Saturday, March 30, 2013


Opera Australia presents Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, CARMEN by Georges Bizet.

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH) presents its second season, following on from last year's LA TRAVIATA, with Gale Edwards' spectacular production of CARMEN by Georges Bizet (1875).

In the open balmy air of a late Sydney summer, on a stage suspended over the Sydney Harbour foreshore, near the site of the colony's first farm: Farm Cove (how startled would the ghosts of that first settlement and the indigenous population be tonight?) surrounded by the contemporary skyline of the city of Sydney, with the glowing sails/shells of the Sydney Opera House to one side, in the background, with the passing of harbour ferries and other flotilla, reflecting off the moon struck/lit surface of the harbour waters,
In keeping with CARMEN'S military theme, HOSH marshalls a veritable army of artists, performers and technical crew, ... Regiments include 154 performers kitted out in 284 costumes; 490 staff and crew, together with 50 volunteers. Their arsenal of weaponry includes 1320 metres of LED lighting and two 24-tonne cranes reaching 26 metres in height. While the top brass principals are bunkered down in dressing rooms beneath the stage, the enlisted men and women of the chorus occupy 16 shipping containers set up like barracks beneath the audience seating. At musical HQ, the orchestra pit has been expanded and reinforced to keep the troops happy under the vigilant baton of their musical general.
A spectacle of an opera, indeed. An epic effort of organisation on a scale of shocking dimension and organisational 'nightmare' harnessed under the aegis of Ms Edwards. It is a success on almost all value systems.

SPECTACULAR, is the word.

Brian Thomson has designed a massive abstracted red ringed 'bull ring' with a black surfaced (historically, black and red, is, almost, this designer's signature) raked floor, tipping the cast towards the audience. We see the back side (and, so,back-to-front) huge signage of the name of the opera CARMEN, covered from our point of view, by ladders and platform scaffolding, on which the chorus can look down and participate in the action. The dark outline of a bull sits waiting for its cue to ignite in red neon-like splendour. A centre piece of the upstage of the arena can open hydraulically into a kind of vomitorium, for the entrance and exit of the cigarette girls and patrons of the bullring. Practical, large scale properties - a tank and truck of the era of the Franco war in Spain are craned-in, spectacularly, from opposite sides in act one; as is a large shipping container for the act three warehouse. To capture all of this and support the emotions of the story, the lighting by John Rayment is dramatically bold, matched by costume designer, Julie Lynch, with iconic character splashes of colour: e.g. blue for the 'good girl', Micaela; red for the 'bad girl', Carmen and "realisms" of the soldiers uniforms, etc. Clear design solutions for such an epic visual scale problem.

To make this operatic piece work at this location, location, location – imaginative staging is demanded. Ms Edwards triumphs in the first three acts with deft and brilliant organisation of the massive 'crowd' scenes. But, even more fortuitously, her skill creates dramatic focus and power in the intimate character scenes as well. In the open air with all of the visual dimension of a Sydney night in one of the most glamorous locations in the world, simply with two actors/singers tied to each other, each at one end of a taut rope, Ms Edwards burns into our concentrated memory retinas the great duet between Carmen and Don Jose in act one - it is one example of unforgettable visual staging and powerful storytelling, that she conjures for us throughout the night. Assisting the impact of the work is the Choreography of Kelley Abbey. The opportunity to use the uncurtained space with the densely atmospheric scoring in Bizet's music preludes and entra-acts are not wasted by these two artists, but seized excitedly, and a thrilling, and sexually propelling blood pump is given to the performance with dynamic dances and dancers (Mr Bonachela-eat your heart out - DE NOVO!!! ). Even the chorus is managed to move as one - a miracle. That that this does not carry through to the last act after the stunning solo of the flaming red 'skirt' (Kate Wormald) with the arrival of the bull fight's crowd, flags and all is, sadly, anti-climatic (perhaps time became a problem?) Fortunately the music is compensation.

Rinat Shaham sings, dances and moves as one dreams Carmen to be. A great, daring, sexually explosive performance. (Carmen an extraordinary Victorian heroine  - in fact the class of all the characters of this opera a period exception - revolutionary.)Dmytro Popov as the hapless, mummy's boy, psychopathic killer, Don Jose, grew and grew musically through the opera to great account. Nicole Car sang 'goody two shoes' Micaela, beautifully - it is, to my ear, the least interesting music. Andrew Jones was a disappointing Escamillo, for whilst looking the part, he did not have the vocal excitements that the role has to give. He could not either with precision or power match his fellow's powers. Musically the performance dimmed. I also enjoyed Samuel Dundas as Morales, and Adrian Tamburini as Zuniga, both these men, singing and physically emanating immense sexual power.

The orchestra hidden beneath the stage, conducted by Brian Castles-Onion, gave a wonderful sound, communicated to us, as were the singers by the electronic wizardry of Tony David Cray. Mr Cray must be worth his weight in gold to Opera Australia for the sound was accomplished, indeed - it matches his work that I heard last year in DIE TOTE STADT. I don't much like the use of electronically amplified sound - there is no real choice, of course, for work on this scale, and, as I have said, well done here - but when the chorus in act four sing the supporting noise in the ring, contrasting to the drama of the final bloody duet on the stage between Don Jose and Carmen, it did not work at all dramatically. The sound is, though softened, still projected at us, and one is not required to endow the moment with a scintilla of our emotional life. Dramatically, the opera performance begins to go off the boil in this production's final act, and one is not moved, one simply watches - distanced. The sexual empathy of the deaths of Don Jose and Carmen indicated in the pulsing of Bizet's score and in the action of the libretto, is not posible. It sounds all too mechanical - too, ironically, dead.

(Diversion: It is my observation that the musical theatre has lost its appealing power as a result of a dependence on the electronic amplification of the singers and the orchestra, (the disaffection from musical theatre began for me with the electronic presentation of the orchestra with Burt Bacharach and Hal David's PROMISES, PROMISES (1968) - remember, that orchestra were in a covered pit too? although, there was a plastic bubble, center-pit, so that the conductor's head and shoulders could be seen by us!) At the musical theatre today the music is projected AT us.Washing unremittingly, over us, whether we want to hear it or not. No effort is necessary from the audience to engage in any concentrated way. It lands on us unflinchingly. I love it when the performers 'unplug' (remember that moment in the Barbara Cook concert at the Lyric Theatre, a few years ago, when, after a long night of electronically assisted singing she unplugged for the encores - what a difference in temperature in the audience - how we listened, how we joined Ms Cook in the performance - the contract for listening was changed - it was amazing), and I have noticed when this does occur, all of us audience participants do, lean in to the music, and make a contributive effort to hear the communication. We are invited to work with the unassisted singer/orchestra and real theatrical exchange happens. A Shared Experience.)

My first introduction to CARMEN was listening to an old 78rpm recording of my dad's with Lawrence Tibbett, singing on one side of the record, the Toreador Song, from CARMEN, and on the other side, the Te Deum at the end of act one of TOSCA - thrilling. I played it over and over again. I remember the CARMEN JONES (1954) movie musical version with Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte (sexy film I remember. I was young and probably didn't know what sexy was, of course! , but I was , strangely, moved) and, perhaps my first full scale opera version of CARMEN was at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1982 with, the only thing I can really recall, the Josef Svoboda design! - I do remember being disappointed. The film based on the Hemingway novel THE SUN ALSO RISES (1957) with Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power and Ava Gardener and the Pedro Almodovar film, MATADOR (1986) have always evoked the CARMEN story. Bizet's L'ARLESIENNE SUITE has always thrilled me. THE PEARL FISHERS, except for that duet, always a bit boring. CARMEN in contrast, always a popular choice. That Georges Bizet died at the age of 36 in 1875, on the 33rd performance of this opera is, surely, one of the great tragedies of operatic history.

In the essay in the Handa Production program, Philip Sametz tells us:
To put Bizet's death in perspective, had Verdi died at 36 his final opera would have been LUISA MILLER (1849). No RIGOLETTO, no LA TRAVIATA, no IL TROVATORE - no OTELLO ! At that age Wagner had just completed LOHENGRIN. CARMEN was Bizet's first masterpiece, and his last work. Even at this remove, it is tempting to speculate on what he might have created with the new-found brilliance that calls out to us from every bar of the score.
The international ABC of the Opera repertoire, box office money makers: A for AIDA; B for LA BOHEME; C for CARMEN. Gale Edwards has for Opera Australia given a cash cow, and, by the way, an acclaimed artistic success, with her recent and present version of LA BOHEME. Now with CARMEN another exemplary artistic success - box office too, it seems, looking around me,  no empty seats on the night I went! And, as well, last year, a critically stunning success for one of the world's most difficult operatic works, Strauss' SALOME. Dr Haruhisa Handa, the founding Chairman of The International Foundation for Arts and Culture (IFAC), the major sponsor of this work,  and the Opera Australia Board led by Ziggy Switkowski, with Lyndon Terracini as Artistic Director, must be congratulated for the vision and trusting faith that they have had in this great Australian artist. A for AIDA is the only one of the magic three that Ms Edwards has not yet done for the company, it must be next, I guess. One would be foolish not follow through - for the company and the audience.

To marshall all this company for this HANDA OPERA ON SYDNEY HARBOUR production of CARMEN, from the smallest contribution to the larger contributions, and succeed, requires an artist of great vision, will, know how, and tenacity. A personality and passion driven by the muses of the theatre.

Gale Edwards, deserves congratulations.


Even the weather 'gods' have listened to her. What gifts, connections she must have. Ha.

Friday, March 29, 2013

One Man Two Guvnors

National Theatre presents ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS - a new play by Richard Bean based on THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS by Carlo Goldoni with songs by Grant Olding, by arrangement with the Theatre Royal Haymarket Company, London.

I saw this production in London in early January, 2013.
I had also seen the broadcast of this production from the Lyttelton Theatre at the National at the Chauvel Cinema, Paddington, last year.
So, twice!! (Different casts).

ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS by Richard Bean is an adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS which was a reworking of an old Commedia Dell'Arte scenario: i.e. "a scenario or running-order pinned up behind the stage, detailing entrances and exits of the players and the main points to be conveyed in the scenes '' - hence the other appellation for this kind of performance as Commedia all'Improviso - requested by an actor Antonio Sacchi, a famous Arlecchino (of the Commedia tradition), creating IL SERVITORE DI DUE PARDONI in 1746 - 24 years before the finding, by Europeans, of the Australian continent! "Goldoni tried to bring together two traditions of European theatre - the playwrights' theatre, and commedia - the actor's theatre".

Richard Bean has created a new work based on the Goldoni original, setting it in the 1950's early 1960's London scene (the time of the Kray Brothers gang: The Firm) and giving a very British-Humour twist to the happenings - in a post-war "faltering of the class system and the burgeoning confidence of the common man." In an essay on British Humour in the National Theatre program by Cal McCrystal, there is reference to the 29 CARRY ON film series: "Lightly smutty and camp ... where the sexes are clearly defined. Men were randy or impotent. Women were sex objects or battle-axes." Further, there is the connection made to the pantomime tradition of the British Christmas, a usual bolstering of box office takings for the theatres involved, rivalled by the popular success of farce "... with elements of disguise, slapstick and mistaken identity" with a definite penchant for enjoying cross-dressing - "...gender bending of this nature (being) a peculiarly British addiction - I, also, think Australian , as well - Hello Priscilla! - and then add the Music Hall tradition of stand up comedians interacting with the audience directly and with asides, to the audience. Mr Bean embraces it all full tilt, swallows and subsumes and regurgitates it, and produces a cocktail of farce of immense contemporary stature: ONE MAN,TWO GUVNORS.

ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS is an hilarious, fun farce. Beginning with the cartoonish set design and the over-the-top costume 'campery' by Mark Thompson, lit with the end-of-pier brightness, brilliantly, by Mark Henderson. Broadly and tightly directed by Nicholas Hytner, assisted by Cal McCrystal in the detail and expertise of the physical comedy, the routines are classic and beautifully tuned: unforgettable characters and business. Epitomised in this production in the food serving sections with Tom Edden (Alfie, the geriatric waiter) being the performance impossible to resist. Indeed all the physical and vocal character work, by the impeccable company, a work of joy to behold and wallow in: Daniel Ings as the would-be actor and suitor, Alan Dangle; Rhona Croker as doting and dotty bride-to-be, Pauline Clench; Jodie Prenger as the world wise secretary, Dolly - a brunette version of everyone's favourite Barbara Windsor -oohhh! gorgeous; Gemma Whelan as the cross dressed gangster moll, Rachel Crabbe; and Ben Mansfield giving a stunningly funny 'turn' as the upper class twit, Stanley Stubbers.

Best of all is the man (the servant) Francis Henshall played deliriously, seemingly effortlessly by a truly great 'clown', Oswain Arthur. To be seen to be believed. To see Mr Arthur is to gasp at the luck to have the pleasure of seeing it live - no CGI here, just a kind of comic miracle. Funny, witty, charming, dexterous, with an electrifying sense of fine tuned timing to be envied by all. Comedy is the hardest thing for an actor to do and pull off. The control of technique needs to be so accurate, that, only if blessed by the 'gods' and rigorously trained, tempered with the craze of daring brinkmanship and temperament, i.e. Courage, does one dare take on farce of this kind. Exhausting but exhilarating and not to be missed.I have no memory of an Australian company so attuned, collectively for this kind of genre. Maybe the Acting Schools no longer engage with this kind of work?! - a tradition, sadly been lost.

ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS: The Craft of Comedy exemplified.

My one carp is the music interludes. The pre-show, the interval, perhaps the exit is OK - just - but otherwise a touch too tedious. Well done but BORING. If I want to see a musical I'll go to one! It is the trend and growing trademark of the National Theatre's treatment of the classics to create a mini-musical out of them/for them. SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER and the recent THE MAGISTRATE (both seen at the cinema) both laboured under the burden of the interpolation of musical invention. Put on the musical and let the classics stand on their own, I reckon.

ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS, then, worth catching.

P.S. It is great to see a work by Richard Bean, in Sydney, at last. Along with Simon Stephens (PUNK ROCK - 2009; THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME - 2012), Mr Bean is one of the exciting contemporary British writers. Read ENGLAND PEOPLE VERY NICE (2009); THE HERETIC (2011) (seen at the Melbourne Theatre Company); HARVEST (2005) (seen at the Red Stitch Theatre Company, Melbourne). ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (2011), is an object lesson for our adaptors creating 'new versions' of other people's original works. This is no simple appropriation of another writer's reputation. It is the modern standing on the shoulders of greatness. Both writers, Goldoni and Bean enhanced.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Carmina Burana

Sydney Symphony presents Special Event with Premier Partner Credit Suisse, CARMINA BURANA in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House.

CARMINA BURANA by Carl Orff was presented by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as a special event conducted by a Chinese conductor, Long Yu.

It also created an opportunity to introduce a Chinese composer (now French citizen), Chen Qigang to a Sydney audience. The work was ENCHANTEMENTS OUBILES (FORGOTTEN ENCHANTMENTS) - 2008. It is for an orchestra of strings, harp, celesta and percussion - there are no woodwinds or brass instruments. Soaring, floating string melodies juxtaposed with vibraphone and marimba. (Six busy percussion instrumentalists!). The composer grew up in the repressive era of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and, in the 1970's was one of 26 students chosen to study at the Central Conservatory in China, studying composition with Luo Zhonghong. In the 1980's he studied further, in France, having been influenced by the music of Debussy and Ravel, he found a mentor under the guidance of Olivier Messiaen in Paris. The experience of the music is simple , a sense, for me, of a feeling of the ethereal, the themes of the strings a little tritely familiar (I kept hearing Tan Dun's strings from CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON -an illusion, perhaps), but contrasted by the bubbling, generous oriental exotica of the percussion, which always revived my interest. Delicateness.

On the other side of the interval, CARMINA BURANA by Carl Orff is a monumental work of scale: "In addition to the three soloists, chorus and children's choir, CARMINA BURANA calls for three flutes (two doubling piccolo), three oboes (one doubling cor anglais, three clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet and one doubling E flat clarinet), two bassoons and contrabassoon; four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba; timpani and a large percussion section; celesta and two pianos; and strings".

This work is a seminal work in my education, introducing me to the world of classical music, it being an almost daily part of my training as an actor under the guidance of Margaret Barr at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) - those were the days, when training was training! There is, to some of the music, a body memory twitch, that has me standing at a ballet bar, "brush, brush, forward (ing)' with my feet. In fact, I reckon, that if you could put Ms Barr's students in the Concert Hall you could spot us all by that automatic body memory, moving in exercise to the sounds."Brush, Brush forward. Brush, Brush back." The work inspired and thrilled me as a youth. I have heard it many times, brainwashed to attend the concert hall where ever, whoever is playing, singing it!

This work first heard in 1937, in Frankfurt, and is based around a large collection of medieval poetry (320 poems) discovered in 1803 in the abbey of Benediktbeuern in Bavaria. Orff selected some of the poems and built a work of song and dance around the Wheel of Fortune, the celebration of Spring in the meadows, shenanigans in the tavern, and the Court of Love. Rousing, religious, irreverent, funny, full of sexual longing and satisfaction, the 65 minutes of music sweeps one away into a sophisticated kind of 'barbarism' and sexual fantasies. It can be a transcending experience. (I have never seen the work as Orff conceived it:a scenic cantata - "Profane poems to be sung with singers and dancers" - a stage work.

Based around my knowledge, only as a listener, having had several recordings of this music over my life time, I felt , from memory, that Long Yu took this work savagely and whipped the pacing of it at a breathlessly mighty gallop. Certainly Mr Lu was extremely energetic in the conducting, quite a workout. Not all the collaborators kept up with him. The baritone, Changyong Liao, was the most impressive of the soloists, joined by Paul McMahon (Tenor) and Milica Illic (Soprano). The Sydney Philharmonia Choirs (Elizabeth Scott) and the Sydney Children's Choir (Lyn Williams) gave body and power to the great and famous moments.

The opening and closing of the work: FORTUNA, IMPERATRIX MUNDI (FORTUNE, EMPRESS OF THE WORLD) with the full orchestra and the choir are always sublime moments of thrill.

I loved it, but am, of course, unbelievably biased by my memories of a golden past time!

P.S. Forgot to thank the Company for FREE programs. The Sydney Dance Company, the Sydney Symphony, The Australian Chamber Orchestra, give FREEE  Programs.
Usually $10 at Sydney Theatre Company. $6 at Belvoir. $20 at Opera Australia.
I bought, this week, a copy of THE GREAT GATSBY- F. Scott Fitzgerald (new) - for $10. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY - Thornton Wilder - $8.80 (second hand) - I mean two whole novels of genius!!!!! Both for $10 or less!!! The content in the program is usually such CRAP. Where should my limited money funds go to keep my brain stimulated? (prevent,perhaps, altzheimers)
Being a cynic, is the price the programs at such outrageous levels, too costly for the ordinary, regular playgoer ,thereby keeping the audience ignorant of the artists involved , a way to stop the artist from becoming too famous so as to keep the artists bargaining power for wage fees down? Silly idea, of course. But being a cynic......well?
I mean, couldn't the theatre Companies provide, like the Opera and Ballet company do, an A4 page or smaller, with the relevant information on it, and have it given away by the ushers?

Monday, March 25, 2013

De Novo

Sydney Dance Company presents DE NOVO at the Sydney Theatre, Hickson Rd.

DE NOVO is a three-work evening of dance with the Sydney Dance Company. EMERGENCE, choreographed by Rafael Bonachela; FANATIC by Larissa McGowan and CACTI by Alexander Ekman.

The audience loved it. My audience applauded hard, stamped and whistled for all three pieces.

I did not love it. I have reservations, reservations, reservations. AHHHHH! I wished I didn't.

I loved the dancers and the dancing, I didn't much like the dances. Well, not completely true, I thought CACTI was clever and if it were in another program, say like the one given by NEDERLANDS DANCE COMPANY, in July, 2011, in Melbourne, it would have been in a context that would have contrasted it fabulously. In this context of works, CACTI doesn't have the comparative zing of content to make its satire work.

I have not seen the Sydney Dance Company as often as I could: WE UNFOLD (2009) and 2 ONE ANOTHER (2011) being the recent works, that I have caught. What Mr Bonachela has done with this company, since last I saw them, is bring the dancers to a startling capacity for movement. Within the limitations of the choreography that they are working in, they are amazing to watch. The ensemble is brimming with energy and a seeming simpatico of spirit. There physical dynamicisms/fitness are exciting.

What is true, for me, having watched Mr Bonachela's work before is true here again in EMERGING. The dancers are either moving flat on the floor or in standing positions, solo, or in writhing sculptural patterns of duos, triplets etc etc, They rarely, if ever, get off the floor. Two feet off the ground, is it possible? EMERGING is grounded. Beautiful, sometimes, but unremittingly earthbound. What one feels is that this work has come from discussion and observation, but, in the motions, on stage, are, essentially, a cerebral exploration of that: sculptural abstractions of body, observed and discussed. Besides, the work does not have a discernible artistic shape, failing to find a theatrical structure that will overwhelm and satisfy an audience. It seems to be, piece following the next piece - walk from the wings to position and begin, when finished walk back into the wings - so self concerned with its ideas, that the audience's journey is left to happenstance.

 I understood this most clearly with this work as the musical score, an original work by Nick Wales (2 ONE ANOTHER; THE YARD) and Sarah Blasko (soundtrack mixed by Phil Punch), is so present and powerful, a thing connected to the vibe of now, a deeply organic expression of the artists, and, so, is in such contrast to the dry cerebral approach of Mr Bonachela's work, that one wishes to hear the work again but not see the dance. Nick Wales' technique measured and enmeshed in the inspiration of that organic expression. The score to THE YARD, last year, the precursor to this terrific offer.

Costumes by Dion Lee do not work as dance costume, the divided tailored jacket, clumsy and eye-drawing (that black join band - I just wanted to blank it out!); the second set of dress better, but still, distracting. The cerebral concept of fashion innovator, Mr Lee, is not useful in the real practice of movement. What is it with this company? Are there no dance costume designers around or what? The Sydney Dance Company (or, is it Mr Bonachela?) has an obsession with Fashion Week wonders, why? It doesn't work. The other works where the fashion guru has been invited in has never worked before, so why again?

The lighting in this work  (Benjamin Cisterne) that has no set design, is a substitute, briefly, with the reflection of the lighting tubes close to the floor, opening and closing the show, but too open and 'ugly' in the general states chosen, to show the dance in an aesthetically pleasing environment. One became aware of the cloth wing walls and the floor gaps. If the dancers and the music had not been of the highest quality it would have been a dire aesthetic night in the theatre.

Great applause and wolf whistles - ignore me.

FANATIC a new work by Larissa McGowan, as been developed from an earlier incarnation that was part of the Sydney Opera House's Spring Dance Festival CONTEMPORARY WOMEN program in 2012. It is now a longer work (15 minutes) based, as it was last year, on the Ellen Ripley character from the ALIEN film series. Sam Haren was dramaturg (really?) and Steve Mayhew is the Sound Constructor. The best part of this trite work is the sound construction, it is "AWESOME". But how many times can you physically repeat yourself in 15 minutes? - count the number and become bored. Choreographically dull. It is a one minute joke that passes its use-by interest after 3, generous, minutes. The dancers I saw were Natalie Allen, Thomas Bradley and Chris Turner, they appeared to be having fun, but what a waste of effort and talent.

Great applause, wolf whistles and stamping of feet - ignore me, some more.

The last work CACTI, having its Australian Premiere, with costumes and choreography by Alexander Ekman; set design by Alexander Ekman and Thomas Visser; Lighting design by Thomas Visser is a very clever work, with all of the collaborators elements integrated sublimely, and has its tongue placed firmly in cheek, satirising art and dance criticism. It begins and finishes with four live classical musicians and mixes in a full scale orchestral recording as well.

The full company of dancers each in possession of a white rectangular raised square use it has a platform and shield and also arrange it in a sculptural background shape. The dance is a wonderfully jokey affair at pell mell speeds and arrangements. Once again the stamina and flexibility of this company is breathtaking to watch. There is an hilarious point to this 'wicked' conception but, in this presentation, it is blunted in the context of the rest of this repertoire. It became a tiresome vacuity in this program - something it should not have said about it.

Applause and cheering - I am still there, just. The Dancers and the Sound Artists deserve the appreciation. I applaud them.

What I find about the failure of the structure of the ideas, images and dance abstractions in EMERGENCE by Mr Bonachela, is reflected once again in the organisation and or artistic choice of the programming of these works in the one evening, by Mr Bonachela. It is, in content, featherlight and undemanding. It has no guts. EMERGENCE is 'pretty', albeit contemporary, dance movements and pictures and FANATIC just a waste of time. CACTI, a relatively clever work, idea-wise and choreographically, but loses its impact because of the company it is shown with.

Richard Tognetti in the programming of his works with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) finds, consistently, the solution to balance and contrast the works at each concert. It is part of the joy of the ACO, the artistic construction of the evening, one has a mix of the old and the new and each piece sets the other off in a very stimulating way. One feels intellectually flattered and satisfied after attending their concerts. When one considers the work of The Australian Dance Theatre (BE YOUR SELF) alongside DE NOVO or compared to THE NEDERLANDS DANCE COMPANY one is given pause.

Most of the audience loved it.

P.S. I loved the fact that the programs were free, not $10 or more! Great move, SDC.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Miss Julie

Creative State and Acompany Theatre present MISS JULIE by August Strindberg, translated by Michael Meyer at 72A Sheperd St. Marrickville.

This new company, Creative State and Acompany Theatre, for its first production has taken on one of the esteemed writings for the theatre: MISS JULIE by August Strindberg (1888). This production is using the translation of Michael Meyer (1964). Michael Meyer was an expert in the Scandinavian language. He also wrote amongst other work, bio-graphies of both Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg - both regarded as definitive works.

It was interesting to watch this play in the hands of respectful neophytes using a classic translation. The last production of MISS JULIE I saw at the Darlinghurst Theatre, was, in a new version, lovingly explored and manipulated by Cristabel Sved and Kate Box. I found it an interesting investigation, but, came away unsure of the contemporary concern about and for the play: What was its relevance? Why do it in 2012/2013? The Darlinghurst production values had, relatively, obfuscated Strindberg's work, it seems.

Watching this production of MISS JULIE, such was its simple clarity that it permitted one to consider the play and why it might be attractive for  directors and actors. This production was direct, untrammelled, and, held within the abilities of these artists, and, so, the writer's objectives were able to be seen. Certainly the characters are, all three, an exciting challenge that any actor would love to take on, and the play historically famous for its style of writing, that has been so influential on the rest of dramatic literature since, is such, that a director would want to tackle it as a means of measuring one's own craft and talent. I can see those reasons for investigating this play - and besides, it only has three actors, one set etc - budget-wise easier than some other plays - I know, philistine, but, practical/economic considerations.

This production is found in a converted factory space, in the 'wilds' of Marrickville, with concrete floor and wooden, black rafted roof with visible silver insulation tucked in, up there. The action of play is presented in the round for an audience of, maybe, 30 people. The design (Paul Caesar and Paul Metcalfe) has a wooden floor, rimmed for definition with a wooden ridge, with two slightly graded exits at either end of the stage. A wooden table, three chairs and two wooden (anachronistic) chests of drawers, with all the accoutrements of workable, naturalistic props, one with a workable cooking top. It has metal frames, one with windows, around the outer edges and a 'beautiful', working  'period' kitchen bell and speaker mouthpiece. Costumes are essentially period. The lighting, simple, with a betrayal of the production's naturalism into unnecessary theatrics of colour, at the end.

As we enter the theatre, Christine (Alix Foster Vander Elst) is preparing a meal, grinding the herbs, permeating the space with a pungent aroma. Once the roller door to the space has been closed, Jean (Paul Metcalfe) comes from his Midsummer Party duties to eat. He does. Everything has a meticulous naturalistic real time playing - the eating, the drinking, the clean up after the meal, all, is an unrushed realism, this being the theatrical experiment undertaken by Strindberg and Mr Caesar, the director - it has its mesmerizing entrancement. Strindberg brings Miss Julie (Laura Viskovitch) into the kitchen from the celebrations outside, flustered with the heat, curiosity and appetites. The play unspools with a considered ease, around these complexly observed representatives of Strindberg's humanity.

The acting is very uncomplicated and serves the in-the-moment approach of the text. It has an intelligent understanding of the spoken textual needs of the writing, and an emotional contact, but, it varies in capability and depth. Mr Metcalfe, is energetic and bald in his reading, enthusiastic but not very subtle as Jean; Ms Viskovitch as Julie has, a 'look', but, not, as yet any real power and depth for the demands of the role - it tends to sit on surface emotions that are not always true, rather acted/pretended - the voice lifting into high range and inaudible 'screeching', it has no true centre. The famous monologue "You think I can't stand the sight of blood ..." - the litmus test of any performance for Miss Julie is, here, unfortunately, a 'young' actor at work; Ms vander Elst has a grounded attitude to Christine and a practicality of understanding if not, yet, the complete actor's tools to bring it to real impact. All three actors are, relatively, raw, but committed.

What the acting does not have is the contextual truth and sense of the lives lived by these characters that brings them to the events that we are witnessing. These actors bring characters that have had very little living, outside of what we see on the stage. Watching the simple unsophistication of the reading by these artists and director one could see what the real challenge of the play is. It does require a deep need to have, from the text extraction and a cultural study of the given circumstances of the world of the play, a dynamic possession of the life force/life history of the characters, one, as rich as the life forces of the actual actors in their own present life choices. These characters need to be real within the naturalistic landscape of Strindberg's experiment, and Mr Caesar's exploration. Strindberg is writing a play driven by character and not plot, it is the 'what', 'why' and 'how' of the characters that we need to perceive: their histories, and motivations, wants, that have been evolving manifestly for the full life-age of the people in the play. And when that is so, I believe, one can, possibly, see the human type/icons in front of us, and if endowed/embodied with the deep and real passions of the emotions of the events of the play, it can connect us, like all great writing, to the great reverberating myths of our human heritage. The human animal struggling with heredity and circumstances to find their unique path in the big dance to the music of their time. That time that is all our time: where the present is the past manifesting, is the future, which instantaneously becomes the present to be the past again. The human presence in the fleeting speed of history/ time. The relentless cycle of our behavioural urges, represented, repeated. This play demands truly accomplished artists to realise its greatness. I have never been lucky enough to see any wrestling with this play.

This production of MISS JULIE then has a beginner's insight and execution, but brought with it, for me, an entrance, a means to grasp the revered status of August Strindberg's play. Belvoir will give it Downstairs, later in the year, and I am curious as to what they will bring to the work. In this classic translation by Michael Meyer one is given a blue-print for apprehension and appreciation. It is rare to see so many productions of a single play so close together here in Sydney, as one may do in Europe, to have the ability to see the play, to be able to distance the experience, to look at it as an object'd'art and not just a story/narrative or entertainment. To see the interpretative gifts of the artists working, struggling with it to bring it to its true powerful kineticism.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dirty Blonde

Garnet Productions with Theatre 19 present DIRTY BLONDE by Claudia Shear and James Lapine at Theatre 19 (the old Darlinghurst Theatre), Potts Point.

For your party conversation note-books:
Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.

An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promise.

You only live once, but, if you do it right, once is enough.

When I'm good, I'm very good. But when I'm bad I'm better.

Cultivate your curves - they may be dangerous but they won't be avoided.

I generally avoid temptation when I can resist it.

It is better to be looked over than overlooked.

I used to be snow white but I drifted.

I made myself platinum, but I was born a dirty blonde.
 - Mae West.

DIRTY BLONDE by Claudia Shear and James Lapine (2000) was nominated for many Tony Awards and other New York theatre accolades in its debut season. It is the story of two New York misfits, Jo (Lara Mulcahy) and Charlie (Mark Simpson) who are fans of the old time movie/vaudeville, burlesque star, Mae West. They meet at her Hollywood grave and over time develop a relationship welded to that commonality. It is awkward, shy, clumsy, nerdy but full of a gentle compassion.

This very familiar narrative action of the off-beat romance is the cover for Ms Shear's and Mr Lapine's real interest which is to introduce or re-introduce us to Mae West and her pioneering life in the world of entertainment - theatre and film. Essentially this is a bio-play with a few songs and lots of gags. Fortunately, Mae West is worth meeting and/or remembering. A woman with a brain and sensibility way ahead of her time, who, born in 1893 didn't die young, but, lasted until 1980. Her energies and personalities were, we are shown, dynamically explosive, groundbreaking, and a reason for her success, but also the cause of her dimming as a star, and dwindling into a figure of pathos. Willfulness needs to be balanced with considered realities, it seems.

We follow her career through men, and on the burlesque/vaudeville circuit. We become aware of her pioneering work as a very frank writer around societal taboos with her plays - she was a supporter of the women's liberation movement but claimed not to be a feminist, also, an early advocate for the gay rights movement - e.g. among others: SEX (1926) - what Ms West called 'a comedy drama of life' ; THE DRAG (1927) - a play about a homosexual subterranean world, banned from Broadway performance; and DIAMOND LIL(1928); to her film work: I'M NO ANGEL (1933); SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933) - introducing Cary Grant and nominated for Best Film at the Academy Awards; MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940) - disastrously with W.C. Fields, they clashed mightily about comedy technique; continuing through to late-in-life film missteps, now cultishly infamous: Gore Vidal's MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970) and SEXTETTE (1978).

The Director, Stuart Maunder, with apparent affection and gentle, consummate skill, elicits wonderfully understated, but, wholly delightful performances from Ms Mulcahy both as Jo and Mae and from Mr Simpson as Charlie and a mix of other characters. They are supported sensitively and charmingly by Philip Dodd creating the narrator and many, many other tasks of necessarily, 'thumb nail' sketches, of people in the incidentals in the life of Mae West.

The Set design by Matthew Aberline is simple red coloured walls and hand drawn curtain, featuring a copy of the Salvador Dali 'Mae West's Lips Sofa' upstage, centre, with two portable chairs. The Lighting is accurate and flexible by Colin "Geordie" Alexander. The costume, just rehearsal blacks with 'incidental stand-ins' - feather boa, corset etc.

This play begins a little bit like "ho-hum interesting, but, who cares", but, cleverly, because of the clarity and commitment of the performers and the tug of the love that the writers and the director have for their principal subject matter, Mae West, DIRTY BLONDE blossoms, over, its long one act format, into a wistfully complete night at the theatre. Old fashioned, but, a gentle pleasure. Not many of them to be had these days and a relief in the frenetics of some of the recent, but, excellent work about town.

The parts, make a very, surprising, and satisfying, whole. Worth considering spending time with.

P.S. I once saw a revival of DIAMOND LIL, adapted by Dennis Powers and Paul Blake at the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco in their 1987-88 season - it was hilarious fun, even then.

Cut Snake

Photo by John Feely
Arthur and Tamarama Rock Surfers presents CUT SNAKE by Amelia Evans, Dan Giovannoni and Paige Rattray at the Bondi Pavilion, Bondi Beach.

CUT SNAKE comes from a team of three writers: Amelia Evans (LYREBIRD), Dan Giovannoni (WRECKING) and Paige Rattray. Ms Rattray directs Julia Billington (Bob), Charlie Davies (Kiki Corriander) and Kevin Kiernan-Molloy (Jumper).

Entering through a tunnel of hung squares of varying patterns and variegated colours of fabrics, sewn together, tent like, festooned with little flags and other electrical bunting, the usual big space of the Bondi Pavilion has been curtained into a smaller focused auditorium, bedazzling, distracting, though it is. The stage floor is a fake green lawn and edged with lots of lamp shades of differing size, colour and stand shapes - some even hung from the roof, upside down. Tom Hogan is the visible operator of Sound and lighting cues (Lighting Design by Ross Graham) and he sits down and we begin. (Production Design, Paige Rattray.)

The company of actors are on stage already, the lights dim and in a very contemporary style of circus skills, burlesque, dance, semaphored character movement and text, we are taken on the journey of the three intertwined stories of Jumper, Kiki Corriander and Bob. We are taken back and forth in time and bounced between one story and the others. Some of it has the ease of naturalistic exposition and narrative (a tragic bus crash in Croatia), some of it spills into magic-realism (we meet a delightfully wicked talking snake called Tricks, and, later, see a horse and hippopotamus wrestle it out!) and voyages into time co-incidence, other exaggerations (!) and cups of whimsical sentimentality - it is a wild romantic journey for kids and adults who prefer, still, to be kids - the Peter Pan's in us.

Ms Rattray has a feel for the dynamics of movement as a very active part of the storytelling - there has been intimations of this passion in other of her work - OUT OF PLACE, THE SEA PROJECT - and the necessity of the writing had restrained her. So, this devised work, led by her, is the first where she has been able to give full vent to that leaning. The actors are almost always in physical movement, and it is not 'quiet' movement, but, highly dynamic offers, while, at the same time, the actors speak the narrative. It is a very busy visual and verbal cacophony and often the two efforts of the body and the voice are in competition for primary attention, and are not always in clarifying harmony - they fight and clash for supremacy, for our attention.

 One has to learn to focus on the speaker and block out the movement/dance of the team, or, one risks been left way behind in the story following sensibility. This is what I had to do to get my story bearings - so much was going on. In the last story, of Bob's, either the choreography had got subtler, or I had found a way of focusing my eyes and ears together (or, Ms Billington was expert?), and I found myself comprehending, untangled from competing methods, and was appreciative of the complications of the magical story - Bob's story is, unfortunately, in the last section!!!!- it took some time to train myself.

The first responsibility of the actor, and director, designer, I have been taught, is to make sure the words of the writer can be heard with clarity, by all. The physical action ought to clarify the vocal action. Gosh, it is one of the primacy's given by Hamlet to the Player King in Shakespeare's play - "...suit the action to the word, the word to the action ..." (Act III Sc II). If the physical action does not assist that clarity, editing is the solution, I suspect. The very best exemplar of this difficult task, when physicality is so densely employed with text, is that of Lloyd Newson's works: CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS? and TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU for DV8.

This company of actors are breathtakingly exciting in fulfilling the demands of Ms Rattray's direction and the best reason to get to the Bondi Pavilion. Costumed in the stylisations of circus/burlesque, the physical skills are spectacular and the disciplines, both, as individuals, and a team are astonishing. Ms Davies certainly has the acrobatic flexibility to amaze us in this small space, her whole instrument tuned for comic effect - loved the eye movement choreography!; Mr Kiernan-Molloy, last seen in PSYCHO BEACH PARTY, seems the most at ease with the balance of physical and vocal demands, both sexy and comically real, while Ms Billington, slightly less physically agile, than the others, creates the most believable and winning set of characters - her swiftness in changing from one incarnation to another, her focused energy concentrations, and, particularly the gloriously funny inner monologues and character debates, are mesmerizing. 'Tricks' is a comic delight, but, 'Bob' is a humanised treasure.

CUT SNAKE, is a bit of a dazzling challenge at first, for an audience, to find the way into the storytelling, and the catch up needs to be committed to, quickly, but, if you work hard, it is, ultimately, worth the effort. More judicious physical action trimming and this maybe more than a dynamic physical rush of undeniable energy, pumping the audience's adrenalin up an up to a blushing heart rate of effusive appreciation.

P.S. Tamarama Rock Surfers kept up the tiresome tradition of beginning much, much later than the advertised time - it is an unfortunate, if not, uncouth habit, in my experience, in the theatre. Nothing can be more aggravating for an audience - especially those with family at home responsibilities. One's mood could be affected, sometimes to the detriment to the performance's reception - we all need to prepare, the actor's and audience are a team - mood harmony an important ingredient.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Little Mercy

Sydney Theatre Company presents LITTLE MERCY by Sisters Grimm. Created by Ash Flanders and Declan Greene at the Sydney Theatre Company in the Wharf 2 Theatre.

You know, I had packed away my Mardi Gras costumes and make-up kit after the CLUB KOOKY PARTY down there at the Wharf restaurant and bar on the Recovery Sunday, after the Parade Night. A good time had by all, by all accounts. Too soon, brothers and sisters! Haul them out again, for, it seems it is still going on down there. The 'gay' persona mashes, smashes into the mainstream spaces ... well, ... I know, I know it has before, but this time, a little, ... well... well, more obviously, much, MUCH less clandestine at the STC.

Last December I saw and recommended a show called PSYCHO BEACH PARTY down at the Bondi Pavilion. It had an actor/performer called Ash Flanders playing the role of Chicklet -a character channeling multiple personalities - in a perfectly outstanding way. LITTLE MERCY is a new work written by Sisters Grimm, who are none other than Ash Flanders, and his partner in crime, Declan Greene. Mr Flanders is once more on stage in a perfectly outstanding way as the heroine, Virginia Summers, directed by Mr Greene in a spectacularly theatrical manner. The Brothers Grimm would highly approve of these Sisters Grimm, and their tale. No doubt. I say - Angela Carter, one of my Bloody Chamber story tellers would approve as well. Undoubtedly!

This is a company from Melbourne. In the program notes :

ABOUT SISTERS GRIMM: Sisters Grimm (Ash Flanders and Declan Greene) have been working together for the last six years, cultivating a unique brand of 'gay DIY drag theatre", mostly staged in self-built pop-up spaces. They have also performed at Falls Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, the Last Tuesday Society, This Is Not Art, and countless drag parties. Most of their shows involve the re-appropriation of genres, narratives, and conventions from cinema history - mashed up with a variety of forms, from endurance-art to live music to Internet memes. ...
In an Article written by Mr Flanders as a guest editor to the Performing Arts section of Sydney's TIME OUT (March, 2013), he says:
LITTLE MERCY is our take on the fantastic genre of evil child films. We spent literally an hour or so skimming through the greats: THE BAD SEED; THE EXORCIST; ROSEMARY'S BABY; THE OMEN ... and, as we did, we fell deeper and deeper in love with a world where murderers had the audacity to be psychotic AND adorable.
Our story revolves around Roger and Virginia Summers, a wealthy New England couple who have everything ... except a child. Then one dark and stormy night their prayers are answered and sweet little Mercy arrives on their doorstep. But all is not as it seems ... or is it? ...
I reckon Mr Flanders and Mr Greene must have spent their childhood in front of their TV and/or computer screens watching the great and terrible films of their grandparents and parents era and loving it. Others may have played AFL in Melbourne but they clearly watched old movies for their sport. And a Brownlow Medal ,or at least a Gold Medal for them in the Olympic Arts Pantheon, please.....

In Mr Flanders immaculate creation of Virginia Summers one can sense the homage to Bette (Davis), Joan (Crawford), Lana (Turner) Eleanor (Parker), Barbara (Stanwyck) Susan (Hayward) and even Olivia (de Havilland). Every vocal intonation, inflexion, hesitation, every facial tic, every hand and arm gesture, every step, the angle of the head, every breath, is a gloriously captured mash up of all of these stars and maybe others (You can freely add to the list), of a style of acting and storytelling that Bill Collins led us to week after week in his Golden Years of Hollywood film presentations - oh, how we miss him.

Luke Mullins joins Mr Flanders' Virginia, as her husband, Roger (maybe, William Hopper, Gary Merrill, Ronald Regan, John Gavin and Rock Hudson, other B-Stars), a musical theatre director on the cusp of fame with the possible production of a new show. Mr Mullins also creates the nanny (Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers, shaken and stirred with anything given by Cloris Leachman) to care for little Mercy. A gutsy performance measured to the material and Mr Flanders, step by studied gesture, pipe and all.

Jill Mackay, making her Sydney Theatre Company debut at the age of 80 (hope for us all who haven't cracked it yet or want a return performance!), creates Mercy, with those 80 years of film-going pumping through her memory banks (Shirley Temple, young Judy Garland, Linda Blair to WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?(1962), CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2000) and KILL BILL (2003) ), grabs her opportunity and is outrageous and primed for the pace.

In the wide space of Wharf 2, David Fleischer has designed a raised platform with a white fireplace, a yellow wing chair, a drinks trolley and a plant in a pot sitting on a grey carpet, lit beautifully, like an island of sanity in the black abyss of the theatre space. This set design has surprises galore for you as it shifts locations in the battle for the mind of Virginia. A great piece of work. It is supported by an amazingly complicated lighting design by Verity Hampson, stunning, and a great collaborator causing much of the fun of the direction, writing and acting to work (the chase scene is glorious!) Add a vivid score and live performance, sound design by Steve Toulmin, who, incidentally, creates a slinky Jessica Rabbit homage, topping his acting work in TOOTH OF CRIME by far! and you have a great night out in the theatre. The costume designs, also by Mr Fleischer, are extravagant and hilariously conceived and well executed. The thoroughness of the 'straight' looks of the adults -Virginia and Roger and Nanny - are brilliantly counterpointed with the whimsy of Mercy's incarnations. The satiric edges of both worlds of the clothing, are witty and spot on.  ROCKY HORROR SHOW dress up tributes move over for a new cult: the LITTLE MERCY dress-up! I say.

(Note the STC continues its theme about women and madness, in this case, it shows Mr Stone, Mr Schlieper and Mr Upton another way to do it. Better this way, than the FACE TO FACE way. Let's hold a vote!)

My companions and I, scoffing down cocktails, later, in the bar, began a game: listing some of the film history covered in this crazy show: The BAD SEED (MERVYN LEROY -1956); REBECCA (ALFRED HITCHCOCK -1944); THE SNAKE PIT (ANATOLE LITVAK -1948); IMITATION OF LIFE (DOUGLAS SIRK -1959); THE EXORCIST (WILLIAM FRIEDKIN -1973); THE OMEN (RICHARD DONNER -1976); THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (JONATHAN DEMME - 1991) SAW (JAMES WAN - 2004) and of course any Cold War conspiracy theory movie paranoia of the ilk of Hitchcock's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934;1956), NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) etc. and an important clue, dropped early in the show, SLEUTH (Joseph Mankiewicz - 1972). How many more will depend on the number of Margarita's you can afford.

In the words of one of the creators, Mr Flanders:
The show is a high-camp comedy, which basically means it's great theatre for anyone who wants a good time. I can't stress that enough: if you hate good times, please don't come, as you'll only bring down the room, jerk. It's fast-paced, anarchic and even contains a few genuinely terrifying moments.

Two of my favourite moments concern the vaudeville title introduction - a great music score going on there, and the stage-management coup de theatre - listen and watch for it!

This is entertainment. A great hour or so of highly polished campery. Last year we saw PSYCHO BEACH PARTY by Charles Busch, and earlier this year, MILKMILKLEMONADE by Joshua Conkel, all three of these shows with the same punch drunk energy and delight. Next time a little politic mix from Sister Grimm could lift the work into the same stratosphere, as the other mentioned, with no harm done to their appeal, I reckon. The Sisters seem clever enough to do anything.

 Next: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS ? What about it, Sisters ? You can get no more Grimmer than that.

 Don't you touch CLEOPATRA.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Songs for the Fallen

Critical Stages and Michael Sieders present SONGS FOR THE FALLEN by Sheridan Harbridge in the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre.

SONGS FOR THE FALLEN is a new work written by Sheridan Harbridge for herself and two other actors, Ben Gerrard, Garth Holcombe and a composer/live musical performer Basil Hogios. This presentation is the beginning of a tour for Critical Stages and Michael Sieders, mounted after a successful first outing at the Old Fitzroy, last year.

Harbridge describes SONGS FOR THE FALLEN as "part vaudeville, part punk opera, part MTV-does- Baroque", a pastiche, using the life history of an actual historical figure, a "fallen". Born in 1824 as Alphonsine Plessis she became a young woman of famous beauty who found her way in life as Marie DuPleiss, a member of a legendary part of the Parisian world - the demi-monde - a courtesan, of the 1840's. She began as a mistress, at the age of 16, to a restaurant owner and was set up in a small apartment, before quickly attracting the attention of a 19 year old, Antoine Agenor, Duc de Guiche,who possessing a fortune was determined to be the reigning dandy and the greatest authority on all the beautiful women of his time, subsequently provided Marie with a truly grand apartment, and educated her to become one of the leading figures of that world. Besides her remarkable beauty she became renowned for her educated conversation, her wit, her courage. She was admired, loved, and toasted. On his enforced abandonment of her (by his concerned father) she lived with the aging Comte de Stackleberg, a former Russian Ambassador, who permitted her as many lovers as she pleased - Alexandre Dumas (fils); Frantz Liszt; the Comte de Perregaux (who actually married her in a civil ceremony in London, which it appears, had no legal standing in France) being among them. She was suffering from consumption and gradually had to sell off her possessions and pale and emaciated, dying in her bed, alone, on February 3, 1847, at the height of the pre-Lenten Carnival, when the rest of Paris was dancing in the streets. "She had lived a full life, spent about half a million gold francs, and had a hundred lovers. She was twenty two years old."

What is remarkable about SONGS FOR THE FALLEN is the serious engagement and respect for the facts of Marie Plessis' history that the author, Sheridan Harbridge, has given to her principal character, for in this invention the text is a rambunctious, noisy musical explosion of the normal storytelling. This story was famously told by Alexandre Dumas (fils) in 1848, in his highly successful novel LA DAME AUX CAMELLIAS, later adapted, by him, as a play, of the same title (1852), a melodrama of great tenderness - Marie and all the other historic figures fictionalised to protect those living survivors, their reputations (!), she becoming Marguerite Gautier, the Lady of the Camellias. It became the foundation for Verdi's opera LA TRAVIATA (1853), name change to Violetta. Famously, 20 film versions have been made, including, of what I believe to be one of the great screen performances ever, that of Greta Garbo in the George Cukor version, CAMILLE in 1936 for MGM. Isabelle Huppert, also, has given the role in a 1981 French film. In Australian creative terms Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE! took some inspiration from the original source.

(N.B. LA DAME AUX CAMELLIAS contains not only the sentimentality that was the dramatic taste of its time, but does provide some elements of social criticism, especially about the role of women, elements which were to resurface in the plays of Ibsen and the Lulu Plays of Wedekind. As I mentioned in my blog on MRS WARREN'S PROFESSSION, Pam Gems rewrote it with an even stronger feminist (I prefer,'femalist') slant in CAMILLE (1984).)

Taking in this work by Ms Harbridge, then, one can see the breadth of her inspirational sources and the nearsome comparison would have to be the Luhrmann effort, MOULIN ROUGE!. This work, hemmed in with red curtains, has short kaleidoscopic scenes, announced on a vaudeville easel with painted title boards, and numbered amusingly, drolly, over a microphone by our narrator, Garth Holcombe - who, also among other things, plays Dumas (fils) in the scheme of the story telling ; it has a fourth wall breaking format of the vaudeville traditions, with even, transgressive invasions into the auditorium; it has a self aware, sometimes, self-deprecating text, Ms Harbridge as Marie tells us from the start that she will be dead at the end, but this is a comedy !, she also explains, amongst other digressions during the performance, the possibility of her variation of accuracy with the French accent and why; and it covers, in the playing, a wide emotional range from vulgar low comedy to sophisticated word play to rousing musical ballads to raucous and outrageously frenetic song and dance routines, to great moments of pathos, daringly created and executed throughout, and ultimately transported for us into a delicately played melodrama of a death bed scene of some truthful telling.

This is a post-modern deconstruction, of this true story and from other 'straighter' literary sources, that remains divinely respectful, and it works marvellously. It is not a story of prostitution or sex, no such judgement is given, it is, perhaps, a more than cautionary tale of the corrupting hedonism that money and power can deliver. Maybe, a tale not unnecessary in this age of celebrity and celebrations. (Just how many festivals can we take, without a negative costing?)

Director, Shane Anthony, has harnessed all the creative impulses of Ms Harbridge's text and corralled a collection of inspired collaborators. Michael Hankin with his Set Design has created a red curtained vaudevillian proscenium arch and stuffed the stage with a circular bed and all the necessary props (feathers and glitter galore) and costumes, signage and musical equipment it can hold (maybe the design set down too close to the audience for good sight lines in this terribly raked seating arrangement, in this theatre?) . No-one leaves the stage and all costume changes occur in view and, here stylistically, too, anachronistic contemporary approximations and 'cartooning' occurs. All, in the mayhem of the speed of the work, become breathlessly accepted. This element, in the number of changes and the swiftness of them, is a minor miracle of design and invention by Lisa Mimmocchi. Lighting by Teegan Lee is all created with the wildness of the task and certainly the "great party'' scene is the highlight of the work.

Ms Harbridge, in the central role of Marie, is astounding. Her comic timing, her shifts from the written text to vaudevillian improvisation with her audience, her shifts into resonating truthfulness in the great dramatic moments and almost instantaneous turn back to clown, now, in the time of the story - late 1840's - now in the present moment of performing in the Reginald Theatre with us - 2013 - is further compounded with a musical voice of such purity and expressive range that one undoubtedly feels here is, what sometimes, oh, too rarely one sees on Australian stages, a genuine triple threat: an actor, a singer and a mover/dancer. I have watched this actor grow over the past few years and her self developed (and self-financed) work has given her the gradual refining into an amazing expression of passionate talent - writer/actor par excellence, remarkable (see also SLOWBOAT TO CHINAMANS; and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN).

But, beside her are two generous and gifted young actors, Ben Gerrard and Garth Holcombe. Mr Gerrard has a whole collection of characters, both male and female, and is also remarkable. His focus, his committed demeanor, never, for one-second losing the veracity of the character or the world that it exists in, no matter what Ms Harbridge may have lobbed him, comedically and empathetically supports Ms Harbridge in the trajectory of the story. His observations of comic 'types' are executed with refined aplomb,  great, tidy economy and taut accuracy - a true sense of the comic necessity of the importance of being earnest. There is no flubby 'near enough is good enough' here - it is perfect emphasis and craft. Mr Holcombe has the more difficult tasks of narrator and a collection of characters that are necessary spinal support to the narrative and need a restrained composure of execution which he gives despite, probably, awful temptations to join in some more of the craziness than he is already permitted with his fellow ebullient creators - he stays magnificently steady - this is work of a highly disciplined and generous performer.

Basil Hogios is the Composer and Sound Designer of this illusion of anarchic work. The background support with live sound is a subtle and necessary ingredient to the work - it helps in creating the appearance of anarchism, but, is, undoubtedly, deftly orchestrated. The songs composed for Ms Harbridge's voice are beautiful, and it is here that more refinement/development could take place. There felt sometimes in the arc of the piece not enough variation of tempo and length to the songs. The ballads do not, seemingly, move the piece forward enough, rather, invites us to dwell too long with the singer (not always the character) without enough import - one got impatient with the relative rambling through the time of the songs. The songs for the fallen were not dynamically diverse or arresting in story terms, however much the glorious singing voice of Ms Harbridge was revealed to us.

SONGS FOR THE FALLEN is only just over an hour long and it has the exhilarating impact of a densely packed experience covering a great range of performance styles and empathetic narrative: comic, musical and dramatic. It raises Sheridan Harbridge's gifts as a writer to some further expectation of excitement. What next? Certainly, it gives her profile as a significant  performer - she is sensational. Everybody involved in the creating of this independent production deserve deep appreciation. Have I credited the director, Shane Anthony, enough? Probably not. Congratulations, sir. What next?

Not to be missed.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Know There's A Lot Of Noise Outside But…

I'M TRYING TO KISS YOU in association with NIDA Independent presents I KNOW THERE'S A LOT OF NOISE OUTSIDE BUT YOU HAVE TO CLOSE YOUR EYES by Zoey Dawson, Anna McCarthy and Allison Wiltshire in The Parade Studio, at the Parade Theatres, NIDA.

I KNOW THERE'S A LOT OF NOISE OUTSIDE BUT YOU HAVE TO CLOSE YOUR EYES written and created by Zoey Dawson and Anna McCarthy, also, the actors, and Allison Wiltshire, the director. They first conceived this work in 2009 and first premiered at the 2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival and have continued to develop this work over the past year and a half. Four and a bit years in development.

Two women who once were close, meet up in a bar and begin to drink: vodka/raspberries despite the preference one has for beer. One of the women is caught up in the fantasies of worlds like that in SEX AND THE CITY and practices them as a way of living, the other studying for a Phd at University and living in an op-shop world ("my outfit cost $8"). One has a partner and lots of sex, the other hasn't a partner and hasn't had sex for 4 months and is desperate for it - boy, is she graphic in telling us about it. One is a bottle blonde (showing), the other a brunette.

This work winds on for almost an hour.
Our work explores the complexities of the contemporary female experience. For example - fat, war, friendship, tuna pasta, grief, hangovers, the psychological implications of patriarchy, rage, exercise, constructed identity, sex, dignity, anxiety, television, performance and loneliness.

From the above list the dominant complexity of this work seems to be RAGE, using contemplations  around sex, loneliness and the warring of friendships, particularly among women, as the means to vent. There is a very consistent theme of female envy of other women, of their relative personal and professional success: women being mean to other women - an impersonation of Cate Blanchett discussing her Academy Award win for the film THE AVIATOR, by Ms Dawson, with deeply, it seemed to me, inappropriate assertions as to possible reasons for her winning, with vulgar references to 'Andrew', epitomised this.

This text meanders through rudimentary conversations about drinks, shoes, dress, hair artificialities, sex fantasises and more, and then abusive ravings - shouted, for the most part - in really offensive language, mixed with pretentious spoutings of banal surrealistic 'poetry' (!), the subject matter of which I could not understand, and, so was unable to make much sense of it. From the proliferation and density of the offensive language coming from these women, and its vehemence, one can only believe it was a deliberated choice. I assume it is a device employed to make a political statement. An act of political theatre. For that statement, however, to have empathetic impact politically, one would necessarily believe it should engage the audience rather than repel it.

Watching Ms Dawson and McCarthy, I could not help but think of Freud's later theories about "the libido and its typology: erotic, narcissistic and obsessional," which I came across in an essay by Clive James on Sigmund Freud, recently. "Everyone, he thought (i.e. Sigmund), shares all three departments, with an emphasis on at least one of them at the expense of the other two, and possibly two at the expense of the third." In this theatre performance, which seems to have been created from a powerful rage, we see, clearly an example of the narcissistic-obsessional combination. It is, apparently, the most creative combination. "Those blessed with it, or cursed, could do great work". This is not great work. The narcissism and desperate obsessiveness here, colours it beyond palatability. I could not digest it. Many of us didn't.

I think this company could use a fourth and outside eye to help them moderate and shape the work more successfully. All of the creators, perhaps, too close to the material, to sort the content and the methods to communicate the objectives of the work. After all it has had over FOUR years of development and is still, on my observation, probably, a truthful (once upon a time) but now unsophisticated cry from wounded hearts and souls, and that they rather prefer to experience it as a kind of personal nightly therapy, than a necessary communication  to an audience about the unfairness of being a woman in the societal ''blue-print". The work is primitive in its execution and affect.

The best elements are the set design by Eugyeene Teh, an intriguing collection of many, many  chairs in a closed-in, black curtained hazed space; a detailed and atmospheric lighting design by Katie Sfetkidis and the sophisticated sound design (composition?) by Claudio Tocco.

The intellectual emotionalism of these two performers does not compensate for the inert body presence and usage, combined with voices of no sophisticated use - a permanent loud volume being the principal choice. Is it just inexperience, all three creators coming from, mostly, academia,  according to the program notes, and no real training, except of that gained by being 'on the job', (as they say)? Or, is the lack of technique in the performance a deliberate alienating artistic choice? Is it an investigation into the "aesthetics of failure" fashion?

The director has organised the text to be spoken in a slow tempo (slower even than normal conversation most of the time - it is exhaustively tedious) of spoon feeding the audience the content and meaning without any sense of crafting; no tempo variations, no volume controls and no real truths. Skin deep apprehensions of intellectual didacticisms. Female angst. The peculiar choice of one of these actors to attempt to impersonate Cate Blanchett, one of the great contemporary actors in film and theatre, of consumate skills, invidiously drew perspective to the huge gap in gifts and talent of these two performers in comparison. Particularly when one remembers the skill of Ms Blanchett's performance in creating an impression/impersonation of Katherine Hepburn - for which she won the award in THE AVIATOR. (Let alone her later work in a similar task as Bob Dylan - I'M NOT THERE -2007). What was the Director thinking to allow her actor to such direct compare and contrast?

I remember a work called COUNTRY MATTERS by Danielle Maas and Jessica Wallace in 2011 and it had a much more savvy theatrical grasp of shaping its content and playing methods to communicate to an audience than this, similar work.

 Outside, while waiting for my bus, Orientation Week celebrations at the UNSW , noise, with pounding rock bands filled the air. It was a relative relief, and, if I had to choose between the experiences, would prefer being outside on the footpath with the rock band with my eyes open than the hour in the Parade Studio with the Melbourne Company I'M TRYING TO KISS YOU.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Julius Caesar

SYDNEY UNIVERSITY DRAMA SOCIETY (SUDS) presents William Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR provided by University of Sydney Union in The Cellar Theatre, Science Road, Sydney University.

Sydney University Drama Society presents William Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR. This is one of many productions of JULIUS CAESAR that I have seen in recent years.

"Metellus Cimber kneels before Caesar begging the repeal of his brother's banishment. ... Brutus, with a kiss that reminds us more of Judas than of Brutus, ... seconds the petition ... Caesar, refusing ... The moment has come. Casca stabs him from behind, the others follow, Brutus significantly, striking last. "Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar!" ... - ''the most unkindest cut of all"

Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!
cries Cinna, 
Liberty, freedom, and enfranchisement!
cries Casca. 
Peace, freedom, and liberty!
cries Brutus ... he bids his fellows to bathe their hands to the elbows in Caesar's blood. 
How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents unknown!
cries Cassius as he complies with Brutus' bloody suggestion. 
How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport ...

Thus the soothsayer, Shakespeare, has predicted that many ages hence shall act out this lofty scene, in states unborn and accents unknown. The states unknown in this present case is a truly 'sad' theatre space called The Cellar Theatre - that the Sydney University authorities, whose University is ranked 49th internationally, ought to be entirely ashamed that it serves as this Student's body "home' - and that the 'accents unknown' is Australian.

This production by a young director, Nathaniel Pemberton, is neatly prepared. His young actors, mostly, speak the language with great clarity and inner motivating thought. The textual discipline is very fine indeed. The physical life, from these untrained actors, has also been trimmed and edited so that it suits the clarity of the word and the word the actions, mostly, so that, to quote the director's program notes:
...Today, this historical tragedy comes to us as an audience influenced by three times periods: the Roman context (via Plutarch) in which it is set; the Elizabethan context in which it is written, and by which it is heavily influenced; and our own modern period. The humanity and poetry, held within Shakespeare's text, endure in spite of the interplay of these eras. The timelessness of his work means that 397 years after his death, Shakespeare stands as our contemporary.
In a very successful exploration, Mr Pemberton has cast women in the principal roles and men in the female secondary ones, there is a gender blindness to the rest of the casting. (In London at the Donmar Warehouse there has just been an all female Julius Caesar - Harriet Walter as Brutus, Directed by Phyllida Lloyd). Here, Caitlin West gives an outstanding reading of Caius Cassius, her verse speaking, her instincts for the dramatic scale of her scenes and the complexities of her character are, considering her youthfulness, as clear as one could wish, so much so, that it is Cassius in this production who appears to be the principal pillar of the triumvirate, and the focus of Shakespeare's tragedy.

Usually, this play has Brutus at the centre of the tragedy (it is written that way), sometimes Mark Antony (maybe, only if you have the charisma of a Marlon Brando?!), but, both Cassandra Jones as Brutus and Michaela Savina as Mark Antony do not have the security of text or as a firm grip on their respective responsibilities as Ms West. It is Ms West who holds this production together, like 'a colossus' ! Travis Ash as Portia is very winning and clever; Charlie Jones as Casca also a standout from the enthusiastic rest. Any play requires real preparation, Shakespeare more so than most. There is, despite the appearance of an iron discipline in this performance, hints of unpreparedness, lack of full commitment from some. It does not interfere too much with one's involvement, but, it does, occasionally, show.

The production values are what Peter Brook might call Poor Theatre: The Cellar Theatre, black walls and floors, with just a raised platform between two (real) architectural columns and a step, with just a little change in the battle scenes, is simply, the acting area. The costumes are contemporary, formulaic - black jeans and shoes/boots (mostly) with a long sleeved white shirt in the first half, replaced by white T-shirts with either a red or blue ribbon for the battle scenes, bloodily indulged, of the second half. The lighting is rudimentary, perforce of the limited means that the Dramatic Society endures (Ethan McKenzie), the sound fairly repetitive, and, although initially dramatically rousing, not diversely inventive enough (Composer, Eunice Huang). Props are 'poor' theatre - the swords seeming to be fence slats!

Mr Pemberton has, thankfully taken no 'avant-garde' gestures, that he may have see at Belvoir or the Sydney Theatre Company, and many a too often occasion at the Bell Shakespeare, his contemporary 'role' models, and instead,  bravely, and rightly trusts to the power of Shakespeare and his text - no de-constructions here. His one concession is to a black cloaked figure of death and carnage (Finn Keogh) who appears and haunts the spaces throughout - a silent scream on the battlefields of Philippi most moving, the war sketches of Goya recalled vividly, for me.

Shakespeare's play JULIUS CAESAR with assassination by knife has had not only had a familiar re-visit on our stages in Sydney in recent past, but, also in our political metaphors of late. Shakespeare does truly stand as "our contemporary" especially in our Federal Parliament, if the Federal opposition were to be taken at their words. So, it was indeed curious to have both, Bob Ellis - a sometime virulent, and sometimes amusing political commentator - and Bob Carr, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs - up to his tweeting finger tips with a crisis of Israeli/Australian political intrigue, I suspect - with Mrs Carr, present, at this performance. I hope that both gentlemen enjoyed it as much as possible and have some handy quotations newly 'remember'd' for their contemporary "jobs".

Better, I hope, that both gentlemen might speak to the Chancellors and other authorities of this prestigious university, and urge them to do some investment into the performance arts in their domain. The Cellar Theatre is a disgrace that this administration should take urgent note of. The world authorities who rank the international universities should be shown the contempt this university seems to have towards the Performing Arts. I understood, and would be happy to be corrected, that The Seymour Centre is a University building, built from a philanthropic gift to this university, with a dedication to the Performing Arts. Why does this historic Sydney University Dramatic Society - SUDS - that can claim many illustrious alumnus in the national and international arts world, have to endure such poor accommodation? Why does the Society not have free, regular access to one of the three theatres at the Seymour Centre? Or, why is it not subsidised to be able to afford 3 to 4 productions a year over there. Does the corporate/capitalist notion of profit, override proper education at this university, too? It seems so.

The New South Wales University seems to have the same Thatcherite out-of-date attitude towards its performing arts courses. Reducing and closing them down as fast as stealth allows. I hear the Io Myer Studio, one of two spaces available to that student body, is always under threat of demolition. Probably, to build more foreign student cash-paying accommodation or another multi-storey car park - fee paying, of course? The National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) as well? I ask, simply for information. Are there fewer public student productions in recent years and many more public hirings of the Parade Theatres? I certainly see less student work from the acting course than ever before? It is strange, as 'doing it' seems to have been the underlining principle of the acting training since the Institute's foundation - it was the reason for the foundation of The Old Tote Theatre Company (which, ironically NIDA is celebrating in the coming weeks, the launch: Saturday the 9th,of March) - the predecessor of the present Sydney Theatre Company - to give the actors graduating, the ability to practice their craft.

And, P.S. Don't ask of the Performing Arts courses at Macquarie University, the University of Western Sydney (UWS) or University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), either.

Mr Pemberton asked me to attend the work. I applaud his promising will, persistence and talent. Having the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and one of Australia's leading cultural commentators, Mr Ellis, take an interest in his work and that of the other students must be some redress for the apparent lack of interest of anybody from the University authority.

If only we had an Olympic Games for the Performing Arts. Some of the funding from the Institute of Sport would be useful, I reckon. Oh, well. Poor old Simon Crean will probably never get to release his Arts Policy, either. The Labor Government regarding the Arts, as usual, as only an add-on to the fabric of Australia's nationhood and reputation.

Let us stand around the bleeding body of arts education in our universities, " Peace, freedom and enfranchisement"!

Shakespeare our contemporary ?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In The Republic of Happiness

The Royal Court Theatre presents IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS by Martin Crimp at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London.

I saw this work in January, 2013.

IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS by Martin Crimp is a one act, three scene play with no interval.

Each scene has a title. The first scene is entitled: DESTRUCTION OF THE FAMILY. It begins at a family Christmas lunch. Three generations: grandparents (Anna Calder-Marshall and Peter Wight), mum and dad (Emma Fielding and Stuart McQuarrie), uncle and aunt (Paul Ready and Michelle Terry), and two nieces (Seline Hizli and Ellie Kendrick).

The first speech of the play:
Debbie: I wasn't trying to upset people, Dad. I love you. And I love mum. Plus I love Granny and Grandad - and of course I love Hazel too. I do, Hazel - whatever you think. But the fact is, I know that I'll love my baby more. And that's how it should be, dad - however much I love you, I know that I'll love my baby more. Which is why I'm afraid. Wouldn't you be afraid? When you look at the world? - when you imagine the future? I'm afraid, Dad for my baby. And I'm really sorry because I know this is Christmas and I shouldn't be talking like this about horrible things but I just can't help it.

Just imagine what the future conversation of this family might be after that speech around the Christmas lunch!

The satiric and cauterising tone of the act has been set. Later, Uncle Bob 'suddenly appears' and he, after explaining that he is catching a plane, has the duty to tell each family member what his wife, Madeline, who is sitting outside in the car, feels about them:
Bob: ... But look: this is not me speaking now, it's Madeline. She hates you. She finds each one of you in your own way abhorrent. But its deeper than that, it's deeper than that, it goes much deeper than that because it affects her physically - affects her skin - so even now - out there in the car - she's actually having to rub in cream. ... And it's you, Peg, it's you and Terry - okay, let's start there - because you're both so old, she hates you. Okay? She hates this this this smell you have - she says you both smell like flood-damaged carpet and wishes you were dead. Horrid. I know. And not just dead but wants to erase you. ...

Upsetting, to say the least !!!!

This culminates with Madeline herself 'appearing', in the flesh sheathed in "a beautiful haute couture dress and radiates charm, charisma, conviction, power" and in a farewell speech/song addresses the family:
... As a family friend its my duty to say
I'm leaving you now - yes - I'm going away -
but if I was tempted to come back some day -
went into the room
where you kids were asleep
and pushed pins in their eyes -
then I wouldn't go deep
(really - trust me - I never go deep) ...

Scene Two has the eight actors adopting different untitled personas, and sitting across the stage as if on a discussion panel or a life-coaching affirmation group, begin a conversation with the audience. It is presented under the banner headline:
e.g. from the First Essential:
... --- I said I am the one writing the script. Nobody looks like me. Nobody speaks the way I do now. Nobody can imitate this way of speaking.
--- No Way
--- No way can anyone speak like I do. I make myself what I am: I'm free - okay? - to invent myself as I go along.
--- Yes I invent myself as I go along. I am the one who makes me what I am - okay? I've got my own voice:I don't repeat what other people say.
--- No way do I repeat what other people say. I am the one who writes the script.

And more. An hilarious conflation of all the banal delusions of our narcissistic selves that allow us "to look good and to live forever".

The third scene begins without a break, a white cube room, an enormous room, empty, except for "what looks like an abandoned desk", with a view through a back window of a Magritte-like landscape of green and blue illusion, rises through the floor from the lower nethers of the theatre, and we find once again, Uncle Bob and Aunty Madeline, in the world they have flown to. Presumably, they are IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS. That it is not so happy, is, I guess, after what has gone on before, a foregone conclusion - but they insist:

"But it's deeper than that, it goes much deeper than that, it goes much deeper than that."

And, so, here is part of the final swipe from Uncle Bob accompanied by strange music - half music, half machine, haltingly spoken into a microphone:

Here's our 100% happy song
it's got a few words
but it doesn't last long
Hum     hum     hum
hum      the happy song. 
Pause. The music continues. 
We make up the words as we go along
each word is right
nothing we sing is wrong.
Hum     hum     hum
hum     the happy song. 
Longer pause. The music continues.  ......

Here is contemporary society in the classic family unit in a modern equivalent of perhaps Dante's Inferno. Here, perhaps, is, like the discussion in Plato's The Republic (c.380 B.C.) a modern contemplation on the defining of what is happiness (justice) in a modern world and what is a happy (just) man, and whether this happy man is happier than the next 'happy' man by considering, through the family 'orders', i.e. Grandparent through to grandchild, the values of the different time (rings) 'regimes' of life experience. What and where are we IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS in this materialist/comfortable existence we all breathe in?

Whatever and wherever it is, this play is a profoundly stimulating time in the theatre. Martin Crimp, appreciated in Europe, as one of the most exciting and distinctive contemporary voices, even more than in his home country, writes not a well-made play, but a meditation, a skewering provocation in a smorgasbord of theatre genre styles, pushing envelopes of dramatic form that are as challenging and interesting as some of the modern inventions of the avant garde music and art worlds.

IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS is perhaps not the masterpiece that ATTEMPTS ON HER LIFE is, but it is fairly wondrous. It certainly is in a different stratosphere of conception and execution of content and form than anything ANY of our Australian playwrights exist in: DREAMS IN WHITE, RUST AND BONE, HOLLYWOOD ENDINGS, THIS HEAVEN etc. etc.......!!!! for GOD's Sake, if there is one, save us.

The production directed by Dominic Cook is in a straight forward naturalistic style in all three sections, counterpointing the absurdist, surrealist form and content of the writing.The contrast of methods are amusing and exactly apt. The design, by Miriam Buether, although, in the last instance, a statement (!) is not a showy demonstration of understanding the play metaphors, but, rather, a support to the strategy to the writer's affect. The acting is similarly naturalistic, even gauche, especially when they go into the song (and movement) routines when required (Composer, Ronald van Oosten). When one casts one's mind back to Benedict Andrews' direction of THE CITY at the Sydney Theatre Company(STC) in 2009, one begins to grasp why I might have failed to be cognisant of Mr Crimp's genius. I enjoyed DEALING WITH CLAIR at the Griffin a few years ago. And it was Martin Crimp's adaptation of GROSS UND KLEIN at the STC we saw , directed by Benedict Andrews (!).

In this production at The Royal Court, the acting was good but uneven. Anna Calder-Marshall, Peter Wight (especially) and Emma Fielding were terrific. The biggest difficulty was the lackadaisical work of our leading man, Paul Ready (Uncle Bob) - who seemed to be, mostly, elsewhere most of our night. Friends who saw it, on our recommendation, other nights, thought the same. It made the task for Ms Terry as Madeline, doubly difficult to hit the mark and impress. She gave it a good go.

Stimulating and very, very funny in a most necessary, frightening way. Let us hope it gets here without being covered in some auteurs' directorial finger prints.