Review: Orpheus (Lies, Lies And Propaganda / Suspicious Woman Productions)

liesliesVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Aug 18 – 27, 2016
Director: Michael Dean
Dramaturg: Jasper Garner Gore
Cast: Dymphna Carew, Curly Fernandez, Victoria Greiner, Lana Kershaw, Daniel Monks, Bodelle de Ronde, Michael Yore
Image by Sasha Cohen

Theatre review
Orpheus’ story is often told with emphasis on a husband’s drudgery in trying to rescue his wife from the mouths of danger, but in Michael Dean’s revision, we explore the possibility of Eurydice being a more provocative character, whose own desires are more complicated and less convenient for her husband’s legend. Hell is an Australian outback hick town, from which Eurydice finds herself unable to leave, but Orpheus is determined to bring her back to their life in the city, where a previously shared reality seems to be fading with the passage of time.

Similarities with David Lynch’s surrealism where “this whole world is wild at heart and weird on top” can be observed in Dean’s portrayal of an ugly yet seductive foreboding, set within a seedy bar where the drawing of raffle tickets is “the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Michael Yore’s music and Liam O’Keefe’s lights provide splendid transportative atmospherics for an operatic expression of an ancient mystery suited to contemporary times, and Rachel Weiner’s illuminative choreography, although excessively demanding at certain points, demonstrates a healthy instinct for space as a fundamental device of communication.

With little in terms of dialogue that could be employed, the depiction of characters relies heavily on movement and presence, which the cast accomplishes with dexterity, but there is a gentleness to the overall approach that contradicts some of the darker elements in the piece. A greater sense of gravity and perhaps bigger personalities would generate a more sinister edge to fortify its enigmatic tone. Daniel Monks leaves a strong impression in the title role, authentic and captivating with his ability to meaningfully embody Orpheus’ sentimental qualities. The actor’s unequivocal focus and connection with all who are on and off stage, is the basis on which the production addresses its emotional dimensions.

Michael Dean’s vision of theatre as a dynamic and unpredictable art form is marvellously realised in Orpheus. Adventurous, playful and iconoclastic, Dean’s presentation is a surprising and delightful show that challenges not only notions of storytelling, but also conventions of our cultural endeavours. It is a virtuous exercise, made even more wonderful by sheer, undeniable talent and exquisite taste. There is exceptional work to be found here, the kind that makes us want more of the same from every stage, but it is the utter unorthodoxy and subversive nature of its appeal that provides its avant-garde lustre. |

5 Questions with Bodelle de Ronde and Curly Fernandez

Bodelle de Ronde

Bodelle de Ronde

Curly Fernandez: With your artistic practice are there any art movements through time you feel an affinity with or get strong inspiration from?
Bodelle de Ronde: There are certain artists who have inspired me with their images when I’ve been creating a character. For me it’s portraits that come alive and I get a strong feeling of who that person is, or landscapes/scenes that conjure up an atmosphere I can use in my work and captures my imagination. Artists like John Singer Sargent, Edvard Munch, John William Waterhouse, Marc Chagall, Sir John Everett Millais, Frida Kahlo.

What is your most exciting cultural heritage memory when you were growing up?
Realising I came from a large family of such a different culture from the one I grew up in. Whenever we had get-togethers in Bangkok I’d be surrounded by aunties and cousins all speaking in a language I learnt to pick up but didn’t quite understand but it didn’t matter because we still had so much fun together. I gained a strong sense of belonging, family and identity spending school holidays in Thailand.

Do you have any obsessive compulsive tendencies?
I’ll check the oven’s off before I go to sleep but because I live in a shared house that hasn’t been such a silly thing to do.

Five items you would take to a deserted island?
Photos. Music. A spear for catching fish (aka Cast Away!). A collection of Haruki Murakami. Pen and paper.

How does the Orpheus myth translate to modern audiences?
Hopefully a bond of love is something that audiences will always relate to. As well as his sense of displacement being in the underworld, surrounded by people whose actions seem familiar and yet ajar with normality. The struggle to fight for what you believe in and the question of how far you are willing to go for that cause is also very topical.

