5 Questions with Grace Lauer and Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Grace Lauer

Tobias Manderson-Galvin: You’ve come all the way from Dresden, Germany (via L.A) to be in Puntila/Matti and I wonder as it is the structure of a classic joke: did anything funny happen to you on the way to the theatre? PS it doesn’t have to be funny haha.
Grace Lauer: I had a crazy experience/crazy apparition while driving. 10.30pm so it’s dark. I’m on a part of the autobahn that has no speed limit so I am going quite fast, there is nothing around, no infrastructure, nothing, just road and all of a sudden lit by my headlights I see these white legs in massive heels flash up on the side of the road really close to me like right there .. and then they are gone just as quickly. Or I passed. I’m not sure. I was so perplexed.. and creeped out somehow. A prostitute? The ghost of a prostitute, the legs of a ghost of a prostitute, my imagination? I drove even faster hoping it, they wouldn’t follow me, the ghost legs of the autobahn prostitute, yes that they wouldn’t follow me or it wouldn’t follow me, my imagination – yes that my imagination wouldn’t follow me, leaving it in the dust or better on the tarmac of the autobahn near the spot of the legs of the prostitute the autobahn legs. When I spoke to my brother he offered up the information that street prostitution is very illegal in Germany so neither she nor her legs should have been there really. I didn’t succeed. My imagination is right here with me.

Driving… you play Matti the chauffeur, in Puntila/Matti, so you, I didn’t know this but so you have a licence to drive?
Only a German one. I’ve only driven in Australia a couple of times, I don’t think I’m allowed to. Somehow I got pulled over one of these times and I was so nervous, and I gave him – the policeman – the German licence and he wanted to do the test- the alcohol test. I was giggling uncontrollably and he said ‘Have you been drinking m’am’; and I was really really nervous so I wasn’t blowing properly and then I said, ‘I think I ate an orange yesterday maybe it fermented in my stomach’. And then my mother – who was in Australia, she was in the passenger seat – said “it’s my daughter’s first breathalyser can we take a photo please,” I failed three more times to do the breathalyser test and my mother wouldn’t stop taking photos so the policeman let us go.

The ghost on the street is that the only ghost you’ve ever seen?
One other time. I was running a race in year four. And I got teamed up with a guy. And the guy- so the girl were running the race. And the guys were side lined supporting you as cheer squad. So I got teamed up with this guy I was MASSIVELY in love with. And I remember running and being in front but Deborah K. was running next to me and she was much taller and had longer legs than me and so like I recall running and then the gym teacher was like ‘come on guys support your girl’ and this guy was cheering so loud and I was like ‘I NEED TO WIN THIS’ and then it wasn’t like a prayer or something but in my head I was like ‘please please run faster’ and I just shot off and won this race by like metres and metres and so that was my first encounter with a ghost. Or even the ghost.

Did you win your sweetheart’s affection?
Not until years later and we went out for quite a while. We ‘dated’. I never told the boy about the ghost though and it didn’t last. The crazy thing and I was talking about this to some filmmakers in a sauna in LA. At least they said they were filmmakers. And also it seemed like everyone has their own radio station or podcast in L.A. So anyway they seemed to subscribe to this proto-Freudian, cult-like concept that everyone has an experience between the ages of like 5 to 8 years old that defines your whole life. For me it was winning that race.

But you became an actor not a runner. So how is this your defining moment?
It was a moment of realisation- no believing, let’s say, that there is this potential for a greater benevolent force. So I’m not sure I’m totally 100 percent comfortable with Matti killing Puntila at the end. We can give spoilers here right?

Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Grace Lauer: Have you ever seen ghosts?
You know we’re in Puntila/Matti, not Ghosts at Belvoir right?

I’m asking the questions. So have you?
Once I saw a dragon. I was visited by the Patron Saint of Telemarketing. I’ve communed with angels. I can travel my soul into other people’s bodies and control them like puppets. I can manifest balls of pure energy and all four elements. I can know anyone’s deepest desires by hearing only their cough. There is a spirit panther that follows me sometimes. But no I’ve never seen a ghost.

Speaking of Freud, have you ever seen a psychologist?
A psychiatrist/therapist actually; I went for 12 weeks. Each week she (the doctor) would say ‘I’m really sorry my office is being used by a colleague so we need to use this other room today I normally use for children. So we’d meet in this room full of stuffed toys. She said get comfortable so I arranged all the toys on the couch with me; with a fluffy anaconda around my neck as a scarf. She’d ask questions and sometimes the toys would answer. At the end of the twelve weeks I said to her: ‘So what’s wrong with me doc?’ She said nothing but I was very entertaining and she felt guilty that she’d been the one getting paid for the time. I never returned.

