Tag: Nikki Shiels

THE RABBLE Presents JOAN

Magnificent

By Myron My

It was only a matter of time before experimental feminist theatre company THE RABBLE decided to take on the life of Joan of Arc, the woman who helped France win the war over Orléans and was later burnt at the stake for heresy and cross-dressing. Twenty-five years after her death however, she was declared innocent of her crimes by the courts and was canonised in 1920. Her struggle and persecution is something that still resonates with us today, and with a fierce and poignant feminist perspective on her story, co-creators Kate Davis and Emma Valente bring her plight into a contemporary spotlight.

Joan.jpg

The show begins with a projection of an eye onto a scrim at the front of the stage. While it originally challenges the audience, there is a vulnerability and apprehension to the blinking eye that lingers in the room. The sound of burning logs and crackling wood as it continues to stare into the audience further builds on the unease and hints at what is to come. While we may know the story of Joan of Arc, there are still plenty of surprising and gripping moments to unfold in this production.

Joan‘s non-linear narrative structure explores significant moments in  life including her visions of angels and saints, the examination she underwent to ensure her virginity was intact, and her execution by fire – spectacularly and awfully brought to life on stage. These vignettes are used as a way of exploring not only Joan’s power and persecution, but also that of all women. The focus is not war or history but the person – the woman – and THE RABBLE construct a strong and commanding voice and presence for their protagonist through the evocative performances from its highly talented and dedicated cast.

The four Joans (Luisa Hastings Edge, Emily Milledge, Dana Miltins, and Nikki Shiels) initially appear behind the scrim of Davis’ set, with flashes of light illuminating them or capturing them briefly before the stage is enveloped by darkness once more. The music and Valente’s lighting create a haunting rhythm which, when paired with her adept direction of the cast with their ritualistic prayer-like movements, fills the room with a supreme intensity, emphasising the devout faith held by Joan.

The projections designed by Martyn Coutts are effectively used (particularly during the character’s aforementioned visions and examination), which allows for various complex feelings and thoughts to be cleverly depicted by the various Joans, complemented by the flawless lighting and sound effects.

While there are no authentic representations of what Joan looked like, in casting four women to play her, Joan allow her to embody womankind. While the only documents that exist of her speaking are those from her trial, this superb production expresses powerful words, emotions and ideas from and to her, and by extension, offers a voice to women across time.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda 
Season: Until 30 April | Wed – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm 
Tickets: $38 Full | $30 Conc 
Bookings: Theatreworks

Image by David Paterson

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REVIEW: La Mama Presents THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS ‘JOE’

Mesmerizing meta-theatre

By Myron My

Remounted by MKA Theatre, The Unspoken Word Is ‘Joe’ is a play about a play about a play. I think. Things get confusing very early on. But ultimately it’s what happens when actors no longer have a script with which to protect themselves and must face life, real life. It’s about what you do when the shit really hits the fan and find yourself losing control for the sake of your art.

The Unspoken Word is Joe

I will admit it took me a while to realize that this was not an actual staged reading, such was the convincing nature of the cast, especially Natasha Herbert as the “straight” stage director. She manages to steal every scene she is in and even some of the ones she isn’t in. Fortunately, once the off-script action starts, Herbert is cleverly placed in the background so focus remains on the four actors.

Nikki Shiels is particularly wonderful to watch portraying Zoey Dawson, one of Australia’s emerging playwrights (and the actual writer of the play), who slowly and (melo)dramatically unravels as the cracks in her happy façade begin to surface. I recall seeing Shiels in MTC’s True Minds two years ago and her comedy timing was apparent then. With The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’, she has a lot more freedom to explore this zany and controlling ability and goes at it with full speed.

The two male leads – Matt Hickey and Aaron Orzech – are great as the catalysts and foils to Zoey’s eventual downfall. Annie Last is so wonderfully over the top as the craaaayyyzyyy girl that she does risk becoming more of a caricature than a person until Dawson (the writer not the character) dials her character down a notch with a strong emotive scene between her and Dawson (the character not the writer).

Dawson’s script is filled with hilarious moments, somber moments and honest moments. There are a few times where the dialogue get a little clunky or long-winded but these can be overlooked for the overall brilliance and wittiness of her writing.

