Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Man From Mukinupin

Company B presents a Company B & Melbourne Theatre Company production THE MAN FROM MUKINUPIN written by Dorothy Hewitt and Music by Jim Cotter, at the Belvoir St Theatre.

The production by Rodney Fisher of The Man From Mukinupin by Dorothy Hewitt at the Drama Theatre in the early eighties is one of those theatrical memories that has stayed with me. It was a magical and translating experience. This new production at Belvoir confirms for me, my belief, that this play is one of the great heritages of the Australian repertoire.

Dorothy Hewitt’s work had always been controversial, not only because she “strongly established her career as a stylistically unpredictable and experimental playwright” and often bemused and befuddled her audiences of the time, who were used to more direct methods of story telling, but because her subject matter was often concerning areas of everyday living and culture that were not so publicly spotlighted. And not only was it the sheer audacity of writing about such things for the theatre that outraged or shocked her audiences but the evidence that it was so often so humanly raw and politically “out there” – “in yer face” for its time.

The menstrual blood of BON-BONS AND ROSES FOR DOLLY, the communistic socialism fervour of THE CHAPEL PERILOUS, the sad alcoholism and violence of THIS OLD MAN COMES ROLLING HOME , which shocked the audiences of the time, were all examined with passion and compassion by Dorothy Hewitt, and the facts of real life as she lived and knew were not diluted in her writing to fit the tastes of a society that she felt were often hypocritical and blindsighted. A kind of social realism. It was the fact that she was so consciously observant of the reality of some people’s ordinary lives mixed with a great gift for poetic expression, that flummoxed some of us even further. Dorothy was a poet of some note. It is this fairly naive contemplation, of mine, at the time, of the compartmentalising of the rightness, correctness of form, style and content, that created unease and puzzlement of what to make of her work for the theatre. Then Mr Fisher’s production appeared and I had a “Road to Damascus “enlightenment.”

Ms Hewitt had her feet firmly in a real world and a poetic gift of expression that was reaching for the heavenly parts of our natures. Zeek in Muckinupin, one of the eccentric outcasts of this town speaks: “Sun, moon, and stars, all sweet things…. The stars are above, wherever we are. We walk the earth and gaze into eternity, we ride the Andromeda, see the holes in heaven…” This, last night, struck me as the essence of my experience of this play, now.

Wesley Enoch directs this play with a conscious enveloping of his indigenous origins and his own activist and artistic bent to bring us a production that is brisk and brusque, real and romantic, nostalgic and socially responsible and critical, and rich in its demonstration of not only Dorothy Hewitt’s imaginative enquiry but also rich in his love of the material: its content and form. With his Designers, Set and Costume, Richard Roberts; lighting Rachel Burke, he has created a pleasantly magical environment for us to observe and absorb the world of Mukinupin. Then, using the original music of Jim Cotter, with the arrangements of Alan Johns, who along with Wayne Freer, play infectiously robustly, live, throughout the performance, the aural support is just as persuasive.

I understand that there is illness among the cast which may account for sometimes unevenness in the quality of the work of the actors – sometimes the singing which is obviously quantifiable or the acting which may be a matter of taste. But last night I enjoyed especially Roxanne McDonald as Clarry Hummer and her duet act with a sublime reading of Clemmy Hummer by Valentina Levkkowicz. The two of them sitting in the downstage corner, after the musical and mysterious wanderings of disembodied voices of the opening of the play, pounce onto the choral conceit of the writer’s invention for them with such delighted love and virtuosity that the launching of the audience into the whimsical cultural elemental memories of the play is assured. The compassionate drawing of the severe and hypocritical, (a woman of her times) of Edie Perkins by Kerry Walker is the rudder and guiding force of artistic shape throughout the play. The serious portrait of a maybe unconsciously guilt ridden woman, washing her hands and sleep walking to the verse of Lady Macbeth through the landscape of Mukinupin is exquisitely and painfully drawn. Amanda Muggleton as the benign and affectionately drawn portrait of the thespian, Mercy Montebello, is gorgeous for its sexual equivocations and bewildered motivations, that plump down to pragmatic survival skills. David Page in three portraits of characters in the play’s landscape is delightfully impish in all and in the defining of the characteristics of each. (Sometimes clarity of utterance is a problem in appreciating the inventions fully. This, by the way, is my major problem, sometimes the muffled articulation of the speeches and songs prevented me from comfortingly, knowingly continuing my journey in the play. My comprehension was interrupted.) Max Gillies is especially loving as Zeek, a water diviner and star gazer. The problem of sometimes the acting or singing of the two juvenile leads affects the ultimate soaring of the production but it never prevents the material from impressing or for the characters from registering.

This play was “published in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Western Australia”. It must have been viewed as a Trojan Horse by some. The examination of the rape and genocide of the indigenous peoples, the violence of alcohol, the hypocrisy of the religious beliefs of the community, the lack of comprehension of blighted lives through marriage, war and disenfranchisement must have caused pain in 1979. For it, shatteringly, still does reverberate throughout this new rendering of the play. But the affectionate whimsical balances to these realities, the theatrical references, the Shakespearean quotations, the simple demonstrations of ordinary and simple but deep love amongst the human species keeps the play from being too caustic a confrontation. It is written with such balanced appreciation of life with all of its history, secrets and lies and honoured by this company with such commitment and admiration that I felt that I was watching one of the masterpieces of Australian playwriting. Is this also Australia’s Best Musical?

Do go.

Playing now until 17 May. Book online or call 02 9699 3444.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ollie & The Minotaur

B Sharp and floogle present OLLIE & THE MINOTAUR at Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre.

The best thing about this experience is watching three actresses (Adriana Bonaccurso, Wendy Bos and Sarah Brokensha) reveling in the playing of three characters that they and the writer, Duncan Graham, and the director, Sarah John have collaborated in creating. Their curtain call exuding pride and satisfied joy. There is a naivety to this that is affecting, for there is not much else to take away and cherish.

OLLIE AND THE MINOTAUR by Duncan Graham is a new play first performed at the 2008 Adelaide Fringe Festival. It was nominated for the 2008 Bank SA Fringe Awards for Most Original Work and Best Theatre.(!!!) It has since gone on to a season at 45 Downstairs in Melbourne.

The experience of watching the play (at downstairs Belvoir) is that of a first or second draft that should have gone into the bottom drawer of the desk and left alone, appreciated as a promising effort. The playwriting needs much more work.

