Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cursed Hearts

Australian Theatre for Young People presents "cursed hearts" inspired by ROMEO AND JULIET of Shakespeare, Gounod and Prokofiev at the atyp theatre space at the Wharf.

Danielle O'Keefe, the director, has attempted to investigate with a young troupe of 21 actors, the thematics of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, specifically, the forbidden love between warring parties, families. Of the 15 women and 6 men, from my reading of the ensemble biographies in the program, most appear to be still at school.

"The aim was to tell the well-known story of ROMEO and JULIET in a new way through the layering of traditional performance techniques with contemporary performance techniques, including digital media and sound. We have used our chorus as abstract representations of emotions such as fear and threat, as well as characters in the story, through the use of their voices and bodies throughout the space" (choreographer, Belinda Scanlan). All extremely modish and brave in its intended ambitions but ultimately the production lacks the ability to communicate the basic story past the trappings of production, and so fails.

This is a promenade production and we enter a constructed design space (Marc Barold) that occupies, mostly the perimeter of the found space, taking advantage of some of the permanent architectural features of the wharf site. Other acting spaces are defined by the lighting (Ben Cisterne), for instance, an intense white ribbon of light in the centre of the area, which evolves into a busy zone of encounter for the performers.On two of the walls, around the space, an animation of digital visual designs (Trevor Wills) of some thoughtful and beautiful images are projected.

As we promenade in and stand waiting for the production to begin, the young company in black, goth-like attire (Adrienn Lord) insinuate their presence in collections around us, between us, and from heights above us. The movement/ choreography (Belinda Scanlon) is the result of experimenting with an idea called "flocking" within the space and shapes and levels of the environment. Having an audience that is promenading in and among the performers, adds to a sense of improvised engagement. An aliveness. The adrenalin, hormonal energy of the young people is palpable through most of our senses: touch-heat, and smell. It also, unfortunately, leads to visual obfuscation and one misses a great deal of the training of these performers.

Dominating the experience is a sound design and, I assume, composition (Tom Brennan and Zacchary Wiffen) that is a loud, pumping, penetrating and relentless disco noise that has, fleetingly, some musical thematics from the Prokofiev Ballet and, maybe, the Gounod Opera of ROMEO AND JULIET. Mixed with this are what seems to be recordings of some of the actors quoting some of the Shakespeare play (poorly) and some live spoken text, and, even further aural layering, with the live open vowel musical singing/moaning/howling of some of the actors. Intense, indeed. This space is not entirely sympathetic to electronic sound (refer to my THE TOOTH OF CRIME post), and the experiential journey can often be wincingly painful to the ears.

The listed "creatives" seem to have had a fine time building an atmospheric support for these performers but they mostly swamp and drown the work of the actors. Shakespeare is often reduced to a single word e.g. "sacrifice”, “banished”, “dead”, repeated over and over again, and with escalating desperation by the performers, resulting in shouting, and essentially, to my ears, dangerous misuse of the instrument. The young actor playing Romeo, for instance, demonstrated, terribly early in the performance, a raspy and scratchy voice, despite the fact that he was 'wired' for sound, as well. A tired and possibly injured quality. That he has several weeks scheduled for performance still to fulfil, raised my concerned empathy.

If the amplifiers of the sound equipment were overloaded and started "acting up'', if the projectors burnt out, if the lighting fused and 'blew'up', I have no doubt that the creative team would have replaced and then have taken advisory care with the new equipment. Why then have these young actors not being cared for, when their voices began to strain? These young artists with huge emotive enthusiasm seem to not have had proper guidance to instrument usage and care. Surely this should be part of the responsibility of the director and the artistic team of atyp? (Fraser Corfield). Duty of care with the instrument development of these young ambitious artists needs to be balanced with the modish ambition of the production. Without instrument health the future of these young artists could be severely impaired.

Anyone not knowing the Romeo and Juliet story will have very little comprehension as to what is going on in this production, I suspect. This production will probably be best appreciated by the family and friends of these young ambitious young artists. No one else much. An ironic sound quote that I did hear clearly at the end of the very long sixty odd minutes of this work was directly from poor 'lost' Shakespeare :

"Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."

Substitute "story'" with production.

I left this production with concern for the actors and their instruments rather than an insight into the Romeo and Juliet phenomenon.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Country Arts WA and Deckchair Theatre in association with Seymour Centre present KRAKOUER! By Reg Cribb, in collaboration with Sean Gorman, author of Brother Boys, in the Seymour Theatre, Seymour Centre, Sydney.

Reg Cribb has fondly adapted and collaborated with Sean Gorman and the Krakouer families to construct a straight forward narrative playwork celebrating the football skills and tempestuous lives of two ground-breaking indigenous sportsman, figures, in the Australian history landscape.

Marcelle Schmitz, the director, has efficiently employed the actors with an ease of storytelling techniques that are fluid and always fresh and comprehensible, despite the multi-role play in that the three actors are required to take on. Indeed is the comfortability and charm of the actors that keep this play alive and present. Without the directorial and actorly skill, this play could be very, very, dull and ordinary, indeed, unless you were a football, that is AFL, fanatic.

Most of the audience I saw it with were just that. It was a very exciting experience to sit among such fans in a theatre and see and hear the relish of every detail that was brought to the stage. The video clips of the Krakouer brothers at inspirational work were especially rousing and that crossover of sport as art had real resonances. The poetry of the boys/men in motion, awe inspiring, dance–like, balletic (Disco hips!!!).

Sean Dow, and the clever and generous actor, Luke Hewitt and Leon Burchill are lovingly committed to the tasks. It was a pleasure to watch the interplay and interdependence, trust, up there on stage between these men.

This play by Reg Crib has good intentions and they are honoured indeed. In terms of the, relatively, ground breaking work of the recent BULLY BEEF STEW at Pact Theatre earlier this month, it is curiously dated in construction and relevance. Not unimportant in its social issues but old fashioned and not nearly hard hitting enough. History recorded, but explorative dramatisations of cause and effect, simply avoided. It is a fan’s love letter without any deep digging . An avoidance of confrontations.

You can’t have everything, I guess.

Drake The Amazing and La Dispute

Michaela Kalowski and Owl Farm in partnership with Darlinghurst Theatre Company Present DRAKE THE AMAZING and LA DISPUTE at the Darlinghurst Theatre(Supported by Arts Radar).

The program and publicity informs us that DRAKE THE AMAZING and LA DISPUTE by Andy Hyman are two plays: a double-bill. “Two sharp comedies exploring love, lust and transformation.” What we have, experientially, are 12 actors giving very good and enlivened performances directed very well, with a sense of meticulous detail by the director John Kachoyan. What we don’t have are two very interesting plays.

LA DISPUTE , which I recognised as an adaptation of Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux’s 1744 play, is here claimed to be written by Andy Hyman.

I had hoped it was to be the Marivaux, as I have found other productions of that play, curious but not satisfying, and thought this was to be a further interesting engagement. But, as there was no indication, not a word or mention, in the program of Marivaux at all, not even crediting the source of Mr Hyman’s inspiration, neither by the writer or director in their notes, I was indeed shocked at seeing this Marivaux play almost completely intact. Strange, indeed. Such bold appropriation of credit. I have a very recent memory of this play, presented at the Sydney Theatre Company a few years ago in Wharf 2, and of course read many times.

