Review: TickTickBoom (Subtlenuance Theatre)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Oct 10 – 20, 2018
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Rose Marel, Emily McKnight

Theatre review
When the story begins, Jodie is seventeen and finishing up high school, but instead of exams and puppy love, it is her failing health that becomes all-consuming. To have her dug out of doldrums, chirpy schoolmate Clara is sent by parents to be the gallant lifter of spirits. In Melissa Lee Speyer’s TickTickBoom, the heart is the subject, literal and figurative, as we observe two young women navigate life and friendship, with a constant and unassailable reminder that death is always around the corner.

Big existential themes are cogently woven together by Speyer, who presents her observations in a manner that is indelibly tender and benevolent. The production struggles to establish an effective sense of humour, but its heavier sections are certainly sensitively rendered. Director Paul Gilchrist’s earnest approach makes for a warm, contemplative experience, and although chemistry between actors can seem inconsistent, both demonstrate undeniable talent, as they proceed to find authenticity, as well as integrity, for their respective roles. Rose Marel brings a valuable vulnerability to Clara, so that we can have an appreciation of the character beyond her shiny exterior. Emily McKnight is convincing in her performance of Jodie’s recalcitrance, for a portrait of teenage angst that we are all familiar with.

Time means nothing to this earth. It is the vanity of our mortal selves that creates the notion of time, and the notion of life running out. When Jodie is fearful of death, she is paralysed, unable to pay reverence to the ticking seconds that she so anxiously counts. To believe in time, is to imbue it with meaning. Species can come and go, but the world will evolve regardless of our individual fates. For each of our personal domains however, to make this fleeting existence bearable, will require a thing we name spirit, whatever one would like for it to mean.

www.subtlenuance.com

5 Questions with Melissa Lee Speyer and Rose Marel

Melissa Lee Speyer

Rose Marel: Are the 90s your favourite decade? Why did you decide to set TickTickBoom within this particular era?
Melissa Lee Speyer: Every decade is my favourite decade. I chose the 90s mainly for the millennium New Year’s Eve countdown. A single second that splits two millennia, according to an arbitrary marker in time. Also, they’re fun and nostalgic. I love nostalgia. I get nostalgic over every time and everything. I get nostalgic over two months ago. I build moments of future-nostalgia into my day. There is probably something real deep in that, like living in the past to avoid the future, or fearing change. Whatever. I probably shouldn’t ever say yes to time travel.

Which character in TickTickBoom is most similar to you and why?
Whoever is being the most awkward at any given moment. Not limited to my plays. Because, have you met me?

What’s the most exciting thing and the scariest thing about having your play being transformed from page to stage?
It’s all exciting and it’s all scary. I get nervous, wild-eyed, clumsy, sweaty. If there are stairs, watch me trip on them. I like feeling an audience listen. The communal experience. I love seeing what other artists bring to this thing I gave them. The communal act of creation. Foyer chat is terrifying. Mainly because I only remember people’s names on the train on the way home. My brain is allergic to names. Even my own.

What was your high school experience like? Love it or hate it?
I was a nerd, but not intelligent – intellectually, socially or emotionally. High school is always fraught. It’s life’s first social crucible, where you test out who you are and who might be.
Suddenly, the people who mean the most to you don’t have to love you unconditionally. I hated it at the time, and for years after. Now I’m glad I didn’t peak too early. All of life is high school, in some way. Ahhh. Nostalgia.

Who are your favourite playwrights?
Anyone who finishes. Writing is hard! It’s hard to play “favourites”. But you asked, and you’re great, and the full list is too long,
so here are three who are important to me. No order. Caryl Churchill, Nakkiah Lui, Michele Lee.

Rose Marel

Melissa Lee Speyer: How do you remember all those lines? Seriously. I don’t and I wrote them.
Rose Marel: You probably don’t because no one is expecting you to act out both characters 😉 For me, lots and lots of study – going over the lines; reading them out; rehearsing with other actors; speed runs; writing them down; working through the script methodically. Plus, really understanding it and analysing it. Once you figure out the intentions, the thoughts and images behind the lines, I find that it all starts crystallising.

Who was Rose Marel in high school and which clique were you in? Be honest.
I was a good old floater. (I like to think) I got along with everyone reasonably well, but I did drift around throughout the years and have close friends from various cliques. Although, I was also someone who also enjoyed – or found myself – floating around in her own world.

