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

Review: Shifting > Shapes / Fem Menace (PACT)


Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Nov 22 – 25, 2017

Shifting > Shapes
Choreographer and composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Collaborator and performer: Taree Sansbury

Fem Menace
Creator and performer: Cheryn Frost
Co-creators and performers: Cath McNamara, Tahlee Kianda Leeson

Theatre review
Presented as part of PACT’s “Afterglow” season, two works Shifting > Shapes and Fem Menace, feature young women dancing to the beat of their own drums. We watch them finding physical languages that could reveal their identities, that help express feelings and thoughts, to make their mark maybe, to be seen and heard, in a world that is determined to subdue creativity and art.

Shifting > Shapes explores humanity through the idea of shape-shifting, in which a person adopts the consciousness of animals, and begins to think and move like them. When performer Taree Sansbury becomes a goanna (or Dirawong) and a rainbow serpent, she sinks close to the ground. The relationship between body and earth looks never to be more intimate, than when Sansbury takes on the physical specificity of a different species. In the moments that she reverts to human, we observe the discord between being and space, as though we are the only ones alien to our own planet.

Fem Menace is concerned with the anxieties about being contemporary women, in this latest wave of feminism. A key point of its discussion is sexuality, as an essentially social undertaking, private but always in relation with the world outside of the self. In the honest representation of woman as sexual being, the conundrum of objectification seems to be omnipresent. Cheryn Frost, Cath McNamara and Tahlee Kianda Leeson present an uncompromising wildness that dares us to regard their presence as anything other than as intended.

Both pieces are conceived and executed with a sense of purity; faithful and authentic in their transition from inspiration to stage. For Shifting > Shapes, the unapologetically minimalist approach of choreographer and composer Thomas E.S. Kelly, maintains a razor sharp focus on its theme, whilst asserting his Aboriginality as legitimate and authoritative. The women in Fem Menace are experimental, putting their minds and bodies through exhaustive interrogation. The results of which are deeply fascinating, and often very beautiful. There is perhaps no way to look at ourselves with absolute objectivity, but it is in our art, that we can best know each other.

www.pact.net.au

5 Questions with Cheryn Frost and Thomas E.S. Kelly

Cheryn Frost

Thomas E.S. Kelly: What is your show about?
Cheryn Frost: Fem Menace is about how there is a monster inside me. It’s also about women; the fun we have, the fears we face, our lived and shared experiences. 

What made you want to explore this topic?
We wanted to make a work that is about being women, the world in which we live and the monsters we’re constantly facing and fighting. Considering the huge discussion at the moment with how women are being mistreated by monsters in the industry, it reinforces the importance of continuing that dialogue and getting our voices heard by wider audience.

Why now?
Why not?

What can the audience expect watching your work?
You can expect a warped fragmented party, with a slap of reality, a drop knee of what ifs, a shot of confidence and purge of monsters.

Who has helped bring your project to life?
Catherine McNamara & Tahlee Leeson! They are the other two spicy ladies that make up Fish Hook. The three of us met whilst studying at the University of Wollongong and realised that we all wanted to make dynamic kick-ass theatre. Fish Hook was born and here we are finally making our first show that actual people will see!

Thomas E.S. Kelly

Cheryn Frost: What is your show about?
Thomas E.S. Kelly: Shifting > Shapes is about shape shifting. Humans to animals to landforms and back again. Looking at it through an Indigenous and non-Indigenous lens, seeing it culturally and how it sits in today’s society. 

What has been the biggest challenge making the work?
The biggest challenge for this work is simply just time. Making sure that I’ve dedicated enough time to all the elements so that the show works on all levels.

What do you hope your audience will think about when they leave your show?
I always hope that when the audience leaves one of my shows that they find out something about the Aboriginal culture that they didn’t know before and then find a place for that knowledge in today’s society.

Who and or what inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my lineages of the past and future. The lineage of my ancestors, my family, my dance lineage.

You can have dinner with 5 people (living or dead) who do you choose and why?
Nan and Pop on my mothers side because they passed away when I was younger and I have so many questions for them. And a family member from each one of my heritages that is the knowledge keepers to simply listen and learn. 1 Aboriginal 1 Ni-Vanuatu 1 Irish.

Catch Cheryn Frost and Thomas E.S. Kelly in Fem Menace / Shifting > Shapes, part of the Afterglow season at PACT.
Dates: 22 – 25 November, 2017
Venue: PACT

Review: Home (Tantrum Youth Arts)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Oct 4 – 7, 2017
Director: Janie Gibson
Cast: Sara Barlow, Thomas Lonsdale, Roger Ly, Alexandra Mangano, Meghan Mills, Meg O’Hara, Taylor Reece, Stephanie Rochet, Rosie Scanlan, Clare Todorovitch, Phoebe Turnbull
Image by Eryn Leggatt

Theatre review
The point of departure is a meditation on home, a concept that we associate with all things secure, warm and familiar, but the 11 artists delve deep within, to unearth instead, many unexpected and troubling aspects of living in Australia today.

