Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Lie With Me

Photo by David Hooley

Brave New World presents, LIE WITH ME, by Liz Hobart, at The Old 505 Theatre, 5 Eliza St, Newtown. 2 - 13 October.

LIE WITH ME, is a new Australian work by Liz Hobart. This is a new iteration of this project that has been in development over a period of almost 2 years.

It examines the circumstances of a 'serial' killer. It focuses in on the parents of the young man - Sebastian - and the devastating effects that it has on them. Questions of responsibility in the manners and hazards of bringing up a child - whether the unhappy marriage shadowed the young son's choices - talk of whether the behaviour was generated by Nurture or Nature, and the concept of what is evil, surface during this near 90 minute presentation.

It, too, illustrates the collateral damage to this family in the glare of a relentlessly interested media, and shows the different mechanisms that the mother and father use to weather the gratuitous appetite of the public's interest and the psychological pressure effect exercised upon them - although, LIE WITH ME, has an Australian location the case of American, Jeffery Dahmer, seems to be a catalyst to the play's inquiry, although, not exclusively.

This story is told by three women, Lyn Pierse, Nathalie Murray and Julia Robertson, necessitating that they play all the roles - male or female - invented by the writer and co-devisor, Director, Warwick Doddrell.

Ms Pierse, as the mother, Janice, sits in the central position of our interest, and invests considerable focus, empathy and professional skill in maintaining character exposition and interrogation. She manages to present, within the opportunities of the writing, a complex woman of simple needs, thrust, unexpectedly, into the spotlight of insatiable curiosity. There is neither sentimentality nor histrionics in the creation of this woman but, with the strength of Ms Pierse's presence, we are given a woman that demands our respect for her great personal difficulties and ultimate tragedy. This is an amazing theatrical 'coup' from Ms Pierse, for, when one watches closely and observes that besides creating and charting the dilemma of Janice, Ms Pierse, as well, is having to also to be a technical 'instrument' - stage-hand - in the moving of the furniture, props etc to facilitate the action circumscribed by the writer and Director - at one stage managing the positioning of 10 chairs and a table, by herself, in the midst of the progress of the narrative.

This multifarious bind of tasks, no less encumbers, Ms Murray and Robertson in being able to deliver a clear demarcation for the number of characters and dramaturgical functions each has narrative responsibility for. Both these actors are astonishing to the commitment of the demands of the production both character-wise and technically, negotiating the demands of the Director with élan.

There is ambition and a vision in the staging 'manner' that Mr Doddrell is pursuing, although, for me, it sometimes overweighed the clarity of the story, and distracts from the content interest in the writing. This was a flaw in his recent production modes for STUPID FUCKING BIRD, which was burdened with Directorial/Auteurial flourishes at the expense of the clarity of the storytelling, of the writing. Set and Costume, by Isabella Andronos; Lighting Design, by Sophie Pekbilimli; Sound Design, by Ben Hinchley: complicated tasks well executed under demanding terms.

The collaboration with the writer Liz Hobart, by Mr Doddrell, needs a stricter focus/control on the number of strands of concern/debate/enquiry - its interests are too diverse and/or are not always fully woven into a co-herent fabric. The text needs more discipline, a clearer focus, editing.

LIE WITH ME, is interesting for not focusing on the "Monster" but rather on those innocents about it and the rippling 'waves' of consequence that tragically envelopes them. Not, necessarily, as subject matter  under explored, but, empathetically, a serious position of focus for a world where the news can become a cause celebre engulfing all in its wake, tragically, disastrously.

Maggie Stone

Photo by Robert Catto

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents, MAGGIE STONE, by Caleb Lewis, at The Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 29th September - 21st October.

MAGGIE STONE is an Australian play by Caleb Lewis. It was written eight years ago. This is its first outing in Sydney.

Maggie Stone (Eliza Logan), a let-herself-go, middle-aged lower rung corporate slave - small loans officer - struggles to maintain an equilibrium of pleasantness around the 'service' she is meant to dole out. Coming from a past that sat in the fringes of criminality her tolerance for everyday courtesy is severely impaired, for, from where she comes, calling a spade a spade was the usual no frills manner that unequivocally worked - saving time and effort. Her job is on the line with two complaints racked up against her - one more chance is left.

Enter Benedict Deng (Thuso Lekwape), a Sudanese refugee, who, seeking a small loan is rejected by Ms Stone, during a session where she is eating her lunch from Maccas and is slightly distracted and therefore pissed off - 'it's my lunch break, for God's sake!' Her decision is by-the-book but could have been given - I mean, if your pissed-off, you're pissed-off! Right? He leaves and foolishly pursues the wrong means to meet his needs. This brings his wife, Amath Deng (Branden Christine) and angry son Benny Deng (Thuso Lekwape) into her arena of consciousness and has her conscience and sense of human charity, unusually, aroused. Is it her sense of physical mortality - Col's and her own - that blows that small flame into a fire of action?

Set in Melbourne, we meet a world of refugees - Sudan and Syria (Amath, played by Kate Bookallil) - all trying to honestly get their lives moving in small business, some having to resort into the ambit of petty criminals, in this instance, a money lender, Leo Hermes (Alan Dukes), who takes cruel fiscal advantage and makes tough debt demands that result in fear, terror and death. It is a dramatic co-incidence that Leo is an acquaintance of Maggie.

The hard-won 'charity' offered by realist Maggie to Amath Deng is contrasted to the White Christian Charity of a privileged do-gooder, Georgina Spack (Anna Lee). The play begins as a kind of comic-satiric observance that shifts, in its no-interval 90 minute length, into drama to tragedy with a serious intention of social critique glimmering through the construct.

I enjoyed the journey and was pleasantly surprised with the deft turnings in mood so as to accommodate the plot and thematic concerns of Mr Lewis' writing, that have some real pertinency for us, today. Despite, that the play is eight years old, it seemed to me spot-on, unfortunately, still, in the urgency of its conversation concerning race and class prejudice, the plight of the refugee, the morality of cultural and human survival in a profit driven world, and of the motivations and dignity of charity, for both the receiver and the giver. It takes courage to receive charity says one of the characters - that set me watching the events of the play through an entirely new lens.

All the performances coaxed from the actors by Director, Sandra Aldridge, had the clear focus of 'function' that each character represented in the schemata of Mr Lewis' writing, with the addition of a light but right depth to back-story 'method' identification and ownership for us to be able to believe in them and the story to absorb the dramaturgical sociological critique with ease. The Design, by Sallyanne Facer, facilitated the swift changes of location on the broad width of the Eternity Theatre stage, assisted particularly well by the Lighting Design from Matt Cox and the composition and Sound Design of David Bergman.

MAGGIE STONE, is a recommended night at the theatre.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Accidental Death Of An Anarchist



Sydney Theatre Company and Adshell present, an Australian Adaptation by Francis Greenslade and Sarah Giles, of ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST by Dario Fo, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. September 10 - October 27.

ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST, is a play written by Italian Writer, Actor, Dario Fo, in 1970, in response to the death of Giuseppe Pinelli, following his arrest under suspicion of being responsible, as a terrorist, for a bomb explosion at a busy bank in Piazza Fontana, at the centre of Milan, in which sixteen people were killed and around ninety were injured. Pinelli was subjected to 72 hours of interrogation before 'falling' to his death from the station's fourth-storey window. The preliminary investigation concluded that the evidence pointed to 'accidental death'. A second inquiry claimed it was a suicide. "Was he pushed?" became the question of the hour, as inconsistency after inconsistency in the evidence was gradually revealed to the public. This play, '... ANARCHIST', came to fruition as a counter-inquiry to the misinformation being spread on both sides of the political landscape. Though, Pinelli, the 41 year old railway worker was indeed an anarchist by conviction, he was also a staunch pacifist, and a quiet family man. He has often been referred to as 'the seventeenth victim of Piazza Fontana'.

Fo began his career as a writer and actor of provocative sketches for Italian radio, became a 'variety Star' on television, and, with his wife Franca Rame, moved into creating work for the theatre, independent of sponsorship, finding critical success in a series of farces responding to current issues of the day, which put them both under the watchful eye of the government censorship and other establishment institutions (such as the church). From the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) program notes: "The right wing of the Christian Democratic Party was in government at the time, whilst the main opposing party was the Italian Communist Party. Each side using covert forces in an attempt to topple the other, it was a period of secrecy and unparalleled scandal ... Historians describe an "Italy of mysteries', whose course was determined by 'faceless men' and 'uncontrollable forces' acting as an 'alternative state'. ... Extremism on both sides - the left preaching revolution (Communists), the right (neo-fascists) working to bring a coup d'etat, creat(ing) a double threat of violence and terror". Fo and Rame were not affiliated to any organised political body but with Marxist teachings fuelling their world view were 'goaded by a situation of necessity' wrote and performed '... ANARCHIST,'  as they felt that anger and action was the most respectful response to Pinelli's death.

ANARCHIST was built from 'zealously collected available material, using information passed on from journalists aligned with his cause and directly quoting some of the most ridiculous lines from both official inquiries. Pinelli was the anarchist of Fo's title, but other principal characters like the Inspector Pisani and the journalist Maria Feletti also have counterparts in the true story.'

Establishing the truth was not a matter of revenge, Fo insisted, but an essential step in enabling (citizens) to recognise the 'barbarities' of the present to prepare for the future. So, he wrote a grotesque farce about a tragic farce, scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the down trodden.

Fo was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature twice, and accepted it, finally, in 1997, surprised and shocked, that this august representative of the Establishment Order was so persistent, declaring that, they, the Establishment, usually took great pains to shut him up and clap him in handcuffs.

