Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Bangarra Dance Theatre present BELONG as part of a national tour at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Sydney.

Bangarra Dance Theatre present BELONG - a two part program of new dance consisting of ABOUT by Elma Kris an ID by Stephen Page.

ABOUT choreographed by Elma Kris "expresses my curiosity of the four winds (Gub) that make up the seasons we have in the Torres Strait Islands: Zey, Kuki, Nagay, and Sagar. I looked at the influence they have on the land, sea and sky… They are like spirits swiftly passing by, and merging with nature; they guide and nurture everyday life. I wanted to take a journey with them, travel with their moods and see how I could bring them to life through dance."

The company dancers evoke the moods and shifts in the winds in an attractive and powerful manner. Aided by a beautiful design scape by Jacob Nash, glowing in ribbons and 'lakes' of strong colour and  drawn images, with deeply detailed states of light by Matt Cox there is an enormous sophistication to the visuals of the choreography which hovers between cultural gestures and contemporary dance. The dancers were confident and secure, expressive and concentrated. The ensemble impressive. The costumes by Emma Howell were complementary and complimentary, and evocative and easily danced in. There was a magic about the impression of the accumulating movement.

The Music score was by David Page, fusing the language/poetry of the islanders with original composition, assisted by the collaboration of Steve Francis.

ID choreographed by Stephen Page "investigates what it means to be Aboriginal in the 21st century...perceptions in contemporary society." The work in five sections begins to look at the dimensions of identity that confronts the Aboriginal day to day. Initiate. Caste: Fractions/Class 7B. Totem. Discriminate. Kinship.

The second section is strikingly powerful in the imagery, to see the dancers drawn upon with different fractions, of half or quarter or full blood and more. The intertwining and strangeness of the acceptance of self strikes deeply - a dilemma  that never crosses my mind about my English/Irish make-up and conflict - because they are both 'white' there is no visible issue. From such questions of density of ethnicity big problems can grow. There is humour in the work and the contrast to the fierce incarceration scene is all the more telling for it. Its resonating power leaving an indelible image and emotion. I would have been satisfied for the work to finish there.

The dancers are best in smaller ensemble groupings in this work. The last section perhaps, at the moment, too long, or needs more tension and attention which may be gained as the season continues. The use of the Audio Visual designed by Declan McMonagle is clever and well integrated by Jacob Nash, Emma Howell and Matt Cox  into the overall design look once again. Witty and spooky.

Having Mr Nash, the Designer, on board as a Resident Artist already enhances the quality and sophistication of the look of the works. Clearly the daily interplay that the residency allows pays off in beauty and sophistication.

Bangarra a flagship company that seems to be altering and growing in its reputation. Much too admire. This program,a subtle mix of the old culture with a look at the contemporary: the mythical magic and the harder realities. Side by side. A steadier gaze into the real world of this culture is promised, one hopes it does not flinch from contextualising for the audience, contemporary truths as well as comforts. In this new stage of social reconciliation,no one , in whatever art form we are working in should be starry eyed. Rigour and understanding will come from shared knowledge.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stories From The Wayside

Hurricane Productions in association with The Wayside Chapel presents STORIES FROM THE WAYSIDE at the new Wayside Theatre, Kings Cross.

The Wayside Chapel has always had a theatre space. There is now a brand new green space at the Wayside. STORIES FROM THE WAYSIDE is the inaugural production.

Eight actors were assigned an individual each: staff and/or clients that have had a relationship with the organisation. The actors interviewed their study over five different meetings throughout July/August of this year. The actors studied their subject closely and observed the physical, vocal and emotional gestures, capturing the vocabulary and information from a set of prepared questions. It was all recorded. Under the direction of Dean Carey the material was examined and ordered into a verbatim play. It is a process that we have engaged and seen before and none the less still effective theatre.

Simply, the actors arrive, sit on milk crates and each equipped with liquid to keep themselves fluid, and a candle, begin an integrated story telling experience. Simple stories, of ordinary people who have found at the Wayside Chapel acceptance and support in a non-judgemental atmosphere, that proposes and offers these men and women the opportunity to achieve a sense of dignity and pride. As we listen to the story material of their lives, we get caught up in their past, their struggles, their victories, their joys, their failures, their present, their memories of others, their admiration of others, their regrets, their hope for the future.

Angus Anderson,Gustavo Barbosa, Hamish Briggs, Nikki Britton, Graeme McRae, Suzanne Pereira, Eloise Snape and Paul Hooper, all graduates from the Actors Centre Australia (ACA) each have respectfully created telling and involved characters that affect the audience into a very gentle web of friendship, so that quickly, we, the audience, begin to care and identify for them and with them.

They are all a bunch of characters and seem to be modestly happy to be talking to us. Their sense of mission to enlighten us to a knowledge of their human condition so that a level footage can be found for understanding is easy and embraceably possible. The performances and the production avoids sentimentality, although the sound scape signals sometimes a little too unsubtly the emotional tone of the sequences, the balance is beautiful among the actors.

A simple  design of a wall of poster photographs of the actors camouflaged  with painterly daubs and scattered torn paper surrounded by towers of  blue milk crates, is, I understand by Rodney Fisher, a denizen of the Cross - an artist that in his participation reflects the generosity of all involved. they all have heart.

This is the third piece of political theatre I have seen this weekend. The raucous explosions of a minority celebrating their lives at Marrickville in YOU LITTLE STRIPPER; a devastating and immensely sophisticated disquisition about the ability to practice our freedoms to speak out on issues around Islam and democracy by the brilliant DV8 physical theatre company in CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS?; and finally this modest community verbatim telling of stories to give understanding and dignity to what some may regard as an underclass of the lower depths. A panorama of cultural stratospheres that gives a deep weave and context to living in Sydney today.

The motto on the banner of THE WAYSIDE CHAPEL is LOVE OVER HATE. All three events give us an education that leads to a shared knowledge that helps us all to give every individual the right to be, by understanding. To help us to love the humanity around us and not let ignorance cause fear and hate.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Can We Talk About This?

Sydney Opera House presents SPRING DANCE 2011, DV8-Physical Theatre in CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS ? at the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.

CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS ? is the new work from DV8 , a physical theatre company led by Lloyd Newson.
"The motivation behind the making of CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS? arose during the research of DV8's last work TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU  (Seen at the Adelaide Arts Festival -2008), a verbatim dance production about religious attitudes towards homosexuality. When we interviewed gay Muslims many spoke about the appalling treatment they received, particularly from within their own ethnic and religious communities here in the UK.

At about the same time [2009] Gallop and the Centre for Muslim Studies surveyed 500 British Muslims about their attitudes towards homosexuality. Out of 500 what percentage do you think said homosexuality was acceptable? Zero. Yet if I cited the need to challenge such religious intolerance, be it in discussions with academics, or friends at dinner parties - people who generally share my left leaning politics - many either avoided the issue, implied I was being offensive or denied the evidence completely.

Because of our desire to be tolerant and perhaps because of a post-colonial guilt and fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic, I feel there is a liberal blind spot, a lack of voices speaking up for our most basic freedoms particularly when it comes to discussing Islam and multiculturalism. ... Have we ended up betraying the very minorities and freedoms we ought to be protecting for fear of speaking out and causing offence? How do we support progressive Muslims? ...

But who defines what is offensive and on what grounds? As one of our interviewees said; nothing of importance will not offend somebody, somewhere."  - Lloyd Newson, Program Foreword

Like the last work of this company, TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU, the performance has politics writ large. From research and extensive interviewing (some 48 nominated in the program) a verbatim script has been built up examining the cultural discussion or lack of it, around Islam and living in a democracy. Discussing the use of religion and fear to intimidate all sides of the society into silence and tacit acceptance of the most inhuman practices in the everyday life of some of our brothers and sisters. It is informative and provocative stuff. The performance is approximately 75 minutes long and the verbal information is relentless and demanding. It has lots of information, a lot of it personal, a lot of it general and particular public politics spoken in places of power. It is difficult not to listen. It is ,likewise, difficult to attempt to ignore. This is very persuasive theatre, one way or the other.

Combined with the actors speaking the text, there are video image supports that are dramatic and arresting (Tim Reid) - much less techno wiz than the last show. The set and costume design (Anna Fleischle) are deliberately low key and reflect a more sombre shadow to this work than the last, both, however, equally contemporaneously urgent.

The choreography developed by LLoyd Newson with the performers is intricate, detailed and integrated to the spoken messages in the most subtle and mesmerizing way. Whether it be a solo of an actor/dancer dressing up against a wall, a duet between a man and a woman with a tea cup, the simple shuffle routine of a choral dance, or the intricate patterns of wrists, hands and fingers  resting on a desk, or simply hanging from a bar, the skill and expert concentration of the performers is astounding in its daring and execution. The 75 minutes whiz by in the absorbing concentration of the actors and their dual responsibility of voice and body. Our invited participation/concentration was similarly intense.

The performers Joy Constantinides, Lee Davern, Kim-Jomi Fischer, Ermira Goro, Hannes Langolf, Samir M'Kirech, Christina May, Seeta Patel, Anwar Russell, Ira Mandela Siobhan are all magnificent in the modest power but under played expertness of their performances.

DV8 is the exemplar for this kind of  work. Provocative, thrilling and totally, totally challenging both to our breath holding awe at the skills and the shock and relief of the spoken verbatim text. As with the last work, we the audience gathered in the foyer for post show discussions. There was no way to just get up and leave to walk into the night - one had to de-brief the experience before  slouching off home. This is the result of good theatre. One was shaken if not activated to change things.

In our own city, Version 1.0, Big hART, Urban Theatre Projects (based in Bankstown), Milk Crate (in Darlinghurst) and at sources as far and wide as Campbelltown Arts Centre, Shopfront, Kogarah, and Newcastle,  work of a similar kind is being created, and no better a model than the holisitc approach of LLoyd Newson and DV8 could be better aspired too.

Great to have the company back in Sydney. Great thanks to the co-producers: Theatre De la Ville and Festival D'Áutomne, Paris; National Theatre of Great Britain, London; and Dansens Hus, Stockholm.

You Little Stripper 2

A burlesque performance, YOU LITTLE STRIPPER, at the Red Rattler Venue, Marrickville.

