5 Questions with Tyler De Nawi and Aanisa Vylet

Tyler De Nawi

Aanisa Vylet: I have been watching you play Uday Hussein. He is quite a cruel man and you as a person have the demeanour of a teddy bear. How do you channel his cruelty?
Tyler De Nawi: When I am behind closed doors in my own space I experiment with how far I can take something. I can have quite a lot of fun with myself… (I know that sounds dirty) but I know how to entertain myself. When I am alone, I can actually push myself to those extremes, to those states of anger, distress. I can drop my mask of Mr Nice Guy and play. It comes from play, playing at home, really taking time to understand what the text is saying. The play is written so well. I just try to let the text breathe on stage.

What is your relationship to Iraq as an Arab Australian?
I grew up with Iraqis and Asyrians in Western Sydney. The word ‘Saddam’ was thrown around loosely at school. Some loved Saddam, some hated Saddam, some didn’t even know how to feel about it… After more research, I have started to see the Husseins as ordinary people. Even though people considered him to be crazy, Uday Hussein was a boy who grew up with a father who would kill his own friends if they betrayed him. His father was unfaithful to his mum and Uday loved his mum. He was product of his own environment. Uday used to own tigers. To me, if he was an animal, he would be a tiger – a predator in captivity.

What is your favourite thing about your Uday Hussein costume?
He is like an “Arab Hugh Hefner”. He wears a three-piece suit with gold buttons on it and a gold tie. It is something else. We are so lucky to have found it. I am still trying to get my hands on a ring, a gold pinky ring. I think that will be my favourite part.

Have you ever been to Iraq?
Never. I have been to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Turkey… Wow, all the countries around Iraq but I never been there, no.

Do you feel targeted as an Arab?

I am proud to be Muslim. I am proud to be from an Arab background. We are complex just like every one else. We are messy. We are passionate. We are beautiful, just like everyone else. It is time to stop assuming you can label anyone. Just because I am Arab-Muslim does not mean you know me.

I believe art is the best way to help a society overcome these assumptions.

When I was a kid growing up, driving down the highway I saw big banners from world vision that showed an African child suffering. 20 years later, there are now Syrian kids on banners in the rubble that was once their city. How did we get to this? We haven’t even resolved what is happening in Africa. People from my own heritage have become a charity case. What is next?

Aanisa Vylet

Tyler De Nawi: In this play you are playing two characters – an Iraqi civilian whose home is being raided and a leper. I watch you embody these characters very well. To what extent do you go to embody a character?
Aanisa Vylet: I can inhabit distressed states of being very easily. I don’t know where it comes from. Perhaps it is in my blood, an ancestral pain. When I access those states I think about everyone who is currently suffering in Arab countries and the world right now. I channel anyone I know who is an outsider due to their health as the leper.

I also work in colours and through the physicality of that character. For the Iraqi woman, my feet are bare and I am trying to put on my scarf. As a person from an Islamic background, I understand the vulnerability and nakedness that she would feel when those parts of her body are bare in the presence of foreign military.

With the leper, my body is diagonal and made of sand. The leper is the color grey – the black moves inward, the white tries to reach out. The Iraqi woman is red – passionate and explosive.

If you were stranded in the middle of the desert as an outsider, decaying, what is the food that you would be wishing for?
My mother’s homemade vine leaves. Even though my mum hates cooking, her food is always made with love and makes me feel like I am at home. And Lebanese vine leaves with yoghurt and mint? That is the dish that describes my life. It takes forever to make but tastes so delicious you fight for the last mouthful.

What is your mission as an artist and why were you interested in telling this story?
My mission is to tell stories that are difficult to tell, stories that express the voices of people who are silenced who cannot tell their stories themselves. I aim to tell provocative and engaging stories that don’t exist yet.

And as for Bengal, when I first read the script I thought – “Fuck yes!” and then… “Thank God!” The writing hits the primal part of ourselves that we often forget in our daily life. We need writing like this. We need to be moved in our seats before our brain kicks in.

On top of that I was keen to share a narrative that dealt with “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and to work with the wonderful Mad March Hare Theatre Co.

If you had three wishes from a lamp what would they be?
I would wish that we had proper world leaders again, like Nelson Mandela, leaders who perform not for themselves but for the people they represent. My second wish would be that we respect and improve our treatment of animals and the environment… and I would want my mum to get the operations she needs and my brother, who has Down Syndrome to receive the best and most inclusive life possible.

