Wednesday, May 24, 2017

La Calisto

Sydney Conservatorium of Music Opera School presents: LA CALISTO, Music by Francesco Cavalli, Libretto by Giovanni Faustini, in the Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Philip St Sydney. 20 May, 23 May, 25 May, 27 May.

LA CALISTO was first performed in Venice in 1651. It virtually disappeared from the repertoire until the 1970's when the score was rediscovered and its performance history effectively restarted. Says the Artistic Director and Senior Lecturer in Conducting and Opera Studies, Dr Stephen Mould:
LA CALISTO has emerged as a major opera by the standards of any era, a genuine lost masterpiece that rivals other works by its composer, Francesco Cavalli, as well as his more visible teacher, Claudio Monteverdi.
Beautifully prepared and conducted by Professor Neal Peres Da Costa, the Early Music Ensemble supported the young singers with tact and strength. The work Directed by Elsie Edgerton-Till, on a simple school-of-arts type platform/stage with a curtained raised aperture, Designed by Isabella Andronos in modern dress costumes, Ms Edgwrton-Till has her actor/singers investigate an 80's hip physical style of a brash, even vulgar, American film teenage action and re-action to the hyper sexual ruses of Roman Gods and mere mortals, the subject content of the actual libretto: the interaction between a besotted Jupiter (Tristan Entwistle) and Calisto (Samantha Lestavel) and Diana (Viktoria Bolonia) and Endymion (Rebecca Hart). The Director's choice gives access to the story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, even if it diminishes its intentions - it creates an easy kind of empathy at the expense of what could be a noble tragedy. I think.

It was interesting to reflect that this Italian Opera concerning itself with licentious sexual impiety was playing at the same time in Venice, the centre of the trading world of its time, as the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell's attack and banning of all theatre in England was taking place.

These young singers were at stretch with the demands of this material but seemed to relish the obstacle of the musical sophistication and the 'oration and rhetorical delivery' stylistics. I enjoyed, particularly, the work of Mr Entwistle in the demanding sing of Jupiter/and his faux Diana, Jeremy Dube, as Mercury, and the cheeky performance by Joshua Oxley, as Pan, whilst Aimee O'Neil was impressive in her second act solo as Juno. The acting of the company was sufficient if not believable except as bemused/amused parody/travesty.

A difficult work pleasantly performed and exposed by the Vocal and Opera Studies Division at the Conservatorium of Music.

The Ham Funeral

Photo by Lucy Parakhina
Siren Theatre Co in association with Griffin Independent presents, THE HAM FUNERAL, by Patrick White, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 17 May - 10 June.

THE HAM FUNERAL is a first play by Patrick White, written in 1947 in post war, blitzed-out London. Set in 1919 it was inspired by the painting by William Dobell known as 'The Dead Landlord' and on a story of Dobell's experience in one of those great crumbling houses in Pimlico.

This play begins with a Young Man in a preamble chat with us the audience: "... Probably quite a number of you are wondering by now whether this is your kind of play. I'm sorry to announce the management won't refund any money. You must simply sit it out, and see whether you can't recognise some of the forms that will squirm before you in this mad, muddy mess of eels. As it heaves and shudders, you may even find ... you have begun to feed ... on memory ..."

For this play is written by White in a surrealistic mish-mash of styles and genre, with a symbolist visual edge in his language and his images, spurning the usual weight and familiarity of naturalism. It was a puzzlement and was famously rejected by the Adelaide Festival Drama Committee as part of the 1962 event. "it is an abstract type of play which the general public will find difficult, and impossible to understand. It's complexity will limit its appeal to a few intellectuals and even they would find it difficult to interpret the so-callled psychological aspects of the play."

It may still be a puzzlement for some and as this is the second production of this play I have seen in recent times, the last by Philip Rouse at the New Theatre, it obviously attracts the 'daring' who believe they may have the 'key' to unlock it in a theatre for an audience. Kate Gaul and her Siren Theatre Co have entered the creative lists.

When the Landlord, Mr Lusty (Johnny Nasser) 'carks' it suddenly, Mrs Alma Lusty (Eliza Logan) summons her poet and tenant, the Young Man (Sebastian Robinson), to fetch her relatives (Johnny Nasser, Andy Dexterity, Jane Phegan and Carmen Lysiak) for a 'ham funeral' - an arcane status statement to her local community. The aftermath of that funeral and the sexual confrontation between Lusty and the Young Man/Poet, whilst distractingly inspired by a muse, The Girl (Jenny Wu), the other tenant, is the substance of the play.

Designed by Jasmine Christie, on a raised shiny-floor with the back walls black curtained with a central oblong metal table with chairs, swathed in heavy haze, it is lit by Hartley T A Kemp in rich baroque colours, gleaming in the blackness of it all, eking out the exaggerated grotesquerie of make-up and costume of the actors. Other than the poet the physical visuals are of another 'hot house world' - burlesque-bizarre. Accompanying the visual promptings is a complex and haunting soundscape by Nate Edmondson that builds up an imaginative invention of a crumbling, damp, mysterious and 'creepy', living space. The visuals and sound Design are the triumph of this production.

Despite that the language is handled with a careful clarity, it lacks a forward tempo for engaging storytelling - even a variation of tempo is lacking -  it has in delivery, in this production, no flesh and blood urgency - it rather errs as a kind of recited poetry. One could count the seconds between the sentences in the speeches and the cuing from one actor to another, to make the present experience, moribund, even turgid in its musicality - it became exhausting to endure, stewing it's own rich imagery juices.

Patrick White was a Nobel Prize winner for Literature. His novels are staggering in their greatness and awesome in the demands he makes of his readers. He once told the actress Kerry Walker, who, incidentally, played Mrs Lusty in Neil Armfield's 1989 production of THE HAM FUNERAL, for the Sydney Theatre Company, that he'd always wanted to be an actor, and that he'd always craved success in the theatre. Seven of his eight plays were written in the sixties and then latterly in the eighties, and are just as challenging as his other writing. Their success was always a matter of personal taste and caused a quarrelling history amongst critics and audience. Only time will tell which side was right. Either, we will catch up to their 'genius', or not. Edward Albee became understood with time: see WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? blog.

Kate Gaul's production is of interest for the theatre aficionado and the fans of Patrick White.

I note, that the three last plays by Patrick White: SIGNAL DRIVER (1982), NETHERWOOD (1983) and SHEPERD ON THE ROCKS (1987), have never been seen in Sydney. What is the reason? I wonder, and wonder, and pine, and pine, for someone with courage to stage them. Or, is the challenge of THE HAM FUNERAL so mesmeric for Director's to find a way to succeed with this play, that we will not ever see the other repertoire. The solution to THE HAM FUNERAL, a kind of search for the Holy Grail(ed) key? To intriguing to resist.

Please note comment.

Black Is The New White

Photo by Prudence Upton
Sydney Theatre Company and Allens present, BLACK IS THE NEW WHITE, by Nakkiah Lui. At Wharf 1, Hickson Rd., Walsh Bay. 10 May - 17 June.

Nakkiah Lui has written two previous texts THIS HEAVEN and KILL THE MESSENGER, for the Belvoir St Theatre - both ending tragically, doused in bubbling political 'anger' - dealing with cultural trauma and death.

For this Sydney Theatre Company (STC) commission Ms Lui tells us in her program conversation: This time, I wanted to write something that didn't come from a place of sorrow or from oppression where the actors would have to rehash that intergenerational trauma all through rehearsals, relive their own experiences of oppression every single day. ... I wanted to write something that was just really warm and fun to write
 [I] "…also wanted to present a family of Aboriginal people that hasn't been seen before in the Australian canon - not just in the theatre, but in any form. That is an Aboriginal family who have money, who are not oppressed but who are culturally quite strong.
I feeI we have seen this territory explored in the 2014 ABC Television series THE GODS OF WHEAT STREET - revealing the Freeburn clan, which had the affectionate title remembrance, for some of us, as 'Black to the Rafters'.

