Review: The Seagull (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Dec 6 – 16, 2017
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Anthony Skuse)
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jane Angharad, Paul Armstrong, Matthew Bartlett, Charmaine Bingwa, Alan Faulkner, Deborah Galanos, Tony Goh, Leilani Loau, Abe Mitchell, James Smithers, Shan-Ree Tan
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
The characters in Chekhov’s The Seagull seem to become increasingly obscure as the years pass. Our hectic lives are now the antithesis of Konstantin’s circle. Where Chekhov had lamented the futility of Russian lives that sat around talking too much and not doing any work, we are today, a century later, in an age where being busy is glorified, and rarely does anyone take the time to congregate and shoot the breeze. That is not to say that the truths of The Seagull are no longer valid, only that their resonance has inevitably faded.

It is a relief then, that director Anthony Skuse places emphasis on the comedy of the piece. Like the Real Housewives and the Kardashian family of reality television, the high-intensity dramatics of the wealthy are certainly fodder for laughs. Our reality involves so much time worrying about making money, but all these people seem to do, is worry about having nothing to do with their undepletable resources. Chekhov’s love for the representation of angst is however, not trivialised in the production. There are innumerable scenes of depression and anxiety, sensitively formed, often robust in their manifestation.

Skuse’s dramedy is highly enjoyable, with scintillating dialogue and playful, vibrant characters. Konstantin is performed by James Smithers, a genuinely forlorn presence, who introduces a sense of gravity that prevents the show from ever turning frivolously farcical. Deborah Galanos is outstanding as his narcissistic mother Arkadina, flamboyant with exquisite timing and an admirable capacity for nuance. Her sex scene with Abe Mitchell’s Trigorin is the unequivocal highlight, palpably revealing in more ways than one. Mitchell is himself a captivating actor, passionate and convincing. Equally memorable is Charmaine Bingwa whose emotions are as dark as they are fiery, for a viscerally despondent Masha.

Music is cleverly incorporated into many scenes, with Matthew Bartlett’s considerable talents showcased over a variety of instruments. Also noteworthy is Kyle Jonsson’s marvellous set design, providing an unmistakable aura of luxury and crumbling decadence, ably supported by the delicate lighting design of Liam O’Keefe.

The production is a dynamic one, but for all that we are able to see portrayed in its impressive range of emotions, there is a conspicuous lack of poignancy in The Seagull. We find ourselves in a strange situation, engaged but unmoved. Its personalities prove to be fascinating, but we struggle to connect with them. From another time and place, their concerns are not readily identifiable, perhaps irrelevant to the people we have become. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable beauty in the classic, that on this occasion, is splendidly revived. Relics are so called, because they survive, even as their lustre wanes.

www.secrethouse.com.au

5 Questions with Tony Goh and Shan-Ree Tan

Tony Goh

Shan-Ree Tan: So who’s Tony Goh, and how’d he come to be in a theatre in Marrickville with the rest of us?
Tony Goh: Tony is an Australian born Chinese. I was born in Brisbane, grew up in Marrickville, got married, lived in the US for 13 years, started a family – I have two young boys 15 and 13. I have returned to Marrickville through an odd journey and co-incidences. I am currently studying acting and was interested in doing a stage play. Over the past two decades, I dabbled in TV, commercials, and film – including two in the US. So, I have constantly re-inserted acting into my life, perhaps because I am always interested in the lives of others, how others live.

You play a character who’s a big fan of theatre in this play. What’re you a big fan of in real life in that way?
Definitely a fan of movies, but then again who isn’t? I was bitten by the acting bug really young, at age 16, when I went heard they were auditioning for the role of an Asian shopkeeper in a very shortlived TV series called “Arcade” shot in Cremorne shopping arcade. I couldn’t really turn my back away after that even though I never got the part. I’m also a fan of cooking and staying in shape.

We’ve got a pretty diverse cast for a Chekhov, I reckon. Do you feel particularly as an Asian face you’ve got more to prove as an actor? Or does it not really worry you? It worries me…
If I were to enter the entertainment business today, I would feel more pressure to prove myself. Sure there’s still pressure, it comes with the territory. But back in my day…god I sound old, there were fewer parts for Asians, mostly stereotyped roles. I think the Australians are now accustomed to seeing Asians as being well, just Aussies, so there’s little in the way of having to conform to some image. We can just be actors/characters/people. However, I also think there are more roles for Asians nowadays which means there’s a lot more opportunity to showcase the available talent. I think the pressure to prove as an Asian actor could stem from the fact that Asian culture is one of conformity. Conformity and creativity are at odds. It is those Asians or any migrant culture who best absorbs the available culture that will be able to grow and develop as both actors and members of society. I think the issue is one of broader acceptance. We’re lucky in Australia in some respects because we tend to focus on producing drama, which opens the way for dramatic roles, character based. Whereas when I cast my eyes to Hollywood, there tend to be more stereotyped Asian roles. The US is getting better sure with shows like “Fresh Off the boat” but those are few and far between as you’d be hard-pressed to see many Asian actors playing characters as opposed to caricatures.

