Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Inspection

THE INSPECTION, by Richie Black, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St, Newtown, 25 January - 28 January.

I saw this production without invitation and completely accidentally. I got my theatre's mixed up and went to the wrong place. I couldn't get to where I had promised, so, I stayed and watched this fledgling work instead. Maybe, this is my FIRST acknowledged symptom of an encroaching senility?!!!!

Anyway, what was most pleasing about this accidental night in the theatre was the fact that THE INSPECTION, produced by Julian Ramundi, was a restricted showing of a new work. It had been Written, Directed, Designed and Acted by a young troupe of fairly recent graduates from various drama schools. It was an hour fifty minute farce concerning the plight of a rentee coping with a leasee's inspection.

Now, I believe Comedy is the hardest of the genres to write, direct and act. That one would dare to create a no interval comedy for 110 odd minutes was a sure sign of inexperience and optimism. Mostly, for me, this was a kind of 'agony' to watch but it was alleviated by my very honest admiration of the whole enterprise. I was excited by the effort and dedication. More power to them, I say (check out my THE TESTAMENT OF MARY lament).

I may, of course, have been more of hindrance to the players as I was seated in the front row and did not laugh much at all. Others, fortunately, did.

The writing, by Mr Black, is sporadically clever but unwieldy in its sprawl - hard to keep it constantly resuscitated. The Direction, by Jessica Dick, is promising if still lacking in precision and sureness of where to edit, and the lack of a development of a sense of forward action - and for a farce a necessary MANIC  forward action is recommended - so we don't have time to engage with disbelief.

The acting had flashes of adequate comic instinct from all: Amy Hack, Nicholas Hasemann, Tom Nauta, but with a special mention of the gift and resilience and instincts of Julia Christensen, as Kate, the rentee - she never left the stage and I just loved watching her pull as many tricks as she knew out of her 'bag' to try to keep the whole thing afloat, I thought she was marvellous and a martyr for her ART. And to Kiki Skountzos as Diane, the Strata-boss nightmare, who in a late entry to the proceedings had a vision of the character and playing style that was needed and was supported with a logical psychological clarity and an hilarious sense of the 'physical who', both, with costume and make-up detail and stylistic 'movement' elaborations.

The Design, by Ara Nuri Steel, for a necessarily naturalistic environment was hampered by the productions meagre budget, but had a knowing sense of what was needed.

So, it was an 'agony' in the viewing, the doing, but I am glad I saw it. A re-iteration of this play with lessons learnt with this production's staging, and some more draft developments and I may well be glad to say I saw it at its first outing.

 I hope.

Thanks 505 for the support to these young, hungry artists.

Odd Man Out

Ensemble Theatre presents ODD MAN OUT, by David Williamson, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, 19 January - 18 March.

ODD MAN OUT, is a new Australian play, by David Williamson. The play explores a relationship between Ryan (Justin Stewart Cotta), a 'numbers' genius employed and paid well by a Big Bank for his skills, who suffers from an undiagnosed case of Aspergers' Syndrome and Alice (Lisa Gormley) a 38 year old physical therapist counting down her fertility clock with some urgency.

We watch Ryan and Alice meet on a bus (what he is doing on bus, with all his social phobias and owning a 'flash' car, I couldn't work out). Arrested by the attention paid to her by her near-by co-passenger, Alice (in Wonderland?), is swept off her feet and within a ten-minute conversation accepts an invitation to dinner. Fine food, cultural explorations, daily flowers become part of Alice's new whirl, over the following weeks, months. The intensity of Ryan's attention knocks this therapist completely off kilter because she does not seem to be able to see, to read, the physical or verbal/emotional symptoms that Ryan exudes, as a warning sign or that this relationship is, consequently, possibly, going to be fraught, difficult. Alice, will not or cannot hear her family and friends disquiet after several disastrous social interactions with Ryan. Instead, fairly quickly, within months, Alice gets herself married and ensconced in a loft apartment with Ryan, which he insists on renovating. Ryan's gift-wooing technique and the urgency of her want of a child seems to have disarmed all cautions from her reasoning. Her own psychological trait, which her mother reminds her of: a need to care for the 'injured bird' - she seems to have had a history of collapsed, ill-judged relationships - hardly gets a look-in as a subject to be developed in the dual responsibilities of the ups-and-downs of this relationship.

The play begins and stays as a direct conversation guidance with the audience through the experience of Alice as she recalls her incredible (and, I, essentially, found it very incredible) journey. The play devolves into a kind of tutorial or a Cert IV qualification class on how to assist an individual suffering  Asperger's Syndrome to integrate into 'normal' social interactions. We even get the presentation of colour-coded cards stuck to a wall as we are taken through a how-to help sample. It is almost as if Mr Williamson in research for another play has googled Asperger's Syndrome and has hung his writing around that research with little time for real dramaturgical sophistication of character motivation or backstory. Alice even, talking straight to us, recommends a book and author to look up if we are really interested to know more about the treatment of the Syndrome. I waited with bated breath for a 'Further Reading…' recommendation from her, during the play.

Mr Cotta and Ms Gormley are essentially the two hour play and they are very committed to what they have been given to work with. Mr Cotta has all the external symptoms down pat, obviously so - why Alice didn't notice, Ryan's physical characteristics and verbal/emotional tics, as we all in the audience did, and not register caution, perhaps only a psychiatrist could illuminate - and, on the night I saw the play Mr Cotta tended to overplay every choice, particularly the big emotional melt-downs - his behaviour was hard not to notice. Ms Gormley given Alice's biological need for a baby (I'm 38, tick, tick, tick…) by Mr Williamson, as the principal motivation for her need for this relationship to survive - although the luxurious life that Ryan could and did supply, surely, was a temptation to justify her staying the course and returning to it after a separation, I thought - does as best she can with her natural charm to have us, even through an interval, to bear-up and stay sympathetically with Alice - it is a hard call!

The other actors, Rachel Gordon, Matt Minto, Bill Young and Gael Ballantyne, play the other characters that are written hardly beyond 'functional' tools for the storytelling . These actors have charm and theatrical 'savvy' and, so, do well - or, as best they can.

Ryan, with his propensity to think through every social situation logically with no comprehension of ordinary empathy causing social combustions of an outrageous kind, caused much mirth from the audience. I imagine it was funny for all except those of us who have dealt with this personality problem, first-hand. They even sat through the therapy class/tutorial with attentive patience and laughed at Ryan's growing 'frenzy' - the Ensemble presented this kind of 'educative' play for its audience last year with e-baby and maybe believe that it is a formula-for-playwriting that is a box-office 'goldmine'.

ODD MAN OUT, in its aspirational dramatic formula, reminded me, some, of Mr Williamson's THE JACK MANNING TRILOGY. The best of those plays was the first one, FACE TO FACE, and ODD MAN OUT does not display anywhere near the sophistication of the dramaturgical structure and insight into his characters conflicting motivations, that was in that play, written in 2000. ODD MAN OUT 'feels' to me as an early-draft of an interesting and concerning medical dilemma, worth examining. The play needs work, lots of it. There is a reference to the 1988 film RAIN MAN, with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, but Mr Williamson does not reach the subtly of that commercial screenplay (written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass) to capture us, uncritically.

