The Street’s latest production, COLD LIGHT has been a labour of love for the theatre. The play is based on the Frank Moorehouse novel of the same name and has been adapted for the stage by acclaimed playwright Alana Valentine. It stars Sonia Todd as Edith Campbell Berry, and is being directed by Caroline Stacey.
The seed for this production was planted in 2012, when The Street optioned the rights to Frank Moorehouse’s Edith trilogy. Then in 2013, together with the Centenary of Canberra, The Street commissioned Valentine to write a play based on the third book. When Valentine was granted the commission she said of Edith: “Of all the iconic female characters in Australian literature, Edith Campbell Berry is surely at the forefront of those needing to have the breath of a living actress walking and talking her lines, inspiring us with her intelligence, sensuality, wit and perceptiveness.”
Edith’s story starts in the 1920s when she arrives in Geneva, full of idealism, to work at the newly formed League of Nations. By the second book her idealism has taken a hit as, despite the best efforts of the League, the world is moving towards war again, and her marriage is failing. She turns to her old friend and lover, Ambrose Westwood and embraces the unconventional relationship that he offers. When this play picks up the story, Edith and Ambrose are married but out of work – the League collapsed in the aftermath of the Second World War. They move to Canberra where Ambrose works at the British High Commission and Edith pursues her ambition of becoming Australia’s first female ambassador.
I caught up with the effusive Kiki Skountas who plays a couple of characters in the play. For Skountas, the thing that sets this trilogy apart from others written of the same era is that it is political. “It’s really awesome to have a female protagonist in this super political world,” she says. “For any female politician or female CEO or anything, it echoes the same frustrations and the same glass ceilings that everyone keeps bashing their heads against. History – how much has changed? Not bloody much sometimes.”
One of the themes of the play is the sexual fluidity of both Edith and Ambrose. “Ambrose is a crossdresser by night, British High Commission spy by day,” explains Skountas. But far from denying this side of her husband, Edith is aroused by it. And this carries over into a flirtation between Edith and one of Skountas’s characters, Janice, who is the wife of Edith’s brother and a staunch communist. Skountas also plays Amelia, the funny German neighbour who often appears bearing apple strudel.
While sexual fluidity is not a modern concept, perhaps talking about it is. Skountas and I discussed the challenge of bringing an authenticity to telling stories about past taboos. “Frank and Alana have had conversations about the use of certain words,” says Skountas. “Because you never want to do something that makes the audience kind of go, ‘hang on, I was buying it up until that word’. It’s about representing history accurately, but also in a way that is comfortable for a modern audience who are coming with an idea [through which] they’re going to be looking at this play with … [such as] it’s going to be the 1950s. So, it is about going with that and surprising people, but not distracting people.”
Canberra is front and centre in the play, and for Skountas it has been an opportunity to fall back in love with her home town. Skountas grew up here and lived here until she was thirty, when, sitting behind a computer at artsACT, she thought ‘I’m going to die here!’ Recognising her talent for melodrama, she quit her job, moved to Sydney and went to drama school. “It’s really nice having a crisis in your life because it forces your hand,” laughs Skountas.
In Sydney, Skountas admits she’s guilty of Canberra bashing, but because her family and many of her closest friends live here, she misses the place and looked for opportunities to find theatre work here. She says this play has been her reprimand! In the play, Edith becomes embroiled in the fight for Canberra’s lake. “The lake that I used to walk over every day to go to work … it’s such a massive part of this city,” says Skountas. “And it’s just amazing to see these juggernaut people thrashing out these massive fights about this water. It’s really amazing to hear and read about the fight that happened for this city to be the beautiful city that it is. I have just completely fallen back in love, and the bones under the skin of the city have just come alive [for me].”
I don’t get the feeling that Skountas is moving back to Canberra anytime soon, but it is good to know that despite her reservations about this town, its theatre scene is strong enough to provide her with such an amazing opportunity. And by investigating Canberra’s past, Skountas has seen anew what this town offers today.
Cold Light is playing at The Street Theatre, Sat–Sat March 4–18. For tickets go to thestreet.org.au.
