Review: The Almighty Sometimes (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 27 – Sep 8, 2018
Playwright: Kendall Feaver
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Penny Cook, Brenna Harding, Shiv Palekar, Hannah Waterman
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Anna started medication for mental illness at the age of 8. Ten years later, and no longer a child, she decides, on her own accord, to suddenly discontinue the drugs. The repercussions are dire, of course, and as she unravels, her relationships convulse and deteriorate, revealing the social value of those pharmaceuticals. In Kendall Feaver’s The Almighty Sometimes, we see sickness from the perspective of the one personally afflicted, as well as the wider reverberations of what is usually considered an isolated condition. Much of what the play conveys is not new information, but its characters are extraordinarily conceived, each one authentic and rich in their depiction, with very persuasive scenes of conflict that provide The Almighty Sometimes its excellent sense of drama.

It is a fiery piece of theatre, featuring high stakes and big emotions, that director Lee Lewis integrates powerfully for a tense, affecting experience. The play features a lot of fighting, but it is really the intense love underscoring the strife and angst, that we connect with. Actor Brenna Harding is marvellous as Anna, complex but precise in her interpretation of a difficult personality, allowing us to comprehensively understand and empathise with her plight. Whether delicate or savage, Harding is full of enthralment, and we luxuriate in the diligence she brings to the stage.

Similarly captivating is Hannah Waterman, who plays Renee the long-suffering mother, with an impressive nuance, delivering a realistic and moving portrait of a woman at wits end, but who remains determined to do her best. The resilient spirit being presented is embodied, very convincingly, by Waterman’s compelling presence. Penny Cook and Shiv Palekar offer excellent support, both creating intriguing roles that give the issues at hand, unexpected dimensions, for a show memorable for its intricacy. Also noteworthy is work on music and sound by Russell Goldsmith, who keeps us on tenterhooks, with subtle and steady manipulations to atmosphere that prove to be immensely potent.

We look to medical professionals to fix us, often forgetting that there is no one ideal for how we should live. When discussing mental health, our subjective opinions have to find ways that can accommodate both the patient’s well-being and its impact on the wider community. If what is best for society is incongruous, with what individual sufferers consider to be best for themselves, that negotiation will turn persistently fraught. Anna’s sickness consumes herself, along with all who come in close contact. The Almighty Sometimes demonstrates unambiguously that mental health is a social issue, and if we are unable, as a nation, to focus on both cure and prevention, it will be a failure to truly be ashamed of.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Shiv Palekar and Hannah Waterman

Shiv Palekar

Hannah Waterman: What made you want to become an actor?
Shiv Palekar: I was a pretty silly child, I was naughty, I’d always play the fool and get in trouble lots. I think I recognised it for the first time when my cousins would ask me to pretend to be Mr. Bean, because I realised that doing something performative or out of the ordinary could make people happy or have some kind of effect on them. So I think I always was performative in some kind of way, I wanted to be a musician throughout high school until I got cast in a school play when I was in year 10. My mum forced me to go in and audition for it and I was hesitant and almost didn’t show up, but during rehearsals for that show I realised that I loved playing slightly outside of reality and I could get paid to essentially keep being a naughty boy.

What drew you to this play?
I hadn’t worked all year, and I really wanted a job. I was sick of being a waiter and so that’s what initially drew me to it. I served Lee Lewis a few times at the cafe I worked at and so maybe that’s why I was asked to audition. That’s the honest first part of my answer. But of course I read the play and fell in love with it and what it says and all the rest of the things that an actor would usually say. But for real, Kendall has written an incredibly beautiful story of a young woman and how she navigates her life with mental illness and that made me want to be a part of this great new Australian work. I’ve also wanted to work with Lee for ages.

Is this the first time you’ve worked at Griffin?
Yes and hopefully not the last.

Do you think the industry needs to change in regard to casting people of more diverse backgrounds?
Yes.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully not being a waiter. Maybe I’ll have a child?

