Tag: Jessica Clarke

A Dirty Pretty Theatre and Critical Stages Productions Presents THERESE RAQUIN

A dark tale revealed

By Leeor Adar

The audience’s lust for work exposing the underbelly of human desire and vengeance never ceases, and gothic masterpieces always manage to spook and lure audiences centuries after their first public entrance. A great practitioner of literary naturalism, Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin finds itself dealt a supernatural twist in the hands of director and adaptor Gary Abrahams for theatre company A Dirty Pretty Theatre. Abrahams has not disposed of the elegance of late 1800s Paris, as his set designer Jacob Battista and costume designer Chloe Greaves journey back in time with him.

Therese Raquin

Thérèse Raquin follows the tragedy of a small family moving to Paris for a new start to invigorate the sickly Camille (Andre Jewson). Trapped under the weight of wifely servitude is the beautiful Thérèse (Jessica Clarke), oscillating between wistful gazing and the swift practiced movements of someone wanting to shatter her proverbial glass cage. The delightful little family is threatened by vagabond artist, Laurent (James O’Connell), whose presence gleefully brutalises the now excitable Camille and stirs up the most carnal of longings in Thérèse – both of whom are desperately seeking something that helps them forget themselves. The lust overcoming the characters climaxes in a brutal killing: cue the total disintegration of the survivors’ sense of sanity in a manner that Shakespeare himself would admire.

In this production, projection was a difficulty for some of the actors, particularly Clarke whose voice strained into hoarseness, but this could be due to the total submersion into a desperate Thérèse. Clarke’s performance certainly conveyed the desperation of her character potently, and O’Connell’s Laurent was suitably dangerous. Overall, the performances throughout were strong: notably Suzanne as played by Emily Milledge had the captivating ability to take us far away from the gloom of the room in her girlish rants about a phantom lover. Keeping the pace of the production was the composition and music of Christopher De Groot, whose score injected a sense of melancholy to the production.

Tragically, some very dramatic moments were thrown askew on the night I attended by the curtain falling upon a poorly-placed table and a flower crown that was swept about underneath the gowns of the actresses. The audience’s occasional laughter was perhaps a welcome distraction from the gloom of the tale before us – but at times, in Zola’s land of naturalism, such misadventures cannot be helped.

Abrahams’ production ultimately aimed for high drama, but unfortunately came across as pure melodrama with too many distractions. I admittedly enjoyed the gothic horror elements that snuck up on us, but feel these could easily have been dispensed with for the subtlety Zola’s text warranted.

This gothic drama was performed at the beautiful National Theatre in St Kilda from 31 May – 1 June.

Image by Sarah Walker

Red Stitch Presents RULES FOR LIVING

Uproariously funny

By Caitlin McGrane

As the audience walked into the theatre on the opening night of Red Stitch’s new production Rules for Living, I was feeling slightly apprehensive. There’s something about the idea of a play about families at Christmas that can make even the most hardy feel slightly uneasy, like it all the potential to go horrifically, horribly wrong. And, indeed, it does; but I have honestly never laughed so much at a piece of theatre in all my life.

Rules for Living.jpg

The script for Rules for Living is sharp in a way that sometimes beggars belief – the cast and crew are so tight, they have their finger held so firmly on the pulse of playwright Sam Holcroft’s wonderful script that at times I thought they might be ad-libbing. The story is of a British family at Christmas: they’re dysfunctional in a recognisably empathetic way, oozing with pathos, and steering pretty well clear of the ‘wacky family does Christmas’ tropes we’ve all seen 8000 times before.

There’s brothers Matthew, (the always wonderful Rory Kelly) a charming/horrific liar and Adam (Mark Dickinson) who’s almost pathologically unable or unwilling to show weakness. Then there’s their mother the neurotic pill-popping matriarch, Edith (Caroline Lee), and Adam’s deeply tragic alcoholic wife Sheena (Jessica Clarke); but for my money the standout performer was Jem Nicholas as Matthew’s actress-cum-comedienne girlfriend, Carrie. Nicholas carries so many of the scenes, she’s truly the life and soul of the ensemble; there are times when I longed for her to return to the stage so I could see what this magnificent incarnation of the ‘Essex girl’ would do next. Ella Newton has a minor role as Adam and Sheena’s daughter Emma, and Ian Rooney makes an appearance as Matthew and Adam’s wheelchair-bound father Francis, an utterly detestable man who leers over women, and shouts ‘fuck off’ at his wife Edith; confused he may be, but without sense he is not.

