Review: Orphans (Seeker Productions)

seekerproductionsVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 19 – 30, 2016
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Liam Nunan, Jacki Mison, Christopher Morris

Theatre review
In Dennis Kelly’s Orphans, we look at violence and its origins. Liam is a young man who encounters unspeakable brutality. His world is one of turbulence and confusion, the nature of which was established years ago as an orphaned child, that he unfortunately sustains through to the present day. Helen is his caring sister who although similarly traumatised, is determined to create normalcy in their lives. Their story is a moving one, but presented with additional dimensions of a thriller and some very black comedy. The conflict between Helen’s order and Liam’s chaos presents tensions that serve the play well, with a skilfully designed escalation of stakes that draws us in deeper and deeper into its drama.

The very compelling characters in Orphans are played by three excellent actors who showcase their remarkable talents in a work that presents some colourful extremities to show off their thespian muscles. Director Richard Hilliar opens up every opportunity for the players to shine, and the thoroughness at which each personality is explored and portrayed, is the show’s strongest feature. Liam Nunan’s depiction of his role (also named) Liam’s trauma is unrelenting yet textured. The level of focus and emotional power he puts on display is a marvellous sight that provides a sense of edginess appropriate for the confronting nature of the material. Equally intense is Jacki Mison who gives Helen an intriguing sense of complexity that is almost hypnotic in its appeal. The more she reveals, the more we wish to discover, and the authenticity she is able to introduce along with the character’s strangeness keeps us engrossed in Helen’s quandary. Christopher Morris has a more subtle approach but is no less dynamic as Helen’s husband Danny, whose surprising transformations through the plot are crafted with great instinct and precision. The outlandish narrative is offered balance by the actor’s quiet but confident presence, allowing us breathing space within its profusion of aggressive energy.

There is also good work to be found in Liam O’Keefe’s lighting design and Tegan Nicholls’ efforts on sound. Atmosphere is generally modulated well for transitions between scenes, although visual cues do not provide enough certainty about the married couple’s socio-economic status, which becomes increasingly relevant. Similarly ambiguous are the play’s comic qualities. The darkness of its themes notwithstanding, clearer indication of humour would garner better responses to the production, and provide a greater variance in tonal shifts over its duration.

Trauma in childhood is perhaps inevitable. At varying degrees, each of us would have felt violated or betrayed in our time as small, vulnerable creatures navigating the environment, but how we develop from that tainted moment, is a real concern that Orphans investigates. We think about the process of growing up, and question the practicability of becoming happily stable adults. Some of us discover the fallacy of “happy ever after” early on but many others cling to the belief that ideals exist and a life of perfection is within reach. The truth is that things do get better, but whether we believe that there can ever be an end to personal struggle, would depend exclusively on each individual’s outlook.

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5 Questions with Jacki Mison and Liam Nunan

Jacki Mison

Jacki Mison

Liam Nunan: If you could have the career of any other actor, who would that be?
Jacki Mison: Sigourney Weaver because I was a huge sci-fi fan growing up and Ripley was my idol! She’s tough, funny, smart and able to move across genres, stage and screen.

As a producer and actor, what drew you to putting on Orphans?
I had seen a fantastic production of Orphans done a few years ago by the Queensland Theatre Company and it was one of those shows that really stayed with me for a long time. The intensity of it, Dennis Kelly’s particular style of dialogue and the moral dilemma at the core of it, for my character Helen, led me to try and secure a production. It was also in a completely different ballpark to the last show I had produced, which was an American comedy, so it felt right to switch things up.

Tell us about Helen. What excites you most about playing her?
I love the fact that she is a survivor. She is one of those people who are capable of doing the things that need to be done. But the personal cost, while not always evident, eventually bubbles up. She’s incredibly complex and has a fascinating arc throughout the play.

If, when you died, you could come back as any character in theatre, who would it be?
Would love to be one of the witches from Macbeth!

