Friday, April 20, 2018

Get Her Outta Here

Photo by Phil Erbacher

Isabella Broccolini presents, GET HER OUTTA HERE, by Isabella Broccolini (Tannock), at 107 Redfern Street, Redfern. 19-21 April.

GET HER OUTTA HERE, is a Performance Piece by Isabella Broccolini.
Red Lady has fallen from planet earth, a planet that no longer exists. With no knowledge of how she got there or what happened at the end, completely alone, Red Lady has landed in the room of red; a small hexagonal box floating in out of space. Faced with the realisation that she has left everyone and everything, Red Lady is forced to discover a whole new world and way of survival.
In a whole bunch of theatrical darings, Isabella Broccolini, offers a series of 'darkly raw comedic narrative ... Described as 'Frantic Radness", I write, perform and physicalize the struggles of Red Lady; a symbol and exploration of the female identity."

We find on entry to the theatre space, on the stage, a female body 'packed' in a suitcase, its arms and legs hanging out from either end in a density of red light. The show begins, daringly, in a long voice-over: a long telephonic sexual interaction that moves from text verbalisations, to iPhone to iphone conversation, to iphone speaker to iPhone speaker communication, where the male, and especially female participant have an excruciatingly extensive self-masturbation, the male comes relatively quickly, the female takes her time to a satisfying orgasm, which she does with a graphic and extensive vocal expression. This phone sex interaction takes some time.

What follows is an orchestral interlude where the 'prone' body packed still in the suitcase, still, remains inert. Its length is similarly daring in its choice. Ms Broccolini has considered theatrical intentions - the audience are made to endure, to 'dance' to her daring intentions - throwing us into objective investigations/engagement. There follows a sexually risque physical 'ballet/dance' with the suitcase - a comic burlesque!

Short stories of a surreal sexual sensitivity are woven through the work - your next visit to your local IGA may have new vibrations! The Red Lady's stories create a persona astonishing in its frank, matter-of-fact sexual appetite which comes sauced in the politics and extravagances of the hip world of our time - green health drinks, plastics/phobia amongst many others - we laugh in recognition of the environment and incident.

The combination of physical work, especially the expressively spectacular face that has the ability to be extraordinarily handsome/beautiful that shifts to contortions of fascinating grotesquery, with the telling of the self-written stories make for a startlingly interesting feminine/feminist exampling of the complexity of the female subterranean inner monologue of our species, that not all of us have knowledge of. Ms Broccolini demands that attention must be paid to it.

GET HER OUTTA HERE is not a perfect piece of work as yet but it is gob-smackingly thrilling in what it reveals and is breathtakingly admiral in its outrageous courage, bravery.

Ms Broccolini is an alert-ego of actor Isabella Tannock. There are only three performances of this raw (rough) promising work. Only 60 minutes long in a neighbourhood of hip eateries and bars - worth a visit.

Since Ali Died

Griffin Theatre Company presents SINCE ALI DIED, by Omar Musa. 11th - 14th April, presented as partof the Batch Festival, 11th -28 April, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

Of many things, in SINCE ALI DIED, Omar Musa reflects the influence that Muhammad Ali had on him as a child living and growing-up in Queanbeyan, a Muslim/Australian: "a brown skinned child living in a black land",  and of his weeping at Ali's death on the 3rd June, 2016. For, Ali was not only famous for his greatness in the Boxing Ring, or his conversion to the Muslim faith, but also for his political advocacies, especially for the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's and further, sometimes evoked in his use of what some labelled 'trash talking', a kind of speak that was free styled with rhyme schemes and spoken word poetry that anticipated what we know as rap and hip hop: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee","Black is Beautiful".

From some of my friends who also saw this work and Omar Musa: ".. powerful, smart and authentic, what a man - ideas about assimilation struck a chord." "We loved it, very moving. Aside from his amazing writing - it was wonderful to have an opportunity to stare unashamedly at such a handsome and charismatic man. We both got a bit teary now and then ... triggered."

From the blurb for the Batch Festival: "... rapper, poet and lyrical powerhouse ... Musa mashes poems, live music and stories together to confront heartbreak, human connection and the dark realities of Australian culture."

Stories of his family and friends intermixed with reactions to the racial politics that he has endured as an Australian/Asian Muslim male living in Australia radiate out with a personal and cultural resonance of such deep honesty and gentle wisdom, having been burnished in the crucible of a sometimes hostile environment, to such a heat degree, for the passion of anger to have been burnt away so as to effect a residue of a communication that evokes an overwhelming empathy and embrace.

All of these stories are written/spoken with such direct simplicity in a tremendous poetic language mastery, delivered with the relaxed physical ownership of a deep association of understanding and love, to create a charisma of such bewildering power, that I found myself weeping for most of the hour of this performance. Deep weeping of recognised truths. Touched by the poetry. Touched by the man's humanity. Touched by the egoless sharing. I was not the only one weeping. At completion there was a spontaneous standing ovation and an audience that was fused together in an admiring devoted and stimulated place in the world. Mr Musa gives you a sense of optimism, hope for the future. I went to the theatre perturbed and misanthropic with world and personal political weights but left that theatre, only an hour later, in an altogether different state of mind.

His poetry has been published and his novel 'HERE COME THE DOGS' are all impressive reads. Keep your antenna out for his next performance dates. Not to be missed whenever he next appears.

N.B. On Thursday I saw Nicholas Hytner's production of JULIUS CAESAR at the National Live Theatre Broadcast from the new theatre in London, The Bridge, and while hearing the Shakespeare text thought: "Wow, someone ought to commission a play of Shakespearian scale from Omar Musa. The poetic echoes of both writers resounded so powerfully."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Time Machine

THE TIME MACHINE, by Frank Gauntlett, based on the novella by H.G. Wells, in the Playhouse, NIDA Theatres, Kensington, 11th April - 2nd May.

As the Time Traveller, Mark Lee, as a soloist, narrates the first adventure into the future, found in the H.G.Wells novella, THE TIME MACHINE. The Time Traveller moves to the year 802,701, where he encounters the surface survivors of the planet, the Eloi, a 'tribe' of innocent child-like vegetarians, and later, the sub-terranean counter-tribe the Morlocks, ape-like predators, who are terrorised by fire and live in darkness and eat the flesh of the Eloi. It seems that the Eloi's were 'farmed' by the Morlocks.

Written in serial form THE TIME MACHINE was first published in book form in 1895. It reflects the Dying Earth genre, as a study of the end of time, the degeneration of the human species. H.G. Wells, has often been signified as the creator of the Science Fiction genre, although the earlier work of French writer, Jules Verne, (e.g. JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH - 1864, or TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA - 1871) preceded it significantly in time.

On a Set Design of spare invention, or attractiveness (Derrick Cox), with illustrations, of disparate styles for Back Projections (John Kratovil), accompanied by a pragmatic Sound Design (Michael Waters), it is the inventive shifting Light Design (Martin Kinnane), along with the committed energy and skill of the actor, Mark Lee, that keeps the kinetics of the storytelling, that seemed to be evoked by the playwright, Frank Gauntlett, in stylistic verbal mirroring of the Wellesian Victorian language/argot, moving forward. The language style could be an obstacle for the ease of communications as a contemporary theatrical experience for some, despite the determination and grasp of the dramatics of the text that are embraced by Mr Lee. In fact, the best of this experience, in the Playhouse at NIDA, is the watching of Mr Lee grapple with such textual relish Mr Gauntlett's play, otherwise, it could be a fairly unmoving and dry time spent.

One can only ask why present this THE TIME MACHINE, today? In the Producer's note in the program, Adam Liberman, tells us:
Mark Lee first approached me about producing THE TIME MACHINE, in 2016 after seeing my production of BLONDE POISON, starring Belinda Giblin. He said that he had performed THE TIME MACHINE some time ago, loved it and believed it deserved another go. Saying anything "deserves" something always makes me suspicious, but knowing Mark's pedigree in Australian acting I was quite chuffed by the approach and willing to see where it would lead me. The script would be the key. ...
The script is indeed the key and this script did not seem to unlock much that we didn't know before, either about the H.G. Wells novel, its relevance for our time (which it could have) or Mr Lee's potential as an actor. I reckon that Mr Liberman's suspicion about the "deserving" of reviving this play ought to have been better regarded by him, before embarking. THE TIME MACHINE was Directed by Gareth Boylan.

Josephine Wants to Dance

Monkey Baa Theatre Company present JOSEPHINE WANTS TO DANCE, based on the book by Jackie French and Bruce Whately, adapted for the stage by Eva Di Cesare, Sandra Eldridge and Tim McGarry, in the Darling Quarter Theatre, Darling Harbour. April 16th - May 12th.

JOSEPHINE WANTS TO DANCE, is a new Australian playwork for children. Josephine is a kangaroo who wants to do more than hop. She wants to dance. Not just any kind of dance. She wants to be a ballet dancer. It is a story of dreams, of determined aspiration and of believing in yourself and is part of the present atmospheric zeitgeist, of diversity, difference and tolerance, and recognition that talent comes in all shapes and sizes, so why not have a gifted kangaroo play/dance a dying swan?

No matter that her brother in the mob of kangaroos, Joey (Hayden Rogers), warns Josephine (Rebecca Hetherington), that dancing is just not the right thing to aspire to as a kangaroo, overcoming all obstacles, Josephine finds a way. She learns to emulate the 'dancing' of the Brolgas (Chloe Dallimore and Hayden Rogers) and of the Lyre birds (Amanda Laing and Chloe Dallimore), and is in the right place at the right time when a touring ballet company comes to the local country town at the Shaggy Gully Memorial Hall, and finds herself, after an audition, employed to replace the Prima Ballerina and her understudy (Amanda Laing, both), as Odette, the Swan Princess, in Swan Lake, under the desperate need of the Ballet Director, Madame Katerina Baroninski Gavrikova (Chloe Dallimore), and the magic of the Costume Designer, Philippe (Hayden Rogers), despite the alternative offers of the lead Male Dancer, Todd (Hayden Rogers), and the surprise of  Big Annie (Amanda Laing), the local Arts Promotions Officer.

Josephine premieres as Odette on 14th April, 2018 to great triumph. As Madame Gavrikova says: "She may be a kangaroo playing a swan, but that's no different to a human playing a swan! ... She must be seen to be believed."

On receiving the invitation from Monkey Baa Productions to attend the Opening performance of JOSEPHINE WANTS TO DANCE, it was the list of the talent and their collective experience that made one jump at the chance. Should not be missed. What will they concoct?

The Book by successful children writers, Jackie French and Bruce Whately, adapted by Eva Di Cesare, Sandra Eldridge and Tim McGarry reads promisingly. We have already seen their wonderful collaboration with DIARY OF A WOMBAT. (It's coming back in July.)

Direction, by Jonathan Biggins. He, of the famous (cheeky) Wharf Revues.

Music and Lyrics, by Phil Scott. Too, of the Wharf Revues. Famous for his music scoring and witty songs. Could the music for JOSEPHINE both, as Sound Track and the Songs be better? be more wonderful? Not likely.

Choreography, by Tim Harbour. The rising choreographic 'star' of the Australian Ballet - this work inventive, clever, fun, cheeky, and of the first order.

Set and Costume Design, by James Brown. Flexible and beautiful touring Set Design and, especially, outstanding Costume Design - those Brolgas and Lyre-bird conceptions!!!! - the look, the aptness, and the ingenious design to facilitate quick changes are simply mind-boggling, the dress 'engineering' a wonder!

The famous talent of Chloe Dallimore (she of the legs that seem to go forever) being wicked in almost every incarnation - just wait till you see her double act with fellow Lyre Bird, Amanda Laing, or, as a faux Russian accented Ballet Director.

Amanda Laing and Hayden Rogers excelling in every task, character, song and dance - they have many responsibilities - wit, panache galore.

And last, but, by no way least, Rebecca Hetherington, as an utterly delightful and convincing kangaroo that can sing, talk and dance ballet - a wonderful piece of work - she will win the heart of every member of the audience.

This concoction of JOSEPHINE WANTS TO DANCE, which I 'slavered' in anticipation of, does not disappoint. It is a very special and hilarious time in the theatre. The sum of all the talents/parts make a do not miss experience.

Built, supposedly, for very young children this show is a reward for ALL theatre goers.

In the foyer, afterwards, scoffing the fairy bread - traditional white bread near Tip Top quality, creamy butter and loads of 'hundreds and thousands'. Devouring delicious Chocolate Crackles with a thick base of congealed chocolate mixture on the bottom in the paper containers, and marshmallows, three on a stick with the top one dipped in chocolate (!), totally ignoring the fruit on sticks - totally - and gulping three full paper cups of sparkling, 'the real thing' Coca-Cola, I declared that Monkey Baa had a hit.

Monkey Baa could tour JOSEPHINE WANTS TO DANCE for ever.
The Australian Ballet, and I saw David McAllister there, could buy it and tour it for ever, as well.
And I reckon, every 'gay performance venue and event could buy it and tour it for ever.
Three 'lush' market places and audiences for this work, I have no doubt.

AND, it was not just the sugar rush that made me say that, by the way - I really meant it! Mean it, still.

If you have children to take, then, take them.
If you don't, still go. Don't be shy.
Just, go, go, go.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Flick

Photo by Marnya Rothe

Outhouse Theatre Company and Seymour Centre present, THE FLICK, by Annie Baker, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, City Rd. Chippendale. 5th - 21st April.

THE FLICK, by Annie Baker, is a multi-award winning American play. It won the Pulitzer Prize for 2014. It is also a play that has divided the audience's response between relish and rejection.

The Flick is a run-down cinema that screens re-runs/revivals in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is practically the only cinema that projects film rather than digital in Massachusetts state. We meet its staff of three, over a summer cycle (three months, or so, I think), in their raspberry coloured collared short sleeved t-shirts: Sam (Jeremy Waters), a 35 year-old, who has held down this job of Cleaning, Box-office and Refreshment duties for some time, and his long time assistant, Rose (Mia Lethbridge), who also has the added principal duty as the Projectionist. Rose doesn't clean. Sam longs to become the 'alternate' projectionist. Rose might be in her late twenties/thirties. Lastly, there is the new-comer, Avery (Justin Amankwah), a 20 year-old, black, be-spectacled, College student, on summer break. He feels he is a 'loner'/outsider, but is, as well an avid cinephile with an encyclopaedic knowledge and utter dedication to the magic of film (as opposed to the digital form) - all three have this 'disease'. Their cinematic 'mania' must be some compensation to work at The Flick, as they earn only $7.75 an hour.

The audience sit facing the run-down auditorium (Set and Costume Design by Hugh O'Connor) from the point-of-view of the screen. Each of the many scenes, mostly, take place between the session screenings, and we watch Sam and Avery clean - sweep and mop - the detritus left by the customers, and Rose prepare, upstairs, in the isolated projection booth, the equipment for the next screening. The break is usually twenty minutes or so and sometimes Rose joins them. In combinations of two or three, the scenes mostly are conversations about cinema, their job, with only a gradual information drip-feed about the family, social circumstances of each. Nothing happens much, except the action of cleaning. The conversations appear to be idle chatter - to pass the time - full of pause and silences, and it is only as we 'travel' through the long duration of the play that we gradually realise that we have been seduced into an intimacy of knowledge that engenders identification and compassion for these three, and that a whole Star Wars universe of change has, subliminally, taken place.

You must be warned, and this is where the division of audience response to this play occurs - Relish or Reject - that it is not a play for those with an attention deficit disability. It is for the contemplative and emotionally generous, it is for those who have an inclination to want to stop the world and its modern frenzy and get off, it is for those who have a comfort in zen-like gaze - an Eastern philosophic bent for wanting to watch rocks grow in your garden - to slow your heart, to slow your breath so that you can see - really see, and experience - really experience, other lives through your own. If your positive response to play-going experiencing is limited to the violent verbal and physical athleticism of say, David Mamet (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS - 1992) or, Sam Shepard (FOOL FOR LOVE - 1982), this work (and the other work of Annie Baker, in general) will be a challenge, as Anton Chekhov's work can be when it is properly produced with the careful intention of the writer at the front and centre of the artistic endeavour (and that doesn't happen often enough!)

Annie Baker with her sensitive observations of the daily interaction between people uses 'pause' and 'silence' as effectively as any spoken text, and it is there, then, in the respectful acknowledgement of that author's instruction/syntactical guide by the creative team, that this work will come to life - for, it is then that you the audience will have to actively engage and endow, solve what might be really going on, though unsaid. It is then when you, the audience, get to act, to have to contribute to the dilemmas, to imagine, to unconsciously utilise your life's secrets to make sense of what is happening to Sam, Avery and Rose in the living of their very ordinary day, days of vital, important, life-changing incident, for them, so that you will experience the 'stakes' of their lives, and 'grow' a sense of responsibility to what happens to them.

THE FLICK is a super-naturalistic, slow theatre experience, the first act some 100 minutes long, the second act some 70 minutes long - there is an interval provided so that the unmoved can escape. For those of us who come back after the interval, we have intuited what Ms Baker has done, which is to 'massage' the verbatim of closely observed people in mundane situations and activities and daringly repeats them, with small differences, so that for the vulnerable, metaphors are gradually distilled, and glimpses of the profundity of life in the everyday Our Towness, in the run-down Worcester Cinema, the ordinariness of just being, are revealed. There is no need for heated argument, savage violence, broken crockery or guns, or even death to bring drama, comedy, irony to the world of the theatre. The 'cock-and-ball' conflict of the usual play is replaced here with, perhaps, a feminine perspective that is expressed gently after observation and thoughtful exposures of truths to propose that none of us are unique or alone in the arc of the journey of life, and that, perhaps, we should relax and see what fate has in store, and not feel the necessity to force our will to control the events of our lives. Ms Baker's is a view of the world that doesn't need a 'war' - dramaturgical winners and losers - to teach lessons on what life is.

I have to confess to you all, my favourite thing in all the world is going to the 'pictures'/the 'movies'/ the 'flicks'. It began at the age of four or five in picture palaces such as the Randwick Ritz, the Kings in Clovelly, the Boomerang in Coogee and the Star in Bondi Junction - let alone those in the city: the St. James, The Mayfair, the Embassy, the Prince Edward, the Regent, the Forum, the Century, the State, the Paris and especially the Plaza (that building is still there behind all those ghastly franchise food halls - you can see some of the exotic foyer decorations, if you look up, up ,up), and so many others. In fact, my favourite most blissful moment, still, is just when the lights begin to dim before the 'trailers' for the coming films begin (although, the interpolation of all those commercials does ruin, now-a-days, a trifle, a significant trifle though - that ecstasy). So this play has, for me, the power of nostalgia and an extra dimension of identifying with these characters - in some ways it feels like biography and the ultimate effect for me was the promotion of a 'holiday mood', a lightness, an optimism at the end of the night. (It lasted most of the walk home!)

Under the Direction of Craig Baldwin, Hugh OConnor has Designed/created a look for the Set and Costume that is so apt that it could pass without acknowledgement of its innate skill. Martin Kinnane with his Lighting Design manages a variety of atmospheres from a kind of stark fluorescent reality to the mood of plushness and emotionalities of nostalgia and regretful contemplation of change and loss, even into the passing of the auditorium onto new management making demands of modernity in this flickering environment that facilitates the projection of film. Whilst, Nate Edmondson captures the Soundtrack of the film genres of this Flickerhouse, and Designs a 'tinny' stereo, that is so inferior in quality that it evokes, captures, a remembered time of the valiant suburban theatres' determination to attempt respectful quality of 'showing' - ahh, the memory of the cinema venue in Kogarah!

The performances by the actors are of a brave craftsmanship.

Mia Lethbridge is impressive with her five-fathoms deep connections to the source of the unknown 'grief' in her Rose (abuse?), with all of its externalised spiky, misguided sexual energy, and immature social and intellectual denseness verging on deliberate, self-protective naivity, which she is pitting against the stultifying opportunities of her small world. Can she escape? More urgently, does she even know she can escape? That she should escape?

Ms Lethbridge is more than matched by a truly remarkable stage debut performance by Justin Amankwah, as Avery. His ownership of the spoken dialogue is redolent with the puzzled pain of an intuitive intelligent youth - perhaps, the special pain and puzzlement of a black youth in a white world - such that it is a precious and fragile commodity, that one needfully feels one should reach out to Avery to protect him and advise him that it may all turn out well, given time. Mr Amankwah's principal persuasiveness is the complex and detailed 'ripples' of thought and the narrative of it, that he sensitively reflects for us, throughout all his body, but particularly with the muscularities of his face, in his active listening and thought filled deliberations in Avery's forward contemplations to solve his learning in the environment of this flicker house with these people. Avery's collective journey in this production was the spine of the experience of THE FLICK, for me. So, ultimately, full of pathos that one could weep.

Jeremy Waters, as Sam, gives an insightful and compassionate performance but does tend to show us too much at key moments - there is sometimes a breakout of the actor and his craft that is apparent, rather than the subtle, disciplined expression of truth with distilled clues, that ought to mask the 'volcanics' of Sam's 'tragedy', so that a living, breathing man rather than a passionate living, breathing "actor' be offered to us. There are sometimes gestures of theatrics given, by Mr Waters, that breaks the reality of Ms Baker's writing. Experience it rather than show it. Less is better. Restraint. Relax. Just breathe, don't force.

Matthew Cheetham fills out the other persona of the play with instinct and fine judgement.

There is so much to ponder, in writing about THE FLICK, in the diagrammatic possibilities of Ms Baker's play. The juxtaposition of life lived as opposed to the filmic constructs of supposed life. The need to have art to help us live more happily, reliably. The debate between the art of film and the loss that may be the norm with advancements of new technology: Film v's digital quality. The life of the ordinary, the Lowman rather than the King, and its value. The importance of theatre. The importance of the live experience. The importance of the shared experience. Ms Baker's style of writing, I hear some say! There probably is much more, to talk about, in the bar or coffee shop, lecture hall, afterwards, that THE FLICK might provoke.

I, as you can tell, am a fan of Annie Baker and her writing. I have waited for the opportunity to see a production of this play, though, of course, trepidatious on how it can be/should be done. Outhouse Theatre Company have before produced another of Ms Baker's plays,in Sydney, THE ALIENS, and was Directed by Craig Baldwin, and played by Jeremy Waters. Mr Baldwin has given TIME for Ms Baker's play to work, this time round.

I recommend this play and production. Remember the commitment that Annie Baker demands of you, before you decide to go. Though to not see it would be sad for me to know. Do go to the Reginald.

Ms Baker has two more recent plays: JOHN (2015) and THE ANTIPODES (2017).

Alison's House

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

The Depot Theatre presents, ALISON'S HOUSE, by Susan Glaspell, at the Depot Theatre, Addison Rd. Marrickville. 4 - 21 April.

ALISON'S HOUSE is an American play that won the Pulitzer Prize for the author, Susan Glaspell, in 1931. It is a play inspired by the life and work of Emily Dickinson, although, because of the denial by the Dickinson Estate to permit the use either of Dickinson's name or poetry, an invented poet, Allison Stanhope, is created. The Depot Theatre Company, led by Julie Baz, in presenting ALISON'S HOUSE, were 'motivated by a desire to bring iconic, but neglected plays written by women into contemporary consciousness...'

ALISON'S HOUSE's dramaturgy - plot construct and character drawings - belongs to the conventions of its time but has interesting, complex, female roles, and debate, including the provocative contemporary controversy concerning the right to preserve the private life of an individual as opposed to the possible public revelations that may reveal that they were less conventional than our moral code supposed. And, whether there is justification to destroy the found information/art to sustain the status quo or to reveal the found output no matter the personal revelations and the reconsidering of their moral stature.

Like Rebecca, in Daphne du Maurier's novel, REBECCA, Alison, now dead for 18 years, haunts the house and lives of all the Stanhope family and is of an influential concern. Alison because of her fame is still 'alive'. All the characters belong to the living stream of the normal human (animal) family, and has within its history all of the travails and complications of all those human needs. Adhering to the conventions of the society at the cost of personal happiness is the major dilemma of this play. Each of the characters reveal more about themselves than is conventional.

This play, requires, especially today, acting of a very accomplished kind to be able to reveal and sustain interest in the people, and plotting of the ethical concerns of the playwriting. In this production at The Depot Theatre that varies from good to not so good. There is some interest evoked by Matthew Bartlett (Mr Hodges), Eliot Falzon (Richard Knowles), Nyssa Hamilton (Elsa), Brendan Lorenzo (Eben) and Tasha O'Brien (Ann).

The Design, by David Jeffrey, has an attention to detail in the Costuming and the stylistic choices of the Set Design, within the confines of its budget, lit by Mehran Mortezaei, with an evocative Sound Design by Thomas E. Moore, deftly utilised by Director Julie Baz.

This production serves for those interested in neglected writing for the theatre and is a useful experience despite some of its limitations in performance.

N.B. The recent Terence Davies film, A QUIET PASSION (2017) with Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson is a do not miss thing to do.

Sami in Paradise

Belvoir Presents SAMI IN PARADISE, based on THE SUICIDE, Nikolai Erdman, by Eamon Flack and The Company, in the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St. Surry Hills. 1st April - 29 April.

SAMI IN PARADISE, is a new Australian play, devised by Eamon Flack and The Company, based on a Russian text, THE SUICIDE, by Nikolai Erdman (1928).

The original play, THE SUICIDE, was set in Soviet Russia in the early days of the Stalin, seized leadership, where and when the political atmospherics changed dramatically with the New Economic Policy (NEP) dissolved and the social and economic life shifting towards totalitarian control. Semyon, finding life 'catastrophic' decides that suicide is his only option. Others see his impending suicide as an opportunity to use as a propaganda tool for their own agendas and inveigle him to be representative of their cause. What ensues is a comic/tragic chaos of desperate proportions.

Eamon Flack directs his company of artists to set this in a relevant Australian contemporary situation: they have come up with the present time and the Australian refugee moral dilemma. Says Eamon Flack in his program notes:
This is a comedy set in a refugee camp. There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today - refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people ... We've made this show together. I wrote the adaptation (the translation is not acknowledged) in the sense that I did most of the typing, but the research and the ideas that went into it have come from everyone involved. Over a period of several months we gathered hundreds of pages of research and dozens of hours of video content from a variety of sources, including self-made media projects written within the camps ... Why would life as a refugee bear such a resemblance to life in Stalin's Russia? Perhaps because both regimes seek to treat people as a problem to be solved ... In terms of what's Erdman's and what's ours, I'd say about 15% of the play is new material and the rest is a restating of Erdman in a different setting. ...

So, Semyon has become Sami (Yalin Ozucelik), and we find him in a United Nations type refugee camp (anonymous country), where he has been for years in a hopeless anticipation of earning the money for his family: wife, Maria (Victoria Haralabidou) and mother-in-law, Fima (Paula Arundell) to get to Germany. He decides to escalate his chances by learning to play the tuba - but the lesson guide becomes a 'nightmare' and in despair decides to kill himself, instead. Neighbours learn of his intention and a 'broker' within the camp, Abu Walid (Fayassal Bazzi) arranges, for a money 'donation', that this final act by Sami will be for a 'just' cause. Sami and his suicidal intention becomes representative for the Charitable Organisation in the camp, Charlie Garber as Charlie Gerber; for Women's Rights, Paula Arundell as Fairuz; for Education for girls, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, as Vaish: for the Church, Arky Michael, as Father Arky; for the 'Artist', Hazem Shammas, as Hazem, etc. A farewell 'party', a last supper affair, anticipates the shooting. Sami, drunk, goes off at midnight to do the deed, but ... mayhem ensues and the fact that Life is Beautiful, even in this place resonates as the final clarion call for a happy (?) resolution.

Eamon Flack has a bent for the hurly-burly comedy of the farce, particularly captured cinematic attempts, in the instance of say, the Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, and perhaps the verbally redolent 'screw-ball' comedies: e.g. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), BRINGING UP BABY 1938), THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937), THE WOMEN or HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1939), and has pursued, I believe, a theatre style, in some of his work: THE ROVER, IVANOV, AS YOU LIKE IT, to replicate it, to varying degrees of integration and/or success.

In his notes for this production, Mr Flack notes:
Comedy is a technique that allows us to acknowledge things that we're otherwise too embarrassed to acknowledge. Because we're so embarrassed in Australia by the existence of refugees we always need them to be demons or saints - murderous terrorists or piteous supplicants (well, I need to interpolate, some us might, Mr Flack). This play is an attempt instead to lend this group of people the same privileges of silliness, joy, pettiness and ridiculousness that we get to enjoy.
Of my experience of the Belvoir/Flack efforts - this stylistic pursuit is, at last, working in SAMI IN PARADISE. Well, nearly. This company of actors explore and pull off the physical extremities with great competence and hurl themselves into the demands with a great sense of joy. They, too, relish the rapid-throw-away verbal gymnastics of their text, and the newly minted 'stuff', for example: the Charlie Gerber monologues, seem to be, especially, more pertinent and less of a comic show-off diversion than usual - the cast and the performance has been channeled into the 'idea/ideas' of the production.

The biggest problem with the audience reception of the verbal work in this production is really the difficult acoustics that Designer, Dale Ferguson, has given the production, with an open, bare, highly reverberant brick-wall 'squash-court' echo-chamber - no matter how interesting it LOOKS , and it does - that baffles and disfigures the clarity of the articulatory skills of the actors and turns their utterances into noise with a consequent lack of precision and clarity. Too, often, the actors are turned in wrong directions and elect to speak too softly for us, in this three-sided auditorium, for all to catch what is being said. As well, a live duo of instrumentalists, Mahad Ghobadi (percussion) and Hamed Sadeghi (Strings) often become more than background, atmospheric support, and tend to overwhelm the text which ought to be, I believe, the primary sonic offer.

I, also, wondered whether this text, especially in the last twenty minutes or so, becomes too didactic and obviously of a 'righteous' sentimentality? This company do seem to have a missionary zeal to communicate a very important social issue which they have, in double responsibility, also assisted in writing. Double reason for the zealousness.

It's unadulterated acceptance will be, of course, a matter of taste. I found it, uncomfortably, over presumptuous, a trifle 'icky' in what felt like an overkill of intention. It seems to me that Mr Flack and his team are 'playing' confidently to an assumed choir of similar beliefs.

SAMI IN PARADISE is hardly worth bringing to the attention of the ruling government, censoring, or punishing the artists involved, as it was for the original production attempt in 1932. Author of THE SUICIDE, Erdman suffered Siberian exile for several years and denial of true artistic identity for the rest of his life (he never wrote another play), and his Director, Meyerhold arrested, endured slow torture to death. There is nothing in this version of THE SUICIDE as SAMI IN PARADISE, that will cause offence to the ruling government or even its opposition party - probably, quite the opposite, it will flatter some of them/us to think how libertarian it is to enjoy such an enlightened entertainment - "I must tell my friends how funny it all is." (Just don't mention Nauru, Manus Island anywhere in the same conversation, I reckon. It may give pause.)

Last weekend, I saw Armando Iannucci's THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017) which could be, for those of you interested, an opportune comparison of intent and delivery - though it be a film, in technique, and has its own idiosyncratic artistic difficulties with its comic form.

This company is led valiantly and tirelessly by Yalin Ozucelik, who commits the whole of himself to the amazing arc of Sami's journey. He is supported by all the actors who give witty and amusing offers. I enjoyed, especially, Paula Arundell, as usual, in a double role, and was grateful to see Victoria Haralabidou on a MainStage (I, so, admired her work, years ago, in a self written play: ONE SCIENTIFIC MYSTERY OR WHY DID THE ABORIGINES EAT CAPTAIN COOK?). Too, Fayssal Bazzi and Hazem Shammas, two stalwarts of late, of the Belvoir stage, who grow stronger and stronger with every appearance, and a welcome to Vaishnavi Suryaprakash in several delightful turns of character creation - intelligent and joy filled.

SAMI IN PARADISE is fun, if not as politically deft as it might want to be.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Jen Cloher concert

Lansdowne Hotel presents, JEN CLOHER, at the Lansdowne Hotel, City Rd. Chippendale, 31st March.

Two of my girlfriends ask me to a music gig at the Lansdowne Hotel, on Easter Saturday night. I check my diary. I'm free. "Okay", I say. "Who is on?" "Jen Cloher". "Oh", I say, "Great. I taught Jen when she was at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art). I remember, even, one of the scenes we worked on together: A PATRIOT FOR ME, from John Osborne's play. We had a struggle but Jen's sheer intelligence and tenacity made it a very interesting time."

In fact, I have not seen Jen since that time at NIDA. She soon gave up acting after graduating. Next, I hear of her career as a Musician/song writer.

Easter Saturday night: We watch one of the support bands: Mere Women.

Watch the small but very pleasant room upstairs at the Lansdowne fill with a very eclectic crowd. Young and old. I am especially impressed by the sheer diversity of her audience. Especially, the ageist bit. I had thought I might be the oldest in the room, but perhaps, that was not the case. Feels good.

We have two drinks each - gin and tonic for two of us, Young Henry's for the other - and the band comes on stage, on time! Drummer, Jen Sholakis; Bass guitarist, Bones Sloane; Guitarist and back-up singer, the exceptional, Courtney Barnett and Jen Cloher.

Jen Cloher has grown into a very striking woman and radiates a generosity of love and confidence. She has a subtle but witty sense of humour. Quickly they are into their music. Their Sound. I am an absolute neophyte with this sound, unlike my two girlfriends, one having grown up in the Golden Age of Australian Music in the 80's (mixed with her surfing), the other with a powerful penchant for bands such as The Pixies. I know not much or, even, have a history of being able to read this sought of sound. I had had a chat, along with the second drink, about their impressions of Mere Women, just to find a 'level' for my comprehension of what was to follow.

What completely captures me, with Jen Cloher and her band, is the sheer power and complete confidence that each of these musicians have.

But best, it is the compassionate ownership of the lyrics of the songs, led by Jen Cloher, the open and transparent truths that are uttered - 'howled' - that paralyses one to attention. Coupled with the sheer expertness of vocal technique and the rigorous application of that being translated to a clarity and emotional cost of some staggering weight is what holds me, sometimes to a point of 'teariness' at its rawness and honesty. Time fleets and the weariness of standing, at 11pm at night, swaying - not from the alcohol, but to the music - to the gutsy sound wave of the instrumentation takes one to a transporting place of 'lost consciousness - a kind of ecstasy'.

When, I supposed, the classic formula of the instrument organisation of this form of music kicked-in, the human capacity of Jen Cloher's voice is matched by the simply spectacular translation of the passions of expression that Courtney Barnett summons with her guitar playing that transforms her into an energy force beyond human, except for its very human need to tell to us/for us of the human condition that is frighteningly primal in its origins. Courtney Barnett is no ordinary musician, she, like Jen Cloher, are extraordinary artists where there is no holding back the need to tell, the need to connect. One receives a super-human gift.

It is true as well of Jen Sholakis commanding and watching the offers from her fellow artists on her crashing drum kit, with Bones Sloane, present, passionate, quieter, though, just as thrilled to be playing in this room together for this audience.

A rock gig, Kevin?


But in the experience of it, it was so much more. Definitely, so much more than I expected. Jen Cloher may have thought she had left her Acting career behind her, but I could not help seeing the genius of the self-sacrifice that I witnessed - both, in her writing and performance - just as I did watching Hugo Weaving in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI***, a few days ago. Her performance has the transformative power of great Art and this collection of musicians are a wonder.

After, I catch-up with Jen for the first time in fourteen-fifteen years or so - me, behaving like a star-struck stage-door 'johnny'. We even asked her to autograph the vinyl L.P. one of us had bought. One meets a grounded, honest, generous woman of such embracing warmth and curiosity. And most wonderful of all, I reflect, after, on my walk home, a woman who is happy to be doing what she is doing. Really, happy with her body of work.

Follow her up. Milk! Records is her label. Jen Cloher is based in Melbourne.

Thank god for the Lansdowne and its support of Australian Live Music. Note that this program session featured three bands led by women: SUNSCREEN - Sarah Sykes; MERE WOMEN - Amy Wilson and JEN CLOHER.

Saturday, March 31, 2018


Photo by Prudence Upton

Ensemble Theatre presents, DIPLOMACY, by Cyril Gely, translated and adapted from the French, by Julie Rose, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 23 March - 28 April.

DIPLOMACY, is a French play by Cyril Gely, translated and adapted by Australian Julie Rose. The Ensemble Theatre is giving it an Australian Premiere, Directed by John Bell, assisted by Anna Volska.

DIPLOMACY is set in Paris, on the 25th August, 1944, two and half months after the D-Day landings. The Army General and Military Governor of Paris, Dietrich Von Choltitz (John Bell) has given orders following the command of Hitler to destroy the French capital on the morrow before the arrival of the Allies who are mustering to reclaim it. Mysteriously, the Consul General of Sweden, Raoul Nordling (John Gaden), appears in the suite in the Hotel Meurice, and over a long night of negotiation gradually persuades the German General to reverse that order.

DIPLOMACY is a slim and slight piece of theatre illuminating a relative unknown historical event that, in retrospect, is both sensational and important.

On a Set Design, by Michael Scott-Mitchell, of a spectacularly enlarged and printed shades of grey, black-and-white map of Paris, that covers all the surfaces of the stage, with grey furniture fittings, and in uniforms and suit (Costume Design, by Genevieve Graham) that could be seen in a Warner Brothers period movie (think, for instance, of the black-and-white cinematography by Arthur Edeson on the original CASABLANCA, Directed by Michael Curtiz -1942), the principal actors are supported by a small team of plot enlargers - deliverers of expositional information - James Lugton, Genevieve Lemon and Joseph Raggart, in the guise of Nazi officials and soldiers. Lighting is by Matt Cox; Sound, by Nate Edmundson.

The paramount reason to see this production is to be able to watch two veterans of the Australian Theatre, John Bell and John Gaden, duelling in character with a smooth and well-honed confidence and chemistry, fitting each other's character contrasting rhythms and musicalities with expert precision and respectful energies, lifting a fairly routine piece of writing into a nearly enthralling entertainment. These two icons of the Australian Theatre occupy the stage together for most of the 80 minutes of the play and it is a pleasure to witness what learned craft can achieve when married to a passionate commitment to the art of being an actor.

Recently I re-read the Authorised Biography of John Gielgud by Sheridan Morley (2003) and was struck with the late careers of Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson, when they were teamed to star in David Storey's HOME, and later in Harold Pinter's NO MAN'S LAND. Watching these two Australian stars, one wishes a writer or writers would write a play that could command and make more demand of the resources of these artists.

The season, I understand, is already sold out.

P.S. Two films have revealed this history before: IS PARIS BURNING?(1966) and DIPLOMACY (2014), directed by Volker Schlondorff.

Going Down

Photo by Brett Boardman

Sydney Theatre Company with Malthouse Theatre presents, GOING DOWN, by Michelle Lee, in Wharf 2, at the Sydney Theatre Company, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. 23rd March - 5th May.

GOING DOWN, by Michelle Lee, is a new Australian play. Last year, the Griffin Theatre presented her play, RICE.

Natalie Yang (Catherine Davies), an Australian/Hmung Chinese, has written her first book, BANANA GIRL, a no-holds-bar sex memoir. No-one is really interested. On the other hand Lu Lu Jayadi (Jenny Wu), an Australian/Muslim from Indonesia, has just written a new book that garners the Miles Franklin Award - '(she) writes beautifully about her mother, her culture, Indonesia.'

Natalie is defiant in her rejection and failure of her memoir, and is scathing of the writing of Lu Lu Jayadi, and her content. She plans her next book: 100 COCKS IN 100 NIGHTS. This will be an authentic story of an Australian Asian woman that does not bend, refuses to bend, to the sentimental ethnographic demands of the bigger Australian reading public. There is, though, a slow descent into self-doubt that lacerates her confidence and encourages her to act even more crazily with her sex life. - which we get to witness! Even her close friends (Paul Blenheim, Josh Price, Naomi Rukavina), in her hip-Melbourne neighbourhood express their doubts about launching into this project. We watch a 'break-down' delivered in comic situations with comic characterisations that end in pseudo-melodramatic conclusions.

Her only support comes, surprisingly, from her perceived rival, Lu Lu, who applauds the courage of the BANANA GIRL book and makes offers to assist her with introductions to the right connections.

In an exhausted state, Natalie, connects with her mother (Jenny Wu), and finds some solace in her mother's family story that she had deliberately ostracised herself from. This knowledge of her family's history has her connect to her heritage, a part of her story, that she has vehemently avoided - and in it she finds a literary voice that speaks with a conviction that the other book lacked - was it a rage at the world she lived in that coloured and hampered her ability to succeed in the profession she wanted? Natalie discovers you must write what you know, from all that you know.

It becomes an ironic moment when Natalie and Lu Lu talk about their writing and their , ultimate, success, for it is then that successful Lu Lu confesses that she has avoided part of her truth/history in her writing, she has not being able to be an entirely honest writer. For, she is not only Indonesian, Muslim/Australian but also 'gay' - of which, she has never written. Will she ever have the courage to one day write of all she knows?

There is a serious subject matter examined here and when GOING DOWN grapples with that, the play begins to find a ballast that permits an audience to consider, with a little more acumen, about what they have been watching: What do people want from an Australian/Asian woman writer?

Ms Lee, determinedly, sets out to write a physical comedy to sweeten the 'medicine' of her real issue that, unfortunately, mostly counts on paper thin character and sketch comic observations/situations to gather laughs, on a running gag structure that becomes tiring in its efforts. There is no escaping that feeling, no matter the frenetic energy that Ms Davies invests in her performance to the inventions that Director Leticia Caceres creates with her.

The Design is comic book bright by The Sisters Hayes, Lighting by Sian James-Holland, and has a bouncing score by The Sweats. The references to the Melbourne scene and crowd may score familiarly more laughter down there than up here in Sydney, even though the place and types are not unknown.

Ms Davies in an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, (Jenny Valentish - 24th March) with Ms Lee, concludes that:
My preference will always be with new work but it must not be treated as disposable. We want to create the Australian canon.
One does ponder whether GOING DOWN, despite its intimated powerful personal politics will be like the BANANA GIRL novel of the play, a disposable cultural offer, or a defining contribution towards the evolution on Asian-Australian playwriting canon.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Sydney Theatre Company and UBS presents, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI, by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Tom Wright, at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Hickson Rd. Walsh Bay. 21 March - 28 April.

THE RESISTIBLE OF ARTURO UI, a play by Bertolt Brecht, in a Translation by Tom Wright, with Hugo Weaving, and directed by Kip Williams, playing at the Roslyn Packer Theatre for the Sydney Theatre Company.

Brecht at the rise of the Nazis, fled Weimar Germany and lived in Scandinavia. It was in Finland in 1941 he wrote THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI. He soon after found 'sanctuary' in the United States. This play was a satirical, political parable, an allegory concerning the rise of Adolf Hitler. With an eye to having the play produced in the U.S. and inspired with his admiration of the American cinema (James Cagney, Charlie Chaplin) and the gangster genre (not for the first time: HAPPY END; THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CITY OF MAHAGONNY*** THE THREEPENNY OPERA), he created  Arturo Ui in the world of the Capone's Chicago. Big, bold 'cartoonish' characters in short scenes that revealed the 'epic theatre' trappings of placard signage, direct address, bright untheatrical lighting etc that broke the fourth wall and created the 'distancing effect' (often mistranslated as 'alienation') to 'historicize and address social and political issues'.

The play was not seen in the U.S. and Brecht having testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) returned to Europe in 1947 (the day after his appearance), finally settling in East Berlin in charge of the Berliner Ensemble Theatre. He died in 1956. Brecht never saw a production of his play. THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI had its first production in Stuttgart, West Germany, in 1958, with a production quickly following at the Berliner Ensemble, Directed by Manfred Wekwerth, starring Ekkehard Schall, as Ui. I have an indelible memory of my first experience of this play at the Old Tote Theatre Company in the old Parade Theatre, Directed by Richard Wherrett and starring John Bell, in 1971.

In the original play the allegory made historical figures appear as gangsters: Ui representing Adolf Hitler; Giri, as Hermann Goring; Roma, as Ernst Rohm; Givola, as Joseph Goebbels; with Clark, the stand-in for Franz Von Papen; the Vegetable Dealers representing  the Petty Bourgeoisie; the Gangsters as the Fascists.

The Sydney Theatre Company text "translated by Tom Wright" is more than a translation, it is a very free and contemporary adaptation, which makes little, or next to no allusion to the gangsters as denizens of Chicago, and with only a fairly 'abstracted' (though amusingly clever) reference to Adolf Hitler, that involves shaving cream. As well, it has been re-sized for 11 actors with some roles excised and/or re-fabricated into 'mashed' characterisations, cast in a non-binary manner (i.e. female actors assuming readings of usually male roles) and a contemporary 'spin' to nationalise (appropriate) the text as an observation of Australia. Chicago in the original being Germany, in this modern adaptation at the Roslyn Packer Theatre becomes The City - Sydney; Cicero standing in for Austria, in this play, becomes 'Millstream' (ironic to have this play in this nomenclatured theatre, so near , geographically, to the Packer family's controversial casino project and Barangaroo development, that had NSW State Government approvals, don't you think? And, with the major sponsor of this Brechtian/Marxist play being UBS - a global firm providing financial services?) Mr Wright's play, then, is a serious change from the original.

On the Berliner Ensemble web-page there is an observation about this play:
Great political villains should absolutely be exposed - and preferably to ridicule. Because they are in fact not great political villains at all, but rather perpetrators of great political crimes, which is something entirely different.
This is what Brecht, is responding powerfully to, in his play, in the 'heat' of living through the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, in the 1920's up till 1933 - when he fled that heat in that 'kitchen'. The Australian context for this play version by Mr Wright does not, or cannot (maybe, because of libel legalities, I'm not sure) single out an allegorical villain of our local in-the-moment times to suitably parallel Hitler and his rise to power (who could we point to convincingly in the Sydney City context of this play, I wonder) and, rather, focuses on the second half of the Berliner quotation, to present a play that shows the

         ... brashness, unscrupulous, impudence and brutality of this obsequious upstart and at the same
         time is a sober analysis of all those whose opportunism and profit-seeking enable this rise in the
         first place.    

The intellectual density and politics of Mr Wright's play, built about the super-structure of the original play form, is marvellous to grapple with even if it is does not have the comic-book accessibility, or audacious humour of the original Brecht, and decidedly demands, more needfully, the attention  - a skill - in the theatre,  of a comfortable academician insight to grasp all that Mr Wright has attempted to utilise the original play's 'garments' for. The Program essay-interview is a helpful guide to digest before watching this production, I reckon - it bristles with particular logics and explanations of a stimulating kind.

Kip Williams in his Program message tells us:
Initially written as an allegory for the ascent of Nazism in Germany, this play about a gangster who rises to dominate his city has since become a story that resonates both forward and backward in time. In one way, the work's critiques of fascism and the corrupting forces of capitalism make for a harrowing parody of the ease with which democratic freedom can be taken away. In another, its study of the evolution of the central character offers up a revelatory insight into the performance of power, the theatre of politics and the construction of a public identity. ... As such, the world of this production is both contemporary and Australian. Translator Tom Wright has found a remarkable contemporary idiom in his version that activates the social. economic and political links between our context and Brecht's (both the 1930's/40's Germany Brecht lived in and the 1930's Chicago setting of the original. ..." - Hmmmm? Really? Do you think so? - Mr Williams goes on: "... At its core it is a piece that has a heightened awareness of modes of performance, not only in the story itself, but also in the telling of it."
To some of that end, Mr Williams and his team of creatives further explore the use of 'live video', which was, I understand, a major element of Mr Williams' production of SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (which I didn't see). After the Brechtian introduction to this play about THE CITY, prepared by Mr Wright for Charles Wu, an actor - with a projected scene  title and explanation, we are taken to what could be a film set, with exposed wardrobe rooms and make-up mirrors on the sides, to a centrally staged scene in a Chinese restaurant, where the characters are seated around a lazy-susan table (meaning some of the actors have their backs to us and are unable to be seen face-on, and are heard, as well, through electronically boosted sound equipment), in the full flight of eating and drinking and negotiating a city deal. It is rendered to us, in the auditorium, mostly through the live projection of the actors in close-up on a looming back screen just as if we were at the cinema, so that we, the audience, are made to make a conflicting, perhaps, alienating choice, of either electing to watch the play as staged theatre or to view a live screening/projection. The production mode is set-up, unequivocally, from the get-go.

I thought this use of modern media techniques mildly interesting, and observed Mr Williams' pandering (justifying), his live-film making, perhaps, as a continuous demonstration of a modern gesture to Brecht's famous theoretical pursuit of the "verfremdungseffekt", by having actors deliberately projected not always from the stage but, also, from the fringes of the stage, or, even from backstage, so that the actual physical actors were invisible, to be made visible and audible by the artificial means of modern technological imaging. Provoking, indeed! Alienating, distancing, whatever you want to call it. One became, ultimately, however, distracted with the number of times one was asked to decide one's mode of attending to the play (it, was a choice that, certainly, risked losing the cumulative energy of the storytelling.)

I, observed to some friends, after the production, that I liked the imagery on the screen best when it served as either a backdrop - as per, the poplar trees scene - or, as animated cartoon - as, per the car driving into the city. For then, I could focus on the live figures on the stage and found myself engaged more completely with what was happening by my having to endow the action, to do some imaginative acting with them and offer some of my own cathartic energy to attempt to understand from the visible and aural clues that the actors were delivering, what to take on as valuable for my experience. I was involved more fully, both intellectually and emotively, and became 'lost' in the experience. Whereas, when watching the large screen imagery the ruthless forensic capture of the actors in that large scaled imagery, was always showing me too much obviously, and required me to, only, merely watch, rather than to participate, invent, with the performers the complexity of the dilemmas of the characters and the story.

For, Hugo Weaving is giving a tremendous performance, exposing his self ruthlessly to create the ugliness of his man Ui, who rises from petty gangster to a tyrant using every means, even the most inhuman, to sustain his objective to control with absolute power - the character and the artist becoming one in this magnificent performance pursuit. The personal expenditure from Mr Weaving is breathtaking to watch in its courage. It is a pity, then, that the camera capture is so limited in its offers, to its viewers, in contrast. What the camera edits out with close-up is often the whole body revelation of character that the actor is manifesting for us through alert and detail of characteristics from the whole of his gifted 'instrument', from head-to-toe-to finger-tip. The screen imagery does not deliver the full affect of Mr Weaving's mastery as an actor - it is piecemeal and, thus, mean with its generosity towards, that artist, the actor. The editor/cinematographer (Justine Kerrigan) is the controlling 'artist' in this storytelling - the actor has to submit to the tyranny of the editor and, presumably, the director, on the screen. The audience must make a choice of the means of engaging in this storytelling, often at the cost of the full observable brilliance of what is on the stage from Mr Weaving and all the actors.

Ivan Donato, especially, as Giri, is a force to watch as well (with fewer subtleties of character, than Ui, in the writing, of course) as is Tony Cogin, Brent Hill, Anita Hegh, Colin Moody, and Monica Sayers. Whilst, Peter Carroll is astonishing in his mastery of the theatre and the filmic mediums to deliver his Dogsborough with stunning clarity of intention and emotive energies.

Robert Cousins' Set Design pragmatically achieves the Director's needs and the Lighting by Nick Schlieper, similarly, is a faithful 'servant' to the aesthetics of the production, delivered, no less, with craftsmanship. The Composition and Sound design, by Stefan Gregory, which seems to quote from many sources of the original period and its cinematic sound histories, including dips-to-the-musicalities of Kurt Weill and Wagner, manages to keep this long two and a half hour, no interval sit, moving forward, if not being able to compensate enough for a directing tempo-style that simply 'beads' off the many scenes without much cumulative forward theatrical energy. This production sits, relatively, inert from scene to scene. There is no real climax.

It seemed to have misjudged, as well, the great actor/acting class scene, where Ui is, usually, transformed from a snivelling, unimpressive figure to that of a refined, calculating charismatic leader, for in my eyes, Mr Weaving had already travelled far down to a metamorphoses - even from the prior bar/pool room scene. The power of the acting class scene is in the theatrical transformation of Ui and not in the 'camp-comedy' of a 'Theatre Director' (Mitchell Butel). The scene's power has been subverted for easy insider-joke laughs (including swishing wig gestures) and, so, the startling horror of the lesson of the 'tricks' of media-savvy, aimed at by Brecht, was undermined.

This production lacks the full vertiginous horror, comic and political, of the full-throated warning from Brecht about the inevitable behavioural repeats that marks mankind's history. The final speech/epilogue, spoken by Peter Carroll, directly to the audience, had more style than content impact, and had none of the terrible predictive truth that is usually associated with it. My memory of that final moment, of my original exposure to this play, way back, some 44 years ago, of THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI, was one of a shattering fear (and consequent despair). In this moment in this production it came as a signal, relatively, that the play was finished and was simply a coda that gave relief that the long sit in our seats in the Packer Theatre was over.

Still, the play is a necessary experience for the theatre goer to have in their repetoire of 'reading' and Mr Wright's version is arresting, on its own terms, and this production, by Mr Williams is interesting enough in the intellectual viscosities it offers in its imaging. And, then, of course, there is the magnificence of Hugo Weaving's performance, as Arturo Ui - not to be missed.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Home Invasion

an assorted few in association with Old 505 Theatre present, HOME INVASION, by Christopher Bryant, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. 21st March - 7th April.

HOME INVASION is an Australian play by Christopher Bryant that premiered at La Mama, Melbourne, in June 2015.

It is a very interesting experience to see, within a week or so, an older Australian classic such as THE SHIFTING HEART written 61 years ago and be moved by it and its relevancies, despite its period writerly constructs, and to then sit at a performance of a relatively new Australian play, HOME INVASION, and if not be 'moved', then struck, metaphorically slapped about, by its relevance and, too, to be able to admire its contemporary writerly formulaes (it is not much like it but this play had me remembering the outlandish, comic-book surrealisms of the character daring of Edward Albee's THE AMERICAN DREAM, of 1961.) The arc of the Australian playwriting trajectory, from 1957 through to now is a thing to be glad to be part of. Though, I, of course would be just as happy to stretch that arc back to the work of Louis Esson: THE TIME IS NOT YET RIPE -1912; MOTHER AND SON - 1923; or, THE BRIDE OF GOSPEL PLACE - 1926, if any company was interested in revealing those plays of our heritage.

Christopher Bryant's HOME INVASION is a deliciously constructed work that has a savvy eye on the 'networks' of influence of our daily life, and not only satirises, but critiques that, with a humanist concern for the handcart, that we have sat ourself in, and are permissively unconcerned about the gathering speed of the careening of our cart - species - towards hell.

Four women: June and her mother (Kate Cheel), Sam (Chloe Bayliss) and Carol (Morgan Maguire) have spent much time with television, e.g. American Idol, Junior American Beauty Pageants, or/and, well, it seems like "everything", including those fantastic Soapies, where the convincing, exciting cultural values of these invited home invasions - promised stardom/fame and a melodramatic confirmation of self-worth - have given the suburban watchers the aspiration, the permission and the determined will to pursue those same values for themselves with ignorant and naive passions that ignore other necessary elements, such as talent, that may be absolutely crucial to succeed.

That we, while watching this play, at least at its start, might seriously enjoy the humiliation of these deluded individuals as they appear before us, must, mustn't it, make us culpable to their existence? We are in the handcart with them.

Jeremy Allen, the Set Designer, who also, beside his Theatre Design studies, completed a degree in Architectural Studies, has created a memory of a vintage 1950's Interior Design look, aided and abetted by the kitschy (but apt) Lighting design by Alexander Berlage, of lurid hot oranges, purples and blues, outlined in crisp multi-coloured neon, to wittily define the aesthetics of this contemporary play - it captures a longing for cosy nostalgia, a distant feeling of Hollywood's Douglas Sirk's signature emotional design appeal, but, with an aggressive subversive edge. The costumes, by Ellen Stanistreet are a mix of a look that encompasses, subtly, glimpses of a certain vintage (which era?) with the frightening adaptation of the modern by an incompetent - mixing and matching unlike 'Sussan'  - to create catastrophic affronts to good taste and pleasure. There is instead a sneering delight, engendered, in seeing the triumph of the UGLY.

All the performances from this company: Chloe Bayliss, Kate Cheel, Yure Covich, Wendy Mocke, Cecilia Morrow and Morgan Maguire, have been coaxed by Director, Alexander Berlage, to an assured extravagance of delivery that is both over-blown and yet frighteningly true, all at the same time. The psychosis induced in these women by the everyday home invasion from our television watching is remarkably observed and captured, supported by the others with an assurance of genre differences that are almost imperceptible in their risk-taking gestures.

Kate Cheel is outstanding in her double as June, the aspirational American Idol contestant, and her loving, nurturing 'helicopter-mother'. Ms Cheel captures the outrageous self-delusion of the young, white, aspirational fan of Paula Abdul, who attempts to sing like her, unaware of the cruel intentions of the American Idol machine, as she achieves in the 'contest' to the final 85 from thousands, dressed in a horrible sell-devised costume ignoring the visually dominating set of metallic teeth braces and extreme face make-up that creates an image of grotesquerie which takes her to a humiliating arc of self-knowledge that ends in a meaningful tragedy for both her characters. That neither of Ms Cheel's incarnations: June, or her survivor mother in the resolution stage of their journey, in revealing self-knowledge, self-pity, ever spills into sentimentality, is a wonderful triumph of acting of a first-rate kind.

Vying for celebration, unconsciously, with the work of Ms Cheel, is the dynamic and brilliantly nuanced psychosis of Morgan Maguire's Carol. Addicted to almost 24 hour television, Carol's real life is dominated by the fantasy dreams of melodrama soapies and the nightmares of 'reality television' such as  the world of Jon Benet Ramsey so that she seeks help from a psychologist that turns out to be as unhelpful as for her as her regular viewing. Her real life and her home invaders' life ultimately collides with a highly sexualised underaged girl, Sam, who is desperately having an affair with her husband, Anthony, and who carries a gun. The fast-as-lightening flip flop from control to frightening lack of control, the schizophrenia that Ms Maguire executes, for Carol, is a marvel of craft. It is a starling performance that garners both laughter and horror from her audience - and again, it has a hard edge of truth that avoids sentimentality at every turn.

The 'genius' of the look of this production and the Direction of these actors in this 'fantastic' material is that of Alexander Berlage. Too, his mastery with his Sound Designer, Ben Pierpoint, in controlling the aural environment for detailed and extraordinary support to the aesthetics of the play and production is outstanding - the quality of choice of sound effect and the timing of those effects is amazingly acute - deepens scarily the experience of the play. One has observed his often brilliant contributions to production as the Lighting Designer, for almost every theatre company in Sydney (nominations for design work on projects such as THE WHALE*** THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT*** and DOUBT***), but, now, as a Director, having seen at the Old Fitz Theatre, earlier this year, his production of THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX***, attention must be taken. Mr Alexander has a vision and finger on the pulse of the contemporary zeitgeist, a theatrical confidence of an audacious visual and aural style with a marvellously sophisticated competence in his relationship with his actors to make an arresting mark and statement about the modern times we are living in, it seems. Keep an eye on this talent, I reckon.

The Old 505 Theatre has premiered in Sydney three marvellously contemporary, superior pieces of Australian writing: FLOOD***, by Chris Isaacs; LITTLE BORDERS***, by Phillip Kavanagh, and now, HOME INVASION, by Christopher Bryant. A venue to add to your list.

Catch this remarkable play and production. You will be challenged. You will be rewarded.

N.B. This play was written and first performed in 2015. The Home Invasion not tackled here, is of course, THE APPRENTICE, which for several seasons was led by Donald Trump. In 2018, three years after the debut of HOME INVASION, what cache, what contemporary heft to the menacing satirical realism of Mr Bryant's play could have been added if a re-write, a new development had been embarked upon, since the first season? Truly, we are living in a Home Invasion. A World Invasion, of a frightening possible dimension, yes?