The behaviour of all three men on stage gets to the very heart of what I loved so much about this play – the women. All the characters all abide by ‘rules’ for how they live their lives but the women have to constantly put up with so much deplorable behaviour from their partners that it’s no wonder they retreat into alcohol, drugs, and playing the clown. The male characters in this play are deeply funny, but they’re also awful, recognisably awful in a way that’s almost frighteningly realistic. The women on the other hand are by no means flawless, sometimes almost cruel, but it seemed to me they’d been conditioned into it, their actions a way of coping with the men in their lives.

Director Kim Farrant has done a magnificent job with this work, and the play hangs together like a carefully-placed bauble on a Christmas tree – balancing just the right amounts of humour and tragedy across the two acts. The only thing I think that could have really improved it was a reduction in length – the 2.5 hour running time was probably too much, and there were scenes that could have been cut down slightly just to keep the pace up.

Sets and costumes (Sophie Woodward) worked wonderfully: almost too well, as there were moments when it was like being at my nan’s for Christmas; lighting (Clare Springett) and sound design (Daniel Nixon) really enhanced the play’s mood, and created just the right slightly tense atmosphere round the kitchen table.

Overall I don’t think I could speak highly enough of this production, it is another Red Stitch triumph where a clear, clever, well-constructed script together with a strong, dynamic cast brings so much joy, good cheer and a huge dose of fun. Go and see this play.

Rules for Living is now on at Red Stitch until 16 April as a part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. For more information and tickets visit: http://redstitch.net/gallery/rules-for-living

Image by Teresa Noble

REVIEW: Heaven at LA MAMA

Teen drama tackles big issues

By Myron My

What happens when we die? What happens when we are confronted with death and begin to question our own mortality? Heaven attempts to deal with these questions when a young girl (Jessica Clarke) is killed by a bakery van and three classmates attempt to bring her back from the afterlife.

Heaven

It’s only been two years since Heaven was written but unfortunately it already has an outdated feel with regards to its language. I did not feel convinced 15-year olds speak like this – but perhaps I am way out of touch with the youth of today. I do understand what writer/director Kit Brookman was attempting to achieve here, but the switches from child-like behavior (playing with toy robots in one scene) to the characters dealing with profound issues like life after death ended up seeming contrived. The ending left me with many questions that did not necessarily need to be answered but would have benefited from having some clarity brought to them. 

I felt the characters could also have been developed more as they appeared to be mere familiar teen stereotypes: the nerd, the goth, the jock, and the brain. Having said that, the cast do their best (appropriately) to bring life to them. Lachlan Woods as Stewart was very good in displaying not only the jock’s bravado but also his emotional insecurities. Another special mention goes to Sarah Ogden, who brings some incredibly touching scenes to the stage as Sally.

Furthermore, there are a number of great ensemble moments in this play, in particular the séance between Max (Andre Jewson), Sally and Stewart, which has some genuinely funny dialogue. There is a good blend of humour and truth in Heaven, with the final scene being quite a touching one. 

On the technical side, the score by Tom Hogan and lighting design by Richard Vabre added strong emotive elements to the narrative. When used, they not only created an intimacy and the almost claustrophobic environment that Heaven required, but were able to increase the tension and heighten the mood of what was coming.

Heaven tries to cover a vast array of topics in the spectrum of life and death. Some it does quite well, and others it should have stayed away from. Overall, the admirable acting and production elements are let down by a story whose script doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street Carlton

Season: Until 2 June | Wed-Fri 8:30pm, Sat-Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc

Bookings: http://lamama.com.au or 9347 6142