Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Distressing Scenario

A DISTRESSING SCENARIO. A Double Bill by post & version 1.0 for B Sharp in the Downstairs Theatre.

A DISTRESSING SCENARIO is in two parts presented by two companies.

Part One: EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS IN ONE HOUR by post. The Devisers/Performers are Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose. Two of the many conceits of this show is that it was prepared in 4 weeks (meeting when they could), and that they took a deliberate decision not to explore or research the background of the topic at all except from their own sketchy, suburban understanding. "We think it has become a show about us trying to understand something that we can't understand, and communicating what it is we 'reckon' happened".

Deliberately dressed in terrible clothes with exactly matching red high heeled shoes these hapless young Australian women throw together as many cultural references and ignorances as possible to comically reflect what may be a satiric observation of themselves and their family and friends attempting to explain the Global Financial Crisis. It finishes after 50 minutes in a binge drinking spree where the intellectual denseness of these people is further befuddled in an alcoholic fug of stupefying dimensions.

That these artists have got together and spent, obviously, enthusiastic energies on this project, when they could, is undoubted and all power to them, but this comic piss-take needs much more rigour. About 35 minutes of this material could be edited out. The jokes lose their punch and credibility very quickly - we get it five or ten minutes in and patiently wait for progress and enlightenment. Instead we have repetition and increasing banalities and low sketch comic turns that lack the technical skills, and in one case, concentration to pull them off. The best element of this showing is surely the carpentry of, is it Zoe? The blackboard is ingenious compared to all of the other offers of this work. The wit and intricacy of the mechanisms worth recording.

A 15 minute hit, I reckon could be salvaged, with some rigour to this applied theatre exercise.Brevity is the soul of wit.

A 50 minute agony, truly a distressing scenario, for all the wrong reasons - none of them to do with the object of their exploration: the GFC, with "Granny Mae" or "Colonel Sanders".

A case where ignorance did not create enough sustained bliss.

Part Two: "THE MARKET IS NOT FUNCTIONING PROPERLY" by version 1.0. The Devisers/Performers are Jane Phegan and Kym Vercoe. These two artists have created with a dedicated and experienced team: Director, David Williams; Video Artist, Sean Bacon; Sound Artist, Paul Prestipino; Lighting Designer, Frank Mainoo; Movement Consultant, Martin del Amo and others, a clever and instructional response to the Global Financial Crisis. Witty and frightening.

The text developed by this team has everything presented to the audience: spoken language, props, dance and movement, video image and sound track without a single superfluous choice. All of the choices appear to have been explored, refined, edited to such integrated clear precision that the 30 minute length flies by and is truly a distressing scenario of some critical moment.

The physical and vocal commitment and skill of Ms Phegan and Vercoe are devastating in their precise execution. Every gesture is packed with a density of committed intelligence and meaning and the accumulative image of a nation of spenders binging on champagne, spraying the audience with expensive capitalism packs a breathtaking slap in the face. Awesome professionalism of dedicated technical skills.

This is a gem of a work.

The contrast in the intellectual preparation of these two works and the technical skills of the artists in their chosen modes of expression could not be more dramatically demarcated and contrasted. The celebration of the contemporary movement of what I understand is "the aesthetics of failure" as demonstrated by post, near enough is never good enough, and that of excellence by version 1.0 could not be so closely observed.

A mixed evening of depression and exaltation.

Angela's Kitchen

Griffin Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of ANGELA'S KITCHEN by Paul Capsis and Julian Meyrick at the SBW Stables Theatre, Sydney.

Paul Capsis has written, with dramaturgical shaping by Hilary Bell, a remembering of his maternal grandmother in this play ANGELA'S KITCHEN. It feels to me like a dreaming of memories and the resultant text itself is very simplistic both in its structure and idiom.

In contrast to this relatively naive writing, the work is framed within a very sophisticated conceptual design by Louise McCarthy, coaxed and guided by the director, Julian Meyrick. Lit beautifully and sympathetically by Verity Hampson - an artist of a growing and consistent contributions to the worlds we are seeing on Sydney stages.

Indeed, the visual aesthetics are an enormously seductive force to the contextual understanding of the performance. Using a spare and simple set of furniture objects and properties, and a set of clothing and shoes that are part of our daily unconscious as costume, gentle Brechtian titles projected onto the theatre walls order our responses to the developing narrative and are further wrapped in images of Malta and other environs that urge our imaginings to couch and expand the events more vividly in our experience of the performance.

However, the real reason for the acceptance of ANGELA'S KITCHEN as a transcendingly memorable night in the theatre is the beauty of Mr Capsis' sense of love for his subject, Angela, and need to tell this story. Beginning in an extremely naturalistic, straight-forward mode of simply acting as narrator, and passing through more gradual modes of sophisticated theatrical techniques, he finishes in an emotional place of a deeply cathartic self exposure. The last moments when Mr Capsis stalls his exit and looks back at the folded kitchen table that was the centre of Angela's world, the exemplary craftsmanship of this artist, nakedly reveals for the audience both the objective command of his instrument as a tool for the clear mutual expression of the narrative 'journey' but also the powerful and courageous subjective revelation of his own emotional 'feelings' / life to pierce our senses and give us the great gift of human compassion and grief" (this reminded me of the great gift that Mr Capsis gives to us in the mode he is more famous for, in his "Cabaret" performances- mesmerizing courage and ruthless truth-telling, at great expenditure of his own passionate identification). Here it is again - daring indeed - pure naked artistry).

What was also powerful to observe in the SBW Stables Theatre, where we can see each other across the stage space, was the audience, who clearly also had recent histories of the migrant experience in Australia. The brickbats and bouquets of it. Much memory, much feeling, much pleasure in the gains,and, even in the losses of that journey, were palpable during and overwhelmingly, accumulatively, at the end, in the very warm curtain call of thanks that was given Paul Capsis. Clearly this work had great meaning and impact for the captured audience present the night I attended. Maltese or otherwise.

So, ANGELA'S KITCHEN another confirming power of the theatre as a living and irreplaceable part of a civilised society.The community sensation of a shared experience strengthened all of us present and the harmonizing and homogeneous understanding of those about us was reflected in the eye exchanges and polite courtesies to each other as we clambered down the vertiginous wooden steps of the old stables converted theatre space. The theatre is not dead, even, and especially, in this world of email and mobile phone. The aligned breath of the community sitting in the same darkened space sharing this particular story of Paul Capsis and his grandmother, Angela, was one that was able to be universal and a kind of reflection of our own little journeys/stories.

I believe ANGELA'S KITCHEN is to tour around Australia.

Go for the simple story and you will surely come away with a greater sense of the whole of the human experience of love for each other in a genuinely heightened and humbling manner. A Gift from this modest team of theatre makers, of great value.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grimm Tales

Queensland Theatre Company presents GRIMM TALES. Adapted by Carol Ann Duffy. Dramatised by Tim Supple. Including stories from both GRIMM TALES and MORE GRIMM TALES, At the Cremorne Theatre,QPAC, Brisbane.

Seven actors and three musicians under the direction of Michael Futcher using the adapted (Carol Ann Duffy) and dramatised (Tim Supple) versions of both GRIMM TALES (1994) and MORE GRIMM TALES (1997) created an enjoyable night in the theatre for all ages.

The original stories collected and published by the Brothers Grimm (3 volumes) from the oral heritage of the peoples in and around Frankfurt and of specifically traditional German legend have along with the 17th century Parisian Charles Perrault and Danish Hans Christian Andersen been the early source of many children's early excursions into literature that served them well as both entertainment and moral fables. The stories have been adopted and adapted by many others over time (Walt Disney, especially) changing to suit the needs and cultures they were being told for and to.

In this version by The Queensland Theatre Company nine stories are acted out for us from familiar stories such as Hansel and Gretel, Ashputtel (we know as Cinderella), and Snow White to the less familiar (to me) stories of The Magic Table, The Gold Donkey and Cudgel in the Sack.

The stories here have all the signature literary marks of the form (so that the experience of so many became a little wearying in the repetitive stylistic formulations) told as mostly spoken narrative, acted out by the company and there is, mostly, only a little empathetic identification for character. Unlike the Disney versions there is little sentimental ownership for the listener. The narrative and the moral being the paramount objective.

The cruelty of some of the stories has not been censored by the adaptors and it is astringently interesting to have the step-sisters in Ashputtel self mutilate themselves and to have, firstly the right eye and then the left eye plucked out by birds, as we see them in beggar sacks with walking sticks blindly clambering off into the gathering twilight. There is something disturbing (in this age of well publicised teenage self harmers) to watch Rumplestilskin, in being tricked by the peasant girl now Princess, from his rightful reward from the bargain drawn between them, tear himself in two - in this production, holding his disengaged bloody left leg in the air. The children at my performance were both aghast at and relishing the horror of it (then, of course, the body count and the malevolent deaths and mutilations in the latest film HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 along with the home x-box games probably played by this generation are much worse). Nothing much as changed in preparing our children for life.

Michael Futcher moved the stories swiftly, encouraging great facility and efficiency from the actors. Ultimately, as the night wore on I felt the direction was a little heavy handed and conservative (literal), encumbered by design choices in sets and costumes (Greg Clarke) that, though aesthetically pleasing, were over elaborate and explanatory and so lessened the opportunity for the actors and audience to participate in the story telling by self imagining and endowing the narrative text with more individual invention. The Duck in the Hansel and Gretal story, imaginatively created and physically, delicately embodied by Scott Witt was what I longed for more of, from the actors. Just the actor and physical and vocal clues to guide us to participating more actively, imaginatively. Too much was shown or demonstrated for us in this theatre - a fairly filmic solution, done so much more freely and charmingly by Disney, for instance. Although, this did not impede the general reception to the performance.

