Saturday, May 28, 2011

Glittering Frost

AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA present Tour Three GLITTERING FROST at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney.

More music. This time a concert given by the Australian Chamber Orchestra featuring Martin Frost, a clarinettist. I write this simply as an amateur to music practice (see post: Mahler 9; Another World).

This is a concert that I really encourage all theatre goers to see – for although it is a Music event, the theatre of Mr Frost, as an inspired artist, is as exciting to see as it is to hear the music. You get it all in one wonderfully inspired “package”.

Martin Frost plays, generously, four pieces of work in this concert. First, a marvellously intriguing contemporary work by Anders Hillborg: Clarinet Concerto PEACOCK TALES (Composed 1198; version with strings and piano composed 2003) which requires him to play the clarinet as well as dance, with and without a mask, accompanied by atmospheric lighting changes. Then, a classical formulation by Brahms of some folk influenced Hungarian Dances, WoO No’s 1, 12, 13, 21 (1869–1880) –arranged for clarinet and strings by Goran Frost (plus a Klezma inspired piece written by Goran Frost, especially for his brother). Lastly, after the interval he gives us the classical Aaron Copland Clarinet Concerto which premièred in 1950.

When Mr Frost appears he arrives with such energy that he creates an anticipatory aesthetic arrest. One holds one breath. There is an intimation of a “genius” arriving, at least something special, something extraordinary, brimming with the power of other-worldly artistic possession which vividly translates into a totally amazing dexterity of his instrument handling and control. Well worth seeing, experiencing, for the fillip he may give you from his whole performance persona. Mr Frost will make you glad to be alive.

But besides the miracle of Mr Frost, the Australian Chamber Orchestra serve well as support and clarification to the music making of that wailing clarinet, from deep down guttural to high pitched squeal.

Under the guidance of Richard Tognetti, on the outer edges of the program, we first hear a splendid reading of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 in G major, K.525, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”. And in the final offering of the concert a totally resplendent telling of Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F major (1902-1903), arranged for string orchestra by Richard Tognetti. The Ravel is luscious and seemed to connect me to the score arrangements, of say Franz Waxman, Miklos Rosza and especially Bernard Hermann in support of many of Alfred Hitchcock’s visuals: REBECCA, SUSPICION, SPELLBOUND, VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST and PSYCHO. They all came rushing back and urged me to, perhaps, have a Hitchcock Festival with my DVD machine and television screen one winter weekend soon.

This was such a great concert. To miss the concert will be regrettable, but to miss Martin Frost with this orchestra may be a tragedy. Do go. Last chance Saturday at 7pm at Angel Place.

If you don’t believe me, read Mr Peter MacCallum’s review In the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, 24th May.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mahler 9: Another World

Sydney Symphony Orchestra presents MAHLER 9: ANOTHER WORLD in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House.

After a heavy diet of good but depressing nihilistic theatre experiences of late (MUCH ADO... at Bell Shakespeare being the exception) and to help me to gain courage to attend BAAL at the Sydney Theatre Company, I decided "If music be the food of love", what better way to drink in a whole fountain of love, then to go to hear the Sydney Symphony under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy to a Mahler drowning in sound/music/ love.

I love music but am simply an amateur, that is, just an apprenticed "lover' of it. The Mahler Symphony number 9 is the last completed symphony and it is steeped in an atmosphere of impending death. No escaping the darnkess it seems. A friend suggested if I wanted to give my self a good friendly gift/gesture then this concert was worth catching. He saw it on Wednesday which was the eighteenth of May. He told me that one hundred years ago, Gustav Mahler died on the eighteenth of May. He felt privileged to be hearing it on that night, the anniversary of Mahler's death. In fact, he wept at the start and at the end.

Indeed, I loved the first and fourth movements, particularly the long winding fourth that simply depletes itself over a long twenty five minutes into a gentle soft noise, that succumbs to an infinite silence, even in the Sydney Concert Hall on a near winter night - not a cough or sneeze in that bated breath final minutes, believe it or not. Great art masters all animal tempers it seems. I, too, had a weep at the profundity and co-incidence of Mahler's self prescience in the writing of this Symphony. Beethoven, Schubert, and Bruckner had all died after completing their ninth symphonies and according to the program notes, Mahler, a highly superstitious gentleman, while composing this score, in his hut at his summer residence in Toblach, had been visited in his room by an eagle and then a crow. He was afeard, indeed with the visits of these black harbingers of death. Enough not to call it a Symphony but rather DAS LIED VON DER ERDE and pointedly referred to it as a 'song-symphony'.

Mahler has been a puzzle for me, over a long time, to appreciate. When working in San Francisco, the chief conductor there, Michael Tilson-Thomas was a dedicated proselytiser of this great composer and conducted and recorded all the Symphonies. I managed to hear them all. I am still a "doubting Thomas" concerning the music of Mahler's Symphonies despite the dedication of both Mr Tilson-Thomas and Ashkenazy. Those two middle movements in the Ninth still throw me about too much to comprehend appreciatively and have an equilibrium about. Pleasure did not, does not, always register.

The first part of the concert was the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 13 in C,K415 led by Ashkenazy and played on the piano by Scottish, Steven Osborne. It was a light-weight delight. The summery youthful cheek of Mozart sparkled through. Mr Osborne has an elegant and refined touch. I watched his wrists, and fingers and marvelled at the grace and coaxing finger strokes on the piano keys. Tantalizing and seemingly effortless in the music making.

