2017

MISTERMAN

Lyn Zelen - Theatre People

Overall – 4.5

Performances – 4.5
Costumes – 4.5
Sets – 4.5
Lighting – 4.5
Sound – 4.5
Direction – 4.5
Stage Management – 4.5

Misterman is a one-man transfixing presentation of Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s enthralling poetic prose. The profound and unforgettable production from FizzWack Theatre Company, delves into the dark reserves of the human mind at the iconic Bluestone Church Arts Space.

The fascinating play revolves around the taunted small town “eejit” Thomas Magill (Travis Handcock and co-founder of FizzWack Theatre). Thomas functions alone in a ‘make-believe’ world with his “Mammy and cat Trixie”. He is a bewildered young man trapped in his own ‘episodes’ and relies on daily rituals to keep the ‘voices in his head’ at bay.

He arrives home to a Doris Day song blaring from numerous cassette players strewn around his family home. He removes the batteries, yet the tune still plays. The ‘voices’ have distorted his devout Christian values and his perceptions of the local townspeople, where he resides in Inishfree. Thomas believes his religious convictions and illusory angels can guide the lost sheep of Inishfree into the light of the Lord. He tape-records and repeats their daily sins to his imaginary “Mammy” and strokes a brown jumper—the cat.

The townspeople are stopping Thomas enjoying the simple pleasures of life. From the moment he opens his front door, Mr O’Donnell’s dog barks everyday before his walk into town. He indulges in a slice of cheesecake at the café and is interrupted by the overzealous flirtations of the married café owner, Mrs Cleary. He’s betrayed again over a friendly pot of tea at Simple Eamon Moran’s, when he discovers Eamon is in the possession of a naked ‘girlie calendar’.

Thomas’s personality disorder, leads him on an ‘unholy’ persecution of the towns folk. The time bomb starts to tick faster in the detached pockets of his mind.

Travis Handcock’s convincing Southern Irish accent heightens Thomas’s religious rantings. His highly ornamented tones in an Irish ballad at the father’s gravesite, is one of the many endearing elements in the production.

Weber’s direction and the production team have enhanced the ethereal surrounds of the expansive church. The interactive set design is a wondrous art scape and look out for the ‘egg’.

Some of the lengthy and in-depth prose in Walsh’s monologues, are perhaps, necessary to invoke the ravages of Thomas’s mental illness? At times Handcock’s performance is so exuberant; it’s hard to believe there is only one person on stage.

The intriguing story is punctuated by neurosis and exaggerated reactions. The perplexing character of Thomas evolves under the pivotal direction of Kris Weber and Handcock’s exemplary technique. There are masterful moments that shock. This is a heartfelt interpretation that examines the stigma associated with mental illness.

The acoustics in the Bluestone Church Arts Space is an experience within itself. This multifaceted play is as informative as it is unique. Travis Handcock is realistic in his portrayal and he embodies the tempered and tragic life of Thomas and his belief systems to survive.

Aidan Johnson - Pop Culture-y

In the words of Kris Weber, the director of Misterman, there needs to be art that explores mental illness in a powerful, fair, and non-stereotypical fashion. Theatre is one of the best ways to explore these themes, as through strong acting, effective use of sound and props, and hard-hitting writing, plays can be used to truly highlight the sufferings of the mentally ill. This Misterman does exceptionally well – the audience was in a state of overwhelmed silence at the end because of how powerful the play was. It’s a profoundly sad story in a profoundly good and “gutsy” (to quote Weber again) play.

The acting was superb. There is no other way to describe it – the intensity, emotion, and delivery was able to bring the audience along into the story in an effective manner that brought the entire thing to life. Travis Handcock does a superb job bringing the audience into the world of Thomas Magill, a man who from the outset is shown to hear voices, and appear to be quite ill. Handcock’s acting really highlights the unstable and emotional, yet piercingly astute, nature of religious mania and mental illness, and he makes the face very human in an inhuman situation. Even messed up lines (there was always going to be one or two in a play of this magnitude) were easily covered up and barely noticeable – in fact they complimented the character. And his Irish accent was solid as well.

The story itself was brilliant in its ability to make a simple day-in-the-life of Thomas Magill, an odd and religious fanatic in the Irish town of Inishfree, but with the twists and turns to make it become more disjointed as the play progressed. Although, from the outset, the audience knew something wasn’t right – the play opened with Thomas standing on a crate holding a frying pan and an egg after all. The story also gives Thomas’s character depth that is not often explored for mentally ill people – although he is a deeply warped individual, he is not unsympathetic, and has a sharp and accurate ability to diagnose many of the town’s ills.

It’s a tragedy of the highest order that such a switched-on mind is so damaged in many ways, and Misterman handles it very well.

The overall effect of “something isn’t right” was helped along by the props and sound effects. The intimacy of having a single actor with almost no space between the audience and the action removed any boundaries between performer and audience, which was a nice touch. Throughout the play, various sounds came from a variety of speakers around the room, giving the show a very immersive feeling. The setup – in a dimly lit church with a plastic tarp floor and scattered “poor theatre” props – made for both compelling props for the story as well as possibly a metaphor for the broken and fallible nature of Thomas’ mind. The lighting was effective at drawing attention to – or away – from each “scene”, and set the mood effectively as well.

Heads up though, if you have epilepsy the flashing lights might be an issue at one stage. However, this was the only criticism that can be leveled against the sound and lighting team, whose heroic efforts matched the actor’s.

This is the sort of theatre that needs to be produced, and Weber should be commended on her sterling efforts, along with her team, and of course Handcock’s excellent performance. The overall blend of all the elements makes Misterman a show to see.

2016

RUBEN GUTHRIE

Allison Hilbig - Theatre People

Overall – 4.5

Performances – 5
Costumes – 4
Sets – 3.5
Lighting – 4.5
Sound – 4.5
Direction – 4.5
Stage Management – 5

Written by Brendan Cowell, Ruben Guthrie tells the story of Ruben Guthrie, a young Creative Director of a cutting-edge advertising agency in Sydney. Ruben seems to have it all: he’s successful, he has a beautiful girlfriend and is at the top of his game in his career. The problem is he drinks – excessively. So does everyone else around him.

After too many celebratory drinks at work, Ruben Guthrie has a serious accident that results in him being sent to an AA meeting and the realisation he needs to stop drinking. As the play unfolds it seems that to stop drinking is easier said than done.

The story begins quite light, with enough laughs to quickly engage the audience and endear them to the central character of Ruben. However, as the play continues, Ruben’s world begins to fall apart and outside of his AA meetings, it seems Ruben has very little support from any family and friends to stop drinking. Ruben begins to implode and the audience is taken on a roller-coaster ride with him.

The set is simple, with cast members effectively becoming part of the scenery throughout the play. Music is used as cast quickly move from one scene to the next, cleverly distinguishing each change of scene that feels almost like choreography. Lighting (designed by Kate Deavin, Travis Handcock and Stephanie Morrell) is used well and enhances the mood. The components all come together to create the illusion of a much more elaborate set than it is and results in a very slick production that moves effortlessly from one scene to the next. The moves are sharp, deliberate and well executed, which only adds to the sense of tension building in the life of Ruben Guthrie.

The entire cast are excellent and well suited to their roles, each giving a convincing portrayal – Andy Mellor as Ruben’s less-than-supportive work colleague, David Runnalls and Stephanie King as Ruben’s parents, Jeanette Coppolino as Ruben’s Czech supermodel girlfriend, Steve Young as Ruben’s best friend who loves to party hard and Stephanie Morrell as his AA sponsor who has her own demons to face.

The standout performance, however, comes from Travis Handcock in the title role of Ruben Guthrie. Handcocks delivers every line with clarity and purpose, ensuring no word is missed and the audience are on his side. Handcock is also the director and has done a tremendous job bringing this story to life, finding plenty of warmth and lighter moments in the text, as well as moments that will shock and surprise. There were audible gasps of disappointment from the audience as Ruben faced challenge after challenge as he was constantly undermined in his decision to remain sober. This is where Ruben Guthrie becomes more than just a story, but rather a reality check for the audience. Brendan Cowell’s play is not just the story of a fictional character but rather a statement about the challenge of our Australian culture and the need to drink – and usually to excess. Handcock’s direction and portrayal of Ruben Guthrie ensures this message is not lost on the audience. Ruben Guthrie is a sobering reminder of a culture in desperate need of help but unsure how to change.

The programme warns the audience this play contains “violence, drug and alcohol use, nudity, sexually explicit action, coarse language and adult themes” – and it certainly delivers in all these areas. The intimacy of the small theatre amplifies the intensity of these shock moments. However, despite this being a very “adult” story, this would be an excellent play for older teens and young adults to not only view, but to unpack and study. Ruben Guthrie is the sort of play you really want to sit down afterwards and discuss in depth – ideally over a cup of Earl Grey, though. Walking out of the Lowe auditorium of the 1812 Theatre to their champagne supper (after we’d consumed our sherries on arrival) felt almost wrong.

Ruben Guthrie is a disturbingly compelling play that will leave you questioning how our culture of binge drinking can ever change. While there is a heavy sense of despair that it seems almost impossible to change the culture, audiences are left with a glimmer of hope that perhaps change is possible for some people?

Ruben Guthrie is currently playing at the 1812 Theatre until Saturday 10th September and is definitely worth a look.

Cate Altamura - Weekend Notes

Riveting play exposing Australia’s drinking culture

Based on a play by Brendan Cowell, Ruben Guthrie highlights the drinking culture in Australia and the flood of issues that go with it. Opening at the 1812 Theatre in Upper Ferntree Gully, the award-winning play unapologetically illustrates the ugly side of alcohol and drug dependency.

Presented by FizzWack Theatre Co, the highly lauded play was nominated for the Best New Australian Work in 2008 and was made into a film in 2015, starring Patrick Brammall, Alex Dimitriades and Abbey Lee Kershaw. Ruben Guthrie played by Travis Handcock centres on the life of Advertising Director. Ruben is successful and has all the trappings that go with his highflying career – an incredible apartment, overflowing wallet and model girlfriend Zoya (Jeanette Coppolino). Fed up with Ruben’s drinking, Zoya decides to head back to her native Czech Republic, leaving Ruben in a tailspin. Although Ruben eventually joins Alcoholics Anonymous and heads towards sobriety with the help of his new love interest Virginia (Stephanie Morrell), Ruben’s life eventually comes crashing down when his drinking buddy Damien (Steve Young) shows up. Damien pressures Ruben to drink again and the pair stare down a slippery slope. Unfortunately too many recovering alcoholics will succumb to the phrase, “it’s just one drink”.

Handcock’s portrayal of Ruben felt natural as he nudged the audience into his booze-filled world. The scenes Handcock shared with Young were highly charged and compelling to watch. Although the play started off a little slow, the narrative flowed well from scene to scene drawing me further into Ruben’s world. My main criticism overall, was the length of the play and where it ended.

When the haunting lyrics were cued in the scene following Ruben’s collapsing would have made for a punchier and heartfelt ending. At that point I was awash with emotion and unequivocally understood the plays all-encompassing messages. Ending there would have been far more poignant. The hospital scene that followed Rueben’s demise felt contrived and lacked any real sentiment. Overall, a refreshing and well-directed play that isn’t afraid to push the boundaries and expose the alarming drinking culture in Australia.

Sally McKenzie - Theatre Press

Facing demons in powerful Aussie play

Ruben Guthrie, written by Brendan Cowell, is a hard-hitting Australian play which deals with the perils of alcoholism and drug abuse as experienced by Ruben Guthrie himself and the people around him.

In this production, presented by the 1812 Theatre in conjunction with FizzWack Theatre Company, Travis Handcock played the lead role of Guthrie, as well as taking on the role of director – an ambitious project indeed, and Handcock managed to satisfy both roles quite successfully. Guthrie rarely leaves the stage, and Handcock was quite masterful in his portrayal of the struggling Creating Director of ‘Subliminal’ Advertising Agency. He opened the show by immediately breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience as though we were members of an ‘alcoholics anonymous’-style meeting. I felt Handcock was a little more hesitant in these moments. He really hit his stride when connecting with the other characters on stage, as he dealt with his struggle with sobriety. It was difficult not to empathize with his feelings of helplessness as those close to him failed to support him. Handcock did a superb job of handling the enormity and sensitivity of this role.

Jeanette Coppolino played Guthrie’s Czechoslovakian fiancé Zoya. Her accent was strong and consistent and her role well-executed. As was the intention, I felt much distaste for the manner and business-driven character of Guthrie’s boss and father-figure, Ray, played by Andy Mellor – a job well done! David Runnels as Peter, Guthrie’s father, was perfectly suited to his role, all the way down to his safari shorts and loafers. He depicted the wine-loving, self-centred, mid-life-crisis Aussie male with just the right balance of realism and humour.

