Tag: Paul Ashcroft

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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Anthony Weigh’s EDWARD II

Tender chaos

By Leeor Adar

For all the chaos of Christopher Marlowe’s brief life, I’m sure he would have sat in the Merlyn Theatre last night with a wicked smile on his face to see the tender chaos Matthew Lutton and his team resurrected.

Edward II.jpg

But let’s be honest, with Anthony Weigh’s writing and Marg Horwell’s impressive set design, this work is a beast of its own glory.

The play is broken into the fragments of the artefacts the boy prince (Julian Mineo/Nicholas Ross) inspects from his father’s reign. The noble handle of a sword and handkerchief descends to a bag of faeces left at the palace gates. The frames of the scenes marked by the flint and steel of the lighter, signify the brief candle of these moments leading towards Edward II’s fall.

Edward II is a museum to the hypocrisy of the people’s love for their monarch. It’s a cold world, but despite the blood and pulp of the people within it, at the core of this rotten apple of yet another kingdom, is the most tender love story between two men I have ever witnessed on stage. Johnny Carr (Ned) and Paul Ashcroft (Piers) capture the heady, shaking, vulnerability of the impossible-to-bottle kind of love. Their energy was marvellous on stage.

Ned’s brutality and unpredictability at first drove this production, but even the bubbling inner-workings of an unstable prince could not quash the ambitions of the likes of Mortimer, played with mastery by Marco Chiappi. When Chiappi got going on Weigh’s words, it became Mortimer I. For all the sweat and passion of Carr and Ashcroft, Chiappi’s delivery drew the masses into the palm of his hand – audience and peasant alike. Even as Mortimer lulled a sensually delusional Ned towards death, we could not help but accept the sensibility of this decision. Because tomorrow, we will have another king.

The woman’s role in Edward II is to nurture the next king, but Sib (Belinda McClory) laments the loss of her potential in this world. Although Sib plays the role of the queen-to-be, there is ambition pulsing through her sinewy body for a surge of control. McClory’s voice is hollow and powerful as she pushes her lover aside and walks with purpose across the stage. But at the close of this play, she’s exhausted, calling out, unanswered, into the kingdom she birthed but could not rein.

The Malthouse Theatre has always been the Marlowe-esque bad boy of the Melbourne theatre world, challenging the dimensions of theatre and immersing its audiences in treacherous and thought-provoking terrain. This one such terrain was bold, decadent and ultimately heartbreaking.

Malthouse Theatre until August 21

http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/edward-ii

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents DETROIT

Neighbourly dangers unleashed

By Narelle Wood

I’ll be honest, I knew very little about Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit going in. I expected something gritty in keeping with my impressions of the city, and my previous experiences of Red Stitch productions had always been positive. In both cases, Detroit didn’t disappoint.

Detroit

The play is set in the backyards of two adjoining houses in what at one stage promised to be a housing estate with neighbours friendly enough to borrow cups of sugar from one another. When Kenny and Sharon move next-door, Mary and Ben take the opportunity to get to know their neighbours, a friendship is forged and things slowly spiral out of control. There is impending doom from the beginning; Mary and Ben are struggling with the economic downturn, Kenny and Sharon are not long out of rehab, and all four are looking for a way through their lives.

The tragedy in Detroit comes from Lisa D’Amour’s characters, rather than a set of tragic events. Mary (Sarah Sutherland), Ben (Brett Cousins), Kenny (Paul Ashcroft) and Sharon (Ngaire Dawn Fair) are complex in both the characters themselves and the relationships they forge with each other. But the complexities are restrained; it is a slow reveal of the different characters’ traits that leads to the tragic ends.. Upon entering the theatre the list of warnings about the content is extensive, but they are not overtly portrayed. Under Tanya Dickson’s direction, the cast create nuanced performances, striking a balance between overt friendly neighbours and the dark secrets the characters are hiding.

The small space of Red Stitch Actors Theatre doesn’t afford much opportunity for set changes, so the transitions between scenes are managed through multi-media projections of the suburbs and contrasting techno night-club music. The combination is jarring and reinforces the unlikeliness of the friendship between the two couples. The lighting and projections are at times eerie, especially when all four characters finally let go of their inhibitions.

Detroit is intriguing, disturbing and slightly nostalgic (thanks to Chris Wallace’s brief appearance to reminisce about the neighbourhoods of yesteryear). If you are looking to stretch your theatre repertoire this would be a good introduction to the darker side of entertainment; gritty, without the hyperbole.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East
Season: Until 26th September, 8pm, 6.30pm Sundays, 3pm Saturday matiness
Tickets: Full $45| Conc $37
Bookings: redstitch.net

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents LOVE, LOVE, LOVE

Fine performances in difficult play

By Myron My

In June 1967, The Beatles appeared on Our World, the world’s first live television satellite link-up that was watched by roughly 400 million people across the world. While this major event was happening, playwright Mike Bartlett has envisioned a much smaller life-changing moment also occurring. In Love, Love, Love, presented by Red Stitch and directed by Denny Lawrence, two free-spirited nineteen year-olds meet for the first time in a small London flat. Sparks are immediate, and we visit their relationship again in 1990, and then in 2011.

