5 Questions with Chantelle Jamieson and Lauren Richardson

Chantelle Jamieson

Lauren Richardson: Chantelle, what do you love about AFL?
Chantelle Jamieson: Well I grew up in Melbs, so love of footy kind of just seeps into your skin. I’m a huge bombers supporter having grown up in Essendon. There’s nothing like turning up at Essendon station on game day decked out in your black and red, and finding hundreds of others wearing the same colours as you. They are your tribe. And growing up being one of the only black kids at my school (the others were my sisters), it was really important to feel like you belonged somewhere- we belonged as Essendon supporters.

This play deals with many themes and one of them is ambition. It seems like there are many things your character would’ve liked the opportunity to tackle but she hasn’t. Are there things you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t and what’s held you back?
My character Mel is a WAG married to footy player Vance Arrowsmith (played by Andrew Shaw) life should be good, but she is deeply unhappy with where she’s ended up and constantly looking for the root of where it went wrong. I find it heartbreaking. There are always shoulda-coulda-woulda-didn’t-don’t moments in everyone’s life, but I haven’t really felt those to the kind of level that Mel does. It would make life unbearable.

Having a game plan and being strategic is essential. So let’s get analytical. What are Chantelle’s strengths and weaknesses?
Strength: finding a way to answer a question that might get too personal without actually answering it.
Weakness: wanting to avoid answering those questions.

What did you dream of becoming when you were small?
Like most kids who aren’t psychopaths- I loved animals. So I wanted to become a vet. My mum warned me that that would involve cutting animals open. So I dropped that idea. Then I wanted to become a jockey because that would mean working with horses. Mum warned me that I’d have to whip the horses to make them run fast. So, I dropped that idea too. My mum issued no warnings about becoming an actor.

What are the parallels do you think between footy and theatre?
For the audience, it’s a communal experience, the atmosphere is never exactly the same at every show or at every game. You have to be there to feel it.

Lauren Richardson

Chantelle Jamieson: Fierce is the story of Suzie Flack’s journey as a woman in a men’s AFL team, what has been the most challenging part of (corny pun alert) tackling this role?
Lauren Richardson: Suzie Flack is a character that has muscled her way, elbows out, into an environment that doesn’t expect or welcome her. But she stands her ground. Without apology. And I think that’s a task women aren’t always encouraged in. So I guess for Lauren the actor, backing myself. Standing my ground. Not diminishing. That’s felt confronting in rehearsal… but also exciting.

I know you grew up in NSW, what was your AFL knowledge like, going into Fierce?
Nil. Nada. Zero. I knew who the giants were and who the swans were. And that the guys that played were generally pretty lean, athletic and attractive. But the game itself made no sense to someone who grew up with “proper football”, the one with the right shaped ball [ie soccer] the beautiful game as my Dad calls it. I looked at AFL and it made no sense. We’re in an oval?! People are coming from all directions?! The balls bouncing all over the shop?! It just seemed like anarchy. But I’m a total convert. I think Aussie Rules is bloody brilliant now.

Suzie Flack is a super athlete, how have you gone about physically preparing for this role?
Go hard or go home hahaha. Obviously I’m an actor not an athlete. That being said, I’ve entered into a pretty rigorous physical engagement with my body throughout rehearsals. I’ve learnt how to box, as that’s something my character does. And unexpectedly I’ve fallen in love with it and have lofty aspirations to get in the ring competitively now. We’ve been lucky enough to get cast personal training from Spectrum Fitness so just clocking hours at the gym. We also got to go behind the scenes and watch GWS women’s team during training sessions which has been invaluable. And then just kicking the footy in the park with the boys in the cast who are very skilled and who have been very patient, kind and generous with me, a total novice. Oh, and protein shakes.

You worked with Janine Watson as an actor in Sport for Jove’s Three Sisters, how have you found working with her as a director?
Working with Janine has been a dream. We met working together as actors and since then have been firm friends, but it’s been a delight to become collaborators and co conspirators on this project. I have so much admiration and respect for her as an artist and as a woman. And working together has been challenging and exciting and incredibly fulfilling. I’ve loved every moment.