The STC has commissioned an adaptation for their production from Francis Greenslade, and the Director, Sarah Giles. It is a fairly faithful and respectful adaptation, using the comedy tropes of the Italian traditions of commedia dell'arte and of the giullari (Medieval strolling players) that have evolved into the great contemporary theatre 'clowns': caricature, comedy 'patterned' routines - the lazzi - and the ingenious use of props for creating and extending visual jokes, and incorporating the political ridiculousness and boisterous playfulness of the Fo.

ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST, fitted into the STC's 2018 season and its exploration of power and social responsibility - e.g.THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI - and Kip Williams in his Message in the STC program goes on to say:
Where the programming of this play really clicked into place was when Sarah (Giles) proposed a thrilling and audacious idea. What if the anarchist - a role traditionally played by a man - were played by a woman, namely comic genius Amber McMahon? More still, if the entire cast of male roles were played by women in drag? ... We both buzzed with excitement at Sarah's vision for this play: using an all-female cast to explode the play's examination of structures of male authority. ... ' 
Ms Giles says:
All signs pointed to this version of this play. The idea of an all female cast highlighted Dario Fo and wife Franca Rame's politics in a way that felt truly exciting - it breathed a new life into the play for me. ... To do these things is a political act. ...'

Certainly, the premise of Fo's play, in the face of another Prime Ministership change erupting from the inner machinations of the factions within a political party; the recent ructions of the revealed 'culture' wars between the present government and the supposed independent Australian Broadcasting Corporation - the ABC - and their appointed representatives; the 'criminal' behaviours of our Financial Institutions by a Royal Commission, to be exposed, seemingly, abetted by a 'sleeping' governmental power structure; and the glaring facts of the lack of women represented in positions of decision (power), clangs loudly, ominously, when we read of 'the mysteries of Italy' that Fo wished to interrogate crowded with 'faceless men', 'uncontrollable forces' creating 'alternative states' and to glance at the present state of our own Democratic Pillars of Community.

The women in this company: Caroline Brazier (Superintendent), Julie Forsyth (Inspector Bertozzo), Bessie Holland (Inspector Pisani), Annie Maynard (Maria Felettti/ Constable 1), Amber McMahon (The Maniac) and Susie Youseff (Constable 2) have created 'in drag', with Costume, Wig and Make-up help, an hilarious band of hapless men, each of the actors wearing their 'identities' with a supercilious, satirical relish - they seem to be enjoying the joke of the appropriation of sexual identity and skewering it to a sticking post, even if it were being done, I perceived, gently, even with respect! - odd, I thought, that there was no viciousness of cultural retribution, or, maybe, Kevin, that is too male a trait for these actors to employ or feel? Too much?

Julie Forsyth is, however, amazing and Bessie Holland, frightening.

What I wished more of with these performances was to be able to see, feel, the reason of why they were doing it, why they had agreed to adopt/adapt their roles - one wished that within the cleverness of the creations that they have made that there was, as well, the necessary political fury of the #Metoo movement and its growing profile. The actors seemed to be too careful within their physical constructs, too polite, and lacked the daring of spontaneity in the physical comedy - no anger which was the dynamic fuse of the Fo clowns in the original, no anger at their sex's subjugation to the male contsruct about them - they lacked the possible danger of their 'drag-King' choice, they were held in by safety first, possibly for clarity.

This may have come from the 'harnessed' bourgeoise comedy of manners that this text and style of production pursued, under the inspiration of Mr Greenslade and Ms Giles, both, ultimately purposed to comic exactitudes of timing with funny dialogue of positive ridiculousness and rehearsed routines, technically imprisoned with each other, with some props, with some scripted sound cues/jokes and with special visual effects, that in their execution were performed for a safety's sake, respectfully.

There was no risk in-the-moment going on, no real zaniness on stage, no 'circus', no-one metaphorically swinging on a trapeze without a net beneath them. These performers had hoisted themselves onto a 'trapeze' of dangerous impersonation (will we succeed?) but kept the net below, tautly stretched. What? Why? To keep them from artistic humiliation? They were expert but 'netted', collared.

There were Artists on stage but no zanies, no disturbers of the peace - no 'Furies', no Drag Kings! These performers gave us the literal version of the euphemism of 'THE KINDLY ONES' rather than true social/cultural FURIES. There was no sweat of fear of the fury overtaking them, no fear of arrest, by the infuriated champions of the present status quo on this stage. There was, absolutely, no need to shut this company up or to put them in handcuffs. They wore the trappings of male impersonation, they politely exposed the ridiculousness and stupidity of these men in that guise - as the men in the original would have had to do in their guise of commedia clowns, because of the writing's demands. These wonderful actors did not go into satiric fury, where angels fear to tread passions, despite this given opportunity.

We are told that Fo, in the first production, would improvise a prologue discussing the latest daily political developments and events connecting them to the central themes of the '... ANARCHIST'. One has read of his company's penchant for off-the-cuff improvisation within the structure of the scripted work - following the traditions of the commedia dell'arte - and one longed for this STC company to cut loose and bring the pregnant commonalities of the contemporary Australian political scene into the centre of this work. These actors hardly broke into authentic possession of anger.
There was no identifying connection to the growing fury, 'revolution', that some of the Australian community feels at this time with its own governments' power machinations, and the present status of women in our society, let alone with the international circus of the US politics and the outrages of the Kavannagh nomination to its Supreme Court and the degradation of the courage of Christine Blasey Ford (and all women). None of this currency seemed to occur, as an energy force to fuel this production. We, instead watched well rehearsed artists on the stage in the Drama Theatre in the Sydney Opera House. There were no anarchists on stage, simply comic actors managing plotted laughs, very, very well. There was no sweat from the effort  to maintain restraint, it was already restrained. There was no visible grasping for control of the creative need for this play to be spoken, now, today, in the Opera House, by these women, for it, all, was sedately in control, in tidy rehearsed restraint, for a comfortable night in the theatre. A production that would entertain and not, definitely NOT,  'disturb the horses'.

I have fond memories of the rapturous bourgeois reception of Brecht's THE THREEPENNY OPERA, as part of the repertoire of the Old Tote's Opening season for the Sydney Opera House, 45 years ago in November, 1973, with that comfortable middle-class audience, at the Cultural Event of the Century - the opening of the building - with their well priced ticketed seats, laughing with and singing internally, along, to, a play that ought to have shaken them to the cores of their social conscience. Nothing much, it seems, has changed in the exact theatre where both these plays, THE THREEPENNY OPERA and ACCIDENTAL DETAH OF ANARCHIST, critiques of 'power and social responsibility' by Marxist authors, were presented by the leading establishment theatre in Sydney: The Old Tote, historically, and the STC, extantly.

This production is a successful comic evening in the theatre, amusing and especially so for the 'political act' of having women play traditional male roles. For, after all, we, Aussie's have had men play women for yonks - Dame Edna a staple of our culture - swinging it around, can be oh, so daring and 'modern', a revolutionary gesture. Yes?

What an opportunity for real protest, revolution, in the theatre, has been lost.

I find it objectively amusing that The Sun King, Louis XIV, was the sponsor of the greatest social cultural critic of his time, MOLIERE - an artist practising the arts and crafts of the Italian comedy dell'arte traditions - and censored him in no way at all. It took over a century and twenty odd years to pass before for the French people rebelled against such power. Let us hope that it is takes less times for Equality to be achieved in our time.

Bring back Melissa Bubnic's 2015 play, BOYS WILL BE BOYS*** (incidentally, I observe, the STC produced it in its smallest theatre at The Wharf, fearing that its politics might inhibit its commercial success?) It was, and is, a 'political' work that has more contemporary resonance than this production of ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST. More's the pity.

More Courage, I reckon. I laughed, I smiled, I admired, and then had some fish and chips while I read some more of MOBY DICK. My world not perceptibly changed at all by my attendance at the STC's ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST.

Yen

Photo by Asparay Photographics

New Ghosts Theatre Company in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre co-present, YEN, by Anna Jordan, in the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), at the Kings Cross Hotel. 27th September - 13 October.

YEN, is an English play by Anna Jordan. It won the Bruntwood Prize in 2013.

YEN, is a bleak and yet compassionate sociological exposition of two boys, 14 year old Bobbie (Jeremi Campese) suffering from severe ADHD and his 16 year old brother, Hench (Ryan Hodson), stunted in his emotional maturity, living with Taliban, their dog, in a squalid flat in a local Council Estate, having been deserted by their their twice widowed Mother, Maggie (Hayley Pearl), who has found another man, Alan, to live with - both these adults, addicts and alcoholics. They are visited by a neighbour, 16 year old Jenny (Meg Clarke), who has concern for the dog. Jenny lives on the Estate as well but in slightly better circumstances. Jenny is the author's dramaturgical 'circuit breaker' and is the catalyst for the events of the play.

In this society which is adopting and advancing, at phenomenal speed, the technological algorithms of AI that will possibly replace the working poor, Ms Jordan, in YEN, poses, underlines, the present gathering catastrophe of whole sections of our community that will become no longer just exploited but rather irrelevant. Already, there is a mental unbalance in some of our community who find respite in addictive behaviours as a mechanism to deal with their declining opportunities even if it was one that was essentially exploitative, as does our mother figure, Maggie. Bobbie is already in biological damage, from the start, probably, from foetal alcohol syndrome and has the stench of a 'doom' about him, while Hench is underdeveloped and paralysed in a physical and cognitive state where his social education has come from screenings of porn and Play Station and a lack of parental role modelling - his hormonal needs have had no-one to teach him even how to touch another, let alone love another. Says Jenny without irony, underling the tragedy of this play: "Family's important, don't you think?"

Substitute the British terminology of Council Estate for the Australian term of Public Housing and the relevance of this play will strike you as firmly as a stroll into parts of Waterloo or Surry Hills, will, could.

