Thursday, November 30, 2017

High Fidelity

Photo by Robert Catto

Highway Run Productions and Neil Gooding Productions and the Hayes Theatre, present HIGH FIDELITY, Lyrics by Amanda Green, Music by Tom Kitt, Book by David Lindsay-Abaire. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby and the Touchstone Pictures Film. At the Hayes Theatre Greenknowe Ave, Kings Cross. November 22 - December 17.

HIGH FIDELITY is a musical of 2006, a famous Broadway flop (set in Brooklyn). It is based on the novel of 1995, by Nick Hornby (set in London), and the film of 2000, Directed by Stephen Frears, and starring John Cusack (set in Chicago).

It charts the growth of, principally, an emotionally stunted Rob (Toby Francis). He owns a record store for specialised 'nerds' having given up his successful DJ-ing gigs. A boy-man that refuses to grow up, surrounded by similarly dim boy/men: Barry (Joe Kosky) and Dick (Dash Kruck), none of them able to commit to any relationship. This show begins with the exit of Rob's latest 'failure', Laura (Teagan Wouters), he, haunted by past women he let go: Anna (Jenni Little), Marie (Erin Clare), Penny (Madison Hegarty) Sarah (Denise Devlin) and Jackie (Bronte Florian). Says the Director Neil Gooding:
... this is not always pretty. Our leading character is charming (and deceitful), insecure (yet arrogant), apathetic (yet inspirational), loving (yet fickle), complex (yet irritatingly closed), hurt (and hurtful).
The good news is that Toby Francis gives a wonderfully 'tortured' central performance and uses the intelligent, witty lyrics by Amanda Green, and the Book, by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire, to have us care for Rob and all his excruciating male thick 'headedness' through all his irritating behavioural choices. It is a dynamic demand which he fulfills with extraordinary stamina and a keen sense of acting detail.

The music is by Tom Kitt, who wrote NEXT TO NORMAL, and is of the pop-rock cacophonous kind. I kept hearing the Green Day musical, AMERICAN IDIOT, and now understand why, when I read that Mr Kitt was a part of that Broadway hit, too, in his duties as Musical Supervisor and Orchestrator. This production is under the musical control of Andrew Worboys and it is acoustically, 'crash-bang' on. Sound Designer is Nick Walker.

In this scaled down for the Hayes Theatre production which is brilliantly served by Production Designer, Lauren Peters, with a vivid and intellingtly alert Lighting Design by Alex Berlage, Mr Gooding has created an evening with terrific choreography from Cameron Mitchell, who together have created performances from all that have a perceptible aura of truth in the music theatre genre. There is no weak acting link here in this close-up theatre space (this includes Zoe Gertz, Nicholas Christo, Matthew Predny and Alex Jeans). Plus, they are blessed with singing skills that are zinging.

HIGH FIDELITY is really well done and that has to do, mainly, with the emphasis/focus placed on the characters and the relationships that drive the story. I had a really good and appreciative time. The music is not to my taste but I enjoyed this show more than I did the Broadway productions of NEXT TO NORMAL and AMERICAN IDIOT which are composed in the same musical 'zone'. This production has a humanity as well as 'noise'.

Night Slows Down

Photo by Ross Waldron

Don't Look Away and bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company present, NIGHT SLOWS DOWN, A new play by Phillip James Rouse, at the King's Cross Theatre (KXT), in the King's Cross Hotel. November 17 - December 9.

NIGHT SLOWS DOWN, is a new Australian play, by Phillip James Rouse.

It is an ambitious play, with a flashback set of scenes interpolated into the forward action of the narrative, that attempts to illustrate the modern political world where the Nationalistic/Fascist tendencies of a government can lead to overwrought and misconceived expressions of power, as in the case in this play, the building of an architectural 'monument' as urban renewal that results in death and destruction. Where ideological needs of Image of Power over rides ethical and moral (practical) boundaries.

It is in the using of the power struggle between siblings, Seth (Andre de Vanny) and Sharon (Danielle King), with her partner, Martin (Johnny Nasser) as a pawn to the circumstances, that Mr Rouse, propels his story. The domestic in the universal. Sharon is an engineer coerced by her brother to supervise a government project. He wants swift result to enhance his career, and is deaf to her urgent protests of his time recklessness and risks to safety in his insistence of action. The vehemence of Seth's need and 'violent' usage of his sister is sprung from the turning point of the disinheritance of Seth from their father's will! It struck me his passion seemed brashly disproportionate and a pathetic well spring for the whole action of this 75 minute play.

Mr de Vanny, gives a performance of committed energy, whilst Ms King seemed less sure of her character's trajectory, with a tendency to overplay the emotional tropes of the character, in consequence. While Mr Nasser gives an opaque execution of his character's place in the thematics of the story - is that, I wondered, because of the writing? Besides been written by Mr Rouse he is also the Director.

The Design, by Anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt solves the traverse problems with skill and is lit by Sian James-Holland, while the Sound Design, also by Mr Rouse, is fairly 'grandiose' in its affects.

