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

Review: Doubt: A Parable (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 10 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Dino Dimitriades
Cast: Charmaine Bingwa, Damian de Montemas, Belinda Giblin, Matilda Ridgway
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
John Patrick Shanley’s genius masterpiece, Doubt: A Parable takes a deep and extensive look at the nature of doubt, and through it, reaches for something fundamentally real about who we are. Its greater power however, lies in its narrative. It is the literal rather than the allegorical that many will find affecting in the play, with the ongoing predicament of paedophile priests in our churches never seeming to find satisfying resolution.

Sister Aloysious possesses no concrete evidence of Father Flynn’s trespasses, but her position as school principal requires that students are protected at all cost. Operating under severely defective systems of patriarchy and the clergy, Aloysious can only do the right thing by dehumanising herself in order that she may be able to undertake necessary measures, “in the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God.”

This sensitive interpretation by director Dino Dimitriadis pulls close focus to Shanley’s words, with theatrical devices kept at an intentional quiet, so that we garner maximum impact from the extraordinary writing. Design aspects are minimal and unobtrusive, but elegantly effective.

Performed with great detail by an impassioned cast of four, we are offered a marvellous intensity of interplay between characters that could only emerge from exhaustive study and immersion into the text. Belinda Giblin is stunning as Aloysious, psychologically meticulous and emotionally complex, she gives us crystal clear insight into the personality being presented, while providing astute access to the unusual world in which she resides. A wealth of meanings are implied in Shanley’s dialogue, and Giblin makes certain that we receive them all.

Father Flynn’s uncompromising ambiguity is the show’s dramatic lynch pin, brilliantly manufactured by Damian de Montemas whose hints of malice keeps us engrossed and on edge, even if he does sound uncomfortable in his American accent. The magnetic Charmaine Bingwa leaves a strong impression in a singular pivotal scene, embodying Mrs Muller’s specificity of time and space with a remarkable authenticity of presence. Matilda Ridgway is a quirky Sister James, veering slightly too far from naturalism, but whose interpretations are unquestionably entertaining.

We watch these people participate in a religion that has overwhelmed their lives, and wonder if Catholicism takes more than it gives. We see the destruction it causes, and are suspicious of the way it claims to be of benefit to these individuals. We also see the inextricability of religion, and the difficulty of achieving emancipation from its indoctrination. As our nation continues to wage war against “radical Islam”, rapists in our Catholic and Christian churches are allowed to fester year after year. We hear about investigations and inquisitions taking place every day but they deliver little, while our children face dangers that are constant, secretive and insidious. Sister Aloysious does the best she can, but knows that it is not yet enough.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

5 Questions with Charmaine Bingwa and Belinda Giblin

Charmaine Bingwa

Belinda Giblin: Who is Charmaine Bingwa?
Charmaine Bingwa: I am such an amalgam, but will try to be concise. I was born in Australia and am the youngest of the three children born to my Zimbabwean parents. I grew up in Perth and moved to Sydney on my own when I was 18. In terms of job titles, besides actor I have also turned my hand as director, producer, composer, singer, guitarist, writer, amongst other things. I’m a Scorpio, I don’t sleep very much, I prefer character over comfort, I pretty much always have a script or book in my hand, I like to lead by example, I don’t drink alcohol, I care too much, I love to sing, I value sincerity, I work stupid-hard and I am addicted to making those around me laugh.

Tell us a bit about your journey into the acting profession?
It was quite serendipitous really. I was studying music, I decided to take acting as an elective to help with public speaking. But I loved it and was almost immediately hooked. I got permission to do the acting course in addition to my music degree and here I am!

What is it that draws you to a particular role? What drew you to this particular play?
I like playing complex individuals. I believe that personality traits lie on a spectrum, where the same trait that helps someone, can also hurt or hinder them. For me, that is humanity. For me, that is where the gold lies in characterisation. For me, that is the crux of Doubt: A Parable. I love the investigative process of finding a character. I’ve always been fascinated by how things work; as a kid, I even used to pull apart computers and rebuild them just for shits and giggles.

And at risk of sounding otherworldly, I believe that roles choose me. Certain roles find me at critical junctures of my life when I need to learn or experience something on a deeper level. I also feel like roles gift me, more than I gift them. I’m fastidious in my preparation, so I come away learning so much more about history, people, moments in time, disorders, human nature, personality types or whatever it may be. For a nerd like me, that’s Christmas.

