Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Taming of The Shrew

Sport For Jove presents THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, by William Shakespeare, in the Riverside Theatre, Riverside, Parramatta. 5-7 May. A season at the Seymour Centre, follows on 19-28 May.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is one of the plays of Shakespeare, that can find itself, often, the centre of deep contemporary cultural-political debate, controversy. Says Norrie Epstein in his THE FRIENDLY SHAKESPEARE [1]:
The play's misogyny, whether Shakespeare's or Petruchio's (In the original play the Katherine-Petruchio story is the illusion created for a drunken character called Sly, by some callous young noblemen), has caused something of a problem in recent years. Some Directors try to sidestep the issue by making Kate's submission a joke or by accepting the words at face value without irony or nuance, while others reinterpret Shakespeare to make him more acceptable to modern women. SHREW can be played any number of ways: as a Punch and Judy show, a war between the sexes, a bedroom farce, an ironic look at female power, a complicated exploration of sexual relations, or a savage indictment of patriarchal authority. ... But no matter which interpretation a Director chooses, he or she still has to confront that final stumbling block - Kate's speech of submission:
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth her husband.
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
In the critical war of opinion, quoted in the Sport For Jove (SFJ) program notes, we can read from Penny Gay, Australia's most revered Shakespeare academic:
…would Shrew still be in the the dramatic repertoire if it did not have the magic name Shakespeare attached to it? ... The play enacts the defeat of the threat of a woman's revolt. audience gets to reinforce their misogyny at the same time as feeling good.
And, on the-other-hand, famously, Germaine Greer saying:
The Taming of the Shrew is not a knockabout farce of wife-battering but the cunning adaptation of a folk-motif to show the forging of a partnership between equals. Shakespeare contrasts the wooing and marriages of Kate and Bianca. Bianca is younger and prettier and she plays the courtship game to land the more highly prized suitor bur after marriage Lucientio finds himself saddled with a cold, disloyal woman who has no objection of humiliating him in public. Kate, on the other hand, has taken herself off the market by becoming an unmanageable scold but she has the uncommon good fortune to find Petruchio who is a man enough to know what he wants and knows how to get it. He wants her spirit and her energy because he wants a wife worth keeping. He tames her like he may tame a hawk or a high-mettled horse and she rewards him with strong sexual love and fierce loyalty. Petruchio is both gentle and strong and Kate's speech at the close of the play is the greatest defence of Christian monogamy ever written.' (these words enflamed almost as much debate as the play itself).
So, Damien Ryan, the Director of this THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (also, Artistic Director of Sport For Jove), has entered the 'critical' fray, and conceived a production of the play, which in this iteration, is its second season in Sydney. I have seen this play only thrice before: once, long ago from the Old Tote Company in 1972, an all-female version by Bell Shakespeare in 2009, and a production in Walnut Creek in California. What I remember, especially, from the Californian production was how comic the play was. I had, then, because the play was relatively unknown to me, a very happy and surprising time. Says John Bell in his book, ON SHAKESPEARE:
Putting its contentious sexual politics to one side, the play is a brilliantly constructed comedy full of well-defined and colourful characters. The subplot with its rival lovers, tricks, disguises, cunning servants and double crossers is marvellously realised, a feast for a company of character-comedians. [2] 
 And a joyous and attentive experience is what I took away from this Sport For Jove production, with its unique rambunctious collection of character-comedians.

I have, generally, admired the conceits, conceptional 'wrappings' of Mr Ryan's productions of Shakespeare, if not always admiring the clarity of his 'Shakespeare-core' - and by that I mean, for instance, in his production of HENRY V, that the conceit of the London Blitz, as the 'entrance' to that play for his audience was better appreciated than the actual content of Shakespeare's play - the story of King Henry V. I found the production 'wrapping' an obstruction to the storytelling of Shakespeare's play. The 'invention' commanded one's attention to the detriment of the original play.

This TAMING OF THE SHREW is set in the burgeoning silent film era and includes many interpolations of actual SFJ silent movies of comic pertinence including amusing titles, - the amazing Videographer, being David Stalley. The cinematic piece-de-resistance is the final film where our twenties aviatrix Katharina-Kate-Kitty-hawk with her Petruchio, stowed in the back, perhaps, co-pilots, fly off into the sunset together - thematically finishing Mr Ryan's brilliant conceit for his 'show'. Thus, in its played construction I did not find it dominating the Shakespearean story, and rather, absolutely, found it serving Hamlet's instruction to the Players, (paraphrasing): let the word suit the action and the action suit the word.

This is an adaptation of the play with much gender bending, e.g. Tranio becoming Tania (Eloise Winestock), Vincentio becoming Vincentia (Angela Bauer) amongst some others, and therefore not, wholly, the play as writ by Shakespeare. It, however, in its much re-writing still captures the story, the characters, the politics and most joyously, the comedy of the original play. I sat forward in my seat early, smiling, and excited with the audacity of SFJ's production conceit and also, relishing the Shakespearean/Ryan text.

All of these 14 actors, who are part of a four play season at the Seymour Centre: revivals of HAMLET, MACBETH, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, and a new production of the Australian classic AWAY, by Michael Gow, are on top of their game. Robert Alexander, Danielle King, Lizzie Schebesta, James Lugton, Mike Cullen, Eloise Winestock, Chris Stalley, George Kemp, Angela Bauer, Barry French, Terry Karabelas, Amy Usherwood, George Banders and Chris Tomkinson give a confident and wryly comic reading of the production - all, clarity itself, and all carrying their responsibilities with a great sense of how their part is serving the whole - a beautifully well-oiled 'machine'.

Ms King, as Katharina, is as rich with her textual insights as she is with her attentive and brooding presence in all of her other scenes - a great theatrical intelligence enhancing this creation for a great and moving benefit. Mr Lugton is a swaggering and comically intelligent Petruchio, an impertinent match in his wooing of his 'bride'. Whilst, Ms Schebesta (Bianca) and Winestock (Tania) with Mr Stalley (Lucentio) and Banders (Tailor) had me especially attentive.

This is a very handsome production, Designed with a great sense of detail in the intricate Set permutations of the Directorial demands of Mr Ryan, and the Costuming, also, by Ms Gardiner, is wondrously humorous and immense in scale (the number of changes for Ms Schebesta, an awesome statistic in itself!). Anna Gardiner is, indeed, a major talent, seemingly growing from strength to strength in her endeavours. The Lighting By Sian James-Holland, the Sound Design by Tom Allum, too, supports the sweep of the evening's experience. Considering the scale of this production and the demands of the other productions of this Sport For Jove season at the Seymour Centre, I feel I ought to acknowledge the input and excellence from the production team: Bronte Axam (Stage Manager), and Katherine Holmes, Lauren Holmes (Assistant Stage Managers) and Ryan Devlin (Tech Manager).

All in all, this THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, is worth catching.

P.S. Put down a 'gold coin' to get hold of the program as well, for Mr Ryan has provided a very erudite set of notes to support his reasoning for presenting the Shrew in this day and controversy. I caught a train and bus home from Parramatta and was still engrossed in the notes, and had to finish them with a cup of tea on getting home - two hours or so of  solid reading! Much to ponder and wonder at. Argue as well. The argument about the efficacy of this play  in our day and age, is one of the reasons to see the play - a justification, itself of a production -  so, a good enough reason to put your gold coin(s) in. Join the conversation - what good art should provoke.



  1. Norrie Epstein. 1993. THE FRIENDLY SHAKESPEARE. Penguin Books.
  2. John Bell. 2011. ON SHAKESPEARE. Allen and Unwin.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

As We Forgive

A Tasmania Performs production, co-presented by Tasmania Performs and Griffin Theatre Company, AS WE FORGIVE, by Tom Holloway, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. May 12 - 21.

AS WE FORGIVE, by Tom Holloway, presents three monologues: Vengeance, Hatred, Forgiveness. "Three Morality Plays For an Amoral Age" performed by the one actor, Robert Jarman. It is elegantly Directed by Julian Meyrick, employing a co-design of his own, alongside Jill Munro, featuring a series of visual images that appear on a reddish screen throughout the production - this was the one element that held my attention appreciatively, throughout. A music score by Raffaele Marcellino, played live, by cellist, Jack Ward, set a mood of possible contemplative melancholia whilst, pragmatically, acting as a cover for some fairly luxurious costume and scene change times.

Mr Jarman in a 'grand-fatherly' manner engages the audience with direct reference and tells, first, of his act of vengeance pursued against a neighbourhood boy. The story's content  and stately tempo, has an atmosphere that reminded me of the mechanics of Edward Alan Poe's, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. Unfortunately, VENGEANCE, had none of the grip of that story and seemed, feasibly, more and more unlikely a true recounting of a possibility. HATRED, the second story, is one of paternal abuse between a father and son, and had more ownership from Mr Jarman, and permitted an acceptance of a reality and permission to believe the proposed morality of its telling. While the last story of FORGIVENESS, in which we are told of a continuous bleeding, and the necessity for pain to be part of forgiveness, was thankfully short.

The monologue is not my favourite form of theatre and the actor needs to have a charisma and energy level of some great aesthetic arrest to engage me - say, Maggie Smith, in TALKING HEADS; or with recent stage reference, Tom Campbell's performance in MISTERMAN; Kate Cole in GROUNDED, are examples of what I mean. And, given the task of creating three separate characters, the monologist must have the imaginative skills and available visceral craft skills to truly astonish one into consistent belief with detail in his choices to help us distinguish his three men - one from the other, and stay with him. This was not the experience in the Stables Theatre and one became disinterested as the performance unwound.

Tom Holloway's writing is not of the usual poetic capacity and the 'mouth-pieces' in this work, then, appear, of much less interest, for us. These morality plays for our amoral age fail to engage or clarify in their intended encouragement for thoughtfulness.

Says, the Director, Julian Meyrick:
…It is the mark of intelligent drama that it ignites the intelligence of its audience. ... Who are the men in AS YOU FORGIVE? ... The answer is: anyone. ... They are not special people singled out for special treatment, but instances of common humanity who bear up under grief and pressures all human beings must soon or later manage. This is the true movement of AS WE FORGIVE, its central insight: that the great questions of life, by turns perplexing, disturbing and transcendent, are not the province of philosophers or playwrights, but are available to anyone. All we need is the courage to face them.
None of the nameless men of AS WE FORGIVE, serve the objective of Mr Holloway and Meyrick well enough in this performance. I was unprovoked, unmoved - really, a little bored. Rather, I recommend you spend some time with Hanya Yanagihara's characters in A LITTLE LIFE, which, too, tells of brutal life incidents, but also of acts of friendliness, of tenderness, of four ordinary men and their 'satellites' - and so, because of the contrasts, produces a work that, as Julian Barnes writes:
 ... feels elemental, irreducible -  and dark and disturbing though it is, there is beauty in it.
The lack of any observation of authentic beauty in Mr Holloway's world as acquitted by Mr Jarman and Meyrick produces a sense of pessimism and nihilism of a high order - not what I need, today, to continue to live on with my little life.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Spring Awakening - The Musical

Photo by Tracey Schramm
Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) present, SPRING AWAKENING - THE MUSICAL, Books and Lyrics by Steven Sater, Music by Duncan Sheik, based on the original play, by Frank Wedekind, at the ATYP Studio, Wharf 4, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay, 27 April - 14 May.

This is the third production of SPRING AWAKENING - The Musical, that I have seen. I saw the original Broadway production at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in 2008, and the, relatively, mis-conceived production by the Sydney Theatre Company in 2010. This production of the musical based, 'roughly', on the Frank Wedekind play (1891), Directed by Mitchell Butel, is the most satisfying of the three experiences. This is a play about teenagers, navigating the sexual 'explosions' of their bodies, equipped with only the basic instincts around it, living in a society that is 'shy' of providing the proper education for the negotiating of that most integral part of their human journey. The success of this production has to do, mostly, for me, with the sense that these actor/singers are palpably believable, in age appearance, to be the characters they are playing, and in the intimate space of the ATYP Studio space, reveal, close-at-hand, authentic capabilities with their musical skills: sometimes raw and enthusiastic, but, always, fully committed.

The relevance of the thematics of the Musical and its exposure of a society that permits ignorance around sex and then, the consequent social scandal and shaming, unwanted children and even suicide, is as powerful as the original was - the play was banned from performance, in Germany until 1906, 1917 in the USA and 1963 in England. I first knew the Wedekind play from enthusiastic but mostly, prurient student productions at Universities, in Sydney, as I was growing up. In the program notes, Mr Butel says:
... It only took the recent debate over the Safe Schools Coalition education program, and its eventual curtailment and planned abolition, to demonstrate that though some are quite fine with teenagers being able to get lost in a never-ending exchange of suggestive selfies or to download pornography with an easy click on their multiple devices, the notion of actually offering teenagers information about sexuality and choice or access to resources for their self-development is seen by some as a no-no.
The best part of this adaptation by Steven Sater is that the central interest is not about the yearning for sex but for knowledge.

The music is for some and not for others. It is formulated by Duncan Sheik from what is known as 'alternative rock' - and in the context of contemporary sound and the original play-time source, is a folk infused rock score. The attraction of it, especially for the younger generation, I have observed, is in the iconoclastic themes/statements of the Lyrics of the songs, for instance, "The Bitch of Living", "Totally Fucked", that are accompanied by raunchy in-yer-face musical enthusiasms. Too, there are some touching meditations on psychological turmoil, especially, "Don't Do Sadness".

The staging of this Musical, viewed from three sides by the audience, is wonderfully prepared, by Mr Butel, and is suggestive in stage-shape of the history of the evolution of this show in its original workshop permutations, and does work brilliantly to engage the audience with the visceral energies of the cast. Set Design, by Simon Greer, is simple, with the band set centrally, on a raised platform, at the back of the stage to permit the free flow of the action of the story, on the fore-stage, accommodating the well drilled choreography of Amy Campbell. The Lighting Design is effective from two of the 'power-house'  Designers in Sydney at the moment: Damien Cooper and Ross Graham. Lucy Bermingham, with her band of eight players and assisted Sound Design (David Bergman), are a sensitive and commanding energy to the piece.

This is a 'big' sing for this young company. James Raggart, as Melchior, mostly, succeeds at the demands of the work and certainly looks the part, though his voice seemed to be sounding ragged and tired by the time we got to the solo and duet/reprise of "Don't Do Sadness" in the early part of Act Two. Josh McElroy, as Moritz, sustained the play/musical demands for his character more successfully and has a charisma that demands that you pay attention, despite, sometimes loose precision in his storytelling skills. Patrick Diggins, as Hanschen, and Joe Howe, as Ernst, were always intriguing figures on the stage. Alex Malone, as Ilse, was the most impressive of the leading women in the cast with a gutsy sense of the 'alternative' education of her character, and a very secure centre to her singing voice - Ilse, a pleasing force of 'good' nature. Jessica Rookeward, as Wendla, was mostly comfortable with her 'big sing' but less appealing in the 'acting' of the book and in the storytelling. In fact the weakness, that prevented this production from completely taking off, for me, was the lack of secure reality in the acting demands, of most of the company, which tended to skirt into shallow musical theatre technique rather than the capture of 'truth' that such proximity of the audience, in the theatre seating, had a need to demand.

The sheer energy and obvious enjoyment of the process of the production, and probably, the youthful identification of the cast with the material/content of the Musical is what seduces one to having a very good time in the theatre. I understand the production was solidly booked before even the production opened, but it is worth catching, if the rock musical is your bag. And certainly, its message is as important for this contemporary age as it was in its original incarnation in 1891! - sad to say.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Black Jesus

Photo by Nick McKinlay
bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company presents, an Australian premiere of BLACK JESUS, by Anders Lustgarten, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), in the Kings Cross Hotel, 29 April - 21 May.

BLACK JESUS, introduces to the Australian (Sydney) audience, a political/activist writer, Anders Lustgarten. He lives in Britain and was the inaugural winner of the Harold Pinter Prize. His plays have included amongst others: IF YOU DON'T LET US DREAM, WE WON'T LET YOU SLEEP (2013) - concerned with financial capitalism; LAMPEDUSA (2015) - concerned with the refugee/migrant situation in Europe.

