Sunday, January 29, 2012


Belvoir and Sydney Festival 2012, in association with Carriageworks, present THYESTES by Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan, Simon Stone & Mark Winter after Seneca in Bay 20 at Carriageworks. Originally created by The Hayloft Project.

This production of THYESTES playing at Carriageworks is the most perfect piece of dramatic work that I have seen for some time. To be a regular and interested theatre goer and not have seen it will be a great loss to your Sydney theatre experience. Make no excuses. And even if you are an occasional theatre goer or one who through other strictures (lack of lots of funds, being one) have to choose carefully what you decide to see, ensure you see this work. 

The play-wrighting is astounding. The acting is magnificent. The design elements are all of a whole and faultless.The stage management is breathtaking. The direction, taut, intelligent and complete. Theatrical Intelligence and sheer bloody bravura permeates every element of this production. Do not miss it.

My reaction sounds almost Senecan in its hyperbole! Then trick me, stab me, cut me up and serve me to your friends in a blood red sauce if  what I say is not so.

THYESTES created by The Hayloft Project first appeared in September 2010 at the Tower Theatre, Malthouse, Melbourne. In the Co-Writer and Director's notes in the program, Simon Stone tells us of the intense process that he, Chris Ryan, Thomas Henning and Mark Winter took to find  "a framework  for our new version of the Ancient Greek myth of Thyestes and his brother Atreus…" sprung from a reading of Seneca's Roman play of the myth. They studied their original sources and examined examples of other "various tyrants, dictators, serial killers and psychopaths… We became fascinated by the psychology, of both perpetrator and victim, underlying the horrific acts in the myth.We weren't content to accept the characters or the events in the story as fabulous inventions of the past. We wanted to explore the aspects of Greek mythology that drove Freud to use these stories as clues to our own more modern but no less brutal instincts. ..."

This is what they have done. "Eventually we were ready to write and we divided the scenes between each actor, wrote a draft, then handed it on for redrafting by one of the others. We rehearsed the scenes as we wrote them, improvised on their basic structure, documented this new text, rewrote the scenes, re-rehearsed them, improvised again, rewrote and so on into previews and throughout the season. Often we would discard a whole scene, begin from a new improvisation, approach from a different angle or replace dialogue with action or music until we felt that the whole production was rhythmically and tonally in tune with the source material." 16 months later the performances that Sydney are seeing is a production that has found its balances and needs not, to my eye, in need of any further improvisation or changes. Reading the text, after my viewing, it was much as published. The thoroughness of the process and time served, has stewed this work into a perfect dish.

Seneca's plays are famously influential in the development of the English theatre traditions, particularly in the Late Elizabethan and all of the Jacobean period ('TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE, a late example). Seneca's plays are suspected not to have been written to be performed - there is no record of performances - rather to be read or recited. Written by Seneca living close to the Roman Emperor Caligula, and becoming teacher/poet/philosopher and adviser to Nero, there was plenty "bad behaviour' for him to have seen and recorded.

The Thyestes/Atreus story is truly terrifying in the translation that I have read. Seneca is famous for his detail of description and it is heaped with language of great and terrible imagery: the play's "language, flamboyant with rhetorical ornament, (remain) as a compost-heap to enrich the soil of the English dramatic verse for a couple of generations"!! The language found by Hayloft  for the contemporary rendering of the Ancient Greek characters is vitally and muscularly apt. And this language is not only verbal, but stunningly physical. 

We sit in front of a raised black curtained box frame the width of the stage. The scene (and each following) is announced in red text, illuminating for us the action of the scene we are about to witness. It is the formal breakdown of the Senecan context .With an accompaniment of either classical or heavy metal rock music a curtain rises on a white box, the back wall of which is another section of the audience, who sit opposite us- mirror like. The performance is played in a traverse mode. There are no doors, no windows, no exits from this white space, floor and roof, it, having fluorescents of variable intensity. Across the space are three contemporary, variously dressed hip men, standing, seated on the floor, sipping wine, with an iPhone connected to the sound system having a wastrel conversation of no great consequence but studded with pop references that distinguish the cultural milieu of their lives with comic accuracy. 

We have read the context of the Seneca scene and we are given the puzzle to 'fit' that to what is happening in front of us. If you have paid attention and are paying attention it is a very macabre, amusing adventure to do so, whose tensions multiply to a final moment of shocking surprise and brutality. The music returns, the curtain drops, a new scene is announced and the curtain rises again. A new cryptic puzzle has been set. This, is the modus operandi of the production.

What is intriguing is that in the drop of curtain there are costume changes and, some times, elaborate furniture arrangements revealed. That there are no doors, and seemingly next to no wing space and no fly tower, how does it happen? A baby grand piano appears on stage and disappears! Last time I was tricked like that was at a Sigfried and Roy Show in Las Vegas - a happy conceit. Add to the intrigue and understand, there are only three actors, all male. One, Thyestes (Thomas Henning); Two, Atreus (Mark Winter) and Three, Chris Ryan who plays all others, of both genders. Remembering this and solving this in the heat of the scene action is part of the cryptic and cultural shocks. This is inclusive, interactive theatre on many, many levels.

Performed without an interval the scenes are at first in chronological order, and just when you think you have got the hang of it and kind of take a rest, the scenes go to the end of the play and play in reverse. No rest for the keen and no fun for the lazy.There is an intellectual exhilaration about been part of the puzzle and an experience of roller coaster emotional dimension, as the horrors and comic grand guignol toll mounts.

The bounce from the 1st Century version of the Greek mythical figures in the red text scene announcements at the start of every scene to the contemporary reality of the stage action, of such people existing in the world around us today, is underlined passionately for us by these actors, and the growing knowledge that evolution is slow and that humanity is basically stupid and some times in the control of the psychopaths is brought home with full force. Where Cheek by Jowl fails with 'TiS PITY SHE'S A WHORE, The Hayloft Project THYESTES, succeeds.

Certainly the contemporary violence and the depravity of these men we have seen culturally re-enforced seemingly endlessly in film, terrifyingly on almost every news bulletin, and I have to admit in circumstances I sometimes find myself in, by simply catching public transport or drinking in a pub. The world of Senca is here, made potently relevant and all to terribly, flesh and blood.

Mark Winter gives a tour de force performance of shattering psychopathic mania. In the past year I have seen three actors give there all to their work for us in roles that make Olympian demands of them - they and he did not baulk: Anthony Gooley in THE LIBERTINE and recently, Josh McConville in THE BOYS. This is simply great acting of commitment and well-judged craft. The physical, mental and emotional toll of scene six in which he deals with  the captured Aerope is startling in its thorough evil mania - the staging daring and shocking. He still had six scenes to complete. His exhausted curtain call says a great deal. Thomas Henning is no less impressive in the victim role: rhythm differences, soft, sly feints of behaviour in counterpoint to the erratic brother twin of Mr Winter are underplayed with wisdom and sensibility. While Chris Ryan demonstrates a versatility and sound judgement of his craft to make Art of some impression. His performance in cross gender roles is distinguished and cleverly observed and crafted, crowned with a beautiful masterly musical rendition, at the piano, of Schubert's 'Der Doppelganger"- awesome, indeed.

