Film, Immersive Experience, News, Perth Festival, Reviews, Theatre

A star is born

Perth Festival review: The Last Great Hunt, Lé Nør   ·
PICA, February 13 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Lé Nør  (The Rain) is the most ambitious work yet by The Last Great Hunt. It’s also the first time that all six members of the West Australian company have combined their talents as devisers, operators and performers in one production.

The result is awe-inspiring.

Here’s the bare bones: Lé Nør is set on the imagined North Atlantic island city-state of Sólset (from now on I’m going to dispense with the accents and umlauts; more on them later) that has endured a terrible seven-year drought that has reduced its inhabitants to water-hoarding, water-blackmailing obsessives. When the rains finally come, they keep coming. Before long the little island faces an even more existential threat.

We follow the lives of the inhabitants of one apartment block, Inez (Gita Bezard), a pregnant rescue helicopter pilot, and her husband Leal (Jeffrey Jay Fowler), Petri (Chris Isaacs) and his inseparable mate Tobe (also Fowler), and two single women drawn to each other, Eliza (Arielle Gray) and Soren (Adriane Daff). Another woman, Suzette (Jo Morris, the only non-Hunter in the cast) pines for her fled boyfriend in her lonely flat, endlessly playing and replaying Phil Collins’s Against All Odds.

All of their shenanigans are overseen with mild menace by the narrator, TLGH’s gamester-in-chief, Tim Watts.

That’s the last you need bother about the plot. It’s the how, not the what, that this thing is about.

As well as the Collins dirge, there’s I’m Not in Love, White Wing Dove, Head over Heels, How Do I Get You Alone, steak knives and more in the exquisitely hideous 1980s soundtrack ­– is there a word for nostalgia for a time you didn’t have to endure yourself?

That’s only part of the referential delight of the work. It’s a deep dive into a world transformed by the lens of a camera, a stage show that becomes, more completely than anything I can remember, the Grand Illusion, the making of cinema.

Effectively the set is a screen that dominates the PICA stage, designed, along with its attendant gadgetry, by the “seventh Hunter”, Anthony Watts. All the show’s action, all its effects, are created for, and live on, that screen. Around it bustle the Hunters and stage manager Clare Testoni, setting scenes, setting up camera shots, striking poses, delivering lines, all to be distilled into images on it.

It’s a phenomenally intense ride – if anything a little too dizzying to actively engage in for 90 minutes – wildly funny and sexy. It’s a technical achievement, with a personality and charisma, like nothing we’ve seen from a West Australian company.

The title, the Hunters say, means “The Rain” in the hilarious gibberish-language they have concocted for the show (there are English surtitles), but we know better.

It really means film noir (although some of the shots, of Gray and Daff in particular, owe as much to flicks like David Hamilton’s soft focus, gauzy 1977 Bilitis as anything grittier) but film theory is probably as unimportant here as narrative. Nothing is important (when nothing is real, there’s nothing to get hung about).

So just sit back and watch Jo Morris in a phone box climbing up the walls and across the ceiling while you see how it’s done; watch two fight superstars (Gray and Daff as goodie and baddie respectively) suddenly come to life on their billboard; watch Bezard’s matchbox helicopter swoop down to rescue our heroes from Solset’s last unsubmerged rooftop (the one with the billboard) like eagles on the slopes of Mt Doom.

With Lé Nør The Last Great Hunt have confirmed their individual and collective stardom and their mastery of their craft. Now it’s time for the real fun to begin.

“Lé Nør” is playing at PICA until February 24, and Mandurah Performing Arts Centre February 28 – March 2.

Pictured top: Visual marvel – Jo Morris and The Last Great Hunt soar. Photo: Daniel Grant.

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A man and a woman dancing in the bush
Features, News, Performing arts

Home-grown produce

Nina Levy ·

It’s November 1, 2018 and the Perth Concert Hall is packed for Wendy Martin’s final Perth Festival programme launch. Anyone who has paid attention to Martin’s programming over the last four years will know that the Festival’s artistic director is a passionate advocate for contemporary dance. When the banner for STRUT Dance’s Sunset opens her 2019 line-up, however, the ripple of excitement is about more than dance.

It’s a historical moment. A local show is leading the charge.

