Review: Alice In Slasherland (Last One Standing Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 18 – May 11, 2019
Playwright: Qui Nguyen
Director: Rachel Kerry
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Jack Angwin, Josh McElroy, Bardiya McKinnon, Mia Morrissey, Laura Murphy, Stella Ye
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Lewis is a regular American teenager, who finds his town suddenly overwhelmed by Lucifer and other spirits of the underworld. With people being slaughtered everywhere, Lewis and his friends have to fight their way to survival. Qui Nguyen’s Alice In Slasherland bears all the hallmarks of a B-grade horror flick; an outlandish storyline, predictable characters and lots of blood and gore, along with a very healthy dose of kitsch and bad taste humour that makes the show more than a little tongue-in-cheek in its references to genre.

The production is messy, but also intentionally trashy. Like every low-budget movie ever made, we can identify all the flaws in this staging of Alice In Slasherland, but its imperfections do not preclude us from enjoying the silly fun that it so passionately delivers. Director Rachel Kerry’s vision for the staging is wonderfully vivid, but her ideas are almost never executed to perfection. The cast is remarkable for being able to embrace the clumsiness of their show, to convey a sense of humour that quite miraculously, works with, or perhaps against, the many technical improficiencies. Alice In Slasherland‘s horror aspects do almost nothing for us, but its comedy is certainly a joy.

Actor Bardiya McKinnonis is a spirited Lewis, appropriately over-the-top with the terror that he depicts. The eponymous Alice is played by Stella Ye, who meets the physical demands of the supernatural being, with a persuasive and dynamic athleticism. Lucifer is a vampy creature, as interpreted by Laura Murphy, whose capacity for camp seems to know no bounds. Her musical theatre abilities prove refreshing in a show that cares little about polish. Justin Amankwah is puppeteer for Edgar the bear, barely two feet tall, but huge in personality, thanks to Amankwah’s beautiful animation and extraordinary voice work.

Depending on one’s own tastes, there is a kind of self-deprecating humour to Alice In Slasherland that can be highly amusing. We vacillate between laughing at it, and laughing with it, trusting that none is expected to take any of this seriously. Over the coming weeks, the production will no doubt lose some of its raw edge, but as long as we can all be encouraged to remain playful for the duration, it would mean a job well done.

www.lastonestandingtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Justin Amankwah and Stella Ye

Justin Amankwah

Stella Ye: Justin you are one busy and hard-working human. How is your soul going and what do you do to stay grounded?
Justin Amankwah: My soul is swell! I’m no good at sitting still so I prefer to always have something to do. In terms of staying grounded, all credit is due to my calendar.

What would be your game plan during a demon apocalypse?
Run to the nearest Church & repent. Then grab a rosary & some holy water. If all else fails, I’ll channel my juju and kick some demon ass.

Seeing Edgar evolve during rehearsals has been NUTS. What’s it been like working with puppetry? What has is taught you about yourself as a performer?
It’s quite profound working with a character both inside and outside of my physical self. I’m still wrapping my head around it to be honest. I initially thought I’d just have to get the mechanics of puppeteering correct, but I’ve come to find that the real challenge is to bring myself into him and work towards him moving like I would If I were a talking teddy bear. It’s taught me that I rely very heavily on my body in performance. But mainly that I like to get the work right straight away. & I noticed this while enduring the very slow burn of bringing the puppet to life.

If Edgar had two theme songs, what would they be and why?
‘Battle Without Honor or Humanity’ by Tomoyasu Hotei because it’s a powerful track with grit. & the instrumental for ‘Simon Says’ by Pharoahe Monch because it’s an awesome blend of demonic & straight up gangster, just like Edgar.

What does the show mean to you and why should people come and see it?
This show for me is a great opportunity to entertain through means I’ve never got to before, to play this boisterous & melodramatic character unabashedly is a total joy. I think people should come because it’ll be such a good time at the theatre & my hope is that audiences will be wildly amused by our ridiculous show.

