Feature: Virginia Hyam, Executive Producer, Sydney Opera House

The Studio at the Sydney Opera House has developed its reputation as a kaleidoscopic venue that hosts international and local artists, embraces a smorgasbord of diverse, provocative, innovative and acclaimed entertainment, all under the all-seeing eye of Executive Producer, Virginia Hyam.

Technicolour postcards advertising Studio shows scream out from Avant Card stands across Sydney promising unique experiences of Internationally acclaimed shows. In the past year she has programmed everything from the controversial yet ever- charming Tim Minchin, a rock-star ukulele player from Hawaii, burlesque comedians and adults-only puppets from Canada…. And her brave, bold, diverse choices light up the studio at the Opera House week after week and soon the next six month season will be revealed…

Hyam’s signature authenticates the blurb inside each Studio brochure brimming with the boldest, bravest fringe shows, musical and magic acts from festivals across the globe. Sporting a distinct contempo haircut, Hyam is often encircled by a fizzing ring of opening- night bubbly, chatting with artists from a variety of performing arts backgrounds. She is busy… I was lucky enough to catch a slice of her time for a lunch-time interview: just after her meeting with an agent and just before she disappeared to pick up airline tickets to Korea.

Sitting across from me in a cramped, yet cheerful, Japanese restaurant, with a flyer for Hamlet in one hand and chopsticks in the other Hyam candidly spoke about the Sydney Opera House Studio, her life long passion for the performing arts and her unique career path.

Where does she come from? How did she get here? What inspires her? How does she choose the programme?

How did she become the Executive Producer of the Sydney Opera House? Did her career start, like so many in the arts, with an arts management degree?  She smiles and her eyes twinkle… “It used to be something I would think about “oh my god! I don’t have any arts management training!” but now I think I’ve been doing it for so long now that it doesn’t matter. So I guess you could say that was completely self taught in learning how to engage with the industry.” And it seems that learning on the job has worked in her favour, with a string of impressive job titles and a strong vibrant season about to be launched in mid-June.

Starting her career as a school teacher, Hyam brachiated from arts organization to arts organization; from the Come Out Arts Festival in Adelaide, to Director of the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 1996, then to become the Executive Producer of the Sydney Opera House Studio in 2001. From brave new beginnings, Hyam has developed the Studio’s reputation for providing audiences with access to fascinating shows and unique artists at one of Australia’s internationally recognizable venues at a reasonable ticket price. Nearly eight years on, Hyam continues to engage with independent performing artists with her unique blend of natural generosity, open-minded adventurousness and a thirst for entertainment in all its incantations.

Hyam attributes landing her position at the Studio to a modest “right time, right place” on the back of her work at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. And although she has worked across several states, and with artists from all over the world she views her role as an arts ambassador in very clear light… “I guess in many ways I feel like my career has followed a really simple trajectory of it always being about supporting emerging artists and independent artists, new contemporary work new ideas and cross platform.” There’s nothing pretentious about her, nothing that appears to be posturing or insincere: just very genuine, generous  and highly energetic.

Prior to Hyam’s appointment, The Studio was an occasionally programmed space- which was beyond the financial reach of many struggling and emerging artists.  “I went in there with my fringe head on going “you can do all these things!!!” and they loved it and loved the idea that the opera house was putting on bold work which would not otherwise be put on there.. it’s about bringing in audiences, it is about giving artists a platform that wouldn’t otherwise have one in that environment and that’s what has fitted in there. And it’s really fitted in with what my philosophy was and it still is very much for and about independent artists…” Amid the teriyaki and miso soup, I began to understand how much Hyam sees herself as a facilitator of artists and audiences: a person who encourages and celebrates collaboration and who is always looking for interesting and challenging new work and who is aware the big difference a small space can make in the landscape of Sydney’s performance venues.

There is nothing stale or safe about her choices: she’s not there to find performances that merely adhere to a “SOH studio style-manual” (which doesn’t exist) nor to program shows which are automatic sell out seasons of critical (or popular) acclaim. She is there to nurture artists, entertain audiences…

What is it then that she looks for in a production? With Sydney AND the rest of Australia AND the rest of the worlds artists competing for a spot at this well resourced, iconic venue, how are artists/shows chosen? And the answer lies with the audience. It seems that she is trying to shake the cobwebs from dusty regular theatre-goers and ask them to take a risk something she is constantly seeking: to “try something new.” Virginia programs not by style, nor by art form but based on one simple criteria: “entertainment.” And keeping the audience’s need for entertainment in mind, she sees performances, programs shows and facilitates artists regardless of their genre. How does she know a good show? “If  I have been challenged, if I have laughed or had a cry … its not about the art form it’s about the engagement with what ever it is, if all you understand is the beauty of it that’s ok.  I think you have to program on your own tastes to some degree, you sort of have to.” It is this faith in her own taste and instincts: developed over years of trial and error and an insatiable hunger for new ideas and innovative practice that drives Virginia’s quest for programming brave and bold new works. It is not a detached, impersonal filling of a quota which fuels diversity in her programming tastes is a very simple down to earth message: “I love going to cabaret, I love going to music, I love going to dance, I love a lot of different things actually and I think, ‘why wouldn’t other members of the population be like that too’?”