Mark Kilmurry, Directs efficiently. Design by Anna Gardiner is abstracted with a quasi brain x-ray pattern on the back wall and six multi-coloured illuminated, portable boxes serving as the furniture - simple and adequate. The costume solutions are spare and, too, simple and nearly adequate (Renata Beslik)

You know and I know that David Williamson is one of Australia's great writers. ODD MAN OUT is not one of his great plays. If you are intrigued by Asperger's Syndrome, perhaps, just google it, or, watch RAIN MAN.

Monday, January 23, 2017

3 more 'flicks'…Jackie, Lion, Moonlight.

The year has begun with some 'flicks' of a wonderfully high order.


JACKIE is Directed by Pablo Larrain (NERUDA), Written by Noah Oppenheim. It focuses on the 4 days after the assassination of President John Kennedy and the public ceremony that commemorated his funeral. The framework of the story we are told is centred around the famous interview between LIFE Magazine journalist, Theodore H White and Jackie Kennedy. This gives room for the film to roam, selectively, back and forth over the life of Jackie with Kennedy, with an especially interesting re-creation of the black and white White House Tour that Jackie made for television.

The film is an intense plunge into the shock and grief of the woman and of all those around her, they being, not least, the Nation. The film is not a sentimental or unbalanced burden of sadness but rather an intense portrait of a woman with many faces of survival: the projected affected innocence of the White House's First Lady, the besotted lover of her husband, the shocked and depressed partner, the careful mother with her children, the wily wielder of power as a 'politician' who determines to create a proper complexity of appreciation for her husband's legacy in his short Presidency - to create a mythical Camelot out of the events - and the bewildered shaken practiser of a Faith in God trying to make sense of what has happened to her and her young family. Her vulnerability and her steeliness. Her seriousness and her dry and incisive humour.

Natalie Portman gives a wondrous performance. It is interesting to refer to the video of Jackie Kennedy that one can find on You Tube and watch the meticulous construction of observation that Ms Portman has made, and to admire the subtle adjustments she makes to convince us that we are watching the real person. The Settings and Costume seem to be ruthless in their capture of the period of the sixties, which are not always attractive or enhancing according to the zeitgeist of present style and standard to persuade an easy identification for us with the personas and world of the story - the hair styles and the habit of smoking, for instance, create a disquieting truth of immediacy while watching - ugly, shocking, a little alienating but ringing of truth! All the supporting performances are seamless in their commitment to convincing us. Peter Sarsgaard, as Robert F. Kennedy; Billy Crudup as journalist, Theodore H. White. John Hurt. Richard E. Grant. They are all definitely supporting roles for the focus of Mr Larrain's film is determinedly fixed on Jackie and, hence, Ms Portman, front and centre on screen with demanding, steadfastly long close-ups and full body takes.

The film brings one to a silent stilling observational stance in its watching. It is like watching it from a distancing documentary coolness that builds unconsciously a cumulatively profound depth of grief that produces an admiration of the dignity of this human being in her darkest moments, and one is surprised at what has occurred to one - a deeply subjective identification with this figure from our social history in a major turning point in our cultural development. One can't help but wonder at the film's stealthy persuasion. This is an example of the power of cinema as a storytelling medium. Amazing.

It is a peculiar film to watch, in this day and age when one remembers where the dignity of office of the President of the United States has travelled to with the latest inauguration. But then, one further reflects on the truism of the benefits of dying young, since by doing so it can leave room for a constructive fantasy, where a longer life span, a history, can sometimes, in its reality, besmirch, ground our appreciation. Whatever one knows of Kennedy and his failings, that have been revealed over the last fifty odd years, the Kennedy presidency  is, for us romantics, still an example of a time of a CAMELOT and its failed possibilities. This film shows us Jackie's victory of her vision and determination to manipulate history. For, what she steered for history's sake for John and her time in office, endures. This film is gorgeous propaganda to have us to further believe it.

A rewarding 'flick'.


LION is a mostly Australian production and is based on a memoir by Saroo Brierly, A LONG WAY HOME, and concerns Saroo Brierly who was adopted as a very young child from an Indian orphanage by an Australian/Tasmanian couple and his search for his 'real' family 25 years later. It was a film that I was suspicious of seeing, fearing the possibility of an over manipulative sentimentality. However, I was seduced by this film quickly.

The first 'act' is set in Kolkatta and has the feel of a Dickensian social nightmare, filmed with little dialogue, trusting the audience to read the visual clues selected by Cinemaphotographer, Greg Fraser with Editor, Alexandre de Franceshi, under the debut Direction of Garth Davis. The artistic communication where the image is more engaging than the verbal - demonstrating, perhaps, how the unconsciousness's true medium is not verbal but imagistic. It is quiet a gripping mode for holding and sustaining our attention.

The second 'act' deals with the a close-up of a more personal 'universe' of the grown Saroo struggling with a need for his Indian identity, the depression and gradual obsessive torturous desire beautifully played by Dev Patel. This performance is an extremely impressive one for the layers of cinematic acting that he projects to capture us to experience his 'grief' and 'desire' for his closure. The screenplay by Luke Davies (CANDY) has a sophisticated insight into the desperation and depression of an individual's need to discover his true self.

The third 'act' moves into Saroo's literal journey back to India and to a more regular story telling mode and here is most possibly nearest the sentimentality trap one feared. But the editing intertwining the past with the present keeps the familiar, expected moments from becoming too an emotional indulgence, and the music score by Dustin O'Halloran and Volker Bertleman works well in pushing the atmosphere forward without too much dwelling in the obvious.

The performances of a very large supporting company of actors are also outstanding, with Nicole Kidman, as the adoptive mother Sue Brierly, giving some extraordinarily persuasive moments. Rooney Mara is modest in her screen time and is admirable for that. The Indian company is just as convincing, with Sunny Pawar, as the young Saroo, particularly winning.

I was moved enormously by the story and was very impressed with the elements and fine judgement of all the details taken to deliver it. I felt excited and exhilarated at the end of the film and have recommended it to friends without hesitation.

A terrific surprise.


Oh, wow! This is great film.

MOONLIGHT is a great film. Not least because of its contemporary political importance that underlines the American movement BLACK LIVES MATTER that has risen in the past year in the United States (and is as pertinent to our own country and our Aboriginal community), for it deals openly and honestly with parts of that community of disadvantage, disability and discrimination with powerful insight and cinematic beauty. The film's  great surprise is that it demonstrates that ALL, I mean, ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Based on a play by American writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, IN MOONLIGHT BLACK BOYS LOOK BLUE, Barry Jenkins has Adapted and Directed this story of the coming-of-age of a black american boy-to-man living in Liberty City (what looks like a 'project' community) in the city of Miami. The story in the film is divided into three sections covering three episodes in the life of our hero, as child: Little (Alex HIbbert), as a teenager, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and young adult, Black (Trevante Rhodes). What is special about this film is that there is not a single white character of any importance as it looks with a startling compassion at the journey of a young disadvantaged black man unsure of his sexuality and struggling to survive in the hostility of his world, finding solace and guidance from the most unexpected people.

