Posts Tagged ‘Influence

25
Apr
11

INFLUENCE Reviewed by Mel White

Reviewed by Mel White for Briz Tix

Ziggi Blasko- it’s a name destined for fame…or at the very least, notoriety.

Currently showing at Noosa Arts Theatre, is David Williamson’s Influence. As director, Sam Coward explains, “Influence is a scathing and bitingly funny play about the media personalities that dominate our lives and the divisions that can shatter families”. Tackling a Williamson play renowned for political undertones within a verbose text that investigates the ugly side of human nature is no mean feat. While Williamson’s plays focus heavily on human interrelationships and the complexities that come with them, Coward’s approach to Influence is a simple one that highlights the playwright’s intentions with refreshing directorial choices.

Coward’s interpretation is stripped back to the bare essentials. There are no detailed costumes to pretty up the picture and there is no elaborate lighting used to punctuate the mood and atmosphere. The responsibility well and truly lies firmly in the hands of the actors.

The risk that arises with such a minimalist and pared back approach is that you rely 100% on your actors. It’s literally all you have in which to convey your message: the acting does the talking, if you will. There is nothing to hide behind: the acting is the spectacle and needs to not only be entertaining in it’s execution but visually arresting too. Tough call!

But In an age where our senses are continually assaulted, in all facets of life, maybe it’s time for directors to bring theatre back to its very basics. To remind us that the acting is what should be the focus (Lucas Stibbard comes to mind here where his solo efforts in Girl Boy Wall has recently revolutionised the theatre world- a minimalist approach where the acting is wholly and solely the focus. And it’s been an incredible success. Are audiences trying to tell us something?)

This is exactly what Sam Coward is trying to create here in his direction of Influence. A bold move but one that, essentially, works. I believe Williamson lends himself to this minimalist approach: he favours a haughty dialogue to get his message across and Coward has perceptively tapped into the potential Williamson presents.

Firstly, Coward dominates the stage space with his lead actors, positioning them at varying levels to visually communicate their status. Mark Darin as Ziggi naturally consumes the centre stage area and is encompassed by those characters that directly impact upon Ziggi’s life: Xanthe Coward as conceited wife Carmela reclines at stage right, Summer Bowen as the tempestuous daughter Vivienne broods upstage left, Ziggi’s “intelligent” sister Connie played by Jodie Bushby hovers downstate left and finally, Joe Jurisevic as Ziggi’s tortured father, Marko, sits upstage right. All of these lead actors remain in their designated stage positions for most of the performance, subtly adding to the rising tension within the play when not required in a scene. This is an effective tool, utilised by Coward to cleverly symbolise the ever-present “influences” in Ziggi’s life and, possibly, the sources of inspiration for Ziggi’s shock-jock material.

Building on his restricted stage positioning of the lead actors, Coward manipulates the dialogue delivery so that each actor directs it towards a point at the audience, and never at the intended recipient. When I was first privy to this interesting directorial choice, I’ll admit I was reticent. Familiar with the verbose nature of Williamson’s plays, I had my doubts as to whether Coward would maintain audience engagement. How can you possibly deliver close to 2 hours worth of dialogue with limited actor interaction and not bore your audience?  The answer is Sharon Grimley and Stephen Moore.

These 2 actors, playing the roles of Zehra and Tony respectively, are the glue that holds this show together, on so many levels. Not only do Zehra and Tony manage to keep the Blasko family unit functioning, but Grimley and Moore provide the smattering of character interaction that is needed to keep the performance from entering tedium. They offer a through line for the performance; a vehicle through which the remaining characters can connect, both in a physical and psychological way. It’s a well-calculated move from Coward and it is this very choice in direction that makes this production work for me. Of course, this directorial decision is only enhanced by a superb performance by Grimley.

Sharon Grimley is sublime in the role of Zehra: a Turkish, single mother of 3, struggling to make ends meet. When she takes on the role of housekeeper for the Blaskos, Zehra’s fate is almost sealed. As a woman who immigrated to Australia for a better life, who is humble yet not afraid to tell it how it is. You just know it’s going to get ugly when she plunges into the privileged and self-absorbed world of the Blaskos. Forced to endure the self-promoting and belittling manner of Carmela Blasko, the teenage angst of Vivienne and the incessant racist rants of Ziggi, Zehra’s tolerance wears thin and Williamson explores the idea of the instigation of deep hatred, on a global level, through this one, minor character. To me, this was going to be the most difficult role to play- the complexities of the issues Zehra faces present a real challenge but Grimley rises to it. Her posture and body language beautifully reflect the lower status Zehra with rolled shoulders and eyes that are constantly downcast. An almost apologetic demeanour effectively highlights the subservient nature of Grimley’s character, which successfully counteracts her use of the stronger downstage area.