Mr Rouse in his project notes concludes: 'I won't tell you what to think or do about anything this play covers. I simply hope you are moved.' 

The Merchant of Venice

Photo by Prudence Upton

Bell Shakespeare present THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, by William Shakespeare, in the Playhouse Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. Until 26 November.

I went to see this Bell Shakespeare production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks, on the favourable 'word-of-mouth' I had, mostly, received from friends, who, like me, had had a very dispiriting experience with their production of OTHELLO***, last year, and, of course, because of my continuing interest in this very vexing play.


Says Norrie Epstein in his book THE FRIENDLY SHAKESPEARE:
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE  is a troubling play. At the end, you may not know whether you've seen a tragedy or a comedy, a love story or a tale of hate. In its infinite ambiguity, it is quintessential Shakespeare. No sooner have you reached one conclusion about the play than it's immediately contradicted in the next scene - or line. (1)

Ostensibly, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is the story of the friendship of an unselfish Venetian merchant (Antonio) for a charming young gentleman (Bassiano) who is in love with a beautiful heiress (Portia); of the noble sacrifice that the friend is on the point of making when nearly brought to disaster by a vile Jew (Shylock); of the transformation of the lovely lady (Portia) into lawyer and logician (Balthazar) just in the nick of time and her administration to the villain of a dose of his own medicine. (2)
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is traditionally situated as a Romantic Comedy in the Shakespearean canon, but it is the tragedy of the sub-plot of Shylock (Mitchell Butel), the Jewish money usurer, that dominates the proceedings in most contemporary productions. And yet Shylock appears in only five of the twenty scenes of the play.

Anne-Louis Sarks has edited, slimmed the play down - for a cast of ten - (and startlingly re-written, especially, provocatively, the ending!!!), and in that process has emphasised the anti-semiticism of the Christian characters. Certainly, in this production, the anti-semitic prejudice of Antonio (Jo Turner) and the supporting behaviour from his 'bro' follow-the-leader gang: Bassanio (Damien Strouthos), Gratiano (Anthony Taufa) and even Lorenzo (Shiv Palekar) is featured in forward and underlined energy and, too, after the thwarting of the pound of flesh contract, the ruthless pursuit of Portia as the lawyer, Balthazar, in the legal destruction of Shylock, contradicting her (Christian) avocation of the value of mercy, but a few minutes before, is revealed as a devastatingly cruel and forensic reading of the Law:
Tarry , Jew;
The law hath yet another hold on you.
It is enacted in the laws of Venice,-
If it be prov'd against an alien,
That by direct or indirect attempts
He seek the life of any citizen,
The party against the which he doth contrive
Shall seize one half of his goods; the other half
Comes to the privy coffer of the state;
And the offender's life lies in the mercy
Of the duke only, 'gainst all other voice.
In which predicament, I say, thou stand'st;
For it appears by manifest proceeding,
That indirectly, and directly too,
Thou has contrived against the very life
Of the defendant; and thou has incurr'd
The danger formerly by me rehearsed.
Down, therefore, and beg mercy of the duke.
Which allows the revengeful Merchant Antonio to obliterate the human, Shylock, further:
So please my lord the Duke, and all the court,
To quit the fine for one half of his goods;
I am content, so he will let me have
The other half in use, to render it,
Upon his death, unto the gentleman
That lately stole his daughter:
Two things provided more, - that for this favour,
He presently become a Christian;
The other, that he do record a gift,
Here in the court, of all he dies possess'd
Upon his son Lorenzo and his daughter.
In this production he is humiliatingly stripped by the 'gang' of merchants of his tzizit and yarmulke.

"Anti-semitism can take many forms - from a mocking, contemptuous ill-will, to murderous pogroms. [... ] Anti-semitism can be met with in the market and in the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences, in the soul of an old man and in the games children play in the yard. Anti-semitism has been as strong in the age of atomic reactors and computers as in the age of oil-lamps, sailing boats and spinning wheels." (3).

This faith, the Christian faith, lately, in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare, divided into the Protestant and Roman Catholic conduits, had become a weapon for secular power, and despite preaching peace (and mercy) was violent, ruthless and intolerant to all who deviated from that 'one true faith'. And, once it had attained the status of the religion of State - empire - did, with its zealous 'priests' and congregation, set about to destroy all others. This was even more powerfully strengthened by Shakespeare in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by choosing the Jewish faith to attack as it was infamously paralleled with the successful skills of that part of that community in the money lending world - a success that evoked much envy and suspicion.

Inside this Romantic Comedy of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, which is essentially about money - the borrowing and lending of ducats and the fortune of a rich heiress, Portia's - the doctrines and practice of the Jewish faith are pitted against those of the Christian faith (and since it is set in Venice is it the Catholic Christian faith?), and Ms Sarks seems to be taking a very decided show in sorting Shakespeare's intentions.

