Review: Table (White Box Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 25 – Aug 17, 2019
Playwright: Tanya Ronder
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Charles Upton, Stacey Duckworth, Mathew Lee, Julian Garner, Danielle King, Chantelle Jamieson, Annie Stafford, Brendan Miles, Nicole Pingon
Images by Danielle Lyonne

Theatre review
It was over a hundred years ago, that David Best built a table on the occasion of his marriage. Six generations of Bests later, the table still stands, modestly and in the background, accumulating scars inevitably derived from the passage of time. A substantial portion of Tanya Ronder’s Table centres around the globe-trotting Gideon Best, whom we meet at various points through the years, from his conception in Africa in 1951, to his return to England at 62 years old. The play features scintillating dialogue and fascinating characters, to explore the dynamics of a family that, for all their adventurous diversions, are ultimately no more than regular people.

The production is exceedingly elegant, with Isabel Hudson’s set and Martin Kinnane’s lights offering consistently sumptuous imagery, if slightly too insistent in creating a sense of moodiness. Nate Edmondson contributes two hours of music and sound, intricately magnifying every sensory peak and trough, highly effective in helping us find focus for all of Table‘s deliberately abrupt plot shifts. Director Kim Hardwick’s sensitive approach can at times seem too quiet, but the psychological and emotional accuracy that she is able to convey, for every aspect of the story, makes for a staging that sings with authenticity from beginning to end.

Actor Julian Garner brings an understated complexity to Gideon, for a convincing and empathetic portrait of a flawed individual. It is an often inventive performance by Garner, who also plays Gideon’s father Jack, oscillating effortlessly between humour and sentimentality, to deliver some of the show’s more powerful moments. Danielle King demonstrates a wonderful versatility in three roles, particularly impressive when taking the production to a satisfying crescendo at its final sequences. Also memorable is Chantelle Jamieson, an effervescent presence who introduces exceptional vitality, whether playing a carefree sixties commune member, or a nun.

The table is left behind by person after person. We watch it outlive its owners, roughed up but still sturdy, able to withstand centuries more trials and tribulations. Not all of us are leaving children behind, but personal legacies, big or small, good and bad, will have resonances that linger after our headstones are concreted. When Gideon comes back hoping for reconciliation, we see an older man finally recognising the magnitude of his actions, and the simultaneous insignificance of his egotistical self, and we wonder if it is only wishful thinking when we say that it is never too late turning over a new leaf.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Mathew Lee and Annie Stafford

Mathew Lee

Annie Stafford: What’s the best (and/or worst) advice a family member has given you?
Mathew Lee: I never met my grandfather on my mother’s side, but I have been told his motto was “never go to bed angry”. That no matter how pissed off you are, just sort it out before you go to sleep so it doesn’t stew. My Dad also lives by this rule and it’s something that has always been said in our house. Sometimes it’s really hard to abide by it, but I definitely try.
 
What shaped you the most growing up in Newcastle?
I am very proud of Newcastle and I love going back to visit. My parents have been a huge influence on my life, and I like to think I live with their sense of standing up for what is right and for treating everyone with the same respect. Also, they are literally the most popular people in Newcastle so I have a lot to live up to.

I would also say growing up in the Hunter shaped my identity in different ways. My school life was really brilliant, I was provided with many opportunities, but naturally I was a drama kid in a very sporty public school, and I most definitely experienced bullying because of my sexuality. This is something that many people in our community have to deal with and overcome well in to adulthood. So, in many ways it made me tough. I think I protect myself a lot and I have pretty thick skin, which can be good and bad. Also, I don’t think this is specific to Newcastle and kids cop it everywhere, but perhaps that fear of being seen as openly gay diminished moving to a big city where no one really cares about the way you express yourself. Even just this year, I feel more comfortably myself than ever before. On the other hand, maybe I just got older and stopped caring about what people thought.

