Thursday, October 25, 2012

A View From Moving Windows

true west theatre presents A VIEW FROM MOVING WINDOWS at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta

In September 2010, I saw on one afternoon, several offerings from some young Australian writers, entitled STORIES FROM THE 428, curated by Augusta Supple. Writers sat on the 428 bus route and wrote short sketches/plays, reflecting an experience of that Circular Quay to Marrickville/Canterbury ride. Actors were found, and Directors rounded up and produced at the Sidetrack theatre.

A VIEW FROM MOVING WINDOWS, began for the writers as a train journey from Central Station to Parramatta. Similarly, as in the 428 enterprise, they were commissioned by Augusta Supple, in this case, to write some work of no more than 7 minutes in length. Actors were found, but in a more sophisticated choice, Augusta Supple has directed all of this work herself, and had a relatively experienced technical team to support her, including: Set Designer, Sian James-Holland - excellent; Lighting Designer, Marissa Dale-Johnson- sophisticated; Composer, Jeremy Silver and choreographer, Cloe Fournier. In this case the writers varied in experience from new to tried and well known: Donna Abela, Vanessa Bates, Jessica Bellamy, John AD Fraser, Noelle Janaczewska, Nick Parsons, Teik-Kim Pok, Emrys Quin and Alison Rooke. The venue was up at the Riverside Theatres as part of their true west, New Writing project for 2012.

The increase of ambition and the upward trajectory of the artistic inputs to this project paid off wonderfully. Augusta Supple, a tireless and inspired, nay, passionate creator and supporter of New Australian writing has solicited some more consistently good writing from within a very difficult parameter of stricture - 7 minutes or less. It is a very short time. What can a writer put on the page that will lift onto the stage? Character, plot,theme; monologue, duologue, sketch, poem,prose, lyric and song? A play? Just what form to tackle it in? And then, how to turn it over to other people, actors, and others in the artistic team, to perform and shape it within their gifts and intellectual insights and spirit for life and the world!

Complicated, challenging and harder than what Ms Supple makes it look. All power to Ms Supple then for finding and then 'herding' all these talents together and encouraging an audience to participate in the reflection of their lives and witnessing an expressive permanent token of their evolving, emerging Australian cultures.

I enjoyed the work of Nick Parsons, THE CARRIAGE; interested in the work by Vanessa Bates, THIS TRAIN- MONKEYS and THIS TRAIN (especially as I had seen her play PORN.CAKEat the Griffin in June), although I would have liked a 'blue' pen to edit some of it - even in her short time allotment, Ms Bates can go on a bit....; and, particularly curious at what Teik-Kim Pok might do with a larger brief, some time, as I found his short large cast work, HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU, THE UNRESTRICTED EDITION, in form, fairly adventurous. Mind, I know Mr Pok from his performance work for many Performance Space projects, where experimental form is part and parcel of the event, more often than less.

That all the actors are professionals, young and otherwise, earning their stripes and maintaining their skills with this work (done, no doubt without payment), and with such commitment to the writer and to Ms Supple is a credit to them all. I checked my program and took note especially of Alex Bryant-Smith, Helen O'Leary, Craig Meneaud, IIdiko Susany, Damian Sommerland and Peter Maple.

One wonders if any of the guardians from the 'pointy-end' of our performing art companies, say, The Sydney Theatre Company or Belvoir, spent 90 minutes out at Parramatta to look over this grass roots exercise? I would like to think they would have done, between staging a Private Lives(1930) and preparing a new version of a Strindberg, written in 1888 or dwelling on THE MAIDS (1947), as an Australian story for Sydney audiences in 2013. I wonder if there is an authentic Australian Coward or Strindberg or Genet here in this battery of talent that Ms Supple has/is nurturing for the future? Those of us who saw this project, as modest as it may be, could venture an opinion at least.

It is intersting to see that Ms Supple had spotted and/or encouraged with performance opportunity, the Assistant Director of Belvoir's 1930 play, PRIVATE LIVES, Kit Brookman. His play in the 428 series, BETHLEHEM, was of some note.

A VIEW FROM MOVING WINDOWS completes its performances on Saturday.

For full biographies and information about the artists on this project, please head to:

Miss Julie

A Darlinghurst Theatre Company Production of MISS JULIE by August Strindberg in a new version by Cristabel Sved and Kate Box at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

I knew of the preparation of this production over a year ago. I am a fan of both Cristabel Sved and Kate Box. At an Art Installation exhibition, outdoors, in winter, last year Ms Sved told me of her plans. I am nearly always mesmerized by the performance work of Ms Box and believe her to be particularly gifted, and Miss Julie in the Strindberg play would be a great showcase for those gifts. I was warmed on that winter night with excitement. I have kept my eyes on the calendar all year for this production.

I am always, or nearly certain, ninety percent certain, when I am about to see a production from recent NIDA graduates of the Design and Director's course that the European avant-garde of the late 1970's/80's will be gracing, visually, our stage. There seems to be only one visual school in their repertoire - designers and directors. Can you guess, then, how my expectant and excited self felt, as we, the audience, were ushered through an alternate entrance to the Darlinghurst Theatre (wow, how disorienting!) and walked across the back of the stage to view antiquated kitchen sink and white goods in a back stage corner against the wall and a mobile glass/perspex box, center-stage, filled with a dark dirt and a sickly (plastic) plant, with Ms Box, like an exhibit at the zoo or in a museum case, brooding, stewing in its environs.? We checked if there were a paper crown on this young aristocrat's head - relievedly, there was not, not even a paper tiara - it, being in the context of the play, a Mid-summer Eve party going on back stage. What with the throbbing base noise in the soundtrack later on, I had flash backs to the glass vitrines of The Dome venue at the Fox studio conclave, the old Meat Pavilion at an Inquisition Dance Party, in which sexual aberrations were often exhibited for our delectation - this was to prove a prophetic remembrance, later in the show! On sitting down we saw further laundry equipment, machine etc. against the other wall. We hoped that there would be no dirty underwear or blood on Jean, when he appeared. So far all the post-dramatic boxes of the Shit on Your Play blog -  ticked off, religiously.

Now why do MISS JULIE at all? Ms Sved in her program notes says:
Our journey with MISS JULIE began when we were looking for a play to work on together, the criteria - a great role for a woman. Serendipitously, we both came to each other with MISS JULIE. ..."
Indeed I would embrace, I did embrace, that idea for them both. That Kate Box could be great in this role. Unfortunately, that is not so, not at the performance I saw.

