Review: The Underpants (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 23, 2019
Playwright: Steve Martin (adapted from Carl Sternheim)
Director: Anthony Gooley
Cast: Beth Daly, Duncan Fellows, Ben Gerrard, Robin Goldsworthy, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Tony Taylor
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Admirers start knocking on Louise’s door, asking to rent her spare room, immediately after the fortuitous incident of Louise’s underpants falling to her feet in public. For a moment, her little apartment feels expansive, as the narrow existence with her controlling husband Theo, begins to look more promising. Steve Martin’s The Underpants (adapted from Carl Sternheim’s Die Hose) is set in early twentieth century Germany, with a focus on the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, that explores our tendencies towards unthinking, parochial lives. We see Louise struggle under Theo’s unreasonable demands as traditional head of household, but with the arrival of new suitors, we wonder if a brighter future is on the cards.

The show begins with excellent humour, directed by Anthony Gooley who encourages an animated playfulness that strikes a chord early on. Lustre is gradually lost however, as the staging grows distant and tired, due largely to a narrative that seems to stagnate after its rambunctious start. It is a polished production, with Anna Gardiner’s set and Benjamin Brockman’s lights providing satisfying imagery, and Ben Pierpoint’s sound design proving effective at crucial plot points.

Gabrielle Scawthorne leads a strong cast, memorable for the unexpected nuance she offers as Louise. Theo is given a radiant presence by Duncan Fellows, whose sardonic approach proves reliable in delivering a delicious sense of irony to the piece. Exquisite comic timing by Beth Daly and Tony Taylor, help to elevate proceedings at each of their entrances, both actors extremely charming, with a dazzling confidence that makes us feel in safe hands. The lodgers are played by Ben Gerrard and Robin Goldsworthy, inventive performers commendable for creating a couple of richly imagined personalities.

In The Underpants, Louise is a tormented housewife at the end of her tether, wishing to be rescued. She spends her time dreaming up ways to move from one man to another, completely ignoring the fact that, even a century ago, independence was a valid option, as exemplified by her idiosyncratic neighbour Gertrude. Social acceptability almost always means that we are required to conform, which implies that to be true to oneself, one could risk being outcast. Louise can choose not to be of the respectable class, but the thought of abandoning the bourgeoisie is almost too hard to bear. Each of us constructs identities that feel immutable, and we form attachments to people and structures that hold us hostage. When walking away seems inconceivable, it usually means that one simply needs to think bigger.

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Review: Anatomy Of A Suicide (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 12 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Alice Birch
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Jack Crumlin, Andrea Demetriades, Teale Howie, Charles Mayer, Guy O’Grady, Natalie Saleeba, Anna Samson, Kate Skinner, Contessa Treffone
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Suicide always seems just a breath away for Annie, Bonnie and Carol. Alice Birch’s Anatomy Of A Suicide follows the struggles of three women, all of them skating dangerously close to the ultimate act of self-destruction. The play asks very big questions, but it is the way its provocations are dispensed, that makes it remarkable. The three leads exist in independent chronologies, but their stories are told in tandem, often overlapping, for a theatrical experience highly unusual in its plot structure. Parallels are drawn across narratives from different decades, to examine generational implications, in the way things may or may not change over time, in relation to women’s autonomy over their existences.

There is tremendous pleasure in seeing women lead the play, but it can also feel problematic that their neurotic behaviour is consequently associated with their gender. The only people out of control in the story are these women, and we find ourselves tempted to think of the issues being raised as being specifically gendered, when their femaleness should on this occasion, be a secondary concern.

Director Shane Anthony brings a mesmerising urgency to his staging; the stakes always feel high, and we are seduced by the intensity of his dramatic flair. His set (designed in collaboration with producer Gus Murray) is graceful and efficient, and along with Veronique Benett’s dynamically emotive lights, the visuals are sumptuous, for a deeply satisfying aesthetic that is always in dramaturgical harmony. Damien Lane’s music too, is beautifully rendered, memorable for being appropriately sentimental, able to help us access reservoirs of visceral sensations that resonate at every crucial plot point.

