Review: This Much Is True (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 12 – Aug 12, 2017
Playwright: Louis Nowra
Director: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Septimus Caton, Joanna Downing, Danny Adcock, Justin Stewart Cotta, Robin Goldsworthy, Alan Dukes, Martin Jacobs, Ashley Lyons
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Lewis is a writer taking up temporary residence in one of his city’s few remaining ungentrified pubs. He observes the goings on, learns about the people who frequent the joint, and before too long, finds himself part of the furniture at The Rising Sun. In Louis Nowra’s This Much Is True, we hear little about the man in the middle of all the action. Unlike the navel-gazing tendencies that make up so much of contemporary art, Nowra’s interest lies not only in the colourful characters that he discovers, what he presents is an understanding of the world, from their perspectives.

A study of the modern Bohemian, we encounter personalities in This Much Is True who are either discarded by mainstream society, or have themselves chosen to reject the bourgeois. It is a weighing of values that occurs in the play, and we are challenged to assess our parallel lives, to have a discussion on what we think to be normal, desirable, and good. They are largely alcoholic, largely male, and largely white, but they are not what we usually consider to be the privileged of Australia. These are the marginalised, the ones who live on the fringe, and Nowra’s passionate depiction of their experiences, makes our own existences seem comparatively paltry and pathetic.

That genuine affection for this wayward bunch, is shared by director Toby Schmitz, who puts on a show full of reverence and warmth, with a sense of life-affirming compassion that sheds new light on a neglected portion of our community. The things they do are not necessarily nice, ethical, or legal, but it is the very embrace of human imperfection, that gives This Much Is True its power. We are moved, uplifted, for having spent a short moment, down in the dumps with those who call it their home.

The near dilapidated setting of a waterhole interior is created by Anna Gardiner, whose incorporation of varying angles and hues makes for an evocatively dynamic stage. Costumes by Martelle Hunt too, are noteworthy, for their incisive and sometimes humorous, take on the individuals and their idiosyncrasies. Matt Cox’s dramatic lighting makes vivid transitions of space and time between scenes happen effectively, and Jed Silver’s sound design manufactures an absorbing atmosphere that ensures not a second of lethargy or confusion could ever take hold.

Eight brilliant performers are assembled to create an underground world for our delectation. The ensemble is imaginative, adventurous and bold, and they each take the opportunity to showcase extraordinary skill and talent, at a standard that makes us fall in love with the theatre all over again. Justin Stewart Cotta is sensational as Venus, the drag queen icon who remains larger than life in retirement. Strikingly flamboyant, but with a thorough sense of nuance in every exaggerated gesture and in every overblown demonstration of emotion, Cotta is absolutely captivating in the role, turning the play’s only element of cliché into a real delight. The much more unorthodox Clarrie, a backyard chemist and connoisseur of experimental drugs, of uncharacteristically advanced age, is a phenomenon in the hands of Martin Jacobs, whose blinding presence and proficiency at portraying eccentricity, has us enraptured. There are laughs aplenty, but Danny Adcock is singularly exhilarating as the histrionic Cass, with vim, vigour and vociferously tall tales. Adcock channels intensity into both dramatic and comedic sections of the show, but always finely calibrated to deliver optimal results.

So much is missing from their lives, and so much goes wrong for them, but the people of The Rising Sun are never alone. In the age of technology-fuelled isolation and narcissism, characters in This Much Is True experience the kind of mateship that many of us can only reminisce with regret and resignation. We let our differences be magnified, and allow them to cause divisions. In our prioritising of personal needs and in our insular visions of happiness, along with capitalistic illusions of comfort and pleasure that are served to us every day, things that truly matter are abandoned. We may not be able to turn back time, but it is not beyond us to identify that which will make our lives meaningful and worthwhile. It is never too late to recover that thing some call a soul, and a city is never too developed to be able to recognise and value, the authentic spirit of its inhabitants.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Gary Clementson and Clare Hennessy

Gary Clementson

Clare Hennessy: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of playing Parker?
Gary Clementson: Parker has it all going on. Great job, nice car, beach side apartment, life is running very smoothly. Until a young journalist, Mia, shows up and bursts his bubble. Parker is so enjoyable to play, because he is a man who is having his foundations rocked to the core, while exchanging banter over a tasty Sunday juice.

