By Garreth Cruikshank
Monday 3rd October. Closed dress rehearsal. We have been rehearsing every day of the long weekend, and the 4 singers – Irene Sarrinikolaou, Patrick Howard, Deb Bryan & Tim de Sousa have been putting more hours than any of us, trying to learn the complex songs composed by Nate Edmondson, that they are getting days before we open. They are tired but excited.
1/ Irene, what is your cultural background?
I am Greek Australian. My sister and I were born here, but my parents were among the massive influx of European migrants that arrived in the 60s. Both parents are from the Greek islands: Dad, from Pythagoras’ hometown – Samos, and mum from Kos – where Hippocrates lived and taught medicine!
2/ What is your theatre background?
My background is a combination of academic, and practical. I have a Masters in Theatre Studies and a Bachelor of Teaching in Drama and English, and most of my stage experience has involved classical singing… especially the Italian operatic repertoire. I spend most of my time teaching creative arts, and running a production company called ANGELVOICES. I formed the company in 2005 and have since worked on producing and performing in festivals, special events, and concerts; and my vision is to have a full time repertory company with two operas per season.
3/ Irene, do you find it hard to get cast in interesting roles in the Sydney theatre (or film/TV) scene because you don’t fit a stereotype?
There’s so much to say here! Some young companies are doing outstanding, inventive things in their seasons, and that does include casting. But broadly speaking, the scene here is still rather conservative. And there continues to be a real shunning of local talent here! We seem to habitually exile our best singers, actors and composers… they receive adoration and accolades in the top companies overseas before they receive any acknowledgement in their hometowns! There seems to be very little earnest support of our artists and intellectuals here.
Having said all of that, I don’t venture out into the audition circuit much. I will only audition for a role if I really think I can serve that character well, and if the brief is open-minded to an actor that is ‘of Mediterranean appearance’. Otherwise, I produce my own work… and I definitely look like a Tosca, a Santuzza, a Clytemnestra or a Medea
4/ Irene, how did you hear about Marat/Sade, and what attracted you to the project?
I read about the New Theatre production in the 2016 launch email, so I kept an eye out for auditions. It’s a piece I’ve wanted to do for years. I love anything that has a meta-theatrical element… I think a play-within-a-play is incredibly interesting and challenging to execute. It’s like a dazzling hall of mirrors where the reality of one world is replaced by another, and overturned again.
Aside from that though: an epic tragedic context – the French Revolution; incredible historical figures who indeed, changed the course of the world: Jean Paul Marat, and the Marquis de Sade; a vicious political debate around wealth and poverty, the individual and society… and what that means in practical terms, for the average people not involved in endless talking about issues. The language is rich and poetic, and there is music!
I love it. Controversy is essential to progress in any context. I think that theatre is uniquely equipped to assault the senses and evoke a deep response in people. In the digital age, when we are over saturated with information, it is easy to become disengaged from what is happening beyond the screen. It has become a veil of illusion in many ways.
Barry French’s version is unapologetically designed to confront and confuse and provoke. We are refugees in a processing camp, and the production is an exact reflection of our world right now; here we are, in a shared space, some of us free to watch a spectacle unfold, and some of us are in a cage. Some of us are free and others are incarcerated. Some have self-determination, and others are stuck in a world that is not of their own choosing. Today, someone is beheaded for expressing a view, and someone is stoned to death, someone will self harm, and another will be at the mercy of an institution that is not humane. And yet, we watch…
6/ What has been the most enjoyable or rewarding aspect of the rehearsal process? What have been the biggest challenges?
There have been many highlights. It’s a lovely and talented cast, which is a blessing; but we have an outstanding creative team. It’s been wonderful to work with a director who is a fine and accomplished actor himself, and can communicate with precision and nuance. We’ve had the expertise and patience of Shondelle Pratt who has added exhilarating choreography to the piece, and then, we’ve had the outstanding musical storytelling of Nate Edmondson‘s composition. As for challenges, it’s a difficult piece! It requires incredible concentration and stamina to tell a story in the format it’s in; and concerning such deep philosophical and political themes. And for me personally, delving into the character of a refugee woman with no chance of leaving a processing camp on Nauru has been chilling.
7/ There is talk of going into the studio to record the original music by Nate Edmondson. What do you think that will be like? Have you ever recorded an album before?
I hope so – the music is thrilling! Whoever gets to hear it, will love it. I have recorded before, yes. The studio is an interesting challenge, but our characters will be so well-established by the recording, that I think it will be wonderful. If we have Nate conducting, that will ensure that all the stylistic touches he’s woven into the music will be there.
8/ What do you hope people will take from this production?
I want people to be moved by the story and the story-telling… I hope everyone feels how extraordinary a shared, live experience can be.
And I really hope that it compels audiences to spare a thought in the direction of those who – historically, or today, have no voice and are in prisons or prison camps, or wards or institutions that have taken their identities. Maybe we’ll be compelled to live with compassion and care, and be inspired to stop human suffering.
4 Oct – 5 Nov 2016
By Peter Weiss, Translated By Geoffrey Skelton,
Music By Richard Peaslee, Poems Translated By Adrian Mitchell
“We want our rights and we don’t care how/
We want our revolution NOW”
Performances Dates, Times & Tickets
4 Oct – 5 Nov 2016
Previews: Tue 4 & Wed 5 Oct, 7:30pm
Tue – Sat 7:30pm
Final performance: Sat 5 Nov 5pm