Monday, June 29, 2015

Cleansed In Blood

Thom Jordan and the Red Line Productions present CLEANSED IN BLOOD, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Woolloomooloo. 23 June- 27 June.

In the late night spot at the Old Fitz, after the performance of MISTERMAN by Enda Walsh, we were treated to a new Australian work, a monologue written and performed by Thom Jordan, that co-incidentally has a man of religion centre stage, too.

Mr Jordan, himself, a son of a minister, has written a character called Paul, who has a similar background, but unlike the author, has not been 'rescued', and has found his way into the ministry of 'The Way', onto the treadmill of the charismatic preacher, believing himself to be 'a miracle child' who was once cured of a kind of cancer, but has declared it has returned, and rises to heights of idolatry for his congregation, enhanced by the presence of the illness - like a figure of Job, a heroic victim of God, still fervently believing and martyr-like continuing to preach that punishing God's word.

The character is based around an amalgamation of Mr Jordan and the events surrounding a real prominent Pentecostal Minister who was exposed as having faked cancer for three years. Performing with the oxygen tube clamped to his nose the performance of Paul's sermon has a mesmerising persuasion of a mania deeply felt. That the empathy of his audience is constructed on a lie, an untruth is at the crux of the work and we reflect that the ways of these ministries, the way of the actor, the way of the rock star, are not too dissimilar. The work of liars - magicians of the devil - all three. All three?

Mr Jordan, with his innocent physical attractions combined with a power of skills is frighteningly  persuasive, as Paul. The persona of the actor, who has disarmingly welcomed us to the space, and character of Paul are 'horribly' entwined, so that the conviction of his preaching permeates uncomfortably in the theatre, such that one may begin to want to protest at being 'preached' at (considering the subject matter) in that theatrical space, and is 'shocked' at the confession of his deception. The experience has the power to whelm one.

The work is travelling to the Edinburgh Festival this year after having begun in Adelaide earlier this year.


Siren Theatre Co in association with Red Line Productions present MISTERMAN by Enda Walsh, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Woolloomooloo, 11 June - 27 June.

MISTERMAN (1999) is the third play by Irish playwright, Enda Walsh, that the Director, Kate Gaul has Produced and Directed for Sydney audiences. The achievements of Ms Gaul's work on THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM (2005) and PENELOPE (2010) speaks clearly to the simpatico that she has with the writing and world of Mr Walsh.

MISTERMAN is a 55 minute Irish monologue. The technical demands of the play are immense and it would need a Director of some courage to engage with it. Ms Gaul, on the evidence of her last public work: THE VIOLENT OUTBURST THAT DREW ME TO YOU, was, perhaps, one who could meet the demands with all the versatile and imaginative daring that it needs. She does so with brilliant dynamism, even in this small space of the Old Fitz Theatre. A number of reel-to-reel tape recorders with pre-recorded voices of the village of Inishfree, a kitchen to cook and make tea, a crucifix made of flattened Fanta cans, a suit suspended in the air, and much else, are all part of the apparatus of the recollected journey that Thomas Magill makes on a fateful day where the religion of his character, and the world of his living, become embroiled in a twisted innocence that boils to a violence of outright frustration of the despair that the local 'weirdo' has in trying to bring the world to 'grace': "Sin has become our religion. Greed is our communion and evil is our good."

The other challenge to stage this work is to find the actor capable of playing a full-on journey demanding a fierce and versatile skill command and commitment to character, with easy entrance to flexible impersonation as Mr Walsh's Thomas Magill  makes a kind of Pilgrim's Progress from the 'City of Destruction' (this world) to the 'Celestial World' (that which is to come). Ms Gaul has called upon Thomas Campbell, an actor that has been a kind of muse for her. Think back to her work she has made with him: RICHARD III and PENELOPE to see the connection that they have with each other's talents and gifts. In this performance Mr Campbell delivers a bravura force of a 'corrupted' humanity with the delicacy of the innocent, right across the range of other 'landings', necessary to reach the opposite extremity of the tortured fury of the 'entrapped', with spectacular energy and the refined detail of an artist in full flight. In the tiny space of the Old Fitz, Mr Campbell presses you back into your seat and suspends you into the held-breath of wonder of live performance. This is a great performance and leaves one remembering the best of the work of Charles Laughton, in the masterpiece of his Quasimodo, in the 1939 film of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, where the innocence of the 'baby' of humanity is twisted into the wrath of the injured, beyond control.

What is evident in this production is the joyful glee of the writer in the world he has captured, and importantly for us, the joy of 'doing' - creating - from the Director and her actor. One feels the respect and loyalty that both these Australian artists give Mr Walsh, and at the same time, the sheer exhilaration of presenting it. Mr Campbell clearly loves to do what he is doing with Ms Gaul and it is contagious. The audience, though devastated, is thrilled to have witnessed it. There is grace, modesty and skill. One feels awestruck.

One hopes that this work finds another opportunity to be seen. One hopes that both Ms Gaul and Mr Campbell find themselves centre stage for our growth as an audience- either together or separate, in the near future.


How I hate the monologue as a theatrical form! And yet MISTERMAN and GROUNDED have been two of my best experiences this year. One CAN teach an old dog new tricks, Kevin!

P.S. The pre-recorded voices of the tape recordings of Thomas Magill were made by Deborah Galanos, Briallen Clark,Josef Ber, Maggie Blinco, Peter Eyers, George Kemp, Eliza Logan, Jane Phegan, Madeline Baghurst and Natasha McNamara.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sugar Syndrome

The Kings Collective presents THE SUGAR SYNDROME by Lucy Prebble, at a new venue, District01 - 7 Randle Lane, Central Railway. 17 - 30 June.

THE SUGAR SYNDROME (2003) is Lucy Prebble's first play. In Sydney, we have seen, the brilliantly conceived play, THE EFFECT (2012), in a relatively botched production at the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) - I had seen the original production at the National Theatre - and before that, a production of the multi-award winning play, ENRON (2009) at the enterprising and surprising New Theatre in Newtown (since the play dealt with the fraudulent activities of Investment Companies/Corporations, one can, perhaps, understand why that play never got onto the corporately sponsored STC stages - keeping your audience ignorant and your sponsors happy is sometimes important .

THE KINGS COLLECTIVE, are a young group of performers, doing it for themselves - not waiting to be discovered - and last year presented a season of three plays at the Tap Gallery: OUT OF GAS AND LOVERS LEAP, by Mark St Germain; THIS IS OUR YOUTH by Kenneth Lonergan and GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by Rajiv Joseph, to good critical acclaim. THE SUGAR SYNDROME is their first production of 2015, and has the same quality of achievement.

The Collective have been astute in finding good plays that are, generally, age-appropriate for the performers. THE SUGAR SYNDROME concerns, principally, a young woman, Dani (Cecilia Peters), coping in the digital age with the need for human contact. After returning home from treatment for an eating disorder, Dani begins to cope with her family, specifically, her mother, Jan (Lucy Miller), in the throes of a dysfunctional marriage; an obsessive young hormonal boy/man, Lewis (Nicholas Denton), she has met on the internet and consequently 'dated', who has become infatuated with her; and Tim (Michael Abercromby) who she, too, has befriended over the internet, meets and discovers is, like herself, but differently, suffering a compulsive disorder of a socially unacceptable kind. The text by Ms Prebble is contemporary and astute and trimmed of fat, getting to its dramatic concerns with clarity of focus in a no-holds barred kind of way. The issues are important but not dealt with in any melodramatic way, rather with a freshness of a non-judgemental bravura. That this play won the George Devine Award for 2004, the TMA Award for Best New Play, and the 2004 Critics' Award for Most Promising Playwright, and nominated for an Olivier Award comes as no surprise. This is a superior play text. One wonders, or not, considering the 'unspoken' curating practices of the Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir St Theatre  over the recent past years, why it has taken so long to get an exposure in Sydney.

The four performances are very, very good, especially the central pair given by Ms Peters and Mr Abercromby. Ms Peters has a focused energy and preparedness to tackle the negative facets of her character with some brio, keeping the audience on a tightrope of empathetic charity: for or not. While Mr Abercromby draws, subtly, a characterisation with insight into a man fraught with an illness and a world of hostile fear and judgement. Too, he manages to have us consider the dilemma of individuals like Tim in a more generous and temperate way. It is, of course, the insight of Ms Prebble that they elucidate.

Jessica Arthur, the Director has utilised this 'pop-up' theatre space and all its awkwardnesses well. The space has a wide, shallow dimension (with support column in the middle of it!) However, the visual Design of the setting has been extrapolated by Madeline Hoy and Alexander Berlage with some contemporary verve - the room has been painted as a white box with light boxes hung on the wall capable of being filled with different 'temperatures' of colour, creating a tidy, modern feel to the look of the show. The stage Lighting by Mr Berlage is certainly an achievement considering the difficulties of the space.

Certainly, Ms Arthur has, generally, staged the play in this difficult space well, and drawn from all the actors, good performances. However, I do believe the text has comic opportunities that are often glibly ignored in the pacing of the tempos directed. There are, too, some Directorial indulgences in the production: danced interludes, and mimed song - probably remnants from ETUDE rehearsal exercises - actors crawling slowly across the floors for position, or becoming a mimed sculptural 'vivant' expressing, metaphorically, the pain of the character (?) centre stage, during the action of spoken scenes, that intrude on the action of the play and draw attention to themselves rather than adding to the development of Ms Prebble's writing. The space,  because of its width, does not permit the audience to perceive the dance 'stuff' on the whole, as it is being performed in a 'Cinerama' (very wide) dimension, and we are all sat too close to capture it all - we have to, literally, swivel our whole body to grasp the contributions of all across the wide distribution  and it is easier just to ignore the Directorial picture. Add the solution of putting actors on the floor for long and important scenes, and because of the shallowly raked seating, most of the audience have an impaired view of the action. Frustrating. More thinking, for better solutions.

THE SUGAR SYNDROME is a very good play with performances of some concentrated skill, and is another achievement by THE KINGS COLLECTIVE of some interest and standard. I recommend it very much. It was terrific (heartening), by the way, to be in an audience where the average age demographic, was in the late twenties. Build it and they will come, it seems.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tristan und Isolde

Photo by Ken Butti

Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) with Credit Suisse Australia, present a Special Event: TRISTAN UND ISOLDE by Richard Wagner, in Concert, in the Concert Hall, at the Sydney Opera House. Saturday 20 June and Monday 22 June, 2015.

So, on Friday I attended TRIASSIC PARQ and on Saturday I attended TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. It was an experiential journey from the ridiculous to the sublime, in a mere 24 hours. Variety is the spice of life, they tell me!

A blissful, transformative night: TRISTAN UND ISOLDE by Richard Wagner in concert form, presented by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor, David Robertson, with a stellar international cast: Lance Ryan (Tristan), Christine Brewer (Isolde), Katerina Karneus (Brangane), Boaz Daniel (Kurwenal), John Reylea (King Marke), Angus Wood (Melot), John Tessier (Young Sailor and Shepherd), Harrison Collins (Steersman) with the Men of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs (Chris Cartner, Chorusmaster).

I heard my first Wagner Opera in the opening season at the Sydney Opera House in 1973-74: TANNHAUSER (1845), and was smitten. I once flew from San Francisco, one weekend, to New York, without a ticket for the performance, just on the chance of attending, PARSIFAL (1882), with Jessye Norman and Placido Domingo - miraculously, I got in. Standing patiently in front of the Metropolitan Opera House for an hour or so, I bought a return from a young man who was not able to keep his opportunity - H row of the stalls, centre. True! Can you believe it? I made such an effort, taking such a risk - leaving San Francisco at 5am, arriving at the theatre at 3pm for a 4.30pm curtain - it was a near midnight close, I had to warn the hotel that I would be a late arrival - as I thought it might be the only chance l had in my lifetime, to see and hear this opera live. The likelihood of it being presented in Australia seemed not to be possible, likely - alas, only too true, still!

Is it really true, Peter McCallum, the Sydney Morning Herald critic's remembrance, that it is12 years since Sydney last heard live, a Wagner Opera? It is. What, is that true of Sydney, the Cultural Capitol of Australia - "a live and vibrant city"? On that bare fact, we'd, you'd have to be joking, wouldn't you? Yes? Mr Terracini our leader of Opera Australia does know other composers and works other than the Italian masters, doesn't he? Yes? BOHEME. BUTTERFLY, TURANDOT and TOSCA, again? - our repetitive programming as illustrated, given to us from the Artistic Management of Mr Terracini. As if that programming isn't Opera Light enough let's add ANYTHING GOES, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE KING AND I. However not one Wagner Opera in 12, count them, 12 years. Oh, dear! Sydney the leader of the Australian Cultural Pack(er). Well, I could've got to Melbourne for the 'Ring'- if only I had being able to get a ticket, eh? Once they were on on public sale it was a little difficult, I remember, unless you were a subscriber or a member of some Corporate Clubs, or some International Cult of Around the World Wagner Fanatics.

Back to the Sydney Symphony and its breaking of the Wagner drought: I read somewhere, or someone once said to me, to appreciate Wagner you must understand it may be painful by the minute but is glorious by the hour. For the newcomer a handy clue to the time endurance of his epic works, but once smitten, it is advice, now I believe, to be true only for philistines. No greater Opera Composer, ever, I reckon! I have seen live, now, most of Wagner's work, some of it many times. I first saw and heard TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, co-incidently, in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House, in February 1990, in a staged production (presented by the Australian Opera) Directed by Neil Armfield, with William Johns and Marilyn Richardson, conducted by Stuart Challender,(sadly, almost the last performance work he gave before his untimely death, aged 44), Designed by Brian Thomson. Not easily forgotten.

Sitting in the Concert Hall on Saturday, some of the visceral highlights: 1) The opening famous 'Tristan' chord. A shiver of expectation. 2) The climax of Act 1 with the thrilling trumpet arrival of King Marke cascading through the full orchestral sounds. 3) The shock and grief of King Marke, sung with staggering beauty by Mr Reylea. 4) All of the unravelling music of Act 3 - is there a construction of sound and drama more brilliant, more wonderfully complexly time built for maximum effect? No, not in my experience (except, if I remember, some of the PARSIFAL, Holy Grail stuff, which may give it a push for precedence). However, after nearly four hours of waiting, how rewarding, how transfiguring is the resolution of that final chord?

I enjoyed the work of Mr Reylea, as King Marke, his rich dark sound resonant with deep feeling and powerful expression. Too, Ms Karneus, as Brangane was effortlessly radiant with her tasks, none more so than in her warning signals to the fated couple, from the side box block in the Hall, full of dread and pity, in Act Two - a moving portrayal. Mr Daniel was, as well, potent in sound and demeanour, an honourable sounding Kurwenal.

The great roles of Tristan and Isolde must be paced as carefully as any olympian marathon runner does his race. The challenge for the singers, merely in physical and vocal stamina, is fearful I reckon for any singer, let alone the concentration necessity and musical intelligence to husband one's voice for the journey of winding climatic musical demands made by the composer. Mr Ryan, a heldentenor of formidable reputation, gave a security of care and depth of knowledge in the crafting of this great role. His very presence confided confidence and delivered the expectation of Tristan's power, passion and sometimes bewildered reactions to the mystery of fateful love attractions. The struggle between duty, honour and the 'magic' of the power of love properly agonising for our dramatic ear. While Ms Brewer, measured with steady craftsmanship and artistry the dramatic structure and build to the musical challenges of Isolde. The music spilled from her with fluidity and with often striking effect. The transfiguration ending, the Liebestod, was blissfully executed with a poignancy that transported the audience into the other world - the nether, where love may be timeless, eternal in its blooming.

The orchestra sat front on the concert platform and the singers were presented on a high raised platform behind, the voices having to stride over the massive music of the opera score. This melding, mashing of the human and instrument sounds served Wagner's music drama well. Occasionally, performers were scattered around the auditorium for sound quality affect and dynamism: The trumpets of the King Marke entrance, the warnings from Brangane, the song of the shepherd, the cor anglais solo of the shepherd (Alexandre Oguey) of the third act. Above the stage a hung draping of what could-be sail cloths, had video and projection design (S Katy Tucker) displayed. The images, really, tended to the too literal and often were, to speak in the vulgar, naff, in affect, distracting - a set of visual decisions that had little of the artistry of the musical decisions - Mr Robertson is to blame, is he?

In the midst of the composition of the 'Ring' cycle, after finishing Act 2 of SIEGFRIED, Wagner gave it up, and for twelve years, never went back to it. But in the mean time he composed, both Lyrics and Music of TRISTAN UND ISOLE (1865) and DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NURNBERG (1868). According to Peter Watson in his great book: THE GERMAN GENIUS (2010), Wagner took a decided "metaphysical turn" after chancing upon Arthur Schopenhauer's THE WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION (1818), and absorbed the significance of the difference between the phenomenal world and the noumenal world, that "total reality is comprised of a part which can be experienced by us and a part which can not", and for him the noumenon is the 'inner significance' of what we apprehend in the phenomenal world. Schopenhauer revealed further,
 ... human life was bound to be tragic. Life, he said, is made up of endless "hoping", "striving", "yearning" - we are, always, from our earliest days reaching out for something. This endless yearning is inherently unfulfillable, for as soon as we get what we want, we want something else. This is our predicament."[1] 
He goes on to say that we are, most of the time, selfish, cruel, aggressive and heartless in our dealings with each other - coming up with the phrase that this human feature was sired by our "will to live", and further again, "that the most accessible way for us to see into the heart of things - if only momentarily - is through sex and art, particularly the art of music." [1] The ecstasy in the act of copulation, and in art, whatever a work of art is, once we are absorbed in it, we forget ourselves. And that all of the arts except music are representational therefore 'music is the expression of something that cannot be represented at all, namely the noumenon'. It is a metaphysical voice.

On this "metaphysical turn" in Wagner's output Peter Watson notes that is produced mainly:
…in the relationship between the orchestra and the characters. In the earlier operas the music rises and falls - always accompanies - the words; in TRISTAN UND ISOLDE the spectator cannot always hear the words, the sheer weight of orchestral sound, the massive wall of music, compels attention. ... Schopenhauer held the belief that acoustics were the ground for metaphysics and included a technical devise in harmonics known as 'suspension'.This reference seems to have found an immediate resonance with Wagner, so much so that he decided to compose a whole opera based on the way suspension operates. The idea was that ' the music would move all the way through from discord to discord in such a manner that the ear was kept on tenterhooks throughout for a resolution that did not come.' This was, in effect, pure musical Schopenhauer in that 'the unassuaged longing, craving, yearning, that is our life, that is indeed us,' would only be resolved in the final chord, which, in dramatic terms, would also be the end of the protagonist's life. [1]

This then explains the poignant pain it is to listen to act two, which becomes essentially, effectively, a long love duet, that promises consummation, only to have it interrupted at a crucial moment, to be ended instead of in ecstasy, but in blood and wounding - both physical and spiritual. That explains the exquisite 'torture' of the promise of resolution throughout the brilliant composition of the third act as we observe the 'yearning' of Tristan for Isolde, through the call of the shepherd, only to have the 'phenomenal' experience of tragedy to thwart our hopes of 'romantic' resolution, with the death of Tristan and the grieving of Isolde - that in its power induces her death and transports us into the noumenal and with, then, at last, 4 hours from the start, the music discovering a radiant and serene B major, and the endowed possibility from us, the audience, of an endless love in the nether.

Says Mr Watson,
This is what makes TRISTAN a revolutionary composition. Consisting of almost nothing but discords, it sounds different from most of what has gone before and has, since its first night, been regarded as the starting point of 'modern music', breaking all the rules.
In my experience of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's performance of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, this great work under the care of David Robertson, none of this academic weight was in my consciousness, instead I was in a blissful transformative state of concentration and appreciation of the power of music and the wonder of the imagination and mystic talent of man, represented in the genius of Richard Wagner. I had a great night.


  1. Watson, Peter (2010) THE GERMAN GENIUS: Europe's Third Renaissance, The Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, Simon and Schuster

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Triassic Parq

Seymour Centre presents Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre's Production of TRIASSIC PARQ. Music by Marshall Pailet. Book and Lyrics by Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Steve Wargo, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre. June 17 - July 4, 2015.

TRIASSIC PARQ, first appeared in 2010 and was produced as an Off-Broadway musical, in the Soho Theatre, New York, in 2012. It takes the story of Jurassic Park as a starting point and tells the story from the dinosaurs point-of-view. From Wikipedia:
A clan of genetically engineered female dinosaurs (played by male and female actors) is thrown into chaos when one of the female dinosaurs spontaneously turns male."
It is all a great big little parody of a silly preposterousness, highlighting, for me, some of the U. S. of America's artists coyness around the essential naughtiness of featuring sex and 'dick' jokes as a spine for a 90 minute entertainment, revealing (perhaps, unconsciously) the culture's oh, so old hat, puritanical roots! (pun, perhaps, intended).  Give me SOUTH PARK, puleese!

What is best about this work, in the Reginald Theatre, is the grounded, serious production presentation by Director, Jay James-Moody, on a text that is basically a camp piece of 'flummery'- a nonsense. One step over the 'line' of good taste, concentration and commitment from anyone concerned with this evening in the theatre and everything could collapse into an agonising time for all. It didn't on the night I saw it, but there were some perilously close occasions.

Mr James-Moody's actors are finely disciplined, and sing up a storm with a very limited book and set of lyrics and music, by Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Steve Wargo. The show begins, "KABANG', under the Musical Direction of Mark Chamberlain with the company of six: Keira Daley, Blake Erickson (tres camp), Crystal Hegedis, Rob Johnson (impressive energy), Adele Parkinson and Monique Salle (terrific), as various kinds of dinosaurs, belting out the company song, "Welcome To Triassic Parq" singing, moving and dancing (Choreography, by Dean Vince). The show hits a temperature immediately, and, really unfortunately, virtually, stays there, paralysed, in dramatic/comic tension, and flat lines until its finish, with "We Are Dinosaurs.". It is a basic problem of the writing, for it is only a one joke show with increasingly tedious variations, and is kept afloat here, admirably, with nothing truly possible -memorable - except the chutzpah of the performers, all.

The Set Design, by Neil Shotter, is basic, mobile - lots of palm tress on wheels and movable fence - and kind of fun. The Lighting, by Mikey Rice, is distractingly 'busy' (thanks goodness). The Sound Design by Jessica James-Moody is as usual, just great.

But why do this show? Why do it? Why? Why? Why? TRIASSIC PARQ is for the dedicated Musical Theatre 'tragic' only  - the rest of you may have all your prejudices about this theatre form diabolically confirmed. The integrity of the production and performance values of Squabbalogic  are as high as ever, it's just that the material is not really worth one's witnessing.  In my books, Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre has a tremendous track record: e.g. CARRIE THE MUSICAL, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM and THE MAN OF LA MANCHA. There has to be better work than this to do, doesn't there? What about one of those neglected musicals we've seen in past years up at the old Darlinghurst Theatre, SHE LOVE ME, for instance?

So, it's up to you if you go or not. A "Tragic' or not ... !

From the program
All artists on-stage and off are providing their services to Squabbalogic's TRIASSIC PARQ without benefit of award-wage payment for this production. All artists have been guaranteed a modest minimum fee against a share in net income. Squabbalogic and its producers do not earn any income greater than an individual artist for this season. Squabbalogic gratefully acknowledges the time, talent and contribution of our artists and volunteers to this co-operative production and hope you will continue to support professional and emerging independent theatre for growing companies to adequately compensate artists in the future.

Loyalty and Good Wishes may be reason to go. One would not want to lose Squabbalogic from our theatre scene.

The Diary of Anne Frank

Photos by Matthias Essinger

The New Theatre presents, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, at the New Theatre, King St. Newtown. 9 June - 11 July.

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1955), by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, is an adaption from THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL (1952) which was a published text of the Dutch language diary of Anne Frank, telling the story of two families hiding from the Nazi regime in the 1940's, in Amsterdam. The original text was edited (cleaned-up) and published by the only surviving member of one of the families, Otto Frank. The famous film of 1959, had a screenplay by the same playwrights, Directed by George Stevens.

The story is famous and for most of the audience the experience in the theatre is one of melancholic memory, and an admiration of the human spirit, which these people epitomise. The novel has often been on the school syllabus and a part of our education. If one has seen the story before, this present production at the New Theatre is, simply, an adequate telling. For, any seeing it for the first time, perhaps, the profound dignities of the people of the play will be enormously awe inspiring, and be sufficient for a rewarding experience, despite any short comings of the production. The company of artists at the New Theatre have treated the responsibility of the story that they are telling with great purpose and honour. The contemporary relevancy of this 'terrible' story is sadly resonant to all of us as we sit in the theatre and recall the terrifying articles in our daily newspapers of present-day peoples, in flight and fright. The refugees and terrorists of our world.

Director, Sam Thomas, with her Designers (Set Design, by Alan Walpole, Costume Design, by Famke Visser) have created a space and look, entirely believable, if not, incongruously, appearing to be too spacious. Ms Thomas stages the work competently. All the actors under the care of Ms Thomas, have created a superficial character impression that is believable, but she has not always found a way to assist the actors to play with a convincing depth of textual ownership and/or emotional truthfulness. It is uncomfortable, sometimes, to hear the words nicely articulated but not anchored to emotional depths/experience. Where the reality of watching actors at work dominates the experience of complete belief in the world of the play, some more work needs to take place.

Justina Ward, playing Anne Frank, gives us the best work of the night, and has captured the sprightly adolescent frustrations and needs to understand her grievances and generosities in her attic imprisonment. Sometimes attractive, sometimes spiky, sometimes funny, sometimes selfish, mean or angry. Ms Ward does not back away from the less admirable Anne, and gives us a rounded, human being. David Wiernik, as Peter, gives a reasonable reading with his limited textual opportunities. The other actors are inconsistent with their believability. All have moments, but all are, relatively, unreliable, so that they draw us out of the suspension of disbelief, and we become aware of actors, relatively, reciting text. The general sense of the 'posturing' of moments in the acting of the situations of the story, undermines the complete emotional impact of the writing and the reality of the dreadful tensions of the 'history' that the play version of the diary records.

Take the young, they may be moved. They could be inspired. Otherwise, Comme ci, comme ca.

Venus in Fur

Photo by Helen White

Darlinghurst Theatre Co present, VENUS IN FUR, by David Ives, at the Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst. (29 May - 5 July).

VENUS IN FUR, by American, David Ives, was written in 2011. It is, according to the Wickipedia source, "this play-within-a-play is an adaptation of the 1870 novel VENUS IN FURS by the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and happens to be the novel that inspired the term Masochism."

