Monday, May 21, 2018

Les Mamelles De Tiresias

Photo by Clare Hawley

Sydney Conservatorium of Music Opera School present LES MAMELLES DE TIRESIAS (THE BREASTS OF TIRESIAS) by Francis Poulenc, in the Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Saturday, 19th May: Tuesday, 22nd May; Thursday, 24th May; Saturday, 26th May.

I first saw and heard LES MAMELLES DE TIRESIAS, by Francis Poulenc, as part of a triple bill at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, under the title of PARADE in 1981. The triple bill was made up of the ballet PARADE, music by Eric Satie, the Poulenc one act opera, LES MAMELLES DE TIRESIAS and L'ENFANT ET LES SORTILEGES, by Maurice Ravel. It was Directed by John Dexter and Designed by David Hockney. Conducted by Manuel Rosenthal (a student classmate of Ravel's.) It was a memorable night of theatre going.

LES MAMELLES DE TIRESIAS, was written by Poulenc in 1947, using a playtext by Guillaume Apollinaire, written in 1903 and first presented in 1917 - and according to Apollinaire a 'drame surrealiste'.

The opera is introduced by the Director of the Theatre who tells us that what we are about to see is 'to reform morals'. It promulgates a paen to love and parenthood with a purposely sophisticated naivete. Therese releases her breasts which have become balloons and she and her husband reverse their male, female roles - she becomes Tiresias with a full moustache. He has 40,000 children and there is some debate about the strains that causes society. The gently surreal comedy involves us with birth control and decontrol, feminism, war and the kitchen sink. Considering Poulenc wrote this in 1947 one can see why he made his choice of comic tone to encourage the re-population of France after such a devastating war.

Kate Gaul has Designed Set and Costume simply, but effectively, with a visual contribution from Hair and, especially, Makeup Designer, Rachel Dal Santo. The effective Lighting Design is by Fausto Brusamolino, and Ms Gaul guides her young performers through a thoroughly pleasant journey, encouraging performances that grew in confidence and relaxation as the audience warmed to their offers.

At this Opening Performance Esther Song gave a confident and arresting sound to Therese/Tiresias (shared in other performances by Jessica Blunt), and Gavin Browne gave a remarkable singing (after a nervous start) and witty acting turn, as the Husband. Haotian Qi brought a confidence to his double role as the Director, and later, to Presto. All the company sang confidently under the Musical Direction of Dr Stephen Mould. The orchestra was tight and bright. All together it was gently exhilarating.

At just under an hour in length, the performance had a spin to it that was infectious and gave us, the audience, a content that brought a smile to our faces.

Poulenc only wrote three operas, the other two being: the famous, THE DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES (1953-6) and LA VOIX HUMAINE (1957).

Priscilla Queen of the Desert



MICHAEL CASSEL GROUP and NULLARBOR PRODUCTIONS in association with MGM STAGE present PRISCILLA Queen of the Desert. Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, based on the latent Image/Specific Films, at the Capitol Theatre, Haymarket, Sydney.

PRISCILLA - Queen of the Desert - The Musical is now at the Capitol Theatre on a 10th Anniversary return run - last time at the Lyric Theatre. Since that beginning says Simon Phillips, the Director:
Our own bus has done a macrocosmic version of the road trip. PRISCILLA is the first Australian musical to conquer the two biggest showbiz smokes, Broadway and the West End. We then went on to visit smokes world-wide covering 29 countries and 134 cities; as well touring the length and breadth of Britain and the USA. 
Not much has changed in the show (from my memory of it - and I saw it twice) and the vivid brashness of its visuals, the ribald, vulgar comedy with the infectious inclusion of 28 musical track/icons from the real world - this is what is known as a Juke Box Musical, there is not much original musical material - covering a range of memories from Verdi's Sempre Libera, from LA TRAVIATA to Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kerrs' A FINE ROMANCE to personal favourites such as: I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER, I LOVE THE NIGHT LIFE, I WILL SURVIVE, DON'T LEAVE ME THIS WAY and some Kylie tunes, still pack a surety of engagement and raucous felicitations. The cannon bangs of silver paper falling all over the audience, at show's end, is like the joy, the topper, at the pop of a Champagne cork - a cue for celebration, to be able to experience this madcap invention, again.

The plot line is simple and steers onto the right side of 'sentimentality' - it is, of course, based on people we actually know (Google Cindy Pastel) - and thus has solid truths to 'ground' the experience, and like the influence of the main stream Television show NUMBER 96, on Channel 10, in the seventies, PRISCILLA, ten years ago, may have been an important part of the activating force to 'educate' the Australian Community to this world so that it could be able to whole heartedly embrace the Marriage Equality vote that was sanctioned late last year, despite the hesitancy of our Governments. Being at the Capitol Theatre the other night was like re-meeting an old acquaintance (relative?) who we vaguely feel, may have done something important for us, a time or so ago, and, so, are deeply indebted too.

Maybe?

Most probably.

The tremendous star of this show is, undoubtedly, the Costume Design of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner - scene after scene of gorgeous outrageousness. It felt as if we were at an animated museum of glorious clothing, being 'strutted' on impossibly exaggerated body physiques that were as 'ridiculous' in their 'tormented scale' as the combined material-look of all those tortured fabrics. So many of the Costumes have become iconic images. (One cannot obliterate one's important memory's cells - thankfully.) Both the Costume and the Bodies are, undoubtedly, the result of years and years of gestation - amazing efforts. And, all of it is flaunted in the comforting colours and space of Brian Thomson's Set Designs, including the Bus (known as Priscilla), that ten years later worked on the Capitol stage without a single, perceptible bug of collapse. There were anxious fingers crossed about the temperament of that Bus in the early days of this show's history - in fact that is why I saw the show twice - the first time the Bus refused to perform! Of course, one should not overlook the contribution to the eye feast made by Lighting Designer, Nick Schlieper.

The Choreography by Ross Coleman (the original artist) and Andrew Hallsworth has relentless energies but does feel as if it needs to start again - it feels repetitive and dated. Those new (chorus) bodies and eager participants look as if they could do so much more dance-stuff to give the production not only an historical veracity but also a contemporary zing that we can see, presently, down at the Roslyn Packer with the Sydney Dance Company's team - though, probably, not as brilliantly. The first big dance number sets a quality high water mark, and promise, that is not really ever touched again - whatever, the drilled proficiency of the rest of the show. Whilst the orchestrations by Stephen "Spud" Murphy and Charlie Hull, led by Music Director, Stephen Gray, still carry a thrill that ignites the muscle memory of well loved tunes and many, many happy times - it still feels 'cool'.

The company is nearly all new, though Lena Cruz has come-back to hilariously pop her ping pong balls as Cynthia to the beat of Pop Muzik - it is a curious number to see in our new #metoo time. The unselfconscious exuberance of Ms Cruz carries us away.

