Posts Tagged ‘playwrights

04
Nov
13

Motherland

 

Motherland

Ellen Belloo & Metro Arts

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

30 October – 16 November 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

barblowing_motherland

 

Three women, exiled from their homelands, find their stories are woven together across continents and decades. Nell Tritton, the Brisbane wife of a deposed Russian prime minister, forms a close friendship with Nina Berberova, who is exiled in Paris. The woman who would tell their story is Alyona, a Russian curator who finds her dreams of a new Australian paradise crushed by bankruptcy and the Fitzgerald Inquiry. 

 

Katherine Lyall-Watson’s Motherland is fascinating, engaging, intriguing, compelling, gripping and incredibly moving. This is a most intelligent, and beautifully shared story; it’s so sweet and subtle, yet the subject matter runs deep. Motherland is the most elegant, most sophisticated theatrical work we’ve seen in Brisbane in years, and it’s worthy of a main stage season inclusion not just here but anywhere in the world.

 

The result of four years of research and writing, and shortlisted this year for the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, Motherland has enjoyed a print run by Playlab to coincide with the inaugural season at Metro Arts and it’s available to purchase online as well as at the venue.

 

It all begins at Pizza Hut, in Moscow. This is not where the play begins but it’s where this production – the first fully staged production after a reading in June this year – really takes off in terms of its storytelling. Everything becomes clear when a young boy (played by a grown man, Daniel Murphy) is left alone by his mother (Rebecca Riggs), while she goes to defend the barricades around Echo Moscow in the midst of the military coup of 1991. She returns to him and takes him to Brisbane with an Australian man (Peter Cossar), who promises they will return every year to their beloved Moscow.

 

The first five minutes are challenging, like Brisbane’s storm season, suddenly upon us last week, the light changing, the air thickening, and rain threatening to stop us in our tracks… But just like a Shakespearean text, or an Ancient Greek script, our ears and minds and hearts soon become attuned to the language and to the theatrical devices used specifically to tell this epic story.

 

motherland_set

All time and no time, KERENSKY makes a speech to adoring thousands, NINA remembers, NELL dreams, ALONYA recites part of a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva and KHODASEVICH comments on the action.

CEO of Metro Arts, Liz Burcham, joked that the word ‘epic’ would be the one most used at the after party and she was right. In all senses of the word, Motherland is epic, a massive story, told over decades that weave together the real and imagined events of people’s lives during a revolution, two world wars and the Fitzgerald Inquiry. I know! It sounds impossible! Katherine has not only tied these events together, she has drawn characters of such warmth and depth that by the end of the 95-minute play we feel like we’ve known about them forever.

 

These intriguing characters move effortlessly between time and space, and there’s not a DeLorean in sight. As the story twists and turns, becoming more and more complex, incredibly, it begins to make more sense. I’ve heard a number of productions described as “rich tapestries” and here is one that rightly deserves to be known as such.

 
Motherland’s cast comes with vast knowledge and rich experience. Katherine says they are a “dream team”. They are

 

Kerith Atkinson – Nell

 

Peter Cossar – Kerensky / Chris

 

Barbara Lowing – Nina

 

Daniel Murphy – Khodasevich / Sasha

 

Rebecca Riggs – Alonya

 

I don’t want to single anybody out because I enjoyed each and every performance, the believability of relationships reliant on the truth of each role, and implicit trust established between the performers during the process. As a result of the creative team’s commitment to storytelling and their attention to detail, we miss nothing. I love the choice to employ accents only when speaking outside of the characters’ most intimate circle (a device that others have tried – and failed – to employ successfully), and I feel these actors give us the full gamut of emotions, wrapped up in the intimacy of lives that we had previously known nothing about. Props and set pieces (within a stark design by Annie Robertson, lit beautifully by David Walters), other than the hanging white frames, seem unnecessary and somewhat untidy, but this is a minor quibble and will matter not a wit to others.

 

kiss_motherland

 

Despite losing a little of its pace and power almost three-quarters of the way through, Motherland begins with a bang, moves swiftly, succinctly, and ends so sensitively you’ll wonder where the time went and why you’re suddenly feeling utterly emotionally and mentally exhausted. The final image is one of power, beauty, and possibility. In the same moment it fills us with a deep sadness, and pure joy.

