Friday, November 28, 2008

Stones In His Pockets

By Arrangement with Paul Eliott, Adam Kenwright and Pat Moylan, Queensland Theatre Company presents STONES IN HIS POCKETS by Marie Jones.

This is an Irish play about an American film company making a film "in an unnamed scenic village in County Kerry, Ireland." We meet some of the film makers and some of the locals who are working on the film as extras etc.

Why anyone in Brisbane would care is beyond me. Why anyone other than perhaps the Irish would care is beyond me. In fact the audience I sat with last night seemed more than slightly bewildered by what they were watching for all of the first half and some of the second. Culturally we could have been told a story by Martians and got the same experience. Why this in the repertoire of the QTC season is beyond me. (The program notes about the Irish Cinema and the Australian Cinema seem to me fairly specious and ridiculous in the context of the evening, as interesting as they may be in themselves.) STONES IN HIS POCKETS, it must be declared, won the 2001 Olivier Award for Best Comedy, the 2000 Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy, and the 2000 Irish Times /ESB Best Production Award. Maybe you had to be there (in London and Ireland) and then (2000-2001) to get it. Because being in Brisbane on the 27th of November 2008 not many of us got it or cared too much.

Thank God for the actors. There are two members of cast playing some 15 characters between them. Mitchell Butel and Michael Habib are giving two outstanding performances. Their work is simply immaculate in the detail and finesse of swift characterisation that depends entirely on physical and vocal skills. Other than the removal or twisting of a cap on head or the sliding off of a jacket, there is no other aid, than their own actor's skill, to adapt and believe, at lightning speed. The sheer perfection of concentration by both individuals, and the sublime trust of their timing in the interplay with each other is worth the price of the ticket. (Well, almost...!) It is a pity the material is so uninteresting. We did ultimately respond to the work of the actors but it was late in the proceedings. The literal perspiration that the two players were swimming in by the end of the play would have been partly caused by the double duty of effort and energy that these two actors would have had to generate to keep the play afloat, as they were certainly not getting much help from us. In a Comedy, that is a frightening experience to be in, as an actor. In a "Best Comedy" it must be even more than worrying. These are very good performances. The directing (Jon Halpin) of the actors seems to be assured and seems to have had a close eye on the details.Well certainly on the actors. The Set design (Kieran Swann) which the director surely worked on and approved is another thing altogether. The details belong to another time of my theatre going. (When I was a student at University in the skills of our amateur fellow students.) The framed "film" screen that hangs at the back of the set is used to project backdrops of what I think were clouds etc. The selection are so mundane, and lack any real finesse, that one assumes the budget did not stretch far enough for the designer to achieve his vision. (One hopes.) This is certainly confirmed with the hollow sounding stage platform with very badly or amateurishly painted grass or moss with the "piece de shabiness" of the fake painted stage rocks at the cut out end of the ramp to facilitate exits and entrances. The rest of the space is the open black box of the theatre. The design support for this play is paltry and increases the difficulty for the actors to create a world to play in with the audience.

The Lighting (Ben Hughes) is similarly unsophisticated, often fading out the projections on the screen,and definitely giving no favours to the designer. The light exposes the ineptness.

The music composition (Brett Collery and assisted by Tony Brumpton) is certainly a grave disappointment after the good work they presented in the ANATOMY TITUS FALL OF ROME: A COMMENTARY. It lacks real perception and support
.

All the artistic efforts, other than the actors and the director's contribution to their choices, is relatively poor.
(The program note by Helen Howard, WHY USE ACCENTS? is worth perusing.)

The play is the major problem for me. I cannot understand its choice. (Except perhaps, budgetary ones. A cast of two is relatively inexpensive.) If you wanted to do an Irish play about film making in Ireland Martin McDonagh's THE CRIPPLE OF INNISHMAN may have been a better choice. Certainly it is funny. It also has a story that embraces what it is to be a human in a very expansive way. The play has substance as well as conceits.

After the recent collaboration of the Queensland Theatre Company with The Bell Shakespeare ANATOMY TITUS FALL OF ROME: A COMMENTARY. I was looking forward to something more than this less than modest effort.

Thank God, once more, for the actors and their tour de force against nearly all the other odds.


Playing now until 13 December. Book online or call 07 3840 7466.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Complicite: A Disappearing Number

Photographer: Robbie Jack

Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Opera House in association with the British Council present COMPLICITE: A DISAPPEARING NUMBER. Conceived and Directed by SIMON McBURNEY. Devised by The Company. Original Music by Nitin Sawhney.

This is a work that is, finally, about the joys of Pure Mathematics. We are told: "Mathematicians are only makers of patterns, like poets and painters." It is meant to assure us. Now, my fear of mathematics has prevented me from going beyond the simple tasks of accounting my monies in the daily exercise of living in a modern city: Bus fares, the cost of the newspaper and the payment for food, clothing and entertainment etc. But when the actress Saskia Reeves, as the contemporary mathematician, Ruth Minnen, begins her lecture on complex number patterns on the white board of the set design (Michael Levine), I was quickly whisked into a thrilling world of numbers and fractions, that I did not comprehend but was excited about trying to follow. The respect and assumption of the character, Ruth, that her audience would follow her and the transporting joy that she exuded over her chalked expositions was sufficient to sweep me away into an excited place that permitted me to take a journey with her. Comprehending or not. I felt safe to abandon my fears. I became excited about the patterns of numbers on the board and the possibility that here was magic. Mumbo Jumbo certainly, but like other incantations, attractive for their mysteriousness. Two hours later, in the theatre, I found myself literally sobbing through the last five minutes of this remarkable play.

This play tells two interweaving stories. One belongs to what is, in continuous time, the past. "In January 1913 the Cambridge mathematician Godfrey Harold Hardy received a strange letter in the post. It contained wild, fantastic theorems about prime numbers, one of the great mysteries of mathematics......... Hardy came to see that the letter was the work of a genius. What was even more intriguing was that it came from the other side of the world. The author was a 26 year old clerk earning 20 rupees a month in the Madras Port Authority, India. His name was Srinivasa Ramanujan." This becomes the first thread of the play. We follow the relationship and meeting of these two men. East meets West. One a savant/magician of mathematics the other a methodoligist/scientist of mathematics. It follows the journey of Ramanjan, his joy of producing his instinctive creativity, whilst living in a physically challenging western world, Cambridge, and the awe inspired response of the Don, G.H.Hardy.

