Thursday, January 10, 2019


Sydney Festival presents, HOME, Created by Geoff Sobelle, at The Roslyn Packer Theatre, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. 9th- 18th January.

HOME is a work that was created by Geoff Sobelle through workshops and residencies in four American institutions: MANA Contemporary (Jersey City, NJ), BRIC Art House (Brooklyn, NY), Pennsylvania State University (State College, PA), and ArtsEmerson (Boston, Philadelphia). HOME premiered at the 2017 Fringe Festival (Philadelphia) and has been travelling the International Festival Circuit since, including the Edinburgh Festival, the Brisbane Festival and a stint in New Zealand. Now in Sydney.

A group of seven actors led by Geoff Sobelle (who, also, is a performer), Directed by Lee Sunday Evans, with Scenic Designer, Steven Dufala and Song Composer (and performer) Elvis Perkins, present 'a magical meditation on the meaning of home: What makes a house a home?'

Beginning on an empty stage, an actor enters from the audience, wanders across the stage and sets up some industrial lighting equipment to assist him in a construction of a three framed wall for a house. Once standing he slides it sideways to reveal a small bedroom 'house' that through illusion becomes occupied by a number of different people. That house disappears and a two story multi-roomed apartment house appears in its place. It, too, becomes occupied by many different people, not related, who go through the rituals of living - sleeping, showering, peeing-shitting, cooking, cleaning, washing, reading, writing, etc - in this domestic environ. Over time the decoration of the house is altered and grows and we are invited to watch the usual cultural benchmarks of the urban citizen marked, those that intrude from birth to death. The seven actors play multi-characters demarcated through swift change costume. There is no text, just well-timed choreography. This house becomes a home, with the simple magic of this company before our gently 'bewitched' eyes.

This house becomes a home, even more so, when it becomes occupied by members of the audience, at the invitation and coaching of the company, to partake in those usual celebrations of life. The audience members are given 'silent' (whispered) instructions that gives them roles and functions in the complex scenography of this theatre event. The magic is that these 10 or 20 people (no kidding) become 'real' within the action of the unfolding of the theatrical strategy with the actual performers: they bring bottles of wine, presents, they participate in many different recognisable scenes in the life of the contemporary audience: dancing, celebrating (even a same  sex wedding - the audience applauded), loving, quarrelling. The passing of time is registered through the appearance of the great landmarks of urban living, a baby is celebrated, a later birthday celebrated, and even the Grim Reaper joins in so that a wake is, too, celebrated. The costume changing is immense and subtle in its weltering confusions.

Further, the party spills out into the auditorium with the spreading of light decoration across the whole theatre space through the manual manipulation of the seated audience, we even sing a happy Birthday to one of the audience 'players', Jo. Surreally, two members of the recruited 'actors' are sat at tables with micro-phones and are invited to vocally reminisce about their own childhood homes, both at the same time, while other events of 'mimed' human-interaction continues about them. It's a deliriously joyful wonder when a four piece band appears on stage and joins the mayhem as the climax of this organised chaos. Magically, there is a gentle descent into the aftermath of a party with the leaving of the guests and, poignantly, the house is emptied of all its human occupiers and in the closing minutes of the performance a deserted and abandoned house with flapping plastic sheets ghosting in the space, signals, perhaps, calamitously, the urban blight, detritus, of the human animal on the landscape. The wilful abandonment of human constructs across the earth. When as a species we are extinct will this be our gift to what follows? One comes to understand the temporal life of the animal in the face of nature as the Darwinian Theories, perforce, move on through time. Nature always survives, in one manner or another.

Elements of Simon Schama's 1995 book: LANDSCAPE AND MEMORY, wafted through my experience consciousness. Recently moving home I have wondered who else has lived in these new walls I am now occupying. The layers of their presence present, the 'ghosts' shifting through these spaces in the fascination of the "TIME" theories, I have read of- "string theory etc". The archaeological stratums of the great cities of Rome or Istanbul with the revelation of the construct of the many houses, one on top of the first, of the second of the ... through the thousand of years of human occupation, as these cities seek to build (mundanely) an underground transport system, crept into my thinking as I watched. We are told that "Geoff Sobelle created HOME after discovering different layers of kitchen floor, each laid by different residents, in his 100-year-old house." Imaginatively, then, escalate our species' history-impact on the planet, from that kitchen linoleum, to the haunting of the abandoned cities of past civilisations across the world, even of the relatively recent Chernobyl landscape.

Inspired by that ordinary discovery of the layers of linoleum on a kitchen floor this company has created a meditative piece that is a delight not only in its philosophical surprises but humorously, dramatically, through the conjuring magic of the manner of its audience inclusion-in-action to invent this world. Sophisticated illusion-magic in many hues transports the audience into a surrender to a delirious indulgence of delight, that may also conjure a spirit of insight and warning.

This is a Festival event for all the family.

Geoff Sobelle's HOME hits home, at many levels. It certainly did for me.

Do Go.

Since Ali Died

Griffin Theatre Company in association with Sydney Festival and Riverside Theatres present, SINCE ALI DIED, Written and Performed by Omar Musa, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Nimrod St, Darlinghurst. 8-19 January.

Rapper, Poet and Award Winning Author is Omar Musa.

In this memoir monologue performance he is a brown man in a black country talking to, mostly, white people, about how he has felt - feels - stigmatised as being 'unAustralian' for most of his life.

SINCE ALI DIED is a Memoir Monologue, originating from a young man who has a Muslim Malaysian father (Borneo) and a white Australian mother (European - Dutch origin) who grew up within the reaches of Queanbeyan, a small, country city not too far from Canberra , the Australian capital. Written in poetry and rap song rhythms, in it we meet characters that have had meaning in his life: Muhammad Ali, Omar's father and mother, Danny, his best mate, and Jamilla, a girl capable of awakening a passion that startles and confounds him.

This is my second experience of this work, the first being at it's premiere season, also at Griffin, in 2018. SEDUCTION is the word that dominates my feelings.

Firstly, seduction by the sheer physical presence of a performer that has a charismatic, magnetic charm that is beautiful, tender, raw and gritty. A voice of resonant sounds and eyes that tell of communicative trust. The work seems to be fuelled by anger in search of redemption, not just for himself, but especially for others of his 'world'. It has an anger and a melancholy, and an intelligence sifted by the fine netted lines of life experience and formal education to a vulnerable compassion for the human condition, that embraces the marginalised, and attempts to bring them into the realm of consciousness for the other, bigger world to understand, by looking at the 'dark heart of things' that occupy the flailing human lost - what some may call 'losers'.

Secondly, seduction by a language usage that has a mellifluous texture of deeply considered choice that reveals and exposes a love of country and people that makes one weep at its beauty and aptness. Words, language, that has a simple sophistication that reveal the contemporary Australian landscape, persona and temper in a way that quietly supersedes all the past imagery delivered to me by other poets - past and present - reflecting on what it is to be an Australian in the natural and political landscape that has been, is, essentially hostile to his presence. A truthful, young voice emanating up from a multi-cultural crucible of hard living and observation that I recognise as an authentic voice, whether it is rendered in pure poetry or in the world, international rhythms of the hip hop, rap slam poet. It is ecstatically wonderful and sometimes unbearably incendiary.

