Review: Three Sisters (The Genesian Theatre)

genesianVenue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Oct 16 – Sep 14, 2015
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (translated by Brian Friel)
Director: Timothy Bennett
Cast: Priscilla Bonham-Carter, Martin Bell, Nick Carter, Ted Crosby, Rob Drew, Susan Farrell, Kathryn Hutchins, Lana Kershaw, Elizabeth MacGregor, Tom Marwick, Tom Massey, James Moir, Dominique Nesbitt, Martin Searles, Darien Williams

Theatre review
In Chekhov’s Three Sisters, time moves past its characters to show us the stasis and passivity of their pessimistic lives. The play runs for almost three hours, but few things change for the Prozorovas over the course of its 5-year plot. There is always a sense that things are better elsewhere, but the women never venture very far away. Whether it is circumstance that keeps them bound to their family home, or their lack of resolve that prevents them from finding greener pastures, is ambiguous. Brian Friel’s 1981 translation is a vibrant one, with a subtle humour accompanying the despondency of its scenarios, but Chekhov’s incessant lamenting is certainly left unscathed.

This staging, directed by Timothy Bennett, attempts to be a faithful rendering of the piece. Design aspects are effectively executed, with attention spent on ensuring a period depiction that appears accurate. Correspondingly, performances seem to resist any modernisation. The cast’s preference for a stylistically nostalgic tone is charming, but can also feel stilted and staid. Finding enough depth to express the complexities of Chekhov’s writing is challenging, and on this occasion, the actors’ emphasis on establishing accuracy in affectation and manner, come in sacrifice of character studies that portray psychological and behavioural authenticity. The production provides an impressionistic account of events and personalities, but we desire something more substantial beyond its pleasant surface.

At the play’s end, the sisters once again talk about the future. It is a mixture of hope and hopelessness, and as we ponder their story from a distance of over a century, we wonder if their longing for better days has come to pass. It is important that we understand the shackles that keep the women bound in the play, and the dysfunctions in societies that stand in the way of progress. What prevents the Three Sisters from finding happiness is open to interpretation, and like the introspection required for our own lives to improve, an exercise that will prove to be rewarding.

www.genesiantheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Elizabeth MacGregor and Dominique Nesbitt

Elizabeth MacGregor

Elizabeth MacGregor

Dominique Nesbitt: Chekhov is renowned for his honest and well-rounded depictions of women. I think his Three Sisters is a perfect example of the depth and substance he gives to his female characters. What drew you to the character of Olga?
Elizabeth MacGregor: My instant response would be to describe Olga as ‘the sensible one’ – but in reality, that doesn’t do her justice at all. Olga is the pillar of the family, as the eldest sister, she’s assumed the role of care-taker and comforter to her three younger siblings after the death of their mother and father, and has forgone her own ambitions in order to keep the family together. When I first approached this role, I wondered why Olga didn’t seem to be resentful at having to take care of the others, but I really believe that she genuinely cares for her siblings (and the greater ‘family’ of friends and servants) and gains a strong sense of identity and emotional fulfillment through nurturing the others. I think ultimately what drew me to the character of Olga is her emotional strength and her resilience.

Chekhov is also renowned for writing texts that are universal in both theme and tone. We are keeping our production set in the period in which it was written. I was wondering whether this has changed the way you have prepared for the role, or whether its universality has meant that you have easily tapped into the mindset of a woman living in 1900s Russia?
It has been a welcome challenge to prepare for this role – and it is a mixture of both. It’s very important to understand the context of the time and place in which the play is set, so I’ve been reading and researching as much as possible about Russia, the politics of the time and the lives and expectations of a woman in Russia in 1900. Women in 1900 carried themselves very differently from the way we do now – so I’m also thinking a lot about movement, gestures and posture. The themes are universal though – so I feel able to tap into the emotional experience of Olga – but it’s important to be expressing that in the context of the time in which the play is set.

