Posts Tagged ‘julian curtis

05
Sep
19

COCK or How to Manipulate Media Coverage In Your Efforts to Secure Rave Reviews or I’m Just a Girl Standing in Front of a Box Office Trying to Buy a Ticket to Your Show

 

COCK

Bosco Productions

Metro Arts

August 21 – 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Somebody didn’t want me to see this show. Let’s pretend that we don’t know who that was.

This happens sometimes, following an unfavourable review; xs is left off an upcoming list and Box Office is directed to refuse us entry. But companies should be careful of what I like to call The Maleficent Effect, which is to say that not everyone would stand for being treated with such disrespect and still show up to see the production for what it is. Luckily for this Irish lot, COCK is brilliant and quite beautiful, in the most honest and transparent way, with not a single European pillow in sight. Even so, let’s take a moment to appreciate that the risk of being turned away at the door after a 90-minute drive in peak hour traffic, after a session with teens who still haven’t learned their lines a week out from assessment, is nothing; it’s more amusing than anything else, and not nearly as insulting or threatening as a spate of online trolling, name calling and death threats. So…Bosco…namaste. 

 

while the producers of any show may argue that as it’s their party, they can invite whoever they want, the principle of extending invitations across the board to established newspapers and reviewing outlets is a sound one. Trying to exclude particular reviewers is not – if for no other reason that it makes that individual critic seem more important than they are and hints at, if not outright censorship, than at least an over-developed desire to manipulate coverage and ensure good reviews all round.

You can never second-guess what a critic’s response will be.

The real issue here is the insidious, creeping desire on the part of producers and their PR agencies to control all press coverage by feature writers and critics.

 

You can never second-guess what a critic’s response will be

 

I’d like to suggest a new category for the Matilda Awards

Most Awkward Box Office / Foyer Conversation

 

Box Office Girls: stare up at me in what appears to be abject horror, or it could just be me pre-empting a Hilary Spurling scenario (Box Office Girls too young to know who Hilary Spurling is).

Me: Hi, I’m Xanthe and I know you’ve probably been told not to give me comps. So I’ll buy a ticket.

Box Office Girls:

Me: This must be the first theatre ticket I’ve had to buy in ten years!

Box Office Girls:

Me: Happy to support!

Box Office Girls:

 

You can imagine.

 

Fiona Apple’s Shadow Boxer pre-show, as I take my seat, seems appropriate. I know the play; I love Mike Bartlett’s properly real life writing, with its overlaps, interjects, repetitions, stutters and silences. I love that, as Writer, he has the audacity to demand of the companies brave enough to take on his play, a bare stage sans sets and props.

 

Queensland’s most under-utilised director, Helen Howard, has relished the challenges of a possibly highly stylised and potentially dated piece…or is it? After all, we are still insisting that relationships be bound by certain constraints, aren’t we? Howard has shaped this show from a contemporary place of power and compassion for these characters with whom we connect, and from whom we disconnect at the same time. It’s a voyeuristic lens that holds us in the gaze of the actors as we watch events unfold. Direct address is skilfully incorporated. Judge me. Don’t judge me. There is rarely physical contact between the actors; like a dance in a dream, their actions – undressing, touching, etc – are described but never carried out in the sense of showing us explicit stage business. This leaves scope for the imagination, creating a delicate, sensual intimacy that will make this production an example at the next round table re the results of best practice, as we continue to evolve the ways we work with actors, particularly student actors, on intimate/physical/emotional scenes. It’s a way into intimacy that’s been explored more extensively to date in the dance realm. A surreal, smoothly choreographed opening sequence at once feels beautifully fluid, and irregular and angular, leaving us distanced from the action, and yet completely committed, uncertain of where we are and what we’re in for.

 

The people we meet here are real and flawed, and either panicked or paralysed by tiny daily insecurities, as well as their – our – bigger fear of actually living life.

 

Derek Draper (M) and Julian Curtis (John) drive this narrative; a love triangle that’s more complicated than most, introducing the unexpected, and turning the stereotypical homosexual relationship on its head. When push comes to shove, M invites in his father – F – for moral support (Patrick Farrelly). When John meets a woman – W (Ashlee Lollback) – he questions his place…his worth…in his 7-year de-facto relationship with M.

 

The dance continues at intervals throughout the show, neatly devised transitions separating and marking for posterity each key moment; the tenderness of the storytelling and the heightened awareness of the actors evident in every pause. There is so much said, and left unsaid, in these silences. 

