Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Faith Healer

Photo by Brett Boardman

Belvoir presents, THE FAITH HEALER, by Brian Friel, in the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, Surry Hills, 26 October - 27 November.

The lights faded to black. The play, THE FAITH HEALER, was finished. The stage lighting came back up and it was a kind of surprise, shock, wonder, when on the furniture-empty raised platform, surrounded by a panorama of painted tumultuous clouds, only three actors stood there to take the curtain call. Colin Friels, Alison Whyte and Pip Miller. They looked so few on that, what appeared to be now, very spare space. For in the previous two hours I had been taken away into a crowded world of people and places, vivd, vital and spellbinding - however squalid and sad. It was, on reflection, my imaginative forces that had been conjured, coaxed into 'action' by these three actors to have a 'world' swirling in front of me, to have what the Chorus in HENRY V asks for: "a Muse of Fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention". We had three Muses of Fire, in front of us, inventing heavenly.

These three actors had displayed their remarkable talent as storytellers - the very definition of what an actor is: a Story Teller (as distinguished from the other kind of 'actor', the demonstrator of emotional states, which we more often than not, are plagued with, witnesses of). How wonderful, it was, to sit in a theatre again and have a text - play - not tampered, adapted, re-written or re-located, from an experienced, even, great writer, Brian Friel. A Design from four great Australian artists: Brian Thomson (Set), Tess Schofield (Costume), Verity Hampson (Lighting), Paul Charlier (Composer and Sound Designer), led by one of the greatly gifted Australian artists, Judy Davis, as their Director.

It is, relatively, rare to have such a team of excellence across all areas of the creative forces together on a Sydney stage (a notion that I understood Jonathan Church had remarked upon on responding to the Sydney Theatre scene - in case you have forgotten, he, who withdrew, suddenly, from the Artistic Directorship of the Sydney Theatre Company, before he really began, not so long ago.) And, I reckon, the Companies of Sydney should take note of the years of experience involved with this production and why its 'chance' of succeeding was enhanced with the gathering together of this calibre of artist. Certainly, we, the audience, felt safe, from the first 'beat' of the performance and became entranced, enmeshed, in an experience that had no sense of time passing - it flashed past, in the security of its all-round expertness.

THE FAITH HEALER is comprised of four monologues, two by Frank, the Faith Healer, an itinerant performer (conman?) of acts of healing around the fringes of the United Kingdom - acts that are either 'momentous' or 'absurd' - and one by each of the other characters, Grace, his wife/mistress, and Teddy, his manager. Each of these characters give a testimony of shared events calling into question, subtly, what we have just heard before. The recall of the events of the play are different in their details. The play is a memory play, but of three memories of the same events, memories that are highly 'personalised', so that the end result of the 'adventure' of THE FAITH HEALER, teaches us that our own memories and stories, perhaps, are revealed, terribly, to be versions of truth that are different from our siblings, friends, for us to be able to continue forward. A reflection that sits with all of us for every part of our lives. A truth that spotlights our human frailty and connection. A striking positive truth.

What is at the centre of this production is the use of language, the love of the word. It begins with the writer and is embraced exquisitely by these actors under the meticulous care of Ms Davis. Stephen Rae, an actor, talking of Brian Friel quoted him saying:
It's all in the language, he said to me. The play, I asked? The theatre? The whole thing, he said. 
This transcendent truth was evident in the experience of this production. On leaving the theatre the world I am living in had been put into a perspective that permitted it to be accepted with a curious, even if small, optimism. The tragedy of these three people as told by Mr Friel and performed by these actors was a 'message' of the possibility to believe in the common frail thread of 'being' that allows one to 'continue on', even if it is, at best, wearily. The catharsis of tragedy can be elevating. Weird but true. In our present era of political turmoil, the production, the play, became an 'olive branch' that encouraged the virtue of faith. This experience of Friel's THE FAITH HEALER, indeed, in itself, a faith healer.

If you didn't get to see this production you have missed something that demonstrated why the theatre is a relevant form in 2016 and the justification for its sustainability in the future. When dedicated artists, like these, all, share a vision, we all can find a way to go on, to continue to be just human with all our strengths and weaknesses. Effort will be valued. Does count.

"At the end of any night's experience in the theatre, all that any writer can hope for is that maybe one dozen people have been moved ever so much or ever so slightly, and that the course of their lives may be enriched or altered by a very fine degree. I don't believe for one second that a dramatist is going to change the face of the earth." - Brian Friel.

Gate Theatre Dublin's production of THE FAITH HEALER  was seen as part of the Sydney Festival in 2009. Its affect was viable then, too.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Speed the Plow

Sydney Theatre Company and Colonial First State Global Asset Management present SPEED - THE - PLOW, by David Mamet, in The Roslyn Packer Theatre, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay, 8 November - 17 December.

