Tag: Dion Mills

Red Stitch Presents THE MOORS

A brilliant, absurdist Brontesque thriller

By Tania Herbert

Haze cascades down from the ceiling, and the severe form of a Victorian woman is lit to look like a cameo brooch. Thus opens The Moors at Red Stitch Theatre, and I already have a little thrill of expectation.

The Moors

Wandering into the tiny, immaculate theatre of Red Stitch is always an expected delight. What was less expected though, was this gothic surrealist gem of a play by Jen Silverman.

Governess Emilie (Zoe Boesen) is lured to a new job at a manor on the moors, after an exchange of sultry emails with the lord of the manor. She arrives to find that there appears to be no child, her bedroom looks suspiciously like the parlour, and her benefactor is nowhere to be found.

Instead she quickly finds herself embroiled in the mysteries of the household, with the multiple personalities of the housemaid (Grace Lowry), melancholies of tortured writer Hudley (Anna McCarthy) and the chilling powers of Agatha (Alex Aldrich), the formidable sister of the missing lord.

The gothic thriller set-up is counterpointed by the parallel story of the depressed family hound who forms an implausible relationship with a damaged moor-hen unable to fly away (played by ensemble actors Dion Mills and Olga Makeeva).

The set-up and absurdist nature of the play could have easily ended up out of hand, but was held in place by extremely tight direction under Stephen Nicolazzo, and particularly the strength of characterisation by all cast members. For every performance, the simmering darkness within was captured, presenting a gripping two hours of theatre. With an almost all-female cast, the play pushed gender roles in particularly interesting ways – my feeling was that the play isn’t foregrounding a feminist message as such – but rather, is a story with an exceptionally strong cast of characters and actors – most of whom happen to be women.

It is difficult to highlight a particular standout performer, as every cast member was strong, convincing and compelling. Perhaps my personal favourite was Olga Makeeva mastering the challenge of playing both an anthropomorphised bird, but also the relative ‘everyman’ against the absurdities around her.

The accent variation grated on me a little, as Australian ocker just doesn’t seem congruent with the English moors, but given the surrealist nature of the work, this did not subtract overall. This play won’t be for everyone – it is dark in mood, appearance and humour with horror elements and a bit of lustiness.

Sinister, dark, and humorous, watching The Moors feels like peering into a gothic dollhouse of horrors.

The Moors is performing at Red Stitch Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East

 Dates: 6 June- 9 July, Tuesday-Saturday 8pm, Sunday 6.30pm (Post-show Q&A 22 June)

Tickets: $15-$49

Bookings: (03) 9533 8083 or www.redstitch.net

Image by Jodie Hutchinson

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Red Stitch Presents THE RIVER

Deceptively simple fable runs deep

By Myron My

A Man, a Woman, a cabin and a lot of fish. This is the set up for Red Stitch’s latest production and the Australian premiere of Jez Butterworth’s The River. The story is quite straightforward, with The Man bringing The Woman to his cabin to go fishing, but the performances and technical aspects present allow for a deeper understanding of what it means to be loved and to be deceived.

The River.jpg

It’s been over a year since I saw Dion Mills in another fantastic Red Stitch production, Wet House, and with The River, Mills again shows his powerful ability not only to get inside his characters’ heads but to be able to so with apparent ease. Apart from his skill in masterfully gutting a fish, Mills’ The Man is a fine balance of masculinity, fragility and mystery and his naturalistic portrayal of him makes this character seem all the more tragic.

Ngaire Dawn Fair as The Woman is the perfect counterpart to this Man, adding a level of energy and liveliness to their relationship. Her discovery of the deceit is quietly heartbreaking as it plays out with subtlety and nuance. The Other Woman however (played  by Christina O’Neill), lacked the depth of these characters and, perhaps also by necessity, was missing the chemistry that Mills and Fair shared on stage.

John Kachoyan‘s elegant direction adds to the unease and melancholy of The River. While the entire story is set within the confines of the cabin, you can’t help but feel that the world outside is slowly drowning these people. There’s a sense of timelessness in the movements: nothing feels rushed or frenetic inside the cabin, and the only real moment of drama occurs while out by the river – although we only hear about this. The previously mentioned scene with The Man preparing the fish for dinner speaks volumes to the confidence that both Kachoyan and Mills have in keeping the audience transfixed over such simple stage action for such a period of time, and in ultimately making this one of the most memorable moments of the show.

My only gripe with an otherwise absorbing story is the lack of payoff I experienced, come the end of The River. Even with Christopher De Groot‘s compelling music and sound design and Clare Springett‘s adroit lighting adding highly emotional layers to Butterworth’s script, I left feeling dissatisfied, like something had been missed. I needed more to happen in this narrative: to feel something that would then linger deep inside me as I left the theatre, to be affected by what had happened to these people. The strong efforts of all involved in this production still make this production well worth seeing, but unfortunately for me, it’s in the play’s close that The River seems to get bogged down.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda.
Season: Until 28 May | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sat 3:00pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $45 Full | $28-35 Conc
Bookings: Red Stitch Actors Theatre

REVIEW: Red Stitch presents WET HOUSE

An emotional and essential experience

By Myron My

A wet house is a hostel for alcoholic homeless men and women, where they can drink and sleep as much as they want with no expectations for them to be rehabilitated. They are more or less, the people that society has given up on. In Red Stitch’s production of Paddy Campbell’s Wet House, we get an insight into the lives of three residents and three workers of a wet house, each one struggling with their own redemption and reason for being.