It consists of three familiar characters, good friends who meet for a boozy night, who are taken on a plot line that is a theatrically cliched revelation of old times and secrets that become rawer and rawer as the booze and the long day's journey into night progresses. The gear changes in the writing are clankingly wrung, (eg. the manipulations to the return to the "cave", both literal and metaphoric, with cooked meat pulled apart by hand in the candlelit spooky aura, due to a an electrical blackout!!!), and the use of Myth, in this case "the Labyrinth and the Minotaur", is extremely superficial and serves to underline, in my mind, the lack of real depth or insight of the characters or the situation. There is no echoing in the poetry of the "caves" of the great myths, merely a thin veneer of appropriation.

This production has had a long series of performances, (since March last year) and the actors have got themselves to a place where they seem to be performing learnt responses from other times. They tended, on the night I attended, to talk AT each other with no real sense of talking TO each other, or attempting to communicate to the other characters, or even to really hear what the other actor said or see what the other actor was doing. It was on automatic pilot and the learnt patterns of performing is what we watched. The performing was a display of anticipated moments and perfunctory, unmotivated "method" secondary activities (head scratching etc) that suggested puppetry, automation (or complacency) rather than the "in the moment" challenge of Naturalism springing from the actual moment, in time, on stage.

Naturalism seems to be an out of fashion mode of expression in the theatre today, much sneered at and sometimes apologised for, and I guess I can understand that, as it is very difficult to do well, and, especially to sustain over a season, unless, you remain truly alert to the challenges of recapturing the original impulses of playing and the accurate engagement with each other, on stage, each performance. Naturalism is not for the contented or half hearted. It demands absolute concentration the whole of the time, every time. It is what Stanislavsky was on about in developing his technique: To maintain the appearance of spontaneity through a season of playing; what is happening in front of us, is happening for the first time; it looks like life. It is HARD to do. It costs. Technique and stamina need to be at the fore.

So, what once may have been impressive with these actors, is now, hugely not. It is the kind of writing and acting that gives Naturalism its reputation as melodramatic or worse boring. It does require real truths and trusted interconnection every time you play. It must have a sense of "life or death". The director needs to get back in there with the artists and soon.

This acting is full of noise, shouting, abandoned jumping about to music (Could those dances advance the story? Or is it just fun dancing?), gnashing of teeth and indulgent emotional moments essaying "real"tears. (Oh sure!!!) I could not help but recollect Shakespeare's Hamlet in his speech to the visiting players. ".....use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends, me to the soul, to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings..... pray you avoid it." "TEAR A PASSION TO TATTERS.... SPLIT THE EARS OF THE GROUNDLINGS." These characters, apparently, were having a catharsis in front of us but we were left out of that loop and were, instead, seemingly asked to admire the actors and their work and their story. The first priority for any storyteller is surely the journey of the writer for the audience and to make the story and catharsis of the characters all of ours? We come to the theatre, minimally, for a shared experience and hopefully a transformation - a positive one, something that has enhanced our lives.

This experience cost me almost $30 and some 70 or 80 minutes of my fleeting time. It was not worth the spending of either in these fraught financial times. My experience took me to a place of objective criticism and into a transformed state of gloom and frustration. (Not too positive, I'm afraid.) I wish I had been warned. Later in the year we will see another play by Mr Graham, ONE LONG NIGHT IN THE LAND OF NOD at the Old Fitzroy. I hope the title of this play is not a prescient to what we can look forward too. OLLIE AND THE MINATOUR could just as well have had this title as a sub-title.

Playing now until 3 May. Book online or call 02 9699 3444.

Footnote: Reading some of the pre-publicity to this production, many people, it was reported were astonished that a man could have such insight into the world and psyche of women. Oh, really! Hedda, Nora were written by a man. (Ibsen). Blanche and Maggie were written by a man (Williams). Just to name two men. Or is it a shock to have a contemporary Australian male doing it? And I guess that if you need use of the Greek literary heritage of myth, which is an attractive devise, might I suggest that you read almost anything of Iben, or even Eugene O'Neill.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Spikey Red Things & Tamarama Rock Surfers present DNA by Dennis Kelly at the Old Fitzroy Hotel Theatre.

DNA is the third play of Dennis Kelly that we have seen at the Old Fitzroy. (Different Company productions, however.) Debris (2004), and Love and Money (2006) being the others. DNA was first performed in the Cottesloe Auditorium of the National Theatre in February 2008. It was originally written for the National Theatre's Connections project, which pairs young actors with new writing.

Dennis Kelly says "it's about a group of teenagers who do something very wrong, and then cover it up." Kellie Mackereth, the Director says it's a play about being human. A group of young teenagers have caused a young boy to die. They then concoct a cover up, that has dire consequences for an innocent man that is further compounded when the original victim re-appears amongst them. What was once an accident now becomes a planned and cruel murderous crime. These young 'children' represent the survival instincts of the human race. It is not a pretty picture. Out of the mouth (actions) of babes the sometimes vicious cyclical history of man's behavioural patterns emerge and are marked out. The DNA of the human species has hardly evolved. Is demonstrated. Perpetuated for us to see. It is an alarming and cleverly written observation, a modern LORD OF THE FLIES.

Kellie Macereth has gathered together a fine, selflessly committed ensemble of eleven young actors, and with a beautifully simple and atmospheric Set Design (Jessie Giraud) and Lighting (Tom Brickhill) accompanied by a very apt Sound Design and Composition (Rosie Chase), (although I thought the opening song was overstated, over blown - a blemish) has given us a very engrossing night in the theatre. The Costume design, also by Ms Giraud, is especially successful in creating a consistent and believable world of young teenagers. The picture composition of her actors is much to be admired in such a confined space. The actors are tightly managed individually and collectively. The focused ensemble concentration is pleasing and supportive to the stylistic choices of the staged play. Naturalism is banished and a heightened presentation elevates the play and the writing into a ritualistic atmosphere - a poetic statement of some stature despite its sordid doings.

The play is only 70 minutes long, without interval and there is not a moment (after the opening song) out of place. Each of the actors, and some of them have only one scene or a series of short connections, is so thoroughly connected to the play and its content, that it seems unfair not to mention them all: Stephen Anderson, Augusta Miller, Sarah Snook, Paul-William Mawhinney, John Shrimpton, Josha Tyler, James Elliott, Olivia Simone, Sophie Cook, Benjamin Giraud, Kit Brookman. A wonderfully welded ensemble.

