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

5 Questions with Jeanette Cronin and Simen Glømmen Bostad

Jeanette Cronin

Jeanette Cronin

Simen Glømmen Bostad: You have a very successful career as an actor. Did you always write as well? And how did this other side of you emerge?
Jeanette Cronin: I’ve always jotted down ideas. Scraps of paper everywhere. One day I turned one of those scraps into a story. Perhaps it was because I was older and less busy, so I started writing
things for senior chicks. I didn’t really think about that, though, I just had a little story to tell.
In I Hate You My Mother we meet four women who in some ways share the qualities of the Bean
Nighe or the Cannard Noz, the washerwomen of Irish Folklore who drown men by the riverside.

How did this interest come about?
Couldn’t tell you now. Something took me there…

What do you want the audience to be left with after watching this play?
That love is king, and if you mangle it, you mangle everything. And also the slightest glimmer of hope.

If you got your hands on one of those highly sought after time-machines, what time and place would you visit?
The Neanderthals are tempting. But then those 1930’s frocks do suit me. And there are a few famous disappearances I would like to sort out…

If you could change one thing in this world what would it be?
Everyone would have imagination. And with it, empathy.

Simen Glømmen Bostad

Simen Glømmen Bostad

Jeanette Cronin: Simen, you play five characters in I Hate You My Mother – well, four characters and a prologue. Do you have a favourite?
Simen Glømmen Bostad: Favourite? Well, there is this Dr. Carreaux, a narcissistic hypocritical new-age
psychotherapist. Just try to say it.

Is this play something you would want your mother to see?
Of course. I want my mum to see everything I do, even if it might be unpleasant or shocking to her. I think we always need to be reminded of the bad in us, not just the good.

If you had to describe I Hate You My Mother in one word, what would it be?
Radiant.

What was the last play you did in your native Norway? Is there a theatre at home that you might
describe as a sister theatre to The Fitz? We could suss about a little cultural exchange…

Last thing I did in Norway was an interpretation of Romeo And Juliet, where there were 5
actors playing Romeo and 5 actors playing Juliet. There is a really cool theatre company in Oslo called, AntiTheatre. They give Oslo a flare of something dangerous in the theatre scene. I’m a huge supporter for international collaborations. I will be able to set up a dialogue straight away if its wanted by Old Fitz.

What do you miss most about home?
Parent’s cooking and the four seasons.

Jeanette Cronin and Simen Glømmen Bostad can be seen in I Hate You My Mother by Cronin.
Dates: 24 Jan – 11 Feb, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Hurt (White Box Theatre)

old505Venue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Jul 5 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Catherine McKinnon
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Ivan Donato, Meredith Penman, Gabrielle Scawthorn

Theatre review
A horrific road accident brings the breakdown of a relationship to its accelerated boiling point. Surrounded by trauma, Mel and Dom are in a state of anguished disintegration, trying to make sense of marriage and family amidst the smithereens. Catherine McKinnon’s Hurt is ruthless in its depiction of human frailties. Through themes of parenthood and misfortune, her play illustrates life at its most difficult moments, asking us to consider the importance of empathy and compassion, not only for others but also for ourselves. There is a complexity to the writing that demands of us, deep analysis as well as a humane response, bringing attention to the nature of our collective ethics and values. Hurt is both controversial and mundane, exposing highly contentious issues within a context of common occurrences, to orchestrate great dramatic tension for the theatre, and to challenge the ways we think about life and the way we treat one another.

Director Kim Hardwick brings a lethal combination of operatic emotionality and psychological acuity to a production that enthrals from start to finish. The interplay of characters constantly fluctuates to keep us mystified and on edge, but a sense of truth prevails no matter which way the show’s tone oscillates. An unrelenting and dark intensity drives the plot through its surprising revelations, with a seductive force, impossible to resist, drawing us further and further into its agonising quagmire. Production design adheres to Hardwick’s powerful but subtle aesthetic approach. Set design by Isabel Hudson, lights by Martin Kinnane, and Katelyn Shaw’s soundscapes provide the cast with elegantly effective backdrops against which their magic happens.

Meredith Penman plays Mel, the troubled mother of two, with a delicious daring that complicates our need to sympathise and deride. Resisting the temptation to turn her character into a convenient victim, Penman’s ability to portray convincing fallibility is key to the show’s brilliance. No parent can ever be perfect, but we hold them to a certain standard that Mel’s story shows to be impossible for many. The role of Alex is performed by the very impressive Gabrielle Scawthorn, whose work in Hurt is nothing short of spectacular. Perfectly measured and delicately balanced, Scawthorn’s creation is simultaneously brutal and tender, displaying an extraordinary vulnerability in her undeniably painful process. Ivan Donato provides excellent support as Mel’s husband Dominic, with a focused conviction that helps sustain the protracted and mesmerising hysteria of Mel’s world.

When it all comes tumbling down, we are faced with the choice of surrender or struggle. We watch the people in Hurt fight through incredible hardship, and worry if their spirit can pull them through. We want to believe that our fortitude can surmount anything, but the truth is that weakness co-exists with strength, and can sometimes be the element that defeats. It is in trauma, that one’s mettle gets tested, and even though every successful attempt to overcome must be celebrated, it is necessary that our failures are afforded forgiveness.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

sgs-best2014

2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP

End

sgs-best2014a

Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

Click here to see Best Of 2013

Review: Unholy Ghosts (White Box Theatre / Griffin Theatre Company)

griffintheatreVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 27 – Sep 20, 2014
Playwright: Campion Decent
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Robert Alexander, James Lugton, Anna Volska
Image by Danielle Lyonne

Theatre review (originally published at Auditorium Magazine)
We often go to the theatre for a dose of fantasy. It can be escapism that we seek, or a quest for inspiration, and it becomes easy to conceive of fantasy as a thing severed from daily lives where in fact, nothing can make good sense unless it bases itself in reality. Campion Decent’s Unholy Ghosts is mostly autobiographical. It deals with family and death, probably the most real of all concepts to undertake, and also the most difficult of things to articulate. Through art and the guise of theatrical fantasy, Decent enacts a way to analyse, heal and mourn the inevitable but deepest losses one can experience.

Family ties are uniquely challenging. Some of us are gifted more pleasant circumstances than others, but we all understand the unyielding nature of those bonds. Regardless of time and distance, only a very few can truly claim to have made clean cuts from their closest blood relations. We all know what family can make us feel, and it is that intensity of love (and hate) that makes Unholy Ghosts immutable and its effects inescapable. Decent’s writing is humorous but gentle, with a sublime melancholy that appeals to the tenderest of our sentiments. Its thorough honesty is quite confronting. We cannot resist empathising, which means that we cannot help but reflect upon the ones we hold dear, and the invisible, but persistently lingering notion of death that threatens and surrounds us.

The characters are named in the programme simply as Son, Mother and Father, and the script provides what seems to be factual information about their lives and defining events through the years, including the tragic passing of the unseen Daughter. It is a compilation of Decent’s recollections, as well as invented scenarios that help with gaining insight, or at least to find some kind of understanding, so that pain can be tamed and the living can move on. The play’s structure is hugely enjoyable. The confusion between fact and fiction, laughter and tears, victims and wrongdoers, creates a complexity that is undeniably resonant in its familiarity.

Direction is provided by Kim Hardwick, who does an excellent job of locating comedy and pathos in every moment, and allowing them to co-exist in an unusual harmony. Liberal amounts of dark humour pervades the stage, but there is also a surprising compassion that always makes its presence felt. We see resentment, anger and bitterness in the family members, but their conflicts only exist for a love that requires resolution. The intimacy of the space gives the audience easy access to the people on stage, and their terrific chemistry keeps us spellbound. Hardwick has achieved the remarkable feat of crafting a show where we fall for all of its characters at first sight. Unholy Ghosts is unashamedly sentimental, but it is also thoughtful. There are very strong emotions that surface towards the conclusion, but they are not of the wallowing type. The play keeps a level head, always maintaining a level of self-examination, which makes the sadness much more profound.

James Lugton plays the Son, a version of the playwright himself. Lugton’s emotional fortitude is a great asset to the production, for he lets us see the depth of suffering a person endures without a need for predictable and obvious gesturing. The strength he portrays is so genuine and pronounced, that it conveys the sorrow that he cannot reveal. The more he strives to keep a positive outlook, the more we hurt. It is a confident performance that deceives us with its relaxed nonchalance. It looks the opposite of melodrama, but its results are more affecting. There are moments however, where the actor seems to lose focus and he trips over lines several times, causing one to wonder if certain sections are less rehearsed. Also periodically distracted is Robert Alexander who plays Father, but like Lugton, his lapses are negligible. Alexander’s work is colourful, and the miserly man he depicts is charmingly comical and unexpectedly likable. The accuracy at which he performs the role of the “regular older man”, is brilliantly reminiscent of the literal and figurative fathers of our lives, complete with annoying quirks and disappointing imperfections. There are actors who win us over even before their first scene finishes, and Alexander is a shining example. His charisma is magical, and partnered with a clear affection for the stage, his creation is one that endears and impresses.

Mother is a creature of flamboyance and mischief, who had bought her son the Bette Midler book, A View From A Broad for his sixteenth birthday. The divine Anna Volska is electrifying. Her work ranges from outlandish and grotesque, to delicate and introspective. It is a tremendous role, and the actor fulfills every brief and requirement. Volska delivers many instances of sheer hilarity, but the delicious poignancy she invokes at every appearance is unforgettable.

Visual design is minimal and unobtrusive. No great flair is showcased, but nothing feels lacking. Sound design assists well with mood changes but several keyboard interludes are slightly too conspicuous and outmoded. In the final scene, lighting makes a drastic transformation to accompany the uplifting end. The choice to shift tone so extravagantly is questionable. It is clear that optimism and the celebration of life is a key message, but stating the case so literally may not be necessary. Also unnecessary is the compulsion to release the audience in such upbeat fashion.

The play’s happy ending however, is solid and convincing. Whether exuberant or subdued, we understand the spiritual and psychological journey that Campion Decent has taken, and we appreciate the position of enlightenment he presents. Life ends and relationships end, and it is their brief temporality that gives them value. We only wish for something to last forever when we know that its end approaches. It is tempting to declare that nothing is eternal, but the fact is that art can outlive us, and great writing endures for generations. How splendid the thought that ghosts can prevail, if the artist’s life is well lived.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.auwww.griffintheatre.com.au