Review: Trevor (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 14 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Nick Jones
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Di Adams, Jemwel Danao, Garth Holcombe, David Lynch, Ainslie McGlynn, Jamie Oxenbould, Eloise Snape
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Sandra owns a pet chimpanzee, who in Nick Jones’ Trevor, fancies himself a professional performer, having appeared as a younger primate, on stage and screen. Work has dried up, and Trevor is increasingly restless about his career’s downward trajectory. This of course, is all in his own mind, with Sandra completely oblivious about the turmoil that is brewing inside of the animal. Trevor is given his own voice by the playwright, but he talks as though in a monologue, never expecting any of the humans to understand, thus setting up for the play an inter-species disconnect that figures heavily as its ultimate raison d’etre.

Actor Jamie Oxenbould is persuasive as the chimp, with animalistic energy emanating from all of his being, without excessive reliance on physical mimicry. We believe his ambitions and his frustrations as Trevor, and appreciate the dramatic escalations being presented, through every plot development. Similarly convincing is Di Adams as Sandra, whose own problems are revealed at a slower pace, although no less powerful. There is however, a significantly stronger emphasis on Trevor’s experience than there is on Sandra’s, and considering our predictable affinity with the human character, it is a strange choice that prevents us from a closer empathy with the story.

In allowing Sandra to be somewhat subsumed in the production, director Shaun Rennie risks a distance that could result in a degree of emotional detachment for the audience, but it is a show that is relentless lively, and we find ourselves consistently involved, if not always invested. In a similar vein, Garth Holcombe and Eloise Snape both play larger than life, and very flamboyant personalities, who amuse us at every appearance, but who do little in engaging us on more profound levels. Their costumes though, are notably striking, humorously assembled by Jonathan Hindmarsh, who also solves spatial challenges as set designer, with demarcations of the stage that are, by and large, surprisingly effective. Lights by Kelsey Lee and sound by Melanie Herbert too, are accomplished, for an overall theatrical impact that proves gratifying.

It is absurd that a creature like Trevor should ever be kept as a pet. Human environments are barely feasible for our own survival, yet we insist on removing animals from their natural habitats, to put up with what we know is completely impracticable for them. This is the extent of our arrogance and narcissism. We see nature as a resource to be plundered, and fail to consider the consequences of our incessant exploitation. Trevor is about nature fighting back, and a timely work that opens up discussions about extinction, of the human race.

www.outhousetheatre.org

5 Questions with Jemwel Danao and Eloise Snape

Jemwel Danao

Eloise Snape: If your character Jerry was an animal, what animal would he be and why?
Jemwel Danao: Well, Jerry is an animal control officer so I would say… a dog! He’s very much like a dog with a bone. He’s very persistent, tenacious, and committed. 

We’ve had to invent a sort of gibberish language for a few moments in the show – how challenging was it and how did you tackle it? Also, please write 2 random sentences in gibberish. 
It was mind-boggling! Unlike anything I’ve ever done before. As a cast, once we found our structure of the gibberish, I was able to go away and process it. Finally, it all came down to rigorous repetition and understanding the intention behind the thought. From there, everything fell into place. 
Emoc hctaw ruo yalp. S’ti a tooh! 

Why is a play like Trevor important?
It deals with the impact of what happens when you try to domesticate a wild animal. During the course of the play, it delves into some very human issues such as miscommunication. That happens on every level in relationships all the time. Especially in this complex human-animal/mother-son story we see unfold on stage. It also explores the allure of stardom and what happens when dreams become unfulfilled which ultimately becomes a source of pain, anguish and ruin.
 
What’s one of your favourite moments in the play?
Without giving anything away, when we dive into the facets of Trevor’s imagination. It’s sheer hilarity! In rehearsals I still catch myself laughing at the same jokes over and over again. So it’s a true testament to the actors who keep those moments fresh and alive. 

If you had a pet chimp, what would you name it and why?
Bubbles! Wait – didn’t Michael Jackson have a pet chimp named Bubbles?

Eloise Snape

Jemwel Danao: Eloise, what drew you to Trevor? 
Eloise Snape: The script and the team of actors and creatives. I’ve never read a script like Trevor before! It’s hilarious and dark and I love the whole element of miscommunication. Trevor’s voice is really strong and sharp. I love that the play encourages us to look at ourselves through the lens of an animal. And yeah, it’s a pretty wonderful group of intelligent and fun chums, so how could I resist?