Mr Jenkins takes us into an underworld that has often been used for sensational crime stories that instead, here, elects to show us raw humanity caught in behaviours that they do not necessarily have control of. Our knowledge of this world is turned upside-down and the compassionate revelation is artfully managed with all the elements of the cinematic craft brilliantly collaborated. James Laxton's cinematography is astonishing in its choices, combined with the startling editing techniques engaged to deliver the material by Joi McMillion and Nat Sanders. The Musical score from Nicholas Britell immerses us in the situations of the story sensually, using a range of choices from hip hop through to classical orchestral affects.

The pain of the experience of Little-Chiron-Black is visceral and creates an empathetic anxiety in us the audience with mesmerising power. I felt that I had held my breath with ache for a 'happy' resolution for the length of the experience. The three actors (above) playing the one role are heartbreakingly brilliant. Too, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and Andre Holland playing 'Kevin' in the three episodes; Naomie Harris as Paula: Mahershala Ali, as Juan and Patrick Decite, as Terrel, are significant in their contribution.

The mode of contemporary film acting, which we can see in the work of Director's like Steve McQueen (TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE), Nuri Bilge Ceylan (ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA) and almost everything from Terrence Malick (THE TREE OF LIFE), is employed here by Mr Jenkins in the demanding long takes, (also used by Pablo Larrain in JACKIE) usually in close-up of the actors, where the 'inner life' of the character is 'interrogated' by the camera for our reading and endowing, without dialogue, to allow us to 'tell' (work out) what is happening - a 'trick' to have the audience to have to actively participate in the invention of the story, the narrative of the character's emotional conflicts and resolutions. The audience is actively engaged to imaginatively 'act' out what is happening with the actor and his character's narrative. Some call it "Slow Cinema". I call it "Participatory Cinema". It is exhausting but invigorating to have to engage at such an active level. We don't sit back to be shown all, we are invited to sit forward and create with the actors and collaborators. It is thrilling in a very quiet and sophisticated way.

Considering the film's content and point of view, that MOONLIGHT has been made at all is a demonstration that there is still some contemporary American cinema that is not all about the Hollywood 'numbers' expectations. It still can find a way to be able to tell stories of transcendent hope and to find beauty in the most despondent of circumstances. Standing beside the 'numbers' formula of a film like PASSENGERS, or ROGUE ONE, MOONLIGHT is a miracle of dedication and human responsibility to all in our society.

RUN, don't Walk and see MOOLIGHT.

P.S. The author of the play may be familiar to some of this audience as Imara Savage introduced us to his 'genius' with a production of one of his plays THE BROTHERS SIZE, a few years ago.


CHAMPIONS, from Form Dance Projects for Sydney Festival. World Premiere, in Bay 17, Carriageworks, Redfern, 17 - 22 January.

Martin del Amo, is responsible for Concept and Direction, also, Choreography and Text (along with the Dancers) for CHAMPIONS. He says in the program notes:
A commonly held belief is that sport and the arts do not go together. The argument goes that artists often think of athletes as competition-obsessed 'boofheads', while in turn, athletes deride artists as self-indulgent 'wankers'. ... CHAMPIONS is a dance piece presented as if it is a sporting event. ...
The largest of the performing spaces at Carriageworks, Bay 17, has a striking Set Design by Clare Britton, with a large astro-turf green floor boarded by an azure-blue surround, glowing in the Lighting Design of Karen Norris - looking like a practice field at night. At height, above the space, across the width of the performing area, at the back, are six video screens which present us with pre-recorded image of commentary room and banter with other Video Design that ranges from the literal report of interviews to written text and more abstracted flights of distracting fancy, from Samuel James.

We first meet, as we wait for the performance to begin, the Chicken Mascot (Julie-Anne Long) parading about the space to keep us semi-prepared for the main event/action (she also re-appears in a half-time interlude/break with a solo dance). On come the 11 dancers, in sporty warm-up clothes: Sara Black, Kristina Chan, Cloe Fournier, Carlee Mellow, Sophia Ndaba, Rhiannon Newton, Katrina Olsen, Marnie Palomares, Melanie Palomares, Kathryn Puie, and Miranda Wheen, who lay out their yoga mats and begin the warm-up stretches of the 'team'. From the Video screen we are regaled by the Commentator, Mel McLaughlin, with an extremely 'cheesy' guide to the particular skills of each of the performers with clumsy and banal clangs of proposed humour. This is the height of the comedy interludes, sad to say.

The pulsing score for the dance, by Gail Priest, cues the dancers into movement. What these dances give us is an extended endurance performance of synchronised walking, running, posing , gesturing etc. that demands, undoubtedly, immense concentration and skill but a lot of repetitive action. This heralds the form of the production and whether in slow motion or at speed it becomes an interest-dwindling and soporific hour to engage with. There is no doubt about the well-drilled skill and commitment to the 'quite-counting' concentration to the timing of it all, it is just that it is devoid of personality or any arresting excitement. The performers excel in their earnest dedication but there is nothing to appreciate but the sheer stamina and impeccable endurance of these dancer/athletes, and their extreme and admirable state of physical fitness.

There is, brief, but irritating naivety in the bald, didactic, politicising, verbal quotations about the status and financial disparity in women's sports compared to the men's, and a late and almost gratuitous introduction to the plight of the 'aging' dancer. The clumsiness of the introduction of these elements was such that rather than sympathy one was dismissive in hearing (it occurred to me, hearing Ms Chan's slightly apologetic lament, that the Sydney Festival ought to curate the wonderful work of the Australian Dance Artists - a group of spirited and aging dancers - who have been collaborating with different artists, principally, Ken Unsworth, over the past few years in his studio in Alexandria - e.g. DEPARTURES, SEVEN IMPOSSIBLE PIECES, that deserve recognition for their contribution to the Sydney Dance (and visual ingenuity) scene. A company that Ms Chan may wish to help with her gifts in her future. Sydney audiences should see this company's work that perforce of its usual space has limited audience capacity.)

CHAMPIONS, then, seems to tick some boxes of worthy contribution to justify the scale of the presentation in Bay 17 in Carriageworks, but fails to take off as a dance work of much excitement or invention.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Testament of Mary

Sydney Theatre Company presents THE TESTAMENT OF MARY, by Colm Toibin, in the Wharf 1 Theatre, Walsh Bay, 13 January - 23 February.

I trained as an actor and have spent a long time/career teaching actors, so, I am just saying, as someone who has a high regard for acting and actors:

The last productions from the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) for their Sydney audience concluded five weeks ago (or so) with the closing of A FLEA IN HER EAR (9 actors), SPEED THE PLOUGH (3 actors) and THE WHARF REVUE (4 actors). In the mean time Christmas and New Year, and the Sydney Festival has come and has either gone (or going). The large STC Administration and its staff has, probably, have had their paid holiday leave and a relaxed time with an assuring income coming into their bank account. Unless, of course, they were part of the responsibility for the presentation of THE PRESENT (13 actors), on Broadway, that opened a week or so ago, and either worked from 'home' or were in New York toiling (oh, lucky Ones) for that audience to be.

