Review: Marbles (Crying Chair Theatre)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Nov 21 – Dec 1, 2018
Playwright: Kate Wyvill
Director: Christine Greenough
Cast: Richard Cotter, Emma Dalton, Melissa Day, Sarah Plummer, Tricia Youlden
Images by Ben Prats

Theatre review
Stanley’s Alzheimer’s disease has advanced to a stage where he is completely incoherent and no longer able to communicate. His original intentions, made in no uncertain terms, of wishing to undergo euthanasia, is of course highly contentious in a country where assisted dying remains illegal. In Kate Wyvill’s Marbles, Stanley’s three daughters wrestle with the prospect of having to fulfil an agreement that now seems too hard to contemplate. Unlike issues around birth, topics dealing with death are rarely spoken of. Australians gladly own up to being less than delicate, and although not generally a prudish culture, bereavement is certainly not a subject we are comfortable with.

Wyvill’s play offers a point of discussion that our society needs. Some of the writing requires a little refining, but the questions that it prompts are urgent ones that affect us all deeply. Directed by Christine Greenough, it is an appropriately thought-provoking production, even if its rendering of humour often feels underwhelming. Actor Richard Cotter brings dignity to the ailing Stanley, along with a quirky vibrancy that proves appealing. Caregiver Natasha is played by Sarah Plummer, who offers a valuable accuracy to the complicated emotions that are at stake. Her convincing portrayal of the long suffering daughter injects heart and soul, to a story that benefits from its sentimentality.

Marble‘s explorations into end of life decisions are made even more complex by Stanley’s energetic disposition. We are confronted with the vision of a very sick man unaware of his own suffering, and as he goes about blissfully ignorant of his own dementia, we have to think about the right thing to do on his behalf. It is evident that achieving consensus on the matter right now is unlikely, but to talk about death, and to build structures as a community that will support that inevitability, is absolutely necessary.

www.cryingchairtheatreco.com

Review: The Director (Active Theatre Productions)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Oct 25 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Nancy Hasty
Director: Simon Doctor
Cast: Josephine Bloom, Simon Doctor, Sarah Greenwood, Emilia Hristov, Brayden Palmer, Alex Rowe

Theatre review
Annie has written a play and wants Peter to direct it, even though Peter has become a pariah of the theatre industry, currently relegated to the position of janitor at a drama school. We soon find out that his ostracism is well founded, as his creative process unravels a series of unethical strategies that cause appalling harm to his team of actors. Nancy Hasty’s The Director talks about the tricky negotiations of boundaries in artistic ventures, especially when collaborative parties are involved, all wishing to invent new paradigms with their expressions. Some of the play’s ideas are exciting, with quite amusing dialogue, but its plot quickly becomes predictable, as the story begins to take on a repetitive configuration.

Simon Doctor directs the production, and stars in it as Peter, the titular director of the show within a show, for a fascinating confluence of truth and fiction. Doctor is at least adequate as director, but as actor, his abilities are breathtakingly poor, which delivers results that are quite surprising. Actors in the play struggle with their director Peter because of his questionable methods, whilst in our real life, we witness the cast going through a parallel struggle, having to find ways to accommodate Doctor’s sorely deficient acting sharing their stage. It is obvious however, that even though our cast is up against it, they are not in an adversarial relationship with their director/leading man. In fact, they are considerate and generous, proving able to overcome a significant hurdle, and eventually emerging with dignity intact. Actor Alex Rowe is particularly memorable as John, making the right decision to play up the comedy of the piece, to help his audience through the show, so that we feel secure about laughing with, and not laughing at, the performance.

The work of Jerzy Grotowski is referenced frequently in The Director, to represent a concept of unconventionality in the art of theatre making. Peter wishes his work to go against the established, which in his mind, requires an essential redefinition of the audience’s passivity. In some ways, we see these principles manifest in the current production. As actor, Simon Doctor unnerves us, and intentionally or not, he disallows us to engage with the show on the level of a regular dramatic experience. We hear Nancy Hasty’s writing unfold, but observe metatheatre taking place, one that thoroughly interrogates our position as viewer. We should not expect to be spoon fed on every occasion, but when left to our own devices, how we approach an oddity reveals so much of who we are, and how we function as part of this community’s artistic landscape.

www.activetheatreproductions.com.au

Review: TickTickBoom (Subtlenuance Theatre)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Oct 10 – 20, 2018
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Rose Marel, Emily McKnight

Theatre review
When the story begins, Jodie is seventeen and finishing up high school, but instead of exams and puppy love, it is her failing health that becomes all-consuming. To have her dug out of doldrums, chirpy schoolmate Clara is sent by parents to be the gallant lifter of spirits. In Melissa Lee Speyer’s TickTickBoom, the heart is the subject, literal and figurative, as we observe two young women navigate life and friendship, with a constant and unassailable reminder that death is always around the corner.

