Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Small Things Productions in association with B Sharp presents LADYBIRD by Vassily Sigarev at the Downstairs Theatre.

Vassily Sigarev a contemporary Russian writer has had three of his plays presented in Sydney: PLASTICINE (2000); BLACK MILK (2002) and now LADYBIRD (2004). Each of these plays deal with the desolation of parts of the Russian society in the era of Putin’s government. The lower depths of the very recent past time. Some commentators have, in an attempt to define Mr Sigarev’s niche, suggested him as the contemporary Gorky or Dostoyevsky. This may be somewhat premature. Certainly in the “world“ of his plays there are some similarities but the qualities of the writing have yet to verify the accuracy of such comparisons. Historically, dramatically each of the translated plays (In this case Sasha Dugdale, with “Localised [adaptation] by Ian Meadows and the cast”) that we have seen, have not necessarily developed "LADYBIRD lacks the panoramic vigour and range of his BLACK MILK or the novelty, tension and psychological astuteness of PLASTICINE." It seems to me that LADYBIRD is the lesser of the three plays we have experienced. The weakest, and there is a sense of the writer been stuck and in a mode of repetition. If you have seen either of the other two plays, as far as the writing is concerned, there may be no reason to see LADYBIRD. If you haven’t seen any of this writer’s work then do go. There is an observation of a world in an “exotic” locale registered with “a grim humour and brutality” that is sometimes, even in this production, evocative and sympathetic to the people living in it. Flawed but basically raw. Although Michael Gow’s THE KID had more impact for me last year at the Griffin.

In the squalor of a run down apartment block on the outskirts of a Russian city, next to a graveyard, the living and the dead exist in close proximity. Who are the dead? Dima, the principal character, declares early in the play: ”We’re the dead”. Dima (Ian Meadows), a nineteen year old boy is having farewell drinks with some of his friends before joining the army which will likely take him to Chechnya - at least he will be relatively well paid. Slavik (Eamon Farren), a twenty two year old heroin addict; Lera (Sophie Ross), a twenty year old, using prostitution as a way to survive and also deluded by the most obvious scam of on-line shopping; Yul’ka (Yael Stone), the cousin and eighteen, a middle class kid with the will and cruelty that the relatively sanctioned position of wealth and education can give some, slumming it for a day; Arkasha (Adam Booth), a low rung Russian mafia dealer in black market goods; and The Waster (Slava Orel), Dima’s father, aged fifty, and tragically mired in desperate and irredeemable alcoholism. The farewell party is a depressing unravelling of the consequences of the collisions of this unprepossessing group. A “bleak dispatch” from a ruined and anchorless place.

On the page, this is a grim, more or less, piece of Russian naturalism. This production, directed by Lee Lewis, has, with her artists, explored several different ideas to propel the work. Firstly, Ms Lewis with her Set Designer, Justin Nardella, have created a set, an acting space, that appeals more as a very sophisticated Art Installation than practical space for the staging of the play. It attempts to conceptualise and present a metaphor of the sordid world of the play. A spectacular cascade of rubbish of all kinds spills down from the upstage, left hand corner, a heaped pile of black gleaming metal stones dominates the area. On it are several, maybe six or seven, activated TV screens. The AV artist (Andrew Wholley) has organised independent images of on-line shopping programs, newsreel and a lot of faded static. There is also a filmed, silent sequence of an expurgated scene from the play (that if you don’t know the text you may not notice and certainly won’t make cognitive sense of, although it is a fairly startling and corrosively ugly part of the written play - the murder and robbery of a house bound old woman by one of the party goers). As art in a gallery space it is very impressive. (The lighting (Luiz Pampolha) is exquisite in its framing of the image and in working with the illumination of the actors.) As a functional set design for this play it seems to pose staging problems that are not always solved. The clambering necessities that some of the actors are required to navigate are often precarious and, for my part unnecessarily obfuscating in serving the text’s narrative clarity.

In the foyer of the theatre, in some of the interviews and publicity for the production, some of the actors talk of the exploration of a style of acting that is not “performative” but rather a real world, real life sensibility. Ms Ross (as Lera) is the bravest in this attempt to investigate this idea. However, in the flattening of the dramatic intentions of the translator, and one presumes the original writer, the style of talking “naturally” transmutes the information in the speeches into blurred and gabbled broadcasts of sound. The dramatic narrative is not clearly elucidated. It takes some time to catch what Lera is on about. Having read the play, I caught some of it, but some of my fellow audience, afterward, had to have the narrative lines translated for them. There is undoubtedly a truthfulness to the character, in the sense that it sounds like a real person in conversation, but as Lera is a stranger to most of us, neither her inarticulate ramblings or character tics are embedded with us, so as in real life when a stranger fails to communicate, one tunes out. Ms Ross is amazingly convincing as a real person but in the context of the theatre and the kind of writing that Mr Sigarev has constructed for his play, with the translator, the clarity of conveying detailed information to the audience either as story or character in any decipherable manner is sacrificed. The observable passion and inhabiting by Ms Ross of Lera is no substitute for responsibility to Mr Sigarev or the paying audience. This is an attempt at ultra realism. It does not work as storytelling. Mr Farren seems to be bewildered by the complexity of presenting an addict with such little text. He squirms about the space allowing the sweating gluing of the set metallic stones to his body and face to do his work for him - this is an addict that in a little time is desperate enough to rob and murder to ease his need. (I don’t think so!) While Mr Orel does well as a narrator’s voice, the drunk Waster is not believable.

This ultra realism attempted in the speech work is subverted by the production with a lack of consistent attention to visual detail. In this experiment of discovering a mode of speaking the text, the parallel sense of ultra realism in the physical characterisation seems to have been neglected. Lera talks of having "this rotten tooth" and that "When I get this money, I’ll have a posh filling and bridges made of platinum or whatever". Yet Ms Ross flashes a mouthful of sparkling white and healthy looking molars. A dentist would seem to be low on her order of priorities. Similarly Mr Farren and Mr Orel presenting addicts of the most desperate kind have heads of hair, at least on the afternoon I saw the performance, that would be the envy in gloss and health of most people and very excellent models for shampoo products. Do not these actors have make up skills? It is this sense of carelessness that is irritating and undermines my belief in this company’s investigation of presenting a real world on stage instead of the “performative” or theatrical one. Sometimes it feels as if it is the condescending choices of middle class westerners slumming it with selection to create, only half heartedly, the degradation of this world. Recent Russian cinema is mostly unflinching in its depiction of this side of the Putin Society. (Even the Australian TV News bulletins have not shrunk from the hideous reality that the Department of Child Society (DOCS) have revealed of late as part of our own lifestyles in the perimeters of Sydney society.) What we get is Art Gallery Installation. The costumes (Alice Babidge) go some way to creating a world that one could believe but it is not enough if the actors neglect to develop a make up to support the world they say they inhabit. (Maybe they had a casting session for a movie the next day. Or am I being to cynical? Or demanding?)

The exception to this and the reason to see this production is the charismatic and thoroughly convincing creation of Dima by Mr Meadows. The shaved head, the costume and its wearing and the whole hearted imaginative belief in the character and his world along with Dima’s aspirations and revelation of his motives in such a hell hole of decay and depravity is mightily moving. The scene between Dima and the strangely morally corrupted eighteen year old Yul’ka is spellbinding in its truly abhorrent twists and turns. Ms Stone as Yul’ka is also truly mesmerising in this duologue. The coldness and the evil calculation of a lost and despairing soul that only has sadistic malignancy as a way to satisfy her reason to exist is scary to watch. It speaks to the tragedy of some of the lost youth of contemporary culture around the world and presages a terrible possibility of a future of ‘robotic’ emotionally stunted terrorists inhabiting our society. The contrasted innocent and hopeful soul of Dima on the verge of flying away like the ladybird but been tempted to suicide is Greek in its siren call. The story development is a relief.

The creation of Yul’ka is an example of this writer not being on his best “genius”. The turn in the character is under prepared for and no matter how effective, is essentially melodramatic in its conception. The use of the ladybird imagery is also sentimental and flimsy and more than slightly arbitrary and incongruous, especially in the physical environment Mr Nardella and Ms Lewis has provided for us. How any living creature could survive in it is questionable. It is part of the tragedy of the source of the play.

All in all I was bored by this play, because, Mr Sigarev had not moved on from his other work which I had already seen. It lacked the need to vary and extend himself as a dramatist. It suffered from “repetitive strain injury”. I was bewildered by the production that lacked consistency in its investigations of form. I was excited by the scene between Ms Stone and Mr Meadows, and positively moved by the work of Mr Meadows. Both these actors were nominated as Best Newcomers to the acting scene in Sydney last year and this work validates such observation.

Playing now until 12 April. Book online or call 02 9699 3444.

Monday, March 30, 2009

ACO: Tour Two - Inner Voices

Australian Chamber Orchestra present TOUR TWO, INNER VOICES: BACH & SIBELIUS with Pekka Kuusisto, Guest Conductor.

I had listened to the Music Show (Radio National) on the Saturday before the concert I attended. I thought Pekka Kuusisto sounded very quirky and interesting. This proved to be so. The two Bach pieces, Brandenburg Concerto No.3, BWV 1048 and the Violin Concerto No.2, BWV 1042, were both familiar and so very easy and comforting to hear. Perfectly delightful.

The celebratory work for the 20th Anniversary of Richard Tognetti’s association with the Orchestra commissioned by the ACO from Andrew Ford, BRIGHT SHINERS, was as Mr Ford writes in the program notes “a kind of sparkling music; High-pitched spiccato dots glittering in relief against slowly drifting harmonics.” It was hauntingly mysterious and delicate and led easily into the first Bach piece.

The Sibelius work: String Quartet in D Minor op.56, Voces Intimae (Inner Voices), I had never heard before. The whispering sounds and the folk like echoes and tunes were totally engrossing and begged to be listened to again.

The final work of the program was what drew me to the concert. Timo Alakotila’s Sketches from Folkscenes (2009). Timo Alakotila is a Finnish “composer, arranger, harmonium player and teacher. He is one of the founding members of the folk group JPP and has established a style which blends traditional folk music with tango, jazz and classical influences" Peka Kuusisto is “a long-term fan of JPP’s - a folk group known for their mastery of the legendary fiddling tradition of the region of Kaustinen in Western Finland, and for their capacity to create new music based on that tradition.” This piece of music had all of the fascination of the new and the exploring danger of hearing it. The trendiness of the Scandinavian film and art/contemporary music scene gave the experience, for me, (having just seen the Tomas Alfredson film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN) both a shimmering mysteriousness and a strangely unsatisfactory fulfilment. I had anticipated something else. Something more. I need to hear it again perhaps to enter the work unentangled with anticipation. The two encore pieces were are a delight and a pleasure and maybe more of what I had expected.

Pekka Kuusisto was a great joy to watch at work. It seems “Pekka is unusually free and fluid in his approach and ahas been acclaimed for the spontaneity and freshness in his playing.” On the afternoon of the concert he exhibited a charm and charisma on stage that was fairly seductive and conducive to winning the audience to participate with the orchestra and its offerings. The mixture of the classical awe he exhibits and the fun of the folksong scene meld into giving the audience and his interpretations of the works a freshness and contemporary halo. If ever I needed to recall why Richard Tognetti has the position he has in my concert going life, I just need to see Mr Kuusisto and his infectious bounce. Tantalizingly similar in presence. It seemed to me that the Australian Chamber Orchestra were having a good time with him in charge as well.

A light weight but perfectly charming concert.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Performance Space present ROADKILL by Splintergroup at CarriageWorks.

When you enter the Space in a surround of black clad walls sits a red car just stage left (audience perspective) of centre. Up stage right is a telephone box. Used tyres and tree branches are heaped up in downstage right corner. The lights dim, we hear the beginning of morning birds waking and occasionally twerping. The inside of the vehicle lights up and we see a man and a woman inside. The woman sleeping. What follows is a detailed enactment by the man in attempting to start the car, it responds with unhealthy noise and smoking exhaust; the man dealing with the engine to attempt repair, searching the boot of the car, drinking water, stretching, listening to the sounds of the surrounding nature and attempting to use the telephone to summon help – all to no avail. Stranded in the middle of nowhere. Finally, the woman wakes and there begins a game of mutual ”childish” seduction by both in this empty roadside space that finishes with the two of them having exciting and abandoned sex in the body of the car. It rocks on its wheels, the country and western radio station blurts accompaniment, the interior lights pulse and flash then a strange figure appears at the back of he car in the red stop lights and slowly begins to make his presence aware to the sexually excited couple. The danger and the fear of all those road movies set in the Australian outback (WOLF CREEK-“Just a head on a stick!!’) and the real life cases, The Falconio tragedy come creeping into the experience of watching.

‘roadkill’, then explores other fearful “myths” ( I want to say Urban myths, but urban isn’t quite right) of back road travel in the great outback. It moves from the long naturalistic, real time telling of the opening (unbelievably stressful to sit through because of the extended use of time) to more surreal but no less memorable vignettes of scenarios and possibilities that might appear and resolve themselves in the given circumstances of the bush breakdown, so eerily set up by the design, Lighting (Mark Howett and Bluebottle – Benjamin Cisterne) and a truly moving Composition & Sound Design (Luke Smiles / motion laboratories). A terrible speeding car and road crash that finishes in an astonishing slow motion concussive flinging of bodies in the interior of the car; an amazing gut wrenching slow motion spin out in the phone box as if time was suspended and excruciatingly observed; a hail of rocks, clamouring down on to the car and finally a pelting of stones seemingly blown by an angry nature at the prone body on the floor of the road. Much else occurs.

This work has been choreographed by Splintergroup and is this company’s second work and “after the success of ‘lawn’ (seen at the Sydney Festival two years ago)… decided to try again and make a piece that dealt with a peculiarly Australian sensibility……’roadkill’, like ’lawn’, deals with isolation and alienation but turned on its head. Instead of the claustrophobia of a Berlin apartment (they) attempted to create the agoraphobia of the Australian desert” They have succeeded mightily. It is, mostly, a very visceral experience.

The choreography and the physical feats of the three dancers / performers are truly arresting in their athleticism. Gavin Webber, Grayson Millwood and Sarah-Jane Howard. The duet between the two men is startling in its seeming defiance of gravity (it seemed paper light and with no hands) and similarly, Grayson Millwood’s dance in the telephone box is breathtaking for its beauty and demonstration of strength in a mesmerizing trick of the appearance of the absence of gravity. Ms Howard and Mr Webber are also marvellous to watch together and solo.

The dramaturgy (Andrew Ross) and the attempts to ”find ways to make an edit on stage, how to do a wipe, crossfade, a snap” were not always coherent or comfortable. The work for me at its worst could have been read as “Here are some set pieces and props, what physical tricks of mine can I demonstrate, using them?” The work had a stop/start feel that disjointed the experience for me. The continuity was puzzling. In retrospect I may appreciate the objectives more, but while watching it, I sometimes lost belief and concentration. I spent sometime wondering how some of the work was been done technically. I also felt, like ‘lawn’, it was just a little too long. Some tightening, editing of the material, maybe.

