No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Interviews

Pam Ann: ‘I only know three straight people: mum, dad and my brother’

She is certainly not one to shy away from giving offence. As we talk, the supreme confidence in herself as a performer and the character of Pam Ann comes through loud and clear: she knows who she is, and how she wants things to be done. Recently in Joe’s Pub, five people were talking so Reid ordered them to move to the back. “They got upset said I’d lost five fans. I went, ‘I don’t care. Get some manners and then come back and see me.’ People. You can’t please them all. You might lose five and you might gain ten. Or,” she says, laughing, “you might gain one. You get to a point in your life and your career where it’s just, like, whatever.”

Clearly, to continue to play one character for so long you need this confidence, and over the years, says Reid, Pam Ann has become “a bit tough. She’s not so soft anymore. I don’t think she ever really was, but she never swore like a trooper like I do now.”

Read the rest of this piece at Guardian Australia

Vitalstatistix: 30 Vital Years

Vitalstatistix Theatre Company will spend 2014 celebrating their 30th anniversary. I spoke to current Creative Producer Emma Webb about the company’s history for the Adelaide Review.

As with any small arts organisation, Vitalstatistix’s history has been rocky. They’ve lost – but always regained – funding multiple times over their history, and partially through this, and through the changing tide of theatre, politics, and feminism in Australia, it’s found itself operating in many different guises.

“It was quite feasible that at any point throughout its history that the company might not have survived,” says Webb. “Small-to-medium sized companies have a really hard time surviving.

“Let alone anything else that might affect an arts company’s ability to survive, but on top of that a company that is a feminist organisation, that’s based in a working class suburb like the Port [Adelaide], and that has produced a lot of political work.

“It’s kind of remarkable, in some ways,” she says, “that it’s survived and thriving.”

Read the whole piece here. 

No Plain Jane around the web

On Vitalstatistix’s Adhocracy for the Adelaide Review:

The landscape of the arts in Australia is changing. Increasingly, artists aren’t making works that can be easily defined as theatre or visual arts, etcetera, but instead work across art forms and disciplines. It is in this spirit many of the works at Adhocracy will be developed.

Emma Webb, Vitalstatistix’s Creative Producer, says programs like Adhocracy are part of a “growing movement to engage with how we make art, and art’s position in the world”.

On the excitement I felt of the ‘Australianess’ of Belvoir’s Angels in America for the Guardian:

Angels in America is certainly not a new Australian work in terms of its text, and the production makes no pretensions to be. The story may not be ours in 2013 – and probably never was ours even when Tony Kushner wrote his story about AIDS in a 1985 New York City. But the theatre of the piece feels firmly ours of today.

It’s both surprising and exciting how Flack’s production has this spirit to it, and he has found this largely through an Australian irreverent sense of humour. While Kushner said it’s “okay if the wires show” in his stage directions, in this production Flack’s stage magic is, for the most part, so delightfully rudimentary there aren’t even wires to hide.

A review of You, Me, and the Bloody Sea in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival for ArtsHub:

The Space Theatre for the Cabaret Festival was the wrong venue for You, Me and the Bloody Sea. We needed a pub.

The kind of pub where the wind howls by outside, its salt stinging faces as they hurry inside to where bodies pack under the slightly too dim lighting. As the band plays, we want not so much as to watch them perform but to feel them. To stamp our feet and clap our hands and yell and sing along; or to tightly wrap our hands around another and softly sway.

An interview with Anna Krien about her book Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport for Artery:

Exploration of these themes has lead to a book that is frequently uncomfortable, and I wondered if Krien needed breaks from the material in developing the work. ‘You just kind of wade into it’, she replies.

‘I can’t get out of it. There is no real point in taking a break from it because it kind of consumes me, so no. You just go into that dark place and dig your way out.’