What has been your biggest challenge in the rehearsal process? 
Without a doubt the biggest challenge for me has been turning off the voice inside my head that stops me from following the interesting, big and absurd choices because they are a little scary. And comedy is scary. Morgan is a wonderfully fun character but it’s very easy to feel eggy and silly and BIG. So I’ve really had to allow myself to make wrong choices and feel like a bit of a dick sometimes. I’m lucky that Shaun is such an excellent director so I’ve been able to trust him and feel safe in the room to play. But the challenge is allowing myself to also trust my instincts.

What’s the best or worst advice you’ve been given about acting? 
Good question Jem. I reckon the best piece of advice I was ever given was probably ‘don’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring…’

If you could attempt another career other then acting what would it be?
It would absolutely be something to do with travel and/or aviation! I’m a bit obsessed with planes. But I’m also a little frightened of flying. Once I deal with that minor (major) speed bump on my path to being a pilot I reckon that would be the go. I also love animals. I once considered working in animal quarantine at the airport. Prob need some skills for that. Not to be pilot though. Just chuck me in the cockpit whatevs.

Every actor has a dream role, what’s yours? 
This is one of those questions where I think I know the answer immediately but I can’t think of one thing probably because there are so many! But to be honest at the moment a little dream of mine would to be in a ripper film or TV show made by excellent funny women, like Bridesmaids. Basically, I wish I was in Bridesmaids. Or maybe I just want to be friends with Melissa McCarthy. All of the above.

Jemwel Danao and Eloise Snape can be seen in Trevor, by Nick Jones.
Dates: 14 Jun – 6 Jul, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Gloria (Outhouse Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 6 – 22, 2019
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Annabel Harte, Reza Momenzada, Michelle Ny, Georgina Symes, Rowan Witt
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The story happens at the most innocuous of places. In offices and a Starbucks cafe, characters from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria do their best to stay afloat, in what feels like a never ending rat race. These humans are flesh and blood, but we see them caught inside machines, trying to navigate circumstances that are highly unnatural, and failing to do anything with integrity. Almost everyone ends up looking like a bad person, but it is hard for the audience to cast blame on any individual. It becomes clear that it is the environment that is toxic, and collectively we encourage horrible behaviour in one another. Gloria is about culture; the state we are in, and how we are trapped in a quagmire of our own doing, yet unable to figure a way out of it.

Jacobs-Jenkins’ penetrating look at Western civilisation is composed of fascinating dialogue and scintillating diatribes. A passionate expression of the frustrations we experience of city life, Gloria offers in theatrical form, an astute and scathing reflection of the games we play on a daily basis, that only serve to drag us down. The production opens with absorbing exuberance for a first act that portrays regular moments between colleagues at a publishing house. Jeremy Allen’s set design is commendable for its very persuasive insistence on incorporating a conventional proscenium, perhaps as representation of “the establishment”.

Director Alexander Berlage’s rendering of a bitchy workplace, communicates with a mischievous familiarity that many will find irresistible; we laugh at how mean-spirited we can be, with people we see every day, who should be our closest allies and compatriots. Acts 2 and 3 turn much darker, and the show’s energy dissipates slightly. Where it should begin to speak more stirringly, as we get closer to the crux of the issue, the staging struggles to maintain a focus on the essence of what is being said, leading us to a conclusion that feels somewhat cool.

Enjoyable performances include Michelle Ny as Kendra and Jenna, both roles sassy and strong, with the actor’s beaming confidence holding us captive, and head-over-heels dazzled. Rowan Witt is very funny as Dean and Devin, and highly impressive with the inventiveness that he is able to summon in bringing them both to life. Georgina Symes as the diametrically opposed Gloria and Nan, proves herself effective at each end of the hierarchy, powerful whether playing high or low on the social scale.

Like nature documentaries with predictable predator-and-prey patterns of behaviour in all manner of species, Gloria shows us to be a tribe engaging in ruthless activity, as though free will is but a figment of some crackpot imagination. The truth however, is that although there is no question of our causing harm to one another, many of us do think and try to do better. The argument therefore, is about how much control we believe ourselves to possess, and how much each person is able to manoeuvre themselves to try evade these narratives to which we seem to be condemned. If we understand ourselves to have been indoctrinated, we must believe that deprogramming is possible. The nature of culture is that it is pervasive, but history shows that it is never insurmountable. Change happens all the time, and it might as well begin with the self.

www.outhousetheatre.org

5 Questions with Reza Momenzada and Michelle Ny

Reza Momenzada

Michelle Ny: What is the one piece of advice you’d tell your 10 year old self?
Reza Momenzada: I would tell myself to never give up on my dreams. Never ever. Never lose hope and never stop trying. It’s something that I probably wouldn’t have understood straight away but I would’ve definitely understood later and used for the rest of my life. It’s something I’m still struggling with, perhaps because I didn’t get that advice when I was ten.

