Review: Joan, Again (Subtlenuance / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 5 – 23, 2014
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Kit Bennett, Jamie Collette, Ted Crosby, Kitty Hopwood, Lynden Jones, Sylvia Keays, Bonnie Kellett, David Kirkham, Helen Tonkin
Images by Katy Green Loughrey, Liam O’Keefe, Daniela Giorgi

Theatre review (originally published at Auditorium Magazine)
Paul Gilchrist’s new script is deeply philosophical. It asks many big questions, all of which affects our lives, but most do not come easily into daily discourse. These are themes that can be difficult to communicate, for despite their universality, the diversity in beliefs often means that unexpected conflict may result. Also, these concepts of truth, religion, spirituality, death, identity, gender, kinship, time, and so forth, are constantly shifting and elusive, and therefore impossible to resolve. Conversation without resolution or agreement is always a challenge in polite society, which means that many of these piquant parts of life are left to the likes of academics and artists to explore at depth. Indeed, it is a responsibility of art to think about these matters, and to present to us, perspectives that may challenge our own.

Through the landscape of war, and the appearance of a woman claiming to be Joan of Arc ten years after her famed execution, Gilchrist’s play asks political, social and personal questions and unpacks modern day attitudes about, well, everything. The script is always loaded with meaning, and while it might be difficult to discover the author’s own beliefs in every line, we are consistently provoked to react with our own judgment and ideology. Not much happens in the story, but our intellect is exhausted by its end. The strength of the writing is in its ability to expose the incoherence and injustices of our world, without obvious agenda or tiresome pontification. Gilchrist’s work has many delightfully sharp lines that need to be revisited if only to commit to memory, but more significantly, it is concentrated with analysis and poignancy that speak volumes of truth that its characters struggle to navigate.

Gilchrist’s direction creates a dynamic theatre with distinct and colourful personalities that keep us fascinated. Moments of comedy and drama are executed with precision, so that the show varies regularly in tone, and is kept at a comfortable pace. Acting as both playwright and director allows a very specific interpretation of the text, but it also raises issues for performance. There is a lack of organic energy in the piece, and chemistry between players is laboured. The cast does not always find a mode of articulation that feels genuine. When interpretations are reproduced from preconceived ideas instead of more fundamental and experiential processes, characters are less unconvincing and their stories can become difficult to decipher. Gilchrist’s direction also needs to have greater confidence and commitment in his comedy that is too often underplayed, which is a shame as there is potential for much bigger laughs in his writing. By the same token, the profundity of his script needs greater emphasis as they can be quite elaborate. A writer mulls over their work over long periods, and to condense that vision into two or three hours for an audience that arrives with only a blank slate, requires a very fresh pair of eyes. Gilchrist expresses himself marvelously but one wonders if an intermediary would provide more effective elucidation.

Kit Bennett plays Therese, a young woman of very few words who suffers from the indignity of being tagged the “village idiot”. Her performance is remembered for a level of authenticity that her colleagues do not manage. Bennett encourages intrigue and empathy, forming a connection with the audience that is strangely persistent. She speaks little but her presence is always strong and her reactions meticulous. One wonders if it is the lack of lines that provides her the freedom to create something that is more personal and with more truth as an actor. Gilchrist has crafted a brilliantly complex role with Therese. She is surprising, almost disarmingly so, but her contradictions actually feel very realistic.

Joan is central to much of the narrative, and Sylvia Keays brings to it an ambiguous zen-like quality that works interestingly on levels of narrative and philosophy but we are left craving for a deeper understanding of her character’s psychology and motivations. Keays is at her most compelling when soliloquising, showing an excellent affiliation with the writing and themes. There is a defiance that seems slightly mild but her lack of aggression makes for a more textured and unanticipated experience of the character. Also charming is Lynden Jones whose subtle yet biting portrayal of Cardinal Theobald grabs our attention at every appearance. The irony in his lines could be performed more extravagantly but the creepy hypocrisy that seeps through Jones’ every pore is sickeningly irresistible.

Helen Tonkin as Isabelle, delivers a memorable and moving speech about lives lost at war. The play’s antiwar sentiment is strong. It discusses the damage worn by societies as a result of combat, and the meanings we derive from manufacturing war heroes. In honouring the dead and those who return victorious, we face the inevitably of assigning glory to destruction, but responding with an antithetical passivity and apathy is unwise. The pursuit of peace may be the greatest vocation of humankind, and the quest for it may never appear within easy reach, but there simply is no responsibility more noble, and no undertaking more necessary than the attainment of justice and fairness for all. |

5 Questions with Bonnie Kellett

bonniekellettWhat is your favourite swear word?
I say ‘fuck’ a lot and ‘sugar honey iced tea’ (which is a nicer way of saying shit) – oh and I know it’s not really a swear word, but I really like ‘sod off.’

What are you wearing?
It was really cold this morning, so black boots, jeans, a pink fluffy jumper with diamantes and a beanie… with a diamante.

What is love?
Marrying my soul mate in November, not long now!

