Review: Stalker The Musical (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 19 – Oct 6, 2018
Music: Andy Peterson
Book and lyrics: Alex Giles, David Russell
Director: Kaleigh Wilkie-Smith
Cast: Melody Beck, Levi Burrows, Steph Edmonds, Luke Lamond, Michele Lansdown, Peter Meredith, Haji Myrteza, Harrison Riley, Emma Taviani
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review
The story takes place in a town ruled by the heartbroken, where all physical contact is forbidden, but where its inhabitants are encouraged to police and lust after each other, using only their eyes and binoculars. In Stalker The Musical by Alex Giles, Andy Peterson and David Russell, a fantasy world is created out of dejection, with a great deal of palpable ambition, but neither its creativity nor its imagination prove convincing enough, to entice us into its outlandish manifestations. We observe it to be an oddity, a strange concoction of ideas, that struggles to find resonance on any level.

Every song sounds overly familiar, as though a paint-by-numbers take on the musical theatre genre, unoriginal and painfully predictable. Problems with sound engineering on opening night, certainly do not help with the experience.

The cast, although likeable and committed, struggle with the production’s attempts at comedy and drama, unable to make any meaningful or lasting impact with the material. There is an abundance of energy and conviction on stage, with Zoe Ioannou’s clever choreography bringing some visual coherence to the show, but the performers are consistently let down by the writing’s deficiencies.

Love is a bad word in Stalker, and those who have denounced romance, however momentary, will understand the necessity of being able to see one’s own existence as independent and sovereign, before the joys of life can be truly appreciated. Characters in the show may or may not find their romantic match, but more important is their capacity to love, whatever the objects of desire turn out to be.

www.stalkerthemusical.com

Review: Mum, Me & The I.E.D. (Collaborations Theatre Group)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 15 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: James Balian, Roger Vickery
Director: Kevin Jackson
Cast: Matilda Brodie, Martin Harper, Elaine Hudson, Philippe Klaus, Joshua Shediak
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Mary Ellen has been an avowed pacifist since the Vietnam war, but still she was unable to prevent her son from aspiring to become a soldier. When we first meet them, Rob is undergoing treatment for PTSD, as part of the discharge process upon leaving Afghanistan. Mum, Me & The I.E.D. by James Balian and Roger Vickery, is an uncompromising look at the psychological damage inflicted on those we send away to war. The play’s anti-war sentiments are unambiguous and passionate, almost too blatant with their chastisements. Early scenes can feel repetitive, but its latter half turns dynamic, becoming more emotionally involving, as we tune in to Balian and Vickery’s reflections on casualties and their politics.

Director Kevin Jackson demonstrates creative use of space, in this story about intersecting dimensions. The protagonist’s mind is a convergence of confused realities, that Jackson’s staging renders coherent for our benefit. Lighting design by Martin Kinnane proves invaluable in conveying, with remarkable clarity, the many unusual spacial and temporal transformations required of the production.

Actor Philippe Klaus turns up the intensity for the show’s various points of heightened drama, but his performance of Rob’s trauma and suffering can seem slightly affected. His portrayal of a young man’s severe mental deterioration resulting from experiences in the battlefield, are full of conviction, but it is the authenticity in his depictions of family discord and the accompanying anguish, that we find convincing. Mary Ellen is played by Elaine Hudson who delivers a compelling and meaningful sense of depth to the character’s tribulations. Her work feels honest and accurately realistic, often with a surprising restraint that makes things even more believable.

The disadvantaged and the naive are perennially targeted for carrying out the devil’s work, and the world can be a shockingly dangerous place for those poised for independence. We want our young to understand that life is for taking chances, but we fear the irreversible consequences of their mistakes. Mary Ellen and her fierce conscientiousness were no match for the narrative of heroic patriotism that all nations rely on. The heartache that her family has to endure, is a phenomenon centuries old, that we seem determined to perpetuate.

www.facebook.com/CollaborationsTheatreGroup

5 Questions with Sinead Cristaudo and Rachel Tunaley

Sinead Cristaudo

Rachel Tunaley: What have you learnt about yourself since moving away from home to pursue a career in the performing arts?
Sinead Cristaudo: I learnt first and foremost that no one is going to believe in myself for me. I think having to adapt to being in completely foreign surroundings entirely alone forces you to sink or swim. At some point you have to choose whether or not to back yourself, and there is definitely a hardness in me that I would never have developed without moving away from my home.