This production of YEN, Directed by Lucy Clements, set in a putrid apartment environment of convincing power by Designer, Ester Karuso-Thurn (it almost smells), is assisted by the Lighting of Louise Mason to create an outdoor space as well, with the aural cluing by Sound Designer, Chrysoulla Markoulli, has powerfully convincing performances.

Hayley Pearl creates a convincing arc of a narcissistic sociopath wallowing in the amnesiac deflections of drug abuse as Maggie, disgusting us with the reckless indulgence, and confusing us with the self-pitying knowledge that she has in a sober state, evoking from us a sense of empathy - reluctant though it might be in giving, seeing the havoc that she is wreaking on herself and her children. Meg Clarke creates for Jenny a courageous but naive innocent of warmth, confusion and disillusionment. Jeremy Campese is frightening in the absorbed possession he evokes on stage as the hyperactive Bobbie, with sharp and keenly observed symptoms even when comatosed in a medical-drug calm in later scenes. The contrasting tension between his loyal, loving nature and the demon force for destruction within him is palpable and distressing. The journey of Ms Jordan's narrative takes us, turn and turn about, into places of excruciating, aching tenderness to frightening palpable violence (mostly off-stage). The keel, the spine of this work is created with a phenomenally sensitive and sustained performance from Ryan Hodson as the bewildered adolescent, Hench. The complexity of his fragility and his sobbing ache to understand his predicament is worth observing - it is a beautifully conceived performance of an underprivileged helplessness that has no moral compass to guide him - except, perhaps in a sentimental gesture of hope from the author, in a wordless near ending scene.

Is it enough for Ms Jordan to present these sociological realities and give us no inkling of the action I should make to prevent it? To do something about it? Is it enough for me to feel that I have touched a world that moves me and given me a sensibility, a knowledge, with a glimmer of a distant hope - and sigh, with relief, 'there but for the grace of god, go I?' Is it Ms Jordan's subtle dramaturgy to have our two young men introduced to us watching porn and playing with a Play Station, for me to extrapolate that I am watching Poverty Porn whilst I am at play in the Station: Theatre? In a good mood I could feel hopeful about Bobbie, Jenny and Hench. In a bad mood I good feel despair and a fear of the ultimate destruction of Bobbie, Jenny and Hench. Is watching this play enough for me to have done to assuage my conscience from a sense of responsibility? Should I do something? What should, can, I do? Should I make a donation to a relevant charity? What, Ms Jordan, do you think I should do with this cultural provocation?

YEN, an experience that will concern you about your own societal relevance. Or, more worryingly, your children's and their children's future relevance. Few of us have the time to investigate our world because we are barely keeping up with our own surviving strategies in a biotech world that just seems to be going faster and faster. Unfortunately, history waits for no man and you and they - your children - will not be exempt of the consequences.

So, see YEN, and join in the cogitation.

N.B. In the program notes, The Artistic Director and Founding member of New Ghosts Theatre Company, Lucy Clements, declares: 
New Ghosts Theatre Company is first and foremost a playwright's company ..."
This declaration seems to be at odds with the actual glamorous program, for, there is NO biographical information given about the playwright. So, maybe the New Ghosts Theatre Company is not first and foremost a playwright's company. Everybody BUT the playwright is presented in the program. 
It is, a bug-bear of mine, as you all know. The Sydney Theatre scene can be so neglectful of their playwrights - the source of their inspired efforts!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Musical Island - A Silent Spell


Magic Sounds Theatre Studio, presents MUSICAL ISLAND - A SILENT SPELL. Book and Original Songs by Natalia Mitzikis, at 107 Projects, 107 Redfern St. Redfern. 28th October.

MUSICAL ISLAND - A Silent Spell, is part of the 2018 Sydney Fringe Festival.

The Creator /Director and Producer of this musical work is Natalia Mitzikis. It creates a 'fable' for Princess Minor and Prince Major and their need to create music and song, being confronted by a powerful 'witch', Queen Silence. The young couple seek support from Flatty and Sharpy and together with Lady Rhythm, Double Trouble and Princess Melody, some Romany Gypsies and Bandits, overcome and defeat Queen Silence in the Misty Valley.

All, the writing (dramaturgy), design, directing, performing is naive and fairly rudimentary (inexpert) in its presentation, aimed at a family audience, children, especially. There is much aspiration here but not, as yet, enough craft.

The Sydney Fringe Festival is vast in its repertoire offerings all over the Inner and Western City during the month of September. The 1st - 30th of September: Cabaret, Circus, Physical Theatre, Dance, Plays, Musical Theatre, Stand-up Comedy, Music of all kinds. The 2018 Fringe Festival program has expanded by 20%, built on last year's record. One can't see everything and so one has to curate sensibly. Curate very carefully.

The strength of such an offering as MUSICAL ISLAND, in this Festival, is the opportunity for community artists to have a go. Undoubtedly, Ms Mitzikis has spent much time (years?) in writing this work and with an enthusiastic group of young people rehearsed for months (?) or weeks (?). It is rewarding, in of itself, to watch this work committed to by a company of young Australians of diverse backgrounds: Filppino, Russian, Singaporean, Afghanistan and Chinese heritage, at least. However, enthusiasm is not enough to make this musical play arresting, for the skills of the performers are of a hugely disparate standard. One of the most successful elements of this ambitious work was the animations screened in support of the action of the story from the SAE Creative Media Institute Staff and Students.

The 2018 Sydney Fringe Festival was able to provide several spaces for MUSICAL ISLAND to be seen and tried out in front of a live audience. As with the INNER WEST SIDE musical presented fairly successfully at the Seymour Centre earlier in the season, the artists would have learnt an enormous amount as to what worked and what didn't, to now retire to their creative desks, once again, and develop, edit, re-write, expand, the work to a new iteration.

To succeed the principal ingredients are: Persistence. Patience. Perspiration. Humility. Read the history of STRICTLY BALLROOM, MURIEL'S WEDDING, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, and MELBA. Any great musical!

The Message



Cathay Playhouse present THE MESSAGE, a play, based on the 2005 novel by Mai Jei, at the Lend Lease Darling Theatre Quarter, Darling Harbour. 27th Oct - 30th Oct.

THE MESSAGE, is a play based on the novel by contemporary Chinese novelist, Mai Jei. It was produced by an Australian/Chinese Sydney based company Cathay Playhouse - I have seen other productions over the past years. This play is the first almost contemporary work that I have seen. The novel was published in 2004 and was made into a successful film in 2007.

Set in the city of Nanking in 1942, four individuals - code encryptors - have been brought to Qiu Castle. There has been an assassination of a high ranking official in the ruling Japanese puppet government set up by the former Nationalist, Wang Jingwei. One of these individuals is suspected of being a 'spy' - a 'ghost' - for the resistors/assassins in the struggle in China with their ruthless invaders.

Ryukawa Hihara (Gordon Guo) of Japanese origin, a Scholar of the Chinese culture, is the investigative officer in attempting to find the 'ghost'. He is assisted by his henchman, Bai Xiao-Nian (Josh Cui Heng-Yi). Through intimidation, even to torture, he manipulates the five suspects into a waiting game where he hopes they may inform on each other. As 'tricks' and mis-information are employed suspicion moves from person to person: Jin Sheng-Huo (Hong Wang Hong-Peng), Wu Zhi-Guo (Zeno Kong Zhe), Li Ning-Yu (Denise Ye Wei-Dan) and Gu Xiao-Meng (Melissa LI Ya-Jing).

The play is constructed in the mode of an Agatha Christie mystery with more blatant illustrations of physical and psychological violence - people locked in a fixed unescapable environment with the pressure of time ratcheting the tension to extreme heights. It is interesting to note that past repertoire presented by Cathay Playhouse has included Agatha Christie's famous THE MOUSETRAP, in 2015.

This production is Directed by long time Resident Director of Cathay Playhouse, Wang Hui-Li, and manages in the many scenes to keep the audience in an attentive rapture. It is very interesting to watch these actors display their skills in such a naturalistic exercise in their own language (there were sub-titles). All, particularly the principals, are convincing. There is great discipline throughout all of the elements of the performing company.

Gordon Guo, has the opportunity to create a suave but mentally tortured Japanese alien who in the search for the 'ghost-'spy' is haunted by the ghost of his now dead wife, and moves, incrementally, to a kind of 'madness', breakdown. The play offers the two women a complicated story and Denise Ye Wei-Dan and Melissa Li Ya-Jing, seize their opportunities with relish.

Says, Wang Hui-Li, 'Cathay's intention to perform the THE MESSAGE is to remind us of our past for the revolution, revive the almost buried past and commemorate (the) silent heroes who fought with their blood and life.'

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Pinocchio

Photo by Brett Boardman

Little Eggs Collective and The Clari Boys present, PINOCCHIO, Composed and Devised by The Company. At The WareHouse, 255 Euston Rd. Alexandria. 25 - 29th September.

Little Eggs Collective and The Clari Brothers have devised a mime/movement/dance work with the title of PINOCCHIO. It is part of the Sydney Fringe Festival.

Walking on a cold Wednesday night, with threatening rain clouds skimming over the declining Harvest Moon in the late September sky, to a Warehouse building in Euston Rd at the south end of Sydney Park which is in the midst of the cataclysm of West Connex construction with all its attendant road and footpath disruption, I staggered into a car park (after an exhaustive challenge from the 370 Bus Stop, some half mile away) surrounded by wire fencing, following a tiny trail of pink lights, that led to an illuminated door. I squeezed into a 'foyer', completely packed with 6 or 12 audience, where the box office sort-of-was, manned by a nearly competent computer user, being hassled with people checking their electronic tickets on their devices, and/or buying on-line - they do not take cash! - you must be a member of the Big Brother Surveillance On-Line Culture to get in to see PINOCCHIO! A desultory couple of packets of chips and soft drinks - no alcohol, no visible sign of the recent ubiquitous glasses of red wine in hands to be seen (it hardly felt as if I was at a Sydney Fringe or Theatre event) - decorated the squashed space. The 8pm starting time came and went. The box office competent went, at last, to welcome the audience - most of us outside were stalled in the cold open air - where, standing precariously on some cement stairs near an industrial rubbish bin he shouted to the bewildered members of the audience sheltering in the tiny 'foyer' to come out and hear his warning instructions on how to enter the theatre and how and where to sit, but, first, he wished to acknowledge the First Nations people, and instructed us to do so, with him, in Auslan, which he laboriously taught us as he, prayerfully, went on with the oral translation. We were all made into temporary 'mime' artists. He wondered, out loud, after all that, if there was anything he had left out. I muttered, under my chattering breath: "Just us, out here, in the cold, beginning to get agitated that it was well past 8pm, the advertised starting time."

