Thursday, September 29, 2011

Country Matters

Cupboard Love in association with The Sydney Fringe, presents COUNTRY MATTERS by Danielle Maas and Jessica Wallace at the New Theatre, Newtown.

COUNTRY MATTERS is a fairly audacious effort. Two young women: Danielle Maas and Jessica Wallace have devised, directed, designed, performed and produced an exploration of "their sexual identities ... With unflinching honesty and unwavering humour, their tales explore everything from vaginismus and violence, lesbians and Lolita and dating to dildoes. It's flirtatious feminism for a new millennium..."

The questions to ask, when we have lots of full 3D female nudity with interactive audience participation, encapsulated in some 19 episodes, loaded with confronting but oft times witty monologues and duets, both verbal and physical, at this early end of the new millennium, how will that millennium end, if this is the signs of the millennium's  theatrical beginnings? And, next, are we ready for it, yet? Lots of boundaries are crossed. Lots of wit and intelligence are on show along with lots of naked, lavish pulchritude. The balance may be their in favour even at this end of the millennium, in September, 2011.

From the program (a guide to the material, to encourage or dissuade you) by Danielle Maas:


Writing a play and losing your virginity - everybody remembers their first time (hopefully). And although I found this process daunting, I discovered that this was a journey born not out of catharsis, but compulsion. I think sex is overrated annd underrated. I don't think humans can survive without competition. I think feminism is an idea, not a religion. I don't think that politicians have the right to interfere with my uterus. And some days, I don't know what to think.
Those are the days where I wander through the streets, eat cake, and fall in love with my soul mate, who I haven't met ... yet.

This story is dedicated to anyone who has survived the unimaginable, fantasized about the forbidden, or had a fat day. And when your time comes, I hope you remember to put your stilettoes on and take your granny panties off. (Because I didn't.)"

The writing is often smart and waspish. Funny and political.

What the present production needs, still, is an outside eye (a director), to help the women to shape and structure the material for more impact, and to stage, especially the physical sorties, with more discipline. It is a very short showing but it will help the company see what works and what does not. It is rough and brazen but courageous and often amusing, if not always on accurate target. It would be interesting to see it again with further workshop for refinements of style.

I began the week with the full frontal nudity of the men in 10,000 BEERS and so count the nakedness of the women in COUNTRY MATTERS as justifiable aesthetic balance. Ms Maas and Ms Wallace and their team, Amelia Ulrick and Cody Baxter are graduates of the Australian Academy of Dramatic Art (AADA). Interesting work. A worthy Sydney Fringe contribution. This work deserves more than their families and friends to see it.

10,000 Beers

Darlinghurst Theatre Company Presents 10,000 BEERS by Alex Broun at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

For 10,000 BEERS by Alex Broun, the work, direction by Lee Lewis is most accomplished. In fact, the degree of perspicacity that Ms Lewis has, and is developing, evolving, in all things theatrical, is brought to bear in this work on the stage at the Darlinghurst Theatre. A play that deals with an intensely masculine ‘tradition’ of an end of season alcohol binge, ‘pub crawl’ over a weekend for football players is skilfully brought to realisation with wonderful, imaginative, theatrical resources by Ms Lewis. It seems that she is following in the footsteps of other women directors who fearlessly decide to explore worlds that usually only men would be interested to tread in, or of ‘angels’, who have no fear of where they tread. Mary Harron who adapted with Guinevere Turner and then directed for film, the intensely psychotic masculine world of Brett Easton-Ellis’ AMERICAN PSYCHO in 2000, or, recently Kathryn Bigelow in the 2009 Oscar winner of Best Film, THE HURT LOCKER, about the war in Iraq, are two highly successful forebears of this gathering phenomenon that Ms Lewis may be emulating.

Like the recent production at the Darlinghurst Theatre, THE LIBERTINE, all the elements (bar the writing, in this case) of the production are first rate. There are thoughtfully honed, meticulous design elements to seduce an audience to watch the play: Set by David Fleischer, a black box with white markings (a familiar trade mark of Ms Lewis aesthetics, i.e. the black and white motif), with all black accessories in the properties department and even a costume design for the football team,'The Pirates', of black and white sportswear - the detail is great. Accompanied by very attractive, subtle and moody lighting states by Luiz Pampolha there is a kind of beauty in these aesthetics about a world that is essentially ugly in almost every way.

Ms Lewis has conjured her team of four actors: Gus Murray, Andrew Steel, Anthony Taufa and Matt Zeremes, into giving wildly energized commitments to play a team of some 27 men, that focus down to just four principal characters. The company of actors begin, literally, naked onstage and then gradually bring the world they live in, into life, in an extended overture of imaginative invitation of building the given circumstances of the world of the play. These actors rather than flagging with the demands that Ms Lewis has asked of them, and it is very, very athletic, seem to grow in clarity and structure in the final twenty minutes of this physical world of athleticism and extreme drunkenness -10,000 beers later. Mr Zeremes is especially engaging as the comic actor in this team but is well supported by Mr Steel in the final Bacchanalian climax of ugliness. All the actors give their all.

The play is written by Alex Broun, who from the program notes, knows the world of the football codes well: a Rugby Union journalist and Team Media Liaison for over 15 years. He also has some 75 ten-minute plays under his belt. His background experience shows. For this play is essentially made up of short scenes of observed naturalism. They do not, when strung together, over the 80 minutes or so, go very far or very deeply into the subject matter. We see, mostly, comic sketches of different stages of the long, long weekend of a Sydney drunken spree by over charged ‘beef-heads’. It shows a group of young men that we would avoid if we met them in reality.

