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

Review: Chrysalis (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Jan 31 – Feb 17, 2018
Playwrights: Joseph Brown, Pippa Ellams, Harry Goodlet, Liz Hobart, Alexander Lee-Rekers, Madelaine Nunn, Julia Rorke, David Stewart, Phoebe Sullivan, Gretel Vella
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Brenton Bell, Anika Bhatia, Caitlin Burley, Jeremi Campese, Claire Crighton, Ben Tarlinton, Clare Taylor, Margaret Thanos
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
The delicate allure of a butterfly in full glory, is always under threat. The idea of a pupa however, is infinitely more satisfying, with its imminent beauty promising only majesty and wonder. This collection of ten short plays by young Australians may be named Chrysalis, but not only does it feature talent brimming with awesome potential, it showcases some surprisingly mature work that is already soaring with splendour. To witness such youthful triumph is indeed breathtaking.

An unequivocal highlight is a trio of remarkable and exhilarating monologues for the teenage girl. Writers Pippa Ellams, Julia Rorke and Phoebe Sullivan each deliver pieces that are playful, poignant and powerful, all giving extraordinary voice to female characters we routinely underestimate. Joseph Brown and Harry Goodlet show us in their respective segments, starkly different ways our boys behave with each other, but both are unabashedly tender in their depiction of affection and kindness, a refreshing change from the all too familiar rowdy machismo we have come to expect, of narratives concerned with Australian men and their mateship.

Director Rachel Chant does outstanding work in helping us find a sense of cohesion for the disparate plays, through her exquisite calibration, from story to story, of tone and style. Also impressive is her work here with the brilliant cast of eight. Every actor in Chrysalis is compelling and persuasive, all of whom are sensational with the incredible depth and authenticity they put on display. A sophisticated sense of humour further elevates the production, giving us some very smart laughs in addition to its many moving moments.

It is so marvellous seeing our young talk about their need for anywhere but here. Ambition is admirable, and when coupled with aptitude, the sense of optimism it provides is truly invigorating. The life of an artist is not an easy one, and many will fail to cut the mustard, but those who persist will be greatly rewarded, although rarely in accordance with early expectations. We must all grow up, and to choose to grow alongside the practise of art, is at once noble, and brave.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Fag/Stag (The Last Great Hunt / Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 10 – 27, 2018
Playwrights: Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Chris Isaacs
Directors: Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Chris Isaacs
Cast: Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Chris Isaacs
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Corgan and Jimmy are best friends who live the easy Australian middle-class existence. Fag/Stag sees them fumble and struggle through episodes of triviality, as young men with few legitimate worries, save for the difficulties of having to negotiate the perils of modern masculinity. Without the burden of work and children, nothing very serious ever happens to them, yet anxiety and pain are constants. Their concerns are often silly, but we nonetheless understand that first-world problems are real, for we recognise those symptoms to be genuine, and identify with what is being presented through the creators’ admirable honesty.

Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs create an amusing hour examining the privileged lives of our young white men, straight and gay. Fag/Stag is a dynamic work, compelling and entertaining, even though its persistent earnestness seems somewhat misplaced. As writers, directors and performers of the piece, Fowler and Isaacs seem never to be critical of Corgan and Jimmy, but it is evident that much of the problems the boys encounter, are a result of their self-absorption. The characters do nothing for society, spending all their days inside their own little inconsequential dramas.

Fowler is more vibrant and animated an actor than his counterpart, tenacious with every nuance, eager for his audience to gain a deep understanding of his Jimmy. Straight guy Corgan is suitably restrained, played sensitively by Isaacs whose portrayal is memorable for its sense of familiar authenticity. The pair is tremendously endearing, and warmly comedic in their depiction of a very close friendship. We like them, and many will allow ourselves to be convinced of the hardships being proclaimed.

White men may be in positions of power, but it is questionable if things are necessarily easier for them. Sexism is detrimental to all genders. In many ways, we can see that Corgan and Jimmy have it easy, but all of that convenience adds up to an aimlessness, that causes meaning to be elusive. We watch them suffer, as a result of having nothing substantial to live for. They turn to each other, for comfort and support, and for affirmation that something of value and import, can ultimately be discovered.

www.thelastgreathunt.com

Review: Virgins And Cowboys (Motherboard Productions)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 30 – Dec 16, 2017
Playwright: Morgan Rose
Director: Dave Sleswick
Cast: Katrina Cornwall, George Lingard, James Deeth, Penny Harpham, Kieran Law
Image by Ashley de Prazer

Theatre review
The characters in Morgan Rose’s Virgins And Cowboys are in a constant state of struggle. Unable to identify anything authentic in their lives, they go about their days acting upon desires that never seem to come from within. We observe these derivative existences, and wonder how much of our own being, is a result of the control that others exert. The question of self-determination, it appears, is always a tricky one, even though it is clear that narcissism is never in short supply.