At last, we entered a vast Warehouse space with some uncomfortable three rows of chairs on a flat concrete floor surrounding the playing space on three sides, set to one side in the huge warehouse space, with a wall of wire fencing holding back, looming in the dark, some piled boxes. The back wall of the stage is an impressive high grey walled set, with opaque old style oblong windows inset, that shift colour from the lighting - both by Nick Fry. On stage surrounding a heavily built, a la workshop table, are the team of six performers frozen in varying positions with white painted face-eye make-up, dressed simply in quasi-period 1930-40's workman clothing (Costume, by Ella Butler). Mathew Lee, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Laura Wilson, Max harris and Oliver Shermacher.

High on the wall of the back setting some text is projected in Italian with accompanying English translation - kind of Brechtian in purpose, guiding us through the plot of the scenes/story throughout this 45 minute show. The actors come to life. There is no spoken word - it is a mime/movement/dance work - choreographed by Georgia Britt (who is also the Assistant Director). The performers, all, have multiple skills - they sing beautifully, and move/dance very athletically, individually and collectively. Two of them, Max Harris and Oliver Shermacher, also, play the clarinet which is employed intimately into the action of the work, assisted with choral/noise from the cast and some background soundscape.

The Director, Julia Robertson, writes, maybe, a trifle too grandiloquently:
Pinocchio is a story about an individual, Geppetto, seemingly alone in the world but with an imagination that keeps him entertained, challenged and alive.The creation of his own reality keeps the monstrosities outside at a safe distance ... (until) ultimately destroyed, in order to survive, Geppetto must relinquish what it is that makes him human and become a puppet to the regime. ... As a new arrogant superpower spreads hate across our world today, we find ourselves in an empty warehouse, now a make-shift theatre space, pushing ourselves to our creative limits in an attempt to spread a message of love, of understanding and of solidarity.

There is much to admire in the work. The visual aesthetics of Set, Costume, Lighting are simple but elegant. It looks as if there is decent budget - unlike most of the Fringe work in this Festival. The movement work is tight and beautifully 'drilled'. All the aural offers are calmly mesmerising - voice and instrument. And there is a coup de theatre that concludes the work that is sensationally 'pretty' if not carrying the dramaturgical clout that may have been intended.

This is an allegorical conceit, concerning an unnamed 'new arrogant superpower' but set during the rise of Dictator (and tyrant) Mussolini of Italy in the 1930's 40's - a photograph of the uniformed reality is removed and replaced on the back wall of the set, perhaps to cue us, who can see it and recognise what it is of - and there is, in the final moments of the work, a grand design gesture of specific Italian location.

The Company have set the work specifically in period and a history and has made the assumption that the audience have knowledge of the allusion - if, of Italian heritage, perhaps, you may do, otherwise, not necessarily so. So, the dramaturgical premise of Little Eggs production, PINOCCHIO, may zip over the head and knowledge of most of its audience. I have experienced a generation of theatre students who have no knowledge, or only a vague idea of who Adolf Hitler was, let alone Mussolini, or that there were two World Wars.

The texts projected onto the wall, only vaguely readable, are of mostly academic referencing and have not much familiarity to the PINOCCHIO story as I know it - even if this scenario is slightly Disney tinted. The action on the stage hardly produces a Pinocchio figure for us to identify with - it is puzzling and disconcerting. It is instead really about the trials and tribulations of Geppetto, is it not? - should the work be called Geppetto, then? And, although these performers are skilful none of them have yet honed the most important quality of the mime artist - identifiable vulnerability. This should be the quality that all should have. Mathew Lee, especially, as the Geppetto figure, ought to have. It is the lesson that the great mime/movement artists have given us. It is why Charlie Chaplin in his day and still now, is affecting, even on silent movie film. It is why the great recent Italian clowns/performers, Dario Fo and Franca Rame won the hearts and so the minds of their public. The audience understood the propaganda of the work because it was 'sugared' with touching emotional identification. It was not the skills that the public appreciated and identified, it was the vulnerable heart throb of the character's personas. The skills were peripheral (though, of course, essential). This company of PINOCCHIO has, yet, to find that vulnerable humanity of their creations, to supersede the admiration of the finesse of the artists' technical physical and vocal offers.

Passing out of the theatre space, one saw the creative artists behind the desk at the back of the seating, bustling, and in serious discussion. Perhaps, the work will find adjustment for its political statements to become more readable and so, then, relevant, and the 'acting' more vulnerable. At the moment the politic is opaque and the emotional life of the performers underdeveloped.

Aesthetically, PINOCCHIO is in good shape - dramaturgically not so much and emotionally it is underwhelming. One longed for the Federico Feliini atmospherics and emotional delicacies. One longed for the sweep of AMARCORD, it, too, set in the period of Mussolini, lambasted with great comic terror and sadness and madness by Fellini and his team.

If the Sydney Fringe is about providing the opportunity for artists to present work-in-progress to take it further in more refined iterations than PINOCCHIO (Geppetto?) is worth catching. Just take note of my first paragraph and prepare the planning you may need to get there.

A Double Bill: The Intervention; and Good, Die Young


French Santa Productions present, A Double Bill: THE INTERVENTION, by Valentin Lang and GOOD, DIE YOUNG, by James Sweeny, at the Erskineville Town Hall. 25th - 29th September.

THE INTERVENTION, by Valentin Lang and GOOD, DIE YOUNG, by James Sweeny, are two new Australian one act plays. They are part of the Sydney Fringe Festival.

In THE INTERVENTION, three young people, a woman  (Mary) and two young men (Steve and Joe) are in a share house and have found their lives going nowhere and, maybe, are dangerously overwhelmed by a dependency on alcohol and recreational drugs. They try an intervention. One of them dies - drink-driving - and the other two commiserate on their way to the funeral with more drinking. There is, as well, a vacuous creative artist/singer (Anthea), that serves as a catalyst to the events of the play scenario.

The writer, Valentin Young, has an observational accuracy to the comic/drama of these characters and their plight, and in a non-interrogatory way simply presents the situation without judgment. We are left with the experience of these four young people to make of it what one will. Lloyd Allison-Young has Directed his company with an approach to character that varies from straight realism to melodrama to a self aware comic comment on character and situation. It is in the inconsistency of the acting styles amongst the actors that causes one to be never sure of the tenor/tone of the point-of-view of the production. Is this a piss/take or a soulful reality check? Are we meant to ruefully observe this as a mirror of contemporary living amongst a certain profile of young Australians? Should we find it tragic? Pathetic? or, ridiculously, accurate? stupidly sad? Hmmm?

Damien Strouthos Directs the second play, GOOD, DIE YOUNG, by James Sweeny (who also plays a leading role). It begins with a young man (Alex) declaring that he and his 'Company' have developed a way for a digital tattoo to be inserted into our body system that will make one AMORTAL - the ability to 'conquer' all disease and ageing. He has voluntarily partaken in the process. He is 28 and that will be the age he will always be - he will avoid death, unless there is an accident or a decision to suicide. He looks forward to live into his hundreds, he says. He has a casual sex-partner (Jane) who is simply mortal. She is vulnerable to disease, ageing and consequent death. He tells her of his physical status. He offers her, entrepreneurially, the same opportunity. She is appalled at the fiscal cost - and protests that this 'technical' intervention is only for the rich. She declines. She procreates a daughter with him. The mother  is diagnosed with an inoperable cancer. The daughter, (Poppy) in a late scene, is preparing for her first teen-age date. He is, still, physically only 28. She, the mother, is ageing, dying.

Mr Sweeny provides an intriguing premise for a conversation in the theatre.

We believe that we have found ways to control the world around-outside us, but now with the twin revolutions of infotech and biotech, it seems, we could restructure not just economies and societies but our very body and minds - we could gain control of the world inside us, and be able to engineer and manufacture life. This is one of the concerns in Yuval Noah Harari's latest book, 21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY [1]:
We will learn how to design brains, extend lives, and kill thoughts at our discretion. Nobody knows what the consequences will be. ... It will be easier to redirect the flow of our minds than to divine what it will do to our personal psychology or to our social systems.

Mr Sweeny, with his play, tantalised me with the prospect of an exposition and discussion concerning a most urgent present Social crisis, but, deflects to concern us in a rather too domestic, romantic dilemma between a man and a woman, than an interrogation of the discovery and choice that the 'hero' of this story has become part of. Things, such as, the ethics concerning the power to manipulate the world inside us and reshape ourselves. Asking more interrogatively, are the engineers, entrepreneurs and politicians aware of the political and social implications of their decisions. Investigating the consequence of this Technological Disruption inside us. And, as we are experiencing the results of our species' Technological Disruption on the ecosystem of the world outside us, believing that we were the Masters of Universe, what pause might we give to this 'hero's' new Biotech advance, as he practices a new role as Homo Deus - being a God-like being?

None of these questions concern Mr Sweeny's preoccupation. Tom Stoppard famous for his intellectual playwriting interrogations and human observation was 29 when he wrote ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. I am not sure of the age of these two new playwrights. But, both of these plays by these two young writers are encouraging to witness for their  grasp of the literary playform and character. I wished that the concerns were not quite so soppily immersed in youthful angst - sex, drugs - and more visionary in putting their skills to the discussion of more philosophic profundities about the incidents of life that their characters are immersed in. Maybe, with more life experience they will move into that territory. I have especial hopes of Mr Sweeny who 'tricked' me with his play premise that there was going to be a possibility of a contemporary, adult ethical debate of urgent relevant issues - alas, this was not to be. This time.

It was a cold night out last night. The Erskineville Town Hall is a cold, uncomfortable make-do, make shift venue, part of the resources of the Sydney Fringe. However, I loved being at the Erskineville Town Hall with the French Santa Productions. It was reassuring to see all these young artists - writers, actors, directors - putting their developed skills and passions onto the stage - knowing what 'sacrifice' they had made to prepare this 'work' for us - writing, rehearsing, probably with little budget - if any. It was exciting and hopeful to be the oldest person in the theatre - the audience I was with a full house, demographically were, probably, in their mid-twenties, and they were there supporting their peers, and with attention, appreciation and generosity. The theatre is not dead, and is a part of the Australian psyche and culture, and is being pursued, generationally, with passion.

P.S. There was no program and I have not been able to find a cast list (as yet) and so no actors have been credited. I appreciate their devotion to this new writing.

N.B. Sent to me later. These are the actors in the above productions:
THE INTERVENTION.
Mary - Jesse-Belle Keogh.
Steve - Luke McMahon.
Joe - Valentin Lang.
Anthea - Elle Harris.

GOOD, DIE YOUNG.
Alex - James Sweeny.
Jane - (young) Jessica Clarke; (older) Amanda Stephens Lee.
Poppy - Emily Pincock.



Reference:

  1. 21 LESSIONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY - Yuval Noah Harari. Jonathan Cape, London. 2018.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Inner West Side

Ultra Cult present INNER WEST SIDE - The Musical. Book, by Jake Bayssari. Lyrics, by Jake Bayssari and Lucille MacKellar with Madeline Johnston. Music, by Tom Cardy. In the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, City Rd. Chippendale.17th September - 21st September.

INNER WEST SIDE - The Musical, is a new Australian work, having its first outing as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival.

Andrea (Laura McDonald) returning to Killara after a week long holiday in Berlin has become so aspirational about her need to find and be her true self, decides to live in the Inner West, in Newtown. She begins by shacking up with Aussie cool chick, Lana (Rhianna McCourt), whom she befriended in Berlin. She hides her origins and wealth - her parents have reduced her weekly allowance to only  $500.00 per week!

Having gained approval from her other room-mates, CC Razor (Roy Joseph) and Freya (Britt Ferry), Andrea is taken on a tour of some of the local sights: The local Barista, Dan (Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba); the St Vincent's Op-shop on King St. where she meets the queen of the scene, Monica (Elouise Eftos); and later smashes it out at a Rave. Things develop: Monica is 'de-throned' by Andrea in an underhanded-way; Dan is dumped; Lana becomes disillusioned. Andrea becomes unhappy, seeks rescue, and is, by a forgiving Lana, so that we all can leave the theatre with the message of the last song in an INNER WEST STATE OF MIND  - a happy ending. Andrea an anti-hero in the shadow of Muriel.

This is a first draft of a new Australian Musical and it is, at present, a big mess of aspiration. The Book, as it is, has underdeveloped characters and motivation. The narrative is 'bumpy' and not dramatically cohesive - we seem to get to 'this place' in the story to get into the next song, without much dramaturgical exposition to help the audience, know what has transpired to get there. We need more narrative 'dots' from the writers to get from here to there in the story on stage.

The best aspect of the material is the whip-smart vernacular, lingo, talk - it is very clever, witty, funny. Says The Director and writer, Jake Bayssari: "It was deep, sarcastic, ironic, messy and downright Australian." All of this is true bar the "deep" bit - and that is what needs attention. It is far from 'Broadway Baby' ready, as Mr Bayssari, in his program interview hopes.

The music (by Tom Cardy) is "a unique blend of musical theatre style story-telling an indie garage rock". Maddie (Johnston) says: "I can't wait to hear people humming the songs on the street". Well, at the moment that is not going to happen much - there is nothing tunefully or lyrically interesting enough to lodge in our brains.

This production has terrific zest in the well drilled choreography by Madeline Johnston, and a Set Design by Antony Robinson, that had me reminisce about the Musical RENT - mere references, of course.

The company is led by Laura McDonald and supported by Rhinna McCourt, and a standout bravura from Elouise Eftos. The other women of the company: Britt Ferry, Georgia Britt, April-Rose Desaglen, Lily O'Hare, Ruby Teys, Alexandra Gonzalez and Amy Bennet, all, are enthusiastic contributors. Gautier Pavolvic-Hobba, has the most developed male role, with Roy Joseph, Lincoln Elliot, Freddy Johnston, and Grant Loxton backing it all up.

INNER WEST SIDE - The Musical, has promise. Let Mr Bayssari and his writers go back to the writers' desk and bring us another iteration. The history of musical theatre tells of the long gestation developments required for this form in the performance arena to reach their potential.







Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Harp in the South

Photo by Daniel Boud
Sydney Theatre Company presents, THE HARP IN THE SOUTH, by Ruth Park - Part One and Part Two, an Adaptation for the stage by Kate Mulvany, at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Hickson Rd, Miller's Point. 16th August - 6th October.

A HARP IN THE SOUTH, is a new Australian play in Two Parts, adapted by Kate Mulvany, from the books of Ruth Park: A HARP IN THE SOUTH (1948), POOR MAN'S ORANGE (1949) and a pre-quel to the earlier novels, a late-comer to the Darcy family history, MISSUS (1985).

These books tell of an Irish/Australian family, the Darcy's. The first two books are focused on the family's travails living in the Sydney slum suburb of Surry Hills in the post-war era of the late forties. MISSUS, written almost forty years later, told of the family's pre-history living in a country town, Trafalgar, before the marriage of Hughie and Margaret and their move to urban Sydney. The-prequel is not as successful a book as the original two and in this new stage adaptation Part One covers selected episodes from MISSUS and from THE HARP IN THE SOUTH. Part Two is mostly pre-occupied by POOR MAN'S ORANGE. Part One is approximately three and a half hours in length, while Part Two is told in three hours. The performance schedule is such that you can see both parts over one day or over two separate occasions.

The first two books were a part of my early education. My family are of Irish/English heritage with my mum's side of Irish stock (Faddy) and like the Darcy family came from the country. In our family's history, from Barraba, in North West NSW. The family moved to Sydney in the late 1920's to Coogee, Brook St. I knew my great grandmother, "Little Ma" and great grandfather, "Old Pot", who ran a Pool/Billiard room in Chatswood, and grandma, Kathleen, "Gran" and her 6 sons and 2 daughters - my Mum, Beryl, Aunty Bernice and Uncles: Pat, "Bonza", "Red", John, Bruce and Jim. Grandfather had passed away from consequences of the First World War, in the Prince of Wales Hospital - hence their living in nearby Coogee.

When reading the Ruth Park books, in my early teens, there was a sense of great personalisation/ownership of the world of the family and their story, although, we didn't live in Surry Hills, it was a place I knew because of other relatives living there (as well as in Erskineville and Alexandria). Some of my uncles were taxi drivers and connected to the SP Bookies and Two-Up Schools in the Surry Hills area - I was once sat on the back fence overlooking one of the sewage laneways to 'cockatoo' if I saw any coppers comin' to warn the bookies and customers inside, to skedaddle. Fortunately, I didn't spy any that afternoon and didn't have to squawk. It was, in the fifties, a raffish place stuffed with working class characters surviving in harsh circumstances, dreaming of making a fortune by gambling and, possibly, off the lottery! My personal history explains, perhaps, why I have such an affinity to Peter Kenna's THE SLAUGHTER OF ST. TERESA'S DAY (1959) and A HARD GOD (1972), and Dorothy Hewett's THIS OLD MAN COMES ROLLING HOME (1967) - three plays set in the Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Redfern area.

There has been another play adaptation of the first book (which I read In the NIDA library, years ago - sorry, don't remember the details!) and a television adaptation made for Channel 10 in 1986/1987 of the first two books, written and Directed by George Whaley - I didn't especially like it, despite some of the actors' work. It all looked so over Art Directed, so clean and 'shiny'.

Kate Mulvany has had to elide and or remove elements and events and characters of the novels - the frustration of any adaptation of a favourite novel, they always leave out some of your favourite 'bits' - and has also 'politicised' some of the content in eliminating some of the male dominations and expanding the women's position in the books for the contemporary play/stage, even exaggerating, in feminist terms, some of the speeches coming from some of the characters. Not, that I think, if, Ruth Park was alive she would not have approved of the bent, if not wished/encouraged less excessive zealousness, in the language to do so - the "Beaten ..." speech spoken by Dolour towards the end of the last play, for example, for me, just a little over-the-top, over-stating.

It is, however, a fairly marvellous achievement and has much to be admired. Dramaturgically, I would quarrel about the over-Irish sentiment in the play adaptation of the last two books and argue for a subtler Irish/Australian characterisation - my uncles were of Irish heritage but were distinctively Australian, not Irish - for instance, I knew few of the musical songs (Irish) that the denizens of this Surry Hills sang a lot of, and longed for a little of the church music that was such a big part of our musical lives, whilst enjoying the radio 'pop' music of the period. And, and, I protest the sentimental close of this production that ought to not have a melancholy ending but, rather, an optimistic beginning - the cycle of the natural world of death and renewal in the tearing down of the slums of Surry Hills for new plans, and that the play look optimistically at renewal - the NEW - as a reflection of the seasons through the Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring feel of the construct of the novels. One should not feel that the marriage of Dolour and Charlie was the sign of an end but rather the hope for the future. I was recalling the Fellini film AMARCORD (1973) that covers a year in the memory of a young boy that observes, after the devastating loss of his mother, the return of spring and the 'blossoming' of a new future, a beginning, for the survivors of the story - a nostalgic revocation rather than a tragic/sentimental death knoll.