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Opera Australia’s Don Giovanni. I loved it – I studied it a couple of times at uni, so it was really great to see it live, 4 Stars out of 5!

Is your new show going to be any good?
I love it! Paul Gilchrist is such a talented writer – it’s very funny and very moving.

Bonnie Kellett is appearing in Joan, Again, with Subtlenuance.
Show dates: 5 – 23 Aug, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

5 Questions with Patrick Magee

patrickmageeWhat is your favourite swear word?
Gobshite. It’s a proper Belfast swear word; saying it is like rolling a pebble around your mouth and spitting it out.

What are you wearing?
I’m wearing some $24 jeans from K-Mart and my favourite brown jacket that looks like it’s been through a hundred years of rainfall.

What is love?
I don’t know, I haven’t known for two years and two months.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I just saw Brothers Wreck at Belvoir. Four stars, Hunter Page-Lochard is *incredible*.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Course it is, you gobshites.

Patrick Magee is appearing in The Mercy Seat, with Gentle Banana People and Pantsguys.
Show dates: 24 Jun – 5 Jul, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

Review: The Mercy Seat (Gentle Banana People / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

gentlebananaVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 24 – Jul 5, 2014
Playwright: Neil LaBute
Collaborating directors: Samantha Young, Andrew Wilson, Peter Mountlord, Alistair Wallace
Cast: Rebecca Martin, Patrick Magee
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
This is a love story that is not particularly romantic. It is however, written with a great sense of truth, and is reflective of real experiences in our love lives. Yes, there is some sweetness, but, like in life, the relationship being explored is fraught with issues. We are refused the clichéd and comforting notion of a love that fixes everything. Instead, what Neil LaBute discusses is the inherent difficulties, and there are many of them, when two people get together. The themes in The Mercy Seat are innumerable. Through Abby and Ben, we observe the often ugly complexities of love, relationships and human nature. Theatre does something noble, when it provides difficult revelations.

The production is directed well. Emphasis is placed on the narrative, and it is clear that work has been put into bringing nuances to light. The writing’s intrigue and its structural quirks are materialised beautifully. The unorthodox characters are allowed to be challenging, always fluctuating between  likeable and objectionable. The story is told without convenient heroes and villains, but it communicates successfully, probably because of the way its honesty speaks closely to our deepest feelings. We understand Abby and Ben because their fears are so fundamental and intimate, they leave us nowhere to hide.

Rebecca Martin as Abby is spirited and flashy. The actor is a determined entertainer, and never fails to grab our attention. There is considerable bravery in her work. We feel Martin’s heart on her sleeve, and she portrays a character with very clear intentions and emotions, conveying an internal journey that is complicated, yet coherent and recognisable. The role of Ben is played by Patrick Magee, whose comic timing is impeccable. He delivers the subtle and dark comedy with a gentle assuredness, careful to prevent funny moments from obfuscating his impressively earnest characterisation. Magee is a dynamic performer, and the enthusiasm at which he oscillates light and shade is thoroughly enjoyable. Both actors are able to deliver a wide range of tone and emotion, but both share a common lack in authenticity when playing sadness.  A reason could be the speed and energy at which their performance is pitched. The characters go through very drastic alterations in mood, which is terribly exciting to watch, but evidently difficult to embody. Even though the actors have excellent chemistry throughout the piece, they do not muster up a convincing sexual energy which is important to their tale.

We sometimes cry at the theatre, but those tears are usually shed for the people on stage or for the scenarios that we witness. Seldom do we react emotionally for our own circumstances that a work recalls. The Mercy Seat strikes a chord when you least expect it. The show ends with a little pessimism, along with some idealism. How we choose to proceed is incumbent upon ourselves. |

In Rehearsal: The Mercy Seat

Rehearsal images above from The Mercy Seat by Gentle Banana People, part of SITCO’s 2014 season.
At The Old Fitzroy Theatre, from Jun 24 – Jul 5, 2014.
More info at

5 Questions with Rebecca Martin

rebeccamartinWhat is your favourite swear word?
Balls. Or bollocks. Anything testicular.

What are you wearing?
Skirt, top, stockings, cardigan. And a swimsuit top as a bra because I haven’t done washing.

What is love?
The worst.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Bell Shakespeare’s Henry V. Performances – 4.5; show – 3.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be an event, one way or another. I mean, of course it is.


Rebecca Martin is appearing in The Mercy Seat, with Gentle Banana People and Pantsguys.
Show dates: 24 Jun – 5 Jul, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

5 Questions with Yannick Lawry

yannicklawryWhat is your favourite swear word?
I don’t swear a huge amount but I’m a fan of using ‘dickhead’ as a term of endearment.

What are you wearing?
An old, familiar purple hoodie and a pair of stonewashed jeans. Today is a comfort day!

What is love?
Total equality in terms of support and responsibility.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Belvoir’s adaptation of The Government Inspector. It was the most passionate, involved and committed set of performances I’d ever seen in Sydney. 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
You know what? I reckon it’s going to be a blast.


Yannick Lawry is appearing in Brad Checked In, with Citizen Content.
Show dates: 3 – 21 Jun, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel