Review: The Effect (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 18 – May 19, 2018
Playwright: Lucy Prebble
Director: Andrew Henry
Cast: Emilie Cocquerel, Firass Dirani, Emma Jackson, Johnny Nasser
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Connie and Tristan are participants in a medical trial involving antidepressants. Temporarily shut off from the world, they live inside a science facility with only each other for company, and very quickly develop a strong romantic connection. Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is interested in the chemical aspects of what we understand to be human nature, and the moral implications of drugs we design to alter our experience of life. It poses questions about what we consider to constitute authenticity in being human, and looks at the ways in which we place value on things we term natural and synthetic.

The play is ridden with anxiety, fuelled by the pervasive scepticism we have of pharmacology and the money around it, but a puerile disquiet is undeniably present, that relies on reductive ideas presupposing the natural to always be unquestionably better. The Effect features scene after scene of tense drama, which director Andrew Henry is certainly not averse to amplifying at every opportunity for maximum theatricality. Alexander Berlage’s lights are accordingly bold and intrepid, effective in delivering some memorably stark imagery. The show is often gripping, with an intensity that sustains our attention, but its arguments are not always persuasive. It arouses intrigue, without providing sufficient rationale for us to feel satisfied with the statements it attempts to make.

Actor Johnny Nasser brings valuable subtlety to the role of Toby, alternating between good and bad guy, for a sense of complexity that resonates with truth, in this discussion of mental health and modern medicine. Other players have a significantly more grandiose approach, that can restrict us from reaching a greater understanding of the text’s nuances. Their extravagant gestures make for an energetic performance, but our access to the psychology of characters is consequently limited. The Effect contains philosophy that matters to us all, although a more detailed conveyance of meanings would be necessary for the production to affect us deeper.

As we watch ourselves being challenged by medicine, unable to submit easily to the science, we see an obstinate belief in a state of purity, and are prompted to interrogate the validity of our trust in naive ideals associated with all things “natural”. It is also similarly evident that when individuals are called upon to put their lives in the hands of others, trust is an issue that can never be made completely unassailable. Underlying these thoughts are fears that reflect our need for self-preservation. We can doubtless see the insignificance of the human race in the widest scheme of things, but our indomitable hunger for control seems essential to how we think and act, even when we know the futility of our efforts.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: The Wolves (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 14 – Apr 14, 2018
Playwright: Sarah DeLappe
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Brenna Harding, Emma Harvie, Sarah Meacham, Sofia Nolan, Michelle Ny, Cece Peters, Zoe Terakes, Nikita Waldron, Nadia Zwecker
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Nine American girls, approaching the end of their teenage years, are in a soccer team together, warming up their bodies and figuring out their place, both on the field and in the larger world. Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves is no preachy melodrama about burgeoning womanhood. These characters may have seen little by virtue of their youth, but they all demonstrate wisdom and strength; each of their lives are richly established, not to provide some kind of tense narrative drive, but to foster, through the theatrical form, a modern social conception of our young and all the promise that they bear.

Director Jessica Arthur uses fragments of insight granted by the text, to manufacture on stage, quite marvellously, a dynamic experience that is relentlessly engaging, and unexpectedly powerful. We are only ever offered glimpses into each personality, but find ourselves forming emotional attachments as the show progresses, falling in love with all of their idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities. Unlike traditional, namely, patriarchal forms of storytelling, no protagonists and antagonists are necessary here, and for its 90-minute duration, we are intrigued, thrilled and fulfilled. The show is frequently very funny, and the poignancy it eventually inscribes, is stunning.

Performances are nothing short of brilliant. The cohesion and closeness of the cast is extraordinary, generating a warm joyful glow, palpable and wonderful, for all to share within the intimacy of the auditorium. Beautifully well-rehearsed, the actors deliver the play’s short and sharp dialogue with admirable precision and astounding nuance, precipitating meaning with impact and efficiency. The many sequences that feature legitimate sporting ability and fitness, are quite sensational, and thoroughly impressive.

Right in this moment, young people in the USA are fighting to force changes to gun control. They have galvanised in spectacular fashion and are out in droves, propelled by passion and idealism. The girls in The Wolves are no doubt part of that pack. Smart, fearless and loud, they discern the truth, along with the bullshit, and are now refusing to acquiesce where they do know better. We care for our young, but in that mode of protection, we often underestimate them. There is in fact, much to learn from the The Wolves, even if just a reminder of that youthful spirit, capable of achieving anything.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Emma Harvie and Michelle Ny

Emma Harvie

Michelle Ny: What is your dream role to play?
Emma Harvie: I’m not sure my dream role exists yet. I do think Liam Neeson’s role in Taken would be fun.

