Julia and Chris chat about Skin Tight, love, bruises, manhood, our Pakeha heritage, and TV commercials… [by James Wenley]
Skin Tight, by Gary Henderson, is a New Zealand play done good.
Since its humble debut at BATS theatre in 1994, the play toured New Zealand, and the world, including productions in Australia, Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and the USA and won a Fringe First award in Edinburgh.
At its core are the enigmatic characters of Tom and Elizabeth, recalling old school 1940s/50s New Zealand, who open the play with a brutal and passionate physical fight. The first stage direction of the play is instructive ‘A number of gym mats form a single pad centre stage’. It is a play that asks a lot of its actors.
Jed Brophy and Larissa Matheson originated the roles, now rising actors Chris Neels and Julia Croft have taken up the mantle in a new Auckland production at the Musgrove Studio directed by Melissa Fergusson. For both, Skin Tight is their favourite New Zealand play. Julia first read it in Drama School, and the character of Elizabeth was on a dream ‘one day I’d like to play that character’ list. Now she gets to.
I worked together with Chris and Julia on the team of Auckland Theatre Company’s Shrew’d - a quirky reworking of The Taming of the Shrew - in 2008. Along with myself, Chris was one of the three crew members who together managed to win ourselves increasing and unplanned stage time. Julia was a star, playing the sexy and sassy Shrew, holding her own in a boxing ring. At that stage, Chris was about to embark on three years of acting training at Unitec, Julia was about to return to do her final year at Toi Whakaari. Chris has admired Julia since Shrew’d, and remembers one particular backstage moment: "I remember walking into the theatre one day, and she had her head between her legs and she was blowing stuff out of her lips. And I thought ‘that’s a professional actor’. She was warming up while the rest of the actors were having a smoke or something like that, but Julia was in there stretching - that’s an actor."
Chris has been out of drama school now for six months, and says he’s been doing okay. He appeared in Outfit’s The Sex Show and is currently appearing in KFC’s Double Down commercial. “There’s times where you struggle for rent and things like that, but largely I’ve done alright. I’ve been given some nice opportunities along the way.” Julia, he says, is “wise and experienced” in contrast. She describes her industry experience as involving “ebbs and flows”. “You have periods where it’s great, and inevitably you start thinking ‘I’m gaining momentum, this is great!’ then nothing. It’s one of those jobs, when you’re working, it’s the best job in the world, when you’re not it can be a challenge“. This year Julia featured in Red Leap’s Paper Sky during the Auckland Festival, and formed Thread Theatre with Veronica Brady, co-devising the show The Keepers, and can also be seen on our small screens in the Z petrol station campaign.
Remember this name [by James Wenley]
You might not know who Tim Carlsen is yet, but by the end of the year Auckland Theatregoers will certainly be able to put a face to the name.
The second half of the year is a big one for the 2009 Toi Whakaari Acting graduate, as he not only brings his solo theatre creation ‘One Day Moko’ to the Basement on June 28th, but will be seen in roles in Silo Theatre’s ‘I Love You Bro’ and ‘Tartuffe’, and Auckland Theatre Company’s ‘End of the Golden Weather’. That’s a big achievement for someone not long out of Drama School.
Tim recognises that it “its either going to be feast or famine when it comes to this sort of work”. Of this current feast he says “It’s great, I’m going to relish it all. It’s fantastic.” Up first is a personal labour of love for Tim, his solo show One Day Moko which follows the day in a life of a homeless person: “We follow him around Auckland city and see what he gets up to and who he meets along the way.”
It’s been a long journey to bring Moko to Auckland, having begun working on the play while still at Drama School. Tim’s first inspiration for the piece was in New York, where he worked with the Wooster Group, whose members and alumni include names like Steve Buscemi and Willem Defoe. Working with the Wooster Group “was a big part of finding the form of the show in terms of using technology, particularly film and video, and incorporating that into the show.”
"What do you see?" [by James Wenley]
I’ve started with a quote. "What do you see?"