You’re stuck on a desert island and you only have three movies to watch for the rest of your desert island life. What would they be?
If you had said a TV show I would’ve said Friends. I’d never get tired of it!

I think the performance that Heath Ledger gave as the Joker in The Dark Knight is something out of this world. Something that’ll never be repeated again. And it just shows what an actor is capable of doing once they’re fully committed to the role.

Django Unchained. Everything about this movie is just perfect, especially the performances DiCaprio and Christopher Waltz give. They’re the kind of actors whose performances just keep getting better and better.

And The Kite Runner. I’m not gonna tell you what it’s about and why I like it so much. I invite you to watch it, then you’ll know.

Describe your life when you are 60 years old in one sentence.
I’m retired, living with my beautiful wife in a big house surrounded by our children and grandchildren.

What is your favourite food and why?
There’s a dish called Kabuli/Quabili Palaw. It’s the most popular dish in Afghanistan (one might even say it’s the national dish). It consists of steamed rice mixed with fried raisins, carrots, orange peel strips with pistachios and almonds. It’s made with slow cooked lamb that’s placed in the middle of all this delicious mix. My mouth is already watering! Although right now I love anything that my wife makes and I prefer it to anything else.

What is your favourite line in Gloria?
“Why are we like this?” It’s probably the shortest line in the play but I think has a lot of meaning. It’s a question that I think the writer wants us to ask ourselves. Hopefully we can find the answer to it. I won’t say which character says it, when or why do they say it. If you’re reading this, come see the play and you’ll find out.

Michelle Ny

Reza Momenzada: You play two different characters in Gloria. In what ways are these characters similar to you?
Michelle Ny: Okay, Kendra is kind of a mean person who wouldn’t give a second thought to throw someone under a bus to get what she wants, but what I really connect with her ambition. She is highly ambitious and driven, and will do whatever it takes to be successful in her career. She’s also very honest and sometimes can be a bit hurtful. I’ve definitely learnt the hard way about being too honest with people and others reading it as being bitchy, but I’d rather just say what I mean than giving a white lie to make someone feel better. Jenna is a smaller character but, in a sense, much the same as Kendra — i.e. a power bitch.

What’s the most exciting thing for you about this play or the characters you portray?
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing is so incredible; I love discovering more things about it every day. Half of the characters are nasty to each other but I think/hope you fall in love with them because of their desire and ambition of success in their industry. And, also, how good is a spat when you have juicy, well written text? And some side trivia, the play used to have the subtitle after Gloria: ‘Or Ambition’.

And what’s the most challenging?
Definitely the amount of talking I do and justifying taking all this time and space for my opinions. Sometimes I hear myself speak halfway through some big text and I think “IS MY VOICE ANNOYING?”, but that’s probably just my anxiety talking plus my own need to work on justifying my character’s beliefs in what she’s saying and really wanting to make the other characters in the play believe it too.

What’s the rehearsal process been like so far, working with Alex Berlage [the director] and everyone else in the room?
Everyone is so, so, so great; I feel spoilt. Alex is a wonderful director who makes the room feel really safe and super fun as well! I love his process of asking heaps of questions after we’ve run a section of the piece so we’re thoroughly detailing every moment. I also love talking so much shit at Rowan Witt (Dean). It’s so much fun to play an awful character and know we can both berate each other without actually hurting the other actor’s feelings (or so I hope, hehe.)

Is acting something you always wanted to pursue as a career and, if so, when did you realise this? If not, how did you discover your passion for acting?
I actually wanted to become a ballet dancer! I danced ballet for 14 years, so I did drama in high school to help with acting when I was dancing and from there, fell in love with it. I was really lucky to be a part of Long Cloud Youth Theatre in New Zealand where the artistic director, Willem Wassenaar, truly changed my life by really believing in the power of young people telling stories.

Reza Momenzada and Michelle Ny can be seen in Gloria, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
Dates: 6 – 22 Jun, 2019
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: The Rolling Stone (Outhouse Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 5 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Chris Urch
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Henrietta Amevor, Nancy Denis, Zufi Emerson, Damon Manns, Mandela Mathia, Elijah Williams
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Dembe is an 18 year-old gay man living in Uganda. His family thinks of themselves as being exemplary Christians, but for many in their culture, the killing of homosexuals is not only a permissible deed, it is often exhorted to be a godly act. When Dembe falls in love, the personal and the social can no longer be reconciled. The persecutions illustrated in Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone, are extremely cruel, but we know them to be factual. Urch pulls no punches in his storytelling; the passions are wild, whether evil or virtuous, and we are not spared the worst of human nature, even as we delve into the purest of our emotions.