Hannah Waterman

Shiv Palekar: What music have you been listening to lately? Have you used it as an ‘in’ for the play?
Hannah Waterman: I tend to listen to whatever is in my library whilst cooking. It’s more of a relaxation thing and a release than an ‘in’. Although I do always have a character perfume!

What’s your favourite food? Do you eat before or after a show?
Cheese, I’m essentially a rodent. I eat before as I’m a type one diabetic and this means I have time to digest and for my blood sugars to settle before hitting the boards.

What makes you laugh?
My family. Not always in a good way, mostly though.

A memorable meal your Mum cooked you?
Mum’s lasagna was a favourite as a child and is now one of my sons favourite meals so the tradition continues.

What’s it like being a working mum? Advice for actors who are thinking of being parents?
Being a working mum is tough in any profession and I think we have a long way to go yet in making theatre and television more accessible for working mothers. Luckily the Griffin team is very sensitive and accommodating and recently allowed my 7 year old to come to rehearsal. It would be wonderful if one day that became the norm. Don’t let being an actor put you off becoming a parent. The industry is moving in the right direction and ultimately kids are pretty portable and fairly adaptable, at least when they’re young!

Shiv Palekar and Hannah Waterman are appearing in The Almighty Sometimes, by Kendall Feaver.
Dates: 27 July – 8 September, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Hello, Beautiful! (Performing Lines)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 9 – 14, 2018
Playwright: Hannie Rayson
Director: Matthew Lutton
Cast: Hannie Rayson
Images by Andrew Bott

Theatre review
We live in a world determined to render the older woman invisible. Having exhausted her roles as sex object and mother, she is thought to have turned irrelevant, neither madonna nor whore, made to feel as though she has outstayed her welcome. With Hello, Beautiful! Hannie Rayson claims space as that grande dame, in a theatrical landscape that routinely excludes women of a certain age. Rayson represents only herself in this autobiographical work, but her presence is fundamentally political.

Rayson performs stories from her memoirs, beginning with her childhood in 60s suburbia, through to university, activism, parenthood and an ever-increasingly successful writing career. She offers glimpses of a charmed life, not particularly dramatic or eventful, but we find ourselves captivated by her delightful avidity, and share in the joys of her personal reflections. Staged with little fuss, Matthew Lutton’s direction places emphasis on Rayson’s talents and natural allure, for a simple production that achieves all that it sets out to do.

It is without exception, that societies benefit from knowledge and experience of their elders, yet in so much of Australia, we relegate our seniors to distant corners, anxious about the truths they will tell, and fearful of the mortality that they personify. Hannie Rayson’s contributions are significant and ongoing, and it is our privilege to be able to hear her speak. Bright, young things are dazzling to the senses, but it is at our own peril, that we ignore the only true repositories of wisdom.

www.performinglines.org.au | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 4 – Jun 16, 2018
Playwright: Brooke Robinson
Director: Marion Potts
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi, Tara Morice, Kelly Paterniti
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Sandra says and does everything right, but ends up failing at every housemate interview, unable to find a place to live. Brooke Robinson’s Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. features a heartbreaking series of scenes depicting Sandra at those interviews, being rejected for no ostensible reason, other than the fact that she is a middle aged woman battling cancer. This is what we, as a people, have come to. The play is a fierce indictment of Sydney, and cities like it, where inhabitants have allowed money, and access to property, turn us into monsters that spend our entire lives trying to devour real estate and accumulate wealth, without any consideration for those among us who have basic needs yet to be fulfilled.

All Sandra needs is a home. Her budget although modest, is reasonable, but we discover, quite literally, that no one wants her. Playwright Robinson has identified something so ugly but so accurate, about modern Australia, and the reflection she offers up through the mirror of her play, is so hideous, it is almost unbearable to watch. We do of course, find ourselves mesmerised by the car crash scenario, a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes, powerfully directed by Marion Potts who never once lets us off the hook. Potts shows us not only that the system is broken, but the individuals who operate within said system, people like us, are revealed to be the degenerates that we often are; selfish, uncaring and cruel, participants in a rat race that will inevitably deliver more losers than winners.