Martin’s decision to open her final Festival launch with a home-grown show is part of a greater plan to showcase local work in this year’s programme. Alongside a terrific selection of international and interstate works, there are numerous shows and events by local artists and companies that are appearing this year under the newly-created banner, “Made in WA”. That list includes six Festival commissions.

Martin is immensely proud of the 2019 Festival’s local content. “It’s important to have a fantastically curated international programme, but it’s also important that, whichever place you’re in, the artists of that place are seen on the same platform,” she explains.

From the outset Martin’s vision was inextricably linked with WA. “When I [started at Perth Festival, four years ago] I said, ‘There are festivals in cities all over world. The thing that makes a difference is the place in which the festival happens.’ So when I arrived here, I saw myself as a detective, looking for clues and stories and threads to figure out, how I make a festival that really belongs in this place,” she explains.

Martin was immediately struck by what she describes as “the unbelievable list of artists who come from this place, both historically and now“. Her immediate response was to commission “Home” as the opening event of her first Festival, a free, one-night-only celebration of West Australian talent that included the likes of Tim Minchin, the John Butler Trio, Shaun Tan, The Drones, The Triffids and The Waifs.

The much-loved ‘Boorna Waanginy’ will return to Perth Festival in 2019.

The opening event of her second festival, Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, was another home-grown special, and one which returns to this year’s Festival. Bringing together the talents of Noongar elder and director Richard Walley, and designers Zoë Atkinson and Sohan Ariel Hayes, under the direction of Nigel Jamieson, Boorna Waanginy sees one of Perth’s most treasured landmarks, Kings Park, transformed by light and sound.

Thus the seeds for the Made in WA programme were sown… but it was an idea that needed time to germinate. “As a curator, you have to know artists and they have to know you, and there needs to be a certain level of trust to be able to work on projects together,” reflects Martin. “So it’s taken this much time, three years living in Perth, to be able to commission all this new work.”

The Last Great Hunt was one of the local first companies to catch Wendy Martin’s attention. Pictured is a scene from ‘Le Nor’ which will premiere at this year’s Festival.

When it came to choosing which shows to commission under the new Made in WA banner, one company caught Martin’s eye early on. “From the time I began [at Perth Festival] I could not believe that The Last Great Hunt, who had toured the world, had never been in Perth Festival,” she remarks.

Martin wasn’t going to rush into anything though. “I had so many meetings, across the years, with Tim [Watts] from The Last Great Hunt. I kept saying, ‘Come on, give me something, I’d love to have you guys in the Festival…’ and then I saw New Owner [by The Last Great Hunt, commissioned by the Awesome Festival] and I loved it. If I’d have known about that show I would have loved to have had it in Perth Festival… but of course, it’s fantastic that it was in Awesome, which is an amazing Festival.

“[Tim and I] met about three times. He wanted to experiment with form and what I didn’t understand – because at that point I didn’t know him well enough – is that Tim is a wonderful storyteller, but he doesn’t start with the idea, he starts with the form of the production.”

And then The Last Great Hunt pitched the idea for Le Nor, a work that weaves together film and live performance, so that audiences witness both an on-screen story and behind-the-scenes action. “When Tim did his pitch for Le Nor I was almost crying, because I thought it was so magic, such a beautiful idea, funny and poetic,” Martin recalls. “Tim’s work, at its core has big heart … and as a programmer that’s one of the things I care about most.”

Glamorous woman in a black pillbox hat
Natalie Allen in ‘Sunset’, a new work created by WA’s STRUT Dance, in collaboration with UK dance theatre company Punchdrunk. Photo: Simon Pynt.

Another commissioned work that is close to Martin’s heart is STRUT Dance’s Sunset. Created in collaboration with UK choreographer and director Maxine Doyle (associate director and choreographer, Punchdrunk), in association with Tura New Music, Sunset is an immersive dance theatre work that takes audiences on a walking tour of Dalkeith’s Sunset Heritage Precinct. “Sunset is like a dream in terms of my programming aims,” she explains. “It’s a collaboration between a great international artist and local artists, it speaks to the history of this place, it’s a collaboration with more than one [local] artist and company – as well as STRUT and Tura New Music, Rachael Dease is the composer and doing the sound design, and Bruce McKinven is doing the set. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for the artists here to work with an absolute game changer. UK dance theatre company Punchdrunk have created whole new form of immersive theatre … to have someone like [Punchdrunk’s associate director and choreographer] Maxine Doyle in our midst, excited by this place… you couldn’t really ask for more.”

