Review: 2071 (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 26 – Jun 10, 2017
Playwrights: Duncan Macmillan, Chris Rapley
Director: Tim Jones
Cast: Lucy Brownlie, John Gaden, Heath Jelovic, Ellery Joyce, Jacqueline Morrison, Sasha Rose, Matthew Simmons

Theatre review
In 2071: a performance about climate change, we have to listen closely to a lesson about the science of our climate. There are projections to look at, and children forming occasional tableaux to help illustrate the point, but it is only the words that we should pay close attention to. Clearly a very serious matter, and for those of us less keen on scientific study, the details are challenging. It is an issue that requires tremendous focus, but when we invest, with determination, to hear what is being said, 2071 is undoubtedly rewarding.

Essentially a monologue, the writing feels no different from a lecture, dense with facts and evidence. The layperson would struggle to absorb every sentence uttered, but there will certainly be pertinent points that resonate for each individual who is present. It contains no surprises, but the production does communicate a sense of urgency to drive home the message. Music by Andrée Greenwell, and actor John Gaden’s delivery, are responsible for the hastened air of impulsion at conclusion.

The science points to an impending ecological disaster. Whether or not one wishes to accept the causes that lead to this state of devastation, every citizen of the world must commit to improving the conditions in which we have to live. Only the most masochistic and nihilistic will choose to persist with the status quo, but it must surely be a very small minority that wants to watch everything come to a painful ruin. Now is the time to be fearful of complacency and inaction.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: Fallen (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 6 – 22, 2017
Playwright: Seanna van Helten
Director: Penny Harpham
Cast: Lucy Goleby, Megan Holloway, Chantelle Jamieson, Abbie-lee Lewis, Moreblessing Maturure, Rebecca Montalti, Eloise Winestock
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
It is 19th century England, and the women in Seanna van Helten’s Fallen are told what to wear, how to act, and which to think. The story takes place in a kind of halfway house, where women who have transgressed morality are banished, to be put through a process of rehabilitation. There is a Victorian severity to these characters’ lives, but what the play demonstrates more relevantly, is how those archaic ways retain control over us today; we still insist on telling women how they should look and behave.

Van Helten’s writing is subtle, a quiet mystery with depths of emotion and meaning, discoverable under surfaces of restrained tumult. The six women of Fallen reveal little, but an authenticity is nonetheless present. The work is challenging to perform. Actors are required to imagine all that is hiding between the lines, and the bolder they are at manifesting the unsaid, the more effective their show becomes. It is a likeable ensemble, but not always powerful enough to overcome the cryptic nature of the writing. Lucy Goleby is matron of the house, a staunch, stern character who is depicted with a greater sense of definition than the rest. We rely on Goleby to bring the drama, which she does often, especially when she taps into the eerie, slightly gothic quality that the piece lends itself to.

The production has a mild temperament, almost timid in its expressions. At its best, Fallen is haunting and transcendent, but the show can quickly turn tepid and consequently lose connection with its audience. We wonder what the women had done to have them condemned, and who they truly are, but our interest seems to swell and wane, through different junctures of the plot. There are moments of design brilliance to relish; Raya Slavin’s music and Sian James-Holland’s lights are attractive, even though inconsistencies in atmosphere add to the show’s issues with dramatic tension. We see all the potential on this stage, and wish for greater impact, with more audacious approaches.

The women in Fallen have no choice but to be compliant. Our world today is significantly different, with much more liberated attitudes than before, yet we submit everyday, to fears of stepping out of line, whether or not repercussions are real. We alter our own behaviour to conform and to appease, and expect the same of other women. Well-behaved women seldom make history, but it is not only for the momentous that we should dare to be ourselves. It is what happens in our regular day-to-day that requires us to be vigilant over the power that we own and that we should never be fearful of.