During the play, Masha’s husband Kulygin confesses that he perhaps should have married Olga instead. Have you created a backstory in order to give that scene added gravitas?
As much as possible, I’ve created a backstory using the information provided in the script. It’s important not to give too much of the backstory away though – I wouldn’t want to dissipate the energy of the ‘secret’.

You have just been approached to play the lead in a production of your choosing. What would it be and Why? (You may also want to cast some of the other characters as well!).
I would dearly love the opportunity to play the role of Desiree Armfeldt in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. The musical explores the themes of love, desire, opportunities, and more importantly, missed opportunities, and the passing of time. Desiree sings the well-known song, ‘Send in the Clowns’ – and when I first learned to sing that song as a naive, unworldly 14 year old, I really didn’t understand the song at all and thought that I was ‘way too cool’ to be having to sing about clowns. Well, when I finally saw the musical about 10 years ago, I heard the song and was completely mesmerized and quite emotional and I just knew then – ‘I really want to sing that song, I really understand it now’. I am completely in awe of Sondheim’s ability to portray intricate themes and complex human emotions with beautiful music and incredibly clever lyrics.

In Act 1, Olga proudly declares that she has prepared supper for Irina’s name-day celebration. During rehearsals, we have all had the absolute pleasure of sampling some of your own delicious creations. What would be on the menu at a dinner party hosted by Elizabeth?
Oh, that’s easy – but how do I narrow it down to just a few dishes! For entrée, I have a wonderful German recipe for a warm potato salad served with cured salmon; followed by duck confit with du puy lentils, and for dessert, lemon tart. There’s no chocolate in the dessert, so I’d simply have to make some truffles to have afterwards, because you can’t possibly have a dinner party without chocolate!

Dominique Nesbitt

Dominique Nesbitt

Elizabeth MacGregor: What drew you to the role of Irina? What do you like about her?
Dominique Nesbitt: I’ve always been drawn to stories that deal with the passage of time. In Chekhov’s Three Sisters we are given the opportunity to track the lives of these three women (and others) across four years. If nothing else, we learn that a lot can happen in that considerably short space of time! When we first meet Irina, she is 20 years old and full of life and promise. I think it was that youthful determination and spirit that first drew me to her. She has dreams and aspirations that are delivered with such vigour and passion that you just hope she can see them fulfilled. It is clear from the outset that those dreams have outgrown her provincial surroundings. She yearns to go home to Moscow and it is that unrelenting desire for the city which sees her through the next couple years spent working in menial jobs. There is something in her story that we can all relate to, I think. She is a fiercely independent and free-thinking young woman who strives for more than a life in the country can offer her. Being the youngest of the family, Irina seeks out the guidance and counsel of her older sisters – particularly Olga – whom she admires and respects. By 23, she has experienced tragedy and faced challenges the likes of which most of us will hopefully never experience in our lives. Her resolve and maturity at the end of the play is startling and it remains one of the things I admire most about her.

How have you approached preparing for your role, bearing in mind the era in which the play is set?
Despite it being set in Russia in the 1900s, I think the characters have been written in such a way that they are as relatable and approachable to modern audiences as they were to audiences 100 years ago. In terms of my own preparation, I have done a little extra research to ensure that my movements and gestures are in keeping with the period. I have also had a look at important historical events that framed this period in Russia because I think it is particularly crucial to setting the mood and tone of the play. In terms of characterisation, I think I have approached Irina as I would any other character. As I said earlier, I think the sentiments she expresses are timeless in that they speak to that youthful determination we all have to carve out a meaningful existence in whatever we choose to undertake. I just hope I can do that justice!

If you, Dominique, could give Irina one piece of advice, what would it be? Are there any other characters in the play to whom you would give advice, and what would that be?
Being 24 myself, I don’t really know what words of wisdom I can impart given that Irina and I are very close in age but I guess I would tell her to place a greater value on patience. There are several moments in the play where she lacks the patience to see that there is great beauty in the path that leads us to our destination. There isn’t one specific character to whom I would seek to advise but I would instead remind everyone that happiness is not overrated and they should seek it out and hold onto it as best they can.

