Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Return - Review

It's raw, it's gripping, it's overflowing with aussie accents and it's full of beautiful people. No, it's not the latest episode of Lost - it's 'The Return' . I chat to lead actress Natasha Beaumont.

It's not often that you attend a theatre performance in London then get to mingle with the stars in the bar. It's also uncommon to sit in a venue so intimate you can hear the breathing of the actors on the stage before you. What's more, it's not often that you go out, expecting to see a show, and end up being transported to another time and place - in this case, my homeland - Australia.

The award winning Birmingham Stage Company presents the British premiere of 'The Return'. The charisma-filled venue doing it justice is The Old Red Lion in Islington, and if the opening night was anything to go by, this little gem is going to do extremely well.

Set on the last train to Fremantle, The Return is Australian writer Reg Cribb's dark comedy following the train journey of two ex-convicts passing time by harassing fellow passengers. Utterly convincing in their performances, Alistair Scott-Young and Will Irvine send a chill down the spine of every young man and female ever bullied at any time during their life. If you do manage that drink after the show, take note; they are also gorgeous. Line up ladies!

When a young girl boards the train, she becomes the target of their attention. Natasha Beaumont envelopes her character's discomfort, fear and undogged determination to stand her ground. Meanwhile, fellow passengers sit quietly, doing nothing. Elizabeth Elvin must receive a special mention for her sharp portrayal or Maureen. The laughter she evokes is a much-needed tension-breaker. Neal Foster, Artistic Director of Birmingham Stage Company plays the role of 'The writer' - silent for the most part but a key character nonetheless.

Director, John-Paul Cherrington obviously has faith in the ability of his cast to hold their own. And that they do… and more. The simple set enhances their on-stage chemistry and adds to the character's isolation - and the audience's discomfort.

The Aussie slang plays a large role in the authenticity of the play - the English may find a few phrases unfamiliar (nonetheless amusing) but for the Australians amongst you, it will make it all the more convincing.

Now, I'm the first to admit that it's difficult to locate a taste of Australia here in London. The sun and surf aren't even worth contemplating and the Aussie bars and pubs are the epitome of a messy and forgettable night out. For the record, country pubs are not like like 'The Walkabout' - and Fosters is not 'the done thing'. I avoid both like the plague and welcome any theatrical performance that showcases the sheer talent emerging from the land 'down under'. For Australians and English alike, this is not one to miss. If you leave with fifteen quid in your back pocket you'll even have enough cash left over for a pint - of anything but Fosters!

Testosterone aside, the female star of the show is Natasha Beaumont. She may cower in feigned terror on stage but this blonde is one feisty piece of work. You have to be to tackle the acting world full on. Back in Australia, she's somewhat of a household name. Notches on the film board include 'Dark Love Story' and the upcoming 'Little Fish' with Kate Blanchett and Sam Neil.

The couch potatoes of the world may recognise her from 'Farscape', 'The Lost World', 'All Saints' and 'Water Rats'. Theatre buffs may have seen her in 'Amigos', 'Chicks Will Dig You', 'Six Hot Shots' and 'Crazy Brave' - just to name a few.

Natasha is testament to the success achievable by following your dreams and a self-confessed tarot junkie (mind the pun!). She's also a down to earth Aussie girl who's up for a chat and a good old gin and tonic to boot. I had a chat to her recently about life in London, stealing the stage and the eye candy involved. The perks of the job hey?!

Q: what can we expect from the show?

A: A really gripping, modern play. Makes you think about a few things and is loaded with tension, black humour and surprising twists. Definitely a good night out.

Q: It's a dark comedy... do you find it challenging in terms of content?

A: It does have some quite dark moments sitting next to some good laughs but each seems to serve the other. There have been some definite challenges in rehearsing the material, just maintaining that intensity all day can be hard work!

Q: You've featured in a number of television shows in Australia, has taking to the stage been refreshing?

A: Yes! The stage rocks! It's such a different energy to television work where everyone is kind of overtired and overworked and stressed out a lot of the time. Television deadlines are intense.

Theatre is a lot more playful and as an actor you are involved at such a different level. You use your whole body to communicate on stage, a bit like dancing, and the audience is right there in the room with you. Whereas on camera it's so often from the neck up and it's all about the damn camera!

Q: Even for such an established and talented actress, is stage fright ever a problem?

A: Not so much stage fright but opening night nerves can be awful. Performing in my first big show opening at the Sydney Opera House was totally petrifying. I don't think I'll ever be that freaked out again! But after opening night nerves it then just becomes more of an adrenaline rush.

Q: You grew up in a very creative environment - both your mother and father were extremely creative. Your mother used to mother used to direct nightclub shows, and I hear you were entranced by the costumes. Do you think this influenced your creative streak? (My father used to be a DJ at the Blue Light Discos and I used to sit atop the speakers watching the 'big kids' dance and flirt away. I'm sure that lead to my current dream of being a professional (and paid) radio presenter!

A: Absolutely. It's definitely true that saying being bitten by the bug. When you're around people putting on shows from a young age nothing else in life seems as exciting!

Q: After growing up in Kuala Lumpur, moving to Sydney at 20, where you attended uni... and then trained at the Charles Stuart University. Did you always want to be an actress and was it a hard path to follow?

A: I went to uni to study set and costume design but I always secretly wanted to act! I chose the course ‘cos I knew I'd get to do lots of performing if I wanted (plus there were lots of cute boys in the course...he he he) By the time I graduated I knew I had to give acting a shot or I'd always regret it. Although I've been pretty lucky with getting work, life as an actor breaks your heart. Repeatedly.

The competition is just so fierce and there are so many talented people out there. There's no justice, rhyme or reason to who gets work and who doesn't in the end. But having said that, it's a damn great job when you're working!

Q: What do you miss about Australia?

A: Mates!!!!! Family, sunshine, Newtown and Bondi. And having an already established career...

Q: I hear you are into astrology and are particularly addicted to Tarot cards ... my housemate recently gave me a training set to get me started. Any tips? As of yet, I am too nervous to give it a go!

A: Yes I'm a tarot junkie! But don't worry, there's nothing googledy-boogledy about them. They're just a reflection of your own sub-conscience really. It's uncanny how the same card will keep turning up at certain times of your life. I think it's healthy to be sceptical, but if you're naturally drawn to these things they're so worth exploring. Just be sensible and don't keep asking the same question in slightly different wording ‘cos you don't like the answer you're getting! I know, I know, I'm a sad case...

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring creative superstars?

A: Persistence really is the key. Time separates the wheat from the chaff. A lot of people pursue creative careers when they're young but as the reality of life as an artist sets in they turn elsewhere, God knows I nearly did! But just hang in there. Talent is always eventually discovered and honoured. And being able to wake up everyday knowing you're doing what you really want is a fantastic feeling. So many people don't in life... It takes guts man!

Congratulations on your success so far Tash and best wishes for the show. We'll see you on stage!

The Old Red Lion Theatre
418 St John Street
Islington EC1

25 October ­ 26 November
Tuesdays ­- Sundays 8pm
NO PERFORMANCE ON MONDAYSBOX OFFICE
0200 7837 7816Tickets £12 (£10 concs)

Directions: A one minute walk from Angel tube

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