Tag: Ben Prendergast

Red Stitch Presents INCOGNITO

Outstanding

By Myron My

The expression ‘the mind works in mysterious ways’ rings true in the stunning new work by Red Stitch Actors Studio. In its Australian premiere, Nick Payne’s Incognito – a poignant play about the brain, Albert Einstein and love – is a beautiful exploration of how our minds do work and how we use memories to create our identity and become the people we are.

Jing-Xuan Chan & Kate Cole_Incognito_7468.jpg

The story focuses on three non-linear narratives, two of which are centred on real people. Thomas Harvey is the pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Albert Einstein and became obsessed with what could be revealed from research into his brain. The second story based on fact is of Henry Molaison, a 27 year old-man who – after an operation to cure his epilepsy – lost his short-term memory which left him unable to remember the detail of conversations he had been having seconds earlier. The third story meanwhile revolves around a fictitious neuro-psychologist, Martha, who has a somewhat nihilistic view on identity and memories.

Incognito‘s narrative structure can be a puzzle to piece together, but as the story progresses, the relationships and links between characters and scenes gradually becomes apparent. Through the astute direction of Ella Caldwell and Brett Cousins, the pace is fast enough to keep momentum building and have you engrossed in the scenes playing out, but slow enough to ensure you never get left behind. The snap changes from scene to scene are executed perfectly and supported by Tom Willis‘ insightful lighting design.

The cast of four deliver accomplished performances in their portrayal of both the central characters and the eighteen additional ones, with each actor taking on between four to six roles. Ben Prendergast as pathologist Thomas brings forth a nuanced performance and Prendergast’s ability to show Thomas at varying stages of his life are a testament to his skill as an actor. Paul Ashcroft is heart-breakingly marvelous as Henry, as he obliviously remains stuck in an eternal time warp. Guest actor with the company Jing-Xuan Chan is also brilliant as both Henry’s long-suffering wife Margaret and as Lisa, a woman who finds herself in a relationship with Martha, played by Kate Cole. Cole brings to the surface the complexities of Martha’s history and views on life with ease but it is in her  evocative portrayal of Evelyn, the adopted granddaughter of Albert Einstein, where she really shines.

With the scenes that take place spanning various cities and time periods, dialect coach Jean Goodwin ensures that subtle differences are picked up on, and each actor does an incredibly skillful job in their convincing accents and being able to switch between them at the drop of a hat. With the story moving through the years, this achievement is also a great indicator of time passing by and allows us to relocate events in some order.

Chloe Greaves‘ remarkable set design perfectly captures the essence of Payne’s play. A piano rests just off centre-stage, its lid has exploded from its place and hanging in mid air, frozen in time. From inside the piano, black string spills out, reaching the ceiling and walls that results in a spider web-like cave and giving an artistic interpretation of how the brain operates. 

Incognito is an intelligent exploration of the brain, memories and identity: about knowing who you are and in some cases, about not knowing who you are. It may be a play that demands we pay attention, and perhaps ironically, puts our brain into overdrive, but it is also an extremely rewarding experience to be seeing theatre of such a high standard performed locally.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda.
Season: Until 13 August | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $49 Full | $34 Senior | $28 Student | $25 Under 30s

Bookings: Red Stitch Actors Theatre

Image by Theresa Noble Photography

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Red Stitch Presents UNCLE VANYA

Chekhov adaptation is both smart and stylish

By Leeor Adar

Nadia Tass continues her accomplished direction here in Annie Baker’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. It is one of the best things I’ve seen this year, and Red Stitch delivers some of the best Australian theatre once again. Having witnessed a number of Chekhov productions recently, it is a delight to see such an accomplished and stylish cast bring to life one of Chekhov’s more titillating works. Uncle Vanya brings the longings for life, for land and for love in a way that embraces the depths of the emotional life rarely written so well. The melancholy acceptance of our lot rings true, we almost feel like tearing down the walls of the little world on stage and freeing the characters from their own reverie and turmoil.

 Uncle Vanya - Rosie Lockhart & Ben Prendergast c. David_Parker.jpg

Baker’s contemporary adaptation of Uncle Vanya captures the larger-than-life torment of the characters in a way we recognise as an audience. From the plight of the forests to the plight of the loss of youth and vigour to sedentary living, Chekhov’s world continues to make sense to contemporary audiences. While admittedly his world tends to drag (why any work should go beyond two hours is increasingly beyond me), the Chekhovian drag perfectly symbolises the endless days that follow in the pursuit of living – so aptly considered by the character of Sonya.

Long-time resident of Red Stitch, David Whiteley portrays the title role of Uncle Vanya with humour, bitterness and vitality. It’s hard playing a lovelorn, broken man, but Whiteley does it with panache. Whiteley is accompanied brilliantly by Ben Prendergast’s Astrov, the country doctor-cum-man of the earth. Both fall prey to the bored wanderlust of the leisurely Yelena, portrayed with so much grace, guile and allure by Rosie Lockhart. Lockhart’s mystery is balanced well with Sonya’s earthy kindness, played by Eva Seymour with astonishing conviction. The supporting cast bring their own, with a special mention to Justin Hosking’s tragi-comic Telegin, who’s timing and awkwardness are utterly endearing. Marta Kaczmarek’s ‘nanny’ Marina’s watchful, wise gaze pervades the production with the kind of certainty that only comes with a life lived and observed. Together this ensemble cast seamlessly delivers this universal family drama with an intimacy and tenderness that does justice to the writer’s work. My only displeasure is with the Russian accents deployed with too great a variety by the actors to genuinely contribute to the overall work.

Sophie Woodward’s set and costume design captures the country home feel astutely. The little window gazing towards the countryside that only the characters can see out of perfectly encapsulates the unending longing. The lounge sofa converts so well from the bed of the exhaustingly self-important Professor, Serebryakov (Kristof Kaczmarek), to the melancholy place where Voynitsky drowns his sorrows. The set is utilised very well, and the carefully thought-out production is aided by Woodward’s style.

There is great humour and poetry to Tass’ Uncle Vanya, and the excellent direction kites its audience along, observing all the moments that rupture, and all those softer moments in between. Chekhov fans will endure, and they will enjoy. For those who are unfamiliar with the work, this production would be a great place to start.

Uncle Vanya continues to be performed at Red Stitch until December 17.

http://redstitch.net/bookings/

Image by David Parker

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents DEAD CENTRE / SEA WALL

Impressive and powerful as always

By Margaret Wieringa

Three squares of light, perhaps windows, gradually appear on the scrim that divides the stage. As the audience quieten for the start of the show, slowly the lights come up on a couple, the woman sleeping on the man’s shoulder. There is a weight to the tableaux which is held and held, and then fades to black.

Dead Centre and Sea Wall

And then out bursts Helen an Englishwoman who now lives in Australia, accidentally. Rosie Lockhart plays Helen with charm and a fast smile that immediately has the audience in the palm of her hand. She relates her stories filled with such ridiculous behaviours (such as her choice of travel companions when heading inland to visit Uluru), yet there is something beneath it, something sinister or painful. And it comes out in a strange mix of sadness and anger, somewhat misdirected.

After Helen leaves the stage, Alex wanders on, an Irishman photographer who relates stories of taking his wife and daughter to visit her father in France. Like Helen, he is charming and bright, a man who people like, and who likes people. But he too has a darkness, and as he spoke, and I realised where it was going, I was hoping, almost praying, that it would turn out he was taking us for a ride. But no. Ben Prendergast broke my heart with his smiles through the tears, with his ability despite it all to give some sense of hope. Of hope not for now, but for one day.

Sea Wall was written by Olivier award-winning Simon Stephens (whose Birdland recently closed at MTC). Dead Centre was written in response to this by local Green Room and AWGIE winner Tom Holloway. In Sea Wall, Stephens has created a monologue that grabs the audience and draws them in to Alex’s story, so they cannot help but feel his grief as he attempts to get through it. Holloway captures these juxtaposing emotions beautifully, and manages to give Helen her own story without stepping on the toes of Alex. And the gentle vignettes behind the scrim bring it all together for a strong but emotionally challenging evening of theatre directed by Julian Meyrick, from the ever-impressive company Red Stitch.

