Sunday, October 25, 2009

Missing the Bus to David Jones

Performance Space and THEATRE KANTANKA present MISSING THE BUS TO DAVID JONES at CarriageWorks.

MISSING THE BUS TO DAVID JONES is a work developed by KANTANKA THEATRE under the direction of Carlos Gomes with performers/devisers: Valerie Berry, Rosie Lalevich, Arky Michael, Phillip Mills, Katia Molino, Kym Vercoe.

This year I have had a very exciting (and hope filled) set of experiences in the Sydney Theatre scene. This work hosted in development by Campbelltown Arts Centre and Performance Space concerns a part of our community that is rarely exposed, explored or even acknowledged: The aged.

It is odd since most of us will complete our journey, in this consciousness:
".........The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

"...Theatre Kantanka entered a hidden micro-universe existing in care facilities scattered throughout this city, (and) we found men and women in different stages of the ageing process, adapting their lives to new "homes", finding places in new social orders and adjusting to different physical and perceptual realities in themselves, and in those around them".

Set in the entertainment/common space of a Aged Care Facility, we are told of the progress of the biological changes to our bodies - a quotation from Simone de Beauvoir: "life is an unstable system in which balance is continually lost and continually recovered: it is inertia that is synonymous with death". Then we meet a collection of patients living their lives. We, too, meet some of the carers. Over a time span of an hour or so the world of this "home" is shown to us tragically, humouously, sensitively, delicately and truthfully.

The effect of the journey is calibrated individually by the audience, I believe, by the personal awareness, that each of us have to the world of this part of our culture. Sitting beside me, to my left are several young people, who initially find the characters and their situations amusing even hilarious. One of them maintains this quietly amused state, another gradually is absorbed and leans forward, tenderly and contemplatively to the unravelling sequences. In front of me, to my right are two friends who I know are caring for a mutual friend in the later stages of his journey. They are intensely watchful, thoughtful, moved and gently amused. Both, they tell me later, sad and yet full of gentle empathetic joy. They laugh as well as weep. In our subsequent conversation they tell of both amusing and disturbing adventures that they recently have had visiting and caring for our friend. I sit in my seat and contemplate my place in the scheme of relentless time and other things. I sit beside a friend who may care for me in the future. Someone, I know, older than I, feels that they must leave the performace early - maybe too difficult to endure.

The actors all play a multitudinous range of characters, both staff and patients. Their observational skills and details of execution are tellingly convincing. There is no judgement, there is science and care. There is admiration and affection. The carers are just as realistically presented as the patients, both kind and cruel, but all in some degree "saints" of presence, some with a life of dedicated duty and a rich life outside the "home". How do they do it? I ask.

The work of Kym Vercoe and Arky Michael is especially remarkable. (Both these artists were also principals in THIS KIND OF RUCKUS and similarly outstanding in their performances.)

The director, Carlos Gomes, who is also Artistic Director of this company, has employed Video/photo (Joanne Saad) and a Sound Design/Composition (Nick Wishart. Editor: Fadia Aboud) to inject humour, irony and pathos into the performance. The choice of music is especially comforting and reassuring. It has both an aptness of emotional temperature and a rapt sense of repectful nostalgia. The lighting (Sydney Bouhaniche) bathes and reflects the experience of the characters subtly and is supportive of the video work.

Most of these artists involved in this project I have met many times in this unforunately regarded "fringe" form of theatre in Sydney this year, some working with other companies as well. Their skills are undoubted. Their courage and resilience to continue to create this very culturally and socially responsible work is almost "saint like" in its committted persistence. The funding bodies that supported this work ought to find further ways to bring this work more centrally to the ordinary Sydney theatre goers experience, at least - here is work that The STC could easily transfer to the Wharf.

It is ironic at Festival Events around the capital cities of Australia, time and again, one sees programmed work from overseas companies that cover similar grounds and occupations of interests and are attended rapturously in a kind of awe of appreciation and wonder by the local "culture vultures", while the home grown work is relatively ignored or shunned. This year The STC hosted Ontroerend Goed in their amazing work ONCE AND FOR ALL WE'RE GONNA TELL WHO WE ARE SO SHUT UP AND LISTEN, a theatre piece about the turbulent years of the teenager and yet I have also seen at Campbelltown Arts Centre (which also developed this MISSING THE BUS...) a disturbingly brilliant work of much potential called THE RIOT ACT; I attended a work at Shopfront Theatre in Carlton called SUPERPERFECT; and recently two works by Version 1.0: THIS KIND OF RUCKUS and THE BOUGAINVILLLE PHOTOPLAY PROJECT, and none of these works yet will have been selected or even sometimes seen by Festival programmers. This is a tragedy for the possible enrichment of the fabric of the Sydney/Australian/International audiences. Here in these companies' work, New Australian Writing and Performance of some high order is created over and over again. (Of course, I have also seen some horrible stuff as well!!! All is not perfect.)

