Saturday, November 28, 2015

An Index of Metals

Carriageworks, Sydney Chamber Opera and Ensemble Offspring presents AN INDEX OF METALS, Music by Fausto Romitelli, Text by Kenka Lekovich, in Bay 20, at Carriageworks, Wilson St. Redfern. 16 - 19 November. An Australian Premiere.

AN INDEX OF METALS - 2003 - is the last work by Italian composer, Fausto Romitelli, an electro-acoustic investigation where he wanted to access the 'limits of perception by projecting sound as though it were light, reaching the extreme hallucination whereby sound is seen. The aim of AN INDEX OF METALS is to turn the secular form of opera into an experience of total perception, plunging the spectacular into an incandescent matter that is both luminous and sonorous, a magma of flowing sounds, shapes and colours ...' It is a fusion of spectralist techniques with gestures and the sound world of rock - for instance, the opening sound is a sample from Pink Floyd's SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND. There is also a text by poetess, Kenka Lekovich - three poems made into four cyclical 'arias' - deriving their inspiration from Roy Leichtenstein's famous Pop Art work "Drowning Girl" (1963), quoting the famous speech bubble of the painting: 'I DON'T CARE!  I'D RATHER SINK ... THEN CALL BRAD FOR HELP!' The work is a sound saturation, an 'electric poem'.

Usually the work is performed with the orchestra on the concert platform in front of three screens with a video by Paolo Pachini & Leonardo Romoli.(Indeed, these artists are credited in the program despite the fact that their work is not presented as part of this performance, and unless you were sitting in the front few rows of the seating and been able to catch glimpses of the video, which, oddly, was been projected behind and under the instruments of the orchestra, on the 'pit' floor in front of the stage, on some tiny screens, you would have being ignorant of their contribution to Mr Romitelli's vision. The video can be seen, however, via an internet recording of the piece by the Seattle Chamber Players, November, 2014.) So, instead, the Sydney Chamber Opera, have jettisoned the video and determined the imposition of a conventional (and, in this case conservative) opera dramatic story - narrative - onto the work. For the piece that they have imagined and staged is a meditation specifically on the disintegration of a relationship between the Singer and Brad, creating specific characters (with seven actors) telling a through-line story.

Besides the melodrama of the narrative and the sexual frisson of six parading naked men, that Kip Williams, the Director, has conceived to accompany the music - the melodrama 'story' hampered by the fact that the lyrics of the 'arias' were unintelligible when sung by the soprano, Jane Shelton, and despite, again, that Surtitles were credited in the program to Takefumi Ogawa and not used - his Designer, Elizabeth Gadsby has collaborated with Mr Williams on a (contemporary art) installation of enormous proportions, that uses three tall walls of titanic lighting possibilities (Lighting, by Ross Graham, brilliant, by the way), surrounding the polished floor of the huge raised stage space, that when they are activated with the chords of sound, blinds us, instantly, with visceral, directional assault, and, later, shifts around the stage in very impressive Robert Wilson-like replications of light and shade, highlighting the action of the figures in the space - figures that needed, I reckon, a choreographer to discipline the visual impact further - there was NO choreographer used, and Robert Wilson (or LePage) would have been appalled at the mess of the movements circling the woman on the chair, disempowering the intention, the visual beauty, perhaps, of Mr Williams', borrowings (read LOVE AND INFORMATION post.)

All of this creates, for the audience, a powerful tension of observation, between Mr Romitelli's intention of the affect of the visceral sound of the music as light, that is, having us listen; and that of the 'auteur' Mr Williams' who has invented and staged a character driven old -fashioned opera narrative to supersede the composer's intentions, and asking us to watch (as well!?). In my case, the Romitelli score won out with its aural audacities, so that often my concentration was pulled to the 'choreography' of the playing by the orchestra on the 'pit'-floor, and away from the relative banality and repetitiousness of the visual offers of Mr Williams' characters on the stage.

 The orchestra of 11, plus the Sound Designer, Bob Scott, under the guidance of the Conductor, Jack Symonds were tremendously impressive. The impact of the music and its combination of sounds, from Classic instruments - violin, cello, trombone, trumpet etc - to contemporary instruments - the electric guitar, bass guitar, synthesizer and electronic 'white noises' - was magnetic in its power and seductive drawings. The Ensemble Offspring doing a spectacular job. Too, the sounds of Ms Shelton's singing were dramatic and wonderfully impressive, particularly in the growling and reverb offers, in the latter sections. It was a true pity that the lyrics were unintelligible for ALL of the performance - for  no-one knew what was going on except through surmised 'guesses ' from the evidence in front of us, that, ultimately, gave us a gist of a Grand Guignol.

This is Concert music of the 21 Century and yet, oddly, we are given an invented opera scenario with characters and plot created in an histrionic 19th Century mode. Mr Williams has his heroine killing herself with a savage self-stabbing of her body for the love of a man, Brad, much like Madame Butterfly does in Puccini's melodrama for her Lt. Pinkerton (we are lucky when any of his heroines live on, Turandot, being an exception) with an added ludicrous pooling lake of blood spreading over the floor surrounded by the appearance of the six naked men dripping with blood from the top of their 'black, dead-cat' wigged-heads, right down to some protruding sexual 'instruments '- plip, ploping 'blood' on the floor, as the musical finale happens - cliche imaging! It seemed to me a contemporary choice of a dramatic retrograde taste and, perhaps, politically in 2015 (in Sydney, particularly, with the real presence of the Women in Theatre and Screen - WITS, being felt) a male gaze/invention more than slightly untimely, inappropriate! I say this despite Mr Williams' explanation: "Our decision regarding the end of this work is supported by the music's graphic, apocalyptic finality, culminating in a cadenza for two guitars. In the final moments of the opera the protagonist tries to destroy the thing that is eluding her and, in doing so, destroys herself. The final image is thus a representation of this nightmare surrounding her, and of what she was trying to obliterate surrounding the image of her own destruction". Over-imagined, over presumption and definitely, over-kill, I say.

Sydney Chamber Opera have 'shanghaied' a work of Concert and created an Opera. The Concert was better than the Opera. The Ensemble Offspring tremendous. Close your eyes and listen - check out the internet performance, mentioned above, and compare and contrast. Carriageworks has provided production assistance that has continued to create an artistic standard of some high order: SUPERPOSITION and TANGI WAI, two other superlative contributions to my Performance Diary going this year.

In this past week I have been introduced to two modern scores of some interest and possible greatness, AN INDEX OF METALS by Fausto Romitelli, and at The Australian Ballet with 48Nord and their commissioned score for Tim Harbour's FILIGREE AND SHADOWS in their 20 : 21  program. Great fortune. And, of course, there was a reacquaintance with Philip Glass' great work, IN THE UPPER ROOM. Bliss.


NAISDA: The National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association presents The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dance College with KAMU, in Bay 20, Carriageworks, Redfern. 25-28 November.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dance College presented a program of dance works with and from the cohort of students working in Certificate II, III, and  IV.

After Welcome to Country, the first half of the program demonstrated the training of these students in the rudiments and artistry of contemporary dance under the choreography of Penelope Mullen: EXHALE;  a self devised work, danced and choreographed by Nadia March and Kassidy Waters: CHANGE; Raymond D Blanco: ADTHABAU APU - a work that is a conversation between the dancers and the Sea; Joel Bray: AUGURY; Ian RT Colless: TO CLOSE A GAP? - a second stage development of a larger work for the future with contemporary political overtones in a desire to pull together different points-of-view with [the] common theme 'TO CLOSE A GAP'. 

These works revealed - 'showed-off' - the training and rigour of the dance skills absorbed by the young 'artists-in-training' who all come from a wide geographical and basic skill base, and demonstrated the varying qualities of achievement attained through the year(s) of practice. The demands of the choreography were high and the acquittal demonstrated the commitment of each of the artists in the glare of light with sound and audience. - a 'fiery' rites of passage for all, no doubt - and a joyful and fun one, as well, I hope.

The Chairman of NAISDA LTD, Nyunggai Warren Mundine in his message in the Program:
In the 50,000 year continuum of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, NAISDA occupies a small but influential contemporary space, both as a safe and fertile place of creative practice, but also a complex and demanding keeping place of traditional cultures.
I read Raymond D Blanco's program notes which told us of this year's venture, where and when student-artists were welcomed to the Moa Island by the Traditional Owners of Kubin Village and were accompanied to St Paul's (Wug) Village to commence a cultural residency. That here they were given an opportunity to live with families and gained a deeper insight into community life - including coconut oil making, preparation and cooking for feasting, as well as the continued learning in the art of weaving, beading, fishing, dancing, song and other activities. From this immersion into this welcoming community-culture, a program of original dance was created in exchange with the St Paul's community led by Dujon Niue. The Cultural Dance Tutors, Wug Village, Moa Island: Christal Ware, Angela Torenbeek and Wally Kris.

So, the second half of the program presented dances arising from this (and other, I expect) first hand experiences, an invaluable aspect of the training and vision of NAISDA - to preserve by respectful 'reaching out' and sharing, the traditions of culture for all the peoples of today.

Berthalia (Selina) Reuben using the Female Ensemble choreographed: GUR IRA KOSKIR (WOMEN OF THE SEA) - telling of the relationship that females have with the sea, tide and ocean breeze, of the time of birth and new beginnings. This Ensemble also gave us SUBMERGE. Sani Towson, using the Male Ensemble Choreographed: THAGANU GATH AIMIZ - telling of the gathering of young boys at low tide in the mangroves observing the abundance of sea life and the blooming of Kamu - KAMU, is the Kala Lagaw Ya word meaning Mangrove Flower.