Equally as impressive is Jurisevic in the role of Marko Blasko, Ziggi’s Croatian father. Jurisevic perfectly emulates an Eastern European passion with much chest beating and finger pointing to emphasise his more emotive dialogue. Enhancing this is Jurisevic’s use of a near perfect Croatian accent coupled with a hunched posture that juxtaposes his strong emotions with an aging body.

Whilst Grimley and Jurisevic are certainly the stand out performers for me, the remaining cast is also strong in their roles, with a few stumbles over lines being the only issue. Xanthe Coward epitomises the self absorbed, spoilt and conceited nature of Carmela Blasko; Summer Bowen is ridiculously talented at playing a bi-polar teenager (her fast dialogue delivery during a manic phase has to be seen to be believed!); Jodie Bushby is suitably controlled in the role of psychologist Connie and Stephen Moore oozes with frustrated subservience as Tony. But Sunshine Coast audiences will be most intrigued by the virgin stage performance of real life radio personality Mark Darin. And I am pleased to say that Darin gives a solid performance for someone with no prior acting experience. He translates his real life role of radio talk show host into this performance with a good use of voice and presence on stage. My only issue with Darin’s performance was the lack of facial expression and the reading of script when he is placed at his work desk within the radio station. However, if acting is something that Darin wishes to pursue from this point onwards, then I believe he will go from strength to strength, if placed in the right hands.

Overall, despite a few poor lighting choices and opening night nerves in some of the actors, I believe Coward has given a really professional edge to Noosa Arts production of Influence. If you appreciate the intricacies of David Williamson’s writing and you are interested by a clever re-working that favours acting over the spectacle of overelaborate sets and costumes, please, go and see this production.


25
Apr
11

INFLUENCE Reviewed by Simon Denver

Reviewed by Simon Denver for Stage Whispers 

Influence by David Williamson

Produced by Noosa Arts Theatre

Directed by Sam Coward

The Cast

Mark Darin as Ziggi Blasko

Xanthe Coward as Carmela Blasko

Joe Jurisevic as Marko Blasko

Jodie Bushby as Connie Blasko

Summer Bowen as Vivienne Blasko

Sharon Grimley as Zehra

Stephen Moore as Tony

David Williamson is a very professional writer.  Noosa Arts Theatre have the best all round standard of the community theatres on the Sunshine Coast.  Sam Coward is probably the best working director of Community Theatre on the Sunshine Coast.  This play was always going to work once this triumvirate was connected.  It was a great night out at the theatre and so much more rewarding – on so many levels – then the usual stale stodgy porridge dolloped up on the average coastal stage.

The play revolves around the failings, foibles, whims and single bed / double standards of Shock Jock Ziggy Blasko and his totally dysfunctional family.  In fact the Blasko’s are like the Bliss family (of Noel Coward’s Hayfever) but with acid glands.  The family consist of a self-obsessed wife who is attempting a come-back as a ballerina, a father who moves in with a lot more than just clothes as his baggage, a bi-polar daughter and a sister who is still a social crusader.  Of course, this human collective Maelstrom is completely what a court-of-public-appeal-judge-jury-and-executioner DJ like Ziggy Blasko deserves.  He manipulates the dumbed down masses to accept his opinions so they don’t have to formulate their own.  A “Mussie bashing” rant on his show one day becomes the catalyst for his personal house of cards to come crashing down.  But then again … does it?

