Review: Macbeth (SheShakespeare / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Aug 29 – Sep 8, 2018
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Shelley Casey
Cast: Megan Bennetts, Isobel Dickson, Rizcel Gagawanan, Joy Gray, Daniela Haddad, Prudence Holloway, Sonya Kerr, Emma Louise, Erica Lovell, Cassady Maddox, Suz Mawer, Emily McKnight, Beth McMullen, Lana Morgan, Grace Naoum
Images by Isobel Markus-Dunworth

Theatre review
If everything happens for a reason, then Malcolm must feel it the strangest twist of fate with this leadership challenge, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Although instigated by others, Malcolm is ultimately the one who undergoes complete transformation, by that story’s bloody end. This production features an all-female cast, but more notably, all its characters are now women. What seems to be minute alterations to Shakespeare’s words, turn his writing much more palatable, although some feminists would still prefer to see the time and energy of this passionate stable of talents, applied to projects more relevant to our times.

Director Shelley Casey proves herself an accomplished storyteller, carving out distinct characters and quick, engaging scenes for her captive crowd. Her style however is slightly too conventional, for a play in desperate need of reinvention, having been presented much too often in faithful renditions. Kyle Rowling’s work as fight choreographer is, on the other hand, truly noteworthy, in various sequences that give the show’s action quotient, an unexpectedly entertaining boost.

Leading lady Beth McMullen is a slight presence, who lacks the majesty we have come to expect of the role, but her intensity and unrelenting conviction, are admirable. It is a big cast of fifteen performers, of varying abilities, that impress with their unmistakable sense of cohesion. Gracie Naoum is a standout as Malcolm, bringing nuance to a staging that enjoys placing emphasis on its more raucous qualities. Also memorable is Rizcel Gagawanan’s interpretation of the Porter, mischievous and confident, for a theatrical moment audiences will find humorously endearing.

To “bring forth women-children only” is a futile wish, but when we look at the politics of this country (and many others), there is abundant evidence that the male of our species cannot help but create dissension wherever traditional power structures are in place. It might be naive to think that women would operate differently under those configurations of authority, but to address gender equality at all our offices and boards, is the first realistic step towards a more radical modification, of how we can better run the business of society. Whether we think of women and men as being essentially different, it is vital that all the divisions we do impose on our lives, are justly managed. All the old familiar violations, must no longer be tolerated.

www.sheshakespeare.com

5 Questions with Rizcel Gagawanan and Joy Gray

Rizcel Gagawanan

Joy Gray: Why did you want to be a part of this production?
Rizcel Gagawanan: First of all, “all-female production”, enough said. Second, I’ve always wanted to act in a Shakespeare play. Growing up I wasn’t exposed to a lot of theatre but everyone knew Shakespeare or at least knew of it. These days to get my Shakespeare fix I watch National Theatre Live at the cinemas. The performances are so amazing but what would be even more inspiring would be to see more POC actors on a Shakespeare stage. So here I am!

Why did you want to be an actor?
My mum put me in the ‘Johnny Young Talent School’ when I was 4 because I was a handful, so I guess from a young age I started to love performing but mostly it was because I had no shame. However, I’ve only come back to acting in the last 4 years and it’s the same things that brought me back, loving to perform (and having no shame), but also the passion to create and tell stories. More specifically telling stories that matter to me and represent me. As I was growing up it was rare to see someone who looked like me on TV or on stage. These days that’s starting to change but we have a long way to go. I believe that my work as an actor is helping change that.

What are your hobbies?
I run long distance, I recently ran City2Surf, 14km in 95 minutes! I’m hoping to finish a half marathon some day (…some day). In my spare time I’m either sketching in an art gallery or having embroidery dates with friends, and Netflix is a hobby too right?

If you could be in any movie, what character would you play?
I think TV shows beat films in terms of great badass female lead characters. I’d like to play an action hero like a spy/assassin character like Maggie Q’s Nikita and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle in Killing Eve but with the comedy antics of Ali Wong. If only I could do my own stunt work.

What are your top 5 movies?
In no particular order: Crash, Coming To America, Crazy Rich Asians, Get Out, and all the Harry Potter movies.

