Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Cirque du Soleil present, KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, at the Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney. 3rd October - 24th November.
KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, is a work from the juggernaut that is Cirque Du Soleil, a Canadian Company that has an astonishing network of creations performing all around the world.This work has been Created and Directed by Michel Laprise.
KURIOS, is a return to form for this company. The show before last was not so hot - the speciality acts great, the story fluffing it up, boring. Kurios is set in the late Nineteenth century (one supposes) and all the Design elements are of an extraordinary standard - a s steam-punk visual influence. Set (Stephane Roy) and Costume (Phillipe Guillotel). Amazing detail enhanced by Lighting of extraordinary effect. All this serving a fanciful story of an incredible Seeker, in search of wonders of this Victorian industrial world of invention, which he curates and stores in his cabinet of curiosities.
This story-line is simply decoration to help distract us during the huge Design changes that are carried out to permit the stunning virtuosity of a troupe of International artists to be shown off to maximum effect. In the case of KURIOS, the thematic fibres of the staging of this work, works. It is a brilliant conceit integrated flawlessly throughout the night masked by an incredible Sound Design from a live orchestra, timed to perfection to initiate the cueing for the actions of the speciality artists. The music is by Raphael Beau, Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, a kind of electro-swing fuzz with a jazz smother led by Marc Sohler and Singer Sophie Guay.
It is the calibre of the specialist artists that are always astonishing that one goes to Cirque du Soliel for. And with Kurios there is no let down. Fun percussionists and jugglers, a plastic and pliant foursome troupe of acrobats with bodies that do things that do not seem possible to be done, a chair balancing act mirrored in duplication from above, a duo of men swinging about us in a daring, flying ribbon act, a bouncing net act that has the participants flying about the levels of the stratosphere, a solo yo-yo artist that will leave you with your mouth agape. It is all so physically stirring - dare I say sexy! This is a show of two one hour halves and not a minute ought to be missed. Much more than what I have said happens, I hope you will be surprised and tantalised to a state of excitement and disbelief, not only with what I have 'spoiled' but, too, by what I have left out.
The show, Kurios, is the Full Deal. It is an entertainment for all generations and, truly, you are guaranteed a blast of a night. The Cirque Du Soliel aesthetic and it's design organisational skills for enchantment and wonder begins the moment you step into the huge tent that covers it all.
Do go. You will have an unforgettable time.
|Photo by Bob Seary|
THE ANGRY BRIGADE, is a British play by James Graham. It is a two act play. The Angry Brigade are a collective, a far left terrorist group, active in the late 60's. They were responsible for a series of 25 bombings. Their bombs caused mainly property damage, no deaths and only one minor injury. It caused the British Government, in 1971, to set up a specialist group - The Bomb Squad - within the Metropolitan Police to investigate these crimes of terror. It led to the development of a new investigative methodology to detect and arrest these terrorists of the streets of London. This Brigade were all arrested and imprisoned. The British Government were well prepared for the consequent IRA activity in London when it erupted.
In the first act of the play we begin at the formation of the team central to the investigation and then follow through, discover the procedural 'rails', that will formulate the investigative pattern of action. We meet Smith (Davey Segale), the appointed leader, Henderson (Madeline Withington), Parker (Sonya Kerr) and Morris (Benjamin Balte), and watch them coalesce over the period into a team with a mission that does its job and in doing so, also, unleashes them selves from the strict conventions of their own tight worlds into looser and contemporary revellers of the mores of the British 1970's.
This first act is more matters of fact than expansive insight that has a rather dulling effect on concentration, aided by the acting, generally, been permitted by the Director, Alex Byrant-Smith, to indulge in characteristics rather than in development of character and their arc.
During the interval the stage has been re-configured (Set and Costume Design, Sallyanne Facer). We had been in the basement setting at the Metropolitan Police for the first act of the play and in the second act of the play, a different number of locations, spread across a nearly bare stage. (Acoustically, the open stage hampers, sometimes, the clarity of text - it has an echo chamber affect.) The Lighting is by Michael Schell and there is a robust Sound Design by Glenn Braithwaite.
In the second act we now meet members of the Angry Brigade. We see the events from their, the young terrorists point of view. This is a keen strategy from the writer, Mr Graham, and as the principal four actors of the first act also carry the majority of the responsibility of the verbal action in the second act it causes us to imaginative engage with the actors in a very different way. Davey Seagle takes on John, Madeline Withington takes on Anna, Benjamin Balte plays Jim and Sonya Kerr is Hilary. We are surprised to understand that only one of the Brigade are from working class roots, most of them are disillusioned youngsters of the bourgeoisie.Mrs Thatcher must answer for her policies.
This company of artists have been imbued by their Director, Mr Bryant-Smith, with an energetic passion and commitment to the integrity of the writer and his intensions. This is the stirring, galvanising element of the night. These actors believe in what they have taken on and wish us to observe the relevancy to our own times of protest. There is a supporting cast that help sweep the night along: Nicholas Papademetriou, Kelly Robinson and Will Bartolo.
This is an interesting play by one of Britain's most politically engaged writers. His home country have responded eagerly to his out put. THE ANGRY BRIGADE was written in 2014 and is a lesser work than his spectacular award winning, THIS HOUSE (2012) and his play about Rupert Murdoch and his takeover of The Sun newspaper: INK. Only 37 Mr Graham has written some 22 plays and, as well, for television - QUIZ (2019) - and film. He, also, wrote the Broadway Book for the musical FINDING NEVERLAND. Prolific is one word. Talented is another. One is grateful that the New Theatre has curated THE ANGRY BRIGADE, for us Sydney siders to be able to engage with his work. One does long to see INK., THIS HOUSE, and perhaps (I haven't read it), LABOUR OF LOVE - a prize winning comedy.
|Photo by Lisa Tomasetti|
THE REAL THING, is a play by Tom Stoppard, from the approximate middle period of his output - 1982. Prior to this it was the intellectual brilliance of his word play and juggling of various viewpoints that gave his work the effervescence of the best cold champagne that money could buy. Exhilarating nights in the theatre that made one feel smarter and wittier than one had suspected, known, of oneself ever being: ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD (1968); JUMPERS (1972); TRAVESTIES (1976). THE REAL THING, had all the wit as usual, but at its centre it had, as well, a sensitive beating heart that felt that it, at last, could feel the ecstasy of love and the bruises of despair of that same thing called love, and could safely, truly, express it and discuss it, in public, on the stage. Later work, ARCADIA (1993); THE INVENTION OF LOVE (1997); and the screenplay SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998), go on to illustrate that growth luxuriously and rewardingly.
The character of Henry in THE REAL THING is autobiographical to a large degree. The role of Annie, in the original production, was taken by Felicity Kendall with whom Mr Stoppard developed a relationship, both of them at the time married to someone else. Says Simon Phillips, the Director of this Sydney Theatre Company (STC) production:
THE REAL THING marked a turning point - a shift from using other people's ideas meretriciously to expressing his own ideas, and more importantly feelings, equally eloquently.Lots of things are thrown into the disquisition of the playwriting in THE REAL THING, that keeps us engaged, but at the core of the experience we grapple with the puzzlement of what is love? and how do we know when the love we feel is the real thing? We learn that it is when experienced as ecstasy and also as despair and, yet, manages to sustain our partnership through the thickness of it as well as the thins of it.
We have seen this play on the Sydney stage many times before this version in The Drama Theatre. It still has its charms and can still hold the audience in its palm, although in this production it occasionally reveals its age and 'creaks', forcing us to be patient with some of its observations and theatrical tricks of structure. The play feels long, though it isn't, merely two and a half hours, including an interval. That feeling of length is a signal that something is not quite working, don't you think? It takes so long to get to the end - it seems to end many times. On my night there was an anticipatory exit applause given, despite the fact there was more - embarrassingly - to be said and done. We had to re-gather ourselves, those of us who had thought that exiting was the next move of the night! The amount of time built around the MacGuffin of the 'ghosting' by Henry of a play written by a working class Brodie, an imprisoned soldier, does, ultimately, stretch the limits of our attentiveness. And when Brodie finally does appear - metamorphose - none of us care too much, for we had already indicated that we felt it was time to go home, thanks very much.
Mr Phillips remarks that
If Stoppard sets challenges to your attention span, he sets equal challenges to his actors, demanding a mental acuity and an effortless command of high-tensile language.This company of actors appear to have the "mental acuity" but not quite the "effortless command" of the high-tensile language. Both Johnny Carr (Henry) and Geraldine Hakewill (Annie) manage the commands of the technique Mr Stoppard requires, but, only just. Their effort to deliver is a visible strain and does not give us much luxury of confidence that they will get through. Other actors that we have seen in this play in other productions over the years, were, generally, much more experienced than these two young thespians. They give creditable performances but not absolutely confident ones - we cheer them on but we should not ought to have that responsibility. We are pleased that they have managed well enough.
The best performance comes from Julia Robertson, in a small supporting role as Debbie, and, happily, when Dorje Swallow does finally arrive as Brodie, his suavity and control of the scene has us wishing he had arrived earlier and had had more to do. Rachel Gordon (Charlotte) is adequate, so is Shiv Palekar (Billy), while Charlie Garner does not seem to be able to inhabit Max, the actor - the other betrayed lover - and who rather presents an oddly caricatured vocalisation as a substitute for a living, breathing man - the idea of this 'stagey' Englishman called Max (Maximilian, I suppose) as conceived by a satiric Australian comedian.
It is a very extravagant and contemporary design by Charles Davis, and we do get to watch it change 'shape' regularly during the performance, accompanied by James Brown's Sound Design and Composition, lit sumptuously by Nick Schlieper. Mr Phillips as a deft hand Directing this work but not the energy to lift the actors and production into an effortless brilliance, which is what THE REAL THING necessarily demands and we expect.
I like Stoppard's work a great deal. I am a fan. I flew to New York to see his trilogy of plays, THE COAST OF UTOPIA, dealing with the Russian philosophers and their entwined personal lives that would set the foundations for the Russian Revolutions in 2002, guessing that we would never see them in Sydney. Three plays. Nine hours long. A company of 30, or more actors. Never ever, in Sydney. I had a moderately fair night with this version of THE REAL THING.(Come to think of it, that maybe my usual remembrance of this play). I wish that the STC had cast the work with more experienced players, or, better still, were more courageous with presenting one of his other works that have never been seen in Sydney. There are many, many of them.
Saturday, September 28, 2019
|Photo by Brett Boardman|
Griffin Theatre Company presents, SPLINTER, by Hilary Bell, at the SBW Stables, Darlinghurst.6 September - 12 October.
This is a revival production of SPLINTER, by Australian writer, Hilary Bell. It was first produced by The Sydney Theatre Company (STC), in 2012.
Man (Simon Gleeson) and Woman (Lucy Bell), husband and wife, have just had their daughter Laura returned to them. She had been absent for nine months. No-one knows where she has been or what has happened. The play begins in a mood of wonder and excitement. Also, disbelief. Are they laughing or crying? Is it a dream? Is it real?
Laura has not spoken. She is an enigma.
In the original production at the STC Laura, the daughter, was represented through puppetry, manipulated by two actors. In this production she is an invisible figure that Man and Woman have colluded to invent and believe. They both interact comfortably with the empty space where their Laura, for them, palpably exists. It was, at the STC, I remember, an intriguing performance adjustment to endow the puppet(s) with the responsibility of being Laura. There grew in the storytelling an intriguing sense of mystery and magic - spooky even, like the surreal episodes with the puppets in Ingmar Bergman's FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1982).
In this production, Directed by Lee Lewis, it is a very odd visual 'offer' to have Woman talking and feeding an empty space, invisible soup on a real spoon. I came to endow the empty space with them and justified that acceptance by coming to believe that Man and Woman have become desperately unhinged in their grief and have invented, jointly, a 'child' to help them survive what life has thrown at them, they are splintered in front of our eyes - much like George and Martha are in Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1962) - remember their invented son with blue hair and blonde eyes? With this theatrical ploy in this production of SPLINTER, the atmosphere that permeates this production is one of a discomfortable sadness viewed through a fog of the possibility of a Norman Bates psychological possession, a la Hitchcock's masterpiece, PSYCHO (1960). That so desperate is their grief that can manifest a life force which they believe is a human being not a fantasy.
Man and Woman are joined together and concentrate on Laura, to enable her to recover. The couple begin empowered with their invention but that disintegrates gradually through the events of the arc of Ms Bell's story. As time moves on Man begins to express moments of doubt that their invisible Laura is NOT their Laura. He tells Woman of his problems and the relationship begins to splinter, too. The splintering becomes a growing battle to maintain their sanity, with Man moving to the rejection of this Laura, whilst Woman desperately clutches at the splintering 'game-play' of the invisible Laura. The tension between the two positions becomes unbearable.
And so different an imaginative path from that that I created with my first experience of the play. Hilary Bell's thematic obsessions are influenced by her life long entanglement with fairy stories and the influence of the unreliable narrator. Both elements are at the creative core of her writing - all of it, I dare say. This work at its glimmering beginning and in its progress development was fuelled/referenced by "spanned sources as diverse as Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW, folk tales about changelings, the Grimm Brothers' THE WILD SWANS, Anderson's THE SNOW QUEEN, and a memoir written by Ed Smart about his daughter's disappearance. ... At the core of the play's story is doubt and its corrosive nature." , says Ms Bell in her Program notes.
