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

Review: Misterman (Siren Theatre Co / Red Line Productions)

sirenVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 9 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Enda Walsh
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Thomas Campbell
Image by Diana Popovska

Theatre review
Enda Walsh’s Misterman addresses the very contemporary concern of fundamentalist religiosity and its place within secular societies. The tension between the private and the public seems to be approaching its breaking point with our obsessive attention on terrorist activity around the globe. The principle of individuals keeping religious beliefs to themselves has always been precarious, and now we see every day, the violent trespass of those beliefs upon the lives of others. Thomas lives in a small Irish town, and like Travis in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, he becomes increasingly frustrated by the sins he perceives to be thriving around him. Further parallels can be drawn with other “outsiders” like Norman Bates and Carrie, and accordingly, Misterman appeals to our sentimental feelings for the underdog, as well as that undeniable dread arising from seeing the oppressed struggling at the end of their tether.

Beautifully imagined and directed by Kate Gaul, the intimacy of the venue is utilised to enhance the confrontational quality of the text. Her show is a bold one, with an abundance of creative devices invented to provide intrigue, interest and dimension to the monologue format. Subtleties of Walsh’s writing can sometimes be drowned out, but the intensity of what is being presented proves to be arresting, and we engage with the work thoroughly for its entirety. The holistic incorporation of design faculties demonstrates a sophistication that reflects a deep understanding of the nature and capacities of theatre. Set by Gaul, lights by Harley T A Kemp, music and sound by Nate Edmondson contribute much more than atmosphere. The way we understand the protagonist’s environment and his psychology happens through the accomplishments of this formidable design crew, and their exhaustive exploration of space and fantasy.

Thomas Campbell gives the performance of a lifetime in Misterman. His affinity with the material at hand, and the vast amount of depth he has discovered in the text and within himself, have conjured up a tremendous character, rich with life and poignancy. Campbell pushes hard and what he attains is glorious. The focus, energy, sensitivity and intuition he displays, is a rare gift to audiences that we must accept with a gratitude as sincere as what he puts on stage.

The play is about the way we break, and because we are all, to some extent, broken people, the work is accessible in spite of Thomas’ oddness and idiosyncrasies. The isolation and cruelty he experiences is exceptional but also familiar, and through his story, we can perhaps learn about understanding and compassion, which are necessary but often lacking. We don’t need much to survive, but the basic things don’t come easy.

www.oldfitztheatre.com | www.sirentheatreco.com

Review: The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You (Siren Theatre Co / Griffin Theatre Company)

griffinVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 18 – Jul 12, 2014
Playwright: Finegan Kruckemeyer
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Emily Ayoub, Renee Heys, Michael Cutrupi, Natalia Ladyko, Anthony Weir

Theatre review
Teenage life is difficult. In The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You, we observe that adults are really just teenagers covered in calluses. The essence of things do not change, but we lose our innocence, choosing to cope with the world by growing thicker skin wherever possible, and also to turn a blind eye whenever required. Connor and Lotte are younger and purer versions of us. They are old enough to detect and to call bullshit on offending circumstances, and young enough to remain unconvinced that evils are ever necessary. Their idealism is rarely a match for machines of the establishment, and Finegan Kruckmeyer’s writing invites us to lament the brevity of youth and to reflect upon the many years we live in states of compromise and imperfection, that we thoughtlessly term “growing up”.

Kate Gaul’s direction is a celebration of youth. Her creation is energetic, mischievous and very vibrant. Borrowing elements from children’s television and theatre, the production is joyfully buoyed by big characters, song and dance numbers, and colourful costumes. There is even shadow play, with the stage turning into an over-sized zoetrope on several occasions. Jasmine Christie’s production design and Daryl Wallis’ sound design help transform script into action. The show arrests our senses, providing an immersive experience that makes adventurous use of the theatrical form. We have lots to see and hear beyond the writer’s words. The spirit of collaboration is alive under Gaul’s stewardship.

Connor is played by Michael Cutrupi, whose portrayal of the teen spirit is amusing yet genuine. His sense of rebellious wonder is deeply appealing. We relate easily to his character, who bears qualities that are universally familiar. Anthony Weir is memorable for a host of personalities, all whacky and wonderful. Weir is able to make every line tickle, especially in song. His vocal abilities are limited, but his commitment as a comedic actor is outstanding. Renee Heys brings extraordinary passion and presence to her roles. She is a versatile actor who is effective, quiet or raucous, and her talents are showcased remarkably well in this production. Not every role gives much room for showing off, but every performer on this stage is focused, precise and strong.

The work ends abruptly. The narrative quickly turns serious, and the tonal transformation happens faster than we are able to adapt. It suddenly loses connection at the end, but the message can still be heard. The flaw is small but the opportunity for greater poignancy seems to have been missed. Regardless, Kruckemeyer’s writing concludes wisely and we are served up substantial food for thought. The play is meaningful for young and old, perhaps in different ways, but it contains truths that will resonate with every open heart.

www.sirentheatreco.comwww.griffintheatre.com.au

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2013

Images from a few 2013 stand-outs: A Sign Of The Times, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, All My Sons, Hamlet, Empire: Terror On The High Seas, Hay Fever, Bodytorque.Technique, Waiting For Godot.

Images from a few 2013 stand-outs: A Sign Of The Times, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, All My Sons, Hamlet, Empire: Terror On The High Seas, Hay Fever, Bodytorque.Technique, Waiting For Godot.

This is a wrap up of special moments since the commencement of Suzy Goes See in April 2013. A personal selection from over 100 productions seen in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who have supported Suzy Goes See in 2013. I cannot wait for more shenanigans with you in the new year!

Update: Click here for the Best Of 2014 list.

Suzy x

♥ Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creative experimental works in 2013.

♥ Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2013.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2013. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2013.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2013.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2013 in supporting roles.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
The cleverest, sharpest, and funniest performances of 2013.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Bold and excellent acting in dramatic roles in 2013.

♥ Wise With Words
The most interesting and intelligent scripts of 2013.

♥ Directorial Dominance
The most impressive work in direction for 2013.

♥ Shows Of The Year
Nice coincidence to have different genres represented: drama, musical, dance, comedy and cabaret.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
For an exceptional work I saw in Melbourne.

End