BLACK JESUS, written in 2013, is set in Zimbabwe, in 2015 (in the future, then), and it concerns an investigation by a Truth and Justice Commission, into the 'Green Bombers' set up by the Mugabe Government. Eunice Ncube (Belinda Jombwe-Cotterill) is seeking to discover the mechanisms of some of the crimes of the past, and is examining Gabriel Chibamu (Elijah Williams), who, as a child soldier, became an infamous leader known as Black Jesus:

                      "And do you know why I was called by that name? Because I decided who would be    saved and who would be condemned. I took that responsibility for others and now I take it to myself. I am Black Jesus. I do not crawl."

A white investigator, Rob Palmer (Jarrod Crellin), romantically entangled with Eunice, finds pressure from a minister of the new regime of power, Endurance Moyo (Dorian Nkono), too much to bear and shifts pre-occupation to survive, as does Eunice, herself, as her family history, muddies her motivational intentions.

The play reveals the complications of government and the ambiguities that may be necessary to maintain order, where the events and histories of all in the past maybe neither 'right or wrong' or clearly 'guilty or innocent', creating the inevitable need for compromises, maybe, to seek truth and give justice. What is Truth? What is Justice? And can it be defined, practically, in the modern world?

The play is a taut 75 minute one act drama, dramatically performed by all the actors, especially newcomer, Mr Williams, in a visceral and frighteningly passionate presence as Gabriel (although, he has a tendency to shout, that mars the reception of the clarity of the work). Mr Nkono gives a sophisticated gleam to his dangerously avuncular politician in power. Ms Jombwe-Cotterill plays a patient and delicate 'game' in her character's pursuit of truth and justice, and shocks and surprises us with a 'family' confession at the end of the play, intensely given. Mr Crellin, does well with a relatively underwritten and under-motivated character.

Director, Suzanne Millar, mostly, maintains pressure to the tempo of the work, employing an effective Sound Design, by Will Newman, with the added aid of a live drum support (Alex Jalloh), and a choreographic element to the scene changes evoking the culture and recent history of Zimbabwe, that we may have conveniently forgotten or ignored. Set Design is jointly created by Suzanne Millar and John Harrison (the Set Artist, Yvette Tzaillas). Lighting Design, by Christopher Page. There are dramaturgical loose-ends in the writing but one's possible carping can be superseded by the passionate playing from the actors in the experience of the performance. The play's politics and atmosphere are entirely absorbing.

bAKEHOUSE Productions last impressed me with their choice of play with HIS MOTHER'S VOICE,  with a cast of mostly Asian/Australian performers, and, again, reveal a commitment to the World Community, and to the diversity possible in Sydney, in their Storytelling endeavours, with this, mainly, of African/Australian heritage company. (Is it possible that we may see an Australian production of an August Wilson play? Check my response to the National Theatre's production of MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM).

The political nakedness of the play's concern are carried by the muscularity of the playing and is worth your attention. Put BLACK JESUS on your list to see.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Photo by Amanda James
Riversides Theatre presents, National Theatre of Parramatta, with SWALLOW, by Stef Smith, in the Lennox Theatre, Riversides Theatre, Parramatta. 21 - 30 April.

SWALLOW, is a work by Scottish writer, Stef Smith. It was presented last year, 2015, at the Edinburgh Festival. It tells of three women: Rebecca (Megan Drury), responding (acting out) in a rage to the desertion by her boy friend to another woman; of Anna (Luisa Hastings Edge), an artist suffering from a breakdown depression who cannot leave her apartment and smashes it in pursuit of creativity; and of Sam (Valerie Berry), in a transition of sexual identity from woman to man, who investigates survival in her new carnation in the live world.

Eighty minutes of what is,essentially, three poetic verbal monologues of brooding crisis, the Direction, by famed choreographer, Kate Champion, has marshalled some beauty in these 'depressed' worlds in an elaborate Design by Anna Tregloan, of impressively large grey-blue grid-lined walls and floor, with image projections and text, webbed by fine, vibrating wires across the 'proscenium' of the stage width. Lighting by Verity Hampson. Composition and Sound Design, by Max Lyandvert, being a complex and useful offer to help sustain the work over its length. The visual aesthetic is impressive.

