Saturday, May 29, 2010

Parlour Song

MT productions in association with B Sharp present PARLOUR SONG by Jez Butterworth in the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St

“This’ll make you laugh. I’m driving over Langley Marsh, where we blew up that cement works last spring. You’ll never guess what they’ve gone and done. They’ve built seventy-eight houses on that site. And every single house is the same as ours. Same layout. Same front door. So I think why not? I’ll stop off. Have a nose around. Being nosey. Pop my nose in the kitchen and guess what? It’s our kitchen. Same units. Same taps. Cloakroom. Same sink. Same fittings. Lounge-diner, exactly the same. Same floor. Same hatch. Except for… (Laughs) Except for this bloody great rat. In the middle of the room…”

Ned (Drew Fairley) sets up the sub-text of Jez Butterworth’s play : the shocking sameness about him distinguished only by a “great bloody rat”. Ned, a professional demolition expert, who collapses buildings, who, in contrast to the suggested image of his career choice is a nerdy looking guy, talks to his sexy wife, Joy (Anna Lise Phillips), about this suburban estate, identical to their own circumstances, and sensing, maybe, the collapse of his own “building”, his marriage, with the gradual loss of his properties, that have, until now, defined him.

His next door neighbour and friend Dale (Matt Dyktynski) tells us of Ned’s losses: “It started small. A pocket watch. Old set of golf clubs. Box camera… A set of spanners. Screwdrivers…Whenever they need something blowing up…..He’d go away for a few days, when he came back something else was missing….” The loss of Ned’s disappearing possessions, self, culminates in his suspicion that he may have lost his wife, Joy. His joy, “ His little cuddly toy”. And of course the big bloody rat is Ned’s friend, the fit and playful Dale, himself happily married with two kids. Dale’s just playing, of course.

In the ordinariness of suburbia there are also extraordinary melodramas of life going on. Nothing is exactly “the same” even in what appears to be in the ordinary suburban little boxes. Human behaviour subverts that outward show – no matter how much the same it looks, there are differences –even if it is just a rat joyfully playing Scrabble with a sexy lady.

Mr Butterworth has sometimes been compared in his literary interests with Harold Pinter and Alan Ayckbourn. And certainly there is the comedy of the familiar middleclass banalities/domestic tragedies of Ayckbourn and the sinister undertones of the relationship battles between the sexes in that, perhaps, Darwinian competitive spirit of the need to survive, that enlivens the works of Pinter, here, in this play. But it is tamer in PARLOUR SONG, and in this production, milder, than either of the savagery of the other two authors. “Butterworth has explained that a parlour song is a polite Anglicisation of a blues murder ballad, the starkly tragic telling of love, betrayal and revenge being bowdlerised and tidied up so that you could safely play it on the piano ‘in your parlour in middle class England’".

The director Cristabel Sved has elicited good if not exacting performances from her cast. Ms Phillips is particularly ‘Pinteresque’ in her work as the unhappy but resourceful bored wife, Joy. Memories of the delicious Ruth from THE HOMECOMING filtered back to me while watching her. Mr Dyktynski is charming, if not as persuasively predatorial as the text may indicate and so softens some of the contrast between Dale and Ned in the play, while Mr Fairley’s Ned is nearly nebbish enough but is rather too lovely, to pathetic to laugh outright at. The contrast of the men in the play is softened in this production and so the satire/comedy does not properly have the edge it could. It is a mild and comfortable experience.

The set design by William Bobbie Stewart, a green floor (Lawn?) backed by a large window white vertical venetian blind, on which supportive video images are projected ( AV Design Matthew Mc Call), is not ordinary enough or even reflects the ‘sameness’ of the ordinary environment of the world that the characters talk of. The white, mobile, multi-purposed unit designed to tricksily reveal different functions in this production, is hardly ordinary or familiar to the world of the modern suburban estate that Mr Butterworth invokes, indeed one would hardly find it in any other place at all, other than in the Downstairs theatre at Belvoir and so adds very little to the dramaturgy of the play. Functional but not thought through enough. I have similar reservations about the directorial choice of presenting the play in Australian dialect without any vernacular or even named geographical reference changes. It is mildly puzzling and disconcerting to experience hearing about Langley Marsh, Gloucester, North Wales, the Arndale Centre etc. in Aussie ‘music’.(See review of Nina Raine’s RABBIT). One does make allowances, of course, but one does go through a minute, but accumulative intellectual adjustment each time to absorb the incongruities, and so retards the possibility of easily believing the production or being embedded in it.

This is a very pleasant night in the theatre if you want the security of a gentle situation comedy. If you expected either the edge of Pinter or Ayckbourn then this production of Mr Butterworth’s play, which does on reading have such heritage connections, you will be disappointed, except in the performance of Ms Phillips as Joy. This play had a quiet reception in the original production off-Broadway in 2008, but a rapturous one, a year later, in London. Maybe, the play is more culturally meaningful as written, for the British public. Mr Butterworth’s latest play JERUSALEM has had a West End transfer from the Royal Court and is a richly provocative satire on the state of ‘play’ of contemporary England with a brilliant central performance from Mark Rylance, by all accounts. It is, I fear, far to Anglo-centric to merit a production here, but it is a clue to the style that Mr Butterworth sees the world through, that is softly blurred in the choices by Ms Sved and most of her collaborators downstairs at Belvoir in PARLOUR SONG.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Folding Wife

The Folding Wife (8 min excerpt) from Anino on Vimeo.

Performance Space & Mobile States present THE FOLDING WIFE by Paschal Daantos Berry. An Urban Theatre Projects Production. Toured by Performing Lines for Mobile States at the Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Sydney.

The Folding Wife is a "biographical fiction" written by Paschal Daantos Berry in collaboration with the performer Valerie Berry, the writer's sister. This project began in 2006 and along with the Anino Shadowplay Collective and the Director Deborah Pollard it has been nurtured through time and onto a tour around Australia, Sydney being the last stop before a Melbourne date.

The piece tells the story of three generations of Filipino women: Clara, Dolores and Grace. It is the youngest Grace that tells the story. In a framing conceit of titled chapters in a book we travel back to the time of Clara and her life in the Philippines in the reign of Imelda Marcos with all of its promises and troubles. Of Dolores and her marriage to an Australian sheep farmer and her times assimilating to the strange customs of an Australian country life. And finally of Grace and her telling of blending into contemporary cultural expectations, unraveling into her own identity.

With wicker baskets full of props and costumes and assisted by Datu Arellano and Teta Tulay, Valerie Berry transforms physically into the shapes and images of all three women. A screen serves as a focus for projected images generated by computer and overhead projector using simple shadowplay techniques as a background for the different chapters and events. It is charmingly low key and basic in its creativity.

The thrust of the story comes from a poetically rendered narrative by Mr Berry spoken by Ms Berry. It is a construct of memories and poetry. It has an artificial literacy about it, which, while beautiful, gives the impact of the material an aesthetic distancing and presentational feel. The shuffling of the chapters out of their linear order is a familiar ploy in work of this kind and does not really gain much by it, as the story is very familiar, and apart from some startling political vocabulary and imagery is not necessarily continuously arresting.

As the text is spoken as a learnt "artificiality" it is, oddly, not very personalized and so keeps one at arms length. My audience identification was pushed to an objective observation. In contrast the recent simpler but direct storytelling witnessed at Belvoir Theatre in a program workshopped and directed by William Yang: STORIES EAST and WEST,was devastatingly penetrating because of the rawness of the speakers using verbatim revelations that both had charm and pain through direct ownership of the language used. Here Ms Berry and Ms Pollard through their craft choices keep us attentive, occasionally charmed but never involved. Its low key and tour sensitive design captured a "folksy" sensibility and the result was, for me, one of familiar admiration and that the project was a worthy effort if not an original illumination into the world of these three women of other heritages.

Monday, May 17, 2010


PICTURE THIS PRODUCTIONS and GRIFFIN INDEPENDENT present BUG by Tracey Letts at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

First produced in London in 1996 and not until 2004 in New York, BUG by Tracey Letts opened in Sydney last Friday, 14th May,2010.

Set in a rundown motel room in Oklahoma City, that is the ‘home’ of Agnes (Jeanette Cronin), a dependent and abuser of cocaine, she both snorts and freebases it, an itinerant ex-Gulf War (Sakaka in the Syrian Desert) soldier, Peter Evans (Matthew Walker), drifts into her life having being introduced by her friend, R.C.(Catherine Terracini). The paranoia of two addicts combined with the post-traumatic stress of a war zone survivor explores the construct of conspiracy theories combined with the Federal Government agency, the C.I.A.

The final scene speeches from Peter: “They (the C.I.A.) devised a plan to manipulate technology, economics, the media, population control, world religion, to keep things the way they are….” and sprinkling it with references to Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, an “Intelligence Interface biochip”, Tim McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, all add to a feasibility that there is some truth to the obsessions of the couple and promote the possibility of even more covert drama. Certainly in the 1990’s after the Oklahoma City bombing the currency for such an exploration in the theatre may have had much potency. In 2010 Sydney, with the Global Finance Crisis whirling about us newer issues are higher up on our conscious concerns. The play feels slightly less urgent then it may have been in 1996.It is no less interesting, however.

Anthony Skuse the director, has with his artistic collaborators, constructed a, mostly, absorbing night in the theatre. Set and Costume Designer, Rita Carmody has built a believable motel room on a hand pushed circular revolve platform set in a black wall surround. The naturalistic details are apt and skilfully supported, allowing the rough and tumble of ‘bed –play’, and character mood changes. The lighting by Matt Cox is naturalistic and detailed effectively, creating the eerie atmosphere of the unsure footing of the escalating world of the ‘paranoias’ of the characters- expressionistic or otherwise as need be. Sound and Composition (Braedy Neal) is tremendously co-ordinated to keep the real world present and, maybe, rightfully threatening- the helicopter sounds redolent with spookiness and subtly, growing alarm.

The performance success is principally generated by Jeanette Cronin as Agnes, in an absolutely fearless and brave performance (in this small space) that takes one imaginatively by the scruff –of-the –neck into the reality of this woman’s tragic life. The agony, pain and history of the woman is revealed in explicit and unselfconscious choices. It is a bravura piece of work by an artist, who palpably loves performing and gives her audience every part of herself to tell of this tragic life that literally ends in immolation. The character combusts, and so does Ms Cronin in this gift to us. While Matthew Walker also gives a committed performance, it never quite goes to the same naked emotional place demanded by his partner, Ms Cronin- almost, but not quite, in the big climactic scene. Laurence Coy as Dr. Sweet, sitting ominously in the periphery of the playing space for some time, is sinister and ambiguous enough to cast questions as to ‘who is he really?’ etc. to give the play necessary tension. Catherine Terracini has an ease and blowsiness that allows this work to be the best I have seen from her, and Jonny Pasvolsky as the physically abusive but loving husband Jerry Goss, also plays havoc skilfully with our revulsion or sympathy, turn by turn in the play.

Mr Skuse once again delivers are thoroughly convincing production (Jose Rivera’s REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT). The decision to use the dialect of the world of the play (Dialects by Carmen Lysiak) further convinces me of the world and supports further my continuous argument that authenticity to the sounds and rhythm of the written culture is an important aid to audience belief and entrance to the play’s life and truths.

(The issue of the consequence of drug use and abuse is a major component of the play and the fact that the Production Sponsor, NSW HEALTH supports this Art form is a welcome collaboration for both fields of our community. Thanks.)

Mr Letts has already being shown in Sydney, KILLER JOE, in Downstairs Belvoir a year or so ago and the power of the imaginative construction of his worlds and the examination of the humanity of his people can only build the appetite for the visit of the Steppenwolf Company with their production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY in August/September at the Sydney Theatre Company.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Power of Yes

Company B Belvoir presents THE POWER OF YES - A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis by David Hare in the Upstairs Theatre, Surry Hills.

On September 15th 2008 capitalism failed. The National Theatre of Great Britain commissioned David Hare to discover, uncover, what had happened. To try to answer the Queen's question "Why did nobody notice?" A year later in September 2009 a 'verbatim' text had been 'massaged' by Mr Hare from an intense year of interview and research and opened in the Lyttelton Theatre.

A character called The Author begins the performance: "This isn't a play. It's a story. It doesn't pretend to be a play. It pretends only to be a story. And what a story! How capitalism came to a grinding halt. Where were you on September 15th 2008? Do you remember? Did you even notice? Capitalism ceased to function for about four days..."

A cast of almost 30 characters, played at Belvoir by just 12 actors, lead the enquiring Author (Brian Lipson), into the world of financiers in an attempt to unravel for us the events leading to the Global Financial Crisis, in which we,in May 2010, still stagger through. Mr Hare claiming that like himself "Starting from a point of almost total ignorance" – and that if we will be guided by the excellent principle "If I can understand this, so can anyone" – we will be enlightened. At the end of this brisk and crisply clear production directed by Sam Strong most of us had had that experience. And like the character of the Author in the play, bewilderment, amusement, bemusement, disbelief and anger are just some of the emotions that one experiences.

An excellent cast: John Derum, Jonathan Elsom, Russell Kiefel, Brian Lipson, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Amber McMahon, Rhys Muldoon, Luke Mullins, Marshall Napier, Graham Rouse, Christopher Stollery, and David Whitney with great clarity and brio take us carefully, but at breakneck speed, through the facts of the circumstances of the collapse of capitalism. The speed insists we pay attention and we do.

On a pale grey, dowdy set ( Dale Ferguson) with a low roof and fluorescent lighting (tempered by the theatre skills of Danny Pettingill) with an oblong window in the back wall that sometimes is used as a writing board backed by a masking screen or as a view into a back room where mimed activities, mostly using balloons as an illustrative tool, can be seen, the actors tread carefully over a black stage floor littered with hundreds of coloured deflated balloons. (The balloons an artful metaphor).

Dressed in mostly grey suits and colour-coded, co-ordinated ties (costumes, also Dale Ferguson), immaculately shaved, the testosterone power on this tiny stage is high. Our guide, through the maze of this highly charged masculine environment is, in this production, a power, pants-suited young woman, Masa Serdarevic (Amber McMahon), a financial expert, is a more than equal antidote to the chauvinism of these 'warriors' of the floors of finance, and a welcome relief of alternate (female) energy. The sly (jazzy) score and sound design (Steve Francis) is an able abetter to the irony and seriousness and satire of the production.

