Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking Back 2011

Let's begin with the theatre that I have seen this year that has given me good reason to KEEP going.

By far and away the  most satisfying production I saw this year was: THE LIBERTINE by Stephen Jeffreys at the Darlinghurst Theatre by SPORT FOR JOVE. Every aspect of this presentation was informed by theatrical intelligence and committed passion, beginning with the writing right through to the Acting: Danielle King - amazingly gifted and giving, present; Anthony Gooley - it looked like a self sacrifce of himself to create the performance of Rochester, exciting to see auch a young actor give so much of himself, emotional risk taking of tthe highest order; Susan Prior - being modestly great with her integrity as an artist, as usual; Sean O'Shea - outrageously relaxed and comically brilliant. But then the whole company was truly focused and fused. A flawless team. The Costume and Set Design by Lucilla Smith - a breakthrough of thorougness and beauty; Lighting Design - Matt Cox enhancing every visual aspect. Composition and Sound Design by Simon Van Doornum and Mary Rapp- integrated and supportive without intrusion. The Direction by Damien Ryan and Terry Karabelas insightful and colaborative.

THE NEDERLANDS DANS THEATRE 1 which I saw at the Arts Centre Melbourne was the next thrilling theatre I saw. So moved and excited that I saw it twice, on two consecutive days. DOUBLE YOU by Jiri Kylian, THE SECON PERSON by Crystal Pite - brilliant! SILENT SCREEN - by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon.

THE ADVENTURES OF ALVIN SPUTNIK: DEEP  SEA EXPLORER written, designed, performed and directed by Tim Watts - a miraculous creation for children and adults. A creation once more coming from a truly impassioned artist with his skills in brillaint form. Also at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

Two works by My Darling Patricia: AFRICA  at Sydney Theatre Company, Wharf 2 and POSTS IN THE PADDOCK  at Performance Space, Carriageworks. Claire Britton, Halcyon MacCleod and Sam Routledge artistic visionaries leading an amazing creative team.

CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS from DV8 led by Lloyd Newson at the Sydney Opera House. Dance Theatre, verbals and politics, such that the audience were still in the foyer ages after it finished truly engaged in discussion. What theatre can and should do to help us see our worlds in confronting distillations.

THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney. A contemporary African-American play, an exciting new voice for Sydney to hear, with a wonderful cast of Australian actors: Marcus Johnston, Anthony Taufa and especially Meyne Wyatt. Design by David Fleischer. Imara Savage directed.

CUT by Duncan Graham in the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St. directed tautly and with contol of every creative input by Sarah John with a simply great performance from Anita Hegh.

THE WILD DUCK - by Simon Stone and Chris Ryan after Henrik Ibsen in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St.. Although not anything but a shadow of the Ibsen play, the company of actors were magnificent in grappling with a contemorary style of acting that was fairly daring: Anita Hegh; Ewen Leslie; Toby Schmitz; Anthony Phelan; Eloise mignon and of course an actual Wild Duck, whose presence cannot be underestimated in creating the theatrical dynamic of this production.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra continued to enthrall me:

I observed this year an exciting trend in new writing in Sydney emmanating from the Women Writers. The voices are arresting for their style and contemplations:
  • DIRTYLAND by Eloise Hearst presented at the New Theatre SPAREROOM, directed by Paige Rattray.
  • PICTURES OF BRIGHT LIGHTS by Maree Freeman at the Bondi Pavillion, directed by Caroline Craig.
  • A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON by Katie Pollock at the New Theatre SPAREROOM, directed by Paul Gilchrist.
  • SPROUT by Jessica Bellamy directed by  Gin Savage.

The other exciting debvelopment was the maturing of the Indigenous Story in Sydney's contemporary theatre scene. Modern stories focusing on the contemporary predicaments of the Indigenous Community:
  • BULLY BEEF STEW - Developed and directed by Andrea James with Sonny Dallas Law, Colin Kinchella, and Bjorn Stewart at the Pact Theatre for Emerging Artists.
  • BELONG - from Bangarra. ABOUT by Elma Kris. ID by Stephen Page. Complimented by a beautiful Design by Jacob Nash at the Sydney Opera House.
  • BLOODLAND - a co-production by the Sydney Theatre Company and Bangarra  at Wharf 1by Kathy Balngaynga, Stephen Page and Wayne Blair.
  • POSTS IN THE PADDOCK from My Darling Patricia in association with Moogahlin Performing Arts at Performance Space, Carriageworks.

An exciting development was the launching of the SYDNEY CHAMBER OPERA. Led by Musical Director, Jack Symonds and Artsistic Director, Louis Carrick. The company presented three works with their premiere effort NOTES FROM UNDERRGROUND directed by Netta yashchin being especially propitious.

My two favourite new Australian plays were:

Other performances I am glad to have seen:

The other work that I have especially relished are the Broadcasts from the National Theatre of Great Britain and The Metropolitan Opera. Recently the opportunity to see Arnold Wesker's THE KITCHEN was great, a huge, wonderful company of actors.

SATYAGRAHA by Philip Glass  directed by the British team from Improbable Theatre Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch for the Metropolitan was a fesat of theatre invention and design The same team are presenting a mash up of baroque music called THE ENCHANTED ISLAND , I expect the same kind of genius. The fact that 30 odd people were at the Chauvel the mornings I went to see the two earlier works reflects for me a great sadness about the contemporary Australian audience for the arts. I can assure you , even though filmed, the quality of the work is mind blowingly great. Go.
THE RING CYCLE directed Robert Le Page - come on, we pack him out when he visits and fall over ourselves to hail his greatness and yet...

2011 an Ok year in my theatre going experiences. Not great.

As You Like It

Belvoir St. Theatre present AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St. Surry Hills.

Eamon Flack follows on from his 2009 production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir Street, with AS YOU LIKE IT in the Upstairs Theatre - a promotion (?)

In the program notes to the 2009, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Mr Flack tells us that he and his company had "…embraced the spirit of Shakespeare's play and therefore not the letter." Two years later, Mr Flack and his company in presenting AS YOU LIKE IT similarly, embracing the spirit of AS YOU LIKE IT and definitely not the letter. There are similar achievements and losses in this latest venture into the Shakespearean world, as there were in the earlier production. On the night I attended, there were no programs available, so what the company intentions were with this play of Shakespeare for its audience this time, are what I can only conjecture - probably as it should be. The production, the work of art, ought to speak clearly for itself.

In fact, there are many similarities, the filleting of the original play to narrative basics; a doff of respectful cap to some poetic hall marks of the original - too famous and or good to lose - although the famous Rosalind Epilogue speech is here rejected; the substitution with the Australian habit of the comic "piss-take" bonhomie for laughter balance (refer to my post on piss-take vs risk-take in STC's NO MAN'S LAND); some casting faithfulness (Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber - oh, ominous!); other creative loyalties (Design by Alistair Watts - oh, felicitous), even to the publicity photographs for both productions - so more than less, there appears to be a creative stasis here, or a passionate belief in the commercial aphorism for an insect killer "When you're onto a good thing, stick to it". The audience I saw this production with, loved it, and gave it a rapturous applause in the thanksgiving at the curtain call, and if that is the bellwether of artistic success, than this was a signal to "stick to it".

First, to the spirit of the play and the not keeping to the letter of Shakespeare. I would hazard a guess that maybe 40% (less?) of the text as been expunged. So, what we heard, experienced was edited Bard, often replaced/substituted with clownish, sometimes boorishly banal explanations of text, deprecating self-referencing and in-jokes that were on the schematic level of knock about vaudeville, low gimmickry (a sheep ballet !), where the performers persona's were of more significance for laughs than any use of the original script or witty, writerly contemporary observation.

In truth I did warm to the first half of Mr Flack's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in 2009, I did warm to the first half of AS YOU LIKE IT. The text, though severely edited was handled well (filleted to the bare bones of the narrative - a necessary need to keep some audiences engaged, perhaps, as too much poetry might put them off or just plain confuse them , better to dumb Shakespeare down, just like Charles and Mary Lamb, did of yore for the kiddies, than to lose these adults? Company discussion, I presume?) and even where some of the Shakespearean textual flourishes were left intact, had a mind and tongue, from all the actors, to a clarity that was rewarding to hear and relish.

The conceit of performing/staging this edited first act of exposition of the play in the auditorium worked well for me. I was seated in G Row and so had a good raked overview of the action and the actors. How well it served the audience in the lower part of the auditorium, who had to twist about in their limiting seats or just close their eyes and try to concentrate, as if they were listening to voices from a radio play, I am unsure (Is this another Belvoir Design concept that supersedes the ability of the audience to see the play - e.g. THE SEAGULL?). Even the famous Charles and Orlando wrestling match was given, briefly, at the end of the vomitory passage, off stage. The stage itself, during this necessary set up of the circumstances of the play, was a black hole, a maw of menace, like the forests of folk and fairy tales - blackly curtained walls and a faintly glowing prismatic gloss of floor reflecting dimly, devouring any lighting available. And, when finally the exiles from the Court of Frederick, the usurper, flee into the Forest of Arden, an arid expanse, except for one lonely, lowly flower, bluish tinged surround with a neon sign giving location, ARDEN, reveals itself.

There are some Shakespearean verbal jousts kept in tact and famous speeches, from the play, honoured, "All the World's a stage…" for instance, and there is a glorious visual and musical coup at the end of this part one, when the forest magically translates into a gossamer of flying petals as a signifier of the blossoming of love. Love and the games and misconstructions about it, being the principal preoccupation of Shakespeare's play.

Part two soon dwindled from the thematics and the multiple character love story drive and the shadowing melancholy of the Jacques plot, of Shakespeare's play, into the Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber Show, reminiscent of those famous sketches using Shakespeare as the frame work on the Morecambe and Wise Show in the olden days of what is now regarded as an era of Classic British television comedy. I remember one starring Glenda Jackson, in an ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA travesty. This is the same path of the previous Flack Shakespeare (hence my ominous vibes when seeing the casting). Please understand that these two men are in my estimation immensely talented. The performance of Mr Davies giving Phebe's most difficult speech ("Think not I love him...") was one of the clearest and sincerest readings I have heard. But why the sex reversal with Davies as Phebe and Shelly Lauman as Silvius? What was the directorial idea? I couldn't solve it, except as another fop to Mr Gareth's sense of a need to get into a dress for comic travesty hairy shoulders and all -very funny. Similarly, Mr Garber has a tremendous vocal dexterity that can keep time with his nimble way and wit with words. But what did the lip-synching of an Italian Opera, led by Mr Garber and some of the company, have to do with AS YOU LIKE? It seemed to be a big stretch of taste and style and a big ask of credulity from the audience who had come to see one of the great comedies in the Shakespeare canon, in the canon of romantic comedy. In this production each time these two comics appeared in their many guises and interludes, in this second part, the play came to a grinding halt for the exhibition of these men's talents and sometimes misguided sense of comic proprietary. How or why or what they were doing, other than creating broad generalised entertainment, of the Gong Show, Red Faces on "Hey, Hey It's Saturday" variety, and how it was part of the intellectual integrity of Mr Flack's view of AS YOU LIKE IT seemed extraneously peculiar and ultimately puerile and puny. Not any of it was threaded to any cogent directorial view of the play. Rather it was all a dismantling distraction for a lack of one.

That Alison Bell (Rosalind), Billie Brown (Jacques), Hamish Michael (Oliver et al),and especially Ashley Zuckerman, who gave the best Orlando, I have ever seen, managed to keep this production of this play, as mostly writ by Shakespeare, afloat, is a testament to their will for their time in the sun and security of continuity.

Ms Bell has the wit and incisive intelligence to handle the tricks of Rosalind that mark this role as a test case of greatness for the actors who have the opportunity to play her (it made Vanessa Redgrave a star in 1961 at Stratford and distinguished Angela Punch-McGregor in her transcendent reading for NIDA/Jane Street in the Aubrey Mellor production in 1978). That Ms Bell is good but not great is partly because of the kind of production she is in, where the director is keener on gaining cheap laughs than revealing the play (or if he is revealing the play, failing to find the right disciplined balance) and her vocal habit of stretching the vowels of early words in her sentences in a loud blare of trumpeted noise and following in up with a deliberate drop of pitch whilst picking up the tempo of the rest of the sentence so that it is hard to hear accurately what she is saying. That I knew the text allowed me some sense of what she was saying - it is vocal habit that I have heard her practice from play to play and it is as predictable as it is ultimately irritating and boring. It draws attention away from the belief to the character to the foibles of the actor. Ms Bell has the potential that should not be thwarted by silly, correctable habits.

Mr Brown as Duke Frederick, gives a fine impersonation of Frank Thring and saves his great skill for the speeches and scenes of Jacques that Mr Flack has kept. Hamish Michael in various responsibilities shows intelligence and theatrical skill, judgement that this edited text does not give him full flight to demonstrate. His comic turn as a sheep is delightful, but not necessarily compensation for the textual emendations that Mr Flack thought were necessary for his other tasks - I would be unhappy, indeed, if I were Mr Michael.

Mr Zuckerman as Orlando has the swaggering masculine presence married with the vulnerable grace of a love sick youth and vocal wit and skills equal, more than equal, to the opportunities of the role. His generous partnership with Ms Bell sparks and maintains one's interest in the love-sick game play of the couple. He is riveting and the lodestone of this AS YOU LIKE IT.

One of the other disappointments of this production is the musical side (Composer and Sound Designer, Stefan Gregory). In pre-publicity we were promised a new musical feast to the many songs of the Shakespeare play, but neither the lyrics or the music created here, despite the presence of Casey Donovan (I cannot see any other reason to have cast her) make any real memorable impact at all.

I guess we are going through here in Sydney, a period of theatrical production of Shakespeare that is similar, to the Nineteenth century bowdlerisations of the original. Where the texts of Shakespeare are simply appropriated, plundered for Company Branding style or celebrity creation that kind of ended with Henry Irving's productions, and petered out with the last of the actor managers, Donald Wolfit in early mid last century (honoured, remembered in the play and film THE DRESSER); to be gradually replaced by the Shakespearean scholarship of Harley Granville-Barker and various scholars at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, culminating into a gradual restoration of Shakespeare's plays as writ with the work of Gielgud, Olivier and Richardson, and the establishment of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre seasons at Stratford with Anthony Quayle and then the zeal of Peter Hall, followed by Trevor Nunn up to the modern era.

This production by Eamon Flack of AS YOU LIKE IT brings back memories of the famous excerpt of the Vincent Crummles Company's ROMEO AND JULIET seen at the end of Part One of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, adapted from the novel of Charles Dickens by David Edgar. It is ridiculously funny. It is a great crowd pleaser. It excites the 'groundlings' to inordinate mirth and appreciation but it is not Shakespeare as intended. The interpolations are outrageous. This company of actors led by Mr Flack have taken hold of this great play and dwindled it to a popular Christmas party piece of the party pieces of the actor's naughty talents. The 'Infant Phenomenas' reigning supreme. There is much to be gained from seeing this silly version of the play, but it is at a cost to the great art and craft and challenge of the original text of William Shakespeare. To get it to work as writ is the dream of every artist and it is surely the objective challenge for any acting company and any director with an integral sense of responsibility to the author.

This is the second production of Shakespeare by Mr Flack for Belvoir St and I long to see him do a play without gratuitous gags, at the expense of the play which are masterpieces that have stood the test of time. And will stand the test of Mr Flack and his bent to avoid the possibilities of doing the plays as writ. Those of us with memories of the Old Tote production in 1970 by the enfant terrible of that period, Jim Sharman, can remember the comic tricks and liberties he took to popularise this play (Peter Rowley as Touchstone on roller skates!), but can also remember the magic wholeness of the play as one written by Shakespeare (Darlene Johnson was the Rosalind). Cheek, invention, discipline, respect and scholarship. All these gifts created art worthy of the writer. That was Mr Sharman.

Like the experience of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in 2009, at Belvoir, AS YOU LIKE IT began with all the promise of interest and contemporary integrity one could wish for, but dwindled ultimately to a carefree abandon to, from my point of view, a kind of cultural vandalism. It was fun and a success for most of my audience, but not for me. And not for all.

Monday, December 26, 2011

No Man's Land

Sydney Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre Company and Bank of America Merrill Lynch present NO MAN'S LAND by Harold Pinter at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House.

NO MAN'S LAND by Harold Pinter written in 1974, especially for John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, at the National Theatre of Great Britain, under the direction of Peter Hall (it later transferred to the West End and Broadway), is, surprisingly, having it's first professional production in Australia. It is directed by Michael Gow and has Peter Carroll and John Gaden creating these two demanding and tantalising, inexplicable characters: Spooner and Hirst.

In a room with a vast wall of books (Set Design, Robert Kemp), books that hold the record of human memory and aspiration, that surround a large and well stocked bar of alcohol - a kind of altar equipped with the fermented potions that distort and/or obliterate memory and, perhaps, prevaricates aspirations; sparsely furnished and warmly, atmospherically lit (Lighting Design, Nick Schlieper), with a huge heavily curtained window - not much natural light allowed here - and secret door, we meet two old men. Hirst (John Gaden), slightly aristocratic and imperial, but, we discover, pleasantly, unpleasantly 'pickled' , seated, enthroned, in a comfortable armchair, attending to a loquacious and decidedly raffishly dressed visitor, Spooner (Peter Carroll). Spooner, stands. He is not invited to sit, although he is encouraged to drink and to serve drinks to the other.

After a chance meeting on Hamstead Heath, a parkland, next door to this house, known since the 18th century as a gay cruising area, the two gentlemen have a long duet of conversation. We observe. We mostly listen. Both men are feeling out the other's identity and attempting to refresh their memories of a possible shared past. The past veiled in the fumes of vaporous, vague memory. "Have another drink". The conversation is mysterious and circumlocutory. It is sophisticated, witty, full of sophistry. It is dazzling. It is beguiling, teasing. It is besotted, however, not with clear meaning, but, with clues, of a kind. Clues, to what? There is a secret. (Pause). Isn't there?

Hirst has two servants. Briggs (Andrew Buchanan) and Foster (Steven Rooke). Both working class 'toughs'. Both, incongruous to the reality of this world, this situation. Both of them earthed in a way, in this cultural memory box, this library, that exudes a kind of patina of menace into the world of these two old aesthetes, these two writers. As time and conversation passes, more than an exudation of a patina, rather an opaque atmosphere of highly charged danger envelopes the room. One is a flamboyant 'queen' in elegant, fashionable white suited attire, the other an ambiguous representative of what one could describe as 'rough trade', dressed well, but sexily understated, casual. Sexual innuendo hangs heavy. This quartet of lubricated and ambiguously libidinous 'talkers' spin a tangled web of possibilities, indeed. Indeed. What is the secret that is going on, here?

Just what is this play about? That question becomes the essential pleasure or frustration for any audience watching it. Having read it before seeing it, this is the enigmatic quest that keeps one engaged.I was deeply curious, full fathom deep curious, for, even with the leisure of time, with the book in my lap, I was baffled, puzzled. But excited. The text ,for the alert, is a kind of thriller to decipher, and depending on the sophistication of one's own cultural referencing, one can, as a reader spin multiple solutions. But, what Mr Pinter has constructed is a beautiful, contradictory, tangled web of possibilities that seated in a library with some drinks might encourage stimulating conversation, much like that of this babble of Hirst, Spooner, Briggs and Foster (N.B. Mr Pinter was a cricket enthusiast and these characters all carry the names of four of the greats of county cricket. Is that a clue or one of Alfred Hitchcock's famous McGuffins?). There is perhaps no real answer. Just a never ending puzzle of delighted intellectual pursuit, for those of us who do not need guaranteed answers. Like an Escher drawing, the play's explanation may just go round and round or for the tormented, appear nothing more, than abstracted expressionism.

Pinter, like Shakespeare, being also an actor (unlike Shakespeare, a Director, as well), knew the powerful influence that any actor has when he speaks and moves the writer's text - as he inhabits it. The words on the page when interrogated by other minds become even more complex in possibility, even in the most mundanely proficient play writing, when challenged and then embodied by actors. And, Pinter, in the case of NO MAN'S LAND, knew he had two of the world's great actors, who had demonstrated over decades of practice, a protean ability to create with quicksilver deftness, language pleasures and ambiguities, with clever minds and magical voices. The writing, then as read on the page, produces characters of polyhistoric learning, but actors especially two geniuses of the theatre such as John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson had also in their possession, expressive physical tools of unmatchable ability. Why not set them a problem. Let us play, together.

Peter Hall, the original director of this play, tells us that, these actors were both Shakespearean. "They believed in text... and their real strength was their verbal dexterity, their telling quality, in the sense of what they told an audience. They had fine voices and they had wit." Humour. The ability to take a word and fully interrogate it, "mint it and make it happen" with layers of possible meaning. Their honed polyphonic gifts endowing possible nuance in every sound that made the words. Both actors, says Mr Hall, but especially Gielgud, could cast a spell on his audience with his mind and tongue and have them chase him "saying: no no no no, please wait for us, please give us more; and he is gone." That both actors were well known and loved by their audience was an asset - one famously heterosexual and the other infamously, at one time notoriously, homosexual, so the ambiguous sexual innuendo, the tensions in this text, became even more exquisite for the audience, of the time, to gambol in. Clearly it worked, for the original production gave some 378 performances.

Here at the Sydney Opera House, Peter Carroll, especially, demonstrated a vocal and verbal virtuosity of great skill. John Gaden, too, but with not as much 'trained' vocal pyrotechnics, layered his verbal demands with transcendent wit. The second act duet, between Hirst and Spooner was, particularly, dazzling in the hands of these two actors. Certainly, these two veterans of the theatre stage, and familiar sparring partners, had great obvious 'fun' in playing (improvising) with each other. But, and there is nearly always a BUT for me, as those of you who read me regularly know (it is hard to have perfect ART, no matter how hard we endeavour, and that is part of the fascination of any artistic craft pursuit, surely. Surely?), no matter the dazzle of the technical homogeneity of these two artists, I felt that they were showing us this - that this was the objective of the sparring-game: a demonstration of craft, and little to no revelation of character. The achievement of vocal technique and the vicarious demonstration of it was the be-all, the end-game of this performance work, not the progress of the rivalry, struggle, between Hirst and Spooner. Virtuosity for virtuosic sake. An inadvertent masking of what the characters were doing? There was, for my money, a lack of ambiguous sexual motivation to these men, neither of these actors sufficiently daring in self-revelation about the possible complexities of the writer's characters. The great Mr Carroll and Gaden SHOWED me stuff but did not REVEAL much beyond highly sophisticated actorly mechanisms of craft. Did they, were they baulking from the famed tensions of Harold Pinter's writing content and style? Of the sexual and violent tensions that existed between the original two actors that was part of the astounding success of the first production?

The deliberate physical 'clowning', unrealistic stylisation of the drunkedness of Hirst and the finding of his chair, and the simply astonishing athletic demonstrations of physical agility by a remarkably fit Mr Carroll as Spooner, seemed to indulge a propensity of the actors rather than elucidate anything meaningful to the drama of the characters or their interactions with each other. It was most distracting and derailing for the interpreting audience. Confusing. What world are we in? Who are these men as represented by these relatively grotesque physical offers in the storytelling. A lapse of judgement to allow this, by Mr Gow?

Richard Eyre interviewing Peter Hall in preparation of the television series CHANGING STAGES for the BBC suggests that Harold Pinter is a singular voice, "as with all great writers". Mr Hall, a long familiar, nay, historic champion of Mr Pinter's work, says, "Harold Pinter's voice is rooted in cockney and in Jewish cockney. And that's what it is. And even when he moves out of it, it's still there as a point of reference in some strange and peculiar sense. The basis of Harold's drama ... is piss-taking, the cockney phrase. "Piss-taking" is me mocking you. The essential thing about piss-taking is that, as I mock you, you should not be sure that I am mocking you, because if you can see I'm mocking you then I have lost. The whole of Harold's drama is based on that in one form or another". It is the classic English comic technique of using language as weaponry in the tradition of the 'Dandy's', stiff upper lip wounding with words, vitally indulged from the time of the Restoration repertoire, reaching a kind of apotheosis with Oscar Wilde's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, inherited further, later, by Joe Orton and, of course, Tom Stoppard and Pinter.

There is no doubt that the Australian actor has a firm grip on the piss-take (maybe a hang over from our convict heritage and our cultural problem with authority figures?). The piss-take is, generally speaking, the dominant choice for the Australian actor, when confronted with big emotional exposures (the new Belvoir production of AS YOU LIKE IT is a cultural exemplar of that habit - go for the piss-take in replacement of the emotional risk-take. Self revelation for the sake of emotional truth and confrontationally dealing with the vulnerabilities of that, for the pinnacle of craft and art in performing, is not always easily embraced in our cultural armoury. It does save, truth speak and revelations, and possible awkward embarrassments.). Both, Mr Carroll and Mr Gaden are prepared for the piss-take, and brilliantly so, but not, perhaps, for the risk-take required to make Hirst and Spooner indelible icons of theatre life reflecting real life.

Mr Hall goes on: "And the piss-take actually hides violent emotions. Underneath every Pinter play there is a very strong melodrama, very basic and full of hate and hostility." He goes on to say: "When I'm directing Pinter I often rehearse with all the inner feelings made overt and the actors all scream at each other. Then they know what they're bottling, what they're hiding, what they're containing". This element of the elemental violent struggle for supremacy over each other, motivated by hate and hostility, is what I felt was, relatively, absent from the performances in this production. A kind of condescending cultural caricaturing of our English forebears.

An aside: I remember as a member of the Sydney Theatre Company production of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, of us, the company, approaching the characterisations in the play based more certainly about the images of the David Lean films of Dickens, friendly caricaturesof the English. Much time, after our highly esteemed performances had finished, I remember seeing the televised capture of the original Royal Shakespeare Company production. The striking difference was that the English company were playing affectionately, their great, great grandparents, relatives of their near blood heritage, whereas we were more often than not tempted to 'piss-take' the characters as cartoonish, and score laughs rather than deeply felt truths that were redolent with pathos - pathetic rather than comic, if the truth be told. This is what I sensed in the playing by Mr Carroll and Gaden as well. An unconscious, but culturally embedded disrespect for the characters as real life representations of a culture, rather, comic distillations of a kind of Englishman, that we Aussies find amusingly daft.

Mr Buchanan as Briggs, one of the east-ender toughs, seemed to be more interested in pulling off the stylistic brilliance of Mr Pinter's text within, what I felt was an over gratuitous exhibition of a certain kind of homosexual stylistic behaviour, then engaging convincingly in the violent predatory action for power and status. Piss-take over risk-take. That Mr Rooke,as the other tough, Foster, so effortlessly, from his look, body language, through to his textual and vocal skills, revealed all the typical Pinteresque menace and motivation that is requisite for the convincing playing of these plays, threw clearer light onto what the other actors were not doing, for me.

I am a late comer in my admiration of Harold Pinter's work. It was my own fear of the characters and their oh, so explicable motivation and actions, that I recognised in the working class roots of my own background that caused me to close myself off and shun appreciation. It was too alpha-masculine and confrontingly violent in its undertow, for me to deal with. Pinter's early plays THE BIRTHDAY PARTY(1957), THE CARETAKER (1959), THE HOMECOMING (1964) reverberated with the tensions of my own experienced environment, dinky-di Australian as it was (I, of course, was not aware of the plays until a decade or so after their writing, but in my Australian upbringing still terrifyingly relevant). Too much even, at that time, for me to bear in the theatre which was my refuge, my principal place to escape from my real life. Later, however, with more education and life jostling, I began to be intrigued by the work, then attractively engaged by OLD TIMES (1970) and BETRAYAL (1978): the tragic depth of the heartbreak of the living in intimate personal interaction, more essentially, middle class, was some how more romantically easy for me to participate in - though far from my own life journey. Besides, there was a sophistication of obtuse structure that drew me - a pleasure in the inexplicable, the mysterious deliberate obfuscation of the writing puzzles, style.

IN Harold Pinter's Nobel Speech: ART, TRUTH and POLITICS (2005), he wrote,

In 1958 I wrote the following: 'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. This is what they said. This what they did.

That NO MAN'S LAND ( 1974) sits centrally, in creative and literal time, between OLD TIMES and BETRAYAL is arresting. Pinter in an unhappy marriage with Vivien Merchant, began an affair with Antonia Fraser, later his new wife, may account for the thematics of OLD TIMES and BETRAYAL, but the writing of this obtuse work, NO MAN'S LAND, sitting between those two great plays, comes from what psychic need? It was after the opening night of NO MAN'S LAND that Pinter finally terminated his marriage to Ms Merchant. This play, then, was written in turbulent personal times for the writer, in a no man's land of unlove and love for two women. A kind of hell that only death may solve? Certainly a time for depression. This urging psychic need by the writer to express himself, is, for the thinker, possibly, an entrancing, entangling pre-occupation.

My pre-occupation has led me to these thoughts of attempting comprehension: No man's land is that space on the battlefield between the two enemy trenches or positions in warring times. It was often that place where the wounded were left to cry out for aid but dwindled to death. It was a place, that in the memory of the survivors, was a causation for great depression. Depression registered and survived with dulling memory with excessive drug-taking, drinking, of one kind or an another (Vivien merchant died later of alcoholism). Is this library, this room of memory and alcoholic 'bliss', Hirst's 'no man's land' where he drinks himself into kinds of oblivion and ultimately to death? Is Spooner an angel of death or as he says early in act one "the ferryman" to take Hirst to the next stage of mysterious existence - non-existence - to that "undiscovered country"? (it interests me - that four years later, as almost simultaneously Edward Albee was writing his great surreal death play, THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE (1977-78) that has an angel of death called Elizabeth and a companion, guard arriving, in an otherwise naturalistic convention, to take Jo, Albee's dying heroine, to the after life). Are Briggs and Foster, protectors, guardians hired to fend off this inevitable visitor, guest? Could the temporal expanse of the actual entire play, be providing us with a represention of the surreal last seconds of consciousness, of Hirst's life flashing past him in this pickled, bias state? Is this the secret of this play? Is this the truth of it?

Did you have a suggestion?

The parallel author in my mind, to the work and style, in the same time frame, of Harold Pinter, as indicated above, is Edward Albee. Both these writers are literate, wordsmiths and great composers of the musical texts. Both these writers, were mistakenly categorised, by me, in my youth and general Australian ignorance, as naturalistic writers. But now I see them as fearless experimenters in surreal or expressionistic abstracted style. Remembering the bewildering experience of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF/ (1961-62) in John Clark's famous Old Tote production, 1964-65, (what's happening?), being flummoxed by the 'weirdness' of TINY ALICE (1964), (I still am), or in awe to works like BOX and QUOTATIONS from CHAIRMAN MAO TSE-TUNG (1968) and SEASCAPE - 1974 [3], the exact same year as the writing of NO MAN'S LAND - where a middle-aged couple encounter on the beach shore two talking lizards, and one is forced to reflect and acknowledge the subtleties and daring of these men. Undoubtedly, influenced by Samuel Beckett (the character of Hamm, the hero of Beckett's ENDGAME is a sort of tyrant (Hirst) who's dominated by his domestic staff) and Eugene Ionesco, among others, these writers were what we might say 'out there' in form and content. 'In your face', sharp, elliptical, conceding nothing to anything other than itself... 'This is it, sort it out for yourself'.

Considering the history of most Australian play writing, then and now, we would still say 'Out There' or 'In your face'. Patrick White, Dorothy Hewett are the best known writers of experimental form in the Australian scene that I can significantly recognise. And they were hardly praised for their visions. That this is the first professional production of NO MAN'S LAND is also sad reason to give me pause about our cultural maturity (as Australian's).

Michael Gow's production is a very welcome adventure. That not all the elements are secure is the way of the world of creative effort. I am better off, for having seen it, than not to have, I reckon. Thanks. It has been an immense feast for thought. It has elicited a deeper appreciation of one of the great writers of the 20th century. I enjoyed immensely the hearing of the text. The language of the writer a refreshing bath of challenge. The 'musical scoring' of the writer, mostly achieved, here, was wondrous. The unavailable intent, and meaning, of the play a great joy. Not frustration at all. Provocative, and, possibly, of infinite dimensions. I would look forward to another artistic enterprise using this text. And, knowing the direction of Mr Pinter in the late life of his writing output, and acknowledging it as formidable, should I regard NO MAN'S LAND as the greatest of Pinter's achievements? Certainly, although immensely esoteric, compared to the learnt understanding of OLD TIMES and BETRAYAL, I believe it is the one I would like to see again before I die. Awful to know that this is this play's first outing on the professional stage, at least here in Sydney.

P.S. I think the decision of playing Pinter's Two Act play as One Act, without an interval, does the music and, possibly, the comprehension of this work some harm. A respite, discussion over coffee or drink in my experience, in the interval,often prepares the audience for the second half advantageously. Antonia Fraser in her memoir of her time with Pinter: MUST YOU GO? - MY LIFE WITH HAROLD PINTER (2010) remarks "Nothing causes Harold more pain than unlawful interference with his text".

TALKING THEATRE - Interviews with Theatre People - Richard Eyre. Nick Hern Books, 2009.

POWER PLAY - The Life and Times of PETER HALL - Stephen Fay. Hodder and Stoughton,1995.

EDWARD ALBEE - A Singular Journey. A Biography - Mel Gussow. Simon and Schuster, 1999.

CHANGING STAGES -A View of British and American Theatre in the Twentieth Century - Richard Eyre and Nicholas Wright. Alfred A. Knopf, New York -2001.

The program notes from the Sydney Theatre program.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Birthday Boys

ION NIBIRU supported by The NIDA Springboard program present THE BIRTHDAY BOYS. A play by Aaron Kozak in the Parade Studio, Parade Theatres, Kensington.

THE BIRTHDAY BOYS is a new USA play (2010) by a young writer, Aaron Kozak. It's preoccupation deals with the hyper boredom of a group of soldiers on  an army base. Three soldiers are dragged into a room, blindfolded and bound, hand and foot. We see these young men in a dazed and dangerous imprisonment act-out a scenario of personal blame, reprisal and fantasy whilst awaiting the outcome of their capture. Finally they meet an interrogator and his henchmen, they are filmed for propaganda purposes and then a threatening cross examination and actions of torture begin. What follows is a turn about of a most dramatic kind.

The first half of the play with the three blindfolded soldiers wresting out their personal relationships under high stakes pressure (Chris Galletti, Matt Hardie, Anthony Taufa), does not move forward arrestingly enough. Little really happens dramatically or thematically, and the fact that the actors are virtually faceless (blind folded) and incapacitated with binding, does not permit a clear enough dramatic identification and empathy for any of the men from the audience, despite some sense of the gallows humour of panic of frightened young men in a gruesome circumstance. A torpor of interest in the narrative and characters descends.

The interval could sorely tempt you to go home.


Do come back, for in the second half, with the arrival of the leader of the interrogating team (James Elliott), some gripping dramatic tension begins and nerve-rackingly, if narratively, slightly to familiarly, builds to a really wonderful surprise of events. Three other men reveal themselves (Nigel Turner-Carroll, Zac Drayson, Geordie Robinson) and a wonderful twist to one's expectations ensues.

The play reflects the core concerns, themes of the Sam Mendes film JARHEAD - The boredom and the danger of it, prolonged, in an unpredictable  war zone.

The performances are uniformly good, with Mr Robinson and Drayson particularly convincing in their 'dorngo' characterisations. Mr Elliott is earnestly subtle in the duplicitous role of The Leader. There is a cursory design of wooden platforms and boxes, the costumes are mostly army uniform and the lighting modest in its input to the atmospherics of the production - reflecting a shoe string budget. Darren Gilshenan has directed with an invisible hand and lets the play speak its tale without any need or temptation of a personal stamp.

This play and production for ION NIBIRU is the second for this fledgling company. SOMEONE WHO'LL WATCH OVER ME (Frank MacGuinness) presented in 2010, at the Pact Theatre, also reflected upon the behaviour of incarcerated prisoners of war. The company plans a third play to complete a trilogy of variant perspective on this exploration of the human spirit under duress. Certainly, this production represents a maturing of approach under the hand of Mr Gilshenan and one looks forward to the further flowering of the intentions and skills of this ambitious and sincere group of artists.

Maybe a commission to an Australian writer for a contemporary war play might be of interest. The absence of this subject matter from the Australian repertoire is staggering, considering the continued presence of our soldiers overseas and the family tragedies that our press-media briefly mention. After a relatively contemporary Irish and American perspective on war and its affect, the Australian experience would be an interesting conclusion to ION NIBIRU's trilogy (see blog THE WHITE GUARD).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fat Swan

Showqueen Productions presents FAT SWAN - An Adults Only Christmas Panto at the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre.

"Showqueen", "Fat Swan", "Adults Only Christmas Panto" are all clues and concepts to the boisterous, ridiculous, rough and ready, vulgarity that one can catch at the Seymour Centre in FAT SWAN.

Trevor Ashley and Phil Scott found inspiration from the psychological thriller film event of this/last year, BLACK SWAN, by Darren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman, and have gleefully, but, for my expectation and money, too superficially, parodied and crammed into the form of the classic Christmas Panto format a show called FAT SWAN.

Mr Ashley as Natalie Portly a ballerina, doubling in the trad panto widow function, leads his cast of brave and intrepid actors: Tara Morice, Lisa Adam and  Reality TV Showhunk, Brendan Moar through the trials and tribulations of most of the high moments of the film in the high style of travesty.  (Some of us might call the style just "over-the-top-campery"). For added to that scenario are famous show tunes, that some of us know, with new lyrics (Musical Director, Daniel Edmonds), dance numbers (Choreography, Cameron Mitchell) and  panto interactions with the audience,(be prepared if you are seated around the the cabaret-style tables),  including showers of lollies, and a plethora of entertainment industry in-jokes, that some may need a glossary to get. And do take good heed of the warning that "FAT SWAN contains strong language and adult themes." You might need to consider, who you take to this show, for not a lot of the humour is P.C. (but then, you wouldn't be going if you expected something else, like good taste, would you?).

The audience, the fans, generally, had a raucously good time. The closer you sit, probably the better. It is a steeply raked auditorium and one could feel, as we did, even in Row G, just slightly out of the realm of infectious surrender to the vibe.If you indulge in the diplomacy of bibulation before and during (and after) it might also aid your enjoyment.

FAT SWAN is Mr Ashley and C.o under the direction of Garry Scale, kicking up thir heels or on their toes for this end of year "concert". It certainly still needs work, tinkering with, but even in its present knock-about-state is capable of keeping you amused.

Two years ago, prior to Mr Ashley's performance tour in HAIRSPRAY,  I fell under the admiring spell of his talent when I saw him in I'M EVERY WOMAN at the Sydney Opera House. FAT SWAN does not give an inkling of his real gifts and talent (His voice slightly 'ragged' on Saturday night) and I look forward to his return in Cabaret format next year - he plugs that promised offering shamelessly, all through the night. Book for that.

Paul Capsis and iota were present on the night I went to see the show. If you add Eddie Perfect, Miaow Miaow and the up and coming Sheridan Harbridge (See blog, SLOWBOAT TO CHINAMANS) there is a staggering wealth of talent available to scintillate and confront around on our cabaret circuit.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Horses Mouth: "'Hell For Leather"

Bambina Borracha Productions in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers Theatre Company presents THE HORSE'S MOUTH - A Festival of Autobiographical Performance at the Old Fitzroy Theatre.

THE HORSE'S MOUTH - A Festival of Autobiographical Performance , is made up of three programs: Bolted, Hell For Leather & One Trick Pony. 10 writers, 11 actors and directors have been curated and present essentially a collection of monologues.

I attended the second program, 'Hell For Leather': THIS IS NOT A POSSUM written and performed by Zoe Norton Lodge and HOME written and performed by Jono Burns. Both of these pieces are extended monologues, almost, short one man (woman), one act plays.

THIS IS NOT A POSSUM  is a very interesting long prose/poem that is whimsical, amusing and very, very absorbing. Ms Lodge performs the piece with a very serious and slightly neurotic energy. The acting skills are relatively limited (with shouting an option often elected for emphasis), but totally attractive and cleverly, communicative. It has a modest confidence and inspires surrender to the world and incidents created. Accompanied by a musician (Emily Irvine) with small but well placed percussive supports and mood settings the language of the carefully written piece are arresting and intriguing. The video-media offers (Vanessa Hughes) seemed to be really extraneous and ultimately distracting - unnecessary, really. The text and the performance stand on their own very, very well. I enjoyed it enormously. It could perhaps be slightly pruned. My concentration wavered a little in the last two thirds.

HOME by Jono Burns is a long 60 minute piece that is definitely autobiographical. Based around Mr Burns New York Acting Training Course, we are taken on a journey of encounter with the diverse members of his class and teachers and other wild denizens of the city. The writing follows a well worn path of actors telling stories of their training and crises of living in a strange place and although the subject matter is over familiar the structure of the piece, intruded by an emotional connection to affairs way back at home in Australia gives the monologue an equilibrium of comedy and an arresting emotional maturing of the storyteller. One is pleasantly teased to stay 'hooked' to the experience. The writing is clear and well observed. The skill of Mr Burns as a performer adds enormously to the pleasure of this storytelling - he creates swiftly and convincingly a wide range of characters and manages, mostly to remain 'plugged' into the swift emotional and technical adjustments demanded by the writing. Two innocuous but charmingly innocent musicians create musical interlude and brief character observers- interactors during the action. Neither are credited in the program. A delightful and unpretentious sophistication about the whole piece. Is it slightly too long, Jono?

Tim Spencer, Phil Spencer, Zoe Coombs Marr make up the first program: BOLTED.

Scarlett Mcglynn, Betty Grumble, Alex Vaughan, Nick Coyle and Lucinda Gleeson make up the third program: One Trick Pony.

Playing alternate nights until 17th December.

Grumble to the producers: I just hate a show beginning late. I hate it even more when a show begins late without any explanations. The night  we went, it was almost 8.20pm before it began. What, the actor was not available or what? We were all there on time and we didn't have to be there to start with. No explanation and worse, no apology! Just plain discourteous to your paying public. 8pm means 8pm in the real world. If the Ms Lodge had not been so winning, so quickly I would have been ropeable and not too sympathetic to their efforts.

 It is about the pre-show vibe as well, you know?

Games in the Backyard

Netta Yashchin and ATYP Under the Wharf present GAMES IN THE BACKYARD by Edna Mazya. Translated by Hani Furstenberg & Naom Shmuel at ATPY, Wharf 4.

GAMES IN THE BACKYARD is an Israeli play written in 1993, by Edna Mazya and is based on an infamous, true story of the rape of a young girl by a group of  young boys. It juxtaposes the life style and motivations of the youth living in Kibbutz Shalom, Israel in 1988, and that of the male legal system that dealt with the aftermath of this crime in the courts.

The rampant and blatant male chauvinism of the culture is examined in a very confronting manner. The roles of the boys and the young female victim are alternated, by the actors, with the adult roles of the Defence Counselllors and the Prosecutor. The switch from one character to the other by the actors underlines, dynamically, the savage ironies of the culture: what you learn as a child you practice as an adult and where pursuit of the law and its victories overrides any reality of justice. The theme, thus becomes universal and hits home penetratingly. The passion of the writer Edna Mazya is obvious.

No doubt Netta Yashcin, the director and co-producer of this production, also carries the passion and sense of outrage at the male chauvinism and sexual discrimination of the world of the play. Ms Yashchin has the capacity, as she demonstrated in her earlier work on the Sydney Chamber Opera première: NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND,  to organise and present images, pictures of 'post-dramatic' interest for an keen, interpretative audience. The visual contol of her work with  the actors and her lighting designer Sara Swersky is arresting, as is the spare design solution of the space by Lisa Mimmocchi - simply, an equipped children's playground for one world, alternated with isolating light positions for the courtroom.

However, what Ms Yashchin does not have, is the ability to help the actors create characters that are believable. No matter the passion of the writing it is all undermined if the performances are not acceptably convincing. Cast in the pivotal role of the young female victim, Dvori Machnes, and the female prosecutor, Jessica Palyga appears to be way out of her depth - miscast, massively. The work, in both characterisations is posed, performed, pretended - the 'ego' of the actor's confidence dominates the work. Ms Palyga has no capacity to centre her voice for believable ownership of either characterisation, or convincingly physically inhabit her dual tasks. There is no doubt Ms Palyga has a good intellectual conceptual comprehension of who the people she is playing are, but did not reveal any sophisticated craft to truthfully embody either of them. The use of her actor's instrument is immature and as the role is central and also partly culpable to the crimes, a charisma of great empathy is required for the audience to sympathise. This actor must, truthfullly, convincingly drive the play, and as Ms Palgya cannot, it leaves the other performers in an invidious position of embarrassment. The men of the company, most of whom I have seen perform before, creditably: Carl Batchelor, Joseph Del Re, Michael Rebetzke and Dorje Swallow, have no reality to convincingly play  opposite to create with and from, so, also fail, to engage us to any convincing capacity.

Put simply, the acting was not good. For instance, the deliberate 'dance' of the rape was conceptually highly stylised by Ms Yashchin and excruciatingly painful to watch, but not because of the emotional confrontation, which was intended, but because of the patent lack of the organic belief of the actors who intellectually pretended their way through the demands of the scene. The  audience was placed in an uncomfortable position of detachment and critical objectivity of the craft of the company. The passion behind the writing, and probably behind the reason for choosing this play for Sydney audiences to witness by Ms Yashchin, was completely undermined by the actors contribution. There is a line in the play from the Prosecutor that was approximately: "Whoever is in control is also responsible." This resonated with me enormously and one must seriously question the dirctor's capacity to assist the actors she has been responsible in casting to tell this story. A basic skill I would reckon for a director.

This gulf, between the ability of many of the contemporary directors to wonderfully, intellectually, conceive a production, contrasted with their ability to deal with the "nuts and bolts" of the craft of directing the actors and other artists to a successful resolution of those concepts for an audience, is boringly, a regular and catastrophic experience, on our stages. It is a palpable trend of a lot of our theatre in Sydney where young intellectuals given a directorial opportunity, ignore the initiator of their creative impulses - the writer - and reach for the 'post-dramatic' solution (See blog on GROSS UND KLEIN) - but are then underequipped to use the other collaborative artists, to achieve a satisfying experience for the audience. It is as if the 'kids' have been given the 'car' to drive but only understand how it works, and driven, theoretically. It  is the difference between an academic thesis and a performing/performer's artist skill, intuitive and learned or refined or all of the aforementioned. The over extended use of the Sound Design by Guy Vincent French, usually accompanying and covering very clumsy scene and costume changes  was often inappropriate and noisy. Ms Yashchin seemed oblivious to the actors standing quietly waiting for the sound cue to disappear before continuing with the next scene.  The audience was not. Impetus and the rhythm of the play were disjointed by this willful wrongheadedness.

Ms Yashchin's production of WOYZECK, too, suffered from her tendency to conceptualise and see the installation images of the work and have no real ability to help her actors to realise it with her. That work fell between the vivid image or dynamic physical gestures that rendered a 'feeling' and an vague understanding of the textual language that rendered a confused understanding of character and narrative. The audience were given a series of partly rendered realisations and the actors were caught in the awkward no man's land of having to perform a production that was unable to communicate consistently. Ms Yashchin, there, as here, with GAMES IN THE BACKYARD, failed to facilitate a believeable enactment of the story and its issues.

From the publicity notes: "This is an emotionally charged, dramatic, strong and chilling play promising you versatility and an electric vibe from a young and dynamic group of virtuoso performers and artists."
True about the play but unfortunately not true about the production.

The great and only asset of this production was the introduction to a well regarded Israeli writer I had not seen before, Edna Mazya.

N.B. That while Ms Yashchin has a full page, extensive biographical note of her career in the program, there is no information provided on the writer, Edna Mazya, the inspiration for all this work. Neither are the translators given a background record. This is not a unique occurrence in contemporary Sydney Theatre. This double omission was true for The Griffin Independent production of THE UGLY ONE as well. The writer totally ignored in appreciation. Is there some Freudian 'twitch' going on here, or just a kind of belief of the director as auteur?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gross und Klein

Sydney Theatre Company presents GROSS UND KLEIN by Botho Strauss at the Sydney Theatre (BIG AND SMALL, English Text by Martin Crimp).

GROSS UND KLEIN (Big and Small) by Botho Strauss premièred at the Schaubhne am, Halleschen Ufer, Berlin in December, 1978, directed by Peter Stein. In 1988 the Sydney Theatre Company presented BIG AND LITTLE under the guest direction of German, Harald Clemen, with Robyn Nevin in the lead role of Lotte (the play has also been produced at the National Institute of Dramatic Art). GROSS UND KLEIN directed by Benedict Andrews (replacing Luc Bondy) and starring Cate Blanchett has been, for this production, for the Sydney Theatre Company, translated by Martin Crimp.

Botho Strauss was one of the theatre artists that Peter Stein gathered around himself at the Schaubuhne in what was then West Berlin, during that period when he was "establishing the dominance of avant-garde, director-led theatre for which Germany" has become famous (today the Schbaubuhne is dominated by the work of Thomas Ostermeier, a favourite of Australian Art Festivals -  Benedict Andrews and Simon Stone and several other young Australian artists are acolytes of this director and company). In 'the mid-1960's "...German playwrights were concerned with the failings of society and a realistic form of drama rooted in everyday life began to emerge ... Leading this tradition was Marxist writer Franz-Xaver Kroetz  (STALLERHOF; DAS NEST). ... Others who were highly critical of contemporary life yet apolitical in their outlook included Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard (HELDENPLATZ) and Botho Strauss."

Botho Stauss "inspired by philosopher Theodor Adorno, and collaborating with prominent theatrical figures including Bernhard and Kroetz...  sought to develop his playwriting and its engagement within the complexities of daily life. He became interested in notions of materialism and alienation, and in the representation of characters struggling with their subconsciousness. GROSS UND KLEIN was one of Strauss' early successes, and follows the character Lotte as she journeys from location to location, through ten scenes, seeking to understand modern life and her place within it."

Lotte (Cate Blanchett) is found, abandoned, alone, in a hotel room in Morocco, who in the infernal heat cannot find the sleep of the just and so listens eagerly to the conversation of two men, two other guests, on the verandah outside her room, her window. Her husband, Paul, has disappeared and is in her home city, Saarbrucken - and she sees "a life of separation" spooling out in front of her.

She has: "Eleven more days in Agadir.
               Time passes.
               All I've done so far is gain weight.
               Everything is very simple : nothing's right.
               Time passes, but not the way it should."

She feels: "Greed, envy, disinterest,
                 avarice,  and zeal-
                 these are the passions
                 that have afflicted our Siesta Tour the worst.
                 And drinking.
                 ...Eleven more days in Agadir.

She struggles with the beautiful voices of the men.
she overhears and is moved by the voice :
                      " Yes ! ... Yes!"

She becomes: "A fraid.
                       A fraid fraid fraid".
She has vision:                         
                      "Behold , man will
                       depart from this earth
                       and be done in all his works.
                       After him the earth will redden with
                       shame and fruitfulness.
                       The gardens and the fields will
                       enter into the empty cities;
                       the antelopes will browse in the rooms
                       and the wind will gently leaf through open books.
                       The earth will be unmanned and will bloom.
                       Freed from all its prophets, fettered hope
                       will be redeemed and will grow rich in the silence.
                       Freightless the sea lulls itself,
                       the land wanders untrodden and the air plays in tall flowers.
                       And it will be so for one thousand two hundred and sixty days ...
                       what does that mean? How did I arrive at
                       one thousand two hundred and sixty days?
                       That adds up to about four years.
                       Four years, not quite. Four years of what?"

She ponders:    "Nice voices.
                        Can you hear?
                        Better now than then."

She smiles:       "Crazy."

Deserted, her world balance askew, crazy, from emotional loss and the dreary heat, Lotte returns home and  begins an odyssey across the landscape of her Germany, in the urgency of her knowledge of the future coming. She is not going to wait, she will not be waiting, like Vladimir and Estragon, for Godot, but will be found searching, more and more desperately searching, as the play moves through a further nine scenes, for Godot.

GROSS UND KLEIN: Lotte searching for Godot !!??

In 1978 this was a Germany still divided, as Mr Andrews in the program notes says - "in a country which no longer exists ...(but) now, the Germany Lotte wanders through might be thought of as a fairytale of the West. …a place haunted by social imbalance, mass layoffs, deregulated markets and a worldwide ecological crisis. The inhabitants of this country (this world) suffer from a kind of mental exhaustion ... The possibility of the extinction of the species hovers over the entire play." And as the conference of the European Union (the Euro Zone) countries convenes over concerns of the present monetary collapse; the Arab Spring - Libya, Syria, Iran, Israel; the Russian election protests over the United Russia party and Putin; the selling of uranium by Australia to India, and the tit for tat demands of Pakistan, the uncertainties of Coal Seam Gas mining on our environment, makes this play dramatically urgent and heartbreakingly distressing. Botho Strauss writing in a country that within his life experience stands between the absolute of the Holocaust and the absolute of the Bomb (consequently, the Nuclear Cold War Race) is still a frightening prophet for our more jaded and fragile times - 2011. GROSS UND KLEIN is still relevant, frighteningly so.

Frightening, for after this journey, and witnessing a world where the people: family, friends and strangers, are venal, sterile and empty, blind, hollow and selfish, Lotte finishes the play in the room of an internist, in the company of patients. Gradually the patients are called, one by one, into the surgery, they return and leave, and so the room clears, and Lotte sits alone in that waiting room.

The Doctor enters and sees her -

Doctor: Haven't you been called?

Lotte:   No.
            I'm just sitting here.

Doctor: Did you have an appointment for this morning?

Lotte:   No. I'm just sitting here.
            There's nothing wrong with me.

Doctor: Please leave.

Lotte:   Yes.

And so Lotte leaves and walks off into an infinite darkness. An infinite darkness. She has not found her Godot.

We applaud, shuffle from our seats and walk out into the darkness of a strangely cold summer night. Strange and cold. Odd, strange and cold. Crazy weather. Crazy! And as I climb up the concrete stairs beside the theatre, up the facaded cliff face, to the bus terminus at the base of historic Observatory Hill, I wonder is that Lotte I observe ahead of me? Hey! Hey! Lotte wandering off ahead of me into the strange, cold darkness of this late November night somewhere before midnight ? As I stand, holding the play in my hands, in the enveloping darkness, both real and metaphoric, the world of Botho Strauss' prophetising, declares, it may be closer to midnight than I know. "Afraid." The 339 to Clovelly whisks me through the city sites, sights, sights of varying disrepair and despair,in fluorescent light, to a view of the lulled Pacific Ocean - a sighing collective unconsciousness (???).

Cate Blanchett as Lotte gives a tour de force performance. For the qualities that Ms Blanchett gave us, in the recent past, in tantalisingly disciplined creations as HEDDA GABLER, Richard II in THE WAR OF THE ROSES, Blanche Dubois in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and Yeliena in last year's UNCLE VANYA, are unleashed here, in a torrent of continuous and grand gesture, rarely leaving the stage, riding delectably, the boundaries of her creative intelligence, as applied to the opportunities of this enormous role, and demonstrating the glorious technical range of her actor's instrument. The vocal work is an inspiration for all other artists (see my blog on JULIUS CAESAR) and the physical dexterity is awesome in its seeming ease and daring. Drama, pathos, comedy all covered and all managed with the greatest aplomb. Artistry and an artist of great standing.

The set design by guest, Johannes Schutz, of movable pieces of location realities in exquisite selective visual suggestions, surrounded by an enormous blacked walled box, expertly and brilliantly lit by Nick Schliepper, and decorated with carefully and ingeniously dressed actors, both in style and colour pallet, by Alice Babidge, encased in a throbbing and extravagant sound design by Max Lyandvert creates a  showcase for this work that is apt and attractive.

The supporting company are, despite their relative under use (dramatically, some are seen shifting furniture and props more often than actually acting) are committed and true. Lynette Curran, Anita Hegh manage to stand out in this company, in the work they have to give.

And, yet.

Yet? My summary experience of the play as performance,on the night, is uncomfortably underwhelming. In retrospect, too. Whilst watching, I  was entranced, enraptured by the magic of the artist, Cate Blanchett. This is now over a week ago, I've had to sort out, to find, a clearer circumspection, there is an element of contiguity, a sense, a state, that the work  of Botho Strauss is only in close proximity, it is not actually touching us, coalescing. It is near but not there. It is not one. I needed to re-read the play to grasp the reasoning for its place in the Sydney theatre cultural landscape. There is this remarkable performance by Ms Blanchett , and, then, there is this potentially devastating play, enshrouded in this production by Mr Andrews. Indeed, some of my friends loved her, but couldn't understand why the play was been done at all. It didn't connect or mean a thing to them. And, as I have intimated above, it should. It really should.

Whoever is in control must carry the responsibility, I guess. Benedict Andrews is the director, and, I suggest must bear the responsibility of this miss.

The text by Martin Crimp, used (commissioned?) by the Sydney Theatre Company, is not available and so the quotations above are from an earlier translation by Anne Cattaneo for Farrar/Straus/Giroux (New York), 1979. The production on the stage, using the Crimp, is really more an adaptation than a translation when compared, and, I felt to the detriment of the playwright's intentions.

One of the features of the Cattaneo version is that Lotte's journey  reveals the 'desolate' world around her in much detail, not just the observation of Lotte's experience. Mr Crimp and Andrews have filleted the play down to a focus on Lotte. Whole sequences in the 1979 version are absent from this production (For instance, the last episode (16) in the Catteano, of the remarkable third sequence of TEN ROOMS, involving a slide night in the room of the Old Man and Woman (Martin Vaughan and Lynette Curran), witnessed by some of the house with a conspicuous empty chair, that one assumes is for Lotte, and, significantly, she does not appear, to use it, has been removed). Other characters have had their presence, 'voices', severely edited so that they barely exist as living entities of worthy observation, simply, set dressing background e.g. the Guitar Player (Josh McConville) and the Research Assistants; The Turk (Yalin Ozucelik).

This editing shifts the focus from the observed society around Lotte, the world that is been painfully and minutely examined by Botho Strauss. In the Crimp version Lotte alone is of significance to Strauss. The rest of the world of Strauss,  has been reduced to representations of mere serviceable tokens, almost visual caricatures of the world, instead of concrete examples of the reality of the environment that Lotte lives in. Instead of a world of some detail of Lotté's journey, we simply have a focus on the gradual disintegration of one person. The power of Botho Strauss' observations and vision of a world where 'corruption'of all kinds is so pervasive,and textually presented, have been undercut. So, what we do  have? A virtuosic actress revealing magnificently " an angel, a fool, a clown, (a) hopeless , hapless... soul in isolation ..." And that is only part of the Strauss vision in the Ms Cattaneo translation. Is this why I feel, at the end of this production, bewildered, unmoved by the play? No matter the performance of Ms Blanchett?

I also began to detect an unsure hand from Mr Andrews as to what kind of text, play, he was working with here, and, even, that he had no sure insights or technique to help his actors solve the problems of the scenes that he and Mr Crimp have devised from the original, to communicate the Stauss, or, even Crimp, Andrews intent, to the audience in any consistency.

In a program note, placed beside an enigmatic photograph of Benedict Andrews, looking like some figure in a Renaissance religious painting - (a prophet of his time?) - is a quotation, an excerpt from Hans-Thies Lehmann's POSTDRAMATIC THEATRE, translated by Karen Jurs-Munby (Routledge, London and New York 2006), we may gather some of the aesthetic of the director and an entrance to his vision, (I presume):
…Painters speak of states, the states of images in the process of creation ...Effectively, the category appropriate to the new theatre is not action but states. Theatre here deliberately negates, or at least relegates to the background, the possibility of developing a narrative - a possibility that is after all peculiar to it as a time based art. The state is an aesthetic configuration of the theatre, showing a formation rather than a story, even though living actors play in it. It is no coincidence that many practitioners of postdramatic theatre started out in the visual arts. Postdramatic theatre is a theatre of states and of scenically dynamic formations.
On reflection, back to Mr Andrews production of THE WAR OF THE ROSES, which was a radical evisceration of Shakespeare's texts by Mr Andrews and Tom Wright, it was the visual images that were the dynamic thrust of the experience and indeed, for me, is the principal memory I have of the production: The visual artistry at the beginning of the STC epic, in a rain of gold leaf, and finishing many, many hours later, through many, many other "scenic dynamic formations",  in a rain of ash. It was "a production of states and of scenically dynamic formations." That Mr Andrews had manipulated the text for his postdramatic exploration was a convenient asset for his intentions. The purpose of this post dramatic gesturing is "striving to produce an effect amongst the spectators rather than to remain true to the text". This, with this work, Mr Andrews achieved controversially among the patrons of the Sydney theatre audience. Heiner Muller and Heiner Goebbels are champions of this technique of exploration. That they write their own material to do this, is a considerable part of their achievement.

In this production of GROSS UND KLEIN, however, the textual manipulation has not been radical at all and in the schematic comparisons with THE WAR OF THE ROSES is rather slight. The form structure and narrative of this altered version from the original by Mr Crimp, has not been easily adulterated to achieve the art-school visual summaries of the episodes of this play, to negate, or even relegate to the background, the narrative. The production, then, falls between two stools of intent - the writer's (Botho Strauss) original, and the director's, (Benedict Andrews) inclinations as an artist. This play by Botho Strauss seems to me an inheritance of the work of Bertold Brecht rather than anything of say, a postdramatic artist like Muller. I see, Brecht's narrative techniques influence and shadowing the shape and intentions of GROSS UND KLEIN. Lotte on her terrifying journey of quest and scene meetings as a parallel to that of Grusha and her flight across another world in cultural turmoil in THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE (1943-45/1948). And although the scenic decisions made by Mr Andrews and Mr Schutz are attractive they do not hold the same dynamic force of the ROSES and is dominated, rather, by the narrative and linear expression of the text. The visuals are in service much more to the dramatic text rather than any postdramatic assertion in the program.

Mr Andrews' handling of some of the elements of the textural narrative are often opaque and fail to communicate the point of the episodes. Scene 6, "Family in a Garden", is an instance in point. The actors seem to be texturally, stylistically at odds with each other, the physical staging clumsy and incoherent, and the time spent with it, became for me, more concerned with the image of the furniture anchored in concrete 'feet'. The textural density of the scene as it still exists in this version of the play remains a puzzlement in the hands of Mr Andrews.

Is there a tentativeness in Mr Andrews handling of Ms Blanchett? For although she claims that Mr Andrews made big and new demands on her in rehearsal, such is the choice of some of the work on the stage, one wonders did he ever suggest that less may be more? Was he in awe? For although it is not the job of a director to tell an actor what to do - a cliché, indeed - it is the job of the director to do more than to offer a proposition of exploration. It is his job to encourage the actor to "connect the dots", but also to be the outside eye to advise the actor when there is a superfluity of "dots". The latter scene choices of Lotte as "a comedienne dancing on the edge of an abyss" seemed in the physical demonstrations by Ms Blanchett, although virtuosic and astounding, to overstate the Strauss intentions. In an interview with Elissa Blake in The Sydney Morning Herald (November 12-13, 2011), Cate Blanchett and Benedict Andrews both laugh at the 'smelly' idea that playing Lotte could be perceived as a "vanity project". Some might proffer that this could indeed be a possibility here, given the permissive choices encouraged by Mr Andrews, and in the light of the editing of the original text at the expense of the Strauss world-picture (and the other actors textual opportunities).

An amazing performance from Cate Blanchett of a very interesting play in a flawed production by Benedict Andrews. One is glad to have seen Ms Blanchett once again exploring for the Sydney audience her great gifts but bewildered as to why this play is the vehicle of this recent, annual event (alas, not next year).

GROSS UND KLEIN is co-commissioned by Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, Barbican London and London 2012 Festival using funds from the National Lottery, Theatre de la Ville and Wiener Festwochen.

I am curious as to the choice of play for the London 2012 Festival, part of the London Cultural Olympiad program. It is featured in the general advertising of the Festival as a chance to see Cate Blanchett on the London stage for the first time in 13 years. In a German play, with a German Designer, and, originally a German Director. Could the Sydney Theatre Company not have had the foresight to commission an Australian playwright and full Australian artistic company to represent the Sydney Theatre Company, to be part of the Cultural Olympiad?

I would have thought a revival of Nigel Jameison's STC production of GALLIPOLI would have been a more appropriate choice (perhaps they are keeping that in reserve for the 2015, the Centenary observance of that war?). I simply seek information as to the where and why for, of this decision. I guess funding of such a journey might be part of the answer. If so, let us hope the Australian Government takes more interest in the Arts as an ambassadorial tool if that is the case. Yes?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Julius Caesar

Bell Shakespeare present JULIUS CAESAR by William Shakespeare at the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House.

Dear Diary,

I am going to fulminate.

William Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR has been adapted for the Bell Shakespeare Company by playwright/actress Kate Mulvany with the Director, Peter Evans.

Ms Mulvany makes a confession in her program notes that "Until this time last year, JULIUS CAESAR was not a play that I held close. Like many others, it was 'that play about war and men and togas and speeches' ". Well to be pedantic, there are only three others like it, in the Shakespeare canon, that fit the above criteria of war, men, togas and speeches: TITUS ANDRONICUS (1592), ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (1606), and CORIOLANUS (1608). JULIUS CAESAR was written in 1599 following on from HENRY V (1598-9) and just before AS YOU LIKE IT (1599 - 1600), and the greatest of them all, HAMLET (1600-1601). Shakespeare, then, at the height of his powers (arguably).

JULIUS CAESAR is a favourite English study in high schools, still. A legacy, perhaps, of a time when the classic languages of Greek and Latin were generally part of the curricula, and the principal source material of this play being Plutarch's PARALLEL LIVES would be a study tool in the Latin classes. That, besides the attractive macho charismatics of men at war and the Machiavellian intrigues of ambition and the dicing with the virtues of Honour and Loyalty that youth of a certain stage of development, physically, sexually and emotionally might find tantalising, makes JULIUS CAESAR a very male-friendly school text and subject indeed.

What Ms Mulvany has sliced and diced, and adapted Shakespeare's play to, is a focused study of the psychological, internal struggles of the principals: Brutus (Colin Moody), Mark Antony (Daniel Frederiksen), Cassius (Kate Mulvany), Julius Caesar (Alex Menglet) and latterly (in this adaptation, briefly) Octavius (Rebecca Bower). Shakespeare in his great rhetorical verse flourishes, in monologue and scene exchanges, deftly manages his burgeoning craft skills for his pre-Freudian revelations. There is much to brood upon and seemingly, oppositionally, to flourish. Much for actors of quality to pounce upon with relish. The internal life - inner monologue at one boundary edge of the challenge (20th Century, Stanislavski Technique!!) to communicate, and on the further, other boundary, the use of language as the imaginative, in the moment tool, of revelation (16th Century traditions of verse rhetoric). Here is an attempt to underline the tragic insights into the humanity of these men in a thoroughly contemporary manner, alongside the histrionics of the era of the playwright's theatrical world of  "words, words, words."

What Ms Mulvany, and her accomplice in this adaptation, Mr Evans, is not interested in is the war scenes on the Plains of Philippi. They have been heavily edited and one of the delicious directorial problems removed. The final acts of the play have been excised, decimated really, and the school boys, probably thwarted in their vicarious pleasure expectations. Or, as in my case, the thrill of how this company will solve this famously towering directorial, story problem. Simple, for this Bell JULIUS CAESAR, don't do it. Shakespeare avoided, some may argue diminished, thereby.

All these actors reveal the grasp of contemporary acting technique. Stanislavski rules. Their  inner monologues richly invented, daringly indicated in pause and ellipse, intriguingly suggested with secondary activities, accompanied by great emotional and physical choices. The inner struggles, the inner monological turmoils, are paramount in their performances, and intellectually, they seem to be on top of the parallel journeys of story and emotional narrative. Much was seen to be felt.

The problem for all of these actors (except Ms Bowers,perhaps), is that none have the vocal command to serve this great writer's unique and great achievement: the language. This basic requirement for this form of text responsibility is not present and we only see the feelings and thoughts, and because of the apparent vocal impairments of this company, we don't know why they have these feelings and thoughts, because the text is muffled, strangulated, ugly, unpleasant, and difficult to listen too.


Their instruments, generally lack range and flexibility. A crump horn at their service and not a trumpet. The 16th Century glory of Shakespeare, the great heritage of the English language in the present 21st century, is unable to be delivered in any particularity of harmony. These actors, generally, are able, or, have been encouraged to communicate Shakespeare's verse and prose in welters, blocks of generalised emotional noise, only. The sense of what they are saying is carried by the emotions, the internalised life, instead of the detailed use of sound, the sounds of the individual word that expands to particular phraseology, sentence structure and verse argument. The relish of the sounds and the vital imaginative 'click' of the words does not fuse in their identities and give these actors any 'mouth' sensation. Pleasure. Shakespeare's words are not digested by these actor's and served as gifts to us. The challenge is beyond them. Only half of the requirements that this kind of play presents were on offer. The unique, the rare, the unequalled reason why Shakespeare is a star in the canon of so called classic theatre, is not within most of these actors gambit. A GOOD VOICE.

What is that?

On page 96 of John Bell's new book, ON SHAKESPEARE, published this year, 2011, by Allen and Unwin, Mr Bell gives a list of what he looks for when auditioning actors for his company: "Someone whose voice is compelling and pleasant to listen to. It has range, colour, expression and flexibility…".

The actors are in various contemporary suited clothes of grey and black (Set and Costume Designer: Anna Cordingley). On the set for this production, which looks like a contemporary foyer or meeting room of grey carpet, surrounded by 14 arm rest, black leather chairs, in the far right upstage corner stands a corroded, ruined Roman column, with parasitical flora growing on it and around it, shielded by silver scaffolding (which grows into a tower of protection, by the play's end) - a very trendy interior design. But progressively as the actors revealed the quality of their voices, I twigged that this column was a metaphor for the ruined vocal instruments of this company. An ironic illustration of the sound of the verse speaking quality of these contemporary actors!? The rough, guttural drone of Mr Menglet as a post stroke victim Caesar; the nasal coarseness of Ms Mulvany; the slightly strangled high tenor of Mr Moody and the complete lack of any vocal colour of any imaginative support from Mr Frederiksen's ruined instrument, was encapsulated in this genius stroke of design.

Mr Evans must be held culpable for choosing these voices and/or guiding them to this limited means of expression. Cicely Berry, the Royal Shakespeare Company's Voice Director has written several books, on the voice for the actor, especially for the challenges of the actor of verse - Shakespeare. Her book, FROM WORD TO PLAY (2008), talks most refinedly about the actor's craft in what I would call sound sculpting. The innate need for man to communicate to each other began with sounds. These sounds were gradually shaped into words that expressed needs, emotions and gave those sounds concrete definitions, ultimately by surrounding the vowels with consonants. This was when man was, metaphorically 'a baby' inventing the languages to communicate. It is this sensitivity to the formula constructs of the sounds in each of our words that the actor must be alert to, fully fill out the communicative value of the words, the onomatopoetic qualities of the words. To acknowledge and do the baby steps in speaking and communicating to an audience, this playwright. The body language does follow these impulses. These actors did not demonstrate any such care or approach to skill.

Since seeing this production, several weeks ago, on which I have had considerable struggle to respond too, and this is my second go at it, I attended a screening of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO on the big screen. Alec Guinness, in a small supporting, but key narrative role, used his voice in such a way that every word carried an intelligent emotional, detailed life of its own. One could 'see' and consequently 'feel' what he said as a visceral experience, that added up into sentence and speech information, intention and argument. Sounds, language communicating on many levels. It is, and was thrilling and relaxing, and invited me to participate with him. This sound is what I did not experience with this company - Australia's premiere Shakespearean Company.

Some of you may argue that 1 - Guinness is English, and 2 - of a different theatre value generation, and 3 -that it is no longer necessary. It is a craft technique that is no longer useful. A technique of the past.

But then, that same night I attended the Sydney Theatre Company's production of GROSS UND KLEIN and heard Cate Blanchett do the equivalent of the Guinness brilliance with language - it is not an antiquated concept of craft or contemporary playing choice, it is simply the difference between a fully prepared actor, dedicated to the great challenges of acting and preparing the instrument for flexible impulses of expression and not.

With Shakespeare the better the instrument, the greater likelihood of success.

I wanted to scream out Casca's lines to Brutus in the famous tent scene: "O YE GODS, YE GODS ! MUST I ENDURE THIS?"(Act III Sc IV) ten minutes into this production. Can you imagine my pain in the famous speeches over the body of Caesar as rendered by an intelligent but vocally handicapped Mark Antony. The mob would not have listened to this Antony and our history books would tell a different story.

Like my response to Anthony Skuse's production of JULIUS CAESAR at the New Theatre this year, one can hardly respond to the detailed intentions of Mr Evans and his artistic team, as the key need of the production, the voices, were too great an obstacle to permit more than cursory engagement.

I can recommend a visit to the film THE IDES OF MARCH .The Shakespearean themes well served without the need for the vocal dexterity of the real thing. Do go.

BELL, John., 2011, "On Shakespeare", Unwin & Allen.
BERRY, Cicely, 2008, "From Word to Play",  Oberon Books.
CRYSTAL, Ben., 2008, "Shakespeare on Toast" , Icon Book.