Review: Keep Calling (PACT Centre for Emerging Artists)

keepcallingVenue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Playwright: Chelsea Ingram
Director: Herman Pretorius
Cast: Chelsea Ingram, Luke Edward Smith
Image by Isabelle Munhos

Theatre review
Chelsea Ingram’s Keep Calling is about an unusual relationship, and the agony of existence when taboo becomes an integral element to one’s identity. The play presents a valuable opportunity to take a rare look at something deemed objectionable, and even though it stops short of advocating any specific ethical perspective, it nonetheless confronts the way we think of the themes being portrayed. For some, the material might prove controversial, but for others, its depictions can seem coy; it is a delicate balance that Ingram tries to maintain, but an edgier approach would make the show more memorable.

There is an undeniable mystery built into the plot, even though the production struggles to effectively manufacture a sense of intrigue. Its characters are vulnerable, but Keep Calling‘s immersion in their suffering is insufficiently convincing for us to respond with empathy. The style of presentation is wild and loud, allowing us to access the emotional upheavals taking place, but we rarely make contact with an authentic foundation on which the drama should be built upon, and the play leaves us feeling somewhat detached.

We can all understand Stacey and Sam’s desolation even though few of us have experienced their circumstance. Their story is unique, but only a flimsy membrane away from our realities. How we formulate rules for living is often arbitrary, and Keep Calling</em is a reminder of the ambiguity that can exist in what we wish to be incontrovertibly true. Societies have come to accept that love can take many forms, but there are limits to what they can accept. What is considered illicit in a particular time and place, is legitimate in another. It is easy to say "as long as nobody gets hurt," but how we define and detect damage is yet another quandary.

5 Questions with Gavin Roach

Gavin Roach

Gavin Roach

Gavin Roach: Hi Gavin, thanks for joining me today. Right, I’m going to jump straight in, what is The Measure Of A Man?
Gavin Roach: Um ok well, The Measure Of A Man is my latest one man show. It is the second instalment of the Anxiety Trilogy and it deals with my own fears and insecurities as I plunge deep into the heart of my own sexual anxieties and dare to ask , “If you’re a gay man who can’t have sex, what worth do you have?”

Hmmm deep. So audiences can expect a draining 50 minutes of exhausting, over emotional acting?
Eh no, I’m funny too. I mean the show is funny. It has a lot of light moments too. I think it’s a healthy mix of light and shade and really takes the audience through some pretty personal experiences that are both funny and tragic.

Right, right, I see. So you are performing at the New Theatre in Newtown and, if I am right, you debuted your very first one man show, Confessions Of A Grindr Addict there in 2011. Are you excited to be coming home, so to speak.
I am super excited to be performing at the New Theatre again. It’s been five years since I stepped onto that stage and three years since I performed in Sydney, so I am really excited to see some new and friendly faces looking back at me.

Oh so you’re an attention whore then, cute. So, is there anything you are looking forward to doing while you are in Sydney?
Well besides the show, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the city has changed while I have been away. Sydney is one of those cities that feels like it is a constant state of change, which I find really interesting. But I think what I am mostly looking forward to is the many, many, many…..many bowls of laksa I am going to have. I have been craving a chicken laksa with extra bean curd from Happy Chef in Newtown ever since I moved to Melbourne, so I can see myself hanging out there quite a bit while I’m in town.

Fascinating. Well one last question, do you have a process when you are preparing for a show?
I’d like to be one of those performers who has a really profound process and relationship to the work, but really my approach consists of day drinking gin while I stress eat peanut M&M’s and try my hardest to remind myself that I am talented as I wonder if it is too late to be the hairdresser my mother always wanted me to be…

Gavin Roach’s one-man show The Measure Of A Man is presented as part of the Sydney Fringe 2016.
Dates: 13 – 18 September, 2016
Venue: New Theatre

Review: This Modern Coil (Upper Crass Theatre Company)

moderncoilVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 9 – 10, 2016
Playwright: James Hartley
Director: James Hartley
Cast: Atlas Adams, Tom Green

Theatre review
Two soldiers are trapped on a minefield, forced to confront death and each other’s beliefs about death. Intelligent, humorous and charming, James Hartley’s This Modern Coil explores our relationship with mortality, through a process that is inevitably philosophical, for an existentialist work that is simultaneously universal and challenging.