www.sportforjove.com.au

5 Questions with Lucy Goleby and Moreblessing Maturure

Lucy Goleby

Moreblessing Maturure: Fallen is a new Australian work. Why do we need new work and why did you choose this new work?
Lucy Goleby: I think it’s really important that theatre reflects, questions and challenges its social, geographical and political context. New work speaks to audiences with an immediacy, an urgency and a familiarity that makes an audience’s experience inside the theatre change the way they interact with the world outside it. This play, Fallen, allows audiences to do some of that metaphorical work themselves, asking them to draw conclusions and discover points of similarity and difference between London in 1848, we create for them onstage, and the world of Sydney in 2017, as they create for themselves offstage. Fallen seeks to explore the role of women in a patriarchy, how their relationships within a patriarchy are constructed and destroyed, and what, ultimately, empowerment looks like.

Is working in the female-led space that She Said Theatre encourages different to your previous acting experiences? If so, how?
Working with She Said and the incredible company of women has been challenging and empowering. I talk of Facebook and social media as an echo chamber, with my own opinions and passions reverberated back at me by like-minded individuals. In this room, I am surrounded by opinions and passions as fervent as my own. In simultaneously supporting and challenging each other, we have been strengthening ourselves as women to support and challenge the society we live in. Knowing that these remarkable women are conducting themselves with poise, passion, determination, intelligence and love makes me feel stronger and safer in my pursuit to do the same.

How can today’s 21st century society hope to relate to this text and its characters?
I think today’s audiences are smart story-recipients. They’re clever and quick with metaphor and symbolism, and easily capable of drawing comparisons between their own lives and experiences and those presented to them. Beyond that, the enormous revolution in television in the last five-odd years has created an audience that understands how to invest in multiple characters and multiple plotlines. Stories matter to us when we can see ourselves in them. This play and its women are both deeply familiar and uncomfortably confronting to the experience of 21st century Australian women. And men who’ve ever met a woman.

What would your character, Matron, think of 21st Century Australia?
I think Matron would be entirely overwhelmed and relieved. She is in the unenviable position of upholding and maintaining the very system that disenfranchises and devalues her. We’ve been talking a fair bit in rehearsal about the perpetuation of bad advice, and the insidious inheritance of unconscious bias. I believe in that idea that you can only dream what’s seen, and Matron’s capacity to make any kind of difference for the girls in her care is fundamentally flawed because she can’t dream a life for them that’s any different from her own.

Who should I invite to come and see this show?
Anyone who cares about what it means to be human. And those who like a stunning multimedia, fragile soundscape, emotionally rich direction, clever, detailed language, an intricate flexible set or a fully boned corset complete with hand-sewn period dresses. And your mum.

Moreblessing Maturure

Lucy Goleby: Describe the world of the play Fallen in five words.
Moreblessing Maturure: Precarious. Tense. Measured. Full. Live

What is one of the questions you hope this play asks or answers?
This is probably the thing I look forward to the most about this play- the foyer conversations before the play, during the intermission and in pubs, cars and trains after the curtain call. I asked a lot of questions after my first reading and I’d be more than content if the audience was also curious after watching the play, curious enough to read up about the history of Urania Cottage, the history of Australia, the herstory of women and particularly, these women. One burning question I’d hope this play asks is “where are we know?” Compared to 1846- where are we as a society when it comes to our relationship with our history, with femininity and liberation.

What has been the most unexpected moment or discovery of the process so far?
Aside from the phone call from Penny (the director) telling me I was going to play Julia, realising how noticeably different working in an unapologetically female-led and centred space was. Not only for myself as an individual but also as an artist, realising that “the norms” of a theatre space, which I’d learnt to be the ‘rules’ of theatre making-didn’t have to be so- that there was a different way to approach, to analyse to process to imagine stories- and that way was equally as valid . #suchdeep #muchwow

How is your character, Julia, similar to and different from you and what have you learned from her?
Julia, unlike myself, has a steadfast faith in the system she finds herself, in meritocracy- the notion that hard work leads to success (however that manifests) and thus any failure is due to individual inadequacy. That was the first big obstacle i had to work through in understanding Julia, as to WHY someone who has been wronged by her society in so many ways, continues to obey by the rules that actively maintain her lowly position. Julia also manages to be very similar to me in the way she navigates her world, in her ability to master the act of appeasing and knows how to keep-up-appearances when all she wants to do is yell to the heavens..yeah, we’re pretty Kool Kats

