Review: The Smallest Hour (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 5 – 15, 2018
Playwrights: Phil Spencer, Susie Youssef
Director: Scarlet McGlynn
Cast: Phil Spencer, Susie Youssef
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In a city just like Sydney, Chris and Shelley cross paths on several occasions. Each is having an eventful, if not entirely enjoyable night, in this immense love story about the metropolis. Phil Spencer and Susie Youssef’s The Smallest Hour may not be grand in scale or indeed vision, but it captures the essence of that relationship between busy cities and its inhabitants, in a deeply beautiful way, for an expression of an intimacy that frequently borders on the obsessive. We are individuals who think of ourselves as distinct entities, separate from other humans and segregated from place; the observation here is that most of us are nothing without our towns, and Spencer and Youssef’s play is a splendid tribute to that sense of belonging.

The Smallest Hour is also a romantic comedy, and director Scarlet McGlynn’s ability to infuse humour into all of its romance, with place and with persons, ensures a production that will thoroughly delight every typical urbanite. Our imagination is cleverly manipulated, as the action moves from one location to the next, by Veronique Benett’s lights and Steve Francis’ music, guiding us surreptitiously through a series of familiar situations. There are no props and no costume changes to be seen on Tyler Hawkins’ simple stage design, but all the imagery that we receive, in our mind’s eye, is consistently vivid. The playwrights perform the work, mainly as narrators, but also as impeccable stand-ins for our protagonists. Both are remarkably endearing, and although not yet word perfect on opening night, they prove themselves consummate raconteurs, utterly and completely mesmerising with the tale they so adroitly weave.

The Smallest Hour reveals a love greater than Chris meets Shelley. It documents the way we navigate this environment, showing us how we have absorbed the physicality of this city, to live out existences so dynamic and spirited. Unlike boyfriends and girlfriends, we never ask that places give us their perfection; we understand better, our responsibilities as components of communities big and small, of collective identities that hold so much more promise than the insularity of our private selves. The lovers fixate on each other at conclusion, forgetting all the roads that lead them to one another. Their audience however, is left with evocations much more inspiring than petty concerns. We are asked to deal with matters of our heart, that relate not to any one, but to the entirety of this region; a very lucky love that must be cherished.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Charlie Pilgrim (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 21 – Dec 1, 2018
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Jena Prince
Cast: Rose Baird, Maliyan Blair, Stephanie Calia, Aria Ferris, Adelaide Kennedy, Sophie Lewis, Astra Milne, Daisy Millpark, Tobias Purcell, Carmen Rolfe, Callum Macgown, Lucinda Slattery, Noah Sturzaker, Eva Sutherland, Annabelle Szewcow, Mia Williams, Stanley Wills
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Tired of feeling like an outcast at school, Charlie Pilgrim retreats into her bubble, indulging in a love of science. She invents a time travel machine, only to find that it traps her in a time loop, with a new Charlie Pilgrim materialising every 24 hours. A solitary activity quickly becomes a social one, and our protagonists have to find a way to resolve the quickly escalating situation. Sam O’Sullivan’s Charlie Pilgrim (Or A Beginner’s Guide To Time Travel) is an ambitious piece of writing that packs a lot of ideas into its 80 minutes. It is an enjoyable narrative in a familiar sci-fi format, extremely detailed in its rendering, with explorations into a wide variety of themes. There is a density to O’Sullivan’s work that can prove challenging, but the richness of what he offers is quite tantalising.

Wonderfully imagined by director Jena Prince, the production cleverly utilises a large cast of young actors, to create a hive of activity that is irresistibly engaging. Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights and Maddie Hughes’ sounds are robustly manufactured to provide clearly indicate every plot point, ensuring that we never get confused by all the relentless hustle and bustle. The ensemble is extraordinarily disciplined, yet consistently effervescent with what they bring to the stage. 17 precocious actors delight us with their creativity and charm, keeping us entertained and enthralled by the story that they so enthusiastically tell.