No words: Cat Hope’s ‘Speechless’. Pictured are the hands of the four soloists, Tara Tiba, Sage Pbbbt, Judith Dodsworth and Karina Utomo. Photo: Paul Tadday.

WA’s Tura New Music is involved in a second 2019 Festival commission, producing Cat Hope’s new opera, Speechless. In the case of Speechless, a response to the issue of children in detention that combines four soloists, a 30-voice choir, the Australian Bass Orchestra and Decibel new music ensemble, it was the motivation behind the work that appealed to Martin. “I love that Cat is an activist and a great humanitarian,” she reflects. “She was so disturbed by the decisions that the government was making in our name. So she felt the best thing that she could do is make a personal, artistic response. She read the Gillian Triggs report into children in detention and then figured out this beautiful concept which is her graphic score. The music she has written has kind of been written over the photographs and drawings that the children have done. In a way she’s giving these kids a voice by responding so directly to their art work. There are no words because those people have no voice. Cat is a really important Australian artist.”

Man in front of Mill
Lost and Found Artistic Director, Chris van Tuinen, pictured at Jarrahdale Heritage Mill, where ‘Ned Kelly’ will be presented. Photo: Nik Babic.

Like The Last Great Hunt, Lost and Found Opera was on Martin’s radar from early on. Renowned for presenting unusual operas in unexpected but effective spaces, Lost and Found will be presenting its first commissioned opera, Ned Kelly, in a Jarrahdale saw mill. “Lost and Found Opera have been doing super exciting work,” enthuses Martin. “I think they have a brilliant concept and the fact that they now want to create a work from scratch – they have such a track record that you just have to trust that they’ll deliver. They’ve also got a great following… but I think the platform of the Festival will make it more recognisable.”

Three woman. One looks scared, one is ready to fight, one is calm.
A rip-roaring yarn: ‘A Ghost in My Suitcase’. Photo: Daniel Grant.

Much-loved local company Barking Gecko Theatre also has an established following but stands to broaden its reach by being commissioned to appear on the Festival programme. In terms of Martin’s aims, it was the cross-cultural nature of the work that caught her eye.  “When Matt Edgerton proposed adapting A Ghost in My Suitcase for the stage I was immediately attracted to the possibilities that Gabrielle Wang’s award winning YA novel offers up,” she remembers. “I was excited that Matt wanted to create the production out of deep cross cultural collaboration. It’s a rip-roaring yarn – a great adventure story of a young girl who goes to China and discovers her grandmother is a ghost hunter. It seemed to have all the right ingredients to be a perfect family show for the festival.”

Climate change is at the centre of ‘Kwongkan’. Photo: Tao Issaro

Kwongkan is another Festival commission that is a cross-cultural work, and one that has fascinated Martin as she has watched it evolve. A collaboration between WA’s Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and India’s Daksha Sheth Dance Company, the work brings together Indigenous Australian and Indian performers in a ritual of dance theatre, live music, aerial acrobatics and film. “When the artists pitched the idea to me, they intended to explore the similarities between these two ancient cultures, both of whom dance barefoot, but over the course of three years … the thing that sat at the forefront of their concerns, was climate change,” she explains. “They realised that if we don’t do something now, there will be no trace, not just of ancient cultures, but of anything. So in a funny way, ‘Sand’, which was about touching the earth has now become, ‘Well if we don’t do something, sand is all we’re going to have’. To see the evolution of an idea has been exciting.”

It’s clear that witnessing the germination and blossoming of ideas intrigues and inspires Martin. “As a curator and commissioner of work, that’s the really exhilarating thing,” she remarks, “hearing an idea and being able to play some kind of role in those artists realising their vision by offering the platform of the festival.”

That platform offers greater visibility to the home crowd, but also, potentially, further afield. “I’m hoping that we’ll have international presenters and national presenters coming over to see that work, to consider it for their venues and festivals,” she concludes. “I think that’s a really important role that the Festival can play.

– Nina Levy

Perth Festival opens February 8 and runs until March 3. Head to the Perth Festival website to view the full program, including the six commissioned works from Western Australian artists and companies, and the rest of the Made in WA program.

Pictured top: Ian Wilkes and Isha Sharvani in Tjuntjuntjara, a remote WA Aboriginal community, during the final development of ‘Kwongkan’. Photo: Mark Howett.

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Three people in a hotel room
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A theatrical road trip

Review: The Last Great Hunt, Stay with Us ·
Riverview Hotel, 28 November ·
Review by Robert Housley ·

Just as its marketing grab suggests, Stay with Us – the latest offering from local theatre collective The Last Great Hunt – is “an immersive theatrical journey through a hotel”. More specifically, the theatrical road trip ventures through three rooms on the third floor of Riverview Hotel, a hop, skip and jump from Kings Park near the base of precipitous Mount Street.

“A hotel is a place of journey,” posits director/co-creator Arielle Gray. “We are exploring that idea on a grand scale through small theatrical moments in the intimacy of hotel rooms.” This unusual setting, then, is not a rejection of main stage production, but rather a more inclusive way for an audience to engage with live performance. Hats off to the Riverview Hotel for its willingness to accommodate the experience – its third such relationship with a local performing arts company.

Audience proximity to the experience is both spatial and actual. Only 10 people are permitted to attend each of the six nightly shows. And they all have a part to play in each room as the distinct but interwoven narratives unfold.

Two people in a hotel room can feel crowded, but up to 12 (including the concierge/guide – co-creator/performer Tim Watts for our group – plus a performer) could feel claustrophobic. But it doesn’t. And the “actual” involvement of the audience is limited to donning a costume, handling some props and switching on/off electrical items. Nothing to scare away a reluctant participant.

The show features co-creators/performers Chris Isaacs, Gita Bezard and Watts along with guest theatre makers Jo Morris, Zachary Sheridan and Clare Testoni.

One of the most alluring aspects of the work is the anticipation, the not knowing what to expect from one room to the next.

four people lying on hotel beds, in dressing gowns, holding teddies and watching projections of a galaxy on the ceiling
Its themes are expansive: life, death, the infinity of the universe… Photo: Daniel James Grant.

Its themes are expansive: life, death, the infinity of the universe, the human experience on earth, adventure, twins and “a world that lies between the physical and spiritual”. Each leg of the journey is foreshadowed on the landing outside, when the concierge/guide shares abstract musings about time, space and our microscopic significance in the scheme of things.

In room one is a woman (Morris) in mourning, seemingly fresh from the funeral of a female astronaut, evidently her twin.

In room two are the desiccated, life-size remains of an elderly woman (a stylised dummy made by Tarryn Gill) whose insides harbour not just her vital organs but a plethora of mementoes from her life.

In room three Testoni directs the group to lie down on a long line of adjoining beds, each with a teddy bear, a night gown and a pillow. Shoulder to shoulder we watch a wondrous display of mostly live whiteboard marker animation (Testoni’s handiwork) unfold on the ceiling above.

Reflecting on the connections between each of the stories, post-performance, there is a sense of having seen three shows in one, such are their differences.

One of the benefits of this site-specific show was sharing it with the same few people. It heightened the intimacy of its “small theatrical moments” without lessening its universal ambitions.

Stay with Us is performed until 8 December.

Top photo by Daniel James Grant.

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Le Nor
Calendar, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Theatre

Theatre: Le Nor

13 – 24 February @ PICA Performance Space ·
Presented by The Last Great Hunt ·

Somewhere in the northern seas lies the small island nation of Sólset. Once a thriving metropolis, a decades-long drought has plagued the community and now only a hopeful few remain. From the multi-award-winning team behind It’s Dark Outside, The Irresistible, New Owner and Alvin Sputnik comes a deeply romantic visual extravaganza that will reignite your love of humanity.

Perth theatre-makers The Last Great Hunt combine cinematic mastery and theatrical magic to tell interwoven stories of love in a world that’s falling apart as they perform a  [the rain] invites you to witness both the onscreen story and the behind-the-scenes action in a nostalgic celebration of everything worth fighting for.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission
Presented in association with Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts

More info:
https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/le-nor

Pictured: Le Nor, credit: David Collins

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Chris Isaacs in foreground, Areille Gray in background
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Fresh, stylish and subversive

Review: The Last Great Hunt, Improvement Club ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 28 June ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Subversive and witty, playful and provocative: Improvement Club shines a light on the human need for connection and the ravages of ego, anxiety and male privilege. Written and directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler, it offers some sparkling dialogue and truly memorable scenes, in a rare mix of experimentation and accessibility.

