The MallThere's a new theatre company in town and it's about to stage its first production. Lee Bemrose caught up with Steph Lee of Mellow Yellow Productions as she takes on the dual roles of actor and director in award-winning playwright Thomas Sainsbury's black comedy, The Mall.

What brings you from New Zealand to Melbourne?

What do you think of it so far?
It is delightful. So much character and life. Although, who is in charge of the weather?

What is your day job?
I work in a very productive and efficient office as an Executive Assistant.

What can you tell us about Mellow Yellow Productions?
Comedy is our focus. I started this company with no more than a couple of dimes in my pocket. Now, I have three dimes and a very talented troupe of actors and crew behind me. The best way to describe us is to come and see The Mall. I guarantee, once bitten by the Mellow Yellow you will be left wanting more.

How did you first become involved with this particular play?
Through Mr Thomas Sainsbury. We have known each other since student days and I have watched him grow into the handsome and talented writer/director that he is. Back in my day, he was a determined young writer, trying to make a buck or two with plays that spoke of Coca-Cola and its destruction of the world. Today, the NZ government sells knick knacks from his childhood and pictures of him on his farm to wealthy collectors.

And why this one for Mellow Yellow's first production?
I have been in a huge amount of independent and professional plays/films/scripts over my 18 years of performance and this script has stayed in my head throughout. Even today, after reading it over 237 times, I am still 'lol'-ing throughout. It is something pretty special, and I couldn’t think of a better way to open a comedy-based theatre company.

I understand Thomas Sainsbury directed you in the New Zealand production of The Mall. What was he like as a director?
Thomas has an addictive personality, and because of that he has the complete devotion of all those who work with him. He is different to most directors I have worked with. He leaves a lot of the interpretation up to his actors which means he holds 100% of his faith in their abilities. Tom is great at helping you work out the funnies. He has a great eye for comic timing, and I like to think I may have learnt from him after all this time.

Bit of a talented bastard, isn't he?
Very much so. He is New Zealand's answer to Chris Lilley, but naughtier. Tom's writing is clever. It’s the first thing you notice when you pick up one of his scripts. In NZ, actors are falling over one another to get their hands on him and his writing. Also, he is a man of hilarity who makes all those around him a 'funny guy' due to close proximity.

You are directing as well as performing in the upcoming production. Isn't that just making things complicated for yourself?
Yes it can by trying, however I have had HUGE ‘helps’ along the way, and now I shall shamelessly name-drop because these people are total Mcvalue meals.

Alicia Benn-Lawler at Broken Mirror Studios is my hero. Her support and friendship during this crazy rehearsal period has been invaluable. I strongly recommend her services to all artys and non-artys that require a large space to play in.

And secondly, the Albion Live lads. These sexy young fellows have helped me with the production side of the show, including posters, press releases, and all the nitty gritty in between. Also, they both have very nice beards.

Are you primarily an actor or director?
I'm an actor. But the only way to get anything done in this one horse town is to do it yourself.

Describe the play for us without using descriptions you've already used.
It is about social intercourse between real characters. And it is also about surprise terrorist attacks.

Are you still going for the same minimal set design and production as used in New Zealand? If so, why?
Yes, because anything more than that will take away from the brilliant script and the talents that deliver it to you. Besides, newspaper-covered trestle tables are highly under-appreciated tools for set design.

I imagine the minimal approach indicates strong faith in the script?
Absolutely; the script is fabulous, but you have to have the right cast to pull it off. Rehearsals are already at a stage where I would happily put it on tomorrow. This group work so damn well together and we have a real laugh. Every time we run the show, something new happens. The beauty of improv is truly alive in the script and the cast and I’m looking forward to five very different versions of the show during the season.

What can you tell us about the cast and the audition process?
Casting was hard, but the chosen are truly talented and funny individuals. We had an impressive number of auditionees, and a very high level of talent. The most valuable thing about the audition process was seeing a number of fabulous actors pick up the script on a cold read and love the humour straight off. Those I now find myself working with are the pick of a very very good bunch and I look forward to working with each and every one of them again following this season.

Cast List:
Jacob Antolini
Joel Horwood
Carly Jacobs
Morgan Jenkins
Stephanie Lee
Arran McKenna

Together we play just under twenty characters of different ages, cultures, personalities and attitudes.

Are you playing the same character that you did in the original production?
Yes I am playing the same four characters. Wealthy older woman, Polynesian child, Aldi supermarket worker and a very small angry man.

What are the themes dealt with in the play?
Racism, sexism, terrorism, homosexuality, how to cope with workplace bullying, migrants to Australia, Polynesian youth, depression, middle-management career opportunities, sponsoring a child in a third world country, household appliance theft...

We should come and see The Mall because...
You are guaranteed at least a couple of laughs that will physically split your sides (Mellow Yellow Productions will not hold responsibility in this instance); You will see someone you know in almost every character (maybe apart from Bing, the deranged homosexual food court worker who is also a terrorist); It is a quarter of the price of all other Melbourne theatre and you can buy tickets at the door from the bearded fellows or from my mum, who is lovely. Oh - and there are $5 pints.

We shouldn't come and see The Mall if we...
Don’t like Hungry Jacks

Mellow Yellow Productions presents
by Thomas Sainsbury

Directed by Stephanie Lee

Venue: Studio 246, 246a Sydney Road Brunswick
Dates/Times: 8pm, 26 – 30 July, 2011
Tickets: $10 at the door

Image credit:–
Top right – Photo This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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