The combination of the two works complimented each other, in mood well.

Soon, I shall re-join the theatre merry-go-round that is not as merry as I would like. More music, first, perhaps.

N.B. Program notes were by Martin Buzacott,2002.


Performance Space presents FATHOM by Dean Walsh in Bay 20 at Carriageworks.

Performance Space presents FATHOM devised, choreographed and performed by Dean Walsh, the current Australia Council Dance Fellow for 2011-2012, as part of "UNEASY FUTURES, a season of visual and performing arts that contemplates visions of the future and moving towards the unknown."

Mr Walsh in a moving program note tells us of his distress at the loss of the natural habitat of his childhood, Mt Druitt in Sydney's outer west. He contemplates the bigger sadness of the bigger world problem.

"After about five years of tuning into environmental themes, starting to scuba dive, attending seminars, lectures and conferences and trying my hardest to gain the most reliable information, I'm in no doubt that we are living an utterly unsustainable existence."

Mr Walsh as a dancer seems to be at the peak of his physical form. The self choreography, within the range of this artist's gifts, are spectacularly fluid and beautiful to observe. Inspired by the underwater animals of his scuba diving idyllics, many incarnations of costumed and danced species are entrancingly presented. Other 'characters' appear and address us with physical intentions of various clarities.

The mechanisms of Mr Walsh's dramaturgy, to expound his sense of the loss of worlds and animals, a gradually detached set of fishing line tensions and snapped danger ribbons surrounding his space , mixed with visual compositions of mostly text, projected onto the set is often distracting and disabling to the continuity of the performance impact. The stage often empty except for 'spooling' information text of not much import, or a music cue involving a dance anthem “Love Cry” (by Four Tet) to fill the action while the performer is off stage, changing costume , maroons the audience to a disengaged state of indulgence for the artist.

As work in progress or process, there is some validity to the performance but there is much room for further focusing of the conceptual deliberations and actions of FATHOM. As with Mr Walsh's last work BACK FROM FRONT seen in May, 2008, also at Carriageworks, the dramturgical structures and realisatons into communicative drama for the audience needs more sophisticated refining.


Sydney Theatre & Chunky Move present CONNECTED at the Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay.

Gideon Obarzanek, Director and Choreographer of CONNECTED, has collaborated with American artist, Reuben Margolin, in developing a large scale undulating installation/sculpture which could interact with dancers.

"In previous works such as GLOW and MORTAL ENGINE it has been through the video graphics generated by the movements of the dancers and then projected back onto and around their bodies. Here in CONNECTED this relationship continues, but with early mechanical technology - intricately linked simple materials such as string, paper and wood literally connected to the dancers by fine strings. ... Until CONNECTED  Reuben's sculptures have existed as installations in galleries in a perpetual but constant state. While this gives his constellation-like objects a uniquely mesmerizing quality, the biggest challenge in this project was to find a relationship between dancers and sculpture that could  develop as a time arc within a performance event rather than a fixed singular connection".

Using Mr Margolin's beautiful machine/sculpture, with lighting by Benjamin Cisterne of great sensitivity and beauty, accompanied by an inspiring sound score by Oren Ambarchi and Robin Fox, five dancers: Stephanie Lake, Alisdair Macindoe, Marnie Palomares, Harriet Ritchie and Joseph Simons are intricately addressed in independent and then eventual connected choreography with the Margolin machine.

The dancers mostly are moved in low level, ground hugging, physical gyrations - each artist investigating and embracing the capacities of their individual range of expression that collides into connected impulse of one -on -one and group patterns, gradually being discreetly connected, to the strings of the mechanism of the sculpture. It is when the artists are harnessed to the machine and affect it into action- movement that the true magic of the theatre occurs. Sculpture,lighting, sound and movement all transcending the theatre spatial usualness into an imaginative leap to a realm of ethereal magical power. The first thirty minutes of this work build into a positively thrilling act of extraordinary fascination.

In an act of dis-connection the dancers, next , appear dressed as gallery security attendants. Moving with recognisable and everyday bodies and 'gesture', using recorded voice, we enter the world of the disengaged everyday security keepers of art. The sculpture no longer connected to the dancers, running on the loop of a mechanical engine. We are told 'stuff' and then asked to answer the question "What is art?" and then given various possibilities by pre-recorded actor voices: it is art because it is by someone famous and/or it cost the gallery a heap of money. Later, these disconnected guardians of art evolve into dancers from the waist down, and yet still hold their uniform from the waist up and finish another set of movement at low level gestural exploration, to end laying flat on the floor, as the sculpture is lowered to hover above them or crush them.

This second half of the work is the controversial part of the piece, for some it has no connection to the first half and is a kind of pedestrian, tacked on 'essay', unnecessary, and seemingly there to extend the work to a full hour duration (cynical, indeed). A thirty-minute show might not be acceptable to the paying public (true, perhaps, those of us that have had to earn the $60 required to experience this dance may have felt so. Cynical, again). Much like Mr G.B. Shaw who felt the cost of his play publications could not be justified with just the play so he would write, not always connected forward essays or prefaces, to bulk out the book. This is what some of my audience felt about the second half of CONNECTED. It was bulking out an already beautiful piece of art. I thought the final dance sequence was an attempt to knit the work back into a whole but felt the first thirty minutes would be all I would want, if i were to see it again.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

BELL SHAKESPEARE presents MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by William Shakespeare at the Drama Theatre, in the Sydney Opera House.