Where: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East
When: July 14-August 15, Wed – Sat 8pm and 3pm Matinee on Saturdays and 6:30 Sundays
Tickets: $20 – $37
Booking: By phone Tues-Fri 11-2pm 9533 8083 or visit www.redstitch.net

REVIEW: DreamSong for MICF

Redemption is not at hand

By Narelle Wood

I like clever, witty, well-constructed comedy and unfortunately I found DreamSong to be absolutely none of these. While the premise of the show (a money-hungry evangelist constructing a second coming of Jesus) certainly had potential, what ensued was two hours of clichéd cheap shots at a whole range of issues, religions and minorities that I felt were extremely offensive, and I’m not easily offended.

DreamSong

Pastor Richard Sunday (Ben Prendergast) has realised his church is in financial peril, and along with the help of his wife Whitney (Chelsea Gibb), the prime minster (Mike Mcleish), the prime minster’s advisor (Alana Tranter) and a wannabe actor (Connor Crawford), he stages a fraudulent resurrection of the son of God. Meanwhile the pastor’s daughter April (Emily Langridge) is trying to talk the real Jesus Christ (Brent Hill) out of a crisis of confidence. Prendergast certainly looked the part of evangelic preacher but his character lacked charisma and charm that was needed to make the deception believable. Evan Lever as Neville Gruber was fabulous as the eager-to-please church follower, but it was Hill’s portrayal of Jesus Christ that actually provided the only comical parts to the show: it was pity that his character had less than twenty minutes of stage time.

Author of DreamSong, Hugo Chiarella, seems unsure about what faction of society he takes issue with. His supposedly black comedy (in my opinion it’s rarely funny) about a non-specific church mocks soldiers dying in Afghanistan, the mentally disabled, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, abortions, people suffering and dying from AIDS, homosexuality, victims of paedophilia and animal cruelty. Excluding the cast, the one redeeming feature of this musical is in fact the music provided by Robert Tripolino. I can’t say I’m a fan or have that much knowledge of Christian pop, but the range and style of music seemed perfectly matched to the premise of the show.

Perhaps a warning at the show about the offensive content may have placated how offended I was, and this then may have enabled me to see beyond those cheap shots to a concept that is worth exploring and what attracted me to the show in the first place.

Venue: Theatre Works, St Kilda
Season: Tues-Sat at 7:30pm, Sat at 2:00pm, Sun at 5:00pm, until 20th April
Tickets: Full $35| Conc $30
Bookings: http://www.theatreworks.org.au/

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents STRAIGHT

Finding the comedy in modern relationships

By Myron My

The title of Red Stitch’s latest production Straight comes with a double meaning. It plays on the notion of being stuffy and predictable but also brings up questions about intimacy and sexuality between a group of late-twenty-somethings.

Straight

D. C. Moore’s fun script is strong and I had only a few quibbles with it. For example, the opening scene between Lewis and Morgan (Ryan Gibson and Rosie Lockhart) feels quite contrived and grated on my patience with the “cute and adorable” relationship speak. Fortunately, this issue is rarely repeated. There are a few instances where the story seems to slow down with some hedging preventing any progression, but when the audience is generally two steps ahead of what is on stage, sometimes it’s best to just get on with it.

However, Moore does exceptionally well in keeping the story and characters honest and grounded. It’s a topic that could easily end up becoming full of badly-made sex and porn jokes but there is real heart evident in all facets and throughout the comedy of Straight. This is mainly through the scenes with Waldorf (Ben Prendergast) and Lewis but the final scene between Morgan and Lewis is quite heartbreaking and touching.

Guest actor with Red Stitch, Gibson is perfectly cast as Lewis and plays his nuances and anxieties well. Christina O’Neill is a delight to watch as Steph, Waldorf’s Amy Winehouse-esque one-night stand. I would have liked to see more of her but Moore knows the story he wants to tell and sacrifices have to be made. Rounding out the talented ensemble were Lockhart and Prendergast who both do well with their roles. The cast excels in their English accents and they all remain natural and consistent with them throughout.

I’m generally not a fan of blackouts between scenes but in Straight they work effectively in keeping us engaged with the show. In particular, the set change from cramped living room to swanky hotel room is a spot of genius and you do not even notice the the time it takes to make the transformation.

Straight is an enjoyable show with some great performances and a script with plenty of moments that will have you laughing out loud.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda.

Season: Until 28 September | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sat 4:00pm, Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $37 Full | $20-27 Conc

Bookings: http://redstitch.net