Do you have anything that’s been passed down the family (object or trait)?
Mum and I are very similar and I’ve definitely inherited her sense of order and organisation. She writes to-do lists every day and there are lists all over our kitchen in Newcastle, highlighted and stuck to the walls. I do the same in my diary and a weekly schedule. It’s totally mad but I do have to admit that it makes me feel at ease to get all of it onto paper so I can free up my brain. Like most actors in the indie scene, I am juggling three or sometimes four different jobs a week to afford rent, so I need my play-by-play organised and written out so I can see it, and have that moment of pure bliss crossing something off after a stressful day.
 
What would your characters drag names be?
Girl, okay. You know me so well. After thinking long and hard about this, my drag names would be: Bea Haven-Badleigh for Finley Best, Poor Miss Fortune for Anthony Best and Queen LaReefer for Chris.

Word on the street is that you write a mean Limerick, prove it. Write one about Table. 
I am low-key so pleased about this because I have never had a limerick published on the internet. Here we are:
Our table has stood to the test,
Through war and spiritual quest.
From leopards to nuns,
A father who runs-
It lives on in the house of a Best.

Annie Stafford

Mathew Lee: If you could host a dinner party for one person – dead or alive – who would it be?
Annie Stafford: Ella Fitzgerald. Don’t laugh, but I listen to her every day at work and often harmonise with her… loudly. I would invite her over, cook her lasagna, drink wine and talk about jazz. There might be a piano involved but I don’t want to push it. She made me love jazz.

Other than your support network in Melbourne, what do you miss most about home?
Melbourne is a pretty easy place to miss. But family and friends and good coffee aside, I miss sleep-ins. I’ve never been good at them, and living in Sydney has made that even more apparent. You don’t want to miss anything, you want to start the day by achieving something, you don’t want to fall behind. But now, when I go home to Melbourne, suddenly there’s time. And I can just stop and I don’t feel guilty for getting in a few extra Z’s. Until my mum comes in and passive aggressively opens my blinds and fills my room with vicious sunlight so I have get up and spend time with her. Which I secretly love.

When you imagine the house you grew up in, what do you see most vividly?
A very bold colour palette. I’m talking strong offers coming at you from every angle, but not one of them cohesive. This little house had a little front veranda with bright purple wisteria covering it. Nice right? Magical, whimsical, a sign of things to come. Well take a step inside and be slapped in the face with a ruthlessly green carpet. It was there when my parents bought it so they can’t be blamed. However they can be blamed for the intrusive hot pink paint they beat the hallway with. Like I said, bold colour palette.

Describe your character(s) using only song titles.
Oft. Okay. Well I’m in a 70s mood so we’re going to hang there for this one…
Margaret : Stayin’ Alive, Bee Gees
Babette : Joy To The World, Naturally
Aisha : I Want You To Want Me, Cheap Trick

What is something about yourself you hope to pass down to your children (if you choose to have them)?
My dad once told me that when my mum was pregnant with me and they were daydreaming about the big deal I was going to be, all they truly wanted was for me to have a sense of humour. I could achieve whatever I wanted and be whoever I wanted but lord help us give the girl a sense of humour. And I think that’s what I would want to pass down. Not that I’m calling myself funny, but I think it’s so important to take what you do seriously and not yourself. And I love to laugh just as much as I love to make others laugh. And if I ever have children, hearing them laugh and laughing with/at them would give me great joy.

Catch Mathew Lee and Annie Stafford in Table, by Tanya Ronder.
Dates: 25 Jul – 17 Aug, 2019
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: Mercury Fur (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 24 – Jun 8, 2019
Playwright: Philip Ridley
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Janet Anderson, Danny Ball, Lucia May, Romy Bartz, Meg Clarke, Party Guest, Jack Walton, Michael McStay
Images by Jasmine Simmons

Theatre review
Civilisation is all but wiped out, in Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur. Out of the rubble are remaining humans trying to get on with things, holding on to memories of more coherent times, so that they can try to make some sense of the meaningless now. Brothers Elliot and Darren are party planners, for a sordid event about to take place. The host’s requirements are absolutely immoral, but at a time like this, nothing should matter anymore. Yet a struggle remains, as we watch the siblings unable to come to terms with what they had agreed to undertake.