Dunphy’s inspired direction is faultless; it’s an intelligent and sensitive reading, gifting us with Lyall-Watson’s rich, concise words. Motherland marks the beginning of a new era of Australian playwriting, if only there are writers bold enough to follow in Lyall-Watson’s footsteps.

09
May
12

Short + Sweet comes to the Sunshine Coast


Short + Sweet 2011 Winner Gabe McCarthy

Gold Coast and Brisbane Short + Sweet Winners Brett Klease & Sam Coward

Remember our SRT boys won the Gold Coast and Brisbane competitions?

Remember they came away from the national comp in Sydney in third place?

Should they accept an invite to perform in this year’s Melbourne comp?

This year is your chance to get involved too!

SHORT+SWEET QLD 2012

BRISBANE+GOLD COAST+SUNSHINE COAST

1 AUG – 19 AUG 2012

The Loft (QUT Creative Industries)

Arts Centre Gold Coast

Lind Lane Theatre (Nambour)

Registrations close MAY 30th

Image by Jom Photography

Who can enter Short + Sweet?

INDEPENDENT THEATRE COMPANIES (you can be an established group or just people with a ten minute play idea)

DIRECTORS (established or emerging, choose a script from all over the world, cast it and direct it)

ACTORS (be part of this worldwide festival, auditions announced on June 1)

Short + Sweet believes in the validity of the ten minute theatre form and that ten minute theatre works can stimulate, move and entertain audiences as effectively as longer theatre forms. Through an open call for scripts, general auditions and interviews with directors and Independent Theatre Companies Short + Sweet uses a vigorous merit based process to assemble a season of high quality ten minute theatre which incorporates a broad range of theatrical styles. Through the presentation of these works Short + Sweet aims not only to develop audiences for the ten minute form but to develop audiences for all theatrical forms.

04
Mar
12

Fast Forward: a collection of short plays

Fast Forward: A Collection of Short Plays

BATS Inc.

Buderim Memorial Hall 

03.03.12 – 10.03.12

Bookings livetheatre.com.au

Away from Home

By Ian Pullar 

Directed by Madeleine Johnston

Cast:

Roland: John Woodrow

Steve: David Coleman

Plotting to escape from the nursing home.

A common room in a nursing home is indicated with the placement of 2 chairs and a TV set. The actors speak with measured “aged” speech and one of them, Coleman, uses a decidedly whiney tone, which somehow suits his British accent (such is our conditioning, when Brits sound whiney). A funny, light, wry two-hander, this was a great opener. We enjoyed the return to child-like behaviour (as Jaques, in As You Like It, so eloquently describes, in his famous seven ages of man monologue).

With regard to movement, Coleman could have picked up on some of Woodrow’s mannerisms, at times overplayed but generally suitable. Woodrow is well practiced in front of an audience and he certainly knows how to get a laugh or two. With regard to proximity and staging, Woodrow standing for so long, so closely to Coleman in the small space creates an imbalance on stage and therefore, a slight status issue. Not a biggie, just something for the director to keep in mind. On Saturday night, the audience enjoyed this play, offering the actors their gift of plenty of out-loud laughter. Don’t ever underestimate your power to influence the performance, dear audience! We find humour in those characters and situations with which we can relate, so the gift of a good writer (and a good theatrical team), particularly when dealing with comedy, is to present a familiar story, about which we can comfortably laugh. This is the wonderful exchange that exists in live theatre.

It takes 5 of the 10-minute duration to establish these two comical characters as well as their context before there is any suggestion of escape. Following witty reference to a series of famous escape movies, this play concludes neatly, satisfactorily, pleasing the audience.

Something Better than the Spoons

By Bruce Olive

Directed by Kate Cullen

Maureen: Jan Meade

Arthur: David Haviland

Jasmine: Sam Fazldeen

Organising a fund-raising concert.

Haviland and Meade establish characters and context from the outset, a husband and wife relationship that has, perhaps, seen more intimate days (or nights) but nevertheless, is a close and supportive one. Arthur needs a new act for his charity gig at the end of the month and Maureen needs to go to bed.