The other story is, in the continuous time modem, the present, (and yet it is being told to us, so that, it too, is the past) the developing relationship between a Future's Marketeer, Al Cooper (Firdous Bamji) who accidentally stumbles into a lecture hall in the midst of a mathematical lecture and becomes entranced with the lecturer, Ruth Minnen, and is prepared to attempt to comprehend her joys to woo her to his side. That they do marry, procreate and experience loss, and journey around the world. Finishing tragically but humanisticaly triumphantly in India, the birth place of Ramanjuan, is a kind of proof of the number patterns that have been bedazzling us throughout the play, is one of the wonders of Complicite's dense and integrity filled artistry. The astonishing weaving of the mathematical theorems into two simple stories of human relationships, and allowing a fearful mathematical dummy like myself, to realise this, in my seat, in a theatre, is breathtaking in the magnitude of the production's achievement. Hence my sobbing. The sobbing for the beauty of the story-weaving of the two story threads of Ramanjuan and Hardy and Cooper and Minnen, and the dignity of human life and its infinite patterns, and the realisation that the art of mathematics has never been available to me till now -my loss- being humbling and moving. Moving because of the genius of this experience conjured by Simon McBurney and this Company of collaborators.The last moments of the pouring of ashes (sand) from urns into the River Ganges, a powerful theatrical image, deeply burned into my memory retina of greatness.

The last time numbers were thrilling for me was in the Stoppard play of JUMPERS. And there it was the wit and comedy that entranced me. The farcical conjuring of language, and the mixing of the seriously profound with burlesque and gymnastics. Here, in A DISAPPEARING NUMBER, it is the serious plunging into the drama of numbers entwined in human lives being lived that Marcus du Sautoy, a professor of mathematics at Wadham College, Oxford, one of the collaborators of this project, tells us in the program notes, is invigorating: "What is the mysterious journey behind adding up all the whole numbers and getting the answer minus one twelfth? How does one make sense of infinity? What does it mean to say that there are many different types of infinity? Why are the primes fundamental and yet so deeply mysterious to mathematicians? What constitutes a mathematical pattern against the chaos that pervades so much of the physical world? What is mathematical proof?" The fact that I can write this with some clarity, I hope, is some proof of the effectiveness of this extradition of these questions in this production. It is for me, some proof, indeed!

Celia Hoyles, the Director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, in her essay in the program summarises my experience of this performance "What thrilled me about this play, though, was that this dramatic human story (of Ramanjuan and Hardy, Cooper and Minnen) was interwoven with the voyage of mathematical discovery on which the two men embarked. The play enacts the feeling of doing mathematics, the fascination of puzzling out intricate patterns, the excitement of fitting ideas together."

This small company of actors, eight in all, are multi skilled. Actors, shiftchangers, "mathematicians", dancers, scene changers. David Annen. Firdous Bamji. Paul Bhattacharjee. Hiren Chate. Divya Kasturi. Chetna Pandya. Saskia Reeves. Shane Shambhu. They are surrounded by a brilliant team of collaborators. Set design by Michael Levine. Lighting by Paul Anderson. Sound by Christopher Shutt. Projection (an integral part of the genius and success of this work) by Sven Ortel for mesmer. Costume by Christina Cunningham. There is then a stage management crew of 13 people, who must work miracles of precision every night to deliver this complex technical production. It is a miracle to contemplate. It is a wonder to watch.

Here is a work, and here is a company that have to be admired and envied for their achievement on all levels, that I regard as great theatre. To quote Michael Billington, a London critic, he hopes that the theatrical experience should encompass three E's: Entertainment. Enlightenment. Ecstasy. A DISAPPEARING NUMBER has all three in infinite number.

The commitment of The Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Opera House in association with the British Council to provide the where withal for this substantial venture to be brought to the people of Sydney must be commended. Our theatre experience has been enhanced.It has also set bench marks of creativity. I was "inspired, moved and dazzled by the performance."

THE LOST ECHO and GALLIPOLI are two recent commendable efforts of The Sydney Theatre Company in the realm of "Theatre Making". Complicite and the work of Robert LePlage, Ariane Mnouchkine and Lloyd Newsome and his company DV8 represent for me some of the ideals of what a company of artists can achieve. (There are others as well.) It is interesting and sobering to read in the program: "One of the most frequently asked questions is how do we create new work? The answer is slowly, with difficulty and only with support." -Simon McBurney. To read further, Co-produced by Complicite, barbicann 07, Ruhrfestspiele, Wiener Festwochen, Holland Festival, in association with Theatre Royal Plymouth. Here is support. I hope the Government bodies and the Corporate philanthropists of Australia have seen this work and what commitment to artists to take risks can be achieved.

The Associate Director, Catherine Alexander, the associate director for the Revival, Douglas Rintoul should be mentioned. But best of all thanks from me to the Brains and fearless Integrity of Simon McBurney and Complicite.

This should not be missed.

Playing now until 2 December at Sydney Theatre. Book online or call 02 9250 1777.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wicked

Marc Platt, David Stone, Universal Pictures, The Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and John Frost present WICKED. Presented by ANZ.

Entering the lush and beautifully refurbished Regent Theatre Melbourne and been ushered into an ultra plush, wide and heavenly comfortable seat, with acres of leg room, is a rare and promising beginning to a night at the theatre. The interior design of this auditorium is a fantasy in itself.

In front of us is a most extravagant Broadway theatre design. (Settings by Eugene Lee.) A green breadth of castle and forest of the old Cinerama expanse (Those of us who remember and lament it, know how wide that is) absorbs us. (Maybe I should describe it as IMAX size.) Sitting on the top of the centre of the proscenium arch, a large dragon stands guard and seems to be watching us and defending the Land of Oz. Throughout the entire evening there is a multiplicity of set design shifts that are tireless in their imaginative assistance to the telling of the story. The details of the setting design has the scope and flow of the cinema, and all of this is, on stage. The setting changes are so smooth that for some of us they might go by unregarded. But this is a Broadway musical. The real thing!! No expense has been spared.

The Lighting (Kenneth Posner) is the next creative hero. The variety and artistic invention to support the design and more especially the story is almost miraculous in its invention and affect. Several times I gasped with pleasure (I mean literally) and the Lighting design for the finale of act one "Defying Gravity" is superlative.A coup de theatre. A real Broadway one.


The costumes (Susan Hilferty) are glitzy, over the top, especially for the chorus and, are not as equal in their impact as the Set and Lighting. The costumes of the principal characters are witty but not always as comfortably appropriate as the other design elements. They draw attention to themselves unnecessarily. (The curtain call highlights their ugliness.)