The audience in Sydney has not had a production for five weeks from their largest and leading theatre company. The four theatre's, that the STC usually use, have being either unoccupied or 'leased' to others. THE TESTAMENT OF MARY, opened last night. The production has a single actor, Alison Whyte - ONE - on a Sydney Theatre Company stage (and, that actor, by-the-way, is Melbourne-based. No bankable talent in all of Sydney's talent pool, it seems.)

In other words, not a single Sydney-based actor has been seen to be working for the Sydney Theatre Company in their home city, Sydney, during that time. As well, AWAY, the next scheduled production, opens in four and half weeks (18 February). So, over a period of nine and a half weeks, only one actor will have been employed by the STC and able to be seen at work, live, on a Sydney stage. Is there something wrong with this picture? There are, of course, other artists employed - Design and Stage Management. But only ONE ACTOR.

 A cursory glance of a couple of the back pages of the theatre program for the THE TESTAMENT OF MARY (or, any of their programs) has a list of the Sydney Theatre Company Administration with near a couple of hundred names (both full time and part time employees, I presume). So, on this day, 19 January, 2017, a Sydney resident can see ONE actor at work at the STC while 'representing' a gargantuan administration of Sydney's largest theatre company. Some would have us believe Australia's leading theatre company. In four and a half weeks time, when AWAY joins public scrutiny, ten other actors will be able to be seen - for a full visible total of 11!  11 actors supported by a couple of hundred administrators/support artists!!!

(N.B. I have just been reminded by a reader that AWAY is a co-production with the STC and the Malthouse - a Melbourne theatre company - and so, probably half the cast, i.e. 6 of them will only originate from Sydney, the other half from Melbourne. So, the STC will manage to show, employ 7 Sydney actors over that period. Just 7. CHIMERICA will be in rehearsal but not open until the 28 February. I have come to understand that the STC has invited some students from NIDA, unpaid, to fill out its cast, as extras. Really? Where is the Union? Pay some Professional Sydney actors, don't you think? Give them a living, for goodness sake.)

I am just observing and saying... ... ... you know, La, la, la ... ... ...

I mean, don't you think that that is kind of weird? That the huge Corporation, that the STC is, seems to have been nurturing the artistry of one visible actor for NINE weeks. I look at the National Theatre program in London and can see a range of actors of considerable numbers every week of the year, in their three or four spaces. What is going on in Sydney? Are all those Administrative staff in the back pages of the STC program necessary over and above the presence of the actors (and other artists) on their Sydney stages? What do you think, Mr Williams? Mr McIntyre? Ms Azzopardi? The Board of Directors? What does it look like? Ought you to be rationalising the past growth of the administration and culling what may be excess, to find and divert the money saved to find the ways and means to have actors and writers on stage to be able to tell bigger stories for Sydney audiences?

I think it is more than weird. I believe it is, at the least, to be an unbalanced use of resources for the major theatre company, that is supposedly serving Sydney audiences and developing the Australian performing arts culture for today and the future. And even more catastrophically, I see it as unfair behaviour from the STC towards the aspirational actor who simply wants to work their 'craft' for their community. Is it any wonder the Independent Theatre community is thriving? It is the actors only realistic opportunity to utilise their skills, training, artistic ambitions.

Is anyone of importance talking to this company at all about this situation? Equity? Government? Funding bodies? Actors?

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY, is a one act play (80 minutes, approximately, with one actor,) and is a re-creation of the New Testament story of the final travails of Jesus Christ (although his name is not ever mentioned). The four books that we have, to assert the philosophies of Christianity, were written many years after the supposed death of that figure, conjured from memory, and serving the propaganda needs, perhaps, of the Apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is the John version that has sparked the imagination of the Irish Novelist, Colm Toibin. This work began as a monologue, became a novella, and then re-written as a short play. The image of the figure of Mary, Christ's mother, and John, at the scene of Christ's crucifixion striking him, specifically.

This is an impassioned monologue from Mary's point-of-view, as an older woman, a refugee, fending off the questions of others of the circumstances and events in the life of Christ, as they prepare to write his story. She knows what happened, guided by the intuition and witness of a mother of her son and gives a pragmatic and fiercely defensive telling of the 'famed'-'framed' events: such as the curing of the lame and blind, the bringing back from the dead of Lazarus, the Wedding Feast at Canna, the cruelty of the crucifixion (recall of Mel Gibson's graphic film THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, flashing through the memory bank) and the apostle's construction of Christ's own resurrection. Mary tells us of a dream she had had and told, that has been 'spun' into reports as 'facts', that then have been passed on as 'truths'. Mary suggests the manipulative motivating needs of those who wrote and spread the stories, appalled that her child-son has been called the 'Son Of God' and 'The King of the Jews'. (Scorsese's THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, popping into one's consciousness). Mary can tell us how her son was made, she intimates, suggestively.

The production, tightly ushered, Directed by Imara Savage - the Sound Design, by Max Lyandvert, perhaps a little over demanding - begins with a stunning, throughly Baroque image of the iconography of the cult of Mary that has grown over the centuries, freighted with overwhelming emotional energies, especially, for us Catholics in the audience (one, being myself, an engaged high school member of the LEGION OF MARY, in my traumatic Marist Brothers school experience). Soon enough, Ms Whyte steps out of the alcove of adoration/idolatory, designed by Elizabeth Gadsby, and strips that image down to the contemporary under-dressed woman that this Mary becomes in the course of the play, that finishes with her packing and sealing the Costume paraphernalia in a brown cardboard box to be stored - somewhere, somewhere in the dark, perhaps.

This is a play, essentially, about the mother/son relationship (Mr Toibin has written a collection of Short Stories called MOTHER AND SONS [2008], and it is, relatively, a present theme, in all his novels) as much as it is a deconstruction of the New Testament books, it seeing the events and the son through the imagined lens of this woman/mother. It is curious to reflect, however insightful and inventive this text may be, that THE TESTAMENT OF MARY is a play that uses those men's 'fictions' to write a new version by another man. It was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who started it all, and now we can add, Colm.

Ms Whyte, with the solo responsibility of this play is a very powerful, sure, storyteller. The language of the text has a formal articulation and construction that demands a gentle adjustment to hearing anew, but is carefully, studiously, lovingly, handled by Ms Whyte. The performance of some 80 minutes of concentration is very, very fine indeed - even if one wishes for a richer vocal instrument - and is full of deeply conjured imagery and, mostly, controlled emotional identification, though once or twice there is blurred information, its clarity overridden by emotional anguish.

What one takes away from the work is the intrigue of this familiar and once important story having been 'bent' and reviewed through a contemporary eye, supposedly, that of a mother/a woman, that really expresses the disillusionment of an ex-catholic (Mr Toibin classes himself as a "collapsed" Catholic) with his faith and accompanied by a rage at the failure of that philosophy to achieve the intentions of the goals/lessons of the testaments. "Once a Catholic always a Catholic", I am told, and certainly I sat in the theatre with my personal indoctrination rising once again in my consciousness and causing me to lament the loss of my innocence as I continue today to try to make sense, find a way, of the how, why and what to live for ...  to live through.