We had 14 walk outs on the second preview; does that bother you?
Once I did a show with an audience of 5. I didn’t like the attitude of three of them so I kicked them out. The show is not for everyone. Tolerance has its limits. I bumped into the three on the street later that night and they said ‘you’re the worst comedian we’ve ever seen’. I said ‘You didn’t see me.’ Turned out one of the two people that I left in the audience was a reviewer. Five stars.

There’s a fair bit of play between yourself and the audience that you didn’t tell me about in rehearsal. Does that happen when you go to other people’s shows?
Only if it feels appropriate. I once threw a show at punk hardcore luminary Henry Rollins’ spoken word concert (at Rollins himself), and he seemed pretty chill with it, but then beat me up in the carpark afterwards while his manager shouted ‘take a photo and post it on the internet, punk, no-one will ever believe you’. So I pick my battles now. But still- F*** you, Rollins.

Grace Lauer and Tobias Manderson-Galvin are performing in Puntila/Matti, part of Sydney Fringe 2017.
Dates: 25 Sep – 14 Oct, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Puntila Matti (MKA Theatre / Doppelgangster)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 25 – Oct 14, 2017
Playwright: Tobias Manderson-Galvin (after Bertolt Brecht and Hella Wuolijoki)
Director: Tobias Manderson Galvin
Cast: Antoniette Barboutis, Grace Lauer, Tobias Manderson-Galvin
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
We are told that the show’s departure point is Brecht’s 1940 script Mr Puntila And His Man Matti, but not much else can be certain in anyone’s reading of Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s Puntila Matti. Its deliberately bewildering enactment of a chaotic aesthetic, places us in a theatre that is less about stories, and more about experience and experiment, with time as a foregrounded instrument of its artistic practice. We look at a juxtaposition of bodies within time (and space) to garner meaning from any work of theatre, and in the case of Puntila Matti, we are challenged to find a way to appreciate and to comprehend all the riotous action, when its creators intentions seem to be to obfuscate the original narratives on which the show is built.

Manderson-Galvin acknowledges the European history so intimately entangled in the Western art of Australia. If Bertolt Brecht is present in every official form of theatre education disseminated on our land, then this relationship we endure, with a distant past from a faraway region, has to be interrogated. We can try to ignore old Europe’s stifling domination, and pretend to create new voices that are transparently offshoots of that heritage, or we can examine it with irreverence and subversion, as is done in Puntila Matti. Manderson-Galvin reframes Brecht in his own words, then makes them distorted and unintelligible, almost Dadaist in style. This is not a play about dependable dialogue and consistent characters. It is about the establishment, and how we can confront it.

The centrepiece is Manderson-Galvin himself, an imposing figure, wildly energetic and disarmingly intuitive as live performer. A fearlessness in his approach provides assurance of a man in charge, but it also keeps us on our toes, compelled and vigilant in the absence of the fourth wall convention. Grace Lauer provides a sense of anchor to proceedings, a necessary counterbalance that gives texture and dynamism to the presentation. Antoinette Barboutis is on the periphery, playing disoriented narrator with remarkable comedy, consistently, and delightfully, stealing the show from under the key performers.

When we come to recognise the bad in our inheritance, the brave will seek reparation. If our art is broken, it only makes sense that the most innovative of us, will attempt to find solutions. Reacting to the racist, sexist, homophobic, classist (you get the drift) systems in which we have to operate, requires that all participants, practitioners as well as audiences, must learn to face up to the new. It will be awkward, perplexing, even distressing, but those are sensations inherent in any true and radical emancipation. We may never be able to entirely abandon the past, but in rejecting the familiar and the comforting, we know that a genuine progression is in process.

www.mka.org.auwww.doppelgangster.com

Review: The Library Of Babel (Sydney Fringe Festival)

Venue: HPG Festival Hub (Erskineville NSW), Sep 26 – 30, 2017
Concept: Claudia Osborne, Emma White
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Evan Confos, Isabella Debbage, Vincent Grotte, Emily Haydon, Holly Friedlander Liddicoat, Anna Hedstrom, Sally Lewis, Amanda Lim, Sean Maroney, Beth McMullen, Sasha Mishkin, Joseph Murphy, Gemma Scoble, Eliza Scott, Isabella Tannock, Rosie Thomas
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
The Library Of Babel takes the form of one big theatrical space, with seven small rooms located within. 16 artists present incongruous and deliberately perplexing pieces of performance art, as we wander through the maze, looking at, and sometimes interacting with, these otherworldly creatures.

