Sunday, March 19, 2017

Diary of a Wombat


Monkey Baa Theatre Company present, DIARY OF A WOMBAT, Concept by Sandra Eldridge, Tim McGarry, Eva Di Cesare, Based on the book by, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley.

Monkey Baa, a children's theatre, has adapted the children's book DIARY OF A WOMBAT by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley.

Nature, represented by Mothball, the wombat, explores his territory in search of food for his survival and comes into contact, conflict, with two humans who have built a home and gardens in his natural vicinity. Using puppetry, Design and Construction, by Bryony Anderson, three actors: Michael Cullen, Julia Ohannessian and Shandelle Pratt, under movement direction from Alice Osborne, enact this clash of 'land' possession, the actors, beside manipulating and creating the personality of the wombat, also play the husband and wife of the new house.

It is all enchanting.

It is also a particularly daring concept, as there is no spoken text for the 50 minutes, or so, of the action of the performance. There is only a live and electronically communicated Cellist, Mary Rapp, to accompany the incidents/adventures of the clash of the two species. Daring because the audience target is mostly aimed at the very, very, young. That that audience became almost instantly involved is a great gift to witness. The mature surety of the Monkey Baa Directors and their knowledge of the sophistication of its audience pays off in 'spades'. Eva Di Cesare has Directed the production. Set and Costume Design, by Imogen Ross, sympathetically lit by Matt Cox with a Sound Design by Kingsley Reeve.

DIARY OF A WOMBAT, a sure winner for its targeted audiences, and their adult carers, too.

Mark Colvin's Kidney

Photo by Brett Boardman
Belvoir Theatre presents, MARK COLVIN'S KIDNEY, by Tommy Murphy, in the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Surry Hills. 25 February - 2 April.

MARK COLVIN'S KIDNEY, is a new Australian play by Tommy Murphy. There are some 28 characters. The play, however, is virtually a two-hander involving a true story concerning Mary-Ellen Field (Sarah Peirse) and Mark Colvin (John Howard).

Elle MacPherson, an ex-pat Australian business woman, hires another ex-pat Australian, business advisor, Mary-Ellen Field, to sort out her business arrangements. Some time into their trusting relationship, some negative articles begin to appear in the press. Ms MacPherson, taking advice from other aides, suspects the 'leaks' for the said articles were coming from Ms Field. She is gradually removed and loses her job with her sense of self-worth and dignity, even her sanity, gravely shaken. Then, the News International phone-hacking scandal broke, and the ex-pat Australian magnate, Rupert Murdoch and his great Corporate Company become the centre of the Leveson Inquiry. Ms Field from intimation of others suggests that the negative articles for which she was blamed concerning Ms MacPherson originated in that phone-hacking scandal. She decides to fight for justice and the restoration of her name. No-one is particularly stirred. Then a chance inquiry from an Australian ABC journalist, Mark Colvin, brings some hope of action. During this long-distance co-operation, Ms Field who has never met Mr Colvin discovers that Mr Colvin is dying from a failing kidney and offers to give one of her kidneys in a transplant operation, if, at all, medically feasible. It is. She does.

This is a fantastic, unbelievable plot that is 100% true. Mr Murphy in his indefatigable research and then organisation of such, has sculptured a play. It is an amazing feat of determined scholarship and poetic licence. In 25 scenes across countries and time a coherent stage story is hewn and evolves. The malfeasance of a great Corporation and the sense of its crushing power to all that is just and right in our times is counterbalanced, in this play, with the altruistic act of one individual to another. That Mary-Ellen Field is the 'victim' of the first and the 'hero' of the other is what interests Mr Murphy. This act of goodness, at the risk of one's own life, in a world dominated by such 'wickedness' and corruption can represent, for some of us, a hope for the survival of mankind. Mary-Ellen Field in the midst of her plight when the societal structures that she trusted - 'the law, the state, the press, even the simple decency of other human beings have failed her' still has the capacity in this ethically deficient world, to make a decision to risk herself for the sake of another. While there is one 'good' person there is hope. (So, they say. So, one would like to believe.) This is the story, the moral spine of Mr Murphy's MARK COLVIN'S KIDNEY.

Kit Esuruoso, Christopher Stollery, Helen Thomson and Peter Carroll (especially, as the husband, David Field) are herculean in the creating of thumb nail sketches of character off the page to the stage, that are sometimes, in the writing, more mere function and less than flesh-and-blood forces. Sarah Peirse is breezy and amusing in creating this feisty, intelligent woman, Mary-Ellen, whilst Mr Howard gives an avuncular performance as the mainstay of his creation of Mark.

The Set Design by Michael Hankin, a whitish opaque reflective set of walls, with wheeled on furnishings is dexterous in its facilitation for location change, while Julie Lynch's Costume design is invisible, essentially - except for that awful wig that Ms Peirse wears - and miraculous in what must amount to a multitude of speedy quick changes - it is, on contemplation, a kind of miraculous design wizardry. The Lighting, by Damien Cooper, is pragmatically simple, whilst the Sound Design, by Nate Edmondson, is a little over loud and hostile to the need of the play.

The problem with this production of MARK COLVIN'S KIDNEY, Directed by David Berthold, is that it lacks the clarity of its spinal theme. It is all in there, but not, either, in the Direction or writing unequivocally visible. Too, the production lacks theatrical momentum. There is no accumulation of energy in the story telling, it, relatively 'plods' alone at a steady, consistent rate and has, us, the audience often having to suspend our emotional endowing and willingness to identify with the events, in a cathartic-free state - we watch rather than participate. Whether this is to accommodate the many scene changes that the writing requires or just a failure of imagination, by Mr Berthold, is interesting to think about. For instance, the first act curtain scene, Scene 15: THE OFFER, is two lines long, and takes less than 30 seconds to deliver. However, between the end of Scene 14, the stage set-up into Scene 15 takes at least two minutes of suspended imaginative and emotional time. This is particularly odd, for when returning into the action, after interval, we continue on Scene 15: THE OFFER (CONTINUED). Odd?

This is an entertaining middle-of-the-road production of a play that has a moral heart that is rare in contemporary Australian storytelling. It reminded me of the Terence Rattigan masterpiece, THE WINSLOW BOY (1946) where a father fights for right and justice for his young son, even at the risk of destroying his family and his own life. That play's construction and thematics are classic in their kind. Clear and emotionally accumulative.

Consensual

 Photo by Bob Seary
New Theatre presents, CONSENSUAL, by Evan Placey, at the New Theatre, King St. Newtown. 14 March - 15 April.

CONSENSUAL, is a play by British writer, Evan Placey. Mr Placey has written most of his plays with young audiences in mind. CONSENSUAL was commissioned by the National Youth Theatre Rep Company. It deals with sex and the classroom. It, like the 2006 film with Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench, NOTES ON A SCANDAL, deals with a sexual relationship between a student and a teacher. Mr Placey's award winning plays, he has said:
Never shy away from challenging discussion and exploration, so that it allows people, especially young people, to ponder issues and ask questions in a safe depersonalised environment.
Mr Placey has worked as a teacher, and like our own, Lachlan Philpott (SILENT DISCO, TRUCK STOP) delves, with first-hand knowledge, into the world of our adolescent generations with fearsome honesty and challenge.

The long first act of the play, with a number of scenes, is set in a noisy contemporary co-ed classroom of adolescents, carrying the heating weight of burgeoning sexual curiosity, modern media exposure to it, and uncertain boundaries of acceptable behaviour around it. Diane, a young, heavily pregnant teacher (Laura Richardson) is teaching a sex education class and encounters robust debate with her charges, that is both knowingly provocative and comic but also crucially serious to their future actions and well-being.

Freddie (Paul Whiddon), a young insecure bank worker, having survived in a single parent household with an abusive alcoholic father, makes a complaint of sexual abuse to the police against his teacher, Diane, seven years after the alleged event. The consequences are complicated for us, particularly, as to what really transpired, as in recalled scenes, we are given an ambiguity to the behaviour of both the principals of the accusation.

The play jump cuts, from the present classroom and the outside interactions between Diane and Freddie; Diane and her new class of students and other staff-in-training, Mary, (Celeste Reardon); Diane and her husband, Pete (Benjamin Vickers); and with Freddie and his brother, Nathan (Rhys Johnson). The dramatic tensions are built with subtle accumulative detail, by the writer, to an almost unbearable ugliness that results in a terrible climax of consequence, before the interval.