How did the journey of wanting to be an actor begin for you?
Since I was a kid I loved performing. I used to make up dances with my sister and cousin and make films with my best friend. At some point in primary school I knew I wanted to be an actor.

What are the obstacles you’ve had to face as a POC actor?
The roles I used to apply for were very different to what I put myself forward for now. I was always aware of families and would look for roles that didn’t have any relatives on stage because I didn’t believe a non-white family would be cast on a Sydney stage. Now I apply for everything. The conversations around ‘diversity’ in the arts are so important, and I cannot wait for the time when I no longer have to have them.

Tell me about your most cringe audition?
Mmm I’ve done a few bad Indian accent auditions… I just have not mastered this accent yet. My family is Sri Lankan and the accent is similar so I slip into that and it becomes a mess.

Where do you want to see yourself in 5 years?
Somewhere with a few more screen credits to my name. My sister and I speak a lot about writing a comedy series, I want to make that happen and play the lead. I will also have a dog.

Michelle Ny

Emma Harvie: Can you remember a word/phrase you loved when you were 17?
Michelle Ny: I don’t know if I loved it… but I used to say ‘lol’ ironically until it became part of my normal speak lol. 

What’s your favourite post show snack?
A pint of VB or San Remo instant pasta.

Did you play sport in high school?
I played soccer and netball but in year 10 (year 9 here), I was put in a crappy netball team and (in no way a brag!!) I was the best player and I had to do all the hard work so I dropped out. Then I started playing social soccer with my friends and our team was called Dragon Fire Ninja Warriors. 

What are the challenges/perks of being a Cambodian/New Zealander actor in Australia?
I’ve been lucky to work with people who are conscious of diverse representation so the perks are actually being seen and standing out among my white peers. But the challenge of course is still under-representation and lack of opportunity for work. But there’s a reason I’m working in Sydney and not New Zealand. It may not be perfect but there is a conscious effort to support young POC artists and the quality of work is high, buzzing and exciting. 

What song do you think your character would pump before a game?
“Katy on a Mission” by Katy B. Listen to it. 

Emma Harvie and Michelle Ny are appearing in The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe.
Dates: 14 March – 14 April, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Metamorphoses (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 8 – Mar 10, 2018
Playwright: Mary Zimmerman
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Claudette Clarke, Deborah Galanos, Jonny Hawkins, David Helman, Sam Marques, Bardiya McKinnon, Diana Popovska, Hannah Raven, Sebastian Robinson, Zoe Terakes
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses is a retelling of Greek tales; a collection of short stories from ancient times that continue to fascinate, in this epoch of secular pragmatism. Celestial beings and supernatural events that defy explanation, yet instinctively comprehensible, and resonant with our natural appreciation for the magical, conspire as though to impart moral lessons. It is uncertain if we can learn anything new from these antiquated recurring tales, but as a work of art, what Metamorphoses does achieve, supersedes the traditional functions of mythologies.

All the great passions we associate with Aphrodite, Eros, Orpheus, et al. are retained in the production, to serve as vehicle for director Dino Dimitriadis’ exhilarating investigations into themes of gender, sex and beauty. The penises and breasts of performers are ascribed, as though at random, to characters with intractably gendered pronouns, confronting our beliefs about the woman-man binary. When Myrra appears with a penis, and Midas with an ample bosom, we cannot help but question these visions. We know the experience of gender to be real, but Metamorphoses presents them as hallucinatory, urging us to expand our understanding of the relationship between human anatomy and human nature. Its persistent queering of these origin stories, again and again, works with the plasticity of our minds, to help us dismantle and defeat useless and quite harmful restrictions, so that a process of intellectual and intuitive transformation may occur for us all.

Featuring an impossibly attractive cast, including David Helman and Hannah Raven who beguile us with their extraordinary physique and sensational burlesque expertise, adding an unexpected dimension of decadent performativity to an atmosphere that is already disarmingly sensual. Deborah Galanos and Jonny Hawkins bring us some very big personalities, so deeply satisfying in this rare occasion of exquisite flamboyance. Sam Marques, Diana Popovska and Sebastian Robinson deliver memorable sequences of dramatic poignancy, utilising both god-given and cultivated talents to connect with our desire for meaning and inspiration. Claudette Clark, Bardiya McKinnon and Zoe Terakes are soulful presences with delicate vulnerabilities that draw us in. These heavenly bodies are positioned on stage, inviting us to embrace all the wonder and horror that we are, in the most liberating, poetically earthy way.