What Mr Broun does not do (except, occasionally in pencil-thin drawing) is address any of the issues that this team of men face: age, sex, personal independence and team angst. In the last ten minutes the 10,000 beers leads to a homosexual rape of one of the members of the team and is resolved mostly in dumb-show. Here, is where the play should have begun, I reckon, if one wanted a play of importance or real interest for serious theatre goers. That it does not examine this in any real psychological depth, that the author chooses to rape a male rather than dealing with the now scandalous history of the rape of women in our various football codes, seems an avoidance of real exposure of Mr Broun’s unique perspective and knowledge of this intense male world. Rather, we have a fairly dull showing of a weekend of bad behaviour that is more or less excused because it is funny – funny in a truly bone-headed way. The playwright avoids the contemporary issues of societal concern exposed relentlessly and regularly by his fellow journalists in the press and television, that might enlighten the rest of us to help us arrive at a closer understanding of this world and the rank cause of its behavioural extremes.

Without the wizardry of Ms Lewis and the commitment of the whole company, especially the actors, this may have been an unbearable evening in the theatre, for me, but, one must not forget the old maxims of “Horses for Courses” and “One man’s Poison may be another man’s Poisson”. Some may find this production a good night out, others may not. I hope Mr Broun has the courage of his Rugby Union and 15 year observation of team liaison to go deeper into the dark weekend which he shows us here (which simply presents a comic book series of hilarious adventures) next time round. It could end in a championship season if he did, with his knowledge.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Boxing Day

MAKEbeLIVE Productions in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers presents BOXING DAY by Tin Shed. (written by Phil Spence) at the Old Fitzroy Theatre.

"It's the day after Christmas in the seaside town of Rainwood. Nana can smell burnt  chicken. Dad is glued to the TV and Freya , as always, has a mystery to solve. Like any normal 10-year-old girl Freya Stanley loves Pictionary. Pig Latin and and 80's slasher movies. BOXING DAY is her story: a darkly comic tale where imagination reigns, and a little girl will do whatever it takes to keep her family together."

 Freya's mother has recently died. Cancer, I think. Her father works off-shore, an oil rig, I think, and  is absent a lot and not a very good father, really - he gives Freya an air rifle for Christmas!  She is being brought up by Nana. Nana is a little vacant and child care a little beyond her range these days- she does her best. Freya has a girlfriend/neighbour. She plays and invents a life as best she can. The local families are worried for little Freya's welfare. Freya decides she needs more care, more attention and does what child psychologists might diagnose as: "acts out" and causes an event of national news worthy focus, after a disastrous Christmas family lunch. It is all, unfortunately, based on fib, a lie. Freya is in trouble. This story is book ended with  a mock funeral, serviced by the two little girls. The funeral is set up and then we are taken back in time to be told in chronological naturalism a very conventional and over familiar story, lacking in any real insight or mode of originality.

Neatly, after nearly 90 minutes, we end back where we began, at the mock funeral, and the play ends. The direction is ploddingly naturalistic. Neither content or mode of presenting are of any real arresting interest.

"BOXING DAY by Tin Shed. Three years. Five creative residences. Eleven drafts. One trip to Scotland. One hundred crap Christmas cracker jokes. One dead laptop."  Writer, Phil Spence; Director-Co Dramaturg, Scarlett McGlynn; Co-Dramaturg, Polly Rowe have toiled over this play, it seems, and, for me, it is in the experience, a very dispiriting disappointment. I am not sure whether it is a children's play or not.

As a children's adventure in the theatre it is very boring for a 2011 audience. Check out THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING for content and story telling skills. Check out THE ADVENTURES OF ALVIN SPUTNIK: DEEP SEA EXPLORER,  for content and story telling skills. If BOXING DAY is meant as adult fare, it is very ordinary and tedious, indeed. I'd rather watch re-runs of POLLYANNA from the Walt Disney team of yester-yore on TV.

The 'gimmick' and some raison d'être for doing this play at all, maybe, is the playing of Freya, the ten-year-old heroine, by an adult, Holly Austin, as a showcase for this artist's playful clown persona, but, it is not enough to justify or satisfy why this play found its way onto the Old Fitz curated season as it stands at present. Oddly, the usual spontaneity of play that Ms Austin has in her own devised work seems more than slightly hemmed in by the conventionality of the naturalistic tale and the lack of directing  bravura by Ms McGlynn. In fact, Annie Byron, who impersonates a number of characters, including the little girl playmate, gives Ms Austin a run for endearment with her deft creations. Alan Flower has the underdeveloped and thankless function of feckless parent to create and is dignified in his creativity.

The design by Rita Carmody is comely and functional, the lighting by Christopher Page, with all of those hanging bulbs, lacks sophistication of atmosphere, with the sound design by Jeremy Silver being the better part of the belief system in the events of the play. Others have found the work charming. I found it unbelievable that it was been presented at all. Australian content or not, this play is not a very sophisticated addition to the repertoire in any way.


Presented by the Seymour Centre in association with Riverside Productions, TRANSPARENCY by Suzie Miller at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre.

Suzie Miller won the 2008 National Kit Denton Fellowship for writing with courage for TRANSPARENCY. This is the play's Australian Premiere, having, previously been seen in Belfast in a season at the Ransom Theatre Company.