In the central role is Tara Morice, who retains for Sandra a sense of dignity, whilst telling a compelling story of desperate despondency. It is a splendid performance, rigorously gauged to provoke just the right response from her audience, not only of compassion, but also a more deliberate and contemplative one, involving the way we think about our interactions with the needy in real life, and also to picture what it would be like, should we one day, find the shoe on the other foot. Fayssal Bazzi and Kelly Paterniti play a variety of roles, mostly unsavoury types, to excellent effect. Whether eccentric or plainly despicable, the pair keeps us attentive, always anticipating the worst, but masochistically enjoying the black comedy that inevitably arises. It is a tight trio on this stage, confident and sleek with a presentation that is as entertaining as it is hard-hitting.

The negative byproducts of our capitalism are evident, but it seems we are too far gone, to be able to imagine a radical turn around. It is a system that demands pragmatism, leading us to act only with self-interest and greed. Sandra is not a home owner, maybe by choice or maybe by circumstance, and we watch her being punished for not playing by the rules. We are all required to want the same, and any deviation can mean disaster, yet the competition that we are all meant to participate in, is predicated on the dispossession of many. This is part of a very big debate that has gone on for decades. Words will continue firing from all sides, but efforts to find solutions that will make life better, for the greatest number of people, will also persist. Kindness may no longer cost us nothing, but it is a price we must be willing to pay.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Shannan Lim and Vidya Rajan

Shannan Lim

Vidya Rajan: What does being Asian-Australian mean to you? Do you like the term?
Shannan Lim: For me, ‘Asian-Australian’ works. I was raised between Singapore and Australia. So it indicates two parts of an identity—people are always more than one thing. I am ambivalent about the term though. I’ve always thought, you can only call yourself ‘Australian’, without a prefix and without questions, if you look white.

What do you enjoy most about Asian Ghost-ery Store?
That it alternates between frank, sometimes mumblecore dialogue between our characters to the audience, and then over-the-top or physical scenes. As a writer you can speak in two different tones, and as a performer there are different rhythms to play with so that’s nice. And I really like the ending of Asian Ghost-ery Store!

What has been most challenging, either artistically or in reception?
Because you and I play versions of ourselves and all the stories are at least partly truthful, even if they are edited or swapped between us or amplified, when the audience wasn’t onboard in the earlier days it used to shake me. But this has changed the more Asian Ghost-ery Store has grown, the more experience we’ve had doing it.

Has there been anything that has surprised you about your identity through making this work?
The biggest shock has been how much people have connected with our brand of Asian-ness, which is kind of pathetic and self-involved. But it’s very relatable, I think. It’s strangely made me —at the same time—more OK with my Asian identity and how it relates to other parts of my life, and more riled about the politics of race.

What does political theatre or practice mean to you now and going into the future?
Is this an essay question? If you’re making political theatre your intent is to have the audience question something about their everyday that they take for granted. I’m a clown too, and clowning is outside of intellectualism. So going in the future, I want to balance the politics in my work with me just rolling around on the floor for no reason.

Vidya Rajan

Shannan Lim: We started creating Asian Ghost-ery Store close to four years ago. How have you changed as an artist, as a person since then?
Vidya Rajan: Has it been that long? I’ve changed immensely. I’ve become more serious about being an artist I suppose, I moved to the Melbourne (the true mark of it haha) pretty and finished study at the VCA recently. I’ve explored new forms of work, and I think or hope my practice is evolving in exciting ways and becoming deeper. I suppose I hope the same for myself as a person but I am not sure if that’s true.

If the play was turned into a TV series and you had to cast different performers, who would you cast as our characters Shan and Yaya? What qualities would you look for?
Aiya! I’d be looking for actors who could be sassy and off-kilter but emotional at the same time. Maybe John Early and Kate Berlant, but in…brown and yellow face (NO). Nobody springs to mind really, which could be a function of my lack of knowledge, or the fact there’s such little representation still.