Can new Australian theatre compete with Netflix, and if so, how?
It’s tough. No doubt people love staying home these days – that idea of relaxing in their own space and ‘bingeing’ on shows – which is absolutely great, but I think in terms of accessibility, a lot more people, regardless of whether or not they’re involved in the arts, turn to Netflix. Less people are willing to, or aware of, all the incredible independent shows in Sydney / Australia. But it can be such a fantastic night out – grab a couple of friends or a date, have some dinner, go see a show, and then hopefully engage in great conversation about the themes and ideas that it brought up. Theatre is arguably a more visceral and raw experience for the audience members, so in that way it can definitely have the edge. 

Ultimately, they’re such different mediums, but at the same time, there’s potential for them to complement each other. Netflix has some incredible content, and is pushing the boundaries in so many ways conceptually and thematically that it can only be a good thing in terms of the wider arts community and also society in general.

Tell me about the first time you fell in love. 
The few times I’ve felt on the precipice of love, I’ve later realised that ‘that’ wasn’t it. The first, more mythical time, was back in junior school, when I clapped eyes on an elf called Legolas in Lord Of The Rings. For the next, who knows how long, I existed somewhere in the cross-zone between obsession, love and delusional infatuation. As in, I would research Orlando Bloom facts, had over 300 pictures of him on my wall, would count the pictures as a hobby and did a speech on him for a school speech competition. It was the first time I considered the possibility of ‘love’ and what that could feel like. God help me. 

Living your life: are you aiming to be here for a long time or here for a good time? Which is better? Is that actually 7 questions?
Do they have to be mutually exclusive? I’d like to say a healthy combination of the two. It can be really difficult to seize the moment, and capture that freedom and adventurousness within ourselves, especially as you get older and  encumbered with more responsibility, but I think it’s certainly a balance. One of my favourite quotes that encompasses this is from Buddha: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Something that I really admire in Clara (the character I play in TickTickBoom) is her gratitude of, and openness to the present moment. She’s a soul who’s certainly alive and receptive to the potential of the world in ‘now’. 

Rose Marel can be seen in TickTickBoom by Melissa Lee Speyer.
Dates: 10 – 20 Oct, 2018
Venue: Actors Pulse Theatre

Review: Sex & Death (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Apr 10 – 28, 2018

Something In The Basement
Playwright: Don Nigro
Director: Garreth Cruickshank
Cast: David Luke, Annette van Roden

It’s Time
Playwright: Garreth Cruickshank
Director: Garreth Cruickshank
Cast: Russell Cronin, Jack Douglas, Kitty Hopwood, Annette van Roden

Theatre review
Two short plays, both concerned with marriage, form a double bill entitled Sex & Death. The first, Something In The Basement by Don Nigro is ostensibly about the mystery of sex, and the second, It’s Time by Garreth Cruickshank, deals with family violence. They both point to some fundamental ideas about the traditional unity of two persons, perhaps questioning the validity of that ancient institution for our current times.

Something In The Basement is a comedic exploration of sex, using the basement of a couple’s home as allegory, for the strange workings of compatibility and the libido. Humour is obscure for the piece, and its performers never quite manage to make it a sufficiently funny show. The meanings, as represented by their relationship with each other and with their house, too are rarely satisfactorily conveyed, left abstract with scant resonance. The production’s naturalistic approach seems an inappropriate choice, exposing only the mundanity of married life, and little else besides.

It’s Time dwells on the harrowing experiences of a housewife from the 1950s, who receives regular beatings from her husband. We meet her later in life, but it is her recollections of her darkest days that she wishes to share. Mrs O’Brien tells all, as flashbacks are introduced, with regrettable inelegance as actors walk in and out of view for sequences that last mere seconds. Annette van Roden plays the role with great sensitivity and maturity, exhibiting exceptional strength as a woman put through the wringer, and who emerges victorious. We wish to see how she escapes abuse and grows stronger in the aftermath, but the play ends abruptly, allowing only her suffering to define this version of Mrs O’Brien.

