Thursday, September 28, 2017

In Real Life

Darlinghurst Theatre Company, supported by Screenwise and Dominic Tayco and Darren Conlon, present, IN REAL LIFE, by Julian Larnach at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 15 September - 15 October.

IN REAL LIFE, is a new Australian play, by Julian Larnach.

Luke Rogers, the Director of this play, began a collaboration with the writer, Julian Larnach, almost three years ago. In the program notes, Mr Rogers uses a quote from Sherry Turkle, a Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology: 'Technology doesn't just do things for us. It does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are'. 

Says Mr Rogers:
This play is about much more than technology [...] Through the relationship between a mother and her daughter, this work examines our need for human connection, the dilemmas that arise when our technology develops beyond our existing templates for the world, and the lengths we are prepared to go to hold on to those we have lost.
Set some time in the near future we meet a mother, Theresa (Anni Finsterer) who has created a high tech 'gadget' called The Drum which is revolutionary in its applications for connection to all things in the world. Her estranged daughter, Eva (Elizabeth Nabben) arrives at her mother's fabulous country get-away. Theresa finds that she knows less about her daughter than her other technical creation and when Eva disappears - deliberately disconnecting herself from The Drum, maybe - Theresa finds herself desperate to re-establish connection, to find her daughter. The lengths to which she goes are extensive and, ultimately, delusional and despairingly obsessive.

The play travels into areas of intriguing desperation and the trick of the writer to have one actor play multiple roles (Elizabeth Nabben) is absorbing and sustains our curiosity. The play in this production is better than the performance. Ms Finsterer and Nabben both deliver, in this very widely designed modernist minimalist (empty) architectural 'house' (Production Designer, Georgia Hopkins), performances that are vocally underwhelming (projection) and so not at all commanding of our attention. Once again, James Brown, has composed and created a Sound Design that propels the intrigue of the play forward - THE NETHER, another alarming futuristic gaze, also benefits from Mr Brown's input.

IN REAL LIFE, then, is an interesting piece of new Australian writing, hampered by performances that do not communicate to all of the audience (I sat in Row D in Seat 19 and found the play text often inaudible/ at best muffled - it was almost as if the actors were playing to/for themselves!)

The Nether

Photo by Ross Waldron
Catnip Productions and Seymour Centre present the Australian Premiere of THE NETHER, by Jennifer Haley, in the Reginald Theatre, the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 13th September - 7th October.

THE NETHER is an American play by young playwright, Jennifer Haley. It premiered in 2013.

THE NETHER is set in the not too distant future: 'Soon', says the author. The nether is a development of the Internet - a virtual reality realm.

The Nether realm is

1. Another world for mythical creatures
2. Demon World.
3. A dimension of Evil or Imagination

The play begins in an interrogation room where a young female detective, Morris (Katie Fitchett) is investigating Sims (Kim Knuckey), a successful business man who has created the Hideaway - a Victorian world where the fantasy life of clients using avatars can be lived out to the full of the imagination within the rules of its originator. That in this realm, sexual predators can create their fantasies, even to the dismembering of their world, is the source of the provocative debate that it is at the crux of this challenging work.

 It is a fiercely intelligent play.

Jennifer Haley is concerned with the ethics of technology and what constitutes a crime in an imaginative world. A world where avatars are used/permitted to act the inclinations of deviating minds, and whether it is better to have these places of existence in the Nether, that allows for extreme fantasies to take place, rather than for them to be perpetrated in the real in-world.

The play shifts from the bleak world of the interrogation space to the lush romantics of a Victorian house surrounded by forest where a young girl called Iris (Danielle Catanzariti) - an avatar, created by Doyle (Alan Faulkner) - interacts with Papa (also, Kim Knuckey) and a new visitor/avatar, Woodnut (Alec Snow). (The in-world identity of Woodnut is a shock of some scale.)

One never sees anything of distaste to disturb us, rather, it is the act of our imagination that fills that void and one is left as the play reveals its machinations and its subtle arguments, with an uneasiness, a sense of perplexed alarm, that provokes one to terrifying contemplations of the possibilities of the near ethical debates we must have in the not too distant future - 'SOON', as the playwright intimates.

Within limited budget restraints, Set Designer, Pip Runciman, has managed to create the worlds of the play with gripping effect, assisted by the atmospheric Lighting of Christopher Page, sustained with wonderful Sound Composition and Design by James Brown - the Sound is the enveloping power that helps us stay suspended in the notions and realms of the play.