Why should someone pay $40 to come and see this play?
Because it is incredibly moving, everyone involved is generously bringing themselves and their hearts to the work. Because this play is so relevant to our lives today. Because the play is funny – it is a wonderful and entertaining night at the theatre. This isn’t a close and open your eyes “why the hell did I watch this?” show. At this show you will see artists at play, trying new things. This is ground-breaking, brave theatre. Do yourself a favour – go.

Tyler De Nawi and Aanisa Vylet can be seen in Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph.
Dates: 12 Apr – 6 May, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Binary Stars And Best Lives (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 28 – Apr 8, 2017
Playwright: Samantha Hill
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Katie Beckett, Nathalie Murray, Jenae O’Connor, Amelia Tranter

Theatre review
A gun shot is fired, sending chills down our spines. A woman appears, disoriented, a time-traveller perhaps, or someone from a parallel universe, but more probably, she is just released from prison for shooting her husband some years back. Babe is an astrophysicist, with a keen interest in realms other than the immediate reality. Having given up her own dreams to become trophy wife to a television celebrity, she loses her sense of self, and we find her grasping at straws to justify her existence.

Samantha Hill’s Binary Stars And Best Lives is theatrical, ambitious and complicated, but its cacophony of rich ideas struggle to communicate with clarity. It seems to have a lot to say, including issues about Aboriginality, feminism and materialism, all worthy of exploration, that might be better dealt with if greater attention was put into creating a more cohesive narrative.

Babe is an elusive character, who actor Katie Beckett embraces with conviction, especially in sections of heightened drama and emotion. Amelia Tranter impresses in dual comedic roles, both memorable for different, and absurd, reasons. Nathalie Murray and Jenae O’Connor add further vibrancy and fun to a show that is otherwise more than a little confusing.

We need to have concurrent truths in order that life can be bearable. Whether complementary or conflicting, the different ways we form an understanding of how things happen, must allow some plasticity, or all our days would only be harsh and cruel. Even when Babe is made to face the consequences of her irrefutable actions, her mind provides explanations that she can live with. We all see the world differently, but how we co-exist is the perennial challenge.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: Crimes Of The Heart (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 15 – Apr 8, 2017
Playwright: Beth Henley
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Caleb Alloway, Rowan Davie, Amanda Mcgregor, Laura Pike, Renae Small, Amy Usherwood
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
It’s not Russia in 1900, but the three sisters in Beth Henley’s Crimes Of The Heart are similarly oppressed and emotionally tortured. Where Chekhov had expressed these pains in more sociopolitical terms, Henley’s story is specific about the patriarchy that these Magrath ladies have to operate under. They are gregarious personalities who fight hard to make lemonade out of an endless supply of lemons, but things never pan out well. They are trapped, by forces that remain invisible to them, and in their minds, they only have themselves to blame.

Completed in 1978, the play is no longer lustrous, but with our refreshed interest in feminism, its themes have again become pertinent. There are dominant men in these women’s lives who wreak havoc, but we never see them. To many women, especially those in decades past, gender inequity is rarely conspicuous. The Magraths do not for one moment realise the cause of their suffering, and like many of us, we take the blame personally, unable to perceive the wider connotations of how we exist, and the deeply problematic contexts by which we go about our daily business. Janine Watson’s direction takes the comedy to delightfully dark and twisted places for many perverse laughs, but the production’s inability to make forceful, the presence of evil fathers and husbands, is a sore point that prevents the drama and poignancy to sufficiently take hold.

The people who do appear on stage though, are effectively presented. All three sisters, Babe, Lenny and Meg are convincing, and very compelling. Renae Small in particular, is fascinating as Babe, with a subtle but wicked sense of humour that gives the show a distinctive flavour of subversiveness. Her ability to make believable the contradictory qualities of a delicate lady in trouble, but free from the torment of guilt, is truly impressive. Laura Pike demonstrates excellent authority over her depictions of emotion in the role of Lenny, and Amanda McGregor’s energetic theatricality as Meg, give Crimes Of The Heart a richness that keeps us invested in how its characters develop.

Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design is a remarkable achievement that converts an inconvenient space into the Magrath’s evocative American home of mid-twentieth century. Along with Alexander Berlage’s lights, the actors are framed perfectly, in a manner that represents a constant reminder of the women’s unconscious captivity. Our lives are controlled by forces insidious and surreptitious, and how we experience being, will always have elements that are under the manipulation of others. We may never be able to overcome them all, but understanding systems and their machinations, is how we can begin learning to benefit from them, or to dismantle and debase them. The sisters wish for happier days, but without knowing the cause of their agony, they can only leave their hopes to the powers that be, which in this case, remain concealed and malevolent.

www.imperialartistry.ontrapages.com

5 Questions with Amanda McGregor and Laura Pike

Amanda McGregor

Laura Pike: You are eldest of three girls but Meg is the middle sister. What have you noticed about the middle sister syndrome?
Amand McGregor: Being in the middle feels like it encourages more rebellion. I know as the eldest sister – the first one off the block – I was more disciplined by my parents than my younger sisters were. Everyone knows that by the third kid, parents are more lax, like “Yeah whatever – have ice cream for dinner! Stay out all night long! We cool! You do you!” But the eldest often ends up pretty responsible and measured. I’m generalising, but it’s pretty much on point for me and my sisters, and I think for the McGraths too. Meg certainly is not responsible or measured, she lives in the moment.