What’s your favourite moment to perform in the show?
I love the entire prom sequence, Norma gets to do all of her meddling which is so much fun for me. I also love the opening of our show, the way our very clever director and choreographer has set “In” makes it really meaty and layered so there is plenty to play with each time we run it.

What made you want to audition for Carrie?
I have loved the Stephen King story in its film adaptations and was elated to hear Louis Ellis Productions was auditioning for the musical of which I had always been curious but had never seen. I spent an evening listening to the soundtrack with my housemate Kristy who is also in the cast and we both got decidedly hyped for the auditions. I had also had the pleasure of seeing our director’s previous work of Parade the Jason Robert Brown musical and was in awe of how he presented a show I completely adore. I simply had to audition!

If you could play any role in musical theatre of any age or gender, what would it be?
Without a doubt it would be Mama Rose in Gypsy. Rose is an incredibly complex and flawed character that’s story is told through what I believe to be the best book written for a musical, accompanied with brassy golden age style music. Rose and Gypsy are everything I love about musical theatre, storytelling in a timeless and idiomatic way.

List three women who have inspired you to pursue a career in performing.
Barbra Joan Streisand must be first here, she is the strong, consummate icon I adore. I would sing her arrangements in our tractor shed to my audience of cane for hours, trying to sound exactly like her. Then without a doubt my dance teacher Louise Buljubasich and her mother Carol who cultivated my love for being on a stage from when I was four, exposing me to the wonders of Fosse and time steps and caring for me endlessly while I practically lived out my teens in the studio.

Rachel Tunaley

Sinead Cristaudo: What do you love about playing Chris Hargensen?
Rachel Tunaley: I’ve always been intrigued by villainous characters in shows. There’s just something so fun about playing a character so different from yourself and getting to be super feisty. I admire the way Chris doesn’t let anyone else define her and makes her own rules throughout the show, even though her morale are rather compromised. I also get a killer song and get to belt like no tomorrow which is a win!

Has a mentor or teacher ever given you advice that has shaped the way you approach and view performing, if so what is it?
A teacher I had at NIDA would always get us to look at a text, whether it’s a scene or a song, and he would ask us “what is this?” I loved this approach because there was no falseness to it. It would force us to just look at the act for what it is; “a confession of love”, “a song of mourning”, “an apology”. Asking myself this when approaching a new text forced me to get out of my “artists” brain trying to find a deeper meaning and just accept the text for what it was.

What do you think people love about the story of Carrie that sees it remade in film and revamped in theatre?
Well if you found the movie(s) too scary, I think you’ll find the musical is a little easier to watch. It’s still bloody and there’s still a lot of dark elements but it’s just hard to be scary
while singing show tunes to be honest. The musical also re imagines the characters Stephen king has created and sheds a different light on them that audiences may not have seen before.

What is your favourite part of the rehearsal process? What has it been so far in Carrie?
Definitely getting to do the blocking of ‘The World According To Chris’. I get to have my Regina George Mean Girls moment standing at the point of a triangle with my posse behind me and I’ve just never felt more powerful in my entire life.

What performances or pieces of theatre have inspired you most?
Gosh that’s a hard question because most theatre excites me and inspires me to be a better performer and to want to create something great. The first time I saw Rent the musical really struck a chord with me though. I guess I was used to musicals being super camp and glitzy so when I first saw it I was completely blown away. It depicted a certain honesty and tragedy in such a beautiful way which I wasn’t used to in musicals, plus the music is so damn catchy.

