Review: Educating Rita (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), May 10 – 20, 2017
Playwright: Willy Russell
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: David Jeffrey, Emily McGowan
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
We meet Rita as she begins to realise her discontentment with banality. Going back to school, she wishes to make improvements to her life, although not entirely sure what a better existence should look like. Her tutor Frank on the other hand, is an alcoholic, and a poet who no longer writes. Both are subconsciously thinking “anywhere but here,” but only Rita knows to seek for answers in a productive way.

Willy Russell’s Educating Rita is about aspirations, and also, in its very British way, about class distinctions. Its humour relies on Rita’s lack of sophistication as a Liverpudlian hairdresser, but under Julie Baz’s direction, the characters speak as Australians, with our Rita in a broader, shall we say, working class type accent.

It is a bold decision that proves to be at times effective, and at others, quite awkward. The text mentions a slew of British places and personalities, and talks of Australia as a faraway country, so the production’s ability to assist with our suspension of disbelief tends to be inconsistent. However, the show remains otherwise attentive to the spirit of Russell’s writing, and we always feel that its heart is kept in the right place.

The actors take a couple of scenes to warm up, but when Emily McGowan gets comfortable in her role, Rita’s endearing qualities shine through, allowing us to engage with the play’s ideas and sentimentality. Both actors, McGowan and David Jeffrey, can on occasion slip into an unfortunate reticence with their parts, but when confident, their scenes become involving and quite amusing. Also noteworthy is Tim Linghaus’ music providing an air of melancholy appropriate to the characters’ inner worlds.

Rita and Frank cross paths, as they both embark on new trajectories. Life is change, but we do not have to think of moving up as the only meaningful way to achieve progress. We have to value the sense of surprise in all our narratives, just as we know to enjoy the simple straightforward increments in things we usually pursue. The universe will take us places, whether we like it or not. It is how we choose to understand them and delight in them, that makes all the difference.

www.thedepottheatre.com

5 Questions with David Jeffrey and Emily McGowan

David Jeffrey


Emily McGowan: What do you and your character Frank (your character in Educating Rita) have in common and what sets you both apart?
David Jeffrey: We’re both mad, I currently have too much hair on my head and I do like going to the pub, though I seldom get to enjoy this pleasure. The obvious difference between us is that Frank loves poetry and I love plays.

Tell us how Frank would spend his day if he could do anything, no expenses spared?
Frank would take Rita by the hand and time travel back to late 18th century London to invite William Blake for a pint at the Lamb & Flag.

I have hired you a private 3 hat Michelin chef for the night, what do you ask them to make you and why?
Love my classics. Shrimp Cocktail, Duck a l’Orange, followed by Baked Alaska.

What is one of the greatest challenges you have found working on Educating Rita?
Knowing what scene is coming next. Sounds simple but not in this play.

If you were an animal what would you be?
A Blue Dragon.

Emily McGowan

David Jeffrey: What do you like the most and the least about your character Rita in Educating Rita?
Emily McGowan: What I like the most about Rita is her heart. She is passionate about justice – she loves people! I love that she isn’t crippled or trapped by her inequities, but rather, she is a go-getter and takes every opportunity. Something I don’t like about Rita is that she can sometimes be a bit clueless, I often feel like saying “Come on girl! Screw your head on.” But really she is hard not to love.

If you could live and work anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
This is a hard one as I have two bucket list places (in which I have never been to). It would be either Paris or New York. Both places seem to steam with possibility and culture – quite different ends of the spectrum, and they both embrace art so much. Paris might win though as I am addicted to croissants.

How do the challenges Rita faces to become ‘educated’ compare to your own life challenges to date?
I think Rita gets put in a box by many of the people around her – they label her as simple and at times stupid. Frank however believes in her and unlocks those boxes, showing her that if she puts her mind to it she can be educated. I had a teacher in high school, who very similarly believed in me and empowered me to case my dreams

You produce your own work as well as act. How does that work for you?
It’s great! Honestly, you can’t just sit around and wait for other people to hand you opportunities on a silver platter. I think being able to create a piece and bring people together really empowers me – more people should try. My big thing is don’t micro manage. I have my skill sets, you have yours. I’m not going to tell you how to do a job I know nothing about. But that is why I love making theatre so much, collaborating as a creative team is such a rewarding experience.

You’ve just been told you will become deaf and blind in 24 hours time. What do you do?
That’d be a nightmare! Spend all that time with my family, locking into the memory bank what they look and sound like.

David Jeffrey and Emily McGowan are appearing in Educating Rita by Willy Russell.
Dates: 10 – 20 May, 2017
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: Sex Object (Jackrabbit Theatre / The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Apr 19 – 29, 2017
Playwright: Charlie Falkner
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Charlotte Devenport, Charlie Falkner, Andrew Hearle, Grace Victoria
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review
Ben is addicted to pornography, an increasingly widespread problem resulting from recent technological advancements, that have allowed unprecedented access to explicit sexual content. Unable to conduct a healthy relationship with his girlfriend, he decides to break things off, but Ron’s father has just passed away, and timing is a real issue. Charlie Falkner’s Sex Object may not be very sure about what it wishes to say, but its dialogue and characters are certainly amusing. We go on a delightful ride with the youthful foursome, entertained by the things they say and do, and even though we end up at a place quite unexceptional, the journey is ultimately a pleasing one.

