Review: The Caretaker (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 2, 2017
Playwright: Harold Pinter
Director: Courtney Powell
Cast: Alex Bryant-Smith, Andrew Langcake, Nicholas Papademetriou

Theatre review
The house is dilapidated, but its three male inhabitants do nothing to improve conditions, choosing instead to involve themselves in mind games, finding ways to exert power over one another, as they while the days away, never achieving anything.

Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker themes are many. Talking about things social, political and psychological, the 1960 play does not make explicit any of its concerns, but creates scenarios and dialogue that may inspire us to find associations with the real world. Resonances have faded with time, as the issue of relevance comes into question, but it is doubtless that Pinter’s characters are fascinating, and their interactions, fabulously theatrical.

The production is often an intriguing one, with director Courtney Powell facilitating our questioning of all the activity that takes place. A naturalistic style, carefully orchestrated, prevents us from dismissing scenes as simply bizarre, and lures us in, to consider the dynamics and meanings in operation.

A strong cast keeps us involved in the many unlikely exchanges. Nicholas Papademetriou manipulates us in his interpretation of a central figure, a vagrant who finds himself in the middle of two brothers, becoming increasingly sinister, and surprising us quite delightfully, through subtle transformations of personality. Alex Bryan-Smith is a convincing ruffian, animated in his portrayal of a menacing type, bringing excellent energy to the show as Mick. In diametric opposition is Andrew Langcake who plays a quiet, possibly disturbed Aston, offering perfect balance to the noise of his counterparts.

The character of the house has changed, since the play’s inception 57 years ago. The meaning of property ownership informs the way we see The Caretaker, and in hyper-commercialised Sydney today, divorcing ourselves from the economics of the story is impossible. We observe the three men in hierarchical terms, the landlord, the tenant and the temporary resident, and we wonder how money, along with the disparity between rich and poor, affects the way we live with one another. The root of all evil is perhaps perennial, but its nature seems to morph with the passage of time.

5 Questions with Alex Bryant-Smith and Nicholas Papademetriou

Alex Bryant-Smith

Nicholas Papademetriou: What 5 words would you use to describe The Caretaker using words that start with the letters PINTER?
Alex Bryant-Smith: Psychological. Intense. Nutty. Threatening. Exploitative. Relentless.

You play Mick in The Caretaker. What would Mick do if he won 20 million in the lottery?
Do up the house, flip it, and repeat. Get on the property ladder.

What is it you are enjoying most about doing this play?
I love messing with Davies, and discovering new and deeper ways to play each little moment or
question or line. There is so much depth to the writing, it’s incredible.

If Mick could date any current film star who do you think he’d choose and why?
I don’t know… someone tough and resilient. Jennifer Lawrence? Because she would intimidate him
and thrill him at the same time.

In a nutshell, how have you approached the role of Mick? Has it been a different process to

The process has been similar to other roles but it took me a while to find his central conflict, the
reason he is there at all. Since then it has been a matter of finding all the juicy little details behind
each line because there are so many, and each one can be played many different ways – so much to
sink your actor’s teeth into!

Nicholas Papademetriou

Nicholas Papademetriou

Alex Bryant-Smith: What 5 words would you use to describe The Caretaker using words that start with the letters HAROLD?
Nicholas Papademetriou: Humorous. Arresting. Rollercoaster. Over-the-top. Loquacious. Disturbing.

You play Davies in The Caretaker. Davies has been “all over”, what would his dream holiday be and why?
He’d love to go somewhere he can spend his entire life without wearing shoes. (Why? You’ll have to come see the play.) But a sandy white beach would be ideal – perhaps Cornwall Beach in Jamaica. Away from the throng, but the odd English eccentric for Davies to banter with.

Jonathan Pryce famously played this role. What would you want ask him about his experience with Davies and The Caretaker?
I’d ask him how he remembered all his lines!

If Davies could have any animal as a pet, what would he choose and why?
A hedgehog. They are mild, expect little and like to keep to themselves, but if anyone messes with them they get instantly spiky. Kindred spirits.

What has been the most difficult part of preparing for this production? Have there been any unique challenges?
The most unique challenge of mastering a Welsh accent that isn’t really a Welsh accent, because Davies isn’t really from Wales… or is he? Retaining the great swathes of dialogue has also been pretty challenging. The other challenge is a constant in all acting: to play the character with honesty and integrity and to respect what the writer intends.