Much of the play is horrifying and depressing, but an overt theatricality in the production’s tone chooses our minds over hearts, in how it wishes to keep us engaged. Adam Cook’s direction requires of us, a cerebral approach in our appreciation of his show, so that we may come to a greater understanding, of the colossal stakes at play, and of the mechanisms that drive the barbarism being depicted. The Rolling Stone steers clear of ever turning itself into torture porn, ensuring that Dembe’s conflicts and suffering are used, not for masochistic indulgence, but for a greater sociopolitical purpose.

Elijah Williams is a powerhouse leading man, completely captivating with a larger than life presence, and disarming with the extraordinary degree of vulnerability he is able to convey. Dembe’s love interest Sam, of Northern Irish and Ugandan descent, is played by Damon Manns, deeply impressive with the nuance he puts into the portrayal, of a man unable to escape the oppression he has to endure for his sexuality, in both Europe and Africa. The actor delivers remarkable dynamism and complexity, for a role that he makes wonderfully convincing.

Also very endearing is Henrietta Amevor as Naome, the young woman who has lost her voice to trauma. Amevor’s performance speaks louder than words, perfectly calibrated to tell us all we need to know of her secret story. Zufi Emerson proves herself very likeable, pairing an effortless warmth with technical precision, for a surprisingly memorable turn as Dembe’s sister Wummie. Nancy Denis and Mandela Mathia are splendid in more dramatic scenes, both bringing chilling power to the formidable malice they represent in this painful tale.

There are noteworthy technical elements in the production, including Isabel Hudson’s sophisticated take on scenic design that adopts traditional style wings to complement the show’s classic acting traits. Lights by Sian James-Holland give the stage an astonishing beauty, even when the action turns daunting. Ryan Devlin and Nate Edmondson keep music and sound design understated, but there is no denying the efficacy, and elegance, of what they accomplish.

The Rolling Stone is an important story for people of colour everywhere. LGBT activism has achieved exceptional advancements in many white communities, but whether in developing or industrialised nations, there is no question that gay liberation has thus far failed many queer people of colour. The abuse and murder of gay and trans people that occur every day, no longer make the Australian news. With the passage of marriage equality, we have convinced ourselves that the work is complete. Even if we do not wish to spare a thought for atrocities overseas, what happens in the neglected enclaves of black and brown Australia must not be ignored.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: The Flick (Outhouse Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 5 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Annie Baker
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Matthew Cheetham, Mia Lethbridge, Jeremy Waters
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Almost every cinema in the world has completed the transition from analogue to digital, and with it comes aficionados bemoaning the loss of authenticity and tradition, in an art form that touches the lives of all. In Annie Baker’s The Flick, not only is celluloid under threat of annexation by blu-ray, the employees at a small picture house have friendships that are challenged by what they think to be real or illusory. They spend days together, becoming increasingly intimate, but always conscious of the distances between. They experience comfort in each others’ presence, but trust is never a certainty. When push comes to shove, the surprise of betrayal rears its ugly head, and like the technology in their projection room, convenience and cost takes precedence.

The play is beautiful in its sensitivity, and wonderfully humorous. Development of its characters and relationships, are cleverly written, replete with nuance and acuity. Dialogue is amusing and brilliantly observed, with contemporary colloquialisms thoughtfully utilised, for an accurate reflection of Western society at this very point in time. These people may or may not be familiar, but we always know exactly how they feel. For cinephiles, The Flick‘s obsessive enthusiasm with film culture, is a very big added bonus.

It is a glorious set, designed by Hugh O’Connor and constructed by Rodger Wishart, thrillingly realistic in its replication of the typical interiors of a movie theatre. Music paying tribute to genres of film, are meticulously crafted by Nate Edmondson, who also creates a variety of unmistakably unique sounds, in the form of whirrs and purrs to be heard emanating through the walls whenever we congregate for a movie. Martin Kinnane achieves a surprising range of atmospheric modifications with his lights, and has us transfixed with the unusual perspective offered by having us looking, wrong way round, into the projector lens, watching rays instead of images that have accompanied us hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. Led by stage manager Steph Kelly, technical aspects are remarkably well managed for this production of The Flick.