Surreal and very dark, Ridley’s play seems intent on shocking its viewer, as is typical of British “in-yer-face theatre” two decades ago. Director Kim Hardwick’s approach is more considered, for a staging that abhors cheap effects, working instead to find, within a conceit of extreme depravity, only the truth about our humanity. Early portions of the show are, as a result, perhaps too sedate, but there is no doubt that when the stakes are raised, the story becomes effortlessly gripping.

The actors are excellent, all of them distinctive and memorable in their respective parts. Josh McElroy is particularly impressive as Party Guest, the worst kind of bad guy, completely despicable, but made thoroughly entertaining by McElroy’s uninhibited portrayal. Also remarkable is Meg Clarke, luminous as the painfully innocent Naz, caught up in a filthy world, desperate for acceptance, and ending up in a treacherous crossfire.

Most of us go about our daily lives, pretending that evil does not exist. We have to believe in the best of people, if we wish for an opportunity to thrive. Evil is real however, and in Mercury Fur we see the way it manifests when untethered. In an apocalyptic aftermath, there is momentum for destruction to keep its pace, until one meets utter annihilation. Resilience is also real, and many of us will know to pick up the pieces, and build again. The extinction of our species is entirely possible, although our instinctual rejection of that truth, might be able to keep us hanging on for some time longer.

www.hbrcreatives.com.au | www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Dina Panozzo and David Soncin

Dina Panozzo

David Soncin: In five words how would describe your character, Momma Bianchi?
Dina Panozzo: Heart, big-love, the-boss, fire and wit!

Do you find your character, or the play as a whole, has any similarities to your life personally?
I think we’re similar in her immediacy and, sometimes, her hot head! The play is a direct shot to my heart of the past as my family, with my 18 month old brother and 3 month old baby me, arrived in Melbourne in 1955, just at the time of this play’s setting! So these people are so like my people back then.

Have you found any challenges with approaching this particular text?
To fight my prejudice against the assumption of its clique-ness! In my first read of the play, the Italians, written with the ‘accent’ in the lines by an Anglo writer, read as an Australian fairytale to me… non-authentic. But, as I’ve gone deeper into the process of telling this story along with my fellow actors, I find it to be profound and moving — with Tony Poli who plays my husband, we go into the sound of our first language — and it is coming to life and so, so much more complex than I first thought. It is an important study on racism and tolerance I believe.

Do you have any inspirations for approaching Momma’s character, or even your work in general?
My mamma e papà, Maria Panozzo e Bruno Panozzo, who were and are still brave and true, and — I have to say even if too “woggy” sounding — all the immigrants who want to belong (like Gino, our son in the play, who is really the only one who stands up for his right to belong).

If you could pick out of Momma Bianchi’s two children, why is Gino your favourite?
Because he’s still young enough to kiss and hit if cheeky!

David Soncin

Dina Panozzo: What five words would you use to describe The Shifting Heart?
David Soncin: Immigrants, assimilation, family, racism, pride.

What’s the most difficult part of bringing this play/Gino to life?
Probably exploring and understanding that part of Gino that seeks acceptance – understanding the struggle with indifference, and his determination to assimilate, which he does with total optimism – and finding those similar things in myself. That, and singing 4 bars of “Americano”.

What do you think Gino dreams about for the future?
I think Gino deep down just wants to live a good life in his new country: get married, have kids, have a successful business with his brother-in-law and, most importantly, be accepted by his Anglo counterparts as a true Australian.

What do you love about the play?
Well firstly, I love the fact we have an Australian classic that explores Italian culture and, having a full Italian immigrant background on both sides of the family, it’s exciting that I get the chance to tell these types of stories. It deals with the psychology of racism, discrimination, racial and domestic violence, and the cultural struggle of an immigrant family. But I also love the fact it doesn’t shy away from the humour of a loud Italian family because that shit is funny!

