in what he has to share. Ultimately, it is a personal, albeit slightly surface, representation of Schmitz’s life as he knows it. We are invited to come in contact with his world for a confined moment, and we go on our separate ways, none of us transformed.

www.redlineproductions.com.au/underground

Review: Stalking The Bogeyman (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 23, 2018
Playwrights: David Holthouse, Markus Potter (additional writing by Santino Fontana, Shane Stones, Shane Ziegler)
Director: Neil Gooding
Cast: Noel Hodda, Radek Jonak, Deborah Jones, Graeme McRae, Alexander Palacio, Anne Tenney
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
David was raped at the age of seven. The damage that follows is unimaginable, and the vigilante action he plans to carry out is understandable, even if some of us will no doubt have misgivings about his intentions to kill. In Stalking The Bogeyman, we are not asked to pass judgement on David’s decisions, but to witness the repercussions of sexual assault, especially as it pertains to the very young. Incidents that take place over several minutes, cause reverberations that last a lifetime. We meet David 25 years after the fateful night, and his struggles are unabated.

With these extraordinary stakes at hand, the play is appropriately enthralling; we are desperate to see how the story concludes. Not only do we want to know, how and if the characters find resolution, it is important that we discover what it is, that our societies would consider to be the right thing to do. In the creation of this play, our values are placed under magnification, and we hope for it to tell us more about ourselves that we may not already know.

It is an engaging production, with Neil Gooding’s restrained direction keeping things concise and clear. Ideas in Stalking The Bogeyman are simple, and powerfully conveyed on this stage. Leading man Graeme McRae’s vulnerability as David is a vital component, that preserves our empathy comprehensively, through every step of the proceedings. The eponymous bogeyman is played by Radek Jonak, whose portrayal of malevolence is as impressive as the electrifying energy he introduces with each appearance.

The play ends on an abrupt, and perhaps anticlimactic note. The drama fizzles out, but as it is “based on a true story” we appreciate the honesty of its divulgements. It is true, that when disaster strikes, we are rarely able to procure redress or compensation that is ever going to be satisfactory. That which cannot be undone, requires that victims find ways, often radical in nature, to make their daily existences bearable. Many even more unfortunate, have suffered annihilating consequences. Another day will dawn, if only for battling the lingering shadows of yesterday.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Radek Jonak and Anne Tenney

Radek Jonak

Anne Tenney: You are a joy to have in the rehearsal room, endlessly entertaining and very funny, how did your teachers survive your school days, or, did they?
Radek Jonak: No teachers were harmed in the process! At school, I was actually quiet subdued, I was an overweight kid just blending in. When I get to know people then I relax and be myself.

When you first read Stalking The Bogeyman, what were your initial thoughts about the character, and have you played a similar role in your career to date?
Initial thought was, this guy is everything I stand against, as a human being. Never played a similar role, usually get cast as a cop or a criminal.

In one of your other lives you are a fitness instructor and personal trainer, so you mostly begin your day around 4 am, how do you work this in with a nightly performance schedule?
This will be the first time I will be doing it! Hope to get a lot of naps in.

If you won an all expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world where would you head off to?
Maldives, that island is slowly sinking, and it just looks amazing.

In your career, have you worked on any projects that have given you the opportunity to display your comedic talents?
With my mates, yes! Short films, web series etc. But professionally in a comedic role? No, never had the chance.

Anne Tenney

Radek Jonak: Watching you in this show, you bring along such ease and fun, when you are on stage. When was the first time you remember that you thought, I want to do this for a living?
Anne Tenney: Thank you, Radek. I was acting in a production of The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe during my NIDA years, and, such a beautiful, magical world had been created on the stage, atmospheric lighting etc, etc, it was one of those theatrical experiences where
everything came together. I felt at home , I was collaborating with a group of people all working towards the same end. And that was, to tell a story. So, I was bitten!

If you didn’t end up doing acting, what would have been your back up plan?
Still thinking about that one… Any back up plan I have flirted with inevitably has something to do with the arts, Painting (not houses), writing, so fairly impractical but would love to work with children, or the elderly, and that could be still on the cards.

Name three other actors (dead or alive) you would invite to have dinner with.
OK, first person that comes to mind is Judi Dench, then Deborah Mailman, and Ben Mendelsohn.

Your agent just rang and said, Anne you have been offered to do any part you like… what would it be?
Well, I am too old for her now, but I have always wanted to have a crack at playing Masha from Chekhov’s The Seagull, maybe something similarly comically mournful.

Cat or dog? Warm or cold? Day or night? Sweet or sour? Film or theatre? Skydive or bungee? Early riser or sleep in?
Well, I like them both, depending upon personality, but will say dog. Cold… warm if I can be immersed in cold water. Sour. Day. Film or theatre, mmmm, that’s a toughy, have to sit on the fence, and say a little bit of both. Skydive. ONLY if a gun was being held to my head . And definitely… an early riser.