Directed by Craig Baldwin, the show is full of resonance; comical, whimsical and emotional. Chemistry between actors is masterfully harnessed, for a thoroughly honest and genuine depiction of social dynamics in The Flick. Actor Justin Amankwah is convincing, and very charming, in the role of Avery, the withdrawn youngster who loves movies more than he does any human being. His minimal, but precise approach gives depth and intrigue to the story, with a portrayal of mysterious qualities that has us captivated. Also very entertaining is Jeremy Waters as Sam, the Gen X slacker who finds himself suddenly older but not much wiser. It is an endearingly animated performance by Waters whose nuances are a joy to watch, and whose confidence with punchlines delivers some excellent laughs. Mia Lethbridge plays Rose the projectionist, with a delightful playfulness that prevents the less than agreeable character from becoming too alienating. The three form a tight partnership, and even though the show does extend to the three-hour mark, we never tire of their company.

The Flick is completely satisfying, but there is no question that in it, people are disappointing. Avery’s adoration of Hollywood is a reflection of his idealism, and his struggles in engaging with real life can be considered in terms of society’s deficiencies, or we can think of it as Avery having problems understanding the world as it actually is. Accompanying the cynicism in Annie Baker’s play, is our unambiguous desire for virtue. The stories we tell may not always be happy and uplifting, but they invariably contain our eternal faith in things that are good. Although new films no longer come to us on film, nothing will stop us from imagining better lives and better worlds, in all our arts and sciences. Of humanity’s many flaws, our naive belief in progress seems forever invincible.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Dry Land (Mad March Hare / Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 28 – Aug 19, 2017
Playwright: Ruby Rae Spiegel
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Sarah Meacham, Michelle Ny, Patricia Pemberton, Julian Ramundi, Charles Upton
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Teenage years are but a flash in any lifetime, yet they are the most formative, and in many cases, offer the most exciting of experiences and memories. Before we are tamed into adults, and before we understand the price to be paid for every decision, the teen is a new person unleashed from childhood, ready to explore all that had been previously prohibited. In Dry Land, Ruby Rae Spiegel writes about the locker room at a girls’ swim squad, except where we expect banter, we discover some very hard truths being learned. Amy and Ester are in the process of figuring out the women they want to be, and with the bravery and fortitude they had gained from training in elite sport, they put themselves through the most brutal loss of innocence.

These fearless characters see the immensity of the world and rush head-on to devour its every promise, limited only by that same flesh and blood that is determined to keep each of us contained. It is a story about the spirit of youth, and how every person has to come to terms with their own corporeal limitations, as well as those psychological and social. Ester is fighting tooth and nail to excel in her swimming, while Amy exploits every resource to obtain an abortion without parental consent. They know what is best for them, regardless of our judgements, and Spiegel’s ruthless need to put on display every explicit detail of their confronting endeavours, makes Dry Land an extremely edgy work of theatre that challenges our personal and collective values.

It interrogates notions of youth and gender, and seeks to dismantle bourgeois constructs that dominate discourse in Western art. Claudia Barrie, as director of the piece, demonstrates a real passion for those subversive and feminist ideals, in her creation of a work that is absolutely uncompromising and forceful with what it has to say about our realities, and their accompanying structures of artifice, pretence and hypocrisy. Collaborative outcomes with designers are perhaps slightly predictable, but their efforts are undeniably effective in the production’s ability to manufacture atmosphere and pace, keeping us completely engaged with its narrative.

Barrie’s strength as guiding light for actors, shines brilliantly in Dry Land. All performances, including Julian Ramundi’s very small part as the apathetic Janitor who has seen it all before, are deeply evocative and resonant. No stage moment is allowed to go to waste, and we are thus enthralled. Sarah Meacham’s explorations as the ambitious Ester are as exhaustive as they are delightful. A character study that feels utterly intelligent and inventive, Meacham elevates the show from one that can easily be monotonously dark and serious, to something that is unexpectedly very funny, and overwhelming with compassion. Her comedy sits mischievously under every expression of trauma, giving Dry Land a unique quality of tragicomedy that brings perverse joy to those who can stomach it. Amy is played by Patricia Pemberton, whose resolute refusal to portray a simplistic victimhood, compels us to interpret her grievous circumstances beyond its instance of desperation. It is an extraordinarily rich and defiant personality that Pemberton presents, one who demands admiration over pity, and who reinforces the female as gloriously sovereign and interminably powerful.

When we look back at the salad days of one’s youth, it is with contradictory feelings of pride and embarrassment, exhilaration and regret. No matter how we choose to regard the past, there is no denying that the tougher the lessons, the greater we are today in every aspect of being. We have to try always to protect our young, but allowing them to face difficulty in every mishap and blunder will, as they say, build character. The young women we encounter in Dry Land are caught in a snapshot of suffering and struggle, but their futures are not diminished, only emboldened and bright.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com | www.outhousetheatre.org