Doubt is set in the Bronx in 1964, if Mrs. Muller were to live under the Trump presidency, would she be a Republican or a Democrat? What would be her political agenda?
I think she would be a Democrat for sure. She would have loved that there had been a President Obama! All this woman wants is progress, and she is willing to put aside short-term well being in exchange for long-term advancement. For her, a Trump presidency would be a hard pill to swallow.

I think Ava DuVernay’s Academy award nominated documentary The 13th puts forward the hypothesis perfectly that the persecution of African American people just reappears in different permutations throughout history; slavery turned into convict leasing, which turned into lynchings and Jim Crow, which turned into the war on drugs and mass incarceration, which turned into police brutality and institutionalised racism. I think she would be heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Actors prepare for their roles in different ways. Do you have a “process” that enables you to inhabit a role?
The preparation I do is always dictated by the role. For Mrs Muller I did extensive research as I felt in order to temper the words that come out of her mouth, the audience needs to feel her history. The answers lie in the generations that have gone before her – so backstory was key.

I just keep asking questions – what bible verses does she love, what were her formative years like, what is the one secret she is taking to the grave? I’m always fascinated by what I find. But my most important step is to throw all the technical work I’ve done away and just tell the truth, or tell their truth rather. The rest of my process is a secret!

Belinda Giblin

Charmaine Bingwa: What made you first want to get into acting?
Belinda Giblin: Both my parents and siblings were involved in the Performing Arts in one way or another so I was surrounded by a lot of singing and dancing and acting from an early age. I’ve always had an instinctive need to perform, to put on that “mask” if you like, so the acting profession was a very natural choice for me.

Mind you, I did a few things before I got there, including an Arts degree and a short stint at NIDA. They threw me out of NIDA after one year. I was described as “laconic” and it was suggested that “trial and error” may be my better training! My first job was in the TV series Matlock… in black and white!

John Patrick Shanley says Doubt is the “age-old practise of the wise”. Do you agree and how is this evident in your life?
Absolutely. When I was 16 I thought I knew everything! Nothing had been tested too much at that age. But now, in my 60’s, I am more circumspect because, of course, life keeps changing, the goal posts get moved, nothing is certain and we never stop learning and growing. Therein lies the wisdom I guess. Pretty exciting!

If you and Sister Aloysius had a dinner party and could invite 2 guests each-who would you each bring and why? And yes, they all have to get along!
Oh dear! Well…. Sister Aloysius would invite the Pope of course because she would wish to get his opinion on the “Boys’ Club hierarchy” of the Roman Catholic church and have a few words to say to him about that! And because she is an educated woman and a great lover of words she would invite that famous 19th Century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, to discuss his religious doubt-filled sonnets, particularly the one about “God’s Grandeur”. Please explain!

I would invite Germaine Greer and that fabulous camp American satirist, Randy Rainbow, to throw into the mix! Sister Aloysius would have a lot in common with Germaine Greer and Randy Rainbow would cheer Gerard up no end! The Pope would sit and smile benignly and fall asleep!

Is there a dream role you are still yet to play?
I’ve never hankered after roles that have been done before, to put my particular stamp on them. There will always be comparisons. I tend to favour something new, as long as the writing is wonderful! Oh what?….did Meryl Streep do Doubt? Why didn’t someone tell me?

We’ve seen you play so many amazingly crafted characters, but what are Belinda Giblin’s defining qualities?
Optimism; humour; resilience; curiosity; tenacity; self-determination; obsessiveness; dedication; compassion…what? Oh, I’m sorry… is that enough? OK.

Charmaine Bingwa and Belinda Giblin can be seen in Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley.
Dates: 10 May – 3 June, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 12 – May 6, 2017
Playwright: Rajiv Joseph
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Tyler De Nawi, Maggie Dence, Andrew Lindqvist, Stephen Multari, Megan Smart, Aanisa Vylet
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
It is a prayer of anguish and pain. In addressing God, Rajiv Joseph offers a meditation on the biggest challenges faced by humankind at this moment in time, from perspectives personal and global. Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo talks about the ceaseless wars that take place in the middle east, and the sacrifices made to all lives no matter which side of the battle they reside. It also deals heavily with guilt and regret, universal experiences that allow audiences to relate even closer to its characters and stories.

The writing is emotional and imaginative, with ghosts and paranoia haunting the living, and troubling philosophy interrogating the dead. Having Americans and Iraqis at the centre of the action might allow Australian viewers to distance ourselves from its very difficult themes, but the production’s extraordinary intensity is determined to have us embroiled. It is powerful work by director Claudia Barrie, who invests great detail and dynamism into all facets of her show.

