Sunday, July 15, 2018

Stupid Fucking Bird

Photo by Bob Seary

New Theatre presents, STUPID FUCKING BIRD, by Aaron Posner, at the New Theatre, King St. Newtown. 12 - 28 July.

STUPID FUCKING BIRD, is an American play by Aaron Posner, first seen in 2013. It has taken flight from the source material of Anton Chekhov's THE SEAGULL. It is kinda an adaptation that follows more than less the original plot and concerns of Chekhov but transposes them to a darker contemporary world - reconstructing the leading characters, expanding some of the minor characters and/or mashing some of the other characters into a composite of the originals. This play has seven actors, the original has 10 actors, at least - there are many 'extra' roles in a good production of THE SEAGULL.

In the original, a young writer, the son of an actress, gives a showing of a play he has written in demonstration of NEW FORM for the theatre. Similarly, so does Posner's hero, Conrad (Mansoor Noor): it is called, WE ARE HERE, starring his adored one, Nina (Megan Smart), much to the chagrin of his insulted actress, mother, Emma Arkadina (Kaitlyn Thor), unrequited love-lorn Mash (Annie Stafford), bewildered but patient Dev (Lloyd Allison-Young), too well loved, phoney, Doyle Trigorin (Gil Balfas), and befuddled Dr Eugene Sorn (Brendan Miles).

Director, Warwick Doddrell, along with his co-creatives: Set Designer, Jeremy Allen; Lighting Designer, Veronique Bennett; Costume Designers, Ellen Stanistreet and Jane Hughes; Composers and Sound Designers, Ben Pierpoint and Mary Rapp and Movement Director, Shy Magsalin have devised a mega-theatrical impact - NEW FORM?

We enter the theatre to a pumpingly loud dance track with all 7 actors onstage having a physical, individual 'rave' - the sound track to this show is contemporary propulsive and sometimes drowningly over loud - until all actors gather around a microphone-stand in a spotlight and then decide not to speak - they have already, individually, done this, conspicuously, in the 'dance-prologue' - there must be meaning! One of the actors, then, crosses the stage to another spot lighted microphone-stand and asks us to command the play to begin - there is a lot of fourth wall breakthrough with direct conversations and provocation to encourage the audience to converse directly with the players - some do. The actors never leave the stage (except for the interval, and when they refuse to take a curtain call - 'the rude buggers'.) and move the Set pieces and props around, sometimes, distractingly, maddeningly, through and over text. One of the Set pieces is, unfortunately, a sealed black box (alarm bells ring in my head) with one wall a window glaze with a visible standing microphone - which not many of the actors, frustratingly, know how to use to communicate to us from this 'isolation booth', as the characters career around and crash into each other in the cramped space lit a fiery red.

The Director seems to employ all the theoretical stuff of Meyerhold, Artaud, Brecht, Charles Mee and ... name some other well loved academic theoretical theatrical faddists and adaptors (Kip Williams?) There are, as well, song interludes self-accompanied on ukulele and guitar (Music, by Jim Fishwick) and dance routines and trendy modern dress with glimpses of naked features. It is all there (oops, not true: no paper crowns or dirty underwear!), including the painting of the auditorium walls to extend the fourth wall to the back seats, face-on blinding lights, occasional improvised text around issues of the day that, I guess, are declaring that we are all performing, that we are all here, together, this day, this night. All of us are actors in this theatre - in real time life - together! WE ARE HERE.

I am a declared Chekhovphile - if there is such a thing - and, so some might think that STUPID FUCKING BIRD, would not be my samovar/cup of tea. But, you are wrong, I thought the script by Mr Posner a brilliant piece of work. He brings onto stage, verbally, a possible sub-text of Chekhov's people - what Chekhov, famously, doesn't write but ambiguously provides clues to the possibilities of - and it is funny, insightful, playful and generally faithful. Does this play stand alone as a comprehensible piece of theatre? Does one need to know the original to appreciate what's going on? I don't know. But I, who knows the original play fairly intimately, found it a provocative tease, cheat and joy.

The play, as well, is not called "THE SEAGULL, adapted [adopted] by Aaron Posner", but shouts out: it is a new fucking play. (I, by the way, loved Benedict Andrews' adaptation of THE SEAGULL - though thought the directorial/production by Mr Andrews, of his own play, a woefully misconceived failure.) I even liked all of the above mega-theatre offers from the creatives of this production, BUT ... But, this clever, brilliant writing requires seven brilliant actors with skills that are mega! There are four actors up there that, however, well-drilled and enthusiastic they are, do not really have the prepared instruments to bring this bird to full flight.

Mansoor Noor as the depressed misanthrope, Conrad, brings an energetic delight to the challenges of Mr Posner's play and his Director's 'commands', igniting into a fully fledged creation, exhibiting wit, intelligence and a high perceptive (wicked) sense of humour - he is a 'hurricane' of focused skill beneath the wings of this BIRD. Too, Annie Stafford, as Mash, grabs hold of the cynically depressed and ironic self-deprecating emotional violence of her 'pathetic' character, and although some of her spoken vocal work doesn't always deliver a comprehensive clarity for the audience, the songs, from her, are a relative treat. Megan Smart playing Nina has a more difficult assignment, having to play the earnest central love interest of the play but draws one into the predicaments facing her character with delicate sensitivity and the full force of casual cruelty and consuming narcissism.

Mr Balfas as Trigorin does not have the charismatic force for the man nor much of his indolent sexuality - the story 'fuss' about Trigorin is dim in this production - and partnered with Ms Thor's Emma Arkadina ,which is, mostly, superficially 'acted', and like Mr Balfas' performance, vocally under-owned, under-skilled, places a large hole in the fabric of the production. There is a theatrical intelligence in both Mr Allison-Young and Miles' work but also an inherent dullness that prevents a radiance of thrill for the audience to want to identify with their men. There is function but not much generous 'giving' energy.

All of the Mega-theatre gestures employed under the Direction of Mr Doddrell are arresting but are not, always, in this production harnessed to elucidating what is going on. When, for instance, towards the end of Act One, this company step into the 'isolation box' lit in red with a live microphone-on-stand, one expects that this offer from the Director, and each of the actors, is going to add to a rising, comprehensible stratospheric catharsis, a step-by-step buoyant lucidity of the action and themes of the play, but as none of these actors seem to know where to stand to be communicative with the microphone and are choreographically in chaotic mayhem - some never ever reaching the broadcast position - all one can do in the audience is to be distracted, irritated, with the lack of accuracy - is it a lack of rehearsal? - for, both the lack of disciplined vocal orchestration and physical choreography from all the actors destroys the possible theatrical intent of the 'trendy' statement of the glazed black box. One has little choice but to become objectively disconnected to the production and the play. One gives up - it all just a gist of an 'idea', for the storytelling. I do suppose the text that Mr Posner has written is part of his dramaturgical argument of the play and is meant to be heard by the audience and is not meant to thrown away by the actors in a welter of noise and movement, otherwise he could have just written say "Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb" for each of the actors in this interlude. What this company of artists are offering us is really not enough when one is working with such writing. To be approximate (or, just enthusiastic) with the technical skills demanded is not enough.

STUPID FUCKING BIRD is a demanding 'farce' of intellect, vocal, physical and emotional judgement, skill control. It requires a cool head, objective technical control, and certainly not uncontrolled demonstrations of emotional states in an expressed intellectual conceptualisation of mega-theatrics. The text must be primary. Only Mr Noor, in this company, has it all. In spades.

STUPID FUCKING BIRD, then, for some of us is worth the effort to see, despite the obfuscations of performance and Direction - a contemporary take on Chekhov's THE SEAGULL that is truly daring, original, relevant and still respectful, even adoring of the original. Mr Posner has made a career of adapting other people's work - novels and plays. He has, for instance also adapted UNCLE VANYA, as LIFE SUCKS and THREE SISTERS as NO SISTERS.

My biggest laugh came in one of Conrad's raves that maybe we don't need NEW FORMS but rather OLD FORMS DONE BETTER. Now that is a real challenge for some of our contemporary Directors.

The Man in The Attic

Photog by Blumenthal Photography

Shalom and Moira Blumenthal Productions present, THE MAN IN THE ATTIC, by Timothy Daly, at the Eternity Theatre, Burton St. Darlinghurst. 4 - 22 July.

THE MAN IN THE ATTIC, by Timothy Daly, is an Australian play having its Australian Premiere after showing in Europe, in Paris in 2012, in Avignon in 2013 and 2015, Italy in 2015 and Greece in 2017. The play won the Patrick White Playwrights Award in 2007.

Based on a true story, The Wife (Danielle King) and The Husband (Gus Murray) rescue and hide The Jew (Barry French) in their attic towards the end of the war in Germany. The Jew is an expert craftsman with jewellery (watches) and the couple put him to work, secretly, to create a service and goods for bartering that provides their food, survival, needs. The Neighbour (Colleen Cook), a war widow with strong ties to the Nazi machine suspects and blackmails The Wife and The Husband to enter the blackmarket with them. The war finishes and the three 'hosts' are reluctant to lose their 'golden goose' and hold The Jew kidnapped with the delusion that the war has not ended. More profit ensues from the American occupation.

Timothy Daly in the program notes answers a self-proposed question: Do we still need more plays about the Holocaust?:
The realities of hatred, racism and anti-semitism are still so strongly with us, both with the extreme-left and the extreme-right of politics, that far from being timid about such plays, we should announce them as vital and still much-needed because they attempt to answer urgent questions still pulsing through contemporary society.
The Director (and one of the Producers) Moira Blumenthal quotes the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Sitting in the Eternity Theatre with an audience that seemed to be made up, mostly, of Jewish friends, one could palpably feel the effect, the cultural importance, and the imperative for this audience to witness this play so as to be able, perhaps, to live their lives forward, by looking backwards at some other lives to which they are, possibly, tragically tied. The stillness, the quiet absorption of the telling of this tale was permeated with a kind of gentle melancholy. THE MAN IN THE ATTIC was being much appreciated.

Mr Daly found this story and with a very conventional structure and with sure pencil-thin strokes of characterisation, that because of their cliche familiarity, are easy to endow and imagine. The writing is straight forward narrative with little in-depth psychological motivations or ethical debate, that is mixed in with a 'spiritual' context of the contemplation of the universe of the heavens by one of the characters with a telescope, to give the play a kind of quasi profundity of contemplation.

Ms Blumenthal has with Costume and Set Designer, Hugh O'Connor, come up with a look that, supported (camouflaged), by the Lighting of Emma Lockhart-Wilson, allows the audience to enter the 'conspiracy' to create time and place - it is a very successful offer and makes the Eternity stage 'work' - which is not always the case with other productions we have seen in this space. Tegan Nichols makes conventional but sound Sound Design.

The performances are reliable and provide as much believability within the limitations of the writing style as possible. Gus Murray has a simple direct ease with The Husband's venality and cold-hearted villainy, assisted by the typical Nazi zealot with greed and sex as the basic propellant for the choices of The Neighbour of Ms Cook - who manages, just, to not wring her hands or twirl the proverbial moustache, melodrama cliches, to signal her function in the play. Mr French, as The Jew, who virtually has to play without any support, as he is 'locked' in the attic by himself, gives a creditable, if sometimes a too much 'romantic' sentimentality colouring, to his fellow's quandaries. Whilst Ms King digs into the pathos of The Wife, who becomes conflicted with the actions of her choices and provides some shallow glimpses into the questioning of the stability of her character's moral compass.

THE MAN IN THE ATTIC, is a curiously simple construct of an old fashioned kind, but with this audience around one, it strikes a chord of remembrance and rings the alarums of the necessity of the need to be constantly vigilant about what freedoms and respect have been gained, for they could, easily, slip away again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Rolling Stone

Photo by Clare Hawley

Outhouse Theatre Co and the Seymour Centre presents, THE ROLLING STONE, by Chris Urch, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 5th - 21st July.

THE ROLLING STONE is an Award winning British play, by Chris Urch, written in 2014.

This play is set in Uganda, and concerns the dilemmas of a fundamental Christian family: three siblings, Dembe (Elijah Williams), his sister, Wummie (Zufi Emerson), both promising students, and Pastor brother, Joe (Mandela Mathia), when the youngest, 18 year old Dembe, realises his homosexuality. By Ugandan law it is the family's duty to denounce Dembe to the authorities, and urged by a zealous member of the congregation, Mama (Nancy Denis), face the strain of making a public declaration in a superstitious society where terror and murder reigns for the 'outsider', the 'other'.

Dembe has never been happier than in his relationship with an older man, Sam (Damon Manns), a Doctor, who has a mixed heritage of an Irish father and Ugandan mother, who has volunteered to work in Uganda as part of his medical internship. Dembe, is drawn into the vortex of a crisis of faith, when he can no longer see, hear or feel God, and, so declares, "How can I believe in God when he doesn't believe in me?" Being a 'Kucha' (homosexual) is the mark of the devil and must be destroyed. Dembe is torn between his family loyalties and duties and a possible escape with his lover.

Chris Urch's play has the possible melodrama of this situation harnessed with an intelligent (poetical) control of the ethical intellectual propositions that this family faces in this hostile community. Adam Cook, the Director, has a cool hand and clear focus to deliver this scorching text that, as in a good production of Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE, balances the emotional narrative with the serious cerebral debate, of the place of the 'Devil' in the centre of a febrile cultural invention.

In this Mr Cook is aided with an abstracted Set Design - a raised central platform, surrounded by yellow sand in front of a dominating blue back wall with traditional framed entrance spaces on either of the sides - and a naturalistic, minimal Costume Design from Isabel Hudson. With a gentle hazed space the Lighting Design, by Sian James-Holland, creates a crisp feel to the heat of the drama on the stage in its many changes of location, supported by an often near subliminal Sound Composition and Design, by Nate Edmondson (and Ryan Devlin).

At the centre of this production is a magnificent performance by a young actor, Elijah Williams, as Dembe. Mr Williams first came to my startled attention in a production of BLACK JESUS, at the Kings Cross Theatre, where he carried the lead, and there followed a minor support in ANTIGONE. Mr Williams has the power of a visceral focus and the daring to 'personalise' and imaginatively expand it to seem to experience the demands of the writer in a completely 'possessed' state. (Acting is Possession.) And,  as well, it is imbued with an instinctual subtlety that vibrates from his 'centre' every second he is on stage with the proffered action of the character's journey. It is a riveting and, I suspect, after watching his exhausted recovery during the curtain call, costly contribution to the vivid storytelling of Dembe's collision with his nature and his societal taboos. ( As an actor, and acting teacher, I hope someone is caring for Mr Williams, as what he gave us on Saturday night, was a great 'sacrifice', but not possible to sustain every performance without risk of harm to his gifts. Mr Williams is not a trained actor and at the moment is performing from sheer instinctual forces - there is a 'craft' that can keep him safe and to ensure a career longevity, for such talent is rare, indeed, and needs wise nurturing.) Mr Williams is special. A sensation.

But this company, all, make completely assured and 'owned' performances, with Mr Manns, revealing subtly, the naivety and sexual selfishness of a first world individual, Sam, making unfair and culturally ignorant demands in a third world predicament; Ms Emerson delivering the empathetic but 'tortured' problem of a sophisticated young woman in a society of traditional patriarchal domination and superstition - she desires and has the capacity to be a scientist; of Mr Mathia's ambitious Pastor of Christ, Joe, twisted into a place of doctrinal cant at the expense of his humanity; of Ms Denis in her scarifying Christian zealot, Mama, ignoring her own hypocrisies to maintain the vanity of having community power and admiration; and a simply beautiful physical performance, without text, of Henrietta Amevor, as Naome, a woman traumatised to silence because of her own 'outsiderness' in an unforgiving society of strict rules and traditions.

Australia recently voted in favour of Same Sex Marriage - but do not believe that is a safe assureity in a world agitated by some Christian adherents and ideologically-driven zealots. Look at our demonisation of the refugee in our own country, and note the faith based leaders of those policies. We are, daily, witness to the policies of Donald Trump and the Republicans in their scarifying of the Mexican border - find a weak minority target and demonise. THE ROLLING STONE is as relevant for us today, in Australia, as it is to Uganda, to Great Britain. In Russia, while we are watching and celebrating the FIFA World Cup Soccer games, homosexuals are under surveillance and subject to government laws that require the community to report, under threat of self-criminalisation, if you don't, the homosexuals in their community, whether resident or tourist! Closer to home, Malayasia and Indonesia, the Phillipines, have such societal threats to the humanity and lives of some of its communities. To give power to a majority at the expense of the 'other' is a usual ploy of some authorities to maintain power dominance - recall the minority victims in the Nazi maintenance mechanisms for their power.

THE ROLLING STONE, is a powerful play, and in this production from OUTHOUSE - Artistic Director, Jeremy Waters - continues that Company's spot-on curatorial eye to the important International plays and writers that we in Sydney, would otherwise not encounter. This company and the Red Line Company at the Old Fitz, seem to be covering an important cultural perspective, for Sydney audiences, on great and important writing from the contemporary International scene that is rather neglected, otherwise, by our major subsidised flag ship companies - the STC and Belvoir. How many Andrew Upton adaptations of the Russian classics (usually emasculated) do we need to see? Really, how many Caryl Churchill plays do we need to see? And if we do, could we not see her more recent repertoire in the stead of revival productions, which have been covered, and are being covered (often well) by such independent collectives as the New Theatre. Really did we need a stage production of Peter Carey's BLISS? - there is a film, an opera, already.

THE ROLLING STONE,  is as much a 'must see' as THE FLICK, was, a few weeks ago.

Do not miss.

Sunday, July 8, 2018



ROOMBA NATION.

Photograph by Reinhardt.


Hurrah Hurrah presents the World Premiere of ROOMBA NATION, at The Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. July 4 - 21.

ROOMBA NATION is a new Australian work from the company Hurrah Hurrah, led by Alison Bennett.

Roomba relates to a Roomba Robotic vacuum cleaner - built by the company, iRobot. This performance work has three Roomba robots that have been cast in a role sometime in the near future in assisting humans in medical research. Doctor Uta Haagen Dazs (Kate Walder), assisted by a human Nursie, Seigret (Nick O'Regan), and the Roomba robots are pursuing, obsessively, the latest technological means to 'prove' the Doctor's theoretical paper to cure the latest big disease.

Pippa (Alison Bennett) in search for aid - a cure - for her 'big disease' after an on-line search, has signed herself up, unconditionally, to the Haagen Dazs treatment with all its stages to find that respite, that nirvana. She, consistently, refuses to sit on the ball of 'Acceptance' which Nursie, the last of the human carers, being surrounded by the robotic Roombas, has offered her, and with her revolutionary fist in the air, determinedly, undergoes treatment that seems to sack her health with their side-effects, and takes her to the pleasant delusions of being the ballet Sugar Plum Fairy and, alternatively, the front row Rugby figure she had always, alternatively, wanted to be. The bloody-blinded Doctor ignores the deterioration of her patient until a report reveals that the genome profile of Pippa indicates that she will not survive Stage Seven of the hypothesis of her Research paper, but elects, still, to go ahead any way.

This serious ethical debate of the research practices of modern medicine to find the cure for the next 'big disease' on humans (let alone animals), and the de-humanisation of the modern approach to the exclusion of the empathetic attention of the human Nurse over the growing (possible) intrusion of the Roomba Robot as the primary carers, is told with the unique humour and concern of Hurrah Hurrah. The physical stylisations and manipulation of image is that of artists working beside language/text accompanied with visual physical skills of a quirky, disarming kind. There is much whimsical comedy here counter-balancing a serious exposure of a possible future.

The exaggerated enthusiasms of the Research Doctor, expressed with energetic super-pumping 'dances' from Ms Walder are counter-poised beside the wearying pedantic care of Nursie, deliciously inhabited vocally and physically by Mr O'Regan, while Ms Bennett as trusting, hopeful Pippa registers a truly moving pathos as the disintegrating patient, in a performance of observed knowledge that has the thrusts of a reality that strike deep and truthfully. All three have demarcated their 'functions' with clear preciseness. The robot Roombas are a hapless distraction rather than a keen asset to the storytelling - we get it, but they are kind of 'cute' in impact - not exactly of the Doctor Who Dalek villains that they could have been!

Quoted in the program notes is the Philosopher, Hans Jonas, from his book: The Imperative of Responsibility: In search of an ethics for the technological age. - (1979):
Never must the essence of a man as a whole be made a stake in the hazards of action.
Pippa and her essence are the stakes for the action of Doctor Haagen Dazs.

ROOMBA NATION, in a clinical surround of blue laced curtains, on a white floor with black algebraic formula (Set Design, Duncan Maurice), in a lighting state of cold white and blues (Lighting Design, Alex Torney), and minimal clinical dress of white with blue trimmings or plastic over-coats and blue gloves and metallic instruments, supported by a rather feint but 'chilling' Sound Design (Tegan Nicholls) - Tchaikovsky's Sugar Plum music from his ballet score for THE NUT CRACKER, never sounded so ominous before - and, although, still in a development stage, is worth catching. Never maudlin, curiously comic, and, yet, very moving. The performers are extremely mesmerising in their ensemble and individual offerings.

In the program there is a dedication: This show is dedicated to all the people that have ever wished a technological miracle would arrive to save someone they love X.

That may account for the heartfastedness affect of ROOMBA NATION - This work has bubbled up from a yearning and experienced knowledge of a personal aspirational need in the face of death.

Permission to Spin

Photo by Robert Catto

Apocalypse Theatre Company, in association with Red Line Productions, presents, PERMISSION TO SPIN, by Mary Rachel Brown, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St. Woolloomooloo. 3rd July - 28th July.

PERMISSION TO SPIN, is a new Australian play by, Mary Rachel Brown.

Well, the last Mary Rachel Brown play we saw in Sydney was SILENT NIGHT for the Darlinghurst Theatre Company late last year - it was a disaster. Approaching another evening with Ms Brown was a fraught, tentative commitment. However, I can say, it was worth taking a punt, for the experience was a better one, and PERMISSION TO SPIN, a taut 61 minute one act, was as different as day can be to night, to the Darlinghurst SILENT NIGHT.

It is interesting to see that Ms Brown, following, perhaps, the role-model of other writers, such as Harold Pinter and Edward Albee, who were fraught with the Director's misapprehension of their writing, has taken the Director's reigns into her own hands - declaring, perhaps, "This is how my play works. Pay attention." Although, to help, Dino Dimitriadis is registered as Director, too (he is also one of the Producers), and Matthew Cheetham is recorded as a Co-Director.

Three Directors to prepare this 'dish'!!!

Mind you this trio of Directors began well with the choice of a cast, Yure Covich, Anna Houston and Arky Michael - three actors who have, individually, the 'chops' to tackle any text, and, collectively, the 'chemistry' to pull it off. They do.

Cristobel, aka Miss Polkadot (Anna Houston), is about to receive, at a big public event, the Children's Album of the Year, and has a deal for global franchisement which would result in all her team becoming a wealthy phenomenon. At a meeting prior, Jim, her agent (Arky Michael), and Martin, her producer (Yure Covich), both, high as kites on a cocktail of cocaine, whiskey and adrenaline - the 'norm' it seems for this industry, as Ms Polkadot, also imbibes - are given an obstacle when Cristobel threatens to reveal, with her acceptance speech, retirement, as a protest to her music being used to facilitate torture by aggressive governments - one of her songs is on a 24 hour loop at a loud volume causing collapse and disintegration of the minds of prisoners.

Escalating mayhem ensues as debates on 'ethics' between art and power (money), become the mask for what many of us might project as a struggle amongst the greedy in the chaos of capitalism with the promise that more is better, and better, and BETTER - until a demise of one of them halts the verbal and physical gymnastics. We are crashed into a Black Out, a warm spotlight follows, and the 'demised' gives an epilogue of pathos, that is about real things - too late, too late, poor 'thing'.

The three actors hoisted into the stratosphere of a very 'upper' drugged state by the writer, perform to elicit a clarity for their character's arguments whilst illustrating the given circumstance of their writer's world with great alacrity - it is a fine high wire act of finding the right balance to keep it all a perceptibly rational experience for the audience. These three actors find a joint 'agreement' between themselves to keep this play afloat, for this is a Mad, Mad, Mad, World, indeed. There is wit in the writing if not many outright laughs as this world is so bizarre that it kind of inhibits permission to spin with them - perhaps an offer of a cocaine whiff for each of us could have helped, as Martin often reiterates to the others, "You must participate if you want to stay in the room." (I paraphrase.)

A Set Design from Cris Baldwin, a grey dampening environment with black mirroring, and neat, real costumes, by Isabella Cannavo, that disintegrate as the hour passes, are suspended in a spotty Lighting Design by Veronique Benett.

This is a brisk evening in the theatre and an intense one - one is left a trifle exhausted. The content concerns of the play feel a little dated (though no less relevant) and one ponders just how long ago was this play 'born'? Ms Brown has written her play, whenever it was,  and shows how it should be done.

SILENT NIGHT, almost forgiven.

What's next?

The Beginning of Nature

Merrigong Theatre Company present, THE BEGINNING OF NATURE, from The Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), in the IMB Theatre, at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Wollongong. 28 -30 June.

I love going to Dance. No words to listen to - what a relief! No words mangled by skills under-prepared, by actors, who are, skills-wise, only half ready!!!!. (Take a deep breath, KJ.)

Last time I went down to Wollongong and the IPAC Theatres was to see LOST BOYS, the new Lachlan Philpott play, commissioned by Merrigong Theatre Company, and I noticed that the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), from Adelaide, led by Garry Stewart, was giving some performances of a new work: THE BEGINNING OF NATURE. I have always regarded ADT as one of the more exciting contemporary dance companies in Australia and have always looked forward to seeing their work. Why ADT does not get into Sydney for performance is a mystery to me, as it is, I understand, a Dance Company held high in artistic repute - esteem - and is often sold out in the International scene as soon as it is announced that is coming - both in Europe and the Americas.

The opening performance was at 6.30pm, which meant I could catch a train from Sydney Central (4pm), and sit comfortably in one of the "Quiet Carriages", where I could read (I'm reading Colleen McCullough's first book: THE FIRST MAN IN ROME, in her seven volume MASTERS OF ROME series (of nearly 1,000 pages, each) - it has been highly recommended to me!), or have a 'nana'-sleep, or 'dream time', for an hour and half. On arrival, it is a short walk to the theatre to have some food in their restaurant, watch the performance, and catch a train (and read some more!), to be back at home just after 10pm. Bliss.

Garry Stewart in the program notes:
The work is based upon the rhythms in nature. These rhythms permeate all aspects of the material universe including day and night, the seasons, the tides, as well as flocking and swarming patterns of various species, the rhythmic patterns within the body and the patterns that constitute bodily morphologies. THE BEGINNING OF NATURE also situates humans as creatures. On a fundamental level, we exist inside of nature and are not outside and separate from it.

In a Lighting Design by Damien Cooper that features green and purply-blues, the dancers moving to a musical composition by Brendan Woithe (recorded by The Zephyr Quartet) with two live Singers: Heru Pinkasova and Karen Cummings, singing a libretto in Karuna, which is the Indigenous language of the Adelaide plains region where the company is based, with much of the music having subtle referencing, glimpses, of other Asian cultures connected, nearby, to our continent, to create (perhaps) the emergence, from the pool of primordial gloop, the organisms that evolved into the flora and fauna of our world over many, many millennia.

ADT is asking through the investigation and creating of a physical language for the dramaturgical narrative' of THE BEGINNING OF NATURE, its audiences to have a meditation on how we in an age of Global Warming can collaborate with Nature for environmental sustainability:
What does it mean to be human, in a period when destruction of the planet is rapidly redefining the laws of nature? Contemporary culture largely regards the natural world as objects to be bought and sold, rather than as an integrated, living, co-evolving whole. As humans, it seems as though we often forget that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature.
A part of nature, not apart! - now there is an idea, is it not?

This company of dancers have a "stocky" muscularity, that, say, is in contrast to the relatively 'sleek' look of Rafael Bonachela's Sydney Dance Company (SDT) dancers, but, both, are staggeringly fit, and imbued with a stamina and access to unique expressive physical beauties that are almost 'freakish' in their manifestation and in their frighteningly fierce concentration. ADT has only nine dancers to sustain the nonstop choreography (70) minutes), which with Garry Stewart, the Artistic Director and Choreographer of ADT, have developed together to illustrate and narratively 'tell' the dramaturgy of THE BEGINNING OF NATURE, whereas the SDT has fifteen dancers to share the task of their artistic interests.

ADT has a choreographic energy that is low to the ground but sinuous in its patterning and athletic in its execution - tough, fierce and relentless. Concentrated. Added to the 'muscular' look these dancers in mode with the costuming by Davis Browne have constructed a 'feral' look where the make-up and wild-freedom of primitive hair choices become telling sign-posts for uncomfortability of contrast for its bourgeoise audience, at this 'modern' stage of evolution, sitting in their modes of comfortable 'disguise' in the theatre. From the forces of the beginnings of nature, before even consciousness of tribal groupings have saturated human behaviour, perhaps, we were once this: forces of 'blind', feral, primitive energies - with all the other life existences that wondrously take another path to become plants instead of animals - the accidents of evolutionary 'chemistry'.

"Is the dramaturgy of more importance than the choreography?" "Is the choreography of imagery too often repeated?" "If so, does that subtly undermine the impact of the work?" These are questions my companion and I ruminated on as we sat in our carriage, on our way home, with some dark chocolate and a rhubarb and pear muffin, which we shared.

This was a worthwhile effort to have made, to attend to a remarkable Australian Dance company in the regional but local theatre in Wollongong. Bad luck Sydney not to have joined us. Good luck to the Wollongong audience, I reckon. Its happening in Wollongong - where art and community commune, seriously.

Impending Everyone

Photo by Tracey Schramm

Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) present, IMPENDING EVERYONE, by Michael Andrew Collins, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. until the 7th July.

IMPENDING EVERYONE, is a new Australian play, by Michael Andrew Collins. It is the inaugural winner of the ATYP Foundation Commission Award for actors aged between 14 and 18. After a 'Pitching' process to create a play for at least 10 actors, each Award winner is given two years to develop a script to be published and produced. Says, Fraser Corfield, the Artistic Director of ATYP:
The intention is to build a collection of plays that have been developed with the rigour and care we expect of a professional theatre, but selected by, developed with and performed by high-school aged actors.
Michael Andrew Collins the writer of IMPENDING EVERYONE, grew up in Western Australia, and in his personal youth theatre diet was engaged with work that, for the most part was 'un-Australian'. Working on large cast works that had their origins from other countries and from other eras, and finding that telling one's own stories were 'the domain of workshops and improvisations - "devised", not real, theatre.' With this work opportunity, says Mr Collins:
The young people in this play are dealing with questions at the time when the question of who you really are and who you are going to become feels the most potent. Real young people today are dealing with these issues in real time. We are all trying to figure out what the Internet and social media are doing to us. If we owned up to everything then perhaps they could help make us more honest, open people. Or perhaps that would have the opposite effect.
IMPENDING EVERYONE, concerns a group of 10 high school students over Year 12, 11 and 10, at a school where someone has hacked the data of their emails and threatens to publish it. 'I can see who you really are, and I promise, by the end of lunch tomorrow, you will know who everyone else is, too. This cannot be stopped. The truth is impending. Everyone will know you soon enough.'

Impending, threatening, menacing, ominous, and looming. This is a reality of today's high school and school children.

When I was growing up, many decades ago, I really knew nothing about anyone else in my school class, and no-one knew anything about me. I went to school, worked in the classroom, ate lunch in the playground, haunted the library to avoid the cricket balls which were being hammered out from the cricket nets in the playground, and went home to do my homework and indulge in my secret acts/life, by myself. I had secrets, to be sure - you'll never know. I suspect my fellow classmates had secrets too, but who cared, who wanted to know. No-one. Life evolved easily.

In my school reality the biggest secret came in my literature study, and it was that Mr Rochester had a 'mad' wife hidden in the attic - I felt alarmed for Jane Eyre. I remember the shocking ramifications for Lady Windermere in her social milieu when she lost her fan - what a movie! (on Television). Or, more spectacularly, of Dorian Gray's secret in his attic. This is when I began to understand the power of secrets and access to them - it was mainly directed to bad ends.

Secrets in our family or friends lives remained, mostly, secret. These secrets are what created the fabric of the tensions of our everyday lives. We didn't know what was the source of the tension. - it was a secret - no-one talked of it. Aunty Bernice, for some reason, did not care for Aunty Peggy. Those secrets made life complicated and interesting. Christmas lunches were fun to watch from the sidelines. It was like watching what Chekhov had set up in THREE SISTERS - a sparkling undertow, sub-text of secrets.

The generation of this new play, IMPENDING EVERYONE, are plagued by the threat of the publishing of accessible data relating to their secrets, and as they are part of a generational species that evolves, has evolved - oh, so slowly - and that they have secrets that they have been innocent or mindless enough to put on a hackable media site, they are panicked by the possible exposure consequences. They were simply, in practice, following the 'herd' to be 'cool'.

The difference for this generation as compared to mine is that the Internet world has evolved quickly and has a capacity to cause havoc in the everyday schooldays of each student. One bad apple can threaten impending capacity, shame, guilt and the necessity to face up to the secrets in a spectacularly face-to-face way.

Obviously, since the evolution of our species is ever so slow, each of these students have done 'wrong' things to make their lives easier. They are, after all, only human. The revelation of these secrets on the internet will be ethically, morally, harmful. Shaming - OMG! Socially crippling!

And even worse, as we see in the play, the 'animal' behaviour of some of the young people as they scramble to protect themselves also reveals their immoral mode of behavioural choice when in 'flight' or 'fight' mode in protecting themselves from impending revelation. Not many of these young characters in this play are 'good' people.

IMPENDING EVERYONE, developed by these young actors with the writer over the past two years is revealing of the naivity and innocence of each of these 'children' and of their merciless abilities to cover themselves. In truth, behaviours have not basically changed. What has changed is the extensive reach of possible revelation of one's secrets - truths - and the speed with which it can happen.

The actors: Rebecca Burchett, Alexandra Jensen, Adam Stepfner, Callum McManus, Sean Cartwright, Apsara Lindeman, Amal Dib, Sasha Rose, Curtis Green and Maryam Mulla, all give 'classic' school friendly performances - clear impersonations in each scene but without much sophisticated 'back story' motivation on show to give arresting believable dimension - and with very basic voice skills  that inhibits communication. Ms Lindeman, Burchett and Jensen have a natural ease in their work and Mr Cartwright a commitment of belief.

IMPENDING EVERYONE, is a play that exposes the world of the Internet generation as harsh and, sadly, mean. The object lesson of the play was a sense that the power we give these devices is not always controllable for our own good. Will our human reactions ever catchup with the evolution of the speedy information data banks?

Interesting, if not just a little too light weight. Comfortable, melodrama.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Girl The Woman

Photo by Robert Cato

Riverside's National Theatre of Parramatta, in association with Apocalypse Theatre Company present, THE GIRL THE WOMAN, in the Lennox Theatre, at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. 28 June - 7th July.

THE GIRL THE WOMAN, is a new Australian play by Aanisa Vylet.

THE GIRL has existed as a play before and the THE WOMAN is a recent development. The combined work, then, has been 12 years in the making. Ms Vyet combines her training skills as an actor from University of Western Sydney and her training at Jacques Lecoq School of Movement Theatre in Paris and Barcelona to find her own theatrical 'language' and form to tell this story. THE GIRL, in white face, uses her movement skills to carry most of the story, whereas THE WOMAN employs the spoken word and another actor, Nisrine Amine, to journey into maturity.

These skills are harnessed by a very empathetic Director, Dino Dimitriadis, who has proved himself with a visual style in the recent METAMORPHOSIS production and has carried with him his team of the same creative associates: Jonathan Hindmarsh with a striking Set Design of a mountain of collected greyed-furniture, chock-full of 'magic' draws and cabinets, for the actors to clamber on and utilise; a detailed and dexterous Lighting Design by Benjamin Ross Brockman; and an extraordinary Composition and Sound Design by Ben Pierpoint and Mary Rapp. Mr Pierpoint brings an imaginative soundscape with stellar technical prowess easily as sophisticated and creative as his other recent profound work on productions such as THE NATURAL CONSERVATORIUM FOR WISE WOMEN and HOME INVASIONS. The Sound Design does a great deal in keeping the show moving and co-herent. All four of these artists continuing to attract and facilitate theatre of an arresting kind. (Mary Rapp is a new addition to these forces.)

THE GIRL, is a young Australian/Lebanese brought up in the traditions of a Muslim faith, but who has accepted her indoctrination with a light weight and questioning mind - while quoting precepts of behaviour she breaks concentration by warning herself to stop thinking. Through her reach at university and a sexual appetite which she finds hard to resist or control, she becomes a secret rule breaker exploring the temptations of a city night life and assuming the urges of a fandom for all things Beyonce - her invisible father is ignorant of her 'rampages' but her mother suspects and recognises the traits of a rebel. What has been forbidden THE GIRL becomes her one desire and in a shocking interlude on the dance floor of a night club in the guise of this is what Beyonce would do, aggresses an unknown blonde male (not acknowledged in the program) - a figure come to flesh from her fantasy - to the point of a kind of mouth-rape-kiss! A collision of body and mind, desire and tradition. It is truly shocking in its fierceness and appetite.

Her only hope for reason and unhindered freedom is to escape her home. She travels to London where she can address her 'needs' without religious or cultural taboo. There she lives the life of an emancipated WOMAN, whilst lying to her mother at home. She lives with another compliant blonde man, strangely similar to the one we met on the city dance floor in Australia! Wilful, indulgent and eager to push her boundaries.

Her Mother, too, has secrets, one of them, a past life of an unwanted pregnancy that forced her to leave her village in Lebanon to seek refuge in Australia. It seems the traits of the daughter are 'seeds' inherited from her mother: (Nancy Friday's bestselling book"My Mother, My Self" comes to mind!) THE GIRL discovers all of this when she returns home to assist her Mother through a gruesome terminal illness.

Ms Vyet uses her intelligent, flirtatious energy to cover her character's transgressions with seductive charm. However, the power of THE GIRL's sexuality does not quite let us be completely compliant to her distractions. Ms Vyet's physical skills are admirable and the pertness of her demeanour carries us along with her 'adventures' - she is a 'naughty', divided GIRL.

Latterly, the creation of the loyal and dutiful Mother, played by Ms Amine, delivers a counter-picture of the self-sacrificing WOMAN, attempting to appease the oppositions of the two cultures/traditions of the Muslim and the Australian. It is as moving as it is culturally shocking. The women bear the brunt of all - the men are invisible or weak. They are, in this story, either invisible oppressors or visible victims. The MOTHER knows both well - will her daughter, with her knowledge, be able to find a way?

This is a very attractive production with an interesting cultural conundrum to digest. There are strengths galore, the only real weakness is the relative 'poverty' in the voice work - the bodies are shimmering with knowledge of communication, the voices, however are shallow in range to keep a balanced harmony of the instrument of both actors, even with the use of microphone.

After three years the National Theatre of Parramatta seem to be finding a consistent level of quality. THE GIRL THE WOMAN is an interesting 90 minutes in the theatre.

Unqualified


The Ensemble Theatre presents an Australian premiere of, UNQUALIFIED, by Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 22 June - 21 July.

UNQUALIIFED, a new Australian play nurtured and commissioned by the Ensemble Theatre, from two actors/writers.

Joanne (Genevieve Hegney) has found her TV star husband is heading to Bankruptcy and Bali with his latest girlfriend. Enough is enough - this relationship MUST end. Felicity (Catherine Moore) has worked as a butcher in her father's meat business and does not want to inherit it - she has secretly hated it. How can she tell her dearest, darling Dad?

These two desperately co-dependent women meet up, crash into one another, literally, at Centrelink and through diverse and mysterious ways - no pressure from Felicity - decide to set up a Small Business of their own - an Employment Agency. They get some jobs but they have no employees and so, perforce, take them on, one by one, themselves, from child minding, wedding organisers to Drama Class leaders, displaying their lack of qualifications hilariously through 'adventure' after 'adventure' to an almost complete 'breakdown' of exhaustion and antagonism.

Originally written by these two women, Ms Hegney and Moore, as a six part television show, they have been in the 'loop' of creative possibility for a couple of years with various Television forces. The Ensemble Artistic Director, Mark Kilmurry, hearing of the project, encouraged these actors to write a play from their material. Six episodes, fifty odd characters simmered and reduced down to ninety minutes and two characters. Janine Watson brought on board to Direct and, guess what we have? - a terrific night in the theatre. The writing is comfortably funny, even at this length - it could bear some trimming - and although dramaturgically it doesn't make its point as clearly as one would want, the performances by Ms Hegney and Moore have such complete trust in one another and sparking chemistry that the time in the theatre zips by.

Intelligently, utilising the Set Design for the other current production, MAJORIE PRIME, Simon Greer has created a large back wall job vacancy bill board and with a minimum of furniture and props, in a new Lighting Design by Alex Berlage, creates a very flexible space for these two actor/comics to create many environments for the fun, the many scenes boisterously kept bouncing through the scene adjustments by the perky Sound Design of Thomas E. Moore.

UNQUALIFIED, a comedy from 'girl-power' or to be more respectful and politically correct, perhaps, WOMAN POWER. Thanks Ms Hegney, Moore and Watson, especially. Let's hope the Television bosses catch-on to what they have been offered and missed.

The Hypochondriac


Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents THE HYPOCHONDRIAC, a new version by Hilary Bell of Molieres' play, at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 9 Jun - 1 July.

Moliere's LA MALADE IMAGINAIRE, retitled as THE HYPOCHONDRIAC, in a new Australian version by Hilary Bell.

Moliere is regarded as the greatest playwright in the French language. His acting company gained the favour of Louis XIV (The Sun King) and was protected from censorship and threat of closure as the Theatre du Roi (The King's Troupe), for Moliere had an unsparing eye to the major pillars of his community and revealed with scolding wit and accuracy its flaws and foibles. His plays were both celebrated and coruscated: TARTUFFE (1664), critiqued the hypocrisy of the Church; LE MISANTHROPE (1666) revealed the ridiculous behaviour of the wealthy; and LA MALADE IMAGINAIRE (1673) - THE HYPOCHONDRIAC, was an attack on the medical profession, doctors and pharmacists. Powerful people, revealed as 'pretenders', naturally, fulminated to have the work of Moliere banned.

Hilary Bell has adapted THE HYPOCHONDRIAC, says Ms Bell in her program notes:
There were two impulses behind the adaptation. The first was my desire to work on a comedy ... beneath THE HYPOCHONDRIAC's frivolity is a critique of a society obsessed with quick fixes. I refocused Moliere's concerns to encompass our co-dependent relationship with a pharmaceutical industry eager to overprescribe, to have us believe all our woes can be cured by a pill - and as has been recently exposed the cosy relationship that exists between certain drug companies and some doctors" ... The second impulse was to empower the female characters in the story, particularly the maid, Toinette, and the daughter, Angelique.
Ms. Bell tells us that she has "taken great liberties with this adaptation ... "

This production of this text had many problems and it was difficult to discern if it was the writing, the Direction or the acting. The design by Michael Hankin, who is one of the first rate artists practising in Sydney, is not a reflection of his usual high quality concept and execution - the space of the Eternity Theatre and the demands of the action of the play seems to have defeated him. Similarly, the always ingenious Lighting Design from Verity Hampson has, mostly, failed to produce her usual highly prized aesthetic contributions to the storytelling.

Ms Bell has created new Lyrics for this production's song interludes and they (probably) were lambasting the contemporary pharmaceutical industry. However, the Music by Phillip Johnston does not help clarify the text, and it seemed to me that the actors' preparation of the songs was lacking in unified vocal work. The lyrics were mostly incomprehensible and accompanied by a type of musical theatre presentation woefully uncoordinated - neither the word (clarifying) suiting the action or the action suiting (clarifying) the word - there was, interestingly, no choreographer or movement artist acknowledged in the program. It might account for the 'mess'.

The original Moliere company were exploring and breaking away from the Italian Commedia dell'arte, a style of acting that employed character mask, improvised text around a  loose narrative structure and physical characteristics to 'semaphore' to the audience the cliche of the personas of the story. Moliere's company rarely used mask, employed dialogue in Alexandrine verse structure (witty in its execution) and the physical life, apparently, was highly articulate and extremely skilful. Unfortunately, most of this Darlinghurst Theatre Company lacked the discipline or skill to create much of an impression, and the text lacked the witty word play.

It was staggering to watch Darren Gilshenan, in the principal role of Argan, making less than a comfortable contribution - for he is famous for his physical skill - and here is where my confusion of fault observation began. The famous opening monologue from the hypochondriac (imaginary invalid) was sadly astray - not funny, at all. Was it the writing or the performing? Mr Gilshenan never really recovered - he seemed to look vainly for a comic partner in each of his scenes, to develop his character and satire - for one cannot do it by oneself - but either the other actors or the actual staging by Director, Jo Turner, did not help to facilitate that spark of engaged interaction for he and, consequently, the play, failed to take confidently off.

The best work came from Jamie Oxenbould as the 'horrible' husband-to-be for Angelique: Doctor Thomas Diafoirus, outrageously comic in his consistent physical and vocal offers - a shining light. Mr Oxenbould is a consistent contributor of startling creation and technical skill in the Sydney theatrical scene.

Too, Gabriel Fancourt, playing a triple bill of characters: Cleante, Bonnefoy and Beralde, managed to hilariously skewer each type with a keen sense of employment of the traits of each, for satirical economy and accuracy - sometimes playing all three in the one scene!

Most of the other work from the other actors seemed to be 'at sea' - unsure on how to create and deliver. The Toinette of Lucia Mastrantone, a classic character type from the Moliere (and, by-the-way, the Rossini and Mozart) repertoire, a role, that would usually sit comfortably within the skills of this artist found no traction to score the comic laughter - of course, it requires the empathetic interplay of the other actors to ignite.

This Darlinghurst Theatre production of THE HYPOCHONDRIAC was not a good night in the theatre. It had all the ingredients for success: Moliere, Ms Bell, Mr Turner, and, mostly, actors who one expected to pull this material off with flair and ease. Perhaps, one went expecting too much.

One never sets out to fail. Every company begins and strives to succeed, but to be able to do so, as those who toil in this 'arena' know, it is more often a conspiracy of hard work and a rarity: a soup├žon of good luck. The Moliere repertoire is a famous one but also infamous for its level of difficulty. A friend told me - she had seen the Comedie Francaise give Moliere's DON JUAN, in French - that it really requires the French actor to bring it to life, to demonstrate why Moliere's plays are so highly appreciated - they have, as performers, a certain 'je ne sais quoi', which we 'anglos' can't find, don't have, it seems, to give this material ballast.

True or false?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Marjorie Prime

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

The Ensemble Theatre presents, MARJORIE PRIME, by Jordan Harrison, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 15th June - 21st July.

MARJORIE PRIME, is an American play, by Jordan Harrison, that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.

The play is set in this mid-twenty-first century. Tess (Lucy Bell) is caring for her ageing and deteriorating mother Marjorie (Maggie Dence). She is beginning to experience a creeping dementia. Jon (Richard Sydenham), Tess' husband, has organised from a Robot Company, a Prime. A Prime is a fully personalised life-look-alike.

They have created for Marjorie, Walter Prime (Jake Speer), her husband, who looks like he did when he was thirty and has been fed memories to be able to converse with Marjorie for comfort's sake. It is a very unsettling concept and leads to not always lucid or truthful conversations - after all Walter Prime can only speak what he has been 'fed' - other people's memories and needs, the Rashomon affect of truth is on full display. We all have variants of what is the truth.

Marjorie dies and Tess is given a Prime called Marjorie. This Marjorie Prime has been fed the detailed memories that Tess needs her to have so that she can say things she had never said in human life to her mother - for instance, that she had loved her.

Tess dies and Jon has a Prime called Tess commissioned.

All three Primes spend some time together and re-gurgitate what their information bank has been given. The cross conversations are idealised versions of the past - and not always congruent.

This play is less about the development of Artificial Intelligence and its possible flaws (though, of interest) and more concerned with the anxiety of loss of consciousness and the inevitable experience of death. It dwells in the world of grief and regret. Of guilt. Of secrets kept invisible, stored in a Pandora's Box to facilitate amnesia of events that all have found distressing, traumatic. Loss of love. Lack of love. Suicide, for instance.

On a beautiful Set Design, by Simon Greer, that looks like a gentle projection of order and efficiency in the ordinary home, of the near future, gloriously assisted by the futuristic possibilities of a Lighting Design for modern living by Alex Berlage, Director, Mitchell Butel has staged the production with care and crafted with Composer, Max Lyandvert, an intriguing accompanying score that creates an atmosphere that in its comfort is a sensitive contrast to the off-kilter happenings of the play.

Ms Bell's neurotic and 'injured' Tess is lightly balanced by the very sensitive reading of Jon, by Mr Sydenham. Jake Speer has the looks of an idealised partner and handles the physical life of this Robot/Prime with subtle details. Ms Dence has created a Marjorie that just avoids cliche but not entirely owned.

This is a gently provoking (creepy) play that indicates our projected, selective memories maybe our best acts of love. A love to protect ourselves in the lonely experience of journeying closely to the end and needing to be loved back - remembered well. How lucky it would be, if we all were. These imagined Science Fiction Primes just might facilitate that luxury and romantic escape! Or, not.

P.S. There is a film version with Jon Hamm and Lois Smith (2017).

They Divided The Sky

Photo by Patrick Boland

Daniel Schlusser Ensemble presents, THEY DIVIDED THE SKY, a novel by Christa Wolf, adapted for the stage by Daniel Schlusser, in the Downstairs Belvoir St Theatre. 13 - 30 June.

THEY DIVIDED THE SKY, is a new Australian play, based on an East German book (1963), by novelist Christa Wolf, adapted for the stage by Daniel Schlusser, as an exploration by the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble from Melbourne. This Ensemble has been working since 2009 and has developed a particular formula to investigate for the theatre. Mr Schlusser in interview has talked of the 'protective' nature that overcame him during the rehearsal process of preserving the language of Ms Wolf. He admits to having, unusually, for his process, a proliferation of words/language in his scenario. It is the words, handled so well by the actors, that compels one to endure.

At Belvoir during three weeks in the month of June, Mr Schlusser, working with two outstanding actors, Stephen Phillips (Manfred) and Niki Shields (Rita) has developed a physical language and mode of performance - a hyper-theatrical tension of reality that has a self-conscious awareness of its stylistic explorations, incorporating, knowingly, a very vivid and character-filled, demanding of attention, Composition and Sound Design, by James Paul, with the deliberate punctuations/punch into the action by the Lighting Design of Amelia Lever-Davidson.There is 'ego' in the Directorial conceits in this production that draws, deliberately, our attention to the affects.

This Ensemble has a self aware stylisation - very, dare I say: a Melbourne one? It is a mode of performance that is conscientiously non-realist/non-naturalistic and so provokes an entry into the performance from the audience that is off-kilter, in my instance, even a slightly arch one. We can sit cooly outside it all, objectively, while been fascinated by the dilemmas of the two characters (and some of the people about them). And it is, the spoken text and bold commitment of the actors that brings focus and acceptance of the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble's 'tricks' into an, ultimately, satisfying time in the theatre. One can simultaneously, sag with anticipatory loathing' at the sight of the familiar modern Design trope of a white bath tub that fills with water, in this black four-sided space (Set Design, by Robert Cousins), and cringe when each of the actors, predictably, sink into the water fully clothed - metaphor, I guess - and yet, still, enjoy the drama that winds onwards. It is the extraordinary 'chemistry' between the two actors and the mutual belief in all that is asked of them, that demands subjective experiencing and acceptance of all that we are given to digest.

Basically, narratively, we watch the metamorphosis of Rita and Manfred's love affair over many years, from the original giddy rush of infatuation to the discordant philosophical differences of life in maturity, that will separate them in the dramatically charged place of East Berlin in the time of the ultimate clash between Capitalism and Communism with the physical construct of the Wall in August, 1961, that will divide the city and these two protagonists. They both must make a choice. This is the kind of 'love' story we have seen many times, concerning the conceit of time passing and the effect of that time on the characters. I was reminded of the Russian Alexi Arbuzov's play THE PROMISE, in which the three protagonists change and challenge each other in their personal relationships during the Russian post World War II struggles to the launch of Sputnik into space.

Christa Wolf lived in East Berlin most of her life, acted for the Stasi, and became one of the most important voices of that culture in the novelistic form. Originally translated as DIVIDED HEAVEN, this new play has been inspired by the recent translation by Luis Von Flotow.

Arresting. Interesting. For thoughtful theatre experiencers.

P.S. Note that, unfortunately, Christa Wolf gets no biographical space in the program. Just saying.