Posts Tagged ‘sven swenson

20
Nov
15

Heavenly Bodies and Beautiful Souls

 

Heavenly Bodies & Beautiful Souls

Pentimento Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

November 18 – 28 2015

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter 

 

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Heavenly Bodies and Beautiful Souls features, yet again, exquisite writing by Sven Swenson that brings to life afflicted and loveable characters, making us reflect on our own human existence. Each play is an hour long, allowing the audience a brief glimpse into the lives of one particular family, four generations apart.

 

The stage design by Ray Milner is stunning; as the audience enters the Visy Theatre, they are transported to a den of iniquity in Singapore, 1942. Heavenly Bodies opens with Laidie (Regan Lynch) a woman of hidden talents preparing her boudoir for the next soldier and trying desperately to block out the sound of artillery shells exploding outside. She makes the bed and then reclines on a chaise lounge, surrounded by lavish rugs and precious trinkets that comfort and make her feel desirable in a time of war. The stage is surrounded by debris; broken furniture, crumbling brick and all covered in a ghostly white sheet of dust. As beautiful as Laidie’s world appears to be, a brutal reality is ever present and creeping through the cracks in the window.

 

She is soon joined by Australian solider Cutty Cutler (Sam Ryan) who is quick to express his love for his wife, Ruby, and that he only requires friendly company and conversation.

 

The narrative unfolds into a sweet, confronting and transformative encounter between two people searching for inner peace and acceptance in dark times.

 

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Ryan’s performance of the “joker from the scrub” is jovial and endearing. The writing includes brilliant moments of Aussie slang and hilarious anecdotes that Ryan handles with ease. Lynch has an incredibly difficult role, with Laidie by the end completely and unashamedly revealing her true self to Cutty. Whether or not it was opening night nerves, it seemed that Lynch’s performance was bubbling on the surface. His restraint captured Laidie’s discomfort but there were times I wanted more! I wanted to see her harrowing struggle with the person she use to be, is now, and who she yearns to become. The text is so rich and desperate that more weight and time needed to be given to certain lines.

 

Heavenly Bodies explores themes that are still (unfortunately) relevant today.

 

This play reminds us of the importance of being vulnerable; that it’s ok to be scared but not to be controlled by our fears. It is imperative to look upon someone with love, without judging them too quickly; to see them for who they truly are. Perhaps then, our own true selves will be revealed.

 

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From the beginning, Beautiful Souls thrusts the audience into a cage of regret, loneliness and uncertainty. This story introduces David Cutler (Zachary Boulton) who travelled to Asia with his intellectually disabled brother, Justin (Peter Norton) and companion, Beth (Casey Woods). After David convinces Justin to hide the remains of their marijuana on his person, the three are convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death.

 

Swenson has mentioned that at the time of writing Beautiful Souls, no Australian had been on death row since drug offenders Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986. He has also refrained from altering the script due to recent events.

 

The stage is surrounded by debris with the actors standing on three raised platforms with a wall of thick barbed wire behind them; above each hung a noose. It is a stark and terrifying design that allows the audience to draw their focus to the actors. All three performances by Boulton, Norton and Woods are raw and completely harrowing, each leading to a defeated acceptance of a grim end.

 

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There are moments when it seems the text does not sit well with Beth, that the character would not utter particular words given to her, though Woods has everyone on the edge of their seat. She speaks with such sincerity and moves honestly through moments of grasping for hope, lost in memory and wallowing in despair. Boulton plays David as a broken man tormented by the past and fighting against the inevitable future. Due to the fact he is continually battling with his raging emotions, his quick acceptance of his fate at the end is somewhat abrupt. On opening night I was yearning for glimpses of light in this dark character. Perhaps this resistance was a conscience decision, a reminder of those who fight and fight and fight till the very end.

 

Norton’s performance is a standout. He is completely charming, providing the right amount of comedy when need be, and also an incredible depth and knowing, allowing the audience to delight in the many facets of the character.

 

Beautiful Souls forces you to reflect on the history of humanity.

