Review: Wink (Wheels & Co Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 2 – 24, 2019
Playwright: Jen Silverman
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Eloise Snape, Matthew Cheetham, Graeme McRae , Sam O’Sullivan
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Gregor has skinned his wife’s cat alive, so clearly things are not going well at home. Jen Silverman’s Wink begins at the point of heteronormative ruination, when Gregor and Sophie’s unsatisfying cookie-cutter life together is at breaking point, and something has got to give. Too bad about the cat. Radical transformations happen following Wink’s demise, even the couple’s psychotherapist Frans, undergoes drastic existential alterations. The plan all along to keep things buried, in order to achieve an appearance of success, has failed miserably; something more authentic emerges to take over these lives, but it looks as though this surge of humanity might have come too late.

Silverman’s writing is deliciously wild, with a strong point of view that makes her surreal and irreverent approach sing with purpose. It is a work about the complicated nature of freedom, and the difficulty in returning to one’s true self, after a lifetime of conditioning and conformity. Directed by Anthony Skuse, the show is replete with subtle humour, and its social commentary, informed by a queer feminist sensibility, is delightfully acerbic.

It is a macabre world that we are plunged into, with lights by Phoebe Pilcher and a set by Siobhan Jett O’Hanlon, cleverly conceived to help us situate the action in a range of spaces between real and fantasy. Ben Pierpoint’s sound design impresses with its intricacy, highly effective in how our collective energy is calibrated for every distinct theatrical moment.

Actor Eloise Snape is marvellous as Sophie, delivering the most understated yet powerful comedy through a narrative of frustrated despondency. Her ability to simultaneously convey tragedy and hilarity, whilst performing with deliberate restraint, is extraordinary. Graeme McRae’s portrayal of Gregor is unexpectedly delicate, remarkable for the empathy that he manages to elicit, as the feline murderer. Matthew Cheethan and Sam O’Sullivan play, respectively, the shrink and the cat, both actors wonderfully quirky, for a couple of deeply amusing characters that fascinate at every appearance.

Humans have an insatiable desire for truth, but that impulse is manifested in a million unique ways. We can see the personalities in Wink giving up the external, then turning inward in hope of exchanging their worldly delusions for something genuine. It is tempting to think that our skin is the barrier between truth and lies, that somehow, deep inside, contains something unequivocal and real. This is all conjecture of course, as the human mind, insignificant as it is, will believe what it wishes, and for any of us to think that we are capable of a comprehensive godlike truth, is in itself illusory. We can however, look instead for peace, but how we interpret that concept is, it seems, another million conundrums.

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5 Questions with Sam O’Sullivan and Eloise Snape

Sam O’Sullivan

Eloise Snape: In Wink you play the titular character, who is a cat. Seeing as you are slightly obsessed with your own cat, Terry, have you enjoyed observing his behaviour and what has been the most interesting part of your research for this role?
Sam O’Sullivan: First of all, great use of the word “titular”. Second, as you know, I always enjoy observing, photographing, playing with, talking about and hanging out with Terry. I think the best thing about him, and cats in general, is that despite their small stature, they have the attitudes and the instincts of larger cats. When we say someone has the heart of a lion, we mean that they’re brave, determined and loyal. Well, Terry actually has the heart of a lion, its just unfortunate that the rest of him is a British Short Hair.

Jen Silverman has an incredibly unique voice. As a fellow writer, what’s your favourite thing about the way she tells this story and why do you think she is an important contemporary voice?
This play is funny. So right away, you know that Silverman knows what she’s doing. What I love about Wink is the way the humour in the play evolves to carry her message. Things that initially feel like a gag or just plain weirdness over time become incredibly potent metaphors. This play is about a lot of things, but for me what resonates and what makes it important is that it interrogates our ideas and preconceptions about what is “normal” and how unhealthy it can be to cling to those ideas. There is a lot of talk about how civilised people should behave in Wink, but ultimately, for the characters to survive they need to destroy that way of thinking.

You’ve worked with Anthony Skuse and Graeme McRae before, many moons ago in Punk Rock. What has been the most enjoyable thing about working together again, now you are all kinda old?
Way harsh, Tai. This is my forth time working with Skusie (previously Punk Rock, Constellations and Platonov) and third with Graeme (Punk Rock and Platonov). Practically speaking, the more you work with people, the more you develop a short hand which means you can get more work done. You can trust each other to be direct with feedback if something isn’t working and you know nothing’s personal. At the end of the day, we’re all friends, we all respect each other’s work and we’re just trying to make the best show possible. With Skusie, I always feel like we’re exploring and discovering the play together. He has an incredible amount of experience and knowledge but on day one of rehearsals I always feel like where starting from the same spot and that we’re collaborating. Once you’ve started from that place, later when you’re alone on stage, you feel like your director has got your back. Graeme just really likes his job. And that enthusiasm is infectious, especially when it’s backed up by someone who’s done the work and is raising the standard in rehearsals every day. All plays need a Graeme.