This production will work best for ex-Catholics, I reckon. For others, if the Christian gospels have not been part of your life, a curiosity of historic and influential fables. Perhaps, a possible stirring curiosity.

P.S. Was it not odd as one walked the long corridor of the Wharf Theatre headquarters of the STC, to the Wharf 1 Theatre, to see the posters of last years season (2016) still on the wall on the Opening Night of the 2017 season? One wonders which part of the Administration had neglected or failed at their job. The STC, in mid-January, already behind the times. Not an omen the Ancients would appreciate, eh? Just who is running the 'shop'?  As any good businessman will tell you the quality is in the details.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Which Way Home

Photograph by Steven Rhall

Belvoir present an ILBIJERRI Theatre Company production is association with Sydney Festival, WHICH WAY HOME, by Katie Beckett, in the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills, 11-29 January.

WHICH WAY HOME, is a play by Katie Beckett. It is a kind of 'love letter' to her father. She wanted, she writes in the program notes to the production, 'to give him something so he knows how special he is and what he means to me.'

Set in a car on a road journey back to her father's country a Daughter and a Father remember, reflect and observe each other. She is a disciplined timetabled (maybe, more than slightly uptight) escort to her father, who is a kind of loveable rogue, appearing at first in a black wig to disguise his age and to look 'deadly' for the women whose path he might cross and among other things, drops rubbish in the landscape without a thought of propriety - the daughter cleaning up after him without a word of criticism. He is no saint. And she with the eyes of a blind cupid loves and protects him as the sands of time fall out symbolically in the far corner of the stage.

The writing is naive and fairly juvenile in its plotting and character revelations. It is a first play, indeed, even despite the past several years of development and Dramaturgical advice of Jane Bodie (who, similarly, has written a play, THIS YEAR'S ASHES, as a memorial to her own father). WHICH WAY HOME has more sentimental impact than inspirational revelation. In fact, on the opening night the most genuine moments were in the curtain call when Ms Beckett's father was invited to take a bow. He did and 'jived' to the music of the production's curtain call. The audience responded warmly and it simply seemed to encourage him to keep on dancing - the actual 'loveable rogue' impersonated in the play, danced in front of us, and no one could stop him - the actor's stood behind, nonplussed, and smiling. The sentiment of the moment, however, brought tears to some eyes.

Ms Beckett played the Daughter with a 'pretended' showing of most of the character's journey. It was only in the final moments of the play that she relaxed into a real and truthful response to what she, as the writer, had written. Tony Briggs, a performer of somewhat more experience and access to the roguish personable charm of the Father figure provided an anchor for the evening's telling. His ease and alert ear to the audience's response kept the production moving forward, with a relative, in-the-moment sophistication.

Rachel Maza, as Director, has invited Emily Barrie to Design Set and Costume, with Niklas Pajanti providing the Lighting for a very simple visual conceit. There is an unsophisticated hand at work with this Direction and some of the problems of the performance have to do, perhaps, with Ms Maza's apparent deep identification and ownership of the work with her company. It lacks objective discipline to develop the necessary forward energy of storytelling, and sometimes, rather, demonstrates the emotional life of the inspiration of the work. It lacks the coolness of judged economy.

The interesting experience with WHICH WAY HOME, for me, was to sit in an audience with a large number of indigenous audience and friends and hear the ready and warm response to the material. I reflected it was a pleasure and a surprise for a lot in this audience who were seeing something of their own life experiences and stories been told on stage - the play, despite the naivety and juvenile workmanship of the playwright, is a collection of special moments for them. Similarly, the experience that I had with BATTLE OF WATERLOO, with an indigenous audience, reflected the joy of the recognition of that audience to their world being honestly revealed in the theatre - that play, by-the-way, being of a much more sophisticated mien, than this one.

Is this what I recall was my excitement to the 1970's playwriting of my generational culture - seeing my life on stage for the first time? a joyful recognition. Perhaps it was. Because re-reading some of those plays that I have such a strong memory of, reveals their playwriting naivety. And, certainly, mine, too.

This production is for a special audience who can look beyond the efforts of a first time playwright expressing a grateful loyalty to her father, and simply enjoy the human sentiment behind its need to be told, created.

 ILBIJERRI is Australia's leading and longest running Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre company. It is based in Melbourne and Rachel Maza is its Artistic Director.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Photo by Eric Berry
Riverside's National Theatre of Parramatta and Sydney Festival presents, HAKAWATI, created by Wayne Harrison, in the El Phoenician Restaurant, Parramatta, 11-21 January.

HAKAWATI, is an evening of food and entertainment. It has been inspired by the Middle Eastern ancient tradition of storytelling and breaking bread. In the sophisticated circumstances of the El Phoenician restaurant in Church St, Parramatta a long table, seating 40-50 people, has been elegantly prepared for a four course dinner of Lebanese cuisine.

At either end of the table, on a raised platform, an ornate wooden framed armed, high backed, red-velvet chair/throne awaits storytellers: Sandy Gore, Olivia Rose, Dorje Michael Swallow and Sal Sharah. These gifted performers each take a turn. The form of the storytelling in this evening reminds one of the famous stories of THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, except, here, the stories are in a contemporary mode set in the Western Suburbs of Sydney - South Granville.

  1. The Story of the Third Son (Sandy Gore).
  2. The Story of the Woman Who Loved Bread. (Olivia Rose).
  3. The Story of the Three Brothers and the Bikie Gang (Dorje Michael Swallow - the most entertaining of the storytellers).
  4. The Story of the Boy Who Left Home (Sal Sharah, Michael Swallow, Sandy Gore, Olivia Rose).

The writing, unfortunately, is poor and the least pleasing element of this production. There is a kind of endless shaggy-doggedness about all the pieces, each, though, having a unique story and each, as in the Arabian Nights, refering one to the other. The main character is a boy called Kevin (there is a contemporary zeitgeist about that name at the moment it seems, as 'Kevin' is also the leading character in NOSFERATUTU at the SBW Stables Theatre!?) who grows up in a Lebanese family with inclinations of a different kind advised by the fairy of Kylie Minogue from the movie MOULIN ROUGE and the lyrics of her songs - a gay child!

OMG, No! This can't be a serious thematic in 2017, can it? Unfortunately, it becomes the undertow to all the stories, one way or another.

There is no dramatic frisson, no tension, there is only tediously situated narrative and a faux 'suburban' good naturedness about it all. There is no real wit or insight. There is no 'teaching' - moral fable or metaphor - of any sophistication. It is exhausting and tedious. No writer is acknowledged in the program, although it tells us it was created by Wayne Harrison.

After the stories are finished a burlesque adagio appears on the cleared table, given by Michael Stone and Emma Macpherson. (More than a bit over the 'burlesque' splash that is everywhere  at the moment, too - from the Sydney Opera House in the Concert Hall to the El Phoenician Restaurant in Parramatta.)

The restaurant and the food are the stars of this extremely disappointing evening out. If there is no quality in the writing no performance can succeed. Not ever. No way.