 

While our world can be cruel and relentless, this play reminds us of the beauty found in minute moments, and in the company of those closest to us.

 

19
Jun
15

Tiptoe

 

Tiptoe

Pentimento Productions

Powerhouse Theatre

June 17 – 20 2015

 

Reviewed by Katelyn Panagiris

 

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Tiptoe is an Australian psychological thriller, one of the interconnected series, The Sundial Plays, by critically acclaimed playwright Sven Swenson.

 

It is a play of epic proportions, shining a light on humanity in the aftermath of World War I.

 

The play follows seven characters across two timeframes presented on stage simultaneously.

 

From the opening moments, I felt immersed in the gothic world of the play; crafted in no small part by Brent Lammas’ set design and Tim Gawne’s lighting design. Combined with Wil Hughes’ sound design, an eerie and unsettling mood is set as the omnipresent character, Snow Cuttler (Michael Deed) is introduced. The interaction of performance and design – for example the use of the scrim and projection – distances the past from the present, and the fallen from the living. What follows on from these opening moments is a performance of equal parts beauty and violence.

 

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As a psychological thriller Tiptoe demands active engagement and interpretation from the audience. The play contains several characters, subplots and twists at every point. Striking a balance between what is said and unsaid is crucial: in the first act I felt like there was too much exposition, whereas in the latter acts of the play I was left piecing together fragments of information. The density of the narrative especially became too much to process when focus was split and I was required to navigate three conversations simultaneously. In saying this, the staging is effective in linking characters and situations across the two timeframes, and there are some beautiful shared lines executed in perfect unison.

 

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Each character, haunted by the past and dreams of a perfect future, is fully embodied by actors who realize the dense script with great skill. They are captivating to watch, with moments of sheer brilliance in Act III when the tension and intensity of the piece reaches its peak. In particular, the performances of James Trigg as Angus Drummond and Sam Ryan as Seth McClusky are heart-wrenching, while Sarah McLeod’s gritty performance as Binny Broadfoot carries the performance through to its final moments.

 

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At the heart of Tiptoe is a simple love story driven by loss and hope. It is an enthralling performance, engaging the audience on both an intellectual and emotional level. Must close Saturday.

 

15
Jun
15

Sven Swenson’s Tiptoe – a chat with actor and producer, Casey Woods

 

Before Sven Swenson’s Tiptoe opens this week at Brisbane Powerhouse, we chat with Casey Woods, actor and producer at Pentimento Productions.

 

 

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What do you love about being an actor?

(If I do my job right) I love being able to impress upon people’s emotions and responses. To create something that people can take away and love or hate (in a good way), discuss and remember. I’ll be cliche and say I love studying and embodying a character and getting to be someone different for a day!

 
What was the best thing you learned during acting training? What are you learning on the job during this show? What do you wish you’d learned earlier?

During my formal training with Southbank Institute of Technology and with my experience in the four years since, I think the best thing I’ve learnt is tenacity. I’ve been fortuntate enough to surround myself with passionate, working artists who constantly push the boundaries. I’m always doing a million things at once, expanding my craft and I don’t think I could do it any other way!

 

 

As a producer on Tiptoe, I guess I’m learning the less ‘glitz and glam’ side of it and rather the sweat and tears. As an actor, I was slightly ignorant to just how much work is involved behind stage with the creatives and what it takes to mount a show and ensure it is successful.

 

 

What sort of training do you believe to be most beneficial to aspiring actors in Brisbane?

I’d be controversial and say no training, only because I’ve seen some of the best start out with no training at all, that way they are not encumbered and weighed down by preoccupations that training sometimes give us. However I use the word ‘training’ in a very formal sense. It is not to say that it isn’t a good thing as I myself had ‘training’, but rather sometimes people benefit from ‘just doing’. Training can sometimes ‘shape’ and ‘mould’ – not for the better. Not any one thing will work for all actors. I believe the most important thing is to just constantly immerse yourself in it all (classes, write your own things, produce your own works – get up on your feet). For a lot of budding actors however, they do not have the means to do this without the platform of training. Whichever way one starts, repetition is key and always surrounding yourself with like-minded (and brilliant) people.