Alex Bryant-Smith and Nicholas Papademetriou can be seen in The Caretaker by Harold Pinter.
Dates: 22 November – 2 December, 2017
Venue: The Actor’s Pulse

5 Questions with Gabriel Egan and William Jordan

Gabriel Egan

William Jordan: What one book would you go to the ends of the Earth to track down, and why?
Gabriel Egan: Berossus’s Babyloniaca. It’s been lost since the third century BC. I’d require an open cheque book for a thorough investigation, and with little to no hope of recuperation it would be an advantageous way to travel the world.

If you were locked in a room for an entire night, who would you choose to be locked up with?
Donald Trump. I’d like to talk US green cards and a scholarship to study at the Susan Batson Studio in New York. He seems like a reasonable man, maybe we could come to some type of arrangement. I’ve always been lucky with fiery redheads.

Your character, Simon, is a self-professed adventurer; what’s your most memorable adventure?
I slipped into Arq night club once. It was like Narnia’s wardrobe. What a jungle – it took me three days to find the revolving porthole to the outside world…

Simon can’t survive without a cigarette, what’s your worst habit?
Acting. It takes up all my time and pays nothing!

If you were caught with your pants down, would you be wearing briefs or boxers?
Free-balling baby! Everyone’s just hanging loose these days… right..? Or I have always been partial to a leopard print g-string!

William Jordan

Gabriel Egan: What book would be your first choice to throw right out a second story window?
William Jordan: The Oxford English Dictionary! Cause it’s on Google now.

If you were locked in a room for an entire night, what would you need with you to survive until morning?
Coffee and keilbasa. A deadly combination. Also like the book by Harry Houdini to churn the mix.

Your character, Timothy, owns a bookstore – what kind of store would you own?
I would love to own a little second hand book shop like Glee Books. That’s something Timothy and I have in common!

Do you think you’d get along well with a guy like Timothy?
He would definitely be my drop in mate.

If you had to hide a dead body, how would you do it?
Cut it up and put it in a fridge? YUCK!! My vomit trail would give me away… I know, sit it on a toilet and lock the door! People would be too polite to enter.

Gabriel Egan and William Jordan can be seen in Down An Alley Filled With Cats by Warwick Moss.
Dates: 25 Apr – 13 May, 2017
Venue: King Street Theatre

Review: Down An Alley Filled With Cats (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 25 – May 8, 2017
Playwright: Warwick Moss
Director: Tom Richards
Cast: Gabriel Egan, William Jordan
Image by Andrew Langcake

Theatre review
Simon and Timothy are a couple of dishonest types, who let greed take control of their destinies. It is true that most of us use material gain as a guiding force to navigate through daily life; many of our decisions are made with monetary benefit in mind, and little else is allowed to interfere. Down An Alley Filled With Cats by Warwick Moss takes place in a bookshop, where knowledge and intellect occupy physical space but the printed pages fail to form a positive influence on the men who read them.

The play is interested in the relationship between philosophy and the actualities of existence, but that idea is a mere suggestion that backs down from the show’s need to be a straightforward comedy about crooks trying to outsmart each other. The production is tentative and under-rehearsed, but its players, Gabriel Egan and William Jordan demonstrate a strong conviction that sustains our attention, with Jordan’s more nuanced approach providing much needed texture to an often unimaginative staging of the work. Laughs are delivered sparingly, but the narrative, and its several plot twists, are relayed with sufficient clarity.

Good and bad are simple dichotomies, presented as absolute oppositions that demand our moral propriety. When we choose right from wrong however, grey areas are discovered, or perhaps manufactured, and one person’s morality becomes another’s transgression. Evil exists, but they are always in other people. Bad people are never ourselves. The way we justify any action is always completely reasonable at the time, and in order to satisfy selfish desires, conscience is easily brushed aside. In Down An Alley Filled With Cats, even the learned do sin. When all the books in the world offer us no salvation, humanity must be at a point beyond hope and repair.

Review: No Exit (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

throwingshadeVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jun 23 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Jean-Paul Sartre
Director: Andrew Langcake
Cast: Harley Connor, Courtney Powell, Darcie Irwin-Simpson

Theatre review
Sartre’s 1944 play No Exit is about three people coming to grips with their new existence post-mortality. The famous line “hell is other people” is heard late in the piece, and like the myriad ways in which it can be interpreted, the play is abstract, to be given meaning as one wishes. The concept of hell is a powerful one, considering its uncompromising permanence. Life may not be much more pleasant than hell for some, but hell’s eternal inescapability is truly terrifying.

The staging, directed by Andrew Langcake, is a simple rendering that attempts to bring realism to the absurdist piece, with an emphasis on finding character coherence over philosophical expression. Sound and lighting are strangely neglected, resulting in a supernatural realm that is unfortunately devoid of atmosphere. Performances are committed, and each personality is distinctly shaped by a cast of spirited actors, but chemistry is often lacking. Relationships are key in No Exit, and unable to portray them with enough clarity and dynamism, the production struggles to communicate beyond the superficial.

