No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Brad Williams

Review: The Migration Project

For the last six months, theatre maker Alirio Zavarce has been an Artist in Residence at William Light R-12 School and Woodville High School. This residency has cumulated in The Migration Project in the 2013 Come Out Festival.

Arriving at the Torrens Parade Ground, we are each passed a migration card. It asks for our name, our date of birth, our method of arrival. Then the questions get stranger: are you blonde? A real blonde? What is better – lamingtons or pavlova? Would you be prepared to eat a whole jar of Vegemite to prove how Australian you are? Are you secretly racist?

We fill these in while waiting in line, and at the end stands Alirio Zavarce, asking each of us “What makes you Australian?” We again line up, this time in five queues, as we wait for the rest of the audience to be processed.

We are directed into the next room, dropping our migration cards on a table on our way in. The room is filled with circles of chairs, and in each circle is a student from one of the two high schools. We small talk: where in the world have you been? What hobbies do you have? They tell us a bit about themselves, where they’re from, and how we’re all a part of this big wide world together.

We move again, this time into an end-on theatre set-up. The high school students take their places on the stage, and the performance truly begins. Introduced and lead by Zavarce, the students tell us their stories of how they came to Australia, or how their families came here. They write words to describe Australia on blackboards, they pull props to tell their stories out of suitcases. Intercut through this are videos of other students talking about the world they live in: what makes them Australian? How does racism make them feel?

The Migration Project feels of the same central philosophy of Zavarce’s lauded Sons & Mothers: Zavarce taking an instance in his life – there his relationship with his mother, here his migration to Australia – and using it to instigate a collaborative community work. Where Zavarce created a space for the men of Sons & Mothers to truly own the work, though, that same space doesn’t feel like it is offered to the young adults at the heart of The Migration Project. Their stories are slotted into the work, but the work is never of their stories. In the end, we are left with just a cursory glance.

The piece is quite nice: we see some students telling their stories, and they do a lovely job of this. But in the subject matter – and in the students – it feels like there is so much more potential.

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Review: Muff

Serena Moorghen, Brad Williams and Claire Glenn. Photo by Olivia Zanchetta.

Serena Moorghen, Brad Williams and Claire Glenn. Photo by Olivia Zanchetta.

Muff, the latest production from independent Adelaide theatre company five.point.one, is heavy, hard hitting theatre that leaves its audience with no easy to digest emotions. Written by Van Badham and directed here by Alison Howard, the work explores women, sex and relationships; a horrific, random rape of a young woman and the threads from this event that continue to wrap and bind their way into lives years after the physical injuries have healed.

Eve (Claire Glenn) has moved back to London from China, a country she moved to in order to reclaim herself, and has moved into the spare room in the flat of her ex-boyfriend, Tom (Brad Williams). There, she has to negotiate how to return home and meeting Tom’s new girlfriend Manpreet (Serena Moorghen), while Tom must come to grips with a relationship that fell apart after Eve was raped.

Myf Cadwallader’s set casts a sterility over the proceedings: furnishings of white against walls of opaque white plastic and steel frames, in corners lie discarded limbs of mannequins  The walls are repositioned to create different spaces: opening up one half of the stage or the other for the bedroom or lounge, or closing off the space to create the bathroom seen only in shadows. The cast move these walls slowly and calmly. Despite the tension in the work, Howard paces the actors to a steady and slow beat. In this environment, her direction frequently casts a clinical eye over the proceedings. These people, it feels, are there to be watched, their pasts and presents there to be analysed, but empathy or connection is a step too far.

Through this clinical lens, Badham’s text brings up interesting questions in relationships and sex: Eve and Manpreet discuss, or rather argue over, radically different views of the sexualisation of women: on pornography, of waxing, of violence and sexual games. Badham’s characters experience violence that is real, and a game of violence that exists invited and within boundaries in a relationship. These different strands compliment and fight against each other, creating a world that is messy and complex, representing the multiplicities of people and the way they each see the world.

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The Gender Debate: five.point.one

five.point.one is an independent theatre company working in Adelaide. Established in 2009, the ensemble based company present South Australian premiere texts, with two productions a year since their inception.  In 2009 alongside their two play season, the company also presented an open reading of a new work by Caleb Lewis, and next month they will open their seventh production: Polly Stenham’s That Face.

The company currently has six core members: Matt Crook, Elleni Karaginnidis, Scott Marcus, Corey McMahon, Kate Roxby and Brad Williams.

McMahon has acted as director on all productions for the company to date, with the exception of 2010 Fringe show In Remembrance (of) A Small Death, two short plays by Anna Barnes and directed by Delia Olam, in production which had an entirely female cast and creative team.  Curious about the gender make-up of five.point.one over the past three years, McMahon asked me to take a look.

McMahon has directed six of the seven productions; Cassandra Backler has designed for six of seven; five productions credited a lighting designer, and Ben Flett filled the role on four of these; two productions credit a sound designer or a composer.  Lewis’ Rust and Bone, and Daniel Keene’s The Share had fully male casts; while the Barnes’ double had a fully female cast.  In total, the company has presented eleven female roles and fourteen male roles, to scripts by four male playwrights and three female playwrights.

In total, 32 people have been credited in creative or acting roles over the seven productions in 52 positions.

This can be broken down into fourteen women filling twenty-three positions, and eighteen men filling thirty positions.

With only six percentage points separating the number of individuals, and seven percentage points separating the number of roles each gender fills, women that are employed by the company are employed to an equal extent as the men: the inequality lies before they reach the company stage.

In saying this though, the inequality is very slight.  An imbalance in directors stems from McMahon taking on that role as one of the six enemble members.

It is pleasing to see the company statement says “We believe all good theatre must start with good writing and five.point.one places the playwright at the forefront of the creative process”, and in seven productions, three plays have had a female playwright and four have had a male, as it is in script production our female playwrights can find them selves chronically underrepresented.

Overall, I am very pleased with the current gender balance in five.point.one’s seasons to date.  It is great to see something much closer to equality happening on our young, independent stages.  I’m excited to see how the company continues to develop.