How do you think this play relates to us in the here and now?
I could probably write a whole essay answering that question, but the school students seeing the show might plagiarise. The short answer is, I absolutely believe the play is still relevant, for many reasons. The Shifting Heart highlights the negative patterns of thinking and physical behaviour towards immigrants, different cultures and ethnicities, and that those patterns seem to keep seeping through the cracks each generation. I don’t think the play’s intention though is to put Italians specifically in a sort of victim pigeon hole, but I believe it’s an important period of reflection of Australian immigrant history.

The play also comments on the interesting notion of subtle/subconscious racism in everyday language, like jokes about one culture being okay, but not others; when is it innocent and when is it racist? I have my own experiences but not necessarily the answers. But, as opinions are often the lowest form of knowledge, I’d have to say come and see the show! I’m always curious to hear about audiences’ own experiences on the play’s subject matter.

Dina Panozzo and David Soncin can be seen in The Shifting Heart by Richard Beynon.
Dates: 8 – 24 Mar, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: The Shifting Heart (White Box Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 8 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Richard Beynon
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Laurence Coy, Lucas Linehan, Dina Panozzo, Tony Poli, Di Smith, David Soncin, Ariadne Sgouros
Image by Danielle Lyonne

Theatre review
It is Christmas time 1956, and the Bianchi home in Melbourne is bustling with activity. The family is getting excited about the festivities ahead, occupying themselves with the frenzied yet mundane business of the Australian summer. We soon discover, however, that beneath the Bianchis’ attempts to go about their normal lives, they have to contend with the social stigma of being recent immigrants to a land where strange and cruel attitudes prevail, about which people are deserving, and not deserving, of being here.

Richard Benyon’s 61 year-old play The Shifting Heart is concerned with a peculiar brand of racism that we undertake, whereby earlier immigrants persecute later immigrants, whilst Indigenous peoples are routinely neglected. The Bianchis discover that although legally permitted to settle here, many do not extend them a welcome. Benyon portrays the family trying to get on with life the best they can, amidst the unjust obstacles heaved at them every day.

It is a sensitive piece of writing, offering insights that remain pertinent; a valuable study of how racial prejudice operates in societies like ours, with an ever evolving racial composition. As a work of drama though, scenes of emotional vigour seem to occur few and far between, and its manufacture of tension tends to be overly understated.

Directed by Kim Hardwick, the production is a persuasive one. We may not be heavily invested in its personalities, but their stories are certainly believable. Isabel Hudson’s set and costumes, along with Martin Kinnane’s lights, are beautifully evocative, affecting our imagination with flair and efficiency.

Dina Panozzo and Tony Poli, as Momma and Poppa Bianchi, bring chemistry and warmth to the stage, both effective in transporting us to another time of our shameful history. David Soncin leaves a strong impression as Gino Bianchi, the gregarious and passionate young Italian-Australian determined to live unhampered by prejudice. Their neighbour Leila Pratt is played by the very likeable Di Smith, relied upon to deliver much needed humour, and effervescence, in this weighty observation of Australian life.

There is no denying that humans everywhere cannot help but create difference, seemingly for the purpose of baseless discrimination. Bigotry is not natural to our children but somehow, a need to hate is developed as we mature, and whether it pertains to race or to other arbitrary features, we learn to feel good about ourselves by exerting power over others. This is ubiquitous, but we must never think it irreversible.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Tessa James and Alex Packard

Tessa James

Alex Packard: The character you play in Blackrock, Rachel, has been accepted to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – what animal form would her Patronus Charm be?
Tessa James: Cheetah.

Looking at Blackrock, what has been your favourite part of the process so far?
Being able to explore the text for such a long period of time, to be able to constantly challenge myself whilst discovering my character Rachel and being inspire by the cast.

We see a lot of the characters in Blackrock trying to suppress or ignore certain memories… What is your earliest memory you can recall?
Performing in front of my family in the lounge room and making them pay 20c for a performance 🙂

You’ve got one song stuck in your head, all day, everyday, for the rest of your life. What song do you choose?
Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams at the moment.

