Tag: Doug Wright

Midsumma Festival 2016: I AM MY OWN WIFE

Finely crafted and utterly fascinating

By Myron My

The last song I expected to hear playing over the speakers as I entered the space for I Am My Own Wife was “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer. But the purpose is later made clear as we learn about the extraordinary and intriguing life of German transgender woman Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who survived both the Nazi and the Communist regime. While that might be a valid reason to admire her, it is not a guarantee that she was also a hero.

i-am-my-own-wife

American playwright Doug Wright travelled to Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and after a series of interviews with von Mahlsdorf totalling hundreds of hours,  wrote I Am My Own Wife. Thus, the show – is not just about von Mahlsdorf’s life but also Wright’s own role in this tale, and the impact that the experience of trying to get inside the head of this enigmatic person had upon him.

Ben Gerrard is simply captivating for the entire one-performer show and his German and American accents are well-maintained with great pronunciation and intonation. There is a recording of Wright’s voice that is played to the audience and upon hearing Gerrard’s impersonation of it, you would not be blamed for believing it was the same person. You may also find yourself unable to take your eyes off Gerrard as he faultlessly jumps between 35 varied characters, and his constant eye-contact with the audience draws you in, as if he is telling this story only to you.

Similarly building on this intimacy is Hugh Hamilton‘s sleek lighting design, supporting the tension of the narrative with spotlights anticipating Gerrard’s moves and changes. Shaun Rennie‘s sharp direction ensures that these movements are made with purpose and used to construct a stronger connection with the audience. Meanwhile the minimal set design by Caroline Comino allows us to focus also on Gerrard’s words and when set pieces are used, they are used creatively, effectively, and with the same skill of not detracting from the story.

The show leaves some deliberate ambiguity as to how much of a hero Charlotte von Mahlsdorf actually was: the threat of death was very real back then and hard choices had to be made. I Am My Own Wife doesn’t pass judgement or draw any conclusions: instead it lets us wonder about the life a resilient and extraordinary person led, who survived against the odds in a world that was set on destroying her.

Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
 
Season: Until 5 February | Tue- Sat 7.30pm, Sat 28 Jan & Sat 4 Feb 4pm, Sun 5pm 
Tickets: $45 Full | $35 Conc 
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre’s QUILLS

Delving into the darkness

By Ross Larkin

Quills might be Mockingbird Theatre’s most ambitious production to date. It’s their eighth show in two years and the first to be staged at North Melbourne’s Meat Market Pavilion.

Quills is about the Marquis de Sade’s last days and the discovery that even while incarcerated he has been writing 1200 page tomes depicting all things pornographic, sadistic and vile. The Marquis is stripped of his quills and paper in order to be silenced, yet finds other clever and twisted ways to maintain his mind’s workings until eventually he is stripped of everything else from limb to head.

Quills

Written by Doug Wright, the play sits somewhere between witty, unsettling, grotesque, political and shameful. Its success lies in the suggestion that the Marquis’ censors are the real criminals: far more insane and twisted than the Marquis himself. It’s a big bite for even the longest standing companies to chew, with its three-hour duration, non-stop dialogue and heavy array of social issues, and although the usually savvy Mockingbird Theatre and director Chris Baldock succeed on some levels, the production sadly falls short on others.

While the Meat Market Pavilion is a genius choice for the old lunatic asylum with its stark, wide-open spaces and shadowy corners perfectly lit to reflect such an environment, the scenes (with seating organised in traverse) are spread too far apart, making some dialogue difficult to hear and some scenes difficult to see with full impact.

The supporting cast of asylum inmates create some great atmosphere despite being distracting at times: however, it is for the main players to bear the bigger issues. Adam Ward’s performance as Dr Royer-Collard is so theatrically heightened as to be better suited to a caricature pantomime or circus ringmaster, whereupon every second line is shouted ad nauseam. Fortunately Andrea McCannon as Renee Pelagie and Dylan Watson as Abbe de Coulmier keep things grounded with their fine and believable portrayals.

It is Adrian Carr, however, who plays the Marquis, with the greatest weight on his shoulders. It’s a brave role for anyone to attempt: a daring, witty, controversial sexual deviant and naked for half the show. Throughout Act One, Carr comes across as more irritating than sinister with no signs of much-needed light and dark shading, yet by Act Two he proves he has a handle on the complex and multifaceted character of the Marquis, and delivers some chilling moments indeed.

As usual, the quality Mockingbird stamp can be seen overall in Quills: it’s just a shame that the questionable areas were significantly felt.

Quills is playing now from August 5 – 15 at 8pm and Sunday August 10 at 5pm at the Meat Market Pavilion, 5 Blackwood street, North Melbourne. Tickets at http://www.mockingbirdtheatre.com.au/

REVIEW: Standing On Ceremony – The Gay Marriage Plays

Talented team in this topical theatrical anthology

By Myron My

Spencer McLaren, Brett Whittingham and Luke Jacka in StandingOnCeremony Photo Credit - John Shelbourn

Standing On Ceremony consists of nine short plays by well-known Broadway writers dealing with the theme of gay marriage.  There are therefore some great writers, plus the fine directors and a talented ensemble cast involved in this production, so expectations were set high to begin with.

Unfortunately I walked out feeling somewhat disappointed, and it’s not through the acting or the directing, but the plays that were originally chosen for this work. For example, The Revision by Jordan Harrison has two men writing their wedding vows whereas José Rivera’s Andrew and Pablo at the Alter of Words has two men exchanging their wedding vows. Whilst both pieces are good, they are indicative of the strong sense of déjà vu I felt running throughout the night when thematic possibilities seemed to become recurring characters or storylines.

That said, Doug Wright’s On Facebook comes together really well, and Neil LaBute’s Strange Fruit is particularly impressive. Both stories are both unique and inherently interesting, and Spencer McLaren and Brett Whittingham’s performances in the latter are understated and honest, captured by that wonderful palpable silence in the final moments. However, among the excellent cast of actors, it is Michael Veitch who delivers the strongest performance of the night as the man mourning the loss of his longtime lover in Moisés Kaufman’s moving London Mosquitos.

In this production, the musical interludes between plays by David Ellis, Laura Burzcott and Karl Lewis are a nice touch and do well in setting the scene before the next story begins. It feels like they are part of the overall work and blend in seamlessly. Similarly, the elegant set design consists of a number of white boxes stacked up on top of each other in a tetris-like formation and having the backdrop projected onto them. With nine stories, this simply yet effectively set the scene for each one.

I couldn’t help wishing for more variety in the collection as the similarities between many of the stories and characters did not seem to express the wealth and complexity of possibilities, but Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays delivers what it’s title proclaims, this is an admirable production of it, and the proceeds go to Australian Marriage Equality.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran

Season: Until 9 February | Tues-Fri 8:00pm, Wed 2:00pm, Sat 5:00pm and 9:00pm, Sun 5:00pm

Tickets: $45.50 Full | $39.50 Conc

Bookings: www.standingonceremony.com.au, www.midsumma.org.au, 9415 9819 or www.chapeloffchapel.com.au, 8290 7000