The people in Sex & Death fail at marriage, but we see them work hard at salvaging things to fulfil their commitments. Marriage is full of promise. We are told that it is essential to a good life, although arguments are never more than tenuous. Tethering the self to another, through measures religious and legal, is a bizarre habit that continues to prove hard to break. We aim to understand ourselves through science, logic and facts, but it often appears that irrationality plays the biggest part in being human. There is no rhyme or reason for so much of what we do, and hence we are prone to repeat our foibles time and again. Marriage will never live up to the grandness of its pitch, but we will nonetheless keep buying in. It is romance, idealism and delusion, but we are only human.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: One Way Mirror (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Mar 14 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Alison Benstead, Angus Evans, Sylvia Keays, Sonya Kerr, Mark Langham, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Ash Sakha, Sheree Zellner

Theatre review
In the living of each day, humans use their mental and physical capacities for an endless variety of reasons, but whether conscious or unconscious, it is always a pursuit that involves us engaging with something quite mysterious. Nobody can know for certain, the purpose of being here, but we all participate in the project of figuring it out, whether we like it or not.

Paul Gilchrist’s One Way Mirror, involves a group of American actors in the 1960’s, hired to work with scientists conducting experiments to determine the nature of human conformity. Within this conflated microcosm of art and science, we observe all the individuals in a process of uncovering truths, whatever a truth might be.

It is a philosophical work, vast in its scope and therefore challenging for those who need a greater sense of certainty to hang on to. Gilchrist’s point of course, is that none of this can be certain, and to fabricate a narrative that is convenient and secure, would contradict its central interest, which is to arrive at some sort of knowledge about this thing we vaguely understand to be, and that we name, the truth.

The show features an intentionally fractured plot structure, with scenes differing in ideas and styles, some more appealing than others. Actor Matthew Abotomey is an intriguing presence in early sections, playing various subjects under institutionalised interrogation, intense and compelling with what he brings to the stage. Alison Benstead and Ash Sakha play young lovers, demonstrating good chemistry but also impressive with their diligence and focus as individuals.

Various storylines weave through the plot of One Way Mirror, but they come and go quickly, as though to evade our grasp. We wish to know these personalities better, because it feels natural to want to get to the bottom of things. Our curiosity is instead, turned outside in. One Way Mirror makes it vital that we examine for ourselves, that concept of truth, whether it be a matter of instinctual resonance, or rational meaningfulness, or enduring legacy, or whatever else one might find fulfilling. The conclusion is inexhaustible, and the journey inevitable.

www.subtlenuance.com | www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: Blind Tasting (The Old 505 Theatre / Subtlenuance)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 3, 2018
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Sylvia Keays
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
To thoroughly experience this mysterious thing called life, we have no real alternative but to dive into it head first. In Blind Tasting, Sophie learns the ropes as she goes along. Unlike her colleague Kirstie, who is determined to control everything, Sophie realises instinctively, the futility of that fussy perfectionist approach. Of course, mistakes are made, and heartache ensues, but there is no doubting Sophie’s self-determined way to a richer and wiser existence.

As we sip the wine that Sophie offers, we notice the thrill of the unknown and observe how essential it is to have an appreciation for the precarious and insecure qualities of our being. The wine may or may not be delicious, but it is only in the tasting of it, that one can be certain. No other opinion can ever take the place of that subjective participation.

Written by Paul Gilchrist, Blind Tasting is potent with its sense of joyful optimism, expressed through the playwright’s penchant for a poetic language that is remarkably luscious and evocative. The one-woman show is performed by Sylvia Keays, a presence that is gentle but persuasive, especially effective in the play’s moments of melancholy. The production is an engaging one, refreshing in its use of wine tasting as situation and analogy, but its delivery of drama requires greater gumption, for us to have a firmer identification with its narrative, and for its point to be made with stronger resonance.

Connoisseurs occupy themselves with the grading and sparring, of every wine bottle that they come across. It is human nature to compare and categorise the things we make contact with, but the deeper we get, into games of “finding the best”, the narrower our perspectives become, and the smaller our worlds devolve. With every label that we put on things, we also cast upon them, the restriction of possibilities. Sophie learns not to accept the pigeonholes that people want for her, and we wish for her to break the rules, as and when they find her.

www.old505theatre.com | www.subtlenuance.com

Review: Atlantis (Subtlenuance Theatre)

subtlenuanceVenue: Kings Cross Theatre Kings Cross NSW), Sep 6 – 10, 2016
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Kit Bennett
Cast: Sylvia Keays, Antony Talia, Madeleine Withington

Theatre review
A meaningful existence can only ever be understood from a position of subjective experience. In Paul Gilchrist’s Atlantis, things may contain inherent value, but it is up to us to bring interpretation to them, and we have a choice in how we read the world and how we immerse ourselves in the inevitable living of it. We all rely on tall tales to get us through each day and night, calling them mythologies, religion, science or mathematics, for it is intrinsically human to want to make sense of things. Our consciousness must be shaped, but what form it may take is subject to the mind’s plasticity, and in Atlanits, Gilchrist demonstrates a kind of self-determining fate that results from the stories we create for ourselves.