 

 

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We saw you in Swenson’s Angel Gear at La Boite last year, for which you won the Bille Brown Award for Best Emerging Artist and received a nomination for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role (Matilda Awards). How important is it to be recognised for your work in the Industry? What do you think is the value of awards for artists? 

 

 

I only ever want to be recognised for great work and for the sole purpose of getting more great work. I am so thankful for starting off on the right foot!

 

 

How do you prepare for a role? Do you have a favourite acting approach or technique to help you find and develop, and then to get into character?

I am a massive over-thinker (sometimes to my own detriment I’ll admit). So I literally try to explain to myself every aspect of the character’s life – What makes them say that? Where have they just come from? I also love getting into the costume of the character as early as possible, particularly the shoes! That way I can embody not only the script and the character’s mind but their physicality at the same time.

 

 

Tell us about Tiptoe.

Tiptoe tells two stories simultaneously, with a six week timeframe (New Years Eve 1918 and Valentines Day), after the return of two soldiers from World War One. It tells a classic tale of love and not everything being as it seems, all with the sad tune of how one can so desperately cling to their version of a perfect life and will do anything to attain and maintain this perception. Most importantly, Tiptoe gives voice to the gay men and women who fought in World War One, for freedom. Yet upon return, despite their valiant efforts, are not free to be in love.

 

 

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Tell us about working with Pentimento Productions. 

Pentimento and in particular, Sven Swenson, was my first leg up into the industry. It exists to, of course realise Sven’s works, but the best thing is that it gives budding and established artists the chance to expand and develop their skill set, whether that be acting, directing, lighting, stage design, etc.

 

 

What does down time look like for you?

That’s a laugh! I don’t get much down time as I really do thrive off being busy. I work in real estate, have my own photography business (CG Photography Brisbane), am always writing films and plays and of course whatever main project I’m working on whether that be acting, directing or producing. If I do get a moment to myself, I love to cook, read, watch movies and anything else social – catching up with friends and family as much as possible!

 

 

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What’s your favourite spot in the city? And where do you tend to escape to?

My favourite spot would have to be the Mt Coot-tha trek, especially after it’s been raining and the creeks are flowing! I’ve got a slightly country background so I love nature and open spaces.

 
What are you listening to?

I am always listening to different things however my go to is always Ed Sheeran – if you’ve ever seen him perform live, you’ll know what I mean! One of the most humble artists I’ve ever seen.

 
What’s next for you?

Once Tiptoe is done, I start rehearsals for a new work in November. Currently embargoed but should be able to tell you shortly! I’ll also begin re-working a short play I wrote for QTC with which I won the Young Playwright’s Award, Limerence, and also writing my first short film. Hopefully we can throw some directing in there somewhere! I’d also like to start getting into some more film acting.

 

Tiptoe opens on Wednesday.

 

29
Oct
14

Dangerfield Park

 

Dangerfield Park

La Boîte Indie & Pentimento Productions

Supported by QPAC

The Roundhouse

21st of October – 5th of November 2014

 

Reviewed by Guy Frawley

 

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In Dangerfield Park we’re introduced to a group of gay men from different backgrounds who through differing connections of friendship and sex are brought together at the same moment one of their friends is brutally bashed in a homophobic attack. The Noel Coward-esque theatrical producer Sholto (Sven Swenson); his journalist amore d’jour Tim (Michael Deed); solicitor Marc (Christos Mourtzakis); his paramedic fiancé Perry (Zachary Boulton); and the young, inexperienced Reyer (Nick Barclay) form the core cast of characters in the play who are all gathered in the St Lucia apartment of Sholto when they learn their friend Otis (Brian Lucas) has been bashed in the eponymous Dangerfield Park.

 

Dangerfield Park is a show a decade and a half too late to the stage that attempts to build it’s emotional core with outdated subject matter.