The writing operates at several levels of intellect, with some moments proving to be more accessible than others, but even at its most demanding, performers Atlas Adams and Tom Green are able to provide a sense of authenticity that keeps us engaged in their cerebral drama. Both men are gregarious and charismatic, effortlessly funny in a show that is almost always entertaining. Their impressive chemistry secures not only our attention, but also our empathy. They are very likeable characters that never fail to let us see ourselves reflected in all their anxieties and fantasies.

Hartley’s own direction of the work is accomplished, with effective manufacturing of tension through much of the piece, although the show is quite clearly more gripping in its first half. Set and costume design by Ara Steel is creatively and proficiently rendered, but the dim lighting does take away from some of the actors’ more subtle efforts.

There is a depth to This Modern Coil that is very admirably courageous, and balanced with a confident sense of comedy and storytelling, we are lured into a meaningful exchange about the biggest and hardest questions of life, only without the usual feelings of intimidation and alienation. No two people are the same but it is the certainty of death that reveals our individual, fervent pursuits of disparity to be futile. We may wish to be special, but at the humble juncture before turning to dust, there is no denying the simple essence of humanity that binds us all.

Review: Reflections Of A Cause (On The Cusp Productions)

onthecuspVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 7 – 10, 2016
Playwright: Sage Godrei
Director: Joy Roberts
Cast: Ivan Chew, Macushla Cross, Emma Dalton, Benjamin Hanly, Chris Miller, Anthony Yangoyan

Theatre review
It is a simple story that looks at a pair of lovers as they begin their relationship, and also at their deteriorated state twenty years later. Made more substantial by a wide range of ideas, the play unfortunately becomes a complicated one that struggles to find focus and clarity. Scenes vary from the very basic, to the very obtuse, and although the show’s experimental spirit is commendable, it suffers from appearing hesitant and irresolute in what it wishes to achieve.

There are certainly passionate assertions to be found, especially in Chris Miller’s performance, but the message of Reflections Of A Cause is largely lost. Its characters’ experiences might appear familiar, but a weak narrative structure prevents us from connecting with any of its drama, and the tenuous inclusion of social issues into the couple’s journey only serves to confuse and alienate.

The play contains elements that could certainly be made interesting. It may be too raw and immaturely presented, but it is neither mindless nor frivolous. In any of the art that we make, it is crucial that we identify what it is we wish to say, and then do all we can to communicate those ideas. There will always be noise that interfere, but it is the artist’s discipline that makes sure what they consider most important, be the most indelible of each experience.

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.

Review: The Giant Worm Show (Melita Rowston’s Shit Tourism)

melitaVenue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 6 – 10, 2016
Playwright: Melita Rowston
Director: Melita Rowston
Cast: Benito Di Fonzo, Melita Rowston

Theatre review
Melita Rowston remembers a giant pink worm she had once seen in a parade, and goes on a wild goose chase to recover memories from her childhood. In the process, nostalgic tales of a small country town are brought to light, along with quirky personalities who steal our hearts, through strange anecdotes that are as surprising as they are moving. Rowston’s production is a charming one, unabashedly sweet but also revelatory in its portrayal of country people, their challenges, and their passions.

Presented in the form of a parody of a faux children’s tv programme from Saturday nights of a bygone era, Rowston is joined on stage by 2 puppets, confidently operated by Benito Di Fonzo. It is a basic and completely unpretentious setup, but its humour is effective, with a palpable quality of sincerity that is key to The Giant Worm Show‘s poignancy. There is an unmistakable melancholy that comes with Rowston’s regard for a time and place she had left behind, inconspicuous but powerfully resonant for city folk with tendencies of romanticising rural life.

When the going gets rough, we hark back to days of innocence, longing for the peaceful and secure existence of infants; wrapped up in cotton wool, merry and oblivious to all troubles of the world. Life is never perfect, but we often access the past through a kind of psychological filter that only allows the best to return. The pleasure of nostalgia is delusive, but also necessary. We need to know the sensation of peace and optimism in order to forge ahead, in search of an ideal future, informed by imagined pasts.

5 Questions with Chelsea Ingram and Luke Edward Smith

Chelsea Ingram

Chelsea Ingram

Luke Edward Smith: What inspires you?
Chelsea Ingram: I am inspired by life. I am an extremely sensitive person and embrace the crazy energies that are constantly surrounding us. I guess I am inspired by others stories, most people in this world underestimate their strength and tales and I have always wanted to express their stories and triumphs through my art.