The piece begins predictably, perhaps too innocently, about the planet and its natural environment, with seen-it-all-before physical configurations, typical of theatre featuring ensembles of young people. After some warming up, director Janie Gibson takes us to the deep end, where pretence gives way to raw honesty, and the real drama happens.

Home‘s collation of words by various entities (with dramaturgy by Lucy Shepherd), is a remarkable achievement, showcasing a valuable range of perspectives that form a truthful and timely representation of where we are today, as a society and a collective consciousness.

Alexandra Rose talks poetically about the idea of body as home, Phoebe Turnbull speaks boldly for new feminists everywhere, Roger Ly articulates with great humour, the historical experience of our many marginalised ethnic minorities, and Meg O’Hara is blinding with her infectious passion as a queer activist. There is a lot of power in Home, derived from very serious and exquisite thought.

Art scintillates when brave and authentic, and there is much to be excited about here. Also very noteworthy is the live music accompaniment by Huw Jones, whose electronica underscores the entire show with intelligence, and beautiful sensitivity. Quality of acting in the group is inconsistent, but Stephanie Rochet-Cuevas’ brilliance as performer is unequivocal, presenting a “star is born” moment on the Sydney stage, having recently arrived from Chile, via Newcastle. She is formidable, a force to be reckoned with, and a personality one sincerely hopes to see grace our theatres again soon, and often.

Home is where we should be able to find comfort. It is also where we are safest and most able to confront the darkest of our beings. In bringing their audience their most authentic vulnerabilities, the artists compel us to connect, with the work and with each other. Enclosed and tethered, we think about the spaces we share, and the inevitability of our dependence on each other, and the care, that increasingly, we forget to take.

www.tantrum.org.au

Review: Cleansed (Montague Basement)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Sep 20 – 23, 2017
Playwright: Sarah Kane
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Sam Brewer, Lucy Burke, Alex Chalwell, Kurt Pimblett, Jem Rowe, Michaela Savina, Annie Stafford
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Tinker is a figure of authority at a hospital, and the sadist antagonist in Sarah Kane’s Cleansed. She is all-powerful, able to wield any form of torture she pleases. The patients are trapped, unjustly and unexplained, subject to a range of inhumane violations, in scenes of terror that constitute the savagery of Kane’s play. Also prominent are instances of nudity and sexual activity, that accompany pervasive themes of gender and sexuality, all presented as the main agents of instigation, for the brutality that we see. Everyone in Cleansed is being punished for their sex, and we wonder if the hospital functions as an allegory for the wider world.

Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s gore is heightened and viscerally affecting. His show recalls films from horror and exploitation genres, but the effect of shock here, is thought-provoking and never meaningless. Long scene changes prevent our anxiety from ever reaching a boiling point. Our minds are given space to work for clarity, during these moments of emotional release, but an opportunity for a more thrilling experience that could result from the manufacture of a truly suffocating atmosphere, is sacrificed. Live video projections are incorporated for an adventurous commentary on current states of technological voyeurism, and are used along with bold approaches to light and sound, to enhance dramatic qualities of the production.

The provocative material is brought to life by an impressive cast of actors with great conviction and nerve. The very scary Tinker needs a bigger, more foreboding presence, but Annie Stafford’s restraint allows our imagination to explore freely into the psyche that is at work here. Jem Rowe is outstanding as Robin; the fear and desperation he portrays seems thoroughly authentic, and the spectacle he creates around his role is brilliantly captivating. Sam Brewer and Alex Chalwell play gay lovers, memorable for the poignancy of their relationship and the remarkable intensity at which they tell that story.

There is no underestimating how much we control each other with sex. The essentially social nature of our genders and sexualities, have opened us up to evaluation and persecution from all corners. The fear of being labelled deviants, and the understanding of that consequence, are indicative of attempts to keep us adhering to an intolerable straight and narrow. Even Tinker is herself consumed by her self-diagnosed perversion, and proceeds to exercise her hypocrisy in the most destructive ways possible. Consenting adults are frightening. They can threaten the very fabric of a society that lives by rules that are arbitrary, cruel and profoundly wrong.

www.montaguebasement.com

5 Questions with Kurt Pimblett and Annie Stafford

Kurt Pimblett

Annie Stafford: In Cleansed, your character is a ghost for the majority of the show, do you have a favourite ghost story or have you ever had a run-in with a ghost?
Kurt Pimblett: Yeah, me and my cousins and sister saw a lot of ghosts growing up. One of them was the ghost of our dog who’d been run over the year before, which was nice. I think my favourite ghost story though is that Paul Jennings one where a boy falls down a well and there’s a ghost down there who steals all your clothes and escapes and then you become the naked ghost trapped in the well. I feel like that’s the kind of weird ghost thing Graham would do.

When you first read the stage directions “dance of love”, what dance moves came into your head?
Two things, simultaneously. One of them was this incredibly beautiful and emotive sequence that was immediately recognisable as a dance of love – no-one would ever put any other name to it. The other was the bit from High School Musical where those two kids do a weird interpretive dance to audition for the winter musical and get told they should have therapy. I hope that what we’ve ended up with is a happy medium between the two.