The Marivaux play reveals its age. I have come to the conclusion that the work is a dramatised, intellectual argument that has very little interest for us today in the theatre. In 1744, when most people could not read, but were interested in philosophical discussion, yes, it has a purpose, but today July/August 2011, probably not. In my experience, no. The form of the dramatisation, which Mr Hyman has ‘written’ is not at all engaging, and despite the uniformly good work of the actors and director is simply a didactic bore - faintly amusing. I especially enjoyed the work of Ben Wood and Stacey Duckworth.

DRAKE THE AMAZING by Andy Hyman is a very curious piece of theatre to be presented on the contemporary stage in Sydney. It is set in the vaudeville theatre milieu of the United States in 1911, and concerns the transformative influence of an artist and language. Alden Drake (Scott Sheridan) is employed by Neilson (Nicholas Papademetriou) as a monologist for the theatre and is coached, badgered by the stage manager, Claudette (Kate Skinner) until he reveals himself as a great artist when he brings to life a Robert Browning poem, PORPHYRIA’S LOVER (I am informed). He becomes the AMAZING DRAKE.

Whilst I enjoyed the work of all the actors, in this slight piece, especially the narrator figure, Astor, (Andrew Johnson), the triumph that Mr Sheridan is meant to reveal as Drake ,is not delivered. The verse speaking does not translate in performance as anything amazing or different. Mr Richard Burton, Mr John Gielgud, and surely this is what AMAZING should be?, Mr Sheridan is not able to replicate. The poem in this monologist recitation is not engaging or transformative in the least. It becomes long and imaginatively dull in its language usage – I switched off in the general state of technique of the performance of the language and objective of the monologue. Who cared? Only Claudette, and she was in love with him anyway, Cupid’s love blindness, perhaps?

And although Mr Hyman has skills, I felt that this work has a sense of adaptation too, from a short story or……? (I could not verify this suspicion). The dramaturgical techniques that Mr Hyman has employed in this play are clichéd and dull, the direct narrator is so boring a dramatic solution, for instance, to solve dramatic story telling that I could not recognise any reason for it to be presented in Sydney at all. The best reason would be because it was a comedy, anything to help distract us from the world as it stands at the moment, but the laughs were few and far between, really.

The curation of this material by the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, amiss again (check my reaction to the curation of JANE AUSTEN’S GUIDE TO PORNOGRAPHY… etc. in February).

The set by Adrienn Lord, and the costumes by Marissa Dale-Johnson for both sides of the double-bill were attractive and useful in creating the world of the plays and certainly the hand of control and insight in the acting technique needed for this kind of work, made me curious to see Mr Kachoyan’s directorial work again, just with better and more cogent material.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011



THE NEDERLANDS DANCE THEATRE 1 - I knew of this famous international dance company, maybe I have seen them in earlier tours in Sydney, certainly I know some of the work of one of the company's previous Artistic Directors "the visionary choreographer, Jiri Kylian". The wondrous, totally absorbing BELLA FIGURA performed by The Australian Ballet a few seasons ago, being one of them. How lucky I was then, that I was in Melbourne last week, and was able to catch this company at work. So lucky, because I was so moved, entranced, that after the Friday night performance, I turned around and bought tickets for the Sunday afternoon performance to see the program again!

Founded in 1959 The Nederlands Dance Theatre has been at the cutting edge of its art form and is "a beacon of innovative, influential contemporary dance". Now under the Artistic Direction of Jim Vincent, since September, 2009, this remarkable company has, in an exclusive season in Melbourne, given three beautiful works:

DOUBLE YOU (solo), Choreography by Jiri Kylian, 1994.
THE SECOND PERSON, Choreography by Crystal Pite, 2007.
SILENT SCREEN, Choreography by Paul Lightfoot & Sol Leon, 2005.

This company gave me two enthralling, absorbing and inspiring nights in the theatre. Something I have not had for some time. As I said to my companion as we were leaving the first performance,"This is why, one goes to the theatre, regularly, on the chance that this time, this might happen. That to be part of this experience makes a lot of the other stuff one sees worth the wait. Worth enduring, for every now and again luck smiles at you, and pow… new eyes, new senses, new life!

So let our arts organisations prepare, for, however outstanding this company is, it "knows that there are challenges ahead for NDT, the most dramatic being a possible 40 to 50 per cent budget cut, recommended by the Dutch Council for Culture, to take effect from 2013". The non flag-ship new media sector and and other Netherlands contemporary arts are facing 100 per cent funding cuts. NDT, who has two company of dances faces horrible strains, let us hope, not catastrophe. The Global Financial Crisis is wreaking havoc with European Governments commitment to the arts. One can, then, only pessimistically imagine the possible actions of Australia's relatively philistine governments when our economy catches up to the universal downturn. How will our arts bodies fare? What will be their decrees be?

Here was a performance of dance that went, in my experience, beyond the form of dance and into the realm, of what I might call great art - a transcendance that gave one a glimpse of something other than the mundanity of our animal gifts to move, and rather, further, an elevation into the contemplation of the possibility of a 'spiritual' dimension to life. I don't know as to whether I was peculiarly vulnerable for such invitations of perception or not, for I had had in the previous few days a series of respites from the burdens of the ordinary, to sensitise my receptors and create the want, the need to believe again in something bigger than myself, than us, and open my sensibilities to the discovery of other possibilities than just getting through the trials and tribulations of my world-weary daily travails.

A three day rest in the wild winds of east coast Tasmania, watching nature unleash the spectacle of the spirit of nature, whipping the huge upper branches of the gum trees in the landscape outside my cottage window, whilst I re-read THE IDIOT, in front of a warming, crackling, wood fire. The experience of David Walsh's extraordinary gift of MONA, the Museum of New and Old Art , to the world, a museum of such vision and greatness, the benchmark for contemporary museums in the entire world , where one 'gambling man's passion' becomes more than a visit to an art gallery but a great contemplation of everything between birth and death with lots of sex and humanity in between. And that can be found just in the contemplation of the architecture of the space, pharonic, an Egyptian tomb like scale, let alone the art in it, which ranges from an actual ancient mummy through to a shit-making machine. Unbelieveable and shocking for all the right reasons.

And the last of my softeners for the Nederlands Dance Theatre was to attend a screening of Terence Malick's great film THE TREE OF LIFE - a case where the artist takes film beyond just the need to entertain or tell a story and into a realm of spiritual challenge and possible perception and ultimate relief of something else besides living through 'it' that just might help me through the next stages of my life with confidence and optimism. A glow that I have not had fully engulf me for many a year.

Then to Melbourne, food and coffee and art.

DOUBLE YOU, a solo choreographed by Jiri Kylian danced the first time by Roger Van der Pol and latterly by Bastien Zorzetto begins in silence with a man in upper torso nakedness, his back to us, rippling the muscles as a result of small body contortions, whilst two gold pendulum balls swing across the back space in mesmeric constancy. Exploring the hallmarks of Kylian's style there is an exploration of physical contrasts of physical flow and stacco-like sharp movements of head, fingers and shoulders, escalated with movement into and about the large open space with the entry of an accompaniment of Johann Sebastian Bach's Allemande from Partita Nr.4 in D Major. The harpsichord breathing a momentum of reflex actions that make concentrated demands on the dancer and a kind of breathless suspension of reality for the audience. One leans into the choreography to dance with the dancer in one's seat.This 12 minute work sets a core ballet/ dance language that as the night proceeds is visible in the gesture and choreography of two more recent works by other choreographers, only two of them ex-members of the dance corps, and inheritors of its movements' vocabulary.

The second piece THE SECOND PERSON by (Vancouver based) Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite involves 24 of the ensemble. Before the curtain rises a small rod puppet stands in formal clothing before a microphone in a spot light. The audience becomes engulfed in a gathering hush. Then out of the darkness a small naked brown articulated rod puppet, manipulated by five artists walks across the floor in a follow spot light, supported from behind in a following clutch of the ensemble, in uniform dress of smart dark suits and stern black glasses against a painted backdrop of an alpine scene with gathering white clouds, storm clouds, the puppet moving carefully forward straining against the wind which sometimes throws it back, forcing it to advance again against nature.

What follows is a series of solos, duets, trios and full ensemble dance of flex and point, contrast and uniformity. Full balletic flow and crouched flex shapes. The tightness of the ensemble, who move as one, is astonishing in its discipline to absorb and appreciate. All of this is accompanied by a electronic sound track backing of magnificent sounds, noises of life, sampled folk songs ranging from Africa to the Celtic and more positively Irish, with a voice over who introduces herself as our, that is your voice. It is our voice, it maybe our body as well. The voice work by Kate Strong is haunting and calming, but still precise and piercing. This wonderful Music is by Owen Bolton and worth keeping to listen to on its own, so redolent is it to one's imagination.

The work of some 35 minutes causes one, the audience to ask questions, lots of questions. it provides no answers, just probing, comforting questions. One becomes not confronted but comforted for their is a surety about every dancer's movements and the intentions behind their journey - they seem to know what is happening, so one trusts and surrenders and follows. From intimations of the world of Breugel against the backdrop with clanging church bells pealing, ringing out, to engagements of simple playfulness and jokes and parody, the canvas of the work embraces so much, so effortlessly,that transcendence is endowed as the curtain falls. I realised that I had been holding my breath, creatively tense in my absorption.

SILENT SCREEN choreographed by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon is a work inspired by silent film. "This genre of acted emotions, the beauty of the body through the expression without words and the power of the actors in silent movies who project their drama in a symbolic way..." is the source of the inspiration of this husband and wife team.

The music is the abstracted but now very familiar work of Philip Glass - GLASSWORKS (1982) and a track from the film THE HOURS: “Why does someone have to die?”. Book-ending the work, the open and close of the dance involves an impressive concept film on three screens that wrap around a movable platform that in the major sequence of the dance retracts to an upstage position. The film video is the least distracting I have ever experienced and was integrated into the work with seamless thematic power. Sequences of dance by 10 members of the company, trigger images of silent movie images from Nosferatu and, we are told inspirationally from F.W. Murnau's SUNRISE. But it is not just imitative dance movement, it has a power of its own and registers the house style of the dancers in exquisite and definably beautiful physical patterns and contortions. Space spread and isolations, shape, contrasts and a highly aesthetic fluidity of entrance and exits , subtle and efficient, are demonstrations of an inherited house style . The dancers are magnificent in their acquittal of the choreographers demands. Again, puzzles of comprehension, no answers given, which resulted not in frustration but titillation and great, deep pleasure.

This was a thoroughly great and memorable night. The repeat experience two days later equally as satisfying and not too familiar or boring. Still totally absorbing and life enhancing.

If only they had come to Sydney. But, then, where could they have danced? The Victorian Arts Centre stage as a breadth and depth to it, and sight lines and acoustics that are, in Sydney terms, gloriously amazing. Sydney needs a space to house such treasures without compromise. The Casino theatre, the Lyric, is the best, but it houses more necessary commercial events and often is not available. A tragedy really. Short sighted and stupid. Where is our David Walsh?

Barangaroo could be a place for a proper new space. Does anyone care? Anyone listening and interested?

Friday, July 22, 2011


CROW CROW PRODUCTIONS and ELIZA OCANA in Association with TAMARAMA ROCK SURFERS presents the Premiere production of K.I.J.E. by Joanna Erskine.

This new Australian work, a short one act play by Joanna Erskine, takes its inspiration, from the novella of Yuri Tynyanov, about the invented Lieutenant KIJE, made famous by the Prokofiev chamber music suite (another Russian influence to the Sydney theatre menu, this year!).

In a contemporary setting Konrad (Fayassal Bazzi), Irving (Tj Power), Jono (Gabriel Fancourt) and Ed (Wade Briggs) four young 'soldiers' as a result of boredom create graffiti on a wall: "K.I. j.E.", which under disciplinary threat from Messner (Christopher Tomkinson) they explain as the work of an imaginary soldier called Kije. Once invented they are forced to sustain his existence and explain to the authorities his invisibility. Ultimately, they must kill him, for his deeds have become too heinous for them to bear.

The play is made up of short, sharp scenes, mini-episodes of narrative, beginning with the foreplay of bored boy/soldiers contrasted their robotic/obedient soldierly roles of army discipline,in the presence of authority, until they come across a young woman, collateral damage, maybe, on the fringes of an active war zone. Their behaviour tips into the unpardonable.

The Director, Sarah Giles along with the designer Charlotte Lane have created a white blurred mosaic-like space, walls and floor, accompanied by shocks of white light, between scenes, and a faintly red haze to accompany distant explosion effects of war (Lighting: Verity Hampson, Sound: Caitlin Porter).

What this production lacks, to give the writing a more potent impact is a truer reality from the actors. The four young soldiers, unfortunately dressed as if they university army cadets on a camping holiday, without any sign of a possible war zone, with no hardware besides a back pack, armed with a paint spray can and torch, no head gear even, behave like actors well rehearsed in bantering warm-up theatre games, that have no truth of spontaneity or real gravity of the character's situation. We imaginatively stay pretty much in the reality of the Old Fitzroy stage with actors - no real imaginative grit of soldiers in a war zone.

I kind of indulged the acting of the men and suspended my disbelief until late in the play when the victim, “Girl”, played by Michele Durman, entered. I was forced to judge the relative ineptness of the other actors because of her stunning offers. Ms Durman with no text at all, brought a veracity of tragic and desperate truth to her character's dilemma. Her sense of fear, bewilderment and helplessness in the presence of these men created a world of frightful reality. One winced with the trauma that Girl was going to have to endure - possibly her murder. Ms Durman's imagined vividness caused, affected, perforce the other actors to begin to play at a level of committed imagined truth that up to then they had lacked. The contrast of the acting imaginative force between Ms Durman's contribution and the shallow and under investigated reality of the men was obvious and resultantly, palpable.

