Four years ago, it played a successful stint at Sydney’s Slide Bar.
And in 2016, Sydney audiences once again have the opportunity to enjoy this tale of seduction and manipulation and, this time, on a bigger stage.
From now until Saturday 5 March, The Punter’s Siren is playing Kings Cross’ Blood Moon Theatre.
Theatre People had the fortune of catching up with Stephen Carnell, director of both the 2012 and 2016 productions, while in tech. “We’re ahead of the game at the moment,” Carnell reports, when asked how things are going.
The Punter’s Siren was written by Gina Schien, a graduate of the NIDA Playwrights Studio, whose plays and novels have been published and performed both locally and internationally.
Originally conceived as a one-woman show set in modern times, the action now plays out at Randwick Racecourse in the 1960s with two female actors appearing on stage. “A woman – the punter – goes to the races one Saturday. She goes ostensibly to meet a friend. She’s a bit of a nerd,” Carnell tells Theatre People.
At the races, the punter (played by Jacqui Robson) is approached by an alluring blonde bombshell (Laura Viskovich). The punter is gay, and she’s immediately drawn to this enigmatic woman. Unfortunately, the woman is a con artist, who’s deliberately fixed her sights on our punter. “The siren knows she’s found her mark,” says Carnell. “She manipulates her into putting her money on a horse.”
So what follows for the punter? How will the siren endeavour to use her charms to manipulate her mark? And will the punter be able to resist the power of those charms? All is revealed in the course of the one act play.
On first glance, one may assume this a dramatic work. But Carnell emphasises this is far from the case. “It’s a comedy. This is all extremely funny,” he says. “It’s a really good laugh, but there is significant content there as well.”
Discussing the decision to relocate the story to Sydney in the sixties, Carnell recalls the controversy at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse on Derby Day in 1965. Of course, the incident is question has nothing to do with events that unfolded on the track. It was the furore that followed the arrival of British supermodel, Jean Shrimpton.
Shrimpton arrived in a white minidress, with its hem a scandalous four inches above the knee and no traditional hat, gloves or stockings. Her attire not only prompted jeers from other women and catcalls from men, but also caused a global sensation. Ultimately, it came to be considered a critical moment in women’s fashion.
The fictitious events at Randwick depicted in The Punter’s Siren take place one year after the Derby Day controversy, and the siren, dressed similarly to Shrimpton, is a woman no one could possibly miss!
Lesbianism has also been introduced into the work since it was originally written. “I think what raises the tension is making [the lead characters] two gay women,” Carnell says. “It was a dangerous time to be a gay woman.”
But he adds: “It’s universal… This could be played anywhere with anyone.”
And therein lies the reason The Punter’s Siren should broadly appeal to theatregoers. “We’re all human. We all have the same drives,” says Carnell.
Carnell is an accomplished and incredibly busy man in the business, who frequently alternates between ‘producer’ and ‘director’ hats. Working on this project as director, both now and four years ago, he’s had the fortune of having writer Schien involved in the process.
“I do a lot of new works, so the writer’s usually around,” he says. “I find it really good to engage with the writers.”
Here, he’s appreciated having Schien on board to provide her insights into the characters and offer suggestions. “Theatrically, she’s a great person to work with,” he tells Theatre People.
As a producer, Carnell is looking to stage another immersive theatre piece in Sydney later this year. Last November, he was the producer responsible for We are the ghosts of the future, an intriguing immersive work played out in an historic sandstone warehouse in The Rocks, for which audience members were invited to roam the rooms of the building as 14 performers played out a series of stories set in the 1930s.
Stay tuned to Theatre People for further details of this exciting project. For now, make your way down to the Blood Moon Theatre for The Punter’s Siren – an experience we’re assured is one not to be missed!
The Punter’s Siren
When: 7:30pm on 17-20, 24-27 February, 2-4 March and 3pm on 5 March
Where: Blood Moon Theatre, located in The World Bar, 24 Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross
Tickets: At the door or click here to purchase tickets online.