Review: Violent Extremism & Other Adult Party Games (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 15 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Richie Black
Director: Michael Campbell
Cast: Thomas G. Burt, Julia Christensen, Dave Kirkham, Jodine Muir, Thomas Pidd, Eleanor Stankiewicz
Image by Josh Mawer

Theatre review
Robert is a reality TV star, known for deplorable and sensationalist views, characteristic of what has come to be known as the alt-right. Richie Black’s Violent Extremism & Other Adult Party Games commences at the point where he meets a young neo-Nazi Twitter celebrity, as they try to leverage each other, thinking that each is able to advance his own agenda by making use of the other’s influence. A comedy of errors ensues, and people are killed in quick succession, as a result of this unholy union.

It is a cleverly written play, consistently funny, and powerful with its social criticisms. Michael Campbell’s direction of the piece is exhilarating, if slightly overzealous in his doggedly high energy rendering of confrontation and chaos. Every scene in Violent Extremism is amusing, with its satire and irony proving to be highly satisfying, but the production rarely resonates deep enough for its political meanings to be truly impactful. We are certainly entertained, but for all its sociopolitical assertions, we struggle to find a breath that will allow us to think intently enough, about the matters Violent Extremism is keen to discuss.

The look of the staging is excessively raw, but we are impressed by a very well-rehearsed cast of six performers. Thomas Pidd is an effective leading man, comfortably orchestrating the hectic activity orbiting around him. Charismatic, and animated in his portrayal of a comical, himbo type character, his ability to have us endear to Robert is crucial, in sustaining our interest for a show full of unsavoury personalities.

On the battlefield, blood is shed on both sides, because both sides are aggressors. It is our nature to decipher good from bad, but as long as we understand that violence is never the answer, we must learn to appreciate that there are no good guys in wars. It is true that there are deranged white Australians who are the cause of damage to much of our social fabric, and although they are currently obsessed with positioning themselves in direct opposition to “Islamic fundamentalists”, it is the similarities, rather than differences, between these groups that should be acknowledged.

www.thedepottheatre.com

Review: The Big Meal (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Oct 18 – Nov 4, 2017
Playwright: Dan LeFranc
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Cormac Costello, Emily Dreyer, Angus Evans, Suzann James, David Jeffrey, Tasha O’Brien, Brendan Paul, Kaitlyn Thor
Image by Katy Green Loughey

Theatre review
Things happen very quickly in Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal. Nicole and Sam meet at a restaurant, and their lives flash before our eyes, from courtship and marriage, through to childbirth, sickness and death. The play is not about the peculiarities of any of the characters we meet. In some ways, it is about the insignificance of the individual existences we believe ourselves to inhabit. Taking the “circle of life” approach, LeFranc attempts to chart the journey of a human being, from beginning to inevitable end.

It is the idea of a “typical” person that The Big Meal is concerned with, but it cannot go unnoticed, that it is strictly an American middle class heterosexual paradigm that it is interested in depicting. In the play, the people do little but give birth, raise children, and repeat. It is not the intention of the work to include a wider scope of what these characters are capable of, or indeed the other responsibilities that they doubtless will have. We see only one facet of their worlds.

The Big Meal means to speak universally, but the experiences therein are, to many, exclusionary. Nonetheless, it is a dynamic piece of writing that will facilitate very vibrant stage activity, and director Julie Baz makes sure that her show is an exuberant one. Scenes unfold before us, fast and furious, in a race to the end. We think about mortality, as though a delicious meal that must only be finite. It is noteworthy that Mehran Mortezaei’s lights take us efficiently through each of the play’s dramatic leaps across time, with minimal hassle in the transitions between.

Performances are generally strong, by a crew of actors clearly delighted by the wide range of personalities that each is called upon to undertake. Their transformations are a joy to watch. Cormac Costello and Suzann James are particularly memorable in the final moments, with a tenderness and an emotional authenticity that has us captivated, and touched. Also impressive is Brendan Paul, who plays innumerable boys and men over the course of 100 minutes, proving himself to be an engaging, disciplined and passionate presence.