The elucidation of the events to answer the Queen's question is shockingly provocative. One cannot leave the theatre anything but unnerved at the sheer 'arrogance' and the power of yes that these figures, drawn by Mr Hare present. And in the program note from the writer in London in March 2010, Mr Hare insists, "'s democratically important that we do understand it. Bankers, financiers and money people are relying on your confusion and ignorance in order to be able to go back to all the old corrupt practices and lucrative sleights of hand which brought about the crisis in the first place. They have a vested interest in pretending nothing happened. But something did."

Watching the USA Senate Committee tasking the principal figures of Goldman Sachs, a week or so ago, gulping at the Greek financial crisis and staring with trepidation at the insistently rising problems in Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain; let alone being personally shocked at the numbness and sense of panic-denial in both London and New York that I detected in the environment and newspapers, two of the great financial capitals of the world, whilst visiting recently; and sitting in the Belvoir theatre on Federal Government Budget night brought the relevance of this play, production, sheeting home.

Having seen the London production as well, I found it a very interesting experience to watch the same play in, reportedly 'a lucky country'. In London the production had a company of some 20 actors and the wealthy world of the power of yes was amplified with spectacular video support and imaging, a glittering reflective black floor and all the costumes immaculately tailored, almost menacing in the perfection of cut and fit. The final scene revealed on what had been a bare stage, a tauntingly luxurious apartment of Mr Soros, with a glittering aspect high up over Central Park, with dinner accouterments of impeccable class and taste. The demonstration of such power in wealth brought that audience to an awed sense of anger, and we sat through the production, on what felt like a precipice looking into an unknowable abyss of threatening darkness. At Belvoir, the design has a feel of a lower corporate eschelon. The costumes less reflective of money but pragmatism, the Soros apartment and dinner, sitting on the deflated balloons, like an annexe at the local Leagues Club. The production had a sense that this happened 'over there', some way away and the comedy and reflective mood of the play was one less of dread of our predicament and more of 'smug amusement'. It is some safe distance away. The play is no less interesting just less impactful, relatively.

In a very interesting essay, that can be found on the James Waites blog, Mr Hare talks interestingly about the play form/style, that is, this verbatim form. We have seen STUFF HAPPENS by this same company, another example. He talks of a production of STUFF HAPPENS given last year, in Norway, which if you remember, was about the entry into the recent/present Iraq war.

What was once a timely and damming verbatim exercise of exposure and examination, now with the passing of time has become a timeless telling of our human foibles and our marches of repeated folly into war. Man simply repeating its history.

It seems to me this play THE POWER OF YES has the same capacity to speak to the whole of the world and probably for many years to come and still be sadly, potent and scarifying.

Do go, and as our days pass you may find yourself holding your breath as the world picture crosses our news outlets.

P.S. The Sydney Morning Herald front page story in the Business day section page one and six "MACBANK’S CODE RED" on the 17th May 2010 (Michael Evans and Ian Verrender) might bring the immediacy of THE POWER OF YES into the consciousness of the attending audience.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Come Fly Away

Presented at the MARQUIS THEATRE by James M. Nederlander and James L. Nederlander, COME FLY AWAY – A New Musical. Concept, Direction and Choreography by Twyla Tharp, Vocals by Frank Sinatra (By special arrangement with the Frank Sinatra Family and the Frank Sinatra Enterprises). New York.

The set (James Youmans) on the very capacious stage of the Marquis Theatre , is that of a nightclub, with a bandstand sweeping around upstage supporting a large live orchestra led by Russ Kassoff featuring the live vocalisations by Hilary Gardiner and the eternal sound of Mr Sinatra himself, sound tracked from recordings with the ‘magic’ of contemporary technology.

In her latest book, THE COLLABORATIVE HABIT, Ms Twarp says: “Over three decades ,I did three dances using Sinatra’s music. My first was a piece that had Misha (Baryshnikov), in his prime, not leaving the ground.(That was one unhappy audience!) Next came NINE SINATRA SONGS, a thirty-minute suite of duets for seven couples that is still in the repertoire of a number of dance companies around the world. And then SINATRA SUITE, a series of dances for Baryshnikov and a partner that cast Misha in a cool, antiheroic role..” So, talking of her own personal growth and the changes to her approach over recent years Ms Tharp goes on: “Stage five. One last confrontation with myself, this one internal. My motives – what are they? Why take a fourth pass at Sinatra? Is this fresh for me? Am I eager to attack this material? Or am I losing my edge, settling, fooling myself with another rehash of old themes? Because if that is my reality, am I not asking for another disappointment? How am I operating here – out of strength or weakness?....Our emotions are never far from the surface…..And in dance companies, they surface daily….You find it in the way dancers’ energy changes when the music starts. Love stories are a way of harnessing, dramatizing, exploding those emotions. The method is ancient; conflicts.”

“It happens in couples. But “couples are never generic. Just ask the participants – they all consider themselves unique. So in the new Sinatra pieces (COME FLY AWAY), I follow four couples during a single night in a club. I show you who comes in with whom, who leaves with whom, and what happens in between. Each character is dramatically different, but they share one belief: Other people, for all the heartache they cause us, still represent the best opportunity we have to make sense of our lives. This is the subtext of many Sinatra songs – maybe, when you’ve lived long enough and piled up some emotional mileage, it’s the subtext of a lot of things. It’s not a new idea for me. But this time, I stumbled into a fresh perspective… As I was building the Sinatra evening, something felt different. The words and music hadn’t changed. But I had – and now, I suddenly realised, so, for me, had the essence of the songs.”

“When I used his music his music in the 1970’s, I adopted the then popular view of Sinatra as a man’s man: the tough talker with a bunch of male buddies, the inconstant lover who moulded women to fit his needs. Male-dependent women still exist, but there are fewer of them now. More commonly, we picture a good romantic relationship as an equal partnership, with both sides struggling to avoid power trips – we picture romance as a collaboration. And so, in my latest Sinatra, women drive the plot and initiate the action as often as the men do.”

In truth the dramaturgical wherewithal of COME FLY AWAY is as rudimentary and stacked with cliché both in character and story as any other ‘ordinary’ dance construction, seen and wearily experienced many times before.. We have the “innocent”, Betsy (Laura Mead), all wide eyed and ready for corruption: the wicked, naughty vamp, Kate (Karine Plantadit) wreaking mischievous chaos among patrons and staff; the sophisticate with the appearance of haughty aloofness, that is really masking yearning vulnerability, Babe (Holly Farmer) etc. Giggly, or sexy or otherwise, that end in disagreements, quarrels and misunderstandings etc with the men, that escalate into more expressionistic and/or surreal desperations in the second half (even the loss of clothing). But what sustains and demarcates this work from the recognisably ordinary is the tremendous sounds from the big band, and the haunting immortal music from the repertoire of Mr Sinatra, some 32 renditions covering stuff from “Moonlight Becomes You" through to the double finale of “My Way" and “New York, New York” – plus the mostly exuberant choreography of Twyla Tharp and the relish of the dances in the dancing of it.