After years dedicated to the unearthing of emerging artists, Virginia Hyam continues to encourage artists and audiences to push the boundaries of their own experiences. There is a generosity and warmth which backs her choices and that inexorable goal of “constantly trying to be at the beginning of popular trend” keeps her interested in her work. But what if others aren’t happy with her choice? And how do you handle that… again something that has been learnt on the job: “the minute you don’t trust your gut, something goes wrong” that’s what I have learnt really.” That and learning to “face that sometimes you were wrong, and sometimes it wasn’t worth fighting for, but you did fight for it.” Sometimes audiences walk out, sometimes they complain about the content, and that doesn’t bother her at all. “Perhaps they should have read the promotional material: it gives a clear indication on what they might expect, people should research the shows they are about to see.”

Hyam’s willingness to take risks and her passion for entertainment can be seen in the upcoming program. Somehow amid the pressure of reviews and box office income and shows that compete for her attention, Virginia Hyam is completely at home. She finds inspiration and buoyancy amongst the community of artists, the buzz of creation and hectic schedules and continues her crusade into a bright bold season of surprising and vibrant work.

pool (no water)| Square the Circle & Darlinghurst Theatre Company

A green triangular structure zig-zags down the centre of a black painted theatre in Darlinghurst. Occasional epileptic fits of green light stutter out of the black occasionally lighting the faces of four people who speak with one voice. Mark Ravenhill’s “pool (no water)” is a raw and robust production from square the circle neatly packed into 55 minutes of pure storytelling. Directed by Anthony Skuse this is theatre at its most unadorned. Language: muscular and potent. Performers: natural and transparent.

“Pool (no water)” centres on a collective of four (but what was five) artists who worked together on community based, thematically strong and issue based art. When “Sally” (unseen by the audience) left the collective and became successful as an artist on her own, the collective struggle to come to terms what that success means to them in their pursuit of beauty and art and success. Sally’s “success,” in its many material incantations, including that of a “pool” is greeted with smiling devastation amongst her colleagues (“friends”) who are left behind anonymous and still among the working impoverished. Bitter loathing and hidden resentment bubble to the surface as they confess their grief, anger and sheer exhilaration when witnessing the suffering of those succeed.

This is a remarkable and fascinating piece which asks us to confront the ugly side of human achievement: envy and shadenfraud. Who’s work is it? What is art for? What are we left with at the end of our lives? Is the endless pursuit of art, is that long-winded conversation of art which has been moaning on for thousands of years really, REALLY worth the effort and the angst, the struggle and the pain? Confronting every artist is the competition with their peers, with their contemporaries. Is the grass always greener and who gets what when and why? Who is more talented? More entitled? More successful? What is success? What are we reduced to but a mob of nasty egotistical hedonistic competitors hoping for the fall of someone else so we may have a chance to climb to the top of the heap? Is it all worth it when it makes such ugly creatures: is success really worth it?

All performers (Angela Bauer, Guy Edmonds, Lisa Griffiths and Sam Haft) are impressive storytellers who explore what it means to be yearning to be a part of a group: the basic pack/herd mentality humans possess: the need to belong. At times powerfully raw and others flippant and honest, Bauer, Edmonds, Griffiths and Haft command and control our attention, share and divide our opinions and ultimately leave us impressed and surprised at the simplicity with which a world can be constructed sans props, sans complicated set: fuelled by words.

Anthony Skuse has carved the long, winding “molten stream of dialogue” into a beautifully woven piece of theatre. The rhythm of the story is carried and bounced between actors with the aid of microphones and polyphonic sound design by the prolific and ever-impressive sound designer, Jeremy Silver. There is no doubt this is a devastating, surprising confessional. Lighting design by Verity Hampson is distinct and simple and allows the performers to weave in and out and around the lighting structure like a fence rail around a pool. Rita Carmody’s set and costume design are simple and functional: allowing the story to be the heart of the experience.

Simple and raw, pool (no water) reminds us of the power of the performer, of language and exposes the ugliness of competition. A very provocative piece of theatre and sometimes a little too close to the bone.

Bumming with Jane | Collide & B Sharp

Review first published: 15/08/08 www.australianstage.com.au

There are actors on stage, on a couch, when the audience enters. Blank and comfortable, breathing as people who have barely moved do. We watch them watch the nothing on an old large TV and wait for something to happen. It’s the music which tells us, to watch them watching. The absence of sound, than a pastiche of theme tunes which easily affect and sway…as we begin Bumming with Jane.

Written by Tahli Corin and inspired by a short, winding poem by Charles Bukowski,  Bumming With Jane follows the lives of Patrick (Tahki Saul) and Jane (Sophie Cook) as they resourcefully manage and celebrate their “ragged-arse life” whilst dodging six months worth of rental payments to their Landlord Beverly (Gertraud Ingeborg). Patrick and Jane live from hand to mouth, week to week obliviously and completely in love. Using inventive ways to entertain each other for free and in order to sustain their life, Patrick and Jane go “dumpster diving” in search of all the “treasures” they need. Gradually, sacrifices are made, challenges are faced, and piece by piece the life they have together disintegrates into a collection of empty wine bottles and impassioned arguments out on the street.