Joy Gray

Rizcel Gagawanan: Who has influenced you the most in your life?
Joy Gray: I would say my older sister has influenced me the most because she has always put me on a pedal stool and has consistently been the positive voice in my head when it comes to loving who I am, and going for my dreams. She has also influenced my decisions in occupations, as I am often in a care giving type of work environment, having followed her lead in life.

How has working with only women in the rehearsal room impacted the creative process for you?
Women can be great to work with in this capacity because we tend to have great emotional and intuitive intelligence. This intelligence can create an atmosphere of sincere relationships. Having sincerity on stage is important for the creative process because it allows an easier space to fully realize the way in which the actions and reactions given by your fellow cast mates are affecting the words being said and their meaning.

What was it about the play that made you want to audition?
I wanted to audition for this play because I wanted to do Shakespeare and I liked the idea of doing an all-female show. I also liked the musical aspect of the show. I auditioned because I wanted to challenge myself and gain experience as an actor. It was icing on the cake that this play is embracing women who want to destroy the status quo, and She Shakespeare is doing this by keeping all the unique elements of the play intact, but also keeping the characterizations that make women unique and beautiful.

What made you want to become an actor?
I have always been interested in how people communicate with each other, whether their through words, or the many kinds incremental gestures with their face and body. This fascination led me into the study of psychology and neuroscience. Underneath that academic attraction, I have also have a need to break out of my interior and exterior shell, and acting is the embodiment of changing who you are. I know I would rather just stay safe inside my head, inside my living room, with a Virtual Reality headset, but acting forces me to be social, to think about, and be in different scenarios; and it’s tough! On a lighter note, I grew up in a family who loved to go to the cinema, who loved music, dancing and technology. I married a man who is a musician and a philosopher, who also appreciates a myriad of live performance such as opera, spoken word, and of course stage acting.

What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?
The worst movie I have ever seen is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. It is also the funniest movie I have ever seen. I loved going to see it at a cinema full of people armed with plastic spoons for throwing, who are yelling the phrase “because you’re a woman!”. I liked the cringe worthy sex scenes that looked completely wrong and sounded hilarious to a repetitive cheesy, 90’s jazz music score. The absolute best thing about the movie is the horrendous acting and dialogue. It is infamous!

Rizcel Gagawanan and Joy Gray can be seen in Macbeth , by William Shakespeare.
Dates: 29 Aug – 8 Sep, 2018
Venue: PACT

Review: Love Song Dedications (Without Richard Mercer) (Ten Tonne Sparrow / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jul 19 – 28, 2018
Playwrights: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Directors: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Cast: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Images by Freya Ludowici

Theatre review
Love Song Dedications was a longstanding radio program featuring classic romantic pop music, alongside real life accounts of love won and love lost. Tom Hogan and Bonnie Leigh-Dodds’ show is a tribute of sorts, using a combination of triple-threat disciplines to create a work of comedy, that is ostensibly about finding the greatest love song of all time. A prominent characteristic of the radio show was its unabashed earnestness, completely devoid of irony and therefore deeply cringe-worthy, and here, Hogan and Leigh-Dodds play with that raw human openness, almost as an antidote for modern art’s obsession with being too clever, to bring focus away from the head and into the heart.

It is an exercise in honesty, of placing the authentic within the inevitable conceits of a theatre piece that must have a beginning, middle and end. Storytelling will always contain verisimilitude, but degrees of fiction seem fundamental to how things work on stage. Hogan and Leigh-Dodds are best friends, and like those on the airwaves speaking via telephones about matters of the heart, they are here to talk about their relationship. We discover how having an audience would affect this process of connection between the two. Turning a friendship into an artistic partnership could be a precarious exercise, but if art is where they communicate best, then perhaps understanding their relationship through a form like this, is their best bet.

Hogan and Leigh-Dodds are intelligent and effervescent, both youthful specimens, full of beans and big ideas. A good command of their bodies, and of space, ensures that we are held attentive for the 70-minute duration. They create a plot trajectory that is surprisingly varied, manufacturing with considerable ingenuity, a multifaceted approach for what seems a very simple point of departure. There are brief moments of energetic dissolution, but we never lose interest in the overarching project of finding that best song.

Creativity, even at its most commercial, evades objective judgement. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for Hogan and Leigh-Dodds the best song from the 104 in their shortlist, is the one that holds the greatest amount of meaning, and of nostalgic value, to their private selves. Their love story informs their selection, but judging from the warmth radiating from the audience, the popular consensus is that their show is very well-liked indeed.

www.tentonnesparrow.com.au

Review: Wyrd: The Season Of The Witch (Ninefold / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jun 20 – 30, 2018
Playwright: adapted from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Director: Shy Magsalin
Cast: Aslam Abdus-samad, Erica J Brennan, Jessica Dalton, Victoria Greiner, Matthew Heys, Melissa Hume, Paul Musumeci, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Shane Russon, Brigid Vidler, Tabitha Woo, Luke Yager, Stella Ye
Images by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
Wyrd is a reconstitution of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the eponymous character is now a woman. Also, she no longer has a wife to blame her misdeeds on, only a coven of witches that proves to have a more intimate relationship with Macbeth than we had previously known. The conflation of dialogue originally held by the separate entities of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, depicts a new personality that suddenly seems more believable than before. Her duplicitous nature now conveys an honesty that allows us to relate more closely with her circumstances; the ambition and guilt that define her story, increase in pertinence, since we are no longer able to perceive her sins as diffused and shared responsibility.

The production is wonderfully moody, with Liam O’Keefe’s lights and Melanie Herbert’s music providing a waking nightmare in which the action takes place. Director Shy Magsalin’s work with the ensemble is intricate and dynamic, not always elegant, but certainly very exciting at moments of high energy and sheer terror.

The trio of witches, performed by Aslam Abdus-samad, Erica J Brennan and Paul Musumeci, are thoroughly delightful, impressive with the taut cohesiveness of their offering. Gideon Payten-Griffiths appears late in the piece as Hecate to steal the show, completely mesmerising with the bold avant-garde sensibility that he brings to the stage. The inventiveness with his physicality and voice is quite extraordinary, and the show is elevated at a crucial moment, to give us some very special theatre. Macbeth, known only as Our Lady, is played by Victoria Greiner, not quite as flamboyant, but with more than enough conviction to make invigorating, this centuries-old story.

The Western patriarchal canon so powerfully instilled in us, refuses to be ignored. We can try to pretend to forget everything and foster some sort of replacement, or we can look for means of subversion that can assist with our progress. Reshaping Shakespeare to suit our times, will always contribute to the reaffirmation of his position of dominance, but when we are resolved to decipher the myriad problems of our indoctrination, we can begin to introduce meaningful transformation to how we see the world. Our master’s voice is hard to eliminate, but finding ways to expose his faults, can help set us free.

www.ninefoldensemble.com

Review: Snap*Click*Shot (Karul Projects)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), May 25 – Jun 2, 2018
Choreographer and composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Cast: Jessica Holman, Thomas E.S. Kelly, Libby Montilla, Amalie Obitz, Taree Sansbury, Kassidy Waters

Theatre review
Accompanying the dance, is a recorded narration about ecology. It provides an Indigenous perspective on our relationship with the environment, particularly memorable for its musings about our responsibilities as custodians of the planet. The message in Thomas E.S. Kelly’s Snap*Click*Shot is sombre, but unifying.

The bodies in motion are simultaneously human and animal, soil and vegetation; the false points of demarcation that separate us are dissolved, for an expression of our existence that is all-encompassing. This is a summation of events that sounds excessively romantic, but when immersed, the show feels authentic, convincing in its depiction of nature as wholistic and incontrovertibly linked to the human experience.

Kelly’s work, as choreographer and composer, is sensitive yet disciplined, elegant yet dynamic. His ability to place in tandem opposing qualities, the hard with the soft, creates a sense of drama that keeps us engaged. It is a strong team of dancers, extraordinarily cohesive, and impressive in their familiarity with Kelly’s idiosyncratic physical language. Their presentation is confident, and very well-rehearsed, with an inexhaustible vigour that fills the auditorium. Costumes and lights are however, inadequately conceived, resulting in imagery that is needlessly monochromatic and repetitive.