Wink explores a very unhappy marriage. What lessons have you learnt from Gregor and Sofie’s failed relationship to ensure the same things won’t happen in your own?
Two things: tolerance and patience. Your partner will never be as perfect as you and the sooner you accept that the happier you’ll be. However, the question now is, which one of us is the imperfect one and which one is being patient? Perhaps that’s something you need to answer for yourself. I’ll wait…

You are a movie buff and have your own movie club which is just you and the cat watching movies. What’s your all time favourite movie and why?
For the record, Movie Club is open to everyone. Terry and I are just more committed than the rest of you. I always find questions about a favourite movie difficult because honestly, I just like movies. They’re my happy place. I don’t like absolutely everything, but I like a lot of stuff, even “bad” movies. My go-to answer for this question is usually Trainspotting because it’s the first movie that I remember having a profound effect on me. I would have been about twelve when I saw it and I think at the time it redefined a lot of what I thought cinema had to be. The narration, the structure, a guy diving into a toilet to retrieve his suppositories. I grew up watching things like Star Wars and Back to the Future and I love those films but Trainspotting broke so many conventions that it opened up a whole new world of storytelling for me.

Eloise Snape

Sam O’Sullivan: Why do you watch so much reality television? Is it because you hate art?
Ok first of all, I am very picky with my reality TV viewing. I would call myself a Survivor fan, but I’m not nek level. I was recently invited into the Survivor Super Fan Facebook group and those people are FANS. I am a rookie floating around in there. I also enjoy The Bachelor for the pure lobotomy. When I truly want to switch my brain off and literally dribble, mouth open in front of the television, I watch The Bach. It’s also highly amusing. Everyone has their thing, yours is video games, mine is shit television.

In Wink, your character is struggling with a selfish and uncommunicative partner. How did you prepare for this, given that your real partner is so generous?
As surprising as this may sound, I have dated other people before you, Sam O’Sullivan.

Your character’s cat also goes missing. In a Sophie’s Choice type situation where you had to pick between me and our cat, Terry, honestly, who would you pick and why?
Tricky question. The best thing about cats is they love you unconditionally as long as you can provide them with a quality can of cat food. You on the other hand require more than cat food to keep happy. BUT, Terry doesn’t bring ME food. You are very generous with your feeding of me and you aren’t a shabby cook either. So I choose you. Sorry Terrence.

Wink could be interpreted in a number of different ways. In just three words, what is Jen Silverman’s play actually about?
Identity. Desire. Transformation.

You’ve acted in and produced a lot of Sydney theatre. Is there a production that holds a special place in your heart?
This is super tricky. I have done a lot of independent theatre and the nature of indie productions is that people work above and beyond to create something special and because everyone ends up doing multiple jobs you really all become a family. Also the run never feels long enough – so it’s always hard to say goodbye at the end. But Amy Herzog’s play, 4000 Miles, also directed by Skusie, which I did back in 2013 is the first show I produced and acted in after drama school and it was with my bestie, Stephen Multari. That was why we started MopHead and the show toured around Australia and the rest is history.

Catch Sam O’Sullivan and Eloise Snape in Wink by Jen Silverman.
Dates: 2 – 24 Aug, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Buried (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 17 – 27, 2018
Playwright: Xavier Coy
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Amelia Campbell, Tara Clark, Xavier Coy, Nicholas Denton
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
The Sandpiper is the shorter of two plays by Xavier Coy, featured in Buried. Involving a psychotherapy session where things go awry, the piece is perhaps too conventionally structured, and too brief, resulting in a predictable story that proves anti-climactic. Much more substantial, and persuasive, is Smokin’ Joe, the second Buried play, dealing with class and masculinity in a typically Australian context. Its dialogue is fresh and playful, and its stakes are high, with challenging ideas and curious turns of events that keep us engaged.

Director Johann Walraven, too, invests more deeply into Smokin’ Joe, with nuance and complexities fleshed out effectively, to express the often hidden conundrums of being a man in Australia. Actor Nicholas Denton is captivating as Finn, humorous and exacting in his portrayal of a nineteen year-old discovering himself and finding his place in this often cruel world. Playwright Coy takes on the role of Dylan with admirable conviction and focus, to create a character that is at once familiar, and tenaciously intriguing.

There are secrets in Buried; things that people hide from others, and things that exist in plain sight but that are waiting to be named. Through art, talented individuals can identify the illusory and the elusive that swirl around us in the ether, and give them shape or form, so that we can gain a better understanding of what it is that we do and experience, as beings who walk this earth. It is a high calling, and the consequences are sacred.

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