Big existential themes are cogently woven together by Speyer, who presents her observations in a manner that is indelibly tender and benevolent. The production struggles to establish an effective sense of humour, but its heavier sections are certainly sensitively rendered. Director Paul Gilchrist’s earnest approach makes for a warm, contemplative experience, and although chemistry between actors can seem inconsistent, both demonstrate undeniable talent, as they proceed to find authenticity, as well as integrity, for their respective roles. Rose Marel brings a valuable vulnerability to Clara, so that we can have an appreciation of the character beyond her shiny exterior. Emily McKnight is convincing in her performance of Jodie’s recalcitrance, for a portrait of teenage angst that we are all familiar with.

Time means nothing to this earth. It is the vanity of our mortal selves that creates the notion of time, and the notion of life running out. When Jodie is fearful of death, she is paralysed, unable to pay reverence to the ticking seconds that she so anxiously counts. To believe in time, is to imbue it with meaning. Species can come and go, but the world will evolve regardless of our individual fates. For each of our personal domains however, to make this fleeting existence bearable, will require a thing we name spirit, whatever one would like for it to mean.

www.subtlenuance.com

5 Questions with Sarah Greenwood and Alex Rowe

Sarah Greenwood

Alex Rowe: What made you want to be an actor?
Sarah Greenwood: I was eight and the soccer season had finished so I needed something to do on my weekends. I started workshops at the Brisbane Arts Theatre on Petrie Terrace, the most haunted building in Brisbane, and I was hooked. I worked with them, and anyone else who would take me, for the next ten years until I was accepted into the WAAPA Acting course. I love the people you meet. I love the excitement in anticipating of an opening night. I love the joy of discovering a character. What’s not to love?

From graduating drama school and settling in Sydney, how has the journey been so far?
I haven’t been here very long. I moved here in January 2017. I was lucky, as a WAAPA graduate there is an enormous community here to help you settle in. Nearly my entire class moved over from Perth as well. We’ve all had different journeys but it made it easier to have my friends here to commiserate and drink red wine. I miss Brisbane but it’s nice to be out of uni and getting my stride.

What’s been the biggest challenge and biggest joy of the rehearsal process so far?
The juggling act is always a challenge. I have a terrible habit of over committing myself but I always seem to find the energy to do everything! I have found great joy in acting out the creative process in this play within a play. It’s a little tongue in cheek and it’s always fun to laugh at yourself.

This play involves some confronting and terrifying experiences for the characters, how has it been acting in these particular scenes?
As my character Meg would say, I was acting! Isn’t that what we were supposed to be doing? Acting?

Will you invite your grandparents to this play?
I wouldn’t have been able to stop my Nanna from coming although I’m not sure she would have approved of some of the content. She used to take me to shows all the time. My Grandma on the other hand is waiting until she sees me in TV Week!

Alex Rowe

Sarah Greenwood: What was your first impression of the script when you read it?
Alex Rowe: My first impression was that even though this was written by an American and debuted in the year 2000, these issues and characters are prominent in Australia today. The writer, Nancy Hasty has successfully captured the different types of actors and also the submissive nature towards people with ‘power’ in the industry.

As a play within a play, what has The Director taught you about your own creative process?
It’s been interesting to play an actor in rehearsals, whilst being an actor in rehearsals. What this play has made me think about is James Dean’s relationship with his directors. I read a few of his biographies and he was known to argue with directors about his craft, that he thought actors were treated like puppets, told what to say, when to say it, where to say it and how to say it. I think actors now, at a time when everyone wants to be in the spotlight, are reluctant to speak up and will go with the director’s choice with the utmost trust, as jobs are far and few between and they are cautious of being blacklisted. In no way am I suggesting that I will wait in my caravan “until I’m ready to work”, which James Dean allegedly did, but it’s made me think about an actors job and their relationship with the director.

How have you found the Sydney scene after living in Melbourne?
The biggest change is obviously the weather, I’ve really enjoyed not dressing like I’m going to the snowfields during winter. Also, my family are based in Sydney, so it’s been really nice being around them and my nieces and nephew.

What is your favourite line from the play?
When Peter, the director referred to in the title of the play, asks my character John “Where’s Sally?” and John responds “I locked her out on the roof”; I find this funny and endearing that John thought by locking Sally on the roof he was really “pushing the boundaries” to hopefully impress Peter.

In the play Peter wants to ‘break through barriers’ to reality, have you seen a performance that made you forget you were watching an act?
An Australian actor who continues to impress me with his performances is Ben Mendelsohn. One of his most recent films Una starring the also incredible Rooney Mara, was one that stands out in regards to profound naturalistic performances.