Chris Isaacs is compelling as a socially awkward, corporate man-child who starts an “improvement club”, in the quest to make friends and gain power. His flawless performance had me cringing but unable to look away (sort of paralysed by the shock of recognition). He inhabits the evolving protagonist so fully that his transition to a darker, insidious character is seamless. It left me in a tug of war with sympathy and disgust. This is testament not only to Isaacs’s skill as an actor but Fowler’s writing and direction.

Chris Isaacs is compelling as a socially awkward, corporate man-child, pictured here with (L-R) Frieda Lee, Arielle Gray and Gita Bezard. Photo: Daniel James Grant.

Arielle Gray is brilliant in the shifting roles of the protagonist’s girlfriend, therapist and mother. Mararo Wangai, Gita Bezard and Frieda Lee are wonderful as co-workers who get sucked into the cult of self-help, then morph into a hilariously woke community. Their often ridiculous exchanges – a pastiche of buzz words and aphorisms – critique the shallow and greedy ethos of contemporary culture. (My favourite line: “It’s not misappropriation if you honour where you put your car keys.”)

Few things escape a gentle mocking – from our enthusiasm for smashed avocado, Pilates and veganism to body building and sustainable houses. It is the protagonist’s echoing of “men’s rights” rhetoric that really bites, though. There’s no pressure on women, he rants. They just have to look pretty, give birth then put their feet up and swirl glasses of chardonnay. No one wants a white male.

The surreal scene involving a lion and a bottle of tomato sauce is delicious. And though the post-apocalyptic, matriarchal utopia scene at the end felt slightly tacked on, I appreciated its subversive intent.

Improvement Club exposes some disturbing narratives about gender and privilege, executed in a fresh, stylish manner that Perth audiences have come to know and love from The Last Great Hunt.

Improvement Club plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until July 7.

Read Seesaw’s interview with Jeffrey Jay Fowler.

Pictured top: Chris Isaacs and Arielle Gray in ‘Improvement Club’.

The cast of Improvement Club
The cast of ‘Improvement Club’: Mararo Wangai, Frieda Lee, Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs & Gita Bezard. Photo: Daniel James Grant.
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Calendar, July 18, June 18, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Improvement Club

27 June – 7 July @ State Theatre Centre of Western Australia ·
Presented by The Last Great Hunt ·

Are you destined for greatness?

One day Adam comes up with an idea that he’s sure will change his life and the world: Improvement Club, an exclusive association with the singular goal of improving.

But as members join they begin to question him: What does improvement actually mean? Fitter bodies? Better brains? More dollars in the bank? A place for everyone at the table?

“Who cares,” Adam declares, “as long as the club is always heading towards the stars and I’m always in charge!”

But his unsatisfactory answers lead to the first vote for leadership, and soon Adam finds himself on the outside looking in.

From razor-sharp writer Jeffrey Jay Fowler (FAG/STAG, Second Hands, The One) comes IMPROVEMENT CLUB, a surreal comedy about our infinite pursuit of excellence.

Described as Being John Malkovich meets The Office, this is The Last Great Hunt’s second premiere work for 2018.

More info: www.thelastgreathunt.com/improvementclub/
Email: tracy@trpr.com.au

Image by Cameron Etchells

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JJ Fowler
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A collector of ideas

Writer, director and actor Jeffrey Jay Fowler is one of six artists who make up The Last Great Hunt, a small but acclaimed Perth-based theatre collective that has developed a reputation for making innovative and engaging theatre since its inception in 2013. Nina Levy had a chat with Fowler ahead of the premiere of his latest work for The Last Great Hunt, Improvement Club.

It feels like there’s a small but vital revolution happening in the Perth theatre scene. When once the only direction for WAAPA’s many talented acting and musical theatre graduates was East, in recent years we’ve seen the rise of a new generation of small theatre companies and collectives, created by young practitioners who want to see opportunities developed at home.

