Monday, February 20, 2017

The Trouble With Harry

Photo by Clare Hawley

Siren Theatre Company and the Seymour Centre present, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, by Lachlan Philpott, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale, 16 February - 3 March.

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, is a new play from Lachlan Philpott. It had its premiere season last year in Melbourne. Written in a kind of open verse style with a duo of actors narrating as a Greek Chorus (Thomas Campbell, Niki Owen) and interacting as minor characters, four other actors embody the major characters to tell the story of Harry Crawford in the working class suburbs of Sydney in the early years of the last century.

In virtual poverty, Annie Birkett (Jane Phegan) cares for a house for her son, Harry (Jonas Thomson), and her partner, Harry Crawford (Jodie Le Vesconte), he, with a job at a pub as a 'bar useful'. The neighbourhood is curious and 'gossipy' and suspect that there is something different about this family and its noisy rooster. All seems normal if not tense and when Josephine Falleni (Bobbie-Jean Henning) turns up looking for shelter – a seismic shake disturbs the household.

Mr Philpott is back in form (LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT) and in his beautiful and carefully written words tells a story without too much why and wherefore as to the background of the events and characters of the play, simply recounting a story, sufficiently, of a time when fear of the different caused behaviours that were necessarily secret, that spun into 'terrible' consequences. It seems that times have changed for some of us, but have they really for the greater part of our democratic brothers and sisters? Who still believes that our sexual inheritance and behaviour is a choice? Most of the world, I think. The moment that the possibility of 'choice' is aired in THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY is one of cauterising and dynamic impact. This is a gentle reminder of the fragility of existence for the different and the virtue of tolerance. Tolerance and understanding. Mr Philpott is to be admired for his contemporary political subtlety.

Director, Kate Gaul has built with her Designers, Alice Morgan (Set and Costume), Matt Cox (Lighting) and Nate Edmondson (Sound and Composition) a seductive environment to create a means of attention focusing for the telling of the story. The Set, a rough wooden raised platform centred on the stage with two rails of moveable 'gauzy' cloth curtains is lit with extraordinary care and beauty by Mr Cox. The stage pictures are sometimes exquisite, painterly, in their staging by Ms Gaul. Mr Edmondson's Sound Composition is particularly beautiful and is sparing in its use, supporting almost unconsciously, in the background, the emotions of the play, without spectacle.

The cast is uneven in its affect and the tempo of the music of the drama sometimes lacks forward energy and gathering tension, though not enough to derail the experience. Tom Campbell is at his usual vivid best, while Ms Le Vesconte creates an enigmatic presence and is supported with the mysterious and 'haunted' Annie of Ms Phegan. Mr Thompson and Ms Henning do well with the text but are not always physically clear about their choices.

This is the fourth production that is part of this year's Mardi Gras Festival: THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX and THE JUDAS KISS, and I can recommend all four as stimulating and good theatre.

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, the Australian entry, is well worth your time.

The Judas Kiss

Photo by John Marmaras
Red Line Productions and the sponsorship of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras presents, THE JUDAS KISS, by David Hare, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo, 15 February -11 March.

THE JUDAS KISS, is a play by David Hare, written in 1998. Neil Armfield Directed it for Belvoir St Theatre, a few years ago, and Directed it again in 2013 in London to acclaim, apparently, making a claim for the play's reputation that it had failed to establish in its first outing. The First Act of the play occurs on the 5th of April, 1895, in a room of a London Hotel, the Cadogan, on the night on which Wilde must decide whether to stay in England, and face imprisonment, or not. The Second Act occurs two years later, on the 3rd December, 1897, after Wilde's release from prison, in the Villa Guidice at Posillipo, near Naples.

This is a new production, Directed by Iain Sinclair, at the Old Fitz Theatre in Woolloomooloo. David Hare is one of the great British contemporary writers and to hear the writing of Mr Hare, with his 'glorious' use of language, and to observe the dramaturgical security in the construct of this play is almost reward enough to justify your time and money. It was a pleasure to feel safe with the playwriting in form and content - a not always guaranteed in contemporary Australian plays.

The performances in this work, by all the company, are also worth witnessing. The detail and theatrical intelligence of all, from the smaller supporting roles to the principal participants create a virtual reality of full life-force stories going on. There are no roles of mere function going on in this production. Luke Fewster (Arthur Wellesley) and Hannah Raven (Phoebe Cane), as the servants of the hotel, from the first moment of the play create a robust theatrical coup with a fevered debauch of heterosexual appetite that is both gripping and exciting - further, surprising - and follow it up with the creation of three dimensional individuals pursuing the necessary needs of life as they employ their wiles for leverage of advantage.

Robert Alexander, as the Maitre 'd, Sandy Moffatt, too, builds a portrait of an honourable and sympathetic servant with a sense of human decency far beyond the expectation of the circumstances he finds himself in, though not without some other sleight of sinister personality traits carefully, gently exposed.

Later, in the second act, David Soncin, in the role of Galileo Masconi, an Italian fisherman (fisher-of-men), who is sculpturally naked for all his appearances and speaks no language but Italian scorches a beautiful score of character storytelling, as well.

Josh Quong-Tart creates Oscar Wilde and carefully, mostly, catches the intellectual timbre and sense of mordant wit in the language that Hare has created for this famously erudite man. He also, plumbs the depth of irony and pained grief of Wilde betrayed by the man he has risked all for. He gives us a man fatally, blindly, in love with another who he comes to appreciate, at the last, is his Judas, who has acted towards him only out of a pursuit of power, not out of an reciprocated unconditional love. The physical decay of the man, between the two time periods, is not embraced with enough detail of thought or expressive possession.

Hayden Maher, plays Lord Alfred Douglas - Bosie - and captures the handsome youthfully petulant and distorted selfishness of the man with lightening flashes of a changing temperament. Mr Maher swiftly and easily switches the charm and the stored venom of Bosie with expertness, if, sometimes, relying on 'volume of noise' as a too oft repeated tool of affect. Both these actors are a match for each other in this horrible portrait of Eros, in conflict of motivation and understanding. They relish the language and 'enjoy' the opportunities of the writing, convincingly, together.

The outstanding performance is that of Simon London (EDWARD II, STRAIGHT) as the loyal friend of Wilde's: Robert Ross. Mr London, creates the long held passion that Ross has for Wilde, the powerlessness of his good sense and the hurtful rejected offers of his 'rescue' plans and, of necessity, as go-between for wife, Constance, to Wilde. All of which is scaled beautifully through the language usage of his text and in the energies of his emotional presence and silent, still, physical deportment - the physical language speaks volumes of empathy. There is not a moment when the sentient care of this character is not reaching out, to Wilde. Their romantic past is revealed agonisingly in the 'present' of each of the scenes with Wilde and Bosie. Mr London's is a performance of extraordinary perception and execution. The discipline is enigmatic, charismatic.

Besides the wretchedness of the lives of these passionate men of the play, Hare softly underlines the tragedy of Wilde's persecution as a politically motivated discrimination of Race (Irish), Class (not of the aristocracy. It protected Lord Alfred from prosecution, there was evidence enough) and Sexuality (homosexual, bisexual), and implicates the British public's attitude towards pornography, homosexuality and the use and misuse of the Law by the rich and powerful. Wilde always knew the odds stacked against him, but did what he did for love, even to a painful martyrdom, even, ultimately to the sacrifice of his disgraced wife and his two loved children, by association, and to his ability to write - the sacrifice of his art.

Mr Sinclair has collaborated with Designer, Jonathan Hindmarsh and Lighting Designer, Alexander Berlage. The First Act is an impressive heavily detailed, realistic recreation of a Victorian hotel room of the second half of the nineteenth century. The Second Act a contemporary stylised white-light blasted space of minimal realism. The First Act Design, is a relative aspirational failure, and ought , for me, to have been, similarly approached as that of the Second - a stylised solution - no matter the impressive execution of the scene change in the interval. The obstacles of set furnishings in the First Act leads to an unsatisfactory staging of the first Judas Kiss and denies the dramatic climax and irony of its full power. The period costuming by Antoinette Barbouttis is scrappy in its detailing and undermines the aesthetics of this group of men and their world - it looks mostly, ill-fitting - that may be due to budget restraints, of course.

Some say a cavalry corps
some infantry, some, again,
will maintain that the swift oars

of our fleet are the finest
sight on dark earth; but I say
that whatever one loves, is. - Sappho.

"Every man contains his own death as the fruit contains the stone" - Rilke.

"Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die." - Oscar Wilde: The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Bosie does it with a Judas Kiss - twice. Heartbreaking.

Recommended.

The Mystery of Love and Sex


THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX, by Bathsheba Doran - a Darlinghurst Theatre Company Production, at the Eternity Theatre, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 10 February - 12 March.

THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX, is an American play, the second of a trilogy of plays by Bathsheba Doran published under the title, THE MARRIAGE PLAYS. The first play is KIN; the third, PARENT'S EVENING.

THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX, presents a modern 'nuclear' family: Howard (Nicholas Papademetriou), a successful crime fiction novelist who happens to be Jewish; his wife, Lucinda (Deborah Galanos) who once was Catholic (Christian); their daughter, Charlotte (Contessa Treffone), who has just begun study at college and her best friend, since childhood, Jonny (Thuso Lekwape), who is also at college with her and is black and a strict Baptist. That Jonny is 'black' and the others 'white' does not make this grouping of people less of a 'family'. In the two acts of the play, over the space of time and several scenes we are introduced to the questioning of what makes a family, and especially, what makes friendship: is it defined by love or sex?

The parents in the traditional marriage reveal the stress and strains of the obligation of the 'rules' of monogamy in marriage, principally, about the separating tug-of-war between expressions of love and the expressive demands of sex. Howard represents the human who negotiates and compromises the 'political' and 'ethical' adjustments in what he knows as love, which, may be exclusive of sex. Lucinda represents the one searching for human identity in a need for sexual expression. Charlotte and Jonny, in the comfort of a childhood-long, deeply bonded friendship both are questioning and are curious about the complexity of sexuality and their slow movement towards same-sex identity.

The play is a constantly stimulating and often very funny observation of a 'modern life' (of a certain class) that challenges the classic construct of what 'family' is, illustrating the changes going on around us, today. That 'family' is not necessarily just one of blood ties but is also an embrace of other distinctive 'tribal' sub-cultural identities. It, the family, is now, a necessarily widening of social and cultural values constituting a newer definition of 'family' through the acceptance of the mysteries of love and sex. This play has intelligence, wit and a deep and tender heart as it reveals a social awareness of surprising twists and turns.

This play has received, in it's history of production, a mixed reception. What I was struck by was the 'female voice' in the way this story is told, for it tends to negotiate the 'dramas' of contemporary life through gentle discussion and open-heartedness, and does not necessarily come to certainties of resolution, but reveals a constantly evolving present of shifting 'growths'. There is no 'male voice' dominating the content and form, here - the general tradition of playwriting - that requires conflict, resulting in 'winners' and 'losers'. This point-of-view of contemporary storytelling is challenging what has been a standard mode for centuries (perhaps) and as the female writer becomes more and more present on our stages it can be a seismic shake for some of us - destabilising and, perhaps, disconcerting but no less pleasingly cathartic in its affect.

This production by Anthony Skuse has resolved the many locations and time journey of the play with an abstract solution to the Design, by Emma Vine, assisted with a Lighting Design by Verity Hampson. A horizontal, raised block, fronted with a white tilted ramp across the width of the stage serves as the playing space, dominated by a dead upside-down tree suspended on one side of the stage, with the real historic architectural features of this theatre on view - a representation of a cultural, religious past?

The company of actors, Mr Papademetriou, Lekwape and Ms Galanos and Treffone are committed and intrinsically connected, a unit of actors that are apparent in their sense of the aims of the writer and trusting to the 'music' of their playing in a gently understated manner. It is this that sometimes diffuses the impact of the play for not always are the actors reaching out, at least technically, out, to the whole of the audience - it is sometimes too cinematic in volume, both, physically and, especially vocally - it lacks sustained 'theatrical' communication. The performances seemed to be measured, as yet, to a smaller space - perhaps, the rehearsal room. Ms Galanos and Treffone had the most impact, on the night I attended, with a gradually blossoming of character revelation.

THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX, in the Eternity Theatre, is a very interesting play and really worth catching. Recommended.

Blink

Photo by Robert Catto

Stories Like These in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company presents BLINK, by Phil Porter, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), Kings Cross Hotel, 9 February - 4 March.

BLINK, is a British play by Phil Porter first appearing in 2014.

Sophie (Charlotte Hazzard) brought up by her single parent, father, on his death, inherits several apartments. She had lost her job on the grounds that she lacked 'visibility' in the office. The inheritance was a relieved happenstance for her. Jonah (James Raggatt) was brought up on a religious commune in Northern England, and is rather 'unworldly'. On the death of his mother he receives an inheritance of cash that his mother had managed to accrue and with an added note urges him to run away. He does, and rents an apartment which unbeknownst to him is beneath that of his landlady who happens to be Sophie.

Both Sophie and Jonah are socially inept and when Sophie leaves an antiquated baby monitor in Jonah's apartment a 'relationship' of watching each other in an intense anonymity begins. Jonah 'twigs' that Sophie is upstairs and there begins a 'stalking' scenario through the streets of London that both become aware of, and without ever officially acknowledging each other, have a 'dating' relationship. Finally, an accident throws them into acknowledging each other, and, oddly, a physical relationship evolves and, over time, ultimately, fades.

This odd 'romance' is a kind of fairy tale between too contemporary odd-bods, lonely, on the fringes of normal behaviour. Sophie having a fear of being invisible and preferring her own company. Jonah with a personality that has obsessional tendencies, and, maybe, what we call, vernacularly today, "on the spectrum": reminiscent of the Frank Spencer (Michael Crawford) behavioural manners in that British 70's television show SOME MOTHERS DO 'AVE 'EM.

The play is whimsical and way off-centre, written so the characters narrate all of the incidents to the audience and has the two actors 'act out' any of the other characters of the play. There was for me a kind of Wes Anderson (MOONRISE KINGDOM - 2013) quirkiness to it all. Anna Gardiner has created a Design that captures a domestic 'period' of genteel poverty feel and is flexible enough to shift places conveniently, assisted by the Lighting Design of Daniel Barber.

Director, Luke Rogers has embraced this story with a great love of detail and guides his two actors into giving deeply committed performances. Both Mr Raggatt and Ms Hazzard with nicely drawn dialect (Dialect Coach, Nick Curnow) seduce us into caring about the idiosyncrasies and incidents of these eccentric characters. Mr Raggatt, especially, is entirely immersed in the life of Jonah, the subtlety of his consistent belief overriding any concern at the irritant behaviour that Jonah manifests.

BLINK, a contemporary fairytale, observant of 'outsiders' existing through co-incidence and good fortune in the harsh reality of the world most of us live in.

BLINK, an hour or so of gentle escapism. An unusual 'present' on a Sydney stage from an aptly named Independent theatre company called Stories Like These.

Stories like this, indeed - delightfully weird.

Music Under The Moon

Sydney Symphony Orchestra, presents, MUSIC UNDER THE MOON. A Lantern Festival Celebration, featuring Tan Dun, in the Concert Hall, at the Sydney Opera House, 11 February, 2017.

Tan Dun is a contemporary Chinese orhestral music composer and conductor. He is most familiar to audiences because of his award winning music for the films CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and HERO. This concert which is part of the Chinese New Year Festival marks the fifth visit of this musician to Sydney. His other compositions range from Concert to Opera. He uses traditions from Chinese music and Western composers, including the use of organic materials such as paper, water and stone to augment his instinctual visions for contemporary music. Memorably, a few years ago he collaborated with the Sydney Symphony in presenting some of the paper, water and stone concert pieces.

For this concert Maestro Dun, began with a work by Chinese composer, Guan Xia: 100 BIRDS FLYING TOWARDS THE PHOENIX - a short concerto for the symphony orchestra and featuring the traditional Chinese instrument, the suona (2000 years old), a double-reed woodwind instrument that has a sound that is a cross between an oboe and a muted trumpet, played by a guest soloist, Liu Wenwen. The principal tune is a reimagining of an old folk tune well-known throughout China. The virtuosic and thrilling performance by Liu Wenwen, struck me as that of a 'rooster' noise and was a delight and created a sense of wonder (particularly in the lengthy breath sections). The unique quality of the sound of the suona surrounded by the orchestration for a full size orchestra was a very exciting and exhilarating way to begin this concert performance.

This was followed by a work by Bela Bartok: THE MIRACULOUS MANDARIN: SUITE (1924). Bartok had composed The Miraculous Mandarin as an one act ballet or 'pantomime' in the 1920's. This concert suite is drawn from the first two-thirds of the ballet and is organised in six movements. The work features a rich rhythmic life - perhaps influenced by Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring and perhaps the Song of the Nightingale) - using the characteristic Bartok use of melody and ornament, compositional techniques and typical motifs - barbaric allegros and erotic waltzes. It completed a trilogy of stage works: BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE (which is to be featured with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, later in the year) and THE WOODEN PRINCE. The work has an exciting and intriguing psycho-sexual energy reflecting the story of the ballet - a story that concerns a girl and three ruffians, seduction and capture of the Mandarin and death - and is typical of other works of the expressionist era such as Richard Strauss' Salome and Electra.

After the interval, Maestro Dun introduced us to his own composition: NU SHU: THE SECRET SONGS OF WOMEN - Symphony for 13 micro films, harp and orchestra.(2013). Nu Shu is an ancient syllabic script developed, secretly by women, over hundreds of years, in feudal China. It was passed on through the generations of the Chinese women and is the only known language that is gender specific, used and understood only by women. It records the traditions of the marriage rites and is usually written on women's most intimate and beautiful objects: handkerchiefs, fans, silk, belts, journals ... . Unlike most languages Nu Shu is not spoken but sung.

Tan Dun returned to his home province of Hunan to research and capture on film the unique culture and its ancient music. He spent over five years in the fields, filming over 200 hours of film. The Symphony is made up of 13 sections. On three screens are projected images of the calligraphy, women and the site of the village. There is pre-recorded song making from the old and young women that is surrounded and supported by a full (large) orchestral composition with the solo Harp as the bridge to the effect of the whole. Tan Dun selecting the Harp because of 'its beautiful feminine sounds' and distinctive physical shape. The Harp featured, virtuosically, the Symphony's Principal Harpist, Louise Johnson. The orchestration featured rock and water timpani sounds, as well. The combination of the visuals and the music built to a cathartic state of ecstasy as we saw and heard the clothing washing by the women of the village, in the local river, in an ancient and modern tradition. The effect was to transport one to an ethnographical and anthropological experience that seemed to subsume the 'ugliness' of contemporary life - I said to my companion: "What does Trump really matter?" We just shrugged and basked in the afterglow of spiritual inspiration and generosity.

My advice: Never miss a concert featuring the remarkable Tan Dun.

Two weeks in a row. Two experiences in the Sydney Opera House: firstly, LA TRAVIATA, with Ermonela Jaho, and secondly, the Tan Dun Concert (and guess what? not a burlesque performer in sight - a modern miracle, in the context of recent curation of performance by the Sydney Opera House Trust).

P.S. I must thank the program notes by Gordon Kalton Williams for information on the Bartok and Dun work. The Sydney Symphony program is free, as well.

BU21

Photo by Rupert Reid
Outhouse Theatre Co presents, BU21, by Stuart Slade, at the Old 505, Eliza St. Newtown, 9 February - 25 February.

BU21 is a play by British writer, Stuart Slade, first produced in March, 2016, in Bristol and then in London, in February, 2017.

It concerns the downing, the shooting down of a plane, BU21, by a rocket missile, over the suburbs of London - into posh Fulham. We meet six survivors of this act of terrorism who appear on stage and welcome us and directly contact us - no fourth wall here - talking eye-to-eye to us as if this were attending, witnessing, a public therapy meeting/chat. There is a great deal of graphic description of the gruesome physical human damage in the debris of the crash, as we also observe, first hand, the emotional and psychological damage to these survivors. We even experience being verbally abused (the character Alex) for being there, accused of having paid $36 odd dollars to get a 'dirty little pervo fix of misery-porn'.

This play deals with a terrorist act, set in London, that is fiction and the stories we hear from these six characters are not verbatim recalls but fictionalised constructs written by Mr Slade, who has researched many real-life incidents of terrorism, to contrive this play - a young Romanian woman, Ana (Jessica-Belle Keogh), in a wheel chair, having survived a terrible burning from spilt air-fuel whilst sun baking in a park; a banker, Alex (Skyler Ellis), whose girl friend was incinerated whilst having a trist (fuck) with his best mate - found burnt and fused in death like the survivors of Pompeii, he tells us; a woman, Floss (Whitney Richards), who watches a man (later identified as a cardiologist and member of the Muslim faith) still strapped to his seat die in her front yard, who then, co-incidentallly meets up and begins a romance with this dead man's son, Clive (Bardiya McKinnon) - who does not identify as Muslim; and Thalissa - 'Izzy' (Emily Havea), who learns of her mother's death from a bouncing plane engine on social media, and feels, initially, not grief but revulsion - who develops a sexual relationship with Alex. There is a sixth character, Graham (Jeremy Waters), who has found himself inventing a fake scenario at the site of the incident that has made him a news sensation/celebrity and, ultimately, rich, and the inspiration for the spiritual renewal of a 'battered' nation - he writes a book, to great acclaim.

It was the fabrication of the 'fake news' of these stories in this play that derailed me from entering this play and production - after all London has experienced real incidents of terrorism - not just the present forces of terrorist civilian warfare, but back to the Irish Troubles of the 70's 80's, the Blitz of World War II, and even further back to the time of the fight for the emancipation of women - so, that there are true stories to be told. Or, are the recent London events too close, still, to serve in a contemporary theatre exercise?

 I was, as well, never sure of what the Mr Slade's intentions were in concocting the fabricated event and stories, and was decidedly uncomfortable with the finger pointing, exclusively, to Islamist terrorism, with an underlining of the Muslim faith, as being this terrorist's act's cause. Why not the IRA? Why not contemporary home grown Neo-Nazi or White Supremacist groups? The 'lone wolf' fanatic?Discriminatory blame and a championing of Nationalism? I don't know or want to contemplate, too closely.

I kept thinking of the David Hare play, THE PERMANENT WAY (2003), a play that uses verbatim accounts of recent major British rail disasters to push its premise, argument, or, THE WOMEN OF LOCKERBIE (2003), by Deborah Brevoort, a play that dramatises another plane outrage over the skies of Scotland spreading its wreckage and bodies over the Lockerbie village. I, also, recalled the Kate Atkinson novel: TIME AFTER TIME, which brought the horrors of 'warfare' in the London Blitz vividly to one's consciousness. BU21 was a 'fake news' story that I could not observe or absorb.

And I am tired of watching monologue plays in Sydney - get to the next step of playwriting and dramatise the story, for goodness sake. I am sure a social issue play like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1963), by Ken Kessy, is more impactful because it is dramatised rather than being in a monologue from patient to audience storytelling mode. The dramatising of character interaction form, certainly, is one of the strengths of THE WOMEN OF LOCKERBIE.

The Director, Erin Taylor, has 'drilled' the dialect work of this company, as well as the production's stylised physical choreography, impressively. The actor's are finely alert to the shock value of the stories that they are telling, they are brimming with 'excited' focused energy. Technically this is a very admirable production. I just did not believe any of the characters had suffered or were suffering shock, grief or, whatever. The work was owned intellectually but had no deep resonances of experiential truth - no convincing internal life. Having watched the films, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and MOONLIGHT, and seen great performances registering a 'full fathom five' experience of 'grief' - a grief that will never, ever disappear, I doubted the veracity of most of this work. In the small space of the Old 505 Theatre, the acting must be of a cinematic quality of belief and even more especially, obviously, when the style of the work is a deliberately created no barrier, no fourth wall in-yer-face verbatim reality, the performers are in a permanent 'close-up'. Ana, Alex, Floss, Clive, Thalissa, Graham are meant to be living, breathing survivors of a horrible first-hand tragedy. When Alex moved into the auditorium he simply disappeared passively into it underlining the self conscious 'theatricalities' of the play and the production.

As I could not take the 'fake news' recall of the event of the play, I was even further removed from the experience by the lack of authentic truth in the acting - it, was shallow in its experiencing, superficially 'acted'. I could not believe in any of the characters and their recalled experiences.

 This is a very curious play. It has received rave reviews in London and maybe one needs to have been a Londoner, watching it in London, a 'general' survivor of a history of terrorist events of their city to really appreciate what Mr Slade is getting at. I found it a dispiriting time in the theatre, as valiant as the effort, by all, has been to bring it to Sydney audiences. Design by Tom Bannerman; Lighting, by Christopher Page; Composer and Sound, by Nate Edmondson.

Afterwards, chatting to friends as we wandered back to our transport, I was in the minority in believing that I had just watched for an hour forty-five, without interval, 'self-indulgent misery-porn'. Some of them vigorously championed the play and the production. It is on until 25 February, still time to catch an Independent Theatre Company at work. See what you think.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The 2017 Lysicrates Prize for playwriting

This is the third year of The Lysicrates Prize for playwriting. Two philanthropists, husband and wife. John and Patricia Azarias, founded The Lysicrates Foundation "with the aims to encourage and promote Australian creativity, particularly in playwriting; to help restore the beautiful Lyscicrates Monument in Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden; and to foster an appreciation of both Australian history and our living heritage from classical Greece. ..."

To this end the Griffin Theatre has been 'recruited' to assist in the organisation of the playwriting objective. An invitation was sent out to established writers to submit a first act of a play that was in process to a panel at the theatre. This year from some 20 submissions, three writers were selected. A Director and Actors, over a three day rehearsal period, prepared a 'staged ' reading for an invited audience. Following the democratic tradition of ancient Greece, the audience were invited, by placing a token in a 'jar', to vote for the Best one.

This year's Playwrights and Plays were:

Jennifer Compton: THE GOOSE IN THE BOTTLE. Director, Gale Edwards with actors: Belinda Giblin, Celia Ireland, Claire Lovering and Kate Skinner.

Nick Coyle: FEATHER IN THE WEB. Director, Ben Winspear. Actors: Tina Bursill, Linda Cropper, Gareth Davies, Nikki Shields.

Melissa Bubnic: GHOSTING THE PARTY. Director, Kim Hardwick. Actors: Lynette Curran, Amanda Muggleton, Shari Sebbens.

The winner was Ms Bubnic's play, GHOSTING THE PARTY. It has an 86 year old, her daughter and her granddaughter. It focuses on Grandma's preparation for death as she looks back over life. It is funny, beautifully observed and political - euthanasia is part of the very funny chat! These basic qualities that many an Australian play could use. I, too, liked it best! One hopes that the play, if finished, sees the light of day. Maybe, even at the Griffin, one of the hosts of this event. None of the past winners - Steve Rogers (2015), Mary Rachel Brown (2016) - declared by this 'democratic' vote have been produced at the Griffin, though a runner-up, Justin Fleming's THE LITERATI, through some 'Republican' order, I suppose, found its way to the light - so there goes the popular voice of the people, I guess.

Mr Coyle's play was intriguing, a series of scenes of interaction between a young woman and the rest of the world. While Ms Compton's work didn't have any thing of much interest going on that could capture our attention undividely - it felt 'old fashioned' in form and pre-occupation.

It was a gentle afternoon and it was good to be in air conditioning in the Verbrugghen Hall, at the Conservatorium of Music - it had been 42 degrees and humid outside. The theatre had a smattering of the general public but seemed to me to be buzzing with Federal and State politicians - none of the present Arts Ministers it was noted were there (Mr Harwin distracted with Energy business that afternoon) - some of them giving a 'speech' beforehand, and lots of lawyers and 'glamourati' all over the place - lots of suits and ties and well heeled others. I wondered how many thought of any practical ways to support the ailing and financially 'slashed' arts in this country while 'huffing' and 'puffing' about the Art's importance both, historically and contemporaneously, and the 'joy' in participating in this gathering. I was a little agitated by the self-congratulation in the atmosphere of the room. (Read my blog on THE TESTAMENT OF MARY to see why).

Still, the playwriting Lyysicrates Prize is a good thing, and it, at least, exists, and is a sign that someone cares. Mr and Mrs Azarias, the Arts community thanks you, especially the writers.

The Foundation's other objective to restore the replica of the Lysicrates Monument in the Botanic Gardens was achieved last October.

Intersection

Photo by Tracey Schramm
ATYP (Australian Theatre for Young People) present, INTERSECTION - a collection of short scenes/monologue by 10 young writers in the ATYP Theatre, Wharf 4. Walsh Bay. 1st February - 18th February.

INTERSECTION is a program from 10 playwrights: Peter Beaglehole, Angela Collins, Thomas De Angelis, Izzy McDonald, Charles O'Grady, Suzannah Kennett Lister, Zoe Ridgeway, Jordan Shea, Lewis Treston and Honor Webster-Mannison. 19 actors under the Direction of Katrina Douglas tackle seven duologues, one trio and two monologues. The material is mostly dealing with the journey of adolescence in this decade of the twenty-first century.

Ms Douglas has Directed the works with care, some of the performances very arresting, and found a way to marry the varied subject matter to fit a logical coherence in presentation. The best of the short 10 minute works, for me, were: THE TRACK AND THE CHURCH, by Zoe Ridgeway, that had a refreshing vernacular captured well, performed by Hudson Musty and Jackson Williams. LITTLE DIFFERENCES, by Joel Shea, with pleasing performances from Rebecca Gulia and especially, Elliott Falzon. PRAY 4 MOJO, by Charles O'Grady, examining the plight of the 'different' in our society with two poignant performances from Kurt Pimblet and Adam Stepfner.

The program was an hour and fifty minutes long and could have benefited with an interval. Those seat become very HARD, and this program usually is on in the Summer and the theatre has no air-conditioning! I presume that the work is been presented with an audience in mind. One began to tire and loose stamina as the evening toiled on. It does neither the writers nor actors any favour, really, by not giving the audience an opportunity to have a refreshing break to take back into the auditorium, so as to give proper attention to the latter section of the collection. (I note that my favourites, mentioned above, were chronologically, early in the evenings offers!)

I found the scenes a great relief and noted that the two monologists suffered from the contrast to interaction between players. The Set and Costume Design was by Isabel Hudson, Lighting, by Emma Lockhart-Wilson and the atmospheric Sound Design, by Tom Hogan.

The Little Dog Laughed

Photo by Photo Bob Seary

New Theatre presents, THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, by Douglas Carter Beane, at the New Theatre, King St, Newtown. 7 February - 4 March.

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, by American writer, Douglas Carter Beane, has had a previous outing at the Ensemble Theatre in 2009. The play had been nominated in 2006 for a Tony Award, in New York, and, I, based on the Ensemble production that I saw, could not understand why. It appeared to be one of those New Yorkie glib 'homosexual' plays about the cliche shallowness of being 'gay' and of the cliched ugly strategies needed for surviving in the show business world - especially Hollywood - full of comic 'zingers' and comfortable sentiment. In my past blog I talked about having read the play and having thought there was something more to this play than blithe hilarity to titillate the 'brethren' and the earnest 'progressives' of the New York theatre-going population.

So, it was with surprise/relief that this new production at the New Theatre by Alice Livingstone gave a production of the play that was scaled to a naturalistic presentation with characters, venal though they are, that not only scored comic waves of laughter but also some relevant , not necessarily pleasant insights, into the personas of the characters. The play is a sweet/bitter pill and wickedly clever enough to claim your attention.

This production is part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival for 2017. The New Theatre has been part of that Festival for some 20 years and in 2016 was the proud recipient of the ACON Honour Award for Arts and Entertainment. This production of THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, is a good quality continuance of that tradition.

On a cool grey Set design (Tom Bannerman) that has a simple but elegant style about it, we are introduced to the action of the play by an ambitious agent/manager, Diane (Sarah Aubrey), who has the piercing intelligence of the realities of her industry but with enough wit and élan to seemingly 'float' above it - whatever 'dirt' she plays with, she carries none of the 'soil' of it, or, so it appears. The writing for her character, both as a monologist and as part of the action is where a great deal of the comedy sparkles - as cynical as it may be, it is hilarious in a very 'campy' way. Ms Aubrey, immaculately dressed (Costumes, by Louise Mason), has captured the surface insouciance of this woman wonderfully, who is, truly, anything but carefree or careless when it comes to her client and what he can do for her ambitions. Ms Aubrey reveals the shark-like ruthlessness of this industry with a glamorous edginess that scores a repulse-attract magnet for us audience members, thankfully, safely out of her range of preying. We appreciate, even savour, her cruel wit and are relieved she is not part of our world.

Brett Rogers plays Diane's passport to riches and fame, an actor called Mitchell - with boy-next-door matinee looks - who is suffering from a severe need for intimacy as his career begins to take off. His problem is that this intimacy is necessarily requited by men - Mitchell is a closeted homosexual - not a good look for the Hollywood money movie-machine moguls. He has held his mask in place up to now, it seems, until he meets a young rent boy/prostitute, Alex (Charles Upton), and after a false start falls into a state of infatuation that might derail Diane's plans and his super-objective: to be a BIG movie star. Mr Rogers is consummate in his relaxed and languidly handsome performance, capturing Mitchell's belief in what he is experiencing as love but also revealing, ultimately, the spineless unprincipled drive of Mitchell's worldly ambition. He trusts that Diane will protect and guide him, the moral principles, cost, not his concern. He is 'baby' to this 'mummy' figure, indeed.

Mr Upton, as Alex, gives a nuanced gamin performance and has enough physical charm and warmth to seduce us into the pull of Alex's attraction circle. It is a charm boyish-enough for us to ignore any signals that his casualness with his bi-sexual relationship with Ellen (Madeline Beukers) that has created a pregnancy and the embrace of abortion, might give us. It is a good performance. Or, am I, too, like Mitchell, infatuated? For, Mr Upton doesn't quite reveal the cynical calculation of Alex that 'rolls' his unconscious drunken victim and then cooly lights a cigarette , while sitting on the bed, and assesses what Mitchell might be able to do for him: Alex is on-the-make, and is always on-the-make no matter his protestations of love (he does protest too much!) - he takes what he is offered, 'bribed' with, without much argument: a cheque for $10,000 and happily escapes all negative consequences of his choices. Undoubtedly, Alex is a grifter, too.

Ms Beukers, as Elllen, is attractive and sufficient, but lacks the actor's skill, insight, or courage to show us that her character is not so nice - a selfish opportunist, running with the main chance, whether it be her sugar-daddy's credit card, or Mitchell's wedding ring. No one in this play is an admirable human being. Beware the packaging.

The comedy and attractive surfaces of these characters are the definite 'sweet' of this play. Their self-centredness and deep-seated mendacity, their, ultimately, ruthless actions to succeed are the 'bitter' of the play. This production,  under the guidance of Ms Livingstone, elevates the play with a cultural maturity that tries to tell, show, a truth of a time and place that needs scrutiny. Obviously, the warning was not heeded in 2006 in New York. Perhaps the 'sweet' comedy was too deflective for the audience to taste, notice, the 'bitter'. Indeed, indeed, the little dog might be laughing all the way to the White House in Washington.

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED is an interesting and recommended night in the theatre. Just pay attention and don't become infatuated - look below the surface. Mardi Gras 2017!

La Traviata



Opera Australia presents, LA TRAVIATA, an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Francesco Maria Plave, in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. Selected dates between 3 February - 1 April.

LA TRAVIATA, was first performed in March, 1853. Verdi first saw the play adaptation, by Alexandre Dumas, fils, of his novel, THE LADY OF THE CAMELLIAS, in Paris and was inspired to write an opera on these themes - he wrote the score in just under a month - a wonder.

Violetta, a demi-mondaine, renounces her life of pleasure for the sake of Alfredo; but is persuaded by his father to give him up for his own and his family's good. She returns to her former protector, with whom Alfredo fights a duel and is forced to flee the country. He returns to find her dying of consumption.

In my experience, my favourite Verdi operas are AIDA, LA TRAVIATA and THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. LA TRAVIATA is my musical favourite. My introduction to TRAVIATA would have been an LP recording with Joan Sutherland, aeons ago. This production of the opera by Elijah Moshinsky was first performed in 1994 - 23 years ago. It is set in the period of its creation, the Paris of the 1850's by Michael Yeargan, and has a sumptuous four scene design that seems to be a recreation of Parisian paintings of the time period. The detail is astonishing and the look has a reality that is breathtaking, the singers dressed in period costume, by Peter J. Hall, with a Lighting Design, by Nigel Levings, that simulates an authentic atmosphere and creates spatial usage of a beautiful complexity.

I have always enjoyed this production. This performance, however, is the first time that I have been transported, such that time seemed to be suspended. Ermonela Jaho, as Violetta, has the physical delicacy and look to bring great impact to the story of a woman dying of consumption. Besides, she can sing the range of this role with the most delicate fragility and softness, to the defiant rally of the famous Sempre Libre, of the first act, with the greatest of skill and emotion. But what is best, is transfixing, is the commitment to the physical life (and death) from every fibre of this actor/singer's body. Her acting of this role is superb. Ms Jaho has the sentient presence of an energy that is able to translate the power of Verdi's music through every gesture across a range of movement that telegraphs the human dilemma of Violetta's decline with clarity and brimming empathy. Ms Jaho's stage presence and her movement through the moving third act on a stripped stage of enormous naked spareness is a masterclass in acting technique - Ms Jaho matches the musical portrait of this grief stricken and dying woman with a similar inspiration of genius. Verdi would have cheered!

One is completely absorbed by every moment that Ms Jaho is on stage - this is true star quality. I have not seen it for such a long time on a Sydney opera stage and when this whole audience stood to give her a standing ovation it was an impulse of gratitude and admiration of the most genuine regard - this was no first night claque of subscribers rising in loyalty to the company, this was a whole audience thanking a performer for the gift she had just given us. This is why and when opera can be the Greatest of the Performing Art Forms. I was still 'high' outside on the Opera House Promenade twenty minutes later - at my time of life and stage witnessing, a rare event to have a new benchmark of brilliance, of excellence. It makes life worth living.

Her performance seemed to vivify the other performers: Ho-Yoon Chung rising to the demands of his Violetta, even though his acting style is, in contrast, gestural and, relatively, operatic melodrama, his musical efforts became richer as the night proceeded; Jose Carbo as Alfred's father, Giorgio, was provoked to a level of being in the role; whilst Dominica Matthews (Flora), Adrian Tamburini (Baron Douphol), Natalie Aroyan (Annina) gave support with warmth and vulnerability, as they usually do -  jewels in the crown of Opera Australia.

The orchestra led by Renato Palumbo had a wealth of sound and discipline that seamlessly supported the performers and 'told' the musical story. The Revival Director, Hugh Halliday, has prepared this production with great care, the Chorus owning the great crowd scenes with ease and wit.

LA TRAVIATA, as taken its inspiration from the Dumas, fils, novel, where the principal character is called Marguerite - made famous in the 1936 Greta Garbo film, Directed by George Cukor - based on an actual woman, Marie Duplessis - a mistress of Dumas', himself. This story continues to inspire artists: Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE, with Nicole Kidman, and in recent times an extraordinary work ( of a musical cabaret style) by Sydney artist Sheridan Harbridge - SONGS FOR THE FALLEN, which travelled to New York to great acclaim.

Do go. Try to catch Ms Jaho. Understand, that two other singers take over the role during its long scheduled run. Beg, borrow and steal to catch Ms Jaho before she finishes.

P.S. The above clip is not of this performance. But it does give a hint of its sumptuous Design.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Strategic Plan



Griffin Theatre Company presents A STRATEGIC PLAN, by Ross Mueller, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross, 27 January - 11 March.

A STRATEGIC PLAN is a new Australian play by Ross Mueller.

Andrew (Justin Smith) is a rock 'muso' working in the industry for hire - session guitar etc: a gig with Powderfinger, for god's sake! But he can't play live any more: tinnitus, migraine… a health spiral is enveloping him. The art/craft of his passion can't cover his financial responsibilities, and he wants to marry, so he applies and is recruited to take on a full time job by Board Manager Simon (Matt Day) as a CO-CEO for a youth music organisation called Staccato - at least he is still connected to music. The building - space - of Staccato is in physical decrepitude and reflects the depression of the company's decline. Andrew devises a program that gives life back to the Company with the development of a bold new strategic plan with a young music enthusiast/'wise-arse', Jill (Emele Ugavule), who sees through the politics of the situation but has dreams/ambitions for producing. What Andrew has set up, and with his future proposals, it is enough for Staccato to look like a going-thing. Andrew then finds himself in the midst of a corporate 'scam' to bully him out of his job - it was only a six month probation, he's told - so that a sell-up can be taken on. We meet Linda (Briallen Clarke), the blithe Human Resources (HR) rep on The Board of Management. Bewildered and ultimately enraged, his health encroached by panic and depression, Andrew decides to fight back and calls the company out even to an expensive and lengthy case in court in pursuit of compensation for 'psychological injury'. He loses - the law can't ensure justice! What does Andrew have left? The music of his young protege Jill. His life passion beats quietly, perhaps enough to resuscitate Andrew's spiritually, even if the rest of him is a wreck.

Anybody that has been the subject of harassment (and a kind of destruction) by a Corporate Institution (even when it is a not-for-profit organisation), and I can speak from a very vivid and ugly experience inflicted upon myself and others, led by a determined CEO and a HR legion, will recognise the tactics and ghastly language at the centre of Mr Mueller's play. The play brings back lurid memories in capital letters. Indeed, one of the strength's of Mr Mueller's writing is the very fine ear and eye he has for the argot/parlance of the world's of his characters.The CEO/HR textual cant and method in this play is horrifyingly accurate to my experience - the revealing of a Corporate Strategic Plan all to familiar. I am not sure that this play is merely a 'satirical' rendering of this situation, for for the first hand survivors of such a life episode it feels much more like 'documentary' re-creation. I know less of the other world of the 'muso' but the lingo, too, had a ring of mocking authenticity.

The ambition that Mr Mueller has in giving us the machinations of these worlds, with a satirical edge garnished with more than a soupçon of frustration and impotent anger, brings to mind the Australian Broadcast Company's (ABC) UTOPIA, written by Rob Stitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner. Unfortunately, the dramaturgical structure in A STRATEGIC PLAN lacks a clean shape to permit an audience in the theatre to get on board. The shifts from the Staccato music venue to the Government office at the Road Traffic Authority and the 'fire escape' space in the law court, with the sleight-of-hand time shift 'games' of the text, and the role sharing by a couple of the actors, is not solved in production. Certainly, the Staging, Direction, by the usually assured Chris Mead (THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD, QUACK), does not elucidate, easily, any of this shuffling. The acting, as well, does not have the clarity of style, the homogenous equilibrium of that television company. Two of these actors get it and know it; two don't. Technically, Mr Mead has let the cast 'shout' a lot and at a fairly unvaried tempo. Noisy and kind of relentless. This play, without an interval, became exhausting.

Mr Smith, as Andrew, has a formidable job to play the hapless victim on his downward spiral of physical, emotional and psychological breakdown, and is unable to take us into the character's dilemma with a clarity for the audience, for us to give him either an understandable empathy or mordant comic appreciation.

That the music industry part of the play - the sentimental heart of the text, where the true identity of Andrew exists - is almost completely dependent with his interaction with Jill, it cannot really glimmer to life, as there is very little chemical spark coming from Ms Ugavule to be a catalyst for that journey. She seems able to do little more with her responsibility than to deliver the text competently. There is no sub-textual creativity going-on here from Ms Ugavule, no sense of Jill's 'past' that brings her to the 'present' of the play in pursuit of a 'future' - the work is blandly one-dimensional. Whoever Jill meets, there is no mask-shift changing of strategy at all, no psychological adjustments. Ms Ugavule seems to be bamboozled by the world that Jill is so 'cool' about and the language/lingo does not come comfortably from her character. One watches Ms Ugavule and expects more, hopes for more, want more, for her presence is arresting, but nothing emanates, no matter how closely one reads her acting offers to allow us to enter the ambitions and relationships in this part of the play. Mr Smith is up against it to bring the play to life without better support.

For, then, Mr Smith in the bigger part of the play is matched against Mark Day, who is blandly handsome as Simon, but lacks the chutzpah necessary to deliver the naked mendacity of the character to take us into the whirly-gigs of modern corporate ambitions and shocking behavioural manipulations - the performance is all surface and lacks any backstory to supply motivation, the comic timing is mechanical, without an organic inspiration discernible. There is little creative comic intuition going-on, and when Mr Day assumes his other casting, the lawyer Perkins, other than to drape a lawyer's costume over Simon's suit to indicate to the audience he is another human, nothing at all is demarcated! The audience has to do a lot of work to decide if we are meeting a new character or not.

The only real support for Mr Smith comes from Briallen Clarke who, as she did in the STC's HAY FEVER, creates comic 'gems', subtly demarcated but individual characters, Linda and Leanne, with insightful panache and technical prowess, even if both characters are conceived, preposterously, by the writer, as only caricatured functionaries for his satiric targets. Ms Clarke brings a motivated life, however fragile, to the work, to help us believe. Part of the routine skill/job of being called an 'actor', by the way.

The principal Set Design by Sophie Fletcher is deliberately 'scungy' and doesn't solve the shifts of location in the text with much imaginative flair. The changes are decidedly clumsy in their solution. The Lighting (Verity Hampson) is realistic in its ugliness and not conducive to be a comic invitation for the satiric mood of the play.

I was disappointed with A STRATEGIC PLAN. Mr Mueller's CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART, A TOWN NAMED WAR BOY, even CONCUSSION, have given me a great expectation of his work. I read the play after watching it and saw the hallmarks of Mr Mueller's interests and stylistic adventures that always engage me, but is there a need for more edit, does the work meander to long in the ferocious 'anger' of the commentary or do we need to see another production to bring it to life? A version of the chicken or the egg puzzle, for me. See what you think.

3 More Film reviews… Paterson, Split and Manchester By The Sea


PATERSON


PATERSON is a new film by Jim Jarmusch. It follows a week (a Monday to Monday) in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who writes poetry, is married to Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a home-body 'adventuring' with artistic explorations in 'black and white' forays, with an English Bulldog, called Marvin (Nellie), for company.

Every day has a similar pattern of task, at variance only on the weekend. It is about the little everyday world and the ordinary intimacies of exchange between the casual acquaintances of the bus route and his nightly visit to his local bar and, mostly, with the loving husband and wife who have ambitions (maybe twins!) - small, though they seem to be. Paterson in his note book writes poetry, inspired by the surrounds and denizens of Paterson. Laura decorates the house, creates dresses and decorates cup-cakes, and learns to play a guitar. Marvin watches protectively over his domain and with his 'jealousy' provokes the only real drama of the story.

Mr Jarmusch with Cinematographer, Frederick Elmes and Production Designer, Mark Friedberg, create a glow of beauty on the drab surrounds of a small town. I kept recalling Thornton Wilder's affectionate and gently profound play OUR TOWN.  Paterson, the city/town which claims, in the film, Lou Costello as a son, as well as the modern American poet William Carlos Williams (he wrote a 5 volume book of poetry about Paterson), is revealed by the settled routine of the daily life of the characters we meet in 2016. They are captured in a steady cinematic rhythm of enveloping drollness, masterfully controlled by Mr Jarmusch without any hesitation to embrace the time for us to absorb delicate, incidental detail. Mr Jarmusch reveals himself as a poet of the image, accompanied by a gentle soundtrack, mostly composed, by Mr Jarmusch himself. This is unashamedly what some would call an Art Film - and it is as idiosyncratically beautiful in its composition as other films by this Director: STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1984), DEAD MAN (1995),ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013). A consistent 'auteur' of the medium in his very unique remarkable artistic manners.

Adam Driver, who we have noticed more and more arrestingly on our screens (STAR WARS; THE FORCE AWAKENS - 2015; and in the up-coming SILENCE), here in his steady ease as a 'good' man looking at the world around him with a gentle optimism and faith that inspires his poetic bent - his personal crisis rescued with a meeting of 'magical' coincidence - is hypnotic in his secure demeanour of not appearing to be doing anything but living in front of us - his apparent simplicity is a great gift for the film and the audience. (Paterson's poetry the work of Ron Podgett).  Ms Farahani provides gentle eccentricity that creates a cocoon of warmth in the domestic world that is menaced only by the devotion of Marvin.

I am a fan of the eccentricity and courage of the worlds that Jim Jarmusch creates and if you love the medium of film, loving PATERSON (and all his other work) will be no effort. Highly recommended, for all, who are not frenetic.



SPLIT


Oh, woe. Oh, woe, woe, woe.

This is an awful couple of hours in the cinema. I went because my 'date' loves the horror, 'scary' genre. And I thought it can't be all 'bad' as it has one of the more interesting actors in the industry James McAvoy playing the lead (ATONEMENT (20007), THE LAST STATION (2009), X MEN - FIRST CLASS (2011), FILTH (2013). The temptation to play a character, Kevin, who is suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) with 23 diagnosed personalities (another one manifests during the storytelling), is too big to say NO, too. I reckon, Mr McAvoy should have been wiser because this is a shambling tale with the classic supposition that being mentally ill automatically equates as being dangerous. I understand there has been some distress in the relevant community about the depiction of this character's disability and some protest.

I believe there should be some protest about the quality of the body of work of M. Night Shyamalan which since his first film THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), which was his artistic peak, has been on an unceasing downward spiral of ordinariness ever since. Sure his films, generally, make money, but at what cost to other artists who could benefit from studio support. Here is an example of the Hollywood business 'numbers' game in glaring evidence.

Not only is the screenplay 'lame' (superficial) and the editing leaving logic holes all over the place and with no forward propellant in the tempo of the storytelling - it is in a 'flat-footed' static mode - no real tension, no hold-your breath moments, the acting is, only, at best competent: Betty Buckley as Doctor Karen Fletcher; or really awful: Anya Taylor-Joy, as Casey Cookie (really Mr Shyamalan, that name is meant to be taken seriously?!) The other two kidnapped girls are shuffled off-screen very quickly, thank goodness, but only after one of them has been gratuitously stripped down to bra and undies and paraded down a hallway for our salacious delectation. Mr McAvoy, who can do, has done, better work, is mostly having, it seemed, a lot of fun dressing-up and glibly demarcating, physically, the personas he has to play - the CGI 'Beast' being a total joke at his expense - one could only laugh at its grossness.

This film has made money, I read.  It has, too, had some positive critical response but it could only be because this film is a bit better than Mr Shyamalan's past stuff. Give it a miss. It is so ridiculous on so many levels that only fanatical fans could 'buy' it. When one thinks of this genre I have Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960), Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS (1961), or Polanski's ROSEMARY S BABY (1968) as benchmarks of suspense and mounting horror. It is cheaper to buy those movies online or at your DVD store and view at home than to buy a ticket at the cinema to see SPLIT at your local cinema.



MANCHESTER BY THE SEA


MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a film Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Kenneth Lonergan has written some wonderful plays: THIS IS OUR YOUTH (1996), THE WAVERLEY GALLERY (2000) - Pulitzer Prize winner - and LOBBY HERO (2001).and wrote and directed his first film the remarkable YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000) with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, and followed it up with a modern social epic called MARGARET, with Anna Paquin and a legion of great New York character actors. MARGARET was made in 2005 but was not released until 2011 after a 'terrible' disagreement and battle between the producers, studio and Mr Lonergan. There are two versions of the film a two and a half hour cinema edit and the three hour eighteen minute version on DVD. The latter the preferred Directorial 'cut'. It has, subsequently, been ranked by a BBC Poll as one of the great films of the twenty first century - number 31. (Lonergan had, as well, worked on the script of Scorcese's GANGS OF NEW YORK.)

Mr Lonergan has a view of the world informed by a close study of the human, influenced, perhaps, by a Freudian education from his family - both of his parents (mother and step father) being psychiatrists and analysts.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA concerns Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) whose brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies and he  finds himself designated as the 'guardian' of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). He has been drawn back to Manchester, reluctantly, and, we, via the flash-backs to an earlier time, come to see a tragedy that Lee has never 'moved on' from. What he does in the present time is acutely affected by his past life. In a very interesting article in the November 7th, 2016 The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead, Lonergan is quoted with an alternative observation of the different ways we may respond to trauma, and in the case of Lee, it neither kills him nor makes him stronger but simply, permanently, maims him. There is not any happy ending here. It is a registering of a truth of some lives, where the trauma is not to be worn away.

And this is what we watch in Casey Affleck's cauterising performance where his actor's choices makes every piece of dialogue formidably packed with complicated content and fathoms deep of emotional complexity and pain-filled truths. The many moments of silent communication that Mr Lonergan takes in close-up of Mr Affleck, during the film's length, are full of a knowing of grief that we as an audience have the space to endow, that makes the film a moving devastation of participation for the attentive audience - we experience the tragedy of Lee, personally, and we come to a shared realisation of the burden of a bottomless grief.

There is not a false note in any of the other performances either. For instance, Lucas Hedges, as teenage Patrick, who plumbs the 'giddiness' of what it is to be young and trying to respond truthfully without loss-of-face to the world he is growing-up in, in the blast of tragic loss and emotional destabilising fissures. He is achingly 'young'.

Mr Lonergan's script illustrates the peculiar juxtaposition of the great strokes of tragedy sitting without much of a dividing line beside comedy. The comedy of non-sequiturs, the comedy of real life, where the need to seriously critique Star Trek is as demanding in the hours of that insufferable psychic pain, in the tradition of the Chekhovian heritage we have been given. The film is enriched by its perfectly observed 'humour'. The two masks of drama: Comedy and Tragedy sit well together in this film.

Too, one should mention Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler who make transformational impact in their supporting scenes. (One does need to remark on the sheer physical 'beauty' - sexiness - of Mr Lonergan's casting, and note it alongside the geographical beauty he sets his film in, to see his 'trick' to seduce us to an easier acceptance of the real pain and 'horror' of this story of human despair and pain - the beauty of the 'flower' and the 'serpent' beneath it.)

Mr Lonergan with his cinematographer, Jody Lee Lipes, capture the scenic beauty of this Massachusetts's fishing village, covered in snow and reflected harbour stillness - the glory of nature in stark contrast to the turmoil of the people living in it, on it. The strife of the human condition in placid, passive nature. The blues of the sky and the sea blurred into the ether, masking, hiding the demarcating horizon. The sea and the universe one - a vast collective unconscious.

Lesley Parker in charge of the Music reflects the classic Tarkovsky/Malick manipulation of choosing sacred music to support and elevate the banality of pain - shifting real life into an ethereal motif of universal dignity (ANDREI RUBELEV (1966)/THE NEW WORLD (2005), and effortlessly takes us there.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, is a film from a perceptive human being that examines, fearlessly, aspects of what it is to be human in the twenty first century (all his writing is redolent with this vision) with an artist's control of deliberate aesthetic to keep us engaged. It is subtly manipulative but its power subsumes any cynicism that one may have while watching.

Two American films crammed with great acting and artistic integrity: MOONLIGHT and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, are not to be missed experiences in the communal cinema space.

It has been a good year, so far, to go to the cinema to see some great films, movies, pictures, flicks.