This play, by local playwright Bruce Olive, has a local flavour (the Buderim Scout Hall gets a mention), which the audience likes and it has a funny premise; Arthur, a retired spoons player calls the Good Time Hotline, on the other end of which is Jasmine; husky, freshly showered good-time-guaranteed-call girl (Fazldeen). Miscommunication allows for a host of quick one-liners, though at times they are not delivered quite quickly enough.

The curtains closing were misleading for those not looking at their watches and suddenly we had Maureen step out in front to introduce her husband and the good time girl in a spicy spoons act that the senior audience won’t be forgetting too soon. Sweet Charity’s Big Spender was the winner here, in an under-choreographed performance, for which there is really no excuse; good choreographers appear to be breeding on the Sunshine Coast at the moment so we must use them (or they will go away).

Here’s a challenge to all community theatre groups: if a script calls for singing or accents, put out a call for a vocal or dialect coach. If a script calls for dancing, ask a dancer to take a look at what you’re doing and invite them to contribute to the piece. If a script calls for dramaturgical work or simply a fresh set of eyes to see it, ask for help. Don’t be shy. Community theatre begs collaboration and in this community there is no doubt we have the talent. Find it and ask if you may borrow a bit of it.

Bugger the Trip

Written & Directed by Alice Rea

Henry: Wayne Neuendorf

Julie: Kerryl Johnson

Waitress: Isabelle La Macchia

Has Henry bitten off more than he can chew? 

This is a strange play. It’s almost two plays that need to be split (or else it is, indeed just the one play, going through an identity crisis). An Italian restaurant setting, helped by Leaning Tower of Pisa clip art projected onto the cyclorama.

Neuendorf recites the lines he’s learned for an utterly deplorable character, Dr Henry Baulderstone, who leers at the waitress as well as his date, spills drinks upon himself and others and flings spaghetti to cover floor and diners alike (props to the extras, playing diners, who stayed sufficiently in the background and yet reacted and retreated appropriately at the right time). His date, poor Julie, boasting a stylish blonde cut and a bold blue dress, takes a bit of dialogue to settle but when she does, her reactions are terrific and she brings the energy this piece needs. It’s pleasing to note that props are handled well (it’s a very messy setting), however; water for champagne in a wine bottle doesn’t wash. “Nice champagne,” I don’t think.

An unexpected twist is over-explained and for me, this seems a fault of the play and nothing to do with the actor, who has enough on his plate as it is, if he is to develop any sort of depth or versatility across his wide-ranging roles on Sunshine Coast stages. The conclusion might have been funnier had it ended with the phone call made by Baulderstone, rather than have him continue into lengthy and unnecessary exposition. As I say, there’s a second play right there. A playwright needs to know when to wrap it up.

Certainly, the characters are drawn pretty clearly and audible gasps from a woman in the audience, at Baulderstone’s every obscene comment and ghastly trait, drew stifled laughter from those around her. I bet the casts wish for an audience as relaxed as this lot every night. When it comes down to it, this play very nearly works. As tends to be the case for so many new comedies, the actors need to keep playing around in it for a bit. As directors (and writer/directors), how much are we asking – or allowing – our actors to play?

 

Life in an Envelope

By John Saint-Smith

Directed by Paul Barrs

Meg: Jacqui Mata Luque

Reminiscing.

“They’re all oldies…” and “Are they trying to tell us something?!” were the audience remarks as Mata Luque shuffled on stage.

A decent study in “aged” movement, Mata Luque takes all the time in the world to enter the space, collect a parcel at the door, cross to the table, make a cup of tea, cross to her chair and gingerly sit down. Without the fourth wall, she addresses the audience directly, reminiscing; the vivid memories of an eighty year old.

This is a poignant piece and it was distracting to see the PowerPoint icons displayed on the cyc. I’m not sure I know how to get rid of them. But I would find someone who did. And get rid of them. A small detail but for a fabulous piece, worth fixing.