Corin’s script is simply spectacular. Weaving story and character together: at times detailed, believable and emotionally honest, at others light and nearly invisible. We delve into the complex world of the “opposite to decadence, ” and the world of the hopelessly momentarily employed to the devastation of betrayal, all without us feeling resentment or anger towards the characters. Sophie Cook’s “Jane” is bright, fun and fragile which balances Tahki Saul’s solid, tender, mellow “Patrick.” Gertraud Ingeborg swings gracefully between seduction and power in her elegantly controlled “Bev”.   A beautiful cast who are robust and free in the hands of Mackereth’s sturdy and inventive direction. It is easy to love Patrick and Jane and easy to understand why they would love each other.

At times funny and sweet, at other times filled with terror and pain… Corin’s writing is elegantly poised where in the joy and random games are balanced by heart wrenching choice. It is the full range of a relationship: through laughter, tears and sickness … and we sit willing them to just… just… if only they just….

What is so surprising and beautiful about this production, is the tender and simple means in which Kellie Mackereth imparts this story. At times a shift in light from designer Sophie Kurylowicz, complimented by smooth electronic music by composer Rosie Chase, allows a graceful shift in time or space. Costume and set design by Melanie Paul is simple, highly textured and rustic… balancing ideas of clutter and sparseness seemingly simultaneously: the impulse to want to touch the back wall is ever present as is the shadows and reflections from the green glass sculpture upstage.

This production dares to be simple. Dares to speak simply about love, compromise, and money, and all obstacles in between. And in it’s simplicity, it  is perfect. Bumming with Jane offers us an alternative view of a road less travelled, which asks us to suspend our preconceived judgements on welfare and “centrer-stink”, on unemployment, on poverty and in the act of doing so, we begin to truly wish and believe that love will conquer all.

And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little | 3Some Productions

Miss Reardon Drinks a Little… whilst set in domestic dysfunction, is a play which according to director Nicholas Papademetriou, addresses the broader issues of “how the world is getting faster, madder and harder.” And if you are looking for a play exploring ideas pertaining to: advancing technology, changing social modes, spirituality, sibling rivalry, co-dependency, paternal abandonment, the education system, vegetarianism (and all its attendant politics), insanity, sexual indiscretions with a student, anal retention and workplace nepotism…. Well…here it is… Miss Reardon has it all… look no further…

Two sisters live in the apartment of their now deceased mother, after nursing her through her terminal illness. Anna (Lucinda Armour) is a teacher in the middle of a mental breakdown/phantom bout of rabies acquired from a stray cat, and is supported by her ever-attentive yet slightly alcoholic vice-principal sister Catherine (Helen O’Connor). When their estranged sister Ceil (Monique Spanbrook) arrives unexpectedly in her dual function as sister and superintendent of the education department, an unlikely power struggle erupts as the past is dredged up in an attempt to discover the reasons behind her sister’s breakdown. As the programme cover states: “One Night Three sisters, a whole lot of trouble…”

Trouble indeed… lots of it. Primarily, Paul Zindel’s play feels dusty and dull. Though valiant attempts to make the 1967 script pithy and relevant to a contemporary Australian audiences with mentions of “myspace” and “being sent to Iraq”, the sloppy structure of the play, decorated with functional and fleeting characters, namely Mrs Pentrano (Bernadette Hughson), an Avon lady of sorts and a hip hoppin’ delivery boy (Dominic di’Tommaso or Vincent Jones Varga depending on which night you attend), leaves a lot to be desired. The lengthy and monotonous conversations of the sisters are made even less tolerable due to the complete lack of character development within the script: what you see is truly what you get. Relief arrives briefly in the characters of Fleur (May Lloyd) and Bob (Nicholas Papademetriou) who drive the scenes with animated and vivacious confidence until they too wear out their welcome. Lloyd can be commended for her complete commitment to character, and for imbuing some subtext into, what, on the surface may be regarded as an homage to Fran Drescher. Accompanying the stale script drenched in exposition are cumbersome American accents that fluctuate as they flirt with the occasional Australian diphthong. One wonders what compelled the contemporization of the script, without neutralizing the accent? A change of time, but not of place? In addition to this, this reviewer was also left wondering what is the genre? At times played as an intense familial drama, at others action is fractured by the appearance of farcical fancy as the staunch vegetarian is encased in a fur coat… Is this a black comedy? Is it a comedy? How am I to understand the tragedy of woman’s breakdown? Who am I to believe? According to the New York Times’ quote on the website “The audience went berserk with the humour of this play” and I sincerely wonder why.

Unfortunately there are no answers offered in John Pryce Jones’ design. What is, in essence, a beautiful and poetic design concept (an apartment made of/encased in bubble wrap) is completely confused by hyper-realistic 50’s décor and furniture of an ill-designed house which is accompanied by a painted cityscape (inspired by Elwood Middle High Art Class, New York) and strange naive art portraits of the family (inspired by Bedford Middle High Art Class, Connecticut)…

Nicholas Higgins’s lighting design is adequate for the most part, but highly under utilized until the final moments of the play we finally see a clever and evocative use of light…but to what end?

There is no shortage of talent in this production: the cast is accomplished and the crew experienced however, 3Some Productions’ Miss Reardon Drinks a Little… is severely congested with too many ideas, too many issues, too many accents, too many design concepts, too much exposition and not enough rehearsal, leaving the whole experience anything but “faster, madder, harder.”