SINCE ALI DIED is a performance memoir that wants you to understand and so sits for too long in the acceptable zone of relative non-offence as a soft confrontation - he does not wish to alienate you in any way. Omar Musa's 2014 novel: HERE COME THE DOGS goes deeper into the 'dark', and with its flaws takes us into the dark night of a soul, that has one fearing and anxious for its survival. If performance work in the theatre is going to be a continuing source of 'reaching out' from Mr Musa, then it needs to be braver in revealing the truths of what he knows. It needs more risk, the risk that great artists take when they feel the impulse to write and reflect the world that they know for the others, that ought, need, to know of it. All artists are 'possessed' and are held, always, in a titanic grip of the need to express itself, a grip that squeezes the artist tightly, and causes pain, but it is a pain that can be cathartic and redemptive for the writer and for his audience - it is too, necessarily addictive. All the great writers suffer to create for us less blessed souls.

I have been in awe of Mr Musa's gifts and have been an advocate to encourage you to witness this artist and hear his gifts. SINCE ALI DIED, in my second experience was a less emotional experience but still as mesmerising, as seductive in his radiant presence and in his sublime use of contemporary Australian language and modes. You will not go unrewarded - DO GO and encourage him to persevere with the challenge of his gifts. We need them and him.

The work, this time, has a guest artist: vocalist, Sarah Corry, and is Directed by Anthea Williams.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Looking back on 2018

A good year in the theatre - 2018. Not too traumatic. Many rewards.

1. New Australian Writing I liked a lot:

MOTHER, by Daniel Keene, at the Belvoir Upstairs. Play has been around - first time in Sydney - one woman piece.
BURIED, by Xavier Coy, at the Old 505. Two new one act plays of promise by a new writer. Also, well performed.
SINCE ALI DIED, by Omar Musa, as part of the Bach Festival at the Griffin. Memoir Monologue written and performed by Award-winning Slam-Poet, Omar Musa. It is having a return season at Griffin in January. Highly recommend.
HOME INVASION, by Christopher Bryant, at the Old 505. What an excitement rush!
THE SUGAR HOUSE, by Alana Valentine, at the Belvoir Upstairs. Gorgeous, old-faashioned form with a true beating heart. Beautifully owned by the actors and other collaborators.
LOVE AND ANGER, by 'Betty Grumble'. A subversive political work, written and performed by 'Betty Grumble' that was part of the Bach Festival at the Griffin. It is outrageously fearless and from an artist who is not afraid to say it how it is. It, too, is having a return season at the Griffin late January. DO NOT MISS.
THEY DIVIDED THE SKY, by David Schlusser, based on a novel by Christa Wolf at the Belvoir Downstairs. A Melbourne visiting company, with the stylistic conceits of this company obviously front and centre.
AIR, by Joanna Erskine, at the Old 505. A marvellous play about Grief - funny and moving. Should be seen in a bigger venue.
LOST BOYS, by Lachlan Philpott, at the Merrigong Theatre, Wollongong. A new work commissioned by the Merrigong Theatre, from Lachlan Philpott, concerning the Murders of Gay Men at Bondi. This MUST be seen again in Sydney. Why isn't it?
MUM, Me and the IED, by James Balian and Roger Vickery, at The Depot Theatre, Marrickville. An urgent, important, play concerning the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and our returning soldiers and the wider community. (I Directed this work through some 28 drafts! Dramaturge was Katie Pollock, the recent recipient of the SBW Writer's Grant, for 2018).
THE HARP IN THE SOUTH, by Kate Mulvany, adapted from the three Ruth Park novels, for the Sydney Theatre Company, at the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Two full length plays, cherry-picking from the novels to create an impressive journey of some of Australia's suburban heritage post-war. A monumental production.
THE MISANTHROPE, an adaptation by Justin Fleming, of a play by Moliere, for the Griffin and Bell Shakespeare, in the Playhouse Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. Wickedly wicked and cleverly re-shaped for an Australian contemporary audience. This is not the first Justin Fleming inspiration via Moliere.
DEGENERATE ART, by Toby Schmitz, at the Old Fitz Theatre. A play fancifying, cogitating, about Hitler and his Henchman. I have no idea if this is a good play or not, but, it was certainly an experience, that without the enterprise of Red Line at the Old Fitz, and its vision to produce it, we may not otherwise have had - it was worth the 'pain'.
EAR TO THE EDGE OF TIME, by Alana Valentine, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre. Science and Art - a striking play of ideas and politics. An international prize-winning play having its first production in Australia.Why haven't we seen it before this year? Weird!!!
THE FEATHER IN THE WEB, by Nick Coyle, at the Griffin Theatre. A dark comic sensibility glaring a gaze at contemporary life.
BLAME TRAFFIC, by Michael Andrew Collins, at the Old 505. Clever writing by a young writer.

2. Other plays that I was really glad to have seen this year:

BROKEN GLASS, presented by Mooghalin Performing Arts and Blacktown Arts Centre. Installation and Performance piece. A spiritual transformation for all who saw it. Lily Shearer, Lise-mare Syron, Andrea James - an insight into the psyches and histories of some of our Indigenous sisters.
THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR, from the Wooster Group, as part of the Sydney Festival. Thought provoking stuff, as well as witty and provocative in its form and performances. A true Art Festival event in the sense that it extended its audience beyond its more usual experiences in the theatre.
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and THE WILD PARTY, two musicals presented by a little company called Little Triangle - both shows had negatives but so many really performance positives.
THE CHILDREN, by Lucy Kirkwood. This British writer is so good and important.
THE FLICK, by Annie Baker. One of the incredible American writers completely ignored by the STC and Belvoir. JOHN, is to be seen at the Seymour Centre in 2019.
Ab [intra], a Dance work from the Sydney Dance Company, Choreography, by Rafael Bonachela, Music by Nick Wales, Design by David Fleischer, Lighting by Damien Cooper - sensational!
REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN, by Alice Birch. An amazing play in a botched production. Another of her plays: ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE, is to be seen next year at the Old Fitz.
STUPID FUCKING BIRD, by Aaron Posner. An American playwright giving us a startling but affectionate adaptation of the SEAGULL. A sometimes indulgent production at the Amateur Theatre the New Theatre, in Newtown, punching way above its weight - though one should, always, keep an eye on what they are showing: there can be rewards.
THE ROLLING STONE, by Chris Urch. A British play that was a traumatic, devastating experience in the theatre. The company of actors uniformly terrific.
CALAMITY JANE - the musical shake-up that we saw last year at The Hayes. Still rambunctious in its definite affection for the work and the genre, as part of the Belvoir Season.
THE HUMANS, by Stephen Karam. Another great American contemporary work ignored by the STC and Belvoir. Why, oh why? With only six actors - the bean counters of both companies ought to have jumped at its contemporary content as part of their seasons.
JERSEY BOYS - the second revival of this glorious juke box musical. A masterclass of its kind.
YEN, by Anna Jordan. A British play of great angst.