The Design of the production, by David Fleischer, is wonderful in the architectural scale of it all - Mr Fleischer's usual stylistic preference - and is especially refreshing in the continuous shaping and zestful energy of the shifting 'frameworks' of the houses of Surry Hills in the second part of Part One. Some friends especially enjoyed Part One, preferring it to Part Two - I argued with them, suggesting that it was the relative lack of visual dynamics in the staging of Part Two, with a static set of looming grey walls (except for the ever active revolve) that dropped their appreciative 'thrill'. Was it the absence, in contrast, of the element of imaginative/visual dynamic of the moving frameworks, that stultified their creative energies of participation? Too, I thought the dominant colour of the Design superstructure of the modern grey (black and white palette!?) was not right. In my memory of living in that era and my re-imagining the time, on reading the books, the colours were of an industrial haze that filtered the light into golden browns/orange, it, flecked with soot and dust, dominating my recall. Surry Hills was warmer, even cozy, in its poverty and fug of industrial, alcoholic fumes of the factories chimneys - jam (and salt - hello Belvoir). Or, am I carrying the archaeological layerings of subsequent memories that I have accrued from the Australian master painters' palettes of the period, of say, Drysdale, Tucker, Dobell, Brack, Perceval, Preston? The Lighting Design is by Nick Schlieper. These observations are kind of carping detail, because the effect of the writing and production is mighty good.

Kip Williams, the Director of this production in epic style, builds on the skills he has been developing, seen in his gigantic staging of CHIMERICA, last year, and honed and superseded here. His management of transition through a staggering number of scene shifts and the management of his 18 actors to create many, many characters has finesse and detail - it is great to see old storytelling form, relatively, uncluttered with unnecessary experiment in technical flourishes - it is as if Mr Williams has discovered that new form can be old form 'done better' - as the character, Con, in the adaptation of THE SEAGULL, STUPID FUCKING BIRD, by Aaron Posner says. The adopting of various styles of storytelling from broad caricatured comedy, to gentler family character comedy, to sentimental melodrama, rough-house realities, with touches of epic poetry, are carried through with an assured confidence of deliberated choice. The integration of all the elements of the production are seamless - for instance, the assembly of the chairs for church and school, done in a twinkling of an aesthetic eye! Especially impressive is the Composition of the atmospheric score of this production by The Sweats, the Sound Design by Nate Edmondson and the Musical Direction by Luke Byrne.

There is a cast of 18 actors, and on occasion, costumed stage hands as 'extras', to fill the stage, and all give a comfortable contribution of Ensemble playing of a high standard. Heather Mitchell, steals every moment that she is on stage as Grandma Eny Kilker - her extraordinary physical and vocal characterisation an object lesson of accuracy and tempered energy that electrifies every intention of Ms Mulvany's storytelling with cracking ease - a delightful cheekiness dare in every moment. One is dared to disbelieve but Ms Mitchell is so convicted that one cannot take one's eyes or ears off of her. Then one asks oneself later: is that Ms Mitchell as Mrs Wiley in the hospital scene with all those doctors in that blonde wig? It is - how marvellously subtle is she? A great Australian actor. Helen Thomson is in very familiar territory in her comic creation of Delie Stock and goes at it with stage relish, but then shows sensible restraint and character in her brief appearance as Brett's Mum - the contrast is remarkable. Bruce Spence has, at last, a series of roles on the Sydney stage that reveals his secure versatility - his catholic priest, Father Cooley is magnificent and is contrasted with his 'music hall' turn as John Kilker, and romantic, courting Swede, Mr Gunnarson. While the subtle drawing of the romantic lead of Charlie Rothe given by Guy Simon is the high point of convincing, moving, truthfulness for me, that has not a whiff of sentimentality about it - the alcoholic despair of his grief  over Roie - it is all accurate, clean and gently moving, delicately honed, whilst his earlier brief appearance as crippled Jeremiah (Jer) in the first act of Part One is haunting in its presence and in memory. Rahel Romahn has a stage presence that attracts attention in his delicacy and wit of creation, George Zhao, similarly, makes an impression as 'Lick' Jimmy. Luke Carroll, Tony Cogin, Jack Finsterer, Benedict Hardie, Emma Harvie, Anita Hegh, Lucia Mastrantone, Tara Morice, Ben O'Toole, Rose Riley, Contessa Treffone and young Joel Bishop or Jack Ruwald make up the rest of this excellent company.

THE HARP IN THE SOUTH is an especially good production. The scale of this Australian story on stage with these 18 actors is what a National theatre ought to be about. Large Australian stories with opportunities for many Australian artists to flex their skills and creativity for Australian audiences. I understood that this was one of the projected visions of our 'lost' Artistic Appointee of the Sydney Theatre Company, Jonathan Church. It is a relief to see Mr Williams and The STC taking on that welcome vision with this project - although, next year's season does not follow through, have the promise of this same brilliant scale.

I have seen this production twice. I recommend it thoroughly. Though the books are worth knowing and have the personable ability for you to create with Ruth Park your own version of the Surry Hills, Darcy family, story.

Luna Gale

Photo by Phil Erbacher

Ensemble Theatre presents, LUNA GALE, by Rebecca Gilman, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 7 September - 13 October.

LUNA GALE, is an American play, by Rebecca Gilman, written in 2014.

Luna Gale has been taken into custody for her own safety. She is the baby daughter of Karlie (Lucy Heffernan) and Peter (Jacob Warner). They are, unfortunately, crystal-methamphetamine addicts, and have been dangerously neglectful of the care of their child. Karlie's mother, Cindy (Michelle Doake), a born again Christian, is given temporary care custody but seeks adoption status which Karlie fiercely argues against. It escalates into a court battle. Cindy has the support of her church pastor, Pastor Jay (David Whitney), who has a senior contact in the bureaucracy of the child protection department, Cliff (Scott Sheridan). Cliff has ambitions and though only recently appointed, is now the supervising 'boss' of Caroline (Georgie Parker), who has an established 25 year career as a 'foot soldier' in this child protection department. It is permanently overwhelmed with too many cases in need of attention in an understaffed environment. Caroline's job has to juggle, supervise, 70 or so, cases. Some she succeeds in helping, some she fails, all however, positively or negatively, take a toll on her professionally and personally.

The Luna Gale case seems to be very straight forward but as the actions of each individual concerned is 'fuelled' by the conscious objectives of each, layered from the deep, and, possibly, unconscious motivational forces of each character, built from their 'book' and street-life experiences, and played out within the bureaucratic and ethical boundaries of the 'system', Luna's case becomes fraught with frustrations that can, does, tempt behaviour that leads them all to cross lines of ethical behaviour.

Caroline following the 'gut-feelings' of her 25 years of experience, both personal and professional, becomes entangled within the complex family and institutional dynamics, and finds herself, in combat with antagonists, that may demand that she cross lines of propriety to achieve the outcome that may be best for young baby, Luna.

The construct of Ms Gilman's is an episode by episode dilemma of sudden twists and turns, thrillingly plotted within the ordinariness of some people's lives. Ms Gilman has always written with an enlightened eye on the lives of the underprivileged, the socially deprived, the ordinary, simple citizen trapped in a social system that is bristling with demands that is predicated by a belief that in a democracy all are equal and all should be 'judged' as equals, equally. We, as we all grasp, as we proceed through our destinies, are not all equal. Some are more equal than others. There is tremendous social drama in this play of conflicting ideologies between the ambitions of church and state, tempered by the twists of a suspense 'thriller, peppered with humour, ironic, pathetic and just plain funny.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." It is the self deception and the deceptive social interactions that we all engage in to survive to get what we want, that Ms Gilman classically interrogates and writes about, for us, with great compassion. The difficulties of living well, with our 'honesty' in tact, is what Ms Gilman is always concerned with. BOY GETS GIRL (2000), SPINNING INTO BUTTER (2000), THE GLORY OF LIVING (2001), all plays worth knowing.

Georgie Parker, in the central role, never much off stage, gives a devastating performance of emotional complexity of contrarian challenges, whilst maintaining the expected cool veneer of professional composure - humanity.

Director, Susanna Dowling, has elicited terrific performances from all the company of actors. Michelle Doake's Cindy is frighteningly sweet and dangerous, abetted by David Whitney's Pastor Jay, pursuing a sanctimonious religious zealotry with blinded vision, supported cooly and with ruthless precision by Scott Sheridan's bureaucrat, Cliff, a hypocritical amalgam of church and state 'patriarchal' ambitions. While Lucy Heffernan and Jacob Warner, as the blighted, flawed parents, Karlie and Peter, subtly reveal the sad and startling revelation of the trajectory of these two figures - as audience, they move us from a kind of fear and revulsion to one of understanding and compassion, of hope. The important contrasted sub-plot of the client Lourdes, to illustrate the work load of Caroline and the tragedy that she experiences in the pressure-cooker of her career and daily life, is not integrated well enough by Ms Dowling in this production and seems to be unnecessary and so the work by Ebony Vagulans is unfairly unnoticed.

Simone Romaniuk, has created a Set Design that shifts location regularly and has managed it with some ingenuity of sliding door-panels and that reveal details of different circumstance, assisted by the 'choreography' of the actors shifting important furniture details. Ms Romaniuk has also cared for the Costume. Nicholas Higgins, the Lighting, and a bouncy score from Marty Jamieson.

LUNA GALE, is worth catching. Along with THE HUMANS, IRONBOUND, in Sydney, we have three American contemporary plays with productions of some quality.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Humans

Photo by Clare Hawley

Mophead Productions in association with Red Line Productions presents THE HUMANS, by Stephen Karam, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. September 5 - October 7.

THE HUMANS, an American play by Stephen Karam, won the Tony Award for Best play and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2016.

In Yuval Noah Harari's book, SAPIENS - A Brief History of Mankind (2011), and the one that followed, HOMO DEUS - A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016), he postures the journey of us Humans - us, Homo Sapiens - and talks of us as a species that developed from a Cognitive Revolution, where, with the distinctive ability, that separated us from the other animals, to IMAGINE, we created stories to explain the circumstances and events that we found ourselves in. It, evidenced today, through the stories of creation that we have made, that over time became tribal survival systems - religions - and of the FAITH in them that we gave to them to get us through, flood, fire, drought, earthquakes tsunami, war, disease, plague etc. How, especially, from the 1500's onwards we began to more actively enter a Scientific Revolution, using our imaginations again, for a gradual embrace of Objective Science to explain the continual evolving circumstances we live in.

His later book, HOMO DEUS goes further and talks of our search to become truly God-like, once again using our imagination, to develop ways to be able to overcome death and create artificial life, that has, incrementally destroyed our fragile world with our emerging powers where Death has become just a technical problem. Where faith and science now quarrel to explain our existence and justify the manner in which we live. Maybe, unsettling ourselves, that with all this knowledge we have more questions about the possibility of many, many more unknowns, about what is Life? how big is the Universe? and what is our role in it? arises.

So, Stephen Karam creates a tentatively upward-mobile family, of today, the Irish-American family, the Blake's, who are working their way from the 'ditches' of the working poor, who have been surviving in Scranton, Pennsylvania and now have arrived for a Thanksgiving Dinner in the apartment of their daughter, Brigid (Madeline Jones) and her partner, Richard Saad (Reza Momenzada), in downtown Chinatown on the 'sophisticated' island of Manhattan.

The apartment is in transition, the couple have not yet moved completely in - their furniture sits in a truck, somewhere - and is an architecturally challenging set of spaces, in a building that has all the flaws of a passed era in time. The building, now, has creaking floors - resounding with the noise of the occupants above them - dodgy electrical wiring, scarcity of day-light. Still, its decrepitude is no hindrance to the feeling of it as a sign of progress up the ladder of human status.

Like the building, the family has its challenging biological/'archirectural' decrepitudes: The Matriarch of the Blake family, "Momo" Blake (Diana McLean) is old and drifted into the time of Alzheimers - manifested in a language of her own that seems to be raging, raging against the dying of the light, refusing to go gently into that good night. Of Daughter, Aimee Blake (Eloise Snape), a lawyer who has lost her job, her girl-friend and developed a stomach disease that will require major surgery if she wishes to continue to live - her sense of being alone, overwhelming. Of Brigid, a musician, helping to make ends meet working in several soul destroying jobs - bars - coping with the written judgement of her musical competency rather than her creativity and intuiting the becalming of her emotional relationship. Of Richard waiting for his Trust Fund to mature while he studies - Social Science - at the age of 38, serving the aspirations and coping with the disappointments of his partner's dreams as best he can. Of Erik Blake (Arky Michael), the patriarch of the family who has toiled as the janitor and sports coach, all his life, at the one high school, where he has been tempted, of late, to an extra-marital affair - now burdened with religious and marital/social guilt galore. Of Deidre Blake (Di Adams), the betrayed wife and mother holding steadfast to the practice of her faith and good deeds for the betterment of others, battered by the logics of science that are undermining her beliefs - the house warming gift of a statue of the Virgin Mother, scoffed at and rejected - her humiliation in the face of her families blasé rejection of her human foundations taking her to a possible shattering.

The Blake's then are a family. An ordinary - normal - family, all existing in the challenges of being alive, for a much longer time than ever before, ever planned for. What early death once solved, prolonged life in the modern era exacerbates into a sub-conscious fear of the unknown.

The simple banalities of conversation and unspoken needs, make for a modern day Chekhovian 'dramedy' - an hilariously funny, poignantly moving dinner with ordinary, everyday humans with modest aspirations, pitted against the modern obstacles of the need for, at least, a comfortable wealth and good health. The juxtaposition of the many subjects of conversation of this family, stuffed with non-sequiturs of thought progression, are funny for their audacity of placement, while all the while the playwright is weaving a melancholic spell that creates a profundity of eeriness as the family leaves the darkening home to just perceptibly seen figures shuffling in the fog/gases of an empty universe - as if the future to which we are moving towards will be just a black hole.

Director, Anthea Williams, who brought us the Award winning HIR, at Belvoir, last year, guides this play to a most satisfying night in the theatre - burnishing, further, her skills.

Jonathan Hindmarsh, the Designer, manages to fit the requirements of this two-storey apartment onto the stage, with a magical ease of realism with the potential for movement to a profound concrete eeriness. Mr Hindmarsh has made the tiny Old Fitz stage a very flexible and robust space - his resourcefulness and solution for creative contribution are all reflected in much of his other work in this space: A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, BELLEVILLE and THE JUDAS KISS, for example, and with THE HUMANS continues a triumph of Design and Rendering skills. He is also in charge of the Costumes which are 'invisible' because of their absolute 'rightness'. Lighting is by Kelsey Lee and the Sound is by Clemence Williams.

The ensemble of actors are so in synchronicity with each other it is a joy to see and hear the seamless crossovers of language and action that at all times are a continuous revelation of character development and narrative surety, revealing the thematics and dimensions of Mr Karam's 'poetry' that are, cumulatively, mysterious and frightening in their projected presence. It is an admirable team, full of trust and a clear objective knowledge of the intricate writing of Mr Karam.

It is a while since I have seen, actor, Di Adams, at work and she gives a marvellous aching portrait of a soul in the whirlpool of doubt in a modern world of fading faith of tribal rules of religion and the endless revelations of science. Eloise Snape fresh from a marvellous performance in AIR at The old 505, earlier in the year, is just as impressive, as is Arky Michael, Madeline Jones and new comer, Reza Momenzada. But for consistency and creative concentration and the cause for much of our empathetic alarm to the story being told, the contribution of Diana McLean, as "Momo" is mesmerising in its human compassion for the possible fate that we humans have created for ourselves with the 'gift' of our species' imagination to prolong life - to have the arrogance of the "God-like".

Living our lives today, are we suffering from exploitation or irrelevance? Since the Scientific and Technological advances championed by the Corporations and Entrepreneurs sing the praises of their creations, it falls to our Sociologists, Philosophers, Historians and the keen observers of all, the Artists, to sound the alarm of caution. Stephen Karam, with his play, THE HUMANS, manages to do that with spoonfuls of 'sugar' to help the provocations 'go down'.

THE HUMANS, is a must see. Another one. It has being a very good year in the theatre, especially, in the Independent sector.

N.B. 1. Thank goodness for the Old Fitz and its curating powers. The New York Times, in late May, early June, had an article suggesting the Best 25 American plays since the arrival of ANGELS IN AMERICA, 25 years ago. At the Old Fitz, this year, we have seen at number 22: THE WOLVES, (which is having a second life at the Belvoir, next year in their new season); number 11: THE HUMANS; and later this year, EURYDICE, by Sarah Ruhl, which is number 15. Outhouse productions presented THE FLICK, which is number 2. The Independent scene keeping our audiences, relatively, contemporary in the Best of Playwriting available.

2. Mr Harari's latest book: 21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, has just become available in Australia.

Jersey Boys


Dodger Theatricals Rodney Rigby TEG Dainty Joseph J. Grano Pelican Group Michael Watt Tommy Mottola in association with Lattitude Link and Anita Waxman present, JERSEY BOYS: The Story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Music by Bob Gaudio. Lyrics by Bob Crewe, at the Capitol Theatre, Hayes St, Sydney. 29th August -

Look, this is the third iteration of this musical, JERSEY BOYS, that we have seen in Sydney. I saw it last in 2011. Since its initial outing on Broadway in 2005, this jukebox musical has continued to survive, all over the world . Please read my other Blog contribution - it all still stands.

The conceit of the work to have the Four Seasons: Tommy De Vito (Cameron MacDonald), Bob Gaudio (Thomas McGuane), Nick Massi (Glaston Toft) and Frankie Valli (Ryan Gonzalez), narrate, each in turn, the story of these men and their career, is a stroke of genius (and equality). The Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is so streamlined, not a single piece of the 'fat' of sentimentality is heard, that it propels us constantly, dizzily, forward into the Musical repertoire of the Group that is so, so familiar and so, so, so wonderful. The wonder is not nostalgia but appreciation of beauty. Crisp to the heart beat of 'green' love beauty: BIG GIRLS DON'T CRY, WALK LIKE A MAN, MY EYES ADORED YOU, CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU, WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU. Oh, boy, and they are just the 'killer' songs - so many others to savour.

All of this is aided by an industrial-looking framework Scenic Design, by Kiara Zieglerova, aided by a Projection Design, by Michael Clark, of Lichtenstein-like images, that is stark, speedy and narrative simple. Costumes by Jess Goldstein create period and glamour and the Choreography, by Sergio Trujillo, in the nervous tight energy of Opening Night is unfussy but stirring - visually simple, breathtakingly exciting. The storytelling energy of this production under the Direction of Des MacAnuff is like boarding an express train to heaven - you never want to get off..

On opening night Bernard Angel was indisposed and the Frankie Valli Alternate, Ryan Gonzalez, was catapulted into the role. Having watched Mr Gonzalez up close recently at The Hayes Theatre in IN THE HEIGHTS and THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, it was a thrill to see him manage, manipulate and acquit both vocally and choreographically this role with a 'real' actor's ease in the large scale demand of the Capitol Theatre. Move over Lady Gaga, a Star is Born in Sydney, first - ha, ha. Mr Gonzalez is great, leading this show with a phenomenal unflagging stamina and 'beauty'/excitement.