The second act is set in the home of Diane seven years previous and we are shown the events of the accusation in real time. Freddie and Diane become engaged in a 'dance' of sexual tension. Is what transpires consensual or not? That is the debate, the discussion, for the audience after the play. It will be, certainly, an uncomfortable debate.

This is a very interesting and provocative play, ably Directed by Johann Walraven, in two excellent Set Designs by Renee Halse, lit brashly and strikingly by Liam O'Keefe, in a cacophony of noisy, disconcertingly jangling music (Sound Design, by Johann Walraven). The company of young actors in the classroom, give robust performances of a 'frightening', knowingly manipulative reality. Mr Vickers and Ms Reardon give good support to Mr Whiddon and to a secure and outstanding Ms Richardson. There is bravery in the principal performances worth noting.

CONSENSUAL, provocative and adult theatre, worth seeing. This was written with young adults in mind, take them. They should see it.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Laden Table

Photo by Natasha Narula
bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company, presents THE LADEN TABLE, by Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan, and Ruth Kliman, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), in the Kings Cross Hotel. 14 February - 26 February.

THE LADEN TABLE, a new Australian play by six women: Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Ray Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernaghan and Ruth Kliman.

Through the curtains that separate the theatre space in the Kings Cross Hotel from the foyer, one could see a beautiful table setting for a group of 12 people. (Set Design, by Courtney Westbrook).The table was laden with all the accruements necessary to have a communal, celebratory meal. When the Play began, candles were lit and a warm atmosphere of welcoming enveloped the space. (Lighting, by Benjamin Brockman). Progressively each of the 'guests' arrived.

This play started evolving some nine years ago:
Yvonne (Perczuk) was dining with friends and the conversation took a disturbing turn to remarks about 'All Muslims...'. She soon discovered from her Muslim colleagues that similar comments were being made at their dinner tables about "All Jews...'. And so began the long journey to confront this kind of dinner table racism that exists right here in Sydney, through the transformative power of theatre. ... It was uplifting to see all these people with opposing views and beliefs, some wearing hijabs and others wearing yarmulkahs, sitting together in the same room, sharing their stories and ideas on the script, allowing the play to become a living thing, growing and evolving with their input." bAKEHOUSE came on board in 2014 and "After 3 years of dramaturgical development. 2 periods of script development and 2 public presentations THE LADEN TABLE, can be experienced by a live audience in the KXT.
Directed by Suzanne Millar, it is an exciting - thrilling - time, for not only is this table literally laden with food goodies, the occasion of sitting around this table is also laden with confrontational ideas, argument and deep emotional revelations of faith and human concern. At the heart of this play is a great passion.

It's a special night for two Australian families. Jacob's family is attending to the ritual of Yom Kippur; Ibrahim's family is celebrating Eid. At this laden communal table the two families, in different houses, at a different time, are sitting, and without acknowledging each other, we the audience watch the interactions between the generations of each of the families.

At each of the dinners we meet three generations of a family. In the Jewish family, Abe Fishman (Geoff Sirmai), a survivor of the Holocaust, who cannot forget, presides over his son, Jacob's (Donald Sword) and wife, Esti's (Abi Rayment) celebratory meal, in the presence of the next generation of Jewish children who identify as Australian: Daughter Ruth (Jessica Paterson) - a doctor recently returned from a stint in Israel; Daniella (Justina Ward) and young family friend Nathan Gutman (Doron Chester). In the Muslim household, Zainab Ka'adan (Gigi Sawires), a survivor of Nakba, the 1948 Palestinian exodus, who cannot forget, presides over her son's, Ibrahim Ka'adan (Monroe Reimers) and daughter-in law's, Nadya's ( Suz Mawer) celebratory meal, in the presence of the next generation of children who identify as Australian: Mousa Ka'adan (Mansoor Noor) - an engineer, recently returned from a work stint in Haifa, Israel; his younger sister, Yasmina (Sarah Meacham), and a Christian family friend, Zac Thomas (Alex Chalwell).

This grouping allows conversation and exchange of generational feelings to burst uninhibitly into the space of the theatre. On both sides, the juxtaposed dinner conversations are powerful and could be offensive in any other situation. The conventions of the dramaturgy brilliantly facilitates a dreadful 'violence' of family evolutions within the cultural and religious practice of each family, who are trying to make sense and find a way to living within the modern world. It is a wonderfully bracing experience that combines difference of opinion with respectful traditions and the basic human operative of love.

Both families are finally confronted with an issue that will test their principles and values: Doctor Ruth and Engineer Mousa, have met and created a pregnancy, from a love. Their return home brings a burden to these tables. "Two households, both alike in dignity" are laden with a contemporary personal and family crisis.

The writing is extraordinary, the Direction extremely certain and the performances from all 12 actors convincing and heart felt. Mansoor Noor is especially alive and layered with complexity, as is Jessica Paterson, at the centre of this family drama.

I recommend this play and production. It is the kind of play that rarely finds its way to exposure in Sydney - that it has 12 actors, which seems to be the boundary of the major professional company productions in Sydney, is one reason why it may never had got past the 'gatekeepers', 'bean counters' of our professional stages.

12 actors in a new Australian play, too much risk! Too costly, never mind the social/cultural  importance of the content.  And, if that is the case, what other works are we missing out on?

THE LADEN TABLE has had nine years of development and that strength of tussle and longevity of gestation is evident at every layer of result in its twistings and turnings. Last year the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) produced the American play DISGRACED that rocked the local Sydney audience, as it had done Internationally, with contemporary social/cultural resonances. THE LADEN TABLE, a local Australian play has similar, if not, more resonances for us today. Nothing Australian of similar quality or subject matter has appeared on either, the STC or Belvoir stages for some time. The bAKEHOUSE production at KXT should be a destination for you.

bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company have gradually built a reputation for committed work to complicated and community oriented work. Last year, they presented BLACK JESUS, a play bringing us to the complications of a startling African story, and previously, HIS MOTHER'S VOICE, a play delving into the world of China. Suzanne Millar and John Harrison quietly developing work of great importance and ethical concern - attention should be paid to THE LADEN TABLE.

Do not miss this show.

P.S. It is interesting that I have just read a review of a new New York play, IF I FORGET, by Steven Leveson, that seems to be an echo to the concerns of this work, THE LADEN TABLE. The international zeitgeist strikes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Chimerica


Sydney Theatre Company present, CHIMERICA, by Lucy Kirkwood, in the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. 28 February - 1 April.

CHIMERICA, is a three hour (plus interval) play of epic scale, written by Lucy Kirkwood, that premiered at the Almeida Theatre, in London, in 2013.

The play is epic in length, epic in production values, epic in cast, and best of all, epic in ideas. On a virtual empty stage, with the action of a revolve stage, the production swirls into that space creating locations for some 39 scenes, that are, at different times, naturalistic, emblematic (Brechtian?), surreal. The flexible Set Design is by David Fleischer, the Lighting Design by Nick Schlieper, The Composer and Sound Design by The Sweats. All contributing spectacularly, successfully, in creating the momentum and aesthetics of the play, giving the audience enough clue and space to endow the journey, both as a community and personally.

There is a cast of 12 professional actors, some playing multiple roles, and a support group of 20 student actors (unpaid, from NIDA Musical Theatre Course [this is their first term]) creating the dynamics of the characters and the impressive images for the Director, Kip Williams' vision, as well as, more prosaically, shifting the furniture and props. The huge Costume Design has been created by Renee Mulder. Kip Williams presents his usual penchant for stage images but also has taken much care with the text - the written word. CHIMERICA is an achievement, all round.

Ms Kirkwood has structured a rumination on many contemporary social, cultural, political and economic issues around a basic who-where-is-he? mystery plot/quest and garnished it with a rom-com tension and a family tragedy.

Joe Schofield (Mark Leonard Winter), a photojournalist, happens to be in Beijing in the Chinese spring of 1989 during the protest/demonstration that occupied Tiananmen Square (Gate of Heavenly Peace), and observes the arrival of the Chinese Liberation Army with their tanks to disperse it, witnessing from his hotel room a lone man with white plastic bags of shopping, halting a procession of tanks and conversing with a soldier from the lead tank, and, was able, fortuitously, to take a photograph, which, when smuggled out of China and published in the West, becomes an iconic image of international fame.