Radek Jonak and Anne Tenney are appearing in Stalking The Bogeyman, by Markus Potter and David Holthouse.
Dates: 23 May – 23 Jun, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: The Effect (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 18 – May 19, 2018
Playwright: Lucy Prebble
Director: Andrew Henry
Cast: Emilie Cocquerel, Firass Dirani, Emma Jackson, Johnny Nasser
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Connie and Tristan are participants in a medical trial involving antidepressants. Temporarily shut off from the world, they live inside a science facility with only each other for company, and very quickly develop a strong romantic connection. Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is interested in the chemical aspects of what we understand to be human nature, and the moral implications of drugs we design to alter our experience of life. It poses questions about what we consider to constitute authenticity in being human, and looks at the ways in which we place value on things we term natural and synthetic.

The play is ridden with anxiety, fuelled by the pervasive scepticism we have of pharmacology and the money around it, but a puerile disquiet is undeniably present, that relies on reductive ideas presupposing the natural to always be unquestionably better. The Effect features scene after scene of tense drama, which director Andrew Henry is certainly not averse to amplifying at every opportunity for maximum theatricality. Alexander Berlage’s lights are accordingly bold and intrepid, effective in delivering some memorably stark imagery. The show is often gripping, with an intensity that sustains our attention, but its arguments are not always persuasive. It arouses intrigue, without providing sufficient rationale for us to feel satisfied with the statements it attempts to make.

Actor Johnny Nasser brings valuable subtlety to the role of Toby, alternating between good and bad guy, for a sense of complexity that resonates with truth, in this discussion of mental health and modern medicine. Other players have a significantly more grandiose approach, that can restrict us from reaching a greater understanding of the text’s nuances. Their extravagant gestures make for an energetic performance, but our access to the psychology of characters is consequently limited. The Effect contains philosophy that matters to us all, although a more detailed conveyance of meanings would be necessary for the production to affect us deeper.

As we watch ourselves being challenged by medicine, unable to submit easily to the science, we see an obstinate belief in a state of purity, and are prompted to interrogate the validity of our trust in naive ideals associated with all things “natural”. It is also similarly evident that when individuals are called upon to put their lives in the hands of others, trust is an issue that can never be made completely unassailable. Underlying these thoughts are fears that reflect our need for self-preservation. We can doubtless see the insignificance of the human race in the widest scheme of things, but our indomitable hunger for control seems essential to how we think and act, even when we know the futility of our efforts.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: The Wolves (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 14 – Apr 14, 2018
Playwright: Sarah DeLappe
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Brenna Harding, Emma Harvie, Sarah Meacham, Sofia Nolan, Michelle Ny, Cece Peters, Zoe Terakes, Nikita Waldron, Nadia Zwecker
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Nine American girls, approaching the end of their teenage years, are in a soccer team together, warming up their bodies and figuring out their place, both on the field and in the larger world. Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves is no preachy melodrama about burgeoning womanhood. These characters may have seen little by virtue of their youth, but they all demonstrate wisdom and strength; each of their lives are richly established, not to provide some kind of tense narrative drive, but to foster, through the theatrical form, a modern social conception of our young and all the promise that they bear.

Director Jessica Arthur uses fragments of insight granted by the text, to manufacture on stage, quite marvellously, a dynamic experience that is relentlessly engaging, and unexpectedly powerful. We are only ever offered glimpses into each personality, but find ourselves forming emotional attachments as the show progresses, falling in love with all of their idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities. Unlike traditional, namely, patriarchal forms of storytelling, no protagonists and antagonists are necessary here, and for its 90-minute duration, we are intrigued, thrilled and fulfilled. The show is frequently very funny, and the poignancy it eventually inscribes, is stunning.

Performances are nothing short of brilliant. The cohesion and closeness of the cast is extraordinary, generating a warm joyful glow, palpable and wonderful, for all to share within the intimacy of the auditorium. Beautifully well-rehearsed, the actors deliver the play’s short and sharp dialogue with admirable precision and astounding nuance, precipitating meaning with impact and efficiency. The many sequences that feature legitimate sporting ability and fitness, are quite sensational, and thoroughly impressive.

Right in this moment, young people in the USA are fighting to force changes to gun control. They have galvanised in spectacular fashion and are out in droves, propelled by passion and idealism. The girls in The Wolves are no doubt part of that pack. Smart, fearless and loud, they discern the truth, along with the bullshit, and are now refusing to acquiesce where they do know better. We care for our young, but in that mode of protection, we often underestimate them. There is in fact, much to learn from the The Wolves, even if just a reminder of that youthful spirit, capable of achieving anything.

www.redlineproductions.com.au