Review: Cake Daddy (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 16 – 22, 2019
Playwrights: Ross Anderson-Doherty, Lachlan Philpott
Director: Alyson Campbell
Cast: Ross Anderson-Doherty

Theatre review
When we first meet Ross Anderson-Doherty in his one man show, he plays a success story at Cakewatchers, an internationally renowned weight-loss programme. The performer’s large body is the location on which the farce takes place, as he takes us through a series of absurd guidelines, that claim to help individuals achieve some semblance of satisfaction for one’s own physicality, by becoming thin. Cake Daddy by Anderson-Doherty and Lachlan Philpott is an incisive summation of what is termed “diet culture”, the horrendous relationship many of us have with food and body image; that bottomless pit of cruelty, dealt by the self and by society, determined to infect each of us with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

As the jokes and songs pass us by, we see Anderson-Doherty shedding the spokesperson’s plastic facade, to reveal real experiences of a fat person who struggles to find self-acceptance. The disclosures are by no means original or new, but the honesty of the performer’s display of emotion, is channelled by director Alyson Campbell to communicate a remarkable poignancy that turns the show subtly, into a discussion about compassion, both for the self and for others. As Anderson-Doherty oscillates between hating his reflection, and loving the freedom of an emancipated mind, we witness the most authentic portrayal of humanity. Even when we have the answers to life’s big mysteries, there will always be hard work waiting to be done, in order to get through some of the days.

Musical numbers in the piece can sometimes feel extraneous, as we tend to lose a powerful sense of immediacy when Anderson-Doherty drifts into song, but to encounter his exceptional singing voice is an unequivocal pleasure. As comedian, his ability to read the audience is uncanny, and we find ourselves always kept on our toes by his vigilant stage awareness, although some of his pacing can be needlessly languid, in a production that is most effective when manic in tone. Cake Daddy skates close to self-deprecation, but its subject is never humiliated. In fact, we watch him in all his glory, and wonder if he actually shares in our vision of his greatness. However each person comes to dislike parts of themselves, it is crucial that one is committed to finding peace within, even if it proves an endless task.

www.wreckedallprods.com

Review: The Moors (Siren Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 6 – Mar 1, 2019
Playwright: Jen Silverman
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Romy Bartz, Thomas Campbell, Enya Daly, Brielle Flynn, Alex Francis, Diana Popovska
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is the Victorian era, and Emilie has left London for the countryside, looking for love and employment. Out on the wily moors, she encounters all manner of strange people and occurrences, in Jen Silverman’s spoof of the gothic romance The Moors, a comedy that brings gentle subversion to a world that is often too corseted and restrictive, in its portrayal of what it means to be female. Through its surreal renderings of familiar tropes, old scenes are turned odd, and where there is usually softness, we find instead ideas that are sharp and twisted. Women are much more interesting than genres can portray, even in the early 1800s.

Directed by Kate Gaul, it is a fabulously moody atmosphere that supports the play’s dark humour. A queer sensibility frees up all its characters, including animals, to become unexpected, almost beyond our grasp; they just refuse to be pinned down. The production is probably slightly too restrained and not as extravagant in style as it could be, with the exception of Diana Popovska’s splendidly wild performance of the maid, alternately named Marjory/Mallory/Margaret, bringing us endless mirth by making creative choices that are as weird as they are joyful. Romy Bartz is a glamorous Agatha, a solid presence whose nuances add texture to the show, especially valuable in manufacturing a quality of heightened austerity so specific to the times.

The actors are well-rehearsed, and impressive with their mastery of the revolving stage, always perfectly timed with positions and gestures that offer up a series of sumptuous tableau. Fausto Brusamolino’s lights take us to where it is dreamy and erotic, and Eva Di Paolo’s costumes make certain that desire is kept a central theme. Composer Nate Edmondson surpasses all expectations with the astonishing detail in the sounds that he provides. We are spooked and tickled at the same time, thoroughly entertained by the purposefully arty approach to his portion of the storytelling.

