Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Australian Dance Theatre on an Australian National Tour, sponsored by Playing Australia, present G by Garry Stewart at the Sydney Theatre.

Garry Stewart with the dancers of the Australian Dance Theatre have created a work that looks at GISELLE - a ballet that sits along with SWAN LAKE at the pinnacle of the classical ballet canon of works. In 2000, Mr Stewart premiered BIRDBRAIN which was a deconstruction of SWAN LAKE and G is a similar enterprise. G premiered elsewhere several years ago. This was its (scandalously belated?) debut in Sydney. The work was commissioned by The Joyce Theatre's Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work (New York), Southbank Centre (London) and Merrigong Theatre Co. at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (Wollongong). G has been produced by Theatre de la Ville (Paris).

From the program:
GISELLE is referred as to as the HAMLET of the ballet. Among other things it encompasses sex, death, hysteria, gender, hierarchy, class and the supernatural ... Giselle exemplifies 'embodied vulnerability'. 
The set design (Garry Stewart) is a wide open white horizontal space backed with a wide digital screen on which verbal clues to the intent and happenings of the work are communicated. The lighting is mostly of pure block, culturally spooky colour: green, red, purple, white, mirrored from the dance floor space and onto the huge digital screen.

The dancers, mostly, in forest green costume (Daniel Jaber and Gaelle Mellis), enter, from the audience point of view, from left to right, always, almost as if they were on a conveyor belt of a large manufacturing factory. The dancers incorporate every possible movement gesture: walking, running, skipping, to many classical dance steps and postures, contemporary physical complications - gymnastics - mostly manifested as solo bodies that, in the interpreting of what one sees, seem to embody contemporary body illustrations of the encompassing images of sex, death, hysteria (especially hysteria), madness, gender "battles", hierarchy, class and the supernatural. A body pinned and skewed by a large, gleaming medieval-looking sword is an image indelibly printed on my memory of this work. Embodied vulnerabilities, indeed.

The movement offers are relentless and superhuman in their dynamics and daring, egged on by the pumping and edgy composition by Luke Smiles / Motion Laboratories. The tempo of the dance shifts from calm to frantic and it never stops on that left to right direction. The hour length of the work is taxing for the athletic dancers and the grip on the audience's attention is fierce. The sheer energy of the ADT company, the lighting and the sound, demands participation from the audience that is visceral, confronting and overwhelmingly powerful. It is a communal relief when the work ceases, expires, stops.

The experience of the work is certainly impressive - its physicality and intellectual conceptions, telegraphed (kind of cryptically on the digital screen), engage us intensely, whether one has a knowledge of the work's source or not. The original GISELLE was, in 1841, regarded as revolutionary in its time, and Mr Stewart in his program notes says his aim in "approaching GISELLE and the classical paradigm in general is to continue the ongoing project of renegotiating the boundaries and expectations of dance". Beginning with his first work for the ADT, BIRDBRAIN, this work, G, continues that exploration, passionately.

Last year we saw BE YOUR SELF, a later work, chronologically in the ADT repertoire, and I was stunned by both the sophistication of the intellectual conceits that inspired that work and found the physical contribution of the dance a powerfully clarifying continuation of the source inspirations. Here, in G, the work's power is in its physical life and so for me a lesser, but still, exciting offer. This take on Giselle is a fascinating contrast to that of Fabulous Beast at the 2010 Sydney Festival, choreographed, created by Michael Deegan-Dolan.

Garry Stewart and The Australian Dance Theatre are a great contemporary force to be valued and reckoned with by any one interested in the theatre.


The Australian Ballet present VANGUARD in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House.

VANGUARD is a triple bill of contemporary dance presented by the Australian Ballet. THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS (1946), choreography by George Balanchine. BELLA FIGURA (1995), choreography by Jiri Kylian. DYAD 1929 (2009), choreography by Wayne McGregor. I love attending dance programs and have no real, no deep knowledge of the form, except as an ardent admirer for a very long time. All the three ballets in this VANGUARD program were/are game changing icons in the dance world, so they tell me.

THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS by George Balanchine is danced to a specially commissioned musical score by Paul Hindemith. Balanchine after a Russian training worked with Diaghilev and then moved to the United States at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein and together in 1933 founded the School of American Ballet (SAB), and after several other manifestations became the New York City Ballet in 1948. His repertoire covered many other genres of theatre: opera, musical theatre, and included dance sequences for television and film, as well. Jazz had a profound influence on him. His evolving style throughout a long creative career, was essentially an appreciation of the aesthetic of the body's journey through space. The work is highly athletic with an emphasis on speed and line. The dancers he preferred to work with were very long and lean, emphasised by his penchant to present work in simple costume, his works became popularly known as "leotard ballets".

SERENADE (1946); SYMPHONY IN C/LE PALAIS DE CRISTAL(1947); AGON (1957); JEWELS (1967) are works that I remember well by Balanchine. Both, at the New York City Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet I have always been struck by, what seemed to me, the very particular physical type that the Balanchine works required to succeed aesthetically. It was always the long body, arms and legs that seemed to create the best, the most pleasing effect/affect. The Paris Opera/Ballet, similarly, cast that spell of aesthetic length when I saw their performances of JEWELS (I also have a compact disc version) and was rewarding.

 I saw the 84th performance of THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS, a Saturday afternoon, and was vaguely disappointed with the work. I do not know if the Australian Ballet, although famous for its athleticism, have the co-hort of the ideal physical type to make a consistent impression in this choreographer's work. The dancers that do have the ideal physical type, simply contrasted the lack of line and movement of the others.

Eve Lawson was the Repetiteur working in re-creating this work on the Australian Ballet. THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS is subtitled "A Dance Without Plot". It is a dance that celebrates beautiful movement. It takes its inspiration from the expression of the Ancient Greek humours: melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric in five musical movements. Neither the music or the dance itself make specific or literal interpretation of the idea. This performance by the Australian Ballet was workmanlike and underwhelming in its consistent creation and projection of the aesthetic possibilities of this work and Georges Balanchine in general. Hugely disappointing.

The Australian Ballet company seemed to be more at ease and confident with BELLA FIGURA, its 79th performance, choreographed by Jiri Kylian and set for these performances by Elke Schepers, one of the original dancers on whom the work was created in 1995. Kylian worked for 36 years with the Nederlands Dance Company and has left his repertoire and stamp" on the visual quality of that company's output. (The Company is visiting Sydney next month). Bella Figura means beautiful movement. Mr Kylian was in pursuit of asking with this work: What is beautiful, what is ugly? What is dancing, what is not? What is acting, what is not? The tension between those concepts is the driving curiosity of the work.

It begins on an open stage and we see the dancers chatting, moving, limbering up etc. Are the company performing then or not? This work is sublimely beautiful with music from Lukas Foss, Marcello, Vivaldi, Torelli, and Pergolesi. How gorgeous to have live voices in the pit spinning a web of sound to haul us into the world of the ballet: Janet Todd and Margaret Trubiano. The setting is designed by Kylian and he has 'choreographed' the curtaining as well: rising, falling, crossing and creating apertures - opening and closing - to entrance and facilitate the focus of the audience and the dancers' entry/exits - is there meaning in these choices? we are provoked! The whole of the choreographic movements/dance and design is an ecstatic set of sophisticated offers with costume surprises and delights (Joke Visser), beautifully lit (Kees Tjebbes) to give the work a warming antique glow, an almost mythic beauty, quality. One is subjectively traduced by the beauty of it all - sight and sound - but, also, objectively, intellectually teased with the organising of the crafted, staged images.This is the third time I have seen this work and its spell was still potent, mesmerizing. I discovered new visuals and longed for it to be longer, or repeated. It is a vertiginous visual well that one can tumble a long time in, in contemplation of, afterwards.

 The work stirs the appetite to see it again and again.

DYAD 1929 was choreographed for the Australian Ballet in 2009 as part of the CONCORD program by Wayne McGregor that was completing the Australian Ballet's four-year Ballet Russes project. DYAD 1929 was created with a deliberate sense of the "shock of the new" that the Ballet Russes had had on its status quo.

This was the 54th performance of the work which is a thrilling, busy and demanding one of movement ensemble. It is spiky, quirky and very, very modern. It requires a very dynamic effort/style and ranges "from smooth to sharp to quick to slow". I am pleased to acknowledge that this company of dancers have assimilated the challenge of the forms that was not so apparent in the first season of the work (see the above link).

The music by Steve Reich: Double Sextet sets a crackling sound aura of modernity and the design image of a white curtain and flooring lined with black dots tracking out to the auditorium (Wayne McGregor and Lucy Carter), with costume inspired by the visual adventures of the avant garde artists of the 1920's -30's speak both of then and now. There is no story, there is no specific theme, no matter the intellectual inspiration of the work, quoted in the program. Mr McGregor declares: "The movement is the message". This was delivered. Wayne McGregor is the artistic director of Wayne McGregor/ Random Dance, Resident Company at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, and resident choreographer of the Ballet Royal (appointed in 2006) - a dynamic influence for now and the future of dance, I reckon.

Overall, I was satisfied with the experience of VANGUARD if not completely content. The experience was rewarding, ($169 a ticket), mostly, if not life changing. GISELLE given by the Paris Opera Ballet was that, life changing, and the cost became immaterial to the aesthetic rewards. I would have paid again, if I had the wherewithal. All those dancers from the Paris Opera were immaculate and inspirational in their aesthetics and, buried, disciplines, at every level of responsibility. This was not a quality always true with the company revealed on my Saturday afternoon matinee by the Australian Ballet. Disciplines of technique were not always secure, so aesthetic pleasure was sometimes marred - hence, satisfied, if not content. Perhaps, I need to see the company at Opening nights to see the quality I read about in the press? Is the depth of talent/experience so thin? Just avoid Saturday matinees? Really?