Live theatre is dynamic – no two performances (of the same production) are exactly the same. What is the most unexpected (or funny) thing that has happened to you in a play, and how did you respond?
How true it is! I played Glinda, the Good Witch, in my High School’s production of The Wizard Of Oz and during one performance, I slipped and fell mid-song on the train of my voluminous skirt. Whilst I was unable to mask the fact that I had clearly fallen, I attempted to rally the munchkins around me in the hope that together we could make it through the rest of the song without further incident. It was incredibly embarrassing at the time but I do look back now and laugh.

You clearly have an eye for design and style, given the beautiful and distinctive clothes that you wear every day to rehearsals. Are you inspired by costumes? Is there a particular era or style of costume/clothing that you would like to design?
That is such a lovely compliment. Thank you! I have always been very interested in fashion and costuming, because I think you can glean a great deal about a period just by examining the different silhouettes and range of fabrics used to make garments. That may be why I collect vintage clothes because I love the idea of wearing garments that have a backstory. As an actor, trying on the costumes of your character can be a rather transformative experience. As silly as it sounds, I do believe that your costumes can help you to feel and move as your character. There is no one particular style or era that I would specifically like to design because I would probably pull ideas from several different eras. In saying that, my favourite silhouette is probably the 1950’s ‘New Look.’ If I were to design the costumes for a production, I would love to use that silhouette as a base. I’m also drawn to novelty patterns and rich floral prints. But then I also love Hungarian Folk embroidery, which was popular in the 1930’s and the drop-waist dresses of the 1920’s. It’s far too difficult for me to choose! The common thread is I’m drawn to clothing that signified a shift in the mindset and/or social circumstances of an era. I hope that answers the question.

Elizabeth MacGregor and Dominique Nesbitt will be appearing in Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, translated by Brian Friel.
Dates: 17 Oct – 14 Nov, 2015
Venue: Genesian Theatre

5 Questions with Marine Grangier and Jamie Collette

Marine Grangier

Marine Grangier

Jamie Collette: How did you become involved with this production?
Marine Grangier: I was checking australianstagejobs.com.au because I was about to finish working on my previous production and saw Tom’s audition ad for The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged). I have read about that play before and was so grateful someone was staging it in Sydney that I just emailed Tom to say THANK YOU for doing it while letting him know that if he was looking for a stage manager I’d seriously be willing. Turned out he was and I got on board!

What’s it like stage managing 37 plays at once?
It’s like having severe ADD (attention deficit disorder). One moment I’m putting nail polish on severed (plastic) fingers and the next I’m building sock puppets. I must say I’m quite happy the original performers chose to cut down the number of actors from 1122 to 3 though.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play and why?
I’d say As You Like It for its shocking modernity and Rosalind’s character. First time I heard her say things like “you may as soon make her that you love believe it, which I warrant she is apter to do than to confess she does” and “Sell when you can, you are not for all markets” I couldn’t believe this was written about 400 years ago. Shakespeare may not have had actresses to play his female roles but he created gold material for actresses nowadays.

What’s the best reason for people to come see The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)?
You’ll be able to brag about your extensive knowledge of the Bard afterwards and nobody will know you’ve only watched Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet. “Shakespeare? Yeah I’ve seen all his plays. My favourite? King John of course.”

What’s your favourite Shakespearean insult?
I immediately thought about “Thou art a villain” which cuts through BS and is uttered in our production, but after some research I must say “Thou art a general offence” and “my wife is a hobby horse” score quite high on both horrible and funny scales.

Jamie Collette

Jamie Collette

Marine Grangier: How did you first discover this show and what were your first impressions?
Jamie Collette: I first saw The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the opera house when I was 13, starring Darren Gilshenan, Erik Thompson and Damian Callinan, and I remember it being the most fun audience experience I had ever had. I knew then that I wanted to be in that show some day, and twelve years later here I am.