At the production’s conclusion, we congregate in a circle, eyes closed, sharing in a moment of silent meditation. Our insecurities from being exposed thus, reach for reassurance, and we find camaraderie in that unusual instance of connection. We often think of independence as a virtue, but it is a falsehood to conceive of any life detached. It is vanity that separates, and narcissism that fuels oppression. The simple exercise of acknowledging others as equals will solve many problems, but we rarely rise to that challenge.

www.karulprojects.com

Review: On The Border Of Things Part One (PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jan 17 – 20, 2018
Creators: Cong Ai Nguyen, James Nguyen
Cast: James Nguyen
Image by Carla Zimbler

Theatre review
In part one of On The Border Of Things, James Nguyen talks about his travels in search of family and his discovery of personal histories. It all begins with the memory of his uncle Cong Ai Nguyen who had left home for a nomadic regional life, working in transient jobs at disparate locations for over twenty years. James’ need to reconnect sparks a three-year odyssey that takes him to country Australia and also to Vietnam, and we catch him as he drives into Sydney, probably momentarily, to talk about his findings.

Essentially a one-man show, with a storyteller proficient in visual arts who rejects the approach of a conventional acting piece, The Border Of Things has a startling immediacy rarely encountered. When our theatres are working well, we are able to come in touch with truths of the world, and here, the first-person narrative is taken to a new level of intimacy. Artifice is stripped away, for an account of adventures recalled not from rehearsals but from actual experience.

James Nguyen’s investigations into the Vietnamese diaspora and his exploration of our farmlands, creates a potent combination that all Australians should find relevant. Discussion points about the migrant experience, along with diverse notions of home as personal and universal conceptions, as well as the meaning of land in relation to commerce and colonisation, all find consolidation and resonance through the Nguyen family’s tales.

The presentation concludes with a short documentary film, as sensitive and tender as the monologue prior, with a quiet melancholia permeating its depiction of new bonds being formed, as uncle and nephew reunite on farms in country Victoria and South Australia. We get a sense that both are black sheep, each able to see himself in the other’s eyes. To know oneself, questions must be asked, and the answers come best, from those we identify with the most. Our protagonist has had to travel afar to reach someone close, but it is evident that the rewards are joyous, and profound.

www.pact.net.au

Review: Brothers Karamazov (Arrive. Devise. Repeat)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Dec 6 – 16, 2017
Playwright: Richard Crane (based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel)
Director: Viktor Kalka
Cast: Alice Birbara, Ryan Devlin, Patrick Howard, and Lucia May
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
There are only so many conclusions a person can come to, when contemplating the existence of God. In Richard Crane’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, an enormous novel is condensed, leaving only its big philosophical ideas feebly accompanied, by futile episodes of theatre that can only seem reductive in their attempts to make a point.

The depiction of religious struggle in Brothers Karamazov is timeworn, although clearly persistent in its relevance to millions, who continue to structure their lives around all things mystical and illusory. It is an attractive production, with ambitious work across all design faculties from Liam O’Keefe’s lavish lighting to Victor Kalka’s evocative set. Often beautiful and alluringly moody, our senses are kept attentive, even when our minds withdraw from engagement.

Four actors play a range of characters, with unfortunately confusing results. Unable to sufficiently identify the personalities we encounter, the show takes an inordinately long time to establish coherence. Nonetheless, it is a compelling cast, each one full of energetic conviction. Patrick Howard is particularly memorable, with an arresting presence, determined to entertain.

A world in which everything is permissible, is doubtlessly frightening. Self-preservation requires that we invest, in the name of safety and order, in social contracts that we think to be noble, but whether state or religion, the institutions we exalt, never fail to overreach with the powers they are accorded. The same instruments we need for protection, are used invariable to oppress. To keep them constantly monitored is paramount and to have them regularly dismantled and refreshed, is arduous but critical.

www.arrivedeviserepeat.com