Sarah Snook has the most textual responsibility and her technique is so flawless in its apparent spontaneity of thought that it is poetically mesmerizing. As Leah, Ms Snook represents the tribal wise person: religion, philosophy and science theory. Paul-William Mawhinney, the lethal cult leader, mostly a silent listener, but a ruthless diabolical survival streak is terrifyingly real in his many faceted choices when Phil takes charge. The cult mesmerists from Hitler through to contemporary times are flickered across his performance-a true reptile. Olivia Simone, the conscience free sadist is powerful, if two dimensional, in her understanding of the character's function and action. A truly terrifying piece of work (a re-incarnation of Judith Anderson as a Mrs Danvers like personality from REBECCA!!) Kit Brookman in a short scene as the resurrected Adam is haunting in his few moments. But best of all, for me on the night I attended, was Benjamin Giraud, playing the victim, the cry baby Brian. The levels of confusion, innocence and sacrificial lamb that he exuded plumbed the depths of my empathy (or was it identification of my role in the turn of the world plan?)

Dennis Kelly suggests that the roles of his play are interchangeable. The role breakdown amongst the casting is as open as you want it to be. It would be interesting to see this cast alternate the sexual role playing and taking on different roles each night. Fascinating, to see the new dynamics and balance of power play. As it is, it is very worth while visiting in this fixed casting production.

Playing now until 2 May. Book online or call 1300 GET TIX (438 849).

The Wonderful World of Dissocia

Sydney Theatre Company presents THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISSOCIA by Anthony Neilson at the Wharf 1.

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISSOCIA by Anthony Neilson is a play about Lisa. In the first half Lisa experiences a journey in her world of mental illness, of "Dissocia", (Dissociation). In the second half of the play we see Lisa in a hospital ward being chemically treated for her "mental illness". This is a terrific play. Mr Neilson through the action of the first half has us experience the world that Lisa knows with her illness. The world in her mind. He has us "become in some small way, participants rather than voyeurs." In the second half we see the actual world that she has to function in: A room in a psychiatric hospital. We meet the real people in her life; her sister; her boyfriend, Vince; the Doctors and Nurses. The structure of the play is such that "when she is asked in the second act why she doesn’t take the medication that will suppress the symptoms of her mental illness, the audience – having been deprived the spectacle of the first half…. will understand on a visceral level why she is drawn to her condition."

In the notes to the printed text Mr Neilson talks about the "journey" he took to create this play. He had written a play called THE LYING KIND and had become addicted to an audience that laughs. He discovered that THE LYING KIND worked best with "the kind of people who go to the see a West End musical on special occasions……. I’ve always thought it very dangerous to dismiss populism….. People are looking for something in theatre that they can’t get anywhere else – a sense of live-ness, a certain spectacle. There’s no part of me that needs to see CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG on stage; but all of me wants to see that car fly. We’ve got to reclaim spectacle - the spectacle of ideas, of form, of passion. Audiences don’t want to see what they can see on TV. We must be magical, or suffer the consequences.”

So, like Alice In Wonderland and her extraordinary journey in the Lewis Carroll classic, Lisa (Justine Clarke), after tuning her guitar and snapping a string, finds herself talking to "a voice" and finally opens a door into a "Wonderful World" that introduces her to Victor Hesse (Socratis Otto), bearing a passing resemblance to how we might imagine Sigmund Freud. Victor sets Lisa on a quest to recover "the lost hour" in her life that might explain to her why her life has felt "out of balance." He tells her that her hour "has been traced to a country called Dissocia" and that arrangements have been made for her to assist her in the quest. Off she goes and she encounters a wonderfully crazy collection of characters like the Insecurity Guards (Justin Smith and Matt Day), scape goat (Russell Dykstra), Jane (Michelle Doake) from the Community Crime Initiative working in the Victim Concentration Scheme who stands in as a substitute when victimized and "is to be beaten and anally raped for you"; a Polar Bear who sings a terribly disturbing song; to the land of Lost Property (which has also been lost!!) where Britney (Kate Box) and Lost Argument (Matthew Whittet) and Lost Inhibitions (Matt Day) amongst other Lost Objects reside and leads to a battle with the Black Dog King who (in the text) she recognises, "shaking her head in horror and disbelief " as her boyfriend Vince. She collapses in a Blackness. We return after interval to a hospital ward, design wise "the polar opposite of Act One." No Colour , "no sound effects except the sound of footsteps."

Anthony Neilson, (this is the first play of his I have seen in Sydney), has a reputation as one of the "in yer face", controversial generation of writers (think Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane) because of the confronting issues that he deals with. And certainly mental illness is the subject matter here – serious subject matter indeed. But in this work there is (to quote the writer) "a harmony of form and content and the fact that I could legitimately employ music and songs and humour in the first half seemed to be a step further towards my personal holy grail: a truly theatrical theatre, intellectually accessible and satisfying to all, utilising populist methods to address serious subjects." I concur. This is s terrific play. Alan Ayckbourn’s A WOMAN IN MIND is another play (twice produced by the STC) that covers in a similar way the same territory as this, in a comic subversion of expectations.

Generally this is very successful production, although the Pythonesque comedy of the first half is not as sharp as it could be. It has the impression of being just a little blurred. It could do with the tightening and discipline of accuracy that the TRAVESTIES company as achieved over at the Opera House. The verbal games and physical farce is not as clear as it could be. Often opportunities are collided and lost in a kind of mayhem that is not accumulative in its possibilities. We were left, in the audience, sometimes scrambling to follow the text and the journey. Ms Clark seems slightly physically protective and hesitant and lacks in the first half a sense of curiosity or delight in the world that she is in. It is, mostly, just bewildered and confused. The contrasts of experience are not explored widely enough. The safety of the hospital bed and medication in the second act seemed to hold some attraction - I don’t know if that is what Mr Neilson is proposing here. Still the potential of this collection of actors is exciting. Michelle Doake is delightful in every one of her incarnations (including the horrid Dot of the second act). Socratis Otto is spot on with the creation that is Victor Hesse. All of the company have their individual triumphs.

Part of the problem of the confused or blurred action on stage is clear to me, when I re-read the text to discover the last moment of act one, reveals that the Black Dog King, the great depression of Lisa’s Dissocia is Vince, her boyfriend. I did not get that watching the production. In the final great battle at the end of act one all of her allies are killed and Lisa sees the face of the Black Dog King for the first time as he steps into the light. "It is a face she knows only too well. She shakes her heard in horror and disbelief. 'Oh my God – it’s you!' For a moment the lighting suggests we are back in her flat. Vince reaches out – his hands touch her shoulders. Blackness." Ms Potts does not clearly elucidate it for us. As I write this, I think I begin to recollect a figure in a suit downstage with his back to us, in the corner, stepping forward. I think I do. It is, maybe, rushed. Subsequently the moment in the second act when Vince agrees to keep the relationship alive and the next scene where Lisa holds her Polar Bear in her arms, the tragic narrative import and poignancy, for me, was lost.

