Monday, May 29, 2017

This Is Not Mills and Boon

Photo by Stephen Godfrey

Glorious Thing Theatre Co present, THIS IS NOT MILLS AND BOON, by Erica J. Brennan, at The Old 505, Eliza St., Newtown. 22 May - 7 June.

Says the writer, Erica J. Brennan;
There are still significant challenges in achieving a sense of playfulness towards physical intimacy.
The enemy, shame seems to be at the heart of Ms Brennan's play/protest. Shame, and of course, fear.

We begin at a book launch of Nikki Sex's latest collection of erotica short stories - not pornography - erotica. Present are us and Abby (Emma Chelsey), as the guest of Sol (Gabe Fancourt) , her new boyfriend, who is the publisher and manager of his mother, Mary - aka, Nikki Sex (Alison Bennett) - who at the launch reads a story with a lot of relish, much to the shock of Abby's father, Abe (Lynden Jones), who arrives late.

On a white swathed curtained set with a Queen size bed set centre stage, and pillows galore, the play has naturalistic scenes dealing with the slow awakening of Abby's sexploitations under the guidance of Sol and 'needling' from Mary, with the' heated' disapproval of her father, contrasting. In between, comic caricatured episodes from the short story collection appear on stage principally to draw laughter and be, what they suppose is naughty. Truly, the relished reading of the text by Nikki Sex was the funniest interlude - maybe the imagination provoked by the words was more interesting than the enacted scenarios?

However, all is resolved by the end and the culprit 'shame' is banished from Abby's life, for, despite the play's title, fear is, too, conquered. A Mills and Boon's ending of happily ever after happens.

The tonal balance in the playing of the comic interludes, mixed with the psycho-babbling of the 'real life' traumas in the spinal cord of the play, is not entirely resolved by the Director, Richard Hilliar. There is 'bravery' and 'bravura' exhibited by the actors but it is not enough to keep all of us suspended in the material for over 90 minutes. It is a little tiresome and really sexually more than 50 Shades of Beige in its very, very vanilla games. Good Grief, in all the supposed EVERYTHING IS FAIR GAME claim of the writer in her program notes, the actors leave their clothes on and, or do it under the doonah. The only thing remotely dangerously exciting on this stage is when there is simulated sex that almost rocks and thrusts the bed to possible real collapse.

The production looks Ok and the costume design is fun, (Design, by Ash Bell). The Lighting is kind of lush and is Designed by Liam O'Keefe.

As Ms Brennan addresses us in the beginning of her program notes:

Dear Theatre Attendant,
What did you think of the play? It's terrific right?
I suppose enjoying my own work is not entirely cool but neither is a play that lets sex be silly and sexy.

Yep. I don't know, really, if this play is cool or not. But in my experience, 'Hot' it certainly isn't. See for yourself, how pertinent it all really is. I reckon, THIS IS NOT MILLS AND BOON is mostly for beginners trying to validate their curiosity about how to enjoy sexual intimacy without the 'curse' of shame.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

2071



Seymour Centre presents 2071, by Duncan Macmillan and Chris Rapley, in association with Australian Theatre For Young People (ATYP), in the Everest Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 26 May - 10 June.

2071 was first presented at the Royal Court Theatre in 2014, with Chris Rapley, one of the world's leading climate scientists, investigating the central question: Is human-induced climate change real? Professor Rapley CBE, M.A., P.H.D., D.S.C. was a co-writer with Duncan Macmillan, and 'performer'. The work has been kept updated with the present science.

In Sydney, John Gaden has taken on the formidable task of making the science and the logistics of the text a palatable experience for the audience. Mr Gaden's grasp of the material, which he seamlessly reads, amplified, from a monitor, is informed by his intelligent cogency and remarkable vocal instrument, that suspends some of us into hearing the work with arrested interest, and maybe growing alarm.

It is essentially an informative 70-minute lecture with pleasing vividly illustrated Media Artwork (Joe Crossley), a collaborative Composition and Sound Design (Andree Greenwell), with the assistance of six young performers from the Australian Theatre For Young People, who speak some of the text and create movement patterns (Patricia Wood) to support the 'action'.

Tim Jones, the Director of this production, believes the arts can play an important role in understanding and revealing the complexities of the challenges that affect the modern world, and, so, presents 2071 as part of the Seymour Centre's GREAT IDEAS SERIES, "where it presents 'artful' provocations, responding to big issues as a kind of community catalyst for discussion, inspired by thoughtful and rigorous theatre-making."

2071 will provoke discussion about the urgency of the Climate Change crisis, but it is likely to be amongst the converted. And, certainly the question: "Is this theatre? or, a University, Writer's Festival Talk?" was another subject of discussion in the foyer afterwards - perhaps the dominant one.

Whatever the answer, the attempt to put forward such overwhelming facts about the science of Climate Change is an important one. There will be, as well, on the 30th May, 5th and 8th of June a post-show discussion and Q&A with some experts. It would have been be interesting to have a work of reply to balance out the night and embrace the controversy of inaction more immediately.

More than fascinating, 2071 is sobering. The poignancy of having a chorus of young children: Lucy Brownlie, Sasha Rose, Ellery Joyce, Matthew Simmons, Jacqueline Morrison and Heath Jelovic onstage, knowing that they will be probably facing the predicted dilemmas of the heritage of their forbears, which includes us, grips those of us with children with an urgency that must provoke our casual attitudes to the question and consequent feelings of impotence. It will need a collective action from the world for change to happen swiftly enough. Is that possible knowing the recorded history of our species?

One of the supporters of 2071 is Vivid Ideas Sydney. Ironic, really. One of the ways to begin to make a positive contribution to lessening this city's carbon footprint would be to close down the month long energy devouring Vivid Festival (and the New Year's Fireworks), might I propose? NSW Events might not be pleased.

Ah, well. What is that story about Nero fiddling while Rome was burning? Good grief.

Grief, indeed.

Film Reviews: 'Things To Come', and 'Get Out'

Things To Come

THINGS TO COME is a French/German film Directed by Mia Hansen-Love. Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) in the latter two-thirds of her life, is comfortably ensconced in a professional and personal life, that of a philosophy teacher, published academic author, mother of two grown children, and wife to Heinz (Andre Marcon), also a philosopher. The routine of that life has given Nathalie a strength of identity, that she almost, lethargically, takes for granted. In the film we watch the routine of this family living ordinary but occupied lives. Lives of everyday activities that you and I have, too, but in Nathalie's world is oiled with the stimulation of wrestling professionally, in classroom and home, with the search for the meaning of it, life, in the world of ideas, propounded by the great philosophers of the past and present - often quoted or referred to in the course of the film. Then she is confronted with her husband's abandonment for another, younger woman. When told, she sinks into a couch and weathers the shock with internal intensity, no melodrama, no tears: "I thought you would love me forever." She looks up and remarks that her future, her life "seems compromised".