Stella Ye

Justin Amankwah: What were your thoughts when you first read Alice In Slasherland?
Stella Ye: My mind kind of went like this: “!!!!!!!!!!!!” because I found it so wonderful and fun to read. I felt like Qui Nguyen threw all of the ingredients from the fridge into the pan and somehow made the best omelette ever. I loved that it played into all of these familiar American teenage and horror tropes, yet allowed room to see and experience beyond them as well. So yes, shoutout to Qui for creating such a hilarious, vibrant and heightened world.

What are your favourite things about being a part of this show (besides kicking ass)?
Getting to explore crazy ideas. Being with an amazing group of humans also exploring crazy ideas. Using my voice and body in ways that I never have before. Blood capsules.

You face some heavily racist comments as Alice in the show, how do you deal with that, and has it become less challenging as we’ve progressed?
That was definitely a scene that Rachel [Kerry, director] and I talked about after the first read and had to ask exactly how it served the story. High school can be a tough place and I think we’ve all come across a Tommy at some point in our lives. Moving forward with it has been about honouring what’s going on for Alice in that moment, and she’s still demonic and freshly adjusting to life out of hell (cue internal monologue: humans are weird) so I’m learning to sit inside her brain and trust in how she chooses to handle that interaction.

In a world where the action is commonly reserved for men, what are you feeling about portraying a powerful female protagonist battling an even more powerful female antagonist?
Life has taught me that women are incredible and powerful and badass, so it’s been fantastic being able to reflect that on stage through Alice. I love that she gets to be so physically engaged in everything that she does, and those fight scenes are so, so fun to perform. Laura and I especially have a lot of fight moments together in the show, and working with her during rehearsals has really made me appreciate her strength and bravery, as a woman but as a human being really.

Justin Amankwah and Stella Ye can be seen in Alice In Slasherland.
Dates: 18 Apr – 11 May, 2019
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Fierce (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 20 – Apr 13, 2019
Playwright: Jane E.Thompson
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Lauren Richardson, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin, Stacey Duckworth, Martin Jacobs, Chantelle Jamieson, Felix Johnson, Andrew Shaw
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Suzie Flack is the first woman to play Australian Rules football in a professional men’s team. This is of course, a fictional premise that Jane E. Thompson uses to construct her play, Fierce. Our trailblazing protagonist may have broken through the glass ceiling, but her challenges do not end at that point of disruption. The weight of having to single-handedly redefine an entire industry, sits on her shoulders. This is a story about women who have had to walk into men’s spaces all alone, against all odds, to overcome unjust systems of exclusion. Thompson’s writing is passionately feminist, and although ultimately a predictable narrative, its magnanimous spirit proves affecting.

Directed by Janine Watson, the production is often powerful, and memorable for creative risks that help elevate its overall sense of artistry. Music by Ben Pierpoint contributes vigour at key moments, crucial in helping us identify the high stakes that Suzie’s experiences represent. Kelsey Lee’s lighting design has a dynamism that works well at conveying a turbulent volatility for the storytelling, and Melanie Liertz’s set and costumes offer just enough visual stimulation, to keep us attentive to both surface and deeper implications of Fierce.

Actor Lauren Richardson’s scorching intensity ensures that the play’s social pertinence is never neglected. Her display of vulnerability can at times seem excessive for a personality who has to remain unyielding with her strength and resilience, but it is a captivating performance that puts the audience firmly on her side. The ensemble cast is uniformly wonderful, every actor full of sincere conviction. In the role of Melanie is Chantelle Jamieson, who offers a deeply fascinating portrayal of a football WAG struggling to find happiness, beyond the obvious perks of her unsubstantial job title. Never able to make explicit her desires, we observe her desperation in various states of physical manifestation, which Jamieson renders with impressive power and accuracy. Felix Johnson too is memorable as Nate, the escort who shares more than sexual intimacy with Suzie, in a performance that is as convincing as it is moving.

