Review: Macbeth (SheShakespeare / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Aug 29 – Sep 8, 2018
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Shelley Casey
Cast: Megan Bennetts, Isobel Dickson, Rizcel Gagawanan, Joy Gray, Daniela Haddad, Prudence Holloway, Sonya Kerr, Emma Louise, Erica Lovell, Cassady Maddox, Suz Mawer, Emily McKnight, Beth McMullen, Lana Morgan, Grace Naoum
Images by Isobel Markus-Dunworth

Theatre review
If everything happens for a reason, then Malcolm must feel it the strangest twist of fate with this leadership challenge, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Although instigated by others, Malcolm is ultimately the one who undergoes complete transformation, by that story’s bloody end. This production features an all-female cast, but more notably, all its characters are now women. What seems to be minute alterations to Shakespeare’s words, turn his writing much more palatable, although some feminists would still prefer to see the time and energy of this passionate stable of talents, applied to projects more relevant to our times.

Director Shelley Casey proves herself an accomplished storyteller, carving out distinct characters and quick, engaging scenes for her captive crowd. Her style however is slightly too conventional, for a play in desperate need of reinvention, having been presented much too often in faithful renditions. Kyle Rowling’s work as fight choreographer is, on the other hand, truly noteworthy, in various sequences that give the show’s action quotient, an unexpectedly entertaining boost.

Leading lady Beth McMullen is a slight presence, who lacks the majesty we have come to expect of the role, but her intensity and unrelenting conviction, are admirable. It is a big cast of fifteen performers, of varying abilities, that impress with their unmistakable sense of cohesion. Gracie Naoum is a standout as Malcolm, bringing nuance to a staging that enjoys placing emphasis on its more raucous qualities. Also memorable is Rizcel Gagawanan’s interpretation of the Porter, mischievous and confident, for a theatrical moment audiences will find humorously endearing.

To “bring forth women-children only” is a futile wish, but when we look at the politics of this country (and many others), there is abundant evidence that the male of our species cannot help but create dissension wherever traditional power structures are in place. It might be naive to think that women would operate differently under those configurations of authority, but to address gender equality at all our offices and boards, is the first realistic step towards a more radical modification, of how we can better run the business of society. Whether we think of women and men as being essentially different, it is vital that all the divisions we do impose on our lives, are justly managed. All the old familiar violations, must no longer be tolerated.

5 Questions with Rizcel Gagawanan and Joy Gray

Rizcel Gagawanan

Joy Gray: Why did you want to be a part of this production?
Rizcel Gagawanan: First of all, “all-female production”, enough said. Second, I’ve always wanted to act in a Shakespeare play. Growing up I wasn’t exposed to a lot of theatre but everyone knew Shakespeare or at least knew of it. These days to get my Shakespeare fix I watch National Theatre Live at the cinemas. The performances are so amazing but what would be even more inspiring would be to see more POC actors on a Shakespeare stage. So here I am!

Why did you want to be an actor?
My mum put me in the ‘Johnny Young Talent School’ when I was 4 because I was a handful, so I guess from a young age I started to love performing but mostly it was because I had no shame. However, I’ve only come back to acting in the last 4 years and it’s the same things that brought me back, loving to perform (and having no shame), but also the passion to create and tell stories. More specifically telling stories that matter to me and represent me. As I was growing up it was rare to see someone who looked like me on TV or on stage. These days that’s starting to change but we have a long way to go. I believe that my work as an actor is helping change that.

What are your hobbies?
I run long distance, I recently ran City2Surf, 14km in 95 minutes! I’m hoping to finish a half marathon some day (…some day). In my spare time I’m either sketching in an art gallery or having embroidery dates with friends, and Netflix is a hobby too right?

If you could be in any movie, what character would you play?
I think TV shows beat films in terms of great badass female lead characters. I’d like to play an action hero like a spy/assassin character like Maggie Q’s Nikita and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle in Killing Eve but with the comedy antics of Ali Wong. If only I could do my own stunt work.

What are your top 5 movies?
In no particular order: Crash, Coming To America, Crazy Rich Asians, Get Out, and all the Harry Potter movies.

Joy Gray

Rizcel Gagawanan: Who has influenced you the most in your life?
Joy Gray: I would say my older sister has influenced me the most because she has always put me on a pedal stool and has consistently been the positive voice in my head when it comes to loving who I am, and going for my dreams. She has also influenced my decisions in occupations, as I am often in a care giving type of work environment, having followed her lead in life.

How has working with only women in the rehearsal room impacted the creative process for you?
Women can be great to work with in this capacity because we tend to have great emotional and intuitive intelligence. This intelligence can create an atmosphere of sincere relationships. Having sincerity on stage is important for the creative process because it allows an easier space to fully realize the way in which the actions and reactions given by your fellow cast mates are affecting the words being said and their meaning.

What was it about the play that made you want to audition?
I wanted to audition for this play because I wanted to do Shakespeare and I liked the idea of doing an all-female show. I also liked the musical aspect of the show. I auditioned because I wanted to challenge myself and gain experience as an actor. It was icing on the cake that this play is embracing women who want to destroy the status quo, and She Shakespeare is doing this by keeping all the unique elements of the play intact, but also keeping the characterizations that make women unique and beautiful.

What made you want to become an actor?
I have always been interested in how people communicate with each other, whether their through words, or the many kinds incremental gestures with their face and body. This fascination led me into the study of psychology and neuroscience. Underneath that academic attraction, I have also have a need to break out of my interior and exterior shell, and acting is the embodiment of changing who you are. I know I would rather just stay safe inside my head, inside my living room, with a Virtual Reality headset, but acting forces me to be social, to think about, and be in different scenarios; and it’s tough! On a lighter note, I grew up in a family who loved to go to the cinema, who loved music, dancing and technology. I married a man who is a musician and a philosopher, who also appreciates a myriad of live performance such as opera, spoken word, and of course stage acting.

What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?
The worst movie I have ever seen is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. It is also the funniest movie I have ever seen. I loved going to see it at a cinema full of people armed with plastic spoons for throwing, who are yelling the phrase “because you’re a woman!”. I liked the cringe worthy sex scenes that looked completely wrong and sounded hilarious to a repetitive cheesy, 90’s jazz music score. The absolute best thing about the movie is the horrendous acting and dialogue. It is infamous!

Rizcel Gagawanan and Joy Gray can be seen in Macbeth , by William Shakespeare.
Dates: 29 Aug – 8 Sep, 2018
Venue: PACT

Review: As You Like It (Sheshakespeare)

Venue: Muse Clinic (Darlinghurst NSW), Oct 24 – Nov 4, 2017
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Shelley Casey
Cast: Courtney Bell, Michelle Cameron, Rebecca Day, Lauren Dillon, Amy Hack, Prudence Holloway, Sonya Kerr, Lana Kershaw, Emma Louise, Cassady Maddox, Kelly Robinson, Charlotte Tilelli
Image by Lauren Orrell

Theatre review
Drag kings can be thought of as women who overtly reject rules of social behaviour as they pertain to femininity, and thus represent the ultimate symbol of resistance against sexism, or we can think of cross-dressers, as women performing gender in a way that would elevate these individuals most effectively, in immoral structures that champion and venerate masculinity.

In director Shelley Casey’s rendition of As You Like It, a cast of twelve women play all the roles, female and male. It is a display less about the content of the piece, than it is about making a statement on the gendered imbalances pervasive in the state of our art and of our society. Shakespeare’s writing can only be considered misogynist by today’s standards, so the need to find a way to seek redress always seems urgent, but it remains an issue, that unquestioned and perpetual reverence for this great exemplar of Western theatre. It would be remiss to think that the absence of women of colour on this Australian stage, is simply a coincidence.

Tradition and feminism do not make a convenient pairing. The production is an experiment in the negotiation of a space between the progressive and the conservative. It succeeds when making fun of macho stereotypes (actors Prudence Holloway and Charlotte Tilelli are endlessly amusing, with their extravagant mockery of hypermasculinity), and when it blurs the representation of heterosexuality, the results are thrilling, but the production is awkwardly respectful of the original text. We have to wonder what it is that it wants to protect and preserve, so vehemently.

If one is able to set aside politics, this is a Shakespeare comedy that can always be relied on to delight. Casey’s two-hour version is fast and funny, with a comforting warmth that draws us in. In the role of Rosalind is Amy Hack, fabulously expressive, and determined to entertain with her dexterous creativity and captivating effervescence. Also impressive is the use of live music, cleverly composed to bring a sense of enchantment to the setting.

It is debatable whether well-behaved women can make history. This production of As You Like It is made of sugar and spice, possibly a little too nice for those of us seeking something radical. If we wish to be rid of the old guard, our actions need to be more than symbolic. The atmosphere is ripe for a brave and audacious movement, that will bring subversion to two-and-a-half centuries of violation on this land. Only those in direct participation, will know that the revolution has begun.