Talking about death is important. The acceptance and awareness that our lives come to an end, extends our consciousness beyond the self. It frees us to be better people, kinder and more generous in all our dealings. To understand that we are all transient in the bigger scheme of things, could wake us to our duties as custodians of the planet, or at least remind us of the inconsequential nature of all the things we may struggle with, in our day to day. One should be moved to think about legacy, and find inspiration to leave behind something wonderful, or simply to depart having caused no harm.

www.thedepottheatre.com

5 Questions with Laura Djanegara and Danen Young

Laura Djanegara

Danen Young: This production has a cast of 17, how have you found working with such a large group of
actors?

Laura Djanegara: Everyone involved in this production is really fun and easy to work with. Although on
stage, I only really work with a few actors in terms of engaging with them in performance. The few
moments where we’ve had all cast involved, the only thing I needed to work on was being 100% sure where
I needed to be and where I was going to avoid running into people. It took a little while to get to know the performers on this production due to the size of the cast but entering tech week we are all bonding more as an ensemble.

Many scholars regard The Winter’s Tale as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”. What have been some of the biggest challenges so far in bringing this story to life?
With quite a lot of Shakespeare productions, and indeed with this one, there are a few cuts to the script to ensure a good running time of the performance. One of the tricky things this leads to is getting the full character arc because you lose moments or dialogue that may have assisted. I think this play has managed to work around that. It means having a really clear understanding of turning points in the script is essential. Knowing what you are doing and why and where you change your mind etc. This should be the case with any show but especially with Shakespeare or heightened language. Understanding the thought process of your character and getting the speed of thought is important.

Your character is Camillo, traditionally a male character. What would you say to those who argue
against the changing of a character’s gender?

In 2017 and among theatre practitioners I can’t really imagine anyone arguing against gender fluidity in
performance. Especially in a Shakespeare, whose performance history is littered with gender changing,
having initially had all characters played by men. If I were to encounter anyone who would oppose I would
be happy to discuss it. I would ask ‘Did you lose the meaning of the play through having that character
portrayed by someone of an opposite gender?’. If anyone still argued against it I would encourage them to
have a more open mind.

Shakespeare’s works are 400 years old. Why do you think he is still so oft performed, and why do
people place such a high value on the importance of his work?

Shakespeare’s writing is just beautiful. 400 years on, he still manages to write in a way that is
accessible even though the circumstances might be so far removed from what we now experience. I think he
is performed because there is still so much we can learn from his writing. It is also crucial to understand, appreciate and respect the history. Shakespeare, for me and I’m sure many others, stands out because of his masterful use of the English language.

What’s your go to easy snack for rehearsals?
I am not much of a snacker to be honest. I’d probably have to say coffee if I had to pick. Can’t function
without my good friend caffeine.

Danen Young

Laura Djanegara: Can you explain the basic plot of The Winter’s Tale without using the letter e (except when in a characters name i.e perdita)
Danen Young: Good pals King Leontes and King Polixenes bond in Sicilia. 9 months pass. A baby is within
virtuous Hermione, Leontes’ Lady. Leontes flips out, angry, and says the baby is Polixenes’. Suspicious of an affair, Leontes throws out the child, and puts Hermione in jail. Leontes grows in confusion and hurt, and bad stuff occurs. 192 months pass. Perdita (Leontes’ banish’d baby) is now grown, living a lowly life with Shepherd and his son Clown in Polixenes’ Kingdom. Perdita wants to marry Florizel, Polixene’s son. A party is had, drinks had, goods sold, songs sung and young luv burns bright. But! Polixenes is not privy to this fact that Perdita is actually King Leontes’ banish’d baby, and so forbids said marrying. Polixenes flips out, and things start falling into… You must go to show to know what flows on from this.

Your character is a troubadour of sorts with a slight case of kleptomania. How do you relate?
Well I love songs for their story telling capabilities. Music and poetry are wonderful vehicles for ideas
and expression, and even more fun when the character is cheeky. As for the kleptomania, mainly I steal
things accidentally. Usually lighters.