Extravagantly imagined, and expertly manifested, the design of Metamorphoses offers a level of aesthetic engagement that is at least as thrilling as the text from which it germinates. Jonathan Hindmarsh’s work on set and costumes represents a lethal combination of resourcefulness and sophistication that is as fabulously enchanting as it is impressive. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman really goes to town for this show, with a fervent sense of creative freedom irrepressibly evident in every change of illumination, subtle or vivid. Some of Brockman’s images are truly breathtaking. Music may not always be playing prominently, but Ben Pierpoint’s compositions are crucial to how our attention is brought to focus for each scene. The quality of transcendence he is able to introduce to these otherworldly spaces, is thoroughly remarkable.

The language of beauty is being spoken in Metamorphoses. Much of what the show communicates, resides beyond the capacity of words, and its success as an entity of fine art, makes it an exemplary work of modern Australia theatre. We gather in these communal spaces to address a need, but we rarely know the nature of that appetite. Often, we find ways to verbalise the results, but when we see great art, the gravity of what is left unsaid, must never be underestimated, and on this occasion, it is the complex feelings that keep evading explanation, that hold its true value.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

5 Questions with Claudette Clarke and Diana Popovska

Claudette Clarke

Diana Popovska: Which character do you most relate to in Metamorphoses and why?
Claudette Clarke: I am not sure which character I most relate to in Metamorphoses but I have researched Aphrodite the most because she is the main character I play and some of these qualities are parts of my personality. Aphrodite is mischievous, angry and revengeful to mortals who refuse to fall in love. Goddess of love, sex and procreation; beauty, seduction, pleasure and happiness. Antithesis curses for non-compliance of the laws of love are: Sexual repulsion; Unnatural desires (incest, bestiality, etc.); Love unreciprocated; Ugliness. Some of these curses are played out in Metamorphoses.

This is your second time working with Dino, how is it different?
I worked with Dino many years ago in his very memorable production of To Kill A Mockingbird. Almost the entire season was booked out and people still talk about the production. The plays are both “classics” and here Dino is directing a queer reading of Zimmerman’s modern adaptation of Ovid’s verse to reflect current times. I am really enjoying working with him again. I love the way he pushes boundaries. As an actor of African Caribbean decent, I immediately identified with the topic of black and white in Mockingbird whereas it was interesting for me to think in more depth about gender mixes. Although I have always readily accepted difference, this reading pushed me to think further. This production reinforces my belief that, as humans, all we ask is to be respected and loved for who we are.

What has been your favourite moment in rehearsals so far?
My favourite moment in rehearsals came when Johnny Hawkins joined the cast. He has a way of playing and having fun with the characters, exploring possibilities, which is what is required.

Why do you believe this queer reading of ‘Metamorphoses’ is particularly important for the queer community to see?
I think that it is particularly important for the queer community to see this queer reading of Metamorphoses because these poems from Ovid were probably completed around AD 8. It may be reassuring to learn that stories of broader sexual and gender identities have existed for so long.

What excites you most about the staging of this play?
A cast of 10 actors on a tiny stage the whole time promises to be all-encompassing for an intimate audience to experience. The Old Fitz Theatre is one of the most intimate creative theatre spaces in Sydney.

Diana Popovska

Claudette Clarke: What parts of your personality as a human does your parts bring out?
Diana Popovska: I feel like this production and the parts I have been cast in bring out my playfulness as a human more than anything else. It has been such a beautiful experience introducing ‘play’ into the rehearsal room from day one. This has allowed me to connect with the text, our queer reading of the text and my fellow actors in a way which has been visceral and raw. This production has also brought out my queerness and sensual energy, and highlighted how fabulous I feel as a queer woman making theatre.

How does the “queer reading” of Metamorphoses impact on your interpretation of your parts?
I think it is important to understand that these stories are universal. For me, the several characters that I play in this production all experience various human emotions such as grief, love, heartache, lust and so on… This “queer reading” if anything allows me to celebrate more than ever these characters and their experiences, as well as stand there and fight for them and their right to be represented on an Australian stage.

What made you interested to be part of this production of Metamorphoses?
I have always wanted to work with Dino Dimitriadis as a director and when I found out that he was doing Metamorphoses I wanted in because I was incredibly interested to see what he would do with a text so colossal. As a queer identifying woman, I wanted to represent my community on stage during Mardi Gras. I mostly wanted to do this production because I knew it would be a celebration of queerness, a celebration of ‘difference’ and a celebration of the unwavering and all enduring human spirit in the face of hardship.