The Set and Costume design, Claude Marcos, impeccable. Every choice exactly right. A great visual collaborator. Lighting design, by Govin Ruben is fabulous and amazing considering his options in this tight space and traverse arrangement. Stefan Gregory as the Composer and Sound designer reveals the artistry that binds the vision of the production as a completed statement. It is wonderfully thought out and executed. Congratulations to the stage management for the miraculous (and soundless) scene changes. They help create a great part of the surprise and visual tension of the production and it is flawlessly done (Eva Tandy, Rebecca Poulter and Neil Fisher).

Lastly, Simon Stone as the director of this collaboration has created a masterpiece that reflects his intentions as a theatre maker, as clearly as I thought  POPPEA, the Monteverdi Opera that Barrie Kosky presented with his Vienna Schauspielhaus in August, 2009 at the Drama Theatre at the Sydney opera House, did. The intelligence in his approach to the literature of the text is great and when that is supported by a theatrical intelligence that can produce the final sequences of the production with the terrifying rise and drop of the curtain, revealing image after image of mounting narrative power with overwhelming musical rapport one is left dumbfounded with admiration. 

What is important to note is the deep preparation and process he encouraged and shared. It is a model. The work shows the 16 month gestation. For this is a great new Australian play script, astoundingly present  and of its time. There is more here than the beauty of this production, an extant play, for others to consider. The production, unfortunately, is ephemeral, and will soon disappear into the mists and myths of history.

Make sure it is part of your theatre history.

Now, for the record,  this was a Festival event. Deeply prepared. Well rehearsed, and of fearless theatrical risk. Worth every cent.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A History of Everything

A HISTORY OF EVERYTHING. Presented by Sydney Theatre Company and Ontroerend Goed in association with the Sydney Festival at Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company. Presented in association with Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, Drum Theatre Plymouth and Richard Jordan Productions Ltd.

Ontroerend Goed first appeared in a Sydney Festival (2009) with an absolutely impressive work of sheer joy: THE SMILE OFF YOUR FACE. It followed later in that year with a touring company of teenage youth in a very cleverly devised product called ONCE AND FOR ALL WE'RE GONNA TELL YOU WHO WE ARE SO SHUT UP AND LISTEN.

For THE HISTORY OF EVERYTHING, the director and co-writer of this text, Alexander Devriendt (Co-writer is Joeri Smet) has worked in collaboration with four actors from his company and three from The Sydney Theatre Company, to tell the history of everything, beginning in the present and moving backwards to the Big Bang. The actors dressed in practical blacks, with lots of pockets in the jacket for prop holding (Costume Design, Sophie De Somere), reveal a white map of the world on the flat floor. Then using small props and cards, indicating such things as WAR, the company have chosen short sentence, catchcalls to take us through a history."I did not have sex with that woman". "My baby son was born on this day". Towards the end of the charted history, I thought that Tasmanians, New Zealanders and New Guineans, must have felt conflicted because as the rest of the world shrunk and rolled into a ball they were left on the floor (poor Tasmania left out again). There is no acting here, some painful high sounding gravity now and again, but mostly just a chronological vocal non-de-script rendering of very personal choices by the company. That they have learnt the order is a feat of some skill.

The point of view of these collaborators is dominated by Euro-Western World apprehensions with an occasional nod to China, Japan. Hardly any at all to South America or even to Africa - except as a European colonial war zone. There are blinks to a lot of popular culture icons and even to the personal histories of the actors. Rather than it being a history of everything it is driven by personal bias and/or personal education limitations, rather than by researched significant developments: the invention of language, for instance, tools, fire, grain, cooking!!!  (in this era of the Super Chefs how did food and cooking escape these collaborators attention). The technique employed by the company is dull and not much more than organised presenting-skills. It is cute, rather like watching an educational production in your school hall. Though at one hour forty minutes the school kids would have had less patience than what we had to muster. It is all rather boring and for sure as a school-ed show would have had to big bang much quicker to keep their attention or presence. 

I tired of this work quickly as I saw it was mostly gratuitously moved by a shallow history preparation and worse still I was being manipulated by an exceedingly cheesy music score of vulgar sentimentality (A history of Sound and Music would have been a useful adjunct?) that seemed to be from a very small range of interest - including a forbiddingly awful folk song towards the end. After the two earlier works by this company this appears to be a work in draft form, or at the moment it belies its title. Or should it be called THE HISTORY OF SOMETHINGS WE KNOW.

Every evening on Channel 9 at 7pm there is a twenty to thirty second compilation montage of the history of everything from the big bang to the present day, finally catapulting us into one of those idiot situation comedies, this one called THE BIG BANG THEORY. The montage however is genius and I would rather watch it  over and over for one hour forty than recommend this stage production. And whether they screened it backwards or forwards it would still be more interesting. At $45 A ticket, may I recommend that, instead you purchase Neil MacGregor's A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 100 OBJECTS for only $35 (or free as a podcast) and have coffee money to spare and a permanent history of the world, where each chapter is more moving and inspiring than any of this work.

The collaborating actors are Karolien De Bleser, Charlotte de Bruyne, Cameron Goodall, Zindzi Okenyo, Tahki Saul, Joeri Smet, Nathalie Verbeke. 

The Wizard of Oz

SLIDE presents Daniel Scott in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Daniel Scott one of the stars of the musical PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT and more recently THE JERSEY BOYS  is a performer in his own solo right. THE WIZARD OF OZ, a cabaret selection of song,sets out to reveal the wide and wild diversity of his talent, range and skills.

Dressed in a glamourous suit with a beautiful white shirt, sparkling with the most dazzling set of shirt studs, breast and sleeves, Mr Scott greeted us in his very 'Ozzie' demeanour and told us, tonight, not to expect a single song from the music theatre repertoire. And that, rather, we reach into our own shirts and find our nipples, tweak them hard to find our "inner bogan", which when tweaked properly, will transport us, like Dorothy once was, albeit, she,with a  click of her red ruby shoes,  to a place no longer "Kansas", and enjoy a trip down some memory lane of songs that he grew up with in "bogan land", and gave him the courage to find the life path of a performer.

Supported by a musical trio: Guitar: Tim Martwig; Percussion Paul Whitely and a Piano player Mark Chamberlain. We had guest song from Mr Whitely and from Lisa Adam as well. Mr Scott took us on a totally unexpected performance of raunch and sentiment that touched his famous wildness at one side of his range, right across a landscape of music styles and genres, to the other side of that range, tender and deep felt passion.

Mr Scott is mostly known to me as a performer of musical theatre so to hear this choice of song and to, perforce, embrace the range of his passions was a steep and exciting learning curve.

He chatted and interacted with his audience and easily had them on side. For me, the most amazing moments were in those songs  which he was able to really own, not only as a wonderful musician but especially as an actor. In a beautiful rendition of AND THE BAND PLAYED WALTZING MATILDA, dedicated to an aunt, present in the house, in memory of an uncle, singing a Capella, he sealed a memory for me of captivating beauty. Truly moving.

Thus, a singer and especially actor (he admits he can move but has too much respect for the discipline of the dancer to claim to be one), Daniel Scott gave of himself with an almighty bogan passion and a tender temperamental insight and expression. Somebody to catch up with in his cabaret mode.

Thanks to SLIDE once again. A welcomed change to my theatre going habit. A beautiful venue, great atmosphere.

'Tis Pity She's A Whore

Sydney Festival in association with Sydney Theatre presents 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE by Cheek by Jowl, from the play by John Ford at the Sydney Theatre.

'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE by John Ford is calculated to have been written somewhere between 1629-1633. It was published, definitely, we know, in 1633. It was written in the Kingship of Charles I, a period of English history, sat between the glories of Elizabeth I and the Revolution led by Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. The arrival on the English throne by the Scottish, Stuart heir, James I, (1603-25) marks a time of resplendent venal corruption., from the Elizabethan Age to the terrors of Commonwealth.

Following on, from what appeared to be the Golden Age of Elizabeth, James I, ''was weak, effete, vain, extravagant,corrupt with homosexual tendencies that led him into misjudged favouritism and made him many enemies. James ruled a court rotten with graft and corruption." In this period (1603-25) the theatre artists responded with works which now have the collective appellation of The Jacobean Tragedies. They are often concerned with Bloody Revenge and Tragedy. They are mostly set in Italy, too dangerous to set in the English realm, and have the influence, firstly, of the Roman poet / philosopher , Seneca , usually swathed in bloody revenge and gore, and, secondarily, the machinations of Machiavelli, exposed in his book THE PRINCE, and through the accidents of dramatic history, having his name mistakenly synonymous with death and intrigue, particularly as the fame of the Borgias spread throughout Europe. HAMLET, THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY, THE CHANGLING, THE DUCHESS OF MALFI (to be seen as part of the Bell Shakespeare season, later this year) are part of that dramatic inheritance.

Charles I was no less a foolish King but his blunders were about war, religion and monies, not so much sex, but the political intrigues were just as intense. The power of money - the source of the agitations of the times. The playwrights of this later period, carried on the tradition of their recent forebears, for the audience still wandered from the fields of a public hanging, drawing and quartering or bear pit battle to the theatre and relished the sensation of horrible crime enacted for them with all the blood and steaming innards that the acting companies could muster.

I have always connected Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET (1594) as a duo, with the life of Ford's 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE. Both set in Italy- one in Verona the other in Parma. Both with two sets of young lovers, with a religious adviser, the Friars' Lawrence and Bonaventura, and a vulgarly secular advisor, the Nurse to Juliet and Putana, the tut'ress to Annabella. Both set in a world where the young woman is at the centre of marriage bargains with pressing suitors, both set in a world of ambition of upward mobility: materialistic, affluent, acquisitive, bourgeois and with moral values to match. In such a society only the shrewd and rich survive. Love and violence and that interaction - the theme, for both.

Romeo and Juliet, members of two different warring families, fatally fall in love. A cultural taboo. Tragedy does ensue. In 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE, Giovanni and Annabella fatally fall in love. They are brother and sister. A cultural taboo. Tragedy does ensue. A cultural taboo of Incest. INCEST. Incest was not an unfamiliar source of dramatic conflict in this period, but never had such a rendering of this taboo been so empathetic.The power of the actions on all societies , the present may be more violently revolted than other times, is such, that the persons who commit it are tainted and marked out for some terrible retribution.

What the Cheek by Jowl company under the direction of Declan Donnellan and design vision of Nick Omerod have done is make this story sit powerfully in the present world of moral instabilities and hypocrisies of government and church, of rampant materialism and a loss of guiding principles and values. The original is not set in the palaces of rulers but in the house of the mobile bourgeoise. This could be the Italy of Berlusconi and with the 'dancing' friar and Cardinal, of Benedict "Bunga"- parties and indulgences to the fore of life. But the specificity of Italy is not necessary to see the broader application to, particularly, Western World values. Even to our very own suburbs of ambitious wealth. To families of children with senses of entitlement and being "rulers of the world." Where their pleasure is their will.

The original play has three plots spinning throughout the text, in this version, the comic plot (the supposed weakest one) concerning a suitor Bergetto and his servant Poggio, has been excised. We are concerned with the incest plot of the two siblings, Giovanni (Jack Gordon) and Annabella (Lydia Wilson) and the marriage ambitions of Soranzo (Jack Hawkins) with the help of his servant Vasques (Laurence Spellman), dully focused on the heiress Annabella, despite a spurned other woman, Hippolita (Suzanne Burden).

Set in a large room/suite of a large house. A tawdry armoire with carelessly open and clothes-draped doors, let us see a young girl's excessive wardrobe of clothes. Along the extensive back wall there is an entrance door and another, to a functioning white tiled bathroom- shower stall and tub.On this wall are a collection of popular culture posters tacked/stuck conveniently to the wall. Annabella, i.e." Anna the Beauty" has a series of icons to inspire her : Scarlett from GONE WITH THE WIND; Alexandro del Largo from SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH; Holly Goligtly from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S; Sookie Stackhouse from TRUE BLOOD. There are other images from Manga cartoons. Role models for the young and the vapid, perhaps. No classical art here just disposable, cheap images of a pop culture. Even the Madonna with a bleeding heart, hanging in a corner, is a nasty copy. In the centre of the room, front, a free standing bed covered in less than fresh red laundry, harbours a casually dressed young woman,with a partially shaved hair style, grooving with head sets, to her private, silent disco. She moves to the beat of a different drummer. The visual impact of this space and the behaviour of Annabella suggests a young woman indulged, spoilt and bored.

Giovanni, her brother is no less a louche figure , though more aware, empowered, maybe drug deluded, with a sense of the right of his will as he shrugs off the moralising admonitions of his confessor, and pursues his lust for his sister. That she is similarly attracted, is of no surprise, considering the design clues set up in this production by Mr Donnellan, and is simply told by Ford :

"The love of thee, my sister, and the view
Of thy immortal beauty hath untuned
All harmony both of my rest and life."

Annabella's response is in the same simple key and their sense of undisturbed entitlement to their desires is captured in a delicate, unflowered ritual which follows :

On my knees, She kneels
Brother, even by our mother's dust, I charge you,
Do not betray me to your mirth or hate,
Love me, or kill me, brother.

On my knees, He kneels.
Sister, even by my mother's dust, I charge you,
Do not betray me to your mirth or hate,
Love me, or kill me, sister.

They thus seal their fate (killing is assured) and face the social obligation intrusions of the real world. Annabella is sought in marriage by many suitors but Soranzo is the selected one. That Soranzo is an exemplar of the contriving hedonistic, ambitious lout, considering his relationship with the widow Hippolita, who he has seduced with promises of marriage, and his part in the death of her husband, he, now, finding better and younger pickings, rejects her with hypocritical casuistry :

The vows I made, if you remember well,
Were wicked and unlawful: 'twere more sin
To keep them than to break them.

The facts about his past are well known, and yet this is the man who is generally accepted as the fittest claimant of Annabella's hand by the family and society. Which world should be more condemned, that of the brother and sister or that of the suitor? "From one point of view the wooing of Soranzo and Annabella is the confrontation between an adulterous attempted murderer an incest participant; from another it is the meeting of an eligible nobleman and the daughter of a bourgeois gentleman." We as an audience are placed in a foul dilemma. That we recognise it as the way of the world, then and now, is a gravely unsettling thing.

Culturally, the bloody doings of this play, even to the appearance of Giovanni "trimmed in reeking blood" with a bloody heart impaled on the end of a dagger, or in this production, the engorged penis of Soranzo as he leaves the bed of Annabella, or the naked sights of the shower cubicle, are not overly sensational, our present cultural arts: theatre, movie going and television having desensitized us to a degree of minimal shock. This, too, becomes a source of disturbance. As, surely, there is decadence here, of impressive proportions. The production sound design (by Composer and Sound Designer, Nick Powell) pumps out the thumping noise of popular culture with an emphatic beat so that the tribal hysteria, the chorus dancing, about bloody doings, become part of an hysterical ease of embracement , even mild excitement, one was careful to the curb one's own stamp of foot. It blends us to blandishments of appreciation. Of acceptance of the moral compass of this giddy world. We applaud amazedly. Perhaps, blasé, dazzedly.

But for my $100 or more, including program ($10), I was not overly impressed."Blood", "Heart" and "Confusion" are the three iconic words of this text. No doubt there was blood, but really little heart in the playing. Confusion was the word that stuck me to summarise this performance of this edit of the John Ford play. It seemed to be a less than engaged and disciplined cast, at my performance, a bit of a walk through, with a wide range of varying quality of skills present, that did not seem to establish , why Cheek by Jowl is so esteemed. The OTHELLO that I saw, by this company, in this same theatre a few years ago, also lacked intellectual and playing cogency. A Festival production on holiday in the antipodes?!! The voices of the actors were worn and ragged, the use of the language seemed to me an imitation of contemporary sms text reading - it came either in bursts of tumbling words or at a word by word delivery. No music in these sounds and not always cogent good sense. It was sometimes useful, though mostly distracting, to be able to read the text jerked onto the side screens in the auditorium, just to check what they had actually said. The directorial decisions of the actors on stage as chorus observers, interesting, but unresolved in aesthetics or theatrical clarity.The design concept, messy and not necessarily useful.

I know lots of friends who enjoyed it. I did not.

I like the play. I liked the concept, but not much else. When paying, in these stringent times, $100, I can demand more than this.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Sydney Festival 2012 in association with Sydney Theatre presents BABEL (words) - Sidi Cherkaoui, Damien Jalet and Anthony Gormley.

Sidi Cherkaoui has been a recent visitor, twice, to our theatres. I first saw him in an astounding duet with Akram Khan in a piece called ZERO DEGREES (also featuring an Anthony Gormley design) and later in the Concert Hall showing a work called SUTRA a project in collaboration with Anthony Gormley, Syzmon Brzoska and monks from the Shaolin Temple in China.

This work BABEL was co-commissioned by the Dash Arts 2010 programme on Arabic Arts. Eastman vzw is company in residence at Toneelhuis (Antwerp) works in association with international arts campus deSingel (Antwerp) and is supported by Asano Taiko (Japanese drums). With the support of Garrick Charitable Trust and the Flemish authorities.

BABEL is the third part of a trilogy, that includes FOI (2003), and MYTH (2007). BABEL begins at the pivotal point in the bible story "when God punishes the people who dared build a tower in his name by creating linguistic, ethnic and geographical chaos among them." [1]

"On Day 1 of rehearsal, a microcosm of 18 performers from 13 countries, with 15 languages, seven religious backgrounds and numerous performance modes between them, joined choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, as well as visual artist Anthony Gormley, to embark upon a new journey."[1]

The language of this work is both verbal and physical and the integration works smoothly and constructively throughout the piece. Anthony Gormley has created six giant three-dimensional metal frames that work as the cities (the towers of Babel) that man builds, spaces "where wanderers wander blindly, making decisions by the millisecond, not knowing what they do, or why they do it, what it means or where it will lead. People stumble into choices of belief, community and identity that, as well as giving support, closes doors, build boundaries and set limits." [1] The metal cubes are managed, dragged, carried, interleaved and spun throughout the weave of the work. Images of shape, meaning and imaginative action are constantly offered.

The live musical 'language' uses Indian and Japanese rhythms as well as some medieval polyphony. The musicians also move from their heightened platforms, at the back of the stage, and join the dancers in the spaces and like a huge human caravan of wanderers traverse the many landscapes that Mr Cherkaoui and Jalet propose for us to endow the space and time of the work with. The foolishness of our species in its inability to exist in harmony is related over and over again. The grasping needs of individuals and groups to be the power seat is sadly re-iterated across the multi-cultural political 'boxes' of our civilization.

Duets  and group dynamics using the sculpture forms from Mr Gormley burst out and retire, burst out again and again. The individual scenes are what I take from the work: the ecstatic whirl of the group running pell mell in circles around the space, spinning the metal cubes dangerously, especially for us in the front rows - exhilaration galore; the witty interaction between man and woman from ape to cave man and 'robot'; the endearing exploration of the mechanics of invention by the two entranced Asian explorers; are some of my remembered highlights. The dancing-movement by all the company is athletic and astonishing. Dressed in ordinary street-looking habiliments (although, obviously cannily designed, Alexandra Gilbert), the expertise of the physical prowess of the dancers is, in form, less clearly apprehended in physical details but certainly engaged with by the wow factor of the wonderment of extraordinary ability. These inhabitants of the work interestingly keep our attention without being highly sexualised - next to no nakedness - unusual in my contemporary dance experience.

Lou Cope, the dramaturg of this work, tells us in her notes, "During the (rehearsal) process, the show revealed to its makers that what they were doing was turning the Tower of Babel upside down: what mattered was not the external multiplicity of our (regional, linguistic, physical ...) differences, but the underlying bond of what unites rather than divides us, and therefore the responsibilities we all share. ... That we are left with each other. Chained together .... entirely, literally by our neurons and separated only by our skins."

The work is almost two hours long, extremely generous in its offer to the audience, caught in the thrill of wonderfully controlled bodies in motion. But it is the length and the many different modes of communication that needs editing and tidying. Some times the joking usage of the creation of Ulrika Kinn Svenson, seemed to be over indulged, for instance. Like the SUTRA  experience of Mr Cherkaoui, editorial discipline would perhaps streamline the work into a more satisfying , more readable 'intellectual' statement. The whole of the work is not nearly as satisfying as the pieces within it. The answers to understanding this world, these journeys are not  always clear, it  is a jumble of pleasing work that the artists just can't let go of. The individual pleasure of the result of physical creativity kept at the expense of edited intellectual shaping?

Despite the overall lack of intellectual clarity, the exhilaration of the performers and the obvious delight that they demonstrated combined with all the other creative elements in the doing of the work is impressive and infectious and we, on the night I saw the work, responded loudly and enthusiastically.

[1] Quotes are from the essay notes of Lou Cope, April 2010: ABOUT BABLE (words) in the Festival program.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunburnt Country

Marney McQueen presents SUNBURNT COUNTRY starring Rosa the Russian Beautician and Friends, written by Marney McQueen and Tim Bain, at Slide, Oxford St. Darlinghurst.

Friday night I was whisked off by Daniel Scott to see a one night stand at the Slide Cabaret venue in Oxford Street – Marney McQueen in a show called SUNBURNT COUNTRY. I had not planned it, but it was a great way to finish the week.

Marney McQueen has been seen in the musical PRISCILLA, QUEEN of the DESERT and recently in HAIRSPRAY in Sydney and elsewhere. This triple threat, actor-singer-dancer has, however, not sat on her laurels there, but developed a collection of cabaret, satirical characters that take deeply humorous and sometimes penetrating bites into the country we live in. It seems Ms McQueen was inspired by Barry Humphries and there is a similar fearless razor sharp x-ray eye with the right turn of phrase and observed characteristics that could make some of us shudder. Fortunately, most of us just break out in great big guffaws.

We meet Karen Barnes, a security officer who loves her frisky job. Damo, an Aussie bogan backpacker doing his duty at the dawn service for the ANZACS at Gallipoli draped in the flag and fondly remembering his storming of a beach, Cronulla. Carbon Neutral Bride Annabel Sarah Victoria Winters Smythe, a devoted greenie giving her wedding reception speech. Gold Coast cougar Raelene Dreggs raising funds for her incarcerated daughter. And, after the interval, the major persona of the night, Rosa the Russian Beautician to the stars.

In hilarious stand-up routines that interact alarmingly well with invasions into the audience, accompanied with filmed sequences of recommendation from actual luminaries (for the Rosa beautician skills) such as Jackie Weaver, Bert Newton and Ian Healey, Ms McQueen also produces a musical theatre voice of immense range and flexibility, with a witty turn of lyric that bears a stick to the funny bone with resounding reward. On this particular night the musical accompaniment is supplied by a guest performer, the great Trevor Ashley, who subdues his own inimitable style to work as a perfect foil, stooge as Master of the Organ Sergei Longschlongadonski and others, for Ms McQueen's bravura strokes.

Recently I talked of the talents of Trevor Ashley (FAT SWAN), iota, Paul Capsis, Eddie Perfect, Meow Meow and newcomer Sheridan Harbridge in the cabaret scene in Sydney and now I am adding Marney McQueen as a "watch out for her" next show (check her web site). A hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Melbourne Comedy Festival - she is worth catching.

Many thanks then to Daniel Scott then, who just happens to have his own cabaret performance on Thursday, 19th January at the same venue: SLIDE. Seems to be a happening place. Might be worth catching, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Boys

Griffin Theatre Company, in association with Sydney Festival, presents THE BOYS by Gordon Graham at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

If, for no other reason, a very good reason to decide to see THE BOYS at the Griffin Theatre, is to see the acting. There maybe other reasons to go as well, but, if in doubt about going, for this play we all know, is not easy, overcome your reluctance.

The front of House team took our tickets and wished us 'a lovely night' as we climbed the stairs to our seats. A lovely night was not to be expected if one knew the play, for it deals with a very grim subject and it is famously told by Gordon Graham, fiercely, with little compromise, to reveal a confronting view of the animals known as homo sapiens. Us, and other humans like us. There but for the grace of God go I? Sandra, the mother, advises "...people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

The Sprague family and their spouses under what seem to be unrelenting socio-economic pressures are barely surviving. Their ability to break out of the circle of poverty seems remote and all they have is 'the family ' that they know, to rely on. The form of love that they have evolved amongst themselves is their absolute solace. The rest of the world is a challenge and needs to be made to respect them and to co-operate on their desperate terms.

The boys of the play title, Brett the elder (Josh McConville), Glenn (Johnny Carr), and Stevie, the youngest (Anthony Gee) have been nurtured by a protective 'lioness' of a mother, Sandra (Jeanette Cronin). A single parent, the husband/father is never referred to, Sandra has supervised the lives of these men with unrelenting love: "That's the greatest love there is, between a mum and her children. It's a love that never dies".

In encouraging her boys to find a way to live Sandra has vetted and attempted to train their women partners, Michelle (Cheree Cassidy), Jackie (Louisa Mignone) and Nola (Eryn Jean Norvill), to accept the patterns of the needs of the male Sprague animal. "You know, you cant help thinking, maybe when a bloke first gets out (of prison), and he's all screwed up about sex, you'd be better keeping right out of his hair, just packing him straight off to King's Cross to get it over with, with some girl he doesn't know. Better for all concerned." As the new women in this world begin to see the true nature/nurture of the boys, they start, in their own small way, to try to change things (especially the ambitious Jackie),causing frictions that ignite a gentle combustion with the boys, that will ultimately rage into a frustrated and terrifying inflammation - a bushfire of hellish destruction.

This play first appeared, on this stage in 1991, and the notorious trial around the tragic Anita Cobby case, had recently percolated corrosively into the Australian everyday psyche. The play, then, caused moral dilemma, and today, sad to say, still does. It is a glowering, cruel view of the possibility of the human being. The truth of the terror that man has the capability of inflicting on others of his kind, we constantly read about in the press and watch on our screens, and not just in history or in war zones. And when it is revealed to possibly be next door and so on our neighbourbour watch, only separated from us by a flimsy, rusting, corrugated fence, it delivers a confrontation, that is powerfully numbing.

Sam Strong, the director of this production, believes that it is not just the 'intellectual' aftermath that makes this play important and the reason to see, but the power of the visceral experience of witnessing it together as a community. Mr Strong with his designer, Renee Mulder, have invented a claustrophobic space that makes the Stables Theatre appear to be even smaller than usual. Up the two walls of the space, not only on the stage, but scaled into the audience surround, corrugated iron and rotting wooden fence loom around us. The floor of the stage is the brown desolation of real, but worn out grass, with just sufficient greenery on edges to suggest the flicker of surviving life. Sitting centre is the ubiquitous symbol of Australian suburbia, the Hills hoist clothes line (remember the burnt desolation of the family backyard in MURIEL'S WEDDING), which metaphorically spins around and around, on and on, just like the tiny planet we sit on. Furniture of human decrepitude cowers on the fringes of the space.

The Lighting Design by Verity Hampson covering indoor and outdoor locations and different time frames, besides the poetry of artistic metaphor, adds pricelessly to the atmosphere and rhetoric of the production's aesthetic and intention. The Sound Design/Composition of Kelly Ryall is complex and almost permanent, but for my experience, just occasionally over emphatic in it's affect.

The dynamite that ignites Mr Graham's grim world vision is the acting of this cast. Josh McConville as Brett is a frightening force of enraged primal machismo, with a slow fuse burning throughout the play to ultimately reveal a reckless ruthlessness and torment driven to lash out at anything to satiate his feeling, his innate knowledge of his own puny qualities. Mr McConville appears before us in a terrifying transformation of character embodiment. Every inch of him, seemingly every fibre, is quivering with transformed belief. This performance is a life force of contemptible blind evil. Mr McConville has not shied away in any capacity to reveal the power of real human ugliness. For the aesthetes of the actors craft, Mr McConville as Brett Sprague is an exemplar par excellence (consider his bewildered patient, this time last year in the STC's IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY. The contrast is astounding).

Anthony Gee as Stevie, has also found a character to completely identify with and has broken through his usual self-consciousness into a fierce ownership of all the fragile and clueless idiocy of the indulged runt of the litter. Mr Gee's sense of possession is a reward for his relentless practice at his craft - his constant efforts on the fringe productions (check his bio) has paid off, in this instance. It is exciting to watch actors blooming. This is what Mr Strong demonstrates in his direction of all these actors, a sense of trusting them as fellow collaborators with a sublime confidence in the writer as the source of his and their artistry for the primal need of telling story to the collective tribe in this corroboree space called the Griffin SBW Stables Theatre. Mr Carr as the middle brother, Glenn, too, finds the gathering power of his character in the opportunities of the second act, under the eye of Mr Strong.It grows to an impressive and sad statement of a character collapsing under peer pressure from the possibility of escape with Jackie from the Sprague web.

The play despite been called THE BOYS is really an alarming study of the women that surround these men. The complexity of the reasons the women are with these men at all is pitiably evoked with deft and subtle gestures of the acting craft signalled from a close reading of Mr Graham's text. The second act of the play reveals the acute sociological observations of Mr Graham's writing and Ms Cronin, Mignone, Cassidy and Norvill bravely layer the work with painfully gained insight and empathy for their characters. The hideous poignancy of the concluding lines of act one from Sandra: " All you can do is be patient, that's all. Take comfort from knowing that while they're out there doing what their doing, they're probably thinking about you. At least some of the time." is chillingly absorbed by us, retrospectively, as we imagine what they have actually done out there. (All of the action, as in the classic Greek theatre mode, happens off stage.)The gratefulness we have when Nola, reclaims her son from the arms of Sandra, the BOYS' mother is palpable. Though, as we sit in the Griffin Theatre today, we have recollections of Jackie Weaver’s "Lady Macbeth in stretch pants" in ANIMAL KINGDOM and we know that not a lot has changed in our world.

It is chilling, is it not, how vicariously interested we are in this world as Australians? In our recent mainstream popular entertainment: WOLF CREEK, ANIMAL KINGDOM, SNOWTOWN, THE LOVED ONES, and UNDERBELLY, for starters. The cultural, sociological politics of the relationship between the sexes in Australia, interesting to contemplate, in how our fictional constructs stay occupied, mesmerized there. The recent revival of another Australian classic, Ray Lawler's THE SUMMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL kept underling the sexual politics of this play as I watched last night. Gentler, for sure, but how much different?

A good play, a wonderful design, exemplary ensemble and individual acting, and a director's hand that guides actors through a text without the necessity to auteur himself, makes this a challenging but a not to be missed theatre experience. It should, as well, grow more and more confident in its taut control of the space and audience.

I am Eora

BLACK CAPITAL DAY and I AM EORA, World Premiere, presented by Sydney Festival 2012 in association with The Balnaves Foundation in Bay 17 at Carriageworks.

According to the stylish corporate brochure and publicity material for the Sydney Festival 2012 :
Carriageworks in the heart of Redfern is the place to be for our FAMILY AND CULTURE DAY on Sunday, January 8. The official opening ceremonies for BLACK CAPITAL start at midday with a Welcome to Country, kicking off a colourful and fun-filled program of storytelling, music, art performance and food. The doors open on Brook Andrew's TRAVELLING COLONY of caravans as well as 181REGENT ST, a milestone exhibition celebrating 40 years of black theatre making. Be entertained by highlights from ERTH's latest puppet and multimedia spectacle, I BUNYIP. Discover the latest music sensations from the Gadigal Music label - Marcus Corowa, Jess Beck and Duke Box. Sample delicious Indigenous fusion cuisine from Yaama Dhiyaan and keep your eyes peeled for members of the South Sydney Rabbitohs who'll be around on the day. To everyone, that's a big BLACK CAPITAL welcome to Redfern.
We arrived at about 3pm. There was a milling crowd of mostly young families wandering about the space foyer of Carriageworks. They clambered in and out of the colourfully, hand-painted caravans of Brook Andrew, parked across the immense space of Carriageworks. This art installation is called TRAVELLING COLONY. Beneath the colourful, hand-painted 'skins ' of the caravans, which have been left, under the 'skin', as archaeological assets/survivors of another age, the intact caravan furniture, we are invited to watch video interviews of Indigenous citizens of the local area, answering a series of prepared questions, about their past, present and future experiences and aspirations/hopes. Some are more interesting than others. Some are inspiring as verbatim interviews can sometimes be. It is, though, a fairly tame and perfunctory experience. The care by the artist and his team about the editing of the gathered material is not of the best skill. In fact, the best of TRAVELLING COLONY is the fun of watching and negotiating around the 'kids' climbing in and out of the vans, and it is that that gives, for me, the work, life and meaning. These caravans with other relevant localised interviews (Vietnamese for Cabramatta, for instance) would have much the same impact in a corporate Shopping Mall in Cabramatta, Neutral Bay or Penrith, let alone in this significant space.

We wandered into the exhibition addressing some history of Black Theatre. It is 181 REGENT ST, curated by Rhoda Roberts:

The pervading legacy of 181 Regent St and this extraordinary time is explored in a special anniversary exhibition that draws on personal archives, films and photographs to tell the story of the National Black Theatre and the people who were involved. Covering pioneering works such as THE CHERRY PICKERS and THE CAKE MAN the exhibition considers where it all began and the ongoing influence of the National Black Theatre on contemporary Aboriginal theatre today.
1972-1977 - a sadly meaningful date/year for the theatre to disappear, I thought, later.

The exhibition is beautifully mounted and easy to negotiate. Some of the names and photographs gratefully connect to important memories, for me (I have memories of Bob Mazza, Zac Martin, Justine Saunders, Jack Charles, David Gulpilil and especially, Brian Syron). The material we see is fairly interesting but, seemingly, is very limited. The sources for the exhibited material are indeed, from viewing, clearly, mostly, personal and not at all comprehensive. It is an appetiser for one's curiosity only. I left, vaguely re-informed but hugely disappointed. There was a nostalgic gratuitous thanks for the opportunity to go back to a time in White and Black artistic interaction which was a kind of revolutionary action, complimenting the politics of the times - hugely contentious and fraught, but exciting and necessary. What someone, not of that volatile era, would gain from this exhibition is interesting to contemplate. Not enough, I fear. There is a symposium on January 14, 10am -4.30pm that might be invigorating to see and hear. It will need more rigour to ignite the history and contemporary issues, given the pervasive veneer of hagiolatry presented in this exhibition.

There were some rappers finishing up in one of the Tracks - missed them (at least, presently). The biggest buzz and queues of parents, prams and strollers, however, were coming from the I BUNYIP highlights presented by ERTH. In fact, they added a performance to try to help satisfy the demand. We couldn't get in - damn and blast.

Couldn't find the "Indigenous fusion cuisine", unless that was a sausage on white bread swathed copiously in sauces. If it were an example of the promised delicious, then it was, if not completely delicious, welcome, to a hungry visitor. But worse and woe, we didn't spy a single South Sydney Rabbitoh footballer - a sense of mission unaccomplished settled on us as we waited to enter the performance of I AM EORA.

The vast foyer of Carriageworks gradually filled with a lot of well dressed citizenry with the added buzz of fellow artists and politicians, some of whom were commenting, I overheard, that this was their first visit to the place!!!! Just where have they been and what is their essential interests in the arts, that such is the case? I was kind of shocked, considering the important and relevant work I have seen here over the past recent years. Years !!!

Some of us had paid to see this significant opening festival event and had been here before.

The organisers had us entering the biggest of the performance spaces, Bay 17, legendarily or mythologically, supposedly inspired by the famed Ariane Mnouchkine's Theatre de Soliel and then, taken up by the enthusiastic NSW Premier, especially sophisticated for the arts, Bob Carr. They had a conversation in the space about the space and some say: et voila! Whether, the invited audience were lost in getting here, to Redfern, at Carriageworks, or, just a schmozzle at the front of house, the VIP's were not brought into their reserved seats until about 5.15 pm and we didn't begin til almost 5.25pm for a 5 o'clock start. Considering my grumble about the Old Fitzroy, recently (see, THE HORSE'S MOUTH) I thought, in all fairness, I should mention the late time start here as well. Especially discommoding for some making a dash to other, later performance dates, that night.

What it did give us, however, was time to read the program notes. It was quite appetite whetting to read the three introductory biographical notes on the featured historical figures of the work: The Warrior - Pemulwuy; The Nurturer - Barangaroo; The Interpreter - Bennelong. I knew of Bennelong, and was excited to see a work using the Pemulwuy story, at last, and deeply curious about the female figure, Barangaroo.

Stephen Curtis the Designer for this production (Set, Projection and Costume Design), takes advantage of the immense width of the space, and has constructed an immense raked performance floor of white/ blue tinge with an angled mirror image back board cyclo-rama, upon which, are projected text and images. Whilst we waited a message of welcome was in sms-like type scrolling across the upper 'sky' panel. The technological effort and crafting of the projected texts and visuals was certainly one of the more impressive elements in this show. It was often a welcome distraction.

On the stage there is the paraphernalia necessary for a rock band and singers, spread across the upper horizontal. An aboriginal figure in traditional appearance smokes the space in welcome. Finally, a contemporary suited aboriginal male arrives on stage and very deliberately undresses and places, neatly, the clothes on the floor, and stands before us, pridefully, naked and ceremonially painted white.

What the next hour and twenty minutes are, is the presentation of a community-pride rock music concert. We are regaled by Radical Son representing The Warrior in raucous rock lyrics and music. He is answered by a contemporary rapper, Nooky. The boredom is that the music is ordinary and the lyrics by both men are also ordinary: FIST IN THE AIR!!! from Nooky - for goodness sake, especially after we have had a Performer (Jack Charles) abuse the cast for antiquated ideas and politics to start the show rolling.

Kaleena Briggs in full sparkly-dress-mode, sang for the second episode based around Barangaroo, her performance rollicking but ordinary. This representation of aboriginal woman is complemented by a pretty young pregnant, white pinafored Young Woman (Miranda Tapsell) fishing blithely and finally mopping the floor, and an expletive enforced duped aboriginal bride (Elaine Crombie), balanced by the actual Inaugural Speech of Linda Burney to the parliament, read by the real Linda Burney, on stage. The program notes gave us a far more arresting image of Indigenous woman. Barangaroo seemed to be a steadfastly feisty and principled individual - refusing even to dress to suit the white man's conventions (all our indigenous women, here, stayed dressed within the convention of this audience -what would Barangaroo have done?).

The third section, featuring Bennelong, is mainly a long spoken melancholic and grief stricken dirge, delivered in the vocally rich and life-worn tones of Jack Charles. What I find especially moving and ironic, in my contemplations during this section, is that Jack Charles once played Bennelong in the Old Tote commissioned play, CRADLE OF HERCULES (1974) by Michael Boddy and directed by George Whaley, in the Drama theatre at the Opera House on Bennelong Point. It told of the first settlement and the interaction between the indigenous people and the white invaders, colonists, led by Governor Philip (John Gaden). Besides Jack Charles, Zac Martin, David Gulpilil and Justine Saunders were members of the cast. I wonder what that play reads like today?

Wesley Enoch and Anita Heiss are credited with the writing of I AM EORA, and it  and the dramaturgy are less than ordinary, when discernible at all. The stage craft demonstrated by the Director Wesley Enoch, in the management of this huge cast in this big space, is ordinary. The choreography of the dancers, by Associate Director/Choreographer, Yolande Brown, is ordinary. This community pride concert is ordinary, no matter the stirring intentions and the sight of so many indigenous artists up on centre stage. And there is nothing wrong with a community pride concert (check out the David Edgar Guardian Weekly essay cited in James Waites recent blog-post) but, as the centre piece to the inaugural BLACK CAPITAL space and a cornerstone to the Sydney Festival I have my doubts. This work long conceived by Wesley Enoch after initial discussions with Lindy Hume in 2008, is ordinary beyond contemporary expectation.

This past year (2011) in Sydney, there has been, in my estimation, some groundbreaking and progressive Indigenous works in performance. BULLY BEEF STEW at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists. Bangara's BELONG at the Sydney Opera House. BLOODLAND for the Sydney Theatre Company and the Adelaide Arts Festival. POSTS IN THE PADDOCK at Performance Space, created by Moogahlin Performing Arts with My Darling Patricia. This Sydney Festival project (I AM EORA) directed by Wesley Enoch, is a work out of period, out of date. Maybe Mr Enoch has been too occupied with the Queensland Theatre Company in Brisbane to keep up to date with developments in the Sydney scene? It is a case where the line in the sand has been advanced magnificently by the above artists and that this work is considerably a mile behind the new markers. Two steps forward, a gigantic leap back. It is staggering ineptness. So much money, so much effort, and so little rigour and acknowledgement of what has gone on in the last year. It takes me back to my experience at Belvoir, this year of WINDMILL BABY (please read). That the Balnaves Foundation has been a source of support for this expensive looking corporate exercise is deeply saddening for them, I reckon. Who is advising them? Impressed by the surface gloss of the presentation, with no in-depth interrogation or investigation of the method of production? I find it curious that not one artist from above mentiond works that I regard as truly exciting e.g. Andrea James and her team; the Page family (not one representative, hardly believable, considering their ubiquitous influence in almost everything theatrical in Indigenous Sydney), nor the farsighted and talented Wayne Blair, is involved here. They could have commissioned or curated work for BLACK CAPITAL this year that would have been a sensation for the Festival, and the "this is my first visit to Carriageworks" audiences. I could have curated better and I just go to the theatre. Doesn't the Sydney Festival have any talent scouts out there going to watch shows by independent performers? Or, is it just a short cut to be dazzled by the glamour of well known names, or just lazy producing?

I estimate the money spent on the 16 page brochure for BLACK CAPITAL promotion could have built a work at Pact, by Andrea James.  History will archive these brochures and our heirs will think how wonderfully prescient of the Sydney Festival to begin this initiative. But the work actually experienced here, does not, cannot, really bear too close a scrutiny. Just look at some of the corporate friendly annual reports produced by some of our subsidised organisations, and see how an effect of glamour and ‘edge’ is achieved with the use of spectacular photography and graphic art direction - what can be spun out of truly awful or medicre experiences. All surface, no depth. Our arts managers do need to be kept real, really. It is the quality of all the elements of the product not the look of the brochures and posters, that ought to be the crux of our valuation of these projects. I AM EORA, is not an especially interesting experience. Experience it for what it is: a local, community-pride rock concert.

I read in the program notes that the new C.E.O. of Carriageworks, Lisa Havilah, has begun a plan for the future with the Redfern urban Aboriginal cultural authorities, to present an on-going involvement at this venue in the years to come. This is an important and timely vision.

An under-achievement to begin the festival and the year. If only Ms Mnouchkine, or someone of her creative vision and professional experience with such large-scale productions (Nigel Jamieson?) had been given the brief to use this space.

Oh, well, C' est la vie.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year - 2012

This is not to be a normal post, but rather an update of the circumstances in which I will continue to write. I graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in the Acting Course (NIDA) in 1971 - yikes 41 years ago. Since then, I have worked as an actor, director and teacher of acting, both in Australia and Internationally - Principally, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. I worked as a teacher at NIDA, part time and full time for 28 years.

I have just finished a ten year stint as a full-time staff member, working with Tony Knight and his exciting, evolving and stimulating course and staff (let me not forget the gifted student artists from whom I was constantly learning, as well). I was offered a further one-year contract for 2012, but felt I could not accept its terms and since there was no offer of any negotiation, and considering the 'times' there, it was time to begin again. So, here I am free lancing alongside the rest of the performing arts community, again, as I once did. It feels familiar but re-leasing!! Daunting but exciting. I am up to acting again, directing and, of course, teaching.

I have been lucky and grateful that the New Theatre, a long time encourager of my development over nearly three decades have offered and given me a project to engage in: THE TEMPERAMENTALS by Jon Marans, as part of the 2012, Mardi Gras Festival. It opens with an exciting young cast of professionals: Doug Hansell, Daniel Scott, Mark Dessaix, Ben McIvor and Brett Rogers. February 7th to 3rd March, 2012. My talent will be up for the scrutiny by the scene that I have written about in the last four years. Really, 4 years? I, like they, can only try to do it well, my best!!!

To follow, Clare Grant, along with Su Goldfish, Paul Mattews and Mark Mitchell have invited me to work with students at the Creative Practice and Research Unit (CPRU) of the School of English, Media and Performing Arts (EMPA), in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sceiences, UNSW on a project: Staging the Text. Clare invited me to choose something, anything that I had wanted to do - but had never had the opportunity to do. So, a project that I had, dreamt of, and only dreamed about - the Nobel Prize Winner Gao Xingjian's THE OTHER SHORE - surfaced in my consciousness. I chose this play for several reasons: A) It is a Chinese play and, really, that close and important culture is hardly ever seen in the theatre in Australia; B): It has a form that I have had very little practice at - hmmmm!!!. C): Jump, and see what happens. It begins rehearsal in early February for a March showing. In truth, as I have told my invitees, I do not know what or how to do this work - a great big leap into the unknown (Aubrey Mellor is excited that I am having a go). "25 non-actors, non-dancers but with infinite (I hope) passion", I have been assured to be let loose on this territory with me and the others. The other shore indeed. I wonder what it will be.

One of my post-NIDA expeditions will be to follow on from my intense background of recent years, in discovering the way to extend to the working profession the means to continue the development and honing of their skills. In recent years, outside of the aegis of NIDA, graduate students, particularly those who have been to the BIG, CRAZY LA LA LAND of film and television, and returning to Australia, have begun to seek CLASSES. Acting Classes that they got used to attending in Los Angeles and New York to keep themselves primed and stimulated as artists. I was asked to take some of these classes. They were made up of graduates from all schools in Australia (WAPPA, QUT, VCA, ACA, NIDA etc.) and young artists from the television world who had amassed great experience but who felt not confident enough technically (or, so they thought).

Oliver Wenn, an ex-student of mine has felt the need for this stimulation and we, together have begun a fledgling idea, to try to provide an opportunity where the professional actor can have a space to meet and access to the refreshment and refurbishing of their craft and possibly art. Check out his site at We are having a season of classes beginning in January.

Similarly, Sam Strong and the Griffin Theatre Company have asked me to run a series of scenework masterclasses as part of their far sighted program for the profession in March 2012.

No longer a complete luddite (I even have a mobile phone and can send texts!), I have also set up a website where you can find out about my acting classes (individual and group) and directing work. This is a self serving blog as I am up for it. Whatever it may be. I hope you have a good New Year. I hope to very much.

I shall be back to usual business as soon as I go to the theatre next. Wish you luck. Wish me some, too?

Sincerely, Kevin Jackson.