Too, Tony Sheldon is up there re-creating his inimitable Bernadette. In the program we are told that he has given some 1,750 performances that includes Australia, New Zealand, London, Toronto and on Broadway. Mr Sheldon's performance shows no sign of exhaustion. It appears as spontaneous in its musical theatre offers as it may have done right at the start. Now it is immaculate in its timing and effects with an inner throb of humanity beating through every minute. I was in a kind of professional thrall about this performance the other night as I once was watching Carol Channing in London, giving her Dolly Levi, at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in 1979 - 15 years after the original production of HELLO DOLLY! - as if it were the first night. As well, I, wickedly, could not help but posture to my theatre companion, as to whether Mr Sheldon was now, also, channeling another Australian International star: Cate Blanchett - what with that up-tipped chin/jaw and cheek bone demarcation with the slow closing and opening of Bernadettte's eyes (lashes galore) accompanied by a widening of the plumped-lipped rosy mouth into a smile that peaks with a lascivious half-open mouth held with a promising offer of a come-hither-for-the-time-of-your-life moment! (Carol Aird of the film CAROL pings into my receptive memory scan!) Whatever, Mr Sheldon's turn is a star turn. More to say later.

David Harris, with eye-popping torso and arms, has created a handsome Tick, the Drag Queen who is also a Dad, with a more decided sense of comfort as the Dad over the Drag Queen part of his role. That impression, unbalances the spinal premise of the work and flies in the face of the real world origin of the role - who was not backward in being ugly to win a point. Mr Harris is, relatively, hesitant to revealing the tart undisguised presence of a human caught in the dilemma of his sexuality - his identity - agonising, stewing, in societal guilt and cultural shame, to both cultures: that of the so-called 'real' world and the drag queen world - he can't come out to either! This Tick likes showing being a Dad more than being a Drag Queen?!! And though comparisons can be unfair, Hugo Weaving in the film is unashamedly, at times, brutal as Tick, and his internal homophobia is palpable making Tick 'ugly' and yet empathetically loveable as well - the qualities that marks Tick as a challenge in the musical theatre canon.

Euan Doidge, as Felicia, presents an extremely 'muscular' body that also has the youthful advantage of a lithe fitness and sinuous flexibility that strikes a seductive visual power (if that is to your taste, of course) and moves through the role with an immaculate exactitude that is, however, mostly, of an externalised brilliance with no true or authentic offers of internal character revelation - he hits the 'marks' with the right, 'smooth' physical 'gestures' but acting-wise is fairly superficial. One has no tears for Mr Doidge's journey. This Felician gaining of wisdom, is, for us, of just a vague interest, that one, who knows the scenario simply tick boxes as 'telegraphed'. This role does not seem to cost Mr Doidge's courage to reveal truths of identification/understanding.

But all is not lost in the experience of this PRICILLA, for it is the majestic sweep and conviction of Mr Sheldon that still makes this central trio work. What the other two actors lack in the creation of their characters Mr Sheldon endows with loving detail - it is, indeed, a marvellous and generous performance. It must be exhausting.

There is, as well, other support from Robert Grubb, as Bob, and Adele Parkinson, in a very underwritten role, as Marion. Both these actors give, when the opportunities are in the writing, a substantial depth of feeling, that in musical theatre terms have some gentle veracity.

This PRISCILLA Queen of the Desert, is a fun show and is so packed with visual glitz, precision and indelible pop music pleasures, that the sheer nostalgic magic bus ride is worth getting on board for. Tony Sheldon is a 'miracle' and the Costumes still a consummate delight.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Good Cook. Friendly. Clean,

Photo by Brett Boardman
Griffin Theatre Company presents, GOOD COOK. FRIENDLY. CLEAN. by Brooke Robinson, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 4 May - 14 June.

GOOD COOK. FRIENDLY. CLEAN. is a new Australian play by newcomer, Brooke Robinson. It was short listed for the 2017 Griffin Award.

Sandra, a 58 year old finds herself with a two week deadline to find new rental sharehouse accommodation in Sydney. Over nine scenes we travel with Sandra to a series of meetings - interviews - in her search for that refuge. She ends her journey in a shared hostel environment curled, ill and defeated.

From the blurb on the back cover of the published text:
Brooke Robinson has written an unflinching examination of homelessness, asking how willing are we, as a society, to take care of our most vulnerable. As the housing crisis worsens, what happens to people like Sandra - to those who don't own a home, who are getting older and don't have family to fall back on? ... GOOD COOK. FRIENDLY. CLEAN. is a devastating portrait of someone slipping through the cracks . ...
Two actors: Fayssal Bazzi (B) and Kelly Paterniti (A) play different couples interviewing Sandra in her search, played by Tara Morice. The fundamental self-absorbtion of these various denizens of Sydney (could be any modern city) reveals a society that truly is 'loveless' and has the unrelenting cruelty of a total lack of empathy. Rather, then, this play being a portrait of an individual in trouble, it is a frightening portrait of a de-humanised society/culture. In this production, of Sydney.

It has been suggested that this play is 'funny until it's not' but the experience I had with a general public (GP) audience on a recent Saturday night was one of decided bleakness that was crushingly ugly and gave a stench of despair palpable in the relative silence of the audience's consistent response. Funny this play was not, much - ever - at this performance.

Mr Bazzi and Ms Paterniti, played their various incarnations at a frenetic pace, revealing versatility but with little reach to invite the audience into the various situations. They played rather 'at' us than 'for' or 'with' us. It may be that this 'style' of playing was what muted the "funny" - the satiric comedy. In truth, the characterisations had the sense of television sketch surface with not much life-history lived through the 'disguises' of the many impersonations for the audience to even to want to listen, or to give credibility to any of the 'B's' or 'A's' from the writer. Or, are these people so reprehensible, without a single redeeming  feature, that revulsion and rejection were the only civil response possible?

To balance these cold, ferocious observations that Brooke Robinson has created, Sandra who, mostly, is bombarded with the brickbats of this inhuman behaviour, responds in a relative silence, except when in growing desperation she attempts to comply with the wishes of her interviewers, no matter the absurdity of their demands. Tara Morice with the instincts of the knowledge of those who have suffered imbues and radiates the decline of this woman with such sureness that the cruelty of each episode becomes painful to watch and to be able to be endured with any comfort. The defiant spectacle of Sandra's final gesture in the hostel is wincing in its power and leaves one floored with a kind of grief.

The grief is not for Sandra, alone, but for our society, as observed by this young writer, with its stealthy toxicity, wreaking of a decay that the overwrought pursuit of power represented by property and money has created.

The play is Directed with a brisk superficiality, promulgating a brusque tempo by Marion Potts, in a Design, by Melanie Liertz, that gives an impression of a city in permanent renovation, with a whizz-bang lighting Design by Alexander Berlage that carries narrative as well as visual practicality, enveloped dramatically with Composition and a Sound Design by Nate Edmondson.

GOOD COOK. FRIENDLY. CLEAN. conjures the spiritual effect of a terminal despair and reflected for me the same rumination about the world that one finds oneself in at the moment, as the brilliant Russian film, now showing about town : LOVELESS (2017), from Director, Andrei Zvyaginstev, does - he who also made THE RETURN (2003), ELENA (2011) and LEVIATHAN (2014).