One of the key players in this revolution is Jeffrey Jay Fowler, associate director at Black Swan State Theatre Company and a lead artist with Perth theatre collective The Last Great Hunt. A playwright, dramaturg, director and actor, Fowler makes work that is smart and funny, relatable and provocative; work that feels relevant. The plays he has written have won a bevvy of awards, including the the 2016 Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre Award, the 2015 Fringe World Tour Ready Award and Best Performance at Melbourne Fringe 2015 for FAG/STAG (co-written and performed with Chris Isaacs), the 2014 PAWA Award for Best New Play for Elephents (in which he also performed), the 2013 Fringe World Martin Sims Award for Best New WA Work for Minnie and Mona Play Dead and the 2012 Fringe World Best Theatre Award for Hope is the Saddest (which he also directed). As director of Black Swan State Theatre Company’s The Eisteddfod, he scooped the 2017 Award for Best Director at the recent PAWA Awards, with the show taking out Best Mainstage Production.

Minne and Mona Play Dead
Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s 2013 play, ‘Minnie and Mona Play Dead’.

When Perth born and bred Fowler graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts’s Graduate Diploma in Directing in 2010, however, he had no intention of coming home. “When we (the founders of The Last Great Hunt) were graduating there we really no opportunities for mid-career artists,” he recalls. “You could emerge in Perth, but then once you’d emerged, you couldn’t make a living for yourself. We were all pretty frustrated.”

But then Katt Osborne had the idea of gathering together a group of her fellow theatre-makers – Fowler, Gita Bezard, Adriane Daff, Chris Isaacs, Tim Watts and Arielle Gray – into a collective, says Fowler. “It was pretty hard to get funding but we felt like if we banded together we could pool our reputations and get the attention of the funding bodies and the community in Perth to be able to create something that stood apart. We decided that we would be able to create something here and, potentially, not just create careers for ourselves, but also opportunities for the people coming up after us.” And thus The Last Great Hunt was born.

Dedicated to making work in Perth, The Last Great Hunt currently includes six artists: Daff, Gray, Isaacs, Bezard, Fowler and Watts. “We all make very different works and we work together in different constellations,” says Fowler. “There are writer and directors and puppeteers and visual artists.” And, like Fowler, the collective has made its mark on Perth, gaining not just the attention of critics but of the likes of Perth Festival artistic director, Wendy Martin, who named The Last Great Hunt’s New Owner as a favourite work from 2016 and the company as one to watch in an interview with Seesaw last year. Most recently, the collective’s collaboration with Side Pony Productions, The Irresistible, has been shortlisted for the 2018 Helpmann Award for Best Play, alongside the likes of Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre.

Although Fowler has multiple strings to his bow, it is writing that was and remains his first love. “I think that the first things we want to do in life are often the first things we’re praised for and I have very vivid memories of my grade 6 teacher Marilyn Benthein being very proud of my poems that I wrote,” he says with a laugh. “From a young age I identified that this was something I might be capable of doing. And my drama teacher in high school, Frank Murphy, was inspirational. When you’re a young person and someone says, ‘hey you’re good at this,’ you follow at that. And so in my head, my writing ability became potential playwrighting ability.”

Although Fowler does perform, writing and directing come first. “I sometimes act in shows but I don’t think of myself as an actor. I love creating roles and The Last Great Hunt is a vessel to create roles for me and the other members to perform. At the end of the day, I’m an artist because I have something to express or something to say, and so writing always sits centrally, and directing and acting sit as complements to being a playwright.”

The pathway from that initial idea to script is different every time, reflects Fowler. “It’s the same with directing. I don’t have one methodology. There are a few similarities… probably deep frustration, late nights, long periods of procrastination and then, at the end, deep satisfaction that it’s actually happened.

“Sometimes I just suddenly feel like there’s an idea there. I might write down a title or a few words or a sentence and leave it there in a notepad. Once there are enough ideas together I might talk about it with someone else. Collaboration is really important to me. There haven’t been many plays that I’ve sat down and written by myself. But ideas, they come in little bits and pieces, and if you start collecting them and putting them together, eventually you have enough for the seed of a play and you plant that and keep working on it.

Improvement club
The promo image for Fowler’s latest play, ‘Improvement Club’. Photo: Cameron Etchells.

