Saturday, December 20, 2008

Response to 2008

Christmas and the New Year is hurtling towards us. Have the Holiday wishes from me. I thought I would go back over the year and list responses that left impressions upon me. I hope it leads to some ease of conversation for you.

I feel that the possibility for good work in the performing Arts has most to do with the writing.The writer as "GOD". So, that's where I'll begin.

After drawing up a rough draft and some cogitation here we go. This is mostly in a chronological order of experience.
  • THE SERPENT'S TEETH by Daniel Keene. Two one act plays: CITIZENS. SOLDIERS. Two contemporary plays that have a feel that is universal, made manifestly impactful with the particularity of the timing of their telling at the Opera House in April. A poet of the theatre. Spare and demanding. Neither play had the direction or acting qualities to match the vision and daring that could have revealed their full power, although the Design, in all aspects, were staggeringly conceived and executed. Particularly the Lighting of Nick Schleiper.
  • In May,a modest CO-OP production in the Stablemates Season at the Griffin: COLDER by Lachlan Philpott. The structure and form of this story of a missing person was refreshing and challenging to experience and solve. The writing continually poetic. I was moved to silence and stillness on the night I attended. Once again the direction and the acting were not on an equal par to reveal the work. It would be interesting to see it again.
  • In the middle of June: THE GREAT by Tony McNamara. I feel that this a very literate script of some wit and skill in form and vision. Full of promise. Some editing of the trendy usage of vulgarisms and tightening of the scenes, that I felt took to long to unravel, the audience was often ahead of the writing and patiently waited for the performance to move on. It should be looked at again, somewhere. I hope.
  • In July, the winter month, I saw terrific work. At the Griffin as part of their main season DON'T SAY THE WORDS by Tom Holloway was a very exciting night in the theatre. The play using some (small) inspiration of Euripides' AGAMEMNON, as written by Holloway, presents a contemporary war veteran returning home to find a relationship between his wife and best friend, a "battlefield" equally as confronting as what he has just left behind. This writing was fully supported by a terrific production by Matthew Lutton and his three actors: Anna Lise Phillips, Jack Finisterer, Brett Stiller.
  • September produced the best of Australian (Sydney) writing and production. Again the Griffin Theatre in its main season with Riverside productions continues its "genius", this time presenting THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD by Damien Millar. A scorching examination of the lives of three ordinary Australians doing heroic things in the course of their contemporary "duties". Mr Millar reveals an adroit ability to organise his material into an amazingly thrilling and confronting theatrical venture. Intelligence, wit and a compassionate heart. This production would be my favourite home grown experience of the year. The direction by Chris Mead outstanding in all areas of his responsibility.
  • JUST MACBETH! by Andy Griffiths presented by Bell Shakespeare at the Seymour centre,was a totally unexpected joy. And certainly, not only the target audience of young theatre go-ers but us adults, had a wonderful and educational time. Theatre for young people that transcends its ordinary objectives. Truly clever writing for all ages.
  • Justin Fleming's adaptation of Moliere's TARTUFFE, called THE HYPOCRITE for the Melbourne Theatre Company was outrageously hilarious in its liberties and accuracies as it skewered satirically parts of contemporary Australian "life".
  • The next of the Australian writing that was outstanding, was a revival of a B Sharp production at the Griffin as part of the Stablemates season: TENDER by Nicki Bloom. On a second viewing this work stands up to scrutiny and hopefully presages an exciting voice in the Australian landscape. A CO-OP Production.
  • The last work that I recommend is FRANKENSTEIN by Ralph Myers and Lally Katz. A collaborative effort with an entirely wonderful ensemble of artists in the New Work project at Wharf 1 for the Sydney Theatre Company.
The next big skill in order of responsibility for success in the Performing Arts is the Director, in my estimation, so....

Let's start with the younger practitioners that would cause me to hand over my money and time as a matter of artistic interest. The new Directors on my list to watch and follow would be:
Directors of the next generation who have been around for a while, knocking down the door for proper support from the leading companies:
  • Chris Mead (THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD) - I'd say the best production of the year.
  • Kate Gaul (ALTAR BOYZ, QUEEN C) and other work during the year - a tireless operator developing her opportunities relentlessly. Worth following and supporting.
  • Consistently, Neil Armfield with his work on SCORCHED for Company B (Flawed) but with an irresistible vision, followed by two peerless evenings at the opera, both revivals: BILLY BUDD and THE MAKROPULOS SECRET. We need to see Mr Armfield's work in the theatre more regularly to maintain a consistent benchmark in directorial excellence for Sydney audiences. A mentor for apprentice directors.
  • Two of the best experiences I had in the theatre this year were CODGERS by Don Reid (an old fashioned but thoroughly rewarding new Australian play) and JUST MACBETH! by Andy Griffiths both directed by Wayne Harrison. A thoroughly commercial and totally professional eye that delivers productions that are not only entertaining but have great artistic integrity and skill. Another essential mentor for apprentice directors.
  • Another director that I watch with interest is Peter Evans. Although I felt his work on THE GREAT did not serve the play to its full potential, I thought the work on THE HYPOCRITE for the MTC was a return to form (last year's DON'S PARTY being a revelation of the play in an exciting contemporary re-reading.)
Now, here is a list of performances by the actors that I enjoyed....
Other Favourite Productions....
  • ROCK AND ROLL, Tom Stoppard directed by Simon Phillips.
  • GALLIPOLI, Nigel Jamieson directed by Nigel Jamieson. The flaw of this achievement, that for me prevented it from being great, was the writing.
  • SCORCHED by Wajdi Mouawad directed bt Neil Armfield.
  • BILLY ELLIOT, The Musical by Lee Hall directed by Stephen Daldry.
  • 360 (DEGREES) choreographed and created by Rafael Bonachela for The Sydney Dance Company.
  • BILLY BUDD by Benjamin Britten directed by Neil Armfield for Opera Australia.
  • THE MAKROPULOS SECRET by Leos Janacek directed by Neil Armfield for Opera Australia.
International productions of unforgettable memories:
The best of my alternative theatre experiences:
  • Trash Vaudeville in FOOL'S GOLD at QUICK AND DIRTY at Performance Space.
  • THE BLAND PROJECT by Gravity Research Institute Inc (Alan Schacher) at Performance Space. This was an outstanding multi-media dance/theatre exploration.
  • LIVEWORKS curated by Fiona Winning at Carriageworks for Performance Space especially FRAUDULENT BEHAVIOUR written and performed by Rosie Dennis and TARKOVSKY'S HORSE with Peter Fraser directed by Tess De Quincey. (The most disappointing contribution was by the visiting PACITTI COMPANY U.K. with presentations of underwhelming work CIVIL and later FINALE.)
  • THE AGE I'M IN by FORCE MAJEUR directed by Kate Champion at Carriageworks.
Let us look at some technical contributions that I registered as arresting.

Set Design:
Lighting Design:
Sound Design:
Now I shall be a little contentious. I thought I should list work of some disappointment.
  • ANTIGONE or THE BURIAL AT THEBES adapted by Seamus Heaney directed by Chris Kohn at Company B - a jumble of intellectual conception and very uneasy acting.
  • ROMEO AND JULIET directed by Wayne Blair for The Sydney Theatre Company Education.
  • HAMLET directed by Marion Potts for Bell Shakespeare-a totally inadequate technical performance by Brendan Cowell in the lead as Hamlet. No Hamlet = no play.
  • ORLANDO by Handel directed by Justin Way and designed by Kimm Kovac and Andrew Hays for Opera Australia- an over designed and directed work that appeared to have no confidence in the work as it exists.
  • THE NARCISSIST by Stephen Carleton directed by Ian Lawson for La Boite and The Sydney Theatre Company- a truly terrible evening in the theatre in 2008. It lacked good judgement in almost every area (exclude the valiant actors.) This was my personal low point in the theatre in 2008.
  • THE CONVICT'S OPERA by Stephen Jeffreys directed by Max Stafford Clarke for the Sydney Theatre Company and Out of Joint.- a totally bewildering conception and offer in 2008.
  • THE PIG IRON PEOPLE by John Doyle directed by Craig Illot for the Sydney Theatre Company - a first play that did not feel developed enough to be presented in 2008. Brought to production too early. (Craig Illot seems to lack the director's eye for textual detail. See THE PILLOWMAN and R&J.)
  • MARY STUART by Schiller directed by Mark Kilmurry for the Ensemble Theatre - a truly misconceived and executed production of one of the great plays in the classic repertoire - a disaster.
My Best Experiences:
  1. A DISAPPEARING NUMBER by Complicite.
  2. THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD at the Griffin Theatre Company.
  4. THE BLAND PROJECT by Gravity Research Institute Inc at Performance Space at Carriageworks.
  5. THE MAKROPULOS SECRET by Opera Australia.
  6. FRANKENSTEIN by Sydney Theatre Company.
  7. GALLIPOLI by Sydney Theatre Company.
  8. SCORCHED by Company B.
  9. JUST MACBETH! by Bell Shakespeare.
  10. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF by The Schaubuhne.
  11. DON'T SAY THE WORDS by the Griffin Theatre Company
  12. TARKOVSKY'S HORSE at Performance Space.
  13. 360 (Degrees) by Rafael Bonachela for Sydney Dance Company at Carriageworks.
I felt the work at The Griffin has been the most consistently interesting. Company B the most disappointing. The Sydney Theatre Company's huge range of work has, for me, both some of the best and some of the worst experiences of the year. This year should be vital for us to know what direction that company is headed.

Happy New Year to you all.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,
Was hoping you'd do a round up of the year. Very comprehensive! Just makes me wish I could get to the theatre more often.
Thank you for your honesty and rigour in your reviews. I thoroughly enjoy reading them. Keep them coming.
Perhaps you could tell us what shows you're going to see at the Sydney Festival and why you have chosen them.
Liz Burton

Anonymous said...

Kevin I have so enjoyed your reviews this year. My only query? When do you sleep? Keep it up please. Happy Christmas Happy New Year! Bless! Viki (Williams)

Andrew J said...

Thanks for your reviews Kevin. I love reading them. They're the most interesting around. I was hoping you were going to review Pinchgut Opera's 'David and Jonathan'. Did you get to it?