Director Justin Martin has an intellectual grasp of the play and even though he has only been able to lead his company of actors to a just satisfactory explication of the men, women and creatures of the scenario, he leaves us disturbed and, maybe, morally 'unclean'.

Witnessing this play is not easy, but better this provocation than the relative intellectual time wasting at the STC with its present production of DINNER. If you want a challenging night at the theatre that will lead to important debate and contemplation, then THE NETHER is worth a visit. Brave New World, indeed. This play will disturb as the recent production of 1984 did not.

N.B. Once again we have a Production program that has no biographical information about the writer. Of late, Sport For Jove, bAKEHOUSE and its associates, and now Catnip and the Seymour Centre, neglect to include the originator of the enterprise, the writer, from the program - all, but the writer - incredible disrespect, really.


Photo by by Brett Boardman

Sydney Theatre Company present, DINNER, by Moira Buffini, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 15 September - 28 October.

DINNER, is a British play, written in 2002, by Moira Buffini.

In the original and published text, which is different to what we see in this production, produced by the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), Paige (Caroline Brazier), a famous gourmet hostess, invites a group of middle class intellectuals (not aristocrats, as suggested in the program) to a, supposedly, celebratory dinner, for the successful publication of her husband's, Lars (Sean O'Shea), philosophic how-to-live a happy life tome BEYOND BELIEF. Wynne (Rebecca Massey), a not famous painter, arrives without her husband Bob, a politician, who has just run off with one of his 'temp's'. She does not appear to be upset. Paige, is more so, for now, she has an uneven table and an excess of food, and her planned scenario of cast activity thwarted. She must begin to improvise rather earlier than hoped for, it seems. And as we discern throughout the night, Wynne, herself, has a romantic agenda of her own going on and is relatively comfortable with the state of things, without hubby. Hal (Brandon Burke), a micro-biologist, lately divorced from suicidal Mags - a close friend of Paige's - and newly married to Sian (Claire Lovering), a television journalist/presenter - 'a news babe' - arrives next. (To digress, in a time when Marriage Equality is being debated, heatedly, it is arresting to note that none of the four heterosexual marriages revealed here are positive role models of success, and one has to believe, consequently, that it is the question of Equality rather than Marriage that ought to be at the centre of Australia's contemporary debate -if these people represent marriage, who would want to do it?) Paige has hired a waiter (Bruce Spence), who is silent, found on the Internet, who also has other special gifts, and makes a requited demand, that his services are to be paid expensively in cash, in advance. The Menu consists of PRIMORDIAL SOUP, as a starter; APOCALYPSE OF LOBSTER, for The Main; and a Dessert: FROZEN WASTE. The planning by Paige for this night has been meticulous and spiteful, to say the least. Just after the Starter has been served, a working class lorry driver, Mike (Aleks Mikic), arrives - further disturbing the well laid plans of the ' hostess with the mostest' - he is invited to stay.

A dinner party of vicious verbal wit ensues revealing the meticulous plan that Paige has drawn up to revenge herself on her duplicitous husband, in front of her chosen guests, with her own bloody public murder/suicide by the Silent Waiter to be this Dinner Party's coup de grace. In the original, published text, the waiter reneges on the deal, returns the money and leaves. Paige is distressed and accidentally shoots the working class representative at the party, Mike, in the back, then, in the ensuing panic from the other guests, attempts to shoot herself and fails. A plan is made to collude on a fabrication concerning Mike's death and put it into action by these 'wankers' only to have the 'newsbabe' to inform them that she has managed to call the police and that they are on their way. The 'new moneyed' pseudo-intellectuals have perpetrated murder of the lower order and now are left 'stewing' in their juices of venom - A Dinner, indeed.

The original version of the play was, probably, written in response to the oligarchical moneying of London in the '90's where the rich seem to be in a universe of no real consequence for actions, all of their own. 'What money can buy, we can have!' Produced just two months after the tragic, symbolic, time changing attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, this play seems to be completely irrelevant as a contribution to the conversation through Art, of and for our anxiety ridden state in our contemporary world.

And despite the auteur intervention by the Director, Imara Savage and her Designer, Elizabeth Gadsby, by placing the play in a sealed box with a vast glass wall for us to see through to distance us from the 'performative' script of the playwright, as well as providing a detailed stylised, architectural set of rooms, including a not needed kitchen for other 'illuminating' (?) Directorial activity, and further isolating the performers from the audience's easy identification, with the use of obvious micro-phoned sound to further disembody the performers as flesh and blood- rather, creating comic target caricatures - with an additional series of directorial flourishes to further 'theatricalise' the production, such as: introducing the drowning out of the actors with low passing jet sounds; eerie music (Max Lyandvert) that is a cue to paralyse the performers who then slowly turn to stare at us through the glass sheets; the appearance of stage-management with stage equipment or cleaning tools, without any other comment throughout the action of the production, and the scrawling on the glass walls: "Fuck Shit Up", of which, not any of this auteurship gestures can make this play work as a vital and justifiable part of contemporary conversation. Not even the new last scene (as contrasted to the published text), where the working class figure is witness to his hostess's murder/suicide instead of being the victim, makes a clear mark - just what is the relevance of this new statement by the Writer and Director?  What was the point?  Anyway, the production had gone far beyond my caring by the time we reached its end after a wearying hour and forty minutes of personal abuse comedy, with no interval to relieve the tediousness.

The very best thing about this performance, and the only reason to attend this production, is the quality of the actors who manage to survive the importunate choices of the Directorial team, and this is despite the diminishing returns of the relentless denigrating dialogue of this pseudo- revenge/comedy/satire/tragedy. Caroline Brazier, is brittle and bright, poised - indefatigable - in the central 'poisonous' role of Paige, while Rebecca Massey is a tour de force of character comic, with all, Claire Lovering, Brandon Burke, Bruce Spence, Sean O'Shea and an interesting comic debut by Aleks Mikic, supporting each other with an ensemble approach of performance survival style in their attempt to reach us, and communicate something to us, through that damnable glass wall. DINNER, on opening night was an experience where intellectual conception burdened the play and players over much.

This play was presented in Sydney by a team led by Alice Livingstone many years ago now, in the SBW Theatre in Kings Cross. I saw a production at the Melbourne Theatre Company with Pamela Rabe, as well, some time ago. Why the STC thought this was a relevant play to occupy our stages in 2017, is, frankly, beyond me. Kip Williams in his introductory message in the program suggests that Moira Buffini's debut at the STC, 'applies a liberal helping of Luis Bunuel surrealism and Alfred Hitchcock thriller with a dash of J.B. Priestly class interrogation'. It is what we see but it is more Imara Savage than the writer Moira Buffini, that has Bunuel, Hitchcock and Priestly, in mind, I think. Ms Buffini has more of some of the grand guignol of the Jacobean Revenge plays in mind.

DINNER, in the Drama Theatre is not as Mr Williams would wish: a must see "Bon appetit".

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Diving for Pearls

Griffin Theatre Company presents, DIVING FOR PEARLS, by Katherine Thomson, in the SBW Stables Theatre Kings, Cross. 8 September - 28 October.

DIVING FOR PEARLS, is an Australian play by Katherine Thomson, first performed in 1991 - a play, then, some 26 years old. However, this production, Directed by, Darren Yap, gives this play an energy and clarity that makes it resonate and feel as if it were written today, in 2017. This is a state-of-the-nation play delivered with confidence by all concerned.

A good play - vivid, individual characters in wonderfully observed scenes, with dialogue that crackles and caresses with authenticity, both comic and dramatic, with a distinct ethical contemplation of urgent concern at its centre (even if, for today, the narrative may appear to be, for some, a trifle slow moving); wonderful casting - not a single weakness in this company of 5 actors revealing imagination and courage, utilising their considerable craft skills to deliver Ms Thomson's concerns; an astute Director (not least, in finding the right cast) solving the many location demands of the story with a Costume, but especially, Set Design, by James Browne; with an atmospherically rich, complex Lighting Design, by Benjamin Brockman, that helps propel the dynamics of the action forward, supported by the joint Composition and Sound Design, of Max Lambert and Roger Lock. The majority of this team collaborating familiarly with Mr Yap.

On morning radio (Radio National- RN) one heard a Union representative (Sally McManus - Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary ?) disputing the present policies of Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment, for the ex-businessman/banker, multi-millionaire, Prime Minister's government of 2017, and its pro-industry and anti-workers stances (attacks). DIVING FOR PEARLS, seen that evening, although, written some 26 years ago, jumped out to one with even more pertinence than ever before, a mere 9 hours later.