Even though I’m the eldest, I certainly went through my wild phases. Meg went straight for the kill and started being a renegade from a young age, probably to differentiate herself from the very well-behaved Lenny – but also in order to mask the pain of her childhood.

Meg is a singer – have you had any aspirations about being a singer?
100% yes. At 13 I sang a TJ Dennis song with a live band at the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival. I wore black jeans and a black tassel midriff top and I felt so cool and like I was definitely a famous country music star. I still have a secret desire to sing country all day every day and be the female Willie Nelson.

Crimes Of The Heart deals with ghosts from the past? Do you have any?
I think we all do. So short answer yes, and the long answer would spill out of me with the right about of bourbon. There are certain relationships in my life where oceans lie between me and someone else because of pain and heartache. The person exists purely as a memory – they’re a ghost. So I can empathise with Meg in that sense. Everyone’s past haunts them from time to time, and I think Meg’s past is painfully unresolved.

What the wildest adventure you’ve ever had?
Probably a night in Hollywood that involved surprise drug deals, Steel Panther, a supposed member of the ‘Bra Boys, and a beautiful pit bull named Brooklyn.

Who do you get as your doppelgänger?
Sarah Jessica Parker when my hair is blonde-ish (a woman literally took a photo once not just OF me, but WITH me because “aw mate you look like that chick from Sex And The City!” It was on the Gold Coast. It was weird. I’m not sure why I posed for the photo). Then when my hair is dark, Winona Ryder, which makes all my dreams come true. I want to be Winona, forever. I think I’ll get a tattoo of her face.

Laura Pike

Amanda McGregor: What’s the most frustrating quality about Lenny that you can relate to?
Laura Pike: Oh my gosh I’ve had SO many cringe moments during rehearsal, where other cast have gone “Oh poor Lenny” and I’ve thought THAT’S ME! Lenny has this beautiful quality, where she takes care of everyone. She has a desperate need to bring people together, free them of their pain and look after others. But in doing so, she leaves herself last. This is definitely something I do and am working on strengthening. Having a healthy amount of selfishness and recognising when I need to fill up my own cup because the more I can do that, the more I can tip over into others cups.

Do you have any phobias?
YES! Waves. I grew up in PNG and we lived right on the water, but I’m so scared of waves. It didn’t help living in Bondi either. I’m especially scared of the part when the wave breaks or starts to barrel. It seems so menacing to me and people always say “you’ve just got to dive under it” but it freaks me out. And I’ve dreamt of tsunamis. I think I need to get onto this!

What are the differences between sisterhood in Mississippi 1974 and sisterhood in Sydney 2017?
Sisterhood is sisterhood, no matter what period of time or place. The relationship between sisters is universal. You grow up together, knowing each other’s vulnerabilities, strengths, traits and personality… oh and triggers. Boy do you know each other’s triggers! The bond between sisters is incredibly special. To be in the company of someone you deeply love and knowing in the pit of your being that you’d do ANYTHING for that person if they needed it. Luckily, some things have changed since the 1970s in regards to feminism and women’s rights. One of the biggest victories in Women’s Rights in the US came in 1972 when Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment. However Mississippi was the ONLY state legislature that didn’t vote on the amendment. So when Crimes Of The Heart was set (1974) Women’s Rights hadn’t reached the South. Therefore my character Lenny (in dealing with her younger sister Babe’s marriage) is still of that old school mentality; “Don’t interfere; what goes on between and husband and wife is their own business”. Even the simple act of a woman calling a man was taboo. Today, women are more empowered to stand up for each other – I would even go so far as to say there is more of a global sisterhood of support, trust and love.

Lenny is the eldest of 3, you are the youngest of 3. What’s the worse thing your older sisters have done to you?
I also grew up in Cairns in a beautiful ‘Queenslander’ with lattice going all the way around our house. When I was a little one, I always needed to go to the loo in the middle of the night. My eldest sister came to me one day and commented on how brave I was taking such a risk. “What do you mean?” I pleaded and without blinking, she told me about the murderer that used to sit with his gun in the lattice, waiting for me each night. Bed wetting anyone?

