Tag: Jing-Xuan Chan

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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Nothing But Roaring Presents THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

Fast, fresh and funny – just as farce should be

By Narelle Wood

The Merry Wives of Windsor is Shakespeare, (almost) as it should be; there are minimal sets and theatre-in-the-round style seating – the only differences are modern costumes, a roof on the theatre, female actors and a One Direction reference or two.

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It’s not a play that I’m familiar with, but it follows all the main plot points of a classic Shakespearean farce that makes it instantly recognisable. The farce is based on making a mockery of John Falstaff (Tom Considine) who declares that he shall seduce not one but two of the wives of Windsor. The wives of Windsor, Mistress Ford (Carole Patullo) and Mistress Page (Helen Hopkins), upon hearing this decide that revenge through humiliation will be a befitting antidote for Falstaff’s lustful and presumptuous ways. As is the case in most Shakespearean plays, the minor characters wield havoc as they manipulate and betray each of their masters, and this results in the one not-so-merry husband of Windsor (Master Ford played by James Wardlaw) planning an entrapment of his own to prove his wife unfaithful. Meanwhile several suitors vie for Anne Page’s (Jing-Xuan Chan) hand in marriage, which adds to the intrigue as lies are told and deceit unfolds.

There is so much going on in this play, with twists in plot and a number of soliloquys and asides, that the minimalist approach of basic set and lighting is a welcomed relief. For the most part the Shakespearean language fluidly rolled off the casts’ tongues, as would be expected of actors of this calibre, but it also means that the dialogue is unapologetically fast. There is also an unexpected challenge in deciphering the Bard’s prose; Shakespearean language mixed with a Hugh Evans’ well-articulated Welsh accent made sure I was definitely concentrating on what was being said.

The actors all played multiple characters, with small costume changes signalling the character changes, and they all effortlessly morph from idiot suitor to jock-houseboy, from simple houseboy to jealous husband or whatever other transformations are required. The actors, under Rob Conkie’s direction, also make impressive use of the space; not once, even with the actors’ directing their attention to the other seating areas, did I feel excluded from the performance. The farcical nature of the plot was often reflected in the physical performances of the characters, gesticulating, groping or gyrating for humorous effect.

It’s hard to shy away from Shakespeare in a year that marks the 400th anniversary of his death. There will be a lot of Shakespeare on offer but The Merry Wives of Windsor is an amusing tale and this production makes for a very merry evening indeed.

Venue: Fortyfive Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne

Season: Until Sunday 1st May, Tuesday-Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 5pm

Tickets: Full $38| Conc $28

Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com