In the program notes we are told:
Religious tensions were high, and Jewish people were openly persecuted. One grievance the Christians felt most egregiously was the Jewish practice of Usury - the lending of money for interest - which was forbidden under Christian doctrine, and viewed by them as morally wrong. In 1578 Phillip Caesar lablelled Usurers thusly: "thei are likened to poysoned serpentes, to mad Dogges, to greedie Wormes, to Wolues, Beares, and to other rauening beasts." It is through this lens that Shakespeare's Venetian Christians viewed the Jews.(...)
This heightened conceptual 'take' by Ms Sarks to the play is provocative and intriguing - a strength of interest - and it is set in a very handsome, and deceptively simple (touring) Design by Michael Hankin (another remarkable Design - what a prolifically exciting Designer he is). The production takes a kind of post-modern meta-theatre bent, in that the actors are all present on the stage throughout the performance, even unto the dressing and undressing for their very many changes, in modern dress - we are definitely in a theatre.

I think what any production of any play requires to be successful is 1. the telling of a story with  2. recognisable (not just relatable) characters with a clear, and 3. in the case of Shakespeare especially, a love of words, of language.

By the time I saw the production, which was in the last week of a very long tour, what we were given, in the Playhouse, was a clear storyline but with characters that were mostly driven by function rather than flesh and blood dimensions; by characters of a modern 'hipster' sensibility of humour and meanness, both in the world of Venice and the spoilt space of inherited money in Belmont; with, in this production, an emphatic use of actor ownership through 'personalisation' i.e. the drawing of the characters from a heightened exposure of the personalities of the actors (the work of Jacob Warner, as Launcelot, for instance, mostly deliberate watch-me-be-funny-now-acting, and as clever as it may have been in its re-writing and improvisations etc, for myself, was undermining to the seriousness of the trajectory of the play as written). These characters definitely belonged to an accessible contemporary world, even down to the two principal female characters playing in bare-feet with bodies that seemed to be responding to the events of the play simply as themselves with little to no transfer and imaginative development of a 'script extraction' and 'research observation' of the status/ clues of these people in Shakespeare's world when adapted to this modern world.

Damien Strouthos, as Bassanio, seemed to straddle the double demand of the 'modern' Director's need and the original Writer's intent most consistently, with Felicity McKay, in the smaller role of Jessica, fulfilling a duty to both responsibilities well. Mr Turner lacked consistent vocal/verse power, depending more on emotional colouring to reveal Antonio's predicament (with a bathetic shading of the homo-erotic attraction to Bassanio) than the use of text as argument. Mitchell Butel began brilliantly as Shylock, in the first scene physically primed and psychologically complex, promising much to come, but disintegrated to a blurring of text with excessive emotional declaration and physical reaction that distracted from the words of Shakespeare's arguments as the play journeyed on - unfortunately, signalling and overwrought pathos in the last part of the famous trial scene - showing us what to feel, rather than allowing us to endow the situation from our responses to the character and his situation. But what was more difficult (and egregious) was the throw away use of the finely wrought poetry of Shakespeare's verse by Catherine Davies, as Nerissa, and especially, by Jessica Tovey, as Portia - revealing, mostly, girls who just want to have fun, instead of two of the cleverest and sophisticated women written by Shakespeare.

For me, it was the generalised use of text, the lack of relish of the word by word construct of the language of Shakespeare's poetry, and the preference to utilise and permit, undisciplined personalised physical responses as character guides to tell this story, that undermined the power of the original play, in fact, ultimately, undermined the concept of this production.

It was, however, a better night in the theatre than the Bell OTHELLO, last year. But it is interesting to look back to the Sport For Jove production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE as a point of comparison.


  1. THE FRIENDLY SHAKESPEARE, by Norrie Epstein. Penguin Books. 1993.
  2. THE MEANING OF SHAKESPEARE, by Harold C. Goddard. The University of Chicago Press. 1951.
  3. LIFE AND FATE - a novel, by Vasily Grossman, translated from the Russian ZHIZN I SUDA, by Robert Chandler. Vintage Books, London. 2006.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Caretaker

Throwingshade Theatre Company presents THE CARETAKER, by Harold Pinter, at the Actors Pulse Theatre, Redfern, November 22 - December 2.

It seems a while since we have seen a play by Harold Pinter. Oh, no, there was the Sydney Theatre Company's NO MAN'S LAND and more recently, BETRAYAL at the Ensemble Theatre. It is THE CARETAKER (1959) that we have not seen for a while. This play is one of the earliest of his successes along with THE BIRTHDAY PARTY (1957) and THE HOMECOMING (1964) that propelled Pinter into the pantheon of one of the British greats. 'That he occupies a position as a modern classic is illustrated by his name entering the language as an adjective used to describe a particular atmosphere and environment in drama: "Pinteresque"', informs the program notes to this production by its Director, Courtney Powell.