The final section of the performance was made up of DANCES FROM WUG VILLAGE, MOA ISLAND, choreographed by Dujon Niue: WOMEN'S PADDLE DANCE; MEN'S PADDLE DANCE; SIK DANCE; KAMU DANCE. Dressed in 'traditional' Indigenous costume and with decorated 'instruments' of dance, the company, thrillingly, in the concentrated possession of the 'spirit' of the island culture, sang and danced with a sense of rising excitement and ownership, accompanied by a live guest 'orchestra' of singers and drummers, so that they all seemed to glow with the pleasure of the audience's rapture and applause at its conclusion.

The whole program of KAMU, Directed by Frances Rings, delivered the stated vision of Mr Mundine and no more satisfyingly that in the second half of KAMU. Next year is the 40th year of NAISDA and celebratory works will be presented at Carriageworks in 2016.

In the meantime, this week, Bangarra Dance Theatre presents OCHRES, at Carriageworks, a revival of a work from 1994. Go see the 'fruits' of this visionary cultural icon, NAISDA.

I Am My Own Wife

Photo by Rupert Reid
Oriel Group in association with Red Line productions present, I AM MY OWN WIFE, by Doug Wright, at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomooloo, 17 Nov - 5 Dec.

I AM MY OWN WIFE by American Doug Wright won the Pulitzer prize in 2004. It concerns the writing of this play about a famous German Transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who lived in Berlin through the Nazi and Communist regimes, by Doug Wright. It was Directed, originally, by Moises Kaufman for his Tectonic Theatre Project, which has developed other biographical material as Drama, such as: GROSS INDECENCY: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde (1997) and famously THE LARAMIE PROJECT (2000). The New York productions of I AM MY OWN WIFE, off-Broadway and on-Broadway, starred Jefferson Mays, for which he won a Tony Award. Mr Mays played in a production of the play at the Sydney Opera House in 2006. Apparently, it was this performance that inspired Ben Gerrard, as a young acting student, to put it onto his list of plays to do.

The play is a solo work. Over the course of the play (90 minutes, with an interval), Mr Gerrard will play a multitude of characters, principally, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and the author Doug Wright, during their interviews for the preparation of the script. The play develops into a moral conundrum for the author as he has a version of the facts of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf's life from herself on tape, but is confronted with some other publicly recorded facts that seem to, crucially, contradict them.

The role requires much virtuosity of the actor.  Mr Gerrard is extraordinarily accurate with all of its transformations, vocally and physically, and is positively fearless as he talks directly to the audience, often, as much as if he is possessed by the fearless nature of the central character of the work - the fearlessness a common identifying trait of both?  The technical control of the actor is astonishing but I felt sometimes at the expense of permitting the audience to be confronted, to be able to empathise or not, with the character and the story-dilemma. The experience, for me, resulted in admiration, but I was not touched or moved. It had a cool expertise and a kind of 'missionary' zeal about its intentions, tone, and in the contrast to a recent similar moral dilemma presented at the Old Fitz, earlier in the year, with Gail Louw's play, BLONDE POISON, and the ambiguous motives of Stella Goldschag in repressive times, oddly, much less disconcerting. Mr Gerrard did not find the moments to 'reveal' the inner contradictions of his character to allow us sufficient opportunity to endow our feelings, our judgements, our vulnerabilities, for Charlotte or her situations.

The production is immaculate. The Set Design by Caroline Commo is beautiful in its forensic clarity of detail and 'tricks' - the clever 3D wooden jig-saw pieces, substituting for a variety of 'properties' in the table - the Lighting by Hugh Hamilton atmospheric, with a Sound Design by Nate Edmondson of restrained aptness. Director, Shaun Rennie, has created a very tight and lucid production lacking, perhaps, an emotional centre to the conflicts , in its brisk efficiency.

Mr Wright's play, in this production, appears to be just a little too formulaic in its structures and idiosyncrasies of style, and is a very familiar technique, developed by Moises Kaufman (the original Director), in his other work, and does not really stand up as a great Pulitzer Prize winner alongside many other winners of this coveted award. Mr Wright has written, co-incidently, another play been presented in Sydney at the moment: GREY GARDENS, a musical presented by Squabbalogic, at the Seymour Centre.

I AM MY OWN WIFE at the Old Fitz is a production of theatrical bravura. Go, and judge for yourself. Who is Charlotte von Mahlsdorf? and even more intriguingly, Who and What is Mr Wright, in the travails of his writing?


A LATE NIGHT SHOW: Red Line productions present DEBRIS by Dennis Kelly at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomooloo, 24th - 28th November.

DEBRIS (2003) is a short one act play, by Dennis Kelly (his first), concerning two young semi-abandoned children living in the debris of society, both with fantastic imaginations, that sustains them, perhaps, to be able to survive. The actors Felix Jozeps (Michael) and Megan McGlinchey (Michelle) play the work elicited from them under the assured guidance of Director, Sean Hawkins, with fierce alacrity and clarity in their storytelling.

And, boy, they tell some stories. And it is here, in the writing by Mr Kelly, which is truly imaginative and brutally wonderful, that I found myself disassociating from the characters and the play - my ability to believe in them to be anything other than 'verbal puppets' of the writer uncoupled my willingness to go with the play. For instance, I wondered, just how did these young neglects of society educate themselves with the variety of philosophic observations about the history of man and glorious religious detail, along with the bizarre interludes, such as the finding of a child in the rubbish of the world and which they then call, poetically, "Debris", nurturing it from the bloody nipple of Michael, with such a sophistication of vocabulary and 'musical' arrangements? I kept hearing the authorial 'showing-off' voice talking straight to us, and never the authentic voices of this brother and sister in the sinister and filthily impoverished world that has been intimated by Mr Kelly in his 'given circumstances' and, subsequently, in the Design by this production team.

The simple design of a filthy couch and the garbage of empty drink cans and empty potato chip packets and other 'sweeties', is effective, with the distressed costumes and physical appearances of the actors, supporting, vividly, the pretence - Set and Costume Design, by Antoinette Barboultis. The Lighting by Alexander Berlage has a sophistication beyond the expectations of a late night show, sitting within the requirements of the main stage primary Design (I AM MY OWN WIFE), while the Sound Design by Tom Hogan, too, has a very well balanced set of offers for the material.

It is because of the incongruity of the content of the speeches belonging to these two characters that might, also, deny, a logical inner life for Michael and Michelle. Neither, Mr Jozeps or Ms McGlinchey created moments of genuine pathetic insight beside their character's narrative fervour, to cause any engendering, from us, of any understanding or empathy for the plight of these children. I wonder if they, as actors, genuinely could do so, considering the writing problem, for they are, on the other hand, mightily impressive with the textual explications. As short story anecdotes this text might be convincing, as flesh and blood dramatic life forces, they fail to keep me in the situation or caring for these characters. It is rather, the objective appreciation of the potential of the writer that you take away, from the performance (no small thing, by the way).

Like the writer Doug Wright of I AM MY OWN WIFE, Mr Kelly, too, has another show, a musical, co-incidently, on in Sydney: MATILDA, for which he wrote the adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's novel (the lyrics and music by Tim Minchin). Both shows by Mr Kelly, has children, front and centre of his interest, with some nasty, nasty adult figures as well, as back-ups. His writing 'potential' recognised, BIG TIME - West End London, and Broadway New York . International productions - by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

20 : 21.

The Australian Ballet present 20 : 21 in the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, 5-21 November, 2015.

20 : 21 is a Triple Bill program from the Australian Ballet of three modern works, from the 20th century into the 21st century (20 : 21, get it? I hadn't for a time!). The first: SYMPHONY IN THREE MOVEMENTS, Choreographed by George Balanchine, Music by Igor Stravinsky, re-created by Eve Lawson. The second, a brand new work, FILIGREE AND SHADOW, Choreographed by Australian, Tim Harbour, Music by 48Nord (Ulrich Muller and Siegfried Rossert). The third IN THE UPPER ROOM, Choreographed by Twyla Tharp, Music by Philip Glass, Staged by Shelley Washington.

SYMPHONY IN THREE MOVEMENTS is a new work for the Australian Ballet, featuring music by Igor Stravinsky, and was first created by George Balanchine in 1972, the year after the composer's death, in honour of their friendship which began in 1925 through an introduction arranged by the famous impresario of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev (what a story/dance history in those three names!) "Exiled" to the United States, as a result of European politics, they developed further work there. They both held an unconventional view of music and dance, believing that they should 'tussle' with each other. Stravinsky felt that the dance should do more than decorate the music, whilst Balanchine was adamant that the choreography should neither overwhelm nor hide the score. SYMPHONY IN THREE MOVEMENTS is distinctly not "about" anything. In fact, both men described ballet unromantically as the shaping of time and space.