An unrelenting atmosphere of tension akin to horror movies and war zones, is marvellously established by a bevy of design talents. Nate Edmondson’s music in particular, impresses with its exceptional precision in calibrating tonal shifts, allowing us to flow with the play’s many surprising and contrasting moods, with no apparent effort at all. Lights are appropriately colourful for a show that revels in its hallucinations, with Benjamin Brockman’s robust approach providing excellent visual variety to a small and restrictive stage. Stephanie Howe’s costumes and Isable Hudon’s set design are simple but always effective and convincing, especially admirable considering the economy at which they operate.

An ensemble of seven remarkable actors perform an unforgettable show, each one commanding, with strong interpretations of their individual parts but beautifully cohesive as a whole. Andrew Lindqvist is stunning as Musa, demonstrating a level of authenticity that makes theatre pure magic. The kinds of torment being described is, to most of us, quite unimaginable, but Musa’s story is laid bare in front of us, entirely convincing and heartbreaking. It is in the way Lindqvist brings meaning to his lines, and in the way his physicality manifests between those lines, that the essence of suffering can be so clearly observed. His work is dramatic and breathtaking, but also profound in its subtle assertions; the actor is fantastic. Josh Anderson and Stephen Multari play American soldiers, both engaging, and moving, with fascinating psychological complexities provides to what are usually reductive ways of portraying military personnel. The eponymous tiger is brought to life by Maggie Dence, who has a tendency to seem overly static, but the quality of omniscience she brings is invaluable. Tyler De Nawi, Megan Smart and Aanisa Vylet are all given scene-stealing opportunities, and although their appearances are relatively brief, they each leave an indelible mark on this stage.

Maybe God does exist out there in the ether, or maybe we are all gods in the here and now. We can crane our necks and ask for answers, but we will never be absolved from doing the best to make the world a better place. We must try to figure things out ourselves, for as we see here, divine intervention never did arrive. For good to happen, it is only up to us, but evil is real, and in Bengal Tiger, it does not know itself. In the play’s pessimism, our actions result in harm, and civilisation is on a downward spiral, but it is a work of fantasy, and how we respond, is another one of its mysteries.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

5 Questions with Tyler De Nawi and Aanisa Vylet

Tyler De Nawi

Aanisa Vylet: I have been watching you play Uday Hussein. He is quite a cruel man and you as a person have the demeanour of a teddy bear. How do you channel his cruelty?
Tyler De Nawi: When I am behind closed doors in my own space I experiment with how far I can take something. I can have quite a lot of fun with myself… (I know that sounds dirty) but I know how to entertain myself. When I am alone, I can actually push myself to those extremes, to those states of anger, distress. I can drop my mask of Mr Nice Guy and play. It comes from play, playing at home, really taking time to understand what the text is saying. The play is written so well. I just try to let the text breathe on stage.

What is your relationship to Iraq as an Arab Australian?
I grew up with Iraqis and Asyrians in Western Sydney. The word ‘Saddam’ was thrown around loosely at school. Some loved Saddam, some hated Saddam, some didn’t even know how to feel about it… After more research, I have started to see the Husseins as ordinary people. Even though people considered him to be crazy, Uday Hussein was a boy who grew up with a father who would kill his own friends if they betrayed him. His father was unfaithful to his mum and Uday loved his mum. He was product of his own environment. Uday used to own tigers. To me, if he was an animal, he would be a tiger – a predator in captivity.

What is your favourite thing about your Uday Hussein costume?
He is like an “Arab Hugh Hefner”. He wears a three-piece suit with gold buttons on it and a gold tie. It is something else. We are so lucky to have found it. I am still trying to get my hands on a ring, a gold pinky ring. I think that will be my favourite part.

Have you ever been to Iraq?
Never. I have been to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Turkey… Wow, all the countries around Iraq but I never been there, no.

Do you feel targeted as an Arab?

I am proud to be Muslim. I am proud to be from an Arab background. We are complex just like every one else. We are messy. We are passionate. We are beautiful, just like everyone else. It is time to stop assuming you can label anyone. Just because I am Arab-Muslim does not mean you know me.

I believe art is the best way to help a society overcome these assumptions.

