Naughty & Nice

Published on 26 April 2017

Playwright/director Natalie Hennedige loves creating weird and wonderful worlds on stage.

BY JO TAN

While people wax lyrical about theatre that’s ‘real’ and ‘subtle’, Natalie Hennedige has always had a different take.

“In my Theatre Studies and Drama course at Victoria Junior College, we studied Restoration Comedy with its larger-than-life characters: if someone was a dirty old man, he would be called Pinchbottom. So I created a play called A Matter of Potency about a cheating husband with three wives, including Lai Lai Dowager, who was so massive even her bowl and chopsticks were huge, and Snow Sparrow the brainless… I was 19, after all,” laughs the Young Artist Award recipient playwright/director. “Most student shows featured three blocks as set and props. You should have seen people’s faces when our set came in.”

That fondness for whimsical theatricality has never left Hennedige, who addresses the darkest issues of discrimination and displacement with trademark epic playfulness — the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Ophelia is played by an upside-down mop; Electra’s tragedy is set to strains of bubblegum pop. Other plays feature characters like Dog Lady, Mosquito Man and a pole-dancing pontianak (female ghost), often performing mad movements to a backdrop of psychedelic colours.

“Theatre has always been where I channel my naughtiness,” Hennedige muses. “Everything in my artistic nature stems from play. I’ve found different ways to express that over the years, but even in productions that seem more complex or avant-garde, you’ll find the silliness and unpredictability that I try to achieve in any work.”

While staying true to her childlike instincts, Hennedige has also had many mentors who influenced her. “For at least 10 years, I worked with anyone who would say yes. I acted, taught, wrote, directed… I was a mime at events. I honed my own craft through observation and practice, until I felt I had earned a space to do something that would be a measure of how I stood as my own artist and person. Then I founded Cake Theatrical Productions in 2005,” she says of the company of which she is artistic director.

Now, she’s directing works by one of these mentors — Haresh Sharma, Cultural Medallion recipient and resident playwright of The Necessary Stage (TNS) — whom she spent years observing. Being Haresh Sharma draws from Sharma scripts across 30 years, such as Still Building, Off Centre and Godeatgod.

“There is stress because I care so much about portraying works by one of the seminal forces in my life, but Haresh told me, ‘The best thing you can do is to make this show the way you would make any of your Cake works.’ Indeed, he inspired me as an artist by being true to himself, and helping to grow in me a sense of artistic independence. I’ve faced criticism over the years regarding my unconventional style, but I’ve always tried to be true to myself. I believe you can only inspire the next generation by finding yourself, and showing them that being that person is possible.”

Being Haresh Sharma runs 29 Jun-2 Jul at the Drama Centre Theatre. Click here for ticketing details.

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