Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Bugalugs Bum Thief

Monkey Baa presents THE BUGALUGS BUM THIEF, based on the book by Tim Winton, at the New Lend Lease Darling Theatre Quarter, Darling Harbour.

THE BUGALUGS BUM THIEF has been adapted by Sandra Eldridge, Tim McGarry and Eva Di Cesare from "the hilarious book" by Tim Winton. It is a revival of a production mounted by Monkey Baa in 2002. It is directed by John Saunders with great gusto and liberal hand; designed by Mark Thompson with a delightfully simple painted scenic set that, however, with the movable pieces looks a trifle cumbersome - big boxes on wheels (it is a touring show).

A fishing town called Bugalugs wakes one morning to find the inhabitants have had their bums stolen. It causes great discomfort and physical discombobulation to the citizens.Three young men of the town, Skeeta Anderson (Gideon Cordover), Mick Misery (Carl Batchelor) and Billy Marbles (Mark Dessaix) embark on a mission to find out who has stolen the bums and to retrieve them.

A series of encounters with members of the citizenry ensues, Mr Batchelor and Mr Dessaix play enthusiastically and engagingly a whole range of characters. Mr Batchelor especially winning as Constable Coma, and Mr Dessaix suitably possessed, especially, as Mrs Misery. Mr Cordover as the 'hero'/leader of this adventure, Skeeta, is impressive with his acrobatic enthusiasms and 110% charm and energy. A more winning performance you could not get.

All great performances are 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration I have been told, and these young artists give their all. Perspiration drips from them in bucket loads. Strangely, over the other side of Darling Harbour, a Fitness Expo was in full swing - the cardio-aerobics by this company is a great demonstration of a way to get fit - a fitness expo of great story-telling energy. The creative efforts of this team was reciprocated by the young audience with overwhelming and noisy pleasure. Children are a notoriously honest audience and this audience was absolutely in the awesome thrall of these actors, and the actors, confidently, with them, it seemed, in the easy rapport that was evidently growing from the first moments of the show to the last. Yay !!!

The adults need not worry about delight either. This week I also saw the Julia Roberts' film, MIRROR, MIRROR (which I can also enthusiastically recommend) and the post-modernist sense of ironic comedy there, is also present in this delightful book and adaptation by Monkey Baa. Laughs galore on all levels.

This is a new theatre space and Monkey Baa has possession of it. Monkey Baa has an impressive record for children's theatre entertainment and one hopes this new arrangement down in the Darling Harbour Quarter helps to sustain a permanent children's theatre in Sydney.

Long overdue, indeed.


EnTrance, created and performed by Yumi Umiumare, presented by Performance Space at Carriageworks.

Yumi Umiumare is a Japanese-Australian performing artist and is "the only Japanese Butoh Dancer in Australia and (is) the creator of provocative Butoh Cabaret and visceral dance works."

EnTrance consists of five scenes: Maze Cityscape; Cracked Mirror; Punk Medusa; Tears and Shiro Hebi (White Snake).
…each section is interconnected through a chained world' in which a new world opens up, one to the other. The logic of this chain world is surreal, abstract and internal, and sometimes very personal. The chain is about how things are unexpectedly linked on a deep emotional and mythical level.Like a moment when a person is in the kitchen doing something mundane and an anticipation or memory of horror or deep grief opens up before them, taking them from the kitchen into another world…
This reasoning, then, gives space for the five scenes to move easily from one to the other. The logic of the above explanation gives pause for the acceptance of the diversity of the pieces to make a relatively coherent whole. The physical styles cross from deceptively simple movement of walking along passages of light whilst vocalising fascinating and weird poetic/prose of disconcerting adventures with a cat and broken glasss – to a full-on punk karaoke performance – to a full on white-faced, (white-bodied) Butoh dance.

Integral to the performance is an elaborate, well conceived and executed use of Digital Media by Bambang Nurcahyadi (A.K.A BB), startling Costume Design by David Anderson, an immersive Sound Design by Ian Kitney, who is also the AV coordinator, and Lighting Design by Neil Simpson. The main collaborator on this work is Moira Finucane with assistance by Installation Artist, Naomi Ota.

In a very generous solo performance (maybe, a trifle too long) Ms Umiumare draws one to attend, through the sheer skill of her body control and a clear sense of her exactitude of focus on every element of what she has selected to show us. This includes the necessary costume and make up changes during the work - it invites us to be complicit in the creative construct of the work and induces a kind of hypnotic empathy, and for those of us new to this form of dance training (relatively), and to the 'exotic' prism of Ms Umiumare's world view, a secure breathing space to absorb and resolve what we have seen and are about to see further. Her unique EnTrance into the world about her is made available and engrossing for us 'strangers'. I was full of admiration and a kind of exhilaration.

The initial creative development began in 2007-08 and the sense of maturity and security of the work and the artistic support about Ms Umiumare is tangible with this outstanding performance with Performance Space at Carriageworks.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Sydney Theatre Company and UBS Investment Bank present LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES by Christopher Hampton from the novel by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos at the Wharf 1 Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company.

LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES was adapted by Christopher Hampton from the 1780, epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos, for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985. A play about love and revenge. A play about betrayal and cruelty. In Sydney, the Nimrod Theatre Company produced this play at the Seymour Centre in 1987 with Hugo Weaving as Le Vicomte De Valmont and Angela Punch-McGregor as La Marquise de Merteuil. 25 years later, under the direction of Sam Strong, Mr Weaving investigates the character, Valmont, and the play again, this time with  Pamela Rabe as La Marquise De Merteuil. And why would Mr Weaving, one of Australia's great acting talents, want to re-investigate this play? I would suggest another opportunity to realise the opportunities available in Mr Hampton's writing, may be the cardinal one.

Amongst others, as well, I'm sure.

LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES is a masterful adaptation and play. A lesson for any young writer, or otherwise, to observe the craft of the playwright. Observe, study, Mr Hampton's meticulous use of language, the vocabulary. The syntactical control of the musicalities of the phrase and sentence, speech structures, that reveal the sub-textual opportunities of the characters devious developments - the possible thought process - the syntax spaces being one of the keys for the actors to investigate the character machinations, and to find the wicked, wicked comedy of the play. Add the finically careful, solicitous information written in the instructions for the actors to reveal, to facilitate, and you have an exemplary primary source for interpretative creativity. There is a superstructure of magnificent clarity in this writing, that the actors and director can have, with insistent 'close reading' , to assist them to unravel and to organise the plasticity of the moments, the live adrenalin impulses that happen in the instant of acting, for transparent, great story telling. The challenge to the actor is to do justice to this work template, and it is, deceptively,enormous. If there is evidence needed that the writer is the centre of the theatre experience, here it is.Take the writer's blue print as your guide, and expand and rise to the possibilities. The challenge of all classic writing, in all its forms, of every period.

Read closely, (even out loud) note the syntax carefully:
MERTEUIL: That's enough, Vicomte.

VALMONT: You're absolutely right. Shall we go up?

MERTEUIL: Shall we what?

VALMONT:Go up. Unless you prefer, this, if my memory serves, rather purgatorial sofa.

MERTEUIL:I believe it's time you were going.


VALMONT: No. I don't think so. We made an arrangement. I really don't think I can allow myself to be taken advantage of a moment longer.

MERTEUIL: Remember I'm better at this than you are.

VALMONT: Perhaps. But it's always the best swimmers who drown. Now. Yes or no? Up to you, of course. I wouldn't dream of trying to influence you. I therefore confine myself to remarking that a no will be regarded as a declaration of war. So. One single word is all that is required.

MERTEUIL: All right.

(She looks at him evenly for a moment, almost long enough for him to conclude that she has made her answer. But she hasn't. It follows now, calm and authoritative.)


 Page 95, Faber and Faber, 1985 edition.

The play had been in the unconscious percolation of the artist for some time it seems :The novel had been a set text in Mr Hampton's studies at Oxford, where he studied French and German, and was his favourite book at the time.

"What was your method for turning the novel into a play script?"
I spent more time thinking about it than writing it. Getting the structure right was very difficult, and I drew a huge geographical chart to figure out where characters needed to be, so there was a lot of logistical shuffling. Then I needed a style to write it in. My first idea was to write it in 18th century English, so I read a lot of Smollett and Fielding -(Add Samuel Richardson, especially, CLARISSA). Then I realised it was rather distancing, so I threw that out and started to write in a contemporary way, with people saying "fuck off" and so on. Then it occurred to me to have 18th Century syntax and elaborate sentences, but in a modern style.Once I had that in my head it worked very well. The freedom of adapting a French novel with no dialogue meant I could somehow invent my own language.
Sam Strong, the director of this production, in the first of many risky choices, decided to remove it visually from its historical setting and, rather, with his Set Designer, Dale Ferguson, find a contemporary world that would illustrate, "how little the world changes",  the timelessness of the human- inhuman activity of the two protagonists of this play. A place which signalled the present privileged, those, with no need to concern themselves with the making of money, just, in the luxuriating of it. In filling time with manipulative games, having others as their play-things, as a game of childish one-up-manship.Nothing else to do!