It is Christmas and two Australian families - the Gibsons and the Smiths - are brought together at the luxurious summer house of the Indigenous family. It is the occasion that Charlotte Gibson (Shari Sebbens), a successful lawyer, decides to introduce her white boyfriend, Francis Smith (James Bell), a cash-poor classical musician, to the family. Nearly a throwback to the famous, familiar 1967 GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER scenario then (N.B the synchronistic use of this trope in the American film, GET OUT, now showing in the cinema), with the added complications of Francis' parents also arriving. There is strife, 'shocking' personal revelation, political stances, tears and spills, food fight farce, hugging and 'happy' resolutions all in a recognisable and friendly Romantic-Comedy (Rom-Com) formula.

Ms Lui has spent some recent time working as a co-writer/star for the ABC sketch comedy series BLACK COMEDY. BLACK IS THE NEW WHITE has the feel, for me, of the heritage of that television short form that is being, with this play, extended into a theatre long form, with a striving for an anchoring in the classic rom-com formula, that does not quite have that formula securely battened down, and is overloaded with a lot of 'friendly' but didactic political agenda: inter-racial, inter-family, intergenerational and even modern sexual polyamory 'stuff'. The play/production is quite nice fun but is really rather 'clunky'. The 2015 STC play and production of BATTLE OF WATERLOO had a more convincing surety about how to deliver its politics inside a contemporary Aboriginal family and keep the comedy character and plot formulas driven amicably and dramaturgically smoothly.

One wishes that Director, Paige Rattray, had been able to spend some more time in solving the problem of the acting, that is not always grounded, by all, in a truth of character observation, or of the stakes of the proffered situations. Some characters are truthfully observed and have the right balance of the ridiculousness of it all, some, however are 'burlesqued' caricatures of an 'idea' of the character - playing for the comedy rather than authentic character needs - some are over earnest in the propounding of the political arguments of the play - giving the appearance to be standing on a soap-box to 'educate' the audience - academic then, rather than revealing the human emotional 'need' of the character who feels that they have a 'life and death' want to say this now to secure their happiness and future. George Bernard Shaw and his plays would be an illuminating guide for the Director and the Writer, I reckon.
This stylistic diversity in the acting styles throws emphasis onto the dramaturgically fragile 'marriage' of Ms Lui's grappling with the long form rom-com and her urgent need to speak her politics.

On the other hand, on a very expansive and multi-levelled Set Design, by Renee Mulder (Ms Mulder, also Designed BATTLE OF WATERLOO, for this stage), Ms Rattray, moves her actors around with some dexterity, and solves some of the clumsiness of the exit and entrance for Ms Lui's characters to permit story development/revelation, and provides a plausible integration of an almost redundant narrator figure to permit the provision of necessary exposition when the dramatic action of the play and playwright can not find a way to otherwise deliver it.

The cast, besides Ms Sebbens and Mr Bell, includes Kylie Bracknell (KaarlJilba Karrrdn), Tony Briggs, Luke Carroll, Vanessa Downing (wonderful), Geoff Morrell, Melodie Reynolds-Diarra and Anthony Taufa.

This production has had a good general reception but, for me, as writing and playing, has some problems that more time in development might have solved. I guess you must go see for your self. Ms Lui says she wanted to put a play forward that says " here is a family that is like yours. An Aboriginal family which I think would probably go to the theatre and go to this play." I paid $86 to see this play (matinee) and bought a program that cost $10 - a total of $96. I hope she gets her wish. I know lots of people - families - that as much as they might like to go to the theatre, especially to see this Aboriginal  optimistic rom-com, just do not have the optional cash to do so.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Photo by Joey Demczuk

Ensemble Theatre presents WHO'S AFRAID OF THE VIRGINIA WOOLF?, by Edward Albee, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 11May - 18 June.



From the 1999 biography: Edward Albee - Singular Journey, by Mel Gussow: 
(the scene is] the living room of a house on the campus of a small New England college." Act One: the Fun and Games begin. "Set in darkness. Crash against front door. MARTHA's laughter heard. Front door opens, lights are switched on. MARTHA enters, followed by GEORGE." Martha is "a large, boisterous woman, 52, looking somewhat younger. Ample, but not fleshy." George, "her husband, 46. Thin; hair going gray.
Uta Hagen, as Martha, delivered the first words of the play, "Jesus H. Christ," followed by laughter from the audience. Later, the play was to become legendary, make several fortunes, and establish Edward Albee as the first playwright since Eugene O'Neill to break through from Off-Broadway to Broadway and continue his exhilarating ride into theatrical history.

At the Ensemble Theatre a new production of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, Directed by Iain Sinclair, has opened and ought not to be missed, continuing Mr Gussow's predicted ride into history for Mr Albee and this play.

Entering the Ensemble theatre one meets a wonderful Design, by Michael Hankin, of the room of the house inhabited by George (Darren Gilshenan) and Martha (Genevieve Lemon), where they will entertain in a long journey into day - to the rise of a new dawn - Nick (Brandon McClelland) and Honey (Claire Lovering), a young married couple, new to the faculty of this New England university college. It is set in 1962. The architectural solutions and the handsome and detailed 'dressing' of this Design by Mr Hankin is extraordinarily impressive, and along with a meticulous and a similarly detailed Lighting Design, both naturalistic and 'mood atmospheric', by Sian James-Holland, creates an expectant sense for the quality of the production (no Belvoir glass-box installation art, here).

What follows is an explosively hilarious and harrowing performance from Genevieve Lemon, as Martha, balanced and equalled by Darren Gilshenan, as her husband, George. The play looks at the compromises and commitments that a marriage must take to survive when it is sprung from a deep and passionate love, and thence must endure through the long passing of time all of its lessons of disappointments and tragedy. Where time has unravelled relentlessly, and enough, to allow the participants to experience, vitally, the thwarting of the ambitions and hopes of their youth - of career and children. It tells us of a relationship that refuses to allow the passionate depths of love to be extinguished with the passing of 'lust-filled' time, to ever, even, waver to the crushing cruelties/habits of the bourgeois world's usual method of 'animal' containment. Martha and George have invented a way to lash out at the conventions/obstacles of their world/society despite their 'failures' and still maintain a respect and electric pulse to stay and 'celebrate' being together. Albeit, being in a savage world, savage means may be required - will be employed.

We have seen the institution of marriage, many times, savagely examined in dramatic literature before, and for me, Strindberg's DANCE OF DEATH, resonates as I watch Albee's play, although, unlike the Strindberg there seems to me, as the new dawn rises at the end of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, a light of optimism for this joined couple, 'bleeding' though they may be, shining forth - for, as a new day begins, there has been created a new context for survival as partners.

Martha and George are no ordinary couple, they are a couple of brilliantly erudite wits, sensitive and over sensitised to their predicament, and their means to continue to exhalt and not surrender to mediocrity are not in any way ordinary. In middle-age they are in the bewilderment of how to continue to live/survive together, and they have found a modus operandi that sparks from a loving savagery and education - a knowledge of the history of mankind, of historical inevitability. It seems they have adopted the 'All's Fair in Love and War' apparatus to their interactions and everything and everybody are grist to their enlivenment. Enter Nick and Honey.

