Monday, October 23, 2017

A View From The Bridge


Red Line Productions presents, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, by Arthur Miller, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Wooloomooloo. 18 October - 25 November.

Sitting in the Old Fitz Theatre in a newly configured traverse space with only a blond wooden floor between my audience companions on the other side, and the lighting changes – a suited figure begins to talk to us (the leader of a chorus?) – a man we come to know as Lawyer Alfieri (David Lynch) – introduces us to the situation and premise of the play in an extremely direct way (no expositional time wasting here). We learn quickly what is at stake in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. We absorb it carefully and take it into an unbroken two hour contract of playtime.

Within minutes, of the performance commencement, one can feel (see) a comfort ripple cross the audience that affects on it an open relaxation - a naked vulnerability - to attend to the action with a secure trust that this writer has authority - we intuit, swiftly, that we are in the presence of a master playwright/storyteller, in 'safe hands', and in this case, they are the hands of one of the Greats of the American Theatre, Arthur Miller.

Miller with skill and respect allows us to re-experience our childhood hunger to know what happens next (remember squirming with curiosity wondering 'What happens to Snow White next?') Of this story it is obvious to us, almost instantaneously, that the longshoreman Eddie Carbone is going to get into 'trouble' if he keeps doing what he is doing, and we observe that he is so possessed with an urge so primitive that he cannot stop what he is doing, and that nobody can stop him from doing it. He is a bullish Sicilian patriarch. The Greek Kindly Ones (the Eumenides) have found a chink in his human nature and they will not let him go until he is destroyed. One knows from the beginning more or less what is likely to be the end of this journey. What Miller has done is to intrigue us not so much with the WHAT happens but HOW it happens.

Miller gives us a story that mesmerises us into a gathering stupor of breathtaking dread and, as well, which is not always given by our contemporary writers, the pleasure of living for two hours in a moral universe. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE is a play that is like a gulp of fresh air (as was, for me, seeing Ibsen's GHOSTS, at Belvoir), a respite from moral and political relativism. Miller is clear and secure in his moral stance, as shocking as it maybe, and its power is as relevant in 2017 in Sydney as it was in 1955/56 America and Europe. It shakes one up and leaves one in a shocked state of awe, just as we are when Ibsen's Hedda Gabler does something at the end of her journey - shoots herself - for people don't do that kind of thing. What Eddie Carbone does at the end of this play ordinary people just don't do.

Eddie Carbone (Ivan Donato) has brought up his wife Beatrice's (Janine Watson) niece, Catherine (Zoe Terakes) with great care. We are introduced to their relationship swiftly and despite that Catherine is now a young blossoming adult we see Eddie holds her a little too close. When two Sicilian illegals, Marco (David Soncin) and Rodolpho (Lincoln Younes), other relatives of Beatrice, are given harbour in their Brooklyn apartment and jobs from the 'Organisation' on the Red Hook waterfront, a sexual tension of an unbearable kind is fanned into a conflagration. Eddie feels his power over Beatrice and Catherine dwindle, his 'reputation' on the docks disrupted with the presence of Rodolpho, and when unable to find a way to subdue his gathering 'furies' is confronted with his own unconscious nature, trapped viscerally by his emotions, he recognises a 'personal' betrayal of himself, that leads him to an act of betrayal that is an unconscionable 'tribal' taboo, for it menaces the whole fabric of their little society down there under the Brooklyn Bridge. Fate decrees that this imperfect man, if he wishes to find some honour, must reach for an act of redemption. The redemptive act he chooses is the stuff of tragedy. The idea of a man fulfilling in extremis his destiny, as the heroes of the Greek theatre did, in modern times, is absolutely compelling. And so it gruesomely is in Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE in the hands of Iain Sinclair's production at the Old Fitz. Arthur Miller said,"However one may dislike the man, who does all sorts of dreadful things, he possesses and exemplifies the wondrous and humane fact that he too can be driven to what in the last analysis is a sacrifice of himself for his conception, however misguided, of right, dignity and justice."

Arthur Miller heard of this true story while researching a film script, THE HOOK (1951) - which was never made - and he was oddly struck with the juxtaposition of the modern traffic crossing the Brooklyn Bridge ignorant and passing over this area below where this Greek drama was taking place and no-one ever thought about it. It is a view from that bridge. His 'homework' for his film helped him capture a specific time and place that permits not only his own personal voice but also the character's individual voice, turn of phrase - for instance, the language of Eddie and the language of Alfieri is pointed in slightly different directions, thus granting them an authentic presence and a fuller life. This language and atmospheric vibrancy of observed truth vibrates insistently throughout the play.

And, too, Arthur Miller, at the time of writing was caught up in the personal 'betrayal' of his own wife, Mary, and family, as he re-ignited his affair with Marilyn Monroe - later to become his second wife - and also in the public tribal betrayals from friends such as Lee J. Cobb and Elia Kazan for their testimonies to the House Committee on Un-American Activities under the behest of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Betrayal was painfully present in the conscious day-to-day life of this writer. He was writing from what he knew and in hindsight he said with an agony of knowing guilt.

The play is so well written that all the Director need do is to keep his actors and himself in open communication with what is written on the page and allow the writer to speak for himself. Iain Sinclair does this and on these bare wooden floorboards with just a chair and a knife lets his well chosen company of actors get on with telling the story. The combination of all the collaborators of this production are impeccable in their contributions. It is an exciting time in the theatre.