Says Den - a worker - in the penultimate scene of the play, standing on the fabrication shop floor of his factory:
I'm not just some mad bastard who cracked up. But I have just formally refused the retrenchment package. And I will be heard. [...] Because I will have my say. Because this will keep happening. Because we're one more thing that gets disposed of - and I keep thinking, what do they think I am? And the point is, there were people who were paid to plan, to win contracts, to stop the rust. If the writing was on the wall, why wasn't it read out loud? Look, I know I'm thick, but this accountancy, all this accountancy - where are the people in their equations? It's all rates of return [...] We're not stupid - we could be told the truth. But its just deceit and - The money this region's produced - and it doesn't seem to get back here. All around us these companies - making these profits, but it all gets spent in Chile or North Sea oil or one bad year and they go. And we - we put up with it. We're like some cargo cult, all of us in this city. Sitting on the floor of a quarry, lighting fires and hoping someone'll come down and save us. Then you wonder - well, what if no-one does? If they think we'll just ... disappear ... 

Den, in 1991, speaks as a blue collar worker and no-one, apparently, has listened, these pearls fell on swinish ears - no-one listened and the poor became poorer and the rich have become richer. A glaring contemporary (universal) political issue, in 2017, so that the remaining blue collar worker does still protest, and in the computer/internet/'robot' world, the white collar worker, too now, is looking for its 'Den' to enjoin a chorus of protest to draw regard to the 'people' in the all powerful Corporations equations for cash. (Is there some poetic-literary irony in the Minister of Employment's name Michaelia CASH, intended by this Government, in her appointment?)

This play is concerned in giving the honest working poor a spot-light, a voice, so as to be seen and heard. At the centre of Ms Thomson's concern is Den - late 40's (Steve Rodgers) and Barbara, nearly 40 (Ursula Yovich). Den is a shy loner with a big, if, simple heart, still living in his dead parents house, having worked doggedly in the near-by factory, and having never lived or worked anywhere else. He has never felt the need to do or live any other way - he has, relative, contentment. He has a toy train network hobby. He once had a love for Barbara, and has never worked out what went wrong. Barbabra, has worked hard all of her life in an industry of disposable 'goods'- a clothing factory -has had a child with disabilities, Verge (Ebony Vagulans), which she has disposed to her older sister Marj (Michelle Doake), and is now living in a run-down boarding house. Den and Barbara's paths cross again, and, advantageously, Barbara accepts refuge and a relationship with Den as she, aspirationally, seeks to find employment in the hospitality industry with a newly constructed International chain hotel development, on the beach front, nearby. Den lovingly facilitates all her needs, even to taking in her 'surprise' child as his own.

Barbara, is played relentlessly, and at some noisome (crushing?) pitch, by Ms Yovich, with remarkable courage, to give us a portrait of a woman driven to a last defence, a fierce narcissistic core by her 'gathering' circumstances, blaming all others, except herself, for her failings, and having no rescuing sensibility to hear those about her who want to love and protect her. Barbara's 'mania', as played by Ms Yovich, is dreadful in its emotional confrontation and is only relieved by the aspect that Den has for her - one of devoted love-sickness - that permits us, as we watch him grow happy with her, to develop an empathy for her - we, nearly, see her through his eyes. It is a scarifying character observed with, it seems to me, a kind of admiring grief by Ms Thomson, and a deep seated knowledge by Ms Yovich.

Steve Rodgers is a remarkable actor who draws, it seems to me, from his inner organic centre as a human, to create with simple gesture of action and, especially, thought, the whole of a character's life, his, in this case of Den, Den's simple past, his honest present and his loving aspiration for the future, who grows, belatedly, but inevitably, because of his purity of heart, sensible, to the injustices of his and his fellow workers lives and has the spine of an ethical consciousness to stand up for what is right against the expediency of money - a corrupter of human values. The tragic flaw in Den and Barbara's relationship is the recognition that their difference is one of moral principle - even though they, probably, could not say what it is, in so many words. Barbara wants him to give into the advantage of the money of the redundancy offered by the Corporation, Den can't, ethically, do so. Mr Rodgers gives a great performance to put in one's theatrical memories.