Why do you think it is important for audiences to see this play? What universal themes still ring true?
I feel like The Winter’s Tale is not as well known as some of his other plays. It’s an eclectic mix of action, thriller, drama and comedy, with a bunch of very fun and interesting characters. In a way its a sort of coming-of-age story, with Time passing o’er 16 years, and we get to see the long term effect of making heavy decisions on a whim based off an emotional impulse.

This is your second production with Secret House, what are your favourite things about working with this production company?
Secret House are incredible. I only came in late to Cymbeline last year with these guys, but it was clear from the moment I stepped in to the rehearsal room that they were focused on putting on the very best show they could. Jane and James really love bringing theatre to the people in Sydney, and that’s infectious. Also, their sets are incredible!

In Shakespeare’s times all female roles were played by men, if you could play any female character from any of his plays who would you pick and why?
Female role. That’s tough. There are so many strong female roles. I would have say a tie between
Helena or Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m a huge fan of the Lovers’ scenes from that play, and the girls always stand out for me with their passion and fire, but also how they love and get hurt. For me they would just be a joy to play.

Laura Djanegara and Danen Young can be seen in The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare.
Dates: 27 Sep – 7 Oct, 2017
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: The Winter’s Tale (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 27 – Oct 7, 2017
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Sean O’Riordan
Cast: Jane Angharad, Alison Benstead, Alana Birtles, Russell Cronin, Laura Djanegara, Alec Ebert, Neil Sun Hyland, Derbail Kinsella, Dave Kirkham, Grace Naoum, Roger Smith, James Smithers, Romney Stanton, Charles Upton, Richard Woodhouse, Emma Wright, Danen Young
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
No one can really claim to know Shakespeare’s personal politics, and the further along we progress, the harder it is to investigate with any objectivity, how he would have thought about the way societies should be managed. In The Winter’s Tale however, there is no doubt that modern standards can only judge him deeply misogynist.

Leontes is a king who decides on his own whim, that his pregnant wife is being unfaithful, then proceeds subsequently, to cause the death of both mother and their newborn daughter. Later in the piece, we witness the king becoming consumed by guilt, until the end, where he is unjustly rewarded with their resurrection, in the play’s quite absurd happy ending. Like Leontes, Shakespeare inflicts beastly harm on the two women, in order that his own purposes of creating presumably sensational drama may be served, then summons them back for a tidy and convenient conclusion.

Domestic violence is hugely topical, but The Winter’s Tale is clearly not the right story for our times. There is no need in any contemporary existence, to see an abuser get away with murder, and subsequently be absolved of all his sins.

Nonetheless, the production is an earnestly assembled tribute to the literary great. Isabel Hudson’s meticulous work on set design is laudable, and Liam O’Keefe’s dynamic lights are a crucial element in the many tonal transformations between scenes. Director Sean O’Riordan works closely with his young actors to create opportunities for their talent, where they exist, to be displayed, or at least to demonstrate a sense of exuberance where a natural flair for the stage may be absent. There are issues with blocking, if solved, that could improve the efficacy of what the cast attempts to provide.

Leontes is played by Charles Upton, who although lacks the appropriate level of maturity, is a sturdy and persuasive presence, providing a centrifugal vitality that the play’s narratives rely on to develop. Laura Djanegara is memorable as Camillo, with a confidently naturalist approach that feels authentic and refreshing. Also noteworthy is Russell Cronin who offers excellent timing as the Clown, energetic and adorable, with an unmistakable intuition for performance.

It is appalling that one Australian woman is killed every week by her partner (as reported by the Australian Institute of Criminology), yet our national consciousness continues to struggle with the severity of that fact. We spend inordinate effort on debating things like border protection, while all the real atrocities are happening inside our homes. The inability to see the evil within, is unquestionably harmful. We have to be vigilant with that which is too often taken for granted, including those we consider heroes of our artistic experience.

www.secrethouse.com.au

Review: Technicolor Life (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jul 26 – Aug 12, 2017
Playwright: Jami Brandli
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Amy Victoria Brooks, Nyssa Hamilton, Michael Harrs, James Martin, Tasha O’Brien, Cherilyn Price, Emily Sulzberger, Cherrie Whalen-David
Image by Katy Green Loughey