Ivan Donato is cast as Eddie Carbone, and is simply magnificent, courageously insightful and raw in his portrayal, shattering - the fact that he is some fifteen years or more too young for this role, and one misses the physical maturity and heft (I last saw this play on Broadway with Mark Strong), a sign of this actor's 'genius' is that it is no obstacle to our utter belief in every moment he has on stage (given this performance, what as and when will, we see him next? anything, based on this performance it seems, is possible, if given the opportunity). This is true as well of Janine Watson as his wife, Beatrice, who is cast considerably older than her actuality - one just wishes she were a little more 'latin' and less 'presbyterian' in her reading. On the other hand Zoe Terakes, in a theatre debut performance (she is still at school), gives a performance of some physical truth (she has the facial looks to be the child of Mr Donato!) and stability as Catherine, but it does not as yet have the life insight or technical range to provide the contrast of the innocent child sexuality with Eddie, burgeoning into Catherine's lust filled bride awakening with the arrival of Rodolpho. That, from Catherine, is especially pivotal to the action of the play. David Lynch is clear if a trifle too careful as Alfieri and maybe just a little too emotionally involved as the lawyer/narrator of this story. David Soncin gives another tremendous performance as Marco, the older brother of honour (remember his work in THE HOUSE OF RAMON IGLESIA or, earlier this year in THE JUDAS KISS]?), whilst Lincoln Younes is physically impressive and has the instinct for Rodolpho if not the emotional plumbing for the complete affective power of this gifted charismatic man, a man with a different kind of masculinity that make him a disturbing subject for homoerotic desire - it can sometimes sit a little too much on the surface. Giles Gartrell-Mills as Louis, creates a dimension of reality that helps anchor the world of the play with a fairly thankless set of opportunities. But, this is nick-picking, for this Ensemble is giving a brilliant night in the theatre, with Arthur Miller's play.

For here with this vibrating ensemble, led by Mr Donato's performance, scenes are indelibly imprinted into our psyches, one after another: Eddie's fear of Catherine finding a job, the singing of 'Paper Doll', Beatrice pleading with Eddie, Beatrice warning Catherine, the boxing match,the raising of the chair, Eddie's discovery of the lovers, Eddie's kiss with Catherine, Eddie's kiss with Rodolpho (brought gasps of shock), the terrible reckoning with Beatrice and the shocking sharpness of the climax.

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE is a must see. Red Line at the Old Fitz delivering another remarkable night - you'd be an idiot to miss it.

Set Design is by Jonathan Hindmarsh; Costume Design by Martelle Hunt; Lighting Design by Max Cox; and Sound Design by Clemence Williams.

P.S.

  1. The first version of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE was presented as part of a double bill with A MEMORY OF TWO MONDAYS, on Broadway, in 1955. It was revised at the request of Peter Brook, for a London production in 1956. The poetry form for Alfieri was taken away and the roles of Beatrice and Catherine were especially expanded. This play and production had fallen foul of the Lord Chamberlain (the British censor), whose strictures made it necessary to turn the Comedy Theatre into a club before Peter Brook's production could be seen by the public. It is the revised version that is being presented at the Old Fitz - although as one act instead of two.
  2. It is interesting that two of the best nights in the theatre in Sydney at the moment come from the Independent Theatre Sector: A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, from Red Line at the Old Fitz and NO END OF BLAME*** by Sport For Jove at the Seymour Centre. They are both plays for real theatre goers.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Kitchen Sink

Photo by Prudence Upton
Ensemble Theatre presents, THE KITCHEN SINK, by Tom Wells, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 14 October - 18 November.

THE KITCHEN SINK is a British play by Tom Wells, first shown at the Bush Theatre, London, in late 2011.

It is a domestic soap-opera concerning a very ordinary British provincial city family and some of their neighbourhood denizens, all facing life-making turning-points that will initiate necessary change and so the inevitable scary adjustments, be they economic, emotional, social, spiritual, or, all of the former. Changes that will require a leap of faith that will turn out OK. To leap into the dark and trust that the next dimension of the journey will be OK. It will be, will be, OK.

In a realistic meticulously Designed kitchen, by Set Designer, Charles Davis (clever work, indeed, as he has another aesthetic Design on show, on this stage, in this season of repertoire: BUYER AND CELLAR, as well), that includes a kitchen sink, that serves the writer as a metaphor: you know, the sink that has, over its 'life-span' worn out its parts and needs repair or, better, new parts to have a functional future. Wink, nod, prod: just like its owners.

Dad, the life-time career milkman, Martin (Huw Higginson), being made redundant in this modern world - who needs their milk delivered anymore?; Mum, Kath (Hannah Waterman) the home body, who now that the family is grown, experiments with new recipes that are not always appreciated; a gay son, Billy (Ben Hall), who wants to be an artist and happy, despite his penchant for an output of innocent kitsch - a portrait of Dolly Parton with sequins. Which is it to be for Billy: London (and stress) or, his familiar, safe, home ground?; an unhappy daughter, Sophie (Contessa Treffone) invested in martial arts as a career path to assist women and girls in a hostile world, despite her own aggressive social 'feistiness' that may derail those aspirations, unless she seeks help for a secret that she holds too close; and her shy, long suffering wooer, Pete (Duncan Ragg), who has the responsibility of his dying grandma, but also (metaphor alert) is a plumber - you know, someone who can fix kitchen sinks and best of all, loves doing it.

This play in a series of short scene vignettes is a bit like turning on your TV and lazily watching NEIGHBOURS or HOME and AWAY or EASTENDERS, or even, THE BILL (one of my guilty secrets.) It is set in/with a hugely comforting familiar location and subject matter, character types, and like the best of those TV soaps, is fairly well done. It makes no demands of you and is kinda mildly funny and, sub-terrainously, hugely reassuring because you know, beforehand, the punchline for every situation and character development and every family-oriented 'joke' - and you know, as you sit there, somehow intuitively, deep in your soul, to the depth of your reproductive gonads, know, that everything and everybody is sure to turn out alright. It is, as we vaguely recognise, a life lesson for us, the near comatose couch potatoes, to give us confidence to take that 'leap' when the need for change beckons us.

The Director, Shane Bosher, has done a great job in keeping this over familiar material kind of interesting. He does it with the assistance of a terrific Sound Design from Marty Jamieson, keeping the many scene changes charged with propelling distracting energy for our ears, and, a fun, flexible Lighting Design by Alexander Berlage, that, similarly, keeps our eyes occupied during the scene changes to distract us from glum thoughts or conversation with our companions about how ... , you know, you know, how ... this writing, this play is so ... you know, don't you?

Best of all, Mr Bosher achieves much by moving around the space, the cliche characters, of the writer's, by encouraging from all his skillful actors, character semaphores of gesture and thought with as much soul as they can mine - personalise. I, especially, found Duncan Ragg, and Ben Hall amusing and enjoyed their imaginative energies and simple honesty.