Individuals experience life from perspectives we know to be personal, but it is debatable if anything is ever unique in how we each see the world. We can only understand things from our singular positions, but in every transaction that we inevitably conduct with other beings, we become transformed, objectified and absorbed into another consciousness. The self is unable to remain separate, and meaning can only come from that act of concurrence, voluntary or involuntary. If other people will give you hell, they are also your only source of pleasure. How much the self can do to manipulate the other will always be limited, but happiness is always best managed within one’s own hermitage.

Review: Metamorphosis (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

throwingshadeVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 2, 2016
Playwright: Steven Berkoff (based on Franz Kafka’s novella)
Director: Andrew Langcake
Cast: Harley Connor, Darcie Irwin-Simpson, William Jordan, Susan M Kennedy, David McLaughlin

Theatre review
Gregor wakes up one day and finds himself transformed into something gigantic and hideous. He has turned from a responsible and upstanding citizen into a monster, and can no longer carry out his obligations to family and society. His physicality and behaviour have changed, but his feelings remain human, and he suffers the ostracism that results from his sudden abandonment of normal life. Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s popular classic is sarcastic yet charming, with a biting humour that tickles without interfering with the dark themes being explored. The narrative is clearly fantastical, but its concerns are kept strictly human.

Direction by Andrew Langcake is highly stylised, appropriately so, with shades of Surrealism and German Expressionism. He creates a heightened aura within the story’s sad circumstances, one that is both dreamlike and nightmarish. While the stage is designed with some flair, it lacks a certain intimacy that the work seems to require. Powerful moments would be more effective if they are able to confront us with greater immediacy, but we are kept safe by a disconnecting rift between audience and action.

It is a strong cast that gives us this Metamorphosis. The players have a unified energy and tone that portray a convincing netherworld, with an entertaining flamboyance that gives the work’s inherent eccentricity a strange allure. Susan M Kennedy is captivating as Mrs Samsa, dramatic, emotional and bold with her artistic choices. Gregor is played by Harley Connor, who impresses with strength and versatility both physically and vocally. Although tucked up in a corner far upstage, the actor’s vibrancy is unmistakeable, and the curious character he creates, is very fascinating indeed. An unlovable monster that is of no use to anyone, and a drain to society, is the stuff of our deepest fantasies. There are times when we see only the futility of all our duties, and wish to play the rebel, walking away with a big flick of the middle finger, but we keep ourselves in check. We know that the consequences can only be dire.

Review: Disco Pigs (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

throwingshadeVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jan 7 – 9, 2016
Playwright: Enda Walsh
Director: Andrew Langcake
Cast: Jeff Hampson, Courtney Powell

Theatre review
Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs is a very specific story. It deals with a very particular time in a teenager’s life, and the set of circumstances surrounding its characters is culturally unique. The play does not aim to be universally appealing, but in its passionate exploration of something anomalous, an essence emerges that can reveal aspects of life that we can all recognise. Walsh’s language and narratives are interested in the marginalised youth of Western societies. We are presented with a state of being that needs to be understood, but is often ignored. It deals with the consequences of modernity, and how our young negotiates the dangerous meaninglessness of life at a time when everything can be reduced and diminished. With the commodification of everything in pervasive economic rationalisation, we experience chaotic shifts in ethics and values, and what we impart to our youth is consistently but disappointingly dubious.

Pig and Runt make their own rules. They have accepted that money is out of reach, and coupled with a disrespect of social mores, their lives are guided by the pleasure principle, with intoxication and violence forming the core of their existence. In their failure to see greater meaning in life, time is spent on the base and visceral, and we wonder how the appetite for progress, advancement or even aspiration have come to be in most of our lives. Direction of the work by Andrew Langcake is simple, but energetic. While not hugely imaginative, the staging is mindful of creating a sense of aliveness for the author’s words, in order that we can reach a more intimate perspective of the characters’ somewhat unusual world through their construction of action, sound and atmosphere. Actors Jeff Hampson and Courtney Powell are well-rehearsed and thoughtful in their approach, but execution can be more precise and confident. These are wild stories being told, and even though they make good attempts at depicting the grittiness of their Irish city, finding authenticity for that harrowing environment proves to be quite a challenge.

Artists must be encouraged to create mountains out of molehills, so that the unusual can be seen. As long as truths can be found, all artistic expression is valid. We don’t have to care about the people in Disco Pigs but they do have something to offer anyone who wishes to listen. When the moral of the story is unclear, the captive audience will find for themselves what they most need to hear.