Theatre review
Maxine is a gregarious 14-year-old with a lot to deal with. Her sister has returned from the war in Iraq, having lost her left hand along with much of her will to live, while their grandmother decides to move in to enjoy her last days, before having to succumb to cancer. Jami Brandli’s Technicolor Life is an entertaining exploration into the notion of joie de vivre, where tragic circumstances are filtered through a youthful optimism and resilience, as represented by the very innocent, but very wise, Maxine. People lose limbs and lives everyday, yet somehow we must move on, and resist being submerged by the inevitable accumulation of damage over time.

Director Julie Baz ensures that characters are colourful, with consistently vibrant interactions. Pathos is perhaps too mild under Baz’s interpretation, but we nonetheless find ourselves deeply involved. Nyssa Hamilton does fabulous work in the role of Maxine, particularly memorable for her voice, which seems to be endlessly malleable and powerful. The actor is a delightfully inviting presence, and she keeps us firmly engaged with the conundrums that surround her. Amy Victoria Brooks and Emily Sulzberger play Maxine’s fairy godmothers, who introduce a thrilling effervescence with each entrance, through their mimicry of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, after our protagonist discovers the 1953 classic.

Necessity compels us to take action, but inspiration is the most blissful way to achieve motivation. Having lost herself inside the glittering falsity of old Hollywood, Maxine delves into dreamland searching for answers to problems in her real world. We are often caught up in the gruelling demands of daily existence, and our minds are made to be increasingly restrained by the need to act with practicality, prudence and pragmatism, leaving us to reject that which is the most beautiful and sublime. Asking for divine intervention is usually the last resort, but what could result from the consultation of higher planes, must never be underestimated.

www.thedepottheatre.com

5 Questions with Amy Victoria Brooks and Emily Sulzberger

Amy Victoria Brooks

Emily Sulzberger: Why do you think this play is relevant in today’s society? 
Amy Victoria Brooks: Technicolor Life is relevant in our society because it is about a family and every family’s story is unique and important. This play examines the members of a family who are dealing with hardship, and how they cope with – and react to – their lives being upended. The audience will be offered a glimpse into the life of a war veteran who has returned home after active service in Afghanistan and is attempting to fit back in to her previous life, whilst dealing not only the loss of a limb, but the loss of her former self. What excites me most about Technicolor Life are the strong females, everyone is a protagonist. Way too often, substantial female characters can be under-represented, or even invisible, on stage. But by selecting this play for The Depot Theatre’s 2017 program, Julie Baz gives these women voices. Each character is compelling in her own way. She has her strengths and weaknesses and above all, she is determined. 

What are the similarities and differences between you and your character? 
Dorothy Shaw and I share a lot of attributes! We are strong, outspoken and confident women who are empathetic and fiercely loyal. The words “sassy” and “outspoken” also spring to mind. 
Dorothy can be more shallow than I am, and her wardrobe is a million times better than mine. Also, Dorothy Shaw has Lorelei Lee as a best friend! My best friend is a fantastic person, but I wouldn’t describe him as a Marilyn Monroe type (though with the right wig and frock…). 

When you’re not acting, what would we find you doing? 
When I’m not acting, you will find me attending the theatre, watching (mostly-) excellent quality Netflix, and reading plays and fiction. I also enjoy going on on-line shopping websites and adding items to the shopping cart, only to never purchase. And I don’t know if wine can be considered a hobby, but I am an enthusiast. I work in retail and I love interacting with customers. There are always interesting people around and I am fascinated by what makes people tick. 

What would be the funniest thing to fill a piñata with?
Certainly not dad jokes. Maybe the jokes that come in Christmas bon-bons. No, wait! Smaller piñatas! But the best thing? Lipsticks by MAC, please. So… many… shades. I want to collect them all. Although it wouldn’t really be fair on the non-lipstick wearers with whom I am competing. 

What do you hope the audience will take away from watching this show? 
Of course I hope the audience will leave the theatre having seen a great production. But further to that, I hope we make people FEEL. It is the role of creative people to challenge the views of those who view our work and I want them to have learned something. Or questioned their own opinions.  Theatre audiences are often some of the most open-minded people, willing to learn and be inspired. I hope we make people talk.