Jack Finsterer, as Ron, is a man who began on the factory floor with Den, but who took advantage of his opportunities to become an industrial consultant, and incidentally, Den's brother-in-law, brought in to be one of the many hatchet-men to undo the local factory/industry. Mr Finsterer draws not a knowing 'villain' but an empathetic and compromised man of practical survival. It is a sensitively observed performance of some moving dilemmas.

 Newcomer, Ebony Vagulans, creates Verge, the mildly intellectually disabled, physically handicapped and abandoned daughter of Barbara's, with a keen eye for detail and insight to the frustrations of Verge's world, blossoming under the care of Den and protesting for him with loving but devastating consequences.

Finally, one welcomes back Michelle Doake to the stage, as Marj, the misunderstood and awkward sister of Barbara who only has good intentions but no educated finesse to articulate them in any socially acceptable manner. Her performance is an exquisite one of comic and pathetic dimension - sometimes both at the same time - it is remarkable to watch the 'technique' of this actor with its second-by-second development of surface and character depth. Ms Doake's Marj is not simply, the comic relief function of this play's construct, but part of this play's human tragedy.

A good play with great characters and a 'thumping' moral heart. The acting from this ensemble  is much to be admired and not to be missed. Direction from Darren Yap, including all of the necessary Design supporting elements of his collaborators, make this Australian play of the past, shine with meticulous study and execution.

One hopes that the Emerging Playwright's of the newly announced coming season are able to watch this classic play construction, character realisations and story, with a moral heart (a philosophy), by Katherine Thomson - for to stand on the shoulders of greatness, to learn from observing, can be an advantage.

Recommended, highly.


Photo by Rupert Reid Photography

Millstone Productions presents MOTH, by Declan Greene, in the ATYP Theatre, Wharf 4, Hickson Rd., Walsh Bay. 6 September - 16 September.

MOTH is a one act play by Australian writer, Declan Greene. It is a very early example of his work and the 'promise' that this text predicts has been continually advanced upon with project following project: e.g. LITTLE MERCY; EIGHT GIGABYTES OF HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY and more recently, THE HOMOSEXUALS OR 'FAGGOTS'.

Two young teenagers, Claryssa (Ruby O'Kelly) - a self-declared emo, Wiccan art-freak, and Sebastian (Jeremi Campese) - an underdeveloped, sickly 15 year old with a fantasy life chock full of anime robot scenarios, have found a bonding as the school weirdo outsiders. The bullies of the school find them an easy target. It is their imaginative wit and super-human resilience that keeps them going. Inevitably, one them begins to unwind and their friendship undergoes severe pressure and possible tragedy.

The play is essentially overwritten and in the event of it in this production, by Rachel Chant, it appears overwrought. Ms O'Kelly gives an obvious leaning to melodramatic (pushed) choices from no organic 'core' of identification (acting rather than 'existing', 'being'), which highlights the brilliant restraint (naturalism) and ease that Mr Campese brings to the highs and lows of his character's journey. It is a very creditable performance and appears to be more so beside the less truthful performance one of his partner. Mr Campese, is, I suspect, someone to look out for.

The Set and Costume Design is by Tyler Hawkins and is made more 'handsome' in its concrete spareness through the Lighting of Alexander Berlage, whilst the atmosphere of the narrative is supported and further created by the Composition of Chrysoulla Markoulli and the Sound Design of Tom Hogan.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Where The Streets Had A Name

Photo by Michael Bourchier

Monkey Baa Theatre Company presents, WHERE THE STREETS HAD A NAME, by Eva Di Cesare, adapted from the novel of the same name by Randa Abdel-Fattah at the Lendlease Darling Quarter Theatre, Darling Harbour Precinct. 5 - 7 September.

WHERE THE STREETS HAD A NAME, is a play adapted from the novel by Randa Abdel-Fattah. It reveals the experience of how ordinary Palestinians negotiate violence and injustice while going about their mundane, everyday lives, as two children go on a quest to fulfil the dying wish of one of their beloved. Says Ms Abdel-Fattah:
Monkey Baa's production beautifully captures how Israel's occupation machinery and policies affect the everyday spaces of people's lives - especially children.
I beg to differ about the production but not with its social convictions.

Monkey Baa aims its work at young children of all ages. The audience I saw this production with were a mixture of ages. Their reaction to the material was attentive and in some cases, from specifically Palestinian refugees, and other nation refugees, from Syria, Afghanistan, now living in Fairfield, some tears and identification was made evident.

