Review: Me And My Mother, Singing (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Aug 22 – 30, 2018
Creator and Performer: Oleg Pupovac
Image by Roman Wolczak

Theatre review
In Oleg Pupovac’s one man show Me And My Mother, Singing, we are invited into a dreamlike consciousness, a waking meditation perhaps, about the creator’s Yugoslavian and Serbian roots. Stories of his past feature heavily, in this work about identity, demonstrating the inextricable relationship between our memories and daily existence. A new dawn always arrives, but we move into each day with personal histories that can be contained but is rarely erased.

Pupovac seeks refuge in art, reaching for his father in paintings of snow, and his mother in folk songs. Trauma is addressed indirectly, for a healing process that can never be hurried, and love is rekindled, if only in the realm of the soul, for a solace that is necessary but that can never completely assuage the experience of loss and longing. It is a satisfying presentation, with multimedia elements offering insight into the most intimate recesses of Pupovac’s mind, and the performer’s own warm charm facilitating an empathy in the audience, even when scenarios turn obscure.

In the creation of his own art, Pupovac manifests a closeness with loved ones, that in turn inspires an appreciation for the complex ways, in which each of us thinks of family and roots. People can seem so different from one another, but underneath the surface are inevitable points of connection that can only endorse our kinship. We like to think ourselves special, and even though individual trajectories are always unique, the infinity of our sameness can never be denied, including, sadly, our age-old propensity to divide.

Review: American Beauty Shop (Some Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 25 – Sep 16, 2017
Playwright: Dana Lynn Formby
Director: Anna McGrath
Cast: Charmaine Bingwa, Caitlin Burley, Amanda Stephens Lee, Jill McKay, Janine Watson
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The times might be a-changin’, but the American Dream goes on strong. Sue is a hairdresser who runs a small business in the town of Cortez in Colorado, and although she lives hand to mouth, her dreams of escaping poverty never fade. Dana Lynn Formby’s American Beauty Shop is about an underclass of the USA, that believes in hard work as deliverance. They may or may not understand the systematic oppression that they suffer under, but they focus only on labour and enterprise, without any attention placed on political action. Sue accepts her place in society, and plays by the rules, thinking that a commitment to drudgery is her only way out.

Amanda Stephens Lee is an affable presence as Sue. We understand her struggles, and wish the best for her, but let down by lacklustre direction, the women’s stories in American Beauty Shop fail to move us. The production feels under-rehearsed, and although most of the cast is able to demonstrate a good grasp of their individual roles, we are kept waiting for sparks that never fly. The stakes are high for the characters, but dramatic tension is sorely missing from this stage. Conflict and altercations are rarely convincing, as though we sense that all will be good in the end. It is a false sense of security, and the desperation of the Cortez poor, remains an abstract, and distant, concept.

The system is broken, but it was always designed to fail the vast majority. It is an illusion that all who have wealth are deserving of it, implying that those without, are wholly responsible for their own misfortune. The women in American Beauty Shop have ambition and the appropriate fortitude to push for better days, but the cards are stacked firmly against them. They know only to participate in a game that gives them miserably poor odds, and as we watch their fates unfold, it is the lack of fairness in our increasingly capitalist worlds that must leave an impression.

Review: Drift (Two Peas)

twopeasVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 20 – 30, 2016
Playwrights: Tara Clark, Kieran Foster
Director: Tara Clark
Cast: Ayeehsa Ash, Challito Browne, Olivia Jubb, Adam Kovarik, Alex Packard, Lauren Pegus

Theatre review
Six friends, tightly bonded, navigate the challenges of early adulthood together. When one of them is diagnosed with a terminal illness, their lives begin to unravel. Tara Clark and Kerian Foster’s Drift looks at friendship for twentysomethings, and the effect death has on them as individuals and as a group. There is a charming simplicity to the writing that presents the nature of relationships with a graceful honesty. The dynamics between friends, lovers, and siblings are depicted accurately and intimately in a series of small scenes, many of them meaningfully mundane.

The production however, charts a haphazard emotional journey that does not deliver us to its desired conclusion accurately. We struggle to connect sufficiently with appropriate personalities and narratives for a focused enough experience that would arouse the sentiments necessary for what the show tries to achieve. In the absence of lead roles, our attention is spread thin, and unable to find suitable empathy for appropriate characters, we are kept outside of their microcosm. Performances are accomplished, although the players seem to take time to settle, only able to establish chemistry and energy after several minutes of imprecision. Adam Kovarik impresses in the role of Harrison, bringing much needed exuberance and authenticity to a play that is essentially about our raw emotions. The actor’s vigour brings life to the stage, and with a distinct sense of theatricality, relays his part of the story with clarity and ironic humour.