This play is 55 years old but is a classic that still survives and mirrors the modernity of our present spiralling morality with frightening power in a recognisable comic-tragic set of truths. This play opened on Broadway, in 1962, as the Cuban missile crisis loomed to threaten a nuclear war. In 2017, our world  feels just as threatened and the effect on the cornerstone of our societal structure, the family, feels, with this production of the play, just as cynically exposed, vulnerable. Our chromosomal 'soups' fragile in the evolving movement of time and history.

This meeting we sit to watch begins at 2am after a long and boring faculty party. Tired and drunk Martha and George arrive in taunting form and prepare to entertain two youngsters at the beginning of their marriage and careers. During the course of the play they become more tired and more drunk and the verbal fun and games of a true and false history - with agreed rules of engagement - funny and ugly, combust improvisationally into situations called Get the Guest, Hump the Hostess and Bringing Up Baby, employing excoriating comedy and outrageous confrontations. Nick and Honey, toys for this exploit, limp off home, at its end, injured but surviving.

WHO'S AFARID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? was Albee's first full length play, written at the age of 34. It is in length some three hours long. The stimulating content matter of this play with its startling linguistics and controlled musical 'symphonic' shape - this is no chamber music piece, despite the small number of 'instruments' involved - conjured and crafted by Mr Albee, combined with four brilliantly courageous and sustained performances, tempered with a Directorial hand of such sureness in a Design of such pleasing assurance, has the literal time in the theatre flit by, be of no consequence. Quality engrosses one and invigorates one. You will not feel exhaustion when you leave the Ensemble.

Truthfully, you might be disturbed but you will know you have been alive. Originally, the play offended its audience with its language and frank sexual conversations, the play content baffled its audiences and some critics of its time took the play as an absurdist exercise, but with the passing of time, the content matter and its psychological underpinnings are now readable and appreciated as a heightened naturalism. Time has given us a knowledge that gives us easy access to what is going on, just as we now can make 'sense' of the paintings of Jackson Pollock. Both in their time challenging to comprehension.

Ms Lemon is having a stellar year (THE HOMOSEXUALS OR THE FAGGOTS) and is now crowning her illustrious career with a great performance as Martha, plumbing its grief, its fury, its comedy and its white hot acts of love with the surety of an identification to the sophisticated complexities of being in a love-bound marriage. Mr Gilshenan, well known to most as a comic actor, shows the breadth of his talent with this well-honed and constructed artistry, carrying George's bombardment from Martha with a resilient wit and tireless love, no matter its exhausting demands. Mr McClelland, at the beginning of his career (THE PRESENT, THE GOLDEN AGE) under the guidance of Mr Sinclair calibrates his Nick with wise and delicate surety, while Ms Lovering ensures that Honey brings enlightenment to the intricacies of the dramaturgical structures of Mr Albee's intentions.

All praise to the writer, Edward Albee, one of the greats of the theatre, and to Iain Sinclair who manages this great text with insight and masterful control. All elements of this production are finely thought and wrought. Following on from his work on OF MICE AND MEN, for Sport For Jove, a year or so ago, here is a talent that ought to be continued to be vigorously nurtured.

Sydney has had two great productions this year of two extraordinary pieces of playwriting: BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, by Rajiv Joseph, at the Old FitzTheatre, and now, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, by Edward Albee, at the Ensemble Theatre.

This production is not to be missed if you savour the theatre.

P.S. History in the foyer again: It was wonderful to see Iain Sinclair, the present Director of this play, talking animatedly with John Clark, who had Directed the original Australian production for the Old Tote Theatre Company, in 1964, with Alexander Hay, Jacqueline Kott, Kevin Miles and Wendy Blacklock. The production that controversially launched the burgeoning Australian theatre practice into the modern era with protests against led by church and the press. I was a schoolboy and was not allowed to see the play, but I remember reading the Sydney Daily Mirror and its front page stories of shock and condemnation. Imagine a theatre play production, today, hitting our newspapers front pages?














Friday, May 19, 2017

Doubt

Photo by Robert Catto

Apocalypse Theatre Company in association with Red Line, present DOUBT. A Parable, by John Patrick Shanley, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. 10 May - 3 June.

DOUBT. A Parable, the play by John Patrick Shanley, won the Pulitzer prize and the Tony Award in 2005. All four of the actors were nominated for the Tony, too. The actors, Cherry Jones and Brian F. O'Bryne won. It was made into a film, directed by Mr Shanley, with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis - all were nominated for Academy Awards (they didn't win). So, history tells us that this is a well written play with great acting opportunities.

For me, the writing, though worthy of all the praise it has received, is just a little too 'neat', 'tidy' - oddly, too contrived in its blunt focused storytelling and treatment of its issues. It is sub-titled A Parable - which by definition is a short allegorical story designed to convey some truth or moral lesson, and so, I should just get over it, I guess. And, generally, I have.

Set In a Catholic school, St Nicholas, in the Bronx, in 1964, during the great changes of the Second Ecumenical Council, set up by Pope John XXIII, in Rome, in 1962, and completed by Pope Paul VI in 1965, a strictly conventional head mistress of the 'old guard', Sister Aloysius (Belinda Giblin), is confronted with information from a younger nun, Sister James (Matilda Ridgeway), who is infused (confused?) with the 'loosening spirit' of the new Ecumenical church age, of a suspicion of improper behaviour between the young 'hip' priest, Father Flynn (Damian de Montemas), and their only African-American student, Donald Muller. Aloysius, who entered the nunnery, late, after marriage, has been chaffing under the patriarchal control of the church and following her instincts manufactures a circumstance to confront Flynn, knowing she cannot expect support from the senior men of her church, and achieves a 'victory' with the voluntary transfer by Flynn away from her school. That victory, however, was achieved through a 'blackmail' based on a deceit, a lie. Sister Aloysius had, has, no evidence, only instinct, and though in action is victorious, is punished with a conscience of Doubt as to the possibilities of the actual 'truth'.

We, the audience, are left with a Doubt, as well. Although, what with the Abuse Scandals uncovered worldwide that are still an on-going confrontation and issue, we may enter this play with prejudices galore. There will be discussion, afterwards, in the bar, for sure.

All the performances are 'good'. However, Belinda Giblin, as Sister Aloysius, inhabits the responsibility of this role with a frightening possession and gives a performance, that registers a wide range of genuine emotional choices - with ironic humour, too, blessedly, as a part of her armoury. Her theatrical power, presence, is the superlative energy of this production - it must be so, for this play to make its mark. There is not a moment of doubt from any of us in surrendering to the vacillating truths of this nun/woman, in this production.

Matilda Ridgeway, gives a 'knowing' performance, and is generally convincing, but has her Sister James, weeping, streaming tears in every scene (it reminded me of Ms Ridgeway's work, as Ophelia, in the Bell HAMLET). It is hard to read this tear-filled choice by the actor (that is not signified by the writer), to be able to make sense of her character - for this Sister James is clearly emotionally unstable, maybe, even unsuitable for her job. Why the vigilant Aloysius makes no comment, or demand a justification for this behaviour, along with the showing of her hair from under her headdress - clearly breaking the 'rules' of her order - is, too, a problem. If Aloysius rants after the use of the ballpoint pen in class, or the number of sugar cubes in a cup of tea, I feel sure she would reprimand James on her risqué, dishabille of uniform. It is an odd lack of logical 'continuity' in this production.