What animal could you take down in a fight?
A pig. If it was in their pen. Filled with mud not poo. I snort when I laugh really loudly, so at least I’d fit in!

Amanda McGregor and Laura Pike can be seen in Crimes Of The Heart by Beth Henley.
Dates: 15 March – 8 April, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

5 Questions with Daniel Monks and Aleks Mikić

Aleks Mikić

Aleks Mikić

Daniel Monks: What does this play mean to you?
Aleks Mikić : Aside from pressing burning buttons about what it takes to be a soulful, contributing human; Are We Awake is a mesmerising insight into human relationships. This wide, not-so-simple-to-navigate spectrum of ‘relationship’: from strangers to lovers – from isolated independence, through our balanced interdependence all the way to dependency has pros and cons on each end and this play masterfully swathes us through the ups and downs of love. All through the lens of one couples morning, in a deeply detailed, flawed and beautiful relationship. I’d love to say more but subjective spoilers ensue…

Not only are you an amazing actor, but you’re also an incredible rapper, singer & musician – how does your experience and connection to music effect your acting, and vice versa?
That’s very kind of you D Monks! Awh man. Well, we feel it as a viewer; art & performance is either embodied or it’s not. It’s swamped in truth and it hits the spot; or it’s drowning in ego and hits little. “I’ve gotta get this right/skilfully executed/made to look beautiful”. In regards to your q, every shortcoming on stage whether with a microphone in hand, at a drum kit, or in another humans clothes lends itself to growth. Inversely every moment of bravery lends itself to collective courage. Singing against misogyny with a tear falling out of the eye takes giving a fuck less if it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do. With our layers of vulnerability uncovered we shed layers of ego and this takes us ever closer to truth.

What about working on new plays do you find the most thrilling and the most challenging?
How fascinating getting to the core elements of a play as a team; finessing work for the context it is set for; (in this case, a 40min slot at the Old Fitz) and coming out with a product in the end. From the get go, Charlie had written an absolutely brilliant story which made it all the more enjoyable. It was a new experience. I’d never been in that seat, as an actor, free to be heard about what this person may say more or less of in a given situation; and then actually go and say it, night after night. The only evident challenge was locking things in and in time. There was no hardcover copy that said “I am final. This is what your team is telling.” I think we got there though. We got hard in the end…

Who are your dream artistic collaborators?
Aw man the list is large. I could ramble but to name a few… David Lynch, Anderson .Paak, Jordan Rakei, Esperanza Spalding, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, David Fincher, Peter Jackson, Ramble McHadenough, Yükant B. Serious

What do you love about Endymion, and what frustrates you?
Endymion is a kind soul. Love. Endymion almost gives his soul away. Frustration.

Daniel Monks

Daniel Monks

Aleks Mikić : What was your first performance experience?
Daniel Monks: I would say I came out of the womb performing – but my first performance experience was actually pre-birth, as the unborn fetus in my mother’s belly for her one-woman show, From Here To Maternity, which she performed when she was seven-months pregnant with me. I was really very good; natural, convincing, completely lacked any self-consciousness. My first conscious performance however was Peter Pan in year 2, which I “adapted” into a musical for my class to put on, with myself playing Peter – despite my horrendous singing voice.

What drew you to Are We Awake?
As an actor who is also physically disabled and gay, I was obviously drawn to this play as it explores both queerness & disability from a fresh perspective. More than that though, what most drew me most was its exploration of relationships. The play explores a really pertinent dilemma for a lot of disabled people of; how do you not let your relationships fall into unhealthy codependency, when at times, by necessity, you are dependent on the other for survival. The way in which Charles O’Grady explores this in his writing I find to be incredibly authentic and true to life.

You quake souls into awareness; what’s the first port of call?
Connection. When a person truly connects with another person, no matter their differences, their prejudices can’t survive. What I find so thrilling and motivating about being an actor and a storyteller is the ability to allow audiences to connect and empathise with people they might have otherwise judged. Being a double minority, I know incredibly well what it is like to be perceived as an “other”. Only through empathy and connection can we celebrate our differences and truly understand how at our cores, we are all the same and we are all connected. That’s what I think anyway.

If there were 10 days left on Earth; how would you spend yours?
With my family. Without a doubt. I would spend my final days snuggled up on the couch with them watching mindless tv, playing board games, going to the beach, and just being with them. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. My family are my favourite people in the world. Nothing like almost dying as an 11 year old to make you truly appreciate those you love, and become bonded like no other. I’m very grateful to have them.

