Tag: Sophie Woodward

Melbourne Fringe 2017: LOVE SONG

Stealing hearts

By Lois Maskiell

Melbourne-based actor Lucy Moir plays Joan, a married and shrewd business woman in the recent production of Love Song at this year’s Melbourne Fringe. In an interview that took place just after the preview, Lucy shared her insights about the piece. “(Y)ou could say it’s a play about mental illness,” she said, “but really, it’s about taking life on, taking it into your own hands and making it your own.”

Love Song photo.jpg

Love Song was premiered in Chicago, 2006 by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and has since been performed in London, Rome, Aukland, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Melbourne with MTC’s 2008 production. Its success can be attributed to its simplicity, as its playwright John Kolvenbach has plainly remarked: “(I)t’s about a very lonely guy who finds love”.

Beane (Nicholas Denton) lives in a barren apartment, stripped of all superfluous possessions (he eats from a cup), while his sister Joan’s apartment shines of order with a sleek sofa, a carefully placed pot-plant and a never-ending supply of wine that quenches her post-work worries. When Molly (Bonnie Moir) bursts onto the scene to burglarise Beane’s apartment, the audience is confronted with a hot-tempered outlaw – one who takes pleasure in her crimes and cannot stand the fact that Beane’s apartment is void of any sentimental objects, whereupon there isn’t even a photograph.

The emotionally eccentric Beane falls madly in love with Molly. All of a sudden, the world excites, rather than depresses him. “When he suddenly has this life force it’s like Joan doesn’t know how to handle it” said Lucy. Beane’s new-found exuberance confronts his sister, provoking a hilariously embarrassing moment in public over a turkey sandwich. It even encourages a spark of romance between Joan and her good-humoured husband Harry (Jordan Fraser-Trumble): a spark that eases their habitual bickering.

The opposing yet complimentary temperaments of Joan and Harry make their relationship so believable. “The contrast is certainly in the text to an extent. I mean, the writing is so beautiful,” said Lucy, “but we definitely made a conscious decision to make this a relationship of routine and compatibility.” The habitual and routine are common themes throughout the play. For Lucy, Kolvenbach is “looking at how easy it is to fall into the familiar trap of routine” and that “whatever you do, run away from that!”

The couple’s tired relationship takes a positive turn towards the end of the piece, and “(i)t was important for us that Joan and Harry have this kind of dysfunctional chaos in the beginning so that they can really fall for each other again later on,” said Lucy.

Molly’s metatheatrical cry “Death to literalism” is a quip about the role of illusion and fantasy in the play. Perhaps Kolvenbach is commenting on the relationship between romance, delusion and reality. And while the fear of being delusional is real, it is only through our imaginations that one can truly come to terms with existence.

When asked what she thought about Kolvenbach’s point, Lucy responded that “Ultimately, he is pointing out that life can be pretty rough sometimes. And whatever you need to do to get to a place where you can see the beauty in all the chaos, then do it.” Joan and her brother Beane arrive at this place in a disarmingly funny manner, highlighting that “there is a fine line between comedy and tragedy,” as Lucy noted in the interview, “and while Joan takes things very seriously,” she continued, “we laugh at the absurdity and humanity of it all.”

Love Song is an offbeat romantic comedy that Francis Greenslade has directed with a polished sitcom sensibility, outstandingly performed by its entire cast. The timing and energy between the actors brought the lyric humour of the play to life as well as the carefully opposed natures of Kolvenbach’s characters. There is no doubt that this strength of timing is due to Greenslade’s direction. “Francis’ comedy and sense of tempo have been a massive part of getting this production up,” shared Lucy. “He is hilarious yet has this beautiful sensitivity when it comes to drama. It’s been a real lesson in comedy and timing though- and playing for truth rather than laughs.”

The Collingwood Arts Precinct is the perfect place to see theatre at the Fringe, capturing both the spirit of the festival and the playful nature of the production. In a warehouse location with a set designed by Sophie Woodward, the audience is positioned in the centre, on rotating chairs with the action taking place around them (you will have to see for yourself!).  If you hadn’t already attended a Fringe show, I hope you too broke your routine and ran away to the theatre for an evening to see Love Song

Love Song ran until the 30th of September, 2017 for the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Review originally published on Words of Muses.

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

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

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