Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Open For Inspection: The Real Estate Musical!

Lickerty Split & Darlinghurst Theatre Company Present OPEN FOR INSPECTION: The Real Estate MUSICAL! Music and Lyrics by Lucy Egger. Script by Tim Bosanquet. At the Darlinghurst Theatre, Kings Cross.

OPEN FOR INSPECTION is a new musical comedy. It is set "in the cut throat world of Sydney real estate, two ruthless, rival agencies (run by, Carl [Drew Fairley] and Joan [Sara Browne]) are battling for buyers during a property slump. They go to extreme lengths to literally make a killing.... It is about a real estate agent who becomes a Serial Killer... set to music".

The Script (book) is by Tim Bosanquet and the Music and Lyrics by Lucy Egger. The program notes declare that "This is a showcase work that is looking for a good home." It is, indeed, a showcase work, still in developmental stages - workshop stage - and yet, despite some of its muddle and short comings is still worth catching and enjoying. It is a way to help in the creative process of “finishing the hat” as Stephen Sondheim reminds us, in a similar but different context. By you attending, the "ur-creators" can with each evenings performance, read the audience's responses to the work, so that they can gather further insight as to what works and what doesn't in the show and may provide clues as to how to develop the work for the K.O. HIT, they would like it to be. The magic give-and-take of the audience - performers 'circle'.

The history of new writing in Australia is well documented and the difficulties to get work off the page onto a stage is fraught with enormous obstacles, the least of which, maybe, is just finding the performers and spaces to "air" the work in the flesh to see "What have we here? What has been wrought?" Often the writers and collaborators, after years of work, and I do mean years of work, just can't see the 'forest' because of the many 'trees' they have planted, nurtured and love. Questions of what to chop down, prune or replant or replace to create a beautiful forest becomes difficult because of the nursery-care and dedication of these "forest parents".They can become blinded by love, blood , sweat and tears.The musical form is so much more complicated and demanding than the 'straight' play. So many more ingredients are necessary to make it work. The cost of such an enterprise, in all ways, financial and emotional, is so much more expansive and necessary.

The United States which seems to me the most successful 'home' of this art-form (it's creator?) has New York , which "still remains the centre of aspiration and opportunity (for the musical), with or without the prospect of Broadway in sight. Here, the activities of a number of small, not-for-profit, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway companies have played crucial roles in the development of new work - the Manhattan Theater Club (formed in 1970), the Vineyard Theater (1981), New York Theater Workshop (1979) and the now defunct Musical Theater Works (1983 -2004)... Several of the more prominent non-profit companies have committed themselves not only to producing distinguished new shows ...but also to using the prominence of their productions as leverage to transfer them to Broadway when possible. Three of these companies stand out from the rest: The Public Theatre / New Shakespeare Festival (now the Joseph Papp Public Theater), HAIR, A CHORUS LINE, BRING IN 'DA NOISE /BRING IN 'DA FUNK, CAROLINE OR CHANGE, BLOODY, BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON; Playwrights Horizons: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, ASSASSINS, FALSETTOS, FLOYD COLLINS, GREY GARDENS; and Lincoln Center Theater: MARIE CHRISTINE, PARADE, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, besides classic show revivals, ANYTHING GOES, CAROUSEL and SOUTH PACIFIC. The most durable of institutions for training new show writers has been BMI Musical Theatre Workshops, now named for Lehman Engel, the Broadway composer conductor and author who created it in New York in 1961... BMI eventually set up branches elsewhere as well: Toronto, Nashville, Los Angeles" [1].

In Sydney, then, the Darlinghurst Theatre, in, so far a modest way, seems to have begun to nurture this complex theatrical form: last year's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN and a series of 'concert' performances of 'lost' or ‘neglected' musicals and the projected production of Douglas J. Cohen's NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY in October, 2011 (Stephen Colyer, the man responsible for ... SPIDER WOMAN, in charge again), signal this intention.

This production is fun and memorable for the performer and other creative artists' efforts. The evening stays aloft through the loving devotion and sheer energetic talent of the company. James Pope and Sophie Webb lead a thoroughly committed team well drilled by Choreographer, Amy Campbell and Musical Director, Doug Hansell shaped and Directed by Sandra Stockley.

The work itself reveals the possibility of much fun, but at the moment just has too much to carry. The writers have not yet clearly worked out what they are saying and how to say it with succinct ease. The experience of the first act was one of befuddlement for me. In the interval I tried, with discussion with other audience, to work out what was going on (it could have been fateful for the project- a few people thought so). The 'script' needs some complex pruning, for clarity of plotting is not as yet easy to ascertain. It is not the extant work’s strong point. Editorial scissors are needed - it may mean you have to cut some stuff you love- the history of the musical is littered with such need and and action. Ask Mr Sondheim.

The strong points are the characters. Mr Bosanquet has adopted, lovingly, an identity for his six principal characters. They are a conglomeration of easily identifiable old-fashioned musical theatre 'types' and Ms Egger as the lyricist and musician has collaborated with him in developing them further. The character of Monica (delightfully played by Catherine McGraffin), for instance, has all the hall marks of the comic second fiddle of favourite musicals of the past, say, Agnes Gooch in AUNTIE MAME, and is appreciated for that familiarity, but is too long stagnant in her character's journey or function in OPEN TO INSPECTION. And in similar ways this is true of others. The trajectory of the character / ultimate villain, as written, of Brett Zarb (Andrew Cutcliffe) is unclear and leaves one in a bewildered state of identification ease. The final coup of Brett Zarb's character function at the end of the piece is dizzyingly unravelled with abrupt aplomb, not clearly signalled in the earlier writing of his scenes - either that, or the direction, has not yet managed to tell the audience what is happening in more focussed way (the conceit of creating a Chorus of Conscience (Jenny Lind, Amanda Stephens Lee, Chad Richards) for Bagley is another instance of underdeveloped possibility by the writers).

But it is, perhaps the uncertainty of the form of this musical script / book that also needs more work. The production as it stands at the moment seems to me, in my limited knowledge of the musical form, to fall between two genre types. There is, here, a strong affection for the feel good old fashioned musical theatre products , of say, GUYS AND DOLLS: character, sentimentality and over familiar plot action of the fantasy love games of popular culture: against a lot of odds true love will find it's way.

The other genre is that exemplified in a musical like HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. The lead character in OPEN TO INSPECTION is that of Bagley (James Pope) who through craft and accidental manipulation finds success by killing his clients to get deceased estates for his real estate agency- he finds he has a feeling (It Looks Like I'll Do Anything) for it - the hero as a serial killer (like Seymour in another exercise in cynical romance, THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS). His professional rival, Debbie (is that Debbie that does Dallas?) (Sophie Webb) while not murdering, is also morally suspect, in that knowing sexual seduction is her choice of weapon for achievement in real estate sales. Bagley's climb to achievement as played, sung and danced by Mr Pope (of unflagging stamina) has a handsome charm and erudite skill that makes the journey almost as "amusingly mean" as J. Pierpont Finch's in the form of Robert Morse, in the HOW TO SUCCEED....musical.

The struggle for Tim Bosanquet as yet is to decide on the romantic musical comedy form of GUYS AND DOLLS or the cynical musical cartoon formula of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (interesting that both these shows , although a decade apart, are by the same creative team: Loesser, Burrows, Feuer and Martin). At the moment it is this divide of genre-type that confuses the clarity of the writing. Have the two formulas been melded before? Probably, so. Kander and Ebb? Mr Bosanquet and Ms Egger and their creative collaborators (see my post on WEST SIDE STORY) have got to cogitate, edit and re-build the super structure and writing of the texts to do one of the three CHOICES, I reckon: Romantic Musical Comedy or Cynical Musical Cartoon or a Kander and Ebb meld.

For all you musical aficionados out there this is a must see to observe the evolution of the musical that is rarely witnessed in Australia (Sydney, at least) and deserves your support. This work may over many other metamorphic opportunities grow into something that one day you can say, as they can in the US/ NY about their fledgling mega-shows (Spidey, how you doing?), "I saw it way back in its second workshop at the Darlo in '11 and boy has it grown" (or not !). Remember RISKY LUNAR LOVE? a legend, I hear".

My friends in San Francisco are awaiting the new musical based on Armistead Maupin's THE TALES OF THE CITY -will we ever see it? New York are still awaiting the opening of SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK, with as many previews given so far, than some shows have had performances on Broadway!!!!! It is in the collaborative hands of the lucky makers and an audience’s response.

Whatever the ultimate life of this work, OPEN FOR INSPECTION this brave and inspired commitment to the Australian musical by Lickety Split and Darlinghurst Theatre is worth it. Well done, no condescension meant. Sincerely.

For those of you who embraced THE BOY FROM OZ, PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, here with OPEN TO INSPECTION is a show with original book, lyrics and music that would welcome your input. Do go so that KOOKABURRA and ever loving faithfuls in the music theatre genre, such as Peter Cousins, Simon Phillips can have the sense of the valuation of their efforts. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO at the Lyric Theatre Star City is getting ready for a World Premiere.

Here's hoping, eh?

Advice from Stephen Sondheim [2] :

"In no particular order, and to be written in stone :
all in the service of
without which nothing else matters."

[1] "SHOWTIME: A History of the Broadway Musical Theatre" by Larry Stemple. W.W. Norton & Company,Inc., New York, 2010.
[2] "Finishing the Hat: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (Volume 1) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes" by Stephen Sondheim. Virgin Books, 2010.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Sydney Festival presents Eddie Perfect in MISANTHROPOLOGY- a World Première in The Famous Spiegeltent.

“Eddie Perfect, Helpmann Award-winning comedian, composer and performer...brings his latest darkly satirical musical work to a new late-night time slot in the salubrious surrounds ( Sydney weather makes it mud, mud, muddier surrounds, don't wear your good shoes!)of The Famous Spiegeltent. MISANTHROPOLOGY is Perfect's first new solo show since DRINK PEPSI BITCH! and promises to be a kind of twisted social autopsy, examining the strange cultural rituals we find ourselves performing....” so says the Sydney Festival Guide notes.

My first meeting with Mr Perfect was in THE BIG CON, a satirical revue with Max Gillies – I was shocked, really uncomfortably shocked (I was in the front row at the Playhouse) and loved him for it; later in KEATING! THE MUSICAL, he has indelibly written an impression of a past political figure, Mr Alexander Downer, in my brain, that almost obliterates any memory of the real person for me – the satirical edge so acute and sharp!, the observation almost uncanny, totally “wicked”. And the last time I saw Eddie Perfect was in his own musical: SHANE WARNE THE MUSICAL, and although the material was slightly tempered (not much), I loved it. I am a fan.

The best thing about this evolving World Première, and I did see it in previews, is the robust ebullience of this totally charismatic performer. His still boyish energy ( now a dad, he confesses in the show), his playful connection with his audience, his felicitous comic flair and timing, with a truly good musical voice are all in fine fettle. At midnight into the early morning not too mean a feat.

Mr Perfect tells us that MISANTHROPOLOGY (hard to say, he confesses), is an examination of aspects of our 'culture' today. The show begins with a portentous, but funny, voice-over of man's development from the slimes of the 'creation'. A set of eight or so songs follow, mostly dealing with the extremities of members of our culture with too much money and enormous self delusional pretensions.” Among them: An opine for Neanderthal Love; for the view supposedly espoused by the indefatigable Kerri-Anne Kennerly on her morning TV show that some footballers should be OK about unsolicited sex for “No” can mean “Yes”; for a rich Daddy (based on fact, it seems) who buys his daughter for her 21st Birthday, some new “tits”- breast implants, in a song called DADDY'S TITS” - creepy as all get-out; a cruel but delightful jab at the self-righteous bicycle riders, the eco-conscious , health enthusiasts of our cities in their projecting, 'decorous ' lycra- shorts; and in a final satirical stab (because this is a show in an Arts Festival, he says) at the pointy-end of Art, the pretensions of the five hour (or more!) events espoused by Mr Kosky et al. This show is about one hour ten-fifteen minutes long – not so much pretentious as hopefully expectant?! Slogging back through the Hyde Park mud at 1.30 AM is not too much of a problem, if you had a great time.

The evening then, will entirely be a very subjective one. If you like the knife sharp then this may be your late night fillip of adrenaline. If not, definitely not.

I was vaguely disappointed, in contrast to my paralysed shocks at THE BIG CON , for instance. The wounds often did not go deep enough, or, as in the case of the ART stab at the end, too superficially observed, too general. For me, that there was no mention Mr Kosky's penchant for actors in underwear, and covered in body excretions was a major discrepancy in Perfect's lyrics of this song (the underwear, shit, vomit and blood 'factories' of the Sydney theatre scene – Melbourne, too, I venture – should be on the Stock Market register – shares for these products must be astronomical, the recipes, pure gold). But this is a very personal observation and want. The song does enough scores to give it punch. Maybe the influence of Mr Perfect's recent television work OFFSPRING, is taming him? Or is it that his role as a dad now is causing some re-think about his public persona or reputation? Or am I shock proof, theses days?

Eddie Perfect, along with Iota, Paul Capsis, and Trevor Ashley, are a very astringent and bracing stellar cohort of cabaret artists that should not ever be missed, when the opportunity arises – so I recommend, do go and see what you think!

Friday, January 7, 2011


Urged by others, here we go with a look back over my theatre going year in 2010.

Re-iterating my belief in the importance of the writer as the centre of the theatre experience let's begin with those productions of plays that impressed.

In the Sydney theatre going experience it is interesting to me to see how the new Australian work is what dominated my pleasurable responses. In no particular order:

THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING. Adapted by Richard Tulloch from the novel by Guus Kuljer. A wonderful production for both children and adults from Belvoir B Company and Theatre of Image. Beautiful design by Kim Carpenter, directed by Neil Armfield in his usual subtle way with great performances from all, particularly Matthew Whittet, Julie Forsyth, Yael Stone, Deborah Kennedy.

LOVE ME TENDER by Tom Holloway. A complicated use by Mr Holloway of the Greek story of Iphigenia at Aulis in context of the contemporary Australian psyche and landscape. In an over elaborate intellectual and once again theatre design as “art installation” approach to the production by Matthew Lutton, his five actors delivered thrilling and gripping performances. Luke Hewitt, Belinda McClory, Kris McQuade, Arky Michael, Colin Moody. Again at Belvoir Theatre.

BANG by Jonathan Gavin. This was presented in the Downstairs Belvoir Theatre by White Box Theatre and B Sharp. This was the Best new Australian play of the year. Wonderfully written by Jonathan Gavin and meticulously directed by Kim Hardwick. The cast of six actors playing many roles over the duration of the play also gave the best example of ensemble acting on Sydney stage this year (and that includes the marvellous Steppenwolf, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY) : Blazey Best, Caroline Brazier, Ivan Donato, Damian Rice, Wendy Strehlow and particularly Tony Poli in a set of dazzlingly judged nuanced choices in his many characters across nationalities, age and sexes.

QUACK by Ian Wilding presented in the Griffin season at the SBW Stables Theatre. In outrageous stylistic choices the director Chris Mead led us through contemporary political allegory/satire in the guise of the present day trendy storytelling mode of the Zombie thriller. Beautifully designed, set by William Bobbie Stewart and very complicated costumes, the four actors took us through a breathless adventure of crazy comedy both literate and physical: Chris Haywood, Jeanette Cronin, Charlie Garber and introducing spectacularly the talents of Aimee Horne in a leading role.

THE SAPPHIRES by Tony Briggs. This was a revival production by Black Swan and Belvoir Company B at the Seymour Centre directed by Wesley Enoch. It went onto an international tour. I had a great time and just loved the seamless flow of the production and the tireless commitment of all the company. It was a surprise evening of joy.

WINTER'S DISCONTENT by William Zappa at the Darlinghurst Theatre. Another revival production. Both the writing and the performance by Mr Zappa was worth admiring greatly. It was the first time that I had caught this work – I'm glad I did.

NAMATJIRA by Scott Rankin, presented by Belvoir B Company with Big hART at Belvoir Street Theatre Upstairs. Although the writing was fairly straightforward narration, the content and its revelations were impactful and impressive. Culturally necessary (for me). The production beautiful to look at and co-directed by Scott Rankin and Wayne Blair. The two performers Trevor Jamieson and Derek Lynch seductive in their storytelling skills.

ANGELA'S KITCHEN by Paul Capsis, Julian Meyrick and Hilary Bell, presented at the SBW Stables Theatre for the GRIFFIN Theatre. The writing, relatively, the weakest part of the work is propelled into a transcendent experience by the finely judged gift of a performance by Paul Capsis, and sensitive direction by Julian Meyrick. It looked great too. Another important cultural experience: instructive and moving.

RICHARD III by William Shakespeare presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company in the new Sumner Theatre. Shakespeare meets WEST WING!!!! This was probably the best production of Australian Shakespeare I have ever seen. Directed by Simon Phillips with a great set by Shaun Gurton and costumes by Esther Marie Hayes, the company was lead brilliantly by Ewan Leslie as Richard III with great support by Jennifer Hagan (Queen Margaret), Alison Whyte (Queen Elizabeth), Deidre Rubinstein (Duchess of York), Zahra Newman (Catesby) and Humphrey Bower (Buckingham). Well worth the trip to Melbourne.

On the chance that I will repeat myself, some performances that I was glad to have seen:
  • Matthew Whittet in THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING by Richard Tulloch (Belvoir Company B).
  • Susie Porter in THAT FACE by Polly Stenham (Belvoir Company B)
  • The ensemble led by Wendy Hughes, William Zappa, Yael Stone and Paula Arundell in HONOUR by Joanna Murray-Smith (Sydney Theatre Company).
  • Nathan Lovejoy in WAY TO HEAVEN by Juan Mayorga (Griffin Independent).
  • Jeanette Cronin in BUG by Tracey Letts, (Griffin Independent).
  • Ewen Leslie in RICHARD III by William Shakespeare, (Melbourne Theatre Company).
  • Zoe Carides in THE SEAGULL by Anton Chekhov, (Siren Theatre Company and Sidetrack).
  • Zindzi Okenyo in ORESTEIA adapted by Tom Wright (The Residents, Sydney Theatre Company).
  • Anita Hegh and Marta Dusseldorp in LIKE A FISHBONE by Anthony Weigh (Sydney Theatre Company).
  • Trevor Ashley in I'M EVERY WOMAN – a cabaret performance at (The Studio, Sydney Opera House).
  • Melissa Jaffer and Sue Ingleton in GWEN IN PURGATORY by Tommy Murphy (Belvoir Company B.)
  • William Zappa in WINTER'S DISCONTENT by William Zappa (Darlinghurst Theatre).
  • Aimee Horne in QUACK by Ian Wilding. (Griffin Theatre Company).
  • Ashley Ricardo in THE PIGEONS by David Giselmann (Griffin Independent).
  • Brent Hill and Andrea Demetriades in TWELFTH NIGHT by William Shakespeare (Bell Shakespeare at the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House).
  • Paul Capsis in ANGELA'S KITCHEN by Paul Capsis, Julian Meyrick and Hilary Bell (Griffin Theatre.)
  • Jane Phegan and Kym Vercoe in THE MARKET IS NOT FUNCTIONING PROPERLY by Version 1.0 (B Sharp, Belvoir).
  • Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Anthony Phelan in UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekhov (Sydney Theatre Company).
  • The ensemble in LOVE ME TENDER by Tom Holloway: Luke Hewitt, Belinda McClory, Kris McQuade, Arky Michael, Colin Moody (Belvoir Company B and Thinice).
  • The ensemble in BANG by Jonathan Gavin: Blazey Best, Caroline Brazier, Ivan Donato, Tony Poli, Damian Rice, Wendy Strehlow.

Design impressions:
  • Kim Carpenter for THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING.
  • William Bobbie Stewart for set and costumes for QUACK.
  • Mark Thompson for set and costume for BANG.
  • Shaun Gurton for set; costumes by Esther Marie Hayes for RICHARD III.
  • Genieve Dugard for set; costumes Tess Schofield for NAMATJIRA.
  • Louise McCarthy for ANGELA'S KITCHEN.
  • Eamon Dárcy for set design; and the digital artists,Robert Klaesi,Tracey Taylor, Frantz Kantor and Digital Pulse for HAIRSPRAY.

Lighting impressions:

Sound Impressions:

Directors I admired:

Interesting newer directorial artists, that have stayed with me :
  • Michael Pigott for The dysFUnCKshonalZ (Darlinghurst Theatre) and other work across a range of genres and theatre companies, this year.
  • Paige Rattray for BRONTE.(ATYP).

International work that I admired this year:
  • WAR HORSE by Nick Stafford adapted from the novel by Michael Morpungo for the National Theatre, London and Handspring Puppet Company. Do not miss it if you have the opportunity- a mighty moving experience of a story, enhanced with truly magical puppetry and the full creative and technical powerhouse of the National Theatre.
  • EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR by Tom Stoppard with music by Andre Previn. A fantastic game with words and complex ideas complicated lucidly with a full orchestral score. A text that requires great verbal technique and physical dexterity from the company of actors that made a short 65 minute experience in the theatre an EPIC of great impact. Subtle and brilliant. Directed by Felix Barrett and Tom Morris for the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, London.
  • THE PITMAN PAINTERS by Lee Hall. Presented at the National Theatre, London with Live Theatre, Newcastle directed by Max Roberts. This play has a fairly old fashioned storytelling writing technique that has the “feel good” of say the recent film THE KINGS SPEECH, and that with a crack team of actors, lifts the evening into a life enhancing experience.
  • AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY by Tracey Letts. The Sydney Theatre Company introduced the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company from Chicago and this highly appreciated and well toured production. I found the play mostly soap opera, saved by a last act of some more depth, that was still necessary to see, because of the brilliance of the ensemble acting. These actors were an exemplar in attuned support for each other and the play. (The difference between the ensemble of the Sydney Theatre Company's UNCLE VANYA and OSAGE ...was palpable. It, of course takes practice and time, and trust). Lessons to absorb.
  • THE SHIPMENT presented by Young Jean Lee's Theatre Company, of New York by the Sydney Opera House at the Playhouse. This was an astringent “Review” that was scoldingly funny and confronting. Not only was the material “HOT” to deal with and electric as far as race issues were concerned, but the stylistic skill of the performers was also note worthy for its ensemble dexterity. More lessons to absorb.
  • I admired the acting of Michael Urie (you may know him from TV series, UGLY BETTY) in a small-scale play called THE TEMPERAMENTALS by Jon Maras in New York. The best performance for me on Broadway was given by Norbert Leo Butz as Jeffery Skilling in the ill fated Broadway production of Lucy Prebble's play ENRON, followed by the ensemble of the Wooster Theatre Company, particularly Ari Fliakos as N.I. Roscoe Chizzum in a revival of a very old work in their repertoire, NORTH ATLANTIC.
  • To finish off, I should say that Sheridan Smith who plays the Legal Blonde in LEGALLY BLONDE at the Savoy in London was fabulous. Maybe my favourite Musical Theatre performer of the year.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra kept me very happy all year, My favourite concert was the BORODIN QUARTET, Shostakovitch concert presented by Musica Viva early in the year.

The little dance that I saw this year was mostly uninteresting, although I loved the Sydney Festival production of GISELLE by Fabulous Beast and HAPPY AS LARRY by Shaun Parker and Company at Carriageworks.

My last note is to note the relative lack of work coming out of the Performance Space this year. I miss the range and content of recent years programming. Maybe 2011 will be different.

Now into 2011… P.S. I have not yet seen THE DIARY OF A MADMAN.......will try soon.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Uncle Vanya

Sydney Theatre Company and Goldman Sachs in association with Bell Shakespeare presents UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Andrew Upton at the Sydney Theatre.


THE SEAGULL, UNCLE VANYA, THREE SISTERS and THE CHERRY ORCHARD, the four great plays of Anton Chekhov. THREE SISTERS is my favourite and the greatest in my estimation. UNCLE VANYA is the smaller gem and my next favoured. Both great, mostly, differing only, in the scale of their scenarios.

What makes the works of Chekhov a favourite exploration for actors and audiences (especially, if you have the opportunity to see the works regularly, as in Europe, where they are a staple of the theatre 'diet') is the endless possibility of interpretation. The fine ambiguity of the Chekhovian text (I only know the work in translation) permits the attentive artist to work in the minutiae of close observation. The placement of an ellipse, a pause, the repetition of phrase or indicated action by the writer can be a key to the core of character and the springboard to a unique point-of-view for every actor tackling the character. It is for the attuned audience, then, an artistic reason for going to the theatre: to ascertain and appreciate the performances of different actors and companies in the same sphere of writing. The last major performance of UNCLE VANYA would be the St. Petersburg Company in the Sydney Festival a few years ago. To contrast and compare could be an interesting exercise.

The actor/director (Stanislavsky) of the Moscow Arts Theatre that premiered UNCLE VANYA (1899) gives some insight into the technique of approach to the work ; “...Most people think that Serebryakov's estate manager (Vanya) should wear long boots, a visor cap and should appear with a riding crop in his hand, but Chekhov was outraged by this idea.
'Look – he said -it's all there. You haven't read the play.'
We looked in the script and found that apart from a short note about the tie Vanya wears there was no reference to his clothing.
'What's all there? The silk tie?.'
“But of course! He has a beautiful tie on; he is an elegant civilized man. It is not true at all that our estate managers run around wearing greased boots. They are well-educated people and dress elegantly after the last Paris fashion. I wrote it all down.'”

'I wrote it all down.' says the writer.

The close reading of the text is the first step in the distinguishing technique that Chekhov masterfully demands of the actor. It pays to read his short stories often and slowly to hone this skill. The Chekhovian genius of the accurate detail can awaken the imagination into insightful paths of investigation to find the character. That it is the individual mind of each actor – his own personalized application of his own first and secondary resources – the unique individual that extrapolates the clue that opens the glorious, endless ambiguity of the writing that is the arresting thing. There is no 'right' way to play the characters. There is no 'wrong' way, either. And even when playing the same character but in a different production the choices will be different again because the other actors will be honing the information distinctly differently and so responding and creating whole new ways of reading the characters and the scene. The pleasure of this investigation and trying anew, is tiring and thrilling. It requires the actors to invest in their ego and yet surrender, in the action of rehearsal and particularly performance, to the collaborative input of the ensemble. The give and take of active 'listening' and playing in the moments. The production will stand or fall on the playfulness of all the actors, together, to make those moments work. It is difficult to achieve but it is the ideal for the artist in the theatre. It is the objective of the actor/director/teacher Stanislavsky and his co-artistic director Nemirovitch-Dantchenko that revolutionized the approach to acting at the beginning of the last century, and is the heritage, and at the core of every Western 'theatre' enterprise to this day. Not only in the theatre, and obviously, across all genres and mediums, particularly in television and film acting. These two men, along with Chekhov, set the exemplar for the method of what is generally regarded as good acting. STILL. No matter the reactionary 'fads' that have evolved in time and place in recent history and vividly today (tomorrow!).

Then, the expectation of this production, considering the quality of the company, has been tantalizing indeed. I bought my tickets 13 months ago! At $130, each – 4 of them...? No quibbles. Even though it is only two dollars less for the whiz-bangery of MARY POPPINS and the zesty crackling and eye-popping techno wizardry of HAIRSPRAY.

The interesting choices for the enterprise begins with the translation and/or adaptation. I know maybe twenty or more versions. Every year new publications appear, with most engaged, interesting, contemporary writers attempting the task. Each one of them with their own mode of expression and poetry and uniqueness; from Christopher Hampton; Tom Stoppard; Pam Gems; Martin Crimp, David Mamet, among many others in recent times. The famous Australian and still highly usable version is that of Aubrey Mellor and Robert Dessaix from the late Seventies–early Eighties. But, I do believe it is imperative to find the contemporary Australian/English voice for the translated works to keep the vernacular accessible and relevant for the audience's comprehension of the writer's intentions. It requires careful and patient work. The role of the translator/adaptor is fraught but undoubtedly as thrilling to do as it is for the actor to further “translate” the result into flesh (I read a very interesting essay by Julian Barnes recently on this very topic in relation to the new MADAME BOVARY text by Lydia Davis in the London Review Bookshop recently published – do look).

In this case, Andrew Upton has adapted it with assistance from the Russian Language expert (and actor) Alex Menglet, further advised and guided by the Director, Tamas Ascher (he, a non-English speaking Hungarian) and his Dramaturg/Interpreter, Anna Lengyel. Mr Upton has recently adapted THE CHERRY ORCHARD for the Sydney Theatre Company and also, to mostly good reviews, Gorky's THE PHILISTINES (c.2008) and Bulgakov's THE WHITE GUARD (2010) for the National Theatre, London. The Russian oeuvre a familiar territory for Mr Upton, of late.

In the program notes Mr Upton tells us: “Tamas' first instruction to me for the adaptation was to be aware that each of the characters spoke very simply and plainly in the original...These characters are brutally honest and straight-forward. As Tomas put it; each line has to be as simple and uninflected as a stone dropped into a pond.” This text has a direct clarity and unencumbered expression , often potently blunt, in its characteristics, with only, to my personal and prejudiced ears, an occasional 'clang'.

The most disputed part of the textual solutions among my group of audience was really in the variety of Australian dialect that was used by the company of actors. There was a highly Educated Australian English used for example by the Professor (Mr Bell), Yelena (Ms Blanchett), Astrov (Mr Weaving) to broader and broader Aussie sounds from Marina (Ms Weaver) to the most extreme, Sonya (Ms McElhinney). Representative of class, education, city or country location??? The foyer was full of lively debate!!! The appropriateness of the choices? The successfulness of the choices? Did they clarify or obfuscate the story telling? Just where are we? These questions asked even less experienced theatre goers. Much opinion in the interval.

The actors let loose on this version: Cate Blanchett; Hugo Weaving; Richard Roxburgh; John Bell; Jacki Weaver; Sandy Gore; Hayley McElhinney; Anthony Phelan and Andrew Tighe. Actors of outstanding reputation, a brief glance at the program resumes impressive, indeed. No false celebrity here, only stellar artists who have earned the opportunities given them.

Mr Phelan as Telegin was outstanding in the sympathetic reading, that he gave this man. Seemingly in a cursory reading, a peripheral and merely supportive role in the play, in Mr Phelan's hands what was revealed was the contrast that Telegin in the schemata of the writing represented. In the midst of the 'love' lorn, unrequited or bereft in the action of the play, we have drawn by Mr Phelan, a faithful lover who holds firm to his inclinations even at the extreme detriment of his own happiness. One of the few characters in the play that has a resigned acceptance of his fate. An actor of invention and precision demonstrating that there are no small roles in Chekhov. All of them have a life and an integral contribution to make. Ms Weaver as Marina plots her way through the small opportunities given her to give a stabilising centre to the household, offering gentle wisdoms and direct advice and physical comforts, ultimately a 'safe harbour” of literally open arms for the unhappy people about her. Warmth and simple honesty (a remarkable contrast to her work in the film ANIMAL KINGDOM which I have heard described as ‘Lady Macbeth in stretch pants’!!!). Sandy Gore as the matriarch, Marie, bewildered, bothered and bewitched by her idolization of the professor, is especially curious in her flustered and devoted commitment to the literate and literature about her. Pamphlet following confusedly, pamphlets of opposite opinions – a would-be 'book clubber' with no book club to discuss her concerns with. Her surrender to her circumstances, patient and simply necessary for her survival in the country life of the play. A poverty of intellectualism swamping her to comic mockery. A frump of diminished and diminishing influence.

John Bell as Serebrayakov, the self absorbed, selfish catalyst of the dramatic action of the play, the planned selling of the estate, demands that we find him repugnant and still pathetic. The gamut of the possible human facets of this crumbling being, asking us to give irritated judgments of character and yet sympathy for his predicament, are drawn with pin point accuracy. A spoilt child in the guise of a man of fame and literary fortune, both to be despised and yet pitied. The simple embracement of Serebrayakov's own arrogance, the final petty gesture that triumphs in the world of the play as he exits the estate that he has just disturbed irrevocably, and lustful flickers of strained power in his kissing and needy demonstration of ownership of his wife in the second act, contrasted closely with his obvious physical inadequacies, adds layer to layer of his invention as each act unfolds, with delicious relish. The sense of the rotting human holding determinedly to his 'majesty' sadly accurate, the physical characteristics around his 'gout' and the quavering pitch of the desperate vocal qualities that once were vibrant and sonorous stretched to their limits in the quarrel with Vanya in act three, signal the fall into nearing and feared mortality. A sad specimen outwitted and worn down by nature. Time stands still for no-one, not even the 'intellectual'.

The towering performances in this production are those of Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett.

Mr Weaving presents Astrov as a man on the cusp of sliding fortunes: professional and personal. The tragedy of losing a patient under chloroform on the operating table becomes a re-iterated 'turning-point' in the consciousness of the man: his capability in his profession is under siege; his masculinity also under stress as he sniffs out like a dog at the end of its fertility urges, the opportunity for the 'Don Juaning” of the wife of the visiting professor. Standing wide-legged with his hands on hips, his head held high, chin jutting in challenge; dancing wildly, almost abandoned to the improvised clamour of his drinking companions; the well educated baritone vocal notes tonally attempting seduction and failing. Mr Weaving indicates the spiralling depression in the first scene with his gentle banter with the wise and wily caretaker of the lives on this estate, Marina. She admonishing his declining physical appearance, it becomes clear that vodka has become the tool for his means of lessening the pain, and throughout the play, Mr Weaving cleverly points to its insidious creeping in on Astrov's life. Every subtle Chekhovian inference is seized excitedly by Mr Weaving. The final moments book-ending the character delineation with his addicted need to the vodka salute, refusing even the sopping possibility of bread to lessen its potently insidious poison, not even able, by now, to keep his promise of giving it up, the now silent Marina noting and sad. And like the maps that Astrov has drawn to demonstrate the demise and corruption of the countryside, Weaving has 'mapped' the degeneration of a 'demon' for world betterment, humanly defeated and collaborating willingly with it. We envision the husk of the present manhood of this Doctor, tragically, but empathetically. Fate will not be kind in the decline of a man of much promise. Platonov re-visited.

Ms Blanchett creates for Yelena a woman recognizing the loss of her youth and the possibility, imminently, of the sparks of her potential has a whole human being, being extinguished forever. Like “Autumn roses...so beautiful and sad” Yelena struggles between her sense of duty to her husband and the frustrations of unrequited sexuality, even love. She, too, like Astrov, finds respite in alcohol and in an anesthetized state plays recklessly with the hopes of the naïve Sonya: living, vicariously, a sex courtship for Sonya. Ms Blanchett in this performance rides a fine line between the pathos of the woman and the absurd ironies of her situation. Employing her usual adeptness with language with the verbal and mental wit that we are accustomed to, Ms Blanchett explores, more than she has done before, her instinctual physical comic skills. Long-limbed, the equilibrium of her balance is daringly challenged, teetering on the edges of collapse and yet teasingly righting itself again only to flop in another direction. The drunken scene with Sonya in Act two, truly hilarious. An impressive metaphor for Yelena's unconscious behaviour? The comic characterization is masking pain and frustration that cries out to please herself: to play the piano, to heat the mermaids blood, in a red tight fitting full length dress, with gay abandon on the old sofa in the clumsy entanglements of a has-been doctor, environmentalist and Don Juan, but ends in the convention of being the wife of a professor of literature, suited and gloved up in grey: tight and conventional. The promise of emaciated, lifeless greyness.

It is especially in the scenes between Mr Weaving and Ms Blanchett that we see acting that is burning brightly, improvisationally, in front of us. It has a sense of fun, wickedness, unexpectedness about it, of two artists in complete trust of each other. The map reading scene in Act three a tantalizing sub-textual 'dance' of longing and withdrawal: funny, tender and ultimately tragic: a quintessence of playfulness – of good acting..

Mr Roxburgh's Vanya is an explosive force of frustration, ignited powerfully, when in the full ignition of anger. The possibility of an 'intellectual' life sacrificed for the mundanity of the hard work of running an estate, boiling over. In contrast, however, the great opportunities of vulnerability in the dilemma of Vanya are relatively fudged. The confrontations with the professor in act three demonstrates a consistent tendency to go off – voice and throw covering energy to the floor when that is demanded of him. It almost appears an apology for weakness that contrasts with the few occasions when genuine overwhelming self pity strike at the heart of his character's situation. Mr Roxburgh is thrilling in his generous 'giving' to the other actors but there is considerable less 'taking' by him, except on his terms or needs. Not much spontaneity. There is an appearance of pre-conception and of an actor at work, (secondary activities, the scratching of the hair, for instance, in moments of character stress , over drawn) dominating the choices on stage, a striving for a pre-meditated enactment of the scenes- outside the ensemble efforts. Flawed.

I have always felt that Nina is the centre of THE SEAGULL, so I feel Sonya the centre of UNCLE VANYA. Nina is the two-pronged agent of Chekhov's dramaturgy in exploring Love and Art, the preoccupation of THE SEAGULL. Sonya is the bearer of Love and Work in UNCLE VANYA – Chekhov's thematics (?). Ms McElhinney plays the theme of love, besotted, innocent, naive love, to open mouthed expressions of ecstatic need in most of the first three acts of the play. The motivations and consequences of it clearly relished. This Sonya's presence is one of broad peasant simpleness and love-sick longing and it overwhelms the other strand of her character's preoccupation until the last section of the third act of this production. Then, Ms McElhinney takes hold of the great silent moment Chekhov gives her in the pell mell of Vanya's shooting farce, going on around her, taking heart-breaking refuge in the arms of Marina. We see her absorbing the truth of her fantastical longings, as revealed by Yelena, and moving to resilient resolution, so that in the fourth act, work is her regained preoccupation – it will overwhelm and deaden her grief and pain. She drags the heavy table, without assistance, to the position necessary for the estate work which has been erstwhile neglected. But the significance of work to Sonya has been diluted in this production, since I felt the opportunities that Sonya demonstrates for work in the earlier part of the play, provided by Chekhov in his scenario, were not played with enough clarity. They are subtle but are there to be marked, to be made to be remembered by the audience. Here they were buried in the 'goofy' love sickness of this Sonya and so the characterization and the Chekhovian balance for Sonya was not as well planted for this great acceptance of the duty of life thrown upon her shoulders that climaxes the play. And so, oddly, the great closing speeches that Chekhov has given Sonya, which are generally, and genuinely moving, lacked that focus and maybe the production lacked completeness subsequently. “We shall work, Uncle Vanya, we shall work.” was barely noticed, by me (I also observe that not having this Telegin accompanying this scene with guitar as indicated by the writer may have also distracted my attention as I was watching this Telegin attempting to locate on his portable transistor radio, music from the distracting static of the radio-wave universe.)

The acting, then, genuinely strong, but in my estimation, occasionally, flawed. It prevented, for me, a fully cathartic experience from being had.

My biggest problem, however is in the directorial decisions made by Mr Ascher and, assumedly under his direction, his creative team: Set Designer, Zsolt Khell; Costume Designer, Gyorgyi Szakacs. The program notes are full of the contemporary cultural responses to this play, by others, in Tsarist Russia, and there is not a single clue to the actual period or it's relevance for us, that this production team has placed the play. There is no reference to the new historical circumstances that these familiar characters are living out their lives in or to any intellectual rationalizing of choosing this specific time. As to why it is a vital adaptation for an audience in Sydney, in 2010.

Taking Set properties such as the refrigerator, the portable transistor radio, etc, the fashionable clothing of Serebriakov and his wife Yelena, (and costuming of others as well), the sound design of motor cars and bikes (Paul Charlier), it would seem to be early to mid 1950's. This would mean that most of these characters living in Russia on an estate (farm), not to distant from Moscow, would have survived through one of the most dramatic eras of Russian history. Several botched revolutions, famine and agitating Marxists both in art and day to day life, World War 1, a revolution with Lenin a triumphant leader, the assassination of the Tsar Nicholas and his family, the end of Romanov political domination, a long and bloody Civil war, the rise of the 'Red Tsar, Stalin, with his persecutions and tyranny both socially and economically, World War 2 and German invasion, starvation and a decimation of millions of lives, the re-establishment of a more desperate Stalin, and, finally the relative enlightenment of Khrushchev. I saw not one of these events suggested in the production acting of this company. It was the Tsarist idiom that affected the choices of this company.

Taking basic Stanislavski method into account, What? and How? a character achieves their objectives does not necessarily alter too much, whatever the period. But the Why?, why a character does what he wants, will be affected and the sense of Who?, When? Where? will be profoundly different. Take for instance the Professor Serebreyakov and his wife, Yelena. The wealth and style demonstrated by the costuming of these two Muscovites, especially her provocative red dress, would in my understanding of the period reflect a very privileged status. To dare to flaunt such wealth and foreign influence in the time of Stalin/ Kruschev shows a super confidence of their position in the world – are they members of the Politburo? Are they invulnerable to criticism? If so they hardly require permission from the family for actions of their wants. The reaction of the people on this estate, relatives or not, seems to be very muscular and unafraid to make offence. I would have assumed that the stakes for this family are so much higher given that this Professor demonstrates a position and favour from Stalin/Kruschev, that would hardly require permission to take charge of this estate's affairs.

Are Vanya and Sonya part of some Land Collective involved in the success of a Three or Five year plan? How efficient are they in this system? Can they even sell this estate, for instance, in Soviet times? Is it not part of the great communist people's ownership? Did Vanya, Astrov, Telegin, Serebryakov serve in the forces in any of the upheavals of their shared history?

It is just this kind of decision of time shift that excites my imagination, to see how it can inflect and infect insight into the behaviour of the characters. But when it is so obviously neglected in the creating and playing, it looks, in the action of this production, like a superficial appropriation of a purely visual aesthetic. Appearance, a LOOK, becomes it's justification over meaty, insights. Whatever the attractive appearance of the design aesthetic there are also political and sociological consequences to the lives of the living characters we are watching. When looking at, for instance, Milkhalkov's Academy Award winning film BURNT BY THE SUN, set in the madness of Stalin's fading life and reign, the tension and status between the country and city are enormous and threatening, no-one is not alert to the power emanating from Moscow, even for family members – after all there is no personal/family life in the Soviet. No matter how sexy, this Yelena looks in the third act costume of a clinging red, full length dress, it provides interpretative demands that are blatantly important and interesting in the period of history that this Vanya story is being told in. They are not addressed by this director.

Mr Ascher is here on invitation by this company, inspired by this creative team's work on a Sydney Festival presentation of Ivanov, two years ago. It, too, was set unconventionally out of period, but whether because IVANOV is a less well known play or because the Hungarian Company were able to bring the design aesthetic to life and justification, it seemed to work. Here, it has the feel of imposition. Externally worn, demonstrated but not part of the organic action. This production of UNCLE VANYA felt like a conventional reading of the given circumstances of these characters based upon a study of Tsarist times, dressed arbitrarily in an attractive aesthetic that directorialy or production-wise was not addressed as far as the history of the times of that chosen aesthetic were concerned or the method of acting this material (or any, really) requires, if one was truly, scrupulous of the offered detail.

Recently, the Belvoir Street Theatre presented another Russian play Arbuzov's THE PROMISE, under the direction of Simon Stone. It consisted of three acts, set in three distinctly crucial dates in Soviet history. This play is basically a love triangle, and superficially on the page can be easily played in a soap opera mode and still be acceptable. But if one were to regard the pin pointed definiteness of the eras of the three acts selected by the writer, (Stanislavsky writ large) the sub-textual influences, the unspoken but vitally important cultural tensions underneath the motivations of the characters, the Who? Where? and especially When? of the times, it becomes the greater part of the acting of the play. It is the sub-text of period that makes THE PROMISE a formidable and great play. If you merely present the top layer of the writing, you only give part of the play. No matter how good the acting may be – it appears to be a lesser work and at most a pot boiler of a soap opera. This is what happened to Arbuzov's play under Mr Stone's direction. It is what may have happened for some audiences when they saw Mr Ascher's production of UNCLE VANYA at the Sydney Theatre. Certainly the inexperienced Chekhov audience found the play dull and not relevant. They loved the acting, hated the play. This lack of applied rigour to production decisions is, for me, a constant disappointment in directorial decisions in Sydney Theatre, in recent times. It certainly marks the difference of quality of a lot of Australian work when compared to the best International work I have seen. Near enough is definitely not good enough, in my experience. If you don't think your decisions through – don't offer them.

“I wrote it all down”, said Chekhov. It is in the details. If you re-write the details and then neglect to have them bare influence on the production, something becomes unsatisfactory. Truth, I guess. Catharsis, too? Quality, certainly (other artists, some great artists, lose reputation over careless arbitrary decisions by appropriating contemporary artists – auteurs. Will we ever see THE PROMISE in Sydney again? Not if those audiences have a memory. Tentatively, I ask, will we ever have an audience for UNCLE VANYA again, if it does not have the casting fire power involved? Good luck Belvoir and THE SEAGULL with Judy Davis steered by Benedict Andrews later in the year. I'll be there for sure but some of my Vanya friends will be there only because Ms Davis is in it. Who would miss the opportunity of seeing Judy Davis on stage, at last? “Chekhov is boring”.)

UNCLE VANYA is a re-write of an earlier published and performed play, THE WOOD DEMON (1889). Some of the characters of the original still exist, some have disappeared, some have been amalgamated, some are new altogether. But what distinguishes THE WOOD DEMON and an even earlier play, IVANOV, is that both these two earlier plays are, although with tragic elements, optimistic and comic in tone. Chekhov very particularly, out of a need to confront Stanislavsky's penchant for melodrama as a preferred solution to his theatre direction, sub-titled THE SEAGULL: A Comedy in Four Acts (as, later, he did THE CHERRY ORCHARD). The Wood Demon was sub-titled by Chekhov as a comedy. UNCLE VANYA was carefully sub-titled: Scenes from a Country Life. The mood in this play was not as optimistic as the earlier youthful invention, VANYA'S comic elements essentially autumnal, marked by a sense of physical decay, all of them facing limited time projections. Chekhov embracing his own mortal illness may have moodily reflected his own autumnal decline. There is a darker mood to this play.

I felt there was a stilted effort by some of the actors to burlesque the comedy opportunities in UNCLE VANYA, almost as if this play was a direct descendant of the one act comedies (THE PROPOSAL, THE BEAR etc). Over drawn, over illustrated and sometimes an imposed, forced, inappropriate sensibility for comic physical exaggeration or stakes. Silliness of rehearsal daring, that needed refining or editing in the final decisions, shown to us in performance. This was true, I found, of Mr Ascher's IVANOV. I was not as big a fan of that production as others were, finding some of the leading actors forcing the comedy uncomfortably. The afternoon I saw it, there was an imbalance, between the pathos, the tragedy and the burlesque – being funny at the expense of the truth of the circumstances of the production. Worse, playing to rote rather than in the live moments evolving in front of us. I saw UNCLE VANYA late in the season (2oth December) and there was some feeling of moments that were no longer working but still played to the hilt, an uncomfortable staleness and futile action enacted that were no longer totally convicted. Comedy that lacked justification.

These Scenes of Country Life were not as comic, as in, ‘isn't life funny’, as Chekhov throughout most of his great literary heritage, determinedly presented to us. The foibles of the ordinary human. The ordinary as extraordinary, with a huge ironic grin. These people peopling his worlds were real, not clownish and definitely not clowns. Their comic element arose from that reality and the incongruous but truthful observations, not from deliberate funny business. The Sydney Theatre Company production seemed to err in that direction.

So, to my observation of the joy of seeing great plays often and the ability to contrast and compare other productions. The St Petersburg Russian company production wins hands down. One of the qualities that makes Chekhov great and is essential, is the allowance for time to be played out for as long as it takes. The “scoring' of Chekhov's text is meticulous and it demands tempo as written. The Russian production of UNCLE VANYA, I remember as almost four hours long. The Sydney Theatre Company only two and three quarter hours. Truths rushed? I remember the great and surprised response to that Sydney Festival presentation and remarked that isn't it strange how a Sydney audience finds no reason to complain about the length of this performance. The courage to live out the moments in the life tempo, not to feel a need to entertain an audience, by being funny, was observed and absorbed by the festival audience, through supreme belief in the characters and there human dilemmas as presented by this elegant and truthful troupe of actors. This despite the long international tour of the production. Lessons to be still absorbed by some Australian actors and taught as guidance and still propagated by the works and theories of Stanislavski, Nemirovitch-Dantchenko and brilliantly demanded by the Master of modern dramatic literature, Anton Chekhov.

UNCLE VANYA, a mitigated success. Much to appreciate, and much to bemoan.