Sinead Cristaudo and Rachel Tunaley can be seen in Carrie the musical.
Dates: 25 Jul – 4 Aug, 2018
Venue: The Depot Theatre

5 Questions with Alana Birtles and Alec Ebert

Alana Birtles

Alec Ebert: Describe Troilus And Cressida in a haiku.
Alana Birtles: Blood-stained earth in Troy / A massacre on both sides / Two lovers parted

Why is Shakespeare, and this play in particular still relevant to us today?
I believe Shakespeare is still relevant today because he deals with humanity and universal themes that we still easily relate to. This is evident in the numerous modern adaptations of Shakespeare today. Troilus And Cressida in particular deals with love and war and the question, ‘What is it that we are actually fighting for? Is all the bloodshed worth it?’ I believe this question still rings true today.

What character do you relate to the most from Troilus And Cressida and who is your secret crush out of all the characters?
I think I would say I relate to Ullyses as he seems to see the sense (or nonsense of war). My secret crush would be Hector I think, because he is such an infamous warrior. I also can’t help
thinking of Eric Bana’s ‘Hector’ because he was pretty fine!

What have you learnt most about yourself on this production, working with 18 other cast members?
I think working with such a big cast teaches you team work and helps you make fast friends. You really are part of an ensemble and it everyone plays their part in making the show great. I have
met some amazing people working on this production and I would love to work with each of them again. I also like to learn from watching other actors in rehearsals and on stage, and this cast has given me many talented people to look to.

If you could invent a superstition that, in 400 years would be religiously followed by actors, what would it be?
That you have to make an offering to the ‘theatre gods’ or playwright before opening night… a song and dance with the entire cast.

Alec Ebert

Alana Birtles: Hector! How do you see him and how do you connect with such an iconic and ancient hero/warrior?
I see Hector as a family man as well as a man of order and honour. I really think he sees war as a necessary evil, needing to be waged in order for life to continue. He doesn’t fight to be
the best warrior there ever was (though he is very good at it); he fights for his wife, his young son, his people and his family… having said all that, he is a proud man with a very healthy ego, so is prone to the fits that pride and ego bring out in even the best of us. I connected with Hector through reading mostly. The Iliad by Homer was my obvious source of most information – there’s some beautiful passages of Hector with his son, Scamandrius and his wife, Andromache. These family elements have helped me to understand Hector beyond an archetypal warrior-leader and is the secret to my forming a connection with him. In saying this, he is meant to be the only mortal warrior said to make Achilles himself afraid, so I needed to ground myself with some martial and physical work. I also took up sword fighting classes (shout out to Action Acting Academy – highly recommended) and an intense training programme to get pretty fit.

You have performed in numerous Shakespeare productions… what is it about Shakespeare that draws you in? Why does it need to be performed?
I asked you a pretty similar question! I think Shakespeare draws me in personally because I love the life in the characters, by which I mean their psychic complexity, mass of contradictions and bewildering actions! Also the stories rock – they are big but unmistakably real – themes of love, war, sex, passion, lust, race, racism, misogyny, pride, gender, revenge… the list goes on and on and on. These themes are current today, many are universal and a necessary condition for human beings and, while we might wish a lot of them weren’t, will be for a very long time to come. I think I’ve just answered why they need to be performed.

Who is your favourite Shakespeare character of all time that you would love to play and why?
I suspect in ten years’ time I’ll look back at this and have a different answer. It’s also grossly unfair: like asking me to pick my favourite puppy in a room full of puppies. I’m going to answer 3. Younger Alec loves Mercutio because he’s a force of nature, elemental and mercurial. Middle Alec loves Hamlet because, well, he is the ultimate human and I want to work with him before I’m too old. Finally old Alec loves Prospero, mostly because I love wizards, and when you combine Shakespeare’s words with a wizard, it’s like cheese goes with pizza. It’s amazing.

If you could play another character in Troilus and Cressida, who would it be and why?
I think Thersites. He’s probably the only honest character in the play and he’s a fascinating mix of narrator, comedian, cynic, wit and outsider that would be a blast to play. At least, Danen,
who plays him in this production, makes it look like a blast.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you during a show?
I was quite emotional in the last scene of a performance of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona, and I was standing right in front of the audience and blew a huge snot out of my nose. It was just obscene.