You’re always a terrifically jovial presence in rehearsal. What have you enjoyed the most about director Anthony Skuse’s process?
I have enjoyed Anthony’s insight, creativity, and patience. He is a great communicator, as a result, you have a clear picture of what is expected of you and what he wants from the scene, the emotion. One of the questions he’s asked us, certainly me, is who is my character, and what do the people around the character mean to my character. Those are questions to shape my own thoughts and bring my own interpretation of the character, yet remain truthful. It is amazing what that has accomplished and the clarity it brings to the preparation process. I also enjoy the cast. We’re a mixed bunch and get along well. We know we have a job to do and we’re not assholes going about it.

What kind of role/project would you want to tackle next, if you had to make a total change from this gig?
A tough question. I won’t go into the personal side of my life, but let’s just say the last four years of my life have been a wild ride, an adventure if you will. I feel I am still trying to find my way in life. I would very much love to pursue further acting endeavours, perhaps as a regular on TV drama series – the typical lawyer, doctor, cop thriller comes to mind. I have long since given up on the dream of making a living in acting, so whatever morsel comes my way I am deeply grateful for.

Shan-Ree Tan

Tony Goh: What are you enjoying about working in this play?
Shan-Ree Tan: Ah, everything. Even the challenges of rehearsing on a co-op schedule and all the technical
curveballs that come with any show. Working with Anthony has been brilliant – I’ve really gotten a lot out of his literate, rigorous approach to text and his direction, which is somehow both entirely intuitive yet absolutely precise, and demanding while also being really supportive – and he’s got a great sense of humour. Really enjoying soaking up the learning from our experienced and generous castmates and crew too: serious about the work without taking themselves seriously at all. Definitely feeling like I have to jog very very briskly to keep up, but same, I’m grateful for the chance I’ve got even to share a stage with these folks.

What do you see as the future of acting in a multi-cultural Australia?
Big question! I’m not equipped at all to make any informed predictions – but like you, I’d like to see the performing arts here get to a point similar to where the UK industry seems largely to have gotten to, where it’s largely unremarkable to see culturally diverse actors in almost any production. “Unremarkable” is probably the wrong word. What I mean is that I hope that we can work to make two things happen: one is that we get to an overall much, much better place with “any ethnicity” or colourblind casting where that’s appropriate, and the other is that the appetite for the kinds of Australian stories where an actor’s cultural or ethnic background is an active asset, and can be appropriately provocative, continues to increase. The challenges will be quite radically different for actors from different cultural backgrounds – Indigenous representation or Middle Eastern representation are good examples – so the solutions to perennial hurdles like stereotyping and tokenism will be different.

We’ve seen a quite a few trailblazing Asian arts and media personalities take stage here in recent years and it’s going to be really interesting to see that develop. I’m particularly interested in what’s going to happen in the conversation between media/arts representation reflective of folks like us who grew up in Sydney and are more Aussie than anything else – out in the Hills in my case and in Marrickville in yours – against the popular culture of the beachhead communities of the “new Asia” who are paying attention to a whole other vast entertainment industry. The cultural gulf there alone can be huge, I’m keen to see how it plays out. As far as our production goes: people may wonder why this particular diverse cast was chosen to portray a bunch of ostensible 19th century Russians, particularly with our wildly differing regionalisms, but I like that it adds a new musical range and quite a powerful meta element to it. The play is literally about trying to reinvent theatre in a social context, so I reckon it rewards the approach that Anthony’s taken.

What movie/theatre stars do you admire and why?
Too many, for too many different reasons. A few completely random names from things I’ve seen this year:
Blazey Best. Not reasonable for someone to be able to be that funny and musical while literally standing on her head in the Wharf Review this year. Rob Brydon/Steve Coogan/Michael Winterbottom, the collective team. The Trip was life-changing. Takeshi Kitano. Big fan of his consistent ability to find the darkest, driest laugh possible at everyone’s expense and that he keeps finding new ways to provoke. Kate Mulvany. That lady knows how to Shakespeare. Gary Oldman. He seems to know precisely where to set the dial for whatever movie he’s in. Taika Waititi. What a mad Kiwi wizard. Thanks to my girlfriend for forcing me to sit down to watch What We Do In The Shadows for the first time earlier this year. We’re also at a moment where creatives are using whatever recognition they have to take a stand and speak out on the critical social and political issues that are roiling us right now, even at massive professional and personal cost to themselves. That’s hugely admirable.

What do you think happened (to the characters) after this play?
Is it still possible to spoil the ending of a 120 year old classic? Chekhov’s got a very particular definition of “comedy” – things are just not going to work out well for most of them are they…? Your character, Shamraev, probably makes off all right – I like to think he basically gets left with the estate to do with as he likes. Your wife Polina might have convinced the good doctor Dorn to run off with her before then though. Masha: cirrhosis. Medvedenko: pneumonia, from all that walking through Russian snow.

What don’t your friends know about you, that only your closest, or longest time friends do?
All my vocal impressions of people are now actually just take offs of Rob Brydon doing far superior impressions of those people. To be fair, people work that out pretty fast.

Tony Goh and Shan-Ree Tan can be seen in The Seagull by Anton Chekhov.
Dates: 6 – 16 Dec, 2017
Venue: The Depot Theatre

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