It is a daunting prospect for minorities, to have to infiltrate and operate from the inside of old structures, with little or no peer support, to change things one step at a time. Fierce is ahead of its time in daring to imagine a sportswoman competing neck to neck with elite men in the business, but it is timely in giving us much needed illumination to prohibitions that have been hiding in plain sight. We seem to be at a new breaking point in the evolution towards a more equitable society, especially in terms of gender and race. There are incredible leaders fighting everyday at what feels to be the final frontier, and we must all learn to back them, and lean in the right way.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Chantelle Jamieson and Lauren Richardson

Chantelle Jamieson

Lauren Richardson: Chantelle, what do you love about AFL?
Chantelle Jamieson: Well I grew up in Melbs, so love of footy kind of just seeps into your skin. I’m a huge bombers supporter having grown up in Essendon. There’s nothing like turning up at Essendon station on game day decked out in your black and red, and finding hundreds of others wearing the same colours as you. They are your tribe. And growing up being one of the only black kids at my school (the others were my sisters), it was really important to feel like you belonged somewhere- we belonged as Essendon supporters.

This play deals with many themes and one of them is ambition. It seems like there are many things your character would’ve liked the opportunity to tackle but she hasn’t. Are there things you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t and what’s held you back?
My character Mel is a WAG married to footy player Vance Arrowsmith (played by Andrew Shaw) life should be good, but she is deeply unhappy with where she’s ended up and constantly looking for the root of where it went wrong. I find it heartbreaking. There are always shoulda-coulda-woulda-didn’t-don’t moments in everyone’s life, but I haven’t really felt those to the kind of level that Mel does. It would make life unbearable.

Having a game plan and being strategic is essential. So let’s get analytical. What are Chantelle’s strengths and weaknesses?
Strength: finding a way to answer a question that might get too personal without actually answering it.
Weakness: wanting to avoid answering those questions.

What did you dream of becoming when you were small?
Like most kids who aren’t psychopaths- I loved animals. So I wanted to become a vet. My mum warned me that that would involve cutting animals open. So I dropped that idea. Then I wanted to become a jockey because that would mean working with horses. Mum warned me that I’d have to whip the horses to make them run fast. So, I dropped that idea too. My mum issued no warnings about becoming an actor.

What are the parallels do you think between footy and theatre?
For the audience, it’s a communal experience, the atmosphere is never exactly the same at every show or at every game. You have to be there to feel it.

Lauren Richardson

Chantelle Jamieson: Fierce is the story of Suzie Flack’s journey as a woman in a men’s AFL team, what has been the most challenging part of (corny pun alert) tackling this role?
Lauren Richardson: Suzie Flack is a character that has muscled her way, elbows out, into an environment that doesn’t expect or welcome her. But she stands her ground. Without apology. And I think that’s a task women aren’t always encouraged in. So I guess for Lauren the actor, backing myself. Standing my ground. Not diminishing. That’s felt confronting in rehearsal… but also exciting.

I know you grew up in NSW, what was your AFL knowledge like, going into Fierce?
Nil. Nada. Zero. I knew who the giants were and who the swans were. And that the guys that played were generally pretty lean, athletic and attractive. But the game itself made no sense to someone who grew up with “proper football”, the one with the right shaped ball [ie soccer] the beautiful game as my Dad calls it. I looked at AFL and it made no sense. We’re in an oval?! People are coming from all directions?! The balls bouncing all over the shop?! It just seemed like anarchy. But I’m a total convert. I think Aussie Rules is bloody brilliant now.

Suzie Flack is a super athlete, how have you gone about physically preparing for this role?
Go hard or go home hahaha. Obviously I’m an actor not an athlete. That being said, I’ve entered into a pretty rigorous physical engagement with my body throughout rehearsals. I’ve learnt how to box, as that’s something my character does. And unexpectedly I’ve fallen in love with it and have lofty aspirations to get in the ring competitively now. We’ve been lucky enough to get cast personal training from Spectrum Fitness so just clocking hours at the gym. We also got to go behind the scenes and watch GWS women’s team during training sessions which has been invaluable. And then just kicking the footy in the park with the boys in the cast who are very skilled and who have been very patient, kind and generous with me, a total novice. Oh, and protein shakes.