In their manufacturing of something that is beyond immediate comprehension, each performer reaches for ideas outside of our shared prosaic existence. To be in contact with inspiration, is to extend consciousness to strange places. Our mind will attempt to form meanings from these disparate encounters, but its tendency to usurp time and space, can be resisted.

It is important that this theatrical experiment insists on the participation of our bodies. The Library Of Babel makes us move around, to forage with our limbs, in addition to the usual deployment of ears, eyes and nervous system. We absorb the experience, and for the hour or so, confusion and disorientation make friends with fascination and intrigue. Trying to achieve an understanding of the work as a conventional theatrical entity, is futile. Intellect should be made secondary, at least temporarily, as it can only be an obstruction to the appreciation of the strange expressions taking place.

The world remains a riddle, no matter how much human interpretation is imposed onto it. We try to shape it into our image, but it always outsmarts us and has the last laugh. In our efforts to become masters of the universe, we get entangled in internal monologues, and lose the ability to find a state of peace, with the greater environment that accommodates us. In The Library Of Babel, we share space and focus on the now. We hold each other in mutual presence, perfectly tangible in our flesh and blood, and we allow time to take on a quality of irrefutable authenticity.

www.kleinefeinheiten.com

Review: Cleansed (Montague Basement)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Sep 20 – 23, 2017
Playwright: Sarah Kane
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Sam Brewer, Lucy Burke, Alex Chalwell, Kurt Pimblett, Jem Rowe, Michaela Savina, Annie Stafford
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Tinker is a figure of authority at a hospital, and the sadist antagonist in Sarah Kane’s Cleansed. She is all-powerful, able to wield any form of torture she pleases. The patients are trapped, unjustly and unexplained, subject to a range of inhumane violations, in scenes of terror that constitute the savagery of Kane’s play. Also prominent are instances of nudity and sexual activity, that accompany pervasive themes of gender and sexuality, all presented as the main agents of instigation, for the brutality that we see. Everyone in Cleansed is being punished for their sex, and we wonder if the hospital functions as an allegory for the wider world.

Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s gore is heightened and viscerally affecting. His show recalls films from horror and exploitation genres, but the effect of shock here, is thought-provoking and never meaningless. Long scene changes prevent our anxiety from ever reaching a boiling point. Our minds are given space to work for clarity, during these moments of emotional release, but an opportunity for a more thrilling experience that could result from the manufacture of a truly suffocating atmosphere, is sacrificed. Live video projections are incorporated for an adventurous commentary on current states of technological voyeurism, and are used along with bold approaches to light and sound, to enhance dramatic qualities of the production.

The provocative material is brought to life by an impressive cast of actors with great conviction and nerve. The very scary Tinker needs a bigger, more foreboding presence, but Annie Stafford’s restraint allows our imagination to explore freely into the psyche that is at work here. Jem Rowe is outstanding as Robin; the fear and desperation he portrays seems thoroughly authentic, and the spectacle he creates around his role is brilliantly captivating. Sam Brewer and Alex Chalwell play gay lovers, memorable for the poignancy of their relationship and the remarkable intensity at which they tell that story.

There is no underestimating how much we control each other with sex. The essentially social nature of our genders and sexualities, have opened us up to evaluation and persecution from all corners. The fear of being labelled deviants, and the understanding of that consequence, are indicative of attempts to keep us adhering to an intolerable straight and narrow. Even Tinker is herself consumed by her self-diagnosed perversion, and proceeds to exercise her hypocrisy in the most destructive ways possible. Consenting adults are frightening. They can threaten the very fabric of a society that lives by rules that are arbitrary, cruel and profoundly wrong.

www.montaguebasement.com

5 Questions with Kurt Pimblett and Annie Stafford

Kurt Pimblett

Annie Stafford: In Cleansed, your character is a ghost for the majority of the show, do you have a favourite ghost story or have you ever had a run-in with a ghost?
Kurt Pimblett: Yeah, me and my cousins and sister saw a lot of ghosts growing up. One of them was the ghost of our dog who’d been run over the year before, which was nice. I think my favourite ghost story though is that Paul Jennings one where a boy falls down a well and there’s a ghost down there who steals all your clothes and escapes and then you become the naked ghost trapped in the well. I feel like that’s the kind of weird ghost thing Graham would do.

When you first read the stage directions “dance of love”, what dance moves came into your head?
Two things, simultaneously. One of them was this incredibly beautiful and emotive sequence that was immediately recognisable as a dance of love – no-one would ever put any other name to it. The other was the bit from High School Musical where those two kids do a weird interpretive dance to audition for the winter musical and get told they should have therapy. I hope that what we’ve ended up with is a happy medium between the two.

