No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Dee Easton

Three Days, Five New Local Plays

Last week ended up being quite the week for new local playwrighting!

Wednesday I made my way down to the Bakehouse to see Molly’s Shoes, which I did not enjoy, and you can read my review of here at Australian Stage Online.  I would also like to draw your attention to the commenting form there, rather than here, if you have things to say.

Thursday I went across town to the Director’s Hotel to see Duende Presents: PLAY OFF!, where three local short shows battled it out for further development and a spot in the 2012 Fringe.  It was a great event, they packed out the upstairs space in the hotel, and everyone had a fun time just celebrating theatre.  My affections were drawn between The Fortitude of Samuel Clemens by Caitlyn Tyler, directed by Dee Easton, for its humour and “fringyness”; and Helen Back by Elena Carapetis, directed by Nescha Jelk, for its power and particularly the performance of Jacqui Phillips.  After three nights of audience and industry votes, the pick of the event was The Fortitude of Samuel Clemens, so look out for that work (or perhaps another work from the team?) at next year’s fringe.

Friday I hung out in a rehearsal room of the Adelaide Festival Centre, where I was invited to a moved reading of Little Borders by Phillip Kavanagh, directed by Corey McMahon, which was a fantastically powerful piece in which Elena Carapetis (demonstrating way too much talent for just one week) blew me away.  I owe the playwright an email of thoughts, but that’s it in a nut shell!

Review: Rocket Town

This review originally appeared on www.lowdown.net.au

The basement Thinking Space of RiAus seems the perfect place to host Rocket Town.

In the Australian Defense Force Village of Woomera, Jess (Dee Easton) is the only fifteen-year old. She spends her time working in the Heritage Centre and drinking beers in the park. “We make our own fun here,” she pithily explains.

When awkward science-geek, fifteen-yea-old Josh (Sam Calleja), moves to town with his physicist mother, he quickly comes across Jess, and they befriend each other–being very sure to state they are not friends. Friends always leave.

Playwright and Director Emily Steel moved to Australia from London in 2010. In her director’s notes she talks of how she walked into Woomera and thought, “This is a place to write a play about.” But despite these origins, this play feels organically “home grown”, focused on a teenaged relationship in outback Australia; it has an absolute air of being Australian.

This is more than Steel writing a play for actors with Australian accents. It’s genuinely respecting and paying attention to a vernacular, and being so taken by a small town that she has painted a picture with respect through learning its history.
Developed through conversations with people living in Woomera, it feels to me, an Adelaide girl, that Steel has genuinely taught me a little more about a town in my own backyard.

Three scenes- the meeting and blossoming of a friendship; the pain of each getting ready to leave – create the narrative. While towards the ends of the first two scenes the structure starts to fall away as the premise and goal of each situation seems to have been achieved, the overall structure is strong.

The script is filled with modern influences: facebook, Twilight, email, text. While the script is always focused around the live interaction with the two characters, their relationship to 2011, to technology in 2011, and to each other in 2011 isn’t ignored, as is so often the case in much modern literature.

With some great one-liners (“My mum doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. She doesn’t even negotiate with me.”) and some cringe-worthy ones (“I have a life! And I have a Second Life.”), Steel has created two characters for which the audience feels genuine affection.

Calleja’s awkward and affable Josh pairs neatly with Easton’s at times standoffish yet personable Jess. Easton and Calleja act with spontaneity in their relationship: when Easton’s Jess can’t hold in a giggle at the sight of Josh’s puckered lips the response seems genuine; little moments like Calleja’s face when Josh hears Jess reveal her name are delightful.

There was a beautiful interesting moment part way through the play when, in a pause, Jess does the Awkward Turtle. A line could probably be quite neatly drawn down the ages of the audience on the beat on which they laughed – those who were young enough to recognize and laugh at the hand motions when it was done, and those who got the joke when it was explained.

Staged in the round on a simple plot, some directorial choices show sloppiness: while moving through the grave-yard, the locations and relationships of the imagined “graves” is never concreted, so the pair seemingly walk over plots they just detailed as a headstone. However, the overall character arc is well developed, and none of this sloppiness is shown when the action moves to the Missile Park and specific locations are fixed in the eyes of the cast.