A review of The Comedy of Errors from the State Theatre Company of South Australia and Bell Shakespeare for the Guardian:

[…] scenes happen under the glow of a tanning bed, in 24-hour table tennis halls, and under the flashing strobe of a night club. It’s Shakespeare shown at his crudest and broadest, and his text feels comfortable in this world. At times the language is near impenetrable, at others it feels startlingly contemporary – but Savage’s production finds most success and its biggest humour when it goes beyond the text and into the physical.

And I’ll leave you with these sentiments from an unpublished (big on the One Man, Two Guvnors spoilers – shoot me an email if you want to read it) interview with Richard Bean for Arts Centre Melbourne’s Artist to Artist critical conversations:

“One thing that maybe this play has brought back into the tool kit of a playwright is the aside,” he tells me. “We’ve completely lost that from modern theatre – comedy or drama. There is absolutely no reason you can’t do a very serious play about a very serious topic and have asides. It doesn’t have to be comedic. And I think it’s quite refreshing to see this. It’s not the expansion of the form because it’s always been there, but the recovery of different techniques is going to be with me forever now. Why isn’t the actor talking to the audience?”

“It may have ruined me”, he finishes, thinking he’ll never be able to do a work without asides again. This draws contemplation to thoughts about what other facets of theatre have been dropped for being old fashioned or out dated, and how they can be re-employed in contemporary work.

Ode to Nonsense blog four: wrap-up discussion

The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between me and Andy Packer, the Artistic Director of Slingsby and director of Ode to Nonsense. I interviewed Andy several times before the production opened, including time spent in the rehearsal room and tech, before reviewing the work on opening night. You can read my previous pieces on the work here.

Jane: I really appreciated you having me in the rehearsal room. I think it was really valuable just in a general, much broader sense, because I haven’t spent a lot of time in rehearsal rooms. It’s a weird place where I sit, almost, in this industry, where I’m very connected to everyone and I invest a lot in having really strong connections with the community, but I only ever see this end point which is such the tip of the iceberg of the whole ecology.

Andy: You kind of see the church service without everything else that goes on through the week.


It is interesting. I’m glad you were able to come in. And I really appreciated all of our conversations and what you wrote. And I think it’s really important that people critiquing or writing about theatre understand the process that we go through. And things that may seem ill-considered are not necessarily un-considered. So it’s great. I think it should happen more.

Yeah, definitely. I think it should happen more but I am at this point in my career where I am trying to figure out to make it a career, and how to make it sustainable. And that means writing preview pieces more often than not, because that’s where the money is. Stuff like this I’d love to do, but where is the money to sit in the rehearsal room?

It’s the same with artists, as well. You’ve got to create demand. You’ve got to do it and do it and do it until there is interest, and then hopefully there is an audience which means there is some commercial viability to it, you know?

Yeah, absolutely. 

I don’t know if you’ve read any of this stuff: there is a British critic called Andrew Haydon and he coined the term ‘embedded criticism’, and so lots of people particularly in the UK have used that term. Then Jake Orr and Maddy Costa have created Dialogue, and that’s about having conversations with artists and understanding process, and also thinking about what artists want from reviews. Not that that’s the be-all-end-all of what a review can ever be, but it’s about engaging on this really deep level.

And so obviously I’ve been involved with a lot of those conversations online, and I’ve read a lot of their writing about it. So I went in the first rehearsal thinking ‘oh, I’m doing embedded criticism’ and I came out thinking I’m not. What am I doing? You can’t do criticism of that room. And so I started to think of myself as an embedded critic – because I am a critic, that’s how I describe myself – but it took me a while to figure out what my relationship was to the work in that room and how I could respond to it.

Also we didn’t set up any strict rules. I was pretty open to the fact that the reason we were bringing you in was not so we could ensure that you would write a better review, I was really clear on that. The outcome of your response to the work was completely your own, but hopefully what would happen is you would get a better understanding of us as a company and us as a team of artists and the way that we work.