FLICKERFEST is Australia’s leading Academy accredited & BAFTA recognised short film festival. We had a chance to speak to one of the contributors to the festival, filmmaker Vanessa Gazy. She is presenting her short film HIGHWAY, which was the 2014 recipient of the Screen ACT Screen Arts Fund. Vanessa is a talented and lauded short filmmaker with her previous short film, Foal, being nominated for both an Australian Director’s Guild and Australian Writer’s Guild award in 2015.
Gazy’s film Highway is an atmospheric horror thriller. Set and filmed in the beautiful and often dangerous Snowy Mountains, it tells the tale of Hester Black, a troubled teen receiving mysterious foreboding phantom news from the future. About the film, Vanessa says, “It’s a ten-minute psychological thriller. It stars Odessa Young, the young star from the 2015 start The Daughter.”
Vanessa has a great love of short films, and believes that the medium has a lot of benefits.
“It’s a really amazing way for filmmakers to practice and distil their art. It’s also a great way to get started on an idea that you could flesh out for a longer film, and it’s a very exciting medium for storytellers. You can tell really complex stories in a brief amount of time.”
I asked Vanessa what her plans are for the future, and if she was planning on expanding outwards into longer films. “It is cheaper making a short film over a feature length, obviously. But I am moving towards features; I do have a few projects in the works, like Bluebell, which was the 2017 recipient of the Screen ACT Screen Arts Fund. In the end, we are screen storytellers.”
Technology has changed the way that we interact with film media, and I asked Vanessa what she thinks of advancements like YouTube. “I think it really helps, it democratises the way that we see and make media. It doesn’t matter if what you’re making is [filmed] on a friend’s phone, if its good enough it can gain an audience,” she says. “It increases the life of your production as well. With traditional screenings, there’s a timeframe and limited seating, but online it can be up indefinitely. After my films have finished the festival season, I want to put them online so more people can see them.”
Vanessa encourages anyone that’s interested in making films to “get out and do it, don’t worry about if the first couple of things you make aren’t good, you’ll get there. If you like it enough, then I’d recommend going and studying it formally as well; filmmaking can be very technical and it helps to learn these things formally. Also, it helps to meet the people you may be working with in the future.”
Highway is showing at Flickerfest, which takes place at Palace Electric from Wed–Thu April 5–6. Tickets can be booked ahead at palacecinemas.com.au.
A television presenter, radio host, and comedian must be the small screen equivalent of a triple threat right? It seems only fair to describe DAVE HUGHES asthis. The much loved and iconic Australian comedian is back with his new show Deluded, for the fifth annual CANBERRA COMEDY FESTIVAL, alongside a stack of other well-known and upcoming comics. As a stand-up comedy veteran, Dave is no stranger to the stage and Deluded is now a part of Dave’s long list of touring comedy shows.
The name of the show comes from a more philosophical and deeper place than one might actually expect from a fun and comedy orientated person. “It’s a general meaning, that basically everyone is deluded, because we all go around thinking that whatever we do matters,” he states. “We all think we’re really important when really we’re all just specks of dust, floating around in the universe. But really, we should just relax and enjoy ourselves.”
Dave goes on to say that although there’s a more serious meaning behind the title, that doesn’t mean it will be a lecture of sorts. “The new show is full of fun. Everyone can expect me to be in really good form, I really feel that this is the best I’ve ever been, the funniest I’ve ever been. Probably even funnier,” Dave exclaims.
When most of Australia hears the name Dave Hughes, everyone most likely thinks of the country larrikin who never fails to crack up an audience. But as iconic and recognisable as we may think his comedy stylings are, Dave doesn’t think of it that way. He just gets up on stage and tells jokes the only way he knows. “I wouldn’t know where to begin to try some other persona. I wouldn’t have a clue,” Dave laughs. “I’ve never really thought of what I do as a style. I’m just sort of being myself I suppose. I never really thought, ‘oh, I’m going to be something different,’ or I’m going to act a certain way, it just comes naturally.”
When writing his new material, Dave takes things at a personal level. Formulating jokes from his everyday life, he says that if something interesting or unusual happens during his day, that it will be in that night’s show. With the amount of crazy and interesting things that are happening around the world, there’s tons of topics that could get turned into jokes. But Dave makes a good point in saying that there’s only so much going on in the world, and there are heaps of comedians. If everyone is making jokes about the same topic, then the show will seem as if it’s been done before. “There are a lot of comedians who are talking about Trump, for example. I reckon you can see a lot of that, so I think it’s better to have material that’s not been heard before.”