Hello Again | Gaiety Theatre

You may have seen shows at the Darlinghurst Theatre- perhaps the latest off Broadway or fringe theatre success: A dark comedic script hailing from the northern hemisphere or a moving dramatic quartet? Perhaps you have watched the space transform into hundreds of places, or plays or styles or colours: or perhaps you haven’t. Regardless, there is something very unique afoot at the Darlinghurst theatre, something which stretches beyond the regular confines of independent theatre: A musical!

Hello Again by Michael John Lachiusa, is a musical which is based upon La Ronde written by Arthur Schnitzler in 1900, a play which was considered scandalous and was banned for over 20 years after it was first written, being sited as pornographic. Hello Again, however Is a more recent reflection on the ideas presented in La Ronde: ideas about sexual predation and yearning for love, structured via a series of musical vignettes which trace the pattern of “predator” and “prey” thoroughout several decades.

Listed as type or title, the characters within this musical are defined by their coupling, in a chain which shows the progression of the interconnectedness between people. There are ten couples in all linked by sexual yearning: Whore (Lisa Callingham)/Soldier (Vincent Hooper); Soldier/ Nurse (Liz Stiles), Nurse /College Boy (Keane Fletcher); College Boy/ Young Wife (Katrina Retallick), Young Wife/ The Husband (Matt Young); The Husband/ The Young Thing (Gareth Keegan); The Young Thing/ The Writer (Zack Curran; The Writer/The Actress (Sigrid Langford-Scherf); The Actress/ The Senator (Nathan Carter). This cast is a strong and impressive group of performers: some recent WAAPA graduates, others seasoned musical theatre performers. Particular mention should go to Katrina Retallick for her portrayal of the Young wife, which is both a times acerbic and impatient and yet hauntingly tender. And Zach Curran’s “The Writer” who is so amazingly narcissistic and egotistical when wooing “The young Thing” and manages to shade the character with vulnerability and compliance in his coupling with “The Actress.”
The ensemble effect is very impressive on stage: at times the performers, dance through scene changes, offer close harmony back up singing, they move all set on and off the stage.., and create an impressive presence when all on stage.

Geoffrey Castles as musical director balances the demands of a complex contemporary score with the spatial and acoustic limitations of the venue with great ease. The simplicity of the accompaniment (by 4 musicians: Geoffrey Castles, Samantha Gilberthorpe, Kerryn Blanch, Greg Jones) is strong, mellow and adds a warmth to the production which would otherwise be missing. The gentle underscoring and at times abrupt orchestration is well suited to the theme and style of the production, which crosses several musical genres including Opera, Disco, and  80’s Rock.

Director Stephen Colyer, is a world class dancer and performer in his own right, having danced for the Australian Ballet and Feld Ballet in New York, and has directed and choreographed this production with great flare and creativity. At times the cast are indulging in some showy routines, at other times in an Argentinian tango and at others bodies melt into tableaux of statuesque beauty. Not be overlooked is also Colyers sense of fun and humour, which is sometimes kitsch and sometimes cheekily postmodern.

Colyer’s production is beautifully complimented by strong design from designers Iona McAuley (Set), Kate Williams (Costume), Gavan Swift (Lighting), Brooke Trezise (Sound) and Imogen Ross (Scenic Art). The set is a simple and elegant circular scrim which serves, as backdrop, divide, screen, curtains and at times creates an almost “soft focus” on the action. Costume design by Kate Williams is ornate and sophisticated, with hints of colour which echo throughout the production.

Although this is a visually fascinating, impressively choreographed and beautifully performed production, not all of “Hello Again” is easy to watch or hear. At times the discordant score jars with the sweet voiced performers. At times the failing and struggling relationships are difficult to watch. The repetition of lovers yearning, tormenting and destroying each other is exhausting. In a genre known for its hope and rosy view of love, this musical is fascinating as it completely subverts expectation. Love is fickle. Sex does not guarantee connection. And we are brought into the understanding that regardless of our intentions, we affect each other, damage each other and despite being ultimately connected to each other: whether we realise it or not. These ideas, ensure that “Hello Again” is more than a mere sexual romp, but an analysis of relationships.

With some strong performances, Colyer’s production of “Hello Again” is ambitious, clever, sexy and at times devastatingly tender and certainly a fantastic night out for those in search of provocation: on any level.

Hip and Happening: Waikiki Hip

First Published: 11/10/07 www.australianstage.com.au
Wharf2Loud is hosting a double dose of plays from the bizarre and beguiling mind of Melbourne based playwright Lally Katz. Known for her absurdist and refreshingly self-referential explorations into unique and disturbing parallel universes, Waikiki Hip does not disappoint.

Firstly we are emersed in Waikiki Palace:  a “liquid candy” shot of holiday love through the eyes of Prairie, a thirty-something-year-old who has escaped the cruel indifference of her “sonofabitch ‘usband” and has tumbled into the arms of a much younger man.

Pippa Grandison is a strong yet dreamy “Prairie” who is destined to fall in love with “men who do not love her”. In her attempt to emulate a scene in the film “Punch Drunk Love”, she makes grand plans for her last night on Waikiki with Jack (Luke Ryan) to be as magical and romantic as she dreams until a chance encounter with a post-coital couple  Clay (Ben Adam) and  Eve (Sophie Ross) alters the course of her evening.

Peppered with quirky little ditties and moments of conversational naturalism; the fickleness of love, transience of sex and echoing after effects of the connections made on holidays, reverberate through the landscape of Waikiki.