Playing out the family and other characters of the environment are Mansoor Noor, Dina Gillespie, Alissar Gazal Sitti Zeynab, Aanisa Vylet Hayaat and Sal Sharar. The biggest problem, at the moment, with the play is its fairly perfunctory adaptation by the Writer/Director Eva Di Cesare. For the play, in this production has, mostly, representational caricatures of a mother, father, grandparent and children of either sex, to facilitate the narrative of the difficulties it is to be Palestinian in an occupied military territory, so it can facilitate the apparent novel's social situation, which is of a grossly inhumane proportion. One wishes the writing was better and/or that the acting was better -  for the experience to be more than two-dimensional.

The Design, by Antoinette Barboutis, with a back panel of grey cement blocks to represent The Wall, with transparent screens to re-produce the AV Design, by Jerome Pearce, of real images of location, has good 'ideas' but they are not explored with enough scrutiny, by the Director, to contribute to the drama of the story.

This work is clearly, at core, a relevant experience and encounter for the young audience. It could be for a general audience as well - but it can't be in its present dedicated by lack-lustre production.


Photo by Brett Boardman

Belvoir presents, HIR, by Taylor Mac, in the Upstairs Theatre, Surry Hills. August 16 - September 10.

HIR is a play by the American artist, cult figure -"A critical darling of the New York scene" -  Taylor Mac (also, referred too as, 'judy' - as in Judy Garland - as a gender pronoun).

In the Writer's Note in the program:
I'm a lover and maker of the alternative, underground, and radical movements, and basically every work I've made is somehow rooted in a subculture. HIR, however, is a new kind of play for me, as it's dealing with the mainstream; rather the remnants of the former body politic and the rise of a new progressive body politic.

Issac (Michael Whalley), a recently dishonourably discharged soldier (for drug problems) returns to the lower middle-class suburban home of his family. Since he was last there much has changed. Arnold (Greg Stone), the patriarch of the family has had a disabling heart stroke and his wife, Paige (Helen Thomson) has, at last, found herself liberated from the physical and psychological abuse of her world and has begun a revolution of a new behavioural mode that is beyond gender, beyond materialism, even beyond the past (history). She has dressed her husband in a dress and elaborate make-up and has decided the order of the house is not her responsibility or high on her new agenda. Included in her new agenda, way of life, is an active embracement and support of the transition of her daughter, Max (Kurt Pimblett) to another sexual identity. On the refrigerator door are some alphabet  magnetic letters that spells out LGBTTSQQIAAC and the new gender pronoun and its origin: Him and Her that has become Hir; He and She that has become Ze. This new world order in this suburban home with this family is a radical re-imagining of possibilities.

Writes Taylor Mac:
In my time since I left home (25 years), its been thrilling to notice how many of those queer refugees, along with the straight radicals (and even progressives), are exploding the oppressive traditions, dictates, laws, and culture we've inherited and are creating a new world order in our new homes. Sure it's taking time, it should have happened long ago, and isn't even close to actually being what it needs to be (in terms of dealing with inequality, climate change, and economic disparity), but it's happening. There is tangible progress.

The two hours (including the interval) passes swiftly. The politics are sharp and are pleasantly funny (more often, hilariously so) and this is principally because the play has no anger, no self righteousness, no text book, academic blah, blah, blahing no pedagogic preaching, rather, it brings a modern, an ordinary family coping with the evolution of a more sophisticated world. I felt the world of the play was similar to Sam Shepard's, THE CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS (1978) and its family, each with the same economic struggle but in HIR has the addition of a skilful focus shift to the sexual paradigm of today.

On a scarily recognisable, and cleverly detailed Set Design, by Michael Hankin, in both acts where a transformation takes place, Director, Anthea Williams, manages her actors through the chaos of the space. She is blessed with a wonderful full-bore characterisation from Helen Thomson, who has not been so good since her stand-out work on Shaw's MRS WARREN'S PROFESSION, a few years ago. When given a character that is a challenge for her, the courage and skill of this artist comes to the fore - Ms Thomson is always a reliable comic but, it seems to me, when given more than that, transforms into a remarkable force of complex motivation. Her Paige is an unforgettable creation - the engine thrust of the play. Too, Kurt Pimblett, is arresting in the advocacy of Max and the transformative growth of the character. Mr Whalley and Mr Stone are suitably bewildered in the world that their Issac and Arnold find themselves in.