The Book (Winnie Holzman) is based on the contemporary novel by Gregory Maguire. "...his first adult novel, WICKED. A devotee of children's fantasy, Maguire's subsequent novels are variations on a theme". He has written one using the Cinderella story, another expanding the Dicken's Scrooge ghost, another still, using Snow White and in this instance set in a High Renaissance court ruled by the scheming Borgias. In this case, WICKED, Mr Maguire and subsequently, Ms Holzman have taken the fondly cherished THE WIZARD OF OZ story of a dislocated Dorothy and friends attempting to find their way home to Kansas, and developed a prequel focusing on the stories of the witches of the original. Cleverly, the stories of The Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba and her friend, the Good Witch, Glinda, are expanded and placed front and centre with the other familiar characters peripherally, teasingly hinted at (Like Hamlet is in Stoppard's ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD.) This is a very felicitous conceit and may account for the easy embracing of the play. The writer's have also used the iconic rivalry between the air-headed but good natured blonde and the smart and wise brunette, (Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, hello!) there is also the contemporary connections to fantasy movies and stories of dragons and magic (Harry Potter et al) to hook you in, and guarantee an easy and contemporary familiarity to the world and its premises. We are ready to believe. This is smart commercial dramaturgy and it doesn't feel exploitative.The text is witty and the Lyrics and Music of Stephen Schwartz are a triumph of fantasy confection and contemporary street-smarts. Most of the songs are deliciously wicked and soberingly sombre,when they need to be: "Popular", "Wonderful", "No Good Deed", "For Good". Here is a contemporary musical that has lyrics that you want to hear and music to support them.

The performance of Amanda Harrison (Elphaba) is outstanding and the singing was secure,powerful and pleasant to hear. "Defying Gravity" a sensational act closer. The voice has such a centered and controlled technique that one is left with a pleasant wonder. On the other hand, on the night I attended, although it is a delightful performance, Lucy Durack (Glinda) seemed to have been straining the voice and there is a raggedness to the quality of the sound and the clarity of consonants were very unpredictable. Difficult to catch all the wit of the text. The sound quality is delightful characterisation of the iconic dumb blonde but I hope it was not at the expense of the voice itself. It was a distraction. The supporting cast including stalwarts like Bert Newton and Maggie Kirkpatrick are good. The acting is just appearing a little glib, (phoned in) presentational from all, just lacking the extra concentration needed to give perfection to the performance.

The Dance Arrangements (James Lynn Abbot) are mostly just flash and dash to seemingly facilitate scene changes and is the least integrated and impressive element of the show.

I had a very pleasant night in the theatre. But this musical for all of its pleasures lacks the creative unity of BILLY ELLIOT. In BILLY ELLIOT, the book, design elements, the lyrics and especially the choreography are superior in their integrity to the artistic whole. (The Wicked score however wins hands down over the Elton John effort, for my money.)

The magic fantasy world of WICKED is a great attraction for the musical theatre audience and less testing then the hardship but inspiring story of a miner's son with a dream. This is a wonderfully clever night of concocted distraction from the realities of a dazed world with enough values to give one an optimistic step to take with you as you leave the theatre for the footpaths and public transport of the streets of Melbourne. Well worth the time spent and the money found. Do go and take your kids, they will be enchanted forever with the theatre.

Playing now until 18 January 2009. Book online or call 132 849.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Hypocrite

MTC: The Melbourne Theatre Company, a department of the University of Melbourne present THE HYPOCRITE, a new version of Moliere's TARTUFFE by Justin Fleming.

I have to declare that I have never been a fan of Moliere. Either the verse translations or just simply, perhaps, the plots and characters always kind of bored me. (The STC Bourgeois Gentleman, a year or so ago was so horrible that I had sworn never to go again to a Moliere play.) So I attended the MTC production, the other evening, with no expectations. However, I had a wonderfully delightful time. My fellow audience companions did as well.


I feel that the director Peter Evans has such a secure hand on this work from all areas of his collaborators, that that assurance permeated the whole event. This text has been both translated and adapted by Justin Fleming, commissioned by the Company. It is thoroughly outrageous and delightful, often, all at once. The vulgarisms of the version, set in both a quasi period and contemporary setting and costume, bestrides such a breadth of cheeky and anachronistic daring that I was disarmed and often left gasping with surprise and mirth.


The world of the play, witty and elegant design by Stephen Curtis, reminded of the new money of that late 80's ABC documentary series SYLVANNIA WATERS. A kind of ugly and naive brashness and security of bad taste, that is lived unselfconsciously and happily by all. This household was oblivious of its ostentatious lifestyle. They have the money and no real taste. They aspire to the inspiration of the fashionable world and if they want that white plastic garden chair and that designer armoire in the same room with nineteen different kinds of chandeliers, they can. And isn't it gorgeous!!?

So from the moment Dorine, the maid (Mandy Mc Elhinney) opens with the Australian budgerigar bird vocal pitch supported by all the other vocal characterisations of the company: Madame Pernelle (a delicious Kerry Walker) Mariane (Sara Gleeson), and especially an outrageous Damis (Chris Ryan) you have a world of musical sounds to operate in. And Mr Fleming goes for broke in supplying the words to fill this very familiar world.Seldom have I succumbed to such unabashed vulgarity. I have read debate about the verse liberties and the "failure" of this or that in "the form", Mr Fleming has constructed the text in, but, in the doing and hearing of it, in this company's relish of the mouthing and playing with it, it works as a very surprising treat. It did last night (Tuesday).

Garry McDonald as the blind sighted "rich sucker" Orgon creates a character of such glorious vocal, physical and psychological skill that one is left in a state of awe. Take the witty costume of a lime green "period" coat, with thigh high laced boots, beige breeches and a wig that recalled the bouffant hysteria of Gary Oldman's Dracula, crowning Mr McDonald's scalp, then, you have a picture of challenge that needs to be met with comic invention to master that visual affect. Mr McDonald subdues it all. He and his creativity is why you are there. The costume is merely a clue, a support ,an accoutrement to what is to follow.


All in all, there is hardly a false decision made by any of this company. Nicholas Bell in the notoriously difficult role of the straight man Cleante, Marina Prior in a tour de force comic struggle as Elmire with Tartuffe, the delicate timing and wit of Ashley Zuckerman as Valere, James Wardlaw, Martin Sharpe, Bert LaBonte are all part of a wonderful ensemble. Kim Gyngell as Tartuffe is marvellous in the "oily" choices of his hypocrite. The vocal well pronounced sounds combined with the elegance of delivery is so perfect and yet, and yet something is not quite right. Is it the physicality? Does it alter the rhythm and so the timing of some of his task? Is it musically too contrapuntal to the rest of the score? I have not been able to put my finger on it. Whatever it is (someone might be able to clarify for me) it is only slightly remarkable.


The Set design is both provoking and witty, the trap of it for me, is that it remains to static a picture, although the lighting design is attractive and in motion throughout the temperatures of the scenes. (Matt Scott) The costumes are all a delight. (If only there could have been some changes to keep the visuals alive - budget perhaps.) The composer (Ian McDonald) has written a score that has the exact "spunk", elan, for the tone of the evening and Mr LaBonte is pleasant as the musician with the scene interludes that are so stylishly economic in their timing, mood and rendering.


So, all of this felicity comes down to the choices and judgements of the director,Peter Evans. It is all handled with the right strokings of vulgarity and yet with a sustained and delicate, elegant sensibility and restraint. In all areas the translation, the design elements and the guiding of the acting. This is a very impressive and wonderful time in the theatre. Ta, muchly. It almost whets my appetite for more Moliere.