Parker is in Public Relations. What do you think the key to being good at PR is?
To be successful in the Public Relations realm I think you need to be a pretty good spin doctor with the truth. Parker is a pretty smooth talker, but I think Clare Hennessy says it best in the play:

MIA: Isn’t apologising your job?
PARKER: Not really. Public relations is about pretending everything’s fine.

Make up a name for a brand new flavour of juice! Go!
Errr… BeetSting. Beetroot, honey, apple, ginger. Add gin to suit.

What’s guaranteed to make your co-star Contessa laugh?
Hahahah! I spend half of my rehearsal time trying to make Contessa laugh on stage. We studied together at drama school, so I know a few buttons to push, but mostly she just laughs at me trying not to laugh. It’s a vicious cycle.

If you could give Parker one piece of advice, what would it be?
Parker, mate, you need to really think about the things you say before you say them. Sometimes we might just regurgitate things we have heard without actually taking into account what they really mean and how they effect other people.

Clare Hennessy

Gary Clementson: As this is a response piece to The Village Bike, what correlations did you make between the pieces?
Clare Hennessy: I’m really interested in putting exciting genres on stage, so as soon as I read The Village Bike I thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore the genre of “sexy drama”… (that’s a genre, look it up). In all seriousness, The Village Bike asks some incredibly interesting questions about sexual politics, so I leapt at the opportunity to explore that conversation from a different vantage point.

The character of Mia is a journalist, writer, and sharp as a whip. Who has inspired this powerful character?
Luckily for me, I know so many ladies who are smart, driven and passionate as hell. The character’s not based on anyone in particular, but it’s definitely a hark to the strong and outspoken female writers who are blazing trails at the moment. I was particularly interested in writing this kind of character because I wanted to explore how accepting a position as an activist and writer is potentially a lonely place to be, especially as a woman. We need these kinds of writers, but is it possible to do so without compromising other things?

Important question. You’re ordering dumplings, what do you get?
Great question, Gary! I get fried AND steamed pork and chive… but most importantly, I get eggplant dumplings.

The New Fitz program is running incredibly well. Do you find it challenging to write to a shorter running time?
I actually love writing to a short running time; I like pushing the audience in the deep end and asking them to play catch up. There are certainly challenges, especially when you want to create a world that’s rich and complex without being too complicated, but when it goes well it’s such a short and sweet treat for the audience.

What research did you do to explore the issue of sexual harassment in the work place covered in Tongue Tied?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot to draw from. There’s a heap of really important activism/journalism happening in universities and other institutions at the moment, cases that I’m constantly following. I’m hoping that some genuine change comes out of the efforts of these legends. I’ve also been diving into the legal end of sexual harassment, and there are some alarming blind spots in the legislation that contribute to the conditions in which sexual assaults slip through the cracks. It’s made me realise how important it is to hold institutions accountable, and if institutions can’t then we need to find other ways to aid women and men with the knowledge they need to protect themselves.

Gary Clementson is in Clare Hennessy’s Tongue Tied.
Dates: 27 June – 8 July, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Slut (Old Fitz Theatre / Edgeware Forum)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Julia Dray, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jessica Keogh, Danielle Stamoulos, Maryann Wright
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
For the girls in Patricia Cornelius’ Slut, nothing is more important than being popular. That hunger to be liked, by all and sundry, is a curious thing that many possess, and in Cornelius’ play, we explore the way teenage girls are socialised to place unparalleled value on attention, admiration and approval. We are at school, and Lolita is the first of five good friends, to bloom. Her breasts develop and the world begins to sexualise her, long before she feels those urges for herself.

She encounters lascivious attention, and learns to reciprocate. There is something powerful in being seen, and the effect of that recognition, and the accompanying scrutiny, becomes all-consuming. Lolita pursues that gaze with a frightful ferocity, quickly learning that her worth resides squarely in her ability to be objectified in that uncompromisingly sexual manner. She comes under attack, predictably, by her peers who consider her a pariah, after having previously marvelled at her new-found power. As a result, she discovers a deep and detrimental shame, and attaches it firmly to her sexual nature.

It is a cruel existence that Lolita has to endure, and director Erin Taylor’s portrayal of that brutality is certainly vivid. The production is rhythmically precise and in its half-hour duration, we are thoroughly captivated by all that it wishes to communicate. All five actors are very strong and the tautness of their performance is highly enjoyable, although it must be said, that the roles are undeniably simplistic. Jessica Keogh’s depiction of Lolita is suitably vivacious yet tragic, perfectly presenting the playwright’s perspective of a victimised and very sad protagonist.

