Friday, October 31, 2014

Open For Business

Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and Bank Of America, Merrill Lynch present, The Wharf Revue 2014: OPEN FOR BUSINESS, created and written by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Philip Scott, at Wharf 1, Hickson Rd. Walsh Bay. 20 Oct - 20 Dec.

The Wharf Revue has become a staple, stalwart, of the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), end of year seasons. They must make a box office boon! Boom?! How many has it been? 14 or 15? 15, I think. I haven't seen one for years. OPEN FOR BUSINESS is what I remember the Wharf Revue's to be. Some awfully talented artists, in this case: Jonathan Biggins, Amanda Bishop, Philip Scott and newcomer, this year to the talent, Doug Hansell, giving their considerable all to the material they have mostly written for themselves. Singing, more than wonderfully, Dancing, with a flair for a top flight musical comedy gig on a Tonight Show, and impersonating with a ruthless observational skill to allow instant recognition of iconic referencings, satirising, mostly political figures and popular culture personalities with impecable techniques.

Mr Biginns scores best with his well honed Keating impression (my personal favourite in the writing stakes, as well) although his fat-costumed Clive Palmer or his be-shorted dancing bush walker, Bob Brown, are also near winners in his personal arsenal of comic routine; Ms Bishop does a well loved Gillard (although she gets little airing) and, an hilarious Christine Milne, and besides, gives us an airing of her quite considerable 'pipes' in singing a 'ditty' concerning Julie Bishop to the Doll's song from Offenbach's TALES OF HOFFMAN, and, later, a mock Wagnerian turn in gobbledegook with very amusing sub-titles, with Mr Scott; while elsewhere Mr Scott most memorably does a Brandis. New comer, Mr Hansell, scores well with his take on Christopher Pyne and then, Scott Morrison engaged in pillow talk with his wife and another intruder(!) and he, too, has a set of 'pipes' that are quite spectacular and get a useful workout. This ensemble is tireless in the number of changes that they give us and in the top flight finesse of their performances. Some of the best satirical writing however, lies with, not the performed material, but with some of the video segments - the Budget Warehouse interludes are spot-on, while Mr Forsythe appearing on screen as that other Bishop, Bronwyn, scores a bull's eye in the opening moments.

This show has been out and around the 'traps' (other theatres) for some 40-odd performances, before getting back to the STC Wharf, so the work is well drilled and set securely. What it isn't is up-to-the-minute. I found it odd, that Vladimir Putin never appeared, and the macho alpha-dickery of shirt fronting never came to the floor. That the rapaciousness of industry, business, corporations, and other Institutions, for instance, the scandal surrounding our banks, was not brought more boldly to the lens of scrutiny - but, then look at the corporate sponsor standing beside these Creative Artists of the STC: the (in)famous Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and nudge-nudge, wink, wink, burst into a song and dance, and you might surmise, why? - open for business indeed. As I glance over towards Cockatoo Island from the decks of the STC Wharf theatres it is not so odd, perhaps, Mr Brandis!

The material we are given in OPEN FOR BUSINESS is mostly amusing, and sometimes funny, and I did laugh, but was never confronted, riled or surprised - it hit all the obvious targets with gentle slaps of cute satire. Striking the gong of concern with a limp lettuce leaf. This Revue is safe beyond safe. Nobody will likely to be offended. The STC can be rest assured that Mr Brandis and his buddies will have no need to send down from 'the star chamber' or 'Roman closets', anybody to scrutinise the show, or the funding requests of the STC Artistic Board - all, in this show, is defensively decorous. The most daring this Revue got was in presenting in the middle of the evening a hymn to the Abused Victims of a particular Institution whilst dressed in vestments, and supported from behind by images of the rose coloured glass of cathedral windows. No-one in the audience quite knew how to absorb it, what to do with it. It was discomforting and deadly serious, a worthy statement that was beyond parodying, but not exposure. This was something I wanted more of. Those moments of Brechtian realisations of indefensible truths. One should be made to weep or laugh at the hazards of our modern democracies and otherwise.

This production, after the long 'regional' tour, is slick and well tailored to its market audience of over 40's. Youth might find it a little passé. It has no in-the-moment spontaneity of subject matter. It has the continuous 'sound' of a trad dance band, where a punk band noise should, also, make an entrance. From my youth, I have a vivid memory of a live television show called THE MAVIS BRAMSTON SHOW. It played on Channel 7, from 1964-68, and had been inspired by the British satirical show, THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS. It was a combination of the traditions of the famous Sydney, Phililp Street Revues, e.g. A CUP OF TEA, A BEX, AND A GOOD LIE DOWN (1966) of vaudeville song-sketch traditions, and was much like what OPEN FOR BUSINESS is, plus, crucially plus, a weekly, sometimes of the day, satiric comment. The opening to Mavis each week was a song sung by the performers, (people like June Salter, Barry Creyton, Gordon Chater, Carol Raye, Noeline Brown) called, I think, "Togetherness", and was performed live, and usually written that very afternoon, and contained topical references torn from the newspapers of the day - virtually 'hot-off-the-press' and titivating in its fresh and often cheeky audacity. It is this danger of the pulse of the day, the very present, that is mostly absent from the Wharf Revue, well rehearsed, unalterable and not challenging, that I reckon makes it a tame night in the theatre mostly for the comfortable and converted, who may want a 'good' night out as they 'let their hair down' in the final turn down to the Christmas Summer Holidays. ("And, ding , ding, as they turn into the straight for this year's Melbourne Cup ... ." It must be Wharf Revue time, again).

 OPEN FOR BUSINESS is very, very bourgeois and more than conservatively dullish. Undoubtedly, it has an audience. Undoubtedly, the STC are onto a good thing, but it is undoubtedly, not very 'cutting edge'. A daily frisson of new comment would give each night a special excitement for every audience, a unique 'Togetherness', and more importantly for the talented cast, something to take a risk on, at every outing. What with the long distance-past rehearsal dates and the long tour, OPEN FOR BUSINESS feels a bit as if it has been jellied in aspic. There is, indeed, as the publicity suggests, lots of song and dance and wigs. It's just that it isn't as razor like, as it claims, but much more butter knife in its edge. Go along, it's skilful in every way, but in the satirical thrill of the writing.

 I wonder what Barry Humphries could contribute if he were writing for these talented individuals?
 "Much, Sir Les, much." "For certain, Dame Edna, for certain."

The Zoo Story

Cathode Ray Tube present, THE ZOO STORY, by Edward Albee, at the Tap Gallery. Tue Oct 21 - Sat Oct 25.

THE ZOO STORY, by Edward Albee, is a one act play, written in 1959, and was first performed in Berlin. It was Mr Albee's first, successful play. Since, it has become a staple in theatre repertoires around the world. Hearing it again, the other afternoon, at the Tap Gallery, was a pleasure, a treasure of the assurances that great writing can give to the dilemma of the existential question, that is often posed, whether, consciously or not, by all of us, "Is life worthwhile? To be, or not to be?" The exhilaration that I felt during, and after the performance of this play, the other afternoon, was a confirmation that it is, indeed, worthwhile and I would rather "Be" than not, while there is the possibility to be gratified by creative talents such as Mr Albee. The writing is a representation of a kind of genius that is man. "What a piece of work is man." Soon, after THE ZOO STORY was to come WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1962).

Two men, Jerry (Michael Booth) and Peter (Oliver Wenn), meet in Central Park, New York, one afternoon. Only one of them leaves. Although apparently very realistic, the play, has being described as absurdist. The subsequent work of Mr Albee would vouch for his further exploration of the absurdities of being human and the possibility of the dimensions beyond the real. THE AMERICAN DREAM (196O), TINY ALICE (1964), BOX AND QUOTATIONS FROM CHAIRMAN MAO TSE-TUNG (1968), SEASCAPE (1974) - Pulitzer Prize winner, still not performed in Sydney. !!!!!, - THE LADY FROM DUBQUE (1977-1979), THREE TALL WOMEN (1990-91) - Pulitzer Prize - are, all, proof of such, poetic journeying, of a great consciousness and daring craftsman.

Mr Albee in 2004, wrote a prequel to THE ZOO STORY and introduced a new character, Anne. In 2009, Mr Albee presented both these plays as, AT HOME AT THE ZOO: 1. HOMELIFE and 2. THE ZOO STORY. Professional companies must present both. Mr Albee declared he had, always felt that THE ZOO STORY was only a play for one and a half characters, and that he had a conscience about that, and so, in 2004, set out to address that. Amazingly, he said, the new play just poured out of him. He had been sitting on it, bottling it up, for forty odd years!

Mr Booth has taken on the 'one character', Jerry, who hardly shuts up - the play is almost a monologue. Mr Booth's obvious 'love', his relish of the verbiage of Jerry is translated to us. For the most part - just a slight loss of concentration in the middle section - his ownership of it, the clarity of his storytelling imagination, keeps us stimulated and present in all the subtleties of not just Jerry, but also of the writer, Mr Albee. Mr Wenn, as declared, by Mr Albee, the 'half character', Peter, was a wonderful foil for Mr Booth, an active listener with a dense circumstantial inner monologue, accompanied with subtle secondary activities, guiding the audience to the proper responses for what unfolds on this afternoon in the park. However, both actors could have benefited with an outside eye, to Direct the growing narrative/dramatic ratcheting of tensions - this production was a replete enactment of the verbal text but lacked, relatively, the dramatic accumulations of the situation. Poetry it stayed, and not necessarily, the drama work written. There was, strangely, no Director for this production. It was a flaw to the afternoon.

In New York, at present, Mr Albee's third Pulitzer Prize winner, A DELICATE BALANCE (1966), is in preview, with a stellar company that includes Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban, Clare Higgins and Martha Plimpton. What I would give to see it. It is playing for 18 weeks, till Feb. 22nd. The American Theatre Film (1973), Directed by Tony Richardson, with Katherine Hepburn, Paul Scofield, Lee Remick, Kate Reid, Joseph Cotton and Betsy Blair is a compensatory must see.

Still, to hear THE ZOO STORY, the other afternoon, was a consolation and an appetite baiter. As you can detect, I believe Mr Albee to be one of our great living English speaking writers.

N.B. Since this blog, news has come to light that the Tap Gallery Space has been closed. Tragedy, for some 20, or more productions will now be lost to the coming year's season. 20, or more opportunities for the young and poor artists to get work on.

Is This Thing On?

Photo by by Brett Boardman
Belvoir presents IS THIS THING ON? by Zoe Coombs Marr, in the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills, 2 Oct - 2 Nov.

IS THIS THING ON? by Zoe Coombs Marr is a new Australian play. It tells the story of a stand-up comedian, Brianna, over the arc of her career. The writer's conceit is to have five actors: Madeline Benson, Genevieve Giuffre, Fiona Press, Susan Prior and Nat Randall, play at different points in that career, the one comedian.

Set in a pub space, with an uncomfortably realistic detailed design (Ralph Myers) that includes the classic swirl 'vomit' carpet from the entrance into the theatre, and a row of poker machines, on a stage built of milk crates and a black painted 'stage-board', Brianna, impersonated by all five women, gives a non-chronological stand-up 'show' weaving in and out of different time periods, with the added dramatic undertow of the psychological struggle of the comedian and their 'precious' point-of-view that the best of them have, with the gathering addictive crutch of the pleasurable 'numbing' of the handy alcohol of the environment, perniciously, disabling her.

The writing by Ms Coombs Marr, is good at this personal level, it coming painfully, viscerally from first hand observation and experiences, it seems - the writer is a stand-up artist in her own right. Do we forgive her for some of the work that we have experienced from her and her other collaborators, Post: A DISTRESSING SCENARIO; or OEDIPUS SCHMOEDIPUS? Perhaps, I do! With these actors, plugged into the sub-textual humanity of the comic routine, under the co-Direction by Ms Coombs Marr and Kit Brookman, divining the inner agonies and the external mask of Brianna, this show worked disturbingly well.

All the actors are terrific. Young Ms Benson, properly trepidatious in her venture into Brianna's profession; Ms Press wisely matured and steady at the other end of Brianna's journey. Carrying the main burdens of the task, Ms Randall is winning as the self-confessed 'lesbian' comic of the persona; Ms Giuffre, as the 'learning' comic, is marvellously detailed and subtle in her drawing of Brianna - a very clever and subtly arresting performer, I reckon; whilst, Ms Prior revealing the slow disintegration of Brianna into breakdown, over the arc of the playing time, once again demonstrates why she is one of the great talents appearing on our stages: Talent, Skills, Preparation, Courage (in this case, of uncompromising ferocity in her embodied observations), and the daring to play it at 150%. Ms Prior is a miracle of high-end consistency in her output - last year's SMALL AND TIRED, for instance. Gatekeepers: challenge her with the classics e.g. Mrs Alving in Ibsen's GHOSTS!!! Queen Margaret - from the WAR OF THE ROSES Shakespearian cycle. Shen Te, from THE GOOD PERSON OF SETZUAN. Anything, really.

The play is a very promising work as a personal exposé, and sits very comfortably in the self-examining world of most of our Australian writers output - that of the little picture (personal) , not bigger picture (global). Read Trevor Griffiths, COMEDIANS (1975) which, similarly, looks at the world of 'stand-up' and the characters that dare it in a world that relishes it, needs it, and see why I wish, here, for more development around these given circumstances. Considering the cultural critiques that Ms Coombs Marr has given us in some of her other work, I had hoped for more. Still, IS THIS THING ON? especially, because of its exploration of 'form' in the writing, and the wonderful performances and ensemble of the actors, makes it a worthwhile experience. Five, count them, 5 women on stage. Big cheer.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kill the PM

Photograph by Lucy Parakhina
Umhappen presents KILL THE PM by Fregmonto Stokes, at the Old 505 Theatre. Hibernian House, Level 5, 342 Elizabeth St., Surry Hills, October 8 - 26.

KILL THE PM, a new Australian play. Four young people, Rowan (Nicholas Hiatt), Flick (Zoe Jensen), Pete (Michael McStay) and Naomi (Lily Newbury-Freeman), meet in an apartment overlooking a busy traffic way, along which the Prime Minister will travel, preparing for a planned assassination. There are fetid discussions reflecting the various philosophical and political standpoints of each, and an interaction between all four that seems to be undermining the cohesion of the task at hand. A murder of one of their number ensues. And, gradually, the play swerves into surreal realms with a threat from "The Reptilians!!!!", and I got lost, and disengaged.

The four actors handle the witty play with some aplomb, but the Director, James Dalton, has not found a seamless journey for the audience to follow. It seems that the actors play to themselves for themselves and tend to forget to tell the story with maximum clarity for the audience. We are asked to watch, look, but not imaginatively participate, create with them. Catch what you can. Subjective self-involvement, without objective craft engagements with the audience, the modus operandi of this company of actors.

The 505 space has been turned around from its usual orientation (Set and Costume Design, by Dylan Tonkin. Lighting, by Benjamin Brockman), and the many real doorways, windows, and shabby furniture draped, all, in plastic, are employed to create the atmosphere of a space spookily familiar. Whether it was the physical characteristics of Mr Hiatt or not, I kept imagining Lee Harvey Oswald, and then 'recognising' the Old 505 space as an ancillary room in the Dallas Book Depository!

Fregmonto Stokes, the writer, was, we are told, inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel, THE DEVILS (THE POSSESSED) of 1872 - the novel that, as predicted by Dostoyevsky himself, was denounced by radical critics as the work of a reactionary renegade. The Czarist authorities were not happy. This play, KILL THE PM, according to notes in the program hand-out, has provoked, whether seen or read or not, some right wing attack, on the play, led by none other than Andrew Bolt. That Mr Bolt has been moved to condemn this play, maybe, should encourage some of you to find out more. The play was actually written over a year ago and is, say the artists presenting the work, assuredly, a work of fiction. Assuredly.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Glass Menagerie

Photo by by Brett Boardman

Belvoir presents THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams, in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills. 20 September - 2nd November.

The Belvoir production of Tennessee William's THE GLASS MENAGERIE, is the third major production of that play that I have seen in the last four years. This production, unusual to the recent Belvoir general aesthetics - has stayed faithfully to the text as written, using even the American dialect. Eamon Flack, an Associate Director of the Belvoir, last year Directed ANGELS IN AMERICA and there, too, respected the writer's work, and the audience's intelligence, to the production's and play's ultimate great acclaim. This, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, is an Australian production of a great American classic, without re-writes (STRANGE INTERLUDE), or edits (DEATH OF A SALESMAN), or dispensing with the period and/or cultural heritage (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, PRIVATE LIVES), of the 1944 original. It is being presented through the wide ranging cultural perspectives of a team of contemporary Australian Artists. For, "Nobody sees anybody truly, but all through the flaws of their own ego." - a quote from Tennessee Williams.

In 2010, at the Laura Pels Theater, in New York, the Roundabout Theater Company and the Long Wharf Theater, under the Direction of Gordon Edelstein, gave us a production of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, with an artistic conceit that began with a writer, presumably, Tennessee Williams, later as Tom Wingfield, the narrator of the story, typing the text of the play in a nondescript hotel room, and with the power of his imagination, subsequently, summoning the other characters of the drama, onto the stage and into inter-active action, as he wrote. The play was given within this 'framework' and there were gains and losses to the affect of the play as an experience.

The American Repertory Theater presented THE GLASS MENAGERIE in the Booth Theater, Broadway, last year, 2013 (October), with a thoughtful artistic brilliance that shook the conventions of the text, and within the sensibilities of the Director, John Tiffany, and Movement/Choreographer guide, Stephen Hoggett, revealed the play in an entirely new light. What struck me, powerfully, amongst the 'discovery' of the play (almost to see it as if it was a new play), was the period dimensions of the effect of the Great Depression on the personal circumstances on all the characters. This experience, became one of the highlights of my theatre going life.

The Belvoir Theatre production, under the Direction of Mr Flack, with, it seems, on the reading of the program notes, the direct and passionate collaborative influence of Luke Mullins (playing, Tom Wingfield) has decided to bring emphasis to the homosexuality of the writer , Mr Williams to this production - an overtly 'queering' - reading - of the text (Belvoir, has been active in this realm of late, HEDDA GABLER, Directed by Adena Jacobs, another instance in point).  Says Mr Mullins in his long note in the program, entitled 'Autobiography and Faithfulness':
THE GLASS MENAGERIE is a classic queer text, as are all of Tennessee Williams' plays, and this is essential to contemporary productions of his plays, especially when set in their original time and location as our production is. To not deliver this to our audience would be a betrayal; an act which autobiographical writers are often accused of. (3)
Says Mr Flack in his Director's Note:
This particular production is an attempt to do for this play what Tennessee Williams tried to do for his sister: to revive a peculiarity in the midst of crushing sameness; to come to know and hopefully never forget what it is to have a care for a queer, fragile, beautiful thing; to look past the obvious for the truth. (3)
Because of the times that Mr Williams wrote in, with the obstacles of the official censorship protective organisations that were both governmental and corporatised, there is undoubted 'coding' in Mr Williams' writing, and for the super aware, super sensitised, it is, has become, a part of the puzzle of appreciation of his works. In 1995, with the release of the American documentary film, THE CELLULOID CLOSET, based on the Vito Russell book (1981- revised, 1987), a general consciousness has been raised to the clever coding of the homosexual life and life-style in the mainstream storytelling in the American culture of most of the 20th Century. In this production, the Scene Four explanation by the drunken Tom to his sister Laura as to his constant lateness coming home from the movies was slyly underlined in 'queerness' by Actor (Mr Mullins) and Director (Eamon Flack). It was a gay-'detective's', Gaydar delight :
There was a very long program. There was a Garbo picture and a Mickey Mouse and a travelogue and a newsreel and a preview of coming attractions. And there was an organ solo and a collection for the Milk Board - simultaneously - which ended up in a terrible fight between a fat lady and an usher!
(...) And, oh, I forgot! There was a big stage show! The headliner on this stage show was Malvolio the Magician. He performed wonderful tricks, many of them, such as pouring water back and forth between pitchers. First it turned to wine and then it turned into beer and then it turned to whiskey. I know it was whiskey it finally turned into because he needed somebody to come up out of the audience to help him, and I came up - both shows! It was Kentucky Straight Bourbon. A very generous fellow, he gave souvenirs. [He pulls from his back pocket a shimmering rainbow-coloured scarf.] He gave me this. This is his magic scarf. You can have it, Laura. You wave it over a canary cage and you get a bowl of goldfish. You wave it over the goldfish bowl and they fly away canaries ... But the wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick. we nailed him into a coffin and he got out of the coffin without removing one nail. [He has come inside.] There is a trick that would come in handy for me - get me out of this two-by-four situation! (2)
All in all, I felt that there was sometimes some 'over egging' of the 'prejudices' of these two artists in this production, just as there was a flagrant neglect in the 'egging' at all, in the Simon Stone production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. In truth, then, which side of 'egging' you might prefer, will, I guess, always be a personal choice. Again, as Tennessee said: "Nobody sees anybody [anything] truly, but all through the flaws of their own ego."

In this production, Mr Mullins, as a contemporary actor with the responsibility of the playing of Tom Wingfield, in 2014, employs contemporary video equipment to assist his clarification of his version of Mr Williams', Tom's, story in THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Mr Mullins, as a stage manager to the setting of the storytelling, claims the story as part of his own as well, it seems. The use of the live video equipment by Mr Mullins, the cuing and the inclusion of pre-filmed sequences (Sean Bacon) that are screened and orchestrated by Mr Mullins, re-creating, lovingly, the magic of the look of the cinema of the period, with some of the original titles -legends - images, indicated in the text, connected me back to Mr Mullins' 'inspired' performance in the Sisters Grimm, LITTLE MERCY, and to his 'gay'-sensibility demonstrated there in his glorying in vintage film and performance (even more obvious in Sisters Grimm present production at the Sydney Theatre Company (STC): CALPURNIA DESCENDING, I'm told, where the second half of that play is the adoring enactment of vintage films! created by them, as is Mr Mullins/Tom's, here.) It represents, as it was for Tom - a kind of necessity to go to the movies - as a gay trait, a signal of a sensibility - the alternate fantasy world of the silver screen and the screen's icons, a safe place to 'be' in.

There is great intellectual rigour in the work of Mr Mullins in this production, but it was, in my estimation, appreciation, not only sometimes a virtue, but also, sometimes a vice, for in his pleasure in the rigour of every detail of the work, there was a tendency to idiosyncratic vocal mannerisms, and self-conscious character physical gesture (that hand plumping of his hair!) that held one back from believing that what was happening had any real spontaneity - it appeared 'studied', over 'stage-managed', 'actorly'. This is true of Mr Mullins, I believe, when he is not tightly directed, in my admiration of his very full opportunities on the Sydney stages of Belvoir and the STC, where his intellectual care is too obvious in the choices he gives us - which he 'indicates' for us. In ANGELS IN AMERICA, for instance, there was in Mr Mullins' work in MILLENNIUM APPROACHES, a too careful approach, exhaustingly studied and 'presented', whereas in the necessary physical chaos of the action of PERESTROIKA , the second play - the wrestling with the Angel, for instance where there was no time for carefulness -   spontaneous truths erupted. Too, in his passionate work in SMALL AND TIRED last year in Downstairs Belvoir, a 'blazing' of openness, an appearance of spontaneity, not deliberation was amplified. There is at the heart of this performance an unfortunate 'preciousness' that prevents it from entirely capturing one. Comparisons are odious, but the work of Zachary Quinto as Tom, last year on Broadway, remained indelible, in all ways, for me.

On the other hand, the reading that newcomer, Rose Riley, gives as Laura, in this production, is an exciting revelatory excavation. Mr Flack, looking at the history of the Williams family, especially that about Tennessee William's sister, Rose, reveals the lobotomy operation that was given to her. From the new John Lahr Biography of Mr Williams: TENNESSEE WILLIAMS. MAD PILGRIMAGE OF THE FLESH:
Mr Williams writes about it: "Why was the operation performed? Well Rose expressed herself with great eloquence, but she said things that shocked mother. Rose loved to shock mother. ... Rose said, 'Mother, you know we girls at All Saints College, we used to abuse ourselves with altar candles we stole from the Chapel.' And Mother screamed like a peacock! She rushed to the head doctor, and she said, 'Do anything, anything to shut her up.' The lobotomy was a family tragedy; it finally and forever fit Rose into Edwina's (Tennessee's mother) version of life. Rose, as Edwina wrote, "now lived in a world where she remembers only the good things.' [1] 
More than shades of that, to come, in the 1958 Williams' play, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. I was reminded of the Frances Farmer bio-pic, FRANCES (1982), Directed by Graeme Clifford, starring Jessica Lange, Kim Stanley and Sam Shepard, featuring a similar operation - there is some question, whether, in the case of Ms Farmer, if it was a truth or falsity. It was, however, a medical instrument, used often, in mental hospitals, to control behaviour, in this period of time.

Where Rose was forced to comply Williams escaped, mostly into his writing, in which he was able to turn himself and the torture of his family into an event of a different kind. He took liberties with his actual life to suit his artistic needs. This play is not autobiography, it is a concoction of elements of it, embellished with his imagination and personal needs as an artist. Tennessee Williams always carried a heavy conscience as to what happened to his sister. In the play, Laura, Tom's sister, has been given a physical disability, and a dreadful shyness of the world. Often, Laura is played, entirely, as a kind of a delicate shadow victim - a piece of shatterable glass - but Ms Riley, with Mr Flack, find the opportunities to reveal within the context of the writing, both verbal and physical action, a strength of will of non-conformism, that by-the bye, is a threat to the vision of the world that Amanda, the mother, has invented for her. It is the forcefulness that Ms Riley brings to those moments in her character opportunities, that brings a joint sibling rebellion clash to the mother's world view, one achingly similar to the one of the escapee, Tom, that rings powerfully true in the expressed regret and pain that Tom feels for his sister in that last great monologue:
... Then all at once my sister touches me on my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger - anything that can blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura - and so goodbye ... (2)
Ms Riley's feisty, and grounded performance gives a powerful resonance to what sometimes can be a sentimental imagery and conclusion to this play.

Pamela Rabe, anything but Mr William's "little woman", tackles the challenge of Amanda Wingfield with an immersion, faithfulness, to the guidance of Mr Williams that is a subduing of her usual temptation to appear to be playing a game of pretend with her audience. I have, sometimes felt, that Ms Rabe tends to reveal the actor behind the 'mask' of her characters, looking for a kind of recognition, approval, from her audience, but here, Ms Rabe has buried herself, deeply, there is a palpably real woman struggling with the break-up of her family in straitened times, desperately trying to find a solution for the future, especially for her daughter, Laura. It has what Mr Williams asks for in his notes "... an endurance and a kind of heroism, and though her foolishness makes her unwittingly cruel at times, there is a tenderness ... " Ms Rabe, the actor, does not make an entrance - perhaps, just a peep with that sweeping centre entrance stage claim (very old school, really!), and when Amanda appears in that "girlish frock", twirling around, a twirl or two, too many?! I don't believe I have seen a better performance from Ms Rabe, than this one, in this production.

The last of the characters to appear is that of Jim O'Connor, the gentleman caller - "A nice, ordinary, young man." Harry Greenwood gives us all of that. For my money, however, I thought he was just a little too nice, and did not bring the other, the real world, the hope of the American Dream in the war time 1940's, the dynamic, dynamo, of the male ego to the Wingfield family home:
 ... Take me for instance. [He adjusts his tie in the mirror.] My interests happens to be in electro-dynamics. I'm taking a course in radio engineering at night school, Laura, on top of a fairly responsible job at the warehouse. I'm taking that course and studying public speaking. Because I believe in the future of television! [turning his back to her.] I wish to go up right along with it. Therefore I'm planning to get in on the ground floor. In fact I've already made the right connections and all that remains is for the industry itself to get under way! Full steam - [His eyes are starry.] Knowledge - Zzzzzp! Money - Zzzzzzp! Power! That's the cycle democracy is built on!"(2)
Mr Greenwood's Jim is gauche and sentimental and seemed to lack that zipp, for the promises of that future. A proffered future, that Mr Williams gives us a glimpse of in the writing, that is different to the Wingfield family's future. For sure.

The Design concept of the material house-apartment that the Wingfield family rent in St Louis, by Michael Hankin, is an architectural creation of solid clapboard walls and expansive windows - just on what middle American roof top building, the source imagery is drawn from, upon, was a kind of mystery posed to me, that kept me pondering during the performance. It has, as well, a kind of solid reality that seemed opposite to the memory metaphor of the Williams play. I was drawn to ponder, particularly, since, I suppose, the 'accuracy' of this architectural design precluded my ability to see all of the stage. Up there, seated in H29, the interior of the kitchen was masked out - I could not see most of the activity. Amanda's first big speech was delivered there to her family - all invisible to my eye. It seemed, to me, that unless you were seated in the central block of the theatre or in the inner flanks of the side seats, you had an impeded sight line for some of the acting, action, of the Directed play. The tongue of the floor plan brought the living room unimpeded to us, thank God.

 It seems that Mr Flack seems to have being happy with that 'punishment', crippling' of some of his audience. Up to a third, even 40%, perhaps. The Artistic management seemed to have been happy with that as well - they sold the restricted view for the same price as the complete view - therefore, no money lost! I was not happy with that, for sure. Others sitting near me were not happy with that. Is it not a part of theatrical design to ensure that the audience can see the action of the staging of the play? Would it not be a Design 101 consideration that has as many of the audience as possible ought to be able to see the perfroemnace without restricted eyeline? A prerogative in the design plan, shouldn't it be? We are giving this play for an audience aren't we? A paying audience? Those of us, the paying audience, that assist the cash flow for Belvoir, out of our hard-earned pay, to pay their artists and administration, should be able to see the performance, wouldn't you think? There is, of course, a design precedent, at Belvoir: the Design that the Artistic Director, Ralph Myers, created with, and for Benedict Andrews, and their production of THE SEAGULL. I feel, this choice is a kind of act of arrogance aimed at the audience, that does not create a sympathetic environment for the production of the play - it creates, rather, irritation.Those poor actors have to really work hard to win us, and that we can't see them in the theatre live, and, yet, that they do manage that, is a Herculean wonder that should not be forgotten!

Some might then suggest that the live video that is projected onto the two side screens is a satisfactory compensation for those of us in the side seats. Well, they might be if I had come to see a film. And they could be, if the live video images matched the sound of the spoken words. One heard the live text from the actors and watched the delayed imagery on the screen. There was/is some seconds delay. We hear the live text, and watch seconds after, the moving of the lips to stillness, it is like watching an out-of-sync movie - it was very boring, irritating and discombobulating. A little of it may have been acceptable, but in our 'crippled', restricted viewing seats, there was a lot of it. Too much of it. However magical the imagery, and some of it is beautifully nostalgic, the telling of the live story was impeded, and the experiencing of it in the production, distracting. THE GLASS MENAGERIE proves to be a stellar text to survive such discourtesy. When the video techniques improve, employ them, perhaps. But as they are still in a technological developmental stage, don't engage at this level of attempted artistry in the theatre, please. I notice that none of the major reviewers mentioned these Design flaws, and so I assume the publicity arm of the Belvoir company had insured that they sat centre block - as I understand the sub-scribers were accommodated with an offer to change the seats. It shouldn't just be us other paying patrons that ought to be recording unsatisfactory experiences for history's sake, I reckon. Grrrh!

The other Design elements are generally pleasing. The Costumes by Mel Page, are well done, although Amanda's general clothing seems to be of a different period and awkwardly cumbersome, and Laura's Scene Seven dress, a little over dressed - particularly with such short notice of preparation given Amanda. The Lighting Design by Damien Cooper solves the balance that allows for the screen images with the set lighting - it justifies the number of windows in this strange period apartment. Stefan Gregory, as Composer becomes a little to florid with the soundtrack string orchestration to the scenes, a definite B-movie sound sometimes!

THE GLASS MENAGERIE at Belvoir, then, worth a visit, even with its controversies of design and artistic emphasis. As Laurette Taylor, the originator of the role of Amanda wrote to her son: "The play and that remarkable fellow Tennessee Williams have come under the wire (...) - The Play's the Thing." (1) It is, indeed.


  1. TENNESSEE WILLIAMS. Mad pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr. Bloomsbury Circus - 2014.
  2. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Penguin Books. Modern Classics - 1945 - 1973.
  3. Belvoir Program for The Glass Menagerie - 2014.
Other Reading:
  1. TOM, The Unknown Tennessee Williams by Lyle Leverich. Sceptre - 1995.
  2. The World of Tennessee Williams, edited by Richard F. Leavitt. G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York - 1978.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


MANTLE, a work devised by My Darling Patricia (MDP) at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown. Early September

I saw MANTLE 5 or 6 weeks ago at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, at its first performance. When I read about the search, and the limited opportunities available for the "womens" voices in the performing arts in Sydney (Australia) I can't help but think and believe that this company, My Darling Patricia (MDP), is the epitome, the role model for women (anybody) creating new theatre and performance. Certainly, a leader and consistent inspiration in that field. That the work, for me, is palpably a 'female voice', is only part of the excited pleasure I always anticipate when attending a performance created by My Darling Patricia.

I have been a captive of this company since my first encounter in 2006 with their production, POLITELY SAVAGE, at the old Performance Space on Cleveland Street. Since, I have been an entranced devotee: NIGHT GARDEN (2009), AFRICA (2011) and POSTS IN THE PADDOCK (2011). MDP was founded in Sydney in 2004 by four women, creating "original, interdisciplinary Australian theatre through a collaborative process" led by Artistic Directors Halycon Macleod and Clare Britton. In the program notes we are told:
The creative development of MANTLE has been a slow burn following an initial residency over two weeks at Campbelltown Arts Centre in late 2011. Since that time Halycon and Clare have progressed in the writing and the imagery - Halcyon in Melbourne and Clare in residence at the Windmill in the Rocks ... 
This performance comes off a further five week workshop.

MANTLE, begins in darkness with a voice-over. The play has a dense text and is delivered as, what I felt was like a live radio play, by Halcyon Macleod, interspersed with imagery created by Clare Britton, on and with a solo dancer/choreographer, Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal. Composition and Sound Design, by Jack Prest, and the crucial offers of the Lighting by Matt Marshall, accompanies the work throughout.

MANTLE takes us with this verbiage and sparse imagery on a psychic journey with light and darkness, sound and movement, contemplating the vastness of geological time, for it seems that we are being taken to the core of the Planet Earth through many, many layers, encountering visions and difficulties. It is provocative and demanding, the imagery complex and somewhat mysterious.

 Towards the end of the piece, we discover that what we have actually been journeying through, is the unconscious psyche of a woman surviving, for some days, after an accident in the remote bush. It finishes with her 'surfacing' to the earth's crust with the arrival of some rescuers - she, coming back to a present life, to a consciousness. The poetry of the journey's language is beautifully juxtaposed with the jocular banality of the country voices of the rescue team.

I saw this work at its first revelation and acknowledge that there is room for further development and clarifications, for editing of text and refinement of imagery for impact. The patience one has to exert in the darkness with the unusual encountering of the 'radio form' of the text, and the accruing of visual effect and drama for discovery and the needful ability to stay suspended/engaged within the work, could be further attended to. Its length (some 90 minutes) may need reduction. I was too long in a place of puzzlement as to what was happening but was relieved with the explanation towards it's end - it gave a gratification that was humorously cathartic in its boldness.

MANTLE, is a new work, accompanied by all the vicissitudes and beatitudes of the women who created it (Ms Tungall performing the physical imagery/choreography in a very advanced state of pregnancy, for instance). One hopes to see the work again, to observe the great, exemplary care that My Darling Patricia have always demonstrated, especially with the value that these artists give to TIME, to develop their ideas. Belvoir, perhaps, could take the TIME lesson for development, demonstrated here by this exemplary company, into their planning about presenting, to audiences, interesting 'ideas'.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Photo by Michele Aboud
Sydney Theatre Company presents A Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and State Theatre Company of South Australia (STCSA) production, KRYPTONITE by Sue Smith, at Wharf 1 Theatre, Hickson Rd. Walsh Bay. 11 September - 18 October.

KRYPTONITE, by Sue Smith is a new Australian two-hander, one act play of approximately 90 minutes in length. It is the best new Australian play I have seen this year, maybe, for several years!

Sue Smith is an award winning writer, mostly for television, including: ABC tele-movie MABO, ABC miniseries BASTARD BOYS, for SBS, RAN: Remote Area Nurse, which she co-wrote with John Alsop and Alice Addison (and much more). Her play, STRANGE ATTRACTOR was performed at the Griffin in 2009. THE KREUTZER SONATA, was part of the Adelaide Festival in 2013.

KRYPTONITE begins on a university campus in May,1989, and covers a 25 year span to the present year, 2014, jumping backwards and forward in time. We meet a smart but, relatively feckless surfer student from Collaroy, a would-be environmentalist, at a public demonstration, stripping naked and unfurling a banner in support of the Chinese students demonstrating in Tiananmen Square, in Beijing: Dylan (Tim Walter). We, also, meet, Lian (Ursula Mills), a young Chinese student, recently arrived in Sydney, attending class and trying to survive in very uncomfortable and unsophisticated circumstances. Language and poverty just two of those difficult circumstances. The Beijing, Tiananmen Square news, an enormous and awesome event in her life, and those of the other Chinese students, are partly bewildered by the action of the local students. The worlds that both these two young people have come from, in almost every way, could not be more different. We watch them engage and educate each other. In 2014, Dylan has become a member of Federal Government, for the Greens Party. Lian has become a dual citizen of both countries, and is a successful small business woman in China and Australia.

Geordie Brookman, the Director of this play
Moments of tectonic shift within our lives can be on the micro and macro. ... In her beautiful play Sue (Smith) has made the micro macro and vice versa. She intertwines Lian and Dylan's lives in a series of tricky intersections with moments of local, national and global shift. Each intersection has its own immediate consequence and ongoing repercussions as two striving but flawed people try to hang on to each other.
What Ms Smith manages, is to engage us with both our hearts and our heads. I was moved to tears, sometimes, by the heart 'tugs' of the two characters, not least because of the enchanting performance of Ms Mills and the calibrations of heart and intelligence that Mr Walter brought to bear on his choices. These two artists, under the sensitive guidance of Mr Brookman, created not only the personal world and politics of the characters with finesse, but also the bigger cultural and political world of their circumstances, with significant uncluttered clarity. It was an extremely satisfactory night in the theatre.

I have spoken of being moved, not least because of the performances, but I need to say, and confess, that I was, honestly, moved to tears with the expertness of Ms Smith's writing. At last, an Australian play with heart and head firmly balanced and in harmony - a rarity, indeed, in my experience, of late in Sydney.

The other elements of the production, the Set and Costume Design by Victoria Lamb - two close walls of crumpled textured paper, with a centre double door entrance, that all fall to reveal a wall of television images of the final Tiananmen Incidents, with minimal movable properties of only four chairs and necessary hand props; the dramatic, storytelling usage of the lighting plot, by Nicholas Rayment, accompanied by subtle and telling Composition by DJ Trip, all contrive an immersion for us, as an audience, to imagine, conjure, a world populated by more than two characters, and into many landscapes and rooms. That I was engaged so imaginatively and so emotionally was a pleasure that only theatre at its best can draw us into.

This play, this production, so far this season, deserves your attention. It travels to Adelaide soon, for its season - but ought to be seen everywhere, indeed. Congratulations.

P.S. Ticket = $85.00, concession.
        Program = $10.00.
        Dinner = $24.00
        Taxi (out of the STC Arts Precinct - no other transport available) = $37.00.
        Total = $156.00.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Oedipus Rex

Photo by Pia Johnson
Belvoir presents OEDIPUS REX in the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills. 21 August - 21 September.

It is over a month since I saw this "meditation on the myth of OEDIPUS REX."

We enter the theatre and look at a spare space with some plastic sheeting framed roughly in the back left hand corner to form a covered passage way.
The lights black out and we submit to a long, extended silence. Somebody blows in my ear - undermining the artistic intent, perhaps, but taking advantage of the much publicised offer?
The lights return and we find a very old man seated in his underwear on a chair connected by mask to an oxygen tank.
Lights out.
The old man appears in a series of sculptural poses - underwear re-arranged, dis-arranged.
On and on it goes. He gets naked and becomes disconnected to the oxygen!
Enter a disinterested, bored young woman who reveals herself as the carer of this man, who, to her, seems to be suffering from some kind of senility - dementia? She washes him.
He whoops it up when she washes his arse crevice. Some kind of flirtation?
He mutters some remembered text in an emotional stream of noise, reminiscent in sound quality to 'whale song', on preposterously high notes and with breaths of rib-reserve 'blue-face' consequences - grab the oxygen mask for goodness sake - the old man may die, muttering gobbledegook - I could not make head nor tail/tale of it.
The two play 'games' similar to those applied as therapy in hospices, hospitals for the aged - you know simple puzzles with blocks - block building etc. The carer is better at this game, surprisingly, than he. Don't you love the above photograph, paper crown and teddy bear? It is so endearing.
Some time later the carer has changed clothes and sits on the lap of the old man and appears to be 'dry-humping' him while speaking in Greek. I think.
Blah, blah.
It ends with the old man balefully, wandering down the plastic passage, hitting out at it - flap and flap - accompanied by a blast of noise that rattles our seats and selves in intense vibration.

Adena Jacobs tells us, without irony, in her Director's notes:
"We have lost the language of Tragedy." 
Witness this work and one can only agree. This OEDIPUS REX is indeed a tragedy. Or, is that travesty?
"Who of you have ever read OEDIPUS REX?"
Less than half of this class of theatre practitioners raise their hands. What of the regular 'punters'/subscribers, then?
"Who of you have ever read OEDIPUS AT KOLONOS?"
None raise their hands.
"Who have read the last of the Oedipus plays by Sophocles, ANTIGONE?"
One or two.

On the other hand, most of us have a gist of what the Oedipus Complex is. It is the psychoanalytical term for the sexual desire (usually unrecognised by himself) of a son for his mother and conversely an equally unrecognised jealous hatred of his father. But as for the myth of Oedipus? Not, even, a gist.

So, how is it possible, I wondered, for us, most of us, to meditate upon the myth of Oedipus Rex, at Belvoir with Adena Jacobs and her collaborators, if the majority of us do not know the myth to begin with? Maybe, if we had an Honours degree in Creative Arts or a Masters of Theatre Practice we may do. Probability, would suggest, not many of us do. Failing that, we can only interpret what we are given to see and hear: An old man and a twisted aged carer filling out their day, vacuously. It didn't even fit my gist of the Oedipus Complex!

I found it confronting to be told by the Director:
In Greek, the word polis literally means city. It refers to the notion of citizenship or body of citizens. Through a contemporary lens I can't help but think of how notions of citizenship and displacement still permeate our world. As an audience, we have great responsibility. We will always be the majority. We bear witness. We are complicit. Why aren't we intervening? ... We are the polis. We are the gods. We empathise, we judge, we punish. We feel ashamed at our own looking
"We empathise, we judge, we punish. We feel ashamed at our own looking." Let me bear witness, then, that this production, for me, was an almost unbearable twaddle. It was for many about me. Why couldn't we intervene and stop it, as Ms Jacobs' asks. We are, says Ms Jacobs, complicit, if we watch it without protest.

I guess, it is respect, for the actors: the honourable, "distinguished", but stark naked Peter Carroll - why, oh why, did he do it? I know that "Johnny" Gielgud took on Oedipus late-career too, but in an entirely different way, Mr Carroll, I can assure you! - and the talented Andrea Demetriades. He, Oedipus, I suppose, and she, Antigone.

I ask, as I did, after watching Anne-Louise Sarks' NORA just what did the Artistic Body at Belvoir, responsible for choosing the season of plays for the subscribers to pay to see, read of this text. Or, was it just an idea? It seems it was the latter, there is, for instance no writer of this project acknowledged on the title page, and since the last note from the Director in the program says: "Thank you to the cast and the creative team for their extraordinary collaboration and for co-authoring this work." What period of time, then, went into the collaboration, co-authoring? 4 weeks? 3 weeks? Design, concept of production and realising of it. So long a time? Really?

That the photograph of Ralph Myers with Ms Sarks and Ms Jacobs - who was also responsible for the production of HEDDA GABLER - in the newspaper, selling next year's season, is the idea of the promotions department at Belvoir, is regarded as a good idea, gives real pause as to the thinking it is so. And yet, we the polis sat through this work without intervention, so I can only imagine that our "notions of citizenship and displacement" are being counted upon to ignore the awful experiences we have had in this theatre this year, led by these very artists, and sign up again. We are, indeed, complicit.

What if, instead of this intellectual naval gazing for the few (some intellectual elitists?), Belvoir just gave us OEDIPUS REX by Sophocles. For us polis, to get a handle, at least, of what we've paid for. The language of Tragedy, if done well, with real competencies, might just not be dead. It has been some time since I last saw it, heard it. When was that? Oh yes, the famous production for the Old Tote Theatre Company in 1971 - yes 45 years ago. 45 years, since the play was shown, professionally, in Sydney - Directed by Tyrone Guthrie, with Ron Haddrick, Ruth Cracknell and Ron Falk, brilliantly designed by Yoshi Tosa. The language and images of Tragedy was not lost, I can guarantee you - even in the mock theatre space of the John Clancy Lecture Auditorium, believe it or not. My world was shattered.

P.S. Ms Jacobs suggests "Our production begins where the play (OEDIPUS REX, I suppose) ends. Oedipus, blind and exiled, carries out his days, led by his daughter Antigone." (What of Ismene, in there with them?) However, in the original, at the end: "Kreon leads Oedipus into the palace." His daughters, Ismene and Antigone are both children. Whereas, it is at the beginning of OEDIPUS AT KOLONOS, that we are told precisely: "Antigone guides her father, the aged Oedipus, onstage." And at the conclusion of that play, Oedipus has been rehabilitated and is taken to the Sacred Grove of the Gods - all is forgiven and there is no more suffering. It would seem that our production witnessed by this polis, begins where the Oedipus of Kolonos begins, rather than at the end of the other, and it has a very different ending! I don't know what contemporary lens Ms Jacobs is looking through - one darkly, for sure, but maybe she should check her text of inspiration, again.

Ah, well, as Ms Jacobs tells us: "Sometimes the theatre fails us." 


  1. THE OEDIPUS PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES: OEDIPUS REX. OEDIPUS AT KOLONOS. ANTIGONE., Translated by Robert Bagg. University of Massachusetts Press - 2004.
  2. SOPHOCLES: OEDIPUS AT COLONOS. Adrian Kelly. Duckworth Companions to Greek and Roman Tragedy - 2009.
  3. The OEDIPUS REX Program notes of Adena Jacobs.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Photo by Bob Seary

New Theatre presents HARVEST by Richard Bean at the New Theatre, Newtown. 7th October - 8th November.

Richard Bean became a playwright late, at 39. Since 1995, when he wrote a libretto for an opera, PARADISE OF FOOLS, he has finished some 23 works for the theatre. He will be a familiar name for those of us who saw the Royal National Theatre touring production of his adaptation of Goldoni's A SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS: the comically glorious, ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (2011), last year at the Sydney Theatre. This year, 2014, alone, he has written PITCAIRN for the Chichester Theatre; GREAT BRITAIN for the Royal National Theatre, and has, MADE IN DAGENHAM, a musical based on the film of the same title, about to open in the West End. Prolific, indeed. I have been a fan of his work and would include, THE HERETIC (2011) and ENGLAND PEOPLE VERY NICE (2009) in my wish list to see, since my first encounter with him as a writer when I read HARVEST.

HARVEST was first presented at the Royal Court Theatre, in 2005, and tells in seven scenes, the saga of a farming family - pig farmers - through four generations, battling to protect their livelihood.
On the 14th May 1875 Lord Primrose Agar, drunk as a skunk, wagered one of his tenant farmers, Orlando Harrison, that his border collie pup Jip would outlive the 94 year-old Harrison. The prize would be 82 acres of up and down known as Kilham Wold Farm, near Driffield in East Yorkshire. Thirteen years later, having buried the dog, Agar shook hands with Orlando and conferred on the Harrisons a century of struggle.
Beginning in 1914, at the commencement of World War 1, we are introduced to the family, particularly, William (Jeremy Waters), then 19 years old. The play touches down in the farm's kitchen again in 1934, 1944, 1958, 1979, 1995, and finally, in 2005. Each scene is a comic emotional gem of human observation. It is William that is the constant character throughout the time span of this epic journey, an incredible, but credible, wheelchair bound 109 years of age at its end. The play reveals the development of the farmer's plight over this long arc, and the pressure of the evolution of the world and its economic politics on the lives of the ordinary worker. The wonderful thing of this play is the drawing of the characters in the family and the district, by Mr Bean. They are drawn with deep admiration and affection and a warm-hearted sense of the comic that is at the core of good mankind. William is an amazing hero, whose generosity of spirit carries us through the tribulations of this play. The humanity is the jewel of the writing, the comedy its sparkle. The title of the play is a sadly ironic comment on the world values we live with.

Directed by Louise Fischer, there is an unevenness in the acting capabilities of the cast of fourteen, and a not always secure hand on the orchestration of the individual scenes (e.g. The noise of the 1958 'birth'  scene) to bring this monumental work to an always satisfactory production. Mr Waters tackles the role of William with gusto but not always with a consistent sense of arc construction, but gives, as usual with this actor, an adventurously witty exploration. John Keightley (Parker), Sarah Carroll (Maudie), Bishanyia Vincent (Laura), Benjamin Vickers (Titch) and Alex Chalwell (Blue) make some impact in the chaos of the production. Too, the Set design by Bethany Sheehan, is a comfortable reliability to the production as is the lighting by Tony Youlden.

The emotional commitment that Richard Bean has to this epic comic sweep through the history of these Yorkshire pig farmers wrestling with the politics of the times for survival is summed up neatly, for me, with his quotation at the start of his written text:

"God made the country - man made the town." Virgil (70 - 19 BC).

The play stands wonderfully, despite the unevenness of the production. That it is the New Theatre that finds the wherewithal to produce contemporary work with a cast larger than 10 on a consistent basis tells us something of that company's commitment to good and significant writing. One wonders how is it that the best subsidised theatre company in Sydney, The Sydney Theatre Company (STC), rarely casts (and pays) more than 12 actors a show. MACBETH, with, what was it, seven actors? CHILDREN OF THE SUN, adapted from Maxim Gorky, for the Royal National Theatre in London, by our very own Artistic Director, Andrew Upton, with a playing cast reduced from 20 odd in London, to what, 12, in Sydney? What is going on? Thanks to the New Theatre, Sydney audience's got to see Jez Butterworth's JERUSALEM, along with the rest of the world, instead of just a second production of Butterworth's lesser MOJO, that the Sydney Theatre Company thought was more valuable for us to see. So, now: HARVEST, and the prolific Richard Bean, has, at last, a showing in this vibrant International city, beyond the International touring success of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS. Pier 4, led by the STC, that precinct of the Arts at the cutting edge of contemporaneousness for Sydney! I wish. Thank God for the adventurous New Theatre.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Howie the Rookie

Photo by Kathy Luu
Red Line Productions in association with Strange Duck Productions and Sydney Independent Theatre Company (SITCO) present, HOWIE THE ROOKIE, by Mark O'Rowe at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomoooloo. 30 September- 25 October.

Some of you may remember the tour of the Abbey Theatre at the Drama Theatre, for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), in 2011, when they presented a play by Mark O'Rowe called, TERMINUS. It consisted of three monologues interwoven, in a performance that was mostly just a spot lit, static stand or sit. People, audiences were in a kind of rapture. HOWIE THE ROOKIE, an earlier play, by this writer, was first presented at the Bush Theatre in London, in 1999, and this production  is the second at the Old Fitzroy Theatre. The first in 2003. (see comment).

This play consists of two monologues from firstly, The Howie Lee (Andrew Henry), and secondly, by The Rookie Lee (Sean Hawkins). These two characters are not-blood connected, that is genetically, though are, 'bloodily' so and, certainly, situationally connected. Both men, in their abreacted monologues, cross paths with each other and meet and greet a number of common acquaintances. But, each, independently, tell their story. It is , in all, about 80 minutes long, without an interval.

Having read the text before attending the performance of the play, my impression was of two young Dublin 'toughs', grunge, of huge natural social insufficiencies, and of low life high testosterone, of a typical Irish aggression. Alpha, sexist, cowardly males of a fairly ugly kind. Now, as well, I hate stand-alone monologues as theatre - not the first time I have said so - and, although, beautifully written, I had no inclination to want to spend time with them in a theatre. Still, I went along.


Well this team of artists are of a first class kind, I estimate, and I desired to support them. Directed, by Toby Schmitz - now here is a man who is a possible Renaissance man of many theatrical talents - N.B. the word, possible. Set and Costume Design (simply and tellingly done), by Lisa Mimmocchi. Lighting Design, by Alexander Belage (a young artist I have admired in his contributions around the 'traps' in Sydney of late). Sound Design, by Jeremy Silver (his usual subtle and thoughtful contribution). And in this case a Dialogue Coach, Gabrielle Rogers, who achieves some good result with her actors with this fearful dialect. Add, Andrew Henry and Sean Hawkins, two up-and-coming theatre sparks, and something should happen.

It did.

What both these two actors did, was add a humanity to the cold hard black print on the white pages of the script papers that was unexpected in my prejudiced, jaundiced, read of the play. I was more than surprised at my warming to these two men, Howie and Rookie, and dropped my judgemental condemnation of the 'types' that I had conjured as a reader. It is not that I liked them anymore than before, but I came to understand them, a little more, so that I could give a little empathy to what was happening in front of me. The power of the theatre. The persuasive gifts of the artist.

First Class talents giving all they can in all areas. It is just I hate the form that the play is written in.

I reckon, you could, maybe, should, get along to the Old Fitz. Everyone else really, really, loves it.

Sondheim on Sondheim

Photo by Michael Francis

Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre's production of SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Conceived and Originally Directed on Broadway by James Lapine at the Reginald Theatre, the Seymour Centre, October 1 - 18.

I loved my night at the Squabbalogic latest musical production, SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, an Australian Premiere Season, at the Reginald Theatre, in the Seymour Centre. This is a homage to the musical genius of the most influential musical theatre artist alive today: Stephen Sondheim - he must be in his mid-eighties, or so, now. Imagine! I always hold Mr Sondheim in the same reverential space as those other genius: Edward Albee and Tom Stoppard - all of the same vintage, or thereabouts. I saw it on its second night, the Saturday. I took a young woman who had never seen a musical before and she, too, loved it. She confessed to crying, laughing and been moved to reflect on the storytelling of so much of her , even though, young, life happenstances. She didn't know that songs could tell stories like that. She was so excited. So, this show is for everyone. The aficionados and the neophytes. SO, DO GO - don't miss it.

SONDHIEM ON SONDHEIM is a combination of taped interviews and archival footage of Mr Sondheim, edited together, to inform, educate us, often wittily, about the life (an artist uses their life to make their art) and work methods, approaches, frustrations, to his magnificent output. Originally, it was conceived (and then Directed) by the long-time colleague of Mr Sondheim, James Lapine, in 2010, and appeared for a short run at Studio 54, for the Roundabout Theatre, in New York. To augment this very absorbing documentary approach, 8 live singers and a band of 9 musicians, led expertly by Hayden Barltrop, illustrate, with songs, from some 19 Sondheim shows, curated from a 62 year period of creativity. It includes student work (BY GEORGE -1946) right through to the latest work, GOD - a pastiche song of homage written, especially for this show. We hear of songs that were cut from shows (LOVE IS IN THE AIR, originally, the opening song for A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1962); SMILE GIRLS - a song cut from GYPSY (1965)), and parts of famous songs and not so famous songs, right back to WEST SIDE STORY (1957), DO I HEAR A WALTZ? (1965), COMPANY (1970), FOLLIES (1971), through to ROAD SHOW (2008), including all those shows you love, even if, as in a lot of cases here in Sydney, you have only ever seen them in devoted Amateur Theatre or Student Theatre productions. It is one of the tragedies of living in Sydney that so little of Mr Sondheim's work as ever had a professional production.

Don't you think that a production of FOLLIES, never professionally mounted in Sydney, if Australia, should trump, Mr Teraccini's THE KING AND I or ANYTHING GOES (God Help Us, how many MORE times do we get to see these shows?) as a more challenging Opera Australia artistic enterprise? I do. Or that, say MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG or INTO THE WOODS or SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE might be more interesting than another THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, or the boring repetitions of Mr Frost's organization, as we sit down, once more to GREASE*** or WICKED or ANNIE. Is it a wonder that some audiences have never seen a big musical show: they are old hat and sooooo familiar: THE LION KING, LES MISERABLES, are on AGAIN, and for sure THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and even MARY POPPINS must be lurking somewhere in those hoary wing spaces of professional musical theatre company planning offices! - pots of gold, I suppose, if not artistic risk and exploration.

Very different in tone to the cabaret feel of the very familiar SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM (1976), SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM is a treat of musical theatre, and at over two and a half hours in length, a very generous 'helping'.

Director, Jay James-Moody has also designed this production, and very, ingeniously slick it is, with strings of scrunched music sheets hung as curtains, back and sides, to form the background to the action centre of the white gloss floored stage space, masking the orchestra in the back area and providing convenient entrances and exits for the performers with a minimum of fuss, in the 'horrible' black box, one-door space that is the curse of the Reginald Theatre architecture. Simple wheeled black boxes with a lid to them, provide the seats and storage for the movement of the catalogue of songs. Above, at the back, is the screen that gives us the pleasure of getting to know, very personably, Mr Sondheim, himself, with the very, very arresting, absorbing video footage. The Lighting Design, by Mikey Rice, is glamorous, and the Sound Design by Jessica Jay-Moody is as impeccable, as it always is, with this company.

Mr James-Moody has the ability to galvanize a production with the brisk attentive sensibility of occasion, and he handles his cast of very wonderful singers with grace, focus and generosity: Blake Erickson, Rob Johnson, Louise Kelly, Debora Krizak, Philip Lowe, Monique Salle, Christy Sullivan, Dean Vince. In ensemble the sound of these singers is 'beautiful' and stirring: COMEDY TONIGHT, SUNDAY, COMPANY, for example. Whilst I was impressed with the solo turns of Monique Salle's powerful, NOW YOU KNOW, from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and Christy Sullivan's TAKE ME TO THE WORLD from EVENING PRIMROSE. The simple choreography, movement, about the stage by Ms Salle, is economic and unfussy in its efficiency.

On the 31st July, 1970, the old Her Majesty's Theatre, down in Quay St, not far from Chinatown, caught fire and burned to the ground - I was studying at NIDA, and I remember we were all in a state of mourning and apprehension, another Sydney Theatre gone. It was where I had seen CAMELOT, FUNNY GIRL, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. In 1973, the new Her Majesty's Theatre opened with the latest Broadway hit: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, by a young composer Stephen Sondheim. It was reviewed generously, but, really, did not capture the Sydney audience. The invention of Mr Sondheim had pushed the musical theatre form beyond what the Sydney audience could absorb at that time, I conjecture, as there had really been a four year gap since the fire, and the latest International musical had not shown itself in Sydney, and no proper 'bridging' had prepared Sydney for the enormous sophistication and change of direction that Mr Sondheim's work was heralding. It took the courage of the Sydney Theatre Company, under the aegis of a theatrical visionary such as Richard Wherrett, to attempt to redress our 'black hole' of ignorance, that we saw a Drama Theatre scale production of COMPANY, and, later, INTO THE WOODS. A SWEENEY TODD, with Peter Carroll and Geraldine Turner was presented at Her Majesty's Theatre in 1988, and Opera Australia have presented it  twice, at least, firstly the Gale Edwards production with Lyndon Teraccini as the barber - scarred forever, perhaps, sir, razor in the air!  - and again, in 2007, with Peter Coleman-Wright. The Kookaburra Company gave us what was to become an infamous COMPANY production at the Theatre Royal, recently. No other major work of Mr Sondheim's has had a professional production in Sydney. Is all this true? I think so. And here we are in this scintillating, contemporary vital modern city, yes !? Très sophisticated. One of the great cities of the world!!!! Oh, well. Thank god for aeroplanes. For, I have seen, luckily, elsewhere, COMPANY, FOLLIES,A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, SWEENEY TODD, INTO THE WOODS, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and ASSASSINS. For those of you who haven't, then it is a work like the Sqabbalogic: SOUNDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, that you could be, should be devouring, to take you to musical places of bliss, and, hard though it is to say, without a humiliating gasp, to 'alternative' musical tastes.

This is a first rate production of a very interesting 'review' of a great man's work. A must for us all. The sheer quality of the writing and the now familiar form of the musical invention of Mr Sondheim is worth every effort to embrace. Seeing the recent work RUTHLESS here, at this theatre, and being, faintly, appalled at the quality of the writing, lyrics and music, let alone the ideas of it (and knowing the loving response it had from some friends who just loved it), seeing this collection of, even rejected songs of Mr Sondheim's might put some standards of expectation into a perspective. The Australian efforts of new work at the Hayes Theatre: TRUTH, BEAUTY AND A PICTURE OF YOU; LOVE BITES, though important that they be written and produced and seen, pale in the shadow of such a legacy as Mr Sondheim has cast. The master craftsman is a must to experience, even on video, and especially when presented with such a committed cast of Australian performers, illustrating the work methods and the end results.

Go. This company has produced CARRIE the musical, and THE DROWSY CHAPERONE to great esteem, and no less a lavish envisioning and manifestation is on stage at the Reginald at the moment. Squabbalogic is a first rate company.

P.S. Do you know what endeared me to the sensibility of this wonderful collective, especially? On Saturday night, the Director of this show and the other two mentioned above - who was also the star of THE DROUSY CHAPERONE, Jay James-Moody, was standing on a box, in the foyer, selling the programs. Now that is a true theatrical and the kind of man who can make things happen and will be rewarded for his ethical and artistic enterprises.


Monkey. Journey to the West

Photo by Steven Siewert
Riverside Theatres presents Kim Carpenter's Theatre of Image, MONKEY. JOURNEY TO THE WEST, written by Donna Abela, and Composed by Peter Kennard, at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, 2 -11 October.

Kim Carpenter's Theatre of Image is presenting his new work, a version of the 16th Century, three-volume, 1500-page novel, MONKEY. JOURNEY TO THE WEST. The original is attributed to Wu Cheng'en (Ming Dynasty). Arthur Waley, in 1942, published a popular abridged translation in English. It has since been translated again, and seen in many, many stage versions - opera, included, and for film and television. My first experience was with the bewildering (I was a child, of kinds) Japanese television series, MONKEY MAGIC, in the late 1970's. I, also, encountered it in a sober four hour version in the 1990's in Berkley, California. This stage adaption has been written by Australian playwright, Donna Abela.

Kim Carpenter tells us in his program message:
Together with writer, Donna Abela, I dived into the pages of (the book) and our eyes widened at the amazing number of rich and extraordinary stories MONKEY had to offer. Inspired by the vivid beauty, mad-cap humour, mythology and exciting battles we found throughout the readings, we extracted the best stories into one, complete, fantastical action-packed stage adventure that will appeal to all - no matter what age or background.
This play begins with a prelude to the main story, with the birth of Monkey on Flower Fruit Mountain, and of some of his consequent bad behaviours, such as eating the forbidden peaches of immortality, which has him punished by being imprisoned in the Five Element Mountain. He has acquired the gift of flying, transformational skills, and eye-sight to see far into the distance and through any disguise - he has all the qualities of a 'trickster hero'.

China is suffering from a malaise of moral guidance and the Queen of Heaven (Ivy Mak), chooses and instructs a Buddhist monk, Tripitaka (Aileen Huynh), to take the perilous journey to the West, to the Buddha (Anthony Taufa), to India, for the scrolls of Enlightenment. Tripitaka releases Monkey - Sun WuKong (Aljin Abela), from his prison and elicits him as a guide for the journey. They are joined in this expedition by Zhu Bajie (a half man, half pig) - Pigsy (Darren Gilshenan), and Sha Wujing (a river dragon) - Sandy (Justin Smith). Ms Abela's selected text reveals a mixture of Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology and Taoist and Buddhist philosophy that delivers a comic adventure story, flavoured by a delicate scent of respectful religious and cultural insight. It is a journey towards enlightenment from which we learn, as an audience, that each of us can achieve only with the help of others - it requires the negotiations of a team. When Tripitatka postures the scrolls to us at the end of the play, it is an offer for us to join this team and learn from the wisdom of the Buddha. That these scrolls of enlightenment could just as easily be those of the stories of the Ancient Greeks, the Old Testament, The Holy Koran, The Christian Gospels, and/or other human literary inventions of wisdoms that have attempted to shape our lives for the better from so long ago, and are still so ignored, is a sad reflection, on the habits of man. It is especially so, then, from one as old as I, shuddering at our daily news, sitting in the midst of the children of the future, here, at Riverside.

There are two Directors for this project, Kim Carpenter and John Bell.

Mr Carpenter has created the magical wonder of the visuals of this work: the many and witty Costumes, Set Design, extraordinarily moving and elegantly simple puppets - rod, and otherwise - and subtle Video elements (Martin Fox) on a giant background screen, that not only tells story but also conjures, suggests, mood and temper to the adventures. The Lighting Design by Sian James-Holland is just as dexterous and demanding. This is an immense design effort that in the seemingly effortlessness functioning in the performance, belies their, on reflection, undoubted, complexity to achieve. The shifts, changes and speed of it all is bedazzling in its, mostly, human feats - set and costume changes galore!

Mr Bell, I am assuming, has been in charge of the action of the actors. Along with Ms Abela, he has contrived his telling of this story on the high wire between evolving contemporary burlesque traditions, that has a very powerful heritage line to Mr Bell's first splash on the Australian stage way back in 1970, with his production of THE LEGEND OF KING O'MALLEY (Bob Ellis and Michael Boddy). This aesthetic was, mostly, more than less, glossed onto his early comic Shakespeare work (e.g. HAMLET ON ICE (Nimrod St Theatre); MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Nimrod in the now Belvoir Theatre), where the vulgarisms, traditions of the Aussie vaudeville theatre emerged as part of his comic tricks, and now, here, shows its hybrid head once again, balanced with a respectful nod to both the comic and sacred origins of the Chinese story. It is the control of the burlesque and comic vaudeville, especially, of his two 'clowns', Mr Gilshenan, and later, Mr Taufa (especially, as Mr Singh) that Mr Bell needs to keep a taut leash on. The balance is hair-wire thin with these two instinctive 'improvisers', and any, too many extempore indulgences, could tip the work into a wrong 'zone' in this journey to the west.

Music plays a strong part in facilitating the 'oiling' of Mr Bell's instincts and Composer/Lyricist/Live Musician: Peter Kennard supplies it non-stop and with great élan, songs as well. Add to the principal cast, a team of Physical Theatre artists: two actors, who also move brilliantly: Lia Reutens and Troy Honeysett; and Team 9Lives - a multi-disciplined physical troupe originating in the South-West of Sydney - Tim Farley, Joshua Tieu and Jair Coronado, guided by an intrepid Movement Director, Scott Witt, and energy is a blur of creativity and endless contributive distractions.

There is much beauty in the design and comedy in these adventures and there is a very gifted team to deliver them: Mr Gilshenan's Pigsy, a near perfect delight, occasionally tempted to some over-the-top crassness - but then he is Pigsy! ; a phlegmatic shy speaker of wisdoms, Sandy, played by an appealing Mr Smith; many varied and delightfully sketched characters, especially his 'crazy-campy' Mr Singh, from Mr Taufa - a zany inspired delight; while Ms Mak and Reutens work like the proverbial 'trojans', to quite provocative and comic rewards with a vast array of spectacular costume changes and characters - none more so than the sexy-spangly black leotarded Spider Spirits.

Integral, and a ballast to the imaginative mayhem in the writing from Ms Abela, and the hi-jinx of the casting above, are two wonderful performances from Mr Abela, as Monkey, and Ms Huynh, as the earnest and responsible monk, Tripitaka. Mr Abela from his first entrance is physically and vocally primed with athleticism, and the graceful discipline of his work is enhanced with what appears to be a deep understanding of the function and cultural inheritance of such a figure as Monkey, in the canon of Chinese and South Asian literature. The work seems to be inspired in its delicate but absolute positive choice from artistic moment to moment. It is not only work to admire from a place of craft objectivity, but also I found it, subjectively, a moving portrait: Monkey's forced exile from the gang of four warriors at the end of act one after the encounter with the machinations of the White Bone Demon (a great, great  big, 'scary' puppet) was hugely affecting, its depth of expression and arc of revealed emotional complications, detailed and bravely unhurried. No less, in considered and considerable skill, is Mr Abela's antic humour and physical traits as mischievous  Monkey. Ms Huynh in her performance, with a much more difficult task, essentially, the 'sober-sides' of the story, creates an elegant and unfussy presence and invention of action in her pivotal role as the journeyman with a sacred mission, and is clearly centred and in charge of all that is going on about her - it is a wholly satisfying being in what could be, in lesser hands, a bore - Ms Huynh delivers empathetic humanity and is the 'straight arrow' of this journey to the west.

The tone of this performance is an issue, it seems, for some. In aiming for this MONKEY "to appeal to all" - all ages, all ethnicities etc - the production can appear to be jolting, and culturally, a little 'erratic'. The 'rough-house' Australianess of some of the low comedy is sometimes a little unsettling, startling. This MONKEY, JOURNEY TO THE WEST is definitely an Aussie-take, a la the tradition of John Bell and his love of the Australian, historic vaudeville circuit, and in the traditions of such clowns as Roy 'Mo' Rene. However, I do remember, and in this very theatre, the Riverside, at a past Sydney Festival, attending a very raucous Korean version of Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, which had the 'fairies' and mechanicals more Monkey (trickster/pranksters) in tone, than of the Athenian/English forest  - and that, like The Theatre of Image's present production, was a perfectly delightful afternoon in the theatre. Bracing. See what you think. Andy Griffths' incredible series of illustrated children's books e.g. THE DAY MY BUM WENT PSYCHO might be a guide to the open- mindedness of the children in the audience who it did not seem to me to be confronted at all with some of the 'stuff'' going on as some older audience members were. My two Aussie-Chinese guests, along with the children, loved it, too.

Recently, in my blog on THE WITCHES, I wrote of the necessity of developing children's theatre experiences and wondered about the amazing commitment and scale of the National Theatre of Great Britain, and the lack of that diversity of programming from our major company, The Sydney Theatre Company (STC). (Not forgetting the Monkey Baa company, at all, by the way). It seems to me that MONKEY from The Theatre Of Image is just the kind of show that could sit very comfortably in the Sydney Theatre in a coming Christmas holiday, don't you think? I consider that if we gave Mr Carpenter more funding to provide, at least, a larger backstage support team, what wonders would be facilitated, without the stretched stress of effort, sometimes a little apparent.

Anyway, one needs to congratulate Mr Carpenter for his tireless dedication to the children of Australia. THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING, another instance of joy. His supporters, too - it is no easy job to maintain one's vision in this country. Add, as well, congratulations and respect to Donna Abela, the writer, who with this work has capped a wonderful year, and contribution to the Sydney theatre landscape, following on from her very different, but, top work, JUMP FOR JORDAN, at the Griffin Theatre, at the start of the year.

Do go - it is a delight. An excellent company of dedicated and joyful artists right through all its ranks and disciplines. Excellence, personified, I reckon. You will have a marvellous time, if you can surrender to it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Brother Daniel

Photo by Mark Banks

Collaborations Theatre Group presents BROTHER DANIEL, by James Balian at the Upstairs Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst. 24 Sept - 27 Sept. 30 Sept - 5 Oct.

BROTHER DANIEL is a new Australian play by James Balian. It is set in a prison in a totalitarian state. Brother Daniel was once a charismatic leader of a successful government coup. Now, years have passed, and he finds that his leadership qualities, his presence, his partisanship is required by the establishment he was once part responsible for setting up, as it is by the opposition, consisting of student rebels attempting their own coup. The play evolves into a moral set of interviews with various ''players' for Daniel's apparent commitment.

Travis Green, the Director tells us that the play talks of the choices that people make to get through life:
We live in a world where we are constantly asked to pick between right and wrong, between good and bad, and as much as we need that life could be that simple, it never is. Our actions define us, but the reasons for our actions are never clear, and extenuating circumstances can, and usually are, conflicting to our behaviours and beliefs. BROTHER DANIEL  ... explores the ambiguous nature of behaviour and the choices we make.
The writing, here, maintains one's focus, although, it does sometimes tend to 'novelistic' type speeches, that are not always clearly dramatic in 'play' form. Mr Balian has drawn some eight characters with varying personal and political needs. The actors are all evenly prepared and are splendidly cast with physical appearances and details that are decidedly realistic rather than 'designed'. The world, set and costumes, are believable (Set Design by Rachel Scane). It was impressive to see a company of eight actors to take a curtain call. - not the usual three or four who may have doubled other roles as well - the individuality of each of the performers, no matter the size of their stage responsibility, added an absorbing veracity to the unfolding of the debates: Vincent Andriano, David Attrill, Mel Dodge, Jeannie Gee, Adam Hatzimanolis, Errol Henderson, Richard Hilliar, and Naomi Livingstone.

There is a strong moral purpose to the writing, and that it desires, consistently, to explore philosophic and moral dilemma and the frailties of the human animal in motivation in survival mode, is a welcome respite from the usual sexploitation of the personal, as the spine to this work, unlike a lot of other Australian work that is given on our stages. It respects our intelligence - that we have some!

Interesting, gently absorbing, if not, riveting work.

Much like my response to the work of the recent production of Rajiv's Joseph's GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES, one is grateful that the Tap Gallery exists as an affordable and practical space for these artists to produce work in Sydney. The Tap gallery is a unique (in more ways than one, I admit) but a wholly necessary space for the development of new work and alternate workers, from the mainstreams of Sydney practice: Writers, Actors and Directors.