A set design (Stephen Curtis) sits in the space in a dominating fashion. A giant fresco wall of romantic images of giant mythical figures, the impact luscious at first glance, but on closer study reveals signs of wasting on the edges and hasty repair and 'gutting' by a large folding door, centrally. Pieces of odd and ruined furniture spread across the room - a piano of ruined tones and wear, included. There is a sense of a time when the wealth of this family headquarters of Messina,where an army is at rest after victory in battle, is in relative decline. The costumes are clothes of a contemporary look sometime in the not to distant past.

The company of actors sweep onto the stage and a wafting whiff of windy bon homie spreads out into the audience and sweeps all of us into a rambunctious riot of verbal and physical comedy. Two and half hours later we applaud the foolery as freshly as if we were just beginning the night.

Beatrice (Blazey Best) and her pretended reluctant lover, Benedict (Toby Schmitz), take up friendly cudgels of comedic repartee, reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the Hollywood Thirties, and a steady and well prepared company of actors create a riot of figures about them to keep the evening afloat with a delightfully buoyant and fluid night with nary a false note. The loquacious and heady text is delivered by all, confidently and with gathering humour. Surprisingly, even the big dramatic moment where Beatrice demands of Benedict to "Kill Claudio" scores the biggest laugh of the night. It is this unexpected balance of comic energy which John Bell has encouraged from this company of fifteen actors that provides a terrific night in the theatre. How long is it, since I have felt so relaxed and confident? Some time, I fear.

Despite the affected Australian sounds by most of the company, and the sometimes ' twisted' and sometimes halting verse readings of the lines of the bard, Mr Schmittz is wickedly funny and when required, warm with affection. A whole man on stage.The clarity of Ms Best keeps all in proper proportion and equal in wit. True, too, is Sean O'Shea as motiveless Don John; clever and heady is Nathan Lovejoy as Borachio and Robert Alexander and Arky Michael in their duel roles of responsibility. But all are a vital team in the success of this romp of good humour.

The production sets out to entertain and nothing else especially. It is a terrifically refreshing time in the theatre. Time well spent.

Pictures of Bright Lights

PICTURES OF BRIGHT LIGHTS by Maree Freeman, presented by Little Ones Theatre in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers Company at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre.

PICTURES OF BRIGHT LIGHTS is a new Australian play. This work was one of several works that emerged from the new NIDA Playwrighting Course (one year full-time) in 2010 and now has been curated by The Tamarama Rock Surfers Company with Little Ones Theatre as part of the inaugural Bondi Pavilion season.

A mother (Caroline Craig) and father (Kurt Phelan) have a daughter (Eryn Jean Norvill). The family lead a normal routine life: packing Dad’s lunch, sending him to work, then beginning and organising the daily chores with expressions of affection between mother and child. It is on a loop of habit and usual expectation. Prettily dressed (Design: Anya Tamsin) with simply choreographed stylised gesture (Sam Chester) it all unspools gently, even, surrealistically.(the look brought for me, the world of Gary Ross’ 1998 film, PLEASANTVILLE to mind).

The child/daughter becomes entranced “when a strange carnival appears in their front yard and a story teller (Kurt Phelan) unearths the town’s dark secret.” The young girl child digs in the earth around the town and finds, words. These words when put together in different configurations open a world that is different to the usual state of ‘being’ that she knows and we watch the loop of the family, especially between mother and daughter, slowly expand and warp. Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the Child begins adventures. The relationships shift and change, especially between mother and daughter and the hormonal displacement and growth between generations appear. The daughter discovers language and with the encouragement of the storyteller develops an independent world viewpoint that is much broader then her home base: “The Story Teller’s eyes glinted in the moonlight and the gleam from the Ferris Wheel reflected off colours of his coat. It looked like an orchestra of fire-flies dancing the tango across his chest.” She had seen nothing like this before. The ties that bound the family habits dissolve and the daughter finds independence and the mother and father find a new way of being together. Each dances into a new ‘loop’, further into their own journey.

Of course, this could be read as an autobiographical referencing of Ms Freeman’s discovery of her writing talent and the way that it may have shifted her into this ‘shamanistic’ gift that separates and distinguishes her from her origins – her ‘ordinary’ family and their routines. The journey of all artists when their gift is found and nurtured. The difference of the artist to the rest of us.

Simply told and maybe, a little too tightly controlled by the director, Stephen Nicolazzo, the overall effect of this short 55 minute play is one that permits delicate entrancement. This is certainly an ‘art’ project and requires a patience and application of thoughtful solving, during and/or after the performance. All three of the performers give a concentrated and committed, lovingly concocted physical and vocal life to the world that Mr Nicolazzo and Ms Freeman have invented. Ms Norvillle goes through the greatest arc journey and is mostly impressive with her emotional expression. The Sound design by Nate Edmonson is alluring to the mood of the piece, even if I felt the Nina Simone moment was a little heavy handed for the delicacy that had gone on before.

It is interesting to put the recent production of another new Australian play at the New Theatre last month, DIRTYLAND by Elise Hearst, side by side. Both by women and both, maybe, uniquely, demonstrating a contemporary female approach to a dramatic writing world view. Both plays have no real 'plot' as such, and in my experience of them, an existence in the theatre space that requires circumspection and breath to absorb and solve. Poetry and intensely visual, almost installation-art qualities, dominating, necessarily, the audience’s sensibilities, if the most is to be gained from the work. There are no easy answers to what is going on. Is there something going on? Is it a way of using the theatre medium in a new delicate manner that is absent of the usual old patriarchal/masculine view of how to write story and present an experience for an audience? A quiet revolution?