Friday night in Marrickville - a suburban Council district, fast becoming the place to be to share in theatre with a twist - at the Red Rattler a collective of experimental, political and sexually edgy performers have been corralled to give a night of robust and explosively joyous outlets for an audience of minorities who sometimes simply want to share their joy and invention for life together in a public gathering. It sure is liberating.

The energy in the theatre-building is infectious with goodwill and provocation. Dancers gyrate on the stands around the space to the music of D.J. Jack Shit. The capacity, dressed to thrill audience settle down to entertainment by some famous underground performers. At the Art Gallery of New South Wales an exhibition called THE MAD SQUARE, showing art from the combustible fermentation of Weimar Germany in Berlin, has nothing on the possibility of thrill that this performance offers in industrial Marrickville, I feel sure.

It is called YOU LITTLE STRIPPER,  and all of the acts involve the long honoured tradition of the strip tease made famous by Miss Gypsy Rose Lee. Hosted by the outrageous and insouciant humour of Dickie and Dickie (Matt Stegh and Mat Hornby) we are introduced to the individual takes on this great burlesque tradition.

First, Dallas Dellaforce exploding with finesse and sexual torture tease culminating in a long blonde, hair-metal wig that is magically and climatically blown spectacularly a la Bonnie Tyler in a cyclone of wind machine energy.An explosive start to the night. Annabelle Lines enters in slow motion and moves tantalisingly through her delicate routine, attractively starkers, almost. She is followed by K.K Hotpants, then Ms Pinky (Justin Shoulder) in a pleasing tease of mimed and attenuated career trajectory: fame to flame to crash - tres tragic! Imogen Kelly in white cat suit and not cat suit, tormenting us with her come hither and clear-off insolence of cat personality. The topper to the night being the sensational performance of Jazzy Jatz (Christa Hughes) in a house pull down of theatrical energy and proportions  with her glorious vocals and dexterous little 'beudy' strip skills and humour. She  has IT. IT, in bucket loads and to spare.

What follows the second interval is the section called STRIP KARAOKE where the 'punters' in the house get to sign up for a chance to guest strip for us all, with the help of DJ Jack Shit. An hilarious and courageous band of volunteers: a patron on crutches, slyly manipulating her lipstick and her torso, to a handsome and not so shy youth that would have roused Germaine Greer and would feature heavily in an addendum to her essay on BOYS, to an explosion of Punk energy with a cave man tearing off his clothes to Peaches "I DONT GIVE A FUCK", to a fully couturiered gentleman, who elegantly pealed layer after layer down to his red bare-arsed jockstrap and a body decorated with the most beautiful set of tatts and the best legs in Sydney, gyrating with the most mesmerizing set of relaxed joints, that only constant attention to yoga could mould. Fun for all.

Here was night of subversive alternative Sydney life. An event full of friends with interesting interests and relaxed psyches, happy and free, responsible and filled with a capacity to let it all hang out. Living in the world of 2011 - providing an alternative to the ordinary daily grind with exhibitions of extraordinary grinding of another kind.

Great to be there. It had been a big week and this was a great way to finish it off. Kapow!.

I hear the show is in Brisbane next, as part of the Festival. Is that true? If so, Brisbane will never be the same. At last? Or am I just out of touch? Mind you with its new Art Gallery, that town is somewhere to spend , well at least, a weekend.

Kapow!  Kapow! Kapow! As Stephen Sondheim told us in Gypsy "You've Go To Have a Gimmick". I will prepare for Kevin's Turn, next time, Dickie and Dickie, I promise. Just let me know with lead time.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Libertine

Sport for Jove Theatre in partnership with Darlinghurst Theatre Company Present THE LIBERTINE by Stephen Jeffreys at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

THE LIBERTINE by Stephen Jeffreys at the Darlinghurst Theatre is the BEST night I have had in the theatre, with a play, this year. There could be no greater contrast to the experience at atyp Under the Wharf production, SWEET BIRD ANDSOFORTH which I saw last week, and underlines my observations expressed in my post on A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON at the New Theatre at present.

In the …RANGOON post I talk about my hard earned view of the necessary ingredients for the collaborative effort that the theatre is. I do, regard the writer as "GOD" - 'In the beginning there was the word' - and from all that inspiration (and hard work), all else depends.

THE LIBERTINE by Stephen Jeffreys (1994) is what I regard as one of the great contemporary classics of the last decade, if not longer (THE CLINK by Stephen Jeffreys, 1990, is another, I reckon). With the genius of Mr Jeffreys chosen by SPORT BY JOVE THEATRE, the company have an outstanding opportunity to succeed. However it is "a poisoned chalice" for the unwary or/and under prepared, for this text is formidable in all of its demands. No ordinary or simply indulged emotional enthusiasm for the performing arts will get you through this project. It is of the highest quality in the writing and demands all other elements to bring it to life, of a similar quality. The choice of this play sets an incredibly high bench mark of necessary effort and attack in rehearsal.

"THE LIBERTINE tells the story of the Earl of Rochester, friend and confidant of Charles II and the most notorious rake of his age. He was an anti-monarchist, an atheist who converted to Christianity and a lyric poet who revelled in pornography. The play centres on the moment his cynicism is confounded when he falls in love in earnest.

Thoroughly modern in its attitude to Rochester's sexual indulgence, the play is also a thrillingly convincing portrait of the period and an accomplished comedy of manners." [1].

It is the engrossing story of a prodigal who with the ease and rewards of his gift becomes a libertine and journeys to the calamitous figure of a profligate. A profligate of his witty talent, of his humanity, of his wealth and health.

In a now famous opening monologue in the prologue to this play Rochester begins a direct address to the audience: "Allow me to be frank at the commencement: you will not like me. No, I say you will not. The gentlemen will be envious and the ladies will be repelled. You will not like me now and you will like me a good deal less as we go on…"

Three hours later, through a thrilling and wonderfully witty night of watching and especially listening, Rochester finishes with another address to us "…I made an inventory of my life and found much wanting: injuries to divers people: want of attention to my affairs: a lifetime of spitting in the face of God, and I knew I was to be cast down. I had long ago discarded the layer of formal politeness with which to negotiate the world, but now I had to wade through the slough of my licentiousness until I found level ground underfoot, a ground of true sensibility and love of Christ. Now I gaze upon a pinhead and see angels dancing. Well. Do you like me now? Do you like me now?".

Of late, recent discussion about the relevance of some of the repertoire presented to the Sydney audience has broiled about. For instance, THE SEAGULL, THE WHITE GUARD. Now, any well informed theatre goer would be able to attach many good reasons to have these plays on our stages. Least of which would be their observation of the common human bond of watching other frail individuals map their journey through what life throws at them. A mirror to our lives, indeed. That evolution is slow and that the human animal is not much different, over time, despite the constant lessons of history, is always a salutary comfort or confrontation, depending where you are in your life arc, is bracingly transfigured for us. It is the reason, I suppose, why the Greeks formalised the theatre for us - to instruct and enlighten the citizens. That both those plays are also examples of wonderful writing is, I believe a great part of the necessity to see them. They both give us plimsoll lines of necessary expertise of what is required to stay afloat - then and now.

Now, with Stephen Jeffreys' THE LIBERTINE some of the public might ask what the F... does the Earl of Rochester and the Court of Charles II have to do with the relevancy of my spending over three hours with it in Sydney in 2011? - Some have said it, some are, and some will be. Well, besides the delicious and provoking moral travails and debates, the dense and complex wit of the language, there is a passion of mission and love of the theatre that exudes from all this company that transcends any cynics demurring about WHY? WHY? Why this play? Attend and you will see why the theatre, when well done, is not dead. It is excitingly, thankfully alive in this production. In my experience of the recent THE SEAGULL and THE WHITE GUARD, neither production were well done enough. Some elements but not all. At least, not enough well done to help the audience to appreciate the reasons for their appearance on the contemporary Sydney. THE LIBERTINE is more than well done and its relevance to my life on Tuesday, 22nd August, 2011, is transparently obvious. I was, simply, glad to be alive while watching and consequently. "What a piece of work is man" if this is what he can do.

I wish to make a point about the writer and the use of language which elevates THE LIBERTINE and gives fabulous reason to see this production. Suzan-Lori Parks a great contemporary American playwright says: " I spend a lot of time reading the dictionary. The word "grammar" is etymologically related to the word "charm". Most words have fabulous etymologies. Thrilling histories. Words are very old things. Because words are so old they hold; they have a big connection with what was. Words are spells in our mouths."

WORDS ARE SPELLS IN OUR MOUTHS"- oh my gosh the Mess Hall company mangling the English translation by Ben Winspear of Laura Naumann's German play SWEET BIRD AND SOFORTH take note; to be fair, many other productions seen in Sydney this year as well, should take note.

That a lot of actors simply use the combination of the words of the writer as a general expression of their own emotional, little, narrow lives is apparent in catastrophic proportions across a lot of the Sydney stages. Literary strivings are often reduced to the actor's instinctive limitations. It undermines and often under represents the writer's craft as the source, as the reason to labour on the chosen project from rehearsal to audience participation in witnessing it. What is often lacking from the actor on our stages is the commitment of the actor to use their craft at full creative capacity: the basic skills of the actor - the voice, as the fundamental communicator of sounds that make up words, phrases, sentences, speeches - a love of using those words that formulate a mode of communication to the tribe. That words area physical act driven by detailed imagination from close reading.

That a lot of these actors are graduates from various training institutions around the country and, I know, have been educated to the tools and the best usage of their animal mechanics to create sounds and their combinations well, to take advantage of the gift that the writer has given them, if you have chosen well, suggests a general malaise and/or attitude that the Australian actor has, to maintaining and surpassing their training to continue to find a way to achieve excellence in their job. Thank god, they are not the electrician I had in to do some work on my apartment. That some actors do not get jobs, is often excused by everything they can think of, other than the actor's neglect and slothful approach to what it takes to be a prepared instrument for opportunity, to be the cause: from prejudice and cronyisms - "The Pink Mafia" or "The Boy's Club" etc.

Suzan-Lori Parks goes on: "My interest in the history of words - where they come from. Where they're going - has a direct impact on my playwriting because, for me, language is a physical act. It's something which involves the entire body - not just you head" (I would add, not just your feelings), “Words are spells which an actor consumes and digests - and through digesting creates a performance on stage…"

On the Darlinghurst Theatre stage, on the night I attended, the actors, all, had a grasp of those illuminations and either through dint of their own gift and practices of prepared talent or the focused guidance of an astute, knowledgeable, meticulous and rigorous Director (Damien Ryan and Terry Karabelas) have achieved an unexpected wonder of quality rarely seen on the Sydney stages: a text well served. Well spoken. Well communicated. Well digested. Well done. Mr Jeffreys should be thrilled. You will be. I was. Words as charms , as spells.