As you can tell, I am in my usual horse-for-courses dilemma, about this play, THE KITCHEN SINK, despite the skillful production. I kept wishing, if we had to go to this location (North Country, I think) and this kind of play, why, say, ummm ... Arnold Wesker wasn't in front of us - I longed for the Ensemble to have resurrected, pulled out, say, ROOTS, than to give us this rather sugar-coated feel-good pill.

Then, of course, we wouldn't have had Dolly Parton on stage, a patron saint, I think of this household in THE KITCHEN SINK - certainly, this family knew her lyrics as if they were hymns of survival. Some of us commented in the foyer after the show, as we dipped our strawberries into the chocolate fondue sauce, that the Ensemble seems to be a 'Temple of Camp' at the moment (and why not?) what with Barbra Streisand occupying so much attention in the other show in its repertoire: BUYER AND CELLAR.

My personal prejudice believes that Barbra beats Dolly hands down in this 'temple'. Go, to one or the other, or both, as you wish.


No End of Blame

Photo by Kate Williams

Sport For Jove Theatre Co. and Seymour Centre present, NO END OF BLAME, by Howard Barker, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. October 12 - October 28.

Sport For Jove have taken on British playwright, Howard Barker's 1981 play NO END OF BLAME: Scenes of Overcoming.

Ideas plus entertainment can equal art.

Howard Barker writes plays that are robustly muscular in content (ideas!) and language usage (literate!). 'Challenging', might be a word to describe them. He calls his great catalogue of work: The Theatre of Catastrophe and since 1988 has run his own company: The Wrestling School to do his plays that most others won't. The National Theatre did produce SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION, not too many years ago, nothing else. Barker is still writing and has been since the early 1970's.

In Sydney we have rarely seen his work: THE LOVE OF A GOOD MAN; THE HANG OF THE GAOL; VICTORY, at the Sydney Theatre Company (Directed and starring Judy Davis); SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION, at Belvoir (starring Lindy Davies); WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN, at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (an adaptation of Thomas Middleton's play), Directed by Kate Cherry; whilst I Directed NO END OF BLAME, way back in 1983 for the New Theatre - I mean, how cutting edge were we? (How I would love to direct THE CASTLE).

His plays, usually, are connected to historical events. NO END OF BLAME, follows the lives of two Hungarian artists, one an internationally revered (feared!) political cartoonist: Bela Veracek, known as 'Vera' (Akos Armont), the other a painter, Grigor Gabor (Sam O'Sullivan). We meet them on the battlefields of the Austro-Hungarian Campaign, at the fag end of World War I, follow them into a near decade of Lenin and Stalin's USSR, then, to Great Britain throughout and after World War II, into the early 1970's.

Barker has contempt for 'messages' in the theatre, declaring he is not trying to influence anyone, instead proposing scenes that have no unified aim to response, rather giving us scenes that are complex, ambiguous and unstable, trusting that we will understand metaphors and not expect his theatre to be a place of literalness - he is famously, fascinated by contradiction. An audience cannot be comfortable with their identification of the characters in any of his plays' journeys, for Barker is more than likely to challenge your usual comfortable, first-impression middle class mode of reading a play or a character and categorising it or them (which, maybe why his theatre company is called "The Wrestling School"?!). His characters, his scene choices for his story, his subject matter, are not written to make it easy for you in the experience, doing all, whilst employing a pre-dominant view of the world that is essentially tragic. That 'tone' is not always a 'popular' choice (especially in Sydney). That tragic mode, though, liberates his language from banalities and returns 'poetry' (muscular poetry) to the speech of each of his creations. But be assured that he has a provocative sense of ironic and cultural humour to 'hook' you in, even though it is often coloured through a prism of sorrow. A sorrow for the follies of his fellow human beings. Of man repeating himself. Of man hopelessly flailing about with the aspirations of angels but with the 'pathetic' habits (needs) of animals.

This production is a major piece of work, amazingly 'built' by Sport For Jove (of the vibrant Independent Sector of the Sydney Theatre offerings), that is in production values equal too anything we have seen from the major companies this year. Damian Ryan, the Director has collaborated with Melanie Liertz to find a large, functional set and costume design solution to the many locations of the play spanning some six decades of history. They have also inveigled two contemporary cartoonists, Cathy Wilcox and David Pope, and artist, Nicholas Harding to illustrate - illuminate - with their creativity the projected background images for each of the scenes and its narrative. Fausto Brusamolino manages in the tight space of the Reginald Theatre to provide a Lighting Design to support the action of the play with avid sympathy and care for the projected images. Alistair Wallace has developed a Sound Design with atmospheric music (sometimes, too loud?) and sound effects.

This play written and performed originally with a company of nine men and three women, is, in this production performed by a company of eight , that attends with a conscious alertness to gender parity - one of the 'urgent' political developments of our contemporary scene - with four men and four women. It works seamlessly and rewards the actors (especially the women), and the audience, with stimulating challenges of intellectual adjustment. The decision to have only eight performers makes for heavier demands on all the actors who, besides, having the responsibility of creating and 'inhabiting' the 'life forces' of almost sixty characters of the play, also, are complicatedly involved with the multiple and immense scene changes. This company is heavily and vitally tasked to bring this play to its audience.

One intuits the energy and commitment of this set of collaborators to Howard Barker's vision in NO END OF BLAME. It can be a major strength that sweeps the audience into the experience, though it, on opening night, did give, to some of us, the appearance of an over zealous urge to point out solutions (messages) - a kind of limiting, earnest didacticism contrary to the intentions of Barker in each of the scenes of overcoming. Instead of trusting us, the audience to be immersed in its contradictions, its ambiguities - 'stewing' in it, finding it for ourselves. (The nervousness of the actors, the adrenalin so obviously 'pumping', sometimes gave the work a sense of it coming from a 'missionary' pulpit - Jesuitical in its certainty of clarity - of its importance!)

The passion of the actors for their solutions to their character and the realistic dilemmas that they find themselves in, sometimes squeezed out the 'cultural' comedy written with Barker's usual merciless irony. Was it a fear of creating, playing, caricature, perhaps?, that unbalanced the effect of Barker's constructed affects, for with study you will find that this use of irony is one of the strengths of Barker, in most of his plays. There are so many 'heavy' ideas going on in the play (all his plays), that any production does need to give the writing's levity room to breathe more luxuriously. It is, I believe a necessary theatrical relief for any of his plays to be a bearable night in the theatre - it reminds one of the argument that Chekhov, the Writer, always had with Stanislavski, the Director, about whether his plays were comedies or dramas. NO END OF BLAME could be funnier in the experience of this production.

Each actor has found a sound ensemble support for each other's work whilst also having moments of individual achievement: Lizzie Schebesta in her moments with ILona and her verbal desires in the park with her two men; Bryce Youngman, with his cartoonist, Mik; Angela Bauer with her life class model, Stella; Amy Usherwood in every offer she gives - it is very exciting work - especially her Ludmilla and Kenny; Danielle King, especially, in her first scene as Bobbi Stringer; Sam O'Sullivan, vivid in his work as Grigor (the painter) and in his appearance in the English newspaper scene - his is a central performance that helps to focus the scenes he is present in. Akos Armont, as Bela, is boldly brave but too often becomes belligerently bellicose in his energy efforts in every scene he is in - it is an amazing commitment  but it lacks a sense of arc judgement, there seems to be little deliberation of choice for restraint - a careful gradation of effort from scene to scene. Sometimes the emotional effort, complicated with the dialect work smothers verbal clarity. The performance becomes an endurance of admiration but is wearying in its consistent, relentless overwhelming effort - sameness. Less maybe more.

Bela Veracek, (inspired, partly, on the career of Victor Weisz, known as 'Vicky'), who embraces the craft of the political cartoonist, making quick art: "Dries quick, speaks quick, hurts", triumphant when "I stirred the police, (and) therefore I touched the truth" is caught in the paradox of the incongruities of the freedom of expression for the artist. Barker in NO END OF BLAME reveals the disabling of the truth speakers in the interest of the need for ideological government of society, for the good of that society, whether it be under communism or capitalism, where ideas of 'responsibility' counts more than freedom or even honour.

Sport For Jove brings another charged production of a play of ideas and poetry. Worth seeing - recommended, especially for the serious theatre goers.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Buyer and Cellar



Ensemble Theatre presents BUYER AND CELLAR, by Jonathan Tolins, at the Ensemble Theatre, Macdougall St. Kirribilli. 6 October - 12 November.

BUYER AND CELLAR is a one man play by American Jonathan Tolins. It was inspired by the book published by Barbra Streisand: MY PASSION FOR DESIGN.

Alex More is an out-of-work-actor in Los Angeles who accepts a job in the basement of a famous artist's home, where there has been a curation of the objects of career and the wide-ranging interests of this star. Alex will take the daily care of them. He discovers that his employer is none other than Barbra Streisand. He is an idolater and has to contend with the cynicism of his boyfriend, Barry, in carrying out his duties.

Ben Gerrard takes on this production with great elan and a set of skills that he employs to create with subtle physical and vocal adjustments a great range of characters to an enormously entertaining effect. Not only is Mr Gerrard able to cause great laughter he also with an incisive internalisation of personalised feeling able to conjure an emotional (not sentimental) radiated compassion in moments of deeply affecting pain as he tells Alex's story. The impact of the range of Mr Gerrard's ability is impressive, and as I heard in the foyer afterwards, 'adorable'.

In a one man tour de force, by Mr Gerrard, the ninety minutes of this fictionalised encounter with a great star on a pink set - chaise lounge et al (Charles Davis) - lit with apt virtuosity by Alex Berlage, supported by a witty Sound Design (Marty Jamieson), sensitively Directed by Susanna Dowling, an evening of comedy is given to us that often teeters on the edge of 'camp' but through delicacies of 'good taste' and plain and simple honesty maintains a tenor of respect and engrossing interest. We come to care for Alex More, we come to care for Streisand and Barry and, indeed, all of the other cameos of the tale.

For a fun evening in the theatre, BUYER AND CELLAR is recommended. If you want to watch an actor with a sensibility of great modesty conjuring a performance of some magic, it is highly recommended.

Birdland


New Theatre presents BIRDLAND, by Simon Stephens, at the New Theatre, King St., Newtown. 3 October - 14 November.

BIRDLAND, is a British play written, in 2014, by Simon Stephens. Simon Stephens, generally, writes from a 'working class' perspective (the provincial English city of Stockport is the usual location) and focuses on the struggles of particular ordinary individuals dealing with the social and materialistic difficulties that the 'progress' of the world throws up/at them.

Mr Stephens is a very prolific and critically celebrated writer and his output includes, amongst many plays: BLUEBIRD (1998), HERONS (2001), PORT (2002), ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD (2005), MOTORTOWN (2006), PUNK ROCK (2007), HARPER REGAN (2009), THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT (2012). His work has been seen only in the Independent Theatres in Sydney (no Sydney Theatre Company interest at all!), and has been championed, mostly, by Director Anthony Skuse.

Paul and Johnny are members of a provincial city band that has escalated into the realm of Super Stardom. We meet both of them towards the end of a long international tour in the cities of Moscow, Berlin, Paris and, ultimately, in London where enormous crowds (up to 100,000, we are told) have idolised the music and the musicians. Paul is THE Rock Star and BIRDLAND is part of his story.

When we meet him we are shown a man of immense wealth and personal power who is in a state of a fearsome ennui who can find no positive stimulus from his advantages, and in compensation, instead, wreaks psychological intrigue - bullying - seemingly delighting in the pulling off of the 'wings' of anyone that comes within his circle. We witness how absolute power has corrupted absolutely a Faustian-like figure, and like Faust, Paul, meets consequences.

Scene after scene we witness excruciating personal cruelty of an alarming intensity, where the victims have no defence or power to resist. Whether companion or recent acquaintance no-one is spared. The horror of this man's behaviour is that we are aware that Paul recognises his actions but elects to continue - he is not an unwitting individual, he is a self-conscious hapless 'monster' of will. This insight into Paul's internal awareness is what draws the audience into this two-hour, no-interval vortex that resolves like all moral fables do.

The skill of the playwright is the paramount reason to go to the New Theatre.