23 years later. Who is Tank Man? What is his identity? Is it true that he now lives in New York? If so, where is he? If it is true, this is a great story. The plot of the play moves forward on Joe's dogged search for Tank Man's identity and whereabouts in the Chinese community of New York, and to publish a possible article - it will be a new career coup, for Joe, if it all transpires. The structure of the play takes us back in time and to Beijing, where we meet an acquaintance of Joe's, a Chinese teacher of English, Zhang Lin (Jason Chong) and his family and neighbours and their travails. We also meet an English marketeer, Tessa Kendrick (Geraldine Hakewill), engaged in preparing others for interaction with the Chinese money-market opportunities. Too, the personalities of a 2012 New York in the world of Joe's 'hunt', are revealed.

With great humour (there is a lot of wit going on - don't go tired) aided by stock characterisations that allow knowing recognitions of character type and a short-cut to comedy: eg. whiplashed, morally perturbed reporter, Mel Stanwyck (Brent Hill); bullying, rapacious but kind hearted Editor, Frank (Tony Cogin) - we get this newspaper world instantly, all, recognisable, in this instance, from the theatre haunts of the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur's 1928 play: THE FRONT PAGE.

Ms Kirkwood has us ponder the morality of journalism; the ethics of photojournalism and the usages of those images; the economic diplomacy and consequences of the monetary interaction between the United States and China - one a 'saver' nation the other a 'spender' nation: CHIMERICA - a term coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick, of The Telegraph, to describe that dynamic; cultural contrasts and similarities; Chinese authoritarianism and market driven American arrogance; and the portent of Western hubris in regards to modern day China: the West v's the East.

Our 'hero' is Joe. We watch him in his ambitious pursuit of a scoop reveal his tawdry life in a reckless, ruthless, ethically corrupt chase for the 'truth', becoming more and more desperately selfish, self-absorbed, destroying, ignorantly, the lives of others in his quest. Zhang in disbelief to his friend Joe, having already suffered physical torture from Chinese officials: "You think an email from an American journalist does not get seen by censors? "TANK MAN" is the subject line, are you stupid or something?" We watch a chance meeting between Joe and a heavily pregnant Tessa, when he discovers his casual affair with her has huge consequences, at least for one of them. This man is a bankrupt human. An American narcissist (An American Psycho?) If this ordinary American man can cause such ignorant damage to the people in the world around him in pursuit of his personal ambitions - across personal and cultural boundaries - what can a man of real power compact?  Sitting in the theatre one can only wonder how the new President's knowledge of "China, China, China" will resonate on world finance and politics? What will he produce?

Mark Leonard Winter leads the burden of this play with fine stamina, Jason Chong, grows in stature as the play progresses, while Tony Cogin steals acting honours as the editor. Brent Hill, too, impresses, and both, Matthew Backer (back in form) and Monica Sayers are champions of multiple roles, delivering with pin point accuracies for each of their responsibilities, what is needed to draw, swiftly, character and forward propulsion for the plot. Anthony Brandon Wong, Jenny Wu, Charles Wu, Gabrielle Chan and Rebecca Massey are in good support. Geraldine Hakewill, in a pivotal role as Tessa, fails to nail her dialect (it wanders across the English speaking world - especially, across Australia) and distracts away from the clarity of the characterisation and function meted out by Ms Kirkwood -Tessa has some crucial information and observation, debate - it gets, relatively, distractingly, lost.

CHIMERICA, is a terrific play, of a contemporary quality, rarely seen (or, it seems encouraged), on a Sydney (Australian stage).

I loved reading the reaction to this very near-the-bone piece in the US of A. Like, Lucy Prebbles', ENRON, that dealt with the Goldman Sachs disaster, it has been dismissed as shallow and inaccurate, disparaging the play with a summary of it being 'Hollywood fodder for snooty British progressives'. CHIMERICA and ENRON won a swag of prizes in the British theatre world, while, on the other hand, ENRON, closed on Broadway after only 12 performances and CHIMERICA, though seen in New York, was not on Broadway. (And, of course, those same Americans have permitted, elected Donald Trump.)

I encourage you all to go to see where you sit with CHIMERICA's content. The three hours twenty minutes, in the theatre, whisked by in humour, provocation and contemplation.


P.S.
N.B.

Many (critics, as well) have remarked how terrific it is to see so many performers on stage. I agree. However, it should be noted that 20 performers - the Ensemble - in this production are not being paid. They are in the theatre 8 performances a week for up to 4 hours (8 hours on matinee days) and are not been paid. A kind of 'Slave Labour', I guess? I wonder if they even receive travel or food money? They are only students. Eight performances is quite a burden, on their study time, and trying to make the money to cover the cost of living in Sydney, has been relatively paralysed for the length of the 'Packer' season - imagine trying to study, perform, and earn a survival living. One presumes the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) with Equity and The STC have taken due care in looking after their students' predicament when agreeing to pledge them to such a time-fractured occupation.

Recently, I read a story of a band of musicians asked to perform at a high-flyers function in Sydney. They were offered NO MONEY. In the meantime the caterers etc, all the other professionals, were being paid for their service and for what they produced. The artist can provide the entertainment for nothing - the experience and exposure was deemed sufficient. The Band declined to perform, to much public internet criticism by the organisers.

When one of the largest theatre companies in Sydney - Australia - The Sydney Theatre Company (STC), engages 20 performers and DOESN'T PAY THEM, I suppose the argument to be able to do so, was that the students would benefit from the experience and the exposure would be good for them. If the STC could not afford actors to work on their stage they should not have chosen the play - that seems logical to me.

I felt uncomfortable, watching well drilled but untrained performers (they, all, have just begun their training a few weeks ago - literally, only weeks) surrounded by colleagues of the profession in the Roslyn Packer Theatre, who had all been given free seats to see the show. I am positive that any of those seated artist-audience - graduates from  Drama Schools - would much have preferred to be on the stage and benefiting from the experience and exposure, and being paid - what ever the rate, that would be proper.

All of the Independent theatres in Sydney, which provide the vital Performance Arts variety in Sydney, do not pay a wage - most of them attempt to pay a fee (the artists make such a sacrifice to be able to practice their craft, and in the hope that they may be seen by the major theatre employers - a sophisticated audition process, then - although, not many organisations send representatives to see the work, so a fruitless one, generally, as far as follow-on paid work opportunities go, I guess) - and, so, when the largest subsidised theatre in Sydney, and receiver of philanthropic monies, curates a play and engages some 20 actors and chooses not to pay them at all, it is a bit outrageous.

The STC has become part of the no-wage Independent Theatre scene! And that is on top of only, till CHIMERICA, employing (to be seen on stage) 4 Sydney actors since the middle of December, 2016. How do the Performing Artists in Sydney live and practice their profession when the STC chooses not to find plays to be able to employ them? I wonder, how many wages have been deployed in the Administration, in that period of time? (Just check out page 50-51 of your theatre program where there is a list of all the STC Company employees.)

Do any of the full time Administration staff at the STC do their jobs for the work experience, or for the exposure, and forgo payment of wage (or fee)?

That the Equity Foundation, has received thanks for their 'guidance and blessing' about this matter, from the STC, and allowed this to happen, is an outrage as well. Are the Equity Foundation 'movers-and-shakers' doing what they are doing, representing the performance artists in Australia for fair pay and working conditions, doing it for no wage? For surely they and the STC non-artist are  getting not only a wage, but experience and 'exposure', too? Would the Union Bosses at Equity, STC Administration, and NIDA staff do the work on CHIMERICA, if they weren't being paid? Probably not.

That NIDA has exposed its performing arts students to the harsh reality of what they are in training for - work but no pay. It must be part of the promised educative experience and exposure to the Sydney Performing Artists reality. Part of the new curricula approved by their Board of Studies - I guess?

It appears then, that three major Performing Arts organisations in Sydney do believe that  the Performing Artists on the major theatre stage in Sydney should not be paid. Even if it is at the STC - one of Australia's 'richest' theatre companies. 20 unpaid workers on their main stage, in a critically heralded production! Breathtakingly unbelievable in the 21st century in a first world economy, at the national flagship Performing Arts company: the STC! Their production of THE PRESENT, is 'flag waving', gathering International attention, one way or another, in New York. I wonder if anyone in New York will take notice of what this Company can offer, in work practice, to its other Australian artists? An AUSMERICA, exchange of business practice, that may become a role model for New York's theatre practice? With New York's Union rule, not likely. Perhaps, we can export it to China, as a role model in the new CHISTRAYA relations, then? Perhaps.

Exploitation of the local available amateur/student pool at the expense of the professional artist? Why anyone has not discussed this in a public forum is outrageously concerning, don't you think? Come on, this is 2017 not Dickensian 1817! Where has the ethical line moved to? The buildings at the STC are 'green' we are told, often, but that they are actor sparse - we are never told/advised.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Superhal


The Puzzle Collective and Shakespeare Twentyscore present, SUPERHAL, adapted by John Galea, from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One and Two, and Henry V, at the Parade Theatre, NIDA, Kensington. 7 March - 18 March.

Says John Galea, the Director and Script Editor, of SUPERHAL:
When watching Henry IV, Directed by John Bell, "I could see that there was a fully fledged archetypical origin story, a mythic father/son conflict (the source of Mario Puzo's Godfather) sitting in between history and legend. ... As usual, my head was full of sic-fi, fantasy and Marvel. ... I was encouraged by the hugely positive reaction to the Puzzle's 2012 production, THE TEMPEST - Steampunked! The thought occurred - what if we made Hal's story a literal Superhero Origin Story. ...
An inspiration. An idea.

Unfortunately, the ambitions of Mr Galea seem far beyond his present capabilities. The best of this three and a half hour experience in the theatre (that includes an interval, at which some of the audience left) is the editing of the two sources, Henry IV and Henry V. Though, don't you think that if you were to write or produce a Sci-fi, Marvel fantasy, that it would be in half the time? In 90 minutes not 180? More courageous editing should have gone on, or, were you really wanting to do a Shakespearean production? The other better thing is, that there is some clear language handling by some of the actors - unfortunately, not from all.

I am writing this not because this production should be seen, but out of an admiration for the artists, especially, the actors who have toiled and committed themselves to this production. Three and a half hours a night - and all that rehearsal time commitment! My Goodness. It represents, for me, the appetite of these artists and the sheer bloody hard work that they have given to get the opportunity just to practise their craft. This work should not go un-acknowledged, therefore. Appreciated, one way or the other, at least. And, it is therefore with some sadness that I cannot recommend that anyone, necessarily, make an effort to see it.

Richard Hilliar, as Henry/Hal, steers, imperturbably, through this immense challenge. He has some support from Emily Elise, John Michael Burdon, Kieran Foster and Emily Weare.

Some of the costumes are, individually, adventurous, but fail to represent a world - Superhero Marvel , Game of Thrones reach, or not. The Lighting is awfully pragmatic. The Composition and Sound design woefully unhelpful - cued to dominate textual clarity, often. The famous St Crispian speech, for instance, lost in gratuitous noise! What, Mr Galea, were you thinking? The Set Design, also, by Mr Galea, inadequate.

Bravo, to go where angels fear to tread - on the gigantic stage of the Parade Theatre Stage. SUPERHAL, represents a vision of a fantasy - on lots of levels - on behalf of Mr Galea and the Puzzle Collective. It is indeed a puzzle that there was not more sage advice given to the producers. One knows the expense of hiring this immense space.

Oh, my.

The courage and grit of the performing artists, I salute.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Blackrock

White Box in association with The Seymour Centre present, BLACKROCK, by Nick Enright, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 9 March -

In 1989 there was a horrendous beachside murder of a young girl during a surf club party that had social and political reverberations throughout the state of New South Wales (NSW). In 1992, the Freewheel Theatre in Education commissioned a play from Nick Enright: A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN, to bring discussion within the community of the cultural circumstances that could evolve such behaviour. In 1995, Mr Enright re-visited the material and for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), wrote BLACKROCK, under commission. In 1997, it was made into a film. I have always preferred A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN, as a piece of writing, and play.

In the Reginald Theatre, in an 80 minute, no-interval sitting, BLACKROCK, erupts its ugly world of male violence towards women, revealing a community of behaviour across two generations - parents and their children - in complicit acceptance of the status quo of its world. One has always known, if not publicly acknowledged, the reality of the world of this play, and watching it in 2017, it is even more disturbing, for NOTHING has really changed. (Just check out your daily news stories.) That this play was also a part of the Education Syllabus in NSW for many years is also a chilling challenge, to the belief that education may be a solution to bringing about change. For, few of us are what can be called 'evil' and what this play proposes is that it is rather a 'nurturing' by generational inheritance that is the source of the crimes of this kind. It is a sociological problem, which is a fundamental condition of our present societal construct. The change must happen with a social 'revolution' and the offering of equal opportunity, perhaps.

This production, Directed by Kim Hardwick, has all of Ms Hardwick's usual hallmark of visual details (e.g. THE SHADOW BOX), Designed, by Isabel Hudson - a black rock resting on a floor of shifting sand - and Lit by Martin Kinnane with sinister shifting effect, accompanied by a subtle soundscape, Composed, by Nate Edmondson.

The young cast playing the adolescents of the play: Danny Ball (Davo), Sam Delich (Ricko), Lucy Heffernan (Cherie), Tessa James (Rachel), Lucia Rose May (Shana), Joshua McElroy (Scotty), Alex Packard (Toby), Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba (Jared), and Kate Vozella (Tiffany), are supported by Zoe Carides (Diane Kirby), Noel Hodda (a trio of men - fathers and boyfriend), and Danielle King (Marian and Glenys).

The performances gained in strength as the night progressed, with Mr Delich, as Ricko, particularly, arresting - he had a presence of unpredictable danger. On the other hand, Mr Pavolic-Hobba (Jared), seemed inconsistent in his full commitment to all of his character's ugly and difficult journey - sometimes, there was demonstration of emotion rather than a steadier experiencing of truth to tell the story, by not always engaging in the detail of his text - trusting to a 'gist' of connection of thought and emotion to develop his action, and expressively, physically and vocally 'intellectually' contriving, giving us, peaks, bursts, at an overwrought pitch in effort, that derailed us out of involved belief - we were watching an actor 'act'.

The final moment, Directed by Ms Hardwick, gave us an optimistic smile from this character (Jared), with a nearby triumphant woman (Cherie) on the Blackrock, holding a surf board in a golden light, which seemed to undercut the truth of the experience of this play in the theatre, attempting to give a hopeful sheen to the events of the play. For, even in 2017, still, our present world and attitude to misogynistic violence has not altered one iota. It is, mostly, tolerated. The optimism of the final image is, then, a falsehood of what we know, has happened since 1995.

The 'girls' of the company were not as strong as the 'boys', Ms Heffernan and James were not consistent (or experienced) enough to have us believe the character's predicaments. Mostly, I felt that all the work - the adult characters, as well - seemed to need a deeper 'plumbing' - it sometimes 'demonstrated' rather than truly 'experienced' the circumstances of story and character, and resultedly, we were let off the true intensity of this world. This work requires much courage from the actors to create - it represents a true darkness of the human condition - not a comfortable or easy thing to commit to nightly. 'Pretending' well is not good enough.

The playwriting itself strikes a disconcerting note, and is one that, perhaps, dates this work as a valid statement for today, when the male bullies, intimidators, rapists and murders are suggested to be the 'victims', because of their societal 'playground'. They, after all, still, made choices. We need a new play, one written by a woman, perhaps, to speak to us today, and not a revival of BLACKROCK,  to take up the discussion. Patricia Cornelius, with SAVAGES, and SLUT, feels more pertinent than this exercise of graphic verbal violence.

BLACKROCK, is a confronting and unrelenting ugliness of our community, not only as a historical fact but as a present truth. This production can arrest one but, ultimately, fails to release the full terror, horror of the play's potential, and feels uncomfortably dated.

Calamity Jane


One Eyed Man Productions in association with Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Co presents, CALAMITY JANE, a musical, at the Hayes Theatre. 9 March - 1 April, 2017.

CALAMITY JANE, is adapted by Ronald Hanmer and Phil Park, from the stage play by Charles K. Freeman, after Warner Bros. film written by James O'Hanlon. Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Music by Sammy Fain.

Doris Day and Howard Keel made the Hollywood musical, CALAMITY JANE, in 1953, which began the super trajectory to Number 1 Box Office star for Doris day, for several years, beginning in 1960. Calamity was a real character and has become part of folklore - due to the many tales (exaggerated?) of her life and adventures, which she mostly told! Richard Carroll, the Director of this production, saw local Australian star, Virginia Gay as a natural fit for the title role of this musical, and as a result of a short showing of the show as part of the Neglected Musicals program in 2016, has hustled it into the main curation for 2017, onto the Hayes Theatre stage.