The show is energetic, full of effervescence, and we are kept engrossed in each of its very chatty sequences. Director Michael Abercromby is determined to have interchanges occur with great exuberance, which holds the audience’s attention well, but it is doubtful if we ever find an opportunity to invest anything deeper than cheerful laughter. Falkner’s own performance as Ben is charmingly idiosyncratic, like a Millennial Woody Allen, struggling to make sense of his own world, while exposing the dysfunctions that we all share. Playing Gustav is the very funny Andrew Hearle, long-limbed and manic, prancing around the stage with uncontainable enthusiasm, and proving himself to be an awfully infectious presence.

The play beats about the bush, wishing to talk about sex in the modern era, but is unable to get deep and dirty with its ideas. Taboo subjects are by definition seldom discussed, and as such, we often lack the ability for their articulation. Not only do we lack the language, we lack the philosophy, because silence hampers how we communicate and how we think. It is clear that Sex Object wishes to interrogate something contemporary about our sexualities, at a time when technology and commerce are allowed to penetrate all that is intimate and private, but what it actually does say is insubstantial. In its inevitable and unintended prudishness, we receive instead a barrage of jokes, like children discovering sex, unable to appreciate it for its profundity, indulging instead in its many awkward and silly, although not unenjoyable, thrills and spills.

www.jackrabbittheatre.comwww.thedepottheatre.com

Review: Ellie, Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 29 – Apr 8, 2017
Playwright: Monica Zanetti
Director: Monica Zanetti
Cast: Meagan Caratti, Margi De Ferranti, Sophie Hawkshaw, Geraldine Viswanathan, Monica Zanetti

Theatre review
Ellie has developed a crush on Abbie, and is trying to figure out how best to ask her along to their year 12 formal. Having only just come out to her mother, who is, predictably, struggling to come to terms with her daughter’s sexual identity, Ellie is lucky to have the ghost of her lesbian aunt show up to help navigate new terrains. Monica Zanetti’s Ellie, Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) introduces a new paradigm to the story of same-sex attracted girls. Not only does Ellie benefit from the guidance of role models, the play’s portrayal of lesbian and gay relationships in Australian high schools, as entirely normal and accepted, is thoroughly refreshing.

The work is elevated by Zanetti’s incorporation of LGBT political history. By placing emphasis on the hard won rights of Ellie’s community, we experience a gravity in our protagonist’s story without having to see her go through archaic narratives of homosexual agony. It is important that we make representations of LGBT youth in our art and storytelling that reflect the increasing normalisation of their place in society, while preserving their significance within conceptions of social diversity. Zanetti’s writing is sentimental but considered, innocent but sophisticated; it speaks intelligently to our young, and helps advocate for greater inclusiveness of sexual minorities.

The production is staged with minimal fuss. Little ingenuity is put into direction, and set design is overly bare, but the roles are soulfully realised. Appropriately, leading lady Sophie Hawkshaw is strongest of the cast, with a natural charm that endears Ellie to her audience from the very beginning. It is a gentle performance that feels effortless, but one that is surprisingly convincing. Hawkshaw makes us want the best for Ellie, and it is this emotional investment she elicits that keeps us engaged to the end.

www.thedepottheatre.com

Review: Bare (The Depot Theatre)

supplyevolutionVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 30 – Dec 17, 2016
Book: Jon Hartmere, Damon Intrabartolo
Lyrics: Jon Hartmere
Music: Damon Intrabartolo
Director/Choreographer: Hannah Barn
Cast: Aaron Robuck, Sophie Perkins, Alex Jeans, Natalie Abbott, Timothy Langan, Teale Howie, Alexandra Lewtas, Caroline Oayda, Matt Laird, Stephanie McKenna, Ibrahim Matar, Tara Hanrahan, Annette Vitetta, Penny Larkins, Gavin Leahy

Theatre review
The musical is set in a Catholic high school. Peter and Jason are secret lovers struggling to come to terms with their gay relationship and the identity markers that will inevitably become a matter of controversy given the social context. It is an age-old story, but one that bears repeating. Our religious institutions remain unkind to those who do not conform to their narrow definition of acceptable sexual behaviour, and Bare‘s response is still important, even if its story offers little that would be refreshing for the twenty-first century.

Hannah Barn’s direction of the piece pays strong attention to the show’s emotive qualities. Every melodramatic flourish is amplified to passionately drive its point, and to captivate. The more humorous portions of the musical seem to be neglected, which results in a production that can feel slightly unvarying and predictable, but there is plenty of dynamism to be found in the music. Musical director Matthew Reid does wonders with his 8-piece band, providing injections of energy whenever required, and calibrating atmosphere with remarkable sensitivity throughout, but sound design, especially in the first half, needs to be refined.