“Life is always funny. Life continues to be ridiculous, so as long as your eyes are open and you’re looking around, it’s really easy to find things to make jokes out of,” Dave exclaims. “You’ve always got to change up the jokes, absolutely, you’re always changing to get new material because life is always changing. You want to keep up with what’s happening and continually explore new things. Otherwise the jokes would get stale anyway.”
Dave started his comedy career in the early nineties, a time when live comedy and late night variety shows were thriving in Australia. Now that there is no sign of a Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion or RoveLive starting back up, you’d think it was getting tough for new, upcoming comics to make their mark in the professional comedy business, but Dave thinks otherwise. “I think live comedy in Australia is really good, I like it. You know there are new guys and girls coming through. A lot of audiences love seeing live comedy, which is great,” he ponders. “I think that the internet is great – people can see comics on the web to get a taste of them and then they’ll go and see their shows. So I don’t think it’s really that difficult for new people.”
Although we know him mainly as the great comedian he is, Dave also takes on regular roles as a host on various television shows, as well as his own radio show. Although he has been lucky to take part in a variety of roles, he mentioned that he had always wanted to do acting for a living. “I think I’d be a really good comic actor. I haven’t really had the chance. You know, just acting in scenes. I mean, maybe a bit of improv, but situational stuff I suppose would be good.”
As one of Australia’s favourite comedians, his new show Deluded is sure to entertain. If you’re planning on seeing Dave’s show at the comedy festival, you can expect to have some great laughs. “It’s going to be a really good time. Especially if people are a bit on the fence to see one of my live shows, I implore them to come along and enjoy.”
Dave Hughes’ new show ‘Deluded’ will be at Canberra Theatre Centre on Saturday March 25. Tickets are $46.90 + bf and are available via canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
Richard III is a Shakespearean classic; a timeless saga, steeped in truth and history, of one man’s quest for total domination, whatever the cost. So it should come as no surprise to learn that one of Australia’s foremost theatre companies, BELL SHAKESPEARE, have chosen the play to open their 2017 season, restyled as RICHARD 3. This time, however, Richard has a twist beyond the bend in his spine and his morality: Kate Mulvany, an acclaimed Australian actor, who has worked with Bell Shakespeare several times in the past in productions such as Julius Caesar and Macbeth, will be playing Richard.
Before the show opened in Sydney, I spoke to Rose Riley over the phone. Riley, who plays the dual roles of Richard’s much younger wife Lady Anne and, later in the play, the young Prince Edward, has a bright, sunny voice and is wonderfully easy to talk to. When I ask her about how she got the part, she laughs and says, “Oh, I just auditioned for it. I auditioned for Bell a couple of times and I met Peter Evans (the Artistic Director as well as the director of this production) during that process. So I went in for an audition last year, worked with Kate in the room, and that was it, really. Not a super exciting story.” But her easy enthusiasm betrays her happy passion for the craft, taking a story familiar to every actor and turning it into something exhilarating.
“I was very keen to be involved because I love the play, and I was really excited about Kate being Richard. So I was so excited about being cast.” Being tasked with playing two roles is particularly challenging, but she seems to revel in the charge. “I’ve got a bit of a break in between the two characters, so I don’t have to wipe away tears in one scene and then go right into another. Also, they’re both so different so that makes it easier. And I’ve got two exciting costumes for each one – I find that outer influence really helps me.” As we move to discussing both her characters, she explains what she loves about each one. “Well, Prince Edward is still sort of a character I’m playing with – he’s exciting. But I guess initially I was mostly drawn to Lady Anne – you know, that scene is so famous, and the female struggle and the female journey she goes on is so … I just understood her.”