Most of the sweep of the solos and duets and the patterning of partnerings in trios with the company ensemble were exuberant and intricate enough to keep one refreshed and alive. The work occasionally had longeurs but they were brief and the sheer joyousness of the dancers was infectious. I especially responded to the work of Charlie Neshyba-Hodges – his swallow dives into the air breathtakingly spectacular and dangerous, the cuteness and exactitude of Laura Mead, the partnering of this couple light and playful. I got tired of the shenanigans of the crowd pleaser Karine Plantadit and although favourites of Ms Tharp, the veterans Keith Roberts, and especially John Selya were no longer the magic makers that they once, probably were, memories of possibility rather than actuality. Once ballet dancers of ease, on watching, they no longer have the physical beauty or expertise to transcend time-age. The solo by Mr Selya and the big duets between he and Ms Farmer were certainly too tainted with aesthetic clumsiness to be acclaimed without prejudice.

Of special note is the contrast between this work and the recent dreary and uninspired offer from The Sydney Dance Company, NEW CREATIONS. Different objectives, perhaps, but dance still, contemporary and balletic. The defining qualities in the differing experiences was the music used and the exquisite costumes. The score provided by Ezio Bosso for the Bonachella work, "6 Breaths", was uninspiring. The Sinatra score with additional arrangements by Don Sebesky and Dave Pierce were popularly sublime accompaniment to the choreography and dancing.

The costumes were designed for dancers (Katherine Roth) that can move and were going to move, each dancer with three or four variations of costume over the evening, and the design and costume looked as if they had been laboured over by choreographer and designer intimately. The Fashion designers favoured by the Sydney Dance Company (recently, Jordon Askill and Josh Goot) have not yet produced costumes of similar perspicacity or knowledge of the form required by the dancers to succeed as an aesthetic bonus to the work being presented. In contrast to the brilliant design of Ms Roth, the recent Sydney Dance Company costumes were ugly, straight-jackets, in relative contrast, with no real dance aesthetic. I should add another observation and hardly need to say that the budgets for these costumes in both companies were probably radically different. However, the sheer pleasure of watching the Tharp/Roth dancers clothed expertly and aesthetically was a tremendous bonus to the night and the experience. The Sydney Dance Company needs to be more selective in the costume design, especially in the case of NEW CREATIONS where there was no set Design (except video installation).

Back to COME FLY AWAY, It was an altogether light and refreshing experience in the theatre. I enjoyed myself immensely. Great just to watch dance unencumbered. The last time I felt as happy at a dance performance was the Paris Ballet Opera. Different nights but both exhilarating dance.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Glass Menagerie

ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY in association with Long Wharf Theatre presents THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams at the Laura Pels Theatre. Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, New York.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE opened in Chicago on December 26,1944. The following year it opened on Broadway and played there for nearly two years. "It would be performed all over America and abroad, and Hollywood would film it. Next to OUR TOWN it would become the best-known American play. When the New York Drama Critics gathered in the Algonquin Hotel on April 10,1945, they took just fifteen minutes to award nine of their fourteen votes to THE GLASS MENAGERIE and acclaim it the best play of the 1944-45 season."1 It is regarded, today, as the first of Tennessee Williams' great contributions to the theatre. Starring Laurette Taylor, "On that cold night, 26th December,1944 the convergence of two enormous theatre talents made theatre history. The performance became legendary, and the play became a classic in the literature of the American theatre".[2]

Williams called his play a memory play. "To his own remembrance of family life in St. Louis he fused the slow remorseless destruction of the Wingfields, a mother and two children, trapped by circumstances beyond their control in a world from which there was no exit. In plot and storyline, THE GLASS MENAGERIE is simple and straight forward… Williams had been preoccupied with what he called 'the new plastic theatre', (Detected influences: D.H. Lawrence; Chekhov; Strindberg; Lorca; O'Neil; Ibsen; Pirandello and the poet Hart Crane.) staging of THE GLASS MENAGERIE reflected his expressionistic concept and embraced atmospheric touches, lighting, music, and a subtlty of direction in a free modern technique. …With his compelling use of symbols to emphasize with and contrast with the meaning of the action and dialogue, THE GLASS MENAGERIE contained everything that would become the trademark of a Williams play"[1]

"In his autobiography, Arthur Miller wrote, "The revolutionary newness of THE GLASS MENAGERIE...was in its poetic lift, but an underlying hard dramatic structure was what earned the play its right to sing poetically. Poetry in the theatre is not, or at least ought not to be , a cause but a consequence, and that structure of storytelling and character made this very private play available to anyone capable of feeling at all". [3]

This production directed by Gordon Edelstein at the Laura Pels Theatre takes some liberties with the intentions of Mr Williams scenario. Some of the New York critics have been admiring of this take with the play and whilst it is a very arresting interpretation ,I, personally felt that, overall, the emotional and poetic impact of the play had been reduced to pragmatic needs. No less urgent but pragmatic and dulling.

The conceit of this vision of the play is too frame the play in a run of the mill hotel room (Designed by Michael Yeargan) where Tennessee Williams is typing a final draft of the play and has he types, acts out the text, and with the power of his imagination, the scrim wall of the 'room' disappears and the portrait of Tom Wingfield's father and the figures of his mother, Amanda Wingfield (Judith Ivey) and sister, Laura Wingfield (Keira Keeley) are revealed, who on cue, enter the hotel room and play the scenes out for him and with him. Tom sometimes mouthing the text along with his characters. The play is played as an imagined staging in the mind of the author as he finalises, at his typewriter, his playscript.

The bleak pragmatism of the hotel room design reduces the scale of the play to a "rehearsal" feel- the boundaries of the emotional world still to be found. The scale of the poetic emotional expression of the play is reduced to a cooler, practical tentativeness. In all, the affect for me, was one that was ultimately underwhelming. The usual power of this well-known play diminished. One was not moved. One cogitated the pros and cons of the direction. One admired, or not, the artistic licence and choices of the production. It became an objective experience. One hardly became lost in the subjective power of the tragedy of the play.

There is no denying that Ms Ivey gives a spectacular performance within the limitations of the production. Amanda Wingfield here is not some romantic, nostalgic, whimsical self deluder wallowing in a long gone past but one violently caring and scheming for the future. The future for Laura, Tom and then, herself. All of her energies in the present tense of the action of this production are focused on the future and how to achieve security for her family. The physical details of this Amanda are consistently drawn, body, voice and especially facial characteristics. Amanda is the centre of this production.

Patch Darragh is very good, first as Tennessee Williams and then Tom Wingfield. But it is this double filtering that prevents the full emotional revelations of the character in the play from erupting. The final speech for instance is tempered as a recited reading of the speech, the raw emotional impact hampered by the writer listening to the aptness of the text and measuring its potential instead of kinetically experiencing it as the agonised sorrow of the young man, Tom, sacrificing his sister and mother for his own needs -"Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!" Muted in this performance.

Michael Mosley as Jim O'Connor, the gentleman caller, plays the youthful callowness of the young man straight down the line as a brash and thick-headed narcissist. Ms Keeley plays Laura as a whining victim of few attractions. The performance has a one note quality about it and does not permit any real sympathy or empathy for the character's predicament. In the constraints of this production Laura appears to be hardly worth grieving about: "I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger - anything that can blow your candles out!" Ms Keeley's Laura had never lit her candle, let alone candles.

Late in his life Tennessee Williams said about his play, "It is the saddest play I have ever written, It is full of pain. It is painful for me to see it."[2]. This is not the case in this production. It is as if the New York 'carpetbaggers' have come in, sacked the 'southern' values of the dramatic heritage and claimed this play as a vision of a practical woman of the 'North' trying to assure the economic security of her family in these GFC days. Gone is the emotional poetry, gone is the romantic human dimension of a lost golden time, present is the calculating desperate manipulations of a woman in despair about the family's financial future, (Like every good capitalist should).

Still, like the marrying of Laurette Taylor to Mr Williams play in 1944 that made it a worthwhile experience, so the performance by Judith Ivey in Mr Williams play in 2010, made this a worthwhile time spent in the theatre.

[1] Leavitt, Richard F. (1978) THE WORLD OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York.
[2] Leverich, Lyle, (1995) TOM: THE UNKNOWN TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, 1995, W.W. Norton 7 Co, New York.
[3] Miller, Arthur (1987) TIMEBENDS, Grove Press, New York.

Synergy Percussion - Steve Reich

SYNERGY PERCUSSION present STEVE REICH AT City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney. (Associated Event of the ISCM World New Music days).

Steve Reich is internationally, along with Philip Glass, one of the outstanding contemporary composers of today. “Our greatest living composer’’- The New York Times”…the most original musical thinker of our time” – The New Yorker. “There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them” – The Guardian.

My consciousness of him is fairly recent – the last decade, perhaps. But, I have eagerly explored his work, and from “Come Out” (1966) through to “Different Trains” (1988) and in this concert presented by Synergy Percussion, “Sextet” (1984) and the Australian Premiere of “Mallet Quartet” (2009), have always found it provoking and stimulating. Mr Reich now 74 years old was awarded in 2009 the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his composition “Double Sextet”.

Four works of Mr Reich were lovingly and dazzlingly played in this concert, three of them iconic: Drumming Part 1(1971), Electric Guitar (1987), Sextet (1984) and ,as I mentioned one new work Mallet Quartet (2009) - (Synergy being involved with the commissioning of this work), along with Nigel Westlake’s 2004 composition Kalabash.

The major bonus for me at this concert, besides the aural rewards, was to watch the performers playing. There was a high level of ‘theatrical-drama’ at the physical demands and expertise in view. SEXTET for instance has six musicians but they are required to play a much larger number of instruments. Watching, for instance, Eugene Ughetti and Alison Pratt sharing different musical instruments was totally fascinating, the interaction and dependency so synchronised and simpatico – even the necessary re-arrangements of the extensive score pages was thrilling to watch. Earlier, the eight musicians standing together along the central spinal arrangement of the drums at the front of the stage in Drumming Part 1 and watching the intricate patterning of the individual contributions was to watch choreography of a highly connected kind. Two, then eight players , then three, then a different combination of three etc finishing in a virtuoso climax of eight. The lighting of the stage and instruments (No credit is given in the program) an accurate and dramatic component contributing to the night.

The live performance of Carl Dewhurst of Electric Guitar, with his recording of the other ‘tracks’ of the score that he and Tim Constable (the Artistic leader of Synergy) have laboured over at their Newington studio, here in Sydney, was mesmerizing. The new work Mallet Quartet was quite ecstatic in effect, I enjoyed the middle “tender moments” very much. Sextet was absolutely engrossing in live performance and seemed to be created anew. The recording of the work being, as it should be, superseded by the performance- one’s ears ringing and adjusting viscerally at the silence after the climactic last notes. The intrusion of Nigel Westlake’s Kalabash into the Reich evening was complimentary and complementary to the evening.

As you can read, I had a great time. This performance was recorded by ABC Classic FM. I look forward to re-hearing the experience. Catch it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Things Good Men Do

Dominie Drama in Association with Come Again Jnr. Presents THE THINGS GOOD MEN DO, written by Dan Muirden at the TAP GALLERY, DARLINGHURST.

THE THINGS GOOD MEN DO was written in 2007. The play concerns Nick (Chad Richards) who along with his best friend Joe (Chris Leaney) are leading the good life in, relatively high flying incomes and a life style that is fundamentally morally indulgent and fancy free –alpha males as full-bore sexual game players and/or predators. We may have been there ourselves a few years ago, or certainly know of others who have been. But Nick at thirty, his Saturn’s Return, has found a true love, Lucy (Anna James) and wants to get married. Unfortunately for him one of his female gamesters of recent past, Adrianna (Stephanie Pick) is not playing by the rules and has developed an unhealthy obsession for Nick and got/found herself pregnant and dependent on her fantasy life with Nick, and inconveniently breaks into the cosy picture-perfect ,middle class dreams of the protagonists. Secrets discovered inopportunely can be devastating. This is the play’s lesson for Nick. It can be warning for us. As the program proclaims “There are three types of girlfriend. Those you tell your parents about, Those you tell your friends about, and those you tell no one about.” Adrianna is one you would tell no one about. One, where once should have been warning enough for a less selfish male.

The production of this play is absorbing and mildly funny. Funny in that the comedy is chiefly found in our cautious identifications. The drama is scarifying and possibly very near the bone for some. Although the character of Adrianna seems to be drawn from the same genetic pool as the heroine in FATAL ATTRACTION, this production of the play compelled me to stay with the moral stupidities of the Nick and Adrianna. What kept me going were the very convincing performances from the actors (Including Jeremy Just in a series of cameos, especially Rich). Chad Richards, in a very difficult role is utterly convincing, as is Chris Leaney. The dialect work is very impressive and compelled me to believe the world they were in.

The producers of this play COME AGAIN JNR., Anna James, Chad Richards, and Jeremy Just “met through acting and were frustrated by the lack of theatre opportunities for young actors in Sydney. Instead of sitting around and waiting for work to come to them, they decided to create their own and so began the process of producing THE THINGS GOOD MEN DO.” They found a play, bought the rights, found a director and have got on with the job. All of the actors have studied at the Ensemble Studios, as recently as 2009 and this is a very creditable evening.

Obviously this is a production built about either a minuscule budget or none. It is a poverty production. There is no set, the lighting is serviceable: to see and contain spaces; the furniture is basic, what one needs to do the play, no more. The props are realistic details and the costuming is well thought out. The director Nicole Selby has done a very good job and the play mechanics in this limited space are simply solved, the acting and the tempo of the scenes and control of the actors well staged and drawn.

I was not sure what the night might be. However, it turned out to be a very easy and pleasant night in the theatre, within the artistic license you may need to give it. If you have the time I recommend that you support another independent theatre company and project. Certainly the acting sustains and entertains in a piece of writing that will provoke debate. The reviews in London seemed to underestimate the play and its possibilities. That may have been the production there. Here, under the hand of Ms Selby, although the characters may provoke disbelief on the page, they are briskly and skilfully drawn in this production (with occasional license given) and worth meeting even as a warning. The play was written before the global financial crisis and the character’s indulgences, today, seem to require a sense of fair justice. It is served up to them most satisfactorily. I had a relatively good time.

American Idiot

Among others, Tom Hulce & Ira Pittleman, Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Association with Awaken Entertainment, John Pinckard and John Domo Present: AMERICAN IDIOT, Music by Green Day; Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong; Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer at the St.James Theatre, Broadway.

I have ten more shows from my USA trip to blog. So here goes.

I arrived in New York Tuesday afternoon and went to see AMERICAN IDIOT at the St James Theater that night. This work was still in preview, but I chose to see it because I thought it would have the dynamic of a NEW show, still fretting through its creative birthing and so really live and because it began life at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, which I had just visited in the Bay Area – the latest export to New York from this restlessly diverse community leader.

This is not my idea of music that I would choose to listen to usually. The band Green Day, led by front man Billie Joe Armstrong, a punk-rock band originating in the Berkeley/Oakland area, in 2004, released, a few months before the re-election of Bush, the smash hit album AMERICAN IDIOT. Michael Mayer, the Director of this show, recalls, “For whatever reason, it just spoke to me. I thought, my God, these punks from Oakland are talking about what it’s like to live in Bush’s America right now. And the rage and the love in equal measure through out the album I just found incredibly complicated and dazzling – and tuneful.”

From an article in Time Out New York by Rob Weinert-Kendt:
But theatrical? Armstrong’s earnest, anguished lyrics loosely sketched the emotional journey of an aimless antihero (“Jesus of Suburbia”) through a dystopian landscape (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams”), where he falls under the thrall of a charismatic drug dealer (“St. Jimmy”) and a fiery, idealistic girlfriend (“She’s a Rebel”, “Extraordinary Girl”), then looses them both and returns to the comfortable oblivion of the suburbs (“Homecoming”, “Whatsername”).

In expanding the original album’s triangle of Jesus-Jimmy-Whatsername, Michael Mayer added two pals for Johnny (John Gallagher Jr.) : Will (Michael Esper), who stays home against his wishes (his girlfriend becomes pregnant); and Tunney (Stark Sands), who enlists to fight in Iraq. Three American idiots are created in this theatre version and expands the possible adventures that did happen to this youth culture. Further music was culled from Green Day’s 2009 release 21st CENTURY BREAKDOWN.

In this ‘venerable’ Broadway theatre, we enter down a passage that has been scenically distressed with graffiti and grunge. We take our seats and a huge traditional rich red curtain with gold fringing greets us. The contrast is palpable. The aesthetic clash amusing and wittily heralds the invasion of the youthful barbarism of the slackers, the American Idiots. In silence with fading curtain lighting, slowly the curtain rises and BANG! an eight piece band led by Carmel Dean explodes into loud action with the opening song “American Idiot” sung by a hyper-active ensemble, choreographed (Steven Hoggett) to bustle and thrust energy out at us in our comfortable seats. This will be no sit back and relax show, this is a sit up and deal show or leave us to get on with it show. We all stayed. Ninety odd minutes of thrash and crash.

On a huge set (Christine Jones) stretching maybe fifty feet tall, way, way up into the theatre flies, that wraps across the upstage width of the stage, splattered with fading, torn pop posters from many passing eras and 50 or so video screens of different sizes, on which film and documentary images, both recorded and live, adding pertinent commentary to the action and politics from the times, to the visual experience of the show are offered (Darrel Maloney). This is a mix of industrial and contemporary grunge. A large, tall, portable metal staircase disconnects from the back wall and is wheeled about to facilitate visual stage dynamics, choreographically used. . The furniture is portable and minimal. The costume design (Andrea Lauer) is ‘theatrical’ contemporary grunge.

Despite the noise level, and that often the lyrics were squandered in the relentless barrage of musical noise, the gist of the events were apparent. Tom Kitt, the Musical Supervisor, Arranger, and Orchestrator, who also co-arranged the score for NEXT TO NORMAL, still practices the notion that loud is good, louder is better and loudest is best – he should note that is not an infallible belief, or necessary practice, at least in the theatre where a lot of other artistic collaboration might compensate for the stand and bombard that a rock concert might demand.

The energy of the principal company and the tirelessly worked ensemble were a hook to the pleasure of much else. The commitment of John Gallagher Jr.(who I last saw in SPRING AWAKENING),Stark Sands, Michael Esper, Tony Vincent (as St. Jimmy), Mary Faber, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Christina Sajous and Joshua Henry, (from the ensemble cast in the “Favorite Son” number) is exemplary. Of special note is that this ensemble are rarely not ‘on’. Robust and excited they are - a persistent force for attentiveness and story clarity they are. The choreography of Steven Hoggett is streaming from the exaggerated observation of everyday life, the background of Mr Hoggett’s work with his English based company Frantic Assembly, and the memory of the cleverness of the Olivier Award winning work for Theatre Choreography BLACK WATCH, are evident and usefully informative to the story telling –when the lyrics fail to communicate the body language may. The aerial dance sequence, bringing back memories of Cirque de Soleil wizardry and wonder, was spectacular and, for me, a highlight.

This was, despite my personal struggle with the music a very exciting beginning to my Broadway holiday. This Broadway “punk-popera” is arresting and pumping with energy, that meets the younger contemporary audience full on. I personally felt it was a big step forward from the disappointing SPRING AWAKENING which I saw on Broadway a few years ago. The critics raved and it did win Tony awards, so what would I know? How will this show fare?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Stories East and West

Performance 4a and Company B Belvoir present STORIES EAST & WEST AT Upstairs Belvoir.

This was a one night only event. Who is Performance 4a? “Performance 4a is a non-profit organisation established in 2002, seeking to engage artists and audiences alike in the discussion about how Asia and Australia are linked in contemporary life. We do this through performances, workshops, and via our website, home of the Asian-Australian Performance Directory.” This showing comes from a storytelling workshop conducted by William Yang for 4a in 2009.

Six storytellers all from Asian backgrounds told us, in two parts, stories from their lives, of their lives, accompanied with slides of family personas and events. This was not necessarily a cosy, 'don’t we feel good', or angry or whatever evening, and it was no comfortable ‘love-in’… No, the work presented were authentically heartfelt expressions of the life journeys of these East/West citizens. The unique cultural histories and customs of the ‘East’ and the way they have impacted on their lives and consequent behaviours, the graphic and emotionally honest revelations about the difficulties and triumphs of working through the obstacles of living in the ‘West’ as a vibrant part of contemporary Australia as Asians were told with the bright power of truth throwing a light of helpful exposure, to bring comprehension and, sometimes a state of wonder, to the mostly western listeners, sometimes painfully revealed, but beautifully and modestly offered and cumulatively was truly revelatory and life enhancing.

All six of the participants; Daphne Lowe Kelley, Joy Hopwood, Paul Codeiro, Mary Tang (through a video taping), Mai Long and Teik-Kim Pok all had the expected story as well as the confronting unexpected revelations. Both cultural charm and pain. The depth of the prepared exposures in the story telling were breathtaking in their courage and is what made the night extraordinary. Much credit to the performers and the guidance of William Yang. Annette Shun Wah also participated as a Director.

Belvoir St Theatre, through Brenna Hobson, co-presented this unique experience and should be congratulated for their vision and accommodation. As Annette Shun Wah gratefully acknowledged “This is what a full house feels like.” Indeed there was a waiting list for cancellations to witness this event.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Way to Heaven

RIDE ON and GRIFFIN INDEPENDENT presents WAY TO HEAVEN by Juan Mayorga, translated by David Johnston at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

WAY TO HEAVEN introduces the Sydney audience to an award winning Spanish contemporary playwright, Juan Mayorga. It is an interesting introduction and one that raises my curiosity about his other work. This is a good reason to go to the theatre to meet this mind. Another good reason to go is to catch a performance by an emerging young artist, Nathan Lovejoy that is fascinating and seductive to behold.

This play (translated by David Johnston) is a construction about the historical fact of the German Nazi building of a model ghetto, Theresienstadt, for the Jewish people. It was a concentration camp constructed as a fake village to fool international inspectors and quell extermination rumours. Not only were the buildings idealised and given a created history, but the population living in this 'village' were chosen and rehearsed as actors, with scripted scenes to impress the visitors with the good life these people were living.

The text written by Mr Mayorga, among other things a Doctor of Philosophy, introduces us to Pascal, Spinoza and Aristotle via the Commandant (Nathan Lovejoy), the conundrum of what it is to be in role play as an 'actor' and the conscience of the knowing collaborators in the 'play' and the guilt of the duped. Mr Mayorga in his notes to the play, “The place of the action (in the play) is fictional and so are the characters… major themes of the play are contemporary. Just as it was yesterday, the invisibility of horror is an ongoing subject in our lives - only the strongest of individuals are able to look directly at the truth and the manipulation of victims used to mask their executioners. This is an ongoing subject in our lives.” (SAMSON AND DELILAH, PRECIOUS, THE HURT LOCKER, where are you?) It was a similar question that we were asked to deal with in the recent production of S-27 by Sarah Grochala, in this very same space last March.

A Red Cross Representative (Nicholas Hope), begins the play with a lecture describing the visit he had made to the ghetto-town of Theresiendadt and his favourable impressions but uncomfortable conclusions. He has taken photographs as well. A series of short scenes follow where we watch young couples and children repeating, or as we gradually comprehend rehearsing innocuous realistic conversation dialogue. Then we meet the Commandant who introduces himself and his task, ordered from Berlin. In the following scenes, demarcated by the simulated flash of a camera, we then meet Gottfried (Terry Serio), the leader of the Jews, who is to play the 'Mayor' and ensure the co-operation of the fellow internees. We watch the relationship develop during the writing of the 'script' and the rehearsal of the 'village' between these two men. Questions about the mysterious trains that arrive in the mornings and the ramp known as the Way To Heaven become a growing and burdensome weight to all. Especially for Gottfried and the Commandant.

The director, Tanya Goldberg, bravely takes on the responsibility of casting two teams of young actors to play the children and she has coaxed satisfactory performances from them all - a daunting task. From the other performers she has also elicited believable work. Nicholas Hope in a long 15 minute or so monologue begins well, occassionally repeating himself creatively, however, and tiring in the task. Terry Serio is convincing, who as Gottfried, grows more and more uncomfortable with what he is required to do, as falteringly, he begins to take in the sinister circumstances, into connected apprehension – the smoke and the ash. That the full potential of the tension in his story is not met, is a matter of direction.

The great feat in this production and worth the cost and time to attend this production is the terrific work of Nathan Lovejoy as the Commandant. Intelligence, wit, elegance, physically hypnotic gestures and details of facial expression, a vocal diversity to guide us through the arguments and the sweet tenor song sound capture a man of sophistication, who despite his learning and sensibilities, dominates and subdues his own growing dis-ease and that of those about him to sustain the menace of his orders from Berlin. This is a minor gem of sustained intelligence and virtuosity impressive acting. This work follows on from other impressive performances in THE CRUCIBLE at the STC, and his clever work with the Sydney Symphony's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM last year. Although none of us who saw his Shylock in Ride On's production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is at all surprised by the burgeoning gift.

It is a very long role and the scenes should grow more and more unbearable in the moral dilemma of the two men, the Commandant and Gottfried. That there are longeurs in the later scenes, that seem to repeat themselves in information, is rather the director's problem then the actors. Mr Lovejoy and Mr Serio are not given the space to deliver the battle and pain of the dilemma. The tension stays fairly evenly toned, a kind of flatness ensues instead of the Hitchcockian unbearablity of silent and unstated, subtextual pleadings between the two men. Neither of the two leading collaborators can speak what they know.

The Set Design by Simone Romaniuk, is simple and direct - black space, shelving, water trough and heaped coal – the props sparingly powerful in their choice. The Costume Design by Xanthe Heubel are frighteningly hyper real and unsettling – the shoes without shoe laces, spooky. The understated Sound Design by Kingsley Reeve effective. The lighting is the triumph of the design in the beautifully accurate details of the plotting and colour choices. The support to the atmospherics of the experience that Verity Hampson creates is powerful and haunting indeed.

Well worth a visit.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


MONKEY BAA in association with Siren Theatre Co present FOX, a new Australian opera for young people. Based on the classic picture book by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks at the Seymour Centre, Sydney.

This is a 50 minute opera by Daryl Wallis based on the children's picture book called FOX by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks. The opera is a solo score sung by a soprano, the Spirit (Sarah Jones). Accompanying the 'song' are three actors who through dance and puppetry enact the physical story telling. After a bushfire, an injured Magpie (Jane Phegan) befriends Dog (David Buckley), and then is tempted and seduced into deserting her 'saviour' for a faster companion, the Fox (Jay Gallagher). Guilty with conscience, Magpie struggles through difficult circumstances to return to her original friend. "FOX is a story of friendship, betrayal, transformation and great courage." All worthy values for any form of theatre to engage in, let alone the formative one of children's theatre.

The most delightful moments at this performance occurred after the performance when the director (Kate Gaul) and actors appeared on stage to talk to and answer questions from the children/audience (early primary school). Astonishingly (or not) all of the audience had read the book. The questions were full of curiosity of the making of theatre, of how things came together. Delightful to witness.

Opera is a difficult cultural form and experience for any audience, and the fact that these two companies, MONKEY BAA and Siren Theatre Co, embarked on this means to tell a story and aim and trust to entertain and hold the concentration of these youngsters is a testament to their courage. "The musical palette" employed by Mr Wallis is "a hybrid of forms ...flashes of musical theatre and pop music references, operatic colours and intensity, jazz harmonies and the use of electronic sound-scape." The score is pre-recorded and sung well by Ms Jones. However, I found the soprano tones sometimes made it difficult to hear the text and as I had not read the story, found the narrative hard to follow, accurately. The solo vocal line also removed any sense of dramatic interaction, which underlined further the importance of the need of textual clarity.

The three actors through "the movement consultancy"(Raymond Mather) and puppetry (Ingrid Magonov) take on the responsibility of the physical enacting of the narrative. It mostly succeeds. The movement quality of the performers is variable and not as convincing as to support an entranced belief in the action. Sometimes the effort to sustain the demands showed and the fluidity of commitment faltered. The hybrid form of puppetry with use of cloths to create many, many elements, is not as consistently dexterous as could be, should be, perhaps.

The production values of set and costume, wigs (Gabriela Tylesova) along with video projections (Mic Grouchy) and the lighting design (Luiz Pampolha) are an asset to the vision and direction of Kate Gaul.

This project is now embarked on a lengthy tour around the country and the young audiences will meet a performance production that is both ambitious and challenging. The youngsters I saw it with were generally attentive, if not always gripped, but their sense of wonder and interest was revealed in the post show discussion. The education, of seeing a story that they had read, transformed into this strange musical form, opera, along with the visual entertainment had given most of this audience an engagement that had sparked curiosity.

MONKEY BAA has developed an envious record in engaging young audiences, long may they work in this endeavour. FOX is a unique, adventuresome work.


Sydney Theatre Company and Allens Arthur Robinson present HONOUR by Joanna Murray-Smith at the Drama theatre at the Sydney Opera House.

Honour is the name of the principal character in this play by Joanna Murray-Smith. From the program notes: “Honour or Honor is the evaluation of a person’s trustworthiness and social status based on that individual’s espousals and actions…”

Honour (Wendy Hughes) has been married to George (William Zappa) for 32 years. “Gus (George) has been the authoritative voice for a generation of TRIBUNE readers for almost twenty years…” in an award winning column – and when the play begins – is being himself interviewed by a journalist, Claudia (Paula Arundell). Honour has put aside her own promising career (writer, poet) to support George, selflessly and devotedly, in his developing career, and has being the quintessential wife and mother. Honour and Gus have a daughter, Sophie (Yael Stone). Claudia becomes a siren of attraction for George and in a dilemma of 'mid-life' crisis (perhaps), George capitulates to his stirred vanity and desire and decides to leave his family and move in with Claudia.


Each of the characters in a tightly written 18 scene, 95 minute (with no interval) play, debate their evolving understandings of who they are in the descending and then, reconstructed maelstrom of emotions. We, the audience come to estimate their honour according to the “individual’s espousals and actions” as each scene, delightfully, unravels.

In a robustly directed production (Lee Lewis) each of the characters reveal the multitudinous facets of their humanity. Sometimes the audience reviles a character, only, to later empathise with them. In my experience, as an audience, I was not always sure-footed about my feelings towards a character, and when I was, in the next scene, the ground shifted once more, and I had to find an equilibrium, all over again. I changed sides a lot. The arguments that Ms Murray-Smith gives us, are all, often, clever or provocative or witty or just outright funny. It was quite exciting. Immensely exhilarating. As I sat there, I thought this is what I missed with last year’s production of GOD OF CARNAGE. Real pertinence. Both had wit, intelligence and pertinence. But this audience were 'stung' with real pertinence to their emotional lives/histories. This play/production lacked what appeared contrivances in either the play or production of the Yasmina Reza, last year. The audience about me, especially the women, were hugely charged with unusually vociferous responses. Hisses, groans and even booing. Sometimes their male companions seemed to diminish or even squirm. The play, now 15 years old, and the production had found some targets, that amongst this audience, were raw and demanded reaction, that was not just intellectual but often physically visceral. A woman’s voice speaking to her community associates.

The staging history of this play is quite impressive. High profile international companies and actors. The Raw Pertinence is obviously one that crosses cultures. A very good night’s theatre.

Lee Lewis (the Director) and Michael Scott-Mitchell, the Designer, taking their cue from the writer have not set HONOUR in “ literal locations on the stage.” Ms Murray-Smith goes on, “The fluidity of speech, relationships and ideas in the play suggests an abstract, neutral design through which characters float, rather than become attached to or ‘clothed’ in their own context.” The resultant collaboration in this case is a white picture-frame, white brick, side-walled open space, that has horizontal lines across the lower downstage floor leading to a four stepped rise to the back area; a ‘pergola’ of raw wooden posts and ‘roof’’ dominating the inner, downstage area. It has an architectural aesthetic, that suggests comfort even wealth. There is no furniture and next to no props are used. The Lighting Design (Damien Cooper) is empathetic and generally broad. The stage is too large, really, for the intimate nature of the action of the play. Often in scenes that are mostly two, or occasionally three handed, the actors appear diminished in all that white space. A tendency, from the actors, obviously approved by the director, to hang about and hug the posts, on the sides of the set, fleeing the centre, unintentionally, perhaps, demands that the visual spacing and activities of the characters has ‘meaning’. I, sometimes, became distracted in trying to fathom that. The Composition of the piano scene score, Paul Charlier was very apt and easy.

All four actors are really in top form and play intimately and confidently with each other in an attentive and ‘racy’ style. The hesitations, repeats and overlapping demanded in the writing is technically demanding (sometimes overly stylistically repetitive – drawing attention to itself) and this company’s confidence in playing the ‘music score ‘ of the text is sublime, to participate in.

Yael Stone as the deeply shocked and emotionally immature daughter, Sophie, is quite marvellous (a little, overly twitchy), but the skill to burst into the equation of the established trio (a third of a way into the play) and impact with another, and surprise viewpoint, and attach us to the character’s dilemma, so quickly, is much to be admired.

Paula Arundell as Claudia, the intellectually questing, unknowing marauder, with an under developed emotional life, lacking a sense of the consequence of actions, only to be bought to comprehension when the world of others is wrecked and unable to be repaired, is physically lissom, vocally smoky in a sexy mezzo sound, with all the tension-electric exploration of a mind in learning action. Is there anything as seductive or mesmeric as a young sexy body with an active quick mind attached? Certainly in the creative hands of Ms Arundell there is no doubt that she is a fatal attraction for any she sets her target on.

Poor George, played penetratingly by Mr Zappa, does not have a chance, and inevitably will be attracted and wrecked on the ‘rocks’ that this siren calls from. The blundering blindness, from the glare of Ms Arndell’s Claudia, right through to his clumsy and inept declaration and engagement in separation from with his wife of 32 years, to the pathetic self revelation that he has been foolish and a dupe to the arrow of Eros which he thought was Cupid is not only hugely comic but deeply moving. Mr Zappa delivers the facets of a foolish older man who reaches for the flash of a revived ‘youth’, only to fall back nakedly revealed as mortal and fated to old age alone, brilliantly, sadly.

But best and most delicious of all was Wendy Hughes, in a welcome return to the stage in Sydney, as the dishonoured Honour. From the cosiness of a successful life to the near devastating betrayal by a duplicitous and pathetic lover/husband to the gradual muscular development into reclaiming a life for herself, fighting with at first, unpractised attack, until the later growth matures into a newly independent woman, exercising her new sense of complete self-hood, powerfully and almost unequivocally in the last lines of the play, is wonderful to register. This is resplendent artistry, worthy to be celebrated in its accuracy and growing confidence.

This is not, necessarily, a world shattering piece of writing (Think of Albee’s THE GOAT, or WHO IS SYLVIA?) but it is very, very good entertainment and theatre, and in this production eclipses the aforementioned Yasmina Reza play that has whirled around the world in admiring productions. It is worth catching. The acting is terrific.