With Ms Gay and a rambunctious group of six other performers: Laura Bunting, Anthony Gooley, Sheridan Harbridge, Rob Johnson, Matthew Pearce and Tony Taylor, CALAMITY JANE, bursts onto this stage as a positively joyful and funny evening in the theatre - no exaggeration, honest - I, unlike Calamity, am not 'Careless with the Truth'. I laughed out loud often, and not just because of the writing and the broadness of the playing of the characters, but because of the energetic and confident audacity of the conception and execution of this hoary fifties musical offer.

The staging, with Set and smart Costume Design by Lauren Peters, has the audience seated in the middle of the action and sometimes active in the action! There is in 'style' under Mr Carroll's guidance, from these outrageous performers, a post-modern attack and employment of not only the musical theatre but a mash-up of vaudevillian and burlesque traditions that score a quick surrender from the audience to a participatory conspiracy to just have a looney escapist few hours of sheer and utter ridiculousness wrapped in a cliche musical theatre plot: of a girl and boy 'fun and games' tease that leads, in this production, to a happy ever-after triple wedding.

Oh, ahhh!

Virginia Gay has all the disarming gifts of a charming, modest, self-disparaging 'clown' that disperses the sentimentality of the original material with a wicked intelligence and a great skill that reminds one of some of the traits of Lucille Ball. Besides which, she has a singing voice that captures the sentiment and romantic lyrics of the piece with a twinkle-in the eye and winning smile, when needed, that in 2017, gives clue that there maybe something else going-on here, for when she sings the Academy Award winning song, MY SECRET LOVE, it can, for some of us, have a very special meaning, a kind of gaydar resonance - it is all part of the fun of this production.

The production could appear to be a rough-and-ready sprawl of energy but it is, truly, a highly disciplined mechanism of invented hilarity, with an admirable farcical discipline from all involved - the interaction is definitively alert and 'kickingly' alive.

For, surrounding Ms Gay, Sheridan Harbridge, in a number of personas: Susan, the 'niece' and bartender of the Golden Garter watering hole; Adelaide Adams, the star of the 'Chicagy' theatre world; and a pile of exceedingly hilarious characters in the bar - when needed to fill out the play's company of characters - offers a set of routines of comic genius that are, in what appears as nonchalant throwaway, a demonstration of a technically razor-sharp execution for result. As usual, Ms Harbridge, is a scene-stealer every time she is ushered into view and focused for attention (Nosferatutu). There is no selfishness here just the combustible joy of an artist who loves doing what she can do. And like Ms Gay, she has a voice that, in a different way, bring her songs to delightful delectation.

Further, Rob Johnson, among many responsibilities, has the wit and wickedness to play 'old Doc Pierce' with a juvenile 'coarseness' and follows it with Francis (with an 'i' not an 'e') Fryer, a hilarious and endearing invention, that in my estimation, launches Mr Johnson into a kind of centre-stage 'stardom' in the making. We have seen him before: CARRIE, TRIASSIC PARQ, MAN OF LA MANCHA, but, now, you will certainly remember that you have. A twinkling, endearing personality accompanied with intelligence and daring courage, skill. (I wondered what he would do with HALF A SIXPENCE?) Tony Taylor, too, is in top comic vaudeville form as Henry Miller, the Golden Garter owner in Deadwood City, keen to present the highest entrainment possible to the denizens of the city. In stalwart and indefatigable support, Anthony Gooley, makes a musical theatre debut as Wild Bill Hickock; Matthew Pierce, as the delicious male sex object, Lt. Danny Gilmartin; and Laura Bunting as the other woman and aspiring star, Katie Brown, and they all add sparkilng contributions to the evening's thrill.

Who could have thought that only 7 actors could whirl up such fun? Well, Mr Carroll did. He is assisted by the one man band at the stand-up piano, Nigel Ubrihiem, the Musical Director, heroic genius, really - really (and not a bad actor when needed). "WINDY CITY. THE BLACK HILLS OF DAKOTA and the aforementioned, MY SECRET LOVE, some of the songs to take home, humming. Cameron Mitchell, adds his magic in disguised physical mayhem that is really 'subtle' choreographic detail. Lighting is by Trent Suidgeest.

CALAMITY JANE, is a top night of fun and escapism. Well recommended. You'd be crazy to miss it. You will never watch the movie the same way ever again.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Films: Hidden figures - T2 Trainspotting - Fences

HIDDEN FIGURES

HIDDEN FIGURES, tells the story of African-American women,
mathematicians, involved crucially in the NASA Space Program in the
1960's, in its race with the Soviet Union and its Space program. In
2017, a story of timely importance, definitely politically, for our
times. It is an important story, then. I, I should confess, was moved,
cried and smiled often. Manipulated pleasantly like the rest of you.

This was despite the film-making having all the hall marks of an
Affirmative Action movie that Ticks All the Boxes on how to make a
popular commercial product. Now, there is nothing, essentially, wrong
with that except it is, in this case, irritatingly, too, too, obvious.
The Directing (Theodore Melfi), the Writing (Theodore Melfi and
Allison Schroeder), Editing (Peter Tescher) is all 'timed' to milk the
audience for its laughter, tears and comfortable political approval,
as if the 'Pavlov Dog' technique has been transposed for us dumb
suckers in the audience. The Production Design (Wynn Thomas), the Art
Direction (Jeremy Woolsey), the Set Dressing (Missy parker) the
Costume Design (Renee Ehrlich Kalfus), the colour, the lighting all
have the sheen of cleanliness and the unreality of a manipulative
cinematic experience. Goodness, those homes look as if they have come
from some sales catalogue of the period and the supposed everyday clothing
look like carefully made costume. This film is a cliche of movie making fantasy, at its best.

The performances are terrific, although Directed essentially in a very
knowing commercial understanding of cinematic type for all the
audience to have clear affiliations for each of them:

  1. Very attractive, sassy, provocative woman: Jenelle Monae. 
  2. Attractive, naive, single mum with adorable children but who is also a dependable nerdy genius: Taraji P. Henson. 
  3. Determined, wise and open hearted mother figure to all: Octavia Spencer. 
  4. Cranky but good hearted boss, a dutiful white American: Kevin Costner. 
  5. A white woman 'meanie', who is, perhaps, the victim of the system she works in, but has a heart-warming redeemable quality (scene) in the end (Ahhh!): Kirsten Dunst. 
  6. Handsome and Good man boyfriend (soon to be husband), happy to take on home duties for someone else's children: Mahershala Ali. 
  7. Handsome, good hearted, shake every hand - every hand - non-discrimatory space HERO: Glen Powell (as, John Glenn). 

All of it so awe-fully formula, a film school text book model.

I loved this film but I hate myself for giving in so easily to such
hokum.

Maybe, that's why I still go to the movies - for a little bit of
escapism: enhanced 'True Stories' that just make you feel good about
the world and being in it. Tra-la-la. In a kind of la la land!

I just wished it had had a little bit more pointy-end politics - and that is
the quality that allows me to lift the Australian film, THE SAPPHIRES
(2012), out of the slough of the above 'puffery' - though, to be honest, JUST.

Watching HIDDEN FIGURES with a white middle class audience
(my identity, too) in the suburban cinema of the Ritz in Randwick
and hearing them, on cue, laugh, sigh and tut-tut disapprovingly about the 'awful' racism of 1960's America had me reflect on our own present attitude to our Indigenous racism, still being practised in 2017.

I wondered how many of us had seen SAMSON AND DELILAH (2009),
and laughed, sighed and protested? And if they did see it, how many
thought it was a true picture of our Australia today? And what have
they done to change it? Come to think of it, how many really
understood the very muted politics of THE LAST CAB TO DARWIN (2015), and simply laughed and sighed and not discussed the issues? Euthanasia, Racism, etc,  inside the 'packaged' romantic escapism of most of the content and story-telling technique.

I understand, that despite not winning anything at the Academy Awards
HIDDEN FIGURES' box-office has been boosted and is doing very nicely: $182.7 million.
Then there is MOONLIGHT: $28 million. Which is the greater work? Film?

I hope you've seen both.