Death is the end of suffering, but is also agony for loved ones left behind. Time is key in the process of mourning. Nothing can speed it up, but one has to find ways to fill that time. Theatre is the most ancient form of time-based art, and in Drift, we spend moments with its characters counting the minutes as they contemplate the future after being inflicted with an abrupt end. For a life well lived, there must be movement forward, but for motion to matter, stillness must be embraced. While we are alive, heaven and hell are the here and now, both inescapable and both requiring our complicity, in order that our brief existences may become rich, and loved.

Review: Edmond (Two Peas)

twopeas1Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 15 – 26, 2015
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: Glen Hamilton
Cast: Tara Clark, Cheyne Fynn, Naomi Livingstone, Oleg Pupovac

Theatre review
David Mamet’s Edmond is a despicable human being. All the worst qualities a person can have are found in one awful character, who happens to hate everything and everyone, including or maybe, especially, himself. It is a simple premise for a play but a confronting one. Mamet’s conceit is extreme, almost cartoonish in its approach, which is necessary for preventing the play from ever becoming realistic and hence, plainly unbelievable. There is a tendency for the work to portray Edmond as being an everyday person, and for us to be able to identify with characteristics that he displays, but it is arguable whether the context is too alienating for audiences to be able to connect in a meaningful way.

Direction of the production is slightly surreal, and also slightly quirky. It understands the fantastical quality of the text, but does not explore its concepts with enough theatricality to prevent the play from being weighed down by a conventional realism that struggles to provide drama and excitement that could elevate a script that is persistently bleak. The repetitiveness of the plot induces a numbness in our response, which the direction allows to take effect instead of finding ways to shock us with every subsequent scene as the writing intends. In the title role is Oleg Pupovac who shows good conviction and focus, but the decision to play Edmond as an essentially unassuming guy is questionable. One is reminded of Mary Harron’s 2000 film American Psycho, and the effectiveness of its flamboyant style in establishing a quality of enthrallment within the outlandish and disturbing environment being portrayed. Although uncomfortably mild, Pupovac’s interpretation does create an interesting juxtaposition between normalcy and atrocity that is quite remarkable. The rest of the cast is required to play a large assortment of undesirables, which paves the way for a very playful stage, and correspondingly, it is when performances are daring and wild that we become engaged. Naomi Livingstone’s versatility and vibrancy help her breathe life into her characters, and her animated expressiveness strikes a resonant balance with Mamet’s writing to deliver several memorable moments.

Edmond builds to a conclusion that attempts to make sense of its own overwhelming violence and insanity, but the production seems to deflate before that crucial point, and what should have been a significant revelation is lost in an air of ambiguity. Without a pointedly communicated moral, we are left to consult our own values to achieve an understanding of the preposterous situations that had been witnessed, which means that new perspectives are probably not gained by many. Audiences are willing to participate in stories that involve challenging content and ideas, but we expect a greater than usual pay off in their aftermath. There are lots of horrible people in Edmond, and it is undeniable that the same horrible behaviour exists in real life, but encountering them voluntarily at the theatre needs to be more purposeful than catching a glimpse of silver lining.

Review: Jennifer Forever (Two Peas)

twopeas1Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 17 – 28, 2014
Playwright: Tara Clark
Director: Tara Clark
Cast: Dominic McDonald, Gemma Scoble

Theatre review
Note: This review reveals a key plot twist.

The play begins with ambiguity, danger and tension. Our minds and emotions struggle with meanings and morals, trying to form a narrative while jostling for head space with our own senses of right and wrong, theatrical representations and social acceptability. The work is about sexual predators, sex work and the way sex is used to construct perspectives of the world and the way we live in it. These ideas are best enjoyed in an air of uncertainty, instability and disquiet. When Tara Clark’s Jennifer Forever is provocative, it has a fierce and unsettling energy, but when it dissolves into a more assertive political position, its arguments lose their edge to become more conventional.