“You have to go, what is the idea, and how does this idea want to be written? Thinking about Improvement Club, because that’s what I’m putting on stage next, that was the longest gestation period from idea to script. The idea first came to me in 2011, when I was joking around with a group of friends and I said that I wanted to start a club where every day we have to improve. At the end of the conversation, I thought, that’s actually a kind of funny idea. I wrote a couple of scenes in 2011 and I got shortlisted for the Edward Albee Scholarship but didn’t get it and I thought, ‘I’m just not ready to write this one.’ So I did plenty of other projects, and worked for Black Swan and I was busy enough.”

Then two years ago, Fowler pitched the idea to The Last Great Hunt. “We did a two week workshop on the idea of what would happen if someone started a club with the singular goal of improving,” he says. “It would be an allegory for the society we’re currently living in where self-improvement is pushed upon us constantly, by a system that’s trying to sell you the idea of a better you; how we sometimes end up frustrated; and how improvement works both on an individual level and also a social level… and these ideas do battle. In that workshop we really focused on where that storyline would go… but after that I still thought, ‘I’m not really ready to write this.’ That’s never really happened to me before. Usually if an idea turns up it wants to be written. I am known for not finishing plays until we’ve started rehearsing – pressure really fuels my process – but I’m usually pretty self-motivated and something about this idea wasn’t clicking.

So what changed?

“I think I have shifted a bit as a person – improved, if you will,” says Fowler with a grin. “What the play wanted to be about – and I really do believe that ideas, when they come into the universe, pick who they want to be written by – what the play wanted to be about is what it means for different people to improve and, without killing the play for anyone who comes to see it, why anyone would want to improve themselves in a world where some people are living below the poverty line, not having access to education, being treated unequally because of some bracket they fall into, be it a gender bracket, a race bracket, any categorisation that might disadvantage you.

“I think that in 2011 I couldn’t have written this play because the conversation, socially, wasn’t where it is now or as accessible as it is now, but also because in 2011, when I was one year out of NIDA, I wasn’t really thinking about other people in that way. I probably would have written a play much more focused on self-improvement, personal optimisation; a pretty selfish outlook on what excellence means. Instead, I think what this play wanted to be the whole time – and I discovered while writing it and workshopping it with the cast – is that idea that the ultimate improvement is not about pushing some people above others, but actually bringing everyone in line.”

Improvement Club is playing State Theatre Centre of WA’s Rehearsal Room 1, 27 June – 7 July.

Pictured top: Fowler in the award-winning ‘Fag/Stag’. Photo: Robert Catto.

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The winners of the 2017 PAWA Awards
Features, News, Performing arts, Theatre

And the winners are…

Seesaw warmly congratulates the winners of the 2017 Performing Arts WA Awards!

BEST NEWCOMER 2017
Georgina Cramond – Interrupting A Crisis, The Blue Room Theatre & Ribs

BEST NEW WORK 2017
Coma Land – Will O’Mahony

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (MALE) 2017
St John Cowcher – My Robot, Barking Gecko Theatre Company

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (FEMALE) 2017
Alison van Reeken – Let The Right One In, Black Swan State Theatre Company

BEST ACTOR (MALE) 2017
Brendan Ewing – The Eisteddfod, Black Swan State Theatre Company

BEST ACTOR (FEMALE) 2017
Adriane Daff – The Irresistible, Side Pony Productions & The Last Great Hunt

BEST DESIGN 2017
Jonathon Oxlade – Set & Costume – The Irresistible, Side Pony Productions & The Last Great Hunt

BEST MUSIC 2017
Rachael Dease – Composition & Sound Design – Let The Right One In, Black Swan State Theatre Company

BEST DIRECTOR
Jeffrey Jay Fowler – The Eisteddfod, Black Swan State Theatre Company

BEST INDEPENDENT PRODUCTION
Laika: A Staged Radio Play – The Blue Room Theatre & Second Chance Theatre

BEST MAINSTAGE PRODUCTION
The Eisteddfod – Black Swan State Theatre Company

Want to know more about the PAWA Awards? Read Seesaw’s interview with PAWA secretary and Awards committee member Nick Maclaine here.

Pictured top: The 2017 PAWA Awards winners. Photo: Monica Defendi Photography.