With this radical shift in the politics and order of this family there is, as Taylor Mac admits, 'collateral damage' which the two men of the play must bear - who are simply 'two people who are in the world regardless.' The violence of the last beats of the play, I assumed, after conversation with my friends after the show, was a statement by Mac, that it is the combative instinct of our species that will continue to undo us, prevent that evolutionary process from moving forward without bloodshed and exile - there will be a cost which must be, inevitably, paid. It is here that the Director, Ms Williams, fails to reveal what is happening in those final beats to clarify what we are meant to read from the stage offers. At the moment the production seems to finish precipitously in an opaque confusion.

HIR, is a highly recommended night in the theatre: Entertainment, Enlightenment, and for some of us, results in a state of Ecstasy. There is hope for a more enlightened way of living beyond the usual binaries. This production at Belvoir is as timely as our present political debate around Same Sex Marriage is.

N.B. Taylor Mac presents A 24-DECADE HISTORY OF POPULAR MUSIC as part of the upcoming Melbourne Festival in October.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

American Beauty Shop

Some Company and Oleg Pupovac in association with bAKEHOUSE present
AMERICAN BEAUTY SHOP, by Dana Lynn Formby, in the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), at the Kings Cross Hotel. August 31 - September 16.

AMERICAN BEAUTY SHOP, is an American play, by Dana Lynn Formby, written 2015.

It begins in the dark with a radio news bulletin reporting on the culpability of the Lehman Brothers and the resultant Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008. We are then brought to Cortez, Colorado, into the basement Beauty Shop belonging to Sue (Amanda Stephens Lee), where she's re-located from main street, as a result of that crisis. Sue is a struggling business woman with a fading traffic of old customers, like Helen (Jill McKay), with a stand-by loyal help-mate, Meg (Charmaine Bingwa). She has two things going for her, she believes: a hair product which she has invented and is going to patent to make her fortune, having saved a $1000 to do just that, and Judy (Caitlin Burley), a bright daughter who is possibly going to win a scholarship for Berkeley University to study Chemical Engineering that may lead to an upwardly mobile trajectory for the family. Judy's future is what Sue has 'slaved' for.

Sue is a single mum, having got pregnant, with Judy, without a man to take some responsibility with her. Her sister, Doll (Janine Watson), too, got pregnant and had a child, which died. The cycle of the struggle against poverty and the frustrated hopes of aspiration, especially for single women, are what this play is all about. (There are no men in this play). So, when Judy reveals that she is pregnant, to a local boy, the dilemma of whether she ought to abort the child (with mum's saved money) or possibly thwart her university study and future by keeping it, becomes the grist of this drama.

There is some good, if predictable, writing, though,the situation and the characters are tiresomely familiar which makes the first act a very long exposition and set-up for a much more interesting second act of confrontations. And it is then that the actors pull out some strong offers to keep this play alive for a patient audience.

In trying to puzzle the problems of the production - its relative inertia - as the narrative is so familiar, I wondered if the production had to be more of a character study opportunity, that might have made it  a more engaging dramatic entanglement. For, under the Direction of Anna McGrath, none of these actors have developed their women beyond what the action dictates and one wishes that there was more insight into the frustrations, eccentricities and needs that drive these women - I kept thinking of the characters in plays like STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1987), CRIMES OF THE HEART (1979), and , even further, of the recent GFC themed recovery films and the characters drawn in them: HELL AND HIGH WATER (2016) and LOGAN LUCKY (2017) - though these films deal with mostly men at the centre of the work.

This naturalistic play is Designed by Ellen Stanistreet for the KXT traverse space and the difficulties for that illusion, e.g. of the need for running water etc, provides some obstacle, whilst Liam O'Keefe lights the staging competently and the Sound Design, by Ellen Griffin, creates some atmosphere.

AMERICAN BEAUTY SHOP, is well done, (if, on my night,  a little 'wobbly' in its performance security) and that the play itself is a little underwhelming in narrative, character and content thematics. It is, however, an easy night out, to be sure.