The strength of Clark’s writing lies in its passionate dialogue and the textured characters it presents. Fiery and thought-provoking confrontations between Man and Girl are used to great dramatic effect by Clark’s own direction. Playing Girl is Gemma Scoble who attacks her counterpart with a sadistic glee. She performs Girl’s two age brackets convincingly but can sometimes be too surface in her approach. She is persuasive as a figure of power and aggression but moments of vulnerability are not as compelling. Dominic McDonald’s performance as Man is impressive in its complexity. He makes the role despicable, intriguing and palpable, with an ability to find qualities that are universal to the human experience. McDonald has a sensitivity that allows us to connect with the daunting character that he portrays, and the several stages of transformation he performs is gripping entertainment.

For several scenes, Man addresses the audience directly in a series of lectures, but it is not just this element that makes the play feel excessively didactic. Clark has a clear message she wishes to relay, and her voice is unapologetic and direct. The story quickly subsides and we witness intense quarrels about the main themes of the text. The characters give way to the big ideas that take centre stage, but what remains becomes too simple and obvious in comparison. Jennifer Forever‘s timely look at paedophelia is honest and refreshing. It reflects our contemporary concerns and even though its theatrical effectiveness waivers, it addresses our need for discussion on the topics. We are at the precipice of a disintegrating taboo and achieving a greater understanding that will protect and heal is crucial.

5 Questions with Gemma Scoble

gemmascoble‏What is your favourite swear word?
I think “fuck me dead” even though that’s three words and when you think about it, it’s pretty gross.

What are you wearing?
Jeans, cons, a black jumper (cause I like to keep things classsssssy).

What is love?
Love is… Well. When I eat something. Like ribs. Or like a good steak that comes with fries on the side. I always save the best bit till last… Like, I portion off the best bit of steak, and make sure there is just enough fries and sauce to accompany that bite into my mouth. Normally, if someone tried to take that from me I’d stab that motherfucker’s hand with my fork. So I guess Love, in it’s purest form, would be sharing my last bite of my favourite meal with them. Probs not 50/50 though. Maybe 70/30.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The last show I saw was Tartuffe. I laughed a lot at the script, and thought the adaptation worked really well. Kate Mulvany is just a bit excellent… but then again so is the entire cast. The women in it, like Helen Dallimore seemed to take on their roles with a contemporary approach or ambition so that the idea of them being “supporting characters” was knocked out the window. To me that’s really inspiring. I would give it 11 stars?

Is your new show going to be any good?
Hells to the yeah.

Gemma Scoble is starring in Jennifer Forever by Tara Clark, for Sydney Fringe 2014.
Show dates: 17 – 28 Sep, 2014
Show venue: The Old 505 Theatre

5 Questions with Dominic McDonald

dominicmcdonaldWhat is your favourite swear word?
I prefer swear phrases: God’s fuck! Jessica Christ! Christ on a stick! Christ’s cunt! (Can anyone say, Catholic School boy?)

What are you wearing?
A knowing smile.

What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Theatre is like golf, fun to play but no fun to watch.

Is your new show going to be any good?
You do know that I’m in it?



Dominic McDonald is playing the role of Man in Jennifer Forever by Tara Clark, for Sydney Fringe 2014.
Show dates: 17 – 28 Sep, 2014
Show venue: The Old 505 Theatre

Review: We’re Bastards (Two Peas)

bastards1Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 6 – 23, 2014
Playwright: Oleg Pupovac
Director: Glen Hamilton
Actors: Tara Clark, Oleg Pupovac
Image by Anna Chase

Theatre review
We’re Bastards is a play that doesn’t go anywhere, about people who don’t go anywhere. Everything seems congested, but within the stagnation, an abundance of characterisation is explored in its main characters. Darling and Joe are siblings living in the disenfranchised lower classes of the United States of America. Their concerns are a world away from our middle class Australian theatre audiences, but they are a pair of oddities that instantly spark our interest. It is a bit of a freak show that unfolds, but care is taken to attempt an explanation for the damage they display.

Oleg Pupovac’s script might be too simple for some tastes, but his strength as an actor shines through within the straightforward context. Pupovac achieves a level of realism with his speech and movement that gives the production a feel of authenticity. His chemistry with Tara Clark, who plays his sister, is a highlight of the show. There is a level of intimacy between the actors that comes across, and adds complexity and mystery to their relationship.

Glen Hamilton’s direction is colourful and energetic, but his style is gentle, which sometimes comes into conflict with the script that resides in a space simultaneously cold and brutal. We’re Bastards is a brave work that takes on a time and place that is ignored but intriguing. It is about the third world that is sprouting in our own backyards in this age of increasingly severe class divisions. We all have a stake in this bastardry/illegitimacy, but it is too easy to turn a blind eye, and it is the job of art to impose these stories of injustices upon us.