3. Performances I cherished:

Noni Hazelhurst in the one person monologue, MOTHER, by Daniel Keene.
Hugo Weaving giving a tour-de-force in THE RESISTABLE RISE OF ARTURO UI, despite the Directorial camera distraction, and a rambling adaptation of a great work by Bertolt Brecht.
Kate Cheel and Morgan Maguire creating amazing work in HOME INVASION - a new Australian work.
Emily Barclay - in a one person monologue, LETHAL INDIFFERENCE.
Omar Musa, in his own memoir monologue SINCE ALI DIED.
Mia Lethbridge and Justin Amankwah in THE FLICK.
Tony Sheldon, as Bernadette, as fresh as daisy, in the revival of PRICILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT.
Kris McQuade, infinitely subtle and powerful; Sheridan Harbridge having been given a challenge, at last, pulled it off, in THE SUGAR HOUSE.
'Betty Grumble' in her one woman political provocation LOVE AND ANGER.
Stephen Phillips and Niki Shields in a Melbourne show THEY DIVIDED THE SKY.
Eloise Snape, in remarkable form in AIR.
Sarah Snook, as SAINT JOAN, in the Performance of the YEAR.
Taylor Ferguson triumphing as Jo in a botched (and unnecessary) production of A TASTE OF HONEY.
Elijah Williams, an amazingly sustained performance in THE ROLLING STONE.
Virginnia Gay and Shedian Harbridge being 'naughty' together for our benefit in the touring production of CALAMITY JANE.
Melissa Jaffer, making a spectacular, and relatively overlooked return in THE LONG FORGOTTEN DREAM, by H. Lawrence Sumner.
Ella Scott-Lynch, focused brilliance in many characters in KING OF PIGS, by Steve Rogers.
Heather Mitchell, giving a 'lesson' of bravura acting in THE HARP IN THE SOUTH, as Grandma.
Guy Simon, for his double act in THE HARP IN THE SOUTH. Subtle, detailed and full of compassion - no histrionics can be seen - an actor's actor.
Georgie Parker, in LUNA GALE.
Diana McLean, giving wonderful performances in AIR and, especially, THE HUMANS.
Ryan Gonzalez, in the musicals, IN THE HEIGHTS and JERSEY BOYS.
Ben Gerrard, pulling it off in cheeky, incisive, style as Cymbeline in THE MISANTHROPE.
Belinda Giblin and Gabrielle Scawthorn, both fiercely engaged in EAR TO THE EDGE OF TIME.
Kate Mulvany as Dr Katherine Stockman in AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.
Michelle Lee Davidson and Tina Bursill giving their all in THE FEATHER IN THE WEB.
Lyn Pierse, in LIE WITH ME, a newly devised work. Amazing commitment and dedication in a difficult exploration of bewildered grief and guilt.
Jeremi Campese and Ryan Hodson in YEN. Heartbreaking.
Jamie Oxenbould in EURYDICE, as brilliantly clever, as always!
Phillipe Klaus in MUM, ME and the IED.

4. Other Artists:
Designers, Isabel Hudson, Michael Hankin.
Sound Artist, Ben Pierpoint.
Directors, Alexander Berlage, Anthea Williams, Sarah Goodes.

I Directed MUM, ME and the IED, at The Depot, with a company of actors that I should like to acknowledge: Elaine Hudson, Martin Harper, Josh Shediak, Matilda Brodie and Phillipe Klaus, who worked tirelessly and generously with the writers, James Balian and Roger Vickery.

New Seasons - 2019 in the Independent scene

This is not a blog concerning a Performance. This concerns the plans for two theatres in the Independent circuit in Sydney. On Sunday 25th November and 2nd December I attended the launch of two 2019 Seasons. It was quite a pleasure to see, at both, a majority of young artists and their supporters, present.

I just thought to remark on the foresight and enterprise of LIMELIGHT ON OXFORD and THE KINGS CROSS THEATRE (bAKEHOUSE). Both organisations have planned 2019 with a generous sense of the development of the young artists in this city by giving the opportunity to create and produce work in their spaces. (One needs to note that both organisations have included the more experienced as well.)

LIMELIGHT ON OXFORD have afforded 20 Productions, scattered throughout its three storey building, and THE KINGS CROSS THEATRE with bAKEHOUSE have a similar number scattered in different venues inside that building. Julie Baz and David Jeffrey of LIMELIGHT ON OXFORD, and Suzanne Millar and John Harrison of bAKEHOUSE with the management of the Kings Cross Hotel, are not only giving space for the artists but, also, are keen in developing an audience of the young for the theatre. They, both, are providing a full night out with Theatre, Food and Drinks available - both venues hoping to create Artistic Hubs and Centres for a 'hotbed' of excitement in craft and hopefully art intensities.

Check out both their web-sites it could be an exciting and very risky time.

Congratulations to both organisations. Good Luck.

P.S. Red Line at the Old Fitz are also promoting a very exciting 2019.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Crime and Punishment

Photo by Claire Hawley

Secret House and Limelight On Oxford present CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, adapted for the stage by Chris Hannan, based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, at the Limelight on Oxford, 231 Oxford St, Darlinghurst. 12- 22nd December.

First, let us say that all great experiences in the theatre are, mostly, projected from the conceptional and evidential contribution of the Writer. This theatre work is adapted by Chris Hannan from the novel CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) is regarded as one of the Great Novelists, that reputation based, principally, on CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (1866), THE IDIOT (1869), DEMONS, sometimes known as THE DEVILS (1872) and THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (1880).

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is recognised as one of the great books. I read it as a very young man - an essential text for any actor to know, I have often recommended it to actor friends and students - and the psychology of a murderer and his subsequent guilt is so traumatically detailed, that friends of mine would not invite me to 'parties' if I had read that book that day - I was usually so existentially depressed - stimulated - by it. (Although this is not my favourite book of his, THE IDIOT, has always trumped it, and I confess, I have never finished THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.) So this theatre experience begins promisingly with its source material. Add, a truly smart adaption by writer, Chris Hannan, prize-winning playwright and novelist, first presented in 2013, and a very rewarding night could follow.

Dostoyevsky lived in the middle of the nineteenth century and had a powerful foundational belief in the Russian religious Orthodoxy - the gospels of Christ central to his behaviour. He was a man, because of his experiences in the political, social and spiritual atmospheres of hie time in Russia, influenced, as well, by the writers of the period: Dickens, Balzac, Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy and the great Thinkers of the period: amongst whom Herzen, Kant, Belinsky, Hegel, Bakunin stand out. His actual life was, as Lady Bracknell might say was "Crowded with incident", and when one explores the biography of the man, it certainly is, and that coupled with his crowded 'mindful' life makes for the genius of his work for the edification of his alert heirs on this planet - he, purportedly, was a great influence on the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Satre.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, causes some to regard Dostoyevsky to have the reputation as the "greatest psychologist in world literature". And, certainly, it is that aspect of the novel that has remained indelibly affective in my memory. So, it was a surprise to find Chris Hannan's adaptation to be more arrested with the highlighting of the internal battle that the young murderer, Raskolnikov (Dostoyevsky) has between his religious inclinations and the influences of the contemporary philosophical modes. It was what has made Dostoyevsky to be, possibly, identified as a believer, a Christian Socialist.

Many Christian Socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in greed, and a mortal sin. They identify the cause of all inequality to be the greed that they associate with capitalism. So, in a conflict of need, hunger and social humiliation, after dealings with the ruthless and rapacious pawn broker, Alonya, Raskolinokov, a poor struggling law student, reasons that the murder of her, would be no crime, balanced against the collective good he could do with the ransacking of her 'fortune' and spreading it to do good deeds for his fellow sufferers: "Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute' - this murderous deed will be deemed 'justice' and the act of a 'righteous' man, he convinces himself. Too bad, then, that there is, as well, another victim, the hapless Nastasya, the sister of Alonya, who witnesses the original murder. Raskolnikov has much philosophical angst to struggle with in the aftermath of his Crime - it is his Punishment.