What would Asian Ghost-ery Store look like if it were staged a hundred years in the future?
I think and hope it would lose some of its immediate relevance that relies on certain racial stuff being true? It would be like staging an interesting history piece. But I hope the humour and relationships would carry through to the holograms.

What are you looking forward to seeing or doing while you’re in Sydney?
I’d really like to see other shows at the fest! Other than that, I’ve rarely been in Sydney so all the touristy stuff. I love a good botanical garden.

What’s the next project you’re working on?
A few things! I’m writing on a pilot at the moment, and devising a couple of shows. Also working as an Associate Artist with Theatre Works in the first part of the year. I’m also trying to stop my aged Indian relatives from constantly sending me inspirational memes about god which is almost a full-time job.

Shannan Lim and Vidya Rajan appear in Asian Ghost-ery Store, part of the Batch Festival at Griffin Theatre Co.
Dates: 11 – 28 April, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Kill Climate Deniers (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 23 – Apr 7, 2018
Playwright: David Finnigan
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Eden Falk, Sheridan Harbridge, Emily Havea, Rebecca Massey, Lucia Mastrantone
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In the current state of evolution with information technology, it can often seem that everyone has extremist tendencies. As social media becomes an increasingly rudimentary part of modern existence, we are compelled to contribute to its constant stream of content creation, by discovering voices that we never before possessed. We manufacture opinions and outrage, in order to participate in the new society, to feel that sense of belonging every human requires.

As a result, we are more fractured than ever. Everything turns into contestable binaries, and every person must take a position on all matters. Ambivalence or disinterest has no place in this iteration of Western civilisation. In David Finnigan’s Kill Climate Deniers, the idea of an extremist shifts from anomaly to commonplace, and all its characters hold strong adversarial views about the strangely contentious issue of climate change. As its title suggests, “terrorist activity” fuels the narrative of Finnigan’s play, but it is only good intentions that we find guiding its ruminations.

In an anarchic fantasy, where our real-life passions are transformed into radical action, it is not the decimation of the other side that Finnigan wishes to accomplish, but an understanding of opposing perspectives that he hopes for. By imagining a worst case scenario, in which everyone loses, doors are open for a discussion that aims to unite us. We are accustom to looking at all the differences between left and right, but Finnigan is interested in finding similarities.

It is however, a stylistically progressive piece of writing, with an aggressive sense of the haphazard driving its plot, in firm repudiation of traditional storytelling structures. Director Lee Lewis brings a wildness to proceedings that captivate with a caustic energy. Trent Suidgeest’s lights and Steve Toulmin’s sounds bring organised chaos to the stage, for a show that is unpredictable and messy, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately persuasive with its spirit and conviction.

Actors are charismatic, each one proving themselves to be seasoned and skillful, consummate entertainers we can rely on. Sheridan Harbridge and Rebecca Massey are irresistibly appealing with the broad comedy that emanates effortlessly from every fibre of their being. Emily Havea and Lucia Mastrantone deliver stronger acerbity to the politics at play, both impressive with the authentic gravity they introduce into the important issues being dissected. Eden Falk is perfectly cast as narrator/author, tenaciously believable and endearing, offering us a marvellously coherent interpretation of the text’s complex nuances.

The point of Kill Climate Deniers is neither controversial nor unexpected, but the experience it provides is unforgettably exhilarating. It is theatre that grabs you and throws you around, impressive in its inexhaustible capacity to keep us fascinated. At the end though, it is an extremely tall order for any work about climate change to be satisfying. Art can help us move towards resolution (if we allow ourselves to be completely optimistic), but there is perhaps no way any artist can give us a solution to those problems. What the play wants to say, is anticlimactic, but it remains true, that change requires action, and we are poised at a crossroads where our choices will determine our very survival.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Anika Bhatia and Margaret Thanos

Anika Bhatia

Margaret Thanos: What is something you admire most about the theatre?
Anika Bhatia: It allows us to think differently. There are constantly new ideas being discovered and explored and old ideas being recreated in new ways. It’s not just a form of entertainment. It is the most visceral art form. It allows us to vicariously see the truth to our own selves and reflect, evaluate and learn and even sometimes laugh or cry during the process.

