Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Sydney Theatre Company presents PERPLEX by Marius Von Mayenburg. Translated by Maja Zade in the Wharf 1 Theatre, Hickson Rd. Walsh Bay.

PERPLEX  Written by Marius Von Mayenburg, Translated by Maja Zade, Directed by Sarah Giles, is one of the brightest, challenging, intriguing, hilarious contemporary texts that we have had on a Sydney stage for some time. Mr Von Mayenburg is a writer, director and dramaturge. He has been a close collaborator with Thomas Ostermier at the Baracke at Deutsches Theatre in Berlin and, from 1999, at Schaubhne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin. His plays have been translated into over 30 languages and performed both in Germany and abroad. FIREFACE, THE UGLY ONE, MOVING TARGETS are three of his works that I have seen in Sydney. PERPLEX seems to me a break through and arresting work. Attention, perhaps, should be paid to this one. If you love the theatre - don't miss this production.

18 months ago I visited Berlin for the first time and made a point to visit the Schaubhne Theatre, it, having had such an inordinate influence, I feel, on some of the direction of some of the recent work we have experienced here is Sydney: Benedict Andrews, Simon Stone, others, and clearly Sarah Giles, are some of the Directors affected, and who have had a particular interest in the contemporary German repertoire. Mr Von Mayenburg's latest original work, MARTYRER (Martyred) was about to be presented (December, 2012).  I, however, lacking German language, selected from their enormous weekly repertoire to see Gorky's SUMMERFOLK, knowing it well, having directed it twice - still, at just over three hours, with no sub- or sur-titiles, a challenge (there was a beautiful, trained Labrador dog that galumphed around the stage for most of that time to keep me occupied, if, I sometimes became bewildered as to what was happening, elsewhere, with Gorky's play.) MARTYRER, also, like the original production of PERPLEX, directed by the author, was forgone.

PERPLEX, set in a contemporary, sparely decorated apartment (Set Design by Renee Mulder) begins with Glenn (Glenn Hazeldine) and Andrea (Andrea Demetriades) returning home from a vacation to discover that their apartment has taken on subtle re-adjustments, which cause judgements of error, leading to little accidents: knocked shins, bruised legs, falls and injured hops, for them, to be then, further, knocked side-ways psychologically, in their perceptual reality, when the couple who had been temporarily caring for the apartment, Rebecca (Rebecca Massey) and Tim (Tim Walter), claim the place as their's! That is just the beginning. Subsequently, each of the participants 'morph' into many other characters, relationships and realities, e.g. at a costume party (I think) with the theme of "Nordic Nights", we meet a multi-partner sexual adventurer in the guise of a skier; a Norse woman complete with Wagnerian horns, a blonde wig and vicious club; a walking-talking live volcano; and an elk, who all interact, converse, and sometimes philosophise. The company, or one of them, at least, talk to us, (are we there?), later a wall falls down revealing the back stage mechanisms, and finally we discover, while the cast members swig a beer, that this whole event, this play in that reality, has had no director. Plato,Kierkegaard, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, Nietzsche (he even appears in a terrible beard, up a ladder) and, probably, another 'truckload' of thinkers (of, both life and theatre theories!) are construed into the text and present a smorgasbord of ideas, ideas, ideas, that man, in general, has been wrestling with, Man, indeed, exhaustively, for some time has, as we, too, as an audience at the STC, of late, in related form have been cogitating and digesting: Botho Strauss and GROSS UND KLEIN, Samuel Beckett and WAITING FOR GODOT; Jean Genet and THE MAIDS, Tom Stoppard and ROSENCRATZ AND GUILDERNSTERN ARE DEAD.

"What the f**k am I watching?" one may well ask.

Perplex, is defined in the Macquarie dictionary as: "cause to be puzzled over what is not understood or certain; to bewilder, confuse mentally." Mr Von Mayenburg's play sure does that, but what is delightful, is that this play has theatrical wit, philosophical intelligence, daring and elan, that does not allow boredom, even resistance, for the open-minded (open-hearted). Yes, élan. For goodness sake one of the actors is stark naked for long sections of the play, whilst, in one instance, discussing Darwin, having just discovered the theory of Natural Selection whilst in the shower, and after the initial shock (adjustment) of the almost in-yer-face nudity (for some, literally), one, intellectually, captures the joke, and takes it into one's stride, with sunny and flattered good humour. I couldn't help but think back, while watching, to Sir Robert Helpmann discussing the difficulty of choreographing a ballet for the naked body - not all the body parts will obey command, he opined! Here, the dramatic tension, dynamic, between the swinging body parts and the intellectual 'babble' was stimulating indeed. FUN. Anything goes, this playwright's strategy signalled, and is just another little piece of grist for the comic intellectual mill - cast your memory back to a similar audacity in the Tom Stoppard JUMPERS (1972), with his Dorothy in full swing above the action! Remember? Different sex on show, but similar ploy.

Arriving in Berlin for the first time in December, 2012, I was lugging, as my plane read, Peter Watson's THE GERMAN GENIUS and the Twentieth Century - "an encyclopaedic survey in which every German artist or thinker, (from the beginning of the 19th century) and many who should be more famous than they are, finds a place" (TLS).  It was an illuminating and thrilling, relatively easy read - highly recommended. Maybe, with PERPLEXED, Mr Von Mayenburg has subsumed enough of this awesome inheritance to begin to take his place as a writer of some arrest. Certainly, in my experience of his other plays, PERPLEX is a great leap forward in form and content daring. (I wished I now had elected to 'wrestle' with MARTYRER.) One, of course, must compliment the translation by Maja Zade for the deftness of the English writing (she is responsible for many of the English speaking versions of German contemporary theatre - e.g. Roland Schimmelpfennig (THE PIGEONS), and Falk Richter (UNDER ICE).

The company of actors are a supportive ensemble, an absolute necessity in the hurly-burly of the hi-jinx of this scenario. Their inter-dependence on each other's reliability is much more essential than usual - they are, all, keenly attuned to each other. It is interesting to read that Mr Von Mayenburg is regarded by some in Germany as an 'old fashioned' writer. By that, it is meant that he, generally, writes in a fairly naturalistic mode (FIREFACE). In this production by Ms Giles, it is the work from Mr Hazeldine and Ms Demetriades that seems to strike most consistently the mode of performance style required - one that is absolutely real, no matter the surreal/absurd circumstances of the writing. The tension between the two styles, one of the acting (naturalistic), against the other, the writing (surreal-absurdist), makes the play tick-tock smoothly. Mr Walter and Ms Massey tended, early, to give the impression of having made a stylistic choice of 'weird' or 'abstracted' comment, layering the circumstances of the writing, with their spoken vocal tonalities, with an extra, and in my opinion, unnecessary stylistic edge - slightly pointing to a 'tonality' of didacticism.

A little while ago, watching Martin Crimp's play - a writer with a similar contemporary daring and cultural observational skill: IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS, at the Royal Court in London, the brutal critique of our contemporary world was written in a darkly absurdist style, but the acting was directed and played in an absolute reality. There was no 'gilding of the lily' from the actors to heighten the savageness or the absurdities of the writing. The contrast between the recognisable characters doing 'real' things, in this case celebrating Christmas at lunch, eating real food, drinking real drink, to the outrageously 'brutal' content of the conversation, made for a powerful dramatic punch wrapped in delightfully wicked comedy. If, all four of the PERPLEX actors were real together, always, this production of PERPLEX, may have been perfect. As it is, it is, still, a very exciting night out.

Mr Hazeldine is as usual, a standout, he plays at what I call 150% and it pays off. The comic delight and moving pathos, for instance, of his character's reflection over the rejection by the elk as his future partner, after a very rewarding sexual interlude, is a treasure of acting, at its best, to savour. Ms Demetriades, too, demonstrates with her astute and subtly lethal sense of the world about her, her taut intelligence, presented with and in the guise of her personal beauty, is effortless in scoring all her targets of opportunity in Mr Von Mayenburg's play - an irresistible magic charm (it is what 'saved' the STC production of PYGMALION, a little while ago, from complete disaster, in my reflective memory). Ms Massey, after, for me, a slightly edgy start, found her  usual expected full comic stride, and in the final sequences of collapse and release, as the play 'literally', falls down about her, captures the grounding humanistics of what the playwright has playfully toyed with all night. Mr Walter, similarly, finds his way into the style and is charming and bold to watch in everyway!

I did not believe Mr Giles' command of MARRIAGE BLANC and its stylistic demands, presented at the STC, a little while ago, but here, with this work, she knows her 'apples.' Ms Mulder's design, especially costume, is provocative and apt; the Sound Design and Composition by Max Lyandvert is less orchestral, than of late, and I feel, very much more useful, then, to this production. The Lighting Design by Benjamin Cisterne, was not as striking as perhaps it could have been.

What PERPLEX has to say has been said before - J.B. Priestly, G.B. Shaw, Luigi Pirandello, Thornton Wilder, Sartre etc - but it is in the contemporary staging conceits that he has taken to tell us again, that makes this work worth capturing in the experiential net of your theatre going memories. I loved it. Why didn't someone urge me to get there sooner?!!! This is the first production of PERPLEX in English, and I am sure it will not be its last. Neither, in the rest of the English speaking world, or here, again, and again.

Thornton Wilder  (think of his theatre works: his treasure of neglected one act plays (e.g. THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER; PULLMAN CAR: HIAWATHA; THE HAPPY JOURNEY), the full length plays: OUR TOWN, and especially, THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, to see my reason for relating, relevance) captures some of the essences of some of the debates raised in my mind in the Marius Von Mayenburg PERPLEX:

Modern man has taken such pride in the exploration of his mind that he has forgotten there must be some laws governing that exploration. Whether it comes under religion or ethics or mere judgement such laws must be found and respected. Otherwise the mind leads him straight to self-destruction. [2]
 There is no God; there is the concession of the absurdity of man's reason in a universe which can never be explained by reason; yet there is a freedom of the will defended for the first time on non-religious grounds.  [2]
Baby, you'll sit up, at PERPLEX, if you are alive and curious and searching. Definitely an antidote to my melancholy brought to the fore at the recent Belvoir production of the Simon Stone inspiration from Gogol's THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR!

GO. (Unfortunately, closes this week.)


  1. THE GERMAN GENIUS and the Twentieth Century by Peter Watson - Simon & Schuster - 2010.
  2. THE IDES OF MARCH by Thornton Wilder. Perennial - an imprint of Harper Collins publishers - 1948. From the Overview by Tappan Wilder -2003.

Monday, April 28, 2014

In This Fairfeild

Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) in association with ATYP presents IN THIS FAIRFIELD - Romeo and Juliet in the West, at the atyp Wharf Theatre, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay.

IN THIS FAIRFIELD - Romeo and Juliet in the West, directed by David Williams and Kate Worsley, is a guest showing in association with ATYP as part of what is called a Cameo season at the atyp Wharf Theatre. This work has already had its Premiere out at the home base in Harris Street, Fairfield, earlier in the month. Begun as a creative development in 2013, the Directors have worked with high school students from Miller Technology High and Fairfield High with the fledgling Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) Ensemble to develop a Western Sydney response to William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It was inspired initially by the presence of Fairfield's culturally diverse make-up. Fairfield is, in fact, the most culturally diverse region within Australia - it is sometimes called 'Little Baghdad', by the media, because of its high population of Iraqi born citizens. Then, in a play where two star-crossed lovers from two different families (cultures) fall in love, one could not have the possibility of a more apt probability, that that could happen in Fairfield, along with all of its 'problems', as it did in Fair Verona.

There was, for me, three really impressive details in this experience.

Firstly, I was impressed that the material of the play was a striking balance between the verbatim recorded responses of the participants to the journey, and the language of Shakespeare's play. The abiding pleasure was to see that the major part of the work was driven by the participants and their stories which subsumed Romeo and Juliet, into their world, and not the other way round of them being 'buried', subsumed, by Shakespeare's world. The PYT Ensemble defined Shakespeare and the parallels of that fiction world to theirs. This was, truly, a play about living and growing up in this fair field. (It was artist/partcipant driven.)

The play began with the actors sitting on chairs across the back end of the stage, reflecting, and then, recalling moments of 'romantic' resonances that they may have had at the cinema. The natural truth of their spoken memories broke through any nervous misgivings one may have had about the enormity of the concept of the core-material source. Significantly, none of the resonances, spoken, were from the memory of any of the films of R and J, (although, latterly, the Leo version, was singled out), some of them were quite amusing, and some surprising : BRAVEHEART, being one!!!
"Braveheart! Romantic?" someone protested.
"Yeah!" replied the respondent, "The love of his country. That's romantic."
(Interesting observation: that for one of the participants, it is love of country, over personal love, that was more important, more romantic. Cultural differences, values, perhaps?).

The bulk of the show showed the young actors examining the principal events of the Shakespeare play, interpolated with quotations of the actual text, and tableau vivants of some of the major events. Intertwined are comments, debate and references from their real world and to that of the play. Very movingly, as the re-enactment of the Romeo and Juliet story completed with its final lines :
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and Romeo.
for one of the actors to protest such a statement, and instead tell us of a real story of one of the refugees from her neighbourhood, that is really a tale of much woe. It put the project, all, into perspective. A pause of some contemporary power was achieved.

Secondly, it was rewarding to see the developments of three of the PYT Ensemble, who had appeared in their last project, THE VIOLENCE PROJECT, last November: Justin Kilic, David Robertts and Amanda Sullo. Their skills and stage presence blooming and shaping with palpable confidence. The old aphorism: Practice Makes Perfect, came to mind. The new performers: Melanie Araya, Monica Kumar, Barbara Shefer, Jackson Stewart and Johnny Violatzis, too, had found an individual confidence and a steady surety in the team work. The future of the Company has some foundational realities.

Thirdly, and this is a personal prejudice, I particularly enjoyed the fact that I saw this production, by these young, multi-cultural Australians, incorporating their lives into the world of ROMEO AND JULIET, on the 23rd April, 2014, the 450th Anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. The sight of young artist Jackson Stewart, (who was a whizz with the clarity of his Shakespearean text), waltzing-dancing with a collected works of Shakespeare, during the re-enactment of the Capulet Ball - on the cover, a portrait of the writer, easily seen – was, indeed, a wonderful way for this company, and our audience to celebrate the heritage of a man who defines with his work what it is to be human.

The guidance from Mr Williams (founder of version 1.0) and Ms Worsely (Clockfire Theatre Company who presented THE GRIEF PARLOUR), assisted, supported by James Brown, with a complicated and witty Sound Design; Andy Ko with his flexible Lighting Design; and stage managers, Rachel Small and Luke Cignarella, was clear and clean.

This company, Powerhouse Youth Theatre, led by Karen Therese, Nathan Luff and Johanna Allen is an example of the real power of theatre as a contemporary tool and craft that can create defining stories, that sometimes can be read as art. It is a palpable observation of the empowerment that individuals can achieve in the opportunity to take part in the communal act of storytelling - a kind of "talking cure", valuable for the doers and the watchers.

THE LONG WAY HOME, NIGHTBOOK are other examples of theatre of this kind as an invaluable asset to its communities. That mix of Art and Health, amazing to see it so rawly successful.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Government Inspector

Photo by Pia Johnson

Belvoir and Malthouse Theatre present THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR by Simon Stone with Emily Barclay, devised with the cast. Featuring a short musical by Stefan Gregory. Inspired by Nikolai Gogol. At the Upstairs Belvoir Theatre, Surry Hills.

An actor, Robert Menzies, in costume, beckons the stage management to dim the auditorium lights and focus the stage lights on him. Mr Menzies with an apologetic speech, referencing the copyright dilemmas that the Belvoir Theatre Company has had in its recent past, (most notably, around Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN) and now again for this production 'spot', i.e. the unavailability of the performance rights to the announced production of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, by Philip Barry and his co-author Ellen Barry, tells us that THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR by Nikolai Gogol, the announced substitute, too, will not, now, be given.

This is not a consequence of further legal entanglements, but rather an idea that struck the director of the project Simon Stone, and his company of artists, as reported by Ralph Myers in his program note, that while attempting to adapt this 178 year old Russian play (some call the Gogol work a Masterpiece), that:
... there were clear parallels between our predicament and the plot of the play we were working on: a letter arrives that throws a community into panic. ... why not make a show about exactly this - a group of theatre-makers being thwarted at every turn in their mission to get their show on?"
Thwarted at every turn!?

Now, despite, that the "parallels" between the characters and their political complications/context in the Gogol play are immensely different from the Belvoir/Malthouse characters and situation, and that it thus appears , really, a bit of a Munchausen Syndrome stretch of a justifying imagination:
…Over the following weeks of talking and writing and rehearsal, we eventually arrived at the show you see tonight" and "It was genuinely great fun making ... hair-raising, but fun.
Mr Menzies tells us of more "disasters" that have struck the company, some of them palpably untrue (such as the death of one of the actors [Gareth Davies] and the disappearance of the original director [Simon Stone], and the exciting prospect of an avant-garde Eastern European Director taking charge), so, that if any of us feel that we would like our money returned as a consequence to what amounts to 'fraudulent' advertising of this production, the least of which may be any concern we have about the actual writer, the cast and even the director, could return to the Box Office and seek monetary redress. Some of us find the topical self-referencing speech hilarious and promising, and beside the fact that all of us, about half a theatre-full, had been apprised of all these 'factions' well before - word of mouth and press coverage - it did not come as a surprise that none of us elected to leave the building with our money back in our pockets. Mr Menzies is grateful.

He signals the stage-management, and with the wonderfully comic musical composition by Stefan Gregory, that cover the scene shifts, we are segued with the revolve of the set (by Ralph Myers) and shift of lighting (Paul Jackson) back stage, to the disconsolate 'actors' (Costumed by Mel Page), all using their own names: Fayssal Bazzi, Mitchell Butel, Gareth Davies, Zahra Newman, Eryn Jean Norvill, Greg Stone and, of course, Robert Menzies, and presenting not themselves but impersonations of 'classic' comic alter-ego types. There is such a theatrical chaos of noise and over-layered chatter with some comic 'zingers' zooming out at us, the energy and exciting pulse of a throwback to remembered affects of the Marx Brothers film classics (believe it or not, too young to have caught their famous Broadway Shows) - say, DUCK SOUP (1933), A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935), and other comic vehicles of a similar nature, come joyfully back.

It is the lively commitment and skill of the actors that keep this fairly flimsy, but funny, work afloat - the writing is not as good as the acting, neither in content or 'spine' or cultural satire (unlike the original). Ms Newman displays all of the elan of a comic actress of some stylishness in her several 'turns' at character (much more in command and ease, it seemed to me, that in her Amanda of PRIVATE LIVES) - every vocal and physical gesture finessed to a delightful effect. Mr Butel, harnesses a vain, narcissistic temperament to a kind of frightening perfection (he has obviously had the opportunity to watch some masters at work- one presumes, and hopes). Mr Davies has, at last, an opportunity to create and present a number of 'people' that allow his gift as a comedian of some intelligent, verbal dexterity, gifted with effortless timing, to entertain us without subverting the play (the play, here, is, partly, his invention, I presume). Ms Norvill, in a brunette bobbed wig, is unrecognisable as to her last incarnation as Juliet, for the Sydney Theatre Company (ROMEO AND JULIET), last year, as she gives, it seemed to me, a very consistent and hilarious homage to the Olive character (Jennifer Tilly) from the Woody Allen film, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994). Mr Bazzi takes on the dumb actor ingenue well, scoring laughs galore with a precisely delayed sense of timing, while Mr (G) Stone and Menzies give some grounding support in zones of less comic stratospherics. Their relative contrasts in support of the zaniness of the others are a necessary ballast for the comedy.

The play written by Mr (S) Stone and Ms Barclay, assisted by the actors, begins with much comic flair and promise, as the actors are so adeptly energised, but, unfortunately, without a better prepared contemporary satirical structure and sense of a bigger world than just actors back stage, even at only 80 minutes, without interval, it reached, for me a kind of comic plateau, and began to tire in its invention. The performance sat 'still' in its gags and caricatures, and did not really keep its fired-rocket trajectory going, getting no real boost of comic momentum from 'the short musical' by Stefan Gregory that was a promised capper to this writing, for neither the lyrics or the staging of these episodes (Choreography, by Lucy Guerin), attract or accrue hilarity, and musically Mr Gregory does not top the glories of his scene-change score and arrangements (- the play-out music score, at the conclusion of the show, was a welcome return to the comic, sonic, possibilities of the production.) One could not help but to think back to the tireless writing invention of the recent comic farce of NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn, right to its very end, and the pertinent, comic and savvy text of Bruce Norris' CLYBOURNE PARK, that we had seen earlier this year, in Sydney, and maybe regret, a little (a lot?) what we were experiencing now.

On a Saturday in Sydney, having read the new THE SATURDAY PAPER, and such articles as: Exporting anti-gay churches; Rudd's new plot - lead the UN; Oscar's Lore (the Oscar Pistorius trial); the Vandalising of the ABC; the 'branding' of ANZAC; an article about Barry O'Farrell called Having a Barry; recalling The Crown Prince of Sydney Harbour: James Packer; The Cardinal that got away, Cardinal Pell; the ICAC investigation and the Obeid family and the trusted Arthur Sinodinos; the mining industry and its leading citizenry; and the furthering of the debate around climate change (or not); the fulminations of our Federal Attorney-General and Arts Minister, the Honourable Mr Brandis; the policy of our government towards international refugees and the Honourable Scott Morrison; the new probes into the CIA actions in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, by a US Senate committee led by Dianne Feinstein; and the alarming developments and dilemmas in Africa and South America; and, perilously worse, the situation in the Ukraine with Russia and Vladimir Putin;  I wondered whether I, sitting in the second most important theatre in Sydney, Belvoir, was watching this so-called version of THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR (the original Gogol being a withering and dangerous - for the writer and, probably, the actors, too - critique of the society he was living in - set in the Ukraine, by the way) began to feel we, in that audience were living in a parallel universe. I kept asking after the comedy had reached a kind of plateau of expectedness, just short of half-way through, and no longer a powerful enough distraction, whether what I and the audience were experiencing was what it might have been like to be listening to Nero play his violin while Rome was burning, or whether I was, since I am living in the fifth most expensive city in the world, living a life similar to the elite in District One: the Capitol, in the dystopian post-apocalytic nation of Panem, in an episode from Suzanne Collin's THE HUNGER GAMES?

To have Gogol's famous, THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR, which Gogol himself stated was written to arouse the hierarchy, a society:
In THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR I made up my mind to gather together into one pile all that in Russia was bad, as I then knew it, all the injustices, such as are done in those places and on these occasions, where most of all justice is demanded , and in one go laugh at everything.[1]
to be reduced to a back-stage comedy about the vanities and idiosyncrasies of a self-absorbed collection of non-entities (ashamedly, for me, actors), seemed to be a failure of vision and social responsibility. "Is Rome Burning?", I asked the Belvoir community, both the artists and the audience, as I sat in the political comfort of a Sydney Theatre, knowing that a bus service was going to take me safely home, afterwards. Look at the world outside this building, I cogitated, and despite the comfort of the reliability of my bus service, I came to the conclusion: "Rome" is burning!!!!!

 Nikolai Gogol knew his society was "burning" and decided to write something (more) to accuse the responsible and, hopefully, provoke change. What has this company done in appropriating Gogol's play title and then give us this work by Mr Stone, Barclay and Company? Not much, except to keep us entertained/comatosed, relaxed and comfortable, with a 'bread and circus' work. As funny as this production maybe, and it only is, really, if you think the concerns of actors are funny, it seems to be a very hollow work in the context of the world we are living through and Mr Gogol's original play. I felt that ONCE IN ROYAL DAVID'S CITY had a fairly lightweight pre-occupation, but in relative values to the Belvoir's THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR, it is, in Australian writing terms, a play of social revolution and compassion. (Mr Gow should fear exile from this Abbott led government, for if you don't agree with him/it, then, you must be against him, us - you must be very un-Australian.)

There was, for me, reading an interview in THE SATURDAY PAPER (April 12-18, 2014) of the little-known University of New South Wales philosopher, Mary Zournazi, and the German filmmaker Wim Wenders by Paola Totaro about their book, INVENTING PEACE, a sobering kind of crystallisation of my searching for a way of thinking about the present theatre world I am involved with as an audience (and a maker).

As we prepare to leave - Wenders is keen to join an old colleague for a drink downstairs - I ask him if I'm right to read a subtext of apology, and perhaps even melancholy, about the film industry, his industry, in the book. 
The silence is momentarily terrifying but suddenly his hands, clasped quietly in his lap throughout the evening, come to life and the volume of his voice rises perceptibly. 
'My industry is basically devoid of any ethics,' he says, 'I'm afraid to say that this was once part of filmmaking, that it was considered an ethical process. But basically today it does not include that anymore.'
'And, yes, there is a melancholy. Yes there is, because in the time I have lived cinema, most cinema turned away from a way of expression to a product. And a product, as such, needs to be sold, whereas an expression needs to be told. Cinema is not about telling anymore, it is about selling.'
Can I paraphrase, Mr Wenders words, about my experience of Sydney Theatre, today?
And, yes, there is a melancholy. I have a melancholy. Yes I have, because in the time I have experienced theatre in Sydney, most theatre has turned away from a way of expressing the concerns of our society to, instead, a marketable product. And a product, as such, needs to be sold, whereas an expression of an open inspection of our society needs to be told. Theatre in Sydney, is mostly, not telling anymore, it is about selling - getting the bums on seats at any ethical cost.
Yes, I can.

(There is, showing, at present in Sydney, a completely whimsical and amusing film called, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, directed by stylist/auteur, Wes Anderson. In the middle of this confection, the hilarity stops still, momentarily, with a scene between Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and his assistant, the lobby boy, the Young Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), as the young Zero explains his origin as a refugee, after imprisonment and torture, fleeing his war torn country to explain his lack of proper paper work, when crossing borders. It is a scene that was so pertinent to my/our society's conscience concerning our Federal Immigration Department's policy and enforcement practice, that I felt extremely uncomfortable and politically 'guilty'- squirming a little in my seat. The film, then, snapped back from this pause, this moment of contemporary reality, into its artistic jocular mayhem. If only THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR at Belvoir had one of its characters/actors find a way to be just as pertinent, in all their funny invention, I may have been happier. Maturity is earned, I guess.)

The Belvoir's, THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR, is a funny show for some of the time. The actors are terrific. It's just that the actual text is extraordinarily disappointing in its concerns, particularly since it is wearing, carrying, such a significant title, and suggesting echoes from the Gogol work(s).

 Despite Gogol's play having been officially sanctioned for performance by the Tsar Nicholas I, himself, Gogol left Russia shortly after its production in 1836 - a self-exile. I hear Mr Stone is leaving Australia too. Not for the same reasons has he become an exile, I feel sure, for nothing could be more harmless than his and Ms Barclay's THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR. (Mr Brandis can continue to instruct the Australia Council to keep funding the Belvoir - this government will not be offended by this GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR!).

THYESTES directed by Mr Stone in Sydney, in January 2012, was, for me, to witness a dazzling work from a very exciting theatrical artist. Then, it seemed to me, he had control of his material, the source - the Roman poet, Seneca - of his actors, and his production: it revealed virtuosity. THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR has actors of skill, and there are some strokes of panache in the production choices, but the fundamental 'dwarfing' of his source, the Russian writer, Gogol, does not enable him to strike the iron again with such a red hot blow. At the Belvoir now, there is no such arrest.


  1. "Nikolai Gogol, Plays and Petersburg Tales" New translations by Christopher English. Introduction by Richard Peace, Oxford World Classics, 1995.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Construction of the Human Heart

Apocalypse Theatre Company presents CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART by Ross Mueller at the Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst.

After a relatively disappointing time in the theatre in the past month or so, it was an exhilarating experience to go to the Tap Gallery, early on Holy Thursday night, after a 'tough' day at work, and be 'buzzed' - kind of re-generated with excitement - indeed, perhaps, spiritually resurrected, two days before Easter Sunday. The occasion? Watching a re-vival of Ross Mueller's 2007 play, CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART.

It has been sometime since having a 'meeting' with Mr Mueller. I am a big fan. His play CONCUSSION (2009) sits high on my personal list of Best Australian Plays. ZEBRA seen at the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) in 2011, although, a disappointment, was worth a 'gander'. CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART has had a short season at B Sharp, way back in the day, but I had not seen it.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART begins with two adults, Him/He and Her/She. We meet them preparing themselves in everyday clothing, on a tidy, black, blank space, with two chairs, a water bottle and many piles of neatly stacked typed manuscript. Once we are all comfortable they pick up a manuscript of a few pages and begin to read it for us.This is the modus operandi, maybe, the modus vivendi for Him and Her. We discover HE (Michael Cullen) is a playwright. SHE (Cat Martin), a writer of children's books. Reading stage directions and reading text, accompanied, sometimes, by a disembodied voice giving other instructions (Angela Bauer), over 90 minutes or so, we are presented with the construction, or rather the struggle with the construction of a play, that reflects the human hearts of these co-authors, who have suffered a joint tragedy. Here, in front of us, they transmute that life pain with an act of craft practice, into an attempt to create art. What is brought up, back, for the individuals, and the couple, during this 'reading' is the substance of this play.When the play finishes the stage is no longer neat, it is strewn with the dropped, discarded, thrown pages of manuscript once so neatly piled, now an observable mess of the consequences of what it might be to be an artist, a writer.

It is the sheer pleasure to be treated by a writer with such originality of literary construct and to be flattered that we will 'get it' - so, subsequently, made to feel clever (smart); to have the text strewn with social, political and cultural references that are delivered to us at 'lightning' speed and not 'spoon fed' to us as if we were children - treating us as fully fledged adults; and to have a genuinely, deftly, even stealthily, delivered emotional catharsis, in the experience of the writing in performance, with contrasting flashes of wit. All, great reasons to see this play.

The Direction by Dino Dimitriadis is straightforward, and although the performances are unequal in their affect: Mr Cullen, continuously impressive, whilst Ms Martin tends to be over elocuted (not appearing to be using her 'authentic voice') and so, gives the appearance to be too disengaged from the sub-textual journey, until (thankfully) the last third of the play, the power of the writing, conceptually and in its content, sweeps one along with driving curiosity and ultimate reward.

If you feel in need of a stimulating night in the theatre, of both mind and heart, I recommend a visit to The Tap Gallery and CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART by Ross Mueller. There is, I read, a current commission for the STC from Mr Mueller, let us hope that it is sooner rather than later. A voice of some sophistication in the Australian playwrighting scene, I reckon.

Safety In Numbers

'Safety In Numbers' (2014) from sam chester on Vimeo.

Form Dance Projects and Riverside present Dance Bites 2014 : SAFETY IN NUMBERS in the Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta.

Out to Parramatta to catch a new dance work called SAFETY IN NUMBERS, Directed by Sam Chester under the auspices of Form Dance Projects.

This work, says Ms Chester in her Director's note, has been made…
in various short incarnations since 2011 ... (and is) set in the aftermath of an earthquake. (It) …explores, holding on and letting go and the idea of things not being built to last. As a way into the world we investigated true stories of survivors and found it filled with yearning, hope and change. We also looked at our own inner shaking, and that at some stage in all of our lives we are standing in the rubble (metaphorically) - whether through grief, loss relationships or simply trying to deal with this enormous life.
The five performers were Gavin James Clarke, Leeke Griffin, Anya Mckee, Danielle Micich (all trained dancers) and an actor/mover, Simon Corfield.

What stays in the memory is a tremendously ethereal contemporary sound score composition by Ekrem Mulayim and a number of images lit beautifully by Verity Hampson: the movers/dancers standing/moving in the upward draughts from many floor level angled fans, creating the effect of wind billowing gently through their hair and contemporary clothes, in the slow motioned suspensions of plastic bags and yellow raincoats (a la AMERICAN BEAUTY), shrouded in a smoky haze. These 'romantic' images vary and are scattered throughout this 50 minute work - and they are entrancing. In between there is movement, it, however, is, less remarkable and not danced, in my appreciation, with the confidence of real finish, and so the narrative and investigation of the above, Director's intentions, seemed unresolved in their clarity.

There was enough pleasure in the score and some of the imagery, but for a work begun in 2011 and presented in 2014, it felt far from complete in terms of its clarity, or physical finish.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Gigli Concert

Darlinghurst Theatre Company and O'Punksky's Theatre present THE GIGLI CONCERT by Tom Murphy, at the Eternity Playhouse.

THE GIGLI CONCERT is an Irish play by Tom Murphy (not Tommy Murphy, the Australian writer - he, hopefully is working on a new original play, it has been a while!). THE GIGLI CONCERT was first presented at the Abbey Theatre in 1983 and was revised and presented again, there, in 1991. O'Punksky's Theatre Company have presented it, now, four times. The leading male Actors, Patrick Dickson and Maeliosa Stafford, and the Director, John O'Hare have always been part of the team. Perhaps, I think, Kim Lewis has also played in one of the productions of this play.
One of the greatest Irish plays of the century - Irish Times
Murphy's words waltz through the auditorium in musical waves ...a fabulous piece - Irish Press 
The play is a mighty entertainment ... It is a flamboyant all-enveloping swirling cloak of a play rather than a made-to-measure strait-jacket - Sunday Independent. 
This is a wonderful, wonderful play, the jewel in Murphy's career to date, the like of which one is rarely privileged to see - Sunday Business Post.
O'Punksky's Theatre Company and this dedicated crew of artists have a similar identification and passion for Mr Murphy's play. I had never seen the play before, and I read it, recently, to familiarise myself for this performance and, frankly, I was bewildered as to what it was about. What was it saying? Does it mean anything? What is it about this play that fascinates the O'Punksky's Theatre Company, that causes them to revive it so many times? I hoped the performance would enlighten me. After seeing the production, some eight scenes long, and taking just over three hours to tell on the stage (with an interval), I was still just as baffled as when I had read it. Nothing new was illuminated by the performance. I was still in the darkness of frustrating incomprehension.

JPW King (Patrick Dickson) is a quack psychologist - a DYNAMATOLGIST - an Englishman, who helps people reach their potential for greatness. He has very few clients and is out of sorts and on his beam-ends. One day an Irish Man (Maeliosa Stafford) arrives needing his help - an Irish millionaire who wants to sing like the famous Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli. In the tradition of popular Irish theatre personas, these two men are alcoholics (in this case, vodka, whiskey), and have problems in sustaining relationships and have sexual 'hang-ups' with their wives. Mr King is having an on-going sexual liaison with a married woman, Mona (Kim Lewis), on a convertible sofa-bed in his office/digs, between unsettling telephone conversations with his wife, and visits from the Gigli would-be.

In the literary heritage of Irish writings, the pursuit of understanding 'what life is all about'- the great existentialist obsessions of say James Joyce and Samuel Beckett - we come to observe, in the course of the treatment given by Mr King to the Irish Man, his theories around that question, amidst lengthy interruptions/interludes of recorded Gigli - arias, duos, trios and operatic choruses. In fact, the music is given such prominence in the exposition of the play, dictated by the writer, that it becomes a kind of character in its own right - that the lyrics are in Italian, does not necessarily assist to elucidate their action in the play, and, if as Mr O'Hare suggests, the spiritual realm is the desired affect of the music choices, a better Sound Design for aural impact, was needed.

Mr Dickson gives a graphically articulated meta-theatrical performance, using all his skills, as JPW King and, although, a little grotesque in scale to begin with, gradually, because of its passionate consistency, becomes a mesmerising attraction. It may be scaled to such a degree of expression, to unconsciously (consciously?) compensate for the work of Mr Stafford. For Mr Dickson's is a performance that is diametrically opposite in style to the intense internalised 'stewing' of Mr Stafford as the client, the Irish Man - where much seems to be happening, but what exactly, and why, is not communicated with any clarity. Mr Stafford appears to know what this character is 'stewing' and comprehends the dramaturgical function of him but does not assist us, at all, with communicative clues.  This puzzling stylistic opposition in the performance styles of the two leading men, produces a dis-connect between the two actors/characters, that I could only surmise, since they have played these roles together before, that they, and Mr O'Hare, the Director, were making a deliberate theatrical choice for our perception. I was, however, discombobulated by the offered work - I was completely puzzled, as have been several of my friends who have seen this production, at a later time.

In contrast, the scenes between Mr Dickson and Ms Lewis have a communicated reality and journey, their interaction developing perceptible narrative and revelation of character. These scenes are, indeed, a welcome respite to the experiencing of the rest of the play and production choices - there is a recognisable human dilemma going-on in these scenes. Mr Dickson and a moving Ms Lewis have a relationship and clear narrative, which can be read. A pity the scenes are so relatively short, then.

In the program notes there is a suggestion that there is a Faustian pact in THE GIGLI CONCERT - Ah-ha! Is it, then, that the Irish Man (with his red-lined overcoat) is Mephistopheles? And Mona is Marguerite, who in the embrace of her death from cancer, releases King as Faust into the realm of a redeemed life, who after an attempt at suicide, in an drug-induced hallucinogenic state, manages, to do the humanly impossible, and sings like Gigli? - a miracle = THE GIGLI CONCERT!


If that is so, the problem with this production lies with Mr Stafford who is playing the metaphor of The Irish Man as Mephistopheles, and not a clear enough human being, an Irish Man with a problem that he needs cured. He is playing a kind of 'symbolist' interpretation of the Irish Man (think, Maeterlinck), who in style is forcing the operatic/pantomimic gestures that Mr Dickson has had to adopt, whilst Ms Lewis attempts to ground the play in a realistic world. That realist world was present in the Set Design offers of Gordon Burns and the costume Design of Alison Bradshaw. Mr O'Hare seems to have lost control, or perspective, on this play production's clarities.

If my 'academic' surmise is so, as to the Faustian metaphor of Mr Murphy's play, it was never apparent in the theatrical unravelling action of this production. I needed to buy a program and to read of those references, and then, by-the-by, extrapolate that information for myself. My friends who saw it at another performance did not purchase a program, did not have my later advantage, and so were enormously frustrated and bored - in fact they left at the interval - three hours of puzzlement is a long time to endure, under those 'lost' circumstances.

THE SEAFARER, the last production presented by O'Punksky's Theatre Company in 2012, was so much more satisfying. This fourth re-visitaion to Tom Murphy's THE GIGLI CONCERT, by O'Punksky's Theatre Company, seems to me, one to many, and that it has lost its clarities,  in this production, whatever the passionate beliefs of the artists re-creating the play for us.

How about a Brian Friel, its been too long without him:

3. ARISTOCRATS. (1979)
4. TRANSLATIONS. (1980).

Monday, April 14, 2014


Photo by Blueprint Studios

Stories Like These and Griffin Independent present the world premiere of MUSIC by Jane Bodie at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

MUSIC is the World Premiere of this play by Jane Bodie. It is, interestingly, not her latest play. This play sits somewhere between HILT (2002) and THIS YEAR'S ASHES (2011). In the program notes, Ms Bodie tells us:
(In) writing MUSIC I wanted to explore people's perceptions of mental illness, how often complex symptoms are misunderstood, along with the fragility and hardship of those managing it, the fine line between well and ill. I also wanted to expose how sometimes we exploit fragility and glamourize obsession, for the sake of art. I chose to write the story of two actors colliding with a mentally ill character, thinking they are helping him to be 'normal'. … As the sister of someone who has suffered mental illness for years, I felt a sense of urgent responsibility to convey the subject with respect and authenticity. ...
The textual provisions given to the character Adam (Anthony Gee) - the sufferer of illness - is a testament to the sensitivity of Ms Bodie's vision and to the delicate craftings of her writing skills to be able to take what is, obviously, an 'urgent' life observation, dearly close to her, and shift it to illuminating craft, to make art. The task that all artists are attempting to make, no matter what form they are working in. This is the reason to attend to this play, for Mr Gee gives a moving and focused eloquence to the physical and mental depths and strains of Adam's story (a kind of break-out, but disciplined, performance). The conversation, and especially, the long monologues are held and spoken with such care, and insight by Mr Gee, that one is drawn into a place of immersed concentration, that takes one away from the simple looking at the human in suffering, but rather, encourages us to go deeply into what Ms Bodie's shining literary x-ray torch is revealing to us, of the agonies of Adam, and his struggle to find an equilibrium, to be able to exist. This comprehension of mental illness, Ms Bodie, undoubtedly coveys with the 'respect and authenticity' she desired. She knows what it is to be touched with fire.

It is in the other strand of MUSIC that Ms Bodie tells us of, of choosing "to write of two actors colliding with" Adam, and the misperceptions that they have concerning the complex symptoms and "the fine line between ill and well..." that the performance, or the material, seems to be lacking. Underwritten? Underdirected? Underacted?. Take your pick - one of these, or all of the above! This is where the play, or performance of, became a bit of a muddle.

Gavin (Tom Stokes) and Sarah (Kate Skinnner), two actors, stalk Adam out, become acquainted with him, and ask to 'study' him as a role model for a character in a play that they are both rehearsing. During the process they make 'friends' with him, they share meals, and encourage him to take on the 'normalities' of life, to get him out of the 'flat', and to drink, laugh and be merry - whether he is on medication or not, displays healthy symptoms or not. This leads to Sarah being infatuated with Adam, even transgressing into 'sexing' with him without any qualms of judgement. It, also, supposedly, takes Gavin to a believable capability of 'impersonating' Adam as to appear to be him, such that professional carers mistake him for the real thing, and take him away to be 'sectioned' in a hospital after they are called because of disturbing, destructive behaviour in Adam's flat - a double life, a 'possession' by character study has, supposedly, been achieved by Gavin.

Neither, Ms Skinner or Mr Stokes prepare us for these eventualities. The Director, Corey McMahon, simply has the actors go through the motions of the writing but has not encouraged any clues from the actors as to the sub-textual developments of Sarah and Gavin, that will help us understand the climax of the play. Ms Skinner does not reveal in her choices much evidence of Sarah's journey to 'bedding' Adam - she just does - Sarah's behaviour simply reads as incredibly insensitive or stupid. Mr Stokes has not demonstrated Gavin's capability of 'walking or talking' the symptoms of his supposed studied observation of Adam. He does not show us that actor's accruing of observational tics, the guise of the believable impersonation of Adam, certainly not enough for us to believe the ending, which happens off-stage.

We, the audience, need more clues to what is happening.

The Design by Pip Runciman of the apartment that Adam is living in looks a little too affluent and cared for to be this fragile man's domicile - particularly the dominating, glamorous looking back wall that became a disco dance pulsing of light at one stage. (Lighting by Verity Hampson and Benjamin Brockman.) It does not have a sense of the life that Adam is desperately trying to hold onto, despite the piling of envelopes etc. (the photograph, above, I presume, shot in an actual apartment, has a more truthful resonance to Adam's circumstances, then the actual Set Design.) The Sound Design by Nate Edmundson is what Ms Bodie believes her brother, would "bloody love"- I am not sure how useful it was to the storytelling as I experienced it, nor did I find much connection to the soundtrack and the title of the play.

If the food of love is music than Ms Bodie's textural 'rhapsody' for her brother is music of an emotionally heartfelt and superior kind. For the play, MUSIC, especially, when dealing with Adam's condition is a touching experience. The performance by Anthony Gee is absorbing. Sam O'Sullivan as Tom, the 'mentor' (brother) to Adam,  gives another fine supporting performance.

Do check it out.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

All's Well That Ends Well, and Twelfth Night

Sport For Jove Theatre Company and The Seymour Centre present ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL and TWELFTH NIGHT in the York Theatre at the Seymour Centre.

2014 is the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. He was christened on April 26th, 1564 in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Since it was the custom to baptise a child three days after birth, Shakespeare's birthday is recognised as April 23, the same day as his burial fifty-two years later. These two productions by the Sport For Jove Company, ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL and TWELFTH NIGHT are part of a world wide celebration of that incredible fact.

450 years later and William Shakespeare is the most performed playwright in the world. Did you know that:
…the first film of a Shakespeare play (KING LEAR) was made back in 1899. ... and with 707 films to his name in June 2008, this writer from a small Warwickshire town four centuries ago is far and away the most prolific writer of movies; in 2005 alone, there were sixteen films made of his plays [Ben Crystal -1]. 
 A new film version of ROMEO AND JULIET is at present in the cinemas. Shakespeare our Contemporary Playwright and Screen Writer! Can I count the number of Shakespeare productions being performed in Sydney this year? ...!

In this Shakespearean double-bill, there were some 18 actors taking a curtain call. How rare is that in the Sydney Theatre experience? A company of invisible support artists must boost that figure involved with this enterprise well up into the thirties. The Sport For Jove company are mainly made up of very young artists, augmented by some seasoned actors, led by Damien Ryan, seemingly, all, all inspired by Shakespeare's works. These are remarkable facts and worth noting and celebrating. Supporting. What is even more remarkable is that Sport For Jove is a 'Co-operative' company - which means that none, that is, NONE, of these creators are paid. No-one is paid for the months of preparation, or for the performances. They do this work, they celebrate this author, they provide us with a consistent opportunity to see a Professional standard of production, and a quality of textual experience without any monetary recompense. They do this because they have, are infected by what I call a 'disease' (dis-ease), that requires them to be involved in the creative act for, perhaps, their sanities sake, which ultimately includes, you , the audience. They do it because they have a need to. In the city of Sydney of some three and a half millions this company presents, regularly, work, to maintain a cultural fabric that enhances the reputation of Sydney for nada, zilch, nothing.

For those of you who don't know, actors in this city are paid for rehearsal and performance by the commercial managements (mainly musicals), and by the subsidised Australia Council companies: Sydney Theatre Company (4 Australian actors, at present on public show in PERPLEX at the Wharf 1Theatre - 4!!!), Belvoir St Theatre, Bell Shakespeare, some productions at the Griffin Theatre (5 or 6 a year), some professional Touring Companies, Monkey Baa, and the Ensemble Theatre (who manage to do so, remarkably, without any government subsidy! Amazing!)

All the rest are NOT paid for rehearsal or performance: the Griffin Independent Productions, The Hayes Theatre (yes, those remarkable recent musicals: SWEET CHARITY, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, the artists did for free, virtually), The Eternity Theatre, the atyp Wharf Productions, the Tap Gallery, the Reginald Productions, Old 505 Productions, (Tamarama) Rock Surfers Productions, the Sydney Independent Theatre Company at the Old Fitzroy, the New Theatre, the King St Theatre. All the associations that work with these 11 theatre spaces, who consistently present work in this city, that give a variety of live theatre experience for audiences, opportunities for performing artists and writers to develop, are not paid any, or much money to do this.

The reputation of Sydney as a vibrant Performing Arts City is provided by the performing artists, mostly, for NOTHING!! They do it to practice their skills and amongst other reasons, for the opportunity to be seen by the paying, major companies and the other mediums - television and film - as a kind of audition. Although, this, is mostly a fanciful expectation, as the number of responsible representatives from the STC or Belvoir or reputable casting agencies who actually attend these productions to appreciate the work of these artists, is frustratingly, infuriatingly, embarrassingly poor.

I, personally, have produced 3 productions and sponsored a development of a dance work, that involved some three months of preparation and a 3-4 week season each. All the artists involved, after costs, received a total of approximately, $100.  4 months work for $100 each! I know of what I speak.

In 1971, when I graduated from NIDA, the Actor's union had managed to win pay for actors, not only for performance, but also for rehearsal - a professional career was possible. How lucky I was. Today, 43 years later, in 2014, in Sydney, 11 theatres of artistic clout cannot pay, do not pay, for either performance or rehearsal. What is wrong with this picture Australia? Things have got worse for the professional actor not better. What the situation is in other cities in Australia, I do not know- similar, I should imagine.

So, the fact that Sport For Jove is able to consistently present production In Sydney at such a scale and tour to several venues - 18 actors taking a bow - with such artistic integrity and a growing, glowing reputation, is a fact that needs to be celebrated and appreciated. That the other 11 theatres and all their guest companies are also toiling for, and achieving artistic opportunities and bench marks of standard, needs, also, to be recognised, appreciated.

Now to my usual scrutineering…

Dear Diary,

ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (1602-04) is a rarely performed Shakespeare. It, along with TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (1602) and MEASURE FOR MEASURE (1604) are known as Shakespeare's Problem Plays. They were all written in the crisis times of the lingering health and ultimate death of Elizabeth I, of the uncertainty concerning the next heir to the English throne, and the many 'adjustments' to the crowning of James IV, from Scotland, as James I of England. Surrounding these three 'problematic' plays Shakespeare had written AS YOU LIKE IT (1600), HAMLET (1600), TWELFTH NIGHT (1599-1601), and on the other side of the trio, OTHELLO (1604), KING LEAR (1606) and MACBETH (1606). Shakespeare was at the heights of his powers, it would seem. So, 'problematic' for whom?
The term "problem plays" has often been attributed to Shakespearean angst. The plays probably were, more prosaically, the result of the playwright's desire to capitalise on the interest in satire, current during those early turbulent years of the seventeen century:  ...they are based on a moral ideal which though it exists in theory is consistently ignored in practice. [2] 
Are they an accurate reading of the last of the Elizabethan assurities and the anticipations of the Jacobean strangenesses? Unsure times? In our world of moral trepidations, when a Cardinal of the Church, of our spiritual government, forgoes his moral conscience in pursuit of preserving the monetary treasures of his Domain (where is, Jesus, the scourge of the temple Pharisees, or Martin Luther, when we need them?) Or, when our secular government is infested with rorters of the system of law for personal gain, greed, at the expense of the citizenry, what hopes, faiths, can we have, except ones that are jaded and exhausted with disillusionment to spiritual and ethical bankruptcies (where are our contemporary Australian playwrights?) Hence, perhaps, the importance of these three plays to Shakespeare's audience, sitting squarely in the centre of this social disease, are not so problematic? Nor to us in 2014. Perhaps, the irony of the title of Shakespeare's ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL - (the ends justifying the means), the moral shadings and ambiguities of MEASURE FOR MEASURE, and the lubricious world of TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, as scrupulous studies of a 'screwed-up' world, adrift without a reliable moral compass, was well within the grasp of their exhausted apprehensions of the world they lived in? As they should be to ours.

The Countess of Rousillon (Sandra Eldridge) farewells her son Bertram (Edmund Lembke-Hogan) to the Court of the King of France (Robert Alexander) who is suffering ill health. Attending this farewell is the daughter, Helena (Francesca Savige), of a famous, now dead physician. She is secretly in love with Bertram, and has the favours of the Countess for such a liaison. She avails on the Countess to allow her to follow Bertram, who once she is there, offers the King a cure for his illness. She bargains that if she fails she will willingly die, if she succeeds, he will grant her anything she wishes. She cures the King and claims Bertram as her husband. Shocked, Bertram, unwillingly, is married, but immediately sets out for war and gives her word that she is never to call him husband until she can get a ring from his finger, and show him a child which he has begotten from her body.
I'll send her to my house,
Acquaint my mother with my hate of her,
... ... War is no strife
To the dark house and the detested wife.
However, Helena follows him, instead, to Florence, where she observes his wooing of a maid, Diana (Eloise Winestock). Then by bribing Diana to consent to a bedding, and to demand Bertram's ring, Helena through a 'bed-trick' replaces Diana, without his knowledge of the deception. Later she confronts him with the evidence of both her tasks fulfilled - the ring and the child - whereupon he 'gladly' accepts her as his wife. This is the main plot. A sub-plot concerns the 'career' of Parolles (George Banders), a follower of Bertram's, a braggart and coward, and of his reveal/discovery during the course of the war - some believe the relationship between Bertram and Parolles is a kind of blurred mirror reflection of that of Prince Hal and Falstaff.

This play of Shakespeare's has, as with all his work, been taken from other sources. ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL is based on the ninth novel of the third day of the DECAMERON of Boccaccio, which Shakespeare in all probability got from a faithful translation in Paynter's PALACE OF PLEASURE [3]. There are many other literary precedents of the origins of this story, that Shakespeare may, also, have known. Shakespeare followed closely the main outlines of his sources, but altered many details. This story and its character types are familiar and popular to the Medieval and Elizabethan audiences, and is an example of the Fulfilment of Tasks narrative:
In the first place, they exalt the cleverness and devotion of the woman; the wits of the wife are more than a match for those of the husband, and her purpose is a happy reunion with him.
It is the story of the Clever Wife (Wench) - it is a popular conceit.

For a modern audience, however, it may be difficult for some not to see Helena as a thief not of love, but of lust, and that the chances of a really happy ending impossible. Some, too, may find Bertram hard to explain psychologically: a man that agrees to marry and then treats that wife with such disdain, and when confronted with the set tasks achieved, is instantly transformed: "His vices take flight from him and the virtues enter." Or, depending on your degree of contemporary cynicism, not?

Damien Ryan, cuts and pastes the text of Shakespeare's ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL and updates the times to 20th century war zones, it appears design-wise (Antoinette Barboutis), a composite of all wars of that century and of this one, the twenty-first. Mr Ryan, however, more certainly, places the sexual politics/actions of Helena, and the other women of the play, into the raunch culture of our times, and has us observe a robust and determined woman, who, with her female companions, reverse the usual gender role practice, so it is the female sex on the prowl and hunt, predatorily. In extended time interpolations to the original play, this Helena inspects in her 'seraglio', provided by a grateful King, the naked prospects of the 'marriage market place' (literally), doing all but 'handle' the knobs of the merchandise (oh, shucks, why not? - size is important, they tell me!), and to later film on an iphone, the pornographic 'rape' of Bertram in an orgiastic bed of drunkedness and intense naked sexual doings (4 excited women and blindfolded he). Mr Ryan in his program notes asks us "To suck it up boys, it has been women's lot for centuries." And if things appear far-fetched, he points out that they are just simple reflections of our current reality television "and hugely popular (entertainment) vehicles such as THE BACHELOR" (Network Ten).

Mr Ryan, in his elaborate and absorbing program notes, intimates that this was what Shakespeare was doing with the play, ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, in Elizabethan/Jacobean times. But that, I believe, maybe, as likely as far-fetched a contemporary conjecture as the well spring of Simon Stone's HAMLET, last year, and Mr Bell's extrapolation of Shakespeare's intention, with his production of THE WINTER'S TALE, last month. This dreaded need (to me), to make Shakespeare our contemporary with up-dated environments of contemporary topicalities, is wearily, becoming boorish and boring. Really, I'm more than a little over it. Accessible theatre doesn't necessarily make unforgettable theatre - just, easy theatre.

Jan Kott from his influential book SHAKESPEARE OUR CONTEMPORARY:
What I have intended is not a forced topicality ... . Shakespeare does not have to be modernised or brought up to date ... what matters is that through Shakespeare's text we ought to get our own modern experience, anxiety and sensibility.
However, "Whatever!"

I found Mr Ryan's liberties interesting (though some prudent staging edits could be given - how many circles of training do I need, to get the gist of the idea?) and, certainly, they stayed with me long after watching the performance (- !, indeed, an again, ! ) That the production did not have the magical transcendence of a great Shakespearean production was, and is, a regret, especially after over three hours in the theatre (supposedly beginning at 7.30, I was leaving the building at 10.48) and to come out of the theatre with a familiar and unchanged world view, was a disappointment (although, I have, reflectively concluded, there may have been two genii in the York Theatre at the Seymour Centre: Shakespeare and Mr Ryan, both their inventions, different, though they are, are creatively arresting.)

Of the actors, the stand out performance was that of George Banders, as Parolles (I noticed him in a production of Alex Buzo's ROOTED, last year). Mr Banders has a clarity of instrument management, intelligence, wit and charisma to burn. Every time he was on stage with responsibility, he lifted the evening into an effortless comprehension of the comedy, the situation and the character of the man.

Mr Alexander, as the King, had all the skills at hand, but to find majesty wearing that "Targette beaney"costume, as the ill King of France (Design by Antoinette Barboutis) would need supernatural talents to surmount. Similarly, James Lugton, deprived of an arm, was less than his usual expressive self, though absolutely reliable. Ms Eldridge was less impressive as the Countess, a famous role, that appeared to be not much more than an agonised matron of a spoilt child, in this reading. Sam Haft, tackling a trio of men, particularly the injured soldier, even though his face was masked in a bandage, and the intelligent presence of Michael Piggott, gave play-focusing performances.

To the two leading ingenues and centralities of this production: Ms Savige, as Helena, did not have the vocal skills or physical disciplines to communicate to us much, other than an enthusiastic energy and approximation of textual information - emotions overriding all her offers - and that she, the actor, loved what she was doing (did I want to fly, invisibly, onto the stage, and hold her head still in an Alexander Technique gentle grip, so that it would stop compensating with its uncontrolled movement, for what her skills could not otherwise tell us, of her obvious intelligence of the role, or not? - I did). Mr Lembke-Hogan seemed to 'play' at the idea of Bertram - a spoilt, psychologically uncouth lout/brat - physically indicating what the text was telling us, not trusting the words of the text, removing any ability for the audience to endow or believe in him - he, tending to over-telegraph, demonstrate, everything. It appeared a deeply contrived (planned) performance, lacking freedom of 'in the moment' thoughts, actions and emotions. If these two figures of Helena and Bertram cannot hold the 'centrality' of the audience's care in the storytelling, to the extent , such that Parolles, in this production, became the focus of our gratification, desire, then, Shakespeare's ALL'S WELLTHAT ENDS WELL can not end well. It loses its balance and power and its capacity to be transcendent.

On another night, I attended a revival of the Sport For Jove production of TWELFTH NIGHT, or What You Will, the great autumnal comedy, the last comedy that Shakespeare wrote. This production is set at a contemporary beach resort for the rich and indolent, (attractive Set Design by Anna Gardiner),  populated by spoilt and silly, shallow love sicked fools, bored enough to indulge in cruel and stupid games. Shakespeare's play, in my experience of this production, was reduced to a petulant Aussie piss-take of predictable skittishness and self absorbed narcissism. In making it so accessible, including interpolated contemporary pretences at witticisms, in an effort, perhaps, to present a mirror image of our contemporary world, the now recognisable 'Ryanisms' gradually submerged this great work and its famous set pieces into banalities, and the Shakespearean wisdoms about love, to common-placements. The audience I was with, loved it - then, considering their ages, more than likely, they had never seen the play in production before. I, indeed, had an easy time (I, of course, know the play well, and could add, from memories, what was missing), but lamented the loss of Shakespeare's greatness for the sake of easy accessibility. This inventive, dare I use the modern meaning "innovative" production, reminds me of my response to the Sport For Jove production of HAMLET.
Where there is no illusion,
there is no Ilyria
 - Oscar Wilde.
Abigail Austin gave a wonderful Caesario, which was most of what she had to do, but an emotionally 'bleating' Viola. Robin Goldsworthy, as Malvolio gave some honour to this great role. Michael Piggott gave a beautiful and wistful Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Tyran Parke gave good song to Feste, despite the boring composition of his music (Christopher Harley). All else served the direction well enough, but not interestingly enough, or sometimes, skilfully enough, to bring us to an awakening to the 'wonders' of our contemporary world, or, even Shakespeare's, or the language-wit and wisdoms of Shakespeare. It hardly seemed possible that this play could survive 450 years of playing and hold such a high place in the cannon of theatrical writing if this is all it was - a juvenile comedy of simpletons.

From Stanley Wells 4 essays "Royal Shakespeare - Four Major Productions at Stratford-upon-Avon":
HAMLET, (written around the same time as TWELFTH NIGHT - either, depending on the dating used, just before or just after) is one of the most controversial of Shakespeare's plays. It has been endlessly discussed, and poses major interpretative problems. TWELFTH NIGHT has provoked less dissension. As with many of the comedies, there is general agreement about the broad lines along which the play should be interpreted. Disputes are about matters of balance, emphasis, and degree, especially about the balance between comedy and seriousness. ... the balance in it of romance and realism, of idealized love and drunken revelry, of wise folly and foolish wit, of self-control and relaxation, of love songs and songs of good life.
Mr Ryan's production tips the balance, for my taste, too much towards raucous vulgarities and cynicisms, embraces too far the twelfth night traditions of 'olde', the whirlygigs of the Lord of Misrule, and loses the sense of the season of autumn, of dying (Elizabeth, Gloriana, distressed on her death bed), the loss of sure fortunes, Shakespeare's sense of an ending of something great, special. AS YOU LIKE IT, the other great comedy of this period of writing, also reflects, similarly, the striking balance between life and death, comedy and seriousness. Mr Ryan, in this TWELFTH NIGHT, does not balance his comic eye with a sufficient seriousness. This is a revival production, so what was once fair comment on our world, originally, may now be not - rather dated, now an off-key jangle to our ethically bereft times, and, so, out of currency. Fashion changes so quickly! Holiday is not eternal and "fantasy fights the cold light of day"; to a world beyond a summer holiday, in autumn, (physically and metaphysically), "the rain it raineth every day". Mr Wells goes on to say:

        "This text contains an enormous range of emotions and moods and most productions seem to select one - farce, or bitterness or romance - and emphasize it throughout."

Mr Ryan has tended to that, a monotone of farcical observations, and it would have been more pleasing to see Mr Ryan attempt to sound all the notes that are there, more generously, with a better balance.

In my blog on THE WINTER'S TALE, I have rhapsodised of the tour of The Royal Shakespeare Company to Sydney in 1970. One of the productions was of John Barton's TWELFTH NIGHT. It has become one of the legendary productions of this play. What Mr Barton managed, was to balance (mingle) the romantic seriousness with comedy and throughout the production preserve this fusion of tones. It had a Chekhovian quality. The climax of that production was the silent moment of confrontation and recognition of the twins, Sebastian and Viola, at the almost end of the play, both up to that point believing the other drowned. It was a 'burning' experience, still is, in my memory, like being in the presence of a cosmic miracle - we, all, the cast and the audience, were cast into a rapt wonder.

              "O, if it prove,
               Tempests are kind, and salt waters fresh in love!"

 Shakespeare's breadth of artistry, in Mr Barton's guidance, reached beyond this world and took us to an acknowledgment that truly, there are more things in heaven and earth then are dreamt of in our philosophy. It hardly was intimated, recognised, in this Sport For Jove production, at this point, or elsewhere.

This is the essential ingredient that in the Sport For Jove productions of Shakespeare directed (mostly) by Mr Ryan, that seems to be absent. It is definitely what I missed in his HAMLET, and certainly in this TWELFTH NIGHT, and in a play I know, though, not as well, his ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL. The all embracing universalities of Shakespeare's vision and its effect in realising in his writings, the magic of the "music" of the spheres (universe), in Shakespeare's plays, is conspicuously dim or absent.  Is there an ignorance of it? Is it the lack of belief in it? Is it, if known, a belief system rejected by this generation of young artists? Or, is there a basic fear of going there in 2014? Speculating of it?  It is too daggy. I reckon, if this "music" be the food of love, one can begin to understand the 450 year history and popularity of this inestimable writer. Not just that Shakespeare is contemporaneously 'sexy' or "funny -ha, ha.'

Now, earlier, I dared to suggest that maybe Mr Ryan is a 'genius' and, certainly, I believe that, to some measure, his co-production of THE LIBERTINE attests to something of the kind to me. His now famous, recent CYRANO DE BERGERAC, which I did not see [no car!] seems to gel that. If invention of action and imaginative settings, for the plays of Shakespeare, of being a figure of inspiration that attracts so many of these other artists to his work, especially young ones, is a kind of genius, then, he is one. And, especially, if he can increase the capacity of his actors to deliver verse with a sensitivity to its full potential range of meaning, both intellectual and emotional, maybe, critically, it will be even more evident. If he and Sport For Jove can transcend beyond the populist con-temporising of Shakespeare's plays for easy cultural accessibility and take his audience to that other level of this writing, what 'wonder' might we have - maybe, a True Genius ?! "Damo" (Ryan) standing alongside John (Barton) or Trevor (Nunn) or Peter (Brook) ?! We shall see soon enough, when he has the full professional support of the Bell Shakespeare for his up-coming HENRY V.

Exiting from one of the great contemporary theatre companies, after The Globe's production of TWELFE NIGHT (and RICHARD III, on another night), 15 months ago, I walked out of the Apollo Theatre onto Shaftsbury Avenue, into the teeming noise of London's West End, and I looked about me, in a state of ecstasy, and through all that 'noise' heard the earth sigh as it turned in its course. Their Shakespeare toils had raised my soul to something beyond myself and this clattering world.

Exiting the Seymour Centre, on either night of ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL and TWELFTH NIGHT, I walked to the corner of Cleveland Street and City Road and looked and heard the noise of the mechanisms of my pragmatic world rushing about me, for my bus ride home. Neither of the Sport For Jove productions of Shakespeare's great worlds, took me beyond my own petty self or ordinary world. I was definitely earthed-held. A pity. Fortunately, I arrived home, and co-incidently, was given a birthday present of the DVD of The Globe's TWELFE NIGHT.

Sport For Jove - a company, worth struggling with. Thanks.


  1. Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal, Icon Books - 2008
  2. The Friendly Shakespeare by Norrie Epstein, Penguin Books -1993
  3. Shakespeare's Problem Comedies by William Witherle Lawrence, Penguin Shakespeare Library - 1931
  4. Royal Shakespeare. By Stanley Wells, Manchester University Press - 1977

Monday, April 7, 2014

Clybourne Park

The Ensemble Theatre present CLYBOURNE PARK by Bruce Norris at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli.

Look, Edward Albee is my favourite living American writer, I want to see everything he has written. Now, next to him, Bruce Norris has become my next favourite, living American writer. More than Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Theresa Rebeck, Beth Henley, Suzan-Lori Parks. So do go to see this play at the Ensemble, if you can.

I read, first, his family comedy, THE PAIN AND THE ITCH (2004) - flawed but arresting; then, PURPLE HEART (2002) - a brilliant play about the effect of war on families (it needs a very talented child actor); THE LOW LIFE - a 20 scene, 60 character epic (fable) set in America between 1759 and 1776, that is subtly about free market economics and cut throat capitalism - you can guess why its production history began at the Royal Court Theatre in London, and not in the city of Wall St, New York! I read CLYBOURNE PARK in 2012 and simply loved it. In awe of it, really. This is a play that challenges comfortable habits, a play of ideas, and a brutal 'celebration' of the state of contemporary ethical values.

Others have loved it, too: This play has won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. 2012 Tony Award for Best Play, the 2011 Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the 2010 Evening Standard Award. And so, relievedly, I was not alone in my response. I have been, anxiously, waiting for a Sydney company to perform it -The Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) has already premiered it in Australia - and now the Ensemble Theatre has staged it. That they have, is, entirely, creditable. For, there is something deliciously ironic and, dare I say, brave, about this, for this play's inclusion in the season at the Ensemble, considering the utter, utter social and political subversiveness of its content, particularly at this middle class bastion of the North Shore, is a welcome sign of the confidence the management have to the tolerance and intelligence of their subscription audience. They, certainly, have read its audience well, for this season was sold out before it opened - although, I was able to get a single seat, and the company has scheduled some other performances at the Concourse Theatre in Chatswood.

More power to you all - a raised clenched fist in the air!

CLYBOURNE PARK, set in 2009, in Chicago, could not be a more timely comedy concerning the social values of present day Australia. Its examination of race, property values and liberal pieties seem to be taken straight from the pages and blogosphere of our daily news sources. It begins with its white, middle class characters dealing with a neighbourhood house in their protestant white suburb, been purchased by a black family. I wondered how this audience in Kirribilli, from surrounding suburbs such as Cremorne, Mosman would respond, today, to similar news that an Indigenous, working class family from Redfern was moving in next door. This is only one of many topical, urgent button-pressing issues raised in the razor sharp wit and 'dramedy' of CLYBOURNE PARK. Being with this Ensemble audience of a general subscription crowd (I was one of the youngest there!), was especially exciting, but, so accessible is this play, it would be a bracing experience with any audience - the successful history of its international productions instructs us so.

CLYBOURNE PARK is in two acts and set in Chicago. Mr Norris uses the location of the house that the black, working class Younger family bought, in the 1959 Lorraine Hansberry epoch changing play, A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1959) - you may know the 1961 movie, with Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett Jnr. (A new production of it, is at present, on Broadway - Denzil Washington, Anika Rose). He, also, borrows and re-introduces a character from the Hansberry play, Karl Linder, the white neighbourhood representative, who attempted to dissuade and bribe the Youngers from moving in. Act One of Mr Norris' play is set in 1959, and has Karl Linder (Nathan Lovejoy), accompanied by his profoundly deaf and pregnant wife, Betsy (Briallen Clarke), having come from the unsuccessful intervention with the Youngers, debating, with the sellers of the house, Bev (Wendy Strehlow) and her husband, Russ (Richard Sydenham), both in grief over the suicide of their only son, Kenneth, a Korean war veteran, about the communal objections to the transaction, and making a counter monetary offer. (phew, I know some of you are saying, what a sentence - I love Patrick White and I'm reading Thornton Wilder -ha!). The local clergyman, Jim (Tom Campbell), who has been a counsellor to the family in their grief, is also present. Hovering in the background, packing this household down, is Francine (Paula Arundell), the black maid, and her husband, Albert (Cleave Willliams).

Race, suicide, post traumatic stress syndrome (ptsd), disability, pregnancy, religion, class, sexism, homophobia, community responsibilities and ethics, and , of course, capital, M-O-N-E-Y, are all brought onto the field of play as battle weapons. Beginning as a typical naturalistic melodrama, in the style of A RAISIN IN THE SUN, Mr Norris' play, gradually, but swiftly, escalates into an outrageous comic farce of cauterising intensity. One laughs at the swift logical progressions to the combustible absurdities of the arguments, when we observe the characters' challenged competitive instincts, their polite and civilised cooperative training, being overwhelmed, and obliterated. When the civilised mask of community is breached in pursuit of entitled dominance, the moments when the low road of profitability are taken in preference to the high road of principle and human ethics, attention must be paid.

The second act is set in the same house, but fifty years later, in 2009, and we watch a different collection of namesakes: Lena, Kevin, Tom, Lindsey, Steve, Kathy, and Dan, wrestle with a similar but even less politically correct world of dilemma, verbal offence rains/ reigns/hails down for sure! Mr Norris asks us through hilarious comedy: "What has Changed?" The answer is nothing - man just goes on repeating himself, like any animal of nature, and with the same savage brutality, even if it is only of the linguistic kind. An Animal Kingdom, indeed.

The Director, Tanya Goldberg, has gathered a wonderful cast to reveal Mr Norris' play. I have to confess six of these actors fall into my preferred prejudices of skill and I have great admiration for them. Mr Williams is new to me. So, it was with anticipated joy that I found my way to the Ensemble.

In the first act, Richard Sydenham playing, Ross, the father of the dead soldier, and similarly, but less doggedly, Wendy Strehlow, as his wife, Bev, have the task of anchoring this play into realities that need to tie the play to painful 'earth' as the others ramp up the absurdities of human frailties into the stratospheric realms of farce (it is much like the task Prunella Scales and Connie Booth have as Sybil Fawlty and Polly Sherman in that timeless series FAWLTY TOWERS, as Basil (John Cleese), Manuel (Andrew Sachs), and the rest, balloon the situations of the narrative, up, up and away!). That Mr Sydenham does this with such understated, but, ultimately devastating affects, accounts for much of the success of the production.

Ms Strehlow is wonderful, after a little initial bump in her interaction with Paula Arundell, who, it seems to me has mis-read the character style of Francine, and tends to burlesque her as a television sit-com comic, instead of what I believe Mr Norris has written, a character straight out of A RAISIN IN THE SUN - Ruth or Lena Younger, with all the dignity of a long suffering but patient victim of discrimination - and so has to juggle, perforce, some musical timings that do not allow her 'situation' (Bev's) in the comic structure to unravel as smoothly as written - e.g. the comically pertinent discussion of the origins of words (Neapolitan and Naples?!!!), with her crossword puzzled husband. Ms Arundell redeems her usual assuredness in the second act creation of Lena (N.B. the reference that Mr Norris has given as a clue for both roles). Cleave Williams is modest but solid in his contributions with a true sense of the life of his men, and the actor's sensitivity to the 'musical scoring ' of the Norris text.

At last, Nathan Lovejoy has a role, Karl Linder, that allows him to reveal centre stage, the range of his extraordinary talents: intelligence, wit, an almost painful sensibility to human vulnerabilities, coupled with physical grace that has the look of a feather-weight velvet glove, but is, really, a disguised latent and full weighted iron fist, ready to hammer down viciously on all, at the right moment. Mr Lovejoy is gifted with an ineffable sense of comic timing and a full and available range of vocal musicalities. Briallen Clarke, a relative newcomer to our stages, accompanies Mr Lovejoy's performance as his deaf, pregnant wife, Betsy, and shows herself as not only a marvellous foil for him, but a creatively amusing artist in her own right - the choices are delicate and humanly accurate. Moving.

But, for me the wonderful creation of the clergyman, Jim, by Tom Campbell is the apex of my joy in watching this production. What shines is this actor's intelligence, wit and control of his skills, that permit him to prudently clue the audience in to this man's foibles, and therefore comic presence. Of late, I have 'moaned' about the lack of fully rounded characterisations (backstories) that the actor has to create ( TRAVELLING NORTH, PROOF, A MOMENT ON THE LIPS), to endow to their responsibilities, from the material the writer has given them, to ensure that we do not only see function on stage, but truth and reality - a character not a caricatured, shallow realisation. Mr Campbell with a glowing inner life plays Jim, radiating energies of complex offers of human weakness and vulnerabilities, accompanied, thrillingly, with the objective actor's 'killer's eye" for the excoriating observation of hypocrisy, and delivers a subtle creation that the favourites of the Restoration Comedies are echoed in - now there is field for these actors to be challenged in (I could suggest a cast to keep all that sophisticated stuff afloat!).

This company of actors are then required, in the second act of the play, to create, demarcate, new characters, with similar traits but fifty years later. There is a precision of choice demonstrated here that is delivered not just through costume (Stanislavsky's Physical Who), but with shifts of characteristics to maintain realities, but differences as well. It is well done. Bravo.

Ms Goldberg directs with finesse, and has also attracted other artists to assist her vision: Set and Costume by Tobhiyah Stone Feller; Lighting by the ever accurate 'genius' Verity Hampson and Sound Designer, Daryl Wallis. This kind of play is no easy task and Ms Goldberg comes through with intelligent and theatrically tight disciplines - if, in my observation, with a small misjudgement with her direction of Francine.

NOISES OFF, CLYBOURNE PARK two comic masterpieces presented in Sydney with great élan.

I recommend CLYBOURNE PARK at the Ensemble Theatre highly, but do go with a sharpened brain, a tired one will get you left behind.