Sunday, March 28, 2010

Love Me Tender

Company B Belvoir, Griffin Theatre Company and ThinIce present LOVE ME TENDER by Tom Holloway at Belvoir St Theatre, Upstairs.

Tom Holloway has had DON’T SAY THE WORDS; BEYOND THE NECK and now LOVE ME TENDER produced in Sydney, in the last three years, and has successively demonstrated, and with this play confirmed his potential as a very important contemporary voice in the Australian theatre scene. All three plays deal with confronting issues and in a literary style that is poetic and beautiful. Challenging and satisfying. Both substance and style. A voice that is growing more and more unique in its appeal and power.

Propelled by the youthful but highly sophisticated response of the director, Matthew Lutton and an empathetic creative team: Set & and Costume Design, Adam Gardinir; Lighting Designer, Karen Norris; Composer & Sound Designer, Kelly Ryall, the physical environment of the play is riveting and deserves the work it may require to decipher as an audience. Coupled with a flawless cast: Luke Hewitt; Belinda McClory; Kris McQuade; Arky Michael and Colin Moody, who give us a commitment to acting, that is breathtakingly fearless, such that it demands and compels the audience to participate and persist in a play that tackles contemporary subject matter that grows progressively uncomfortable and confronting. It is 90 minutes long and plays without interval.

A great, but/and, demanding night in the theatre.

The summary notes on the back of the printed text/program from Currency Press, (at $8- an absolute bargain, and I have found, an invaluable gift in imbibing further clarity in the depth of what I saw in the theatre) summarises: “LOVE ME TENDER is a play of beauty and emotional power. Inspired by Euripides’ IPHIGENIA in AULIS, Tom Holloway has orchestrated a thrilling version of contemporary Australia drawn from our experiences of the catastrophic bushfires, of raunch culture and pre-teen sexuality, and of our domestic rituals. This is exquisite writing about our fears, the expectations of fathers, the extremities of love, and the need for action when the world becomes undone.” All true.

In the writer’s note, Tom Holloway, suggests, perhaps a little too hopefully, disingenuously “Maybe I should talk about Euripides’ play here, but you shouldn’t need to know about that to see my play. LOVE ME TENDER is not an adaptation – it’s inspired by IPHIGENIA in AULIS, but it’s a play that needs to exist on its own. If I start talking too much about the original, maybe it will get in the way of you experiencing my work.” One does not need to know the Euripides original certainly, but it helps. In that play, Agamemnon and the Greek army are becalmed on the beaches and cannot sail to Troy to rescue Helen unless he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis. Clytemnestra, the wife and mother, is not fully aware of the crisis. In the climax of the play Electra tells Clytemnestra and Orestes and Chorus after the sacrificial ritual “….then…then, Orestes/Something wonderful, unwordable:/A flame, a flash of god-light,/A thud and a thrill of wind/And Iphigenia had gone;/And a deer lay on the altar/gasping out its life-breath …..” At the last moment the girl is replaced by the goddess, by a deer.

In the poetic language of Mr Holloway’s play, the mixing of the girl/daughter with the imagery of a deer is, for those in the know, a profoundly clarifying and moving clue. At the birth of the Father’s (Colin Moody) daughter: “…I see her. There amongst the hay. Struggling to stand. My wife lying, still, and her. Our deer. She looks up at me with her black, blank eyes and I feel like she is suddenly looking straight at me. Deep into me….” The sacrificial daughter of Agamemnon and this contemporary story are entwined. What follows is a story of the extremities of love, the love that a father has for his daughter, a story of a daughter for her father, of a wife for her husband and daughter. "I feel it suddenly and deeply inside me it is as if I get these flashes. These amazing and yet terrible flashes of what is to come and suddenly I am filled with an immense and overwhelming sense of love and horror. Yes. Of pain and happiness. Yes. Of joy and sorrow. Yes. Of immense joy and of absolute sorrow. Yes." Contemporary confrontations about the shifting behavioural boundaries of our society and the sexualising of our children are met head on and conclude in a fiery climax of a hero fire fighter unable to rescue a girl in a burning car. "He desperately tries to find a way to get to her. He goes to the car. The flames surrounding it are so hot he can’t get close to it……..He backs away from her. He can’t save her……She sees her father step back... They look into each other’s eyes…He mouths he loves her…He turns… He runs…She saw him give up. As he runs the chaos that surrounds him enter into him….." The gods have forced a sacrifice onto this family. The gods have intervened. Chaos fills the world.

On a raised platform of a grassy lawn, surrounded on five sides by a perspex guard, this chorus of five actors recall these events in a passionate, rushed clarity of story telling. The speed is relentless and one is drawn into the slip stream of it’s careening energy, one cannot get off, once it begins. It is a bit like getting on board a roller coaster and being buckled in and there is absolutely no way to get off , and absolutely no way to close off your senses to the nightmare journey. My audience members attentive, then slowly restless with the power of the story and the ideas behind the story, but bewitched by the imagery.

Colin Moody as the Father startlingly bewildered, perplexed, standing, holding a lamb tenderly in his arms, is so marvellously ambiguous in his offers to the audience that one responds with all: empathy, grief, fear and repulsion, each emotion and other permutations succeeding one after the other, sometimes, amazingly, at the same time. This company draws one into the maelstrom of possible or real moral questioning. One does not leave the theatre untouched. Rather, besmirched.

Mr Luttton is more restrained in his theatrical techniques, (water, smoke) in contrast to his work on DON’T SAY THE WORDS, but still has a tendency to overstate/overuse them. But this an impressive experience. The bravura of the acting is haunting and Ms McClory once again shocks one with the range of her choices. I gloried in them. The dance sequence is truly gob-smackingly brilliant. Full of horror, a type of ecstasy, joy and of almost unbearable pain. Please unleash this actress onto Medea, Phaedra or a role of such-like raw Greek tragedy dimensions. Arky Michael is diabolically thrilling in his tasks as Chorus. And Ms McQuade, with what sounds like a restored and enriched voice, matches him moment by moment in all of it’s delicious mastications in language usage. (Has she been better?) Luke Hewitt as the Cop/Chorus, grounding and pragmatic in his responsibilities.

This is an amazing experience, but, be warned, not for everyone. This is not polite theatre. This is full-on. Don’t miss it. It is a work out, but one to be treasured.

Playing now until April 11.
For more information or to book click here.

*Quotes from text by Tom Holloway and John Barton’s TANTALUS. (Iphigenia in Aulis.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Two Birds One Stone and Griffin Independent present S-27 by Sarah Grochala at the SBW Stables Theatre.