REDSTITCH

Wet House is based on Campbell’s first-hand experience of working in a wet house and you can see how effective a story can be when the writer well and truly knows what he is writing about. Not a single scene is wasted, no dialogue is filler, no movement is pointless. Everything that happens in Wet House has a purpose, and with six different stories being told, the pacing is controlled well and is never difficult to follow.

The performance opens with colleagues Helen (Caroline Lee) and Mike (David Whiteley) going through the handover of their shift. The dark humour used throughout is disturbingly funny and highlights even more the issues that the script is raising. The arrival of new recruit Andy (Paul Ashcroft), with his idealistic and simplistic views on helping these people comes into great conflict with the realities of the job as well as his relationship with Helen and Mike.

Wet house residents, Dinger, Spencer and Kerry (Nicholas Bell, Dion Mills and Anna Sampson), each have their own unique story to tell, but at the same time, their story is universal. Mills in particular is exceptional as Spencer, bringing a vulnerability and sympathy to a character we should revile against and disgusted by. The scenes between him and Whiteley are extremely intense to watch which is due to the strong performances and fearless directing by Brett Cousins.

Sophie Woodward’s set design captures the bleak environment of despair that these people face day in day out. There is a creative use of the space in the theatre that I have not seen before which draws you further into this world and story. Costumes have been used to give more life to the characters and build on their personalities.

Red Stitch’s production of Wet House opens discussion on alcoholism and how we support those who are seen as beyond help and how the intention to do good is ultimately never going to be better than action. It is an emotionally draining show but it is a show that needs to be seen.

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

Season: Until 18 April | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sat 3:00pm, Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $37 Full | $20-27 Conc

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents THE RITUAL SLAUGHTER OF GORGE MASTROMAS

The evils of success

By Caitlin McGrane

The opening of this interesting postmodern production is explicit in its scene setting: the five members of the ensemble cast explain the circumstances of Gorge Mastromas’ conception, birth and childhood. It is immediately apparent that this will be a performance that will both show and tell its protagonist’s story. Written by Dennis Kelly, the Australian premier of The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas is well executed by director Mark Wilson; the staging is highly stylistic and minimalist – sleek, sharp lines frame the performance space and projectors are gainfully employed to immerse the audience in Wilson’s vision.

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas

Initially Gorge, excellently played by Richard Cawthorne, is unassuming and almost unbearably feckless. Then, after a particularly tense business deal, Gorge’s temperament changes; he becomes convinced that the only way to succeed is to live by three rules, all of which revolve around lying. The rest of the play unfurls while Gorge’s morals crumble and dissolve as he manipulates his way to personal and financial success.

The rest of the cast beautifully bring to life this darkly comic morality tale; Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Olga Makeeva and Dion Mills inject so much humour into the narration that the exposition rarely feels unnecessary or laborious. However, there are certainly moments where the play drags, particularly in the second act. The first travels at such a cracking pace that it was surprising over an hour had passed since we first entered the theatre; but this was sadly not repeated in the second act. This lack of continuity was distracting, yet the performance was saved by the strength of the script, and the combination of lighting (Clare Springett), sound and video design (Robert D Jordan). Red Stitch’s small performance space has been well utilised by stage manager Melissa Place.

There are some very, very dark themes in this play: scenes of suicide and child abuse, scenes with blood and implied violence. Never gratuitous, it wasn’t until the end of some scenes that I noticed my hands had formed tight fists. And that’s how I felt when I left the theatre, like I had been hit by a well-placed, well-timed punch to the gut.

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas is showing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until 7 March 2015. Tickets are $20-$39 available here: http://redstitch.net/bookings/.

Photo credit: Jodie Hutchinson

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents PENELOPE

Epic poetry and poolside murder

By Myron My

Penelope by Irish playwright Enda Walsh and directed by Alister Smith shows four men seeking to receive the love of Penelope in the absence of her warrior husband, Odysseus. Through hope, fear, anger and passion, will any of them win her love?

Penelope

Upon entering the theatre for this production, we watch a young man scrubbing blood from inside an empty swimming pool. Well, empty from water for it is teeming with deck chairs, books, alcohol and the disturbing red stains. In fact, the pool resembles a beach party for hoarders gone wrong. Taking center stage is a large barbeque with an ominous message for the four men of Penelope.

After this fascinating opening, the story unwinds at a perfect pace: fast enough to keep you interested but slow enough to not reveal everything at once. The mystery of the blood in the pool and the events that led up to that are ever so carefully unveiled through the taut script which works well in keeping the audience intrigued.

In contrast, costume design left little to the imagination, with all four men dressed in swimming trunks – yet each one seemed to convey a strong sense of who this character was. The brutish self-appointed leader, Quinn (Lyall Brooks) was dressed in red speedos – and you really can’t get any more alpha-male than that.

The last act however seemed to lose itself a bit. Despite the audience enjoying it, the “love in 6 acts” scene didn’t seem to have a place in the story. It relied on slapstick humour and not the sharply written dialogue and well thought-out character-driven scenes earlier, but this issue is to do with the play itself and its reworking of Homer’s classic tale rather than the direction or performances.

As this year’s Graduate Ensemble Actor for Red Stitch, Matthew Whitty as Burns certainly does show promise, however the more overtly experienced and skillful actors (Brooks, James Wardlaw and Dion Mills) in Penelope do manage to outshine him, and the impact of the final scene is therefore not as strong as it could be. It is a particularly exceptional performance by Mills as the flamboyant Dunne. His later monologue is compelling to watch as guards are let down and we see the real, vulnerable side to his character.

With strong intelligent direction by Smith, Penelope will have you pondering the moral and emotional questions it raises a good while after the show is over.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 13 April | 8:00pm, Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $37 Full | $27 Conc

Bookings: 9534 3388 or http://www.theatreworks.org.au