It is unfortunate that Lolita never manages to negotiate between friendships and her sexual dominance. That the play structures the two as being mutually exclusive, is perhaps an accurate observation of what happens in our high schools, but the lack of nuance in this representation creates an impression that can feel overly convenient. The absence of parental figures is also a glaring omission that is never explained. If our young is left in the wild to fend for themselves, we can be sure that disasters will happen, but our society knows its duty of care. Slut talks about the way our girls cause harm to one another, but it is our guidance, not their ignorance, that should be questioned.

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Review: The Village Bike (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 7 – Jul 8, 2017
Playwright: Penelope Skinner
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Kate Bookallil, Sophie Gregg, Jamie Oxenbould, Rupert Reid, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Benedict Wall
Image by Andre Vasquez

Theatre review
Becky is unable to get laid because her husband has irrational fears regarding the baby in her womb. Increasingly frustrated, she finds herself seeking gratification elsewhere. Penelope Skinner’s very riveting The Village Bike makes a powerful statement about marriage and monogamy, and the ways in which these age-old institutions and ideologies continue to form restraints, allowing society to control the lives of individuals, women especially, from the most intimate levels.

It plays almost like a revision of the Aga saga; that genre of slightly camp, English middle-class country life drama. The characters are familiar, and their stories are set, invariably, in an unassuming domesticity. Certainly, the work is critical of the way we conceive of a respectable woman. It challenges the unquestioned rules dictating what is acceptable, and objectionable, of a woman’s sexuality, and also the language we use that gives definition, and weight, to those restrictions.

In mocking that romantic and pedestrian style of storytelling, we see the wildness of Becky’s narrative resist the confines of form. Our protagonist is not playing by the rules, so the rules quickly become visible. In breaking the illusion of happily ever after, we are compelled to study her situation, and because we can relate to Becky’s desires so completely, we have to interrogate the systematic failures that we all have to operate under.

Although political and intellectual, the production is equally stimulating on other fronts. Rachel Chant’s direction ensures each personality we meet is distinct and vividly manifested, so we know exactly what it is that makes them tick (and how they contribute to the play’s tragic circumstances). Sequences oscillate between comedy and drama effortlessly, with moments of breathtaking sexual tension giving an excellent sense of texture and dimension to what we see, hear and feel. Persistent issues with spacial use however, detract from an otherwise polished and very well-rehearsed presentation that is as engaging as it is titillating.

Gabrielle Scawthorne stars as the woman who fucks up. Honest and vulnerable, she keeps us in love with Becky through every transgression. Scawthorne is sensational in the part, thoroughly psychological and physically detailed, turning a confronting role into a beautifully empathetic creature full of charm and disarming authenticity. Supporting actors too, are impressive, each one complex and humorous, all bringing a delicious, and rare, boldness to the telling of an uncompromisingly sexual tale.

By play’s end, Becky is rendered powerless. Entrapped by a world that permits only narrow definitions of motherhood and marriage, she has nowhere to go, but to accept her subjugation. Some have said that bicycling had contributed immensely to the emancipation of women in the 1890s, but today, calling a woman a bike, is to call a woman a harlot, whore, slut, skank; a common and convenient means of suppressing female sexuality, in order that the myth of the weaker sex is perpetuated. There is no greater threat to the patriarchy than a sovereign womanhood that rejects the Madonna/Whore dichotomy. When our sex is no longer tethered to imagined virtues in concordance with family, society and culture, is when a greater liberty can be found, for all the genders.

www.crosspollinate.com.au

5 Questions with Kate Bookallil and Rupert Reid

Kate Bookallil

Rupert Reid: What attracted you to the role of Alice and the play originally?
Kate Bookallil: I really admire Alice’s stillness and dignity. I don’t want to give too much away, but Alice is surprising and I love her because she knows who she is and has a lot of self respect.

I was attracted to the play because it makes me laugh at, question, contemplate, challenge, bask and despair in all that makes us fallible human beings. The writing is witty and direct, playful and confronting. Penelope Skinner has written a play with women at the centre, but it is also a play about men and society at large and how we will choose to move forward.