Doubt leads to shifting of the lines of logic and when, as in the case of this play, the two protagonists: Man and Woman, take opposing stances: one of change and the other of holding ground, the stress/strain splinters their worlds.
The blank weirdness of the colour palette of the Set Design by Tobhiyah Stone Feller, delivers the creeping sense that outside that wooden doorway, window frame, we will find ourselves in the middle of the woods - alone and lost with invisible threats - Red Riding Hood's big bad wolf or, Hansel and Gretel's ginger-bread house that has a caged boy been fattened for dinner. That we are on the edge of our fears, sanity. There is a great visual stimulation enhanced by Benjamin Brockman's Lighting with the shadows of Mic Gruchy's Video Design.
Hilary Bell has a powerful ability to create, subtly, her stylistic language obsessions inside a text that seems on a surface read simplistic and obvious - tackling it, in depth, however, and the hidden complications become an exciting challenge for the artists.
Thus the work requires actor's with a confident intelligence and an easily accessible resource that can create the sub-text in communicable action alongside the audible text. The VOICE becomes the necessary tool to solve the complication of this play. With only two actors carrying the work the task is, indeed, formidable.
The major hurdle for me in fully embracing this production lies in the vocal quality of Simon Gleeson. Mr Gleeson is a highly appreciated Musical Theatre Artist (LES MISERABLES, OKLAHOMA, THE FAR PAVILLIONS), his singing voice sitting in the upper register. Mr Gleeson's speaking voice, on the night I watched the play, sat high in its register, too and unfortunately had a kind of strangulated quality. I had the experience of hearing an instrument that could not/did not reach into the resonant body qualities that could contrast 'musically' with his regular sound and so handicapped the effect of the tragic unwinding of the Man's splintering.The dark dramatics of a Bass were not used. His sound was an obstacle to my engagement, belief, in the Man and his dilemma.
This was made more obvious when the verbal and vocal skill that Lucy Bell was able to command as the Woman filled the SBW Theatre space with a variety of calibrated choice of sound that not only created drama but a resonant character with whom we could comfortably identify and care about because of her vocal access to her fully body resonant quality.
SPLINTER, having a new production in Sydney, is worth seeing. Whether it be your first encounter with it or, as in my case my second that permits me to compare and contrast. One of the important experiences of going to the theatre, that is a rare one in Sydney, is of being able to appreciate not only the core content and its qualities but also to observe how the individual artists can shape and highlight the material in a new and more individual challenging way.
Part of the excitement of being a regular theatre goer in London (New York) is that one can see many productions of, say, HEDDA GABLER - many in one year and to be able to observe the influence of each of the artists playing Hedda on the experience of the character and story. In Sydney, I have seen Glenda Jackson, Judy Davis, Cate Blanchett (with others) tackle this great challenging role and being devastated by the influence of their unique self on Ibsen's challenge. However, those opportunities have been spread over 30 or 35 years -when did we see Ms Blanchett's Hedda: 19, 15 years, ago? For the general public the Sydney audience virtually has to re-learn the play because of the passing of time not always giving the audience the easy opportunity to compare and contrast, appreciate or disparage, the ART of the performers, creatives and writer. It is, is it not, great to see different principals performing the Prince an ODette/Odile in the same season of Swan Lake? To see those varied artists, encompassing the same choreography and characters on the same musical beat, and yet create unique individual contributions that can throw new light onto the possibilities of the story. Is it not a gift in your theatre going experience?
This revival of SPINTER, although still spread over a time space of 7 years, is invaluable if you are a serious theatre goer and not just someone who simply wants entertainment. One can become, with this opportunity, a connoisseur of art - like reviewing a film or re-regarding that painting hanging faithfully on the walls of the NSW Arts Gallery.
SPLINTER is playing up at the SBW Stables for a few more weeks.
|Photo by Clare Hawley|
JOHN, is a play by American writer, Annie Baker. It is the third play by Ms Baker that the Outhouse Theatre Co have produced for Sydney audiences. THE ALIENS and THE FLICK. All three Directed by Craig Baldwin. All three of them have been extremely rewarding nights in the theatre. Ms Baker becomes more interesting and more daring with each play. JOHN takes you somewhere beautiful and is gentle in taking you there.
JOHN, is, in literal length, a three-hour fifteen-minute experience (with two short intervals). Set in the living space and breakfast room of a Bed and Breakfast (B&B) accommodation in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, convenient to the haunting sites of the battle-fields of the American Civil War. Two customers, Jenny Chung (Shuang Hu) and Elias Schreiber-Hoffman (James Bell) girl-friend, boyfriend, arrive late one winter's night during the Christmas season, to be welcomed by Mertis Katherine Graven (Belinda Giblin), the owner and devoted hostess.
The bedrooms are named after notable figures of the bloody Gettysburg collision and are situated upstairs. Eric finds that he is not in the room that he had booked because of a leak - he is not happy about the unexpected change - it is a curious moment of whiny petulance, of expressed dissatisfaction that, on reflection, later, is a signal to his persona, that, we will gather is not satisfied with much. It is, we discover, the worm in the bud, the core of his relationship with Jenny. It is, evidentially, a deteriorating relationship that has an unseen character, a friend of Jenny's, John, floating in the ether (ethereal) background of their tensions, that materialises, climatically, as a force of overwhelming destruction, as Eric pursues with mounting hostility, in the closing act of the play, access to a mobile telephone belonging to Jenny.
Oddly, Mertis' first husband was also called John, he seems to have been a force for good. Her second husband, George is, we think, living in the back-of-house, ill and dying - we never meet him, just hear of him - he could be just an empathetic projection of imaginative invention for the grieving Mertis - we never get to know. George haunts the back rooms and our curious perceptions.
There are lots of things that we don't get to know. There are lots of things that are raised over the course of the play to which no answers are given. Ms Baker is more interested in giving us connections and contemplations not just narrative 'facts'. She is interested in engaging you into inventing and endowing the possible layers of the life - lives - in the play with your own primary knowledge and developed secondary resources. We, the audience, become creative agents, in support of the actors who are giving us JOHN.