It is a very committed cast of performers that take to the stage. Alex Jeans and Aaron Robuck play their leading parts with integrity, and even though their interpretations of characters can feel somewhat one-dimensional, both young men tell their stories with impressive enthusiasm. Along with Jeans and Robuck, accomplished singing by Natalie Abbott and Penny Larkins give the production a surprising polish that reflects a good level of professionalism and admirable devotion to the time-honoured craft of musical theatre.

Bare is yet another work that documents the struggle of gay men in a society that refuses to accept them as equals. We have heard it all before, but we must not stop telling these tales of oppression as long as the cruelty persists. For some of us, progressive political movements have brought us better lives, but for many others, the chains of injustice are a daily reality. We might like to think of ourselves as first world civilisations, but if we have children living in fear and in some tragic cases, taking their lives, our complacency has to take responsibility.

www.thedepottheatre.com

Review: Let’s Talk About You (Pop Up Theatre)

popupVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 16 – 26, 2016
Playwright: Rivka Hartman
Director: Rivka Hartman, Christine Mearing
Cast: Elaine Hudson, Taylor Owynns, Anne Tenney
Image by Vicki Skarratt

Theatre review
Ernestine’s marriage and career are adequate, but clearly far from perfect. She has a high level of self-awareness, constantly in dialogue with herself (quite literally) to examine thoughts and feelings as they emerge, but she keeps things under strict control. Ernestine is not one to rock the boat. Her husband is philandering, and job promotions are lost to less qualified male persons, but she grins and bears it, determined to fulfil the part of the good girl. When the beautiful Joy enters the picture, however, our protagonist is inspired to let all hell break loose.

Rivka Hartman’s Let’s Talk About You is about a woman whose time has come, admittedly a little late in life, but Ernestine is finally at a point where she realises that following all the rules has paid her poor dividends. It is a deeply charming play, witty and spirited, with depth and humour effortlessly guiding us through its simple but delightful narrative.

The production is directed with a warm vibrancy that keeps us connected with its characters, but spacial configurations could be more imaginative to allow scene transitions to occur with less fuss. Performance for the piece tends to be overly declarative in style, but what it lacks in terms of an empathetic naturalism, it atones with genuine passion and excellent stage presence from its smart team of actors. Elaine Hudson is a sagacious leading lady, imparting wisdom and flair through her incisive interpretation of a personality that we will all find familiar, and honest.

It should be easy living in a country that is free and rich, but we can often find ourselves held back from happiness. What happens in the mind is endlessly complex, but in Let’s Talk About You, we can see that fear and delusion are luxury items many of us in developed nations possess, and like that Patek Philippe or that Lamborghini, completely unnecessary and irrelevant to finding a good life. Ernestine understands her own irrationality, but what she does with it, is the million dollar question.

www.thedepottheatre.com

Review: My Father’s Left Testicle (Mustard Seed Productions)

mustardseedVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 2 – 12, 2016
Playwright: Murray Lambert
Director: Murray Lambert
Cast: Robert Carne, Matt Lausch, Emily McGowan, Nick O’Regan, Kristelle Zibara
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Australia may be far away from a lot of the world, but we cannot help but obsess over the idea that savages from places we know little about, are coming to overwhelm and steal everything we own. Of course, this is exactly what has been happening to Aboriginal peoples for two-and-a-half centuries, but these days, it seems the aggressors have somehow convinced themselves that the tables have turned, and foreigners are busy plotting to swamp this land illegitimately.

A substantial part of our daily political discourse involves the perceived threat of refugees, and how harshly our political leaders are willing to treat asylum seekers who dare brave our shores. Murray Lambert’s My Father’s Left Testicle talks about the offshore immigration detention centres that are constantly on the news, presenting absurd renditions of horrific stories reported over the last few years.

We may have heard it all before, but this is information that bears repeating. The atrocities never seem to cease, and even though our society is at a loss as to what can actually be done to alleviate the situation and achieve a humane result, we must not stop discussing these issues, repetitive as they might be, and risk forgetting the disaster occurring at our doorstep.

Lambert frames the stories within a context of very black comedy, some sequences of which are genuinely funny and others proving to be very uncomfortable viewing, although undeniably powerful. Often imaginative and passionate, the script includes clever dialogue that make up for where it lacks structural sophistication. The production suffers slightly from inelegant scene transitions, but charming work on set design by John Alan Sullivan is a highlight.

The work is performed confidently by a spirited ensemble of five. The meatiest roles are taken on by Nick O’Regan, who attacks with gusto and a sincerity that helps us connect with the play’s assertions. Also memorable is Robert Carne’s ability to convey authenticity, notwithstanding the production’s surreal and mischievous tone.

The show’s evocative title and its tagline “My Father’s Left Testicle… Go Back To Where You Came From!” suggests a desire to see a world without boundaries, where land is shared and where things that separate people are dissolved. The notion is idealistic, and naive, but it is not hard to recognise the truths that it contains. We might wish to preserve the inequalities of the world so that those at the top of food chains will remain dominant, but there is no need for our greed to exist without compassion. Even when we are determined to have more than others, it is clear that there is enough for everyone, but it seems that we can only think of things in terms of all or nothing, and will continue to wield cruelty where we can.

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