I think probably for myself, I can’t speak for anyone else, what I would love to see more in reviews is long form. Like Theater Magazine in the US: it’s longer form exploration of the artists, the context, and then the work is part of that, as opposed to ‘it didn’t work’ or ‘it worked, it was brilliant.’ Even ‘it worked, it was brilliant’ is great for picking out quotable quotes to put on posters, but it’s not journalism. That’s when I think a bit of writing is really interesting, when it takes all of that into consideration.

And I don’t think you necessarily need to be in a rehearsal room to understand that, but I do think you need to have an ongoing conversation with an artist or with a company.

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An Ode To Nonsense Blog One: pre-rehearsal discussion with Andy Packer

Over the next month, I’m going to be spending some time with Andy Packer and the team at Slingsby as they prepare for the world premiere of Ode To Nonsense, their new opera for families, presented with State Opera South Australia.

While Andy has been working on the show for twelve years, it all started to come together this week in the rehearsal room. I spoke to Andy last Thursday, and will speak to him again before opening, as well as writing about spending time in the rehearsal room, before seeing the show and writing a review with all this perspective.

I know very little about opera, and have spent very little time in rehearsal rooms outside of student productions. I’m not sure what will come out of this process yet, for me or for him, but I think we’re both curious and excited to see what will result.

Andy is an artist it is always wonderful to speak with. His energy and passion is infectious, his joy for his work delightful to witness. Slingsby premiered in 2008, its premier performance The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy going on to tour internationally “220 times in 40 venues in 25 cities on 5 continents”. While still young, it is greatly respected and an important piece of the puzzle that makes Adelaide a leader in the creation of work for young people.

An Ode To Nonsense is the fourth work for the company, and is based on the work and life of Edward Lear, perhaps most well known for The Owl and the Pussycat. Lear has always been a presence in Slingsby, though, with the company taking their name from his The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Round The World:

Once upon a time, a long while ago, there were four little people whose names were Violet, Slingsby, Guy, and Lionel; and they all thought they should like to see the world. So they bought a large boat to sail quite round the world by sea, and then they were to come back on the other side by land.

It was twelve years ago – before Slingsby as a company even existed – that Andy “fell in love with Lear’s work.” It was from that point, he described, he’s been “working away, trying to find the right way to celebrate both his work but also his life, and what I think maybe we can all glean from his existence.”

Andy originally conceived this as a small cabaret show based on The Story of the Four Little Children … with a development showing in 2005. From this showing, though, Andy realised “it was a bigger story.”

It was while directing Motzart’s Bastien and Bastienne that he decided opera was the right form for the story.

For me, as someone who doesn’t have an education in opera, this striked me as an interesting choice. So much of opera is caught up in the heritage features of the art form – it’s not at all surprising the opera Andy was directing for State Opera was by Motzart.

“The thing that is great about opera,” he told me, “the thing that I fell in love with, is there is no other artform where you can change gears emotionally quite so quickly, because the music is driving the story.”

“There is a moment in Ode to Nonsense where Lear is being teased by Gussie and Giorgio: they’re teasing him about one of his nonsense recipes. In the recipe it says take the ingredients and place them in another room, then bring them back and then throw the whole lot out of the window, and they’re singing that and being cheeky, and he’s singing that and repeats the same text and basically talking about throwing himself out the window. And only music can make that clear to you. It’s the same words, seconds later, but because of the music it has a much deeper and quicker emotional resonance. What opera’s particularly good at is taking the personal and making it epic. Making it a big philosophical story as well as being a personal story.”

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Interview: Zoe Barry and Howling Like A Wolf

The abandoned warehouse space which is Queens Theatre seems to have hit a new stride and has, all of a sudden, become my favourite place to see theatre. In a city which seriously struggles in performance spaces I’m really excited to see the Queens claimed in earnest by interesting artists both during and outside of fringe time. We desperately need these flexible performance spaces, and because of the particular challenges of the Queens we are really getting an opportunity to see artists stretch their creative muscles.