Of course, the play’s events can only happen in a place like Australia where a vast majority of us are rich and free. It is Gilchrist’s point, to make the best of our privilege. We are in a position to dream big, and to disregard cultural restrictions and social fears, so that we can have better lives, and do good for the world, in ways that are perhaps original and trailblazing. If we followed every rule, our evolution will never take momentous leaps forward. Anomalous advancements require people who dare be radical; whether Mahatma Gandhi or Elizabeth I, it is always the maverick who establishes a legacy.

Atlanits is a soulful work, full of spirit, but with its feet planted firmly on the ground. Its words take hold of our imagination, and argue convincingly for perspectives that are only optimistic and inspiring. Actor Antony Talia does a splendid job of helping us navigate between reality and idealism, with his remarkably engaging presence and an impressive commitment to authenticity. There is excellent humour written into early sections of the play, but they are unfortunately lost in the production’s overly square focus on the deeper lessons, that could probably be left until later in the piece.

The work is staged with poignancy in mind, but more adventurous exploration of physicality would drive its message more effectively. Attention is placed on Gilchrist’s beautiful words, but our other senses need to be manipulated more for a richer theatre, as we commune to share space and ideas. It might be an exaggeration to say that “if you build it, they will come,” but magic must start somewhere, and it never comes from fear.

www.subtlenuance.com

Review: Shut Up And Drive (Subtlenuance Theatre)

subtlenuanceVenue: Kings Cross Theatre Kings Cross NSW), Apr 9 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist, Daniela Giorgi
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Kit Bennett, Bonnie Kellett, Sam Glissan, Sonya Kerr, Jordie MacKinnon, Maddy McWilliam, Tom Nauta, Robert Roworth, Eli Saad, Michael Smith

Theatre review
It is hard to care for the environment. Lives in developed countries have grown to depend on an exploitation of our planet that now requires much more than giving up aerosol cans and recycling newspapers to offer reparation. Paul Gilchrist and Daniela Giorgi’s Shut Up And Drive talks about our love/hate relationship and dependence on cars, examining the extent at which we have allowed the automobile to become indispensable. It looks at the way we blind ourselves to its negative impact, so that we may indulge in a sordid affair with the metal beast.

Gilchrist and Giorgi’s writing is about social and environmental responsibility, but it comes from a place of generosity that acknowledges human fallibility. It points out the things that we do wrong, but it is forgiving of our actions. It shows us how we can be better custodians of earth, but the choice is ours to make. Shut Up And Drive is often funny, and sometimes touching. Its intents are serious, and can sometimes fall into a didactic tone, but its short scenes and colourful characters ensure that the play always has a sense of intrigue and enjoyment. At every step, the plot provides something to think about, but is also consistently amusing.

Gilchrist does excellent work as director for the show’s many intimate scenes. He establishes strong chemistry between players, and brings a delightful variation in tone between moments to keep us attentive. Liam O’Keefe’s lights make a significant contribution in achieving those atmospheric transitions with great efficacy and minimal fuss.

Actors Tom Nauta and Eli Saad partner up for two memorable sequences that employ their individual and divergent comedic styles. Nauta’s ostentation and Saad’s wryness meet like hot oil and water for riveting and combustible results. Also very funny is Sam Glissan, a quirky individual with an idiosyncratic approach to performance that tickles all the funny bones. On the other end of the spectrum is Kit Bennett who leaves a remarkable impression with her sensitive portrayal of loss and regret. Her work is delicate and understated but disarmingly captivating, with an intense emotional power.

When we talk about environmentalism, conservation and sustainability, we are in fact talking about the future. Shut Up And Drive has a caring heart, and does its best to connect with our conscience. It makes us question how we feel about all this degradation, and presents a test of our selfishness. The car represents comfort, convenience and luxury, but it is also undoubtedly harmful on many levels. Life’s decisions are full of complications, but often, we actually do know right from wrong.

www.subtlenuance.com