 

Yes the ‘gay panic defence’ is still on Queensland’s law books in some form (sigh) but changes several years ago by the state government have made the conditions of claiming the defence stricter and the defence of provocation can technically be applied equally across all genders and sexualities. Are beats still a thing? Sure, but they’re fast diminishing as the internet and mobile devices fundamentally change the mechanics of modern gay sex. Several references in the script imply a modern context but how can that even be with all the talk of sex and nary a mention of Grindr?! Religious discrimination? You bet it’s still a problem, but when we meet the fundamentalist Christian father of Reyer the painful struggle of dogma, love, salvation and family is reduced to an archaic stereotype that would have appeared comfortable in The Crucible. Most grating of all beleaguered and outdated messages was the constant harping upon gay couples suffering legal discrimination at the hands of a society that refuses to validate the love that dare not speak it’s name. I say this as a gay man who recently married his male partner of 6 years, and yes most of would like gay marriage to pass in parliament (even the polls agree!), but after the massive overhaul of policy in regard to same sex relationships under the Rudd government there isn’t a great deal of legal discrimination left to overcome. Yet we endure clunky monologues on the rights (or lack there of) of gay couples wrenched apart and disenfranchised by the unaccepting establishment.

 

By no means am I implying that all is good and right in the land of Oz when it comes to societies treatment of sexuality and same sex relationships but so much of what was obviously written to outrage and impassion just felt stale. Our primary cast of characters are an interesting and varied group that could have made much of contemporary issues but were instead left to stumble through tired tropes. Look to shows like Holding the Man and The Laramie Project for examples as to how similar subject matter is handled with far greater poise and nuance whilst being restrained by similar issues of contemporaneity.

 

Running at three and a half hours long the sheer length of Dangerfield Park makes the piece a laborious viewing experience. Swenson’s sharp dialogue and delightfully entertaining turn of phrase keeps the pace bustling along initially however the second act suffers as a result of the far too common polemic speeches that replace the witty repartee of earlier scenes. Cast your aspersions upon me as a product of the ‘Gen Y generation’ but everything I enjoyed about Dangerfield Park was tarnished by the utter boredom I felt by the end. Apathetic towards the conclusion and wishing a firmer hand had been shown with the editorial red pen.

 

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There’s a lot in this show that I obviously disliked but the performances in Dangerfield Park are really very good. Swenson does a thoroughly fabulous job as Sholto, playing the deliciously funny ageing queen with a delicate mixture of acidic bite and emotional depth. I would have enjoyed the show far more if we could have remained within Sholto’s domain and revelled in his lighting fast tongu. Brian Lucas brings the character of Otis to the stage in a fully realised and authentic performance that in many ways is the polar opposite of Sholto character. Otis is really the hardest role to play in this show requiring a performance that at times requires lecherous but never predatory, sleazy and sincere. Lucas carries the role beautifully and to me imparted the only sense of true authenticity I felt throughout the show.

 

I think Dangerfield Park would have made a real impact on me if I’d seen it a decade ago as a young gay man growing up in the changing world of the new millennium, but in 2014 it just left me underwhelmed and disappointed. When Swenson’s script succeeds it truly sparkles and allows the cast to shine but spread over three and a half hours these moments are sadly few and far between.

29
Oct
14

Angel Gear

 

Angel Gear

La Boite Indie & Pentimento Productions

Supported by QPAC

The Roundhouse

October 14 – November 8 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

 

Angel Gear: hooning down a hill without the car in gear.

 

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This play is as pointless as the titular activity suggests. Lacking subtlety, mystery, substance and wit, the best part of Angel Gear is its end. And I mean, that it ends. It’s two hours of WHY and WTF? It’s Deliverance in Dalby (sorry, Dalby, that’s unfair), only Deliverance had complete characters. And a plot. And a point.

 

Look, if you get food poisoning in a restaurant it’s really hard to go back. The only way I’ll see another Sven Swenson play is if somebody I respect tells me I must. I suspect some of the other opening night audience members will have felt the same, despite the polite and genuinely appreciative applause at the conclusion. There is, after all, regardless of a disappointing outcome, a hell of a lot of work in staging a production.