How will this play have changed you, as an actor and a person?
As a testament to Penny’s incredible ability, It’s introduced me to a new way to approach, discover and understand a character. This play has also set a precedent for myself as an artists as to the amount of complexity and nuance I am will accept in a role. Female roles aren’t accessories to adorn a male centric narrative- they deserve to be written with truth and dimension and dare I say: virility.

Lucy Goleby and Moreblessing Maturure can be seen in Fallen by Seanna van Helten.
Dates: 6 – 22 Apr, 2017
Venue: Seymour Centre

5 Questions with Tessa James and Alex Packard

Tessa James

Alex Packard: The character you play in Blackrock, Rachel, has been accepted to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – what animal form would her Patronus Charm be?
Tessa James: Cheetah.

Looking at Blackrock, what has been your favourite part of the process so far?
Being able to explore the text for such a long period of time, to be able to constantly challenge myself whilst discovering my character Rachel and being inspire by the cast.

We see a lot of the characters in Blackrock trying to suppress or ignore certain memories… What is your earliest memory you can recall?
Performing in front of my family in the lounge room and making them pay 20c for a performance 🙂

You’ve got one song stuck in your head, all day, everyday, for the rest of your life. What song do you choose?
Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams at the moment.

You’re walking alone through a forest at night, what are you most afraid of: ghosts, monsters or aliens?
Aliens… definitely.

Alex Packard

Tessa James: If you could work with any actor and director, who would it be?
Alex Packard: I really like the work that Scott Graham does with his theatre company, Frantic Assembly. It’s always very clever and imaginative, the kind of stuff that makes you say under your breath “wish I had thought of that” – it would be a delight to be directed by him. As for an actor, I could sneeze in the same postcode as Mark Rylance and die happy, so I choose him.

What are you most afraid of?
I’d like to answer with something profound, like ‘fear itself’, but I’m going to have to go with: getting into trouble. I’m not very good at handling it. I was one of those kids who would crumble at the thought of getting caught out by a teacher. Even now that I am (ahem) all grown up I still recognise it in myself – the other day there was a patch of fresh-looking concrete out the front of my house and I impulsively bent down to touch it to see if it was wet and got yelled at by a tradie watching over it (fair enough, I was about to mess with her construction). It took me the better part of an hour to get over the shame of being caught out.

If Beyonce offered to do a private dance class with you – which song would you choose (of hers) to dance to?
Last time I had a private dance class with Beyonce she said that I didn’t really need any more classes – she had “taught me all she knows”. But, ah… lets be honest, I would butcher any of her songs. So lets go with Single Ladies, cause I know that at the very least I am capable of flipping my left hand around.

If you could invite any 5 people, dead or alive, to a dinner party who would those 5 people be?
You mean aside from the wonderful cast and crew of Blackrock, right?? Ah, I’m generally more of an observer than a contributor when it comes to conversations involving more than a few people, so I’m going to cut it down to three: I’d go with William Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy and Sharon Jones.

What is your least favourite word?
whiteboWhatever is the first word spoken on the radio when my alarm goes off in the morning. Hate that word.

Tessa James and Alex Packard can be seen in Blackrock by Nick Enright.
Dates: 9 – 25 Mar, 2017
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: The Trouble With Harry (Siren Theatre Co)

sirentheatrecoVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 16 – Mar 3, 2017
Playwright: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jodie Le Vesconte, Niki Owen, Jane Phegan, Jonas Thomson
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In there somewhere, is a true story. Harry Crawford was a transgender man who lived in Sydney a century ago, and when he fell foul of the law, was forced to present as female in public. Stories of the oppressed are systematically sublimated by dominant forces that demand not just acquiescence in behaviour, but also censorship of histories. Lachlan Philpott’s The Trouble With Harry goes in search of a fascinating figure from our cultural past, to create a new collective memory that is as significant to our lives today as it should have been yesterday.