Alana Birtles and Alec Ebert can be seen in Troilus And Cressida by William Shakespeare.
Dates: 9 – 19 May, 2018
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: Alison’s House (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Apr 4 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Susan Glaspell
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Matthew Bartlett, Veronica Clavijo, Penny Day, Dominique De Marco, Elliott Falzon, Nyssa Hamilton, David Jeffrey, Brendan Lorenzo, James Martin, Tasha O’Brien, Sarah Plummer
Images by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Fewer than a dozen of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published during her lifetime. Her body of work, comprising approximately 1,800 pieces, only saw the light of the day after her passing; she was female after all. In Susan Glaspell’s Alison’s House, Alison Stanhope is a surrogate for Dickinson, and we meet her family on the eve of the year 1900, 18 years after her death. The Stanhopes are moving house, but Alison’s presence is strong and a mystery around her posthumous success emerges. Although a Pulitzer Prize winner, the play feels every bit her 88 years of age. Central concerns about authorship and artistic legacy remain valid, but its dramatic structure is now gauche, with stodgy dialogue that many will find alienating.

Its first two acts are particularly inaccessible, and the cast’s divergent approaches make the show a difficult one to engage with. The third act however, is a fortunate change of pace, with the plot suddenly turning lively, when the crux of the matter is finally revealed and addressed. Actor Brendan Lorenzo is a delight in the role of Eben, with intense conviction and a buoyant energy that helps introduce a quotient of enthralment. The production is a faithful rendition of a dated script, with everything kept coloured inside the lines. It is an adventurous spirit that dares take on this forgotten play, but this execution of Alison’s House requires greater imagination to resurrect it from obscurity.

Our great writers write from personal perspectives, but what is put on paper may not always be intended for public consumption. Time however, has the capacity to change anything. What was once private, objectionable or simply unfinished, could transform, over the years, into something that serves a greater purpose. We must then consider what it is that we want to hold sacred, when tossing up between the private and the public, or the dead and the living. When ambiguities abound, coming to decisions is difficult, but it is the very quality of ambiguity that interrogates the deepest of our beliefs, and that shows us who we truly are.

www.thedepottheatre.com

5 Questions with Veronica Clavijo and James Martin

Veronica Clavijo

James Martin: How is your role in the play different from anything you have done before?
Veronica Clavijo: I must say it is definitely a first that I get the opportunity to play this type of character for a period piece. Louise is majorly concerned with the societal values of the time and her character seems to be a reflection of the society as a whole. She seems to be ‘the voice of reason’ in the show and shows the audience how radical and forward thinking some of the others are. In the last show I did, Fiddler On The Roof, I played Tzeitel, a woman who was rebelling against society. It has been interesting to get into the mind of someone from the other side of the spectrum. It has been interesting to understand Louise’s truth and what family, society and honour mean to her.

What about Louise do you as Veronica most relate to?
Louise is passionate and outspoken and is actually quite forward with the men around her. Although I can’t relate to her wanting to do everything possible to appease the town and the society I can relate to her passion. I can relate to the fact that she will not stop until she is heard and that she challenges the men in her life. She is not afraid to speak her mind, to correct them and to question them. She is a fighter!

If you were a poet, what would you write about?
I would write about happiness, love and the human condition! And maybe my love of Harry Potter.

Why is this story important to be told in the 21st century?
I believe it is important because it still harbours relevant issues. The idea of love, family, honour and responsibility the play touches on are all things an audience can relate to. Another thing is the question of who should have Alison’s poetry? And, did she indeed write it for women. If that is the case, shouldn’t it be the women in her family who decide what to do with them?