In what ways do you relate to your character and differ?
There are many parts of Alice’s story that align closely with my life. Of course, there are many differences too. In terms of character, I would say that I am envious of an aloof quality that Alice possesses that I have never been able to achieve, no matter how hard I have tried. I am all open book and Alice is far more contained than I am!

Why does Oliver describe Alice as “not unstable… sensitive”
Alice would not want to be described in such a way and does not see herself like that… I think that’s a question for Oliver! Alice is trying to conceive a child, so she’s under a certain amount of pressure… let the audience decide why Oliver would describe his wife in that way!

What kind of experience do you think will people have watching The Village Bike?
I think The Village Bike will be a great conversation starter. Hopefully it will encourage the audience to step up and decide if we are happy with the place of women in our society and if not, what are we going to do about it? I have three children and I can’t help think about them and the digital world they will become teenagers in and my role in helping them navigate their way through the matrix. Hopefully the audience will enjoy themselves too, as it is a really funny play! Come in a big crowd and see where the discussion leads afterwards!

Have you ever combined apple with peanut butter? If not, are you serious!? Why not??
Of course! I love apple and peanut butter together. I also love peach and feta. Vegemite and cheese. Lemon and sugar. Gin and tonic.

Rupert Reid

Kate Bookallil: What attracted you to the role of Oliver and the play originally?
Rupert Reid: His sense of fun and disregard for social norms which are both important thematically to The Village Bike. Oliver is a fascinating exploration of how subtle (and not so subtle) language we take for granted can be used to manipulate and control. What attracted me to the play was the ease and economy of the writing. Ms Skinner has asked us to challenge our preconceived notions of womanhood, motherhood, manhood and sexuality in one fell swoop while maintaining darkly comedic tone that intensifies to the last moment of the play.

What does the bike mean to Oliver?
Sex

Do you have a favourite line in the play and if so, why?
John’s line ‘Let’s put these bitches away’. (or something close to that). It’s just so wrong. Brilliantly out of left field in the moment it’s said and both hilarious and shocking in the same breath.

What does a perfect day off look like for Rupert?
Run, swim and about 4 hours of guitar playing.

Who should come and see The Village Bike?
Everyone. Except my parents. It’s a bit raunchy.

Kate Bookallil and Rupert Reid can be seen in The Village Bike by Penelope Skinner.
Dates: 7 June – 8 July, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: The Wind In The Underground (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Michael Abercromby, Rowan Davie, Whitney Richards, Bishanyia Vincent
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Wanderlust is meaningful only to those who understand that irresistible urge to travel. Simon returns home from a long trip away, and has to explain to his siblings why he had left them. There is resentment, and a lot of discontentment at home, but the love is nonetheless palpable. Sam O’Sullivan’s The Wind In The Underground is about seeing the world, but all the action lies within a domestic setting. The four characters are a volatile group, but they are not fragile. They fight only because they will always be able to reconcile.

There is little in terms of a compelling narrative that we can hang on to, and dramatic tensions are intermittent, but a superb cast enchants with their extraordinary chemistry. The actors share family secrets that we are only partially privy to. Its characters struggle with disclosures, but the performances leave no room for doubt that something deep and real underpins the exchanges we see on stage. It is a feeling we are all familiar with, and the remarkable talents represent it with an admirable accuracy.

Some people are comfortable with a parochial existence, but others need to explore further afield. This does not have to be about the physical movement that takes place. Our minds are all-powerful, and our beings can be transformed, as long as we wish to seek something higher. The play is about travel, and evolution. For those of us who can sail the seven seas, we will grow that way, but for those who prefer to stay home, every work of literature and art can provide the key to expanding life, far beyond the walls that try to hold us in.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

5 Questions with Sam O’Sullivan and Whitney Richards

Sam O’Sullivan

Whitney Richards: What was the seedling from Doubt that started this whole process?
Sam O’Sullivan: In the preface of Doubt, John Patrick Shanley, wrote about the feeling of doubt having negative, weak connotations, however he views it as a sign of strength. He wrote that doubt is the first step towards change and the ability to grow. If we’re too stuck in our ways, too certain of our world, we lose our capacity for empathy and risk isolating ourselves from our fellow humans. I loved this idea and it influenced my entire reading of Shanley’s play. From this, I knew I wanted to write something about doubt as strength.