The fourth character of the play is Genevieve Marduk (Maggie Blinco) a friend of Mertis, who visits every now and then for the comfort of the friendship that Mertis can give her. Genevieve is blind. One demonstrable way of their friendship is that Mertis reads to her - a spiritual sustenance. She also supplies earthly sustenance with cookies. Genevieve is sightless but not blind - rather like a kind of Greek Seer. Tiresias-like. She tells us of visions of her dead husband and of his vengeful actions that are as vivid as you could wish them. Dark images of invasive insects that invade her head and body, devour and turn her mad, she claims. Genevieve has an entrance, a gateway, to a vivid metaphysical world. Blind in the real world but vividly sighted in the metaphysical dimension.
In Mertis' house, meticulously Designed by Set and Costume Designer Jeremy Allen (assisted by Veronique Benett, who also is the Lighting Designer) - even to an overhanging ceiling - stuffed with the detritus of spooky collections of 'dolls' and other paraphernalia perched on every possible surface that all seem to stare (glare) at us, one is, subtly, discomforted.
Sitting in the theatre one may recollect the horror films of CHUCKY - who was a serial killer whose spirit inhabits a "Good Guy" doll and continuously tries to transfer his soul to a human ( as does Genevieve's husband?), for in Mertis' house it is the "Samantha Doll" (1986) sitting on a shelf, unavoidable to one's sight as one ascends the stairs, that features in the memory of Jenny and haunts her with a particular dread - and is used as a tool by Eric who threatens 'abuse' to the Doll unless he is given her iPhone, unlocked - be careful for what you wish for!
Featured above this is a portrait of a widow from the days of the Civil War. This house, situated near the bloodiest battle field of the Civil war, with 57,225 casualties over the three day fight, maybe haunted. This battlefield was the Turning Point on which this nation's fortunes were drawn. This B&B maybe the Turning Point for these two adults: the maybe-boyfriend/girlfriend in the existing world. Genevieve, quietly, believes so and silently witnesses the disaster. Mertis thinks maybe so, too. They both know that the haunting is important. One of them believes that the haunting may possibly be positive. In a reverie with Jenny, Mertis talks of the metaphysical soul of the human animal, of the other animals, of plants and, even, she provokes, of the soul in the picture frame around the widow's portrait.
When was the last time a play, a night in the theatre, offered that kind of provocation to contemplate, take home, change you?
This is a 'weird' play. One feels the creep of Henry James and his perceptions of spiritual dimension: THE TURN OF THE SCREW, or, more nakedly, John Clayton's film adaptation, THE INNOCENTS (1961), with Deborah Kerr. JOHN, grew, for me, as the evening passed, into a supernatural psychological thriller - the shivers of the insidious naturalism of ROSEMARY'S BABY suggestive ascetic (1968 - Roman Polanski) chimed into my consciousness. The ultra naturalistic style entwined in the existential metaphysics of the gifted.
For, like the 2016 film by Olivier Assayas, PERSONAL SHOPPER, starring Kristen Stewart as Maureen, who is embedded in the details of a modern 'frozen' world: fashion, jewellery, travel, computer laptops and iPhone - recognisable gadgets of little emotional consequence, Maureen is, also, passionately enmeshed in the belief and pursuit of proof that her dead brother, Lewis, is attempting to contact her from the other world - from the spiritual realm. Similarly, Annie Baker presents to us, also, a beautifully articulated real world - it is presented in ultra-naturalistic detail that when it is engaged by the actors is something more than theatrical storytelling but is a kind of glacial documentary, (at a daringly boring reality time pace). We see authentic human beings, doing very ordinary things, that are surrounded by worlds greater than what they know, for certain.
Mertis, however, is in touch with those layers of perception and simply articulates the possibility. Annie Baker with her play JOHN is urging us to put away your wifi 'gadgets' and just be, to see what is there - to extend the walls of our perception. As in Christopher Nolan's 2010, INCEPTION, find what is really there? It is astonishing.
Mr Baldwin as coaxed his actors into trusting their writer, and although there were nervous tentative moments on the Opening Night, it seemed the actors sensed the intrigued absorption of their audience as the play evolved and began to trust, and honoured, without fear of boring us, the writing and the intention of Ms Baker. The modern robo-humans Eric and Jenny collide on this battle field in this B&B at Gettysburg, and there are revealed dire consequences to their relationship, blindly overseered by Genevieve, and, especially, the wonderful Mertis, each suspended, on the rims of the ethereal world of the awakening consciousness that every human animal can have if awoken.
Now, Thornton Wilder is another author, that with his plays, particularly: OUR TOWN (1938), THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH (1942) and almost any of his wonderful novels: THE BRIDGE OF SAINT LOUIS REY (1927), for instance, has dared to treat his audience's with spiritual possibility in the contemporary world and JOHN, the other night, transported me to that miraculous level of pursuing that gate way to sensitivity.
I recommend JOHN and its layers, levels, possibilities, that if you attend with your eyes truly open, perception of your world beyond the everyday activities may be able to be made possible. Tall order but worth the time to try. Put down that social media eater of your time and just relax, spare the time and permit perception beyond your venal needs. The actors, especially, Ms Blinco and Giblin are rewarding. Mr Bell is so very good that I could not decide whether it was the character or the actor I was responding to with such hostility! Whilst Ms Hu was a gently winning performer for whom I hoped her John was going to be rescuer.
JOHN, is worth seeing.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Sydney Symphony Orchestra presents, Shostakovich 'Symphony No.4' and Khachaturian 'Violin Concerto In D Minor'
Sydney Symphony Orchestra presents, SHOSTAKOVICH SYMPHONY No.4 and KHACHATURIAN VIOLIN CONCERTO in D MINOR.
I reckon that you can trust the Russian composers for a great experience in Concert. So, it was last Saturday.
I had never heard the Khachaturian Violin Concerto in D minor ever. In fact I know little of the output of Khachaturian, the ballet scores: GAYANE and SPARTACUS, the most familiar.
Aram Katchaturian was of Armenian extraction, educated as a child in Tiblisi, Georgia - that city being important to Josef Stalin.
Stalin was extremely interested and demanding in his concerns for the influence of the Arts on his citizenry and, in particular, that of the influence of Music. During the domination of the Soviet by Stalin from the mid-1920's until his death in 1953, as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the three regarded composers of the Soviet were Khachaturian (1903 -1978), Shostakovich (1906 - 1975) and Prokofiev (1891 - 1953).
Prokofiev lived mostly in the United States (with Soviet sanction) after the 1917 Revolution until a voluntary return to the Soviet in 1936, but both Khachaturian and Shostakovich remained in their homeland and weathered the demands of the tyrant, Stalin, as to their musical output. It seems that Khachaturian was the most compliant in fulfilling the demands of the officially-approved classicism of Socialist Realism entwined with his passionate love of his heritage of the folk songs and dances of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - and except for a very brief period was the favoured Soviet Composer and was publicly rewarded.
