Peter Rowsthorn on 'Kath & Kim', 'Glengarry' and all things comedy

Posted by on 4 June 2015 | | 0 Comments


You might recognise Peter Rowsthorn as Brett Craig, the often distressed hubbie of Kim Craig (nee Day) on the very hilarious ‘Kath & Kim’ series. But Rowsthorn’s acting CV is packed with oh-so much more.
Where most actors begin their career on stage then end up becoming drama teachers when the work runs dry, Rowsthorn actually started his out as an acting teacher, moving into the entertainment industry when an opening became available (oo-er) in the very popular ‘The Comedy Company’ in 1989.
Since then, he has enjoyed stints in television and theatre – from the comical to the deadpan, and has even enjoyed occasional appearances in film.
A regular with the Black Swan State Theatre Company, Peter now calls Perth home and recently appeared in two of the company’s most successful productions, ‘The Importance Of Being Ernest’ and ‘Laughter On The 23 Floor’. Next up, Rowsthorn plays more of a serious character in David Mamet’s real estate epic, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, which opens this week at the Heath Ledger Theatre.
But wait, there’s more. Well, at least another real estate connection in Peter’s CV… He regularly presents on the television show ‘The West Real Estate Program’ – talking about real-life real estate issues in and around Perth.
Here he speaks with Rock Candy about letting go of the comical mask on occasion, his admiration for local talent, and of course, the modern epic that is ‘Glengarry’.
Interview by Andrea Manno / Photography by Robert Frith
Before we get on to the serious stuff of Glengarry Glen Ross, we’ve got to talk a bit about ‘Kath & Kim’. Was it enjoyable to play Brett Craig on the show?
It was. In fact it was a gift from heaven for me. We did ten years of that show. Every second year, we made another series. I knew all those guys from Melbourne and it was a bit of a hand-picked cast. It was good for me to play something that’s really flat and straight and doesn’t pull faces and doesn’t try to be funny. I was just the reactor, kind of like the audience, reacting to Kim, Kath, Kel and Sharon ’cause they were doing big things so I could be just a [sidekick] character. But it was a really, really enjoyable job.
When an office full of New York City real estate salesmen is given the news that all but the top two will be fired at the end of the week, the atmosphere begins to heat up. Shelly Levene, who allegedly has a sick daughter, does everything in his power to get better leads from his boss, but to no avail. When his co-worker Dave Moss comes up with a plan to steal the leads, things get complicated for this bunch of tough-talking salesmen.
Do your family like watching re-runs of TV shows you’ve appeared in?
They watch bits and pieces. ‘Thank God You’re Here’ is back on Foxtel so they like watching that, especially the episodes I was in.
Tell me about your character in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’?
Well, the play is about real estate. It’s about competition in the workplace; because all these guys are working on commission. Management have organised a leader board, if you’re not on the board for a certain amount of time or you haven’t raised enough money, you get given the ass. Or you just get given really shitty properties to sell; stuff that’s really hard to sell. So my character is in that position.
Your character Shelly ‘The Machine’ Levene is the oldest one there, yes?
Yep, he’s old and he’s just really desperate to keep his job. My first scene is with another guy sitting in a restaurant trying to save our jobs. There’s a lot happening that’s really fun and interesting. And there’s plenty of drama. There’s a robbery and we have to work out who it is; so it’s sort of a ‘who dunnit’ as well. It’s a whole lot of guys trying to have one up on each other, playing high status, dissing each other, but also backing each other up when it’s called for. It’s fun playing characters like that because it gives you something to hang your hat on.
Did you view the film for acting tips?
I haven’t seen the film but I’ve heard it’s a very good one. When I got the part, I made a point not to watch the person who was playing me in the film because you start to adapt things to how it was done before.
Some people see it as a comical story for the most part; others see it as quite serious…
It’s not super-funny. There’s a lot of F-bombs in it [indeed the film version featured the word ‘fuck’ more times than any other movie at the time of its release]. There’s drama and there are moments of laughter but, really, it’s more tragic than it is comical. It’s very testosterone-filled too; very blokey. And it’s a great piece of writing. David Mamet won one of the big playwriting prizes, and as you know it was turned into a big film.
Does the play show the hardship of feeding a family?
