Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Remembering Pirates

Photograph by Helen White
Darlinghurst Theatre Co presents, REMEMBERING PIRATES, by Christopher Harley, in the Eternity Theatre, Burton St Darlinghurst, 16 September - 16 October.

REMEMBERING PIRATES is a new work by Christopher Harley, who gave us BLOOD BANK at the Ensemble Theatre late last year.

The 'core' of the dramatics of this new play is similar to the last one by Mr Harley. Two brothers: one of them lost (Michael), the other (John) subsequently traumatised. (In BLOOD BANK, it was Justin that was lost and Michael traumatised). In this instance we also have a sister, Wendy and the haunting playtime of their childhood game of Peter Pan and the Pirates, confusedly fused to their present day lives, as a hidden truth of accident and a crime surfaces to climax.

The play is only 50 minutes long and is tantalisingly, moodily managed by Director, Iain Sinclair. The design by Alicia Clements features a back wall with two doors at either end of a long oblong curtained window that rustles and flutters with a 'wind', it, suggestively lit for dramatic tension by Daniel Barber, with a Sound Composition and vocal Design atmospherically creating a 'real' past world of news bulletins concerning a lost child, with the magic music of the eerie otherworld of imagination, by Nate Edmondson.

The central performance of the disturbed John is eruditely played by Simon London (an actor of some impact: EDWARD II and STRAIGHT), ably supported by Emma Palmer. Stephen Multari does what he can with an underdeveloped role (that mostly attempts to justify the appearance of a gun into the action), while Robert Alexander given the responsibility of a father figure suffering from the onset of 'dementia' does well with a character that in the plotting of this work seems to be unnecessary. Young Fraser Crane needs more nuance and a closer Directorial hand with his dialogue offers.

The imaginative concept of this work and its offerings of the breakdown of mind (Ayckbourn's 1985, WOMAN IN MIND could be useful as a guide) is extremely promising but its execution as a finished play is far from satisfactory. Not all the characters have been fully developed beyond function, and the credibility that the young sister could drag a body and dump it in a nearby lake, forever undetected, is more than mildly preposterous,  particularly as we know of a very public police search that we hear on the radio soundtrack throughout the play - I would of thought the lake would have been 'dragged' for a body just as a routine of investigation and found! (I was reminded of the generating incident in JASPER JONES, both novel and play, and had the same loss of belief.)

Says Mr Sinclair in his program notes:
The magic in Christopher Harley's writing is elusive but beautiful. When you read the script dry, something makes sense in your heart as you are reading it then the moment you disassemble it, it becomes impossible to reassemble according to dramaturgical laws.
It is a statement that is too true. No matter the heart felt 'beauty'of the play's conception/writing, it can't be reassembled in the pragmatics of the 'dramaturgical laws'. The text needs more work. Many, many more drafts. The play was announced, programmed, a year ago, and so one must believe that it has had 'development,' since then, surely? Or, not?

Whether the magical elements are 'beautiful' enough to overcome the dramaturgical laws (flaws) that Mr Sinclair talks of will be what the audience will have to wrestle with while watching this production.

Is there a paucity of good Australian playwriting?  Mentioned in the thank you list in the program,  (besides some actors/directors and designers) are: Jane Bodie, Tim Roseman, University of Sydney's Department of Performance Studies and Playwriting Australia, and we must include  the Director of this production, Iain Sinclair, who is 'a Director/Translator and Dramaturg' - all involved, directly with the development of new Australian playwriting. Whatsagoing on? So much support, so little to show for it in constructive dramaturgical logics?

Edward Albee passed away last week. Where is his near likeness in achievement in the Australian canon of playwriting? I wish.

I merely ask for information. There seems to be so much 'industry' available in encouraging new Australian writing, but there is so little consistent quality for us who buy the tickets!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jump First, Ask Later, at The Studio, Sydney Opera House



Force Majeur, Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) and the Sydney Opera House present: JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER, in the Studio, at the Sydney Opera House, 22 September - 2 October.

JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER, Parkour From the Streets of Fairfield, is now playing at the Sydney Opera House. A year ago, or so, I saw the work in its first outing. Since, it has been seen in Melbourne at the Arts Centre and has won an Award at the recent Australian Dance Awards, 2016: Outstanding Achievement in Youth Dance.

I have re-corporated my original Diary response to this work, to fill in the background to this remarkable work. The performance, Choreographed by Byron Perry, has grown in confidence and now exhibits an exhilarating professional veneer and, despite the lack of the 'floor bounce' that we experienced in Fairfield, it is still as thrilling in its affect in the Studio at the Sydney Opera House, as then.

This Community project is the result of the inspiration of the Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) and its leader Karen Therese - a gifted inspirational artist (THE RIOT ACT). This is the second project from that company that has been brought from Western Sydney to the CBD. TRIBUNAL, an important verbatim project concerning the recent refugee experience and debate, was seen at the Griffin Theatre Company, a month or so ago. With support from Arts NSW, the Australia Council of the Arts, and the Seaborn, Broughton and Walford (SBW) Foundation, JUMP NOW, ASK LATER is demonstrating the power of the harnessing of the artistic impulses of Western Suburbs youth finding expression of their lives. It seems to have enriched the participants and I can guarantee is an inspiring experience for its audience. I encourage you to attend to participate in the real possibilities of the future. Do not miss it.

 Read On.

JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER - Parkour From the Streets of Fairfield, Produced and Presented by Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) and Force Majeure, at the Powerhouse Youth Theatre in Fairfield.

Some Fairfield youth have explored and practised as individuals and, latterly, as an ensemble: The Dauntless Movement Company (DMC), to present a wide range of street physical engagements: B-Boying, Parkour, Free running, Hip-hop dancing, Tricking, a variety of martial arts, calisthenics, and acrobatics. In JUMP FIRST ASK LATER, six individuals, all founding members of DMC: Joseph Carbone, Johnny Do, Patrick Uy, Justin Kilic, Natalie Siri and Jimmy James Pham, all but one "born and bred" in Fairfield (the other from Bankstown), tell us of their background stories and of their entrance into this physical world. They talk of it as part of a street/park activity, that gradually cohered into a mutual 24/7 mind and body pre-occupation that they developed as a kind of 'tribal' identification - they did it for fun; it occupied them and kept their minds busy (distracted) in a positive, happy way.

Two years ago the Powerhouse Youth Theatre invited this loose collective into a project that partnered them with one of Australia's leading dance theatre companies: Force Majeure. Two developmental, artistic residencies, one of two weeks, the other of five weeks, led by Byron Perry, has resulted in this astonishing work. Astonishing, many-fold, but particularly because of its theatrical sophistication and the physical skill and bravado (emotional, as well) artistry of all the participants. It is an entirely recommended experience for all ages. Inspiration plus. Exhilarating.

This group of young people have honed their fearless crafts into a breathtaking kind of artistry, by themselves, over years, and now, in collaboration, with Mr Perry at Fairfield Youth Theatre, have produced a dance work, reminiscent in form, of some of the work of the great DV8 company: TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU (2008); CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS (2011). Says Choreographer Byron Perry in his Director's Notes:
This work is an onstage documentary about a group of six individuals from Fairfield in Western Sydney, and their shared love of movement. ... It is as much a story about urban movement practises and the freeing and the unifying power of movement as it is an exploration of the lives of the people involved. ... it is a reminder of how important our connection to place and to each other really are.
The commitment to their street-inspired 'culture', the physical movement forms, and the development and disciplines of their skills is evident in the intensity and expertise of their performances. JUMP FIRST ASK LATER, begins with the group introducing to us a round of exercises as a kind of 'warm-up', and then, unobtrusively, segues into taking us on a journey into their worlds, both the public art form they are inventing, and the 'private' contextual motivations they individually have, to persist with it. Each of the artists get to show their 'best' tricks, and each subsume, integrate, their 'tricks' and skills into a series of ensemble pieces that are breathtaking to watch.

My favourite was the comic physical construct of a computer game by the 'gang', and, here, the subtle but decisive skills of the AV Design of Sean Bacon, combined with the witty and beautifully judged contribution of the Sound Design of Luke Smiles, creates an unforgettable theatrical memory. It may have been, as well, that the floor of the Fairfield School of Arts, bounces and springs back at us, as the artists swing on the pseudo monkey-bar construct at the back of the shallow stage, onto the wooden blocks, to land in full flight in front of us, so that the audience's seats bounce back in 'a cause and affect' conversation with them - a thrilling visceral inter-active buzz in our own bodies that connects us in/to the action, and may create the delusion, as it did, momentarily, often, that I, too, was doing Parkour (I wish), with them.

This is an amazing work. This is not just a good community project outcome. This is a terrific piece and time in the theatre. Get yourself out there to Fairfield. Take yourselves, your children (of all ages) and be made very, very happy.

This is a DON'T MISS.

P.S. The theatre, The Fairfield School of Arts, is just around the corner from the Fairfield Railway Station, and there are terrific Iraqi Restaurants,  and others, to eat, or have a coffee and cake at, before the performance. The show is just sixty minutes long. One wished it was longer. But then, of course, I was only watching, not expending my physical energies in these remarkable acts of love in the pursuit of FUN.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

This, This Is Mine

The Corinthian Food Store Collective presents, THIS, THIS IS MINE, by Duncan Ragg, in an apartment in Downtown Sydney, 24 - 25 September, Sydney; then 30 Sept - 1 October in Canberra.

THIS, THIS IS MINE, is a new play by a young Writer/Director, Duncan Ragg, developed in a 'generous' residency in Brooklyn, NYC, where it was first presented in a luggage factory in Red Hook. Determined to perform the work, at home, in Sydney, a new venture known as The Corinthian Food Store Collective, organised a space and time, firstly on the roof of an inner-city apartment building, but perforce of weather, I saw it in an improvised space: the living room of an apartment in the building. Cosy. There were abut 14-16 of us as audience. It was as if we were at a house-party and we were given entertainment. We were offered a drink - wine or soft, or tea, as we waited.

Charles Wu, one of the original founders of the Collective, entertained us, at first, with some songs - his own, some Beatles, and by request, a Lou Reed opus, to finish-up - a charming, idiosyncratic artist. After a re-organising of the space - sadly, a conventional seating block facing a 'stage-space' - two actors, Matilda Ridgeway (Eva) and Shiv Palekar (Lester), enacted a conversation, a growing confrontation between two friends, in the apartment of Eva's recently dead father.

In approximately 75 minutes the play covers a whole range of contemporary talking points such as national identity, personal identity etc. that are arresting - there is a seriousness going on here that has one attracted - recent new Australian writing seems to avoid such overtness and pertinence. That the 'politics' of the 'points' are not really investigated at any interrogative depth is not so much a disappointment but a sign of 'hope' that here may be a writer that is willing to grapple with meaningful issues. The principal weakness in the writing is that neither of these characters appear to have very much reason, or stakes, to be engaging with each other with such 'cultural' erudition and so the lack of tension in the story spine of this dramatic work keeps us from really engaging or caring, beyond an objective appreciation of what they begin to converse about. Neither of the actors, with Director, Mr Ragg, have found a true motivational through-line, that they could clue us with, to bring a three dimensional aura to Eva or Lester. They were, mostly, juvenile talking heads.

Ms Ridgeway moves to a moving commitment of 'emotion' at the play's climax and appears to be, personally, fairly comfortable with Eva's whole journey, while, on the other hand, Mr Palekar appeared to pitch his work just a little too self-consciously, as an actor creating character rather than comfortably letting Lester appear - nerves/inexperience? - we could see a young actor at work, and especially, in this intimate space, was transparent. That this 'sophisticated' conversation and confrontation between these two people collapses into mutual physical abuse was a little surprising and sad to contemplate if this was a seen as a satisfactory resolution to why  and how these two people were meeting and struggling together.

THIS, THIS IS MINE, by Mr Ragg, is a new work that suggests a real writer's potential. And a potential from a new generation of self-starting artists: The Corinthian Food Store Collective, that wants to say something pertinent about the world they live in, other than the bed-sex and addictions, distractions of most other contemporary Australian theatre, television and film writing. This, this is a start. Says the writer, in the hand bill for the production:
THIS, THIS IS MINE was written in my Pop's house in Bowral. It also owes a lot of time spent in Mexico and Cuba.
Bowral, I can, possibly, read in an influence. But the Mexico and Cuba experience, credited, didn't seem to appear in the writing dreamscape that I could detect. But, I am interested about that possibility next time.

Friday, September 23, 2016

4 Minutes 12 Seconds

Out House Theatre Co and Red Line presents, 4 Minutes 12 Seconds, by James Fritz at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomooloo. 13 Sept - 8 Oct. 2016.

4 Minutes 12 Seconds is a British play, by James Fritz, written in 2013.

This is the story of a mother, Di (Danielle King), with a husband, David (Jeremy Waters), and their son, Jack - who we never meet. The son has had a Facebook post that has gone viral. The content is not pleasant, the ramifications are huge. Di, a 'helicopter' mum, decides that she must intervene in the social consequences and 'clear' her son's reputation. All is not as she has 'dreamt' and like an 'Alice' falls down a 'rabbit-hole' of confrontation that shifts all her presumptions of her life and her relational perceptions in it, in a devastating way. Social and ethical values are put under scrutiny in a very relevant and contemporary way as the play in short, sharp scenes drip-feeds information that changes dramatically the audiences impressions of what has really been going-on.

The Director, Craig Baldwin, with his Designer, Hugh O'Connor, has created an ambiguous space - one that is comfortably carpeted and often warmly lit (Christopher page), but uncomfortably, ominously, surrounded by reflective black walls, that creep up the sides of the seating banks, in which we can see, spectral reflections of ourselves. Minimum furniture and a Sound Design accompanied by computer images that startle one into the modern ethos of the digital world, of the fast and irrevocable communication that is at hand, on our personal iPhone-computer, creates a sinister edge to all that is happening.

New modern ethical risks, differences of generational perception of responsibilies, patriarchy, misogyny, class, and social-economic disparities are all called into the debate of Mr Fritz's play - the underlying distressing truth that, ultimately, we are all sentenced to solitude in our own skins. That each of our fellow companions are unknowable and that we all have secrets and prejudices which sometimes cause us to step off into morally betraying actions - relatively, innocently, crossing our own personal boundaries of what is right, for short term gain.

Both, Mr Waters, and especially, Ms King give dramatically dynamic performances within the short, punchy demands of the writing. Mr Fritz does not give much time for us to identify his characters beyond generalised clues, and depends on the swift telling of events for the performers to deliver, crisply and succinctly, the 'function' of each character in each scene, resulting then, in, ultimately, a 'pointillist' portrait in the playing of the characters. I never felt the internal 'backstory' of Di or David,, the fragility of being just a human animal in the modern maze of life - the play begins with swift comic recognitions of relationships and only gradually reveals the possibility of a whole person in dilemma. It felt, technically, a trifle Brechtian in this distancing affect. 4 Minutes 12 Seconds: objective theatre, a moral fable, told in the mode of a modern 'horror story'. A compassionate identification was not much demanded from the audience by the writer rather, it was a cumulative objective recoil that one took away from Di and David and their son Jack and the inner 'hope', perhaps, that having been forewarned by this story I might leave the theatre forearmed, to look closely at my own circumstances - interesting.

Kate Cheel, as the victim of the play, Cara, is feisty and empathic, although, it is the acting, the characterisation by Felix Johnson, as Nick, in two short scenes as a friend of the two youngsters, that takes the actor's honours here. His detail and accurate hitting of the opportunities in the writing were very impressive. His appearance and physical characteristics accompanied by a lived life-history of mistaken identity and discrimination forced one to empathise with this socially handicapped individual. One came to wish him well in an unfair world.

4 Minutes 12 Seconds, is a contemporary play, that confronts us and our lives in a very absorbing way. The Production, under the guidance of Mr Baldwin, delivers a 90 minute experience worth catching.

P.S. Just to share: On the afternoon I attended the production, an audience member became ill, and the actors had to suspend the performance. Re-grouping after the medical interruption, the actors called for focus, the line place to recommence from the stage-manager, and after the lighting had re-established in the setting, the actors, Ms King and Mr Waters, took a brief time as we watched them 're-possess' themselves of their characters and began the story from where we had been interrupted.

A privilege to see.

Lo and behold, we were interrupted again as a locked out member of the audience, who had gone to the aid of the ill audience member, pummelled a door, insistently, to be re-admitted. The actors dropped out of their 'possession' once again to facilitate the 'request', and, afterwards, once again, called for the cue to re-begin and we watched once more the 'magic' of an actor at work. I write this only to appreciate, publicly, what an audience rarely sees, the craft and artistry of what an actor is doing to tell that story for their audience every time they perform. I was moved indeed by the skill of the performers and their complete professionalism and vulnerability as artists. One is in awe at what an actor has to demand of themselves to do what they do for us. In deed, Amazing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Photo by Brett Boardman
The Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and Commonwealth Bank present, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, by William Shakespeare, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 16 September-22 October.

How many productions of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM has one seen? Enough to have benchmarks of merit. From Peter Brook's 1970's version through to the recent Tim Supple, multi-lingual one, presented in the Sydney Theatre a few years ago. To the Benjamin Britten opera take, to the many, many university, drama school, high school goes-at-it.  The film and television recordings of it. Enough to have almost intimate knowledge of the work to have it conceptualised, bent, 'played' with, and are able to still have some idea of what is happening on this stage, at the Opera House, in contrast to what is usually supposed to be happening.

Jan Kott in his influential exercise SHAKESPEARE OUR CONTEMPORARY (1966) writes of the bestial/dark version of this usually sunny play, in his chapter "Titania and the Ass's Head". It seems Director Kip Williams has decided that for the times we live in, that this dark emphasis is what we need.

At his wedding feast in Act V, says Theseus:
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
That is the madman: the Lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The Poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That, if it could apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear?

Mr Williams has conjured with his Designers - Set Design, Robert Cousins; Costume Design, Alice Babidge; Lighting Design, Damien Cooper; Composer, Chris Williams - a scary post-modernist space filled with Hieronymus Bosch-like images of hellish deformity filtered through a contemporary sensibility evoking the work of artists such as Matthew Barney, Leigh Bowery or Cindy Sherman, that take us into a world of nightmare rather than dream.

On a stripped-back, white floored stage with all the (three) walls demarcated with a strip of white some five feet or so tall, edged sharply into black, with lighting of blazing white flashing, and start to finish ominous music backing the activities of this theatrical vision, behind a proscenium-wide scrim-gauze, a figure begins the play, back-to-us, singing verses from Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS. Latterly, after a collection of images there appears another figure, surrounded by men in black hooded masks, who is supervising a conflict between a father and daughter and the suitors for her marriage future. The father, like the father of the Juliet in that famous tragedy is patriarchy writ large: "I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,- as she is mine I may dispose of her ... or to her death; according to our law/ immediately provided in that case." This heralds a Directorial take of the play as one of drama even tragedy. One can ask is this the Athenian Arcadia on a midsummer eve or rather the whitened sepulchre of Vienna in the problem play which dishes out a measure for measure? This world is not one to laugh with, but one of conspiracy and fearful consequences to take dreadful lessons from.

The lovers, Hermia and Lysander, Demetrius and forlorn Helena, flee in to the woods to attempt to elope. But this wood has been distempered by the Fairy Queen and King who in quarrel have caused
"... the seasons to alter ... The spring, the summer/ the chiding autumn, angry winter, change/ their wanted liveries; and the maz'd world,/ by their increase, now knows not which is which ..." and foul looking creatures and actions are rife. Innocents found 'playing' in the woods are affrighted and one is kidnapped and translated into a monster by magic - into a man with a donkey's head -and taken to wanton acts in a drugged state with a strange woman. This is not an Arcadian wood but a drugged party of permissive activities in a Bacchic world.

Traditionally, A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT DREAM is one of the lightest and in many respects the most purely playful of Shakespeare's plays. But in this production, without too much textual adaptation, we are shown that this world of sense in which we live is but the surface of a vaster, more subterranean world by which the actions of men are affected or overruled, by darkness, aggression and deception, utilizing drugs/flower potions, sex and rock 'n roll in cruel gestures of frustration and spite. (Freud!!) And yet "... things base and vile, holding no quantity,/ love can transpose to form and dignity./ Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;/ and therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.

This dark vision in the production of Shakespeare's sunniest play, for the Sydney Theatre Company, ends in the same way as the usual, and so Puck's last speech becomes layered with a pertinence (for some of the audience):
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this - and all is mended -
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding than a dream,
Gentles do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I'm an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call:
Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.
This production will be as pleasing as you will, as you may like it.

I came to the production with some foreknowledge of the tone of 'darkness' that Mr Williams had embraced. A tone that initially - in the watching - intrigued and excited me. So I was quite prepared. And prepared not only for the tone but also for the expectation of Mr Williams' usual arresting visual aesthetic! It has become a hallmark of his theatrical entry to all his work: A tightly controlled visual affect - Set Design and Lighting - onto which he then places his actors, who, mostly, are then moved about those Design strictures like pieces in an installation art work, utilising the actors more like visual 'puppets' - marionettes - than as possible flesh and blood interpreters of character.

The eye works before the ear - it is the eye that Mr Williams insists we favour (Robert Wilson is the contemporary 'genius' of this oeuvre). It is a fact with most of the work from Mr Williams that I have seen, going back to his graduating production at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), of a Beckett play - monologue, NOT I, where he employed some 40, or so, white-faced volunteers to deliver the work, where only one actor and an auditor was required, or in his recent staging of an orchestral work by Fausto Romitelli, INDEX OF METALS at Carriageworks: it is a visual conceptualisation that dominates the experience. The text has been scrutinised thoroughly in preparation for the ideas of the playwright, but there seems to be little attention on how that text is spoken, communicated in the work by his actors/singers.

This penchant, tendency, fits within the framework of the British modernist theories of Gordon Craig (1872-1966) who asserted that the Director was ' the true artist of the theatre' and, controversially, suggested viewing actors as no more important than marionettes. ... arguing that "audiences go to the theatre to see, rather than to hear, plays". The Design elements may transcend reality and function as symbols, he thought, to communicate a deeper meaning, instead of simply reflecting the real world of the play.

Craig's first innovation was to create a neutral non-representational space; secondly, his use of lighting (overhead) colour and light became central to his stage conceptualisations; and his evolving process of using actors as puppets or masked - Says Craig in Michael J. Walton's CRAIG ON THEATRE (1983, Methuen):
there is only one actor - nay one man who has the soul of the dramatic poet, and who ever served as the true and loyal interpreter of the poet (and) this is the marionette.
In this production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, we are given an austere stylised vacant space; we are shown brilliant lighting effects that create visceral affect; and the actors are masked or given costume that is mostly, symbolic, and an unfortunate obfuscation for the audience to be able to read a complex character - the physical-who of the costuming is reduced to visual conceptualised solutions that the actor cannot, necessarily, transcend (often we can't even see the actor's face) to present human complexities, or that allows the audience to endow with empathy. (Indeed, as witnessed in this production it takes a great actor to make a mark as an individual storyteller with an authentic life-force that goes beyond the stylistic distillation of an intellectual idea that the Director through the Costume Designer has made for the actor and the audience - in this instance: Paula Arundell).

The puzzle to begin this play with Puck (Matthew Backer) singing quotes from Porgy and Bess, and the severe editing and dark staging/reading of the opening Court scenes with the rulers of Athens, Theseus (Robert Menzies) and Hippolyta (Paula Arundell) and some of their contentious citizens: Egeus (Bruce Spence), his daughter, Hermia (Rose Riley), her friend, Helena (Honey Debelle) and her suitors for love, Lysander (Rob Collins) and Demitrius (Brandon McClelland) was bracingly thrilling. The move to the Mechanicals: Peter Quince (Susan Prior), Nick Bottom (Josh McConville), Francis Flute (Jay James-Moody), Tom Snout (Bruce Spence), Robin Starveling (Emma Harvie), and Snug (Rahel Romahn) promised 'cute' comedy to come. The dark wrangling between Oberon, King of the Fairies (Robert Menzies) and Titania (Paula Arundell) was clear and startling in its intense sexual rancour; with the vision of the fairy world with their retinue posing contemporary discomfort, led by a 'Manager of Ceremonies', Puck (Matthew Backer).

Tis a pity then that none of this theatrical surprise was able to be sustained - we had had, in the first two acts, a bracing palate clean of old conceptions of the worlds of this famous and oft told play, and one was full of anticipatory wonder as to where it would go with the offers so far given. It was to nowhere, alas. The intellectual conceptions, conceits, of the production remained fairly static, with little development other than re-statements of the original symbol and cheek - there were no more surprises to come - and as time passed in the theatre the production moved into a dying state, on the verge of extinction of interest - moribund.

 The bold production conceits drained away in affect and the familiar scenario of Shakespeare's play, our remembrances from many other meetings, became more and more the 'straw' - the 'life raft' - that we as an audience had to cling to, to sustain our attention, to try to understand what was happening - if you were unfamiliar with the play, you may have got very puzzled, bewildered, 'lost'. Visual style was lauded over auditory substance. And, if you are engaged with an Elizabethan play the language is the principal reason to do it, I would have thought. The engagement of the ear is the primary responsibility?

The actors are all given body microphones to broadcast their textual responsibilities. The sound that the audience receive with this text is not apparent in the embodiment of the actors as the Sound is literally 'broadcast' to us from electronic 'speakers' - it creates an artificial communication, compounded in this production by the bare stage space that echoes the sound hollowly around the theatre. The received sound becomes relatively bland in pitch and volume, lacking variety to keep an audience alert as listeners. Sitting back instead of leaning in to focus one's concentration. The actors have their voices snatched away into a 'mechanism' and reduces them to bodies mouthing words - puppets, perhaps? (I do believe, nay I know, that most of these actors have the basic craft skills to deliver the play without the body-mikes)

And, if you add the general lack of Directorial detail in the 'music'/content of the language (it seems to deteriorate as the play moved forward - the first two acts were 'working' well), which is especially necessary for one of the most notoriously (famous) difficult scenes in the play - in all of Shakespeare? - the long lover's quarrel in the woods (Act III, Scene II), where the verbal/word comedy is accompanied by intense physical farce, one can be faced, as we were, on this night, with some 15-20 minutes of incomprehension, unless one had a foreknowledge of the play, to endow a gist to the storytelling.

There is no adequate substitute, in this production, to the verbal necessities with the adopted visual ploy to have the lovers remove the layering of their clothing down to their underwear as what?, maybe a symbolic gesture of the emotional stripping going-on. It was not sufficient for most of us to sustain one's intelligent engagement. Hamlet, advising his acting troupe in his mousetrap to catch his Uncle Claudius' guilt, has told us that the word should suit the action. The action suit the word. Both supporting each other for clarities sake. Here, physical wrestling and a slow but aggressive strip action trumped the word in all instances. And, surely, there has to be some further concern about the Directorial guidance when one of our 'great 'young actors, Mr McConville (Bell Shakespeare's recent Hamlet) delivers Bottom's awakening speech without scoring one laugh from the audience from Shakespeare's written text. There could be no firmer truth in this production than "the eye of man have not heard, the ear of man has not seen" for we could not hear with clarity the word, or see with our ears, the images and jokes of the text.

The comedy made in the famous Pyramus and Thisbe play of the mechanicals, given here, proved, no matter what else, the indestructibility of that part of the play, for the choices made with these mechanicals did almost produce "a tedious brief scene", indeed. The endearing amateur 'clumsiness' of this masterstroke of Shakespeare's survived the ham-fisted spraying of blood-lust, that this company found to solve some of the telling. (Let's blame Tarantino's influence, here.)

The brilliant exception to this reception was the performance of Ms Arundell, who with vocal clarity of superb technical control, and rich imaginative ownership of the language, with scintillating physical sexuality, laden with wit, charm, menace, grief, pain - creating a Titania/Hippolyta of some note. Ms Arundell is one of Sydney's great actors. Ms Prior with less to play with as Peter Quince, too, makes a mark, while of the lovers the clearest is Ms Riley's Hermia. Mr Menzies is the best of the men, followed by the almost silent Mr Romahn as a 'cute' and moving Snug/Lion.

If a Shakespeare production does not have consistent auditory clarity and content, the play cannot stand, no matter the pictorials of the Directorial placement of his actors/marionettes.

This STC production began with such exciting promise, but, for me, was derailed as the attention to language became less and less important  in the Directorial guidance to the experience of the 'adventure'.

I remarked that on the ABC at 8.30pm on the same night there was an episode of Midsomer Murder. Possibly, a better choice. How sad that is to write.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Metadata


De Quincey Co present METADATA, in association with FORM Dance Projects and Dancehouse, in the Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. (Sept 15-17).

METADATA  is a program of two works by De Quincey Co.

The first is PURE LIGHT, danced and choreographed by Tess de Quincey. It is, says Ms de Quincey, 'a homage to the fluorescent light installations of American minimalist artist Dan Flavin (1933-96),(where) a space is sculpted by light and colour to explore impermanence.' In a Design by Martin Fox, which had the emptied stage space of the theatre flanked by a string of white fluorescent lights on both sides, and a ground spread of coloured fluorescent light at the base of a large screen, onto which video images of varying forms and shapes were projected, a solo figure in a white hooded opaque costume (Claire Westwood) explores impulses to movement - all the elements of the movement practice of Ms de Quincey's dance philosophies originating and evolving from the teaching of Butoh dancer Min Tanaka and his Japanese Company, Mai-Juku, known as BodyWeather. From the almost imperceptible start of the performance by Ms de Quincey through permutations of various stretched body shapes and paced movement, it is framed by the video images that constantly create visual contexts for the action. The visuals and the Sound Composition by Pimmon (Paul Gough) are integrated with the beautiful movements created, the costume and body hauntingly shadowed, on the screen, to add duet dimension to the work. I found the work minutely beautiful.

Following, with a small break, is MOTHS & MATHEMATICS, Choreographed and Danced by Peter Fraser and Tess de Quincey. On the stripped-back stage space (minus the fluorescent tubes) but allowing the live manipulation of Visual Animation, by Boris Morris Baggatini, on the two side-walled and screen spaces, the dance is accompanied by Music by Warren Burt. Says the program notes:
Unfolding the space between two beings, the underlying physics and mathematical relationships that shape life and matter are explored. Bodies are moved by environment to reveal microscopic realms and a monumental universe of immense scale. 
Both Mr Fraser and Ms de Quincey are inspired by the same movement techniques and both are exquisite in the execution, when, either, moving solo or when engaged in duet. Beginning with long walks through the space to butted head and shoulder interaction, with fluttering arm, hand and head action of an intense kind, the work is, mostly, absorbing to observe, particularly within the context of the visual input by Mr Baggatini. (If, anything, the work felt too long.) Mr Fraser tells us that
We wanted to make performances that are informed by the underlying physical and mathematical patterns that determine and shape our lives and possibilities.  
For me, less the dance than the visuals produced the 'monumental universe(s) of immense scale' of the mathematical patterns that determine and shape our possibilities.

Afterwards, there was an Arts-Science exchange, facilitated by Associate Professor Ian Maxwell, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, at the University of Sydney, with, at this performance, Professor Geraint F Lewis, Professor of Astrophysics, Sydney Institute for Astronomy, also from the University of Sydney. Professor Lewis is not an artist, or even much of an attender of the performance arts in general, let alone dance, he confessed. (I suspect, this kind of performance may have been a new experience for him.) What was interesting in the brief discussion that followed the dance works was the fascinating conversation and ease of communication concerning physics, astrophysics and mathematics that Professor Lewis had. The conversation for us non-physicists was attractive and educational (in the good sense of education.) The extrapolation of the conversation to the actual Dance program was less lucid and seemed mostly irrelevant despite the attempt by Professor Maxwell to draw out possibilities of the dance to the concepts of the Scientist. It seemed to me that most of us endowed the work, in its experiencing, to the possibility of revealed 'microscopic realms and monumental universe of immense scale', from the accompanying Visual work of Mr Baggatini  and the Composition of Mr Burt, than the dance of either of the artists. That, generally, METADATA, was more a zeitgeist title for a dance project, than an actual investigation of the science through dance/movement. I recollected the Shaun Parker work, AM I, as a more deeply integrated investigation of an element of science with dance and movement, that was most invigorating on both counts: The Arts (Dance) and Science. As far as Science and Arts were concerned the Ryoji Ikeda SUPERPOSITION, seen at Carriageworks last year had a better balance of impact.

Still, this was an engrossing performance and more so to have the experience of witnessing the gifts and uncanny communication between Ms de Quincy and Mr Fraser, two Dance artists of great and committed vision and discipline. Two Australian icons of Dance/Movement that keep working to deepen and contribute to the fabric of Australian innovation and art practice as best they can, even in the relatively 'hostile' environment of our current government.

In the program is a note that I thought I should share:
This interdisciplinary collaboration has been a long time in the making by a team of artists from Melbourne and Sydney. Envisaged and articulated in 2010, our first physical developments of the two conceived pieces took place in 2012 and now again in 2016. Managing the longevity and gaps in this process is a testament to the artists' commitment to each other and to completing the piece, enabling it to finally see the light of day.' 
Originally, the work was developed with the support of the Australia Council and VicArts with a special grant from Dancehouse. Because of the changes to the funding models for the Arts recently experienced in Australia this work experience in Parramatta was made possible only by the support and faith of the two presenters of this work: Dancehouse in Melbourne and Form Dance in Sydney.

 Congratulations. With thanks and gratitude.

ACO: Leonskaja & Mozart


Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) presents LEONSKAJA & MOZART, at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney.

Elisabeth Leonskaja played Piano Concerto in E-Flat Major, k.271 'Jeunehomme' (1777), accompanied by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, led by Guest Leader, Roman Simovic.

It was the astonishing eloquence of Elisabeth Leonskaja's playing, which I was able to view quite closely as well, that seized my senses into an attentive zenith. The mastery of technique with a 'magic' of feeling married to a great 'love' of Mozart's musicianship practised with the modesty of an assured artist of a 'gifted' life-lived-honed skill was a great pleasure to receive. This work is full of musical wit and what Robert Gibson, in his program notes calls "fun and games" that requires an agility of technique and, I believe, a spirit of daring and cheeky adventure to conquer. This work was conquered and so were we. Elisabeth Leonskaja, says the program, is one of the most celebrated pianists of our time. I count it a blessing, indeed, to have heard and watched her play live in the Recital Hall.

The ACO was led in this concert by Roman Simovic which also gave performance to Sextet from Capriccio, OP.85 (1940-41), by Richard Strauss, and String Quartet in E-Flat Major, OP.127 (1823-24) by Ludvig Van Beethoven, arranged by Principal Cello Timo-Veikkko Valve. Overall I found the curation of this program a little too classically weighty, finding the Beethoven work arranged in this way not necessarily as rewarding. Musically I found it disappointing and easy to disengage. An experience I rarely have in concert with the ACO. Thank goodness, and double that, for Ms Leonskaja - an experience to be cherished.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Letters to Lindy

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti
A Merrigong Theatre Company production in association with Canberra Theatre Centre presents LETTERS TO LINDY, a Play by Alana Valentine, in the York Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 2 - 10 September.

LETTERS TO LINDY is a new Australian play by Alana Valentine. Earlier this year we saw another of her plays, LADIES DAY presented by the Griffin Theatre Company. This new work suggests that the three most controversial Australian issues in the last century, that provoked discussion, virulent argument, across all stratas of our community were: Conscription, Whitlam and Lindy Chamberlain. Ms Valentine sets out to remind us of the Lindy story.

In August, 1980 Lindy Chamberlain cried out in a camp around Uluru (Ayres Rock) that a dingo had taken her baby, Azaria. Later, she was accused of murdering her nine month old baby-child, by cutting her throat with nail scissors, and after much lawful calamity was sentenced to prison. We are told, in this play, of appeals to the courts of the nation,and the failures of those appeals. Of evidence accidentally found in the wilderness, so that, ultimately, Ms Chamberlain was released and had her innocence vindicated. Legally the affair was not cleared completely until 2012. This saga began some 36 years ago. Some, in this audience, were hearing this story for the first time - they hadn't even been born, it was, probably for them a kind of myth, legend! But many knew of it and sat quietly through it again - for we had all aged with that 'heritage'.

What this play does is reveal the collateral damage to Ms Chamberlain in the tumult of public opinion and trials and imprisonment throughout those years. From 199 boxes stored at the National Library of Australia, Ms Valentine has researched and collated a series of letters written by the general public over those 36 years that were sent to Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and extrapolated with interview and other research further, to create a picture of the experience. We hear and learn of a whole range of opinion, attack and, on the other hand, too, support from the Australian community towards Lindy. It is a sometimes a distressing revelation of the human banality conjured by a mother's loss that became a nation's obsession.

Actor, Jeanette Cronin gives us a portrait of Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton over those 36 years. It is an amazingly dexterous performance, assisted with costume and wig design, that reveals a multi-dimensional, empathic individual that steadfastly held to her beliefs and survived a torrent of speculation, humiliation and a travesty of the justice system, over and over again.

Support comes from Philip Hinton, Jane Phegan, and especially, an inventive Glen Hazeldine, in creating the anonymous letter writers. The work is modest in their attentive contribution. The shape of the play is straight forward and follows a tried and true structure of this kind of verbatim theatre - so that, we know where we are and what to expect. The focus is on the revelations and the character of Lindy. The Director, Darren Yap, in a no-frills/thrills manner simply moves the actors around a very old-fashioned naturalistic Design of a living space in an ordinary suburban home (Design by James Browne.) The Lighting by Toby Knyvett is naturalistic, the Musical score by Max Lambert and Roger Lock, quietly supportive (occasionally corny - especially the songs).

What does occur through the two acts of the play is a gradual accumulation of respect and a gentle human awe towards this woman and her terrible plight. It has one questioning the trivialities of the human species in its pack mentality to bring 'the other' down, to heel. And, as well, the simplistic but human need to express support for a 'sufferer'. The play examples where reason can be lost with the presence of fear in an attempt to explain the different, the unexpected shift from the normal, of a woman, in these events, who did not respond to the death of her child in the conventional manner. I thought of the history of Salem of 1692, of the pogroms of the Jews over history. I thought of the fear some in our community have today concerning the possibility of hate hysteria arising over the plebiscite our government is planning to have over the Same Sex marriage question in the coming year. Discriminate invective stirred by ignorance, stoked by fear.

You know, I was even provoked to think of an historic figure like Saint Joan d'Arc and her faith in her voices and her vengeful imprisonment and death. It made me consider the dignity, courage and human status of an ordinary individual like Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton. That here in time to come may be an Australian woman who will accrue a kind of importance in our National Memory. Ms Valentine in a very modest, but prepared construct of playwriting has recalled a figure that we ought to give some pause to, as an example of heroism in the face of outrageous fortune.

 Indeed, Ms Valentine in her quite modest way has, over the history of her writing, told stories of, mostly, women struggling in the hegemony of an unbalanced 'rule' book belonging to the 'haves' of our society, to give dignity to themselves and their communities. A catalogue of work of some honour that is consistent and cumulatively powerful.

On the night I watched this play, at its ending, many people, mostly women, stood to applaud - they gave a standing ovation. I am sure it was as much to applaud the performance of the artists involved as it was to regard/recognise the life trials of Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton.
We will declare that nothing is clear in this world. Only fools and charlatans know and understand everything - Anton Chekhov.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Gloria

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company presents GLORIA by Benedict Andrews, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 26 August - 8 October.

GLORIA is a play by Benedict Andrews. Says Mr Andrews in his note in the program: '"GLORIA depicts an actress in the grip of an emotional breakdown.'  Performing, onstage, Gloria cannot distinguish her 'play' role from her 'life' role. Through fraility, both become entwined and a personal calamity ensues.

This production of GLORIA, by the Griffin Theatre Company, Directed by Lee Lewis, is an incredibly ambitious one, considering the technical demands of the writing by Mr Andrews, with its many scene juxtapositions of imaginative leaps back-and forth in time through a scrambled writing play construct, that is further compounded by the complicated techniques that Ms Lewis has taken to present the work (remember her visual ambition with RUPERT). These technical Directorial offers are sometimes so overwhelming that they can distract one from the thrust of the writing.

This is especially, the dominating Audio Visual offers , Designed by Toby Knyvett, projected onto many screen surfaces - both, background to the story and, partly, recorded narrative of Gloria's journey, which is not always successful as in-the-moment story-telling. The action of the live play slowing down for pre-recorded emotional indulgence rather than compelling story-telling. The long monologue for the WOMAN towards the end of Part Two is an example of performance tediousness - satisfactory emotional acting but which results in awful, static storytelling! (I supposed it had been recorded some time ago as it did not seem to be on the same 'wave-length' of the night's performance energy - indulgently, out-of-joint - it took forever.) As well, all of this action is supported by a very present (sometimes intrusive?) 'cinematic' Sound Composition by Steve Toulmin. The Set Design, by Sophie Fletcher is enormously complicated and almost unwieldy in its many traction demands, because of the tiny stage space of the SBW Stables Theatre - and your seating position may give you an entirely different experience of the production, as sight-lines are often hindered by the 'machinery' of it all. The Lighting Design by Luiz Pampolha is a versatile and attractive contribution to the production, and considering the many difficulties of the space and the demands of this production, maybe an act of creative 'genius' - one can only be full of admiration for its, relative , and accurate detail.

However, whatever the confusions of the text or the production itself, it can be - was for me - an exciting night in this tiny theatre. And, it is because of this very audacity of Ms Lewis' visual ambition (whether it all works or not, and who knows? it may, with a settling time experienced), and, most especially, because of the leading performance.

In the SBW Stables Theatre we bear witness to an incredibly exciting performance from Marta Dusseldorp as Gloria. In all the deliberate literary chaos of Mr Andrews' playwriting structure and the sometimes obfuscating organisation of seven actors in the stage 'furnishings' in this cramped space, with a Compositional  sound 'weight' that can overwhelm clarity of information, Ms Dusselpdorp, with a deeply immersed sense of the character's journey and a remarkable stage presence with all the honed skills of a 'classic' actor, demarcates a commitment and clarity to every moment of every scene that she is engaged with. The personal surety of this actor illustrated by her commanding focus is the 'life buoy' for the audience in the teeming offers of the production style, for she delivers with every gesture - physical (elegant) and vocal (mesmerising) - a promise of clarity and  the reward of an earned 'wisdom', for us who pay strict attention, in trying to un-puzzle the work we are watching. One latches onto every moment from Ms Dusseldorf and it is rewarding in its craftsman's cluing - it has the' beauty' and ultimate thrill of solving a complicated mathematical problem - we are made to feel 'Sherlock'-like in our riddling of the events of the writing. Ms Dusseldorf is magnificent. The reason to go. After an absence from the theatre with her involvement with other media - especially, television - it is a wonder and a gift to see her live on stage again, at last.

The other actors of this production seem, relatively, to be slightly 'under-cooked' by the Director in their contributions, which are, however, good, competently efficient. Chloe Bayliss, plays her characters' function well, while Meyne Wyatt appears not always certain as to what is going-on. (I wonder, how difficult it is to begin a play as a wandering voice-over?! Neither sight nor sound [text] able to be pin-pointed by the audience to be able to get on board with the play or persona. It leaves Mr Wyatt in a kind of nether-land.) Even the usually reliable and impressive Huw Higginson signifies a bewilderment inside the work, indicated, for me, by an 'actorly' vocal delivery of his responsibilities, in both halves of the play, that sits oddly in his communication to us - is he real or just a puppet/symbol? It is not clear what the answer is from the Direction of the acting at present. The basic  questions in staging a work of Who are they?, Where are they? When is it? did not seem to have sufficient agreed upon clarity of purpose from the overall team of the cast - or maybe, as I suggested earlier, that will settle down as they become used to the playing in the production's stage management demands, which they also have to 'perform' - it is a high demand from the Director.  Pierce Wilcox is useful in all of his incarnations, while Kristy Best does not give us much dimension, and young Louis Fontaine is simply a young child actor, caught-up in a whirl, swirl of activity - his character dimension is his youthful appearance.

GLORIA is a writing achievement - remember Mr Andrews' EVERY BREATH at Belvoir ?! - this is a considerable development - even if it concerns a phenomenon that has often been examined many times before, and maybe of an interest to a very limited percentage of the population - other (indulgent) artists - and could be suggested, is a kind of pre-occupying navel-gaze for the arts. (Remember LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT, earlier this year?) Mr Andrews, himself cites, alludes to John Cassavetes' film OPENING NIGHT (1977), with the staggeringly great Gena Rowlands and then we have had Darren Aronofsky's examination of the brittle line of sanity a creative artist may walk, in his BLACK SWAN (2010) - it seemed to me there were, as well, some visual allusions to REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) in this production; Alejandro Inarritu's BIRDMAN (2014) is a more recent visitation; whilst another memory of this subject matter is a personal favourite: A DOUBLE LIFE (1947), Directed by George Cukor. Ingmar Bergman has famously covered similar territory in his career output, as well: PERSONA (1966). GLORIA, in fact, now that I think of it, has a kind of  flavour of the Scandinavian, 'television-noire' about it - and, that is not to its detriment!

Despite claims by Ms Lewis in the program notes that "GLORIA is not a portrait of an actor, it is a portrait of us [Australians], one we are desperately trying to deny", and that, "Sometimes it takes an Australian on the other side of the planet to have enough distance to see us for what we are becoming", the overwhelming take-away of this play and production is what Mr Andrews concludes in his note in the program:
GLORIA is a kind of demented love song to the theatre and to actresses in particular ... [who] must possess the boundless play of children, the frenzied imagination of a poet, the forensic mind of a detective, as well gigantic hearts.
This is what Ms Dussledorp delivers triumphantly.

A 'State of the Nation' play it is not. But, then, Ms Lewis has thought this of many other plays, she has curated and directed, for the Griffin, as well: A RABBIT FOR KIM JONG-IL and REPLAY for instance - but saying it is so does not make it so. Reading this play one sees the deeply personal examination of an artist in crisis not a nation in crisis - to say so, no matter some of the images of the video design of this production layered onto it: street riots, fighting, modern war reconnaissance, seems to be drawing a very long bow to claim the play is about the nation.

MYTH, PROPAGANDA AND DISASTER IN NAZI GERMANY AND CONTEMPORARY AMERICA (2003), by Stephen Sewell (well, most of his plays, really), THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD (2009), by Damien Millar,  and the recent TRIBUNAL from the Fairfield based Powerhouse Youth Theatre, all productions that began life on the SBW Stables stage, by the way, are what I would define as 'State of the Nation' plays. We are waiting still in  2016 for that 'State of the Nation' play and GLORIA by Benedict Andrews is, unhappily, not it.

New Australian theatre writing seems oddly reluctant to write about the big issues of our nation - or is it that the 'gate-keepers' are afraid to schedule them - not box office sureties? The questioning, the debating of our country's moralities not, necessarily, guarantees of 'corporate' profits? Style and fluff triumphs over substance? Bread and Circus in our times our 'censored' diet? The announced  seasons for next year's delectation from our theatre companies so far seem the same old, the same old safety first. (Malthouse season, in Melbourne arrested my attention, though.) Even our revue artists are reluctant to touch the 'sores' of our nation: check out the Sydney Theatre Company's BACK TO BITE YOU to see what I mean: harmless fun to swallow along with your drink from the bar!

Go and see GLORIA to see a 'great' performance by Marta Dussledorp. The Best of this year, I reckon (so far!) Too, to admire the courage and ambition of Ms Lewis. And, if you can find the 'State of the Nation' play in it all, it will be a bonus.

See what you can make of it. Maybe I am just a dullard of perception. Worth debating.

Where Do Little Birds Go?


Poor Tom's Gin presents, WHERE DO LITTLE BIRDS GO? by Camilla Whitehill, at the Old Fitz Theatre (late show), Cathedral St., Wooloomooloo, 30 August - 10 September.

WHERE DO LITTLE BIRDS GO? is a short, one-act one-woman play by Camilla Whitehill. Written in 2015, it tells of the true story of a young woman who comes up to London from the country, gets a job in a pub - nightclub - that is frequented by the infamous, underworld killers, the Kray Twins , of the 1950's-60's, East/West End. (see MOJO by Jez Butterworth; or Tom Hardy's film, LEGEND.)

Our 'heroine' Lucy begins an innocent and perforce of economics, education and class, ends up a prostitute, who is kidnapped by the Kray twins to serve an escaped felon, Frank Mitchell, whilst he is in hiding from the 'coppers'. The play has a clean, clear unsentimental, uncluttered story construct of mounting 'horror' that is beautifully, charmingly told, impersonated, by Bishanyia Vincent. Lucy's dream was to be a singer/entertainer and constructed between some wistful singing (accompanied by Liam D Kemp) Ms Vincent avoids the melodrama of Lucy's predicament and high lights the simple-matter-of-fact acceptance of 'her lot' at that time in history (1966). The tragedy is all endowed by us.

It is presented on the Set design of John Osborne's, LOOK BACK IN ANGER (1956), and is a gentle antidote to the misogynistic bilge of that play. The historic time line is almost parallel. WHERE DO LITTLE BIRDS GO? tells of the cruelties that men did inflict on women of that time, by not judging them or her, but simply telling of the necessities, because of circumstance, of survival a person - a woman - must sometimes endure. Much like Alison and Helena endured in LOOK BACK IN ANGER, I guess. Still today, undoubtedly.

The experience is not proselytising nor is is it just an entertainment. It is a sympathetic piece of writing told naturally by Ms Vincent, gently Directed by Giles Gartrell-Mills. You know, dear readers, how much I abhor monologues, but this one woman show was a 'play' of some affect.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Back to Bite You


Sydney Theatre Company presents The Wharf Revue - BACK TO BITE YOU, at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. 31 August -  3 September. Then an extensive tour: Wollongong (6-!0 Sept.) Canberra (13-24 Sept.), Belrose (5-15 October), Sydney Wharf Theatre (18 Oct-23 December).

The annual Wharf Revue, this time with the banner title: BACK TO BITE YOU, from the inimitable usual team, Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott with a guest artist, Katrina Ketallick opened last night at the Riverside Theatres out in Parramatta in its second tour stopover before arriving at the Wharf Theatre in Sydney, in late October.

Skills amazing, observational and verbal wit of an intelligent pun-filled, occasionally excoriating kind, with musical interludes using very famous music tunes (Little Shop of Horrors, My Fair Lady etc) with new (topical) lyrics are all on show. BACK TO BITE YOU, in its formula, is much like all of its predecessors over the past many years with the subject and treatment daring as comfortably middle-of-the-road, to please the pleasantly comatose who are used to their revue theatre to be enhanced in these modern times with a Glass(es) of Wine and not just a Cup of Tea and Bex! For, what isn't examined and lampooned from our cultural and political year by this team, this year, provides for a very interesting conversation afterwards. There is much controversy not even aluded too, with a preference for some relatively long look-back characters and set pieces substituting. One wonders why! And that, too, is an interesting conversation to have as well! You can, however, be assured of a chuckle filled night that won't have much to disturb the ire of many of its faithful audience or anyone in Canberra when it plays there in a couple of weeks. Little, to provoke one.

Mr Forsythe is in especially good form in all of his economic cartoon creations (e.g. Eric Abetz, Pauline Hanson, mostly everything he does) followed closely by Mr Biggins (an Abbot-like fan dance featuring glimpses of red budgie-smugglers!; a Donald Trump that is truly frightening as the text seems to be verbatim and not to need the satirist pen at all - being highlights) while Mr Scott accompanying on the Grand Piano strikes out some very astute lyrics (the Terrorist Song - hits a mark of a kind that I would like more of, I reckon.) Ms Retallick belts out her songs with great security, if she is not as adept with her comic creations.

There is some good Sound and Video design by David Bergman, on a formulaic Set Design by Barry Searle, that is brightened with some clever Costume Design by Scott Fisher and Nick Godlee. The Lighting Design by Matthew Marshall seemed to be still in a rough 'tour' look - not always 'covering' the action where and when necessary (- this is a Sydney Theatre Production,isn't it?!!!)

If you've never seen these extremely primed artists in this kind of work, it is worth thinking about (at least you can say that you have seen them), but, COME ON, those of you who have seen past shows know what you will get for your money and time.

P.S. There is a beautiful 'tribute' to Bob Ellis performed with great affection by Mr Forsythe.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Look Back In Anger

Photo by John Marmaras
Red Line Productions present, LOOK BACK IN ANGER by John Osborne, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomoolooo, 16 August - 10 September. Belvoir St Theatre season from 13 September - 17 September.

Sixty years ago, in May 1956, LOOK BACK IN ANGER  by John Osborne, was presented by The English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre. It has been touted by many that it was the play that 'revolutionised' the English theatre scene of its time and was the major watershed for what followed. Contextually, along with the usual classic revivals, the contemporary writers that dominated the scene, before Osborne's play, were writers such as Terence Rattigan, Noel Coward, Christopher Fry, Emlyn Williams, William Douglas-Home and American T.S. Eliot. All flourishing under the auspices of businessmen like the West End entrepreneur, Hugh 'Binkie' Beaumont. The management that Osborne famously described as the eminence lavande whose 'Binkiedom' was 'the most powerful of the unacceptable faeces of theatrical capitalism.' Beaumont, it was, that presented work that, in the words of Peter Brook, was 'a reaching back to the memory of lost grace.' Otherwise the European writers: Anouilh, Giraudoux along with Cocteau, Camus, Sartre and latterly Genet, Ionesco and Beckett were making a contemporary mark. (WAITING FOR GODOT, had had a production in a small theatre in London in 1955.)

The English critic, Kenneth Tynan, wrote in 1954:
We need plays about cabmen and demigods, plays about warriors, politicians and grocers ... I counsel aggression because as a critic, I had rather be a war correspondent than a necrologist. 
It seems he had had enough of the defining English style in the theatre: emotional understatement, a dry reserve worn lightly, of a national temperament of restraint, and of plays that did not reflect the life of the majority, of the economically depressed, of the young, of a country rebuilding itself after the contingencies of war that had only moved from rationing its food in July of 1954, of a country whose Empire was diminishing in world status to 'simply' become a Commonwealth.

 John Osborne, working as a struggling actor in provincial repertory, wrote in 1953:
The English Theatre isn't merely dying, it's being buried alive to the rattle of Aunt Edna's knitting needles.  
The famous Aunt Edna introduced to the world by Rattigan, as the  nice respectable, middle class, middle-aged maiden lady with time on her hands and money to help her pass it, who found any playwright who displeased her as 'utterly lost.'

In John Osborne and the arrival of LOOK BACK IN ANGER, Tynan, if not Aunt Edna, found  the playwright that he had been waiting for:
I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see LOOK BACK IN ANGER. It is the best young play of its decade.
This singular endorsement thrust the production of this play into the limelight of controversy and a 'must see.' (Even with the proviso that it was 'the best young play of the decade'.) Whatever the content, the working class setting (an ironing board on stage, apparently, drew gasps of 'shock') the theatre-going world of post-war Britain was grateful to shout along with Jimmy Porter, the 'hero' of this play:
Oh heavens, I long for a little ordinary enthusiasm. Just enthusiasm - that's all. I want to hear a warm, thrilling voice cry out Hallelujah! ...  Hallelujah! I'm alive. 
It is here, in this shock of the new - class setting and characters - with a directness of language long absent from the English stage, that LOOK BACK IN ANGER gained its audience and has gained its importance in theatre history - the grenade that irreparably shuddered the English Theatre into the 'modern' era - in the words of John Russell Taylor, the play 'has its inarguable importance as the beginning of a revolution in the British Theatre, and as the central and most immediately influential expression of its time, the mood of the 'angry young man.'

Reading some of the publicity for this production of the play at the Old Fitz the question posed was curious as to why this play wasn't revived more regularly. Many people know of the play, some have read it, but not many have seen it, we were told. Certainly, one can, historically, appreciate the cultural/political importance of this play. One, too, can admire the language of this playwright. It has an enviable (in this day and age of most Australian play writing) range of vocabulary and usage with a sinewy - a muscular - power of a frightening energy and intent. But after watching this production of the play the other evening, the problem with the play for most modern audiences would have to be, surely, the play's content, and thus provide an answer as to why this play is not often seen? It is a play of its times and is definitely 'of an angry young man' and so is in 2016, if not before, culturally and politically limited in appeal and relevance, through, because, of the inevitable passage of time. It is why an Australian play like David Williamson's, THE REMOVALISTS or  Jack Hiberd's, DIMBOOLA have dated, when performed, and depreciated, despite their respected historical reference point in recent Australian playwrighting. Our living social context has changed dramatically. The plays reflect a value system not acceptable today.

For, Jimmy Porter, the central character of LOOK BACK IN ANGER, is a relentlessly bullying, misogynistic 'thug' who dominates the stage action alongside co-dependent 'victims', of both sexes, who offer no opposition to his self-indulgent whining and violence - of a physical and psychological tsunami force and weight. One could not help, while siting in the Old Fitz, but recall and revile again the video-recording from A CURRENT AFFAIR of Salim Mehajer, of last Monday (22 August), threatening his wife and her family, or, synchronistically, having read Mark Dundas Wood's review of Anne Tyler's novel VINEGAR GIRL, which is a modern usage of Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, in the Daily Review (24 August, Wednesday), and be drawn back into the embrace of the debate as to the justification of modern productions of that play concerning the relationship of Katherine and Petruchio. The debate around the THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is relevant and combustible still, today, and maybe, that same debate should be more so, around contemporary  productions of A LOOK BACK IN ANGER.

What was Red Line and the two Director's thinking?  It is difficult to sit through this play as a man in 2016, let alone to be a woman in 2016, I would have thought. I found it increasingly uncomfortable throughout the night, and viscerally squirmed with the return of Alison, Jimmy's 'Squirrel' to his 'Bear' at the end of the play, and have to listen to Alison's speech that seemed to be a rip-off from Miss Julie and Strindberg's great play, in her cry to Jimmy:
'Don't you see I am in the mud at last! I'm grovelling! I'm crawling! Oh, God…'
 And to have Jimmy reply as she lies collapsed at his feet:
 ...We'll be together in our bear's cave, and our squirrel's drey, and we'll live on honey and nuts - lots and lots of nuts. And we'll sing songs about ourselves - about warm trees and snug caves, and lying in the sun. And you'll keep those big eyes on my fur, and help me keep my claws in order, because I'm a bit of a soppy, scruffy sort of a bear. And I'll see that you keep that sleek, bushy tail glistening as it should, because you're a very beautiful squirrel, but you're none too bright either, so we've got to be careful. There are cruel traps lying everywhere, just waiting for rather mad, slightly satanic, and very timid animals. Right?' 
To which 'Alison nods' and ultimately 'slides her arms around him'. How interesting it is to compare the last speech of Katherine's in her submission to Petruchio to this of Jimmy's.

LOOK BACK IN ANGER, is regarded as Osborne's most biographical play, and as the Directors note, was born out of his unhappy first marriage, to Pamela Lane - he signed himself 'Teddy' and she 'Nutty' when they wrote to each other! The fact that Osborne was married five times and that his relationships were, mostly, as publicly volatile and disgustingly vehement as that between the characters in this play, as reported in his biography: JOHN OSBORNE, A PATRIOT FOR US, by John Heilpern, it gives one some pause to give a total appreciation of the author and play as a contemporary writer, to 'celebrate' him by staging a production of this play, today. In this production there has been some editing of the text (language and actions and including the excision of one character, The Colonel - with agent's permission, I was told) but the play still is a scarifying example of a cultural/political attitude to women and a 'championing' of a kind of man that even sixty years ago ought to have rung alarms of caution - what charms Osborne must have had, or how desperate the audience was for new writing. The play, it seems to me, is an example, a reference point, today, that demonstrates how far as a civilization we have or have not grown in our mutual respect of gender and our relationship behaviours with each other. (It is arresting to note that the two Directors of this production of Osborne's play, Lizzie Schebesta and Damien Ryan, were also involved with the recent Sport For Jove production of the 'SHREW'. Both productions for 2016. What is the political/cultural reasoning for this double? Ms Schebesta is also one of the co-founders of the Women In Theatre and Screen (WITS) movement in Sydney - a curious choice of play to be working and presenting - I would have thought, considering how the women are treated in this play.)

Osborne himself admitted that LOOK BACK IN ANGER is 'a formal old-fashioned play' and "I daren't pick up a copy ... nowadays. It embarrasses me.' He wrote a sequel, towards the end of his life called DEJAVU, with Jimmy and Cliff still headlining the action. It opened on the 8th May, 1992. It was a failure. (P.S. Barry Humphries had been asked by the author to play Jimmy, and said he was astonished to be asked. He read the play and wrote that he had found it 'as long as three plays, alienating in its rage, with a few too many Aunt Sallies and worryingly un-actable. ...'). The note that DEJAVU was 'alienating in its rage' could be applied to LOOK BACK IN ANGER, I reckon.

This production, at the Old Fitz, has a successful claustrophobic Set Design by Jonathan Hindmarsh, thrust narrowly forward to the audience making the action of the playing by the actors strikingly intimate.(Although with time to kill, while watching the play, and in either of the two intervals, one can question the architecture of the space and its odd window position that is constantly suggesting a vision to street action that does not seem at all possible.) The Costumes by Anna Gardiner, have a palpable feel of tawdry squalor (except the fashion-plate look of Helena's clothes), and the Sound Design by Katelyn Shaw is disconcertingly noisy and right for the play production.

Melissa Bonne (Alison Porter) and Chantelle Jamieson (Helena Charles) are not always convincing with the material and have not found a comfortable manner to invest in the dilemma of these women - victims of self-delusion and a masochistic acceptance of their lot in the world of Jimmy Porter. The actors are in-and-out with their conviction which does not help us to stay engaged with their characters or to endow any real empathy for them. Their conviction with these tasks does seem to struggle - and, probably, no wonder, considering what they are asked to play, to do and say, as Alison and Helena.

Robin Goldsworthy (Cliff Lewis) gives a mostly convincing Welsh accent and seems to underline the homo-erotic possibility between he and Jimmy (suggested from actual biography of the character based on Osborne's best mate at the time, Anthony Creighton, perhaps), although Mr Goldsworthy sometimes succumbs to 'gilding the lily', demonstrating the emotional state of Cliff, by underlining the sentiment of the character or text with sentimental vocal or physical gesture that takes away our belief in his, generally, otherwise, good work - the best of the performances on show at the Old Fitz.

Andrew Henry (Jimmy Porter) gives a full bore energy to the principal and long role but allows that energy to often substitute for what should have a more eloquent organically developed backstory to help us understand where Jimmy's rage and boredom comes from. The performance choices has Jimmy personified, mostly, as childishly manipulating the situation with a delight in verbal grandstanding that seems to demand theatrical applause rather than a true and invested revelation of the character's authentic human need. Mr Henry's Jimmy Porter is a full-on delusional sadomasochistic author of his own ill will and intent, a painfully self-indulgent man/child/teddy-bear. Our empathy for this angry young man is zilch. Not, I suspect, what Mr Osborne intended. This production reveals an answer to this company's question in its pre-show publicity as to why this play LOOK BACK IN ANGER is rarely seen on any stage.

The 'grenade' effect that this famous play had on the world of British Theatre is, historically, incontestable. Its suitability for our times, so as to command a place on a stage in Sydney in 2016 is contestable. Osborne wrote many other plays, many better plays: e.g. THE ENTERTAINER (1957), LUTHER (1961), INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE (1964), A PATRIOT FOR ME (1965), besides an Academy Award winning Screenplay for TOM JONES (1963)  - Directed by Tony Richardson, who also directed the first production of LOOK BACK IN ANGER. Rather that we saw one of those than LOOK BACK IN ANGER.