It is a modern piece of writing on the subject. We are still focused on the persisting struggles of trans people, but Philpott does not put us through the exasperating process of “understanding why”. The trans person is not required to defend his position, or explain his existence, and this is radical. We only see the persecution and injustices that befall Harry, and that is more than enough for our protagonist to connect with his audience’s humanity.

The sophistication of the script is reflected in the production’s look and sound, with an exceedingly elegant team of designers bringing to the space, a serene beauty that evokes an appropriate grandness of emotion and meaning, so as to correspond to Harry’s extraordinary experiences. Matt Cox’s work on lights is particularly laudable, for an unmistakable quality of transcendence that permeates the show.

The same sophistication is missing however, in the casting of a female actor as the leading man. One could easily imagine Harry turning in his grave at the very idea. The play’s structure too is damaged by the cat being let out of the bag, far too early in the plot. We need to see what Harry’s neighbours see, in order that the cruelty and absurdity of his troubles can be revealed with greater poignancy, and accuracy. (More on this “theatrical misgendering” of trans characters in my piece last year on Belvoir’s Back At The Dojo.)

Nonetheless, performances are uniformly accomplished in The Trouble With Harry. Jodie Le Vesconte is a soulful Harry, convincingly strong and silent, with an impressive sense of depth to his inarticulate suffering. A mesmerising couple, with Jane Phegan as his Annie, their mutual affection feels completely genuine, and a crucial point of success for the production. Director Kate Gaul’s confident, understated approach gives us a very smart show, with a lot of integrity injected into her depiction of one of society’s most misunderstood. There is a real beauty in Gaul’s theatricality, but dramatic tension for the piece is inconsistent and occasionally underwhelming. We want the tragedy to play out in a more predictable way, but the staging resists that convention and its associated clichés.

There is a delicate balance in our society that involves the constant negotiation between cohesion and individuality. We want to feel safe in our communities, so we are compelled to make endless assumptions about our neighbours, and how much they are just like us. We want other people to conform, because if we are to follow the rules unquestionably, we will ensure that others must do the same. Gender, it can be argued, is nothing but a long list of requirements made of us that contain virtually no inherent logic. Harry was a man with a quirk, and a man with no quirks, is no human at all.

www.sirentheatreco.com

Review: The Screwtape Letters (Clock & Spiel Productions)

clockspielVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 10, 2016
Playwright: C.S. Lewis (adapted by Hailey McQueen)
Director: Hailey McQueen
Cast: Yannick Lawry, George Zhao
Image by John Leung

Theatre review
Based on the novel by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters follows the correspondences of senior demon, Screwtape, as he mentors his nephew Wormwood, who is learning the ropes of the devil’s business from his evil uncle. There is a “patient” in question, a case study if you will, and the heat is on, to lead him to temptation, and away from God. Contrary to popular belief that immorality is easy, the troublemakers have a difficult time, and we are challenged by notions of good and evil as they relate to our impulses and tendencies.

Having been adapted directly from Lewis’ writing, the play demonstrates that the efficacy of words is reliant on the context within which they are presented. At the theatre, we are not able to glance back at previous sentences, or look away to let meanings merge with imagination at a pace of the reader’s choosing. Words that had been designed for one purpose, might not necessarily translate conveniently for another, and in The Screwtape Letters, the challenge of adapting a novel for the stage, is bravely taken on by Hailey McQueen who also doubles as director. Although unable to repurpose the text entirely satisfactorily, McQueen delivers a charming show that holds appeal for those of us with a wicked streak .