Sarah Greenwood and Alex Rowe can be seen in The Director by Nancy Hasty.
Dates: 25 Oct – 10 Nov, 2018
Venue: Actors Pulse Theatre

5 Questions with Melissa Lee Speyer and Rose Marel

Melissa Lee Speyer

Rose Marel: Are the 90s your favourite decade? Why did you decide to set TickTickBoom within this particular era?
Melissa Lee Speyer: Every decade is my favourite decade. I chose the 90s mainly for the millennium New Year’s Eve countdown. A single second that splits two millennia, according to an arbitrary marker in time. Also, they’re fun and nostalgic. I love nostalgia. I get nostalgic over every time and everything. I get nostalgic over two months ago. I build moments of future-nostalgia into my day. There is probably something real deep in that, like living in the past to avoid the future, or fearing change. Whatever. I probably shouldn’t ever say yes to time travel.

Which character in TickTickBoom is most similar to you and why?
Whoever is being the most awkward at any given moment. Not limited to my plays. Because, have you met me?

What’s the most exciting thing and the scariest thing about having your play being transformed from page to stage?
It’s all exciting and it’s all scary. I get nervous, wild-eyed, clumsy, sweaty. If there are stairs, watch me trip on them. I like feeling an audience listen. The communal experience. I love seeing what other artists bring to this thing I gave them. The communal act of creation. Foyer chat is terrifying. Mainly because I only remember people’s names on the train on the way home. My brain is allergic to names. Even my own.

What was your high school experience like? Love it or hate it?
I was a nerd, but not intelligent – intellectually, socially or emotionally. High school is always fraught. It’s life’s first social crucible, where you test out who you are and who might be.
Suddenly, the people who mean the most to you don’t have to love you unconditionally. I hated it at the time, and for years after. Now I’m glad I didn’t peak too early. All of life is high school, in some way. Ahhh. Nostalgia.

Who are your favourite playwrights?
Anyone who finishes. Writing is hard! It’s hard to play “favourites”. But you asked, and you’re great, and the full list is too long,
so here are three who are important to me. No order. Caryl Churchill, Nakkiah Lui, Michele Lee.

Rose Marel

Melissa Lee Speyer: How do you remember all those lines? Seriously. I don’t and I wrote them.
Rose Marel: You probably don’t because no one is expecting you to act out both characters 😉 For me, lots and lots of study – going over the lines; reading them out; rehearsing with other actors; speed runs; writing them down; working through the script methodically. Plus, really understanding it and analysing it. Once you figure out the intentions, the thoughts and images behind the lines, I find that it all starts crystallising.

Who was Rose Marel in high school and which clique were you in? Be honest.
I was a good old floater. (I like to think) I got along with everyone reasonably well, but I did drift around throughout the years and have close friends from various cliques. Although, I was also someone who also enjoyed – or found myself – floating around in her own world.

Can new Australian theatre compete with Netflix, and if so, how?
It’s tough. No doubt people love staying home these days – that idea of relaxing in their own space and ‘bingeing’ on shows – which is absolutely great, but I think in terms of accessibility, a lot more people, regardless of whether or not they’re involved in the arts, turn to Netflix. Less people are willing to, or aware of, all the incredible independent shows in Sydney / Australia. But it can be such a fantastic night out – grab a couple of friends or a date, have some dinner, go see a show, and then hopefully engage in great conversation about the themes and ideas that it brought up. Theatre is arguably a more visceral and raw experience for the audience members, so in that way it can definitely have the edge. 

Ultimately, they’re such different mediums, but at the same time, there’s potential for them to complement each other. Netflix has some incredible content, and is pushing the boundaries in so many ways conceptually and thematically that it can only be a good thing in terms of the wider arts community and also society in general.

Tell me about the first time you fell in love. 
The few times I’ve felt on the precipice of love, I’ve later realised that ‘that’ wasn’t it. The first, more mythical time, was back in junior school, when I clapped eyes on an elf called Legolas in Lord Of The Rings. For the next, who knows how long, I existed somewhere in the cross-zone between obsession, love and delusional infatuation. As in, I would research Orlando Bloom facts, had over 300 pictures of him on my wall, would count the pictures as a hobby and did a speech on him for a school speech competition. It was the first time I considered the possibility of ‘love’ and what that could feel like. God help me. 

Living your life: are you aiming to be here for a long time or here for a good time? Which is better? Is that actually 7 questions?
Do they have to be mutually exclusive? I’d like to say a healthy combination of the two. It can be really difficult to seize the moment, and capture that freedom and adventurousness within ourselves, especially as you get older and  encumbered with more responsibility, but I think it’s certainly a balance. One of my favourite quotes that encompasses this is from Buddha: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Something that I really admire in Clara (the character I play in TickTickBoom) is her gratitude of, and openness to the present moment. She’s a soul who’s certainly alive and receptive to the potential of the world in ‘now’. 