Which character, out of the 1122 in The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged), do you enjoy playing most in the show and why?
I think my favorite character to play has to be Macbeth, in our authentically Scottish rendition of the Scottish Play. Without too many spoilers, let’s say it involves near indecipherable accents, men in skirts, and a fight scene involving clubs from everyone’s favorite Scottish sport!

Moment of truth, did you find Shakespeare boring at school?
I have to confess, I was a huge Shakespeare nerd from an incredibly young age. I had read almost all the plays before I turned 13, and after seeing the show in 2003, I quickly made sure I read all the rest, even King John and All’s Well That Ends Well (which holds a special place in my heart). One of my life missions is to make Shakespeare and all classical text more accessible and enjoyable for kids.

I’m magically turning into a philanthropic producer who asks you which show you’d like to put on, what do you chose and which role do you shotgun?
I have had a production of Antony And Cleopatra rattling around in my brain for a few years that I’d love to execute, but the role I’d most love to play currently is Edmund from King Lear (for whom my older brother is named.)

What do you think Willy would think if he sat in the Genesian Theatre on July the 11th?
“I can’t believe they brought me back for this /
I ne’er did think that I should be so mock’d /
This play’s my work, yet all is gone amiss /
I tell you now, these actors are all f***’d. /
For never better reason could be found /
T’ Return my rotting corpse unto the ground.”

Marine Grangier will be Stage Managing and Jamie Collette will be appearing in The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Dates: 11 July – 8 August, 2015
Venue: The Genesian Theatre

Review: The Winslow Boy (The Genesian Theatre)

genesianVenue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jan 17 – Feb 14, 2015
Playwright: Terence Rattigan
Director: Nanette Frew
Cast: Matthew Balkus, Meg Mooney, Lois Marsh, David Stewart-Hunter, Sonya Kerr, Lachlan McNab, David Prickett, Tom Massey, Jane Thorpe, Mehran Mortezaei, Roger Gimblett

Theatre review
Terence Rattigan’s 1946 work The Winslow Boy centres around the theme, “let right be done”, and its distinction from the concept of attaining justice. Not a great deal is made of this intellectual dissection in Nanette Frew’s direction, but in place of philosophical depth is quaint nostalgia and lighthearted entertainment. The interpretation is anti-naturalistic, with more than a hint of stylistic emulation of English theatre and life in the 1910s, resulting in a production that is staid and distant to begin with, but slowly warms up to something that is ultimately quite delightful.

There are good performances in the piece, including Sonya Kerr who plays Catherine Winslow, a suffragette finding her way through a changing world for women. Kerr is vibrant and playful, bringing a fun liveliness to the space. Her enthusiasm is not always matched by colleagues, but her persistence pays off and she creates the most engaging character of the show. In the role of Sir Robert Morton is Roger Gimblett whose chemistry with Kerr is a highlight. Gimblett is a dynamic actor who delivers effective drama, but would benefit with greater familiarity with his lines. The master of the house Arthur Winslow is performed with elegant gravity by David Stewart-Hunter who is a convincing patriarch, if a little oversubtle in approach.

Many audiences love a period piece, and Genesian’s The Winslow Boy satisfies on some levels. Cosmetically, it is well put together (especially Sandra Bass’ hats and Sharon Case’s wigs), but much of the execution feels surface, with characterisations and storytelling requiring further development. The production gives its creators much to be pleased about, but bars can always be raised higher in artistic expression, even when tackling a century old tale.

www.genesiantheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Sonya Kerr

sonyakerrWhat is your favourite swear word?
That’s such a hard one! Although I have just discovered a new one, which I am enjoying immensely, ‘cockwomble’. It’s just terribly fun to say, and can be used in a variety of ways! Due to the show I have been using and enjoying the word ‘bally’ too though, and you can put them together. “What a bally cockwomble.”

What are you wearing?
I just got home from rehearsal, so nothing terribly exciting. Blue jeans, black t-shirt, lace ups and black 50’s headscarf.