T2: TRAINSPOTTING

Twenty years ago the first film TRAINSPOTTING, hit the screens and
became a brilliant counter-culture slap in the face to all who saw it
- a cult favourite of the young. Following the lives of Renton (Ewan
McGregor), Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlye) and Spud
(Ewen Bremmer) in the underworld of the drug culture of Edinburgh
City, it was a full on adrenaline rush of image, soundtrack and
pathetic humanity. I remember, very vaguely, that experience, and
admit that, for me, the film was a fairly uncomfortable alpha-male
roller coaster. The world of Kubrick's 'ultra-violence' droogs from
THE CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) came threateningly back to haunt my psyche
in 1997.

Seeing this new film with Director Danny Boyle, re-uniting the
original actors, using John Hodges' screenplay, loosely based upon
Irvine Welsh's novels TRAINSPOTTING (1993) and PORNO (2002) we are
taken on a back to the future mix of the older film and the present -
we see these men as kids, as well as the hell raisers of 1997, and as
survivors of today. The characters have not really learnt
much/changed, and yet are still, oddly, embraceable even as alarming anti-heroes.
What is it? Have I become just more secure an individual? Have I, (at
last) grown up and gained some confidence and can, now, look the
threatening in the eye?

Ha, ha, I hope.

What is great about the film is the virtuosic, energetic Direction of
Danny Boyle; the Visual (Jon Harris) and Music editing (Allan Jenkins)
with an eye-pleasing Production Design of a vital, atmospheric colour
palette (Patrick Rolfe, Mark Tildesley) that illuminates the four
principal actors' wonderfully inspired characterisations. For Robert
Carlyle is just as frightening as ever; Jonny Lee Miller is still just
as pathetic a human being as ever and Ewan McGregor, just as
beguilingly seductive a crooked man. The real surprise is the empathetic
growth for our still heavily addicted Spud, created by Ewen Bremmer,
who finds encouragement and inspiration to write the history of his
'mates' adventures, and perhaps, a new life. As well, the sly double-act,
of the woman of the film Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova), who outplays
all the men, and like Renton of the original film, absconds with the
gang's money, giving a kinda feminist victory to the schemata of the
2017 story. (Reminiscent of the Patricia Arquette character in the
Tony Scott, Directed film TRUE ROMANCE, written by Quentin
Tarantino, of 1993)

Now, I know, after reading my objections to HIDDEN FIGURES, that my
championing of T2: TRAINSPOTTING, seems to be inconsistent. However, my
excuse is, that the manipulation of this film is kind of hidden in the
shelter-skelter energy of it all, there is so little down-time to
consider what Mr Boyle is doing, while watching the film,
unlike the plethora of relative down-time in the other.
The propulsion of the story and film-making is ecstatically
hectic and one just has to hold-on to one's seat and suck-up the offers
of entertainment without too much resistant judgemental thought.
These guys, this story, this world is criminally aberrant and ugly
and yet the exhilaration of the movie making is so tremendous that one
comes out of the cinema invigorated and pumping with life.

CHOOSE LIFE is the theme of both of the TRAINSPOTTING experiences
and the lesson that I took from the film was to let go of the past and move into the future.
If Spud can move on, anyone of us can. There is hope.

I recommend T2. I believe Danny Boyle a 'genius' Director of film
(despite the supreme manipulative skill and intent) - for, how could
one forget SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE? (2008) - now there's another example of high class manipulation, eh?

AHHHH!

FENCES

FENCES, is a screenplay by August Wilson (maybe with work from Tony
Kushner) of his 1985 Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, winning play. FENCES
is essentially a film of that play with five of the principal actors:
Denzil Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby and
Mykelti Williamson, reprising their roles from the 2010 Broadway
Theatre production. Jovan Adepo joined the company to play the young
son, Cory, for the film.

At 138 minutes this can be a long film for an audience unused to
listening to lots and lots of dialogue. But for those of you who can
cope to being an audience - that is able to take in the audio - FENCES
is an absorbing time in the cinema of a very old fashioned kind.

FENCES is one of ten plays that August Wilson wrote in what as become
known as THE PITTSBURGH CYCLE. These ten plays cover the lives of
families in each of the decades of the last century. It is told from an
African-American point-of-view. These magnificent plays are
unlikely to be seen, live, in Australia because of the casting problem. (I,
have had the good luck when working in the USA to have seen six of the
plays. They remind me, in dramaturgical structure, of the great Irish playwrights - Synge, O'Casey, Friel - with their story and characters). This film, then, is an opportunity for us to appreciate one of the great writers of the last century.

The writing is wonderful and all the performances are of a very high quality. Two reasons to urge you to pay attention and go see.

The film is Directed by Denzil Washington, in which he plays the anti-hero, Troy Maxson. Troy is a flawed man, unusual casting for Mr Washington. (It is interesting to look at the You Tube showings where you can see James Earl Jones playing the same character.) Unfortunately, Mr Washington has some major scenes with Viola Davis and the difference between what I regard as 'good' and 'great' acting is discernible when they are side-by-side, 'going at it'.

Ms Davis is, as usual, deeply invested in her creation and transforms the story of Rose Lee beyond the 'individual'  dimension into a deeply 'profound' observation and experience. Ms Davis has been nominated for three Academy Awards. She won the Academy Award for this work as Rose Lee Maxton, this year, deservedly. Who can ever forget her performance in DOUBT (2009), opposite Meryl Streep? It was the first time I noticed her and came to be a fan, an appreciator.

Jovan Adepo, as the son, Cory, scores in his performance, particularly, in the late scenes of
confrontation.

An old fashioned language driven experience of story and character revelation. Masterful. FENCES is worth seeing, particularly, if you love the theatre, too.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Young Russians


Sydney Symphony Orchestra presents, YOUNG RUSSIANS - Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, in the Concert Hall, at the Sydney Opera House. 1st, 3rd and 4th March.

YOUNG RUSSIANS was a program of music from three of the greats of music of the last century. Music from the three greats, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich right at the beginning of their career. All three pieces are auguries of their coming contribution to world music.

Sergei Prokofiev wrote his CLASSICAL SYMPHONY. OP 25 (SYMPHONY No. 1 in D) in the summer of 1917, at the age of 26, right at the beginning of the Bolshevik Russian Revolution. This symphony was inspired by the study of the composer Haydn. There is nothing too slavish in imitation of the Haydn influence and it uniquely finds its own identity with a freshness of youthful and good humoured energy that virtually gambols delightfully over a very brief but exhilarating 15 minutes. It was composed in the country outside St Petersburg away from the disturbances of urban revolution. Its 'sunniness' belies the atmosphere of the world shaking incidents of the politics of his country. Within a year he had fled from Russia to the safety of the West.

At the age of 19 Sergei Rachmaninoff, in 1892, graduated from the Moscow Conservatory with the Great Gold Medal, with his graduation piece the PIANO CONCERTO NO 1 IN F SHARP MINOR, OP.1. It was a great success and quickly published. But Rachmaninoff was discontent with the work and winced at its appearance in the repertoire. So much so that he shut himself up in his flat in Moscow, having left the family country estate in the turmoil of the revolution in 1917, and re-examined his teenage concerto. It did not result, so the musical historians tell me, in much overhaul of the work's musical language - although he made 'thematic presentation, orchestration and the piano solo part more subtle and sophisticated. The piano contribution still demanding and virtuosic - tailor-made for a pianist of Rachmaninoff's fearsomely complete technique and romantic disposition.' Soon after this composition re-write, he and his family, like Prokofiev, had done, fled Russia.

This performance in the Concert Hall was played by 25 year old Russian pianist, Daniil Trifonov - another YOUNG RUSSIAN. In The New Yorker, in a profile-review by Alex Ross, there was a distinction made 'between furore and sensation'. Trifonov creates a furore. His playing of this Concerto on Friday night was driven by a demonic possession of the music with his whole body invested in the interpretation of the score with all of its pianistic technique and emotional intensity and subtleties. It was a thrilling performance. I looked at the piano and hoped it would survive - it did. Whether Mr Trifonov will do is another question - his passionate physicality is full-on. This performance seemed to augur a glorious future for this musician. He played, as encore, a small work of his own. Mr Trifonov, a pianist-composer, too! It was a gift to see and hear such a 'furore' as this YOUNG RUSSIAN, so early in his career - a night to remember in music going in Sydney.