This is one of Balanchine's "leotard" ballets, and requires no scenic distractions from the dance (though beautifully lit - Original Lighting, Ronald Bates. Reproduced by Graham Silver). The curtain rises on a diagonal line of the female corps in white leotards. This performance did not begin propitiously as the dancers were, mostly, disparate in the timing of the 'choral' movement of its first episode. However, the company moved swiftly into a complex set of patterns and groupings whisking away the faulty beginning. The dance is an unleashed propelling of energy that has the intricate precision of the innards of a swiss watch.
There are references to the 1940's musical movies of Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams, embodied by Balanchine's opening patterns of sexy, leggy pony-tailed women; to the jazz era, which Balanchine evokes through syncopation and brisk, athletic steps; to jitterbug and swing; and to the Asian culture that so captivated Stravinsky in the 1940's. [1]
The duet between Ako Kondo and Andrew Killian - the "Asian" section - was beautifully danced. While there is a zest to the performance there is also a sense of the choreographic period from which it was created, what today we could call, 'a quaintness of gesture', that signals an observation of a culture from a fairly naive viewpoint. This was the first time that I had ever seen this work and was tremendously pleased. The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra was conducted by a guest, Simon Thew - the two subsequent works used recorded scores.

FILIGREE AND SHADOWS, is a brand new work commissioned by the Australian Ballet, from Tim Harbour, for 14 dancers. Mr Harbour developed the armoury of movement - some 70 phrases - alone in a room without music, building from words and a sense of fear - perhaps, a fear of failure - that informed his choices and his tempo changes. The dancers, working with Mr Harbour, were inspired with a series of images to layer onto the movements, achieving release through confronting fear, giving the movements an integrity. Creating without the music the movements became primary, so that the music, rather than the dictator of the choreography, became a colleague. The music score was introduced late in the process.

The filigree (of the title) sits in the upper body, and the articulation you can get from using your wrists, fingers, elbows and shoulders and frames around the core form of the torso and the legs. The concept that Set Designer Kelvin Ho worked from was an image of a cyclonic cone, and has created a white box about a high curved wall centre stage on which Lighting Designer, Benjamin Cisterne, has developed the shadows (of the title) and spaces of moving patterns.

The music comes from the German duo 48Nord: Ulrich Muller and Siegfried Rossert. This commissioned electro-acoustic score comes from a 40 year creative relationship, and they living and working in Germany have certain inescapable influences: Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, David Tudor, the French school of Musique Concrete, Edgar Varese and not least Josef Anton Riedl. This 21st century score tests the boundaries of composed and improvised music and could be a challenging experience aurally for some. The 'noise' of it and its volume results in a visceral body experience in our seats in the theatre, and when combined with the choreographic visualising, brilliantly danced by the company, it escalated the work, for me, into a thoroughly, thrilling, transporting experience. The music is described by Mr Harbour " as bombastic, at times histrionic, extremely nuanced - and ultimately liberating." It is all of that and with the passionate commitment of the dancers to the staged choreography, and the Lighting, the Australian Ballet have been propelled into the 21st Century with a thrusting florid drama exploding into a growing catharsis of aggression - a signal of our new century's history so far, and its surrounding energies. This is an impressive and startling great work. All of the elements integrated for BEST effect. A sensational experience: sitting in the theatre watching and listening to this work after the recent 13th November, Paris attacks, one could feel life and art resonating in one's senses - terribly, wondrously. The birth of a contemporary classic?

IN THE UPPER ROOM was World Premiered in 1986. It was choreographed by Twyla Tharp and used a commissioned score by Philip Glass. The matching of these talents has resulted in one of the most exultant modern dance experiences one can have. I have seen this work many times, from many different companies, and could see it many more times (In fact I could have sat there and experienced it again, then and there). The choreography fuses a broad spectrum of movement into one vigorous vocabulary. Boxing, tap dance, yoga, ballet and full-out sprinting, forwards and backwards, are intertwined. The dancers must push through the difficult steps, intricate timing and aerobic demands of the choreography without much relief (or rest). The work is a physically demanding one of relentless action and Ms Tharp built the work from life with the dancers - as they had in rehearsal - shedding layers of costume as part of the visual journey of the physical effort of doing the dance. Beginning in black and white stripped "pyjama"-like clothing the dancers gradually strip down, in pleasing permutations, to primary red coloured leotards and shoes, Designed with an elegant eye of some sophistication and beauty by Norma Kamali. The Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton (reproduced by Graham Silver) compliments the action and highlights the increasing haze effect through which the dancers move. The score from Philip Glass has now become one of the GREAT music pieces and engenders, still, a contemporary thrill alongside a familiar knowing that creates the comfort of what now, nearly 40 years later, is also a classic. The company has been prepared by Shelley Washington, one of the original dancers of the work. The Australian Ballet does the work proud. It is exhilarating. Ms Tharp, celebrating the entrance into the fifth decade of her career has two new dance works: PRELUDES AND FUGUES (music by Bach) and YOWSIE (music by Jelly Roll Morton) about to be seen. "I often say if an audience doesn't leave our performances feeling literally better, lighter, freer, we've somehow not succeeded here." Ms Tharp should know: no-one in the Joan Sutherland Theatre left other than in the manner she hoped: feeling better, lighter freer.

This contemporary dance trilogy, 20 : 21, presented by the Australian Ballet was this company at its best - in fact I had not seen them dancing so well, with such a stimulating program, for such a long time.

P.S. I was a guest of a friend and his family, and am truly grateful.

1. THE BIG BANG - essay from Jane Alberts.*
2. THE HEART OF THE STORM - essay from Rose Mulready.*
3. PERMANENT ACCELERATION - essay from Kate Scott. *
4. KEEPERS OF THE FLAME - essay from Valerie Lawson.*

*All these essays feature in the very lavish and informative The Australian Ballet program ($20.00): 20 : 21.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Duck Hunting

Contemporarian presents, The Australian premiere of DUCK HUNTING by Aleksandr Vampilov, adapted and edited by Shai Alexander at the King Street Theatre, Newtown. November 4 - 29.

DUCK HUNTING by Aleksandr Vampilov was written in the Soviet Union in 1972. Vampilov was born in East Siberia and graduated from the Irkutsk University. He tragically drowned in his late thirties.  This is one of four of five full length plays by this author that have attracted attention. He, like Chekhov, is also a short story writer. DUCK HUNTING has been adapted for the Australian stage by a young(ish) Russian Director, Shai Alexander, and he has set it in Melbourne, for its Australian Premiere. Its central character, Craig Stephens (adapted name), is in a vertiginous flight to self destruction as his career, his personal life, all unravels in a hedonistic plunge into drugs and alcohol, resulting in truly 'bad' behaviour. If you thought Chekhov's Ivanov was a superfluous man, you must meet this character.

The original is some four hours long. This version now plays at a shortened length of some two and three quarter hours.

Shai Aleaxnder is a Russin-born and trained Director, Actor and Producer. It appears he was trained at the Vakhtangov Academic Theatre of Russia. In his program notes he tells us that his company, Contemporarian, co-founded with film maker Toby B. Styling, 'is influenced by Russia's Vakhtangov Theatre, Moscow Art Theatre, Konstantin Stanislavski, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Michael Chekhov and the highly expressive theatre of Peter Brook.'

Mr Aleksandr has recruited a team of actors and over 14 weeks of rehearsal attempted to shape a production around this text using his theoretical absorption of these cited centres of method of approach to the theatre. There are stylistic gestures to all these influences in the Set Design and Acting techniques, including video interludes and a taste for the use of familiar music in a post-modernist underlining. They are all of interest in themselves but because of the relative variation of skills and understanding of them by his team of artists, they appear to be rather a hindrance to the dramatic impact of the narrative and characterisations. Heath Christian in the long and difficult central role of Craig Stephens, holds the piece together with energy and some thoughtful technique. The other performers are committed but lack real skill to convince one of much more than choreographic gesture and relatively recited text.

It was rewarding to see this important Russian playwright's work and to see a dedicated group of aspiring artists attempting to meet the demands of Mr Alexander's vision. The technique of the famous artists that has inspired this Director require a laboratory of years to train and absorb. One can not fault this Company for its ambition no matter the result.

What next? Best Wishes.


Sydney Theatre Company (STC) presents ORLANDO, from the novel by Virginia Woolf, adapted by Sarah Ruhl, in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House (SOH). 13 November - 15 December.

ORLANDO by American writer Sarah Ruhl (2010), is based on the famous novel, ORLANDO, A Biography, by Virginia Woolf (1928), Directed by Sarah Goodes, Designed (Costumes and Set) by Renee Mulder, starring Jacqueline McKenzie, Louisa Hastings Edge and four men: Matthew Backer, John Gaden, Garth Holcombe and Anthony Taufa.

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE (1925), MRS DALLOWAY (1927), A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN (1929) and then ORLANDO (1928), four novels by Virginia Woolf that I have read (sometimes with difficulty), and prized. ORLANDO, the film (1992), by Sally Potter, starring Tilda Swinton, one of my memorable, magic times in the cinema - the skating scene indelibly etched into my memory banks. I am not a great fan of Sarah Ruhl's theatre adaptation (you've guessed it - its form - narrative storytelling [ugh!]. But then, I ask, how else to do the book any kind of justice, taking it from the page to the stage? - I don't know!) but was pleased to see it curated for the Sydney Theatre Company's 2015 season hoping it would be an inducement for its audience to want to read the book or watch the film, both remarkable.

ORLANDO, by Virginia Woolf, has the subtitle: A Biography. When it was published Virginia Woolf dedicated it to her friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, whose personality she had set out to capture in the novel - it has been called "the longest and most charming love letter ever written". Vita came from an aristocratic family of 400 years of nobility, became a bride at 20, and had two sons, travelled to exotic locations such as Constantinople as the wife to an ambassador, and discovered her other sexual inclinations with Violet Kippel in 1918, when inspired by the costume's of the Women's Land Army, swapping her clothes of feminine gentility, for
the unaccustomed freedom of breeches and gaiters I went into wild spirits; I ran, I shouted, I jumped, I climbed, I vaulted over gates, I felt like a schoolboy let out on a holiday; and Violet followed me across woods and fields.' ... Shedding the clothes of [her husband's] gentle wife, Vita was reborn in a new identity. Violet chased behind her, and to the exhilaration of freedom was added a frisson of sexual conquest. ...'Violet had struck the secret of my duality,' Vita wrote; she rationalised it as an alternative preponderance 'of the feminine and masculine elements in herself' [1]. 
This Biography, ORLANDO, was inspired by a serious biographer of her acquaintance, of the famous Bloomsbury group, of Lytton Strachey and his book, EMINENT VICTORIANS (1918), where he had begun a new school, approach, to biographies
[with] its bareness, its emptiness [of boring facts, that] makes us aware that the author's relation to his subject is different. He is no longer the earnest and sympathetic companion, even toiling slavishly in the footsteps of his hero. Whether friend or enemy, admiring or critical, he is an equal. In any case he preserves his freedom and his right to independent judgement. ... He chooses; he synthesises; in short, he has ceased to be a chronicler; he has become an artist. [2]
Becoming that biographical-artist, too, but travelling uniquely even more daringly than Strachey in approach, Virginia Wolf was set loose with her pen in the creation of Orlando, an extraordinary character of fiction, one who like Vita with her family history, crosses centuries of time as well as gender. Unlike the real inspiration, Vita, shifting from 'woman' to 'man', Orlando shifts rather from 'man' to 'woman'. This book, in our times, has even more 'wonder' to contemplate as the idea of gender becomes a more fluent cultural concept.

Coincidentally, I am reading Yuval Noah Harai's, SAPIENS - A Brief History of HUMANKIND:

Biologically, humans are divided into males and females. A male Homo sapiens is one who has one X chromosome and one Y chromosome; a female is one with two Xs . But 'man' and 'woman' name social, not biological, categories. [...] To make things less confusing, scholars usually distinguish between 'sex', which is a biological category, and 'gender', a cultural category. Sex is divided between males and females, and the qualities of this division are objective and have remained constant throughout history. Gender is divided between men and women (and [much to the point of this novel/play] some cultures recognise other categories). So-called 'masculine' and 'feminine' qualities are inter-subjective and undergo constant changes. …
Sex is child's play; but gender is serious business. To get to be a member of the male sex is the simplest thing in the world. You just need to be born with an X and a Y chromosome. To get to be a female is equally simple. A pair of X chromosomes will do it. In contrast, becoming a man or a woman is a very complicated and demanding undertaking. Since most masculine and feminine qualities are cultural rather than biological, no society automatically crowns each male a man or every female a woman. ...  [3].
In the case of Woolf's Orlando, he does change his sex biologically, miraculously, from male to female, but in the case of the real Vita she could not, but is able, like many others in our social world, culturally, able to take on the gender traits, at will, of a woman and a man (and in 2015 to be wondrously, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Intersexed or Transgendered). This wonder of Orlando, as a cultural hero, was always possible whether 400 years ago or in the early 20th Century or in this 21st one. So, what ORLANDO became for me in this production was the wonder of the fluidity of gender and its powers of attraction, no matter how culturally incongruous. In watching both the Lord Orlando and the Lady Orlando, the realising of the wonder and appreciation of whether male or female, young or old, or differently educated, that there is a terrible compromise for both sexes in their efforts to survive life and be happy. That this shared need to compromise oneself to the obstacles that each sex confronts, though in different ways, makes both sexes know what it is to be human, a member of the same  species known as Homo sapiens.
Nor are these titles laurels that can be rested on once they are acquired. Males must prove their masculinity constantly, throughout their lives, from cradle to grave, in an endless series of rites and performances. And a woman's work is never done - she must continually convince herself and others that she is feminine enough. [3]
This production begins by sitting us in an auditorium with the full blast of white light shone upon us, revealing us with all our flaws for all to see, maybe, temporarily blinding some, who need to close their eyes (minds) to what is about to be shown. For, what a disappointment, when the show begins, to find four actors, in ordinary dull day clothes, standing nonchalantly around a set of stairs that have the appearance of a poorly varnished plywood or chipboard. Then, when they began to speak in a storybook chorus style the distributed text, abstracted from the novel by Ms Ruhl, one felt that one was watching a slightly more sophisticated Theatre-in-Education (TIE) program - in that, it was at the Sydney Opera House in the Drama Theatre, and not in my local school hall. That when, at last, Jacqueline McKenzie came down the flight of stairs, as Orlando, dressed in a splashy red quasi-Elizabethan male costume with beautifully bobbed-hairstyle, there was some feeling of relief - it didn't last long. Ms McKenzie spoke her text in a broad Aussie sound: 'gunna' 'wanna' etc, and completely undermined my briefly restored confidence of a good night to come; she further disenchanted me with a physicality of movement that seemed to be one of lackadaisical habit rather than explored character choice, of period or class. If it was choice, I couldn't buy it. It just appeared to be an actor with no primed skills 'skating-by', by the-seat-of-her-pants, thought-less, craft-wise. Worse was to come when Mr Gaden, in 'drag'- once again - knowingly, wink, wink, entered as Elizabeth I, setting the tone of the night of a comedy with a more than slightly 'campy' humour. Instead of the grave and moving dignity of an age-ravaged Elizabeth, which Quentin Crisp offered in the Sally Potter film and the presentation of a "Virgin Queen" embarking on a desperate December/May relationship, we are given by Mr Gaden and Ms Goodes the laughable observation of a deluded woman ("drag") with a more than uncomfortable boy/girl (transgendered-"drag")

My disenchantment continued most of the night, although the wonder of the invention of Virginia Woolf kept me alert, despite the banalities of Ms Goode's tonal choices with Ms Ruhl's bare text along with her permissive direction of her actors (Staging, rather than Directing?), and the awkward sense that the furnishings from scene to scene, moving through centuries, on the revolving wheel of the stage machinery, were found in the cupboard of the STC's storage, rather than Designed for this production. The Lighting by Damien Cooper was kept serviceable, unable to hide the properties of furniture, but showing us artistry with the balance of shine, reflection, from what looked like an expensive floor treatment and a very expensive late full mirror set extravagance - it looked, as if all the money was there on the floor, and the huge mirror wall, and some four or five costumes for Ms McKenzie. The best and most arresting work was the Musical composition by Alan Johns and the Sound Design by Steve Francis. I remember that it was that, the musical interludes, its beauty and seductive choice, by both artists, that kept me in the production and so the play.

With the exceptions of Matthew Backer, again, making subtle good work (Desdemona, Marmaduke - check THE TEMPEST post); and the consumate and elegant presence of Ms Hastings Edge as Sasha, the Russian Princess (despite the costume of sparkly-tights) - her skating beautiful - the company seemed to have, exhibit, the skills of habit onstage, not choice. Ms McKenzie has the instinctive flair for this character and plays with charismatic enthusiasms but it is not enough compensation for neglect of basic skills in the execution of the work. (Check my Bell Shakespeare HAMLET post, for my recently raised ire!)

ORLANDO presented by the STC is an OK to Good show. It is not a Great show. Ms Woolf's extraordinary narrative audacities and her demonstrated LOVE for Vita Sackwell-West is the astonishing reason to go, however the spareness of Ms Ruhl's transliteration. Although, the film with Tilda Swinton is a must see and the book a necessity to anyone's cultural heritage.


  1. Matthew Dennison, 2014, THE LIFE OF VITA SACKWELL-WEST, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd *
  2. Virginia Woolf,  30 October, 1927, THE NEW BIOGRAPHY, New York Herald Tribune.*
  3. Yuval Noah Harari, 2011, SAPIENS - A Brief History of Humankind, Vintage Books London.

* Both quoted in the Sydney Theatre Program.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Bell Shakespeare present HAMLET by William Shakespeare, in the Playhouse, at the Sydney Opera House, 27 October - 5 December.

Belvoir Theatre gave Sydney its last Hamlet in Toby Schmitz, under the Direction of Simon Stone - 2013. Bell has given many Hamlets, the biggest offer being that of Brendan Cowell with Marion Potts steering the task, in a lavish production in the much larger Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House (SOH) - 2008. This production is another Bell Shakespeare offer with Josh McConville, directed by Damien Ryan, this being the Director, Mr Ryan's second offer to Sydney, having given guidance to Lindsay Farris in his SPORT FOR JOVE production for schools in 2012.

This production is playing in Sydney after a six month National Tour, showing in some 30 theatres (but not in Brisbane or Adelaide!). What we see on the Playhouse stage is a company of 10 actors owning well the play, delivering an edited version - approximately 2 hours 40 minutes, including a 20 minute interval - with clarity and great self-confidence, if not a tad too comfortably - the evenness of the playing, at this performance, from all, is such that other than Hamlet himself no-one truly 'pops' out of the well-honed ensemble to grip one's empathies.

The Design of the production by Alicia Clements is, then, perforce a design that must accommodate this massive tour for many venues and their spaces, and to be able to be erected swiftly and economically. Too, the Lighting Design by Matt Cox needs to be flexible and specialised. Both these artists have achieved that purpose. The Design has a glassed room of some 'antique'-golden provenance, into which we can see other rooms and activities - so surveillance is easily possible. In this production every conversation is recorded and stored under the auspices of the King's man, Polonius (Philip Dodd). Essentially, though, the play is thrust onto the apron edge of the stage and holds, in that shallow space, most of the action of the play, including a quite vivid rapier and dagger fight to conclude the story (Fight and Movement Director and Assistant Director, Nigel Poulton.) The Costume Design, also by Ms Clements is a visual mix of contemporary without too specific a time note - it works well.