The Violin Concerto in D minor was made in 1940 (during World War II) and became an enormous success, approved by Stalin and the war feverish citizens. It is a lush escape into a romantic musical heritage, especially in the introspective focus of the second movement (andante sostenuto) that sweeps one away into a kind of blissful 'heaven' of an idealised Russian 'sound'.
The solo work of Canadian/American violinist (he trained at the Juilliard School - 1993 -1997), James Ehnes, was outstanding. Looking 'cool', holding his 'Marsick' Stradivarius of 1715, with what appeared to be a concentrated nonchalance over the approximate 35 minute playing, he subtly wove a magic control of his responsibility with a very sympathetic and supportive orchestra, wonderfully conducted by, Mark Wigglesworth (the principal guest conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra - how lucky are they?) Modest but spectacularly gifted and prepared, Mr Ehnes received a tumultuous response from his audience which he further gratified with a thrilling virtuosic solo encore. One went into the interval energised with a romantic optimism that, even if only momentarily, the cares of our traumatic world became a faint issue.
The second half of the program, Dimitri Shostakovich's Symphony No.4 in C minor, Op,43, that demands a very large orchestra, crashed into our presence, literally, sonically CRASHED, introducing the reality of what it may have been like to be a creative artist under the ruthless scrutiny of Stalin. The score over its lengthy 60 minute duration teases us with what could be a parody of the Socialist Realism 'grand style' demands of the regime riddled with what could be interpreted as sudden musical imagery of the desperate bleakness of the soul. (One is required to ponder.)
Shostakovich was one of the Soviet artists that did not leave his country but loyally and dangerously stayed with his comrades and attempted to survive with integrity. Julian Barnes' 2016 novel, THE NOISE OF TIME, is a great insight into the possibilities of the exhausting life - physically, psychologically and emotionally - that Shostakovich elected to endure, alongside his family, to create music in what I call, romantically, Russia (other than the USSR - Soviet).
This great Symphony was almost completed, it written in 1936, during which time his highly received opera, LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK DISTRICT, was viewed by Stalin himself in that January. There followed soon after an anonymous critique, in the Communist party newspaper, Pravda, which condemned the work without mercy - and suddenly Shostakovich, a musical hero of the times was regarded as a traitor to his country, and was deserted by his fellow musicians and the general public - his life seemed to be in possible jeopardy. Was this article in Pravda written by Stalin, himself?
The result was that the 4th Symphony was withdrawn by the composer from performance - shelved judiciously for fear of further denunciation, or worse. The 4th Symphony had its first performance in 1961. Stalin had been dead for 8 years. The 5th Symphony appeared in late 1937 and it was praised for its accessible style and Shostakovich became rehabilitated with and by the Soviet hierarchy. Just how much of a dissident was Shostakovich is one of the great debates concerning his work even up to today. I have been persuaded he was one of the great creative artists who lived all his life in the Soviet defying the tyranny of power as best he could, most subtly in the midst of a terrifying quandary where interpretation becomes the defining element of intent. I try never to miss a work played live, written by Shostakovich. And, one should not neglect the chamber compositions - their tempestuousness is thrilling and arguable. What more does one want from art?
Mark Wigglesworth majestically and with great passion led the Sydney Symphony into a performance that shook his audience into a spell bound embrace. The contrast of efforts, the contrast of noises in the time of the composition's length: fast and slow and all in between, loud and soft and all in between, tonal range from top piercing spears of pain to melodic bathing romanticism and all in between - seemingly influenced by Mahler - from solo instrument to the full orchestra were 'tools' of great manipulative control. I was forced to 'think' while listening not just 'feel'. This was a composition of humanity revealing the pain of a single artist daring to reflect, perhaps, the pain of betrayed comrades, fellow patriots. The Nazi's and the Siege of Stalingrad was soon to come.
The 4th Symphony is still, relatively, under represented in the concert hall. One is so much more familiar with the popular and accessible 5th. But after hearing this rendition, could the 4th Symphony become recognised as the GREAT work of Dimitri Shostakovich?
One can always trust the 'Russian' composers for an experience in the concert hall.
Amazing night. (Thank you Kate.)
Musica Viva present, EMERSON STRING QUARTET, at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney. September 7th and September 9th.
The EMERSON STRING QUARTET. One of the world's great string quartets. They must be heard live. I have their recording of the Shostakovich Quartets (2000), which may account for part of my love obsession around all of the music by Shostakovich. Included in Program One was a Shostakovich quartet scheduled - so, no brainer - I had to attend.
The Emerson String Quartet, which took its name from the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was formed in 1976, while they were studying at Juilliard. In 2013, the Quartet was reconfigured when cellist Paul Watkins joined the original members of the Emerson Quartet: Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer and Lawrence Dutton.
Saturday at 2pm in the City Recital Hall we heard, Joseph Haydn String Quartet in D major, op 71 no 2. (1793).The Bela Bartok String Quartet no 5, Sz 102 (1934) and Ludwig van Beethoven String Quartet no 8 in E minor, op 59 no 2 'Razumovsky' (1806).
I know little musical repertoire and all this music was new to me. It is strange to hear music that one has not the slightest knowledge of. I found myself sitting in the concert hall, hoping that a familiar melody would be played to comfort one with the glow of recognition - an acquaintanceship. It didn't happen - there was no recognition of a single 'melody'. But the beauty of the musicians and their control and soul-bearing energy entranced one enough into a state of transfixed awe to give satisfaction.
I do not believe I am a fan of Beethoven - a capital sin, I am supposing - but the sheer concentrated skill and devotion of the Emerson Quartet drew a spell of contentment and insight in the quartet's post-interval rendition of the Beethoven contribution that, especially, in the third and fourth movement (the Finale) skipped into a jaunty mood surging with a Russian folk tune quotation that may have (may have) awakened a memory. It certainly had a feel of youthful energy, of Spring, and I was subsumed into an all embracing of Beethoven's quartet.
Brexit, Trump and Scott Morrison. Economic woes and the tension caused by the unprecedented fires ravishing our country, the dread of irreversible Climate Change, all seemed, relatively, distant, as one applauded the gift of the music that the Emerson String Quartet had just given. One left the Recital Hall, high on life.
Monday evening at 7pm: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart String Quartet no 21 in D major, K575 (1789). Antonin Dvorak String Quartet no 10 in E-flat major, op 51 (1879) and Dmitri Shostakovich String Quartet no 5 in B-flat major, op 92 (1952). Again, the excellence of the musicianship was transporting despite the relative lack of familiarity with the music.
Of course, I was rewarded with the Shostakovich, as I had a familiarity with it. from my CD collection. The pain and agony of the composer weathering the condemnation of Stalin, haunts this quartet through and through. The humanity of the composer was bared with great restraint and respect: Honour, by the Emerson Quartet. Their ability to translate with superb skills and amazing empathy the grief of the composer from instruments to instrument, must have cost the players much. The performance was astounding.
Musica Viva, congratulations for bringing the Emerson String Quartet to Sydney (philistine Sydney - the Hall was not sold out in either concert.) These two performances were great musicianship and emotional experiences of some powerful depth.
(I wondered sometimes whether the musicianship was so excellent in its sensitive detail and playing whether it rendered the quartets a little too drily? The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), a jewell in the Performing Arts experiences in Sydney, have a skill as wondrous as the Emerson Quartet but deliver, I think, a lustre of flowing life, a fluidity of sound that is more accessible. Still, neither of these two musical cohorts should ever be missed.Dedication that can deliver genius, I think.)
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
|Photograph by Marnya Rothe|
CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, is a work, an autobiographical work from Tony Kushner. He is famous for ANGELS IN AMERICA (1993) - (maybe, as well, for the screenplay of LINCOLN (2012). Born in Manhattan, his family moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, when he was a young boy. He wanted to write about race relations, the civil rights movement, and African Americans and southern Jews in the early 1960's.
This play comes from sorrow, from anger and grief, and also from hope learned from history, from recent history, which has shown us both the terrors and also the pleasures of change, which shows that change, progress is difficult, uneven, uncertain, but also absolutely possible.The two principal antagonists are Caroline Thibodeaux, an African-Americas maid working in the Gellman household, and 13 year old Noah, the son of this Jewish family, living in Lake Charles, in 1963, both growing and challenged in a world that is demanding change.
ANGELS IN AMERICA is a landmark play that is still celebrated and contemporaneously performed at regular intervals. That work holds a fascination and level of satisfaction like almost no other play in recent history. And though all of Kushner's output is remarkable nothing has quite achieved the greatness of that play, is my observation. So how does CAROLINE, OR CHANGE fit?
CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, is a musical written over four years of intensive work and first produced in 2002, with Jeanine Tesori as composer. The Hayes produced VIOLET her 1997 OFF-BROADWAY musical and I recently caught her work FUN HOME which won the Tony Award for Best Original Score in 2015. It was marvellous. This production, Directed by Mitchell Butel, is the first iteration of this work in Australia. One, I, have hung out to see this Kushner/Tesori collaboration, over the years, for many reasons, the least of which was to make contextual valuations of the writing of the work. ANGELS was so intensely, brilliantly, confronting in its political aspirations, and also entertaining, I was deeply curious as to the content and achievement of this work.
CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, is an intense observation of the pressure-cooker challenge of the 1960's for an older fashioned African-American woman bringing up her young family, as a single parent, in times of sweeping political debate and striving for civil rights, as to whether she can afford to change. She must be able to ensure the stability of her family. Caroline understands the unconscious racism of her employers and makes a choice to endure it for safety's sake, but struggles to maintain her submission in the argumentative heat blast of her 'liberated' daughter, Emmie's beliefs. Caroline may agree with her daughter but can she afford to do anything about it?
It, also, reveals the struggle of a 13 year old pubescent boy, a Jewish boy, in the midst of great physical and philosophical change as he begins to face the challenge of growth from boy to man and the necessary adjustments he may need to make to respect himself and his actions (this is the Kushner autobiographical reveal) especially, towards his 'friend' Caroline - just what is the value of a $20 bill in the great scheme of things?
The writing work is complex and relentless. It is naturalistic and also surreal (the Moon sings to us), it is political and dramatically domestic. The musical form is that of gospel/rhythm and blues/folk sung-through in an operetta style. I kept re-calling the Aretha Franklin documentary, AMAZING GRACE. To find the cast was and is a challenge for any production of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE. Mr Butel has found an actor/singer, Elenoa Rokobaro, to inhabit the difficult role of Caroline, and almost coaches her to assurance. Her performance crystallises in the second act with a wonderfully committed rendition of Lot's Wife that moves one gratefully, this having been prepared for with the contribution of Nkechi Anele during the pressure-cooker demands of Emmie in the second act. In fact, the second act is when this musical began to realise its spectacular potential. It was when Amy Hack (Rosie Stopnick-Gellman) supported by Tony Llewellyn-Jones (Mr Stopnick) blossomed into power, as well.
The Set Design is crowded with the demands of the writing and yet fulfils its needs with visual grace by Simon Greer, and the Lighting of Alexander Berlage. Choreographically the stage is relatively cramped and Yvette Lee has a company of 'dancers' of varying ability to coalesce as an ensemble, although the multiple-role casting, requiring swift dexterity in Costume change (Melanie Liertz) by the company, might be solved with the repetition of performance (I saw this production in first preview). Musically the show is in steady hands under the Direction of Lucy Birmingham with a live orchestra of six. The Sound mix is complicated (Anthony Lorenz) and, as yet, not absolutely balanced.
CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, is definitely a must see for Kushner and Tesori fans. Now, I need to hunt down Kushner's THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL'S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH THE KEYS TO THE SCRIPTURES, and I might die satisfied and happy.
P.S. The Company includes:Alexandra Fricot, Andrew Cutcliffe, Daniel Harris or Ryan Yeates, Elijah Williams, Emily Havea, Genevieve Lemon, Ruva.
|Photograph by Clare Hawley|
Mike Bartlett wrote AN INTERVENTION in 2014. He had just had an amazing response to his quasi-Jacobean verse play called KING CHARLES III, which Sydney saw on tour here a few years ago in the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Mr Bartlett is, probably, the outstanding young male writer in the British Theatre at the moment - 'hot, hot, hot'. The Old Fitz introduced his work to Sydney with a production of COCK (2009) and later with BULL (2013).
AN INTERVENTION, is a play for two actors: A and B - the roles are not gender or age specific. In this instance at the Old 505, Jessica Belle-Keogh is A and Bardiya McKinnon is B. They have met at a party and found that they 'spark' each other off. They develop a 'friendship' based around their political interests. During the course of this 90 minute, no-interval play, we chart a number of their encounters, that allow us to observe A has a drinking problem, and B has a girlfriend (partner) problem. Should they intervene with each other to help guide the other through difficult times? The play has deeply serious intentions but is guised in truly comic observational accuracies.
In this production, Directed by Erin Taylor, Ms Belle-Keogh and Mr McKinnon have created personas that are agilely fragile and at the same time heaps funny. But even better, these two actors have developed a 'playing' rapport that is truly marvellous to see. It is rare to see such seamless bonding and generosity on a Sydney stage. Ms Keogh, skates to the edge of parody but manages to always stay credible and Mr McKinnon anchors his man firmly and sensitively to the reckless driving force of his partner's offers. These are, in my opinion, the best performances that I have seen these actors give. In fact, the duo are fairly incredible in their simpatico. I saw the play Opening Night, I hope they have managed to maintain their delightful restraint and empathetic give and take and not been tempted to overplay (which one has seen them do, elsewhere, and at other times.) As their work stood when I saw it, these performances are definitely worth seeing. The reward is great even when it is painful.
These two actors with their Director, in a Design by Jonathan Hindmarsh - a set that permits, with the parting of a red curtain and the humour of the performers, the change to many locations - lit (roughly) by Liam O'Keefe, with a bouncy Sound Design by Ryan Devlin, kept everything nicely contained and expectant.
I attended this work at Old 505 because of the writer attached: Mike Bartlett. I promise you an adult, sharp, empathetic, witty time in the theatre. Recently, idly, watching ABC television I became starkly taken by the courage of the writing of a British drama called DOCTOR FOSTER. Boy, oh boy, did it take risks in the trajectory of the story telling and one was stunned by the daring of the actors - especially Suranne Jones (SCOTT AND BAILEY, you will recognise her; her latest is a series called GENTLEMAN JACK, too, unforgettable work), encouraged, undoubtedly, by the strength of the writer. I found that DOCTOR FOSTER was the work of Mike Bartlett.
The Writer is GOD, I say - get god on board with some daring artists and you will probably strike GOLD. Remember the premise and form of KING CHARLES III: about Charles taking the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth and the machinations of the rest of the royal family, including the ghost of Princess Diana - outrageous and royally entertaining. AN INTERVENTION, is different but just as thrilling to see.
P.S. Notice that this company barely acknowledges the writer - his name in tiny, tiny print on the front cover, and NOTHING else. No biography, nothing. Everybody else But the writer - Sydney weird, but tragically, rudely commonplace behaviour in the Sydney Theatre scene.
Friday, August 23, 2019
Opera Australia present WEST SIDE STORY. Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Choreography and Direction by Jerome Robbins. In the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. 20th August - 6th October.
WEST SIDE STORY debuted in 1957 on Broadway. Four genius artists somehow subdued their egos to collaborate as an Ensemble to produce one of the great works in the Musical Theatre canon: Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. A motion picture version was made and arrived in 1961 winning 10 Academy Awards - it created a permanent number of indelible moments. (please read my 2010 review of another production of WEST SIDE STORY*** to get my grasp of this work's greatness).
This production led by American Choreographer/Director, Joey McKneely is the second version of this iconic work presented by Opera Australia (OA) this year. The other was the Handa on-the-Harbour in February. This Design is by Paul Gallis, utilising some magnificent historic photographs of 1950's New York to sustain the visual context for the location of the work with two portable side towers/constructs of quasi scaffolding to represent the housing of the denizens of this world at war: two gangs of youth contesting their right to territory, The Sharks and The Jets - white ethnic second generation Americans versus recent Puerto Rican immigrants. Arthur Laurents used the framework of William Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, and then bent it for these artists needs to tell a contemporary story.
From the first Musical notes from the OA orchestra led by Donald Chan there is a thrilling nostalgia awakened in all of us in the audience and the words of the famous songs are shaped silently in our mouths alongside the performers on the stage. The great demand of this work is that the triple skills of the Musical theatre performer; that of been able to Sing, Dance and Act, is required from almost every character on the stage (the older background characters are excluded).
The OA Company is a very young one with a great number of the artists making their debut (first) outing onto the professional stage. One can see these artists in their singing and, especially, dancing, performing at optimum levels of skill. They are striving with fixed concentration to 'conquer' the demands of the work and one can feel that they have little or no reserve and it is that potent visible fragility that undermines the impact of this show. This company is good but not great. They are 'kids' at the start of their careers - the OA claims that casting these youngsters fulfils the age requirements of these gang members and thus claims a positive credence whilst lamenting the usual casting of older (more experienced) performers in the gang - but I believe the film casting of the gangs despite the discrepancy in the age look works more than convincingly. The experience of those actors/singers/dancers does not allow any doubts of credibility from entering our aesthetic appreciation and belief in the drama of the work. I reckon we lose out in not having consistent assured quality in the casting of this OA production.
They, of course, are not assisted by the Design side pieces that crimp the open dance spaces and inhibits full flight and even complete take-off in the choreographic demands - the Joan Sutherland stage space is so 'tiny' and becomes an obvious flaw in the aesthetics of this production in this theatre. It is the reason that one prefers, when one can afford it, to attend the Australian Ballet in the Melbourne Arts Centre - dance space scale. This theatre, belatedly called the Joan Sutherland, was never constructed for the Opera or Ballet, it was originally a Dramatic Theatre Design intention, superseded by the demands of the powerful Symphony Orchestra politics of the times. The decisions about the Concert Hall and Opera Theatre was and is a great disservice to the quality of the Arts presented in this building.
The best of the performances in this production comes from Chloe Zuel in the dynamic role of Anita, in all three demands of the Musical Theatre artist. She is outstanding. Of the straight acting roles, Ritchie Singer, as Doc, gives a performance of some passionate insight.
In this performance Todd Jacobsson, the scheduled leading performer for Tony was re-placed by Daniel Assetta, who gave an assured but nervous interpretation and showed some uncertainty in his top notes (at least early in the night) and a lack of blending skills with the rather noisy overwhelming operatic sound (or is it a Sound Design mixing problem from the desk of Matt Grounds?) coming from his Maria, sung by Sophie Salvesani - who is a little short of the top Dramatic Acting skills to convince us and/or move us, in the tragic climax of the work. The climax is, rather, all dramatically expressed as routine from all the company on the stage (except the work of Doc), which, unfortunately, robs this WEST SIDE STORY of its powerful statement - it limits the profound influence of the drama of the creators' intentions. The musical scoring that one remembers from the Robert Wise film is rushed through here by Mr Chan and does not allow the tragedy to pierce the audience's consciousness about the futility of violence. (The speedy tempo hiding the weakness of the company's acting skills?)
If you have never seen WEST SIDE STORY this near faithful revival of the original work, led by Mr McKneely, will still impress you, for this is a theatre work that is up there as one of the greats. Its greatness lies with the inviolable vision of the four creators. If you have seen it and love it from before you may be underwhelmed. (All I can add is, there were no flying LED screens to distract us from the stage. What a relief that was - see my review of WHITELY and ANNA BOLENA!)
|Photo by Robert Catto|
RAINBOW'S END, is a play by Jane Harrison, author of STOLEN (1998). Both of these plays have become part of the school HSC syllabus. RAINBOW'S END, written in 2005, is an evocation of the lives of three generations of First Nation's women: the Yorta Yorta nation, in the 1950's, in the Northern Victoria region of Sheparton and Mooroopna, on the banks of the Goulburn River. It is the gentle and tender telling of some social studies indigenous history. The history of the women seeking justice by voicing the need for better housing for their families, and finding that power through the opportunity of better education.
Nan Dear (Lily Shearer), the matriarch of the family, holds firmly to the status quo, fearing the loss of all if the family become to conspicuous in their seeking better conditions. Her Daughter, Gladys (Dalara Williams), a highly intelligent and ambitious woman, handicapped with a lack of a proper education (she cannot read or write) pursues the rights of her family and attempts to guide her daughter, Dolly (Phoebe Grainer), to opportunities that will give her agency for self-realisation. Amidst the action of the narrative we meet, the deadening effects of the wilfully ignorant, racist government representatives, all inhabited by Frederick Copperwaite. As well, a young white salesman, Errol, played by Lincoln Vickery, who falls in love with Dolly, that adds complication (serious and amusing) to the situation.
The dramaturgy of the writing of the play, by Jane Harrison, is anachronistic in formula and style. It is as if it were written in the 1950's, with short linear scenes of naturalistic action, that are handled by the Director, Liza-Mare Syron, in an unimaginative period style, in a dated design approach by Melanie Liertz, that causes an unbearable number of entrances and exits up and down a series of platforms, partly decorated by trees, lit empathetically by Karen Norris. The play and Direction reminded me, much, of the Clare Watson clumsiness in the current production of The Torrents for the Sydney Theatre Company - an actual play written in 1955.
The acting is also handicapped with a wide variation of ability, from a superficial ownership of character from Ms Williams and Grainer - mostly, simply, mouthing the textual responsibilities, to a tentative line dropping and 'cardboard' ownership by Ms Shearer in the pivotal role of Nan Dear. It is a very curious experience in a contemporary theatre and is at tremendous variance to the recent Sydney Festival production by Ms Syron and the Moogahlin Performing Arts Company of THE WEEKEND, by Henrietta Baird.
RAINBOW'S END is interesting for the telling of a very important social history, and a friend recently becoming an Australian citizen and ignorant of most of Australia's social history found the experience educational, but the formula created by the writer is so old fashioned that it hardly merits attention, except as museum theatre, from regular theatre goers.
Up at the SBW Stables Theatre now is a very important and passionate contemporary First Nations play by Meyne Wyatt: CITY OF GOLD (not to be missed). THE WEEKEND, THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS,and some of the output of Nakkai Lui represents the present maturity of Indigenous theatre writing and production now, and this contribution by RAINBOW'S END, to the conversation in contemporary times feels very oddly dated.
|Photo by Brett Boardman|
Belvoir Theatre present LIFE OF GALILEO, by Bertolt Brecht, adapted by Tom Wright, in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, Surry Hills. 3rd August - 15 September.
LIFE OF GALILEO, by Bertolt Brecht has been adapted by Tom Wright for this present Belvoir Theatre production. My introduction to the Galileo play was through the British translation into English by John Willlett. It was this that I first read as an acting student years ago, and re-read before seeing this production, along with the translation that Brecht had worked with the actor Charles Laughton that premiered in Los Angeles in 1947. Brecht had exiled himself from Nazi Germany with the rise to power of Adolph Hitler, and while in Switzerland began working on this play between 1937-39, it having its premiere in Zurich, in 1943. He moved further to the United States ending in Los Angeles during the war.
The new adaptation by Mr Wright was a fairly interesting one in comparison and had, I thought, a respectful approach that con-temporised the play without straining to making too obvious an Australianising that, for me, blighted his work on the Sydney Theatre Company production of THE RESISITABLE RISE OF ARTURO UI last year.
The Director, Eamon Flack in his program notes tells us:
... why the LIFE OF GALILEO is such a formidable work: it knows what it is talking about, it knows about exile and cunning; it knows about truth and lies; it knows about compromise and ideology; it knows about the beauty and exhilaration of thought; it knows about the corruptibility of human knowledge; and it knows about the species' unique capacity for destruction. ...Colin Friels tackles the formidable challenge of Galileo in this production and has a clear-eyed handle on the arguments and compromises of his man, and manages to manoeuvre us, the audience, through the intellectual journey with clarity and alacrity. Mr Friels manages to keep us all engaged with the playwright's interests and he provokes a thought stimulation from us leavened with wit and a basic humanity that appears to be thrilled and humbled by thinking that lead to discoveries, that is pained by the compromises and feints that one may have to make to be able to continue to contribute to the progress of man, despite the tidal force intent from the authorities that ignores proof so as to be able to maintain the status quo and hold onto power.
The other eight actors play multiple roles, and in this production modishly shift gender - at least from male character for female inhabitation (none the other way round): Laura McDonald, Peter Carroll, Miranda Parker, Damien Ryan, Damien Strouthos, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Sonia Todd and Rajan Velu. Usually the play is cast with eighteen actors and possibly, extras, to tell this story in the Brechtian Epic Theatre style. With this minimalist production there is a general competency of clarity with arresting work from all, but especially from Ms Todd, in a gender swap role as the Vice Chancellor; Mr Strouthos, as Ludovico; and Peter Carroll in a number of scene stealing opportunities with a special relish in the famous dressing of the Pope sequence (a debt seems to be owed to the 2016-17 television series THE YOUNG POPE, Created and Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, starring Jude Law, courtesy of the input in this Belvoir instance, by choreographer, Kate Champion and the music scoring by Jethro Woodward.)
Belvoir has brought back the theatre in the round mode that we saw earlier in the year with the EVERY BRILLIANT THING play production, Designed, in this case, by Zoe Atkinson. Ms Atkinson also Designed the post-modernist contemporary mix of costume for the actors. In adopting this mode the production is minimised and feels as if it were a kind of Reader's Digest 'lesson', lacking the scale and impact of an Epic Power and energy, that one may see in the Berliner Ensemble Theatre, for instance.
(In a few weekends time I am attending a concert given by The Metropolitan Orchestra of Mahler's enormous Fifth Symphony with eighty musicians. Watching this production of LIFE OF GALILEO is a bit like what I would imagine the effect would be if the orchestra in the Eugene Goossens Hall were reduced to thirty instruments: a diminishment in power!)
The content of Brecht's LIFE OF GALILEO is powerful in its current relevancy and in this production elucidated with marvellous skill by Colin Friels who gives an intellectual clarity to the density of thought and situation of the play. Two reasons to see the production, perhaps.