Monday, February 27, 2012
New Theatre presents THE TEMPERAMENTALS by Jon Marans at the New Theatre, Newtown.
I have been, of late, busy creating. Hence, the slow list of Diary entries.
One of these activities has been my direction of THE TEMPERAMENTALS by Jon Marans for the New Theatre as part of the Mardi Gras theatre program. The other has been work on Gao Xingjjian's wonderful play, THE OTHER SHORE, for the School of Art and Media at the University of New South Wales.
I am genuinely pleased about the experience of THE TEMPERAMENTALS and particularly proud of the work of the actors who collaborated with me on this play: Douglas Hansell, Daniel Scott, Mark Dessaix, Ben McIvor and Brett Rogers.
The production finishes on Saturday, 3rd March. I think it is worth seeing this play and especially watching these terrific actors, who, as all of us engaged on the project, have been doing it without remuneration of any kind. enjoying the practice of the craft we all have trained for.
Contact New Theatre for further information.
You can read my director's notes for this production at the New here…
and my review of the New York production, directed by Jonathan Silverstein here…
Two of reviews of the NEW THEATRE production:
Augusta Supple review…
Jason Blake review…
Belvoir produced BABYTEETH by Rita Kalnejais at the Belvoir St Theatre, Upstairs.
BABYTEETH by Rita Kalnejais, is a contemporary story of a young fourteen year old girl in the last stages of dying from cancer and the repercussions on her close and extended 'family'.
In the very first scene Millla (Sara West), the girl, dies. The play then travels back in time to show us some of the events that lead to this ending at the beginning of the play. We see it again in dumb show, later. Since we know the ending, perhaps, we can watch the storytelling with more objective watching or, depending on your disposition, with a gentle, gathering, subjective sadness. There is, fortunately, in the writing, a kind of refined, tender emotion going on here and not a mawkish, emotional indulgence. Sentiment as opposed to sentimentality. The play has humour, albeit, from a peculiar angle, but, still, humour.
The play reveals the extended 'family' in the normal river of life, the everyday routine of a dawn and sunset and all in between,in kitchens, bedrooms, doctor's offices, railway platforms and bush parks, whilst dealing, covertly, independently and interdependently, with the rather big meditation around the cycle and inevitabilities of life and death. There is, as in last year's NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH by Lally Katz (another Melbourne based writer) a risk of a soap opera element to the experience. But Ms Kalnejais has a quirky eye for the capturing everyday events, like a moment at on a railway platform, from a slightly odd, off-centred observational place, and it is this skew-whiff detailing that brings the, commonplace to a gently refreshing perspective. Quirky sex and neighbourly interactions included. Co-incidences and ironies abound. They are not presented, thrust at us, but rather, just drift by, to be seen, caught, if you are of the mood.
The play has a deep remembrance of the writer's own experience of the death of a young friend, Jemma. In the program notes to the play Ms Kalnejais tells of her reflection on how some trivial, split second encounters in her life, that passed at the time without real impact, have over time,on reflection, gained significance and become a key, a turning point in the consequent shaping of her life. This play writing is full of it, but ultimately is not about Milla or her family, but about Ms Kalenjais trying to ask questions that (Jemma's) life asked her. "How do you love like you've got nothing to lose? How do you let go? How do you experience the world in all of its intensity without being torn apart by its violence and wild, wild, wild kindness?"
The director, Eamon Flack, unlike his rather effusive writing in the program notes, has with an expert and sensitive cast shaped a relatively spare and emotionally unencumbered rendering of this play. It is full of emotional traps and could be trivialised. It is not here. All the actors, Kathryn Beck, Helen Buday, David Carreon, Russell Dykstra, Eamon Farren, Greg Stone and Sara West - give beautifully understated and closely observed performances of gentle kindness, allowing these people they are 'inhabiting' just to live out their lives as written on the page without actorly comment or judgement. They allow these people to 'be' - they are not 'acted' or 'directed' (much). Restraint and genuine care appears to be the tone from these artists and it pays off in cumulative power. However resistant one might be to the premise of the play, its tawdry people, its subject matter or its mode of telling, and I have friends who were, I could not help but be moved to some place other than my seat in the Upstairs theatre.
The design elements are supportive, Set Design by Robert Cousins: a glossy, white surgical like set with silver accouterments gleaming reflectively for the kitchen; an unfinished room of undercoat paint for a bedroom/music room. Two rooms standing in for many, counterpointed with a retro-fifties office space, on a relentlessly moving revolve, that covers the difficult costume and set change demands of the writing (sometimes, in that sense, a screenplay rather than a theatre piece), spinning sometimes a little too long to sustain the wait of the audience in their sense of belief, no matter the assistant distraction of the melodies managed by the Sound Design of Steve Francis and Composition by Alan John. The costumes by Alice Babidge are excellent in their unobtrusive observation and character defining accuracy. The Lighting Design by Niklas Pajanti creates atmosphere and shape to the story needs.
Five interesting new plays written by women in the past year: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH by Lally Katz; A QUIET NIGHT IN RANGOON by Katie Pollock; SPROUT by Jessica Bellamy; THIS YEAR'S ASHES by Jane Bodie;and now BABYTEETH by Rita Kalnejais. All five deal with the repercussions of death on life. Three of them, those of the major professional houses, two for the Belvoir and one for the Griffin, have a rom-com edge or sensibility. One has an exploring poetic form experiment going on and the other sits squarely in moving contemporary political events - a relative rarity in Australian playwriting. These last two in co-op houses at the Old Fitz and the New Theatre (Spare Room project).
What I pine for, beyond the above successes, and because of the great potential revealed in these writers, are new Australian plays that venture into exploring ideas deeply, and maybe challenging who some call God.
BABYTEETH, like the others, explores the life/death dilemma that is the unconscious (and for some) conscious motivating WHY of our life actions. This play has a deeper consciousness of the pain of living and a possible other life on "another shore" eased into with drug foggery. What particularly struck me was Ms Kalnejais' casual absorption and revelation of a world filled with contemporary characters, easily recognisable, that are all dealing with this timeless meditation of death in a medicated state. All of them.
The dying daughter, perforce of her medical physicians and their prescriptions, doped to livability through pain palliatives; the mother, a prescription addict who has the convenience of a doctor as a husband to maintain and expand her needs in this trying time; a father/doctor who injects himself, we witness, with drugs to cope; a dealer/addict floating high above the current vicissitudes of a demanding life meeting with Milla, on a lifestyle of illicit drug taking; and finally a neighbour, pregnant but determined to continue the lightweight legal drugs of choice to keep herself relaxed and comfortable. All of the people (but the music teacher and his Asian student) of this world in BABYTEETH in completely unnatural states of 'medicated' delusions, that our modern world has made available for them to be able to go on. A brave new world indeed in our evolution.
That I, as I watched this play was, relatively, able to not judge or condemn these people and their way of coping and be moved to a place of pity without cultural alarm, has, on reflection, made me restless. That one character, Gidon (Russell Dykstra) an irascible but charming mangler of English (like the heroine of NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH) arrests us with the 'drug' of music, music that may soothe the savage beast, and provide, perhaps, a primitive but historical alternative, to be able to survive tragedy, without medical intervention is a sentimental gesture - a bit of a fop - it works as a tool but not as an argument. Unless you are moved by emotional logic outbursts like this one, brilliantly played by Mr Dykstra, (who isn't?):
"You are tearing apart. But you are trying controllings it all. Milla dyings - it is making me sad. Is so sad! The world is sad. Not because she (Milla) is this great violin. Milla is this girl with the slouching and the crazy blushing cheek. This being enough tragedy. The world should being sad. The world should stop for you and for her. But you cannot stop it. This life is playing you when you are breaking. Don't resist it make you crazy. Sing. Play. Feel it Anna feel it. (Gesturing to the piano). Fuck fuck you scream ... Anna (Taking her hands) FUCK BACK ----"I wondered what if the end of Ms Kalenjais play was the end of Act One. I wondered what play could come in the wrestling, a disquisition in the second act with the modus operandi of this brave new world of the chemically comatose and what implications it has for our evolution. Where will it take us? What will be acceptable normality next year? Next decade? Or is this how it has always been? Etc. etc. etc. Having been recently inspired by the pleasure and wit and challenge of the writing of George Bernard Shaw's PYGMALION, the sheer complexity (relative, of course) of the Act Five clash between Eliza and Henry, mesmerizing and cumulatively life enhancing, it seems I want more from our Australian writers than what I am getting. Do we as a culture not have it in us?
The persistent voice of the Australian writer and, perhaps appetite of the Australian audience, (or the one our Artistic choosers of plays at the company's we attend) seems to be content with, is the relative sentimental affirmation of having the world shown to us as it is without much further interrogation. A sense of making us relaxed and comfortable with what is transpiring around us, being moved by our feelings of grateful recognition but not necessarily thoughtfully challenged about the morality of it all. The simple decency of it all.
I read Jon Robin Baitz's new play OTHER DESERT CITIES - and see a writer growing into a stature of cultural as well as entertainment value -a play that challenges, at least his American audience, if not universally the rest of the world (I believe he does) to contemplate the cause and affect of their collective 'power' decisions. I read LONDON EARTHQUAKES by Mike Bartlett, I read THE HERETIC by Richard Bean, WRITTEN ON THE HEART by David Edgar and I wonder where are these equivalent writers in the Australian playwriting landscape. Certainly, Damien Millar's play, THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD in 2008, gave me hope. Maybe, when the THYESTES creatives move on to more independent sources for their inspiration we will see it. When Nigel Jamieson finds a dramaturg he can work with more profitably we may see his world view shattering us. The promise of Daniel Keene's THE SERPENT'S TEETH I long to see fulfilled again at that scale, further into the Australian prospect, with the same incisive courage.
These recent new Australian plays are good but mostly an anaesthesia. I would like something more. Maybe these writers are not that kind of writer and we should be grateful for what they can do. But there are others, surely? There are plays, being written, surely, that deal with Australian culture, history and lifestyle with a seriously discriminating intelligence and offer of balanced controversial debate?
I recommend BABYTEETH. It is well done, but wish it were more, considering the talent around it - especially the actors.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), 2012, Tour One; Chopin and Mendelsshon's Octet in the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra are my favourite concert music maker artists. This first concert for 2012 features the Chopin Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11 (arr. Hofmann) (with string accompaniment) with guest pianist Polina Leschenko.
No matter the undeniable skills of Ms Leschenko I was flatly unmoved or connected to the Chopin. Similarly the Mendelssohn Octet for strings in E flat major, Op.20 failed to sustain my interest. Whether it was the choice of music or the playing, or me on the day is what I have been asking myself.
On the other hand, the Gorecki Piano Concerto (Concerto for Harpsichord, or Piano and Strings, Op 40) -1980, played thrillingly and relentlessly by Ms Leschenko was simply electrifying. A mere 8 minutes long - the pianist and the music seized one and took us into a breathless concentration. The historical and political placement of this composition - in the Polish struggle for self rule amidst Russian occupation gave the work gravitas and deep resonances.
The Ennio Morricone Esercizi (Exercises) for 10 solo strings No.1 (interrupted melody and improvised canon), an example of the exploration addressing the 'problem', how to interrupt or change a melody in a systematic way, so that its gradual fragmentation becomes the very point of the pattern making? Morricone has admitted, despite his fame in his film music scores, "For myself, I can do without a melody. In fact, I've often tried to disguise a melodic theme by adding rests and pauses and silences, and to encourage the listeners to identify with the sensations of sheer musical colours, instead of with a tune ... " In this Esercizi, Morricone has concentrated on a few fleeting fragments from a famous moment in Verdi's LA TRAVIATA , the scena 'Arnami Alfredo ' . The result was a curious and attractive enticement. Strange, weird and still fascinating.
The short Paganini / Tognetti CAPRICE ON CAPRICES (DEVA) was a brief and tanatlising entry to the day's music.
The new, the modern music interested me in a way that the Chopin couldn't on this occasion.
A new season of adventure, and exploration in music with the ACO has begun. Unexpectedly tentative, for me, but with trusting expectations for the concerts to come.
Sydney Theatre Company presents PYGMALION by George Bernard Shaw at the Sydney Theatre.
What is best about this production of PYGMALION by George Bernard Shaw is the opportunity to hear and see this text by one of the great writer's for the theatre. I believe it is the first time that I have seen or heard it on the stage. Read it, of course, many times and know the beautifully bowdlerised version of it called MY FAIR LADY both on stage and film.
In this production by Peter Evans for the Sydney Theatre Company, a production conceived with an eye to it being a school text and therefore coming with a possible captive audience - box office pleaser - the design concept seems to have focused on stripping the play down - to permit a searching interrogation of the text by the actor and audience with little other distractions. Although Robert Cousins is attributed as the set designer, even Cate Blanchett in her post show thanks, alluded to one that is rather "a lack of set". To wit, I mean the play is presented in the bare black box of the architectural shape of the space. It is simply the walled black hole facing the auditorium. A few contemporary contextual props, camera, screens, micro-phones on stands, x-ray views of the human skull etc, to possibly popularly update the principal character's profession, that of a phonetician. Add a few spare necessary pieces of approximate Edwardian furniture to give historical and physical location to the different scenic definitions by Shaw, scattered around the vast cavity, augmented by efficient lighting of a practical rather than atmospheric bent (Damien Cooper) and a fairly underused and/or underconceived AV Design for further distraction or illumination (Sean Bacon), one has, less is more as the scenic offers.
The intention, I guess, was to focus the production onto the interrogation of the arguments of this play - which follows in the tradition of Mr Shaw's usual intentions as a writer to a disquisition of ideas and important social and metaphysical issues concerning mankind. That he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1925, having previously declined it, is meritoriously amplified even with this text - to the surprise of some of my friends, for undoubtedly there are other plays of his that are even more thrilling to encounter both intellectually (and comically). That this production succeeds in doing this, I observed in the unusual intensity of the still and absorbed interest that the audience I was with, attended to the proceedings. Not since that artistic and box office triumph, for the STC of Michael Frayn's COPHENGAHGEN have I sat with an audience so intent, so full of attention to the spoken word and its subtleties of argument.
This was despite the infamous acoustic obstacle presented by this theatre. The actors were assisted with personal microphone adjustments and yet the discipline of the performers and the audience was (still is, I alarmingly understand), forced to a high effortful capacity of interaction and dependency to have a sensible time together. The physical and technical wear on the actors must be immense - maybe medically stressful (OH&S officers, where are you?). This choice to strip out this theatre space, which we have once before disastrously experienced having been done: the Cheek by Jowl, production of OTHELLO, a few years ago - ought to have alerted the artistic team responsible for the productions presented in the Sydney Theatre as to the difficulties that were going to be encountered. This theatre space what ever the physical aesthetic visual design may be, needs, surely, to be solved first from the most advantageous acoustical shapes to promote clear and reasonable assistance to the communication of the voices, and so the text, to the audience. No voice clarity, no communication, no play. Bring on the mimes or dancers. It is easy for the creative team, other than the actors who must practice their craft and art every performance literally in their designed problem, to ignore this practical demand and not give proper regard to the actors and ultimately the paying audience difficulties in this space when so sparely created.
It is then, the design solution by the artistic team that provides many obstacles to this production. The naked concentration forced upon the actors is then Olympian in its demands and for the most part, at least on opening night the actors were giving bravely and clearly. If the acting in this cavernous space lacked subtlety of expression it was perforce the stringencies of the designed (or lack of design) space rather than the aesthetic nuances/instincts of the actors.
The women in the company seemed, generally, to handle these problems best. Deborah Kennedy is intelligently, mordantly clever in her vocal characterisation of the practical 'mother figure', the house keeper, Mrs Pearce. Vanessa Downing strikes the right frigid class notes and stupidity with accuracy as the stereotyped middle class snob Mrs Eynsford Hill, while Harriet Dyer as her daughter, Clara, in a strikingly and unusual reading, scores contemporary laughter references with strangulated ease - if a little forced at times. Wendy Hughes seems to suffer most in this space and the authority, the vocal command of Mrs Higgins is somehow diminished and lacks a proper dominating balance that should be required in her scenes with her son, Henry.
Andrea Demetriades, making her debut with the Sydney Theatre Company, but, who we have seen, in beautifully shaped performances for Bell Shakespeare in PERICLES (as Marina) and TWELFTH NIGHT (as Viola), gives a remarkably assured and meticulously calibrated performance of gradual growth and revelation of the flowering Eliza Doolittle. Dressed in contemporary garb (Costume Design, Mel Page) Ms Demitriades sculpts from scene to scene the raw material of the 'gutter snipe' girl, to bargaining shopper for training, to her gradual growth to successful puppet, to useful servant, to awakening and awakened being, to assertive independence, equal and daunting to the creator, the creator of this happy 'monster': Professor Henry Higgins. There is a wisdom in her control of her instrument in its vocal expression and the natural physical grace of this actress transcends into a beauty that would, indeed, have transfixed the Pygmalion, the hero of the original story, as he was with his marble statue that came to life as his Galatea. The crowning gift that Ms Demitriades brings to this performance of Eliza is an easeful intelligence to accurate textual argument - it gives the appearance of discovery and applied constructive thought that elucidates the growing power of this experiment.between the men in her life and her awakened self within the rules of her society. An unconscious example for the struggling suffragettes of the Shavian period, the feminists of our time, too, perhaps.
In a very interesting essay on the play in the theatre program: "Pygmalion Meets The Twentieth Century Woman" Penny Gay writres: "Like so many young women of early twentieth-century literature, Eliza wants, not the pretty dresses and vapid conversation of ladies at upper-class garden parties, but the opportunity to work and make her own life. ... and he (Shaw ) clearly valued such women's energy, drive and performative power. Eliza is a superb embodiment of these qualities".
Shaw had a peculiar and totally fascinating history of interaction with the women in his life. A bachelor of outspoken beliefs, he married late (at 41) to a fellow socialist, a member of the Fabian Society, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, but still continued a series of impassioned flirtations with women of immense gifts and charisma. One of these was the actress, Mrs Patrick (Stella) Campbell, and it was with her in mind that he wrote the play PYGMALION. The power of his relationship with his own mother (Bessie), shrouded most of Shaw's interactions with the opposite sex. His biography by Michael Holroyd - a three volume behemoth published in 1988-89-91, is a tauntingly wondrous puzzle of analytical wizardry. That she is a dominant spectre to many of his female protagonists creations is evident and his quizzical declaration in one of my favourite plays of his, HEARTBREAK HOUSE, that women are the devil's grand daughters and slaves to the life force is a repeated half truth/joke that he held dearly to the core of his self and re-iterated tirelessly in his writings.
The final act struggle between Eliza and Henry Higgins is a cause for much thrilling battle observation between the sexes for the audience. It is so nuanced, that the stillness in the house on the night I saw the play underlined the grip that this clever playwright with these determined actors, speaking and arguing his text, despite the obstacles of the space, had on the contemporary audience. That I went home and pulled down the play text from my library to revise it while it was still vivid in my memory, is testament to the power of good writing. More of it please.
Marco Chiappi, a Melbourne actor, as Henry Higgins creates a tantalising possibility of the man as written by Shaw. Intellectually it is all in place. However, I felt that there was a distracting concentration on physical characterisation (a tendency by this actor) to embody the Shavian vision, that really is unnecessary if the text is just said and moved as Shaw envisions. The physical life was over-endowed and distracting to the overall clarity of Higgins' dilemma. Crumpled, curled and inclined to stiff twitches. Less may have been best. Mr Chiappi loses empathy to the simple physical directness of Ms Demitriades creation, although Henry is not an altogether pleasant man and we may be prejudiced towards him instinctively, today. Shaw subtitled the play "A Romance". By this he meant the romance of the possibility of the Edwardian 'gutter snipe' rising to a place of class distinction through self direction, effort. A touch of the Cinderella about Eliza - a fairy tale. He emphatically denied a romance between Eliza and Henry and wrote an after play essay and directed his translators firmly that all suggestions that they will marry be avoided. He never denied the sexual tensions between them and the longing but knew that the enormous differences between them would not placate the Life Force and that boring but privileged and young Freddy Eynsford Hill would be the mate for Eliza (a premise that Mr Stokes view of Freddy may be harder to believe). Mr Shaw's living engagment with "Stella" was evidence enough of that for him, what with his patient wife, informed and waiting on the side lines. The sexual tension, suspension, between the two protagonists at the end of the play is a supremely comic 'piss-take' that Shaw has with his audience. Indeed, he was Irish remember - and a provocateur to the end!
David Woods, as Alfred Doolittle, the father of Eliza, in the sub plot concerning the rise of the undeserving poor, through the opportunities availed on him with a gift of money in exchange for lectures on his personal philosphy of living, is remarkably attractive particularly in the second act encounter, but for some reason does not fully clinch the character development and argument in his return as a wealthy but blighted man. Kim Gyngell as Colonel Pickering is simply a presence and does not seem to have discovered why the character is even in the play. Curious, indeed.
One of the strength's of Mr Evans approach, I reckon, is not to see this play as simply a festival of talking heads, debating intellectual concepts, but rather flesh and blood animals pursuing the means to survive possessed of brains and vitally, passionately connected to that objective. Shaw was a man of the theatre. He often attended rehearsals and was excitedly involved in the evolution of not only his writings for the theatre but of others as well. A champion of the theatre as the centre of civilization. Mr Stoppard and Hare similarly inspired today and heirs to this very neglected genius in performance.
A curate's egg then. I recommend the play immensely. The staged reading of it, if the voices can be heard and are wearing well, a reason to go. As a theatrical production so denuded of visual theatrical impact with such startling absence of design, a point of aggravation for most. And even as an offer to school audiences, with perhaps the fore knowledge that this may be their first encounter in the theatre, an element of such seduction being missing, may be counterproductive, if encouraging new audiences is part of this company's corporate objectives for producing PYGMALION. A cynical reason to choose the play, I would venture. The directorial approach is just a little too academic. I hope that the lesson learned by our masters of what we get to see, take note that Shaw is an attractive draw card for an audience - theatrical intelligence always wins an audience when offered with such wit and intellectual panache.
Sydney Festival 2012 and Malthouse Theatre present Meow Meow's LITTLE MATCH GIRL at The Famous Spiegeltent, Hyde Park, Sydney.
Meow Meow is one of the exciting and not to be missed creative artists working in Australia. And with LITTLE MATCH GIRL the skills are impressive and production-wise, the appetite and ambition of vision of this work is both breathtaking and challenging.
LITTLE MATCH GIRL created by Meow Meow and Iain Grandage, directed by Marion Potts and produced by Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, has taken the Hans Christian Andersen story as a starting point. Today, we are mightily mistaken when we accept Mr Andersen's stories as children's stories, alone, for they are as enlightening and confrontingly powerful to the human condition, albeit, wrapped in that aforementioned guise, as in his contemporary, Charles Dickens's great novels: wonderful romantic adventure stories, wrapped in deeply felt observations and criticisms of the unfairness and the inhospitabilities of the real world. Lessons not just for children but for all, and regrettably through the passing of time, even now. Still. Neither Andersen or Dickens are outmoded in their observation and power.
Andersen inspired by his walks through the contemporary streets of his cities and touched by a drawing by Johan Thomas Lundbye, THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL "…is his best-known rendering of a subject which continued to haunt him, the death of a child." He returned to his own childhood as an impoverished outsider with the added echoes of his storytelling grandmother's accounts of her own childhood in the 1770's when she, like the little matchgirl was sent out to the street, cold and hungry to beg and was too frightened to return home penniless. This little matchgirl, unable to sell her matches, dies of the cold and is found with all her matches burnt around her. Mistakenly, the world believed that she had tried to warm herself, but we, who have read her story know that each lighted match, was for her, an entry into an illuminated hallucination of beauty and comfort and a radiance that she had gone into with her granny into the glad New Year. Jackie Wullschlager in her book "Hans Christian Andersen - The Life of a Storyteller" proposes that "This sentimental, condensed tragedy is Andersen's double answer to the establishment 'they' with whom he he could not feel at peace. The matches are a metaphor for the creative imagination, illuminating a world which 'they' cannot dream of; the matchgirl is the victim of a harsh, divided society where outsiders are left to die".
Meow Meow inspired by this story and the world around her states "…I'm a highly critical optimist. There are thousands of matchgirls and boys on our streets. Hans Christian Andersen's agit-prop fairytale of 1845 is horribly contemporary. …I saw a documentary about a Salvation Army-run youth shelter in Sydney called THE OASIS (Ian Darling). Brecht's famous Spurch: "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral" - first comes food and then comes morality - finds resonance for me with the Salvation Army's charter of "first soup, then soap, then salvation". Andersen captures abuse, exile and abandonment as familiar conditions and food, warmth, love, beauty and spirituality as fundamental human needs, not just wishful hallucinations. Some things cannot be forgotten or un-known, and yet we are now at a point in our world where recent tweeters in China were discussing the enactment of "Good Samaritan laws" to enforce social responsibility. .... and what can I do? I don't want to be an angel staring helplessly at the debris. I want us to remember to 'be careful' with each other".
A cabaret artist, an artist with lofty ambitions for her work. And even here in Hyde Park at the end of a Sydney Festival in a strangely cool and very wet summer in The Famous Spiegeltent, where audiences have usually gathered for relatively frothy musical and burlesque entertainments, of music and fantastic physical quirks, LITTLE MATCH GIRL spins a web of magic. True, the magic is not fully affective all the time, and the audience I was with was sometimes uncertain as to what they were viewing for what felt like two hours, (printed program time estimate was 1 hour 15 minutes) finishing at 11.30pm at night, and sometimes grew restless, (not, least because of the cramped and uncomfortable seating) the serious socially critical aspirations of the work were ballasted with the sheer chutzpah of the artists involved and their other excellent qualities as performers, so that satisfaction was mostly given.
Meow Meow herself has a confident self-identity and is possessed of a musical voice and presence that captures the audience effortlessly, no matter how arcane or discursive the journey she takes us on is, or seems, to some of us. No matter how difficult the inter-active elements are to achieve instantaneous comprehension from/for the audience in this space, be. No matter the intellectual bewilderment of some of the otherwise expectant audience may have been. Supported by wonderful musicians Lance Horne, Xani Kolac, Stephen Fitzgerald, James Manson and led by Iain Grandage with the effervescent and always welcome energy and sublime talents of Mitchell Butel (the joint rendition with Meow Meow of Noel Coward's WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE TOTS, a definitive highlight of the entertainment) LITTLE MATCH GIRL weaves and works its magic, mostly. How different the experience in the original venue of creation at the Malthouse Theatre may have been? In The Famous Spiegletent it is being tried and tested to the highest of its capacity to maintain our interest and its ambitious integreties. For my part, I was intrigued and in wonder at the daring of the sophistication of the project, if not entirely captured.
The music score directed and arranged by Iain Grandage, using work as diverse as repertoire from Cole Porter, Megan Washington, Richard Wagner, Serge Gainsbourg, Noel Coward, Patty Griffin and Laurie Andersen, also, has original composition by Mr Grandage and Meow Meow. It is here in the dramatic structure of the musical offerings and lyrics that, for me, the theatrical impulse and structure faulted and the experience lacked the sweeping energy of enticing us to surrender, to be embroiled into the promising ethereal flow of the metaphysics of the originators concoctive conception. The visual images and 'tricks' (Set and Costume Designer, Anna Cordingley) were theatrical and nearly mesmerizing in their insistent power to encourage us to join in and believe, to suspend the discomforts of the seating, but became snagged as the musical structure of the whole, slewed and baulked, preventing us from taking off.
A delight to have experienced. It encouraged me to reminisce about the Australian Ballet's commissioned work, Meryl Tankard's WILD SWANS, and long to see it again for it's brilliant biographical study of Hans Christian Andersen using his stories.
Whether LITTLE MATCH GIRL would have been even more successful in a more appropriate space for the aspirations of the project will have to be judged, if it offers itself again somewhere within my physical ambit, for I am very interested.in the work and as always enthralled by talent.
"Hans Christian Andersen - The Life of a Storyteller" by Jackie Wullschlager. Published by Allen Lane the Penguin Press 2000.