You’re walking alone through a forest at night, what are you most afraid of: ghosts, monsters or aliens?
Aliens… definitely.

Alex Packard

Tessa James: If you could work with any actor and director, who would it be?
Alex Packard: I really like the work that Scott Graham does with his theatre company, Frantic Assembly. It’s always very clever and imaginative, the kind of stuff that makes you say under your breath “wish I had thought of that” – it would be a delight to be directed by him. As for an actor, I could sneeze in the same postcode as Mark Rylance and die happy, so I choose him.

What are you most afraid of?
I’d like to answer with something profound, like ‘fear itself’, but I’m going to have to go with: getting into trouble. I’m not very good at handling it. I was one of those kids who would crumble at the thought of getting caught out by a teacher. Even now that I am (ahem) all grown up I still recognise it in myself – the other day there was a patch of fresh-looking concrete out the front of my house and I impulsively bent down to touch it to see if it was wet and got yelled at by a tradie watching over it (fair enough, I was about to mess with her construction). It took me the better part of an hour to get over the shame of being caught out.

If Beyonce offered to do a private dance class with you – which song would you choose (of hers) to dance to?
Last time I had a private dance class with Beyonce she said that I didn’t really need any more classes – she had “taught me all she knows”. But, ah… lets be honest, I would butcher any of her songs. So lets go with Single Ladies, cause I know that at the very least I am capable of flipping my left hand around.

If you could invite any 5 people, dead or alive, to a dinner party who would those 5 people be?
You mean aside from the wonderful cast and crew of Blackrock, right?? Ah, I’m generally more of an observer than a contributor when it comes to conversations involving more than a few people, so I’m going to cut it down to three: I’d go with William Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy and Sharon Jones.

What is your least favourite word?
whiteboWhatever is the first word spoken on the radio when my alarm goes off in the morning. Hate that word.

Tessa James and Alex Packard can be seen in Blackrock by Nick Enright.
Dates: 9 – 25 Mar, 2017
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: I Hate You My Mother (Old Fitz Theatre)

whiteboxVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 24 – Feb 11, 2017
Playwright: Jeanette Cronin
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Jeanette Cronin, Simen Glømmen Bostad
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
In Jeanette Cronin’s I Hate You My Mother, strange stories are told of women with webbed feet and their, less strange but more abhorrent, transgressions as defilers of sons. The playwright’s epic, mysterious, poetic style means that access to psychological dimensions are restricted, but its ability to intrigue is without doubt. Her characters are boundlessly colourful, made seductive by generous helpings of ambiguity. We find ourselves drawn in, enthralled by the sounds of their speech, although the subtlety of their revelations can cause frustration. The play’s enigmatic qualities work effectively beyond the sensual when they manage to provoke thought, but we often luxuriate only on the surface.

Elevated by beautiful work from its team of designers, the production is effortlessly elegant, with an atmosphere cleverly calculated to secure our attention. Director Kim Hardwick establishes an ethereal grace that underscores the entire show, but even though its theatricality is charming, its sense of drama tends to be underwhelming. Qualities of danger and moral deficiencies are central to the work but they feel underplayed, subsequently distancing the audience from its controversial themes. The play wishes to talk about paedophilia and incest, both difficult subjects, but its sophisticated approach lets us off the hook, and we continue to pretend not to see.

Cronin is actor for the female roles, each of them devious, powerful and unpredictable. There is no performer more gratifying than one with something to say, and Cronin is certainly rich with ideas and passionate intentions. Her male counterparts are played by Simen Glømmen Bostad, less confident but equally compelling nonetheless. They find excellent chemistry in every scene, luring us into all their exchanges, although resolutely cryptic in their expressions. The experience of gender can tell great stories, because none is free of its taint, yet it often hides itself from consciousness. In I Hate You My Mother, women do unspeakable things to boys, and we have to wonder why.

www.oldfitztheatre.com