You worked with Janine Watson as an actor in Sport for Jove’s Three Sisters, how have you found working with her as a director?
Working with Janine has been a dream. We met working together as actors and since then have been firm friends, but it’s been a delight to become collaborators and co conspirators on this project. I have so much admiration and respect for her as an artist and as a woman. And working together has been challenging and exciting and incredibly fulfilling. I’ve loved every moment.

What can audiences look forward with Fierce?
It’s an exceptional piece of writing. A new Australian play that defies easy categorisation. Every scene surprises. It’s funny, physically dynamic and incredibly moving. And plus there’s some Justin Bieber in there for good measure!!!

Chantelle Jamieson and Lauren Richardson can be seen in Fierce, by Jane E. Thompson.
Dates: 20 Mar – 13 Apr, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Angels In America (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 16, 2019
Playwright: Tony Kushner
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Catherine Davies, Maggie Dence, Ben Gerrard, Jude Gibson, Ashley Lyons, Gus Murray, Timothy Wardell
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
At the centre of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, are the breakdown of two relationships, from two different worlds. We might like to term those seemingly separate existences the left and the right, as we are want to do in so much of our political conversations. In the middle of catastrophe however, when the devastation of human frailty becomes palpable, categories dissipate as they prove increasingly impotent and therefore meaningless. Set in the middle of the 1980s AIDS crisis, Angels In America is an ode to desperation, that condition for which the face of humanity has to reveal its truest nature.

In their hopelessness, characters in the story are met with divine intervention. Ghosts, angels and other apparitions descend upon their consciousness, not always as a form of salvation or even reprieve, but as a refusal of the finitude to which we regard life, especially during sickness and disease. Kushner summons the vastness of our mental capacities; call it belief, imagination, or fantasy, to render a theatrical representation of being, that extends our conception of sentience to include metaphysical dimensions.

Not that our bodies are unimportant. In fact, in this deep interrogation of material versus immaterial, we are consumed more than ever, by our very corporeality. Flesh and blood are never far from the centre of our attention, functioning as literal concerns and as symbols, reiterating time and again, that we are immovably both vessel and soul. Heaven and earth are inextricably linked at the location where skin breathes, making us simultaneously, painfully so, sacred and profane.

This transcendental drama is communicated through director Dino Dimitriades’ pursuit of the sublime. The aesthetic world that he manufactures as vehicle for Kushner’s words, is heavy yet delicate, a sentimental embrace of past sacrifices, and a benediction that regards our future, as LGBTQI communities, with caution. At over seven hours long, it is probably inevitable that the journey would feel uneven, with certain portions coming across less powerful than others. It is a massive undertaking, and the considerable confidence with which the epic is approached, sets our expectations very high, and we struggle to overlook moments win which our awe is allowed to falter.

Jeremy Allen’s set design is carefully proportioned and elegantly conceived, but the minimalism of its style is unforgiving of construction imperfections. The colour palette of costumes is thoughtfully calibrated by Maya Keys, who perhaps exercises too much restraint in her visual representation of personalities and their physicality. Lights by Benjamin Brockman are memorable for their dark sensuality, moving us between spaces of despair with an artistic finesse reminiscent of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Ben Pierpoint is tasked the impossible challenge of providing original music for the endurance piece, understandably deficient in its thoroughness, but sensational at each key juncture of the plot.

The show boasts some extraordinary acting by its indefatigable cast. Mormon wife Harper is played with luxuriant and interminable nuance by Catherine Davies, whose disarming authenticity brings invaluable poignancy to the entire operation. Her husband Joe is interpreted with unexpected tenderness by Gus Murray, tremendously convincing in the complex duplicity that he is charged to portray. The dynamic Ben Gerrard offers up a depiction of a dying man at all his extremes. As Prior, he is more provocative than he is moving, successful at engaging our minds for an intellectual understanding of the story. Ashley Lyons plays another AIDS patient Roy, admirable for the energy and colour that he brings to the stage.

