Monday, January 26, 2015

The Unspoken Word is 'Joe'

The Unspoken Word is 'Joe' : Trailer 2015 from MKA - Theatre of New Writing on Vimeo.

MKA: Theatre of New Writing and Griffin Independent present, THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS 'JOE', by Zoey Dawson, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross, 21 Jan - 7 Feb.

Climate Change: True or False. The secrets surrounding our Manus Island Refugees. ICAC and the 'bottomless' pits of local and state government corruption. Confidence in the Australian Prime Minister and his Government, plummets. Cuts to Australian pensioners welfare. The pressures to free-market our Australian Universities and Education. Are Corporations really our Governmental law makers? Fracking our farm land and water resources for Gas product/profit for overseas market place. Islamic State Militant demand $244 million for hostages, or they will be beheaded. Rebels of the Houthi movement seize the palace of the Yemen president. Russian ruble collapses. The Ukraine and Vladimir Putin's Russia at odds. Palestinians and Israelis murdering each other daily. Indigenous incarceration still at a disproportionately high number in Australian prisons. Our banks are bastions of best practice, have you heard otherwise? Lessons not learnt from Global Financial Crisis causes economist to invoke the black plague when discussing today's global financial markets. President Obama and the Republican party play out tit for tat politics while their babies accidentally shoot each other. China looks for world gardens to feed their population. Ebola deaths keep rising. Massacres and the kidnapping, rape and torture of women, men and children in Nigeria continues to occur under the auspices of Boko Haram. Young woman has breakdown, melt down, when her man and she break-up.

One guess as to which one of these stories we find told on the Griffin stage, tonight?

Woman has breakdown after her man and she break-up.

Who, really, I mean, really, could give a flying f..k?

Once again (check out MASTERCLASS; THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR), an Australian writer, and two Australian theatre companies bring to one of the few professional stages in this city, another group of theatre navel gazers to once again piss-take the mechanisms of theatre practice, their own profession, (I ask, do the general public care, or get it?) and feel the pressing need to tell the story of an obviously ill young woman having a self-indulgent and self-aware breakdown, for a comic fest, feast.

This production is all, well done. The team from Melbourne: MKA: Theatre of New Writing, have packaged this well. The Design elements by Eugyeene Teh, the Costume and Set; the Lighting by Romanie Harper; the Composition and Sound Design by Martin Kay are all, really good. The Directing of the project by Declan Greene, is really, really good. There is real talent there. And the acting by Natasha Herbert, Matt Hickey, Annie Last, Aaron Orzech and Nikki Shiels is not bad, actually, fairly brave. Good. Ms Shiels should score a 'gong' for endurance and 'out-thereness' -she is kind of amazing!

The writing from this new playwright is, relatively, good - for a newish writer. The content, not an unexpected exploration from a new writer: a relationship break-down - using the art-craft form as a kind of therapy, I guess - always have to get it out of the way, and best to start with it as a career launcher, for, at least you are probably writing from what you know, give or take a few 'poetic' licenses, (in this case, I sincerely hope there were 'poetic' licenses, otherwise Ms Dawson may need ...!). There were no new things said, no surprises, other than the extremity of venom coming from this young unhinged young woman, at the play's climax - of course, many thought the language 'vomit' (as they did the later [spoiler alert], the 'real' vomit), hilarious! This play has the usual arc of journey for this kind of material. The form, too, is not new, either - no surprises there: "let's pretend we are having a play reading in a theatre, and it goes HORRIBLY wrong. In public."

I thought, frankly, THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS 'JOE', to be just a lot of first time indulgences from a  couple of relaxed and comfortable theatre organisations for a relaxed and comfortable Australian audience: "Take this laugh pill about trivia and float in a haze of tears from laughter - all is well in the world."

There is no substance to the content of this play - a young woman behaves badly, increasingly, extremely, badly. We never know much of her past to help us understand her, other than she has written a play, that an 'artistic team' of a theatre company believes is worth exploring, and that we are really content, at its 'performative' end, to leave her 'stewing' onstage, in the resultants of her self-indulgence, as we depart, just as the other actors/characters do. I, certainly, had more fear of her than compassion. I was bemused as to the point of the writing, except that of an offer, of a kind of cruel, indulgent laughter.

The energy of this production, the time given to it, from the Director, Mr Greene, with the writer, Ms Dawson, seems to have been spent on style. THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS 'JOE' was, for me, an hysterical triumph of entertaining style over any substance of content of contemporary interest. A lot of people laughed, a lot. I did not. But, I did not get angry, as I sat through an interminable hour and a bit. I just got bored. Bored, bored, bored. My internalised voice was calling out : "Let me out of here! Let me get back to my novel reading." It occurred to me, is this why the Sydney Writer's Festival is so popular, it concerns itself, usually challengingly, with real and contemporary dilemmas and ideas. IDEAS. Its audience has an appetite for the mutual provocation and discussion about important issues. Something our theatre used to do (didn't it?), but not any longer. Perhaps, it was just the hot, hot, humid night? or, was it the consequence of the noisy, hot, hot squashed and late opening foyer downstairs, that made me ill disposed to the experience?

Here is the blurb from the publicity machine of both the presenting companies:
THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS 'JOE' is a biting meta-satire of Australian theatre, with its author (kind of) starring as a young woman desperate for the approval of her peers. Zoey describes it as "dramatic and beautiful". And tender. And also really clever. She wrote it as a way of dealing with a really bad break-up - but it's not just a break-up play. It's about love, and loss [AWWWW]. It's about life, [OH, WOW!]. It's a really, really good play.
Helmed by Zoey Dawson (IF YOU LIVED HERE YOU'D BE HOME NOW) and Declan Greene (EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY***), and following critically acclaimed, sold-out seasons at Melbourne Fringe and Brisbane Festival, MKA: Theatre of New Writing and Griffin Independent present the Sydney debut of one of the worst plays ever written." 
Note: those last words are not my error.

From The Age:
Wild, unorthodox, and often hilarious theatre. Dawson doesn't break the rules so much as bludgeon it to death and take liberties with the corpse. **** (Four Stars!)
It is not the worst play ever written, but one does, indeed, feel almost bludgeoned to near death, and that antic liberties were taken with our complicity to elect to sit and watch a culture in a kind of desperate need to distract itself from the world around itself with the obsessions of a personal dilemma, ridiculed, trivialised.  You can judge for yourself. I guess.

I have.

P.S. I wonder what the 'wash-up' was at the Australian Theatre Forum (AFT), at the Seymour Centre, that concluded co-incidently on this very day,  (Friday, 23rd January, 2015) about the state of writing for the Australian theatre? A number of attendees at the conference were in this audience with me. Hmmmm?

By the way, I receive bulletins from the Royal Court Theatre in London, a theatre organisation, that like the Griffin, is a champion of new writing, and just even a cursory comparison concerning subject matter etc presented to their audience, is an interesting (and distressing) thing to do.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Photograph by Marnya Rothe

Red Line Productions presents MASTERCLASS, written and performed by Charlie Garber and Gareth Davies at the Old Fitz Theatre, Woolloomooloo. 14 Jan -31 Jan.

MASTERCLASS at the Old Fitz, devised, written and performed by Charlie Garber and Gareth Davies, begins with two men coming onto an empty stage and talking. Apparently, having worked together in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and AS YOU LIKE IT at Belvoir, and though given some leeway to interact 'creatively' together by Director, Eamon Flack, these two men felt somewhat 'hampered' by the requirements of someone else's text (Shakespeare) and decided that they wanted to have "absolute control" over what they gave an audience.  This is the third iteration of this show. It began in 2011 in a 'subterranean' night club, revived in 2012, and now, again, revived, as the opening offer from the regenerated Old Fitz theatre space, under the new artistic curation: Red Line Productions.

Hmmmm! MASTERCLASS, their only choice, to re-vivify the Old Fitz?

Supposedly, it is a Masterclass in the requirements of Acting. We are invited to 'learn' and 'respect', though there was, too, a 'warning'! It has the absurd digressions of a Monty Python world, without, unfortunately, any of its cultural subversion, rather, its a contemporary self-referencing and self-reverential conceit, from these two, youngish, comics who trust each other implicitly, and invite those of us who want, into a labyrinthine comic journey.  Essentially, the work is a 'bromance' between the performers. Their interactions are full of nuanced knowledge of each others skill/minds. A kind of 'love-in.'

One wished the writing was wittier, and not just the revelation of the comic eccentricities of the entwined minds of the performers, having a bit of fun of a 'shaggy dog' proportion. I understand there was no Director - it is,  literally, a 'selfie' - and with no outside eye to provide provocation obstacle to urge some more clarity and spine to the evening, MASTERCLASS can meander down many a dead end. However, on the night I attended, there were a lot of people who did 'want' to travel with the "bros", for they had to merely walk onto the stage - to appear - for the laughter to begin. Devotees who knew the show from before, or, fans of the performers? Both, maybe.

The performances are 'eccentric'. The skills, despite the 'faux' intent/mock, are really very secure. The Lighting Design, by Benjamin Brockman, is particularly assured, and an asset to, essentially, an empty space - the theatre, itself, has no seating, just bare platforms. An empty space, indeed.

I wondered, later, whether you needed to know about the making of theatre, and its 'mysteries', to have a really good time? And, on the other hand, if you do have that knowledge, is it really a masterclass? Or, is that the point: it is something else? Can you sense my ambivalence to the performance? Do you need that loosening beer, or glass of wine, from the bar upstairs, to open up one's receptors? For myself, and my companion, MASTERCLASS, was not a completely rewarding night. As you like it, or not, then. It was only an hour in length.

One hopes the content presented in the Old Fitz space, in the coming season, is more rewarding than this slight 'cabaret' turn.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Looking back on 2014


According to my Theatre Diary, I attended some 119 performances. I, actually saw a few more but did not write them up. I am in the midst of writing up the Sydney Theatre Company CYRANO, but as of this minute, still struggling - will do so, soon though.

I saw some 54 new Australian plays this year. Few, I noted, with a cast of more than six-eight actors. Most, the majority, with only a cast of TWO. What is this with the major subsidised companies and their 'gate-keeping' curation of the Australian story, voice, writers? Two actors?! I, sometimes, count the number of names in the Administration areas at the back of the program for the STC, when I go, and get to a full and part-time list of 189 or so. BUT, only two actors on stage !!!!! Was the STC company, only able to field, afford 7 or 9 actors for MACBETH? I didn't go. Couldn't afford the ticket price, no matter that it starred Hugo Weaving.

The Best of the Australian works:
  1. JUMP FOR JORDAN by Donna Abela at the Griffin Theatre. Ms Abela, also, gave us MONKEY. JOURNEY TO THE WEST. A double of new Australian writing, well worth appreciating.
  2. CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART, by Ross Mueller - this is an older play (2006), but, one of the best Australian works seen this year. Tap Gallery.
  3. EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY, by Declan Greene. An arresting work for two actors at the Griffin Theatre. Mr Greene, a writer to watch, I thought.
  4. THE LONG WAY HOME, by Daniel Keene. A verbatim work revealing an important world and subject matter, long overdue for exposure in the Australian storytelling theatre world. STC and the Australian Defence Force.
  5. M.ROCK, by Lachlan Philpott. A work for the young and the adult. Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) and the STC.
  6. SUGARLAND, by Rachel Coopes and Wayne Blair. A verbatim work revealing the complicated lives of the young in a regional town, Katherine, in Western Australia. Shocking, but winning because of its uncompromising truths and tone. Presented by ATYP.
  7. KRYPTONITE by Sue Smith. Terrific two-hander, treading into sophisticated subject world, most unusual for most of our playwrights - our history with contemporary China. STC AND SATC.
  8. THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS, by Alana Valentine and Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor. Verbatim concerning the family and Indigenous 'hero', "Chicka' Dixon. Performance Space at Carriageworks.
  9. SWITZERLAND, by Joanna Murray-Smith. A thriller built about the work of American novelist, Patricia Highsmith and the 'mystery' of creativity.

Works I am glad I saw (the list is chronological, mostly):
  1. AM I - a contemporary Dance world with text, by Shaun Parker, with a stupendous score (played live) by Nick Wales. What a great way to begin the year. It was part of the Sydney Festival. It was one of the best experiences of the year. Still on the Festival circuit (International) - one would wish it could be seen again.
  2. SWEET CHARITY at the Hayes Theatre. The first 'cab off the rank' for this new venue for the musical theatre/cabaret scene in Sydney. This production was terrific and is about to re-open at the Sydney Opera House. The Hayes, it seems is 'doing' a great job in this genre.
  3. THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, a Squabbologic Independent Music Theatre production, in association with Hayes Theatre. It was a delightful and beautifully assembled work. This company followed up, later in the year, with SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, at the Seymour Centre, which was, also, a wonderfully nurtured production, especially, for the fans of the composer. Both Directed by Jay James-Moody.
  4. NOISES OFF for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), a wonderful 'contemporary' farce by Michael Frayn, played by an almost impeccable comic cast, directed by Jonathan Biggins. Huge and outrageous fun.
  5. PERPLEX for the STC. Was I surprised? Yes. Marius Von Mayenburg, is not on my list of favourite authors, but I just wallowed in the intellectual jokiness of this wonderful play, directed by Sarah Giles, one of the shining lights of our young, Sydney Directors. It was, oddly, neglected by the Sydney audience - shame, really.
  6. THE LONG WAY HOME, by Daniel Keene, from verbatim research. This came from a workshop sponsored by the The Australian Defence Force, facilitated by the STC, Directed, by Britisher, Stephen Rayne, who had, also, undertaken a similar project in the UK: THE TWO WORLDS OF CHARLIE F. This was a rare exposure, insight, into the contemporary work, and the collateral aftermath of that work, in international war zones, of the Australian soldier. This was a significant venture for the Defence Force and the cathartic results were palpably moving, not only for the audience, but, also, for the creators. It had a brief season and did need to be seen by more of the general public. It was a significant achievement by Daniel Keens and was, in theatrical terms a stark contrast of integrity and success, compared to my overwhelming disappointment with the Sydney Festival and Queensland Theatre Company production: BLACK DIGGERS.
  7. VINGT REGARDS SUR L'ENFANT - JESUS a solo piano work by Olivier Messiaen, performed by Steven Osborne. This was a one concert event presented by The Australian Chamber Orchestra (AC0), at the Sydney Conservatorium. It was, probably, THE great Art experience I had in the theatre this year. There was less than a third of the audience capacity of the hall in attendance. A tragedy, I reckon, and a comment on Sydney, perhaps.
  8. CONSTELLATIONS, by Nick Payne. One of the young British writers, that should be an essential artist for a contemporary city to know about and experience. Presented by The Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Directed by Anthony Skuse. A text with the brain and heart fully engaged. Truly rewarding.
  9. TARTUFFE, The Hypocrite, by Moliere, in a New Version by Justin Fleming, for Bell Shakespeare, Directed by Peter Evans. This is a tremendously successful Australian Vernacular version by Justin Fleming, given a stylish production by Peter Evans.
  10. KRYPTONITE, by Sue Smith, a Co-Production for the STC and the State Theatre of South Australia (SATC). This is a first rate piece of contemporary Australian writing - smart, intriguing and full of 'heart'. It was wonderfully Directed by Geordie Brookman, the most assured work this year, complimented with a terrific Design, by Victoria Lamb.
  11. MONKEY. JOURNEY TO THE WEST, by Donna Abela, presented by Riverside Theatres Parramatta, with Theatre of Image, Directed by John Bell and Kim Carpenter. This was an epic production aimed for children, that was richly Chinese/Australian in its 'looking' lens.
  12. SWITZERLAND, by Joanna Murray-Smith, by special arrangement with the Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles, in a Co-World production, from the STC. This was a first class thriller, played wonderfully by Sarah Pierse and Eamon Farren, expertly Directed by Sarah Goodes. Smart, funny, thrilling, with a great twist.
  13. SWEENEY TODD, the great and famous musical by Stephen Sondheim, presented by the New Theatre, expertly Directed by new-comer, Giles Gartrell-Mills. A surprise event from a small theatre organisation.
  14. THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS, by Alana Valentine and Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor. A verbatim work concerning the life of an Indigenous 'Hero", Charles 'Chicka' Dixon, and his family. Enlightening, and an important story/history. Directed by Liza-Mare Syron.
  15. A CHRISTMAS CAROL, using a text by Anne-Louise Sarks and Benedict Hardie, based on the Charles Dickens novella, and assembled by an ensemble cast with impeccable joy, for the Belvoir, for all age groups. The only truly satisfactory experience presented by this company all year.
  16. THE CRUCIBLE, by Arthur Miller, presented by Sport For Jove, at Bella Vista Farm. A great play, beautifully guided to reveal that greatness in production by Damien Ryan, with an impeccable ensemble company of actors.
Performances I relished:

Hugh Higginson, in ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD by Simon Stephens. This was the Best performance I saw all year.

Paul Bertram and Kate Fitzpatrick gave beautiful support work to ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD.

Michelle Doake, as Paulina, in Bell Shakespeare's THE WINTER'S TALE. Inspiring.

Dorian Nkono for consistent and dangerously exciting work in THE WINTER'S TALE, LOBBY HERO, BLUE/ORANGE.

George Banders, as Parolles, in ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL. A notoriously difficult role that, in this production, stole the play. Fabulously, comic.

Jay James-Moody as The Man in the Chair, in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, which he also Directed.

Josh McConville, giving integrity and astonishing consistency everytime: NOISES OFF - dare-devilry!; amazing support in MOJO; and support despite the adaptation excising of his written role as, De Quiche, In CYRANO DE BERGERAC - a redeeming last act.

Helen Morse, presence and emotional accuracy, galore in ONCE IN ROYAL DAVID'S CITY. Wished she had had more to do.

Steve Rogers for, EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. He creates a wealth of compassion for his characters and gifts us with that insight and revelation.

Anthony Gee, in MUSIC. A break-through performance.

Hunter Page-Lochard, promising much in the future with this developing work in BLACK DIGGERSBROTHER'S WRECK and SUGARLAND.

Emma Palmer, as Marianne in CONSTELLATIONS.

Scott Lee, in THIS IS OUR YOUTH, at the Tap Gallery. An actor to pay attention too.

Guy Edmonds, in THE WITCHES, at the Griffin. Athletic, charismatic.

Susan Prior, in IS THIS THING ON? Remarkable, as usual.

Rose Riley, as Laura in, THE GLASS MENAGERIE. This was an amazing, inventive reading of a classic role. Ms Riley, more or less, just out of acting school. Someone to look forward to seeing again.

Ursula Mills, as Lian in KRYPTONITE. What a revelation.This was by far and away the Best work that she has given in Sydney.

Justine Clark  the only acting survivor in CHILDREN OF THE SUN. A wonderful performance with very little to support her, around her.

Jennifer Hagan, a welcome back to the stage in two supporting roles which illuminated the productions: TARTUFFE; and EMERALD CITY.

Aljin Abela, as Monkey in the Theatre of Image production, MONKEY. JOURNEY TO THE WEST. Physically primed, intellectually aware, integrity galore, emotionally true and moving.

Aileen Hyunh, as Tripitaka, in MONKEY. JOURNEY TO THE WEST. A solid dramatic 'spine' in the midst of comic mayhem. More than admirable.

Eamnon Farren, as Edward in SWITZERLAND. Truly exciting, outstanding. Note his tremendous support in MOJO***, as well.

Sarah Pierse, as Patricia, in SWITZERLAND. Unrecognisable in this role. Lost in true embodiment.

The Company for, A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Kate Box, Peter Carroll, Ivan Donato, Eden Falk, Robert Menzies, Steve Rogers, Miranda Tapsell, Ursula Kovich.

The Company for, THE CRUCIBLE: Annie Byron, Alan Faulkner, John Keightley, Philip Dodd, Wendy Strehlow, Jonathan Mill, Christopher Tomkinson, Richard Hilliar, Matt Edgerton, Suzanne Periera, Lizzie Schebesta, Matilda Ridgeway, Anthony Gooley, Julian Garner, Georgia Adamson, Emma Chelsey, Michelle McKenzie, Adele Querol, Lucy Heffernan, Chris Stalley.

DESIGN, I noticed:

Owen Phillips, Set Design for, SWEET CHARITY.
Tim Chappel, Costume Design for, SWEET CHARITY.

Renee Mulder, Set Design for, THE LONG WAY HOME and PERPLEX. Costume Design for, CHILDREN OF THE SUN.

Georgia Hopkins, Set Design for, BOOK OF DAYS.
Jacqui Schofield, Costume Design for, BOOK OF DAYS.

Victoria Lamb, Set and Costume Design for, KRYPTONITE.

Kim Carpenter for his Set and Costume Design for, MONKEY. JOURNEY TO THE WEST.

Michael Scott-Mitchell, Set Design for,  SWITZERLAND.

Michael Hankin, Set Design for, A CHRISTMAS CAROL (but definitely NOT for THE GLASS MENAGERIE).

Mel Page, Costume design for, A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Damien Cooper, Lighting Design for, AM I; A LONG WAY HOME; CHILDREN OF THE SUN.

Sara Swerksty, Lighting Design for, CONSTELLATIONS.

Nicholas Rayment, Lighting Design for, KRYPTONITE.

Alex Berlage, Lighting Design for, BOOK OF DAYS.

Benjamin Cisterne, Lighting Design for, A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Bob Scott, Sound Design for, AM I.

Steve Francis, Sound design for, THE LONG WAY HOME.

DJ Trip, Sound Design for, KRYPTONITE.

Stefan Gregory, Sound Design for, A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

DIRECTION, I noticed:

Steven Rayne for, THE LONG WAY HOME.

Sarah Giles for, PERPLEX.


Peter Evans for, TARTUFFE.

Geordie Brookman for, KRYPTONITE.

Sarah Goodes for, SWITZERLAND.

Anne-Louise Sarks for, A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

And last, but, by no means least…
If only Mephistopheles would do a deal, the TIME that I would like back from the subsidised organisations, for shows I'd rather not have spent my time on (not to worry about my money - that, in good faith, was donated to, generally, the cause of sustaining the work opportunities in the performing arts in Sydney - not much regret there, but time in one's life is not retrievable, alas):

BLACK DIGGERS - Sydney Festival, the QTC with Wesley Enoch.

TRAVELLING NORTH - STC, with Andrew Upton.

THE WINTER'S TALE - Bell Shakespeare with John Bell.

THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR - Belvoir with Simon Stone. By the way, this was not a production of the famous Gogol play - rather an appropriation of its reputation by 'borrowing' the title. See blog.

THE GIGLI CONCERT - Darlinghurst Theatre Company.

THE YOUNG TYCOONS - Darlinghurst Theatre Company.

MOJO - STC with Iain Sinclair.

HEDDA GABLER - Belvoir with Adena Jacobs.

THE EFFECT - STC with Sarah Goodes.

EVERY SECOND - Darlinghurst Theatre Company.

NORA - Belvoir with Sarah-Louise Sarks.

OEDIPUS REX - Belvoir with Adena Jacobs.

CHILDREN OF THE SUN - STC with Andrew Upton and Kip Williams.

DAYLIGHT SAVING - Darlinghurst Theatre Company.

CYRANO DE BERGERAC - STC with Andrew Upton and Kip Williams.

Interesting to note the successful productions at the STC, that I saw, were mostly, co-productions. Their lone house work, not at all as consistent. Hmmmm!

2014, was not a vintage year, of theatre going, for me.
Here's hoping for better in 2015.

Thank you for reading.

P.S. Must note the loss of the Tap Gallery as a Performance Space, for the Independent Industry. It will put a significant hole in the work produced in Sydney, especially from the fledgling artists. Tragic, really.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Henry V

Bell Shakespeare presents, HENRY V, in the Playhouse, at the Sydney Opera House, 21 Oct - 14 Nov, 2014.

Some children and their teachers are trapped in a classroom/bunker in London during the German Blitzreig of World War Two. The teachers provide the children the text of HENRY V, by William Shakespeare, to read and rehearse in an improvised manner, to distract them from the surrounding chaos. With a concussive Sound Design (Composer and Sound Design, Steve Francis), and Lighting Design (Sian James-Holland), an atmosphere of alarm outside the room brings a reality of war to the environment. Anne Gardiner (Set and Costume Designer) has created a curved wall with crenellated brick ends, and some small, high fixed windows that allow us to see the debris of war, as the bombs, periodically, reverberate about the building. The room is filled with the paraphernalia of desks, chairs, blackboard and other furnishings of a classroom of the period. Too, the children and teachers are dressed in the civilian costume of war - multifarious and individual, 'stressed' school uniforms as survival gear: the Head Boy, destined to read/play Henry V (Michael Sheasby), is rigged out in rugby/ 'rugger' clobber, long socks and all; the main teacher (Keith Agius) in dowdy cardigan and long pants.

This production/play, Directed by Damien Ryan, has a prologue with the Teacher outlining the heritage of the actual Henry V through the other Shakespearean War of the Roses texts, beginning with, for example, quotes from Richard II, followed by a blackboard iteration of the Salic Law confusions that seem to justify the act of war undertaken, against the French, by this new King of England, Henry V, who not long ago was profligate Prince Hal and devoted friend of disreputable Falstaff. Too, a short Epilogue is added to this play production of HENRY V that reveals, pointedly, the stupidity of war, when a brief introduction of Henry VI tells us of the loss of all gained by the previous King's 'victories'/slaughters.

This production is precise in its location, energetic and distractingly active in the shifting and organising of the furniture, the invention and creation of royal costume and properties, of hierarchy, for the 'conceit' - visual precisions - of this presented recent world. The vertiginous energy is immense, clockwork in its execution of imaginative solutions, generating an excitement from the audience that doesn't always have to do with the accurate revealing of the Shakespearean text. Mr Sheasby is the only actor with the one role, all the others play a panoply of characters with dexterous shifts, if not always with clear definition for the audience to take in, identify, and feel secure as to who is who, and what is happening in the unfolding narrative of the source text.

If you hadn't studied the play – could one unequivocally follow the story and its observational controversies and ironies? What would one, frankly, appreciate of the language of Shakespeare? One wonders, if any in the audience who were unfamiliar with the play, what could they give us, as even a mere gist, that the Synopsis of the Program Notes outlines for us, concerning the actual play. Certainly, the students I spoke to after could not do so. They loved the production of the World War II war zone and how it was made, but were not, necessarily, clear as to the story of HENRY V, by William Shakespeare. Their rapturous appreciation was of the magic of Mr Ryan's theatre 'tricks' with his company, than the substance specifics of Shakespeare's text. There is a passionate commitment, from all the actors, to the framework around the Shakespearean play, HENRY V, that overwhelms the original source play and tends to become the centre of focus and admiration, instead. This production from Bell Shakespeare is about the ploys of survivors of the Blitz - even to the murder, by one of the English children, in this classroom, of a German parachutist prisoner-of-war. As such, the production has garnered much kudos. I concur with the skill of the imposed production/play 'written' by Mr Ryan and his company, but believe that the play HENRY V, by William Shakespeare, was the loser in the dynamics of the performance.

All of this talented, relatively, young company, playing here in the Playhouse Theatre, after a long, 5 month National tour, gave robust and disciplined readings to and in the world of the production tasks that Mr Ryan has set them: Michael Sheasby, Matthew Backer, Drew Livingston, Damien Strouthos, Gabriel Fancourt, Eloise Winestock, Danielle King, Darcy Brown, Keith Agius, IIdiko Susany. All of them are comfortable and communicate the Blitz war zone - but not many translate as accurately into the Medieval world of the Plantagenet War zone. Ms Winestock, playing the French Princess Katherine, is impressive in her comic reading of the role: funny, tender and strongwilled. Although, for me, the performance that mastered the double task best in this production, demanded by Mr Ryan: the London of Mr Ryan's invention, and the Medieval Battle Fields of France, is Ms King, who whenever her production responsibilities required it, spoke, acted, the Shakespearean language with clarity and great beauty with her imaginative 'feet' set firmly in both places and times. One wished more of those qualities, were displayed by the rest of the company - I wished some of the time taken with the mastery of the production conceit of surviving the London blitz had been given to the speaking of the language of the play and telling of its specifics. To just reveal the play that's written, to "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue ... ." Thrillingly on the tongue, dare I ask? To do what the essay by Brendan Guilfer, in the Program Notes acknowledges:
It's the words, always the words" That "the language is the play's most efficient weapon. ... If this play explores one essential thing it is this - what a man (men) can do through the power of words. 
If these actors had been asked to just sit on stools, and 'read' the text accurately with the full powers of their skills, would the "one efficient weapon of the play"- the words, and their persuasive organisation for argument, would the play by Shakespeare be more apparent, more illuminatory?
My first encounter with this play was as a 12 year old school boy, book in hand with an LP (Long playing record) recording of some actors performing for us and I, truly believe, I was captured, simply by the words, and comprehended it fairly well, with my own "imaginary puissance" - no need to see the specific and famous Olivier film (that did come later in my education at the local cinema in a rare revival showing for the collected schools of the local district - the personal home DVD ownership, the possibility of such future,only glimpsed perhaps, in the  world of the Dick Tracey in the newspaper comic strips), no need to have it visualised in World War II constructs, or the more relevant Korean peninsula ones, by my teachers of the late 1950's for Shakespeare's play to be imaginatively alive. Just the words on the page, read and spoken, with radio sound effects. Oh, thrilling.

In 2010, Bell Shakespeare gave us a TWELFTH NIGHT (Directed by Lee Lewis), that like this production of HENRY V, set the play within the context of a staged reading during a social trauma (in that case, a natural disaster of Bush Fire tragedy; in another theatre Ms Lewis had given us a staged reading of Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN, in the ashed ruins of a New York basement, after the fall of the Twin Towers - a conceit oft used, indeed!), that like this production, too, seemed to dominate the original play, as if the audience would not comprehend the content of the text without it. A demonstration, for me, of a lack of confidence in the original play, or the skills of the actors, or the intelligence of the audience.

I am, it seems, a unique naysayer to the success of the dual plays given to us by Mr Ryan and Bell Shakespeare here - critics have been mightily impressed. I believe that the invention created by Mr Ryan is, undoubtedly, thoughtful and clever, but it was, for me, to the detriment of the original play around which it has been hung. It obfuscates Shakespeare's play. And I do believe that a contemporary audience would/could appreciate the production objectives of Mr Ryan's vision of the content of HENRY V in a 'straight' reading -'wrapping' - of the work. One of Mr Ryan's supreme gifts, one of many, is his ability to inspire and develop an ensemble of actors who will go where he bids with confidence and élan. I wait for Mr Ryan to have the confidence in Shakespeare and his own gifts to give us, the Bards works more simply, less 'tricked' up. Then, we will see Shakespeare's HENRY V, or whichever play he next chooses, speak directly, comprehensively, over the centuries to us as an undoubted Classic of the English language, where words when spoken imaginatively were pictures themselves. To have the audience see with their ears.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Falling Woman

Performance Space presents FALLING WOMAN, Created by Alice Osborne and Halcyon Macleod, at Carriageworks, Track 8. 26 - 29 November, 2014.

FALLING WOMAN is a new Australian play with an idea initiated, devised and performed by Alice Osborne, written and directed by Halcyon Macleod. The text is a voiceover of, for most of the time, a highly poetic odyssey - recently, Ms Macleod's work at Campbelltown Arts Centre: MANTLE, also featured this kind of radio-play conceit (think Radio National's, Poetica) - however, in this case it features a disembodied voice with, also, live microphone interpolations from The Woman (Alice Osborne), and a mysterious figure (Regina Heilmann, also, co-deviser), who is variously a witness, an avatar, alter-ego and provocateur.

The Directed motivating image of the play, is of a Woman sitting on a domestic, white, kitchen chair. An expected image of a woman's role (perhaps?). Looking closely, however, this chair has only three legs and for this normal domestic image to be attained, maintained, the Woman must, complicatedly, support it - it requires some distracting physical energy to appear normal - she is disabled in some of her capacity to function as the Normal Woman, as her self. This Woman's effort, becomes a gradual awakening to an instinctive warning of some kind, a warning felt by "the brain in the gut" that this domestic image is not her true self, it does not belong to this Woman. And, no matter how The Woman attempts to accommodate the 'expected' image, the subterranean warning, the feeling of falling, can not be, ultimately, ignored, and so, she begins a journey.

It is typical of Ms Macleod's writing that the scene is immersed in a country setting and so it is here. This Woman, with a creative alter-ego, a Witness, sensing that there is an under-utilised part of herself sets about the task of unlocking the mythic inside (her) domestic expectancy:
And so this other life, this secret happier
self she is leaning towards but never
quite touching, never quite becoming.
A woman circles herself.
She catches glimpses of her own face in
the revolving door of a department store
and doesn't recognise it.
She imagines a face more fully her own,
a keener eye, a mouth more savage,
she knows what this face looks like
splattered with blood from the kill...
On a huge double space in Track 8 at Carriageworks, separated front and back by a large scrim, that has film and photographed images projected upon it, with, sometimes, an added set of images, projected onto the back wall, with a net of chairs hanging in the air, and other paraphernalia (puppetry) scattered around the spaces, physically and vocally, this Woman is led into a labyrinth of personal complexities, including that, by the way, of a repeated unsatisfactory, unpleasant investigation of the sensation she has experienced with the "normal" sexual relationships she has with the Male in her life.

The visuals and design by Samuel James are beautiful, but dense, often seeming to shimmer with glimmerings of the "gothic", providing many absorbing puzzles for the audience to discern. Add to this stimulus, for the audience, the movement/dance posturing of the two performers (Ms Heilmann overtly projecting a regal and sinisterly dominant persona/presence), and the ornate verbal exchanges from all three (Woman, Witness and disembodied voice), plus a complex composed score played live by Phil Downing, I felt a touch overloaded with 'material' to absorb, to try to decipher. There was just too much offered, by the Artists, all at once, to be able, in the experience of the work, to appreciate what was going on. One wanted a rest, time to collect oneself, to catch-up to the information and 'compute'.

Frustration born out of confusion in the proliferation of the artistry hampered my ability to sustain interest - I gave up, I became disaffected, ultimately bemused, in the theatre. I longed for it to end. Editing, simplifying is needed. Or, I simply need to make more effort. Maybe, this production is just too far ahead of my aesthetic capabilities to find a secure path of intellectual grounding, to keep my focused absorption, to keep myself, arrested. Which one? Over the course of this performance, I developed no empathetic interest in this Falling Woman.

Initially interesting, beautiful in its individual artistic offers, they have not been assimilated into a sensible, comprehensible whole, as yet. As with MANTLE - which also involved Ms Macleod, Claire Britton and Bridget Dolan from My Darling Patricia, there is so much provocation going on, that FALLING WOMAN, felt in need of more time. to simplify the art of it all. As of yet, it is too much like a work-in-progress than a finished piece.

Hopefully, we shall see it again.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra: Enigma Variations

Sydney Symphony Orchestra present ENIGMA VARIATIONS and ZIMMERMAN PLAYS SIBELIUS, in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House, December 3, 5, 6, 2014.

Shamefully, I have not gone to any concert this year with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. But the Variations on an Original Theme, Op.36 [Enigma], by Edward Elgar (1899) has always been an amusing favourite, so off I went, further 'bribed' by the opportunity to hear Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20 by Benjamin Britten (1941), and the Finnish Violinist, Frank Peter Zimmermann, play the Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 (1904), by Jean Sibelius. All conducted by guest, Donald Runnicles. This was the last program of the year.

Sitting behind the orchestra, near the tympani, it was thrilling to hear the opening 'bang noises' to the solemn Sinfonia da Requiem, my whole body was pulsed into a grounding readiness for the vibration of sounds for the large orchestra that was to follow. Written, in 1941, in the United States, it has some of its inspiration based on the Latin Mass for the Dead, but this is a requiem without voices - just the orchestra. It has a sense, a convicted feeling, of mourning. Britten dedicated the work to the memory of his parents but also told us:
I'm making it just as anti-war as possible. I don't believe you can express social or political theories in music, but by coupling new music with well-known musical phrases, I think it's possible to get over certain ideas...all I'm sure of is my own anti-war conviction as I write it.
Britten was a pacifist and a conscientious objector. The three movements are played without a break.

Jean Sibelius had wanted to become a virtuoso violinist, however, combined with the relative lateness of his training regime, an injured shoulder and severe stage fright, this did not, in the long term, prove to be a viable career option. So, uncharacteristically, but possibly, in memory of that lost dream, he composed a concerto for a soloist, the violin. It is, today, considered one of the great challenges and works for the violin, acknowledged in its stature, to be able to stand beside those of Beethoven, Brahmns, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.

The Violin Concerto in D minor, Op,47 begins with a long first movement that has soloist and orchestra begin murmuring, in entwined beauty, a set of organic and muscular exchanges. The second movement is full of 'heavenly' poignancies, characterised by a searing tenderness of painful regret, 'spoken' by the soloist, supported by the orchestra . Mr Zimmerman played with inspiration, with delicate impulses, to communicate the 'genius' of the work. The final movement is a "bravura showpiece" of enormous technical ferocity that Sibelius noted: "It must be played with absolute mastery. Fast, of course, but no faster than it can be played perfectly." Mr Zimmerman played "fast", indeed, thrillingly, and, to my ear, "perfectly". One was swept forward and was almost breathless, ecstatic, with the live experience of the virtuosic, daring playing, from the soloist and matching orchestra, so that applause erupted noisefully from the concertgoers (and neophyte, I), and for an extended time. Although the concerto is dedicated to Willy Burmester, it was first played, unsuccessfully, by Viktor Novacek, and did not find its now acclaimed position in the musical world until the 1930's when Jascha Heifetz began to perform it.

After a second interval, the Elgar work, known popularly as the Enigma Variations was given. Created in a relative state of frustration at the 'failure' of his earlier compositions, seated at his piano, Elgar fashioned a tune that struck his wife, Alice, as worth pursuing. He began, further, by imagining what various acquaintances might have done with it - revealing the personality of each of his friends. Fourteen variations were produced. Elgar did not believe the identity of the friends was important for an audience to know - the enjoyment of the work was the only thing of importance, but there was much good-humoured speculation, and still is, about which was who. And although, some may go mad trying to solve the Elgar 'enigma', the composer simply wanted it to stand as a piece of music - and it does, even for myself, a veritable ignoramus about music, simply 'loving' what I love - and is according to Yvonne Frindle, in the program notes for this concert: "one of the best-loved pieces in the orchestral repertoire."

After the performance I wondered why I am so lax about my music going. Maybe, just because of the problem of prioritising my time? Maybe, because of 'the funds" or lack of them? ... Ponder. ... Because, I do, always, thoroughly enjoy it. ... Enjoy it! ...Why? ... Enjoy it, a lot, perhaps, because I am so ignorant of musical composition and the skills of instrument playing. So my expectations are easily satisfied. The experience, then, perforce, is, definitely, unlike so many of my 'tussles' with my theatre going. 'Tussles', in the drama, because I have some complicated entry to its mysteries of creation and playing. its success and failure, I guess. Ignorance can be a bliss.

During the recent holiday period, with my reading, I thought, after a fruitful and wonderful conquering of Thomas Mann's THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, (my second attempt at it!), I should continue the enriching encounter by, trying to get through, Thomas Mann's DOCTOR FAUSTUS - this, again, a second 'once more unto the breach' striving. It is a quasi biography of a German musical genius composer, Adrian Leverkuhn (who, although fictitious, is based around some of the work of Schoenberg), told by his boyhood friend, Serenus Zeitblom. DOCTOR FAUSTUS is, in my opinion, a great novel, but in all honesty, I confess, I understood, clearly, maybe, only 40%, of what was going on, because of the density of the music compositional discussions strewn throughout it. It has been over a month since I heard (saw) this Sydney Symphony concert and, since, I have come across a passage from the novel that particularly struck my fancy and thought I could share, concerning my modest 'love' for music, despite my relative 'innocence', and my sometime concerns, on whether it was "light" or "heavy", and whether one was better, because of its complications, than another: the Britten, the Sibelius, or the Elgar?

In a late chapter, Chapter Thirty-Eight, in a discussion after some gramophone music, which included some waltzes from Gounod's FAUST and some 'charming ball music from Berlioz's SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE' and even some Viennese works: Lanner, Johann Strauss the younger, it was pondered whether it was worthy enough music to be played in front of the great composer, Leverkuhn. He protests:
In God's name no, that was all a mistake. ... 'You underestimate my musical education, ' said he. 'In my early days I had a teacher ... crammed full of the whole world of sound; a bubbling enthusiast, too much in love with every, I really mean every, organised noise, for me to have learned contempt from him. There was no such thing as being "too good" for any sort of music. A man who knew the best, the highest and the austerest; but for him music was music - if it was just music. He objected to Goethe's saying that art is concerned with the good and the difficult; he held that "light" music is difficult too, if it is good, which it can be, just as well as "heavy" music. Some of that stuck by me, I got it from him. Of course I have always grasped the idea that one must be very well anchored in the good and "heavy" to take up with the light.'  [1]
 Arresting, eh? Amusing.

Anyway, I enjoyed this concert enormously and vowed to be more diligent in the coming year with my engagements with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and to hear much more than I have this year.


  1. Thomas Mann, 1947, DOCTOR FAUSTUS, Penguin Modern Classics. Translated from the German by H.T. Lowe-Porter. (p. 396.)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Daylight Saving

Photo by Helen White

Darlinghurst Theatre Co, Proudly Supported by The Enright Family, present DAYLIGHT SAVING, by Nick Enright, at the Eternity Playhouse. 31 Oct - 30 Nov.

DAYLIGHT SAVING, is an Australian play, by Nick Enright, written in 1989, that had its first performance at the Ensemble Theatre.

What one can best admire about this play, today, is the mastery which Enright demonstrates in assembling his structure for a form of theatre writing that is notoriously difficult: the comic farce. For, the situation chosen and the text are, today, more than faintly, a little hoary, to really work in November, 2014. At best one can be gently, nostalgically, amused - "remember then, when?" "Oh, yes. Yes, yes." Certainly, the mostly, almost entirely, white middle-class and mature audience - a majority, ladies - thought so, on the afternoon that I attended.

Adam Cook, the Director, in his program notes, begins by telling us:
I'm not going to say much about this play. It can easily speak for itself. It's a romantic comedy, but by no means slight. Although it has many great one-liners and some good sight gags, Nick wouldn't have been interested in writing anything entirely frivolous and so you will find some rich and resonant ideas expressed here, about loneliness and marriage, about loneliness in marriage, and about living in the present but longing for the past.
That "loneliness and marriage", and "loneliness in marriage" is still a necessary, reflective preoccupation for some, is undoubted, for it fuels many a successful television comic series, aka: THE MODERN FAMILY, (and many a drama, too, evidently). The concerns (and jokes) used in THE MODERN FAMILY, the contemporary, high-rating award-winning television program are so 'modern' that they would have hardly been considered 'proper' in 1989. What makes us laugh now, is not what made us laugh then.

This production of DAYLIGHT SAVING, for the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, at the Eternity Playhouse has been "... made possible through the generous support of the Enright Family." The choice of play, then, is a philanthropic gesture to remind us of the talents of Nick Enright. It is unfortunate that this, essentially, boulevard-romantic-farce is so dated contextually, that it is not, necessarily, the best example to show to sustain an indispensable regard for Enright's gifts. This play, at least, in this production, appears, in 2014, despite what Mr Cook tell us, "entirely frivolous" and is an example of not living in the present but in the past, and because so much as happened sociologically since 1989, the play cannot, does not "express" ideas that are,"rich and resonant" for us, any longer. Watching DAYLIGHT SAVING in the Eternity Playhouse today, is as risible as watching  FATHER KNOWS BEST (1954-1960), MY THREE SONS. (1960 - 1972), or THE COSBY SHOW (1984-1992), for ideas that are "rich and resonant".

The best performances in this production, in a form of comedy that requires exacting precision and impeccable techniques of diction and physical disciplines, and an essential optimistic view of life, no matter the circumstances of the unfolding plot, came from Helen Dallimore (Stephanie) and Belinda Giblin (Bunty) - both, with the saving grace of abundant comic gifts, and, so, hilarious. Rachel Gordon playing the pivotal role of Felicity (Flick), unfortunately, revealed a lack of a true comic technique in all the necessary skills for the genre of the writing - she genuinely struggled with the style. Her partners, Ian Stenlake (Joshua Makepeace), and Christopher Stollery (Tom Finn) seemed to be mostly employing a generalised naturalism to get through the performance, on my afternoon, whilst Jacob Warner (Jason Strutt) had no idea how to 'strut' his genre task. The wheels of this farce were not always assisted. One longed for the likes of Peter Rowley, Jennifer Hagan, Charlie Little, Peter Whitford, Jackie Weaver, farceurs par excellence, in that glorious era of the Marian Street Theatre, Killara, under the auspices of Peter Collingwood and, later, John Krummel. We do have young, contemporary actors who understand this genre and have the skills to reproduce them, witness this year's NOISES OFF at the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), so one needn't concern oneself, too much, that the art of farce has been lost for the Australian audience.

The Set and Costume Design was very reminiscent of small budget amateur productions in all areas (Hugh O'Connor), except the Lighting (Gavin Swift).

The Darlinghurst Theatre Company with the gift from the Enright Family, have scheduled for the 2015 Season at the Eternity Playhouse, GOOD WORKS, and another, as yet unannounced, Nick Enright play, for 2016. Let us hope that those plays are the Best of Enright's work, for, like the recent EMERALD CITY, by David Williamson, for the Griffin Theatre Company, the showing of this play in this production reveals, the time is not (yet) ripe for reviving.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Vale Betty Williams

To begin the year with this post is to mark the inevitable passing of time and the fate that comes to all of us: Death.

When I was appointed Head of Acting, by John Clark, in 1985, at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), there were three of the Great Foot Soldiers of the Performing Arts, Theatre Division, already present, to guide, support, and most importantly, teach me. One was Keith Bain (who, of course, had taught me as a student there in 1971), the others: Doreen Hogan and Betty Williams. Keith taught Movement. Doreen and Betty taught Voice. Later, I continued to work with them, all, under the Direction of Tony Knight. It is the skill and gifts of these teachers, that, history now regards as, "The Golden Age of NIDA" - which gave NIDA, what was then an Internationally recognised and respected (oh, horrid wording) 'brand' and reputation - this is what, of late, has become known as, "The Old NIDA", as distinct from "The New NIDA" that is presently practising there, especially, in the Acting Course.

Doreen passed in the late 1980's.

Keith passed in 2012.

Betty passed in late December, 2014.

Betty was one of the great teachers of Voice skill at the Institution - she was always beckoning her students to find their own voice, their 'Australian voice', by which, she meant not only the 'educated' sound, but also the voice expression of their Australian heritage through connected sub-text. It was precisely there, that she, formidably, demonstrated her greater ability, which was to guide the budding artists into Script Analysis, in the invaluable afternoon, one-on-one tutorials, enabling each and everyone of them to be able to embody the Voice into Speech for the play they were undertaking, tussling with - usually, a great classic, in the second year, and the best of the contemporary, in the third year - to stretch to olympian training demands their developing 'muscular' instrument skills. Pulling down from her shelf, the dictionary, thesaurus and countless other reference books of mythology, history and 'fairy' stories to awaken the imagination of the individual for their audience's sake. Engaging each mind, the life experiences of each actor-student, into personalising the text to find their own voice, to thrillingly give the gift of sophisticated story-telling through imaginative and technical language musicality, to an audience. Betty not only respected the sound of every individual artist-in-training, but also imparted the thrill of words, and the patterns the writers had given them, to be unique storytellers.

Combined with the genius of Keith Bain, and his movement illuminations for the NIDA student, a great instrument was, and could be developed, for all. Well, for those who had the discipline to take up the proffered knowledge and the necessarily wilful wherewithal to do so. It was an insight and habitual technique that she gave her young artists-in-training that distinguishes their work ethics, no matter whether for the theatre, film, television or radio, today. This kind of training, in application, is necessarily a time consuming one, for it is an animal-skill that demands great dedication and patience for it to re-wire 'the brain'- to undo habit to a more neutral place and, then, to install new modes - wiring - for unconscious thinking in preparing the instrument to tell the story of the writer, the source of the inspiration of the task, for an audience. It is, according to the "Old NIDA" way, and Betty's determined zealatory  ideal for Voice training, at least, an intensive three year undertaking. At least.

Betty had the word RIGOUR at the top of her expectation for every one of her students. Never mind your natural gift, if you put in the effort to realise your individual potential, you were an inspiration for her, and she was prepared to put in the time to support you. Can you imagine a contemporary staff that was prepared to work anything from a nine hour day to, sometimes, during production presentations, up to a fourteen hour day? This is to record that Betty did - as did all that remarkably dedicated set of Theatrical Training Foot Soldiers. Idealists, all. What they gave up, willingly, to help their artists-in-training to achieve the potential of greatness, ought to be acknowledged. Betty did this up to the age of 85 with undimmed commitment and love - that is why "Old NIDA" is regarded as A Golden Age. Betty is an exemplar of that passion for the Australian (National) artist. She loved her 'job', and it was a lifetime commitment.

Betty loved poetry - the contemporary and the classic. Betty loved literature - the classics and the moderns. Betty loved the Theatre - she went to everything (her secret pleasure was dance). Betty loved jazz. Betty saw every film of note, weekly, and some others! Betty kept her eye on the best of television, and necessarily the worst, as well. Betty was an astute critic of the actor, of production. Betty loved Radio National. Betty was intellectually engaged and politically astute - dare I say, a natural sceptic! Betty had one of the best Bulll-Shit Meters, I know - those students of hers had no trick that she didn't know about already- she had been taught by masters, she'd tell me in the staff room - and she always called them on it! Betty was no shrinking violet and she told you, fearlessly, her opinion without hesitation, if she deemed it necessary, and Betty had opinions on most everything. But Betty always had the integrity of her work, NIDA's work, at the forefront of her responsibilities and she was not afraid to confront the issues at hand if they were a danger to those integrities - ask any staff member, of any decade of her residency at NIDA, particularly, the last one.

It has to be said that Betty was sometimes a contrarian - a contrarian, really, just spoiling for an intellectual duel: "Betty, that is white." "No", she'd argue, "it is black." However, she was a champion of the under-dog, and fought tooth and nail for those that she felt were suffering under injustice, or, mediocrity. Her students, and sometimes other members of staff, today, ought to be grateful for her doggedness for justice, and the pursuit for the continued High Standards of Training (I am ), for, it must be recorded -  she would have insisted that I do so: "the buggers need to hear it" - that it did not always sit well with the Corporate Hierarchy of the "New NIDA". Best of all, Betty was generous and loyal to all who strove for the Truth, for informed Excellence - she admired people able to listen and learn - and for the effort of hard work, no matter the result - succeeding or failing, it did not matter. The honest trying was the thing she admired and treasured. If your effort was a success, it was merely a bonus to her, and she'd warn you "not to get a swelled head" about it.

Betty was born in 1925. She was 89 years, young (oops, a cliche, she would have hated). We had been guessing for years. None of us got it right! She never discussed it.

 Betty's passing has removed me from an association that had made me one degree of separation away from Adolf Hitler. Betty had told me of her attendance at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, and watching the arrival of Hitler into the stadium - I was always in awe (still am) to have had a live connection to such terrifying history. I was never game to tell her that, of course. Betty, also, told me of her time, in the Blitzkreig, in London. It had been, among other things, an adventure for her and her child/teenage friends - she had loved the John Boorman, 1987 film, HOPE AND GLORY.

 In the last decade of her time at NIDA, which was completed in 2011, we attended the theatre together, often. I remember her rapture over the Mnouchkine production of THE FLOOD DRUMMERS, at the Sydney Festival, in 2002, and of our journey to Melbourne to see, the same company give LE DERNER CARAVANSERAIL (ODYSSEES) in Melbourne, in 2006, and of her forthright (and hilarious) opinion of the architecture of Federation Square and its buildings! Fondly, I remember taking her on the ferry (I don't, and never have, driven) to the Riverside Theatres out at Parramatta, to see, a Korean Theatre Company give their delightful but peculiar version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. She, thank god, for me, loved it, for it had been some effort on her part, considering her gathering physical disabilities - "My FEET", she opined - to get her to go out there. This was a great woman who was curious and knew what she loved when she saw it, especially, when it was done with integrity and passion.

To finish this recollection of a dear, dear colleague and 'bar-raiser' for my talents and gifts: Betty was once a one-and-a-half-packet-a-day smoker. Some many years ago, she gave it up - believe it or not - cold turkey. It is a fond memory of mine to re-visualise the days when in her one-on-one tutorials in her office, on passing-by, seeing this Voice Teacher holding forth on some fine (or otherwise) point of speech erudition in a clouded and smelly room - sometimes with a student sharing all her offers - knowledge and tobacco. Those Were the Days! To understand what I mean, just watch the wonderful John Barton PLAYING SHAKESPEARE television series on Youtube, and witness Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart et al. smoking away while demonstrating for us the way to approach and speak Shakespeare. Betty was just practising, along with the illustrious of The Royal Shakespeare Company, including her friend and famous voice teacher, Cicely Berry, her inherited approach to the Arts. It was/is a case of Awe and Shock for us contemporary teachers to persuade our students to give smoking up after watching the great doing it: the speaking of Shakespeare with such instrument eloquence and, also, smoking! "Cool".

Betty Williams' passing marks the end of another great of the cultural contributors to this country, unheralded for and to most, but loved by most she 'touched'. She would have hated that I have written this. "No fuss, no fuss, for god's sake", she would have insisted.

Much respect and love.

P.S. I apologise for the (undoubted) gorgeous photograph of Betty, at the top of the entry, but we could not find one of her in her muumuu dress,  knitted rainbow shawl and sandals - her preferred 'uniform". If we had found one, it, of course, would have been still gorgeous, but, for those of us who love her, more so.

Ha, ha, Betty!

"Show off", she would have told me.