A bit. They don’t talk about family much. Sometimes you make up a bit of a back story. My character does mention a daughter and he hints that she has some sort of disability. Basically, if I lose my job, my daughter will die or something terrible like that. But you don’t know if the character is just saying that to keep his job or if it is true. I know he’s broke ’cause he seems to live in a hotel-come-motel. Shelly was like the ‘top of the pops’ at the top of his game; wearing chunky jewellery and shouting everybody drinks ’cause he’s trying to be a big-noter. But now he’s buggered and has nothing. He is unskilled and he’s finding commission selling is scary. It’s a bit like me going out as an unknown comedian and saying ‘Come to my comedy night’ and I’m just praying that people arrive. It’s hard as you take your risks and sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t.
How do you find it working with the Black Swan State Theatre Company?
The Company is a well provided-for venue and it has great rehearsal facilities. The sets are always good. Everyone there strives for perfection, and works hard. I just like the rehearsal process, nutting out why things are happening and then getting it up on its feet and making it come to life. I’ve done a few plays but I learn so much every time I do another… and I really like it for that reason.
You’ve also done ‘The New Rocky Horror Show’…
Yeah, I did that ‘Rocky Horror Show’ for years; I reckon I did about six hundred shows of that. I like though to mix it up a bit, do different characters for a bit. I don’t know how but I don’t have the mental capacity to do the same thing for two years so I like to take some months off and then come back to a play. I have had some really great opportunities like that. I did ‘The Importance Of Being Ernest’ with Black Swan; I normally do one a year. [Director] Kate Cherry used to work with me in Melbourne a little and now she’s the Creative Director, and she’s a really great director; she gets the best out of me I think. The actors in Perth have often worked all over the world but, like most people, they want to come back to WA. The people in Perth are really talented and the standards are pretty high.
Do you do a lot of stand-up comedy in between television and plays?
Yeah, that’s my bread and butter. In the corporate sector, I go out and host events, awards nights, functions. I’m an MC but also do comedy during a night of that or sometimes I will just go to a function to do some comedy for half an hour or more. I do that all over the country. That’s how I make my cash really ‘cause showbiz doesn’t pay very well but comedy does. [Laughs].
Have you ever considered going to the US to get into more film work?
Well, I’m not Brad Pitt. And with my kids [Peter has four children], I have a different lifestyle so I can’t get them with the nanny and just go and do a film. You can work from Australia quite easily I think. Guy Pearce does it, and Eric Bana. But they’re established. At fifty-two, you sort of think I might have missed that film boat. I’m happy being a character-actor doing bits and pieces on telly here and in Australian films, like ‘Paper Planes’, which I was in recently and which did really well at the box office. I’m just happy that I’m making a career out of something that’s so much fun and that I love. Happy to get up on stage and make people laugh.
Do you believe humour is healing?
Yes. Laughter is an energy; it’s a complete release, and it’s euphoric. I think if you don’t laugh, you’re having a terrible life. Then there is laughing so hard that you can’t stop and you’re crying. If I can get people to do that, and I’m in the right mood, it’s a really great thing to watch. It’s a beautiful thing to do and I’m happy I can do it. People need to laugh; it’s like a community service.
Can you recount or tell a joke in everyday life sitting around with friends or are you more serious in your private life?
It’s definitely mood-driven, like you are, like we all are. If you get the right group of people, and you’re in the right mood, you can. Other times, I can’t; you don’t feel like that. I err on the side of humour to get something going, like if we’re touring in the car. Obviously, I’m good at picking moods and shifting them. I’m good at breaking tension, so if there’s something going on, I can shake the mood. Sometimes people expect you to be funny; I can’t stand people who go ‘well, c’mon, tell us a joke!’ It’s like telling you ‘well, write an article about me, go on’ and you go ‘well, shut up, I’m not ready!’ I find that I’m hilarious in the shower and that I get funny thoughts at different times. Often, when I’m with my wife and I just bang on about stuff and annoy her. I do the same joke or jokes to her for years and years and still make her laugh with a similar thing.
What is the most embarrassing moment in your career or life?
It’s so hard to think of one right now… I’ll probably come up with 20 later on. It’s always very embarrassing when you have to explain yourself to someone, like someone will say ‘I know you, where are you from?’, and I’ll say ‘Kath & Kim?’ But no. Maybe it was ‘Thank God You’re Here’. Nope. ‘Can We Help?’ Nope. ‘Paper Planes’. Nope. But that’s just an example of an awkward conversation…