This text by Chris Hannan, is surprisingly witty, and full of the cynicism and refracted observations (they can be interpreted as a kind of sarcasm-savage, as well) of a sufferer of the time and government of Dostoyevsky's Russia that are still, tragically, startlingly,  relevant to the world that we are centred in today. The text is full of human, comic observations that become quotable aphorisms from the various characters of the play, and is underpinned by the narrative thrust of the psychological disintegration of the 'hero' of the story under the pressure of the jousts he has with the new modern Detective Porfiry Petrovich (his close observational methods predicative of the approach of the psychologists (known, then, as Alienists). THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1841) and THE TELL-TALE HEART (1843), both by Edgar Allan Poe, resonates in this psychological employment, too. (N.B. The Director, Mr Skuse, made adjustments and re-wrote sections of the play in the production we saw).

This play provides an extraordinary provocative night. Rare in Sydney theatre going, generally, and even rarer at this time of the year - the Time of Goodwill: Christmas. It is a pity that the consciousness of the Time of Goodwill is not at all times. Too much to ask, I guess, in this materialistic world and its valued value systems.

I, also, saw during this week Tarkovsky's film SOLARIS (1972) - another Russian creation - at the Art Gallery of NSW, and took away much philosophical provocation, the most memorable for me being: "In the pursuit of TRUTH we become burdened with KNOWLEDGE" - that's, a paraphrase. This Russian link of intellectual interrogation of the meaning of existence in 'literature' of all kinds, strikes me profoundly, especially, when I remember most of the content concerns of my own culture in the Australian Theatre this year.

To go back to my beginning, the writing, then, of Mr Hannan's adaptation of Dostoyevsky's great novel is up to par and worth the time spent with them both in the new LIMELIGHT space on Oxford.

Anthony Skuse with production company, Secret House, have taken on this production and they have assembled a company of young collaborators that give, mostly, a fine disciplined and insightful reading of the opportunities that are provided by these two writers. Jane Angharad, Hannah Barlow, Tim Kemp, Phillippe Klaus, Beth McMullen, Madeline Miller, James Smithers, Shan-Ree Tan, Charles Upton, and Natasha Vickery.

The company is young and they may not all have the life or proper imaginative resources (particularly having, mostly, been brought up in this relatively 'lucky' country') to truly resonate the given circumstances of the world of Dostoyevsky's desperation. The Set Design (and costume), by Mr Skuse, is also a distraction - a pretty one - giving an Art Directed glow of comfort for the events of the play (think of the recent film BROOKLYN [2015]), which, instead, really needs to have the stench of the poverty and the crushing social conditions of the world to light us to the reality of these people, for us to be able to understand the behaviour we witness lucidly. The world of this play reminds one of the demands of Maxim Gorky's THE LOWER DEPTHS (1901). A visit to the Matthew Talbot environs down in Woolloomooloo, might anchor it better, for us, than the beautiful solution we have on this stage. The Lighting, by Martin Kinnane, is impressive in its atmospheric shiftings and in its service to the 'arty' aesthetics of his Director, but one wished that the shift from the stage lighting to serviceable fluorescent was not so overt in its indicating. This is true, as well, with the opposing 'poetics' of some of the music scoring, also, Mr Skuse's responsibility - e.g. Church music layered over moments of human degradation - this play, this novel, needs less Directorial aesthetic conceits and, rather, more gutter-truths of the human condition that Dostoyevsky is struggling to illuminate - which is still a contemporary issue.

Phillipe Klaus (Porfiry/Marmeladov), Charles Upton (Luzhin, especially his Skabichevsky, Lebezyatnikov), James Smithers (Raskolnikov), Jane Angharad (Dunya) strike, more often than not, the intellectual and vocal resonances of the writer's worlds, to make markers for the audience to identify accurately with. Given time, the rest of this young company may, too, settle further into the worldly confidences of the playwright. Some of the actors still seemed to be grappling with the trajectory of keeping the story afloat at its vertiginous speed of events and the number of characters, without fully experiencing, identifying, the piercing philosophical truths of what they were saying, or, in the immersion with the symmetrical patterns of incident and character of the events and people in the story - the skills of the source writer, Dostotevsky. There was, sometimes, not enough 'interior' life going-on and a touch too much externalising 'melodrama'.

With all my carping (and it is purely a personal bias) this production of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT adapted from this great novel is absolutely worth seeing. It is a very brief season, so make an effort if you like your theatre to be 'intelligent', as well as an entertainment, for you will be rewarded.

It is a gift at Christmas that will stay with you for some time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

All My Sleep and Waking

Apocalypse Theatre Company presents ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING, by Mary Rachel Brown, at the Old 505, Eliza Street, Newtown. 28 November - 22 December.

ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING, was an early play (first?), written by Mary Rachel Brown, first performed in 2002 in a 55 minute one act version, that has had recent and further development with Mentor/Director, Dino Dimitriades, of the Apocalypse Theatre Company.

Three siblings, Maria (Angela Bauer), Anne (Di Adams) and Peter (Richard Sydenham) await - with Anne's son, Josh (Alex Beauman) - the passing of their father from a longterm illness - we never meet the father figure. Each of the siblings have weathered his abusive and difficult influence as a sole parent - their mother died when they were young - in different manners. Maria elected to stay in the family home and care for him, Anne fled and refused to have any connection with him (for years), and Peter has found himself bereft and lost in the life that he exists in.

ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING, is a pointilliste portrait of each member of a family built up with details of character and by the interactions between each in numerous scenes revealing the 'spots' of behaviour with which each is burdened that, apparently, they will never be able to change. There is much dexterous observation in the writing and some humour in this portraiture of Mary Rachel Brown's, and, occasionally, a reach of poetic simile - the fish and the aquarium. There is, however, on the other hand, little dramatic narrative development from those same scenes - the play stays relatively static in its unwinding - the movement of narrative does not cover much ground. The sisters quarrel, the brother remains steadfastly dazed, bewildered, and the young man pointlessly attempts to be an interrupter/circuit breaker, a voice of sanity and placation, to the 'bad' behaviour of his elders. (What influences created such a positive, stable person, is a mystery. His mother, Anne, seems so unforgivably angry.)

The performances are astute and expressed with subtle nuance, and mostly moved by Mr Dimitriades with skill around a fairly unimaginative (budget restricted?) setting (Maria Keys) of working class decay - the usual environs of Ms Brown's concerns. The Lighting from Alexander Berlage exposes the Design, unpityingly, while there is some distraction provided by the reliable work of the Sound Designer, Ben Pierpoint.

ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING, is more an exercise in character reveal than in storytelling. Anton Chekhov, and contemporaneously, Annie Baker, achieved both in their plays: character reveal and narrative trajectory.

The Laramie Project

Theatre Travels presents THE LARAMIE PROJECT and THE LARAMIE PROJECT: 10, by Moises Kaufman and Members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, City Rd, Chippendale. 28th November - 8th December.

A new theatre company, Theatre Travels, for its opening foray into the Sydney scene, has tackled THE LARAMIE PROJECT, and its sequel, THE LARAMIE PROJECT: 10. Two plays and nearly five hours in the theatre. It seems to be a season of 'marathon' experiences, what with the Sydney Theatre Company's (STC) recent THE HARP IN THE SOUTH and the Ensemble's production of the trilogy of Alan Ayckbourn's THE NORMAN CONQUESTS.

Both THE LARAMIE PROJECT investigations reveal themselves as still potently powerful experiences in the theatre - the first play is now 20 years old. Moises Kaufman led the Tectonic Theatre Company with GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE, in 1997. (I saw that first production off-off-Broadway before its shift to a national and international play of importance).The company researches, and in the case of THE LARAMIE PROJECTs, interview, to build a verbatim script, massaged to produce an insightful and incisive experience in the theatre. THE LARAMIE PROJECT canon concerns itself with the University of Wyoming gay student's torture and murder: Matthew Shepard - a crime that became an international provocation of the Hate Crime.

