Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Calamity Jane

Photo by John McRae

One Eyed Man Productions in association with Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Co Presents, CALAMITY JANE. Adapted by Ronald Hanmer and Phil Park, from the Stage Play by Charles K. Freeman, after the Warner Bros. Film written by James O'Hanlon. Lyrics, by Paul Francis Webster. Music by Sammy Fain, at the Belvoir Theatre Upstairs, Surry Hills. 23 August - 30 September.

This is the same production of CALAMITY JANE, Directed by Richard Carroll, Choreographed by Cameron Mitchell, under the Musical direction of Nigel Ubrihien that we saw at the Hayes Theatre in 2017.

On tour and now in residence at the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre, Virginia Gay as Calamity, leads Laura Bunting, Anthony Gooley, Sheridan Harbridge, Rob Johnston, Matthew Pearse and Tony Taylor through an hilarious contemporary 'mash-up' of the 1953 Warner Brothers Musical film that made a Box Office star of Doris Day and Howard Keel.

The exchange of spaces from one end of town to the other has not inhibited the energy or the hi-jinx of this inventive group of truly 'naughty' actors who with great glee but with joyful respect entertain us with a night in the theatre that will relieve you, at least for a couple of hours, of all of the tensions of negotiating your way through the 'terrors' of modern living - recovery from last week's "bloody" politics and the T(traumatic) S(Stress) D(Disorder) apprehension of our allies, the United States (President Trump) and the United Kingdom (Brexit).

CALAMITY JANE is worth every (therapeutic) cent you spend, I assure you. One elatedly staggers out into the foyer, the street, as if one has been in the washing machine antics - churning and turning - of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops, Lucille Ball, all, combined, with the added bravura of a group of Australian artists that know full well the comedy lens that we 'down under' often indulge in - the 'vulgarisms of the Music Hall/vaudeville of the old Tivoli Circuit' (Moe Rene etc) that was translated into our living rooms on television in a so-called Golden Age, of things such as THE MAVIS BRAMSTON SHOW or HEY, HEY ITS SATURDAY - RED FACES!!!! or, more appallingly, THE GRAHAM KENNEDY SHOW!!!!!!!!

The Design of the Golden Garter Saloon in Deadwood City is by Lauren Peters who has placed tables and chairs for some of the audience onto the stage itself so that they are in the middle of the mayhem of the action and sometimes cast in roles to facilitate that action - much to the hilarious enjoyment, of those of us sat, relatively 'safely' (or, so we think!), in the auditorium. Trent Suidgeest has glamorised the Lighting and the Sound Designer and Operator, Camden Young, ensures that we hear every word spoken and sung, felicitously.

There is much tongue-in-cheek (polite) innuendo for the adults and enough innocent joy for children of any age to leave this theatre with the memory of an experience they will never forget and want to find again in their futures. Undoubtedly you will be able to hum along/sing along with your streaming service in your ears, songs such as Windy City, The Black Hills of Dakota, My Secret Love.

This is a RAVE and an encouragement for all of you to get yourself to Belvoir as quickly as you can. Sitting in this theatre watching this production, for those of us with a history of the joys that this space has sometimes given us - e.g. the Outrageously funny, cheeky, spaghetti Shakespeare, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, of a distant past, popped into my mind. Remember?!!!!!

Read my earlier blog on this show from 2107 - it all still holds. Except, Downstairs in the Foyer afterwards the actors are still entertaining you with a robustness that may belie their actual 'condition' that ought, by any other human standing, be exhausted. Ah, the generosity of Actors.

Go, go, go.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Mum Me and the IED - reviews

Collaborations Theatre Group presents, MUM, ME AND THE  I.E.D., by James Balian and Roger Vickery, at The Depot Theatre, at 142 Addison Rd. Marrickville. August 15th - September 1.

Here are some reviews of this production. They are fairly good!

Kevin Jackson putting to practical test his beliefs and critiques, that he resonates about in viewing the work of his fellow artists.

There is one more week to catch it.

Please do.

We are fairly PROUD of what we have all done. Writers. Actors and Creatives.

It is interesting and consequently, sad, to experience the neglect by the major companies of the efforts of the young (and otherwise) artists working for the love of it and in the hope of being 'seen'.

It is interesting to hear the need to see and do new Australian work, touted by Artistic Directors, and yet not seeing new Australian work outside their own effort.

Despite the intensity of the core subject, throughout Mum Me and the I,E.D. James Balien and Roger Vickery empower the story with light in the darkness, through moments of affection, and of humour. They're marvellous storytellers, gifted at using dialogue which truly has voice, and in weaving it into a life like tapestry. Like any great story, Mum. Me and the I.E.D. has many layers some simple and more obvious, some more complex and subtle. …Kevin Jackson further enables the humanness, the searching and questioning, through creative contemporary direction. They're on chairs. They're standing. Then they're on the floor. We laugh, and we cry as our hearts are torn apart. Mum, Me and the I.E.D. is a sharp intelligent play of outstanding merit, that deserves to be seen by wider audiences, to have longer runs and to win awards.