Stephanie Morrell as Virginia (Guthrie’s second love interest) served as a great contrast to the conservative super-model Zoya. Her opening scene with Guthrie was particularly lovely with one of the few heart-warming and more light-hearted scenes as they faced those first few ‘awkward’ moments signalling the start of a relationship. Steve Young played Damien, one of Guthrie’s best friends: a great casting choice, as he was impressively consistent with his over-driven personality and ‘unlikable’ corruptive influences on Guthrie. Stephanie King gave a good performance as Guthrie’s alcoholic mother, and her final scene as a confessing alcoholic was particularly poignant.

The set was simple: a series of white vertical wooden panels in colourful graffiti, reminiscent of the chaos of Guthrie’s life, a couch, and the occasional stool or chair. Cast appeared between the panels as providers of props, extra clothing items, and then the various forms of alcohol, profoundly symbolic of Guthrie’s ‘enablers’, while lighting and sound was most effective in illustrating the abrupt change from the meetings to Ruben’s real life. This was all that was needed. The focus was where it needed to be – on the actors, their personal demons and the ways they dealt or chose not to deal with them.

For me, the only questionable direction decision was the choice to include nudity. I felt this was unnecessary, and only a distraction to the overall tone of the play. In addition, a fault of the script was its length: the play had well and truly made its point, whereupon I felt the last 20 minutes only served to almost disconnect us from the characters, and added choreographed movement and montages that seemed out of style with the rest of the production.

Overall however, this was an insightful and thought-provoking production, with a highly impressive cast – well worth a visit to the foot of the Dandenongs this week.

Ruben Guthrie is playing at the 1812 Theatre, Rose St, Upper Ferntree Gully for one week only – from Wed 7th-Sat 10th Sept. Tickets at www.1812theatre.com.au or by phoning 9758 3964. Please be warned that this play contains violence, drug and alcohol use, nudity, sexually explicit action, coarse language and adult themes.

Jennifer Paragreen

Fizzwack Productions, in association with 1812 Theatre, is currently reprising ‘Ruben Guthrie’, the production which last year earned Sunshine Community Theatre the Victorian Drama League best drama trophy, and it deserves to be on your ‘must see’ list.

With ‘Ruben Guthrie’ Australian writer, Brendan Cowell, has created a thought-provoking study into the devastating effects of alcohol abuse, but it is the compelling and courageous acting performances of the brilliant cast which really make this production outstanding.

The production’s masterful director is Travis Handcock who is riveting in the title role, a performance which requires him to interact with his cast and also to address the audience as though they are attendees at an AA meeting. His commitment, energy and intensity never flags for even an instant.

The performances of every cast member are viscerally stunning and the set looks more classy on the better resourced 1812 stage than it did at Sunshine.

The play has some nudity, bad language and adult themes but sets the mind to thinking about Australian attitudes to drinking.
Grab the opportunity to see this theatrical tour de force running at 1812 in Upper Ferntree Gully at 8pm each evening until Saturday 10th September

Casey Long - Bohemian Rhapsody Club

Ruben Guthrie was made up of well-executed theatrical conventions, authentic performances and clever humour. The play follows Ruben as he accepts, handles and struggles with his drinking problem. It makes use of engaging characters, such as the over the top Boss and the gay best friend, colourful stagecraft with signage of important names or themes throughout the storyline, as well as use of famous and unknown songs to further the story.
The song ‘Summer of 69’ was sung originally as a way for two friends to reminisce on old times together, but gradually turns into a blunt reality of how their lives turned out. The song was well chosen as it explores many of the same themes and it is well known and commonly misinterpreted.
Each actor would also be a stage hand by bringing props to the actors in the current scene. They would stand in front of one of the walls in a neutral stance, and either hold their arms like hooks or a shelf or they would pass an object to another actor. It was a non-distracting and clever way to transition props.
The story was a genuine expression of struggle and support. It was told in a thoroughly enjoyable way, separating meaningful moments with engaging scenes about well-known Australian slogans or drunken stories.
The show was incredibly enjoyable and well done. It showcased many performance styles and the abilities of each actor. This was an eye opening story and was relatable for different generations in different ways. It was a brilliant play; it was ‘Ruben Guthrie’.