The film then observes the adjustments and compromises that Nathalie must make in the face of an abyss, a recognition of the inevitable aloneness whilst approaching death. What Hansen-Love shows us is a life made up of many parts that simply, relentlessly moves on, that will make demands that are not at all deflected by Nathalie's great loss. Her publishers make demands that may make redundant her life's work, her drama-queen mother (Edith Scob) declines rapidly and is decamped from her home, to care, to death (leaving Pandora, her cat, to which Nathalie is allergic), in a haze she navigates the interest and admiration of her students, past and present, whilst her own children begin their own lives, her son presenting her with a grandchild.

There is an engagement with one of her former, favourite students, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), now living in an anarchist's commune in the country, that flirts (in my mind) with romantic possibilities, as she deals decisively with her husband who has begun to hover, haunt her presence. There is a sequence where Nathalie sitting in a broken car beside Fabien driving her to the anarchist commune farmhouse in the mountain heights, with pop music blaring, stripped of most everyday complications, she has a revelation of a kind of freedom that she has not had for a very long time. The scenario of the film shows us the lived experience, the in-between of an actual life without dwelling on anything melodramatic. It is brisk, brusque in its revelations of this important transition - no melodramatic lingerings.

There is no contemporary actress more suited to this resilient, thoughtful, investigative 'soldier' of life, practical, finding a clearsighted way to grow from the wound in Nathalie's existence than Isabelle Huppert. She is magnificent in the mastering of a cool external demeanour whilst erupting with volcanic shifts of emotional turmoil internally. It is exactly this tension of that which Ms Huppert gives us to see externally, and to contrast it to what we can 'read' in tiny moments and gestures of the emotional internal, that give us the means to endow an empathy to a creation of great humanist courage and philosophic stoicism, an attitude that helps her trust that TIME changes all, will, possibly, heal all.

The French title of this film is L'Avenir - which maybe more tellingly translated as THE FUTURE. Those of us of a certain age, of certain personal experiences will find this film moving and meaningful. Sad and yet hopeful. How is it that Mia Hansen-Love, who is only 36, knows of the things she tells us of in this film? Only philosophers might know.

The film comes to us with praise and I cannot recommend it more. Do not expect an emotional catharsis in its instant but look forward to a haunting comfort in retrospection. The scenario moves so minutely, swiftly, over so much detail with such accurate observational choice that most of it will whisk-by as a mirror to your own uneventful life that you will not fully recognise as a part of the vital construct to the meaning of your own existence, until much later.

Huh! The greatness of film. The wonder of Mia Hansen-Love and Isabelle Huppert.

Get Out

GET OUT is a breakout, debut film Written and Directed by Jordan Peele. Made for $4.5 million dollars it has made some $230 million. Mr Peele is famous for a sketch comedy television show KEY and PEELE.

GET OUT, is a comic sinister suspense movie , some have called it a horror movie. It begins with a GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? (1967) flavour as we meet Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) about to spend a weekend at his white girlfriend's, Rose's (Allison Williams) parents' house. Neither her dad, Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon (!), or her mum, Missy (Catherine Keener), a psychiatrist (!), know that he is black. The parents are effusive and very, very liberal on meeting him at their luxurious country mansion. But then we meet two of the house servants, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson) and later a guest, Andrew (Lakeith Stansfield) and tingling memories of THE STEPFORD WIVES (1972)  - the original - may begin to register.

A procession of black cars arrive for a surprise 'family' gathering and along, later, with a broadcast video in the house we are introduced to Roman, the head of a 'cult', and ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), pops into your head. Comedy and the turn of the delicate screw of suspense permeates the storytelling as it unspools. Alarm bells ring and it takes Chris' friend, Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a security officer, to put it together and shout out: "Get Out". What happens next is a swing into the climax of a good old fashioned horror film with blood, gore, physical struggles, revenge, and welcome relieved catharsis.

It is the satiric wit of the meaningful 'black politics' of this genre obedient scenario that boosts this film into a don't miss stratosphere. The 'stench' of part of the USA's history of slavery insidiously slips onto the screen with contemporary images and attitudes that could suggest that the mind set that legitimised slavery then is still inherent, unconsciously or otherwise, in the cultural/racial landscape of today. Colson Whitehead in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel: THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY (2017), tells of the brutal importation and usage of Africans into America and weaves the unfulfilled promises of the present day into its thematics. Both these writers, Peele and Whitehead, are looking - and pointing - with a clear-eyed contemporaneous glare at modern USA and the memory of slavery.

The performances, too, are both clever and earn their money. Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington is wonderful, while Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Allison Williams and especially Betty Gabriel, claim rights to the tension they build. I should note that the cinema photographer is Australian, Toby Oliver : LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI (1993); BENEATH HILL 60 (2010) WOLF CREEK 2 (2013) and the TV Movie : CARLOTTA (2014).

This is a welcome addition to the 2017 film output with the political drum of BLACK LIVES MATTER, registering in the cinema. Along with MOONLIGHT (2016), but in a very different way, let us hope it is a significant movement for change in Hollywood.

Fun. Important. Go See.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

La Calisto

Sydney Conservatorium of Music Opera School presents: LA CALISTO, Music by Francesco Cavalli, Libretto by Giovanni Faustini, in the Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Philip St Sydney. 20 May, 23 May, 25 May, 27 May.

LA CALISTO was first performed in Venice in 1651. It virtually disappeared from the repertoire until the 1970's when the score was rediscovered and its performance history effectively restarted. Says the Artistic Director and Senior Lecturer in Conducting and Opera Studies, Dr Stephen Mould:
LA CALISTO has emerged as a major opera by the standards of any era, a genuine lost masterpiece that rivals other works by its composer, Francesco Cavalli, as well as his more visible teacher, Claudio Monteverdi.
Beautifully prepared and conducted by Professor Neal Peres Da Costa, the Early Music Ensemble supported the young singers with tact and strength. The work Directed by Elsie Edgerton-Till, on a simple school-of-arts type platform/stage with a curtained raised aperture, Designed by Isabella Andronos in modern dress costumes, Ms Edgwrton-Till has her actor/singers investigate an 80's hip physical style of a brash, even vulgar, American film teenage action and re-action to the hyper sexual ruses of Roman Gods and mere mortals, the subject content of the actual libretto: the interaction between a besotted Jupiter (Tristan Entwistle) and Calisto (Samantha Lestavel) and Diana (Viktoria Bolonia) and Endymion (Rebecca Hart). The Director's choice gives access to the story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, even if it diminishes its intentions - it creates an easy kind of empathy at the expense of what could be a noble tragedy. I think.