When I was a kid growing up, driving down the highway I saw big banners from world vision that showed an African child suffering. 20 years later, there are now Syrian kids on banners in the rubble that was once their city. How did we get to this? We haven’t even resolved what is happening in Africa. People from my own heritage have become a charity case. What is next?

Aanisa Vylet

Tyler De Nawi: In this play you are playing two characters – an Iraqi civilian whose home is being raided and a leper. I watch you embody these characters very well. To what extent do you go to embody a character?
Aanisa Vylet: I can inhabit distressed states of being very easily. I don’t know where it comes from. Perhaps it is in my blood, an ancestral pain. When I access those states I think about everyone who is currently suffering in Arab countries and the world right now. I channel anyone I know who is an outsider due to their health as the leper.

I also work in colours and through the physicality of that character. For the Iraqi woman, my feet are bare and I am trying to put on my scarf. As a person from an Islamic background, I understand the vulnerability and nakedness that she would feel when those parts of her body are bare in the presence of foreign military.

With the leper, my body is diagonal and made of sand. The leper is the color grey – the black moves inward, the white tries to reach out. The Iraqi woman is red – passionate and explosive.

If you were stranded in the middle of the desert as an outsider, decaying, what is the food that you would be wishing for?
My mother’s homemade vine leaves. Even though my mum hates cooking, her food is always made with love and makes me feel like I am at home. And Lebanese vine leaves with yoghurt and mint? That is the dish that describes my life. It takes forever to make but tastes so delicious you fight for the last mouthful.

What is your mission as an artist and why were you interested in telling this story?
My mission is to tell stories that are difficult to tell, stories that express the voices of people who are silenced who cannot tell their stories themselves. I aim to tell provocative and engaging stories that don’t exist yet.

And as for Bengal, when I first read the script I thought – “Fuck yes!” and then… “Thank God!” The writing hits the primal part of ourselves that we often forget in our daily life. We need writing like this. We need to be moved in our seats before our brain kicks in.

On top of that I was keen to share a narrative that dealt with “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and to work with the wonderful Mad March Hare Theatre Co.

If you had three wishes from a lamp what would they be?
I would wish that we had proper world leaders again, like Nelson Mandela, leaders who perform not for themselves but for the people they represent. My second wish would be that we respect and improve our treatment of animals and the environment… and I would want my mum to get the operations she needs and my brother, who has Down Syndrome to receive the best and most inclusive life possible.

Why should someone pay $40 to come and see this play?
Because it is incredibly moving, everyone involved is generously bringing themselves and their hearts to the work. Because this play is so relevant to our lives today. Because the play is funny – it is a wonderful and entertaining night at the theatre. This isn’t a close and open your eyes “why the hell did I watch this?” show. At this show you will see artists at play, trying new things. This is ground-breaking, brave theatre. Do yourself a favour – go.

Tyler De Nawi and Aanisa Vylet can be seen in Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph.
Dates: 12 Apr – 6 May, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Binary Stars And Best Lives (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 28 – Apr 8, 2017
Playwright: Samantha Hill
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Katie Beckett, Nathalie Murray, Jenae O’Connor, Amelia Tranter

Theatre review
A gun shot is fired, sending chills down our spines. A woman appears, disoriented, a time-traveller perhaps, or someone from a parallel universe, but more probably, she is just released from prison for shooting her husband some years back. Babe is an astrophysicist, with a keen interest in realms other than the immediate reality. Having given up her own dreams to become trophy wife to a television celebrity, she loses her sense of self, and we find her grasping at straws to justify her existence.

Samantha Hill’s Binary Stars And Best Lives is theatrical, ambitious and complicated, but its cacophony of rich ideas struggle to communicate with clarity. It seems to have a lot to say, including issues about Aboriginality, feminism and materialism, all worthy of exploration, that might be better dealt with if greater attention was put into creating a more cohesive narrative.

Babe is an elusive character, who actor Katie Beckett embraces with conviction, especially in sections of heightened drama and emotion. Amelia Tranter impresses in dual comedic roles, both memorable for different, and absurd, reasons. Nathalie Murray and Jenae O’Connor add further vibrancy and fun to a show that is otherwise more than a little confusing.

We need to have concurrent truths in order that life can be bearable. Whether complementary or conflicting, the different ways we form an understanding of how things happen, must allow some plasticity, or all our days would only be harsh and cruel. Even when Babe is made to face the consequences of her irrefutable actions, her mind provides explanations that she can live with. We all see the world differently, but how we co-exist is the perennial challenge.

www.oldfitztheatre.com