We should always try to see people as atypical, even if the way we construct narratives, and thus understand the world, always insists that individuals are turned into types. We become more human when we display contradictions, and when women turn inconvenient, is when we can begin to fathom the truth about who we are. In a world that only sees us as madonnas and whores, we cannot hope to be real, when we are cast merely as objects that facilitate power structures in which we must be the losing party. When we dare to imagine ourselves as complex and unconventional, leaving behind all notions of categories to live out original lives, is when things can feel meaningful, even if we have to learn to get used to being thought of as prickly and difficult.

www.sirentheatreco.com

5 Questions with Romy Bartz and Enya Daly

Romy Bartz

Enya Daly: If our characters, Huldey and Agatha, went on the X Factor, who do you think would get further in the competition?
Romy Bartz: Agatha is the ultimate strategist and excels in competition. Although her singing voice may leave something to be desired, she would surpass Huldey and most likely go on to win X Factor. She would locate a weak spot in each contestant and use it to destroy them, pegging them off one by one until, by default, she was the last one stranding. Simon Cowell would be gobsmacked, but there you have it.

What have you learned from the character you’re playing, Agatha?
I am learning to be still and let other people do the work. I am learning to squash self-doubt and maintain a sense of self-assurance at all times. Agatha is incredibly ambitious and single minded in the pursuit of an objective. She is not afraid to use unorthodox methods to get what she wants, and she has an unwavering belief in her own power to bring about change. I love this, and I delight in playing such a strong and uncompromising woman!

What is your favourite stage of working on a production?
Definitely the technical rehearsal. The cast and crew are all trapped in a darkened theatre for around 12 hours and slowly the world of the play starts to form. All the elements – lights, sound, set and costume – are integrated like puzzle pieces and you sort of allow yourself to be enveloped by it. It can feel quite magical.

Do you keep a diary? If so, tell me (and the nosy public) the best secret you’ve got in there. If not, tell me the secret you WOULD put in there.
I kept diaries all through my teens and into my early twenties. I still have them somewhere. The ravings of a pubescent, emotional wreck! Everything that every happened went into them. I’m sure most of it was ‘shameless’, saucy and highly passionate. The secret that I would put in my diary, if I had one today, would be that I am terribly attracted to red heads who play the lute.

Have you ever harboured murderous thoughts about a sibling? Please elaborate.
No, but my children, who are two years apart, harbour murderous thoughts about each other constantly. Harbouring may not be the right word, more blatant thoughts constantly manifesting as violence. I suppose there is nothing more frustrating than sharing the space with someone who has known you forever and knows exactly which buttons to press in order to achieve maximum results.

Enya Daly

Romy Bartz: What do you enjoy most about playing Huldey and what are the challenges?
Enya Daly: I love her heart. She’s been given more than enough reason to be guarded and cold, but has miraculously remained earnest, transparent and hopeful. I think the most challenging thing about this play, from a technical standpoint, is finding and maintaining the lightness of touch and truthfulness required to make the comedic moments sing.

What was it about the play, The Moors, that made you want to audition?
Honestly, when I read the audition brief, I smelt the whiff of a period drama costume and thought, “I’m there!”. I’m a period drama fanatic. I love how heavily loaded with subtext and coded behaviour they are. When I discovered that this play is not a traditional period drama but takes that familiar form and turns it on its head by subverting traditional representations of gender, I was hooked.

If Huldey had a gaming avatar, what would it look like?
I’m visualising a gauche combination of Daenerys Targaryen from Game Of Thrones, Miss Scarlet from Cluedo and Carmen Sandiego (that last one is for the 90s kids). The design should clearly be an attempt to conjure up an air of mystery and intrigue. The more elaborate, the better.

If Huldey was alive today in Sydney, Australia what would her circumstances be?
There is no doubt in my mind that she’d be a budding social media influencer. She’d have an Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube channel, Twitter and blog. Somehow, I think she has what it takes to be quite a fabulous social media influencer. She’s dramatic, loves attention and has no filter. A long-term goal of hers would be to have her very own reality TV show. She’d definitely still be living with, and supported by, her parents.