This young company: John Michael Burdon, Laura Djanegara, Andrew Hofman, Francisco Lopez, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Matthew Pritchard, Dominique Purdue, Emily Richardson and Charlotte Tilelli acquit themselves with dedicated commitment that illuminate the stories with a freshness and decided detachment that prevents any sentimentality from staining the shocking and provocative political tenor of the material. The two Director's Carly Fisher and Rosie Niven have prepared themselves well (even a visit to Laramie itself) and have chosen a company of fellow collaborators that serve the projects effortlessly. 5 hours of material with 9 actors to play some 75 characters, requires some real foresight - it is no small achievement.

They are assisted mightily with a beautiful but also pragmatic Set Design by Dave Angelico, that facilitates all the necessary changes of location and costume changes, under the care of Adrienne Dell. Martin Kinnane, has a challenging task in supporting the narrative with its many shifts and emotional states, with an intricately successful Design for the Lighting. Too, Hamish Stening, makes a sterling contribution with his Sound Design.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT duo, are important works and are as relevant today as they were then, and as pertinent to the Australian experience as it is to the American one, today. I urge those who have never seen these two works to find a way to capture them - if not both, then certainly, the first (although your curiosity will certainly encourage you to see the other as well).

The Reginald Theatre experience gives the Theatre Travels company an auspicious and ambitious debut. It is a brief season, so go Now.

P.S. Unfortunately, this new company follows the behaviour of the  practice of many of the Sydney Theatres in not acknowledging the writer, Moises Kaufman, and in this case Tectonic Theatre, in their program notes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Photo by Marnya Rothe

Mad March Hare Theatre Co. in association with Red Line Productions presents, EURYDICE, by Sarah Ruhl, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. 15th November - 15th December.

The Greek myth has Orpheus enter the underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, under the admonition that he must not look at her, trusting that she is following. He looks back and all is lost. Sarah Ruhl's 2003 play tells this myth through the experiences of Eurydice.

Eurydice, a lover of the power of language and words, falls into the underworld on her marriage day to the musician Orpheus, where she meets a stranger, her father. She has been dipped into the river Lethe and has no memory or any language. Her father against the advice of the Stones of the Underworld begins to re-teach her, whilst Orpheus attempts to contact her by writing and even, once, desperately, by telephoning. To no avail, so he inveigles a way to find entrance to the Underworld, and contacts Eurydice who then is tantalisingly torn between the two men in her life, her father and her husband. She calls to Orpheus. He turns and all is lost. He returns to the world to re-marry, and she to be dipped into the river Lethe and to remain dead to the world, laying beside a figure that could be her father.

Ms Ruhl, tells us that this play was written after the death of her own father and it allowed her to have further conversations with him. It reveals her need to sustain the love of her father whether or not it causes pain and longing in the pleasures and pain of memory. The play in elliptical style reveals the experience of grief and loss and the need to move on, to deny the urge to never let go.

The text of the play is full of language bafflements and poetic inclinations. But it is the freedom of the visual imagery in the design concepts that, together with that word power, that can elevate this play to a magical experience. It is encouraged by Sarah Ruhl. Isabel Hudson the Set, Costume and Puppet Designer, along with the technicolour Lighting effects created by Ben Brockman make a visual world that is both beautiful and transporting. The glue to enhancing this production is the Sound Design, by Ben Pierpoint, that is as intricate as it is apt, in supplying the aural stimulation to engage the imagination of the listener, the audience, into realms of fantastic places.

There has been some daring in the explorative Design choices of the Underworld characters, startlingly provocative but felicitous in result with the chorus of the Three Stones: Alex Malone (Big Stone), Ariadne Sgouros (Little Stone) and Megan Wilding (Loud Stone), popping up from beneath the earth they create a chorus of advice for Eurydice, that is harmonic and disciplined to perfection (What one longed for from the Chorus work in the present STC production of THE CHEERY SOUL), each with a kind of daemon persona represented in puppetry. Not so successful are the guises for the Lord of the Underworld (Nicholas Papademetriou) that are peculiar enough to distract from the content spoken, particularly on his return on scooter and a dinosaur mask perched on his shoulders.

The great performance is that of Jamie Oxenbould as Eurydice's Father - it is one of constant poignancy, full of emotional energies brimming with a love tinged by a yearning grief that escalates his desire to advise his daughter to be able to, against all odds, re-unite her with her husband Orpheus. His re-treat to the fate that Lethe gives out is as moving as his marriage walk with his daughter on his arm. Mr Oxenbould never disappoints.

Both, Ebony Vagulans (Eurydice) and Lincoln Vickery (Orpheus) create straight forward Australian ocker-youths - with a broad Aussie dialect that flattens the musical choices of language that Sarah Ruhl has so carefully manipulated for her re-visit to the classic Greek myths. The poetry of the text is both rhythmically and in the making of the sound values made to sound disjointed and anti-musical. One wonders whether the use of the American sound that the author wrote in would have escalated the experience of this play to its full potential. Though, to be frank, no-one uses the American rhythm. Mr Oxenbould uses educated Australian English, it has a heightened sound that lifts the language into another world of emotional depth transporting us into Ms Ruhl's poetic construct. The Three Stones take on an extreme educated Australian - almost high English - to successfully demarcate their responsibilities - it works for its crisp unusualness.

Ms Vagulans is full of her usual charm, personal identification and core energies in her work in making Eurydice. And, it does work, again. She even moves us with tears. But it is dangerously reminiscent of other work that we have seen from her - DIVING FOR PEARLS, FLIGHT PATHS and LUNA GALE - depending on her personal gifts and making them the principal source of her inspiration. She, staying with the easily reachable similarities to character to get by, with little imaginative delving into the differences of her opportunities in the variations of her characters that she has been able to explore for us, her audience. Her Eurydice hardly has the dimensions of the magical world that the Designers have surrounded her with - she has a literal comprehension and maybe not enough spiritual soul available for her Eurydice. This Eurydice is not much different from all of her other characterisations that she has given us.

Director Claudia Barrie and her artistic collaborators have thoughtfully sort a solution for this potently ethereal play and have created a puzzle, a mystery of experience for us in the theatre. A truly theatrical event. It was pleasurable time spent. Does it need to speed the tempo, so that we are left chasing all the ideas and the text, for sometimes there is a kind of 'spoon-feeding' tempo that begins to cause a slow-down, a pall, a disconnect, an exhaustion? I'd say trust your 'homework' and rip it through.

EURYDICE, very interesting - enjoyable.

P.S. After the curtain call the Three Stones produce a puppet and we are given a diverting performance of samples from pop song hits - some 5 or so minutes. It seemed gratuitous and, I reckon, harmful to the effect of the trance that the play production had woven about us. A vaudeville turn that really belongs in a cabaret program.

Cut it.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Overcoat

Photo by Clare Hawley

The Costi Siblings present, THE OVERCOAT - The Musical, based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol. Book and Lyrics, by Michael Costi. Music, by Rosemarie Costi. For the Belvoir 24A Program, in the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, Surry Hills. 15 November - 1st December.

THE OVERCOAT, is a new Australian work, a Musical, by Constantine, Michael and Rosemarie Costi, based on the Gogol short story of 1842. The literal translation used is by Alena Lodkina. Gogol seems to be the parent to a writer like Kafka and his more familiar concerns.