The cast is consistently impressive, with all members demonstrating excellent focus and a sense of disciplined precision reflecting consummate preparedness. Anna Samson is a wonderfully idiosyncratic Carol, convincing in her portrayal of mental illness, always rich with nuance and complexity as the subjugated, and gravely despondent, 60’s housewife. Anna, the addict who resorts to motherhood for salvation, is played by a powerful Andrea Demetriades, who delivers a severity for the character that persists in securing our empathy. A more naturalistic approach by Kate Skinner, allows us to relate to her Bonnie as a contemporary, and therefore more immediate, figure. In the singular scene in which she does turn rhapsodic, the atmosphere erupts and none can escape its poignancy.

More than the women before her, Bonnie is conscious of the forces that work to undermine her autonomy. We observe however, that knowing one’s demons does not necessarily spawn the capacities to defeat them. Being human, we almost always know good from bad, but the eternal conundrum of being able to do the right thing is what haunts us. Bonnie’s determination to outsmart her fate seems almost superhuman. She rejects that which seeks to entrap and define her, and in her story we see how hard it can be, to simply be your own woman.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Jess & Joe Forever (Sugary Rum Productions / 25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 13 – 30, 2019
Playwright: Zoe Cooper
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Nyx Calder, Julia Robertson
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
The children are on a mission to tell their story. It takes place in Joe’s hometown of Norfolk, where Jess had begun spending her summer holidays at 9 years-old. The two become fast friends, and go through thick and thin together. In Zoe Cooper’s Jess & Joe Forever, they find a way to recount seminal events of their young lives, like an informal kind of psychotherapy, not because there is anything wrong with them per se, but because the world seems intent on inflicting a very hard time on them both. Cooper’s writing is extraordinarily tender, beautifully authentic in the way these young voices are rendered. Its structure is suspenseful and intriguing, for a narrative that does much more than entertain.

Director Shaun Rennie takes great care to manufacture a sensitive atmosphere in which we can only receive Jess and Joe with hearts wide open, and in the process, come to an intimate understanding of how children respond to the bigger world, and all the the difficult things we cannot shield them from. The emotional crescendo Rennie is able to build into the plot of Jess & Joe Forever, is representative of theatre at its most captivating.

It is a wonderfully designed production. Isabel Hudson’s playground is perfectly proportioned for the small auditorium, with quaint illustrations along the backdrop reflecting an innocence so crucial to the play. Lights by Benjamin Brockman help to amplify the emotions of both characters and audience, so that none of the sentimentality escapes us. Ben Pierpoint’s work on sound provides for the mind’s eye, an evocative picture of what that small English seaside town must look like, and his music gives the show a sense of elevation, with its unmistakable sophistication.

We fall in love right away with the very excellent cast, both actors adorable and completely believable as our little hosts. As Jess, Julia Robertson brings to the role a strength and defiance that absolutely charms. Her effervescence is infectious, and even though her penchant for machine gun speed recitation of lines can sometimes be a challenge, the precision of her approach is unequivocally affecting. Nyx Calder is perfect as Joe, disarmingly poignant but also effortless and delightful in their depiction of youthful purity. The extraordinary vulnerability that Calder is able to convey, fills the gaps purposefully left behind by the playwright, impeccably addressing parts of Joe’s story where words can prove inadequate.

Watching these kids, we feel compelled to protect them, but we also know that their struggles will make them into resilient and wise adults. It is true that there is much sadness in the world. The societies we manufacture often seem to be endlessly flawed, and the thought that those who have done no harm, would still be subject to injustice and inequity, is devastating. Some of us will respond with resignation, but some will fight for things to be better. Jess & Joe Forever is bittersweet, because its anguish is palpable, but it also provides inspiration, so that we can know to always do the right thing.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions | www.belvoir.com.au

5 Questions with Nyx Calder and Julia Robertson

Nyx Calder

Julia Robertson: In your experience, what was the best part about being a kid?
Nyx Calder: It was definitely the boundless curiosity and hunger for knowledge, I remember spending hours finding new words in dictionaries and looking up synonyms to broaden my vocabulary. I was so eager to learn how to read that I drove my parents half mad, they eventually taught me to read out of sheer frustration.