If you could meet one famous theatre person who would you choose and why?
Damien Ryan from Sport for Jove Theatre. I attended two of his lecture programs for my HSC on The Crucible and Julius Caesar and I was just so impressed and started fan-girling a lot. He’s incredible.

Why is it important that we talk about young people issues?
Because young people are the future?! The struggles of beauty expectations, masculinity, isolation, cyberbullying, the pressure to conform and have sex permeate throughout the play. The decisions that young people make in the face of these struggles become defining moments of their life so it’s important to understand how we make them.

Tell me a little fun fact about you.
Well, I was born in India and moved to Sydney when I was 5. My mum said that we had some connections to the King of Rajasthan at one stage! Fun stuff!

What is something that you have learnt over the course of rehearsals for Intersection 2018: Chrysalis.
It’s been really fun to uncover the truth behind the texts and experience that with Rachel Chant and the creative team. I also learnt a lot from being able to talk to Gretel Vella, the writer of one of the scenes I’m in and understand and discuss the characters and her inspirations for them. From both Rachel and Bec, the assistant director, I’ve learnt that taking risks is really important in the rehearsal process and being able to trust myself and stay committed to my creative decisions.

Margaret Thanos

Anika Bhatia: What is your favourite line/moment in the play? 
Margaret Thanos: “You got bitten by that strange duck that followed you home.” – Blood On Bloody Blood Ladder. It’s not a line that I say, but it’s still glorious! 

How do you get into character? 
I think a lot about whatever has happened just before the scene, so I have the mindset to go into the situation as they would. I think about how they feel about what has just happened and what I want to get out of this scene. I also pace around in the physical way that my character does, so I get a sense of their body and the way that they carry themselves. It helps to remind my brain and body that I am not being Margaret in that moment, but I am someone else in their own life. 

Are there any similarities or differences between you and your character Jess from Victoria’s Secret Angel Virgin/Bakerz Delight?
Well, Jess and I are very different on so many levels! She really allows the opinions of what other people say to get to her, and worries about what other people will think, regardless of her own feelings and I think that is where we are most different. She also talks a mile a minute and basically spills out any thoughts that come into her head, while I tend to take more time with what I say. However, there are definitely similarities too! We are both 17, and I love how she has an awareness of the social issues in town, she sometimes builds things up in her mind to be bigger than what they need to be, and I think I do that too, and she gets annoyed at people interrupting her education – which is definitely a trait of mine! 

What is it like working with Rachel Chant?
Honestly, it is SO AMAZING. I am truly blown away by her insight into the play, the intricate meaning in every moment and her attention to detail. The crew and cast on this production is so fabulously talented and I am so grateful to have been a part of Intersection 2018: Chrysalis

What makes this show great for young people and adults alike? 
As a 17 year old you are really on the precipice of your life, waiting for it to start almost, while completing a really stressful period of school. You are also constantly thinking about the future so there are a lot of conflicted and confused ideas running around in your head and I think this show captures that really well. I truly believe that many young people who watch this show will resonate with at least one of the short plays. I think it’s great for young people that so many awkward situations that are typical for 17 year olds are being shown through this play, to show that these fears and desires that they have are not individual to them, but that so many others are going through the exact same experience. For adults, especially ones that have young people in their lives, I think that this show really looks into the teenage condition and all the great and terrible moments being 17 brings with it, and I think that is something really important for adults to understand and empathise with. 

Anika Bhatia and Margaret Thanos are appearing in Intersection 2018: Chrysalis.
Dates: 31 January – 17 February, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre