Wednesday, November 24, 2010



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Twelth Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

True West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't miss it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Together Alone Alone Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The season director was Michael Pigott.

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

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

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