It was interesting to reflect that this Italian Opera concerning itself with licentious sexual impiety was playing at the same time in Venice, the centre of the trading world of its time, as the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell's attack and banning of all theatre in England was taking place.

These young singers were at stretch with the demands of this material but seemed to relish the obstacle of the musical sophistication and the 'oration and rhetorical delivery' stylistics. I enjoyed, particularly, the work of Mr Entwistle in the demanding sing of Jupiter/and his faux Diana, Jeremy Dube, as Mercury, and the cheeky performance by Joshua Oxley, as Pan, whilst Aimee O'Neil was impressive in her second act solo as Juno. The acting of the company was sufficient if not believable except as bemused/amused parody/travesty.

A difficult work pleasantly performed and exposed by the Vocal and Opera Studies Division at the Conservatorium of Music.

The Ham Funeral

Photo by Lucy Parakhina
Siren Theatre Co in association with Griffin Independent presents, THE HAM FUNERAL, by Patrick White, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 17 May - 10 June.

THE HAM FUNERAL is a first play by Patrick White, written in 1947 in post war, blitzed-out London. Set in 1919 it was inspired by the painting by William Dobell known as 'The Dead Landlord' and on a story of Dobell's experience in one of those great crumbling houses in Pimlico.

This play begins with a Young Man in a preamble chat with us the audience: "... Probably quite a number of you are wondering by now whether this is your kind of play. I'm sorry to announce the management won't refund any money. You must simply sit it out, and see whether you can't recognise some of the forms that will squirm before you in this mad, muddy mess of eels. As it heaves and shudders, you may even find ... you have begun to feed ... on memory ..."

For this play is written by White in a surrealistic mish-mash of styles and genre, with a symbolist visual edge in his language and his images, spurning the usual weight and familiarity of naturalism. It was a puzzlement and was famously rejected by the Adelaide Festival Drama Committee as part of the 1962 event. "it is an abstract type of play which the general public will find difficult, and impossible to understand. It's complexity will limit its appeal to a few intellectuals and even they would find it difficult to interpret the so-callled psychological aspects of the play."

It may still be a puzzlement for some and as this is the second production of this play I have seen in recent times, the last by Philip Rouse at the New Theatre, it obviously attracts the 'daring' who believe they may have the 'key' to unlock it in a theatre for an audience. Kate Gaul and her Siren Theatre Co have entered the creative lists.

When the Landlord, Mr Lusty (Johnny Nasser) 'carks' it suddenly, Mrs Alma Lusty (Eliza Logan) summons her poet and tenant, the Young Man (Sebastian Robinson), to fetch her relatives (Johnny Nasser, Andy Dexterity, Jane Phegan and Carmen Lysiak) for a 'ham funeral' - an arcane status statement to her local community. The aftermath of that funeral and the sexual confrontation between Lusty and the Young Man/Poet, whilst distractingly inspired by a muse, The Girl (Jenny Wu), the other tenant, is the substance of the play.

Designed by Jasmine Christie, on a raised shiny-floor with the back walls black curtained with a central oblong metal table with chairs, swathed in heavy haze, it is lit by Hartley T A Kemp in rich baroque colours, gleaming in the blackness of it all, eking out the exaggerated grotesquerie of make-up and costume of the actors. Other than the poet the physical visuals are of another 'hot house world' - burlesque-bizarre. Accompanying the visual promptings is a complex and haunting soundscape by Nate Edmondson that builds up an imaginative invention of a crumbling, damp, mysterious and 'creepy', living space. The visuals and sound Design are the triumph of this production.

Despite that the language is handled with a careful clarity, it lacks a forward tempo for engaging storytelling - even a variation of tempo is lacking -  it has in delivery, in this production, no flesh and blood urgency - it rather errs as a kind of recited poetry. One could count the seconds between the sentences in the speeches and the cuing from one actor to another, to make the present experience, moribund, even turgid in its musicality - it became exhausting to endure, stewing it's own rich imagery juices.

Patrick White was a Nobel Prize winner for Literature. His novels are staggering in their greatness and awesome in the demands he makes of his readers. He once told the actress Kerry Walker, who, incidentally, played Mrs Lusty in Neil Armfield's 1989 production of THE HAM FUNERAL, for the Sydney Theatre Company, that he'd always wanted to be an actor, and that he'd always craved success in the theatre. Seven of his eight plays were written in the sixties and then latterly in the eighties, and are just as challenging as his other writing. Their success was always a matter of personal taste and caused a quarrelling history amongst critics and audience. Only time will tell which side was right. Either, we will catch up to their 'genius', or not. Edward Albee became understood with time: see WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? blog.

Kate Gaul's production is of interest for the theatre aficionado and the fans of Patrick White.

I note, that the three last plays by Patrick White: SIGNAL DRIVER (1982), NETHERWOOD (1983) and SHEPERD ON THE ROCKS (1987), have never been seen in Sydney. What is the reason? I wonder, and wonder, and pine, and pine, for someone with courage to stage them. Or, is the challenge of THE HAM FUNERAL so mesmeric for Director's to find a way to succeed with this play, that we will not ever see the other repertoire. The solution to THE HAM FUNERAL, a kind of search for the Holy Grail(ed) key? To intriguing to resist.

Please note comment.

Black Is The New White

Photo by Prudence Upton
Sydney Theatre Company and Allens present, BLACK IS THE NEW WHITE, by Nakkiah Lui. At Wharf 1, Hickson Rd., Walsh Bay. 10 May - 17 June.

Nakkiah Lui has written two previous texts THIS HEAVEN and KILL THE MESSENGER, for the Belvoir St Theatre - both ending tragically, doused in bubbling political 'anger' - dealing with cultural trauma and death.

For this Sydney Theatre Company (STC) commission Ms Lui tells us in her program conversation: This time, I wanted to write something that didn't come from a place of sorrow or from oppression where the actors would have to rehash that intergenerational trauma all through rehearsals, relive their own experiences of oppression every single day. ... I wanted to write something that was just really warm and fun to write
 [I] "…also wanted to present a family of Aboriginal people that hasn't been seen before in the Australian canon - not just in the theatre, but in any form. That is an Aboriginal family who have money, who are not oppressed but who are culturally quite strong.
I feeI we have seen this territory explored in the 2014 ABC Television series THE GODS OF WHEAT STREET - revealing the Freeburn clan, which had the affectionate title remembrance, for some of us, as 'Black to the Rafters'.

It is Christmas and two Australian families - the Gibsons and the Smiths - are brought together at the luxurious summer house of the Indigenous family. It is the occasion that Charlotte Gibson (Shari Sebbens), a successful lawyer, decides to introduce her white boyfriend, Francis Smith (James Bell), a cash-poor classical musician, to the family. Nearly a throwback to the famous, familiar 1967 GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER scenario then (N.B the synchronistic use of this trope in the American film, GET OUT, now showing in the cinema), with the added complications of Francis' parents also arriving. There is strife, 'shocking' personal revelation, political stances, tears and spills, food fight farce, hugging and 'happy' resolutions all in a recognisable and friendly Romantic-Comedy (Rom-Com) formula.

Ms Lui has spent some recent time working as a co-writer/star for the ABC sketch comedy series BLACK COMEDY. BLACK IS THE NEW WHITE has the feel, for me, of the heritage of that television short form that is being, with this play, extended into a theatre long form, with a striving for an anchoring in the classic rom-com formula, that does not quite have that formula securely battened down, and is overloaded with a lot of 'friendly' but didactic political agenda: inter-racial, inter-family, intergenerational and even modern sexual polyamory 'stuff'. The play/production is quite nice fun but is really rather 'clunky'. The 2015 STC play and production of BATTLE OF WATERLOO had a more convincing surety about how to deliver its politics inside a contemporary Aboriginal family and keep the comedy character and plot formulas driven amicably and dramaturgically smoothly.

One wishes that Director, Paige Rattray, had been able to spend some more time in solving the problem of the acting, that is not always grounded, by all, in a truth of character observation, or of the stakes of the proffered situations. Some characters are truthfully observed and have the right balance of the ridiculousness of it all, some, however are 'burlesqued' caricatures of an 'idea' of the character - playing for the comedy rather than authentic character needs - some are over earnest in the propounding of the political arguments of the play - giving the appearance to be standing on a soap-box to 'educate' the audience - academic then, rather than revealing the human emotional 'need' of the character who feels that they have a 'life and death' want to say this now to secure their happiness and future. George Bernard Shaw and his plays would be an illuminating guide for the Director and the Writer, I reckon.
This stylistic diversity in the acting styles throws emphasis onto the dramaturgically fragile 'marriage' of Ms Lui's grappling with the long form rom-com and her urgent need to speak her politics.

On the other hand, on a very expansive and multi-levelled Set Design, by Renee Mulder (Ms Mulder, also Designed BATTLE OF WATERLOO, for this stage), Ms Rattray, moves her actors around with some dexterity, and solves some of the clumsiness of the exit and entrance for Ms Lui's characters to permit story development/revelation, and provides a plausible integration of an almost redundant narrator figure to permit the provision of necessary exposition when the dramatic action of the play and playwright can not find a way to otherwise deliver it.

The cast, besides Ms Sebbens and Mr Bell, includes Kylie Bracknell (KaarlJilba Karrrdn), Tony Briggs, Luke Carroll, Vanessa Downing (wonderful), Geoff Morrell, Melodie Reynolds-Diarra and Anthony Taufa.

This production has had a good general reception but, for me, as writing and playing, has some problems that more time in development might have solved. I guess you must go see for your self. Ms Lui says she wanted to put a play forward that says " here is a family that is like yours. An Aboriginal family which I think would probably go to the theatre and go to this play." I paid $86 to see this play (matinee) and bought a program that cost $10 - a total of $96. I hope she gets her wish. I know lots of people - families - that as much as they might like to go to the theatre, especially to see this Aboriginal  optimistic rom-com, just do not have the optional cash to do so.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Photo by Joey Demczuk

Ensemble Theatre presents WHO'S AFRAID OF THE VIRGINIA WOOLF?, by Edward Albee, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 11May - 18 June.



From the 1999 biography: Edward Albee - Singular Journey, by Mel Gussow: 
(the scene is] the living room of a house on the campus of a small New England college." Act One: the Fun and Games begin. "Set in darkness. Crash against front door. MARTHA's laughter heard. Front door opens, lights are switched on. MARTHA enters, followed by GEORGE." Martha is "a large, boisterous woman, 52, looking somewhat younger. Ample, but not fleshy." George, "her husband, 46. Thin; hair going gray.
Uta Hagen, as Martha, delivered the first words of the play, "Jesus H. Christ," followed by laughter from the audience. Later, the play was to become legendary, make several fortunes, and establish Edward Albee as the first playwright since Eugene O'Neill to break through from Off-Broadway to Broadway and continue his exhilarating ride into theatrical history.

At the Ensemble Theatre a new production of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, Directed by Iain Sinclair, has opened and ought not to be missed, continuing Mr Gussow's predicted ride into history for Mr Albee and this play.

Entering the Ensemble theatre one meets a wonderful Design, by Michael Hankin, of the room of the house inhabited by George (Darren Gilshenan) and Martha (Genevieve Lemon), where they will entertain in a long journey into day - to the rise of a new dawn - Nick (Brandon McClelland) and Honey (Claire Lovering), a young married couple, new to the faculty of this New England university college. It is set in 1962. The architectural solutions and the handsome and detailed 'dressing' of this Design by Mr Hankin is extraordinarily impressive, and along with a meticulous and a similarly detailed Lighting Design, both naturalistic and 'mood atmospheric', by Sian James-Holland, creates an expectant sense for the quality of the production (no Belvoir glass-box installation art, here).

What follows is an explosively hilarious and harrowing performance from Genevieve Lemon, as Martha, balanced and equalled by Darren Gilshenan, as her husband, George. The play looks at the compromises and commitments that a marriage must take to survive when it is sprung from a deep and passionate love, and thence must endure through the long passing of time all of its lessons of disappointments and tragedy. Where time has unravelled relentlessly, and enough, to allow the participants to experience, vitally, the thwarting of the ambitions and hopes of their youth - of career and children. It tells us of a relationship that refuses to allow the passionate depths of love to be extinguished with the passing of 'lust-filled' time, to ever, even, waver to the crushing cruelties/habits of the bourgeois world's usual method of 'animal' containment. Martha and George have invented a way to lash out at the conventions/obstacles of their world/society despite their 'failures' and still maintain a respect and electric pulse to stay and 'celebrate' being together. Albeit, being in a savage world, savage means may be required - will be employed.

We have seen the institution of marriage, many times, savagely examined in dramatic literature before, and for me, Strindberg's DANCE OF DEATH, resonates as I watch Albee's play, although, unlike the Strindberg there seems to me, as the new dawn rises at the end of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, a light of optimism for this joined couple, 'bleeding' though they may be, shining forth - for, as a new day begins, there has been created a new context for survival as partners.

Martha and George are no ordinary couple, they are a couple of brilliantly erudite wits, sensitive and over sensitised to their predicament, and their means to continue to exhalt and not surrender to mediocrity are not in any way ordinary. In middle-age they are in the bewilderment of how to continue to live/survive together, and they have found a modus operandi that sparks from a loving savagery and education - a knowledge of the history of mankind, of historical inevitability. It seems they have adopted the 'All's Fair in Love and War' apparatus to their interactions and everything and everybody are grist to their enlivenment. Enter Nick and Honey.

This play is 55 years old but is a classic that still survives and mirrors the modernity of our present spiralling morality with frightening power in a recognisable comic-tragic set of truths. This play opened on Broadway, in 1962, as the Cuban missile crisis loomed to threaten a nuclear war. In 2017, our world  feels just as threatened and the effect on the cornerstone of our societal structure, the family, feels, with this production of the play, just as cynically exposed, vulnerable. Our chromosomal 'soups' fragile in the evolving movement of time and history.

This meeting we sit to watch begins at 2am after a long and boring faculty party. Tired and drunk Martha and George arrive in taunting form and prepare to entertain two youngsters at the beginning of their marriage and careers. During the course of the play they become more tired and more drunk and the verbal fun and games of a true and false history - with agreed rules of engagement - funny and ugly, combust improvisationally into situations called Get the Guest, Hump the Hostess and Bringing Up Baby, employing excoriating comedy and outrageous confrontations. Nick and Honey, toys for this exploit, limp off home, at its end, injured but surviving.

WHO'S AFARID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? was Albee's first full length play, written at the age of 34. It is in length some three hours long. The stimulating content matter of this play with its startling linguistics and controlled musical 'symphonic' shape - this is no chamber music piece, despite the small number of 'instruments' involved - conjured and crafted by Mr Albee, combined with four brilliantly courageous and sustained performances, tempered with a Directorial hand of such sureness in a Design of such pleasing assurance, has the literal time in the theatre flit by, be of no consequence. Quality engrosses one and invigorates one. You will not feel exhaustion when you leave the Ensemble.

Truthfully, you might be disturbed but you will know you have been alive. Originally, the play offended its audience with its language and frank sexual conversations, the play content baffled its audiences and some critics of its time took the play as an absurdist exercise, but with the passing of time, the content matter and its psychological underpinnings are now readable and appreciated as a heightened naturalism. Time has given us a knowledge that gives us easy access to what is going on, just as we now can make 'sense' of the paintings of Jackson Pollock. Both in their time challenging to comprehension.

Ms Lemon is having a stellar year (THE HOMOSEXUALS OR THE FAGGOTS) and is now crowning her illustrious career with a great performance as Martha, plumbing its grief, its fury, its comedy and its white hot acts of love with the surety of an identification to the sophisticated complexities of being in a love-bound marriage. Mr Gilshenan, well known to most as a comic actor, shows the breadth of his talent with this well-honed and constructed artistry, carrying George's bombardment from Martha with a resilient wit and tireless love, no matter its exhausting demands. Mr McClelland, at the beginning of his career (THE PRESENT, THE GOLDEN AGE) under the guidance of Mr Sinclair calibrates his Nick with wise and delicate surety, while Ms Lovering ensures that Honey brings enlightenment to the intricacies of the dramaturgical structures of Mr Albee's intentions.

All praise to the writer, Edward Albee, one of the greats of the theatre, and to Iain Sinclair who manages this great text with insight and masterful control. All elements of this production are finely thought and wrought. Following on from his work on OF MICE AND MEN, for Sport For Jove, a year or so ago, here is a talent that ought to be continued to be vigorously nurtured.

Sydney has had two great productions this year of two extraordinary pieces of playwriting: BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, by Rajiv Joseph, at the Old FitzTheatre, and now, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, by Edward Albee, at the Ensemble Theatre.

This production is not to be missed if you savour the theatre.

P.S. History in the foyer again: It was wonderful to see Iain Sinclair, the present Director of this play, talking animatedly with John Clark, who had Directed the original Australian production for the Old Tote Theatre Company, in 1964, with Alexander Hay, Jacqueline Kott, Kevin Miles and Wendy Blacklock. The production that controversially launched the burgeoning Australian theatre practice into the modern era with protests against led by church and the press. I was a schoolboy and was not allowed to see the play, but I remember reading the Sydney Daily Mirror and its front page stories of shock and condemnation. Imagine a theatre play production, today, hitting our newspapers front pages?














Friday, May 19, 2017

Doubt

Photo by Robert Catto

Apocalypse Theatre Company in association with Red Line, present DOUBT. A Parable, by John Patrick Shanley, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. 10 May - 3 June.

DOUBT. A Parable, the play by John Patrick Shanley, won the Pulitzer prize and the Tony Award in 2005. All four of the actors were nominated for the Tony, too. The actors, Cherry Jones and Brian F. O'Bryne won. It was made into a film, directed by Mr Shanley, with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis - all were nominated for Academy Awards (they didn't win). So, history tells us that this is a well written play with great acting opportunities.

For me, the writing, though worthy of all the praise it has received, is just a little too 'neat', 'tidy' - oddly, too contrived in its blunt focused storytelling and treatment of its issues. It is sub-titled A Parable - which by definition is a short allegorical story designed to convey some truth or moral lesson, and so, I should just get over it, I guess. And, generally, I have.

Set In a Catholic school, St Nicholas, in the Bronx, in 1964, during the great changes of the Second Ecumenical Council, set up by Pope John XXIII, in Rome, in 1962, and completed by Pope Paul VI in 1965, a strictly conventional head mistress of the 'old guard', Sister Aloysius (Belinda Giblin), is confronted with information from a younger nun, Sister James (Matilda Ridgeway), who is infused (confused?) with the 'loosening spirit' of the new Ecumenical church age, of a suspicion of improper behaviour between the young 'hip' priest, Father Flynn (Damian de Montemas), and their only African-American student, Donald Muller. Aloysius, who entered the nunnery, late, after marriage, has been chaffing under the patriarchal control of the church and following her instincts manufactures a circumstance to confront Flynn, knowing she cannot expect support from the senior men of her church, and achieves a 'victory' with the voluntary transfer by Flynn away from her school. That victory, however, was achieved through a 'blackmail' based on a deceit, a lie. Sister Aloysius had, has, no evidence, only instinct, and though in action is victorious, is punished with a conscience of Doubt as to the possibilities of the actual 'truth'.

We, the audience, are left with a Doubt, as well. Although, what with the Abuse Scandals uncovered worldwide that are still an on-going confrontation and issue, we may enter this play with prejudices galore. There will be discussion, afterwards, in the bar, for sure.

All the performances are 'good'. However, Belinda Giblin, as Sister Aloysius, inhabits the responsibility of this role with a frightening possession and gives a performance, that registers a wide range of genuine emotional choices - with ironic humour, too, blessedly, as a part of her armoury. Her theatrical power, presence, is the superlative energy of this production - it must be so, for this play to make its mark. There is not a moment of doubt from any of us in surrendering to the vacillating truths of this nun/woman, in this production.

Matilda Ridgeway, gives a 'knowing' performance, and is generally convincing, but has her Sister James, weeping, streaming tears in every scene (it reminded me of Ms Ridgeway's work, as Ophelia, in the Bell HAMLET). It is hard to read this tear-filled choice by the actor (that is not signified by the writer), to be able to make sense of her character - for this Sister James is clearly emotionally unstable, maybe, even unsuitable for her job. Why the vigilant Aloysius makes no comment, or demand a justification for this behaviour, along with the showing of her hair from under her headdress - clearly breaking the 'rules' of her order - is, too, a problem. If Aloysius rants after the use of the ballpoint pen in class, or the number of sugar cubes in a cup of tea, I feel sure she would reprimand James on her risqué, dishabille of uniform. It is an odd lack of logical 'continuity' in this production.

Damian de Montemas as Flynn, is impeccable in his naturalistic 'filmic/television' detailing of his character, and is certainly an attractive physical presence to win the attention of his congregation, but lacks the charismatic energy to continue to entrance us, to capture us, with his sermonising - there are two significant sermons in the play and both fail to hold us to rapt attention - which dramaturgically is a necessary. As well, Mr Montemas' performance lacks the theatrical fire power to countermand the force of Ms Giblin, so that their verbal 'duels' are uneven in affect (check the work between Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the 2009 film version - especially the last great confrontation, to see what I mean).

In the small but pivotal role and scene, Charmaine Bingwa, sat tightly on a chair, by the Director, throws a moral spanner into the debate, as Mrs Muller argues for her child's welfare, with conviction.

The simple, spare Design, with two separate spaces coloured, I supposed, in a 'metaphoric' Grey, avoiding the dogmatic declaration of Black and White, by Jonathan Hindmarsh, is attractively lit, by Alexander Berlage.

Dino Dimitriades, has Directed this production with dramatic skill and it is a suspenseful and taut 8o odd minutes in the theatre. It is the writing that he honours clearly, and the magnificent performance by Ms Giblin, that makes this experience in the theatre of interest.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Between The Street Light and The Moon

Photo by Clare Hawley

Mophead Productions in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co presents, BETWEEN THE STREETLIGHT AND THE MOON, by Melita Rowston. 5 - 27 May.

BETWEEN THE STREETLIGHT AND THE MOON, is a new Australian play by, Melita Rowston. It was shortlisted for both the STC Patrick White Award and The Silver Gull Award.

Zadie (Lucy Miller) is an art academic/curator and PHD candidate, the Phd concerning the Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) and her possible illicit relationship with her brother-in-law, Edouard Manet, has been six years in the preparation. Her supervisor and supporter, Janet (Suzanne Pereira), under pressure from the Academic Board, is pressing for the completion of the work - not a word has been cited. That completion is hinged upon the finding of suspected letters that would substantiate Zadie's theories. This section of the play becomes the dramatic spine of all else that transpires and has the familiar academic quibbling and propositioning -'detective work' - that 'greases' the dramatically suspenseful wheels of other works, for instance, Tom Stoppard's play, ARCADIA, or A.S. Byatt's 1990 novel, POSSESSION.

Intermixed is some familiar feminist discussion/politics concerned with the oppression and 'disappearing' of the female artist from history and, as we discover, is, perhaps, an active agency, still, in the contemporary scene. For, we find that Zadie herself has allowed her own art work to be forgotten and appropriated by an ex-lover, now dead artist, Jeff (Lani Tupu), whilst, in the present tense of the play she is, seemingly, caught in another sexual/work conflict with contemporary spunk/artist, Barry (Ben McIvor), and his aspiration/inspiration, who is now in the thrall, of one of her own students, Dominique (Joanna Downing). A lot is going on in the 110 minutes, no-interval play.

The 'intellectual' gambits of the writing from Ms Rowston has some substantiality to keep us intrigued, and the florid speeches from the 'ghost' memory of Jeff are alluring in their profligate 'wealth' of language. And, if sometimes the ordinary interactions between characters in the modern time sound banal and or stilted, especially, in their comic throw aways, one wonders if it is in the writing, or the quality of the acting? The text sometimes sounds if it is 'impersonated' - spoken, recited - rather than personalised with a highly-staked 'back-story' and need from the characters, by the actors. The truest moments, when the actor and character melted, each into the other, came with the last Jeff-ghost speech from Mr Tupu. One was urged to listen and imagine, to endow the sounds with a vivid reality and a grasp of inspiration.

I remember having seen RED, the play by John Logan, a play about art, too, filled with similar heightened discussion of art philosophy and aspiration. I was enormously thrilled. Later, I read the play, and worked on it in scene work, and found the actual text so 'simple' in its expression that it felt underworked and poorly written. On reflection, maybe, it was the acting by Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, that was of such a high calibre, that they had embodied the 'stilted' writing with character conviction, beyond the mere actor's presence, to make it believable, and not drawing attention to itself, in action. Unfortunately, in this production of Ms Rowston's play, led by Anthony Skuse, that does not happen often enough to permit a fully subjective identification with all that goes on.

The Design, by Jeremy Allen, is a contemporary, slatted wooden 'gallery' floor, with a hidden pool of reflected water (presumably, symbolic of the River Seine of Paris), with spare furniture, and two white walls, one used for projection of art and quotations from Berthe Morisot to acclimate us to the world of the 'hunted' relationship. Chris Page manages the Lighting with a crisp modern arid galley affect. Benjamin Freeman, has composed a score for piano which he plays live, which sometimes is over obvious in its intent and has an unexpected 'kitsch' affect.

This production of this play, BETWEEN THE STREETLIGHT AND THE MOON, feels overlong and disengaged from the passion of the writer's impulse that grew from a mission to view Edouard Manet's Olympia, in the Musee D'Orsay, and, instead, been aesthetically arrested by a tiny painting of a woman viewed through the spokes of a fan: a painting by Edouard Manet of Berthe Morisot. One of eleven portraits, of her by him, that left, subsequently, Ms Rowston with no doubt in her mind that these paintings charted a turbulent affair. Ipso facto, Ms Rowton's Zadie's obsession and pre-occupation for her Phd - the 'grease' to the wheels of this play.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Perhaps, Perhaps …Quizas.

Photo by Pili Pala

Old 505 Theatre presents, PERHAPS, PERHAPS ... QUIZAS, by Gabriela Muñoz, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St., Newtown. 5 may - 13 May.