Now this is a classic question, in the Hollywood film version of this play, who would you want to play Graham and why?
Harry Styles. No explanation necessary.

What did you find the hardest when approaching this text? Because let’s be honest, its pretty damn out there.
With Cleansed, Sarah Kane has been quite kind with the dialogue and emotional journeys of most characters. Everything that’s happening makes sense, the logic isn’t hard to access, and it feels natural to embody and put into action. Cleansed is a huge practical challenge though, and a lot of thought has gone into realising her incredible stage directions. A lot of them seem a bit impossible, but what I found most confronting in rehearsal was the things that aren’t impossible. The things that you can totally just go and do, but wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, if you weren’t in this play. Another thing I found difficult was rationalising Graham’s relationship with Grace, in conjunction with Graham’s relationship with Tinker. I very much approached the text thinking that Graham was always right and was totally a good guy (which is a useful perspective to keep in mind as an actor), so I was pretty shaken when it started to dawn on me that sometimes his choices aren’t the most upstanding.

You’re stuck on a desert island with only one other cast member from Cleansed, who would you want it to be? And why?
Okay. I would want it to be someone whose sense of humour gelled well with mine, so that it doesn’t get boring, but also so that when I start making off-colour panic-jokes they don’t get weirded out. Are we trying to escape the island? Because then I would also want someone who’d be determined and upbeat enough to help me make a billion different palm tree boat prototypes. Also probably someone with a nice grounding in facts because on a desert island my skills probably wouldn’t extend far beyond writing poems about the ocean and I’d need someone to tell me what’s okay to eat and where snakes live so I can avoid them. There’s also a high chance that I’d get so restless and desperate for entertainment that I’d stop listening to them about which berries are poisonous and start to provoke the snakes just for something to do, so it would be great if the person could talk me down from doing things like that. Look, this is a tall order, so Cleansed cast, if any of you feel like you can adequately fill this role, hit me up.

Annie Stafford

Kurt Pimblett: Tinker has a lot of power but (arguably) questionable morals. What kind of life advice would she give? If she wrote a self-help book what would it be called?
Annie Stafford: I sincerely hope no one ever asks Tinker for advice let alone reads her self help book. How the heck did she get that book deal?! That aside, I think her incredibly deep and sage life advice would be “Get shit done. Shut shit down”. To be completely honest, that’s been my own motto for the past 2 years. But in a very absurdist way it applies to Tinker. She’s pretty proactive, getting things done. And if she’s not about something or it isn’t worth her time, she shuts it down. It’s title? “I’m not responsible.”

Shoot, shag, marry: Cleansed. Go. And try not to shag or kill anyone you’ve already shagged and killed.
Oh well that narrows it down, you’ve literally left me with 3 characters. I think I’d…Tinker would marry Woman. But they’d have to travel to make that happen, cheers Australian Government for that one. Who would have thought you’d be living the dream in a Sarah Kane play. Political moment over. Shag Carl just to add insult to injury, and oh so much injury poor ol’ Carl. And I guess kill Robin. That’s actually quite hard when you take out of it everyone I’ve already killed and shagged. I mean Tinker has already killed and shagged, don’t want to get too method over here.

It is a tricky text – is there anything that you read and thought would be difficult but turned out not to be? Anything that went the opposite?
I actually thought the sex scene between the Woman and Tinker would be really hard, maybe not simply to choreograph, which it wasn’t, but my ability to do it. To be naked in a rehearsal room in such close proximity to someone else, without the tricks of the trade you get in screen. But the process of it was so smooth, and after a while it just makes sense. After sitting in the play for so long and sitting with Tinker and her journey, that moment is so necessary and normal and just feels right-thus I felt so ready to do it when it came to that time. And the opposite? Figuring out Tinker. She’s a tough cookie. So close to performances and I’m still working her out. Which I like actually, she keeps surprising me.

What’s your favourite Sarah Kane’s Cleansed stage direction?
But there are so many excellent ones!!! Can I do a top 3? Well, I’m going to anyway.
1. “Carl tries to pick up his hands – he can’t, he has no hands.”
I’ve decided against giving 3, I want there to be some element of surprise for the audience. But I’ve definitely given you an absolute gem. Sarah Kane is actually hilarious.