Ben Adam is a comfortably swaggering “Clay” endowed with a heavy southern style accent who is beautifully complimented by Sophie Ross as the awkward co-student/18 year old part-time stripper, “Eve”. A stand out performance from Grandison as she slinks her way through the basic conversations with charm and sensuality.

The second half of the evening is Hip Hip Hooray. The previously veiled set in Waikiki Hip is revealed to show a stylised and cubist set by designer Halycyon Pratt, which is as bright as a playschool episode and complete with an birthday- cake-bearing “Apocalyse Bear”. It is in this play that they bravery and excitement of the Katz/Kohn partnership screams out into the audience.

Ben Adam plays Wilbur, quadriplegic husband of Stepford -wife Alice (Grandison), who welcome a geriatric Pakistani squash champion (Luke Ryan) and his “much younger” girlfriend Catta (Sophie Ross) over for dinner. This piece, though splattered with witty and interesting dialogue and dilemmas involving all manner of appropriate behaviour, is devastating. This brilliantly executed piece is a great testament to the performers ability to commit to the challenges Katz weaves through her scripts. Sophie Ross is particularly heart wrenching and fascinating as a Catta and Luke Ryans’ boundless energy and vivacity and mesmerizing performance as Hashim keeps the see-saw of hilarity/confusion and inexorable heartbreak evenly balanced.

Hip Hip Hooray employs the very best of Luiz Papolha paints light into each scene making time and place expand and contract with great ease and effectiveness. Digital images by Scott Otto Anderson are both functional and artistic and are used in great effectiveness in Hip Hip Hooray, though only subtly and sparingly incorporated in Waikiki Palace. Jethro Woodward’s underscoring of both pieces is powerfully tense and a perfect synergy with Chris Kohn’s direction.

At the heart of what could be experienced as a kitsch romp into popular culture, vacuous conversation and selfish preoccupations with shoes, success and fame is a very real and tender centre about love, aging and expectation. Katz seems to throw back the simple intricacies of conversation and awkward interactions with a cartoonish quality. Yet, what is most disturbing of all is the under current of suffering which penetrates the smiling babbling awkward folk.  This is contemporary writing at its most vivid and Chris Kohn handles the direction with courage and humour.

This is an exciting and visceral evening of theatre and an important inclusion in the Wharf2Loud’s program as the step up into production from the 2006 Push season rehearsed readings in which Waikiki Palace was first presented.

No Success Like Failure | The Fondue Set

Just before I begin this review, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a moment of space, a bit of time in which we are able to reflect what has brought me to this moment in which I am pecking out a review on the Fondue Set’s latest morsel, “No Success Like Failure”. I’d also like a moment to reflect upon the preparation which has taken place pre this moment of review… which is primarily the “view” I had of the show last night which has lead me inexorably to this moment of re-viewing, in the written form, for your possible position of a preview or which may be embattled with your personal silent re-view. I’d like to also spare a moment to think about the expectation you have of this review. Have you read anything of mine before? Have you read something like this before? Have you identified this as a non-review? Regardless of your expectations and preparations and prejudices I am hoping that you have a moment to think about all the things that have prepared you to be sitting there gazing at a luminous sheet of technology trying to make sense of this thing you are reading, unless of course you have decided, life is too short and you really need to do the laundry, try on your neglected golden tap shoes or perhaps meander off for a nap in the hope of dreaming of rabbits.

“Part talent quest, part educational forum and part cabaret,” The Fondue Set have brought a world of ideas and the history of post modern theatre to the Sydney Opera House Studio, complete with glittering blue tinsel curtain, ply-board palm trees and a bunch of costume changes. Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan and Jane McKernan continuously push and transform and subvert the expected conventions of entertainment. Created in collaboration with UK based director, Wendy Houstoun “No Success Like Failure” puts the “no” in maNifestO, brings the alphabet of French philosophers alive, challenges the passive inanimate audience to not look at their sparkling costumes and eyes… whilst managing to dispel any preconceptions about the ideas mentioned in the promotional material/postcard.

Enshrouded in a dense cloak of critical theorists (Derrida, Foucault, Deluze) whilst dancing along to Roxette, The Fondue Set are infinitely fun, clever, sweet, raw and visually compelling. Whether wheeling around on a chair in a sparkling jumpsuit, pushing a mini wheel of fortune display board, or wearing velvet gown for the purposes of posturing and preparing, The Fondue Set are challenging and utterly engaging.

Fringed in nervous twitters, loud abrupt guffaws and stunned silence, they prove yet again that the audience makes meaning, whether they like it or not! Lets not ignore the very poignant message of the piece… the fine line between success and failure, the power of words to shift perception: “Look how happy my hand is so smoothly flips in our perception and soon we accept Elizabeth’s mournful “look how sad my hand is.” Also how malleable audiences are, how easily influenced and contained an audience can be… how fickle we are… how well trained and brimming with expectation… and how much we are at the mercy of those who may entertain us: and how empowered we are in our making of meaning and significance. Surprising as well, how moved I was during moments “Sad Dancing” … and how devastated I became in the key note speech: which really demonstrated “its not what you say its how you say it.”

At one moment we are “See you at the Top” at another we are “Ditching the stinking thinking.” Flipping between the two states of success and failure… flipping between acceptance and rejection… between beautiful and grotesque… between comedy and tragedy, all in a swirling glittering stupefying soup of reference and creation.