The lighting by David Walters was an especially inventive and beautiful element in the illusions of the moods and narratives. The Snow White episode especially memorable. The live presence of the three musicians using a wide variety of instruments was also a very enhancing ingredient.

It was fun and pleasurable to watch the children sometimes agog with the wonder of how things were done in front of their eyes, for instance, the return of Grandma and Little Red Cap, from the bowels of the wolf. It was enjoyable to have them clap and/or beat out he rhythms of the music with their heads and bodies, sometimes completely unconsciously. That the theatre held them in such pleasurable awe is another nail to the "theatre is dead" spruikers and they gave me reason alone to relax and enjoy myself along with them.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

West Side Story

Michael Brenner for BR Promotion GMBH, Howard Panter for Ambassador Theatre Group, The Bartner group, Norman Tulchin, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions & David Atkins Enterprises present WEST SIDE STORY at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane.

LAURENTS, BERNSTEIN, SONDHEIM, ROBBINS, four greats of the American Musical Theatre.

Laurents, Bernstein, Sondheim, Robbins and WEST SIDE STORY. Five reasons for one's heart to skip beats with anticipation on entering not just the auditorium of the theatre but just, even, into the foyer.

And this revival production directed by Joey McKneely; Musical Supervision and Direction by Donald Chan; Choreography reproduced by Joey McKneely; Set Design by Paul Gallis; Costume Design by Renate Schmitzer; Sound Design by Rick Clarke and Lighting Design by Peter Hals delivers in still spine rippling waves of pleasure.

That this company of performers are good rather than great does not diminish the pleasure of this experience but rather baits the appetite to yearn to see it in a stellar casting - if that is ever possible. For all of the elements of the original production are of such a ' fantastic' (meant as "incredibly great"), sublime potency that magic is inevitably possible when all drawn together. The 1961 film is a remarkable case in point - projected onto the big screen with full symphonic volume it has, still, great kick and punch - all of those elements expertly drawn together by another 'genius', the film director, Robert Wise.

This famous musical uses the Shakespeare ROMEO AND JULIET as inspiration but translates it into American contemporary terms (1950's) so that it becomes the story of two star-crossed lovers from ethnically opposed street gangs, The Jets and The Sharks. It replaces the power figures of the Prince and family with that of the police and alters the ending to only the death of Tony (Romeo) and to the heart-breaking monologue of Maria (Juliet), alive, and pleading for civilised understanding and perhaps tribal reconciliation. Wheras," ROMEO AND JULIET is conceived as a Liebestod, WEST SIDE STORY is a social document" (Norris Houghton). This is still its great power as an emotional experience in the theatre, both hauntingly Shakespearean and yet achingly, tragically, of our times, Arthur Laurent.

"WEST SIDE STORY appropriated the substance of a European classic even as it updated and Americanized it, yet changed its meaning utterly by replacing the courtly society of the original with a contemporary society rent by urban anxiety, underclass rivalry, and ethnic hatred". Arthur Laurents "wrote a drama that moved swiftly and not without humour towards its tragic end. It was muscular and unusually lean ... For Shakespeare's characters were inescapably verbal creatures while WEST SIDE STORY's teen-age toughs were hard pressed to put their feelings into words. Laurents gave them a jargon (a slanguage!) of their own, but their instinctive mode of communicating was less verbal than it was geared to the senses and above all physical." (1)

The greatest ingredient of this enterprise, for me, is the score by Leonard Bernstein. From the first great blaring, pulsing notes of the opening ballet to the orchestral exit music blasting, after the curtain call (how can one exit/lleave one's seat while this orchestra under the guidance of Musical Director and Conductor, Vanessa Scammell, plays thrillingly on, with great vigour, now, that it is just the musicians in unleashed spotlight, is beyond me? I was pinioned with awe to my seat by the sheer vivacity of the music sounds and energy of the musicians), one is grabbed and held breathlessly with excitement, anxiety and ultimately grief. The throbbing chords of the finale over the body of Tony as it is carried, jerks the tears out of one, physically, forcibly.

"Bernstein wrote a score that caught the teenagers' alienation and restlessness in a musical language of angular melodies, dissonant harmonies, and cross-rhythms. It was a language new to Broadway and he filtered it through a variety of contemporary styles - from neo-classic Stravinsky ( "A Boy Like That") to Latin ("The Dance at the Gym") to modern jazz ("Cool") - but in ways still accessible to listeners more attuned to the traditional to the sounds of show music." (1). That this score filled with music and lyrics that are part of one's own subliminal vernacular: SOMETHING'S COMING; MARIA; TONIGHT; AMERICA; I FEEL PRETTY; SOMEWHERE; GEE, OFFICER KPUPKE, always awakened when the music indicates, is testament to creativity that is truly great. The combination of music that was dance, music theatre scoring and operatic demands, reflects the ambition and achievement of this score. That Bernstein "…also knew when not to set a lyric to music - even one meant for the dramatic climax of the show where music was expected" as at the lament of Maria over the body of Tony, is further proof of Mr Bernstein's capacity. I tried to set it very bitterly, understated, swift. "I tried giving all the material to the orchestra and having her sing an obbligato throughout. I tried a version that sounded just like a Puccini aria, which we really did not need. I never got past six bars with it. I never had an experience like that. Everything sounded wrong. [And so] I made a difficult, painfully but surgically clean decision not to set it at all'." (1)

That "Bernstein further unified his score by continuing where most Broadway composers normally left off and writing his own dance music. And with five ballets and several smaller choreographed numbers in the show, there was much dance music to write."
And this is where the next genius enters: Jerome Robbins. What struck me powerfully the other night, was the physical storytelling and the huge amount of it that often substituted verbal altercation, to move the story on.

"Robbins had conceived WEST SIDE STORY in the spirit of the ballet - one with a story, dialogue, and songs - a ballet d'action. In addition, Robbins presided over the execution of WEST SIDE STORY as both choreographer of the show and its director... Robbin's double function had far-flung consequences. In hiring performers, for example, he did not cast separately for actors, a singing chorus, and a chorus of dancers, as was customary, but for dancers who could do it all: dance, sing and act. This enabled him to realize a production concept that blurred the boundaries between what was acted and what was danced so that the narrative of the show might proceed by moving freely between musical and non-musical staging. Everything was so fluidly staged and in such a constant state of stylistic motion, in fact, that there were few clearly defined moments in WEST SIDE STORY when physical action could be said to stop and danced movement to begin... 'The opening is musical: half-danced, half-mimed' the script now reads. 'It is primarily a condensation of the growing rivalry between two teen-age gangs'. Thus, before an intelligible sentence has been uttered onstage, or a phrase of music sung, dance conveyed the show's dramatic action with Robbin's choreography stylizing streetwise moves and gestures to show the rivalry develop… And so the show proceeded throughout, in ever shifting balances and combinations of theatricalizing modes: ballet, film, play, musical comedy, opera" (1) "What made Jerry's (Robbins) touch individual and so brilliant were his humour and his use of dance to express emotion. He would not choreograph dance as dance, he had to know what the dancing was about." (2).

This was revolutionary and, of course, makes this musical a taxing chore to cast every time it is re-staged. The demands for all of the performers are hugely difficult and truly demands the almost fabled "creature" of the theatre, the Triple Threat: that is, the actor, singer, dancer, with all three skills equal to the highest of standards. They are truly, in my experience as an audience, extremely RARE. Usually two of the skills, whatever the mix, but hardly ever the three.This is true of most of this company. Two skills and a laggard, sometimes too obvious, third.

So we come to the last of these great collaborators, Stephen Sondheim. Famously Sondheim is very disparaging of most of this work, in this his first Broadway musical. He began with Bernstein as co-lyricist and "immediate causes for disagreement were the lyrics Bernstein had already written". Says Sondheim "He wrote a lyric for a tune,' I Have a Love.' His lyric was - it's hard for me to do with a straight face -' Once in your life, only once in your life/Comes a flash of fire and light.' Wait for it! 'And there stands your love/ The harvest of your years.' That was his idea of poetry."(2). Bernstein's purple passages of language were an embarrassment and always a struggle to overcome.

Arthur Laurents talks of the work method of Sondheim: "Using only the outline, Lenny wrote bits of lyrics as well as sketches of music without waiting for the first scene to be written. Not Steve. I always wrote ahead and he waited because before Stephen Sondheim wrote a lyric, he had to know the characters, their diction, the situation. That known, he wrote lyrics that could be sung only by the characters they were written for at that moment - one of the many reasons he is unsurpassed as a lyricist." (3).

Today, nearly sixty years on, the lyrics of this show are part of one's vernacular and the words of most of the songs spring immediately to the tongue when the music triggers the memory. Both entwined indelibly into the psyche of any musical theatre goer. The wit and passion of the lyrics: AMERICA; GEE OFFICER KRUPKE; MARIA; SOMEWHERE unforgettable.

"The happy result of the collaboration on WEST SIDE STORY owed as much to the nature of the collaboration as to the talents it comprised We enjoyed being together: we liked each other...We admired, we challenged each other, we respected each other's opinion as well as each other’s work." (3). A lesson for all aspiring creators. If you read the many and varied accounts of the creation of this work this is the general gist of the working relationships. True, there are many anecdotes of struggle and angst as well! Worth it, if this is the result.

This revival production is encased in new designs. The original scenic art by Oliver Smith has been replaced by Paul Gallis' selection of photographs of period New York, towering majestically over all, on the back cyclorama, framed by two large hinged walls of skeletal tenement walls and fire escapes, that sit on the sides or dominate across the stage to support the scenes. The lighting is dramatic and always persuasively accurate in creating the shifting moods of the narrative. The fluid movement of the story is served well by the ingenuity of the design. The costumes are contemporary and have a freshness about them that may slightly undermine the socio-economic reality of the world of the characters. Slightly too 'pop' to be believable or anchoring in real references for the world of the play- a little too scenic art for my taste.

The performances by the company are energised and fully concentrated. I felt the supporting work in the adult roles were outstanding in their small opportunities. Frank Garfield as Doc anchoring the world of the gang, Jets, remarkably, and drawing a fine line of judgement with the sentimentality of the scenes. Berynn Schwerdt in a brief cameo as Glad Hand also hits the mark with the accuracy and insight to his character. I also was impressed with the singing and acting of Julie Goodwin as Maria and the vivacious attack and energy of Alinta Chidzey as Anita. The duet, A BOY LIKE THAT/I HAVE A LOVE between Maria and Anita outstanding. The AMERICA song and dance especially memorable.

A recent feast of musicals for me. MARY POPPINS and HAIRSPAY, two shows I can and have highly recommended. However, when one meets and experiences WEST SIDE STORY one appreciates the greatness of collaborative genius and are placed in an admiring appreciation of the comparative quality of achievement. WEST SIDE STORY is over sixty years old and will never date in any of its outstanding qualities and will remain a benchmark for all who work in that genre of the theatre to aspire too.

Timeless and great.

Notes from:
1. SHOWTIME by Larry Stempel. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
2. STEPHEN SONDHEIM by Meryle Secrest. Alfred A. Knopf,Inc, 1998.
3. ORIGINAL STORY by Arthur Laurents. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
4. LEONARD BERNSTEIN by Humphrey Burton. Doubleday, 1994.
5. The theatre program notes.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Paul Dainty, Dainty Consolidated Entertainment & Joel Pearlman, Roadshow Live present HAIRSPRAY at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne.

Two quotes found in the program:

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind". Dr. Seuss.

"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of the bad people but the silence over that by the good people". Martin Luther King Jnr.

These two men, Dr Seuss and Dr King, and their quotes encapsulate the joy and the serious intent of this absolutely fun show, HAIRSPRAY. Based on the 1988 film by John Waters in the midst of his career mainstream metamorphosis, this adaptation into a Broadway musical form: Book by Mark O'Donnell, Thomas Meehan; Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Scott Whittman, Marc Shaiman, is a zing zang, two and a half hour romp of mad cap fun with a very timeless and important moral fable to make our lives better.

At the end of this performance all the audience were singing and dancing, - the Princess Theatre stall floor boards were undulating under the expressive explosions - and I was glad to witness and can say to all the boring naysayers of contemporary theatre culture that the theatre is not dead. All ages, all sexes, all, ALL of us were wholeheartedly responding in thanks for a terrific night out in a live venue. WHEEEE!!! The theatre is not dead.

HAIRSPRAY set in a provincial American city called Baltimore tells us "that we are all special, we are all different and we should all embrace and celebrate those differences". And "Underlying Hairspray's music, dance, humour, petticoats and 60's kitsch is a cry for tolerance and a real heart".

Tracy Turnblad (Jaz Flowers) is a burgeoning teenage girl with all of the aspirations of a pop and dance besotted adorer of the local television pop music show: "WZTT's, THE CORNY COLLINS SHOW", who sees only the potential of all people and in her optimistic slipstream leads a whole city into real cultural confrontation and revolution. Motormouth Maybelle's anthem with the company ,"I Know Where I've Been", backed with images of the Civil Rights marches is wonderfully moving in the show's penultimate climax.

Ms Flowers is delightful and carries the show admirably, abetted by a strongly cast set of characters: led by Trevor Ashley (adorable), Grant Piro, Scott Irwin, Marney McQueen (wickedly winning), Jack Chambers (dazzling dancer and not too bad crooner!!), Esther Hannaford and Renee Armstrong, Cle Morgan, Tevin Campbell and the indefatigably witty Gary Scale (each Authority Figure astringently, acidly, joyously drawn). To back these are small, tight musical theatre character creations by all the company that has a dancing energy that is thrilling and infectious to watch (Choreography, Jason Coleman). The musical direction by Stephen Amos driven for thrills.

The best accolades however must be given to the Director, David Atkins who has led an inspired production team to the dizzy heights of theatre cartoon wizardry that leaves one time warped into the past and to the future, both at once. The images blazingly, garishly (positive sense), nostalgically familiar with a contemporary design technique of now and the future.

Set Design is by Eamon D'Arcy; Costumes & Wig Designer, Janet Hine; Lighting by Trudy Dalgleish.

However, it is the Digital artistry conjured by Mr Atkins from his creative team that is marvellously impressive. On several screens across the proscenium space, static and animated images, supporting and developing the many scenes of the play action are bedazzling to behold. Interaction with the images also lift the wizardy even higher. The live action interplay between Mr Ashley and Mr Piro during the "Timeless to Me" segment is kitch and winning in all of it's sentimental gesture and is simply one instance of the cleverness of the technique explored in this production (I find it amusing, that this interaction with live and animated images was made famous in the original MARY POPPINS film and is hardly explored in the Disney stage version of the musical - birds flying out of the St Paul's Cathedral FEED THE BIRDS episode, the only featured image I can recall). Whereas here, just up the street in Melbourne, it is put to great effect on the HAIRSPRAY stage, live.)

Theatre magic of the highest order and wonder. Robert Klaesi (Creative Director Digital Content); Tracey Taylor (Producer Digital Content); Frantz Kantor (Graphic Illustrator) and Digital Pulse (Motion Graphics & Digital Effects).

That this production company and director was granted permission to create HAIRSPRAY as an entirely original entity here in Melbourne, for the Australian audiences, must please the licensing parents in the USA enormously, for it is a fairly amazing and successful result. After the disaster of just such an opportunity granted to the Sydney Theatre Company's production of SPRING AWAKENING, earlier this year, it might be continued in the future of Australian productions. LEGALLY BLONDE - perhaps?

Congratulations to all for a terrifically energising experience. Worth the money, I reckoned. The show is coming to Sydney, in March I believe. Welcome Mr Ashley, Flowers, Atkins and all I say.

Tracy Turnblad forever.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Tell-Tale Heart

MALTHOUSE THEATRE presents THE TELL-TALE HEART adapted by Barrie Kosky at the Merlyn Theatre, The CUB Malthouse.

"This production of THE TELL-TALE HEART is based on Schauspielhaus Vienna's 2004 production, DAS VERRATERISCHE HERZ, which was conceived and directed by Barrie Kosky and performed by Martin Niedermair in German. This production is performed in English, and was reconceived with the original artists, premiering at The CUB Malthouse for the Melbourne International Arts Theatre 2007. It has since been performed at Edinburgh International Festival 2008 & Sydney Festival 2009" This return season at the Merlyn Theatre has been directed by Michael Kantor with all of the original artists, except for the replacement of Barrie Kosky at the piano by Michael Kieran Harvey.

This is the first time that I have seen this work.

The performance begins with the audience seated in front of a framed oblong space filled with the glow of a red curtain. The lights dim to darkness. There is an absence of sound. Then the drawing of the mechanisms of the curtains intrude, in the darkness, with the intensity of focused purpose. Silence. Extended Silence. More Tension.

Suddenly an old recording of a calypso version of the lyrics of I Could Have Danced All Night from MY FAIR LADY crashes in. A female voice singing joyously the whole of the song. A Barrie Kosky joke. A typical Kosky musical jest: :
" ... I'll never know what made it so exciting;
Why all at once my heart took flight.I only know when he
began to dance with me I could have danced,
danced, danced all night. ..."

"My heart took flight." resounds in my head. Unfortunately my heart kept on at its natural pace. My brain went on flights of fancy. I ruminated on the sophistication of Barrie Kosky. The auteur was front and centre of my consciousness. I had been apprised of the journey's unpredictability?

Silence. Darkness. Gradually, a miracle of images are sculpted with light, as it slowly dances in the stillness, around the head, face, then body of the actor Martin Niedermair, who is caught mid flight on a dizzying, vertiginous staircase, scaled in breathtaking perspective from ground to the upper height of the proscenium arch into the reaches of the theatre's fly tower.

Dressed in a contemporary grey suit jacket and trousers; blue, opened neck, long sleeved, cuffed shirt but bare-footed, Mr Neidermair, equipped with the intrusive appearance of a micro-phone resting down the side of his face, holds breathlessly our attention. At last he begins the famous story in accented English.

With halting phrasing, often breaking up the sense of the English text, to allow the demonstration of flickering nervous twitches across the pallid face and lubricious licking of lips, our story- teller takes us on an account of his obsession with an old man neighbour and his filmed eye, that provokes him to murder, dismemberment and disposal under the floor boards; and foolish showings off to an alerted constabulary. Where his own psyche gradually gives way to the beat, beat of the tell-tale heart thumping from under the floor into the night and cause his revelatory confession to the law.

Interpolated into the story are some selections of music, Bach, Purcell and Wolf , played on a piano, solo, and sometimes accompanying lyrics, sung ecstatically and mesmerizingly by Mr Neidermair.

The Set design is strikingly beautiful (Anna Tregloan) and the light-scape, with, seemingly, an infinite calibration of delicacy, is astonishing in it's mood shifting skill (Paul Jackson). Mr Neidermair shifts about this staircase to create installations of image and with each new picture arrests our attention.

Mark Fisher in the program notes tell us that the inspiration for this production came to Mr Kosky “ever since coming across Steven Berkoff''s version in the mid-1980's. Kosky felt there was room to expand it beyond Berkoff's half an hour. This is a highly concentrated hour of terror: it is 60 minutes of nail-biting tension. Some people find it terrifying, some people find it macabre; and some of it is quite funny, as horror should be.”