On a raked, varnished floor-boarded Set (Anthony Skuse) a team of seven actors - Jack Angwin, Graeme McRae, Charmaine Bingwa, Leilani Loau, Louise Harding, Airlie Dodds and Matthew Cheetham - play a range of characters, that in this production, are sometimes cast against age or sex appropriateness - the actors relish the modish opportunities. Charmaine Bingwa is impressive in the solutions she has made for her many responsibilities (particularly, as Paul's father, Alistair). Airlie Dodds arrests attention in her work as Jenny.

Mr McRae (Paul - a marathon role) and Mr Angwin (Johnny) reveal intellectual insights of the musicians they play and demarcate knowingly the character arc written by Mr Stephens, but do not combust the charismatic presence or realise an access to the 'profundity' of that mysterious manifestation that is STAR power - you know, what we see, meet, when in the presence of that kind of genius, say in Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger or Janis Joplin, Diana Ross. These two Rock Stars are hardly on the richter scale of charisma-power. One longs to see the irresistible attraction that is radiated by a figure with the status of Mr Stephens' Paul.

It is hard to resist the writing and incisive observations of Mr Stephens and, even in a production by Mr Skuse that does not always honour the 'musical score' of this writer's manuscript it can still be spellbinding.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Natural Conservatorium for Wise Women



Clockfire Theatre presents, THE NATURAL CONSERVATORIUM FOR WISE WOMEN, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St Newtown. 3rd October - 21st October.

THE NATURAL CONSERVATORIUM FOR WISE WOMEN, is a newly devised work by Clockfire Theatre, under the Direction of Emily Ayoub, with a set of collaborative artists that have created a remarkable experience.

The subject is the story of the Patriarchy at war with the other elements of his world. Whilst sitting in the defended achievements of his home space he receives letters of provocation from the Yours in truth, La Femme du Jardin. Preparing for invasion the patriarch is surprised when, instead, the women make an exodus from his influence. He has nothing to fight and is left only with the bitter/sweet fruit of his enterprise - a lemon and its tree and ultimately left begging for entrance to the world of the wise women.

What is arresting in this performance is to be immersed into a form of symbol - metaphor - where the use of deliberate abstraction is the means used to tell of the concerns of this collective. It is a welcome technique in contrast to the norm of communication in our theatre. It is, particularly welcome because of the quality of the skills and the passionate commitment to the mode of storytelling by this Clockfire Theatre collective. The confidence of all the artists sweeps all hesitation or initial bewilderment from the audience, away.

Its first conceit is to have it spoken in both French (with sub-titles) and a highly poetic English (inspired by the letters of Emily Dickinson). The next is a physical movement language that is stylised from the subtle to the broad, performed by the individual and as a company collective. (Three of the devisors/performers are graduates of the Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris.) The next is a Design Collaboration of striking image led by Amanda McNamara - a surreal comic book - charmingly disconcerting,which is sympathetically lit by Ryan Devlin. The Composition and intrusively powerful Sound Design from Ben Pierpoint has dramatic impact and is a container for supporting the sophisticated craft/art form of this company's 'tools' of communication.

Tony Weir, is central to the success of the work as the representative Patriarch, and has a range of skills from the delicacy of minute physical skill of a high order to an expressive vocal instrument that demarcates the arc of the journey drawn by this company with tremendous skill and attractiveness - it has a human fragility - pathos - in his gestures of change and challenge. Catherine Parle, as the spokeswoman for the Femme du Jardin has a tremendous control of voice and physical life, supported, in contrast, by the silent but vibrating stillness of Laura Turner in several incarnations of character. The comedy of Alicia Gonzalez is adept and the presence of Sam Newing-Stern completes the jigsaw of the methods of seduction evoked by Ms Ayoub. The production is highly sophisticated loaded with intrepid integrity.

I had the night before watched the new film BLADE RUNNER 2049 and have been in a state of a dreamscape hangover since. The bleed from that immersive cinematic imagery to the strivings and solutions of Clockfire Theatre in this much more modest visual (and verbal) challenge was full of supportive echoes. Not least the thematics of the conscious rise of the Wonder Woman, or the 'Miracle'-woman of Blade Runner 2049, - who incidentally is first seen in a simulated garden investigating botany - to that of the Wise Women of this production.

I recommend THE NATURAL CONSERVATORIUM FOR WISE WOMEN, as an exciting and different mode of experience of storytelling in Sydney. Go, surrender, and be bewildered with a kind of wonder, and enthused with a sense of a future of change - hopefully of wisdom, equality.

The Gloveman

Photo by Hayden Brotchie

Actors Anonymous presents, THE GLOVEMAN, by C.J. Naylor, at the Blood Moon Theatre, 24 Bayswater Rd Kings Cross. Wed - Sat 4th - 14 October.

THE GLOVEMAN, by C.J. Naylor, is a new Australian play. The gloveman is the goal keeper in the game of soccer. This play was germinated from the match fixing scandal that came to light at Southern Stars Football Club in Victoria a few years ago.

The play however is really an observation of some of the people that kick about in the lower grades of the sport. Mr Naylor introduces us to Royce (Chris Argirousis), the 'gloveman' - also a gambler - who has taken a bribe to throw a game. He has a slightly disabled sister, Edith (Brinley Meyer) who runs the local pub/bar for him.There is, too, a loyal mate, Col (Matt Blake) and a past club rival, Clive (Ben Dewstow). The three of them, apparently lunk-heads and more than slightly dim witted, who, when 'threatened' by the needs of Hugh (Chris Miller), a representative of the match fixing enterprise, come up with a plan to circumnavigate the problems, especially as a newshound, Gabe (Janine Penfold) is onto the story/scandal for publication. There is further complication when the unsavoury Hugh seduces Royce's sister.

Mr Naylor on turning to writing for the theatre has mostly succeeded in the ten minute format. (Crash Test Drama and Short and Sweet). Mr Naylor's strength appears to be with his control of the dialogue between characters. There are many short and snappy scenes with dialogue of an entertaining interest. However, in this longer format of the full length play (this is not his first) the requirement for a more motivated backstory and sustained logic for the actions of the characters over a 90 minute arc of storytelling is where, ultimately, the play fails to gel.

The performances elicited by the Director, Michael Block, are well drilled if not fully mined for a three dimensional exposure of the foibles of the protagonists. Ms Penfold gives the best of the performances.

THE GLOVEMAN, is a fledgling exploration in the long format of the play by playwright C.J. Naylor, and, as yet, it is, relatively, underdeveloped.

Ghosts

Photo by Brett Boardman

Belvoir St Theatre presents, Ghosts, by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Eamon Flack, from a literal translation by Charlotte Barslund, in the Upstairs Theatre. 20 September - 22 October.

Belvoir presents Henrik Ibsen's play, GHOSTS, in an adaptation by the Director Eamon Flack. It is an agile and careful, faithfully respectful version (unlike his recent production of THE ROVER), in which the actors, so the program notes tell us, were as participatory in its final language choices, based on a literal version of the play by Charlotte Barslund, as was the Director/Adaptor. It is presented in a one act, no interval one hour and forty-five minute sitting. This focused demand reminds us of the influence of the Greek play construct that was a part of the Ibsen ideal. The speedy vertiginous, no escape spiral to 'disaster' is an asset to the intentions of Ibsen for his audience.

Written in 1881 (following A DOLL'S HOUSE in 1879) the play is a social agenda work that heralded the movement towards what we have come to recognise as Realism, on our stages. It was a source of scandal when originally seen in the European capitals, having had its first production in Chicago in the United States in1882. The Daily Telegraph of London, in 1892, in response to a presentation:
Ibsen's positively abominable play GHOSTS ... An open drain ... a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly ... Gross almost putrid decorum. Literary carrion ... Crapulous stuff.
Indeed, it deals with religion, illegitimacy, sexually transmitted disease, incest, euthanasia and all the social (human) hypocrisies masking those subjects from the daylight of the sun's searching exposure.

The play concerns itself with a widow, Helene Alving (Pamela Rabe), on the eve of a triumph of 'social engineering' with the opening of a home for orphans to honour the memory of her husband. Her intellectual life has been liberated since her husband's death and she has become an avid, if timid, absorber of the contemporary literature discussing the role of women in society. Because of this she is at odds with her spiritual advisor and long friend, Pastor Manders (Robert Menzies), who is an exemplar of conventional values, of the deliberate social blindness that counsels no bending to the laws of nature, rather a Protestant adherence to the strictures of an archaic set of beliefs and behaviours for the sake of a civil society and one's heavenly reward. Mrs Alving's son Osvald (Tom Conroy) an artist, has just returned from Paris. He is unusually agitated and almost violent for the need to fulfill the demands of his biological urges and has settled his attentions/intentions on the servant/maid of the household, Regine (Taylor Ferguson), who has been rescued by his mother from the influence of her father, Jakob Engstrand (Colin Moody). There are, we will learn, 'skeletons in everyone's cupboards'.

Ibsen sets up a world of social conventions that on the surface is a role model of propriety. Mrs Alving has manipulated her circumstances to sustain that image. To do so she has lived a life, of deliberately hidden events, creating a construct of lies to hide the hypocrisies of her society and world. In the action of GHOSTS, like a Greek play (such as, OEDIPUS), at one step at a time, for Mrs Alving, the secrets are revealed, and her manipulated world is gradually but inexorably undermined and she is left bewildered and with an ultimate decision that will force her to an act of mercy (or not) at the cost of confronting the demands of her society.

William Shakespeare is the most performed playwright of contemporary times, Henrik Ibsen is the second most performed, and he has been just as influential on the writers that have followed, right up to today. Mr Flack's production, reveals the relevancy of GHOSTS, to our present world, as potently as it did in the time of its creation. The evolution of man is slow in its progress. The hypocrisies of our society just as active. The traditional English title of this play, GHOSTS, has never quite captured Ibsen's meaning, rather: THE REVENANTS - The One Who Returns, may be more resonant, for in this 2017 production, despite its 1881 heritage the sense of man repeating himself, of us seeing 'one who returns' is achingly piercing.

The Set Design by Michael Hankin, is fantastically atmospheric in its overwhelming 'greyness' of wood, rain and mist, lit with a bleakness in a colour palette of a stark and foreboding sterility shafted with narrow warmth from portable light fixtures until the break through of the Sun (and enlightenment?), from Nick Schlieper. The Costume Design by Julie Lynch is thoroughly calculated to inform the theme of the world of the play and demarcate character. The Composition and Sound Design by Stefan Gregory is spare but apt. It is a very handsome and intelligent production.

The storytelling is clear though one could wish for more of the 'thriller' dimension of the writing as reveal after reveal is given in unmasking the 'heaving underworld of uncertainty and double-vision' of the Alving world - the play can have the tension and shock of the Sophoclean Oedipus discoveries that could, similarly, hold one dramatically in a powerful grip. Too, one wishes that Mr Menzies/Eamon Flack could have relished more the mordant comedy, deliberate irony of Ibsen in the explication of the passionate but deluded Pastor Manders, in all his interactions with the others of the play - often, Ibsen's sense of wicked humour at the observation of the comedy of life and its players is not seen, or rather is ignored in production The irony is the essential element that inspired Chekhov in his admiration of Ibsen, which resulted in his more sophisticated and less agenda driven plays and short stories.

The intelligent objective knowledge that Ms Rabe has of the journey of Mrs Alving is spectacular, but one could wish that she would trust what she is experiencing and told us less - acted less, indicated less - gave us room to read more subtle clues so as to permit us to enter more imaginatively, and therefore, with more vulnerability, with her, into the pathetic plight of this 'good' woman. Mostly we are invited by Ms Rabe to watch Mrs Alving rather than 'live' with her - 'experience' the trials of her existence.

There is, on the other hand, in the work of Mr Conroy, particularly in the demanding Act Three of the play, a truly inhabited - lived - moment by moment truthfulness that transfigures the actor into the character and his needs, that convince us of Osvald's dilemma. He seems to almost combust - a kind of self-immolation - It is breathtakingly heartbreaking and confronting in its reality. He is matched, but with fewer opportunities by Taylor Ferguson, who, is allowing Regine to use those elements of herself - the actor - to create a persona on stage that is revealing a scorching truth of abuse and the human resilience to continue on, even if it is 'by hook or by crook'. One is tempted by the 'heat' of the creativity of these two actors to ask Is Osvald/Regine speaking, or is it Tom/Taylor that is speaking, experiencing with us. Both these actors are engaged in a contemporary style of acting that is one of self-exposure and sacrifice to the "God of Thespis".

This production is interesting for those of us interested in the development of acting in our times. All these performances on this stage, are what we can call, at least 'good', are of great integrity, but the styles at reaching the deserving of that epithet are historically different as amplified by the generational risks, techniques employed by the individual members of this company. Mr Moody and Ms Rabe are intelligent but hesitate to 'burn' themselves up for the character - they rather appear, to me, to choose, intellectually, and carefully (coolly) what they want - no more and no less, probably, each time, deliberately accurately. Whilst Mr Conroy and Ms Ferguson 'shoot' from a personal security of revealing self-truths, apparently 'recklessly', in each moment, that have come from a 'learnt' refinement of explored real truths in the repetition of rehearsal, that have, then, in performance an appearance of searing rawness, but which is coming from a rehearsed, secured body memory. Interestingly, Mr Menzies has a foot in both camps and switches from one to the other depending on with whom he is engaged with in each of his scene tasks.

It is fascinating to see the changing of the artistic 'baton/guard' to render good acting for the theatre.

Mrs Alving is, finally, confronted with the power of helping her loved one, her son, to an assisted death. She holds in her hands the 'tools' to do it. Euthanasia. What issue could be more pertinent for our society today as we all contemplate the slow creeping life of old age that removes the spirit and even consciousness of our personal loved ones - our parents, our relatives, ourselves. What will we do? Yes or no?

GHOSTS, at Belvoir, for many reasons, of both social relevance and art/craft observations, is worth catching.

N.B
In the published text and program of GHOSTS, there is no biographical information given to Henrik Ibsen. All the other artists except the originator of this enterprise The Writer is given space. Not a unique happening in Sydney Theatre, alas.

Landscape With Monsters



Circa and Merrigong Theatre Company Co-Production, LANDSCAPE WITH MONSTERS, by Circa, created by Yaron Lifschitz and The Circa Ensemble, in the Illawara Arts Centre, Wollongong. 23rd September.

LANDSCAPE WITH MONSTERS is a new circus-theatre work from the Circa Ensemble under the Direction of Yaron Lifschitz. It is a Brisbane based company.

In the publicity blurb we are told:
LANDSCAPE WITH MONSTERS tells the story of post-industrial cities now in decay. Metal and wooden objects intersect with fast-paced aerobatics. This intense physical new show is at once humorous and brutal, savage and beautiful.
This is my first 'meeting' with Circa and it is certainly an intense and expert display of gymnastic and acrobatic skills engaged with a set of seven wooden boxes, later a 24 foot metal ladder and metal balance platform. It is all performed in front of a colourful Audio-visual Design of a night burning from a set of industrial chimney across a wall of screens (Lighting and AV Design by Toby Knyvett).

This is circus as theatre with an emphasis on the extraordinary skill and invention of the artists. This circus is costumed with not a skerrick of burlesque sexuality or nakedness, all seven of the artists - 3 women and 4 men - costumed discreetly, by Libby McDonnell, in greys, with just a hint of the effort of this extraordinary troupe of actors indicated by a progressive and spreading sweat pattern on the t-shirts.

The politics of this show telling a story of a decaying industrial city is really 'wishful thinking' on the part of the Director, Yaron Lifschitz, but there is no doubt as to the artistic construction around the skills of the performers, enhanced with a very arresting and culturally 'nostalgic' Sound Design by Daryl Wallis (very European in its feel).

In an hour and fifteen minutes one is held suspended into an admiration of the artists and their gifts - a delightful distraction.

My Fair Lady



Opera Australia and John Frost with Elizabeth Williams, Benjamin Lowy and Adrian Salpeter, Jeanne Arnold, Beckett Swede, Just For laughs Theatricals and Glass Half Full Productions, present MY FAIR LADY. Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw's Play and Gabriel Pascal's motion picture 'PYGMALION'. At the Capitol Theatre, Campbell St, Haymarket, Sydney. 27 August - 14 October.

I recently read DAZZLER, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOSS HART, a biography by Steven Bach (2001). It was an intriguing and subsequently, easy and enjoyable read giving one a look into the career (and personal life) of Moss Hart. It was especially interesting following the unfolding of the plays and productions that this man was part of. Moss Hart was the original Director of My Fair Lady that had its World Premiere on the 15th March, 1956 on Broadway in the Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York. It was he who guided Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in their famous incarnations as Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in the Oliver Smith Set Designs and Cecil Beaton Costumes.

Opera Australia with Gordon Frost 'lured' Julie Andrews to Direct a Diamond Jubliee, 60th Anniversary Production of MY FAIR LADY for Australian audiences. I had never seen MY FAIR LADY on stage (the film many times, of course) and thought it would be a very interesting production to see, particularly with the chapter from Mr Bach's book concerning that original incarnation sitting so alive in my head, and knowing the intense memory knowledge that Julie Andrews could probably bring to the staging of the work.

The look of the production is 'gorgeous' to behold. The Set Designs and Costumes rich in the conceits of their time with a contemporary Lighting Design, by Richard Pilbrow, based on the plans and methods of Abe Feder, the original Lighting Designer, is luxuriously ravishing. Mr Pilbrow relighted the show (I quote) "…as if Abe Feder were to be with us at the production desk in 2016. Employing his principles that of course recognised the exquisite, subtly coloured Smith sets and Beaton Costumes, but employing - as he would have done - today's technology. [...] Hopefully our very modern lighting, 'inspired' by the great Abe Feder, will once again help bring MY FAIR LADY to glorious life.' - it does. It is one of the many pleasures of the production. (The only odd modern decision was not to change the painted back-drop setting for the two songs: "On the Street Where You Live", in Act One and "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" in Act Two - it looked definitely archaic! and WAS distracting to the opportunities for both those important songs.)

Charles Edwards, a guest artist from the United Kingdom, is a wonderful Higgins, with a comfortable ownership of all he does. His performance seemed to be an 'existence' on stage with all the nuance of the lyrics and music of Lerner and Loewe, and consummate skill with what is left in the musical's book of the Shaw text - PYGMALION - expertly communicated.