In this small but comfortable playing space, Ms Powell has contrived a modern rendering of the play, divesting it of the overstated, usual, shackles of the reputation of the writer as 'an absurdist' and instead emphasises the basic humanity of real people marginalised by poverty and education who still have aspirations for a good life. At its heart, THE CARETAKER is a character study, an observation of three men in a house, two of them brothers: psychologically damaged Aston (Andrew Langcake) and 'bovver-boy' Mick (Alex Bryant-Smith), and an invited homeless man, Davies (Nicholas Papademetriou), struggling to find connection, identification and a sense of 'belonging'. There is, in a series of scenes, little plot but much mystery as the characters gradually reveal their strength and weaknesses, that evolves into a senseless power struggle in a deprived world. There is in the watching of the play a growing sense of a sinister tension that gratefully dissipates by the play's end.

One can see the truth of Pinter's observation of a community he knows in the nineteen-fifties in a recovering blitzed London, squatting in their damaged homes with a collection of found and hoarded objects/debris. But what Ms Powell does with this production is make, through the gentle work with her actors, bring us a world that feels unsettlingly contemporary and close by, reflecting the divide of the Australian-Sydney moneyed classes, the have and the have-nots, with an insidious resonance.

The performances of these actors are scaled for this space with a naturalistic intent in an abstracted white set, by Natalie Hughes. Mr Papademetriou draws a quietly detailed perplexity of experience of reactive defence with his creation of Davies, whilst Mr Bryant-Smith's Mick is mysteriously a physical threat and menace, that fortunately reveals itself as more bravado than intended action. Mr Langcake, as the damaged electric-shock victim, is uncannily distressing in the passivity, the 'flatness' of his choices as Aston - it is a very interesting (and daring) reading of the character.

This production is a modest offer but a very satisfying experience. A great play, a classic play, I believe, is always proved by the elasticity of interpretation made plausible and possible. Throwingshade Theatre Company have done that with this production of THE CARETAKER..

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Photo by Prudence Upton

Midnight Feast presents, CHRYSALIS,  a self-devised work, written by Stephen Sewell, Emily Dash and Warwick Allsopp, in The Studio, at the Sydney Opera House. Thursday, November 16 and Friday, November 17, 2017.

CHRYSALIS is a work devised from the stories and world of a group of actors with disabilities. The Company, Midnight Feast, was inspired by Glenn Turnbull, a profoundly physically disabled man, and his interest in why 'people routinely ignore him' and by 'a social media video posted by Glenn's sister Hayley expressing her heartbreak and frustration after a doctor questioned the sense in undertaking a medical procedure, which Glenn needed desperately, citing his current 'quality of life'.

Glenn, then, appears on stage, and we are taken into an imaginary journey that he has, whilst passing through difficult treatment in a world of reality, and another world of his own invention. This includes a 'bully' paramedic, nursing staff and doctors, as well as cockroaches, maggots, flies, a tarantula, Guardian Angels, an Angel of Death, an Angel of Peace, and even a sexy pole dancer! (She had brunette hair which was especially pleasing to Glenn, it seemed!) These 'characters' are created by a group of actors of varying disability shadowed by a group of enabled actors who support and coach throughout the action of Glenn's dream/nightmare world, seamlessly.

The production is Directed by Kylie Harris (also Artistic Director of the Company), assisted by Nick Lewis, with an imaginative, colourful and witty set of Designs (especially costume) by Lisa Mimmochi (assistance: Annie Winter and Brianna Harris),  enhanced by the Lighting Design of Christopher Page. There is a vivid Musical support, as well, Composed by Robin Gist, played live.

Most of the principal writing originates from one of the performers, Emily Dash (who delivers a simply moving poem towards the end of the play), and has been co-ordinated by Warwick Allsopp (clearly, a driving energy of the project), with input from Stephen Sewell. The effect of the performance is astonishing in its inspiration and requires no condescension to rate as a wonderful hour or so spent in the theatre. The dedication, commitment and skill of all involved has been thoughtfully integrated into creating an absorbing entry for an audience to 'see' the world through the experience of some truly remarkable people, through Glenn'a eyes.

I thought it important to record in my Theatre Diary the other artists involved: Sarah Armstrong, Frankie Bouchier, Jude Bowler, Georgia Cooper, Mark Defy, Nick Gell, Erica Halvorsen, Mark Inwood, Odile Le Clezio, Nick Lewis, Emily Marks, Robert Mockler, Paul Mulgrew, Heath Ramsay, Nina Salece and Jess Vandrempt, and also to acknowledge, to quote from the program, "The most EPIC personal care support team EVER: Enola Valencia, Tina Watson, Lena Mafoa and Kate Walker.

'MIDNIGHT FEAST - theatre that unites, exists for the sole purpose of creating new opportunities for performance artists living with significant disabilities to train and work as artists in a professional capacity.'

Important to know.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Australia Day

Photo by Chris Lundie

New Theatre presents, AUSTRALIA DAY, by Jonathan Biggins, at the New Theatre, King St., Newtown. 14 November - 16 December.

The New Theatre present a revival production of Jonathan Biggin's 2012 comedy, AUSTRALIA DAY. It was first seen in the Drama Theatre for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), in 2012.