Unfortunately this was not my experience. I was kept at arm distance from the theatrical intentions of the work. Whether it was the disjointed verbalisation of the text, or the de-humanising mechanism of the micro-phoned speech or the sometimes distracting musical interludes that did not necessarily continue to construct terror, or a sense of the macabre or even humour, I still haven't concluded. Whether it was the beautiful, disembodied precision of the piano by Mr Harvey that rendered the music lifeless and cold, I cannot tell. The usual cabaret brio of Mr Kosky at the piano accompanying his works was missing. Maybe the passionate electric energy of Kosky sweating creatively, seemingly improvisational over the keyboard was the absent element? There was an intellectual precision about this piece of art, this night. Undeniably the aesthetics were, as usual, with Mr Kosky's work admirable.

On ABC Radio National several Sunday morning's ago, I heard Humphrey Bower read this same story and the dramatic impact of the music of the writing of Poe was thrilling. It was simply the accurate reading of the text, just the language impinging on my imagination with the gathering accumulation of my undistracted focus, and together, the reader and I, the listener, experienced the full power of Edward Allen Poe's genius. The deconstruction, abstraction and invention of Mr Kosky in his version of this tale seemed not to ignite my imaginings in the same way.

I know that I may be the only nay sayer about this work, but perhaps the six years of this production's life is too long, or the absence of the originator at the keyboard undermines the intentions. Mr Fisher further quotes Mr Kosky and his belief that a work should only live as long as it gets better and stronger "like wine."

Barrie Kosky has created great theatre. His brilliant POPPEA based around the Monteverdi opera, also displaying the gifts of Martin Niedermair, which I saw in Sydney last year, was a more than an exciting afternoon in the theatre. Perhaps I just have caught this work too late in it's life? Alison Croggon's blog review was what urged me to catch it. Read her response it is quite ecstatic. Such is art. Thank goodness.

Mary Poppins

DISNEY and CAMERON MACKINTOSH present MARY POPPINS, based on the stories of P.L.Travers and the Walt Disney Film at Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne.

The Mary Poppins film was made in 1964.It appeared at the cusp of my entering the bigger world of university, when I became a super sophisticate (Oh, yeah- embarrassing to recall! Forgive me, friends?)

The school holidays of my earlier life were filled with, usually, two movie going experiences: the latest Jerry Lewis film (CINDERFELLA, lives excruciatingly in my memory bank) and the Walt Disney latest: OLD YELLER and THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, two of my fondest memories. Although, any starring Hayley Mills: POLLYANNA, THE PARENT TRAP and a personal favourite THE MOON SPINNERS were also gratifyingly embraced. That Julie Andrews was in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, I saw 16 times at the Mayfair Cinema in Castlereagh Street, and the star of MARY POPPINS, was the only reason that I condescended to see, out of my burgeoning sophistication, this Disney film. I went by myself and never ever told any of my fellow students – my embarrassing secret adventure.

The mix of live action and animation was fairly novel and relatively, a marvel, I remember. I remember judging the songs by the Sherman Brothers as OK Not as good as Rogers and Hammerstein, of course. FEED THE BIRDS, the best; CHIM CHIM CHER-EE, catchy; SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIIALIDOCIOUS, fun but stupid! Julie Andrews was good, but not as good as she was as Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Dick Van Dyke just way too over the top and jolly - unbelievable.

So, going to the theatre to see the stage version was going to be a test of my pretended lack of enthusiasm for musical theatre. It cost $132.00. I was determined that I would give it a fair go. J row centre, aisle seat. Good. But it was almost the cost of a ticket to THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO down in the Melbourne Arts Centre. And that production is (was) great .A considered toss up.

This show has all the Disney efficiency (Director, Richard Eyre) and whizz-bangery (Scenic and Costume Design - the touring production, adapted from the original, Bob Crowley) that you could desire. And , true to it's roots, it is an old fashioned musical with lots of Book (Julian Fellowes), Songs and Music (Original Music and Lyrics by Robert M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe) and best of all, lots and lots of dancing (Choreography by Matthew Bourne).

The cleanliness of the mechanisms of the design and the precision of the dancing, singing and acting delivers a kind of coolness to the presentation. That the character of Mary Poppins (Verity Hunt-Ballard) in this rendition of the P.L. Travers stories leans more to the original conception of a colder and slightly intimidating figure, rather than the strict but 'twinkling' governess of Ms Andrews in the movie, also keeps one at an empathetic distance. (Ms Hunt-Ballard must long to smile - in fact, when she does at last, and I mean almost at last, it is worth the reservation, just). Although I do prefer the Julie Andrews presence of wickedness and sense of fun-(The best thing about the ill fated musical film, STAR, is Ms Andrews sense of play in the great stagings of the musical numbers).

It took me right up to the middle of the second half and the show stopping dancing of the STEP IN TIME interlude to completely surrender and go: "OK, this is good". By the end I thought, "This is well worth the money spent". I was happy and added MARY POPPINS to my pleasant memories of theatre going beside the alternative choice of the night: Opera Australia and Neil Armfield's sublime production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.

I thought that Matt Lee as Bert was terrific, especially when he was dancing - he does a lot of it- marginally less terrific when he was singing and much less so when he was performing as an actor- not very charming or winning except in a kind of calculated way, too much technique, not enough truthful heart- a kind of out of body experience. Dick van Dyke, then, is a star and from memory, despite his cockney approximation, better. I know comparisons are odious but...$132.00 is $132.00.

On the night I saw it Philip Quast as Mr Banks, did not appear to be fully present and a trifle effortful in everything but his usual good singing qualities, it was a bit throw away in action. Also Marina Prior as Mrs Banks appeared to be distracted and not fully happy in her characterisation or performance.

I missed the clever and subtle work that David Tomlinson delivered in the film to Mr Banks- he had a journey of growth as the neglectful but dutiful Edwardian father that Mr Quast never seemed to fully demarcate. Mr Quast began Mr Banks flustered and became only slightly discombobulated - shirt hanging out of his trousers - before finding his 'Disney' way to warm hearted father figure. The story telling by Mr Quast appears,relatively, shallow in explication.

Similarly, I missed the political spikiness of the Edwardian suffragette that Glynis Johns enthusiased for us in the film. Ms Prior's character is a more harassed and incompetent housewife of the old fashioned image of helpless woman kind - a strand of her hair astrew to iconise her state of flusteredness - a kind of political throwback. Not entirely Ms Prior's fault as the new songs and maybe the changes in the writing may have some basis for the disappointment in the performance. I did miss the song SISTER SUFFRAGETTES, mightily.

On the other hand, the work by Sally-Anne Upton (Mrs Brill) and Christopher Rickerby (Robertson Ay), although of a 'classic' musical theatre genre, were energised and fun -they lifted the 'game' of the performance with limited 'stock' character types, with all of their limited opportunities with real imagined invention.

However, the beautiful energy and brio of Judi Connelli as Miss Andrew, the wicked bully governess, a new character to the story, was best of all. Finely drawn characteristics tumble across her face and body almost word by word. It is so detailed and accurate that Ms Connelli's Miss Andrew deserves, perhaps, a musical all of her own - like the good and bad sisters in WICKED finally were given, escaping from under Dorothy and her friends shadow in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Mr Schwartz take note. Here is musical theatre acting that sets a benchmark of commitment to her paying audience.

The children were terrific. I think they were, at my performance, Zoe Gousmett and especially pleasing, Kade Hughes.

So, a good time eventuates by the end of the show. Coolness evaporates into wonder as Mary exits magically across and over the audience. "AWESOME", some young soul gulped beside me, and at almost two and three quarter hours, good value for money, I guarantee. My secret adolescent adventure relived, but live on stage.


Life Without Me

Melbourne Theatre Company in association with Melbourne International Arts Festival presents LIFE WITHOUT ME by Daniel Keene in the Sumner Theatre, Melbourne.

Being a Sydney-ite I have had a relatively limited experience of Daniel Keene's work. However, the work, that I have seen, has always attracted my attention, and the reputation talked about in the program notes as 'some sort of poet of the streets' seems to be a good summary of my appreciation. With, the, generally, marginal characters that people his work, the poetry of his vison, expressed in his texts, is always subtle but beguiling. The pain and agonies of a lot of his creations achieve a dignity and focus that in a peculiar way have always had me regard them, similarly, but differently, to the experience of the peopled world of, say, Genet.

"Who are the characters in my plays? They are mostly people without privilege, who have no 'position' no power. Why do I choose to create characters like this? Because I want them to bring nothing with them, to have no biography, to create nothing to begin with. I want to create characters in my plays to live moment to moment in front of our eyes (they can do nothing else) and to reveal what is within them (They have nothing else to reveal)." – Daniel Keene in interview with Stephane Muh and Christine Bouvier.

"Over a thirty-year career, he has won most of Australia's major playwriting awards, some multiple times. Yet he has remained inexplicably marginalised, produced and commissioned by smaller companies and festivals, but, until recently, overlooked by the mainstream." It was somewhat of a surprise to discover that LIFE WITHOUT ME is the first production by the Melbourne Theatre Company, (commissioned almost three years ago) of this quintessential Melbourne writer."In Melbourne, his home town, Keene's reputation is founded on the Keene /Taylor Theatre Project, his acclaimed collaboration beginning in the nineties on a series of small-scale, often site-specific works with director Ariette Taylor and an ensemble of actors".

The Sydney Theatre Company presented Mr Keene's THE SERPENT'S TEETH, a diptych of two one act plays: CITIZENS and SOLDIERS a year or so ago in The Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. This was, in my experience, a marvellous, monumental piece of Australian writing, that was the best of that year. The scope of it's vision and the achingly poignant observations of the universal condition of mankind in contemporary times, pregnant with humbling contemporary relevance.

LIFE WITHOUT ME, then, was a grave disappointment. In the program notes to the play: "... If you don't know who you are and you don't know where you're headed, you might find yourself spiralling in ever-tightening circles until you come to rest in a non-descript part of town in a crummy two-star hotel, where the service is churlish, the lift doesn't work, the toast is burnt and the pot plants set off your allergies. Yet, keep your expectations low, and, who knows? - you might be pleasantly surprised by how everything works out". I was indeed surprised but in a wearying, dispirited way.

In an impeccable design recreation of a two star hotel foyer, teetering on the edge of a fall into decrepitude (Dale Ferguson) given the momentary coming of passing time and disappearing managerial energy, seven beings find themselves in, what the program discusses and discourses endlessly about, a 'salle des pas perdus' or in blunt literal translation: a room of lost steps (the poetic implications ring resoundingly).Why they are there is just the trifling windy accident of fate, we observe in the action of the production. Why they stay or why some of them can't leave, became, over the long length of this work, less and less engaging until I felt, why don't I just get up and scream or leave? Trapped like the characters in this fairly familiar territory of existential angst, with a faintly Australian timbre, I respectfully endured.

No exit for these people and no exit for me. The program notes indicate some sources of inspiration for the writer's creation: Feydeayu (if only), Ionesco, Arrabel, Lewis Carrol, Thoreau, Erving Goffman and Satre. And the play echoes, derivatively, more or less all of the aforementioned –throw Beckett into the mix as well. I did not feel that I needed to see this play. None of my apprehensions of life or my ability to observe through my looking glass at life, were enlightened or expanded. Other than the weight of a wearied exhaustion, I left the theatre less, not more, the same being.

The comedy in the foyer of the hotel that Mr Keene talks about in the program notes, does not really materialise – hardly more than a chuckle of recognition, from most of us, I saw it on a night in the last week of performance - and "underneath (the) serious questions, moments and situations" that were happening mostly, on awkwardly designed black holes of balconies, high in the proscenium spaces, difficult to participate comfortably with, if, like me you were seated in the front section of the theatre, that declined in performance, into almost maudlin sentimentality of familiar middle-aged romantic and youthful angst.

Maybe the play had too much time to gestate, and/or maybe the dramaturgy and the acting had too much respect for the writer to see the emerging work with less than a positive critical eye. Who knows, but the creative team? Certainly the result, on my night in the theatre was a considerable disappointment. Better that the Company had staged THE SERPENT'S TEETH, taking advantage of this marvellous theatre space and stage, I reckoned, on contemplation on my walk back to my hotel.

The company of actors were patient and generous with the material and the directing aid of Peter Evans given to them. I enjoyed especially the work of Robert Menzies (Nigel), tirelessly inventive in an attempt to keep the play and production buoyant; and the clarity and directness of Benedict Hardie (Tom), it had an uncluttered freshness about it that was a respite from the generally effortful work about him. I admired Deidre Rubenstein (Alice Jarvie), valiant until drawn into the sphere of the mannered and sentimental offers of her romantic partner in writing, Brian Lipson (Roy Williams) - an unexpected experience for me, of an actor I have mostly enjoyed.

There is some talk of the growing reputation and production of Mr Keene's work in Europe, particularly France. That he is not unique in this is reflected in the European and American opportunities of other writers, say for example, Timothy Daly (Kafka's Dances), a Sydney writer, as well. The gradual development of the Austarlian writer in the international arena has been happening and in the age of the new media, let us hope, more so. Prophets sometimes require the foreign recognition to be more fully recognised in their own towns.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010



"MINCED is a new NIDA initiative for performing artists encouraging them to take risks with their chosen forms of expression."

Two recent graduates from the NIDA Directing Course, Paige Rattray and Nikola Amanovic (both 2009), auditioned a collective of performing artists across many skills, ages and backgrounds: actors, dancers, musicians. In the first piece by Ms Rattray some 26 artists volunteered their time and skills. Mr Amanovic involved some 12 performers. Enthusiasm galore.

First, BLESSED ARE THE WILD. Ms Rattray inspired by the Merce Cunningham's experiments with chance, devised over 2 weeks, 3 dance/movement components by chance (no choreographer is credited). 3 spoken work pieces were prepared from different sources and 3 lighting states were prepared and 3 musicians were primed.

The audience on entering the theatre were greeted by all the performers to the accompaniment of the band. The excitement energy was palpable. An MC introduced the evening and then the audience selected, by show of hands, the combinations of groups for performance. Talking to the performers, afterwards, it was interesting to hear how the combinations altered each night. Not very radically it turned out. Chance was defeated by conservatism. Out of hat draw or the throw of the dice might have delivered more interesting combinations.

On my night the sexy street walker with a monologue called STRAIGHT EDGE RAZOR was coupled with red light and a saxophone backing (James Loughnan). The BEAT POET with white light and drum kit (Ben Kidson and Alex Barry) DREAMTIME with torches and the electric guitar (Felix Kulakowski). All fairly predictable. A microphone was used (unnecessarily) to tell the stories. Inevitably the spoken texts, then, dominated the experience. The dance and the music, relatively, differently, becoming support.

The success of the evening seemed to hinge on the skills and dynamics of the "speaking" performers. The real success of this half of the program was the combination of skills from Shari Sebbens and her DREAMTIME story telling, verbal range and clear freshly minted imagery, supported by the choreography and dancing of two of Sydney's great contemporary dancers, Anca Frankenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer (quite a coup, for Ms Rattray to have such talent available to her).

STRAIGHT EDGE RAZOR an excerpt from A FEW MORE YEARS by Timothy McDonald was a monologue of a streetwalker that was so repulsively abusive and delivered in such a carelessly shoddy manner - deliberate I am sure - that I wished that the audience also had a gong to terminate the piece when possible. More direction to assist the instincts of the performer, Netta Yashchin, would have the helped the piece, that was seriously dated both in its content and naive shock tactics. Boredom was the reason for my need of a gong. Tedious, hardly amusing, except to the adolescent, perhaps.

BEAT POET written and performed by Anthony Taufa was seriously impaired by performing skills that needed directorial attention. The poetry and it's content was buried in the posing persona of the performer and slurred vocal delivery. Even with microphone it was difficult to get the grist/gist of this ' beaten' poet. The dance support by a large co-hort of actor/dancers supported by the drum kit duo was a welcome distraction from the gabbled gibberish of the verbaled text.

It seems the form of BLESSED ARE THE WILD occupied the rehearsal time of the work which was tantalising in its possibilities, but marred, in performance, by inattention to the story telling skills of two thirds of the event (Although I note that Ms Rattray had directed the whole of the Timothy McDonald piece with Ms Yashchin in July. The whole work! If this was a representative sample, one may have needed more than a gong to stop it- a whole orchestra perhaps?!!) ). If the expressive communication skills are a problem then the work loses it's full impact. The experience of the work diminished. The contrast that the first two pieces made, on this night, was startling in their ineptness to the simple direct quality of DREAMTIME - class all the way through. The conceit of the Merce Cunningham chance mechanism hardly revealed here as relevant. Content delivery defeated any interest in the form of the experiment.

The second half of the program TICK TACK BOOM, rehearsed over the same two weeks, with some of the same performers, was a different risk taking expression of 'form' by Mr Amanovic. Gathered from his program notes he seems to impulse his creative urges from a view that the theatre can be useful in changing the world: "We have decided to declare war on political correctness in the theatre and give a voice to people who usually have to' keep their opinions to themselves' ".

Mr Amanovic prepared the actors by "a day before the first rehearsal (he) provided the actors with newspaper articles, poems, essays, texts from blogs and magazines and other inspirational material..." He goes on to say that "using Stanislavsky's later approach (presumably he means Action Analysis) and the Mike Leigh method (presumably actor motivated research) to develop character through constant improvisation. He goes on to say that the actors did most of the writing with his job as director, "solely to worry about the dramaturgy."

Letting actors carry the responsibility of writing their own material. Not often a good idea. Here is the evidence of that. Maybe the initial material provided by Mr Amanovic was too wide a scatter gun of interests, for, several weeks after the event, when I try to specify the content of the material, that has stuck in my head, from TICK TACK BOOM, I come up with, banalities: the need for women to have an orgasm (Oh, not again - I thought the Vagina Monologues had got that and the nineties passed away!!) no matter the supposed satire of writing and performance, and, then, the avoidance of germs in public transport!!! (Getting public transport to run on time, might have been a more politically savy issue to explore!) Hardly world shattering as far as politics goes. TICK TACK SPLODGE not BOOM.

It seemed to me that none of the performers had any real passions to champion or speak ‘politically incorrectly’ about. There was no shock or taboo crossed without a follow up comic laugh in this bourgeoisie exercise of navel gazing. SOUTH PARK still demonstrates more courage than this project did. It seemed more intent to entertain and score laughter than to confront the audience with the state of the world or real concerns. If their is no expression of suffering here or any real, other than middle class lounge chair politics going on, it turns into the usual Aussie piss take of serious events and concerns or dreadful earnestness.

Please note that the pursuit of character is more than improvisation, it does, if Mike Leigh is the model for the project, as stated, take, months and months of detailed research by the performers and director to give substance to the material. Depth and reality - the light weight satirical thumb nail drawing of character and issues presented by these well meaning artists was disappointing and dispiriting. Mike Leigh would have been more than his usual grumpy self with this superficial appropriation of his techniques.

Character is the sum total of what a character says and does (basic Stanislavsky). Most of these characters ended up being smug, self righteous stand-up comic two dimensional blatherers. No real knowledge of what they were satirising from any lived or gut observation (especially if they are using the magazine found speak) or research. Not really meaning what they were saying and never been convinced of the circumstances of their inventions except as cartoon - Inspector Gadget dropping his tools at startling moments.

The world and it's problems seemed as distant to these artists as Australia's perceived geographic position. Let alone dealing with the shameful issues facing our culture in our very own backyard. The Female orgasm versus the indigenous human rights issues? Germs on public transport versus the racism and discriminatory instincts of our selves and neighbours as demonstrated daily, especially, and even in our parliaments? Enough problems BUT....

Here again, as in the first half of this program, the director failed to assist the actors with their sometimes problematic performance skills. If the voices and bodies can't deliver the material technically clearly, no matter what they are saying, it is handicapped and ultimately underwhelming. It may as well not have been said.

Then, form is not enough for this project to succeed. It must be accompanied by the choice of artist that has their attention supported by rigorous skills and preparation not just availability and enthusiasm. Then the director's eye must be ready to assist the problems of communication, otherwise as an end product, that is intended for an audience to be changed by, as a result of giving their time to attend the project, it is a frustrating experience. Family and friends might support the event but the paying punter will not.

Ms Rattray has demonstrated quiet exciting skill in her co-op production of BRONTE at ATYP Wharf, earlier this year, as did Mr Amanovic in a less successful exploration of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME at PACT Theatre. The opportunity taken here was surely a terrifically advantageous learning curve and a valuable laboratory journey for all involved, but it does require more than an idea and enthusiastic supporters. Real preparation and ready skills are the assets missing here.

Minced. Minced meats. The better the quality of all the ingredients, the better the product will be.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Twelth Night

Bell Shakespeare presents TWELFTH NIGHT by William Shakespeare in the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House.

TWELFTH NIGHT is the last of Shakespeare's comedies and it precedes the appearance of HAMLET.

In an essay by Stanley Wells on John Barton's production of TWELFTH NIGHT - my first remembered experience of this play, a magical one at the old Theatre Royal, in tandem with Trevor Nunn's THE WINTER'S TALE starring Judi Dench as Viola and Hermione/Perdita- (Manchester University press,1976):

"HAMLET is one of the most controversial of Shakespeare's plays. It has been endlessly discussed, and poses major interpretative problems. TWELFTH NIGHT has provoked less dissension. As with many of the comedies, there is general agreement about the broad lines along which the play should be interpreted. Disputes are about matters of balance,emphasis and degree, especially about the balance between comedy and seriousness. To what extent, if at all, should Orsino be satirically presented? Should Feste be primarily an entertainer, or should the actor suggest in him the sadness attributed to those possessed of perfect knowledge? Should the portrayal of Olivia emphasize the aristocratic head of a household or the susceptible young girl? And, perhaps, most dominant in the questions asked about the play's characters, how seriously should we take Malvolio's plight? Is it right that he should create, as,150 years ago, Charles Lamb said that Bensley created, a "kind of tragic interest"? Or should the performance be cooler, more distanced, more critical? More general interpretative questions that might be asked about the play concern the balance in it of romance and realism, of idealized love and drunken revelry, of wise folly and foolish wit, of self-control and relaxation, of love songs and songs of good life."

The Bell Shakespeare production under the Direction of Lee Lewis decidedly opts for an overly robust comic interpretation although it still steers an often moving balance between romance and realism, love and drunken revelry - mostly, not always, the drunken revelry under the bombast of Mr Booth as Sir Toby Belch (or, based around this performance: Sir Toby Bellow), too often drowning out the contrasts - and wise folly, beautifully delivered by Max Cullen as Feste, and foolish wit, demonstrated especially by Brett Hill as Maria.

With a reduced cast of seven actors, which only has one woman, that is Andrea Demetriades as Viola, in the well worn tradition of accessible Shakespeare by the Bell Company, we have a rambunctious comic "piss take" of a great deal of the play. It is in modern dress and has, within the context of the production's framing device, access to many contemporary ' tools' of comic invention. Add to the recipe of ingredients, multiple role playing, that demands gender bending, which is often hilarious in its small cast needs, and crowns a comic climax, in a moment of bewildering double playing, where the actor (Adam Booth) impersonating Sir Toby Belch is required to switch roles and engage himself as Sebastian. Much hugger muggering going on! There are, of course, losses in this comic pell mell point of interpretation and the final moments of Malvolio's humiliation is disturbingly pushed askew when Ben Wood, as Malvolio, as he exits, swearing revenge, gives the triumphant lovers and their parties some contemporary improvisationary retort and "the finger". A moment when vulgarity seemed to be unnecessarily enthroned.

This production begins in darkness as seven blackened bushfire survivors exhaustedly stagger into a community hall. In the space they find some emergency lighting equipment and a television set, that fortunately has an electrical resource, that conveniently displays a television news report of the tragedy they know is unfolding outside (the Victorian fire disaster).They are in shock and it becomes evident that the young woman, of the party, is in grave concern for a brother missing, lost outside.

In the centre of this refuge is a mountain of second hand clothes surrounded by other debris that a charitable organisation might have in storage (Set Design: Anna Tregloan). An older man finds an old shabby book that is WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S COLLECTED WORKS. He idly begins to read the opening to TWELFTH NIGHT and gradually the survivors begin to role play and enact the comedy. It becomes a distraction, momentarily, to the terrible predicament they are in. Sometimes during the proceedings the real world realises itself, intrudes, and particularly the connections between the young female fire-fighter/Viola (Andrea Demetriades) and her lost brother and that of Viola's, Sebastian, manifest tragically.

It is this external device, to the written play, of the director, that creates most of the effective moments of emotion in this performance of the play. That it is the framing device rather than the possible pathos within this great play of comic autumnal love and death and final restoration that is used to achieve this, is a weakness in the production of this TWELFTH NIGHT. It feels as if history as being sentimentally appropriated as a substitute to the textual resource that Shakespeare provides, that the overt comic work of the production has, relatively stifled. It feels like an intellectual imposition that does not trust the play or has fully investigated the dramatic potential available, textually, in it. The recent Russian production in the Sydney Festival, a few years ago, (from a St Petersburg Company), without any welded concept armoured about the Shakespeare text, achieved a universal statement concerning the transitory foolishness of the human experience breathtakingly beautiful and at the same time comically melancholic - despite the fact that it was spoken in Russian and sub-titled.

This framework by Ms Lewis I have witnessed before on her production of OUR TOWN at the New Theatre a few years ago. In that production, Ms Lewis had the company of actors covered in ash and stagger into the cellar of building in New York after the World Trade Centre tragedy. That it was a copy of OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder, that one of the survivors found and the survivors enact, and that that play tells us essentially of a simpler, isolationist USA at the beginning of it's great century of international growth, the appropriation of that recent tragic historical event, of the assault on the symbol of the USA's world domination, the World Trade Centre, had logical and illuminating resonance. The same idea explored by Ms Lewis once again, here, but arguably less, dramaturgically, useful or applicable.

Within this context, Ms Demetriades, demonstrates the intelligence and beauty of artistic choice that was first noticed in her interpretation of Marina in last year's flawed production of PERICLES. Her Viola commanded the emotional territory that the production allowed with much grace. Her handling of the verse was exemplary- indeed this Bell company seemed, under the guidance of Ms Lewis, well in command of the Elizabethan demands (excusing, now and then, the naturalistic interpolations needed by some actors to communicate character's intentions clearly). Max Cullen was enchanting and witty as Feste and no more so than in the musical renditions of the contemporary songs elected for this production: the St James Infirmary Blues, magical!! Kit Brookman playing Olivia, a follow-up to his last Shakespearean heroine, Hermia in the Downstairs Belvoir production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM -witty and waspish - this Elizabethan boy actor tradition becoming, and becoming a practice for this agile actor. Elan Zavelsky juggled the low comedy of Sir Andrew Aguecheek dexterously with his handsome and love sick Duke Orsino without much complication. But the outstanding performance, for me, was an astonishingly accomplished and assured performance, in-built with wit, emotional breadth and comic restraint of Brent Hill, especially as Maria, in his trio of characters.

The lighting by Luiz Pampolha needs special remark. The images conjured by him with Ms Lewis were often beautiful and transfixing. Achieved effortlessly and guilelessly. The Sound Design (Paul Charlier & Steve Toulmin) also was a magical and apt component to the performance.

The audience I was with found great humour in the famously comic scenes of the play and were also genuinely moved by the production. I wished the play had done more to achieve the latter, more potently using the events and circumstances of the play as written by Shakespeare.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sydney Opera House presents THE ANIMALS AND CHILDREN TOOK TO THE STREETS, Created by 1927 at the Studio Space, Sydney Opera House.

1927 are a British theatre company and they presented in 2008, BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, also at the Studio.

1927 are a “group that concocts the most surreal of fairy tales, combining animation, cabaret, music hall song, dry humour and contemporary issues”. THE ANIMALS AND THE CHILDREN TOOK TO THE STREETS the latest work is performed by three performing artists: Suzanne Andrade, Esme Appleton and piano player, Lillian Henley. They act to musical accompaniment against a most elaborate set of sequences of animated film, the story of the streets of the tenement block of Bayou Mansions, with Agnes Eaves. Paul Bill Barritt is responsible for the imaging, which is truly remarkable and magical – sinister and disturbing as well. The comedy is often wickedly black and is delivered, perfectly synchronised with the images and the music.

It is fascinating and clever. And if this is the first time that you have met this company it is possibly a delight. This work THE ANIMALS…(2010). is really more of BETWEEN THE DEVIL…(2008) and while still charming, a little less interesting, as it now no longer has the surprise and wonderment element. Content, form and style are much the same as last time. The creativity while amazing – is static and provides no real reason to want to see the company again.

I went because I loved its quirkiness and artistry last time. This time, familiarity bred boredom. No surprise, no fun.

P.S. The Opera House is still slugging the paying customer a service tax of $5.00 for purchasing a ticket at the Box Office with cash. Grrrrr! The tourist trade and the Sydney patron paying again, above the advertised cost of the programs presented by the hirers of the spaces., for the opportunity of attending the Opera House?!!! If the shows go out to Parramatta go there and use the $5.00 for a very pleasant ferry ride- highly recommended - it adds immensely to the event.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

True West

Sydney Theatre Company and UBS Investment Bank present TRUE WEST by Sam Shepard at Wharf 1.

First, my prejudices: Sam Shepard is one of three of the great living American playwrights, in my estimation. Edward Albee the greatest and David Mamet, the other member of the trinity.

TRUE WEST(198O) by Sam Shepard follows the family sagas of CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS (1976) and the Pulitzer prize winning BURIED CHILD (1979). It has been regarded as the final episode in a 'family' trilogy, although A LIE OF THE MIND (1987) seems, to me, a clincher to the Shepard family saga exploration. A quartet, then!! Then again, most of the Shepard repertoire has powerful bio-graphical echoes and might all be considered 'family' plays of a sort. Look at the recently performed FOOL FOR LOVE (at the Downstairs Belvoir) and family and personal relevancies resonate out of the material.

'Go West', the era of the pioneers of the European invasion (settlement) shouted out from the ports and cities of the east coast. In response the pursuit of the American Dream rolled out across the great landscape of the North American country in covered wagons in conflict with the American Indian. The iconic stature of the West was and still is celebrated in the cinematic history of the supplanting civilization, based in California, and the 'true west' of the imaginative dreamers of that culture, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is the setting for the clash between two brothers as they struggle to win the approval and support of the Hollywood producer for a true story. A 'true to life' story of two men "a good fifty miles" from the Texan/Mexican border where "they take off after each other straight into an endless black prairie... And they keep ridin' like that straight into the night. Not knowing. And the one who's chasin' doesn't know where the other one is taking him. And the one who's being chased doesn't know where he's going". A modern true western. Like the play referenced – LONELY ARE THE BRAVE – a story that might create nostalgia but end in a kind of grief.

Austin (Brendan Cowell) is house-sitting his mother's house, she, mom (Heather Mitchell) is in Alaska (a different frontier), in the outer civilizing settlement-suburbs of Los Angeles on the blurring frontier line between the city and the Mojave Desert, with the agitated pulsing of the crickets and the distinct yapping, dog-like bark of the coyote as musical background. He tries to refine his outline of his idea for a cinematic love story for Saul Kimmer, a Hollywood producer (Alan Dukes), when his brother, Lee (Wayne Blair) arrives (breaks in ) after a three month sojourn in the desert. We meet them in the moonlight and candlelight. Lee leaning against the kitchen sink, mildly drunk, observing Austin at a glass table, hunched over a writing notebook, pen in hand, surrounded by typewriter, stacks of paper, the candle burning on the table.

"Isn't that what the old guys did?... The Forefathers. You Know...Isn't that what they did? Candlelight burning into the night? Cabins in the wilderness." Verbally, the mythologizing memories of the great western American dream of manhood subtly colours what appears on the surface, when one sees the setting of the play, a realistic play - a depth of surreality, classic gothic cowboy movie appears.

This is the first of his many plays that Shepard admits to rewriting until it felt right. And it is a taut, tightly controlled mechanism. The hall marks of his writing artistry: the collection of short sharp sentences contrasted, syncopated with longer expressions of passionate communication, surrounded by instructions for a small pause, pause and long pause, illustrating as accurately as a musical score, the flows and tensions of the sounds and orchestration of the work – the muscularities.

The plays written directly before TRUE WEST, TONGUES and SAVAGE LOVE (1978), both, were pieces designed for voice and percussion, (with Joseph Chaikin). The percussive influence of those works are evident in the layout of the textual and musical 'notation' of this script. The construction lessons of the Harold Pinter writing, that Mr Shepard watched and read, whilst living in London in the seventies, along with the sub-textual comic malevolence of the Pinteresque world, evidently, burn through. The textual control, that I much admire, is reflected in a quote that jumped out of me in the Jim Sharman memoir BLOOD & TINSEL, with Lou Reed in conversation "Sam's the Edward Albee of the Underground." (p.240).

The two brothers begin in different places. One a struggling artist, the other a wild man from the desert. By the end of the machinations of the play, of the brotherly conflict, as predicted by Lee, Austin has turned into the wild man attempting to extinguish the new found artistry of his brother with a telephone cord around his neck: "You go down to the L.A. Police Department there and ask them what kinda' people kill each other most. What do you think they'd say?...Family people. Brothers...Real American type people." The roles have reversed.

The house at the beginning of the play, the suburban dreamscape of the ordinary American - neat, clean and functional. By the end of the play, distressed with the trashing of the consumer goods across the room, the plants dead, garbage strewed. The American dream buried in the garbage of unrestrained capitalism. True west no longer an aspiration. Maybe where mom has been holidaying, Alaska is now the last frontier of the Forefathers - white expanses of ice , frozen, "I can't stay here. This is worse than being homeless." Symbols everywhere. The simplicity and spare exactness of the writing in this play makes the relative clumsy allusions to big themes in Tracy Letts' AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY look paltry and a dramaturgical amendment- late addition.

I alluded in my review of FOOL FOR LOVE to the other, less realistic reading of the text: the one that this play is an examination of the bifurcation of the personality of Sam Shepard the artist. The struggle of Mr Shepard as the artist: musician, actor, director, playwright and the simple American male dreaming of the mythical American persona of the cowboy, the western pioneer. The divided psyche of the artist Sam Shepard. I witnessed it, personally, when at the Magic Theatre in 1983 I was, fortunately, permitted to watch rehearsals of FOOL FOR LOVE. The artist directing his play, dressed in cowboy boots, hat etc with a ute and horse trailer waiting in the Presidio carpark for his return. The two selves side by side calling each to the other for attention. Referencing the Jungian idea of the conscious ego and the repressed shadow side.

In the notes to the production Mr Shepard asks for the coyote sounds to have a "sense of growing frenzy in the background, particularly in scenes seven and eight.... and should be treated realistically even though they grow in volume and numbers." In the kitchen, the climax of the play, we have the two brothers, after the murderous struggle with the cord, to "square off to each other, keeping a distance between them. Pause. A single coyote heard in the distance, lights fade softly into moonlight, the figures of the brothers now appear to be caught in a vast desert like landscape. They are very still but watchful for the next move." Like gunfighters at the OK Corral, in deadly gunfighter positions. "Lights go slowly to black as the after-image of the brothers pulses in the dark, coyote fades." The naturalistic and the surealistic styles standing together- one enfolded in the other.

This production by Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Mr Hoffman famously playing with John C. Reilly in this play in New York in 2000, alternating the roles of Austin and Lee!!!) comes from a very knowing place. The control of the vision of the play: steady and clear. Mr Cowell gives us a clean-shaven almost 'preppy' image of the character, Austin, at the start of the play, as far away from the usual 'slacker-like' persona, that one remembers of his Hamlet as possible. The controlled technique of dialect and considered physical characterisation is marvellous in its clarity and consistency – the ego of the artist fully in service to the writer and the story. Discipline in spades. The chartered journey from husband and father, artist to crazy madman, reigned in and calibrated for terrific storytelling. This is better than his work in the film NOISE and that was terrific.

But more interestingly, the maturing development of Mr Blair, as a leading man, as Lee, arrests one's attention. In TOT MUM one looked at his fine work of character delineation in the many impersonations he created, but the textual requirements were relatively shallow and could easily be fobbed of with caricature. Here, in TRUE WEST, a fully rounded and frighteningly dynamic construction of character flowers. More unpredictable menace (and "bad teeth" as per Mr Shepard's imagining, think Harry Dean Stanton in the Shepard screenplay PARIS, TEXAS,1984) might have clinched the stakes some more, but, still, an achievement of note.

The casting by Mr Hoffman of Mr Blair, an Indigenouus actor as brother to Mr Cowell had excited my interest to the possible reasons, other than, they were the right actors for the project. That nothing really transpired production-wise was a minor disappointment to my expectations.

Mr Dukes as the catalyst to the brother's rivalries, Saul Kimmer, is a great support. Ms Mitchell is in fine form. I wonder if the aspect of the Picasso obsession and the white blankness of Alaska could have led to a surrealistic tension to the superficial reality of the mother in her trashed home?

Set is wonderfully, realistically, conceived by Richard Roberts, ably lit by Paul Jackson and costumed by Alice Babidge with the composition and sound design by Max Lyandvert supportive.

This is a good night in the theatre. I would have liked the stakes to have been ratcheted up further and the musical direction in the language and syntax of the 'score' of the text delivered in more muscular tension , but then I have powerful images and memories of the Steppenwolf production of TRUE WEST in the off-Broadway presentation at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1982 with Gary Sinise (Austin ) and the truly dynamic John Malkovitch (Lee). One ducked the debris of the house wrecking and shrank back in the sense of the mortal danger of the brother's rivalries. This is one of my benchmarks of great acting and theatre going experiences. The Sydney Theatre Company production is good, very good, but not, in my experience of it, comparatively, great.

Don't miss it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Together Alone Alone Together

Shopfront: Contemporary Arts and Performance presents TOGETHER ALONE ALONE TOGETHER at Shopfront Theatre, Carlton, Sydney.

"Shopfront is an innovative contemporary arts centre - a not-for-profit co-operative started in 1976 by young people eager to have a place to turn their ideas into realities."

TOGETHER ALONE ALONE TOGETHER is the showing of the work of one of the many programs conducted by Shopfront: "ARTSLAB is an intensive arts laboratory and six month residency from May to November at Shopfront Contemporary Arts Centre. It gives emerging artists (aged 18-25) from across Australia the space, resources, training, guidance and connections they need to experiment, create new work and prepare for a lifetime as an artist."

Earlier this year, I saw Trevor Ashley's remarkable cabaret performance I'M EVERY WOMAN at the Sydney Opera House Studio venue where he told us that way back, after the bedroom and schoolroom fantasies of a performing arts career crystallised, it was at Shopfront he began, alongside Paul Capsis, to develop skills to augment his ambition and talent. Two extraordinary Australian talents nurtured.

Five young contemporary artists have just had the Shopfront Artslab nurture for 2010. Clara MacDermott; Sime Knezevic; Aslam Abdus-samad; Sybella Stevens and Alice Cooper.

The work of Aslam Abdus-samad called MOMENTS OF PERFECT deals with a very personal telling of a romantic gay relationship -"a show about connection." The ecstasy and ultimate agony of such a connection for the protagonist. Mr Abdus-samad asks us in his Artistic Statement to "not look at this work as a completed piece, rather I ask you to look at it as the first 20minutes of a larger work... My artistic enquiry lies in exploring the relationship between film and theatre to tell an honest story." The work is most impressive in the way he tells the story. Multi-media combined with live performance. The work presented in a small space, has the audience sit completely surrounded by simple line portraits, drawings, on three walls. On the other wall, wooden 'found' planks hang artistically. Using himself and costume /props he projects film images onto the multiple surfaces and cleverly and imaginatively interacts with them. The lighting and sound are all useful cohesions to his artistic vision. It is a very arresting performance/arts installation work. What is least interesting about the work is the subject matter, as it felt to be an area that has been explored many times before-a cliché of adolescent angst, there was no original point of view (SPRING AWAKENING, anyone!). The means engaged in the telling of the story were the elements that were most intriguing and engaging. Rather than a larger work been contemplated it seemed to need editing and refining.

On the other hand the work of the director Sybella Stevens and co-devisor Katy Jade Maudlin: LOOSE IN TIME, although, it too covers more than familiar territory, the Kafkaesque breakdown of a worker in the sterile environment of the office workplace, has a strikingly mature literary strength in the writing combined with a very sophisticated physical theatre choreographic exploration with costume and props, that elevated the experience of the work in the theatre, as thrillingly original. This was despite the relatively emerging and limited vocal and physical techniques of the performing artist, Katy Jade Maudlin.

CLOWNS, LIGHTS, STAGE devised by Alice Cooper and performed by her alter-ego, Mrs Clown, is a very sophisticated and comic take on the "unremarkable things - bits of paper, a wallet, travel passes, tampons, old food, cutlery and bank statements to name just a few..." we have about us. Having a personal phobia about clowns, the appearance of Ms Cooper with a big Red Nose caused my heart to beat in trepidation. I was, however persuaded and ultimately seduced by the clever writing and charm of the performer. Though, here, as well as above, the technique skills of the artist are still only 'emerging' and need more rigour to match the concept of imagination in both the writing and performance modes (Ms Cooper is also part of an emerging artist performance from the PACT Ensemble that opens this week called UNSETTLINGS for a longer season than this work, 18th November to 4th December at the Pact Theatre.).

Ms MacDermott seemed to be the most tentative artist in her conception and performance of TEN IRISH LOVE SONGS and will grow with experience and confidence. The work BELLYACHE by Mr Knezevic was "a moved reading of a selection of scenes" from an uncompleted draft of a play. It records the stay in a caravan park on the south coast of NSW of three young adolescents "enjoying their first summer free from school, parents etc." It tells about friendship- it predictably ends in tragedy. The text, as is, is fairly straight forward and not terribly interesting. The directing of the staged reading by Jane Grimley lacked real perception or staging skills that would enhance the material or elicit less indifferently acted performances from the actors, Alistair Wallace, Tim Reuben, Laura Homes. It was the least successful offering in the program.

The season director was Michael Pigott.

Shopfront led by TJ Eckleberg as the Artistic Director, seems to be a vibrant youth oriented space – with success and failures encouraged in the development of the rigours of the necessities of working in the Performing Arts. That Federal, State and Local government bodies (Rockdale, Hurstville and Kogarah) with various philanthropic organisations have recognised the benefits of the existence and practice of this organisation and it is a healthy and more than laudable benchmark of standard for the future health and wealth of the nation.

There was a time when Trevor Ashley and Paul Capsis were young untrained aspirants treading excitedly under the guidance of Shopfront and hopefully some of these young artists from the Artslab10 season will be contributing as richly to the Australian cultural fabric.

Catch you at PACT Theatre to see into the future possibilities.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Day In The Death of Joe Egg

A Critical Stages and White Box Theatre production of A DAY in the DEATH of JOE EGG by Peter Nichols at the Seymour Centre, Sydney.

A DAY in the DEATH of JOE EGG was written by Peter Nichols in 1967. It has twice been made into film, the first with Alan bates and Janet Suzman in 1970 (released in 1972).

In the program notes:
"A WORD FROM THE WRITER. This is an edited extract from Diaries 1969 - 1977 by Peter Nichols, published by Nick Hern Books.
July 17th 1969: 'Poor Abo (Abigail), our parcel of damaged goods, lives on, despite repeated promises. The doctor who delivered her has never spoken to us from that day to this. The Euthanasia Bill which I supported, was defeated in the Lords and the Times rejoiced. Our next-door neighbour, Doctor Alan Norton - in his book New Dimensions in Medicine - agrees. In person he told me it would do no more harm than good to alter the vague conditions in which doctors are able to help the dying out of their misery.

All right, I argued, but it's in places like Hortham (Abigail's residential hospital) that one looks for courage and mercy from the outside world.

What's easier than to sweep those poor idiots under the carpet and forget them?

By sustaining such lives, society is relieved of the guilt of their deaths...

'May 11th 1971: Notice in the Times column of Births, Marriages and Deaths
Nichols, Abigail, eldest daughter of Peter and Thelma, at Hortham Hospital, Bristol. Funeral Friday, Canford cemetry: Family flowers only. Donations, if required, to the hospital.'"

This play has us meet in the first act, the husband and wife, Bri (Jonathan Gavin ) and Shiela (Julia Davis) and they in much detail describe to us the circumstances of their lives, the history and the day to day negotiations with their daughter Joe (Sophie Webb), who suffers from cebebral palsy. We meet this loving couple at a time of great strain, especially for Bri. Such is the stress that in the subsequent act he contemplates the murder of his child and his own disappearance.

The debate around Enthuasia has been escalated in the parliament of our Federal Government in Canberra this very day, Friday 29th October,2010. A more pregnant moment could not have been found for the co-incidence, for me, to witness this play again. At the conclusion of this performance, a middle-aged woman applauded, and as she did in the interval, vocally shouted "Thank you" to the company of actors. "Thank You. Thank You.''

Whilst the subject matter is one of great substance, and looming propinquity for me, the form, which Peter Nichols uses to involve and communicate, is one that despite the fact the play is some 43 years old, is still of surprising daring and immediately disarming. He smashes the fourth wall and Bri demonstrates his skills as a high school teacher practising his disciplinary routine: "Hands on heads", directly to us, a stand-up comic routine. Later, Mr Nichols has the characters talk to us directly as a double act, stepping in and out of the world of the play and into ours. He has the principal characters deliver intimate and excruciating details in the manner of vaudeville sketches, lectures and gossip.

In the second act in a gathering whirl of near farcical action and timing, other characters monolgue to us and partake in the escalating scenes of the unreal stress in and about the world that is Joe Egg's. The overbearingly helpful 'liberal-minded' friend, Freddie (Drew Fairley), his wife, Pam (Katrina Retallick) calmly explaining her creepy feeling of disquietitude about being about such 'weirdies'' as the young Joe Egg and the indefatigable Grace, the grandmother (Genevieve Mooy), who knits cardigans and generally clucks disapprovingly of the genetic structures of other families, conveniently deleting references to her own tree!!!!

Coming from the personal tragedy and dilemma of the author Peter Nichols this is a significant achievement in the writing. Informative, confrontational, emotional and very very funny. The bravura of the honesty and the clever form structure of the playscript still is mightily impressive.

Kim Hardwick has directed the company with great aplomb. The performance I saw was one coming to the end of a longish tour and it sometimes felt a little clockwork. Mr Gavin tended to rush the text and would go for the exaggerated 'boom' for differentiation of effect. One was not really invited on side with the quirks of Bri and so subsequently one did not come to care or identify with and for him and so one was not quite moved. It lacked the warmth and depth, and quandry of the character and failed to convince us to understand Bri's final choices and actions. In contrast, Ms Davis was a securing anchor to the affairs of the play. Her understated and ballasting act to the extremities of Mr Gavin were remarkable indeed and the growing troubles enveloping Shiela were solved with persistent gravity and pertinent pain and understanding.

Mr Fairly and Ms Retallick were both robust and three dimensional in awkward roles erring in the satirical arrows of the writing a little to the possibility of caricature. Ms Mooy gave a deliciously wicked and stylish cameo of comic deftness with the right dab of pathos as Grace. Grace, indeed.

The design (Alexandra Sommer) was practical in its opaque decorated walls that served the mounting physical farce well. The costumes accurate and telling. The Sound composition (Phillip Scott), especially for the opening of the second act more than a trifle over the top!!

Despite a sense of a trifle 'weariness' in the playing' this was a very meaningful re-connection to a seriously important play. Both the subject matter and the form.

In the seventies, Mr Nichols with his plays THE NATIONAL HEALTH, FORGET- ME - NOT- LANE and PRIVATES ON PARADE kept his audiences dazzled, amused and thinking. I thoroughly recommend his Diaries and auto-biography, if you love the theatre and all of its going's-on.