What is love?
The willingness to accept someone else’s weirdness, put up with their annoying habits and share all the odd things life throws your way, wholeheartedly and joyously!

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Last one I saw was The Motherf**ker With The Hat at Darlinghurst Theatre. Awesome show – 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It bally well better be! Honestly, I think we have a lovely cast and a fantastic story to tell, so I think audiences will walk away happy.

Sonya Kerr plays Catherine Winslow in The Winslow Boy, by Terence Rattigan.
Show dates: 17th Jan – 14 Feb, 2015
Show venue: The Genesian Theatre

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure (The Genesian Theatre)

genesianVenue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jul 5 – Aug 9, 2014
Playwright: Steven Dietz (based on the original by William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle)
Director: Michael Heming
Cast: John Willis-Richards, John Grinston, Emma Medbury, Mark Nagle, Marty O’Neill, Tom Atkins, Rebecca Piplica, Marley Erueti

Theatre review
Steven Dietz’s 2006 adaptation has elements of intrigue, suspense, comedy, and like many retellings of iconic literary figures, ample amounts of self-references. It obviously holds greater appeal for fans of Sherlock Holmes, but it is by no means a prerequisite for its enjoyment. The plot is classically structured, with characters that are distinctly conceived, and vibrant dialogue designed to entertain and amuse.

John Willis-Richards plays Holmes with delightful campness. He brings an effervescence that keeps the show lively, but needs to take time with wordier speeches so that nuances are uncovered more clearly. Mark Nagle’s very animated King of Bohemia is completely farcical. He delivers many laughs with his confident physicality and ridiculous German accent. Marley Erueti plays several supporting roles, but has an excellent stage presence that consistently draws our attention. He performs his parts with excellent conviction and wins us over with his charisma.

The production features a great deal of hammy acting, which can be a problem when it gets in the way of the narrative. There are moments when posturing and vocal embellishment obfuscate the story, leading to some degree of confusion. Design elements help immensely, especially Martin Searles’ work for costumes. His pieces contribute efficiently to the portrayals of personalities, time and space, and his attention to detail gives the production a very polished look. Searles’ talent with colour, shape and texture is a star of the show.

This might be touted as Holmes’ “final adventure”, but his popularity will no doubt see him reincarnated, revived and re-adapted for all manner of media. The mystery and wit that characterises his stories can be found in some of this production, and enthusiasts in particular would find it a charming effort.

www.genesiantheatre.com.au

Review: Pride And Prejudice (The Genesian Theatre)

genesianVenue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 26 – Jun 7, 2014
Playwright: Simon Reade (based on the novel by Jane Austen)
Director: Owen Gimblett
Actors: Jena Napoletano, Chris James, Timothy Bennett, Shane Bates, Christopher Butel, Camilla Vernon

Theatre review
Simon Reade’s recent update of the Austen classic is a witty, swiftly-paced adaptation that caters to today’s impatient audiences and our short attention spans. Scenes are short, and humour is planted at every opportunity with just enough subtlety. The Bennett parents especially, are written with an upbeat playfulness that could provide enough comedy for any viewer who might be less inclined towards old fashioned romance.

Timothy Bennett plays Mr Bennett to excellent effect. He is funny, warm and charming, with a confident demeanour that establishes him as the most proficient performer on stage. Bennett’s comic timing is strongest in the cast, and his every appearance is keenly anticipated. Jena Napoletano shows good commitment as Elizabeth Bennett. She gives her role a delightful presence, and works well with other members of the cast who generally suffer from a lack of experience. It is unfortunate that more roles are not taken up by stronger actors, as the script clearly shows great promise.

Notwithstanding the amateur standard of some character portrayals, the Genesian’s Pride And Prejudice is blithesome and enjoyable. It may not live up to our own imagined versions of the much-loved novel, but it is certainly able to give more than a little enchanting reminder of our endearment for sweet Elizabeth and her Mr Darcy.

www.genesiantheatre.com.au