“S-27 won the inaugural Amnesty International Protect The Human Playwriting Award and was first produced at London’s Fin borough Theatre in June 2009.” Sarah Grochala “draws on prison records and interviews with the handful of survivors of Cambodia’s infamous Toul Sleng prison” run by the Khmer Rouge. 1.5 million of that country’s citizens between 1975 and 1979 were murdered. Hem En, the staff photographer at the Tool Slang prison, has had his story told in a documentary, THE CONSCIENCE OF NHEM EN, nominated for the Academy Awards in 2008.

“Look at me. You have to look at me. It’s just a stupid photograph. Isn’t going to hurt you.”

This short play (55 minutes) reveals a staff photographer of a regime called the Organisation, taking the photographs of a series of people, presumably, before their exit out a door to execution. Belonging to this village/city, May (Sarah Snook), faces the terrible task of meeting strangers, relatives and lovers, photographing them and then commanding them to exit through the door. The play asks what would we do, if this was the only way to survive. Would we co-operate?

Caroline Craig, one of Australia’s young, impressive actors, in her debut as a director, has chosen a very good play, found and invited a talented set of actors and other artists to present this play for us in Sydney. On board as Set Designer is Nicholas Dare, who with simple solutions has created both an evocative and (oddly elegant) abandoned classroom, the photographic studio for the Organisation. The lighting design by Mikkel Mynster is extremely supportive of the look and aesthetic of the production which feels, deliberately, I presume, hyper-fashion grunge (Street magazine known as VICE). It has a sheen (the floor) and symmetry (the wall features) that have the measure of Art Direction rather than Reality. (The flickering and ultimate loss of the fluorescent lights, one by one, during the action of the play, were rather an irritant, then a successful metaphor). The Costumes by Lisa Mimmocchi are similarly carefully thought through. The visuals allow the audience to relax, unconsciously, as it deals with a truly horribly intense human predicament and dilemma. The intention of these artists was to take the work away from the specific Cambodian background and place it in an environment that, maybe, has resonances, of one we know, in a futuristic, Australian dystopia. The Sound Design (Jeremy Silver) is subtle with its undertow of menace.

The actors in this company, Sarah Snook, Kelly Paterniti, Adam Roberts, Lynden Jones, Molly Knight, Lizzie Schebesta, Paige Gardiner and Anthony Gooley are a very tight ensemble. The increasing personal dilemma of May is beautifully diagrammed both by the writer and the director, but Ms Snook and Ms Paterniti as the principal, alternate character in the schemata of the text, seem to be hesitating from plunging into the full horror and terror of their character’s predicaments. On the brink but not fully immersed. Given time they may both “GO THERE” but on the night I saw it, they were, seemingly, holding back. The best commitment to the world was the acting from Paige Gardiner (Cousin), Anthony Gooley (Col), and Lynden Jones (Man).

Caroline Craig in her notes in the program to the play says, "S-27 is about the impossibility of love, the inevitability of death and what happens when good people do bad things". In the History of the world and its dramatic testament of events such as the Cambodian incidents, it cannot be repeated too often. An interesting play, embraced by the world Amnesty movement, with the horrible kinetics of its story in this production, still sitting on an edge of full commitment.

Playing now until 10 April.
For more information or to book click here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tour Two: ACO Soloists Five Concertos

ACO, Australian Chamber Orchestra presents Tour Two, ACO Soloists at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney.

Seven pieces of music. How generous the ACO is to its patrons. Two of the pieces are by Franz Schreker, Scherzo (Composed 1900) and Intermezzo for strings,Op.8 (Composed 1900). Described in the program as "The missing link between Strauss and Schoenberg", Schreker was greatly esteemed in his time but is nearly forgotten now. New rehabilitation of this composer, lost in the madness of the German Nazi period, has been in action, spearheaded by the Franz Schreker Foundation. These small works "display a sort of post-romantic, sultry, passionate lyricism." The music we heard was sufficient to awake one's curiosity to further output of this musician.

The principal theme of this concert is to present members of this orchestra in featured solo roles. The first exciting exhibition is given by the Principal Cellist, the Finnish born Timo -Veikko Valve. The work by CPE BACH: Cello Concerto in A minor, Wq 170. In three movements, the first and the third, Allegro assai, surround the second, Andante. The slow, "walking pace" movement luxuriates "in a passionate and long-lined love song." Rich in its extended sounds and full of romantic wallows of sound. While the two outer movements bustle in roiling agitations of speed and rhythmic energy. Mr Valve seated on his music platform and facing us, the audience, begins with a demeanor of white faced serenity, which at the 18 minute or so concerto end, is charmingly red cheeked and blushed, burnished with a glowing patina of perspiration of the brilliant concentration, demanded by this artist, in executing the rhythmic energy of the Bach work. Altogether, exhilarating.

The triumph of the concert, for me, was the performance of the 2010 Barbara Blackman commission, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Matthew Hindson. Written for the orchestra, the soloist part is for the Double Bass, played by Canadian, Maxime Bibeau. Long-limbed and hugging his instrument into his body, affectionately, at once appearing as a classicist and jazz player, with the bow sometimes sheathed in its case thrillingly, the long fingered artist plucks and strokes the strings in powerful evocations of perpetrators of violent crimes and evocations of strong payback of punishment in the extremely strenuous fingering and bowing of the instruments strings. Mr Bibeau gave an impressive and unforgettable physical (and emotional) performance. Mr Hindson, present in the audience, could not have envisaged a more powerful evocation of his music. Certainly the work and performance were passionately responded too, by the audience.

Christopher Moore playing on his viola presented, for me, a facet of the musical personality of Benjamin Britten, that was new to my knowledge. LACHRYMAE: Reflections on a song of Dowland, for viola and string orchestra, Op.48a. This was an unexpected choice from Mr Moore (who nearly always carries a much more radical demeanor) and the pleasure in the surprise was enhanced by the concentrated passion of the playing.

The other soloists were firstly, Diana Doherty, a frequent guest performer with the orchestra in Vaughan Williams' Oboe Concerto (Composed 1944). The oboist Leon Goossens, the brother of Eugene Goossens, "commissioned this concerto from Vaughan Williams during World War Two.... It is a work very much of its time and place, offering an optimistic antidote to the frightening soundtrack of wartime Britain." The virtuosic pyrotechnics demanded of the soloist in this work were thrillingly and joyfully given by Ms Doherty.