Still this is very interesting, arresting and extraordinary work. In the program “manifesto” it says “Splintergroup is a way of working, involving a spirit of collaboration between performers, designers and artists, resulting in a work that incorporates different visions into a single, unified production. Both ‘lawn’ and ‘roadkill’ were created with this method. Splintergroup is one of three companies - in residence - at Brisbane Powerhouse.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Sydney Theatre Company and Griffin Theatre Company present CONCUSSION by Ross Mueller at Wharf 2 Theatre, Sydney.

CONCUSSION IS A VERY GOOD PLAY. It seemed to me to be a play about the World Concussed. We are shown six characters, some of them functioning in areas of social responsibility that were once (and maybe still are) Pillars of the Community: Doctor, Police Officer (detective), and then two more modern “pillars”: marketing consultants, a spin doctor and, sadly, a young representative of the future, “a male potential dropout.” This is a play where people have been given, in our present civilization, the ability to move the moral principles, boundaries, gradually, beyond what might be regarded as acceptable behaviour to achieve and maintain a life style and be tolerated, even forgiven. It is about the tragic crossing of what were once called public moralities or standards to pursue and maintain, I guess, status and wealth. The film WALL STREET motto: “Greed is Good”. I suppose, now, IN 2009, we are reaping what we have sown. The recent court cases of a Judge and sporting stars, the collapse and rewarding of our high flying corporate consultants are examples of our present cultures health and retrieving value system.

All of the characters are morally concussed. The Police officer (Caesar) is literally concussed and in the journey back to a physical equilibrium decides that he must also re-establish a moral equilibrium. He must tell the truth. He must accept responsibility for the murder of another man that resulted from an unprovoked act of violence that resulted in death. He wishes to make the TRUTH, his Public Statement, in a court of Law.

The spin doctor (Katerina), appointed by the authorities “to hold his hand“ in court, in an attempt to maintain her reputation, attempts to argue him out of his decision to tell the truth and in desperation assaults the officer, “severely”. Katerina also walks away from a friend on a bridge (James Junior), after reading his suicide note, gives him a kiss and “places the (suicide) note in his hand and leaves him” to allow him to jump. She is also engaged in a sexual relationship with a 15 year old boy (Sergio). This spokeswoman is morally reprehensible in every way but believes that her actions are actions that are necessary to maintain her career and complement her lifestyle.

The vile mendacity of the marketing consultant (James Junior, Junior) is enacted in his cool decision of accepting promotion above his own brother, at his brother’s expense, which results in the brother’s suicide, and in his dreadful pursuit to destroy the woman he can’t have anymore by any means possible i.e. moral blackmail and bankruptcy, by using private information in a litigious divorce settlement.

Sergio, a 15 year old boy/man, brought up by a single parent,Caesar, has dropped out of school, unbeknownst to his father, and is having a very heated sexual liaison with a much older woman, and then whilst having all the fun has no sense of his responsibilities and posts his adventures including photographs on the internet without permission. All rights, he protests, but with no sense of his responsibilities or criminal actions. Worse, with no conscience.

James Junior the least of the concussed still causes his own death. He jumps from a bridge.

The doctor (Julia) to maintain her fledgling personal relationship with Caesar, also physically assaults him – “she beats him until she is sure that he will not remember a thing.” She can’t have him in prison by confessing his crime: she says ”Your guilt is Western luxury, it is too much democracy. Why can’t we just go on living our lives, without flaming every little ember of desire to be ‘good’. We can be prosperous. We will be respected. Let us just – start again. Forgive yourself. We can continue.” Caesar’s need "to flame every little ember of desire to be good” will be the end of this world of fudged morality for her. Her life will collapse.

Julia, the doctor, welcomes us to the play with a speech, directly to us, and she declares “This is not going to be another tragedy.” She stages this play as her thesis for this argument. Julia declares in this opening speech, ”We have a window of opportunity – a chance for change – we can become a comedy!... Vivid – stupid – contagious and we CAN and we WILL and we MUST – reinvent ourselves if we are going to survive….. Tragedy is an incident, comedy will be our landscape.” But the unravelling of this story proves to be the opposite for Julia when she finishes in physical violence on the man she loves to hold onto what she believes is essential to live a good life. She loses control of the play and her world. If comedy is a tool to produce optimism then CONCUSSION is certainly a tragedy as it only concludes with pessimism. Tragedy is defined as “a serious play with an unhappy ending especially one concerning the downfall of the main character” than this is a tragedy. Julia does not end well, despite her manipulations. But defiantly the last line of the play, from Julia after her beating of Caesar to a silence is “This is not going to be another tragedy.” The ironic comic statement undoubtedly makes it so.

CONCUSSION IS A VERY GOOD PLAY. The satire and ironies are withering in the blistering dialogue that Mr Mueller has written. In this way it is a comedy, but it certainly is not “ultimately a triumph over adversity.” Julia and all the others (except maybe the physically concussed Caesar) are deeper in the mire of their problematic morally bankrupt reality at the end of this play.

The problem is that this production by Director Brett Adams is not a very good reading of the play. Mr Adams begins with a wrong headed, ugly Design solution for this work (Brad Clark and Alexandra Sommer). A grey, perforated set of metal panels and some opaque glass windows with a metal staircase at one end leading to a “bridge” walkway set in the space independent of the back wall; a grey floor in a black walled box with rudimentary, “chunky”, portable furniture, set at an odd skewed angle to the audience. (It looked like leftovers from the Gallipoli set.) We move from restaurant, bedroom, a park etc with no discernible aid from this clumsy set. The Lighting Design (Luiz Pampolha) moves from a musical disco/event look to naturalism. Both efficient. The sound score seems to have had a lot of attention but sounds like a selection of the director’s favourite music samples. (Basil Hogios.) Atmospheric but not always a clear support to the play as written.

The staging is often very clumsy, often resulting in the full company dispersing our focus with their backs to the audience and no perceptible craft in guiding our focus to the journey of the play. The acting, that seems to have been demanded, is of a very high quality. It just seems to have been very superficially guided by the director. The opening speech by Rachel Gordon for instance, on the night I attended, had only a shallow reading, seemingly to ask us to simply sit back and enjoy and imagine the play, much like the opening Chorus of Henry V. It confused me, in that we seemed to be appealed to see only a comedy to follow. There was no sense of the irony or satire of Mr Mueller’s intention. It took me several scenes to fight my way out of the wrong impression to the tenor of the work, if you listened carefully to the text. The dance interludes (Movement by Fiona Malone) seemed to be useless in developing the story or carrying it forward, and were not easily observed, as the lighting made it hard to clearly perceive what was happening in them.

The actors delivered the material with intelligent clarity at a cracker of a comic pace. One had to stay with them concentratedly to keep up with the wit. What it lacked was depth of perception and the irony of Mr Mueller’s work. Exceptions to the general appearance of the acting style, was a brave and furiously intelligent struggle by Belinda McClory to bring a real and more accurate reading to her scenes and this paid off well for Chris Ryan and Sam North when they were engaged with her. They had, through the power of Ms McClory’s passionate, committed and highly intelligent attack a way of similarly reaching for more than comic technique, and bringing the deeply felt social criticism of the work to our attention as well.

The technique of the writing style with overlapped narratives and time juxtapositions that are not necessarily continuous is demanding. Certainly it took my reading of the play to capture that element of the writing, it was not clearly evident in the action or cueing for the audience in the direction of this production.

It is necessary to discern the difference between the quality of the writing and the quality of the production. In this case I feel the writing is underserved by this production. CONCUSSION IS A VERY GOOD PLAY. I reiterate. (For $10 you can purchase the script as your program listing. It is well worth having. The Griffin do this with all their plays - a habit well worth emulating STC especially with new Australian work.)

Playing now until 11 April. Book online or call 02 9250 1777.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SMH Article

You can see the quote in context in Kevin Jackson's blog on FLOATING.

The Sydney Opera House charges an extra $5 for tickets purchased over the box office counter. Do you think this is fair? Have your say in our online poll. →

Pearl (Moderator)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rasa Unmasked

RASA UNMASKED presented by Lingalayam Dance Company -Australia with Sutra Dance Theatre - Malaysia at The Studio at the Sydney Opera House.

“Rasa is produced when man comes into contact with Life. His reactions to life stimuli are reflected on his many facial expressions and body language. The sum total of his ‘rasas’ produces the mask, the face of his highest ideal: of Man and also his God. ”THE NINE RASAS: WONDERMENT; LOVE; VALOUR; COMPASSION; LAUGHTER; DISGUST; TERROR; ANGER; SERENITY. In dance the story of the Courtesan, Nayika and the Hero, Nayak is told.

These two companies one from Australia led by Anandavalli, and the other, Malaysian, led by Ramli Ibrahim have devised and workshopped a new way of dancing this story with the composer Alex Dea. I am no expert of the form, but from the discussion which followed the performance, these three artists, over the past year have devised, and in two brief three week workshops with the dancers created a new musical schemata and combined different dance traditions to create a new, an essentially, contemporary take on the story and form. To me the 8o minute dance piece had all the entrancing exoticism of both India and Malaysia (ie for me Balinese-Indonesian form and music.) To the knowledgeable or the purists, it seems, there could be some real cultural controversy at the new forms and/or liberties RASA UNMASKED has taken. RASA UNMASKED is subtitled: Celebrating Australia, Malaysia and India Relations, and it is after premiering in Australia, to tour to Malaysia, Singapore and India.

Six young and beautiful dancers are joined by the choreographer / dancers in expediting a technique and story that is entirely enchanting and had for me a clarity of story and beauty. The choreography was fluid and culturally intricate. The arms, hands and fingers, delicate and mesmerising. The familiar leg patterns etc. The faces, too, a joy to watch. Accompanied by a live orchestra Aruna Parthibhan and Bala Sankar and Alex Dea, the sounds were hauntingly smooth and contemplative. The mastership of the musical intricacies was discussed after the performance and charged me to reflect more accurately at what I had experienced. This was true of the cultural delicacies the choreographers invested in the creation of the work as well. The young dancers: Navamani Krishnamoorthy, Abriami Srikanta,Seran Sribalan (from Australia) and Guna, January Low, Rathimalar (from Malaysia) were especially fascinating and moving. The costumes and props were so poignant in their exoticism, that, being transported to another world, was easy. Ramli Ibrahim, dancing the Hero (Nayak) had all the dignity and centred meditative power to support the journey. Whilst with the work of Anandavalli, time as caught her and there is only the internal power of her life contemplation that is still really present, expressed through the glowing intensity of her eyes and gentle hand movements, but the body physical expressions have become limited. It would have been more appropriate, perhaps, to have one of the younger dancers in the central role of the Courtesan (Nayika). It was hard not to be concerned by the demands made on the dancer.

This is an original work that connects to the Ancient traditions of worlds past and interpreted for the present. This is an international co-operation and exchange that reflects the strong and deep connections with the heritage of the world of Asia that surrounds Australia. It has been contrived as a gift to the mother cultures from this young and hybrid one. An enterprise that needs to be encouraged and developed.

It is interesting to note in the program both these companies “acknowledge the on the ground support extended by the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) in all the countries where RASA UNMASKED is touring.” AUSTRADE and its masters sees a good deal when it appears. The arts acting as a cultural bulwark for trade relations for the Australian Government, I guess. The Australia Council for the Arts and Arts NSW have also been acknowledged for support. One wonders how deeply the enterprise was supported. When you hear and then realise that these two companies could only afford two three week workshop meetings, and then remember the level of beauty and expertise that has been achieved, you may wish that this work was funded more liberally to even further enhance the work and deepen the artistic possibilities for our Culture as ambassador for trade relations or whatever else that might be good for Government, and, by the way, the cultural life of Sydney and the greater Australia. But as usual the artists subsidise with their passions and skills what was not there from funding to have.

RASA UNMASKED was a dance of work of admirable achievement in many more ways than just dance. Keeping an eye on its reception in the visited countries will be intriguing. Controversy and maybe protest was muted as a possibility by some of the audience at Sunday’s performance.

Playing in Malaysia, Singapore and India throughout April. Bookings available online.

Night Garden

Performance Space at Carriageworks presents MY DARLING PATRICIA and their new work NIGHT GARDEN.

The last work presented by this “magical” group was POLITELY SAVAGE at the old Performance Space, 2007 and I have been keenly awaiting their new work, whatever it might have been. It was worth keeping in mind and memory.

NIGHT GARDEN has been “Developed through residencies at Performance Space, ArtsHouse, Hot House Garden Theatre and Bundanon Artists’ Trust. NIGHT GARDEN continues (their) exploration of the contemporary Australian Gothic through a blend of performance, puppetry, video and installation. This dark tale traces the fractured relationship of a woman and her son in a distinctively suburban landscape. Performed in traverse and viewed through the skeleton of a burned house, (the company) want NIGHT GARDEN to immerse the audience in a haunting, visually spectacular, dream-like landscape.” All this it does.

The design elements of this performance art/installation are outstanding: Design Concept and Development by Halycon MasLeod, Clare Britton & Bridget Dolan. Sound Design by Declan Kelly. Film & Video by Sam James. Puppet Maker Bryony Anderson. Costumes & Props by Wandjina. Lighting Design Neil Simpson.

The audience is sat at opposite ends of the space on banked seating. At the centre of the space is a small raised wooden platform surmounted by a wooden table. Beneath the table there is an indentation. Encasing the space and floor is a small glasshouse-hothouse, with two side entrances. Outside the house is a carpet of furs, surrounding the house where there might otherwise have been grass. The side edges of the house facing the two audiences is a gauze wall on a slanted perspective with a screen hinged door, pushing through to a raised wooden platform with a chair. There are two glowing in the dark light sculptures of a goose at either end and a setup for a bat and ball game. On the surfaces of the wall screens during the show, still images and video are projected. The lighting is very effective and atmospheric. The Sound score similarly stimulating (although on the afternoon I saw it there was some noisy accidental intrusions.) The actors are miked. The mother figure is created by three performers, Halycon MacLeod, Clare Britton, Katrina Gill and the son by Sam Routledge. Whilst the direction of the movement etc is unobtrusive and the resultant effect is wonderfully provoking and often disturbing, it is when the performers begin to act and speak the text that the artistry frays a little. Shouting with miked voices is not a very useful technique. Mr Routledge seemed to be over enthused in his physical and vocal choices and tended to overplay the youthfulness of the son, and in his excitement caused the microphone to spit out ugly, probably unscripted noise. Shouting is not the only choice to convey the story. The speaking of the text was the least effective part of the performance by all. More time needs to be given to the writing and / or vocal technique in delivering it. Margaret Cameron as Director /Animateur should look at this minor, in relative context of the other elements, detail in a more refined way.

In fact, beside the hauntingly beautiful Set, Lighting, and Sound, the most magical elements are the fabulous puppets and their “life”. When these elements are centre stage the gothic bewitchment and spell is most powerful. The sexual tensions of the pre-pubescent son and the sexually frustrated mother figure are truly Angela Carteresque in their lubricious renderings. Fox and fur. Goose and feathers, etc. The puppets are built with such refined detail and the managing of them seemingly so expert that the world and atmosphere they create is totally believable and densely redolent with sexual ambiguity and disturbance. Scarily haunting, drenched in memories deep in my personal psychic grave of denial. Hidden in my catholic guilt, till provoked back to me by this performance.