Congratulations to Campbelltown Arts Centre and Performance Space for the vision and committment to the communities in which you work.The Performance Space a tireless and often rewaeding place to see good theatre - keep attentive to their programming.

MISSING THE BUS TO DAVID JONES was not a perfect evening in the theatre but it was an important and unmissable experience.

For more information click here.

God of Carnage

Sydney Theatre Company & Goldman Sachs JBWere by arrangement with David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers present GOD OF CARNAGE by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton at the Drama Theatre at The Sydney Opera House.

Yasmina Reza is a French playwright, a new first generation Frenchwoman, being the daughter of two Eastern European parents (Mother, Hungarian and Father an Iranian Jew, born in Moscow), a novelist and observer of contemporary life. (In 2006, Ms Reza was commissioned to follow Nicolas Sarkozy in a year long journey, and published in 2007 a book called DAWN, DUSK OR NIGHT about that invitation). Based in Paris, her plays, CONVERSATIONS AFTER A BURIAL, THE PASSAGE OF WINTER, ART, THE UNEXPECTED MAN, LIFE X 3, and A SPANISH PLAY, have been produced worldwide and translated into 35 languages. ART was the big international hit of 1996. Yasmina Reza has been called one of "the power houses of European writing in the last decade". One has to agree on seeing this production.

Ms Reza's latest play, LE DIEU DU CARNAGE (GOD OF CARNAGE), was commissioned in 2006 by the Berliner Ensemble , ''opened on 8 December 2006 at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich; in Paris on 25 January 2008 at the Theatre Antoine, directed by the author, with Isabelle Huppert; in London on 25 March 2008 with Ralph Fiennes.... and on Broadway in March 2009 with James Gandolfini, both of these productions directed by Matthew Warchus", where it is playing still, with a Box office taking of almost $1 million a week!!! And now in Sydney for the Sydney Theatre Company with Marcus Graham, Sacha Horler, Helen Thompson and Russell Dykstra directed by Gale Edwards, translated into English once again by Christopher Hampton.

On reading this play I felt it to be amazingly clever and yet thought it a very difficult work to bring to life. Expertise in style by the Director and careful casting would be crucial to the success. Fortunately, Ms Edwards has found the way to deliver this text to us with great elan. The company of actors, generally, highly convincing and skillful.

Two sets of parents meet to discuss the aftermath of a fight between their young sons in a local park, which resulted in one of them attacking the other with a stick and causing physical injury. The play begins with "fraudulent politesse, gives way to toxic cavailing that generates into a brawl in the course of which all bluffs are called." ( Judith Thurman- The New Yorker). The play has been called a "funny tragedy", "fast, sharp, funny self mocking", "both darkly enigmatic and wickedly funny".

Reza as an outsider in her French culture (and perhaps being a woman in a very competitive occupation) "is a born satirist, and a gifted and wry observer of the absurdities and feints of social life"- with the cheeky ability to bait the bourgeoisie sitting in the theatre and causing us to laugh at situations that may be very close to the bone for each of us present.

Yesterday, we began by cautiously responding to the two couples, one representing a middle class comfort that belongs to a high flying lawyer and a"wealth manager", the other, a hardware/kitchen business man and a writer/art lover involved in contemporary dilemmas such as Dafur. We took sides. We changed sides. We supported couples and then split them and empathised with individuals as the humans of this hilarious and yet extremely serious debate charted their way through the evenings travails. It is mostly just out right funny, sometimes even farcical, and, yet, as the title of the play might suggest also thoughtfully provocative. It is this ability to keep the audience comfortably entertained and then pointedly confronted with very big issues of the ethics of living in this very complicated world that mark this playwright as greatly interesting. Ms Reza deserves the accolades and the commercial success that has followed.

In interview Ms Reza says she sets out with the simplest of plans: to have a single set, a small cast, simple props, and in the long term, with an eye to an international success, to have a good translator. She is fierce in the defence of her work as written and is very particular about all the elements of the productions in the major capitals of the world. Her production partners find her notoriously difficult. How hands on Ms Reza has been about his production I do not know. For the most part, I'm sure she would be comfortable with this assured STC production.

The set by Brian Thomson is spare with a back wall of square patterns (It is used as screen in the first few moments of the play as we watch a black and white film of children playing in a local park-maybe gratuitous? [Stephen Toulmin]). The final moment when film is brought back and some of the panels of the back wall fall seems a directorial urge that is unnecessary and not ultimately telling in it's intention. On a carpeted floor, two comfortable red lounges and a glass table decorated with a vase of tulips and impressive art books cover the space. The costumes (Julie Lynch) are astute choices for the milieu of the characters and helps chart the emotional collapse of the couple's journeys. The lighting (Trudy Dalgleish) is a little obviously fussy (busy) and a little distracting - ominous shadows on the wall etc, including a gathering haze affect(?). The music composition and sound design (Paul Charlier) discreet.