Anna O'Bryne, has had the great comfort and, probably, great challenge of creating Eliza Doolittle under the tutelage of the original. It is beautifully sung and the arc of Eliza's transformation is drawn clearly, although there are some dramatic insecurities, especially in the latter confrontations of the work, that just pulled one (I am talking for myself) out of a whole hearted emotional identification (Ms O'Bryne appeared and Eliza shrunk) - it became a little overwrought.

Around these two principals, have been gathered a call sheet of some remarkable vintage Australian talent, playing to their strengths with comfortable margins to spare: Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins; Tony Llewellyn-Jones as 'fussy' Colonel Pickering; Deidre Rubinstein as Mrs Pearce and a glorious performance from the redoubtable and theatrically energetic 'charmer', Reg Livermore as Alfred P. Doolittle.

The discipline of the Ensemble on stage is steadily remarkable (Choreography by Christopher Gattelli), as is the sound from the orchestra led by Laura Tipoki.

All in all a very pleasant night in the theatre - nostalgic, rich in familiar song and secure in performance. We have much to thank Mosss Hart - the Dazzler, for. And, of course Julie Andrews!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

In Real Life


Darlinghurst Theatre Company, supported by Screenwise and Dominic Tayco and Darren Conlon, present, IN REAL LIFE, by Julian Larnach at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 15 September - 15 October.

IN REAL LIFE, is a new Australian play, by Julian Larnach.

Luke Rogers, the Director of this play, began a collaboration with the writer, Julian Larnach, almost three years ago. In the program notes, Mr Rogers uses a quote from Sherry Turkle, a Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology: 'Technology doesn't just do things for us. It does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are'. 

Says Mr Rogers:
This play is about much more than technology [...] Through the relationship between a mother and her daughter, this work examines our need for human connection, the dilemmas that arise when our technology develops beyond our existing templates for the world, and the lengths we are prepared to go to hold on to those we have lost.
Set some time in the near future we meet a mother, Theresa (Anni Finsterer) who has created a high tech 'gadget' called The Drum which is revolutionary in its applications for connection to all things in the world. Her estranged daughter, Eva (Elizabeth Nabben) arrives at her mother's fabulous country get-away. Theresa finds that she knows less about her daughter than her other technical creation and when Eva disappears - deliberately disconnecting herself from The Drum, maybe - Theresa finds herself desperate to re-establish connection, to find her daughter. The lengths to which she goes are extensive and, ultimately, delusional and despairingly obsessive.

The play travels into areas of intriguing desperation and the trick of the writer to have one actor play multiple roles (Elizabeth Nabben) is absorbing and sustains our curiosity. The play in this production is better than the performance. Ms Finsterer and Nabben both deliver, in this very widely designed modernist minimalist (empty) architectural 'house' (Production Designer, Georgia Hopkins), performances that are vocally underwhelming (projection) and so not at all commanding of our attention. Once again, James Brown, has composed and created a Sound Design that propels the intrigue of the play forward - THE NETHER, another alarming futuristic gaze, also benefits from Mr Brown's input.

IN REAL LIFE, then, is an interesting piece of new Australian writing, hampered by performances that do not communicate to all of the audience (I sat in Row D in Seat 19 and found the play text often inaudible/ at best muffled - it was almost as if the actors were playing to/for themselves!)

The Nether

Photo by Ross Waldron
Catnip Productions and Seymour Centre present the Australian Premiere of THE NETHER, by Jennifer Haley, in the Reginald Theatre, the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 13th September - 7th October.

THE NETHER is an American play by young playwright, Jennifer Haley. It premiered in 2013.

THE NETHER is set in the not too distant future: 'Soon', says the author. The nether is a development of the Internet - a virtual reality realm.

The Nether realm is

1. Another world for mythical creatures
2. Demon World.
3. A dimension of Evil or Imagination

The play begins in an interrogation room where a young female detective, Morris (Katie Fitchett) is investigating Sims (Kim Knuckey), a successful business man who has created the Hideaway - a Victorian world where the fantasy life of clients using avatars can be lived out to the full of the imagination within the rules of its originator. That in this realm, sexual predators can create their fantasies, even to the dismembering of their world, is the source of the provocative debate that it is at the crux of this challenging work.

 It is a fiercely intelligent play.

Jennifer Haley is concerned with the ethics of technology and what constitutes a crime in an imaginative world. A world where avatars are used/permitted to act the inclinations of deviating minds, and whether it is better to have these places of existence in the Nether, that allows for extreme fantasies to take place, rather than for them to be perpetrated in the real in-world.

The play shifts from the bleak world of the interrogation space to the lush romantics of a Victorian house surrounded by forest where a young girl called Iris (Danielle Catanzariti) - an avatar, created by Doyle (Alan Faulkner) - interacts with Papa (also, Kim Knuckey) and a new visitor/avatar, Woodnut (Alec Snow). (The in-world identity of Woodnut is a shock of some scale.)

One never sees anything of distaste to disturb us, rather, it is the act of our imagination that fills that void and one is left as the play reveals its machinations and its subtle arguments, with an uneasiness, a sense of perplexed alarm, that provokes one to terrifying contemplations of the possibilities of the near ethical debates we must have in the not too distant future - 'SOON', as the playwright intimates.

Within limited budget restraints, Set Designer, Pip Runciman, has managed to create the worlds of the play with gripping effect, assisted by the atmospheric Lighting of Christopher Page, sustained with wonderful Sound Composition and Design by James Brown - the Sound is the enveloping power that helps us stay suspended in the notions and realms of the play.

Director Justin Martin has an intellectual grasp of the play and even though he has only been able to lead his company of actors to a just satisfactory explication of the men, women and creatures of the scenario, he leaves us disturbed and, maybe, morally 'unclean'.

Witnessing this play is not easy, but better this provocation than the relative intellectual time wasting at the STC with its present production of DINNER. If you want a challenging night at the theatre that will lead to important debate and contemplation, then THE NETHER is worth a visit. Brave New World, indeed. This play will disturb as the recent production of 1984 did not.

N.B. Once again we have a Production program that has no biographical information about the writer. Of late, Sport For Jove, bAKEHOUSE and its associates, and now Catnip and the Seymour Centre, neglect to include the originator of the enterprise, the writer, from the program - all, but the writer - incredible disrespect, really.