Ms Berry, as Sam, who was once Samantha, creates the character who invites empathetic listening from the audience and holds us tenderly in her story. The performance is beautifully crafted and has a physical truthfulness that reveals all of the awkwardness of such a transition, and ripples with the strange searching for comfort in this new guise, and is centred around a deft vocal clarity of storytelling, never flooded by emotional excess - the story is told with exact clarity inviting the audience to endow catharsis, rather than it demonstrating the emotional states of the character's journey. Ms Berry creates a very, very wonderful performance and invites us to experience, cathartically, the fears and growing joys of finding an expression of identity truth, after a confused past life of distrust and discomfort.

On the other hand, neither, Ms Hastings Edge, or Ms Drury, have in this work, been able to construct a word-by-word revelation of Ms Smith's characters without 'demonstrating' the emotional agony of their women at the expense of good storytelling. We were, essentially, witnesses to the abstract noise of extreme emotional suffering, without any clear guided clarity as to why, which was, probably, justified in the word, phrase, sentence, speech construct, revelation of the writer. Neither actor had seemed to construct a 'back-story', history, of their women, and we saw no subtextual understanding of how these women had arrived at such desperate states of living, they simply 'were' and existed only in the moment of the writing's time reality. Empty, and noisy, vessels. Ms Champion did not seem to be able to manage the means to assist her actors to language clarity or character motivation or history, nothing was apparent into cluing us to understanding these women, except as, what I, unfortunately, came away with, self-indulgences. Ms Champion's strength in creating a physical language for character was apparent, but the play demands attention, a propensity, for language clarity, not gesture, to deliver the work effortlessly to the audience.

SWALLOW is the first offer from a new theatre company, the NATIONAL THEATRE OF PARRAMATTA. The name of the company is audacious in its claim to being National, I have thought. Outrageous, really. Cheeky, I reckon, but good on them, especially if they can come up with the national 'goods'. "As a Directorate…" says Paula Abood, Wayne Harrison AM, S. Shakthidharan and Annette Shun Wah,
…we aspire to present works that resonate with audiences in Western Sydney and beyond. Our vision is to 'put the nation on stage' in ways that are perfomatively compelling, insightful and vital...
Just how SWALLOW, the inaugural production of the company, is putting 'the nation on stage' is a puzzling question. The artists are all Australian, for sure, but the CORE, the well-spring of all the creativity - the play, is not. Why not an Australian play? Even more curiously, I wonder, why was not a new work especially commissioned for the company's premiere? Why not commission a dance work from Ms Champion? Her strength. Her work, famously, a hybrid of body and voice?

The nomenclature of this company reminds me of the nomenclature of the NATIONAL THEATRE OF SCOTLAND, and indeed, as SWALLOW is a play by a Scottish writer, Stef Smith, it may be a more relevant, resonating work for Scotland and that company, than for the NATIONAL THEATRE OF PARRAMATTA, and Parramatta, or anywhere else in this Nation. After the choice of SWALLOW, which has always seemed to be, to me, an incongruous choice to launch this new, ambitious Australian theatre company, (and not just because of its Scottish origin, but also because of its very political but limited scope, despite its importance and timeliness, as subject matter), to, then, have a famous dance choreographer, not hugely experienced with language texts, which SWALLOW is, to launch that project, also, caused me some disquiet as to the advice that this Directorate had taken. The next project, STOLEN (1998), by Jane Harrison, a play concerning Indigenous characters and history seems to me a more likely opening production for the NATIONAL THEATRE OF PARRAMATTA. (Then, perhaps, find a place for SWALLOW in the season, as its aptness from the Directorate is clear.)

However, that STOLEN, is to be Directed by another artist, Vicki Van Hout, steeped in the world of choreography/dance rather than language seems, once again, odd. Both artists, Ms Champion and Van Hout, are very talented (and, dare, I say it, fashionable) and deserve encouragement, but are they the best artists to deliver this text-based work, where vocal artistry-craftsmanship, is more important than movement? Especially, as they are the opening gambits, to establish the artistic credibility of this new National company? The artistic risks the company has taken are admirable, but, for me, also of some alarm. "It", as the Directorate tells us," promises to be an adventure". One just wishes the artistic construct of the 'machinery' of that adventure had more promise/certainty of success than it does. I could be wrong about my anticipation of STOLEN, but I have had my apprehensions of the season confirmed, in the production/performance of SWALLOW.