SPEED - THE - PLOW, by David Mamet was written in 1988 and starred Madonna in its first outing.

Act One: It concerns two lowly-runged 'goers' in the Hollywood hierarchy trying to get further up the ladder with the power to 'green light' the production of films. Charlie Fox (Lachy Hulme) brings to his ambitious friend/ally, the corporation favoured Bobby Gould (Damon Herriman), a deal for a Prison film with hot action man, Dougie Brown, attached. This Prison film might be the one, the project that will propel them into a higher place of regard and influence. Pitch it they will to one of the Top Guys. Whilst talking, Karen (Rose Byrne) a temporary secretary, brings in the coffee. When she leaves a bet evolves between the two excited men, for $500, whether Bobby can get Karen to bed! After Charlie leaves, Bobby goes into action, asking Karen to read a book about Radiation, called THE BRIDGE, and to give him a report as to whether there is a possible film in the subject matter, that evening, at his home! She agrees!!

Act Two: Later that evening at Bobby's place, Karen, with book-marked novel, sprawls on the carpet, drinking 'bubbly', and begins to persuade Bobby that there is important film potential in the book and he should green light it. They talk, they crawl and sprawl on the carpet, they drink more 'bubbly'.

Act Three: Next day Bobby tells Charlie that he wants to do 'good' and announces a change of mind and that he will drop the Prison film and champion the Radiation film. Charlie is aghast. Charlie questions Karen and she admits that, yes, indeed Bobby and she had gone to bed. That she had sex as a bargaining tool for her ambition. Bobby is bewildered. Shocked. Apparently, out-manoeuvred by a woman!!  The book is thrown out the door. Karen is exiled into the wilderness, through the same door. Charlie is victorious, The Prison film will be pitched. Although, he will be light of $500, after all Bobby did score Karen. A bet is a bet - business, a buck is a buck.

Says Mr Mamet in an article for The New York Times, DRAMA THAT BRINGS HOME THE BACON: '
I wrote [SPEED - THE - PLOW] some 20 years ago, when I knew little of Hollywood. I lived in the East and would go out there three times a year for a day or two, and sit in Hollywood with some director or producer or studio head, and talk about some project we would not make, and the thing was pretty clear: the movies were an industry, staffed by craven business types interested in only making a buck. ... But what about High Art?  ... I believe that the business of America is business, and the aim of drama is to put tushies in the seats; and the best way to do that is to write a ripping yarn, with a bunch of sex, some nifty plot twists and a lot of snappy dialogue. If you are looking for such, I suggest SPEED - THE - PLOW.
This is a ninety-minute three-act chamber piece with the signature ingredients of the Mamet play - 'a ripping yarn, a bunch of sex, some plot twists and a lot of snappy dialogue' in the mode of what has become known as 'Mamet-speak'. And business is business. Cast a celebrity/actress in the role, Madonna, and business will be even better. So they thought in 1988.

The choice of this play by the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), then, must have some merit in their belief that the text has all the hallmarks of a typical Mamet play and, so, worth producing. And the casting of a celebrity/actress, in this case, Rose Byrne, following the lead of the original production with  'the aim of drama [being] to put tushies in the seats' will make business - good business.

I have alway regarded SPEED - THE - PLOW as minor Mamet.  I would go so far as to say, second-tier Mamet. And, almost 30 years after its first production I would also say dated Mamet - a satirical cartoon, of its time, that has lost much of its punch today. Too much has gone on in the world, especially of late, to believe that there is any zeitgeist frisson going on here with this Hollywood fable of male misbehaviour - mendacity - to make it a must see for Sydney audiences, in 2016.

Why has this play been even considered for production by the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) in 2016? If it is as a star vehicle for guest artist, Rose Byrne, who plays Karen in this production - and she acquits herself well enough - who has been front-and-centre in all the publicity, it does not offer her much opportunity to be seen - tested - to star. Does the audience get their money's worth, in this opportunity to watch Ms Byrne?  Undoubtedly, the role of Karen is the catalyst to the dilemma of Bobby and his mate Charlie in the play but Karen's stage time is fairly sparse, limited and  is of secondary importance to that of the men in the action of the play.