What advice would you give to other young female actresses and writers?
Learn to hussle. Have your mum on speed dial. Be strong, humble and most importantly love and embrace yourself. Geoffrey Horne my teacher at Strasberg and a gifted actor once wrote “I’ve lived my life expecting things to take care of themselves. I told myself that all I had to do was be a good actor. Believe me, that’s not the way it works.” – I kind of live by this.

Do you have a method to prepare for your roles?
After studying at The Lee Strasberg theatre and film Institute for 2 years, I am a huge believer in the method. I personalize my characters emotions by using my personal experiences to embody and find the truth of the characters journey. To prepare I will study their lives, loves, woes and highs to understand and fully embrace their stories.

How was working in the big apple?
Incredible and unbelievable. Actors in New York are so giving and have immense respect for the art and its craft. I can’t really put into words how magnificent life is as a actor in NYC, but it’s like nothing I had ever experienced. I worked on the stage, feature and short films and web series – every project was amazing. New York is a hard city, most months it’s a struggle to even pay rent. I can’t help but respect every actor who throws themselves into the NYC world of arts and embraces that extreme and yet amazing life style.

Do you have any upcoming projects to watch out for?
Currently I am working on an upcoming film. My play Keep Calling plans to move over to NYC in later 2017. I am connected to an unbelievable theatre company in NYC, Primitive Grace, directed by Paul Calderon and David Zayaz, with shows coming out soon. I have a few other projects that I am unable to speak about but please keep an eye out on social media.

Luke Edward Smith

Luke Edward Smith

Chelsea Ingram: What made you come back from NYC to do Keep Calling as part of the Sydney Fringe?
Apart from the convenient excuse to visit friends and family? It was the punch in the guts the script gave me. I read it and was still thinking about it a few days later. Always a good sign. I’m always looking for that element of fear in bringing something to life in a performance and this role left me thinking, “can I pull this off?” I wasn’t sure, but I knew I’d like to give it a red hot go.

How did you approach working on the role?
It wasn’t too different an approach from any other. I always start with what about them is similar to me. It’s much easier to work from those similarities and then layer in those things that make us different. It helps me ground the performance and hopefully it makes it all the more believable when an audience comes to see it.

Did you find much that was similar between you and Sam?
I recognised that attraction to something you know isn’t good for you. I’ve never been in the same shoes exactly (thank God), but I saw the behaviour, the longing, the need to belong and that I think is universal. It’s something anyone can identify with, being attracted to or trying to please someone or something that can’t or won’t be pleased. That coupled with the huge regret and confusion and anger that comes with not being strong enough to give it up. I like to work very personally so I’ve gone back to moments in my life where I’ve felt the same way as Sam.

What do you do to come down from working on something that intense and personal?
I go home and do the complete opposite of what I’ve been doing in the rehearsal room that day! I listen to upbeat music, I watch TV, lots of comedies, or curl up with a trashy novel. And tea. Tea makes everything better. Anything that puts the balance back into life. Everything I put into that day’s work I try to leave in the room. It’ll be there tomorrow.

When you’re in New York, what do you miss most about Australia?
Tim Tams. I’ve eaten way too many packs since I got back. I always take two big jars of Vegemite with me when I go back, so I’ve got that covered. But Tim Tams? You can get them but they go for about $7 a pack in the States, and if any other Australian knows you’ve got them…

Chelsea Ingram and Luke Edward Smith can both be seen in Keep Calling in the Sydney Fringe Festival.
Dates: 13 – 17 September, 2016
Venue: PACT, Erskineville

5 Questions with Lulu Howes and Caitlin West

Lulu Howes

Lulu Howes

Caitlin West: So you’re condensing 15 books and 250 stories down to a single show. Is there a theme or set of themes that have guided and tied together your telling of these stories?
Lulu Howes: I’d say our approach to adapting such a large body of work was inspired by the vastness of Ovid’s original text. Metamorphoses is such a sprawling book, it picks up threads of myths and then drops them, tells half stories, revisits characters sporadically. Ovid really seems to pick and choose what he’s interested in, then loosely ties everything up in the theme of ‘metamorphoses’. So the myths we’ve chosen to work with and the way we’ve decided to adapt them is pretty eclectic. We were all drawn to different stories for different reasons, and I think this boundlessness is what binds them together, embracing that vastness rather than running away from it. That being said, there are definitely some themes that have continued to crop up. If I had to pick, the big three would probably be gender, politics and power.