All I can say is “I urge you to open yourself in these tendrils of time to profound and intense fun of “The Fondue Set!”

Night Journeys|Sidetrack theatre

First Published on www.australianstage.com.au

Night Journeys is a new Greek Australian play by Bill Kokkaris about place, past, memory and the attempts to reconcile all three. Set in a bungalow in Marrickville the play unfolds as it struggles to answer the question “what is the value of a house?” is it the market value? The stainless steel appliances? The location? Or the history it holds?

Tessa (Natalie Alexopoulos), an empowered real estate visionary is keen to sell a house which holds her past and painful memories, while her husband, Richard (Benni Silvester) is keen to settle in and renovate to make their house suitable for their future together. Before long Richard’s troubled younger brother Joey (Mathew Halliday) arrives home escorted by the police and Tessa’s grandmother Georgina (Barbara Gouskos) visits the garden at night and checks in on the house.

Mathew Halliday is consistant and committed in his portrayal as Joey, the troublesome younger brother. Barbara Gouskos is multidimensional and a pleasure to watch as the difficult yet fragile grandmother Georgina, easily accessing the vocal depth and colour of a woman much more advanced than her years. Within the second half the Grandmother/Granddaughter scene holds within it the very essence of the play: how the past shapes us and we can be trapped by our perspective at the time: truly a poignant and difficult confrontation. Natalie Alexopoulos is bright and effortless as Tessa though her character portrayal has her sometimes relying on playing type and not the full range of Tessa’s objectives and needs in the scenes, which may be more of a question of script than performance. Benni Silvester also delivers an adequate performance as Richard.

Khristina Totos’s direction is simple and effective and services the unfolding of the play, the characters and the “reality” in with this piece exisits. The set is masterfully designed by Megan Venhoek which involves a light scrim which folds and unfolds like a rubix puzzle to add rooms, and change the space within simple motions and this is well utilized by the cast. An impressive addition to the set is the compliment of AV projections and sound design by Steve Toulmin which layers beautifully over the live action in parts, though I do question why the tape recorder needs to be operated from the sound operator? Light is gentle and adequate and is at times powerfully pronounced and startling.

The main question to this production lies in the script. Many of the scenes are written as duets and are laced with positioned exposition, which at time overstates the history of the relationship, when we can clearly see the dynamic unfolding in the natural interactions. Unfortunately at times, for example during any arguments the exchanges between the characters seem to be highly structured and less impassioned than one would hope. Some of the dialogue is overly simplistic and I believe that the code switching between English and Greek could be used to greater effect to develop the disparity between New Australian and second generation Australian. Language can be a powerful thing: a thing to bind and divide. As a mono lingual audience member I find it interesting and fascinating to hear how and when language changes from English to Greek and Vice versa. Some times tension is lost through lack of pace and over stated exposition, but the strength of the piece comes from its bilingual nature which rescues this play from monotony.

Sidetrack Theatre is an important and interesting theatre space amid the Addison Road community centre and an appropriate venue for Take Away Theatre’s production of Night Journeys. It has a family feel and is unpretentiously accessible, not unlike the script itself. This is a space that caters for, with and about the community that surrounds it, and Night Journeys is an important contribution to this community.

It is admirable that Take Away Theatre is committed to new world, which reflects the Greek-Australian community, as it is a vital part of the Sydney theatre landscape. It would be interesting to see a more fully fleshed out representation of the Anglo-Australian characters: especially how they react/feel when confronted by a history and culture which is foreign to their own. Curiosity? Anger? Acceptance? Celebration? Ignorance? And also interesting to examine the experience of the Greek Australians, their connection to history, culture and their displacement within the country which is both their home, yet not “home.” It is also questionable how the issue of mental health is dealt with in this play, and again the difficult confrontation of this, is simplified and deflected in a glib way. I am left somewhat wondering who’s story is this? Do I believe the changes in these characters? What is to become of these characters now they have been freed from deep-seated assumptions and resentments?

Regardless of these questions, there is no doubt that Take Away Theatre through the firm and eloquent direction of Khristina Totos, has strongly produced a play which, although needs further development, is an important piece of theatre which is relevant and accessible for the Greek Australian Community and beyond.

Men, Love and the Monkey Boy

First Pubished: http://www.australianstage.com.au/component/option,com_mycontent/Itemid,301/task,view/id,1292/

What do men talk about? More curiously: What do men talk about with each other? Are men as basic and simple as clichés suggest? Well, I know from my personal, deep and thorough appreciation of men, I find most men to be endlessly surprising and interesting and complex… and many to be great conversationalists. But, I am a woman, and I know how that may change the dynamic of the conversations I have and have caught myself wondering how men talk and engage with each other when solely in the company of other men. Does it differ? Is the subject matter different? Does the vernacular change? The pitch of the voice? The stance? The posture? Thanks to Caleb Lewis’s, Men Love and the Monkeyboy, my questions have been answered…

Philip (Bryce Youngman) is a 28 year old primatologist studying Gorillas who’s robust father Robbo (John McNeill) calls him Sphincter Boy and insists on buying him porn, taking him out fishing, drinking and picking up. Accompanying this father/son bonding session is Philip’s brother in law Dave (Andy Rodoreda): who is currently unemployed and being “taken care of” by his very capable Lawyer-wife Hayley (Julia Davis) and Rex (Laurence Bruels): a high school mate who is now a cop and quite the lady’s man. One night while celebrating his birthday, Philip is set up with a girl called Chelsea (Angela Hattersley) by Robbo: and despite an awkward start she chooses to be walked home by Philip: thus rejecting the advances of smooth-operating Rex. However, it is revealed that Chelsea may not be who she appears and soon Philip is in doubt of what is truthful connection and what is primitive posturing in order to get a “mate.”