Directed by Denny Lawrence ,  CAST  : ELLA CALDWELL, PAUL ASHCROFT : JORDAN FRASER TRUMBLE , RORY KELLY & JEM NICHOLAS
Directed by Denny Lawrence ,
CAST : ELLA CALDWELL, PAUL ASHCROFT : JORDAN FRASER TRUMBLE , RORY KELLY & JEM NICHOLAS

The chance encounter between Kenneth and Sandra (Paul Ashcroft and Ella Caldwell) in the first act is full of excitement and energy and there is a genuine spark between the two actors. With the addition of Jordan Fraser-Trumble as Kenneth’s more conservative older brother, the script develops at a solid pace. However, the following two acts struggled to retain my interest as much as the first. There was nothing engaging or new about what I was watching and it culminated in a pseudo-ending with white middle-class people complaining about how hard life is. It reached the point where the characters themselves become far less likeable, especially Sandra who ends up resembling a B-grade character from Absolutely Fabulous.

For their part though, Caldwell and Ashcroft put in solid performances and watching them interact on stage together was a highlight of the whole production. It’s a shame these impressive actors weren’t given something more substantial into which they could sink their teeth. Rory Kelly and Jem Nicholas do well with their roles as Kenneth and Sandra’s children, Jamie and Rosie, despite how terribly they are written. I was also quite impressed with Fraser-Trumble, and would have liked to see him and his character return later in the story.

I am still amazed at the visual transformations of the stage space in Red Stitch shows. I can’t recall a season where it has been anything but inspiring, and the same can be said about Love, Love, Love. The costumes by Sophie Woodward and set design by Jacob Battista are appealing and well-presented, although the second act takes place in 1990 but still had a strong 80s feel to it visually.

The direction started off strong and felt very alive and in the moment but by the time we got to the final act, it seemed to become unimaginative and almost lazy. The actors appeared to be stuck trying to keep the momentum gathering, while the storyline became mundane and predictable. A potential plot with Jamie was incredulously ignored and I was baffled as to why we ended up dealing with the chosen issues.

Despite the positive start to Love, Love Love, from the second act onwards the hard work begins to slowly unravel. Even with the great performances by the two leads, it is one of the less memorable works put to stage by Red Stitch.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda.
Season: Until 4 July | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sat 3:00pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $37 Full | $20-27 Conc
Bookings: Red Stitch Actors Theatre

Image by Jodie Hutchinson

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 BELLEVILLE

Compelling theatre

By Narelle Wood

Belleville by Amy Herzog is a challenging play in that it explores a dysfunctional relationship in a witty, yet brutally honest and often harrowing, way.

Paul Ashcroft and Christina O'Neill in BELLEVILLE Photo Credit Jodie Hutchinson

The story follows a couple of days in the life of Zack (Paul Ashcroft) and Abby (Christina O’Neill), an American couple living and working in France. Apart from language and obvious cultural differences, Abby is still grieving her mother’s death and experiencing homesickness, while Zack is doing what ever he can to make ends meet and Abby happy. Pestered by his landlord Alioune (Renaud Momtbrun) and his wife Amina (Tariro Mavondo) for overdue rent, Zack finds himself more and more desperate to put his life and relationship back on track.

O’Neill and Ashcroft work perfectly together as they negotiate the emotional turmoil of their characters: from deep passion, to exasperation, tenderness, desperation, to outright hatred, these two actors depict it all with a disturbing realism that makes the play both riveting and difficult to watch. O’Neill’s portrayal of Abby is just as complex as her character’s slow mental decline and Ashcroft similarly presents Zack as a multidimensional character who is just as ingratiating as he is completely unappealing.

The Parisian apartment where the play is set is small, but director Denny Lawrence makes maximum use of the available space both on and off stage, with the bedroom and bathroom providing really clever opportunities for costume changes and storyline segues. The use of props, including their placement and movement to different areas of the stage, is very cleverly choreographed. However, what perhaps is the most impressive thing about Lawrence’s direction is the way he has dealt with and enabled the actors to deal with demanding themes and situations.

Although Belleville has some funny moments, it is not a play for escapism or one that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Red Stitch’s latest production expertly provides a dose of relationship realism and is a resolute must-see if you like plays that are expertly staged with a quality script and excellent acting.

Venue: Red Stitch Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Season: Until 31st May, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm and 8pm, Sun 6.30pm
Tickets: Full $39| Conc $20
Bookings: http://redstitch.net/bookings/