The play is a cryptic and therefore challenging one, although the nature of our libido is unquestionably at the centre of its explorations. Sexuality motivates the five personalities, and fuels our imagination. The things we do as a matter of course; the fucking, the procreation, the careers, are put under a microscope, devoid of delusion and romance, so that we may examine our behaviours, with perhaps, some sense of objective accuracy. It is an interrogation into our unconscious masochism, an attempt to locate what it is that we do to ourselves, that makes us so miserable.

Beautiful and quietly surreal, the production is inventively designed by a team of creatives impressive in their artistic rigour. Sound by Liam Barton is edgy, often quirky, in its definition of a space, both fragile and phantasmal. Lisa Mibus’ lights are sensual, surprising, and entertainingly dynamic. The evocative set and costumes establish the tone of the show, succinctly assembled by Yvette Turnbull.

Director Dave Sleswick’s academic approach can be confounding, but his ability to manufacture intrigue, keeps us on tenterhooks. There is a lot to be curious about, and Sleswick does a marvellous job of sustaining our attention without ever damaging the mysterious qualities of Virgins And Cowboys. He never reveals too much, and only very little is explained.

The cast is splendid. Uniformly and cohesively vivacious, each actor brings a sense of luxuriant depth to the discussions that they facilitate. Even when we lose sight of the point being made, the people on stage are full of conviction, infallible with their undisclosed narratives at the heart of Virgins And Cowboys‘ absurdist aesthetic.

We can show each other all kinds of practices and all manners of wanting, but for an individual to discover the essence and truth of their own being, the exercise of introspection is imperative. So much of how we spend each day is reliant on emulation; people will tell us how we should act, and what is required of us, but it is not always clear to the self, when the social and personal are melded, and confused. When we observe the dissatisfaction of characters in Virgins And Cowboys, and recognise our universal conundrum, the impulse is to stop, for a moment of evaluation. Consumed by the world, we rarely take stock of things habitual. We settle for being lesser, when we forget to question.

www.motherboardproductions.com.au

Review: Merciless Gods (Little Ones Theatre)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 1 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Dan Giovannoni (based on the book by Christos Tsiolkas)
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Cast: Paul Blenheim, Brigid Gallacher, Sapidah Kian, Peter Paltos, Charles Purcell, Jennifer Vuletic
Image by Sarah Walker

Theatre review
Art can reshape lives. It provides new perspectives and an accompanying freedom, so that we are able to imagine a way of being that is better, than what had been available before. Christos Tsiolkas’ books might have a penchant for all things gloomy, but their refusal to adhere to dominant myths of our culture, helps us define an Australia that is more authentic, and certainly more inclusive, than paradigms that persist in spite of their diminishing relevance. We all want to belong, it is only human to wish for acceptance.

In Merciless Gods, eight short plays, adapted by Don Giovannoni from Tsiolkas’ book of the same name, explore the bleaker recesses of our psyche, paying particular focus to universal concepts of family, violence and sex. The writing is lyrical, faithful to Tsiolkas’ own renowned style, though dialogue can sometimes sound stilted through its translation of forms.

Operatically evocative, the work involves huge emotions and flamboyantly devised contexts. Six powerful performers are called upon to manufacture a rhapsodic sense of theatricality, in the absence of more extravagant manoeuvres by director Stephen Nicolazzo, who approaches the show with a misplaced and redundant restraint. Merciless Gods contains a spirit that feels boundless, and very wild, yet the staging is adamant in its preference for abstinence, and presumably, good taste.

Actor Jennifer Vuletic is unforgettable in two of the stories, converting the literary into intimate moments thrilling and visceral, through her sensational portrayals of contrasting parental types. We meet Dan the benevolent father, just as his light dims into the unknown thereafter, and we meet the phenomenal Lisbeth, an evil mother whose destructive darkness, threatens to outlive us all.

There is no good, without the bad. In Merciless Gods, we encounter them both, with little judgement, only an acceptance of their inevitability. The exotic creatures resist our moralising, and reveal to us instead, with brutal honesty, the unrelenting imperfections of our humanity. Rendered immediately recognisable, our ugliness demands to be owned, but what happens after the curtains fall, is that eternal battle between hope and hopelessness, with neither emerging the decisive victor.

www.littleonestheatre.com.au