The overall experience was not as complete as my remembered experience of POLITELY SAVAGE. True, NIGHT GARDEN is out on its first exposure and I am sure it will tighten and expurgate as the live audience responds. The company travel to Melbourne next. I want to see the work again and embrace its maturing. MY DARLING PATRICIA have created a wonder once again. Thank you.

Playing in Melbourne 24 - 29 March. Book online or call 03 9639 0096.


Sydney Theatre Company & HWL Ebsworth Lawyers present TRAVESTIES by Tom Stoppard. At the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre.

TRAVESTIES by Tom Stoppard was first presented in 1974 at the Aldwych Theatre in London for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Stoppard’s work was last seen in Sydney in the MTC’s production of ROCK ‘N' ROLL at the Sydney Theatre as part of the STC season last year. TRAVESTIES is a relatively early play by Stoppard, who is regarded, by some, to be one of the great living playwrights. Each of his plays is highly anticipated and highly debated.

Like most of Stoppard’s work this is “History rewritten as fiction (and) it is the motif of TRAVESTIES, a work that exploits the coincidence of (James) Joyce, (Vladimir) Lenin, and (Tristan) Tzara being in Zurich in 1917. Factually they never met, but Stoppard links them through Henry Carr (a minor official at the British Consulate who had a dispute with Joyce) and his involvement with Joyce’s English Players in their attempts to produce Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. He uses Wilde’s play “as a base text, against which his own work is set…. Much of the action is presented through the unreliable mind and narrative of Henry Carr……. Events separated by months or even years are made simultaneous as Carr addresses the issue of ‘whether the words “revolutionary” and “artist” are capable of being synonymous, or whether they are mutually exclusive, or something in between’. The style of the play amalgamates Wilde and Shaw through Stoppard’s efforts to ‘marry the play of ideas to comedy and farce’. This is pastiche, a favourite Stoppardian technique which flatters earlier works through imitation rather than mockery of their style”. “In TRAVESTIES, ideas of art and the artist flit with immense speed across the stage, especially as Tzara (Dada) and Joyce (Ulysses) debate their respective aesthetics….. Act Two begins with Stoppard reversing the lingering humour “with the introduction of Lenin and the theories of Marxism.“ Summing up the entire issue of TRAVESTIES for Stoppard is the question "How does one justify ULYSSES to Lenin? Is it possible?"

So, here as usual with a Stoppard play, is a very intellectually dense evening in the theatre. The artistic theories of Tzara and the Dada movement, the artistic beliefs of Joyce, the theories of Marx as interpreted by Lenin and a loving and oft quoted homage to THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. “While most audiences (are) overjoyed, some (are) overtaxed, reacting negatively to the showy demonstration of wit. Was it necessary for an entire scene to be written in limericks or to hijack THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST into the text? Were the aria-like debates required? Stoppard’s defence was clear, explaining that the “work consists of serious propositions compromised by my personal frivolity… That’s where it misses the people it misses. The serious people find the whole thing hopelessly frivolous, and the people who really think they are going to see an empty comedy find the whole thing impossibly intellectual. And my object is to perform a marriage between the play of ideas and farce. “

Some of my audience talking about what they had just seen at the Drama Theatre on Friday evening were having some of the same reactions. It is, however, a testament to the writing that this play is permanently in the repertory of International Theatre and is as popular as it is controversial, still, in 2009. Well loved and oft revived. There is sometimes a shudder away from a work that seems so impenetrable but as recent history has told us when a work of this kind of challenge is presented and DONE WELL, it finds an enthusiastic audience. The STC’s production of COPENHAGEN was not for intellectual slouchers and yet it proved to be a great popular and Box Office success. Build it and they will come. Put it on and we will go. Just ensure it is done well.

To this production, then, at the Sydney Opera House: The director, Richard Cottrell, following on from his masterful production of a much lesser work, YING TONG - A WALK WITH THE GOONS, has brought to bear not only his great experience (to read his theatre bio-graphical notes in the program is to humble many a fellow artist), but his intellectual acumen and a loving relish of the theatre; a positive “glorying“ in it!!!

The cast he has placed at the service of Mr Stoppard’s text, under his tutelage and care, is fairly well perfect. The design by Michael Scott-Mitchell (Set) and Julie Lynch (Costume) has been calibrated to serve the text and Mr Cottrell’s intentions like a glove firmly on a hand. (My personal taste finds it just too busy, too many visual offers to be comfortable with, with so many words as well.) The Lighting (Bernie Tan) and the complex Sound design (Paul Charlier) are in total harmony; with the sound almost a comic character in its contributions to the fun and textual “pointing.” (eg the cuckoos!!!) The Choreographer/movement (Pamela French) along with the rigours of the Voice and Text work (Charmian Gradwell) must also be acknowledged as successful contributors to solving the traps of this very difficult text.

Jonathan Biggins playing Henry Carr, the senile narrator and at other times the young consulate/actor figure gives a highly engaged and engaging performance. The success of the evening hangs on his assiduity. He certainly has the affection of the audience who quickly surrender to his charisma as a performer and trust him to take them safely and clearly on a journey. (The older Carr, on the night I attended was vocally just too muffled in his Englishness and senility to be perfectly comprehended. But so confident is Mr Biggins that I was persuaded to stay with him and keep up. It pays off, but if one was not excited by the play, one might easily opt out of the effort demanded and give up completely, frustratedly.) The command of Mr Biggins interplay with firstly Robert Alexander (Bennett), who I have not seen, recently, as wonderful (watch the dexterity and beauty of his dancing in the finale as well); then secondly,Toby Schmitz (Tristan Tzara) in a series of intellectually superb scenes of scintillating wit and learning is admirable indeed. Toby Schmitz gives a dazzlingly adept and cheeky performance of a very high order. Brain, body and voice in marvellous trim. Peter Houghton (James Joyce) is not quite as on target all the time, but gives an overall picture of Joyce’s interests, if not always a constant accurate detailing. Blazey Best (Gwendolen) and especially a marvellously energetic and accurate Rebecca Massey (Cecily) play the Stoppardian/Wildean demeanours for the heroines, well. The musical duet between the dueling Gwendolen and Cecily in the second act, a perfect delight of audacity. Kept for the last act is William Zappa (Lenin) who in a guise of dour seriousness along with Wendy Strehlow (Nadya Lenin) as an earthing, passionate disciple of her husband and Marx, give the comedy a mordant humour that balances delightfully the frivolousness of all the others combined. Mr Zappa, my favourite Australian actor, is immaculate in timing, gesture and wit. Wendy Strehlow should be watched for the quiet magnificence of her refined and restrained choices that brings a clean sleekness to the ideas of the role. This is as near a perfect company that I have seen on a Sydney stage for some time. (Maybe since YING TONG.) The common element is of course Mr Cottrell. From the moment one walks into the auditorium of his production(s) I feel very safe. He invites me to prepare and to participate with him and his fellow artists. He has a way to confidently disarm you and surrender to the possibilities of the night. From the pre-theatre curtain to the gentle exit from the standstill of the first moments of the play to the rollicking and restless and relentless pace of his orchestration of the writing, right to the final breathless full stop.

This is early Stoppard and in hindsight one can protest the intellectual coolness that his characters sometimes have to, have to work, which sometimes is at the expense of a fully realised human being. Some audience may object that there is not enough reality in the characters. But to quote Wilde from THAT play “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” In this gravely important debate of Art, Politics and Revolution the playing in heightened style is of vital importance, to the sustained concentration of the whole. To blur it too much with “the milk of human kindness” might disable the vessel from its objective, which is principally to stimulate and amuse by debate.

In the later oeuvre of Mr Stoppard, we see this master playwright begin to balance his heart and brain better. In ARCADIA, THE INVENTION OF LOVE and the monumentally great nine hour play THE COAST OF UTOPIA, Mr Stoppard presents real human beings, suffering as well as being smart and often funny. To see these three plays is to see the full flowering of Tom Stoppard's gifts. TRAVESTIES is an appetiser to his promise, but still in its own right, a great night in the theatre. It is rewarding. He invites you to get on board with him and at whatever level you enter the lists of his challenge, there will be some assured reward for keeping up with him. The better prepared you are for the performance the greater the reward. What you put in, you’ll get out. The Emperor Joseph II is said to have said to Mozart “Too many notes”. Some might say to Stoppard "Too many words." As Lady Bracknell, in a completely different context says "We live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces." He expects you to work as hard as the artists do. This is not theatre for the somnambulist or comatose. The great gift that Mr Stoppard gives you under the admirable guidance of Mr Cotterell is that you will feel yourself and know yourself to be a much cleverer person then you thought you ever were when the final moment happens. The applause at the curtain call is not just for those artists up on the stage, but for all of us in the auditorium that night as well. We have, if the night worked, done our fair share, and you will know you have. Comedy demands the complete circle of actor/audience communication. Each stimulates the other. The exhilaration of stimulation is a very adrenalin consuming and depleting activity. Certainly you will be provoked to want to know more about what you have just seen.

The subtitle to Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. It could just as well be the same for Stoppard’s TRAVESTIES. Prepare for it and don’t miss it.

Playing now until 25 April. Book online or call 02 9250 1777.

Postscript: The STC program has Mr Tzara being born in 1816, which would make him to be 101 at the time of the play. Mr Schmitz may need a different make up and approach to character -creation!!!!! It also has Lenin dying in 1953, some 30 odd years after the actual date. Now there is a subject matter for Mr Stoppard to play with: The fictional birth and dates of men of history!!!!!!! Meeting where? In Antartica?

Monday, March 16, 2009


Opera Australia at the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House present WERTHER. An Opera in four acts by Jules Massenet. Libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Miliet and Georges Hartmann, after Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774).

I love French Opera music, (the little that I know): Offenbach, Gounod, and Massenet. I have fond memories of Massenet’s CENDRILLION which I saw In San Francisco with Renee Fleming way, way back then; and only a month ago at the Chauvel Cinema I watched a screening of THAIS, again with Rene Fleming plus Thomas Hampson, from the glorious series of the present season of the New York Metropolitan Opera. (By the way, worth catching, if you love the opera and theatre. With some qualms sometimes about production etc. But this IS the present season of opera in New York and one has a bird’s eye view of some of the great contemporary singers and the chance to see and hear work that stretches past the OA repertory. I can have very up to date chats with my New York aficioandos.)

The libretto is “after Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers” and according to the program notes is very “after”, in the freedoms the librettists took in adapting the piece. However it is very “Romantic” with a love sick hero Werther, (in contemporary terms, someone so obsessed with his passion for the heroine, that therapy or a jail sentence might be an aid to his “stalker” condition.) and a heroine so distressed by her burden of duty (Charlotte), that obviously, only tragedy will ensue from their knowing each other. Like THAIS the plot is reduced to the “pagan” urge of attraction, love, in conflict with duty, with God (probably the Catholic one) looking down upon them with a threatening moral brow. Silly, but perfectly suited to the theatre and time of its creation, Europe (Vienna),1892. Today the audience will have to give a benign bow of the head of plot indulgence to take it seriously.

However, the music, as I have declared my prejudice, is beautiful. There is something dramatic yet shimmeringly transparent in its sound that gives me a restful and fanciful mood of romantic and dramatic longings. Romantically lush and imaginatively transporting. It is often so. I am sure the musicologists can more eruditely explain what the effect is, and have. The third act and fourth act are almost a trio for the two leads and the orchestra (conducted by Emmanuel Plasson.) It is thrilling. The musical performances of the two leads Aldo Di Toro (Werther) and Michele Losier were gripping and powerful. The dramatic performances were truly awful. More of that in a moment.

This is a handsome looking production. Originally presented in June of 1989. The set and costumes are by Michael Yeargan. The setting has been transposed from the original to, I guess, 1989. The clothes have been provided by Leona Edmiston and Farage. The intention of the Original Director, the great Elijah Moshinsky seems to have been an attempt to a contemporary (post modern) naturalism. The Director of this Season is Elke Neidhardt. She has managed to move the singers and children, props etc around quite well. What she has not managed to direct is the two leading singers into an acting style that is acceptable for today’s audience. The acting especially in Act three and four is the kind of acting that gives Opera, as a form, a bad name. It is the kind of acting that forms the basis of all those disrespectful sketch shows and cartoons.

The third act has a dining room set of maybe ten chairs around a table and I swear to you that both singers clutch the back of every one of the chairs and the couch and the walls during the beauty of their singing. They also manage to touch almost every part of their own body in the “anguish” of their character’s problems. Why didn’t Ms Niedhart simply ask the singers to reduce the externalising of the physically expressive impulses? Why weren’t they guided to simplify and just stand and sing and let us endow the dilemmas from the cues in the music? For, it was ludicrous, and on purely contemporary standards of opera acting, way over the top and harking back to a time of yore, that I have rarely witnessed in any opera house.

Ms Neidhart also allowed a white shirt that the hero was wearing, in the fourth act, to have a blood stain in the front so palpably fake in colour, and on the back a similar choice with the addition of a blacked circular pattern, that I read, as a self inflicted gunshot. The size of the exit wound looked as if Werther had shot himself with a cannon ball!!! Surely Ms Niedhardt who may not have been able to manage the singer’s acting could have at least have the wardrobe department give the singer a more realistic representation of his wound, that looked as if it were fatal, but still allowed the character to sing for a further forty minutes without it being risible (The audience did laugh, momentarily.) This was just plain ridiculous. Ms Neidhardt in the program is presented as the Director of this set of performances. She is not credited with re-staging, it is the direction that she is credited with. Bizarre. The acting from Ms Losier as Mr Di Toro crawls agonisingly to his bed, on the floor, is from a Greek tragedy from a production of the 1950’s, perhaps. (By the way the poverty of Werther’s apartment struck me as odd as well.)

If these two singers and if the Massenet score in these two acts had not been so wonderful, the response to the night would have been catastrophic. Sarah Crane (Sophie), Stephen Smith (Schmidt), David Thelander (Johannn), and Andrew Schroeder (Albert) were persuasive in their acting and singing.

This experience, to finish the present Summer season, is the antithesis to the LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK. But both for different reasons were good to have seen. MTSENSK for the wholeness of its artistic achievement WERTHER for the look of the production, the music and singing.

Playing now until 26 March. Book online or call 02 9318 8200.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Hoipolloi’s FLOATING with Hugh Hughes, presented in association with TEN DAYS ON THE ISLAND (Tasmania) and ARTS HOUSE (City of Melbourne) at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse.