What’s a big similarity between you and Joe? What’s a major difference?
In terms of similarity, definitely the gentle and quiet nature. While I get pretty wild after getting comfortable with folks, I tend to be quite slow to develop connections, and I am inherently quite shy – I have a lot of social anxiety that I think Joe shares. Unlike Joe, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve! I’m slow to develop connection, but I tend to overshare quite a fair bit and without knowing people very long, while Joe tends to keep his personal history under lock and key.

You’ve recently graduated from NIDA, how does it feel to surface from the depths of drama school and dive straight into a two person text?
It’s an absolute dream! While NIDA educated me in a great many ways, it also left me feeling very boxed in at times, especially towards the end of my stay. Being able to step into a rehearsal room as an actor and not a student is such a pleasure, and even more so to do it with a text as rich and expansive as Jess & Joe Forever. It’s also incredibly liberating to be working in such an intimate and direct form of theatre with such giving and wonderful folks.

What is something that has challenged you during the rehearsal process of Jess & Joe?
The voices! I underestimated just how many perspectives we see through this play in spite of the cast size, and when you start throwing dialects into the mix, it can all be quite overwhelming. Fortunately, everyone has been very patient and nurturing, and we’ve had wonderful input from our dialect coach, so it’s been entirely manageable.

What makes this story worth seeing, and why should audiences see this production in particular?  
I think this story speaks to something quite universal in the experience of puberty; the sense of loneliness and isolation felt during those vulnerable developmental years, and the yearning for companionship and acceptance. This play allows us to see a beautiful connection blossom between two kids who do not just survive their circumstances, but start to thrive and prosper alongside each other. Jess & Joe Forever is for those of us who, in our adolescent years, struggled to find ourselves in the world around us. This play speaks to that uncertainty in a tender, honest and loving way, and I believe audiences will be thrilled to join us on such a moving journey.

Julia Robertson

Nyx Calder: Given that we’re both twenty eight years old, what has your process been in finding your inner adolescent?
Julia Robertson: My inner adolescent is… disturbingly accessible? Julia means youthful after all! I spend a lot of time with teenage girls as a drama and singing teacher. Their complexities, empathy and curiosity are continually fascinating to me. Teenage me made a lot of mistakes, felt very alone but always wore a smile on her face. I like in this production that we are able to see the truths, whatever they may be, underneath the polite smile that has been forced upon young women for a very long time.

What’s the biggest difference, and the biggest similarity, between you and your character Jess?
I find differentiating myself from a character once I’ve gotten them under my skin quite difficult! But let’s try. Difference: in her younger years Jess is very feminine and proper. I was not. I was a “boy-girl” and pretty determined to be an entomologist when I grew up. When I began at an all girls school, I was suspended for punching someone in the face a week in. Jess takes a little longer to find her physical prowess! Similarity: Too many. She’s lovable and annoying. I hope/think that’s me. 

What’s your favourite rom-com of all time?
Goshhhhhh I honestly don’t know if I have one! I used to like How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days? Maybe? The hairless dog in it is good?

What sets Jess & Joe Forever apart from other plays and makes it a must-see?
Jess & Joe Forever is unique. It tenderly explores hardships that only a minority of us have ever or will ever experience. Jess and Joe are like and unlike any tweens you know and love. And that’s what makes this story so special. 

What even is a scotch egg, anyway?
A tiny, bald, white man in a kilt. Nah, jokes it’s some bacon-crusted egg thing? Sounds gross. Apparently it’s artisanal. 

Nyx Calder and Julia Robertson can be seen in Jess & Joe Forever by Zoe Cooper.
Dates: 13 – 30 Mar, 2019
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre

5 Questions with Markesha McCoy and Madison McKoy

Markesha McCoy

Madison McKoy: How did you come to be involved in The View Upstairs?
Markesha McCoy: I flew to Sydney to be a part of Trevor Ashley’s new panto The Bodybag. It was a hilarious parody based off of the cult classic The Bodyguard. One of the producers for The View Upstairs, Gus Murray, played our strapping bodyguard and asked me if I wanted to stick around and be a part of the show. I’m so glad he did because I’m having an amazing time.

What’s challenging about bringing this script to life?
Teaching the audience about the tragic events that took place and the inequality we still face today while still making them laugh as well.

How is your character similar to and/or different from you?
We are very similar. We both love hard but keep a stone cold face. Hard to trust but once we do, we’ll do anything for anyone we’ve brought into our lives. The only difference I feel we have is our sexual preference haha.