What the actors had needed to bring onto this stage was the world of the film JARHEAD (Sam Mendes) and THE HURT LOCKER (Kathryn Bigelow), a world of boredom, danger and lurking death. The smell and fear of violent death. They didn't. This production and possibly the writing was undermined.

It is interesting that I was bemoaning the lack of Australian play writing using the contemporary experience of war, whilst talking about THE WHITE GUARD. And here is an attempt at one. Interesting and encouraging. At this time I cannot completely discern the quality of the writing because of the failures of the production. I am wondering whether the quality of the writing would reveal itself more clearly with a better production, with a more authentic attempt to create the world of the play with the soldiers. This production fails to deliver that world until too late.

K.I.J. E. may have matched the potential of the plays I read in the collection of war one act plays: THE GREAT GAME: AFGHANISTAN.

Only time and opportunity will tell.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Water Carriers

MELBOURNE THEATRE COMPANY presents THE WATER CARRIERS by Ian Wilding at the Lawler Studio.

Dave (Damien Richardson), a karaoke bar owner has invited Kate (Sarah Sutherland), a hairdresser to a late night drink and fun at home - bar, swimming pool and home karaoke machine. But Kate is far more complicated than Dave expects. She has an agenda that will reach back into Dave's very complicated past. Part of it shared. Dave and Kate are survivors of a great natural disaster, and more, worse, Dave is also a survivor of a great man-made disaster as well - a double- whammy. Both reveal an agony of guilt that they have survived. The night unwinds in front of us.

Both actors give terrific performances. Mr Richardson, however delivers a great one. With a physical persona, reminding me of the great Walter Matthau, he takes us on a character journey from hoon boy, to behind that mask, to a man, suffering the pangs of an agonising sense of guilt, to a partly redeemed man through the catharsis of talking, who in this metamorphosis, offers, in his new evolving frail state, a hand to Kate, to grow into a new place of being. Of self acceptance. Of possible relief. An act of heroism that might assist both of them in their separate but connected griefs. Mr Richardson has a long 'aria' of, not just information narrative, but, of emotional narrative. He delivers it with vivid imaginative linguistic skills and emotional calibrating that is hypnotic in it's development. A real tour-de-force, some of the best acting I've seen this year.

Anne Browning has directed straightforwardly and, with Marg Horwell, has created a simple design solution for the action of the play. The lighting by Richard Vabre is a little too theatrical and over stressed in it's offers.

Last year Mr Wilding delivered a marvellously wicked satirical zombie-play, QUACK at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney, satirising the world about us. Here, he reveals a deft naturalistic hand and demonstrates a real storytellers skill. The play touches profoundly deeply on the audiences shared cultural memories and asks us to do what all good art should do- extend our boundaries of human compassion.

Worth catching - especially to watch Mr Richardson, who I only know from his television work in CITY HOMICIDE. I look forward to seeing him again.

Ballet Revolucion


The program notes for this production says it all. And not much of it is hyperbole:

"BALLET REVOLUCION is an explosive fusion of ballet, contemporary dance and modern hip- hop, performed by an Elite company of Cuban dancers with unbridled passion, pure energy and athletic skill… This is a truly unique opportunity to see some of the world's most talented classical and contemporary dancers perform way beyond their normal repertoires. The dancers are musically soulful,reeking of sensuality… BALLET REVOLUCION is a powerful blend of styles and genres set against a blend of sounds meshed with classic Cuban, modern Latin American and RnB hits …It's an evolution of Ballet as much as a Revolution."

Note: thankfully, the music accompanying the above youtube clip is NOT the actual music used in this show.

Choreographers Aaron Cash and Roclan Gonzalez Chavez have gathered seventeen dancers of extraordinary skill and harnessed their gifts into a dance program that is dynamic, thrilling and utterly, utterly admirable - even the jaded dance palette. For a novice to dance, as my young guest was, BALLET REVOLUCION will set a benchmark of future expectation and a hungry appetite for more of it. Backed by a thumping , rippling live orchestra of six and two vocalists + "it will blow your mind", said my "novice' guest

Don't be put off by snobbery about the range of type of dance promised, rather go and become engulfed with this fusion of genre that is executed with inexhaustible energy, passion and straight up sexuality, by dancers of dazzling and  sometimes nearly incomparable skill. This is no fob to entertainment alone, there is some high art here if classical training and execution is what you want, it is here. If Brazilian Samba, Contemporary Ballet or Argentinean Tango and Salsa is what you want – you will find all this too.

Maybe The Australian Ballet scouts should be raiding this talent - a bit of this company's zest and thrill would only enhance their work. Certainly, Mr Bonachella should be throwing out a contract or two. The Sydney Dance Company would be empowered with some of these gifts at hand, for sure. The flexibility of most of these dancers into the various style genres is jaw droppingly ponderous.

The first act is a tour de force of startling dance, mostly ensemble. The second half features some mixes of quartets and solo along with further company ensembles. Moises Leon Noriega, Juan Carlos Hernandez Osma, Alejandro Peres Fernandez, Dannys Gonzalez Medina, Jesus Elias Almenares and Ariel Himeliz Mejica are leaders of some of the technical thrills and joy. But the choreography is shared out and the company allows all the dancers the chance to shine and not one of them lets you down.

This is pure entertainment with a very good quality dance technique. Shake in personality, generosity and the apparent joy of performing as a gift for and to the audience and you will have truly a memorable night at the theatre.

Last year, I caught COME FLY AWAY, the Twyla Tharp dance entertainment on Broadway, and although this show does not have the equal production budget, it certainly as the equal to dance sensation.

The Ambassador of Cuba to Australia, Pedro Monzon says, "We are really happy that BALLET REVOLUCION is presented in Australia. I am sure that this show will be the best of all the ambassadors and will contribute to build a solid bridge of cultural communications between our two countries. Thanks for the opportunity."

When compared to the shabby gift from China THE LAST EMPEROR, also shown at this tiny venue - and the lazy political exchange of written aspirations between our Prime Minister and that country, Cuba reveals a respect and care to present itself through its arts at the highest standard. Welcome and congratulations.

When will the NSW Government come to see that Sydney does not have an international stage of proper scale to attract and present the world's great companies in? Melbourne wins hands down!!!

Thoroughly and enthusiastically recommended. A warm if not hot date on a winter's night worth getting out to. Go.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The White Guard

Sydney Theatre Company and Commonwealth Bank present THE WHITE GUARD by Mikhail Bulgakov. In a new version by Andrew Upton at the Sydney Theatre.

On a recent Wednesday morning on my way to the university after another job working in Surry Hills, I decided to get out of the bus and go to the Fox Precinct markets to but some flowers and some organic/gourmet food stuffs and browse. It struck me, on this early winter day, what a lucky life I led. That I could leave family at home in the morning and know, definitely, that in eight hours time I would return to that home, after taking an unplanned excursion to a marketplace, buy some unnecessary 'goodies', without stress. Buy anything I wanted, do anything I wanted. That the loved ones that I left at home, after their chores etc would also be more than likely , at home, as well, at the end of the day.

I reflected what it must be like in Baghdad. I reflected what it must be like in Pakistan, in the Middle East. I reflected what it must be like in so many other places that I knew, only through television, where no one in that family could be sure that one's world would hold constant in that 8 hours. In that 24 hours, that week. War and personal destruction a constant constancy.

I had been working on a gathering of scenes from an Australian play THE TOUCH OF SILK by Betty Roland, a recent American play, TIME STANDS STILL by Donald Margulies, a short one act play by Simon Stephens called A CANOPY OF STARS (from a collection of nine one act plays called THE GREAT GAME: AFGHANISTAN), and BIRDSONG by Rachael Wagstaff from the Sebastian Faulks novel of popular fame. Some others as well of similar theme. What struck me was all these plays dealt with the catastrophe of war. The warriors themselves in these devastating places, and, especially, the home- fire spaces where the insidious 'collateral damaged' were weathering out the after affects of war. Ms Roland's play is set in country Australia in 1928 and concerns the 'collateral' effects of war on civilian extended families and the returned soldier. This is true of the 2009- 2010 international plays of Margulie, Stephens and Wagstaff. Horrible, fully-listed casualties of the web of war fall-out are delineated for us through an exquisite glass darkly. The power of these texts are palpable, even if they are spoken from a foreign country, another cultural perspective, they still bring the experience to our lives in vivid context because of the human and common content.

I wondered why the contemporary Australian playwright had not found their play about the Australian experience concerning our present war obligations and consequences. Everyday the newspapers record the newly dead and the grieving presence of our Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition with the bereft families. Beyond that patriotic (jingoistic?) appropriation for the press and political approbation, we hardly hear, if ever, of our war casualties and their physical or psychological hospital battles at home. We never hear of our Australian wives, children and extended families and their civilian 'war injuries' as they struggle with the new reality of their daily situation.

Now, whether this is the result of our Defence Department's information control (or is it censorship?) that prohibits or precludes the research into such stories by our writers, or simply that our theatre organisations just do not believe it is box office and so deny production of written Australian projects engaged in this contemporary issue, I cannot discern.

Maybe the Sydney Theatre Company can enlighten us with the result of their programming of the amazing, beautiful,and, in contrast to the usual Australian theatre content, the daring of Daniel Keene's THE SERPENTS TEETH; CITIZENS AND SOLDIERS? Was the response a box-office prohibitive? (why has the MTC not scheduled it? He is a Melbourne son, after all). Is this material too difficult for the Australian theatre goer? They won't come? No money return? Is that it? Hmm? Is that a moral reason for not including it? Or, is that last question, an inappropriate one? Morality in the arts and what it decides to reveal for the audience in it's looming zeitgeist? Awakened or anaesthetised audiences?

In this mood, while watching the Sydney Theatre Company's production of THE WHITE GUARD by the great Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov, two speeches jumped out of me and began this cogitation:

Firstly, from Alexi (Darren Gilshenan) in Act One Scene One:

"…I looked out ...In the shadows, behind the fog I saw the enemy. Our real enemy. Petlyura? No. He is just one insignificant wave of blood, and behind him - yes, louder, yes, fiercer, more desperate and destructive, the Bolsheviks, yes …but even still further behind, from deeper in the shadows, I saw another enemy, the real enemy. The enemy hounding all these pawns on at us. Flinging men and blood at us. This modern world. This world hates us for our past, our tradition, our strength. This world of every man for himself and damn the rest of you; this gaping, grasping, endless stream of envy and hatred we've unleashed. And those are the real enemies we face, deep in the shadows. This modern man with no name, no past, no love. This desperate hate-filled man born of loneliness and frustration. This man with nothing to be proud of, nothing he is part of ... There is a tide rising against us, and all we all know and all that we define ourselves with will be eradicated. Bigger than Petlyura, bigger than Bolshevism ... it is the future and I hate it. Either we will bury it or it will bury us. That is the battle we are fighting, gentlemen." (P32 of the National Theatre play publication of the Andrew Upton's new version).

Breathtakingly modern and passionate in the mouth of Mr Gilshenan.

Secondarily, from Lena (Miranda Otto), Act Three, Scene Two :

"QUIET ! Down. Both of you. Fighting. Fighting. Tearing at each other over 'Russia' and the 'will of the people' and daring … to invoke my brother's name in your defence? My brother's memory? How dare you pollute it with … take your civil war out of my house and leave us alone, to honour the memory of our brother who was NOT a soldier first and foremost, actually. Who did NOT die in some honour of the White Guard … In fact, who was killed in a pointless battle, over a pointless squabble. Over a pointless, stupid, tussle for ... what? A country? A country? What is that? To fight over?
Murdered. Murdered, that's what he was. Murdered by a world gone mad with ... mad with. This.
This. Exactly this." (p.98-99 of the National Theatre play publication of Andrew Upton's new version).

Strikingly modern and arresting coming from the only female character in the play.

I was moved powerfully by these speeches. Enough to look them up. Can you begin to comprehend my consternation and awe when I looked at the only other translation that I have of this play, by Michael Glenny for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production in 1979, to find this as the translation of Alexi's speech in Act One Scene Two :

"The fact is, as I sit here amongst you all, I'm obsessed by one thought: God, if only we could have foreseen all this earlier! Do you know what this Petlyura is? He's a myth, a black fog. He doesn't exist. Look out of the window and see what's there. A snow-storm, shadows, that's all ... there are only two real forces in Russia, gentlemen: the Bolsheviks and us. And these two forces will clash before long. I see even blacker times ahead. I see ... well, no matter. We can't stop Petlyura. But he won't stay for long. And after him the Bolsheviks will come. That's why I shall go and fight. Against my will, but I shall fight! Because when we come face to face with them - then we shall see some fun. Either we shall bury them, or more likely, they will bury us. I drink to THAT meeting, gentlemen! " (P24 of the Eyre Methuen play publication).

Then of Lena's speech in Act Three, Scene two ( Lena does not actually have a speech, just some scattered lines within the arguments of others):

"I see now! Alexi's dead!" Later:
"Look at his face. Look at it. In any case, I don't need to see his face. I knew it, I felt it when he left here, I knew it would end like this!" Further:
"Larion, Alyosha's dead. Yesterday you were sitting at table with him - remember? And now he is dead." Again, briefly:
"And what about you? You were his senior officers! His senior officers! You all came home, but your commanding officer was killed..."
(p68-69 of the Eyre Methuen play publication).

In the latter case, of Lena's speech, you can see that Mr Upton has entirely invented, created an entirely original speech that does not have any real basis as translation but is truly a new version that does seem, to me, fulfil a contemporary aspiration for my culture in my time. I was moved enough to note it and check it out.

Similarly the former transcript of Alexi's speech, reveals the Upton Alexi speech as a grand contemporary extrapolation from the narrower more period politically concerned vision of Bulgakov, that, now, humanistically speaks to the broader cultural perception of today. It is noble, inspiring. It is not ,of course Bulgakov. It is Upton. It is not 1926, Russia. It is 2010, Great Britain, and by default, Australia. It is not a translation. It is an adaptation. A new approximate. "A new version".

I don't mind in the least. The Bulgakov purists may, and perhaps rightly so. But what surprises me is that Mr Upton who can write so passionately about war and have such inspiring observation, needs to couch them, within the reputation and the work of another writer. These original writings, expressing such inspiring and comforting ideas could, I am sure, just as well, stand strongly, in a wholly original play by Andrew Upton. Does he really need the Bulkgakov original to cloak his writer's voice in?

Subtly, Mr Upton has done this with his versions of HEDDA GABLER, THE PHILISTINES and THE CHERRY ORCHARD as well. Versions, adaptations that have the Upton stamp - contemporary point of view, extended appropriation. Gentle additions, expansions that digress from the Ibsen argument or observation, or creates a different Gorky or Chekhov characteristic, that changes the actuality of the original.

These are violations of my own sensibility of varying intensities of agony which I bear, but, obviously are not, for his commissioning agents or directors. And what do I know, anyway? I ponder: was the general popular and particular critical response to Mr Upton's RIFLEMIND so afflicting that he has not created whole again? Where is his next play that does not have the superstructure of another writer's work and familiar cultural cloaking approval?

To follow up on James Waites latest blog of 13th July, 2011: "Sounds Australian: Now and Again", it seems to me that THE WHITE GUARD that Mr Upton has penned is a considerable new Australian work. Similarly, Benedict Andrew's version of Anton Chekhov's THE SEAGULL (the writing not the production). The Australian sensibility is terribly present, to some ears, in these works. And surely, Mr Jonathan Gavin's THE BUSINESS is a spectacularly original work, just pushed onto the stage, much to prematurely, it needs, needed more than three drafts to start with, and possibly a steadier production/director's hand.

New, new Australian plays are being done and are coming to all of the venues. BULLY BEEF STEW at the PACT, recently, was very interesting and for my money, an important progressive work. The STAINLESS STEEL RAT, by Ron Elisha, at the Seymour Centre, in a bold enterprise led by Wayne Harrison, with all of its flaws, exhibited enough wit - audiences were genuinely laughing out loud with huge guffaws of pleasure - to make a positive impression.

So, guys, cool it, it is happening and in the way that wilful fate decrees. The timing has been, for some of you, imperfect, but your needs, even of your having to sit through some bad Australian plays, undoubtedly, to equal the so-called bad international plays, that this season you have so far endured, that at the moment you say you prefer to sit through, will be met.

To encourage your wants, I saw Ian Wilding's new play THE WATER CARRIERS at MTC, this week and felt it was a terrific new Australian play, a very imperfect contribution from this writer, that gave us the very funny and acidic QUACK last year at the Griffin. Mr Wilding is no disappointment (he has a commissioned work being premièred at NIDA later this year, as well).

Back to THE WHITE GUARD: Mr Upton as director of The Sydney Theatre Company's production of THE WHITE GUARD seems to have a much better handle in staging then he exhibited last year, on this same stage, with his disastrous LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. But then, with this, he has had a model with the highly praised production of his text by Howard Davies at the National Theatre, London in March/April last year to give him some hints. It is sadly interesting to see here, that the flagship Australian company (or the pretender), the Sydney Theatre Company, with, even one of the Artistic Director's of the company, at the helm, both as writer and director, could only afford/budget 14 actors for the production in contrast to the 24 or so (with two musicians) in the original in London.

Mr Upton was eager to show off this work. For it is in this compromise, in this depletion of of body numbers that we see some impediments to some of Bulgakov's intents in this production. The sheer chaos and spectacular crisis of fleeing, disruptive humanity in the reaction to the explosions of the unpredictable affects of a live war zone is missed.

In compensation this testosterone driven company of mostly young men, bluster and shout and behave - I understand that all the actors were, gently, electronically boosted, to help compensate for the horrors and terrors of this theatre's notorious acoustics, hence some of the noise(?) - generally like Aussie larrikins, (the usual ANZAC soldier characterisation), pretending to be a large Russian and German cohort, depending on the scene and army they are impersonating, robustly singing and dancing folk and period war songs to create theatrical distractions from necessary scene changes. Or, to give an attempt at Russian authenticity, stamping feet, standing on furniture, swilling willy-nilly vodka, with generalised comprehension of what that may be, instead, of a dramatic end expression of nations and their men involved in miserable war. Hollow blow-hardisms, instead of men and families, in this case the domestic world of the Turbins, swamped and permanently tainted and damaged by the first hand experience of war. Deep pain and shock. Living in an unpredictable evolving war zone. Not having a sing-a-long piss up around the fire.

The attention of the details of the chaos is slight and underwhelming in its "Bulgakovian" sweep, especially when compared to the psychologically detailed examinations of Sergei Tcherkassy's 2010 production of FLIGHT - Bulgakov's other great war play, at the National Institute of Dramatic Art* (NIDA), where he had some 40 actors at his behest. Mr Tcherkassy (from the St Petersburg Drama Institution), certainly, knows the pains of his country's history and heritage, and gave grave and thoughtful, specific direction to his young Australian actors to find the truthful means to capture and express it. It was meticulous and never generalised and 'whoopee'.

What is also missing, because of the difficulty of the multiple casting necessary with this limited company size, is the ironic comedy of some of the play. Bulgakov, if you are familiar with his short stories, A COUNTRY DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK or his scabrous novella BLACK SNOW (a delicious satire about Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre - adapted for the stage in a truly marvellous comic play, by Keith Dewhurst) has the combination of the detached scientific mind of a doctor accompanied with an intelligent but pained sense of the irony of being a living organism with brains and sensitivities, in a finite and humanly frail world. Chekhov, too was a doctor with a comic flair for the observation of life in Russia.

The audience, maybe not able to catch it, in this production as they sorted out that that actor is now, someone else, a German not a Russian, and he is funny not serious. Oh, right,look he is wearing a beard and different hat! There is comprehensible bewilderment for large chunks of adjustments for our imaginations, and the detail of comic form is not adequately grasped as speedily as should be. The play's necessary momentum sweeps on, and does not wait for the slow of wit or inattentive laggards. It is, of course a Director's job to make even the most witless member of the audience to be attentive and never be laggard - a job that requires practised mastery. To follow Tyrone Guthrie's maxim: "That a director should be an ideal audience of one". A beginner approaches such a big play at the very big risk of possible failure.

Miranda Otto (Lena), representing the feminine aspect of mankind, dominates her every scene with deeply felt insights and growing and dawning pain, that are expressed elegantly and deftly, lightly, with a sublime physicality and vocal expression. Her inner life is deep yet that depth is transparent, for all to pierce, to read. It is a surprise to discover that her actual stage time is so limited, for her accumulative impact is memorable, indeed. Mind you, the dress/costume, designed by Alice Babidge is an enormous asset to the affect of the characterisation created by Ms Otto- its material movement mesmerizing.

Darrenn Gilshenan (Alexi), also scores impressively, especially in the first act. Dale March (Larion), grows perceptibly and impressively throughout the play and makes great affect in the last act. Patrick Brammall (Leonid) while having the presence and the possible romantic edge does not bring the power of a soldier at war into any heroic belief - too literally a comic foil in the directorial expression of this complex man.

The most insightful performance and subtle arc development, for me, was the work of Richard Pyros as Nikolai, who in the last act impresses the horribly humiliating ridiculousness of man at war with his wounded body and, probably soul, aching for invisibility in a distressing predicament of being half dead and, so, consequently, tragically only half alive. Death has touched, but, tauntingly, not taken him. His cowering, aching suffering his tender to absorb. It is he that brought the relevance of this play to my life in Sydney, in the context of surrounding contemporary world events. I had a weep. Powerful and modestly understated.

Unlike the bombast of Cameron Goodall as Viktor, who mistakes the commitment to full-on energy for good acting. Mr Goodall needs Ms Charmian Gradwell, as the voice coach, to hector him, if he cannot take the note, that the barrage  of explosive plosive "p"and "b" in words: these choices draw attention to the actor and his technique and are not the subtle drawing of characteristics or character (see my blog post on Vs.Macbeth!) that he imagines.

The set design by Alice Babidge is extremely impressive in its movement in scene change. A sense of epic and surprise is terrifically executed. I quibble with the narrow shape of the Turbin household, stretched thinly across the width of the proscenium arch, resembling a hallway or passageway, that appeared to be camped in by a dispossessed family. The problems of staging the bookend scenes of the play were made difficult with this resolution to the design.

Lighting by Nick Schlieper, outstanding as usual. The bomb and cannon explosions in the war scenes by Steve Francis suitably shattering, bone shaking. Alan Johns music scoring and arrangement are great, although the amateur decision to sing one more beautiful verse of Russian song at the curtain call was a temptation that should have been avoided. An atmosphere of the school concert demonstrating good work by these young people, rather than enhancing the final moments of a well earned dignity for the play and mankind was achieved. It diminished what we, the audience had to take home from this play.

I was moved by the accumulative power of the play and was glad to have seen it, however, approximate it was to Bulgakov's original text. MADAME ZOYA'S APARTMENT or an adaption of Bulgakov's great, and some say best work, the novel, THE MASTER AND MARGARITA, of which I have read many, might be a possibility sometime, before time catches up, I hope.

Or how about THE GREAT GAME: AFGHANISTAN or an Australian play about our contemporary war collateral damage in our neighbour's backyard. Art can shape and/or influence history. Sometimes. Ask Beaumarchais.

*I should as well declare, in the context of this review, that I am at present a member of the teaching staff at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) - Kevin Jackson.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bully Beef Stew

BULLY BEEF STEW commissioned by PACT centre for emerging artists at the Pact Theatre, Erskineville, Sydney.

The director Andrea James: “I (was) invited by Pact centre for emerging artists to work with a small group of very good looking and highly talented Aboriginal men: Sonny Dallas Law, Colin Kinchella, and Bjorn Stewart. As young 'uninitiated men' they have reflected on their relationships with their fathers and other Aboriginal men in their lives. They have done this without romanticising what it is to be an Aboriginal man today, nor have they gone down the 'poor fulla me' path. They have simply created a show that comes to you straight from their hearts; and the results are poetic, raw and touching.”
Poetic. Raw. Touching.

Beginning amusingly with a wryly funny dance piece, and after assuring us that BULLY BEEF STEW is not a variety show, but a play, these men take us through a series of intelligent vignettes covering many forms of performance forms : song, dance, art installation, spoken text.

What is very exciting and ultimately moving is the determined integrity of this work. It never patronises the audience or themselves. The integrity of all the artists in the preparation and execution of their preoccupations is intelligently and beautifully supported with Choreography by Kirk Page; Media Art by Jacqui Mills; Sound Design by Melissa Hunt and atmospheric lighting by Clytie Smith. The use of the space imaginative and searching. The work feels truly of our time, contemporay and deeply honest and has a kind of cultural honesty that appears fearless and personally confronting and generous. Truly, using the vernacular, 'deadly'.

Because of work commitments I have come to this work on almost the last performance, I sincerely recommend this production to you, if you can gte there. It is, for me, a kind of benchmark for the maturing of performance expression by our Indigenous artists.

Modest but powerful. The final five or ten minutes deeply, beautiful and immensely, immensely moving.

Do go and again congratulations to Ms James and the performers: Sonny Dallas Law, Colin Kinchella and Bjorn Stewart. Congratulations to the PACT organisers for the commission. Courage and great vision.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Last Emperor

LIAONING CHINESE BALLET choreographed by Ivan Cavallari: THE LAST EMPEROR, Produced and presented by XDR (Australia) Cultural Promotion Pty Ltd and Beijing Xian Dai Ren Culture and Communication Co Ltd at the State Theatre, Sydney.

The Liaoning Chinese Ballet presented THE LAST EMPEROR at The State Theatre in Sydney, celebrating the 2011 Australia China Cultural Relations Program.

NOTE: the above Youtube video clip IS NOT an accurate representation of the performance on show at the State Theate!

THE LAST EMPEROR was organised to present this cultural exchange/gift in a venue too small for its needs. No matter the quality of the company it could not be presented in a less favourable venue in all of Sydney. It would be hard to succeed in this space and it does not. Earlier in the year an acrobatic company from Chongqing presented MULAN in this same space and barely survived , creditably, to present the work. The production company XDR need to be more assiduous in their organisational reconnoitring.

With all respect, having observed work in China (Shanghai, 1991) THE LAST EMPEROR is a poorly conceived project and so mediocre in its choreography (Ivan Cavallari) and profoundly dull in its narrative organisation, so poorly designed as a touring production, sets, costumes and lighting and with such an embarrassing hotch potch of music: everything from Chinese Opera to Tchaikovsky and Shostakovitch and popular twenties dance tunes, it is astounding to think that the Arts are so poorly rated in contemporary China that this work would be considered as an impressive exchange for Australia. It is embarrassing. Would this production or company present in Washington DC? Probably not. I would regard it as an insult.

And since I am treading into political diplomacy it is probably worth while to quote the message from Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the program for this cultural celebration. If the "bogan" joke in the recent parliament concerning the leader of our nation has been sprung let us see more evidence. For it is either the perfunctory ignorance and carelessness of Ms Gillard herself, or her advisory team, or the Ministry for the Arts. For if it is representative of the Australian Labour Party's Government attitude to the arts and/or cultural exchange as a valuable bulwark to trade relations that allows such hypocrisy to be so blatantly and ignorantly expressed in such a public way we are in grave danger of world cultural embarrassment:


As part of the Year of Chinese Culture in Australia, I warmly welcome China's renowned Liaoning Ballet to our shores.

THE LAST EMPEROR ballet provides a fantastic opportunity to experience an ancient legend through the beauty and athleticism of dancers from a major Chinese performing arts company.

Cultural events are increasingly important to Australia's warm and constructive relationship with China.This ballet presents a wonderful occasion for local audiences to deepen their appreciation of Chinese culture and for Australians of Chinese background to celebrate their ancestral heritage.

The Liaoning Ballet's tour will also build on our shared history and enrich the friendship between our two countries. The collaboration between the Liaoning Ballet and the Artistic Director of the West Australian Ballet, Mr Ivan Cavallari, is a good example of what Australia and China can achieve together.

My congratulations to the Liaoning Ballet on presenting what will no doubt be an artistic triumph. To all the dancers and organisers my very best wishes and I am sure you will delight audiences with your performances.

The Honourable Julia Gillard MP
Prime minister of Australia.

Astounding in its pro-rata formulaic corporate language and breathtaking in its puerile ignorance signed by the Australian leader as a message from her to this company and China as our representative. I am humiliated.

THE LAST EMPEROR is not "an ancient legend", Madame Prime Minister, but great and tragic modern Chinese history, the story of Puyi, the last Empereor of the (ethnic Manchu) Qing Dynasty. Is this ignorance a slight to the dignity of the Chinese people in China and here in Australia ?

If the "bogan" household or any of her staff, or her Arts Ministry merely hired the Bertolluci film version, which won nine Academy Awards, it would be an easy, if not long (160 minutes) enlightenment, and would save some library reading. Even wikipedia would have helped with accuracy, or have none of you Broadband?

I do not know the cost in bringing such a company to Australia, either for the Chinese or Australian governments but better if the money went as donation to Kerr and Judith Neilson and their WHITE RABBIT GALLERY in Sydney to continue their great and good work for Australia-Chinese relations. Better that the local Chinese theatre company, CATHAY PLAYHOUSE or Performance 4A was supported in their endeavours to continue to present Chinese culture to local Australian audiences than this terrible, terrible travesty.

Madame Prime Minister, as a citizen of Australia I wish to report to you, as you probably did not attend any of the performances, this cultural exchange was not "an artistic triumph" in any shape or form. It was probably the one of the worst performances I have seen in years.

With respect,
Kevin Jackson.

Stainless Steel Rat

WAYNE HARRISON'S CHEEP in association with Auspicious Arts projects and The Seymour Centre presents STAINLESS STEEL RAT by Ron Elisha in the York Theatre at The Seymour Centre.

What a distinctly exciting frisson to go to the theatre to see a new Australian play about contemporary world events. To see a work that did not have its Australianess filtered through the adaptation of a "classic" play from world literature. Even more of a relief that it wasn't our Russian friends that we were pillaging, once again.

That STAINLESS STEEL RAT is not a complete success did not have too much of a dampener to my response to the night. I enjoyed myself. A play that sets out to examine, and explain, who The Most Dangerous Man (perhaps, Julian Assange) might be, is interesting, and was, mostly, interesting. I didn't know much about him other than the press attributions that the world powers and their politicians have squealed at us. I can't say that I know, for certain, anymore about him, having seen this play, but it was a mostly funny and ultimately intriguing couple of hours. I reckon with more editing and focusing there is a damn good evening fare there.

Is this Most Dangerous Man "a bogan with a modem" or "the most controversial revolutionary Australian of our time"? A fighter with a conscience with contemporary media at his finger tips: WIKI LEAKS. A new kind of world 'saviour' with a passion to bring the old world diplomatic games out into the light and onto a new open playing field? The personality and behavioural traits revealed in this play suggests a co-incidence of familiarity that The Aaron Sorkin script for THE SOCIAL NETWORK reveals of Mark Zuckerberg - a kind of collection of Asperger like fixations.

When the performance began it had the fresh air feel of a wickedly amused David Hare, running with an acerbic eye and heartbeat for current events (STUFF HAPPENS, 2004; THE POWER OF YES,2009) and the conspiracy humours of a Stephen Sewell (MYTH, PROPAGANDA and DISASTER in NAZI GERMANY and CONTEMPORARY AMERICA, 2004). Unfortunately, this did not last long.

The best part of the play is the playful game playing by Ron Elisha with the satiric targets at the centre of the real Assange world. The comic techniques employed, however, cross a wide range of modes, from complicated and amusing set speeches that may or may not be tongue in cheek , to quips of excellent one-liners, to broad "Wharf Revue turns - a contemporary Australian P.M. impersonation by Valerie Bader backed by a cruel presence of Her Consort swathed in dressing gown and head towel, clipping his toe nails for instance. More tidiness in this area of the writing and the slipstream of the accumulative wit might make a very ,very good night.

What is even more essential, however, is the need for the dramaturgical pencil to remove the absolutely unnecessary framing device and sub plot that concerns a film maker, husband and wife team having marital problems in a boring soap oper-ish manner. It was exhaustingly superfluous and sexually gratuitous. If it were a novel, I would skip forward to the Assange satire as quickly as possible. In the theatre experience it was a holding of breath to maintain patience and wait for the return to the main game. Cut the "crap" and concentrate on the comedy and the exposé - the sexual parallels seemed to be a stretch that mostly cheapened the effect of the revelations and observations of the rest of the play.

Wayne Harrison has assembled a team of 11 actors to play some 28 characters. Glenn Hazeldine, David Downer, Russell Smith bring zip and comic vocal energy and flair to bear in their many tasks. Caroline Craig playing the wife/film director, in the dud part of the writing, is magnificently valiant with her focused and stylish skills that contrasts to the raffish charm of Peter Phelps as the husband/film producer who, technically, does not have the imaginative vocal energy to keep the "soap opera" alive. Ms Craig is forced to work hard.

Darrren Weller playing The Most Dangerous Man scores points for dyed white hair and an approximate look-alike appearance but essentially does not have the imaginative vocal chutzpah to keep the "ball"of comedy in the air. He is relatively ponderous in sound and creates a dullish impression. He has a go at the climatic act two speech of passionate character justification/declaration, but a lack of relaxation reveals an effortful skill that undermines the impact.

Valerie Bader with the brilliant but blandly superficial knack for the skills of revue sketch material is strikingly funny, especially in the Australian P.M. sequences. But it is here that I felt that Mr Harrison gave in to the temptation of easy laughs and lost control of the comic integrity of the play. The production lacked style consistency, no matter the number of laughs scored. The committed deployment of the necessities required by Cooper Amai, Marshall Napier, Katrina Retallick and Cameron Craig were highly appreciated by the audience on the night I attended.

Brian Thompson has designed raised platforms with a large movable screen, that allows the traffic of furniture on and off the main stage action, with the necessity of swift costume changes designed by Rita Carmody. The design is pragmatic and provides a simple solution to the necessities of the writing as it stands now, with many short scene and location changes. The Lighting is by Martin Kinnane.

Ron Elisha is a Melbourne based writer and was last seen on stage in Sydney with a production of THE SCHELLING POINT at the Old Fitzroy. IN DUTY BOUND, TWO, PAX AMERICANA and the Australian Writer's Guild Award in 1982 for EINSTEIN are other plays of his.

"WAYNE HARRISON'S CHEEP is a recent initiative keen on new Australian writing for the theatre. Its next project, if the money doesn't run out, is Justin Fleming's ORIGIN". Spend some cash and time with the STAINLESS STEEL RAT, and you will have a textually flawed experience but one of promise and fun. Support this project and the nurturing of the Australian writer.