What is your favourite part of the rehearsal process?
I love the freedom you feel when you’ve gotten off book but are still sculpting each moment in the piece. I find that stage of rehearsal to be very playful.

Romy Bartz and Enya Daly can be seen in The Moors by Jen Silverman.
Dates: 8 Feb – 1 Mar, 2019
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: Eleanor & Mary Alice (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Dec 5 – 8, 2018
Playwright: Peta Tait
Director: Deborah Leiser-Moore
Cast: Petra Kalive, Sarah McNeill

Theatre review
Mary Alice Evatt was wife to Doc Herbert Evatt, Australia’s Minister of External Affairs during WWII. When the USA first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt arrived on our shores for a Sydney visit, the two women struck up a friendship, and in Petat Tait’s Eleanor & Mary Alice, we watch them bond over being married to power, both keenly aware of responsibilities they have to manage. They talk about art, politics and justice, finding solace in a mutuality based on implicit understanding. The play imagines, in a charming realistic style, conversations that could have taken place, but in the absence of more audacious artistic liberties, the cultivation of dramatic tension becomes a challenge. The personalities are fairly likeable, but they exist in a world too distant, and we fail to find enthusiasm for either of their narratives.

Deborah Leiser-Moore’s direction attempts to deliver a sense of unconventionality by immersing the actors in the aisles, and having them perform very close to the audience. The unusual positioning of their physical presence helps prevent monotony, but it is arguable if the imagery being created, is actually effective in keeping us engaged with Eleanor & Mary Alice. Actor Petra Kalive exudes a warmth that makes Mrs Evatt seem a empathetic character, whilst Sarah McNeill takes a more formal approach for Mrs Roosevelt. They establish an enjoyable rhythm with the dialogue, aided by cellist Adi Sappir who provides ethereal accompaniment throughout the piece.

The production is staged on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as developed by the United Nations, through the original committee of which Mrs Roosevelt was head of. The concept of human rights is as resonant today as it had been all those years ago. Even in the most peaceful of countries, we remain vigilant, wary of how people’s freedoms can be encroached upon, usually in surreptitious ways. In the name of security, of religion, and of tradition, we seem never to be able to stop the urge to oppress. Minority groups especially, are constantly in danger of being identified as enemies du jour. Old war stories can sometimes be uninspiring, but they all remind us of the monsters within, the ones who wait for moments of careless negligence, to once again rear their ugly heads.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: The Laramie Project & The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 28 – Dec 8, 2018
Playwrights: Moises Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project
Directors: Carly Fisher, Rosie Niven
Cast: John Michael Burdon, Laura Djanegara, Andrew Hofman, Francisco Lopez, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Matthew Pritchard, Dominique Purdue, Emily Richardson, Charlotte Tilelli
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
The brutal murder of 21 year-old gay man Matthew Shepard in 1998, endures in our collective memory, partly because of Tectonic Theater Project’s seminal work The Laramie Project. Utilising techniques of verbatim theatre, the group’s exhaustive research and interview processes have resulted in an exceptionally powerful work that confronts homophobia, in a manner that is much more far reaching than its very localised context might suggest. Along with its follow-up The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, both pieces combine to offer a truthful and complex study of hate in communities, examining the way it operates, and reflecting on its disheartening tenacity.

Directed in tandem by Carly Fisher and Rosie Niven, it is a dynamic and stirring staging of the pair of plays, with innovative use of space ensuring optimum poignancy for every pertinent message in this Laramie cycle. Lighting design by Martin Kinnane is particularly effective in regulating dramatic intensity, and proves invaluable in the smooth execution of countless scene transitions.

Performing a very extensive range of roles, is a remarkably cohesive ensemble, including John Michael Burdon and Charlotte Tilelli who leave strong impressions with their varied and often flamboyant approaches to their respective catalogues of personalities. Also memorable are Andrew Hofman and Dominique Purdue who dial up the emotions, in several affecting sequences delivered with complete and unequivocal vulnerability.

It is now twenty years since Matthew Shepard was killed on that fence, in Small Town USA. The imagery is vivid, a sacrificial lamb hanging off a divide, with residents on either side, split by opinion and perspective. In many ways, we have since advanced as peoples, especially in relation to the legislation of LGBTQI protections and marriage equality, but it is clear that our current climate of disunity in the Twitter and Trump era, is quite unprecedented.

In this digital age, we seem to have lost the capacity to think outside of zeros and ones; everything is torn asunder into left and right, love and hate, good and bad. We make enemies much more quickly than ever before, each of us moving around in hunting mode, with voracious appetites, judging people into categories that do nothing other than to amplify our disdain for a perceived adversary. We need to find ways instead, to embrace the other side, if that is what it takes to take us to the realisation, that the other side does not exist at all.

www.theatretravels.org

Review: The Wild Party (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 15 – 24, 2018
Book: Michael J. Lachiusa, George C. Wolfe
Music & Lyrics: Michael J. Lachiusa
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Michael Boulus, Jack Dawson, Nick Errol, Emily Hart, Prudence Holloway, Matthew Hyde, Tayla Jarrett, Katelin Koprivec, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Sophie Perkins, Olivier Rahmé, Zach Selmes, Samuel Skuthorp, Georgina Walker, Simon Ward, Jordan Warren, Madeleine Wighton, Victoria Zerbst
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is New York City in the 1920s, and the party is lit. Bohemian types gather at the behest of volatile lovers Queenie and Burrs; not a single introvert in sight, all thirsty for a good time, ready to make the drama happen. Michael J. Lachiusa and George C. Wolfe’s 2000 musical The Wild Party is a rollicking ride with colourful characters taking us through a succession of exuberant numbers, celebrating life in the most exciting of cities.

Under Alexander Andrews’ direction, The Wild Party is a dazzling, fun-filled romp. Even though its narrative becomes somewhat vague, the production’s relentless vibrancy keeps us engaged and uplifted. Music direction by Conrad Hamill is lush and decadent, a wonderfully evocative element. Outstanding choreography by Madison Lee brings unexpected sophistication. Imaginative and adventurous, Lee’s work is thoroughly compelling, and along with dance captain Sophie Perkins’ efforts, it is the way bodies move through every second in this staging, that proves truly splendid. A group of 5 chorines, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Jordan Warren and the aforementioned Perkins, are the stars, brilliant with their spirit and charm, extraordinarily cohesive with all that they present.

Georgina Walker plays a very alluring Queenie, with an attitude and physical gestures that are flawlessly reminiscent of that bygone era. Sound engineering is often deficient, and Walker’s voice suffers as a result, but the intricacy of her performance is no less impressive. Prudence Holloway and Victoria Zerbst take on flamboyant roles with extravagant aplomb, both actors fierce and fabulous.

Parties are worth little when participants are unable to let their hair down, but as we see in The Wild Party, things can go too far. Art however, plays by different rules, and social transgressions are often an important part of how it can create impact. Considering the context, this staging is perhaps slightly polite, so it is never really able to provide much more than entertainment. To be wild, is to explore boundaries and question the rules. Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes may well be liked by everyone, but she is unlikely to have left an indelible mark anywhere.

www.littletriangle.com.au

5 Questions with Laura Djanegara and Francisco Lopez

Laura Djanegara

Francisco Lopez: What do you love most about theatre in Sydney?
Laura Djanegara: I love the incredible array of talented and driven people that there are in the arts in Sydney. There are so many incredible and hardworking people in theatre in all its areas, cast and crew alike, that there is a lot to be inspired by. I also like that there is still a great sense of community in theatre. Back in Perth where I grew up, the theatre world was quite small but they cultivated a strong sense of community in theatre. Even though the industry here is much bigger, in my experience you still often have mutual friends with other theatre makers and that I really like.

What have you found most challenging about working on The Laramie Project or The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later?
It is a challenge making sure that each of your characters is distinct, especially when they are some that have fewer lines than others. Having clear and differing personalities for so 10+ characters can be tricky. Also, the narrator lines!

What has been your most memorable experience within the LGBTIQ+ community?
I think it would have to be when a dear friend of mine did a performance outlining why he wanted to be able to marry his partner one day. It was before the marriage equality vote and it was such a well written and performed piece that I felt truly positioned to see his point of view. That his love wasn’t wrong and wasn’t there to offend anyone. It was just love. I’d always been for marriage equality because it just makes sense to me but this performance was the first moment it really hit me in the heart. His love for his partner was so beautiful, it really moved me.

What do you wish most for the next generation of LGBTIQ+ Australians?
I wish very much for the next generation of LGBTIQ+ Australians to have acceptance, love and understanding. I was with a friend the other day and someone rolled down their car window to yell obscenities at them because they perceived them to be gay. It made me really angry. I think people have the right to make their own decisions about how they live and love. I wish this next generation doesn’t find it hard to be who they are. I wish for them a sense of belonging.

What can audiences expect to walk away with after seeing The Laramie Project or The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later?
I think a great sense of compassion and empathy. What I really like about this play is the way it doesn’t shy away from the humanity in it all. You hear from all differing views on what happened and from that you draw a clear view of how divided people can be within themselves. This murder forced people to look on their own views towards homosexuality and acceptance. I don’t think it’s enough to tolerate something – that just means putting up with something you are opposed to. This play focuses on the ‘why’ of the opposition. If it can have that effect on an audience it would be a very important experience

Francisco Lopez

Laura Djanegara: What drew you to this production and why should Sydney audiences see it?
Francisco Lopez: I had never read The Laramie Project. I knew it existed and I had a vague knowledge of Matthew Shepard’s horrific death by a fence. Maybe it sounded too horrific for me to accept; and too recent of an event. After having to fight for marriage equality last year, right here in Australia, I want to keep talking about what is holding us back from true acceptance of the LGBTIQ+ community. The Laramie Project goes beyond branding individuals as homophobes, and studies a whole town’s make up in relation to this tragedy. I invite audiences to see our two plays to remember what any equal rights movement is up against. It’s easy to believe we have made a lot of progress when we examine the horrors of the past, or the atrocities in distant parts of the world. The Laramie Project reminds us of the forces constantly present in our own communities today.

In a show of this nature where you play multiple characters, what has been the biggest challenge for you as an actor?
I play more than ten characters across the two plays, some of them appearing in both plays. There are many challenges that come with stepping into characters of different ages, professions, and belief structures. I think my biggest challenge was understanding that ultimately, these people cannot be too far away from who I am. I don’t have to wear wigs, fake noses or outrageous costumes. I may very well have said the things these people said in different circumstances. And I’m reminded that this play shows audiences just that – that Laramie is not that different from their own communities.

Which character in either play would you most like to act as and why?
I don’t know if it’s just because of the actor playing her (wink, wink, Laura!) – but Romaine Patterson, a friend of Matthew Shepard, seems like such a bad-ass in the best of ways! She wanted to be a rock star and instead became an activist who inspired so much social change across the USA. She even takes on Fred Phelps in one of the plays!

The shows are set in 1998 and 2008 respectively, what was your life like in 1998 and 2008?
Oof… in 1998 I was in Year 11 at a Catholic school in one of two Victorian electorates that voted No to marriage equality. It was my last year of studying drama, as I went on to study maths and sciences in the pursuit of academic glory. I was good at performing in life – so I had a great time in high school with some beautiful friends. I went on to be school captain and school dux – even if I wasn’t being 100% honest with myself about who I wanted to be. In 2008 I was improving workflows in an emergency department by day, and producing a community television show about Hispanic and Latin American culture by night. I was a very busy young man – and very curious about the world beyond my upbringing. That year I travelled to Dubai, London, Israel and the West Bank.

Describe The Laramie Project in 5 words.
Tragic. Hopeful. Brave. Compassionate. Love.

Laura Djanegara and Francisco Lopez can be seen in The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later.
Dates: 28 Nov – 8 Dec, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre