5 Questions with Kate Cheel and Felix Johnson

Kate Cheel

Kate Cheel

Felix Johnson: What was your initial reaction to, and what piqued your interest most about the story of the play?
Kate Cheel: On first read of the play, I was immediately compelled by the way the play interrogates two particular things; the long-standing culture of victim blaming and slut-shaming with regard to crimes of sexual assault against women, and the immediacy and mass-audience reach of sharing content online. Where these two intersect is so dark and so dangerous – especially surrounding teenagers and the increasing pressure on young people to share intimate or nude photographs only to have their privacy violated on social media, and then be blamed for it!

What are your go-to methods for discovering a character? How do you like to work?
I’m not sure that I have any go-tos, every job requires something different. For this project it was really important to me that I sought out the stories and voices of survivors of sexual assault and how as a society we are dealing with these instances. If I’m going to be part of the conversation and any kind of decent representative for these women I need to be informed, thoughtful and active in my participation. In terms of discovering my character, the play takes place in Croydon, West London – a world away from Sydney, Australia and a completely different scene for young people. I found immersing myself in the music, fashion and pop culture of her world really useful in getting to know who this girl is and how she exists in the world.

To what extent do you think people have control over how they are perceived online and the images and information that is shared about them?
I’m just realising… we actually have NO control. Holy cheese balls! Thank you Felix, now I’m terrified. Any person can publish any thing about you. And you can request to have it taken down or you can take them to court, but to properly police all activity would be near impossible. The other end of the spectrum is of course the curated self via social media and self-produced content. You can shape how people perceive you online by essentially telling them who you are and what you think through the select imagery and info you choose to share. But there’s no total control.

Do you think revenge is ever justified?
I believe in retribution absolutely, but I don’t think revenge does any good. And it begs the question, what is justice and can it ever truly be served? To steal from someone far wiser than me, Mr Martin Luther King Jr, “The old law of ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind.”

If you could know the answer to one of the world’s unsolved mysteries, what would you most like to know?
I’d like to know what happens after death. Are past lives a legit thing? Are ghosts real? Spirits? Angels? Reincarnation? Is there a puffy cloud somewhere up there with everyone I love looking over me? Do they have to wear what they died in for eternity? Eternity is ages. How would you not get bored? Where do plants and animals go when they die?

Felix Johnson

Felix Johnson

Kate Cheel: I’m stealing this question from you because it’s good. What was your initial reaction to, and what piqued your interest most about the story of the play?
To be honest, I’m just a fan of a good story. I loved the twists and turns that the play took me on when I first read it; bringing that to life and sharing it with an audience is the most exciting thing about being an actor for me. But then on top of that, the content of the play is so immediately relevant and relatable – I couldn’t help thinking how I and the people closest to me might behave if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation.

What’s one thing you’ve learned about working on this project and one thing that has surprised you?
I guess I’ve learned (again) to maintain a positive scepticism. People and situations aren’t always what they appear to be no matter how familiar we think we are with them. It’s important to consider everything to find out the truth. I got a surprise listening to Croydon slang… and now I’m wondering if I’d be peng or butters…

How did you work on your accent? It’s very good.
Well, that’s kind! Luckily I had a bit of background work on a London accent already, but had to adjust quite a lot in the end to get a Croydon accent that suited Nick. It took hours of listening to samples, emulating one sound, then another, finding my ‘way in’ to the accent with particular phrases, then being as picky as I could about making all the sounds and the rhythm as authentic as possible. It’s something totally new for me now and that’s always exciting.

Have you ever made an assumption about someone or a situation and been proved totally wrong? Explain. Please…
So many times I can’t even count. Which is terrible, but luckily I’m also constantly amazed at what people can and will do for each other. I don’t have a single great example, but suffice to say I try my best to keep an open mind and give everything a chance. Curiosity over judgement any day.

What was the last photo you took on your iPhone and did you share it with anyone?
The last one is a boring photo of a timetable… which no one wants except me. But before that I sent a selfie to my girlfriend of my new haircut. She was both fascinated and rueful.

Kate Cheel and Felix Johnson are appearing in 4 Minutes 12 Seconds by James Fritz.
Dates: 13 September – 8 October, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: The Aliens (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 25 – Sep 19, 2015
Playwright: Annie Baker
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: James Bell, Jeremy Waters, Ben Wood
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Social outcasts are a sad fact of life. Communities are built upon identities that will inevitably exclude “undesirables”, some of whom can form sub-cultures, and others are left to their own devices. Annie Baker’s extraordinary The Aliens features the invisible and ignored; people judged to be of no value to economies, and are indeed, a burden to our gross domestic product. We refuse to acknowledge their contributions to society, because they contradict our definitions of what is valuable, and are considered to be of no benefit to our selfish needs. Baker’s writing is the most sensitive and tender piece of theatre one can wish to encounter. It presents downtrodden lives with an effortless humanity, looking at its neglected personalities and all their open wounds that fail to heal, with a persuasive compassion. Baker turns her strangers into intimately familiar beings, by revealing their pains and desires in a way that we can immediately recognise, and by her deft transformations of peculiarities into charming eccentricities.