The line between human and primate is drawn very thinly, with the actors playing both the characters of Philips human life and the primates which he studies. Quickly we see each male character in the human group playing a role in the Gorilla enclosure. Just as the gorillas have a social order: so too does the human. Without too finer point on it Robbo is the “Silverback/Alpha-male”, Dave and Rex the “Blackbacks” and Philip is the clearly the “delta male” of the group. Unfortunately the characters can also be defined as stereotype too… the old geezer, the immoral sexual predator, the hen-pecked husband and the naïve/virginal academic/SNAG, the power-suited wife and the whore with a heart of gold… all for the satirical purposes of re-thinking the modern-day human.

This satirical stereotyping ensures we are comfortable in the story and with the characters, and also ensures that the jokes work. But it is hard to know if we are to accept that the origin of the stereotype as it comes from inherent animal behaviour or if it comes from social arrangement within the culture of primates, or humans… and can we do anything about it? Do men behave badly because monkeys do: as the song suggests… “you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals…”? Lewis states in the program that “this is a play about men and women, learning to be modern women and men.” Essentially, Men, Love and the Monkeyboy is, like all plays, about communication: when, how, what to say and who we say it to. Trust. Loyalty. These are fantastic ideas which are at times well explored, though somewhat a little too well for my liking. Some of the scenes are a little too long, the sub-plot about the deceased mother seemingly superfluous and some of the pace of this production suffered from some sluggish moments of pub banter (which are thankfully propelled primarily by witty lines and quirky retorts.)

A fantastic performance from Andy Rodoreda as the disempowered “Dave,” provides a believable tenderness and a humility to the dynamic of posturing apes. Laurence Bruel’s Rex is consistent and believable as the sexual predator, and there is a huge amount of strength and conviction in Angela Hattersley’s performance. Also of note John McNeil’s performance is perfectly appropriate as Dad and Ape and a very honest scene in the second act proves tough men still cry: in front of women.

Caleb Lewis has written an interesting and clever play about the evolution of human relationships and although it may not tell me anything new about Australian men and their struggle to be “men in the modern age,” it does contain funny, engaging writing, and some challenging scenes and according to Guy Williams (the only Primatologist to have graced the Darlinghurst’s programme) a sense of “scientific veracity.” Men Love and the MonkeyBoy is sure to get you talking or perhaps even beating your chest about the modern “man.”

AN ILLUSTRATED TALK PUBLICITY

PLAY TITLE: An Illustrated Talk
PLAYWRIGHT: Nick Perry (UK)
PERFORMANCE DATES AND THEATRE: February 5th-10th, Newtown Theatre
DIRECTOR: Augusta Supple
CAST: Valentino del Toro, Mary Sherman and Grant Moxom

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: I’ll tell you what this play is about, its about a man called Colin! No.. Actually its not, it’s about chickens…. No actually its about leaking taps. Actually, I have no idea…perhaps you can help me?
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BIOG INFO, CONTACTS AND LOCALITY (for writer, director & cast members):

WRITER: Nick Perry
SUBURB (or City/Country): London, England
BRIEF RESUME/CREDITS
Theatre – Arrivederci Millwall (Albany Empire, Samuel Beckett Award winner), Smallholdings (King’s Head Theatre), The Vinegar Fly (Soho Poly), Near Cricket St Thomas, 1919 (Stephen Joseph Theatre). Television – Rockliffe’s Babies (BBC), Tales of Sherwood Forest (Central TV), Clubland (BBC), Hitler’s Bomb (BBC), Nuclear Secrets (BBC). Film – Arrivederci Millwall, Tube Tales, The Escapist.

DIRECTOR: Augusta Supple
SUBURB: Petersham, Sydney
EMAIL: augustasupple@hotmail.com

BRIEF RESUME/CREDITS:’
2007
• I wrote a monthly column for Artshub called “Return to Oz” Detailing the journey returning to Australia after having a theatre career in Canada.
• I’m one of the Sydney reviewers for theatre website: www.australianstage.com.au
• Directed ”Unspoken” by Wayne Tunks for New Theatre’s 75 years celebration: Art is a Weapon”, in which my direction was described as “impressive” by www.aussietheatre.com.au
• My previous Short & Sweet Offering was “Sexual Perversity in Prague” which won the People’s Choice Award , Gala Final, 2007
• When in Canada I assistant directed Uk Director Jon Oram in a production which had 160 cast members called “The Gifts of Time”
• Artistic director of Guelph Youth Theatre 04/06

DESIGNER/ILLUSTRATOR: Barbara Jean Bryce
LOCATION: Ontario, CANADA

BRIEF RESUME/CREDITS:
Selected Design and Assistant Design Credits include:Lettice and Lovage (Guelph Little Theatre) Cinderella (Guelph Little Theatre), Emperors New Clothes (Elora Festival Childrens Theatre Camp), Tryst and Snout (James Gordon), Bell Book and Candle (Touchmark), Hard Scrabble Road (James Gordon) Alone in a Crowded Room (Short Film), Two Steps and A Glass of Water (James Gordon/Sparks of Brilliance), Gifts of Time (Guelph Community Theatre Project), 13 productions for Sue Smith’s Season Singers Theatrical Childrens Choir, 5 productions with Guelph Youth Theatre and numerous projects, events and festivals with Sonic Playground, Musical Adventures for Children.
Barb has Illustrated for “What If Magazine”and for a childrens book about whales which will be published this year.

