Tag: Red Stitch Theatre

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.

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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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Red Stitch Presents THE MOORS

A brilliant, absurdist Brontesque thriller

By Tania Herbert

Haze cascades down from the ceiling, and the severe form of a Victorian woman is lit to look like a cameo brooch. Thus opens The Moors at Red Stitch Theatre, and I already have a little thrill of expectation.

The Moors

Wandering into the tiny, immaculate theatre of Red Stitch is always an expected delight. What was less expected though, was this gothic surrealist gem of a play by Jen Silverman.

Governess Emilie (Zoe Boesen) is lured to a new job at a manor on the moors, after an exchange of sultry emails with the lord of the manor. She arrives to find that there appears to be no child, her bedroom looks suspiciously like the parlour, and her benefactor is nowhere to be found.

Instead she quickly finds herself embroiled in the mysteries of the household, with the multiple personalities of the housemaid (Grace Lowry), melancholies of tortured writer Hudley (Anna McCarthy) and the chilling powers of Agatha (Alex Aldrich), the formidable sister of the missing lord.

The gothic thriller set-up is counterpointed by the parallel story of the depressed family hound who forms an implausible relationship with a damaged moor-hen unable to fly away (played by ensemble actors Dion Mills and Olga Makeeva).

The set-up and absurdist nature of the play could have easily ended up out of hand, but was held in place by extremely tight direction under Stephen Nicolazzo, and particularly the strength of characterisation by all cast members. For every performance, the simmering darkness within was captured, presenting a gripping two hours of theatre. With an almost all-female cast, the play pushed gender roles in particularly interesting ways – my feeling was that the play isn’t foregrounding a feminist message as such – but rather, is a story with an exceptionally strong cast of characters and actors – most of whom happen to be women.

It is difficult to highlight a particular standout performer, as every cast member was strong, convincing and compelling. Perhaps my personal favourite was Olga Makeeva mastering the challenge of playing both an anthropomorphised bird, but also the relative ‘everyman’ against the absurdities around her.

The accent variation grated on me a little, as Australian ocker just doesn’t seem congruent with the English moors, but given the surrealist nature of the work, this did not subtract overall. This play won’t be for everyone – it is dark in mood, appearance and humour with horror elements and a bit of lustiness.

Sinister, dark, and humorous, watching The Moors feels like peering into a gothic dollhouse of horrors.

The Moors is performing at Red Stitch Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East

 Dates: 6 June- 9 July, Tuesday-Saturday 8pm, Sunday 6.30pm (Post-show Q&A 22 June)

Tickets: $15-$49

Bookings: (03) 9533 8083 or www.redstitch.net

Image by Jodie Hutchinson

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.

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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

Red Stitch Presents UNCLE VANYA

Chekhov adaptation is both smart and stylish

By Leeor Adar

Nadia Tass continues her accomplished direction here in Annie Baker’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. It is one of the best things I’ve seen this year, and Red Stitch delivers some of the best Australian theatre once again. Having witnessed a number of Chekhov productions recently, it is a delight to see such an accomplished and stylish cast bring to life one of Chekhov’s more titillating works. Uncle Vanya brings the longings for life, for land and for love in a way that embraces the depths of the emotional life rarely written so well. The melancholy acceptance of our lot rings true, we almost feel like tearing down the walls of the little world on stage and freeing the characters from their own reverie and turmoil.

 Uncle Vanya - Rosie Lockhart & Ben Prendergast c. David_Parker.jpg

Baker’s contemporary adaptation of Uncle Vanya captures the larger-than-life torment of the characters in a way we recognise as an audience. From the plight of the forests to the plight of the loss of youth and vigour to sedentary living, Chekhov’s world continues to make sense to contemporary audiences. While admittedly his world tends to drag (why any work should go beyond two hours is increasingly beyond me), the Chekhovian drag perfectly symbolises the endless days that follow in the pursuit of living – so aptly considered by the character of Sonya.

Long-time resident of Red Stitch, David Whiteley portrays the title role of Uncle Vanya with humour, bitterness and vitality. It’s hard playing a lovelorn, broken man, but Whiteley does it with panache. Whiteley is accompanied brilliantly by Ben Prendergast’s Astrov, the country doctor-cum-man of the earth. Both fall prey to the bored wanderlust of the leisurely Yelena, portrayed with so much grace, guile and allure by Rosie Lockhart. Lockhart’s mystery is balanced well with Sonya’s earthy kindness, played by Eva Seymour with astonishing conviction. The supporting cast bring their own, with a special mention to Justin Hosking’s tragi-comic Telegin, who’s timing and awkwardness are utterly endearing. Marta Kaczmarek’s ‘nanny’ Marina’s watchful, wise gaze pervades the production with the kind of certainty that only comes with a life lived and observed. Together this ensemble cast seamlessly delivers this universal family drama with an intimacy and tenderness that does justice to the writer’s work. My only displeasure is with the Russian accents deployed with too great a variety by the actors to genuinely contribute to the overall work.

Sophie Woodward’s set and costume design captures the country home feel astutely. The little window gazing towards the countryside that only the characters can see out of perfectly encapsulates the unending longing. The lounge sofa converts so well from the bed of the exhaustingly self-important Professor, Serebryakov (Kristof Kaczmarek), to the melancholy place where Voynitsky drowns his sorrows. The set is utilised very well, and the carefully thought-out production is aided by Woodward’s style.

There is great humour and poetry to Tass’ Uncle Vanya, and the excellent direction kites its audience along, observing all the moments that rupture, and all those softer moments in between. Chekhov fans will endure, and they will enjoy. For those who are unfamiliar with the work, this production would be a great place to start.

Uncle Vanya continues to be performed at Red Stitch until December 17.

http://redstitch.net/bookings/

Image by David Parker

Red Stitch Presents SUNSHINE

Dawning potential as four lives interweave

By Caitlin McGrane

There’s something about Red Stitch that always keeps me coming back. It might be the way their plays seem to be selected deliberately and with precision, or the very, very fine performances that they nearly always seem to produce. Sunshine by Tom Holloway opens with four performers lying on the ground on stage where they seem to come to life one-by-one and speak their lines lyrically and with intense musicality.

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Each player moves in their own world; even when it becomes apparent later that they’re interacting with one another, it’s like they’re in layered alternate universes. I was reminded of the ‘real’ world compared to the ‘Upside Down’ in Stranger Things in the way the characters moved around each other, near and almost touching but never quite. Direction from Kirsten von Bibra was superb and sublime – the delicate and precarious way the actors spoke and moved around each other was masterful. The four-hander cast, Ella Caldwell, Philip Hayden, Caroline Lee and George Lingard, are all tremendous, very much each making the most of their character’s individual trajectory.

For me, however, the writing was disappointing. The dialogue was highly stylised, and for a time it was really interesting and beautiful, but after about half an hour my head began to ache and I found I was having to do a lot of work to remember what was happening with each character. As my head whipped back and forth trying to keep up, I started to lose interest in the onstage goings on.

The dialogue would have been easy enough to let go if the individual stories amounted to more than the sum of their parts, but for my money the playwright missed an opportunity to look at a really interesting relationship between Man 2 (Philip Hayden) and Woman 2 (Caroline Lee). Hayden and Lee had far and away the most nuanced and interesting characters, and their limited interaction showed the kind of writing of which Holloway is capable.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention that embedded within the writing is the character of a homeless man who ostensibly lives in the same universe in which the play takes place. He has no lines, no face and is referred to only as a plot device (to do what exactly, I’m not sure). Homelessness is an increasing problem in Melbourne, and it was extremely disappointing to see yet another misrepresentation of homelessness as male, drug-affected and living in a park. People who are homeless deserve better and fairer representation, and it smacks of lazy writing to use people who are already socially invisible in this manner.

All that said, there was a lot to enjoy. The set and lighting were expertly crafted by Matthew Adey – the staging in particular showed real ingenuity. Elizabeth Drake made some interesting choices for the play’s composition and sound design; her dreamy ethereal sounds were reminiscent of Blade Runner. Costumes (Matilda Woodroofe) were simple, fitting the minimalist theme of the play, and didn’t distract from the drama. Overall Sunshine shows great potential, not least from Holloway who I hope will continue to grow and experiment as a writer.

Sunshine is now showing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until 5 November 2016. Tickets and more information: http://redstitch.net/gallery/sunshine/

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents THE VILLAGE BIKE

Compelling and confronting play performed with aplomb

By Christine Young

British playwright Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike is a gripping study in lust, love and gender politics. And hormones. Lots of them.

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Red Stitch Actors Theatre in St Kilda is presenting the Australian premiere of The Village Bike which opened to rave reviews and won a local award in London five years ago. The theatre company’s Artistic Director, Ella Caldwell, takes on the lead role of Becky who is a newly-pregnant schoolteacher on summer break. She has recently moved to a village in the country with her husband John (Richard Davies from Channel 10’s Offspring) who seems like the ‘perfect man’. He cooks, cleans, reads baby books and caters for most of Becky’s needs. Sigh. Right, ladies? Wrong. Becky’s sex drive is going through the roof due to pregnancy hormones, while John is off the boil.

In a 2011 interview at theatreVOICE, Skinner said she found plenty of evidence on the internet “that men go off sex during their partner’s pregnancy”. Therein lies the rub. Becky buys a bike from a local, the womaniser and eccentric Oliver (comedian/actor Matt Dyktynski), and they soon embark on an intense sexfest. They agree this is a temporary fling while Oliver’s wife is away. But the true course of rampant sex, fulfilling previously unsated fantasies, never did run smooth. As my plus one said: “Life is not a porno”.
But what happens if it becomes one?

The play brings into question both gender roles and stereotypes, and conventional expectations of men and women in relation to sex and marriage, and the cast teases out the dark shadows of the characters’ desires into the full force of daylight. Caldwell as Becky is enthralling, though her performance was a little self-conscious at times in contrast to Davies and Dyktynski. I felt the latters’ experience in naturalistic acting in film and TV meant they gave more authentic and relaxed performances here. And while there is an initial charm to their characters, the actors gradually reveal that John and Oliver aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Nor is Becky but Caldwell carefully explores the fact she is more aware that she is going through life pretending and feeling like an imposter in her own existence.

This production has a lot of simulated sex acts which it’s easy to be blasé about when we have easy access to so much internet and film porn. But theatre sex is different to filmed sex and not everyone will be comfortable with it. If that is you, perhaps just ask for tickets further up the back.

The Village Bike at Red Stitch is definitely worth seeing though because it keeps you talking and thinking long after the lights go down.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear of 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East
Dates: Until March 5, 2016
Tickets: $25-$45
Booking: redstitch.net

Image by Jodie Hutchinson

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