Sunday, June 17, 2018


Photo by Mansoor Noor

Joanna Erskine, Eloise Snape and Samantha Young (co-Producers) present AIR, by Joanna Erskine, at The Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. 13 June - 30 June.

AIR, is a new Australian play, by Joanna Erskine.

In a Community Radio station (2RIP - Ms Erskine's comic sensibility is signalled there!) Annabel hosts a program that reads the listed Obituary's of the Day to assist those who are reading impaired - this is a reality to be heard at 8.45am on 2RPH - 1224Am or 100.5FM, that Ms Erskine noted and took as her starting point for this wonderful adventure, exploration.

This play is about grief. Grief begins as a solitary experience. But then, gradually, we discover that we are not alone because we all have grief, and we will all be grieved, one way or another. Grief doesn't adhere to the notion that the further you are away from it the less you will feel it. Rather, it is something that you carry within you at all times. Grief may recede, but at any moment it can make itself known with astounding immediacy.

In an antiquated and run-down radio studio, one evening, Annabel reads a reference to a popular song in one of the death notices and a memory is triggered for her and a reality of twenty-three years of suppressed grieving makes it self felt. A grief is cracked open. With this trigger/crack Annabel conjures her listeners, her relatives, the living and the dead and, consequently, comes to a night of confrontation, where her deliberate isolation from life is challenged.

Ms Erskine takes us on a surreal experience that is as often as hilarious as it is terribly moving. I found myself laughing out loud a lot and yet experiencing a strangely familiar and in-depth emotional connection, over and over again. The weirdness of the logics of the play are superfluous to argument when one embraces the journey - it is a bit like just joining in on one of my favourite Woody Allen films, ALICE, starring Mia Farrow (1990), where a herbalist induces invisibility and the ability of flight for the principal figure to be able to be awakened to the realities of her life. Surrender to the journey and the contemplations are surprisingly healthful.

In a one 100-minute act, Director Anthony Skuse, has built a delicate framework and pathway for the unwinding of Ms Erskine's fantasia, 'confession', self-revelation and provocation. Mr Skuse is in top form, again, at last. The mood shifts are handled with tempo changes expertly timed and with an apt Soundtrack (Sound Design, by Benjamin Freeman), that seduces and triggers personal moments for its audience, encouraging us into endowing and contributing to the construct of the play with imaginative personal identification - it is an effortless act when one surrenders to the plotting of AIR and its twists and turns. The comedy is audacious in its off-centred intrusions, offsetting and balancing with tremendous skill the possible 'melodrama' of it all. The Set Design, of a moveable table, stacked with the paraphernalia of a shoe-string budgeted radio studio, is deceptively simple in keeping the story fluid and forward actioned, warmly bathed in the Lighting Design from Sophie Pekbilimli.

As well, Mr Skuse has drawn from all his actors a consistent sincerity and belief in all those 'crazy' twists and turns of the writer's scenario. Eloise Snape, as Annabel, is at the centre of the play and gives the best performance I have seen her give. It is grounded in a calm, beautifully observed and controlled naturalism with a quirky sense of humour that is endearing and absolutely central to the success of this production. Its eloquence is so compassionate and so gently respectful of the audience, that we can only give-in and travel with her. Around her the other actors can successfully spin, mostly, the dimensional needs that the characters, created by Ms Erskine, exude, seemingly as rational and 'real' personas as any drama should need. John Dean (Tel Benjamin), is a late-blooming, slightly emotionally retarded, romantic; Mabel (Diana McLean), a married partner that contemplates and schemes murder in the fraughtness of her long-standing relationship; Susan (Suzanne Pereira), the grounded and 'real' sister in grief, coping with the Hardy family's dilemmas; and Kevin Hardy (David Lynch), the spirit at the centre of Annabel's tear in life with her family.

AIR, with the ingredients of a comedy of the absurd, a family drama of soap opera proportions, and a spiritual mixture of good sense, are all mixed and shaken for a richly rewarding night/cocktail in the theatre that can give your soul a glimpse into the ordinary and essential biological process, death, and the consequent natural tussle with grief, that all us will have, that really is a normality for every living being, whether it is for a human or a budgie, or a barking dog! We learn we can invite others in, we are not unique in grief, there should be no guilt, no shame, and together, we can deal with it and find some reward of possible hope. For some, the relief can be soon, or, as in the case of our Annabel twenty-three years later.