This, interestingly, is Melbourne's second mounting of this play, this year. Two companies, two professional productions, two companies of actors, two translations. How wonderfully European of this city. Where ART can be discussed with recent comparison. Where learning the play is not the only preoccupation for the audience. How cosmopolitan.

Playing now until 13 December. Book online or call 1300 723 038.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Lower Depths

Photo: Jeff Busby

ARIETTE TAYLOR Productions presents THE LOWER DEPTHS by Maxim Gorky at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne.

THE LOWER DEPTHS is a great play. It is thrilling that a Company of artists would find it important and challenging to give the theatre going public in Melbourne the opportunity to see this text. The Company of artists committed to the production is extremely impressive and boasts of actors of high standing. I recommend that you attend if you can. The production and acting is flawed and very uneven but the play is memorable and ought to be within the repertoire of any discerning audience's experience.Young audiences and students of the theatre, this is a must for you to witness. Here, is a rarely seen, in Australia, important part of your dramatic heritage.

THE LOWER DEPTHS by Maxim Gorky is a great play. It was written for the Moscow Arts Theatre then at the height of its gestation under the artistic inspiration of Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Dantchenko. It was first performed in 1902 to great acclaim and success. Gorky a young man brought up in the urban underclass of Russian society has recorded his life in a famous autobiographic trilogy: MY CHILDHOOD; MY YOUTH; MY UNIVERSITY. (The Russian films of the trilogy are also fabulous.) The world of this play comes directly from a life well and intensely lived and observed in economic struggle end turmoil.

Gorky had through Chekhov befriended the Moscow Arts Theatre company and he wrote with a close knowledge of the actors and their abilities. Stanislavski and his company had been developing their approach to acting style for some time culminating with Chekhov's THREE SISTERS in 1901. The Ensemble acting for which this company became famous, and the western theatre has tried to emulate since, was at its most complex. One of Stanislavski's famous maxims is "That there are no small roles, only small actors." This great text of THE LOWER DEPTHS is proof of that. 16 roles where there is no leading character. All of the roles need to be equally present. This play has no real plot. It is rather a close observation of a collection of down and outs attempting to survive in a boarding house/doss house in the suburbs of a city. It requires, to succeed, a group of actors, fine tuned individually, and to each other as an ensemble.


The play demands actors that are in the most felicitous place with their technical skills. Body, Voice, Intellectual and Emotional skills. The soloists or the instruments in the company or "orchestra" need to be at top of their form. And most importantly they need to be fully attuned to each other. It is interesting for me to reflect on some of my recent concert going experiences in relation to what I believe the Gorky play requires. The genius of the AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA especially under the direction of Richard Tognetti is the ability for each of these gifted individuals to subsume their skills into a flawless ensemble to serve the music. Again, sitting in the Hamer Concert Hall, high up in the Balcony, last Friday, listening to the MELBOURNE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA play the Mahler Ten, one could see the ensemble of an enormous orchestra serving collectively the score on the page to rewarding affects. The great skill of the individuals serving the whole, the ensemble.


So the problem with this production for me is that the company of actors appear to be uneven in their primed skill areas. The director (Ariette Taylor) does not seem to have solved the style that the work will play in. There is an uncomfortable clash of approach from the actors. Some seem to be playing a kind of documentary reality, where the voice work seems to be unsupported and mistakenly real. Others are playing at a vocally thrilling pitch of "theatrical reality". This is true of the physical commitments as well. There is no consistent play style. The ensemble style is too diverse. My best experience came from some of the smaller roles: Adam Pierzchalski (Alyoshka); Evan Jureidini (Tartar); no small parts indeed! Their ensemble presence adding a life force that extended not just to the playing area but also to where they went in the bigger world of the play when they left the stage. On stage they were living a life, not enacting a scene. Greg Stone (the Actor) was mostly magnificent, playing an artist who has self destructed under the tragedy of alcoholic addiction and paying the ultimate cost, suicide. Marco Chiappi (The Baron), whom I have never seen before, gave a marvellously calibrated performance of a "fallen man" - a vocal timbre, physical habitation and a set of intellectual interpretative choices that were spellbinding to behold. The courage of the performance was knife edge in action. Alex Menglet (Luka) gave promise of greatness, but needed more skillful assistance from the director to vary his approach. It lacked shape. It appeared to be conceptualised rather than experienced. Physically and vocally owned, the range of expression was too limited to maintain interest to this enigmatic character. This great mysterious character of dramatic literature, Luka.

The biggest difficulty for me was the work of Stewart Morrit in the pivotal role of Vaska. He appeared to me to be playing all to himself. The text was elocuted - seemingly "sung" for affect rather than the pursuit of an objective or even to tell a story. It appeared to be self affecting and presentational. The story he was telling was secondary to the emotional life. Sentimentality was the principal colour. No matter which scene he was playing in, the other characters were only serving his emotional journey. It was the antipathy of what the play requires. Vaska deals with a lot of the people in the house and is the well spring of the narrative melodrama. It was hard to follow the story as each of these 16 characters have contributions which must be played and placed firmly in focus, for the whole to make a satisfactory experience. The role that every actor has is absolutely integral for the play to have an impact. This could only happen if all the actors were dealing with each other. I felt Mr Morritt was not doing so and he dealt with a large number of the characters. The Act three duet between Chloe Armstrong (Natasha) came to a stand still as both actors tried to out act each other with the emotional truthfulness, forgetting the story and disengaging me from the plight of the characters. This was like looking at separate parts, I was asked to watch his acting instead of been asked to chase the story and endow the performance and story with my emotional truths which he should have been inspiring me to do. I was not to have a catharsis, I was been asked to admire Mr Morritt's catharsis. That is not good theatre.


The other actors in the ensemble were uneven in their energy commitments and seemed to come and go. All of the actors are capable, but last night, when I saw the performance, not in tune with each other and inconsistent in style. Syd Brisbane had physical energy but diffident vocal energy. Mr English waited for his turn in the fourth act to make an impression. Prior to that he was less engaged and not earning his place in the sun. Genevieve Picot, whom I thought was brilliant in ROCK AND ROLL earlier this year, seemed unable to get a grasp of Anna. The illness was not convincing nor was the textual contribution.


The Design, both set and especially costume, by Adrienne Chisolm made wonderful use of the space and was well served by Emma Valente's lighting design. The sound design was minimal but the use of the live accordion and the music and lyrics by Adam Pierzchalski and Greg Stone were especially evocative to the creation of the world. The Act two scene change had a charge that was quite thrilling as did the final act song that led us to the final startling moment of the play (The theatrical disturbance in the roof of the actual space at the end of Act one was truly galvanising for its veracity.).