If we understand that the only constant in life is change, then it should follow that time is never as orderly as we assume it to be. Regrets are evidence of a life well lived, and much as we wish to revisit the past to make things right, there is a human capacity that allows us to see that it is never too late for amends to be made, even if oblique approaches are required. Yesterday’s lessons are for today, and learning to live with poor decisions, is crucial in how we can evolve into better people. The meaning of life, lies in the need to make every day an improvement. We are informed only by the past, but to dwell in it is meaningless.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: The Feather In The Web (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 5 – Nov 17, 2018
Playwright: Nick Coyle
Director: Ben Winspear
Cast: Tina Bursill, Gareth Davies, Michelle Lim Davidson, Claire Lovering
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
At one point in the show, the protagonist declares that she has MS, but of what we are able to observe, Kimberly exhibits no symptoms of multiple sclerosis. We are nonetheless, tempted to pathologise her, to interpret all her absurd behaviour as evidence of some kind of mental disorder, to label her crazy. Nick Coyle’s The Feather In The Web is a tale of obsessive love, but one that is grounded in little reality. It is doubtful if audiences in general will be able to find points of meaningful connection with the play’s outlandish situations, but its wild imagination is certainly entertaining.

Director Ben Winspear’s creation is highly sophisticated, marvellously polished, and very funny indeed. It is a thoroughly engrossing production, full of mystery and always bursting with energy, featuring dynamic and seamless collaborations from an excellent design team. Sophie Fletcher and Mic Gruchy work wonders for a series of backdrops and projections that are as whimsical as they are functional. Lights by Trent Suidgeest are versatile and unpredictable, able to traverse mundane and surreal with ease, and sound by Steve Toulmini is bold and humorous, powerful in its control over the audience’s emotional responses.

The magnificent Claire Lovering is dazzling as Kimberly, exceptional in her ability to simultaneously deliver uproarious comedy with a grave solemnity. Brilliantly amusing, she sweeps us away to places that are completely nonsensical, but all the while, keeping us keenly aware of the troubling psyche that underlies her character’s strangeness. Lovering’s own vivacity and strength, represents a valuable female presence that offers balance, to moments where the text comes precariously close to misogyny. We are bewildered and upset by Kimberly’s incapacity for agency and self-determination, but are won over by her resolute attitude. Ultimately, we have to let a woman want what she wants.

Three supporting players take on a range of kooky types, with Gareth Davies particularly memorable for his unrelenting propensity for insisting on our laughter; his work is enjoyable no matter the personality he assumes. Michelle Lim Davidson introduces surprising depth in later sections, urging us to shift focus to something considerably more poignant. Tina Bursill’s nonchalant cruelty as Regina is acerbic and accurate, deliciously biting in one of the show’s more believable roles.

The Feather In The Web is often unsettling, because we cannot help but feel disturbed by the abnormality put on display. It is true however, that we have no right to want Kimberly to transform into someone normal and palatable. She is non-compliant and non-conformist, and much to our chagrin, she can think of nothing else but for her affections to be reciprocated. Her heart’s desire may be objectionable, but when we look at the things she has absolutely no interest in; conventionality, respectability, mediocrity, and other markers of social acceptability, Kimberly turns into someone quite remarkable.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Jessica Bellamy and Kirsty Marillier

Jessica Bellamy

Kirsty Marillier: How does it feel to be staging Shabbat Dinner for the third time?
Jessica Bellamy: It feels very strange to be staging Shabbat Dinner for the third time. It felt strange staging it the other two times, too, though. I’m still getting my head around the idea of autobiographical theatre and the fact that anyone wants to take a night off their Bachelor viewing schedule to see my family story. But then I try to channel the confidence of a universally reviled politician deciding to make a tilt at national leadership. I ask myself: “why not me?” I would like to continually build my professional confidence so it’s akin to that of a mediocre white guy.

To offer a more serious answer to this question, it is quite rare for an Australian playwright to get multiple productions of their play in a five year period. I’m glad this work resonates with people, and I’m also really lucky it was championed and incubated by the much-missed Tamarama Rock Surfers, who supported me becoming a playwright by giving me the opportunity to make shows.

If you could be one character from Broad City for the day, who would you be and why?
Ilana! Everyone wants to be Ilana, right? I’ve actually written an article for Feminartsy journal explaining why I love her so much. I love the way she traverses her city like it was meant for her. Her effervescence, her passion, and her incredible fashion sense. The way she is styled reminds me that it’s OK to have big, frizzy hair, to wear whatever you want, to feel safe (or that you deserve to feel safe) walking the streets of your city at night.