Give us 4 bars from the mind of Hypnos?
I’m all alone.
I wish I was what you wanted.
I don’t want to be brave anymore.
I deserve this.
(At the time of the play, Hypnos is not the happiest of chappies haha.)

Daniel Monks and Aleks Mikić can be seen in Are We Awake by Charles O’Grady.
Dates: 28 Feb – 11 Mar, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Are We Awake (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 28 – Mar 11, 2017
Playwright: Charles O’Grady
Director: Sean Hawkins
Cast: Aleks Mikić, Daniel Monks

Theatre review
We think that an ideal romance is made of two perfect halves, where no one entity is more reliant on the relationship than the other. In Charles O’Grady’s Are We Awake, Hypnos lives with an increasingly severe disability, and while his lover Endymion has no problems taking on the role of carer, things come to a head when he is offered a job in a different city. The story is concerned with the nature of the unions that we forge, exploring what it means to be in love, when a person is unable to be self-sufficient. There is great sensitivity in O’Grady’s writing, with remarkable depth in his imagining of characters for this sentimental, and very angsty, two-hander.

Sean Hawkins does excellent work directing the piece, giving beautiful variation to texture and tension for this otherwise straightforward single-setting play. He overcomes the challenge of the writing’s big, rambling speeches by keeping delivery of dialogue pacy, but offers balance with charming sequences of momentary silences. In the role of Hypnos is Daniel Monks, impressive in his precise articulation of a very wide range of emotion, for a sensational performance that feels wholly convincing. Equally engaging is Aleks Mikić, whose creation moves us with an admirable psychological accuracy in his depiction of Endymion’s internal struggles. The couple’s fabulous chemistry is the strongest feature of the show, and we are hopelessly captivated.

Few of us will find happily ever after with that one true love, but we all defy the fairy tales of childhood, every day of our lives. Even with the tremendous challenges that Hypnos has to bear, he can only look ahead and keep moving. We are taught that marriage is the most necessary of loves, but the truth is that good people will always have someone to lean on, no matter how we categorise our human connections. Some of us may need more help than others, but all our hearts have the capacity to be as big as our companions require. Even though it will not look the way we had dreamed it, love exists and it is all around.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: The Judas Kiss (Old Fitz Theatre)

redlineVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 11, 2017
Playwright: David Hare
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Robert Alexander, Luke Fewster, Simon London, Hayden Maher, Hannah Raven, David Soncin, Josh Quong Tart
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Oscar Wilde’s career was cut short, when in 1895, just several months after The Importance Of Being Earnest first opened, he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for homosexual behaviour. David Hare’s The Judas Kiss is a chronicle of Wilde’s downfall, with Act 1 detailing his last day of freedom, and Act 2 summing up his final years in exile and poverty.

Hare’s writing is nothing short of sublime. The beauty of his language lives up to our expectations of Wilde’s speech and milieu, along with gripping philosophy incorporated into its plot at every turn. It is a rewarding intellectual experience, but the play is also rich with romantic and emotional dimensions that have the ability to engage the more empathetic sides of our attention.

Under Iain Sinclair’s heavily melancholic direction, the show’s humorous Act 1 becomes more sombre than necessary. A dark cloud looms over all the brilliant wit and notorious flippancy associated with Wilde, taking away the laughs, and causing the gravity of the piece to appear too plain and obvious. Sinclair’s style is more effective in Act 2, where the serious tone provides good support to the dramatic unravelling of its main characters.

Playing Wilde is Josh Quong Tart, an actor capable of great intensity, excellent at portraying the role’s inner turmoil. We see him grapple with the writing’s complexity, slipping in and out of resonance, but Quong Tart proves himself to be always captivating even in momentary lapses of authenticity. The Judas in question is Wilde’s lover Alfred, performed by Hayden Maher who brings youth and energy to the stage, but his interpretation is a simplistic one that detracts from the story’s otherwise extraordinary depth. Simon London leaves a remarkable impression with his disciplined, understated approach as Robbie, a quiet personality given tremendous presence by the actor.

Kudos must also be given to Jonathan Hindmarsh’s extremely ambitious set design. Breathtakingly constructed by Colin Emmerton and Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, one can hardly imagine the effort required for its daily assembly and dismantling.

The persecution of Oscar Wilde has made him an unwilling hero of our LGBT movement, one that is hungry for historical figures to help validate our existence, and to provide contexts for our narratives of struggle. People who had suffered before, tend to have their stories wiped away by the same dominant forces responsible for their mistreatment, so we cling on tightly to the tales that remain. Wilde is remembered not only for his legacy in writing, but also his part in helping us articulate, as a community to the wider world, the prejudice we face, and the value we bring to the world.

www.oldfitztheatre.com