PERHAPS, PERHAPS .., QUIZAS, Written, Directed and Starring Gabriela Muñoz is a 'clown' work concerning the need of her character, Greta, for romantic marriage. Ms Muñoz finished her studies at the London International School of Performing Arts (LIPSA) based on Jacques Lecoq pedagogy, a two-year postgraduate course and a year course at the School of Physical Theatre in London. Her career has had an enormous international trajectory and it is, certainly, a grateful curatorial gift from the Artistic Directors of the Old 505 Theatre to see this work in Sydney.

Beginning with a charming silent movie introduction where we watch Greta pursuing a love-interest and being disappointed, Greta, is revealed in a cocoon of curtain where she seems to be writing. To an operatic tune, Greta, emerges, and we observe her in the remnants of a 'period' wedding paraphernalia. She acknowledges us and invites us to interact in an attempt to bring her urgent fantasy to fruition.

Using only a 'gibberish' language and occasionally singing sounds, Greta, with an astonishing  physical 'language', that includes, especially, a white make-up face of incredible subtlety (with an endearing left eye-brow) inveigles members of the audience to participate in the world of her desires.

The work is both hilarious and amazingly moving. Ms Muñoz's ability to 'command' participation, and elicit from us both empathetic comedy and melodramatic identification, beat by beating heart beat, is a wonderful experience of gentle 'genius' to be part of.

Ms Muñoz's PERHAPS, PERHAPS ... QUIZAS is a small show with a big heart and delightful skill. Its ability to transport us into a willing imaginative participatory game, and to gain a friendship-trust between the artist and ourselves - the audience - reveals the strength and unique pleasures that the theatre can sometimes evoke.

Especially recommended for those of us looking for refuge from the 'ugly' buffets of our present demanding world - it is, a truly, transporting hour of relative innocence.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Smurf in Wanderland

Photo by Brett Boardman

National Theatre of Parramatta and Griffin Theatre Company present SMURF IN WANDERLAND, by David Williams, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 2 May - 13 May.

SMURF IN WANDERLAND, a new Australian play, is the result of the enthusiasm of Lee Lewis, the Griffin Theatre Artistic Director's promise to program a play about Soccer, that was thrown into the discussion mix at the closing session of the Australian Theatre Forum held in Canberra, in 2013, by Playwright and Performer, David Williams. Four years later, and as a resultant of Mr Williams further engagement as a member of the 2015 Griffin Studio: " .. here we are.", says Mr Williams, in his program notes.

Mr Williams was a major contributor (and founder) to the performance group known as Version 1.0 (e.g. THIS KIND OF RUCKUS; THE TABLE OF KNOWLEDGE.) The works were deeply researched verbatim theatre performances. Since, after that company's demise: "Under the banner DW Projects, David Williams creates theatre works of social relevance, aesthetic rigour and emotional impact from research, interviews, transcripts and public documents." SMURF IN WANDERLAND is one of three current DW Projects in development or performance. It is the first work, from Mr Williams, for the National Theatre of Parramatta.

Over the past fifteen years, I've built a professional reputation around crafting theatre works from the words of other people - from public inquiries, parliamentary proceedings, and interviews. I had genuinely believed that SMURF IN WANDERLAND would be a work of a similar ilk. But I found that the show only came alive when I placed myself in the narrative. And the result is the show you see tonight - a very personal account of football and Sydney.
In deed Mr Williams is both the Writer and the Actor, a one person show - aided dramaturgically, by Kate Worsley and Directed, by Lee Lewis. Set and Costume Design, by Charles Davis, Lighting Design, by Luiz Pampolha, and a mostly atmospheric Sound Design and Composition, by James Brown.

The work is constructed in two 45 minute halves (the football game time lengths) from a 'Kick-off' to a "Half Time" to a "Full Time" signal. Mr Williams after an introductory explanation and audience organisational orchestration (there is some lame audience 'inclusion'), and several invitations to exit the theatre, if we want, gives us a history of his Western Suburban credentials/roots to help justify his divided self, as an attendee at both the Soccer games of Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney Football Club (FC), in the franchise, sky blue, Sydney FC clothing-gear, most of the time.

Says Ms Lewis in her program notes, SMURF IN WANDERLAND
Coming to you in the disarming guise of a one man show, what may look like a simple love letter to the idea of 'fans' is actually a revealing analysis of modern culture identity and a passionate artist's refusal to blithely accept governmental agenda and media laziness collaborating to denigrate the sport, the people and the city he loves.

If, only.

For me, in experience, in the SBW Stables, what evolved was a telling of a personal gradual 'addiction' to a sport form that reveals our narrator, cumulatively, viewing the world around him through the personal lens and prejudices of a spiralling and focused "Fan-actic" - suffering from a kind of soccer vertigo (remember the Alfred Hitchcock publicity images for the film VERTIGO?) This growing 'illness' was 'horribly' symptomatic in the confessed personal interweaving of the 'game' versus 'birth' demands of this Smurf's time allocation and sense of responsibility. I feel sure, if, you have been disarmed by the 'story', you may think it a gently amusing dilemma, if not, otherwise, it may be, slightly, socially alarming. This is when, perhaps, the narrator's voice, truly came alive for me - engendering a very concerned human empathy for 'Smurf' and for his circle of relationships.

The forensic dating of events and the many accessed details of 'pivotal' match moments, the side-'wise' passion of criticisms of the press, the police and the corporation management of his sport (whilst, I thought, ironically, wearing several Sydney FC shirts and caps - he telling us of his spending $145 on a franchised corporate shirt and having it personalised, at further expense), all reveal the 'fanatic' who is no longer just a simple fan of a sport, but is an 'obsessed' (as he admits), and may need some interventionary counselling.

For those of us who know not the sport or, much of sport fanaticism, this work fails to engage us to disarm our ignorance or trepidation to fully participate and enthuse in the body of this long performance. Neither the group chanting, we are taught, or, the static video images, of, mostly, newspaper articles and photographs we are shown on the side screens (what? no video recordings available, to show us the 'magic' of soccer in action?), or the deadening time consuming reveal of  banners in the auditorium - which only half the audience at any one time can read - can ignite us to disarmed enthusiasm, no matter how much I wished I could do so, so as to support the creative artists, in the demanded 'moments'. I did chant along and handclap - I did! It is a laborious two hours or so in the theatre and, perhaps, only the fanatic will think it a worth while way to spend one's time.

I, certainly, felt SMURF IN WANDERLAND, occupying, for two weeks, the Griffin Theatre's stage, or at the Riverside Theatres out in Parramatta, where it premiered, needed some urgent script 'doctoring'. Four years in the making this work is still fairly clumsy and full of textural 'wanderings'  and forensic sport persiflage. It needed more dramaturgical attention to give it more justification for its programming, no matter how enthusing the idea in Canberra at an Australian Theatre Forum, may have been about the art/sport dichotomy. (It was at the end of the Australian Theatre Forum event - so, it may just have been brain-dead exhaustion that 'floated' it?)

I believe, the time and stage occupation, Theatrically and Social Conscience-wise (tick a box), could have been better served with a return of PYT Fairfield's production of TRIBUNAL, which the Griffin presented last year to overflowing  demand. By the way, one wonders, if the National Theatre of Parramatta has offered TRIBUNAL a berth in their programming schedule in the West?

In a pre-show article in THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (by Peter Munro -26th April, 2017) Mr Williams is reported as saying

           He likens football fans to theatre buffs. "I see multiple shows each week and there's an awful lot of shit you have to wade through to get those moments of magic," he says. "Football fandom is the same. There have been many times where I had a strong disgust with what has been offered to me on the field. And yet I still come back for the next game, just in the hope that we should be better, we will get better."

After 'wading' through SMURF IN WANDERLAND, for the Griffin Theatre Company, I concur. I go to the Griffin in the hope that "we should get better, we will get better." SMURF IN WANDERLAND, new Australian writing at the Sydney theatre, which, exclusively, champions it!: "We will get better" - but when?

This is one of DW Projects on-going enterprises, the others include: QUIET FAITH (national tour April-July) and GRACE UNDER PRESSURE (Seymour Centre and The Big Anxiety). I felt it was ominous to read David Williams Writer's notes in the foyer before the show which began with: "This show began life as a joke." 

Hmmm, again.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Two recent French films: Personal Shopper, and Frantz

Here are two French films worth catching. What is it that the French have? Their work is so good, or, is it that we only get to see the best of the best?

1. PERSONAL SHOPPER

PERSONAL SHOPPER is the second film that Director/Writer, Olivier Assayas and actor, Kristen Stewart have made together. The last was CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, starring Juliette Binoche. Ms Stewart was the supporting artist of that film. In this new film she is definitely front and centre - the star, the camera hardly has her out of sight. I had never seen Ms Stewart in any other work that I could remember, not even any of her extensive child/teen films, let alone any of the TWILIGHT franchise, so, I was curiously, surprisingly, arrested with her performance in the CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA - I could hardly shut up about her - she won the French equivalent of the Academy Award - the Cesare - the first time a non-French actor had done so.

PERSONAL SHOPPER, too, arrived with glowing broadcasts of Ms Stewart's work and she delivers an amazingly focused performance with her Maureen. Maureen, a young American in Paris, works as a personal shopper for a busy fashionista, Kyra (Nora von Walstatten) and carries out her work with professional precision, however, spiritually debilitating it may be. In that modern world the internet gadgets of that world dominate her interactions - it is a set of cold pragmatic interactions - some chillingly unsettling, as that with Ingo (Lars Eldinger), the insecure partner of her boss.

To complicate, lubricate the film, Maureen's brother, and twin, has recently died from a congenital heart disease, which she, too, has. He was a 'medium' to the spiritual world and together they have promised to reconnect from the other world with a 'sign'. Maureen stays in the house that her brother lived in and has sensed some atmosphere. Or not. The CGI spiritual arousals of ectoplasm that we witness are sophisticated and intriguing, indeed.

The Spiritual hunt for a 'sign' created, for me, the tensions of the Henry James' film adaptations of THE BOSTONIANS (1984) and THE TURN OF THE SCREW, its film title being: THE INNOCENTS (1961), both dealing with 'ghosts', or not. This film quickly ratchets up into a gripping ghostly modern thriller, on her trip to London by train on assignment as the personal shopper, as her iPhone begins to receive messages that seem to suggest that she is being stalked intensely by an omnipotent eye. This riveting 14 minutes of cinema is a crash course in a contemporary acting development from Ms Stewart that is a complex revelation and has one, as the audience, gasping as to what is 'real' and what is an 'actor's choice' - she makes her 'acting' invisible, and immersively thrilling for us, her audience. Ms Stewart does not require you to love her, and I reckon that is part of her modernity - why she is so arresting - why she demands your co-operation.

The combination of an old-fashioned spiritual thriller in contemporary dress with the contemporary world tools that we all have in our pockets or purses, lifts the work into a more than clever experience - it reverberates, dare I say, with the same urgency of the time reality that Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), did - the idea that all the events of the film were happening all about oneself, contemporaneously.

Thrusting forward with a relentlessly swift pace and the subtle intermingling of both 'worlds', combined with the cool, (stunningly beautiful) and absolutely modern character created by Ms Stewart, PERSONAL SHOPPER delivers the thrills in a deeply satisfying manner. The film does not feel 'cheap' or 'cheesy' even despite the genre territory, for the performance, the Cinematography, by Yorick Le Saux, the Editing, by Marion Monnier, the colour Design are flawless.

Some have felt that not all of the film 'adds up', but if you watch closely, it does - just! The final sequences in the 'old world' of a distant country, Aman, far removed from the present modern metropolis thump-beat, brings a pacific and satisfying resolve to the ghost story. Or, not.

The performance by Kristen Stewart is as arresting as anything that Isabelle Huppert has given us - and you know that is saying something - she maybe her heir! Although a French film, PERSONAL SHOPPER, is played in English. Highly recommended.

2. FRANTZ

FRANTZ is a new film from Director, Francois Ozon. It was written in collaboration with Phillipe Piazzo, inspired by the Ernst Lubitsch, Paramount 1932 film, BROKEN LULLABY.

It begins in a battle scarred provincial town in Germany after the First World War. Adrien (Pierre Ninney), a French ex-soldier is observed grieving at the grave of Frantz, and gradually finds himself inveigled by the family of the dead soldier. Anna (Paula Beer), the grieving ex-fiance, and his parents, Doctor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stotzner) and Magda (Maria Gruber).

In stunning black and white cinematography that occasionally subtly shifts into Sepia colour (Pascal Marti), with Production Design by Michel Barthelemy and Art Design by Susanne Abel, the romance of this story, moves through the pains of the aftermath of war on the people of two nations and travels along a narrative trajectory that is gorgeously provocative and unexpected. The performances of the two principal leads, especially Ms Beer as her character dominates the latter section of the film, are ideal in their understated offers, beautifully supported by a vast company of the other actors.

It is a beautiful film that transports one out of one's daily life and has a modern integrity of manipulation that can be highly recommended. Not to be missed, especially by those with a romantic heart and faith in the destiny of the human animal. Do Go. The French have what ? A je ne sais quoi - an indefinable something that captures elements of being human in a totally optimistic but real way.