Sam Coward had a very clear and concise idea of how this play should be performed.  He obviously explained this very clearly and concisely to the cast because all seven cast members were 100% in tune with this vision.  They were motivated, focussed and properly stretched.  Correct casting plus shared vision – The art of directing is this in a nutshell.  He chose Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt (the alienation technique) as his style of performance.  Dysfunctional equals alienation – therefore alienation equals dysfunctional.  Radio equals human voice and the human voice equals alienation therefore (and voila) with a bit of jiggery pokery a play about a radio DJ becomes a vessel for the Verfrumdungseffekt.  Each family member was anchored down to their power position on the stage. From these positions (some flat, some on different levels), they vocally drove this show out to the audience – without ever making eye contact with each other.  A great bit of theatrical smoke and mirrors.  Around these rocks flowed the natural characters of Zehra and Tony (Sharon Grimley and Stephen Moore).  They were licensed to interact and make eye contact.  So?  Did this technique work?  It worked well for most of the show.  It worked brilliantly for some parts of the show.  It mesmerised the audience for other parts of the show – but … I just felt it needed to break out from this technique in some of the climaxes.  It gave itself nowhere to go.  It was constant, consistent and good.  I just felt it didn’t quite have the legs for an entire two acts.  The script was not written for this style – it was screaming out in some parts for interaction – even brief interaction. However, having said that this production stayed true and constant to itself.

Technically it was very polished.  The radio segments were very professionally recorded.  I loved the use of light – or lack of light should I say.  Very Chiaroscuro.  (Wow – first Verfremdungseffekt and now Chiaroscuro.  Am I on a word wank or what???).  This was a production from the top shelf. But to me the outstanding part of the evening was the ensemble work of the cast, Tight and committed.  They have raised the performance bar of Sunshine Coast Community Theatre.

The Cast

Joe Jurisevic- The best I’ve ever seen him.  A solid performance with lots of darkness, humour and pathos rolled into one performance.  Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks.

Jodie Bushby- Perhaps now the coast will realise why I hold this actress in the highest regard.  Pure honesty in this and every role she undertakes.

Summer Bowen- Great complete performance.  Manage to flesh out the most cartoon of all the characters.

Sharon Grimley- Underplayed to the point of naturalism.  Balanced out the hurley burley of dysfunctional family.  She did a beautiful job with the hardest role in the play.

Xanthe Coward- Great engine house for the tension and dynamics.  Exceptional because of the fact she did practically the whole thing sitting down.  Did her job so well that no-one in the audience had the slightest skerrick of sympathy for her character.

Stephen Moore. Same as Sharon. A nice little essay in “How-to-Underplay”.  A real person in a sea of self absorption.

Mark Darin- Good debut performance. Being a DJ possibly benefited from the voice driven alienation technique more than the rest.

Ziggi Blasko (Mark Darin)

25
Apr
11

INFLUENCE Reviewed by Jim McDonald

“Influence” was to be David Williamson’s last play – thank goodness he writes on. In this 2005 play he portrays the world of the shock-jock. What is it that makes these self-righteous purveyors of prejudice and opinionated certainty tick?

It quickly becomes clear that the confident pronouncements of Ziggi Blasko [Mark Darin] might not penetrate the opinion-maker’s personal life. His heartless diatribes and his private life are rooted in an alienating self-centeredness that is shared by his wife, Carmela [Xanthe Coward] and his daughter, Vivienne [Summer Bowen]. If satire is about the foibles of society it is only Ziggi’s father, Marko [Joe Jurisevic], who seeks redemption. Ziggi’s sister, Connie [Jodie Busby], is the conscience of the extended family, reminding each member of their moral obligations.

Sam Coward’s very good production of “Influence” at Noosa Arts Theatre will surprise regular fans of Williamson’s plays. This is no naturalistic performance. Coward has his actors facing the audience and there is no physical engagement or eye contact between the five principal characters. Each actor has his and her station on the stage and they rarely leave it. There are two exceptions to this: the maid, Zehra [Sharon Grimley], and Tony [Stephen Moore]. Zehra and Tony break the mould of this presentation with naturalistic interactions with the main characters, slightly undermining the impact of stylistic production for me.

This arrangement, which Coward calls vocal choreography, presents a difficult challenge to the actors and it could easily deteriorate into a 3D version of a radio play but the cast on opening night gave confident and engaged performances. I thought the performance by Joe Jurisevic as the father who wanted to confess his wartime secrets publicly was outstanding. Mark Darin’s first stage performance as Ziggi Blasko was compelling and Summer Bowen played the wilful teenage daughter convincingly with high energy. This was an accomplished ensemble whose overall performance was of a very high order indeed.

One of the effects of this production was to focus the audience’s engagement with the text – not always to advantage. Occasionally, this took the edge off Williamson’s satire, some lines appearing didactic when this would be less apparent in interaction between the characters, but the laughs came thick and fast.