Just a reflection, I have had.

This work is attractive and interesting, but for the curious artists amongst us, not a usual evening in the theatre. Sign of the times? Certainly the majestic ocean from the verandah/deck of this theatre had greater poetic scope in my mind afterwards. Brave to curate in this space, and a definite statement as to real and thoughtful values of the possibility of contemporary theatre. One can only hope the Tamarama Rock Surfers can find the right support from audiences to continue this wonderful, problematic enterprise, in this mode.

I see they have curated an old 1930’s melodrama, ROPE by Patrick Hamilton, (he who wrote GASLIGHT, as well – ah, Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, where are you?) for next on the bill at the Pavilion. I anticipate a delightful change of pace and style. Let us hope it is not too ‘artful’ as to discourage people from not wanting to just rent the Alfred Hitchcock version for a cosy winter’s night at home instead. A thrill in the theatre with good old fashioned suspense might just encourage an audience out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Business

Belvoir presents THE BUSINESS by Jonathan Gavin, based on VASSA ZHELEZNOVA by Maxim Gorky, in the Upstairs Theatre at the Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

This is a new Australian play by Jonathan Gavin, set in the 1980's about a successful business family that is on the cusp of inter-generational change. The heirs, spoilt by the wealth of the hard work of their parents, are waiting to indulge the spree that wealth without responsibility can give. They want to sell up the business and indulge ("I want a yacht!"). But there is still life in the old guard-gal yet, and mum is not going to hand it over without a struggle. We witness that struggle.

The focus of the Belvoir collaborators has been on the middle class bourgeoise with fairly exaggerated and gross satire worthy of 'youngsters' who never lived through the '80's and possibly believe that Sir Les Patterson is a real person and that this is the kind of play he would write if he could, consistently, put pen to paper. Certainly, the actors and designers (Set: Verity Lamb, Costumes: Stephen Curtis.) have honed in on the grotesque elements of some fronts of the remembered years of "GREED IS GOOD" time. Their visual projections selectively and simplistically taking the contemporary retro-look of the eighties things, literally. It does mine laughter but is the play about something else other than comedy?

When dealing with the way the writing is presented in this production, as an audience, think of the rough and tumble melodramas of the television series DALLAS (1978-1991) with the hi-jinx of the Ewing family or even a little more frothily, DYNASTY (1981-1989) with the Carringtons, especially the campery of Alixis played by Joan Collins, and recast it with the documentary personas of the Australian documentary, ground breaking, reality television style entertainment, SYLVANIA WATERS (1991), with Noeline and Laurie and you have some of the sensibility of director Cristabel Sved's production. 80's music and all..... (Composer and Sound Design: Max Lyandvert).

If you can imagine the above proposition then the cast, maybe unconsciously inspired by the work of Chris Lilley, create physical characterisations that have some laugh out loud moments but have no depth or real truth beyond the satiric surface of their look to sustain the length of attention demanded by the play. Sketch comic costume and make-up turns are the substitution cover. John Leary (Simon) and Samantha Young (Natalie), hideously bloated with greed; Thomas Henning (Ronald) and Russell Kiefel (Gary) frighteningly, psychologically disabled. Grotesque, indeed – a house of horrors.

Eamon Flack, as Dramaturg to this production, in his program notes believes "THE BUSINESS is the play that the quintessential Australian playwright David Williamson never had the stomach to write. Indeed, no Australian playwright in the 80's managed to deliver quite the mix of savagery, immaturity, excess and dramatic crassness that the decade truly deserved".

David Williamson and all the others who failed to write that play in the eighties probably had too much belief, contextual awareness and balanced insight into that society to have the need to write it. Besides, Barry Humphries seemed to be chasing down that observational work in his own full length evening entertainments with ruthless surgical precision (1962-2010) and was working in a form that was more dramatically useful for that satiric work, than the two-act play structure allowed or warranted.

Instead, THE BUSINESS by Jonathan Gavin, seems to reflect the collaborators and maybe the artistic sensibilities of the new Belvoir team of 2011, and, so, the society of this time, more accurately, than the above claimed 1980'S. In a recent program at Pact, a young emerging artist Nat Randall in her creation CHEER UP KID (TINY STADIUMS' DOUBLE BILL) created what I believe in our contemporary worldview/cultural malaise, three remarkable characters of flawed losers/lost people, that seemed to signal for me the present alarming state of lost moral compass, hope and faith in the excess of so much of our present cultural consciousness. Mr Gavin's play while having similar pointed ambitions for acerbic critique, fails ultimately, because of directional choices, despite the model that Maxim Gorky in his play VASSA ZHELEZNOVA offered and ought to have inspired these artists too.

Last year, Mr Gavin revealed a play of startling skill, compassion and committed social responsibility in BANG. I remember, reading, that the play had been in development for several years in the hands of a collective, including the director Kim Hardwick. THE BUSINESS, on the other hand, was commissioned by Belvoir's artistic team in August of last year, and from a literal translation of Gorky's play by Karen Vickery, began a rehearsal in March with a working third draft. Only a third draft (!) and it undecided and incomplete, therefore. An eight-month gestation period, only. Was it enough? The play was written as the production took shape about it! Not enough, I reckon. This is where the venture may have come unstuck, for the adaptation and some of the under-developed dramatic movement of the text, which often petered out of directional energy in performance, and left us marooned in odd, unfilled pauses, may have benefited with more time to sort out the structural issues and subtle character writing. The dramaturgy too loose, too brief in its responsibilities?

VASSA ZHELEZNOVA, was twice written by Maxim Gorky. Once for Romanov Russia (1910) and again for Stalinist Russia (1932). Neither versions up to the mark of his THE LOWER DEPTHS (1902) and SUMMERFOLK (1905). Karen Vickery and John Clark presented in a NIDA COMPANY production, 19 years ago a mash up of both the VASSA sagas. The Vassa figure, the wife and mother to this family, ruthlessly takes charge of the family business with a pre-meditated murder of her husband and a manipulation of her children. The view is savage, cruel and uncompromisingly chilling. Ultimately overtly melodramatic in both versions which prevents it from standing equal with the other two mentioned works.

This is what may have inspired Lillian Hellman's savage family and business saga THE LITTLE FOXES (1939 play; 1941 screenplay) for, the principal female figure, Regina Giddens similarly, murders her husband and manipulates the surviving family to gain control of the family business. Ms Hellman was a devoted socialist and admirer of the Russian revolution's intentions, and probably well acquainted with the Gorky oeuvre. In the film version, Bette Davis is a towering study of considered and irresistible evil. Lindy Davies in the John Clark production, a tremendous force of matriarchal power and conviction, giving a performance that even shadowed the tremendous John Krummel as the husband (the company also included Jackie Mc Kenzie, Karen Vickery among others).

In THE BUSINESS, the naturalistic performance of Sarah Peirse as Van, the mother figure, the Vassa stand-in, lacks the intensity and power of the potential of the role. This is a minor key tonal choice rather than the major key it demands to focus her and shape the others about her. Maybe, the fact that Mr Gavin has removed the savagery of murder of her husband, has weakened the structural critique and focuses on the white collar forgery as the principal crime. Diluting the force of the original, immensely. As if the present newspaper headlines do not reveal the many Lady Macbeth's around us. Ms Peirse certainly has the models to bring to bear on the role even if the writer and dramaturge have weakened the actual story for her. For it is here, the production flounders. If Van lacks the focused energy of ruthless criminal energy the play sags. Whether, as it is in the Gorky, written, or possibly, in the Gavin, only intimated.

However, there is some compensation, for the tepidness of this Van, in the playing from the hugely complex reading that Kate Box brings to bear, emotionally, intellectually and inventively as Anna, the gradual co-conspirator for power in the play. Ms Box in her entrance, even subdues the possible laughter of her appearance in the ridiculous fashion design statement of her first costume and, brings a mood of sub-textual possibility that the writing fails to equip her with. Whirlpools of a plotting mind swim under the skin of this apprentice 'monster' (what would Ms Box have made of Sonia in the STC UNCLE VANYA, I wonder, retrospectively? Ms Box is a great artist, in my reckoning of her talent and work on the recent Sydney stages). Similarly, the short scene between Jodie Kennedy, as Jennifer, and Ms Box brings the play alive with real life objectives and not just satirical surfaces. Both these actors have a sense of the Gorky, bitter view of certain elements of the human animal and briefly the play bristles with the pointed quills of possible bloody weaponry of the female psychology. It is a moment of the real thrill of the possibility of this play.

I should add that I was bewildered by the characterisation in Mr Henning's performance, as Ronald, in this production, that went for laughter far too often, and maybe it was the divided tonal approach of the other collaborators that undermined Mr Henning's efforts. For in a darker approach to the play, Mr Henning's performance would truly have been sinister not just emotionally pathetic, as it stands at the moment in the experience of it in relation to the other actor's offers. For here was a cousin to Shakespeare's Richard III, indeed. Deformed both physically and in the corrupt nurturing bosom of this family.

If this is so, one does wonder then, if there is more to this text then, than the glancing surface glimmers of the period satiric comedy observations? Maybe Ms Sved has not really had the time to realise the text beyond the short rehearsal available to secure a beginning, middle and end to the play to open on April 27th, 2011, with such a brief writing time (2 drafts!!!) let alone a studied consideration of what the real offers in the text may be, considering the play's heritage? Or was it an inadvertent diversion by the clever designers and other actors comedic instincts that pulled the production to juvenile satire? Too much Australian drama has been drawn to the larrikin traditions of the Aussie humour over and above the dark consideration that we are all possible criminals with voracious appetites for the easy choices to immoral or unethical choices, and we just hate to culturally confront and portray it unflinchingly: the ugly human truths behind our deflecting Aussie-humour traits. Moral corruptions for business profits. (Nigel Jamieson in his telling of the ANZAC story, GALLIPOLI for the STC began to hint at the other side of the Australian soldier abroad in that terrible war recently. Hardly remarked upon, of course).

That Mr Gavin has the potential to be a great writer is in the proof of BANG. I would suggest the writing in THE BUSINESS as is, is better than we are seeing in this production, and that the further potential of Mr Gavin's cleverness is in the luxury of proper time for this commission to be nurtured by Belvoir. Eight months seems a ridiculous prescription. History tells us so, except for an occasional inspired genius. They are few and far between. A lesson to be learned surely? WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING by Andrew Bovell was three odd years in the making and it was the last, other great Australian play I have seen.

TIME is necessary. Nurturing is what the writer requires.

Like Belvoir's Ibsen adaptation of THE WILD DUCK, I suspect a speedy superficiality in the textual preparation of these two texts. I should hope otherwise. But…

P.S. A digression. It is curious indeed, as to the amount of Russian origin in the repertoire of Sydney theatre this year and I wonder why.

Nida's production of Bulgakov's FLIGHT in 2010.CHEKHOV'S Uncle Vanya. GOGOL'S The Diary of a Madman, PASTERNAK'S Doctor Zhivago, DOSTOEVSKY'S Notes from Underground, BULGAKOV'S The White Guard, GORKY'S, Vassa Zheleznova: A Mother (adapted as The Business for Belvoir Theatre), and then CHEKHOV'S The Seagull and Chekhov Short story, THE KISS. Later in the year Max Lyandvert, as the Artist Associate at NIDA for 2011 is creating a work around the text of THE IDIOT by Dostoevsky.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tiny Stadiums Festival

TINY STADIUMS FESTIVAL produced by PACT and Curated by Quarterbred at the PACT Theatre, Erskinville.

TINY STADIUMS FESTIVAL, curated by Quarterbred and produced by PACT "presents a season of performance and a weekend of works made for public spaces with live, sonic, visual and participatory projects from some of Australia's (most exciting (emerging) artists" from 2-15 May, 2011.

A season of live performance simply called DOUBLE BILL, includes EXECUTIVE STRESS / CORPORATE RETREAT invented by Applespiel and CHEER UP KID by Nat Randall. They can be seen as a double bill or separately.

Apppelspiel have devised a program presenting and cleverly parodying an executive stress, corporate retreat. The corporate retreat, seems, in contemporary experience, deemed a necessary adjunct to just going to work and doing the job by any forward-looking, endeavouring, earnings accretive organisation which espouses corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The morale of the staff and so the company will be supported and lifted, leading to circles of strength, and charisma enhancements that assist in filling capability gaps to capture the big step improvements that will cascade down throughout the company's core values that will lead to transformative moments 24/7 that are very key and vibrant for top line growth and deliver targets of opportunity that will service the profit chain for the share holders, rightsizing the company and rendering revenue enhancements and helping the real people in the real world recognize the rationalized footprints of industry beyond plausible deniability and prejudice for best outcomes and incomes, in other words, output!!! (PROFIT).

Applelspiel begins by recruiting from the attendees a group of elite volunteers for the Elite Program who will interact committedly in the Corporate Retreat with the facilitators for the benefit of the majority, so that they can defrag, cosily, as non-powered observers for their non-trivial empowerment. Lectures, games, competition, voting, " contemporary clichés, cant and management jargon" are employed from what seems to be a fairly accurate re-creation of the official management handbook for these 'infamous" staff development events.

This work is best when played in deadly earnestness. When it strays in focus for laughs or attempting to involve the whole audience, especially, on my night, with smart-arse and unhelpful hecklers, it loses its edge. I also felt that the writing, satire could have been more consistently sharper and a trifle more savage. I especially enjoyed the opening speeches by the facilitating crew, and the writing never reached the same heights of wit or piercing accuracy again. With further directorial tightening and a little more cleverly resourced and targeted text this could result in a very entertaining work that could truly claim mission accomplished.

The divisors and performers of Applespiel are Simon Binns, Nathan Harrison, Nicole Kennedy, Emm McManus, Joseph Parro, Troy Reid, Rachel Roberts and Mark Rogers.

The second part of the double bill is a solo work by Nat Randall called CHEER UP KID "… a collection of eccentric characters and true stories with a focus on failure". Ms Randall creates for us three wonderfully observed people, all flawed, with agile vocal characterisations and a minimal costume and/or prop change. There is sad comedy here and all three reflect a mordant worldview. The cultural malaise of contemporary times seeps unhappily through the observations that are both funny and disturbing. Laughter, despite grief. The world of Barry Humphries great creation Sandy Stone rises up around Ms Randall's characters. Laughter through tears - an old Chekhov mantra. The work is still emerging. The length of the work at the moment suggests stand-up comedy sketches but the quality of the performing and the writing, direction, potentially promises a very moving and searing night in the theatre in the future.

Please note that TINY STADIUMS have a LIVE ART WEEKEND on the 15th May between 11am and 3pm along Erskineville Road. Possibly,a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

NOTE: Part of this post have been inspired by “Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words: Contemporary Cliches, Cant and Management Jargon”, Don Watson, 2004.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Disappearances Project

Performance Space, Carriage Works and version1.0 present THE DISAPPEARANCES PROJECT at Carriageworks, Redfern, Sydney.

THE DISAPPEARANCES PROJECT presented by version 1.0 concerns itself with the world of missing persons, and, more specifically, this work deals with the people left behind without ‘closure’.

On an oblong of neat carpet, in front of a large screen for projection, are two high backed, uncomfortable looking, wooden chairs, that, after the production begins, two actors, Yana Taylor and Irving Gregory sit, and in a highly stylised vocal delivery, recall details of the events surrounding the disappearance and the aftermath of the void left by an unexpectedly absent loved one.

The performers are backed by beautiful, haunting film images of deserted suburbia: houses and town landscapes, that begin out of focus and gradually take recognisable shape on the backing screen (Sean Bacon). Pale, pallid and spooky. Accompanying the voices of the actors and supporting the vacant feel of the film imagery is a contemporary score by Paul Prestipino of percussive sound effects, chimes and drones.

As is the usual creative habit of version 1.0, this work was devised through a period of research by the ensemble: Irving Gregory, Paul Prestipino, Yana Taylor and David Williams, a script work -shopped from material gathered from interviews. The company have fashioned a project that focuses not so much on the missing, but rather on “the plight of those left behind”. “Recent research estimates that each missing persons case can directly affect the lives of twelve other people, and be they family, friends or community members, the journeys of the left behind are far from straight forward. … The left behind …. exist in a state of ‘not-knowing’, left ‘stuck’ or ‘frozen’…”

It is a slow evenly paced journey. Focused and tellingly gentle and dreamlike-nightmarish, the pain and suffering, tangible. It is, viscerally, a trying experience, for all. The balance that version 1.0 always have, between the pragmatics of revealing the discovered research and the artistic translating into performance, is always a precarious one. The respect for the discovered content and the pursuit of an artistic form to present it in offers, depending on the subject matter, necessarily delicate decisions. Here, the awkwardly slow delivery, surrounded by the images and sound, manage to strike, mostly, a respectable and successful balance. Still, I was taken from the storytelling, and given time, in the languors of the spoken text to estimate and admire the artistry. The art dominating the content.

“The world is full of missing persons, and their numbers increase all the time. The space they occupy lies somewhere between what we know about the ways of being alive, and what we hear about the ways of being dead” (Andrew O’Hagan, THE MISSING, 1996). This is much what one feels while watching this work.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald (3rd May,2011) a story of a found body , the family are only partially relieved : “We often talk about the word closure…(but) from my experience … there is no closure. It’s just a transcendence from one realm to another, from one stage to another.”

Sunday, May 1, 2011


TRAPTURE presented by Sands through the Hourglass in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers Theatre at the Old Fitzroy Theatre.

TRAPTURE, says the blurb, is bleeding theatre into performance art. Oh, yeah. "Outrageous and visceral"! - mmm? For who?

A woman (Sarah Enright) dressed in slinky full length dress and gag greets each of us as we enter the Old Fitz theatre space. The walls are draped in plastic, the seats are covered in plastic. There is an air of fun (and potential danger?) Above the stage there is a technical arsenal of sound gear, being treated by Basil Hogios, live, for our atmospheric immersion, who is nattily dressed in contemporary suited-hipster style - black famed spectacles and all. We notice a dinner-suited gent (Simon Corfield) standing on the side.

Once all of us are in this titillating space, the two move to each other and begin an intimate tongue in each others cheek and sexual embrace and "maul" (steamy) and gradually they escalate into a night of sex game play and aberrant fantasy. For instance, she operates on him under blue plastic covers and he ends up with a vagina. We get plastic snakes thrown at us (oh, come on, where is the pigs bleeding innards, at least?) He pisses into a bowl from his new vagina. She is forced fed his shit. She cuts out his heart and cooks it for us. And so much more.

Think low budget THE WAR OF THE ROSES, with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas or MR AND MRS SMITH with Angelina and Brad. This is a fun show that wants to believe that it is 'dirty', 'edgy' and raunchy but it's actually highly sanitised, and is suitable for all ages.

Those of us that have grown-up attending Sydney fringe venues of over too many performance-art-history-years; those of us that have been assaulted and confronted and splashed with real bodily fluids from the late sixties up to now, 2011; those of us that get to the QUICK AND DIRTY, Mardi Gras events or fondly remember the Man Jam exploits or Gurlesque or the Kingpins or Mike Parr’s toilet exhibition at the Biennale time before last; those of us who still get to the Red Rattler or PACT Theatre Space or Performance Space; those of us who remember AKHE - Russian Engineering Theatre’s WHITE CABIN in the Playhouse at the mainstream Sydney Festival a few years ago, may find TRAPTURE a pallid, but endearing night of naughty children's games.

But those of you that have never encountered sexual boundary riding (real or pretend) will find this a nice and safe entry point to whet your appetites for the real thing if you really, really like it and really, really look for it. This won the Sydney Morning Herald’s “Most Thrilling Theatrical Event Award” in 2010 and is definitely aimed comfortably at the SMH general reader.

Shannon Murphy directs, Lucilla Smith has done a neat design, Teegan Lee, the lighting. Sarah Enright and Simon Corfield are serious and fun. But the best bit, if you are a jaded performance art attendee like me, is the 'genius' of the live performance of Basil Hogios. He was great on my night.

What do you reckon? A laksa and a silly, fun show that might encourage ‘adventures' at home afterwards. The TAMARAMA ROCK SURFERS REALLY expanding our possible theatre boundaries. Go.

Silent Disco


One of the strengths of Lachlan Philpott's playwriting so far has been the sense of deep authenticity that he brings to the worlds he explores in his plays. BISON (2000-2009) and COLDER (2007) have powerful and grave impact, particularly, as Mr Philpott's point of view is embedded with 'real' knowledge and creative identification of the characters and the events of the action of the plays. He has first-hand 'knowledge' of what he writes. The plays have the pulse and wealthy inside knowledge that only connected, close, lived observation can give. Part of their power is the exposition of worlds and behaviours never so authentically spoken of before, in Australian dramatic literature. The voice is brave and fearless. The result is confronting and enlightening, if you are not from those worlds. If you are, it possibly gives relief, that it is been told out loud, at last.

One of the other defining elements of Mr Philpott's work is the "fluid and musical", poetic stylistic devices which he employs.

"...(he) doesn't rely on dialogue as the main element of his dramaturgy but more interestingly adopts a range of linguistic devices to create a world that is both external and internal to it's characters ... particularly a 'scene-setting' narrative voice that often does not belong to the character, or (he) voices their internal thoughts, (and) creates the atmosphere around characters" (Noel Jordan, 2011).

The verbal dynamics and intricate adjustments that the actors require in performance are formidable and demand a focus of concentration and a technique of great security and flexibility. The text at its best has the collective possibility of a sound poem - a musical 'tour de force' that requires all the players to work in a very tight ensemble, not only as characters, interacting in the Stanislavskian 'cause and effect' but also as musicians intimately alert to the pace, pitch and volume of the other actor/instrument offers. The beauty of Laclan Philpott's intentions are potentially great.

In the case of SILENT DISCO a tightly held 'orchestral' quartet of voices and sounds is required to do justice to the potential of the script. Not only do the actors have to tell this story and create characters (some more than one) but they need to listen to the musical readings of the others to keep this work afloat for the true transcendency of the 'scoring' of the material, which otherwise could appear to be mundane soap-opera, sit-com dialogue and situation from a realistic early evening television series (HOME AND AWAY, NEIGHBOURS). What the four actors require is a thorough confidence with the text (notation) and the sensibility and ensemble sensitivity of a top flight String Quartet. Say, the Emerson String Quartet playing, say, Shostakovitch. The play needs to be conducted, musically directed. A baton would be, should be, essential in the rehearsal process.

SILENT DISCO is set in the time of hormonal explosions of middle adolescent growth, belonging to Squid and Tamara, centred in and around the school room and, in this particular, dysfunctional and deprived worlds of the broken home environment. The consequences of both these circumstances are volatile and saddening in this vividly observed script. Mr Philpott's stunning accuracy comes from his own family of generational high school teachers - his father and his self. He once again speaks with a truly authentic voice.

"It aims to celebrate school communities.... There are many films and plays written about schools. Some try to impose a hero's journey on the world they represent and in so doing belie mundane rituals and monotonous routines that make most school days endless and forgettable... Within schools.... young people learn how to relate to each other. They also forge important relationships with teachers… In this play I focus on these relationships in the context of the school community because I am aware that these communities play pivotal roles in connecting people - allowing them to understand each other and in turn themselves. " (Philpott, 2011).

SILENT DISCO shows us what happens when such connections fail.

The central character is Tamara (Sophie Hensser), and director Lee Lewis has, indeed, found a young actor who looks as if she has barely left school herself. Ms Hensser has the look and brings a frightening sense of self-identification to the character. The generalised adolescent attitude, the ease of body and street vocalisations appear comfortable and totally embodied. The reality of the performance is such that it looks as if it has just been taken from the street and put onto the SBW Stables stage without any real theatrical focusing or rehearsal choice for the writer's thematics or story. Unfortunately the real world is a very different place to the SBW Stables Stage. Even in this small space there is a need for real craft and skill, that is essential for the responsibility of this central role. Vocally, Ms Hennser, gabbles her text with no clarity of story telling or sense of what it is important for the audience to hear. It spills out of her character with the impression of everyday conversation and has no sub-textual thought process to reveal the characters motivations. Tamara appears shallow and superficial - true to life, but not very interesting in the theatre where it should appear to be true to life, but actually be organised for story telling clarity. Hence, Mr Philpott's text, consequently, sounds shallow and superficial. It has no real focused control or apparent technique. So, Tamara, despite the writing opportunities given to Ms Hensser, stays in the 'brat camp' providence - a bright young girl, handicapped by her neglected nurturing, and not much else is intimated about Tamara, by this relatively inexperienced actor in her performance.

Ms Lewis has taken a calculated risk in this casting. She wins in the realistic believability of the look and sound of her principal actor/character, and it is momentarily transfixing, but loses in sustaining interest, in the inability to help this actor to bring the technical prowess that Mr Philpott's script requires, for it to elevate above and beyond television acting/production styles. This production, then, as time passed, stayed on the ground.

Ms Hensser's central role dominates the possibility of the other actor's development in the playing style. As Ms Hensser stays within a very limited playing style and has not a real sense of playing to and with the other actors, not ever really listening to them, the level at which they can create is inhibited. The essential musical score of Mr Philpott's writing is impossible to create or take flight and the experience of the play becomes uncomfortably ordinary and could feel banal in its two act scheme. Camilla Ah Kin has the potentially interesting role as the sympathetic teacher (and others) but has her task muted with no tangible connection coming from Ms Hensser, her principal playing fellow. Meyne Wyatt , coming off a spectacular debut in THE BROTHERS SIZE, in the recent Griffin Independent season, still glows with an energy and insight and especially in the scenes with Ms Ah Kin sustains that sense of his potential - it shimmers with vulnerability and intelligence.

Ms Lewis creates with Justin Nardella, their usual black and white abstracted design solution and I felt was not a very balanced use of the Stables space, with the 'classroom' space inhibited by the sculptural floor ramps of the focused stage area. Stefan Gregory as both composer and sound designer makes a supporting input to the production.

SILENT DISCO like the other plays of Mr Philpott I have seen has not had the musical preparation that I believe makes his work, potentially, special and great. Still, the reaction from others on the night I attended was pleased. I just believe Lachlan Philpott writes stylistically much more complexly than I have yet, seen delivered.

1. Play script of SILENT DISCO by Lachlan Philpott. Currency Press - 2011.