This is an Australian play with a rare sensibility of emotional maturity: prepared to look at a 'taboo' of our culture with an open, experienced intelligence and a sense of humour that is not a piss-take, but a generous openness. Thanks to Joanna Erskine and the Company for sharing.with such compassion.

Get your skates on, and go to The Old 505. Worth it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Saint Joan

Photo by Rene Vaile

Sydney Theatre Company (STC) present SAINT JOAN, by George Bernard Shaw, at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. 5th June - 30 June.

Says Bernard Shaw in his Preface to the play of SAINT JOAN:
Joan of Arc, a village girl from Vosges, was born about 1412; burnt for heresy, witchcraft, and sorcery in 1431; rehabilitated after a fashion in 1456; designated Venerable in 1904; declared Blessed in 1908; and finally canonised in 1920. She is the most notable Warrior Saint in the Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages. Though a professed and most pious Catholic, and projector of a Crusade against the Husites, she was in fact one of the first Protestant martyrs. She was also one of the first apostles of Nationalism, and the first French practitioner of Napoleonic realism in warfare as distinguished from the sporting ransom-gambling chivalry of her time. She was the pioneer of rational dressing for women, and, like Queen Christina of Sweden two centuries later, to say nothing of Catalina de Erauso and innumerable obscure heroines who have disguised themselves as men to serve as soldiers and sailors, she refused to accept the women's lot, and dressed and fought and lived as men did. 
As she contrived to assert herself in all these ways with such force that she was famous throughout Western Europe before she was out of her teens (indeed she never got out of them), it is hardly surprising that she was judicially burnt, ostensibly for a number of capital crimes which we no longer punish as such, but essentially for what we call unwomanly and insufferable presumption ... there were only two opinions about her. One was that she was miraculous: the other that she was unbearable.
George Bernard Shaw wrote SAINT JOAN, in 1923, six scenes and an epilogue. Imara Savage, the Director of this production, has ambitiously taken many liberties with the original text. She writes in her Director's notes in the program:
Shaw's play consists of six scenes and an epilogue. Often, Joan enters only in the final moments of a scene. Once she doesn't appear at all. In a play that generally runs for three and half hours, she is on stage for less than one. I began to have the unsettling feeling that Joan was making a cameo in her own life story ... I wanted a play where the female actor was the central focus in the way that Hamlet is, or Lear is, or Macbeth is - a play that explored what it meant to be both a woman and a dreamer.
This production of SAINT JOAN occupies the stage for one hour and forty-five minutes, straight through, without an interval. A great deal of Mr Shaw's play is absent. Then, following the severe edit of Shaw's great play, to achieve her desire to have a play about Saint Joan to have the female actor as the central focus, Ms Savage, with Emme Hoy, a writer, part of the Sydney Theatre Company's Emerging Writer's Group, have introduced new monologues into the text. There are, as well, other 'robust' contemporary interpolations, from these two artists, throughout the play.

The production begins with a still, seated gleaming silver armoured figure centre stage in light, surrounded by a towering cyclorama curtain, Set Design by David Fleischer; Lighting Design, by Nick Schlepper; accompanied by an imposing sound score from Max Lyandvert. The Costumes are a quasi period/modern look - mostly in black - by Renee Mulder. All these elements are of great affect, particularly the contribution from Mr Lyandvert. On the front edge of the stage appear an English Earl (David Whitney), an English Priest (Sean O'Shea) and a French Bishop (William Zappa) and we are thrown into the debate of Scene Four of the original play (edited), as the strategy for the trial of Joan is essayed. This sets the framework of this production where Joan seated centre, mostly, is surrounded, by the men (the patriarchy) in a fairly 'stylised' physical mode, so that her journey as a sixteen year old farm girl to warrior commander of the French army, to condemned prisoner of war, a heretic, to be burnt to death at the stake, like a witch (at the age of nineteen), is told in a formula of formalised staged flashback.

This production has been supercharged by an abundance of talent where the creation of characters of human dimension (not just talking heads, often the signal, bane, of a 'bad' production of Shaw's work) have imaginatively been fleshed out by all, to bring the surviving crisp Shavian language and debate to a passionate and easily absorbed communication, through a no-frills intelligence and utilisation of technical instruments (mostly) alert to the speedy needs of the original writer. Its clarity and speed is a tonic of flattery that not many contemporary productions give an audience credit to have to bring to the performances, as part of their contribution to the 'joy' of being in the live theatre. The irony and quirky humour - Shaw after all is Irish, and a provocateur - is a privilege to respond to (there has been too much edit of Shaw's audacious wit for my money). The new writing from Ms Savage and Hoy serves their modern desire, slant/need of this production well enough but is distinguished and is in contrast to the surety of Shaw's language pertinency, and has a slightly romantic emotional tone - Shaw would be embarrassed by such a gesture - not quite sentimental but only just short of it in its 'perfumed' and sometimes overladen imagery. Shaw is blunt and hard - gleaming, cold, silver metal - Savage and Hoy are liquid and warm - melliflious honey, saturated yellow. Shaw is a debator and humorist. Savage and Hoy descriptive and earnest. However, this company of actors make the writing from these two different sources - one male, one female nearly a century apart - coalesce and appear as one and consistent in tone.

Mr Whitney (we see him not often enough on our major stages) is deftly amusing. Mr O'Shea comically attuned - it is a loss to to have his character's Shavian impassioned turnaround later in the play removed - edited out - which would have given him more character and less 'comic racist' caricature to deliver. Mr Zappa is an exemplar of the requirements that Classic work of this kind demand: physically, vocally armed with insightful intellectual clarity, all harnessed for us, with exquisite economy - splendid to have him onstage again and demonstrating the range of his skills with the contrast of the naturalism he so subtly executed recently in the STC's production of THE CHILDREN to savour. John Gaden, likewise, is firing full throttle with relish for his Shavian challenges as the Inquisitor and Archbishop, delighting in contrast to the recent banality of the text of DIPLOMACY. Gareth Davies, Brandon McClelland, Socratis Otto and Anthony Taufa support the Directorial demands with energy and precision, to keep the production moving with focused meaning and drive, each grasping the baton of responsibility, when it is thrust at/to them, with enthusiasm and zeal.

Any production of SAINT JOAN must stand or fall with the actor of Joan. Recognising the gifts of Sarah Snook (who is making her debut with the STC - really?) Ms Savage has been able to confidently present her vision of Joan with absolute surety. Ms Snook, has the full-blooded technical skills of Voice and Body of a top-flight actor, and is armed with a ferocious intellect and a capacity to be immersed in the dilemma of her character with a luminous translucence that is able to give us both the internal and external 'life-force' of the girl/woman and the saint. There is not a minute on the stage, and she occupies it the entire length of the production, where she is not radiating a second-by-second experience - she has no down time, no rest - she is inhabiting Joan, seemingly possessed - it is the stuff of unforgettable 'acting'. I was fortunate to attend her performance (twice) as Hilde Wangel in Ibsen's THE MASTER BUILDER at the Old Vic, with Ralph Fiennes, a year or so ago. Ms Snook's performance here, confirms and supersedes that achievement. Ms Snook certainly gave Mr Fiennes a run-for-his talent! Shaw was a great admirer of Ibsen and both writers were enthralled by the 'life force' philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Both Joan and Hilde are women possessed of the irresistible force of life. It seems Sarah Snook maybe as well. Her gifts in this performance is a bounty for us to never forget.

I recently saw at the Seymour Centre an interesting one woman piece called JOAN, looking at the legend/myth of Saint Joan. Its insights were refreshing (and amusing). Too, Ms Savage has created a unique approach to such an historical figure and famous play (Shaw won the Nobel Prize for Literature, not long after the writing of SAINT JOAN) and attempts to mirror that energy, courage and achievement with teenage 'heroes' of our present time, in program reference: Emma Gonzalez (American leader against the Gun Lobby in the USA) and Malala Yousafzai, the women of Pussy Riot. While not really connecting the contemporaries dots to Joan there is a resonance - give or take a thought argument.

The STC's production of SAINT JOAN, is a Reader's Digest version of the original play, and could be a disappointment if you are a fan of Shaw, if you have come to see the STC advertised (apparently, falsely) SAINT JOAN, by George Bernard Shaw, but is, none the less, a very thrilling hybrid with enough Shaw for you to recognise the originator and with enough impassioned personal point-of-view of the Director, Imara Savage (and Ms Hoy, I presume), for you to have a very exciting night in the theatre. The production values are clean and outstanding and the acting is of a uniform quality not seen often enough in Sydney. And not to see the work, the performance given, wrought, lived, by Sarah Snook would be an act of misdemeanour by any theatre lover. Not to be missed.