And satire it is: the overblown antics of the Blasko family serve to remind the audience how ugly self-absorbed behaviour really is, and it is to be found in a tantrum near you or in careless behaviour towards others. If the production took the edge off Williamson’s satire I cannot tell. Satire evokes a private response that is not always immediately apparent. What appears in “Influence” as over the top, does not always appear obvious when we consider our own behaviour, which in the end is what the satirist wishes us to do.

When theatres include recorded elements in productions they more often than not fail to marry audio levels with the actors’ projection. This was again apparent at Noosa Arts. Furthermore, I found the hollow echoes of the recordings of callers to Ziggi Blasko’s show annoying. Coward might have considered a Greek chorus of callers or added a broadcast amplification of Ziggi’s radio pronouncements consistent with the musical and radio station simulation that formed part of the show.

But these are small criticisms. Sam Coward is raising the bar for theatre on the Sunshine Coast with a distinctive directing style. In Noosa Arts Theatre’s production he has once again surprised and delighted the audience. If you can snag a ticket for Influence do so, for tickets are hard to get.

Bookings: phone Noosa Arts Theatre (07) 5449 9343, Monday to Saturday 9am to midday. Influence April 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 at 7:30pm; Matinee- April 17 and 24 at 2pm; Charity performance- April 27 at 7:30pm (no concessions) for Noosa Coast Guard; Gala Performance- April 30 at 7:30pm (no concessions) to celebrate David Williamson’s 40 years as a playwright. Ticket Prices: Adults- $26; Concessions- $22

Jim McDonald

06
Mar
11

INFLUENCE

30
Jan
11

Are We Done With January Already?!

Wow, do I have some catching up to do! Here is the year so far:

  • Woodford Folk Festival was the wettest ever and this made it…different fun.
  • The devastating impact on friends and fellow artists of the most recent rains prompted us to help clean up at Drift and in Dayboro, as well as to collect from Sunshine Coast peeps, donations of basic items and treats to send to those who had lost everything in the floods. We ended up packing and delivering over 500 Happy Packs, which went to communities in places such as Murphy’s Creek, Bundaberg, the Bremer River, Withcott and Grantham.
  • I started reviewing Brisbane’s shows for briztix.com (and have received no hate mail yet) #WIN
  • I accepted the role of Carmela, in Influence, David Williamson’s highest grossing play, which will run for 3 weeks in April at Noosa Arts Theatre
  • I planned two entirely different courses for actors on the Sunshine Coast and scrapped them both because I felt I was missing something.
  • In the meantime, I will run Wednesday evenings from 7pm-8pm at Dance Edge Studios, for adult actors and non-actors who need SOMETHING. Or, perhaps that should be SOMETHING ELSE. Let’s call it The Soup Kitchen and I’ll provide metaphorical soup for the actors’ souls and basic skills for your survival. When I move – and I’ll let you know when that is – I’ll provide actual soup. Stone Soup. On Sundays. At home. In the kitchen. Y’all bring something to go into the soup, now.
  • I’m teaching acting and vocal classes at Dance Edge Studios and coaching aspiring young actors and singers in the lead up to the eisteddfod season and in preparation for exams, auditions, school productions, community theatre and the like. If you feel anything like I feel about the eisteddfods especially, you will understand the need for a bit of efficient, gentle coaching from Day 1.
  • My daughter started at Montessori last week. She is most impressed that she gets to cut her own fruit for morning tea and that she may have morning tea whenever she is hungry. This has let her get away in the mornings without having Proper Breakfast. This is about to change. She also likes having tiny hot pink foot stickers, with her name printed on them, inside her shoes.
  • The same daughter (there’s only one, for pretty obvious scheduling reasons) starts hip hop, acro, jazz and ballet this week (swimming lessons have already been re-scheduled). It will be hard for me to be just the mama waiting for her to do classes sooo…I guess I just gained 2 extra hours a week for your private lessons, kids!
  • In the interests of my own life-long learning, I’m up for some Practical Aesthetics, Impulse Training and a whole lot more Chubbuck this year.
  • And last but not least – for now – I’m gathering some brave people and some horrific stories this year, for a verbatim theatre project that we’ll keep calling Suicide Stories, even though I’ve already received warnings to lay off this topic. Is suicide the last taboo then? Good. We’re going there. If you’re interested in coming on this journey – and it’s going to be a tough one – let me know. We’ve got the ball rolling and the tears flowing freely. It’s all good…in a sort of terrifying, confronting, heart-wrenching way.

It’s gonna be a big year. But then every year is a big year! Bring it!