The performances make up a very tight ensemble. Very impressive is Marcus Graham as Alan Reille, charting his way through a series of mobile phone calls and the gathering shenanigans in the room. There is elegant vocal and physical skill and complements his work in an otherwise disastrous Bell Shakespeare PERICLES, seen earlier in the year, in this same theatre. Directly opposed to him is a formidable and dogged Sacha Horler as the combative Veronica Vallon. Ms Horler's performance the rudder of the drama of the play, a vitally intelligent performance enhanced by a mordant wit. Some of the most spectacularly funny moments are delivered by Helen Thomson as Annette Reille who begins politely and submissively, but with the "dutch courage" of alcohol finds a place in the "field" of carnage that is central to the "battle". (One of my favourite moments concerns black leather boots, late in the play.) The last combatant, Michael Vallon, played by Russell Dykstra is deliberately directed as aspiring working class and although the choice of the broadly Australian accent generally works, it was for me the least successful decision. The characterisation was strong but the vocal music of this sensitively translated quartet of musicians/actors seemed to be slightly jarred as a result and the flow of the sounds encumbered with lengthier vowel sounds and rhythms gently misshaped the affect of the text. Timing was affected culminatively. The cast had to work harder to achieve the humour that is so delicately musically translated by Hampton.

The cleverness of the writing and translation, the ability to have us laugh at ourselves and yet cause a chastening of consideration of our personal culpability at the permitted behaviour of our elected governing bodies, locally and worldwide, over the major issues of our times is super subtle and worthy of admiration. The present refugee/illegal immigrant debate; the selling of materials at the risk of environment (WA); the great dilemma of what to do, how to solve climate change politics, all rise to consciousness as one walks out into the precincts of the Sydney Opera House and the glorious Sydney Harbour. It is not necessarily a comfortable feeling. Conscience and sense of personal responsibility is raised.

This is terrific theatre.

Playing now until 21 November.
For more information or to book click here.

The Girl With The Golden Flute

Australian Chamber Orchestra presents THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN FLUTE: Sharon Bezaly at the Angel Place Recital Hall, Sydney.

The program presented gave great joy. The two classic pieces; Handel's Concerto Grosso in B flat, OP.6 No 7 and later Tchaikovsky's Serenade in C for String Orchestra, Op.48 were pieces of some familiarity and so looked forward too. Especially the Tchaikovsky as I have many cherished memories of the work accompanying the Balanchine ballet. Here the piece was charged with dynamic forward energy. It seemed to be faster and more deeply felt than I remember. The third movement, the Elegy had the melanncholy of the composer at hand and the Finale a painfully wrought surprise and "grief" despite my familiarity with it. Even in the ballet form, the last moments of the score are heart renderingly moving, the choreography transcendingly beautiful- or maybe I am just a big sop, certainly Tchaikovsky's work has always held sway in my heart and music going experiences. Tchaikovsky may be the first composer whose name I remembered as a child. (Walt Disney's THE SLEEPING BEAUTY the probable reason!!!!!)

The theatre is my area of familiarity, music is my reward. But the combining of the theatre and music was excitingly blest by having the actual Composer of the piece present. So it was with a newly commissioned work by Peteris Vasks and later the playing of Carl Vine's Pipe Dreams, for he too was present. I am used for the Australian writer to be present for the presenting of his play, but the composer present at concert was uniquely thrilling to experience.

Peteris Vasks' composition: Vox amoris: fantasy for violin and strings "is the 2009 Barbara Blackman commission, dedicated to the memory of Dr. Louis Ferdinand Green (1929 - 2008) of Monash University "and has had its World Premiere with this tour. From the softly muted string tremolo of the opening, the solo counter of the violin played by Richard Tognetti, the work was captivating. The intensity of the sound waves throughout the long one movement was powerful. The concentration of the orchestra and Mr Tognetti was, oddly, both fiercely subdued and yet passionately expressed throughout the music's rendering. Maybe, having the composer present gave off the vibe of deep sadness and the continuing rising of musical register demanded a response of high intensity. The adrenalin of endowed sensibility from myself and my companion was a source of our conversation later. Certainly my appaluse was to give thanks both to the Orchestra and the composer for the vital experience of the circle of communication I experienced while listening to the work.