Gary Stewart from Australia Dance Theatre (ADT) is creating a work for the Canberra Centenary Celebrations on the Australian Ballet. Can't wait!! Imagine Stewart and McGregor in the same program! Add, Alexi Ratmansky, perhaps. Now, there is a possible shock of the new for us all - a triple bill to blow the company into the new millennium, without doubt.

P.S. The Australian Ballet program is top quality and worth every penny. Others ought to take note.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Removalists

Rock Surfers Theatre Company presents David Williamson's THE REMOVALISTS at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre at Bondi Beach.

THE REMOVALISTS is a play by David Williamson written in 1971. This was one of the very first big blasts of the, then new, experience of seeing contemporary Australians on stage. It was a startling window into the sexist, violent and corrupt societal milieu of the times. Watching this production by Leland Kean for the Rock Surfers Theatre Company (previously known as the Tamarama Rock Surfers) at the Bondi Pavilion one wondered, I mean WONDERED, 42 years after the original production I saw at the old Nimrod St Theatre (now SBW Stables and Griffin Theatre), how, "Nothing much seems to have changed." Along with the shocked gasps of the politically correct in this audience, for me, this production of the play resonated powerfully as an indictment of our present time, 2013. (THE REMOVALISTS was presented at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2009).

A young, newly graduated police constable, Neville Ross (Sam O'Sullivan), arrives at his first posting in a relatively quiet suburban Melbourne precinct and is put under scrutiny by a seasoned officer, Sergeant Dan Simmonds (Laurence Coy). Old style experience meets naively trained aspirant. Endemic corruption meets the simply innocent. Fiona Carter (Sophie Hensser), a young mother of one, accompanied by her more worldly, elder sister, Kate Mason (Caroline Brazier), arrive at the police station with a request for assistance in dealing with an abusive and violent husband, Kenny Carter (Justin Stewart Cotta). Sergeant Simmonds takes advantage of the situation, after blatantly assessing the two women as possibly compliant, and volunteers to go to Mrs Carter's residence, with his young constable, to assist the two women in supervising a removalist (Sam Atwell), in removing the furniture, whilst Kenny is at his usual Friday night drinking session. It all comes unstuck when Kenny turns up at home before the removing has even begun.

This production is set in the 1970's  (Sound Design, Jed Silver) and the set design is deliberately, blandly realistic (Ally Mansell). The costume design (Rita Carmody), also, faultlessly, follows down that visual conceit. Having achieved that environment of nostalgic recognition, Mr Leland directs his company into a kind of hyper-realist style that gradually inverts our expectations. Instead of a fond look at the terrible 70's, a time past, and a sense of the security some of us may have of how we have grown as an enlightened and progressive society, he reveals,  the unvarnished, cultural relevancy of this play for our very own times: 2013.

The pacing of the production is deliberately keyed to a real time pace. It is steady and almost forensic in its delight at peeling back the ugliness of this Australian world. The playwrighting skills of Mr Williamson, are revealed patiently, rivetingly, brilliantly, and this company of actors capture both the black, mordant comedy of the observant eye of the writer, almost Ibsen-like - we do laugh, a lot - and, like  good Ibsenites, slowly reveal the dark and persistent underbelly of our present time - a complacent, morally bereft community. Like the removalist himself, we all, perhaps, still, continue to play no real role in involving ourselves in helping the others we know - by the reportage of our news sources - to be relieved from this kind of oppression, and, we allow, it happens everywhere but not, definitely not, in my back yard. Like the removalist we preserve our own worlds: "If there is work I work, if nobody interferes with me then I don't interfere with anybody". Live and let live. Evolution is a slow process. The play is titled THE REMOVALISTS, not, THE REMOVALIST. Plural not single.

Spousal abuse; sexual objectification - women as tradable commodities - and the complicitness in that by both sexes; sexual, emotional and physical bullying; social 'class' prejudice; unbridled violence; out-of-control and corrupt authority figures, are all laid out before us with unhurried precision and a cruel satiric coolness of black comedy in this production of the play. There is no theatrical censoring of image, there is no theatrical disguise of the consequence of violence, and there is, as well, no wagging moralistic finger pointing, or, judgement of characters.The realistic brutality and bloodiness of the play's events as they unwind are graciously shown to us. We are given time, to not just look, but, to see. This is no Greek Theatre gestural tradition: "the bloody drama is all happening in the wings" - this production does not require you to imagine the consequences of the actions of the protagonists -  it simply, shows you.

Under the sure hand of Mr Kean, the company of actors give wonderful performances. Caroline Brazier brings an intelligent reading to Kate Mason, and succeeds in creating, imaginatively, a fully rounded woman, surviving as best she can in the decisions she has made to live a life. Ms Brazier's work catapults "Kate Mason", historically, often believed to be underwritten as a character, into a complex human being. That enlightenment helps Ms Hensser to, also, especially, in the second act, to bring more substance to the role of Fiona, than I have previously experienced in other productions. Then, two, revelatory performances.

Sam O'Sullivan creates a believable and, ultimately, frightening arc of journey for his Constable Ross, from an almost simple-minded, ineptly motivated policeman to a bloody panicked 'thug' - no worse, and, most certainly, no better than the wife-beater, Kenny. Mr Cotta, begins creating a broadly unlikeable comic-brutalist of Kenny, and, yet, shifts some of us, to an empathy for his tragic predicament - of a bully tethered to a door handle and at the mercy of bloody-minded authority - no mean feat. The physical deterioration of the body of Kenny is masterfully constructed by Mr Cotta - without leave of the stage - it is marvellous in its subtle cosmetic detail. (Watch carefully.) Mr Atwell, is blessed with a famously comic opportunity in the writing, and captures that with a little too much relaxed ease, for me. This Removalist remains a simply comic creation, with no creative hint to the dramaturgical function of the title character. On the other hand, the performance of Mr Coy as Sergeant Simmonds is so carefully and daringly calibrated, so funny, so frightening and so threatening, so corrupt, that his fate at the hands of his apprentice Ross, in the last moments of the play, is welcomed with a great sense of justified come-uppance. Mr Coy has created a terrifying, despicable and flawed human of our shared species. Formidable, indeed.

My admiration of the dramatic performing style of hyper-realism created by Mr Kean in his design choices and in the guiding of the actors, (assisted by Scott Witt as Fight Director), is trumped, counter-pointed, with the highly effective expressionistic, surreal, Gothic lighting design of Luiz Pampolha. Both these artists' choices are powerful in underlining the savagery of the play and at the same time help us to, unconsciously, accept the ugliness of the stage action, perhaps, momentarily even, allowing it to be explained away, merely, as theatre. It allows us, along with the wit of the writing, to bear to attend to the play. It is a sophisticated contribution to the performance, indeed.

On reflection, we may conclude, after, in the foyer, that there are no admirable characters in this play - none at all. And it might also have you digest that this play is a savage indictment of our world and our attitudes - the necessary removal, by us, of any acknowledgement that this is going on about us, and that it is someone else's problem not our's. It was arresting to read the account of the: DEFIANT MOOD AT FOWLER FUNERAL, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald by Damien Murphy on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013, (page 7), the day after attending the play production. Mr Fowler (what a wonderful name for this character, in the theatre/play of life!), as a police officer, a detective inspector, was caught on video receiving bribes of a substantial amount from criminals, bringing the police into considerable, and at last, confirmed disrepute. (The Wood Royal Commission was set up consequently.) Ex-policeman and ex-members of the Kings Cross establishments attending the funeral, last week, swore vengeance, of a kind, on the former policeman who trapped Fowler declaring him as "a Judas ..." There was no further comment from the press or the public. It seems, nothing has really changed since our Sergeant Simmonds in the 1971 play by David Williamson. I am too cowardly to read the contemporary statistics of spousal abuse, no matter how politically correct I believe myself to be. But, suspect, it is still much the same now as it was in 1971.

Rock Surfers Theatre Company, again, makes claim as an outstanding member of the theatrical scene in Sydney, this year. This production of THE REMOVALISTS has one considering the classic qualities of Mr Williamson's writing, very seriously, indeed.

If you are a serious theatre goer then this production is certainly deserving of your attention. Should not be missed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Henry 4

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

Bell Shakespeare presents HENRY 4 adapted by John Bell from William Shakespeare's KING HENRY IV: PART ONE and KING HENRY IV; PART TWO, at the Drama Theatre, in the Sydney Opera House.

John Bell has adapted the two History plays, HENRY IV Parts One (1596-97) and Two (1597-98) into a three-hour ten-minute journey. These two plays were written after HENRY VI, Parts One ((1590-91), Two (1590-91) and Three (1590-91); RICHARD III (1592); RICHARD II (1595-96) but, before Henry V (1599). All part of the chronicles dealing with The War of the Roses. The two parts of HENRY IV is a single drama over ten acts. Some regard HENRY IV, Part One as the greatest of these history plays - Henry IV, Part Two is not often done without the first. In true history terms, then, Bolingbroke who deposed Richard II in civil war is now Henry IV, and Prince Hal, the son, is to become Henry V. The complexity of plot, permitted by the length of the complete work over those ten acts, along with the richness of the text, allows for any one of three men to be regarded as the central character. If one sees Henry IV as a continuation of the story of Bolingbroke in RICHARD II one may see him as the protagonist, while, on the other hand, if we conceive it as background and preface to HENRY V, Prince Hal is central. But, if one reads or watches the plays, simply, the chances are that the comic element will overbalance the historical and so Sir John Falstaff may become the focus of your journey. Falstaff is so captivating a creation he may, indeed, become the most important. Queen Elizabeth I thought so and commanded Shakespeare write another play with Falstaff in it: hence, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (1597). (If the chance in casting has been strong, the role of Hotspur can be seen as a fourth pillar to the central concerns of the play - certainly, when I try to recall the Jack O'Brien, 2003-04, production of these two plays at the Lincoln Center, it is Ethan Hawke's Hotspur that springs to mind, with Kevin Kline's Falstaff registering behind it, and I have no memory at all of the actor who played Prince Hal or Henry IV.)

In this production which has been prepared, and edited by Mr Bell, it is Falstaff that dominates the play. And, not only has Mr Bell adapted the script, he is, for the first time, playing 'the fat knight', and, also, is the Director, assisted by Damien Ryan. We are told that this Falstaffian realisation of the two plays has been a long dreamed of ambition of Mr Bell's. The realisation of this dream should not only be a deserved pleasure (exhausting, too, I don't wonder!) for Mr Bell to experience, but, is, one that should not be missed by any regular theatre goer, for the pleasure he gives us, is mutual. In recent months we have seen some great acting, role models of skill, that all should have seen, should see: Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines in  DRIVING MISS DAISY and now Mr Bell, as John Falstaff.

Played in modern dress, Mr Bell has, in the Olivier tradition, completely created with costume, make-up and wig, a physical transformation, that is a marvel of artistic wizardry -'black' magic - so rarely attempted on our 'modern' stages. This 'look' is then enhanced with a consistency of physical observation and gesture that is flawless in its execution. Whether, standing, walking, sitting, dancing, mock 'fighting', meditating - in the centre of the stage action or peripherally, as he exits in the darkening scene changes, all of it is so replete in its craftsmanship, that Falstaff becomes a real human force to be engaged with. There is no doubt. The Shakespearean scholar, Harold Bloom, is fulsome of this creation of humanity by Shakespeare, in his book THE INVENTION OF THE HUMAN. There is no doubt as to the completeness of the character on the page, he claims. And it is magnificently proved to be so, with this possession of Falstaff by Mr Bell, and Mr Bell by Falstaff. Combine the aforesaid with Mr Bell's supremely studied insight to the language of his dearly beloved poet/playwright, Shakespeare; the dexterity of the vocal instrument in its clarity of communicating every word, phrase, sentence, speech, scene and act to giving that insight to telling story commitment, at a crispness of a delicious speed - one must attend to Mr Bell/Falstaff - and, topped with the relish of a lover of what he is doing and giving, and you have a 'masterpiece' of acting.

Why this theatre is not full to capacity, overflowing, with the lovers of great performance or art - at my performance, maybe, just under half full - is a scandal and an indictment of the appreciation of the arts and the artists of this country. This is a performance to celebrate.

I do have reservations around the work of Matthew Moore as Prince Hal, which could undermine the production for some, considering the importance of the role in the structure of the piece. And, it is not just that Mr Moore does not seem to have, at this time, the charismatic powers that Hal must have, that of a 'sun-king' - think forward to Henry V - but that Mr Moore does not have the usage of the language at the detailed level of necessary verbal/thought construction to reveal the detail of human character- hypocrisies, frailties, Machiavellian manoeuvres and sophisticated philosophy that is Shakespeare's genius. Mr Moore's words seem to be an expression, mostly, of a generalised emotional communication, but not of rational explanation or argument. Words are not possessed with their power of meaning, either literally, sometimes, or more especially, metaphorically. Language, words are often thrown away as if they had no import to the character Shakespeare has written. It was a little staggering to hear, or, not hear, as the case might be. Occasionally, Mr Moore's usage sparks, but it never catches into flames. It is boyishly, emotionally charming at its best. Unfortunately, not enough to demand the focus that Prince Hal must have to reveal this play's greatness.

This is, otherwise, the most secure company of actors that I have observed in a Bell Shakespeare production for some time. David Whitney, in his character's limited opportunities glows/glowers with the contrarian presence and will of Henry IV. Jason Klarwein is striking as Hotspur, and, embraces the contrast, he has as an actor with appetite, in creating low-life Pistol, latterly. Wendy Strehlow as Mistress Quickly, seizes her 'turn' in the Inn at Cheapside, with relish and accuracy - sloughing off our image of her usual role playing, which she has been marking out as her territory of casting, as the pained 'wife' in the modern contemporary work she has been inhabiting. Here, Ms Strehlow says,"Watch what I can do and take note." It is marvellous work.

Terry Bader (wonderful to see him on stage), Nathan Lovejoy, Yalin Ozucelik, Sean O'Shea (especially, his outrageous daring character inhabitation of Justice Shallow), Arky Michael ( an amusing Silence, similarly daring, if not a choice familiar to us who have watched his recent work, MISSING THE BUS TO DAVID JONES), Felix Jozeps, Tony Llewellyn-Jones (a stalwart of clear security in all he does - modest and generous in serving and supporting the play, as usual), Matilda Ridgeway and Ben Wood, all give generous and supporting lives to their characters and story telling responsibilities. I felt safe in their hands and enjoyed myself - not much distraction of concern (did having a cast of 14 actors, a large company in Australian (Sydney) terms, help to maximise the clarity and joy of this production, I wonder?)

The Bell shift into a contemporary looking world, in the design (Stephen Curtis), did not seem to put too many obstacles to the flow of the Shakespearean world of the text. It had a logical intellectual parallel and the ownership by the actors, the 'true believers' of these anachronistic visualisations. The Cheapside Inn, been more successfully achieved, in look and actor ownership, than the apartments of the Royal world - that lacked detailed wealth and power strengths. This was true of costume as well. The attention, imagination, or budget, did not seem to be as interested in convincing us of the Royal, as they were in the lower depths, which was amusing and constructively telling. It was beautifully lit by Matt Scott, and musically, composed by the inventive, and the more than reliable, Kelly Ryall - even the use of JERUSALEM as an anthem, albeit in Australian accents, did not knock me, jar me, from my ability to stay within the artistic conceits of the modern transposition, and wish otherwise.

The direction of the play, jointly, by Mr Bell and Mr Ryan allowed this version of the play to travel and reveal itself without histrionics or extraneous flourishes - an absence of blood, as a prop, amazing. All the transpositions from scene to scene had a story to tell, either in narrative of character or in mood creating shifts. This production in the second half lifted me into an appreciation of the 'majesty' of Shakespeare and his writing. This production lifted one, despite the everyday look, into another sphere, one of an elevated human scale, one that helped me to remember the power of theatre as a blessed extension of my day to day existence, one, which made me pleased to be a conscious and evolving animal.

There was a young American tourist/student with his girlfriend sitting behind me. I overheard him whinging, (this is paraphrase),
"When I go to see my Classics, my Shakespeare, I like the full shebang of period clothing. Like, I can see the real world around me everyday and it costs me nothing. I come to the theatre for an entrance, like, into another world, one that is extraordinary. I want, like, cloaks, crowns and palaces. It's why I love going to Broadway. I always kind of feel cheated, when it is the world I know. Like!" 
I wonder if he has a point. If one were to take into account the wonderful success with the 'young' of box office bonanzas such as the heavily designed Space Epics: STAR WARS; STAR TREK, or the LORD OF THE RINGS film series or the television phenomena of A GAME OF THRONES, and DR. WHO, one wonders if the design illusions of history might be an attractive marketing tool. I mused on the affect of a period design. Taste may have swung. Appetites eager for escape from the world around them.

HENRY 4 is worth catching.  John Bell's Performance is a MUST for all theatre lovers to savour.
Exclude disguised John, and exclude yourself from comprehending and expanding with the majesty of craft and art, I say. All the world, may gather wonderful meaning, from this company, from this Falstaff.

"Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world."

The production closes this week. GO.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Mayday! Playwrights' Festival, Tap Gallery

THE MAYDAY! Playwrights' Festival at the Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst.

THE MAYDAY! Playwrights' Festival organised and produced by Augusta Supple and Jeremy Waters at the Tap Gallery is a three week, three-program event, swiftly organised to fill the sudden void, an empty space, a freed up time vacancy at Tap Gallery.

Week 1 has six monologues from the '7 On Playwrights' recently published collection of works by Federation Press: NO NUDITY, WEAPONS OR NAKED FLAMES.

The World's Tiniest Monkey by Vanessa Blake, performed by Megan Drury. Ella by Verity Laughton, performed by Alice Ansara. A Cleansing Force by Donna Abela, performed by Suz Mawer. iSpiderman by Noelle Janaczewska, performed by Stephen Wilkinson. Della's Clothes by Hilary Bell, performed by Kate Skinner. Sex-Ed by Ned Manning performed by Jennifer White.

The works were well-directed by Augusta Supple and organised into a free-flowing program. I enjoyed and took special note of Hilary Bell's gently moving, DELLA'S CLOTHES. I enjoyed ELLA by Verity Laughton. As you all know, that is, those of you who read my diary, this form of theatrical presentation is not my favourite way to spend time in the theatre, and I have, perhaps, I regret to say, reached my point of tolerance. No more monologues - bring another character on, let's have an interaction with some argument-drama. Bring on someone else- wow! - three characters on stage, talking to each other. "Amazing", I'd say. Wouldn't it be terrific to have a scene, a sketch, a little play ... ? The monologue has become a bore, for me, a scourge of  the Sydney Theatre experience. I, now, approach them with a sense of duty. And, one out of six seems to be,  in my recent program going, the success rate. See, THE POLITICAL HEARTS OF CHILDREN.

Please, I appreciate the effort of all and this night is well done. It is terrific that the theatre is been used for performance and not sitting empty. It is a terrific thing to have organised this festival of writing. It is a terrific thing that the writers experience the process of their words being made 'flesh'. It is a terrific thing that they can participate with an audience response to their 'labours' of love. Can we encourage a little more exploration of the dramatic form?

Terrific is defined in my Australian Macquarie Dictionary: 1. causing terror, terrifying. The next colloquial definition: 2. extraordinarily great, intense etc or 3. very good. ... does not register with my experience of this kind of programming at all.

Two more weeks, two more programs. Week 2: 15th - 19th May. Week 3: 22nd - 25th May.

Thanks Ms Supple and Mr Waters for your enterprise and generosity. Best wishes.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Birds with Skymirrors

Carriageworks presents The Australian Premiere of BIRDS WITH SKYMIRRORS, Choreographed by Lemi Ponifasio on his company, Mau, in Bay 17, Carriageworks, Redfern.

MAU is a dance/theatre Company based in Auckland, New Zealand, and led by Samoan, Lemi Ponifasio who presented BIRDS WITH SKYMIRRORS at Carriageworks. This international company were last in Sydney as part of the 2010 Sydney Festival with "TEMPEST: without a body"

Mr Ponifasio does not willingly use the word dance, or, even theatre, to describe his work, he prefers 'karanga", which means "a genealogical prayer, a ceremony,a poetic space." He wishes to activate the space to create a sort of cosmological space to help us realise that we are part of the whole process of earth. I like the idea that we are, while watching his work, a part of a process in time, in participation with the work, not just observers of it, the experience is part of the evolution of the world about us - to help us find in the struggle of the everyday, our perspective and responsibility in the evolving cosmos. That to watch MIRRORS WITH SKYBIRDS is to immerse oneself into a view of our present, presence, in the space and time of our world. To have a veil of things drawn back by the hand of MAU for a second, for us to see the vital secret - and seeing the secret, become part of the secret. At one and the same time, to be watching, and, as the watcher, conscious of the meaning. A lofty ambition.

I felt that Mau did lead me somewhere remarkable. I was led to a place that was thrilling. You know, those times when you are physically shivering and on the brink, or, are, tearful in a kind of ecstatic zone while seated in the theatre? Well, I felt it three or four times during this work. Wonderfully cathartic, and calming. Humbling.

BIRDS WITH SKYMIRRORS began as an idea when Mr Ponifasio was visiting Kiribati, a group of islands, a nation, surviving under the stress of the rising ocean as a probable climate change consequence - six of these artists were from Kiribati, so, a truly personalised, and, thence, powerful expression of their concerns. Mr Ponifasio observed while working on the island of Tarawa:
"birds carrying strips of video tapes in their mouths, dangling like liquid mirrors in the sky. It was both a vision of beauty and the spirit of death. Are they souls of ancestors in final migration? I thought about the end of time. I thought about The Book of Revelations. I thought about the kumulipo. I began to chant to myself like the old mothers of the village. I thought about The Conference of the Birds and the Birth of Venus. I thought about the polluted ocean and poison river that we leave our children. Dying rivers and dying species is our dying humanity. It is our connectedness rotting away. Humanity is human caring." 
This work is "a life reflection as a member of the human species sharing earth's process with all sentient beings."

The experience of the work is, I assure you, not an overt/didactic one. It is a participation in a 'happening' . Entering the big space of Bay17 at Carriageworks, while one sits and waits for the rest of audience to assemble, you are confronted by a large black curtain. There is a sound rumble (Soundscape with Lake and River - Douglas Liburn)) that quietly permeates the atmosphere, discreetly, but, permanently. The theatre darkens and very, slowly, very, very, patiently the curtains open on to a space that then gradually, patiently, lightens (Helen Todd). It is a black and white spectrum with shades of grey in between, with a large precariously angled black wooden square shaped 'column' piercing the otherwise open space, dividing it dramatically; mirror-like reflectors hang across the back perspective, suspended, once again angularly, with a scrim/curtain separating the large forestage and small aft regions, below those reflectors, that the performers, the enacters of the ceremony, will move in and on. A silver strip glimmers across the stage front edge. Every thing is slow-timed. There is a sense of deliberate invitation to be patient, to still one self, to shift into this world for the happening, to let the world of the outside to be released for you, for you to meditate with them, to journey with them. The projection of your self-understanding onto what is about to happen. It is an individual journey that you are seduced to partake in. However, I must report the ninety minutes in this auditorium was the most intensely focused and silenced one that I have been with for a very long time. I was an individual, but, certainly, perhaps, part of a 'tribal' collective, congregation, as well. One is ushered to anticipate a very organised journey.The company's confidence of the slow, slow pace of all, and the unforced presentation of the physical and vocal, signals, this is not an entertainment, but something else - special. And despite the theatrical 'weirdness' (that is, I am not used to this") of the slow and consistent tempo, one felt entirely safe, secure, in anticipating that something rare was to be had if one surrendered.

A single performer is faintly/feintly seen in the back to one side, gradually revealed, the head shining bald, upper torso naked, the lower covered in a black sulu-like garment - small delicate and minutely detailed flexes of musculature escalate into a frenzy of startling undulations - 'eruptions', finishing with vibrating fingers, like the tips of wings, fascinate, begin to hypnotise one's focus. Another enters, dressed in black monk like attire - shirt and sulu - moving in a curiously shuffling gait, and engages in gesture of the upper torso, with finger wing flexes, too. A naked woman in extremely high heels, advances down one side of the stage and contorts her figure in a slow, still concentrated manner, finally begins a loud noise/chant that is cause for alarm, because of its plaintive impassioned shrieking and exaggerated statement of facial/eye comment. She moves slowly across the stage and up to the back where she lies down, her back flexing and used as a screen for projections, shimmering like a tiny island in the ocean/cosmos. A 'bird flies and hovers in the 'air' on the other side of the stage. All, takes it time. Nothing is rushed. The other members of the company (11 in total), later, appear in astonishing chorus disciplines. Gesture/dance/ singing. A short video clip of a bird weighted down from, prevented flight by, oil sludge on a beach. The graceful, awesome appearance of an exotically tattooed, otherwise near naked man, wearing a long black phallic cover and a green mask of a bird with an incredible white beak. The sprinkling of the entire surface of the stage in a white dusty powder. Effects and images, all adding up to a slow, transcending happening, where I worked, collaboratively, as an active member of this, ceremony.

Mr Ponifasio does not like the word 'ritual' as a description for his work, preferring 'ceremony' instead,  but, for me, that is the easiest linguistic reference I can explain this experience with. The experience had the cumulative effect of ritual ceremony. Mesmerising, 'holy'.  The physical expressions have a Polynesian impact, but are just as easily imagined to be seen as part of a heritage from the Chinese Opera/Japanese Noh theatre/New Zealand Hakka traditions. It is a physical and verbal language that is distantly familiar to my cultural dips/experiences, but, have morphed, appear, to be unique to this company. A combination and a sublimation of other world movement rituals/expressions, that combine to create MAU's unique expressions of ritual as ceremony. All of this is accompanied with an immersive soundscape made up of white noise, music notes, even a recording of the "one step for mankind"-lunar landing, and, also, composition orchestrations of a very sophisticated kind (Russel Walder, Richard Nunns, Justin Redding,Marc Chesterman, Sam Hamiliton) ending with the ominous tolling of a bell.

BIRDS WITH SKYMIRRORS was an intense, shared time in the theatre. A never to be forgotten one. Pretty powerful both as art and politics. As ceremony and dance/theatre.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Butcher of Distinction

we do not happen presents A BUTCHER OF DISTINCTION by Rob Hayes at the Old 505 Theatre, Hibernian House, Elizabeth St. Central Railway.

A BUTCHER OF DISTINCTION is a little 'gem' of a darkling play (70 minutes, or so) by a young British writer, I do not know: Rob Hayes, and despite the Internet address, handily given in the very modern format of the program - which assumes that all their audience have Internet connect to be informed of the 'creatives' histories - it was not very helpful, to find out more. I did gather he is a prolific writer and gives (some) plays/sketches away for free and is not bad looking. James Dalton, the director, admires his work very much.

Two young boys, twins, Hartley, the ten minute elder (Heath Ivey-Law), and Hugo (Liam Nunan), have led a severely sheltered life on the country estate owned by their aristocratic father. Their quaint and limited behavioural patterns and language interactions, that we meet them with, are the result of that limited social upbringing. We meet them, not in the dynastic country heartland, but, in a decrepit basement, somewhere in contemporary London, dispersing belongings of their father, some of the inheritance left behind, after the murder and suicide of their parents, enacted by that father. This 'apartment' is decidedly unsavoury, a reason for dis-ease, wonderfully created by Set and Costume Designer, Dylan James Tonkin.

The amusing vocabulary and demarcation of status that that reveals between the boys is the cause of much empathetic laughter, even sympathetic laughter, from us, which is soon dispersed, with the intrusion of Teddy (Paul Hooper), a Dickensian-like miscreant, once an employee of the father, perhaps ,even, a 'business' partner. When a debt of an exorbitant amount, owed by their father, is demanded by Teddy, the boys without access to such funds, find that they can, will have to, repay it with the personal labour of a formidable kind. The boys, in their socially stunted way, gradually discern that their father has given them an 'inheritance' indeed, which they can repay Teddy with. They come to understand that this was their father's real inheritance, gift, intention, and they systematically carry it out in a Grand Guignol ending to the play - the title of the play is a clue!

Think, Mr Hayes' influences maybe: Harold Pinter, at his scary, tension gathering best, Joe Orton, at his aberrant sexual best, Martin MacDonagh, at his ironic, bestial, honest best, and a more frighteningly, contemporaneously sinister one, Philip Ridley (MERCURY FUR), at his relevant socially challenging best, and you will understand the world that you will be in. Whether this play, ultimately, successfully exposes, reveals the reality depths of a social horror that our contemporary world may have plummeted to, or, is simply an amusing hip-fable of the 'blood and gore' kind for the youth of our zombie/vampire obsessed world (curious, is it not?) is debatable. Whatever! ... It is, however, a good night in the theatre.

There are three expertly nuanced performances - the physical actions revealing the inner thoughts of the characters wonderfully, amusingly - by Mr Ivey-Law, Hooper, and especially, Nunan. Mr Nunan's subtle, truthful experiencing of this character's humiliating arc is truly, heartbreakingly disturbing. It is Directed by James Dalton, with a clear understanding of the type of play he is working with and, so, is highly disciplined and disciplining with his actors, with respect for the writer, to achieve that. As I have mentioned, the physical design, is terrific. The Sound and Music Design by James Brown, reminiscent of some Kubrick touches- suitably ominous and ironic - and a basic lighting plot, sufficient, given the space that Liam O'Keefe has to work in.

The journey to the Old 505 Theatre space, once you have found Hibernian House in Elizabeth Street, is, for the uninitiated, a suitable exercise of atmosphere, to prepare you for this play. A BUTCHER OF DISTINTCION  is a 'small' work, but it is done here with such affection and respect for the writing, that I can guarantee a worth while, if, light weight, maybe 'comic-hip' experience.

 I cannot always guarantee such a recommendation. Do go!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Bull, The Moon and The Coronet of Stars

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company, HotHouse Theatre and Merrigong Theatre Company present the World Premiere of THE BULL, THE MOON AND THE CORONET OF STARS, by Van Badham at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

THE BULL, THE MOON AND THE CORONET OF STARS is a new play by Van Badham.

Ms Badham is a playwright, novelist,screenwriter, critic, social commentator, broadcaster, dramaturg, director and cabaret performer. And, although I have known of her, taking particular note after having read her play, BLACK HANDS/DEAD SECTION (2005), about the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and seen some provocative Badham political sketches in revue/cabaret (for instance, WOMEN, POWER, CULTURE - a program developed at the New Theatre in November, 2011, a sketch called I THINK THE INTERVIEW WENT WELL MUM), this is the first production of one of her plays that I have seen. It is a most unexpected text from this writer - it is a love story, summed up on the Currency Press publication play/book cover as "whimsical, sensual and charmingly humorous ... a love story of mythic proportions ..." , and that, "It will lure you into an orgy of antiquity, cupcakes and beachside frivolity."

I was so surprised by Ms Badham's play, that I decided to "google" her,  just to check my impression of who I thought Ms Badham was. Sure enough, there is a history of her education when she became involved with left-wing activism, leading her to become an "avowed anarchist" - becoming a member of the NAL, the Non Aligned Left. In 1999, she began her journey into the theatre and had her award winning play, THE WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS presented at the Sydney Theatre Company in the Wharf Studio, mentored/encouraged by Nick Enright and David Williamson. Her play, KITCHEN (2001) - a play about marriage as a metaphor for capitalism - became a highly successful introduction to the British theatre establishment, where she stayed for some time. So, to quote from the Wikipedia entry: her plays "are typically concerned with the legacy of personal and political violence, critiques of Western consumer capitalism, dichotomies of middle-and working-class values, roles assigned to women and the relationship of art to history."

THE BULL, THE MOON AND THE CORONET OF STARS had its origins in the debris of a personal heart break and is the result of a challenge from fellow Australian writer, Tom Holloway, (this play is dedicated to Tom Holloway), who encouraged her to re-visit a short play about adultery that she had written in 2011, under commission from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, using the images from a shard of Greek pottery, of a bull and a man. I guess, the personal is political and this play, which she unabashedly calls a "love letter", is both. I guess.

This play is about Marion (Silvia Colloca), who we meet as she takes up an artist-in-residency at a museum of Greek antiquities. Marion lives with an artist/sculptor but is waning in her attraction to him and finds herself attracted to the Publications Officer, Michael (Matt Zeremes), a married man. An act of sexual transgression eventuates one night in the darkness of the museum amidst the Greek ruins and a skein of red wool - adultery on the part of Michael, which ends in unhappiness for both, causing Marion to move on, with a cold and broken heart to a Welsh resort/hotel, the Portmeirion Village, where she is employed to lead the Drawing Club for Ladies. Here, she mightily resists the siren call of Mark (again, Matt Zeremes), the sommelier in the restaurant. The siren call becomes stronger, too strong, and after many a teasing tribulation, including a bacchanalian disco/drunk fest with the drawing club ladies, Ariadne=Marion succumbs to Dionysus=Mark, and they look at one another and share two kisses as a provocative Blackout indicates the end of the play, leaving us with fanciful "love" projections.

This is a kind of love prose/poem, if, sometimes just a little overstuffed, with language and references entangled in Greek mythologies, with names like Ariadne, Dionysus, Theseus and the Minotaur scattered  liberally throughout the text, for those in the know of such things. So, it can have the sensual sublimations of the mysteries of ancient antiquity and the strong whiff of  steamy sex with mythical gods and their human 'toys'. Ovids' THE ART OF LOVE and the thrilling shape changing 'love' stories in THE METAMORPHOSES, kept echoing as I watched. I gathered a full-on acknowledgment to the soft porn of E.L. James' BDSM trilogy, beginning with FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, as well - (the only one, I struggled through, I assure you).

On a raised stage platform carpeted in green, surrounded by some varnished, geometrical, wooden shapes, that are organised and metamorphosed into various shape functions during the 80 odd minutes, two actors come on stage and begin before the lighting is taken down. They are in a play using 'novelistic' techniques, that is, the actors describing events, offering observations as characters, as well as employing 'mimicry' as the actual characters - stepping from one form of address to the other, directly, seamlessly, to us, the audience. It is a form of stage writing that I have become extremely tired of. A kind of postmodernist form that is now a little over worn in its affect. Once amusing, principally for its novelty effect, now not so much - I find it's once 'chic' cheekiness a little tiresome and, dare I say ... post!?

Lee Lewis, the director, moves these actors skilfully through their tasks and she has dressed them elegantly and never indulges in any temptation to vulgarise the material with gratuitous sexual, visual taunts. These two actors are handsome and virile enough to fantasise about without revealing anything further than them, fully clothed and kind of chaste - the big sex scene is described to us in a complete blackout - not even the exit lights on - the imagination invited to take its cues from the description, breathy with anguished verbalisations, emanating from the actors. It all looks, with the gleamingly beautiful lighting of Ms Hampson (even the glitter balls sparkle warmly), tasteful. The composition sound design by Mr Francis, gently, commercially witty, "safe as houses" in its comforting communication of mood and textual underlining. Production all in place: lovely set, costumes, lighting, sound, intelligent and restrained directorial choices, beautiful actors.

The experience of the production/play, however, sagged.

The origin of this play is an audio play called THE BULL (2011) and this 'child' of that invention still feels like, sounds like, a play for voices. Voices for radio. (The play, is reminiscent of Dylan Thomas' affect with his UNDER MILK WOOD.)  The emotional blurrings of the text by these two actors does not allow clear storytelling, imagistic clarity. The speaking voices must be of a charismatic, attractive quality with vocal technical virtuosity to hold our attention. The voices should reverberate with deep 'amber' tonal warmths - range skills. Our ears must become our eyes.

These two actors do not have those vocal gifts.

Friday, May 10, 2013

4000 Miles

MopHead Productions and Catnip Productions present 4000 MILES by Amy Herzog at the under the Wharf atyp space, Hickson Rd.

4000 MILES by Amy Herzog, won the Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2012 . The reputation of the writer and this play had preceded this production under the wharf in the atyp space.

It is a 'little' play dealing with the intergenerational relationship, today, between a 91 year old, ex-communist activist, Vera (Diana Mclean), living in Greenwich Village, New York, and her grandson, Leo (Stephen Multari), a young, slightly committed to alternative-living 'hippy', who has just completed a 4000 mile journey, by pushbike, from Seattle. He arrives at 3am in the morning and the ten scenes of the play span a month or so, as the two of them re-acquaint, and he sorts himself out - a traumatic event that happened during the bike ride appears not properly dealt with, and he has an ex-girlfriend who is now living and studying in New York, the relationship also not completely resolved, it seems. Vera and Leo have the communality of 'blood relations', and in their history of the extended family pool, have sometimes, agreements about them, sometimes not. But, it is family and each deal with some of the 'oddities' of the other with all the forbearance that that brings to personal interactions, which if they were not blood related, they might otherwise, not do. This leads to some very amusing non-sequential conversation and actions and into forceful expressions of emotion that roll off each other, without real incident or profound injury, like water off a duck's back, all woven by the interaction of the physical naturalisms of extreme age on one hand, and, robust and maturing youth on the other.

I had read the play and pondered its reputation. It is a 'cute' play on the page. I thought, "mmm". I thought, to lift this work into a prize winning one, the acting needs to be very detailed, carefully nuanced and each scene played within an accurate naturalistic time control. It requires a kind of uneventful but deeply observed and, finally, experienced, breadth and breath of knowledge of character and, especially, family, psychological intimacies. It needs to be 'conducted' by the director with all the trust to the real time, naturalistic clues, that Ms Herzog had given out. It requires almost non-acting and the illusion of the non-dramatic unfolding of living. Chekhovian, perhaps. It is a very deceptive but wonderful piece of writing. Difficult to do.

Some of this is achieved in this production by Anthony Skuse.

The design (Gez Xavier Mansfield) though attractive (lighting, by Sara Swersky) - if without enough books and dust - is on a raised platform, and so the 'living-room' where most of the action takes place is visually, and practically, like a floating island - it does not have connection to the rest of a real apartment; there are no doors or stairs, no light switches etc, for instance. This means scripted exits to the kitchen or other rooms are curtailed - the time lapses of action/activity that would have taken place are consequentially hurried, the musical pacing of Ms Herzog's creation lost. In this production's instance the other actors, sitting around the set, come to the 'shore' of the living room with the cups of coffee and possessions etc. to give or take, for the flow of the naturalistic action of the activities of the play, with usually an unscripted, added verbal exchange from Vera, that takes the work out of the play's indicated style to that of a Meyerholdian conceit - this is a play and I am an actor, so are they, and you are all in a theatre -  instead of the Herzog/Stanislavskian desire for it all to be believed as a living reality.

Ms Mclean gives, mostly, a secure and believable performance but details of Vera's aging frailty: not picking up on the door key note of scene three and the 'ginger' and shaking hand with the cup of tea in scene four, and still successfully threading earrings into the hole of her ear , in a later scene with ease, seem to be careless choices of missed opportunities of character exposition and exploration through use of sustained characteristics indicated by the writer. The writer's clues, if followed through with consistency, may have had more subtle impact to the characterisation. (It is simply a 'close' reading of the text for inspiration and guidance.). It undermined partly, my belief in Vera as a character, and took me back to a theatre place rather than watching a lived life. Similarly, the casual everyday costume, the white deep scoop necked blouse, needing to be constantly dealt with around the chest, alluded to a sexual predilection, a blowsiness, rather than the 91 year old political savant, intellectual, underlined in the text by Ms Herzog - with the aid of mind altering drugs, Vera, reaches back to sexual longings which weren't too apparent in any of her relationships in life, she tells us, and, age of course shifts the focus of life priorities, and sex, in this text, for Vera, at 91, is not too high on her priorities.

However, Vera, is the secondary character in this story, dramaturgically the sounding board for the development of the arc of the journey of Leo. This is his play. His subterranean journey of emotional immaturity and the consequences of that, in and to his life, is the 'stuff' of the play. It is not really indicated by Mr Multari. There is little readable clue from the actor that something other than the literal action of the text is going on. There is a sense that Mr Multari believes that theatrical energies are equal to informative acting, storytelling. Occasional sentimentality, commenting on his material, playing personality, is the usual choice, rather than plumbed emotional truths and courageous personalised revelations. The grief of the bicycle trauma was not seen, and so this Leo is a very unpleasant young man, though physically robust, he is emotionally ignorant (or, was this performance just first night nerves?) The scenes with Vera which makes up the bulk of the play, on the night I attended, were held together, mainly, by the wisdom of Ms Mclean's mature offers and responses and they worked, generally, in sync with Ms Herzog's intentions. Mr Multari, however, does not know how to use the opportunities of the scenes with the two younger female characters, Bec, his ex-girlfriend (Eloise Snape) and the bar pick-up, Amanda (Aileen Huynh), which he must drive, and set for the audience, the inner agenda, to reveal, further, the complication of this young man's emotional inadequacies, his utter, utter selfishness. The level of storytelling by Mr Multari in those scenes is relatively superficial, and the scenes seem, consequently, to be almost superfluous to the construct of the play, no matter the good performances from Ms Snape and Hyunh in creating them. The dawning of emotional awakening, growth in the last scene, when Leo, independently, elects to commit a positive, unselfish action, the first in the play from him – the writing of the obituary speech, for the unknown neighbour - does not have an actor's awareness of the significance for the character.

This production is almost two hours in length and has no interval – concentrations lagged and I believe this production could have done with one.

John Shand in the Sydney Morning Herald (Wednesday, 8th May) was mightily moved by the same performance I saw and did not have the reservations I have about this production.

So, make up your own mind when you go. It was, for me, merely, a charming, middle-of-the-road (MOR) night out.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Photo by Lisa Tomasetti 

Sydney Theatre Company presents FURY. A New Play by Joanna Murray-Smith in Wharf 1, Hickson Rd.

FURY is a new play from Joanna Murray-Smith commissioned by the Sydney Theatre Company (STC).

The parents of 16 year old Joe (Harry Greenwood), Alice, a neuroscientist (Sarah Peirse), Patrick,(Robert Menzies), a successful novelist, believe that they have led a good life, and striven to make 'goodness' part of their gift, in their actions, to their community. In fact, Alice is soon to be given an Award based on her public social contribution. They have a life, that, many of a certain class, might dream of. Unfortunately, Joe, with a schoolfriend, Trevor, has made a very 'politically incorrect' statement in a very public manner. It requires reprimand and apology. A teacher (Tahki Saul) is brought in from the very prestigious and private school to help the families to navigate their way out of a possible public disgrace - debacle. A young reporter from the University, Rebecca (Geraldine Hakewill) while preparing a story on Alice, the neuroscientist and her upcoming award, scents a bigger story. Consequently, secrets and lies are revealed. Secrets and lies of tragic dimensions.

Joanna Murray-Smith tells us, although the story is not part of her life, she is
the child of two passionate, smart idealistic people with a profound sense of social responsibility. Out of this came the starting point for this play - the question: "How do the children of radicals define themselves against the backdrop of their parents' ideological convictions?" But plays don't write to order and I found myself also examining aspects of marriage, family and morality. How do we manage our instinctive desire to shape our children and our children's refusal to oblige? How do marriages negotiate secrets? And what happens if we build our adult lives and relationships on the foundations of youthful flaws? Does the past always insinuate itself into the present, wreaking a kind of insidious destruction? And finally, can we redeem ourselves from who we once were?
The director, Andrew Upton, in the program, notes that "Joanna is a great observer of people. Subsequently her plays have a satiric edge, and humour is a vital ingredient to leavening the gravity of her themes." HONOUR (1995) and RAPTURE (2002) - a play of her's that I saw at the Malthouse in Melbourne - are examples of that, and FURY has the same, close observant eye that skewers the middle classes with the brilliant, laser accuracy of a mordant wit that knows her world of concern well, and she distracts us too comfortably, as she gradually focuses into the core of some darker elements of a contemporary life, a personal tragedy. The sardonic observations are prepared and delivered by Ms Murray-Smith with great control and skill, her writerly technique for comedy is higly tuned, one has great reason to be amused - her understanding of the Australian syntactical rhythms and word-vowel musicalities with her keen ear for the idiosyncratic vernacular vocabulary of her people is spot-on and comfortingly recognisable - diverting. And with this shielding stealth she leads one gradually to a dramatic place where one is gripped, seized with a shock and then, in FURY's case, to a dawning sense of betrayal and a kind of possible grief that stills the theatre in its final 40 minutes.

Alice tells us that history is the recording of happenings, which are the result of passionate actions. (from the Macquarie dictionary -" Passionate: affected or dominated by passion or vehement emotion.") These passionate actions, emanating from a "fury", may only take a few seconds to commit, but, the consequences can be far reaching, endless, and absolutely irreversible ("Fury: a frenzied or unrestrained violent passion, anger"). So, it was a terrible coincidence, for me, to see this play soon after the Boston Marathon acts of terrorism, with the graphic television coverage still in my mind's eye, and the release of the new Robert Redford film THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (2013), concerning a group of radical anti-war protesters of 1969 who began a campaign of bombings on American soil. They were called The Weather Underground and innocent lives were lost. Some were sent to prison. A few vanished. Ms Murray-Smith's play echoed these recent, co-incidental events, violently, within me, at Wharf 1. The Redford film tells of the "fury" of the FBI and their relentless search to bring the vanished terrorists to justice. In this play, The Eumenides - the Kindly Ones - the Furies, have waited and, at last, in their own good time revealed the past of Alice, too grave to be permanently hidden, and in a contemporary kind of way, invoke the vengeance of the gods to bring her to a torture of exposure in the world at large, and, especially, to her unsuspecting family, at a moment of public adulation, to hubristically sting her with conscience, a consciousness that she had somehow buried, in what one must imagine to have being a difficult state of denial. None of Alice's 'good acts' will be able to balance out a furious, but calculated, act of her own passionate youth. Fury is redressed with fury.

2013 is a big year for Ms Murray-Smith. Firstly, she had the first US premiere of THE GIFT at the Geffen Playhouse in L.A. beginning the 29th January. Next, FURY at the STC, beginning on the 19th April. She then premiered another new play, TRUE MINDS, beginning 25th April at the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC), and then, an adaptation of HEDDA GABLER for the State Theatre Company of South Australia (STCSA), beginning the 26th April. Her play DAY ONE, A HOTEL, EVENING also appears at the Black Swan (in Perth) beginning 15th June. The April dates are amazingly stacked up. Three openings in an eight day period! The pressure to finesse the works for these commissioning companies must have been full on. Ms Murray-Smith's availability, for all, must have been spread very thin. Ms Murray-Smith, as a writer, can claim exhaustedly: when it rains it pours.

So, FURY, on stage at The Wharf 1, seems to me a play still in-process, in progress, and certainly in need of further 'workshop' development. As it stands there are still obvious unresolved character histories, developments; comic genre writing that does not always feel as if it comes truthfully from the character delivering it, amusing though it may be - style over-riding character truths; characters that sometimes still feel as if they are still dramaturgical tools: the teacher, the reporter, the other lower middle class family, Bob (Yure Covitch) and Annie (Claire Jones), not comfortably appearing within the 'landscape' of the world of the play, being, still, satirical caricatures/mouthpieces for the author's comedy; and characters a shade too familiar from other works of Ms Murray-Smith's repertoire, some laden with breathtaking co-incidence of presence in the action: the reporter.

In my experience with new work, in the United States, this production is at a place one would see at the beginning of the development of a major play, the first of many full productions, to workshop and refine the play, across the country, before it opened in a major city for final exposure. Australia is so small an Arts community that that is not possible, and so it is a shame that the development here, seems to have been squashed, not able to have the dramaturgical rough edges planed back, the incongruities made more subtle, with the comfort of more time. Is Ms Murray-Smith's amazing 2013 schedule too limiting to be able to give it the full authorial attention it needed, perhaps? How can this planning happen, between companies? Is there no possible way to reasonably plan, co-operatively, to achieve the best product possible? FURY, is a play that should have more metamorphosing time allowed to mature to the great potential that is evident in this production. FURY has the potential to be a very good play. The pressure of TIME is always the big issue in developing new work. Flexibility and good sense from the commissioning companies and the writer - is it not possible?

Whether the pressure of sorting the playwriting pre-occupied, dominated, the production rehearsal or not, I can't be sure, but the acting itself, needs more maturing as well. Attention from the director. Sometimes the information in the text is insufficient to reveal the character, or, is still, primitively, merely a tool for the exposition of the writing, and so the back story of the characters needs to be highly developed by the actor - imagination. Mr Saul, has an almost impossible job to put flesh on to the textual skeleton/function of his task, the teacher (not even named!) - fortunately, Mr Saul has personality and a sense of gravitas and makes an impression. Ms Hakewill, finds it a problem to bring to life the spare dialogue, interrogative questions, of early scenes as the reporter, Rebecca, - they sound in her acting choices like a script recitation rather than word-by-word revelations of a motivated character - and Rebecca certainly has enough plot development, motivation, to be more interesting, "loaded", in those early scenes than what Ms Hakewill delivers. However, all the actors have some or a good occasion of truth and secure revelation, with scenes scattered throughout the work they are given, but, not many are consistent in that occasional confidence. Mr Covich is terrific in his quietly assertive reasoning in the parent meeting scene (did not Ms Reza's GOD OF CARNAGE come ringing back in remembrances from times past?). Ms Jones' Annie was effective in her last scene with Alice - the sense of class wisdom and dignity, an understated achievement.

The actors, mostly, seemed to be simply giving a personalised response to the material, which is the greater part of acting - sure - but, as yet, have not built in the complete knowledge of the life forces of the actual characters in the given circumstances that they reveal - the differences from themselves (the actor), to the experiences that create and motivate their characters. I was not completely convinced, for instance, of the professional lives of Alice and Patrick and the insights that those professions may have given them in the circumstances of the writer's narrative. When the behaviour of Joe is revealed these two parents seem to have no resources from within their professional lives - neuroscience and literature - to analyse and pinpoint the real possible cause - it seemed odd to me, and, that this did not reveal itself, later, as a character trait, that is , deliberate obfuscation by them to the truth to protect themselves, it undermined my complete absorption to my belief in them. If it is not in the text, as explanation, then it can be in the invented inner monologue in the moment of acting.

 Ms Peirse - and it is, I admit, a matter of taste, where agreement is not necessary but disagreement may be fruitful, in Alice's focused moments in the later scenes of exposure and its consequences, tends, to reach for the theatrical melodrama of them, rather than, a revelation of terrible realities - the similar, but different, choices played by Susan Sarandon and Julie Christie in their moments of conscience in THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, are object lessons of comparison, both in the truth of the exposure and the playing of it. Ms Peirse's work seemed to be of another time of theatrical acting, it lacked any truthful internal monologue to be intuited/endowed by the audience and instead was all exhibited, external generalised characteristics, to be objectively watched by the audience - and indeed Alice's behaviour seemed to hamper the possibilities of the responses for Patrick (Mr Menzies), except as a masked, squatting in front of the stool, burying up-stage, the storytelling revelation, of the impact on him of the exposed secret, for the audience.

The outstanding performance came from Mr Greenwood as Joe, for not only was there a great sense of personalisation, identification, ownership of his character, it seemed, he also brought an embodied sense of the psychological history of his up-bringing and cultural environment. It was a fully realised character with a set of sulking but open vulnerabilities, made up, synthesised from the actor's life and his imaginative building from the circumstances that Ms Murray-Smith had given him. One of Mr Greenwood's opening scenes has him answering a list of questions to which he simply replies, "No." - a veritable cascade of no's. And each was so imaginatively activated - motivated - and, plotted, to reveal an emotional journey, fed from Joe's life, that I laughed with each utterance - each "No" a complete and different statement. His presence, even in silent scenes, was storytelling with a radiating pursuit of contributive relevant revelations. His ability to register his narrative, his active listening, in the scenes, totally engrossing.

The design solution by David Fleischer, one of the co-resident designers for STC, under the guidance of Mr Upton, is an impressive architectural statement, but has little real practicality in supporting the actualities of the circumstance spaces or emotional narrative of the play. A grey-blue set of monoliths of what could be concrete walls - looking more like an interior museum/art space than any of the places in the play, which is mostly domestic - with a real terrazzo floor and next to no furniture, is a cold and counter intuitive sensory offer for this play, FURY. It was indicative to me of the conceptual impulses of the designer, when in the program, in the Designer's note, Mr Fleischer replies to the question – What aspect of the production are you most excited about? – "The clothes. The floor." and then goes on to talk of the "fabulous floor" - no reference to the subject matter of the play, not the contemporary themes or characters, but the clothes and the floor. It will be, is indeed, part of theatre fable, already, that floor! Just what did it cost? Particularly, when one observed that the STC had only one assistant- stage-manager to move the design pieces that needed to be wheeled on to the stage, into this art gallery space, and off again when the scene location is been set or struck, requiring the actors themselves to assist to set the props and furniture. Did the floor cost push the production budget and maybe precluded the cost of hiring more stage management?! The lighting by Nick Schliepper and Chris Twyman kept the feel of the 'epic' architectural statement rather than focusing or assisting any warmth to the scale of a human tragedy. Similarly, the composition and sound design, by Max Lydandvert, in the many scene changes, though beautiful (as the composition was for MRS WARREN'S PROFESSION) had a spiritual, ethereal other worldliness, very much rarefied from the visceral emotions of the character action of the play.

Was Mr Upton, hi-jacked by the design elements? For, he did not seem to know, considering the limited furniture, and the positioning of it, how to organise his actors, for what were really very naturalistic situations/conversations, how to stage the actors for audience communication. How to bring actors into entrance and exits - the set being so impractical for the action of the text. As for the scenes themselves, usually, one actor sat on a chair and the other, without any real character motivation other than the naked stage necessity of actor communication- to be seen and heard by the audience -would circle it. It took one back to the hapless choices he made in his production of O'Neill's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, a few years ago. Perhaps, there too, he was out manouvered by his designer. The look, the metaphor triumphing over the necessity of the simple stage craft of moving the actors, believably on and off the stage to tell the story.

FURY, is a play still in process/development, but still, worth the time (and money, $95 - philistine, I know) spent with it. I hope it evolves further.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Ham Funeral

New Theatre presents THE HAM FUNERAL by Patrick White at the New Theatre, Newtown.

THE HAM FUNERAL by Patrick White was written in 1947. The first of the published plays (1965). The play has had a very dramatic life of its own, in terms of its performance obstacles in the 1960's, when it was, infamously, refused performance in 1962 by the governors of the Adelaide Festival. Last year, in 2012, Adam Cook, featured it, 60 years later, as part of his last season as Artistic Director of the State Theatre Company of South Australian Theatre (STCSA) and one of the jewels of that Adelaide Festival.

I have never seen the play before, or even, read it. Neil Armfield, a champion of Mr White's dramatic work, had in 1989, directed for the Sydney Theatre Company, a highly acclaimed production with Kerry Walker as Mrs Lusty, Max Cullen as Mr Lusty and Tyler Coppin as the the Young Man - the poet. I never saw it.

The play was inspired by a William Dobell painting 'The Dead Landlord', painted in Pimlico before World War II apparently in one of those great, damp, crumbling houses down towards the river Thames. Dobell told the story to White of how his landlord had died, how the landlady had taken down her hair, announcing there would be a 'ham funeral' and sent him to fetch the relatives. White wrote THE HAM FUNERAL as he prepared to leave London and return to Sydney. It reflected the continuation of his own struggle with freeing himself from the influences of his mother, Ruth.

David Marr in his masterful biography of Patrick White wrote:
"He adored her but knew he had to break free and stay clear of her, as he broke free from the Whites, from the land, from the friends, from lovers, from possessions, from obligations, from the ties which no longer served his purposes as an artist."
In the play, the Young Man wrestles the grieving Alma Lusty on the bed, and breaks free of her embrace remembering her startling statement, No man "ever really leaves the breast. That's our weapon. The softest weapon in the world."

He is assured by his anima, the Girl, to go, to leave,
"... You are beginning ... On many future occasions you'll wrestle with the figures in the basement ... passion and compassion locked together ..." 
The Young Man of THE HAM FUNERAL is a propitious portrait of White's evolving persona with a portentous glimpse of what he needed to do to fulfil his ambitions.

The play is written in a very intriguing form:
"It was a kind of tableau vivant ... with dialogue, poetry and music hall routines ... (aiming) for something universal and surreal, a mixture of the hilarious and brutal."
 and it was this that kept me, mostly, engaged with this performance at the New Theatre. I pondered the theatrical inspiration, heritage of the writing experiment that Patrick White was exploring in 1947. "Just what were the theatrical inspirations?", I wondered. When asked, White, simply replied,"I had read Wedekind." - EARTH SPIRIT; PANDORA'S BOX (the Lulu plays); and SPRING AWAKENING, perhaps?

The set design of this production (not attributed) along with the costumes by Anna Gardiner and the lighting by Sian James-Holland have a very attractive aesthetic. The stage pictures that the director, Philip Rouse, has organised are arresting, painterly in their own way. Physically, there is an attempt of stylisation, that is not always harnessed, seamlessly, to the exposition of the storytelling. The visual offers are more often than not causes for puzzlement and extraneous invitations to wonder of their intention, being statements without easy contextual meaning or clarity to the instant of the storytelling - the invented, choral interlude of the Four Relatives, extremely confounding, for instance.

Lucy Miller as the Landlady, Mrs Lusty, gives a very valiant and admirable performance working with committed focus, but, she is the only actor really attempting to use the language with any real consciousness of vocal technique, the only actor truly attempting to communicate her character through the language, the writing of Patrick White. The other actors have no sense of the word by word organisation of Mr White's poetry and err on emotional colouring over clarity of communicating the text of the play. There is much reciting, shouting and a kind of profound deafness to the musicality of the orchestrations of the prose/poetry e.g. no rhythmical structures or attention to pitch modulation - just loud noise. Most of the actors were not aware of even delivering fully focused line readings, often dwindling mid -sentence to a kind of emotional compression of the sounds of the words - Katrina Sindicich and Brielle Flynn blunting the dramatic dimensions of the famously surreal ladies and their rummage in the garbage-bins to find and render up 'a tender, humorous foetus', in the final scene of the first act.

Rob Baird, as Young Man, is never connected to his instrument for us to be able to hear clearly, to understand narrative or believe in a character. It is entirely a self-conscious, self absorbed performance. It does not appear to have any actor's sense of character arc, or of journey posts, to communicate to the audience. He does not attempt to engage with the other actors to plot his story, (he may have given up on them), for he generalises their presence and ignores their place in telling  his story. And if the Young Man is not a central invitation to engage us, then, the play is lost. This is surely part of the responsibility of the director, to conduct the music of the play. To place the language at the centre of the production. To help guide and focus his actors. This does not happen.

Many in the audience were lost and left in the interval. I stayed because of my fascination with the style of the writing and the boldness of its form as a play, written, wondrously, marvellously, in 1947. Even today it has a daring that demands attention, and that it is situated in the language, and the structure of that language as well as the surreal imagery, seems to have flummoxed Mr Rouse, who has pictures in the forefront of his creativity, rather than the balance of those images with, what I consider the primary task, the pictures of the oral/aural kind - the spoken text. Mr Rouse does not help us to see with our ears. The eyes have it, in this production. It is only half the achievement needed for this intriguing work by Patrick White, to soar.

1. Patrick White: Collected Plays Volume 1.  Currency Press -1988.
First published in 1965 as Four Plays by Patrick White.
2.PATRICK WHITE. A Life by David Marr. A Vintage Book published by Random House, Australia -1991.

Set - a who-dunnit soap-opera

Dreamhouse Artists in association with NIDA Independent present SET - A WHO-DUNNIT SOAP-OPERA, directed by Sam Atwell in the Parade Studio, at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA).

Channel 7 comes LIVE to the National Institute of Dramatic ART.

SET - a who-dunnit soap-opera, written by a team of writers from the Channel Seven, HOME AND AWAY, television series: Sam Atwell, Romina Accurso, Gary Sewell, Jenny Lewis and Louise Bowes, directed by Sam Atwell, as part of the NIDA curated season of the NIDA Independent Program, crashes onto a stage at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, for a three week season.

Sam Atwell in his Creator's Notes tells us:
When Nick Bolton asked me what kind of show I wanted to pitch to NIDA Independent Producer program, I responded with, "Let's do something ridiculously off the wall and fun." I have a huge love of television, especially crime shows and murder mysteries, and thought that would be a great place to start. So drawing on years of watching Poirot and Columbo, and working on television sets, I sat down and came up with a host of characters and a basic plot. ...

This he did. Though the stretch to find these characters and this plot was not much, given what we see and hear. While watching SET, the game, HOST A MURDER, came to mind, immediately, as the main source of plot. The stock characters had imaginative names like: 'Stumbles', Chip, Sizemore, Stella, Star. And, strangely I felt that, rather than loving television, the text, as performed, was an overlong jokey denigration of the medium and all the artists and craftsmen involved, and, that the disrespect for what actors do was so persistently satirised that it was a more than loud contemptuous example of disdain for their contribution to T.V. - it seems to say that they are talentless, vain, and stupid, perhaps, even addicts. "It's meant to be funny" , I hear the writers say. Well, you know what? - speaking as a watcher of television and loving actors and their craft, it was not. After a certain point, at the third or fourth 'joke' - which maybe a minute into this near one hundred minute play, it was no longer funny. NOT, funny. (If ever it was.)

Channel 7 and NIDA ought to look at what they have, so enthusiastically, supported. Channel 7 - a  full on joke abou the banality of television. NIDA - a humiliation of actors as talentless and vain individuals.

Channel 7 produces television of quality, does it not? Or, it used to. The National Institute of Dramatic Art trains actors, does it not? Or, it used to.          

"SET the play would not be possible without the help of these people: 25 years of HOME & AWAY. Executive Producer Andrew Everingham for always being there. NIDA: Skye Kunstelj and Johanna Mulholland etc, etc ... .... ."

How informed were Channel 7, really? What were the artistic directors/curators  at NIDA thinking? Did Channel 7 or NIDA read a draft? Or, was it just an enthusiastic pitch from enthusiastic pitchers?

NIDA says in the program to this production:
In 2012, NIDA looked to broaden its vision and develop a program to provide greater opportunities for artists/companies (both emerging and established) to extend their theatre practice and develop new works and theatre forms. The NIDA Independent Program is open to the exploration of new work and creative forms, as well as the re-invention of classic and contemporary works.

Now this is good, usual, corporate speak, and certainly looks the right thing to be saying. Boards and Funding Bodies would be pleased with such statements, but, don't you think the DOING, the rehearsal progress, the resultant production, should be more rigorously examined?  That the artistic directors know what they are supporting as "extensions" and "developments" of theatre practice?  I'd say, "yes", to both questions, if this work and the recent, I KNOW THERE'S A LOT OF NOISE OUTSIDE BUT YOU HAVE TO CLOSE YOUR EYES are the standard of work that one is presenting. If you are going to "talk the talk", and have board and funding bodies support, don't you think that you should "walk the walk" and follow up with SEEING  and vetting more assiduously the quality of the work you are going to present. For, I do know there are artists of proven reputation and famous as risk takers and 'innovators', who are battering down doors to get produced, selected, in venues, all over Sydney, and haven't got a "gong'. I hope explanations will be sought, to ensure the quality of the risks to come in the future.

More, from Mr Atwell:
When NIDA gave us the nod, we were so thrilled. I thought more about the structure and thought, "Why not replicate the way television shows are written?" There are five of us in the HOME AND AWAY writing team, and Romina, Gary, Jenny and Louise jumped at the idea of collectively writing the show. We had a fantastic time doing this and with the help of a number of reads and re-writes, conceived the script you see before you tonight 
Our next job was to enlist the talents of an incredible and huge cast. I pinch myself every time I work with these guys. The talent in the rehearsal room has been so inspiring. ... 
The whole process has been an absolute joy, the cast and crew have 'done amazing feats'! I hope you have as much fun watching the show as we did creating it. 
Alfred Hitchcock said: 'T.V. has brought murder back into the home where it belongs.' Well now we're bringing them both back into the theatre.

And what Mr Hitchcock and Mr Atwell has said is true, for, the quality of this writing is television at its murderous worst, and, undoubtedly, I felt the 'murder' of the opportunity that this company had in this theatre was palpably, viscerally bloodied, all over the place.

"The evidence is there for all to see, your honour."

This was writing for an end-of-year-high-school party - juvenile, beyond all one's gathering misgivings and diminishing, charitable hopes. Or, for a wrap party at an exhausted television studio. The directing, by Mr Atwell, of the actors was limited to staging them (perhaps a camera rehearsal?) - none of them had any idea of what to do with this material (if they could do anything at all with this writing) or, even what they should be doing, it seemed. And, as there was no opportunity to "post-edit" this material into an acceptable quality - what we saw is what we got. It was LIVE (well a kind of alive) theatre, not television.

Pastiche, satire is not for the novice. It requires real skill and a sharp edged, delicate vision. This was, mostly, done with a sledge-hammer brutality. It was a brutal experience to sit through if one had any aesthetic values, or, even, especially, something else to do. I wished that I had been 'Finlay Jones', the murder victim, as he died before interval, and I thought at least he won't have to come back -YES, there is an interval, this 'sketch' material runs almost two hours! - and guess what? 'Fin' does come back, in FLASH BACK, after FLASH BACK, after FLASH BACK ......!!!!! Bad luck.

I went back as well. I am having flash backs about it in nightmare after nightmare since, and, I ask, as are some of my fellow audience who fled, do: "Why? Why? Why? Why did you stay?"  I guess," Courtesy, courtesy, 'stupid' professional courtesy."

In my experience of this kind of material, including the awful sketch shows that have blighted, mostly, our television (any of these writers claim credit?), and the divine Carol Burnett Show (oh, memories), it is a big risk to attempt. Two stellar companies: SOAPDISH (1991), a film directed by Michael Hoffman starring Sally Fields, Kevin Kline, Robert Downey Jnr.,Whoopie Goldberg, Carrie Fisher etc and MURDER BY DEATH (1976), written by Neil Simon, starring Eileen Brennan, Peter Falk (as Colombo, Mr Atwell), Alec Guiness, Peter Sellars, and Maggie Smith etc also fail to make this genre work - and they were, are, 'stars'.

The "absolute joy" of the rehearsal process, cited by Mr Atwell, unfortunately, does not translate into the theatre.

I shall say no more, dear Diary.

Go, and see for yourself.

To be scrupulously honest, there is some good writing.  It is by Mr Shakespeare and quoted by somebody in the SET:
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Let us hope SET - a who-dunnit soap-opera is "heard no more". But then Television is always desperate for material.

Channel 7 is a proud Corporate Sponsor of NIDA.