Griffin Independent with Virginia Hyam present NOSFERATUTU or Bleeding at the Ballet, by Tommy Bradson, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 7-21 January.

NOSFERATUTU, or Bleeding at the Ballet, is a new work by Tommy Bradson, Directed by Sheridan Harbridge. This is a showcase piece written by Mr Bradson for Mr Bradson. It is a quasi comic piece with some songs supported by a live band/orchestra led by talented Steven Kreamer on keyboards- (Sally Schnickel-Brown, Cello; Olga Solar, Violin). Ms Harbridge and Brandyn Kaczmarczyk feature in two supporting roles.

This concerns a Creature, Kevin, who has for four hundred odd years craved to be a dancer. (I think that is what is happening. I'm not quite sure!) But his papa told him: "Kevin, dancing is for girls." At an attempted solo performance of Swan Lake an 'unspeakable' act is perpetrated on the Dancer and we the audience are then regaled with the ravings of Kevin and of his history, of his frustrated cravings. The text is full of imagery using a baroque vocabulary that is more often than not undercut with a vernacular vulgarism. It achieves some laughter early on in the show, but becomes, gradually, tiresome in its repetition of form. There are some very funny hi-jinks from all the players but the material wearies itself as it does not have a clear enough through-line of narrative for the audience to fully stay the running time - 75 minutes. One expected some satire, some statement about the world, perhaps, or, if not that, a more sophisticated piece of narrative/character writing. But this thinness of 'frou-frou' was all  that was to be on offer. The fire works of the comedy is not enough to keep one in a state of belief, I'm afraid - some story, even SOME content, would help.

The look of the show has been well prepared: Designer, Ashisha Cunningham; Lighting by the dependable Alexander Berlage. The performances are full-throated. Mr Bradson is impressive - just too much of him - edit; Ms Harbridge, with her remarkable comic truthfulness, both verbally and physically, blessed with a singing voice of some breathtaking range, steals the show every moment she is given opportunity - her technique, and skills are dazzling - give her more to do, I reckon; and Mr Kaczmarczyk gives a 'ballet' turn that makes his early demise a shame.  Loved the orchestra. The package looks trademark Sydney (THE TURQUOISE ELEPHANT).  It has the glamour of visual pleasure, and the writing has the cheap vulgarity of comic indulgence but lacks content of any meaningful kind. I mean using the popular meme of the 'Undead' needs more than just being 'Undead' nowadays, doesn't it? The fashionable 'Undead' imagery/metaphor  has run its gauntlet, has it not? We all have OD'd over THE WALKING DEAD and those arty French TV compendiums, haven't we? Certainly, in this NOSFERATUTU, the 'Undead' are not covering any new ground to keep us attentive.

The audience I saw it with applauded well. So, off you go if you have the time. One hopes that this is only the first of some production developments for there is much talent in this show - it just isn't astute enough, yet. Yet. A trifle too self-indulgent.

Prize Fighter

Belvoir presents a La Boite Theatre Company and Brisbane Festival production in association with Sydney Festival, PRIZE FIGHTER, by Future D. Fidel, in the Upstairs Theatre, at Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills. 6-22 January.

This Australian play, PRIZE FIGHTER, has been written by a refugee from the civil war torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Future D. Fidel. It is his first play. It was developed by the La BoƮte Theatre Company in Brisbane. In the program notes Mr Fidel tells us, reminds some of us, that the mineral rich DRC has had a reported death toll of 5.4 million Congolese since 1996. "Part of this work," says Director Todd MacDonald, "reflects Future's story, his history. Part is a fiction but his stories are real and everything in this work derived from real situations that Future experienced directly or indirectly."

The play focuses on the story of Isa and moves between his aspirational pursuit of a Boxing career in Brisbane and his history as a survivor of family massacre and recruitment as a child soldier in Africa. The text moves between both worlds with the white raised canvas platform - a boxing ring - becoming the stage for this 'epic' journey to overcome his opponent in the ring and his own demons from a past life. All of the elements of this tight production - the play is only 65 minutes in length - is infused with the total investment of all the artists in a visceral physical enlivening. The excitement of the pre-training that the audience observes of the participants, before the play actually begins, is palpable and is the major ingredient in the affect of this production. The bodies of the players gleam with the perspiration of total commitment, the boxing matches under the guidance of Movement and Fight Director, Nigel Poulton, fiercely believable. The sudden shifts from the Brisbane gym-ring to the killing fields of Africa, are wrung suddenly with the atmospheric Lighting Design of David Waters, while the action is propelled by the Composition and Sound Design of Felix Cross with some extra pump and heft with Music Remix by Busty Beatz. The production is a whirlwind of sensation effects that is almost irresistible.

The writing concerns itself with the narrative of Isa's journey and is cleverly chopped and shaped from one place to the other in a dramatic non-linear manner that keeps the audience in a strict pay-attention mode. The Dramaturgy, by Chris Kohn with Mr Fidel, is polished and extremely successful in its sudden shifts - it reminded me of Simon Stone's THYESTES in its dramatic structuring impacts. The content of the play, particularly the African journey, has the shock of unmitigated confrontation in its exposure of the horrors of war with its ruthless emotional and physical savagery, perpetrated by the 'pollution' of the innocent lives of children, by recklessly 'possessed' adults in a kind of recall of the Maenads and their dismembering of Penthesus in Euripides' THE BACCHAE ( has man 'grown' through the ages? It seems not). This drama is then balanced with the familiar (and comforting) myth of the Boxing sport as often told in films like THE CHAMP, in silent movie days through to the relative contemporary ROCKY, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, THE FIGHTER, which we as a culture have embraced with some constancy of box office enthusiasm. The juxtaposition of both stories in PRIZE FIGHTER keeps one able to be enthralled in the ugliness of brutality - one being of a truth we would rather not know of that is made more easily palatable with the cultural myth of the Boxing sport, despite its brutality.

Mr MacDonald has, with his company, honed this work into a speedy no-time-for-thinking 'adventure' and all the actors give wholehearted fully charged adrenalin-pumped performances that sweeps one away. And there are, as well, some poetic gestures of metaphor, occasionally offered by the Director and his Designer, Bill Haycock, that attempts to give a depth to the work that is basically a cleverly disguised narrative of shocking truths in the wrappings of a sporting myth, delivered with a pellmell of sensual bombardment. It is easy to surrender to the production. Most of us did. Have done. What is missing, on reflection, afterwards, is the nuance of character motivational moments. It is all, mostly, generalised physical and 'cartoon' sentiment, as moving as the last moments of the play may be in production, with no breathing time taken for insightful personal discoveries by the principal characters, during the storytelling, to deepen, enrich, what was being created.

All the actors are exemplary in their missionary zeal to tell this story and within the limits of the production (writing?) could not be bettered. Pachero Mzembe, as Isa, is a marvel of passionate physical ownership with a keen sense of the 'altruistic' need to tell this story well. He is all there from the first moment you see him in the preliminary set-up before the play begins to the very last moments of the play. It is a physical tour de force - however, one wished for him to mark Isa's journey with more nuance of the possible 'turning' points of this character's journey, for his creation to give fuller satisfaction. There was, for me, not sufficient 'revealing'. It is mostly 'showing'. It was, for me, the difference between a 'good' performance and a 'great' one. Gideon Mzembe, as the principal antagonist figure in both the story structures is a natural balance. Kenneth Ransom, Margi Brown-Ash, Thuso Lekwape, and Zindzi Okenyo make up the rest of the company in a variety of convincing supporting roles. Mr Lekwape, especially, is frighteningly impressive as the leader of the Boy Soldiers, whilst Ms Okenyo playing the go-between in Africa, demonstrates, in one of the later scenes of the play, all that I was looking for from the others, in her capacity to reveal the internal, sub-textual shifts of her character's journey, together with the literal story information. Ms Okenyo is always impressive - we need to see her more often, in more challenging tasks.

PRIZE FIGHTER is a flawed but marvellous theatrical experience and well worth catching.

This production written by a Congolese refugee, acted by Zimbabwean refugees, and other actors of African heritage is a sign of the multicultural demographic of Australia. It is significant to me that this story is appearing at the same time that Deng Adut, a Sudanese refugee, has been nominated as Australian of the Year. His book, SONGS OF A WAR BOY (with Ben McKevey) like, PRIZE FIGHTER, recounts a story that is tremendous in its revelations of the will to survive. That we as a culture do claim these stories as part of our Cultural Heritage is a shift of maturation in Australia. It helps us to see 'those scarred, confused black men that [one sees] in the outer suburbs of western cities; [where] their look of fear [is] often mistaken for anger' with some deeper appreciation and perspective.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Measure for Measure

Cheek By Jowl with Pushkin Theatre Moscow present MEASURE FOR MEASURE, as part of the Sydney Festival, in the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. 7-11 January.

Some once said something like: If you want to know a man, give him power. (George Brandis, Bronwyn Bishop, Susan Ley, Alan Trudge, et al?)

In MEASURE FOR MEASURE (1603-4), William Shakespeare's play, The Duke of Vienna, Angelo and Isabella particularly are given power and what we see is there hu-maness. That all three have both God and the Devil moving their actions, each of those 'concepts' of God and Devil taking control-turn when necessary. They are humans, full of ambiguities of imagination and behaviour in their need to live, to survive. This play along with ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (1602-4) and TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (1602) were all written in the dying days of Queen Elizabeth's reign, in a city in the nervous fret of who was to inherit the throne, and whether it would be an orderly change or civil war. The citizens in a state of uncertainty, indulging in the panic of the unknown change. 2017 seems to have that worldly insecurity shaping our lives. These plays do not have the transcendent good humour of the comedies or the cosmic redemption of the tragedies. They all have a setting that is starkly naturalistic and the life of the plays are worldly and profane. None more so than in MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

This production, Directed by Declan Donnellan, relatively, brushes lightly the result of the Duke's neglect of his responsibilities and only uses the underworld characters, of pimps, whores and thieves, that Shakespeare created, when necessary to facilitate his focus on the officials and the moral dilemma of usage of power in the 'delicate' hands of men and women who have animal needs alongside their personal moral beliefs, boundaries. The Madam of Shakespeare's play is a Mistress Overdone, and Overdone is an image code to understand the 'hot house' satire that is being investigated here.

This Cheek By Jowl production is performed in Russian and is dressed in contemporary clothing and as such shifts the 'understanding' of what this company is doing - saying - with this play, to the circumstances, context, of Putin's Russia (perhaps). Although, the scope of the play's happenings has universal parallels that we can readily draw for our times in our country. MEASURE FOR MEASURE is a very modern play.

Despite that the performance is in Russian and supported by surtitles and that the surtitles seem to be more complicated and true to Shakespeare's text than what the actors seem to speaking - it seemed to be delivered in a very vernacular manner - there is a cool lucidity to what is being communicated in a largely but subtly edited text. It runs less than two hours. I have to admit that the more you knew of the play the easier that experience may have been - I have worked in production twice and know the major scenes between Angelo and Isabella, and her brother Claudio quite well (some of Shakespeare's best) - so, I saw this work from a relative state of advantage.

Mr Donnellan has developed a chorus of movement for the performers situated around five hot-red cube boxes in a black box surround overhung with a 'roof' of lighting and unfolds the scenes with economic fleet-footed speed. The acting from this company is tight and focused with every gesture and word resonant with intention - the production has been on a long international tour and is excitingly fresh and gives no appearance of weariness from repetition. Anna Khalilulina as Isabella and Andrei Kuzichev as Angelo are particularly wonderful, but all the ensemble are alert and transformative in their tasks. The vocal work strong and nuanced, the physical work disciplined and stylised. The production finishes with the principals waltzing (Viennese waltzing) away the ambiguities of the world of the play - a striking image. The Composer, Pavel Akimkin makes a striking contribution to the storytelling and the Lighting by Sergey Skornetskly supports the scenic decisions of Designer Nick Omerrod.

The contrast of clarity of purpose between the Benedict Andrews' MEASURE FOR MEASURE of a few years ago at Belvoir is worth noting. Here, Mr Donnellan serves a vision of the play with refined imagery and no flourishes of auteur tricks drawing attention to themselves. Its intelligence and immediacy resounds unfailingly, grippingly. This Cheek By Jowl production is a much more satisfactory experience than their last visit at a Sydney Festival with 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE.

Monday, January 9, 2017

3 more "Pictures" ... Allied, Rosalie Blum, Passengers.

Some more "Pictures"

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are teamed up by Robert Zemeckis (ROMANCING THE STONE (1984); the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy; FORREST GUMP (1994)) in ALLIED.

Max Vatan, a Canadian espionage agent meets up with a French Resistance agent, Marianne Beausejour, in Casablanca to assassinate some Nazis. They do. They fall in love. They return to London. They marry. They have a daughter. Then, guess what? British Intelligence suspects that Marianne is a double agent. Oh, poor Max has a dilemma, country or wife and child? His duty is to assassinate her, immediately, when the British Intelligence can confirm their suspicion. A trap is set. She falls for it. Oh, no!

Now this film may have some potential if we believed that Max and Marianne were in love, but the sexual chemistry, let alone the 'love' stuff/depth just does not exist between these figures. Mr Pitt and Ms Cotillard are almost Frigidaire in their inter-actions - the choreographed mechanics of their love making in the car in a rising desert storm (I kid you not) is close your eyes and cringe time. The film lacks that basic and necessary belief in the urgent 'push' of the sexual life-force that can cause such catastrophe in otherwise wise decision making by the individuals, for us to buy the premise of the plotting. So the 'picture' grinds on and on to a boring couple of hours in the suburbs of war torn London and in the cinema we sit in.

Dull, dull, DULL! The only reason one went was because one is a fan of Mr Pitt and Ms Cotillard. They fail us.