What happened? Let's try to analyze this: Ms Box has still the gift of great presence, a glowing intelligence and a pulsing sexuality in this performance but it was not yet technically controlled. Nerves or just too much other stress, as it was a joint production, conception and adaptation as well as the responsibility of creating a performance, may have prevented the relaxation to do it? For instance, the famous, (infamous speech for some), it is incredibly difficult and crucial, that Miss Julie has after the killing of the bird "... Do you think I can't stand the sight of blood? …" etc. was shouted and hysteric in a way that prevented any audience empathy either as a character or actor. This is late in the play but was confirmation that something was amiss, absent.

Was it the conception of Jean - as an older man, instead of the usual ambitious attractive "Lady Chatterly's Lover" type we are used to imagining, and, the idea that it is Jean's last throw of the dice to get out of his situation as servant, that was unbalancing my reading of the play in the theatre? No, it is an interesting idea and choice - I have always thought that the casting of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Kostia in the famous New York, in the Park performance of THE SEAGULL, with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, a few years back, was an exciting idea and one that I would like to try. Casting against the romantic physical type. Playing him as character rather than ingénue. Now, James Lugton is a good actor, but he was still only an 'actor' in this role, when I saw it. The effort to create this Jean was still evident from Mr Lugton. We can see the wheels of the craftsman turning and it never takes flight into the world of existing, of being invented - here, Mr Lugton is seen to be building his performance, and not always comfortably. The performance lacks the charismatic presence to match his adversary on stage and the duet, then, between the two, seems unequal, from different 'planets' of performance approach and present playing. Ms Box, then, seems to have to invent a lot of the other role as well as her own, and sometimes appears to be 'revving' in sand - not enough obstacle coming from the other performance to give her the necessary traction to play believably, full out, as she seemed, now again, to intimate as a possibility.

Or, is it the design offers? This design by Michael Hankin, seems to be determinedly contemporary and with choices that are far from useful for this nineteenth century 'sensation'. Strindberg, within the conventions of his period, gave fairly direct revolutionary indications of what he wanted, to smash the conventions of his time, and  Mr Hankin's decisions hardly seem congruent to create a similar sensation in the theatre of today. The 'look' of this production is a very well tried one, - a tired one, especially, as I indicated, in Sydney, of late. The set mechanisms in this play design, for instance, with one of its pre-occupations being about class and status, have Ms Julie, herself, pushing this great big wheeled perspex box around the stage, spinning it and 'parking' it upstage/off stage. Why? Especially when the other two characters, Jean and Kristen, are servants, and that that task might be, should be, part of their world responsibilities? Or is there significance in that? What is the storytelling purpose of having all the furniture 'clutching' the walls, leaving, when the box is pushed off stage, this great big black hole, lit in cool modern fluroscents (Lighting Design, Verity Hampson), and with lighting cues designed to draw attention to their execution rather than create atmosphere for the story? – a Brechtian destabilizing effect – I guess. I spent some time during the performance cogitating on all this. The costume designs are an odd mix of look, and not always true to the Strindberg intentions especially with regard to the Jean story - his first entrance, not in valet uniform, is at odds with Strindberg's meaning, I think.

This design, of course, is also part of Ms Sved's vision and dual responsibility should be given for the decisions. It appears to be about a visual style, rather than a useful tool in telling the story of Strindberg's MISS JULIE - it is not, apprehensibly, clear.  It added up to an abstracted set of clues that seemed obfuscatory, rather than illuminating. I enjoyed the work of Sam Chester (movement Director), Kristen's ballet (Sophie Gregg), for instance, and wished more incorporation of that stylisation - although, I believe the extended sex 'dance' in the upstage box was unnecessary, and, if, I am wrong about that, far too extended.  I thought there were a lot of design ideas going on here, from both artists, but not enough through thought as to the clarity of what was offered for the audience to take on board.

Is it the textual adaptation? There is an interesting mix of old fashioned language and contemporary expression and change of emphasis that exists in the text that Ms Sved and Box have decided on (the function or impact of the character of Kristen for example). It does not quite gel. My favorite adaptation of this play is the Patrick Marber, Donmar Warehouse version, 2003, AFTER MISS JULIE, set in the kitchen of a large country house outside London, on the night of the famous 'landslide' victory of the British Labour Party post World War II, 26 July 1945. The Marber version has the feel of a class revolution and a need for sexual taboo celebrations, and for me, makes so much contemporary sense of the play. The contemporisations by this company fail to reveal why this play was originally so revolutionary and so important or why it is worth doing today, particularly in Australia. The problem of class, servant and master relations, of the emancipation of women, the politics about that, and of the use of sexual tensions to reveal that, are not issues that really concern us now. The shock of the new, content and theories of performance style , written in 1888 are more than a little passe, today. A friend seeing this production of the play, the first time he had ever encountered the play, could not understand why it was so famous a play and what was the justification, if not to see a great actress at work, to do it. The play and it's dramaturgical ventures were not important in this production.

He and I felt that the problems of class, servant and master relationships, the changing of political and philosophical movements, and the use of sex to reveal that, was so much more powerful in the recent period film from Denmark, A ROYAL AFFAIR (2012) directed by Nikolaj Arcel, with Alicia Vilkander as a kind of Miss Julie figure, The Queen of Denmark, Caroline Mathilde, and Mads Mikkelsen as the Jean figure, the political underclass represented by Stusensee. The period setting of the film underlined the historical power and significance of the story, for today – as part of our heritage as a progressive, secular democracy. It's contextual period struggle gave the film/story a relevancy and a reason to be told now. The relative ordinary textual adaptation and the modish design choices, here, in this production, do not seem to do the same thing. Thus, we concluded, it is neither a vehicle for the talent on stage, at this performance, or a play of urgent contemporary relevance.

Call us old fashioned, but, maybe a period setting with the contemporary living urgencies of the creators, director, actors of 2012 harnessed within that world would give MISS JULIE, this production, clearer purpose and clarity and, ultimately, impact. At the time I saw it, it was not settled, aesthetically arresting or dramatically cogent or relevant.

This is a very interesting 'failure'. Knowing the passions of the artists at the centre of all this effort it is worth puzzling over. I will try to catch it, again , later in the season. Opening nights can be unsettling. It certainly makes the up-coming Simon Stone adaptation starring Brendan Cowell something to wonder about. I am supposing that in this production, that Mr Cowell is going to take on Jean and not a cross dressed version of Miss Julie? Although, what with Mr Stone and other of his classic adaptations (THYESTES -cross gender role play) it could be so. The Belvoir advertising of this production of MISS JULIE starring Brendan Cowell is indeed intriguing. This one was MISS JULIE starring Kate Box. Seems the right way round to me. Then, as I have said above, I am old fashioned, about some things.