It’s the first line of RED by John Logan (he of Gladiator and The Aviator fame) , presented by the prestigious Auckland Theatre Company, starring theatre luminary Michael Hurst and directed by Mr. Oliver Driver. Sterling credentials all.
“What do you see?” says Hurst as Mark Rothko, to prospective assistant Ken (Elliot Christiensen-Yule), about one of his paintings. Ah, Art and the subjective position. While one person might see meaning and a parade of emotion, another might see just see the colour red. The Rothko works at the centre of this play are red - big canvases of colour with subtle shading. In a dazzling theatrical set piece, Yule and Hurst madly paint a canvas in front of our eyes with big brush strokes.
What do I see when I look at this production? There is Red, but also a great deal more.
Rothko was an American painter who emerged as part of the Abstract Expressionism movement in the mid 20th Century. His style changed over his career, but he is best known for his ‘mature style’ – (to quote Linda Tyler’s excellent essay in the program) “abstractions with floating blocks of pure colour which lifted viewers away from the sights and sounds of modern life into a meditative space”. Rothko died a suitably tragic artists death (which is brilliantly foreshadowed within the play) of “slashing the veins inside the crooks of his own arms”.
Stejko’s Sisters Scintillate [by Sharu Delilkan]
To be honest when I was told that I was coming to see an Anton Chekhov play all I could think of was – it's gonna be a long night.
But that dreaded feeling of a laborious theatrical experience disappeared as soon as I entered the waiting room leading to the theatre.
Although it was a few minutes before the doors opened I felt a sense of excitement that wouldn't have been as apparent if we hadn’t been stuffed into the room creating a pressure cooker like atmosphere with people chatting to one another.
As soon as the theatre doors were flung open music was playing in the background and we had the rare opportunity to walk around the stage, which pretty much started at the door, in order to get to our seats.
Shining a new light for alternate theatre [by James Wenley]
Thread Theatre promise a breath of fresh sea air in their debut production of ‘The Keepers’.
It is an ethereal, enigmatic play of dreams and feelings, felt and unfelt, using physical theatre and music to tell much of the story, such as it is.
Devisors Julia Croft and Veronica Brady say the work is “about why people stay and why they leave”, and that it is inspired by the diaries and writings of Anais Nin, and Marguerite Duras, of whom I know nothing about. It’s not much to go on, and most of it is left up to one’s own interpretation… which is refreshing really.
Margaret (Veronica Brady) lives on a small lighthouse island by herself, until Nina (Julia Croft) washes up and challenges her solitary existence. Where does each of the characters come from? We don’t know. Margaret seems incredibly repressed, and Veronica does excellent work portraying her tics, worried physicality and mistrust of Nina. Julia moves beautifully as Nina, in touch with her sensual side, though when speaking I thought she was a little overwrought and ‘too big’ for the subtler mood and style of the piece.
Brooding tale of Brotherhood [by James Wenley]
The Brothers Size is a play that ignites the senses.
Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has been burdened with all sorts of praise, the voice of his generation, the savior of American theatre. He grew up in Miami’s deprived Liberty City housing projects, and has worked with such prestigious theatrical institutions as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
What he does isn’t anything new, he uses a potent mix of the language of now – the language of the street, hip hop – to tell a universal story in an engaging way. That this play is receiving plaudits in an Auckland production by Silo Theatre is a testament to that. Good storytelling wins.
On a strictly narrative point A to point B level, the tale is a simple one. It’s about two brothers and what unites and divides them. Oshoosi Size (Pua Magasiva) is the ‘black sheep’, released from prison and taken into the care of head-to-the-ground elder brother Ogun (Jarod Rawiri), who tries to instill the value of hard-work and get him back on the right path. The presence of ex-con Elegba (Te Kohe Tuhaka), who ‘looked after’ Oshoosi while he was in prison, threatens to disturb the Size brotherhood.
Underneath this story are biblical and mythical echoes. McCraney has layered the story with elements of the West African Yorùbán Mythology – Ogun, for example, is the name of the God of Iron, Creativity and Violence, adding deeper metaphoric elements.