What can audiences look forward with Fierce?
It’s an exceptional piece of writing. A new Australian play that defies easy categorisation. Every scene surprises. It’s funny, physically dynamic and incredibly moving. And plus there’s some Justin Bieber in there for good measure!!!

Chantelle Jamieson and Lauren Richardson can be seen in Fierce, by Jane E. Thompson.
Dates: 20 Mar – 13 Apr, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Angels In America (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 16, 2019
Playwright: Tony Kushner
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Catherine Davies, Maggie Dence, Ben Gerrard, Jude Gibson, Ashley Lyons, Gus Murray, Timothy Wardell
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
At the centre of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, are the breakdown of two relationships, from two different worlds. We might like to term those seemingly separate existences the left and the right, as we are want to do in so much of our political conversations. In the middle of catastrophe however, when the devastation of human frailty becomes palpable, categories dissipate as they prove increasingly impotent and therefore meaningless. Set in the middle of the 1980s AIDS crisis, Angels In America is an ode to desperation, that condition for which the face of humanity has to reveal its truest nature.

In their hopelessness, characters in the story are met with divine intervention. Ghosts, angels and other apparitions descend upon their consciousness, not always as a form of salvation or even reprieve, but as a refusal of the finitude to which we regard life, especially during sickness and disease. Kushner summons the vastness of our mental capacities; call it belief, imagination, or fantasy, to render a theatrical representation of being, that extends our conception of sentience to include metaphysical dimensions.

Not that our bodies are unimportant. In fact, in this deep interrogation of material versus immaterial, we are consumed more than ever, by our very corporeality. Flesh and blood are never far from the centre of our attention, functioning as literal concerns and as symbols, reiterating time and again, that we are immovably both vessel and soul. Heaven and earth are inextricably linked at the location where skin breathes, making us simultaneously, painfully so, sacred and profane.

This transcendental drama is communicated through director Dino Dimitriades’ pursuit of the sublime. The aesthetic world that he manufactures as vehicle for Kushner’s words, is heavy yet delicate, a sentimental embrace of past sacrifices, and a benediction that regards our future, as LGBTQI communities, with caution. At over seven hours long, it is probably inevitable that the journey would feel uneven, with certain portions coming across less powerful than others. It is a massive undertaking, and the considerable confidence with which the epic is approached, sets our expectations very high, and we struggle to overlook moments win which our awe is allowed to falter.

Jeremy Allen’s set design is carefully proportioned and elegantly conceived, but the minimalism of its style is unforgiving of construction imperfections. The colour palette of costumes is thoughtfully calibrated by Maya Keys, who perhaps exercises too much restraint in her visual representation of personalities and their physicality. Lights by Benjamin Brockman are memorable for their dark sensuality, moving us between spaces of despair with an artistic finesse reminiscent of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Ben Pierpoint is tasked the impossible challenge of providing original music for the endurance piece, understandably deficient in its thoroughness, but sensational at each key juncture of the plot.

The show boasts some extraordinary acting by its indefatigable cast. Mormon wife Harper is played with luxuriant and interminable nuance by Catherine Davies, whose disarming authenticity brings invaluable poignancy to the entire operation. Her husband Joe is interpreted with unexpected tenderness by Gus Murray, tremendously convincing in the complex duplicity that he is charged to portray. The dynamic Ben Gerrard offers up a depiction of a dying man at all his extremes. As Prior, he is more provocative than he is moving, successful at engaging our minds for an intellectual understanding of the story. Ashley Lyons plays another AIDS patient Roy, admirable for the energy and colour that he brings to the stage.

As Belize and Mr. Lies, Joseph Althouse is a scintillating presence, with a marvellous, precise use of voice and gesture that gently steals all of his scenes. Timothy Wardell goes on an emotional roller coaster, able to convey Louis’ passions with aplomb but insufficiently lucid with the role’s philosophical attributes. The Angel is given the Maggie Dence treatment and proves quite the phenomenon, appropriately strong and otherworldly. Jude Gibson impresses in a variety of roles, particularly memorable as Mormon mother Hannah and as Dr. Henry, intricate and humorous with everything she presents.

When we reach for the esoteric, it is a greater truth that we seek, but being mortal, we can only understand its messages within our ultimately insurmountable limits. What we receive will always bear a reflection of ourselves, no matter how much bigger a version we can perceive. Angels In America suggests however, that we can move beyond good and bad, right and wrong, past and present. We are encouraged, through this spiritual fable, to think and act radically, to turn boundaries into starting points, for where we know things to end, is but the beginning of mystery. Much as we are essentially flawed and addicted to destruction, it is in our nature to imagine a higher power, and be able to conjure a notion of purity. The choice whether to follow that celestial magnificence, determines how we paint the destiny of each breath, in all our days.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Brown Skin Girl (Black Birds / Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 9, 2019
Playwrights: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica
Director: Ayeesha Ash
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica

Theatre review
Three mixed-race women offer their perspectives as young Australians living while brown. In Brown Skin Girl, creators Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea and Angela Nica are themselves on stage, delivering autobiographical accounts of challenges faced by women of colour, on a land that although never was ceded to white colonists, has had to struggle with racism since the very dawn of European invasion. The work arises from dark experiences, but it is a passionate and brilliantly joyful encounter that results, featuring anecdotes, observations and sheer poetry that aim not only to bring light to what is normally repressed, it proves to be immensely uplifting, especially for those of similar backgrounds.

The women have fathers who are African-American and Cherokee, Grenadian, and Tongan, so their appearance makes them a target, of constantly being othered in a society that never fails to exert its whiteness, no matter how much we call out its illegitimacy. This absurdity is effectively transposed into comedy, and the show is uproariously funny, with all its subversive and critical denunciation of the prejudices being perpetuated on people of colour. Ash, Havea and Nica are extremely appealing personalities, warm and effervescent, charming even when dispensing their most cutting beratements. Their chemistry is honed to perfection, on a stage replete with fiery, feminine confidence.

As people of colour, we need to be the ones to lead this nation’s discussions on race. The project of dismantling white supremacy in our spaces and structures, simply cannot be left to the powerful. We need to remember that there is little incentive for them to change the way things are, even as they profess a seemingly genuine desire to help better our communities. We must stop being fearful of radical thought and action, and at the same time, learn to manipulate these broken systems to our advantage. This will require our coming together, our refusal to be kept apart by a white patriarchy that benefits from our fractured and dispersed existences. Brown Skin Girl is a rare moment in Australian theatre, that does not imagine a white audience; it dares to speak to its own, and for once, the minorities in the audience feels seen. This is the beginning of empowerment, where hopes can begin to turn into reality.

www.black-birds.net

5 Questions with Harry Milas and Jordan Shea

Harry Milas

Jordan Shea: What makes Cascadia different to all your other work?
Harry Milas: It’s surreal and it’s got a narrative. It’s also got a director (who I adore and deeply respect) and he’s keeping me focused on what’s important, what’s real and what’s valuable. Orson Wells said that the problem with magicians is they try to do everything alone. I can count on one hand magic shows that have had a director. Also I hate magic shows that are just “Look how clever I am” or god forbid making birds appear to music. There’s no connection to the audience at all. No contact. Cascadia follows a journey I took with a fascination for making things vanish from childhood to present day and the audience feature heavily in that every step of the way.

What animal would you like to study in depth if you had the money and time?
That is a very difficult question and I really had to think about it, and I think my answer is the Bonobo. They are incredibly good at forward rolls, and general movement. They’re also our closest living relative and are deeply interesting. They also need help as their numbers are dwindling. I’ve been to The Democratic Republic of the Congo briefly and I’d love to go back and really soak it up. 

Magic is timeless. It’s been around or thought about since people have co-existed. This new show, how does it appeal to a theatre-going audience?
Because it’s theatre. It’s theatre that happens to be a magic show. Magic seems steeped in tradition and stuffed with clichés but there are always new ideas and breakthroughs coming to the surface. People who call themselves magicians comprise a wide range of styles and personalities. I’ve written the show from the perspective of a writer and performer who happens to be a magician. But let’s be honest the appeal is mostly going to be people wanting to see how I’m going to make a volunteer vanish in that dark basement of a theatre.

What was the first piece of music you ever heard that really said something to you?
I remember my brother giving me a copy of Boards Of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children when I was about 11, and the track “Telephasic Workshop” just kinda fucked me up in the best way. I remember I got so excited when I listened to that song for the first time that I did a forward roll and my headphones came off! That is an incredible album that’s overflowing with wildly creative and brilliant electronic music. 

Have you ever met Don Rickles? If so, give me a brief run down of how it happened? 
So strange you ask me that. I have met Don Rickles, yes. On my first trip to New York I went to see the debut production of A Behanding In Spokane, then Martin McDonagh’s newest work. It had Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken in the two main roles. It was my first broadway play and I was very excited. The play was fantastic and the production was amazing (Walken did some of the best non-acting acting I’ve ever seen) and after it finished I was expecting everyone to run out to the stage door, but instead they were all milling around in the stalls talking to someone. Turns out it was Don Rickles, who I have loved since I was a little kid. He was a total mensch and was shaking everyone’s hands. I managed to have a quick interaction with him as he left the theatre, and the most amazing part was instead of getting in a car he just did a forward roll and was somehow really far away at the end of it. I’ve never seen anyone move that quickly and he was really old at the time!!

Jordan Shea

Harry Milas: Do you know how Harry is going to make the audience member disappear?
Jordan Shea: I don’t. But that might be a lie. Harry’s practice, to me, is about the possibility he might be making all of this up. I won’t know until we’re there, present, in the moment, as to how he will make this person disappear. All I know is he will do it, and probably make you have a good laugh and maybe be a little scared doing it. I don’t think a lot of conventional plays or performances can do that-but Harry and his magic can.

Cascadia is a wildly different direction for you. What drew you to the work and why is it important?
Because it’s a challenge. I don’t know if I’ll ever do something like this again. As a director and maker, it’s important to challenge yourself and just do different things. It’s weird. It’s important because it is in no way preachy but at least it’ll make you think for a while after. I like one man shows as well, I think if you can find someone who can intimately hold an audience for 30 plus minutes, you should collaborate with them-because you can learn a lot.

What is a film you think is massively overlooked?
The Swedish film As It Is In Heaven. We saw it around my 12th birthday at the Orpheum and it is a film of such nuance. Go download/buy/google it. 

What do you reckon about… I don’t know…the lockout laws?
I think most decisions by NSW Liberals since their election in 2011 (including the lockout laws) are the most poorly thought out pieces of legislation in the history of our state. I don’t understand the government’s tact or ethos because they don’t really have any at all, and I think they are just blindly ruining this state year by year.

When was the last time you actually took a break pal? You’ve been working real hard for a long time now.
I went on extended holidays in June/July and it made me realise I need to do that more. I’m training as a school teacher next year, and hopefully I can afford to take at least two weeks somewhere. I try to go once a year, somewhere. I think everyone working should. No matter where you are, there’s more to see. 

Harry Milas and Jordan Shea collaborate in Cascadia: A Magic Show.
Dates: 23 – 25 November, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Eurydice (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 15, 2018
Playwright: Sarah Ruhl
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Alex Malone, Jamie Oxenbould, Nicholas Papademetriou, Ariadne Sgouros, Ebony Vagulans, Lincoln Vickery, Megan Wilding
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
In the afterlife, Eurydice is reunited first with her dead father, before briefly seeing her husband Orpheus come to rescue her. Having crossed over from one realm to another, things can no longer be the same, and in Sarah Ruhl’s version of Eurydice, we observe human consciousness undergo celestial transformations when the body fails, in a fantastical speculation of how it might be.