The final presentation was of the familiar Johannn Sebastian Bach Concerto in C minor for oboe and violin. BWV1060. The oboist, was,once again, the agile and amiable Diana Doherty, accompanied by Helena Rathbone, the Guest Director of this concert and Lead Violinist. Sympathetically supported by the orchestra, Ms Rathbone dueled blissfully with the oboe to create anew, a familiar work.

To see with one's ears the individual orchestra members step forward in this concert with the greatness of individual virtuosity, demonstrates why the Australian Chamber Orchestra is so consistent in the quality of its music making. This is an observation of a mere fan, not a musician. A great, civilising, night out.

Playing until the 24 March.
For more information or to book click here.


Sydney Theatre Company in association with Frantic Assembly present STOCKHOLM by Bryony Lavery at Wharf 1.

This is a co-production between the Sydney Theatre Company and an English company, Frantic Assembly. Frantic Assembly is a company that creates and explores physical theatre skills as part of the dramatic language of their productions. Steven Hoggett, one of the co-directors - choreographers of STOCKHOLM (the other being Scott Graham), was associate director of the National Theatre of Scotland's BLACK WATCH, which was part of the 2008 Sydney Festival. (Best remembered for an inventive physical transformation sequence.) STOCKHOLM was developed in close collaboration with Bryony Lavery (Her play FROZEN (2004) has been seen in Sydney) and Mr Hoggett and Graham. Along no doubt with the original actors. A development and exploration of text, dance, music and design extrapolated into this very interesting work.

The Frantic Assembly artistic team of the original 2008 production have transplanted their production for the Sydney Theatre Company, here, with two Australian actors, Socratis Otto and Leeanna Walsman. The original company were keen to bring this work to Sydney "but only if they and their designers, Laura Hopkins (Set - disappointing and drab in conception, especially as the play's location has been re-located to Sydney, this kitchen would not pass muster in the Sydney Real Estate demographics of this couple... unbelievable!) and Jennifer Irwin (Costume) and Andy Purves (Lighting), were part of the deal." This is the first international re-staging of the work.

STOCKHOLM concerns a young, trendy couple, Kali and Todd (ominous namesakes: Kali being the cult name of the Hindu goddess, Durga, goddess of death and destruction - her devotees being the notorious Thugees; and Todd which may mean, 'death' in German translation), who appear happily married, planning a holiday break in Stockholm. However, what becomes clear during the course of the play is the desperately unhappy mental state of one of the pair (or both) and the consequences. The title of the play has many levels of comprehensive metaphorical entry, but, principally, it is taken from the psychological phenomenon Stockholm syndrome, "where hostages express adulation or display positive feelings towards their captors despite the abuse or threats they have endured." Here the syndrome is shifted from the major scale of societal trauma (e.g. bank robberies) or war to the domestic, everyday, between a man and a woman, between a husband and a wife, held 'hostage' to each other. In this relationship between Kali and Todd, where "retro- jealousy" is an agreed forbidden subject, the subsequent fears, express themselves in behaviour of both physical and psychological abuses. Before, during and after the incidents.

This is a truly remarkable script. It is set in the present (the characters talk directly to us some of the time) but shifts to the past and even into the future, to reveal a layered and familiar(!!!) development of life relationships with consummate ease and clarity. Ms Lavery has the capacity to touch on dark and confronting matter and yet not overwhelm us with judgemental condemnation or anger. (No matter how disturbing, I agreed to stay with her.) Her ability to shift from the dark and light of human relationships and to use them as counterpoints for an audience's journey to experience, is deft indeed. [The script is also tantalisingly strewed with cultural references that are teases of clues to the underbelly of the intent of the play (e.g.references to THE SEVENTH SEAL, ROSEMARY'S BABY etc) and are so lightly sewn into the conversation of the characters that to read the text becomes a treasure trove of pleasure, for those of us who enjoy cultural referencing.] The cumulative impact of the play was such that I began to re-examine my own close relationships, testing my comprehension of my own role: when the abuser, when the abused, when the "terrorist" and when the "victim" - an interesting and not always comfortable task! Good theatre in action.

The style of this company to use dance and music alongside the usual "acting" of the text as part of the narrative forward movement of the story is very exciting. We have seen other companies exploring this. It is very interesting to see a theatre company include physical gesture as part of the armoury of the theatrical event,and it certainly clarifies the Fabulous Beasts recent production of GISELLE, where, alternatively, a dance company was exploring vocal/acting gesture to inform their dramatic intent. This cross hybrid of skills and expectations is exciting. (The origin of some of this work can be pioneered/sourced to the DV8 Physical Theatre Company - an English company last seen at the 2008 Adelaide Festival - TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU, led by an Australian Lloyd Newson). The direction/choreography, Mr Hoggett and Graham supported by a very vital score by Adrienne Quartly is very interesting and clever.

The problem for this manifestation of the play, here, in Sydney is the casting of these two actors. Neither of these actors demonstrates an ease with the physical demands of the choreography/direction. The skills of these actors are not physically dexterous enough for the full theatrical potential of this innovative form. Not only is the dexterity insufficient, the bodies lack even an alive alertness, that magical tension that exists with a physical consciousness that the actors of Theatre Complicite, recently demonstrated in their remarkable work, A DISAPPEARING NUMBER or Kathryn Hunter showed in KAFKA'S MONKEY. Rather they exuded a tentative nervousness. (If you check the web site of Frantic Assembly, the video of the original cast and the skill level is perceptible. One can observe the confident difference. The impact is, sadly, obviously different.)

Socratis Otto is outstanding in the other stylistic demands of the text, Leeanna Walsman, much less so (see SATURN'S RETURN) and it is a compliment to the strength of the writing and the original conception of the production that the performance holds and creates a powerful impact.

This production is a demonstration of one of the very vital movements in contemporary theatre making. It highlights the complex demands that the contemporary actor is been asked to develop in their skill armoury. The potential of the production style is worth catching, despite its unevenness in physical confidence, but, even more reason not to miss this production, is, the writing of Bryony Lavery.

Playing now until 24 April.
For more information or to book click here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me

Ion Nibiru presents Someone Who'll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness at The Pact Theatre.

"Ion Nibiru is a new production company dedicated to breaking the mould and offering fresh perspectives in creative enterprises. Co-founded by Rod Byrnes and Ray Sullivan.... along with Zac Jardine and a working relationship with Production Company Darqhorse (headed by John Ma)". They state later in their program notes, "It is not a different direction; rather, an alternate perspective."