AUSTRALIA DAY is set in the local community hall in a country town called Coriole. Says, the Director of this production, Louise Fischer, a girl from the country:
When I first read AUSTRALIA DAY I was transported back to my misspent youth. I recognised the people that inhabited the world of Australia Days, the Wallys, the Brians, the Mariees. They are funny, flawed, feisty and sometimes not very nice. But they are human, they have hearts and intentions that, whilst maybe misguided, are meant well. When working with the actors on this play, I wanted to find truths rather than caricatures. It is easy to see this play through the prism of satire but I think the residents of Coriole deserve a little more than that and I hope that is the story we bring you tonight.
And that is what Ms Fischer has given us. Her well chosen company of actors: Les Asmussen (Wally Stewart), Peter Eyres (Brian Harrigan), Alice Livingstone (Maree Bucknell), Lap Nguyen (Chester Lee), Martin Portus (Robert Wilson) and Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame (Helen), have an authentic look about themselves and a typical laconic Aussie essence that with the no fuss, even rough-edged production, turns, from memory, what I saw at the STC as a caricatured satire into a gentle and accurate unresolved comedy of really ordinary human beings blighted with half-baked philosophies laden with superficial prejudices muddling their way through a changing and bewildering world. It felt sadly, but funny, 'real'.

I think I heard more of the debate that Mr Biggins poses throughout the play, and certainly embraced the characters with a warmer reception than I did last time I saw it at the STC. There is clumsiness in some of the scene shifts of act one but, generally, the Design elements, David Marshall-Martin with his Sets and Ms Fischer with an eye-out for the Costume look, the Lighting plot by Nicola Block combined with a very verbal Sound Design from Mehran Mortezaei bring a simple honesty to all that is offered.

AUSTRALIA DAY was much appreciated, by most, on the night I saw it.

Silent Night

Photo by by Brett Boardman

Darlinghurst Theatre Company present, SILENT NIGHT, by Mary Rachel Brown, at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St. Darlinghurst. 10 November - 10 December.

SILENT NIGHT, is a new Australian play, by Mary Rachel Brown, Directed by Glynn Nicholas. In July, 2015, this Writer and Director brought us THE DAPTO CHASER, a modest comedy/drama about working class dreams/angst in the greyhound racing industry, that has had a life touring around the country.

SILENT NIGHT, tells us of a working class family, the Lickfolds, living in North Ryde - a suburb of Sydney (the one I grew up in!) - the mother figure, Anne (Amanda Bishop) invested in the local Christmas light decoration competition: the Australian Regional Christmas Excellence, ARCE, pronounced 'arse', and relentlessly so throughout the night - one of the top comic offers of the night; the father, Bill (Richard Sydenham), consumed with his doomsday rehearsal with his self built bunker; and their son, a satanist, dope smoking dropout, Rodney (Aaron Glenane) who has conjured up an Uninvited Guest (Michael Denkha), the anti-Christ, himself.

The first act of the play is crammed with stupid jokes handled (desperately) by the actors. The second act is mostly a proffered satiric intrusion by the anti-Christ, pursued with an admirable essence of comedy earnestness, by Mr Denka.

The Set Design by Hugh O'Connor is valiantly overloaded with the demands of the preposterous story line of Ms Brown's, and is the best offer of the night. None of the actors can save this night in the theatre, try as they do.

Glenn Terry, Artistic Director of the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, in his note in the program of this production calls SILENT NIGHT "wonderful new Australian writing", and that the Darlinghurst Theatre Company "seek out work that explore, discuss and engage with contemporary Australian and topical issues." SILENT NIGHT, is, unfortunately, none of those things. With all due respect.


Bodysnatchers Theatre Company present PLASTIC, by Mark Rogers, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St., Newtown, 31 October - 18 November.

PLASTIC, is a new Australian play, by Mark Rogers.

This play tells us the story of a young scientist who has an altruistic belief in his work and that it will be of enormous benefit to the world. His only problem is that the theory cannot be verified by successful experiment. Caught up in his own ego and the pressures of corporate industry - the subsidisers of his research - he dares to publish and in a public presentation is unmasked as to be practising in a fraud, euphemistically known as, 'scientific misconduct' - which, of course culminates in an enormous scandal.

The Writer, Mark Rogers, and the Director, Sanja Simic were both fascinated by the examples of real fraudulents (e.g. Diederik Stapel in social sciences, Haruko Obokata in stem cell research) and to "what was going on in their heads, what drove them, and why", and hoped that PLASTIC would give some answers - insights - to those questions. The writing amounts to a clear, but, relatively superficial narrative of cause and consequence with next to no incisive interrogation of the character motivations, reasons for the why, or much conversation as to the ethical debate that such circumstances must throw up. Ms Simic, contributes to the shallowness of the interrogation of the people and issues in the writing by encouraging an overtly comic/satiric tone to the bravado of the actions of the characters in the forum of the play action.

