Tag: Tanya Gerstle

Optic Nerve Presents THE MILL ON THE FLOSS

Where waters run deep

By Rebecca Waese

Optic Nerve’s The Mill on the Floss directed by Tanya Gerstle, delivers a thrilling, sensual, and physically-charged performance about Maggie Tulliver, who, growing up in a provincial town in nineteenth-century England, learns that her choices in life are damningly limited by her gender.

The Mill on the Floss

In this intelligent and immersive production, originally adapted by Helen Edmundson for Shared Experience Theatre Company from George Eliot’s novel, three actors play Maggie at different stages in her life in a moving embodiment of how we experience inner conflict when faced with making heart-breaking decisions. Young Maggie, played by Maddie Nunn with joy and irreverence, supports the more somber second Maggie, hauntingly portrayed by Zahra Newman, and convinces her to return the affections of her first suitor Philip Wakeham, (Tom Heath), who is the son of the lawyer who has taken over Maggie’s father’s mill. Rosie Lockhart delivers a beautifully tempered yet volatile third evolution of Maggie, who becomes entangled in an impossible love triangle with her cousin’s betrothed, Stephen Guest (George Lingard), and has to choose between respecting her brother’s wishes for her and her own desires that will leave her disowned by her family and a societal outcast.

Gerstle’s Pulse style of actor training, where actors follow physical and emotional impulses to give body to the text, allows for some unforgettable ensemble moments. Eight actors commit fully to their 17 roles and create a moving experience of a flood using only chairs and an upturned table in a simple yet evocative light and soundscape. The ghost of a drowned witch emerges from an unseen crevice under the stage to try and drown Maggie in the river. The scenes with the Aunties who selfishly expose their self-interest when Mrs Tulliver (Luisa Hastings Edge) and Mr Tulliver (James O’Connell) lose everything reveal the underside of family divided by class. Music enhances the production and Zahra Newman’s powerful instrument of a voice, worth the price of admission alone, sings a primal call-to-arms of the pain of women who centuries earlier were drowned for being witches.

This adaptation maintains a strong connection to the novel, written in 1860 by Mary Ann Evans under the male pseudonym George Eliot, for its unflinching and unnervingly contemporary portrait of the stirring passions of a young woman bound by the social forces of her time. There is less focus on Tom, Maggie’s brother (Grant Cartwright) than in the novel although his over-physical relationship with Maggie resonates with the intense childhood bond George Eliot describes having with her brother before they were estranged in her autobiographical poem “Brother and Sister.” The weakest part comes in the love affair between third Maggie and Stephen Guest where the affair feels somewhat rushed and not as consuming as it could be if Lingard were able to bring a deeper maturity to the role.

Mill on the Floss injects the past into the contemporary with its rousing themes of how women react passionately against being held down in society. In the theatre foyer, a collage depicting fifteenth-century witch trials and Eddie McGuire’s recent comments about how he would pay to see his female colleague’s head held under a pool of iced water, tracks a chilling legacy that makes Maggie’s struggles even more vital today. This a triumph you do not want to miss; it’s history in the making.

Date: 28 Jul 2016 – 13 Aug 2016. Extra show added Tues Aug 9.

Time: Tues to Sat at 7:30pm and 1:30pm on Sat 6, Sat 13 Aug

Price: $35 Full / $26 Conc, Under 30, Groups 8+ /$20 Preview [plus $2.50 booking fee per ticket]

Presented by: Theatre Works and Optic Nerve

Bookings: (03) 9534 3388

Image by Pia Johnson

Rebecca Waese is a Lecturer in Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University.

Review: VCA’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty

Stunning performances throughout

By Christine Moffat

The VCA School of Performing Arts’ production of Compleat Female Stage Beauty is a play about image and transformation, examining the very modern, yet age-old issues of gender and societal roles. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher imagines a tumultuous episode in the life of the real-life celebrated female character actor Edward ‘Ned’ Kynaston (Tom Heath), and charts his historical journey from darling of London society to the wilderness of potential irrelevance.

Kynaston is at times arrogant, at others touchingly fragile, and requires a transformative performance. Heath deftly makes the flawed Kynaston heroic by investing him with an unwavering honesty of intention. As Nell Gwyn, Rosie Lockhart is a standout performance, succeeding in making the historically famous and notoriously fickle Gwyn a warm and vulnerable real woman.  Matt Whitty is aptly named, as his comic timing is impeccable and his Charles II is amusing without becoming a caricature. Alice Cavanagh was also especially good in both her roles, again showing a good sense of natural comedic acting, as opposed to simply playing for laughs. It has to be said that it is difficult to only make specific mention of the performers above, as the calibre of performances from every member of this large cast was superb.

The original set design by Amaya Veccellio (beginning at the theatre door) takes the audience backstage in a seventeenth-century theatre, and helps create the sense of immediacy that continues throughout the play. On the walk to your seat the actors are right there, completing their pre-show rituals of dressing, rehearsing lines, or even grabbing a quickie. The careful lighting created by Sarah Willetts augmented by the subtle sound design of Kahra Scott-James evokes a pre-electric world, whilst ensuring that the audience does not need to strain see details. Director Tanya Gerstle deserves recognition for generating a true feeling of immersion and involvement: during a bawdy tavern scene when Kynaston is at his lowest, and undergoing great torment from his ‘audience’, my theatre companion had to stop herself from heckling back in his defence.

This classic play explores the concept of self, and how it is affected by circumstance and choice. This particular production is a poetic marriage of pathos and comedy, and a credit to everyone involved. I can thoroughly recommend it as an intelligent, engaging, and most importantly, entertaining night’s theatre.

Show information:

Sun 28 October – Thurs 1 November, 7:30pm

Fri 2 November, 2:00pm & 7:30pm

Venue: Grant Street Theatre, Grant Street, Southbank

Tickets: $22 Full/$16 Concession

Bookings: www.trybooking.com