‘The Mentor’ was nurturing.
Remember how proud you felt to be a buddy to a new prep student in primary school? Or how about when you supervised a university student on practicum at your workplace? Maybe you’ve helped a trainee on-site or in an office?
Providing guidance can be a remarkably fulfilling experience for both the educator and the learner. Even when things do not always go to plan, the learning experiences can be seen as valuable. Or, at the very least, a nice anecdote for a future dinner party.
That is the message evoked throughout Bravo Arts’ latest collaborative production with Theatre Works, ‘The Mentor’.
The creative brainchild of playwright Joshua White, ‘The Mentor’ offers a darkly comedic look into the world of acting. The play tells the dual stories of 70-year-old actress-turned-mentor Amanda Redfern and novice acting student Jordan Ridley as they interact professionally and bond personally.
A graduate of WAAPA’s Musical Theatre program, ‘The Mentor’ marks White’s first professional foray into scriptwriting. He completed his first draft in 2019 while performing in ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ aboard the Norwegian Epic cruise ship. Being one of ten productions workshopped during the pandemic-relief initiative New Hope Works in 2020, the curtains on ‘The Mentor’ have finally risen at St Kilda’s Theatre Works.
Audiences entering Theatre Works’ auditorium are likely to be taken by ‘The Mentor’s’ detailed set decoration. Presented as a cosy, if somewhat cluttered, living room, the set, designed by Casey Harper Wood and stage managed by Ashleigh Walwyn, invites audiences to inspect its intricacies as they take their seats. Numerous artistic knick-knacks and paraphernalia graces the crevices of the makeshift living room, like an object-based ‘Where’s Wally’.
With a slight 1970s aesthetic not dissimilar to the quintessential grandparents’ house, Harper Wood encapsulates the essence of Amanda’s character very effectively through his set design. Even when the green velvet bunting running along the base of the stage accidentally detaches mid-performance, the feeling is appropriate. The set serves as a visual metaphor for Amanda’s once successful professional life which has since become unkempt and neglected. It is through the untidy elements and accidental faults that Harper Wood’s vision truly shines.
Harper Wood’s creative artistry also extends beyond the set to costuming. The choice to keep the performers’ costumes relatively grounded is beneficial as it allows for audience’s to infer the characters’ motivations for themselves. Amanda’s wardrobe of floral-patterned flowing kimonos signifies her desire to break free from the constraints of the entertainment industry; while Jordan’s mish-mash of corporate and uber-casual attire highlight his uncertainty about who he is as a performer.
The slow transition into more neat, practical clothes by both characters as the play continues nicely marks their own self-acceptance. In a play that is so focused upon the study of acting and characterisation, Harper Wood astutely demonstrates his own understanding of character development through costume design.
In a similar fashion to its costuming (no pun intended), the lighting and sound throughout ‘The Mentor’ is considerably nuanced. Lighting and Sound Designers Jason Bovaird and Justin Gardam work in tandem to present a subtle snapshot into the characters’ lives. Bovaird foregoes flashing lighting effects for a more realistic tone which is befitting of the piece. The fluorescent light shining from behind the set’s front door is a particularly strong feature throughout.
However, it is the scene transitions that demonstrate just how effective lighting and sound can be. Or not be. Dimming the lights to near obscurity, taped answering machines messages reverberate throughout the theatre. The voices of unknown individuals punctuating the darkness provide these transitions with an uneasy sentiment that carries well into the subsequent scenes. Creating a consistent tone through just sound and lighting can be challenging, yet it is one both Bovaird and Gardam are quite happy to successfully rise to.
Duel Director and Producer Christian Cavallo, along with Assistant Director Cameron Steens and Dramaturg Iain Sinclair, provide ‘The Mentor’ with a tone that is equally timely and timeless. Encompassing topics such as of sexism, ageism, and mental health, the dramaturgical triad imbue their production with considered scrutiny. The teamwork between the veteran Cavallo, Steens, and Sinclair, and debut playwright White, afford ‘The Mentor’ with a satisfying mix of knowledge and innovation. It serves as a nice parallel to the show’s storyline, reinforcing the notion that collaborative experiences can be highly beneficial to artistic creation.
This idea is again illustrated through its performances. With an illustrious career both on stage and screen, veteran actress Amanda Muggleton perfectly embodies the successful, yet disenchanted, Amanda Redfern. Muggleton demonstrates a long-established aptitude for performing onstage. Serving as the eponymous ‘mentor’, Muggleton provides Redfern with a wealth of real-world wisdom which is equally insightful for the audience as it is for the acting student, Jordan.
As the aforementioned ‘Jordan’, Connor Morel is earnestly dedicated. Often acting as the straight man to Redfern’s witticisms, Jordan’s transition throughout ‘The Mentor’ is subtle, yet well-founded. Morel encapsulates the overly-eager acting novice with vigour. The chemistry between Morel and Muggleton shines through into their characters’ relationship, providing warmth to the heart of ‘The Mentor.’
The creative interplay of experience and originality is ingrained into Bravo Arts’ new production ‘The Mentor’, both on and offstage. In exploring how these two perspectives collaborate, the production also celebrates them. Providing and receiving guidance is a universal rite of passage, one that is likely to offer a learning experience to both parties. It is part of being human, and after all, don’t we all need a mentor in our lives once in a while?
‘The Mentor’ performs until Saturday, 26 November 2022 at Theatre Works, St Kilda. For more information about the show, or to book tickets, visit Bravo Arts’ website.