In a flash of lightning (Lighting Design, by Sian James-Holland) and crash of thunder (Composition and Sound Design, by Jessica James-Moody), a young actress, Vanda (Anna Houston), stumbles into a rehearsal room (Production Design, by Mel Page) for an audition for a play that is to be directed by Thomas (Gareth Reeves). During the course of the play, some 90 minutes, the two protagonists read the action of the text and begin to take on role-play that revolves around the power struggle in a sexual relationship, between in this instance, the opposite sexes. Ostensibly, it is the struggle in the play text, that is being auditioned, that we are watching, but it seems to become a struggle, that we come to witness, between these two strangers, Vanda and Thomas. Hip thigh leather boots, a swished whip, and the kissing of feet become part of the evenings sexual adventures/offers. S&M sex! Who holds the power? Is it true, then, as I suspected, (know from experience?) that the 'bottom' always has the power in any scene? That the "top' is just the "top' in name only? I had time to wonder this while watching VENUS IN FUR.

This play has been part of the theatrical anticipatory zeitgeist since its first production, in New York, and has, already, been filmed by Roman Polanski, in 2012. A sex-comedy we have been told. Arriving in Sydney belatedly, then, Grace Barnes, as Director, attempts to bring the play to life at the Eternity Playhouse, Unfortunately, for me, I remained fairly uninvolved and progressively distracted from the action of the play and production. I became bewildered as to what was happening on stage and found myself objectively anxious about a want to go home. I found little comedy to engage me as there was no clarity to launch the humour. The night became tedious in its length.

Ms Houston arrived on stage with a bristling sense of mission. However, her intellectual energy swiftly dissipated, and she did not seem to be able to clearly, definitively, take us into the intellectual shifts, or debates of the play, to keep us alert 'geographically' to what was going on. In fact, Ms Houston, on the night I saw the production, just plainly tired during the journey - lacking clarity in the story-telling 'hinges', and just going on and on and on. Her partner, in the work, Mr Reeves has, as Thomas, a quiet energy, that ultimately, as I became befuddled, I read as undercharged, and even later, being less generous, as just dull - pleasant, but dull, increasingly, boring. Here, too, like Ms Houston, Mr Reeves did not seem to have a set of clues for us, the audience, to be able to read what was happening, or what had happened to justify the next scene of the play.

Everything just happened, there was no reason or guidance as to explain why we were going, or needed to go on to the next scene, the next debate! Ms Barnes needs to take responsibility for this lack of clarity of the written 'escarpments'/steps in the dramaturgical argument developments. In a two-handed play if the two actors are vague in the journey demarcations, there is no hope for the audience, I'm afraid. Those of you that have read the play, rehearsed the play (this production team), need to give us something to read in the narrative journey you are presenting when the black print on the white page is made flesh - embodied for the audience on the stage.

Maybe it was an off-night for the actors, with this dense intellectual comedy, and my bad luck for being there that night. Take a chance if you are interested. Horses for courses.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Battle of Waterloo

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti
Sydney Theatre Company and Allens present, BATTLE OF WATERLOO, by Kylie Coolwell, at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, Hickson Rd Walsh Bay. 5th June - 27th June.

BATTLE OF WATERLOO, by Kylie Coolwell, is a new Australian play. This is the Indigenous play that I have been waiting for. Ms Coolwell has written a work from the heart of an urban Indigenous community, in the contemporary world of the housing commission buildings of Waterloo, not far from Redfern, set in the thrilling pulse of the everyday and centred on the robust life of an extended family.
"This play," says Ms Coolwell, in the program notes, "is a love letter to Waterloo. ... I moved to Waterloo six years ago with my man. He was very well known in the community, so it wasn't long before it felt like I knew everyone. I can walk down streets where everyone knows my name and my dog's name and can ask me ' How is the acting going, sis?' Never before have I lived in a suburb where I have felt so much of a community. I am so incredibly grateful that I moved to Waterloo, for though tough times can be hard, I am supported by the love, generosity and friendship of the residents.
Cassie (Shari Sebbens) has wrestled her life into place for a positive future and is about to graduate from a course at the local TAFE in Fashion Design. Living with her "Aunty" Mavis (Roxanne McDonald), in one of the Housing Commission Towers in Waterloo, a struggle with the addictions of her sister, Sissy (Shareena Clanton), under the influence of a neighbour, Leon (Guy Simon), and guiding the younger relative, Jack (James Slee), with his ambitions in the local football competition, is brought into sharp focus with the return of her one-time boyfriend, Ray (Luke Carroll), from a three year prison incarceration. The pressures of these events are the crucible ingredients that we watch unwind.

There is in the BATTLE OF WATERLOO, a contemporary unspooling of these 'melodramas', and it is uniquely told through the experienced resource of Ms Coolwell's witness of a life that she is deeply connected too. She produces an 'authenticity' of observed truths, that tell a more than familiar story-form loaded with drama, comedy, music and emotions within the social, political boundaries of an urban Indigenous culture that is perceptively, lovingly delivered. The audience unfamiliar with the 'lores' of the urban relationships of these Australians become informed:"educated''. The audience that knows this world recognise and uproariously embrace its telling, its mirror images. The situations, the relationships, the (robust) language, the music all soar in this play with a joy and celebration that is palpable and richly rewarding for all of the audience, stranger or familiar.

Ms Coolwell's play echoes for me, the Irish-Australian working class immersion in the familiar family/community revealed in plays like Peter Kenna's, THE SLAUGHTER OF ST. TERESA'S DAY (1959), A HARD GOD (1973), or even more relevantly, as it, too, is set in Redfern, Dorothy Hewett's THIS OLD MAN COMES ROLLING HOME (1967). I remember the joyous experience of seeing my 'tribe' on the stage in all its glorious irreverences - grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters, neighbours, and their struggle with the status quo of the outside world. I felt, my grandma and my kith and kin, pridefully celebrated.

In the United States I remember the treasured memories of being in an almost completely African-American audience watching August Wilson's JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE (1988) and MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM (1984), and at a performance of Wynton Marsallis' Pulitzer Prize Jazz Oratorio, BLOOD ON THE SANDS (1997), in San Francisco. These were a celebratory insight to life, of lives, on the stage, that gave a sense of pride and self-respect to the audience watching. Empowering them. I felt honoured to have had such an experience with them.

Here, at Wharf 1, with BATTLE OF WATERLOO, there is an unabashed exhilarating roller coaster ride that gives a mature recognition to a part of our community that has only just (belatedly) begun to breakthrough to an awareness in the larger culture. The story is told as entertainment but has seeded, throughout it, political observations of some clout, the more powerful because of its 'glancing' referencing, for there is no overt didacticism here at all, no nagging rage/anger, but a use of a story-telling skill that reveals the Indigenous characters by normalising them with a kind of human resignation, appreciation and humour, showing their struggle, world and lifestyle/philosophy, as survivors in a, relatively, hostile status quo. As I was with the privilege of witnessing the African-American experience in the theatre, I felt humbled and honoured to be present at this performance, sharing it, together, with some Indigenous audience.

Sarah Goodes, has Directed this play and production through a development history of some investment, and what she has achieved is another sign of her maturing. Last year SWITZERLAND, gave me the sense of the talent's ripening. Her work with the Designer, Renee Mulder, both Costume and Set, particularly the setting, is atmospheric, but also solves the diverse locations required with ingenuity and ease. The fluidity of the action in the play is achieved through the sophistication of thought in this design, and the usual sophisticated gifts, offers, of the Lighting Design, by Verity Hampson. The Sound Design, but particularly the Composition, of Steve Francis, envelopes and subtly highlights the temper and narrative of the writing and production, too.

Ms Goodes, has cast well, and then has wielded a liberating but disciplined 'hand' with the guidance of her company of actors. The 'full-bore' speed of the production is thrilling and detailed, counter-balanced beautifully, with moments of stillness, meditation and gentleness - showing, giving, 'private' moments of revelation to permit the audience to endow empathy to the people of the play (note, the beautiful phone call moment given by Mr Carroll), in contrast to the pell mell of the musical actions. Ms Sebbens and Mr Carroll as the two 'lovers' at the centre of the play's concern, seize their opportunities provided by Ms Coolwell and, latterly, Ms Goodes, with wonderfully nuanced conflictions in their character's life choices. The pain, ambition, compassion, strengths and weaknesses, laughter, sex and struggling sensibility in exploring their characters, the cost of compromise and personal negotiation, is delicately and deeply experienced for the audience - the tragedy of a contemporary Romeo and Juliet, perhaps?

Around them, the company support strongly the actions of Ms Coolwell's world. Ms Clanton is breathtaking in her work as the addicted Sissy, Mr Simon (an actor's actor, I reckon) brilliantly, subtly creates a comprehensible 'lost soul', innocently trapped in the world he knows, and young Mr Slee impinges on one's experience of the play with a, relatively quiet, but insightful figure of hope for the future of this family. The mature members of this family are gently told by Ms McDonald and Billy McPherson.

It is interesting, arresting for me, to see Ms Coolwell, a first time writer, handling with a Chekhovian sophistication the presence of seven characters in a long complicated scene with such skill and confidence. All the characters in the stage time develop and contribute to the 'gorgeous' fabric of her detailed world. No-one is a mere functionary in any of her scenes, each of the characters, under the watchful guidance of Ms Goodes, seem to grow complexly in front of us, as the play tells its story. An actor has written these roles and appreciates the famous Stanislavsky quote that there are no small parts, only small actors!

In 2013, the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) brought us THE SECRET RIVER, and the audience response was huge. BATTLE OF WATERLOO is, for me, a more contemporary relevancy for what was appreciated and celebrated in Mr Bovell's adaptation of Kate Grenville's novel, and should strike the same chords for an audience. The STC has nurtured this play, writer and production and congratulations are due. I was moved and excited by this play - old fashioned in its form, but rewarding because of that fashion - fulfilling a deeply rooted need for simple 'tribal' story-telling for our fractured and distracted moral times and community. One hopes BATTLE OF WATERLOO becomes a classic for Australian playwriting, much like Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 breakthrough for the American mainstream,  A RAISIN IN THE SUN did for the African American artists and community.

Do see (one wishes that the local Indigenous population, that is at the centre of this joyful explication, could afford to see it).

P.S. It is amusing that this day, the 15th of June, is the 200th Anniversary of the actual Battle of Waterloo, between the British general, the Duke of Wellington, and the French general, Napoleon.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mark Morris Dance Group

Sydney Opera House and Etihad Airway present, MARK MORRIS DANCE GROUP, in The Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House.

Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) performed at the Sydney Opera House bringing PACIFIC (1995), A WOODEN TREE (2012), WHELM (April, 2015) and FESTIVAL DANCE (2011) - a program covering some twenty years of his thirty-year output. This presentation felt very much a touring production with just the dancers in costume, with some lighting states, backed by a cyclorama to 'colour' the works - no Set Design at all (there was a lack of care in the presentation, as well, as from where I was sitting in the stalls, I could see into the wings the dancers moving about after exiting the stage and preparing for re-entry - most distracting). The aesthetic emphasis, then, was clearly on the dance and the dancers - although, the MMDG Music Ensemble, under the Music Director, Colin Fowler, performed live for three of the four pieces, and was, for me, the best part of the evening.

We are told in an article by Valerie Lawson, in the (free) program of the genius and brilliance of the Choreographer, quoting The West Australian: "Morris's status is nothing short of legendary"; The London Evening Standard: "Morris's genius is his musicality. His choreography is not just rooted in music, but embedded in it, inseparable from it"; The New York Times: "The most life-enhancing musical choreographer alive." The Independent: "Everything they do is human and marvelous." And, certainly, his CV is startling in its breadth of coverage (and hyperbole).

Every artist creates out of the environment s/he is in. The work is made up partly from their own passion-visions, inspiration, and partly from a conscious (unconscious) interaction, re-action, to the work of the artists that surrounds them. There is an on-going conversation between artists in the zeitgeist that they live in. So, Mr Morris's work, especially in the USA, may have impact, a contrast, an affirmation of what is going on around him. When living and working in the United States I saw, often, the work of Mr Morris, with the San Francisco Ballet, but usually, it was one work inclusive with other choreographer's offers. Mr Morris's dance, contextually, was a light-hearted divertissement, and I remember, reasonably bearable. However, having these four works together, with no contrasting choreographic voices, simply, underlines the shallow range and depth of his consistent output, particularly, when his company of dancers, on this occasion, seemed so 'relaxed' about the concentration demanded for the works - a remarkable contrast to the regular San Francisco Ballet dancers, I saw giving his choreography, I can assure you.

With the MARK MORRIS DANCE GROUP landing here in Sydney this work seemed to be unusually out-of-touch with what we have been used to seeing, in the realm of international contemporary dance, and of what makes an outstanding Dance Company (Group), just, to instance, for arguments sake, the work of the NEDERLANDS DANCE THEATRE, FABULOUS BEAST DANCE THEATRE, DV8, MAU and our own brilliant AUSTRALIAN DANCE THEATRE (ADT). Heck, The SYDNEY DANCE COMPANY (SDC) and even BANGARRA look truly fabulous when compared to this evening's work. From those companies, form, content and skill they have! Who knew? (We do.) The four works shown in this program by the Mark Morris Dance Group, could not have been more disappointing in every way. Mr Morris claims, in the above publicity video, the program as " a very generously varied program." If only. One went back into the theatre after the interval in expectation of such a promise, otherwise one might have quite easily have gone home and written off the investment in the evening, time and money-wise, as an educative loss.

These four works had all the homey-hokey feel of the local barn dance group with pretensions to modern dance. The dull, out-moded PACIFIC offered very little in way of content - it just felt as if Isadora Duncan was hovering - the costumes by Martin Franklin, the only, arresting (oddly) feature to absorb. A WOODEN TREE, using the recorded music and words of Ivor Cutler - kind of Beverly Hillbilly comic - with the dancers dressed in 'folk-dance costume' from, it seemed, a production of Oklahoma, left us all, at interval, shocked at the paltry impact of the creativity of Mr Morris and his Group of dancers.

Strangers, came up to my friends and I, and insisted on a conversation, asking point-blank: "Is this what one expected to see from modern dance work?" These strangers felt, having read all the preamble in the press advertising and program, that they were on a completely other planet of ability to appreciate the work, especially considering the hyperbole that they had digested in anticipation. From Louise Herron, the Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney Opera House:
There is no more influential choreographer of contemporary dance than Morris. ... It is a privilege to present these life-affirming performances by one of the world's great dance groups. With this long-awaited debut, the daring icon of contemporary dance finally meets the bold symbol of modern Australia.
After the interval, WHELM, a brand new work, had four dancers, dressed in 'weirdness' (Costume by Martin Pakledinaz), awkwardly moving around the stage with a series of modern dance gestures and partnerings that looked like a parody conjured by Mel Brooks or the Absolutely Fabulous team for one of their hilarious movie/TV-comedies. It included a lazily draped black cloth, covering what looked like the chair-props from the first half of the program, lit for effect up-stage on the left of the dance space - Set Design, was it? - the dancers seemed to find it a difficult obstacle to avoid. This work was underwhelming and ersatz contemporary dance in every one of its minutes on view. Lastly, with FESTIVAL DANCE, we were given an extended folk dance routine - after the first duet it had nothing of interest to give. At least those two dancers looked as if they could dance and wanted to - the first that I had noticed in the program. And, if all that we are being given by Mr Morris with this program is form with no content, then let us see competence in the dancing of the form - it was not much sighted on the Joan Sutherland stage on our night - lots of enthusiasms, replete with many, many 'approximations' of dance-movement. Go on, tell me it is the house style, it is a deliberate 'charm'. I was flabbergasted, the dancers had no apparent vital energy, no finish, no joy and worst of all, no need to share with the audience. We were simply asked to watch, not share. Dull. Dull. DULL.

To quote Mr Morris in the idolatrous program notes from Ms Lawson:
I don't like most dance concerts I see. Most of them are very boring. They always seem to be the same thing. ... If I don't like a dance, I'll say so.
When asked about his dance philosophy he replied:
I make it and you watch it. End of philosophy.
As for posterity, Morris, 59, jokes that when he dies he wants to be preserved in a speed bump:
Everyone will be driving along the interstate at 75 miles an hour and then there'll be a warning sign for the Mark Morris Memorial Speed Bump, and they'll have to slow down, to like, zero. When I die I want to be an irritation not a religion."
Well, Mr Morris, I didn't like your dance and I'm saying so. And as my friends and I hold our tickets costing $99.00 each (with the Sydney Opera House $5.00 tax added, to cost us $103), I look forward to that speed bump. You will never be a religion, a prophet of mine, but are, definitely, an irritation - in life, in Sydney, you have achieved your posthumous wish, already.

P.S. With the cancellation of the 50th Anniversary Gala of the AUSTRALIAN DANCE THEATRE happening in Adelaide, whilst the company has just recently completed a sold-out season in Paris, one wonders why Louise Herron and the Sydney Opera House has found the time and space for the MARK MORRIS DANCE GROUP, and not, similarly, the time and space for our own truly GREAT contemporary dance company, ADT. One wonders, the artistic politics of all this, doesn't one? Or is it the pragmatism of economics that imported, toured, this company?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

Belvoir and La Boite Theatre Company present, SAMSON, by Julia-Rose Lewis, in the Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, Surry Hills. 7May - 31 May.

SAMSON, is a new Australian play, by Julia-Rose Lewis. It is a first play and was 'read' at the National Play Festival, presented by Playwriting Australia, at Carriageworks, in June 2014. I felt that there has been some further development of the text since last year, when I first saw it.

The play tells of four young Australians, living in 'an edge suburb of Australia', on the cusp of adulthood, and facing all of those responsibilities and social adjustments that accompany those turning points. Coping with the death of one of their kith, and the expectancy of a new child, these young adolescents begin to consider/question the existence of God and the dawning of the acceptance of their own independent 'selves', to make choices, that will pilot them securely into the river of life - some learn and do, and some don't. (I don't know why, but I kept thinking of Craig Silvey's novel, JASPER JONES, while watching this play.)

SAMSON is a much better play than this production revealed.

The Director, Kristine Landon-Smith, seems to work in the belief that a play, and the act of impersonating it in the theatre, is to create 'real life'. Surely, the way of the 'theatre' - whatever the medium, film/television -is that it looks like real life and is not, surprisingly, actually it. What we see in good theatre experiences is an objective construct of a life-truth story, made by skilful artists, a convincing 'lie'. That is the age old, unspoken but trusted 'magic' contract between the artist and the audience. The experience that the 'extraordinary' (the artist) creates for the 'ordinary' (the audience) through convincing cheating i.e. acting. An actor is a storyteller. Not a purveyor of emotional states. He/she tell stories, just as their mum, teacher did for them, when they were babies: "Once upon time, there were three bears ... ", imagine with me ... invent from the clues I give you, crafting the performance with my body and voice. Voice and body. Both. Not one, or the other, but both. If it is a play - theatre play or screenplay - it is the manner in which the voice is 'manipulated' that is the paramount tool of communication. And, certainly, nobody cares about what you are feeling: show up, play the scene clearly, speak up, so that the audience can understand the play.

Ms Landon-Smith has cast a group of young actors that have all the physical qualities of a cultural diversity that represents modern Australia. The visual presence of these actors is immensely pleasing and impressive, and reflects the 'real life' experience of living in Australia - rarely seen on either Australian stages, or even in our television/film products: Benjamin Creek, Ashleigh Cummings, Belinda Jombwe and Charles Wu. What Ms Landon-Smith encourages from these young actors is a truthful physical response to the actions of the text - a 'real life' one - and some of those physical dynamics created by these actors were beautiful to 'read' - the mimic skills of body and face were, mostly, detailed and clear (if not, for me, always true.)

However, what none of these actors, under the guidance of Ms Landon-Smith do, is communicate the spoken words - the text - to an audience. They communicate one to one at a close, private reality, and not beyond their own presence, not to the audience in the theatre. It seemed to be an encouraged utterance of poor clarity from actors with essentially inarticulate skills - and, certainly, the lack of skills or seeming lack of skills, compounded the problem. This production was never connected to or for the audience - it was as if we were not meant to be there, that we were intruders that had stumbled onto an unfolding drama in the Belvoir Downstairs Theatre.

We caught only verbalised bits and pieces of the of the text, of the actual written text - only a verbal gist of what was at stake. Ms Landon-Smith was content to allow Mr Creek (Rabbit), to speak with a clarity capacity of only, to be generous, three of every ten words - he does not seem to have the verbal gifts of a storyteller/an actor, no verbal articulators at all, and his physical life, his miming (dance) skills and personable charm, were not compensations enough. Ms Lewis' writing details were basically made incomprehensible. Ms Cummings (Essie), an established television/film actor, has not been assisted to translate those gifts to the theatre - often shouting, leading to a rasping-damaged sound emotionally generalising, gabbling her words, phrases and speechs, which as the principal protagonist of the play did not bode well for the audience (this was true of her efforts with this text, a year ago, at the 'reading' of the play, in a much larger space, too.) While Ms Jombwe (Beth) has no sense of range or word control - naturalistic 'babbling' - and Mr Wu (Sid) often sounded forced and pushed with the climatic efforts of his character's journey. With no voices apparent or sufficiently capable of telling the story, to communicate clearly the written words of Ms Lewis play, what we as an audience were forced to do was read the revelation of the characters, the plot of the journey, through the physical 'offers'. We were given a mere gist of the spoken text to assist us to decipher what was happening and why. It did not appear that any of these actors had the required skills to deliver the writer's words for the audience and it did not seem that Ms Landon-Smith concerned herself with the basic need for them to do so. None of these actors revealed a level of vocal skill that the theatre, as a form, requires.

SAMSON is staged on a squashed-in set of raised platforms (having also acted as a solution for another space for the La Boite season in Brisbane) ,in the small Downstairs space, (Set & Costume Design by Michael Hili), making for a very noisy floor when the actors are asked to move about it, which is often, to create the illusion of walking across a landscape. Lighting Design is by Ben Hughes. Composition and Sound Design, competing with the noise from the Upstairs Theatre, is by Kim Bowers.

Acting is a craft that requires an objective focus and concentration of the basic 'animal' skills of the actor's instrument: body and voice. The actor needs to be in command of both. With only one of these gifts considered by Ms Landon-Smith as being essential, a body, from these young artists, the potential of this play was ruined, for me. One hopes that a different production of SAMSON, will reveal the promise of this young writer's gifts. For it wasn't here.

From David Mamet's collection of essays in the book titled, THEATRE, published in 2010:
Speak up. ... The playwright wrote the lines to be said out loud. Here is the corollary: Hit the final consonant. Most actors, lacking good diction, swallow their consonants and the last two words of the sentence. Many think this is being natural. But there is nothing natural about being onstage. You're there to put on a play. Speak up, and speak out. ... When its time to speak, speak out. Commit yourself to the phrase, and you commit to the play. That's all there is.
I couldn't agree more, sir.

P.S. This production Downstairs at Belvoir suffered from the terrible noise seeping, coming from the sound system and players in the Upstairs Theatre (THE WIZARD OF OZ). At one stage during SAMSON, some of the lighting system in the Downstairs Theatre was actually vibrating from the intrusive noise waves. Had the Artistic Company anticipated this, or had attempted to find an equitable solution for both shows  that were performing at the same time. It was a great distraction to what was going on in SAMSON. for the audience. When OZ had finished Upstairs, the relative quiet was most remarkable, tangible.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bitch Boxer

Bullant productions presents, BITCH BOXER by Charlotte Josephine, at the Old 505 Theatre, Hibernian House, 342 Elizabeth St, Central Railway. 26 May - 31 May.

BITCH BOXER, is an award winning monologue from a young British playwright, Charlotte Josephine, written in 2012. Katherine Shearer after having seen it performed in the Adelaide Fringe, snaffled the performing rights and has found a creative team to support her ambition to present it in Sydney, at the Old 505 Theatre.

Like many a young artist in Sydney (check out, THIS BOY'S IN LOVE blog), Ms Shearer is showcasing her own talents, using her own resources, not waiting to be 'found', but getting on with it, and doing it. One can feel obliged, sometimes, to just get on board with these aspiring and yearning artists, and support them. It is an entirely admirable contribution to the offers of theatre experiences in Sydney. One wishes the principal companies e.g. the Sydney Theatre Company & Belvoir, for instance, had a policy to hunt out these shows, and find these artists who are risking more than their talents to be seen. Ms Shearer could take on one of the quotes from her character, Chloe, in BITCH BOXER: "Thing is though, I'm a fighter yeah and now's my time to stand up and battle on regardless." And, so, they both do.

The monologue reveals a young woman preparing for the Olympics in the Boxing arena, coping with the tribulations of life as well as the specialisations of her sport. The Clint Eastwood, 2004 film: MILLION DOLLAR BABY, which starred Hilary Swank, though plot-wise very different, prepares one for this experience. Set in a boxing ring Chloe tells us of her journey, and Ms Shearer in a fully committed and rigorous performance has transformed herself quite startlingly to create for us. It is Directed by Srisacd Sacdpraseuth, with support from Bethany Sheehan in Set Design; Lighting, by Christopher Page; and Sound Design, by Alistair Wallace. There is also a Multi Media element.

With the loss of the Tap Gallery, last year, as a reasonable, useful and inexpensive site to allow young and explorative artists to present work, the Old 505 Theatre is now a much in demand space.

Go see. Keep your eye out. Check out the web-site.

This Boy's In Love

THIS BOY'S IN LOVE, by Adriano Cappeletta, at the Old Fitz Theatre, cnr Cathedral and Dowling St, Woolloomooloo. 26 May -31 May.

Adriano Cappeletta has written and plays in a Cabaret monologue called, THIS BOY'S IN LOVE, at the Old Fitz Theatre, as the late night show. In his Writer's Notes Mr Cappeletta says:
... THIS BOY'S IN LOVE is somewhere between my version of a gay rom com and a personal meditation on self-acceptance and letting love in.
Mr Cappeletta is an acting graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and of a two year course with master clown, Philippe Gaulier in Paris. So, with an immaculate skill set and all the charm of a natural performer with an open heart loaded with wry self-observation and buckets of humour, Mr Cappeletta whisks us away into a narrative that employs text, song and dance. Funny, amusing with gentle loads of human pathos, it is a delightful experience.

I became a little restless towards the end of the showing, and felt it a trifle too long (at 10.45pm or so) - the puppet marriage song could be edited or lost altogether - I found it difficult to hear the lyrics and so what was going-on.

The work has been Directed by Johann Walraven, with Julia Cotton credited as the Movement Consultant. Daryl Wallis provides the musical persona on keyboard, and occasionally interacts with the actor with comic understatement, later joined by Bill Lloyd and his violin.