Are you surprised with how the original idea has evolved into the final product?
Yes and no. My brief from Redline was always to take an element of the play – whatever spoke to me – and run with it. And Doubt is such a rich piece of writing, that there were a lot of directions I could have run. So I’m not too surprised that we have ended up where we are, but in saying that, I think I’ve always been conscious that we are on the same night as Doubt. We want to have a play that will interest the audiences who are coming to see Shanley’s play.

Do you think it’s a happy accident that the team is mostly WA migrants? How has that influenced the production?
It is a happy accident because, with the exception of my relationship with you (Whitney), none of us really knew each other before we started working on this play. But we definitely all bonded very quickly and I think Perth had something to do with that.

What has been different about this quick response process to how you usually work?
I always work for quite sporadic, intense periods and then shove scripts away in a drawer to ferment for a few months while I go something else. This time around, I haven’t been able walk away for too long, so to compensate I think I’ve been a lot more collaborative with the cast and production team to fast track some of the creative decisions.

As a writer/actor, what is it like to step back and hand your work over to other actors? Basically… do you love us?
It’s awful. I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of numpties make something so simple look so difficult. 🙂 But yes, I love you.

Whitney Richards

Sam O’Sullivan: What’s the best and worst thing about travelling alone?
Well, I’ve done this one a lot lately. Although it’s always been paired with touring a show which is really bloody stressful alone. You’re not sharing the workload of scheduling and plans which can be a bugger but also you get to do what you want when you want. At times I’ve felt a little vulnerable. Like I had to be hyper aware of personal safety. I did have my heart broken whilst overseas and that really sucked.

My travel self is my best self. I feel more alive and keen to push myself to try new things. When you travel alone you are without metaphorical baggage. No job title, no relationships. You become more present. You are forced to make friends. And fast track these relationships because you know your have limited time. People see you for who you are which I’ve found to be a confidence boost. I come home feeling more comfortable in my own skin. I do have moments of sadness when something at home triggers a memory from my travels; a song or a person or a show and I have no-one to rekindle the memory with.

What can your siblings do that still drive you nuts?
Actually, I’ve always completely admired my older sisters. They’re intelligent, fiery and hilarious women and mums. There’s a bit of an age gap between us so they never drove me nuts in the way my nieces and nephews do to each other. Such a power play there. It’s fascinating to watch the love and the hate. The care for each other and then the violence! Just like the characters in The Wind In The Underground. It’s been fun playing siblings that grew up together because my sisters and I didn’t get to do that. I’m younger than my sisters so I reckon I was probably the irritating one. I do remember visiting my sister when I had turned 18 and her saying to me “You’re so different. I can have a conversation with you now.”

Whats a private joke that only you and your siblings would find funny?
It might be a WA thing or an us thing…but we’ve always enjoyed the word “jobby”. Its means poo. Yep.

How has rehearsing The Wind In The Underground been different to other plays?
It’s always thrilling to be involved in new works. You get to witness and be a part of the changes that make it a stronger and stronger story. I love hearing from writers about the impetus for the story and characters. It was odd watching Doubt the other night and remembering that The Wind In The Underground is a response to that. It’s such a different world. I think people seeing the double will have an excellent night at the theatre.

The 40 minute slot is something I’ve never done before. The story has to be simpler than a 1hr+ show to have a satisfying beginning middle and end. Claire is an interesting person to explore. She doesn’t say a whole lot so finding a way to thread her emotional journey together continues to be an interesting process for me. She’s stuck in an place I found myself in a few years ago (pre-travel) so that’s been familiar territory.

I hadn’t worked with anyone on our team before, so it’s been a bloody delight getting to know these hilarious humans. We feel like a real family.

Whats your favourite thing about the Old Fitz?
I spend my nights ushering at Belvoir St and Sydney Theatre Company so when I have a night off, I usually try to spend it away from the theatre. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t see everything at the Old Fitz. I’ve really enjoyed my time there though. Firstly, the space itself is really great. The 60ish seater is truly my favourite. It’s perfect for really hearing and connecting with an audience. You’re much closer to the feedback loop. It reminds me of the beautiful Blue Room theatre in Perth. I’m enjoying the vom entrance very much too.

It seems like Redline have a great connection with the patrons of the pub, the people who run it and the theatre community. So from someone coming in with fresh eyes, that seems to be a beautiful functioning thing. I’m looking forward to our season and hope to see more shows there in the future.

Whitney Richards appears in The Wind In The Underground by Sam O’Sullivan.
Dates: 23 May – 3 June, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre