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: Joan (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 16 – 18, 2018
Playwright: Lucy J Skilbeck
Director: Lucy J Skilbeck
Cast: Lucy Jane Parkinson
Image by Robert Day

Theatre review
When they burned Joan of Arc to death at the age of 19, it was punishment for the charge of heresy, of dressing in men’s clothes. In Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan, we acknowledge the warrior as a queer figure, finally indulging in the highly probable idea that the hero was in fact transgender. For those whose gender identities are never a complicated matter, this might seem a little like making mountains out of molehills, but for many LGBTQI individuals, Joan’s story of persecution is one that needs to be recognised for what it is.

In Skilbeck’s revised account of events, we sometimes see Joan as a lesbian in love with Saint Catherine, sometimes a drag king, but mostly we are encouraged, finally, to regard Joan as a person unable to comply with age-old rules of gender. The masculine armour was not merely an instrument of practicality for the fighter. We now know those struggles to be commonplace, that trans people exist everywhere, and that we always were. The restoration of queer and trans perspectives in our legends and histories is crucial to the way we think about ourselves, and represents an urgent demand that society validates all our contributions to the world; past, present and future.

Lucy Jane Parkinson showcases a wealth of talents, as performer of the one-person show. A captivating presence, versatile and confident in their effortless vacillation between goofy and sentimental, Parkinson presents a character determined to steal our hearts one way or another. Their ability to maintain a personal connection with all of the audience, for the show’s entire duration, is a stunning feat, achieved through an intense sense of vulnerability and a precise, exhaustive familiarity with the work.

Joan of Arc’s legend was always about gender, yet for centuries, that story was told with a major obfuscation at its very core. When society refuses trans people the freedom to be ourselves, by misgendering us, and by forcing us to adhere to its narrow definitions of gender, that cruelty and injustice will invariably have reverberations beyond the immediate, and the damage caused is always greater than any of us would be ready to admit. This is why reinstating Joan’s truth in our historical memory, for the benefit of LGBTQI generations hereafter, is important. The meaning of gender is little more than the imposition of restrictions, to manufacture a system of control over individuals. It benefits few, yet virtually all of us participate in its fictions. We can dream to demolish these beliefs, but before we reach that point of enlightenment, all these rules have to be loosened, if only to salvage what is left of our humanity.

www.milkpresents.com

5 Questions with Thomas Campbell and Jane Phegan

Thomas Campbell


Jane Phegan: What attracts you to Enda Walsh’s writing? Misterman is the second play of his that you have performed.
I love Enda Walsh’s plays and characters because I pick up a script of his and have no idea where to start and that excites me. There’s a consistent theme through most of his plays where his characters are searching for love so there’s a deep truth to them. Added to that, he uses extraordinary language and word play so it’s a delight and a challenge to speak his words. He’s effing brilliant.

Why do you want to take this work or work in general to the Edinburgh stage?
Edinburgh Fringe has always been a bit of a bucket list thing for me but it’s a very expensive exercise so seemed like a bit of an impossibility. When we took Misterman to Hobart last year and had a mini tour experience, Hartley, our lighting designer, suggested we look at going to Edinburgh so we started to put the wheels in motion. Also, Misterman is just a great showy piece for all of us and then I thought I should take my comedy piece, One Hander, as well. Why not?

What inspired you to write and perform One Hander?
I was living in London, having my UK ‘experience’, pretty depressed and artistically deprived. I’ve always had these stories about people’s reactions to my hand, or lack thereof, which have been great dinner party fodder. So at about 3am one morning, after my 10th episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, I decided to get off my arse and face a fear and do a stand up comedy open mic night. I started writing, did the open mic night, and a month later I did a full hour show at the Battersea Barge in London. That’s where it began.

Like myself, you have worked with Kate Gaul several times – what keeps you coming back for more?
Kate Gaul is a genius. She’s unbelievably hard working and has such rigour to her work. She’s constantly asking questions of herself and her creatives right up until the show closes. She always asks ‘what is the story we are telling?’ which seems like basic question but it’s the most important and tends to get forgotten in a lot of productions I see. She’s also not afraid to be ‘direct’ as opposed to ‘polite’ in a rehearsal room which I respond well to and believe it’s a short cut to the best work.

What’s your favourite musical?
I love musicals but my favourite changes daily depending on the mood I’m in. Today it’s probably my old favourite, Into The Woods, because I remember getting a VHS copy of the OBC production with Bernadette Peters, when I was about 13 and watching it 4 times back to back in the one day. It was the first musical I saw that showed they didn’t have to just be frothy and shiny but could have cracking acting as well. I’m also a little bit obsessed with Dear Evan Hansen at the moment- I have a dodgy bootleg copy- but I’m yet to work out if it’s just Ben Platt’s performance that is the extraordinary thing or the show or both.

Jane Phegan


Thomas Campbell: Tell me about the play and your role?
It is a beautiful piece by Noelle Janaczewska that takes the audience on a wild adventure down the Amazon, a long dreamed of destination, and through the history of that part of the world. At the same time the character is coming to terms with her father’s illness and exploring their relationship which centres around a shared love of literature. They are both venturing into other worlds and the unknown. It is in turn a poetic, funny and, as Ben Neutze described, “ultimately heartbreaking piece of theatre”.

What’s it been like to revisit a role for the second time?
I am just beginning to revisit the role and Noelle has made some minor edits – that is one of the brilliant aspects of being able to do a piece more than once – the ability to refine and go further. I hope to do the same with the performance! I’m looking forward to going back into the world of the show and finding new gems with a sense of knowing.

Are you nervous about taking your work to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
Of course!! What a loony thing to do! It’s bad enough taking to the stage on your own in Sydney let alone in front of an international audience. But that is what we do, is it not? Move toward that which scares us the most. Now I’m really nervous – thanks Tom!

What’s Kate Gaul like as a director?
I have worked with Kate a number of times now and that is because I trust her 100%.That trust extends to both the bigger picture and also my performance. Because of that I can push the boundaries of what I think is possible (and be pushed!) and know that she will never let me (or her) look foolish or the show be under par. She is imaginative, forthright, assured, switched on and fun. I admire her drive and Kate is such an intelligent director, in tune with the work and only taking on what she is truly inspired to bring to life.

How are you travelling with a group of misfits like myself?
Actually travelling? By plane. Maybe a train here and there. And I hope we can walk to the venue! How am “dealing” with the group of misfits? I am one! We’re going to have a ball and we get to showcase some Australian work on the international stage. Super excited.

Tom Campbell and Jane Phegan are in Siren Theatre Company’s Edinburgh Program season of Misterman, Good With Maps and One Hander.
Dates: 14 – 18 June, 2017
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre

Review: The Ham Funeral (Siren Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 17 – Jun 10, 2017
Playwright: Patrick White
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Andy Dexterity, Eliza Logan, Carmen Lysiak, Johnny Nasser, Jane Phegan, Sebastian Robinson, Jenny Wu
Image by Lucy Parakhina

Theatre review
At the centre of The Ham Funeral is a Young Man without the certainty of a name. Unsure of his own identity, interpretations of what goes on around him is correspondingly ambiguous. Patrick White’s surrealist work is not one to rely on for narrative pleasure, but as a platform for theatrical delight, it swells with possibilities.

Director Kate Gaul identifies the extremities in the play, whether they be comedic, dramatic, grotesque or celestial, and turns them into sequences of sheer and intense pleasure. There is a cohesive whole, but the primary enjoyment of this staging is in the savouring of all its deeply fascinating moments. A vague logic does exist, but our senses, beyond those that comprise the rational mind, are fired up and called upon to engage, in a visceral way that can only happen within a live setting.

It is a waking dream in which we find ourselves immersed. Nothing looks real, but we know that everything points to something authentic. We are gripped by its mystery, and the hypnotic ambience so expertly manufactured by its team of daring creatives. Hartley T A Kemp lights the space so that everything seems to float in an abyss of subconsciousness, and Nate Edmondson’s sensational sounds of ringing and rumbling take over our nervous system, directly manipulating our moods and responses.

Gleefully infectious, the wonderful cast looks and feels to be made up of all those voted most likely to run off and join the circus. Idiosyncratic and profoundly eccentric, we are persuaded to relate to the show in a manner that is perhaps unusual for many. Eliza Logan is the magnificent leading lady, completely enthralling as Alma Lusty; wild, depraved and primal, yet impressively precise with the design and execution of all her choices. Intelligent and inventive, Logan’s performance in the flamboyant, mad world of The Ham Funeral is truly unforgettable. The nameless Young Man is played by Sebastian Robinson with a physical proficiency that adds exceptional beauty to the production’s visual emphasis. Also remarkable is Johnny Nasser, deliciously exaggerated while maintaining a measured sensitivity, in both of his contrasting roles.

A century has past since the dawn of Dada, and all things surreal or absurd may no longer be thought of as immediately relevant, but art must never shy away from conversations that exist at the outer limits of rationality and reason. If we talk only about the things we know, the chance of us meaningfully expanding consciousness is meagre. To break free from incessantly repetitious dialogue that has become a habit of modern living, it can only be beneficial to indulge in something radically new, especially when getting to the point, is not the point of it.

www.sirentheatreco.com

Review: Tiny Remarkable Bramble (Kings Cross Theatre)

impendingroomVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 6 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Jessica Tuckwell
Director: Cathy Hunt
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Lucy Suze Taylor, Catherine Terracini, Contessa Treffone, Geraldine Viswanathan, Michael Whalley
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Joy is the emotion that manifests as protagonist in the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out, which explores emotions as separate entities in a human child. Jessica Tuckwell’s Tiny Remarkable Bramble can be seen to be similar in approach, with the quality of melancholy instead taking centre stage. The play is cryptic, and surreal in style, allowing the viewer a certain amount of freedom for the creation of meanings that could lead to personal interpretations that resonate with power, or could simply be an absurdist comedy that proves itself inconsequential, depending on the viewer’s tastes.

Smart, snappy dialogue is inventively formulated for the creation of six very quirky characters. There is considerable profundity in Tuckwell’s writing, in spite of a less than gripping plot line that leads us to a predictable end. Cathy Hunt’s direction of the piece is vibrant, playful and energetic in its thorough excavation of erudite gems, submerged in the densely fertile text. The show is fun-filled, featuring a group of actors that seem to be in a state of complete merriment, thrilled to be delivering ripples of laughter in a series of brilliantly humorous sequences.

Central figure Alice is played by Geraldine Viswanathan, appropriately apathetic for a sarcastic depiction of dispassionate and hopeless lethargy. Thomas Campbell steals the show as the belligerent Brigadier, fantastic in all his flamboyant flourishes, with a deeply charming presence that has us mesmerised and wanting more. Equally endearing is the memorable Contessa Treffone, desperately adorable as Pipkin, fragile and literally bubble-wrapped, representing a part of ourselves that can be too delicate and overprotected. The cast’s excellent chemistry and confident timing are the production’s strongest features, responsible for a night of theatre simultaneously challenging and entertaining.

Much of life involves wrestling with negativity. Personal insecurities, fear and despondency are constant threats that prevent the development of each of our own potentials. Many of us find it difficult to participate in society because pessimism is crippling, and always just a membrane away from stifling our creative energies. In privileged societies, we have everything that we could possibly need, but our materialism forms the basis of many constraints that we so frequently encounter. We think we have so much to lose, until we remember the transience of being, and start to appreciate the possibilities that can only come before death.

www.facebook.com/theimpendingroom

Review: The Angelica Complex (Kings Cross Theatre)

siren1Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 5 – 27, 2016
Playwright: Sunny Grace
Director: Priscilla Jackman
Cast: Naomi Livingstone, Lucia May, Kym Vercoe
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Angelica is under tremendous pressure, having recently given birth to her first baby. The responsibilities of caring for a newborn, and the accompanying social expectations of being a perfect mother, are more than she can bear. Sunny Grace’s The Angelica Complex is about a woman’s painful struggle to cope with the idea of perfection, derived from the prevalence of social media and unrealistic parenting advice. We witness Angelica trying hard to get things under control, but she thinks herself a failure, putting blame on herself, her baby, and society. The entire play has her working through a process of internalised guilt and anger, while ignoring the fact that her husband is almost completely omitted from the narrative.

Angelica blames herself for believing in the myth that “women can have it all” but strangely, and frustratingly, forgets to take the baby’s father to task. While he is out doing whatever that is more important than taking care of his family, absolving himself of paternal duties, Angelica absorbs everything at home, drowning under self-hate and paranoia. She spends her time resenting the yummy mummies on Instagram who make things look a breeze, but accepts her spouse’s abandonment.

Angelica is played by Kym Vercoe, an actor full of energy, magnetism and acuity. Under Priscilla Jackman’s direction, Vercoe delivers an astonishing performance rich with insight and emotion, giving us the opportunity to understand and to feel, what it is like to be in those circumstances. The show’s rhythms shift dynamically and beautifully through the duration, even though the character’s state of mind remains fairly static. Sophisticated video projections by Velinda Wardell are introduced judiciously to add texture, and to inspire our imaginations. It is an involving production that speaks carefully and clearly to its audience, although its arguments are not always poignant.

Angelica does not tell us why she had wanted to have a baby in the first place. It is of course, much too late for her to change her mind, now that she discovers that the truth of parenthood is too overwhelming to cope on her own. The Angelica Complex asks several questions but one of its most potent, is the often unexplained desire to bring new life to the universe. The root of Angelica’s problems may well be the misogynistic manner in which women are told how they should look and act, but the play’s inability to address a rational person’s need to give birth is symptomatic of how our society can take the issue too lightly. Whenever the answer is “just because” or “it’s always been this way”, an opportunity for radical investigation emerges.

www.sirentheatreco.com