Let us talk of one of the many hallmarks of this production. INTELLIGENCE.

Anthony Gooley who plays Rochester, revels in the opportunity he has been given. Earned. That he wrestles with it and sculpts a living monument of this character and demonstrates what the craft of acting can be is totally admirable. I have watched this young actor grow over many years. Diligent and intelligent. Serious and applied. When I heard that he had been cast as Rochester, I was excited but also apprehensive. Mr Gooley is a good actor but I did not believe he was ready for this role. Despite some flaws (which I believe are physiological and are simply his nature-given instrument) about the sounds he can make, that are not the natural pleasing mellifluousness of, say, a Hugo Weaving, after the prologue speech, which I know inordinately well, and so very sensitive too, I was compelled to enter the world that Mr Gooley was creating, and watched a good actor grow before my eyes into a flirtation with greatness. The arc of this performance is so intelligently drawn and the actor is so powerfully immersed in what he has to do that the sheer human effort, the language demand that Ms Parks speaks too above, is brilliantly evident and embodied. The cost to Mr Gooley looks immense. The physical debauched exhaustion in the ultimate scene Thirteen of the play, is so splendidly lived that awe for Mr Gooley is all I could have for him. All qualms dissolved. We should be grateful for his commitment to his task. One only hopes that Mr Gooley can find the opportunity, in Sydney, to continue this magnificent jump, this breakthrough into the top league. There is nothing, as I attested to Robyn Nevin's work in NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH, like regular practice at your craft that will facilitate greatness more. If you consider the work that Mr Gooley has given us over the past few years e.g. ORESTES 2.0 or his Granillo in ROPE, one saw a promising actor, but here, the directors of THE LIBERTINE have given him, with good faith that he could, a challenging opportunity, and he has seized it to become an actor of the first rank Exciting to see. Promise, fulfilled.

But this production does not just have the central role radiating greatness but an entire cast of higher than usual commitment and achievement.

Susan Prior, playing Rochester's wife, Elizabeth Malet, is deeply affecting as the woman of loyalty, infinite patience and love forced to be cruel to be kind. With a vocal warmth and love of her character's language that allows her to reveal her character, her dilemma and story without excessive emotional overlay, Ms Prior, is simply, deeply, imaginatively engaged and speaks the English language, given to her, with all of it's opportunities mined and expertly shaped to give, us, the audience the right clues to be able to imagine with her,and thus endow the situation and character with our own cathartic reflection. We have an amazing personal experience in watching with her. What is particularly engrossing about Ms Prior's work over the years, (not enough of it, of course, for us as connoisseurs of the art, to see the growth), is her tremendous capacity to always to be in the absolute moment of investigative evolution. All of her acting appears to be happening spontaneously in front of you, an improvisation of investigation. I have never known Ms Prior ever to simply repeat a rehearsed success or choice, but rather we see her investigate an evolving truth in the moment of performing, hence stacked with high stakes of danger, because it could be disastrously wrong that night, or gloriously great. Ms Prior's work always appears delicately fragile and fresh and simply beautiful because it is always blossoming in front of us, just for us on the night we are there. There is no routine repetition, and if you watch closely, if you went again, you would see minute developments and losses that makes theatre going immeasurably worthwhile. Ms Prior's Elizabeth Malet is another of her brilliant, but often underestimated portraits of life on the stage.

The other principal woman in Rochester's gambit in this play is Elizabeth (Lizzie, in the program) Barry. This seventeenth century actress is of immense importance to the history of the English speaking stage. Mr Jeffrey's honours that brilliantly. He also creates a major foil, for the Rochester character, in his fiction, in that she represents a proto-feminist point of view in the play to the dual world of the witnessed action, then and now.

Danielle King is an actress that I cannot remember having seen before (There are no biographies of any of the artists in the program - rather, there is a long and slightly attenuated 'essay' by Damian Ryan that could have given way to courtesies to his fellow creatives - they have little else). A potent presence that is propelled to our attentions by a beautifully modulated and richly informed vocal instrument that intelligently and profoundly mines her speeches with all the exactness of word knowledge and preparation that brings Mr Jeffreys' labour of love to the fore for rich appreciation, however, unconscious, we the audience maybe, to Ms King's skill and brilliance. A performance of finely judged economy and passion. A modern woman stands relevantly before us in the dress of another time - powerful indeed.

Then, Sean O'Shea as Charles II with theatrical relish, seizes every luscious moment that Mr Jeffreys has strewn for this character (I felt there was more than an homage to the mannerisms of Barry Otto on stage). Mr O'Shea is, as usual, wicked and witty in his contribution. Sam Haft as the carer of Rochester, Alcock, is at his usual deft and modest self - another sadly, under-used actor of integrity and talent. Dry, witty, restrained, with a vocal depth that is redolently attractive - he speaks and one is instantly engaged and imaginatively embroiled. James Lugton, again, not seen often enough, but demonstrates why he should be as, amongst many roles, Charles Sackville - slyly, intelligently wicked in his subversive readings of character. Matt Edgerton playing the historic figure, the playwright, George Etheredge, who wrote the Restoration masterpiece THE MAN OF MODE, with Rochester impersonated brilliantly as the character Dorimant, gives a performance of great charm and ease, one that I never suspected was there, based on remembrances of his contribution to Kate Gaul's THE SEAGULL a year or so ago. Alice Livingston's stalwart and convincing work as Molly Luscombe and others also makes a mark that lifts her profile into focus and deserves attention. A young man, Felix Jozeps also creates a complex and significant contribution as Billy Downs. Naomi Livingston, completes the list of actors admirably in her many telling supportive contributions.

It is the influence of the director that I would like to go on about now. For Damien Ryan and Terry Karabelas, what each did for this production I cannot demarcate, have achieved here a fine miracle of what appears a deeply considered and prepared approach to the production of this difficult and great play. They have supervised all the elements with apparent care. That these actors chosen by them, have achieved such great work has to be a testament to the skill of both these men. Some of these actors have never been better and all of them are giving a passionate and knowing contribution to the text of Mr Jeffreys that results in an unparalleled ensemble on the Sydney stage this year. Not a weak link.

Bear in mind that this is a co-op production and does not have the resources, time or monies of our flagship companies and have, somehow, by dint of passion and inspired leadership outplayed, out shone any experience that they have given me so far this year.

The directors' work with the Designer, both Set and Costumes by Lucilla Smith is also a proof of the fine influence of their aesthetics on and with their selected artists. Ms Smith has always demonstrated a wonderful design mind and skill, but under the guidance of Kate Reve and the CRY HAVOC production banner has tended to excess and indulgence. Here on the Darlinghurst stage an elegantly decrepitude of a decaying mirrored room leaning dangerously into the centre of the room on the point of collapsing in on itself, surrounds a cleverly composed set of properties of chairs and table-top boards to be imaginatively transformed and suited to ever more inventive tasks than the straight forward one. The revealed floor image - a mosaic of Christ in the second half, becomes a poignant contrivance of grace for a repentant Rochester. Masterful in its simplicity. The costumes, too, are a smooth mix of contemporary and 'mock' period and are detailed in their use and appearance.

Matt Cox provides a yellowish and densely atmospheric lighting plot for the scenes throughout the play and within the small confines of the Darlinghurst stage, no mean feat. It is often translucently beautiful. The found music selection and the original composition by Sean Van Doornum and Mary Rapp is perfectly pitched to create emotional support to the scenes. The invention, for instance, by the company about the pall-mall game with the mallets is perfectly judged, witty and dramatic. Mary Rapp also plays live cello patiently throughout the production with enormous empathy to the mood of the action on stage.

Have I written so glowingly before? No, I don't think so. Maybe the writing is my cup of tea, I love the play. As well, there was not for me, an element of this production that did not pull its weight in the collaborative achievement of what I believe good theatre is.

If I were an actor in Sydney looking for a company to develop with I would look no further than SPORT FOR JOVE THEATRE. Intelligence, integrity, discipline, passion and love are all in evidence in this production of THE LIBERTINE. As I am an actor/director who would love to jump on board with this team, I'd like to let them know, I am available. Now, that is putting my mouth and body where my writing is, and a sign of my conviction.

Congratulations. As I mentioned in my blog on the NEDERLANDS DANCE THEATRE last month, one goes to the theatre often, simply hoping that this time it will be great - it was this time.



1. THE LIBERTINE, by Stephen Jeffreys, 1994.
2. ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Suzan-Lori Parks (In “The American Play, and Other Works”), 1995.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sweet Bird andsoforth

Mess Hall in association with atyp Under the Wharf present the world premiere SWEET BIRD ANDSOFORTH by Laura Naumann, translated by Benjamin Winspear.

Multi talented Benjamin Winspear (Actor, Director) initially developed SWEET BIRD ANDSOFORTH at 2009 World Interplay.(World Interplay is the largest festival of young playwrights in the world. It is held, according to the Internet, for two weeks every two years in Townsville, Queensland). In 2010, Mr Winspear, subsequently laboured, apparently, over a translation of this play into English from the German.

Laura Scrivano, the Director, led the cast through a creative development at Queen St. Studios, as part of their arts residency program. Six actors, Fleur Beaupert, Geraldine Hakewill, Alex Millwood, Sonny Vrebac, Michael Cutrupi and Fiona Pepper, all relatively recent graduates from very reputable drama schools. All of them have had extensive training.

How is it, then, that not one of these actors, perhaps Mr Cutrupi is an exception, seem to have any care for words, and I mean the simple formulation of the sound of vowels and consonants to shape the word? Or the combination of the words to make clear phrases? Or connected sense sentences? Or the accumulative information and/or argument of the speeches? How is it that these actors' vocal usage is so poor as to make clarity of utterance or consistent communication of the text a redundant experience for the audience?

It is, isn't it, even minimally, the responsibility of these artists to have the instrument ready and able to play with the writing to deliver what they profess to be: actors, storytellers? The craft of the butcher, the baker, the electrician or carpenter is what we pay for when we elect to hire them, to cut meat, make bread, wire my apartment, build my bookcase. Similarly the craft of the actor demands, at least, that I should receive, if I have been invited to watch them, vocal skills and body skills: To use their body and voice to transform into actors, so, that they can act a play, tell a clear story. If this crucial attention to their performance is not at the forefront of their task indicators, it can be a challenging night to endure. The performance of SWEET BIRD ANDSOFORTH which I attended was certainly a challenge of endurance for me.

Ms Scrivano, has not seemed to take any responsibility for the words of this text. How Mr Winspear must have pained over the obliteration of his obvious care of the translation of this play into English, I cannot begin to imagine. If it were told to me that the actors were each speaking a different language or a coded gobbledygook I would be prepared to believe it. Ms Scrivano either has no aural sensitivities and/or no ability or knowledge to assist her actors to a more useful craft practice. The content of this play as directed by Ms Scrivano is almost unintelligible.

The atyp space is becoming notorious for the difficult acoustical demands it makes on performers. This is the third production, this year, that has crumbled under the lack of care in the sound set design elements of production. Ms Scrivano has encouraged Hanna Sandgren to create a visual pleasure but has placed a raked open sided platform in the centre of the room with odd angled seating that assists the actors noises to escape in every direction without any channelling focal physical efforts to guide comfortably, with side-winged supports to bounce sound to the ears of the audience. It may have been ugly, to do so, maybe not, but it would have served this play more than the present 'pretty' solution.

For what Ms Scrivano does appear to have, which a lot of her generation of young directors have, and not much else, is a fairly interested visual eye (designer, Hanna Sandgren). It is, however, an eye, in this case which has encouraged a boring collection of derivative ideas from the last decade of 'theatre-design-as art' - yes, Virginia, there is a toilet seat, and it has been expanded with the trendy Video Artist input (Steve Toulmin) which mostly, with a mixture of pre-recorded and live images, serves as a repetitive distraction from the performers, more than anything else. All is enhanced with a pretty but general lighting design (Teegan Lee). The only aural sensibility Ms Scrivano exhibits is an ear for the pop chart of music to underline her characters journeys: FIRST DAY OF MY LIFE - Bright eyes (oh, really!) through to, amongst other boredoms, STAND BY YOUR MAN - Tammy Wynette (Oh, no, not again!).

The play concerns a group of young people in a rural town, (does it matter where these particular people come from? - no, not that I could semaphore from the action I saw) - on the verge of having to grow up and 'jump' into the future. These are hardly riveting or original concerns in Australian entertainment, television and local Australian film is weighted down with it, let alone the theatre, and even though there is an attempt at poetic language structure by Ms Naumann and translated lyricism by Mr Winspear, what was the urgent inspiration to translate this work, I cannot decipher. No new thing was revealed to me at this play performance. An original Australian text may have been just as ordinary.

Cutestuff, one of the characters in the play tells us "Being young is really overrated". I will add, "Being young is no reason for being lazy". Near enough is nowhere good enough.

As you can tell, this production lit my fuse of growing impatience with artists who feel 'putting it on' is enough. Emotional enthusiasms are not enough. Some dedicated preparation of your gifts that would do justice/honour to your endured training would be a useful statement of intent of professionalism at the least.

This production has been produced by Mess Hall (Laura Scrivano (director), Geraldine Hakewill (artistic associate), Michael Cutrupi (associate producer), Skye Kunstelj (associate producer), and I am sorry to say that I found the whole experience a barely tolerable mess. Agonising.

Please note that the Sydney Morning Herald (Wednesday, 24th August) sort of admired it. We were there on different nights, perhaps? The only way to know, which is likely to be your response is to go and see (and hear) for yourself, I guess.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Quiet Night in Rangoon

subtlenunance in association with The Spare Room presents the world premiere of A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON by Katie Pollock at the New Theatre, Newtown,Sydney.


A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON by Katie Pollock is a new Australian play of some note and heralds for me a playwright I want to see more from, to look forward to more output. The talent scouts of the Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir St. and the Griffin ought to see this play and jump with enthusiasm at this interesting emerging talent and this play.

An Australian play with an Australian female character at its centre set in a foreign country in a vitally volatile era of grave political and social consequences. An Australian playwright examining the world that is larger than the bedroom or local neighbourhood - arresting and interesting and of recent times, almost unique.

"RANGOON, Burma, 2007: The Movement for Democracy has suffered years of brutal oppression. Its revered leader, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, is under arrest, but the Saffron Revolution is about to shake the military dictatorship to its very core."

Piper (Kathryn Schuback) is an Australian journalist, 'browsing' an exotic oriental culture and attempting to write a fluffy, travel article, to subsidise her travel costs, when she finds herself gradually embroiled into the thick of real political events, about her. The reality and the moral conundrums of her immersive situation are at the core of this complex, but lucid, play. Written with a heightened sense of reality and fascinating poetical gestures (a character called THE LAKE that speaks to us) and daring characterisations (a computer with a will and comic personality of its own!) the form of the piece is totally transgressive and thrilling, especially at a time when so much naturalism has appeared on our Australian "playing fields." (N.B. Not that that is not interesting, just a bit repetitively boring).

Ms Pollock is not only well informed, intelligent and passionate about the historical/political setting of her play and principal character, she is also immersed in the spiritual undertow of this Buddhist world of Rangoon, and she has a witty and theatrical daring. Her control of her material and the explorations in the dramatic form of her storytelling modes is immensely impressive. Surprising, amusing and stimulating. This play began its life in 2007, and has, from the list of people who have advised on its formation, had development. It shows.

subtlenuance under the guidance of Director, Paul Gilchrist, have had the courage and the energy to present this play in partnership with the New Theatre's The Spare Room project. It has taken courage, for the majority of the acting company requires an Asian cohort of actors. This they have found and, though, each acquit themselves, adequately, they do not have the consistent, requisite skills, as yet, to create an ensemble of clear and supportive storytelling. They lack the craft energies to sustain the necessary bravura to keep the audience fully involved. The acting is the ingredient that deflates the experience of the performance, dedicated though they are. Exciting though their potential demonstrates.

Mr Gilchrist needs to spend more time coaxing and shaping , encouraging his actors to fully illuminate and capture the potential of Ms Pollock's play as an ensemble. It is too disparate and "I"-centred. Although the acting may distract your attention to the experience to see and hear this play and to become agitated by its potential, it is ultimately worth the effort. The production team have supported the play within limited means but it is interesting enough to support Ms Pollock's vision.

James Waites has begun a discussion on acting on his blog. I believe the theatre is a collaborative effort, no one ingredient in the exercise is more important than the other - but at the core of it all is the writer - I have always believed the writer is "GOD" and that it is the task of all the other team members to bring it to life as honestly and as skilfully as they can. The writer, the play, is the originating source of the inspiration to play for the audience. If we have a good text 90% of the work can be solved.

David Mamet cautions his actors that all they need to do is simply say and do what he has written. This is basically always true. This is a difficult task to achieve and it requires meticulous "close reading" and have actors that are prepared to shape shift to what the writer requires and not to reduce the writing to their own selves and skill limitations.The better the writing, however, the surer the possibility of success. No matter how great the actor, one can not make, shall we say, a silk purse out of a pig's ear - although I have seen some great Australians talents create an illusion of silk with many a bad play.

A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON is a good play text that despite the inexperience of its actors and the director, still shines through. With a more experienced cast this play might well be the cause for more quiet excitement in the Zeitgeist.

I believe it is worth paying attention too. Congratulations to the two associated producing teams for the prescience and commitment to this work.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Windmill Baby

BELVOIR presents WINDMILL BABY by David Milroy in the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir St Theatre.

WINDMILL BABY by David Milroy was commissioned and first produced by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, Perth in 2005. David Milroy and Ningali Lawford were awarded the Patrick White Playwright award for a collection of Indigenous plays in 2003. This play, not this production, has toured internationally.

WINDMILL BABY is a one woman monologue . First time director, of this production, Kylie Farmer (Kaarljilba Kaardn), tells us in her Director’s notes : “The storyteller is Maymay (Roxanne McDonald), an old Aboriginal woman returning to her camp which is situated on the old cattle station where she once amassed treasured memories. Like many Aboriginal men and women pre-referendum and post-war, working for ‘The Boss’ (cattle station owners) it wasn’t an easy life to live. Alas, Maymay has held her reminiscing inside for a very long time. Now she has the chance to revisit those tales of love, loss, strength and spirit. It’s time for her to finish this business.”

The Set and Costume Design by Ruby Langton-Batty is a beautiful creation in the small Downstairs space replete with rusting corrugated iron and a deep red dust floor. The Lighting Design by Christopher Page is sympathetic and atmospheric, supported by an especially subtle Composition and Sound Design by Michael Toisuta. The sound was especially interesting, subtle and redolent with imagery - just enough to endow the emotional and actual landscape of the piece. The package for this production has all the art direction ‘ticked boxes’ of a satisfactory commercial production. An air-brushed vision of a place with no gritty realities. No confrontations just pleasantries, this production looked yoked to a stabilising society tradition.

The play itself is six years old and history has surely marked it as a dated work now, charming, gently reflective and of no harm or real political impact, and essentially covering well travelled terrain. It has no real impact today except as a kind of tokenistic reminder of a time where the Aboriginal employee of “The Boss’ made the best of their everyday human journey. It is, in today’s terms a bland and clichéd piece of writing. The audience is stroked with a “folksy” nostalgia for a time and character past. It is as if the film SAMSON AND DELILAH had never happened- doesn’t exist. With work like WINDMILL BABY being presented to audiences, still in 2011, is it any wonder that many audiences at SAMSON AND DELILAH asked if it was a true depiction of conditions. They did not believe that that lifestyle was actually happening. Some thought it was dramatic licence. Not real. Not in Australia. “Aw, come on! Fair Dinkum?” it’s an exaggeration.

Ms McDonald is a lovely lady and she has a personal charm, but the acting is just not able to take this essentially ordinary writing into anything other than impersonated words. Let alone keep an audience suspended in belief for 75 minutes and eight different characters. Certainly, Ms McDonald’s program resume is extensive, and, maybe it is the fact that this young first time director, Ms Farmer, as yet, just does not have the skills to elicit a more complex and experienced performance from her actor. I drifted in and out of the experience, of what, for me, became, as the 75 minutes wore on, a witnessing of a wearisome educated remembrance of a text. Words in storytelling order with no under thought or true emotion. Boring. How much mentoring, other than giving Ms Farmer the job, was present in this work? Not much, it appears to me. This work could have been better. This experience could have been illuminating. Instead it had the blanket of sentimentality and generalisations enshrouded about it. Straight up inexperience, showed in the footprints on the red dust of this set design. This text could not shoulder such frailties and not reveal itself as anything but weak.

That the Belvoir Artistic management has curated this work and accepted the generous support of the Balnaves Foundation to stage it as part of the agreement to stage Indigenous theatre programs at Belvoir, one Upstairs and one Downstairs, JACK CHARLES V. THE CROWN, earlier this year, being the other one, does not bode well for the next two years, 2012-2013, if this lazy choice is going to be representative of the quality of the contemporary story telling. Did anyone from Belvoir St really read this work, I mean really read this work, and still believe it had social or even entertainment relevance for a Sydney audience in 2011? Unfortunately, someone did believe that this should be seen over and above any other play available.

There has been a shift in the stories being told by the Indigenous artists and the general concerned artist. My observation of this was when reading Thomas Keneally’s great history called A COMMONWEALTH OF THIEVES: THE IMPROBABLE BIRTH OF AUSTRALIA, (2005) - which certainly supersedes THE FATAL SHORE as the text book on early white Australian history to read; Kate Grenville’s THE SECRET RIVER (2005) and THE LIEUTENANT (2008) where the indigenous history is woven into the story of the first settlements, in a totally new, informative and respectful manner. That an accumulative change is upon us in our artistic output, is best illustrated by the Vogel prize winning novel for this year (2011) THE ROVING PARTY BY Rohan Wilson, which tells in muscular and powerfully masculine writing (I felt assaulted by it emotionally while reading it, bruised – it is amazing!) of the Government supported Bounty Hunters in Van Diemen’s land in1829. This ROVING PARTY led by John Batman with a principal ‘tracker’ Black Bill, himself an indigenous man. Staggering- more so, as I read it in Tasmania, near the geographical locations mentioned in the novel- a wincingly visceral time.
It was, further, difficult, to attend the amazing retrospective of the work of the colonial artist Eugene von Gerard at the Ian Potter Gallery in Federation Square, to celebrate the foundation of the Victorian Art Gallery, without conscience and guilty pain. For, here, is an immense collection of paintings that en mass, brings this artist’s work into some powerful context both of skill and beauty, but I felt also, of politics. For as one moves from one canvas to another, one sees in the earlier works, recordings of the Indigenous people and animals in the centre of the paintings, and then tragically and subtly see the images move to the fringe areas of the canvases, and even later, to be not present at all. It was devastating to see, following on from the Wilson novel, to recognise the settlement as that of John Batman founded, the same man at the centre of THE ROVING PARTY, and worse, that in the signage to the exhibition at the Ian Potter, not much, there is some, but not enough, reference is made to the gradual disappearance of the indigenous people from the commissioned work of Mr Gerard on view. Co-incidentally, the new history, 1835:THE FOUNDING OF MELBOURNE and THE CONQUEST OF AUSTRALIA by James Boyce (2011) was being discussed on television, where I recollect a statistic quoted, that within the first 15 years of white settlement in Victoria (which was an illegal settlement on British Rulings) 80% of the indigenous population had 'disappeared'! Clover Moore and the Sydney Council Indigenous argument over the wording “invasion” versus “settlement” was still clanging around my brain as well.

Before my break to Tasmania and Melbourne, I had seen a modest but movingly contemporary Indigenous work called BILLY BEEF STEW at the PACT Theatre space. No money, little resource but passion and lived (and contemporary) experiences that had found a means to artistically capture an Indigenous response to living in Australia in 2011, for an audience of all kinds. To then see at one of the leading, and supposedly socially aware, leading Australian theatre companies, Belvoir St, presenting such a ‘worthy’, but in my experience, comatose work was, is distressing.

A walk of 30 metres across the road from the Downstairs Theatre into the government housing buildings would bring the dramaturges and project development and commissioning officers of Belvoir St. into contemporary and vital indigenous stories. Walk to the corner of Crown St and Cleveland St (scary names?) 200 metres east, and go into the Redfern Shopping Mall or wait for a bus on that corner and you will be engaged in indigenous and disadvantaged contemporary social history. Walk four or five hundred metres south, down Elizabeth St into Redfern and Waterloo - a frightening aggregation of street and suburb names around there - ironic, I’d say - and you will have more material for relevant indigenous stories that need to be told.

DARE TO KNOW is my new motto for some of my theatre going. DARE, US, TO KNOW. The Balnaves Foundation deserve better than WINDMILL BABY. We, the audience deserve better leadership then WINDMILL BABY on the Belvoir St stages.

Big hART with their production of NAMATJIRA at Belvoir St. last year, began a gentle political engagement with the Sydney audience in the Belvoir space. It was something but not enough. It was just a gentle breeze of politics. But within the glamorous production package, it may not have had the clout that I believe the contemporary Indigenous artist is restlessly trying to find a means to express. Young indigenous artists, friends of mine, students of mine, are anxious to find the means to tell of their and their families and ‘mob’ experiences and lives. If Belvoir were more active in seeking and guiding these young men and women we might see the controversy and health that the National Theatre in London seems to provoke with new work that looks unflinchingly at their society (Richard Bean’s ENGLAND PEOPLE VERY NICE, for instance). The Balnaves Foundation could then rightfully be rewarded for their hopeful and faithful aspirations “to create a better Australia through education, medicine and arts with a focus on young people, the disadvantaged and indigenous communities” at Belvoir St Theatre.

Stephen Gray in his review, in the Australian Review magazine, Saturday, July2-3, 2011 of BEYOND WHITE GUILT:THE REAL CHALLENGE FOR BLACK AND WHITE RELATIONS IN AUSTRALIA By Sarah Maddison (Allen&Unwin), begins: “This book is an invitation – or rather a fierce and passionate challenge – to take another look at our silence over the destructive aspects of white treatment of Aboriginal people, a silence that, as the anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner once said, sticks out “like a foot from a shallow grave”. It is not enough to feel, by having Kevin Rudd apologize on the part of the government of Australia to the Indigenous people that our part is over, that our assuaged conscience can now rest in peace.

Maddison argues that “We must begin the ‘adaptive work” of accepting our collective guilt and responsibility of our past. What this might mean, exactly, is the real subject of BEYOND WHITE GUILT. It could mean a serious debate on constitutional change to recognize Aboriginal people, the difficult mechanics of which would require a broad consensus and bipartisan support. Or we might revisit the dreaded word of “genocide”, recognising that it accords with much Aboriginal experience, and international law, even if it is inconsistent with white Australian understanding of our guilt. More deeply, Maddison argues we should ‘break the bonds of solidarity with the perpetrators”, thereby entering a new dialogue with those we have harmed. She also admits such a process is ultimately emotional and non-rational in nature, but which, in any case, is far from the bitter and immature mudslinging of the “history wars.” “

Heady paragraph, above, and what does it have to do with WINDMILL BABY? Everything I should reckon if we are an artistic community attempting to reflect the real worlds we live in. For the arts not to try to engage in this ‘minefield’ of our lives, might invite some of the catastrophe of the calamity in Britain in recent weeks. Neglect and selective ignorance cannot be healthy for anyone, the poor and disadvantaged, the discriminated or the rich, privileged and wilfully ignorant. The beggar or the banker.

Yes, SAMSON AND DELILAH is happening, is real, folks. So is the local neighbourhood of Belvoir St, Theatre. Let’s really get responsible and change through our art, our perspectives on living in 2011.

WINDMILL BABY was a grave disappointment.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams

Ken Unsworth a famous Australian sculptor has collaborated with AUSTRALIAN DANCE ARTISTS: Susan Barling, Anca Frankenhaeuser, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Ross Philip and Norman Hall on a personal two performances only, gift, to some invited Sydney audience of AS I CROSSED THE BRIDGE OF DREAMS on Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour.

The audience I saw this work with, met at Circular Quay, in front of the MCA, and were ferried to Cockatoo Island on a still, fresh winter’s night. We disembarked onto the fore-shore, under the spectacularly lit cliffs of this sanctuary of ART, Cockatoo Island, rescued from the industrial landscape of yesteryear, and translated into awe inspiring spaces, art within themselves, and taken, with guides into one of the immense ‘caverns’ to temporary seating blocks.

Part 1. THE GARDEN BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL was beautifully lit (Eddie Goodfellow) in warm yellows, highlighting the brick, sandstone coloured walls, the space itself, a remarkably majestic remnant ‘cathedral’- a now emptied industrial hall, had a floor, in vivid contrast to the walls, of gleaming silver, on which immense silver columns stood. Out of the perpendicular height of one of the columns, a puppet-figure rose, and in the tradition of some European theatre signalled with the striking of the box three times for the performance to commence.

Accompanied by a wonderfully contrived, haunting and contemporary sound-scape of dissonant noises and some music by Jonathan Cooper, the dancers emerged independently from the base of the columns and in pairs, and then as a quartet, explored movement based around gestural patterns. Anca Frankenhaeuser, in her usual striking presence and physical beauty partnered by Patrick Harding-Irmer, entranced us with the seemingly effortless movement dance signatures that had a spiritual conviction and power beyond the expression of the ‘animal’ manipulations. The arms and hands, the gesture of the head always extended imaginatively beyond the corporeal bodies. Susan Barling and Ross Philip, too, were engaging and convicted - creating dance with a different set of identity habits/patterns.

Later, plaster-cast heads/masks of the performers were secured to the dancers and the incredible increased height of these figures created an eerie, stilted apparition, intriguing, fascinating and still also, slightly surreal and spookily abhorrent. Seated on a bench the image of the weird quartet of figures using arm and hand movement becoming gradually more complex and intertwined, developed a hypnotic concentration that seemed to suspend time in this remarkable space.

After a catered wine and cheese interval, we returned to the space for Part 2. AS I CROSSED THE BRIDGE OF DREAMS. In this sequence the silver columns were hoisted and lowered and became part of the movement of the choreography with the dancers who sat, danced, slid, stood and crawled around and under their presence. In a large archway entrance at the back of the space a large face and a created swinging girlish figure had begun the proceedings. The odd beauty and combination of objects, including three large revolving silver discs, and the appearance of Mr Harding-Irmer labouring from the back arch entrance across the space with a gigantic bird aviary strapped to his back with fluttering live white doves (enchanting), danced action and clean block-like lighting, tantalisingly supported by a musical score by Jonathan Cooper using lyrics from William Blake, sung by soprano Nadia Piave, on a high heavenly height ladder-platform, to piano (Jonathan Cooper) and Cello accompaniment (Julian Thompson) captured a mood and presence of appreciated wonder. This work was just as interesting as the first, but did not quite have the magical impact of the earlier work. The piano was surmounted by a pissing angel and a sort of cute profanity of the juxtaposition of the bizarre and beautiful was achieved.

We were taken home to the Quay on the ferry, cutting through the harbour and under a starry sky, glided past the wealth and glory of Sydney foreshores under the bridge, and ushered by the glamour of the Utzern sculpture of the Sydney Opera House on one side and the Luna park face on the other to the wharf and back to familiar ground..

Mr Unsworth and his creative apostles gave to his guests an inspiring and generous art experience. Envisioned and embodied beautifully. Two performances only and then ephemerally moved into invisibility, though captured on film. How incredibly generous of this artist and how rewarding for his humbled guests.
It was truly good to be alive and a deeply interesting journey, held in our memories, which I would like to honour. Thanks.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

ACO Tour Five: Schubert String Quintet

Australian Chamber Orchestra. Tour Five. SCHUBERT STRING QUINTET. At the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra is represented by four of its artists: Richard Tognetti (Violin), Satu Vanska (Violn), Christopher Moore(Viola), Timo-Veikko Valve (Cello) with a guest, Finnish cellist Jan-Erik Gustafsson.

A true chamber music concert, then. Intimate grouping of players and attuned sensibilities of a period soiree, between the players and the audience.

This concert was a sensitive and delicately refined execution of music by Bach, Stravinsky, Webern and Schubert.

The first half of the concert was an intriguing presentation of excerpts from Bach"s THE MUSICAL OFFERING, BWV1079 (Composed 1747); Stravinsky's CONCERTINO for string quartet (1920), THREE PIECES FOR STRING QUARTET (1914), DOUBLE CANNON "RAOUL DUFY IN MEMORIAM"(1959) and Webern's TWO PEICES FOR CELLO AND PIANO (1889) - arranged for cello and string quartet by Graham Ross.

The program notes are pleasantly dense with the details of the creation of the Bach work, the intellectual, musical, mathematical 'game play' of Bach in the composition of the The Musical Offering using a musical theme that Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786) had given him. The 'cheeky' solution by Bach has provided a fascination for musicians since their first appearance.

What the Australian Chamber Orchestra has, then, done, for this concert, is to provide an added puzzle of intellectual musical appreciation by interleaving all these works inside each other, so that we have a mixed order: Stravinsky, Bach, Stravinsky, Bach, Webern, Webern (reversed order of the Two pieces for cello), Bach, Stravinsky and so on, further changing the order, for instance, the Stravinsky Three Pieces for String Quartet in a shuffled presentation of:  III-Canticle; I-Dance;II-Eccentric. The reasoning for this 'game' by the ACO, maybe, for the connoisseurs best to enjoy, but for myself it was the source of intrigue and delight-an education in action.

The ensemble musical playing between these five artists, their visible interplay and sense of joyful explication of each of their parts in this concert, was communicated in an all absorbing manner. Their focus forced me to concentrate more minutely in what I was hearing. That I was seated close to the orchestra was a bonus to my aural transportation.

Following, after the interval, the ACO quintet presented the Schubert String Quintet in C Major D.956. (1828). Again the concentrated musicianship of these artists and the ensemble delicacy and generosity was brilliantly evident. The delicacy of violin pianissimo, the thrill of team statements and harmonious wills in the playing was engrossing. The second movement of the Schubert, the ADAGIO, was super-humanely given (Was I on earth?).

A great concert. Much appreciated by myself and the audience. A night of music that approached the concert hall audience as thinking adults, challenging us  to listen anew to works that one may know, so that we were been not just given a passive night of easy listening but the added bonus of puzzle delight and solving as to the mysteries of the artistic insights and 'game play' of this Australian Orchestra and its artists in their sophisticated choices.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fefu and Her Friends

Red Rabbit Theatre Company supported by NIDA Springboard Program in association with Pearly Productions presents FEFU AND HER FRIENDS by Maria Irene Fornes at the Parade Studio, NIDA, Anzac Parade, Kensington.

Maria Irene Fornes, a Cuban American writer based in New York, even in her own city, even in her own country, is a writer of 'boutique' fame, if you reference, say, David Mamet, who, comparably, may be a 'major department store'. She has however won 13 Obies and is in her eighties. She has been a pivotal figure in Hispanic-American and experimental theatre. She was part of the Off-off Broadway push of the sixties, seventies, eighties, alongside Shepard, Albee and the like. Her linguistically haunting, inventive plays are surreal and rarely plot driven, rather, they are 'the consequences of characters represented by their participation in frequently absurd scenes whose juxtapositions equal dramatic events. Ms Fornes a playwright and influential teacher: "Madame Avante-Garde"!

FEFU AND  HER FRIENDS written in 1977 has eight women who spend some time together, over several days, entertaining themselves in idle talk, exchanging gossip and views on life, their life and other's lives, care-free gallivanting, and amateur concerts, dances and lectures. Eating, drinking, drinking especially, lots and lots of coffee. The women are diverse in nature  but all bound together by their friendship and their 'sisterhood.' There is love in the air. The kind of love that only women can have for each other. It is kind of enviable.

I have observed that women writers do not need plot or outcomes, they can, and, delightfully find it enough, sometimes, to just talk and show. Stimulate and share. Funny, wise and puzzling. There does not have to be "winners or losers" or outcomes. And such is the blissful experience of this production of Ms Fornes' writing. It is an unbelievable easy pleasure to watch these eight women: Julie Billington, Harriett Dyer, Rebecca Johnston, Suzannah McDonald, Megan O'Connell, Emma Palmer, Sophia Roberts and Georgina Symes slip into such comfortable ease with each other and seemingly spontaneously improvise, tantalize and bemuse one. The water fight, sequence, a highlight among much, lightly delicate in its choreographics and girlish hysteria. Directed with a graceful hand and sensitive attention by Caroline Craig, the appetite to see more of Ms Fornes is burgeoned with a marvelous final moment of mystery and intrigue - of magic and surrealistic dreaming. Or, nightmare?

In a cool garden setting by Eliza Mclean and wistful lighting by Sara Swersky the atmospheres are heightened by the Sound design of Nate Edmondson.

I have once performed in ABINGDON SQUARE and have been slightly in love, I realise after this re-engaging with Ms Fornes, for years. I recommend that for a treasure of joyful space, that can suspend you for eighty minutes above and beyond the travails of our present tortured world and surrounds,that you beat a brisky beat to this theatre to catch these excited and passionate women artists stretching into a flight of unadulterated pleasure and joyful fun. Modest, small scale, but still worth it.

They all love what they are doing and they are doing it so well. Finishes, sadly on Sunday. Go if you can.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Haunting of Daniel Gartell

Bardic Productions in association with the Tamarama Rock Surfers presents THE HAUNTING OF DANIEL GARTRELL at the Old Fitzroy Theatre.

A young actor, Craig Castevich (Joshua Morton) is researching the background to a famous Australian poet, Daniel Gartrell (Mark Sheridan) in preparation for a documentary film shoot. Craig scores the opportunity to meet the man himself and goes to his run down, neglected home to find an irascible eccentric who proceeds to taunt him with a series of interviews that lead to darker and darker revelations. The old poet's daughter (Elizabeth Tuilekutu) also makes her presence felt and adds some 'spice' to the proceedings.

This is a 'classic' Australian Gothic ghost story, which begins with suitably atmospheric sounds and haunting stormy winds (Composer,Brent Rowley) with a design by the director (Jacqueline Cosgrove) of a decrepit, rotting sitting room dimly lit throughout most of the proceeding. Mixed with a mystery of a dead brother and aboriginal sacred lands of Mount Ragged this 'haunting' by the young actor of this poet's life ends up in a 'possession' and spiritual transfer of uncomfortable dimensions that reminds one of an episode of the old television show THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Reg Crib a West Australian writer has had a very prodigious and rewarded career as a writer. In Sydney we have seen THE RETURN (2000), subsequently filmed as LAST TRAIN TO FREO; and LAST CAB TO DARWIN (2004) and GULPILIL (co-wrote (2004). Mr Crib in an article by Katrina Lobley in the Sydney Morning Herald (Friday 5th August) tells us the writng of this play was a kind of 'purging experience" and one suspects it is of his own actor training that is getting a go-over here.

This is a well written yarn. It does sound and feel a bit like a radio play that one might catch on ABC Radio one Saturday afternoon.And certainly the writing is better than the acting. Notwithstanding the Royal Shakespeare Company credentials of Mr Sheridan, when one reads that John Wood recently played the role in Melbourne, one gets a  sense of the rough house larrikin personality that is absent from Mr Sheridan's performance that might bring the piece truly to life at the Old Fitzroy. Mr Morton and Ms Tuilekutu are both young actors who are attractive to watch but are rather tepid with their choices and as yet do not have the confidence to take this 'shaggy dog story' by the scruff of the neck and have some fun with it. A little too earnest, tentative.

This production passed the time and despite some lackings in the acting department the story has enough suspense and mystery to enjoy, particularly if you are a fan of this genre.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

And No More Shall We Part

Griffin Theatre Company presents AND NO MORE SHALL WE PART by Tom Holloway at the SBW Stables Theatre, Sydney.

Contemporary issues of importance, Climate Change, the continuing Global Financial Crisis (frighteningly imminent today), the famines and degradation of Africa, South America, the South Pacific, the Indigenous crisis in Australia,the culpable history of Australian settlement or invasion, the tragic warring nature of our species, the welfare of our neighbourhood relations, the plight of our elderly, the abortion and the euthanasia dilemma, the ruthlessness of corporations and their C.E.O.'s pursuing output and K.P.I.'s and profit at the expense of quality, transparency and truth, the rights of ethics and religious instruction in our children's classroom... please feel free to continue with the list ... are left to a few to fret about.

Rather let us concern ourselves with the latest celebrity weight loss, marriage, divorce, bad behaviour or self inflicted abuse or death. Let us stir angrily over the 'pokie' tax, the hotels Associations demand for the removal of the "violent hotel" name and shame list, Ms Keneally's hair style, the price of bananas. Let us fume about the latest football, tennis, cricket, scandal. MASTERCHEF. THE RENOVATORS. GRAND DESIGNS. IS THERE LIFE ON MARS?

Do you dare to know? Immanuel Kant the great German philosopher, taught that "people should acquit themselves of their duty to state and station… (And) it was the task, he considered, of mature people not to succumb to laziness or cowardice but to "dare to know.'" [1]. Mr Holloway's play, AND NO MORE SHALL WE PART, invites you to dare to know. To know something of the debate about euthanasia and the consequence of our own tepid inertia to engage with it.

Tom Holloway in this relatively new Australian play (2009), becomes one of the brave few that frets about a contemporary issue of importance: the right to choose the manner and time in which we die. He enters boldly, and seemingly,very personally, into the euthanasia debate. Sam Strong the Artistic Director and the Board at the Griffin Theatre Company have presented a very "unsexy" evening in the theatre. The subject matter is one that is very uncomfortable to confront and yet one which all of us will, possibly, have to concern ourselves with. Whether one wants to go to the theatre to deal with this subject, is a very risky enterprise that the Griffin have undertaken. All power to them. And I do encourage you, along with this company, to go - you will be rewarded in more ways than you can estimate.

AND NO MORE SHALL WE PART is difficult, is confronting but compassionately empathetic about a contemporary issue that is humanised in a very true experience that we can witness through the second hand journey of a play. We don't have to suffer the pain first hand, either emotional, physical or moral, we can watch at a distance, others, go through it and within 90 minutes get up and go downstairs for a drink, a chat and then a walk into the night.

What I can guarantee is that that walk into the night will be a significantly different one, to the last time you attended the theatre, and walked away into the dark, as the emotional taunts of Pam and Don will be part of your DNA forever, especially as you realistically engage with your life and the life of your friends and family, anew. Our common fellow journeyman, TIME, will bring you to this situation inevitably, and you will be thankful that you did go to the Griffin Theatre to see this play, for it will help, one way or another, you, to conduct informed decisions around the way to help yourself or others to exit into the state of death. For there is no such thing, except in superstition, as a Deathless Man or Woman.

That euthanasia is now happening around us in cloaked, shamed and in  criminal dimensions is only one of the things that this play asks you to contemplate. It is by experienced drama of this kind that we, members of society, can enter a debate for change and reason and compassion. Issues of unpleasant deliberations can be aired and absorbed.

Here, on the very intimate SBW Stables stage an ordinary and loving husband and wife of a long marriage, where that love has been tested with long hard work and found still pulsing, is put to a test that is most demanding. The biggest kind of testing imaginable. We see the history of the decision, we see the emotional toll of that decision and we watch the decision happen in front of us. And no more shall they part.

Linda Cropper as Pam, and Russell Kiefel as Don are stunning in the absorption of these characters and their demanding journey. And if you as an audience believe that acting is easy then look closely at these two magnificent artists at the curtain call and see what it has cost them to bring this story to you. That, they will do it seven or eight times a week, for five or six weeks is a commitment of some courage, and demands salutary admiration. It is not only the plumbing and pillaging of their emotional resources that is demanding, but the horrible technical requirements of Mr Holloway's writing , too, is Olympian. It certainly demands your attention and presence. This is good acting. Ms Cropper is particularly electrifying and every twitch of her fingers, bend of her wrist, every subtle ripple of emotion across her astonishing face, underlines the calm pragmatism of her vocal delivery. The tension between what we see and what we hear from Pam is an abyss of great emotional acting. Fathomless.

There are problems with the text. There is in the writing not enough variety for the actors to play with in the early scenes. It is a tremendous relief when two thirds into the playing time, Scene Four, a violent and intense argument erupts over marmalade. Pitch variation, volume and emotions ricochet around the theatre as the characters chase each other, child-like through the imagined geography of the house. The first three scenes had stayed too similarly paced, within a narrow range of expression, too familiar for a discomforted audience to be patient or immersed with .Often, one was suspended, becalmed in the experience of watching stagnant moments of action, for neither the narrative, emotional or character journey was moved forward consistently with the dialogue. In fact, Don became a bit of an unsympathetic 'whiner' and the couple stalemated in the events.. On the other hand the writing and the sensitive directing by Sam Strong in the final dinner scene is finely judged and immensely moving.

There was, for me, as well, some oddness about the over naturalistic design solutions that Victoria Lamb and Mr Strong had come to, not withstanding the gauze wall. The naturalism was not sustained : Where was the stove and sink or at least the jug to boil the water for the tea to be made? Do you really believe that the Pam, that Ms Cropper was immersed in, would have the vulgar taste of the ugly tissue box, on the side board with the family photographs, that one saw as one entered the theatre space? Carpings, for sure, but in the depths of such emotional confronting subject matter, one looks for ways to escape the confrontation, and any perceived flaw of consistently permits it. One can dwell on something else rather than the reality of what is happening in front of one.

The sound from Kelly Ryall was also oddly static from scene change to scene change - it created the same atmosphere each time and did not seem to have accumulated any significant development to support the story as it moved forward. It sounded too much like the same cue.It did not add to the experience, it simply sentimentalised in a summary kind of way, repetitively. Odd for this usually impressive story teller.

Verity Hampson, with her lighting design, once again, creates the right tone of atmosphere - fearfully talented.

This is a very brave production. There is some very, very good acting. And the writing though, sometimes technically flawed,  embraces such an important contemporary issue that all of you who love the theatre and dare to know, so that you can claim to be a responsible citizen of your society, however modest that claim may be made, should ensure that you go. Worth it, I reckon.

Do go. The Griffin organisation deserve your patronage.


1. From KEEPING WATCH by Miriam Cosic, The Weekend Australian Review, July 23-24, 2011.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Neighbourhood Watch

Belvoir presents NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH by Lally Katz at the Belvoir St. Upstairs Theatre.

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH by Lally Katz, a new Australian play, bears a dedication in the printed text and program to Anna Bosnjak and Robyn Nevin.

In Ms Katz’s notes to the program she tells us of her encounter with a neighbour, an Hungarian woman, and then of “The next two years (that she) spent constantly with Anna. Often seven days a week, all day and into the night we would talk. We shared everything together. She showed me her memories and the world. I asked her advice on men. She weighed me. I washed her dog. We went on errands together. We talked constantly on the phone. Anna’s world became bigger than my world. Her memories became more real than my present. But through it, she led me to becoming the adult woman that I was meant to be.”

Ms Katz also tells us that “In 2007 I had a great conversation in a theatre foyer with Robyn Nevin, during which we discussed the possibility of my writing her a play. I asked her, “What should the character be like?’ Robyn responded, ‘Tough and funny.’”

So, two years later and more, with consultation and collaboration with Robyn Nevin, Eamon Flack, Annette Madden, Julian Meyrick, and finally Simon Stone, we have this play and production. This sounds a healthier process than the approach to Belvoir’s commissioned project THE BUSINESS, which we saw earlier this year, especially for the writer and the writing.

The experience of NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH in the theatre is one that is enchantingly disarming, charming, and definitely warm-hearted. In one of the last scenes of the play, Ana (Anna Bosnjak?) and her friends, Catherine (“Kitty-kitty”: Catherine=cat=Katz=Kitty-kitty?) and Milova attend a screening of the movie MAMMA MIA and Ana declares, “Oh, very artistical! She – the Streep - she is very artistical! …Very artistical, the MAMMA MIA.” This production is also “very artistical”. All the elements have been carefully crafted to give us a lovely time in the theatre.

The set and costume design (Dale Ferguson), the lighting (Damien Cooper), the sound design & live music composition (Stefan Gregory) are all artistically woven into the fabric of a very respectful and delicately whimsical story of refugees and generational history lessons that surround us all in our neighborhoods. We watch, meet and have time move through us and around us, we change, we grow, we learn and ultimately die. I later, cynically, wondered whether the death of one of the characters after watching MAMMA MIA was meant to be an earnest euthanasia tip, much like the choices available to the inhabitants in the sci-fi film SOLYENT GREEN - ”Watch a movie of choice and die happy!?

The Set design is deceptively simple. A dark, thick-piled carpeted space, walls and floors, pads the sound and insulates and concentrates the possibility of audience invention. The same technique that Mr Stone engaged us in with his design solution on THE WILD DUCK (without the glass walls, thankfully, and how much more comfortable is it to enter this production without the glass barrier?), no visible clues or ‘signed’ location, except with poignant choice of props (Wheelie-bins with yellow lids), and our own imaginations will endow the environments of the play from our own lives. We, as an audience become the living creators/observers of the inhabitants of this empty and comfortable space. We become imaginatively creative and complicit. We have an emotional state and stake, evolving, in the experience. To not to accept the invitation to ‘play’, to disown the ‘game’ maybe to disown ourselves - a harsh inner critic, indeed. Subtle, eh? Unlike the reality of Patrick White’s scenario for THE SEASON AT SARSPARILLA where everything is shown - we are invited here by Mr Ferguson to become our own art director of the neighborhood locations and all else.

A large revolve stage sits cunningly in the carpet and is employed to whisk us off to many another place in the play. A bit like being, suddenly, on a ‘magic carpet’. Our imaginations fly off, for instance: aided by chair arrangements to ride a tram in Budapest or sit in a doctor’s office in the city of Mary St. Mr Stone has used this apparatus before (THE PROMISE), but not as successfully.

The lighting by Mr Cooper is also a crucial and potent tool for our imaginations: Time of day, interior and exterior locations, and grotesque Grimm fairy tale shadows on the carpeted walls, help us to create worlds and emotional tensions. The imaginative story telling of Ana become projected into our consciousness as the images invented with Mr Cooper’s tricks of lighting, conjure, for me, amongst others, connections to the little girl’s fantasy life in Guillermo del Torro’s PAN’S LABRYINTH (2006)- The little red riding hood, the Parishka, of Ana’s first husband comes to life in the forest with Artur, a serial killer, of her memories. The Cooper invention powerful in leading me to identify my own fears and imaginings as part of the journey.

The music composition and live playing by Mr Gregory is a useful element, too. Although it flickers perilously close, sometimes, to sentimentality and kitsch. That it does not quite tread into that zone reflects a very sensitive sense of fine judgement. A delicate act.

There is in this production of NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH clever invitations to a sense of a cosy, amateur community theatre invention. We build the set with the lighting and props, independently and together imaginatively; the twee little joke of the piano player moving from the piano, and it still plays ! – warm rapprochement invited, we laugh knowingly – we know how it is done, though it was at first, a trick – it did indeed, catch us out, ha-ha; the piano player/composer, Stefan Gregory, is introduced as an actor as well, a slightly wooden and embarrassed performer who 'will do his best' for us - more communal embrace as we accept the offer, from this 'amateur' actor more or less, depending on your personal belief systems, as there are a large number of 'tiny' roles he must create; the use of very familiar everyday occurrences, that we all meet regularly: diabetes, the WEST WING tv series, youth suicide, cancer, the cancer wig, the Sarah Palin put downs, the eating disorder, the depressive delusions – seeing and hearing people that are dead, the dirty nappies in our emptied wheelie bin, the stupid but loyal ethnic friend, the relentlessly barking dog of our neighbourhood, the pop film MAMMA MIA, which some of us can’t admit to our friends that we have seen etc, etc. All this makes for a very easy and coy accessible night in the theatre’s world. We recognise it, we know it as of our time, our lives. A kind of folk play.

But best of all is the delicious love poem of a creation by Lally Katz of Ana. Blunt, honest, broken accented English accompanied by mangled ‘foreigner’ language construction, which causes us to cringe and/or laugh at the clever but screw-ball logic of the expressions. She is sometimes unaccountably mean, judgemental and determined. But she is also wise and world weary with memories that she can re-call and utilise to create lessons for present day survival. The horrors of war become useful tools for others to absorb and learn to live from, faithfully. Tough and funny. We all have at least one real connection to this icon-type, yes?

Robyn Nevin is astonishing in her characterisation. The immersion of Ms Nevin into the very sinews of Ana is so complete and depth filled that one almost weeps with the density of this artist’s expressive gifts. A long practiced career (the program recollects that Ms Nevin was in the first graduating class at NIDA in 1960- a 51 year span!) and we can see the benefits Ms Nevin can reap for us, as a result of that constancy of practice over the years, the intensity of work over recent years, particularly. There is something great in this performance that, however good her work as Hecuba or Ranyevskaya or even Mary Tyrone might have been, has to do with the actor’s comfortability and ready recognition of the ordinary, suburban Australian woman/battler and her uncanny ability to shape shift into it: The Australian woman who meets the odds of the unfair world straight on and unashamedly battles it, without giving quarter, to naybody, male or female. Some critics have recollected in Ms Nevin’s Ana, her Ms Docker, but more interesting and redolent, for me, are my fond memories of her creation of the pragmatic, fearless but passionate, Ms Imogen Parrot in Pinero’s TRELAWNY OF THE ‘WELLS’ way back in the golden times of the George Ogilvie, Old Tote production (Ms Parrot , an actress, becomes a theatre manager; who knew how much like life that performance was to be? I suspect Ms Nevin, may have). This is a performance to relish.

Standing beside her, however, is Kris McQuade’s sublime creation of Milova, a Serbian neighbour who doggedly offers her friendship to Ana, who regards her offers as dangerous and suspicious, but who finally triumphs with her acts of devotion and unremitting patience with reward, only, for it disappear, too, quickly. Everything about Ms McQuade’s creation is meticulous and apparently selfless in her counterpointing to the creative offers of Ms Nevin. Here, are two actors so finely attuned to each other, that, besides their own actions to create character, they have a trust to allow the other actor to define their character as well. The great signs of craft and art in these two very different women are marvellous. Mr Ferguson has also aided Ms McQuade magnificently, with a costume design that complements everything the actress needs to complete her incarnation. Ms McQuade is just as incisive and nifty with her other responsibilities as well. What a handsome man she makes!

Heather Mitchell is devoted and fine in her responsibilities with intelligent understatement doing the job for her. Ian Meadows, simple and direct with his degrees of required and differently scaled realities in his tasks. Both actors exemplary in their judgements and support.

Charlie Garber as Ken, for me, is the most insecure in his ability to immerse himself and refrain from commenting on the role. The role and the play cannot bear objectivity. It must always be subjective expression, an exposure of the actor’s life-force as well –or at least appear to be. However, in defence of Mr Garber’s problem, Ms Katz has given him a frightfully difficult task, for it is here in this relationship with Ken and Catherine, played by Megan Holloway, that Lally Katz as fudged the writing with not enough information, complex scenes, to make the relationship a really real one – one that I knew about. As it is played at the moment the writing does not offer clues for us to see or feel beyond the surfaces of the offered actions. He says this, he does that; she says this, she does that. They say this, they do that, together Why? ?? I was disappointedly interested.

Ms Katz has let her fondness for her Ana and perhaps Robyn Nevin, dominate the principal transformative journey that appears to be the spine of the play, Catherine’s. Catherine’s two year delusion about her dead friend, her symptoms of a food disorder, especially her need for Ana as a respite in her life are never satisfactorily clarified, explored or resolved. They just are. The ending, between Ken and Catherine, is glib and seems to be curtailed. It also reveals a weakness in the dramaturgical instincts of Mr Stone, who, as in THE WILD DUCK adaptation, (THE ONLY CHILD, as well?) encourages a scene that explains, overstates too simplistically, in this case, the future of the surviving pair – Ken returning with a box of his stuff, a joke or two, a successful Roadshow production offer for his film – future success, and a return to watching WEST WING!! "We’re in the life" agree Ken and Catherine. Well, a kind of life.

In fact, on further idle musing, I suspect that there is in Mr Stone, an essentially Victorian sensibility about his heroines. I came to realise, a few years ago, that every feisty, amazing female protagonist in Victorian literature, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Diana of the 'Crossways', all of them (I read some 15 novels all in a row), who have been challenging for four hundred odd pages, all have to end up either dead, married, mad or in a nunnery. The status quo must be maintained for that society, no matter how thrilling, attractive and exciting the woman has been. Two of our heroines in this neighbourhood end up dead and one looks like they are going to safely marry her off. The other woman surviving is Milova, the quiet, submissive, willing victim of unkindness and rough usage. She like Ana's dog just keeps coming back for more rejection. A bourgeois ending for our community, sentimental and tidy. Nothing much, it seems, has changed! Kill the ladies off or safely marry them off, to prevent pending madness, in Catherine’s case, perhaps. Keep Milova treading the tread mill of disappointment and no reward - it is a cruel prediction for this woman, one of the 'good'of the play.

Megan Hollloway as Catherine, the author’s character of identification, plays the material with a very subtle absorbed and gentle input – to watch and support around the buffeting energy of Ana, the function of the role is maintained with great generosity and care, however, Catherine as a life force is underwhelming and does not visibly develop much at all in the arc of the play. For instance, I was surprised as to the source of her mysterious phone calls and wished that the suicided friend and eating disorder had being further elaborated on. Almost zilch. Strange.

As Lally Katz had collaborated with Yael Stone in the STC production of FRANKENSTEIN (as had Ralph Myers) and was, indeed, Ms Katz’s 'monster', I wondered whether she had ever seen the script. Considering what Ms Stone created as the servant, romantic fantasy and madwoman in last year’s production of THE DIARY OF A MADMAN, with Geoffrey Rush, I wonder what might have arisen with the present text. Is it the actor or the writing? I reckon it is in the writing – needs more, a little more embellishment. Ms Stone was, of course, down in Melbourne in another Katz play: A GOLEM STORY. Interesting to see what she would have done with Catherine. The compare and contrast, exciting.

What is ultimately surprising about this evening is the text of Ms Katz. It is tender, gentle and filled with observed and appreciated love. The form is interesting: a lot of very short scenes, short scenes, not many long ones; lots and lots of locations, indoor and out door, and some 30 characters. Very, very assured in production. It could almost be a television or film screenplay in this form. And certainly it has the general community appeal for its subject matter, story and emotional landscape. A good soap opera, that with the quality of acting that we, mostly, see on the Belvoir stage, could produce a lovely M.O.R. (middle of the road) box-office rater. Give PACKED TO THE RAFTERS a run for the ratings in the same time slot.When you read the other work, mostly produced in Melbourne, of Ms Katz, you experience a crazy and very challenging mind and theatre worker in an out-there zone. NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH is so conventional that I am afraid that Alison Croggon, the Melbourne blogger, if she came up to see this work, might be terribly shocked, and along with the conventional, (but theatrical) direction of Mr Stone, also, a refugee from Melbourne (Hayloft) declare that Sydney has reduced these Melbourne artists to …..?, What? Conventional crowd pleasers? Sydney.Yikes!!! Beware its disease, you Batmaniacs - no - Melbournians.

It is also interesting that in Sydney we have had our writers placing older characters in the spotlight. Tommy Murphy’s GWEN IN PURGATORY; Paul Capsis’ ANGELA’S TABLE; and, slightly further back, John Doyle’s Kurt in THE PIG IRON PEOPLE. When I place Ana alongside Gwen I see why Ana is a little too romantically conceived for me and works best in the homage world of Angela. Kurt, of, course, is in a stratosphere of his own – scary!

Ms Katz is writing from the world she knows and it is lovingly done and appreciated. But I just felt during the performance that we are all still, in the theatre (television/film) a little too euro-centric in our contemporary story telling. We are a multi-cultural country and we often brag about that! (at my NSW University bus stop, it is often hard to see a single Caucasian or European student in the long, long queue – modern Australia). I have just had an interesting time with a friend’s older relative who is Vietnamese, but has lived here for some time: any writer want a contemporary story? Amazing. Mr Murphy introduced a black African priest into GWEN IN PUTAGTORY but didn’t do much with him. I wait for the Afghan, Iraq, African, or God help us, our Somalian/Australian refugee stories to reach our spaces. To be part of our contemporary neighbourhood watch. In fact at the New Theatre there is a play called A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON by Katie Pollock, soon to open. The cast publicity photograph is mostly Asian in appearance, how exciting. I thought, here may be a contemporary story for us diverse Australians to see. I’ll let you know.

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH is a very, very well done conventional night in the theatre. And it has a neighbourhood, community, resonance, reassurance. Knowingly tough and funny, truly safe and easy. I had a good time. Especially watching Robyn Nevin and Kris McQuade. They are not to be missed.