This show apparently (I will explain the "apparently" in a moment or two) begins with a quote from Luis Bunuel on a screen "about lies becoming truth if they are told often enough." In fact the quote appears several times on the screen. It is about imagination and memory interacting to create fictionalised events that over time may become our truths. Mr Hughes the, co-creator of this show in the program notes goes on to say “I’m very interested in the idea of memory and of truth and of imagination, and the relationships between all those things. And I suppose I admire Bunuel because, like myself, he doesn’t seem to mind too much what exactly the difference between those things is. He accepts that all three overlap and influence each other……” Mr Hughes expresses his pleasure in “all I’m trying to do really is share my experiences and I’ve always loved making new friends and I’m always so grateful that people want to come and see my shows that I think it would be a little rude for me not to acknowledge them and say 'Hello' and 'Thanks for coming!'" Elsewhere Hoipolloi, the parent producer, state that they “are committed to creating new work for theatre that imaginatively engages our audience and makes them laugh.” All of these objectives are achieved. My audience was engaged and laughed.

Now, I thought, how will I write about this experience? I had several mishaps, that ended with me having a unique interlude in the performance. I actually ended up on stage!!!! So, like Mr Hughes I thought I would share my experiences and hopefully make you laugh and maybe if you were there with me will see the Bunuel quote in action. Here, then, is my memory, which may or may not be too imaginatively embroidered, and will become a form of “truth” because it is in a printed form. In black and white (or grey and blue).

As I am a frequent participator in the performing arts at the Opera House, I am on their mailing list. So, I received all the publicity information about this show, and others, in my mail box, and consequently perused it in my home with a cup of tea. Despite the glowing publicity enticements I felt, in the balancing of my artistic life at the time and the financial responsibilities of my bank balance, that this show, FLOATING was not going to be a priority.

It opened and I read a review. Still did not feel an inclination to go. Then a friend, whose opinion I respect, casually suggested that he thought I would love it. So on Tuesday last I thought I might go. I bought the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday morning and looked in the Arts section to see if there was an advertisement for the show, there was not one. I must confess, now, that I am also a little "panicked" about the rigmarole of telephone booking and always a little put out about the booking fee. I also prefer if possible to see the seating plan and book my seat in the relative security of having picked the best available seat within my price range. And what with my day job obligations, time is always escaping me, and waiting for the automatic answering machine to connect me to a live person is often dismaying and consuming of my limited free time.

After a very heavy schedule in the day, I thought to myself, ”Do you want to go?“ I thought, ”I’m so tired and it has been so hot.” (I do not enjoy humidity, and where I work there is no air conditioning (My carbon foot print is a little smaller, daily, I guess!!!) “All right”, I said as I slung my bag over my shoulder and headed to my bus stop (I don’t drive either, another contribution to my carbon foot print being smaller!!) “If the 400 bus comes first, I’ll get it and go home, OR, if the city bus comes first, I’ll get that and go to the show.” I was what Mr Hughes might metaphorically call “floating” with chance. As chance would have it a city bus came first, close behind was the 400 but being a principled and honourable type, even with myself, I caught the city bus and was wended into Circular Quay and walked to the world famous Opera House on a balmy twilit evening. Starving, I ate some corned beef and creamy mashed potato at the CafĂ© Mozart upstairs in the Booking Foyer (By the way the menu has not changed for several weeks. (I have attended the House 4 times in the last month). I am a little tired, delicious as it is, of the corned beef and creamy potato, the mustard sauce is icky!!! Beware. (The seafood choice I have also had, once, and there was more empty shell then sea food on my plate.) and at $20 a go, not necessarily good value, but when over a barrel with time, metaphorically, and pressed for time between work and performance, one must “float:” and go with the flow. Corned beef once again.

I was really trusting to fate because who knew if the show was sold out or not, since the House did not deem to tell the public if it was even on in the daily newspaper. Probably the House was saving money on advertising. Anyway, I went downstairs to a foyer that seems to have been under development for a ”thousand years” (this maybe my imagination stretching a truth, Mr Hughes, but it has been many, many months...) (I also wonder what other Entertainment building in Sydney could get away with the obviously precarious (if not dangerous) state of its public spaces. Maybe being a Commonwealth Building it has Diplomatic Immunity or something or whatever! The Queen’s building licence or something?!!! Where are the O.H and S officials?) Anyway, after carefully finding my way over crapet, sorry carpet, artificially and artfully joined to the newly partly laid, when wet, slippery tiles and pieces of clean wooden pieces, I found the ticket sales desk and asked to buy a ticket to FLOATING. Yes, they did have a ticket. That will be $48. I had heard that this show was only just over an hour long and only had two performers and not a very elaborate design or set up, I wondered what the expense was, as $48 seemed inordinately expensive from my wallet’s end. Maybe the Opera House was finding a show with a profit margin that was worth utilising. Who knows? I thought this may be the theatrical event of my life and really money and art should not come into the equation. I gulped and punished myself for not taking heed of my first instincts and save my money and not bother with FLOATING. "Terrific", I say. I pull out my cash. “There is also a $5 transaction fee. The ticket will cost $53.” “I beg your pardon?” I am being very disingenuous as this was what happened when I bought my ticket to the Ashkenazy Concert, last week. The House is charging $5 inc. GST for transactions over the counter!!!! “What,” I say, “I am been charged for coming to the House at my own time and expense, to buy a ticket over the counter, in cash, and the House is charging me $5 over and above the advertised price to do just that?” “Isn’t this A Sydney Opera House co-production?” “Yes. Yes,” The answer to both questions. “I guess charging me $5 over the advertised price does not include that money in the takings when sharing with the other producers. The House gets it all for itself. There must be a comforting number of extra $5, especially from the eager tourist who just wants to see something on at the world famous Opera House?” I get no response to that question / statement. I know we are living in economic straightened times and yet this Publicly Funded building is “raking” me for extra money to see a show here, at my own need to save money, by attending the Box Office personally, and avoiding the booking fee over the telephone (which is awful enough)!!!! THIS NEEDS TO BE COMPLAINED ABOUT OR EXPLAINED. I have not received any information about this from the House in all the advertising-bumf I get to read, with my cups of tea, at home, attempting to entice me to their offerings. Why not? Don’t you think as a customer you value enough, to send me your unsolicited brochures, it would be polite to tell me that you were now also going to “scalp” me further for each ticket, whichever way I decided to buy it? I bought my ticket. I’m here now, so….. “Is there a program?” “After the show.” OK. I have been so disoriented by the anger that momentarily rose within me that I thank the pleasant but now uncomfortable staff member and go out onto the boardwalk for some air before the show. There is nothing like the body of water that is Circular Quay Harbour to calm and bewitch one into a state of readiness for art.

While out there I met some friends who are working on the TRAVESTIES production that is in preview and some other friends that are attending that. I chatted. At ten minutes to eight I go back into the demolition space that doubles as a foyer and asked if any programs were now available. “No” “Oh!” “Sir, the show has begun.” "Really?" “Yes,at 7.30.” “Oh shit!” (pardon me). I hate being late for anything. Should I go in? Bugger, you have spent $48. You surrendered yourself and ended up here, destiny, fate means you to be here, now; GO IN. So I let myself be floated up the stairs into………!!!!!

It was a well lit auditorium. All the lights were on. The two actors (Hugh Hughes and Sioned Rowlands) were on stage talking and demonstrating how the show worked to the audience. I attempted to slide into my seat quietly, but Mr Hughes turned to me and welcomed me and then asked the audience to welcome me with a round of applause. They did. But as I moved into my seat row I thought, I should improvise along with the audience and actor. I was taught at drama class to just say YES to the offers one was given. So, as it has been some time since I have experienced a personal round of applause, I encouraged the audience to applaud a little more enthusiastically, (It was like a blissful cascade of joy to my ears and memories), they responded to my thank you’s and enthusing arm gestures. I sat down in my seat. The applause died away. I thought my moment was over. There was a pause. Mr Hughes hesitated. The pause became a little more pregnant, with tension. He turned back to me. Asked my name. “Kevin”, I replied. “Hello, Kevin.” (He didn’t introduce himself. ”How Rude”, I quickly registered.) Slight theatrical pause. “Have you a few words you would like to say?” I hesitate. I was happily calm. I remembered my impro classes. I decided to say “yes”. I took a breath, ”Good evening.” There followed another wonderful guffaw and round of applause from the audience. I was thrilled. It too died away, lapping away in my ear’s memory. “I thought there might be one other word you might like to say?” asked me Hughes like a condescending school teacher from my school memories. I instantly knew what it was Mr Hughes wanted me to say but I decided I’ll just see if he will say YES to my offers. So after a gently blushing pause of rebellion I replied, clearly and steadily “Hello.” Would you believe it, I scored another round of applause? AHH, MMMM AAAAAAAhhhhhhh. I was in heaven. Another pause from Mr Hughes who looked at his partner. “Are you sure there is nothing else you want to say?” Stillness for a second as I cogitated my response, then, I clasped my hands, I knelt fervently on my right knee and earnestly declaimed “I am sincerely sorry.” Well, this elicited the biggest response from my audience so far. I sat back in my seat comfortably, ecstatic. Mr Hughes hesitated once again, seemed to move on, but then returned to me and addressed the audience with a query, if they had observed my body language in my offer of sorrow. A ripple of laughter. Mr Hughes turned to me again and asked would I repeat it for those who hadn’t seen. I was entirely enthusiastic by now to do so. I thought that it would still be blocked for all to see in the position I was in, so suggested to Mr Hughes that if I went to the aisle to do it or even better could I go up onto the stage? A rapturous applause and laughter from My audience. Hugh agreed. So with all the adrenalin of the thrill of the unexpected return to the stage platform in front of a live audience I moved swiftly to the downstage right corner, nay, I instinctively edged a little closer to downstage centre (I couldn’t get to centre stage as Mr Hughes was steadfastly holding onto it and in my swift judgement was not going to give way to this interloper.) I asked Mr Hughes, and being a Christian Gentleman, also, Ms Rowlands, should I apologise to them or to the audience? Slightly reluctantly, I thought, Mr Hughes suggested the audience. There had been various delightful responses from the audience during all of this. I was wrapped in a safe cocoon of affection. I summoned my biggest theatrical voice and with the conscious application of my movement and Alexander Technique I dramatically knelt down on the right knee and clasping my hands to white knuckled anguish, begged for understanding and forgiveness “I am sincerely sorry.” The explosion of reciprocated joy and overflowing understanding and rivers of forgiveness flowed over and around me. The communion I felt with MY AUDIENCE and my humble self was almost overwhelming. I was humbled by this unexpected relationship. Fate, Destiny had guided me to this sacred moment in my life’s history. I had FLOATED to this great, great… I find it hard to express accurately…. I guess… Thing, will do. Truly everyman is an Island. I SAT DOWN ALMOST FEELING HOLY AND SANCTIFIED BY THE GIFT Mr Hughes had given me. I hope my imagination and memory has not created untruthfulness from Mr Hughes perspective but the fundamental aim of his project had for me, succeeded. A phenomena had been experienced. I hope it was for Mr Hughes and Ms Rowlands.

The show recommenced and after having seduced the audience of mature adults into a kind of infantilised state of rapturous game playing through knowledge and imaginative suggestion, much like most of us would have had with Miss Susan and Mr Do Bee on weekday afternoons many years ago now, or on playschool episodes. we travelled with Hugh and Sioned to the floating of an island across the Atlantic and back. With all of its adventures and characters and digressions, like sliding on pools of water, for example. It was simple and simply and ingeniously conceived. The audience followed the “Let’s go to our cubby house and play games with the found clothes, props and antiquated old tools superseded by the speed of technology but saved by us,” (the reel to reel tape etc; the computer was modern though).

Delightful. Delightfully conceived and executed. The audience I was with seemed to have had a great time. I suspect that my contribution was a great part of it. But then that is my memory and maybe my imagination. These recorded facts maybe lies.

Now if the Opera House can make it clear as to why we are been charged $5 for personal and cash transactions at their on site Box Office I might even feel happier that I saw FLOATING.

Monday, March 9, 2009


An Antipodea, Stories Like These and Griffin Independent present an Australian Premiere of TATTOO by Dea Loher at the Stables SBW Theatre.

So the booklet goes: "For 30 years Griffin Theatre Company has been at the forefront of New Australian Writing. In 2009 we're putting Griffin's Mainstage Season of New Australian work in a global context with the launch of Griffin Independent, a season of new, cutting edge international companies. Berlin - Costa Mesa - Dublin - New York - London. You would have travelled 53,725 kilometers to catch the original productions..... (Blah, blah, blah)... Griffin Independent brings some of the most exhilarating contemporary writing to National attention....."

And it is a very impressive lineup of playwrights: Neil Labute, Martin Crimp, Falk Richter, Jose Rivera and others and on paper looks great and something to look forward to. [Although many of the plays have been around awhile (Cutting Edge??!!!!)]

For example, the first offer in this season is TATTOO by a German, Dea Loher. Her play, translated by Michael & Michael was written in 1992 - 17 years ago!!!! She has written another nineteen plays at least.

It deals with a family of women living with a quiet but dominating father (called Oven-Wolf) who after the retreat/breakdown of his wife (called Dog-Face-Julie) indulges in an incestuous relationship with both his daughters (called Anita and Lulu), in turn. He impregnates both. A male outsider (called Flower-Paul) is drawn into the circle and after a futile attempt to begin a relationship - marriage with the elder of the daughters, finds himself drawn to gun possession which may result in his own death. Detailed this way the text appears to be a familiar melodrama. (Scarily it pre-dates the Josef Fritzl case by many years.) But, listen carefully it could be more than that.

"I stick / my needle into your flesh / again and again / a tattoo / which you'll keep / my signature / for life / a mark / indelible."

This production is not a very auspicious beginning to this season. I have attended this production twice. The play text is not available so I returned to listen to the writing more closely. Dea Loher has been very prolific as a writer over the last years and she is highly regarded for her dialogue spareness and the heightened poetic inclinations. In this translation this is very well served.

However, the direction (Rochelle Whyte) is so uncertain that it has almost obliterated the skill or promise of the writing. The director has encouraged and permitted so many clashing styles of acting that the the tone of the piece is confused and hard to read: jangled!! On one hand we have some representational work of an actor playing a dog/woman (Sandra Eldridge) with a symbolic muzzle and held paws, dressed with fluffy bits of what I presume were hairy dog patches, and on the other hand a full frontal, relentless and noisy and very superficial naturalistic reading of the core role of Anita (Sophie Kelly) dressed, hair dressed and made up in a very bizarre set of design choices (is it, too, representational? If so, of what? - Nothing in the text remotely supports what I see, try as I might.) It is not very good work by this actress, misjudged at almost every minute. In between, we have the other actors sliding from one "gestural" choice to a "naturalistic one", back and forth, just what style are we playing now? It is very distracting. And I gave it a second go. Depressingly, it still was.

This is a new playwright in terms of my experience and I am pleased that the Griffin Independent have taken on this task for the year but Ms Loher will need another production for us to appreciate what her country men know.

The playwrighting, in my two experiences, has been obfuscated in all areas of the production; Direction (Rochelle Whyte), Design (Amanda McNamara) and Acting (Sophie Kelly, Megan Drury, Sandra Eldridge, David Ritchie, Simon Corfield.) The "buck" must stop with the Director.

Playing now until 28 March. Book online or call 02 8002 4772.