All the actors: Nick Bartlett, Hannah Goodwin, Harry McGee, Doug Niebling and Michelle Ny, have been well drilled but lack back story to give their responsibilities much dimensionality. The play remains mostly a comic strip and thread bare enlightenment. Nick Bartlett, as the misguided ethically bereft scientist, has charm.

Sparely Designed this is not a difficult night in the theatre, but it is a disappointingly shallow one.

Merciless Gods

Photo by Sarah Walker

Little Ones Theatre and Griffin Independent present, MERCILESS GODS, by Dan Giovannoni, based on the book, Merciless Gods, by Christos Tsiolkas, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross, 1 - 25 November.

'Little Ones is a Melbourne queer theatre collective, formed by Stephen Nicolazzo, which creates camp, kitsch, and erotically charged theatrical events with the potential of cultish fascination. It can be bold, risqué and nearly always comic, subverting classical theatre conventions through design, style and performances.' - from the program notes.

I remember, particularly, their production of PSYCHO BEACH PARTY, and have heard, for instance, of their furore with DANGEROUS LIAISONS. MERCILESS CREATURES, adapted and written by Dan Giovannoni, is a slight shift away from their usual style, creating an evening of 'drama', having investigated the relative savagery of Christos Tsiolkas' book,  of the same title, which was published in 2014 - a collection of 15 short stories.

Mr Giovannoni has, with the Director, Stephen Niccolazo, taken 8 of the stories and transcribed them into dramatic form either as play vignettes or monologues. The success of each of the pieces is dazzling because of the language of the playwight and will be received, individually, by each audience member according to taste.

Most of the audience will know the work of Christos Tsiolkas from his novels, THE SLAP (2008) and BARRACUDA (2013), both adapted for Television - both 'softer' in cultural and social critique/angst, and, so, more middle-of-the-road than most of his other work, such as novels, LOADED (1995) - made in to a film HEAD ON (1998) - and, (my personal favourite) DEAD EUROPE (2005) - also a film (2012).

The world of most of his work deals with intergenerational and inter-racial conflicts and in the more adventurous works is charged with a pre-occupation of the intermingling and 'marriage' of graphic sex and violence. The work is supercharged with the sexuality of the marginalised. One being the emigrant story, focusing on the Greek and Turkish Melbourne population; and another the underground world of participators in 'deviant' sexuality and addiction.

One cannot help but recall the shock of the literature  of Jean Genet - OUR LADY OF THE FLOWERS (1942/43); THE THIEF'S JOURNAL (1948/49); THE BALCONY (1955/56/57) – or, the work of film maker Pier Paolo Pasolini in films such as TEOREMA (1968); SALO, OR 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), when reading Mr Tsiolkas' work, and never more so than in MERCILESS GODS.

The content of the works, both the Short Story collection and Mr Giovannoni's play, can be confronting for some, and the visual style of Mr Niccolazzo's imagery (Set and Costume Design, by Eugyeene Teh; Lighting Design, by Katie Sfetkidis) takes that confrontation further in the theatre. The Sound Design, by Daniel Nixon contributes 'operatically', to the vision of the production.

In the foyer, after the performance, there was a debate, among some, about the 'shock' content and a 'wonder' as to what does one have to do in this day and age to really shock/offend an audience?

The company of actors (Paul Blenheim, Brigid Gallacher, Sapidah Kian, Peter Paltos, Charles Purcell and Jennifer Vuletic) vary in skill but have been well prepared for this season (this work has already had a season in Melbourne) and accomplish impassioned executions of the work, but it is the outstanding performance by Jenny Vuletic in three searing stories that catapults the experience in the SBW Stables theatre into a sphere of high voltage: firstly, as a loving and distraught, grieving mother, Franca, confronting the imagery of her son, who had gone to be an actor in LA, in a pornographic film performance, who is now dead from an AIDS related illness; then, as a narcissistic novelist, Lisbeth, rejecting all assistance from her daughter in a stripped-back nakedness of sheer, unbridled ideologue class rage; and starkly, as Dan, a cancer ridden working class 'revolutionary' celebrating with his family his euthanasia over-dose to oblivion. Ms Vuletic's characterisations are embodied with a genuine rage against the dying of the 'light' distilled with telling individualistic insight and outrageous courage - simply magnificent to behold in this tiny theatre space.

If Christos Tsiolkas at an extreme edge of some of the world's experience is to your taste, Dan Giovannoni and Stephen Niccolazzo, give him honour. Ms Vuletic electrifies, vivifies, her stories for him. Do go see.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Belvoir presents ATLANTIS, by Lally Katz, in the Upstairs Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills. November 1 - November 26.

ATLANTIS is a new Australian play by Lally Katz. It is a heady hilarious piece of a type of magic realism. I loved it.