The Set design by Alice Babidge is as simple and attractive as the writer asks. A green lawn that allows the lighting of Nick Schlieper to make its usual marvellous tricks and glorious contribution to the journey. The Musical composition (Alan John) and the Sound Design (David Franzke) are vivid allies to the story telling. It is a great disappointment that the car does not take flight "into the sky, up and through the canopy of clouds". It merely comes to the front corner of the raised platform in a pool of light and smoke haze. Mr Neilson says "there is no need to see CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG on stage; but all of me wants to see that car fly." It is a little more puzzling that that affect is not staged, when, if you stay in the auditorium and see the whole of the act one floor be raised to form the roof of the Hospital in act two, which is only once alluded to, in the action of act two itself, that the budgetary solutions were not found to bring us that magic moment that defines great theatre. (As the guy next to me said if you have Armani and Audi as your sponsors and still you can’t afford the solution in this theatre, which you chose to do it in, then we are in hard times.) Fly the roof in the interval but don’t fly the car!!! The Costumes, wigs and make up designs by Nell Schofield are a miracle of appropriateness, and witty, and must be meticulously constructed to facilitate such quick changes. Now, there is theatre magic that is really a sleight of hand trick – who would notice unless you were one of the thankful actors.

Now this is a terrific play in form and content and in most of its production values. Not all. But, maybe, time will correct them.

Playing now until 23 May. Book online or call 02 9250 1777.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Firebird and Other Legends

Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson (the ballet dancer... not the blogger.)

The Australian Ballet presents FIREBIRD AND OTHER LEGENDS at the Sydney Opera House.

This season of ballets is the conclusion of the Australian Ballet's celebration of the Ballets Russes."FIREBIRD AND OTHER LEGENDS features three works that were performed in the first three years of Diaghliev's Paris seasons in 1909."

LES SYLPHIDES, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, music by Frederic Chopin arranged by Roy Douglas. This is a ballet that for most represents the image of what ballet is in most people's eyes. A ballet danced by the female dancers in white, long romantic tutu dresses, fake puffed sleeves, garlanded hair and pointe shoes. (There is a male dancer as well.) It is a plotless abstract ballet in one act." It is considered a "meditation on beauty".....and is a known as a "supreme test of a classical dancer's abilities'' with performers required not only to dance with perfection of line, musicality and feeling, but also in absolute unity with the ensemble."

There is a sense of delicate control, energy and focus held in concentrated breath. The movement of the costume, the elegance of gesture, the periphery awareness of the ensemble and the role one plays as a soloist within and part of ensemble is perfectly observable. The Chopin music floats and supports the movement and the choreography is felicitously nuanced to the sounds from the orchestra. The ballet begins with a tableau of dancers posed, and it finishes in the same book end image. In between, there is a gentle seduction to the movement and the skill of the dancers. The ensemble is led by Leanne Stojmenov, Dana Stephenson, Rachel Rawlins, and Yosvani Ramos. It is an understated experience, and the impact of its beauty does not fully register until the final re-iteration of the tableau pose and the curtain descends.

PETROUCHKA, choreography by Mikhail Fokkine, music by Igor Stravinsky. First presented by the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris in 1911, considered by most as the company's masterpiece. The piece is set at the Butter Week Fair in St Petersburg 1830. Made up of four scenes the first shows us the bustling crowds gathering and browsing the fair grounds. The second scene introduces us to the three puppets of the showman/magician (Colin Peasley): Petrouchka (Daniel Gaudiello), The Ballerina (Gina Brescianini) and the Moor (Paul Knobloch). Petroushka is hopelessly in love with the Ballerina who is in love with the Moor. The third scene shows us the romance between the Moor and the Ballerina that is disturbed by Petrouchka and ends with the unceremonious exit of the jealous puppet. The fourth scene shows us the fair at its height. Dance succeeds character dance and builds to a wild climax led by "a devil's disciple" (Tzu-Chao Chou) that is disturbed by the argument among the Puppets breaking out in the crowd with the Moor finally striking Petrouchka down with a sword. The crowd call the police to what they think is a murder but are surprised when the Petrouchka figure is found to be only a doll. The crowd disperses but the Puppet master/magician is confronted by the grieving spirit of Petrouchka.

The Design borrowed from the Birmingham Royal Ballet is based on the original By Alexandre Benois. It unfortunately looks cramped on this stage and appears to cramp the dancing of the corps. It does not have the magic of illusion that the piece would better benefit by. The colours of the set and costumes are fascinating and are resonant of another time of folk culture.

"Nijinsky created the role of the unhappy puppet, and it became his favourite role..... he turned himself into an ungainly and grotesque puppet bringing such genius, such intensity and pathos to the role that Sarah Bernhardt upon witnessing his performance exclaimed "I am afraid, I am afraid, for I see before me the greatest actor in the world."

Daniel Gaudiello has the floppy character choreography well in control and even the simple execution of the movements creates a moving sense of pathos. What the dancer seems to still lack is a deep identification with the character. The character is mostly delivered through the external commitment to the choreography (which demonstrates its genius, for one is still moved) without any real internal sense of the tragic obssession of Petrouchka. This dancer is not yet an actor that Bernhart need fear. Ms Brescianini and Mr Knobloch similarly dance well and prettily but not convincingly as character. (The Moor's costume is, of course, for a contemporary audience a severe obstacle. Benois originally conceived the character of the Blackamoor "as the embodiment of everything senselessly attractive, powerfully masculine and undeservedly triumphant." This costume, original or not, now, reads as a disrespectful comic aberration, reminiscent of the old Minstrel shows.)

The great triumph is the music of PETROUCHKA by Igor Stravinsky, this being a revised version from 1947.

The final ballet is a new work, based on the story of the THE FIREBIRD (Ballets Russes, 1910), concept and choreography by Graeme Murphy. Set and Costume Design by Leon Krasenstein. Lighting Design by Damien Cooper. Music by Igor Stravinsky.

Kostchei (Chengwu Guo), an evil magician has enchanted a kingdom including the princesses . To experience true love Ivan Tsarevich (Kevin Jackson) must free one of the princesses, Tsareva (Danielle Rowe). On encountering,in this cold kingdom, the Firebird (Lana Jones), he captures her and in return for her freedom receives a magical feather that acts as a talisman in his struggle with Kostchei for the beautiful princess. Assisted by the Firebird he triumphs and the garden blooms.