Without giving anything away, what is your favourite line of dialogue from the show?
“I’m not just a basic bitch, another wannabe nouveau riche tipping toward a breakdown.”

If you had a magic wand, what role/show would you do next?
Aida in Aida.

Madison McKoy

Markesha McCoy: What’s your favourite colour?
Madison McKoy: My fave colour is purple. Yellow is a close second.

If you could have dinner with three of your favourite celebrities, dead or alive, who would it be?
Janet Jackson: I’ve loved her music and performance since primary school.
Barak Obama: I’d love to chat with him about life in general.
Suzanne Vega: The lyrics and melodies to her folk-style music are wonderful. I was turned on to her by a mate back in the 80s. Actually, we probably wouldn’t eat. We’d just sing. 🙂

What has been your favourite role to play?
I played Jim in the musical Big River some years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It’s def a role I’d like to play again.

So you’re originally from America, whats something you miss from the States?
Yes. I’m originally from North Carolina and migrated to Australia in 1994. My family is the main thing I miss. I used to miss Oreo biscuits, I mean, cookies but you can get them in Oz these days. When I first arrived, they were only available in gourmet food stores. Yes, I actually paid $15.00 for a bag of Oreos, ha ha ha.

What can you learn from your character Willie in The View Upstairs?
Willie is a man of the world. He’s definitely seen some things! Some of his top advice is to keep living, keep trying to better yourself, and be kind to others.

Markesha McCoy and Madison McKoy can be seen in The View Upstairs the musical.
Dates: 8 Feb – 11 Mar, 2018
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Review: The View Upstairs (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 8 – Mar 11, 2018
Book, Music & Lyrics: Max Vernon
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Henry Brett, Thomas Campbell, Nick Errol, Ryan Gonzalez, Martelle Hammer, Anthony Harkin, David Hooley, Markesha McCoy, Madison McKoy, Stephen Madsen
Image by John McCrae

Theatre review
Wes is an obnoxious brat, a twenty-something social media star escaping New York, for the less competitive town of New Orleans. The View Upstairs by Max Vernon imagines a hallucinatory haze, in which our protagonist encounters the inhabitants of a local gay bar circa 1973. It is a musical in which the gay Millennial travels over time and space to meet his cultural forebears, for historical lessons about those whose shoulders he stands on. In 2018 we have finally arrived at a time, when many young queers of Western civilisations are oblivious to the arduous journey required, to attain our current state of equality and tolerance. Wes takes things for granted and lives a reckless life, until he comes face to face with stories he never knew would resonate at such depth.

The View Upstairs is an undoubtedly well-meaning piece of writing, with beautiful sentimentality and a pervasive warmth, but its songs and narrative structure bear a derivative quality that is less than inspiring. Director Shaun Rennie focuses cleverly, on bringing heart and soul to the production, keeping us emotionally engaged in spite of the meandering, lacklustre plot. Isabel Hudson’s colourful set design is appropriately humorous; effective in its recollection of a period remembered for being less than aesthetically sophisticated, but infinitely more genuine in the way communities interact.

A charming cast performs the show, impressively well-rehearsed and with great ardour. Leading man Henry Brett is eminently convincing as Wes, bringing a wonderful intensity to the more dramatic scenes, and consistently bowling us over with some truly sensational singing. Similarly gifted is Markesha McCoy, whose voice is capable of bringing any house down, and on this occasion, we are grateful to be audience to her magnificence. Martelle Hammer and David Hooley are memorable for contributing a dimension of vulnerability to the story, both striking in the authenticity they deliver through their portrayals of the underclass.

Without the knowledge of how things have come to be, so much of daily life can seem meaningless. The immense achievements of the gay rights movement are enjoyed by so many of us in the West today, but it is becoming increasingly evident, that those who benefit most, are least aware of the sacrifices required to arrive at this point of evolution. LGBTQI elders had all wished for brighter futures, but few had imagined that with the eradication of prejudice, comes the blind ignorance of entitlement. The best qualities of humanity, whether compassion, resilience or ingenuity, are often derived from great adversity. When life becomes easy for our children, we have to worry about the virtues they fail to cultivate.

www.hayestheatre.com.au