Frank McGuinness is an Irish playwright whose most recent work, GRETA GARBO COMES TO DONNEGAL, has just opened in London (January). Besides his own plays the most well known, perhaps in Sydney terms, being OBSERVE THE SONS OF ULSTER MARCHING TOWARDS THE SOMME, Mr McGuinness has made translations/adaptations of the classics, the Greeks (Oedipus Electra etc), Chekhov, Brecht and famously Ibsen. SOMEONE WHO'LL WATCH OVER ME was first performed in 1992. It covers the behaviour of an Irishman, an Englishman and an American incarcerated in a cell in Lebanon, and was written in response to the imprisonment and eventual release of John McCarthy, Brian Keenan and Terry Anderson. (In fact Mr McGuinness met Mr Keenan several times in the writing of this play). And although none of these characters in the play are representative of any of these men this may be the grounding for the veracity of this play.

This text appears to be an odd choice for a new company who wish to break the mould and offer fresh perspectives, as the subject matter here, although still relevant, has moved on fairly dramatically in the intervening years, both in the known facts and the horrendous experiences of prisoners of 'war' (e.g. in abu ghraib) and in the dramatising of these events.

However, what this play does appear to give this company, is the opportunity for these three actors to showcase their talents and skills, (which is not a bad reason to choose this play). Although the circumstances of the age range of the characters is circumvented here ,all three of the young actors, Ray Sullivan (Edward), James Elliot (Adam) and Rod Byrnes (Michael) demonstrate an agile facility and expert range of skills both vocal and physical. The text is fearlessly attacked at a breakneck speed of articulation and clarity - one needs to be ready to chase the material. Musically the actors demonstrate singing and physical adeptness. The dialect work is mostly secure (although the American sound seems to slip around quite a bit). The director (Nikola Amanovic), fresh out of the NIDA course (2009) has engaged the actors into a very convincing embodiment of the life force of these men, the physical inhabiting is vital and striking. However, the youthful energy and dexterity of these young men undermine some of the compassion and deep emotional life of the characters as written by Mr McGuinness. Part of the tragedy is surely the maturity of the men held in chains and the rich lives they can recall that is not available anymore. It is interesting to note the first cast: of this play, for instance, Alec McCowen created the role of the Englishman, Michael, at the time an actor well into his middle age if not slightly older. No matter the skill of Mr Byrnes, Sullivan and Elliot the gravity of a life lived cannot be substituted with youthful dexterity. The play in this production thus, comprehensively, loses intention and impact.

Add to this a not altogether convincing creation of the world of the characters. Both design choices and environmental choices of the playwright have been 'tinkered' with and do not really assist the arc of the storytelling in the play.

These "moulds" or "perspectives" have been shifted, it seems to me to fit an investigative rehearsal process (known as 'action analysis' - check the late writing of Stanislavsky and/or Sharon Carnicke's book: Stanislavsky in Focus), but has subsequently, mostly, ignored the 'critical analysis' of the given circumstances of the play and so the journey and gathering drama/tragedy about these men is under explored and so,understated, so, the material of the play becomes mostly an emphatic emphasis on the "fantasies" and "games" that these men make to survive, rather than to an artistic balance, that demonstrates the NEED for these characters to employ these 'fantasies' and 'games' in the gripping fight, in this text, with the off-stage, invisible enemy of the torturers.

The Design (Nevena Mrdjenovic) within the black walled encasement of the theatre structure is a letter box shaped sky blue oblong painted across nearly the full width of the stage. [Lighting, Sarah Kenyon, simple but supportive of the directorial demands] On this oblong are two seventies swivel armchairs and a free standing lamp stand with red shade, (found funkily in some opp shop, perhaps?) and two books - a Bible and Koran. Mr McGuinness describes his setting: "Edward and Adam are together in a cell. They are separately chained to the walls." Later Michael, too, is chained to a wall. So, firstly, the company present a seventies living room with furniture instead of a cell. To what intent is not fathomable, to me. It seems fairly arbitrary. Secondly, the actors are not chained, rather their ankles are tied with elastic 'bungy' cords, comfortable enough to allow the actors to freely roam the space, even at one stage there is a Tai Chi like exercise (non scripted) by Edward. All this free action/movement defeats one of the major circumstances of these characters lives: chains and limited spacial ownership. Textually, physically the men are chained and uncomfortable, claustrophobic. But vocally and imaginatively the men are free, unchained. By having the actors able to shift, move, dance in the space, part of the motivating force for the speeches of the play dissipates. The frustration is less heated. The speeches in this production become tiresome indulgences of one up man ship, instead of a joint means to thwart their captors.

The psychological pressure Mr McGuinness provides with the invisibility but constant presence of the guards is almost absent from the action of this production. Without the potent motivation of the limits of chains in a cell and the outside pressures of the guards, in the writing provided by Mr McGuinness, the action of this production, as provided by the Director and Designer undermines the action of the play and limits the motivating dimensions of the text that the actors have in acting their roles. One was not moved by the final moments of the play. No subjective experiencing but rather a rational relief that the night had finished.

The experience of this night in the theatre is a mixed one. While the acting skills demonstrated by these young artists is unequivocably admirable and attractive, and worth witnessing, the intentions of Mr McGuinness and his methods are diluted and less than successfully substituted.

In the program notes from the company there is an admittance: "While the characters have been changed somewhat for the play (probably means production) the sentiment of Brian's story (presumably the real Brian Keenan, not any character in this play) remains the same: Who are we as human beings? Why do we do the things we do? Will I understand my neighbour- my captor - the aggressor - the homeless? This story reminds us of how in the most inhuman of circumstances we grow and deepen in humanity." (Extremely admirable.)

The play survives the liberties that the company have made with Frank McGuinness's text and demonstrates its strength and although the intentions of Ion Nibiru, a welcome new comer to the burgeoning Sydney theatrical scene, in performing this text is admirable, the artistic integrity, in choices could be suspect.

For more information or to book click here.
Click here for Ion Nibiru's Facebook page.

The Beauty Queen Of Leeanne

Sydney Theatre Company Education presents THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE by Martin McDonagh at Wharf 2.

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE by Martin McDonagh is on the school syllabus and so the Education wing of the Sydney Theatre Company have mounted a production to take the play from the page to the stage, to give some students the brilliant opportunity to see the text as intended: Full of the life of actors telling the story to them in a space where they are part of the creative exchange that is the magic of the theatre. Actor and audience together, breathing the imaginative life into Mr McDonagh’s story. Creating new audiences with an experience that is revelatory and life enhancing and changing (we hope), besides just helping them pass their exams.

This is, mostly, a creditable production. Part of a trilogy by Mr McDonagh, (recently in Sydney we saw THE LONESOME WEST at B Sharp at Belvoir), and it is interesting to have the events and characters of that play referred to in this play. It makes for a widening of identification and ownership of the world of the play at hand.

Set in a remote part of West Ireland, where the landscape though beautiful is bleak, and a community that is losing its population to the wider world, because of unemployment and crushing poverty, (see the references in the recent Fabulous Beast production, GISELLE, part of the Sydney Festival) in a house on top of a “big oul hill” of mud, live Mag (Judi Farr), an aging, declining matriarchal figure with a despotic sense of entitlement, living with the youngest of her three daughters, Maureen (Mandy McElhinney), the others fled and married, she reaching 40 and facing the last opportunities and struggle for a life of her own. The wetness, the continuous rain of the soundscape, creates a claustrophobic environment in a house that in this set design (William Bobbie Stewart) is stuffed (I might declare overstuffed) with the detritus of a family history, piled, stacked around these survivors, almost suffocatingly. The frustrations of both the women, of living continuously, contiguously on top of each other, with little but routine to sustain their relationship, the soap opera of Australian Television occupying them in the glimpse of another world and the sunshine of other times like THE SULLIVANS, sometimes a relief. Minutely, but accumulatively, irritating and aggravating, the two women rub each other up into escalating cruelty, that only family and blood ties can get away with. It is both funny and horrible because we can all recognise it. (I could have killed my brother many times over in our young relationship!!!) The tragedy here is that the games like a Chinese water torture, break the participants away from civilisation’s boundaries and leads to torture of each other, then murder and ultimately madness. This “Loman” family (check the cast list of DEATH OF A SALESMAN), this family of a sociologically low status reaches into the status of Greek Tragedy in the climatic scenes of the text. This Mag is not a Queen Clytemnestra and this Maureen is not a princess Electra but this tragedy of Mother and Daughter, of our times is just as shattering. More so perhaps, because we know of this world about our daily lives.

This is classic melodrama with twists of recognisably funny games written by a playwright, that has, over his career, demonstrated his great skills as story teller. (Even the cinematic genre, IN BRUGES). It has the simple but expert plotting of the great writers (Synge, O’Casey, Eugene O’Neill, Peter Kenna) with the contemporary edge of merciless observation and satire of a culture that may be in the throes of self-destruction. (The proliferation and output of the contemporary Irish playwright is amazing, is it not?) An English/Irish heritage eye that sees, maybe, clearer, because it is now outside the culture, looking in.

Unfortunately something has derailed the full potential of this tale. This production.

In the program notes the Director (Cristabel Sved) talks of fairy tale motifs: "villains/witches, victims/damsels, princes/heroes (Pato Dooley played by Darren Gilshenan), and the messenger (Ray Dooley, played by Eamon Farren) – whose innocent carelessness and impatience is the fatal cause (I would say catalyst) of everyone’s downfall". In, amidst the photographs of the rehearsal process, in the program, there are still shots from the Gothic Horror movie WHATEVER HAPPENNED TO BABY JANE? and THE WIZARD OF OZ. This is astute and extrapolated dramaturgical support for a reading of the play but it should have remained just a tool for pursuit of clarity in the process. The over drawn make up of Ms Farr took me to a world of pantomime and the extravagance of the genre that Bette Davis elicited in the first mentioned film (Baby Jane). The subsequent reading, by Ms Farr, usually excellent performer, stayed on the superficial of cartoon. The worlds of Mag and Maureen, Ms McElhinney, who was and had created a real world of circumstances and cause and effect, were never in the same stratosphere. Little real connection occurred and the mounting drama, cruelty of the text, failed to ignite into the tensions of the potential of the piece. Indeed the deliberate pouring of the heated oil over the already vulnerable hand of the old woman, a penultimate climax, was barely believable and so took the shock away. It made the subsequent murder of no real impactful drama. The resultant madness of Mag, although convincingly conceived and expressed by Ms McElhinney had no supporting drama to take us believably there. It was a leap of faith in our imagination to justify and appreciate the tragedy. The fact that most of us did, lies to the credit of the writing and the courage of the actress.

The exaggeration of metaphor is apparent in the collaboration of the Set Design of Mr Stewart and Ms Sved. It is overdone not only in the dressing but in the pantomimic mounds of mud and stick out clumps of grass of the hill (“We’re not in Kansas anymore?” intimations) and the surrounds. The lighting (Verity Hampson) is of its usual assured quality but a little overstated in the colour of the melodramatic gestures. The pre-show music (Composer/Sound Designer, Max Lyandvert) is repetitive and limited in its affect; energy, but hardly conducive to a consistent atmospheric entry to the play, and the use of the soundtrack scoring from Hitchcock’s VERTIGO, was a muddle of a choice, for me, and wholly distracting (I just kept seeing Kim Novak in San Francisco in beautiful clothing at an Art Gallery) (I would have thought, considering the set design, the Hitchcock score for PSYCHO more appropriate, if it was ever appropriate at all.)

Over thought. The production seemed to be over thought. A need for the simplification to trusted story telling, based on the real world that the writer is evoking, would have served the play better, has I have witnessed in other versions of this much produced play. Mr Gilshenan was supportive. Mr Farren, observing in his costume detail even the wet of the storm, (details count!) was alert and engaged matching the aliveness of Ms McElhinney, and the give and take between them in the last scene was a relief to engage with. Lastly, I am no expert, but I was chatting to a real Irishman, in the interval, who though enjoying the play, one of his first experiences in the theatre, was a little perturbed about the varying sounds of the dialects – they were, in his observation from all over Ireland not just the West Country (Charmian Gradwell). (It is a skill and when accurate enhances the world of the play. It requires practice, and surely in a profession that is enormously International in the potential of employment, one that all actors should have under their belts, if for no other reason than for future possible employment in a big Hollywood film? – check out the detail of the Artistic Director’s dialect skills, Ms Blanchett – boy has she done a lot of film!!!)

Ms Sved last year directed a very exciting production of Martin Crimp’s DEALING WITH CLAIR at the Griffin Stables and displays, mostly, here, a real gift, but fails ultimately to give this play the relaxed detail of the skill of the writer. This, without condescension to the young audience it is aimed at , should be a very fulfilling experience in the theatre and certainly lead to lively debate in the classroom. And that is surely the point of education.

For more information click here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Generation

Performing Lines with Performance Space present MY GENERATION, WILLIAM YANG at Bay 21, Carriageworks.

William Yang has been taking photographs for a very long time. He has had many exhibitions of his work, the first, SYDNEYPHILES at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1977. He has had several books of his works published (I have three of them: Sydney Diaries, Sadness and Friends of Dorothy). MY GENERATION is the tenth full-length performance piece by Mr Yang. They have toured Australia and International Festivals. He is the most internationally toured Australian performer.

Two large screens at a slight V-shaped angle to each other dominate the space. To the audience right, a music stand laden with instruments awaits the musician Daniel Holdsworth to appear and make, subtle contributions as background and sometimes foreground sound/music for the images of Mr Yang. His performance gives added depth to the evening.

Demurely, quietly dressed, conservatively in a suit and tie, Mr Yang begins in a sub-dued light, centre stage, a presentation of selected images from his long career as a photographer of Sydney society and social events. (Production Manager, Gordon Rymer.) In this case a very personal memorabilia of the people close to him in his time journey in a very close circle of friends/fellow travellers.

We accompany Mr Yang across selected images beginning some time in the early seventies up until, virtually today, 2010. Friends, artists and valued places, (home and beaches, especially Bondi Beach) are presented and recalled in little introductions and anecdotes. Mostly passing facts of no great moment and understated humour, read from a prepared script. MY GENERATION "celebrates life and passing, documenting the emergence of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian movement, and frank depictions of personalities shaping the visual arts (e.g. Peter Tully, David McDiarmid, Brett Whitely [and family,Wendy and Arky], Fashion circles (e.g. Jenny Kee, Linda Jackson), and theatrical circles (e.g. Kate Fitzpatrick, Patrick White (and Manoli), Jim Sharman, Rex Cramphorn, Robyn Nevin, Margaret Fink [and family]).

It is an intimate experience and depending on one's age it is either 90 minutes of nostalgia and/or reflection or a gentle education into the "underground" and not so underground personalities and events of the recent past that have been significant and contributory to the "world" of Sydney as we know it today. It is a significant document for all parts of the community but very relevant to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian community. It reflects a time when the right to express oneself as the authentic self, in the public domain was still an aspiration and not a part of life as we know it, for some minorities today. It was, as the performance registers for us not without cost. The 2010 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Festival has as its theme THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD and this performance is particularly apt.

Watching the images of many people over almost four decades of time has the frightening rapture of having the Dorian Gray portrait in the attic in front of you. The glories of the youthful hopes and sense of joy in the 1977 images and the gradual wearing to the alternate beauty of old (r)age, sometimes redolent with wisdom and knowledge, sometimes with grief, confronting you from the stares into Mr Yang's camera lens is a powerful dose of the palpable knowledge of the usage of Time on ourselves.

I first met Mr William Yang at NIDA, in 1970, where he begins his raconteur's journey this time. I knew him at first as Willie Young. He was in the Jane Street Season and part of the company curated by John Clark and Elizabeth Butcher that gave us THE LEGEND OF KING O'MALLEY , which he mentions, but even more memorably 10,000 MILES AWAY, directed by Rex Cramphorn. Since, of course, I have crossed the path of the photographer at many of these recorded events and am glad that the eye of the artist as captured and now curates some of my past brushes with fame, for I am of the MY GENERATION that Mr Yang has captured in time and now celebrates. The eye of this voyeur is rich in its generosity for sharing the times of our lives with us in so candid and naked a way.

If you have a chance, catch this performance. It is not revolutionary. It is not startling. But it is full of history and gentle love. Every Sydneysider should look and learn about an "underbelly" of Sydney that you will probably never see on prime time television, that has really changed and shaped the world we live in, I with great prejudice, believe, for the better.

Playing now until 6 March.
For more information or to book click here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Spring Awakening

Sydney Theatre Company present SPRING AWAKENING. A New Musical. Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater. Music by Duncan Sheik. Based on the original play by Frank Wedekind. At the Sydney Theatre.

Oh, look……
Oh, boy…..
Oh, wow…..
Oh, woe……

I deliberately waited until late in the season (the last week, in fact) before attending this production. Neither the press reviews or the “word of mouth” was particularly encouraging about this production. [Less than half a theatre full.] I knew that the company were young and mostly inexperienced and a big musical (I have seen it in New York) needs proper time to find its ‘footing’ etc. I thought that time would assist the production to grow into its full potential. Unfortunately, the Sydney Theatre Company have merely produced a creditable community theatre version of this Broadway work.

The original Broadway production received “eleven 2007 Tony Award nominations, winning eight, including for Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Feature Actor. The show also won four Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical.” This is not necessarily able to be appreciated in this production of the work (I personally felt that GREY GARDENS and even THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (The Melbourne Theatre Company have just produced it), which I also saw on Broadway that same season, were better examples of the genre than SPRING AWAKENING, but a Tony Award is a Tony Award and the Broadway people should know!!!!)

In the program notes there is an ‘essay’ from the Assistant Director, Mark Grentell, telling us of the process of getting the show on here in Sydney. The long selection time to find this cast is told to us. When reading the curricula vitae of the performance experience, even the training for most of these young performers, chosen to present this work, it may be the first hint of where problems may have begun. From memory the casting on Broadway was of performers considerably better trained and seasoned, and considerably older than this company. The musical abilities and acting abilities of that company were outstanding, and their dynamic energy, may have been the major reason around the hype of this show. Certainly the Rock and Roll-Metal-Punk heritage of the score was evident in the connection that those artists delivered to the auditorium. The Sydney production cast has a history of training and experience that is enormously varied (from Opera Training to literally High School practice) and still, mostly, formative. They look as if they are been asked to produce and sustain, professionally, a work that technically and experience-wise, is way beyond their present skills, which mostly appear to be potential. (Although the raspy voices of some of these performers at my performance might have already excluded even potential.)

The two leading characters Melchior (Andrew Hazzard) and Moritz (Akos Armont) did not seem able to sing comfortably and/or sustain the demands of the vocal demands of the musical scoring that had been written for them. (Sometimes flat in sound.) This seems unfair to these two young men no matter what their ambition. Mr Armont, maybe in compensation, gives a performance of such overwrought energy that the splitting of the atom could possibly be achieved with otherwise directed focus. So out of control was it, on Wednesday night, that he did obliterate a cup on the stage with mis-directed energy, shattering it in pieces, causing the re-entrance of another actor, presumably at the direction of the stage management (probably for OH&S reasons) to pick up the pieces, which then resulted in Mr Armont “corpsing” with laughter subsequently, up stage, but visibly for the audience to appreciate. Later the sheer portentous choices that Mr Armont, assumedly with the blessing of the Director (Geordie Brookman), has built into the suicide moments of the second act were so extended that it was hard to sustain belief in the reality of the moment - A tragedy for the drama of the play, surely? Mr Hazzard, mostly, gives the acting of Melchoir credence and empathy. In fact the two young lovers are an attractive pairing. For I also felt that Clare Bowen (Wendla) gave the most interesting performance of the principals – raw skills but centred to the demands of the work and seems to be comfortable with the musical demands (still appeared nervous about them.) Jamie Ward (Hanschen) has presence. There are some promising voices in this company, Edward Grey, Nicholas Kong, but for the most part, the collective 'choir' singing is what mostly impressed.

Geordie Brookman, the Director, who I have admired in other work (TENDER, BAGHDAD WEDDING, TOY SYMPHONY) seems unable to manage this genre of theatre, either the scale or traditions (the casting a first faltering step?), attempting to shoe horn his respect, maybe, for the original play and playwright, Wedekind, into this original musical adaptation of it. Very different enterprises. The Set Design by Anna Tregloan is simply puzzling as a solution to this work (ugly, even). The Costume Design by Tess Schofield, is as usual strong – although maybe some of the actor driven details eg. Moritz’s tatts and the costume for Ilse (Angela Scuni) a little incongruous, relatively. Kate Champion as Choreographer (I much admired her Force Majeure work THE AGE I’M IN) does not seem to have the right solutions – lyrical and distracting with only occasional forays into the punk energy of, say, the demands of TOTALLY FUCKED, late in the second act. The lighting by Niklas Pajanti was the most successful element of the experience. It moved, almost, choreographically. (Thank God, something to watch!)

I should have paid attention to the review by Deborah Jones in The Australian newspaper instead of paying $105 (including another abominable program ($15) from the STC: 1. The information – paltry and dull. 2. the Design eg. Red ink on a coloured background does not make for easy deciphering or reading. $15!!!!, I could by a Classic novel for the money.) Please read Ms Jones’ review. She knows what’s what about this genre.

This is the first non-replica English speaking production of the show, the program notes boast, and the Broadway people, usually do not permit it. This production may be a good reason for them to keep up the old policy. Having seen both the Broadway and Sydney Theatre Company productions the quality of product is startlingly different. The Sydney Theatre Company production does not match the original in any area.

For more information click here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

John Waters: This Filthy World

Sydney Opera House presents JOHN WATERS: THIS FILTHY WORLD. A New Mardi Gras Festival Event.

John Waters famous for his “push the boundaries “ or “bad taste”, depending on where or how you “sit”, “fit” in the world about you, in pink sneakers and glossy grey jacket with black dress pants was welcomed onto the Concert Hall stage at the Sydney Opera House with the full force of the positivity of an adoring audience. The performance began on a real high of affection and enthusiasm and, mostly it stayed there, and even skittered higher.

The performance was a sophisticated, as in artful, (except for the inexcusable setting of the stage, which, if it had a point was not thought through enough to be clear) concoction of humorous anecdotes of an artist’s skimming of the history of his life, and the influences that helped create his needs to express himself artistically, and the journey that he had, to do just that. From his Catholic upbringing in Baltimore and the fundamental discovery that he was “different” and that his experience of the world was “different”, to the ability to find enough of the “others” to play with him using film, Mr Waters took us through most of the landmarks of his cinematic output, chatting briefly, and generally honouring the people he did it with. (Divine, Mink Stole etc.) Almost 90 minutes of non stop motor mouthing, this stand up act was hilarious and affectionate (Skillful) and as he admitted about his films “all character, no plots”. Shaggy dog meanderings that sometimes lost direction Still, funny (-why carp, Kevin?).

This new phase of Mr Waters career is worth every cent to witness, and we, I, had a health filled laughter response, but I felt it a little too tempered, as the latter films of his career are, with an eye to pleasing rather than challenging. Maybe, after all, his Catholic upbringing, the subtle brainwashing of that Institution is, maybe, insidiously, impinging on his choices and style of conversation in 2010. The bourgeois Christian Gentlemen that that Institution attempts to breed is beginning to assert itself artistically and fiscally, now in the relative comfort of middle age!!!!???? (Or is it just good old succumbing to the demands and “realities” of good old-fashioned American capitalism?)

To paraphrase one of his gags, "Forget the homage give me the cheque." The curtness of his exit told me that this was a professional that really did not need the adoring affection of his audience to sustain him. Still, you know what? He has done enough in the past to warrant my affection, in confronting the “other world” for me, and I will love him adoringly for what he has done, if not wholeheartedly, for what he is doing, now.

On the other hand, Quentin Crisp embodied his rebellion ALL of his life. He may have been less comfortable to be with of course, and he never had fiscal stability. We all make choices.

This event enhanced my Mardi Gras time.

For more information click here.

Borodin Quartet

Musica Viva present Moscow: BORODIN QUARTET at City Recital Hall Angel Place.

Spending the day to-ing and fro-ing in a mental debate with myself about whether I should try to get to a concert given by the Borodin Quartet, after electing to pass on the Saturday program of Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Brahms (Brahms being the naysayer, of persuasion, in my dilettante mind – or, truthfully, just the inertness of the animal pleasure of not having to dress and leave the house or even the bed. So, after wrestling with young students with works by Martin McDonagh, Wendy Wasserman, Lanford Wilson, Sheila Stephenson, Suzanne Lori-Parkes, and Howard Brenton (A debate with Peter Abelard and his nemesis Bernard of Clairvaux , on individuality – intoxicating!) and finally painfully (but thrillingly) bringing to life on the floor of a rehearsal room the final tragedy of the death of Coralie in the arms of the pathetic anti-hero Lucien Chardon in a workshop of Alana Valentine’s new play, an adaptation of Honore De Balzac’s LOST ILLUSIONS, I won myself over and decided to take the opportunity to overcome my own pathetic parsimony and pragmatics and go to the concert hall. The skies opened up as I got out of my bus, and running down the right hand fringe of Martin place in a search for cover from the gently wind driven wet, I skidded across Pitt Street, down Angel Place into the box office. It was 6.50pm and the bells were ringing for a 7pm beginning. I was directed to the end of a cue for ticket purchase, my nerves tensed with fear of missing the start, when a gentleman stepped forward and asked would I like a ticket, as his wife was indisposed and so had a spare. We exchanged some coin of the realm. I think, I was given a reward - bargain for my decision to go, as it was a relatively small amount and the seat was on the main floor and excellent. No time to eat, but swallowed an orange juice and ate some paper thin salted chips from a cardboard tube.

The Borodin Quartet I had read about in the press, from Moscow and of world renown for their work, here at the behest of Musica Viva, both organisations celebrating its 65th birthday. The Quartet have visited before, this is their sixth national tour, going as far back as 1965. The personnel, as perforce of time, have changed: Ruben Aharonian (violin), Andrei Abramenkov (violin), Igor Naidin (violin), Vladimir Balshin (cello). The quality of musicianship, however, still immaculate. “Different people are playing, different instruments, different generations, different hands… but still… after 65 years, the sound is still recognisable. Each member arrives in the group and studies the traditions of the previous members…… You bring what you have of your own, and at the same time you are learning from your colleagues, absorbing and matching what you have.” The strength of tradition and the classic apprised with the energy of the zeitgeist. This, recorded information, then, is what haunted my stupid prevarications of the day. Along with the attraction of the composers of the second program: two works by Dmitri Shostakovitch and one by Alexander Borodin, I persuaded myself to go– oh, wise and rewarding decision.

These four gentlemen entered the concert platform and with all the dignity of understated confidence and the accumulation of dedicated musicianship, inducing in me an ease of the feeling of being in expert hands, of being in the hands of lovers of what they have dedicated their lives too, of the safe haven of the promise of depth and authority and bliss. They sat and held in their hands their instruments and like the burnished warm colour of their instruments brought forth a sound as warm and deep, with a wisdom of honoured communication.

The first Shostakovich piece was String Quartet no 4 in d major, op 83 written in 1949. After the terrors of the persecution and prosecution of Stalin and his henchmen following the Communist Party’s denouncement of Shostakovitch’s work, particularly the opera LADY MACBETH of MTSENK DISTRICT in 1936, and the cruelling living through of the difficulties of World war II, “the fa├žade of obedient cultural servant was a bitter pill that he (Shostakovitch) had, over time, learned to swallow… and publicly, declared his intent to make his music more accessible to the people, working “ever more diligently on the embodiment of images of the heroic Russian people.” This work written for the intimacy of the chamber of a quartet, however, because of the Jewish influences in the musical inspirations (along with the Violin Concerto [1948]), Shostakovitch was advised by friends, that the score be kept “for the drawer”. It was then, four years after Stalin’s death,( in 1953), that the work had its first public performance. The composer wrote of Jewish music: “It's multifaceted. It can appear to be happy while it is tragic. It’s almost always laughter through tears. This quality of Jewish folk music is close to my ideas of what music should be. There should always be two layers in music. Jews were tormented for so long that they learned to hide their despair. They express despair in dance music.” The lightness of some of the dance sounds, of this quartet, for me, echo with a depth of a kind of grief and bleakness. Sad and full of the weighted pressure of the lack of freedom to express one’s truth, soul. The survival instinct of the human spirit flickering against oppression, a grave experience, dominated with a melancholic tone.

What followed was another Shostakovitch quartet: String Quartet no 13 in b flat major, op 138, (1969- 70). At the time of composition the composer had being treated for serious on going health issues, his preoccupation with death seem to seep into the work. It is in three parts and presented in a single movement. (He died in 1975.) The beauty of the viola ‘singing’ at the start and elsewhere, counterpointed by the melancholy breath of the cello, and the bleakness of the tapping of the wood of the bows of the players against their instruments, like the finger of the grim reaper on a wooden window frame signalling that time is ending, finishing with a high pitched screech, scream of bow against strings, makes for a dark and desolate experience. It is an indelible cry of a human in pain. It wrings deeply in my ears, my memory. Yet I was filled with a kind of optimism.

Staggering into the foyer for respite from the depth of elation, inspired by sadness of the human condition, I watched my fellow audience. Some chatting of the music, others of their golf game, others of the weather, others of relatives and friends, charmingly, some meanly. Others of ice cream and drink.

Returning to the hall and my seat, the gentlemen of the Quartet returned, sat and prepared their instruments with the sober devotion of ‘lovers’ and began the String Quartet no 2in D major (1881), by Alexander Borodin. I did not know it and was immensely curious. This is a chamber piece written in the year that the composer celebrated twenty years of a happy marriage to Yekaterina Protopopova. It is bright with the waltz sounds of contentment and love. The first movement helped me to reminisce of Chekhov and the many other novel and film salons of period chamber music performance that I have delighted in imagining and seeing. Then in the second and third movement I came face to face with an old and pleasant acquaintance. It was completely unexpected and all the more delightful for its surprise. The tunes from the musical KISMET (Wright/Forrest) [ Baubles, bangles, hear how they jing, jing-a-ling-a] along with further relations, PRINCE IGOR, now expressed in the original inspiration, greeted me. The ‘tunes’ played so brilliantly and with so such ensemble devotion, each individual of the quartet submerging their individuality for the beauty of the score, so seamlessly, that it was one sublime voice, that, in contrast to the searing soul exposure of the Shostakovitch, previously, balanced the evening with the other side of the Janus face: joy. The encore which the Quartet played was also a Alexander Borodin piece: short, sharp and winning.

Alexander Borodin was not a professional musician, although he is incorporated “along with Balakirev, Rimsky – Korsakov, Cui and Mussorgsky… as a member of the composers’ collective known as the ‘Russian Five’ (or ‘Mighty Handful”). His principal occupation was that of a leading industrial chemist. His professor at the St Petersburg Medical – Surgical Academy, Nikolay Zinin warned Borodin, “Mr Borodin, busy yourself a little less with songs. I’m putting all my hopes in you as my successor, but all you think of is music: you can’t hunt two hares at the same time.” But Borodin did succeed Zinin as Chair and Professor of Chemistry at the Academy, ultimately becoming Director of the academy’s research facilities in 1874. Ever the pragmatist and determined to protect his precious hand-written manuscripts, Borodin invented a chemical compound – a special type of gelatine coating – that enabled him to preserve his musical work for posterity.” I appear to be digressing but do so because this AMATEUR gave us some great music and this concert had been dedicated by the Artistic Director of Musica Viva, Carl Vine, personally, as a tribute to Kenneth W Tribe AC, whose professional life was that as a professional at Law, and yet also dedicated himself to the propagation of music , through, particularly Musca Viva , and has had an “influence, in Australian cultural life that is far – reaching.” Another AMATEUR ‘musician’ making an incalculable impact on our lives. I thought it was a wonderful choice of composer to honour this man.

I left this concert extremely pleased and quietly told myself that I should, given the means to do so, to respond to my instincts, rather than to prevaricate and possibly lose those experiences that make life memorable and simply worth while. I bought a copy of the BORODIN QUARTET’S recording of the two Borodin Quartets, in the foyer, to take home. Ahhhh.

For more information click here.