In 1919 at the age of 13 Dmitri Shostakovich entered the St Petersburg Conservatory, although it was then Petrograd, and by the time he graduated, the city had again changed name and become Leningrad. This was in 1926 and his graduation work was the SYMPHONY NO 1 IN F MINOR, OP. 10. It was immediately a success and championed around the world. Shostakovich, this YOUNG RUSSIAN, became a world star in time meteoric. His early life money difficulties had him playing in silent cinemas as a pianist improviser. This may account for the dramatic narrative of his great scores - he also wrote music for the Russian Cinema (HAMLET - 1964; KING LEAR - 1971) - but also should underline the influence of film makers such as Charlie Chaplin, explaining, perhaps, the satirical and humorous nature of much of his music. This symphony is a relatively brief 28 minutes long but presages the dramatic/comic contrasts of all the modes of musical orchestration that he will employ in his maturity. Shostakovich never left Russia and lived and worked in the tremendously dark periods of Stalin, World War II and the Cold War age of history. His music reflects that struggle to be an expressive artist in a repressive regime. (I recommend the novel, THE NOISE OF TIME, by Julian Barnes for further insight into this great Composer's life.)

I had never heard the No 1 Symphony live before. The conductor, Gustavo Gimeno, a Spanish artist, drew from the orchestra detail of orchestration with consummate ease and discipline. All three works were revealed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Gimeno, with great clarity and expressive generosity. This was a Concert that gave great pleasure.

Tribunal


PYT FAIRFIELD presents, TRIBUNAL, a devised verbatim work led by Karen Therese, at the PYT Performance Space in Fairfield. 2 March - March11.

TRIBUNAL, was presented last year in a short and sold out season at the SBW Stables Theatre. This re-mounting of the work has been prepared for the local audience of Fairfield, the 'home' of the young theatre company.

What was exciting about the showing in Fairfield is to experience the sense of community and its support for one another. In the foyer we were regaled by The Choir of Love, invited to dance, and offered coffee and tea with some savoury and sweets from The Parents Cafe, an Iraqi organisation working within the Fairfeild community, for the community.

The joy was palpable.

Indigenous representative, Senior Yuin Law man Uncle Max Dulmunmun Harrison led a Smoking Ceremony inviting us to experience 'Truth what you see, truth what you hear, truth what you speak.'

The respect and gravity was palpable.

Then, we were led into the theatre for the performance of Tribunal. TRIBUNAL begins with Aunty Rhonda Grovenor Dixon, robed in her possum skin cloak, welcoming us and calling into order a tribunal. On a small red carpet the participants stand and we hear, during the performance the story of the Indigenous people and, especially, of Aunty Rhonda's personal story, living in Australia as an Indigenous woman, over the recent past sixty odd years. We also meet Mahdi Mohammadi and Jawed Yaqoubi, two Middle Eastern refugees, with a joint and individual story in dealing with the Australian Government authorities in their pursuit of safety from a murderous regime. They have been here, relatively, only months. Karen Therese repeats verbatim the story of a lawyer and his interaction with the Australian bureaucracy in his efforts to assist the refugees. Katie Green, an ex-Red Cross worker, talks of the chaotic process that she participated in in assisting arriving refugees, whilst Paul Dwyer, who has edited the material thrown up in the rehearsal/development process, participates as an actor to facilitate the inter-active scenes of the performance. The audience is invited to ask questions and comment. Sarah Coconis gave some insight into the psychological impact of the refugee treatment in the Detention Camps and the practice of the many different Visa conditions applied by the authorities. In just over an hour much is revealed.

Having seen TRIBUNAL in its first incarnation, I was impressed with the development of confidence and impact of the content of the work that as grown over time. All the artists seem to be in much further control of what they are doing and the subsequent power of the simple storytelling is even more provocative and unsettling. The artists seem to be comfortable in their local environment, modest, humble and simple with no sign of anger, rather patience and hope. This is a work that is of vitality and importance coming from within a local community facilitated by PYT, a theatre company in the local converted School of Arts Hall. It is a performance that needs to be witnessed.

The seriousness and honour of this group of artists is palpable.

Sound Design is by James Brown. Video Design by Sean Bacon. Two valuable assets to the work.

The excitement of arrival in the welcoming Fairfield home of PYT is balanced by the sobering information of the work. But, however, stirred to anger and/or frustration, a feeling of democratic/human impotence percolates up in regard to the governmental policies. What can I do?

One does feel, that TRIBUNAL, at its conclusion reveals the exhilaration of a community that is united to speak of such urgent and confronting issues, concerning us all, and one's spirit is raised to a state of  respectful awe.

'We dedicate The TRIBUNAL to the lives of the 55 asylum seekers who drowned on the 10th June 2013 as sat in Adelaide and London developing this work. Their tragic death formed the inspiration of the work."

'Truth what you see, truth what you hear, truth what we speak.'

Do Go.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Richard 3


Bell Shakespeare present, RICHARD 3, by William Shakespeare, in the Playhouse Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 25 February - 1st April.

RICHARD III is a play written by William Shakespeare c. 1592, early in his career. The Bell Shakespeare present at the Sydney Opera House RICHARD 3,  a dramaturgical collaboration between Director, Peter Evans and actor Kate Mulvany using the Shakespeare original. The play has been hand-crafted with this actor and company in mind, it seems. This is their third collaboration, JULIUS CAESAR and MACBETH, being the previous two.

Kate Mulvany is also playing this Richard 3, and in this version's adaptation, Richard is centre stage, to such extent that at this production's end, it has been contrived that Richard, dead, after the sword duel  with the victorious Richmond on Bosworth Field (in this production using what look like Japanese swords - Movement and Fight Director, Nigel Poulton), reappears, crosslegged on the floor of the stage, and instead of the original ending where Shakespeare's Richmond, soon to be Henry VII, unites the Red and White rose for England's peace, we are given to an explanatory speech, taken from Shakespeare's Henry VI - Third Part, where this Richard 3 seems to want to justify his villainous career as a revenge for the disabled body he had been 'birthed' with:
I that have neither pity, love, nor fear.
Indeed, 'tis true that Henry told me of;
For I have often heard my mother say
I came into this world with my legs forward:
Had I not reason, think ye, to make haste,
And seek their ruin that usurp'd our right:
The midwife wonder'd; and the women cried,
O, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!
And so I was, which plainly signified
That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog.
Then, since the heavens shaped my body so,
Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer it.
I have no brother, I am like no brother;
and this word love, which greybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another,
And not in me: I am myself alone. 
In this Bell Shakespeare, Richard 3, appeals, in an epilogue, taken from another play, for empathetic understanding this Richard 3's 'crimes': "That all my witnessed behaviour has been a revenge from a bullied, disabled individual": "Then, since the heavens shaped my body so, Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer it." A conceit that is appalling in its baldness, but as it is made by one of Sydney's 'darling' actors (in a proper sense), it could be a final winning gesture of persuasion, for some to consider it.

This actor/adaptor, Kate Mulvany, like Shakespeare's Richard III, a great actor/manipulator, winsomely, coaxes us to her Richard's justification - indeed, she is a consummate player who can slip into any role with ease - and so, may have persuaded some of us to empathise with this infamous character. Indeed, on opening night there was a standing ovation at the conclusion of this speech (and the play). Wickedly, I asked later, "Was it for Ms Mulvany, or this Richard 3's appeal of understanding?" We do live in such a P.C. (and post-modern) world these days!

Ms Mulvany seems to be inspired by the opportunity given her to play Richard, Duke of Gloster (Gloucester), and gives a performance of some great arrest. The intellectual acuity of her textual reading, the startling vocal ownership of every word, the careful and utterly convincing physical choices are all impelled by a fierce and totally committed energy force that demands attention and keeps it. She often has her Richard directly communicate knowingly, wittily, with us, making us a kind of enabler through all and every convolution of the merciless ambition of this Duke of Gloster. It is a gripping performance.

There is no game of gender politics evident in this casting, it is, simply, the casting of an actor in a role. And Ms Mulvany relishes and justifies that decision. There is no male impersonation going on here, it is the expert possession of character. Great acting is a kind of permission of 'possession' by the actor to the invention of the writer. Ms Mulvany believes she is Richard (has inhaled him into every sinew) and the performance is absolutely invested with that belief. And it is here with the contrast between her startling work, as Richard, and the other performer's work lies a problem for the production.