As Belize and Mr. Lies, Joseph Althouse is a scintillating presence, with a marvellous, precise use of voice and gesture that gently steals all of his scenes. Timothy Wardell goes on an emotional roller coaster, able to convey Louis’ passions with aplomb but insufficiently lucid with the role’s philosophical attributes. The Angel is given the Maggie Dence treatment and proves quite the phenomenon, appropriately strong and otherworldly. Jude Gibson impresses in a variety of roles, particularly memorable as Mormon mother Hannah and as Dr. Henry, intricate and humorous with everything she presents.

When we reach for the esoteric, it is a greater truth that we seek, but being mortal, we can only understand its messages within our ultimately insurmountable limits. What we receive will always bear a reflection of ourselves, no matter how much bigger a version we can perceive. Angels In America suggests however, that we can move beyond good and bad, right and wrong, past and present. We are encouraged, through this spiritual fable, to think and act radically, to turn boundaries into starting points, for where we know things to end, is but the beginning of mystery. Much as we are essentially flawed and addicted to destruction, it is in our nature to imagine a higher power, and be able to conjure a notion of purity. The choice whether to follow that celestial magnificence, determines how we paint the destiny of each breath, in all our days.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Brown Skin Girl (Black Birds / Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 9, 2019
Playwrights: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica
Director: Ayeesha Ash
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica

Theatre review
Three mixed-race women offer their perspectives as young Australians living while brown. In Brown Skin Girl, creators Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea and Angela Nica are themselves on stage, delivering autobiographical accounts of challenges faced by women of colour, on a land that although never was ceded to white colonists, has had to struggle with racism since the very dawn of European invasion. The work arises from dark experiences, but it is a passionate and brilliantly joyful encounter that results, featuring anecdotes, observations and sheer poetry that aim not only to bring light to what is normally repressed, it proves to be immensely uplifting, especially for those of similar backgrounds.

The women have fathers who are African-American and Cherokee, Grenadian, and Tongan, so their appearance makes them a target, of constantly being othered in a society that never fails to exert its whiteness, no matter how much we call out its illegitimacy. This absurdity is effectively transposed into comedy, and the show is uproariously funny, with all its subversive and critical denunciation of the prejudices being perpetuated on people of colour. Ash, Havea and Nica are extremely appealing personalities, warm and effervescent, charming even when dispensing their most cutting beratements. Their chemistry is honed to perfection, on a stage replete with fiery, feminine confidence.

As people of colour, we need to be the ones to lead this nation’s discussions on race. The project of dismantling white supremacy in our spaces and structures, simply cannot be left to the powerful. We need to remember that there is little incentive for them to change the way things are, even as they profess a seemingly genuine desire to help better our communities. We must stop being fearful of radical thought and action, and at the same time, learn to manipulate these broken systems to our advantage. This will require our coming together, our refusal to be kept apart by a white patriarchy that benefits from our fractured and dispersed existences. Brown Skin Girl is a rare moment in Australian theatre, that does not imagine a white audience; it dares to speak to its own, and for once, the minorities in the audience feels seen. This is the beginning of empowerment, where hopes can begin to turn into reality.

www.black-birds.net

5 Questions with Harry Milas and Jordan Shea

Harry Milas

Jordan Shea: What makes Cascadia different to all your other work?
Harry Milas: It’s surreal and it’s got a narrative. It’s also got a director (who I adore and deeply respect) and he’s keeping me focused on what’s important, what’s real and what’s valuable. Orson Wells said that the problem with magicians is they try to do everything alone. I can count on one hand magic shows that have had a director. Also I hate magic shows that are just “Look how clever I am” or god forbid making birds appear to music. There’s no connection to the audience at all. No contact. Cascadia follows a journey I took with a fascination for making things vanish from childhood to present day and the audience feature heavily in that every step of the way.