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS:

Besides playing with theatre design Barb enjoys drawing, working with stained glass and practicing Tai Chi. Barb and her husband Ricardo Ramirez live in Guelph with two fantastic grown up kids, an orange dog, an orange cat, and an organic garden.

ACTOR: Valentino del Toro

BRIEF RESUME/CREDITS
Valentino del Toro comes to the role of ‘The Lecturer’ in ‘An Illustrated Talk’ directed by Augusta Supple. With roles in Feature Films such as “To Hell and Back”, “Gabriel” and “Fools Gold” plus starring in the TV Series, Hal & Di McElroy’s “Sea Patrol” and the 2006 series of Bryan Brown’s “Two Twisted” where he starred alongside Jacqueline Mackenzie. Valentino has worked alongside some highly acclaimed directors including Richard Frankland, Shane Abbess, Andy Tennant and Chris Martin-Jones who have provided great inspiration. Recently Valentino made his directorial debut with his film “Love Always xx” starring Bel de Jersey and Ben Raglione. Theatre credits include ‘Side Serve of Shorts’ directed by Marianne Power, and dual roles in ‘As You Like It’ as the Dukes.

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ACTOR: Mary Sherman

BRIEF RESUME/CREDITS
Training:

Singer Dancer Actor – NIDA
Certificate IV Musical Theatre – Nirimba TAFE
Levels 1 & 2 Improvisation – Impro Australia
Grades 1-8 Speech & Drama – Trinity College London

Credits:

“Joseph & His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” – Director – Penny Presents Charity Performance
“The City Of The Plains” – Mary – CSU Premier, Bob Ellis
“Return To The Forbidden Planet” – Cpt Tempest – MacKillop College
“The Gondoliers” – Inez/Ensemble” – MacKillop College
“Laughter In The Rain” – Soloist – TAFE Graduation Performance, Newtown Theatre
NIDA Showcase 2005 – Soloist – Singer Dancer Actor
Ensemble roles: “42nd Street”, “Little Shop Of Horrors”,”The Mikado”,”Bye Bye Birdie” – Carillon Theatrical Society (CTS)
Voice Overs: Publicity for Western Institute of TAFE – Radio Commercial, Telephone Answering Messages – Allans Music, Mood Media Australia Pty Ltd.

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS:
Grew up in Bathurst community: the local newspaper the Advocate used to get lots of pictures of me doing particular things around the area – performing, getting scholarships, being in the Youth Council etc – they might help spread the word through country towns?

– Nirimba Education Precinct – TAFE, I attended that for Music Theatre, perhaps they’d be interested in knowing. (Sarah Matthews-Libke was in charge when I went there)

-Impro Australia might be interested? – Lyn Pierse

-I grew up on a lettuce farm – that might be a funny angle?!! My dad’s a poor lettuce farmer & we had to get out there & work at 5am each morning through our xmas holidays as well as school mornings sometimes… meaning we had a lot of time in the hot sun to explore our creative talents – farm work makes you a little crazy!!

ACTOR: Grant Moxom

BRIEF RESUME/CREDITS
Tom in ‘Away’ by Michael Gow
Roy in ‘Cosi’ by Louis Nowra
Lysander in “Midsummer Nights Dream” by William Shakespeare

2008 – Studying for a Bachelor of Arts at UNSW, majoring in Psychology & Theatre whilst working part time with computers.

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS:
Manly Selective High School.
Performing as Lysander in “A Midsummers Night Dream” at Manly in Late February.

SUGGESTED PUBLICITY ANGLE FOR AN ILLUSTRATED TALK
This production, though a maximum of 10 minutes in length in its performance time, has many more hours put into it in rehearsal and preparation…. As all plays do… but this one is unique in that the creative process spans 3 continents, and 3 time zones thus: the key creatives are working on this play 24 hours a day!

Barb in Canada has been preparing sketches and providing ideas since December via the internet: scanning in illustrations, sketches and notes on the design and story.
Nick in Uk has been providing supportive and excited notes on the script and has been in contact with Augusta (Gus: the director) at least once a week. The grand orchestrator of this show is Augusta… who firmly believes, that all plays , short or full length deserve to be the best they can be… and with short and sweet, it allows you to go as big, as creative and in my case as international as I want… because this is a project which is to be enjoyed… for the actors and for all involved…

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Augusta Supple

Sydney-based theatre director, producer and writer. This site is about my long, deep, bright-eyed, ever-hopeful, sometimes difficult, always invigorating, rambunctious, rebellious, dynamic and very personal relationship with Australian Arts and Culture... I reflect on shows, talks, essays, writing, artists that inspire me to say something, and you'll find out what I'm working on, who I'm working with and what inspires me.