Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Broken Glass

Photo by Joshua Morris

Moogahlin Performing Arts and Blacktown Arts Centre present, BROKEN GLASS, for Sydney Festival 2018, at St Bartholomew's Church and Cemetery, Prospect. 10 January - 21 January.

BROKEN GLASS is an installation and performance that has been four years in development. The stories of the artists, Lily Shearer, Liza-Mare Syron, Andrea James, Aroha Graves and Katie Leslie are used 'to remind us of the impact of colonisation on ancient practices associated with death and mourning in New South Wales and Victorian First Peoples' communities' and are based on personal experiences of death and historical accounts.

We meet at the Blacktown Arts Centre, are given some hospitality, and then taken by bus to the historic church and cemetery of St Bartholomew (1841 - built by William Lawson, one of the explorers who crossed the Blue Mountains, in 1813) in Prospect. The renovated church sits high on a hill surrounded by a very old grave yard, looking over all the country around it.

It is still Daylight and we are ushered into a old fashioned wooden hall, where we were greeted by some of the family of a recently passed 'Auntie', and we are invited to pay our respects in the midst of which we have an insight into a light-hearted set of 'unseemly happenings that often follow formal funeral proceedings" , among family. It is 'folksy' and humorous, highly recognisable, but we are soon distracted by the appearance of a 'spirit' in purple dress, asking in 'language' for aid whilst clutching an old hat box.

We are drawn to follow her and we travel outside to observe a modern practice at a mortuary. A body of an indigenous woman, naked, except for her grass skirt is laid on gurney and two contemporary morticians describe to us in scientific jargon and fashion of what transpires. From the 'folksy' we are taken to a clinical 'science', imbued, however, with respect and a dignity of identification.

The 'spirit' re-appears and beckons us further, and we enter the old Georgian, restored church, where we sit around the edge of the space, that has a number of burial mounds dressed with kopi ( traditional object (stone) used by women as part of the mourning process), lit from beneath, as by now the sun has set and twilight is engulfing us. Katie Leslie, accompanied by a musical composition by Brenda Gifford, dances a spiritual interlude that explores the physicality of grief historically performed by many First Peoples women. It was particularly gripping, intriguing and intensely moving, magically sustained. In contrast we were then invited to move to the gathered front pews and are asked to join in several hymns of a church service. This blending of the traditional custom of The First Peoples with that of the Church practice of the Colony was poignant in its side-by-side presentation Before we leave this space we are invited to observe the Wailing of a woman in respect for the many dead in her family and community. It is a strife of self-inflicted 'violence' and mourning.

Once again the 'spirit' coaxes us further and we re-enter the world outside and are ushered to beautifully lit trees, serving as a backdrop to three graves decorated with broken glass, glistening and sparkling in light signifying the 'light' of the spirit passed. Ms Syron tells us of the history of the spirit that has been our guide, a spirit from 1797, who died with her child while seeking aid from a catastrophic epidemic of disease. There is some 'song' and the women turn from us and face the world beyond the peak of this hill.

It presented a wonderful 'metaphor' of the history of these women artists who have a heritage of the traditional life of the First Peoples and the 'grafted' one from the people of the colony, for they stand with the weight and beauty of their historic story, as if of another time, whilst in front the traffic of the contemporary Great Western Highway and the M4, noisily rushes past in the head-lighted darkness, balanced by the sound of a jet plane flying over-head, whilst behind the silver 'slipper' of a new moon looks down on us. With this the installation and performance has grown to an experience of some great profundity.

We are invited back to the first wooden hall, where tea and damper with jam and cream are served and we meet the artists and each other. The effect of the work has been a significant individual journey and as well an enveloping group dynamic of transformative inspiration. It is simple in its concept, sophisticated in its process, and priceless in its giving to expanding our perception of the history of this land. It demonstrates great generosity and empathy of spirit.

We boarded the bus to take us back to the Arts Centre, to the railway station, and to a perception of our history that one is grateful for, and changed. I am not the person I was a few hours before.

Moogahlin Performing Arts and Blacktown Arts have achieved a unique event and is indeed more than what they intended, I believe: "A tribute to all our grandmothers, from time immemorial."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Daisy Theatre


Sydney Festival, present THE DAISY THEATRE, from Ronnie Burkett of Marionettes, Canada, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 6-28 January.

Ronnie Burkett is a Canadian Artist who has for the last 30 odd years been the leading 'light' and inspiration for the Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, and has over that time developed enumerable full length productions for which he has Designed the Marionette, Costume and Set, and single-handedly written and performed with extreme physical and vocal virtuosity, in each of them. (P.S. He does have help: for instance, the Music and Sound Design is by John Alcorn; and the Stage Manager is Crystal Salverida.)

The Marionettes are exquisitely rendered 'figures' and with the extraordinary gifts of Mr Burkett are endowed with impressive individualistic personalities (and voices) that are able to engage an audience easily in their function and point-of-view in/of the world, which is mostly, mildly, irreverent and dexterously, gently, subversive in nature, and yet, are also reassuring that the ordinary human experience, that includes old age with all its difficulties and hard won wisdoms, is normal, and is to be met with patience, if not a possible optimism. "Keep your fork, there is cake.", says Edna Rural, a folksy relic of the Country-Women's-Association type in Alberta, Canada, late in the show. The shows are for adult audiences and THE DAISY THEATRE where we meet a range of personalities hanging about a 'stage' is a delight.

The age old tradition of the marionette and or puppet theatre could seem to be an archaic relic of a past gone era in this modern world of electronic interconnection, and yet I can only comment that the joyful participation of all of the adults in the Reginald Theatre (orchestrated gasps, sighs, applause) where their imaginations were invited and put to work, inveigling from them enough free commitment for active interaction for the almost two hours of the performance (one gentleman took off his shirt, voluntarily, and played the dead Romeo for some time with an ancient Shakespearean 'actress' for our delirious amusement), was proof that the magic of artistry is timeless, whatever the 'form', and that there is an appetite for it that transcends our claim of sophistication in the blasé indulgence in the computer generated images and manipulations of much of our entertainments in the 21st century.

What sometimes may escape the acknowledgement of the audience because of the dominant 'power' of the marionette personalities is the genuine 'genius' - let alone stamina - of Ronnie Burkett himself. He is truly an awesome artist.

While watching one may recall one's own forays into the 'puppet' theatre as a child - never had the marionette strings in my hands, unfortunately, just 'glove' puppets - and the childish pleasure of viewing Amanda the Cat on old Channel TCN 9, or, of the Von Trapp family and their goat-herd show in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

There is time for you to catch the show and I think it is a lovely thing to see and participate with. It is not all whimsy there is some strong intimations around some modern dilemmas, just to keep you on your toes and relevant.

I reckon, go.

Tonsils & Tweezers

Photo by Clare Hawley
Jackrabbit Theatre and bAKEHOUSE Productions presents, TONSILS & TWEEZERS, by Will O'Mahony, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT) In the Kings Cross Hotel. January 12th - 27th.

TONSILS & TWEEZERS is a new Australian play by Perth writer Will O'Mahony. It is exciting to report that this new work is as interesting as BURIED. Both are worth seeing if you are interested in new Australian playwriting. Both plays concern themselves with the shadows/'ghosts' of a traumatic past on the present with consequences for the future.

In this instance Tweezers, real name Lewis (Hoa Xunade), has been suffering from the collateral damage of bullying, that resulted in a car accident, killing his best friend Tonsils (Travis Jeffery), some ten years ago, which has him simmering to commit to a possible revenge act at a school ten year reunion. The writing is sophisticated in the employment of two other actors as Chorus and other individual characters, Max (James Sweeny) and Beth (Megan Wilding), and incorporating - perhaps, a little too belabouredly - Shakespeare's play and thematics from MACBETH.

The play, Directed by Michael Abercromby, requires some 'detecting' patience from the audience, but however, because of that, has increased power, consequently. The Design elements in the traverse space of the KXT is sophisticatedly resolved by Patrick Howe, with some AV work that makes a clean contribution to the impact of the action of the play, accompanied by a supportive and creatively alert Sound Design by James Yeremeyev.

The actors are solid in their contributions if not as centred - stable (vocally and physically) - in execution as could be. More craft and less intuitive enthusiasm to bring a steadier focus to empathetic endowments, I think. More character, less actor personality, perhaps?

It is refreshing to attend two extremely interesting new Australian plays, one after the other, and it gives an exciting expectation to the coming year. BURIED and TONSILS &TWEEZERS, catch them both if you can.

Buried


Wheels and Co Productions presents the Australian Premiere of BURIED. Two Short plays by Xavier Coy, at The Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. 17 - 27 January.

BURIED is the overarching title for the Australian Premiere of two short plays: THE SANDPIPER and SMOKIN' JOE, by new comer, writer, Xavier Coy. It is an auspicious debut. Both plays have distinct character voices within the context of a very dramatic arc of storytelling that keeps one suspended and enthralled.

Says Mr Coy in the program notes:
In THE SANDPIPER and SMOKIN' JOE I am exploring (the idea of) trauma in your formative years following you into adulthood. For Hannah (in THE SANDPIPER) it has manifested itself in feelings of not being good enough and for Dylan (in SMOKIN' JOE) it has resulted in him being unwilling to change from his known culture for fear of being rejected again ... BURIED is an exploration into fear, loneliness and the search for companionship. Most importantly, its about people trying to move out of the shadow of past and into who they want to be in the future, if that's possible...
Hannah (Amelia Campbell) in a session with a psychologist confronts her doctor, Amy (Tara Clark), with a shared past that turns the table of the scenario upside down dramatically, in THE SANDPIPER. Finn (Nicholas Denton) arrives at his first day of work as a landscape gardener and meets his supervisor, Dylan (Xavier Coy), and has a journey that takes him into a series of new experiences that does not end well.

The promise of the writing is first class, and that is not to say that there are not areas for improvement - e.g. the tightening, editing of the action of SMOKIN' JOE. Mr Coy in his notes mentions the influence of Alex Buzo's NORM and AHMED and Edward Albee's The ZOO STORY, and there is a traceable 'fume' of play structure and character development in the BURIED writing that is discernible - what better 'mentors' could you have?

The writing is supported with acting from all the players that is committed and accomplished, elicited by Director, Johann Walraven, even though there are 'staging' problems, especially in THE SANDPIPER, that sometimes prevent the audience from easily entering the story with earlier empathy. In the longer of the two works (the entire evening is only 80 minutes long with no interval) Nicholas Denton, as Finn, gives a fascinating and erudite characterisation as an 'intellectual enthusiast' with not much 'street-wise' knowledge and Mr Coy, as Dylan, brings a sophistication of a struggling persona reaching out for a 'healthy' resolution but submits to fear that prevents developmental relief as a great step forward in his own life.

The Design team: Renee Halse (Production Design), Liam O'Keefe (Lighting Design) and Jessica Dunn (Sound Design) make a contribution that supports but does not intrude on the drama of the stories.

Mr Coy is a writer of some exciting interest, besides the fact that he is also a very intriguing actor, able to create a shape-shift that can demand empathy one minute, or revulsion the next. I recommend a visit to The Old 505 to see the team of BURIED in action.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Town Hall Afair


Sydney Festival presents The Wooster Group production, THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 7 -13 January.

The Wooster Group grew from Richard Schechner's The Performance Group in 1980, under the leadership of Elizabeth Lecompte. It works in a deliberate theatrical form of experimental presentation. Its reputation is formidable and the fact that the theatrical explorations/methods of this company have been an inspiration for similar groups such as The Sydney Front (1986) and other participants regularly appearing in the Performance Space repertory - now seen mostly at Carriageworks - is tantamount to their acumen.

THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR, employs a mixed-media collage with five actors using a 1971 black and white Documentary TOWN BLOODY HALL, by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker, which is projected in an edited form on stage and lip-synched by the actors, with the distraction, as well, of glimpses from a Norman Mailer colour film MAIDSTONE - written, starring and Directed by Mailer (in a scene with Rip Torn).

The TOWN BLOODY HALL documentary records a public debate monitored by Norman Mailer (Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd) with some leading women feminists of the period, in the case of this production, featuring: Jill Johnson (Kate Valk), Germaine Greer (Maura Tierney) and Diana Trilling (Greg Mehrten). The documentary has been explored by the Wooster Group with an edited skew to feature Jill Johnson's participation - she being a stand-out Lesbian/poet/activist of the time. Ms Valks is supremely inspired and makes of her opportunity an indelibly witty and 'possessed' impression. Maura Tierney, not attempting to look at all like Germaine Greer, is also formidable in capturing the essence of the young Greer in her first public appearance in the United States (as part of a tour promoting her book THE FEMALE EUNUCH), while Greg Mehriten captures the spirit and strength - dignity - of the New York Literary and Cultural critic, DianaTrilling. Counter-balancing this formidable intellectual and feisty energy, Norman Mailer - author, playwright, journalist, political activist: he had recently published a book, THE PRISONER OF SEX - is represented by two men: Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd - the patriarchal male in all of his misogynist arrogance hopelessly flailing in his intellectual elitism to keep abreast, afloat, with all that unleashes about him.

This production is only 65 minutes long and does require close attention from the start. I had an absolutely thrilling, stimulating time in the theatre. My companion and I were so excited to be provoked by a production on stage that one felt was so much 'smarter' than ourselves. Afterwards, standing in the foyer discussing and debating with other members of the audience, and days later, having the ideas and outrages simmering, bubbling, sitting deeply in our consciousness, and festering an activist frustration within oneself in January, 2018 was/is a great reward.

The Town Hall Affair took place in 1971 and 46 years later in 2018, one feels that the conversation that these women and Norman Mailer were having then, is nearly exactly the same conversation we are having, vigorously, today. Not much has essentially changed, it seems. Food for thought. The elitism, the entitlement, the arrogance of the 'predatory' verbal intellectual stance of Norman Mailer represents the position of men of power today who refuse to acknowledge that their view, stance is inequitable and in need of radical change, comes through with overwhelming and shameful force. The present 'revolution' of women and their shout for change and equality could not be more encouraging. The pulse that The Wooster Group have tapped is entirely prescient in its significant presence at the Sydney Festival.

Whatever the experimental forms employed in this presentation by the Wooster Group it was of little interest (perhaps, because the methods are very familiar in contemporary Sydney Theatre e.g. Roslyn Oades' work, Version 1.0), for, it is the content that strikes one, and illuminates this performance as a special experience. In the pre-occupied self referencing of so many artists' work that we get to see onstage in Sydney it was a breath of fresh air to be made to attend to something in the theatre bigger than the artist and to be provoked with issues of great importance for the cultural, sociological development of our world.

A highlight.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

There Will Be A Climax


Red Line Productions in association with the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) presents, THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX, by Alexander Berlage and The Company, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. 9th January - 3rd February.

THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX, began as part of the 2016 Directors and Designers Graduating Productions at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, written (devised?) by Alexander Berlage - also the Director - and The Company of performers: Toby Blome, Oliver Crump, Duncan Ragg, Geneva Schofield, Alex Stylianou and Contessa Treffone.

On entering the theatre we meet a red curtain which, when the performance begins, retracts to reveal a gold backcloth, surrounding a clockwise turning revolve, upon which the six actors, dressed in black suits and white shirts with different types of tie, and a half face mask with different colours of eye-shadow and lip-stick, and an individual 'glorious looking' black wig concoction of absurd tortures on their heads, choreographically dancing to the Dead and Alive's YOU SPIN ME ROUND.

It is some feat to dance and move and interact with each other, and an ultimate avalanche of props, whilst the revolve - wheel - earth?- keeps spinning. The Company of actors have each developed a 'clown' persona (one of the actors, Duncan Ragg has studied at L'Ecole Phillipe Gaulier) and using only gibberish for nearly 60 minutes sustain a performance that might bring you to helpless laughter or great perturbation. You might find a 'clown' that becomes your favourite ("Oh, he is so cute"), you might find one that irritates you, or, one that just gives you the creeps - clown-phobia! In the end, or, during, you might be on board for it to never stop, and as the performing platform begins to revolve in the opposite direction you might cheer or otherwise cry out: "Stop the World I want to Get Off".

The show looks great with Set and Costumes by Nicholas Fry, with those outrageous wigs by Luke D'Alessandro. Mr Berlage has established himself as a Lighting Designer of some skill and this show demonstrates that further. (This is his Directorial task (Graduating task?) as well.)The Sound Design, by Katelyn Shaw, is quirky and serves the Director and the choreographic efforts of Toby Derrick well.

Just what is THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX about? Discuss in the bar afterwards, perhaps. Is it just a mindless escapade in ridiculousness? Have these young creators still the ebullient optimism of youth and not yet have any agenda except fun, fun, fun, silly, silly, silly? Are the world events just passing them by whilst they sit in a state of clownish oblivion? That is alright, I suspect. I, too, remember my carefree provincial life as an excited young actor. Nothing wrong with that but this show is so beautifully supported by so much eccentric talent, that one, while one was watching, just wished for more muscularity (intellectual muscularity) in the opportunity that they were indulging in (or, if they were saying anything, that it was less opaque?) The night before I had seen the Wooster Group in THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR, and had had such a brilliant time, both as an entertainment and intellectual provocation, that I really was in the mood for something more substantial. Too much to ask? Perhaps, perhaps. But then after FAG/STAG the other night at the SBW Stables for Griffin, I began to wonder just what does the Australian artist think about, outside their personal realms.

Last year at the Old 505 we saw a performance by a Mexican Clown, Gabriela Munoz, in similar eccentric garb and make up, speaking only in gibberish, and like this company interacting with the audience. It was called PERHAPS, PERHAPS ... QUIZAS that not only had a persona of much humour but also a persona of tender passion and human fragility that all of us could absorb and leave the theatre not only entertained but 'plugged' into the vibrations of what it is to be a human in the spinning travails of the planet earth. Too, being at the Old Fitz in this tiny space, I recalled the performances of Lindsay Kemp's Company in the tiny space of Downstairs Belvoir (besides the spectaculars at the Valhalla Theatre in Glebe, before, that) and the affect that they had on us with their personas - sobering, intriguing and spectacular - world shattering.

THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX, will divide your audience in response, but if you are positive to the event it will be a delight of much fun, if, otherwise, it could be a long time spent in the theatre waiting for something to happen, for that promised climax of the title to happen. Or is that its point? There isn't one.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fag/Stag



Griffin Theatre Company and The Last Great Hunt present FAG/STAG, written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Issacs, in the SBW Theatre, Kings Cross. 10 - 27 January.

FAG/STAG was first presented in Perth in the Blue Room Theatre's Summer Nights in 2015. It is written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Issacs.

Jimmy (Jeffrey Jay Fowler) is a FAG and does Grindr in his search for sex. Corgan (Chris Issacs) is a STAG and does Tinder in his search for sex. Jimmy and Corgan are long standing best friends - they play Donkey Kong regularly together - who both had a thing for Tamara that didn't work out for either of them. Their 'play' crisis is Tamara's up-coming marriage day.

Told via two interlocking monologues, on a black walled stage with a tall stool and table each - a next to nothing Set, very suitable and convenient for touring - the writing is fleet and fluid and stacked with very 'finger-on-the-pulse' type 'hipsterisms' - gay and straight. It is amusing most of the time, not all of the time, but, most of the time. The two performances are adroit and very confident with Mr Fowler, especially, giving a very attractive character reading.

Nothing much happens to these two spoilt men/bros 'hurtling towards their 30's', who have no apparent ease in finding a love/partnership relationship, and are still  highly dependent on parental closeness and assistance.

Depression and self harm issues are alluded to, unresolvedly in the scheme of the events, and they are both periphery concerns - momentary shadows on the greater part of the content.

Short in length, it is an easy hour that has a feel of Summer Festival flummery - feel good entertainment. Theatre-'lite'. Fun. FAG/STAG really doesn't add up to much. Or, is it enough? See for yourself.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My Name is Jimi

Photo by Daniel Boud
Belvoir presents a Queensland Theatre production in association with Sydney Festival, MY NAME IS JIMI, based on a story by Dimple Bani, Jimi Bani and co-created by Jason Klarwein, in the Upstairs Theatre, at Belvoir, Surry Hills. 5 -21 January.

Jimi Bani is an actor/artist of big heart and attractive personality exuding a charisma that is all enveloping. His welcome and invitation to hear his story, MY NAME IS JIMI, is irresistible .

Jimi was born on a remote island: Mabuiag (Jervis Island) in the western part of Torres Strait to the north of the Australian mainland. With the passing of his father, Ahdi Dimple Bani, Jimi will soon be the ninth Chief of Wagadagam, and part of his inherited responsibility is to sustain and preserve his island's language and cultural traditions. Quoting his grandfather, Adhi Ephraim Bani Jnr, he talks about:
Keeping the Fire Burning. ... There is a Fire, a bright flame that was lit in the past, it is still burning but the woods are burning out. My job is to put new woods in to keep the Fire burning. The Fire being our Culture and Cultural Practices, our Language and our Identity. The Woods being Us Teaching, Us Practising and Us Maintaining our Culture.
This production from the Queensland Theatre and incorporated into the Sydney Festival has Jimi and his family, a grandmother (Petharie Bani), mother (Agnes Bani), two of his brothers (Conwell Bani and Richard Bani) and his eldest son (Dmitri Bani) take us on an entertaining and 'educational' storytelling, peripatetic in its fun and enlightening 'landings' of interest - personal memories, folk stories, colonial histories, song and dance - to pass on an intricate and complex knowledge that is a thread in the weave of the fabric that is what is called being human. There are four generations on stage and three languages and we are made aware of the Grandmother's history and the cultural arc to 15 year old Dmitri, with his modern technological gadget (iPhone).  We are shown that the past is present and the present is what will make the future - the youth standing on the shoulders of ancestry and culture, with the latest technologies as possible tools (servants) of preservation.

MY NAME IS JIMI, Directed by Jason Klarwein, uses the cultural 'evidence' of costume, song, dance  d generosity of this family, where we are taken in an 80 minute whirl into a world that enriches and expand our lives with knowledge with a respect for the traditions and family 'wealth' - what it means to be 'family' - of this island culture just north of Australia.

The Fire is being kept burning and the Woods are being refreshed - no doubt, with Jimi Bani's leading presence on the Belvoir stage. The knowledge gained and the warmth and generosity shared by this family is a pleasant antidote to the turmoil of our provocative times. For all the family.

The Wizard of Oz

Photo by Jeff Busby
John Frost and Suzanne Jones by arrangement with The Production Company present Andrew Lloyd Webber's New Production of THE WIZARD OF OZ, at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney. 30 December - 4 February.

THE WIZARD OF OZ, is a classic Hollywood film of 1939, based on a Book by American, L. Frank Baum. Everybody, as a child must have seen it. I saw it at the cinema (in Bondi Junction) as a child and never got over the Flying Monkeys - they terrified me - and the 'creepy' munchkins. Of course, then I saw it again, over and over again on television. THE WIZARD OF OZ was/is part of my storytelling heritage - not necessarily, by the way, my favourite. The song, Somewhere, Over the Rainbow, almost a theme song for some of our lives.

At the Capitol Theatre we now can see a stage version using the original film songs, Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, with contemporary additional Lyrics and Music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, in a smart adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams - he is also the Director.

This bright and faithful adaptation is an ideal theatre experience for all the family, that creates a magic, combining the best qualities of live musical theatre: Song and Dance inside a bright Production Design (Scenic and Costume Design, by Robert Jones) with the modern 'gadgetry' of the Video Designer (Jon Driscoll) that is absolutely spectacular in capturing the 'Twister' that whisks us from the Depression period of Kansas into the colourful fantasy world of OZ, where the classic storytelling 'hero quest' is put to the test. (There are other video/film pleasures as well.)

Dorothy (Samantha Dodemaide), accompanied by Scarecrow (Eli Cooper), Tin Man (Alex Rathgeber) and Lion (John Xintavelonis) have quest adventures instigated by the Wizard of Oz, (Anthony Warlow.) thwarted by the Wicked Witch of the West (Jemma Rix), but are counter-supported by the Good Witch, Glinda (Lucy Durack).

Everybody involved in this show, especially the cast in this production, have a Mount Everest challenge of embedded cultural memory to overcome, to claim this story from the film.

Samantha Dodemaide, as Dorothy, has an especially hard act to follow (Judy Garland in the original film) but has the focus and charm and acting and singing gifts to make it her own. And, despite the commercial billing of this production where she is fourth in status, she IS the star of the show (well, along with the two dogs: Trouble and Flick who cover Toto for the show, under the tutelage of Animal Trainer, Luke Hura.) Her curtain call at least acknowledges her position in this production, as it should be: leading actor! Ms Dodemaide's quality was signalled in the Hayes production of the musical VIOLET, a few years ago.

The three men, Mr Cooper, Mr Xintavelonis and, especially, Mr Rathberger are terrific in their famous (double) roles, and Anthony Warlow creates a Wizard and Professor Marvel of folksy whimsy characteristics that are endearing. (There are a few over statements, in the writing, of the possible sexuality of one of the characters - "We are friends of Dorothy".

While Lucy Durack, as Glinda, looks glamorous she seems to be giving an impression borrowed from Megan Mulally as 'camp'  Karen Walker in the television show WILL AND GRACE. Personally, and nostalgically, I wished she had tried to shadow Billie Burke more if she had to mould her performance off popular cultural performance iconography - if that is what she is doing. Megan is no substitute for Billie and hard-nosed Karen is no substitute for the original daffy Glinda.

Jemma Rix has all the production make-up and costume support, along with the best text, to create a presence as The Wicked Witch of the West and Miss Gulch, but has not anything more than superficial mouthing and pantomime acting to bring the characters to life or to make them her own - no ownership/identification going on here - rather, it seemed simply letting the make-up and costume do the work. It's not enough, and the remembered dynamics of the indelible work of Margaret Hamilton from the film haunt this extremely disappointing performance.

The Ensemble are drilled and supportive agents of the action if not absolutely enchanting as characters in their many guises - not much individualisation or inner life!

The old songs are memorable and the new additions are seamless and add musical theatre depth to the show, if not, as well, memorable tunes. (Having the Rice/Webber names on the Billboard and knowing that EVITA is coming up later in the year, the quality difference of the Rice and Webber musical creations were discernible and, unfortunately, noted.) The live musical aspect of the production, on the night, led by Laura Tipoki, is assured, even if the Sound Design, on this opening night seemed a  little askew, especially as we began!

THE WIZARD OF OZ, at the Capitol Theatre is a stage production that will live in the DNA of the children in the audience  - they will have the theatre disease for life, I hope and reckon (as an adult, I found the show awesome) - a great indoctrination of audience!

It is a terrific and charming experience for the summer holidays.  Recommended.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Looking Back on 2017.

This is the completion of the TENTH year of this blog - oh, my!

So, in many ways but one, for me, 2017, was not a very stable year or a good one - you know, Trump, Aussie politics, Global Warming (Ageing!). The exception was the general quality of the theatre work (and film) that I got to see in Sydney this year. In that regard, 2017 was a very good year. Just look at these listings!

NEW AUSTRALIAN PLATWRITING.

Of the many new Australian plays of 2017 here are my outstanding experiences, in no particular order.

  1. Monkey Baa's DIARY OF A WOMBAT, Concept by Sandra Eldridge, Tim McGarry, Eva Di Cesare, based on a children's book, by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. A delightful children's show with gorgeous puppetry - it kept us all transfixed and transported.
  2. TRIBUNAL, a devised work, Concept and Direction by Karen Therese, for PYT Fairfield (Powerhouse Youth Theatre). This was this verbatim play's fourth appearance in Sydney (all short seasons) and it has two more coming up in 2018 in the Sydney Festival and later at the Sydney Opera House. If a play speaks confronting truths it is hard to shove it away. Indigenous and Refugee politics.
  3. THE HOMOSEXUALS OR 'FAGGOTS', by Declan Greene. Mr Green keeps writing work that is always provocative and is a development on what he has done before, either in form or content. In this case he tackles the Farce as form on which to hang some very important and incisive observations about the lives of certain parts of the 'queer' community. Helter skelter hilarity with an under taste of acidic politics. A Melbourne based playwright.
  4. THE LADEN TABLE, by Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Keranhan and Ruth Kliman. This play was many years in development. Two families, one Muslim, one Jewish, sit at a table in seperate houses on a holy day, and speak uninhibitedly of their daily lives through the voices of three generations. What is said is not always 'politically correct' and it is this bracing truthfulness and passion that gives its audience a powerful insight to some of our communities living and finding a way to integrate their family heritages in their new country. The Past creating the  generational tension in the Present. What will the Future evolve into? This is the first bAKEHOUSE Production that scored brilliantly on this year's Kings Cross Theatre stage.
  5. LITTLE BORDERS, by Phillip Kavannagh. This small one act play with two characters won the Patrick White Award a few years ago, but had its first outing this year in Sydney. Beautifully constructed interwoven monologues, the satirical concerns confronting and spot-on, in a very accomplished production by Dominic Mercer.
  6. JATINGA, by Purva Naresh. This is a play co-developed over several years, in Mumbai and Sydney, with Suzanne Millar, of bAKEHOSE Productions, revealing some of the 'pressured' lives of ordinary, poor women in contemporary India. Shocking, heart breaking and compassionate. Its dramatic scope, epic in its stylistic embrace. All elements of the supporting Design telling. bAKEHOUSE's second important contribution to the Sydney theatre scene.
  7. MERCILESS GODS, by Dan Giovannoni, adapted from a book of short stories, by Christos Tsiolkas. Mr Giovannoni was fearless in the eight short vignettes he created, and although, for me, the work was not always consistent (and I dislike the monologue form) it was with a relish of language (always gets me!) and content that could not be ignored. Exciting. A Melbourne based playwright.
  8. ATLANTIS, by Lally Katz. Ms Katz let her imagination explode and embraced the world of Farce to talk about some serious stuff confronting her heroine,'Lally' - her urgent ticking biological clock. It is whacky and off-the-wall and really, really difficult to do. A craftsman with a very serious intent underneath the comedy.
  9. VIRGINS AND COWBOYS, by Morgan Rose. Another Melbourne based playwright. This play busted form and talked of some very existential dilemmas. This playwright excited me very much. Need to see more of her work. Take note.
  10. MURIEL'S WEDDING. An Australian Musical, based on a favourite Australian film, given a full scale production. Written by PJ Hogan (the originator of the film, as well) with original Music and Lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall (augmenting the ABBA songs), this new work was robust and secure in its first outing. Remarkable.
  11. BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS, by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine. An Indigenous story with rock and roll songs. It is brave and naked in its observations of personal relationships and politics between siblings and the status of the first nation communities in the National Political arena. A play that speaks full-on to its audience and as cauterising as any play seen in Sydney this year. Pertinent.


PRODUCTIONS THAT I ENJOYED.


  1. AWAY, by Michael Gow, in the Drama Theatre, for the Sydney Theatre Company. A very contemporary Directorial take on the play that I would never have contemplated but was extremely glad to have being challenged with, from Malthouse in Melbourne, under the Direction of Matthew Lutton, with a spectacular Deisgn by Dale Ferguson. I reckon one of the marks of quality playwriting is to see the elasticity of that writing and its ability to hold thematically and dramatically firm, no matter the artistic pressure put on it by auteurial conception. Fabulous.
  2. THE JUDAS KISS, by David Hare, at the Old Fitz Theatre. A fairly conventional play structure looking at the last days of Oscar Wilde and his friends. Iain Sinclair Directed with care and compassion to give a very satisfying time to his audience.
  3. THE DIARY OF A WOMBAT, concept by Sandra Eldridge, Tim McGarry, Eva Di Cesare, based on a book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. A beautifully rendered show for young children with puppetry that was totally enchanting for all of us in the audience - children and adults.
  4. THE LADEN TABLE, by six women: Yvonne Perzcuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernaghan and Ruth Kliman. This work was developed over many years, guided by Suzanne Millar (and Tony Harrison) of bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co in the Kings Cross Theatre and had 12 actors on stage revealing a large canvas of inter-tribal/religious convictions of great passionate concerns: Palestinian and Israeli. The production had all the care, love and respect of a most remarkable ensemble and Design element. It needs to be seen by a wider audience. This was a remarkable event in the Sydney Theatre scene.
  5. CALAMITY JANE - A musical adaptation, Directed by Richard Carroll at the Hayes Theatre, with a rambunctious, outrageous ensemble cast: Virginia Gay, Sheridan Harbridge, Rob Johnson, Tony Taylor, Anthony Gooley, Matthew Pierce and Laura Bunting, that puts a 'twist' to the storytelling of this famous film script source of a very satisfying kind. So well liked, that it is been revived under the aegis of Belvoir in the coming season. Great Musical Direction by Nigel Ubrihiem (underrated star) and Design by Lauren Peters - both Set and Costume. Go see it.
  6. BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, by Rajiv Joseph, an American play of politics, of a superior, erudite literary kind, set in Baghdad, at the Old Fitz Theatre, beautifully Directed by Claudia Barrie; Set Design, by Isobel Hudson, Costumes by Stephanie Howe; Lighting by Benjamin Brockman; Sound Design by Nate Edmondson. Again an impeccable Ensemble cast: Josh Anderson, Stephen Multari, Tyler de Nawi, Megan Smart, Aanisa Vylet, Maggie Dence and Andrew Lindqvist. This was one of the most memorable nights in the theatre this year. I recommended it to everyone I knew who loved theatre.
  7. WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, a revival production of Edward Albee's great play at the Ensemble Theatre. Meticulously Directed by Iain Sinclair with two great leading performances by Genevieve Lemon and Darren Gilshenan. The Design by Michael Hankin, absolutely detailed and ingenious in this small space - outstanding.
  8. THE VILLAGE BIKE, by Penelope Skinner, an English play, Directed by Rachel Chant with a very focused company of actors led by a standout performance of a very amazing, provocative heroine, Becky, given by Gabrielle Scawthorn - an actor that deserves to be seen more often.
  9. JATINGA, by Purva Naresh. Suzanne Millar of bAKEHOUSE Theatre in the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT) has been working with a theatre collective in Mumbai and brought this play to Sydney and cast it with Australian/Indian actors (and two guests from India). A play of epic proportions and tragic contemporary thematics that gripped one from start to finish. Another example, like THE LADEN TABLE, of contemporary Australian theatrical enterprise that is finding the way to tell important stories to an Australian audience. Both these bAKEHOUSE productions should be seen in a larger theatre.
  10. CLOUD NINE, by Caryl Churchill - a revival production. Ms Churchill is STC Director's, Kip Williams, favourite playwright. This production was an outstanding evening in the theatre. Cast amazingly well: Matthew Backer, Kate Box, Harry Greenwood, Anita Hegh, Josh McConville, Heather Mitchell and Anthony Taufa. The convulsions and political heat of this play were made relevant and funny for today's audience - a vital tonic of wonder. Didn't like the Set much - I thought, when the actors were in the 'glass box' that it inhibited the play's momentum.
  11.  HOT BROWN HONEY, an activist political cabaret/burlesque revealing what it is to be hot, brown and a honey in a white patriarchy. Bracing, stimulating and confronting whilst having a very good time. Balancing its politics with a savvy entertaining technique to coat the savage 'pill'. This production in the Studio Space at the Sydney Opera House.
  12. HIR, by Taylor Mac in the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre. A hip political night in the theatre with red-hot sexual politics of diversity front and centre. A play of refreshing relevance. A committed cast and another outstanding Design by Michael Hankin. Anthea Williams Directed. Witty, provocative.
  13. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, a revival production of Arthur Miller's play, at the Old Fitz Theatre. Directed by Iain Sinclair, this may have been the Best Night in the theatre this year in Sydney. With clear unfussy and inspired clarity the company of actors, Janine Watson, Zoe Terakles, David Soncin, Lincoln Younes, David Lynch and Giles Gartrelll-Mills led by Ivan Donato, as Eddie Carbone, grabbed the audience by the throat and kept us spellbound in mounting terror and horror. It was a totally absorbing and thrilling night in the theatre.
  14. NO END OF BLAME, by Howard Barker. In a relatively lack lustre season for Sport For Jove (SFJ) this year - unusual - this revival of this playwright's work, brought not only an important voice back to the Sydney scene but also produced an outstanding production with a dedicated company of actors Directed by Damien Ryan. Muscular theatre.
  15. GHOSTS, by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted and Directed by Eamon Flack, in the Upstairs Theatre Belvoir. The thematics of this play proved to be as relevant for today as when it was written. The Design by Michael Hankin created a space that kept us totally enthralled with a company of actors committed to the telling of this story. Excellence.
  16. ATLANTIS, by Lally Katz, at Belvoir Upstairs Theatre. Ms Katz at her zaniest, farcical, and yet, serious, best, beautifully managed by Director, Rosemary Myers. A superior accomplishment. The casting was impeccable, a great ensemble: Amber McMahon, Matthew Whittet, Paula Arundell, Lucia Mastrantone and Hazem Shamas. Hilarious and whirl of daring.
  17. MURIEL'S WEDDING. A new Australian musical, adapted by PJ Hogan from his fllm, with Lyrics and Music by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall (augmenting the ABBA songs) in an absolutely knock-out Design by Gabriela Tylesova, and an abundantly talented and energetic cast, Directed by Simon Phillips, giving a time melting dessert of fun, and satiric intention, in the theatre.
  18. BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS, by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine, in the Upstairs Theatre at Belvoir - a play with rock music that reveals two siblings and their 'family' politics and, as they are Indigenous, an injection of National Politics, that makes this production a necessary contribution to the Australian canon. As important as last year's THE DOVER'S WIFE. Ursula Yovitch and Elaine Crombie a dream combination with a thrilling rock band of the highest order.
    19. RESTRAINT(S). A dance work from Ken Unsworth and the Australian Dance Artists: Susan Barling, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Ross Philip and , especially Anca Frankenhaeuser, with creative collaborator, Norman Hall, that confirms the quality of these artists integrity and persistence to continue to create. It featured a live score for a chamber orchestra, by Kate Moore. The performances were given in the studio of the sculptor Ken Unsworth, in Alexandia, for a 'boutique' and lucky audience. This company create annually, startling work, RESTRAINT(S) being one of the most impressive inventions and deserves to be seen by a larger audience - Sydney Festival or Carriageworks, anyone? ????


PERFOMANCES I ADMIRED (AND ENVIED.)


  1. Pachero Mzembe in PRIZE FIGHTER. Passionate commitment.
  2. Heather Mitchell. Is there a better (more consistently great) actor in Sydney? This year two daring and supremely compassionate performances: in AWAY and CLOUD NINE.
  3. David Soncin. Playing in supporting roles his consistency over the past few years was registered again this year with honest, ignited, and beautiful work in THE JUDAS KISS and in a stunning contrast of versatility in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE as volatile Marco.
  4. Simon London. Mostly working in supporting roles but always immersed with craft and inspiration, this year in THE JUDAS KISS, SUNSET STRIP  and TAKING STEPS. There is such seductive ease in his creations.
  5. Mansoor Nur. Sits in the fringe but always arresting, this year in THE LADEN TABLE.
  6. Kate Mulvany in an astonishing performance/possession as Richard III, for Bell Shakespeare, this year. The reason to see this production.
  7. Andrew Lindqvist gave an extremely subtle performance in BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO.
  8. Genevieve Lemon an important and constant contributor to the quality of acting on Sydney Stages. This year, demonstrating her versatility: in the Australian Farce, THE HOMOSEXUALS OR 'FAGGOTS'; the great American classic, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? as Martha; and finally in a supporting singing role in a new Australian musical MELBA. Amazing and invaluable.
  9. Darren Gilshenan, as George in Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
  10. Gabrielle Scawthorn, giving an amazing second-by-second possession as Becky in THE VILLAGE BIKE. Hauntingly brave and brilliantly executed artistry.
  11. Matthew Backer in the Australian musical ONLY HEAVEN KNOWS*** and a dual role in CLOUD NINE. Superb in both their intricacies.
  12. Lucy Goleby and Brandon McClelland in LITTLE BORDERS - a clever duet of interaction.
  13. Kate Box, being remarkable again in her dual responsibilities in CLOUD NINE.
  14. Harry Greenwood in CLOUD NINE, his colonial wife contrasted so eloquently with his homosexual gardener.
  15. Amanda Muggleton, giving a display of wonderful technique and the joy of performing in LIP SERVICE. The best reason, the only reason, to have seen this play.
  16. Steve Rodgers in DIVING FOR PEARLS. Another consistent work of complicated 'naturalism' that serves his character and the other actor's characters faultlessly. The bedrock of this production.
  17. Michellle Doak, for her tour-de-force in a supporting task in DIVING FOR PEARLS. The layers of her contribution astonishing - comic and tragic in the same moments.
  18. Ursula Yovitch, twice, for two Barbara's - one in DIVING FOR PEARLS, and especially for her ferocity and emotional nakedness in BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS.
  19. Helen Thomson, as Paige in HIR. At last a role that absorbed her into transformation - her best work, to my eyes, since her STC challenge in Shaw's MRS WARREN'S PROFESSION, many years ago now.
  20. Ivan Donato, creating an extraordinary performance as Eddie Carbone in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. Incandescent. Superior work.
  21. Tom Conroy as Oswald in Ibsen's GHOSTS. Daring and thrilling.
  22. Toby Francis as Rob in the Hayes musical, HIGH FIDELITY - honest, naked and certainly, here, a triple threat of some astonishing expertise.
  23. Jennifer Vuletic for three absolutely volcanic creations in MERCILESS GODS.
  24. Drew Livingstone, insanely hilarious with a superior comic technique detail in TAKING STEPS.
  25. Andrew Henry for his revelations and craft in his work VERTICAL DREAMING, at the Old Fitz.
  26. Elaine Crombie for her balanced and compassionate support in BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS. Mesmerising and a revelation.
  27. Sheridan Harbridge in CALAMITY JANE. 'Don't act with animals, children or Sheridan Harbridge!' Is there a more wickedly inventive artist on the Sydney stage? I don't think so!
  28. Virginia Gay, in CALAMITY JANE. Cheeky powerhouse of a leading lady.
  29. Paula Arundell in ATLANTIS. One of the great, consistent artists of the Sydney stage.


DESIGNS THAT I OBSERVED (in no particular order).

Lauren Peters for CALAMITY JANE and HIGH FIDELITY.
Isabel Hudson (Set) and Stephanie Howe (Costume) for BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO.
Michael Hankin for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF; HIR; GHOSTS and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
Melanie Liertz for NO END OF BLAME.
Jonathan Oxlade for ATLANTIS.
Gabriela Tylesova for MURIEL'S WEDDING.
Multiple Lighting Designs from Benjamin Brockman.
Multiple and intricate Sound Designs from Nate Edmondson - is there a busier artist?

DIRECTORS I NOTED.

Iain Sinclair - consistent excellence. THE JUDAS KISS; WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF; A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE.
Claudia Barrie - BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO.
Dominic Mercer - LITTLE BORDERS.
Stephen Nicolazzo - MERCILESS GODS.
Leticia Carceres - BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS.
Simon Philips - MURIEL'S WEDDING.
Suzanne Millar - A LADEN TABLE and JATINGA.
Matthew Lutton - AWAY.
Kip Williams - CLOUD NINE.
Rosemary Myers - ATLANTIS.
Darren Yap - DIVING FOR PEARLS.
Elsie Edgerton-Till, for WASTED, by Kate Tempest and LA CALISTO (a student opera production at the Conservatorium of Music.)

I noted the consistently good curating at the 'experimental' space the OLD 505 by Kerri Glasscock this year. I saw some consistently interesting work in the Eliza St Newtown space.
  • A PERIOD PIECE from Glitterbomb.
  • THE SYLPH - a play by Jodi Pose, with Gertaud Ingeborg, Directed by Colleen Cook.
  • TRADE - from Hurrah, Hurrah.
  • THIS IS NOT MILLS AND BOON - by Erica J,. Brennan, from Glorious Thing Theatre.
  • PERHAPS. PERHAPS ... QUIZAS, from artist, Gabriela Munoz. (Outstanding.)
  • LITTLE BORDERS, a play from Philip Kavangh.
I also saw some 'bombs', which was, perversely, I know, heartening to see, as well.

Another Newtown bonus this year. The consistent work at the New Theatre - not, by the way, always the case. 2017, an exceptional year.
There were a few disasters as well.

2017 was also the year a great mentor of mine passed: DOREEN WARBURTON.

Have a Great New Year - 2018. Thank you for reading.

Cinema - Summer 2017-2018: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME; THE FLORIDA PROJECT; THE TEACHER; WONDER WHEEL;STAR WARS- EPISODE VIII -THE LAST JEDI.

Hi all. Theatre gone quiet - holiday mode before the Sydney Festival onslaught. So, here are some movies that I have seen accompanied with a 'trifling' comment.

1. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. This is the much talked about 'art film' of this awards season. It is Directed by Luca Guadagino, and completes what he regards as the Desire Trilogy. The other two films being I AM LOVE (2009) and A BIGGER SPLASH (2015) - both with Tilda Swinton. It is adapted from a novel by Andre Aciman, by the famous James Ivory (of the Merchant/Ivory film team.)

It tells of a summer romance - in the case of Elio (Timothee Chalamet), his first love - in Italy, in the 1980's. The film is languid and unfurls without any dramatic conflict but with a sense of growing tension that all of us have known and come to recall, which, in this story, culminates in a late scene with a father and son talk that is so full of human wisdom that tears, even, for some, sobbing, elevates this work into a superior sphere of experiential endowment.

Timothee Chalamet, as Elio, gives a wonderfully sophisticated and insightful experiencing in the film (although, the performance by Adele Exarchopouligo, as Adele, a young woman experiencing her first love, in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (2013), is the better), Michael Stuhlbarg as Elio's father, Samuel, has gift of a scene (almost verbatim from the novel) and captures our empathy. Arnie Hammer, as Oliver, has been praised for the nuanced work he delivers, but I am not convinced of his gifts - not enough, though, to undermine my recommendation of this film. A great deal of the edited film on the screen is wordless, the inner reading of character from the clues given by the actors are there to ensure our (the audience's) own cathartic commitment. It is this inner, communicated 'life' of the character that each actor must give and is where one can observe, sort out, the quality of the actor. And, certainly, Mr Chalamet, is given by the direction ample opportunity for us to marvel at his abilities. It is interesting, on-the-other-hand, that the Director and Editor (Walter Fasano) did not settle for too long on the close-ups of Mr Hammer's offers.

Overall, the film has a classic Visconti heritage (Cinematography, by Sayombhu Mukdeepram) - remember the summer in his 1976, L'INNOCENTE) - and, like Visconti at his best, too, has a sophisticated supporting musical background (Music, by Sufjan Stevens). This film tells of a 'gay' exploration and it is given with delicious restraint and delicacy. Though the film touches any first love scenario whatever the gender identification.

For me, though, MOONLIGHT (2016) is still the best of these stories on film, with this year's GOD'S OWN COUNTRY (2017) coming in a close second. Check them, all three, out.

2. THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a 'terrific/terrifying' gaze at survival on the socio-economic fringes of the American dream in Florida. It centres on a mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) and child, Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), living in a Motel under the shadow of Disney World. It follows the day-to-day life through the 'adventures' of the innocent eyes of childhood. This film is Directed and written, by Sean Baker (TANGERINE- 2015). The performances have a fly-on-the-wall appearance with William Dafoe, excelling as the motel manager, Bobby. It carries, unconsciously, an American Trump-critique - Florida is where he has his Hotel/Golf Course. (Disney and Trump!) The film is uncomfortable to watch but has a mesmerising power that cannot help but strike you with empathy and sadness. Not as cauterising as Ken Loach's I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016), but just as urgent. Highly recommended.

3. THE TEACHER (2017), is set in 1980's Czechoslovakia, and tells of a manipulative teacher who with the confidence of 'support' from 'people' in Moscow, plunders the gifts and lives of her student's to her own advantage. Comrade Drazdechova (Zuzana Maurey) pushes too far and there are stirrings of class action/rebellion. The consequences are intriguing. The central performance from Ms Maurey is wonderful and full of the ambiguities of the subtle wielding of power for selfish gain, as she deals with the helplessness of the victims caught in its meshes. It is Directed by Jan Hrebejk. Recommended.

4. WONDER WHEEL, is the latest of Woody Allen's annual contribution to the output of American film. Set, nostalgically, on Coney Island in the 1950's, the central character, Ginny (Kate Winslet), bored and trapped on a treadmill of mediocrity, begins a 'romance' with a lifeguard on the beach, Mickey (Justin Timberlake) in an attempt to escape the life her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi) provides, with their son, and the competition that his daughter with all of her blossoming youth and naivety, Carolina (Juno Temple) confronts her with. It all unravels, of course, and in a role that has echoes of the gamut of the acting opportunities of Cate Blanchett's film/character in BLUE JASMIN (2013), one can quickly see the difference in the ability between the two actors. Ms Winslet is either 'right-on' or 'right-off' with her choices in this screen story. Unfortunately, she is more often 'off' than 'on' - not knowing what tone to strike with Woody Allen's scriptural challenges. Ms Winslet is unable to find a consistency that makes us believe the trajectory of the arc of Ginny. The only reason to see this rather ordinary film is to enjoy the ravishing cinematography of Vittorio Storaro. You will appreciate this film just as much on that aeroplane flight as you would in the cinema - not difficult to sit through, but is really a 'time filler', rather than a must see experience.

5. STAR WARS - EPISODE VIII -THE LAST JEDI.  I saw this film in my principal childhood cinema the Ritz Randwick (now celebrating its 80th Anniversary). As a kid I would attend the Saturday afternoon matinee, where we saw a main feature, lots of cartoons and several cliff-hanging serials, all for 11d - eleven pennies. After buying my ticket I has one shilling and one penny left for lollies (mostly, slate pencils and chocolate bullets) potato 'straws' and a drink, from the two shillings given to me by my grandma, to keep me busy, while she went to the Saturday horse races!

Watching EPISODE VIII of this new STAR WARS franchise, in the same cinema, I could not help but recall those boring serials of the yesteryear of my childhood - it's what we threw our Jaffers (lollies) at, in spontaneous judgements! If I hadn't eaten my choc top, I might have thrown it at the screen, the other night. THE LAST JEDI is a formulaic work, made for the loyal fans of the last 40 years - lots of very loud crash bang action, half-baked ('bullshit') mysticism, myth making of the Religious or Wagner kind (Joseph Campbell kind?), stock cartoon characters wearing easily identifiable traits of function (good, bad, really bad, funny, serious, deadly serious, or occasionally, only occasionally, in-between) and 'oiled' by corn-ball comedic side jokes that foreknowledge of the earlier films is needed to be appreciated.

Rian Johnson, the Writer and Director, gives what Disney and Lucasfilms want, I presume - a safe, predictable, re-assuring couple of hours for the simply pleased, dumb downed audience in the cinema - you have to be a dyed-in-the -wool fan to really like this film and give it a thumbs-up. There are many strands of plot going on and there is some - some - mastery  from the Director in keeping them afloat and demarcated. However, Mr Johnson, as writer, can get no marks, really, for character creation and or development - we've met them all before and nothing seems to have been learnt or allowed to evolve.

In my endurance of this long film - actual and metaphorically - (152 minutes going on 10 hours!), the really interesting thing for me was to have the mental time to see how each of the actors fared in trying to make the dialogue a convincing expression of character - most of the writing was rudimentarily for functional storytelling only - narrative progression. For me, it was an enjoyable game of separating good actors from the bad, the quality, from the run-of-the-mill kind. From those who can seem to create character through inner life/thought and have the gifts to passionately pursue and subtly reveal, and those who can't or don't.

Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) fares best by a long margin (although the climatic speeches begin to wear a bit thin with strain), Oscar Issac (Poe Dameron) displays his quality by spouting his gung-ho rubbish of banalities with the utter conviction of an action hero (looking for Hans Solo qualities?), while Benito del Torro (DJ) is absolutely masterful and witty, with his contribution, small as it is. (Brevity is the soul of wit, perhaps, and a vulnerability - a stutter - helps distinguish and win favour, empathy.) I gave these actors an A grade.

Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn) and Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tica) get away with speaking their 'stuff' most of the time but not all of the time - B grade actors in training? If they escape Hollywood type-casting, we shall see, if their true mettle is a possible A grading.

While, curiously, Laura Dern, purple hair is not enough (Vice Admiral Hodo), and Domald Gleeson, red hair and pallid face, are not enough (General Hux), reveal surface, no-work-done commitment.  We know that they can do good work - so what happened here?

While the  C-grading (or Z), in acting technique is obvious, and easily awarded to the contributions of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa) - they truly honour the tradition of the actor in the Z grade serial of the 30's and 40's - cardboard fraudsters, full of portentous looks and pretended 'weight' with no personal depth of any kind. (But then neither they nor George Lucas would ever have thought that they would still be peddling these performances 40 years later from the original, and to keep this franchise going, we, the audience endure them.)

The Best part of this film is the technical contributions made by, going on the credit list, literally, hundreds of craftsmen and women. But if the up front artists aren't up to standard, and the scripted dialogue so banal, no matter the time (and money) spent it just won't work as cinematic art as well.

I think this must be the  last time I 'shell-out' for the STAR WARS saga. But, then, I said that last time, too.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Measure for Measure, and The Servant of Two Masters

Photograph by Zelko Nedic

Sport For Jove Theatre co. presents MEASURE FOR MEASURE, by William Shakespeare and THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS, by Carlo Goldoni. Bella Vista Farm, 8 - 30 December. Laura Shakespeare Festival, Everglades Gardens 14 - 30, January.

With this year adaptations of Shakespeare's MEASURE FOR MEASURE and Carlo Goldoni's THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS, Sport For Jove (SFJ) present their ninth summer season at Bella Vista Farm, and in Leura, in the Everglades Gardens.

Lizzie Schebesta, the Director of MEASURE FOR MEASURE, declares in her program notes to be 'an unashamedly feminist theatre maker and will frack my way into a play to bring out its female voice.' So with excision of text - even a whole sub-plot and several characters - and much re-writing, with a Design concept (Sallyanne Facer) that liberally borrows from contemporary television imagery: THE HANDMAID'S TALE, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, (WENTWORTH), this company have re-gendered some characters (e.g. Claudio becomes Claudia; the Viennese prison, all, a female penitentiary), to help justify the final solution to one of the famous 'problems' of the play: the marriage proposal from the principal protagonist, Duke Vincentio, to the novitiate nun, Isabella, by having Isabella snatching the Duke's proclamation microphone and sharing the last famous speech.

It seemed to my companions and I on the Opening Night that none of this adaptive 'fracking' seemed to be strong or radical enough to win us, convincingly, to this feminist theatre maker's reading of this importantly ultra-naturalistic 'modern' take of a corrupt governmental system (Monarchist/Fascistic) observed by Shakespeare in the late Elizabethan world where no-one, male or female, is either black or white in the vice or virtue stakes, but are dwelling rather in the humanistic 'grey' areas of perception where all are nicely 'drawn' through an Overdone lens. The observation and moral critique is unreservedly fierce - it was in Elizabethan terms and still is today, making it one of the more regularly contemporaneously revived plays from the Shakespeare canon. (Erroneously, I have heard that MEASURE FOR MEASURE is rarely seen - well, I can talk of six Sydney productions including the Cheek By Jowl production as part of last year's Sydney Festival (in Russian) - which was very fascinating.)

This questionably contemporary 'fracking' for political statement for SFJ pales in its attempt when one looks at, say, Charles Marowitz's version of MEASURE FOR MEASURE (much reviled, by the way). I would wish that what Ms Schebesta and her company have wrought was more radical in its re-writing (adaptation), had more courage, to win us to her argument, with this play as its foundation, since she lacks, she says, no shame. Go for it - this version seemed timid - shallow?

On Opening Night, maybe, the literature adaptation and the Design flourishes of the production were slightly premature in its reveal to an audience (costumes, a mess), and so in performance was made  to be opaque, for it seemed that the company of performers had not quite settled into the characters or rhythm of the production. Not all finding the surety of technique either vocally or physically to deliver Outdoor Shakespeare and handle seamlessly the many scene changes and help us find sense to the musical decisions of a popular culture soundtrack that may have needed a foreknowledge of the original to have thematic affect. The production intents were blurred in focus. The play, if you were able to hold attention, shockingly relevant and disturbing.

'I will proclaim you (as a sexual predator)', says Isabella, to Angelo.
'Who will believe you?', answers the male power broker.

Yalin Ozucelik, as Duke Vincentio, stood head and shoulder above the other actors in his handling of the space, play, production and audience on the night, although his idiosyncratic take of the infamously difficult role of the Duke with his machinations was not easily interpreted for full appreciation, without more consistent surrounding support. Janine Watson playing the re-genedered Claudio as Claudia was bold though not partnered well enough by Clauida Ware's Isabella, to bring the the famous prison scene, at the centre of this play- some say some of the best of Shakespeare's writing - to brilliance of clarity or appreciation. Adele Quero, in her brief work as Mariana, was a great relief of perceptive interpretative demands, with a calm inner centre and knowledge on how to deliver for the audience.


The following week, Sport for Jove presented a production of the well known THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS, by Carlo Goldoni (1746), adapted freely, and Directed, by George Banders and Francesca Savige. Now this play, too, is a regular work seen in Sydney, the last time, hilariously adapted by the National Theatre of Great Britain as ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS.

My observation as to the wholehearted success of this production of this play, as compared to the MEASURE FOR MEASURE, was that, here, the adaptation of the original play seemed to be a carefree and more radically daring one, with all involved gleefully engaged in the 'inventions'  and popular culture references - not just in their bits but with a fine sense of the whole construct of the madness of Goldoni's' world, and secure knowledge of how their bits fitted together to make this comedy work like a well oiled clock. This company, essentially the same one that was engaged with the previous week's Shakespeare, seemed to be cocksure of what they were doing and technically had a 'handle' on to how to convey their gifts and hard work to the audience in this outdoor space.

George Zhao as the madcap servant Truffaldino, has an innate charm and physical dexterity capable of seducing any audience to empathy to his character's dilemmas. Whilst the promise I saw in Adele Querol's Mariana, last week, is brought to admirable fruition, as Beatrice, in her double act as male impersonator, supported goofily by Andrew Hearle, as Florindo. Whilst Gabriel Fancourt is an able 'idiot', Silvio Lombardi, in pursuit of his love Smeraldina. The other comedy is oiled by the exaggerations and fine judgements of Yalin Ozucelik, as Pantalone. But, the ensemble concentration and its awareness of how this  production is meant to work is what keeps the energy smooth and pointedly funny.

The Design of this show by Sallyanne Facer, especially, the costuming, is more spot-on than last week, and the widely referenced music choices are much more useful in holding the show together under the Sound Design of Tegan Nichols. The Lighting of both shows was wonderfully versatile in difficult circumstances made to order by Matt Cox.

Another Summer Season from Sport For Jove - one hilarious and silly, one still developing to find its balance, and darker in intent.