In this version of the story, Nikolai, an overworked and teased copy clerk, in the byzantine hive of status in the 19th mid-century Russian Civil Service in St Petersburg, becomes obsessed with the acquiring of a new overcoat - an overcoat that is beyond his means, but not beyond his want. In affording it, Nikolai experiences much deprivation, and, unfortunately, has it stolen, sending him into shock, into a fever which, ultimately, causes his demise.

The score by Rosemarie Costi has its inspiration origins in the use of jazz. Jazz, is claimed by this creative trio, to be an urban sound and 'is a form that captures both the stifled cry of the melancholy, and the endless hum of the insomniac streets.' A trio, Sarah Evans (Double Bass), Josh Willard (Saxophone) and Tate Sheridan (Piano), unfold the inspired score with skill and yearning.

Told in song and long stretches of dialogue between character, four performers: Laura Bunting, Kate Cheel, Aaron Tsindos and Charles Wu, carry the responsibilities. Mr Wu, gives an enchanting, sensitive and meticulous performance as our hero, Nikolai - it is a very moving centre to the relative success of the entertainment. Aaron Tsindos gathers some seven characters to erudition. But, it is in the undercasting with Kate Cheel and Laura Bunting, that the work stumbles with an imprecision, nervousness and underpowered vocals. Clarity and surety of demarcation in the creation of the many characters that they have responsibility for needs much more attention to be convincing and keep an audience suspended in belief.

Emma Vine has created a Design that has the weight and flexibility for the many locations required in the story telling, assisted by very beautiful graphic signage to designate the where we are. The Overcoat, itself, lacks the detail of the short story and is a relative disappointment in its appearance, for the impact of the story to have the stakes of the catastrophic developments to be realised. Alex Berlage has created a detailed and sympathetic Lighting Design as support for the atmospheres and story development.

Michael Costi has changed the famous name of the hero of this famous story, from Akaky Akakievich to Nikolai (the author's name) and quizzically has removed the coda of the ghosts at the end of the Gogol tale that gives the original so much poignancy - it feels odd and arbitrary, to have chosen such an iconic work and then to undo one of its greatest moments.

Constantine Costi, The Director of this work, other than in the guidance for two of his actors, has a vision for the aesthetics of the work and presents it in a very confidently conceived manner if not sometimes flubbing it in execution. This 24A program is intended as an opportunity for the development of new work. THE OVERCOAT as it is, is worth seeing. Its further iterations, will I hope, benefit from this necessary exposure.

The Wild Party

Little Triangle present THE WILD PARTY. Music and Lyrics by Michael J. Lachiusa. Book by Michael J. Laschiusa and George C. Wolfe. In the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Cleveland St, Chippendale. 15 - 24 November.

THE WILD PARTY, is an American Musical, with Music and Lyrics by Michael Lachiusa. Book by Michael J. Lachiusa and George C. Wolf. It was performed on Broadway in 2000, and was nominated for 7 Tony Awards.

The year before Mr Lachiusa's musical MARIE CHRISTINE, had premiered on Broadway, with Audra McDonald, but closed after a short season. It was based around the MEDEA story and is famous for the degree of difficulty of its score. THE WILD PARTY, is inspired by the 1928 Book-long poem of the same name by, Joseph Moncure March. It deals with the hedonism of the Roaring Twenties, that was also captured in the writings and lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and his wife Zelda (THE GREAT GATSBY, comes to mind). The poem was widely banned as lewd: Some love is fine:some love is rust;
But the fiercest, cleanest love is lust.
Lust of all kinds, drugs and an uninhibited wild, wild time that does, ultimately, have consequences covers the two hour show,

This musical appears, to me, an extremely ambitious piece of work. Using the poem, we meet Queenie (Georgina Walker) and Burrs (Matthew Hyde), a couple in a co-dependent and violent relationship, who decide to give one of their famous parties. "With a guest list worthy of Sodom and Gomorrah, the party brims with vaudeville's bawdiest. From a brassy stripper, Madeline (Prudence Holloway) to a devilish playboy, Jackie (Jack Dawson), a sinful brother act, Oscar (Samuel Skuthorp) and Phil (Michael Boulus), to a fading Broadway diva, Dolores (Victoria Zerbst), an ex-boxing champ, Eddie (Olivier Rahme), to an ex-chorus girl, Mae ( Emily Hart), a hopeful ingenue, Nadine (Tayla Jarrett), to a pair of hopeless producers, Gold (Zach Selmes) and Goldberg (Simon Ward), and a flock of vivacious chorines (Victoria Ruxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Sophie Perkins and Jordan Warren), to a morphine addict, Sally (Madeline Wighton), and latecomers, Kate (Katelin Koprivec), and her latest accessory, Black (Andre Drysdale), the line-up of characters are as wicked as they come. During the wild night gin, skin and fun, the guests find themselves in a tangle of lust, limbs, and secrets."

The book sketches some 20 characters, each with a song(s) and backstory of their own - it is a very egalitarian sharing of the evening's entertainment. Queenie, Burrs, Kate and Mr Black become the central engine of the 'crisis' of the story but every character carries impact. This requires extreme attention to individual development and one of the things I particularly enjoyed was the work that the actors and the Director, Alexander Andrews, had given. All of the characters have song(s) (bar the chorines) and all of them have a continuous story arc to sustain. On this small stage, Mr Andrews and his choreographer, Madison Lee, create a sensitive detail.

This is supported by an atmospheric Design, both Set and, especially, Costume, also, by Alexander Andrews. Terrific Lighting, by Blake Condon. The score is mostly a play-through challenge and is well done by Conrad Hamill with an orchestra of eight, although there is considerable difficulty with the sound balance between the voices and the orchestra 'noise'. It never seemed to find a good solution - and in a show where the lyrics are of a major importance in establishing and maintaining the individual personas of all, it was a severe obstacle to complete relaxation to fully enjoy the night - one had to fight hard to sort it all out.

Mr Andrews has the capacity to encourage his young artists to commit full-bore to their tasks, and Ms Lee's choreography is startlingly well disciplined and integrated into both the dance aesthetics and character, plot, clarity, though in this sized space is a physical force to be weathered by the audience. It's energy can be overwhelming.

Mr Lachiusa has written a score and constructed a book that is almost fiendish in its difficulties, and certainly challenges this young company vocally, especially, in the second half of the show, and not all of them pull it off. Ms Walker in the leading role of Queenie has the physicality, and type down pat, but seems to be underpowered in the decisions she has made vocally, often inaudible with an under enunciated word usage that become maddening in its soft obscurity. The best of the young performers, as an example of what should be a bench mark is Victoria Zerbst, as Dolores, in a role that is, maybe 20 years too old for her - but, such are her skills and her discipline and judgement that one is left full of admiration. Mr Boulus, Skuthorp, Selmes (I kept wanting to tell him to cut his hair! - not fully committed to the artistry of what otherwise is a good performance annoyed me, intensely), Ward, Rahme, and Ms Hart, Koprivec and all the Chorines are impressive more often than not.

THE WILD PARTY, is an ambitious work. Little Triangle is an ambitious company - their performance of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, earlier in the year was amazing. Director and Designer, Alexander Andrews; Musical Director, Conrad Hamill; Choreographer, Madison Lee, are all outstanding and ought to be watched. This company of ferocious musical theatre actors are to be commended for their offers.