Next in the venue we’ll be seeing Restless Dance Theatre with their new work Howling Like A Wolf. Director Zoe Barry and I meet one chilly Sunday morning to discuss the show she has been working on for two and a half years with performers from four disability performing arts companies in Adelaide: Restless, No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability, the Tutti Ensemble, and Company@.

The show began when Barry was invited by Kate Sulan, the artistic director of Melbourne’s Rawcus, to work with the companies on a weekend residency. The two companies worked together on The Heart of Another is a Dark Forest at the Melbourne Fringe, and this was an opportunity for members of Restless’ company to see how Rawcus develops work.

As they were trying to come up with a theme for the weekend, Barry says she had just read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

The book, she says, was:

looking at how we take in information in the blink of an eye, how we read situations and all the levels of information that we read, and what goes into our reading a situation. What is assumed, what prejudices do we hold, what implicit associations do we have, and then also how does our brain compute.

He’s fascinated with psychology so he went into a lot of psychological investigation about that. And there was a lot of stuff about reading people, and he looked at lying and micro-expressions, and I thought that would be really interesting for the performers, because they’d all have really different experiences of reading others, and also being read, as well, by others.

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Sea Bloom

This article was originally published in the May Adelaide Review

Since her first play Tender opened in Belvoir’s independent theatre space in Sydney in 2006, playwright Nicki Bloom has seen her plays produced in Aubrey, Brisbane and New York City, with additional readings in Melbourne and London.

Her plays and prose have won some of Australia’s most prestigious writing awards, and in 2008 she won Australia’s richest playwriting award: the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award.

This year began with two awards for Bloom at the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature: the Jill Blewett Playwright Award for A Cathedral and the Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship for The Sun and the Other Stars. Now, the South Australian-based Bloom is preparing for the world premiere of her latest work, Land & Sea, which opens with a preview at the Queen’s Theatre on Friday, May 11.

Talking to Bloom and director and dramaturge of the work, Brink Productions Artistic Director Chris Drummond, on the second day of rehearsals, the pair exudes with pleasure the final discoveries, which are being made in preparation for opening. Land & Sea has been in development since 2008, and the pair is clearly excited and ready to see it take its new life in front of an audience.

From a prose and poetry background, the language in Bloom’s plays exhibits a strong sense of structure and form. “All playwrights have different views on this, but I come pretty firmly down on the side that you’re writing literature,” Bloom says. “Of course you’re writing a play, and you’re writing something to be done, but it also has great value as a piece of text.”

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Interview: Geordie Brookman and The City

Already this year Adelaide theatre director Geordie Brookman has worked as assistant director on the Force Majeure / Sydney Theatre Company / Sydney Festival production Never Did Me Any Harm; directed the development and reading of Nicki Bloom’s 170 page, five hour long The Sun and the Other Stars for the National Play Festival in Melbourne; was the community coordinator at the Adelaide Festival club Barrio; and, in a “stupidly swift manner”, applied for and was announced as incumbent Artistic Director for the State Theatre Company of South Australia.

But before any of this came along, Geordie and wife Nicki Bloom had planned a year’s worth of work for their independent theatre company nowyesnow, for which they are co-artistic directors. I meet with Geordie twice in the last month to discuss directing nowyesnow’s first production for 2012, Martin Crimp’s The City.

Chatting on the second day of rehearsals in March and during bump-in to the theatre three days before the first preview in April gave me the opportunity to learn more about how a work is approached at the beginning and end of a rehearsal process, and (here’s hoping) gave me an opportunity to come to a clearer understanding of the work before seeing the piece and formulating my response to it (which you can now read here). The traditional approach is, of course, there is no connection between the artists and the critic before a work, as if conversations will some how “taint” the opinion (or, at worst, “subjectivity”) of a critic. But trying to stand completely outside of the theatrical culture in Adelaide is rather impossible, and I’m also interested in the place a critic occupies between the “audience” and the “artist” and how, by forming a clearer picture of intents and processes, the gaps on all sides (between audience and critic; between critic and artist; between audience and artist) can become smaller.