What character or production in your body of work are you most proud of?
My Subway commercial…

Liam Nunan

Liam Nunan

Jacki Mison: Dennis Kelly has written an intense, fast-moving play with Orphans. What has been your biggest challenge with the role of Liam so far?
Liam Nunan: Understanding Liam’s thought process. The play is written in a sort of chaotic frenzy of interrupting dialogue and if the rhythm isn’t spot on, the whole thing can come crashing down. You need to be hyper aware of what words trigger your impulse to launch over the other characters’ lines. Liam also changes his thought process faster than he has time to verbally articulate it. So he very often doesn’t finish his thoughts at all and talks himself in circles. So to answer your question; the acting bit.

Do you choose particular underpants for each character you play?
Great question, Jacki. Not by myself. I like to think it’s a collaborative process. I prefer to get the designers input early on before rehearsals begin and have some renderings sketched up to put forward to the director. If we can’t come to an agreement I usually get my agent involved. Surprisingly, most of the time, no one but me cares.

Who are the actors that most inspire you?
I’m inspired by actors that allow themselves to be inspired. I don’t know who said ‘Don’t be interesting. Be interested’ (or something like that) but the same can be said here. I love watching and working with actors that are open and ready to be inspired. They allow themselves to be changed by you and respond so organically, you can’t help but be changed by them.

What’s been your most embarrassing moment on stage so far?
In drama school we had just finished our first production open to the general public, The Winter’s Tale. We ran on for our curtain call, bowed, and ran off. In the wings everyone turned and ushered me to run back on to lead a second curtain call. ‘That makes sense’, I thought. ‘The audience have just sat through 3 and a half hours of 2nd year student actors doing Shakespeare whilst dressed as cowboys with southern American accents. It’s likely the best thing they’ve seen this year. I sure think it is. Of course they want more’. So I bounded back on stage. Half the audience were already making there way up the aisle. I look around, and of course I’m alone, dressed as Old Shepherd. The cast laugh. The audience look back and they laugh. Everyone laughs.

There was also the time in year 12 I had a testy blow out while I was singing ‘Maria’ in West Side Story.

If you had a choice of any role, stage or screen, what would it be?
Believe it or not, Liam in Orphans by Dennis Kelly. I’ve wanted to do this play for a while now. I saw a brilliant production of it at QTC a number of years back. I was absolutely shaken by it. I picked it up and read it maybe a year later and I was still just as moved. I thought ‘I must play this role’. I jumped at the opportunity and I’m thrilled I’ve been given the chance to play with such a complex character.

Jacki Mison and Liam Nunan can be seen in Orphans by Dennis Kelly.
Dates: 19 -30 April, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Where’s My Money? (Seeker Productions)

seekerVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 23 – 27, 2015
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Laura Pike
Cast: Amelia Beau Kaldor, Eli King, Chris Miller, Jacki Mison, Monica Sayers

Theatre review
Marriage is one of the most traditional customs of any civilisation, and its long established relationship with money and property distribution remains a crucial part of social systems today. In cultures like ours, love and romance are usually the driving force of unions, but the actual and pragmatic experience remains intrinsically tied with financial matters. John Patrick Shanley’s Where’s My Money? is a boisterous comedy about female-male relationships, and the problematic intertwining of love, sex and money. The characters in the play engage in complex and passionate diatribes, always in the mode of a fight, whether or not they are dealing with their partners. They also have to contend with ghosts that make regular appearances to disrupt their attempts at logic, reminding us all of the constant presence of less tangible things like guilt, regret and love.

This production, directed by Laura Pike, is energetic and funny, with charming performances that deliver consistent laughs. A less naturalistic approach could give the text’s ideas greater elucidation, but the pace of Pike’s show is enjoyably brisk. Even though costumes leave a lot to be desired, character types and relationships are clearly defined with interesting dynamics always at play. The cast of five shows excellent conviction, and an enthusiasm for comedy that guarantees a satisfied audience. There is a subversive spirit in Shanley’s writing that encourages a more adventurous, or less straightforward style of presentation. The show is a well-rehearsed one, but greater nuance could be introduced for a more philosophical rendering of the text.

Making relationships work, can be a lot like making art work. We try to identify all its components and then apply our best efforts to ensure that an ideal result eventuates. There are less administrable forces at play that need attention, but flair and other ephemerals require a sophistication that comes from time and sensitivity. Where’s My Money? is appropriately loud and humorous, and like other people’s marriages, it offers up a pleasing veneer, but we wonder what lies beneath the cheerful surface.

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