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The Talk by The Last Great Hunt photo by Daniel James Grant_ pictured L-R Christina Odam, Cassidy Dunn, Megan Hunter-011
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Chipping away at age-old taboos

Review: The Talk, The Last Great Hunt ·
Subiaco Theatre Centre, 11 April ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

For an introvert like me, that 10 minutes before a show begins can be painful. You’re in your seat and feel obliged to speak to the stranger next to you. But not so with The Talk! Rozina Suliman’s gorgeous, evocative set handed me the perfect icebreaker.

“Great set!” I said.
“Are they candles?” he replied. We both peered a little harder.
“Umm … I think they’re dildos.”

Cue laughter. From there, we chatted like old friends. He told me about how his sons were quite open about their use of porn. I told him my mother had never got around to having the “birds and bees” talk with me. Although after she found a packet of condoms in my wardrobe when I was 17, she did say: “I hope you’re not being promiscuous!”

In a sense, I feel The Talk achieved its aim, before any of the three performers delivered their first line. I imagine these are exactly the conversations writer and director Gita Bezard hoped the play would inspire; conversations that encourage reflection and chip away at age-old taboos and, ultimately, equip and empower young people to have healthy relationships.

The play revolves around 15-year-old Eva (Cassidy Dunn), who has fallen foul of double standards and becomes the victim of harassment, slut-shaming and catfishing. Throughout the play, she becomes aware of how society objectifies women, tricking them into believing their worth is measured by their success in attracting a man and fulfilling his sexual needs.

The Talk opens with a hilarious sex-ed scene in which Eva’s tentative question about lubrication is met embarrassment and denial. “I could show you the chlamydia pictures again,” the prudish teacher (Christina Odam) replies. “Was the birthing video not graphic enough?”

Eva finds the focus was on abstinence, or at least protection from STDs, insulting. “You’d like us to have safe, bad sex?” she asks. The teacher’s ensuing discussion about fallopian tubes evoked hearty laughter from the audience, who like me, remember this style of vacuous health lessons, and why Dolly Doctor filled the void.

When Eva contacts a young woman, whose phone number has ended up on the back of a toilet door (Odam), the two strike up a friendship that fosters self-discovery and empowerment. Oh, and the theft of a six-speed vibrator from an adult store.

As well as playing one of Eva’s school frenemies, Megan Hunter portrays a tragically awkward teen boy with a fascination for the mating habits of insects. The character highlights the difficulties of fitting in and the dangers of adopting a fictional persona online.

Hunter also plays Eva’s mother, whose mishandling of “the mother-daughter talk” proved a crowd-pleaser.

The scenes are interspersed with glorious song and dance routines – essentially a mash-up of pop and hip-hop hits over several decades. One suggestive lyric (“I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock”) rolls into the next and twerking abounds. Ben Collins’ sound design and musical arrangement elevates the show by adding layers of cultural critique and character development in an entertaining fashion.

By the end of this sexual coming-of-age story, Eva and friends belt out “I love myself and I don’t need anyone else!” It’s an uplifting message but one I feel a teenage audience needs to hear more than middle-aged folk. At times I felt I was watching a play adapted from a YA novel, albeit with more coarse language and adult themes. And, while the show was warmly received by its opening night audience, I wasn’t convinced about the protagonist’s progression to maturity. One minute Eva’s swooning over texts from a mystery suitor, the next she’s ranting about the patriarchy. If only it were that simple…

The Talk plays Subiaco Theatre Centre until April 21.

Pictured top: Christina Odam, Cassidy Dunn, Megan Hunter in ‘The Talk’. Photo: Daniel James Grant.

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The Talk
April 18, Calendar, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: The Talk

11 – 21 April @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by The Last Great Hunt ·

More than just the birds and the bees.

Think back to when you had ‘The Talk’ (you’ve probably tried to forget it). Maybe your mother told you to “be careful”. Maybe your teacher told you to “abstain”. You felt prepared, right?

Eva is 15 and all she wants is answers. No more condom demonstrations or close-up slides of chlamydia. She needs honesty, and she’s not afraid to get it.

One petition, one riot and one school suspension later, Eva sets out on her own quest to discover just what it is that everyone is hiding.

Written by Gita Bezard (The Advisors, Girl Shut Your Mouth) this hilarious and pointed new show from The Last Great Hunt holds up the fears of the adults against the questions of the teenagers. This is: The Talk.

More info: www.thelastgreathunt.com/thetalk

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