Is there another character in the play that you can relate to?
I can relate to the character of Eben empathetically. Eben is sad, bored and is unhappy with his job and his life. I mean, we have all been there before! He wants more, he is sensitive and he wants to feel more in his life. He searches for truth, love and happiness. He wants to mean more and for his life to mean more. I think these are basic human feelings that we can all relate to. I love that Susan Glaspell gave these qualities to a man. Eben is not unfeeling, or stern, or angry or written to be aggressive in a stereotypically masculine way. For this reason, I think a lot of audience members will relate to him.

James Martin

Veronica Clavijo: What was it about the play, Alison’s House that made you want to audition?
James Martin: Reading the script for the first time, I found it to be a moving story with 11 different quirky characters with their own story and journey, all coming together to remember Alison in their own way. When I realised that I couldn’t not audition.

You play a character who is seemingly disinterested in Alison’s poetry, life and the respect she garnered through her literature. Tell us what you have discovered about Ted and how he feels about his Aunt Alison.
Doing my work on Ted, I found him to be the outcast in his family. Not quite fitting in with his father or Eben or even Elsa. Which leads me to believe that he is a bit of a mummy’s boy. We also need to consider the Ted was 2 years old when Alison died. So really Ted see’s Alison as this goldmine that he can make some money from, or at least use to pass college. I mean he obviously cares about her and the rest of the family, but If I was related to someone as influential as Alison Stanhope, I’d probably be trying to make money off them as well. However what I admire about Ted is that he’s a hard worker! He is willing to put all this work into something if he knows it’s going to make him successful.

Why do you think the play is still relevant if not more today?
Every family is so different, especially in today’s world. There is no ‘social norm’ when it comes to family. Everyone does it different and I think that this play shows that. It has the ability to tell a story of a close family that has grown apart and is now coming back together, and I think there is something beautiful and timeless in that.

What has been your favourite part of the rehearsal process?
Just seeing how far and how big Ted can go. Trying to find the boundaries of Ted and his role in the family is so much fun and it’s a never ending Journey.

Finally, if Ted was put into a modern setting what type of millennial would he be?
Ted’s a big personality with a good mind for business. I think he would be some kind of social media influencer, like a YouTuber just doing dumb things on camera and entertaining millions.

Veronica Clavijo and James Martin are appearing in Alison’s House, by Susan Glaspell.
Dates: 4 – 21 April, 2018
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: Merrily We Roll Along (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 7 – 24, 2018
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: George Furth
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Embla Bishop, Phoebe Clark, Blake Condon, Tiegan Denina, Caitlin Rose Harris, Patrick Howard, Tayla Jarrett, Katelin Koprivec, Jesse Layt, Victoria Luxton, Michael McPhee, Matilda Moran, Shannen Sarstedt, Zach Selmes, Richard Woodhouse, Victoria Zerbst
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is the most straightforward rags to riches story, told backwards. Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along commences at the point where its protagonist has attained considerable professional success, but whose personal relationships are all falling apart. Observing the story unfold in reverse order, we discover little that is surprising, although Sondheim’s songs remain characteristically enchanting. The musical was first presented on Broadway in 1981, lasting only 16 performances, after 52 previews.

Director Alexander Andrews introduces an appropriate pizzazz to the production, working with a very exuberant cast for a standard of singing befitting the often tricky compositions. Leading man Patrick Howard gives his character Frank a strong presence, and a commanding voice, but lackadaisical costume design diminishes the personality transformations that the actor tries to portray. His besties are played by Zach Selmes and Victoria Zerbst, both accomplished and persuasive with what they wish to achieve. Shannen Sarstedt leaves a strong impression as first wife Beth, able to convey depths of emotion as well as unexpected dimension, for one of Merrily‘s many cardboard characters.

The two musicians, Conrad Hamill and Antonio Fernandez prove themselves reliably versatile and efficient in providing accompaniment for the entire duration, but the very small band can sometimes deliver underwhelming results. Similarly, visual design in terms of sets and costumes, are insufficiently ambitious, and the staging struggles to live up to Sondheim and George Furth’s quite grand piece of writing. Nothing however, can take away from the sheer delight of the master’s songs, all of which are sung with gusto and precision, and this for his legions of fans, is plenty.

www.littletriangle.com.au