TRANSPARENCY tells the story of a man, Simon (Glenn Hazeldine) who is trying to live an honest life while forced, by his actions (assistant to a child murder) as a 10 year old child, to live under an assumed identity - to live with what is fundamentally a lie. "For Simon, the world he has built was a second chance: in the eyes of the law he has paid for his mistake. Given a new identity, new history and a single confidante, Andy, a court appointed therapist (Celia Ireland), he has successfully buried the truth of his past; even from Jessica (Amy Matthews), the woman he loves". Multiple circumstances in Simon's daily life bring mounting pressures on him, and the need to reveal his past becomes a growing and almost unbearable conclusion, despite the posssible impending personal consequences. The Director, Tim Jones, responded to TRANSPARENCY "not only because of its compelling narrative, but because it intelligently investigates ... questions about trust and truth in relationships. It asks, at a very personal level, if the price of truth is worth it." A very strong Ibsenite theme. GHOSTS and THE WILD DUCK springs to mind.

Glenn Hazeldine as Simon, gives a truly terrifying and great performance. The narrative journey of this man's confrontation with the inexorable demands of his personal and legal situation is painstakingly and painfully created. The emotional charting and crafted choices by Mr Hazeldine to take us and convince us of Simon's dilemma is technically flawless and the character's story is harrowing to witness. Like the work of Linda Cropper and Russell Kiefel in AND NO MORE SHALL WE PART by Tom Holloway at the Griffin Theatre last month, this performance 'costs'  this actor enormously. Here is courage, indeed.

Certainly Ms Miller enters a world of fierce taboo and contention and is indeed brave in doing so, but the problem for me with this play, although effective as a psychological horror, whilst watching it, was a lack of three-dimensional characters (other than Simon) and discussion around the issues of the play. Here a closer look at Ibsen's genius would be invaluable for the writer. The experience of the play for me became excruciatingly voyeuristic and ultimately unbearably misanthropic in its view of the world. I disconnected from the work as I watched it - it began to feel like a modelled case study at a didactic lecture for societal welfare issues- simplified role models for teaching purposes. I felt that, other than Simon, all the character's in the play tended to be relatively superficially investigated as people, in the writing,and rather, they simply carried the function of mounting stakes for the writer without much complex motivation: two dimensional, selfishly motivated "monsters' of compromising behaviour. Andy, a psychologist who needs to maintain her theories of practice over necessary realities of care for her client. Lachlan (Ed Wightman), an unhappily married man of dim wit observations of his own circumstances and cravings; and Jessica, the wife/partner of Simon, who wilfully opens a Pandora's Box of crisis and pursues so unsympathetically her own needs of parenthood, that I had no sympathy for her at all. Jessica's behaviour driven from her physiological need to breed leads to physical and psychological violence of a reprehensible kind.The next draft of the text might be more powerful, when these other characters gain more complexity. That Anna Lise Phillips creates a complexity of motivation and action for Camille is a testament to this actor's creative energies to build an inner monologue of real unspoken motivation  that gives real dimension, despite the limiting text she has to speak. Ms Ireland, Mr Wightman and Ms Matthews attempt to breathe a third dimension into their responsibilities but are undermined by the writing opportunities.

The world of Edward Bond's SAVED came to me as I watched TRANSPARENCY. That play is infamous for its sixth scene, where some young children/youths murder a baby in a pram with a brick after some excruciating torture. But what Mr Bond manages to do through the course of his writing is to reveal the social context of the characters that helps illuminate the tragic origins of the actions of these blunted human beings. One develops an insight, and, possibly, an empathy for all of the characters in the play. Ms Miller does not really do that. She simply shows us these people and their simplified needs to serve the action of the play - I didn't think it was enough and felt diminished as a human for having watched it. All, but Simon, were people I would prefer not to know, if that is all they are. Ironic, indeed, considering Simon's history.

This intimate play performed on such a wide space of stage, (designed by Stephen Curtis), suffered from the directorial solutions of entrance and exit that slowed down the story and maybe allowed too much time to think during the experience. The set itself had interest and some 'beauty' aided by the lighting of Verity Hampson and sound design of Jeremy Silver.

The choice of TRANSPARENCY by the Seymour Centre under the direction of Tim Jones is impressive and one to be applauded and standing beside STAINLESS STEEL RAT by Ron Elisha, also recently presented here, underlines the commitment to new Australian work by this organisation. Flawed, though both works are, in my experience of them, but still arresting. Interesting. Vivid for their contemporaneousness.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Griffin Independent and a collective led by Melbourne based Clare Watson present SMASHED by Lally Katz at the SBW STABLES, Kings Cross.

In Sydney we have not seen much of Lally Katz' work. NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH, the latest play by Ms Katz was recently seen at Belvoir and was a great success. Melbourne friends felt that that play was "Lally" persuaded or interfered with, for they did not think it was the authentic, unadulterated voice/imagination of Ms Katz at her best. Ms Katz may disagree, for from all accounts I've read, she had a great time writing and 'birthing' NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH. Having mostly only read her work, I thought NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH was a conventional shift away from her usual creative bent.

So it was with anticipation that I saw SMASHED the other night. A short (45minutes) work, built in collaboration with many artists across the different disciplines required for theatre making, led by Clare Watson in 2005, this has been a happy reconstruction by the same team of the work. Clare Watson is responsible for the Concept, Direction and Design of the project.

Two female figures, Hazel (Suzannah McDonald) and Ruby (Katherine Tonkin) like giants, hover over a green carpeted floor, with a river/stream winding glitteringly across the space, with scattered delicate constructions to represent a small town: houses, church, caravan etc. - like magic lanterns, lit glowingly from within. The walls of the space lit with little lights like the canopy of the starry universe surround them. Maybe, one of them has been 'smashed', and one of them is reaching back through time and space to reconnect before moving forward alone. A story of grieving, perhaps. That point when 'letting go' is imminent and necessary for the survivor of the relationship. The play scenario is beautifully surreal and tantalisingly a puzzle of gentleness and mixed chronological events.

It is a very delicate work. Conceived, directed, designed by a woman, written by a woman, for women to perform. One feels the power and magic of the energy of the female voice as it interrogates the paths to living in the world. It does feel to have a distinctive female 'tidal' pull.

Like the tone and affect of DIRTYLAND by Elise Hearst and PICTURES OF BRIGHT LIGHTS by Maree Freeman, earlier this year, I find SMASHED a kind of significant relief in watching, listening and experiencing the world through a very interesting prism - that is a female prism, not a male one.

My only unhappiness was in the playing by Ms McDonald and Ms Tonkin who seemed to know too comfortably what they were doing and did not show the depth of identification and passion to these women and their story that they may have had with less certainty under their belt in 2005. They needed to be telling the story for the first improvised time. Fundamentally, I didn't believe them or truly empathise with them. I sat outside them and loved the play and visuals despite them.

The Lighting Design by Richard Vabre was glowing and clean. The Composition and Sound Design by Kelly Ryall inventive and unobtrusively atmospheric.

It could have been a great night in the theatre, it was for me, ultimately only a glimpse at a good and interesting play by a very exciting playwright.


Pact Centre for Emerging Artists presents 3QUARED (2) = 9 Fantastic Fabrications at the Pact Theatre, Erskineville.

The Sydney Fringe Festival as arrived for 2011

The Pact Centre for Emerging Artists has collected a two-part program called 3QUARED=9 Fantastic Fabrications (the first opened on Thursday the 8th September, the next opens on the 22nd).

I attended a meeting the other day which defined the difference between the FRINGE and the CO-OP scene. The Fringe was described as an opportunity for young artists to get their work out of the living room or garage and into a space where more than friends and family might see it. I have found that very helpful in guiding my responses. A 'real'audience will help the artist see their work and its possibilities more sharply and quickly. Where the strengths and weaknesses are.

There are four components to this first evening of emerging artists at PACT.

The first is a hybrid play, RE:LEASE presented by a collaborative called Fishwife. This is their début production. The script is written, directed and produced by Aarin Starkey and Anna Chase. They are also in it. Very Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney "Let's put on a Show" from the Andy Hardy movies (remember them?). What this collective does not have, that is different to Judy and Mickey's enterprise, is a production house or budget.

The script is a hybrid of The ROCKY HORROR SHOW (without songs), THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, PSYCHOVILLE, THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU and even BEING HUMAN. Other origins, I'm sure.

A mad transvestite figure traps some innocents in a lease house and they convert to some other grotesque life forms. It is all very silly and deeply embryonic in the writing and performed mostly for themselves, their families and friends. The set and lighting is extremely rudimentary but the final costumes are quite the best things about it all. Nonsense and enthusiasm.

These are emerging artists, but just barely. They are having way too much fun. They seemed to have forgotten the audience that have no emotional stakes attached to them. We found it a bit too silly and trite, despite their friends encouraging laughs. If the work does not have substance/content then it must have style. Style requires honed skills. It is very, very hard to achieve.

NEXT: CLOWN LIGHTS STAGE, writer,designer and performer, Alice Mary Cooper. This is a work that I have seen before at the Shopfront Contemporary Arts program at Kogarah, mentored by Michael Piggot. It was probably a year ago.

The premise is that Alice Cooper is scheduled to give a lecture/demonstration on Theatre, Modern Theatre Theory (!!!) but is struck down by a car and so her inner clown - alternate persona attempts to substitute. A bumbling and droll experience is presented. It is amusing and sometimes glimmers with the potential to become something of interest. There is intelligence and courage. Nothing much as changed since last time I saw it. The material is promising, the performance can be cutely appealing but the work lacks energy and rigour. It does not have a clear objective of need from the creator. There is a lack of a passionate rigour in the pursuit of the journey, rather it appears to meander about (and that is partly deliberate but too under-directed to easily discern) and sometimes the audience is way ahead of the clown and the material and the 'presenting' of the jokes. The narrative becomes slightly boring. Maybe it is too long as well.

Put it in a drawer and let's see the sequel, perhaps…

NEXT: DUST, a movement (Dance) piece created and performed by Emeline Forster. This work comes from a serious artist. The research and especially the video artistry  is well prepared. DUST won the Melbourne Fringe Award for Best Dance.

Based about the true story of a defiant householder defying the Coal Mining Industry it explores abstracted movement and juxtaposed images. It uses the video elements and shadow work inventively. An air of sophisticated earnestness is communicated. Sometimes it feels like a thesis work, ticking boxes of criteria for presentation etc. It does need editing. Sometimes action continued for no other apparent reason than to fit the length of the recorded music (Terry Hart) - e.g. the coal dropping from the bucket in the first sequence. There is an old rule/adage that if you don't capture your audience within the fist few minutes you are going to have a hell of a time keeping us attentive. This is what happened to me. I was  bored then wooed in , but  alternately in and out too much to be completely satisfied as an audience.

Interesting work and artist.

NEXT: LAS DOS FRIDAS is a physical interpretation of Frida Kahlo's art works. It is built around the circus skills of the performer/director Meiwah Williams and her passion for the paintings of Frida Kahlo, three in particular: La Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Skull), La Malinnche, and La Llorona (The Weeping Woman).

The set and costume design is elaborately prepared (painting of costumes David Walsh). The technical preparation to utilise the circus skills of Ms Williams detailed. The work is presented with a sense of commitment and reverence for the painter. Unfortunately, it is too reverential (sinfully idolatrous in instances) and the reason for giving this piece of the work or that piece of the work does not have the rigour of engagement. It needs more artistic ruthlessness. Why this bit? What will the audience learn? Will it be a transformative journey for the audience or just a disguised display of the performers skill? How should the audience be different when they leave the space as a result of this experience? Like the Julie Taymour film it does tend to feel too romantic and beautifully 'art-directed' for its own good.

What next for Ms Williams and her team? Interesting to see, for here is a sincere artist attempting to find a new way to express her gifts and interests at work here. Emerging artist.

Blood Wedding

Sydney Theatre Company and Colonial First State Global Asset Management present BLOOD WEDDING by Federico Garcia Lorca, in a new translation by Iain Sinclair at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company.

"In 1929, Lorca left Madrid for New york and after an unhappy year he briefly moved to Cuba, before returning to Spain in 1930. His return coincided with the election of a republican government and a new atmosphere of artistic freedom. This gave Lorca's talents the freedom to develop as never before and led to his appointment as director of La Barraca, an innovative government-sponsored touring  theatre company. During a hectic and adventurous five years with La Barraca, Lorca established himself as the most popular Spanish playwright of his day. He was able to perform classic Spanish plays to both rural and city audiences whilst developing his own work and unique style, integrating performance, music and dance. It was during this exciting time, Lorca wrote and staged BLOOD WEDDING (BODAS DE SANGRE)."

"Lorca's BLOOD WEDDING is a classic of twentieth-century theatre. The story is based on a newspaper fragment which told of a family vendetta and a bride who ran away with the son of the enemy family. Lorca uses it to investigate the subjects which fascinated him: desire, repression, ritual, and the constraints and commitments of the rural Spanish community in which the play is rooted." (1).

The text of BLOOD WEDDING is regarded as a marvellous work of dramatic poetry.

Beginning within a tough rural community, where marriages are conducted on the basis of quality breeding possibilities for the bride, and property expansions, not love, this raw and primitive culture is catapulted, when the passions spill into ill-considered actions, into a containing world of nature, of Woodsmen, of the Moon and of Death. It combines "the prosaic nature of village life and flights of mythological fancy".

From a kind of white-hard realism with fluorescent light to Daliesque saturated surreal visions of the inanimate as living forces in an autumnal forest, where magic, mischief can cruelly happen, the play unravels. (Set Design by Rufus Didwiszus. Costume Design by Luke Ede. Lighting Design by Damien Cooper).

BLOOD WEDDING (1933) is the first of an imaginative, poetic exploration of the possibility of contemporary poetry making in dramatic literature form by Lorca. YERMA (1934) and THE HOUSE OF BERNADA ALBA (1936) complete the trilogy.

Iain Sinclair, whose second language is Spanish, has taken to this play as a "passion project". Mr. Sinclair has tackled the fearsome job of translating and adapting this great Spanish work for the Australian audience. The text sounded, miraculously,  neither too Spanish, and, so arcane to our ear, or, too Australian, and, so odd to our ear. Rather, it seemed to allow the performers an entry point of comfortability that did not have cultural strain one way or the other. I am sure that the Spanish audience may think otherwise. And certainly, I enjoyed reading the 1996 version by Ted Hughes, for its more finely wrenched poetry into English, than listening to a more prosaic rendering of the sounds, words and poetry on the Sydney Theatre Company staged by Mr Sinclair. Still it was thankfully clearer and more accessible than the 1941 version by James Graham-Lujan and Richard OÇonnell, published by Secker & Warburg (1959) that I read in preparation for this performance. Even easier then the 2008 version by Jo Clifford for Nick Hern Books.

So, to my less than experienced ears I was relatively content with the music of this 'poem'. Continuing his passion, Mr. Sinclair has then organized a 'wrapping' of production conception, employing, for instance, the Meyerhold experiment of the actors-on-stage watching and supporting from the sides; a live musician - it  has the tension of breathed excitement with the actors rapturously singing the songs in Spanish and English, clapping percussively and leaning keen focus to the action. Mr Sinclair has also constructed a physical language for some of the actors and their actions, a kind of physical stylisation. It has the potential for imaginative impetus to the drive of the piece. Part dance. Part choral.

It is odd then, with all this loving pre-production toiling and conceiving of BLOOD WEDDING, it goes so astray in performance. James Waites has led a blog discussion: Wotever Happened to STC Acting? and after watching this production it is a very pertinent question, especially if you have spent $70 for your ticket.

Leah Purcell is cast by Mr Sinclair in the central role of The Mother. This play will stand or fall around the necessary galvanizing presence of this figure in the machinations, mechanisms of this play plot. It is a dominating energy force. It must shape the play for  the audience. Women in Lorca are the power drivers, much as they are in the contemporary film-poet, Almodavar's films - all of them.

Ms Purcell has been given demonstrative physical stylisations to accompany her text and actions in the play. Vocally, there is apparent coaching in the speech meaning clarity. But all of this work comes to nothing for Ms Purcell does not have  the skills, at present , to incorporate the directional requirements that Mr Sinclair has invented for her,  and what I saw was an actress straining for some authenticity within the construct of the performance style. There was much ambition and striving, effort, but essentially, it had absolutely no authenticity. It looked like a puppet semaphoring physical gesture automated on command from a string-master, and was accompanied by a lack of true emotional attachment to the language with no relaxed comprehension of the beauty of the language-verse structure or how to attach it  to an appropriate emotional scale that was truthful, that could bring the play to luminous life. The emotional life required for the playing of The Mother is unknown, it seems, to this actor, that it is guessed at, and subsequently empty, and mostly forced - the exception is in the last scene with the Bride. And why? Because here, I detect, was a chance for Ms Purcell to play in a more naturalistic and familiar manner, and the apparent comfort this gave her is evident, for the contrast of identification is in significant contrast to the rest of the work. The latter section of the play was played within her known range as an  actress.

Ms Purcell has had created around her a quite wonderful persona as a theatre maker and even has won a Helpmann for Best Actress for THE STORY OF MIRACLES AT COOKIE'S TABLE but this work is not within her secure range. What was it about this actress did Mr Sinclair see, to cast this role as Ms Purcell's responsibility? The risk taken, is not rewarded. The production is mortally wounded from the start. There is no possibility for the magic of Lorca's poetry  or Mr Sinclair's adaptation to come to reasonable life.

The first scene is acted out between the Mother and The Bridegroom. Mr Sinclair has invited an old colleague from his days in Canberra, and their theatre company, Elbow Theatre, Kenneth Spiteri. Just what the qualities Mr Spiteri has to be cast in this role is not possible to discern, either. His performance lacks lustre and charisma. On the day I saw it, I was puzzled indeed. Mr Sinclair has not been able to elicit those qualities to make the character or play work with Mr Spiteri. Neither Mr Spiteri or Ms Purcell have the powers to attract my empathy or even to help me understand the relationship between them. Neither of them appeared to be 'real' or connected. Both unable to inspire the other.

Thank Thespis then, when Lynette Curran arrived as The Neighbour, for here was an actor with a character that was  at ease and in the world of necessary belief, as a performer, for some of us to have an inkling of what was going on and what was at stake. Ms Curran may have made an interesting Mother?

The usual reliable Toni Scanlan playing The Mother In Law in the second scene, holding a baby in her arms and singing a lullaby, is forced to compete with an over excited accompaniment from The Wife played by Zindzi Okenyo. There is no doubting the passion and power of Ms Okenyo's identification with this culture for the raucousness of the noise she makes is not at all modulated for the sake of audience clarity (Composer/Guitarist, Andrew Veivers - terrific work). Such is the pitch and volume of the two women as they compete for clarity of their individual story, that when the usually impressive Yalin Ozucelik as Leonardo appears, he is forced to begin his vocal tasks at such a noise level that he too becomes adrift as a safe vessel for the audience to identify with and board. No matter the sexual attraction achieved in the physical delineation of this characterisation by Mr Ozucelik, shouting is not comfortable for an audience to witness.Five of the six actors, so far, have wrecked the journey of the play and demolished the poetry. Mr Sinclair, apparently not ale to assist.

However, worse is to come when we meet the Bride as played by Sophie Ross. Warnings of possible emotional strain and stretch are given in her first scene but subsequently the emotional entry and the physical and vocal tensions, the lack of emotional restraint and the pressure on the technique of this actor's instrument becomes so completely occupying, distressingly so, that one worries, sincerely, for the literal damage that the artist seems to be inflicting upon herself, to even begin to want to find a character in the world of the play. Stressful noise and no poetry of Lorca is delivered to the audience. Unrestrained emotional indulgence ruins the text, the story and worryingly the actor's instrument - not just the voice which sounded to be in flayed and frayed tatters- within this text  talk of shards of glass on the tongue are mentioned many times, and I could not help but imagine that Ms Ross' vocal chords may be bloody from worse than shards of glass - but plain physical tensions and misuse are visible as well.

In the program notes much is made of the idea of DUENDE. A small interlude from Garcia Lorca, himself, from LORCA'S THEORY AND PLAY OF THE DUENDE (1933), and, as well, trendily from Nick Cave and his LOVE SONG LECTURE, 1999.

From Lorca: "Duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say, "The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet."  FROM THE SOLES OF THE FEET. None of these actors surged from the soles of their feet, none were ever earthed in their emotional expression, rather it seemed to emanate from their chests and from their throats. Lorca had little chance in this company's use of duende to reveal the life of his poetic world. The connection to the soil of Spain and its culture was not  ever in the soles of the feet but where he warned it was NOT, in their throats. The strain was unbearable to watch and hear. Mr Sinclair was not able to assist?

Where was the director in his duty of care to the actors he had cast in the play he has so lovingly prepared? Lorca loses out. Lorca lost out. We lost out. When will we see another play by Lorca on a professional stage? Probably not soon. Where is his care to this company of actors he has selected? Or does Mr Sinclair not have the skills to assist and advise the actors?

Where was Charmian Gladwell, the Voice and Text Coach? What advice guidance had she given these actors, in preparation in rehearsal and during the run of performances? (The photograph in the program  of Ms Gladwell does not inspire much confidence to the seriousness of her attentions. "Take off that hat and throw away the trumpet and get down to serious instruction", I say).

After the interval we come to the amazing poetic turn of the play by Lorca. Reality has slipped its moorings and the playwright is released into the dramatic and poetic realm of his imagination in the third act (Picasso and Dali were fellow artists). The designers have a created a world of true enchantment.

But then in true art-directed image-theatre tradition, Mr Sinclair has cast a schoolgirl, Holly Fraser, (with little theatre training, her resume, reveals mostly Film,Television and Modelling experience), as THE MOON. THE MOON, in whatever translation one would care to read, has the greatest burden and joy of exquisite poetry to give  an audience. What Mr Sinclair has encouraged and created here is an image of a blood vomiting child with a crown on her head, in a drenched and bloody tutu, swinging through the air, piping shrilly sounds, (surely, not words) of which she has no discernible comprehension and perhaps, more than likely, no ability to communicate. Of what qualities, other than visual, did this young actor present to Mr Sinclair?  Ms Fraser is sadly not alone in this miscasting by Mr Sinclair.

This play is famous for the poetry. What then do you believe the first quality that you, if you were to direct this play, you would be looking for to ensure to honour  the playwright? I, humbly, suggest intelligent-experienced voices. There are none in this company of actors (well one, perhaps, in the proven intelligence of Ms Curran's work). However, the disjointed one-word-at-a-time recitation of the poetic text of The Beggar Woman defies understanding of the Directorial vision, and that is both in form and comprehension. It was unintelligible.

"Wotever Happened to STC Acting?" asks Mr Waites. I concur, "What's happened?". Just where is the Casting Directors, Serena Hill or her assistant, Lauren Wiley and their sage advice? The audience is paying trustfully to all your talents - I mean all the Company's talents. Yours as well. The production looks great, as usual, but it sounds incomprehensible and the acting usage is woeful. Who is not pulling their weight for such catastrophe to happen? It is not the choice of play or the experimental plunges that is collectively making this season at the STC a disaster, but rather the directing and resultant acting on the stage.

Downstairs at the Wharf, at atyp, a co-op company Mess Hall is presenting SWEET BIRD ANDSOFORTH and I was diappointed with the lack of care by the actors and the director, Laura Scrivano, for the careless and disastrous performance skill work. But this is the THE FLAGSHIP icon of the Australian theatre - The Sydney Theatre Company.

UNCLE VANYA, has just garnished great reviews for their work in Washington. But a company must be judged by all of its work. And this production judged on simple verbal dexterity, voice skills, represents the lowest ebb we have had to endure as a paying audience so far. A production is only as good as its weakest link. Send this work to Washington and what might be the regard for the Sydney Theatre Company then?

It is probably impossible now, but I thoroughly  recommend that you beg or borrow a ticket to see THE LIBERTINE - a co-op production at the Darlinghurst Theatre, directed by Damian Ryan and Terry Karabelas, to see what I regard as good work and grateful to have spent my money and time at, and then understand why I am so upset with BLOOD WEDDING at the Sydney Theatre Company, Wharf 1 Theatre.

Do the actors know how to practice their craft? Are they not empowered enough to lead the director to better outcomes? Do the director's have the experience, skills, knowledge to cast well and/or help solve acting problems? Just what is wrong? Intellectual conceptualizers and or emotional enthusiasts at the helm on a production is simply not enough. This is a craft. It needs practice. Practicing at this level of expectation - in the supposed leading company in Australia (arguably) does not need inexperienced academics or theorists or enthusiasts. It needs comprehensive, earned skill and experience.

Where are the experienced director's of our city? Our nation? Not at work for some odd reason or other. What could those reasons be? Not cool enough? Too demanding? Too intimidating? Too knowledgeable? Too good? Too old? Too resistant to new form? What is the explanation?

Before the beginning of the performance, the company in street dress, came out to us and offered a candied almond. It was not a sufficient bribe, alas. BLOOD WEDDING was unpalatable, despite the candy.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Human Interest Story

Belvoir presents a Lucy Guerin Inc and Malthouse Melbourne production in association with Perth International Arts Festival, HUMAN INTEREST STORY in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St. Theatre.

It is all in the timing, isn't it?

Lucy Guerin Inc presents HUMAN INTEREST STORY in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, a week or so after DV8 had presented their work CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS? at the Sydney Opera House.

Ms Guerin in her program notes introduces us to her and her company of dancer's aim to synthesise the many relationships between the news, as presented in human interest stories, and our personal experiences. Where the trivialities of our own lives and the commercial packaging that goes on around real human stories of the daily headlines on television and in the newspapers are the dominating events of our lives. "It is these tensions that become the physical material" of this work.

Keith Gallasch (Co-Editor, REALTIME) in a program essay, THE THEATRICALITY OF CONTEMPORARY DANCE, gives an overview of development of dance as theatre, and justifying its programming in a theatre company season, intimating  the Pina Bausch repertoire in the 1970's as the point of emergence of the notion of Dance Theatre and the continuation of that tradition in the evolving works of Alain Patel's les ballets C de B, and Lloyd Newson's DV8, both recent visitors to these shores. He then goes on to cite some examples of Australian companies who identify themselves with this varied form: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Kate Champion's Force Majeure, Australian Dance Theatre (ADT).

He explains that Ms Guerin is not European in influence but has directly gained from her work as a dancer and emerging choreographer in New York. A more theatrical heritage. That there is a strong sense of experiment and unpredictability about her work. He mentions STRUCTURE AND SADNESS and an earlier work MELT as works of significance in her evolving repertoire. Both for me interesting works, especially MELT.

Mr Gallasch goes on: "Lucy Guerin Inc's low-tech HUMAN INTEREST STORY is about our relationship with the daily news. As nuance and empathy seem to evaporate around us, most alarmingly in the political world and media reporting, we need works that address this failure. HUMAN INTEREST STORY moves from an almost literal theatricality, amusingly embodying our engagement with the  mass media on screen and then, frighteningly, with the page. …It's a powerful work, oscillating between the innocent and the ominous - a  work of our time and a richly theatrical one."

This work is in its third presentation around the country: Perth, Melbourne and now Sydney. The Perth Festival in February may have let this work appear to be "of our time and theatrical" but after the experience of  The Nerderlands Dance Theatre in Melbourne  and DV8 in Sydney, in August, this work appears merely modestly theatrical and politically-thin if not trite.

In a black box surround, six chairs, a largish flat screen television and six broad-sheet pieces of laid out newspaper, six dancers enter in differently coloured uniforms/pyjamas. The costumes are changed often (Costume Design, Paula Levis). The atmosphere of the work attempts to be contextualised by the presence of a large military carrier truck stored in the periphery dark of the area (Set Design, Gideon Obarzanek).

The television screen lights up and the dancers in a choral voice begin dialogue accompanied with physical action/gesture/dance. The text is not very engaging or complex, and worse when the guest performer, newsreader Anton Enus, appears with a pre-recorded text, that is a faintly spoofy trivialisation of possible news reporting of human interest stories - cutesy humour - one gathers that the politics of this piece is shallow in its research and lightweight in its intention and dealing with the subject matter. It becomes obvious  fairly quickly that the political over-layering is an under prepared wrapping for the dance. It has a point but not too pointy as to make the work interrogative and intellectually stimulating. It is a bit of flaccid bore.  Beside the recent memory of the DV8 performance this work is indeed pallid and insipid, cowardly in its confrontation of the stated issues. "Lite", indeed.

The composition and scoring by Jethro Woodward is a contemporary mix of noise, sounds and music. The dancers are a well drilled group: Stephanie Lake, Alisdair Macindoe, Talitha Maslin, Harriet Ritchie, James Shannon and Jessica Wong. Their precision and stamina in this 60 minute work is awesome. The choreography/dance however is hugely repetitive and becomes tiresome in its lack of investigated movement variety, and, remembered beside the recent physical prowess and work of DV8, once again, achingly disappointing. Text and dance wanting, really. Standing beside the dance theatre choreographic invention and style of the Nederlands Dance Theatre, this work by Lucy Guerin Inc is banal and simplistic.

My attention span wobbled considerably during the work and was underwhelmed. Timing. If I had seen this work in February instead of September would I have been as impressed as Mr Gallasch? Thinking about it over the last few days, probably not, for I found the performance of STRUCTURE AND SADNESS similarly underwhelming, both as social commentary/politics and dance. MELT  remains the highpoint of this company's output for me.

We will see this company again at Belvoir next year. It has been programmed as part of the new season.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Sydney Theatre Company presents My Darling Patricia's AFRICA conceived, designed and directed by My Darling Patricia at Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company.

AFRICA is the latest project by the My Darling Patricia Company. "Inspired by a true story of two young German children who attempted to 'elope' to Africa. A theatre of imagination conjured from broken toys, puppets and sun-faded furniture. AFRICA explores the complexity of the relationship between children, their families and our society."

Three children are represented, played, by three amazingly beautiful (but sad) puppets (made by Bryony Anderson). We see them in the principal living space of their existence, surrounded by toys and a television. They are neglected by absent parent/adults and create from the inspiration about them, a world of a safe haven, of an imaginary Africa. The adults occasionally break into the children's space  but mostly we see and hear them as half shapes and noise banging and intruding around the children.

This is a play that simply shows us the world that these children imagine in. We see the situation and it is presented as undramatic experiences, facts. It is straight forward and uncomplicated narrative. There is no judgement, no psychological cause and affect, just truths. It is, because of its uncomplicated simplicity, cumulatively heart breaking.

The world of these children, impersonated by these three puppets begins as cute and amusing, but as the adults impinge on their world, the horror of their innocent acceptance of what is happening and the implicit trust that they give the adults as normal is terrifying. The social neglect of the innocent and the cost to their psyches and physical well being is disturbing. This is puppet theatre for adults and it is not entertainment. It is not a show for children. It is dazing. It is shocking.

This is the darkest work that I have seen from this company. NIGHT GARDEN and POLITELY SAVAGE were disturbingly beautiful. Uncomfortably weird but still beautiful This is disturbingly 'creepy' but certainly a should not miss disturbance.

Polly Stenham's plays THAT FACE, seen at Belvoir St last year, and TUSK TUSK seen at the Sydney Theatre Company last year also deal with  neglected children caring for themselves. The force of that contemporary issue was powerful with young adults/children on stage, but the use of puppetry to tell a similar tale of contemporary dysfunction, somehow, has a more poignant and shocking impact.

These performances are at the end of a long tour and are refined and wonderfully deft. Supremely confident. The performers: Anthony Ahern, Michelle Robin Anderson,  Claire Britton, Jodie Le Vesconte and Sam Routledge are wonderfully supported by the director Halcyon McLeod with a design by Claire Britton and Bridget Dolan, lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw and  composer/sound designer, Declan Kelly.

After the show we met Mr Routledge whose conception AFRICA is. "It is dark" we mused. He unapologetically agreed. Their next show is due in November at Carriageworks (their regular home, Performance Space). We hoped it was an excellent challenge they were preparing, but please less dark. Mr Routledge was smilingly bemused.

MY DARLING PATRICIA are  a special and important, always challenging company and deserve your attention. The form, discipline is not  only marvellously skilful, but their subject content also interrogative and methods slightly bent, in a thrilling kind of way.