Emily Sulzberger

Amy Victoria Brooks: Why should people see Technicolor Life?
Emily Sulzberger: Technicolor Life reveals a lot about a beautiful family of four women, how they learn to deal with each other, as they have gone through trauma and how that has changed them as people. We get right down to a personal level, from the inside of a War hero’s diary, to the reality of living with fake tatas, an absent father and a missing limb. All of this, served up next to some fun dance numbers, promises to be a good night out. And if that’s not enough, come for the strong female leads, it’s great to have a play with so many female characters!

What has been the hardest thing about playing this character?
I think it’s playing a character that is so iconic. Everyone knows the blond bombshell who sings “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”, and finding the heart of who she was as a character and giving a genuine performance as opposed to just impersonating the old gal.  

Who inspires you?
I think being a theatre maker is a huge responsibility, we need to be in tune with what is happening in our world, and be prepared to be vulnerable, to be judged and criticised for our work, but nonetheless provide society with stories we believe they need to hear. There are many theatre makers out there who have dared to do this and made a huge impact on society. One of my favourites being Augusto Boal. Oh and my mum and dad of course.

What has been the weirdest thing that had ever happened to you in the theatre?
Hmm once in a very intimate theatre, we were just about to finish the last scene of the play. As I began to break down in tears over the death of my best friend, someone in the audience collapsed. Which brought the show to a standstill, and as the lady (who, not to worry- turned out to be fine) was taken care of, we just picked back up from where we left off and continued. A few people thought it was all part of the quirky show, and were a little confused to the ending.

If you weren’t an actor, what would be your dream job?
I think the most interesting thing about being an actor, is being able to spend time in other people’s shoes. Not literally the old second hand shoes from the costume department, but being able to play different characters, from all different walks of life, and that gives you a better understanding of why people are the way they are. If I wasn’t an actor, I think I would be a social worker or psychologist. I think they both have a great interest in people and their behaviour.

Amy Victoria Brooks and Emily Sulzberger are appearing in Technicolor Life, by Jami Brandli.
Dates: 26 July – 12 August, 2017
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: Front (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jun 28 – Jul 15, 2017
Playwright: Michael Abercromby
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Jack Angwin, Charlie Falkner, Elle Harris, Andreas Lohmeyer, Mary Soudi, Lincoln Vickery
Image by Tom Cramond

Theatre review
They are called Rough Cut Punt, a band that is going places, fuelled by big dreams, and even bigger egos. In Michael Abercromby’s Front, we meet four young men, talented but naive, trying to foster a career with only passion as guidance. Before too long, things begin to unravel, of course, in this age old tale of a partnership gone sour. Its narrative might be predictable, but the show is nonetheless enjoyable. Front is a story we have heard before, but its themes of betrayal and of innocence lost, will always retain their pertinence.

It is a tight and energetic production that Abercromby has directed. Scenes move past efficiently, with transitions, of time and space, handled remarkably well. The stage is effectively demarcated, by lighting designer Liam O’Keefe and set designer Shaynee Brayshaw, to offer a sense of vigour and action to keep us involved. Our frontman is played by Lincoln Vickery, whose vulnerability prevents us from being alienated by his poor behaviour. Vickery can seem a reluctant villain, but his charisma holds our attention even when the going gets tough. Charlie Falkner is relied upon to provide the comedy, as band guitarist and resident stoner, with his impeccable timing giving the production a much needed lustre. Also memorable is Mary Soudi as a recording executive, vicious and vile, accurately presented for some of the play’s more dramatic moments.

Like most people who fear being ordinary, artists are aghast by the thought of being generic. Rough Cut Punt wants to have a good time, but it knows that its survival depends on finding something original. Front may be an entertaining work, but we want it to say something new, so that its effects can last beyond the curtain call. Its prologue and epilogue are one and the same, both expressing the artist’s zeal for the vocation, but we see success eluding our protagonist, as he continues to ignore his craft.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com