"Upon hearing the music the new music of THE FIREBIRD, the dancers were dismayed; to them it hardly sounded like music at all..... Serenely confident, Diaghlev, who prided himself on seeing genius where others saw eccentricity, turned to (the ballerina) Karsavina and said,"Mark him well, he is a man on the edge of celebrity." As he was so often, Diaghlev was right. On the opening night , "the composer was called and recalled to the stage to acknowledge the applause of the audience...... THE FIREBIRD was a triumph for Fokine and Stravinsky."

In the program notes Mr Murphy says, "I could not but be historically aware of all that had gone before. Above all, the weight of Stravinsky's musical masterpiece dominated". He goes on to say that he dare not deviate too much from the expectations of the audience and consequently adhered closely to the original synopsis.

The Set Design (Leon Krasenstein) is dominated by a large cracked egg shell at the back of the stage and surrounded by other half shells from which either birds or snake/lizards have hatched. It is a cool and science fiction landscape lit wonderfully spookily (Lighting Design: Damien Cooper). The shells serve as props for the lighting and also as useful tools for the choreography. The costumes by Mr Krasenstein are an odd mixture of the heavy clumsy cloak of the prince to the skimpy feather skirt and "sam brown" belt of feathers across the torso for the Firebird. It works but is slightly disconcerting. The Corps de ballet costumes for the princesses are also grounded in earthy weight at first, with the celebratory dresses and skirts of the men in the finale, reminiscent of fanciful costume from eighties sci-fi movies, or from a strange production of the musical HAIR. Is it just me becoming familiar with the concept or is it odd? In any case they have stayed with me. The mixture of the Bakst green and blue combination with painted flowers superimposed in black over the colours are striking, if not slightly kitsch.

The choreography has all the hallmarks of a Murphy dance.Elegant sweeps of movement and patterns. Sexy posing on props. The startling choice of design for Kostchei as a snake/lizard is very interesting and the combined look of the Firebird has for me the resonances of the indigenous animal totem worlds of Australia. It is fascinating and ominous in its interaction. I enjoyed the choreography for Ms Jones and her dancing and admired the support work of Mr Jackson as Tsarveich. I wished he had had more freedom to move and felt the costume sometimes awkward for expression. This was true of Mr Guo's duties as I felt that the design also inhibited the possible options for dance. Ms Rowe danced the maiden in distress cleanly but not with much character. It was, still, a very enjoyable experience if not as exciting as Mr Murphy's SWAN LAKE. Once again the music, using the 1945 version was the triumph of the night. (Conductor: Nicolette Fraillon). Only re-acquaintance with this new work and time will measure Mr Murphy's contribution for me. As yet I am not sure of my response.

As a footnote,I would like to recommend the essays in the Australian Ballet program. Lee Christofis, Martyn Pedler, Dr Mark Carroll and Valerie Lawson have made contributions that, unusually, justify the $15 cost.

Note also that I was required to pay the Opera House Trust $5 extra to my ticket cost to attend a performance of the Australian Ballet at the Opera House, apparently to keep the Box Office open longer hours. I did buy my ticket at 7pm, when, I presume, it would normally have been open. Strange, and I must say, personally, irksome to do, as I do not feel the reasons expressed in a report in the Sydney Morning Herald were reasonable justifications. I certainly at the moment consciously decide whether or not I will attend certain showings based on my own resisting of the extra "Tax" to attend a performance at the Opera House.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kafka's Monkey

Sydney Theatre Company presents A Young Vic Production KAFKA'S MONKEY, at Wharf 2.

KAFKA'S MONKEY, based on A REPORT TO THE ACADEMY by Franz Kafka (Short Story) and adapted by Colin Teevan is delivered as an enacted lecture by Red Peter The Ape to an Academy recounting, particularly, the last five years of his life. His experiences and journey from being shot and captured, caged and transported, and then choosing a life as a variety act in the theatre (rather than in a zoo), which we get to see in little glimpses of tap and soft shoe shuffles with a cane, and Hat Tricks, and of his subsequent education: observing, dressing and learning to speak (at first a haltering "Hello") and an introduction to rum, the receiving of a companion, an ape partner, and now the honour of a Lecture to an esteemed Academy of the Learned. Under all this is a yearning for freedom, a way out. His sense of unhappiness permeates his lecture. The forgotten former life, as he adapts to that of man's, breaks through in his preference to eat the lice from the head of his audience, his delight in sharing bananas, and he, unconsciously, finds himself in the physical and vocal extremis of his earlier mode of expression with instinctive gesturing and noises of grunting and hooting. The melancholy of his life, aided and abetted by the introduced addictive need for alcohol, brings an aura of tragedy to the tone of the lecture. The empathy for Red Peter becomes a reflection of our own predicament. Is there a way out? Is there such a thing as freedom? Is there no exit?

This 50 minute adaptation is straight forward and is interesting but not revelatory.

What is interesting, absorbing, revelatory and astonishing is the performance of Kathryn Hunter. Garbed in a period suit of top hat and tails (Costume Design Richard Hudson), utterly absorbed, inhabited and seamlessly executed is the actress as Red Peter the Ape. A body that is astonishingly flexible and is at the service of an acutely observant artist, the physical life brilliantly inhabited and sustained. (Movement assisted by Ilan Reichel). It is matched with a vocal timbre and skill that is utterly amazing to hear. The text and the animal breakouts beautifully controlled and communicated. The gradual accumulation of the pathos that the audience receives is delicate and worryingly concerning. Care and self examination is what I felt as Red Peter found, relievedly, a door from the lecture floor.

If there are bench marks for the acknowledgement of the actor as artist, here is one of them. Just as Cate Blanchett in her creation and performance as Richard II, in THE WAR OF THE ROSES, gave us a performance to savour this year, so does Ms Hunter. It must be seen and stored as a highlight of the ephemeral art of acting.

The Set Design (Steffi Wurster) is elegantly simple and clean, dominated by a huge portrait of Peter's given partner. The Lighting Design (Mike Gunning) enhances the images and acting and is accompanied by an eerily haunting and apt Sound and Music Design (Nikola Kodjabashia). The director Walter MeierJohann should be congratulated on the beauty of his production's understatement.

Don't miss Kathryn Hunter in KAFKA'S MONKEY.

The Distance From Here

An Inscription and Griffin Independent Australian Premiere THE DISTANCE FROM HERE by Neil LaBute at the SBW Stables Theatre.

Neil Labute is a very prolific playwright. This year he has premiered a new play THE BREAK OF NOON and has just reworked a recent play, 'reasons to be pretty' and directed it on Broadway (his first Broadway showing) to good critical response. Ten plays ago, in 2002, he wrote a response to the September 11th 2001 World Trade Center attack, THE MERCY SEAT, and also, in 2002, THE DISTANCE FROM HERE.

THE DISTANCE FROM HERE is an atypical play of Mr Labute. It deals with an underclass of the United States of America. It is written from some closely held observations of his own growing up as a kid in middle America. He disclaims it has any autobiographical specifics but he remembers young people like these characters well.

The usual slow structural unwinding and often culturally familiar scenes that typify his writing of wry and cruel comedy that culminate in a terrible and usually surprise twist is eschewed here.(eg.THE SHAPE OF THINGS, "some girls".)

This play is a close study of a part of the American dream that functions on the edge of poverty, barely holding it's head above the water line. It has a more conventional and realistic agenda. Comedy, at least in this production reading, is not evident. It is a grim revelation. It shows us a "family" that has a single mum, a son, a step daughter and her crying baby with a live in boyfriend. KFC features in the family diet. Cars and track car racing, non-stop television, features as the pre-occupying entertainments. This is a modern American family that we don't much see of in American fiction. The son, Darrell (Anthony Gee), still in high school, has been cock of the walk in his little circle but is now at that teenage turn in growing up of seeing others who were once his admirers changing and leaving him behind. Used to bullying his way to stay on top, that power is vanishing and he begins to find himself alone, not the centre of the world any longer. His, unconscious messianic conception, is dissipating. His best friend, Tim (Benn Welford) and his girlfriend, Jenn (Lotte St Clair) are trying to"do good" at school. Maybe, she even likes Tim more!! He discovers his girlfriend has been taped in a sexual encounter, he feels jealousy and treated badly. His sense of entitlement is fractured. And further he learns from his mum, Cammie (Jeannette Cronin) as he partly watches the the inanity of television: "Truthfully, I don't recall that much about you. Really growing up... I mean, you, just as an individual - you never really made that big an impression." Spurned, envious, jealous he decides to be remembered and he kidnaps and murders a baby by throwing it into the Seal Pool at the local run down zoo. The dark psychological underpinnings of the mental motivations of the disenfranchised youth that have lead to the school and university shootings in the United States(and elsewhere) creep into the picture: I exist. Pay me attention. Pay attention. "Attention must be paid." Mr Miller warned us in the shattering of the American Dream in DEATH OF A SALESMAN.

Labute has acknowledged one of his impulses of inspiration was from Edward Bond's SAVED. SAVED, from the late sixties, is set in England, "in a legacy of neglect and hostility" and it too has the death of a baby as its horrifying consequence. The aftermath, too, has tragedy writ large. This is not a very easy, or pleasant night in the theatre. Certainly, the original critical response to the Almeida Theatre Company production in 2002 was divided between horror and revulsion and, yet some, still, with an admiration for the writing.

This production by John Sheedy does not have that kind of divisive impact. The director and his designer (Set and Costumes: Simone Romaniuk) have come to a solution that appears to be set in a more affluent world than the one of the play. The design is neat, tidy almost "beautiful" in its pared back aesthetics. The sense of neglect or the smells of the baby, its puke and shitting, do not seem to part of the conception. The colour design of the walls are formally co-ordinated. The furniture fairly cared for. It could be mistaken for a fashion magazine lay out for the down and out. The world looks and feels like THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY in its playing and I suspect it is more likely to be ROSEANNE. Blue collar not white collar. The clothing looks to be from the Gap (a middle range cheap but designed clothing department store in the US) at least I reckon Old Navy, the cheaper clothing range, and very Old Navy indeed. The world of the production is not in sync with the world of the play. And could Mr Sheedy have found a more handsome, physically beautiful cast? It all looks to glamorous. This should be an urban poverty, cheaply dressed and malnourished, in the manner perhaps of Roseanne and Dan, (Obesity featuring) and in this case study, also emotionally deprived in every way. I recently remarked on what I thought was design "slumming" in LADYBIRD at B Sharp, but this is worse. It's good taste undermines the play. The trailer trash world of last year's KILLER JOE production (at B Sharp) is what is needed here. A visceral sense "of neglect and hostility" engendered by poverty and a desperate living.

The acting feels generally awkward, the world not really imagined or inhabited believably. The best work comes from Lotte St Clair and Benn Welford. Whenever they are on stage the world seems to be grounded and communicating to an audience. Experiencing vividly. However, none of these actors supposedly playing high school teenagers appear or even register the age of the character (Having a young actor, more realistically acceptable age wise, Sophie Hensser, playing a small role, only emphasises the visual problem). They look and behave as if they were at least at college level of physical, if not emotional maturity. The impact of the young high school teenagers being so damaged is not in the schemata here. These actors generally appear to be much older so that the horror of some neglect of the "child" who then kills a baby is not really registered. Unfortunately the vocal communication of the leading protagonist Darrell (Anthony Gee) is not always discernible and it communicates with a generalized sense of attitude rather than a detailed use of the language to reveal the story. As a result there is a disengagement from the character's accumulative journey to calamity. The play retreats into an objective observation exercise instead of the full-on shock of real subjective truths of some parts of the contemporary world as we as listeners scramble to make sense of the sounds of Darrell's speeches.

On re-reading this play in preparation for the production, I was dreading the world that Mr Labute had written. This production failed to present it. The night was easier than I expected. I, still, left the theatre depressed, but not for the reasons that I had anticipated. All of these artists have a resume of some high standing and so my disappointment was more personal than that of the cruelty of the lives of the human beings of Mr LaBute.

(The Sound Design by Kingsley Reeve was outstanding).

The opening image of the poverty of the lives of imprisoned apes in a rundown world and the pathos that struck, allegorically, was not fulfilled.

Playing now until 25 April. Book online or call 02 8002 4772.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Herbal Bed

New Theatre present THE HERBAL BED by Peter Whelan.

On a setting (Set and Costume design by Renee Mulder) that has simply stripped back everything to a bare space with an acting area surrounded by tubed lighting strings and then further closed in by a marked out oblong live-playing space with a minimal set of furniture and props, lit (sometimes under lit) with a very attractive design (Joshua Emanuel and Matthew Tunchon) the director, Sarah Giles, has guided a very committed set of actors through a thoroughly engrossing well made tale by British playwright, Peter Whelan. It is aesthetically pleasing. Simple and uncluttered. (There are some directorial impositions to the flow of the play but they are slight.)

THE HERBAL BED, (1996) has had a production at the Sydney Theatre Company several years ago. It concerns Susannah Hall (Fiona Pepper), the daughter of an ailing William Shakespeare, and her husband, Dr John Hall finding themselves embroiled in the machinations of the fraught world of a growing Puritan church and the human but illegal sexual urges of the parish at Stratford.

The play exposes the issues of truth, moral responsibilities and the quagmire that one may find oneself in once lies are told to cover even a relatively innocent incident. A lie leads to the need for further lies each more criminal than the prior. The web of deceit spirals into strange and dangerous twists of moral turpitude. The morality of the characters and their desperation darkens moment by moment and unfortunately they are basically good people and we hope that they get away with it. They do and we are relieved, but the world is no longer the place we once thought it was. Even we, the audience, become implicated in the mire of the events, for we are happy that they have got away with it. The text has echoes of the issues of many an Ibsen play (eg. GHOSTS) and a touch of Arthur Miller's rectitude debates (eg. THE CRUCIBLE ). It is a complex but absorbing night at the theatre. The structure of the play is very strong and the characters and their dilemmas, weaknesses, and solutions are all too recognisably human. Written in 1996 the resolution of the play is tauntingly ominous when seen in 2009. What should we excuse? And can we do so, without real and catastrophic consequences?

Sarah Giles has directed a very focused and tight elucidation of the text. Her actors are very secure and clear in their creations and the tasks that they have in the story telling. Keith Agius is outstanding as the severe husband and practical doctor. The mask of strength of moral rectitude is beautifully balanced by a man consciously forced to move his moral principles to prevent disaster. The understated dilemma and agony that Mr Agius secures is truly wonderful to watch. Here is a tragic figure revealed with delicacy and insight. Rick Cosnett, Gemma Yates-Round, Jamie Irvine, David McLaughlin and Dave Kirkham have the rigour and clarity to reveal the inner fragilities and struggles of their characters. Ms Pepper has the energy and will but not the vocal flexibility to match the others. It is a shame as Susannah Hall is the fulcrum on which all turns.

Still, a very satisfying night in the theatre. At last.

The Alchemist

Bell Shakespeare & Queensland Theatre Company Present THE ALCHEMIST by Ben Johnson, Directed by John Bell.

THE ALCHEMIST written in 1610 by Ben Johnson is a satire of greed and the follies that ensue from the pursuit of it. The Bell program notes give us a thorough contemporary overview of practitioners we know. It includes references to Christopher Skase and Alan Bond, Bernard Madoff and Peter Foster. Contemporary texts/films of comparison include THE GRIFTERS, THE STING and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.

Ben Johnson following on from the success of VOLPONE (1605-06) returns to the satire of his fellow man in 1610, and sets his target in London itself this time, VOLPONE been set in Venice. "It was staged in the autumn of 1610, exactly when the action takes place; the theatres had recently reopened after having been closed by the plague, the same pestilence that had sent (his character) Lovewit (Russell Kiefel) into the country and made his house available for the con-game. The house is located in Blackfriars, the district that contained and gave its name to the theatre where the play was first performed. The customers who come to Face (Andrew Tighe) and Dol Common (Georgina Symes) to seek the help of Subtle, the Alchemist (Patrick Dickson) represent a cross-section of English culture in 1610: the modest lawyer's clerk, Dapper (Bryan Proberts), the hopeful shopkeeper, tobacconist, Abel Drugger (Lucas Stibbard), the lubricious knight, Sir Epicure Mammon (David Whitney), the radical Puritans, Ananias (Richard Sydenham) and Tribulation Wholesome (Peter Kowitz), the roaring boy, Kastril (Scott Witt), the rich widow, Dame Pliant (Liz Skitch), even a visiting Spainard, otherwise known as Surly (Sandro Colarelli). All hope to have their lives transformed by "the cunning man"." All, of course, after an hilarious adventure comes undone and to naught. (Well, except for the amoral Lovewit.) Such was its accuracy that in the 1600's it was well loved and supposedly "laughed [one] into virtue" and "provoked hatred of one's own vices." The character of Mammon was regarded as the best non-Shakespearean comic figure in English drama.

The Bell Company has set the play in a rehearsal room and present a play within a play. (Set and Costume design by Bruce McKinven.) There is a metaphor of the character's needs for hasty improvisation in the scheme of things. The costumes for the quick changes are set on racks and the furniture doubles up for many locations and wheels on and off in full view. The actors and some stage management, at first, are sat or perched around the set to watch the action with us. The consistency of this is not altogether clear.

The costumes are the star of this production. Witty and admirably appropriate for each of the characters and then transformed by the wonderful physical characterisations of the actors they are almost sufficient to carry the story by themselves. Certainly as creations standing by themselves the satiric nature of Mr Johnson's lambast is crystal clear. Congratulations Mr McKniven.

The physical choices, and the energic brio which all of the actors bring to their work is outstanding. The John Bell tradition (almost) of exploring the vaudeville physicalities (Commedia) of his comic characters (going all the way back to his wicked work on the seminal 1970's production of THE LEGEND OF KING O'MALLEY, his outrageous guidance to the actors in the famous Belvoir St. production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING) is glorious in its invention and clarity. In fact, I believe, if the text were left unspoken we might have a funnier night at the theatre. A silent mimed play!!!!!

Something has gone wrong with the verbal communication of this play. Ben Johnson's work is famously difficult for the contemporary actor. "John Dryden confesses that I admire [Johnson], but I love Shakespeare..... Johnson has usually been regarded as pedantic, classical, satiric, Shakespeare as natural, accessible, romantic..... Johnson the scrupulous classicist, Poet, and disdainer of the 'public riot', Shakespeare the crowd pleasing professional and fluent writer. Shakespeare has the ease of narrative and character, Johnson contrarily works with a particular agenda of social exposure and builds his verse with a 'curt style': its phrasing comparatively 'staccato; virtually every line contains a midline pause, with some displaying multiple stops, and the pauses refuse to conform to a regular pattern,' unlike the Shakespeare fluidity." The strength of Johnson's agenda exerts such pressure on the verse that he rarely develops the rhythmic momentum or anything approaching a 'poetic' tone. The verse is unbalanced because the world that Johnson sees is unbalanced because his world view is tilted. Johnson works in a way to accumulate evidence for his characters satiric exposure, a kind of 'indiscriminate supplementarity'. It is a blunt listing and heaps the images on top of themselves in the verse. The style of speaking the Johnsonian text requires detailed thought on all its punctuation. Johnson was famously pedantic with his printers. Although this company reveals an intelligence about meaning it does not detail the voluptuous speeches with sufficient pausal accuracy. It is interesting to read that the midline pauses in Johnson's verse plays is vastly greater than in Shakespeare's. THE ALCHEMIST, for example, contains over 5,000 stops in about 3,000 lines of verse. For Shakespeare, on the other hand, the highest number of stops occurs in CYMBELINE, about 3,100 stops in 2,600 lines of verse. This company of actors gallop at such a fluent speed that I found, and my audience around me, found it almost impenetrable to catch. It was as if there was a glass wall between us and the actors. We were forced to watch. We were never encouraged to listen. The language of this play is so dense that without that invitation and hospitality from the performers it fails to communicate except in generalities. There is a need to have a particular approach to this verse structure that is very different to that in approaching Shakespeare's verse.

The other difficulty seems to me a general lack of musicality in the basic instruments of the leading actors. Mr Tighe is an actor of high intellectual acumen and a physical skill of great flexibility and agility but the sound of his voice lacks the range of expression to accommodate the demands of the text of Face/Jeremy without wearing us out. All the actors suffer this lack of a technical imaginative vocal range to illustrating the verse. Mr Dickson as Subtle is a case in point. Meaning is obviously present but the means to communicate the huge verse responsibility is not solved with enough variety of attack to keep the audience from indifference. Mr Whitney moves best to the use the vocal musicality and intelligence to present "Dishes of agate, set in gold, and studded / With emeralds, sapphires, hyacinths, and rubies." but when he tires of the density and the problem of the text he rather solves it with a physical comedy gesture and underlines the glorious verbosity of his character which is the principal tool of Johnson's satire of Mammon.

This choice of the orchestrated sound for this great work is odd. The great problem with the Bell HAMLET last year was similarly about vocal musicality for a modern audience of the majority of the instruments cast in the roles. It certainly is a puzzlement with a company dealing consistently with heightened language of an almost archaic vocabulary and mode of expression.

This production was played for 2 hours and 20 odd minutes without interval. A wise decision for otherwise some of us may not have seen how it ended. The obvious Alchemist of this production is Mr Bell who persuaded us, the audience, to sit still and endure the night. How polite we Australian audience's are, for this was truly a tedious and exhausting night in the theatre.

Playing in Sydney now until the 18 April, followed by shows in Canberra and Perth. Book online or call the Sydney Opera House box office on 02 9250 7777, Canberra Ticketing on 02 6275 2700 or Perth's BOCS Ticketing on 08 9484 1133.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We Unfold

SYDNEY DANCE COMPANY present 2009 Season, Rafael Bonachela's 'we unfold' at the Sydney Theatre.

'we unfold', a world premiere. Concept and Direction by Rafael Bonachela. Choreography by Rafael Bonachela in collaboration with dancers. Composer: Ezio Bosso. Video art: Daniel Askill. Costume design: Jordan Askill. Lighting : Hugh Taranto. Sound design: George Gorga.

The score for this dance was composed by Ezio Bosso and was the inspiration for Rafael Bonachela who confesses to "a great affinity with him as an artist." Talking with the composer parallels between the thoughts of the composer and events in his own life resonated. "Fear of the unknown and leaving one's origins were poignant to me.... We also discussed themes of lamentation, being at one with nature, life and madness, having nothing to lose and the power of the heart amongst other ideas." Then, as he began work with the dancers "I wanted to create a piece about our needs and desires to slowly unfold, revealing ourselves to those around us.... 'we unfold'", writes Mr Bonachela, "is a collective discovery, a self-examination of our emotional cores."

The music is certainly an emotional journey. In five movements, the sounds are mostly relentlessly pounding expressions of trauma. There is little contrast and the accumulative experience, for me, was one of great perturbation: mental disquiet or agitation. Little opportunity for rest or contemplation in its explication. The music drives on and on to climaxes of percussive explosions. Relentless cacophony. The dance is reflective of that energy. Of that emotional core.

A great deal of the work was bound to the earth. Gravitational pull. The bodies of the dancers mostly hugged and crawled at floor level in explosive twitches and contortions across the space. The limbs of the dancers twisted in marvellous contortions and at great speed and effort. It is a really great relief when the upper torsos of the dancers come into more focused development and a reason for relieved joy when lifts and exploration of upper space begins to take place. When more than two dancers were on stage the visual images were often a diffusing and non pleasing picture. When all fourteen were together it was not easy to enjoy or appreciate.

The Lighting design is also very present. Patches of oblong, squares, circles dominate the floor surface and guide and distract us from the activities of the dancers, rising and falling in intensities, almost, seemingly, choreographed in opposition, sometimes, to the bodies. In a central section the dancers line up in a passage of light and on the edges of it, sometimes are lit, sometimes not, sometimes only half lit. A post modernist design that challenges us to see or not to see the dance. Catch what of it that you can: see the beginning of a gesture but not its execution or catch the end of it but not its start or journey. Too much of the "trick" draws attention to the conceit, and either you go with it or find it irritating. (I found it irritating, and on saying so, a friend accused me of being a "grandad", of which, of course, I could be accused. But this annoying post modernism might now be also post and passe. So hackneyed that is.....!!!!)

Supporting the lighting is a huge full back wall set of Video art images. Images of stars (that is, the Star Wars images before Luke Skywalker kicks it into hyper-speed) come moving at you. An eclipsed sun comes slowly towards you and in musical synchronisation explodes to pieces. Much later a burning sun also travels to us and away again. A giant image of one of the dancers is projected onto the wall and seemingly looks. (I couldn't decide if I should plump for the experience of memory of the images of The Colossus of Rhodes from my ancient history books or for a beige version of the genie from my movie going childhood of THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD. The image of the female dancer similarly conjured Sci-fi movies of the past.) Later the stars double in a vertical shift to appear as bubbles of water, the body catches fire as well, and only brings into sharp relief the relative primitive design execution, as memories of the recently seen Bill Viola video installations (THE TRISTAN PROJECT) come back to one. The video design, like the lighting, does not often co-ordinate with the dance and just where one's focus should be becomes a post-modernist dilemma for this "grandad". It competed for attention away from the dancers hugely.

The most successful part of the program are the costumes. Three sets of beige costume which allow the dancers the freedom to move and that enhance the choreography.

The Company of dancers are breathtakingly daring and accomplished in their tasks. The power and the speed is admirable. The featured work of Juliettte Barton, Richard Cilli, Amy Hollingsworth and Paul Zivkovitch was terrific. Both Chylie Cooper and Bradley Chatfield also caught my attention.

The whole affect of 'we unfold' is one of relentless barrage. There is little contrast and as a result it appears to be repetitious and dulls the anticipation and the senses. It was a very long hour of movement and a relief of stillness and silence when it finished.

This is the first work of this newly composed company. 360 degrees, from most of this team last year, promised something new and special, this work treads water in its development and is relatively a disappointment to a fan of the company.