Mata Luque is one of our most experienced performers and it shows. She is relaxed, confident and charming as the eighty-something year old Meg, who is sent a letter from a woman she once knew, the daughter of a friend of hers, now deceased. Having bequeathed some items to Meg, we see (projected) a page from a Ration Book, which spurs Meg’s memories of the government telling the people during the war years, “We had to live a simpler life” and “We were all in it together”. She recalls saving every last scrap and laughs with us at her own funny-because-it’s-true wisecrack, “There weren’t too many fat people around during the war!

A precious Dance Card draws forth some fonder memories, of the boys who would ask her to dance during her youth. This story is expanded upon beautifully, with tenderness and new love for her main man, Vince. Mata Luque is an actor who reminds us of the importance of simply telling the story. She talks to us like an old friend and we feel welcome to stay and listen to her tales. A black and white photo reminds her of bonfires and more intimate times on the beach, though, “not like the young hussies today!” A portrait of Vince, “when the boy became a man,” on the eve of his departure to war leads to a letter, which we hear read through Meg’s tears, confirming that she lost the love of her life, recipient of the Victoria Cross no less, to the war. Meg pushes herself up out of her chair and shuffles to find her handkerchief. We hear the same woman in the audience, through her own tears, utter something indiscernible and feel a sense of relief when the lights come up for interval. That one has visibly affected us and it’s time for a cup of tea.

 

INTERVAL – listen to reflections from Director, Paul Barrs

 

Over

Written & Directed by Catherine Steer

Woman: Kathryn Barnes

Man: David Coleman

Girl: Bronte Latham

Boy: Dominic Morley

A couple is reminded of what once was.

This is another interesting offering from writer/director Catherine Steer. I’ve not seen her original work before but I find her take on known works just as interesting. Over is ever so slightly absurd and slightly more Brechtian, featuring two actors out front, a male and female, sharing their thoughts on what their relationship has become, as two younger actors – a male and a female – recount in mime, their memories.

If you entreat an audience to remember, you must be genuine. It’s interesting, almost deadpan delivery instead, that serves to alienate us.

Man: “How do you get from that … To this?”

Woman: “It takes years.”

Suddenly the deadpan delivery and the staging work and we get a laugh. It’s the laugh of recognition of the familiar. We’ve been there. Well, a younger audience may not have been there at all but for those who have felt the absurdity at times of a long-standing relationship, this sort of self-deprecating humour is appreciated. What was once an embrace is now “being within an iron fortress.” (The discipline of the young couple, wrapped in an embrace for a good length of iron fortress time, is duly noted.)

“We were like that once…weren’t we?”

“We’ll just keep going, pretend we’re still in love; keep everyone happy.”

“One day you find love just doesn’t live with you anymore.”

“Oh well. At least we still have each other.”

The irony. The flip sides of the coin.

“Familiar,” “Scary,” and “Is that us, do you think?” were the audience remarks I overheard at the conclusion of this play. Steer’s is theatre that inspires thought and initiates discussion.

And then there was the raffle – because somebody forgot to draw it at interval – gotta’ love community theatre.

 

The Mysterious Case of the Man with the Seven Deadly Sins

By Bruce Olive

Directed by Madeleine Johnston

Psychiatrist: Pedau Grabbe

David: Alex Tillack

We hear the Looney Tunes theme to open. It sets a certain tone.

A tall, lanky, suit and spectacle wearing, clipboard-bearing doctor welcomes into her office, an urban jeans and t-shirt clad kid who suffers from schizophrenia. This character allows Tillack to explore several characters and the extremes of each personality. Tillack could push the envelope a little further with these and play a little larger. This role is a terrific opportunity to showcase the versatility of an actor; Jekyll and Hyde style and an abridged version would make a great audition piece.

I felt that Grabbe missed an opportunity here or perhaps the director missed seeing something in her because the doctor, in questioning David (and Mr Envy, Mr Pride, Mr Glutton, Mr Sloth, Mr Lust et al), had more to explore than the static, stereotypical psychoanalyst. As an actor, we have to remember that the character is not just a psychiatrist but also a woman (and maybe a mother and almost certainly, she is someone’s daughter or sister or partner). She has opinions and a life story and she’s already – before we see her – had a good or a bad day. We create back-stories and history to give our characters depth. We spend time exploring voice and movement to make our characters appear real.