 

Draper is strong in this role; he finds the right mix of strength and vulnerability; M stands up for what he wants and ultimately, despite even more deeply doubting his power, he doesn’t back down. It’s enough to make us shrink in our seats during one of the most uncomfortable endings ever written. But more so, it’s John’s ineptitude that continues to make us cringe, even after the lights come up. Everyone knows someone this frozen by fear. The beauty of Bartlett’s protagonist is in this paralysis; the agony of being incapable of making a decision, squirming in the process; pushed to the edge and unable to decide whether or not to jump.

 

W challenges John on every level and gently exerts her most elegant use of force to urge him closer and closer to a decision that will suit them both. As John admits, it’s not as much about gender or sex as it is about the way he feels with her, the careful, kind way she speaks to him, treats him. Lollback is a beautiful, natural performer, at ease in her body and generous in her offers, employing a warm, firm vocal tone, and a sweet and comforting smile that reminds me of Naomi Price in Sweet Charity.

 

 

While we might judge John’s behaviour harshly, most of us can probably relate to his inability to communicate under pressure. The paralysis of indecision is no small thing so the dinner party scene, so fraught, becomes intense and fascinating and funny, and absolutely awful in the best theatrical sense, leaving us despairing, properly lamenting, John’s stubborn resistance to the power that we all feel quite desperately by now, is his to claim. There are exasperated sighs in the audience. And inexplicably, it could be said,  largely because it’s Curtis in this role making M completely hopeless and also, completely adorable, John keeps our sympathy, despite his reluctance to commit one way or the other, to one lover or the other, and the question arises: why should he be made to choose? Bartlett doesn’t go deeper here; he doesn’t suggest that John remain single for example, but we can imagine what John’s single life might look like. Instead…well, it’s that awful, uncomfortable ending, confirming once again, in case we are ever in any doubt, that we’re all needing as much validation as the next guy. Well, no. Some much more so than others it seems. 

 

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

 

07
Oct
14

Wuthering Heights

 

Wuthering Heights

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

October 1 – 18 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

wutheringheights_header

 

 

Time stagnates here.

 

 

“…everything anyone other than an english professor knows about Wuthering Heights at all happens in the first half. Then it drags on and on, focusing mainly on how handsome AND EVIL Heathcliff is, and how twisted he is, and how he’s just going to keep on ruining the lives of basically everyone around him.”

 

From Krypton With Love

 

 

 

#ohheathcliff

 

If it’s a gorgeous, dark, desperate, thrilling thing you’re after don’t miss this Wuthering Heights.

 

One of my favourite companies, shake & stir, continues to come up with some of the most challenging and engaging original live theatre in Brisbane. Their adaptations of classic literature are all superb (1984, Animal Farm, Tequila Mockingbird), and their latest production, a new version of Emily Bronte’s classic gothic masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, is no exception.

 

Adapted and directed by Nick Skubij, this production has a slightly different feel to shake & stir’s previous works, which have been less subtle, and somehow lighter, though no less complex, confronting or shocking in terms of their themes and the impact of each on their audience. This time – it must be the moody design inspired by the eerie moors on which the story takes place – it’s a spectacular looking production and the drama follows suit.

 

 

Terror made me cruel.

 

 

We have come to expect extraordinary beauty from this brilliant creative team: shake & stir, optical bloc and – I’m sure I’ve said it before – Brisbane’s hottest design team comprising Josh McIntosh (Set Design), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Design) and Guy Webster (Sound Design). These guys seem to split up and flit about a bit, but every time they come together with shake & stir, theatre magic happens. It’s as if they come home to play at shake & stir, and out of pure joy and surrender comes their best work. Adding to the mix this time, Leigh Buchanan’s delicate-dramatic touch (Costume Design), makes Wuthering Heights a dark and stormy (yes, you can taste it), sexy and sumptuous production.

 

 

Although the pace lags at times due to Gerry Connolly’s stilted delivery (at times the pauses are effective and at other times, not so much), his characterisation of Nelly Dean and his/her oddly measured phrases remind me of my Aunty Lorna, who has seemed eternally elderly to me, and yet has always been the most lively and strongly opinionated of the relatives I visited with as a child, with the keenest powers of observation and the longest memory. It’s as if Connolly has studied Aunty Lorna’s conversation. I always remember though, in stark contrast to Connolly’s static state, Lorna’s hands shaking to match her voice as she talked about whichever book she was devouring at the time, or the latest horror on the news, or her favourite British TV crime series. She would always insist on pouring the tea for us, in her own kitchen, in her own house, for years and years, before finally moving to a high care facility. She’s ninety-something.