The principal character in ATLANTIS is called Lally (played by Amber McMahon). The last time I met this 'Lally' was in Joe's Pub, a Cabaret venue in the Public Theatre in New York, where she was played by the real Lally (Katz) in her monologue called: STORIES I WANT TO TELL YOU IN PERSON - she had already given these stories at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne and the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir. In that performance piece 'Lally' is concerned with dealing with her Melbourne 'full Jew' (defining herself as only a 'half Jew') and escaping to New Jersey to see her grandparents, and having adventures in New York - where she meets/employs a Psychic called 'Cookie' who she feels has subsequently cursed her. ATLANTIS begins with 'Lally' dealing with Dave (who, one may presume to be her 'full Jew' - played by Matthew Whittet), and her consequent journey back to New York to visit her grandparents before they die, and to find "Cookie' to negotiate her dilemma - her cursed ovaries!!!! and her ticking biological clock.

In the Upstairs Theatre, after a little talk with Lally, Dave wanting to get to sleep, turns on the the television to the noise of Alex Jones, a US conspiracy theorist and podcaster, noted for his 'ranting' - e.g. climate change et al. While, presumably, Dave has been lulled to sleep, 'Lally' looks at us, the audience:
Hi, everyone, I'm Lally Katz. I'm a playwright and I wrote this play. I know I should give a disclaimer to stop me from being sued and say that it's a work of fiction and none of the characters are based on real people. But to be honest, almost everything in it is true and absolutely every character in it is based on a real person. [...].
We begin a Four Act journey of fact/fiction then, the first act dealing with her relationship with Dave and the following three on her new adventures in the USA. We leave Sydney and go to New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Miami and Las Vegas to many locations that come and go quickly. Many are interiors, such as a psychic consultation room, apartments - including a dodgy airbnb - chemists, cars/taxis, shops, bedrooms and doctor's surgeries. Some are exteriors such as streets, mountains, highways, oceans. Wow! some challenge. As Ms Katz's wishes in her published text: "Good Luck" to the production team!

This production of ATLANTIS has had more than luck, it has had inspiration: Set and Costume Designer, Jonathan Oxlade, with supporting shadowy surreal lighting by Damien Cooper, provide a 'playground'/'landscape' of whimsical architectural shapes, furnishings and colours for Director, Rosemary Myers, to marshall and inspire her five actors: Paula Arundell, Lucia Mastrantone, Hazem Shammas and Matthew Whittet - creating some 42 characters - encountering Amber McMahon, as Lally, the central figure of the play, with an hilarious and inventive Composition and Sound Design by Harry Covill to join the dots in the journey and keep it all moving along.

Joining Lally on this journey is all a bit like joining Alice on her Wonderland trip (in this case with a Panther instead of a Rabbit or Cheshire Cat). Katz's ATLANTIS is an escalating magical mystery trip of growing absurdity that is truly hilarious and still, yet, a deeply empathetic experience as Lally, like the Billie Piper character, Her, in the recently broadcast (at the movies) Young Vic production of YERMA, is worrying about her ovaries and reproductive age, and yearns to have a child. She pursues that need with a desperation that grows, in this case, quite differently in tone to that Simon Stone version, into a comic mono-manic adventure which causes her to ignore the world that is falling apart around her.

Her biological clock is ringing warning bells! Time for herself is the essence. The play spins out into a surrealist comic poem of whimsy and fantasy that ends up with the love-making of Lally with her childhood daemon, a Panther, and at Caesar's Palace at the 4pm performance of the Fall of Atlantis: "It is not too late. We're both still here. We're both still alive. There's still hope." Ms Katz, the writer, shares something of herself with the world, her wacky imagination, and has us laughing so much that we can for the brief time we spend with her, forget the world and its present chaos and scariness, and allow a sliver of hope that all can/will be well.

The simple joy of the surprising imaginative logic of Ms Katz's world is beautifully brought to life with a team of actors with a truly gifted sense of mayhem and skill. Amber McMahon is the central figure that barrels through the adventures of this amazing character with a lightweight élan, effortlessness, that has all the innocence of the classic 'hero' figures of great comedy (Chaplin, Lucy, even Marge in the Simpsons, at their ingenuous best). The role requires stamina and infectious optimism, qualities that Ms McMahon radiates unequivocally from start to finish through every 'hoop' of 'madness' that Ms Katz can devise. She is the spine of this work and it is as joyfully flexible as any you could wish.

While the other four actors are simply brilliantly articulate in the creation of their roles. Paula Arundell once again demonstrates her finesse: her capability to translate Electra the 'dodgy' airbnb hostess, from a breathless comic rant and, yet, bring it to a truly moving pathetic statement of a life of the desperate, is – as usual – astounding. She does it again at the end of the play with a short portrait (less than a page and a half of text!) of a mum dressed in Cowgirl gear in Las Vegas - funny, and still, whimsically sad. Add her ebullient comic presence in two of her 'moustache' roles - the leader of an evangelical choir, or the 'Cuban man', to see a rare gift that is an example of great acting. To see her is to believe in the 'genius' of performance art (and craft). (When are we to see her in a central role of import - a Hedda, a Mother Courage, a Phaedra?) But similarly, in this production, Lucia Mastrantone scores with her Taxi drivers and the hilarious Bella, the New York 'psychic'/shonk. While Matthew Whittet, skewers his portrait of the 'awful' Dave and as the far from insouciant daughter of Bella, along with other duties with careful on-the-edge insight. Hazem Shammas is outrageous as the sexy gigolo, Diego, in the desert town motel and manages to ooze a comic pathos fully out-fitted from head-to-toe in a black panther costume with glowing eyes.