This HAMLET is driven by the mercurial energy and intensity of Josh McConville, one of the young actors in Sydney hewing a niche in the audience's experience of an artist of an awe inspiring versatility: CYRANO DE BERGERAC, NOISES OFF, IN THE NEXT ROOM, THE BOYS, THE CALL.

Says Harold C. Goddard, a Shakespearean scholar:
There is no mystery in a looking glass until someone looks into it. Then, though it remains the same glass, it presents a different face to each man who holds it in front of him. The same is true of a work of art. It has no proper existence as art until someone is reflected in it - and no two will ever be reflected in the same way. However much we all see as common in such a work, at the centre we behold a fragment of our own soul, and the greater the art the greater the fragment. HAMLET is possibly the most convincing example in existence of this truth. [1]
We can see the proof of this when one looks at the many records we have of past Hamlet's: from the legendary, of modern times, Gielgud, Olivier, Smoktunovsky, Burton, Branagh, David Tennant and, the one I most yearn to see Maxine Peake's - one does wish that one had seen a Hamlet from Judy Davis.

Every actor tackling this role, for it is so vast a task with so many facets of what it is to be a human, must reveal from within himself, his key identification of the personalised character, his own inner nature as well as the 'civilised' masks that he uses to survive in his times. Mr McConville shows us at first, a young man, a son, in a mournful dress of demoralised grief-shock at the death of his father and his mother's - Gertrude's (Doris Younane) - swift marriage to his uncle Claudius (Sean O'Shea) simmering with an anger of disbelief. Only, then, to be projected into a rage of managed madness, learning from his father's ghost of regicide, fratricide as being the well spring of these events, not the natural course of nature. Revengeful Rage directs every action and speech of this performance in guileful coverings of passion. Persistently, it glowers, internally, with fires of destruction with little relief of that 'tone' other than the gradual growing intensity of its manic direction - and it is a perceptible rise in temperature of the 'heat' graph that Mr McConville draws and delivers for us to read and experience. The arguments of the great speeches, the interactions between others, in this Hamlet's world, is barely tempered from one to the other under this mask (true or otherwise) of a madness.

It was of some interest to see the following weekend, the National Theatre Live broadcast of its recent production of HAMLET and watch Benedict Cumberbatch, too, carry, reveal himself in the container of the possibilities of Shakespeare's writing - this production plays for some 3 hours and 20 minutes, with a 20 minute interval, and so it has a little more range of opportunity than the Bell Shakespeare cutting. Interestingly, the rage of Cumberbatch (a contemporaneous rage) too, argues its way through the text, but with more pulling-off and putting-on of the mask of madness, to reveal a sophistication of thought and action - subtle shifts of thought and breath that permits the audience to enter Hamlet's dilemma more regularly and more easily - we come to share, more empathetically Hamlet's plight. There are thus some opportunities to see below Cumberbatch's actions, to see the dilemma of the human inside him, more than in Mr McConville's pell mell of volcanic colouring. However, the significant difference is the use of the Shakespearean poetry by Mr Cumberbatch who takes much care in his 'verse speaking' to achieve in speech the wit, the philosophy, of the man. We see the Wittenberg scholar as well as the athlete more, most clearly. Both men, McConville and Cumberbatch, reflect the rage of 'youth' but only one uses, fully, the possible potential of the language to reveal facets of the human animal in extremis.

I do believe the responsibility of the creative team in any production, to an audience, and especially from the ACTOR, no matter the Director's (auteur!) 'bent', is to create a CHARACTER, to tell the STORY, and reveal the LANGUAGE and its effects. The audience ought to have a sense of the 'beauty' of the vocabulary (in the broadest possible sense) and the'musical' thrill of the writer's language and it's constructed 'poetic' usage. It is that, in my estimation, that demarcates the great playwrights from the lesser writers, their ability to make their prose - what sounds and appears as naturalistic conversation - into 'poetry', into 'music' e.g. Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, David Hare, Andrew Bovell, Lachlan Philpott, to name a few of our regularly seen writers. Shaw and definitely Shakespeare - two writers that are often present in the Sydney repertory - require it for the complete pleasure of their plays (playing) to be elucidated.

Alas, to my ear, it is rarely produced on our Sydney stages by our actors - and it is not just voice skills - the technique of voice production, that I am regarding - it is, also, more importantly, the speech skills. This is surely why they call themselves part of the Acting Profession - profession, they are paid for their skills, yes? - that they have Craft Skills, that they can in a 'second nature'-embodied memory fitness utilise - and if playing for BELL SHAKESPEARE (or any other Professional theatre company in Sydney) - at a very high order, not just that of a backyard fantasist: in their dreams and aspirations. It is the ACTOR's responsibility to keep the Instrument Prepared for Practise, so that the intuition and interrogation of the 'play' script - theatre or television/film/radio - can be imaginatively and remarkably revealed reliably. "10% inspiration, 90% perspiration". Is that an Olivier quotation? 'Genius' plus hard work. It is the Actor's responsibility, whether the Director is asking for it or not. Most Directors don't know, what to ask for (or know how to ask for it, if they do), but have believed that you know your responsibilities and has cast you because he believes you can deliver with ease - as much as he expects that his Lighting Designer knows more than how to flick the switch on, to get electricity, to illuminate the production, the play.

The compare between the National Theatre Live broadcasts - and they are not just National Theatre productions - and what we hear in Sydney is startling and a cause of 'despair', for me. It is what an artist such as Audra McDonald illustrated for us, immaculately, a few weeks ago in her Broadway Concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra - her ability to create a character, tell a story and reveal the glories of the language of her lyricists, with apparently effortless ease.

Undoubtedly, the clarity of the Bell Shakespeare HAMLET is in the delivery of a sense of the 'events' of the play but there is little pleasure of the use of the language in a word by word construct of rhythm and the other rhetorical devices used by the writer, for the arguments of the speeches that the characters, through the writer's work, are utilising to achieve their needs, objectives, in pursuance of their 'story', and tell us who they are. The contrast between Mr McConville's and Mr Cumberbatch's solutions and techniques are easily heard. For me, both are equal in personalised identification with the role and in their preparedness to reveal themSELVES, in Shakespeare's challenge of playing Hamlet, but only one of them uses their vocal instrument with thought filled choices to communicate, culturally, to their audience with real versatility. Cumberbatch, Mark Rylance, Audra McDonald do. The Australian artists that do? Ah, yes, Judy Davis, watch and listen to her work in THE DRESSMAKER; Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK. And on stage? .... perhaps, John Bell - his Falstaff and the recent Shablesky In IVANOV triumphs of technical skill.

It is distressing to watch, and worse, hear, Matilda Ridgeway 'mangle' her text as Ophelia during and after her interview with Hamlet, (Act III Sc I - concluding with the famous "O, what a noble mind is here overthrown ...") obscuring the sense of it, the poetry of it, with a 'robustious passion' that tears the clarity of what she is saying with emotional overplaying, her 'very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say the whirlwind of passion' never finding the 'temperance that may give it smoothness' of intelligible hearing - she manages to give us only a 'gist' of the word's sensitivities - with no reveal of the beauty of the 'sonnet'-language being explicated - and we are, instead, shown what to watch, emotional (snotty) externalisations, merely, accompanied by sound blurrings of language. If some some judicious vocal 'choice' had been employed it would have allowed us to endow her Ophelia imaginatively with her dilemmas - in other words, by not demonstrating her emotional insights but revealing through her comprehension and usage of the language, Ophelia's state. And her performance becomes more confounding, for in the later famous 'mad scene', Ms Ridgeway employs restraint of emotional outpouring and gives a fairly moving rendition of a notoriously difficult section of the play. It is as if she had been saving her 'disciplines' for this Big episode rather than employing them throughout the 'plotting' of her character's whole journey.

As to my perceived 'evenness' of the playing by most of the rest of the company, it seemed to me that after such a long time playing over this incredibly demanding tour, that they have a, relative, comfort of what they are saying and doing, and lack the urgency of real life consequences, of the 'in the moment', telling. The truthfulness of the final speech from Claudius in the Prayer scene was the tenor of the playing on the night I attended: "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: words without thoughts never to heaven go." Words without urgent thoughts will never command our attention with a heaven-felt belief - one sat back and watched, progressively, deeper and further back, the familiar story unreel in the Playhouse in the SOH. This was in a palpable contrast to the viewing of the National Theatre Live performance, the week following in a cinema! Sydney Theatre productions can now be appreciated actively alongside the International best, almost on a bi-weekly schedule. The Bell performances that were an exception to this general observation was the moving portrait of Horatio, by Ivan Donato, and the clarity of action and text by Michael Wahr in his work on Laertes and his Guildenstern.

This Bell Shakespeare HAMLET is a generalised success of clarity within the limits of the requirements of a touring company for the Arts in this country. For instance, imagine the olympian fitness that Mr McConville must deliver in just sheer physical/technical demands to play Hamlet, sometimes 8 times a week for 6 months, that BELL has made of him! For, although the lines vary with each production, Hamlet has more lines than any other Shakespearean character: "Hamlet, 1,530; Claudius, 524; Polonius, 338; Horatio, 265; Laertes, 185". [2]  A Gold Medal for Josh McConville should be struck! 1. for Artistic Achievement, and 2. for Olympian Endurance. His work load has been heroic.

The contrast of resources, observable, between the Bell Shakespeare and the National Theatre, for their productions of Shakespeare's HAMLET, is a clarifying lesson as to the relative values that the Australian culture and its leaders place on the Arts. Mr Baird, the Premier of NSW, presents us with the option for another Sports Stadium in Sydney - despite the commitments and deliveries we made for the Olympic Games stadiums in 2000 - and so, is yet, another reason for one to despair. As Art's Funding and/or the paucity of it from Government policy is a topic of much concern, as usual, today, it is clear that the Sports Voter is a more important and influential one over and above the Arts Voter, that statistically has, continually, made a very large contribution to the working of this city, state, country, and not just in terms of 'filthy lucre' but in a healthy Social Capital outcome.

How could BELL SHAKESPEARE or the SPORT FOR JOVE company, or any of our other Arts' Companies/Institutions benefit with the Premier's 'sportsman's' concerns been focused on their Cultural efforts and needs with a more visionary and responsible support? I guess fear and ridicule from the tabloid press or 'shock jocks' is still a great barrier to winning an election - remember those recurrent headlines and hullabaloos throughout the 1960's-70's about the construction of that Big White Elephant down on Bennelong Point? I DO! Or about Gough Whitlam's Federal Government purchase of Jackson Pollock's white elephant known as BLUE POLES? I DO!

On the other hand, I cannot recall a protest of the funding of the Sports Institute in Canberra to individual athletes to compete in the Commonwealth or Olympic Games, can you? Nor any inquiry as to why we have not much succeeded?  Oops, forgot about the other international cheats! That's why, I suppose? I, suppose. Oh, well, I'm just 'pissin' in the wind, as usual. Oi, Oi, Oi!
"When such a spacious mirror's set before him  
He needs must see himself." - Antony and Cleopatra.

So shall we all, the whole nation, in times to come, I guess. Where is the vision of a Premier Cahill? Without him, no Sydney Opera House, would have been built. Imagine, Sydney without this International Architectural Icon! Even - ever - more, a culture poor, Provincial Capitol of the world. 'Build it and they will come', and they are, from all over the world (Cameras at the go!) - it's just that there is nothing of real CONSISTENT quality to fill its Halls/Theatres - SSO and ACO, excuse me, and, oh, I forgot, the SOH's  sponsored vaudeville/burlesque/circus shows are doing ok.  I reckon, just a little more consistent muscular nudity/sex appeal, please. Pretty please, or we won't go again. "Does Hamlet have any nudity?" Hmmmm!


  1. Harold C. Goddard, 1951, THE MEANING OF SHAKESPEARE, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London.
  2. Norrie epstein, 1993, FRIENDLY SHAKESPEARE, Penguin Books USA Inc. A Winokur/Boates Book.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Roadkill Confidential

Photo by Emily Elise
Lies, Lies and Propaganda in association with baKEHOUSE Theatre Co. Presents ROADKILL CONFIDENTIAL by Sheila Callaghan at the KX Theatre, Kings Cross Hotel, Level 2 William St 11Nov - 28 Nov.

Well, I just saw ROADKILL CONFIDENTIAL by American writer Sheila Callaghan up in the revamped theatre space up at the KX (Kings Cross) Hotel and had a fairly good time BUT had no idea what the Hell was going on, and what it was about when it had finished. However, the Actors and the Director are so convinced that they know, what Ms Callaghan is about, their concentrated actions, verbal and physical, are so confident that I was forced to jump on board and shake and rattle and roll my way through it all. One stays glued to the rolling out of the play, endowing every actors' owned moments with clarity and logic in a frantic act of faith to believe with them - and hey, it is intriguing, laden with ironic intelligence and deliciously glazed in an arch-comic perspective. I recommend that you go, for it will provoke conversation for hours afterwards. Maybe Days and Days. I found it stimulating, exciting - wow, a shock of a new voice giving a buzz after sitting in the theatre. How unusual is that in Sydney!

Ms Callaghan is one of the new breed of writers on the Off and Off Off New York Broadway scene. She has emerged from RAT: Regional Alternative Theatre (don't you love it, RAT? RAT, Ha!) Her most famous play is THAT PRETTY, PRETTY; or THE RAPE PLAY (2009) and she has been a writer for Television: Episodes for the American series of SHAMELESS and THE UNITED STATES OF TARA, for instance. ROADKILL CONFIDENTIAL was written in 2012.

Trevor (Alison Bennett) is an artist who became infamous - world press cameras on lawns famous - from making an Artwork out of the photographs of a garish accident featuring a woman - the woman being the now deceased wife of the Art Professor, William (Jasper Garner Gore) whom Trevor has now married, and who has given her permission to do so, and his son, the now erratic  (read crazy) Randy (Nathaniel Scotcher). Trevor's latest Artwork being built in secret in her studio in the forest nearby, is, we deduct gradually, either a roadkill sculpture or an instrument of bioterrorism - the roadkill having, possibly, a strain of tularaemia - for people have died after touching it. Melanie (Sinead Curry), a pesky neighbour sticky-beak does do so, when she can't resist stroking the fur. (Echoes of Seymour and Audrey Jnr. in THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS?). Of course rumour sneaks out about the mysterious Artwork and soon a Government Agent (Michael Drysdale) is sent to case it out, to investigate (KILLER JOE?) planting cameras to spy on every activity. There is an ultimate showdown in the studio and something mysterious transpires between them both and so, Trevor and the Agent, together, welcome the milling press to the Opening of the new Artwork.

"Is the play about creative freedom colliding with moral accountability?" "Is it about the numbing effect on our world with the incessant exposure to brutality?"  Whatever, it seems to have the same icky (read creepy) discomfort that Neil LaBute's THE SHAPE OF THINGS had/has when discussing Art and its usage. The sub-title to the play is 'a noir-ish meditation on brutality' but the tone of the play is more than that genre, it is not just noir-ish,  it also has a Sci-Fi feel, and with form in the writing, it has an absurdist twist glimmering - some have referred to her use of language as poetry on acid.

Ms Bennett, as Trevor is formidable and mordantly, wickedly funny; Mr Drysdale, as the Agent, agile and succinct, both these actors having easy command of their bodies (Movement Director, Amanda Laing) to inform the workings of the play with a tight visual style and wit. Ms Curry handles her text with a vaudevillian edge, Mr Gore with an intelligent command of the Art Speak of his post-modernist Art professor ladles it with the right thickness of satiric saucing, and lastly, the juvenile antics of the loose cannon Randy given by Mr Scotcher has the right erraticism to cause one to want to slap him. Well done, all - you had me 'hooked' - something is going on, you made me feel, so, I heeded.

Director, Michael Dean, has within the budget confines of this production with Set and Costume Designer, Catherine Steele, found the visual solutions to help us endow the space when the Lighting by Richard Neville and Mandylights, accompanied with a very inventive and hip Sound Design by Benjamin Garrard shift us into the worlds with ease.

KX Theatre has re-configured their space and have taken away the bar from up front to create a foyer and organised the audience seating on two sides of the stage space, in a kind of traverse, with raked seating (chairs) accommodating about 80 people - 40 on each side. A new space is always welcome in Sydney and one hopes it finds a consistent niche of quality work.

ROADKILL CONFIDENTIAL is a quirky enough start to encourage you to go, and this pub has a lot to offer before and after the show - a full night's entertainment: Dinner, Drinks and a Show.

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque

Sydney International Women's Jazz Festival presents JANE BUNNETT AND MAQUEQUE at Foundry 616, Harris Street, Ultimo. 7 November.

This is my first ever venture into a Jazz venue (except the stroll down the streets of New Orleans, of course - being there 3 times, no way you can avoid the music!). And here I go dragging some friends with me at 11.30 at night into Ultimo. A Saturday night after seeing 2 plays that day! Why?


  1. I heard Ms Bunnett and her group interviewed on Radio National, twice, and then a track or playing live, of some of their music, and I FELT and thought: "What, whoo!"
  2. There has been quite a stir going on in Sydney about representation and opportunity for women being able to practice their Art and Craft and to be seen on Sydney stages. So here are 6 women doing what they love and loving what they are doing - "Let's go!" (look up the WITS web-site - next meeting on the 23 November at Belvoir- booking is necessary)
  3. I had had a transporting experience with Victoria Hunt's stage work TANGI WAI with 12 magnificent female dancers at Carriageworks recently and was blown away: "Oh My God!"
  4. I had seen and heard on Friday night AUDRA McDONALD  give a once-in-a-lifetime (experience, for me) Concert at the Sydney Opera House - and I was, subsequently, high on life when I decided to book our tickets on the morning of the performance at the Foundry616: " I am alive! Keep it going!".
  5. What could go wrong with 5 Cuban musicians and a famous American flautist playing music that was part of their soul, the passion of their life. And isn't 11.30 the witching hour for the BEST Jazz musicians?: "No Problem for me then, that a couple of Vodka and Tonics won't smooth over, and I took three of my favourite women friends, too. So .... ssss!"

Loosely translated, MARQUEQUE means 'the energy of a young girls' spirit.' Four time JUNO Award winner, two-time Grammy nominee, an Officer of the Order of Canada, soprano saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett introduces us to these young Cuban musicians, with a group that blends scintillating Afro-Cuban rhythms, folkloric influences, exhilarating jazz and soulful vocals in an utterly intoxicating blend."

That's what the brochure says, and I am hear to tell you, it's all true. Further, read this:
Listeners can expect clave-induced Afro-Cuban, booty shaking world jazz ... Young, killer, female musicians.
Too, too true - whoosh! See what you missed. I floated out of the Foundry Bar on a cloud of euphoria.

The Foundry is a low ceilinged room with a big bar, tables, chairs, food and, at this 'gig', a dance space for the hip and the agile to get up and dance-salsa, their bodies into a twist in snake like response to the music of MAQUEQUE, in a heart beat, a bang on the drum. Yes, I did get up, for the last encore play out - My body threw, banished warnings away - and you know what, I felt great. I felt just as good next day - no consequences except a reconnection to life. HMMMM? Or is it Music that is getting to me?

Jane Bunnett (soprano Saxophone/flute - host) Dayme Arocena (vocals - she also gave a dance of fascinating culture) Danae Olano (piano) Magdelys Savigne (percussion - kaboom, amazing, and with the sexiest mohawk I've seen in years!) Celia Jimenez (bass guitar) and Yissy Garcia (drums - and here is a wonder of energy and magic drumming away, plus the most beautiful vocals. My favourite!)

There was, also, a guest performance from a genius of the saxophone, Australian, Sandy Evans - Lisa Simpson has a way to go - what a sound!

The Festival continues until Sunday November 15th at the Glebe St Fair, Foley Park at 3pm. Check out the web site.

I shouldn't tell you this but it is public knowledge that Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Jazz Band are playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra next February at the Opera House, and I guarantee a MUST to go to. I saw and heard them in San Francisco a few years ago when they were touring with Wynton Marsalis' Pulitzer Prize winning Oratorio BLOOD ON THE FIELDS, with Cassandra Wilson. Unforgettable!

Good Works

Photography by Helen White

Darlinghurst Theatre present GOOD WORKS by Nick Enright at the Eternity Theatre, Burton St, Darlinghurst November 4 -29.

The Darlinghurst Theatre and the Enright Family have joined together to produce a-play-a-year by Australian writer, Nick Enright. Last year they produced together DAYLIGHT SAVING, next year, A MAN WITH 5 CHILDREN. In the Eternity Playhouse Iain Sinclair has Directed Enright's GOOD WORKS (1994).

GOOD WORKS presents the story of two families over a 50 year span, of particularly, two Australian girls/women growing up in a country Australian town in the 1930-50's with all of the attendant and affecting social, cultural and political mores of those times. Its ambitions and inhibitions, its visions and prejudices. Its aspirations and prohibitions. Its grace and its hypocrises. Its love and its violence. Of two young women from the opposite ends of town who make friends at school - Mary Margaret (Lucy Goleby), an adopted young woman brought up in the disciplines of the Catholic Church with its religious precepts, practices and its social restraints, inspired to do good works, to ensure a 'heavenly' life on earth and for another one in the afterlife; and Rita (Taylor Ferguson), a wild 'thing', an adventurous, but innocent, iconoclast embracing the world and any opportunities about her to be 'happy', even at the risk of the expense of forbidding judgement and ostracisation. Both bearing the resultant burdens of their chosen paths. Both under the pressures of their culture and so, misunderstanding and 'punishing' each other and themselves to find the 'way'. The play tells, as well, of two young boys/men Shane (Anthony Gooley) and Tim (Stephen Multari) weathering all those 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' of 1950's Menzies' Australia, through not fault of their own, but by being part of a discriminated minority from all aspects of their world, whilst pursuing life, liberty and happiness, their inalienable rights, and groping for that solace, and being frightened of where, with whom they intuit, they may find it - with each other. Homosexual in the 1950's! - does much change, has it changed that much even today, in those country towns, outer suburbs?

In a dazzling time structure puzzle the play moves through and back on time with precipitous dexterity, requiring the actors to shift ages, and even more demandingly to create other characters in the blink of an eye. The physical and psychological skills that the actors must bring to the fore must be swift and demarcated with absolute precision, embedded in real body, rehearsed, muscle memories. Jamie Oxenbould has the responsibility of four characters; Toni Scanlon has three and they handle them with much aplomb. Too, Mr Gooley and Multari take on two characters each, and All must move through appropriate age changes. Mr Sinclair and his company manage this with astounding skill, and 'teach' us, the audience, how to keep up - what to watch for to keep the story fluid and clear. The sheer technical feat of these actors is admirable.

Hugh O'Connor has created with and for Mr Sinclair, a set of vertical, circular columns of varying heights, on which the actors move to assist with the different characterisations/time shifts and adds, unconsciously, the sense of danger and courage of these individuals as they negotiate their life directions, decisions. Besides 'illustrating' the actors' courage in the breathtaking risk of falling that they are undertaking in their movement on and about the Design elements (much like the dangerously precipitous Set Design for Griffin's recent THE BLEEDING TREE - one does wonder if the Directors are aware what difficulties they have given the actors for that aesthetic choice? And how much time have they [ the Director] spent on the actual set itself to ascertain that - climbing, jumping, stepping, thinking, acting, etc all at once? Are actor's sometimes too 'supine' to protest? That their need to stay in work prevents them from too much protest - not wanting to be known as to be difficult? It does look dangerous!) The Lighting Design by Sian James-Holland attempts to assist similarly with the demands of the time exchanges in the play but only succeeds fully, occasionally - the focus is not always tight enough or the light covering accurate enough. Nate Edmondson is in charge of the Composition and Sound Design.

Ms Goleby draws a most satisfactory arc of character journey with a sense of centred calm (reveal) in her work which is, I think, new to her armoury as an actor (I last saw her in Sydney in A MOMENT ON THE LIPS at the Old Fitz). Ms Ferguson who gave her stage debut in Sydney as an outstanding MISS JULIE, two years ago, re-enforces her impression as an extraordinarily interesting artist - there is danger and strength in every moment of her choices on stage, which is supported by a vital intelligence and sweeping intuition - it all looks and sounds so spontaneous, it is mesmerising for its sense of danger. Mr Multari, too, seems to be becoming freer with every outing he has, whilst Mr Gooley delivers with his usual sureness of touch. Much credit must be paid to both Mr Oxenbould (who we saw early this year in a welcome turn in THE DAPTO CHASER) and Ms Scanlon, who both give such accurate and 'juicy' support to the many tasks they have in this play.

I am full of admiration for the form skill of Enright's play as I was with DAYLIGHT SAVING last year, but have the same feeling of dissatisfaction with the content, the 'guts' of the play. In this case we are shown the causes and affects that this world has on these human beings and it seems very authentic (I remember the era, too) but there is very little reveal/interrogation about the 'issues' of the play. There appears to be an absence/avoidance in the writing to explain/justify/be critical of the world of which he writes. I was not enlightened at all, I felt that all that had occurred was a showing of a world of hypocrisy and pain. A kind of dry 'history' presentation of shocking facts. And, certainly, the revelations of the Royal Commission into Child Abuse can be better understood after watching this play and seeing the prevailing accepted outlooks/acceptances of behaviours in this period of time. I don't know whether in 2015 that what this play gives us is enough to create any deep satisfaction today. I wonder if it was even enough in 1994? Maybe, in Australian terms, the shock of the landscape of the play was sufficient to garner attention? However, on the other hand, the technical/cerebral solving of the writing's 'formulas' is impressive, as it was with DAYLIGHT SAVING. Indeed, I am very curious, will be very interested, to see how A MAN WITH 5 CHILDREN stands up in 2016, for I recall, I thought when the play was premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) a decade or so ago, it was the bravest Mr Enright had been in his writing revelations - the most 'naked' he had come to revealing/interrogating the writer's concerns/experiences in a public space.

I saw Enright's A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN a few months ago, and felt that it was a very good play. Tight, provocative but still simply showing the facts of the story with very little debate. As a Theatre-in-Education exercise it was enough, you could feel the hanging instruction in the theatre/classroom: Now let's discuss. Let's interrogate the 'issues' of the play for our society. When in his expansion of that material he wrote BLACKROCK, it was a less impressive work, its sentimentality tipping it into a less agile observation, and still avoiding intense confrontations with the material.

The Direction, the performances in GOOD WORKS at the Eternity Playhouse are worth attending to. The play as a whole, as an holistic experience, less so, for me.

Go and see what you think.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Audra McDonald Sings Broadway

Sydney Symphony Orchestra presents AUDRA MCDONALD SINGS BROADWAY, in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House Nov 5,6,7.

Audra McDonald is unparalleled in the breadth and versatility of her artistry as both a singer and an actress. She has won six Tony Awards - CAROUSEL, MASTER CLASS, RAGTIME, A RASIN IN THE SUN, PORGY AND BESS and LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR & GRILL. I have seen her only once before in HENRY IV, with Kevin Kline and Ethan Hawke, in the Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Centre, New York.

To have had the good fortune to see and hear Ms McDonald in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House was to have an inspirational wonder. To be swept away in a dazed state of awe by an artist of such talent, brilliance - she being one of those rare artists that has made me cry with sheer envy at her gifts - I did all the way through the first half - was a tonic of optimism, to carry home afterwards and fed one for days. (I have cried before in the theatre: Nureyev, Sutherland, Maggie Smith, the Paris Opera Ballet's GISELLE, the 2013 Broadway production of THE GLASS MENAGERIE - among some - just to give you some sense of my tear-inducing benchmarks.)

On the concert platform, supported by her personal touring band: Brian Hertz (piano), Mark Vanderpoel (bass), Gene Lewin (drums) and her Musical Director and Guest Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Andy Einhorn, Ms McDonald presented an extremely generous repertoire of some 24 songs from the Broadway canon. Songs that we know, songs that we don't, covering musical history from Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS (Summertime) - 1935 - right across the years to THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS (Go Back Home) by Kander and Ebb - 2010. From the program notes:
When it comes to compiling a concert program such as tonight's, Audra McDonald is careful to strike a balance, drawing on every corner of her diverse repertoire."I want to give the audience a full, multi-course meal,' she says, 'with a little bit of everything: some comedy, some songs that are very familiar to them, some unfamiliar music, and some old gems.' Above all she says, 'I'm someone who looks for the challenges, whether they come from old or new works. I'm constantly looking for material that scares me, and that will help me grow as an artist.
We heard audience familiars such as, I Could Have Danced All Night, from MY FAIR LADY, which she invited us to sing with her, and we did; Climb Ev'ry Mountain, from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, as a rousing, thrilling finale; to the tongue twisting, I Can't Stop Talking About Him, from the film LET'S DANCE; and extraordinarily moving songs, Stars and the Moon, SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD - 1995 - (Jason Robert Brown) and I'll Be Here, ORDINARY DAYS - 2009 - (Adam Gwon); to an hilarious Australian contribution from Kate Miller-Heike (the composer of the Opera Australia's upcoming THE RABBITS), The Facebook Song (2010). The concert was an absorbing two and a half hour joy.

Ms McDonald is pure class, an artist of such magnitude that the word STAR is inadequate to describe her presence and performance. Dressed in a sophisticated black full length dress, with pulled-back, tied-back hair, with elegant understated jewellery, simply, she introduced herself, and with disarming warmth and candour spoke to us, personally - as if to each of us, individually - about her world, her families - private and professional - and of the works and her personalised 'contact' for each song she was to sing for us. There is a modesty, an intelligence and a glowing sense of fun, good humour, about her, that she exudes beautifully, and balances powerfully, when it is time, with an immaculate, towering technique in performance. It appears to be effortless and is excitingly, visually connected to the emotions of the story, every sinew and muscle and element of concentration engaged in a purity of skill and talent-gift, bringing to us the primary choice, responsibility, of her task: the 'story' of the lyrics, with an innate, rapturous sensitivity to the music of the orchestra and its part in the telling. Together, under the guidance of Mr Einhorn, the orchestra and soloist share the 'music' with us with consummate empathy.

Ms McDonald reaches out to us in a conscious state of affection and touches, opens, a portal to our unconsciousness and reveals to us with her artistry that life is not simply vitality but a dangerous (in the right way) extension of humanity. She seems to give at an incredible 150% commitment. We are alive!

Still today, in recall, a week later, that connection to the extraordinary possibilities of a great artist embodied in Audra McDonald, thrills me. I AM ALIVE. What a re-awakening, eh? I remembered my experience years ago in San Francisco when I was equally thrilled by Lena Horne and her concert performance: THE LADY AND HER MUSIC.

BOTH INCREDIBLE NIGHTS - I hope the Sydney Music Theatre World went to see this great artist, for it was a Masterclass of performance not to be missed.

Blood Bank

Ensemble Theatre presents a World Premiere of BLOOD BANK by Christopher Harley, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli Oct 16 - Nov 22.

BLOOD BANK is a new Australian play by a new writer Christopher Harley, at the Ensemble Theatre. It was part of the Ensemble Stages 2013 Spring Reading.

It is set in the waiting room of a Blood Bank. Michael is waiting to donate blood to his very ill twin brother Justin, both played, well, by Tom Stokes. There they are both accosted, separately, of course, by a noisy (obnoxious) young woman, Abbey, played by Gabrielle Scawthorn. A love story, of a kind develops, and the consequences between the three become complicated by illness, sex, death, guilt and a frustrated anger. Only 90 minutes long the play production begins and ends with a video backstory (AV: Tim Hope) that is, also, interspersed throughout the live action of the play. We watch and hear the two boys, Michael and Justin, as children, on an adventure in the 'bush' with their brother Ben, who dies in some kind of accident. Justin carries the memory of that day terribly, still, along with his illness.

The writing is promising in some of the dialogue exchanges, but the play is tedious in its very familiar and obvious narrative-content and seems to 'glory' in its sentimentality, never knowing when to end - there are so many endings - it felt like a slow drip torture. As well, some of the incidents of the play, such as nursing staff leaving a box of freshly collected blood bags in the waiting room unattended, are hardly credible, and derail one's suspension of belief, and the 'romantic' directorial touches e.g. the dropping of snow with moody music seems more than a trifle over-egged for a feel-good sentiment, at the play's end. (I recollected Anthony Skuse's similar tendencies in his production of CARESS/ACHE earlier this year).

The efforts of all the artists involved: Anthony Skuse, Director; Tobhiyah Stone Feller, Designer (the very simple set design does double duty, being the space used for the Ensemble's concurrent production David Hare's MY ZINC BED, as well); Nicholas Higgins, Lighting; as well as the actors, including Meredith Penman, (over)playing a number of subsidiary, thinly written functionary roles, entertained the  small audience I was with, some of them moved by the production.

It is interesting to see the work of a new Australian writer (part of the reason for my trekking over the bridge, despite the trains being cancelled), but I had an experience that made me to want to get out the blue-pen and edit it, shorten it, and to dilute the overwritten heart-tugging calamities of the text and production.

Mr Harley has another new play scheduled for the Darlinghurst Season of 2016: REMEMBERING PIRATES, in September-October. Peter Pan etc, it seems.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Girl with Sun in Her Eyes

Photo by Vanessa Wright
Red Lines Productions present, A GIRL WITH SUN IN HER EYES, by Joshua Rollins, at The Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomooloo, OCT 27 - NOV 14.

A GIRL WITH SUN IN HER EYES by American playwright, Josh Rollins is a late-night show at the Old Fitz. This is another Chicago corrupt cop plot on the Old Fitz stage, with the usual Old Fitz macho testosterone emphasis that has become a decidedly boring habit, and signature of the work in this space, with very few exceptions, over the past year, since Red Line Productions, in a flurry of optimism, from the artists of Sydney, have taken charge.

Now this would not be such a calamity if this play were better - but it is not quite a d-e-f-grade cop noir, that if it were on television would be flicked off after the first five minutes (you wouldn't even wait for a commercial), and if it were a film, it may have, just may have, gone straight to DVD, for $1.99 (and not pulped) - and to the very bottom of a Christmas stocking, and then for someone you may not really have liked. The play's recipe for success is:

 A. Characters we have all met many, many times before - including a put-upon female victim cop/prostitute decoy (Kate Williams); an ambitious moralising female cop coming out from under a thwarted love affair (Jai Paynter); a four-five-line hard boiled female lawyer and a non-speaking waitress in apron, (a double 'opportunity', for Gabrielle Rogers).

B. A plot situation, achingly over familiar - drugs (of course), sex (Oh, really?), police corruption and violence (Martin Crewes), adulterous husband (Jeremy Waters), fucked-up race relations epitomised in a revenge African-American persona (Ezekiel Simat).

C. Add an energy hijinx of acting style conjured by Andrew Henry, the Director, which is what we might come to call in a cliche reference to this theatre's house style in times to come up in the front bar of the pub: "Old Fitzian".

The only interest in this play, and I am desperately searching for one, is perhaps, the shuffling of the time shifts in the presented action - Nah, cliche, too. And, to do that Mr Rollins has had to write a multiplicity of scene changes (TV screenplay?) that seem to be endless, and sadly, a serious obstacle for committed concentration from the audience - Too true, I can assure you.

Mr Henry, has not been able to draw complex performances from his actors, mostly, seemingly, only able to move them about the space (the set of the main show DEAD CENTRE / SEA WALL) so that they have elected and are permitted to overplay (shout), or just plain flounder (bump into the furniture) with what the writer has given them. Since all the characters in the writing, appear to be unsophisticated surface observations with cliche function, the actors then, to make this work succeed beyond the obvious: "Do what Mr Rollins says, Say what Mr Rollins says", needed some more time with the Director to 'invent' psychological 'back stories' and a 'history' to give the audience at least an 'under-text' for them to endow, to make the journey at all interesting. He, and they haven't done it, well, not that it can be read - No.  The predictiveness of it all is teeth-grindingly horrible. Jeremy Waters, is the best of them all, and tries to bring it to 'life', but there is no-one else to 'play' with, and his task becomes more and more difficult to sustain - his work is, literally, heroic.

The best of this late night show that began sometime after 9 pm and didn't finish until 10.30 pm or so,  and I am being sincere now, is the inventive scene change lighting of pulsing coloured 'fluro-tubes' hung on the back wall of the set by Alexander Berlage, and the vivid and exciting Sound Design by Nate Edmondson. But a Sound and Light show, even one has good as this one, is not a tantalising enough reason to see this production - there are a lot of scene changes, and the fluro-patterns have a limit to their flashing options.

So, go, if you want.


Mind you, DEAD CENTRE / SEA WALL is worth catching. Go.

P.S. I notice that Mr Rollins is from Chicago where Mr Henry studied (with Steppenwolf), and this play, in 2011, had its premiere. Is that a coincidence as to why someone thought A GIRL WITH SUN IN HER EYES was worth stage time in Sydney?