As this film is set in Casablanca during the Nazi occupation, one cannot help but recall CASABLANCA of 1942, with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Heinreid and the urgent black and white genius of the Warner Brothers 'Style' with the 'Dramatic' score by Max Steiner, pushing the story to a thrilling edge-of-your-seat romantic fantasy. Directed simply by Michal Curtiz, with his eye on the story, loaded with a supporting cast of excellence: Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson and a company of extras that were mostly European refugees from Hitler's Germany - so, they weren't acting in that famous scene of the duel of the National Anthems, they were 'living' it. All the elements of the film has a storytelling power that has made it one of the Classics of Hollywood.

If only Mr Zemeckis and his production team had watched it and borrowed some of the lessons it could teach for basic cinematic gifting we may have had a 'picture' to want to cherish instead of stirring restlessly in one's seat with boredom. And what about the awful set dressing in all of the locations?  Tokenistic ugliness that assisted in one's ease in non-belief with what we were watching. At least, as Curtiz did, when in doubt, shroud it in 'fog' - I mean, apparently that was a cardboard plane that Ingrid and Paul were boarding in the film's famous last moments with Claude and Humphrey waving goodbye!   I haven't really noticed or cared. Don't go to see ALLIED, get out your DVD of CASABLANCA.

Of course you may be fans of the two actors, as I am, and nothing will stop you - you have been warned! If you have to see it, just wait until you are on that long international plane flight - it'll put you to sleep.

A 2015 French film debut by Julien Rappeneau - he also composed the music. This is a film set in a provincial city (I presume) somewhere in France and introduces us to Rosalie Blum (Noemie Lvovsky), Vincent (Kyan Khojandi) and Aude (Alice Isaaz), three individuals that become, after many a travail, entwined to a happy ending. The three of them are representatives of the contemporary malaise of depression and isolation in the modern bourgeois world. They are lost and lonely individuals. To be honest, this film is, in the boldest pragmatic terms, about urban stalking. That it turns out happily, say, unlike ELLE, is what makes this film a romantic dra-mody, ultimately. A fantasy like LA LA LAND, except with a happy ending. It is a charming film.

 Is it that it is in a foreign language that, ultimately, disarms me? I mean if it were in English would I be as satisfied?

Anyway, the performances are lovely, even if the story set-up formula is slightly too familiar. These actors, on the other hand, are not familiar to me and are appealing because of their ordinary but soulful looks (although, Ms Isaaz, is, maybe, too traditionally cinematically good-looking and is a 'fly' in that theory, though she can be soulful if not ordinary with her look(s)). This is not a great film and it is not, as some would have you believe, a funny film, but it is an amusing one and a heart moving one - lots of slightly weird counter-cutlture characters, it's always pleasant to be diverted by quirkiness, isn't it? ROSALIE BLUM another in that French tradition of reassuring comfortabliity. If this 'gang' of French people can make it, there is hope for us all. A lovely summer afternoon - evening - spending of time.

This is a very glamorously designed, CGI piece of space junk. It looks gorgeous and one is left in a state of wonder at all that money spent on Design with only a cast of (virtually) four actors: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne - it must have been a lonely picture to make. I hope they liked each other.

A space ship, Avalon, is carrying some five and a half thousand earthlings to a planet called Homestead II. It will take them a couple of hundred years or so to get there - don't ask anyone to explain how Homestead II got built - so they are put to 'sleep' (hibernation) and the 'ship' travels on and on to its destination. Unfortunately, the ship hits some space debris action on its journey which causes a malfunction to its computer-stuff that is, at first, detected only with the early awakening of one, only one, of the passengers, Jim (Chris Pratt) - it will be 90 years before he reaches his destination!

After an ethical dilemma advised by an android bartender, called Arthur, played by Michael Sheen, Aurora (I'm not kidding- that's the name they have given this sleeping beauty) becomes part of the scenery, a year later. She is the choice 'Jimbo', the clever-with-his-hands blue collar worker (they'll need those guys on Homestead II, too, I guess) has made, after a year of browsing the other passengers in their hibernation 'glass boxes' and their life history in the data files. What a 'stalker' or 'social engineering' thing to do, eh? Well, it has been a lonely year on this space ship, hasn't it? They meet. She is from a slightly more 'patrician' class. However, there is a steamy romance, that only just goes to show that even in the future with all that hi-tech advancement going-on around them, the animal urge for sex can't be denied - man the primitive in all that hi-tech glitz: "Wipe the table of the breakfast food, we are having sex, now, you're so hot." Clatter, Crash, Humph! (I got to wondering whether a pregnancy, after all that action, would happen, they are both so prime - what a plot twist, that would be - but, predictably, not examined, Naw!! - "What, a space baby with a long future of watching his or her parents get really old and die as Avalon speeds on?" Nup, too complicated.

New plot addition when all that sex action starts to get repetitive and boring comes along amidst another set of computer malfunctions, when Laurence Fishburne's crew member wakes up - of the Officer and a Gentleman class - and assists them to access more of the inner workings of Avalon. He, unfortunately, dies of natural causes, quite quickly, leaving them alone again.

The Avalon is deteriorating quite alarmingly and what follows is a high-tech adventure of visual sensations where our two heroes set out to save the spaceship from destruction that is totally and utterly ridiculous in its logics and possibilities. Just plain dumb. I mean really DUMB (Boy, does GRAVITY, have some things to answer for with this 'picture').

The Director, Marten Tyldum, and his collaborators/artists has come to believe that if we are still in our seats, when this stuff begins - what the Hollywood 'Honchos' call the Third Act of the Story - we will believe anything. We don't, no matter how gorgeous all the imagery may be in all that action packed stupidity. Spare me.

Now look, Chris Pratt has to carry the first 20-30 minutes of the film all by himself, with a little bit of help from Mr Sheen. Truly, he just can't. He looks gorgeous - a space hunk (he was a wrestler and day-time stripper in a past life, great potential for a film career as film history as taught us) - but he does not have the capacity to deliver an intelligent sub-text or emotional range beyond A to nearly B. Maybe, just maybe, he has a small comic timing skill. He is just awful, although, his 'cuteness' keeps you hoping. If the hero of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is your break through role and movie, some acting class when you get into something a little more demanding might be an asset. Pretty and 'quippy'-timing is not enough.

The proof of his ability is made clearer when Jennifer Lawrence, who can really, really act turns up. The contrast between the two is shocking - astounding (and, do I occasionally catch Ms Lawrence looking at her partner in two shots with some disbelief, but still manages to carry on?) If Ms Lawrence deserves to be nominated for a Best Acting Award, this should be the prime opportunity. Not only does she believe and have us believe (nearly) all the preposterous plot twists, the demands of the hi-tech whizz-bangery and all that green-screen acting, but she also works beside Chris Pratt, fairly honourably. She won't be nominated and yet she gives an outstanding performance that sustains one through this piece of Hollywood debris. Thank God for Jennifer.

There is no reason to ever to pay to see this film, I promise you, unless you are 'stoned'-dead. I forgive Ms Lawrence. Although, with a $20 million pay packet or percentage deal, for this picture, maybe she knowingly, sold her soul to the devil. I recall she played that capitalist heart warmer JOY last year with such conviction and have begun to wonder, maybe she was't really acting there, just being her real self. We shall see. I hope not. I do really, really like her. Just be more judicious about the pictures you decide to do.