Now this is a classic question, in the Hollywood film version of this play, who would you want to play Graham and why?
Harry Styles. No explanation necessary.

What did you find the hardest when approaching this text? Because let’s be honest, its pretty damn out there.
With Cleansed, Sarah Kane has been quite kind with the dialogue and emotional journeys of most characters. Everything that’s happening makes sense, the logic isn’t hard to access, and it feels natural to embody and put into action. Cleansed is a huge practical challenge though, and a lot of thought has gone into realising her incredible stage directions. A lot of them seem a bit impossible, but what I found most confronting in rehearsal was the things that aren’t impossible. The things that you can totally just go and do, but wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, if you weren’t in this play. Another thing I found difficult was rationalising Graham’s relationship with Grace, in conjunction with Graham’s relationship with Tinker. I very much approached the text thinking that Graham was always right and was totally a good guy (which is a useful perspective to keep in mind as an actor), so I was pretty shaken when it started to dawn on me that sometimes his choices aren’t the most upstanding.

You’re stuck on a desert island with only one other cast member from Cleansed, who would you want it to be? And why?
Okay. I would want it to be someone whose sense of humour gelled well with mine, so that it doesn’t get boring, but also so that when I start making off-colour panic-jokes they don’t get weirded out. Are we trying to escape the island? Because then I would also want someone who’d be determined and upbeat enough to help me make a billion different palm tree boat prototypes. Also probably someone with a nice grounding in facts because on a desert island my skills probably wouldn’t extend far beyond writing poems about the ocean and I’d need someone to tell me what’s okay to eat and where snakes live so I can avoid them. There’s also a high chance that I’d get so restless and desperate for entertainment that I’d stop listening to them about which berries are poisonous and start to provoke the snakes just for something to do, so it would be great if the person could talk me down from doing things like that. Look, this is a tall order, so Cleansed cast, if any of you feel like you can adequately fill this role, hit me up.

Annie Stafford

Kurt Pimblett: Tinker has a lot of power but (arguably) questionable morals. What kind of life advice would she give? If she wrote a self-help book what would it be called?
Annie Stafford: I sincerely hope no one ever asks Tinker for advice let alone reads her self help book. How the heck did she get that book deal?! That aside, I think her incredibly deep and sage life advice would be “Get shit done. Shut shit down”. To be completely honest, that’s been my own motto for the past 2 years. But in a very absurdist way it applies to Tinker. She’s pretty proactive, getting things done. And if she’s not about something or it isn’t worth her time, she shuts it down. It’s title? “I’m not responsible.”

Shoot, shag, marry: Cleansed. Go. And try not to shag or kill anyone you’ve already shagged and killed.
Oh well that narrows it down, you’ve literally left me with 3 characters. I think I’d…Tinker would marry Woman. But they’d have to travel to make that happen, cheers Australian Government for that one. Who would have thought you’d be living the dream in a Sarah Kane play. Political moment over. Shag Carl just to add insult to injury, and oh so much injury poor ol’ Carl. And I guess kill Robin. That’s actually quite hard when you take out of it everyone I’ve already killed and shagged. I mean Tinker has already killed and shagged, don’t want to get too method over here.

It is a tricky text – is there anything that you read and thought would be difficult but turned out not to be? Anything that went the opposite?
I actually thought the sex scene between the Woman and Tinker would be really hard, maybe not simply to choreograph, which it wasn’t, but my ability to do it. To be naked in a rehearsal room in such close proximity to someone else, without the tricks of the trade you get in screen. But the process of it was so smooth, and after a while it just makes sense. After sitting in the play for so long and sitting with Tinker and her journey, that moment is so necessary and normal and just feels right-thus I felt so ready to do it when it came to that time. And the opposite? Figuring out Tinker. She’s a tough cookie. So close to performances and I’m still working her out. Which I like actually, she keeps surprising me.

What’s your favourite Sarah Kane’s Cleansed stage direction?
But there are so many excellent ones!!! Can I do a top 3? Well, I’m going to anyway.
1. “Carl tries to pick up his hands – he can’t, he has no hands.”
I’ve decided against giving 3, I want there to be some element of surprise for the audience. But I’ve definitely given you an absolute gem. Sarah Kane is actually hilarious.

Lastly, in a direct theft from the dude from Inside The Actors Studio, if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Answer as both yourself and Tinker.
Before I say, I want these answers to be read in the voice of Morgan Freeman. For some very unknown reason, that’s what my idea of God sounds like. As Annie I would like to hear “Hey mate, good work, here’s a beer”. It would preferable be a VB, taste of the old country. As Tinker, I think she will hear “You don’t even go here!” but I reckon she’d like to hear “You did what you had to do for love”.

Kurt Pimblett and Annie Stafford are appearing in Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, part of the Sydney Fringe Festival 2017.
Dates: 19 – 23 September, 2017
Venue: PACT