What kind of kid were you at school?
I was a little bit of a nerd / a little bit cool. I loved playing cards at lunch time and I was even on the debating team for a while. Drama class was my favourite, but I also really enjoyed playing sport too. I feel like I was super friendly with everyone in my year, we had a pretty tight year. I was pretty confident and ‘cool’, except for when it came to telling my high school crush, Katie that I liked them. I was super bashful around her and other girls I liked, and you know what they say, “you snooze, you lose!”.

How do you envisage theatre changing since ‘same sex marriage’ became legal in Australia?
I am hoping that far more companies will open their doors to allow for queer stories to be staged. I am hoping that this will allow for more queer identifying artists and creatives to create work and to see themselves represented in others work far more rapidly. If anything, the arts in Australia have been behind ‘same sex marriage’ for a long while now, it’s actually our government that has needed to pull their finger out. But now that the horrible plebiscite is over, I hope for love and inclusiveness for all queer identifying people and their allies both on and off stage.

Claudette Clarke and Diana Popovska are appearing in Metamorphoses, by Mary Zimmerman.
Dates: 8 February – 10 March, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: There Will Be A Climax (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 9 – Feb 3, 2018
Playwright: Alexander Berlage and The Company
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Toby Blome, Oliver Crump, Duncan Ragg, Geneva Schofield, Alex Stylianou, Contessa Treffone
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Six clowns in tuxedos are on a constantly revolving stage, wordless but full of shenanigans. We can be certain that Alexander Berlage’s There Will Be A Climax has a strong inner logic. It is abundantly clear that the ensemble knows exactly what they are doing at every moment. What it all means to the viewer however, is quite a different matter.

We can interpret the show to be a meditation on the process of attaining zen, but to approach the production with excessive intellectual interest would probably disappoint. The show is either very funny or curiously macabre, depending on one’s own constitution.

It is a visceral experience, extremely energetic, often impressive with its inventiveness, although with a tendency for monotony in its dogged pursuit for amusement. A more daring approach to lighting would deliver a less predictable outcome, but it is has to be noted that Nicholas Fry’s work on set and costume design is beautifully imagined and cleverly executed.

The cast is a wacky bunch, and very crowd-pleasing; some actors seem more interesting than others, but the team’s ability to share limelight is admirable. There is a lot of trust and generosity amongst the six that gives the show an extraordinary sense of balance and sturdy confidence.

Much of the enjoyment relies on the uncompromising precision being performed, and we feel our attention being manipulated with great rigour, by something incredibly well-rehearsed, but for all its boisterousness, too little of There Will Be A Climax is left to chance. Its artistry, although wonderfully exuberant, can feel too safe. At the theatre, wildness contained, is misplaced politeness. The crowd has been persuaded to listen, but more needs to be said.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Toby Blome and Contessa Treffone

Toby Blome

Contessa Treffone: Toby Blome, like the chemist, can you describe There Will Be A Climax, with a verb, an adjective and a noun?
Toby Blome: Spin. Round. Baby.

Which do you think came first, the deadly sin or the sloth?
Obviously ‘sloth’ is just fake news created by a bunch of men hundreds of years after the real deadly sins died. Just a political ploy. I don’t believe in any of it. Fake news.

What makes you climax, Toby?
Remembering that statistically at least once every day someone somewhere in the world discovers how hard Mondays can be!

As your idol, what would you say inspires you most about me?
Haha where to begin! How about how you constantly belittle me and everyone else in the cast and that time you swore that I’d never amount to anything and that everyone who loved me was just too guilty to leave.

Toby, you are a tall man. Chicken or beef?
Chicken.

Contessa Treffone

Toby Blome: Contessa Treffone. That’s an interesting name. What has been your relationship with such an interesting name throughout your life?
Contessa Treffone: It’s a hard weight to carry… greatness. You give a child a name like that and they have to be something. Ordinariness was never an option. That’s a lot of pressure that people don’t understand. It’s been hard, Toby. Real hard.

After the show’s first season as part of the 2016 NIDA Director and Designer’s Season you were quoted as yelling “you’re all scum” to the cast at the after party. What brought you back to do the show a second time at the Old Fitz?
Three things Toby.
1. Money. All the money.
2. The promise of more fame. If that’s even possible.
3. A dolphin.

Were you at all surprised by what you created during the devising process?
No.

Contessa, if anyone knows anything about you it’s that you love kale! Fave kale recipe?
I like my kale like I like my men. Raw and quiet.

Were you satisfied with my questions today? If not, any constructive feedback?
4/10. I don’t think this audience knows anything about our show and they clearly don’t know enough about me. Fail on both fronts, Toby.

Toby Blome and Contessa Treffone can be seen in There Will Be A Climax by Alexander Berlage.
Dates: 9 Jan – 3 Feb, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre