Review: The Humans (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 5 – Oct 7, 2018
Playwright: Stephen Karam
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Di Adams, Madeleine Jones, Arky Michael, Diana McLean, Reza Momenzada, Eloise Snape
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is Thanksgiving and as is customary for American families, the Blakes gather to mark the occasion. All do their best to make it a joyous evening, but each have individual lives that are not going at all well. Stephen Karam’s The Humans talks about the hardship of modern existence for our lower-middle classes, and explores the resilience required to survive, with family being a source of strength that can provide some degree of support and grounding. It is an exceptionally subtle work, but intensely intriguing, that lures us deep into a discussion about concerns that are perhaps not immediately apparent.

The show is surprisingly entertaining, considering the coyness of its approach. Director Anthea Williams introduces a generous quotient of dramatic tension to accompany the deceivingly mundane goings on, and comedy aspects are certainly very well executed under her supervision. Family dynamics feel authentic, with a bitter-sweetness that many will find strangely comforting.

An ensemble of six likeable personalities take us through the messy business of celebrations at home, with Di Adams especially compelling as Deirdre, whose suffering is demonstrated palpably alongside a zest for life, for a splendid depiction of human spirit at its best. Similarly poignant is Eloise Snape’s performance as Aimee, a young woman with little to be grateful for, but who we see sustained by an extraordinary inner strength. The actor delivers some gloriously funny moments, whilst portraying, terribly convincingly, a painfully tragic character.

These people face considerable challenges, but loneliness is not one of their problems. They are unable to fix each other, but their love does try to conquer all. For those who have family to rely on, it is a refuge that can soothe the ravages of life, and that provides the assurance that for all the anxieties we must endure, an embrace is always there waiting. Home is where the heart is, and those who have a way back, must count themselves lucky.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: King Of Pigs (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 1 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: Steve Rodgers
Director: Blazey Best
Cast: Mick Bani, Wylie Best, Christian Byers, Ashley Hawkes, Ella Scott-Lynch, Kire Tosevski
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Actor Ella Scott-Lynch plays several characters, in this work about men’s violence against women. She embodies different personalities, but what they encounter in Steve Rodgers’ King Of Pigs, are essentially the same. The current climate of fervent interrogation into matters relating to gendered abuse, requires the male of our species to confront hard truths about their behaviour. It is a time of reflection and re-evaluation, and the play speaks directly to their conscience, asking them to examine the imbalances inherent in heterosexual dynamics.

It is an earnest work, perhaps too simplistic and obvious in style, but the urgency to make a point is certainly evident. Stories in King Of Pigs are very familiar, and although predictable, they still are able to have an impact. Direction by Blazey Best is suitably grave in tone, with a meticulousness to its naturalism that holds our interest. Isabel Hudson’s set and Verity Hampson’s lights collude to offer a sense of theatricality for the intimate situations under scrutiny, both effective in conveying a quality of ominous danger to the plot.

Scott-Lynch is convincing in all of her roles, each one thought-provoking, with little reliance on sentimentality. Kire Tosevski and Wylie Best provide strong partnership in family scenes that offer momentary consolation, through their warm rendering of a loving home, placed precariously alongside damaging relationships. Mick Bani, Christian Byers and Ashley Hawkes play the three perpetrators, each with memorable instances of character vagaries that point to pertinent questions about masculinity.

It is never easy to have those who hold power understand the depravity that results from their dominance. For sexism to be quelled, men have to participate in the feminist project, which although ultimately benefits all, many will perceive to be a threatening relinquishment of power. A world without the problems of gender requires a great number of processes, all of which can only be initiated by epiphanies derived from opportunities like King Of Pigs.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Mick Bani and Kire Tosevski

Mick Bani

Kire Tosevski: List three words that best describe King Of Pigs.
Mick Bani: Intense. Thrilling. Unpredictable.

The abuse of women at the hands of men is an important theme throughout the play. What do you think audiences are most likely to walk away with after experiencing the show?
I think they’ll walk away with a better understanding on how much pressure society place upon us men. With the play focusing on surface issues, hopefully this will give the audience an opportunity to reflect and talk about the causal issues instead.

How do you connect with the character that you’re playing?
When I auditioned I said to Steve and Blazey, “this character reminds me of my former self.” Ex footy player, career cut short through injury, worked at dead end jobs, and fell into depression. But the important thing now is I connect to the character knowing full well that there is hope (for everyone) at the end of the tunnel.

What do you feel you’ve learned about yourself from being involved in this production?
I’ve learned so much of myself than as an actor since rehearsals began. The cast & crew are amazing. The stage has and will give me a platform to not only showcase my talent but to express (in a controlled environment) what most men do behind closed doors.

If you had the opportunity to play another character featured in the play, who would it be and why?
I would actually play Man 1 because he’s amongst all the drama. To me, Man 1 plays a vital part in each of the character’s lives. With his professionalism he sees each person eye to eye, and supports each of them throughout their ordeal.

Kire Tosevski

Mick Bani: List three words that best describe your character.
Kire Tosevski: Sensitive; weary; thorough.

What’s the biggest challenge about taking on this role?
I’ve often been cast to play larger-then-life characters – villains, overtly passionate eccentrics – and this man is a departure from that. He’s much more contained. He also spends a lot of time being a silent observer to the often intense interactions between other characters. Building and maintaining a complex inner-life that can be easily read by the audience, especially during such moments, can be quite challenging.

What’s going to surprise people about this show?
How quickly events can turn; how slippery the proverbial gates that lead relationships towards crisis are. That, and how the rearing of boys cannot be overlooked in dealing with issues of male-on-female violence.

Due to the theme of this production, how have you had to prepare for it?
My character is the one who talks to both the victims and perpetrators of the violence, so simply watching the other scenes play out becomes a simple and direct way to stimulate the imagination. Plus there’s no shortage of literature and media content on the subject. It can all be quite confronting and it naturally leads you to look at yourself as a man. I definitely spent some time thinking back on some past relationships with women.

Based on the contents of the play, what advice would you give to your younger self?
As often as possible, try to make choices based in love, not out of fear.

Mick Bani and Kire Tosevski are appearing in King Of Pigs, by Steve Rodgers.
Dates: 1 Aug – 1 Sep, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

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