The guest for this tour was Sharon Bezaly, the Girl With The Golden Flute. Before the interval Ms Bezaly gave a dazzling, vituosic performance of Carl Vine's 2003 composition Pipe Dreams with the orchestra. Mr Vine was also, as I have already mentioned, present for the playing of his work - a double thrill to thank in with applause!! After the interval Ms Bezaly, played a new work by Jose Serebrier, Flute Concerto with Tango. It is a piece commissioned by the flautist and was having its World Premiere concerts. The composition gives ample opportunity to the flautist to reveal her virtuosic skill, illustrating "her abilty to play long segements without an apparent need to breathe (she does circular breathing)." Of the two pieces I preferred the Vine.

There was a sombre note about this concert. Maybe the concentration demanded by the presence of the two composers? Whatever, the performance was, as usual, highly satisfying. What if Tchaikovsky had also been present!!!!!? Of course, he was, in spirit.

Playing in Melbourne 27 October.
For more information or to book click here.

Monday, October 19, 2009


B Sharp presents SILVER by Matthew Whittet in Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre.

What is an actor? A perennial question that is the most asked and the answer, fundamental, to the role of that artist: He /she, the actor, is a story teller. Whatever the medium: theatre, radio, film, television, the responsibility of the actor is tell the story. Using, what is always an innate gift and need, the actor employs all of his talents/skills to tell a story to his “tribe”. The history of the story teller is as ancient as the history of man. “The difference between men and animals is that men tell stories.” We have told stories to help us understand the world around us. To help us stabilise the events that happen in the context of our own existence. To reassure and guide us. The contemporary world needs contemporary stories of guidance just as plainly as yesteryear, to guide us through our life and times.

SILVER written and performed by Matthew Whittet is an example of the gift and need of the actor as story teller. It is a very exhilarating experience. The story that Mr Whittet has written, connects us to the childhood joys (and for some of us, as adults, still), to the Gothic stories of say the Brothers Grim, Hans Christian Andersen and others ,right up to my personal contemporary favourite Angela Carter. It concerns a young person in an imaginary world, whom we identify with, and then begin, after an encounter, that precipitates a “call”, “into a series of adventures or experiences” which transform our heroine’s life. Conflict and uncertainty follow and we finally, exhaustedly, move onto a resolution. I have kept the particulars of Mr Whittet’s story absent for it is in the twists and turns and surprises and thrills of the story that are integral to the “in the moment” enjoyment of the story. Suffice to say that the story is, mostly, engrossing.

Matthew Whittet, directed by Ben Winspear have “developed with the participation and support of Company B’s B Sharp development program, (and) made possible by the Macquarie Group Foundation” this work. Both these artists, as one can see by their resumes in the program, are very experienced and have practised in a wide context of skills. Mr Whittet is one of those artists that has fairly constantly worked and contributed with great intelligence and skill to the enjoyment of his audiences, in Sydney and elsewhere. But mostly is not remarked upon. He is what some people might call an actor’s actor. In other words, an actor that other actors admire and know about in admiringly favourable terms. His skills are exemplary and are only exceeded by his modesty. SILVER, then, as a solo piece throws the spotlight onto Mr Whittet. Here, Mr Whittet’s skills are on show, undiluted for all to absorb.

The Downstairs venue has had its seating capacity divided in half. A great black wall, similar to the actual wall of the venue, looms over us, and we, the audience, are in a corner wedge of seating and after a blackout confronted, at close hand, by the seated actor, in casual contemporary clothes, on a non-descript chair. A CD unit, seemingly connected to a wall fitting, is the only other element in the space. Never ever leaving the chair, Mr Whittet begins a 55 minute story. His virtuosic vocal skills (demonstrating what his voice teachers may have taught him: pitch, pace and volume) and empathetic facial and body impulses, connected to a highly imaginative, deeply connected imaged thought process, whisks us away to the world of his protagonist and we experience a tale, so vividly conjured that visual image after visual image connects us to the emotional, surprises and shocks and reliefs of the adventure. We participate in the imaginative telling viscerally.

The direction of Mr Winspear is unobtrusive and the simple but beautiful lighting of Nick Schlieper is a major element in the comfortable organising of our attention. (The final fade out gorgeous for it’s detail – or did I just imagine it?)

On the whole, the story teller and the story telling is thrilling, especially as an object lesson of a consummate actor at work. The story for all its detail, and beginning, middle and end, is still, vaguely, unsatisfying. It is not that it is inconclusive or puzzlingly odd at its conclusion, just that it feels not whole. An element is missing - what may it be? I had had an adventure, both imaginative and emotional but to what ends? The Brothers Grim, the quoted inspiration, always had an ending that gave the story a life depth, something to take away to help guide us in our own travails. I am not sure what the lesson is or was it just a rollicking yarn?

Whatever, it is worth catching.

Playing now until 25 October.
For more information or to book click here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Bougainville Photoplay Project

THE BOUGAINVILLE PHOTOPLAY PROJECT: A Version 1.0 Production in Association with Tamarama Rock Surfers and Paul Dwyer.

This remarkable example of Verbatim Theatre has been devised by Paul Dwyer .

Last year, Performance Space held a week long program called LIVEWORKS which I attended. I saw quite a deal of the stuff. However, for some reason my timing and juggling of my commitment to the showings did not line up for me to see THE BOUGAINVILLE PHOTOPLAY PROJECT. Who ever I met, in the breaks between the smorgasbord of offerings, time and again, asked, “Have you seen BOUGAINVILLE etc……” Glumly and finally exasperatedly I had to reply “No.” “NO, NO, NO……” Last night I saw it at the Old Fitzroy Theatre. A most unlikely venue for this work. Congratulations to Tamarama Rock Surfers for having the vision to include it in their programming. It is well worth catching.

Dr Paul Dwyer who devised and performs this solo piece “holds a Diplome d’Etudes Approfondies in theatre from the University of Paris - 8 and a PhD in Performance Studies from Sydney University where he is Chair of Department.” Dr Dwyer has acted, as well, as dramaturge on quite a number of Version 1.0’s output.

This work is a very different form of theatre for a lot of regular theatre goers. The set consists of several screens, on which documentary film, slide projections are projected. The wall to the audience’s left, as we sit, is covered in photocopied newspaper articles and other documentation, some written upon and circled etc. (You can peruse after the show.) Later, technical props and paraphernalia will appear at the actor’s behest and be used to tell the story that we are witnessing, that are age and era specific, that add resonant touches of reassuring authenticity. For instance at one stage in the play, Dr Dwyer produces a set of slide reproductions on a rubber like cloth, hung on a flown-in sling, that he then shows swiftly, turning the pages back on each other as we recollect the images already shown to us earlier in a contemporary slide/digital format. It took me back to my school days and connected me directly to the time era which we were been connected too - the 1960’s. Along the wall to the right sits the technical support team: Video Artist Sean Bacon and Director David Williams.

This work is developed by Dr Dwyer from the connection of his father, who was an orthopaedic surgeon in Sydney, (a Macquarie Street specialist) who gave time to travel to Bougainville and work voluntarily with the people on this island and operated on patients that otherwise would be crippled for life. Working in primitive circumstances with unsophisticated tools. Friendships were struck. Skills taught and miracles wrought. He made many visits and took some of his young family with him and documented “their holiday.” We are shown the snaps and are read a diary that one of the boys kept. Later we learn, from documentary film footage, of the decimation by mining company interests of the land of these people. We learn of a civil war that broke out with these people. Some fighting for the mining company, others standing up for their property/land rights. We learn of the battle between the "raskols" and the people. We hear of some terrible events/tragedies. We learn of the Australian Governments culpability in the war effort: “helicopter gunships”. We learn of denials and then we are presented with photographed evidence. We are told of the Australian newspaper revelations and the shaming of our government. And this is all in the explanation context of present research work being conducted by Dr Dwyer on Reconciliation. Using the old contacts of his father’s charitable miracles as a cover, Dr Dwyer investigates this phenomenon, that is so alien to our Westerner’s sense of justice and revenge.

In the program notes Dr Dwyer talks of a man from Bougainville, John, who is wounded viciously by the “raskols” and taken away to be murdered only to be unexplainably left to die. “Not only did (John) survive: he has been through a reconciliation ceremony with the raskol who tried to kill him. When John is in Arawa he visits this young man and has stayed in his house; and when the man comes to Burka, John returns the favour. I find this story almost impossible to comprehend…” This Reconciliation is what is the crux of Dr Dwyer’s present work. Dr Dwyer was last there in 2007 and plans to return, hopefully with his sons, next year. The saga with this family and the people of Bougainville continues. The wonder of the human capacity for Reconciliation hums in the resonant post experience of this performance.

What is remarkable in all this is the total theatrical experience that is woven by David Williams, Paul Dwyer and Sean Bacon. It begins, and one feels, oddly, that one has stumbled into a WEA education lecture hall. One, I, less than generously partakes, after all it is hard to leave, especially so early in the performance. However, Mr Dwyer is so modestly charming that one gradually is beguiled into sharing time and meeting his father. One begins to admire the father who seemingly, selflessly, travels with his sons to this strange environment and creates miracles cures. There is a feeling of Catholic missionary zeal, (much like I had when, as a child, I watched Jennifer Jones in THE SONG OF BERNADETTE -- I was inspired to contemplate self sacrifice!!!) Then one is moved to political attentiveness with the introduction of the Mining Company activities- one, simultaneously, contemplates our present government’s Western Australian activities and I ask what am I doing about it? Then one is disturbed by the ugliness of the civil war accounts. One is then confronted by the Australian government’s barbarity and duplicity- one is affronted, and much like the recent BALIBO film experience, shocked with a sense of betrayal and guilt. Gently, Mr Dwyer brings us back to the personal family aspirations and memories and the context in the contrasts to the big and little pictures of our lives are subtly laid out for us to contemplate. I smiled, I laughed, I was educated, I was provoked, I was moved. I was, ultimately, inspired. This was a modest but very good night at the theatre.

I hope, that an audience finds this work. It is well worth seeing. It is, alongside THIS KIND OF RUCKUS at the Performance Space earlier this year, what makes VERSION 1.0 a very important and interesting company in the Sydney Theatre going experience. Do go. (Goodness, that is two shows in a row that I have recommended!!!!)

Playing now until 31 October.
For more information or to book click here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot

Arts Radar and Griffin Independent present REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT by Jose Rivera. At the SBW Stables Theatre.

I had a very exciting and translating experience with this play and production. I can thoroughly recommend it.

Jose Rivera born in Puerto Rico in 1955 now lives in Los Angeles. This play reflects the cultures that he has grown in. “Rivera insists that all aspects of life are magical if looked at from the right perspective.” Following on from Blanche DuBois’s cry in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE: “I don’t want realism, I want magic” this play appears, most timely, on a Sydney stage. It is MAGIC. Written in 1999, as part of the South Coast Repertory’s Hispanic Playwrights Project in California, it had it’s premiere at the South Coast Repertory in 2000. “REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT is set in Barstow, California. An army wife (the play is set just after the first Persian Gulf wars) questions martial commitment on both conscious and subconscious levels, alternating between surreal and real worlds.”

The Set Design (Rita Carmody) has a raised platform, lit from underneath to give a floating feel, (Lighting Verity Hampson) surrounded by black walls with tiny shelves on which bottled candles glow. Potted red hot chilli pepper plants stand beside tins of cat food. At one end of the stage platform there is a red desert sand floor, and Dali-like, a white refrigerator lies on its side, marooned in the space. Above the action is a gently lit, floating ball (planet?) suspended by a red cord. The visual is surreal in its influence. This is realised further when a Cat (Taryn Brine) and a Coyote (iOTA) regard each other warily and begin a conversation of sexual liaison, hot, hot, hot!!!! The Moon (Lani John Tupu) watches from above and joins in. This surreal engagement is rich in its manifestations as poetry and the tensions of the Dali sexual dreams in his art work. Gabriella (Olivia Stambouliah), the army wife appears, dressed in sweatshirt toting a 9 millimetre gun. She issues an invitation to the moon: “Have you ever danced with a woman with a gun?” The moon obliges and comes down to her, for “They say from the tears of women are civilizations made.” A glorious and strangely surreal experience unravels for us. Poetic, provoking and attractive for its non realistic apparition. Such a relief from the boring testosterone driven work we have had a feast of here in Sydney, of late.

At the end of the first scene I was still grasping the world and the wonder of that world that Mr Rivera had given us. For the second scene, the furniture of the set is re-configured to be recognised in the red sandy landscape as a kitchen. The third scene, later, a mattress floating on the sand represents a bedroom. The design elements of Ms Carmody a simple and eloquent. These two acts are more real realistic in their expression, although the language is still as fabulously wealthy as previously. The first act was placed in context for me with the second act unravelling, as we watched the husband, Benito (Stephen Multari) newly returned from war, and his wife, Gabriella, struggle to discover and explore what their relationship has become with the passing of recent time. He in the commanding position of a soldier at war in the Persian Gulf and she at home learning that she too has a world to command as her education expands. The grande mal of the battle field is juxtaposed with the petite mal of the bed and love making. The skill that Mr Rivera brings to a play dripping with surreal poetry and densely felt contemporary politics and the dilemma of modern man is poignantly and stimulatingly delivered. Gorgeously balanced. The final scene takes us back into the floating surreal torture of Gabriella’s pain with the Cat and the Coyote (now a ghost) and the fading moon in the approaching blast of the rising sun, and come to a cataclysmic question for Benito, and all their fates will hang on his answer. Gabriella: "Did you see the moon last night? I really have to know this, Benito. I really have to know." What happens next, is for you to find out. It is a most wonderful ending to a very extraordinary play.

Anthony Skuse with his second directorial offering of the past two months (BAD JAZZ), once again demonstrates is acumen for eliciting the detail from text and serving all elements that the play requires to make it a cogent experience for the audience. (He is of course, this time blessed with a very exciting writer.) The set and costume design (Rita Carmody), the wonderful lighting (Verity Hampson) is beautifully augmented by an inspirational and haunting sound design by Jeremy Silver. Juan Carlos Rios as Musical Director as engaged all the actors as a live orchestra: clarinet, guitar, harmonica, the human voice and every investigation of set and props to create percussion instruments, has created an immersion of sounds to compliment the story and character developments as part of the poetic expression of the text.

The actors are committed to their tasks. Carmen Lysiak as voice coach has done a superlative job in guiding these actors to an authentic engagement with a latino dialect that gives credence and magic to the world of the play and music to the poetry. (Mr Skuse has sometimes a penchant to reduce the dialect challenges of his chosen plays to the Australian sound and I have argued by doing so has diminished the power of the writers. (See pool (no water).) In this instance he has striven for the sound of the culture and it is a feature that allowed me to be transported out of the Stables venue to another world. Lani John Tupu (Moon – gorgeously accurate and rich with the language of his strange character), Arka Das (Martin – a 14 year old boy discovering his manhood), Taryn Brine as the Cat and iOTA as the Coyote are all physically and vocally alive to their task’s possibilities. I was particularly impressed by iOTA who I had never seen before, and knew him only as a legend of the musical theatre (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), and saw a wonderfully skilful and economic actor at work. There was explosive modesty in his work and it was impressive to watch.

Breathtakingly good were Olivia Stambouliah and Stephen Multari as the wife and husband, Gabriella and Benito. They were powerfully gripping in their character’s tensions and dilemmas. The skill of the dialect and the romantic control of the passions of the script were exciting to witness. Two young actors that Mr Skuse has helped hone remarkable performances. (I understand that both actors, Cat as well, are reprising roles that they began in another production at TAP Gallery). Poetic, sexy and passionate their struggle elicited great compassion from me. (Having seen Mr Multari earlier in the year (BISON), this work was a revelation.)

I believe this to be one of the highlights of my theatre going this year. Certainly, that night, I had dreams of an order that I have not had for some time. Thank you Mr Rivera. Reflections of Salvador Dali made me hot!!! Do go. The writing is interesting in itself, let alone what Mr Skuse and company have managed to realise for us on the stage.

Playing now until 17 October.
For more information or to book click here.

How To Act Around Cops

Darlinghurst Theatre Company & Shaman Productions present HOW TO ACT AROUND COPS by Logan Brown with Matthew Benjamin.

Here we have another handsome looking production in a Sydney Theatre, The Darlinghurst Theatre. (See The Only Child; Gethsemane). Jessie Giraud has designed a Set in the black box of the theatre space, that is both aesthetically pleasing (particularly the curious wire sculpture that hangs on the upstage left hand corner) and eminently practical. A car!!- a car that has functional lighting, doors and steering wheel and coverts into other functions, eg a bed in a motel room - most ingenious. There is also video support on a back screen (has no credit) that frames the action of the play with visuals and announcements much like movie credits. The costumes, also Ms Giraud, are also practical and useful to the storytelling identification of the characters. The lighting design by Luiz Pampolha is both inventive and effective. The Sound Design by Jeremy Silver is both amusing and very intricate and supports and creates a reality on stage of the journey of the car and characters with a sense of aptness and humour. The initial moments of created fantasy, the engine revving, the lights springing on, the energy of the men behind the dash board, were quite exhilarating and promised more than what was ultimately delivered. The design elements are super.

The Acting by all of the cast is good and has a sense of ensemble. Andrew Bibby, Justin Stewart Cotta were especially entertaining. Angela Hattersley brings an air of good sense to the crazy situations that her character finds herself in and tries to sort out. Leland Kean, the Director, manages the difficulties of staging the play well and mostly guides the actors through a fairly highly energised performance mode that keeps the audience mostly engaged. However there are clarity problems in the story telling that sometimes left me a little bemused and puzzled. (As the production settles this may vanish - I saw it on Opening night.)

The play itself is another of those “boys” fantasies about testosterone energy – a kind of extended under graduate sketch, this American Fringe play has been Australianised, and involves, cars, petrol, drugs (didn’t believe the drug consequences of swallowing a big bag of Cocaine, by the way), fetishised sex, a ballsy female character, murder, a body thumping the roof of the boot of the car (a touch of urban myths creeping into the recipe of the play), a mayhem of guns and a crooked and aggressive, if not “dumb” cop (- another fantasy!!!). A shaggy dog / road “movie” / theatre story. It is farcical entertainment and there is nothing wrong with that, in this present world it has it’s place. It is fairly silly and is simply another choice in the Sydney Theatre menu to have a fairly mindlessly good night at the theatre. The guys might like it a lot.

Great production values, mostly good acting spent on a silly play.

Playing now until 30 October.
For more information or to book click here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Company B Belvoir presents GETHSEMANE by David Hare.

As usual with the recent Belvoir productions of late, the production values of the work, is exemplary. The Set design by Brian Thompson, a single setting for various locations, of semi-gloss, grey concrete walls and floor is very elegant and contemporary in its feel. (There was an echo of the SCORCHED and BAGHDAD WEDDING Set Design, what this one lacked, was sand!!!) The props, table, bench etc very beautifully executed and used. Costume design by Jennifer Irwin is especially pleasing and accurate - character is delineated quickly and supportively. Lighting by Damien Cooper was sublimely attractive both in details and washes. The look was stimulating. The Composer, Alan John has created a contemporary score that is witty and suggestive of style. The Sound Designer, Steve Francis, has made subtle choices in supporting the action of the play.

This text by David Hare is not at the top of his game, but still a David hare play, even one, that I regard as lesser than usual, is still something to look forward too. The play deals, satirically, with observations of the British Political Machinery and their interaction with Industry and Journalism. We get the big picture observations embedded with the human stories of some of the characters to keep us both intellectually massaged and emotionally concerned. The concerns of the play are easily translated to our own here in Australia, Federal Government, and especially with daily reports in our newspapers, about the NSW government and the origin and scale of both Parties coffers of support.

David Hare in his notes in the program says: “I set out to ask a simple question: how did we reach the point where we believe virtue is exclusively private?....... Anyone who takes part in public life is assumed to have corrupt motives. Politicians are openly disbelieved. Journalists are wholly mistrusted. Bankers currently have reputations somewhere way below pimps and prostitutes. Social workers are reviled and pilloried, teachers are held to be incompetent and doctors are thought long ago to have abandoned the high ideals of medicine. No one in the West who announces that they are working for the common good, or for anyone but themselves, is assumed to be in good faith...... For a long time in Britain our public life has seemed cynical and degraded, a dance of death between politics and journalism. Yet against this background individuals go on trying to live good lives.” This is all extremely relevant to us today.

All the actors have created characters that have physical dimensions, exhibited by particular physical secondary activities to define them e.g.: wildly flamboyant large white handkerchief gestures for the outrageous fundraiser, and later coat buttoning and unbuttoning, Otto Fallon (Hugh Keyes-Byrne); stiff lower torso, forward tilted upper torso, one hand on hip with the other hand continually concerned with the adjustment of the coiffure (as a psychological gesture) of The Home Secretary, Meredith Guest, add pursed lips (Sarah Peirse); the erect immaculately dressed body, held, uncompromisingly, in a neutral pose, with the brisk arm action of an automaton, when walking, of the minder, Monique Toussaint (Paula Arundell). All the actors have seemed to have worked in detail in capturing almost iconic physical identifications for the people in the play. It reminded me of the similar efforts that the actors created in Neil Armfield’s production of STUFF HAPPENS, where they were all attempting to play real life, famously identifiable people: Blair, Condalese Rice etc. All of them have worked with the voice and accent coach, Danielle Roffe, to approximate, for the Australian ear, the sounds of that milieu. Good vowel sounds, as well as musical patterns.

However, what struck me as I watched the play the other afternoon, is that the actors generally failed to engage with the muscular wit of the spoken words inherent in the usual Hare style. Most of the actors seemed to have acquired, “this is simply information and content” and tended to play in a naturalistically caricatured manner. The satire, the witty brio of Hare was not engaged in. The speech work lacked knowing satiric energy - intellectual game playing. The actor employing, knowingly, for the audience, both the objective and subjective combination craft to deliver the play in all of its potential to the audience. As in the tradition of G.B.Shaw, (even, the not especially political Wilde), the contemporary writers Stoppard and Hare engage in the deliberate use of the English language as “sword-play”. A game, often, between characters and, certainly, a game for the benefit of the alert audience. (With the right clues we can be made to feel smart.) Language usage that clues the audience to both the Brechtian political statements, the satire and the personal, emotional developments of the characters is what is needed. That element of wit of the textual capacity of GETHESEMANE was not present. So, the afternoon was interesting but not especially thrilling. The play lay kind of flat. Paula Arundell in her long second act scene was the most successful in sussing out the necessary entry point for the text. Her scene with Dan Wylie had the right edge, the right sense of guiding the audience to be both in the play and outside the play at the same time. It had a witty sparkle that was refreshing and engaging. Amusing as well as everything else.

This is not the best of Neil Armfield that we have come to expect and respect. Actors seemed to roam the stage without real motivation. The pacing of exchanges and the inner energies of the actors were sometimes far too flat. Actors that only had one scene, felt as if that is all they knew of the whole. The play was made up of bits that were being unintentionally disintegrated from the whole. The performance on Saturday was not played as a whole. It was an ill fitting jigsaw, parts, not a cohesive whole.

Thus, an attractive looking package of a minor play, dealing with important and relevant contemporary issues. May be it was indicative of the company energy that not all the actors returned to the stage for the curtain call. Audience around me while applauding those that were there, to complete the experience, were asking “Where is the Prime Minister?” (Rhys Muldoon).

Playing now until 18 October.
For more information or to book click here.