This intentional focus on femininity seems to be the crux of this particular adaptation. Riley is playing one of several female characters in the play who, often – as Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s texts that concerns itself explicitly with undeniable misogyny – are side-lined or minimised in favour of their male counterparts. Here, however, their roles have been pulled into the focus, and this is only compounded by having Mulvany play Richard. “It’s super fascinating having a female in the lead role – it highlights the misogyny of the text in some really interesting, unexpected ways. When you hear some of the things that he says coming out of Kate’s mouth it automatically, organically makes you hear it in a slightly different way. Richard is so often in the play referred to as a creature, or as unnatural, or as other awful, horrible names – it’s interesting having Kate play him because it does make him sort of ‘other’. She’s not playing him as a woman, she’s playing him as a man, but of course we all know Kate is a woman. I think it really helps make Richard into the outcast and the creature everyone calls him.”
Something Riley has grappled with is coming to grips with the history and the rewards and difficulties of playing real people. “The scope of the history has been hard to get my head around. I’m still learning, because there’s the history as in the actual history, and then there’s the history of the characters within Shakespeare’s texts. Some of those characters span across three plays.” She emphasises the three, marvelling at the scope of the content before continuing. “I always find it really hard to truly try to imagine that they were real.” Here, she quietens slightly, and her connection to her characters speaks for her. “I find it hard to understand that Lady Anne was married at 14 and then remarried at 17 to Richard. The history is so dense and fascinating. And so violent.”
That sense of gravity continues as we segue to the conversation’s natural conclusion: politics. However, in spite of the seriousness, Riley chuckles when I suggest that the power hungry monster guy being at the centre of everything feels eerily relevant right now. “Yes,” she says simply. “It does. It’s sort of unavoidably topical. I mean, it is a very political play, and the politics of the era and royalty are definitely explored throughout it, through questions like ‘Who should lead?’ and ‘How do these decisions get made?’ And then it also looks at all the inner workings of Richard alongside his campaign for the crown … and the betrayals that happen, and the twisting of the truth. And the fear-mongering.” She lets out a bark of almost-sarcastic laughter. “It’s all very relevant.” Another pause, slower this time. “Scarily relevant. But fascinating too.”
Richard 3 is on at The Playhouse from Thu–Sat April 6–15. Tickets available at canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
After a sell-out launch in February in Melbourne, cabaret starlet SOPHIE DELIGHTFUL is coming to the nation’s capital to perform her raunchy burlesque show, POWER PUSSIES. It showcases an array of local and interstate performers dishing out their most sassy, fierce and empowering burlesque, cabaret and circus acts. BMA caught up with Sophie to discuss more.
What can new patrons to your show expect, and what kinds of performances will be featured in this show?
Power Pussies will feature a bevy of burlesque, circus and cabaret performers with one thing in common – they’re all fierce, empowering and sassy as hell! As producer and host, I will be the main headliner, alongside some of Canberra’s finest in the field, and interstate guest Percy Peacock (Sydney).
This show has a bit of everything, so if you’re new to vaudeville, you’ll get a really good taste of what’s out there; and if you’re a seasoned viewer, you’ll likely come across something you haven’t seen before! There’ll be the odd cuss word and of course a decent dose of flesh, so be prepared to throw caution to the wind and give in to the seductive arts for a couple of hours.
How will this show differ to the mainly classical burlesque scene here in Canberra?
As most keen connoisseurs of burlesque know, there are two main categories of burlesque: classic and neo-classic. To the untrained eye, the difference basically comes down to storylines (or lack thereof), costuming and music. If an act has a storyline, it’s generally lumped into the neo-classic bracket. If an act uses more modern music and/or costuming, it can also be put into that category or more often, is a hybrid of the two – none of which makes it any easier to pick the difference, I know!
For my Canberra show I have invited more neo-classic routines, although my monthly Power Pussies night in Melbourne is quite far-reaching and sometimes includes spicier classic routines that use more unique performance spaces (like on top of the bar!) and showcase more fabulous costumes. I found with my show last year, the Canberra audience reacted really well to the mix of performers and with my cabaret stylings sewing it altogether, is something a little different to the standard “classical burlesque” show locals are used to.
This is your second production show to come to Canberra in a year – what bought you back here and will you bring future shows to Canberra again?
I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to my Childhood Dreams & Fairytale Queens show last year – and super stoked it was a sold-out gig! I didn’t really know what to expect as it was my first time performing there, but people showed up from not only Canberra but surrounding towns as well. Once they warmed up, the audience really got into it and as interaction is a key element in all my productions, this made the show so much more enjoyable, for us performers as well as the audience! There was a huge cross-section of people in the crowd too, from a girl celebrating her 18th birthday with her family to an elderly couple that drove to the big city from Wangaratta for a night out. I’m excited to see who Power Pussies attracts this time around, and also excited to be working with Mary Jane and the crew from Polit Bar once again.
The title is suggestive of a feminist show. Can you tell us a little bit about the context and the inspiration behind the show title?
It’s one of those “each to their own interpretation” themes … it can mean one thing to one person, and another to another person. For me, I closely relate to the ideals of being fun, fierce, bold and sassy, and I feel like those are qualities that can empower people of any gender to have a more fulfilling, exciting and successful life.
I love the idea that anyone can come to my show and, even for one night, release their inner sass-pot! They might even like it so much that they stay that way forever! It would be impossible to avoid any connection with feminism, though – and I certainly don’t reject that – but feminism can so often be a buzzword that clouds over what you’re actually trying to achieve. Yes, I believe in women’s rights and I think the current climate in places is scary for women and many minority groups, but I don’t want that to be what my night is about. Coming together and celebrating the many forms of femininity, regardless of gender, and empowering people to get out there and enjoy life to the fullest – that’s what Power Pussies is about.
Power Pussies, presented by Sophie DeLightful, is on at Polit Bar on Friday March 17 at 9pm. Tickets are $24 on Eventbrite or at the door.
Like deciding which name to go by, deciding the artistic classification of THE BEDROOM PHILOSOPHER (a.k.a. Justin Hazlewood) can be a dilemma. His music is great, yet he mostly appears on comedy line-ups, like the upcoming CANBERRA COMEDY FESTIVAL. “I swear to god, no other artist has to put up with this, but I get these bizarre, snide comments online about my music being too good for comedy songs. Things like, ‘if this wasn’t comedy it would be genius’. That was like some indie snob that was confused. Or, ‘I wanna like this as a song but I can’t handle it having satirical lyrics’ – so their brains just meltdown.”
Despite his frustrations, this dichotomy is actually the drawcard. He has radio/YouTube “hits” like ‘I’m So Postmodern’ and ‘Northcote (So Hungover)’, but turns up on comedy festival line-ups more than music festivals. His upcoming show will see him dress up as a cat and perform songs about cats. “I was typing cats into my search bar on my laptop and all these word documents started popping up. I suffer from indecision and picking what songs to do for my sets, and because I’ve been out of the game for a while I thought I’d make a rule to only play songs that mention cats.”
He’s also written a few new songs for the show: “A song from a cats’ perspective, a bit of a cat rap and an eight-and-a-half-minute ballad about a heroic mattress protector.” After my laughter ended he added, “it’s worth the price of admission alone.” We then discussed his Funemployed book and his time as a Canberran. “After Tassie, Canberra was like New York with roundabouts.”
We discussed changes to Canberra since his four years as a resident here in the early 2000s. He explained how he became a bit disconnected after the Canberra Centre went up; “Once a place gets fancy gelato, you sort of go, ‘is this the Canberra I remember?’” I was also curious about his favourite venues – “I always do a shout out to Toast. I did so many gigs at Toast.” He then refers to his 2012 Zierholz bar show as the “closest I ever got to playing Stonefest. Part of me always wanted to play Stonefest, being a University of Canberra kid.”
After reading Funemployed, the one thing I know for sure is that Hazlewood is a true writer. His part memoir, part “industry how-to guide” is a great insight for any performer. “People need to know what it’s really like to try and do this for a career. Once I started writing it down I realised it’s actually a genuinely complicated industry. The personal side of basically taking your emotions and your weirdness and that being the product, that is sort of an occupational health and safety side.” The book also deals with the financial difficulties of artistry, so I was curious about his current finances. “I’ll give you the Donald Trump version and say, ‘yep, I’m very successful, things are going well, I make a lot of money, I’m very rich right now, I’m going to give you some selective facts and tell you that I’m pretty loaded.”
The Bedroom Philosopher’s ‘Cat Show’ is on Friday–Saturday March 24–25, 8:30pm at the Canberra Theatre Centre’s Courtyard Studio. Tickets are $25 through canberratheatrecentre.com.au.