There is work here to be done on vocals. Some higher feminine voices are harder to listen to (hence we have successful news anchors of both sexes with lower pitch). The tone can be softened and the pace and inflection can vary. Take time to listen, absorb and respond accordingly, as you would do IRL (in real life).

David returns to the doctor’s office, apparently cured. The doctor is pleased that her prescription has had the desired effect. He looks puzzled. “Medication? What medication?” We hear – and see – that the other personalities have departed because they couldn’t stand the noise…from the cockatoo! This is a great, funny finish, though verging on OTT. This audience liked it and those nearest me commented, “He was very good! He was actually very good.”

Modern Life

By John Saint Smith

Directed by Paul Barrs

Jane: Anita Tillack

Peter: Carl Trocki

Another from the pen of John Saint Smith, Modern Life has an immediate eighties vibe (and a solid voiceover – look out, Bruce Hamilton – thanks to director, Paul Barrs.

He tells me at interval that the mother of an auditionee (Tillack) and another newbie, Trocki, rocked up and suited the roles and the play. Trocki’s American accent and his softer tone, typical of the humble, well sponsored and even better schooled, high-ranking tennis player sounds authentic and is lovely to listen to. Trocki, though, should watch his energy towards the ends of phrases so we don’t lose the text and Tillack must work harder to enunciate and to vary her pitch. I only make these notes now so that actors may bear in mind that which their audience is seeing and hearing so they might deliver a clearer message next time.

A heavy environmental lesson during a candid conversation seems to come out of nowhere and is explained later. The relationship itself is unclear at first – are they friends? He asks her out to dinner. “How am I supposed to resist you?” They seem an unlikely couple. We must be wary of unmotivated movement. If our intention is clear the movement makes sense.

An amusing twist and an explanation delivered directly to audience sets our minds at ease. “I tried dating real women…” and we have the “a-ha” moment; it’s a stepford wives story. The woman is “The perfect flatmate for the environmentally responsible modern man. Plus, think of the power I save!” Finally, in his last laugh line, delivered with aplomb, I decide Trocki is one to watch. His is an easy manner and he just needs to settle into the space. As actors, we must learn what our habits are and set about breaking them. It’s a director’s job to support this process.

  

The Job Interview

By John Saint Smith

Directed by Jacqui Mata Luque

Evan: David Coleman

Sue: Anna McMahon

The sound of a clock ticking while the audience chatters. We know it’s the last play of the program and it’s been a good night so we’re in high spirits. Curtains open on a couple of red sofas, a desk, a chair and a handwritten sign “Back in 5 minutes. Thanks.”

The actor entering this scene, Coleman again, though this time in a comfortable role that he rocks rather than doesn’t quite fit, builds tension nicely, anticipating a job interview situation and instead, getting a sassy chick in a hibiscus print mini skirt and jacket. McMahon is applying for the same position – apparently – and bustles in, all business (well, and perhaps a bit of play); it suits her.

This clever piece is nearly naturalistic, only some of the sarcasm and enthusiasm seems staged. Outbursts particularly were believable. For example, Evan’s incredulous, “Where the hell are they?!” got a great laugh because we were all wondering the same thing! Both actors played to nice reactions, finding a connection within their banter that we too could feel. Here we had the element of play that I was looking to see in earlier pieces. It’s community theatre! If it’s not fun – if you’re not having fun – why are you doing it???

Admittedly, we saw the twist in this one coming but we didn’t mind. We also know the Titanic will sink but it’s the getting there that’s exhilarating.

An evening of short plays like this will always be a mixed bag. That’s why I don’t mind supporting them. Like the Short+Sweet phenomenon (Sam Coward, Brett Klease and Simon Denver are set to take on Sydney next, having won the Queensland competition), there will always be something for everyone. And if there’s something you’re not enjoying, it’s all over in 10 minutes! Whether or not you’re a regular theatregoer and whether or not you know anybody involved, this is your best local night out. If you’re really keen to keep heading out, it’s over before 10:30pm, which means you can catch a cab, talk about what you’ve seen and no doubt make some drama (and/or comedy) of your own somewhere! Cheers!