Rocket Town is a young story, a story of isolation. Of the isolation of being a teenager, heightened and expanded thousand-fold by living in a town where you are the only two fifteen year olds. “I don’t want to be in a class of ten people,” Jess laments, “where one of them is my brother, and one of them is twelve.”

This isn’t a rose-coloured glasses-look at being a teenager in a small town. The most central prop is a carton of beer as the pair talks about driving cars and riding motorbikes and breaking into the cemetery and dealing with love and with loss.

And this is why this is the sort of play which needs to be the Youth Engagement Program.

Emily Steel and RiAus present Rocket Town, written and directed by Emily Steel.  With Dee Easton and Sam Calleja.  At RiAus, Adelaide Fringe, Season Closed.


Review: No Hello

This review contains spoilers.

Sometimes, it is the people you go to the theatre with which really make the show.  Like when you see a play about the end of the world with a group of friends you meet while studying engineering at university.  Those logical plot holes have nowhere to hide from us.

Such as: when you are engineering your underground bunkers to house people during the apocalypse, why is the FIRST thing you put in there not a computer?  Why is the automatic locking system allowed to be activated before the bunkers are stocked with food?  What sort of apocalypse is expected to happen where people can reenter the earth in twelve months?  How are these people not suffering from scurvy?  From Vitamin D deficiency?  Why is the only mode of communication to the other bunkers a single telephone?  Why is this telephone locked in a box?  Why wasn’t unlocking the box the FIRST thing the group did when entering the shelter?  And if not first, why would it take ten months?  Why did someone swallow the key to said box?

In Alan Grace’s No Hello, these plot holes perhaps wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious if the characters could sustain the implausible situation.  But why, when subjected to the end of the world, must we always be subjected to horrible people?  Surely someone nice could survive.

The neat set (design by Dee Easton, also director) divides the playing space between the cluttered mess – the VHS tapes (why so dated?), note papers and wine bottles – of Johnny’s (Matthew Crook) privately owned bunker, and the straight lines and order of Anna’s (Bianka Feo) public shelter.  It is in many ways a reflection of the characters.

Johnny is the only character provided any sort of personality or defining qualities outside of someone enduring the end of the world.  He is at least provided an obsession in movies, and is afforded dreams that extend outside the walls of the bunker he is living in.  The female characters are afforded no such luxuries: at most, the shrill Anna is afforded complaints against the single repeated Leonard Cohen song she must listen to.  She only dreams of the walls of the place she must now live in.

With Crook’s strong and bizarrely endearing performance – as he squirms and writhes trying to quote a song or a movie, as he dejectedly looks upward when Anna becomes particularly annoying – the irritating Johnny becomes the only relatable character.  Yet this is almost an uncomfortable humour: you laugh at and with Crook, because without him there wouldn’t be very much to do at all, not because he is actually a likable character.

Feo’s Anna is quickly tiresome, with no redeeming qualities and no real personality to speak of.  She never seems to exhibit compassion, and while the story of her rape allows understanding of the murder of the men in the bunker, it still neither provide empathy nor forgiveness for other choices made during the course of the play.  Neither of the other two female characters, Sarah and Heather (both played by Laura Brenko) are afforded much of a divergent characterisation, and neither stick around long enough to have any true effect on Johnny and Anna that could be explored without their partner on stage.

While the characters are unlikable, dialogue rarely jolts and is littered with some great one-liners, helped along greatly by Crook’s performance.  This, along with the visual imagery of divided space spanned by a shared bed, and the blocking within this space, sustains the play further than the plot and characters might.   But No Hello left me feeling nothing but amusement from sitting with friends, dissecting just where it went wrong.

Adelaide Duende Collective presents No Hello by Alan Grace.  Design and direction by Dee Easton.  With Matthew Crook, Bianka Feo and Laura Brenko.  At the Bakehouse Theatre, Adelaide Fringe 2011.  11/3/11.  Season Closed.