Is this play an accurate mirror of the world, our audience's world?

Go, see.

See, if you can bear that conversation.

The recent production of MOTHER, by Daniel Keene, with Noni Hazlehurst, at Belvoir, gave us an insight to homelessness that GOOD COOK. FRIENDLY. CLEAN. comes nowhere near reaching.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

I Sing Songs

A new Cabaret Performance: I SING SONGS, featuring Steven Kreamer, at Ginger's at the Oxford Hotel, Darlinghurst. 7th May.

Steven Kreamer is a young musician, composer and performer. Most of his work has been as either a Musical Director or Associate Musical Director. For instance: ASSASSINS (Hayes/Luckiest), LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Tinderbox/Luckiest), EVERYBODY LOVES LUCY (Luckiest), SHOW QUEEN (Trevor Ashley) NOSFERATUTU (Griffin/Virginia Hyam).

Mr Kreamer is a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (Composition) and has had work accepted into New Musicals Australia and the Home Grown Grass Roots Initiative. He was co-writer on THERE'S NO ONE NEW AROUND YOU (Keira Daley/Mark Simpson), and composer/lyricist for IN STITCHES (with book by Alex Giles).

This cabaret performance, concert, from Mr Kreamer, his first, was given in the cosy space, Ginger's, on the first floor of the Oxford Hotel, and featured mostly, original works of his own, he accompanying himself on the piano. The lyrics are personal expressions, recreations, of events from his young life, which are essentially naive with more than a casual sentimental attachment. There is no original point-of-view in the lyric writing that can startle one into a propelling or rewarding contemplation. One's world will not be perceived differently or be changed. There is no Hammerstein and definitely no Sondheim word smithing here. While the composition is fairly unsophisticated and is more technically flamboyant than of any note of tuneful melody or aural arrest. There is, as well, no Richard Rogers or even Kurt Weill music invention here (despite Mr Kreamer's reach for his piano accordion!) One did not leave the venue with the lyrics of any work indelibly imprinted in one's memory to cherish, and, certainly, there was no new tune to hum or sing as a gift to memorialise the occasion.

A young ambitious artist that, as yet, has not had the life or found the urgent need to essentially express his individuality with either a unique or distinctive persona. The piano playing was focused and the voice light and, as yet, not his first 'instrument'.

Troilus and Cressida


Secret House presents TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, by William Shakespeare, at The Depot Theatre, Marrickville. 9th May - 19th May.

TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, by William Shakespeare, is notoriously known as a 'problem' play and extremely difficult to bring to life. It is very rarely attempted. I last remembering seeing this play in a Bell Shakespeare production, in the Olympic Games Year of 2000, Directed by Michael Bogdanov. So, when announced in the present season of play at The Depot Theatre one's curiosity was triggered.

Of the great titled lovers in Shakespeare's repertoire: ROMEO AND JULIET, ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, TROILUS AND CRESSIDA is the most unknown. Though in the language of our culture, 'Troilus' has been handed down to us famed for his fidelity and 'Cressida' infamously for her unfaithfulness. It is foolish to be accused to be a Troilus and damnable to be a Cressida, it seems. How so? why so? one needs to familiarise oneself with this source - for it is almost Shakespeare's invention. Troilus makes only a cameo appearance in the ILLIAD, and Cressida is never mentioned. The best-known and most influential source here would have been Chaucer's poem TROILUS AND CRISEYDE for Shakespeare to take up.

This production from Secret House does not elucidate any more clearly this play and its pre-occupations  despite the valiant aspiration of its Director, Sean O'Riordan, who has faced 'the question of what to cut, what to re-write, what to leave for the Actor and Director to make understandable' and the admittance that 'there have been many changes, cuts and rewrites in order to bring this production to the audience tonight'. One leaves The Depot Theatre as much puzzled as one, possibly, was before entering it. It requires academic reading, perhaps, to begin to grasp its intentions.

The play begins in the seventh year of the siege of Troy by the Greek army in its effort to retrieve Helen, stolen by Paris of Troy. It seems the stalemate and frustration, boredom, of both armies has led to a gradual collapse of values and honour in both camps and the principal argument of the play can be summed up, perhaps, by the irreverent Greek Thersites: "All the argument is a whore and a cuckold. Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery! Nothing else holds fashion."

It is in the genre of satire and the cynical tone of disillusionment about everything from sex to war that has urged scholars to regard this play as surprisingly 'modern' in its outlook, at the same time that it grounds itself in the action of one of Western civilisation's founding events, the Trojan War. The audience in the actions of this play is confronted with a tremendous loss of idealism, with a debased ideal. The loss is on two levels, political and personal, war and love. Nothing in this scenario is what we hoped and have believed in as a civilised person: love and war, romance and history proves to be ugly.

This large company, of 19 well-drilled actors, (N.B. There is gender blind casting) harnessed by Mr O'Riorodan in a robust concept - terrific Sound Design (not credited?) - Set and Costume Design, by Maya Keys; Lighting, by Mehran Mortezal, with a palpable discipline present, are admirable in their individual commitment, but do not have the sense of the play as a whole or what it might have to say in a refined, distilled clarity. It does not assist the production that not all the actors are on top of the skills necessary to illuminate the language of the play (vocal work).

Best work (it is relative) comes from Alec Ebert (Hector), Matthew Bartlett (Troilus), Charles Upton (Pandarus), Danen Young (Thersites), and Shan-Ree Tan (Ulysses), although they can do little, individually, to make this a comprehensive night in the theatre. But, then, not very many companies have had a way to find enlightenment for this play. The Bell Shakespeare was a memorable frustration and failure, I remember.

Then, this night in the theatre with Shakespeare's TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, can be and may be for the aficionado, of interest. No-one else much, except loyal family and friends. The choice of this play was a brave undertaking and it certainly piqued my interest to attend. This is a rare opportunity to ponder the play as it was meant to be seen: staged. Make of it what you can.

N.B. A new source for my preparatory reading has been SHAKESPEARE AFTER ALL, by Majorie Garber - Anchor Books - a division of Random House. 2005.

The Sugar House

Photo by Brett Boardman

Belvoir presents, THE SUGAR HOUSE, by Alana Valentine, in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, Surry Hills. 5th May- 3rd June.

THE SUGAR HOUSE, is a new Australian play, by Alana Valentine.

Find the best 'Lions', give them good 'meat', and we will all have a great feast. The Lions = the Actors, the good meat = the play, the feast = the audience (participation).

It seemed to me as this play gently unwound in a daring 'stately' tempo, reaching (and revealing) an 'epic', led confidently, by Director, Sarah Goodes, the best of actors, Kris McQuade, as June Macreadie, Sacha Horler, as Margo Macreadie, Sheridan Harbridge, as Narelle Macreadie, in leading roles representing three generations of women from the one family, across the years from 1966 to 2007, in the sugar factory (C.S.R. the Colonial Sugar Refinery) suburb of Pyrmont, in Sydney, with Lex Marinos, as grandad Sidney Macreadie and Josh McConville, as son/brother, Ollie Macreadie, who has a girlfriend, Jenny, played by Nikki Shields, we traversed an experience that is deep in compassionate observation of the working poor in a molasses of petty crime and institutional corruption, trying, struggling, to keep themselves above the 'drowning' plimsoll line.

The good 'meat' is the personal and political astuteness of Ms Valentine's storytelling - narrative writing - that is combined with the creation of characters so beautifully realised that any actor would give their eye-teeth to have possession of them, that they will become iconic figures in our Australian literary canon. The characters have an authenticity of a studied and owned relationship, especially, that of June, Margo and Narelle - that they feel as if they come as a cri de coeur from the heart of Ms Valentine's own life. Three magnificently realised Australian women.

THE SUGAR HOUSE, reminds one of Ray Lawler's THE SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL, Peter Kenna's THE SLAUGHTER OF ST TERESA'S DAY and A HARD GOD, or Dorothy Hewett's THIS OLD MAN COMES ROLLING HOME. Pearl or particularly, Olive; Oola Maguire and Agggie Cassidy; Laurie and Julie Dockerty now have new sisters that will resonate in our Aussie consciousness as exemplars of lives lived in circumstances of social difficulty and who yet find paths of humanity to survive with an earned optimism.

Undoubtedly, this new work is of an old-fashioned traditional genre but that very quality, for some of us, sitting in this unsteady time when the Pillars of our Community and their leaders are crumbling about us - the church, the banks (the financial system), the governments (at all levels: local, state, Federal, International) - what of the Medical profession? - gives us a new voice that shines a light to tell us, today, that even those who appear to be the victims of society, the hopeless, the 'debris', the 'toys', can have hope, if they have a vision and a persistence to pursue positive change. It is the human element of each of the persons that inhabit this play that grants us indulgence so as to give ourselves condolence. This 'old fashioned' play gives one a warm and welcome nostalgic injection of life with its simple direct storytelling told by recognisable and 'heroic' women. It is a 'formula' of a tried and true Aussie tradition.

What gives further layer to this text and allows me to include Stephen Sewell's 'family' works in the above list of treasured experiences, THE BLIND GIANT IS DANCING, and an even earlier one, especially, THE FATHER WE LOVED WHO LIVED BY THE SEA, or DIVING FOR PEARLS, by Katherine Thomson, is that THE SUGAR HOUSE, like Mr Sewell's and Ms Thomson's works, has a political vocalisation that cuts through to a sad timeless sociological core that signals an observation of human history and the way it is manipulated by the 'victors' to bury the painful truths of social injustice and disrespect, the disregard of the need of human rights for all.

Says Sid, of his wife June: "You grow up being poor, Jenny, and you soon learn it is exactly the same thing as being guilty. They don't need a reason to jail you, or beat you, mistreat you or break you. Being born with the smoke of the char house in your lungs and the daily dusting of coal on your skin, and the scream of industry in your blood and your ears, that's her ticket to terror, my girl. You know why people struggle to get out of this suburb, out of this poverty, Jenny? Being poor is not unhappy, having nothing is not the worst thing. The worst thing is that being poor is dangerous - knowing no-one and no-one knowing you."

June, the matriarch of this family, who fled, as a young woman, a violent criminal family of her own in Balmain: a razor gang - has fought for a life for her own children and a society that will give her family a status of relevancy and honour. Pursuing the end to State Executions - the era of Ronald Ryan - June, in any modest way she can, becomes an activist of protest and to the hatching of a strategy to ensure that her own children will climb from the molasses morass of Pyrmont, through the education and career of her granddaughter, Narelle.

June: "I won't apologise for teaching her (Narelle) to fight. She understands that this is a human rights struggle."
Replies Margo, June's daughter and Narelle's mother: "But I never have. I hate your version of change. It's just all this sweat and blood and time that took you away from me. And her away from me. And you change it up and they change it back. And deep down, Mum, right deep down, I don't think it's the laws or the rope or even the suffering that motivates you. I think right deep down there's this scream inside you that makes you want to lash out at the world and this one - this injustice, this absolute challenge to life and hope - it drives you because within it there is no possibility of redemption. And you need that hope, you need to believe in redemption more than anything. What scares you most? Most of all? That your granddaughter's newfound middle-class life will be just a thin topsoil over her ugly, ignorant, bad-blood past. A thin layer of advantage that can be blown away by the winds of change.

And that's why, in the luckiest country in the world, we crouch in fear, in terror of what our kid's might, if we don't watch them, slip back to. It's what makes you and all of the rest of us so ruthless and so mean. And what are you looking for, Mum? The day when people coming here will think we were never hungry, never poor, never wading through shit and choking on smoke, dying of rickets and whooping cough. You know the worst thing about pretending to be all polished and posh, people start to believe that's all you've ever been. They tear everything down in this city, tear it down and gussy it up. We paid for this city like everyone else, so why are we never listened to? Why are our memories and sense of belonging so worthless in this city?"

It's 2007, and this play opens in a renovated factory work space that has been prepared as a living accommodation - original windows, brick work and heavy roof support beams, all painted white, with a poured grey concrete floor, where we meet a young professional woman, who, oddly, seems to have an affinity to this space, and a real estate person who has no knowledge at all of the history of the building and its industrial relics around this estate known as Jackson's Landing. Suddenly, we are whisked back, immersed in 1966 and the building in factory mode, with granddad Sid as a fitter and turner on the machinery.

The Set Design by Michael Hankin, cleverly accommodates the shifting locations of the play with minimal portable furniture within the embrace of the modern new interior architectural design usage. Damien Cooper organises his lighting to assist the location and time changes and the drama of the scenes supported by Composition from Steve Francis, manipulated by Michael Toisuta, as the Sound Designer.

Our professional woman has been taken back in time to when she was 8 years old and living with her Grandparents, Sid and June. They are two time carnations of Narelle, and the subtlety of Emma Vine's quick-change costume choices, facilitate those adjustments for us with tremendous acuity, as it continues to do with all the costumes throughout the play production.

Sheridan Harbridge, as Narelle, becomes the spinal thread to the journey of this play and she captures every element, the incorrigibly bright 8 year old (1966), the rebellious street university activist (1985) and the confrontational young lawyer (2007). We have often engaged with Ms Harbridge, on our Sydney stages, in her comic genius, in works such as CALAMITY JANE, and so it is a great pleasure to see her creating a character arc of a fearsome range revealing such a depth of dramatic skill - something that has been waiting for a Director to cause to blossom. Similarly, Sacha Horler, as the neglected daughter and misused wife, Margo, brings a scorching ferocity to the unhappiness of the working white poor female spoiling for the same attention that is showered on her brother Oliver, by her mother - just for some crumb of love, even just, a gentle affection - a touch, a hug.

But it is the towering focus and concentration, the husbanding of tremendous emotions, delivered in deliberate restraint of clues, often with virtuosic speed, in scene following scene (and, she is in almost every scene), from Kris McQuade, that is the affective force of this storytelling. Ms McQuade's contribution is astounding and deeply, deeply moving in her revelation of that stubborn no-nonsense love behaviour of many a woman of June's class and generation. Some of the detailing of the emotional conflicts, played by Ms McQuade in the journey of June are awe-inspiring in their understated power and elegance of choice. A performance to treasure - it is what one scented in her glowering but tempered work in the Belvoir production of NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH, by Lally Katz - and here, in THE SUGAR HOUSE, it is in full dramatic bloom.

The raw honesty of Nikki Shields in her narrative growth as Jenny - from fun time girl to a sure guiding-hand wife - and the contrasted satire sketch of Prin, the real estate agent, registers why we should see more of the possibility of her range (strangely strangled in/by the production of THE ROVER, last year.) While Josh Mc Conville, similarly shows a versatility in witty comic observation in the creation of his tattooist, Zee, and a courage to grasp the passions and bad behaviour of a working class man, Ollie, trapped in a world of under privilege and social derailment with a fine line demarcation of ugly brutality and sensitive heart. Lex Marinos, covers a range of men with commitment, with a particularly suave ownership of the Attorney General, Terence Sheanhan.

This production from Sarah Goodes, follows on from her work on THE SMALL THINGS, THE CHILDREN, SWITZERLAND, BATTLE OF WATERLOO amongst much else and, surely, marks her as one of the more gifted Directors at work in Australia at the moment. Her comprehension of the needs of the playwright and the nurturing of her actors to help them reveal the best that they have to serve the writer for the audience experience is outstanding. Too, it is her creative nerve, that one must admire. Some may think that the production is too slow, and it might be if you want colourful action, but if you appreciate the minutiae of detail then it all holds power and immense reward. It takes nerve to hold to your instincts about the style of the individual work under your care and to stick to it. I am sure Alana Valentine is grateful. That is not to say that Ms Valentine could not further, gently, edit, to bring her play to an even more powerful experience.

This play has the possibility to give you an AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY sweep. It certainly brings some pressure onto the up-coming adaptation of Ruth Parks' trilogy of novels, set in Surry Hills with a working class family, THE HARP IN THE SOUTH, at The Sydney Theatre Company - a set of novels that have the nostalgic history of my personal lovings, which THE SUGAR HOUSE, reminded me of. THE SUGAR HOUSE has emotive nostalgia but also a political context of ripe urgency.

A classic is born.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Carmen Live or Dead


Oriel Entertainment Group, Progeny Pictures and Orange Sky Creative, present CARMEN LIVE OR DEAD. Book by Craig Harwood. Composer and Lyricist iOTA, at the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Ave, Darlinghurst. 28 April - 6 May.

CARMEN Live or Dead is a Music/Theatre piece conceived by Greg Harwood and Natalie Gamsu and has a Book by Greg Harwood, with Music and Lyrics, mostly, by iOTA.

The work introduces us to Carmen Frida Leon Davidovich (Natalie Gamsu), the (fictional) love child of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky. It is on the last day of her life and Carmen takes us on a reflective journey of remembered discovery - an orphan, a refugee, an hermaphrodite, a human. Beginning in Mexico, landing somehow in Morocco, ending in, believe it, or not, in Woy Woy!

In a beautifully designed canvas tent of receding proscenium, hand painted with many images, including that of Frida and Leon, and a hand-'dropped' curtain onto which images are projected (Set Design, Dann Barber), Carmen, in some deliciously provocative costume (Costume Design, by Shauna Lovisetto), aided and abetted by two musical helpers: Andrew Kroenert (guitar and piano) and Stefanie Jones (violin and svelte physicalities) coaxes us through a history.

The text is best in its zingy one-liner sketch comedy exchanges, between the three of the players and the interactions with the audience (clumsily staged by Director, Shaun Rennie), but falls drastically short on clarity of plot narrative and in its interest in sustaining content - it was a bit of a tease to have a 'chat' with the descript by Carmen as to her preference to be called 'hermaphrodite' or 'intersex' - this is a 'modern', 'contemporary' content, I thought, but, alas, it went not far, and, nor did much other content except in the usual areas in a sentimental, 'maudlin', classic indulgence about sex and death!!

Now, I am not sure, whether this underwhelming experience was the consequence of the writing or the lack of heft from Ms Gamsu - who is, in deed, very proficient - but seemed to have only half the wattage required to really pull this wildly bizarre character/set of ideas off (one wondered what the wattage of a Bette Midler might have done with this evening in the theatre). Definitely, the wattage on the the Hayes Theatre stage was not enough to distract from what CARMEN Live or Dead, at the moment, lacks. As it stood, this musical entertainment stood still.

As is mostly usual in Sydney of late, it was the Design, the Look, the 'Surface' of this theatre piece that was a runaway triumphant hit: The Set, Costume and Lighting Design (Benjamin Brockman), bravo. Not the book, not the music or lyrics, not the performances.

A disappointment.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again

Photo by Jasmin Simmons

House of Sand presents REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN, by Alice Birch, at The Old 505, Eliza St, Newtown. 2-19 May.

REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN, is a play by British writer, Alice Birch, written for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2014. Since, she has written, amongst other things, the nominated screenplay of the 2016, William Oldroyd film, LADY MACBETH, and a prizewinning play, ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE (2017).

There is no doubt that REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN is a startling play both for its content and form. The content was inspired by some of The SCUM Manifesto, a radical feminist book, by Valerie Solanas (she also shot Andy Warhol), of 1968. (see LOVE AND ANGER) - in fact there is direct quotation from the book in Act Four of Ms Birch's play :
Overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.
This is a play that attacks front-on the patriarchal construct of our society. It is intelligent, witty and contemporaneously considered. Ms Birch understands the vital importance of the contemporary need to write what she has to say and has taken great care in how she says it. Of its form, Ms Birch says that 'REVOLT' is about language, and one can perceive the care and poetic construct that has gone into the creation of this text.

House of Sand's Co-Artistic Directors, Charles and Eliza Saunders (siblings), have appreciated the importance of the content in their program notes and their sense of the need to 'embrace (the) complexity and dialectic with passion and compassion.'

It is unfortunate, then, that they have not embraced the technical demands of the formal language of the text, not Directed their actors (of choice) to an aware usage of their actor's instrument, to capture and deliver for their audience the writer's word by word language choices, used to develop her arguments, by assisting the actor's to the need for the technical manipulation of volume, speed and tonal range (the obvious skills of any trained actor) to achieve the written clarity of the intent offered by this meticulous writer.

The cleverness, the intricacy of the writing is exemplified right from the get-go. In the first scene of the play a husband and wife declare the sexual passion that each has for the other and their language foreplay becomes a comic deconstruct - lesson - of the kind, that 'demonstrates' the sexual politics of everyday vocabulary. Says He : "I want to make sex to you." Says She: "No, you want to have sex with me." "To you", he says. "With you", she says. "TO", he insists. "With", she guides. "With", he capitulates, "With you." Both, momentarily, relax. Then the 'games' continue.

Another part of the language dynamics of this writer is the musical rhythmic control. Any good writer is constructing a 'musical' score for the Actor and Director to 'read'. In this play, in an early scene, I heard, when I was not too angry to have disengaged and still cared, Ms Birch had written, repeatedly, for one of her characters, an expression of a need beginning: "I want to ..", then again, "I want to...", and again, "I want to ... " while the actor carelessly, perhaps, ignorantly, kept saying, " I wanna ..." I wanna ..." "I wanna ..." Another said, "Get outta here ..." instead of "Get out of here ...." Now, in musical terms it is only the dropping of a semi-quaver of sound, at worst a full quaver, but it is collectively a re-configuration of the musical score and, thereby, the intention of the writer. It is like eliding or excising the musical deliberations/notations of Beethoven or Chopin, which, of course mis-shapes the felicity and even the intention of the score/speech by shifting the musical emphasis of the notes/words - it looses its impetus and emphasis of operative sound/word landing. Harold Pinter and Edward Albee, just two writers I revere, were fretted so much by carless Actors and Directors/Conductors of some of the productions of their plays that they took control of their texts by insisting that they Direct their own work (which is not always a good thing - for other reasons!) - they knew what word followed word and why, and the importance of their sounds and syntactical arrangement.

The actors in this production demonstrate what I call the actor's approximate reading of the score. Worse is it, when it is accompanied by generalisations of word meaning and physical gesture. The 'approximate' actor/craftsman, the careless 'generalisator': the enemy of the playwright! The writer has spent, perhaps, a day in total time replacing that word with another - the writer knows why. A good writer would have drafted those words tirelessly to achieve what they wanted - not only for unequivocal meaning but for musical vowel length and the aspirated effort of the plosive consonants as tympani for their landed musical effect. It seems to me that this is the kind of writer Ms Birch is, too. Precise. Unequivocal.

Watching this 'careless' production of this very good play was like watching kindergarten children attempting to act, to play, Shakespeare, any Shakespeare - it is an agony to endure - and thank god, rarely attempted. Or, and this happens more regularly than necessarily, of a worthy amateur company when ambitiously try it out with Pinter/Albee/ Coward or Rattigan, Wilde - I mean what of the botches of David Williamson's plays, some people believe he is foolproof, NOT SO, I warn you - one has 'suffered' through? Attending such productions required/requires a desperate struggle for decorum in a public space.

"This cast and creative team" says Mr and Ms Sanders in their program notes, "brought all their passion, rigour and rage to every moment. We have fought passionately and laughed outrageously in equal measure. ..." If I could also believe that they had applied any rigour to their craft efforts, along with, perhaps, their intellectualisations, with either/both their voice and body, so that I could be beguiled into an understanding and belief, by subliminally being able to 'read' instantaneously what was going on from the offered clues of the actors, under this Direction by Mr Saunders, I would have been happier. But, no, in The Old 505, the other evening, I willed myself into a fake decorum of interested attention - despite my (craftmam's) outrage that did not emanate from laughter of any kind. I hope they enjoyed their laughter in rehearsal. I was well past laughter as an audience member, I can assure you. I just kept thinking of the loss, the besmirching, of Ms Birch's skill, no matter the good intentions of the House of Sand Company - a house built on sand, indeed, I conjectured.

Choices have been made on every element of this production, undoubtedly, just not very deeply interrogated ones, and certainly not 'repeated' ones - are these actors at all aware of  their accuracy around the vocalisations of the text, or, where their head is positioned or the length or placement of that physical gesture so as to achieve maximum communication of the writer's intention? Or, specifically, do they know the mathematical accuracy of the chaos they bring to the third act of the play, or, is it all still an accident of fate each night? The latter, I fear. Certainly, the effect of the chaos of entrance and exit, signage or not, on the night I saw the production, was all a hit or miss affair - mostly, many bewildering misses. There has been no definitive settlement, or tiresome rehearsal  - it is hard work to repeat and repeat and repeat - of those farcical offers intended by this company. There should be method for this madness for it to tell as 'storytelling'.

I will bet that they believe that I am being overly finicky. Some of you probably think so, too. Tell me that when I have watched greatness on stage. The great actors KNOW what they are doing with every part of their instrument, at every moment (it has become a second-nature consciousness) - it's why they have the freedom to play in the moment of the performance, when the adrenalin kicks in and the audience makes offers for them to improvise/deal with. It's why we pay to see them - they are experts at the craft of their profession, not 'approximates' or 'generalisers'. I want a carpenter/plumber/electrician that is an expert of skill and considered judgement. It's why we pay them. Similarly, it is what I expect of my actor. It seems to me that there is in this production of REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN an amateur exhibition of 75% aspiration (excitement), 20% inspiration (adrenalin fantasy) and 5% perspiration (hard work) showing in this production.

REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN, is a very good play ruined in effect by artists of little or no applied skill disciplines. I was so angry that my theatrical introduction to the work of Alice Birch was through this production. As I suggested with THE EFFECT experience, it might be better to read the play rather than watch this production.

One of the last lines of the play: "WHO KNEW THE WORLD COULD BE SO AWFUL." So apt, I thought, as I applauded the actors, as generously as I could, for having a go, but I wept for the reputation of Alice Birch.

N.B. It is interesting that there is no biography offered to us in the program of the originator, the writer, Alice Birch. All the other artist are given generous 'background' space. It is just as interesting to see that Alice Birch has her name in the program only ONCE, on the second page under the title of her play. Not on the front page. I guess the writer is really unimportant in this production? Who or what were these Producers thinking about?

Love and Anger


Griffin Theatre as part of the Bach Festival presents, LOVE AND ANGER, by Betty Grumble, in the SBW Theatre, Kings Cross 28th April.

LOVE AND ANGER, is vividly described in Griffin's publicity as a
Womanifesto, call to arms, and long hard kiss from surreal showgurl, obscene beauty queen and sex clown, Betty Grumble. Witness her ecosexually charged riot of dancing dissent, disco and deep push back-ery, where pleasure is a radical act and the body a bloody love letter. Prequel, sequel or freak-quel the head-spinning LOVE AND ANGER is a 'reclamation of the feminine spirit in all of its juices, jiggles and joy.

The last act of the Griffin Bach Festival, late night: 10pm (more like 10.20), is the spectacular underground artist that some of us have come to love and celebrate: Betty Grumble. It is a FULL House and some, pleasantly softened with the 'craft' beers and/or wines from the bar foyer, meet a crazily be-wigged and made-up woman/clown dressed in a nicely designed white flared skirt/suit with iterations of scribble dispersed all over it, pacing, and reading a book that, once we have all sardined-in, we are told is a copy of The SCUM Manifesto, written by Valerie Solanas, of 1968 (Ms Solanas also, shot Andy Warhol). This book is quoted throughout the performance:
'Life' in this 'society', being at best an utter bore, and no aspect of 'society' being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.
The Lights go-down and the first image is that of Ms Grumble skirt-over-head revealing two large cartoon eyes and extravagant eye-lashes stuck to her bare arse, with her head between her knees and her hands manipulating her "pussy' to lip-sync to "You are beautiful. La-la-la-la. La-la-la-la." etc. Most of the show Ms Grumble gives naked. Absolutely, naked. Ms Grumble's nakedness is exquisite and is as comfortably disported and normalised as any costume you have ever seen. The performance is given with thoughtful integrity and construction of revelation of frustration and argument. Some highlights: There is a quasi strip sequence. (ironically, I contemplated the 'historic' strip clubs of the Kings Cross precinct, objectifying women, not more than a few hundred yards away, then and now). Sometime later she smeared her lower body with brown 'shit' (probably nutella) and squeezed out a long piece of shit (modelling clay) which she gladwraped and handed to a member of the audience as a souvenir. She also smeared her vagina with red paint and stamped out many, many copies of it onto A4 paper and gave the 'art work' away to the enthusiasm of her audience. She remembers her mother in Kogarah and her pink bikini body building costume and dons it. She stands on her head, arms supporting her, her legs spread-eagled with a vase inserted into her vagina, into which a volunteer audience member places some flowers while she sings softly:
Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing? Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago? Where have all the flowers gone? Young girls have picked them everyone. Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?"
LOVE AND ANGER is a magnificent no-holds-barred political entertainment of huge intelligence and confrontation. Betty Grumble is, assuredly, full of LOVE for all humankind, no matter the gender identification, but carries a history as a 'human' that could only be expressed, too, with ANGER.

I wondered what this audience was making of this late night barrage. For those of us in the know it was more of what we admire. (Annie Sprinkle lives!) For the first-timers, some of them observantly comfortably bourgeois, I wondered what they were experiencing. This kind of theatre is around, to be seen in Sydney (and elsewhere), it just isn't ever, ever, seen on the 'main-stream' menu. Sydney mainstream needs to see more of it.

Betty Grumble has an agenda armed with an intelligence and a glorious set of physical skills to propel any audience to stratospheres of brain-tingling re-wiring and hopefully societal re-considering. Sitting with the Griffin Artistic and Administrative Staff at this single performance on the SBW Stables stage one can only reflect on the usual tepidness of the 'political activism' of this company and the Belvoir and Sydney Theatre Company's usual repertoire. Not all the work on the Griffin Stage (or any other stage) can be like this, but, maybe, one project in/of the season to come, will be. Could be. Should be.

The comfortable bourgeois de-construction, non-confrontation of the courageous Erdman and sociological critic Brecht in the Belvoir's adaptations of SAMI IN PARADISE  (nee, THE SUICIDE) or the Sydney Theatre Company's THE RESISTABLE RISE OF ARTURO UI was, I felt, so offensive to the reputation of the original writers that I, urgently, wanted to check both their graves to see how many times they had turned in an attempt to object to what was purported to be their literary stand/observation of the world they knew. The Belvoir and STC Australian 21st Century offers were feeble in their theatrical impact.

Here is an artist, Betty Grumble, who says what it is and puts all of her self on the line to say, unapologetically, like what it is - take it or lump it! Told, fearlessly, with LOVE AND ANGER.

Bravo, for the curation of this amazing important artist and work.

The Bach Festival seemed to be a great success. I picked and chose what I wanted to see and did well. The audiences I were with were young and enthusiastic. The theatre is ALIVE.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Sydney Comedy Festival Gala

Sydney Comedy Festival, presents the SYDNEY COMEDY FESTIVAL GALA, in the Concert Hall, at the Sydney Opera House. 23rd April.

Oh, whoo!

Taken to the Opera House by a friend to attend a night of stand-up comedy.

The Sydney Comedy month long Festival has begun. This GALA hosted by American/Irish comedian, Des Bishop, introduced us to another 15 comedians who delivered 5 minutes or so, of their material. It was like being served a degustation of laughs in a swanky restaurant.

The Hall was packed. It was a very interesting crowd. Lots and lots of young people and some elderlies. Some in Hetero couples, cuddling up to each other between 'courses'. Some in Homo couples, in this modern age, cuddling up to each other, between 'courses'. AND, some bromance couples, straight from work, coatless, tieless, nearly cuddling up to each other during the 'courses', though more often sipping their drinks in the Hall.

There were lots of "Fuck, this. Fuck that', pre-occupied sex jokes as well as some clever sophisticated cultural observances amid the cheesy "I love youse all'. "Sydney is just great"."What about Melbourne?" "Oh, what about Bondi?!!!!''

I will give you now my personal rating of which of these comedians I might book in their Festival venues to get a full Main Course meal of their material:

  1. Ian Bagg from Canada: UPSIDE DOWN. - Hilarious. Command of the audience and ad-lib material from go-to-woe. Terrific.
  2. Lawrence Mooney from Australia: AN EVENING WITH MALCOLM. Political satire of some meaningfulness. Keen.
  3. Fiona O'Loughlin from Australia: GAP YEAR. County Women's Association with knife edge observation. Dry.
  4. Larry Dean from Scotland: FANDAN. Sexy, cute and gay-friendly funny! - maybe biased.
  5. Rhys Nicholson from Australia: SEMINAL. The delivery is as if he is on speed (?) Crisply cruel, yet, still funny.
  6. Guy Montgomery from New Zealand: GUY MONTGOMERY DOESN'T CHECK HIS PHONE FOR AN HOUR. Laid back and gentle stealth in his routine - classic NZ humour.
  7. Keith Franklin's CHOPPER, from Australia: BOGAN JESUS. Well, Chopper is an easy persona, really to gather laughs from. Predictably funny.
  8. Urzila Carlson from RSA and New Zealand: STUDIES HAVE SHOWN. Ok to good, just a little soft in her observations. 
  9. Andrew Maxwell from Ireland: SHOWTIME. First half of the gig was just okay but second half was spot on target - funny.
  10. Jamali Maddix from United Kingdom: LIVE. A trifle cliche but still humorous. Terrorist beard humour.
  11. Becky Lucas from Australia: CUTE FUNNY SMART SEXY BEAUTIFUL. Material just a trifle cliche, so, a bit boring - still one laughed. Tired single girl sex woes.
  12. Jason Bryne from Ireland: THE MAN WITH THREE BRAINS. One can really tire of dumb, cliche sex comedy routines - felt very 'old school'.  Air Vent SEx. Vacuum Cleaner sex!!! Huh?!
  13. Paul Chowdry from United Kingdom: LIVE INNIT. On this night, the material did not appear very comfortable - he looked relieved to get off. Looked smart but backed away from the audience.
  14. Harley Breen from Australia: FLAT OUT DOING NOTHING. Drop kick material - not really funny - duh! Why would you think that material was still appropriate in this day-and-age. My kid the football!! Does he have anything else?
  15. Dane Baptiste from United Kingdom: G.O.D. (GOLD. OIL. DRUGS) Well, some really inappropriate material, enough to wonder if he has been asleep during the last year. Hmmmm? Hmmmm? !!!!


The Host, Des Bishop likes the word 'fuck' and can dwell on his sexual American/Irish 'straightness' a lot (doth he protest too much, is what bubbled to my consciousness) - he is lucky that he has those looks, especially, the 'Baz Luhrmann' coiffed grey hair. Maybe rank him between Becky and Jason. We did get more than a degustation serving of him, of course.

My friend, may have had a completely different order/list. AND, I'm sure you will have your own favourites.

Fun to be at. At 5 minutes a pop - a go-go - you were either glad that there was no more and  that they were making towards the exit, or you were left wanting more.

A slick night in the theatre. Production values, simple but A1.

The Effect

Photo by John Marmaras

Red Line presents, THE EFFECT, by Lucy Prebble, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. 18th April - 19th May.

THE EFFECT is a British play by Lucy Prebble, first seen at the National Theatre in London in 2012. The Sydney Theatre Company (STC) presented it in July, 2014. Andrew Henry (VERTICAL DREAMING) has Directed it for the Old Fitz season for Red Line.

THE EFFECT, received much praise, from the British Critics, at the National Theatre and had an highly appreciated outing in New York. It won The Circle Critics' Award for Best New Play. I saw the original production (check my blog reviews) Directed by Rupert Goold, starring the amazing Billie Piper, as Connie and Jonjo O'Neill, as Tristan. Tom Goodman-Hill, as Dr Toby Sealey and Anastasia Hille as, Dr Lorna James.

THE EFFECT takes us into the world of neurology - the mysteries of of the human brain, psychopharmacology and its applied ethics - depression, love and guilt. Medicine and the mind. The Personal and the Political. It is a play of ideas. The giddy exhaltations of love and the bleak wasteland of depression, the ethics of the pharmaceutical industry in its pursuit of medical progress in the workings of the brain and the necessity to make good profit/business, and, perhaps 'medical celebrity'. As in her play ENRON, Ms Prebble dares to bring to the theatre challenges for the brain and to the heart. It is intellectually provoking and also romantically perplexing. There are more questions, perhaps, than answers, but it can be a very stirring night of adult 'entertainment'. In the time that has passed since the original production medical science in its discussions around the research into the complications of the brain, and of depression as illness, may have advanced to make some of this play superseded in its practice, but has not blunted the fascination or erudition of its core issues.

Connie (Emilie Cocquerel) and Tristan (Firass Dirani) are volunteers (and are being paid) for a month long drug trial in a pharmaceutical laboratory for a large company, experimenting with an anti-depressant, under the planning of Dr Sealey ( Johnny Nasser) and the administration of Dr James (Emma Jackson). The two young volunteers gradually 'fall in love' and we are not sure whether it is a dopamine provocation from natural consequence or that of the drug. (Is one of them on a placebo?) The dilemma of the young volunteers is mirrored by the gradually revealed historical personal stance between the two Doctors.

This production of the play by Andrew Henry is more interested in stylistic packaging and frenzied acting experimentation and movement, that results in a mostly superficial presentation of the emotional complications and intellectual rewards of the play. The star of this production is its visual aesthetic - the white tiled, in the round, Set Design by Brodie Simpson, and, especially, the panache and 'sexy' neon/strobe Lighting Design, that is becoming a signature of the work of Alexander Berlage.

The signal that there might be something out-of-balance with this production of this interesting play hits one as we enter the theatre by a noisy (over loud) live musical overture (composed and performed, by Benjamin Freeman). It is disconcertingly assaulting and uncomfortable. This might be an Artaudian conceit from the Director but it is not justified by what follows once the lights are crashed down/shut with the slamming of the theatre's entrance door.

What follows is an acting presentation - style - that has attention paid to the superficialities of delivery (Movement Director, Shondelle Pratt) and speed of vocal effort, that is hardly attached to any focused necessity to present the clarities of the premise and arguments of the play, or, of truly investigated behaviours of human beings caught in the collateral damage of chemicals (artificial or natural) on the human brain. These actors gave performances of unengaged automatons - representations, puppets. Stylistic 'form' overriding experienced truths and enlightened argument. It became very exhausting to endure, ultimately disappointing.

Comparisons can be odious, but the National Theatre production of THE EFFECT left one subjectively devastated, all the characters revealed tragic consequences in the arc of the story - Anastasia Hille as Dr James, especially - and yet we were objectively, intellectually, stimulated. So stimulated that one needed to buy the play as quickly as possible to absorb all that Lucy Prebble had written. Devastated enough to seek a quick 'drink' to permit discussion and appreciation. THE EFFECT is quality playwriting that is not served adequately by this production.

The Sydney Theatre Company/Queensland Theatre Company production did not serve the play well either. Sydney audiences have lost out. It is difficult for me to recommend this production at the Old Fitz. I can recommend, in compensation, that you read THE EFFECT.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Blueberry Play


Griffin Theatre as part of the Batch Festival, presents BLUEBERRY PLAY, by Ang Collins, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 18 -21 April.

BLUEBERRY PLAY, by Ang Collins, is a one-act monologue, shortlisted for the 2017 Griffin Award.

The monologue explores the highs and lows of being a teenage girl in a small town with two important men in her life. Her dad, Jim, is leaving her life - her family's life - he is dying of cancer, in a very public and challenging way. Jono, a prospective boyfriend, just turning 18, is entering her life - she has dressed in a home made costume as a blueberry because the theme of his birthday party is 'childhood memories' and she wants to look like Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka ... but sluttier.

Directed by Sheridan Harbridge (did we need the video stuff?), Contessa Treffone has the task/responsibility of a near sixty minute story to tell us, covering the well worn territory of a teenager in angst - nothing new to surprise or capture one, really. The writing, though more short story than play, has a sophisticated vocabulary and provides much emotional melodrama opportunity for demonstrations of abreaction for the actor.

Ms Treffone, on the night I attended, erred in the excessive use of volume as her main technical vocal choice causing one to pull back in one's seat, having to 'weather' being shouted at (playing with tonal range might help the variety of attack) and, as well, there was some dozen or so concentration lapses of misremembered lines covered with self-correction that, ultimately, provoked one to consider just how much was the actor 'in the moment ' or,  instead, in a mode of remote control - as they say "phoning it in!" Hard to stay involved and to suspend disbelief when the acting is so unfocused.

BLUEBERRY PLAY, in this monologue form, is an interesting 'pitch' for the development of a play yet to come, from a promising writer.

N.B. What was exciting was to sit in a theatre with such an enthusiastic young audience. They loved it. At only sixty minutes and $30, it was a bit of an affordable bargain, I guess, and with refreshment with handcrafted beers in the foyer afterwards, the beginning of a good night out, perhaps? Need to encourage more of that.