I say all this, because I care. Really care about its success.

SWALLOW, a handsome (expensive) looking production blighted by two emotionally charged performances, contrasted, with example, by beautiful work from actor, Valerie Berry - all that SWALLOW needed to succeed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Mad March Hare Theatre Company in association with Red Line Productions present, BELLEVILLE by Amy Herzog, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomooloo. 20 April - 12 May.

BELLEVILLE (2011) is the second play by Amy Herzog that we have seen in Sydney. 4000 Miles, we saw in a production by Anthony Skuse, in May, 2013 (it has just finished a re-rehearsed regional tour).

Amy Herzog writes plays observing the details of situation concerning fairly everyday contemporary people. The writing style is part of what I have called "slow theatre" where the action of the play has long episodes of silence, into which the audience can endow the emotional action of the characters - this "slow theatre" movement is epitomised in the work of another American, Annie Baker, whose play THE ALIENS, we also saw at the Old Fitz last year (incidentally, the recent Director of Ms Baker's works including the recently, highly lauded, THE FLICK, is Sam Gold, Ms Herzog's husband. They have not worked professionally together. It is interesting to see Ms Herzog and Baker writing in this recent "slow theatre" experiment - who is influencing who?)

BELLEVILLE, is a grim observation of the deterioration and collapse of a marriage between two young American Dreamers of a generation brought up by parents who encourage their off-spring: "It doesn't matter what you do when you grow up as long as you're happy." Young husband, Zack (Josh Anderson), in helping to fulfil his young wife's, Abby's (Taylor Ferguson), dream of happiness, which is to live in the City of Love, Paris,  transports their life to the multi-cultural suburb of Belleville. Unhappily, the living of this dream of happiness, has been built on a lie, necessitating increasing acts of dishonesty to sustain.

Ms Herzog, constructs the work with a slow 'drip-feed' of information revealing the unravelling of the lie on which their 'happiness' is built, the tensions that ensue, producing a gripping anxiety of a premonition of danger. The struggle for control of the situation, by Zack, is wonderfully built with the intense inner life of the performance from Mr Anderson, as his character's mask of deception crumbles away. As the consequent causations of anxiety to his already mentally fragile wife, who comes to suspect that all about her is not what she thinks, we watch the deceits web her, lead her, to question her sanity and her grip on reality. (It reminded me of one of my favourite films of this genre: GASLIGHT (1945), with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.) Ms Ferguson, replacing at very short notice another actor, has instinctively created a powerful sensitive construct of a woman on the verge of a complete psychotic and physical breakdown - it is truly, a remarkable, visceral performance, and that is not even considering Ms Ferguson's brief rehearsal opportunities. Ms Ferguson is an actor to watch.

The world of these two unravelling first world citizens, are culturally contrasted with the hard working refugee lives of their rooms' 'landlords', Alioune and his wife, Amina, played with with a sober, grounded weary patience, by Aldo Mignone and Chantelle Jamieson. It is a sombre and subtle critique of the values of the first world as we watch the meticulous cleaning up of the debris of the apartment in the last scene of the play.

Director, Claudia Barrie with her Design team has built an elaborate naturalistic environment, by Jonahan Hindmarsh, that seemed more Australian grunge than Paris grunge, in architectural and set dressing detail. Benjamin Brockman, (SHIVERED, DARK VANILLA JUNGLE), creates a Lighting design with a surreal, changing, pastel background support, that too often is under lit for the seeing of the vital, pregnant 'silences' of the action on the mainstage. The Sound Design, by Katelyn Shaw, assists the ratcheting tensions of the writing tremendously.

A 90 minute, one act play, BELLEVILLE, is a psychological thriller disguising a contemporary critique of the 'American Dream', and its influence and consequence for some of the youth of its citizenry. An experiment in writing, a good play with four good performances, with that of Ms Ferguson,  alone, worth the time and money to go see.