 

In his Director’s Notes, Skubij reminds us that guilt doesn’t only lie with he who sinks the knife in. “Heathcliff has copped a lot of flack over the years and has been hailed as the personification of evil in this tale but what if the real devil wears a housemaid’s outfit?” It’s an excellent point and I feel like this aspect of evil, left to fester and subliminally feed the minds and hearts of others, although hinted at in this adaptation, remains largely unexplored. By Chapter 7 of Bronte’s novel Heathcliff is being advised by Nelly Dean. Sam thinks she is the mastermind and Heathcliff her pawn, though to what end he can’t say. (“Some people are just twisted!”).

 

wutheringheights_gerryconnolly

 

I love Connolly on the ivories, the accompaniment lends such a disturbing, penetrating, haunting air to proceedings, and his presence overall as Nelly Dean, particularly as her figure looms overhead, projected across fluttering silk curtains, is eerily omnipresent. (And to throw each character’s image, cleverly consumed by mist and fog early, and then later by curling flames against the flimsy fabric to demonstrate their downfall and their ultimate demise, is an inspired dramatic choice). Without the expertise and creative flair of Projection Designers, optikal bloc (and also, of Photographer, Dylan Evans), this version of Wuthering Heights would not be nearly as powerful.

 

Not quite as inspired, it has to be said, are the wigs selected for use in this production, but now that we’ve mentioned it we’ll just leave that one alone.

 

 

We cannot escape each other.

 

 

wutheringheights_melaniezanetti

 

I love Nelle saintly-blonde-bombshell Lee’s Isabella Linton, whose self destruction, in its naivety, is always so much sadder than mad, stubborn Catherine’s, isn’t it? And as Catherine AND Cathy, allow me to rave for a moment about Melanie Zanetti. I’m sure you don’t mind because, having seen her before, you know she is absolute perfection. If this is your first time with Zanetti, enjoy (and make sure it’s not just a one night stand!). She’s a wild, free heart (but not free at all, of course she’s not), like Charlotte Riley in Goky Giedroyc’s 2009 version for PBS. Zanetti transfixes her tall, dark, brooding, vicious vagabond Heathcliff (Ross Balbuziente) and also, every single member of the audience on opening night. What? Am I wrong? She’s absolutely captivating; in both roles emitting the essence of beautiful, alluring girl-child-grown-woman, like a heady fragrance worn lightly, of which we get a sense before the show even starts; I could be wrong but I feel it’s Marc Jacobs’ Oh Lola! (If so, thank you cosmetics training). If indeed it were deliberate, this subtle addition to the theatrical experience is absolute genius. On the other hand, perhaps it’s pure coincidence (if so, thank you unsuspecting audience member), but regardless, we get a sense of it at the beginning of the show, as the scent is carried on the cold wind in the created storm. And what a storm! The opening moments of Wuthering Heights are up there with The Lion King and Les Miserables for unforgettable entry points into the story. The final moments too are breathtaking, stunning, all the superlatives… Anyway, Zanetti’s ability to balance wide-eyed innocence with mad, obsessive passion makes me fear – and relish – having a daughter.

 

She burned too bright for this world.

 

 

In their debuts for shake & stir (though they are no strangers to the stage and screen), Anthony Standish and Julian Curtis are also impressive. This is most interesting and engaging work from Standish (Hindley/Hareton), and it’s the second time I’ve seen Curtis (Edgar). The first was in The Glass Menagerie and I hope there will be many more opportunities to see what he can do. Let’s keep him here a little longer, shall we?

 

wutheringheights_rossbalbuziente

 

Ross Balbuziente – he of the poster, which has had high school girls and boys stopping in halls and swooning all year – presents a sultry, stormy Heathcliff straight from the pages of the book. I think it’s fair to say it’s likely we’ve never seen the full extent of this performer’s range, or perhaps it’s a lack of total surrender to each role, though what he’s doing always seems to be enough. Even so, there’s an electric undercurrent here that makes me want to slap him and say, “GO THERE” …er, see more from Balbuziente.

 

darlingbutwhatifyoufly

 

Oh, Heathcliff. Are you really as evil as all that? I’ve never believed it! (Save me right now). Let’s call you misunderstood, a product of your environment, and without the consciousness or awareness to meditate on your destructive hatred and your desperate revenge-seeking in order to realise an alternative path.