References :

  1. Strindberg. Plays One, Translated by Michael Myer - Methuen Drama, 1964.
  2. After Miss Julie by Patrick Marber After Strindberg, Methuen Drama, 2003.
  3. August Strindberg by Eszter Szalczer, Routledge Modern And Contemporary Dramatists, 2011.
  4. Strindberg's Miss Julie. A Play And It's Transpositions by Egil Tornqvist and Barry Jacobs, Norvik Press. 1988.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Private Lives

Photo by by Heidrun Lohr

BELVOIR presents PRIVATE LIVES by Noel Coward, in the Upstairs Theatre at Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills.

What a surprise (pleasant for some, or, otherwise, for others) to find at the Belvoir St Theatre that PRIVATE LIVES by Noel Coward was scheduled into their programming. It speaks volumes as to the essential old fashioned values and conservatism of the Company of Artists that ordain an important part of the opportunities we have when we attend the performing arts culture in Sydney. I appreciate their tendency, if not always the product. More cannily, it might be a hint at their vision to broaden the spread of their demographics, audience. Indeed, many of my friends working in the many local Community Theatres, from Penrith to the Genesian Theatre, Hunter's Hill, Rockdale etc, were excited about measuring their productions of this very popular play against the standards of the Belvoir St.and were attending that theatre for the first time. Some were very happy with their own work.

I am not so sure how many Australian playwrights seeking opportunities for performance, especially at a prestigious house such as Belvoir, were pleased, or, were envious, indeed, of the reputation of Noel Coward, that one of his oft seen and produced plays had gained a position in the 2011 Sydney professional repertoire - especially, as the playwright was receiving no fiscal advantage of being presented - of course, it is absolutely clear and free profit for the house, unlike the DEATH OF A SALESMAN, it is out of copyright. [N.B. one of my correspondents: That Guy, informs me that PRIVATE LIVES is still in copyright. Maybe that "girl' in the Belvoir office who bungled up the Miller work, could clear it up, definitively, for us, unless she is still on holiday.] Canny Mr Myers (I wondered what Kit Brookman, an actor and promising playwright, the Assistant Director for this production, thought about this choice of play. I wondered if he felt it an odd choice considering his first hand knowledge, from family and friends, of the difficulties of getting original work onto the stages in Sydney).

Noel Coward is, of course, one of the legends of the English theatre - a legend, according to my reading, as much for his writing for the theatre, as to his glamorous celebrity status all the way through his life, from, it seems the age of 11 to his passing in 1973, at the age of 74. Classically, five of his plays are esteemed and staple regulars in the commercial and amateur theatre, locally and worldwide: HAYFEVER (1928); PRIVATE LIVES (1930); DESIGN FOR LIVING; (1935); PRESENT LAUGHTER (1939) and BLITHE SPIRIT (1941). PRIVATE LIVES has a special kind of status, because of the legendary fame of the original actors:  Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Laurence Olivier and the beautiful Adrienne Allen, and the torturous and deliciously challenging linguistic game-play presented by the text. It is a fiendishly wonderful task of style in comic mode. Not easy.

Having Toby Schmitz available to give Noel Coward's Elyot Chase a chase, apparently, was an irresistible temptation, for Belvoir. I, and my friends, certainly thought it was a reason for anticipation of a good night out.  Mr Schmitz did not let us down. After his practice of vocal pyrotechnics in certain speeches he delivered in STRANGE INTERLUDE, we knew we were onto a fairly safe bet for exquisite fun. His ability to give verbal pitch whilst making content-sense over an extremely, extremely long breath-demand was and is Olympian.

Ralph Myers, has built with this production of PRIVATE LIVES on the impression that he made, in late 2008, with his production of FRANKENSTEIN at the STC, as to his skill as a director. Having Mr Schmitz as Elyot was a 'jewel' to possess, but it was necessary to find actors of equal skill and joie de vivre. Casting the right actors, the late great Richard Wherrett used to say, was the greater part of the success of any theatrical venture. This Mr Myers mostly has done. Zahra Newman (Amanda Prynne), last seen in Sydney in AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, was intelligently witty and proficiently skilful, an alert foil to Mr Schmitz; ably supported by Toby Truslove (Victor Prynne), in a performance that builds on the intelligent and good work that he revealed in STRANGE INTERLUDE, earlier this season - a kind of self-deprecating goodness at base. All three of these actors have developed the technical proficiency to speak the lines briskly, each capping each other without a pause and using the language of the playwright with an attitude of it being part of the performer's instrument as a tool for charm, and used accurately to carry, as well as the comic wit, a kind of emotional weight.

This is what Eloise Mignon (Sybil Chase) did not appear to understand. She was not, by comparison, comfortable in these dualisms of  Coward's language-world, and her physical characterisation was fairly unsophisticated and flatly broad - no real bounce or cultural insight to the original world to build from (my companions thought that Caroline Craig was being channeled, here!). Fortunately, in the Australian sounds, "in our own voice(s)" that Mr Myers broaches as his preferred house style sound, at Belvoir (including Ms Newman's Jamaican/American sound), this Sybil still worked in a kind of shocking 'bogan' way - SYLVANIA WATERS/THE SHIRE qualities, lots of money it seems, for with this Sybil there was no other reason apparent to justify the marriage choice of Elyot - was it her youth, perhaps?. This Elyot had clearly 'gone a mucker all right" in marrying this Sybil. For Elyot Chase, even in this Australiana, a daring choice of bride. Mish Grigor as the French maid, Louise, plays for physical jokes in what is essentially a verbal joke - in French, with an Aussie accent, of course.

From Frances Gray on Noel Coward and PRIVATE LIVES:
Two people are close; they try to pass the time, get bored, quarrel, crack jokes; they encounter two other people and don't make much of them; nothing really happens; at the end of the play they are in the same state as they were at the beginning. If this sounds like WAITING FOR GODOT this is not wholly coincidental. For all his dislike of the style and form employed by the Theatre of the Absurd, Coward dramatised in the story of Elyot and Amanda the sense of inhabiting a universe without meaning or controlling force; in the twenties, anticipating Beckett, he earned a label for himself in Robert Grave's summary of that decade : 'Coward was the dramatist of disillusion, as (T.S.) Eliot was its tragic poet, Aldous Huxley its novelist, and James Joyce its epic-prose writer.'

The difference between Coward and this exalted company is not so much one of attitude as one of resonance. Beckett, or the Eliot of THE WASTE LAND, or Joyce, convey with irresistible force the sense of possibilities exhausted, of convictions tested on the intellect and the nerves and found wanting; the bare conditions of the GODOT tramps reflect their existential stripping, the one slim conviction on which they ground themselves. Coward's characters, stripped of beliefs, have egos to keep them going; they forget the outside world to live luxuriously like exotic waterflies on a surface tension composed of personal charm and the admiration it attracts. If they have a conviction amid their foggy awareness of 'cosmic thingummies', it's a belief in love: not love as a redeeming factor in existence, a goal to strive for, but as a mischievous presence that will creep up on you somehow and strip you of charm and dignity; despite all the evidence to the contrary, they cannot help thinking that, this time, things might be different, that they will manage not to kill the golden goose even though they have no intention of changing themselves. [1]
Is this play then a 'serious comedy'? Not ''just the 'lightest of light comedies', but as a John Lahr describes it - "a situation comedy where the situation - two people in love and unable to live together - is tragic" [2]

Ralph Myers on Coward:
We think of Coward and we see grand pianos and brandy and gramophone records and we think that is what the plays are about. But in fact they're not; like all great plays they're about something profound. They're about love, and about being alive, and about trying to be happy and how hard that is. Coward's genius is to wrap that up in a confection that makes you think that you're watching a stage full of beautiful people in evening dress saying not very much in a frightfully clever way, rather quickly..." 
Love and being alive and trying to be happy - profound, indeed. Now, I believe, in some degree with Mr Myers, about a serious undertow present in Mr Coward's work, and always felt that the way to succeed with Coward was treat it in earnest, play it, perhaps, like Edward Albee, (and, incidentally, play Albee, as if it were Coward), so the love motif observed by Mr Myers, is, I agree, somewhat true, but, what Mr Coward said of his own work was, that it was an exhibition of his "talent to amuse". Essentially, PRIVATE LIVES, for all the pleasing academia I have earlier quoted, is about that : a talent to amuse as biographer Philip Hoare describes:
This play, mused in Mr Coward's head for some time, and then with the Muse of Gertrude Lawrence clearly inspiring him, he, while recovering from 'flu in Shanghai, wrote it down in four days : 'I thought it was a shrewd and witty comedy, well constructed on the whole, but psychologically unstable; however its entertainment value seemed obvious enough, and its acting opportunities for Gertie and me admirable...' " Always the showman, Coward's instinct was for impact, not art. ... PRIVATE LIVES allowed the Coward-Lawrence team to exhibit their showy intimacy." [3]
Laughter before societal critique, perhaps? The second act of this play, an extended duologue for the two principal actors, famously, was a nightly duel between these two competitive, but mutually admiring performers. What with their renowned vocal dexterity, wit, piano-playing and dancing skills, the time length of that central act was entirely dependent on the willingness for the two of them to engage in spontaneous improvisations of one-up-manship - perfect 'dandies'. The audience delighted in the ease with which Noel and Gertie 'played'. It was difficult to decide whether they were acting or just being themselves.Whether they were acting a script or improvising. Sometimes they extended the night hilariously and at others cut it off, precipitously. The problem, then, with this production is that neither, Mr Schmitz nor Ms Newman, with the second act design choices, no piano etc, have the opportunity to reveal the triple threat virtuosics that Mr Coward and Ms Lawrence had, to improvise with, and so what with Mr Myers 'bent' to promulgate the 'love' aspect of his production, the play as written, reveals itself to be repetitious and a little tiresome. We get that they are unable, really, to sustain a 'loving' relationship – if not on the first "Sollocks" (their safe-word to break the tension as it rises to a personal antagonism, danger point) – then definitely on the second one. We don't need the reiterated third "Sollocks', for we get that without the fascination of others admiring them, boredom with themselves, soon overwhelms their love interest. Thus the second act becomes a little exaggeratedly overlong. The two characters "believe only in themselves and their talk is unremittingly self obsessed" [2]  Elyot and Amanda's charm in the offerings of Mr Schmitz and Ms Newman become less and less bearable as the act winds on.

I bubbled quite happily with the first act with Victor and, even this Sybil, and was enormously relieved when they arrived at the end of act two and then featured so wonderfully in the third. The cruel talent of the bickering quartet, when together, to amuse, certainly bears out Evelyn Waugh's dictum : 'Manners are especially the need of the plain. The pretty can get away with anything." The play is really frivolous about the serious.The direction of the actors by Mr Myers is first class.

I essentially went with the Australian 'sounds' because the speed of the style was paramount and worked. I still had to go through tedious mental gymnastics in hearing the European sites of the play and just, as I did with SEX WITH STRANGERS, just read that these were Australians on a very European honeymoon (I know I am boring, I know!). Mind you the verbal wit of these Australians seemed fairly uncharacteristic to me, except in the milieu of some of my gay friends' drunken parties. If you can locate Australians with this ability to sustain comedy of this quality, and not be necessarily drunk, please send the address and/or arrange a meeting/dinner – I will come, just to be entertained – but I am a doubting Thomas about that possibility. Seeing life like that, will be believing the world of this production, which, as it stands in the Upstairs Belvoir Theatre, I am a little pushed to swallow - I know I am boring and maybe just un-Australian for not going quietly along with this artistic conceit.

The less said about the really awkward choices of the set, the better (Set Designer, Ralph Myers.) I had heard that the play was not, despite rumour, set on the Gold Coast, but in the original locations. Well, the first act location of this production presented us with the dull hall way to the elevator shafts with hotel doors to the apartments without architraves - a low cost architectural statement, and door locks that fell away when said door is slammed, suggested to me a very cheap hotel, in the realm of a backpacker's financial capability. To drink cocktails in the elevator hallway seemed to me a fairly dreary, less than romantic idea, no matter the 'expressionistic' lighting touches of Damien Cooper. The second act Parisian apartment was a cheaply modish jerry-built job indeed with next to no furniture of any taste. The wardrobe, costumes for the characters, supplied by the usual , House of Alice Babidge was very declasse indeed, but up to the usual look we have come to expect from almost every piece she has designed. It is consistent in its visual achievements - and like all good fashions, fairly subjective as to whether it is of good taste and indicative of the wearers.

I was sad not to have the potency of the Cheap Music of the original play (Composition and Sound Design, Stefan Gregory) but that, too, is a subjective response - some liked the Muzak in the hallway and truly loved the collection of gramophone/L.P.'s that Amanda had in her apartment and were played and mimed, too. I missed the grand piano and wished for some of the brandy they were drinking.

Despite the above, I had a very pleasant night at PRIVATE LIVES. The writing was marvellous, the acting mostly terrific, the direction clean, clear and respectful. Mr Myers should just get himself a better set designer and all would be near perfect.

A choice of play that might reflect a contemporary generational expresion of a time of disillusion. Mr Coward writing after the Great War and having lived through the boom of the Jazz Age, then  the crash of the world financial markets and the Great Depression, may have for the artists at Belvoir written a very Australian response to the present world at war and  the Great Financial Crisis. His song TWENTIETH CENTURY BLUES may also be just as relevant a tune for our times as this play. Or, not? Am I simply trying to justify or put the square peg of contemporary reinterpretation into the round hole of Mr Coward's work? Pat East, in her letter to Editor (Sydney Morning Herald, Friday, October 19, 2012), suggested that this is what Simon Stone, the resident director at Belvoir, was inferring in his article responding to the DEATH OF A SALESMAN copyright infringement story: "The true classics are ripe for reinterpretation at any time" (Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday, 18th October, 2012)? Twentieth century 'blues' onto the twenty-first century disillusionments.

Or, should we, Belvoir, just encourage Australian writers to write culturally-relevant plays with a confection of laughter coating and put them on the stage instead? Perhaps: Ian Meadows with BETWEEN TWO WAVES at the Griffin, for instance, seems a probable candidate, as he manages a  Climate Change 'discussion/debate' within a vivid romantic comedy; Lachlan Philpott with his TRUCKSTOP this year at the Q Theatre and the Seymour Centre is alive and challenging our cultural flabbiness- not so funny though; Damien Millar with his THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD, surely, one of the best Australian plays in the last decade, especially as far as cultural relevancy is concerned - again, not so funny. Or what about PRIVATE LIVES assistant director, Kit Brookman? What does he have on his desk at the moment - a play for sure? Four living Australian writers that I have named. Any other suggestions? I am certain that there are......

Meanwhile, at Belvoir, we can see PRIVATE LIVES by Noel Coward as a serious examination of love, life and the difficult pursuit of happiness, within the confection of a few laughs? A Profound Experience.


  1. Modern Dramatists. Noel Coward by Frances Gray, Macmillan, 1987.
  2. Coward the Playwright by John Lahr, Methuen, 1983.
  3. Noel Coward by Philip Hoare, Sinclair-Stevenson,1995.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Between Two Waves

 Rachel Gordon, Ian Meadows & Ash Ricardo - Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of BETWEEN TWO WAVES by Ian Meadows at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

A passionate Climate Studies scientist, Daniel (Ian Meadows) takes a role in a government department in an attempt to help persuade the same government policy makers to be more aware and more realistic about the probable state of the world's climate future, both near,and far, in time:
The carbon dioxide traps the heat. When the temperature rises two degrees we lose the Arctic sea ice, then West Antarctica, then the Greenland ice sheet. Without the ice the earth is less white so it can't reflect the sun. The darker oceans absorb more heat and so the melting increases again, until the permafrost goes too,releasing all the other gases that it's frozen for millions of years… Drinking water is contaminated, crops fail worldwide and then, just as resources plummet, there's an extra two billion to take care of. .... There's a tipping point where it becomes impossible to reverse. We said it would be here in five years. Ten years ago. And now it's too late.
This passionate speech comes from a 30 year old Daniel, traumatised by family tragedy, the death (suicide?) of his sister, fractious rivalry with his father, and a storm flooding his home and professional property, and 'freaking out' about the moral responsibility of bringing a child into existence, with his girlfriend Fiona (Ash Ricardo). Can I bring life into a doomed  world scenario?

This new Australian play is an interesting experience. There is a love story of some intelligent wit and suitable romance, not an unusual concern for an Australian play. That the romance is a sugar coating for the big social and political dilemmas of Daniel's world is, contemporaneously, unusual. Not since, perhaps, early Stephen Sewell and his political thrillers have we had such weaving: Romantic love and politics! Mr Meadows is not as insightfully complicated as Mr Sewell, which may be a relief for some of us with memories of long nights in the theatre, and, so, his simplicity is most welcome.  BETWEEN TWO WAVES is not quite as dense as Mr Sewell's political interests and paranoia, as say in : THE FATHER WE LOVED ON A BEACH BY THE SEA (1978) or DREAMS IN AN EMPTY CITY (1986).

And, there are, however, I think, problems of clear character writing and function, dramaturgically, in the finished text which could be further sorted. I enjoyed the appearance of the insurance adjuster, Glenelle (Rachel Gordon) but still am a little befuddled, about what her function is in the play structure - more clarity! - does it even need to be a woman?! I read the play, honing it, for that purpose. No real answer. I also felt that Jimmy (Chum Ehelepola), Daniel's fellow climatologist and boss (?) was, in the writing, a little too obviously functionary, with not enough depth to character. Should Mr Meadows be acting in , as well writing  this first showing of the play? His outside eye might have been clearer to the play's needs.

The experience of the performance, on the other hand, was really highly enjoyable and I was less hassled about the writing while watching. The science is simple to absorb and is broad enough for me accept as true. The romance between Daniel and Fiona is brusque, funny and very contemporary and had a ring of knowledge of the characters as real sparing partners, in love. Truth of a hip observation of a smart couple resonated  - a feeling of a first hand acquaintance/observation.

Mr Meadows is an actor of ease and a likable personal quality, combined with great skill and clarity of action, that one is always excited, in the anticipation, of catching him at work. His work is always so believable and gives the appearance of effortlessness. Ms Ricardo, who gave a gem of a performance in the STC LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES earlier this year, reveals in this bigger opportunity, a sense of detailed character study with an instrument that has the dexterity to shift, on an instant from one tone, mood, to another, with great confidence and accuracy. Ms Ricardo takes breathlessly, daring risks in what looks like improvised seconds of action, but are cleverly disguised determinants (check out THE PIGEONS, as a reference to her evolving work). Fiona is witty, clever, compassionate and femininely human, vulnerable - with a flint of steel that she is willing to bring to the fore when needed. With Daniel that 'nerdy scientist' , Fiona finds it is often a necessary 'weapon'. These two actors, together, in their scenes have a real simpatico and they are as fun to watch as that other couple down at the STC, at present, in SEX WITH STRANGERS: Jacqueline McKenzie and Ryan Corr. There is a frisson of the friendly battle between the sexes that is fun and surprising. Good writing and acting, here.

Ms Gordon, as Grenelle, does not have the same clear function of action for her character, but in performance is in command and complex with many off stage personas to create and deal with. Mr Ehelepola does what he can without much help from the writer. A tight quartet serving and telling the story with an ensemble spirit.

Sam Strong has encouraged the action of the play inside a very elegant design solution by David Fleischer (there is, as well, a surprise coup de theatre incorporated). It looks contemporarily modish, and is pleasing architecturally, but, I wondered, when reading the text, whether the minimalistic decisions on props and furniture, in the actual performance of the show, really supported the clarity of the information necessary to keep the audience abreast of what was happening and where and, especially, when it was, emotionally - clues for us to read. Certainly, the stage descriptions in the published text clarified many a moment for me, afterwards. This is a case when more might be better. The video images are effective, projected onto the white floor and lowered roof, as a generalised statement in the theatre, quite dramatic if not particularly readable, and once again I was surprised about how pertinent the images intimated by the writer in the text were to the action of the story. It might be a case of the director and designer knowing what is not there and not seeing the production with the eyes of the first time viewer. The effect is theatrical but not informative. Matthew Marshall's lighting is arresting in its atmospheric and time affect indications.

BETWEEN TWO WAVES is a fresh and interesting work, attempting to debate vital social issues within a very contemporary rom/com. I recommend it.

Two Australian actors writing for the theatre: Toby Schmitz and Ian Meadows. Whilst Mr Schmitz's play I WANT TO SLEEP WITH TOM STOPPARD had all the right oomph of the romantic comedy - it was in content, essentially trivial. Mr Meadows has that titillating oomph as well, but BETWEEN TWO WAVES, has deeper concerns. I may like it more. Do go, see what you think.

P.S. THE HERETIC by Richard Beane, seen last year at the Melbourne Theatre Company, is an interesting curiosity, companion piece, to this work.

Legally Blonde

Photo by Jeff Busby

Howard Panter for The Ambassador Group and John Frost in association with MGM ON STAGE, Darcie Denkert and Dean Stolber present LEGALLY BLONDE. Music and Lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Book by Heather Hatch. Based upon the novel by Amanda Brown and The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Motion Picture at the Lyric Theatre, Star City.

LEGALLY BLONDE is a musical I caught in London a couple of years ago . I saw it in the beginning of its long season (see my post on that production here). It was a great, fun couple of hours. It was divinely silly: OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS. If you don't believe me, you have to trust me.

This Sydney/Australian production has all the same ingredients, writing - music, lyric and book, production design and choreography, and for the audience I saw it with, it was an energising couple of hours spent. What it doesn't have, ingredient wise, is a consistently first rate cast. The depth of talent is depressingly shallow - read the program biographies. I did enjoy the chutzpah and bright skill of Helen Dallimore in the second banana role of Paulette. David Harris as nice guy, Emmett Forrest, was also top notch.

Comparisons are odious, of course, BUT, for my money the rest of the company, and that includes Lucy Durack as the heroine, Elle Woods, are simply demonstrations of Australian Musical Theatre competence. For example, just what musical theatre quality other than, sun glowing good looks and height did Cameron Daddo have to secure this role? His first song "BLOOD IN THE WATER" seemed remarkably strained and on the cusp of his ability.Maybe, I just caught him on an off-night? for he has the job, and, so, he must be the best actor available in Sydney to play Professor Callahan. I do, however, recollect the wit, elan and marvellous elegance of Peter Davison in London in the same role. But, even the dogs in this production seemed to lack the oomph needed, although there were still many an "OOOH" and "AHHH" on all their appearances. Good, commendable but not really special.The company hit the mark needed to deliver efficiency: drilled, drilled, drilled to within an inch of their skills, but, they just never took off. This musical is really silly, and to consistently go along with it, as an audience, it requires that extra edge. This souffle of a musical never rises too high with this production. The recipe of this show just does not have the same quality of "produce", the ingredients of the London outing - and, there, is the difference.

It is, of course, that X Factor, that star quality, talent that makes the difference. Some might say, and I have experienced it professionally, sometimes, but rarely, sheer guts as well can get you up to the mark - consistency becomes an issue then, of course. Ms Durack, who I saw as Glinda the Good Witch in WICKED and was partially impressed by, even though her voice sounded cracked and frayed, just does not have IT, the X factor, in this role. Sheridan Smith in London was a stratospheric knock-out. Delicious, funny, affectionate, light hearted and just so skillful in every demand the role requires. Ms Durack just looks and sounds out of her comfort zone, even her clothes do not look right, especially the supposed straighter corporate ones. The eyes of this performer do not have the glow of a confident artist, let alone the spunk of Elle Woods!

I recommend a documentary EVERY LITTLE STEP (2008) which covers dancers/actors struggling through auditions and rehearsal for the recent Broadway revival of 'A CHORUS LINE'. I was amazed that in this documentary, every performer was auditioning, yes, auditioning, at Opening Night skill and energy. It struck me that the competency level of all these artists at the aspirational, pointy-end of Broadway, was far superior to any production that I have ever seen in Australia (bar, perhaps the Australian HAIRSPRAY, JERSEY BOYS) I was gob-smacked and wondered, ridiculously, just what they had to rehearse to get the actual performance better. I did acknowledge that these artists were entering at Level 8 or 9, in their field of endeavour in New York, and what was expected to get a job, make a hit in the competitive and expensive Musical Scene on Broadway was a 10. To get to level 10 from 8 or 9, one would have to be potentially amazing! A possible 10, strutting all the gifts. It is a fine line between good and great, but it is a line. It is an Olympian stratosphere, only gods should approach and can survive in. Watch that documentary carefully, for one will see the subtle differences between star quality and the also-rans at that level. Most of the performers in this production of LEGALLY BLONDE were, may be level 6 or 7, in my estimation. Based on my musical theatre observation over many years, in many different countries.

Now there are undoubted stars in Australian Musical Theatre of true stellar  X factor quality but the range of talent, in any one production is, always extremely disparate in standard on our stages. This is in direct comparison of the first rung Broadway and West End Musical Theatre I have seen, generally. The London production of LEGALLY BLONDE, in its opening week, which is when I saw it, made it a must see and share experience.

I know so many Australian musical theatre aspirants and I am simply asking, challenging, what their approach to the instrument development and maintenance is - for, on observation in this Sydney production, it does not seem to be enough.

LEGALLY BLONDE at the Lyric Theatre is fun but just not great enough to have me bounce out of the theatre as I did in London and say, unequivocally, see this show. If you have no way to compare productions this will please you, but if you have, this LEGALLY BLONDE is little more than, OK.

P.S. Interesting that the production photographs in the Program are courtesy of the UK Tour Production 2011 (Johann Persson) and not the Australian production???? The souvenir buyers will be disappointed, indeed, if they have a favourite artist!

I just read in the paper, the smh 15th October, that "We've had 200 people a night at the stage door. That's absolutely extraordinary." - Howard Panter. Not so extraordinary, really, when you publicly announce over the theatre sound system, before the show begins an invitation to do so! In this celebrity driven culture that is like throwing fresh raw meat to invite the lions to enjoy themselves. All those young girls with their mums and all the show themed 'loot' on their arms just might enjoy a touch or autograph from the performers, to top the night - despite the program production photographs.
I wonder do the actors get a bonus for connecting at the stage door - is it part of their contract or not ... their show may not finish for hours after the curtain fall at 200 deep to press through to get home ... or can they get home through a secret passage?

The Criminals

Photo by Lucy Parakhina

The Old 505 Theatre presents THE CRIMINALS by Jose Triana (translated by Adrian Mitchell) at the Old 505 Theatre, Hibernian House, Elizabeth St, Central Railway.

THE CRIMINALS (La Noche de los Asesinos -The Night of the Assassins) by Jose Triana, has been translated by Adrian Mitchell. Apparently there are two versions of the play written by Mr Triana, a Cuban writer. The first in 1957 whilst the writer was living in Spain during the time of the Cuban revolution against Fulgencio Batista. The second in 1965 after he had returned to Cuba and was part of the "artistic and intellectual communities surrounding Fidel Castro". The text was revised. It had now a reduced cast of three, and shifted the style into an "absurd ritual" and according to the programme notes from this production - became "a more sober examination of a world after victory ... Triana's Cubans are post-traumatic, post-utopian and post-radical - a community undergoing in Triana's own words, a 'collective schizophrenia' ..."

A surviving 'family' of young adults, Lalo (David Valencia), Cuca (Rosanna Easton) and Beba (Emily Morrison) act out a series of ritualised games about the murder of parents. Fictive or non-fictive, a future plan or a remembered action, we never clearly know. A sense of a traumatic need to discover a basis to behave permeates the content of the play and stretches the relationships of the characters into shifting alliances. It reminded me of the ritual games of some of Jean Genet's work: THE MAIDS (1947), THE BALCONY (1957) and THE SCREENS (1964). Like this play, they too, seemed to exist, as a result of huge cultural turmoil resulting in a primal search for a new way of behaving and identity. This is not a familiar Australian dilemma.

I am not sure whether this translation is dated or whether, more simply, the content of the play and it's methods, just do not have relevant cultural resonance or urgency for me. This production may have sprung from the passion of identification that Mr Valencia may have to the original material, he being of a Latin American background (Colombian), and the persuading of the director, James Dalton, to its potential for a contemporary Sydney audience, but, I remained mostly coolly aloof from the story telling and its consequences.

Another reason for this company to choose this text is the opportunities for acting that the writer has resolved. Mr Valencia as Lalo, the brother, certainly seizes the material, and has a clear and powerful vision (identification, perhaps) of what the play is saying and is particularly mesmerising. His work is imbued with possessed passion that mounts to a climatic monologue of transfixing immediacy. Ms Morrison as Beba, the 'sister' with less to say, also, when given the opportunity, focuses our attention - her 'Spanish' is connected and palpable in its performance effect. On the other hand Ms Easton as Caca, seems to be in another world other than the one the other actors are dealing with and does not really connect or build her performance with or from them. The performance only 'appears' to be present with the other characters but is really, on analysis, a solo turn. It is dynamic and confident but disassociated from the shown activity that the other two actors attempt to communicate to her and to us.

The performance I saw then did not have a concerted cohesion. Only two of the performing energies are focused on the storytelling, the writer's intentions, and so, the play falters under the absence of the other 'pillar' of the structure. This lack of ensemble causes the set up moments of Mr Dalton's production to be unclear and the modus operandi of the style of the play and the joint collusion of intent of these characters is not filtered to us until well into the playing time, where writerly reiteration conveys that knowledge. Sadly, by that time one was out of caring for the people of the play, and, rather, intent on analyzing why was this so.

The design in this intimate space by Emma Kingsbury and Dylan Tonkin is beguiling with its balance of a Cuban colour palette (greens, orange), and a profligate weight of found furniture and prop objects that created believably a world of scavenged looting - a world of chaos and catch-what-catch-can. Atmospheric.

It is interesting to have the opportunity to see this writer's work and be invited to participate in a Latin American story and milieu. I recommend the production with that in mind and to see the flair of a very arresting imagination and skill in Mr Valencia's work and the obvious intelligence and theatrical care of the director, Mr Dalton.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sex with Strangers

Sydney Theatre Company presents SEX WITH STRANGERS by Laura Eason at Wharf 1, Hickson Rd.

SEX WITH STRANGERS is a contemporary, American, romantic comedy (rom-com) for two actors by Laura Eason. Olivia (Jacqueline McKenzie) is a 39 year old teacher, who once wrote a novel. The critical response and the public response to that novel was crucially poor. It scared her off that particular career path, although, when the play begins, she is wrestling with a draft of a new novel at a writer's retreat (a luxury bed and breakfast) in a snow blizzard, in rural Michigan. A young blogger/New York Times Best Seller writer, Ethan Strange, 27, (Ryan Corr), arrives to, it appears at first, to also complete a new work - a mutual mentor/writer acquaintance of both the characters has recommended the retreat.

Progressively, we discover that Ethan is a big fan of the first novel by Olivia and has some business offers for an online publishing company he is setting up. The play evolves as a romantic travail for both, that takes many twists and turns and tumbles into each others arms, right down to a teasing last heart beat as the lights fade. It is funny, sentimental and warming in the most pleasant way. A middle of the road adventure.

But, what also happens in Ms Eason's play, is a gentle clash and exposure of cultural values of different generations, of writers, and of the new challenges facing the means by which books may be published: E-books or the classic Hard Cover. It deals with the evolving moral lines drawn in the proverbial 'sands' of what is acceptable behaviour in public and private lives - the real world and the virtual world. Social Media! Could Ms Eason have a more prescient finger on the pulse of the contemporary publishing dilemmas? It tangles, teasingly, with  audience impressions of the flashy, glib, expert, I.T. hipster, Ethan, who has a creative bent with salacious confessions of lots of sex with strangers, maybe fictive, maybe not, that he has converted from an enormously popular on-line interactive blog to a highly successful Best Seller, and that of the older, convention-bound, talented but failed artist, Olivia, who desperately graves validation and success, and, is yet, paralyzed, with fear of rejection. Again.

Ethan appears suspect morally. Is that because he is soooo young? Olivia appears rock solid in her moral codes. Is that because she appears soooo mature? What was intriguing, for me, was to have my own 'detective' suspicions confirmed during this bouncy, clever, episodic, ten scene play. I am not going to tell you what those suspicions were except, as a clue, that old aphorism "Don't Judge a Book By It's Cover", seems apt. The last beat of the play asks, "Can bookish thritysomething love interest Olivia ever trust Ethan?" or, is it, to the surprise, maybe, for some,  "Should twentysomething love interest Ethan ever trust Olivia?" Go and see which question is the most pertinent. The determining factor might be generational recognition!

This a very handsome production by film director, Jocelyn Moorhouse. Mostly, she manages the action of the play easily. The look of the show, Set Design by Tracy Grant Lord, with two locations, are realistic and stylised at the same time, with the use of computer generated word play projected onto the back walls, sometimes spilling all over the set, quoting famous authors about the hazards of writing and love, during the many scene change moments. The quotes are well chosen, witty, sometimes poignant, even pungent (on recall of the production, the quotes maybe some of the more memorable writing!) The sure sense of character, structure and ease with the genre is strong and a model to study if one was a playwriter, oneself. The composition and Sound Design by Steve Francis, along with the lighting by Matthew Marshall, support without distraction, the main event - the play.

The best reason to see this play, however, is to see these two wonderful actors, Ms McKenzie and Mr Corr, who appear to have a chemical charisma that sparks ease and comfort, trust, and great emotional empathy for each other, and have the ability to translate that joy into a comfortable gift to, and, for the audience. Ms McKenzie is her usual combustible gifted self, in a role that is slightly underwritten in the first half of the play, who masterfully disguises that, keeps it afloat and aloft, and pounces on her second act 'stuff' with appetite. While, Mr Corr in his debut at the Sydney Theatre Company presents himself as a highly attractive and sophisticated player, carrying the bulk of the energy trajectory of Ms Eason's interests. He is simply bursting with sexual energy and dexterous wit, physical ease and elegance. He plays, undauntingly, as an equal, with Ms Mckenzie's experience and generosity. A kind of partnership magic of the Tracey/Hepburn kind smoulders here. Here is a young actor to watch out for. Mr Schmitz move over.

My one quibble is the use of the Australian accent with this text. The STC's policy seems to be that this is an Australian story, so, let's use our Australian voice. And, for arguments sake, as the Australian is no less human than the American, it is our story, a human story. But it is couched in a very differently expressed language culture.

A surface reading of this production in Wharf 1, has us meet two successful Australian writers, with problems, who happen to live, and are successful in the United States. We are in rural Michigan and Chicago, they tell us so, and the publishing and film behemoths they aspire and struggle with are definitely, powerful American Corporations- publishing companies and film studios and cities. Just how did these two Aussies achieve this education and level of success in a very competitive field in the United States locations and still have their Australian accents, without even affect, is a wonder.

It is a really kind of irritating and weird choice by the company - but, not one that is unique in their output. I felt, feel, stupid to be annoyed by such trivia. But many others have told me of their 'stupidity',(read frustration), as well. So, I protest, once again about this practice. I feel condescended too. Ms Eason's American text delivered in this very different sound organisation, that is the Australian vernacular, seems to be a little blunted musically with the vowel sounds. And certainly, in the musical and rhythmical patterns scored on the page, the vocal delivery does not have the direct energy of the American dialect for which it was written, and as such, I suspect, may cost some of the comic effects of Ms Eason's writing. For she is writing keenly and well with an American ear for the effect of her comic material. I think the play is more adept than we hear, here. As she was a guest at the Opening Performance, I wonder what she felt?

SEX WITH STRANGERS premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago last year and may represent a cultural payoff/exchange for the Sydney Theatre Company, who hosted that company's production of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY nearly two years ago. (A pity the STC did not include an interest in the International prize winning play CLYBOURNE PARK by another Steppenwolf writer, Bruce Norris - it is wonderful! The Melbourne Theatre Company presented it last year). SEX WITH STRANGERS is a very pleasant representative of the possibilities of theatre writing diversity, that we haven't seen much of, at the STC, in recent past seasons (THE HISTRIONICS, instead, galore!) It is most welcome, however 'soft' it may be for some. It might be even more interesting if the STC commissioned an Australian romantic comedy written in the Australian vernacular for us, instead of bowdlerising the American play literature to find the Australian story. Jane Bodie, produced a very interesting play last year in this genre: THIS YEAR'S ASHES, up at the Griffin Theatre and might be worth commissioning. I'm sure she would be chuffed. That play has a very interesting female lead, by the bye.

Come to think of it, it would be wonderful, would it not, if Cate Blanchett, instead of her recreation of , and in, characters from the Classics, (next year a role in that tiresome play THE MAIDS, although, double, double bonus, for us, with Isabelle Huppert!). The roles we have seen her give, have been, undoubtedly,  a magnificent feast for us, but wouldn't it be great if she got down to creating for us, an original Australian play role? Her early career has footprints all over the Australian vernacular - her film characters included. Who knows, maybe, next year!!! Australian writers would be pleased to write for her, I'm sure. Australian audiences would be pleased as well. I know I would be. Isn't there an Australian role that Ms Blanchett is interested in? If there is, it is curious, that the STC hasn't yet found a place for that role in their season plans, and if there isn't, why haven't they commissioned one for her, in the years that she has been Co-Artistic Director. (Mr Upton is a writer - he must know her well.)

Meanwhile GROSS UND KLEIN travelled to London for the Arts Olympics this year, and to other European countries for other reasons, with our Cate as the German heroine Lotte, no Australian woman has appeared from our dramatic literature, on any recent high profile international stage. Our Australian playwrights not up to the task, I guess?! We are told, as is the world, as it seems to be a policy choice by the STC, based on practice habit, that GROSS UND KLEIN is an Australian story because we were using Australian accents. SEX WITH STRANGERS is an Aussie story that just happens to be set in the US of A, isn't it?

The three volume novel of Frank Moorehouse : GRAND DAYS, DARK PALACE and COLD LIGHT has a heroine worthy of Ms Blanchett's gifts : Edith Campbell Berry. Anybody game to adapt?