Monday, September 29, 2008

The Carnivores

Stories Like These in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers present THE CARNIVORES by Ian Wilding.

This play was the winner of the 2005 Griffin Award for New Writing. It is the first production of this play in Sydney after an initial presentation at the New Theatre as part of its New Directions season in August.

The CARNIVORES. One would expect with a title like that the resonances of "an animal that feeds on flesh" would be reflected in the play. In the publicity description we are told "Thom and Graham are small players in the ethical murkiness of global capitalism, both up-market and black-market. As they grapple with family loyalty, rapacious multinationals, sexual opportunism and drug deals, they must also confront a wider world in the grip of political turmoil."

"Ethical Murkiness"!!!! "up-market and black market"!!!!!, "rapacious multinationals"!!!!! "political turmoil"!!!!!!! Unfortunately this production under the direction of Luke Rogers has neither the bite or the clarity of the publicity statement. The play for all of the muscularity generated from the title has the clout of the social and political observations in Channel 7’s PACKED TO THE RAFTERS.

The lighting, set and sound design are flat and do not add any vibrancy to the storytelling. The acting tends to presenting representations of the words on the page rather than real people. It is very two dimensional. The function of the characters and the theatrical ploys of the writing are what is generally communicated.

If the Play deserved the accolades of the 2005 Griffin Award for New Writing then on this viewing I have to take it on trust. This production does not elucidate this possibility.

This is a CO-OP production.

Playing now until 18 October. Book online or call 1300 GET TIX (438 849).

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Sam Hawker and Tangent Productions in association with B Sharp present HOMEBODY / KABUL by Tony Kushner at the Belvoir Theatre.

“Oh I love the world! I love love love love the world.” Later. “I love the world. I know how that sounds, inexcusable and vague, but it’s all I can say for myself, I love the world, really I do….. LOVE” Later still. “The dust of Kabul’s blowing soil smarts lightly in my eyes, but I love her, for knowledge and love both come from her dust.” Homebody speaks to us for almost 40 minutes. She then disappears and her knowledge and love become part of the dust of Kabul and Mr Kushner leaves one with ones eyes smarting lightly with the love of the disappeared Homebody, Mrs Ceiling. I have knowledge of a world and love for a woman that I otherwise might never had known.

Gillian Jones enters from the audience entrance aisle speedily as the lights dim in the auditorium and turns to us with a book in hand, as Homebody, and begins to speak to us, to whoever, to whoever wants to listen. She begins at a briskly galloping pace with a vocabulary of daunting yet attractive hyperbole (English spoken with a vocabulary that is simply bejewelled with knowledge of words and a love of them. Eg. aggluminates, epergne, quizilbash, "portmanteau chemical cocktail" etc and with an ornate syntactical structure of the most demanding architecture) It is thrilling. However, Homebody apologises “I speak….I can’t help myself. Elliptically. Discursively.” And then tells us “You must be patient. There is an old Afghan saying, which, in rough translation from the Farsi, goes: "The man who has patience has roses. The man who has no patience has no trousers." Mr Kushner is delightfully fiendish in his circumlocution of his text. (See, how catching it is!!) And thus, he is fiendish in his demands on his actors. And Gillian Jones is astonishing in her feat of acting She is not bedevilled by any of the tasks that Mr Kushner has given her. She is a worthy handmaiden to his skills. And we, the audience are privileged to be witness of the merging of their gifts. Be patient, (listen) and you will have roses.

One of my favourite aphorisms about what I think acting may be is: Acting is Possession.Then Ms Jones is possessed by the spirit of a woman more comfortable living in the world of books and finds inspiration in an outdated guidebook about the city of Kabul. The year she reads is 1998 but the book she reads was written in1965. The intoxication of the book tempts the Homebody to another world then that of a British woman in her forties subdued on antidepressants and she travels to Kabul on an outmoded dream of orientalism and is subsumed into its ether. The highly strung woman of real educated delicacy and fragility disappears in the real world of Kabul in 1998. Gillian Jones is astonishing to watch and participate with.

The second half of the play is about the search that her daughter, Priscilla, and her husband, Milton, have in the city of Kabul for Homebody who may or may not be dead. We meet a collection of characters that are fascinating to those of us, who like Homebody, have only a vague knowledge of the reality of the contemporary world of Afghanistan and its city Kabul: "The Grave of Cain. Murder’s Grave."

Reading other critic’s notices in the foyer of the theatre there seemed to a consensus that the second half of the play is not as well written. Now, that may be true, but in my estimation, to a relatively small extent. Why the second half of this production of HOMEBODY/KABUL is less successful is I believe the fault of the Director and some of the acting. The Director (Christopher Hurrell) has miscast and/or misdirected or most probably not directed some of this work closely enough.

As soon as Lotte St Claire as Priscilla enters the stage with the other characters of Scene two of the first act we know that this performance has not the consistent energy or focus of narrative skills to keep the pulse of the play alive. (In basic skills areas Ms St Claire uses a dialect that is so inconsistent and wayward (she is not alone) that any effort to even believe the predicament of the character is undermined by the distraction of an actress struggling just with her sounds.) The energy is also inconsistent. Occasionally it hits a throttle that feels right. This usually happens when the character is in an angry spiteful flight of attack. There is a noticeable absence of presence when the character is listening. It is almost as if the actor is resting before her next turn. The hesitations in her dialogue cueing, an even internally within some speeches while she searches for the motivational “feeling” to begin, allow the audience to lose impetus and instead of being kept chasing the scene are given the opportunity to observe an actor in process. It is entirely distracting. This should have been attended to by the Director.

This approach to the text is I believe stylistically wrong. However as the director has allowed this principal performer to pursue this method of attack, essentially a "method" Stasbergian approach (suited to say to the playing of Chekhov) instead of the high stylisation of language and agenda theatre (let us say Ibsen), hence her partners in support, let us say Mr Llewellyn-Jones and Mr Papademetriou are forced to play in a similar style in their shared scenes and so the material becomes flabby and loses shape and narrative direction, as we are forced to attend to character and given circumstances which are essentially secondary to the interests of the writer. Think G.B. Shaw and you begin to find the territory of playing. How did I come to this realisation? Because mid way through the second half of this play there enters another actress, Odile Le Clezio, who has the measure of what Mr Kushner requires, to play well. A dynamism of focused powerful energy funnels her artistic craft into a clarification of the writer’s debate and method and this is despite the linguistic challenge of speaking in three languages during the scene (English, Dari and French!!!) I knew what was going on and I was swept into a place of great anguish and fear for the character, Mahala. Even more marvellously in a later scene when Mahala is threatened with been shot and there was a terrifying moment of real fearful terror leaping from the body and face of this consummate actress, Ms Le Clezio. It was for me a paralysing moment of recognition of the possibility of violent extinction, my own mortality. Here then was the marrying of both styles of acting. Kushner like Ibsen, Shaw and Stoppard demand both for their material to truly come to life. To a lesser, but accurate extent, Keith Agius as Mullah Aftar Ali Durranni in the penultimate scene of the play, achieves the chilling tone of humanity and yet the warring need to enact implacable rules. The combination of objective and subjective experiencing at the same time.

So, here in this one production we have two different approaches to the text and solving its problems. The director had the solution for some part of his production (Observe Ms Jones and Ms Le Clezio) but has not been able to persuade or guide all of his cast to that end. When I look back at the other work of Mr Hurell’s I have seen this year, MEN, LOVE AND THE MONKEYBOY, I notice that I had similar unease about most of the acting. When I look at the credentials of Mr Kushner and compare achievement, I would tend to blame the Director rather than the Writer for the longueurs of the second half of the play, that others have commented on. Define the difference between direction and writing. I believe the writer still comes out with the respected credentials here. (Though I agree, arguably, not entirely perfectly.) Mr Hurell expresses some awe as to the skill of the writer but there needs to be, to pass that on to the play going public, a much more rigorous application of directing skill. There is also responsibility in this awesome task.

The Set design (Tom Bannerman) has a beautiful image of an old fashioned, wooden, opaque window beautifully lit from behind. A bare chair and cloth swathed about he rest of the room. However, I do believe there is an over reach to a too busy Art Direction in the choices of the later appearance of the hats and also the painting of the second scenic walls etc. The costumes (Amanda McNamara) whilst also undoubtedly both beautiful and clever are essentially over ripe in the affect that they contribute to the story telling. The lighting (Grant Fraser) is in the first section atmospheric and later very supportive to the design ambitions. The Sound composer and designer (Rosie Chase) makes significant and subtle contributions to the telling and atmosphere of the play. The look of the production is just a bit “decadent” in its richness for my taste. It is still an achievement and could compare to the main stage appearance: Yibiyung, upstairs.

Mr Kushner wrote: "HOMEBODY/KABUL is a play about Afghanistan and the West’s historic and contemporary relationship to that country. It is also a play about travel, about knowledge and learning through seeking out strangeness, about trying to escape the unhappiness of one’s life through the encounter with Otherness, about narcissism and self-referentially as inescapable booby traps in any such encounter; and its about a human catastrophe, a political problem of global dimensions. It is also about grief.” This is a tall order for any company of artists to deliver. We only get some of this clearly in this production.

Now this is a C0-Op Production. Just to clarify what this means. This means not a single member of this artistic team is receiving any recompense for presenting this work at the Belvoir Theatre. All of these artists have toiled in their own time to struggle with this great contemporary writer’s work out of a love for their art/their job and in a sense of the responsibility that the Artist may have in the fabric of their community, to their community. In this case, to show humanity in all its struggles to be human in the world we live in. A major and historic endeavour. When you look at the names of some of these artists you will see how amazing the commitment of these highly esteemed artists is. There are few writers that may attract that level of sacrifice and devotion.

I do not believe that I have seen a better performance from an actress, maybe actor, this year in Sydney than that of Gillian Jones as Homebody. Ms Jones’ passion to toil on this character and text does us her great honour and I urge you to see her in this enterprise, if, for no other reason then to compensate her with appreciation of excellence as she is certainly is not earning a living wage to do this. As are none of the others. This performance of Ms Jones is worth knowing.

Playing now until 5 October. Book online or call
02 9699 3444.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Billy Budd

OPERA AUSTRALIA present BILLY BUDD an opera in two acts by Benjamin Britten. Libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier, adapted from the story BILLY BUDD, FORETOPMAN by Herman Melville (1891).

I need to disclose that I saw this production at the final rehearsal on Monday night (22nd Sept). I am writing this because I know this is a revival of a production. I also know that I will not get to see it again this season (work commitments) and I feel that for anybody out there who reads my stuff it is a very highly recommended experience. It is "horses for courses" of course. I happen to like going to Opera. I probably won’t go to see the STC presentation of HIGHWAY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL DISASTER in the Wharf 2Loud program. Maybe the music is not my glass of tea. (However, I did try to see RISKY LUNAR LOVE at Carriageworks, (the music hmmmmm? My glass of tea??!!) but the performance I went to was cancelled. (I still will try to get there. Again.))

This is the first time that I have seen BILLY BUDD. The production has a great reputation. It is directed by Neil Armfield and was first presented at the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff in 1998. It is also Set designed by an Australian Brian Thomson. The creators of this Opera are prodigiously gifted and talented. Add to this the three leading singers in this production and just on reputation you could be reasonably be assured of at least a decent night at the opera: Philip Langridge, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, John Wegner!!!

The uncompleted novel by Herman Melville which provides the foundation of the Libretto of this opera (E M Forster and Eric Crozier) provides the basis of a wonderfully intriguing work of art. Stripping it back to a fairly unsophisticated take on the piece it is about the meeting of innocence, beauty and good (Billy Budd, foretopsman) with unmitigated evil (John Claggart, master-at-arms), the resultant clash (a death) and the verdict of justice by a humanist with social order responsibilities (Captain Edward Fairfax Vere). Echoes of Othello/Iago and Justice. Michael the Archangel/Lucifer and God!!!!! The text is so fraught with contemporary moral dilemmas of great import that the opera provides great cause for thought and discussion. Its relevance is disturbing. The great ambiguities that it places one in when reflecting on one’s own behavioural beliefs is extremely provoking and uncomfortable in this world of terrorist uncertainty and climate change responsibility and the morality of our money changers and our governments co-operation with them and our own, perhaps self interested equivocal response to their tactics... So….. there is enough reason to attend to the piece.

But add to this Neil Armfield's masterful presentation of the work and it is a must see. (Interesting to me that four of my favourite works of Mr Armfield's come from adaptation of other literature forms CLOUDSTREET, THE TURN OF THE SCREW. THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO and now this.) The Set design with Brian Thomson, a large centrally placed oblong hydraulic platform on revolve, so that it can lift and dip from end to end and seem to float on an ocean of different tempers is truly an ingenious and contemporary solution to placing an eighteenth century ship on stage. The harmony of the set changes with the Britten musical interludes flowing through and over them is most satisfactory. The pragmatic but authentic solutions of the costumes (naval and sailor uniform) is elegantly achieved (Carl Friedrich Oberle). The lighting by Nigel Levings is great support. (The "light swinging" representing the body of Bill Budd in the wings is truly moving and a wonderful solution.)

The staging of this huge male chorus and the drawing out of operatic dramatic performances from All is magnificent. John Wegner, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Barry Ryan, Andrew Collis, Richard Anderson, Conal Coad in principal and featured roles are persuasive and totally believable. The best performance comes from the torn and morally tortured character of Captain Edward Vere played marvellously by Philip Langridge. The story is told through his anguish and it is wonderfully captured in the Prologue and the Epilogue and expanded during the rest of the text.

I hesitate to talk too knowingly about the music and the singing since they are not in my area of expertise. However on a long practice of attending to this art form I can comment that I thought it was fairly great. It seemed to me that Richard Hickox was in full command and indeed inspiring both to his orchestra and singers. Teddy Tahu Rhodes startling in his charismatic physical and psychic (as Billy) presence was also all that one could ask for in the vocal work. So was John Wegner. And it was the dramatic/vocal combination that Philip Langridge and Conal Coad brought to bear on the work that led the company to a truly dramatic musical experience. I was on board an eighteenth century man-at-war on the high seas with a full complement of a naval crew.

I can only add that the score of Benjamin Britten was mesmerizing in its capacity to engage my sense memory and imagination of the environment of the given circumstances of the opera and to propel me dramatically through the story and debate.

There are only 7 performances and I recommend those of you who are able that this is a very satisfying experience.

Playing now until 16 October 2008. Book online or call 02 9318 8200.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Company B presents in assocition with Malthouse Melbourne YIBIYUNG by Dallas Winmar.

This play is the story of Yibiyung, a young Indigenous girl at the turn of the last century living in Western Australia under the increasing control of laws and policies concerning Indigenous affairs under a government appointed officer called the Chief Protector of Aborigines, who was made under the 1905 Aborigines Act "the legal guardian" of all "aboriginal" and "half caste" children up to the age of 16 years, enabling him to send any "aboriginal" and "half caste" child to an orphanage, mission, or industrial school, with or without the child’s parents’ permission.

This story sounds very familiar. It should, since Phil Noyce told one like it brilliantly and dramatically in his film RABBIT PROOF FENCE. Company B has presented this as part of their adult subscription list. I believe that the play by Dallas Winmar is more ideally suited for a younger audience, perhaps pre-teens and young juveniles. It is hard to accept this text seriously as adult fare with the Noyce film burnt culturally into my memories. (When I was 12 I saw Walt Disney’s POLLYANNA with Hayley Mills. It, in retrospect, unconsciously taught me a lot about how to view other people in the world and gave me a kind of role model to identify with, and most gloriously, in retrospect, gave me my first love lorn infatuation: Hayley Mills. (I loved THE PARENT TRAP!!!! I loved THE MOON SPINNERS!!!!!! I also loved THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) If I were 12 today, Company B’s YIBIYUNG with Miranda Tapsell would, I am certain, give me, similarly, an insight into the world of adult behaviour and a crushing infatuation with Ms Tapsell.)

Now this is a handsome looking production. The Set by Jacob Nash, a metaphor of a native white ghost tree having burst and grown through the smothering floorboards of a white man’s house, surrounded by childlike stars chalked onto the black wall surround is immaculately presented. The Costumes by Bruce McKinven are also a pleasure in their concept and simple intricacy of their execution. They are beautiful. The Lighting by Niklas Pajanti, a "midnight blue", I am reliably informed, "winter blue" and a deep warmth of the "dirty white" gel with the magic of UV light to capture the night chalked star-sky and the ghost tree in the dark, is transportingly beautiful, as well. In fact there is so much beauty that one felt that the Art Direction had been inspired by the look of Julie Taymor’s FRIDA bi-op film, it has the sheen of a designed magazine layout. Maybe there is a cultural nod to Tracey Moffatt’s Photographs and Video/film work, however without her satirical and ironic point of view, and instead replaced with a poverty glamour and sentimentality.The sound scape of the natural worlds of the play are captivating. However, it is marred, sometimes, by overdeveloped instrumentalisation in the score by Steve Francis. It is best when the guitar is gently picked on the side of the stage. So there is much to admire if you like this sophisticated “look” on this very true and tragic history.

It is the writing that is very old fashioned. It is the kind of writing you might find in a children’s storybook accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Tediously linear, absolutely no surprises, even with documentary readings of letters from official decrees, to underline the plot developments and set the scene. The Characters are thumbnail sketches that represent things like “Spruiker”; “Lady”; “Teacher”; “Farmer’s Wife”; “Cook”; ”Policeman”; “Doctor” etc. Names of functions not real people. The actors are directed and they give suitable choices to elucidate the sketch they are attempting to breathe life into. The "Lady" is ill with depression after the loss of her own child and makes a substitute out of little Yibiyung and tries to do good! The "Doctor" is destructive to his ill wife and has no understanding of his patient’s psychology and worse is a criminal of the most reprehensible kind in his inclinations to his ward!! The “Policeman” is kind but bound by rules!!! The “Cook” is a curmudgeon but really has the heart of a child!!!! etc. The actors are all creating and giving as much as they can and are truly creditable in their achievement.

The Direction by Wesley Enoch is classically textbook and neat but it is dull and pedestrian, and lacks depth. It is just staged in a meandering sentimental tone. All the choices of dramaturgical responsibility, look, sound and acting are Mr Enoch’s responsibility and I don’t feel he has been rigorous enough despite his heartfelt sentiments in the Director’s Notes in the program. And it is undoubtedly true that “the need to tell these stories has not evaporated”. But it is the HOW you tell it that becomes more and more important if you wish these stories to have continuous impact. For adults this HOW is not good enough. I believe if you marketed this to the younger audience I suggested, it would probably be impactful too them. If I had known, I would have taken my young nephew and nieces and maybe some of their friends as my theatre going partners and I would have been less judgemental in my estimation of my experience at the theatre for I would have had the pleasure of seeing my young friends be told a story of Indigenous and White history that should not be forgotten and watch them in a social setting of some effort begin to perceive the complexities of what it might be to be an Australian citizen in this time. As an adult if you enjoy the suitably sentimental and like to indulge in the sedation of childhood memories when the world was just GOOD or BAD and NASTY or NICE etc then this may serve as an entertainment.

Otherwise, for me, this experience was patronising and very disappointing.

Playing now unitl 26 October. Book online or call 02 9699 3444.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Modern International Dead


We have three Australians, one with a spiritual vocation, one with a scientific vocation and one a bewildered young man who likes adventures and joins the army. Each of them follow their instincts, and their fates unravel. Each are placed in a crucible with the intense “bunsen burner of life under them”, and each are melted down to their core. Each in their ravelling life thread are taken to places that stretch them into enduring feats that only the pure core of humanity can confront and survive. These ordinary people become true heroes of the modern international world. “This is witness theatre at its most compelling.”

“Witness Theatre” is the equivalent to another name for what some of us have come to shudder at: Verbatim theatre. But I promise you, that what the writer Damien Millar has hewn and sculpted from a huge research preparation of interviews (and some reading) is not mundane or tedious or a cause for any need to shudder. As Mr Millar states in his introduction to the text “It is a play, and should not be mistaken for a work of history or objective journalism.” It is first and foremost a PLAY. My experience of this piece, from the first entrance of Colin Moody, was one of subjective surrender and I was gripped and moved throughout. The disconnected objectivism of say, most of STUFF HAPPENS by David Hare, does not penetrate or dominate what this creative company have put together for you.

To quote from the script introduction: “Against a backdrop of miraculous visions and terrible repercussions in Rwanda, secret facilities in Iraq, landmines in Cambodia and political cleansing in East Timor comes these extraordinary stories of the incredible Australians who set out to bring relief and assistance to a troubled world. But when politics impedes progress and reality shatters aspiration, the only consistency is compromise… So what motivates these individuals to risk their lives and go back time and time again?...” This is what this play explores and delivers with life enhancing clarity.

This script is bursting with the adroit perception, intelligence and theatrical wit and skill of the writer. Obviously this writer is in touch with the real world and has a sanguine view of it despite the contentious difficulties of living through it and this is married to a wonderfully digested knowledge of how theatre works. His knowledge of theatre forms is resonant throughout his writing choices. Expositional information, intellectual debate, iconic humour, drama, melodrama, comedy, vaudeville, character development and revelation. etc. No form or technique is unturned to deliver this story. This was written with intellectual passion and compassion and is a gift to his fellow artists and just as importantly, his audience.

Chris Mead, the Director, has done great service to the play. Genevieve Blanchett (Set and Costume Design ) has stripped the upstairs theatre and stage back to a old government coloured two green with a waist high thin band about the wall of a third green; the floor uneven - one area the original floor boards the other a painted chip board the fittings stripped back and lit by flurescents so that it has a gruesome corroded worn look and feel. The atmosphere is primitively a poverty clinical. Stark, bare uncomfortable. The props are minimal, a tattered tin trunk, a set of shelves of worn second hand folders and scratched used tools. It is wholly atmospheric, general and at the same time, specific. The three actors play three principal characters as well as many others; (Maybe up to 40 other impersonations) Their costume changes are swift, clever and indicative - a great success of clear story telling expediency. The lighting by Bernie Tan is amazing in its sensitive accuracy and ability to create focus and impact. The Composer/Sound Design by Nick Wishart is also a wonderful collaboration with the director and actors.

From the first moment that Colin Moody appears, all muffled up in head to toe protective masking and gear to the last line of the play as Rod Barton, the gardener, rather than the scientist, and his fledgling plant, there is an unremitting and sensitive diversity and sensitivity to every task he is asked to share with us. This includes several nuns and the apparition of Mary of Kibeho, Mother of the Word!!! This hugely passionate and intelligent actor has met and married material that sets him alight so that all that he does is white hot with clarity and political passion and naked humanity. In the character Rod’s retelling of the Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction investigation with Hans Blix the consequent lies, betrayals and deaths is stunning in Mr Moody’s laser like focus of passion.

Belinda McClory, mostly concerned with the novitiate nun/counsellor (Bridgette) is able to bring her alive with swiftly communicated stillness or silences as well as vocal ownerships; add to this, this skilful actor’s ability to shift shape and demeanour with economic ease and accuracy for her other incarnations. Ms McCory is amazing. (Why don’t we see this chameleon more often on Sydney Stages?) Bridgete’s debate over troubled faith with the apparition of Mary is exhilarating and lacerating for those of us who once had faith and still mourn its loss.

Ian Meadows slips in and out of many characters but principally carries the story of Luke the laconic, iconic and ironic lost boy to soldier so clearly that his ultimate exasperated rejection of ANZAC DAY and what it celebrates rings with the cauterising truth of faith lost in the harsh brutality of political hypocrisies in the midst of a truly heartless human tragedy which he found himself part of: the massacre by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) at the displaced persons camp at Kibeho. Mr Meadows has the youthful Australian presence that we as a culture identify with as part of our national heritage and we grieve with his loss of the optimism of that Australian iconic identity as this engaged actor travels through the play.

This is ensemble acting of a very high order, conjured by these three remarkable actors under the close direction of Chris Mead inspired by the writing of Damien Millar that should be seen and celebrated.

At a time when we have just celebrated the feats of Olympic athletes at both the Main Games and the Paralympics for their greater than the norm achievements this play reveals and admires the Super Human feats of others in foreign fields of endeavour who do it out of a positive commitment to the value of just the right to an ordinary LIFE for all peoples. Ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and elect to do something that is hard but important. Sometimes over and over again, even at their own risk of body and, regrettably, soul. This play honours them. Mr Millar should be congratulated for exercising his expertise in areas of Australian’s lives that are mostly foreign to us.

THE SERPENT’S TEETH earlier this year presented the Sydney audience with a world view of some substance but it was in my view let down with less secure direction and some sentimental acting than this production. At Belvoir Street Theatre we recently were given a wonderful text and production of a Canadian writer’s urgent "world" storytelling in SCORCHED (despite in my experience of a performance some sentimentality in some of the acting that was not necessary). Then, this year the Stables Theatre stage has presented STONING MARY (another scorching showing of disasters in the world; (if you read my review I felt it was only half a play and tender THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD as an example of what I think is the whole play in this genre of concern): and then two significant pieces of Australian writing: COLDER by Lachlan Philpott; DON’T SAY THE WORDS by Tom Holloway and now THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD by Damien Millar.

It is a good year on the Stables stage both the main company Griffin Theatre Company and the Griffin Stablemates season combining to give highly credible and satisfying work. I hope you are challenged by this production. I need to add that there are, in my view, still some difficulties with the through structure of the first act of the play. It is too jagged, it never seems to let the audience own or identify securely and so there was for me a disorientation and a consequent loss of impetus to my concentration. However don’t give up at the interval (as a few of my audience did), do go back in you will be rewarded for your persistence. I was.

Playing now until 11 October. Book online or call 1300 306 776.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Clockwork Forest

Sydney Theatre Company presents a Production by Windmill Performing Arts and Brink Productions. THE CLOCKWORK FOREST by Doug MacLeod.

This is children’s theatre. Maybe I should write this is THEATRE, whether it be for children or us grownups. This production loves us and gives us something for the effort of joining them. We are important to their priorities of action. (Great artistic integrity is in play.) The audience at the large Sydney Theatre, was mostly youngsters and their parents. The response to the one hour and twenty minute play (no interval) was attentive, sharp and rapturous. What more could one want?

The simple, clear uncluttered skill of the writing (Doug MacLeod) captured the young audience from the first moment. A hero and heroine to identify with, a quest to participate in, dangers to circumnavigate together, the full gamut of emotions from the happy to sad are all asked to be experienced and dealt with in a way of adult/childhood maturity that were never diluted or avoided. "Friendship, family, loyalty, memory, challenges, quest, courage" are all there in the underpinnings of a darned good classic story. Mr MacLeod’s text is admirable.

The straight forward direction (Chris Drummond) sets up a clear (unspoken) contract with the audience and then consistently fulfils it, and is amply rewarded. The company must have felt ecstatic when one of the monk/storytellers asked us to imagine him as four separate live animals and we all laughed with joy to do so. Our complicity and imaginations had been won completely. The work that Mr Drummond as elicited from Gabriela Tylesova as the designer is beautiful, clever and functional. The clockwork forest trees are always comforting to watch. There is enough beauty and simplicity of image making to urge us to invent, to see and believe. The costumes were also witty and simple in their communication (the spider costume is sheer pleasure in its design concept.).

The ensemble of actors were glorious in their sensitivity to our responses and it seemed to me that the great circle of communication and imagination was throbbing with creative power between us and them. The hero played by Cameron Goodall (Morton) strikes the right notes of quirky, feisty and endearing. Kate Box is marvellous in her utter sophistication in creative choices, that were persuasive for all her characters, for both the children and the adults. Paul Blackwell (Cuthbert) gives a beautifully judged and empathetic performance as the older, though amusingly confused, companion to the hero on the journey. Rory Walker and Jacqueline Cook round out a very fine cast. Not least in the success of the performance, however is the contribution of Stuart Day, the composer/musician. He is on stage and in full sight to the audience and I believe one of the secrets as to why we the audience join in so whole heartedly to the adventure of THE CLOCKWORK FOREST.

This was a thoroughly delightful way to finish my week. The sheer pleasure of the youthful audience almost alleviated my depression over the so called adult fare that the STC had given me over at The Drama Theatre (The Narcissist.). If you have some young friends you want to reward and bewitch them into the beginning of the love of live performance you could not do better. Highly recommended.

Playing now until 21 September. Book online or call 02 9250 1777.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Narcissist


I did not think that I could be more depressed than I felt during and after attending last night’s performance of THE NARCISSIST by Stephen Carleton at the Opera House. Then, I woke up this morning and heard the 7am news bulletin about the new NSW Police Minister, Matt Brown, who had "quit the state cabinet just three days after being promoted" as details emerged of behaviour that were deemed inappropriate for a member of cabinet. My depression deepened. The elected Government of my state just seems to be made up and led by "Cowboys". In the final scene of THE NARCISSIST, the narcissist himself, a character called Xavier, after a career as a spin doctor for a media organisation, decides that his next career move will be as an elected member of government. The final moments of the play has our Xavier with an election poster – a huge photograph of him with the slogan “Our Xavier” beneath it. He “pulls out a texta and scribbles a moustache over it. He is about to exit then thinks again. Heads back to the poster and writes ‘POOF’ across his forehead. Winks at it. Exits.” Why a playwright in the year 2008 would think this was satire and/or funny is beyond me. It is a wildly antediluvian and inappropriate gesture. As this behaviour is supposed to be that of an approved candidate for government, (albeit fictional in this case ) it was a sad question I asked myself as I lay there in my bed “Is this Art reporting on Life?” or "Life imitating Art".

There used to be joke as your plane was coming into land in Brisbane in the summer months. An announcement would be made that Queensland time was one hour behind the rest of the eastern states, someone would always add “and twenty years behind in every other way.” I really thought that had changed. After all our Prime Minister and Treasurer come from up there. This play reminds me of the old commercial comedies like MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM or THERE IS A GIRL IN MY SOUP. Then, funny sometimes hilarious. Now: Sexist, Racist, Discriminatory victimisations of easy targets passed off as comedy. If this play is what Robyn Nevin thought was a worthy representative of that culture up North and felt worthy to be in her final program of 10 or 12 play selections, that would it be suitable and necessary, considering the world wide repertoire of other possibilities, for a Sydney Theatre audience in the year 2008, it is a good thing that she has retired. Otherwise like Matt Brown she might have been asked to step down because of “Inappropriate Choices in her decision making”, for this is an embarrassment in so many ways. (One of which is that it was programmed into the Drama Theatre of our eighth wonder of the world - The SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE a destination for international visitors, some of them Culture enthusiasts.) PFFFFFFFT!!!!! What does it matter, really?...... Well, really?..... After all this play has been around for eighteen, months and although it is presented here as a contemporary comedy/satire, why certain local Christian Organisations or the Gay Lobby are not picketing the theatre in protest (we know why the politicians and media organisations aren’t), demonstrates just how marginal the theatre is in Sydney or Australia to its main preoccupations.

In the program Stephen Carleton muses that when La Boite commissioned him to write THE NARCISSIST, "I decided to raid the larder of European theatre’s comedy tradition to find the right form for what it was I was trying to say politically. I read a lot of Jonson, Moliere, and Sheridan, through to Wilde." Mr Carleton in his biography tells us that he teaches playwriting, dramaturgy, postcolonial and Australian drama at UQ. (University Of Queensland) Now, what I would like to propose is a task. That Mr Carleton set an essay for his students which he, his director and “dramaturg extraordinaire”, Mr Ian Lawson, Ms Nevin and the Artistic and Administrative government of the STC and any of you who might like to participate in as well. Here is the Essay Task; Choose two of the following: Mr Jonson’s THE ALCHEMIST; Moliere’s TARTUFFE or THE MISANTHROPE; Sheridan’s THE CRITIC or THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL; Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST; Simon Gray’s BUTLEY or Christopher Hampton’s THE PHILANTHROPIST and compare the similarities and differences to Mr. Carleton's THE NARCISSIST. If we want to go to a play that is actually contemporary include Polly Stenham’s THAT FACE. (Written at almost the same time.)

The writing in this play has a good sense of farce structure but the writing of the characters lacks depth and insight, the comic "gags" and exchanges hardly rise above university revue wit: facile and/or plain offensive. The actors in this production should be given medals of honour for sheer bravado and skill as they desperately rev themselves up to keep this thin piece of trivia afloat. In fact the two women Andrea Moor and Judy Hainsworth are worth watching to see the power of will and technique over slender material to create some semblance of believability and comedy. Of the men I thought James Stewart gave a terminably stupid character a real basis for existence other than as a function for the writer.

If this text was chosen because it was A: an Australian Play and B: it was a comedy, might I suggest that the presentation of a rarely seen (at least in Sydney, Melbourne, London and New York get to see more of her output then us) contemporary Australian writer Joanna Murray Smith’s THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES might have served that need. I’ve read that play and in my humble opinion is a far worthier contender for that space that THE NARCISSIST occupies. Why wasn’t it shown? (Maybe the STC couldn’t get the rights?!!!!!)

This is not a Co-Op production. This is a production of Sydney’s leading professional company.

Playing now until 11 October. Book online or call 02 9250 177.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008



I paid up my $50 to become a member and join in the exploration of a season “of intimate events in and around the vast spaces of Carriageworks.” 50 bucks well spent. It is a bit like having a degustation at a restaurant. Some of it is great, layered with sensations, some of it is unpalatable but all of it is interesting even in the negatives. It is an adventure. Congratulations to Fiona Winning and her team and guests/artists.

I saw DUAL on the Friday night. A piece of dance by Nalina Wait. This was a nicely conceived work. The dance movements and patterns tantalisingly interesting in its explorations. It was danced against a v-shaped space with arresting sound by Gail Priest. Natlina Wait inhabited her material in a completely expressive manner. I was absorbed. Her partner in the piece was less assured and so less interesting. This seemed to be work in progress and is certainly interesting enough to pursue.

Saturday afternoon booked to attend THE TENT (Only 20 people at a time.) THE TENT is a work by Matt Prest. "Hand built out of scrap metal and old truck canvas," one arrives in a location in an unrenovated part of the Carriageworks and are invited to cross and enter the space where there are 20 camping chairs of different types. We are offered blankets to keep warm and are served, if you want, a beef stew with very chunky vegetables, while our "host" tells us his history with the tent and his mate who lives there, Brett. It is told to us via a pre-recorded tape, film, puppetry and performance. The first thing to say is the smell, atmosphere and accouterments of the interior of the tent brought back flooding and comfortable memories of my own cubby house under my parents place. I loved it. The performance work by Matt Prest himself as our guide into this world is far too self conscious for me to believe. It is an actor acting, it belies the reality of the design. The puppetry (Clare Britton) is as beguiling as puppetry nearly always is for me. Except the details of the puppeteer distract me. 1. The face is bare and has untidy hair flopping about. 2. The feet of the puppeteer are in black nylon stockings and I can see the white/pink of her toes through the material (Where were her black
socks I inwardly screamed) and 3. worse, when she turns her back and bends to pick something up she revealed a gaping expanse of white back between the black sweater and the pants. Illusion broken by clumsy, small details of neglect. The text itself is relatively underdeveloped. It begins to enter a debate about philosophy and science and goes nowhere near its tantalising potential. The last time I was engaged with such a pleasant variety of artistic inputs was MY DARLING PATRICIA a few years ago.

WE SEE FIREWORKS comes from Helen Cole. This was the most bewildering experience for me. We entered a very dark space. We sat down and then, some badly recorded memories of other people’s remarkable theatre going experiences were broadcast to us. I felt it was like a time in my long past or just that morning when I turned on the radio. The difference is that the Radio material had had some managing. Some of my companions were delighted but I was simply left gob smacked at the sheer of audacity of the offer as Art. Collecting stories on tape and playing them in a darkened space did not seem to me a big enough effort to persuade me to any other contemplation than this is fraudulent behaviour!!!!!!

Oddly, the next piece I saw was called FRAUDULENT BEHAVIOUR. This is as the artist Rosie Dennis declares, work processing or work in process. Here was a performer/raconteur who looks at the world and observes it exquisitely and then constructs poetry/prose to communicate her take on it. Rosie Dennis is quirky, witty, compassionate and more, everything one would want from a human being. She makes you happy to be with her. The dancing, the organising of her presentation, her props, her stories, her sheer beauty is a glorious thing to experience. Such a relief after the disembodied voices in a dark space of WE SEE FIREWORKS. I could relate in a way that was considerate of me, the audience. It seemed I was important to her to be there rather than a trapped listener in a dark room.

The last piece that I saw was the best. One of the sublime experiences of my theatre going. TARKOVSKY’S HORSE. A dance solo by Peter Fraser. The lucid subtlety and pensive grace of the dance and the dancer was breathtaking and totally captivating. It was worth the whole of my $50 dollars.

I got more than I hoped for from the effort of enduring a frightful wet Sydney day, dealing with the public transport system and even bearing with Carriageworks that couldn’t manage to serve food to a quite big audience. Hospitality is not on their list of priorities it seems. Alcohol, as much as you can afford but real food, NO. I nearly went back to THE TENT just to get some more beef stew.

I mustn’t forget to mention the slightly creepy art of Roza Ilgen in the foyer called IN MY SHOES. Making shoes out of human hair was just a little to fetishistic for me to contemplate participating in, in bright daylight.!!!!

I had a great feast of live events at LIVEWORKS.


In my review of Pacitti’s last offer CIVIL, as the opening performance in this festival of LIVEWORKS by the Performance Space at Carriageworks, I was being as "civil" as possible. I was, gently, in retrospect, being as politic as possible and therefore relatively generous about what I perceived as essentially a very bland and experientially dull and disappointing work. It was as the creator warned us in his program notes twelve years old. I gave it a respect for it had a sense of a past time and "history" and felt that it may serve as an introduction to the more contemporary developments of this artist and company with the promise of a collaboration with Australian artists on FINALE, the last offer of this two week season of works.

To quote some of the program notes: "For FINALE
Pacitti Company join forces with the Swiss cult electronica band Velma. Abstracting the 1867 Emile Zola novel THERESE RAQUIN, FINALE dispenses with narrative structure and character in order to prioritise the themes of the book - deception, lust, spite and domination. This is theatre full of sexual obsessions and jealous distractions played out against the hypnotic repetitions of Velma’s minimalist sound work. Pacitti revel in the dirt of Zola’s text and, true to form, FINALE is compelling and explicit, uncompromising and cruel.”

Further on "...for FINALE at Carriageworks, Pacitti Company has remade this award-winning work with collaborators selected by Performance Space. This new composite cast has spent two weeks undertaking the workshop process devised by Pacitti Company in order to present three large scale performances of FINALE as part of LIVEWORKS."

Let me just examine some of these notes.
  1. It is true that this was the Pacitti Company and Velma collaborating. (However the soundtrack was so minimal for me that I do not remember the contribution to my experience. Subtle. (There was no live band so I imagine it was a Recording.)

  2. Whether it was the Emile Zola novel or not (Therese Raquin), it was only apparent as the performers actually quoted a little from it during the performance. "The prioritised themes of the book - deception, lust, spite and domination" could of course be almost any other novel as well. ANNA KARENINA, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, MADAME BOVARY, IN THE LINE OF BEAUTY, even, any of the HARRY POTTER novels. And since the "narrative structure and characters" have been dispensed with what did it matter? Was it some simple validation of FINALE by giving it a literary heritage?

  3. “Pacitti revel in the dirt of Zola’s text”, if only!!! In a set design and white fluorescent lighting that looked and felt like the catwalk of the David Jones Store Fashion Showings, it had a feel of anything but dirt.Except to keep the lawn alive for the picnic scenes. (The space itself with all of its recent trendy renovation (with its Heritage features apparent) dominated in such a contemporary way that one felt it could be a fashionable warehouse space that any of the uber rich might like to move into.) The activities of the performers, beginning with gloriously clean and paraded naked male bodies, not a sign of living: neither shit nor piss nor vomit traces or what else that might pass for dirt, just simply bourgeois artists once again parading nakedly before us. What, to shock us or for us to observe their vulnerabilities? (Cliché.) Down to a man chewing metal tacks, peeing into a glass and sticking his penis into it or laying on a bed of thorns, or a woman carrying a first aid kit and then stripping and then bandaging and covering herself in fake blood and flailing about like a loose stringed puppet or sticking your arm in a glass vase, or dribbling milk out of your mouth in front of a strong fan and letting it blow in a stream in the wind or strutting naked with your genitalia plastered up between your legs blindfolded with a black laced fold tethered on a long black restraint to a black laced woman embroidering a black laced cloth or to walk about with a gutted fish beautifully laid out with its innards displayed on a silver tray, and a flare ignited, in safety, behind an opened fire door, twice, to book end this tame set of "sexual obsessions and jealous distractions." To revel in the dirt!!! For someone to write that this is "compelling, and explicit, uncompromising and cruel." is not truth telling. NO. Boring, obvious, diluted and tame was more like it. Who wrote this guff? There is nothing more tempting to write your own critique but it is quite something else to do it at those levels. It is quite tempting to believe your own ambitions but you should really look at what you are actually showing.

  4. Just what workshopping actually went on with this cast of Australian guest artists? They seemed to be doing something they normally do, within the fairly declared stratum of creative dictate of the original conceivers of FINALE; Robert Pacitti, Sheila Ghelani, and Richard Eton. Just how much creative input did they have in this ridiculously short rehearsal time of two weeks that was probably distracted with the preparation of another piece the week before? Add in the technical rehearsal times etc and you have little creative workshop time, it seems to me. This felt like a regurgitation of a five year old exercise that simply "colonised" these artists gifts for Pacitti’s own pre-prepared scenario. In the actual director’s notes Mr Pacitti says "My decision to remake FINALE with local artists wherever the work is shown, was borne out of a sense of urgency tinged at the edges with frustration at the ways in which process driven projects are often toured as nothing more than 'visiting product'" This performance seemed to me nothing more than "visiting product" that just happened to utilise the local artists to explicate an old concept/play. It looked like tokenism and felt like exploitation. A more cynical observation would be to say it is a very cheap way to do the work. Three performers and a prepared backing tape and design and shape to tour the world instead of what would possibly be an impossibly expensive commitment of touring a company of fifteen performers plus artistic creatives, costumes and set. This work that originated in the UK is simply, politically, Blair Bland demonstrating the economic/politic of an era of Economic Rationalism. (Good on you if you can get away with it, I say.) But, please, the notes are unnecessary explanation for a work that I felt I have seen many times before. It feels like persiflage. A condescension to my experience of this kind of performance art.

This was a performance that was deeply, deeply unsatisfactory on almost all levels. The instance of Mr Pacitti and Mr Eton brilliantly committed to a meaningful moving of the two tables into a walkway for Ms Ghelani so that she could delicately weave her way through a similarly synchronised laying out of an obstacle of bricks in a vertical pattern, was almost hilarious in its pomposity of “this is an important moment”, statement “Watch closely!!” It was performed with an admirable portentousness that promised potency but delivered pretension. All I could summon was an image of one of those fifties sci-fi movies where a woman has been zapped by a nuclear accident to giant amazonian size and is threading her way through the sky scrappers of a massive city or of Godzilla in the recent Hollywood epic wreaking havoc on the sky scrappers of New York. This could not have been meant to be meaningful except in a comic way in the year 2008. Could it? Let alone the expression of "A desire to be truly radical" In my dictionary: RADICAL ":an advocate of political or social reform"!!!!

The token ritual of the washing of one of my hands was the final ridiculousness of FINALE. "Why the left hand?" someone asked . "No, it depended whether you went out the left or right hand side." OH!!!! We tried to read meaning into every offer. No narrative, no character it must be meaningful.

Out in the foyer fellow members of the audience attempted to articulate their experience. It was polite. It was hesitant.

A: “I felt detached”

B: “Ah, that is the Aesthetic Distance that the post-modernists talk about.”

C: “Oh,you mean like the Brechtian sense of alienation?”

A: “What’s that ?”

B : “Haven’t you heard of Adorno either?”

This conversation quickly trailed off to memories of really exciting performance art experiences we have had in Sydney to measure this work against.

A: “Remember the Catalan company LA FURA DELS BAUS and their offering of SUZ/O/SUZ IN 1989?” (Now there was excitement and a radical experience on all levels: intellectually, physically and emotionally, politically. Even its less exciting rendition of MACBETH a couple of years later left this for dead.)

C: “The last really exciting piece of large scale performance art I saw was at the Performance Space too. It was THE MUSEUM OF FETISHIZED IDENTITIES by Guillermo Gomez-Pena and his company called 'Pocha Nostra'”

A: “They used local artists too. Much more successfully I felt.”

B: “Ah well, at least we can say we saw it.”

They then said goodnight to each other and promised to meet up soon at the next Bad Dog Party. This sadly was the crushing affect of this disappointment of an audience that had arrived genuinely enthused and excited. In the program notes for CIVIL, Mr Pacitti suggested that it was not a museum piece. My experience of CIVIL was Museum. Unfortunately this is what FINALE felt like to me as well. Museum theatre, maybe the Dead Theatre that Peter Brook talks about in THE EMPTY SPACE. For this Emperor had no clothes on, the space was truly empty and my time spent with this company has been irretrievably lost.

By the way... if you would like to read more about Aesthetic Distance click here... Ha Ha.

Friday, September 5, 2008

pool (no water)

pool (no water) a play by Mark Ravenhill presented by Darlinghurst Theatre Company & Square The Circle.

What a pleasure it is to go to the theatre and sit in a seat and have a wonderful piece of writing given to you as a reward for going. After the feebleness and the “
slight” writing that we have recently been served up by The Sydney Theatre Company and other companies (notably, the Old Fitz this week: RADIO, the Upstairs Belvoir being a glorious exception: SCORCHED), it was a transcendent experience to be part of the Darlinghurst Theatre audience. This was not a chore of patience that one had to politely endure but an exciting, confronting and stimulating experience. It is all in the writing. A very taut construct, lean and brilliantly affective in its use of contemporary theatre writing techniques. Observant, tough (even cruel) but admirably wise and witty this is approximately an hour long. Similarly, Radio is an approximate hour. It however felt like a life time of endless banality whereas this is a flash of exhilarating lightening.

The text as been served by the Director, Anthony Skuse, with great respect and clarity. This director attempts to clarify the writer’s intentions and does so without employing gratuitous Directorial “tricks”. Simplicity is the essence of the direction. This is more to be admired if you have read the play as it offers tantalising problems for the artists to solve to reveal its gifts. This material is not for beginners. Mr Skuse has done well. A tremendous relief after having to attempt to sort through the extraneous offers at the recent production of
ARABIAN NIGHTS at the Stables. A writer appreciated and lovingly investigated.

The acting is very good. Committed, if not completely satisfying. The best performance comes from Sam Haft. Here is an actor of insightful intelligence. Intelligent not only to the wit (comic and otherwise) and depth of the material but with an actor’s intelligence of craftsmanship that he employs accurately to achieve his affects to explicate Mr Ravenhill’s words and story. There is a relaxed assurance that he is in command and he makes you attend with a subtle alertness that gives one the catharsis of feeling very clever. He has manipulated his gifts and talent around the Ravenhill “feast” of language and insight to make us believe that we are super intelligent!!! Mr Haft’s performance enhances one’s opinion of one self and totally affirms the greatness to be alive. He is, indeed, in this performance a very good actor. In fact Sam Haft has done this before for me. It was in a small Co-op production of Joe Penhall’s SOME VOICES a few years ago. This was an English play about schizophrenia.

What is it that distinguishes Mr Haft’s work from his companion players? They are giving quite good performances but there is a marked difference….. On reflection I believe it is the authenticity of Mr Haft. The director has permitted the actors to use their own Australian dialects. Mr Haft is a British born Australian and there is a strong onomatopoeic English quality to his vocal work that gives the words a muscular resonance that translates into a thoroughly comfortable identification of truth. Of the four actors he resonates a kind of cultural identity to the origins of the writer’s words that rings with authentic and unequivocal cultural knowledge. The other actors, for me, succeed less and less as to the broadness of their Australian sound. Lisa Griffiths is the more successful of the women and although there is good acting from Angela Bauer it is the less pleasing because of her sound, which then brings us to Guy Edmonds whose sound is so broad and “ugly” that it almost but not completely subverts his otherwise good work. I know that there is a trend in the Australian Theatre context (at least in Sydney) to reduce the English speaking writer’s works from other countries to our own onomatopoeic qualities but I would argue that it is a diminishment of the these writer’s craft and art and can often cause muscular and musical intonations that are not supportive of the writer’s intention. (Is it like using a didgeridoo to play the trumpet section in that symphony??) Is it just that the actors don’t have the confident armoury of training in dialect to do it? I know it is a tremendously focused and time consuming task to perfect. But I would assume that every actor worth engaging for this particular task would have the aspiration and the techniques to solve the craftsmanship of that job. Is it just laziness or pressure of time? Surely it is just a skill that can be learnt and practised??!!!! Now, I do not suggest having the right sound will give these actors the same cultural heritage authenticity of Mr Haft but I feel it will certainly go a long way to homogenising the acting experience these actors are giving their audience. This is a debate for the artists in Sydney. The audiences may not quite know why it is not perfection but I bet that there is an unconscious dis-ease. Not quite able to put their finger on it. Is this it? An acquiescence of skill developments for simply reducing this text and characters to a safely personalized self? Rather than a stretching into the imaginative and skillful expansion of the artist, into the character on the page as conceived by the writer?

Enough! This play is about totally reprehensible members of our society. That they are artists make it in more alarming for those of us that believe that, that is our profession. Mr Skuse in his program notes suggests this is “a subtle reflection on friendship and moral disparity.” SUBTLE!!!! No this is a full on ugly revelation of the worst of the possibilities of the human species in the guise of civil relationships, (the Cain and Abel), the brothers, the neighbours, the friends that are harbouring the greatest bile for each other and when given the opportunity, are, only too released to wreak horror. Look at the Civil wars of our era.
“Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies” a quote in the program from Gore Vidal reflects the elegance of that writer but not Mr Ravenhill, our writer, in the ferocity of his pessimism about the human animal, is, anything but elegant. It is brutal confrontation. To laugh and to make it about them, those artists, the others, is the best way to deal with this. But the satirical knife cuts deeper, on reflection, of what one has just observed. If you thought Evelyn in Neil Labute’s THE SHAPE OF THINGS was a reprehensible artist/individual just wait until you meet Mr Ravenhill’s four in pool (no water).

Production wise Mr Skuse has elicited the best work from Jeremy Silver since his brilIiant Sound Design for CAPTURE THE FLAG a few years ago. This design is complex, full on, but always persuasive and supportive of the action. The beautiful use of microphoned and echo of some live sound is wonderful. The Set Design by Rita Carmody has a beautifully conceived green fluorescent sculpture across the stage. It has the reflective beauty of a simple choice and look but it sometimes causes clumsy physical choices for the actors as a result of its height and positioning and is unfortunately surrounded by the well lit actual stage wall surround of the theatre that is pitted with doors and other paraphernalia that distracts from the aesthetic affect. The costumes look like the actors clothes and do not sufficiently reflect the world of these artists. On my way to the theatre I just happened to walk into the Art School in Darlinghurst to the Gallery there, and none of these clothes would have been worn by those aesthetes. I was not convinced by the Costume Design.

Now, I know that I have been raving and maybe it is just in reaction to the mediocrity of my recent experiences in the theatre of late. But definitely the text of this play is worth your time and money. Everything else is good just not as great.

This is a Co-Op production.

Now playing until 20 September.
Book online or call 02 8356 9987.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


RADIO, by Al Smith presented by THE GEMEINSCHAFT DOGS at The Old Fitzroy. (Tamarama Rock Surfers)

If you want a conventional and old fashioned narrative monologue reasonably well acted (Andrew Bibby) and guided (Travis Green) and only about an hour long then this might be a way to spend your time and cash.

This is a work from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2006. It is written by an Englishman (Al Smith) about a young American youth living in the "centre" of the United States through the Space Race and the Kennedy Assassination to Vietnam performed by an Australian actor in 2008. It is a conventional (banal) straight forward writing technique that tells a story in a long flashback in chronological order that has no real resonance for me or I suspect a contemporary Australian audience. We have been here many times before.

I cannot really fathom why it is being staged except that maybe the writer and director are filling an unexpected gap in their season???!!!!!! It seems to me a waste of the time and space at the Old Fitzroy.

Playing now until 20 September 2008.
Book online or call Moshtix on 1300 GET TIX (438 849).