It is a beautifully designed production, with Isabella Andronos’ set and costumes providing appropriate sharpness of style to Screwtape’s world of decadent luxury. Chris Page’s elegant lighting helps us move through scene transitions effectively, and his careful calibration of mood changes keeps us visually fascinated. Music and sound design by Adam Jones is very impressive. Much of how the audience responds and what it feels for The Screwtape Letters is controlled by Jones, who significantly elevates this theatrical experience with admirable precision and creativity. Actors Yannick Lawry and George Zhao are a well-rehearsed duo that puts on a presentation with professional polish. Zhao’s comic physical inventiveness is especially memorable. The two men are warm, likeable personalities, but we wish to see something much darker and menacing. We want the fiction to take us to a place unthinkably taboo, somewhere so close to hell that we can only react with the extremities of either being frightened away or helplessly seduced in, but Screwtape seems too much of a gentleman to afford us that pleasure.

www.clockandspielproductions.com

5 Questions with Yannick Lawry and George Zhao

Yannick Lawry

Yannick Lawry

George Zhao: Sum up the character of Screwtape in 5 words or less.
Yannick Lawry: Mad, bad, dangerous to know…

CS Lewis doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to saying what he believes about the world. Playing the character of Screwtape, what is the most confronting thing you say in your personal opinion?
I think one idea Lewis presents is that we, as human beings, are not the ones in ultimate control or our circumstances. That’s massively confronting to many of us (me included!) One line that makes me think every time I utter it is when Screwtape talks about a ‘patient’ he recently captured by distracting him all the time and the patient’s words as he arrive in Screwtape’s kingdom are: “I now see that I spent most of my life doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”. A line that often comes into my head when I’m mindlessly flicking through the news feed on my phone..

You have about 75 mins of dialogue to learn for this show. How on earth did you manage that?
Um.. well, I don’t mind the sound of my own voice so I record each letter and listen to it back again and again until it sticks. Fortunately, Lewis’s train of thoughts and arguments follow nice, logical lines so they’re easy to map out and don’t take too long to sink in!

You’ve done a heap of theatre in London and Sydney but if you could replay any of your past performances which one would it be?
One of the first roles I played in London was Hamlet. He’s such an existentially-challenged brat; but I love the journey he goes on and the range he gives an actor to play in. Being in my late-30s, I probably need to get onto it quickly if I want to give him another shot!

It’s my round, what are you drinking?
If it’s cocktail hour and your budget will stretch to it, a Negroni. Otherwise a VB is just fine, thanks!

George Zhao

George Zhao

Yannick Lawry: Sum up your show, The Screwtape Letters, for us in 5 words or less!
George Zhao: Who’s pulling the strings, then?

What are the habits of a successful actor in your opinion?
Good question! In my humble opinion, they are:
– Knowing what success means to you personally and striving to achieve it.
– Constantly improving on your skill sets and on yourself.
– Allowing yourself time to rest .
– Most importantly, you need to genuinely love to those around you. I really can’t stress enough how much of an impact that has on people!

In The Screwtape Letters, you play a demon and the human “patient” – how do you separate out the two characters when playing them so close together?
I like to flow into the characters via physicality, once i move into the character a certain way, the voice, objectives and history of that character follow.

So, you recently filmed the second season of the awesome SBS series The Family Law – any gems from behind the scenes that you can share with us?
I’m actually still in the process of filming it while I write this! I’ve been incredibly blessed to work with all the people on this production, they are all incredibly loving and willing to help those around them without a second thought, and the catering is AMAZING! As the cast, we have this set of dances which are hilarious when we all do them together. I started a dance in front of the camera during a break in the scene last week, being silly and whatnot, and as I turned around i saw that the *entire* family were behind me doing the dance as well. I’m really hoping the camera was rolling, would be hilarious to watch that back!

You’re touring this show to Melbourne and Canberra after Sydney – where (and why!) are your favourite hangouts in those cities?
Can you believe, I’ve never ever been to Melbourne. So I’m open to suggestions! And the last time I was in Canberra was when I was a kid. So this tour will be significant for me in a whole bunch of ways.

Yannick Lawry and George Zhao will be appearing in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
Dates: 22 Nov – 10 Dec, 2016
Venue: Seymour Centre