Thursday, August 29, 2013
DEVDAS, The Musical is based on a famous 1917 novella by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. The story has had many other incarnations, famously in a 2002 Hindi film, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, nominated by India as Best Foreign Film for the Academy Awards and also for a BAFTA Award, in that year.
DEVDAS, The Musical tells "of a man and two women, one he never loved and one he never stopped loving". Devdas as a child grows up beside a young girl, Paro. Innocently, they become attached, separated when Devdas travels to London to study, who through family pressures over marriage, on his return to India, rejects the bond of his youth. Paro, though heart broken, dutifully fulfills her family duties and marries someone else, whilst Devdas finds some comfort in the house of a famous courtesan, Chandramukhi, but becomes a ruined man. Sadness and tragedy ensues.
Adapted by Anu Shirvram this musical has some 12 new songs composed by Aparna Nagashayana. She has also staged the play, musically and features as the leading female vocalist. The orchestration (for 14 musicians) has been arranged by Shaun Premnath and features the rhythm arrangements of Maharshi Raval and the Sitarist, Peter Schaefer, vocals by Sunjay Ramaswamy. Choreography is by by the Artistic Director of the company, Ruichi Sanghi. The musical directed by Viral Hathi.
This was a fascinating cultural experience. To the left of the stage the orchestra is sat on a raised platform and they accompany the story with their instruments and two featured singers and a chorus (Dharti Bellave, Soumya Ravikumar, Thanmaya Nevada and Pranita Prasad). The story by the actors is told through complicated and beautiful mime and pre-recorded voice over (Dr Minoti Apte, Sanjay Ramaswamy), while dancers feature in almost every scene to move and illustrate the story. In the many scenes different dancers feature as the leading characters as they age in the sweep of their history.This Indian musical has conventions of its own, so different from the Western tradition. Each character is represented by either the singer, the actor or the dancer at the same time - it is entirely intriguing and, ultimately, beguiling.
The musical aspects, the composition of the songs and the orchestration were outstanding and appeared to be traditionally based with flourishes of contemporary instrumentation and adaptations, as well. It was a very enjoyable musical afternoon of a high order. The dancers were of various skill and acquitted themselves well. The costuming of the entire show was absolutely stunning and enormously elaborate - sumptuous. Whilst the mimetic skills of the actors were such that one was deeply immersed in the world - a kind of silent movie drama pitched in melodramatic physicalities of great discipline and skill (Paro: Ila Srivastava; Ankita Bhatia. Chandramukhi: Anika Misra; Hirali Dhawan; Nicki Kathuria. Devdas: Nikhil An; and Rahu Patel).
It is a very enjoyable experience to be taken to the traditions of another culture, particularly when the standard of achievement and the professionalism is so high (check out my blog entry for the Sydney Chinese community's CATHAY PLAYHOUSE). DEVDAS only had two performances but I would be glad to see and hear it again. Congratulations.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
New Theatre presents JERUSALEM by Jez Butterworth at the New Theatre, Newtown.
JERUSALEM by Jez Butterworth had its first production at the Royal Court Theatre in 2009, and then transferred to the West End, London, for a season in 2010. The play travelled to New York in 2011 and played an extended season there, before, once again, returning for a further season in the West End that, also, extended into 2012. The critical reception for the play has been overwhelmingly positive in both world theatre centres, London and New York (and simply laudatory for the actor Mark Rylance in the role of Rooster Byron). Five years after the world premiere the New Theatre, a professional/amateur theatre company presents, for the first time, this famous play in Sydney.
Jerusalem is a poem written by William Blake in 1808 and was later adapted to a rousing hymn as part of the patriotic morale bolstering for the English people in the First World War, in 1916 by Sir Hubert Barry. I remember singing it as part of the school choir in 4th and 5th class at our Catholic School in Eastwood in the nineteen fifties - I remember the power of the music and the rousing lyrics viscerally, even today - A Sydney born son, imagination and emotions aflame, singing my heart out in the baritone middling.
And did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental flght,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
What about that second verse: Bring me my bow of gold! etc!! Bring me my chariot of fire!
As the play begins, there is a rumble of what seems to be a deep earth quake of some dimension, that shakes the scene into, perhaps, a twilight place of make believe. For soon after, Phaedra (Anna Chase), a run-away 16 year old, hiding out in Rooster Byron's (Nicholas Eadie) stranded, silver caravan in the woods of Flintock, Wiltshire County, dressed as the Queen-of-the-May - a fairy apparition - appears, and sings the hymn Jerusalem to us. It is the day of the town fair, St George's feast day (the red cross flag of St George hangs in the surrounds), and here, on the edge of a 'magic' wood, Mr Byron holds court, dispensing modern day drugs to all and sundry, who come to his camp site, as refugees from the encroaching and banal real world of the Village/Town Estates and mediocre entertainments of the paltry fair that boasts of Morris Dancing as the great attraction.
Rooster Byron tells them stories of his own personal adventures of yore - Evel Knivel-like exploits of leaping over buses on his motor cycle, and though dying, actually reviving, as we can witness - and as the shaman storyteller of his tribe, dips further, into the Druidical legends and myths of the time of the Giants of Stonehenge and King Arthur, Frodo and Dragons. This mixture of the modern 'mysteries of legend' and that of cultural inheritance make up a potent tonic for these survivors of what appears to be a never ending 'rave' and gives them the opportunity to exist in a world of relative bliss. Rooster Byron is a Falstaffian figure of corruption and hedonistic heroism, in the final stage of defying the bureaucratic authorities, who with bated bull-dozers are gathering, outside the wood, on the road, to end all this, for what they believe is progress. Rooster claims Gypsy-Romany blood - a unique commodity, in much demand from the outside world, who pay generously, monthly, for it at the local blood bank. Too, he demonstrates magical powers of concentration. He is a 'strange' person, indeed. Rooster Byron, a Merlin, a Gandalf, able to create worlds of illusion to relieve the body and feed the soul. Or, is he simply a drugged reprobate of small time criminal intent?
Mr Butterworth, in this old-fashioned literary structure of the three act play, has created an endearing, familiar set of characters and a contemporary lament for lost worlds that seems to cross-over from the culture of ownership, England, to the lives of the Americas (the New York success) and, now here in Australia at the New Theatre. The metaphor of the specific spins easily into universal resonance, for anyone with imagination. The language of Mr Butterworth has all the cogency of a great contemporary storyteller and seems to have found a common fissure to the grief of loss of other more magical times. If it be for you the Ancient Druids, the American Indian or the Australian Aboriginal, this particular world in JERUSALEM has the power to resonate beyond its localisation, and the characters have the kind of hopeless childishness of recognition, and are equipped with the same weight of human failures that many of us know, either first hand, or second hand.
At the New Theatre, Helen Tonkin with her modestly budgeted design by Tom Bannerman (Set) and Jennifer Post (Costume), lit with some warmth and sensitivity by Blake Garner, has found some 14 actors and welded them to a very convincing collection of human frailties. From young Oliver Shaw (on the night I attended) as Marky, the little boy/son, to the garrulous, Messianic Rooster, played by Mr Eadie, we have a large Dramatis Personae of some real contemporary life observation. Whether in principal responsibility or in support, Mr Butterworth has written characters and scenes that are rewarding for whoever is carrying the responsibility of impersonation. Mr Butterworth writes for actors, all his actors, and all of these actors reveal the rewarding Butterworth gifts given to them.
Mr Eadie embraces Rooster with considerate ease and seems to be playing him with ensemble reliance - the role is written as bravura opportunity, which Mark Rylance, on report, has inhabited with much physical gusto. Mr Eadie in this production, in his actor choices, is comparatively, less physically engaged, but is internally vivid with the knowledge of the decline and fall of a 'great' and undoubtedly intelligent man, which he communicates to us with deft deep breaths of empathetic humanity. Jeremy Waters gives a vigorous and arresting, outstanding, performance as Ginger, the lost; Alex Norton (Davey), Brynn Loosemore (Lee), Pete Nettell (Wesley) and Peter McAllum (the Professor) are sterling and diverse in their contribution - the world of the play holds together in their focused grip. In smaller opportunities, Emma Louise (Dawn) and Luke Carson (Troy) give further depth to the play and its action.
The critical production history of this play tells us that JERUSALEM has the capacity to rise to some significance in the experience of it - some critics regard the play as a contemporary classic. Here in Sydney, at the New Theatre, the achievement is a little more modest in its affect, but it is a production of a play well enough done, and, so, for theatre lovers, is a necessity to acquaint yourself with. It is well worth catching. The quality of the writing and the commitment of this company is outstanding.
P.S. It is privilege to have a company like the New Theatre in Sydney. The artistic management seem to have a firm eye on the culture of contemporary International and Australian writing, and when blessed with dedicated artists, often acquit the work with some credit. Caryl Churchill's TOP GIRLS was a recent pleasure. Plays of importance, ignored by the major companies for presentation, often find their way onto this stage. - and there lies, what I call the privilege for the Sydney audience/avid theatre goers. The company is not always consistent in its quality of work, but, more often is, than not. That the company chose to present and secured the rights to JERUSALEM is certainly a feather in their artistic cap.
Sydney has seen other works by Mr Butterworth: MOJO (1995); THE NIGHT HERON (2002) and PARLOUR SONG (2008) and I've heard the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) will, despite a previous production here, present MOJO next year, an award winning play: the Laurence Olivier Award; an Evening Standard Award and the George Devine Award for 1995 - almost 20 years old with a small cast of 6 men. It is a shame that JERUSALEM was not secured by the STC - JERUSALEM is a very different play to MOJO and is a huge step forward in skill and literary ambition and achievement for Mr Butterworth.
It is a pity that HUMBLE BOY by Charlotte Jones (2002) has been substituted from the planned season, at the New Theatre, even though it was performed at the Ensemble Theatre a little time ago, for it is a very interesting play using HAMLET, as a parallel reference (see ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD), with Noel Coward's HAYFEVER. I have smiled at what the Socialist founders of this historic company, the New Theatre, would make of the Coward choice - rolling in their graves , or beds, I imagine - not that I don't look forward to seeing HAYFEVER. It is certainly a conservative atmosphere we are living through when the New Theatre finds HAYFEVER as the most suitable substitute for the 'hole' in their planned season. Then, of course, Belvoir has set an example when it had a go at PRIVATE LIVES last year, as part of the Sydney diet of necessary theatre events. Someone else, has regarded Coward as a necessary for Sydney audiences - if not pragmatically for box office assurances,then clearly for arts sake! Contemporary dramaturgy, however, suggests that in that period of history, Terence Rattigan is the more important and interesting writer: AFTER THE DANCE (1939), for example. Now there's a play that is a revelation about the writing and politics of Mr Rattigan.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Sydney Theatre Company and Commonwealth Bank present ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD by Tom Stoppard at the Sydney Theatre, Hickson Rd.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD is one of those famous plays by a now famous writer, Tom Stoppard, that every young, university actor wants to be in, or do a scene from. In the early nineteen sixties, having the idea that the King of England to whom Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in Shakespeare's HAMLET, were dispatched, was probably King Lear, Tom Stoppard wrote, whilst working in West Berlin, with several other writers on a Ford Foundation Award (as "cultural window dressing" for the allies!) a one-act comedy in verse called tentatively, ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN MEET KING LEAR. A seed had been planted. He, on his return to Westminster, transmuted his play from verse to prose. Early in 1965 it was sent to the Royal Shakespeare Company, where, subsequently, a twelve-month option expired, after it failed to find a place in their repertoire. It was sent to several other managements and was rejected by all (including the Royal Court). Then in the summer of 1966 a university group, the Oxford Theatre Group asked permission to present the play in an amateur production at the Fringe of the forthcoming Edinburgh Festival. It was granted. The opening night got a handful of bad notices except for one in the influential THE OBSERVER, by Ronald Bryden, describing it as an 'erudite comedy, punning, far-fetched, leaping from depth to dizziness' and further, 'it's the most brilliant debut from a young playwright since John Arden's.' Kenneth Tynan, the literary manager of the newish National Theatre, on the look out for a new English play - a new work - to counterbalance the criticism that the National Theatre company had a perceived penchant for the classics - under the direction of Laurence Olivier - requested a script, optioned it, and had it opening at the Old Vic in April 1967. The rest is history. Stoppard was hailed with bouquets and the play was, according to Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times: 'the most important event in the British professional theatre of the last nine years'; that is, since the opening of Harold Pinter's THE BIRTHDAY PARTY. What was at work here with this play: chance or fate?
Reading this story, one is agog with hope - hope, hope, hope - that the up-coming Sydney Fringe Festival in 2013, might throw up a play to match the debut of ROSENCRATZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in 1966. Eh? And, that the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) is alert enough to hear of that new Australian work, and grab it for production, for our contemporary repertoire! Hope, hope, hope - considering our recent history, a hope too far?- most likely. Too, perhaps, one can now understand the under-graduate actor/student attraction to the play, considering the above, potted history! Sydney University Dramatic Society (SUDS), on the lookout for new work as well?! As a matter of fact, the stars of this STC production, Toby Schmitz and Tim Minchin, met in a university production of this very play in Perth, years ago - Mr Schmitz as Hamlet, and Mr Minchin as The Player.
I saw the play for the first time at the Old Tote Theatre Company at the old Parade Theatre in 1969. It was directed by Robin Lovejoy and starred Neil Fitzpatrick as Rosencrantz (he had, incidentally, played one of the Tragedians in the original National Theatre production in London), Tim Elliott as Guildenstern and the 'delicious' Barry Lovett as The Player. (I can remember going down to the edge of the stage, after the performance, and touching it with my hand, and looking up at the then empty barrels, stage-wise, and vowing to be on that stage one day, too! I was! Fate or chance?! Spooky!) One, has, of course, seen many productions of this play - it nearly always works as entertainment, if not always more deeply.
Rosencratz and Guildenstern, two attendant lords to the Danish court of Claudius and Gertrude, friends to the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet, find themselves at the centre of a world - a waiting space, seemingly in between worlds. Never have they had such attention paid to themselves, for up until Mr Stoppard decided to attend to them, they were merely periphery characters in one of the great plays of the English speaking world's canon, HAMLET. Like the maids in the recent Genet play, THE MAIDS, these two men (butlers) are suddenly the centre of concern for the audience, and they find they are caught in the vortex of greater shapers of the world's events, and are forced to confront the meaning of life and their role in it. An existential dilemma for these every-men, mulling over the immediate problems of living and the ultimate problem of dying - of the "now you see me, now you don't", kind.
This existential dilemma between two Elizabethans passing the time in what appears to be a place without any visible character does sound fairly familiar, doesn't it? Richard Eyre interviewing Tom Stoppard in his book TALKING THEATRE (2009), quotes Tom:
An embarrassing thing happened to me actually very recently. One of my sons went to see WAITING FOR GODOT, and afterwards in a rather bewildered, embarrassed sort of way, he asked whether I had realised that there was some similarity of rhythm and cadence and back-and-forthness about the dialogue. The first thing he said afterwards: "Did you know about this play when you were writing?' And because he came at this innocently I suddenly felt exposed as a major plagiarist. I'd always been very happy to concede the homage, of course. ... I never took from Beckett what I found in him later on. In other words, later on I found the philosopher. The first time round it was the poet, it was the person who made language do this. I also responded to the comedy. I mean, literally to the jokes. (P.S. WAITING FOR GODOT is due later in the year, in this very theatre.)
ROSENCRATZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD is a play playing with language, full of the most outrageous comedy and 'hundreds' of jokes. Jokes of a very sophisticated kind, as well as jokes of a very juvenile kind. The dazzling wordy pyrotechnics of the Stoppardian stamp we have all, over the years, come to know and expect, gleam with all of their humour and 'menace' to amuse us and warn us that the surreal absurdity of life is just part of the great pattern of the sheer randomness of the world. (pattern of randomness, huh?). Add the juggling and quoting from Shakespeare's great play, HAMLET, and throw the wisdom and pall of the metaphysics of life, through debate, discussion of the movement of chance or of fate in our lives as we live out our days, into the mixture, and a most satisfying night in the theatre can be made for you. The play is a juvenile celebration of wit and philosophy, written by a clever 27 year old - it presages the future, which for us, and Mr Stoppard, now is history - for, for my money, greater more 'human' (not just word-smithed) plays are to follow from Mr Stoppard, though, thankfully, still glittering with the R. and G. intelligence and wit.
Simon Phillips, the Director, has created a work of some real clarity and ease. The production resonates with confidence - one feels in safe hands from the very first moment - not always a usual feeling, alas, of late. A perspective Set Design by Gabriela Tylesova of a v-shaped raked wooden floor, surrounded, on either side by three grey-black gloss portals/tubes, that allow entry and exit for all but our two heroes, even to hanging above all, centrally in the roof, a homage to WAITING FOR GODOT, with an upside down leafless tree, that doubles, later on as a chandelier-like light fitting, allows the action of the worlds of the play to flow seamlessly. The cartoony exaggerations of the costumes of the Danish court contrast and diminish through the visualisations of the tragedians, the hurly burly of the Pirates, down to the relative reality of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern 'uniforms' of pragmatic attendant lords. Lighting by Nick Schlieper enhances and demarcates the atmospheres of the play.
This is a stellar cast: Toby Schmitz, clearly performing in a world he loves, is technically dazzling with the language and thoughts of Mr Stoppard (the man he confessed he wants to - is it metaphorically?- sleep with) as Guildenstern, if just slightly 'pushing' his effects early in the evening, such, that the relative laid-backedness of Tim Minchin's Rosencrantz, sometimes, is an easier entry of relief for the audience and, maybe, at least on the night that I saw the production, steals the lime light, a little (Mr Schmitz working too hard?!). However, these two actors, being two search lights/laser lights of talent, the lime lightedeness, thus, is, truthfully, subtly relative. I, personally, found the relative intellectual 'dimness' of Rosencrantz became gently empathetic, and by the time we got to the "life-in-a-box" sequence of speeches, towards the end of the play, our hearts (mine) had been stolen.
Ewen Leslie as The Player, is unrecognisable in appearance and intelligently 'bombasts' his way through, and as, the third wheel to the philosophical debates of the play. John Gaden, Heather Mitchell, Christopher Stollery, Adele Querol and Tim Walter pastiche the Shakespearean world of the play with aplomb and knife edge audacity. Whilst the glorious oddness of the tragedians: George Kemp, Angus King, Nicholas Papademetriou, Berynn Schwerdt, Aaron Tsindos bring a low comedy world to life.
I am a big fan of Stoppard. EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR at the National Theatre in London, a few years back: epic greatness. And I agree with Mr Phillips in his estimation of the greatness of ARCADIA. And I desperately lament the fact that Sydney (is it Australia?) has still not had the opportunity to see and hear the other side-of-the-coin to that great work, THE INVENTION OF LOVE. I have been blessed with having seen a production of it - it is demanding and great. And, I have to confess, such is my adulation of all things Stoppard, that I flew to New York a few years ago to see the three play, nine hour THE COAST OF UTOPIA - magnificent. ROCK 'N' ROLL a Melbourne Theatre Company production was a treat not long ago, and his recent film adaptation of ANNA KARENINA, and the BBC television adaptation of the Ford Madox Ford books, PARADE'S END, worth seeing and owning too. Though, to be honest, one waits, longs for his next play!
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD is worth catching despite its relative under-graduate tone, as a first play. One wishes for such brilliance in the Australian repertoire, and I wish that the STC would take on the later, greater works as well. Beggars can't be choosers, I guess.
The Sydney Theatre Company are having a terrific year this year, and this is a production that is a must see. Go.
- Kenneth Tynan Profiles. Selected and Edited by Kathleen Tynan. Nick Hern Books, London - 1989.
- DOUBLE ACT. A Life of Tom Stoppard by Ira Nadell. Methuen - 2002.
- TALKING THEATRE. Interviews with Theatre People. Richard Eyre.NIck Hern Books - 2009.
Friday, August 23, 2013
True West Theatre and Riverside productions present RU4ME written and performed by Annie Byron. based on KISSING FROGS by Andee Jones in the Lennox Theatre, Riverside theatres, Parramatta.
RU4ME is a delightful evening in the theatre with a winsomely seductive Connie (Annie Byron) who relates to us her 'adventures' in the sphere of 'internet dating". This senior lady, seeking a 'partner' to attend 'art house movies' and, perhaps, other things, under the guidance of her daughter, Rosie, begins a series of ventures that are amusing and cautionary.
Ms Byron has adapted a book by Andee Jones, KISSING FROGS, and with the directorial assistance of Wayne Harrison, developed a 75 minute performance. The writing is swiftly to-the-point and full of entertaining anecdotes, acted out on a simple set of chairs, desk and lots of props - especially scarfs, from a deep, deep handbag - sitting on a raised platform, and backed by a video screen that introduces us to the images of some of the men on the 'trawl' (Set Design, Andrea Espinoza; Video and Lighting Design, Nicholas Higgins; Sound Design, Jeremy "Jed" Silver.) Ms Byron in her usual winning style: charming, vulnerable and welcoming, creates Connie as an adventuresome everywoman - someone we would like to know, someone we can trust as a guide to the 'perils' and 'pleasantries' of this very contemporary internet opportunity, and, maybe, even go to the art house movies with.
I had a very easy time, and the audience about me had a very good time, as well. RU4ME is a theatre delight written by Ms Byron for Ms Byron to play. This charming work is touring around the states and country over the next month and I can quite genuinely recommend it as a pleasantly, gently rewarding time.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Strange Duck productions and Liberman Partnership present FREUD'S LAST SESSION by Mark St Germain at The Theatre Royal, King St, Sydney.
FREUD'S LAST SESSION is a long one act play for two characters, by Mark St Germain. Mr St Germain has developed a catalogue of plays creating historical fiction. This one concerns a fictional meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis in Freud's London study in 1939, on the evening that World War II was being declared. Mr St Germain took his inspiration from a book: "The Question of God" by Dr Armand M. Nicholi Jnr.
A confirmed atheist confronting an agonising death, from cancer, Freud (Henri Szeps), 83 years of age, meets C.S. Lewis (Douglas Hansell) 41 years of age, a young professor from Oxford, who had recently converted from atheism to theism (Mr Lewis' famous literary works, the Narnia chronicals, for instance, are yet to be written). What follows is a discussion explicating, and gently interrogating the opposing points of view. Atheism v's Theism. It is tantalising to imagine what might follow for us as an audience. What does follow, in this play, is a polite discussion, guarded with mutual respect, that, really, hardly sparks into any real drama. If one expects some fireworks around this great question, which in recent times had had volatile 'oxygen' and debate from outspoken advocates like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens on one side, and Tony Blair, Alister McGrath on the other then, disappointment, will be the result. In fact the Hitchens/Blair debate might have been more fun!
In FREUD'S LAST SESSION, there is gentle comedy and some interesting conversational positions shown. There is, however, no drama, except for the disconcerting discomfort of the dying Freud with his facial cancer, and the consistent breaking-in of the outside news of the world's cataclysmic approach into a second world war, via a stage radio. Mr Szeps as the aged, irascible Freud gives a glimpse of a convincing characterisation that is undermined by his insecurity with his text and his ear-piece. Certainly, the writing favours the opportunities for dramatic impact from Freud, as the writing, for the C.S. Lewis character, is far blander in its conception. That Mr Hansell makes such a fine fist of it (despite the insecurity of his stage partner) making something more than just a sounding board for the more colourful and better known philosophical position and figure of Freud, in this play, suggests a thoroughly prepared actor of some accomplishment.
Adam Cook, the Director, has surrounded himself with other artists that present a solid naturalistic space for the action to take place, and deftly keeps his actors moving about that large space to create the illusion of action. Interesting action. The Set and Costume Design is by Mark Thompson; the Lighting Design by Gavan Swift.
The Theatre Royal seems to be an extraordinarily large space for such a 'small' work and the play does seem to labour under that strain. The off-Broadway space, the Marjorie Dean Theatre on 64th Street , Central Park West, that this work was seen in by the producer, Adam Liberman, and encouraged him to present this work in Sydney, seems to be a more modest one of 150 seats or so. In the program notes, Mr Liberman talks of the difficulty to find a suitable theatre - another symptom of the discreditable theatre space problem in this so-called major world-city, Sydney! - Premier O'Farrell: how are the discussions with Mr Packer going down at Bangaroo - our so-called for, wished for, Arts and Gambling Precinct? Remember, the Theatre Royal exists (just) because of a 'deal' with the developers in days of yore. How about it Mr O'Farrell and Mr Packer?
Mr Liberman's excitement and ambition to present a play, even this play, should be lauded and I hope pays him some dividend - there are few enough men-of-passion about the theatre in this country as there is, and to have him discouraged on his first major venture, would be lamentable, indeed. So, thanks and congratulations.
FREUD'S LAST SESSION is a minor work that could pass the time for some of us who enjoy intelligent conversation. Mr St Germain has a new work: SCOTT AND HEM IN THE GARDEN OF ALLAH , a play about F.Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway in discussion at the famous hotel, opening this month in Los Angeles.
This entry to my Theatre Diary is a personal message.
I have over the past year or so, since extricating myself from NIDA, been working on a number of projects. One of my objectives has always been to empower the actor as an independent creative force, in an environment where we, the actor, were often (are) simply relegated to the bottom of the 'tools' necessary for product, as: 'talent'. Even, within the political machinations of an institution, my objective was to empower the "acting student"- or, at least strive, attempt to. It was not always possible to do, given the mastery of the "corporate beast (s)" of the 'institution' (any institution, I suspect) where profit and efficient time productivity dominates the mind set, over the will and needs of its artists - we were often seen as 'difficult'.
I want to introduce you to one of the projects I have been working at, to continue with my objective, to empower the actor.
I wish to introduce you to a speech by actor/entrepreneur, Oliver Wenn. Oliver, his partner, Natalie and I began in October 2011 a project to set up a centre for professional actors to help them, in this contemporary and globalised world, maintain and develop their skills.
One of the difficulties, tragedies of the Australian scene (Sydney) is that there has not been a consistent opportunity for professional actors, who are not in regular work, to hone their skills, and at a cost that was reasonable for them to do - don't count on our institutional corporations, where profit is as important, today, as craft or artistic service to the on-going development of the artist, to be wanting to supply that 'opportunity' at a reasonable cost for the, generally, unemployed actor. (Beside, the cost of classes by 'famous' guest, American artists, of late, has simply appalled me. There is no denying the gifts of some of these teachers/coaches but I must say that the cost has taken my breath away "how do these artists afford it ?" I wonder).
We began with a Scenework class with myself as leader. Over the past 18 months we have moved around the city to different accommodation. Other teachers of speciality have joined us. It has now grown into something a little bigger (read Oliver's letter) and 18months later we have been encouraged to at last find a permanent home for what we called THE HUB - The Actor's Gym.
Oliver recently told me of a space he had found for rent. When he gave me the address, I had to tell him that the 'stars' could not have been more auspicious, as, unbeknownst to him, he had found the building that one of our great mentors, had used in "centuries past": Keith Bain and the Bodenweiser Dance Studio, at 18 City Road, Chippendale - just around the corner from Broadway, on your way to Newtown. We were able to secure it for the coming years.
Please, read the speech that Oliver gave at our launch on the 3rd August, and join us in the making a step forward for the Australian Actor in Sydney. All enterprises are scary to take on, but Oliver seems to be fearless and inspired with a concerned generosity that can only result in good.
"The HubStudio held its first session; The Kevin Jackson Master Class, just over a year and a half ago, on the 11th Oct 2011, and since then we have grown in leaps and bounds. I remember KJ telling me then it would us take two-to-three years to establish a studio and I’m really proud to say we beat that record by four months! Then, as now, Natalie, Kevin and I felt there was more to offer this industry.
At the time we were looking to establish a hot house of the best actors in the city, working together on scenes and material that stretched us to the next level. We felt that there was more that actors could achieve, more undiscovered potential and definitely more we could do to keep the 'muscle' working. Since that time we have succeeded and now offer seven different courses in Film, Theatre, Body and Voice. We have held 22 series, placed over 259 students in them, and currently have 200 members with an average repeat rate of around 37.
Even before we really began we were developing our ideas of what a modern studio could mean, the possibilities for what we could achieve and how as a community we should be thinking; as we all move towards an ever more accessible, and ever more globalised industry.
With the move into this, our new studio venue, we now feel we can begin.
Here is the crux of what I want the studio to achieve. I want to change the mindset of actors, by giving them a place to be actors more often. I want them to know in themselves what that means, and what it takes. I want to create a studio space capable of up-skilling and connecting actors and creatives, providing them with the resources and skills they need to develop their careers on a daily basis; not a drama school, an incubator, a Hub. When I went to drama school for 99% of the time, I was taught how to act, and for 1% of the time, how to live as an actor, which is fine. However, after leaving drama school I spent 1% of the time working as an actor and 99% of the time trying to figure out how to live as an actor. We want to change that.
This next phase will see us move towards being a development and resources hub for working professional actors and creatives. Our aim is to empower these actors and creatives to "achieve their dreams by providing goods and services that advance their careers on a daily basis"; a hub for all working professionals living or visiting Sydney. Eventually our ultimate vision is to have a multi-levelled venue with rehearsal rooms, hot-desking offices, edit suites and a late night cafe/bar. A vertically integrated studio capable of skills maintenance, career development, production development, and eventually, actualisation. We see ourselves as a multi-focused 21st century production company, and under that pretence most definitely not a drama school.
But what does a Hub mean? Why is it important.
Through my work with Annie and David McCubbin at corporate performance company Coup, I was lucky enough to work inside some of the biggest companies in Australia, Westpac being a good example. What I saw was not impressive in itself, in fact, it was taken for granted; but what was impressive to me was that these people, working professionals, had a place to go to, everyday, to do the thing that they, in many cases trained years to do. They were surrounded by likeminded people doing creative and challenging things in an environment that catered for their needs.
Now, looking at these people working in those buildings, I thought....what if we took all these people and drained the building; told them to work from home, in cafes, in parks, mainly alone; without the necessary space, equipment, resources or community, without the mentors, elders and friends, they needed to talk with, network with, learn with, plot and scheme with? No yearly conference, training seminar or group email...oh, and lets take them off salary and make them work another job, or two. How effective would they be? Would Westpac for example, be able to operate at the same standard; how much impetus would be lost, how distracted or idle would they become, how isolated, how ineffective? This is often exactly what actors deal with all the time.
Now, I am most certainly not offering a magic wand solution, but what I am saying is the environment we surround ourselves in makes a huge difference to the outcomes we can achieve. How many actors nail that audition when they're already in work?....how many ideas can feed other people's? How much more can we learn when we come together and skills share?
We know for a fact at the studio, and I have seen it in myself; that our members feel more connected, book more work, feel better prepared and less intimated in auditions and rehearsals, in foyers and (for me at any rate) in life, in general; and why... because they're a part of something they can control. They have a place to be a professional working actor, feel connected and involved, important and professional. It’s not rocket science; it’s social science. It's fact. For most actors trying to develop a career, if you're not working on set or stage, there is no place to go to be a working professional actor. And that is what we are: “Working Professional Actors”. We might or might not be movie stars, and roles will come and go, but that definition of ourselves will never fade. That is who we are, but it's so frustrating, that for many of us, a lot of the time we don’t feel that way, we feel like the ‘sometime working, not really sure, doing our best, often isolated, trying to be actor - actor.
Now I know that the above might sound dramatic, but I'm an actor, and drama is what I'm good at. We're good at! I actually think that if we really ask ourselves, "do we have a system that best supports us outside of the casting agent, theatre company or film studio?", the answer is, "No". Unless it's a drama school there isn’t a place that caters for us as a working community of people when we're off-set or not in a rehearsal room; it’s just not part of the 'system'. I know there are great places to train in this country, but what about great places to create or develop work in? We think it’s vital, and I think it the missing link.
Some people might call us stupid, crazy, or just plan inaccurate, but I don’t care; it’s worth finding out. I really believe in actors in this country, I’m not being woolly when I say that. I'm a capitalist, I believe in the free market and I know we have a lot more to offer. I think the era of the Actor Entrepreneur is dawning; especially with the emerging digital media market in the face of a global world. I think a more autonomous, self generating and self sustaining actor with a professional mindset, belief system and working structure is what’s going to help shape our Australian industry, help it to keep moving forward. I genuinely believe that if we have a place to come to work, like The HubStudio, or others, then we can make a difference, and help create a generation of Working Professional Actor Entrepreneurs; capable of taking seed ideas and turning them into something glorious.
It’s time to start making a difference unto ourselves, and each other, and I’d like to welcome you to come with us!
Have a great night and please if you have any questions or queries, think we’re plain right or wrong, let us know. We can only but try and fail. As Kevin says "Fail Gloriously!!!" And why...? because as the Rolling Stones said; "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need."
– Oliver Wenn, The Hub Studio
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
|Photo by Katy Green Loughrey|
Sydney Independent Theatre Company (SITCO) present a World Premiere of FRIDAY by Daniele Giorgi at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo.
Last Thursday, the 8th August was the World Premiere of "a sizzling new Australian Political Satire FRIDAY by Daniela Giorgi. Sex, secrets and scandals - a tale of democracy in the land of the long weekend" at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo.
A new Australian play about Democracy set in a seat of government! Ms Giorgi suggests, coyly, in her notes, about the play, in the program, that "FRIDAY does not replay real events, actual people or current political parties. It's setting could be any democracy." But, certainly some of the base venality of our present political arenas and their denizens seem to be a source of inspiration. That Ms Giorgi has the chutzpah to tackle, unabashedly, the Australian democratic scene, and the characters within it, and produce a play with 13 main characters and ensemble roles, deserves encouragement.
FRIDAY ... is a satirical journey through a modern democracy. Minister for Transport, Bill Twomey (Peter Hayes), a notoriously loose canon, announces his new policy without cabinet approval. But he has enemies, like Carol Steele (Justine Kacir), lobbyist for Strong Industries, and ambitious, young MP, Andrew Armstrong (James Collette). Bill's chief of staff, Angela Kazantis (Sarah Robinson), warns that his rash tactics will cost the government the next election. And so when the campaign against him inevitably heats up, secrets are revealed and scandal ensues. But in this fictitious parliament there are also ordinary folk: journalists interested only in a good story, public servants just trying to make a living, and the average punter, curious about the strange goings on in the House.This play by Ms Giorgi is wildly ambitious and really, it is, in the attempt to convey the epic omnibus of all the worlds of the parliament, with nods to the metaphysical and universal forces that 'may' shape the minutiae of it all, as well, from the main stagers to the chorus of the press and the roving visitors, that FRIDAY staggers and never really lifts off. It feels like a 'pitch' for a mini- series, and such is the scale of the ambition that nothing really works. Satire that is often too vulgar, drama that ends up being to portentous and pretentious, sentimental romances of personal lives lashed with TV melodrama, all demand attention and none of them get enough of the author's honing of skill for us to be really satisfied with any of it.
The direction by Julie Baz, considering the demand of the many, many scenes and characters and shifts in style is fairly coherent - there is a dab hand for organising the stage pictures, especially with so many people on that tiny stage. The set design and lighting by David Jeffrey, in the re-configured stage space of the theatre, is glamorous and versatile - pleasing to the eye, while the many costume solutions and design by Rachel Scane are impressive, as well. Sarah De Jong has written a backing composition and binds the production together with a sense of shape and direction, without too much intrusion.
What Ms Baz can not do, as was the case of Luke Rogers, in the recent production of FIREFACE, was guide the actors to individual performances of skilled judgement or find a consistent style to match all the events that were taking place. Mr Hayes, as the principal target of satire, Twomey, was ominously bombast and writ too large with a heavy sense of self-conscious caricature, perhaps a little off kilter with insecurities - the voice lacks technical gradings, it has no music. Fatal, I should think to audience sympathy. There was in fact quite a deal of insecurity that did not always serve the comedy - it is, someone once said, all in the timing! Other actors were happy to create what was on the page speak, but without much flesh-and-blood backstory. Pencil thin, with no colour of a life being lived. To care for their characters became a matter of personal charm on the part of the audience endowment and sense of attraction to the individual artist.
Sarah Robinson was outstanding; Tim Cole (Peter Brown) pleasant and reliable, a sense of a history going on behind the text. Others did the best they could in a very busy show.
FRIDAY, then, a very ambitious piece of writing and production. That the work amused some on the night I saw it has to be recorded, but, for me, the very ambition "o'er leaps itself and falls ..." However, when a work is conceived and created from such a shining passionate place as the drive of the artistic directors of SITCO, then SITCO should remember the words of the great George Devine, the revolutionary leader of the Royal Court: "Failure you have to have. ... You have the right to fail." Just, hope, that the company absorb the lessons learnt.
Stories Like These and atyp Under The Wharf present FIREFACE by Marius Von Mayenburg, translated by Maja Zade at the atyp Wharf Theatre, Wharf 4, Hickson Rd.
FIREFACE was the first play of Marius Von Mayenburg for the Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin and it was awarded the Kleist Prize for young dramatists in 1997. Several years ago the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) presented a production by Benedict Andrews. Mr Von Mayenburg has gone on to a very prolific career.
The play is a stringent look at the core social structure of any society: that of the family. Vitally, in this case, in contemporary times. In many short scenes, the play mounts an unrelenting pressure on the audience, as we observe sex becoming an 'evil' presence in a lackadaisical family. A Mother (Lucy Miller), a Father (James Lugton), a daughter, Olga (Darcie Irwin-Simpson), a son, Kurt (Darcy Brown) and a young outsider, Paul (Ryan Bennett ). FIREFACE, it seems to me, is about sex being the root of all evil. A 'fire' ignited, in the natural order of things, in the young son, is ignored and the consequences of that neglect consumes a family in a fire face of terrible destruction: incest, torture, murder and madness. A play of Greek tragic proportions harnessed in the distressing surrounds of our everyday lives.
In this translation by Maja Zade, the Mayenburg play is gripping and fascinating - a very good piece of writing coming from the angst of the economic excesses of the nineteen nineties. A malaise of boredom that too many comforts can give and lead to unchecked interests that can consume us. It seems to attempt to show us, to example for us, to explain to us and to warn us. Sixteen years later, in 2013, not enough warning has been taken, perhaps. The origin of so many of our heinous reported crimes reflects the world of this play in painful details.
Luke Rogers has gathered a design team about him: Lucilla Smith as Set and Costume designer; Lighting Designer, Sian James-Holland; and sensitive and intricate Sound Design by Nate Edmondson; and found a deft manner to keep the many, many short scenes seamlessly building to the play's climaxes. The production has very focussed visual aesthetic and a sure hand at dramatic tension.
The total impact of the potential of the playwright and the aesthetic tensions, however, are undermined with Mr Rogers' management of his actor's performances. The core problem lies in the lack of depth and control around the work of Ms Irwin-Simpson as the rebellious and manipulative daughter, Olga. In this production, Ms Irwin-Simpson, seems to draw on a shallow understanding of the psychology of her character and opts for superficial shouting (bellowing) , an appearance of a pained 'personalisation', throughout most of her work. It lacks subtlety of craft and sensitive interrogation, and goes, unfortunately, a long way in disturbing the possibilities of the other actors to shading their work into the powerful depths that the 'Greek' longings of the play demand. It is odd to watch this work from Ms Irwin-Simpson, when one remembers her good work, which was nominated for Best Actress and Best Newcomer in 2012 Sydney Theatre Awards for PUNK ROCK. What a difference a director's sure hand can make, it seems.
Mr Brown is most dependent in interaction with Ms Irwin-Simpson to develop his story responsibilities as Kurt, and, as such, is handicapped by what he can usefully work with. That he does manage some of the undertows of this young man and a development of a relationship with his sister is creditable, but does seem to require him to play with 'substitutes' of partnership that are very interior, and seem to be very introverted, and maybe, necessarily, from another world, than the world on stage. It is an imagined interior world he builds from, and he does tend to ignore the offers of the other actors about him - Mr Lugton and Ms Miller attempt to assist but are, relatively, blocked out, as well. The oddly striking presence of Mr Brown and his thoughtful demeanour had me developing a story that was that of Caligula and his sister, rather than that of Kurt and Olga - so intense was the interior world that Mr Brown seemed to conjure. Both, Mr Brown and Ms Irwin-Simpson, leave little room for Mr Lugton and Ms Miller to engage with them, and that the relationship between the parents becomes the more interesting one on the stage is the result. Poor Mr Bennett as Paul, the outsider male, too, is isolated in his tasks, and except for the anguished inclinations of the father towards him, has the least chance to cover the dramaturgical functions and necessities of the writing.
Having seen these actors at work before, one must, if one is watching for explanations for the varying qualities of the acting, lay it at the feet of the director, Luke Rogers. Staging and visual concepts are interesting. Direction of these usually reliable actors, lacks nuance, appears technically, unskillful - and is odder still, as Mr Rogers is himself a trained actor, and has, what is often lacking with less credentialed directors, a knowledge of what an actor needs to give good work.
FIREFACE a disappointing night at the theatre, I'm sorry to report, because the play, just for its writerly qualities, is worth knowing.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Arts Centre Melbourne presents Robert Wilson and Philip Glass EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH - An Opera In Four Acts. Choreography by Lucinda Childs, in the Victoria Arts Centre, State Theatre.
Whilst in London last December, I read of a touring production of EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH (originally titled EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH ON WALL STREET - soon cut down- the work is "not political"), that was to play in Amsterdam. I contemplated flying over for it - hardly a half-hour plane flight. I then sensed that this was a major re-mounting of the work and would come to Australia, for sure. Its very expense as a production, to re-mount would, surely, encourage that, I intuited. Got home, Sydney, and soon found it was going on to Melbourne as part of the World Tour, that had begun in January, 2012. So, I eagerly, booked for Melbourne, way back at the start of the year. My interest was manifold, but centred on my ever growing appreciation of the music of Philip Glass - last year, the third of his 'portrait' operas, SATYAGRAHA (1987), this dealing with Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence using related figures Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore and Martin Luther King Jnr., broadcast from the New York Metropolitan Opera House, completely knocked me sideways. I know the music of AKHNATEN (1983) as well, while Mr Glass' other work is becoming more and more embedded in our 'culture' psyches, mine, through its increasing usage in contemporary film and dance scores. My admiration of the artistry of Robert Wilson, too, has been growing, particularly as a result of seeing at the Sydney Festival, 2004, his production of THE BLACK RIDER: THE CASTING OF MAGIC BULLETS (1990), written by Tom Waits; too, I LA GALIGO (2004) at the Melbourne Arts Centre in 2006. Two artists of growing importance, if not, now, establishment, in the contemporary zeitgeist of World Art. Their work being astounding in its own presence, their influence radiating, and being so profoundly great on others who have followed. The opportunity to see a production of the 1976 seismic shifter, the 'ledgendary", 'mythical' EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH could not be missed.
EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH is a four and a half hour opera (work) in four acts with no intervals. It is a non-linear impression of the life of Einstein as scientist, humanist and amateur musician. The editor of a new book ROBERT WILSON FROM WITHIN, Margery Arent Safir (2012) asked Robert Wilson to select a series of images outside of his own productions that hold particular personal significance for him. One of them is a portrait of Einstein standing, looking directly at camera. Mr Wilson has written:
In 1976 I created an opera with Philip Glass called EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH. I began with this photo of Einstein in his study at Princeton. All of the performers were dressed in the same way: baggy grey pants, starched white t-shirts and suspenders. They wore tennis shoes and a wristwatch. I looked at many photos of Einstein. Photos of him when he was two years old, 20 years old, 40, 60, 70 years old. In all standing portraits of him, he held his hand in the same position as in the photo. The little space between his thumb and the next finger is always the same. I started the opera with this gesture. And continued. I thought about this space: Between his two fingers he held his chalk with which he made his calculations. He held the bow for the violin that he loved to play. And he pulled the ropes of the sailboat that was his favourite pastime.From this, Mr Wilson's observation of the miniature: the space between Einstein's thumb and finger, and the perception, connection to the world shattering calculations, that came from that spatial relationship, that changed the world, one begins to grasp the world view that creates the painterly, painstaking pictures of Mr Wilson's meticulous control over imagery, in every work of his, and of the soul-mate parallel exploration of Mr Glass' repetitive structures in his music formulations - both deeply connected to extended time performances:
We share an awareness of time, of duration. Bob (Wilson) extending theatre into space and time, and I (Glass) projecting music into space and time ..." It's not about big movements, it's about all the little movements that are happening in between those iconic illusions of stasis. They regard themselves as the true children of Marcel Duchamp, the 1930's surrealists and John Cage. Classicists, both?
The classics are ... the avant-garde. The avant-garde is rediscovering the classics, so you're rediscovering what you were born knowing. Socrates said the baby was born knowing everything, and it's the recovery of knowledge that's the learning process ... Man has always been discerning the same mathematics ... Robert Wilson and Philip Glass were young artists on the fringe of the burgeoning and ebullient, explosive, contemporary art scene of New York in the 1970's (amongst much else; in Visual Art: Rauschenberg, Serra, Warhol, Johns, Marisol (Escobar); in Performance Art: Joan Jonas, Pat Olezsko, Lil Picard, Laurie Anderson; in Theatre: Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, Ellen Stewart's La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, Richard Schechner's The Performance Group; Literature: Albee, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Shepard; in Dance: Balanchine, Martha Graham, Merc Cunningham,Twyla Tharp; in Music: Lou Reed, Nico and John Cale, Bowie, Waits, Blondie, Devo, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Steve Reich). Glass and Wilson were friends and they began this project and worked on it for some time. The score was written during the Spring to Fall of 1975. The production history of EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass: Music by Philip Glass, Design/Direction by Robert Wilson. Texts by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M. Johnson, and Lucinda Childs, choreography by Andrew de Groat, lighting by Beverly Emmons, was originally produced by Byrd Hoffman Foundation in 1976 and was premiered at Theatre Municipal (Festival d'Avignon); toured throughout Europe and finally shown at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City twice. It's reputation had preceded its New York showing and became the stuff of legend- standing room. Subsequent remounts of EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH featuring the choreography of Lucinda Childs and lighting by Beverly Emmons were produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1984, as part of the Next Wave Festival and in 1992 by International Production Associates/Top Shows Inc for an International tour that included the State Theatre, Melbourne.
This re-mounted, 2012-14 production was produced by Pomegranate Arts, Inc. Linda Brumbach, Executive Producer. Choreography by Lucinda Childs with Helga Davis, Kate Moran, Antoine Silverman.Spoken text by Christopher Knowles/Samuel M. Johnson/Lucinda Childs with the Lucinda Childs Dance Company. Music performed by The Philip Glass Ensemble, conducted by Michael Riesman. Music/Lyrics by Philip Glass. Direction/Set and Lighting Design by Robert Wilson. Co-Director, Ann-Christin Rommen. Staging Associate Charles Otte. Lighting by Urs Schoenbaum; Sound by Kurt Munkacsi; Hair/Make-up Campbell Young Associates: Luc Verschueren; Costumes by Carlos Soto. I give the whole historic dimension of the production team to underline the shifts in responsibility of this re-mount, in 2012, to observe the evolving , and different, influences on this work's production presentation.
The work of both these men can divide an audience's response, violently. Glass, Wilson are not everyone's cup of tea Their work, individually and collectively has been called boring, repetitive, beautiful but dull, superficial, overly mannered, predictable and cold, unaffecting. And I at different times in my life have thought so, felt so and said so. Why has it taken so long, 20 years, for a revival to be mounted? Joseph V. Melilo from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) :
The question is: Why do we do not have EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH in our lives the way that we have the works of Verdi, Puccini (Wagner) et al., in terms of opera composers? Because EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH is a visionary work of two titans of the 20th century, and its a meditation on the historic character Einstein and the implications of his history, his research for all of us as human beings, for our daily lives and our existence, as well as for our global communities. Because it does not have a linear narrative -it's an imagistic work - it's more of a challenge, I think, for opera companies to embrace this innovative, non-conventional, non-traditional form for their audiences. It is a work of a different vision, both musically and theatrically. There's nothing like it. In our society, that is an anomaly, because unless you see it and experience it, you don't know what it is. The Philip Glass score exists on CD, but that is not the theatrical and visual reality of the opera, of being bombarded by these extraordinary visual images and this movement by Lucinda Childs Dance Company ..." So to appreciate EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH, one must be there at the event. We, through the music and the staging, enter a river of metaphysics that is personal to each of us. The seduction of the 'mathematics' and formalisations of the music and the way one comes to hear it, along with the established dream-like narrative logic through the succession of striking images, original and three-dimensional, which, visually, cumulatively achieve a mesmeric impact, do not necessarily give us a meaning or a story that we can easily describe, but, instead has given us a 'feeling' that, oddly, we know, meant something - something individual, something profound. Philip Glass says:
"The content is not in the work but is culled by the transaction between the work and the audience."
My theatre, is, in some ways, really closer to animal behaviour. When a dog stalks a bird his whole body is listening ... He's not listening with (just) his ears, with his head; it's the whole body. The eyes are listening. – Robert WilsonIt's a state of alertness, attention. We must stalk the sound and images like a dog does the bird. And if one surrenders to what the artists have collaborated to give you in the performance, then a journey can, be. Be, in the becoming. But, if one sits outside the moving 'river' and tries to estimate, search for meaning, restlessly try to make the usual conventional responses to the four hours of the work, a deep frustration, impatience and even, irritation, anger, can manifest.
How did I fare? Stimulated by the music and the visuals of it. Puzzled by the spoken text, but prepared to accept, perhaps, the 'dadaisms" of it - the articulated expression of the world through the special world of Christopher Knowles - a young man with an autistism, and, rather than listen to the words to make sense, attempted to enjoy the sound patterns and language 'building blocks' in an extended realm of durational experiment. Intermittently engaged with the images: lighting and the composition of forms often stark and 'lean' in affect (recalling for myself at times, the landscapes depicted by painter Geoffrey Smart), often ethereally beautiful, but, and here was my aesthetic difficulty, presented in a 'language' of image-effects that often felt dated and quaint. The technology of the 1976 visions somehow freezing my enchantment. I felt that I was watching an installation in a 'museum' experience - a preservation of the original, in tact, from 1976 with love. Philip Glass' music felt alive, contemporary, but on the other hand, the images seemed to belong to, another time, of a less advantaged technical age. My response to the received music and the imagery, these two aspects, crucial elements of the creation of the work, began to stretch my aesthetic response apart, in opposing directions, so that it was, sometimes, a better experience when I closed my eyes and just listened. The rocket ship travelling diagonally across and up the proscenium arch, had all the nostalgia of a child's imagination - delightful, at a certain level of response, but frustratingly slow, so that I had time to indulge in twinges of boredom and a tendency to imagine the contemporary solutions with the, latest technology tools, to create the illusion. The final tableau of Spaceship: the golden lights, the two glass boxes, the 'ridiculous "Dancer with Flashlights" and the 'flying figure' all looking too static, too 'quaint', to help me embrace the effect of a theatrical coup of 1976, in 2013.
On the other hand two of my guests, who are 'young' to the the theatre were in a state of marvel and wonder. Another awash with tears, and all standing on their feet in an ecstatic giving of applause. Just hard hearted, Kevin, the jaded, old theatre-goer not moved and wanting a 'moderinsation' of the tradition. I smiled at the avant-garde preserving a classic in tact, in a kind of sealed-off theatrical vitrine of whimsical memory. I thought I was certainly glad and impressed to see this legendary work, but now, long to see, Mr Wilson let Philip Glass go and let someone else in. Someone from the James Carpenter, AVATAR, team for set and effects; costumes say by Walter Van Beirendonck (at present a great exhibition of his work at RMIT - Dream the World Awake) and perhaps, Gary Stewart from the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) to create the choreography. Who to Direct ? Hmmm?
This production of EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH is a masterpiece. The discipline and inspiration by conductor Michael Riesman with the Philip Glass Ensemble and the chorus, both sung and spoken text, is outstanding.The Lighting design for this re-mounting by Robert Wilson is poetic in its exactitudes of beauty. The pictures, the imagery startling and clean, fresh, child-crisp in their clarities - the opening tableau vivant, TRAIN, especially. The Choreography by Lucinda Childs Dance Company seamless in its easy beauty and olympian endurances. Special mention to Caitlin Scranton for her work as the Diagonal Dancer in Train; Patrick John O'Neill as Man with Suitcase in Trial; Kate Moran as Witness in Trial/ Prison; Hai-Ting Chinn as the vocalist in BED and all of her other appearances, and Antoine Silverman as Einstein, the solo violinist.
P.S. EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH, now twice presented at the Victorian Art Centre. Sydney, had no theatre in 1992 and I know still does not have one in 2013. Come on Premier O'Farrell convince your mate, James Packer to build a theatre in his hotel/casino for us at Bangaroo. A theatre built from the stage requirements for major works of performing art. Get him to call it the Packer Palace, anything really, so long as he builds it as part of the future investment to the State of NSW and its Sydney Arts Precinct.Is that Parramatta calling "Build it and they will come".
- The program notes.
- ROBERT WILSON FROM WITHIN, edited by Margery Arent Safir - 2012. The Arts Arena, The American University of Paris. Flammarion.
Friday, August 2, 2013
Belvoir presents PERSONA, a FRAUGHT OUTFIT production. Based on the film by Ingmar Bergman. Conceived by Adena Jacobs, Dayna Morrissey and Danny Pettingill in the Upstairs Belvoir Theatre.
PERSONA is a film made by Ingmar Bergman in 1966 - writer, director. It is regarded by some to be his masterpiece and is rated highly as one of the top - greatest - films ever made. Much discourse can be found as people attempt to analyze every element of the film. Study the critical essays and you can be bewildered. If you go on line it will overwhelm you. At best, I simply respond to it as an 'enigmatic' cinematic entity. One that has me, always, in a kind of limbo of understanding. Puzzled, challenged and bemused, each sensation in turn. The meditation of it, after viewing, is an exercise of immense proportion, and never easy, and the source of much "nerdeyism" (invented word!). To talk, discuss, more of it, with movie addicts (fans), can be a very disconcerting (and amusing) experience.
A Melbourne company, FRAUGHT OUTFIT, have created a play of the film, and the Belvoir have imported it to Sydney. The director, Adena Jacobs, is one of two artists recently appointed to Belvoir as Resident Directors, the other being Anne-Louise Sarks, to replace Simon Stone, recently resigned. So why create a piece of theatre out of this cinematic masterpiece? Why, indeed? The Sydney Theatre Company attempted a stage version of Bergman's FACE TO FACE, in August, last year and for no new insight or any artistic gain, as far as I could observe. The film, superior in every way, every, every way. I felt it was better experienced on one's home screen, on DVD, than in the theatre production by Simon Stone and Andrew Upton - the film, a superior experience by far.
PERSONA, indeed, most of Ingmar Bergman's work is inspirational, and any ambitious and creative artist would want to, does dream, of working for such an artist. In our living times, The Coen Brothers, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Haneke, Ang Lee, Terrence Malick, Jane Campion are just a few of the International film luminaries of a similar working status to Bergman's that I would dream, or, aim to work with, today. Perhaps, FRAUGHT OUTFIT thought that, re-imagining PERSONA for the stage, could provide some approximation of this Bergman experience - a sense of collaborating with him, beyond the grave.
PERSONA, does have, after all, two challenging roles for women and a tantalising textual schema - in Kantianism, a transcendental product of imagination, mediating, between the universality of the pure concept (which is opaque to sense) and the particularity of sense (which is opaque to the understanding). The program notes quote from the famous essay by Susan Sontag, BERGMAN'S PERSONA (from STYLES OF RADICAL WILL -1969): "It is not that Bergman is pessimistic about life and the human situation - as if it were a question of opinions - but rather that the quality of its sensibility, when he is faithful to it, has only a single subject: the depths in which consciousness drowns. If the maintenance of personality requires safeguarding the integrity of masks, then the truth about life as a whole is the shattering of the whole facade - behind which lies an absolute cruelty." (Heavy stuff!!) Bergman, in the film that the audience sees, uses many technical 'tricks' and tool revelations that show the masquerades of all the film artists - behind camera as well as the masks of the central human characters and their extraordinary philosophic , metaphysical, scripted encounter of the external mask, persona, with the internal one - their own and each others. Elizabeth Vogler played by Liv Ullmann, an actress who loses her need to talk whilst playing Electra on the stage, is placed in convalescence under the care of a very talkative nurse, Alma played by Bibi Andersson, at a sea side house. The film making and the performances are intense: great - a full fathom deep!
In this play adaptation, Meredith Penman as Elizabeth, and Karen Sibbing as Alma, give zealous, good performances. Good, but not great. And, unfortunately, it needs a 'greatness' from the performers in this adapted material to really sustain an audiences' absolute focus of attention, that will take them beyond what they are seeing and hearing, to be led to search for the 'mystery' of the world beyond what it is literally happening in front of them. Ms Penman and Sibbing are ambitious and admirable in that pursuit, but did not seem to have the real communicative confidence of skills to take us into that transcendent place. Sincere but not deeply authentic in communication. (Compare and contrast the actor's skills on view in the recent production of THE MAIDS). To be able, then, to perceive the depths of the human psyche given by Bergman and Ms Ullmann and Andersson, as translated on film, by those actors with skills of a very great craftsmanship (in their form - film), and the re-assuring solidity of charismatic presence of other-worldliness - an emotional profundity, and view Ms Penman and hear Ms Sibbing, and a lesser experience is had. The fact that the work of the cinematic artists exists and is able to be placed as a direct comparison to the live staged work is part of the risk of re-imagining, re-creating a filmed masterpiece, like PERSONA - the source material. Like it or not, fair or not, the comparison of the two experiences will be inevitable, for the interested observers of the Art forms.
It is not just the performances (Daniel Schlusser and Brandon Easson complete the acting company) that undermine the effect of the production but that of the design (Dayna Morrissey). It is not the visual choices, which seem to be very specific and thoughtful, but the quality of the 'look' of the production - a too small budget, perhaps, prevents the visuals to vibrate with the invitation of the psychological 'mystery'. Their 'poverty' in quality keeps the work too conspicuously 'grounded' and not an invitation to suspend our disbelief to believe in the metaphysics of the text - the badly painted white gloss floor, the cheap-looking plywood veneer on the walls, the noisy white curtain tractions, for instance. However, the sound design, beginning with a scratched, static overlay of the mellifluous strings of Mantovani and his orchestra, with gushy romantic tunes, to the haunting 'ping' of hospital, and the glittering of rain, to the breaking of water on the sea shore by Russell Goldsmith, creates an atmosphere that eludes to a production possibility, that is not quite captured elsewhere. It invites an imaginative lateral entry to an intrigue of a bigger universe swirling about us.
It seems to me that the re-imagining of a masterpiece of any kind is an extraordinarily brave thing to do. What the artists experience in attempting it, what they learn by doing it, probably, cannot be underestimated. But just as the Gus Van Sant's version of the Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960-1998), or, Steven Soderberg version (as editor) of Andre Tarkovsky's SOLARIS (1972-2002), or, even Michael Haneke's re-make of his German version of FUNNY GAMES, (1997- 2007) in the USA, or the stage adaptation of Pedro Almodovar's ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER by Samuel Adamson for the Old Vic in 2007, when compared and contrasted, do not measure up to the original. Neither, do the two recent Sydney experiences of the Bergman stage adaptations: FACE TO FACE or PERSONA measure up to the existing films. It is interesting that Bergman was not only a great film director but also a great man of the theatre, and yet, he never attempted to turn any of his screenplays into theatre exercises. Maybe he knew what was possible (or, he was just over that material).Certainly, the PERSONA production from Adena Jacobs and FRAUGHT OUTFIT seemed to me a more intellectually rigorous reading of the original than the FACE TO FACE exercise, but suffers, ultimately, because of its , relatively, lesser quality in delivery.
PERSONA at Belvoir is an interesting experience for the Bergman fan. If you don't know the work at all and enjoy theatre of real challenge than it might also be worth the cost. If you are not sure, check out the DVD, then decide. I would have rathered, a new original Australian play that dared explore the density of our existence that Bergman dares too, in PERSONA. The Belvoir resources aimed at really new Australian work. Goodness knows, an Australian writer, an artist, of that provoking stature might be welcomed. It certainly is needed.(Check out my response to the new Australian play, BEACHED.) How about a production of the late plays of Patrick White: SIGNAL DRIVER - a Morality Play for the Times (1982); NETHERWOOD (1983) or SHEPHERD ON THE ROCKS (1987), if there is no real new writing in that territory or genre.? I have never seen those plays.