The translation which seems to have had much care and contribution from all the artists, was adequate, but may have been to personalized to the actors at hand and so seemed less striking or less managed poetically, as some others I know. Gorky is relatively difficult to manage, as his observation of life is full of repetitions and ellipses that may in a less romantic culture be too slow to play. It takes courage to risk boring an audience. But if you don't have the courage, you may lose the authenticity of the writer and the world of the play. I felt it was interesting at the Sydney Festival two years ago when a Russian company performed UNCLE VANYA, the running time was almost four hours. Most agreed it was superlative Chehov. But culturally most Australian productions of Vanya run in at about two and half hours. We generally fear we might bore the audience. What greatness may be in the repeats and ellipses? (Have you seen an uncut LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT? or an uncut PEER GYNT? I have. There is a wonderous dramatic difference to the dramatic literature as live performance when respected in this way.) This Gorky played on Saturday night less than three hours and here I think maybe part of the problem.


I never saw the Ivanov production by Ariette Taylor and most of this company of actors, lovingly remembered throughout the notes of this production's program. This Gorky work has evaded this company. The director has a choreographer's eye for beautiful stage pictures but not enough of a steady textual hand to guide her actors through the music of the play. There is a tendency towards romaticising the Russian world as well. And this world of shocking poverty is not in the least romantic. A read of Orlando Figes NATASHA'S DANCE and/or A PEOPLE'S TRAGEDY will enlighten one away from such inclinations about the Russian dilemma at the beginning of the last century. Interesting it is to read on page three of Saturday's The Age newspaper of the plight of duped international students ending up destitute and living under a bridge near the Rod Laver Arena in our own time to see the relevance of this play. IVANOV is a relatively minor play that can, because of its flaws, still interpretatively surprise. It also has a relatively simple melodramatic structure, that allows for actors to indulge their feelings more individually than play more disciplingly objectively to the score written on the page for an attuned ensemble. It allows, relatively, for a romantic or sentimentalised indulgence of the Russian world. THE LOWER DEPTHS is a much more formidable masterpiece of reality and of ensemble theatre and needs more respect and/or time to bring to fruition.

Gorky gains in reputation as time passes. SUMMERFOLK, ENEMIES, THE PHILISTINES, THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN are quietly making appearances on the world stages. Chekhov wrote with a sense of his own impending doom. Gorky wrote with the hope of a better future. A better economic justice. He, despite attempts of suicide was a very robust individual. I always wondered what Chekhov would have gone on to write for the theatre had he lived on into the revolution. May be this company could look at Bulgakov. I would come to see that as well.


Congratulations on the vision and dedication to all these artists for the commitment to toil over this work.


Playing now until 29 November. Book online or call 03 9662 9966.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

MSO: Symphony No. 10 in F sharp

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, MSO 2008 present Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 10 in F sharp. (A performing version of Mahler's draft, prepared by Deryck Cooke in collaboration with Berthold Goldschmidt, Colin Matthews and David Matthews.)

Music, as I have declared elsewhere, this year in this blog space, is a late appreciation for me. As I matured I began to attend and appreciate Concert going. My experience is that of a growing "lover" rather than a "knower". In my concert going Mahler is a relatively new acquaintance. The San Francisco Orchestra under the guidance of Michael Tilson Thomas, both concert and recordings, was how I was first drawn into the Mahler spell. The extremely erudite introductory essay in the program notes by Gordon Kerry will be responsible for any knowing that I write here.

I decided when I began this blog that if I attended any "Theatre" experience I would record my attendance and experience. These "reviews" that I have written this year are my personal Diary reflections of my experiences. So, however hesitantly, here is my diary response to the Mahler Symphony.

This very large orchestra was guided through this monumental work by Conductor Mark Wigglesworth without score. I was very impressed "The Tenth Symphony was left incomplete on Mahler's death in 1911, but Mahler had essentially completed the composition of the Adagio. ...There were five folders, with the number of the movement clearly marked on each. The first two movements exist in draft full score, as does 30 bars of the central PURGATORIO. The fourth and the fifth movements exist in more or less completed short score...... In other words, the symphony exists in at least skeletal form..... Alma Mahler at first refused to publish or circulate the sketch material "for personal reasons connected to the hand written notes by Mahler to her on the score sheets. Other composers attempted to complete the work under the reluctant permission of Alma." But the turning point came in 1959 when musicologist Deryck Cooke.... made a fair copy of the sketches and in so doing discovered that the essence of the full symphony was fully realised.... the orchestration was 80 percent that of the composer. Under the baton of Berthold Goldschmidt, Cooke's version was broadcast in 1960". Alma was moved by the recording and subsequently gave "Full permission to go ahead with performances in any part of the world."

The first Australian performance of the full Symphony was given by The Sydney Symphony conducted by John Hopkins on 7 February 1970. The first Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performance was conducted by Hiroyuki Iwaki on 26 Sep 1978. The last performance of this work in Melbourne was given on 20 June 1985. So it was a rare privilege to hear it tonight.

The personal drama in Mahler's life during the writing of this work may be reflected in the colour and moods of the movements. If art is a reflection of the artist's experiences, I certainly am willing to project onto the score some images that are meaningful for me. Gordon Kerry in the beginning of his essay mentions the film by Ken Russell, MAHLER, and I recall vivdly some of Mr Russell's image impressions. Together, with the live orchestra and memories of the Russell film, tonight, I was able to be enthralled with the sounds from the orchestra as my imagination engaged with the music.

The symphony is made up of five movements and it has "a symmetrical structure, where the outer movements, each around 25 minutes long, balance each other, as do the scherzos that flank the much shorter, central PURGATORIO movement." For me the two outer movements were piercing in their emotional intensity - the contrasts of forte and piano - as theatre music, resonant in their image making power. The flute, tuba and trumpet solo magnificent in their effect.

Sitting in the Balcony section of the Hamer Concert Hall the drama of the conducting and the brilliant expanse of the orchestra at work as a fabulous organism of art was, thrilling and occupying to observe. The audience were generous in their applause for the performance.

Geoffrey Rush has accepted the role of 'MSO Ambassador', as a lover of orchestral music and his appreciation of the MSO as his local orchestra. Here is my contribution to Mr Rush's Ambassadorship: this was a stupendous way to spend some time in a theatre.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Triptych

Performance Space at CarriageWorks present De Quincey Co in TRIPTYCH.

On the card used for publicity it states "TRIPTYCH examines three elements-air, electricity and water-through dance, sonic and visual structures." In the program notes "Our global respiration draws from air and water that has existed for 4.5 billion years. Our first and last breath define a human cycle; the water implicit within our bodies is a necessity for all known carbon based life; whilst the electrical sparks of the synapses which link us to the electric sheath and circuitry that kickstarts and maintains life processes, must be present for any of our "thoughts" to take place."

De Quincey Co is Australia's leading Body Weather company which builds on several decades of work by dancer-choreographer Tess De Quincey in Europe, Japan, India, and Australia. BODY WEATHER is a contemporary dance performance training founded in Japan by butoh dancer Min Tanaka." With the dance techniques practised by Tess De Quincey, four of her collaborators, Peter Fraser, Victoria Hunt, Linda Luke and Lizzie Thompson are variously successful in giving us an experience exploring the original impetus of the work. The sonic/sound composition is by Chris Abrahams (best known for his work as pianist with the improvising trio The Necks.) Visual contribution/video footage is by Tess De Quincey; the oscilloscopes are manged by Robin Fox with sensitive lighting by Travis Hodgson.

We are ushered through a back entrance into the usual Performance Space Theatre into a narrow tunnel of space limited by a back wall and in front of us three large-scale video screens. The audience form themselves along the "tunnel" and either stand or sit on the floor (a few benches, chairs are available). The screens are filled with images of cherry blossoms being blown by air, the wind. At this close distance, probably eight or ten feet away, the images appear to be immense and are mesmerisingly beautiful. In front of the screens the startlingly adept and exquisite Peter Fraser is executing a dance of immense delicacy and power. Mr Fraser was recently part of the Performance Space New Works season where he presented TARKOVSKY'S HORSE. This work and Mr Fraser's work in TARKOVSKY'S HORSE is astounding for its beauty and complexity. And here in this featured work he is no less a treasure to behold. His whole body is magnificently attenuated to his choreographer's demands. At this closeness I was able to observe the mental and physical concentration and power of this artist. Dressed in a light kimono his feet were astounding for their flexibility and control. But in a truly devastating moment of creative belief and ownership, for several minutes Mr Fraser became with elongated twisted backward arms a flying crane in the air above the cherry blossoms. This artist is exemplary in his skill and seems to me, after witnessing both these works, the major achiever in this Body Weather technique. Lizzie Thomson joins Mr Fraser in this piece in front of the screen and though skillful as well, is not able to impact on the creative fervour that Mr Fraser demands of us. The other dancers appear as fleeting shadows, large and small, on the screens. All the elements, especially the sound, are harmonious in creating a wonderful experience.

The screens are moved about the space, the oscillators are re-placed to fill the screens and the audience is displaced into another viewing configuration. This section concerns electricity: images of yellow/orange flashes of tortured captured electrical energy is projected. The sound minimalistic scratches. This time, the different but similarly concentrated skills of Victoria Hunt begin to dominate my choice of contact. (Mr Fraser is not dancing.) The energy of "giving", the sense of creating a performance for an audience is telegraphed from all the workings of this dancer's body. Here too is great performance skill and technique. Her co-dancers Linda Luke and Lizzie Thomson are present but their work seems much more private, internalised. For me this section went on for far too long and could probably benefit from some editing.

The last section involve water.The screens move again. Images of a gently swelling ocean. Here the piano sounds of Mr Abrahams are marvellously atmospheric. The dancers (without Mr Fraser once more) undulate through the imaged permutations of flotsam and jetsam, on and under the water surface. It is more interesting than the second phase of the work. Finally the screens fade out and the dancers, all four, move to a central light and "bob and weave" to the slowly fading source.

This is an inconsistent experience but has moments of magic scattered throughout it to keep one engaged. The first Cherry Blossom sequence dominated by the contribution of Mr Fraser is so moving that the other two sections suffer because of the order they exist in. The best of the wine: served first!!! This time last year The De Quicey Co presented a site specific work THE STIRRING at the Performance Space. That work for me has been the high bench mark of achievement of this company. TRIPTYCH is an honourable second, in my experiencing of the company but should be unmissable for dance/movement lovers just to see the astonishing achievement of Peter Fraser.

Playing now until 15 November. Book online or call 1300 723 038.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Anatomy Titus Fall Of Rome

Bell Shakespeare & Queensland Theatre Company present ANATOMY TITUS FALL OF ROME A Shakespeare Commentary by Heiner Muller. Translated by Julian Hammond. At The Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House.

I attended this production with just a little trepidation. The colour photograph in the Sydney Morning Herald with all that “blood” all over the actors and the set looked.... well.... as if I were heading into another..... "Koskyesque" adventure in the theatre. After THE WOMEN OF TROY with the typical production "tricks" of the Kosky oeuvre and my shell shocked experience in the Ride On Company’s production of FAMILY STORIES: BELGRADE maybe my sensibilities were a little depleted and distressed.

Now, I do not know much about Heiner Muller, except a little I have gleaned from reading and brief conversations with Muller disciples and... he, they said, promised to be a little full on too...!!

However with Shakespeare, Muller, John Bell and Michael Gow leading this enterprise I should have had less fear and more faith. Four practitioners in the theatre with enormous reputations for theatrical intelligence and courage. Trust them. Well, it was well worth the time trusted.

This version of TITUS ANDRONICUS was first produced in 1985. To quote from the program “In Heiner Muller’s version of TITUS ANDRONICUS, the first act is entirely dispensed with, replaced by a running summary of the plot and thumbnail character sketches. Interspersed throughout the next three acts are more chunks of Muller’s poetry, commenting on the action and drawing comparisons with contemporary history. The last act is again abandoned and Muller creates his own version of the savage finale to the play.”..... (the contemporary historical events refer “to events of the 1970s and 1980s (particularly the CIA coup deposing Chilean president Salvador Allende and imposition of military rule under Pinochet.)” This production sets out to test the vision of Muller’s play against today’s reality. The Roman reality, the Elizabethan reality, the German reality or the present contemporary Australian reality, it does not seem to matter much, this production is a powerful experience in the theatre.


The Set (design (Robert Kemp) is a shallow stage surrounded by untreated plywood of some height. Two or three feet out from the plywood surround, at the back, a similarly constructed wall of some strength. It allowed a library of Books to sit on top as if shelved and permitted actors to climb on top of it to crawl, sit and stand.) Whether the walls and the floor were ever pristine, certainly, after almost after two months of touring this production, these walls and floor are now splattered in layers and layers of theatrical blood. Corrugated crimson and “reded” colours of many hues against the wood grain, splat out from a plastic bucket, that as the performance takes speed, is the source of fresh splattering, as the actors thrust, plunge, dip their fingers, hands, arms into it, for flourishing emphasis of unfolding events. When entering the theatre a haze of smoke plays with the lighting state (Lighting Designer, Matt Scott) and the Composer/Sound Designer, Brett Collery; assisted by Tony Brumpton weave a seductively attractive Elizabethan sounding soundtrack, provoking and comforting. (In fact the whole of this score was very marvellous in its intended designs.)


An actor in contemporary board shorts and T-shirt in a gorilla mask carrying a bull-horn and backpack enters the stage. Leans against the wall and stares. The auditorium dims. The company of actors (an all male cast of 9) are all dressed in contemporary street clothes. The most formal of black polo sweater, slacks and shoes is worn by Titus Andronicus (John Bell), the others dress in readily identifiable wear. The Costume Design (again Robert Kemp) very effective. It takes us into a world easily ours, to identify.

Muller believed the text and rhythm “must not be used as an announcement, as an exchange of information, but rather as a melody that moves freely in space.” It is a rhythm, a beat. This well oiled company have been handling this text for almost two months now, and all of them: John Bell, Robert Alexander, Thomas Campbell, Peter Cook, Scott Johnson, Nathan Lovejoy, Steven Rooke, Christopher Sommers and Timothy Walter were in top form. Whether in solo work or in choral work the Muller/Shakespeare language flowed effortlessly and communicatively. It was a very engaging story that they gave us. The fights and the blood letting of the text were highly stylised and executed with such √©lan that their was no faltering on my part in participating in the play. The actors play numerous roles, sometimes, as in the tradition of THE SHARED EXPERIENCE COMPANY (in the UK), having conversation by themselves as two characters. This experience requires attention and pays off spectacularly for the thrill of the journey.

John Bell as Titus Andronicus is in effortless form. The experience of years of dedication to Shakespeare and to Shakespeare’s language causes Mr Bell to give a peerless performance of both vocal and physical characterisation. In a play of such passion and violence, Mr Bell coolly and technically "rips" through his speeches with rapid fire clarity and intensity. It is thrilling to hear this actor at work. (The deep tones of one of his expressions of laughter, chilling for the unexpected human warmth, after so much impassioned coolness.) It is just as thrilling to watch his physical skill, in gesture and movement that all counts to accuracy; every arm expanse, every finger flick inflected with meaning. Mr Bell delivers detail at speed and he requires you to chase him, to keep up, and so one joins the rhythmical movement of the text, the play. You are seduced into an experience of sometimes a breathless chase. Almost against my critical eye, “my judgemental habit” I found myself inside the action of the play. It was sometimes truly frightening and confronting. Robert Alexander as Marcus Andronicus (the good brother) gives experienced support and all the younger members of this company give creditable performances of skill and technique that will be only enhanced by being able to work with and watch a master at work. I grew to engage with Timothy Walter (Aaron) and Nathan Lovejoy (the brothers Saturninus and Bassianus and the Nurse) and Thomas Campbell (Lavinia) especially.

The Shakespearean text seemed to me to come most vividly to life. The Muller less so. Whether it was my familiarity of the Elizabethan or the lack of complete ownership of the actors to the Muller interpolations or my own unsureness in comprehending the “commentaries” I am not sure. But after a performance of 2 hours and 15 minutes, without intervaI, I was exhilarated and had had a truly great time. I was glad to have attended.

The sheer command of every moment on stage in every element of the production that Michael Gow had brought to bear was so confidently and understatedly explicated that exhaustion of my creative impulses were not possible. Unlike my recent Kosky experience (THE WOMEN OF TROY) where I was in a state of anaesthesia at the end, I was stimulated into a state of needing to talk about it. The audience around me (Saturday Afternoon) was similarly excited we applauded hard and generously in thanks for the generosity of this company of actors and all the creative team. They had an evening performance to give. We could go home and savour.

So this is good theatre. Is it good Muller? I really don’t know. According to some friends it is a little to bourgeois, not nearly angry or protested enough. Is it good Shakespeare? This I can say unequivocally, yes, to. Is it worth the time to deal with? I would definitely say YES. At opposite ends of the theatre as experience from hilarious joy to gaping terror and intelligence The Bell Company is in good form. JUST MACBETH! And now The Muller... TITUS... is worth perusing.


Playing now until 22 November, followed by seasons in Melbourne and Brisbane. Book online or call 02 9250 7777.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Pig Iron People

Sydney Theatre Company and UBS present THE PIG IRON PEOPLE by John Doyle.

The most important note in the program is from the writer John Doyle "This is my first play." This is this very experienced writer's, first play.

Mr Doyle has being "honoured by the Australian Writing Guild for comedy eight times and for both of his mini-series, CHANGI and MARKING TIME. CLUB BUGGERY won a Logie Award for Most Outstanding Comedy; THE DREAM a Logie for Most Popular Comedy and CHANGI, the Logie for Most Outstanding Drama. MARKING TIME received a 2004 Logie nomination for Most Outstanding Mini-series/Telemovie, a 2004 AFI award for Best Screenplay in Television and the NSW Premier's Award for Script Writing. John also received a 2004 Logie nomination for THE CREAM for Most Popular Sport's program and a 2005 LOGIE Nomination for Most Popular Sport's Program for THE DREAM IN ATHENS. In 2006 John joined Tim Flannery for the documentary TWO MEN IN A TINNIE... which "won the 2006 SPAA Award for best documentary."

The first act of this first play by John Doyle introduces us to a writer, Nick (Glenn Hazeldine), who after the end of a marriage is moving into a new address in Liberal Street on the night of John Howard's first election victory in 1996. In this street live a collection of "cantankerous older neighbours": Janette and Jack Howard, hmmm, (Judi Farr and Danny Adcock), Claude and Rosie, (Bruce Venables and Jacki Weaver) and Kurt (Max Cullen). These are The Pig Iron People, the people who grew up under the government of Robert Menzies. We also meet an actress, an ex-soapie childhood star April, (Caroline Craig) now finding it difficult to get a new role, who becomes the object of our writer/hero's affections over the duration of the play. Mr Doyle introduces them to us with all of the affectionate "ratbaggery" of his television and radio observations, wonderfully satiric and powerfully crass. (Certainly one of our favourite ways to be entertained as a nation.) One pair of the couples have a terribly corrosive relationship and in contrast the other couple have an idyllic loving relationship! Kurt, just for extra comic good measure, is a German refugee with all the bile and prejudice of another country and era (maybe) which he is not backward in airing to the occupants of Liberal Street. That is the first act. It has the unusual dramatic tension of the possible flowering of a relationship between an actor and a writer and while we fondly watch that develop, aided/hindered sometimes by the neighbours, we are served a whole series of episodes of broadly satiric observations of these Menzies' children. My gosh, they are gauche and naive. And hilarious!

The second act continues with the unbearable tension of the developing relationship of the two youngsters (writer and actress) and we, as a distraction from this painful dilemma, have a series of scenes where each of the residents of the street, that we have met and laughed at in sometimes affectionate/shock/breathless astonishment, reveal in a "monologue" of mostly unconscious self justification, the possible reasons for their entrenched behavioural patterns. Janette explains how her loveless marriage happened. Claude reveals the hardships of being a "Truckie" The lovely Rosie explains her family life and its origins of rescue by Claude. And the permanently angry Jack gets the opportunity to justify his vile self. Wonderfully sentimental and deliriously cliched. Kurt simply piles on his "ugliness", which Mr Doyle has written with a cauterising and withering eye, that connects us to the much honoured writing of his comedy for television and radio. Hilarious once again. (Kurt's second act speech is breathtaking for its accurateness and cruelty.) We even get another piece of accurate but sentimental exposition, explicating the life of a child star of television and the horrible industry that "kills" her off when she is no longer a child: poor April, discovering gradually that her "childhood age" may have been her only talent. Our hero, Nick, the writer, lovingly inspired by her story and that of his irascible but endearing neighbours, collects, by attentive listening, a text that may end up in a PLAY. Just like Mr Doyle tells us in his program notes "In some ways I have stolen from life. For a time my whole neighbourhood was privy to intimate conversations from a bedroom across the street from ours. The ferocious bitterness spilled out into the night as a constant stream of sadness."

The dramaturgical complications of this play are so rudimentary that as a first draft this might be just acceptable in a first term class in playwriting. The blatancy of the constructions in this work need much more writing to bring it to some sophistication for the theatre. For a situation comedy for television (maybe MY NAME'S MCGOOLEY, WHAT'S YOURS?) this may be enough, but for the theatre, in my estimation, probably not. No, let me be daring: IS NOT!! Where is the subtlety of say, Patrick White's satire THE SEASON OF SARSPARILLA? Or where, even, is the accurate satire but loving observations of Australia's great comic writer/actor, Barry Humphries, who has spent a life time mining these particular goldfields? To be just, I have to report it is "horses for courses" because on the night I attended, this play and production were received with noisy guffawing and sometimes rounds of applause (and that was when just some of our "neighbours" were sitting around a card table, on milk crates, reading the lame writing of cantankerous Jack in an effort to show just how easy it is to write. The play about the "pork and the admiral" was truly hilarious.[??!!!]) This play about the pig iron people of the Menzies era is just as hilarious, it seems. But is this spill of bitterness, that Mr Doyle tell us about in his program note, sadness (sorrowful or mournful) or is it just sentimental (mawkishly susceptible or tender.)

The Sydney Theatre Company, in its subscription season have given us THE GREAT by Tony McNamara, a well written play, but diffidently directed; THE NARCISSIST, by Stephen Carleton, scabrously vacuous; THE CONVICT'S OPERA, by Stephen Jeffreys (under commission) a baffling trifle; all new Australian writing. And now THE PIG IRON PEOPLE. If these texts represent the best of Contemporary Australian Playwriting, then as a creative nation we are in a parlous state. (I exclude The Great from this diatribe). Now I understand that writing in the comic genre, whatever the kind: Farce, Comedy of Manners, Satire etc is notoriously difficult, but to rush these plays into production seems to me a great disservice to the writer and the art form, (let alone the audience.) And worse, (here I will example what could be called "a cultural cringe"on my part) to then schedule these unformed plays ie. THE NARCISSIST and THE PIG IRON PEOPLE, in the Drama Theatre at the international architectural wonder, the Sydney Opera House, a mecca for international tourists which may include some "informed culture vultures" looking for some Australian entertainment seems to me opportunistic and shameless in its commercial intimations. If you don't have the writing ready, then don't do it and don't expose it in such an important venue. Considering the availability of the world's dramatic literature that is accessible to this company, Why, oh, Why has Mr Doyle's play being produced, at what I feel is at a pre-emptory state of development. This playwriting needs more workshopping to bring its potential to the fore. The history of Australian Playwriting and the need of the major company's for new Australian work is littered with very promising drafts of work that have only seen the light of the stage once. Great ideas still immaturely developed. Almost still born.

On top of the writing problem, is then the direction by Craig Ilott. This is the third production of his I have seen this year: THE PILLOWMAN by Martin McDonagh at Belvoir and SHAKESPEARE'S R&J by Joe Calarco, out at Riverside Theatre. The PILLOWMAN, an International prizewinning text was under the direction of Mr Ilott was underdeveloped in its textual insight (and was saved by a marvellous performance of Marton Csolkas who brought the writing to some real focus of McDonagh's intentions and style.) SHAKESPEARE'S R & J similarly suffered, in my opinion, by a cursory approach to the text. (This production only rehearsed Romeo and Juliet and not the sub textual life of the young schoolboys creating the production which was the concern of Mr Calarco.) My carp is that Mr Illott does not seem to rigorously deal with his writer's text. In this case, the insight of a really concerned artist as to the quality of the writing may have been more confrontational and demanding of Mr Doyle. Mr Doyle thanks both Mr Ilott for his "sensitivity"and Polly Rowe, the STC's Literary Manager, "For her due diligence".

Mr Ilott is a prize winning director. Spectacularly, for his direction of the musical HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. When you examine Mr Ilott's repertoire, there is a lot of musical theatre background and considering the interpolation of songs in this text and an oddly interesting, but underdeveloped reminisce about the Music Hall in Australia by Mr Doyle, one might see the marrying of these two talents. Mr Ilott's love of the Musical genre is present in his design choices with Stephen Curtis with the use of tracked trucks for the entrance of set pieces. The costumes are interestingly and humorously solved. The rest of the design, the false, receding proscenium, is very dull in its manifestation. There however are some design and lighting treats in the projections used to create the fronts of the street houses, and the animation of the red curtain of the music hall theatre and the entrance of poor Kurt's Alsatian dog. (Once again these thrills are not developed. They promised, momentarily, a possibly inventive night. It was not to be.)

The acting by this company is affectionate and accurate but no-one in the company has any of their gifts stretched. Mr Cullen, in a cameo role as Kurt, is galvanising and revoltingly brilliant. Judi Farr, Jackie Weaver, Bruce Venables and Caroline Craig are giving committed and flawless performances, as far as their cliched characters permit them. Glenn Hazeldine is hampered by a character that is barely alive. The function of the writing more important than any real human insight into the man. The tiresome love story, a bit, like a lead weight around this actor's creatives ankles (odd this, as he is playing the writer, [Mr Doyle?!])There is a tendency by Mr Hazeldine to use volume instead of the exploration of range to remain in focus. Unfortunately, there is a truly misjudged performance been given by the permission of this director. Mr Adcock as Jack Howard, bellows his way, the entire evening, through what could have been the most interesting and conflicted character in the play. When given moments of reflection and self revelation for Jack, Mr Adcock's choices are shallow and reach for affect instead of revealing truths. This is a truly "barnstorming" music hall performance. Vocal bombast. It needs attention.

Good plays and good productions (they are different things) deserve good notices. Bad plays and bad productions deserve bad notices. Then, everyone who goes, cannot complain because they knew what they were spending their money on. ($70 odd dollars plus dinner, parking etc multiplied by two or more, sometimes!!!) Good notices of bad plays or productions does nobody any good. The audience feeling duped and may never go to the theatre again and the company suffers irrevocably in almost every way. A lose, lose situation.

The choice of the Text is almost everything. The proper nurturing and workshopping of new work and writers is probably the most crucial dilemma in the Australian Theatre today.

The guidance and nurturing of our young director's is the next.

Playing now until 6 December. Book online or call 02 9250 1777.