Mournful but awash with beauty, the play is deeply romantic, as it vacillates between optimism and hopelessness, for a theatrical experience that fills us with a sensation of melancholic longing. Claudia Barrie’s direction take us on a rocky ride, through sequences that vary in levels of efficacy. Although not always sufficiently compelling, Barrie’s work is consistently delicate, with ethereal atmospherics removing us temporarily from the unrefined tedium of our daily existences. Set design by Isabel Hudson provides the humble auditorium with a transfigured grandeur, along with the marvellous scent of fresh cut wood that dominates the space. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are relied upon for a lot of the heavy lifting. His meticulous imagination is determined to place us in one dream state after another, resulting in an impressive delivery of arresting imagery for every scene. Sounds by Ben Pierpoint are the soul of the event, precise in its calibrations of mood and impact.

Ebony Vagulans takes on the eponymous role with palpable conviction, slightly lacking in complexity with her renderings, but an endearing presence nonetheless. The three Stones, mystical ghost-like creatures, are played by Alex Malone, Ariadne Sgouros and Megan Wilding, who introduce a splendid sense of mischief to proceedings, refreshing at every appearance. Jamie Oxenbould and Lincoln Vickery play father and husband respectively, both actors finding moments of pathos that reveal the emotional investment we hold, perhaps surprisingly, for the story. A campy Nicholas Papademetriou offers valuable comedic balance to a show that can get very gloomy.

Nobody knows what the hereafter is, but our conjectures about it are crucial to the way we are. It is that sense of eternity that concerns us. Even the slightest chance of having to exist in an unrelenting permanency for all of tomorrow, is enough to terrify, so we occupy ourselves with fabrications of what could be, using instinct, desire and fear, to concoct visions that help provide semblances of assurance. There is a need to satisfy questions about the self, and about loved ones we have lost. Anxiety is a sensation that requires release, and grief is an emotion that must be eradicated. When we worry, and when we mourn, our capacity to see meaning in darkness becomes paramount.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

Review: Degenerate Art (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 17 – Nov 4, 2018
Playwright: Toby Schmitz
Director: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Septimus Caton, Guy Edmonds, Giles Gartrell-Mills, Henry Nixon, Megan O’Connell, Rupert Reid, Toby Schmitz
Images by John Mamaras

Theatre review
If it were a painting, Toby Schmitz’s Degenerate Art would comprise a thousand tiny brush strokes, too detailed and too intricate, but they collude to present broad strokes that are imperiously forceful, certain to make an impact. Like other bad boy artists of renown such as Adam Cullen and Damien Hirst, the work is brash and obnoxious, replete with evidence of genius, but unlike white box museums that allow us to glance, gasp and swiftly walk past, Schmitz’s 100 minutes of grandiose cocky art, holds us hostage in our overly snug seats, intimidating us into thinking that some very big meaning lies behind all that is being waxed lyrical in the playwright’s very many excessive diatribes.

The play is ostensibly about Hitler’s relationship with art, and the ironic and incongruous phenomenon of fascist attitudes always seeming to surround the dissemination and consumption of art. We see prominent Nazi figures of the time, arguing over art like any healthy society should, but the way these white men cannot help but escalate their competition of penis extensions into acts of violence, is despicable and telling. Visually sumptuous, the staging is provided a glossy glamour by Alexander Berlage’s diligent lighting design. Schmitz assembles a testosterone fest that begins desirous but eventually turns shrill, with shouty blokes intent on asserting their importance, a reminder that art cannot help but imitate real life.

Although little room for nuance, Degenerate Art is a showcase for some remarkable performances, and the rhapsodic peacocking of its six male actors proves to be truly impressive. Megan O’Connell too, is an effective and memorable narrator, despite never really being able to overcome looking like an afterthought. It is frustrating that we are still being subjected to groups of white men talking about Nazism. To some, it might make sense that white male villains can only be played by white men, but for others, this is completely counter-intuitive, and a lazy, even irresponsible way of getting into discussions about fascism. Actions speak louder than words, especially when the words are deafening.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

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