Mr Uptown's debut production for the STC - was it 2008? - was the one-act REUNION (1976) by David Mamet, and there is, I propose, some reflection of the Mamet model of character - both male and female - and language efforts in Mr Upton's one and only original play for the STC, RIFLEMIND (2007), which I re-read recently, to believe Mamet to be a special inspiration. So it could be called 'neat' for Mr Upton to finish his Artistic Directorship at the STC with a Mamet as he had begun with one - a circle complete. David Mamet does not, generally, have a record of interest for female characters in his plays and if Mamet was the chosen playwright, because of Mr Upton's predilection, appreciation, for the writer:  SPEED - THE - PLOW has been "a favourite modern play for me and many writers ... a fabulous bit of writing" says Mr Upton in the program note, it seems a biased/odd choice when considering it as a vehicle to showcase Ms Byrne. It does not really give ample opportunity for the showcasing of Ms Byrne. Surely, Mamet's OLEANNA (1992) - seen at the STC with Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett - or, the BOSTON MARRIAGE (1999), with three interesting female characters - a difficult play, never seen in Sydney in a major production - would have justified the hype/selling point about the publicity of seeing Ms Byrne. Carol, in OLEANNA would have been a worthy challenge for Ms Byrne and we would have seen more of her onstage, and any of the roles in BOSTON MARRIAGE would have provided a better exposure. A pity then that it is only Karen that we get to see her 'wrestling' with. Some audience may feel cheated.

Mr Herriman, is the actor in this company with a terrific track history (experience) in the theatre, and he acquits himself in the central role with some pluck, the early verbal sparring and Mamet music pinging well. Mr Hulme has the physical size - hulk -  to impersonate a bullying Hollywood hack convincingly, and comes into some power in the last haranguing episode of the third Act - at least with noise and physical presence if not much nuance of language (the fight sequence lacked conviction). And, as earlier mentioned, Ms Byrne, with not much theatre experience, creates a delicate and cinematic detail and presence on this stage that has some of the hallmarks of her ironic and subversive wit and intelligence, that we have relished in films such as BRIDESMAIDS, SPY and the BAD NEIGHBOURS series.

David Fleischer, Designer, given the difficult task of creating two sets for this chamber play in the relative vacuum of the Roslyn Packer stage is economical in his visual tropes, though the principal problem that he creates for the production for Mr Upton is the length of dead stage time he makes in his architectural solution to the play, with scene changes in the darkened auditorium that are immensely long. The production suffers from the lack of the gathering momentum of the satiric efforts of the writing that requires sustained energy to keep it afloat -to help it rise to a soufflé-like climax of comedy. To accommodate this Design  the actors are required to rewind the energy of the writing after each act-break instead of cresting on what has gone before. It becomes a kind of Sisyphean task for the actors and is no asset to the audience's continued involvement. This management, balancing, of Mr Fleschier's visual flair with the dramaturgical needs of the writing was a flaw with other work of his that we have seen in other collaborations he has had with Mr Upton: e.g. FURY, TRAVELLING NORTH, for instance. Mr Fleischer's offer/solution, with Mr Upton was, relatively, deadly to this production's efforts.

SPEED - THE - PLOW seems to be lost in the BIG space of the Roslyn Packer Theatre and would have been better suited in a smaller venue, and may have avoided some of the critical scrutiny the production and play have received. But then it would not have had the potential of reaping good business with all those 'tushies' in the seats, making the buck that Mamet talks about above. I don't believe any of the artists involved with this production benefit from the pragmatics of the choice of this theatre to play in. I don't believe the audience benefit from this choice of the business management of the STC, either.

Art or Business? Business or Art? Which rules? Charlie or Karen? Karen or Charlie?


A Door Ajar

A DOOR AjAR 11 November - 19 November 2016 Blue Mountains from Theatre Trailers on Vimeo.

Fairmont Resort and Weatherboard Theatre present, A DOOR AjAR, by Dale Turner, in the Auditorium of The Fairmont Resort, Leura. 11 Nov - 19 Nov.

In 2013, I saw a production of a new Australian play, THE WESTLANDS, by Dale Turner, at The Parramatta Riverside Theatres and was wonderfully 'bowled over' (read my blog). It was a play about the Western areas of Sydney and its peoples. Written in a form reminiscent of Dylan Thomas' UNDER MILKWOOD: a verse play. It was presented by Weatherboard Theatre Company, and a program, now defunct, due to lack of funding, known as True West.

Weatherboard Theatre Company, based in the Blue Mountains area, is a collective of professional performing artists, who have found a 'collaborator' in the Schwartz Family and the Fairmont Resort who have provided a space for them to present this work. There was sponsorship from Blue Mountains Companies and business as well. The 'conceit' of the work is to present a play in the form of a radio broadcast, complete with suitable advertisements, which, humorously, give credit to those 'angels'.

A DOOR AjAR, is another verse play by Mr Turner, coming from research and interviews with members of the Blue Mountains community. There is overlap in time from somewhere after the First World War to not so long ago, the structure of the play moving through a non-linear recollection. We have memories of the train ride from steam train to the 'Fish' and 'Chips', of the weather with its snow and ice, of its heat and fires, of the people and their lives, of gossip and history and of 'characters' from a wide range of the local society (sadly, no indigenous history.) Those in my audience who were denizens of the Blue Mountains seemed , especially, connected and amused.

Shane Porteous, Tiriel Mora, Claire Jones, Maureen (Maudie) Green, Duncan Wass and Eliza Logan created, from readings, the many voices of the play and participated in the creation of the sound effects of the worlds conjured. Rebecca Daniel played her violin movingly, tunefully, for atmosphere and an aural reach to facilitate nostalgic recollection. Directed by Michael Pigott there were, also, selected projected visual images, organised by Laura Turner, sourced from the Blue Mountains City Library. (On the night I attended some 'difficulties' with the venue made that part of the work inoperable, alas.) Set and, especially, the costumes, warmly lit, anchored the performance into a ready state of comfort and restful recognition.

Mr Turner, as it was with THE WESTLANDS, reveals a sure and theatrically expert technique in the creation of this work. His writing is witty, musical and richly diverse in its econmic evocation of time, place and people. Seeing some of the writing on the Sydney stages: Griffin, Belvoir, Sydney Theatre Company, I can only wonder at the lack of interest that those companies looking for new Australian plays have given Mr Turner.

One hopes that Weatherboard and Mr Turner can continue to work way out there in the West of Sydney. Thanks must be given to the Fairmont Resort. One hopes there is a theatrical future for all three of the collaborating organisations.

The Shadow Box

Photograph by Robert Catto
Dino Dimitriades and Red Line Productions present, THE SHADOW BOX, by Michael Cristofer, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomooloo, 15 Nov - 10 Dec.

THE SHADOW BOX, by Michael Cristofer, is concerned with three persons in the terminal stage of a cancer illness, and the strains (collateral damage) it has on the families coping with that reality.

This production has a beautiful visual aesthetic created by Designer, Isabel Hudson, who simplifies the more naturalistic demands of the original concept, and is assisted by a haze lighting Design by Martin Kinnane that manages a consistent elegance of presentation during this longish play in this intimate space. Director, Kim Hardwick, has also drawn wonderfully detailed 'naturalistic' performances from all of her actors that invites identifying empathy and consistent concentration with these characters in dreadful and all to human emotional places. Mark Lee (Joe), Jeanette Cronin (Maggie), Simon Thomson (Steve); Tim McGarry (Brian), Kate Raison (Beverly), Anthony Gooley (Mark); Fiona Press (Felicity), Ella Prince (Agnes) and Jason Blair-West (The Interviewer.)

The Play was written in 1977 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The problem for the production of THE SHADOW BOX is that the writing, in 2016, seems ponderously melodramatic, and despite its reaching for insights of philosophic worthiness, has today, a sense of 'milking' the situation with the American Hallmark Channel movie predilection for sentimentality and honourable intentions. It is a strain to bear with it all, especially, when occasionally the actors cross into a little 'histrionic' choice for emotional unloading - which the writer seems to invite. I need to say it was, generally, handled well by all but every now and then...!

This production has an exquisite look and a company of actors of empathy and skill (Ms Press especially impressive in her dour consistency of character ) but in material, that considering its subject matter, feels a trifle dated in its methods of creating a distinctive night in the theatre. Edward Albee in his play, THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE, written in 1980, only 3 years later, demonstrates why he is a great playwright when, he too, tackles the issue of cancer/illness on the stage. No melodramatics there. Lots of shattering naked truths. Much comedy, believe it or not. And much philosophy, as well as the human terror.

THE SHADOW BOX will require your personal judgement about how a night in the theatre with illness can be spent.

N.B. There was no biographical notes about the writer, Michael Cristofer. All others recorded BUT not the writer - the source of all this hard work. It happens a lot in the Sydney Theatre scene. The Darlinghurst Company not acknowledging David Mamet, for instance.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Life In The Theatre

Photography by Helen White

Darlinghurst Theatre Company present, A LIFE IN THE THEATRE, by David Mamet, at the Eternity Theatre, Burton St, Darlinghurst, 4 Nov-4 Dec.

A LIFE IN THE THEATRE, by David Mamet, is an early play, 1977 and, considerably, out of the usual area and style of his more well known genre - of the 'Mamet-speak' with macho, foulmouthed men squabbling over the way to make money, epitomised in his famous Pulitzer Prize winning, GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS, of 1984, his Chicago real estate play.

