Sunday, May 27, 2012

She Loves Me

Neglected Musicals presents SHE LOVES ME, Book by Joe Masteroff, Music by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick at the Darlinghurst Theatre, Kings Cross.

This is my second visit to the Neglected Musicals presentations. ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, performed in March was my first (check out my response).
SHE LOVES ME is a gem of a show. Sheldon Harnick, lyricist; Music by Jerry Bock. Harnick and Bock. These artists for a dozen years, that stretched over the sixties produced seven Broadway shows: THE BODY BEAUTIFUL (1958), FIORELLO! (1959), TENDERLOIN (1960), SHE LOVES ME (1963), FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1964), THE APPLE TREE (1966) and THE ROTHSCHILDS (1970).

SHE LOVES ME (Book by Joe Masteroff) is an adaptation of Miklos Laszlo, an Hungarian playwright's play, PARFUMIERE which  has been the subject of three films, the best, undoubtedly, for me, being THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER with James Stewart - Margaret Sullavan (1940). It is set in a shop and concerns the staff and their travails, especially that of salesperson, Amalia Balash (Emma Copperthwaite) and her double relationship, one face-to- face and another one, a letter-to-letter lonely-hearts exchange, with her boss, Georg Nowack (Shaun Rennie). This is a charming compact musical, where the songs come out of the character and the developing plot thickenings. It has a breezy, gentle, joie de vivre.

Under the direction of Nicholas Hammond (he of The Sound of Music movie) this company lovingly presented this work. Mr Rennie as Georg, always has a special way with the music - singing, and his conviction as an actor, completes a very strong impression. Tyran Parke as Mr Steven Kodaly, the 'baddie', was assured and suave and Christopher Horsey gave a delightful, endearing character reading of Mr Ladislav Spiros.

I thought this Musical was a pleasant surprise and would enjoy seeing it with full production. A chamber piece of urban/folk whimsy settling on old fashioned values.

Credit should be acknowledged to the craft and musical direction of Craig Renshaw and his little band, Adrian Bendt (violin), and Oliver Simpson (bass).

Look forward to the next one.

An Officer and A Gentleman

Photo by Brian Geach

Sharleen Cooper Cohen, John Frost, Martin L. Cohen M. D., Howard Hirsch, Fiona Horman, David Ian, David Mirvish, Power Arts, Seol and Company, Chun-Soo Shin, Judy Stewart, and Michael Watt present AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - The Musical, in association with Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, based on the movie written by Douglas Day Stewart at the Sydney Lyric Star Theatre.

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - The Musical, was given its World Premiere Performance at the Lyric Star Theatre the 18th May, 2012. Book by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen. Composers and Lyricists Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner. Directed by Simon Phillips. It has been a week or so since I saw this production. My companion and I enjoyed ourselves enormously (her name is Kate). We both attended, together, last year, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, and were, relatively, unimpressed. On reading other critical responses to AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN we find ourselves, once again, to be contrarians. I have been trying to solve this - hence my tardiness to respond, dear diary. Douglas Day Stewart, the co-author of the Book for this musical says:
My military training began at Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, where I had to survive a curriculum far more demanding than college, the psychological warfare of a maniacal drill instructor, and the amorous wiles of a local factory girl determined to escape her dead-end life by becoming my wife. In 1980 I wrote a screenplay about this experience…" It is based on a lived in, authentically known, first-hand experience, and handed down to us with passionate will. The movie (1982) has become a legendary romantic-comedy and is ranked for Inspiration, Number 68 on the all time 100 YEARS… 100 CHEERS list. Neither I nor my companion had ever seen the film. The book for this show is, apparently, a slightly stripped back version of the film, and is a blue collar story of down trodden people struggling to find a way to class and economic upward mobility, in the classic American Dream scenario - a classic pitch for any successful entertainment enterprise, I should think.
Essentially we follow the story of Zack Mayo (Ben Mingay), a kid from a rough and tumble background aspiring to become a fighter pilot. To literally, reach for the stars ("All of us lie in the gutter, but some of us look at the stars"). We follow Zack as he enlists in a very forbidding training program where we become attached to the 'ups and downs', of not just Zack's progress, but to several characters on a similar trajectory: Sid Worley (Alex Rathgeber), Charlie Redding (Josef Brown), Taniya Seeger (Zahra Newman), Ramon Guiterrez (Josh Piterman) and others. The 'down' time of these officers in training is focused mainly around the bars and dives near the base, and centres on two of the women, Paula Pokrifki (Amanda Harrison) and Lynette Pomeroy (Kate Kendall). The nemesis to all of the protagonists is the Drill Sgt. Emil Foley (Bert Labonte). He tests all these aspirants to the max. There is much potential to the classic Music Theatre formula, here. A popular-culture natural.

 The action of the book of this musical is wonderfully guided by Simon Phillips, using a fluid design (Dale Ferguson) of metal stairs and gantries, that is pushed, and pivots in the central space, giving many levels to play on, within the large proscenium frame of the work, with a large scenic background/cyc. One of the difficulties of this venture is the source of the material: a film, which has the ability to shift scene quickly. I thought, well solved by the artists, for the stage. The integration of the factory into the action of the training camp, using a double vision perspective/imposition, one of many good and simple choices. The costumes (Dale Ferguson, again) are either uniforms or factory workers gear. There is no loss seeing men (and women) in uniform, especially the crisp white ones, cap pulled low! And there is no loss in seeing the candidates in lots and lots of different states of dress and undress. Sex appeal is rampant - the cast appear to be very, very fit!! Some of our audience were very moved by the sights on stage. Some even 'howled' with pleasure.The Lighting Design (Matt Scott) is top notch, as well.

 What is a problem, to me, is that there is not much opportunity for the classic dance of the musical form for this show - the realistic background setting and the naturalistic story line does not offer much logical entrance for it. In this show there is a dream/dance sequence (that is very reminiscent of Miss Saigon, unfortunately) that kicks off the show, a Base Social Dance,later on in Act One, and a big dance number to open up Act Two in TJ's Bar - a dance of South American origin. In function, however, they are mostly digressions rather than integral to the story. One of the pillars of the Musical Theatre form absent, relatively. The focus of this musical, then, has to be the songs - lyrics, especially the music (both, Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner).

Unfortunately, not much of the music is memorable. Dramatically, useful, yes, and if this were a PLAY WITH MUSIC, instead of THE MUSICAL , I think very successful. The musical choices progress the story both as expressions of emotion and narrative, but as tunes to carry around with you into your life, not likely.The proof for me was that the song that one takes home, singing, humming for days later, is the quote from the film itself, which is the last song of the night, although,interpolated thematically into the show earlier, UP WHERE YOU BELONG (Lyrics by Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie; Music by Will Jennings). Nothing in this show matches that hit. I thought, maybe one reason for my huge disappointment with DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was, that the company hadn't quoted LARA'S THEME - SOMEWHERE MY LOVE by Maurice Jarre from the film - I didn't take a tune home from that show, either. But I did hum SOMEWHERE MY LOVE, a lot in the following weeks.

The performances are good. I felt that the company had benefited enormously from Mr Phillips direction of the acting. One of his strong suits, (of many, it seems). I was very convinced of the work of the company in the acting territory, one of the three pillars of a great musical performance. The actors make sense and created, at least, convincing two dimensional characterisations of, again, relatively, stock characters of the musical form (not the cinematic form).

This form demands broad brush strokes, quick and 'iconic' in communication - no cinematic detail is much possible, here. Mr Mingay impressive as the tough-arse anti-hero, physically and vocally - he causes "vibrations"; Ms Harrison has a simple, understated turmoil in her character's dilemmas; Mr Rathgeber is very clever in plotting the internal struggle between his character's family expectations and his plummet to a confused sickness, in his misplaced target, to provide his need for love; and, best of all, the all stops out performance of Mr Lebonte, in a smartly attenuated step-by step journey to complete a 'mission" of training, as the balance to all the fairytale romance and angst from the 'youngsters'. The support of the ensemble is also strong: Josh Piterman, Zara Newman, Bartholomew John, Tara Morice (too brief a contribution) and Sheridan Harbridge, are a few I can name confidently. The singing, the third pillar of the musical form, from all, is very strong, and, generally impressive.

So, further to my comparative cogitation and sense of contrariness: DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is a great novel with character and plot developments too sophisticated for a simple musical adaptation. The world, politics and ideas of the novel too immense for a satisfactory experience of any sophistication. More than a love story. Even the film stood towering over the musical make-over/ cut and paste/fillet. I knew the novel and the film well - I may have cultural prejudices (?) The collaborators of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, all very removed from the world and essential truths of its story - another culture, another time. Very difficult for all, creators and audience. On the other hand, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN is a classic Rom/com with stock heroes, one can root for, and a villain to hiss, almost, (he does have a heart of gold, really - much later in the show) existing in a world easily identifiable and accessible for the general audience, and me. This story comes from the life of one of the creators. It has a connection that vibrates with veracity of self-knowledge. There are no real complications in the ideas line: struggle against the status quo with integrity and honour, and success and love will flow - a fairytale view of life, but one we have all bought and expect in this genre form. I did not know the film, so was having a 'virgin' experience and found it very easy and simple, rewarding to follow and enjoy. I may have had a cultural gratification(?) infantile, yes, but CLEAR. Walt has a lot to answer for!

All the elements of this production appeared to be much more integrated. The costumes, in show comparison, from two different periods, of course, were much more consistently detailed and accurate in AN OFFICER AN A GENTLEMAN. For ZHIVAGO perhaps a budget issue(?) - the scale of Zhivago, immense, across class and eras. The set by Dale Ferguson, a smoother and consistently more elegant solution than the DOCTOR ZHIVAGO - the scenic rooms and landscape of Zhivago demanding enormous range - including, in one section a moving train. The acting from all of this company of a much more consistent and believably committed kind. The principals better in this show than the other. The singing seemed, to my ear, much more evenly secure and impassioned.

So, I enjoyed AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN very much. If I had a choice of seeing DOCTOR ZHIVAGO or AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN at the cinema again, I would choose the DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. If I had the choice to see DOCTOR ZHIVAGO - THE MUSICAL or AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - THE MUSICAL in the theatre again, I would choose AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. Hands down. So did my companion. But - but, but, but, if I had a choice to see AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN or SOUTH PACIFIC again, I know it would have to be SOUTH PACIFIC. True, both have military undress and hijinx, but what the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical has, is a story with more than a Rom/com objective, it also has complex social politics as its target in its plot and characterisations (James A. Mitchener, novel), it has songs with emotion and narrative progression and personal development, but greatest of all, it has music that one can carry tunefully into one's life forever. That is where both DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN  could focus their further development. The music part of the musical! My companion agrees. SOUTH PACIFIC coming to the Opera Theatre real soon. (There is a movie and that is great, as well, of course - I own a copy and can sing most of the lyrics - well embedded in my life, indeed).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Return To The Trees

Carriageworks presents A RETURN TO THE TREES. A new work by Strings Attached in Bay 20, Carriageworks.

A RETURN TO THE TREES devised and performed by the company Strings Attached is a new work supported by Carriageworks as part of their commitment to supporting emerging practice from NSW companies.

Strings Attached is a group of artists whose common aim is to create and perform innovative physical theatre that challenges and transforms their audiences by reflecting upon the mystery of human nature. [HMMMM!?] The company was formed in 2007, incorporating contemporary dance, physical theatre, aerial acrobatics, contraptions and multimedia to create a unique style of storytelling that engages the audience on a deep emotional level.

A RETURN TO THE TREES was performed on a complex, towering, 8 metre high scaffold structure of re-usable steel tubes and aerial systems that are operated entirely by the cast. The performers/collaborators were Rick Everett, LeeAnne Litton, Kathryn Puie, Tim Ohl and Lee Wilson. It was directed by Alejandro Rolandi and choreographed and co-directed by Paul Selwyn-Norton, Devised by Alejandro Rolandi and LeeAnne Litton. A non-stop physical dance on scaffolding featuring the quintet of performers, breaking down to couplings of three and two and solos. The agility and skill was amazing to watch, the sustained physical prowess and fitness making significant impact. LeeAnne Litton especially in her extended harness 'dance' transcended the mere physical dexterity on view, to become a work of beauty. The abstract construction of the movement of body in gravity defying harness was unforgettable

Ms Litton's solo highlighted the problem of the almost hour length show.

An altogether 'hokey' story element and "artist's statement/story" had been formulated to give the work some kind of raison d'etre:

A Return To The Trees investigates the psychological transformations that society may experience as a consequence of technological advancement, over population of the planet and climate change.The process of creating this work spans a pivotal period in our lives, as we come to terms with the fact that some form of climate change is now inevitable. As we continue to relinquish grass and grassroots for concrete floors and social complexity - replacing natural environments with artificial ones, we can see foresee a reality where nature is only accessible to us like wild animals in the zoo.

How would it be to live in a world without forests?
A RETURN TO THE TREES tells a story that transcends cultures and socio-economic groups by stripping down accepted social environments to an unfamiliar place where survival is more important than custom. Set in the lowest echelon of a futuristic modern society where the earth's surface has been devoured by human expansion, we explore what it is to be a human being. This project is a direct development of three years of investigation during which Strings Attached has created its own vocabulary of dance-theatre…

Oh My God! The spin quoted above, is an agony to read, and worse, to watch the consequences of it on the work. The dance-theatre worked fairly well as a set of abstracted pieces. It seemed to me the spin weight of the above guff forced the performers into sustaining a z-grade sci-fi film scenario of competition and struggle for supremacy, and for 'mating' survivals, with patently pained forcing of 'acting' and 'emotional' journeys that were hard to sustain, and worse, hard for the audience to believe or even care about. Why did the screenplay from AVATAR keep coming to my head? …resonating - but not pleasurably? Why did I think that the technical skills and beauty of this work was diminished by the imposed framework? Devaluing the beauty?

The costuming was comic-book 'futuristic' in look and one appreciated the need of function to dominate (Pamela McGraw); the lighting was atmospheric through the haze (Nicholas Rayment) while the visual component of the projected green patterns were less than interesting (Chris Wilson) and were hardly the " large scale immersive projections to create an apocalyptic vision" we were told had been developed. The music by Benn DeMole was underwhelming in its contribution - ultimately dull and repetitive.

The technical work from the choreographers and dancers/collaborators was worth the experience. Strip away the silly narrative frame work and give us the abstracted choreography and the committed concentration of the performers, and a much more pleasing work may be had.

I, certainly, believe in the three years of skill development and physical dexterities shown here, but if it took three years to come up with the raison d'etre for the work, the framework of sci-fi drudge, (how many socially relevant buttons can we push here to justify the work?) then, this is the area where more effort must be made - this aspect of the work is patently woeful and ultimately distracting.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Moving People

MOVING PEOPLE, a production from Westside Publications, in association with the Sydney Writer's Festival. Produced by BYDS (Bankstown Youth Development Service) at the Bankstown Arts Centre.

Sometimes they come here from a war-torn country.
Other times they come here from Newtown.

Sometimes it's to start a family. Other times it's to start a fight.
Sometimes they leave us for a day on the beach.
Other times they leave us for another place they call home.
Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they don't.

These stories are about moving in and out.
These stories are moving.

MOVING PEOPLE was a program of new writing presented by 13 writers: Kavita Bedford, Luke Carman, Peta Murphy, Tamar Chnorhokian, Rebecca Landon, Benny Ngo, Randa Sayed, Nitin Vengurlekar, George Toseski, Fiona Wright, Amanda Yeo, Susie Ahmad and Michael Mohammed Ahmad.

Simply, standing in front of a projection screen, sometimes used to accompany the work with images, sometimes not, with a readers stand and a microphone, these writers read for us either poetry or prose/poetry. Their latest work. Directed, jointly by Michael Mohammed Ahmed and Felicity Castagna, Chief Editor and Sub Editor of Westside Publications, produced under the auspices of BYDS the performance was simplicity itself. The house was full.

The original works by these young writers covered a wide range of subjects and preoccupations. There was comedy, drama, pathos all peppered with the power of truths. Of an expression of lives lived and observed.

As performance I was struck with the authenticity of the material and even more especially by the sound of resonant honesty. I was greatly disarmed and had a very good time. Published these works will be well worth having, but, I felt a recording of the writers would hold the theatrical magic as a great measure of the experience, even more so.

The story and sound of Tamar Chnorhokian and her work experiences began the night with the right sense of information and humour, balanced with a witty irony. Peta Murphy and her telling of the woes of shared living, gathered remembered details, that were continuously mesmerizing and horrifyingly vivid. Randa Sayed with her simple private story of cultural difference was enhanced with a delicate and deeply felt emotional commitment of voice/sound. The story's poignancy was touching and illuminating. Nitin Vengurlekar, on the other hand, with simple and amusing drawings and a slightly super-cool demeanor delivered a series of poems that were deceptively comic, cumulatively subversive. The final verse a shock of ambiguity, shot through with a tinge of real anger.I was uncertain on how to respond. Michael Mohammed Ahmad concluded the night with a very polished piece of writing, again amusing and insightful. My companion found other stories more compelling. We had an animated discussion on the train home, talking of all of the work and appreciating the differences and the reasons for our different preferences.

The Bankstown City Council, have begun to reap real proof of the valuing of the multicultural communities it serves. This program and the Arts Centre as a place to gather to share our lives together through writing and performance in this case of MOVING PEOPLE, a visceral and rewarding experience. More than one performance would attract an audience with a similar capacity and approval, I reckon.

Great. It was my only event at the Sydney Writer's Festival and I loved it. Thanks.

Strange Interlude

Belvoir presents STRANGE INTERLUDE by Simon Stone after Eugene O'Neill at the Upstairs Belvoir St Theatre.

This STRANGE INTERLUDE is a new Australian play by Simon Stone after the Eugene O'Neill original, written in 1927, presented on Broadway in 1928 by the Theatre Guild at the John Golden Theatre. This play was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1928.

In preparing for the performance of this new play I read the original by Eugene O'Neill. I had read it was once before, many years ago, but barely remembered it, except for the impression that the leading role, that of Nina, was a monster of a part. In fact, it was because I had read reviews of a Glenda Jackson performance in London that I felt impelled to read the play, then. STRANGE INTERLUDE with Ms Jackson was performed, both, in London, and, then in New York, on Broadway, in 1985. It was subsequently filmed as part of the American Playhouse series, for television, in 1988.

The original is a nine act play covering more than twenty-five years and was presented in one sitting that began at 5:30 in the afternoon, paused for an eighty minute dinner intermission, and ended after eleven at night!

After re-reading the play, I felt it was noteworthy, firstly, because of its length - truly epic.

Secondly, because of the use of "asides", employed, to reveal the inner monologue, the concealed thoughts of the protagonists - a stream of consciousness - made flesh, (influenced by the work of James Joyce's novels: A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN (1916); ULYSSES (1922), perhaps?), some have called the play an O'Neill novel in everything but form: "soon we shall see a play that will have the length, breadth and thickness of a novel." The problem with the "asides" is that they sound mostly mundane, and do not reveal much that is profoundly deep in the interior of the character's lives or motivations. STRANGE INTERLUDE is melodramatic and "the asides... are often embarrassingly glib slivers of psychological jargon" and the Freudian influences much, much, too obvious - a too conscious use of psychological (Freudian inspired) writing. It is a bit like the over simplistic use of Freud's [and others] ideas that Alfred Hitchcock has given us in films like, say, SPELLBOUND, MARNIE, or PSYCHO - today, breathtakingly laughable. In its time, perhaps, entirely sophisticated.

Thirdly, the play's principal character, Nina Leeds, has the complexity of, say Hedda Gabler, Susan Traherne (of David Hare's PLENTY) or any of the Chekhov women. According to two of O'Neill's biographers - Arthur and Barbara Gelb:

[Nina] is made up of all the women O'Neill had ever known and incorporates aspects of all the female characters he had thus far depicted. Endowed by the sum of O'Neill's own fantasy-idealism and love-hate, she is a fascinating monster, embodying all that is both purest and blackest in Woman's soul. She is in turns, an innocent lover of a noble boy (Gordon Shaw, a college paragon whom she sends off to World War 1 without having gone to bed with him); a guilty mourning fiancee (Gordon is killed in the war); an embittered daughter (she blames her father for having prevented the consummation of her love, out of his possessive jealousy); a wanton (her subsequent guilt compels her to give herself to as many wounded war veterans as will have her); an unbelievably self-sacrificing wife (she marries a boy, Sam Evans, she does not love, because he worshipped Gordon and because he needs her); a criminal (she submits to an illegal abortion, when she discovers there is insanity in her husband's family); an ardent mistress ( she takes a lover, Edmund Darrell, in order to present Sam with the child they crave, and then finds that she cannot give Darrell up even after her purpose is achieved); a pseudo daughter (after her father's death she pursues a platonic relationship with an old friend, (prissy) Charles Marsden, who loves her asexually); a mother (first a happy one, then a jealously possessive one); a mean mother-in-law (she loses her son to a girl she loathes on sight); and, finally, a widow, longing to "rot away in peace" (her husband dies of a surfeit of high spirits). Nina is indeed weighed down by O'Neill with heavy literary symbolism, and, is in some ways a classic example of the soap-opera heroine.

My impression: Nina, a role that requires great skill and technique, and a complex comprehension to see the depths of the psychological dilemmas, and, further, of the ways and means to reveal those depths of the writer's obsessions, to chart the sprawl of her life from a young Zelda Fitzgerald-like neurotic, to simmering splenetic middle-age, to ultimately the sphinx like husk of a defeated widow. To embody Nina's battle cry, one of O'Neill's favourites - "Life is a lie", the actor needs extraordinary vocal and physical gifts - range - and a sophisticated access to the inner-life of the character and the self, to shift shape. "Say lie," Nina at one point commands another character, repeating the word herself : "L-i-i-e ! Now say life. L-i-i-f-e ! You see! Life is just a long drawn out lie with a sniffling sigh at the end!"

So, what of Simon Stone's new play "STRANGE INTERLUDE after O'Neill"?

Firstly, it is only two hours long. Starts at 8.00 pm and we are out the door by 10:30, or less, including a twenty minute interval. Over half the playing time of the original has been edited out.

Secondly, most of the asides have been deleted and/or stripped down (some of them, however, replaced with adolescent sexual pre-occupations: the new opening speech by Charles Marsden (Mitchell Butel) for instance. I thought "Oh Oh, more entrances to the fantasy life of the young male writer. Hello, Dr Freud!"

Thirdly, a character called Nina is still at the centre of the play. All of the characters have been retained, and the narrative much the same.

The Set Design of the original was highly defined naturalism, for this production (Robert Cousins) we have another 'installation art' white -box with intimations of the work of James Turrell, a no-visible horizon, infinite space feel, Ganzfeld effect, along with blinding, almost obliterating white light (Damien Cooper), that highlights the pink pigmentation of the actor's skin in a garish way. Into this dazzling space the actors, in between each scene, arranges furniture and props, even light stands spilling slightly more sympathetic colours onto the action, Meyerhold-like, before dissembling back into the personas of the play (what the director's point in introducing a nude shower scene for two of the characters in the ubiquitous perspex box 'ploy' was, I couldn't really fathom. Originally the scene took place in the library. It seemed a gratuitous gesture. ("Because I can"?) Gratuitously expensive to me as well! - it seemed). This is a theatre piece, this is a play statement. The costumes (Mel Page) are contemporary and capture a sense of clothing rather than fashion.

Mr Stone tells us, "I'm trying to write a play about the time we live in." A play "that is opposite to 'male pride'. INTERLUDE", he told the Sydney Morning Herald (Spectrum, April 28-29, 2012), "is a play about a woman kicking against the pricks - literally." Certainly, the O'Neill original seems to be more the story of a woman, suffering from the collateral damage of a war shock, in modern terms, a post traumatic reaction to the death of an idealised romantic infatuation - a fighter pilot called Gordon, and of the consequences of her cannoning recklessly out-of-control, like a pin ball,grappling with a series of fateful wrong choices of her own. In my experience of this modern-look production, of this slim-lined consumable play by Simon Stone, I had the impression of a superficial gen-Y woman, whining her way through a series of self inflicted consequences with a sense of entitlement to her right to a better life. Mr Stone's Nina is the cause of her own misery and the men about her are not "pricks" but benign weaklings. And she takes advantage, petulantly, ruthlessly and carelessly.

Mr Stone in an extensive Writer and Director's note in the program defensively justifies his recent efforts in re-writing the classics: SPRING AWAKENING (Wedekind); THE ONLY CHILD (Ibsen's LITTLE EYLOF); THYESTES (Seneca); THE WILD DUCK (Ibsen's THE WILD DUCK – digression, I thought a better contemporary adaptation could be the recent Iranian film A SEPARATION). Stone complains in the SMH article that "there's this idea that I'm creating "consumable classics". It frustrates me because the theatre is there to be consumed and because I spend a massive amount of time writing these plays." He goes on to say, "It would be much easier to just do a faithful staging". Give or take the "massive time" spent in writing his plays, maybe STRANGE INTERLUDE by Eugene O'Neill is a far better play than STRANGE INTERLUDE by Simon Stone, and maybe if the time spent on re-writing the play had been given to a creative effort to attempt to find a contemporary way to faithfully stage the original, a far better night may have been had by the audience, than we did have. I am not sure whether it would be easier, though. And maybe Mr Stone was 'ducking' the problem by re-writing it - cutting it. Mr Stone has never shown us an attempt of a faithful 'campaign' to solve the great writers works he has appropriated. Easy the great classics aren't. The problems proffered by the writer is what partly makes them GREAT. And the solving of it, is what marks out the great directors. The relevance of Mr Stone's STRANGE INTERLUDE, to our times seems to have got lost in the production journey along the way, and it is in pygmy scale along side the original.

The masterpiece that followed STRANGE INTERLUDE, was an even longer and greater play, MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA. It is the length of the play, the enduring of it, that brings it to its greatness. THE ICEMAN COMETH is similarly enhanced by the re-iteration of the life in the bar at length. The length is the ultimate power of A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, as well, if directed competently. Reading the reviews of the Glenda Jackson production in 1985, it is suggested that the play is full of peculiarities for a contemporary audience, but with the impersonation that a great actress can bring to Nina, and patient, respectful direction, it was the length of the play that allowed, eventually, the visionary technique of Eugene O'Neill to have his construction of the scenes pay off. The audience was moved. The television film, similarly, in its length, paid its due to the audience experience. Did Mr Stone consider doing the original..? "Absolutely. I thought about letting it be a totally messy, complicated theatre experience (not withstanding its Pulitzer prize!) where you let the audience get bored for half an hour and then you can suck them back in again. There's virtue in that. But then I just started writing." As Charles Marsden, the writer, in O'Neill's play asks, "Why does everyone in the world think that they can write?" (ask about EVERY BREATH.) For some, what we may have on the Belvoir Upstairs stage instead, is a totally clumsy, uncomplicated theatre experience where the audience can be bored for the whole of the evening and never find a way to be suckered into an aesthetically-distanced story-telling exploration. As a contemporary play, at least in this production, I do not know what the actual point of this new text is. I could not grasp the illumination of the modern world in it, except as a consumable soap-opera around some trivial people. Not having the new text to read I am not able to lay the problem at the hand of the writer.

But, I do feel the Director has some culpability in the casting of the play. The role of Nina in both writers' versions is necessarily crucial for the play to be engaging. Emily Barclay as Nina lacked the depth of the characterisation required to reveal the full potential of the play. Mr Stone talks as to the impulse he had to cast Ms Barclay, "I saw Emily in [Benedict Andrew's] THE SEAGULL and I was astounded by her ability to make it seem like you're hearing those lines for the first time. When Emily acts, you feel like a door in you has opened to a truth that has existed in you for a long time but you still feel surprised". (Sounds as if Mr Stone may have been in a fever of some kind!).There is some veracity to the freshness that Ms Barclay brings to the readings of her text and that they can sound as if it has never been said that way before. In truth, they cannot have sounded that way before because it is the unique life force of Ms Barclay that is speaking them, bringing the reading to life. What Ms Barclay has, along with all good actors, is the ability to courageously reveal herself in the words of the text. There, is her individuality. It shone in her film SUBURBAN MAYHEM. The trouble for me is, that in all of her other work, that I have seen, it is the incandescent truthfulness of Ms Barclay that I receive, and nothing else. Just a brave personalisation with not much if anything of what the writer has contributed. Ms Barclay has reduced all of the work I have seen her do to herself, she has never expanded herself into the writing. There is no transformation, there is no possession. So that having watched her at Belvoir in GETHSEMANE, THAT FACE and THE SEAGULL it has been exactly the same character/performance : Emily Barclay! It is all drawn from the inner life of Ms Barclay with little or no adjustment to the writer's creation on the page. She does not seem to have any secondary resources to draw on, to create beyond her own self. I wondered if she had ever read the original. The design decision to allow the personal 'ink' of Ms Barclay to be read as to a clue to the nature of Nina is a mistake. When one tries to make sense of the choice of Nina with a tattoo of what looks like the publicity image of Fantine from the musical LES MISERABLES on her right calf and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on her left thigh, along with a technicolour flowering across her upper back, what are we to conclude, to be provoked to think, to endow, upon Nina. For this is simply the naked self of Ms Barclay that we are seeing, for it is hard to place those choices, even in the contemporary world of this Nina, as directed by Mr Stone, unless, it is another gesture of post modern alienation, ironic obfuscation.

Nina in the O'Neill says "...the only living life is in the past and future ... the present is an interlude ... strange interlude in which we call on past and future to bear witness to the living!" Unfortunately, all Ms Barclay brings to all of her work is the present, the spontaneous, the 'modern', (the 'ink'). What the actor does not reveal is the past or the future of the character. The conundrum for any actor is, that as the actor, one must know everything about the character, but in the moment of acting one knows nothing but the present. It is in being in both psychic states that the actor is assisted to find, with the empathetic guidance of the director, the storyteller's clues in the writing, to give an audience, a knowledge of the character's past and future. It is that craft that makes good, possibly great acting and an indelible experience. It allows the audience to endow and feel 'smart', part of the creative experience of the artifice in front of them. It allows the audience to have the moving catharsis, because they have committed something of themselves to the empathy they feel for the character, embodied by the actor. A visit to the Downstairs Theatre to the performance of FOOD, and watching all three of those actors, especially Kate Box, will clarify what I am talking about. The contrast is shocking.

This production is indeed modern and contemporary if post-modern irony and detachment is what 'the creatives' are searching for. Where we can sit back and judge these people and feel kind of smug that none of our world is much like this. There is little in this production and or version of this great play that would allow this to be a possible truism: "Our lives are merely strange dark interludes in the electrical display of God the father". The bleached lighting of the production hardly points to any electrical display or signs of a God. This Interlude is strangely blue/white, arid and barren.

The other actors give admirable performances considering the strangely shallow reading of the central role of Nina. Toby Truslove gives an outstanding performance of flair and concentration. Mitchell Butel, Anthony Phelan, Kris McQuade, and Eloise Mignon are stellar supports to the evening. Akos Armont, in a role written for this play by Mr Stone, brings honesty and warmth to the little he had to do - an oddly moving moment in an otherwise cold production. Toby Schmitz, too, brings integrity to the difficult role of Farrell, although the actor was tempted sometimes to demonstrate skill over character veracity, such that there was a round of applause for a virtuosic display of verbal technique from the audience (- a comic irony?) That it had not much to do with Farrell it seemed to me and more to do with Mr Schmitz, brings some foreboding to the coming PRIVATE LIVES. I hope he has an Amanda to be his equal and a source of discipline.

One does wonder about the fate of the upcoming DEATH OF A SALESMAN under the direction of Mr Stone. It is a great play and knowing of many of the recent productions of this play, just how much does it need to be "manipulated" to be relevant for a contemporary audience? None, if history is our guide. I hope in this instance that Mr Stone keeps more than the "remarkable skeleton" of Arthur Miller's play. Sam Strong with his recent triumph of a modern classic LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES at the Sydney Theatre Company achieved much with his intelligent risk-taking for the contemporary audience and the play. His insight and diligence worked. The casting was impeccable.

In a hilarious interview on "Books and Arts Daily" on Radio National a few weeks back, Michael Cathcart in interviewing Richard Bean, the English playwright of THE HERETIC, now performing at the Melbourne Theatre Company, observing Mr Bean's recent 'output' (oh, what a horrid word!), observed that he had adapted Goldoni's THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS for the National Theatre as ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, and that it had transferred to the West End and to Broadway, and now was preparing a commission, adapting THE COUNT OF MONTE CHRISTO , for the same company, asked if that was a good thing. Mr Bean replied:
If you write a new play and are a living playwright you might be lucky to play to 100 or 200 people in a little studio round the back near the kitchen bins and the skips, but if you adapt a classic they'll put you in the main house and then you can afford to eat.
What, with Mr Stone taking THE WILD DUCK to Norway, maybe he is hoping that STRANGE INTERLUDE might take him over to the US. A cunning plan, indeed, Mr Stone.


1. O'NEILL by Arthur & Barbara Gelb, Jonathan Cape, 1962.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Hunting Party

KISS Club present THE HUNTING PARTY, activists, outlaws, artists. At Fraser Studios, Heffron Hall, Palmer St, Darlinghurst. An initiative supported by Queen Street Studio and The City of Sydney.

On invitation, thirty-odd guests, including myself, arrived at 7pm at Heffron Hall, where a long table had been decorated and prepared for a dinner. Some of us had dressed for the occasion, some didn't. We stood about and introduced ourselves with a glass of one's preferred beverage. There were a few people I knew, but, mostly were meeting for the first time. Conversation usually began shyly and gradually, mostly, became animated. Interesting and even provocatively hilarious. Sumugan Sivanesan provided subtle musical background to ease the nervousness of us all. Music, drink and goodwill permeated the atmosphere. We were finally bidden to take a place at the table and dinner began.

Victoria Spence, one of the co-convenors and hosts, welcomed us to a night which would engage us in conversation and discussion directed to some liminal, grey zones of our lives. We were re-introduced to the Rules of the Hunt, which we had been been sent to us on acceptance of our invitation, and the night moved forward.

The food was designed and presented by Nathan Stasi, a young, exciting chef, whose credentials include Neil Perry's ROCKPOOL, DINNER BY HESTON BLUMENTHAL (London) and now EST. The three courses were adventures in experimentation with mostly foraged food: a wild fennel seed tea aperitif, miniature root vegetables on thistle-renet curd with dandelion soil and wild nasturtium leaves, a Boletus pine mushroom consomme with ravioli, and 'make-your-own' dry-ice ice cream with roasted dandelion granules and honey. The ice cream course a gentle interactive frazzle where we were divided into groups of six, given utensils to whip the cream, adding the smoking dry ice and honey, to the desired constituency, served and sprinkled with the dandelion granules (tasted of coffee!) A light gastronomic escapade. Mr Stasi gave us verbal presentation to each of the courses as they were served and answered questions from the curious.

After we were seated - the first of five invited individuals gave a presentation: Karen Therese, one of the evening's creative producers and artist (THE RIOT ACT), spoke of her recent change of status after an impromptu wedding ceremony in New York, and the psychological effect of this gay marriage to her well being and social equilibrium. There followed between courses: Diego Bonetto, an explorer of our natural environment and investigating how nature about us can be put to use, specifically, tonight, as a source of forage for our food - some of what we were eating had been foraged during the week and prepared by the creative team; Matt Godfrey, a member of The Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH), who is living and working, along with his young family, with refugees and asylum seekers in the Mount Druitt and Bidwill area, mostly the Sudanese community; Barbara Campbell an Australian artist who at the moment is "researching how migratory birds direct human performance" (!?); and finally Victoria Spence, a former performance artist and now Celebrant, bereavement support worker, who is now especially committed to her on-going development of alternate ways to deal with Death, beyond the dominant corporates of the funeral industry . Ms Spence introduced to us one of two "cold beds" that she has imported to help communities to have the dead at home, working within legislated patterns of behavioural requirements, for the unique rites and rituals of those peoples who desire it.

Questions, discussion and answers, on and or about these topics happened.

THE HUNTING PARTY is a live art event encouraging curated presentations on ceremonial practices within art and culture. ... The initial concept of THE HUNTING PARTY has been developed from The Long Table , conceived by the New York artist Lois Weaver

In this format an interesting night of 'door opening' to the 'grey zones' of our world in Sydney, was opened. Direct contact, via this dinner installation, with the 'toilers' in these exceptional, and at the moment border territories of our living culture, may escalate other energies to assist and provoke action to facilitate the progress of these artists/artisans.

I felt privileged to be asked. In Alain De Botton's latest book, RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS, he hypothesises about ways the contemporary world can engage with what was once the provenance of organised religion. It is in this re-claiming of the ritual of the Agape Feast in a secular society, that it can happen. The strange will become a familiar: our fear of strangers and strange ideas may recede:
"The poor would eat with the rich, the black with the white, the orthodox with the secular, the bipolar with the balanced, workers with managers, scientists with artists", politicians with the voting constituents. The notion that we could attach extreme opposites peaceably to each other, or that we could amend some of the tatters in the modern social fabric through the (initiative of art events like THE HUNTING PARTY), this communal meal, seems to be a realistic enterprise. This event was a proof that they could " be a prior step taken to humanize one another in our imaginations, in order that we would then more naturally engage with our communities and, unbidden, cede some of our impulses towards egoism, racism, aggression, fear and guilt which lie at the root of so many of the issues, prejudices, with which traditional politic is concerned

THE HUNTING PARTY is an event that may help us rearrange the way we are taught. We know that we suffer from what the Greek philosophers termed AKRASIA, a perplexing tendency to know what we should do combined with a persistent reluctance actually to do it. This form of 'theatre' endorses Cicero's advice that public speaking should have "a threefold ability to prove (probare) , delight (delectare), and persuade (flectere)," that the communal dinner is partaken together,  completes the formula essayed by our Greek masters, "that all lessons should appeal to both reason (logos) and emotion (pathos)". Food for the body and mind.

THE HUNTING PARTY, then, an innovative and necessary theater experience.


1. RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS by Alain De Botton - Hamish Hamiliton, 2012.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Copper Promises

Photo by Heidrun Löhr

Performance Space presents COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA in Bay 20 CARRIAGEWORKS, Redfern. Victoria Hunt after nearly a decade of research and preparation presented COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA at Carriageworks under the auspices of the Performance Space season of curated works for DIMENSION CROSSING last week in Bay 20. This performance, this work, was truly remarkable. Truly, unforgettable. An artist transubstantiated into the living spirit of her ancestry. An artist's body transmuted into a traditional Maori meetinghouse, no, amazingly it was - Victoria Hunt, the spiritual female ancestor Hinemihi and the house itself - all three present - a holy trinity.
Hinemihi Bird; ears, feet and body parts, sprouting feathers from underside of feet; inside the body is forming quills which grow to the surface, playful, mysterious, curious. Inside, my torso catches the flight of a small bird, around the ribs, collar, pelvis; smack feather soles. Drawn to the memory of calling; confusion; insanity; disintegration; entrance through the aural, canopy of birdsong. There is a constant physical reminder of the hugeness of the mountain and the sky above. A heroic walk out, supporting the delicate load of brittle bones, walking away from the blizzard. Body abandoned by spirit. Lifting out of bones , flesh and skin like streams of smoke, floating into the atmosphere. a husk remains. becomes a person lost and searching for loved ones. Thick ash and mud cling to you, drawing you down. Being urged by unknown forces towards Te Arai. Become a protective mother with children buried in crushing weight. The most awful sound of silence ....
Victoria Hunt is an Australian artist of part Maori descent. Ms Hunt was grew up here, in Australia, and only six years ago visited New Zealand for the first time to meet her whanau (family). From the program:
THE BACKSTORY. I speak, the house speaks. I dance, the house dances. Victoria Hunt is from Ngati Hinemihi, a sub-tribe of Tuhourangi, Te Arawa. Hinemihi is one of Victoria's female ancestors - embodied in a traditional Maori meetinghouse. A meetinghouse is the community space on a Marae Atea (tribal land). It is a tapu (sacred) place where people gather for the important rituals in life. Where the core business is relationships. Where they are laid out in death. Where the living ritually engage with the dead who in turn provide guidance for the living.

Interpolated from an interview between Victoria Hunt (VH) and Fiona Winning (FW) recorded elsewhere in the program:

VH: [in the century before last] Chief Aporo Te Wharekaniwha of the sub-tribe Ngati Hinemihi commissioned the old carver Wero Taroi and his apprentice Tene Wairere to build Hinemihi. Both carvers existed at a time of explosive eclecticism and competing narratives.

FW: Hinemihi is a whare tipuna meetinghouse. So the architecture of the house is the body of Hinemihi.

VH: She's the architectural depiction of the body of an ancestor. She has 26 carvings that give a cosmological explanation for whakapapa, tribal history and concepts. She represents the spirit of the people, the spirit of the dead. The Poutokomanawa is the heart post that separates earth and sky. The Tuaha is the backbone. The Heke rafters are her ribs. The Pou inside the back wall is the symbolic Arai portal servicing the journey of the spirits. The Pare which is the carved door lintel around the entrance, is a threshold... into Hinenuitepo, where you move from the noa or profane into the tapu or sacred. All houses are designed to fulfill these cultural practices. waiting with potential to be ritually enacted.

…In the early hours of June 10th (1886), the mountains of Wahanga, Ruawahia and Tarawera split apart. Devastating! The most cataclysmic event in the tribes existence.Our scared mountain blew up! The ancestral bones in the caves turned to ash and scattered across the country.... .....

FW: So what happened to Hinemihi?

VH: I've been told parts of her were looted.Three of the outside carvings were removed by relic hunters. Including the pare or lintel carving.

FW: And that's resurfaced after years of being lost on the black market and is now in an auction house in Paris.

VH: She's been cut on both sides to fit as a mantelpiece for a fireplace surround..... .... The pare represents her pelvis..... (Three million for the Goddess of Death; three million for a carved house lintel; three million for my pelvis; looted, sold on the black market, caught in a separation ... a frozen marriage. REPATRIATE).

FW: And the rest of Hinemihi is in an English country garden.

VH: Lord Onslow, the British Governor of New Zealand bought Hinemihi as a memento of his time there and took her to his Clandon Park mansion in Surrey. She was his 'souvenir' from his time in the Antipodes.... .... She's now in the care and control of the UK National Trust with the rest of Onslow's estate. A spirit house in the grounds of an English country garden.The Nagti Hinemihi tribe, Ngati Ranana UK and the Trust are currently trying to recognise each other.

FW: ..... I notice in all the Trust's descriptions, Hinemihi used to be described as a house, a work of art, an inanimate object. But they've updated their language in the last couple of years to call Hinemihi 'she'.

VH: To acknowledge that to us, she's living, imbued with tribal memory and spiritual strength ... a physical pathway to another world. 

Back to the Backstory: Victoria has created COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA after a decade of embodied research across three countries. She's traveled from Brisbane to Auckland, Rotorua to Minto and Sydney to Surrey -collecting video imagery, recording sound and interviews and making a series of short dance works. She's written, danced and dreamt this material and now has shaped it into a work that merges feeling and gesture as they echo across landscape and through time: "Very early in this process, my Uncle Wally told me my ambition to dance Hinemihi was actually bringing her back. I feel that's what I'm doing. Bringing Hinemihi back" (Victoria Hunt).

Ms Hunt has been a familiar figure, particularly in the work of Tess De Quincey with De Quincey Co. where BodyWeather, a form of Butoh training, is utilised as the centre of the dance practice. Here in this work COPPER PROMISES, Ms Hunt subsumes that knowledge and means of expression in an intense 55 minute series of sequences to explore and express the intense research of her direct heritage. This work, this performance seems to catapult Ms Hunt into an inspiration of creativity and magnificent possession. I have never seen Ms Hunt better.

The near ten year preparation of this work is shown in a compacted and intense act. The eloquence of every moment compels the audience to attend with unflinching awe. Tremendous risks of detailed, minute, but, deeply meaningful expression, challenges the audience to dare look away - some moments of longueur are set as a test in one incredible extended sequence, but such is the artist's knowing commitment that one does not. This work, in experience, is not just the dancer's achievement, for Ms Hunt has seemed to inspire all of the artists involved, and they, as empathetic and passionate collaborators, have honed the presentation of this wonder with the most compelling and supportive detailed contribution.

The Lighting Design by Clytie Smith (with fergos by, David Ferguson) often interacts as a fellow dancer and suggests a duet of enormous intimacy. Add the provocative and stunning Video Design of the floor projections and spinning disc (dripping with metaphorical power), by Chris Wilson, and the most intense and apt Sound Design by James Brown, to support, and, like the lighting design join Ms Hunt as an emotional partner - the slow exquisite pressure of the build of the quake explosion was deafeningly cathartic. The silence following shattering - The integration of all these artist's work was astounding and brilliant. Never to be forgotten the last coup de theatre gesture. The distillation of a shared catharsis and given to us, indelibly, to share and be held forever.

COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA is a work that reveals the laser like focus of learning and the engaging of emotional history into a political power of unforgettable urgency. Personal, societal, cultural, historical and, hence, political traits of what it takes to be a journeyman in the complicated  patterns of living. We are alive in the present, with a past and a future. These aspects of time, all weigh us down, and yet inspire us as well. Ms Hunt in this work deals with all of this. The time spent in arriving at this expression of a life and its search for truths enhances the quality and veracity of all the artists commitment. Fiona Winning, the producer, and guide to Victoria Hunt should be applauded for encouraging the persistent patience needed for the work to grow to maturity.

May COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA acquire a long history of its own. I speak, the house speaks. I dance, the house dances. Performance Space with this work and Yumi Umiumare's EnTrance last month seem to be resurrected. Welcome back, I say.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Belvoir and Force Majeure present FOOD by Steve Rodgers in the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir St Theatre.

FOOD by Steve Rodgers, directed by Steve Rodgers and Kate Champion of Force Majeure, is just that thing, that elusive but striven for experience, that I explained, in my last theatre blog, was the reason why I so persistently attend the theatre, despite often, huge and many consecutive distresses and disappointments. FOOD is a tiny jewel, a gem of an experience. In a company publicity promotion, that I received from Belvoir, today,written by Simon Stone, FOOD is described as "a feel good" production and the reason to see it. It is that, and I urge you all to see it, but it is so much more as well.

Simply, the play concerns two siblings, recently restored, reconnected, working in a remote take away truck stop, food place - of deep fried food disasters. One, the returning sister, Nancy, played by Emma Jackson, convinces her resident sister, Elma, played by Kate Box, that she ought to put her outstanding culinary skills into a higher frame of ambition and to set up a gourmet or specialty eatery-restaurant - Australian Classic Style! Despite the mutual suspicions and judgements of each other's lives they take a plunge to join up and change their circumstances, perhaps. To do so they need help, and so they meet, interview and entrust an itinerant, passing refugee, of Turkish origin, Hakan, played by Fayssal Bazzi, to team with them in the joint effort. He is, not only handy in the kitchen and with the customers, but, also, a source of passionate promise to both the women. Handsome, witty, charming and deftly wise, clever. This reads like the script of many a kitchen-sink, family melodrama, Yes?

So, what is especially pleasing about this work is the huge development of the writing frameworks, styles, that Mr Rodgers has made. SAVAGE RIVER was the last play of Mr Rodgers that I have seen and it was nominated for the Sydney Theatre Awards for Best New Writing of that year, 2009. And, although that work was haunting, evocative and often, deeply uncomfortable, it was the acting and the created environment of the production, by Peter Evans, that mostly illuminated those experiences, transcended the very familiar style of the HOME AND AWAY writing - a very conventional and too familiar structure of naturalism - old fashioned style .( There was nothing wrong with that, let me assure you, just a little too comfortable).

FOOD explores a variety of writing techniques, and switches from one to the other, and back again. Normal duologue scenes, between characters; direct solo monologues to the audience; descriptions of action in the third person as if reading a novel; an interactive conversation, by all, with the audience. The fourth wall is evoked, is shattered, is climbed over, walked through etc. It is these simple shifts of style that keep the audience chasing the play and immersed in solving what is happening and creating the contract of communications. It is fun. We have seen these techniques before, as well, and it is the inconsistency of the styles that is the delighting contract. We all, at my performance, bought in, opted in, to go with it.

Besides that, Mr Rodgers has invited Kate Champion from Force Majeure to co-direct with him. Ms Champion has a plethora of creations where she has worked with actors/dancers/movers to create work of her own - my favourite being THE AGE I'M IN (2008). Here, Ms Champion guides, almost choreographs, some of the physical life of the performers to tell, alone in gesture, some vital information of character and plot, or, jointly with the spoken word, to evoke more complexly the depths of the 'plain' speech of the people. It is subtle and woven to the style and skills of the actors, their character developments and the plot impetus.

The opening section with the two sisters bumped into a 'grind' by the score, gradually focuses onto Nancy as she joyfully moves to the music, but, later, backed against a wall, her movement becomes a more fearsome and fearful 'thing' of utter agony and possible depravity. Rape? Interwoven hand gestures between characters speak, elsewhere in the craft of the direction, and underline dramatic telling. The sleep on the floor becomes a supremely subtle narrative of the growth of a relationship, in tender and exquisite patterns. Achingly understated and breathlessly created by the audience, with invitation, in high hopes of bliss, for a blissful ending.

With the narrative variety and the stylised movement patterns blended and contrasted with a naturalistic pose of voice and body, the work in FOOD becomes more than just a "feel good" experience but one of various artistic triumphs. STOCKHOLM (2010) produced at the Sydney Theatre Company, with the movement studies from an English Company, Frantic Assembly, was a recent example of this trendy shift and exploration of new form. The  FOOD company have had the work composed around their skills and character needs, and do not seem to be imposed upon, and so appear to work more comfortably than it did with the STOCKHOLM actors. Neither of the two actors in STOCKHOLM were part of the original production development and the choreography felt imposed and not organically arising from the impulses of the characters or actors. In FOOD, the actors seem to relish the " actions".I wished, that Ms Champion and the actors had gone a little further, but that is just a matter of taste, and maybe time.

Another of the interests for me, in the writing, was the manner in which tragic and dramatic issues were presented, but did not become the preoccupation of the play. The gang rape of a young woman, for instance, is told in recollection, simply told, not judged or dramatised. Rather, we are made to understand, it happened, was dealt with, as best as possible in the circumstances, and life moved on. It is part of the life tides here in this town. High and low tides of nature. As shocking as it seems to us, the audience, in our city slicker privilege, and although we see the real consequences around this and other revelations, this family, this community just move on, adjusting to the cards dealt to them. Gillian Mear's book, FOAL'S BREAD, one of the Miles Franklin nominated novels for this year, deals with the same attitudes to the events and inevitabilities of a hard and tough life environment and reveals, demonstrates, that the moral compass may need to be sometimes a little more relaxed, even overlooked. For nature will make its call, and , believe it or not, we will endure and survive - one way or another.The consequences will depend on your own personal strength. An experiential reality for some cultures. It seems it is so for Elma, Nancy and Hakan in this restaurant, in this country town.

As in SAVAGE RIVER, Mr Rodgers writes of people who have disappointed hopes, who have the need to accommodate themselves to diminished expectations, and the pressures of coping with the fear that the reality of social or personal chaos is more than they can bear. We see the struggle these characters have with the melancholy undertone of their conscious lives.

Ms Jackson's Nancy is a coiled, wounded young woman, who has the fortitude not to bow to pessimism but to struggle to find the way to a better life. Her performance is muted in expression but explosive internally. The vivid contrasts of the outer and the inner gives us the room to identify and endow our well wishes to her survival.The depths are dreadful but they will be harnessed for good. All that Ms Jackson does highlights the character's journey and struggle.

 Mr Bazzi as Hakan, makes a breakthrough impression. One has seen him many times before (THE PIGEONS, K.I.J.E., and SPROUT), and it was always interesting but the work, here, is assured, free and comically complex. The actor has taken off. The wit of the mind of this man, Hakan, is sexy and it explodes all around the women and the audience - we are all seduced. The restraint in the physical presence is exasperating in its visual promises, and holds us all in suspense with high hopes. It makes the ending of the play a surprise and a tease. The ending leaves the audience deeply curious and in opposing places of knowledge.

Kate Box as Elma, confirms even more for me, that here is an actor of enormous gifts. Her work in this production is like a stealth bomb. It moves along, and along comfortably and well. It is assured but appears unremarkable, then three quarters of the way through, it reveals itself as exploded, for  I suddenly began to cry for Elma. One has subtly been hooped to this woman's life and one cares for her, deeply, desperately. The craft and art of Ms Box is almost invisible, and its outcome is tremendous. Ms Box :A witch with magic tricks!? Maybe, the tears were also in wonder at this actor's  powers. That power serves the character and the play with unheroic accuracy,depth and naked candour. Look back at her work, for instance in TENDER, or, even THE BUSINESS, last year, upstairs at Belvoir,and you will recall something significant. Later this year Ms Box is tackling Strindberg's Miss Julie at the Darlinghurst, I can hardly wait.

It is the integration of sound by Ekrem Mulayim, beautifully composed and placed; the set and costume design, Anna Tregloan and most especially, the lighting by Martin Langthorne that complements the endeavors of the other artists astonishingly well. It is a labour of devoted love it seems. An ideal that the technical artists at the recent Tamarama Rock Surfers shows (KEEP SMILING! THE HOUSEWIFE'S GUIDE; LYREBIRD, for instance, but not alone), should watch and learn from.

FOOD, in the Downstairs is the show to see. It has been a while for me to be so forthcoming. A small work, jewel, but a near perfect one.

I loved it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ross Edwards, Marquee 101

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music presents a Special event: ROSS EDWARDS, MARQUEE 101 at the Verbrugghen Hall.

Two weeks ago I attended a contemporary classic music concert at the Sydney Opera House. The composer at the centre of that event was the American, Steve Reich. It was a wonderful, a great experience. Finding this concert's happening in a 'remote' by-the-way note in the Sydney Morning Herald I felt for many reasons, but especially, out of a sense of cultural redress to the Australian composer, that I should go, should attend.

As I mentioned in my blog, recording The STEVE REICH IN RESIDENCE - A CELEBRATION event, I am a relative newcomer to the music world as live performance. I like it a lot (perhaps, as a respite from actors talking to me, of which, I hear and see a lot - have heard and seen a lot). I have had introductions to a number of Australian Composers: Peter Sculthorpe, Richard Meale, Brett Dean, Elena Kats-Chernin, Richard Mills and a little of Anne Boyd, others, too - of late, Nick Wales, especially through his CODA CD's.

I have heard more Ross Edwards than the others, I think. Why? I think it has to do with what he described as the sound of the "otherness" or more definitely the "Australian-ness" of his musical composition - even without, he self deprecatingly remarked the other evening, the didgeridoo, been used. The music nearly always takes me to an Australian contentedness, for the sounds can be imaginatively inhabited, by me, into a personal Australian vision/narrative, as I listen. My landscape is awakened, all my senses are aroused, even, and especially, startlingly, my olfactory memories - the bush.

The use that Mr Edwards makes of the percussion is especially evocative for me. One of my first immersive classical music experiences was as a spot light operator at an outdoor season of Beth Dean's (just recently, passed away) choreography, somewhere in the Shire (1970 or 71), of John Antill's CORROBOREE (1950) - distant memories.(Keith Bain had 'shanghaied' me from my first year NIDA classes - it may be the reason I passed movement studies!!!). It being a season, I heard it a lot. So, as I untangle, Mr Edwards' compositions, I have come to realise, they propel me back to an ecstatic but nearly forgotten time of hearing the Antill music.

The first piece we heard, the other night, was BINYANG for Clarinet (Peter Jenkin) and percussion (Daryl Pratt) and it, with the first 'hit' of the percussive 'sticks' took me, back, to that place again: in a lighting tower, high up in the air, on a summer evening being enveloped by the percussive and evocative score of Australianess as I watched, below me, the weave of the dancers in the dance, anxious not to miss my first light cue! Australian eucalypts all around me in the park - the perfume of the night.

This concert arranged by the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney was a Marquee Concert to honour the presence of this composer within the institution, this year, and to world premiere a commissioned Piano Sonata, played by pianist, Bernadette Harvey, as part of the up-coming Celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of the Conservatorium of Music. The composer introduced, generously, a short program of 7 'quotations' from his huge repertoire, beside the new Piano Sonata. It covered some thirty odd years of work, all of it, here, played in chamber scale. Like the Reich concert the focused artistry of all the performers was remarkable. Besides the three already mentioned, the celebration was carried out by Alison Mitchell (flute), Claire Edwardes (percussion), Genevieve Lang (harp), Jenny Duck-Chong (mezzo soprano), Ole Bohn (Violin) and Christopher Mui (cello).

Mr Edwards spoke generously, from prepared notes, about the context inspiration of the works. The Marimba Dances, for instance, coming from an Indonesian music embracement; The LAIKAN for flute, violin, cello and percussion (we heard the 2nd and 3rd movement (Madagascan song), inspired by a Madagascan-African folk song, the source recording played for us before hearing his own interpretation, version. Influenced by Indonesian and African music, just like his contemporary, Steve Reich, I thought.

He recollected his inspiration of the sounds of the Australian native birds and insects at Pearl Beach and The Blue Mountains as being the imaginative springboard for some of his work. Just like Olivier Messiaen in his life environment, I thought. The complex intricacies of inter-connection of the remembered imaginative and real life of the composer brought the work alive in an enhancing international 'movement' of creation well springs.

I wonder if the curator of the THE COMPOSERS at the Sydney Opera House (and Producer, Classical Music), Yarmila Alfonzetti was there? For the work of Mr Edwards was as interesting and arresting as Mr Reich's, (different, without doubt). The modest scale of production that the Conservatorium has at its service highlighted the different CELEBRATION, honouring, the impact and work, in these two different houses, of these two 'brothers' in contemporary music.

In that exciting proposition that The Sydney Opera House management has proffered with THE COMPOSERS, one hopes that the Australian Composer, especially the living ones are similarly celebrated. Peter Sculthorpe, for instance. A living legend. I felt rewarded being near the greatness of Steve Reich, and so did I in the presence of the professional modesty of Ross Edwards, the other night.

 It would be an honour to be in the presence of Mr Sculthorpe in a special program similarly scaled and curated as the Reich affair in the Concert Hall soon, would it not?

Tempus fugit - time flees.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vale Ben Gabriel

Ben Gabriel passed away on 25th April, 2012. He was 94 years old.

This is a dedication to an actor of outstanding qualities both as an artist and human. I became acquainted with Ben Gabriel whilst working at the Q Theatre in Penrith in the 1970's and early 80's. I was fortunate enough to work with Ben as an actor and director.

Ben was an Australian artist of the old school and his interest was in the work. Fame was not at all a reason to be an actor, as far as he was concerned. Consequently, his modesty has rendered him a little known member of the profession, as time has passed. Contextually, John Mellion, Bill Hunter, Ron Haddrick were fellow toilers and apparently golf buddies.

I would like, in my modest way, to mark his life and contribution to the Australian Industry, and to my life. Inestimable, both as a fellow artist and mentor by example.

Noel Hodda, spoke at the ceremony to commemorate Ben last week and I asked for a copy of his eulogy. It is unexpurgated and Noel's affection for Ben speaks to the qualities that Ben had and brought out in others.

Thanks Noel.

I first met Ben when I was a kid growing up in Albury. He came to visit in our house regularly. Not physically, he came via the Pye black and white TV set in the corner of the lounge room. Sometimes he’d be a bit shaky or snowy and someone would have to climb on the roof and adjust the antenna so he could be seen more clearly but even then there was no mistaking him. Something about him in those shows from the past – Contrabandits, Homicide and the like – made me notice him and remember him so whenever I saw him again I knew I’d want to watch him. He was that kind of actor. Growing up I’d see him regularly on the TV and he never disappointed.

Years later, fresh out of drama school and completely wet behind the ears, I was cast in an ABC tele-movie (remember when they used to make them?) and on day one of rehearsal I walked in to find this man from my black and white past standing in front of me in full 3D – and colour – and he was going to be playing my father! I was gob-smacked and delighted at the same time. Di Drew, the director, started the rehearsal process off with a full-cast improvisation to test the group dynamics. Well, it was the Seventies. Despite having just come from three year’s of impro and such classes I was suddenly a kid again and a bit awe-struck and stood off to the side, unsure of what to do. Ben noticed this and with a gesture that was part actor to actor and part father to son – and all Ben – he drew me into the impro and thus into the company. Introducing me to the group as his son and introducing me to the world of acting as a colleague simultaneously. It was a small thing but it speaks volumes about the man.

In the interests of history and to remind us of the work of the man we are celebrating today, I have been asked to remind us all of some of the things Ben did over the years – things some of you would no doubt have been part of or at least seen. Ben was more than his work but his work told us a lot about him.

Ben’s work in the theatre is often summarised by the Q years, but there was more to it than that. Prior to the Q he was a member of the Young Elizabethan Players and over the years before and after the formation of the Q he worked at all the major theatre companies in Sydney and Melbourne as well as in Qld and WA.

He especially shone in a number of Australian plays over the years:
The Harp in the South – MTC; in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, three times: in Melbourne in 1958-59, NT tour 1960, & the Q Theatre production; Wacka in The One Day of the Year for an Arts Council tour in 1961 and again in Tokyo in 1966;
Rusty Bugles at the Independent Theatre; The Shifting Heart, for The AET Trust;
A Hard God; Dad, of course, in On Our Selection, and, amongst others, productions of Reedy River; Travelling North; The Department; The Club; The Warhorse; Molly Dies; Fields of Heaven; What If You Died Tomorrow and No Sugar (which was invited to the Vancouver Expo in 1986).

Plays and characters from non-Australian writers were lifted by his presence as well, including:
Willy Loman in Death of A Salesman at The Old Tote in 1970; Julian in Tiny Alice, Old Tote; ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Old Tote; Lear in Edward Bond’s magnificent Lear, Old Tote 1974; Nine productions of Shakespeare for Schools; Gloucester in King Lear, QTC and The Three Sisters and The Lower Depths for the STC. Memorable Q performances in overseas plays include Max in The Homecoming in 1980 and Dodge in Buried Child the following year.

Theatre was Ben’s first love but that didn’t mean he didn’t make his mark elsewhere. He was also part of the resurgence of Australian cinema, appearing in films like The Mango Tree; Fighting Back; Break of Day; Let the Balloon Go; I Can’t Get Started and Turning Point and in mini-series and tele-movies like The Dismissal and A Step In The Right Direction, where he played my father.

And then there is television.

Of course he was Jim Shurley in Contrabandits for ABC TV for which he received a Penguin Award for Best Supporting Actor. Also for ABC TV: Over There, Dynasty, and Delta. He played numerous characters in Homicide (at least 13 times over the course of the series), as well as Division 4 and Matlock Police; A Country Practice; Home and Away; All Saints; Fallen Angels; Sons and Daughters; Resistance; Prisoner; GP; Glenview High; M.P.S.I.B.; Case for the Defence; Shannon’s Mob; Cash and Company; The Last of the Australians; King’s Men; Rush; A Touch of Reverence; Chopper Squad; Boney; The Evil Touch; Ryan; Behind the Legend; My Name’s McGooley, What’s Yours?; Skippy; Consider Your Verdict; Riptide; Whiplash...

and others! No wonder he was always in our lounge room in Albury.

And I haven’t even got to radio...

Ben was an old school actor – there to serve the writer, the story and the director and by doing that, serving the audience. We need more Bens in our world.

Vale Ben and Godspeed.

Noel Hodda


Riverside presents a CDP Production: BIDDIES by Don Reid at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta.

CODGERS came first and now, we have BIDDIES, both by Don Reid. In the former, six men 'working out' in a gymnasium and locker room, deal with life and all its challenges, especially, ageing. In the latter, six women "stitch and bitch" needle work in an infant school classroom and broom closet, deal with life and all its challenges, especially, ageing. The different locations and the primary task of each grouping of six may give you some clue as to the insight that Mr Reid has with the new play about Biddies.

Gymnasium = infant school classroom.
Change room = broom closet.
"Working out" = " stitch and bitch" needle work.

See what I mean? Insight, less than thoughtful. Maybe, poor. Zilch, perhaps. No matter his declaration in the program notes: "...I am as fascinated by them (meaning women) as when I emerged from my mother's womb. Vive les femmes!" Discerning women may not wish to reciprocate with a "Vive Monsieur Reid!"

CODGERS was an entertaining and slight piece of writing made deliciously engaging by a group of actors of some real 'codger' age and remarkable, pedigreed, acting backgrounds (first round cast, that is) - skills to burn, to be inherited. These biddies, bar one of the actors, are at least a decade too young for what they purport to be (their pedigrees as actors are formidable, though). What worked for CODGERS as an entertainment was the sheer collective chutzpah of all the right-aged performers. It charmed, distracted, the problems with the writing, away. Unfortunately, that is not the case with this productio/play. No matter the chutzpah of the ladies of this production, they cannot hide the deficient writing.

There is a play called SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR. With respect to Luigi Pirandello for connecting him with this work, BIDDIES feels, in production, like SIX ACTORS LOOKING FOR A PLAY. The educated spinster (Maggie Blinco), quoting apt poetic lines from the masters ; an incontinence sufferer (Linden Wilkinson)who has a secret history of brutalisation at the hands of her husband; the amateur musical star mom (Donna Lee) who wisecracks awful jokes and has a relentless need to "hoof' and sing at any signal, still - the song and dance finale should be featured on RED FACES, just for the costumes alone!; the daffy incompetent home crafts lady (Annie Byron), long suffering, who finally gets her husband to pay some attention to her; the 'bossy-boots' manager of the group (Julie Hudspeth) who discovers concessions to others is not such a bad thing to do; the tyrannical school teacher(Vivienne Garrett) from their past and the truth speaker without an empathetic button, are all here stuck in a room, at least a little of the time.

On chairs spread across the room decorated with infant school drawings etc (Set and Costume Design, Graham Maclean - ordinary), the director, Wayne Harrison plots his actors through the well-worn hoops of the writing, ploddingly, predictably. Nothing but basic craft here – but considering what has been happening with the productions presented by Tamarama Rock Surfers at the Old Fitzroy Theatre ( THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST DRAGONS AND OTHER...; LYREBIRD) and The Bondi Pavilion of late (KEEP SMILING ! THE HOUSEWIFE'S GUIDE), (and lets not forget EVERY BREATH) – it looks like genius. Mr Harrison can move his actors around and light his set and actors with his designer Nicholas Higgins so that we can see what is happening. I just wish he was more rigorous with his writer: just tell him to go back to the desk and start again.

To be fair, this is 'Horses for Courses' stuff and the morning I saw it the audience were gently appreciative if not effusive. It is a bit like watching live on stage ON THE BUSES, MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE, THE RAG TRADE or ARE YOU BEING SERVED? without the male characters, although they figure prominently in the background action of these characters worlds (unlike the women's place in CODGERS, by the way) - low, low comedy with an occasional sentimental gesture to make it 'soapy' and 'real'. It is very lowest common denominator.

I know that this is Australian content. I know that it has a cast of six women and I am glad for that.  The second one in a row I have seen - KEEP SMILING! THE HOUSEWIFE'S GUIDE, also has six women on stage, but these actors should not be asked to struggle with this banal writing, to put life into such ordinariness, to give themselves the chance to do what they love -to practice the craft of acting. Unfortunately you are only as good as your weakest link. The centre of any theatre/film/television work is the writing, if it is no good, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. For BIDDIES the writing is the weakest link and it does not need an iceberg to sink it. Put these gifted and talented actors in an Alan Ayckbourn or a Joanna Murray-Smith - e.g. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES or .... ? but give them writing worth working with and give the audience some credit for intelligence and the capacity to enjoy the highest common factor of the best that there is about.

The most amazing thing about this production is to watch Vivienne Garrett take charge of a role written for a woman much, much older than herself, I should suppose, and give it a damn good shake. It is a remarkable piece of observation and detailed choice. Thorough and inspired, right through from the costume and make up, (love the shoes) to the physical gestures : body, and, especially face; and a clarity of voice work bristling with theatrical intelligence and mordant wit. One of the better performances I have seen this year. Ms Garrett can make this DROSS seem like GOLD. (Why isn't she centre stage at the STC? She has been away in Perth, BUT, she is back. And HOW!!!)

But then, of course, Ms Garrett is playing the school teacher, so she has an advantage over the other actors, for, Mr Reid tells us that he had, as a younger man, chosen school-teaching as his profession, and there is a feeling of some authenticity to the writing of this character, some knowledge of the acerbic teacher, a kin to Celia Johnson's Miss Mackay from Marcia Blaine in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, instead of the cliché caricatures of the other biddies he has written (Ms Wilkinson is a playwright for goodness sake, she might have been able to help. Didn't anyone ask?).

Thanks for the effort, but, really , there has to be better Australian writing than this, surely?

This year has not been a good time in the theatre so far. Reward for an enthusiastic theatre lover has been scant. It can be brutalising. We are only a quarter a way through the year. Time, still to be astonished. It is why I keep going. I love it and I long to be transported.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Keep Smiling! The Housewife's Guide

Tamarama Rock Surfers and The Colour Blind Project present KEEP SMILING! THE HOUSEWIFE'S GUIDE at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre.
The Colour Blind Project is the brainchild of Sydney based performers, Josipa Draisma and Stephanie Son, created to showcase the diverse pool of multi-cultural talent that exists in Australia. …The Colour Blind Project unites artists of all backgrounds, particularly performers of multi-cultural backgrounds, and gives them the opportunity to create and perform work that will spark public dialogue about the cultural diversity within the Australian Arts and Entertainment industry.
KEEP SMILING ! THE HOUSEWIFE'S GUIDE has been created and is performed by Josipa Draisma, Stephanie Son (the two founders), Christina Falsone, Carla Nirella, Alyssan Russell and Naomi White.

These young women, (wonderfully, six women), the creators, have set about with some superficial diligence to reflect on the circumstances of the women of their grandmother's generation - the 1960's (the program notes suggests the fifties as well, but the key dramatic and political turning point of the play - the Vietnam Conscription Lottery, did not occur until the sixties). To show us victims not prepared to buck the system but rather to smile and bear it. Satirical comedy is the dominating tone. On a bright and iconically detailed design that reflects the commercial images of the period, with a popular magazine backdrop dominating the procedures (Set Design, Daniel Alleck), we are invited to watch six women, amusingly dressed in eye catching costume of a period (Costume Design, Virginia Mawer), who epitomise some aspects of the feminine culture of that time. We meet a limited range of women and a small range of issues - a dash of Mad Men office sexual liaisons: the too secure rich 'bitch'-alcoholic (Carla Nirella) and the ambitious sexy office secretary (Naomi White); the Vietnam soldier's wife (Alyssan Russell) at home with four kids to care for; the deserted green grocer's wife (Christina Falsone) having to keep up face in diminishing financial circumstances; the trophy wife (Stephanie Son) of an up and coming politician and a woman (Josipa Draisma) who is hugely incompetent in fulfilling her housewifely duties.

The form of the writing, sketch like mutations of situations with surface textual investigations, that aim for comedy and satirical gleams over and above realities, supported by kitchy choreography and recitations from Shakespearean heroines (that do not always seem to be relevant, except in a generalised way) seem not to have the integrity of the ambitions of this company's stated aims. So little pressure to this spotless surface of fun and games is applied by these artists that the cracks which they purport, in their program notes, to lurk beneath, that apparently run "deep and echoless", do not. Gentle poking fun and laughter is what is mostly sought. I wonder if this company have ever read the Clare Luce Boothe play THE WOMEN or seen the George Cukor 1939 film? Now there is wit, comedy, satire perfectly conceived.

The real 'meat and potatoes' issues of the period other than Vietnam, which we do get a melodramatic allusion too, such as the draft dodgers and the Moratoriums on war; the World Peace Movement and the Anti-Nuclear Movement, the White Australia Policy and the diverse multi-cultural refugee arrivals (a subject that The Colour Blind Project would seem to have naturally really dealt with in a more assiduous and penetrating way, given this opportunity of period examination, I would have thought), pregnancy and birth control and the collapse of the churches (Vatican Council) in their authority to rule the home front and intimate women's lives; the diet pill (the notorious Ford Pill, for instance), the  other legal and illegal drug industry; the revolutionary popular culture of fashion, sex,  and rock and roll (no Beatles or Rolling Stone in the Sound Design? ! (Sound Design expertly prepared by Garth Hodgson with some real detail and care); the new Utopias: women's liberation - The Female Eunuch etc; indigenous and gay rights (another area that The Colour Blind Project ought to have been more scrupulous about, even in passing!); the culture of terror (assassinations!) and doubt in the government structures, cultural paranoia; the space race for world domination; Russia and China and the Red Menace of Communism, for instance, are not regarded at all.

It seems opportunity lost.

What we do have is some persevered passion and a sense of play. Hearts and the ambition of this company seem to be in the right place, if nothing much else. Comedy and satire, song and dance are in the harder areas of performance and need accurate technical skills. Without them the work becomes very hit and miss. Here, in this work, it is mostly miss. The voices of the company generally lack projection skill (Ms Russell and Falsone exceptions), particularly in this very peculiar and difficult space. If there is to be dance, especially in ensemble it needs real skill and synchronisation to have the right fillip of effect. If the coup d'theatre is to be in a set piece of mimed chaos at a luncheon party to climax the play as a final symbolic statement, it needs physical timing and ensemble sensibilities of a high order. This company are not near that standard to satisfactorily pull it off.

Felicity Nicol, the Director, does not have the essential skills to organise and stage her performers other than in generalised patterns and in a generalised focusing of textual essentials. There seems to be a preponderant attention to the funny quirks of her actors and the mildly amusing jokes rather than the illumination of the textual points of the writing - such as they be, at present (was there an outside dramaturge? When did the director become involved in the creation of the work?) Often the actors are physically upstaging and covering vital action for the audience's comprehension. Ms Nicol's ability to guide her Lighting Designer (Liam O'Keefe) to cover and focus the key performers in each of the scenes is woefully absent. I was often not able to see the key players in the work (the tragic news for the soldier's wife of the death of Vietnam troops could not be seen. Surely the focus ought to have been centred on Ms Russell in that long and extended moment?) I thought lighting was meant to light the actors. Here, it is mostly too dull/underlit to know what the directorial intention is on the stage. It is a director's responsibility. It is a similar issue that I had with Jemma Gurney's work on LYREBIRD at the Old Fitzroy last month. Basic technical skills of the director are not at all honed or are neglected - maybe a time issue ?! Stage practicalities need attention.  The basic craft! Boring as it may seem, no matter the theory or ideas of the production, ALL is lost if the communication of it is inept.

Tamarama Rock Surfers have curated this show and given an opportunity for a young and ambitious and enthusiastic company the chance to present to a Sydney audience and once again we are seeing work that I think has potential and possible merit, but is under prepared and does not seem to be properly mentored. The work needs more attention in the writing, in my view. It needs casting that can fulfill the brief of the material's technical demand, and a director with more technical knowledge to achieve the technical finesse required.

KEEP SMILING ! THE HOUSEWIFE'S GUIDE is mainly for friends and family of the performers.