THE WILD PARTY is difficult and full-on but it was impressive to have the opportunity to see this work live on stage. Musical Theatre buffs should be delighted to be able to see it whatever their reservations may be. This company deserve your attention.

The Dance of Death

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

Belvoir presents, THE DANCE OF DEATH, by August Strindberg, from a literal translation by May-Brit Akerholt, in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St. Surry Hills. November 10 - December 23.

Judy Davis, as Director, has devised with her company of actors: Giorgia Avery, Colin Friels, Pamela Rabe and Toby Schmitz, a production of August Strindberg's THE DANCE OF DEATH, using a literal translation by May-Brit Akerholt.

August Strindberg is a famous Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and painter. Most of the English speaking world is familiar with his playwriting, but in Sweden he is equally renowned for the multi-disciplined artistic and social output across a sixty-three year of volatile and controversial curiosity. He was born in 1849 and died in 1912. His work is marked by its reflection of what was happening to him in his intellectual 'rummaging' throughout his life - his own personal experiences shaping his output and the many embraces of what he sensed and discovered, the collective output often revealing contradictory points of view.

He had three marriages (all three women younger than he, and actors) and 5 children, between them all. He experienced sanity and 'madness' (reflected in his literary output as INFERNO). He was a deist and atheist. He embraced Darwin, Nietzsche and spiritualism. His life's output a chaos of personal tussels, each one of them virulently held for as long as it seemed relevant for him. Each stance changed when he was revealed another way to explain the reason for life, for his existence.

His playwriting styles altered as he discovered new interests and 'grew', evolved. He has work that reflects 'naturalistic tragedy, monodrama and history plays to his anticipation of expressionist and surrealist dramatic techniques.' The English speaking world is familiar with his naturalistic explorations in plays such as THE FATHER (1887), the famous and groundbreaking, MISS JULIE (1888) and CREDITORS (1889), to the later period of THE DANCE OF DEATH I and THE DANCE OF DEATH II (1900), THE DREAM PLAY and THE GHOST SONATA (both, in 1907), which worked in the writing realm of Symbolism, Expressionism.

He wrote THE DANCE OF DEATH I in May, 1907, and in the 'critical' response to it – wrote THE DANCE OF DEATH II, later in the same year, in November. Both plays are of full night length. Belvoir is giving us THE DANCE OF DEATH I - the play most favoured, explored, famous.

Edgar (Colin Friels) and Alice (Pamela Rabe) have been married for nearly 25 years, have borne 4 children, with 2 surviving, both of them deserting the home ground as soon as they could, which is an isolated 'tower' on an island off the coast of Sweden. Edgar is a Captain in charge of a regiment of soldiers, in the relative 'boondocks' of influence. Alice was once an actress. Their situation is fraught with poverty and boredom, mismanagement and paranoia. There existence together is rotting in the latter degrees of loathing but are bound in the games of mutual destruction. There is in their hatred a kind of love. The world about them, the humans that they are in contact with, servants, soldiers and relatives, become joint sources for projected torture. Kurt (Toby Schmitz) visits, and he becomes the unwitting victim of both, in a game of destructive one-upmanship. Kurt becomes the 'toy' that they systematically compete to destroy.

THE DANCE OF DEATH, is a famous portrait of a deteriorated marriage, that will not divorce or separate. It is reminiscent of the love-games of the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil in Laclos' novel of 1782, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, where both enjoyed the cruel games they inflicted, and boasted of their manipulative skills. It inspired the Edward Albee play: WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and the coruscating GET THE GUEST act. It has a famous history of great actors taking on the challenge of Edgar and Alice, that keeps it in the contemporary repertoire. Actors of great skill need to have the confident chutzpah to begin to tackle these roles and this play.

I am a socialist, a nihilist, a republican, anything that is anti-reactionary! I want to turn everything upside down to see what lies beneath; I believe we are so webbed, so horribly regimented, that no spring-cleaning is possible, everything must be burned, blown to bits, and then we can start afresh 
Alone and isolated from two of his wives and his children - with another winter/spring relationship to come - his mental stability unsure, his monetary surety in a parlous state, debt ridden, Strindberg tries to blow to bits the idea of male and female partnership with a withering and bitter savagery.

The last production of this play in Sydney was probably the Sydney Theatre Company production with Rhys McConnachie and Gillian Jones. From memory it had very few laughs. Ms Davis and her collaborators seem to have taken inspiration from Sir Jonathan Miller's 1986, essay, SUBSEQUENT PERFORMANCES, which eruditely investigates the possibilities, the manner, the way, to bring to life the classic play for contemporary audiences. Looking at those plays as if they were newly minted, written.

For, this production of THE DANCE OF DEATH, at Belvoir, is a 'laugh, comic, riot' that shakes any memory or pre-conceived vision of how it ought to be done with the rigour of the spirit of the social and cultural critic that Strindberg always was. An artist whose antennae was literally vibrating to the zephyrs and hurricanes of the zeitgeist about him, whether it contradicted his last 'statement' or not, that either enhanced his standing as an artist, or destroyed it. These present artists at Belvoir seem to be vibrating to Trumpian times where laughter may be the only way to deal with the chaos around what were once the Pillars of our Community, to be able to continue to move forward. And what more central Pillar than that of the sacredness of Marriage (and family) could be targeted for the personal conscience of each member of our middle-class audience, 'straight' or 'gay'? Let's embrace the subversive nature of our times and blow this bourgeoise concept up.

Brian Thomson has Designed a beautifully lurid space. A circle of black marbled floor, with a few pieces of necessary furniture: chaise lounge, dilapidated upright piano, low slung cupboards with doors, fuming with the perfumes of alcohol, upturned chairs and a table, and props - including a 'spooky' mechanical telegraph spool that taps out communications in code that appear to be pregnant with forebodings - all surrounded by a moat of fetid blood red water junked with debris - it obviously used as a dumping ground for domestic refuse - bridged at one edge by a wooden slated cross-over, with faded blood-red Ingmar Bergman-like walls (or just the usual Swedish interior decor tradition?!) decorated with fading indecipherable images, encasing-hovering about it, with, at one edge of that wall a portrait of Alice in actor pose decorated with wreaths of blue be-ribboned vine leaves on either side, hanging within reach, if you climb a rickety metal ladder, anchored in the moated waters. There are, as well, swaying chains with clothes hooks (meat hooks) dangling down.

The Lighting by Matthew Scott haunts the space atmospherically, augmented with candle light, occasionally, and flecks of lighted reflection of the water onto the walls emanating apprehensions of the spectral, of a prison, as a ghostly helmeted shadow (Hamlet's father's ghost?!) parades before us, every-now-and -then.

Supporting this gloom laden space is a wonderfully, detailed and deliberately dissonant score - especially, for the piano - that activates the action of a predictive dance with death, The Entry March of the Boyars (Johan Halvorsen), towards death, by Paul Charlier.

The play seems to be set in the twentieth century naughties with Alice dressed in a slime-green full length dress, conveniently buttoned up-the-front, who later on appears in a vampiric red, bustled costume - from this actress' Alice's wardrobe, one presumes - and a set of wigs that produces a futuristic image - for the setting of this play - reminiscent of silent movie risqué vamps such as Theda Bara (a famous Salome) or, the irrepressible Louise Brooks (the famous Lulu, of PANDORA'S BOX). Of course, the Captain is in a rumpled uniform (sky blue jacket) that would not pass muster on a parade ground inspection, with knee high black boots, with at times, broad sword and spiked helmet. Kurt wears beneath an oddly shaped overcoat, a long set of period tails. (there is no Costume Designer noted in the program, rather a Costume Supervisor, Judy Tanner).

When we enter the theatre, Alice is posed/poised on the chaise and Edgar sat at the piano, in a suspended time freeze, waiting to be activated, perhaps, by the gaze and attention of an audience. The dialogue of this production has been adjusted for the contemporary ear with close adherence to the literal translation (and notes) from the expert translator, May-Brit Akerholt, and we are soon launched into the bracing, chaffing married relationship of this couple isolated in the army citadel. From the start, the signals of the comic tenor of this production performance are given.

Colin Friels, is startling in his energetic crispness of voice and speech intention, accompanied by a physical capacity of a military man that has developed a second-nature body memory of discipline that belies his age and decrepitude, frightening us with the possessed passion of the famous Dance of Death to the Entry March of the Boyars (Choreography, by Thomas Egan), as well as fighting off the freezing paralysis of a heart that seems to be blocking the pumping of the life force of his blood. This man is mad with manic dread and the need to fight to maintain a life force, so levers whatever advantage he can to feel alive, by prickling, provoking, his married partner to extremities of excess. He is as ruthless with her as he is in his diabolical manipulation of Alice's young cousin, Kurt, torturing him into a state of vampiric blood-drinking, blood-letting. Mr Friels' performance sits as a fulcrum between sanity and insanity, with the wide-eyed visions of the catastrophic reality he finds himself in - age - and the over-heated efforts to overcome that - giving us a bi-polar swing, echoing the dangerous chains and meat-hook ends visually supplied in Mr Thomson's Design.

Countering the savage relationship offers of Edgar, Ms Rabe's Alice is an unbridled oozing green-pustule of viciousness stoked by the frustration of an actress - I AM AN ACTRESS, claims Alice in the middle of her warring - forced to retire from the stage to play in the game of marriage only to find it a dance of death. How great or mediocre Alice's festering talent is/was is the sickly conundrum that bubbles and boils before us - but there is no mistaking the motivation of her urges - anger and revenge.

Ms Rabe has always, for me, shown a perspicacity to wrinkle out the comic possibilities of every creation she has had, whether fully appropriate or not - it was part of my disturbance with her performance work in the recent production of THE CHILDREN, for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), though, my dis-ease goes as far back as most of her work for the Sydney Theatre's Acting Residency Company, under the Direction of Artistic Director, Robyn Nevin for the STC. In THE DANCE OF DEATH, Judy Davis has permitted and encouraged Ms Rabe to unleash her comic sensibilities in an undiminished torrent of astonishing invention and excess. Bent at her ankles and knees and, as well, at her waist, she leans forward, deliberately stooping to disguise her height, flourishing her hands in busy, distracting detailed gestures of emphasis with a tilted head and over articulated mouth, striking and pitching the room furniture for melodramatic-comic affect whilst attempting to devour all the oxygen in the room to suffocate her victims, her husband Edgar, and even more ruthlessly, her cousin, Kurt - even going so far as to semi-undress to pendulous nakedness to seduce and manipulate him to her ends.

The American comedian Carol Burnett, in her days of television vaudeville (The Carol Burnett Show - 11 seasons from 1967-78) could not have created a more complete persona of comic sexual desperation. I sat there thinking, as well, that what Maggie Smith was to the British Theatre, Ms Rabe might be to the Australian theatre - having over the years revealed a studied humour with a penchant for comic campery (or, is it kitch?), not only as characteristics for her acting challenges but as a personal mark of her gifts - will one ever forget her tottering, full-height, amble down centre stage - Ms Rabe's creations often find the centre stage - slipping, with poised manufacture, on the ejaculated sperm that had metaphorically gushed out in one of the episodes of THE LOST ECHO? No.

Undoubtedly, Alice in THE DANCE OF DEATH, is a florid bravura of comic intent that supersedes anything she has come to offer the Sydney audiences before. Whether it is balanced with dramatic justification of character, or not, will be part of your argument in the foyer afterwards. When Alice and Edgar manage, at this production' s end, to re-organize the room and themselves into the poses that began the play, the promise of the repeat of the boredom of the daily savagery of that household strikes a note of physical recoil - 'oh, no!'

Toby Schmitz in playing Kurt, a character written to react rather than to activate the action of the scenario, is perforce having to play in a handsome restrained mode. Mr Schmitz's intelligence and skills manage to find a substance of focus that, nearly, balances the assaults from Edgar and Alice to hold his ground as an object of independence in the events of the play rather than just a convenient cipher for the actions of the warring married couple. It is an admiral gift of work from Mr Schmitz.

This production is a startling and controversial lens through which to see Strindberg's famous play. It will antagonise or please - and, it will definitely surprise. There is no doubt concerning the theatrical intelligences of these famous artists: Judy Davis, Colin Friels, Pamela Rabe, Toby Schmitz, Brian Thomson, Paul Charlier and Matthew Scott; and there is no need to question their earnest sincerity and, even most importantly, their respect, for the source material, so what they have created, concocted is worth dealing with absorbing. You may not agree but you will be provoked.

Does it work? I'll leave that for you to find. But, I feel that both August Strindberg and Sir Jonathan Miller, would be pleased with the iconoclastic assault on this 'revered' (over revered?) masterpiece. Judy Davis has blown everything to bits.


N.B. There is no biographical note for the writer August Strindberg in the program. Beloved once again neglecting their responsibilities to their writers. Ibsen, last time. !!!!!! ?????

Blame Traffic

twenty seven six present BLAME TRAFFIC, by Michael Andrew Collins, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. 13th November - 24th November.

BLAME TRAFFIC, is a new Australian work, by Michael Andrew Collins.

It is a one act (60 minutes) play that has a fatal traffic accident at its centre with six random lives orbiting about it in relative ignorance of their interconnection, or, of the risks that they take, and the impact that they have had on each other. Its conceit reminds one of the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu/ Guillermo Arriaga trilogy of films: AMORES PERROS (2000), 21 GRAMS (2003) and BABEL (2006), that reel through a similar random interconnection of lives.

Michael Andrew Collins, has written this play and Directs it. The combination of Mr Collins' possession of the writing and directing delivers with his actors a totally immersive experience that is clever in its organisation of content and arresting in the simplicity of the acting style that the actors confidently exude. Beginning with the fresh 'attack' of a direct monologue form, delivered lucidly by Violette Ayad, and then with the ease of the work from Emma O'Sullivan, Mary Soudi, Nic English and Alex Stylianou, in duologue or combination monologue, one was captured, enraptured from the start to its conclusion.

It is set (Patrick James Howe) in a simple black space with chairs and a backdrop of a set of three movable light boxes to give atmosphere to the shifting locations. There is no attempt at acted realism just a simple paring back to the actors at work using the text to transport us to creating the 'naturalistic' detail inherent to the story, that can often, when physically introduced, clog the communication of the play - it is an owned 'contract' of style, discovered by the collaborators, that the actors simply offer and we take-on willingly and without confusion.

Earlier in the year, we saw Mr Collins play, IMPENDING EVERYONE, commissioned for performance by the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP). This new work is a considerable development in style and confidence. It is a fairly remarkable growth.

I, thoroughly recommend the production, the acting and especially the writing. Get yourself along to the Old 505, for BLAME TRAFFIC.

Violette Ayad : Lilian.
Nic English ; Zio Tony.
Emma O'Sullivan : Jaquie and Dion.
Mary Soudi : Sara.
Alex Stylianou : Gabriel and Radu.