Rose Marel can be seen in TickTickBoom by Melissa Lee Speyer.
Dates: 10 – 20 Oct, 2018
Venue: Actors Pulse Theatre

5 Questions with Tony Barea and Casey Richards

Tony Barea

Casey Richards: What excites you most about being a part of this production?
Tony Barea: The opportunity to demonstrate how I have grown as an actor over the last three years since joining The Actors Pulse is very exciting. To be able to stand in front of an audience and tell a story through the eyes of such a rich character – one that has been played by the likes of Al Pacino – is a challenge that I feel I’m more than up for, and only adds to the excitement. And some nerves too!

What has brought you to the theatre?
A love of storytelling which until recent years was confined to my other passion, writing. It was in fact a case of writer’s block which led me to explore other avenues of creativity and manifested with actor classes and a newfound love for the theatre.

Favourite line in the play?
My favourite line would have to be “You stupid fucking c…..t” No line in the play demonstrates more clearly the world that these characters live in. The vulgarity and the depths to which they will sink to in order to make a sale, and the reaction when things don’t go to plan. So much is revealed about Roma’s world from this line and the ensuing monologue. I’m really looking forward to bringing my own flavour to it.

Fun fact about you?
I ran petrol stations for 10 years prior to taking up acting. Who would have thought?

What excites you about the staging of this play?
The staging of the first act in the bar next door, the gender swap of some of the characters, the fact that it is the first time on the stage for some of us, all add to the excitement of staging this play. And of course not to mention that we are all fellow students at The Actors Pulse

Casey Richards

Tony Barea: What do you like most about playing your character?
Casey Richards: It would have to be the challenge of receiving all my moments. With a smaller speaking role I have to make sure that my behaviour is on point and that I am constantly in the moment both giving and receiving.

What do you approach first when you pick up a script?
What is my character’s purpose? Why does he even exist? It’s an exciting journey of discovery. One which then involves sharing those discoveries.

If you could work with any actor in the world who would it be?
Robin Williams or Heath Ledger. Both had amazing talent that they were able to share with the world. Whilst I won’t be able to work with either, growing up with them as an influence on me is a source of deep inspiration, which I hope to one day emulate.

What made you want to do acting?
Originally it was just for fun. I love watching behind-the-scenes cuts from movies and it just struck me that it looked like a heap of fun. I have since discovered that the art of storytelling and connecting to people is what I enjoy most.

Does the character that you play bare any similarities to you?
It does. Initially it was a little difficult as my character is much older than me, but as I have dug deeper I have continued to find parts of myself that are in alignment with the character. I feel that I will continue to discover more with each rehearsal leading up to the performances and I’m looking forward to that.

Tony Barea and Casey Richards can be seen in Glengarry Glen Ross, by David Mamet.
Dates: 23 February – 3 March, 2018
Venue: The Actors Pulse

Review: The Caretaker (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 2, 2017
Playwright: Harold Pinter
Director: Courtney Powell
Cast: Alex Bryant-Smith, Andrew Langcake, Nicholas Papademetriou

Theatre review
The house is dilapidated, but its three male inhabitants do nothing to improve conditions, choosing instead to involve themselves in mind games, finding ways to exert power over one another, as they while the days away, never achieving anything.

Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker themes are many. Talking about things social, political and psychological, the 1960 play does not make explicit any of its concerns, but creates scenarios and dialogue that may inspire us to find associations with the real world. Resonances have faded with time, as the issue of relevance comes into question, but it is doubtless that Pinter’s characters are fascinating, and their interactions, fabulously theatrical.

The production is often an intriguing one, with director Courtney Powell facilitating our questioning of all the activity that takes place. A naturalistic style, carefully orchestrated, prevents us from dismissing scenes as simply bizarre, and lures us in, to consider the dynamics and meanings in operation.

A strong cast keeps us involved in the many unlikely exchanges. Nicholas Papademetriou manipulates us in his interpretation of a central figure, a vagrant who finds himself in the middle of two brothers, becoming increasingly sinister, and surprising us quite delightfully, through subtle transformations of personality. Alex Bryan-Smith is a convincing ruffian, animated in his portrayal of a menacing type, bringing excellent energy to the show as Mick. In diametric opposition is Andrew Langcake who plays a quiet, possibly disturbed Aston, offering perfect balance to the noise of his counterparts.

The character of the house has changed, since the play’s inception 57 years ago. The meaning of property ownership informs the way we see The Caretaker, and in hyper-commercialised Sydney today, divorcing ourselves from the economics of the story is impossible. We observe the three men in hierarchical terms, the landlord, the tenant and the temporary resident, and we wonder how money, along with the disparity between rich and poor, affects the way we live with one another. The root of all evil is perhaps perennial, but its nature seems to morph with the passage of time.

www.throwingshade.com.au