Highly recommended.

P.S. If you have never seen it, might I recommend PREDESTINATION as a film that resonates the gifts of Sarah Snook. Truly amazing.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Lost Boys

Photo by Zac Kaczmarek
Merrigong Theatre Company presents the world premiere of LOST BOYS, by Lachlan Philpott, in the Bruce Cameron Theatre, at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (IPAC), Wollongong. 23 May - 2 June.

LOST BOYS, is a new Australian play from Lachlan Philpott, commissioned by the Merrigong Theatre Company. It is based on the crimes of gang violence and murder centred in the community of Bondi Beach, that has also been featured in a recent documentary and television series (SBS Television).

The first act of the play is set in 1985, Prime Minister Hawke. The second act of the play is set in 2017, Prime Minister Turnbull. The location of the play is in the beach suburb of Bondi and concerns three generations of the local Murphy family.

In 1985, two brothers Robert and Cy, and his girlfriend, are part of the surfer-gang culture, riding the waves by day and getting vicarious thrills bashing and murdering gays ("faggots") at night, in a cliffside park. They got away with it, despite some attention from police of the time. In the second act of the play, it is 2017, and a television documentary investigates these crimes and stirs the NSW Police to re-open investigation. The gang perpetrators now grown and with their own families are once again under suspicion, there is police contact, and the family history threatens to confront, fracture, break. Time has moved on and attitudes are different. The family generations are at odds and the barely suppressed brooding evil seeps up to the light.

Some 30 of the murders remain unsolved and the now retired detectives who delivered a 2,000 page report into the crimes concluded that it was 'almost beyond certain' that the cold cases could be attributed to the same gangs responsible for the murders that were solved. Says Lachlan Philpott in his program notes:
Shocked ... I was compelled to ask many questions. What made these teenage gangs do such evil things? What kind of society could have allowed them to do and get away with it? How had it happened over and over again? Now that the perpetrators of these crimes have kids of their own, how do they live with and reconcile the legacy of their acts? And, could this happen again? ... The queer community were lulled into believing that their contemporary Australian society had shifted significantly (in attitude) from the 80's and 90's. Until the hate and violence so openly on display during the 2017 Marriage Equality campaign raised doubts that anything had changed at all. ... (Although the play cannot adequately memorialise the losses) perhaps it can make tears in the chthonic and terrible underthread of Australia's toxic obsession with masculinity and allow people to understand the dreadful damage that fatuous obsession spawns.
Director, Leland Kean has a company of only 8 actors so that Josh Anderson, Adam Booth, Jackson Davis, Lucy Heffernan, Jodie Le Vesconte, Ben Pfeiffer, Jane Phegan, Lincoln Vickery, play all the characters of the story. Interestingly, the casting makes a unique contribution to this production. Characters in the first act are played by different actors in the second act. This 'puzzle' of continuity recognition adds a frisson of tension for the audience - they are made to stay alert. It is, generally, carried out without real obstacle. In fact the second act seemed to gain more credible power in the 'acting' stakes.

In the first act not all the company seem to have created a 'back story' beyond what is said and done on the command of the writer and so played in a kind of shallow declamatory style, delivering information without real possession of a character, that is, a character as a 'life-force' with a motivated history. It produced a style of acting from some of the actors of an old fashioned caricature type - 'comic' or 'soap' - and a 'your turn, my turn' kind. The short scene structure of the writing, encumbered by the necessity of many exits and entrances, by the stage design, may also have contributed to the continuity of disconnection for the audience in their identification with the people of the play. Come to the second act of the production/play, however, and the audience could endow the characterisations with 'history' and emotional justification, that collectively built to an immersion of belief, especially in the final scenes, culminating in a powerful contribution from Mr Booth in his interaction with Mr Pfeiffer.

Mr Philpott wrests a play from the terrible history of Bondi Beach in 1985, and a speculative caution of the more recent times of 2017, employing a variety of playwriting techniques in many, many short scenes. There is direct monologue, the usual and familiar interactive scenes between characters, and sometimes poetic choral interludes and long moments of silent pauses, all moving the complexity of the narrative and its moral delving forward with gathering force.

The final moments of the play with the elder Cy sitting centre stage and ominously glaring into the void (the audience) we are confronted with a pure evil that has grown in a scorching intensity as prejudice, guilt and shame paralyses this man into an intractable state of venomous mind. Unlike the recent STALKING THE BOGEYMAN, at the Old Fitz, LOST BOYS embraces the Dostoyevskian ideal of confronting the consequences of "True Crime" and exposes a society's collective guilt and the consequences for all of the society that has allowed it to be nurtured. (see Blog comment). It is a challenging demand made on the audience as complicit witnesses, who have, mostly, elected to remain silent.

Mr Philpott, has demonstrated in the past with other of his works: e.g. COLDER, SILENT DISCO, TRUCKSTOP, M.ROCK, and last year, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, an uncanny ear for the accuracy of the argot of the 'tribes' of his concern, through verbative observation, that are sculptured into a unique kind of prose poetics. Listening to the interactions, the conversations, the language has an illusion of familiar 'reality' but on close listening (or inspection) the subtle manipulation of the words as text reveal imagery and musicalities that lift the work into a more sophisticated experience. This is true of the LOST BOYS, as well. Mr Philpott can be both Lyricist and Composer, demonstrated in the care of his language and syntax usage.

Merrigong Theatre Company as the commissioner of this work has, as well, recognised the potential of this play as a significant contribution to the Australian playwriting canon and facilitated a major production effort to bring it to life. Leland Kean has encouraged his artistic collaborators into a visual splendour that utilises a vast input from Projection Designer, Mic Gruchy, that is projected on to the cyclorama, and a large frontispiece of set structure, and on the floors of the space - this Bruce Cameron Theatre has a 'severe' raked auditorium perspective, so that the audience has an overview of all those elements. The look, using video-action and still photographic images, conjures the locations as a secure and vivid background to support the action of the play. It is a significant offer and was, undoubtedly, extremely complicated to produce for each performance - the 'bump-in' into the theatre would have been 'trying' to say the least - it was worth it.

The intricacies of the Lighting Design to facilitate the Projection Design without diminishing it and still covering the actors, so that they could be seen ( be read), by Jasmine Rizk, is amazing. The Sound Designer, Daryl Wallis, has completed the 'narrative' illusion of this work with much subtlety for period identification and dramatic structuring. Designer, Katja Handt, with her Set Design, has tried to find a solution to render the visuals of Mr Gruchy powerfully and, as well, to facilitate the difficulties of actor entrance and exit, in what is a multi-short scene playwriting structure that has not been completely solved by Mr Kean's ultimate decision making and, as it is at present, inhibits the full symphonic sweep of the writing - the music is held up, sometimes, with the banal physical obstacles, that the actors encounter, just to get onto the stage. The Costume Design by Ms Handt, is just as complicated but delivered well.

LOST BOYS, is certainly a major work. Lachlan Philpott is an interesting writer, nay, more than that, I reckon, as this play, the latest we have witnessed in the Body of his Playwriting, must surely place him as one of the more Important voices on the contemporary Australian stage. His social conscience content pre-occupation, the worlds he asks us to concernedly examine, along with his beautiful language and 'musical' skills must approximate him highly. One hopes this play, and or production, reaches the major city theatres and a larger audience.

This regional company: Merrigong, has achieved much in producing this work, LOST BOYS.

P.S. It was worth the train ride to Wollongong, there and back. Later this month (28th June-30th June) the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), from Adelaide, led by Gary Stewart, is performing. This Internationally acclaimed company is NOT performing in Sydney - how odd! ???? Merrigong is doing something well and the train ride there and back will be well rewarded, I'm sure.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Stalking the Bogeyman

Photo by John Marmaras

Neil Gooding Productions and New York Rep. in association with Red Line Productions presents the Australian Premiere of STALKING THE BOGEYMAN, adapted by David Holthouse and Markus Potter (additional writing by Shane Ziegler, Shane Stokes and Santino Fontana.), at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. 23 May - 23 June.

STALKING THE BOGEYMAN, began as an essay and, then, Podcast from THIS AMERICAN LIFE, written as a personal true life 'confessional' account, by gonzo journalist David Holtman and, with permission, developed into a play by Markus Potter, for the New York Rep, in 2014

Gonzo Journalism is a form of writing that does not claim objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the storyline via a first person narrative. It was famously used in 1970 by Hunter S. Thompson - a 'notorious' counter-culture writer.

As a seven year old, David Holthouse (Graeme McRae) was raped in the cellar by a teenage acquaintance with both sets of parents (Noel Hodda, Deborah Jones and Alexander Palacio and Anne Tenney), playing cribbage upstairs. David is frightened into keeping silence about this incident with threats of physical violence. He does so all of his life with resultant crippling collateral psychological damage, and a penchant for participating in dangerous acts - he is an immersive gonzo journalist. On discovering, some twenty-five years later, or so, that his 'Bogeyman' (Radek Jonak) is living in the same city with a family of his own with two sons, David plots to assassinate his rapist.

Explaining (justifying) the writing of this play and its production, Markus Potter says:
Bearing witness is one of the most powerful means, I think, of changing and elevating society, of asking the world to be more compassionate, more empathetic, to hear one another and put ourselves into the other person's shoes.
Mr Potter is the father of two young children, a son (near the age of David when the crime was committed) and a younger daughter. Hearing this story on the radio hit him viscerally into taking action. He is the Artistic Director of a theatre company. 'Let's make a play', is his action.

"True Crime", in our present world, is the most popular podcast genre - has become a phenomena. "True Crime" has become a fabulous driver of viewing in our homes - on all the platforms we have for 'streaming' content into our very living spaces, on screens. This play, STALKING THE BOGEYMAN, on the Old Fitz stage, fits right in with this cultural mood/obsession.

It holds one in its grasp right from the beginning. It fascinates us with its morbid, ghastly details. It is a subjective experience. This production is a mesmeric observation that is handled in the living, breathing habitations of the actors under the Direction of Neil Gooding, with an unsentimental scale of energy and detail, underlining, pathetically, the relative ordinariness of it all. It could happen to any family, to any of us.

Co-incidentally, just before watching this production, I read an article in the New York Times: HOW DOSTOYEVSKY PREDICTED THE TRUE CRIME CRAZE, by Jennifer Wilson (28th May, 2018), claiming Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), a journalist/reporter and novelist, as the father of "True Crime", culminating in two of his great novels, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (1866), which introduced us into the guilty mind of killer Rodinov Raskolnikov, and of course, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (1880), and their collective guilt for the death of their father. Says Ms Wilson:
Dostoyevsky ultimately wanted people to feel more at ease with the concept of guilt, to embrace it as a feature of common humanity and to recognize our own complicity in the everyday acts of violence that drive people to moral transgressions (cruelty, lovelessness), to the idea of collective guilt, that everyone is guilty for everyone else.
This popular genre as we devour it today, allows us, at arms length, to indulge in the excesses of crime, its motives, its actions and its consequences with a vicarious 'pleasure', that when we are exhausted by it, we can leave it with the appearance of our own personal virtuousness in tact (us, exemplars of "whitened sepulchres"?) Though, one does wonder what has happened to our conscience, our own moral compasses, while requiting this need. It is a wonder - a mystery (in the medieval sense) - of our species. Where the truly fiendish, villainous, fascinate us to a vicarious 'joy'. It can become addictive.

Friends who watched this production with me, afterwards were pleased, impressed by it all. And, so it is, for the style of writing is cosily familiar and old-fashioned in its form, in its undemanding chronological trail. It has, too, relievedly, no real moral debate, it has no philosophical demands for us to wrestle with, it is nearly all cool, clear narrative, so, easy - really easy - to ingest, to digest.

The acting, too, in this production, is terrific and re-assuring in presenting recognisable type and, who in action, never really get to demonstrate the grotesqueries of the crimes, too uncomfortably, or too unbearably for us not to be able to watch. Mr Hodda, Palacio, Ms Jones and Tenney are carefully nuanced as the respective parents and are wonderful in the adjustments they make for the 'chorus' of other characters they are called on to play to illustrate the story (especially, Ms Tenney as Molly, the damaged but wise drug dealer). Radek Jonak, is politely impressive as the 'Bogeyman' holding us to a state of repulse but yet is strangely attractive to watch, while Graeme McRae as the narrator and central figure, David - from the age of seven to the present of the narration - is restrained and brimful with an actor's integrity and skill.

The Set Design, by Lauren Peters, creates all the locations with the right detail of naturalism, supported by the Lighting Design of Alexander Berlage, that has eschewed his usual attention making offers, to fit in to the ordinariness of the style of the work. Benjamin Freeman's Sound Composition and Design is understated in its contribution, muted in its realistic intention.

Mr Potter, tells us in an interview featured in the Audrey Journal, on-line, that there are two endings written for this play. They have kept to the original, although, there has appeared a second essay that challenges the present ending: David's acceptance of the status quo and that the Bogeyman's act of rape was a once only aberration. There is intimation, however, at the start of the play, of another boy and a history that once lived in the Holthouse house in Anchorage, Alaska, that is left hanging and unresolved. Too, the level of the drug addiction and state-of-mind of David, is cursorily alluded to, and has no physical residue on the healthy look of 'our hero' - our visual image of our victim stays 'heroic'.

One wishes that the play went further than its cool statement of vicarious re-telling, that it was more morally sophisticated, with the Dostoyevskian imploring, exampled in that writer's novels and reporting,
that it is not only our task to support the innocent or wrongly convicted but also to recognize the humanity of the guilty and the shared sense of responsibility that we have for one another.

STALKING THE BOGEYMAN, is an example of a mode of digestible popular culture that glimpses into the darkness of our world and spares us the residue of the moral slime of it all. Watching it is a popular culture vicarious thrill, enthralling, but, relatively, unaffecting, except to those of my companions at the theatre that have selected to live as a deliberate comatose. Considering the recent horrendous stories of our Royal Commissions, STALKING THE BOGEYMAN more, than less, covers the same territory, and, so, ought not to be a shock, a revelation of the evil that men can do.

Then, is this play in its form and content enough?

Certainly, Mr Potter, as a father has had a jolt in his life and has been moved to re-tell this story for the theatre and share it with others. That is an action. But why does he not go further into delving the why and wherefore's of it all? To invoke the subjective response to this story, alone, may not be enough of a satisfaction, to be a cultural weapon for challenge and change in the real world atmosphere of  the "True Crime" indulgence as entertainment.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, is still a tear in my consciousness, even though, read many years ago. And, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, is almost too monumental in its human horror to contemplate too easily or to willingly have as part of one's self, one's consciousness. STALKING THE BOGEYMAN is, mostly, merely, of a popular horror storytelling genre - one can take or leave it, turn it off or on.

I wish it was more.

N.B. If one was looking for further tales of caution, Neil Labutes' IN A DARK DARK HOUSE (2007), is a challenge not yet taken up by any of our theatre companies! Does anyone dare?

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Walworth Farce

Photo by Clare Hawley
Workhorse Theatre Company in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre presents, THE WALWORTH FARCE, by Enda Walsh, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), Kings Cross Hotel. 18th May - 9th June.

"Excellently well done", someone, I'm sure, says in some Shakespearean play. Someone else says, somewhere in Shakespeare, "As you like it".

THE WALWORTH FARCE is an Irish play of 2006, from Enda Walsh. His pedigree as a writer for the theatre and the screen is impeccable. We have seen some of the output in Sydney: DISCO PIGS (1997), NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM (2008), PENELOPE, MISTERMAN and the musical ONCE, for instance. In fact, THE WALWORTH FARCE has had a previous outing in Sydney.

THE WALWORTH FARCE, concerns an Irish family, seeming refugees (exiles) from Cork, living on the fourteenth floor, in a high-rise, on Walworth Rd, at Elephant and Castle, London, in a decrepit flat enacting a self-written play that they perform endlessly with full costume and properties. The play may explain their flight from Ireland, their isolation in London.

Dinny, the dad, has many things to deal with, it seems. This play must be a comforting abreaction. Dinny (Laurence Coy) has imprisoned his two sons, Blake (Robin Goldsworthy) and Sean (Troy Harrison) in this London refuge. No-one leaves this space bar Sean to get supplies and fresh props for the play - chicken etc. Blake plays many parts including all the female roles, whilst Sean plays everyone else. Dinny plays narrator, principally. There is a trophy for the Best Actor sitting on a shelf. Dinny's script has a structure that seems to improvise to change, slightly, from go to go. This world of make-believe is disturbed, however, when Hayley (Rachel Alexander), a check-out chick from the local Tesco's, knocks on the door to deliver a bag of Sean's groceries that went astray. The real world intrudes. A crisis implodes, explodes all.

The demands that Mr Walsh makes on these actors is herculean and farcical in the extreme. Director, Kim Hardwick with meticulous care has managed this complicated scenario with superb élan and, I'm sure, with a great deal of 'agony'. This play is, on the page, a formidable challenge. and this production in inhabiting it is a marvel to see. Her Designer, Isabel Hudson, has, as well managed a visual concoction of staggering verisimilitude with an ingenious use of the KXT space, and it is lit with finesse by Martin Kinnane. The Sound Designed by Benjamin Freeman serves the plaintive atmospherics of this overheated world.

So I can say, "Excellently well done." Mr Coy, Goldsworthy, and Harrison give remarkable, intricate, concentrated performances. However, whether you get on board for the 'ride' of this play will be "As you like it." I could't. I didn't. You might. You may. I was in awe of the production but just did not connect to the play. It was a long two hours and Twenty minutes (with interval).

See for yourself.

ab [intra]

Sydney Dance Company presents, ab [intra], at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. 14-26 May.

ab [intra] - latin for from within - is the first full length work that Choreographer and Artistic Director, of the Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela, has made for six years. Says Mr Bonachela in his program notes:
The creative process began as a series of improvisations where I asked the dancers to be in the moment with each other, to feel and listen - to use their instincts and their impulses and then seek to capture those moments in writing. Those written phrases became the direction for a physical movement sequence, a script for dance, an energy transfer from the thought to the body.
In the intimate collaboration with his 15 dancers a vocabulary of movement has evolved.

Mr Bonachela, with his other collaborators, his familiar musical muse, Nick Wales, has created/composed a striking sound score/scape that features the percussive exploration of the cello 'with textual pulsations and lamentations' and added electronica, that builds, ultimately, into the Peteris Vasks Concerto No. 2 for cello and string orchestra, in the central movement of this work, using the Movement 1. Cadenza - Andante Cantibile, and later, Movement II. Allegro Moderato. In all, six movements - episodes - of music by Mr Wales: Birth, Activation, Cadenza, Ecstatic Gestures, Allegro Moderato and Within, are what propels the physical action of the dancers and immerses the audience into an aural journey of 70 minutes that has the effect of a visceral consciousness that envelopes the audience into the experience of 'dancing' with the performers and endowing emotionalities that can become an ecstatic endurance - we share, intimately, the ab [intra] meditation, contemplation of these artists and become one with the energy of it all.

The energy thrusts/hangs in the vast empty space of the Set Design choices of David Fleischer: an exposure of the scale of the Roslyn Packer bare stage, its breadth, depth and height - the back black wall, the open wing spaces surrounding a vast white dance floor with, above, a shutter-like roof (venetian blind?) that opens, closes and contracts, lit in a still Lighting plot, by Damien Cooper, to create a calm, simple visual of dim wattage enshrouded with the fug of a dense 'smoke haze' that atmospherically spirals in movement in response to the atmospheric conditions of the theatre, and the dynamic movements of the dancers, they, dressed in simple choice of flesh-coloured leotards or 'athletic' street clothes (also, by David Fleischer) to reveal the movement unimpeded by extraneous flutters of fabric.

The Sydney Dance Company is breathtakingly 'fit', the energy from all exhilarating, exhausting. In full company moments, to the breaking down to trios, and duets, to solo, the discipline of the work's 'vision', its 'philosophy', is exposed to us in a set of seductive, entrancing opportunities to guide us to endow meaning and logic to the offers. Its 'meaning', its intention is, of course, supremely subjective, each of us will 'own' the work uniquely, for Mr Bonachela and his collaborators are asking for us to appreciate this experience as more than just movement, more than just bodies in space, and there is, however, no 'spelling out', no definitive guidance to statement.

Shrouded in light and haze, propelled by the contemporary sounds of Nick Wales, the work can reflect the modern retreat to concern for the emotional dynamics of a planet in decline, or ... ? What have you thought?

The company in movement is grounded in Modern Dance gestures, of sculptural, earthed, gravity trapped bodies, with only occasional flights into the air - balletic traditions are rare. An early highlight, is the extended duet by Izaac Carroll and Charmene Yap, dressed in flesh colours: the intimate eruptions of these two entwined figures, on the floor, triggering an imagery of a biblical mash of clay, 'dancing' the creation of man and woman (Adam and Eve - my fancy!)  Much later, one is arrested by the duet between Davide de Giovanni and Janessa Dufty, and the solos of Nelson Earl.

What it all adds up to is not certain and can be the provocation for discourse - like any work of art should be. ab [intra], an offer of the 21st Century, in the early part of the 21st Century, that is a puzzle of beauty for you to make concrete - if you need to.

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.


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.