What is your favourite dish to eat at Shabbat?
Bloody borscht, mate! It’s heaven! Anyone with a womb should eat beetroot at least once a month. A traditional Shabbat dinner would involve chicken soup, and when I can be bothered I might whip up a vegan version using vegie stock and alphabet noodles. My own strange version of the real deal.

What advice would you give teenage Jessinka?
Don’t worry so much. No one cares as much as you think they do. There’s no certain thing you have to achieve by a certain time. Say what you think, get angry, demand your rights, and take up space.

What does your family think about the play?
My family have been very generous about this work, especially considering the fact that it is so personal. They have also supported me in my personal growth over its three seasons. I’ve learnt a lot about my own value system through making this show, and I’m making decisions now, in my thirties, that I wouldn’t have had the emotional intelligence to make any earlier. This involves weighing up a cost-benefit analysis of anything autobiographical I write. Asking myself: who benefits from this, and who is challenged, in a way they haven’t asked to be, by me deciding to write something? When a story belongs to more people than just me, these things need to be negotiated and carefully considered.

I will paraphrase another Russian writer, Maria Tumarkin, whose memoir workshop I went to a few years ago. She said that if her work is going to hurt people, she won’t do it. Caring for people is more important to her than whatever art might come out of being provocative.

Ultimately, I value my relationships over anything I’ll make in my career. And I know that I’m a strong enough writer to make excellent work that also prioritises care in every element of its creation. In my first few years of practice, I didn’t really understand the fact that art – this great amorphous thing – could be chopped and changed to abide to your moral code. I used to think the art was the art, and I had to get out of its way. I’m getting better at thinking a little wider now.

Kirsty Marillier

Jessica Bellamy: Did little Kirsty know she wanted to be an actor?
Kirsty Marillier: Yeah she did. It all started from around age 9. In year 3, I was cast in a tiny role as the indigo fairy. During the performance I fell over on stage in front of the entire school and I reckon I made a pact with myself that it would be the last time I would EVER let people laugh at me on stage unless I had told them to. I auditioned for the lead the next year and got it! I also had a wonderful performing arts program at Leeming Senior High School and some really inspired teachers. I think I owe a lot of my drive and confidence to them.

What’s a family recipe as significant to you as some of the food we serve in Shabbat Dinner?
My GiGi’s Magwinyas. Magwinyas are deep fried savoury doughnuts that you break apart and shove curry inside. They are not for the faint hearted; oily as and have zero nutritional value but are insanely good and give you that combined sweet/savoury dopamine hit. Yum. They are really hard get to right because you need to make sure you knead them with “gentle hands”. So they have enough air. It’s an art form and my Gig is going to give me lessons on them next time I’m in Perth.

How do you get those curls so stunning, girl?
Girl, it’s called Shea Moisture and Priceline have 20% off as we speak. I also started making my own aloe vera gel. You need fresh aloe vera and an entire Sunday to do it but it’s worth it. I also sleep with my hair in a pineapple and wrap it in a silk scarf, it’s a process.

What are the ways you connect to a play about Jewish ritual and Torah stories?
This play centres around tradition, women and food. How we inherit tradition from those who came before us, and the intergenerational effects of migration. I’m a coloured South African woman. I moved to Australia at age 10, have religious parents and 7 South African aunties scattered around Australia. It would be pretty hard for me not to connect with this play.

I said to someone a few of weeks ago that this show (in 2015) was my first encounter with intersectional feminism. It was the first time I’d said that out loud, but it’s totally true! I’ve learnt a lot about my own culture and feminist practice doing this show. How one can re-appropriate culturally specific beauty regimes to suit their own life, how perspective and clarity on your gender and identity can be found by unpacking your past, and how the women in our lives have influenced us more than we know. They hold power in their rituals and it’s something to celebrate! (I feel like I’ve gone on a tangent but I thought it would be an interesting thing to add.)

I connect with this show by thinking about the women in my life, past and present. How much they have made me who I am and how I carry their stories with me.

What do you want to be doing artistically in 5 years’ time?
I want to be writing. I’d love to have a play or two under my belt. I also want to more involved in the telling of culturally diverse stories. I want to see more people of colour on stages; I’d like to help push that process along in any way possible.

Jessica Bellamy and Kristy Marillier are appearing in Shabbat Dinner, by Jessica Bellamy.
Dates: 10 – 15 September, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

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