Similarly to my many experiences of Michael Gow's AWAY, I have seen many Richard, Duke of Gloster's, so as to have a bench mark of expectation around this role. On stage: Antony Sher, John Bell (twice), and one of the most thrilling, Thomas Campbell in Kate Gaul's version in 2009, Ewan Leslie in the exciting 2010 Melbourne Theatre Company's production and Mark Rylance in the Globe production in the London West End (coupled with his remarkable TWELFTH NIGHT). Then, of course there are film versions of which Laurence Olivier's dominate one's memory. Ms Mulvany's performance sits in the same Ring of Respect that they all do.

The problem for Bell Shakespeare is that one needs an ensemble of actors that can match the powerhouse of the leading character. Ms Mulvany cannot carry this play by herself. Not any of her co-hort can match her energy, clarity, and brilliance, consistently. Not one of them offer Ms Mulvany's Richard with any stakes of opposition. For instance, James Evans' Buckingham has the intelligence of the text, can speak the verse well enough, but has no inner life or any energy to countermand the passionate offers of this Richard 3. The final interlude between these two criminals, Richard and Buckingham, is a dull exchange enlivened by only one of the participants. In the moments when Ms Mulvany is not in the thick of the action onstage the production falls into relative sloughs of inert dullness and, often, incomprehensibly.

The Direction, by Peter Evans, has collaborated with Designer, Anna Cordingley, and Lighting Designer, Benjamin Cisterne, to create a glamorous nightclub - a rich person's home bar? - equipped with a 'dumb-waiter' and a kind-of surveillance video screen, with the other nine actors sitting permanently around the Set, in costume of some wealthy finery, across eras of fashion, seeming to be involved in an evening entertainment of role-playing a Shakespearean play, as Mr Evans tells us in his reported program conversation as "a kind of party or convention". It is as if the characters of DOWNTON ABBEY are having an indulgent night of horseplay - my kingdom for a horse, indeed. Or, is it a fanciful exercise of a new BBC episode of THE CROWN, to explain some of the other history of the 'family' with Handel's 1727 Coronation composition ZARDOK THE PRIEST, (Composition, Steve Toulmin; Sound Design, Michael Toisuta), 'house-music-uped' and original, escorting us into the lugubrious presence of this House of York?

All the players are virtually on stage the whole of the performance and has their characters, hovering and haunting the space with their presence. The men: Gareth Reeves, Ivan Donato, James Lugton, James Evans, Kevin MacIsaac, get to play up to three personages while the women stay, bar Rose Riley (who is not only Anne but also a Prince), play the one character all the night: Sandy Gore (a ponderous vocally velvet tamed middle-class Queen Margaret - no 'Mad' Margaret here), Meredith Penman (an emotionally plumped Queen Elizabeth, easily reduced to naturalistic anger and tears) and Sarah Woods (a decidedly suburban-type, Duchess of York - reminiscent, to me, of the present Queen's late mother in temper). For the men the costume changes, unfortunately, do not efficiently demarcate the many characters that they are burdened with, and without much, if any physical adjustments by the actors, a pre-existent knowledge of the play is an absolute necessity to understand what is happening (WTF?) (It is an odd conceit to believe that the audience has a knowledge of the play as keen as the Director or Actor on stage, is it not? Some of the audience, if not most, will be meeting this play for the first time, and peeling off parts of clothing might not be sufficient clarity for story or character).  For all of Ms Mulvany's clarity the rest of the play production is mostly shrouded in a fog of half-hearted, half-energised charades.

What can one say?

To not see Ms Mulvany's extraordinary performance, as Richard 3, would be a loss, to regular theatre goers. So, I recommend that you study up the play (read it, or watch the Olivier version, at least), and then go with a prepared 'guide' to help you hurdle the conundrum of Mr Evans' Direction. It is a better job than his OTHELLO, at least. Mr Evans is his program notes tried to draw Mr Trump's presence into the production's validity. Might not Mr Putin or, considering recent events in Malaysia, Kim Jong-un be more appropriate? Ah, well. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Handel's Messiah - Australian Brandenburg Orchestra


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, presents HANDEL'S MESSIAH, in the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney. March, 2017.

Paul Dyer, leader of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, has invited a young theatre Director, Constantine Costi, to prepare, with him, a performance of George Frederic Handel's, MESSIAH. In a speedy two hour performance, including interval, this great and famous English Oratorio, has all barefooted - orchestra, chorus, soloists and conductor - perhaps, that the reason for fleet-footed tempo. THE BAREFOOT MESSIAH, in the City Recital Hall.

In the program notes we are told that
Handel always intended his oratorios as entertainment, to be performed in playhouses and theatres, and they were never meant to be sung as a part of a church service.
In fact my last hearing of this work was in the Christ Church St Laurence, in 2012, although most have been in Concert Halls. As a child the choruses of 'Unto Us a Child is Born' and the 'Halleljuah Chorus' were highlights on one of dad's L.P. collection. (The use of the 'Hallelujah Chorus' in cinema surround sound at the Plaza Cinerama Theatre in George St, [the shell of that Cinema space still standing - believe it or not], in George Stevens' film THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965), when the actor Van Heflin is seen running from the empty tomb of Jesus, signifying, perhaps, the Christ's (Max Von Sydow) resurrection, was one of many startling moments of that ponderous cinematic experience and was as arresting, and is as an indelible a memory, as the one of John Wayne, in Centurion garb, telling us at the foot of the cross of the crucifixion, spear in hand, that: "This truly was the Son of God", in his famous yankee drawl. I, of course, own a DVD copy - the crazy impressionism of youth!)

MESSIAH, was first presented in Dublin, 1741, after a swift composition of 24 days by Handel, using the scriptural text by Charles Jennes. When first presented in London, a little later, it was not much appreciated. History has reversed that original London reception to make it the most performed work in the Handel repertoire. Handel finding a public reaction against the Italian Opera form and appreciating the 'satire' of the popular hit of the John Gay and Johann Christoph Pepusch's THE BEGGAR'S OPERA, (1728), he  began to write Oratorio as a money making alternative. He wrote his last opera, as  in 1741, after its failure, the same year as MESSIAH. It resembles opera but is not written in dramatic form. The singers do not assume dramatic roles, the writing is not to dramatise the story but, rather, to acclaim the "Mystery of Godliness", through the stages of Christ's Nativity, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. There is no impersonation of character or direct speech.

The semi-staging of this work by Mr Costi in collaboration with Designers, Genevieve Graham and Charlotte Mungomery, with dramatic lighting by Peter Rubie, is scattered across the stage, even up to the height of the organ platform, and around the floor level of the auditorium, with one startling aria from the Bass singer, David Greco, from a side-on first level balcony lean-over. Not all could see him, without risking life and limb, and goodness knows what the sound was like in the many different places of audience in the hall. What was gained as theatre was not always a bonus for the music and singing, for all. Some of the staging of the barefooted, costumed soloists, gave the 'sacred' texts the appearance of a 'seduction', of dramatic love-making between singers that shifted some comprehension - appreciation - of the Oratorio, definitively away from 'sacred' contemplation, to distracting 'secular' provocations.

The Brandenburg Chorus sang well and carried off their staged movements with great discipline. The production, then, had wins as well as losses. This presentation will be appreciated, vastly, along lines of personal taste. I was, unusually, underwhelmed by the performance. Whether it was the 'editing' of the material or the theatre staging, I cannot say. The program notes tell us that before the original London performance, "scheduled, by Handel, for the 23rd March, he was attacked in the newspapers by those who were scandalised by 'a religious performance in a Playhouse', and the performance was ' but indifferently relished'", and it was not until 1750 when it was performed as a charity fundraiser at the Foundling Hospital orphanage that MESSIAH really took off in its popularity.

Mr Dyer, was energetic with his Musical Direction, and kept his orchestra at a robust tempo, his choir attentive and eager. Lucia Martin Carton, a young Spanish soprano, Nicholas Spanos, a Greek countertenor, Kyle Bielfield a tenor from the USA, and David Greco, an Australian Bass carried the joint responsibilities of theatre staging and singing with aplomb. Mr Greco, for me, especially impressive.

Interestingly, Glyndebourne's 2015 production of SAUL, an oratorio by Handel from 1738-39, Directed by Barrie Kosky, is to be seen at the Adelaide Festival, in a full operatic 'cry'. It is, supposed to be tremendous. Check the Adelaide Festival electronic site.

This theatre staging of MESSIAH, is, in contrast modest in its vision. Modest in its overall success, too.