Lastly, in a direct theft from the dude from Inside The Actors Studio, if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Answer as both yourself and Tinker.
Before I say, I want these answers to be read in the voice of Morgan Freeman. For some very unknown reason, that’s what my idea of God sounds like. As Annie I would like to hear “Hey mate, good work, here’s a beer”. It would preferable be a VB, taste of the old country. As Tinker, I think she will hear “You don’t even go here!” but I reckon she’d like to hear “You did what you had to do for love”.

Kurt Pimblett and Annie Stafford are appearing in Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, part of the Sydney Fringe Festival 2017.
Dates: 19 – 23 September, 2017
Venue: PACT

Review: All Our Lesbians Are Dead (Zenowa Productions)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 16 – 19, 2017
Playwright: Natalie Krikowa
Director: Natalie Krikowa
Cast: Teneale Clifford, Stephanie Hamer, Felicity Keep, Laura Nash, Gemma Scoble

Theatre review
Only 2% of all television characters are lesbian or bisexual women, but they account for 10% of deaths. As the representation of gay women increases in our media, it seems that they are being killed off at an even higher rate. These are the alarming statistics we hear about in Natalie Krikowa’s All Our Lesbians Are Dead, a comedy that presents this wanton massacre on our TV sets, as conspiracy theory.

There are men in high places who understand that the inclusion of queer characters is advantageous to the bottom line, but are unwilling to accept the validity of queer lives. Lesbians are added to shows, to serve their purpose as profit-making commodities, but are routinely murdered to maintain the heteronormative status quo, established since the inception of television almost a century ago.

The plot involves a private investigator being hired by a couple of lesbian couch potatoes, to investigate the reasons behind these rampant TV deaths of queer women. There are scintillating data and intriguing hypotheses in Krikowa’s script, but dialogue is stilted, with unrealistic personalities constructing narratives that are rarely engaging. The cast exhibits good conviction, with actors Teneale Clifford and Gemma Scoble providing a level of proficiency that offer us moments of invigoration, in what is a very basic effort at making theatre.

Bianca says in the play, that it is better not to see yourself at all, than to see yourself dying over and over again. LGBTQI people should not have to choose between invisibility and destruction. Neither should we still be begging for legitimacy in the twenty-first century, but the truth is that our oppression persists. To see ourselves portrayed with fairness in mainstream media may or may not happen in this lifetime, but the alternative underground is where we have always thrived, and it is here that we find our voice and solidarity. Long may we reign.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: 5 Guys Chillin’ (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 12 – 15, 2017
Playwright: Peter Darney
Director: Patrick Howard
Cast: John Michael Burdon, Tom Christophersen, Tim De Souza, Stevie Haimes, Will Reilly

Theatre review
The idea of a drug-fuelled sex party might seem, from the outset, a titillating proposition for the adventurous, but in Peter Darney’s very shocking, but desperately truthful, 5 Guys Chillin’, “chemsex” is anything but arousing. The play is an outrageously revealing collection of verbatim disclosures from five men on the fringe, part of a gay subculture that few have investigated. Filled with taboos, this is raw and edgy theatre, replete with astonishing detail. The result is something that is best described as hardcore, and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Directed by the provocative Patrick Howard, who brings to his staging a corresponding boldness, we are urged to find an explanation for the extreme behaviour that these characters embrace so resolutely. The self-destruction is evident, and the urgency at which Howard presents that agonising sense of oblivious ruination, is irresistibly thought-provoking, and politically significant. Hypnotic in its nauseatingly realistic rendering of scenes that will never play out in most of our sheltered homes and imaginations, 5 Guys Chillin’ is an opportunity to gawk at how far some of us have to go, to make life bearable.

The spectacle is created by a strong cast, impressively well rehearsed, with each actor demonstrating a depth of understanding that makes us share in the material’s pertinence. John Michael Burdon plays the revolting B, fearless and memorable in his portrayal of a man with no redeeming features. These are difficult personalities to make convincing, but we believe every disgusting word that comes out of Burdon’s mouth. J is performed by Tom Christophersen who leaves a remarkable impression with excellent comic timing and a touching vulnerability. Also poignant is Tim De Souza as PJ, whose disquieting revelations are striking in their emotional authenticity.

Gay men have suffered prejudice and hate for as long as they have existed. Individuals have risen out of homophobia injured but strong, while others continue to languish in insurmountable pain. 5 Guys Chillin’ shows us some of the darkest reactions to that discrimination. We know of teenagers committing suicide as a response to their communities’ rejection of their sexual identities, and here, even though each of the gay men are able to put on a brave face, they are each living out their own private death wishes. Hate can do no good, and we must confront each occurrence with vehemence.

www.newtheatre.org.au