You might recognise Peter Rowsthorn as Brett Craig, the often distressed hubbie of Kim Craig (nee Day) on the very hilarious Kath & Kim series. But Rowsthorn’s acting CV is packed with oh-so much more.

Glengarry Glen Ross: "It’s an absolute bulldog of a play"

Posted by on 28 April 2015 | | 0 Comments

Pulitzer Prize-winning modern classic, Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, is soon to be on the Heath Ledger Theatre stage here in Perth! Here's a recent interview with actor Will O'Mahony, who will be familiar to many of you from his many fastastic productions with Black Swan and other companies in Perth. 

Damian Walshe-Howling: "It's about humanity, not gender"

Posted by on 17 April 2015 | | 0 Comments

Many of us know Damian Walshe-Howling from his television credits, particularly Blue Heelers, Bikie Wars and Underbelly. Soon Damian will be gracing the Heath Ledger Theatre stage in our production of David Mamet's fast-talking, back-stabbing, cut-throat drama, Glengarry Glen Ross. He recently chatted with We Love Perth about Mamet, Perth and his acting career.

Curating Costumes and Props for 'Dinner'

Posted by on 6 March 2015 | | 0 Comments

We've been talking a lot on the blog recently about the designer dresses on stage in Dinner. Now it's time to meet India Mehta, who brought the costumes and props together for this glamorous show. 

What's it like to be silent on stage?

Posted by on 5 March 2015 | | 0 Comments

Moira Buffini's Dinner is a dark and delicious comedy about the dinner party from hell. Hostess with the mostest, Paige Janssen, is hosting a dinner party and wants everything to be perfect. She has gone to great lengths to prepare the menu, even hiring a waiter just for the occasion. 

Actress Tasma Walton on stage in 'Dinner'

Posted by on 5 March 2015 | | 0 Comments

Geraldton born actress Tasma Walton is returning to Black Swan's stage in our production of Dinner by Moira Buffini. Tasma is well known to television audiences from her time on favourites like Home and Away, Blue Heelers, Water Rats and City Homicide. In this deliciously dark comedy, she plays Paige, the hostess of the dinner party from hell. We chatted with Tasma about her character, Dinner and theatre versus television: 

From catwalk to stage: designer dresses in Dinner

Posted by on 5 March 2015 | | 0 Comments

In Moira Buffini’s Dinner, socialite Paige Janssen hosts a glamorous dinner party at her home, artfully inviting an eclectic mix of guests. Costume and Props Stylist, India Mehta decided to work with local WA designers to create gowns for the women at the dinner party. This collaboration was a new experience for us at Black Swan, and a fairly unusual relationship in the theatre world. So we asked the actors - Rebecca Davis, Alison van Reeken and Tasma Walton - and designers - Sheree Dornan of Love in Tokyo, Michelle Tindale of Tindale, and Alvin Fernandez of Ae'lkemi - about the collaboration and the designs.

From catwalk to stage: designer dresses in Dinner

Posted by on 5 March 2015 | | 0 Comments

In Moira Buffini’s Dinner, socialite Paige Janssen hosts a glamorous dinner party at her home, artfully inviting an eclectic mix of guests. Costume and Props Stylist, India Mehta decided to work with local WA designers to create gowns for the women at the dinner party. This collaboration was a new experience for us at Black Swan, and a fairly unusual relationship in the theatre world. So we asked the actors - Rebecca Davis, Alison van Reeken and Tasma Walton - and designers - Sheree Dornan of Love in Tokyo, Michelle Tindale of Tindale, and Alvin Fernandez of Ae'lkemi - about the collaboration and the designs. 

What fed and formed designs ideas for Venus in Fur

Posted by on 2 February 2015 | | 0 Comments


The design process for this production has taken the design of the set to many shapes and forms. However, the main ideas that fed and formed the design for this show probably stems from both Lawrie and I’s initial response to the play.
During the process of creating the design of the show there where two major angles Lawrie and I looked at in order to create the world for this show. The First angle we looked at was how we would create theatrical framing (a non-physical theatre construct that allows the audience into the story or sets up there perspective of the show) of the play. To do this during Lawrie and I’s first meeting we both discussed what our initial response to the play was. It was here in which we first discussed out how we would set up the theatrical framing of this show. We both discussed that part of the enjoyment of reading this play was that, the act of reading, felt a bit voyeuristic. It allowed you to see into a world that is highly sexual and one that most of us would not normally see or experience. Building on this response, Lawrie and I sourced for ways in which we could replicate this response for the audience when watching the play. In order to do this we both de-cided that it would be good idea to set the world up as if audience’s perspective is that one of a fly on the wall. Hopefully they would feel as if they had a unique vantage point of this story that they would normally not see. 
The other major angle we looked at during the creation of the set where the worlds represented in the play and physical needs of the script. The play is set in an old rehearsal room in New York that was once part of an old sweat shop with a giant pole running through the middle of the room. Throughout the play we travel three different worlds. 1. the New York rehearsal room, 2. the Bo-hemian 1800’s Eastern European and 3. the Greek, the Goddess element. Along with the setting having to support all of these three worlds, we also had to allow for Lighting and Sound and ef-fortless transition between these worlds as called for in the script. To do this both Lawrie and I firstly started to look at different images that references rehearsal spaces in New York and all over the world, just to build a basic skeleton of the physical world of the rehearsal room. From that, we started looking at mood boards (collection of images) that represented the feeling and the mood of the other worlds we wish to visit. The trick here was to find a way of how we could take the space from one world to another. To do this we built on the construct that in the theatre the power of imagination, with a little help, can take us to worlds completely removed from the space of the theatre. The little help we did give, was we integrated into the architecture of the space and texture and colour of the space elements of the other two worlds Bohemian and Greek. Hop-ing this will allow the audiences imagination a smoother transition from one world to another as happens in the play.

Set Designer Patrick Howe, together with Director Lawrie Cullen-Tait, did a fantastic job of bringing the play Venus in Fur to life. His minimalist set conveyed multiple worlds, a claustrophobic atmosphere and a voyeuristic feeling. Hear from Patrick about the nspiration and choices that affected how the design came to be: 

How to design the multiple worlds and themes of Venus in Fur

Posted by on 2 February 2015 | | 0 Comments


Set designer Patrick Howe and I met over coffee and wines and tested out new and exciting bars and cafes in Perth to discuss and dissect the worlds of Venus in Fur. The whole process was dynamic, colourful, exciting and a pleasure, as Patrick is truly passionate about design and the play is full of passion and stuffed with ideas, motifs and references.
The character of VANDA drives the play but it is THOMAS'S journey. There is also a push me pull you energy throughout. First we spoke of revolves. Which was tempting but not suitable for budget or time. We discussed that the space could be quite small and in reality the whole play could take place on a pin head as the two characters do-si-do around each other. The text allows for a lot of interpretation and could be done in blacks in a bare space but it also allows for a full all-encompassing sensory experience with punch. It wasn't difficult for Patrick and I to agree to go for the second option. By the end of our first meets we knew we wanted it to be an exciting space with anachronistic play, voyeuristic, a platform for the battle of the sexes referencing the world of theatre framed by a cold dark sense of the masochistic fantasy and the cruel world of love.
Yep. Patrick satisfied all of this.
TWO SETTINGS – texture, shape and dressings
Patrick researched images of New York buildings and studios where great worlds are created in small and interesting spaces. Usually large decorative windows and wooden floors dominate in well used spaces. The mix of the furniture – the purpose designed make shift trestle style table found in studios with mixed sourced furniture which reflected the romantic nostalgic fantasy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and New York style all came together beautifully.
The neutral colours in the set and textured worn finishes that Patrick chose, served both these worlds.
THE GREEKS - Ancient roots of theatre and morality.
One of the attractions was the theatricality of the piece and how the play sat within a play.
Theatre within a theatre. Our theatre began with the Ancient Greeks. The Roman goddess of love, Venus, is in the title and her equivalent is Aphrodite in Greek mythology, so it seemed important to reference these beginnings. Also considering that in the play the character THOMAS describes his play Venus in Fur as the ancient Greek play The Bacchae (which is a play that shows the clash of the civilised and the primitive that humans are continually trying to balance) 
You can see this in the column-like back wall.
Love is a madness and romantic love is potentially something that we as humans project on to others, only to be disappointed that our object of desire is not what we imagined for ourselves.
Brett Smith's sound designs brief was to really work with the surreal and the sexual. His sound designs and effects are like distant billows that travel through and around the space of the stage and the theatre. He created romance with strings and added twists and turns culminating in a primitive primal beat. Joe Lui's magical lighting design played with fantasy and the psychotic nature of the piece and supported the masochistic world of anticipation and role play.
These elements were all able to be achieved in the challenging and elegant space that Patrick created. His idea of a slice of a floating world with a ceiling piece was brave, bold and magnificent.
He created a platform/stadium for the battle of the sexes and created something that could be both intimate and epic, all the time highlighting and complementing the studio space and the world of the theatrical. It was a brilliant solution and a perfect stage to work with and on and provided the ideal actor/audience relationship. 

Director Lawrie Cullen-Tait has brought Venus in Fur to life in an incredible production in the Studio Underground. Receiving rave reviews and sell out performances, all elements of the production have come together seemlessly, from the acting to the set to the costume, lighting and sound. Here we hear from Laurie about the design, partcularly the set design, and the multiple worlds that evolve in Venus in Fur

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