The resolution, is a carpet muffled room and entrance hall of quasi-eighteenth century details of interior design, that one might find in a contemporary edition of Architectural Digest. Chandeliers, furniture, detail of heavy, soundless doors, key holes and keys, and space. The choices used to convey this milieu, by Mr Ferguson and Strong, are impeccable, and even more rewarding is the fact that this one set serves, without perceptible quibble, for each of the many locations, public rooms and private rooms - bedrooms(!) -  with no time consuming physical shifts of furniture or props. Here, instead, shifts in the lighting design by Hartley T A Kemp can claim much credit. Sumptuous, subtle and satisfying. Cinematic in its unconscious audience contract.

The characters of the play, are, then, clothed in garments of contemporary, conservative, but, conspicuous wealth to further re-enforce this new world, time context. It is in the cloth, the drape and gentle colourings - nothing ever vulgar, just sometimes, startling - the first dress of Ms Ricardo as Cecile. Mel Page is the Costume Designer - bouquets.

The hushed environment is intruded by 'jazzy' composition in moments of scene demarcation and counterpointed with period piano, harpsichord background to the actual rooms of the action, when necessary. The now and the then, present, and supported with aural backgrounds. Composer, Alan John; Sound Design, Steve Francis.

The next interesting director's choice is the varied dialects the actors seem to explore to create a hierarchy of status, generation and class. Speaking in a range of Australian-English choice: the over projected educated correctness of Mr Weaving in contrast to a variation of vernacular 'slang' sounds to a breathy hauteur from Ms Rabe, to the received correctness of Ms Harders and the broader sounds of the  middle class, Heather Mitchell (Mme de Volanges) and Justine Clarke (La Presidente De Tourvel), to the youngsters, Ashley Ricardo (Emilie), James Mackay (Danceny). Geraldine Hakewill (Cecile) and the servant 'Aussie' spread of Mr TJ Power (Azolan). The sounds making the most of the invented 18th century language for the Australian audience. Sounds that were recognisably our own. It worked best when consistent, the sounds having been contracted with the audience, and then maintained. Some were better at it than others.

Mr Weaving and Ms Rabe give wonderful performances and I certainly relished the maturity of their craftsmanship.Whether Mr Weaving is occasionally too energetically jolting, both vocally, and certainly in the 'dancing' of his physicalities,(I loved, what I imagined as referenced images from the paintings of Fragonard - for instance, THE BOLT AND THE STOLEN KISS) and whether the contrast of Ms Rabe's Merteuil, seated so comfortably to the unsteady walk around the furniture and to the mirror for hair adjustments, are slightly too exaggerated, is a matter of taste and conjecture.As offered character clues to the games of the two, it is intriguing to discuss.

To cast Mr Weaving as Valmont and Ms Rabe as Merteuil is a piece of bravado on the part of the director. I mean this only in the sense that the characters, as written in both sources, the novel and the play, are considerably younger than either of these actors appear. This Valmont and Merteuil are certainly representatives of the 'amortalists' of today's baby boomer generation who will not grow 'old' gracefully. That generation that believes the new 60 is the new 50, or, as in this case, that 50 is the new 40.(one of the characters in the play, Gercourt, is referred to, as 'a geriatric of 36'!!) The activities, not only the mental battles of strategy that these two friends are inordinately preoccupied with, and the sexual exploits of both these characters in the course of the story, certainly bring this novel/play into explaining some aspects of contemporary figures like, maybe, Carla Bruni and Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Belosconi.

Adele Horin in the NEWS REVIEW section of The SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, (April 21-22, 2012) writes "... We boomers want to age disgracefully, kicking our heels up, living life to the full. And that's all very possible in our 50s, 60s and 70s providing we have the money....". Valmont and Merteuil, as represented in this new setting of LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, certainly, have the money, and, the time to kill.

There is insight and some risk in these choices by Mr Strong. They do succeed for some of us, mostly. Although, in our present cultural stasis of 'political correctness' the sight, or provoked imaginative reality of this Valmont and Merteuil ravishing the bodies of Cecile (she is only just 15) and Danceny (of about 20) may, for some, ring bells of alarmed distaste of paedophillia. Just how remote these people are to the world of the Sydney Theatre Cmpany audience could be a matter of one's ability to suspend disbelief. I wonder, how much I was glad to revisit a great play, or relished the casting, that  carried me through some of the production choices, that I might otherwise have been unhappy about? I loved the inventive period adjustment to the duel scene between Danceny and Valmont - the growing tension relentlessly tangible. I thought the closing overlaid images of the wreckage of the lives of all the characters was artistry and craft of a thoughtful and theatrical director. I certainly enjoyed myself.

The best performance, at my visit, came from Justine Clarke as La Presidente De Tourvel. Her agonies of love and guilt, the struggle with herself over the crushing weight of the sexual allure and a possible sin filled love entanglement with Valmont was anguish making, and delicately woven.The beige/pink dress, the tight hair arrangement, all the given circumstances of characterisation were put into action for audience belief.The speed of Ms Clarke's thought and language usage was exhilarating and all the more involving because of the vertiginous spiral of blessed pain she revealed.(Temptation being built into being a Catholic, of course. A kind of blesssed gift from God!!) A force that was hopeless for her to try to resist. Mr Weaving's Valmont was duly devastated and the surprised awakening to a true love experience made palpably truer because of the conviction of Ms Clarke's fragile Tourvel.These two actors together had a powerful veracity.Powerful, and, ultimately justifying of the tragedy of Mr Strong's final stage picture of heaped bodies and aghast witnesses.

The control and confidence that Mr Strong seemed to give all these actors is best reflected in the magnificent work of two actors in smaller roles. Ashley Ricardo in two fleeting scenes with Mr Weaving as the courtesan Emilie, makes both a physical impression of beauty, but also of textual perspicacity in clear and urgent story telling.Body and mind, voice, all servants to the task given her by Mr Hampton - a real chemistry with Mr Weaving. Jane Harders as Mme De Rosemonde, gave, in her small contributions accurate and indelible readings.Not a word, pause or expression of range and pace were not useful in moving the story forward and /or revealing character. The short scene at the end of act one between Rosemonde and the distressed Tourvel became one of the key scenes in my experience of the production, Ms Harders' laser technique highlighting Mr Hampton's erudition:
ROSEMONDE: ... None of this is a surprise to me. The only thing which might surprise one is how little the world changes. ....

Rosemonde's knowing triumph over Merteuil, in the last moment of the play, the stare, a knock out of silent acting, embodied with power. Indeed, Merteuil may have met the player that can trump her hand. Rosemonde has, of course, being playing much longer. She is, supposedly, a lively, intelligent, sympathetic 84 - having been round 'the mulberry bush' many times before, no doubt.

The depth of talent throughout this company is rewarding indeed.

This production is a very good night in the theatre. The aggravated argument of social relevancy of the play, that is sometimes bandied about can be subdued by the expertness and elegance of execution of this production. To watch good actors practice their gifts and talents on such a well crafted play, with accurate and thoughtful production values, may well be enough. For my 80 odd dollars, it was.

At the end of the original production in 1985-7, of this comically cruel and culturally remote play, it finished thus:

MERTEUIL: ... ... I suggest our best course is to continue with the game.

(Her words seem to exert a calming effect on her companions: and indeed, they resume playing. The atmosphere is serene. Very slowly, the lights fade; but just before they vanish, there appears on the back wall, fleeting but sharp, the unmistakable silhouette of the guillotine.)
A sensational image that wrapped the world of 1780 France into a frightening perspective. For us in 1987, a hindsight, invaluable for us, watching.The revolution was just around the corner for this class. The play seemed to snap into a socially meaningful context. The 'greed is good' mantra of the 1980's would have its "cum-uppance". It was not just a clever, amusing adaptation of a French novel. Maybe, if this production faded with an image of the stock market index plunging, on the back wall, it may have had the same impact. A revolution just around the corner!! Another "cum-uppance".

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Hampton, Weaving, Rabe, Clarke, Mitchell, Harders Ferguson, Strong. - names enough to capture my money and time.

Do go.

The Great Lie of the Western World

Cathode Ray Tube present THE GREAT LIE OF THE WESTERN WORLD by Alistair Powning with Michael Booth at the Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst.

THE GREAT LIE OF THE WESTERN WORLD is presented in an acting style that I would describe as an attempt at realistic-naturalism. A kind of expression of minimal states of body and voice. The emotional intensities are scaled down but true. In this intimate space at the Tap Gallery it works well. It might be best used for camera. The four actors of this company are, still, persuasive in their efforts. I was interested in their technique. The acting is the best of the night in the theatre.

A couple, Simon (Alistair Powning) and Fiona (Kate Skinner) living and saving for the ordinary stabilities of a contemporary life are visited by an old friend, Emerson (Michael Booth) and Paige (Jessica Donoghue). Emerson "unpicks" the couple's "familiar domestic existence, forcing (them) to confront a series of existential questions." Or, a mate, with sociopathic tendencies, turns up at a mate's house and attempts to help him retreat from his gambling addiction. Again. Who needs help the most? The resident or the visitor?

Who is Emerson , really? A real person or a surreal vision come to guide this man to health and safety? To bring Simon safely back into the forgiving arms of Fiona and then buggering off into the ether with Paige, who may be an escort or prostitute or spirit companion to Emerson?

The great lie of the western world it seems is the idea that we are free. Free to choose what we want et cetera, et cetera. The playwriting has the formula of domesticity and ordinary exchanges in hand, "Do you want some cereal?" How about a drink?" "Let's dance." but the philosophical importances of the writers' pre-occupations still require much more subtlety to be palatable. In several scenes, conversations take on such unrealities of sledge-hammering indoctrination as to be primitive and objectionable within the given circumstances of the characters lives. It is really a credit to the acting belief and skill of the performers that it almost circumvents the need to vent about the writing, whilst sitting there.

Cathode Ray Tube is a collective that produces their own work. It is great that they are doing it. No Director is credited. I reckon an outside eye might assist in bringing constructive criticism to the fairly primitive drafting of the text. It may have potential. At the moment this play is not really ready for discerning audiences.

Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains - Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

This is a famous quote from a great thinker, quoted in the program for the Cathode Ray Tube performance. Now, how do we translate that to be the basis, the thrust of a play? THE GREAT LIE OF THE WESTERN WORLD at the Tap Gallery has not managed to do it.


Friday, April 20, 2012

The George Melies Project

THE GEORGE MELIES PROJECT, presents 8 films by George Melies with a music score by Phillip Johnston at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta.

This year Martin Scorsese presented a homage to one of the great pioneers of the cinema art form, the Frenchman, George Melies, in his film HUGO - a 3D construction of some startling visual beauty, if narratively it was ponderous and boring. However, this was not my first introduction to Mr Melies' work. Some of you may remember that in 1956 Michael (Mike) Todd produced Jules Verne's novel AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. In a prologue to that film we were shown another Jules Verne film adaptation made in 1902 : A TRIP TO THE MOON (Le Voyage Dans La Lune). When, then, I saw HUGO and saw A TRIP TO THE MOON featured, I was nostalgically transported to a memory of film making, introduced years ago at the Paris Cinema opposite Hyde Park,at the top of Liverpool Street - it was the theatre where Jim Sharman and Rex Cramphorn set up the ill fated Paris Theatre Company, in the seventies, a three play season that only lasted through two presentations (PANDORA'S CROSS by Dorothy Hewett; VISIONS by Louis Nowra), alas.

George Johnston, who confessed on Sunday, at the performance at Riverside, a love for the silent film era, has composed a score for eight of George Melies films. He did this in 1997, pre-empting the curiosity that some of us may have had provoked by the Scorsese HUGO, by some 16 years! A Jazz Quartet, led by Mr Johnston with his soprano saxophone, and made up further with Darryl Pratt on vibraphone, Matt McMahon on piano and Cameron Undy on double bass, create a soundtrack of witty and gay support. Lovingly supportive of the image and story of the films.

The Melies' film technique and imaginative invention is a delight to watch, enhanced by the composition and playing of this orchestra. The viewing of this program of 8 films, is only about an hour and a quarter and is the right amount of length to sustain a curious layman's fascination in the history of film making. A fixed camera is sat in front of a proscenium shaped stage and the mechanisms of a turn of the century vaudeville theatre - trapdoors, moving slotted scenery, wobbly painted canvas perspectives of imaginative worlds, and physical contraptions, fly ropes, combined with the dance and acrobatic skills of the performers of the time - are contrived to tell a crude but cogent narrative adventure. Amusing, and in its time, probably, hugely awe inspiring in the real sense of awe. THE MERMAID (19O4), THE DAMNATION OF FAUST (1903), THE MERRY FROLICS OF SATAN(1906), and the epic VOYAGE ACROSS THE IMPOSSIBLE (1905) are today, still, awesome. For not only is the fixed camera recording shown but Melies began experimenting with hand colour tinting, fade in and out, super impositions of physical images, one on top of each other, but also incorporations of vivid animation to create totally imaginative transporting worlds - Walt Disney and Tim Burton eat your heart out, or thank your predecessor (?)

My personal favorites were a short sketch on musical composition called THE MELOMANIAC (1903) where the talking head of the conductor is thrown up onto a music chart to represent the notes of a composition on the drawn lines on the music paper chart; and the diet industry satire, HYDROTHERAPIE FANTASTIQUE, which reveals increasingly horrifying and hilarious mechanisms to achieve weight loss - reality television could be even more sensational, if they took a gander at Mr Melies approach to that industry.

Well worth catching.

I understand that there is a an upcoming performance at RANDWICK TOWN HALL on May 12th. In the mean time on the DVD, the prologue to Mike Todd's production AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, showing A TRIP TO THE MOON, has a different but delightful soundtrack to charm you and tempt you to get to Randwick.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Breaker Morant

BREAKER MORANT by Kenneth G. Ross, presented by The Troupe Theatre at the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre, sponsored by the Australian Defence Credit Union (ADCU).

BREAKER MORANT by Kenneth G. Ross, A Play in Two Acts was first presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company in 1978. Bruce Beresford adapted the play for a film which was released in 1980 to much acclaim, starring Edward Woodward as "the Breaker" with Bryan Brown, Lewis Fitzgerald, Jack Thompson and many other important actors of the time. The film won 10 AFI Awards and the screenplay, using this text by Mr Ross, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Indeed, the principal joy of this production of the play led by Director Gareth Boylan, is the direct, gloriously familiar and sturdy structure of the court room drama form of the writing. That there is drama, and that one knows what is actually happening moment to moment from the beginning, in the middle, and through to its end, so incontrovertibly clearly and cogently, is such a recently rare experience in Sydney Theatre going, that it felt almost like new form of dramatic literature. I enjoyed myself immensely - I have never seen the film and had no comparison of experience of the subject matter. I should add that this sense of security was principally emanated from the writing, for on the opening night there was a great deal of either nervousness or unpreparedness apparent from the actors - memory and line fluffs galore.

On a towering wooden slatted set design with wooden tables and chairs, giving the impression of a hastily convened field court room, with the actors dressed in authentic looking uniform/costumes (Set and Costume Design, Jessica Martin), the style of production, with the actors seated chorus like along back benches, aims for court room pragmatism and efficiency. The lighting by Teegan Lee, is atmospheric and targeted - everything is well focused.

Mark Lee as the Defence, Major Thomas, gives a terrific, very well delineated performance of an efficient officer with a growing sense of the staining of his personal integrity in what becomes more and more, an unfair place of argument of proof for his clients: that his clients are being made the 'scape goats' for the gain of political face by the British Government with the German authorities. James Lugton as the Prosecuting Officer, Major Bolton, is also deft in his ability to humanise the writing that is fairly straight forward in its demands - based on historic figures, the research outside the text, would be invaluable to flesh out the writing. Chris Miller is also especially interesting in the revelation of the instinctive ill disciplined soldier, accused, Lt Peter Handcock, struggling against his nature, to behave properly within the obvious flaws of the military court.

Some of the acting company is made up with some that have military background but little acting experience. Richard Mallet, then, as Captain Taylor gave a competent telling of his responsibility. Andrew George, an ex-soldier, now actor, in the title role as Harry 'Breaker" Morant, does not really have the level of expertise to pull this central role off and although there is an apparent will, not enough technical ability to reveal the character contradictions of class, education and personal ethics and instincts of the man. The 'romantic' conundrum of the 'larrikin' versus the 'poet' , drover, horseman, soldier is not diverse or illustrated with enough range by the actor to deliver the 'folk hero' that the "Breaker' has become. As the central figure of the play Mr George merely gets by. The strain this causes the other actors, sometimes, shows.

Despite the obvious insecurities of the performance I saw, there was a supportive and professionally, relatively unflustered discipline to the proceedings of the production, I was never really distracted from the drama of the story enough to be disconnected or deflated. I had a very good time.

Next day I attended the National Theatre broadcast from London, at the Chauvel Cinema, of SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER by Oliver Goldsmith. And, given the obvious oddities of broadcasting for the intimacy of the cinema, a production scaled to a live performance for the large Olivier auditorium (noisy, seemingly, in reception, in the intimacy of the cinema, shouted) it was a rollicking and very entertaining afternoon. It was also great to see the play - a silly but robust romantic comedy about class and mistaken identities sorted out progressively over two and half hours or so - not the sort of frivolity countenanced on our professional stages at the moment!!!!!

But, besides that, what struck me, especially, was the applause and cheering from the audience in the London theatre at the conclusion during the curtain calls. There was such an expression of excitement and evident abundant joy. I cannot recollect, with the present programming in our Sydney theatres a similar explosion of thanks at the end of a performance for a very long time, besides the clique-led bravura at opening nights at the STC and Belvoir. Maybe, AUGUST-OSAGE COUNTY, is an exception? This element of audience pleasure seems to be, relatively, absent from our theatre going experience. And, although exuberant joy was not the overwhelming aftermath of attending BREAKER MORANT at the Reginald Theatre last Friday - melancholic elation, perhaps - there was, despite the 'problems' of divergent technique skills, a level of comprehensive enjoyment that was satisfying. Truly, I would attend BREAKER MORANT again, than ever, EVERY BREATH, or, as some subscribers have told me, dispiritedly, BURIED CITY.

A production and type of play for contemplation, beyond the issues of the subject matter. The old fashioned pleasure of going to the theatre and leaving reasonably pleased, and a feeling of reasonable respect for my patronage.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lord of the Flies

New Theatre presents LORD OF THE FLIES, adapted by Nigel Williams from the novel by William Golding.

LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding, a Nobel prize Winner for Literature, was written in 1954, and has become one of the most studied and popular novels ever written. It is still part of the school syllabus. The work has been made into film, notably by Peter Brook in 1963 and by Harry Hook in 1990. This play adaptation was completed under commission from the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1995 by Nigel Williams, he himself a novelist and playwright. This version of the play text was seen at The SBW Stables Theatre several years ago.

LORD OF THE FLIES concerns a group of young pre-pubescent children from the British Public School system who have survived a plane crash on a deserted Island. It is an allegory concerning the nature of the human species and we observe the development of rival 'gangs' and their need for dominance to find a way to survive, where brute force cowers reason into submission. This story does not develop romantically and becomes a warning to us about the thin veneer of civilisation and how quickly it can be ripped down. Golding, had survived the horrors of World War II, witnessing the war in Europe and the affect of the Atomic bombs on Japan. The lord of the flies is the biblical equivalent of Beelzebub, the devil. The devil in the novel is represented by the fly blown head of a slaughtered pig.

This production by Anthony Skuse is moderately successful. Additions of symbolic masks, worn now and again by some of the boys, and the tendency to use allegorical means to represent aspects of crucial elements of the play, for instance the substitution with a bloodied human body shape for the pig's head, the lord of the flies, creates confusion to the lucidity of the play's story and meaning. The direct storytelling of the novel and the play adaptation is interfered with, with these unnecessary production diversions.A case where less maybe more. For example the act one climax of Simon's (Stephen Lloyd-Coombs) hallucination was completely undermined with a plethora of extraneous artistic offers and one was left bewildered about what had happened, especially what had been said. Simpler guidance in the directorial means, trusting the text rather than the temptation to present 'post dramatic' gestures of imagery and over wrought emotional choices from the performer, would have been more supportive to the experience of the play.

The strong suit of Mr Skuse, of being able to elicit coherent and mostly satisfactory performances from, what looks like, generally, a fairly inexperienced company of performers, is in evidence in abundance. Seton Pollock as Jack, Samuel Rushton as Piggy, Andrew Ryan as Ralph and Stephen Lloyd-Coombs as Simon (despite the confused mess of the end of the act one speech) give clear and affecting performances. Each of the other actors, also, with continued concentrated exploration of their responsibilities to the acting of the piece, should gain even further sharpness in character delineation and dramaturgical clarity, for the company of actors, although, apparently a little insecure line wise on the opening night, had all the hallmarks of a confident foundation from Mr Skuse, for their work to grow into an emotional dynamic experience for the audience.

The Set Design (David Marshall-Martin) is made up of two simple raised platforms and pool of water, is effectively lit for both dramatic and atmospheric story telling by Sara Swersky. The Sound design by Alistair Wallace is very useful (except the thunder cues!!!) and adds much to the subliminal belief to the events unfolding.

This LORD OF THE FLIES at the New Theatre should mature further to give school audiences a most interesting source of discussion concerning their study of this great novel.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Story of Mary McLane by Herself

Griffin Theatre Company, in association with Malthouse Theatre, Merrigong Theatre Company and Performing Lines, present Ride On Theatre's THE STORY OF MARY MACLANE BY HERSELF by Bojana Novakovic with Tim Rogers, after the writings of Mary Maclane at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

RIDE ON THEATRE is a company co-founded by Bojana Novakovic and Tanya Goldberg. The work that the company has presented over the past few years has mostly been curated from interesting international writers (WAY TO HEAVEN, AN OAK TREE, DEBRIS, FAMILY STORIES etc), engaged in highly important social and historical issues. Challenging and worldy in its focus ( - maybe self-consciously). THE STORY OF MARY MACLANE BY HERSELF is the first new Australian work that I have seen from them. Ms Novakovic writing and acting, Ms Goldberg, Directing.

From the program notes:
"Our initial encounter with Mary MacLane was brief, a small segment from her first book. But its power was unmistakable: immediate, direct and bizarre, it left us struck with adoration, awe, and an odd sense of kinship. She may have been writing over a hundred years ago, but her use of language was original, startlingly contemporary, and shamelessly revealing. A teenager from 1902 writing of things that mattered to us, (barely out of our teens) in 2004."

"More than one hundred years ago. THE STORY OF MARY MACLANE set America aflame. A shocking confessional from a 19-year-old girl who refused to succumb to the corset-bound prudery of her age, Mary's scandalous memoir broke all the rules - and sold over 100,000 copies."
A dapper gentlemen (Tim Rogers) dressed like a poet of the late 19th century (more like a song and music player in a vaudeville music hall - Costume and Set Design by Anna Cordingley), with two other musicians, Andy Baylor and Mark Harris, introduce and conduct us with musical song comment through the trials and tribulations of Mary MacLane who appears on this faux music hall/vaudeville stage for our delectation:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I assume you've heard of the First World War? ' The War to End All Wars'? I'm sure you are familiar with Rockefeller? Carnegie? Pulitzer, Poe and Twain? Well, even before these men were busy being famous, ladies and gentlemen - Roosevelt, Edison and Clarke - inventing all sorts of material contraptions and money conceptions, let me tell you ... there lived a woman the likes of which you have never before happened upon. The likes of which you have not met in your time.

And I say this NOT because she is abnormal and can tame a tiger, NOT because she is strange looking or contorts herself into a box, NOT because she can make some magic cards appear or disappear ... No ladies and gentlemen, here is a woman distinctly portraying the wail of the human heart!"
Dressed in period underwear with scruffy coiffure Mary MacLane (Bojana Novakovic) appears before us, revealed, with the drawing of theatre curtains, sprawled on a chair, with grooming implements, and she addresses us, after acknowledgement of out presence:

I, of womankind and certain years will now set forth as full and frank a portrayal as I am able of myself, Mary MacLane, for whom the world contains not a parallel.

I am convinced of this, for I am odd.
I am distinctly original, innately and in development.
I have in me a quite unusual intensity of life.
I can feel.
I have a marvelous capacity for misery.
I am broad-minded.
I am a genius.
I am a philosopher of my own good peripatetic school.
I care neither for right nor for wrong. My conscience is nil.
My brain is a conglomeration of aggressive versatility.
I have reached a truly wonderful state of miserable morbid unhappiness.
I have attained an egoism that is rare indeed.
I have gone into the deep shadows.
All this constitutes oddity. .....

.... I am not good. I am not virtuous. I am not sympathetic. I am not generous. I am merely, and above all, a creature of intense passionate feeling. I feel everything. That is my genius. It burns me like fire.
In this portrayal bits of my heart will be broken off and given away. .... ... Welcome to my little old life tragedy. "Thus speaks, spoke, Mary Maclane. Then she continues: " I grew up in Butte, Montana..." A song outlining the highlights of that place, with the auto-biographical recollections of Mary's endurance, follows.

What is interesting, and, for me the clue to this work is, the actor, Ms Novakovic does not assume an American dialect that might be applicable to Butte, Montana, but talks to us as Mary, in Ms Novakovic's, particular Australian dialect, all through the night. It is the 'voice' of Bojana Novakovic. Later, in the midst of heaping confrontations in the 'adventures' of Mary's life, Mary complains, still in the voice/sound of Bojana, of the the play and the actor playing her:

My words have been taken, without my permission, and moulded into an insignificant theatrical trick, to suit the petty tastes of intellectuals. ...You see only an impression. Worse! An impression of an impression impersonated by an impostor. One who has never had her soul hurled into the public sphere and laid bare for all to scrutinise and laugh at. She is a stupid, pompous, pretentious actress." Mary storms off stage, and returns with a bag belonging to Bojana, that is, Ms Novakovic, and we are introduced to the personal diary of the 'pretentious' actress herself : "Bojana Novakovic, 2011. Twentieth of April. .... 

The identification that Ms Novakovic and Ms Goldberg had with the work of Mary MacLane, as relatively young artists, as told to us in their notes to the production, is revealed. They, as contemporary artists, have always carried the lofty possibilities and responsibilities of their contribution to the conversations of their society (in Sydney, Australia, the World), and were unafraid to trumpet it (RIDE ON THEATRE COMPANY demonstrates that self belief) despite the hearsay and sometimes critical denigration of those about them. They are, demonstrably, intelligent, gifted and uncompromising and, so, to the status quo about them, challenging (difficult), stupid. For Ms Novakovic and Goldberg, Mary MacLane represents a type of heroic role model, an example of the frustration of being a clever woman in the world, even today, still, in 2012. Novakovic and Goldberg to some are unpleasant, mad, bad and dangerous to know because they dare to espouse a view of the world that their brothers and patriarchs have done, without impunity, all of history. And whereas, those brothers and patriarchs have been rewarded for their 'effrontery', not so the female of the species who have had the temerity to call a spade a spade, and dig into the full experiences of being alive in the venal world around them as freely or as honestly as their fraternal artists have done. And such is the confrontation to their outspoken position, even today, that self-doubts and fears of being neurotic and narcissistic, are real concerns (different degrees of intensity, perhaps) for these two women as it was for Mary MacLane, and others of their like-wise  'femaleness', that dare to think, speak and do something about it.

That this production can be received by different parts of the audience as inspiring, liberating, confusing, ridiculous, or boring may rest in the preparedness of enlightenment we personally are able to admit too, with figures like Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolf and other outspoken  'feminists' - Novakovic and Goldberg, for instance.

Try THE STORY OF MARY MACLANE BY HERSELF and be tested as to where you might stand in benign understanding.

However, another reason other than the 'political' one for the difficulty of accessing this work in production; for all of us to get it, together, as it unravels, is, possibly, that the dramaturgy is almost to self knowledgeable and not sufficiently clear for the audience. It feels severely obfuscated and, so, not enough clue is given to the double 'act' (trick) that is going on, early enough, or, consistently enough for it to be transparent for the audience to enjoy the conceit of the work. This is both, in the writing and the performing. The personal journey of Ms Novakovic and her gradual revelation that this work is not only a detailing of the historical angst of the 1902 Mary MacLane, but, also a parallel contemporary expression of her own, a young clever (feisty) woman's experience in April 2012 - today! - is not easily absorbed while witnessing it.

It could also be in the technical emotional expression of Ms Novakovic that seems in performance, to intellectually hover about the decision on whether to indulge the doing of it. Rather, I feel, she should just dive deep into the embodied experiencing of it, in all the moments. It seemed to be restrained in its manifestation and so in delivery, denies us the full force of the angst, pain of the two women, Mary and Bojana. We can see something is going on, but there is, almost, an intellectual, deliberate restraint from the human/animalistic expression of it. The performance is, then, for some, not wholly convincing or even cogent.

Tim Rogers as the guide and counterpoint to the evening, is charming and suitably joyful, deliberately aloof from the convolutions of Mary. The musical arrangements are all reminiscent of a vaudeville style that transports to the 'fakery' and yet delight of the period of the original time sphere. The music composition is nostalgic and fitting to the chicanery of the writing intentions.

THE STORY OF MARY MACLANE BY HERSELF is then flawed, but, immensely invigorating, despite that. It certainly should lead to very volatile discussion and disagreement after. What theatre should be, then. Something that stays with you vitally, well after the lights have dimmed and the theatre emptied.

Every woman needs to deal with it- will delight in it. Every contemporary man must deal with it. Go see for yourself.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Every Breath

Belvoir presents EVERY BREATH by Benedict Andrews in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir Theatre, Surry Hills.

Dear Diary,

EVERY BREATH: To summarise. I admired the actors and creative crew very much. I thought the play was poor. I thought it was hardly a second draft. I am stupefied that it is on the Belvoir stage at this stage of its development. I cannot admire the director's efforts on and about this work.

I am very, very upset for all those first play writers who don't even get read let alone staged.

Can I suggest to the Belvoir Artistic Team that the Jonathan Gavin's BANG, which your company curated for the Downstairs Theatre a year or so ago would be a wonderful choice, particularly, if the same Director (a woman) and Actors could be called upon to retrieve it. I am certain that many other artists out there could similarly guide the Curatorial Committee at Belvoir to other plays worth time and budgetary attention as well, for the Upstairs as well as the Downstairs Theatre.

If you care to read on, do. I was stimulated to such a state, as I see other writers/bloggers have been, that there is some indulgence going on below. It has been a kind of therapy.

EVERY BREATH is a new Australian play by the highly lauded theatre director Benedict Andrews. It is his first solo play as a writer to be professionally produced. We did see a joint playwriting effort in 2009, MOVING TARGET at the Opera House Studio, a work compounded with Marius Von Mayenburg for the Adelaide Festival of that year with Mr Andrews and a troop of Australian artists. We have also seen over the years Mr Andrews adaptations and appropriations of other writer's work. Works from highly esteemed artists: Shakespeare, Chekhov, White, Albee, Calderon de la Barca, Beaumarchais, Strauss, Crimp, Kane, Koltes, Beckett, Churchill, Williams etc. Plays used as 'tools' for his aesthetic vision and overview of the theatre as an ART form - if not always an apparent shared conversation with a general audience, and least of all, as an entertainment.

Jason Blake, the critic for the major newspaper in Sydney, begins his review of EVERY BREATH (the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday, March 30th, 2012) by saying: "For my money, Benedict Andrews is one of the most exciting theatrical talents to emerge from this country in the past 20 years. Plenty of other people do to..." He experienced the writing , "wince worthy passages", and the direction of EVERY BREATH as "hard going" and found "here (the) cast uncertain, unconvinced and occasionally unsure ....with a problematic Set Design...". So wondrous was the event on opening night that Mr Blake concludes by saying: "Most galling of all is that EVERY BREATH gives those who think Sydney's theatre scene is being held hostage by auteur-wankers a clip full of told-you-so ammunition. You can hear the dinner party braying already: ‘The Emperor has no clothes!’" (by digression, I think it is marvelous that Mr Blake in the one review gets the opportunity to praise and [perhaps] damn Mr Andrews - hilarious! Who needs Ms Simmons and her SHIT ON YOUR PLAY blog, when the mainstream have taken the lead so unexpectedly, so spleenishly, so splendiferously?!) Even Dianna Simmonds in her usually more decorously opinionated theatre blog, STAGE NOISE gets into a similar act - a hive has been stirred, indeed!

Mr Blake obviously does not get to a dinner party very often, work commitments, I presume, because, what is amusing is that not only the diners at the dinner party tables but the other hoi polloi who may have their dinner at the Uni, McDonalds or Chinatown cheap eateries or coffee shops in the suburbs, or hovels in the cities (even subscribers at their Book club meetings), have been, if not "braying", suggesting, discussing (?), yes, discussing, that, despite what the critics and theatre company season curators have been telling us for the past few years of one of the “most exciting theatrical talents to emerge from this country in the past 20 years” that the Emperor does not have any clothes, for years. For years. And years and years - but, not 20? Surely, not? Not 20!

Mr Andrews on Playwriting:
In 2010 I spent the European summer in Hamburg and was preparing several upcoming productions. One afternoon, I put the directing preparations aside and began to write what would become my first play since earlier efforts at school and university. I didn't set out to write a play. I'd been working on a volume of poetry and perhaps that occupation helped to pry open a long-bolted door in my imagination. The writing came upon me like a fever, and I wrote two plays in quick succession. The first is LIKE A SUN, a sprawling epic about an alpha male and the collapse of his world. Before that play had cooled, I began to write a second play: EVERY BREATH. I wanted to write something more deliberately condensed and crystalline after LIKE A SUN's relentless digressions. EVERY BREATH is more of a thriller, a chamber piece…
One presumes that Mr Andrews then gave the Artistic Team at Belvoir a copy. They read it. They read other proffered options and in a season of 14 choices felt that this was ready to go straight to the main stage for the subscribers and the world at large, a must have and must see. A World premiere from Benedict Andrews. I can imagine that for this artistic team, reading this manuscript must have been like watching a script the rise like a sun (a miracle of nature), and they, the artistic team, were left heaving with every breath from the excitement of this play, that was, possibly, an alpha and omega of theatre literature genius and before they cooled down from that fever of their insight, booked it, before their world collapsed (what if the Old Fitz Tamaramas had snaffled it?), 'bagsed' it before anyone else could. Belvoir at the cutting edge of theatre practice still, again. For, otherwise,"we may end up with the worst tendency of Australia culture making - self-congratulation masking lazy work and appropriation." (quote from interview with Benedict Andrews - Belvoir web site.)

For from the subscription brochure spin: "EVERY BREATH is an extraordinary debut written by a theatre-maker at the top of his game. Darkly funny, sweetly eerie, and strangely familiar. This is what happens when prosperity gives us the license to see the world as we want to see it."

Indeed, this is what happens when prosperity gives us the license to see the world as we want to see it. Prosperous Belvoir. 'Cool' Belvoir.
To see the world as we want to see it.
We want to see it.
To see it.
We see.
Want to see.

Just what did the Artistic Team see? Certainly, it seems, the play's authorship, the name of Mr Andrews. Reading the text, thanks to the relentless assiduous vision and practice of Currency Press, there is not much to go on that I, as an avid reader of play texts, would have found to attract my attention and declare:

A Short Play: THE CRUELTIES OF THE CURATORIAL COMMITTEE - Some Darkly Funny Moments In Time.

A small room. Coffee cups, wooden paddles ,old sugar packets etc.Bottles of water. A single new play play text on the table, with the author's name clearly in view. Some coffe rings dried on it as well.Stacks and stacks of unread manuscripts around the walls head height or more. Four iPhones and a iPad or two, lit up and engaged now and again by all.

Three men and a woman. 'Cool' clothes that look as if they have been found in an op shop, but really bought from a top of the line fashion store - with the look: grunge, but expensive.Skinny pants, woollen patterned vests over primary coloured shirts, sleeves rolled up.collars skew whiff. Beards and scruffy hair for the men.Well groomed for the lady. Heavy, black spectacle frames, each more 'speccy' than the other, as if the men are in a competition for the 'coolest' look, one with clear lenses and one a set of groovy sunglasses. Other props, to allow actors to reveal 'secondary' activity - their subliminal attitudes. Only one of them dares to smoke.Ashes into a satchell bag.

A: "EVERY BREATH is ready for next season. Don't you all agree?"


B: " Let's get further drafts, before we go forward, remember the mess we got ourselves into with that play by that Russian guy last year, in January, last year?"

A: "Which one?"

C: "Can't pronounce the Russian name..... Gawking , I think."

B :"Yeah. Ummm .... Anyway, remember the difficulties of rehearsing an incomplete second, or was it third draft?"


A: (With determination) ".But, you know, EVERY BREATH, it feels good, it is strangely familiar. You know, all that trendy Greek myth reference shit. It makes you all tingly. You kind of feel smart, hearing those strange yet familiar names, don't ya?."

D. "Sweetly eerie. That's the tone you get when you hear all that old Greek shit."

A: "I just loved that movie about the 300."

D: "Nah, TROY was better. It had Brad Pitt and that blonde Irish actor... umm? (BEAT) Great if we could get them to be in this.

A: "Draw the young crowd."

D: "Be good for bums on seats."

A: " It adds such depth."

B: "Reminds me of Duncan from Adelaide's stuff."


B: "You know, Neil had some of his plays downstairs and some of it has been at Old Fitz."

A: (Vaguely) "Oh, yeah."

C: "There is a spareness -"

A: "Perhaps, Beckettian depths?"

C: "And a puzzlement of possible menace -"

A: "Perhaps, the sinisterisms of Pinter?"

D: "There is a lot of sexual tension and abuse."

A: "Just love Sarah Kane, don't you?"

C:"And surreal conversations."

A: (Scrambling here for suitable references) " Churchill and Ionesco."

D: "Who?"

B: "But it is thin, fairly thin on the page, don't you think?".

C: "I s'pose, but when 'Benno' moves it from the page to the stage as the director - maybe the clarity is going to be in the juxtaposed post dramatic imagery, [*see my post on GROSS UND KLEIN for explanation] that will pull it all into a crisper dynamic. He must see it with that kind of visual depth. You've got to see this text with the usual visual imagery that 'Benno" conjures up. He must see it in his head, he wrote it after all.WE just can't imagine it."

A: "And 'Benny' is great at that - remember THE WAR OF THE ROSES?"

D: "I don't like Shakespeare much. I didn't see it."

B: "You're kidding, right?"

D : (Searching to cover his faux pas) Oh, that's right I was still living in Melbourne then. Couldn't afford to come up. Heard it was fully sick." (D answers Iphone. Improvise restaurant date conversation).

C:"Seeing it on the stage will be different".

B :"He is directing it as well, isn't he?"

A :"Who else could bring this stuff to the stage?"

B : "Search me."

C: "OK. Good."


B: "But, what about those last nine or ten pages of monologues?"


B: "From my experience with new writer's, I would've thought that the character monologues for Leo, Lydia, Olivia, Oliver and Chris at the end of the text as we have it, were still a writer's exercise of character stream-of-consciousness, to find the voice of the individuals, to create the dramatic scenes."


A:"I guess. ... Is that a writing technique?"


B: "Benedict is going to get us further drafts, right? ... Or, not?"

C: "Hey, the post dramatic imagery that 'Benno" has put in, with each of the other characters masturbating on stage to accompany each speech will be sensational, trust me. Specially the totally outrageous coup with Olivia fingering herself while chanting "Chris", Chris a hundred or so times till she comes. It will have a dynamic affect on the audience. They will never forget those speeches. Never."

B : "I'm not sure. It'll really depend who the chick is playing Olivia, I reckon. She'll have to be really hot."

A: "Don't be a Cassandra."

B: Ok, if the siren call of Benedict and EVERY BREATH is so strong to you others, I'll back off with my silly warnings, ah, worries."


B: " What would I know? I probably would have agreed with most of the critics in the 1950's that WAITING FOR GODOT was a lot of rubbish."


B : "Yeah, I would've. So, forget about me and follow your own fates."

D: (Putting down iPhone) "Let's do it. I've gotta pick up the dragon up for dinner. Traffic will be shitty."

C : "The furies won't get us. ... Joke. .... Remember before we were Belvoir we were Nimrod St and Nimrod, from the Greeks, is a great and daring hunter and will protect us from the enemy."

A: "God, sometimes you're wanker."

D: "EVERY BREATH is no Trojan Horse. ... Got'cha! ... Come on I gotta get to the chariot to get to dinner through the fucking traffic or she'll kill me."



Leo, the writer and father figure of the family group, at the end of a long story, telling about his first published work: "I always regretted letting it be published in the university magazine. I was too desperate. But I'd give anything to possess the spontaneity again. To taste that again. To have no reputation. No name. To feel the future in front of me like a bright meadow or an open sea…" Further, from the Writer/Director's program notes: "Working on great plays with great actors is what I value most, and a source of constant inspiration and renewal... All these experiences in the theatre inform my writing, but the task of writing is solitary and singular. It might stem from an overheard conversation or a nagging image. Then, I have the sense that somewhere inside me is a room or a field, and in that room or on that field is a person or a knot of people and I need to listen to what they say and make a transcript. The play grows from this" Earlier: "When I was writing the play, I never thought about what it was about per se." There speaks the writer. And, I mean Benedict, of course, not Leo.

The published text is a puzzle. The production further compounds and underlines it. "In the theatre, I want to experience the strangeness, complexity and fragility of life" says Mr Andrews. In the theatre we, the audience, do too. And all we need are some clues to translate it. That is the Director's task, usually. An architectural lid (Set and Costume Design, Alice Babidge) complexly manipulated by a set of silver chains by a fairly sophisticated set of computer cues, to create various abstract sculptural images, revealing and reflecting a slippery (seemed dangerous when wet) black gloss square pool shape ( the pool empty of water, actually -a metaphor, they can all walk on water, like Jesus?! Really empty.) is not at all a clarifier of the experience of this text, rather a relieved distraction, especially when supported by the terrific composition by Oren Ambarchi and the trickery and beauty of Nick Schlieper's Lighting Design.

The naive staging of exit and entrances in this multi-scened play - almost screenplay length scenes - sometimes were longer than the actual scenes. I sought meaning in this staging, mostly on the perimeter edge of the empty pool, but, ultimately just thought it was inept.Perhaps that is the intention. The post deconstructed style. It shouldn't look too proficient or easily understood. It's very clumsiness or laziness or inexperience is a calculated artistic statement?

 The year before last, I visited the Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art gallery in Paris and entered a huge, dirty, white space, towering palatial walls and floor, with some scrunched paper debris along an edge. That was the art. Another, was in a huge space, again white, with a plug hole, a real one, cemented, roughly, into the floor. It, too, was the art. You know, I was flabbergasted, shocked, but gradually stimulated to such a state of outrage, that I just began to laugh, and felt something like, admiration at the sheer audacity of it. Mind you it’s been a long time since Marcel Duchamp’s FOUNTAIN, hasn’t it? I am so far behind the times. Maybe I am a fossil and just don't see or get the genius of Mr Andrews? If I live another fifty years maybe I'll realise it. Maybe. If this staging technique is a deliberate act to create an affect on me, I have to say it is one of debilitated boredom and complete disenchantment. Boring, boring and boorish.

I admire the actors enormously. Such was their commitment to the play on Sunday last (8th April) that I became quite curious about the play in the first twenty odd minutes and began to think, "What were all the critics talking about?" I was concluding "This show must have settled in. All the technical bugs sorted out. Because this is quite interesting. Phew!" But then, no matter how focused and clever the actors, the content of the text just became too ludicrous to believe in, no matter the efforts of the actors.(Darn and drat!). John Howard and Angie Milliken, both returning to the stage in Sydney after a long break from it (sadly missed), both tireless and admirably skillful, honest all the way through, even wading through, what for me, became just twaddle.Thick, thick twaddle. Twaddle. Dylan Young coping well as Oliver. Less so, Eloise Mignon as Olivia, and not at all, Shelly Lauman as Chris. Shelly Lauman, for the second time in a year, (AS YOU LIKE IT) in this theatre, playing a man, this time even more complexly for her, a man/woman. The problems of the actions of the character and the psychological substance of this role would defeat almost any actor, I reckon. It has defeated Mr Andrews and he is the writer and the director. Full praise for these actors and the work they put in too keep this work afloat. Mr Andrews has left the country, I hear.  Leaving his fellow collaborators to carry and recreate for the audience 7 or 8 times a week. It must be hard  to do.

Recently I saw David Cronenberg's latest film A DANGEROUS METHOD about Jung practicing the Freudian technique of "The Talking Cure" on an hysteric patient, Sabrina Spielrein. This cure, usually now with a couch, has become standard practice. This text from Mr Andrews, preoccupied with sexual fantasy - many couplings, even games between naked brother and sister, multiple solo masturbations, consideration of the hermaphrodite sexual conundrum, and its possibilities , laying on his back looking at the stars, seemed likes an endless means for Mr Andrews to experience the talking cure. I hope it has released him from some of the febrile nightmares of his subconscious. The fever that was released for him while writing the play been cooled down. But why the Belvoir thought it would be interesting for an audience, or why Mr Andrews thought we might be interested, I cannot fathom. At least not in this version of it. Neither the writing nor the directing.The reading or seeing.

Thank god we didn't get to see LIKE A SUN,"a sprawling epic" which Mr Andrews even feels is a "relentless digression". EVERY BREATH this "crystalline, chamber sized thriller” is long enough, even if he thinks it is condensed! "Deliberately condensed. With deliberation (?) condensed!

At $63, which included the program/play, I felt that the artistic company ought to be paying us for the analysis we might give to this patient's case. I can't guarantee a cure, of course, and feel sure that I would pass this patient on to someone more easily interested. For I was not and we could barely applaud the actors for their efforts however valiant they had been.It was excruciatingly exhausting.

Now that Mr Andrews has brought it up: If you are interested in the hermaphrodite as a contemporary dilemma, may I recommend the novel MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides. It will cost you about $29. And, if you are interested in the yin and yang of the universe with its stars in the sky and much, much more metaphysics, enclosed in a real thriller, may I suggest you read Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 - it even uses the Chekhov anecdote of the introduction of a gun into a story (that it must be fired) that Mr Andrews quotes too, - and it will be about $32. At a total of $61,for these two novels, you will have change for two Icy Poles, one for each book, and many, many, many hours, days even, of thrilling entertainment - not a trying one hour, twenty minutes at Belvoir Upstairs.

Forget EVERY BREATH. Stay home and read some great literature.Those writers knew what they wanted to say and had the craft to communictae it to us.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Time Stands Still

Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Fishy Productions present TIME STANDS STILL by Donald Margulies at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

TIME STANDS STILL by Donald Margulies, written in 2009, is really a terrific play. Having read it last year, it is great to see it on our stages in Sydney. Contemporary theatre writing concerning burning issues surrounding our daily lives are rarely aired, if written at all, in contemporary Australian dramatic literature (unless they present lots of opportunities for sex i.e. UNDERBELLY). This play concerns the lives of two characters who work and have survived in the war zones of the world, and the cumulative cost, the personal “collateral damage” that that they might exact. We see their lives tailored beside the watchers and the selectively blind of the privileged people, living in the relative peace of a city like New York, like Sydney.

“Mr Margulies is gifted at creating complex characters through wholly natural interaction, allowing the emotional layers, the long histories, the hidden kernels of conflict to emerge organically. Throughout, his dialogue crackles with bright wit and intelligence. Although TIME STANDS STILL is deceptively modest, consisting of conversations among just four characters, the range of feeling it explores is wide and deep.” - Charles Isherwood, New York Times.

“There's a mournful tug beneath the surface of TIME STANDS STILL, but the material is also colloquial, lively and inquisitive without being preachy. This is a work that asks a lot of questions – chiefly about how much guilt and responsibility over wartime tragedies individuals can carry without going mad – while maintaining enough humility to know that they can't answer them. Instead of pontificating, the characters bicker, accuse and snipe, but they also defend one another, often tenderly. They also come across as believable relics of old-school, hard-core journalism, principled individuals who have also poured too much of their hearts into what they do.”- Stephanie Zacharek, New York Magazine.

TIME STAND STILL has four characters, three old friends and work comrades: photojournalist, Sarah Goodwin (Rebecca Rocheford Davies); James Dodd (Richard Sydenham) a freelance journalist and her partner of eight and a half years, both recently returned from a war conflict zone; Richard Ehrlich (Noel Hodda) a photo editor and publisher; and a younger, new member of this group of friends, Mandy Bloom (Harriet Dyer), an event planner and pregnant partner to the much older, Richard. We have with three of the protagonists, deep shared work and emotional histories and then the dramatic myth breaker and generational enlightener, meeting over a year. What is interesting for me, in the writing of this play, is the ease that mighty subject matter of contemporary moral debate is raised, discussed and then not really resolved. Issues e.g. “The New Cinema of Cruelty” - how horror films are a good barometer for the political climate of their day; the desensitising of the community by modern media and internet access etc. The play raises the issues to a verbal consciousness in the mouths of these characters, issues that I struggle with on a daily basis, sometimes talk about, and, then, like the characters in this play, have the daily mundane tasks of just making a living, move in and push them to background white noise. Not resolved but part of my collected burden of living in the 21st century.
James: The thing is, I KNOW the people they put on stage… I KNOW them, I've LIVED with them, both of us have. So seeing them turned into anthropologic curiosities, like dioramas in a museum, bathed in Caravaggio light with, YOU know: hallowed, Persian-sounding music… Fake sentimental shit that passes for truth! People TRICK themselves into thinking they're having an authentic experience when it's completely manufactured! Hell on earth made palatable – PACKAGED – as an evening's entertainment!

Richard: But people are SEEING it, though, right? I mean, isn't that encouraging? They want to be informed?

James: THESE people don't need to be informed … THEY read the paper, They listen to NPR … The ones who SHOULD be seeing it, the MUJAHIDEEN and the Taliban, let's face it, don't get to the theater much. So it's that favorite lefty pastime: preaching to the choir! They sit there, weeping at the injustice, and stand at the end shouting: “Bravo!” conGRATulating themselves for enDURing such a grueling experience, and go home feeling like they've done something, when in fact all they've done is assuaged their liberal guilt!

Richard: What're you saying, these stories are off-limits to anyone but people like you who have been on the front lines?

James: No, of course not.

Richard: They shouldn't be told at all?

James: I don't know, Richard, I don't have the answers.”
Indeed, these characters do not have the answers, and Mr Margulies does not take sides and "...what we get is the assiduously impartial but clarifying confrontation of the existential dilemmas that confront all of us." ( - John Simon, Bloomberg News). It leads us to interesting discussions in the foyer, on the street and in the car on the way home. Theatre that is comprehensible, intelligent, well crafted, both serious and comic and mightily, gently provoking. Stuff to take home and have consciously and unconsciously grafted onto, into your life.

So this is a good play well worth catching.

The production at the Darlinghurst, Directed by Kim Hardwick on a meticulously real Set Design by Lucilla Smith, that not only has a feel of authenticity but a true measure of this difficult stage space, is good and relatively clear. Ms Smith backs up again with a set design solution as good, but different as her design, last year for THE LIBERTINE. This one well constructed by Michael Watkins. Both on next to no budget, I presume? The company of actors give an ensemble of playing that is admirable, but generally, metaphorically, “revving in sand”.

The problem lies in the under articulation of the emotional and physical dilemmas of the principal character, Sarah Goodwin, by Ms Davies. This role is a great role for an actor – one that is layered with so much going on that the baring of oneself and the identification and revelation of the self in the role is demanded and essential for the full impact of the play to be felt. The role requires, as all the great roles do, surrender to the truth of the experience of the character. Ms Davies seems to have an intellectual comprehension of some of this truth but tends to emotionally and physically generalize it, and then, internalise it much too much. She rarely uses her whole instrument to express it – I have grave doubts about the necessity this Sarah has for that support stick when walking, for instance. Ms Davies' performance seems to sit in her imagination, in her head and privately felt, not viscerally expressed. The role has the potential to cover a craft range from A to Z. Ms Davies gives us A to perhaps I.

There is a resigned placidness to Sarah's situation, here, and the gradual addiction to danger that informs her life decisions is hardly addressed. We do not see her growing emotional agitation with having to virtually stand still in a peace zone of what the rest of us call, normality. We do not see her realisation that war and its environment has provided a purpose to and for her life, a realisation that is reinforced by her by the absence of danger. Sarah needs it to function optimally. The experience in the women's prison is pivotal, for it is there she understands, completely, that the life that she is being inveigled too, is where danger has been switched off like a stage light, leaving only drab scenery around her and unbearable lifelessness. Like the men in the film THE HURT LOCKER there is only one world that will make sense for her, and that is the world of the war zone, of the humanitarian struggle and crisis. It is there that she will find her life worthwhile again. Not in family and having children for her, but, in the witnessing of the reality of the great tragedy of being human – the necessity to record for her civilisation, that, we have, as a species, a penchant to destroy each other. Violently.

It is not just the limited expression of the truth of this role by Ms Davies that inhibits the performance it is also one of presence. The New York performance reviews glow in the performance of Laura Linney – an actress that radiates and expands herself into the characters she creates filling the work with subterranean dynamics beyond the obvious superficialities of the opportunities in her writers' creations. This is, of course, what marks out the leading actors of their generation. It is odious to compare, but for me this power of presence is what is mostly missing from Ms Davies work.

Mr Sydenham has a difficult task, then, to spark into the heat of the relationship between these two well-welded people. There is not enough coming back from Ms Davies reading of the role of Sarah to permit him. When his character, James, is given centre stage and has the accelerator under his control for the momentum of the play, he certainly takes it and lifts the play into a stratosphere of dynamic energy (the first of the Act two sequences, for instance). It is also revealed in the sparring that happens between Mr Hodda and he. Both these actors have a measure of the 'presence' required for the play to really take hold. Mr Hodda is comfortable and wise in his contribution if not quite the Editor of a New York magazine – a more ruthless sense of the 'war zone' of the publishing business would give more edge to the long past relationship between he and Sarah, I reckon.

Ms Dyer gives a comic edge to her work and his aware of the possibilities of Mandy in the dramaturgical structure of the writing, but for me, the performance is far too knowing technically. Ms Dyer sits outside it – almost in a presentational, musical theatre style, drawing attention to her effects of characterisation. It lacks true spontaneity and true connectivity with the other actors. It is a charming performance but it is calculatedly performed, not lived. There was some indication of this, also, in her work as Ms Eynsford-Hill in the recent production of PYGMALION at the Sydney Theatre Company, and can almost be caricature rather than character unless checked. This performance sits, thankfully, on the right side of the fine line of believability. Just. The writing of this character by Mr Margulies is a great asset for that belief.

A very, very good play with a comfortable company under careful if not inspired direction, in a good design.

I saw Katie Pollock at the same performance and I remarked that her play, A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON, seen last year at the New Theatre, approached, with a female character at the centre, world issues, that similarly provoked a reality check to my life and deep discussion amongst my friends who saw it.

When will see the Australian war stories of today? Did the Australian Defense Forces just prevent access to recent investigations to war zone events from being made available to the Australian, taxpayers public knowledge? I did see the healthy returning heroes last night on TV NEWS at Townsville Airport, but not any of the injured. Lots of excited fathers and slightly bewildered children and loving spouses. Healthy propaganda, I guess. The writers of the United States and the United Kingdom lead the way in their culture confrontations over the issue of war and its affect. Their recent dramatic literature - resonant with them. It is a tragic state of our arts when the nearest I can come to knowing anything of these stories is through these two other cultures. But then, our governments may not encourage that kind of open examination of the big issues of our times. The recent axing of the Queensland literary prizes and the continued stress to the ABC and their ability to create drama through lack of proper funding is just taken for granted by us.

Ignorance is a kind of bliss, I guess.

Thanks to Fishy Productions and the Darlinghurst Theatre Company for the opportunity of seeing this work.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Focal Theatre in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers Theatre Company present: LYREBIRD by Amelia Evans at the Old Fitzroy Theatre.

LYREBIRD by Amelia Evans is a new Australian play. It was developed at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 2010. It is a short(ish) one act play dealing with the effect of natural disaster on the lives of community and family. In this instance, bushfire. The guilt and despair of survivors of such catastrophe in the face of immense devastation and the human imperative to begin again is at the core of this work.

Simply, but with an empathetic comprehension (observed or known first hand?), Ms Evans movingly has us join a family, Cate (Sara Zwangobani), Henry (Christian Willis) and their daughter, Jess (Maeve MacGregor) at the wrecked site of their fire destroyed home, where the task of reclaiming and rebuilding a life, both materially and spiritually is under progress, but is under great emotional siege and looks in jeopardy. June (Lucy Miller), a friend of the family has come to share in the remembrance of the birthday of her daughter, lost in the inferno, and is a catalyst to the emotional revelations. Tim (Jordan Kelly) is a young man of the district, a survivor and friend to all.

The play is, in form conventional in its structure, but, has an eloquence of truth and pain that is exquisite in its expression. In all of its observed accuracy there is a poetic sense of order with a gentle and sly eye for the small comic foibles of the familiar - of family and close friends, as a veneer for us, the audience, to release into, to be able to endure the almost unbearable.

Unfortunately, the production is not as sure as the play. The Director, Jemma Gurney, has not been able to draw a consistency of playing energies or level of belief from all her cast and the disparate communication skills allows the audience to escape the full impact of the writing. Ms Zwangobani and MacGregor have that consistency of detailed truthfulness and technical communication, moving; Mr Kelly a simply honest response to all around him, easy to believe. Ms Miller, in a very complicated task, veers between a deeply convincing inner life but technically fudged, speedy delivery of her text. In the silent moments one sees June best - all the pain of June. The word delivery, on the other hand, is swamped with emotional subtext and is scrambled and unclear. Feelings and no clear thoughts or information for us to understand her better. Mr Willis seems uncomfortable and tends to self affect to solve his work.

The Set Design by Gez Xavier Mansfield is imaginative and dares to break into symbolism but is not sympathetically lit by Sara Swersky and has, under the direction of Ms Gurney, a wayward and inconsistent control of image and space direction. Mr Mansfield's set is over lit and rarely is the design possibility achieved. This lack of directorial surety is true of the Sound Design/Composition of Nate Edmondson, as well, which is emotive, sometimes, obvious and contrived for sentimental affect.

On opening night LYREBIRD was a very good play not yet fully supported by Ms Gurney's direction of the other elements of the enterprise.

I remember someone saying once (was it Richard Wherrett?) - and I believe it to be true - that new plays really need the most experienced directors to give them as great an opportunity as possible to succeed. Give the young directors the classics to hone their skills – the tried and proven for them to exercise their talents and learn – the good writer will support them. The young writer will be supported and enhanced by the experienced director.

In both recent endeavors of the new writing put on at the Old Fitz the weakest element has been the directing. As a result the writer's work has not always been easy to see, encumbered as it was/is by inexperienced directorial choices. I am not sure of the essential quality of the writing of Ms Wolf in her offered work: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST DRAGONS AND OTHER CLASSIC TALES AS TOLD BY AN OCTOPUS, although, I perceive there is the possibility of a writer for the theatre there. I am sure, however, that LYREBIRD is a fairly sophisticated achievement of observation and reveals a skill in writing in this difficult form. But neither writers is served well enough by the fledgling skills of the directors and one wonders whether these plays will be seen elsewhere under more mature directorial hands. If ever.

The history of new Australian plays is littered with examples of young play-writers careers truncated by inept production and direction. Good plays lost to the one production that was really not a proper reading of the potential of the material or competent leadership of the other artistic collaborators. Putting the writer with the best director ought to be part of the curatorial brief of the Old Fitz artistic team surely,(or supplying an experienced 'mentor' to guide the production throughout the process), if the nurturing and presentation of the new writer is the company “ethos”. At the moment it does not seem to be fair to the writer. It is, from my point of view as an audience member, not fair. And is it fair to the hard earned reputation of the Old Fitz as a consistent venue for the Tamarama Rock Surfers presentations? Is this venue a workshop venue or try out space? Knowing clearly, would give the audience a better sense of what to expect to discern whether to spend time and money there or not.