The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ not a straightforward theatre performance. The meaning gets hidden within the story within the story, and a bit muddled in the meta-ness of the script but then, that is what life (and theatre-making) is like sometimes. It’s not always clear and it’s not always pretty to watch but it’s compelling and it’s something we can’t take our eyes off.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton

Season: Until 1 March | Wed 6.30pm, Thurs-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 4:00pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc

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

REVIEW: Daniel Schlusser Ensemble in M+M

Daring to unravel a Russian classic

By Christine Moffat

M + M is the theatrical reworking of Bulgakov’s classic Russian novel The Master and Margarita by exploratory masters the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble for this year’s Melbourne Festival.  Approaching such a novel with reverence, and producing a slavish retelling is not in this Ensemble’s vocabulary.  Instead, this innovative group always attempt to crack the code underpinning the work of art, and present its inner workings to the audience.  Unfortunately, in this production they have taken a risk that has not entirely paid off.

M+M

Some elements of this show are truly superb.  The set design by Anna Cordingley and Romaine Harper is outstanding, and used extensively and with great effect by director Daniel Schulusser.  Every performer (Johnny Carr, Josh Price, Nikki Shiels, Karen Sibbing, Emily Tomlins, Mark Winter & Edwina Wren) bravely attacks the show with energy, commitment and obvious talent.

Deconstructing such rich source material is ambitious for when it comes to reconstructing, how do you decide which elements must be reinstated?  The attempt to connect the novel to Pussy Riot and modern Russian social oppression is disjointed.  Instead of combining these themes, the performance gives the sense of empty, barren space between them.  The program invites the audience to view the piece as “…theatrical architecture…”, but the parts are too loosely connected to achieve this.  It could be better compared to blueprints and a collection of building materials.

It is not a narrative that this production lacks, but rather any emotional resonance.  The vignettes performed on stage are diaspora; closer to resembling performance art than theatre, but not managing the shock or provocation common to that art form either.  Whether this production succeeds in affecting others in its audience emotionally, or merely works visually, the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble have achieved an outcome that can inform and feed their future works.

Sometimes parts do not create a cohesive and greater whole.  In approaching a seemingly impossible novel, this Ensemble should impress us in the attempt, and in the many successful moments it produces.  Sadly, this reconstruction still feels as if it has major elements of the original source missing.  It is like a beautiful watch that has been rebuilt without hands – each component is lovingly crafted, but it has no way of performing as intended and so we have no way of receiving its ultimate message.

Oct 12 – 16 (no show Oct 15)

Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street St Kilda

Tickets: $65 / $50 / Under 30s $35, Student $25

Bookings: theatreworks.org.au, 03 9534 3388, or Ticketmaster 136 100

REVIEW: Evgeny Shwarz’s THE DRAGON

Comedy trio Tripod spread their draconian wings

By Ross Larkin

Corruption. Power. Denial. Oppression… Sound amusing? Well, it is.

Toby Schmitz has adapted Evgeny Schwarz’s 1944 satirical play The Dragon into a modern theatrical feast of fiery wit and cleverly apt and poignant dialogue.

From the outset, some skepticism is understandable. Has director, Marion Potts, created a fairy tale? A pantomime? A musical? It’s a little hazy. Soon after, however, it really doesn’t matter.

TheDragon

Melbourne’s ingenious comic trio Tripod (Scott Edgar, Steven Gates and Simon Hall) have not only written the music for the piece, they also perform their catchy soundtrack while portraying the good guy onlookers as well as the contrasting evil three-headed dragon – one hilarious head each.

Sir Lancelot (played with gorgeous charm by Jimi Bani) arrives in a small village to slay said dragon and relieve its inhabitants of the oppression and control inflicted by their so-called ‘almighty’, while rescuing a fair maiden (Nikki Shiels), condemned to wed the manipulative beast.

However, the brainwashed town and its foolishly egocentric and impressionable mayor (the ever-impressive Kym Gyngell), are under the illusion the dragon is to be worshipped as their all-knowing leader, and remain under its spell, oblivious to their repressed existence, and therefore resistant to Lancelot’s quest.

In an Orwellian struggle to revolutionise a totalitarian-wracked culture (coincidently, or more likely deliberately, in line with current Australian politics), Schmitz’s impressively astute and often poetic dialogue, meshed with Tripod’s loveable commentating music and lyrics, is a delightful merry-go-round of tension and fun.

Perched on a very effective revolving set, The Dragon is confronting, thought-provoking, amusing and highly satisfying, thanks to a brilliant script and soundtrack, not to mention a delightfully talented cast.

The Dragon is playing now until July 26, 2013.
Wed to Sat 7.30pm, Sat 2.00pm matinee,
Sun 5.00pm, Tues July 23 at 6.30pm.

The Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Melbourne.

Bookings on (03) 9685 5111 or at www.malthousetheatre.com.au