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Sydney actor Mark Dessaix is something of a Mardi Gras veteran now, following acclaimed performances in 2010’s Hardcore and last year’s The Temperamentals, he returns to the New Theatre this Mardi Gras season to play the lead role in playwright Joshua Conkel’s joyful coming of age romp, MilkMilkLemonade.

“It’s just great to be part of the festival – you really feel like you’re a part of something bigger, so when this play came around, I leapt at it. It was exactly what I’d been looking for: it’s bright, uplifting and celebratory,” Dessaix told the Star Observer.

“We’ve all really embraced the kooky, left-field nature of the play.”

Director Melita Rowston makes her New Theatre debut at the helm of MilkMilkLemonade, with a cast including Kieran Foster and Pete Nettell (last seen in Entertaining Mr Sloane). Dessaix plays Emory, an 11-year-old queer kid living on a farm and dreaming of a more exciting life. It’s a story to which gay audience members who’ve escaped to the bright lights of the city can probably relate.

“When I read the script, that was what really jumped out at me. Emory wants to move to ‘Malltown’, which is the nearest town to his farm, and go on the talent show Reach For The Stars with his ribbon routine. He wants to get spotted, go to Broadway… all those beautiful things creative children yearn for.”

You read right – ribbon routine. Dessaix had to learn ribbon gymnastics for the role, and will be putting his newfound talents to good use on stage as Emory retreats to his barn to channel his feelings of isolation into his fabulous dance moves.

“Emory’s at that age where I think a lot of gay kids start to realise they are different, even if they can’t yet pinpoint it to their sexuality. I think that makes you grow up – you’re a lot more aware of your emotions,” he said.

“While it’s queer theatre, it’s really applicable to anyone who feels they’re in the wrong time and the wrong place. You just have to get up and get out if you feel stifled.”

When we spoke, Dessaix and the rest of the cast were still waiting for the finishing touches to be applied to MilkMilkLemonade’s impressive set. With much of the action taking place inside Emory’s camp, candy-coloured dream world, no expense has been spared – if that means shipping half-a-dozen taxidermy chickens from the US, so be it. As Dessaix explained, each performance should have several moments that makes audiences wondering what exactly is going on on stage.

“What’s not going on on stage! It’s perfect for Mardi Gras, I think. It’s cabaret, it’s camp – Pretty in Pink meets Donnie Darko meets Dirty Dancing. All these wonderful pop culture elements and references coming together to tell this beautiful story about youthful angst.”

INFO: MilkMilkLemonade at New Theatre until March 2.   •  newtheatre.org.au
Photo: Bob Seary.

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