How this works in practice is something I’m still working out, but I’m glad to have artists who will help me in the process.

Geordie previously directed Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life for STCSA in 2008. “He’s always struck me,” he told me at our first meeting.

“Whenever I read something of his it always has an impact, and it doesn’t mean every word of his is perfect, but every one is so finely wrought and so deeply intelligent and so determined to simply be what it is. That beautiful thing in an artist: he doesn’t try to please anybody except himself, and he just allows the audience to come to him.”

Of The City, Geordie said the work is “a really quiet, really controlled, very very very intimate piece of chamber theatre that maintains that wonderful, dark, wicked sense of humour that he has, but makes no apologies for being deeply intelligent and highly cerebral.”

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Interview: Kym Begg and RightAct ’10

Harder to get an interview time with than Meow Meow, last Wednesday Kym and I finally met up to talk about all things RightAct ’10, the conference he is organising for ActNow in October.  The interview can be read here at Australian Stage Online.

I’m really excited about RightAct: everyone who I’ve met in the past couple of months who is involved is lovely and passionate and willing and wanting to share their friendship and knowledge and enthusiasm; there are some really amazing speakers involved; and I just love listening to passionate people talk and discuss and debate – when that’s about theatre I love it even more.

Click to enlarge.

If you want more information about the conference, visit the ActNow website, or to register for the workshops fill in the registration form.

Another thing which it is time to be excited for is 2011 Season launches.  Yes, they’ve begun!  Of course we get the Eastern states first, but that is just to whet the appetite, and I am very excited to know the Australian Ballet is bringing Stanton Welch Madame Butterfly to Adelaide, I haven’t seen it and cannot wait.   I have been lucky enough to be invited to BOTH of the State Theatre Company’s launches (yes, that’s right!  count them!  two!), with the launch proper on October 8, and the Red Carpet launch on October 14.

If you’re under 30 and want to come along to the Red Carpet launch, at the Banque in North Adelaide from 5:30-7:30, just rsvp to Robyn on 8415 5333 or email robyn at

I don’t know when any of the other Adelaide seasons (you know, because there are so many of them!) launch but I would appreciate invites tips!

Interview: Meow Meow

Last week I did my final interview for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and it was a hard one to find the time for – her working in London and my working full time in Adelaide doesn’t leave a lot of compatible time.   But in the end, Meow Meow was lovely enough to find the time to answer my emailed questions.  It was hard to write, because the answers she gave me were so great, and so I didn’t want to chop them up into an article.  I didn’t have to place them within an article, I could’ve done straight questions and answers, but part of the reason I do this is to become a better writer.  I did, however, leave the answer to my first question (How would you define cabaret?) untouched; there is no way I could’ve broken that brilliant answer down.

This interview originally appeared on Australian Stage Online

Meow Meow is returning to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2010 with Feline Intimate at the Dunstan Playhouse on the 19th and 20th of June, and she answered my questions via email from London. With the difficulties in completing this interview due to international time differences and hectic schedules (first it was going to be by email, then by phone, then back to email again), it is no surprise then in Adelaide, Meow Meow looks forward to “having a lie down.” She tells me “A stage dive and crowd surf is the best rest I can have these hectic days. Such a great way to get to know the audience Really Intimately! Multi-tasking is a necessity in this line of art!”

Feline Intimate has played in Brisbane and Melbourne, with the Melbourne season of the show resulting in three nominations in the Green Room Awards, for Cabaret Production, Artiste, and Musical Director John Thorn. Of coming to Adelaide, Meow Meow says “Adelaide’s Festival is unique – and always so invigorating to be a part of…it’s like a beautiful bijou, a fantastic cabaret paradise where like minded souls converge once a year. It’s very special.”

