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.

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.

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?

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?

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

Review: Andrew Henry’s Vertical Dreaming (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Dec 5 – 15, 2017
Director: Andrew Henry
Cast: Andrew Henry
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
For Andrew Henry’s Vertical Dreaming, its eponym is for 50 minutes, onstage with songs and poems that have proved significant to his healing process, earlier in the year, at a mental health facility. Depression and bipolar disorder are discussed alongside addiction and lost loves, through a compilation of works by male poets, presented in the form of a monologue. Musical interludes by an accomplished band of four, add colour and breathing space to the production.

Henry reveals that the struggle of psychological disorders is an isolating one, with patients unable to extricate themselves from the constant torment of interminable introspection and self-flagellation. Unable to shift his attention away, meaningfully, to the outside world, that incessant examination of the self becomes perniciously despairing and narcissistic. The show attempts to engage our empathy, but it is our logical responses that are initiated, and we leave with a better understanding of our humanly dysfunctions.

It is a very strong performance by Henry, whose compelling presence and admirable skill as actor, has us spellbound to his adroit storytelling. The vulnerability he puts on display is immense, and it represents the most valuable element in this instance of live drama, but for all the anguish that we do witness, the message it ultimately imparts, is comparatively lacklustre.

Pain can only ever be subjective, but in art, it becomes communicable. To turn one’s suffering into a matter of relevance for another, is not often a straightforward exercise. Each can only perceive existence from their own vantage point, which the artist must negotiate with savvy and ingenuity. Everyone is susceptible to mental illness, but until we experience things firsthand, the chasm between sympathy and actuality, requires the greatest of sensitivity.

Review: Paper Doll (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 7 – 18, 2017
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Martin Ashley-Jones, Lucy Goleby
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
At its most fundamental, theatre is an instrument that wishes to get us together, and have us find consensus, or at least to gain valuable awareness on issues of relevance. We share space and come to an understanding of what each other thinks, when we laugh together, or when we hear people gasp in demonstration of their disapproval or outrage.

Katy Warner’s Paper Doll is a topical work about sexual predation and paedophilia, depicting a grown woman meeting her abuser, years after the fact. Dialogue is well crafted, but the work takes a safe approach, rarely controversial in how the subject is handled. The plot and its characters offer little that is new to how we regard the matter, although individuals who might be personally affected, would probably identify more palpable qualities.

Director Lucy Clements’ obvious attempts at manufacturing dramatic tension vary in effectiveness. The show has many captivating moments, but can at times feel laboured, in its efforts at creating something theatrical out of a quiet piece of writing. Both performers are strong personalities, with impressive stage presences. Lucy Goleby’s intensity dictates the tone of proceedings, while Martin Ashley-Jones brings a more organic interpretation that reads with a better sense of authenticity. We may not always be convinced of the action on stage, but the production makes all of its assertions crystal clear.

In representing the zeitgeist’s hot topics, a conundrum exists when our minds are already made up before entering the auditorium. There can only be one way of considering issues surrounding rape, and unless the production takes exceptional risks, the chances of it being less than predictable, are close to none. Paper Dolls is careful to say all the right things, but we have heard it all too many times before, and it is not fair to expect fabricated controversy where none is permitted. We want our art to be inventive, but it seems that not everything can be talked about in unexpected ways.

5 Questions with Lucy Goleby and Martin Ashley Jones

Lucy Goleby

Martin Ashley Jones: What attracted you to this work?
Lucy Goleby: I have been a long-time admirer of Lucy Clements, our director, and would have agreed to work with her on anything! But when I read Katy Warner’s heartbreaking, poetic, provocative script, I absolutely had to be involved. I think Paper Doll is exactly what theatre, and especially new work, should always be – challenging, insightful and conflicting.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the rehearsal process?
You’d think the content would be the most challenging aspect in this sort of play, but actually we’ve had a very fun – and funny – rehearsal room. It’s primarily just been the three of us – Martin and the two Lucys. I think he’s had the challenge!

What has been the most enjoyable and/or rewarding aspect of the rehearsal process?
Definitely the freedom and space Martin and I have been given by both Lucy and Katy to really discover who these people are, what they want and when they’re lying. We’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with various interpretations of the script, really pushing each other to find the rawest truth possible in every moment.

What do you hope people leaving the play will think about?
I hope they’re as deeply conflicted as we have been. Katy has written a play about a deeply controversial issue and yet has managed to continually shift our allegiances, expectations and assumptions. I’m imagining many conversations about empathy – what it looks like, what is asks and when it’s deserved.

If you had the opportunity to play any Disney Princess which one would it be and would you prefer to play her in a musical, opera, stage play, on ice, multi series TV show or feature film? 😊
Definitely Sleeping Beauty. That’s gotta be the most restful role ever, right?!

Martin Ashley Jones

Lucy Goleby: What attracted you to this work?
Martin Ashley Jones: It’s always a privilege to be a part of bringing new work to life. When I received the audition sides I was captivated by how sparse and simple the text appeared but how complex, dark and disturbing the imagery is. I was intrigued and excited and immediately wanted to get the role.

What has been the biggest challenge rehearsing the play?
Initially I thought that the subject matter could be challenging but working with Katy, Lucy and Lucy has been a very interesting and enjoyable process, so I feel that the journey thus far has been rewarding and challenging only in a positive way.

What do you hope people leave the play thinking about?
The terrible impact one can have on another’s life when trust is violated and abused. To receive someone’s trust is a gift that must be respected and honoured always.

What’s your favourite line in the play?
I did my time. I paid the fucking price. It’s completely honest and such an insipid, disgusting and pathetic justification for the crimes he perpetrated.

Had any dreams lately?
I dream all the time but the most recent and vivid one was that I was at Machu Picchu, but it wasn’t in the Andes it was on the beach with warm water and perfect waves. It was beautiful, one of those dreams that it feels a bit of shame to wake up from.

Lucy Goleby and Martin Ashley Jones are appearing in Paper Doll, by Katy Warner.
Dates: 7 – 18 November, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre