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.

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