Damian de Montemas as Flynn, is impeccable in his naturalistic 'filmic/television' detailing of his character, and is certainly an attractive physical presence to win the attention of his congregation, but lacks the charismatic energy to continue to entrance us, to capture us, with his sermonising - there are two significant sermons in the play and both fail to hold us to rapt attention - which dramaturgically is a necessary. As well, Mr Montemas' performance lacks the theatrical fire power to countermand the force of Ms Giblin, so that their verbal 'duels' are uneven in affect (check the work between Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the 2009 film version - especially the last great confrontation, to see what I mean).

In the small but pivotal role and scene, Charmaine Bingwa, sat tightly on a chair, by the Director, throws a moral spanner into the debate, as Mrs Muller argues for her child's welfare, with conviction.

The simple, spare Design, with two separate spaces coloured, I supposed, in a 'metaphoric' Grey, avoiding the dogmatic declaration of Black and White, by Jonathan Hindmarsh, is attractively lit, by Alexander Berlage.

Dino Dimitriades, has Directed this production with dramatic skill and it is a suspenseful and taut 8o odd minutes in the theatre. It is the writing that he honours clearly, and the magnificent performance by Ms Giblin, that makes this experience in the theatre of interest.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Between The Street Light and The Moon

Photo by Clare Hawley

Mophead Productions in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co presents, BETWEEN THE STREETLIGHT AND THE MOON, by Melita Rowston. 5 - 27 May.

BETWEEN THE STREETLIGHT AND THE MOON, is a new Australian play by, Melita Rowston. It was shortlisted for both the STC Patrick White Award and The Silver Gull Award.

Zadie (Lucy Miller) is an art academic/curator and PHD candidate, the Phd concerning the Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) and her possible illicit relationship with her brother-in-law, Edouard Manet, has been six years in the preparation. Her supervisor and supporter, Janet (Suzanne Pereira), under pressure from the Academic Board, is pressing for the completion of the work - not a word has been cited. That completion is hinged upon the finding of suspected letters that would substantiate Zadie's theories. This section of the play becomes the dramatic spine of all else that transpires and has the familiar academic quibbling and propositioning -'detective work' - that 'greases' the dramatically suspenseful wheels of other works, for instance, Tom Stoppard's play, ARCADIA, or A.S. Byatt's 1990 novel, POSSESSION.

Intermixed is some familiar feminist discussion/politics concerned with the oppression and 'disappearing' of the female artist from history and, as we discover, is, perhaps, an active agency, still, in the contemporary scene. For, we find that Zadie herself has allowed her own art work to be forgotten and appropriated by an ex-lover, now dead artist, Jeff (Lani Tupu), whilst, in the present tense of the play she is, seemingly, caught in another sexual/work conflict with contemporary spunk/artist, Barry (Ben McIvor), and his aspiration/inspiration, who is now in the thrall, of one of her own students, Dominique (Joanna Downing). A lot is going on in the 110 minutes, no-interval play.

The 'intellectual' gambits of the writing from Ms Rowston has some substantiality to keep us intrigued, and the florid speeches from the 'ghost' memory of Jeff are alluring in their profligate 'wealth' of language. And, if sometimes the ordinary interactions between characters in the modern time sound banal and or stilted, especially, in their comic throw aways, one wonders if it is in the writing, or the quality of the acting? The text sometimes sounds if it is 'impersonated' - spoken, recited - rather than personalised with a highly-staked 'back-story' and need from the characters, by the actors. The truest moments, when the actor and character melted, each into the other, came with the last Jeff-ghost speech from Mr Tupu. One was urged to listen and imagine, to endow the sounds with a vivid reality and a grasp of inspiration.

I remember having seen RED, the play by John Logan, a play about art, too, filled with similar heightened discussion of art philosophy and aspiration. I was enormously thrilled. Later, I read the play, and worked on it in scene work, and found the actual text so 'simple' in its expression that it felt underworked and poorly written. On reflection, maybe, it was the acting by Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, that was of such a high calibre, that they had embodied the 'stilted' writing with character conviction, beyond the mere actor's presence, to make it believable, and not drawing attention to itself, in action. Unfortunately, in this production of Ms Rowston's play, led by Anthony Skuse, that does not happen often enough to permit a fully subjective identification with all that goes on.

The Design, by Jeremy Allen, is a contemporary, slatted wooden 'gallery' floor, with a hidden pool of reflected water (presumably, symbolic of the River Seine of Paris), with spare furniture, and two white walls, one used for projection of art and quotations from Berthe Morisot to acclimate us to the world of the 'hunted' relationship. Chris Page manages the Lighting with a crisp modern arid galley affect. Benjamin Freeman, has composed a score for piano which he plays live, which sometimes is over obvious in its intent and has an unexpected 'kitsch' affect.

This production of this play, BETWEEN THE STREETLIGHT AND THE MOON, feels overlong and disengaged from the passion of the writer's impulse that grew from a mission to view Edouard Manet's Olympia, in the Musee D'Orsay, and, instead, been aesthetically arrested by a tiny painting of a woman viewed through the spokes of a fan: a painting by Edouard Manet of Berthe Morisot. One of eleven portraits, of her by him, that left, subsequently, Ms Rowston with no doubt in her mind that these paintings charted a turbulent affair. Ipso facto, Ms Rowton's Zadie's obsession and pre-occupation for her Phd - the 'grease' to the wheels of this play.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Perhaps, Perhaps …Quizas.

Photo by Pili Pala

Old 505 Theatre presents, PERHAPS, PERHAPS ... QUIZAS, by Gabriela Muñoz, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St., Newtown. 5 may - 13 May.

PERHAPS, PERHAPS .., QUIZAS, Written, Directed and Starring Gabriela Muñoz is a 'clown' work concerning the need of her character, Greta, for romantic marriage. Ms Muñoz finished her studies at the London International School of Performing Arts (LIPSA) based on Jacques Lecoq pedagogy, a two-year postgraduate course and a year course at the School of Physical Theatre in London. Her career has had an enormous international trajectory and it is, certainly, a grateful curatorial gift from the Artistic Directors of the Old 505 Theatre to see this work in Sydney.

Beginning with a charming silent movie introduction where we watch Greta pursuing a love-interest and being disappointed, Greta, is revealed in a cocoon of curtain where she seems to be writing. To an operatic tune, Greta, emerges, and we observe her in the remnants of a 'period' wedding paraphernalia. She acknowledges us and invites us to interact in an attempt to bring her urgent fantasy to fruition.

Using only a 'gibberish' language and occasionally singing sounds, Greta, with an astonishing  physical 'language', that includes, especially, a white make-up face of incredible subtlety (with an endearing left eye-brow) inveigles members of the audience to participate in the world of her desires.

The work is both hilarious and amazingly moving. Ms Muñoz's ability to 'command' participation, and elicit from us both empathetic comedy and melodramatic identification, beat by beating heart beat, is a wonderful experience of gentle 'genius' to be part of.

Ms Muñoz's PERHAPS, PERHAPS ... QUIZAS is a small show with a big heart and delightful skill. Its ability to transport us into a willing imaginative participatory game, and to gain a friendship-trust between the artist and ourselves - the audience - reveals the strength and unique pleasures that the theatre can sometimes evoke.

Especially recommended for those of us looking for refuge from the 'ugly' buffets of our present demanding world - it is, a truly, transporting hour of relative innocence.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Smurf in Wanderland

Photo by Brett Boardman

National Theatre of Parramatta and Griffin Theatre Company present SMURF IN WANDERLAND, by David Williams, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 2 May - 13 May.

SMURF IN WANDERLAND, a new Australian play, is the result of the enthusiasm of Lee Lewis, the Griffin Theatre Artistic Director's promise to program a play about Soccer, that was thrown into the discussion mix at the closing session of the Australian Theatre Forum held in Canberra, in 2013, by Playwright and Performer, David Williams. Four years later, and as a resultant of Mr Williams further engagement as a member of the 2015 Griffin Studio: " .. here we are.", says Mr Williams, in his program notes.

Mr Williams was a major contributor (and founder) to the performance group known as Version 1.0 (e.g. THIS KIND OF RUCKUS; THE TABLE OF KNOWLEDGE.) The works were deeply researched verbatim theatre performances. Since, after that company's demise: "Under the banner DW Projects, David Williams creates theatre works of social relevance, aesthetic rigour and emotional impact from research, interviews, transcripts and public documents." SMURF IN WANDERLAND is one of three current DW Projects in development or performance. It is the first work, from Mr Williams, for the National Theatre of Parramatta.

Over the past fifteen years, I've built a professional reputation around crafting theatre works from the words of other people - from public inquiries, parliamentary proceedings, and interviews. I had genuinely believed that SMURF IN WANDERLAND would be a work of a similar ilk. But I found that the show only came alive when I placed myself in the narrative. And the result is the show you see tonight - a very personal account of football and Sydney.
In deed Mr Williams is both the Writer and the Actor, a one person show - aided dramaturgically, by Kate Worsley and Directed, by Lee Lewis. Set and Costume Design, by Charles Davis, Lighting Design, by Luiz Pampolha, and a mostly atmospheric Sound Design and Composition, by James Brown.

The work is constructed in two 45 minute halves (the football game time lengths) from a 'Kick-off' to a "Half Time" to a "Full Time" signal. Mr Williams after an introductory explanation and audience organisational orchestration (there is some lame audience 'inclusion'), and several invitations to exit the theatre, if we want, gives us a history of his Western Suburban credentials/roots to help justify his divided self, as an attendee at both the Soccer games of Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney Football Club (FC), in the franchise, sky blue, Sydney FC clothing-gear, most of the time.

Says Ms Lewis in her program notes, SMURF IN WANDERLAND
Coming to you in the disarming guise of a one man show, what may look like a simple love letter to the idea of 'fans' is actually a revealing analysis of modern culture identity and a passionate artist's refusal to blithely accept governmental agenda and media laziness collaborating to denigrate the sport, the people and the city he loves.

If, only.

For me, in experience, in the SBW Stables, what evolved was a telling of a personal gradual 'addiction' to a sport form that reveals our narrator, cumulatively, viewing the world around him through the personal lens and prejudices of a spiralling and focused "Fan-actic" - suffering from a kind of soccer vertigo (remember the Alfred Hitchcock publicity images for the film VERTIGO?) This growing 'illness' was 'horribly' symptomatic in the confessed personal interweaving of the 'game' versus 'birth' demands of this Smurf's time allocation and sense of responsibility. I feel sure, if, you have been disarmed by the 'story', you may think it a gently amusing dilemma, if not, otherwise, it may be, slightly, socially alarming. This is when, perhaps, the narrator's voice, truly came alive for me - engendering a very concerned human empathy for 'Smurf' and for his circle of relationships.

The forensic dating of events and the many accessed details of 'pivotal' match moments, the side-'wise' passion of criticisms of the press, the police and the corporation management of his sport (whilst, I thought, ironically, wearing several Sydney FC shirts and caps - he telling us of his spending $145 on a franchised corporate shirt and having it personalised, at further expense), all reveal the 'fanatic' who is no longer just a simple fan of a sport, but is an 'obsessed' (as he admits), and may need some interventionary counselling.

For those of us who know not the sport or, much of sport fanaticism, this work fails to engage us to disarm our ignorance or trepidation to fully participate and enthuse in the body of this long performance. Neither the group chanting, we are taught, or, the static video images, of, mostly, newspaper articles and photographs we are shown on the side screens (what? no video recordings available, to show us the 'magic' of soccer in action?), or the deadening time consuming reveal of  banners in the auditorium - which only half the audience at any one time can read - can ignite us to disarmed enthusiasm, no matter how much I wished I could do so, so as to support the creative artists, in the demanded 'moments'. I did chant along and handclap - I did! It is a laborious two hours or so in the theatre and, perhaps, only the fanatic will think it a worth while way to spend one's time.

I, certainly, felt SMURF IN WANDERLAND, occupying, for two weeks, the Griffin Theatre's stage, or at the Riverside Theatres out in Parramatta, where it premiered, needed some urgent script 'doctoring'. Four years in the making this work is still fairly clumsy and full of textural 'wanderings'  and forensic sport persiflage. It needed more dramaturgical attention to give it more justification for its programming, no matter how enthusing the idea in Canberra at an Australian Theatre Forum, may have been about the art/sport dichotomy. (It was at the end of the Australian Theatre Forum event - so, it may just have been brain-dead exhaustion that 'floated' it?)

I believe, the time and stage occupation, Theatrically and Social Conscience-wise (tick a box), could have been better served with a return of PYT Fairfield's production of TRIBUNAL, which the Griffin presented last year to overflowing  demand. By the way, one wonders, if the National Theatre of Parramatta has offered TRIBUNAL a berth in their programming schedule in the West?

In a pre-show article in THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (by Peter Munro -26th April, 2017) Mr Williams is reported as saying

           He likens football fans to theatre buffs. "I see multiple shows each week and there's an awful lot of shit you have to wade through to get those moments of magic," he says. "Football fandom is the same. There have been many times where I had a strong disgust with what has been offered to me on the field. And yet I still come back for the next game, just in the hope that we should be better, we will get better."

After 'wading' through SMURF IN WANDERLAND, for the Griffin Theatre Company, I concur. I go to the Griffin in the hope that "we should get better, we will get better." SMURF IN WANDERLAND, new Australian writing at the Sydney theatre, which, exclusively, champions it!: "We will get better" - but when?

This is one of DW Projects on-going enterprises, the others include: QUIET FAITH (national tour April-July) and GRACE UNDER PRESSURE (Seymour Centre and The Big Anxiety). I felt it was ominous to read David Williams Writer's notes in the foyer before the show which began with: "This show began life as a joke." 

Hmmm, again.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Two recent French films: Personal Shopper, and Frantz

Here are two French films worth catching. What is it that the French have? Their work is so good, or, is it that we only get to see the best of the best?

1. PERSONAL SHOPPER

PERSONAL SHOPPER is the second film that Director/Writer, Olivier Assayas and actor, Kristen Stewart have made together. The last was CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, starring Juliette Binoche. Ms Stewart was the supporting artist of that film. In this new film she is definitely front and centre - the star, the camera hardly has her out of sight. I had never seen Ms Stewart in any other work that I could remember, not even any of her extensive child/teen films, let alone any of the TWILIGHT franchise, so, I was curiously, surprisingly, arrested with her performance in the CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA - I could hardly shut up about her - she won the French equivalent of the Academy Award - the Cesare - the first time a non-French actor had done so.

PERSONAL SHOPPER, too, arrived with glowing broadcasts of Ms Stewart's work and she delivers an amazingly focused performance with her Maureen. Maureen, a young American in Paris, works as a personal shopper for a busy fashionista, Kyra (Nora von Walstatten) and carries out her work with professional precision, however, spiritually debilitating it may be. In that modern world the internet gadgets of that world dominate her interactions - it is a set of cold pragmatic interactions - some chillingly unsettling, as that with Ingo (Lars Eldinger), the insecure partner of her boss.

To complicate, lubricate the film, Maureen's brother, and twin, has recently died from a congenital heart disease, which she, too, has. He was a 'medium' to the spiritual world and together they have promised to reconnect from the other world with a 'sign'. Maureen stays in the house that her brother lived in and has sensed some atmosphere. Or not. The CGI spiritual arousals of ectoplasm that we witness are sophisticated and intriguing, indeed.

The Spiritual hunt for a 'sign' created, for me, the tensions of the Henry James' film adaptations of THE BOSTONIANS (1984) and THE TURN OF THE SCREW, its film title being: THE INNOCENTS (1961), both dealing with 'ghosts', or not. This film quickly ratchets up into a gripping ghostly modern thriller, on her trip to London by train on assignment as the personal shopper, as her iPhone begins to receive messages that seem to suggest that she is being stalked intensely by an omnipotent eye. This riveting 14 minutes of cinema is a crash course in a contemporary acting development from Ms Stewart that is a complex revelation and has one, as the audience, gasping as to what is 'real' and what is an 'actor's choice' - she makes her 'acting' invisible, and immersively thrilling for us, her audience. Ms Stewart does not require you to love her, and I reckon that is part of her modernity - why she is so arresting - why she demands your co-operation.

The combination of an old-fashioned spiritual thriller in contemporary dress with the contemporary world tools that we all have in our pockets or purses, lifts the work into a more than clever experience - it reverberates, dare I say, with the same urgency of the time reality that Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), did - the idea that all the events of the film were happening all about oneself, contemporaneously.

Thrusting forward with a relentlessly swift pace and the subtle intermingling of both 'worlds', combined with the cool, (stunningly beautiful) and absolutely modern character created by Ms Stewart, PERSONAL SHOPPER delivers the thrills in a deeply satisfying manner. The film does not feel 'cheap' or 'cheesy' even despite the genre territory, for the performance, the Cinematography, by Yorick Le Saux, the Editing, by Marion Monnier, the colour Design are flawless.

Some have felt that not all of the film 'adds up', but if you watch closely, it does - just! The final sequences in the 'old world' of a distant country, Aman, far removed from the present modern metropolis thump-beat, brings a pacific and satisfying resolve to the ghost story. Or, not.

The performance by Kristen Stewart is as arresting as anything that Isabelle Huppert has given us - and you know that is saying something - she maybe her heir! Although a French film, PERSONAL SHOPPER, is played in English. Highly recommended.

2. FRANTZ

FRANTZ is a new film from Director, Francois Ozon. It was written in collaboration with Phillipe Piazzo, inspired by the Ernst Lubitsch, Paramount 1932 film, BROKEN LULLABY.

It begins in a battle scarred provincial town in Germany after the First World War. Adrien (Pierre Ninney), a French ex-soldier is observed grieving at the grave of Frantz, and gradually finds himself inveigled by the family of the dead soldier. Anna (Paula Beer), the grieving ex-fiance, and his parents, Doctor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stotzner) and Magda (Maria Gruber).

In stunning black and white cinematography that occasionally subtly shifts into Sepia colour (Pascal Marti), with Production Design by Michel Barthelemy and Art Design by Susanne Abel, the romance of this story, moves through the pains of the aftermath of war on the people of two nations and travels along a narrative trajectory that is gorgeously provocative and unexpected. The performances of the two principal leads, especially Ms Beer as her character dominates the latter section of the film, are ideal in their understated offers, beautifully supported by a vast company of the other actors.

It is a beautiful film that transports one out of one's daily life and has a modern integrity of manipulation that can be highly recommended. Not to be missed, especially by those with a romantic heart and faith in the destiny of the human animal. Do Go. The French have what ? A je ne sais quoi - an indefinable something that captures elements of being human in a totally optimistic but real way.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Chapel Perilous

Photo by Bob Seary

New Theatre presents THE CHAPEL PERILOUS, by Dorothy Hewett, at the New Theatre, King St, Newtown. 25 April -27 May.

THE CHAPEL PERILOUS is a play by Dorothy Hewett written in 1972.

Dorothy Hewett was born in 1923, in the landscape of the wheat fields of Western Australia. She was home schooled until her mid teenage years when she went to Perth to an Anglican school. It was when she arrived there that Dorothy began to realise that she would be, necessarily, on a lone personal quest for her individuality. In pursuit of her self-realisation the value systems of the world around her would be her nemesis, her combatant. Rebel, atheist, sexualist, iconoclast, Communist, feminist, novelist, playwright and poet - all these things, especially the poet, put her at odds with the cultural 'wasteland' of her era.

Writing for the theatre as a poet in epic style, in form impressed from the European avant-garde (the Symbolists, Wedekind, Brecht and others), her works were liberated, unburdened by the dominant rules of naturalism and were, mostly, a confronting conundrum for the Australian audience's of the 1970's. Even in time beyond - really, until THE MAN FROM MUKINUPIN (1979) - Ms Hewett was a, relative, persona non grata to/for audiences. It was just not her exploration of form, however, - some would say a female form - that isolated her, it was also her content: the world as experienced by a woman and told with a free-wheeling open-hearted fierceness, joy and puzzlement that blind sighted the audiences to embracing her. For, Ms Hewett could not be anything but honest. And honesty about the female 'functions', instincts, needs and wants were subjects of exposure that good manners and social convention, dictated by Church, School and State, in the rigour of censorship handed down by a rigorous patriarchy had prevented that from being publicly (theatrically) discussed. As revealed in the time scape of THE CHAPEL PERILOUS, from the early '30's through to the '60's (at least) Sally Banner lives in an Australia that was deeply, deeply 'proper'/conservative. The woman/poet Dorothy Hewett could be mad, bad and dangerous to the fabric of society, it seemed.

Her first play THIS OLD MAN COMES ROLLING HOME (1967) was, mostly, a social realist melodrama set in the 'lower depths' of the working class of Redfern, but was mixed with a 'poetical chorus' of women, which in the experience/exposure of the general Australian theatre audiences used to the well-made play was an alien and derailing experience. This play dealt with the working class struggle within an ordinary family for social justice, revealing its poverty and alcoholic heritage in a mire of overt sexuality and post-World War II social/political disorder - plus, poetry spoken by the 'dregs' of the city! The cultural cringe was severe. It was 'proper' and perhaps acceptable to read of these sort of things in novels, in the privacy of one's own head/home, but in the theatre, surrounded by other people, it could be, was, awkward.? "Entertain us, please - none of that mirror up to life stuff." The response to the play was critical.

The next play was THE CHAPEL PERILOUS. Ms Hewett, being no slouch in her own literature reading and influence, gives the play its shape from the inspiration of Sir Thomas Malory's LE MORTE D'ARTHUR (1485) focused not on Knight: Sir Gwain of olde, but on Sally Banner of now, and her quest, her struggles, to find the 'grail', that will permit her to be true, to release herself as a positive individual influence on the world. The frankness of the episodes in Sally's journey and the powerful sexual independence of the character was a confrontation in its time, possibly is still, today. The language was realistic and scarifying for its society, and possibly, still is, today.

THE CHAPEL PERILOUS comes with a reputation for being 'awkward', in its structure with sudden flights into various 'form', let alone its content. I have seen this play in several incarnations and it has always appeared to be a 'mess' of a play, but Ms Licciardello, at the New Theatre, has found a way to tell it that has a lucidity and a unification of the forms to its social/narrative purposes. Her intellectual conceptualisation as to the play's intent and method has harnessed Ms Hewett's work, with elisions and adaptations, for ease. Whether we are seeing all of Ms Hewett's artistic courage and vision on stage in this production is another thing altogether.

THE CHAPEL PERILOUS, is possibly the most auto-biographical play that Ms Hewett wrote. Though, all of the works resonate with her life experiences and personality - bravado. If one reads her auto-biography WILD CARD, published in 1980, one can appreciate the gifts of the writer in her inventive, imaginative and technical adventurism in writing from her life for the theatre.

This production of the play has pared down (musically and visually) what some have called 'a mess', 'awkward', to create a clear theatrical path of co-hesive storytelling - this is the strength of Ms Licciardello's vision. Although, I felt that the musical element of the play had not been given the attention it should have. The choral work under prepared or, under powered, not given sufficient attention to performance clarity and dramaturgical intention (Musical Direction, by Alexander Lee-Rekers). The Set Design, by Kyle Jonsson is functionally inventive, dark and primitive in its statements (an altar of sacrifice, in an arena scape) encouraging a Lighting Design from Martin Kinnane that glows in yellows and oranges, and contrasting arid blues, in teeming haze, too, darkly. The Costume Design, by Courtney Westbrook, creates with flair the passing of eras/time with aesthetic clarity and clever changes. Clemence Williams, too, has created a diverse and apt Sound Design to register, signal, the changes of mood with skill.

A lot of the persona of this play, as written by Ms Hewett, are satiric caricatures, (in this production of nine actors called the Ensemble: Courtney Bell, Jasper Garner-Gore, Madeline Osborn and James Wright) representing distilled core/extremities of elements of the mainstream culture - those elements challenged by Sally Banner. This company of actors, and this should include Meg Clarke, as Sister Rosa, Brett Heath as Cannon, and especially Alison Chambers as Mother and Headmistress, led by Ms Licciardello, do not trust that the 'satire' has been written in, and tend to 'gild the lilly' by aggressively playing the writing without really investigating the people they are lambasting/representing with any backstory truths. The satire is built in, and there is no need to play it. Instead, I thought, as I watched, just play the truth. Simple. Honest. Real interactions (and certainly in this production where the Symbolist Masks etc have been removed) are what surfaces as the acting mode necessary for this production to score best. For the actors to present a bunch of mixed believers in the conventions of their society as normal, as natural as anyone else - we, certainly, see enough examples of this extremity played out regularly on our daily news bulletins by real people, passionate believers in their point-of-view, to not need the actor/satirists to exaggerate them. It was a point underlined in the Trump-'sketch' in last year's Wharf Revue, BACK TO BITE YOU, where simply screening Donald Trump speeches/interviews without comment was satiric enough!

The best performance in this production of THE CHAPEL PERILOUS, comes from Tom Matthews, who in playing representations of all four of Sally's love interests: Michael, Thomas, David and Saul, 'plays' with a naturalistic power (Stanislavskian prepared truth) that exposes at the same time, both, the satiric observations and the human failings of these men of those eras with, what appears to be, careful selection and restraint. Ms Clarke does the same with her Judith (though not her nun) - Sally's first passion - her performance grounds the scenes with Sally with comprehensible realities. Mr Heath, also, demonstrates glimmers of knowledge of the human dilemmas of the Father's tasks, too (though a trifle wooden) but not with, as I have mentioned, his overstated Cannon.

Julia Christensen, carrying the immense role (banner) of Sally Banner, gives us a spine to the story. She is obviously equipped with the intelligence to approach the challenge of the writing and has an enormous reservoir of emotional life to deliver it. However, Ms Christensen's performance struggles with harnessing both her objective understanding of Sally's function in the play with her personal (subjective) emotional identification to Sally's journey, and with what Dorothy Hewett is revealing, as author, of herself.

At the performance I watched, the personalisation, the ownership, of Sally Banner by Ms Christensen, overwhelmed her artistry, and prevented her from creating a character that is the Sally Banner written by Ms Hewett, and it seemed that I was witnessing a live (improvised) personal response to the material. There was little real interaction with her other actors - she played, mostly, it seemed, within a pre-conceived arc, generating the performance independently of the other actor's offers, all from her own passionate identification, and demonstrated  no real restraint in her erupting choices to have us, help us, pierce to the dramaturgical functions of the character and the writing, sufficiently, for our responding empathy.

All this is said with an admiration and sense of expectancy of better work from this artist, for I have seen her potential in other places. Ms Christensen's performance is Okay but not what I suspect it could be. For instance, I kept reading her offers of her Sally with a 'thrusting' head used for emphasis, from phrase to phrase, to be accumulatively, in appearance, an emotional habit of the actor rather than the actor's craft CHOICE to reveal Sally. The last work I have seen from Ms Christensen was in A PERIOD PIECE - a satiric piece, and the habits of her performance work - essentially, a lack of craft RESTRAINT to her impulses - were, similarly present in that performance. I had seen her, as well, in another comic piece called AN INSPECTION - and, as this was my first viewing of her gifts, it appeared very arresting. The two new viewings since have given me the same actorly habits as the major offer. It is interesting to note that Ms Licciardello also Directed A PERIOD PIECE with their Company: GLITTERBOMB. They seem to be supporting muses for each other's work.

I left the New Theatre with a growing admiration of the potential of Ms Licciardello - there is conceptual intelligence and staging skill (although, some of the setting of scenes on the downstage floor limited the viewing for the audience sitting in the back half of the theatre). Her production of THE CHAPEL PERILOUS reveals the courage and, sadly, relevance of Ms Hewett's work. Sally's need to define herself necessarily by the relationships that she has with men - her 'neediness',  her search for 'love' and mistaking sex as the instrument to find it, rings out as a dominant chord of 'tragedy', as does the final moment in the play where Sally, finally, gives in to the demands of the world about her and bows to their command. Ms Hewett's Sally fails in the end, perhaps, because her 'grail' is undefined. How relevant is that to the contemporary woman in the world of 2017?  However, I look forward to Ms Licciardello growing a gift for guiding her actors more accurately, and less indulgently, with more discipline, to reveal not only the 'What' but the 'How' of the writer's intentions (or, in this production of her adaptation's needs).

Dorothy Hewett is a trailblazer in the ambition of her playwrighting and this production ought to remind people of her vision and potency. It brings the historic Australian female playwright's voice to attention and one hopes that we see other productions of her work, 'messy', 'awkward', though they appear to be. THE TATTY HOLLOW STORY (1976) for instance - almost, completely neglected. Ms Licciardello and Ms Christensen presented a work called, A PERIOD PIECE, at Old 505 Theatre, recently, focusing on the female 'period'. Maybe, they will tackle Ms Hewett's BON-BONS AND ROSES FOR DOLLY (1972) where an infamous 'flow' stunned audiences of the time. Still may - will?!!

For audience interested in Australian playwrighting, in the lost female voice of our Australian theatre repertoire (Alma de Groen, another: RIVERS OF CHINA; THE WOMAN AT HE WINDOW), I can, with some small reservations, recommend that you go see this work, at the New Theatre.

Says Sally, proudly early in the play: 'Queen Elizabeth, Madame Curie, Florence Nightingale, Jane Austin, Emily Bronte, Joan of Arc, Boadicea, Grace Darling, Elizabeth Frye, Helen Keller, Daisy Bates, Sally Banner'.

Let's add Dorothy Hewett, to that list.

P.S. It was fascinating/exciting, for me, to see Director/theatre activist Aarne Neeme, at the New Theatre, at the Opening performance, as it was he who encouraged Dorothy to write this play and who Directed the first production of the play at the New Fortune Theatre, in Perth in January, 1971, with a cast of actors of greater size. History in motion. History flowing about us, mostly, unperceived.

N.B. It has been a week of retrieval of the Australian repertoire from the Independent Theatre in the Sydney scene with THE CHAPEL PERILOUS, by Dorothy Hewett and DOWN AN ALLEY WITH CATS, by Warwick Moss. A good week, then.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Down An Alley Filled With Cats

Photo by Andrew Langcake

Throwing Shade Theatre Co. in association with EMU productions presents, DOWN AN ALLEY FILLED WITH CATS, by Warwick Moss, at the King St Theatre, Newtown. 25 April - 13 May.

DOWN AN ALLEY FILLED WITH CATS, is an Australian play written in 1987, by Warwick Moss. It is a two handed small-time conman comedy-thriller. Timothy Timmony, a Polish refugee second-hand book seller matches wits with a petty Aussie 'crook', Simon Matthews, in search of a 12th Century Sung Dynasty vase treasure (The Maltese Falcon?!) worth an estimated 'half-a-million'.

Two contrasting characters from two different worlds locked in the same space, over night, apply their wiles amusingly, intriguingly in classic Agatha Christie style tension: "Who's telling the truth?" "Are they who they say they are?" "Who's doing what now?" and "Who do I believe?" As the Director, Tom Richards, says in his program notes: 'We quickly learn to expect the unexpected!' That's the fun of this light entertainment and although it doesn't have the theatrical (disguise) surprises (or budget demands) of a play like Anthony Shaffer's 1970 comic thriller, SLEUTH, it certainly reminds one of it.

On a depressingly realistic set, that does look like many a second-hand bookstore in the local neighbourhood, on King St, Gabriel Egan (Simon) and William Jordan (Timothy), play it out with, as yet, a nervous bravado. Still finding their way with the text and audience, the performances should grow in confidence as the run progresses. Both these actors make the characters a winning personality - audience allegiance can switch from one to the other with ease, and one begins to 'invent' the solution to each of the plots twists for them - it is kind of fun.

I had never seen the play before, or read it, and am delighted to have caught it. It has a surprising confidence in plotting and a deft hand at characterisation and comedy-suspense. Along with Ron Blair's PRESIDENT WILSON IN PARIS, it represents a genre of Australian playwriting that is rarely seen or appreciated.

Film's I've seen recently: Beauty and The Beast and The Wolfpack

Here we go some filums I've seen recently.

1. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

A Disney and Mandeville co-production, of a live action and CGI animation version of the 1991 BEAUTY AND THE BEAST animation film, which has so far made $1.222 billion. There is, obviously, no accounting for taste. Except to note that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the most expensive musical movie ever made when one includes the hefty Marketing budget. Marketing the product (art?) is very important, indeed.

The film is a safe remake of the Musical created by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. It features a blatantly bland performance from Emma Watson, as Belle. (Ms Watson - Hermione from the Harry Potter franchise, in case you are trying to figure out who she is - was paid $3 million and a bonus if the film scored Big Box Office - it has! She is an admirable political activist - perhaps - but can she act?). Dan Stevens, supports as the Beast, who is more attractive in the Beast CGI disguise than as the rescued Prince. Kevin Kline gives an unusually subdued performance, as Dad - make-up is good. Luke Evans gives an unimaginative reading of egoist Gaston - looking a little old for the casting, by the way - allowing for Josh Gad, as his side-kick, Le Fou, to get acting honours and an historic Gay Moment tick box (oh, come on 'gay role play for all the movie' tick box) - whilst, meantime, Emma Thompson, as the voice for Mummy Potts, wins the the best, the most affecting performance. What a waste of Audra McDonald talents, by the way. Ian McKellen does a 'phone-in' or, what else can he do?

This new version of the story gives writing credits to Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, the film Directed dully by Bill Condon, with enough (some) classic film references to other films to entertain, to tantalise us to keep us awake - e.g. The Sound Of Music hill moment, the Frankenstein crowd hunt moments etc. Let's have a competition to see how many you can find? If only Mr Condon could top his 1998 GODS AND MONSTERS movie, or the 2004 KINSEY movie which he also wrote, we might want to believe in him again. But this is just horrible hackwork - not that of a real artist, is it?

If you have kids that have never seen a movie, take them along if you want them to have an indelible child hood memory, I guess. Don't worry too much about the subtle social engineering going on. My first cherished movie memory is SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, and I just love, Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY, and still have nightmares because of PINOCCHIO. I have turned out ok, don't you think? Disney was my childhood saviour, I guess. So, though I can be entirely bored and unimpressed with this formulaic bit of commercialism as an elitist adult poseur, it must have some value for some out there. $1.222 Billion is not anything if not good capitalism, or, is that just good altruistic Disney Corporate Family Entertainment? Would Walt have been pleased?

2. THE WOLFPACK.

THE WOLFPACK is a 2015 first time documentary made by Crystal Moselle.

Walking down a New York street, Ms Moselle encountered a pack of boys all dressed as if they were characters from Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS. She followed them and talked with them. She made friends with them, fascinated by their interest in film. They became friends and she gained their trust. These young men were more interesting than she could ever have guessed. Gradually, over time she discovered that these boys had lived most of their lives in a four bedroom apartment in the East Village. They had never, rarely, left that apartment. OMG. The Angula family, the six boys and a younger sister, under the direction of their father, Oscar, and home schooled by their mother, Susanne, rejected the corrupting outside world of the USA. Their lives were built on movies. They had a collection of some 10,000 films. They made films of their own. Building the sets and properties and making the costumes from their own resources, sometimes, shooting the same film multiple times, in their apartment.

Footage made by Ms Moselle has been augmented with a collection of home made movies made by the family over the many years of self-captivity. The film, later, captures the boys moving out from the apartment into the world and finding their way. The documentary is amazing because it is mostly just observational with occasional interview. The boys, the mum and even the dad, relate to the camera aurally, but minimally. They all appear to be remarkably adjusted and all seem to be finding a niche in the world that was once forbidden.

So many questions arise after the viewing and it is that mysterious aspect of the experience of the film that tantalises. It is that that urges me to encourage you to catch it.

Fascinating. Weird. And yet, oddly, re-assuring. I don't know why I feel that way. I know the premise should be the source of much judgment and even cynicism and yet! ... Is it the fact that there is no classic climatic drama or conflict or violence? That the film is so even tempered that one becomes detached into a 'floating' acceptance and hope for the family? That in the final images as one of the boys Directs a film of his own that has a feel/look of an Art-Indie film, like that of a Alejandro Jodorowsky film? Or, of the imagery of a Fellini. Or the atmosphere of a David Lynch. I don't know what it is!

I saw it with a friend that had seen it before and their reaction was, they said, so different from the first viewing. There are lovely 'spaces' in the footage of this documentary for you as an audience to endow, to interpret, that this film/documentary might resonate very differently for you each time you see it. Depending and been affected by your emotional state with your world. There is an ethical ill-at-ease aspect to it for me at this time, and yet at the same time, I am so curious as to know what will happen to this family, to these boys that I can't forget THE WOLFPACK. It kind of haunts you. I care for the family, the boys particularly, and have hope for their safety, happiness. Remember the 'connections' you had with the Maysles' film Grey Gardens (1976) and your fascination with the two women, mother and daughter, the Edith Beale's, living, isolated, in the East Hampton's? Then, this may be your new adopted interest/family.

Highly recommended. Truth is truly more amazing than fiction. Henry Fielding in his 1749 novel, TOM JONES, talks of the telling of the MARVELLOUS. THE WOLPACK is that experience. Marvellous. A Marvel. It has to be true, because fiction could not have imagined, invented this 'plot'/story arc. It does not follow the rules - it is alive and thence, unpredictable. Maybe that is what it is, it is as unpredictable in plot development as I hope my life can be, should be.

I saw it at my new favourite cinema: The Golden Age Cinema, down on Commonwealth St. Surry Hills. It is such a cool bar and screening room. Beware the Paramount cocktail - I had two - it was my birthday.