Rebecca Varidel, Sydney Scoop

This is gripping, highly emotional and thought-provoking theatre at its best, which gives a confrontational insight into the operation of the military machine.

This is a gutsy play that packs a punch... To the uninitiated, the army life can seem a strange and harsh place. Sharp writing with much dark humour, along with incisive directing by Kevin Jackson, allows this play with its sometimes brutal depictions to let the light come in, and let people appreciate the difficulties and taboos of a very different kind of life with all of its attendant pathologies.

 ... I loved the stripped and spare nature of MUM, ME and THE I.E.D I loved the lightness of touch in the funny, human moments. I thought the performances were needle sharp, bayonet sharp... This is a moving production that speaks to the moment and I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

... Director Kevin Jackson demonstrates creative use of space, in this story about intersecting dimensions... Lighting design by Martin Kinnane proves invaluable in conveying, with remarkable clarity, the many unusual spacial and temporal transformations required of the production... 

"... a painstakingly crafted piece of writing ... it weaves past and present cleverly. There’s also a strong vein of dry humour... Jackson has also drawn some very good performances... It’s been realised on the proverbial oily rag here at the Depot. Were someone to give this script another shot and provide it with a solid production budget, Mum, Me and the I.E.D would be a worthy contender for a tour."

The Widow Unplugged, or The Actor Deployed

Ensemble Theatre, presents, THE WIDOW UNPLUGGED, or THE ACTOR DEPLOYED, by Reg Livermore, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 26th July - 1st September.

Reg Livermore in a one man show, written by him and starring him - what a tempting theatrical coup for the Ensemble Theatre: THE WIDOW UNPLUGGED, or THE ACTOR DEPLOYS.

Reg Livermore, is a major participant in Sydney's theatrical history. He was a founding player of the Ensemble Theatre, welcomed by Hayes Gordon, the creator and guiding light to that company, which is 60 years old next year.

My personal history with Mr Livermore goes back to witnessing a Revue at the old Phillip St Theatre, called A CUP OF TEA, A BEX AND A GOOD LIE DOWN, with Gloria Dawn and Ruth Cracknell. I saw him as part of the Tribe in HAIR. I remember that he was in a production of CABARET, as the Emcee, somewhere in Kensington, when I was an Acting student at NIDA - I so envied his gifts, I so wanted that role! One cannot forget his outrageous performance as King Herod in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, in the rescued Capitol Theatre, or his Frank N Furter in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, for Harry M. Miller. But best and most stunning of all was his devised shows for entrepreneur, Eric Dare, beginning with the first BETTY BLOKK-BUSTER FOLLIES, in April, 1975, at the Bijou Theatre, in Balmain, which was an iconoclastic outrage of character that shifted the psyche of Sydney audiences from the conventional to the vivid experience of 'the other'. The revolution in Sydney theatre had, ultimately, arrived. Sydney divided for and against, the outrage of Mr Livermore, you were in one camp or the other - it was a grand time to be alive and his theatre was electrifying. Betty Blokk-Buster became, for some of us, our Saint Joan, storming the barricades of convention. The "For's" won (for a while). Sydney was certainly never the same!

Mr Livermore did much else, writing musicals etc, retired to the Blue Mountains, was on a garden show on TV and seemed to be gracefully retiring, dare one say: 'dwindling away'. Then, last year I saw Mr Livermore give a terrific, astonishing, Alfred P. Doolittle, in MY FAIR LADY, back at the Capitol Theatre.

THE WIDOW UNPLUGGED, gives us an old actor called Arthur Kwik, who it seems is performing in a retirement home. Since his big time break as the Widow Twankey at the Tivoli Theatre in 1969, his career as been in a downward curve. He has fond memories and re-introduces us to that persona with stories, jokes that gradually decline into a pathetic hospital patient with, maybe, delusional flashes of a past life that he will never have again. Old age can be cruel.

This play has all the promise of some of the Old Times and Flashes of the Betty Blokk-buster era. Or, that is what I hoped? The performance dexterity, the flesh is so willing and able (still), but, except for a few jokes in the second half the writing, the content of the show, has none of the contemporary chutzpah and unsparing eye for social satire and confrontation that rattled his audience in the late seventies and turned me Mr Livermore into a Star. THE WIDOW UNPLUGGED, or THE ACTOR DEPLOYS, is not going to cause a revolution. It feels out-of-date, way off the pulse of the zeitgeist of 2018. It reaches for sentimentality, ultimately, and is a disappointment, for the reveal of Mr Kwik's true state was intuited by most of us many, many minutes (hours) before.

Director, Mark Kilmurry, has created with Designer, Charles Davis, a versatile setting with the nostalgic echoes of theatre gone-by - inspired by the gentle possibility of 'the swish of the curtain(s) - inside a sterile hospital space of pragmatic needs. The material itself yearns for a time of Music Hall parody and comedy - the jokes of the Widow Twankey, things of a tradition, now, mostly, sound and feel inappropriate (sometimes, in the present 'political correctness' time, even offensive) - and it does make for an uncomfortable sitting, but not in the same daring and culturally confronting manner that Betty dealt-out.