 

 

I overheard a gentleman at interval on opening night lament, “After a very tough week it’s not lifting me up at all.” Well, we don’t always go to the theatre for a lift. Did Victor Hugo ever expect a rom-com to come out of Les Mis? Did Shakespeare or any of the ancients try to hide mankind’s miseries in their tragedies? Theatre makers are either creating entertaining theatre or they’re creating something that makes a statement, makes us think, and makes us want to see more…

 

 

The latest from Sven Swenson – sans Sven Swenson (he was sick on that first Saturday night and unfortunately, rather than offering an alternate performance, the decision was made to put Assistant Director, James Trigg on stage with book in hand) – offers one perspective of a subculture with which I can’t identify. Whether or not this group is accurately portrayed, I don’t know. I feel it must be but I hope that it’s not. I hope this is a grossly inaccurate picture of a seriously flawed lot of human beings. Sam, sadly, assures me it’s quite accurate. I’m glad I don’t recognise characters of this sort. This is the very essence of Aussie trailer park trash.

 

 

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What’s it for? Why do we need this theatre, which makes us grit our teeth and leaves a bad taste in our mouths?

 

I was looking forward to experiencing this show because in conversations about Swenson’s last La Boite production, The Truth About Kookaburras, people confidently informed me that this is a man of great talent…and how dare I question anything at all from him. OH! Right.

 

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I actually wanted to write a great review of a great production. It would be so much easier to give this a rave…or to say nothing at all. Good sense, that little voice, tells me, “Don’t write it!” Integrity tells me I must.

 
No doubt the sycophants, suckholes and arts worker wannabees will have their say, and y’all are entitled to your opinion too. Aside from the vitriol though, I look forward to hearing differing opinions, and exactly what it is you believe the artistic merit of Swenson’s work to be. If the purpose of this work is to shock audiences, it’s failed on that level too. We’re so desensitised now that we barely take in the crass language, brutal violence, sexism, homophobia, incest and the blatant representation of women as whores. If anything, despite a few witticisms within the crude, er, dialect (others find the insults and labels hilarious while I wonder why it is men must write anything that perpetuates these myths of scrags and sluts and whores), it all becomes a bit tedious and again, I have to wonder, what is it for? In experiencing this work how am I challenged and changed? Why would I take a friend or family member to see this play?

 

The constant barrage of gutter language, and the lack of any structure, intelligence and meaning, makes this piece, for me, nothing more than pointless drivel. The supposed shock factor contributes only to a whole new level of cheap-tricks-theatre, offering nothing new to the canon of Australian work.

 

The design is ugly, cheap and nasty, perhaps precisely as it was intended to be, and there are very few moments of convincing, dynamic character work, despite obvious attempts to create ebb and flow in a fairly flat story arc. The emphasis seems to have been on spitting words, shooting wary glances at each other and holding the inevitable forced glares that follow. Luckily, Casey Woods shines at times. As Jayanne, we sense some sort of fading vulnerability, which is completely overridden by single-minded determination to seek revenge and eventual satisfaction. The pace lags as poor Triggs struggles to drive the drama in the second act, which dissolves into a low budget hostage scenario, lazily penned and poorly presented.

 

We muse afterwards that Swenson should concentrate on writing plays for Short & Sweet. That way we could sit through just 10 minutes of self-indulgent sloppy setup and no plot, go to dinner and see a movie. Sam says out loud – he can’t help it, he’s still furious that his valuable time has also been wasted – that Pearl Harbour had a better plot!

 

Ultimately, the problem I have with this brand of theatre is Swenson’s blatant disrespect for audiences.

 

For years, I’ve seen Sven Swenson paraded before us, lauded by a certain circle. While I certainly respect the opinions of my peers, I’d love to know what it is that puts Swenson’s writing at the top of the Queensland theatre tree. Is there no competition? I know that’s not true. Somebody send me the scripts that have earned Swenson his reputation. Because I don’t see the merit. Surely it’s time to say, “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”.

 




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