A LIFE IN THE THEATRE was written as a paean to his short-lived days as a young actor in a repertory company, perhaps. Two actors, one old and experienced, Robert (John Gaden), and one young and new to the 'business', John (Akos Armont), in some 18 short scenes, both back stage and sometimes on, chart the journeys of the professional actor, one trailing off in his 'blaze', the other, at the start of his 'blaze'. The New Yorker declared when the play was first shown:
Mr Mamet has written - in gentle ridicule; in jokes, broad and tiny;and in comedy, high and low - a love letter to the theatre.
That is what this production emanates. It is in the writing - the source of it all - and in the sensibility that the actors at the Eternity Theatre bring lovingly to the performance under the sentimental but savvy, romantic guidance of Director, Helen Dallimore. It is a lovely time in the theatre, especially, if you know of it - one of the 'luvvies' - and the rapport between Mr Gaden and Mr Armont is palpable - they appear to relish each others company with great regard. Design is by Hugh O'Connor (the costume needs are many!), Lighting is by Christopher Page and there is a rather charming and clever Sound Design by Jeremy Silver, that is a very successful cover (distraction) during the many costume changes for the actors that we get to view - ahh, the hectic life in the theatre. (Special note should be made of the contribution that Sunil Chandra, as Assistant Stage Manager, makes to the smooth running of the many costume and prop changes during this very busy show.)

A LIFE IN THE THEATRE, as we aforementioned, probably, had its genesis in Mr Mamet's experience as a young actor, just as GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS, probably, had its origins in his brief 'career', as a youngster, in a Real Estate office. I would wish that this 'memory' hagiographic was a little more acerbic - ALL ABOUT EVE, like - and with the verbal dexterity and more realistic toughness of GLENGARRY. Some others of us, on the other hand, may be grateful that it is what it is. Really grateful.

P.S. Watching Mr Gaden in this work set in a theatre, one was taken back to when he and others, in a "Golden Age" at the Old Tote Theatre Company, was part of George Oglivie's production of Arthur 'Wing' Pinero's love letter to the theatre known as TRELAWNY OF THE 'WELLS'. It has a large cast and not likely to be revived, although, it should be, with the right Director - I stress, the right Director! It is interesting to note that Patrick Marber - he, of CLOSER fame - has adapted TRELAWNY for the Donmar Warehouse as recently as 2013. It Directed by Joe Wright - he of the films ATONEMENT and the wonderful ANNA KARENINA. Some thought he was not the right Director for the production. One must be careful, mustn't one, for what one wishes for, for nostalgia's sake. I am still recovering from the Sydney Theatre Company's production of A FLEA IN HER EAR.

N.B. There was no biographical notes about the author of the play. I find it alarming the originator of all this work, THE WRITER, is not properly acknowledged. Director, Actors, Designers and Crew, ALL, but not the Writer.

Next Fall

Boyslikeme present NEXT FALL, by Geoffrey Nauffts, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale, 26th October to 19th November.

NEXT FALL, by Geoffrey Nauffts, is a play with gay themes concerning an Odd Couple: a closeted Christian man, Luke (Alex Ewan) living in partnership with an atheist, Adam (Darrin Redgate) and all the conundrums socially, politically, emotionally that that 'arrangement' might throw up. Especially, when Luke in a coma in hospital after an accident, results in his 'blood' family and his 'tribal' family to meeting up for the first time.

I saw NEXT FALL in production on Broadway, in New York, in 2010 and found it a fairly lightweight sit-com. The Direction had the performers highlight the cliche of the character 'types' and played to its audience for the laughs (of which there were many) and the syrupy sentimentalisms of the situation (of which there were many, as well.) I was irritated with the 'glitzy' comic/sentimental manipulations of it all and, in a 'snobbish' way, aghast at the American audience buying into it with such alacrity. I had seen an off-Broadway production of THE TEMPERAMENTALS, by John Marans, at the New World Stages and had found in this work a gay-themed production of tremendous integrity and inspiration, that I wished the audiences attending NEXT FALL were getting. The contrast of method of aspiration was significant. The difference in inspiration, too, was significant.

I was invited by the producers of this production at the Seymour Centre to go see. I was reluctant. So, it is interesting to report that despite the modest production values (in contrast to the Broadway effort), I found NEXT FALL, as an experience, a little more palatable. My 'date' for the performance was very moved and pleased to have seen it. The company of actors, Victoria Greiner (Holly), Mark James Dessaix (Brandon), Mary-Anne Halpin (Arlene), Cormac Costelllo (Butch), and the aforementioned, Mr Redgate and Ewan, under the Direction of Andy Leonard, playing in the intimate space at the Reginald Theatre, have created characters, that though still cliche in the writer's conception, have been fleshed out more 'naturalistically' and convey a simple honesty and vulnerability with the human and political 'issues' front-and-centre rather than 'hammering' the comedy/sentiment of the writing.

I, particularly, was impressed with the performance of Mr Ewan as the Gay Christian, giving Luke a naivety to the position he had taken in being able to ignore the full ethical dilemmas of his beliefs, using a charm offensive to over ride too deep an interrogation of them from everybody. Too, the small scale honesty, fragility, of Ms Halpin, as Luke's mother, was tremendously moving.

This production of NEXT FALL is a light entertainment Directed and played with a simple and heart warming integrity. It finishes this Saturday.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Photo by Alexandra Nell

Lambert House Enterprises, developed with the assistance of Playwriting Australia (PWA) present FLOOD, by Chris Isaacs, at the Old 505, Eliza Street, Newtown, 9 November - 19 November.

FLOOD, by Chris Isaacs, is an Australian play first presented in Perth, in 2014.

Six young white youths, three women and three men, take off for a camping break out in the wilds of Western Australia. Just driving without a clear mapping identity they find themselves kind of lost and end up setting up camp beside a pool, having disregarded a signpost laying in the dust. Bush noises, kangaroos, imaginations, spook the experience of the night in their tents and they, relievedly, in the light of day strip off naked and plunge into the pool only to be confronted by an aboriginal man questioning why they are there, what rights they thought they had in being there. An incident occurs and the youths flee the location, home to Perth, where the emotional aftermath haunts them and throws them into a state of guilt - putting them into a further tragedy, off kilter. It is a story of the ignorance of the young and the careless sense of proprietary rights they have to the land of Australia. Says Mr Isaacs: "It's a play that looks at implicit racial bias and the tribes we choose to align ourselves with and the outcomes of those alignments."

Although the form of the writing is that of a choral face-front storytelling mode, as if enacting a short story for us, which I have come to resist, the content of the writing was intriguing enough to overcome my personal prejudices. I was drawn into the material and gained an enveloped identity in experiencing the 'stakes' of the episodes.

The play is acted by a group of personable young actors with enthusiasms that sometimes are a consolation for the variable quality of their acting skills - their vocal skills, for instance give a lot of shouting and not much nuance in the use of range. Compensatory, as well, is the Direction by Charles Sanders, who has a great sensitivity and steady-hand with the characters and the material's content integrity - all the actors draw affecting characterisations under his guidance and the writer is placed centre of the exploration. The Design elements, Set and Costume, by Stephanie Howe, Lighting, by Lachlan Hogan and Sound by Charles Sanders and Lachlan Hogan, original music by, Johnny Daylight Lacey, all make gentle contribution.

Producer, Les Solomon, found this play while browsing the internet, coming across it by default, since other international choices had become unavailable for him to present. He says:
FLOOD jumped out at me. It is a wonder to me that this play has not already had a Sydney showing, so I am excited and pleased to be able to make this happen.
I am excited and, truly, pleased that he found this Australian play because the writing is fairly sophisticated and arresting. Deserves attention to be paid. "FLOOD jumped out at me."

That Mr Isaacs was in 2012 a member of Griffin Theatre Company's inaugural StoryLab group, and that he was a recipient of the inaugural JUMP mentoring program (2010) under the guidance of mentor Kate Mulvany, and that he has won awards both for FLOOD and IT'S DARK OUTSIDE and a nomination for a Helpmann Award in 2013, ought to alert the Griffin and Belvoir, the Sydney Theatre Company to this young man's writing. Certainly, this play supersedes some of the quality of the work I have seen on the Griffin stage of late.

This is a modest production of a writer of some potential. I recommend that you try to see FLOOD, this week, before it closes.

The actors are Elizabeth Burley, David Harper (excellent), Olivia Jubb, Aaron Lucas, Chandel Rose and James Wright.

A Flea in Her Ear

Sydney Theatre Company presents A FLEA IN HER EAR, by Georges Feydeau, in a new adaptation by Andrew Upton, in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, 31 October - 17 December.

A FLEA IN HER EAR (La Puce a L'Oreille) was written by Georges Feydeau, in 1907. Feydeau is regarded as one of the greatest writers of the theatre form that we know as farce. Comedy is the hardest form of theatre to solve, I reckon, and farce is the most formidable. It requires a verbal precision that must be matched with an equally adept physical precision. It requires, usually, a daring from the actor to engage in characterisations and plot convulsions that are exaggerated, extravagant and improbable. Above all else it demands from the artist, creating these worlds, an objective technique above any emotional realities or indulgences - a cool headedness.

Farce is in the theatre a dessert, not a meaty main course - it requires nothing more from its audience than a wholehearted willingness to throw away normal objective logicalities - suspend disbelief - and to embrace the nimble ridiculousness of the people and the predicaments that the author has concocted for our 'mindless' delight. Sydney has seen two, relatively, contemporary works, ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, (2011) by Richard Bean and NOISES OFF (1982), by Michael Frayn. - both, of British origin. Now we have a modern, Australian adaptation by Andrew Upton of this great French play in the Drama Theatre, directed by Simon Phillips (THE BEAST).