Curly Fernandez

Curly Fernandez

Bodelle de Ronde: What’s your most memorable moment on stage?
Curly Fernandez: I performed a one man show at La Mama many years ago. It was called The Delusionist. Famous speeches from history retold. My wife directed it, my newborn daughter crawled around the space whilst we rehearsed and teched. My sound designer was my babysitter and my SM was our best friend. It was a real family project. My mother in law came one night and led a standing ovation. It wasn’t so much for my performance but for our family. She was very proud of what Lauren and myself had done, made a life in art with our family.

What’s your biggest turn on?
Great physiques. Great coffee. Great underwear. Yes in that order.

What’s the biggest challenge for you when devising theatre?
For me personally it’s feeling ok with suggesting ideas or things that pop into your imagination that have no logical base and then seeing them fail and not being ashamed of it but honouring the idea or vision, as sometimes something exquisite arises from it.

What drew you to this project?
Michael Dean had seen me over summer and was keen to work with me, and had spoke with a friend of mine. Everyone talked highly of his devised work. Importantly in the audition it was that himself and myself were able to talk quite freely and honestly.That was the key. We also share similar heritage.

Your character, based on Persephone, is an outsider. How do you relate to this?
I’m black.

Bodelle de Ronde and Curly Fernandez are appearing in Orpheus.
Dates: 18 – 27 August, 2016
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: The Big Funk (Suspicious Woman Productions)

suspiciouswomanVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 11 – 21, 2015
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Michael Drysdale, Jasper Garner-Gore, Alixandra Kupcik, Jess Loudon, Bali Padda

Theatre review
Philosophy and theatre are bosom buddies. Theatre means little without an attitude that is intent on questioning the nature of things, and philosophy becomes significantly more meaningful when brought to flesh beyond the realm of ink and paper. John Patrick Shanley’s The Big Funk looks at life with wonderment and passion. The writer’s words are powerful and his ideas are exciting, with an abstraction at its core that disallows narrative and simple logic from diluting its sophisticated concepts. The play positions itself outside of real life, examining it at a distance, always extricating itself when it becomes too involved in drama and emotions. There is a great deal of intellectualism to enjoy, but what a viewer can garner here, as is for every piece of complex work of art, depends largely on their own worldview and mental capacities.

Michael Dean’s direction adds a playful dimension to the piece, with an eagerness for creating a lively theatre that locates all the physical and interactive potentialities in Shanley’s writing, turning a cerebral text into an effervescent stage experience. Dean does well at introducing some elucidation to the often convoluted existential reflections of characters in The Big Funk, but much of their rumination remains out of reach. Original thought is rarely easy, and we should probably not expect to be able to absorb everything from a single encounter of a dense script, especially when presented at a jaunty pace. Nevertheless, moments of resonance occur throughout the production, and although inconsistent, they are often effective and poignant.

Performances are thoughtful and well-crafted, with excellent chemistry between all members of cast. Alixandra Kupcik is memorable for her vulnerability, and Jasper Garner-Gore for his exuberant and authentic presence, but both are to be lauded for their extremely confident approach to their prolonged sequences of nudity at Sydney’s most intimate venue. Annabel Blackman does solid work as designer, with a set that does very much with very little, and elegant costuming that helps with characterisations and storytelling. Lights and sound, however, do not contribute sufficiently to manufacturing ambience that would live up to the extravagant surrealism and absurdity of contexts being explored.

We live in a world filled with uncertainty and angst, but life is how we choose to interpret and understand it, and in The Big Funk, we are encouraged to reflect upon the way we think about our environment and how we interact with it. It is important that life has a sense of meaning, and Shanley is right in saying that each person should determine their own relationship with their own existence, without the burden of inheritance and baggage. There is a way to make rules and to establish codes from one’s own consciousness, to provide guidance for our days on this earth but it is the ambiguous and tricky hazard of the human conscience that we need to be mindful of.