He is supported by excellent performances from Cameron MacDonald, Thomas McGuane and Glaston Toft (who has already amassed, over four years of touring this show, 1300 performances). Glenn Hill has fun as Bob Crewe, as seemingly does everybody in the Ensemble of the show. The women of the Ensemble have little to do but dole what they have with energy and clear precision: Cristina D'Agostino, Mia Dabkowski-Chandler, Mackenzie Dunn.

JERSEY BOYS, still as crisp as last time and a sure fillip of pure joy. Worth the Time. Go.

JERSEY BOYS at the Capitol Theatre:

You're just too good to be true.
Can't take my eyes off of you. (...)
At long last love has arrived.
And I thank God I'm alive.
Can't take my eyes off of you.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Ironbound

Photo by Jasmin Simmons

An Assorted Few in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company present, IRONBOUND, by Martyna Majok, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), in the Kings Cross Hotel. August 31st - September 15th

IRONBOUND, is an American play, from a Polish/American writer, Martyna Majok, written in 2016.

Set at a bleak bus stop, In The Ironbound, a suburb of Newark, New Jersey, over the passing of 20 years of time, we meet Darja, a Polish immigrant (economic refugee) seeking subsistence and happiness in the Land of the Brave - in pursuit of the American Dream. The play is told in six scenes that have been shuffled out of chronological order.

Three of them are set in 2014, when 42 year old Darja (Gabrielle Scawthorn), works, cleaning rich people's houses. The factory where she once worked has closed down. She is trying to come to terms with her present boy-friend, Tommy (Benedict Wall), with whom she lives, who is a sexual 'lothario' and has just been caught, for the fourteenth time, having had an outside affair. He says he loves her. This, Darja uses as the negotiating mechanism to survive: marriage, home security, and $3,000 to assist her errant, drug addicted and absent 22 year old son, living in Chicago.

In two other scenes we meet Maks (Abe Mitchell), Darja's first (Polish) husband, in 1994. She is 20, has a job in a factory and occasionally cleans house. She is working hard at what she knows to create a life. Charismatic Maks with his mouth organ at hand has dreams of being a 'blues' musician and wants to move to Chicago. Darja is pregnant and takes surety of work and money over the dreams of Maks.

In one other scene, Darja, black-eyed, fleeing a second (and abusive) husband (who we never meet), encounters a young rich school boy prostitute, Vic (Ryan Morgan), who intuits her desperate circumstances and with an act of kindness forces her to take a gift of $100 to find a Motel for the night - to not sleep at the bus stop. This gift of mercy is difficult for Darja to believe or accept - her world has shrunk to almost hopelessness and suspicion of kindness.

IRONBOUND, is a bleak portrait of a female immigrant experience in the land of opportunity. For those at the bottom-of-the-heap, trying to negotiate a way to just survive with some self respect it is a Sisyphean frustration, impossibility. It is a sad play and a tough reckoning of the Promise of the American Dream.

Alistair Clark, with his Designers, Jeremy Allen (Set), Maya Keys (Costume), Alexander Berlage (Lighting) and Benjamin Freeman (Sound), have a created an arid grey sand and gravel environment, with a gleaming steel bench, lit mostly within the white, cold spectrum of fluorescent. There is no visual warmth or comfort. The Sound is made up of realistic pragmatics or ominous music of import. There is a claustrophobic (though attractive) weight to all the artistic offers.

The performances are good. Gabrielle Scawthorn's Darja, carries the 90 minute, no-interval experience with great empathy and character flexibility of response that is sometimes soft, sometime aggressive, sometimes hard-nosed fragility, sometimes beguilingly sexy and warmly witty. Although, she is rather too young for the role, and appears so in this close-up, small theatre space - the mother of a 22 year old son? I don't think so.

Abe Mitchell, as the first husband Maks, is handsomely charismatic and plays the foolishly optimistic dreamer with insight and charm winning the audience's empathy despite Maks abandonment of his responsibilities. Ryan Morgan gives the young Vic a winning persona and creates a well needed relief to the grimness of the other scene interludes/situations with a wry humour and open generosity. Benedict Wall as Darja's last hope, Tommy, negotiates the contradicting needs of the character with a sense of flawed humanity ruled by the animal impulses of his sex drive - the dialect work, however, is not very useful for our belief in who he says he is and where he lives, it was, for me, a distraction, an obstacle to be able to completely surrender belief in the character and, so, the play. It was interesting to hear the New Jersey accent in the musical JERSEY BOYS, the following night - authentic consistent sounds that built belief in the characters.

IRONBOUND, is well written and meticulously Designed and Directed with a company of 'good' performances - reasons to see the work. Whether the content is fresh enough, arresting enough, to entertain or intrigue you is the baying question. Does it throw a contemporary light onto the plight of our welcomed refugees/immigrants?

Martyna Majok won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize with her new play, COST OF LIVING.


N.B. I am, at present, reading AMERICANAH (2013), a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, concerning the experience of the heroine, Ifemelu, a Nigerian student, in surviving the day to day world of the American Dream, amongst other things.

Macbeth


SheShakespeare presents MACBETH, by William Shakespeare, at PACT Theatre, Erskineville 29th August - 8th September.

MACBETH is the second Shakespeare that this company SheShakespeare as presented. The first was AS YOU LIKE IT.

If the Mission of SheShakespeare is to provide an opportunity for some actors to perform a role in a text that has usually excluded them, because of gender assignment, then 15 young women have had a go with this production of MACBETH. In doing so Director, Shelley Casey, has adapted the play and changed all the male gender references to female. King becomes Queen; Lord becomes Lady; father becomes mother; husband becomes wife; son becomes daughter; he become she; him becomes her, etc etc. We are, then, in a warrior kingdom of women only - not a man seen, heard or even referenced. A land of sequential Protomdrous Hermaphrodites - presumably, a Scottish one (though not a kilt was seen).

It seems Ms Casey has a vision of the simple storytelling. There are some promising moments of Directorial control in some of the theatrical gestures of her production. But the Design, both Set and Costume, as elements to create atmosphere for the storytelling needs much more consideration - it looked non-descript, a visual mess, and the production would probably have been better served with a bare stage - an open space.

The production begins, it speaks through five acts, and finishes. There is no other dramaturgical point-of-view as to why SheShakespeare has chosen this particular play. Why MACBETH? What does it say to us today? What does this all female Shakespeare company want to say with this play with this production in Sydney, in 2018? Actors are called by their scripted names and essentially 'gabble' the lines and move about the stage in ordered groups. Some have been coached in some very active and efficiently choreographed 'fight' scenes by Kyle Rowling. And interpolated into this production are some songs, of lament, of cheer, of celebration - though their contextual usefulness in the story of Macbeth was elusive. There was no character distinguishing, no motivation or back story.

The hallmark of this opaque production is the undoubted commitment of the ensemble to the performance. One could not deny the supportive energy. The difficulty is that the experience or skills of this company is widely disparate and resultedly the clarity of it all is very muffled. One simply needed better actors, or better prepared actors, to be working on a text of heightened language/poetry, dense in its vocabulary and circumlocution, and unfamiliar in its expression to be understood easily by the modern ear. The responsibility of the actor always is to create character, to tell a story, to reveal the metaphoric relevance, and, lastly, to celebrate the use of language - the joy of English.

Interestingly, the clearest and most engaging scene in this production of the play was that between Grace Naoum, as Malcolm, and Erica Lovell, as Macduff, (belatedly, Cassady Maddox as Ross) in the notoriously difficult England Scene, of the second act. It was a long time to wait for something more than a gabbled gist of language usage to create with. Accuracy of word by word enunciation and the imaginative developing of the logic, argument, of the speeches from Ms Naoum, was a respite of relative clarity in this long night in the theatre.

Beth McMullen in the titular and famous role of Macbeth (it has made or broken the reputation of actors), does not have the charisma of a warrior or the vocal or physical skills of a leading actor. It is not enough to pull one's left hand down the bridge of the nose and squeeze the nostrils  between thumb and index forefinger and then flick its end with the same left index finger and stroke the fingers from the centre of the upper lip to the edges, and draw open the mouth and pull open the jaw hinge, stroking down the cheek to the centre of the chin, and then flick the hand to the finger tips in a gesture swingeing down away from the body to signify warrior status - it was the signature gesture, oft, tediously, repeated. The chemistry that motivates this warrior and her wife Lady Macbeth (Emily McKnight), to commit regicide and then many, many other slayings did not exist. There was no central driving force of quandary.

Most of these actors had no discipline of vocal or physical skills to have me believe that they were what they said they were. I hoped that the actors had studied the performances in the opening Act of the 2017 film of WONDER WOMAN, and watched the choices of characterisation employed by Gal Gadot (Diana), Robin Wright (Antiope), Connie Nielsen (Hippolyta), to play the female Amazonian warriors on the island of Themyscira. Look at the warrior women portrayed in BLACK PANTHER. Preparing the instrument for the playing of SheShakespeare MACBETH's female warriors, obviously needed more attention.

Whilst I admire the formation of SheShakespeare the Artistic Vision needs to be more defined, clearer in production intention and better supported with well prepared (trained) actors. Much, much more rigour.

To quote/paraphrase from MACBETH (Act 1.7.25);

(They) have no spur,
To prick the sides of (their) intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'er leaps itself,
And falls on th' other.

N.B. 1. No Bio-graphical note of the writer of this play. The writer, Sydney-typical, ignored.
        2. The Donmar Warehouse trilogy of all Female Shakespeare productions, Directed by Phyllidia Lloyd, are to be screened late this year on BBC Television: JULIUS CAESAR, HENRY IV AND THE TEMPEST, featuring Harriet Walter.