The Design by Gabriela Tylesova, both the Costumes and the complicated Set Design of the apartment and hotel locations is the first of the best two ingredients of this production. It is set, beautifully, in the period of the writing, 1907, in the Art Nouveau exploration - indulgence - in the curved shapes of nature, in the period we recognise as the Belle Epoque. (Think of the Art/Set Designs of the team involved with the 1958 film by Vincent Minnelli of GIGI - winning the Academy Award of that year; Costumes by Cecil Beaton.) The other element of the production to admire is the bravura commitment of the actors to the demands that Mr Phillips has made of them: Helen Christinson (Lucienne Hominides De Histangua), Harriet Dyer (Etienne Chandebise), Leon Ford (Etienne/Olympe), Sean O'Shea (Dr Finache/Baptiste), Kelly Paterniti (Antoinette/Eugene), Tim Walter (Marcel Tournel/Rugby); and especially, Harry Greenwood, as the vocally-disabled youth, Camille Chandebise; Justin Smith with an instinctive and charming duo as an outrageous Spanish representation of Latin jealousy, Carlos Homenides De Histangua and a disreputable hotel keeper, August; with a highly stylish, cool, calm and collected performance from David Woods as the 'innocent', Victor Emanuel Chandebise and the original Feydeau-double of his doppelgänger, Poche, a hotel porter. Mr Woods is exemplary in, with, this material - if you go, watch closely. He is expert, even, moving.

I first remember seeing this play in the old Parade Theatre for the Old Tote 'a thousand years ago', (another production, too, at NIDA with students, Directed by Adam Cook), as well as being a member of the HOTEL PARADISO company in a production by George Whaley, in the same theatre for the same company (I played Camille) - both, if I remember, in translation by John Mortimer - he, who wrote (Horace] Rumple of the Bailey. Later, a production of the THE GIRL FROM MAXIM'S was also given in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. What I remember, both as audience and actor, especially, is what Richard Cottrell reveals to us in his little essay in the program notes, that the plays of Feydeau 'are put together like an intricate piece of clockwork'. It all must mesh, fit, faultlessly, together.

It was indeed prescient of Mr Phillips, who in his notes in the same program admits that, while working on this play with students using the Mortimer translation/adaptation,' [he] discovered the dizzying delights of Feydeau. The sheer mathematical bravura of the plotting was the first thrill, and then there's something about the period in which the plays are set that separates them from the "Run for Your Wife" genre [i.e. I presume, he means the British model/tropes of farce] and lends the frantic activity a kind of poetry. ... Suffice to say that my conversion to farce as high art was complete. Admittedly it has no intellectual content, but as a form it is as precise and gymnastic as the ballet, with the added requirement of an effortless facility with comic timing and heightened characterisation."

Mr Phillips goes on to say:
All that said, I might have not have jumped back into the sandpit with this particular play had Andrew [Upton] not had the temerity to tinker with it's tightly wrought mechanisms. I was only too well aware of the Rubik's cubism of the plot and the care with which it unfolds, so Andrew's idea of adding another layer of doubling, with all the consequent amendments, filled me with a mixture of fear and excitement.
Mr Phillips' instincts were alert at this 'temerity' and the Fear of this tinkering with the masterful construction of the original work is what should have taken hold of him more pertinently and that the Excitement of solving the 'challenges of Feydeau as writ, should have been sufficiently exciting to solve. For, Mr Upton has dismantled what is universally appreciated as a clockwork masterpiece of comic construction and made a new 'clock' with entirely different mechanisms, and with, dare I say, cultural sensibilities, which bristle with a definite British bias to what a 'sex-farce' may be, rather than the French flavours, in the adaptation of this play under the title of A FLEA IN HER EAR.

The original play asks for a cast of 14, with one actor playing a double role - the role of the innocent husband, Victor Emanuel, is deliberately doubled by Feydeau, with the drunken porter, Poche, in the hotel of convenience, where everyone, hilariously, meet up. Much of the original comedy lies in that trick. To decide then to reduce the actual cast size down to 9, with another necessary 5 doublings to be able to do the Upton play, does deflate some of the original inspiration of Feydeau's potential laughs (although it does make great demands of these actors - who in deed are more than valiant in attempting to make it all work. I hope the actors are fit and/or the STC has some understudies - the physical demands of Mr Phillips' production looked hair-raisingly dangerous and obviously fatiguing!)

Mr Cottrell in his essay declares that the greatest farce writer 'of them all, Georges Feydeau, is regularly revived in France and Britain, though sadly the large casts he normally demands means he is becoming something of a rarity.' It is pleasing that the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) have elected to stage this work. It is a pity, then, that the tradition of its predecessor, the Old Tote Theatre Company, that created their productions as writ, with the original Feydeau castings, has not been followed. One hopes the decision by the Artistic Director of the STC, Andrew Upton, to create 5 other doublings of roles for this production was not just for the sake of economics. I could not grasp any real gain, in this production, to have done so. Whatever the reason(s) it seems to me to diminish Feydeau's masterwork and like the STC's decision to present Caryl Churchill's play LOVE AND INFORMATION, Directed by the new Artistic Director of the STC, Kip Williams, last year, with only 8 actors, or the cut down adaptation by Mr Upton of the French classic, CYRANO DE BERGERAC, it almost defeats the reason to present the work of the original writer. (Mr Upton had even cut the wedding of Christian to Roxane in CYRANO??!!! N.B. the new Artistic Director Kip Williams was the assistant Director of that work.)

I wonder what Mr Upton's cast population of his adaptation of Chekhov's THREE SISTERS will be next year, Directed by Mr Williams. It requires a cast of 14 with some ten or so extras to present his intentions. (I should add that there are many actors wanting to work and available for the STC and would be happy to 'play', to be employed, as artists.)

Now, although the Design conception by Ms Tylesova had us expectant of a Belle Epoque vision of this play - one that has the ingredients which make it, as Mr Phillips tells us: "a kind of poetry" - of intelligence, wit, style with the grace of the Belle Epoque from the City of Light, and an attitude to sex - infidelity - that has the famous French je ne sais quoi, a joie de vivre of the theatrical that is sophisticated in its sensuality. What Mr Upton and Mr Phillips give us, instead, however, is a British vulgarity of a Benny Hill, Carry-on, Brighton Pier post-card tradition of the 'naughty but nice' innuendo and smut of the 1950's -1960's kind. Even to making the ground floor Room 7 of the hotel called: SNATCH TIME, in this adaptation, a sinister room of Sado-Masochistic sexual grotesque - represented by lots of primary colour lighting (Nick Schliepper) with smoke curling out through the door, with grim gurgling noises, (Steve Toulmin) and shocked guests, who had accidentally run into the room, running out, screaming, or with hands over their mouth, suppressing a need to throw-up (I supposed!) - concluding with the leather handle of a whip up the orifice of Room 7's occupant appearing in a group sex collision in the main room with the revolving bed!

Oh, so hilarious!

Oh, so Feydeau!!!?

Oh, so Upton/Phillips!

The Upton dialogue is often pierced with anachronisms and allusions that are more cringe making than funny, more your local Aussie blood-house thrash music  pub than a 1907 Parisian environment evocation. Although, I should record the audience (what sounded, to me, like a-rent-a-crowd), on the opening night, found it too, too funny. And it is kinda funny (think Simon Phillips' recent production of Eddie Perfect's, THE BEAST). It's just not very Feydeau funny. Some of us had expected a French Dessert, a Soufflé, but what we were served was Spotted Dick! Those of us that didn't find it funny had expected to see a Feydeau farce - it pays to read the full credits, doesn't it?: 'in a New adaptation by Andrew Upton.' One could of (should of) braced for what happened on the international stage of the Sydney Opera House to another famous playwright's play. I'm embarrassed for my French friends and for what they might think of this representation of one of their cultural icons. We had just got over the CYRANO distress.

One was in awe of the stamina of the performers. One was appreciative of a few of the performers who had a knowledge of the manners of the period of the play and an appreciation of the stylistic necessities to deliver it and were able to transcend the vulgarities of the writing of Mr Upton and the production choices of Mr Philllips. I laughed out loud three or four times in the two and half hours - at the cleverness of the skill of three or four of the actors - but mostly lamented what had happened to Georges Feydeau's farce, which, probably, most of the audience thought they were watching - after all his name, reputation, was attached.


No, no, no, this was another adaptation - appropriation - by Mr Upton of another playwright's work (masterpiece). I have not much enjoyed Mr Upton's adaptations: his Russian plays, his Norwegian, his French, his German etc etc for the STC and other companies, and wished that if he had something to say - to tell us - that he would write his own play. Rather, he has stood on the shoulders of other writers' greatness. It has been sometime since we have seen an original work of his. The last I believe being RIFLEMAN in 2007 - 9 years ago - which travelled, internationally, like , later, most of his following adaptations, whilst Artistic Director of the STC, under the auspice of the STC. Usually, but not always, with Cate Blanchett in a principal role. THE PRESENT, an Upton treatment of Chekhov's PLATONOV, opens soon on Broadway - hoping for some Tony nominations, I presume.

The production plays until the 17 December. Time to see it if you must.

P.S. May I recommend an American farceur whom I have only read but love: Avery Hopwood (1882 - 1928).

LADIES NIGHT (1920) - especially, delicious.

They, of course, have large casts of artists (actors), so shall probably never be seen at the STC with all that Administrative Staff to take care of - pay.