N.B. This production set of companies have forgotten to give any biographical information about the writer. This is not unusual for productions in Sydney where the writer is sometimes disregarded. It is particularly distressing to see that the primary artist, Dana Lynn Formby, the writer, and the reason why, how, this work is being engaged, has no place in the program information.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Father

The Sydney Theatre Company and Commonwealth Bank present a Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company production of THE FATHER, by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton. August 24 - October 21.

THE FATHER, is a play written in 2012, by French playwright and novelist, Florian Zeller. It won the Moliere Award for Best Play in 2016 and has had an international life of some reputation. It has been translated into English, by Christopher Hampton - his play, LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES (1985) being his best remembered work.

From the Program notes from the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) the synopsis:
Andre (John Bell) was once an engineer. He lives in Paris, in an apartment he bought 30 years earlier. Or perhaps he lives with his daughter, Anne, and her husband, Antoine. Or was he a tap dancer whose daughter Anne, lives in London with her lover, Pierre? Whatever the living arrangements, he's still wearing his pyjamas and he can't find his watch.
Reading, that information, the idea that we are about to see a play that may be a psychological thriller, or, possibly an inheritor of the conundrum of the French absurdest play tradition, say, Ionesco's THE CHAIRS (1952), rises in one's consciousness. Both of the above might be the truth of the experience in the theatre.

For from the beginning, the offers of the Set Design, by Alicia Clements, of a middle-class Parisian apartment are slightly askew. Subtly, but askew. There is something just a little odd about the look, the furnishings. One has, after all many memory references from recent French cinema of the middle class Parisian apartment: ELLE (2016), THINGS TO COME (2016), AMOUR (2012), CACHE (2005).

THE FATHER, is made up of some fifteen scenes of various lengths and after the darkness between each, accompanied by an eerie Sound Design (Steve Francis), subtle shifts of organisation of the rooms has happened. It is subtly disconcerting and it undermines one's confidence of what one has seen previously, of what is true, what is real, of what usually has helped, to make secure, to build a belief system to enter the world of the play, the usual 'rules' of the normal game of make-believe in the theatre.

Andre, a retired engineer, is looking for his watch. He is urgently in search of it for he tells us that he had always had two watches, the one on his wrist and the one in his head - he always knew the time, the 'when' of his life. As this play unrolls one is not so sure that he has that grip on both his 'watches' anymore. He, we, meet his caring daughter, Anne (Anita Hegh), her partner, Pierre (Marco Chiappi), his carer, Laura (Faustina Agolley) and two others, Glenn Hazeldine and Natasha Herbert, who may not be who they say, and/or Andre believes they are.

This is a play about the experience of dementia. For those of us living with it through the health of parents and friends, and the personal fear that it might be happening to one self.  THE FATHER, can be, is a very difficult, confronting time. For what Florian Zeller manages is to place one in the mind (head) of Andre. The gathering accumulative journey that one has, as an audience, is the feeling of losing one's mind where the reality we are watching is not consistent and so is distractingly frustrating and panic inducing. It is a marvelous piece of writing. Listen carefully to the dialogue repetitions, and their subtle changes. Christopher Hampton, translates the 'tricks' the verbal constructs of Florian Zeller with wonderful skill - all is not secure.

John Bell, playing Andre, creates a man of masculine aggression, a man not, necessarily easy to like, a man whose difficult personality traits become magnified as he flounders in a bewildered whirl to find an equilibrium to his waking moments that ultimately dwindles into a pathetic (empathetic) figure of need and child-like wanting. It is a performance that keeps one at a distance, and whether it is one of 'logical' rejection or simple fear of the future, that position cannot but be challenged with the final moments of the production. One can be moved to tears. Whether it is one of empathetic embrace or fear, will be an individual choice.

The company of actors are uniform in their simple and straight-forward tasks that present the world of the scenes of the play with naturalistic clarity - no comment, no 'flourish', little to no sub-text, and Director, Damian Ryan trusts that the writing embodied by his actors will create the affect of the play's intentions, balanced by a subtle Lighting Design, by Rachel Burke, creating a visual offer that can create a sense of unease and doubt.

At 90 minutes with no interval this is a play of enormous skill that can shatter one's confidence about the future - indeed, one's own in a very visceral way. The production serves the writer with a bleak hand of consistent restraint.

N.B.: There is a twined play by Mr Zeller, called THE MOTHER (2015), which, too, examines a contemporary social issue of a commonly experienced confrontation. It is worth reading (or, perhaps seeing).