In Adelaide, Meow Meow tells me there will be “Life! Joy! Heart Break, Hilarity, Agony and Ecstasy in musical doses. Sequins, sexiness (it’s just inevitable, I’m afraid, and in my contract), songs sung most of the way through.” Also in her contract are audience favourites, but with Thorn “playing some very mean ivories”, she will be premiering new songs for Adelaide audiences. In addition to the music, “there may be some audience loving and hugging, but no promises.” She is “very excited to see what will happen in the Dunstan Playhouse.”

Meow Meow is a true performer of the international stage: in the past year she has played in cities such as London, Paris, New York, and Taranaki, New Zealand. I ask if, as a performer, she finds differences between Australian, European and American audiences, and are her shows tailored towards these differences? “Yes of course,” she answers. “People relate to the intense physicality of these shows pretty universally (let’s face it they have little choice), but singing Brecht in Berlin is an entirely different experience to singing it in New York City. I love that. Its exciting.”

For her performances next weekend, Meow Meow wants audiences to get “An earful. An eyeful is inevitable. In short, sensorial and cerebral overload”, and she would like to get “Buzzing brains, split sides, slapped thighs (their own), eternal adoration, and a good martini post-show, of course,” from the audience (but please note, “Only red wine or whiskey during the actual show, please.”)

The 10th Adelaide Cabaret Festival holds host to a whole range of shows, and the variety which can been seen on its stages every night makes the term “cabaret” very hard to define. Artistic Director David Campbell describes the program as one “that inspires, excites and leaves the audience wanting more.” I asked Meow Meow what her definition of the art form was, and I loved the answer so much, I think I may have to use it from now on. It may be a bit cumbersome to always explain, but I think using it would be worth it:
People relate to the intense physicality of these shows pretty universally (let’s face it they have little choice), but singing Brecht in Berlin is an entirely different experience to singing it in New York City. I love that. Its exciting.

“Everyone from Kander and Ebb and the State of NY to the invisible fairies of Wikipidea have their own succinct spins on that – readers you can neatly access endless opinions on this topic in bars, theatres, circus tents, parliament, the courts and even on the world wide web with a savvy usage of key word questionings…I would hate to limit myself to one definitive version. I think one could safely trace it back to Ur, and the Greeks, though, and then Schubert and Schumann, for starters…

“Today (tomorrow I may feel differently), the cabaret I love incorporates the best bits of all the so-called genres of this multi-definitional thing..- wondrous music with political satire mixed with out and out showbiz, high and low art (in the same breath), the ancient and modern, astounding virtuosity , some kind of truth in delivery that makes us hear a song or an idea completely differently to the way we’ve always ( or never) heard it, that feels comforting, healing or revelatory. The intimacy that can be created through the excitement of this “realness”, this spontaneity, regardless of the size of the performance space. The countless wild stories that can be told in song after song – masses of human emotion and experience distilled in a song, universal stories that feel completely personal, special, cathartic. An excitement or danger as we wonder where the performance will take us. An expectation that anything could happen, and those exquisite moments of genuine uncensored reaction where we cannot even understand why we are suddenly weeping or laughing! Enlightenment! The tensions between words and music, and their fabulous collisions and collusions! I always want to be astounded. Is that too much?

“I love the flexibility of a cabaret format to take risks – to be endlessly reinvented, to respond to the personal and political circumstances of the audience, the performer, the larger world environment. It is a vehicle built for changes, in all senses and for me, at least, drags its history marvelously with it. There is something also about some kind of exposure that is possible within cabaret- within a song – be it of the vulnerability of a vocal fold or a human heart, or a viewpoint. In the cabaret that I love, there is always a sense of rawness, or perhaps just “realness”, even when covered in sequins and lush chordal structures. It should be a dangerous and passionate mix of art and craft, heart, head and spirit! It’s Life in macro-microcosm. How fabulous! I’ve made myself excited! Let’s put on a show!”