Posts Tagged ‘ian lawson

24
Jan
18

The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek – a chat with Kathryn Marquet

 

A Chat With Kathryn Marquet

 

The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek (February 10 – March 3) is a world premiere, penned by Kathryn Marquet…

 

McDonagh meets Tarantino in a biting new comedy about leading the charge for change.

Working out of a small shack in the isolated wilds of south-western Tasmania, George, an environmental scientist, is trying to save the world one Tassie Devil at a time. Since she was a small girl she has dreamt of halting the advance of climate change, but saving a species in the middle of nowhere will have to do, for now…

 

What have you been up to since Brisbane audiences saw Pale Blue Dot at La Boite?

Well, I’ve been acting and I’ve been writing. I was a finalist in the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award with my play, Furious Creatures.  I had a small role in the feature film Don’t Tell. I went to Sydney to work on a script with Playwriting Australia. I’ve been writing Dead Devils, and I’m currently doing my masters in playwriting at UQ.

 

What did the success of that play mean for your change of career path?

I was certainly very grateful for that experience and I enjoyed it immensely. I learnt an immense amount about playwriting. I guess it turned me from a dabbling playwright into a professional playwright.

 

Do you still love performing? How did the writing become the focus? Was it always the focus?

Creative careers don’t seem to have a particularly straight-forward path. I’m still an actor. I’m also a playwright. I’m riding the wave, in terms of what work’s available. Some weeks I feel more like an actor and other weeks I’m more a writer.  I acted in my first amateur play when I was nine. I wrote my first play when I was eleven. Both passions have always been in me.

 

 

Can you talk about the ways Ian Lawson and the team at Playlab supports writers and how you have come through the channels to become a published playwright? What else can writers do to get a foot in the door?

Playlab’s an amazing organisation for a city like Brisbane to have. They support writers at every stage of their career and at every point in development. I’d encourage budding playwrights to apply for the many development programs they have: from the Incubator through to the Playwright in Residence. The truth is you just have to write. The more you write, the better you’ll be. And, read. Take acting classes. Go and watch theatre. Plays are a very different medium to other writing. Ask actors to come over and read your work. Hearing it aloud is important. Keep submitting work to competitions and to various development programs. Eventually, the ball will start to roll.

 

What do you think of writing awards? Of Performing Arts awards generally?

Obviously, awards are always going to be at the whim of certain political agendas, whether you’re talking about the Academy Awards or a primary school performing arts award. But, I guess you take the good with the bad. Most people try to do their best and work ethically. 

 

I think writing awards are really important for a writer’s career. They offer not just much-needed funds, but also exposure.

 

How much of your writing is influenced by real life events?

I’m not so interested in autobiography. My life isn’t that interesting compared to what my imagination can come up. That being said, obviously I steal a lot from real-life everyday. I steal character idiosyncrasies, funny things I hear, etc, and my writing obviously focuses on the issues I care about.

 

 

What’s your process as a writer, your typical day? Routine? What do you do to take time out, away from the world you’re building?

I tend to write in the morning. I get up early, and go and sit in a cafe for a few hours. Being freelance, I do find it hard to relax. My brain’s always ticking over. But, I enjoy being in nature and hanging out with my husband and three cats.

 

Can you talk about the environmental concerns and the “post-truth” state of the world, and the ways in which your writing addresses these? Is this the way to reach our public then (has it always been so) – via art rather than politics? How political do you consider your art to be? 

I do think art has a part to play in manifesting change within society. By having robust conversations in a safe, communal space, I hope that change might be fostered. Culture is important for societies. We’ve known this for a long time. One of the most important things theatre can foster is empathy. When you get into someone else’s shoes, it’s easier to see multiple points of view. It’s easier to understand and have compassion. Playwrights, going right back to the Greeks, have always been interested in politics. I guess I’m less interested in politics and more interested in complex thought and a progressive society. The fact that there is still terrible violence in the world, terrible suffering, I think we need to take responsibility for that and try to eradicate it. I get frustrated by capitalism, that money is our only measurement of value. I think there must be a better way going forward.

 

Black comedy is an excellent genre for political writing. The writer, I guess, is presenting a series of horrific events in a way that is slightly absurd, slightly heightened. There is an irony to the work.

 

Black comedy isn’t didactic: it asks the audience to think for themselves. It doesn’t give easy answers. But I think comedy is the best genre to explore difficult things, particularly in the current climate.

 

The world’s rather concerning at the moment. We want to laugh. I guess I see the work as more Mcdonagh-esque than Tarantino-esque.

 

I do believe we’ve reached a crossroads in the course of human history:  we can march on, spewing out buzzwords like ‘growth’ and ‘progress’, leaving the weak and silent in our wake, watching as Earth’s creatures disappear.  OR, we can take a different path. Anything’s gotta be better than us all dying, right? I think the world is completely absurd, and I guess dead devils reflects that.

 

We’re in a burning building and we’re standing around the water coolers, looking at Facebook. I don’t really get it.

 

What did your research entail? Have you spent some time in Tassie? Did you snack on chicken nuggets? Will there actually be chicken nuggets on stage…at the bar?

I’ve been to Tassie twice. The second time my husband and I explored the South West, where the play is set. I worry a little about my internet-search history. It includes how to dispose of a dead body amongst many other shady things (I don’t want to give away too much).  Google is an amazing thing for a writer.

 

I’m vegetarian, so, no, I don’t snack on chicken nuggets. I sincerely hope there won’t be any at the bar. I don’t know, after watching the show, how keen people are going to be to eat them again.

 

We love, love, LOVE Emily Weir (pictured below) and we can’t wait to see her in this production. Joined by John Batchelor, Julian Curtis and Kimie Tsukakoshi, this makes for a superb little cast – from the writer’s perspective, are these performers who you had imagined might bring the roles to life on stage for the first time?

I love them all too. I’m very grateful and blessed to have them. They make an amazing ensemble. I try not to get any specific actors in my head when I’m writing. I tend to think of imaginary people. I guess I tend to think about energy of people — character’s spice, if you like — rather than their specific ‘look’. I couldn’t be happier with the cast we’ve assembled. They perfectly fit their characters and are immensely talented and lovely people.

 

 

When you’re writing do any of your characters morph into people in your life, or do you begin to recognise them in the street during the creative process? During rehearsals? (Have you been present in the rehearsal room? What has that been like, as a writer rather than performer?)

I do steal from life. I steal bits and pieces but never whole people. I watch for quirkiness in behaviour or language. So my characters are often a combination of a number of people I’ve come across, as well as added imaginary elements.

 

I have been in the rehearsal room full time. It’s a new work, and I have so much to learn about it from watching the actors in their characters. Playwriting’s different to other writing: it’s incomplete until it’s onstage. I’ll make changes for as long as they will let me!

 

What do you love about Ian’s direction? What has he brought to it that surprised you / hasn’t surprised you in the least?

I’m immensely grateful to Ian. We absolutely did this as a team. He has been a wonderful support from the start. And, he challenges me to look at the world in different ways and to think about my own ideology and how it manifests within my work.  Our brains work differently, and that means that we make a good ying and yang. He balances my more anarchic tendencies.

 

 

What do you love/need/live for/thrive on when living and working with like-minded creatives? What irks you?

I live for being in a rehearsal room. I’m most happy at those times. I love working in an ensemble. I love creative people. They really are the best. And, when you’re all working on bringing a project to life, there’s a wonderful sense of purpose. What irks me is that it has to end and I have to go back to freelance, which is always hard.

 

What have you taken from this process that will feed future work? What’s in the near future?

 

I’m constantly learning. I still feel like a novice. Playwriting is hard and I’ll think I’ll be learning my whole life long. I guess the biggest thing I’ve learnt on this project is how much steel is inside me. And, how much courage. I’m terrified, but I’m holding on because I believe so strongly in the work and the message of the work.

 

What do you hope people take away from this play? 

Well, my biggest goal is to make people laugh. Going to the theatre should be joyful. An escape. It should also be cathartic. At the moment, we’re seeing real polarisation in people and the way they’re shaping their world view. Truth and facts are being sacrificed for what’s comfortable and what’s convenient. I’d love people to consider not only their relationship with the earth and its creatures, but also their relationship with other humans. I believe complex thought is important and I hope that my play encourages this.

 

What do you want people to share on Facebook about this play? 

I’d love for it to open up conversations about change. I’d love people to share if they found it funny, and if it made them think.

 

Hero image & rehearsal room pics by Dylan Evans

 

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20
May
17

Blue Bones

 

Blue Bones

Brisbane Powerhouse & PlayLab

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

May 4 – 13 2017

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter 

 

 

Closing night of Merlynn Tong’s Blue Bones saw the Visy Theatre packed with people. I had been not-so-patiently awaiting this co-production by PlayLab and the Brisbane Powerhouse, and there was much excitement in the room. I was proud as punch for my friend, Merlynn.

In 2015, I saw Tong perform her first play Ma Ma Ma Mad, a one-woman show about her mother’s suicide. She is such a generous artist, sharing true stories of her life that are equal parts heart-wrenching and hilarious. It amazes me, what this young woman has been through, and the light she continues to generate.

 

Blue Bones is a story about young love and the horrors of domestic violence. This is yet another piece of Tong’s heart she offers up, creating art to interrogate and make peace with her past. She conjures up characters on stage with amazing physicality and distinction that help us follow the story and envision her world. She plays friends, teachers, family, morphing from one into the next with ease and clarity.

 

The play is set in Singapore and a projection screen is used to transport the audience to different locations. From a stark school cafeteria, a grungy dark playground, to a stark and grey overpass, images flashed up and accompanied Tong as she revisited her adolescence in a desperate fight to wrench an old lover from the marrow of her bones.

 

 

Ian Lawson’s direction of this work was nuanced and gripping, allowing moments to hit hard when needed. A favourite image of mine was when lines of electric green light cut through the space and Tong transformed into her deceased mother, speaking and guiding her from the grave. That is, at least, what I took from it. It happened a few times throughout the play and it cast a murky haze over me. I felt as if Tong was searching for something…for strength from her mother? It was an entrancing effect, and perhaps it was open to interpretation. I would have to read the play again – and just letting you know it is available for purchase from PlayLab! 

   

There was something about this work that resonated with me, and it took a while for me to articulate. Blue Bones is certainly an emotional rollercoaster. It is beautiful, funny, yet shockingly confronting. There are lines blurred, bruises exposed, though an important message of hope and redemption shines at the end. This story is about a young girl learning about love when all the odds are against her. A girl who was broken, soul and body left for dead, and she learnt to dance again.

 

 

Tong is a captivating performer and one hell of a brave woman.

13
Apr
16

Bastard Territory

 

Bastard Territory

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

April 6 – 16 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

bastardterritory1

Everyone I spoke with before attending this play was terrified by the thought of a 3-hour commitment! But Bastard Territory doesn’t feel too long, thanks to a reasonably fast pace and light-hearted moments landing amongst some heavy themes. Playwright, Stephen Carlton, explores thoroughly and fairly efficiently, identity, belonging, and not.

While Act 1 takes its time to establish the human context, the detail is probably necessary to give us a complete picture of Russell’s world and its inhabitants. He’s on a mission to find out who he is and who his biological father might be. He tells his story from within, and from just outside of it.

A different set of eyes on the text (or the luxury of a longer rehearsal period –  just two weeks were available for the remount of this production) might allow the time and space for Carlton or Dramaturg, Peter Matheson, to take to it with a red pen. Act 2 is the tightest and most engaging of the three, exposing the truth about complex relationships and identity. It seals the deal: if we’re not with Russell by now we never will be.

The final act deals with new and renewed alliances, the tatters of the old torrid relationships, post-independence political fragments and new possibilities, but a sudden ending leaves us unsatisfied. This is perhaps intentional. There’s a feeling that Russell’s quest must continue and yet…it feels rushed, contrived. In fact, the final scene undoes a lot of good, with the token reappearance of a suitcase Russell had packed when he was eight years old, and the gift of a CD, the original vinyl record broken by Aspasia in a fit of childish rage. But surely she would have thought of giving that gift already, when CDs first became available years before, and she, older and wiser, first felt inclined to replace it? It’s illogical. Following this clumsiness, I would like to have seen the mother return home, to simply appear at the door. An even bigger cliche? Well, she has her Nora moment, but honestly, who else but Nora actually leaves her children? (Lagertha always returns to hers)…

Lauren Jackson is a vibrant and emotionally vulnerable Lois, the mother of our narrator. At first forlorn, conservative and entirely dependent in Port Moresby, she embraces the freedom of a more bohemian lifestyle after dabbling in the local amateur theatre scene and art class.

Witnessed by Russell, she meets men whom, one after another, he supposes in hindsight could have been his biological father. She learns to live silently with her husband, Russell’s “dad”, Neville; the younger, Peter Norton & the elder, Steven Tandy. Norton is inconsistent in applying the after-effects of a tragic event he chooses to endure in the line of duty; he’s more convincing later, in the less obtrusive role of Russell’s boyfriend, Alistair. Tandy is a stern, self-righteous father at the end of his political career, conflicted, and stubbornly keeping a firm grasp on a long string of lies as it begins to unravel. By the end of the play he earns our sympathy as only Tandy can, with a single poignant line.

Bender Helwend makes a sincere, if somewhat insecure Russell, conversing directly with us and leaping in and out of his additional roles with aplomb. A drag act may come across more confidently by the end of the season (after all, he’s rehearsed it or performed it every Friday night since he was eight years old! It should be of Priscilla standard), and the references to Tennessee Williams’ work will probably sound less obvious and more natural in this time too. Additional roles (Cleo/ Tinneka/Aspasia) are played by Ella Watson-Russell, another Corrugated Iron Youth Arts (pre-drama school) product.

Nanette (Suellen Maunder) represents the unavoidable small town type and makes this character appropriately annoying. A caricature, larger than life, like the people from the past our parents tell us about; constructed memories, formed piece by piece from the stories told time and time again. Everyone knows a meddling, smiling assassin like Nanette.

bastardterritory2

The style, sweeping across three eras, is very meta from the outset, letting us in on the making and staging of a play, with frequent reminders that it’s just a story being told and the details could be inaccurate, but it’s Russell’s story and this is the way he tells it. I love this relaxed style of writing, casually, persistently working its way around vital political and personal issues, the things we most often gloss over in real life.

It’s an epic story, spanning oceans and decades to remind us just how complicated real life – and the relationships that really matter to us – can be.

Sean Pardy’s warm lighting makes available every space, although the economic direction forgets sometimes there is an upper level, to which eight year old Russell sometimes retreats. Director, Ian Lawson, plays nicely with pace and handles with care the high stakes and political points, bringing our attention neatly to the plight of anyone under someone else’s rule, including the wives of colonial community military leaders. His respect for the work and the writer is clear. No red pen will have made it into his hand.

Penny Challen’s set design is immediately interesting: the 2-storey timber floored skeletal structure serves abstractly as the basic Port Moresby accommodation, the Darwin bones after Cyclone Tracy has hit, and the vaguely flamboyant renovated gallery and bar. Challen’s costumes are more authentic in form, with the men in shorts and long socks (the – a-hem – trend at the time, which my father adopted, day after day in the DPI. You’ll still see it if you’re lucky, in some government departments and state school staff rooms), and the women in floral frocks and later, the kaftans of the seventies. Guy Webster’s super cinematic soundtrack successfully takes us through the years.

Bastard Territory precedes another new Australian (and abroad) family and political saga, Motherland, written by Katherine Lyall-Watson and staged originally at Metro Arts. These essential tales are boldly told and not easily forgotten. It will be fascinating to see what has become of Motherland with the bigger state theatre company budget behind it. In the meantime, Carlton’s Bastard Territory is thoroughly enjoyable; well worth the three hour commitment to Bille Brown’s seats, which are much more comfortable than those elsewhere.   

Production pics by Stephen Henry

 




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