I loved the play, and reading some other people's response to the show, I appear to be getting onto Lally Katz's 'bus' with her unique writing for the theatre, especially within the Australian oeuvre, as other's are getting off. But I reckon, whatever you make of the playwriting, the ticket price is worth the joy of seeing five very, very, very excellent performances, conjured by Director, Rosemary Myers.

I encourage you to go. Go to laugh and you will be suspended in a two hour or so pleasure space at Belvoir - it has been a long time, for me, between such stuff at Belvoir.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Performance Space and Liveworks Festival presents World Premiere, CARRION - Justin Shoulder, in Bay 20, Carriageworks, Wilson St, Redfern. 25 - 28 October, 2017.

Performance Space and LIveworks Festival present, CARRION, in a new Performance Art piece created by Justin Shoulder.

From the program notes:
Justin Shoulder is an artist working in performance, sculpture, video and nightlife/community events production. His main body of work the "Fantastic Creatures" are invented alter-personas based on queered ancestral mythologies. These creatures are embodied through hand crafted costumes and prostheses and animated by their own gestural languages. Shoulder uses his body and craft to forge connections between queer, migrant, spiritual and intercultural experiences. He is a founding member of queer artist collective The Glitter Militia and Club Ate, a gang of Asia-Pacific sissies.
A few weeks ago I travelled to Blacktown Art Centre for the opening of BALIK BAYAN, a curation of works by Filipino-Australian artists as part of the Philippines Art Project (until November 2). I went, particularly, because there was a video work that involved Justin Shoulder. I have been a curious fan of Justin Shoulder's work over the past few years. His imaginative urges combined with a creative skill has impressed me with his weird and wonderful costume creations. The theatre works have always been arresting visually if not always 'mechanically'. But, the wonderful thing, for me, the other night, was to see Mr Shoulder, not just with a 'mind-blowing' imaginative creation and execution of costume, but, also, a development of maturity of control of his physical skills. It is this gradual and determined possession of movement craft disciplines that demarcates this work, for me, as real progress/advancement.

In the program notes there are some artist statements about the political inspiration and aspiration of this work, and they may, for some, bring some clarity to what this Performance Artist and his collaborators Victoria Hunt (Mentor and Artistic Collaborator), Matthew Stegh (Costume and Set Design), Corin Ileto (Composer) and Benjamin Cisterne (Lighting Design), were aiming to deliver to us. In my experience of the performance the meaning of the work was of secondary importance, although, not negligible, even in its present opaque resolutions.

There were, for me, some 'problems' with the second section of the work that was over simplistic and a little underwhelming in its artistic conception (on the other hand, a couple of my companions loved it) - although, I embraced the lengthy silent costume change with imaginative 'grace' - some have complained of it.

The first costume, and the linear exposition of its 'secrets' were remarkable and when re-connected to, in the latter part of the show, was a rewarding extension. However, it was with the third costume, that was of a living 'rock'-mountain that metamorphosed into a predator with a sphincter like head and mouth, that a true awe was achieved. The Lighting Design by Mr Cisterne and the Musical contribution by Ms Ileto lifted the work into a sphere of childlike wonder.

It is so rewarding to attend projects that offer other ways to create art. The Livework Festival, an annual presentation from Performance Space, curates from the 'happenings' and investigations of artists outside the 'traditional'. CARRION is a hybrid cannibalisation of various performance modes - in this case, at least, costume-sculpture and movement/dance.

What is interesting in the curation of this kind of Festival is that artists of daring, courage, weird idiosyncrasies, often existing - struggling, more often than not, struggling - way out on the margins/fringes of our art/performance networks are invited to present to a public showing of the progress, the newest iteration, of their obsessions in a very public space to, sometimes, a very discerning and experienced audience.

The thrill, and more often than not, the frustration of attending this kind of work, is that failure is as great a possibility - an option - of the experience, as success will be. But that engagement with a puzzled/angry audience can be, for the real artist, an invaluable lesson in defining how they are 'communicating', as much as an unmitigated success can be. It is the Performance Space curation teams' integrity, that is of paramount importance in helping the  development of the work of these artists of evolving curiosities and skills, even at the risk of failing its audience. It should, however, be, I reckon, the risk of witnessing failure, of suffering boredom, that is part of the 'contract' that a Liveworks Festival audience engages in. For me, watching CARRION, was to witness the continuing (and pleasing) evolution of the work and, especially, skills of Justin Shoulder.

CARRION was not perfect but it is building on the opportunities that public showings 'force'. I reckon Time and Perseverance will deliver us an artist of unique achievement. I will be glad to have been part of his fan club. An act of faith and hope in the future.

We'll, hopefully, see.