Friday, June 29, 2012

All The Rage

Tamarama Rock Surfers Theatre Company presents ALL THE RAGE by John A.D. Fraser at the old Fitz.

From the Sydney Morning Herald (Thursday, 28th June, 2012):

MORE THAN A HANDSHAKE, A NEW ERA OF MATURITY IN BELFAST: An analysis by Lord Paul Bew, an independent crossbench peer and professor of Irish politics at Queen's University, Belfast).

"BELFAST: What lies behind yesterday's historic handshake between the Queen and Martin McGuiness, former IRA leader and now the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister? The Good Friday Agreement in 1988 effectively ended the Troubles. It projected a new era of community psychotherapy. And all good community psychotherapy needs to be reinforced by acts of good authority.

Inevitably for the Queen there are difficult memories - and not just the IRA murder of Lord Mountbatten in Sligo in 1979. There was also the plot to kill the Prince and Princess of Wales at a Duran Duran concert in London, and the attempt against her majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh on a trip to the province in the late 1970's. Like Hermione in THE WINTER'S TALE, the Queen, bruised and silent for many years, has emerged to offer the healing touch of reconciliation..."
John A.D. Fraser the writer of ALL THE RAGE, tells us in his program notes to his short, new Australian one act play, that "peace now reigns in the north of Ireland. According to the Belfast Telegraph, in 2010 there were only 40 reported terrorist incidents, including the death of Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh. As Gerry Adams once put it, with customary lack of subtlety, 'They haven't gone away you know."

This play, then, has a creepy and anxiety raising prescience. Indeed. For, ALL THE RAGE is set in August, 2012, only a month away, and tells of Skin the Goat (Laurence Coy) and Nina, plotting with a half witted thug, Boyler (Xavier Coy), by kidnapping a bomb maker, The Baker (Duncan Fellows), to blow up the London Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony.

The writing in this play is tight, witty and stuffed with lots of amusing, banal cultural references of our consumer society. It is stripped to the bare bones of narrative physical threat and tensions and has a clear and entertaining trajectory. It bears all the inspiration and hallmarks of a text by Martin McDonagh, (or, Quentin Tarantino): comic eccentricities in the midst of horrible, bloody violence and dopey characters being primed by fanatics, with, in this production, a salving sentimentality made possible by the use of retro romantic music - good old standby, Nat King Cole - to ease us over the ugliness of it all (Sound Design by Jeremy Silver). This is a very good play, even if the heritage is too obvious.

It is a tidy and simple production by Leland Kean who has, also, designed an unfussy white walled, two door set with grey floor, a single chair and an Irish Tato Chips box with bomb making materials and a hand weapon or two, the only usable props to be seen. The lighting (Luiz Pampolha) is a one state white glare. Despite some odd staging moments that defy belief, for instance, the final revenge of Nina on Boyler, through a still strapped on sturdy yellow tool belt - in the staged action we saw, how is that possible? - it is not a bad time in the theatre.

But the evening's potential is diminished. The possible simple direct power of this play about the horrible actions of psychopaths with opportunity, is really undermined by very uneven casting. Credit to Duncan Fellows as a steady keel to the reality of the play's situation, ably supported by Laurence Coy in a very straight forward set of choices. Xavier Coy, on the other hand is a little of a conundrum. Boyler's naivety and slowness is so convincing in it's lack of timing and sometimes overstated reactions, that it is either a marvellous performance of dexterous wonder of accurate observation or that of a relatively, unsophisticated performer with few skills - distracting with a cherubic look, and hence empathy drawing - I couldn't decide. See what you think. Whilst, Scarlet McGlynnn as Nina , although, the conveying of the shock of the violence done to her is mostly convincing, seems technically shallow in her character's background and presence and not altogether on the ball with her interaction as a technician with the other actors. It is a pivotal, 'Lady Macbeth'-like, ballsy  role, and on the night I attended, lacked truth and depth. Miss McGlynn looked unconvincing and uncomfortable. The tension in her important scenes lost momentum and heat.

ALL THE RAGE is good writing and mostly for those of us who may miss the playwrighting skills of Martin McDonagh: THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE; THE LONESOME WEST; THE LIEUTENANT OF INNISHMORE; THE PILLOWMAN. It seems that Mr McDonagh prefers writing films to plays, claiming to hold "a respect for the whole history of films and a slight disrespect for theatre. ... theatre isn't something that's connected to me from a personal point of view…". The film IN BRUGES was a triumph and his new film SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS with Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Tom Waites is due this year. So Mr A.D. Fraser may be a substitute, for the McDonagh "hit" in the theatre, in Sydney.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Matthew Day: Intermission

Photo by James Brown

PACT centre for emerging artists presents MATTHEW DAY: INTERMISSION at the pact Theatre, Erskineville.
INTERMISSION is the final instalment in my solo series TRILOGY. The three part solo project developed between 2009-2012 was conceived to allow the scope and time to rigorously research an intense interest in durational choreographic forms and the body as a site of infinite potential and continual becoming. I wanted to create work that was alive in the moment of performance, to give enough space and time for the audience to become aware of their perceptual shifts and for a choreographic encounter to unfold between the performer and the audience.
- Matthew Day
I have seen only the second part of this trilogy, CANNIBAL, in which Mr Day "... discovered an ebbing wave beneath this (a) pulsing vibration, a returning eternal flow that sustained the choreography". In this work Mr Day through the 'immersion' in the rhythmic waves, is "…learning that these obsessions with form,minimalism,duration, repetition, deformation, allow me (i.e.Mr Day) to approach choreography as a field of energetic perception".

In contrast to the all white visuals of CANNIBAL, for INTERMISSION Mr Day dresses in dark clothing and works in a dark curtained space to low level light. Beginning quietly once again, the movement begins minutely and radiates through the body, although in this work, of much less detailed duration, finally propelling himself around the outer edges of the space accompanied by a live score of drone minimalism by James Brown - a low burr of a sound to a reverberation of one's inner organs 'sound' (interactive, indeed).

The limited body flexibility of Mr Day, as a performer, underlines the possible potential of something of real interest here. Watching Mr Day, however, became a frustration - the seemingly 'frozen' pelvic area of this performer blocking the flow of force through into the legs, feet and ground, limiting it strictly to the undulation of the upper chest and arms – the neck, also oddly, held and seemingly disengaged. Choreographed onto a top notch dancer the effect of the study and work of Mr Day could be startling. As is, this performance work is a case study of potential only. The endurance of the mover is the principal thing to admire - he does keep going for what seemed like at least 40 odd minutes!

The work still feels like an artist's thesis paper. If a better dancer takes on this concept (and perhaps, it has already been done, somewhere?) the conceptual choreographic potential might be more startling. For the theorists, only.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Michael Sieders and Griffin Independent present PORN.CAKE by Vanessa Bates at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

Two contemporary couples, of the vintage of near 40 odd years, are traversing that marriage rite of passage where familiarity may be making an itch or two for change. Scratching at it becomes an inevitable thing, for some of us. These couples are experiencing a growing familiarity that is breeding, if not contempt, then, a vacuous absence that  they all seem easily to be able to vacate to, both, in mind and presence. In this modern world of easy access Internet flirting, and further discourse by arrangement, on the smart phone - and other media, the world can move us very, very quickly. It can be commandingly constant and awfully present. Temptations can be easily turned into actions without much difficulty, and that old fashioned conscience dilemma can be often short-circuited into behaviour of a deleterious kind. And it is speedy, and, seems to be able to be, even speedier, today. Do all these modern fast lifestyle connections make one happy? If  Georges Feydeau were writing today, PORN.CAKE, by Vanessa Bates, might be part of his output.

How does one keep one's partner from wandering? It seems the bloated sexualisation of our culture can offer solutions in an amazing range of environments, quickly. Belle (Olivia Pigeot) and Annie (Georgina Symes) have found, for instance, the Cooking Shows of Jamie and Nigella and, especially, their recipes for cake, have led them to deduce that "Cake is the new Porn". So, 11 beautiful cakes (Epicurean Kitchen) are produced during this action packed show and are sliced, served, mashed, smashed, thrown, and sometimes eaten, not only by these desperate housewives, but ,also, by their partners, Ant (Glenn Hazeldine) and Bill (Josef Ber). Cream, jams, sugar decorations, icing, sponge and glittering knives seem to hurtle through the space. Tongues, hands, hair, clothes, carpet and sharp metal come to meet in a cream and sponge interaction - even we, get to eat some of a birthday cake!!.

Shannon Murphy (who last year directed THIS YEAR'S ASHES at the Griffin), is clearly the right director for this new play by Vanessa Bates. On a set (Justin Nardella), that looks like a tiered, carpeted sex pit from the film set of BOOGIE NIGHTS (or a brothel of some distant memory [!?]), this one, with secreted drawers filled with cake, knives and serviettes, the actors  juggle a text recipe of verbal interplay, physical farce, direct monologue and dance (Sam Chester) in to a delicious heightened comic style. It's stylish airiness allows this cake to rise, and even if  it is a trifle too feather light (the subject matter a little too light [banal] on post show reflection or summary), it is kept frenetically paced, and, so, one is kept delightfully distracted. The theatrical ploys and tricks of the writing 'offers' - e.g. an apparent allergic reaction by one of the cast to the ingredients of the cakes, bringing the production, momentarily to a halt, rescued by another of the company - a sweet icing, that allows one to swallow the night with pleasure and ease, in the moment of 'eating'.

All of the performers are stretched to a disciplined ensemble, but show best in their extended monologues. Here, the writing is best, and each of the actors take possession of the opportunities with appetite and relish. The comic turn of Ms Symes, expert (if not quite lived) - a stand up natural. Mr Hazeldine, however, mines his 'turn' for all the human pathos that it and us can bear, and is the highlight of the night - disconcertingly moving in the craziness of what has gone on before.

The conception of this play, and the exploration of the material in this exaggerated comic milieu is an adventurous surprise success in the Australian play-wrighting canon that we usually see. More of it I say, and take note, clearly, the director is an essential asset to this success. Having recently heard a new short piece at the Griffringe Season, early this month, by Alli Sebastian Wolf , it made me to reconsider the writing in her play, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST DRAGONS, AND OTHER GOTHIC TALES, AS TOLD BY AN OCTOPUS,  and wonder what would have been arrived at with Ms Murphy in charge as director. And, although I am personally, a bit over, monologue as theatre, and there are four extended monologues in this play, they are the "heart" of the work, and is the best part of the writing. So, bearable, if not totally convinced that they are a necessary form.

Ms Murphy, comes up trumps with this work, the stylistic modes, beautifully rehearsed and executed, not an easy thing to do - it requires a delicate and  special temperament - with courage being a very necessary ingredient. The lighting by Teegan Lee is detailed and a complex support to the tone of the night. While the Composition and Design of the Sound by Steve Toulmin is a necessary energy for the work to keep afloat - well estimated.

Light weight stuff ( and why not?), but, in the eating fun, fun, fun.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Photo by Seiya Taguchi
Seymour Centre in association with Sport For Jove Theatre present HAMLET by William Shakespeare in the York Theatre at the Seymour Centre.

Commissioned by the Seymour Centre, the Sport For Jove Theatre under the direction of Damien Ryan have prepared and present a version of William Shakespeare's HAMLET with school audience's in mind. Mr Ryan has "...worked heavily in the Australian education sector, and bringing Shakespeare and theatre to young audiences is his life's passion." His production of ROMEO AND JULIET for Bell Shakespeare/ Sydney Opera House is at present on tour in Melbourne. His production of THE LIBERTINE at the Darlinghurst Theatre (2011), a triumph of theatre know-how.

In the York Theatre auditorium, that vast space of seating, on three sides of the stage, has been curtained off to attempt to create a more intimate atmosphere for the production. On the thrust stage space, a large variegated wooden "O" - made up of " 3,746 pieces of wood" (Set Design: Lucilla Smith), glowers in the hazed lighting (Lighting Design: Toby Knyvett). The acting company of nine, enter and begin: creating a cacophonic, incomprehensible flag swirling demonstration, dominated by hand held loud speaker NOISE, introducing us to a world of riot, or revolutionary chaos. Flags and smoke, NOISE. The staging impact is one of impression rather than of precision. The recent television images of the Arab Spring sprang to mind: Egypt and the fall of the Mubarak regime, in the city square, except here, the flags are different.

What followed next, was, in contrast, in theatrical scale, actors dressed in contemporary clothing, creating a world that is not so much of royal dimension but one of, perhaps, suburban domestic scale at, say, No.10 Downing Street in the informal family rooms - still, the centre of a kind of power - where at a kitchen dining table, the 'upstairs' family, Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet meet for breakfast, serviced by the 'downstairs' family, as maid, Ophelia; waiter, Laertes; and secretary, Polonius. Hamlet less than casually attired, slumps into the room. All of the participants attempt to ignore the antic disposition of the young Hamlet, as he sits in postured modes, exaggerated hands and fingers, inappropriately behaving and speaking at table, playing with the table wear. His dad is dead - odd, for he was in good health; his mother hastily remarried, to his uncle, Claudius - whore! ; and his Wittenberg Uni studies interrupted. So, his behaviour, maybe, acceptable, in the circumstances, eh?

Mr Ryan has up-dated his production into contemporary times and much is wittily flourished and accomplished for a young audience, with the use of allusions to contemporary spy equipment and the world of the Internet as a means of communication and information in this household of neurosis and sexual tensions and suspicions. The young audience love their cultural references, and are vastly titillated, when the Hamlet-celebrity comes and sits beside them in the audience to discuss, through shared soliloquy, his domestic and psychological predicaments.

Similarly, the central play-within-the-play, THE MURDER OF GONZALGO or THE MOUSETRAP, is most cleverly re-imagined by Mr Ryan in its presentation, where all the family are asked to perform the "doctored" text - a bit like family charades or a kind of karaoke, but, with a play text - Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius play tellingly, indeed. The power of the other worlds of the ghosts (HARRY POTTER and even TWILIGHT, make this a slam-dunk acceptance of reality for this generation audience, perhaps) and the 'magic' of the designated swordplay of the final act of the play are nicely balanced into a comfortable and never provocative scenario for the audience to have few qualms about accepting, a duel with swords and not guns?!!! It seemed that the audience I was seeing this performance with, probably studying the play text as part of their High School Certificate exams, was entirely engrossed and never de-railed from believing or accepting what they were offered. You can bring absolutely anything to the genius of Shakespeare and the play will light it up, far more than what you bring to illuminate the play.

The problem, of course, for the Sport For Jove Theatre is how do you reduce a four-and a-half-hour internationally acknowledged masterpiece (there are over 50 film versions of this play, originating from England to India to Ghana etc), into less than two hours ? What can William Shakespeare's HAMLET become when it is pre-scripted to be shown within those time boundaries? (It is rarely performed full length, by the way). What do we show in that time, that will facilitate a positive educational 'output' for these schools? What is the objective of the educational experience of studying HAMLET? I wonder. What do we have to keep? What has to go?

The results of such necessities of commercial or 'educational' demands we have witnessed in the Disney versions of say Victor Hugo's NOTRE-DAME OF PARIS, or, even recently, in Sydney, in the adaptation for the musical theatre, of Boris Pasternak's DOCTOR ZHIVAGO- a kind of dumbing down. The employment of contemporary writers of other writers famous titles and works: THE WILD DUCK, STRANGE INTERLUDE, for instance? Dumb-downs to numb-downs some may think. May provoke!! Has the Seymour Centre and Sport For Jove Theatre reduced the Shakespearean mighty energies, perforce of the contemporary corporation demands of education, and encouraged a battering and truncation of HAMLET to a slight caricature of itself? Sad, but, true? Is it true that something, however, is better than nothing? Some educators, even in the theatre institutions itself have come to regard the words on the page as "incidentals" to the creating of performance - not the labour of the writer as artist! A mere starting point! Even to education. Form (style) becoming more important than content. Staggering, really, when this blow torch of stupidity is applied to the Classical repertoire.

Sport For Jove have expertly summarised this play down to the main events of the story - all the famous bits occur - true, sometimes truncated, but still there - and the new circumstances, the settings, make it more or less accessible for the audience to comprehend. And, still, surrounding the events in this production, are most of the famous speeches or cleverly edited versions of them ("To be or not to be" etc. , still, is all there!) But what makes this play great are not the events but the philosophy that is fashioned by Shakespeare in a great language poem of debate and discussion. Has too much of the reason for why this play is still central to our cultural identity, despite recent tiresome academic argy-barging (i.e Harold Bloom's opening essay: Shakespeare's Universalities in "SHAKESPEARE. THE INVENTION OF THE HUMAN" [1] ), been edited out?

I think so.

Although, I am not altogether certain.

For, for me, the biggest obstacle, to knowing this, was the performance of Lindsay Farris as Hamlet.The poetry of the play is jettisoned by this actor and substituted with emotional indulgences. Mr Farris has all the outward qualities to make a good Hamlet. He has presence, he has comprehensive intelligence, he has sensitivities and he has a voice. He has some sense of craft, of the instrument usage to achieve communication, of pitch, pace and volume variation and uses it (although his (ex)plosive "P's" seem to belong to an elocutionist rather than Hamlet - way, way way over the top). Despite all of these gifts, Mr Farris' inclination is to "feel" his way through the intellectual disquisitions of Hamlet reducing them to an incomprehensible, generalized animal howl. Where, Mr Farris ought to be applying his intelligence to 'think' his way through the disquisitions, to deliver to the audience the information in the line, as an expression of ideas and observations of what it is to be a human under duress, a Prince of Denmark as well, he growls and bellows (see photograph in program) with an obliterating whirlwind of emotion, the sense of the writing. Tearing a passion to tatters! - Instead of the famous quote "Words, words, words." this could read in this production/performance as "Noise, noise, noise."

Where is the wit of Hamlet, that in its marvellous cogitations is a perfect intelligence of much and many kinds of the humours of being a man? The laughter from this audience, in Mr Farris' performance, mostly came from broad physical comedy and audacious physical rudeness to the others, rather than in the intricate and thrilling illumination of the sophistication of the human mind that Shakespeare as written for him to elucidate for us. Mr Farris tends to display the resultant emotional state of the character rather than the reasons for it, provided in the writing. It is most 'robustious'. He asks us to sit back and admire his virtuosic emotional ranting rather than inviting us to the internalized puzzling searches for sanities and justifications of the great complicated travail of being consciously alive in this universe. For, "HAMLET (the play) is scarcely the revenge tragedy that it only pretends to be. It is, rather, theatre of the world ... Hamlet as written appears too immense a consciousness for HAMLET (the play), a revenge tragedy does not afford the scope for the leading Western representation of an intellectual," [1]. This Hamlet by Mr Farris is just a revenge tragedy, he is a dwarf to Shakespeare's written giant. Mr Farris' Hamlet is that of a wounded emotional spoilt boy, who acts out, and causes the death of many others besides his own. His graveyard scene with the body of Ophelia an embarrassment of "(S)he does protest too much." That he ultimately, deliberately, murders in the final scene, in a frenzy of pique, is hardly less than expected. A bad tempered pique. A Gen Y Hamlet of entitlement to revenge for himself, his condition. It is a severe reduction of the greatness of the writing, and the character of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Hamlet has three times as many lines as any other character, even so, with this editing, probably, that would still be the mathematics, and, so, if the actor/Hamlet has lost verbal control and cat-a-whelped, caterwauled, the speaking of the text in shouts of emotional abuse, it is very difficult for the other actors to give good or sophisticated readings to their scenes. They must play with what is happening, and this Hamlet is crazed, indeed - pretending madness, at a heightened pitch. So, the usually reliable and often stellar Danielle King as Gertrude has some difficulty to bring any real sense or truth or point of view to the famous 'closet scene" with Hamlet. Her sonnet/grievance of Ophelia's death is lost, in the helter skelter about her. James Lugton as Claudius, also seems uneasy, and most unlike his usual clear and accurate self, during the course of the play. Even his 'prayer scene' a disjointed affair.

John Turnbull, who has little direct textual interaction with Mr Farris, gives the most interesting performance. Here, we have an actor wittily and insightfully reveal a true specimen of the human, bringing the light of his intelligence rather than the blare of his emotions to the revelations possible in the writing of Shakespeare. Mr Farris should take notes. Eloise Winestock brings some even keel to the usual thankless task of Ophelia, although, the famous 'mad scene with herbs' eluded her, as it does most others, I have seen, as well. Christopher Stalley, especially as Laertes, had a lofty quality of honour and goodness.

This production for schools is not bad. It just does not well serve the playwright and the reputation of this greatest of plays. The emotion of the play supersedes and dominates the intelligence, of this great text, and, unfortunately it is not enough to make it great.

It does, however, bring a young audience to the theatre. The audience I saw it with enjoyed themselves in a respectful composure of generalized awe and excitement. It just could just be more. A bigger experience. The time constriction is deleterious, we should give another hour to the text, for in the invention of the director there is real theatrical intelligence. At the moment, however, it manages to only bring illumination to the most rudimentary structures of the play within an accessible contemporary landscape. The poetry, the greater part of Shakespeare's achievement, is baffled.

I have seen many productions of HAMLET. It is the play, it is the role, that all aspire too. I recommend the Richard Burton performance (1964). The Russian Grigori Kozinstev (1964) Hamlet and the new and recent David Tennant version (2009) is also exciting. You can read my reaction to the Brendan Cowell performance for Bell Shakespeare or even, a performance by Mr Ryan himself, several years ago.
"There is no mystery in a looking glass until someone looks into it. Then, though it remains the same glass, it presents a different face to each man. who holds it in front of him. The same is true of a work of art. It has no proper existence as art until someone is reflected in it - and no two will ever be reflected in the same way. However much we all see in common in such a work, at the centre we behold a fragment of our own soul, and the greater the art the greater the fragment. HAMLET is perhaps the most convincing of this truth. ...HAMLET criticism seems destined, then, to go on being what it has always been: a sustained difference of opinion." – Harold C. Goddard [2]

See Diana Simmonds' review of the show in Stage Noise for another point of view,of this production, indeed, very different from my own.

Advice from Hamlet to certain players:
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue : but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do you saw the air too much with your hands, thus; but use all gently: for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul, to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow, tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who, for the most part, are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise: I could have such a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor : suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end is, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as, 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and the body of the time his form and pressure. Now, this overdone or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the censure of the which one must, in your allowance, o'erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be players that I have seen play, - and heard others praise, and that highly, - not to speak it profanely, that, neither having the accent of Christians, nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of nature's journeymen had made men, and not them well, they imitated humanity so abominably.

...And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them: for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too; though, in the meantime, some necessary question of the play be then to be considered; that's villanous, and shows a most pitiable ambition in the fool that uses it."
All actors take note.

  1. Harold Bloom, Shakespeare. The Invention of the Human, Riverhead Books, 1998.
  2. Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare. The University of Chicago Press, 1951.
  3. Norrie Epstein, The Friendly Shakespeare, Penguin Books, 1993.
  4. Ben Crystal, Shakespeare on Toast, Icon Books, 2008.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Unspeakable Itch

Darlinghurst Theatre presents THE UNSPEAKABLE ITCH by Kate Smith and Drew Fairley at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

Matt and Bec, and their friends at work: Belle and Basille, belong to that crowd who have made it and seek the next thing because "they deserve it, darling!": a big teak (endangered forest or not!) back deck, a humongous barbecue, a big real-estate deal, an interior job of a 'glorious' kind, etc, etc. They have that unspeakable itch for more, and in these present economic mores overreach themselves with blazing consequences. The GFC and the credit card crunch push this couple to crisis!

THE UNSPEAKABLE ITCH is the third musical comedy delivery by Kate Smith and Drew Fairley, the previous being: BANGERS AND MASH and THE NO CHANCE IN HELL HOTEL. It is they say, the culmination of nine years of an intimate theatrical relationship - a "kooky theatrical marriage" and they assure us that they have been "…lucky-theatrically.  (but) Don't get us wrong - there have been stinkers." And, although, THE UNSPEAKABLE ITCH is not a stinker it is a very thin piece of work. Fans and "theatrical family friends" will probably enjoy it best. If these characters, Matt and Bec, are new to you, as they were too me, you might not buy into the night with quite so much interest.

The light comedy sketch work is full of gentle laughs and "shameless one liners". The songs, music and lyrics by Phil Scott, arranged on the pre-recorded music tracks by Andrew Worboys are gently warming and easy listening. All the artistic input practical and simple, if not totally glamorous. The video content (Ross Graham), mostly used to cover costume change, not always a seamless segue that adds much to the progress of the show.

Kate Smith, on the night I saw the show, was pumping away with all the energy of a completely comfortable and primed artist in this material. Mr Fairley, not always 'ready' and slightly fluffy with some of his 'sound jokes" in the first half, warmed up for the second half, where he sang with some good commitment .

This little show feels like one of those shows that one can catch in the side lounge at a big club - benign and casually amusing. Clearly, the artists have a loyal audience for these creations, but this production maybe just a little light to attract a new and building crowd.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Love You, Bro

La Boite, Brisbane and the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta present I LOVE YOU, BRO by Adam J. Cass.

I LOVE YOU, BRO by Adam J. Cass, is a monologue, performed by Leon Cain and Directed by David Berthold, at Riverside, Parramatta. This production is a revival of the original, given last year, at the La Boite Theatre, in Brisbane.

Another monologue! (see MALICE TOWARDS NONE)

This monologue, however, has the ultimate ability to draw one in completely. It is skilfully told by Mr Cain and concerns an intricate, some might say, labyrinthine, Internet virtual world, sustaining a length of some 75 minutes, or so. A simple but elegant Set Design, by Renee Mulder, suggesting a blue screen of the computer, sometimes with computer text and live action projected onto the surfaces (Visual Design: Jaxzyn), is inhabited by a young 14 year-old boy, 'hiding' from a dysfunctional broken, working class new unit (mother's boyfriend), downstairs.

Self locked in his room, the young man begins, anonymously, Internet conversation with another guy, a distant schoolboy football acquaintance, whilst pretending to be a woman, and gradually inveigling the other to strip off, on camera. The sexual tensions become involving and to maintain them, which our young hero desperately wants, through the Internet, a whole set of other persona are invented in more and more convoluted twists and turns. It results in an actual meeting which ends in an attempted murder.

It sounds preposterous? Well, it is, like TRUCK STOP, based on a true story! believe it or not. Truth stranger than fiction.

The moral turpitude that the young man finds himself in, signals an alarm bell of concern, for today's sociological cultural health. The failure of the family unit, or other, to guide, attend to this young person, and assist him, through what was once a pretty normal time of 'rites of passage' , of growth from child to adult, in this case boy to man, unlike the TRUCK STOP, girl to woman, is being brought to focus, again, for us to deal with. Our hero claims many times in his retelling of the triumphantly remembered episodes, that at last, after all the dramas, to have become, a SOMEONE - a 'being' of consequence. The delusion is sad. Dreadfully pathetic in its sadness to contemplate. A sad pennant, for the future to read of, flying in the desolate winds of our times.

Mr Berthold has created a tight and compelling production (the lighting Design by Carolyn Emerson, of some useful note).

The coincidence of seeing, so soon to one another, the worlds of I LOVE YOU, BRO and TRUCK STOP, is exhausting, despairing. Other performances that come to mind include AFRICA and more recently, COMPUTER BOY, and they, too, add to the heavy weight of the issue.

P.S. The background world of all the above plays is that of a working class, socially underprivileged culture. However, the origins (the true story) of the I LOVE YOU, BRO story concerned a young man from a well-to-do middle class family. The boy having all of the advantages that money could have provided. That it doesn't advantage him, is, sociologically, no surprise. That Mr Cass did feel the necessity to change the background story of his theatrical protagonist is interesting. Does the working class morass have more cogency than the original background for an Australian audience? I wonder about the choice.

Dominic Cooke who has been the recent artistic leader of that legendary 'bolshie' new work theatre company: The Royal Court, decided in his artistic directorship, to shift the background of some of his playwrights' worlds - so preponderantly, working class/underclass: poverty, dysfunctional working class family relationships, drugs, etc - to bring some focus to the moral bankruptcy of the privileged class as well. That was, indeed, the source of some of the moral shock and power, courage, of Polly Stenham's THAT FACE and Laura Wade's POSH. I wonder what the added weight would be if girls from an inner city school, say, S.C.E.G.G.S or St Vincent's, Sydney, had a sex-for-money adventure (It is in the Cross, and handy for such opportunity, I would've thought!) , or if a boy from Point Piper or a G.P.S. institution used his computer literacy to invent a sex life and infatuation with an innocent fellow schoolmate, that led to an incident of attempted murder? Hmm!!! Too far fetched, I guess.

Dreams of the Australian writer catching up with other worlds, I fantasise?

The working class don't go to the theatre - "too boring" or "too expensive" - so let them be the regular ,critical mirror, social reflection. Best not to disturb the regular audience, comfortably middle class, with a mirror that might, just might, reflect their worlds a little too honestly? They may not come, back.

Its not what the Royal Court found. But then, of course, "Ah, that's London, not Sydney."

I suppose.

Truck Stop

Photo by Amanda James

The Q Theatre Company, Penrith, presents TRUCK STOP by Lachlan Philpott in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre.

TRUCK STOP by Lachlan Philpott was commissioned by the Q Theatre Company, Penrith, and the play is inspired by an incident that occurred at a NSW high school.

Katrina Douglas, the producer for the Q Theatre Company and Director of this production:
"While the initial incident that inspired the play did not occur in Western Sydney, TRUCK STOP is very much a Penrith story. Working with a dramaturge Francesca Smith and myself, Lachlan researched and developed TRUCK STOP over a ten month period in collaboration with the Penrith and Blue Mountains communities. He combined his intimate knowledge of school communities (an ex-school teacher and theatre educator) with material gained from in-depth interviews with school students, truck drivers, social workers and sexual health workers." 
In addition the actors of this first production have been involved with the evolution of the text and were part of the community interaction with the generation target of the characters, and have had close opportunity to observe and learn from young women of the age that this story tells about. There is then, an authenticity to the language, social behaviour, 'tribal' cultural rules and taboos, resonating throughout this very, very confronting, but real world and story, seemingly, supported by striking insights of the first hand kind.

The world of TRUCK STOP is set mostly within the confines of the day-to-day survival of two contemporary 14 year-old girls. It is as strange as it is arresting. Arresting as it is frightening. Frightening as it is challenging. Challenging as it is disturbing.

The world of these young girl/women reflects a culture where the family unit has all but disappeared into dysfunctional apathy and substituted by the careless provision, by disinterested, catastrophically 'injured' parents, to access to a new media-world of fast Internet, FaceBook, Google etc, that reveals a fanciful virtual world of other possibilities of life aspirations for these young unformed but developing women. This commercial world of profit of the Internet becomes, in substitution of parental and school care, the voice of guiding principles, and formulating influences for the shaping of these girls' lives. That it is shallow and fueled by profit through the flaunting of the base drive of sexual mores is more than evident to all, but, to these, relatively young innocents, who only see the fun of the instant- present gratification on acting on impulse with no sense at all of consequence.

The play begins with a described 'brawl' between Sam and Kelly, two, former best friends, the protagonists of the play, in the playground - a consequence of the truck stop behaviour. We quickly follow Sam into a counselling session with a psychiatrist/social worker - a consequence of truck stop behaviour. Later, we follow Kelly into a waiting room with a nurse awaiting the results of a test for sexually transmitted diseases - a consequence of truck stop behaviour. The real world of human 'wiring' both psychological and physical, giving these two young girls a reality check about the consequence of their elected lifestyle - Internet social connections (!) and adventure at the truck stop.

The depth of preparation by this artistic team is extremely evident. The three young actors give frighteningly believable performances: Eryn Jean Norvill as Sam, the 'really angry' girl; Jessica Tovey as Kelly, the 'disaffected girl' and Sam's best friend; and Kristy Best as Aisha, a newcomer, not only to bonding with these girls, but also as a recent immigrant from Bangladesh, to this 'Austrayian' cultural milieu - a voyager on a journey as strange to her as it is to some of us, perhaps - a whole new territory, world of behaviour. Elena Carapetis, deftly and with great subtlety captures, iconically, all of the other characters, both female and male, across a wide generation age gap, convincingly and apparently, effortlessly. The Set Design by Michael Hankin, is both wonderfully practical and metaphoric, a concrete, and a detailed weed infested, play area, fenced in, protected, by metallic school outdoor seating. Lit well by Chris Page and backed by an active background of Video images by Sean Bacon, the locations of the story shift easily and unobtrusively. The Direction by Katrina Douglas, impassioned and controlled. All elements become an impressive whole.

Mr Philpott, following on from COLDERand SILENT DISCO has, once again, from verbatim conversations and interview, captured the vernacular argot and rhythms of the chosen, focused cultural world of TRUCK STOP, and mastered that prose into poetic idioms of astringent beauty and a convincing naturalism, all at once - the text, musically structured, to be in solo, and duet or choral expressions. The now, familiar form of Mr Philpott's writing, combining novelistic descriptions of feelings, given directly to the audience by the characters, as well as breaking back and forth into interactive verbal exchanges between the protagonists, draws one, unconsciously, deeper and deeper into the lives and motivations of the girls. It is interesting, perhaps, to feel the extended development of the style that Eugene O"Neill was exploring in his original Pulitzer Prize winning STRANGE INTERLUDE (1928), that of the utterance of the characters inward thoughts alongside the actual words they address to each other,which we did not see really work in the Simon Stone version, either in the writing or the directing of the acting, at Belvoir, earlier this month.

I saw this work at a matinee with young high school students - both sexes. All of this audience, slightly older than the 14 year old's portrayed, and, mostly, of a different specific of contemporary cultural background. It seemed to me they were entranced and pole-axed into a kind of shock to see this world so nakedly captured, live, in a theatre space. Their response was one of 'held breaths' and paralysed anxiety - still, and concentrated. They laughed, occasionally, mostly, out of a tension relief. In a Question-and-Answer session afterwards the audience was admiring of the actors (surprised that they were nearly twice as old as the actual characters - so believable they were !) but also astonished at the accuracy of the observation. They all knew these "girls" but none had ever been them. In fact, they advised, that neither the "Sam's" or "Kelly's" would ever come near a theatre ("too boring"), and if they did, would, narcissistic-ally enjoy and approve the behaviour captured. Noisily applaud it - they warned. I thought, then, (still do) that perhaps the fate of Kelly and her STD test may have been too soft, even, if the result is statistically correct, the more theatrical choice would have given more pause, weight. I, also, felt the core journey for Aisha was not completely satisfactorily dealt with, and, too neatly shunted to an easy conclusion. Certainly, it may have the possibility of a whole other play, just for itself ?

TRUCK STOP is a very interesting and signifying work. It is a powerful searchlight into some 'lane ways' of our society. Rarely engaged in so 'full on', especially with the transgressors, being, of the female gender - (THE BOYS?) - and so even more immensely challenging. The Q Theatre ought to be congratulated for taking it on and bringing it into a limelight. The Seymour Theatre Production arm for bringing it into Sydney for more 'airing'. The schools who brought the young audience to the theatre, should also be highly respected, for what seems to me, to be a valuable experience for the audience I saw it with, both, sociologically and, of course, theatrically. The film PRECIOUS had similar shocks and difficult truths to absorb - both works, a catalyst for young people's discussion, growing up in a world of such fast moving, shifting values? Without a modern and stable role model, in our temporal (Federal Parliament, of late) or 'spiritual' worlds (the Vatican, too, of late), how and where do they find leadership and guidance that the young will trust and take heed of? It is alarming for some of us to feel the twinge of a recognition in our present, that we have again marks of a period of time, when there is no sense of an assured future for our heirs. Voltaire warned us "History never repeats itself - Man always does". TRUCK STOP offers in the consideration of its tawdry world, some means to openly grapple with the dilemma of the Internet Culture substituting for parental and school leadership.


Thanks Mr Philpott.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Malice Towards None

Photo by Steven Siewert

40 Watt Pearl in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers Theatre company presents MALICE TOWARDS NONE at the Old Fitzroy Theatre.

Chris Aronsten is the Writer, Director, Producer and Composer of this presentation: MALICE TOWARDS NONE. It is an 80 minute omnibus of three monologues: "What would Cathy do?"; "My name is Pete"; and "Janet wants a carrot".

Mr Aronsten is a graduate of AFTRS (BA, Screenwriting) and the NIDA playwriting studio. Two of the pieces deal with subjects from the "underclasses', or, in Gorky terms : the lower depths, and the other, with a representative of a minority group. The "other", the "outsider"  is what interests this writer and the writing is, generally, very good.

The character : actor/addict in the first piece, "What Cathy would do", reveals "a lost soul" that had aspirations, once upon a time, with being an actor. In fact, she still does. Her 'craft' technique was/is based, sadly, delusionarily, on the importance of 'in the field' research experience.The story that she tells of her research for the role of "Cathy", helps us see, the path that this would-be actress, in search of "Cathy", may have taken, to be, what she has become today. There is a veracity to the text that is, mostly, further enhanced by the performance and look of Skye Wansey, who inhabits this character of the would-be "Cathy" with disturbing familiarity. To actually get to the Old Fitzroy Theatre, either, through the Cross or up Cathedral Street, or from Woolloomooloo,  one may pass many an addict on the street. Ms Wansey could have wandered in, off the street, and accidentally ended up on this stage. The truthfulness and the pathos that Ms Wansey creates is scary to participate with.

In the next piece, "My name is Pete" we meet another well observed and, yet, rarely seen citizen in our community, and all the more arresting, for that - Mr Aronsten, has an eye for the neglected character. "Pete" is a retired pensioner, gambling addict, bordering into the shadows of Alzheimers, who has, to make money, accepted the role of recruiting similar people to work for the drug traders of the Cross, by having them scam chemist shops for legal medicines that can be used to create black-marketable addictive drugs. In this case, David Attrill, like Ms Wansey, has all the appearance of startling authenticity to be "Pete"- it is easy to believe that once again, "Pete" has simply wandered, accidentally into the theatre space at the Old Fitz and begun talking. However, the acting lacks the depth and skill of the former, and soon one becomes less interested in the long story and it does not hold one's attention with the same fascination. The text rings true, but the embodied storytelling lacks the conviction of a lived life, it has the superficiality, ultimately, of an actor pretending, worse, reciting.

Finally, Ana Marie Belo, creates "Jane" a young woman being 'pressured' in both her work place and in her personal life. "Jane" is a Health and Safety Officer dealing with the ludicrous demands within that domain, in public institutions, today, whilst at the same time struggling through the pitfalls of a same sex relationship, attempting to become a parent through the miracle of modern conceptual techniques with her unreliable partner, and a mother "Janet" (Jill McKay) suffering from dementia and another health issue around the consumption of carrots, that no-one else seems to be alarmed about. "Jane" spirals out of control to where emotional breakdown is inevitable. "Jane" could have wandered down into the theatre from the harbour end of Macleay Street, Potts Point ! and started talking.

In the tradition of the Ancient Greek theatre festivals where performance always had two serious works followed by a comic satire, Mr Aronsten, seems to have written with "Janet wants a carrot" an exaggeration- a satiric cartoon to complete his evening. Certainly, the uber-theatricality in the creation and playing of "Jane" by Ms Belo seems to propel it into that sphere, abetted by a pop-eyed, very orange faced Ms McKay with a "Betty Boop" tone of voice reciting "Janet wants a carrot" as her vaudevillian stooge partner. With Ms Belo, we see a polished professional actor, in a highly designed costume 'look',(Set and Costume Design : Julia Young), glean and then gleam this material into a shiny 'comic' observation and presentation of satire. It is really the direction here, that has not signaled more clearly the tonal shift of the evening, and for some of us, it takes some time to discover the tone of the monologue and begin to enjoy.

MALICE TOWARDS NONE works best when the material is secure in its world and anchored by performance that is skewered with detailed possession. "What would Cathy do" is a fairly amazing experience. "My name is Pete" is flawed by the performance. "Jane wants a carrot" needs a more obvious tonal guide from the director to fully work. Mixed success but from characters in a fascinating part of our world.

 To be absolutely honest, I am a little over the preponderance of monologue as theatre. (Is it the Irish play TERMINUS, that we saw at the Drama Theatre last year, we have to blame for this? They got away with it, perhaps, because the poetry-in-the-prose was beautiful. Write like that, and maybe, I'll endure). A play with six characters or more, interacting with each other might be good for a change. Are there any new Australian plays out there doing that? It feels as if "Cathy", "Pete", "Jane" and "Janet" are writer's exercises to find the voice of the characters for a play. There are further places for these characters to go to, one would hope. Maybe, to a clinic waiting room up the road, where a 'situation' might evolve into an interactive story with plot that might dramatically reveal, through conflicted action, what these naked, direct speeches tell the audience, well, too nakedly ! Too many of these monologues and one gets a bit bored - let me read them, no need to go to the expense and discommode of the theatre really, if this is all it is, is there ?  I kept thinking of Arthur Miller's INCIDENT AT VICHY, where a collection of disparate and desperate characters are waiting for interview . -!!?? - Characters as interesting as those by Mr Aronsten in a dramatic situation. I've never seen that play, perhaps, I'd rather it !!

 See, how the mind can wander. Ahhhhh ! A play, that involves us with raw human dilemma, without post dramatic distancing etc, etc, etc, .... remember them? Maybe, that will be the new form, or, should we just go to the movies to catch that?

That Chris Aronsten is writer, director, producer and composer of this evening (although, Nick Aronsten is also credited with the Sound Design and Composition), suggests an artist taking control of his opportunities. The Darlinghurst Theatre has curated the premiere season of Mr Aronsten's latest work THE LUNCH HOUR in September, to be directed by Kate Gaul. I hope it is a play and not another collection of monologues!!!. For, Mr Aronsten's point of world view is very arresting, indeed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Be Your Self

Sydney Theatre presents Australian Dance Theatre in BE YOUR SELF at the Sydney Theatre.

BE YOUR SELF from the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT, based in Adelaide), Conceived and Directed by Gary Stewart and Co-Choreographed by Mr Stewart and the ADT dancers, was presented at the Sydney Theatre for a very short showing of only 5 performances. The last time this company presented work in Sydney was 2007! Five years ago!! That, this is the most consistently exciting and innovative THEATRE company in Australia, creating original work (a kind of playwrighting), for, let's not just categorise them as JUST a dance company - a theatre company - and we have not seen them for FIVE years, is a gob-smacking, incredible, ridiculous fact.

Was there some issue with the Sydney Opera House management, that had brought them to Sydney in the prior years and then did not seek them out again in the recent past? Is there not a funding voice to support the national touring of this company? Is this Company more seen, appreciated, known outside Australia, than, in it? My friends, art lovers, casual "culture vultures", (and tax payers), who I tipped off about catching ADT in Sydney with BE YOUR SELF, are kind of puzzled, even incensed that the ADT has not been in Sydney recently or regularly. They were amazed, shocked, excited, paralyzed in response to this work - not all positive, mind you, but all violently engaged and ready to talk, chat and argue.

Sydney Theatre who presented this company last week, has invited the company back next year with another work, and all of you should find out when, and book it in, as a must. A must see. Whatever the piece. "G", I think - a response to the classic ballet GISELLE, I suspect it will blow you up with provocation, both, viscerally and intellectually, and with just straight out theatrical spectacle, as did BE YOUR SELF, for me. Thrill. BIRD BRAIN (2005) - a response to SWAN LAKE was all those things, in its time. "G" should be the same. When has the work from ADT, under Gary Stewart's aegis, not been that ?

Exciting that the Paris Opera Ballet will present the classic ballet GISELLE at the Capital Theatre late January/early February. As preparation for the ADT showing, nothing could be better. See the faithful source and then the contemporary reading. In 2010, as part of the Sydney Festival, we saw a fabulously contested reading of GISELLE by a visiting company Fabulous Beast. It will be a marvel to further compare and contrast. (It was what I was ruminating about, wishing for, in a reply I made to an anonymous reader in my lament over STRANGE INTERLUDE, and the pleasure of the ability to do that with other classic or contemporary works (e.g. HEDDA GABLER, THE SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL* etc).

BE YOUR SELF was made for the Adelaide festival 2010 and toured around Europe. BE YOUR SELF has been co-produced by Grand Theatre de Luxembourg, La Rose des Vents - scene nationale Lille Metropole - Villeneuve d'Ascq, La Rive Gauche Saint-Etienne - du-Rouvray, CentroCultural Vila Flor Guimaraes, Theatre de la Ville Paris, and Arts SA's Major commission Fund. It was reworked for Sydney. Mr Stewart and his company, is in a constant evolution with his works. They never stay fixed. They are been constantly explored from season to season - an ideal way of creating ART from the craft choices of the earlier manifestations, in response to the present circumstances of the presentation : dancers (some of the dancers are new to the work), theatre space, and the beat of the drum of contemporary, science, art and politics. A living, breathing work.

BE YOUR SELF is a confluence of dance, spoken word, architectural design and video. On a white floor, with a raked platform, made up of a criss-cross pattern of elastic stretched patchwork, at the back of the stage - this platform can be slid forward and back, and used as a projection screen (Set Design: Diller, Scofidio + Renfro) - Mr Stewart looking at the 'self ', started with the body itself. An actor (Annabel Giles) recites a text book explanation of the neurobiological organisation of the body, in a myriad of fascinating and wondrous detail in scientific argot, as she walks across the back proscenium, whilst a dancer (Kimball Wong), centre stage, begins a series of static movements, that has him extending a leg high into the air, whilst miraculously balancing, seemingly without tremour, on the other, to an accomplished, startling sound design of the body noises, consequent to this action. Slushy, extortionate, wrackingly awful noise of sympathetic support elucidates the detailed technicalities of what our body, our visible self, does, to achieve our unconscious/conscious commands of movement (Sound Design: Brendan Woithe (colony nofi).
"The initial impetus for creating BE YOUR SELF was a result of a series of discussions between myself , the dancers and a Buddhist teacher Jampa Gendun on notions of self and 'I'".The work goes on to examine the psychological interactions within our self and, maybe, our other selves; and the changing selves of others. "BE YOUR SELF quickly splintered away from Cartesian mind/body dualism into a discourse on the gulf between the rationalism of the biological, scientific body and a body that is volatile and disordered and escapes finite scientific descriptors". – Gary Stewart
Whilst sounding dense in its extrapolated dramaturgical underpinnings, and I find it so, it is this, this very interesting background and research, that gives the dance work, an exceptional theatrical intelligence and rigour of clarity. The magnificent daring of the outrageously dangerous commitment of these dancers in their virtuosic physicalities, pushing the envelope of suspensions and manipulations in the air, in defiance of gravity, and the intimate trust of body with body by and with the dancers, has more than 'circus' resonances in the combined intelligence and artistic skills of all of the participants. The curiosity, and the serious, diverse enquiry of the company into being "one self", is palpable and powerful. We, the audience, are highly respected, and are invited to participate in the evolving investigation, discussion, of transporting ideas, made flesh, in front of our eyes. The very demand that we are asked to think as well as feel, while watching this work, is overwhelmingly moving. I was challenged and was captured with awe on many, many levels at once.

This dance work has many shifts and changes. It is never predictable. The final section where parts of the body of the dancers interact with extraordinary video projections (Video Designer: Brenton Kempster, ZuluMu Design + Post), is spellbinding, both, because of its conceptual precocity and the execution by the dancers. The lighting design by Damien Cooper throughout this work is simply effective and of the highest order. The integration of the text information, delivered at amazing speed and shot through with thought, not just paced verbal speed, by Ms Giles, is an example of how and when language becomes a useful adjunct to the communicative whole of a dance theatre work. (The incredible memorisation by Ms Giles of such 'dry' material should be acknowledged, as well - no easy feat. Maybe, as dexterous as some of the physical dance!) Similarly, the demonstration of the obvious partnership of the video artistry and the dancers in action, is an example, par excellence, of a successful creative and practical vision. The time discipline to achieve this level of quality must be formidable, indeed. The work is stamped with the persistent rigour of a persistent visionary : Gary Stewart. And, his technical and production team, doubtless toiling, in there, beside him.

The dancers of this work are all exceptional. Their craft, courage and stamina admirable. Zoe Dunwoodie; Scott Ewen; Amber Haines; Jessica Hesketh; Kyle Page; Tara Soh; Paul White; Kialea-Nadine Williams and Kimball Wong. Paul White, as always, amazing - gifted with personal vulnerability and technical dazzle.  Kimball Wong, new to me, breathtakingly 'crazed'.

BE YOUR SELF has been in the evolving repertoire of the Australian Dance Theatre since 2010. Time is the tyrant of all art endeavours. And, as in the recent showings for Performance Space at Carriageworks of Yumi Umiumare's EnTrance and Victoria Hunt's COPPER PROMISES it is the extensive time commitment to those works that may have given them the considerable ability to communicate and affect with such lucid and moving power. Time to mature.

Keep an eye out for the ADT return next year. Or take yourself down to Adelaide or somewhere Overseas - check their web site for their performance details. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Under Milk Wood

Sydney Theatre Company presents UNDER MILK WOOD. A Play For Voices by Dylan Thomas at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House.

UNDER MILK WOOD by Dylan Thomas is A Play For Voices, commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (B.B.C.), broadcast in 1954 and staged at the Edinburgh Festival in 1956 (later, that year at the New (now Albery) Theatre, London). A film was made in 1971 starring Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole - Screenplay by Andrew Sinclair. Dylan Thomas had died in 1953 aged 39.

When I was studying at NIDA, whilst, with my class, performing the whole of Henrik Ibsen's long poem PEER GYNT (five and a half hours of it!), Alex Hay, our acting teacher and director, thought we could also present UNDER MILK WOOD as an adjunct, to give the company more to do (our training was joyfully intense! We learnt by doing - different today, I know). We presented it on the same set - a raked green platform with a cyclorama. This was my first meeting with this work. Last year, while preparing a production of Lachlan Philpott's play COLDER, I played for the actors the Richard Burton led cast of UNDER MILK WOOD to give them a sense of the quality of writing and the vocal demands that Mr Philpott was asking of his actors to deliver his work (true of SILENT DISCO as well, I reckon. Mr Philpott, playwright and prose-poet, par excellence). We also heard some excerpts from a recording with Dylan Thomas, himself, reading the First Voice. I have a long memory of this work and was happy to re-acquaint and to see it again.

To SEE it again. The work, a play with voices, meant for radio, asks the audience to see with their ears. Only a company with voices, and a love of words, and a delight in the manner in which those words are combined to make a communicable language, should be involved. Mostly, the MILK WOOD, Sydney Theatre company, has those gifts. This company chose to work in an "educated" Australian English sound and it works well. Daniel Jones in his first preface to the published text for EVERYMAN'S LIBRARY in 1954 says, "it must be made clear that the language used is Anglo-Welsh" and that Dylan Thomas, himself, spoke no Welsh at all. Sian Phillips, a Welshwoman, and actor, in another context, spoke of the musical range of the Welsh as naturally crossing some 15 notes and that English in comparison, has less, and I would suggest the natural Australian sound may be even less again. However, this company, working with the Voice Director, Charmian Gradwell (and presumably Alan John (the musical director), arriving with gifted vocal modes, produce a rich tonal range that allows their imagination to express richly the images of the language, for us, then, to have a rewarding time in the theatre.

Jack Thompson, The First Voice, carrying the text, which he sometimes literally reads, and, at others simply holds and recites from memory, (Mr Thompson, an illustrious film actor, gives us courageously, his first performance on stage, for 40 years - yikes!) comes out of the dark of the black hole of a black curtained surround and conjures with a mellifluous sound: "To begin at the beginning....." He catches us in his obvious affection for the poem and the lived-in resonances of his voice, and I sat forward and saw with my ears as I listened to his personal music and imagery connect to those words, to make them ours. Magically the rest of the company shimmer out of the dark, (lighting by Damien Cooper) and the short day's journey into night, in this larger -than-life word painting of a small mythical Welsh fishing town, Llareggub, takes flight.

Sandy Gore as Second Voice (and other responsibilities), captures magnificently the tenor of the needs to make this work glow - imaginative intelligence, word and music sensitivity and a voice that can play glorious range for affect. Paula Arundell, created for me the memory of the night, in her creation of Polly Garter and her sung lament over the love of her life "…little Willy Wee who drowned and died … who is dead, dead, dead…". The silence that follows Polly's final line is fathomless with a kind of profundity that only contemplation of the unknown, the undiscovered country of our end, and the regrets surrounding it, can bring.

Discovering the romance of the soul of Bruce Spence as Captain Cat makes one long to see him more challenged on our stages, more often, whilst, the re-discovered acting wealth of the soul of Drew Forsythe, in all of his tasks, but impressively, especially vividly as Rev. Eli Jenkins, reminds us, who have been around long enough, that before Mr Forsythe found the "clown" of his persona, that has dominated his acting opportunities, castings, over history, there was an actor of impressive range possibilities. The truthful gravitas, the pained sincerity of a mediocre but 'worthy' man, without a hint of larrikin Australian irony, that Mr Forsythe gives us, with such affectionate insight, gives one pause, as to how well we have used the talents of some of our artists/actors (now what could they have done with Pinter's NO MAN'S LAND, for Sydney Theatre Company last year?). Both are wonderful, wondrous, under the spell of Mr Thomas' verbal weavings.

Kip Williams, who has taken the reins of this production from the announced director, Andrew Upton, makes a fairly impressive debut on the main stage. His rapport with his actors seems free and trusted. His approach to the text seems lucid and detailed. The appearance of the company out of the dark is an early coup de theatre of an expressive and non-distracting type. Similarly, the reveal to a landscape of the sea harbour (set Design, Robert Cousins) - it captures one's breath. However, it stays too long and ultimately provides distraction from the language imagery of the poem. The fussy, opening rope-trick with Captain Cat's chair, like the final cluttering of the visuals, on the stage, with vased single flowers in a multitude of bottles, suggests an uncertainty in the trust of the poetry of Mr Thomas' imagery to keep his story and us engaged with it. Or, is it another indulgent post dramatic gesture, much like much of the visuals in Mr Williams'  recent production of I HAVE HAD ENOUGH for the Sydney Chamber Opera company, last year? The black box set with the gloss floor reflecting the glowing lighting imagery arranged by Damien Cooper seemed to be just right. I believe, it, the bare stage, set out to help us to 'see' not verisimilitude but reality. It should have been better trusted to sustain us, with the actor's voices, through the night. The costuming by Alice Babidge and David Fleischer cover character and actor worlds, subtly, period and contemporary - drawing no attention to their artistry. The musical arrangements and support by Alan Johns, who also works as an actor, delightfully well, is an interesting contemporary emotional support, and, of note.

On opening night the production tempo became ponderous and lost forward momentum towards the latter section - whether this was because of the visual images over burdening the aural offers of Dylan Thomas is something that I debated. Were we made unnecessarily tired with so many offers going on?  We were being spoon fed the play, it was being presented instead of pursued. We had nothing to invent, imagine, it was shown to us. It, ultimately, becomes boring to just look, we want to 'read' and 'chase' the play from the edited clues of the director and actors. To be fellow imagineers not just admirers. It was enough to see with our ears. The visual details did not seem to help us to hear more clearly with the eyes. Rather, to the contrary, they became obstacles to concentration and clarity. After the simple beauty of the actor, glowing in the lighting, on an empty stage at the start, we were book-ended, finally,with a visual mess of unbeauty and obfuscation. There is a principle that the ear does not hear if the eye is not completely satisfied.

Like OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder, recently presented by the Sydney Theatre Company, UNDER MILK WOOD "…is a little play with all the big subjects in it,  and a big play with all the little things of life lovingly impressed in it". Historically, Dylan Thomas was continually re-writing the play, for him, it was incomplete, and he died before he was pleased.  In this production there is, luckily, a sense that it is complete. It is a notation from a big heart.

P.S.: There is an essay by William Christie in the program: FULL AS A LOVEBIRD'S EGG discussing Women, Sexuality, and Relationships in Under Milk Wood. It is very interesting to discover that Mr Christie has written UNDER MULGA WOOD - An Imitation (2003). An imitation of UNDER MILK WOOD set in an outback Australian town for Australian voices. Instead of ''To begin at the beginning: It is a spring night in the small town, starless and black ...", we have, "Let's start from scratch. It's  a dead still, dry season on a never-never night in the small town of Goadabuggerai…" There is a Radio National recording (2005) with, amongst others: John Sumner, Elaine Hudson, Susan Prior, Bill Conn Fiona Press. I, have heard, as well, a recording with Neil Fitzpatrick and Maggie Blinco leading the way. Now that we have been given the original will we hear/see the Australian text - would be interesting fun, don't you think?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

20 Golden Greats

Sydney Theatre presents 20 GOLDEN GREATS with Bob Downe at the Sydney Theatre.

20 GOLDEN GREATS with Bob Downe is great. The twenty golden greats are songs from the past, the '80's. Bob Downe is Australia's clown Prince of Polyester. He has been for 25 years.


Who knew? It seems a huge cross section of the Australian public, based on my observation of the crowd I was in, last Saturday matinee, knew. That's who. For whatever reasons, and I won't begin to go into them, I didn't know. Oh My God! such a wasted life I have had. This man has been around for a quarter of a century and I have never seen him before. I knew of him but, but, but never seen him. If laughter is truly a contribution to the health of a nation than Mr Downe is owed a huge grant from the Commonwealth Minister of Health. Let's not exclude the State Ministers in their due to him, as well.

One minute into the show I was laughing. Completely disarmed. Within five minutes, I had my hands in the air, singing along with Bob and the rest of the people, a song of glowing nostalgia. How did this happen? I am usually so cautious and so shy of public display - I hate inter-action! An hour or so later, I was still laughing, and I was singing, with everybody else RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD, my hands waving aloft once again. I had been doing something similar for a long time that day with a theatre of semi-delirious fans.

Bob Downe is a comic creation of " journalist, comedian, actor and broadcaster" Mark Trevorrow. His material is lightly satirical but pin-point accurate, he is extremely inter-active with the audience - lightening quick and smart , respectful and not too 'low' . He is, as well, equipped with a very good singing voice (in fact, I wished he had sung a little more often 'straighter'). I wished that his BORN FREE, had had a little less tongue so firmly planted in his cheek. His voice is gorgeous, mellifluous.

This was a wonderfully silly afternoon in the theatre with a brilliant stand-up guy. I vow I will take friends next time. It sharpened my expectation for Barry Humphries in July. I came to him and his glories late, as well. Now I never miss Mr Humphries and his wonderful alter egos : Dame Edna, Sir Les Patterson, Sandy Stone, especially.

 Mr Bob Downe is now on my radar, as well. Should not miss. Do not miss. (Thanks Mr Trevorrow, and apologies for being so long coming to the 'pitch'. Duh!)

Computer Boy

Performance Space presents COMPUTER BOY, created and performed by Blood Policy and Aphids, at Carriageworks.

As part of the Dimension Crossing season from Performance Space at Carriageworks, COMPUTER BOY was shown briefly, in late May. The other works in this season were the highly accomplished ENTRANCE and COPPER PROMISES. COMPUTER BOY devised and presented by Martyn Coutts, Sam Routledge and Willow S. Weiland seems, in comparison, a work still, tentatively, in progress.

A puppet boy, (life size and connected to a 'hooded' puppeteer) street dressed, his own hoodie and all, has a computer screen where the rest of us have a face. Humanity diminished. An illness, a transmuting 'disease' contracted to produce horrible metamorphosing has occurred? Perhaps. COMPUTER BOY is dealing with the possible consequences of how the younger generation may be affected by a world where the ability to be immersed in a virtual world of electronic media abounds; where the game playing in 'tools', such as World of Warcraft (WOW) - a "massively multi-player online role-playing game" - that has held people in hermetic thrall (10.2 million subscribers in December, 2011), begs the question: is the possibility of playing these game types creating an inherently addictive "illness" of hugely negative impacts? COMPUTER BOY is disturbing and the answer, if this story is possible/typical, is YES.

Using contemporary performance (text, Willow S. Wieland) puppetry, machinima animation (Sam Routledge), video (Martyn Coutts) and an original score made with video game consoles by renowned electronic composer (DJ TRIP), we are engaged in a story of melancholy tragedy. The work crosses between a real and virtual world and is affecting, especially because of the 'life' of the puppet in action. The interaction between the other elements of the show disciplines, "the fusion of the other art forms"  is poetically juxtaposed. As in the production of AFRICA from the company, My Darling Patricia last year, and even more mightily, from the production of WARHORSE, the magic of the puppetry reveals itself as a seductive one. Sam Routledge, one of the creators of AFRICA, brings to COMPUTER BOY a similar level of artistic integrity into the investigation of this issue amongst children in our world, that has elements of profundity and complex emotion.

The time development of  COMPUTER BOY is not as extensive as the previous two projects presented in Performance Space's DIMENSION CROSSING season, and it shows. One hopes for a continuing evolution and for the work to be presented again.