How closely has the language of the original text shaped your telling of these stories?
I’m not even sure how many translations of Metamorphoses we now have between us – probably too many. Trying to find the right mode of expression to represent a myth has been half the battle of adaptation, so language has definitely played a massive part. Sometimes we’ll quote directly from a translation, or use the Elizabethan adaptation, or delve into how Ovid has presented a particular idea. More than anything else I think the comedy of the original text has worked its way into a lot of the play. There’s a lot of satire and a lot of silliness.

Saro has directed you in a few shows in the past. How have you found working with him as an actor?
The same but different. It’s been a very collaborative process – everyone’s open to each other’s ideas and feedback so in that regard it feels very familiar. Having done shows together in the past we went into Metamorphoses with a great friendship to work off and a good idea of what it might be like devising together. I think it’s been a really natural transition, especially with Imogen stepping into a more directorial role and just generally being amazing. Saro’s got great comic timing and likes improvisation more than I do, which is good because it keeps me on my toes and terrible because I can’t always keep a straight face.

Can you tell me a bit about how you’re approaching the task of characterisation in a show that presumably is dealing with multiple character voices?
There’s such a huge array of characters in the show, there hasn’t been a set approach. As almost none of the characters reappear in more than one scene, it’s been about establishing really strong voices or images in a short amount of time. Different methods have worked for different scenes, whether we’re improvising and working off each other in the room, or painstakingly going through the script to create these really defined voices for a two-minute scene. We’ve both been able to pick and choose who might play which character, with no expectation that if the character is a man it should be played by Saro or vice versa. In general there’s been a lot of freedom with how we tackle these characters, and way, way too many costume changes.

Seriously, will there be Kanye West references?
There are already too many, we need to be stopped.

Caitlin West

Caitlin West

Lulu Howes: Tammy & Kite is delving into the world of children and the things they ‘do or don’t see.’ What first drew you to this idea?
When Hannah and I first came together to make this show, we both knew that we wanted to talk about children, siblings and the imagination. As someone with a much younger sister, and with a personal interest in child play therapy, I was keen to look at how children process and express difficult emotions. This was complemented by Hannah, who came at this as an artist, and as someone with an incredible visual imagination. She had a million ideas for how we could translate those concepts into something really beautiful and tangible. So I guess it was kind of a crossover of our own personal interests and skills, and a shared desire to try to communicate and think about the way a child sees the world.

I am so excited to see you and Hannah (Cox) onstage together; you’re both such energetic, engaging performers. What does the inside of your rehearsal room look like at the moment?
Well, at the moment, I’m sitting here writing this, while Hannah plays a pretty intense game of handball with herself against the wall. There’s a pile of discarded toys and books on the floor, a half-finished Lego spaceship on the bed, and Phillip the duck is sitting next to me. We’ve just finished rehearsing a scene where Kite saves Tammy from a monster armed only with a light sabre, so we’re taking a break before we move on to some of the more tightly choreographed puppet scenes.

A ten year old wants to come see Tammy & Kite. How do you describe the play to them?
In this show we’re trying to use a language that will be accessible to both young people and adults (although perhaps for different reasons and in different ways) so to be honest, I think I’d tell them the same thing I’d tell an adult. In a nutshell in Tammy & Kite we’re taking the best and the worst parts about being a kid, and trying to translate them into something that grown-ups can understand.

What’s the scariest/hardest/most challenging part of devising your own show?
I think the scariest thing, when creating a show from scratch with another person, is knowing how to trust that person enough to fail. When you’re rehearsing a show with a bunch of other actors, or with a pre-written script, or with a director who’s always in the room with you, it can be easier in a sense to hide behind those things or to use them to fall back on when you get it wrong. Hannah and I were already great friends before we started working on this show, which was a big help, but over the rehearsal process I think we’ve both gotten a lot better at trying out new things, and not being afraid to do that. I think once you let go of the fear of trying something that might not work, that’s when you end up finding the seeds of the best stuff.

If you could go back in time and give kid Caitlin one piece of advice, what would it be?
When the ice cream truck plays “Greensleeves” that does not mean it has run out of ice cream and don’t let anyone tell you that it does.

Lulu Howes and Caitlin West can both be seen in Sydney Fringe Festival shows by Montague Basement.

Tammy & Kite
Dates: 13 – 17 September, 2016 at 8pm
Venue: Erskineville Town Hall

Dates: 13 – 17 September, 2016 at 10pm
Venue: Erskineville Town Hall