Direction by Craig Baldwin is idiosyncratic and powerful. Every line of dialogue is replete with poignancy, along with the many purposeful silent pauses that occur to disarm and entrance. The play is rich with subtexts and references that resonate with great effectiveness, to communicate its message of acceptance and social inclusion. The vulnerability of its characters is portrayed with an unexpected dignity, so that their foibles and weaknesses cease to be strange or reprehensible. There is little in terms of narrative in the piece, but the relationships between its three men are carefully harnessed and perfectly realised. The unusual and intense representation of platonic love between men may be rarely seen on stage, but we believe every second of their intimate friendship, and it moves us from beginning to end.

KJ masks his sorrows with substances and laughter. Played by Ben Wood, the role ranges from being very silly to deeply sorrowful, and the actor runs that entire gamut of emotive and technical demands with wonderful fluency. There is a playfulness in Wood’s approach that urges us to meet KJ’s stories with an open heart, and the results are marvellously affecting. Jeremy Waters as Jasper, is heartbroken and heartbreaking. Coupling a beautiful innocence with impressive presence, Waters’ performance is irresistible, and also completely arresting. His style is understated yet robust, and charismatic beyond belief. In the role of awkward teenager Evan is James Bell, who lifts our spirits with a simple but accurate depiction of purity, and whose gentle approach provides a dimension of aching sentimentality that gives the show its exquisite melancholia.

Also noteworthy are the production’s visual design. Hugh O’Connor’s work on set and costumes is restrained but transportative. Its Americaness is convincing without being deafening, and his vibrant use of colour is a necessary and welcome counterbalance to an otherwise depressive environment. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman’s adventurous engagement with the incessant atmospheric shifts of the text, is a potent element that expertly guides us through the complex quandary of emotions that is The Aliens.

Anyone can fall, because nobody is invincible. In Annie Baker’s play, we see the kindness that people can have for each other, but also the care that is missing in much of our lives. It discloses the nature of how we do or do not look after each other, and evokes notions of unconditional love that many have forgotten. The outsiders of The Aliens connect in the most meaningful way possible, and watching their story unfold brings to mind our own interactions with the world; where we are successful, and where we flounder. As Australia’s attention to economic development becomes more obsessive than ever before, our interest in the ones who fall behind must grow accordingly. Instead, our political votes go to those who claim to protect our financial well being, and those who demonstrate consciousness beyond money, are struggling more and more with each passing election.

www.oldfitztheatre.com | www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Four Places (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 29 – Aug 10, 2014
Writer: Joel Drake Johnson
Director: Nicholas Hope
Cast: Amanda Stephens Lee, Jeremy Waters, Kim Hillas, Briony Williams
Image by Richard Farland Photography

Theatre review
Death affects everyone, but how each of us relates to it differs. People have different expectations about how terminal illnesses should be managed, also which individuals are to be held responsible for the well-being of the dying, and certainly our ideas about the “afterlife” are informed by a wide range of religious and spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof. Joel Drake Johnson’s script explores life at its final stages for the average middle class person, with ruminations about fear, love, family and ideology.

Nicholas Hope’s direction keeps the action very subdued. Its naturalism is so thorough that we often feel like eavesdroppers, and the family that we observe are going about their business with as much mundanity as any other party of three at a casual dining spot. They talk about serious matters, but they rarely allow themselves to react too dramatically. These are not people very open with their feelings, even if one of them is a psychologist. They each have their own secrets, and they seem content with not knowing too much about each other’s. We see the mother character Peggy, wearing an over sized crucifix as a pendant, and we are tempted to associate the stifling oppressiveness with their religious and cultural background.

Peggy is played by Kim Hillas, who is believable and truthful in her interpretation of the script, but she is often too subtle. It is a rare joy to see a play with an older female as its lead character, but we long for greater drama and stronger comedy. The theatre can be a reflection of real life, but it is also storytelling, and we need embellishments in order that our empathy can be amplified and made meaningful. Amanda Stephens Lee has the unenviable task of playing Ellen, the psychologist daughter, who is also a widow still in mourning. The character is a repressed one, and the actor portrays effectively, the dread that is felt when having to manage one’s parents’ illnesses. The role of her brother is performed by Jeremy Waters, who does his best to prevent familial disquiet. We see the character’s frustrations even if his lines give little away, and Waters makes good use of each opportunity that allows some range to his work.

To connect with an audience, a story needs to locate its points of universality and give it emphasis. Four Places has themes that we can relate to, but its characters are not accessible to all. If we do not understand them, their problems become diminished. If they do not fascinate, we lose interest. Every person on a stage has a tale to share, but it is the artistic choices they make that determines how many will be able to hear them.


5 Questions with Jeremy Waters

jeremywatersWhat is your favourite swear word?
I’m going with fucking. So many pearls to choose from but this seems to be the one that gets the most polish.

What are you wearing?
The JJJ look. Jeans, jumper, jandals. With socks. Classy.

What is love?
A Dog From Hell. (With a little help from Bukowski).

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them (New Theatre). A constellation of stars. Hilarious, challenging, provocative chaos. Do go see it.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Four Places is one of those beautiful pieces of writing that comes along every now and then with the potential to burrow deep into your heart. With painstaking detail, humour and delicacy, the play accumulates a series of reveals to build a story that packs an enormous emotional wallop. I am really hopeful, particularly with the amazing team we have assembled, of giving our audiences an experience that will resonate with them long after they have left the theatre. So, yeah, it should be good!

Jeremy Waters is appearing in Four Places, by Outhouse Theatre Co.
Show dates: 29 Jul – 10 Aug, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery