Friday, February 29, 2008

Mardi Gras Shows

Sydney is famous in February for the SYDNEY GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS month long Festival. Two of the projects I saw were, firstly, a short new work THE FABULOUS PUNCH AND JUDY SHOW by Brent Thorpe at the Cleveland Street Theatre. The text is muddled and the Gay Politics feel dated but there are some amusing “sketch” comedy bits. The direction by Anthony Skuse and the really marvelous Design by Rita Carmody supported gorgeously by the Lighting Design of Verity Hampson has more than a whiff of the old Lindsay Kemp theatrics. Arky Michael gives a brilliantly dark physical ,vocal and emotional commitment to his Mr Punch as does Lyn Pierse as Judy. The rest of the company is physically present with the brilliant control and eye of Sam Chester, the choreographer.

Secondly, the other work was hosted by the Performance Space at Sydney’s new spectacular new performance centre: CARRIAGEWORKS. QUICK AND DIRTY two nights of differently curated “vaudeville” turns of QueerTheatre/Performance. This sometimes feels that it is part of THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE or mediocrity-highly prized and celebrated by some. The best work oddly Trad in conception and execution were an interactive video performance with a performer known as Trash Vaudeville called FOOLS GOLD and a gorgeously executed UV light strip tease THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN OUTER SPACE by Sex Intents and Glita Supernova. This was the Friday night. I understand that the Saturday night was much better but for me it is just legendary as I was elsewhere.

The Hatpin

At the Seymour Centre the World Premiere of an Australian Musical THE HATPIN. Neil Gooding Productions and White Box present this work. Music by Peter Rutherford and Book and Lyrics James Millar. Based on a true life murder / court case this is what the writer calls a “sing-a story”. It is not a Dance show. It is Drama. The book and Lyrics follow a conventional linear journey with just the usual curiosity of a terrible serial killer murder, hunt and trial to keep us attentive. The text is sometimes baldly dangerous in its lack of insight or poetry. (The song lyrics are also sometimes so poorly projected that one is no wiser at the end of the song as one was when it began).The music is good but there are echoes of other composers that ones long to hear more of.

The best performances come from Michelle Doake followed by Caroline O’Connor (Although high energy vaudeville cheek is the limited range of her choices) and a more than pompously bland offer by Peter Cousins. The leading role of Amber Murray by Melle Stewart has a good sound to give but her acting is fairly ordinary and tends to hysteria and shouting so that our empathy is stretched and we are kept at bay from experiencing the journey of the heroine. The rest of the Company is young, and although trained singers, have a good choral quality that is promising but not very good storytelling gifts.

The Director, Kim Hardwick, has staged the piece with what seems to be a limited Design budget and those elements are relatively hampered in supporting the project. The Director needs to restrain the performers. There is really something overwhelming in the wrong way, with too much commitment. Subtlety, nuance, stillness and truth from an internal life rather than signaled by busy secondary activities and shouting would go a long way to giving the audience a more deeply moving experience.

The Composer Peter Rutherford is pleased that “there are no electronic instruments - even the piano” but the miked sound in the theatre is so noisy, loud, that it makes no difference to the received experience in the auditorium. This BRAVE and GLORIOUS effort workshopped over the last two years might benefit more from a Chamber Presentation where we may have more chance for the natural sounds both from the real acoustic instruments and the voices to survive. The sound pushes out at us and there is a feeling of having to protect yourself from it rather than the other experience which asks you to lean in and attend creatively - to become part of an imaginative, emotive journey. This is true, of course, of most Contemporary Musical Theatre experiences. We are made to see and hear from over conflated electronics in a usually disassociated way. This unfortunately is the case here.


The Stables Theatre in the Kings Cross area, little death productions and Griffin Stablemates (a co-operative theatre effort) present Simon Stephens MOTORTOWN. The production values are minimum, the direction intense but mostly only efficient, and acting that is uneven, the playwriting is so skilful and pared down to theatrical urgency and tension that the experience for the audience is assured and gripping. Quite exciting. Simon Stephens is a great playwright!!

The Seed

At the Belvoir Theatre, Company B under the auspices of Neil Armfield presented a relatively new Australian Play THE SEED by Kate Mulvany. Originally presented in the 80 odd seater downstairs as part of the 2007 B Sharp Season, an annually curated season of Co-operative Theatre Companies, the play has been invited to play in the Main House Upstairs. This is a much larger space (300 odd seats). The experiential heat of a close space often covers the faults of a play. But in this bigger space the play is exposed at a comfortable distance from the emotional breaths and instead an objective eye is engaged and the new experience exposes the writing as merely a promising piece of writing by a talented writer. It is very conventional in its construct, character and confrontations – a throwback to Peter Kenna’s family sagas. It has too many things going on: an IRA fantasist , a Vietnam Veteran , Agent Orange , sterility, pill popping, kleptomania are some of the offers The play lacks fluidity (One longs for Martin MacDonagh’s skill) and often loses the audience’s commitment. Restlessness ensues. Martin Vaughan gives a veteran’s performance of some skill. Danny Adcock and the writer herself, Kate Mulvany are stalwart supports. The Design elements Sets, Costume, Lighting and Sound are merely adequate. Little real Dramaturgy seems to have happened from its original presentation to this Main House transfer. It was a disappointing night in the theatre considering the Hype projected about it.

The Vertical Hour

In February in Sydney the local scene reasserts itself after a Festival Season-the third Sydney Festival led by Fergus Linehan-this year lots of Circus, Dance, Contemporary Music and little challenge. So it was a pleasure to anticipate THE VERTICAL HOUR by David Hare. A Hare/Shavian challenge of Ideas and Character. The Sydney Theatre Company (now led by Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton) begins its 2008 Season with this.

This play of ideas gives moderate pleasure - its arguments have been well covered in many other mediums (the play is 18 months old!!) so it is not full of confrontation or shocks but rather a bourgeois comfort of familiarity that has a feint whiff of History. Something safely in the past. The other level of the play the Human Relationships are densely present and a tension to the “lectures” but in this case needed deeper mining and revelation by the Director, Julian Meyrick and the actors. Best in the difficult journey in this is Victoria Longely playing Nadia Blye – particularly in the long second act duet with Oliver Lucas (Pip Miller). However the emotional flames don’t quite burn us, but then it needs fuel to do so. Mr Miller gives us a clear, careful journey through the arguments of the play but has, in this performance, (Opening Night) not been able to ignite the human emotional dilemmas, neither the character’s past or the relationship between his son or his girlfriend. One is sure that there is no sexual fire and it makes nonsense of the son’s, Phillip Lucas (Christopher Stollery) fears and suspicions. In the moment when Oliver puts his hand on Nadia’s shoulder and then in her hand there is no sexual tension. Rather a tired and wise old man’s friendly gesture of intellectual support. Mr Stollery is a good support to the play as are Ryan Hayward and Zindzi Okenyo in the book end scenes set in Yale University. The Design (Stephen Curtis) is overblown and the Lighting (Peter Neufield) and Sound Design (Max Lyandvert) efficient. Still, after the drought of intellectual stimulation in the Sydney Festival the audience enjoyed itself.