What animal would you like to study in depth if you had the money and time?
That is a very difficult question and I really had to think about it, and I think my answer is the Bonobo. They are incredibly good at forward rolls, and general movement. They’re also our closest living relative and are deeply interesting. They also need help as their numbers are dwindling. I’ve been to The Democratic Republic of the Congo briefly and I’d love to go back and really soak it up. 

Magic is timeless. It’s been around or thought about since people have co-existed. This new show, how does it appeal to a theatre-going audience?
Because it’s theatre. It’s theatre that happens to be a magic show. Magic seems steeped in tradition and stuffed with clichés but there are always new ideas and breakthroughs coming to the surface. People who call themselves magicians comprise a wide range of styles and personalities. I’ve written the show from the perspective of a writer and performer who happens to be a magician. But let’s be honest the appeal is mostly going to be people wanting to see how I’m going to make a volunteer vanish in that dark basement of a theatre.

What was the first piece of music you ever heard that really said something to you?
I remember my brother giving me a copy of Boards Of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children when I was about 11, and the track “Telephasic Workshop” just kinda fucked me up in the best way. I remember I got so excited when I listened to that song for the first time that I did a forward roll and my headphones came off! That is an incredible album that’s overflowing with wildly creative and brilliant electronic music. 

Have you ever met Don Rickles? If so, give me a brief run down of how it happened? 
So strange you ask me that. I have met Don Rickles, yes. On my first trip to New York I went to see the debut production of A Behanding In Spokane, then Martin McDonagh’s newest work. It had Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken in the two main roles. It was my first broadway play and I was very excited. The play was fantastic and the production was amazing (Walken did some of the best non-acting acting I’ve ever seen) and after it finished I was expecting everyone to run out to the stage door, but instead they were all milling around in the stalls talking to someone. Turns out it was Don Rickles, who I have loved since I was a little kid. He was a total mensch and was shaking everyone’s hands. I managed to have a quick interaction with him as he left the theatre, and the most amazing part was instead of getting in a car he just did a forward roll and was somehow really far away at the end of it. I’ve never seen anyone move that quickly and he was really old at the time!!

Jordan Shea

Harry Milas: Do you know how Harry is going to make the audience member disappear?
Jordan Shea: I don’t. But that might be a lie. Harry’s practice, to me, is about the possibility he might be making all of this up. I won’t know until we’re there, present, in the moment, as to how he will make this person disappear. All I know is he will do it, and probably make you have a good laugh and maybe be a little scared doing it. I don’t think a lot of conventional plays or performances can do that-but Harry and his magic can.

Cascadia is a wildly different direction for you. What drew you to the work and why is it important?
Because it’s a challenge. I don’t know if I’ll ever do something like this again. As a director and maker, it’s important to challenge yourself and just do different things. It’s weird. It’s important because it is in no way preachy but at least it’ll make you think for a while after. I like one man shows as well, I think if you can find someone who can intimately hold an audience for 30 plus minutes, you should collaborate with them-because you can learn a lot.

What is a film you think is massively overlooked?
The Swedish film As It Is In Heaven. We saw it around my 12th birthday at the Orpheum and it is a film of such nuance. Go download/buy/google it. 

What do you reckon about… I don’t know…the lockout laws?
I think most decisions by NSW Liberals since their election in 2011 (including the lockout laws) are the most poorly thought out pieces of legislation in the history of our state. I don’t understand the government’s tact or ethos because they don’t really have any at all, and I think they are just blindly ruining this state year by year.

When was the last time you actually took a break pal? You’ve been working real hard for a long time now.
I went on extended holidays in June/July and it made me realise I need to do that more. I’m training as a school teacher next year, and hopefully I can afford to take at least two weeks somewhere. I try to go once a year, somewhere. I think everyone working should. No matter where you are, there’s more to see. 

Harry Milas and Jordan Shea collaborate in Cascadia: A Magic Show.
Dates: 23 – 25 November, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre