Tuesday, November 26, 2013

ACO: Mozart Clarinet Concerto

Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) present the 2013 Concert Season: Mozart Clarinet Concerto.

This was, as usual with the ACO, an interesting program of music. The orchestra led by Satu Vanska played a short work by the Finnish composer, Einojuhani Rautavaara: A Finnish Myth (1977); from Russian, Edison Denisov: Five Paganini Caprices: Caprice No. 9.(1985) and Swedish, Goran Frost's: DTangled (2013).

The Finnish work was modern in its sound, full of grating string affects - lack of harmonies - contrasted with a, relievedly, thematic pattern. The Caprice by Denisov was of easier appeal and had enough echoes of the Paganini inspiration to draw one in. Goran Frost's Dtangled introduced the guest artist, Martin Frost, the brother to the composer, and a sublime performer with his clarinet, his virtuosity with it, being only one part of the dynamics of the work. DTangled investigates, for Martin Frost, with his brother, the use of a fusion between music and movement and theatrical lighting. As in his concert visit in 2011, GLITTERING FROST, there is a startling physical life in the performance, fusing choreography, where, with DTangled, a mime and marionette figure meet this virtuoso instrumentalist. Add verbal interaction of self deprecating humour and a quote from his brother-composer:
"From a single spark light is lit. In a single movement time begins. In a single breath freedom lives, air is bent, the note is sung, the movement starts. In one single thought your idea is born." 
Seemingly mesmerised, the physical and musical immersion of Mr Frost is a wonder to observe - a servant to the music, each note affecting a response in him, each rhythm a cue to 'dance'- each breath into his instrument a miracle of controlled beauty.

The first half of this concert concluded with an early work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No.21 in A, K.134 (1772). It is, part of Mozart's compositional output at the age of 16, and explores the Austro-German, more rigorous, four movement exploration of the Symphonic structure, rather than, the then preferred, Italian tradition, of the three movement form. It has all the lightness of the familiar 'summery' youthfulness that I recognise as a mark of the Mozartian repertoire. I was pleased to hear it, to extend my knowledge of Mozart's invention, but not arrested enough to be more curious of it, than in this hearing.

Nancy and Robert Pallin had commissioned the next work from Melbourne composer, Brenton Broadstock: NEVER TRULY LOST, in memory of Robert's father, Paddy Pallin. The work is described in the program as "a journey through an imaginary landscape, an imaginary 'bush walk' ".  There is space in the musical sounds to allow one to create one's own imaginary, independent 'walk' provoked, urged by the score. This mood work is in tune with the 'adventures' of Mr Frost's theatrics, and has atmospheric lighting cues, and in the playing of this world premiered work, the orchestra is bathed in a deep orange light, that aids the imaginary abandonment to its 'call". Beautiful. Invites reflection.

Finally, Martin Frost, plays the solo role on a basset clarinet, for a rendition of Mozart's, Clarinet Concerto in A, K.622 with the ACO. Mozart, writing this, in the maturity of his skills, his third last  work, before his sudden death, in 1791, explores and exhibits the full advantage of the timbral abundance of the clarinet. The 'possessed' playing by Mr Frost is a wealthy gift for the audience, spectacularly moving, beautiful and rewarding to hear, especially, in the moving second, Adagio movement. The demonstrated skill of contrast in volume and range is awe inspiring and breathtaking in its skill and aesthetic purities - from the crystalline upper register to the husky resonance of the deepest. Mr Frost is an artist not to be ever missed.

An encore, using one of the arrangements of Goran Frost of the Brahms' Hungarian Dances, took us, elated, out to a Sydney Spring day. Another transporting time with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Summertime in the Garden of Eden

Sisters Grimm and Griffin Independent in association with Theatre Works present SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

Recently, while cogitating on the Belvoir production of HAMLET I formulated what I believe is the priority for a successful collaboration in the theatre (and, I believe, in the other mediums, too.):

  1. The Writer (i.e. good writing).
  2. The Actor (i.e. good acting).
  3. The Designer (or, historically, the Producer).
  4. The Director.
In the time of Shakespeare that was the priority, and, I still believe, is more often than not, the best formula (in fact there used to be no director, that role, being a relatively recent invention.) The writer is the most important asset  (- enough, I say, of good actors making silk purses out of pig's ears!) Without the quality of writing it is an uphill battle to get a work to work - not impossible, but, considerately more difficult, and a kind of artistic sacrifice of the actor - who has to breathe life into the works every night, or, have it permanently on record, in the Film and television world - ugh!.

SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, the text by Ash Flanders and Declan Greene fails at the necessary, first priority. And at the second as well.

Earlier in the year this company presented LITTLE MERCY at the Sydney Theatre Company and in it paid wicked, and funny homage to the BAD SEED genre of Hollywood film. The writing, there, appeared to be very assured and inventive. SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN indulges in what the creators note:
Unlike most homosexuals we identify with headstrong, fallen women of the past. And for this reason, the Southern antebellum epic - in all (its) lush tragedy - is exactly where our hearts beat. 
Civil War Dramas, Historical Romances,and the Southern Gothic Literature is the resource, treasure trove, for this foray into 'campery'. JEZEBEL (1938); GONE WITH THE WIND (1939); THE LITTLE FOXES(1941); HUSH ... HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964); the poetics of writers such as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote surface in the writerly tone here, too, at their most suggestive sense of Southern decay, with added spice from the sexual transgressions and 'fascinations' of works like, perhaps, the MANDINGO (1964) series of films, based on the Kyle Onstott novel, and recent memories of work such as John Berendt's MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (1994 - movie 1997 - the Lady Chablis!!! makes her memory mark, here, in the casting), even, perhaps,  Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012), is relevant.

The Creators tell us in their program notes:
... adapting this genre to the stage in 2013 presents a range of challenges. Many of these texts feature incredibly problematic representations of gender, race and sexuality... for they represent examples of historical sexism, racism, or homophobia that can't be buried or suppressed or censored ... 
especially, in these times of acute political correctness. The authors signal an awareness of the difficulties, but do not do much more than, devotedly, pay homage to the melodramatics of the works in an extended sketch, that was, for me, highly reminiscent of the Carol Burnett Show of yore - those hilarious sketches that  were , of a length, not much more than 10 minutes. Is it that, that made them work - brevity, being the soul of wit? The experience of this writing, is then, of strained and stretched amusement, a campy love letter to the genre, and not much more. Extended beyond my interest - by some 60 minutes!

That the Director, Declan Greene, has cast a group of performers, in a cross-gendered way does not really bring 'political' content of any real clout to the work. Two Melbourne drag artists, in the principal roles, Olympia Bukkakis as Honey Sue Washington, and Agent Cleave as Daisy May Washington, unfortunately, do not bring much more than a disciplined drag artists' flair to the characterisations. Mr Greene has held their expected skills in, within a fierce dead-pan style ( though they burst-out now and again with lip-synched song and dance routine), recalling vividly the melodramatics of the actresses of the B-grade film world that the Sisters Grimm revere (Bette Davis, Joan Crawford Lana Turner etc.). These two artists wear exaggerated, decorative crinolines of the period with casual familiarity, especially, deft in circumnavigating the tiny and crowded space of the Griffin stage, with those wide hoops, designed and decorated with a witty imagination by Marg Horwell (by far, the design, the best contribution to this production). The balletic swan-like waving of arms and hands of Ms Bukkakis is the most deft effect of 'her' foray into creating character, while Ms Cleave appearing in full crinoline and black beard does not have the necessary and vital attack to 'her' text to help us suspend our disbelief in it being anything more than a night at a more than unusual 'serious' drag show. Bessie Holland, as Big Daddy, has a firmer understanding, if not much real sophistication, in her work, while Peter Paltos as Clive O'Donnell is the only real touchstone to the style and political target (tragedy, perhaps) of the work. Genevieve Giuffre as the puppeteer to a 'gollywog" as Mammy, the supervisor of the daily workings of the cotton plantation, "Fairweather", comes nearest to a thrill of the daring outrage that this work might otherwise pretend to cook - my North American friend, beside me, was a little uncomfortable with that flaunted cultural taboo, exhibited with such comic abandon.

SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN when compared and contrasted with the recent summer success of the Sisters Grimm's other work, LITTLE MERCY, pales beside the writing skills of that work, and most certainly against the acting skill and confidence of Ash Flanders (soon to appear as Belvoir's Hedda Gabler in the Ibsen text, next season!), Luke Mullins and Jill Mackay. Is the writing not up to the same level, or, is it just the disparity in acting skill that can't transcend/lift this writing into a sublimely comic experience? Both, I estimate. For, although the Design possibilities, on the Griffin stage, is limited in its facilities compared to the scale of invention and budget down at the STC, Ms Horwell creates a space of a spectacularly amusing camp invention - responsible for the best visual joke of the night - the resurrection of Daisy May from the depths of the 'cotton' pile that covers the floor (it was, unfortunately, all down hill from there, for me.) The Sound Design by Russell Goldsmith, uses musical memories of the Hollywood style, to some effect without much craft, while the Lighting Design by Katie Sfetkidis provides beauty and pragmatic support for the work.

It is interesting to see the Sydney mainstream companies responding, obviously, to the Queer theatre tradition, at last. It's influence has been around for ever - mostly in closeted-code, of course. There are, however, vivd memories, of Sydney 'glory' years stirred, with the Sisters Grimm works, for some of the knowing audience, recalled, incidentally, so promisingly in Brent Thorpe's Mardi Gras show TOO OLD FOR TV earlier this year, memories such as: Reg Livermore and his Betty Blockbuster spectacles; Lindsay Kemp and Michael Matou's separate companies; the Garibaldi Club; The Stranded Club in the Strand Arcade (now, lamentably, a JB Hifi store); The Club Bent extravaganzas; the curated work by Victoria Spence at Carriageworks and elsewhere: QUICK AND DIRTY, for instance. Who will ever forget the recent invention and cleverness of Matt Stegh, Matt Hornby and Justin Shoulder in their creations of DICKY AND DICKY? or, the sheer abandoned joy of YOU LITTLE STRIPPER at the Red Rattler, not long ago, and the weirdness of Mr Shoulder's THE RIVER EATS, this year, at Carriageworks?

The Sisters Grimm, Mr Flanders and Greene, have arrived from Melbourne in Sydney, at a fortuitously 'fashionable' time, for their 'thing', for they have much work with Sydney's mainstream companies in the new year. They have become, undoubtedly, fashionably chic. It is then, a caution, I reckon, that the flash and dash, the outrageous fun of performing in an underground car-park, where SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN originated, is not enough to create more than a camp laugh in a kind of Christmas pantomime offer in the theatre, without more writing and casting care and thought (the Design - the wrapping, has, as with most drag shows, had, of course a proper priority of attention!).  One does long that these two artists who have achieved such opportunities to show their creative efforts in such prominent spaces could take on the responsibility of those opportunities with a more agile and confronting political nous. The work of Charles Ludlam and Charles Busch come to mind as role models. In fact, it was Mr Busch's PSYCHO BEACH PARTY at the Bondi Pavilion, for the Rock Surfers, that brought Mr Flanders, Ms Guiffre and Mr Paltos to my grateful attention.

Finally, I hate being the wicked 'fairy' at this party, especially, if I consider the response this performance received on the night I attended, a kind of rapture , but, SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN is only ok, nowhere near the quality of effort we have already seen from this company. It palls quickly, except, perhaps, for those of us who are fashionably chic or novice to this kind of work - it could be, for the 'innocent', or young,  an outrageous and fascinating experience. I was disappointed and over it, ten minutes in - and there were still sixty minutes more of it 'to look at'.

Of the above formula for success that introduced this Diary entry, only that of Design (Producer) passes muster. And, to be sure, in this case: "All that glisters is not gold..."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield

Dreamingful Productions presents ATOMIC - A New Musical in the Parade Playhouse, Parade Theatres, Kensington.

ATOMIC - A New Musical performed in the Parade Playhouse in Kensington is a work in development - progress. A workshop reading was, so I am told, held in February of this year. It seems that much as been going on since then. One of the writers is an Australian, Danny Ginges, working with Gregory Bonsignore, an American, both on the Book and Lyrics. Philip Foxman of Australian/American background has been collaborating on the Music and Lyrics. All assisted by Shannon Murdoch, from Melbourne as Dramaturg. An American Director, Damien Gray with a New York based Australian Designer, Neil Patel have staged the work along with Australians working on Costume: Emma Kingsbury; Properties: Sarah Pickup; Lighting: Niklas Pajanti; and Sound Design: Michael Waters. Musical Direction/Orchestration/Vocal Arrangement: Andy Peterson; Choreography: Larissa McGowan, both Australian.

ATOMIC is a bio-graphical rock-musical occupied with the life of Leo Szilard (1898-1964) - an Hungarian/American scientist. Born in Hungary, to Jewish parents, he served in World War I, studied mathematics, trained in Germany as a physicist, then fleeing Nazi anti-semitism, to London and, consequently, to the United States. It was Leo Szilard who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933; patented the idea of the nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and became involved in The Manhattan Project to build an Atomic Bomb in the scientific "race" against time and the German scientists during the Second World War. Szilard always had moral and ethical issues around the foreseeable consequences of his work, and did not publish much, and as a result, he was not included with the other  Nobel Prize winning scientists and is virtually unknown. It was he, who went on, after, World War II, to develop the electron microscope, the linear accelerator and cobalt therapy radiation treatment for cancer, and finished his career with the Salk Institute in San Diego.

This musical covers that vast canvas of countries, state/international politics, scientific politics, moral and ethical politics, and just as importantly, in this story, his personal politics - his relationship with his devoted wife, Trude, throughout it all.

With only seven performers: Michael Falzon (Leo Szilard), Bronwyn Mulcahy (Trude Szilard), David Whitney (Fermi/ensemble), Simon Brook McLachlan (Oppenheimer/ensemble), Blake Erickson (Compton/ensemble), Lesna Nesnas (Lucy/ensemble) and Christy Sullivan (Leona/ensemble), the Director, Damien Gray, has developed a sophisticated and detailed range of characters on stage. The acting is most astonishing. Musically, the company is extremely accomplished and the choreography as slick as. The Set Design of a scaffolding background, scaled with inventive, visceral lighting effects, and a set of six sliding screens to shift locations and create illusions of travel: plane, boat and train, is tailored  to this showcase production with an elegant and, indeed, beautiful quality. A long rectangular wheeled table serves an amazing range of functions and the properties are simple narrative supporters - take note of the 'sacrificial' goat. The costume details, to create and facilitate the quick changes for an enormous range of characters, is inventive and intricate in its collaboration. The sound design by Michael Waters in location shifting effects is of a high creativity, the technical control on the "Surround Sound" of it all startlingly good, immersive.

All of this production is of a whole and serves to give an entirely rewarding night in the theatre.

I usually measure the success of a performance by the amount of time that I find myself immersed in the story and the incidents. I found that in the first 20 minutes, or, so, I was unsettled, and whether it was because of the dazzling range of character changes that the performers were having to communicate to us, so that I was still adjusting to the "theatrical contract" being offered to us, or, the over familiar early story of pre-war Berlin and the persecution of the Jewish population, or, that it was the simple pragmatic technicality that the songs were too short - so each time I began to 'take-off' with the material, I was brought back to 'earth' and had to "take-off"again, I am not sure. But from the musical song: "America Amore" delivered by David Whitney and ensemble, I was suspended into belief and curiosity. I was completely won over. Considering, with an interval, this production is running almost 3 hours, it was a considerable achievement.

The scientific, bio-graphical details of the events in Leo Szilard's life is counterpointed with the poignant evolution of his relationship with his wife, Trude, and his philosophical moral and ethical dilemmas about the consequences of his life's work. The passion of the creative scientist and the pragmatic consequences! Mr Falzon gives a remarkably sensitive reading and is equipped with singing skills and technique to seamlessly take us into the ambition and doubts that Leo Szilard experienced. He is the undoubted spine that creates the sweeping human quality of this production. Ms Mulcahy gains focus and power throughout the performance in the difficult role of Trude, and reaches a telling empathy with her act two song: "What I Tell Myself." David Whitney gives a tour de force performance as Fermi (again, "America Amore") but in all his other ensemble work, too. In this small company there is no weak link, at all. (are historical figures like Fermi and Oppenheimer, to casually respected?!!!)

The music and lyrics are easy to absorb. Of recent Music Theatre, I was particularly surprised at the subject matter of NEXT TO NORMAL and was stimulated at the depth of its examination of a very serious social phenomenon (if not the actual musical performance). ATOMIC has that appeal for me, as well. The issues are important and need to be examined in the framework of our present times, still, urgently.
"We turned the switch, saw the flashes, watched for ten minutes, then switched everything off and went home. That night I knew the world was headed for sorrow" - Leo Szilard. 
Nagasaki and Hiroshima followed this observation of the American desert atomic experiment.

I understand that this production is headed to New York and the off-Broadway Playwright Horizons theatres. I hope it does well. Catch this work if you can. It is an entirely satisfying experience as it stands at the moment, and I am sure it will go through even further workshop development. This work seems to be in a much better place than the DOCTOR ZHIVAGO exploration of a few years ago now, at the Lyric Theatre, that also had an eye to the Great White Way.

Best Wishes to all the team.

Do go.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Carrie, The Musical

2013 Reginald Season. Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre proudly presents CARRIE, The Musical, in the Reginald Theatre, the Seymour Centre, Sydney.

CARRIE, The Musical in the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre is using a 2012 re-working that was presented off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Originally, presented in 1988 on Broadway, in the Virginia Theatre, it survived only16 preview and 5 performances, costing the investors some $8 million when it pre-maturely closed - a total disaster. Based on the 1974 book by Stephen King and the 1976 movie directed by Brian De Palma, and starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie (both nominated for Academy Awards), it is a supernatural horror story concerning a young girl, Carrie White, bullied at school and at home, who develops telekinetic powers that produce cataclysmic consequences for her and the community she lives in.

Music (a rock-musical) is by Michael Gore. Lyrics by Dean Pitchford. Book by Lawrence D. Cohen. This production from Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre is directed by Jay James-Moody. The Musical Director is Mark Chamberlain. Choreography by Shondelle Pratt.

This production was an entire surprise and delight. Mr James-Moody has harnessed all the talents of this company tightly and inspired them to a discipline of honest and direct storytelling. There are no flabby signs of spoof or campery here, rather a gradual ratcheting up of realistic tensions within the High School environment and the White household. The singing is strong. The dancing is tight. The acting is direct and simply expressed. The chorus have developed individual characters that all make a mark of note during the proceedings. I thought that the principals were outstanding: Margi de Ferranti as Margaret White; with Toby Francis as Billy Nolan and Prudence Holloway as Chris Hargensen, the villains of the piece; and especially Rob Johnson who has created a personable Tommy Ross and Adele Parkinson as Sue Snell, the goodies. The standout was Hilary Cole as Carrie, creating an empathetic character with a vocal power and security of aching ability. Mark Chamberlain as Musical Director manages the music with his orchestra with some muscular but empathetic control.

The design by Sean Minahan is clean and simple and organises the telekinetic 'wonders' with an ease that does away with spectacle and enhances the excitement, just because of that honest and simple approach.The lighting design by Mike Rice is atmospheric and useful in controlling our responses.

CARRIE The Musical, because of its infamous Broadway history has become the centre of a 'cult' anticipation around the musical theatre world. This production by Squabbalogic, the Australian Premiere of this work, deserves enthusiastic support for its crisp and honest offers. Talking with a producer-friend in New York recently, he commented that to get a show on Broadway may cost anything from $6million up, and yet in Sydney some companies (i.e. local community groups, to be sure) can produce the same work, for maybe, $6 thousand. In the case of CARRIE then, at the Reginald, with its budget nearer the thousands than the millions, less money, may certainly be better.

With "Schoolies" weeks going on around Australia, seeing CARRIE might give pause to some of the ructions.


P.S. The new movie version is due any minute, starring Chloe Grace Maetz, Julianne Moore and young Australian, Alex Russell as bad boy, Billy Nolan.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Belvoir presents HAMLET by William Shakespeare in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, Surry Hiills.

HAMLET by William Shakespeare, is, perhaps the challenge, the equivalent measuring stick for a theatre company and its artistic endeavours as, say, Tchaikovsky's SWAN LAKE may be for the Ballet Companies of the World, or, Wagner's DE RING DES NIBELUNGEN may be for an Opera Company, or, Beethoven's NINTH SYMPHONY for a Concert Orchestra.

This production of HAMLET at the Belvoir Theatre is an adaptation by Simon Stone of William Shakespeare's play, for 8 actors and 2 musicians. The original text has been severely edited and re-arranged.
"Hamlet is a play that, probably, has been performed more than any other play in the world, and been written about, more than any other literary work. It's been translated more than any other play and has inspired more spoofs" - the Nimrod St Theatre (the 'father' to Belvoir St Theatre) back in December, 1971 gave a Christmas pantomime called HAMLET ON ICE by Michael Boddy, Marcus Cooney, Ron Blair, and the cast: one of the many famous moments included Kate Fitzpatrick as Hamlet, contemplating a spectacularly 'shelved' part of her body while uttering: 'O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!' - "spinoffs, offshoots, send ups, burlesques, and adaptations, including a spaghetti western called JOHHNY HAMLET and a four minute cartoon, ENTER HAMLET, narrated by Maurice Evans. There is even a Popeye version of the play," and I am sure I can be pointed to the Simpsons episode (episodes) dealing with this Prince of Denmark. "There have been more than fifty film versions of this play" - the Rory Kinnear, National Theatre production (2010) is soon to be re-screened as part of that Company's 50th Anniversary celebrations here in Sydney - weekend 30th Nov-1st Dec. Benedict Cumberbatch is next actor off the rank, in London, I've heard!) "It has inspired, twenty six ballets, six operas, and dozens of musical works from Tchaikovsky and Listz to Shostakovitch to contemporary composers. There have been Hamlet cigars, bicycles, beer and laundry mats, Hamlet jewellery, games, paper dolls, and maps of the world abound with towns, streets, and business establishments called Hamlet." (1.)
HAMLET is rarely performed in its entirety, it is the longest play Shakespeare wrote. The uncut version, dubbed the "eternity Hamlet" by critic John Trewin, takes four and a half to five hours to perform. The Kenneth Branagh film version (1996) is just over four hours long (although, there is also a two and a half hour edit).  Mr Stone's version is some two hours twenty minutes, with an interval. Truncated, indeed.

The interview of Mr Stone given to Ralph Myers, the Designer of the production, and Artistic Director of Belvoir Theatre, in the program notes to this production, reveals to us that Mr Stone was drawn to this play for three reasons: "Because it's an amazing play" (not all of it, "amazing" enough it seems), that he has found the right (timely) actor for it, Toby Schmitz (and one assumes, also, sub-sequentially, Ewen Leslie!) and, thirdly, that he has a particular personal connection to it, the loss of his own father when he was a boy:
All of the plays that I want to do have some resonance with the life that I have lived - necessarily, because you don't respond to something if you don't recognise the motivations of the characters in it, or the world. The experience of having lost my father colours MY version of Hamlet, rather than just the choice to do it.
Of the emphasis in the adaptation and production of this HAMLET, Mr Stone tells us:
It's about following the path of a grief-addled brain into complete self-destruction. ... This production of HAMLET reflects, in certain ways, that experience of mine. ... That's the reason why the HAMLET story (or, at least, the one Mr Stone has edited for us) unfolds as it does. Because he's not only someone who misses his father and wants to see him, but he's also ready to attack the world and try to reshape it in the image of justice that he believes in. And so it's a really tragic combination of a newly ideological man and a sense of righteous grief. It helps us to understand his need to take vengeance."(2)
This psychological shadow that this artist, Mr Stone, freely, tells us of, then, has had other therapeutic exercises for us at Belvoir from this director, as I recall. Just consider the obvious ones as in Arthur Miller's, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, with its core relationship (and climatic scene) between Willy and his son Biff; that of Brick and 'Big' Daddy, especially in the long Act Two duologue between them, in Tennessee Williams' CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. One can stretch it further, perhaps, into the core of THE ONLY CHILD; THE WILD DUCK, both adaptations of Ibsen texts, both, with child and parent issues in its dramaturgical structures; and the Eugene O'Neill, STRANGE INTERLUDE, other Belvoir productions of Mr Stone's. One has been waiting for Mr Stone's 'go' at HAMLET to see how this dominating thematic of his would manifest.

Richard Eyre talking of Hamlet:
His father dies suddenly, cut off in his prime. His mother marries within two months. Now I challenge anybody who's very young and sensitive and imaginative not to feel the chronic grief and the most chronic emotional disturbance as a consequence of those two things. And anybody who disputes that simply has never experienced any kind of jealousy or disturbance concerning the sexuality of their parents." (1). 
This Hamlet's attack on the world about him, in Mr Stone's edition of the core text, focuses the incredible vulnerability of a son who misses his father, by emphasising the psychopathic nature of Hamlet under these due pressures, concluding with the visualised staging of the walking dead, all dripping blood - innocent bystanders killed in his rage for justice (Ophelia, Laertes, Polonius, Rosencrantz/Guilenstern, Gertrude, and the not so innocent, Claudius) - and in his vituperative misogynistic treatment of the women, Ophelia (the Nunnery scene), and Gertrude (the Closet scene). It is a powerful diminution of Shakespeare's great play to serve this Adaptor/Director's purpose. Striking and convincing, but, only, on its own terms, for Shakespeare's HAMLET is so much more than that of Mr Stone's vivid experiencing of his own life and world, it seems, from the extant evidence of this production.

Sitting in a black curtained, flat-black floor space, (Set Design, Ralph Myers) as the audience enters, is a pianist (Luke Byrne), dressed in concert tails (Costume Designer, Mel Page) at a black grand piano, playing softly, maybe, some Satie (- just briefly, wickedly, I had hoped for some Coward!) A set of black chairs line the walls. Rows of cylinder lighting-focuses, hang down from the roof (Lighting Design, Benjamin Cisterne). Toby Schmitz, in a dark velvet lounge jacket and dark pants, coiffed meticulously, sits and listens, and watches us enter; occasionally, drawing our attention to another seated figure on the other wall, in a white linen suit coat and light coloured trousers with an open necked white shirt, Anthony Phelan. Mr Stone, in the present-life as we enter, thus, introduces us to a young man, presumably, Hamlet, communing in silence with another, presumably, the ghost of his father (for me, this imagery, and the always present inter-actions between these two, during the production, evoked the imagery from Ingmar Bergman's biographical film FANNY AND ALEXANDER - 1982), and just as Mr Stone, in life did, (he confesses in the notes of the program), they interact " ... in waking life, meeting with him and talking to him and living with him" so that this very personal direction, production, "reflects ... that experience of mine." (2). The light dims in the auditorium and a counter-tenor (Maximilian Riebl) wanders into the space singing, creating an ethereal mood/atmosphere with the first of many songs from a repertoire of, mostly, seventeenth and eighteenth century sound - the last being the famous, "When I am Laid in Earth" - Purcell, DIDO AND AENEAS, (a la Kosky).

A company of actors, then (they have no exclusive definition in the program, just their name listed as a company), act out, role play, recognisable, speeches that demarcate them as characters from Shakespeare's play: Toby Schmitz=Hamlet; Anthony Phelan=the dead King Hamlet; Thomas Campbell=Laertes; Emily Barclay=Ophelia; Greg Stone=Polonius; Robyn Nevin=Gertrude; John Gaden=Claudius and Nathan Lovejoy=Rosencratz/Guildenstern; but, they also, seamlessly, take on responsibility of edits and conglomerations of other characters/speeches (e.g. Horatio, the Gravedigger, Osric, Fortinbras) that smoothly facilitate this therapeutic-exercise of Mr Stone's. For those of us who know the play well, it is a fascinating exercise to unravel and interpret this new twisting 'plot' from the original play; sorting, intellectually, the staging of this exercise, which is an imaginative concoction of invention, to serve the peculiar, particular "possession", by Mr Stone of this great play - it, being well and truly out of copyright jurisdiction, unlike the recent American texts employed by Mr Stone, it is a rewarding and malleable resource, indeed, to appropriate for this explorative exercise. After the interval we return to the theatre that now houses, not unexpectedly,(some of us won and lost a bet!), a white-hot box, with piano etc as before, but, with an actor in a large pool of blood, it, too, not an unexpected design or directorial gesture (again money changed hands). It is, undoubtedly, true, the whiter, the brighter the box, all the better to see the drips, foot and hand prints of the victims trailing over the 'canvas' of the design, to illustrate the mounting deeds of unhinged Hamlet. The design of this production, essentially is a familiar technique, such that the effect is not really much of a palpable theatrical 'hit' these days- over usage has worn-out the impact of its 'plotting'. The costumes are very reminiscent of the Philip Prowse,1970-80's Glasgow Citizens shock and awe look - again, a not too unfamiliar offer.

The acting is the thing here. The bristling intelligence and intelligibility of these performers lift this convoluted production into a must watch intensity - they indicate to us, that they are in control of every minute of the director's demands and so arrest our attention, rivet us, defy us to not to engage. Could there be a more powerful, creative group onstage, together, this year so far? Thomas Campbell, Nathan Lovejoy, Robyn Nevin, Anthony Phelan, Greg Stone, John Gaden, Emily Barclay and Toby Schmitz? The cleverness of communicated intention and craftsmanship is of a very high order. It is, also, an ensemble of much empathetic force. "What might this group of actors have brought to Shakespeare's play, as written, as well?", one wonders.

Anthony Phelan, with not much text, creates a radiating force of presence, dominating the atmospherics of this production with an imperturbable self-possession of pity. Nathan Lovejoy, too, creates with his non-verbal 'acting' in response to what is happening about him, a clear and insightful commentary to the dilemma that Hamlet's behaviour has made - the relaxed presence brings a maturity to his human tasks, both mordant and tragic (see, EMPIRE: TERROR ON THE HIGH SEAS), and although, relatively, verbally textually, limited, he is, of course, no slouch in delivery. Thomas Campbell confirms, further, to remarkable effect, his ability to balance objective craft technique and subjective expression of emotion to tell his story in the jigsaw of this production, (see PENELOPE) - his 'dealing' with Laertes' grief, in the later scenes of this production, brought a humanity to this production which otherwise tended towards a favoured, a cooler cerebral set of choices.

Robyn Nevin's Gertrude, structures a narrative journey of a woman 'drinking' herself into a kind of oblivion to blind herself to what she suspects and what she knows. There is a sense of the 'whitened sepulchre' in her offers - dressed in an elegant, trained-white dress, topped with a strident white haired coiffure that progressively deteriorates into a look of frenzied chaos - almost never without a glass in her hand, the irony of the poisoned chalice becoming the agent of her demise, is cleverly underlined. (That Mr Stone has Ophelia walk, resurrected and wet, across the stage during Gertrude's, telling of the suicide of Ophelia - "There is a willow that grows aslant..." Act V Sc 1 - does no favour to Ms Nevin's performance of it -splitting our focus.)

Greg Stone as Polonius seems to have most of his original text in place and he makes the most conventional postures in this company, confidently amusing and befuddled - aiming directly for the 'low comedy' of it; while John Gaden seems surprised to be creating Claudius, his natural demeanour and usual work reflecting more the dithering intellectualisms of Polonius - I wondered if the actors had changed roles, what would have been the consequential dynamics? Certainly, one was a little bewildered with the physical age of Mr Gaden's nefarious man, certainly in the character's objectives towards Gertrude and the Kingship (perhaps, like our Prince Charles, Claudius had become too tired of waiting!)

Emily Barclay was the surprise, for me, Ophelia's early scenes had a simple and uncomplicated clarity and gave us room for empathy, although the famous, later, 'mad' scene, was the usual straightforward reading, this singular re-writing of the Shakespearean original by Mr Stone, not able to give her, or, us, a new viewpoint - it is a notorious difficulty (one wonders why actors more often than not, want to solve Ophelia), and here the relatively uncut length seemed to hold-up the impetus to the production's climax.

Toby Schmitz, has played Hamlet before, and he brings to this cut-up version, the confidence of a pre-knowledge, a knowing of what is not there any more, and embodying that Shakespearean absence with tremendous madness in craft, equally measured, accompanied, with his intelligence, even as he demonstrates, once again, an unchecked tendency to indulge the role and its potential filled moments (see ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD) - pushing his affects. One did wonder, if Mr Schmitz with his inventive and often playfully wicked sense of humour -noted the skips over the puddle of blood - nearly always on display in his performances, was also parodying Mr Stone, by investing this Hamlet with such a broadly ostentatious Australian accent - one that 'was weary, stale, and especially, flat in its vowel exaggerations. From the get-up, even when sitting against the wall, in the audience entrance prologue, the performance is emotionally super-charged, pitched at a passion that he seems to tear to shreds, threads, later, flushing almost permanently crimson with effort, with the veins of his neck attempting to break through his skin to spurt us into this Hamlet's grief and rage - a rage, that in the production's final conceit of the walking, dripping-blood dead, surrounding him - focuses on the psychopathic violence of a late Elizabethan world. In summary, a fine but partial Hamlet. Not enough soul, perhaps. How fortunate that Mr Stone, the director, has found the therapy of practicing in the field of the performing arts to overcome his own contemporary life experience, for good, rather than destruction, then!

I enjoyed myself with the cryptic un-doing that I had to bring to comprehending this 'take' on Shakespeare's HAMLET. My knowledge of the original was a decided asset.

Mr Stone, defending his interviewer's, Mr Myers', assumption that most of the audience would know the play, believes, that even
People who have never read or seen the play before should be able to have an entirely enjoyable experience, understanding what's going on and be transported by it.
This was not the case, of course, for everybody, and some of my companions, with no experience of the original play, or, only a cursory one, found themselves lost and frustrated in trying to comprehend who was who, and what was happening. So bewildered were they that they found their only re-action to the last scene's conceit of the walking, choking gurgling dead - "Hamlet and His Zombies' Haunting", some of them delightedly called it, after - was giggling at the stylised choices, not anchored, for them, in any recognisable form, or clear storytelling technique to comprehend, at all.

I had recently watched, with some of them, the Marvel (Comic) Studios, THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013). I had not seen the first film and so found that I could not grasp, for some time, who was who, and how they were related, and what was happening and why. My companions did not find, like I did with THOR at the Events Cinema, a secure understanding and transportation in the Belvoir theatre of this version of HAMLET.  This HAMLET is a Reader's Digest version of the original, with Marvel Comic like actions, claiming some of the material to serve to tell what has been textually removed, to attempt to clarify for the audience this very personal life recognition of Mr Stone's in the late career  of Hamlet (the five acts of Shakespeare's play.) The audience communication is limited and although, like THOR it has some directorial whiz-bangery going on, it seems to ignore the general audience and assumes a kind of elitist expectation of literate sophistication from all of them. Mr Stone tells us that his reasons for "omitting bits" of the play, and, although he mourns the loss of sometimes famous, even plainly insightful lines:
 "...my philosophy is that if you are listening to a lot of the play means you stop listening to the really important scenes then you have done a disservice to the whole. The aim is always that the audience listens to every single word of the play put on stage. In every production you achieve that by making choices." (2). 
Unfortunately, some of the audience were not able and, or, could not, did not listen to all of the words of even this self-serving edit of the original, and stopped listening. Mr Stone's generous aim in re-creating HAMLET, so that we may hear all of the text, he thought important, was then, a disservice to the parts of his construction (destruction), as well as to the whole of Shakespeare's original.
"In the tragedy of HAMLET, the ghost of a king appears on the stage. Hamlet becomes crazy in the second act and his mistress becomes crazy in the third. The Prince slays the father of his mistress on the pre tense of killing a rat, the heroine throws herself into a river. In the meanwhile another of the actors conquers Poland. Hamlet, his mother and his father carouse on the stage. Songs are sung at table. There's quarrelling, fighting, killing. It is a vulgar and barbarous drama which would not be tolerated by the vilest populace of France or Italy. One would imagine this piece to be the work of a drunken savage."
So says Voltaire of the original. I wonder what he would make of Mr Stone's HAMLET, it, using only some parts of Shakespeare's play.

This textual adaptation of Shakespeare's play by Simon Stone was a disappointment, redeemed by acting of dazzling concentration and commitment, although one was never much moved, mostly, just cryptically stimulated - it was fun decoding the staging of the edited original. As far as the production of HAMLET being a bench mark of excellence for a theatre company, I estimate it a failure, (see, Hamlet***).

P.S. One had wondered with real interest what Mr Stone would have made of Philip Barry's 1939 comedy,THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, its actions and themes so, unusually, outside his usual display of interest - a young woman conflicted about her marriage choices. Alas, we will never know, as the rights for this announced production for the coming Belvoir subscription season, have not been granted by its owners. Instead, we shall have Mr Stone's response to the "resonance with the life that (he) has lived" concerning Gogol's classic satire of a presentable young man, Khlestakov, who face to face with a community willingly accepts a persona thrust upon him by that deluded community, showering him with gifts, defrauding them sufficiently to leave town laden with loot: THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR. I look forward to it. The well remembered production by Neil Armfield is well treasured.


  1. The Friendly Shakespeare - Norrie Epstein. Penguin Books - 1993.
  2. The program notes from the Belvoir program for HAMLET.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Life and Times: Episodes 1-4

Melbourne Festival presents Nature Theater of Oklahoma (USA) in LIFE AND TIMES: EPISODES 1-4, at the Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse.

Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska met up while studying writing and theatre at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and after moving to New York in 2004, created a company:Nature Theater of Oklahoma - it, adopted from a name of a dubious and promising troop in Kafka's unfinished novel AMERIKA. I first saw this company in 2009 as part of the Sydney Festival, in their work NO DICE. I was won over and have followed their progress ever since. Earlier this year there were some great reviews in the New York Times of their latest work LIFE AND TIMES: EPISODE 1-4. Seeing that it was to be part of the Melbourne Arts Festival this year, it was a no-brainer that I would get down to see it.

The company has an ambition with LIFE AND TIMES, which is based on a verbatim transcript of over 16 hours of recorded audio of one of their company, Kristin Worrall, telling of her own life story, to create a 24 hour/10 play performance. The presentation we saw was the first four episodes, lasting some 10 hours, including interval breaks, covering the first 18 years of her life. The text is an exact verbatim transcription, with all the hesitations and wanderings and digressions of this single person. Filled with simple moments of insight, flashes of half-forgotten friends, events and things, it is like the free wheeling stream-of-conscious conversation one might have with someone, one is getting to love, to know.

Episode 1 begins with her first memories up to the age of 8. The style of performance is that of a musical oratorio, sung, individually, progressively, by all of the company, accompanied by a live, small orchestra. Dressed in a simple uniform costume the singing is fused with physical choreography using rhythmic gymnastic gestures and steps.

 Episode 2 continues the remembrance from the age of 8-14. This time, the music is pre-recorded and has a bland musicality reminiscent of the core Disco Beat of the Nineteen Seventies and Eighties! - never quoting a single hit, but, tantalisingly, nearly - while the company are dressed in 'real' gym clothing and 'dance' to the impulse of choreography that does not necessarily have a connection to what is been spoken. The text is full of events and objects that we the audience can personally recall - the effect is one that is nostalgic, humourous and sometimes, deeply moving - reflective.

For both episodes,the setting is a simple narrow white backdrop that spills forward onto the stage platform (the actual company was augmented to a larger chorus with artists from Melbourne for the second episode). The words to the episodes , the text, is projected onto two side screens for us to read.

After the final interval, the audience return to the theatre for Episodes 3 and 4, to find a painted setting for what could be an Agatha Christie amateur theatre production of one her plays (the logic of this, if one wants logic, refers back to the autobiographer's afternoons, mentioned in a previous episode, spent with the mother of a friend, telling her plots from Ms Christie's work and that of Alfred Hitchcock). The company costumed in attempts of recall of clothing (theatrical, or not) of the period, so that the verbatim script is delivered, played, 'twisted' into that of a production in the manner of those works - a'locked-room" mystery play. As in episode 1 and 2, the speech of the telephone monologue is not altered, every word of the original conversation is heard - not a single hesitation (ummmm), laugh, (ha, ha, ha. He, he, he) sigh or pause (...) is removed, smoothed over or reduced in length. The performance justifications to continue to 'play' in the style/manner of Christie is, consequently, inventive and hilarious in the solutions. N.B.The words of the text are also projected on two side screens for us to read, as well.

In LIFE AND TIMES the constraints and hurdles facing the actors, imposed by the directors, demonstrates that chance and freedom as artistic practice can be very interesting, absorbing, entertaining within the scope of defined rules. The tensions raised by these directed freedoms, create, in this case, a means to give the audience an insightful and sustainable way to be engaged, more often than not, in this 8 hour theatre experience. The other two hours were interval breaks, including one, where the company cooked and served us barbecue! - no rest for those wicked actors!

What becomes transcendently apparent as this example of 'endure'-ational performance unwinds, is that this portrait of an unremarkable life, delivered without alteration from an ordinary telephone transcription, has epic proportions, scale and meaning, when placed in this discipline. One begins to see that the words NORMAL or UNREMARKABLE applied to any human being is utterly meaningless, and even, if one were religious, an insult to our maker. This woman's story becomes in the details of its telling, and in the time density of its telling, a recognisable one, a familiar one, a universal one. Value is given to this normal, this unremarkable, this ordinary (and what is more valuable than the commitment of one's time - it has finite prospects, does it not?) - one feels enhanced, and this story of Kristin Worrall is appreciated as worthy in its telling, as say that of a Hamlet, Lear or Cleopatra. Our reward is both, metaphorically, big and little.

There is something for me, great, in the experiencing of an epic performance that has such a huge time scale. Whether it is merely surviving the form of the event that gives one a sense of achievement, or the breadth and repetition of the content that informs and, ultimately, inspires one to see and 'read' the world around one with truly appreciative eyes, it is is a wondrous thing to have had done for one - and we do need to be reminded of the value and worth of every human being, every now and then, I reckon. I laughed. I cried. I found inspiration. I found comfort. I watched. I slept occasionally, perchance, I believe I dreamt. For, I woke, and laughed and cried some more. A lot more, both.  I had a great time. A memorable one.

The originality, the exploration, the daring point of view and methods, the discipline, the generosity of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma is well worth being part of.

If you can find them, do it.

Conceived and Directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper.

From a Telephone Conversation with Kristin Worrall.

Original Music by Robert M.Johanson (Episode 1)
Robert M. Johanson and Julie LeMendola (Episode 2)
Robert M. Johanson and Daniel Gower (Episode 3 &4)

Design by Peter Nigrini

Featuring Ilan Bachrach, Astli Bulbul, Elizabeth
Conner, Gabel Eiben, Daniel Gower, Anne Gridley,
Robert M. Johanson, Matthew Korahais, Julie LeMendola,
Kristin Worrall.

Dramaturg Florian Malzacher.

Production Manager Dany Naierman

Audio Engineer Daniel Gower.

Choir Andrew Barneveld, Clare Reddan, Gordon Bedlow,
Jonno Katz, Madeline Mackenzie, Michael White, Phoebe
Thompson-Star, Sami Mesh.

The Violence Project

Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) presents THE VIOLENCE PROJECT at Fairfield School of Arts, Harris Street, Fairfield.

THE VIOLENCE PROJECT is a short verbatim project (45 minutes) researched and prepared by this young company:
"Forty nine different voices from dozens of different countries, many in languages other than English, have come together for this project. These are stories from young people from Western Sydney, their response to violence, how they perceive it and live with it, and how their experiences are unique." 
This work does not depict violent acts but is reflective in attempting to explain the reasons for it. It attempts to tell us Why it happens, not to demonstrate What shapes it takes.

What is interesting is the point of view that these collected voices give us. The naive presumption that one Australian life is much like another is exploded here, but with not violence, but with startling revelations of personal histories from the recent past and in the aching present, that explains some of the anger, violence about us. The post traumatic stress of dangerous living in other countries, the dreadful burden of daily living in a home of daily and relentless anxiety, and the forlorn hope of a future without that weight of dread, is sadly unburdened for us. The traumas of war, migration, racism and social isolation are revealed to us, gently, but with urgent appeal for understanding, rather than for hasty judgement.

Six young artists, Justin Kilic, Angela Tran, Amanda Sullo, David Roberts, Adham Al Msoodny and Joseph Carbone under the direction of Johnny Leahy, Dramaturgy by Donna Abella (and Andy Ko), and Choreography by Linda Luke (using the Parkour skills of two of the participants to mesmerising affect), aided with video media film images, capture with simple an honest performances, the audience, with a gentle and vulnerable immediacy. Unsophisticated, sure, but rendered with a deep sense of integrity and responsibility.

"The source material for this show was created through a series of workshops with young people from Western Sydney, with a significant portion of these young participants being newly arrived refugees. The workshops were run by Sweatshop - Western Sydney Literacy Movement, with the assistance of the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors [STARTTS]..."

This form of Community Theatre is staggering in its influence and revelation - a kind of community talking cure. I attended with a young aspirant actor from the local area, I am working with. She was moved and impressed. Excited and eager to know how to participate. THE VIOLENCE PROJECT was her first theatre experience, ever. It will be not her last.

Congratulations to PYT and its organisers, Karen Therese, Johanna Allen & Nathan Luff. It highlights the importance of the performing arts as a persuasive instrument to implement change through shared conversation.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sweet Nothings

pantsguys, Geraldine Timmins and ATYP Under The Wharf present SWEET NOTHINGS by David Harrower, after Arthur Schnitzler at ATYP Studio 1, Pier 4 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay.

SWEET NOTHINGS is an adaptation by David Harrower (2010) of the Viennese writer, Arthur Schnitzler's play, LIEBELIE (!895).

Arthur Schnitzler first came to my attention with the National Theatre's production of his long, sexually sophisticated play, DAS WEITE LAND (1911) translated/adapted by Tom Stoppard, in 1979, as UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, at the National Theatre in London. REIGEN (1897) I have known as LA RONDE (have seen many times) - a ten scene set of duets of sexual hijinx across the class structure of Viennese society, ending with the pair it began with, and was banned, proving to be unprintable for several years and unplayable on stage for many more. It was adapted in 1998 by David Hare as THE BLUE ROOM. Stanley Kubrick's last film, EYES WIDE SHUT (1999) was drawn from a Schnitzler novella, TRAUMSPIEL - a sophisticated tale of the sexual dreams/fantasies of a married couple. I have had an interest in his writing, then, for some time,(including, especially, the long story, LIEUTENANT GUSTL (1900), a stream-of-consciousness exploration of the mortal anxieties of a boastful Austrian officer who, like Fritz in SWEET NOTHINGS, is facing a duel he has provoked), and have always felt it had some of the intuitive observations of human behaviour that one can observe in Anton Chekhov's work, especially in his short stories - I find it interesting that both writers were trained as doctors, and writing at the same time, different countries, of course. (Bulgakov, is the third doctor of this triumvirate, for me - THE WHITE GUARD)

Schnitzler's work, created in Vienna as the nineteenth century was coming to an end, had a sexual frankness and insight that even impressed his friend Sigmund Freud: "I have the impression that you have learned through intuition - though actually as a result of sensitive introspection - everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons." It was also the focus of much criticism, such that he became infamously known as the "pornographer" - and, certainly, his extensive diary, further confirmed his extensive personal appetite, that could be interpreted that way. His expertise, acknowledged by all, not just his detractors, was carnality. Schnitzler made no apologies for his artistic concentration on love, death and play: these eternal three, he wrote, contain all the world, all its meaning and soul. But the first of these three was love, sexual love. (1)

In SWEET NOTHINGS (LIEBELIE) two soldiers, upper class gentlemen, have been adventurous 'buccaneers' in the 'battlefield' of sex. Fritz (Graeme McRae) has been having an affair with an unnamed married woman - a woman described in the play, only as the woman in black velvet (an omen of death?!). As the play begins, it appears that he fears that his affair has been discovered by the husband, and Theo (Owen Little) his friend, awakes him from a nightmare dream (premonition) to prepare him for the arrival of two working class girls, of a recent brief acquaintance, to entertain them, distract him. Mizi (Clementine Mills) is a perky sexually louche young woman out for a good time, accompanied by a more sensitive and, perhaps, naive companion, Christine (Matilda Ridgeway). After eating and drinking and teasing, they pair off into a raunchy reckless abandonment. It is disrupted by the arrival of the Husband, returning Fritz's letters, and who seeks redress. He is offered a duel - it is accepted. Christine, mistaking Fritz's interest in her as love, obsesses indulgently about Fritz and subsequently builds a fantasy out of Fritz's attentions, which maybe no more, for him, than a means to distract himself from an impending duel, that he feels sure, will be fatal to himself. Indeed, Fritz is duly dispatched in the duel, and Christine discovers that she may not have been his true love. Her frenzied reaction is extreme, her childish infatuation confirmed.

What sounds like a simple plot, is a delicate expose by Schnitzler of the difficulties of carnality when the bourgeois confabulations of it, cannot distinguish between love and lust. The subtleties of this play are mostly lost in this production. There is no real acting going on here, rather, broadly indicated, demonstrated storytelling with a penchant to melodramatic/comic gesture, both vocal and physical, and juvenile sexual indulgences. Mr McRae as Fritz attempts to reveal the undertows of Schnitzler's intentions but in the face of superficial caricaturing from Mr Little, who attempts not much more than impersonating the lines, with no sense of "back story" complications or depth, other than his use of, I supposed, his own personality; and a romantic 'face pulling' set of pained smiling masks by Ms Ridgeway as the chosen clues to the depth of her characterisation, while moving with implacable selfish aim to a clearly targeted tragic 'turn' of hysterics for her act three climax, he can only, gallantly, fail. Ms Mills is the next best performer to watch, she shows some marks of the restlessness of a disenfranchised woman, in a society where her sex is her only recognised power. Mark Lee (Weiring) and Lucy Miller (Katharina) attempt to give some ballast of reality to anchor the world of the play, in the second act, but too, are either misdirected or indulged in some of their 'readings' and climatic choices.

The Set Design by Sophie Fletcher is clumsy and not clearly indicated - it is not of any consistent recognisable period, and what with what appears to be an Australian landscape on the centre wall of Christine's parent's apartment, the location is hard to decide upon, as the language references are decidedly at odds with what one sees (a lot of Austrian in the text, not much Australian culture, that I could detect). The costumes as well, do not assist us as to period or location - it is all a bit of a misdirected, puzzling mess - neither, there nor here, then nor now. The Lighting by Hartley T A Kemp or the Sound Design/Composition by Marty Jamieson had much effect in informing my attention, either. I may have just, gently, given up, progressively, over such a disappointing production and was blanking out!

John Kachoyan is the Director. This may not have been his "cup of tea" ("glass of champagne!") Some of them, productions, as I well know from experience,  just get away from one. Arthur Schnitzler is rarely performed in the English speaking world and may be, just too "Je ne sais quoi" (an indefinable something), for this company - much like a lot of French comedy when translated to English,  Jean Anouilh, for instance. At least, I thought it was, on the night, I attended. I, certainly, prefer the Tom Stoppard adaptation of this text, DALLIANCE (1986), to this one, SWEET NOTHINGS (what an accurate title this proved for me), for the Old Vic Company by David Harrower.

1. Schnitzler's Century by Peter Gay. Allen Lane. The Penguin Press - 2001.

All My Sons

Photo by Brett Boardman

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents ALL MY SONS by Arthur Miller at the Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst.

ALL MY SONS by Arthur Miller is the opening production at Sydney's newest theatre building: the Eternity Theatre (located on the corner of Burton St and Palmer St, Darlinghurst). This renovation of an old church building has respected the historic origins of the site and constructed what seems, from the experience of this first production, a theatre that works for all (the irony of another church building becoming a theatre building, I, personally cherish, and remember, respectfully, the artists of times past, for the persecution that they suffered at the hands of the churches, not too long ago). The stage area appears generous and sensible, the auditorium, comfortable and hospitable for the easy enjoyment of the performance, with a foyer design of some space and comfort (although, a lot of stairs! - age does weary some of us - there is, true, an elevator to the auditorium). All in all, a terrific prospect and important addition, indeed, desperately needed addition, for the performing arts in this city. The building construction delayed the opening of the intended season, and, so ALL MY SONS became this important (in historic record terms, at least, for me) the inaugural production. Indeed, after this production closes in early December, there is a two month hiatus before the next production - still finishing details, I presume.

Quoting The Darlinghurst Theatre Company from the program notes:
At the very heart of our company is a firm belief that theatre should promote a democracy of ideas. We want our audiences to discover and experience the power and possibilities of live theatre and for each of our productions to inspire reflection and dialogue about the world we live in.
Then, this work by Arthur Miller, ALL MY SONS, epitomises that ambition. Said Mr Miller:
In a world where humanism must conquer lest humanity be destroyed, literature must nurture the conscience of man.
This play first performed in 1947, on Broadway, reflects, directly, the provoking social/philosophical conflicts within the post-World War II society of the United States. Returning soldiers, such as Arthur Miller's brother, Kermit, reflected the cauterising effect of the heat of witnessed and participated battle, and had returned home, safely, but with a great sense of the bond of honour and humbling humanity the day-to-day facing up to real life and death confrontations had impinged on his consciousness (indeed, Kermit Miller, seems never to have fully recovered from the stress of this experience) and was faced with the bold and bald pursuit of the American Dream, of wealth, on his return, at, it seemed, at all costs to that very honour and principle he had learnt and depended on, in the theatre of war. Mr Miller taking note of recorded war profiteering from major and smaller industrial companies (e.g. The Wright Whirlwind Engine Company), often by the breaking of time honoured moral codes, at the expense of actual lives, was impelled to discuss this, in his play/drama 'to inspire reflection and dialogue about the world we live in." To contrast " ... between the brotherhood of wartime service and the soulless materialism and ruthless individualism of the commercial world." (p. 266, ARTHUR MILLER by Christopher Bigsby).

Joe Keller (Marshall Napier) is a small time industrialist who had allowed faulty cylinder heads to be sent forward to the Army Air Force, fearing he would lose business if he could not maintain his agreed quota, which has led to the deaths of some 22 pilots.  Rather than accept responsibility himself, he passes the blame onto a fellow employee, who, subsequently, is imprisoned. Facing down public scandal and denying his own culpability, Joe builds his industrial plant to greater success, and intends for his surviving war hero son, Chris (Andrew Henry) to inherit (Larry, the other, elder son, a pilot, having perished at war). Chris eventually discovers truths of the past from Anne Deever (Meredith Penman) and her brother, George (Anthony Gooley), the children of the imprisoned man, and confronts his father over his crimes. Joe Keller had seen his actions as necessary ones, to preserve the family business, a private action, but now is forced to see that the private and the public are inextricable: beyond the Keller family there is also, the family of man. That the dead 22 pilots are all his sons, too, and that that bigger family of his fellow men, is through the effect of his causal actions, brought to tragic ruin.

The two great literary influences on Arthur Miller's work were his admiration for the work of Henrik Ibsen's societal critiques, and of the Ancient Greek playwrights' texts. One can read, easily, the patterning, the model, that Miller 'confessedly' took in constructing this play - Ibsen's THE WILD DUCK is, clearly, seen, both, in character and thematic concerns as an influence (in early drafts one of the characters was even called Ekhart). The boldness of the moment by moment revelations in ALL MY SONS, and the manner of their reveal, are classic Ibsenesque strokes, in their carefully constructed, "don't miss a beat" form (what Miller's play lacks is Ibsen's mordant sense of humour, to leaven his political 'lesson'). Add the power of the accumulative dramatic developments and the primal energies required to play them, in Miller's play - towering challenges in the Greek tragic manner - the ' Greek chorus' commentators of the Keller neighbours; the dramatic arrival of the truth teller/'circuit breaker' - George; the arrival of the fateful messenger - the letter from Larry - that lead to the final tragic conclusion to justice - the revenge of the 'furies' - an off-stage suicide, and both influences, Ibsen and the Greek writers, stand almost nakedly for us to observe and absorb.

It is this nakedly borrowed structure and method, that, for me, always makes ALL MY SONS, slightly, too technically obvious and, so, has always weakened my response to the play - it has never really interested me, except as an astounding apprentice work. It is amazing for me to consider that Mr Miller's very next play is one of the great plays of the last century: DEATH OF A SALESMAN (1949) - the sophistication of the writing is, relatively, a light year of development forward. How did it happen?

This production, directed by Iain Sinclair (who, also plays in it - a habit he is developing: THE HIGHWAY CROSSING), encourages this company, at least the principals, to leap to the "Greek-scale" dramatic potentials of the material and, despite my dramaturgical reservations, affected me mightily, accumulatively. One is, as with all good productions of Miller, shaken with the emotional power of this writer's work - deliberate boldness and socially responsible, intellectual integrity. He does not shy from speaking his mind, be it  socially/politically controversial or not.

Best and most consistent are Toni Scanlan as the self deceiving and tragic mother figure, Kate Keller, and Andrew Henry, as the fierce, almost morally absolutist son, Chris, that brings destruction to all about him in his pursuit of truth and honour. Marshall Napier as Joe, gathers power, but seemed a little unsure early - it took some time for the character to arrest one's attention. Anthony Gooley, in his one scene, brings his usual intensity and theatrical intelligence to George Deever, as the Milleresque functionary with the haunted power of the betrayed and guilty son, to be the catalyst to ignite the fuse to the destruction of his enemies. The supporting cast tend to wander too much in style into the flatter world of naturalism in their tasks, and lack the vital dimension of the tragic function of the commenting "Greek Chorus", that I suspect is necessary to fulfilling all of the requirements/possibilities of this tragedy by Arthur Miller. Mr Miller's work works best, I believe, when conceived on an 'operatic' playing scale - no naturalism for his conceptions. Briallen Clarke as Lydia Lubey, glimpses that potential in the final moments that she shares with Mr Gooley, as ex-'lovers' who have missed their joint destiny.

The visuals of this production (Luke Ede), lack the clean line of a contemporary solution to design that we have become used too in recent Sydney theatre history. The main construct of the house veranda - fading white facade and steps, and the naturalism of the ruined garden with its felled apple tree - is suitably suggestible of the circumstances of the work if a little pragmatically perfunctory, but the unimaginative solutions to the four off stage exit and entrance 'doors' to the neighbourhood, are poorly conceived, and undermine and distract one from believing the world of the play. Lighting by Nicholas Rayment is generally serviceable, and not an aesthetic enhancer to the production.

ALL MY SONS is of a poignant and contemporary relevance to the circumstances of our present times. It is pertinent to the future of all our 'sons' -"When does political short term expediency, whether for economic rationalisations, big business profits or party political point scoring,  justify the possible well being of our and our children's futures?", I wondered. - A discussion worth having, experiencing.

Writing of this kind, despite my reservations, is an exception rather than the rule. Its power and integrity is undeniable. The principal performances are worth admiring - there effect shattering. I recommend a visit to the new Eternity Theatre and this production.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Don't Look Away presents ROOTED by Alex Buzo in the Parade Studio, in the Parade Theatres, Kensington.

Alex Buzo was an Australian artist in the vanguard of the Australian cultural 'revolution' of the late sixties. His play NORM AND AHMED (1968), directed by Jim Sharman for the Old Tote Theatre Company, became a sensational event, as it explored racism in the Australian context. The subsequent court cases of 'obscenity' around this play became a test case in the battles about censorship in this volatile youth inspired time (Whitlam's government elected in this growing fervour, it seems), propelled Mr Buzo into the, perhaps, unexpected position as champion of the right to speak in our own voices, on the stage. ROOTED was written in 1969, as a follow up to that original controversy in conservative Sydney, and the rest of Australia, and was part of the old-NIDA/Jane St professional season of new plays of that year, encouraged, curated by John Clark and Elizabeth Butcher.

What was interesting in this early work was the focus that Alex Buzo took to the new urban Australian characters, satirising the nouveau-ocker professional aspirants - mixing business-making careers with the hedonistic opportunities of a culture of surf, chicks and partying. THE REMOVALISTS and DON'S PARTY by David Williamson celebrating further what Mr Buzo began here with ROOTED, were still to come.

 ROOTED is essentially a portrait of Bentley (George Bander) battling to maintain self-esteem amidst a group of raging 'dick-heads', including the mythic gorgon, never-to-be-seen, leader of the pack, 'Simmo', and losing. In a collection of comic scenes Mr Buzo focuses his perceptive observations of the world of the late sixties, on Bentley, an almost Job-like figure (reminded me of the Coen brothers character, "Larry Gopnik" (Michael Stuhlbarg), in their 2009 film, A SERIOUS MAN) battling what the world is throwing at him, just after he has achieved a comfortable urban Australian-dream success with all the social trappings of a new apartment, with all the newest mod-cons and furnishings, a sexy and beautiful, trophy-like wife, Sandy (Eloise Winestock), and a safe public service job. The script glistens with satiric wit and crackles with irony. The language is crisply and accurately funny and often fiercely cruel. Last Saturday night, in the theatre, it was fun to remember the vernacular usage of those past years.

My experience of the night was to appreciate the character drawing in its sketch-like accuracies and the zing of the language - although, in truth, not all the acting managed to overcome the challenge of the written characterisations, to flesh them out, in any depth. The plotting, ultimately, became repetitive and so the play seemed to become rather static, becoming an extended revue-like sketch, that Mr Buzo didn't know how to develop. It went on far too long - time extended and I found a surfeit of it, to observe flaws in other elements of the production, without losing my way in the events of the play. Or, is that the directorial decision to present ROOTED, a two act play, in a one act, no interval version of 1 hour 45 minutes? One can only laugh, without rest, for a certain length of time without wearying and becoming desperate for a break, especially as there is no story stakes, narrative going on, to hold one's concentration on the verbal action. I was left, at the resolution to the play, more than faintly disappointed. Deprived of a satisfying cathartic 'revenge' perhaps?. I felt sorry for Bentley.The social satire of this play had echoes of a more successful writer in this genre, Alan Ayckbourn (see, ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR (1972); or, ABSENT FRIENDS (1974)). I remember the original production with Jeff Kevin, as Bentley, in 1969, and having a similar feeling of dissatisfaction.

However, the reason to see the production, is to see the impeccable creation that Mr Bander has made of Bentley. It is an outstanding comic invention of some skill and conviction. He certainly sets the tone for the other actors to reach and be measured by. One believes the ridiculous escalating disasters of his Bentley's situation without too much flagging exhaustion at the extended repetitiveness of the schematics of the writing. Mr Bander's insights and delivery of this difficult character is exceptional.

Phil Rouse, the director has found the style and musical rhythms of the material, and directs his cast with a sense of those stylistic needs. He has orchestrated the music well, if not always found ways to people the Buzo characters with a deeper or truer reality than clever caricatures, in the manner that Mr Bander has found. Timothy Potter, as Gary, has created, relatively, a recognisable human being and Bec Barbera as Diane, as well. While, Niyat Berhan is essentially interested in how funny he can be without anchoring the opportunities in accurate character study. A fairly superficial investigation of character. Ms Winestock has a general comprehension of Sandy, but lacks consistent details and therefor our belief in her. She generates little motive for Sandy's behaviour and so one finds it hard to believe in the character.

This production directed by Phil Rouse suffers from a design execution - wobbly flats and doors that lead to nowhere, (Anna Gardiner) - and naturalistic decisions that are logically ill thought out - e.g. an oft mentioned stereo system without a turn table, which the sound design (Phil Downing) keeps re-iterating to us is present. Whatever the said era, supposedly, it is set in, the properties are not very accurate to either then or now, considering the economic class of the characters, and stand out as problematic for belief in the production; the glamorous and consistent make-up appearance of Ms Winestock, no matter the time of day or occupation, e.g. Sandy is wearing those sparkly dress earrings and immaculate coiffure despite the fact that she has just risen from bed and a night of sleep in the very first scene! When, what time of day does one wear a cocktail dress, do you think? The decision to set the play in the 'today' really does not make much sense considering the language and cultural concerns, or,add up to any real advantage.

This is an early play from Alex Buzo, and although one appreciates the verbal skills, it is the later stage work of say, MACQUARIE (1971) and, BIG RIVER (1985) that I admire more - at least for their scope and character truthfulness. Each to his own, of course.

This debut production by this emerging collective Don't Look Away, whose stated aim is "to give new life to the rich history of Australian playwriting by presenting engaged, imaginative contemporary stagings of forgotten works by great Australian playwrights" ought to be encouraged. The final statement, of, I suppose its mission declaration in their program notes, declares: "If you care about Australian theatre, its past, its present and its future: DON'T LOOK AWAY." So, maybe go along and see what you think about a rarely performed play by an important writer from the recent past.

Brief Encounter

Arts Projects Australia presents the Kneehigh production of Noel Coward's BRIEF ENCOUNTER at The Concourse Theatres in Chatswood.

This production by the UK based company, Kneehigh, BRIEF ENCOUNTER, began in 2008, and in form, if not cast, as toured internationally, and finally, here, as part of an extensive tour around Australia. Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice (joint Artistic Director, with Mike Shepherd, of Kneehigh). The sources of this work are from Noel Coward's play STILL LIFE (a one act play, which is part of the TONIGHT AT 8.30, (1936), a collection of ten plays, that Coward wrote for himself and Gertrude Lawrence to star in) and his screenplay for the famous David Lean film, BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945) - starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson (it shared the Cannes Palme d'Or of that year, and was nominated in three categories for the Academy Awards), plus additional verse and lyrics by Noel Coward (ANY LITTLE FISH; MAD ABOUT THE BOY; GO SLOW, JOHNNY and A ROOM WITH A VIEW have been arranged by Stu Barker, along with other original music for songs using the Coward verses.)

The principal story is of Laura (Michelle Nightingale) and Alec (Jim Sturgeon), a couple who meet accidentally on a railway platform and, despite their separate marital status, find themselves falling in love, during a brief series of encounters. This couple are restrained and held in a dance of sexual tension of a peculiar English kind, contrasted with the more robust romantic hijinks of the railway staff, Albert (Joe Alessi) and Myrtle (Annette McLaughlin) and two young initiates to 'love', Beryl (Kate Cheel) and Stanley (Damon Daunno).

The material is fairly familiar and is, charmingly, of a very different time - for some, a nostalgic pleasure, for others, a slightly boring formulaic routine,or a sociologically 'weird' set of 'historic' observations of a culture now past - one brings one's own point of glance, one's own earned sophistication to the experience, or not!

What, however, has ensured the success of this work by Kneehigh and its international, seemingly, timeless appeal, is the stylistic forms and production techniques the company has employed to bring it to life on the stage. This is no straight rendering of the material, for, Ms Rice has dipped into the many genres of the performance arts practice to tease out and tantalise the storytelling. Dramatic scene playing around cups of tea and cake, filmed sequences, both, of enacted fantasises (much crashing of sea against the shore, for instance) and of the digital-'animated' kind (steam trains arriving and departing at the station), live vaudeville/cabaret musicalities - interspersed with grand recordings of romantic classic scores (a Rachmaninoff piano concerto) - gentle audience interaction, burlesque/circus excursions, puppetry and toy train inventions (puffing smoke) and incursions of various scale, plus a 'moving' set design of the old fashioned stepped railway station bridge crossover. All are revived and shaped beautifully as the wrappings for a very generous and pleasant theatrical journey over 90 minutes or so. The Design is by Neil Murray, beautifully lit by Malcolm Rippeth. Projection and Film Design by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington; assisted by Stephen Parkinson. The Sound design, which subtly invites imaginative immersion in the play, is by Simon Baker.

The small company of 6 actors and 2 musicians (Dave Brown, James Gow) play many roles and participate in the many activities - all, I think, play an instrument at some time or other! We begin with several of them playing instruments, singing, dancing, as others, dressed in cinema usher costume, with gloves and torches, bring us to our seats.Two of the actors are seated in the centre of the front row of the stalls as we watch the curtain rise on the screen of the cinema to introduce the 'filumm' we have come to see: BRIEF ENCOUNTER. A woman (Laura) rises and climbs to the stage to talk to the projected image and 'magically' walks into the film (very,THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO!! - Woody Allen, 1986) to continue the conversation. It is the first of many pleasant surprises of the methods of story telling that are artfully delightful and intriguing, disarming and ultimately beguiling. All the complications of this conception by Kneehigh work with clockwork security (a little too assured sometimes, this work has been on tour a long time, and could be just a little to comfortable - lacks the frisson, thrill of danger of live performance, perhaps?)

Mr Alessi playing, principally, the double of the frisky station hand, Albert, and the 'boring' husband to Laura, Fred, amongst much else (including the rope ballast to the burlesque twirl in a later sequence) gives an outstanding performance of crafted spontaneity and character demarcations. Mr Sturgeon as Dr Alec is attractively proper and also carries his other tasks with élan. American actor, Mr Daunno, as Stanley, one half of the young lovers, draws delicate ingenue attention and, has in other responsibilities, a wonderful skill in delivering the lyrics of his musical tasks. I felt that Ms McLaughlin's Myrtle was a little too broad, too low in vaudevillian intent, 'chewing' her opportunities with a trifle too much satisfied mastication - a tinge of caricature spoiling the delicate tone of the production as a whole. Ms Cheel as Beryl, an Australian artist, recently joining the cast, has a glowing refreshing presence and appears well integrated into the production, easeful, and gives a delightful sense of period and jaunty style to her contributions to the entertainment. Ms Nightingale, as Laura, also a new Australian addition to the company, has all the clipped emotional life of the character, externally, but does not have much depth to her characterisation, and, certainly, in the physical demands of the work, lacks the requisite skill to pull it off without drawing focus - the danced flip over the chair and the burlesque trapeze, that she has to execute, appears insecure and pulls us out of the 'ecstasy' of the choreographed intention at its clumsiness.

Kneehigh's BRIEF ENCOUNTER is a theatrical confection of some real pleasure and an antidote to some of the adaptations of 'Classic' works which we have seen around Sydney theatre companies over the past few years. It shines because of its innovations in integrating other theatre conventions with a true respect for the original material. It reminded me of the present 'genius' I saw in THE GLASS MENAGERIE production on Broadway, last month.

The Concourse Theatre is a relatively new theatre space and well worth knowing, comfortable and inviting, a 5 minute walk down from Chatswood station (surrounded by many, many restaurants.) I recommend a journey to catch this production. I caught the train - 20 minutes from Central!

Palace of Desire

Cathay Playhouse presents PALACE OF DESIRE (adapted from a television series) in the Everest Theatre, the Seymour Centre, Sydney.

The Cathay Playhouse completes ten continuous years of production with this adaption of PALACE OF DESIRE for the theatre from a Chinese television series (Dramaturgy by Gordon GUO Zi-Qing). The work is a large historic epic played and created, supported by a passionate and disciplined volunteer group of amateur artists. Like the other work that I have seen in past years: DE-LING and EMPRESS DOWAGER (2010) and the famous, THUNDERSTORM (2012) by Cao Yu, the look of the production is quite spectacular, especially the elaborate costuming (not credited in the program), makeup (Livia SHI Lei) and wig design. The Set Design (Sherry GAO Xing) itself is relatively simple and the many locations are easily altered with a large production crew and is magnificently enhanced with a complex and beautiful, black-grey-white background Multimedia design (Kenn HUANG Chun).

There is a strong cast of some 28 performers, led by Ariel WANG Yan as Princess Taiping; Denise YE Wei-Dan as Empress Wei; Hannah JIANG Ruo-Han as Princess Anie; Gordon GUO Zi-Qing as LI Longji and especially, Adam SUN Qiao as Emperor Xian. The Director of this epic work is WANG Hui-Li.

With the death of Empress WU Zeitan in 705 B.C. the long unified power base of the Tang Dynasty came to an end and the family of Li and the Emperor Li Xian took the throne. The Li family faced quarrelling plottings which were finally settled with the help of the Princess Taiping, daughter of the late Empress Wu Zetian. Nevertheless families became enemies, brothers turned swords against each other, as desire for power unleashed bloody events- for a bloody history between what is known as The Golden Years and the Kaiyuan Heyday Period. The historical figures have been manipulated, perhaps, for dramatic poetic licence to serve a story line, that in action for popular Chinese television and now for the Sydney stage, reminds one of the dynastic struggles created by William Shakespeare in his collection of works concerning The War of the Roses.

WANG Hui-Li, the director declares her real interest in this work is expressed in the last words of the character, SHANG-Guan Wan'er's (Melissa Li Ya-Jing);
…The insatiable desire and hunger for power lead to upheavals. Human morality,love and affection, the price for power equates to suffering, sacrifice and butchery. When will power give way? When will the killing stop? When can there be less greed, more peace?
Ms WANG in her director's notes ponders:
If only we were less greedy, if only we desired less, there would be less violence, and more peace. ... (and) However illusive, I find myself unable and unwilling to let go of this dream.
A sentiment that all the contemporary world shares today, along with Ms WANG and the Cathay Playhouse Company (and the popular television of China). Performed at the Seymour Centre in the Chinese language with sub-titles, the gentle directorial stylistic gesture accompanied by the immense sweep of the story, the personal and the epic ones, were absorbing in there telling.

Cathay Playhouse have moved into this bigger theatre for their performances this year, responding to the growing interest in the cultural/historical significance of their committed work. We look forward to their new work in the coming years, and the contribution that they are making to Sydney and its multicultural profile. Congratulations.