Excitement could not be roused to match my expectation. I hope this is not the last time I can see the extraordinary theatrical gifts of Mr Livermore - and I hope the material is equal to his gifts.

One wished that the night was more contemporaneously astringent.
It wasn't.
One hoped that it was not going to become maudlin in tone.
It did.

Torch Song Trilogy

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents, TORCH SONG TRILOGY, by Harvey Fierstein, at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 1-26 August.

This production of the 1981 TORCH SONG TRILOGY at the Eternity Theatre is the fourth production of this play that I have seen. The first with Harvey Fierstein in New York, the next with Tony Sheldon at the Seymour Centre, in 1984. The last was in 2013. That production was led by Stephen Colyer as Director and starred Simon Corfield, as Arnold, featuring the live musical support of Phil Scott - and all three are the leaders of this new manifestation of the play.

TORCH SONG TRILOGY is made up of a three play omnibus: THE INTERNATIONAL STUD, FUGUE IN A NURSERY and WIDOWS AND CHILDREN FIRST, and illustrates some episodes in the life of Arnold Beckoff - a Jewish New York sometime drag queen with a penchant for the agonies (and beauties) of the classic torch song repertoire. In an environment of the Gay world, prior to the Aids epidemic, Arnold represents an unusual, uncommon identity of the 1970s who 'wants a special someone to create a family with and raise a child - essentially the life his parents had.' In 2018, says Director Stephen Colyer:
In the aftermath of marriage equality (2017), Arnold's example of resisting bigotry and being proud of his life seems more relevant than ever.                                                    
The war for the valuing of sexual equality may have been won for now, but, the battles of descrimination over what has become a revolution against the traditions of the sexual binary with the admittance of a 'fluid' sexuality continues fiercely in some sectors of the community.

Conceptually this production has been expanded with a 'package' of cabaret snippets of some famous torch songs. And it is cast cast with some of the young stellar of the Sydney Musical Theatre scene: Hilary Cole - playing Laurel (CARRIE, MURIEL'S WEDDING), Tim Draxl - playing Ed (ONLY HEAVEN KNOWS, THE SOUND OF MUSIC), Stephen Madsen - playing Alan (HEATHERS, MURIEL'S WEDDING) and Imraan Daniels - playing David (POPSTARS), accompanied by Phil Scott on a baby grand in the upstage alcove of the Set Design by Imogen Ross. Not only can these artists 'torch' the selected tunes with empathetic ownership they, also, have the third string of the Musical Theatre Actor - the ability to act. These 'song-birds' support Simon Corfield, as Arnold, and welcome Kate Raison as Ma Becker, in the third play with seamless conviction.

The tone of this production is one of a steady reality, often eschewing the Broadway brassiness of the comic potential - I noticed it, for instance, in the fine Design detail of the rabbit thematics of Arnold, tea pots etc, and especially, in this production's choice of the 'rabbit' slippers which are sedately elegant and relatively invisible - there is no gaudy gay visual cartoon joke in the Eternity Playhouse that I remember being on the Broadway stage in the Little Theatre - it is straight blandness, white mesh with white pom-poms.

This deliberate approach to tone pays off in the cumulative affect of the long evening in the theatre - some 225 minutes which included two intervals. The approach does not help the first play, THE INTERNATIONAL STUD, which proves to be fairly 'rickety" - dated - in its point and style (I don't think in modern times it is salvageable), and just survives in the thinly observed - written - second play, FUGUE IN A NURSERY, ( because of some theatrical invention, from these artists, in the staging), but scores a Bull's Eye in the last. The 'battle' between son and mother in WIDOWS AND CHILDREN FIRST is not just a family principle divide but a socially political generational division, devastating and cruel, ignorant, in its individual cries from the heart. As the evening wore on, one was drawn in, becoming more involved with the (dodgy) dramaturgy of the trilogy, the sensibility of the aims of this production team.

All of the company are terrific in their tasks and fill the relative shallowness of character with some imagined brio. Tim Draxl is especially sophisticated in his imaginative invention, while Kate Raison plays with scorching conviction, whilst balancing an unrelentable conviction of life values, against, with, the Jewish comic humour of the familiar New Yorkian stage invention (think Neil Simon, Woody Allen), that one shudders at the trenchant ignorance of the mainstream in Ma's attitude to 'the other', even if it is her own flesh and blood, with some sense of the guilt of appreciating the shocking wit and laughing.

This is Simon Corfield's second go at Arnold and he inhabits this character with endearing and convincing veracity with a detail of offers that are telling in their vocal, physical and emotional identifications - the years-long 'marinating' of the essences of the character (5 years for goodness sake) are present for all to see. One believes and gives empathy to this extraordinary man and his needs.

Although, Mr Corfield seems to have adopted a vocal characteristic for Arnold - maybe, attempting a craft gesture to 'honour' the infamous throaty-hoarse sound of the originator of the role - Harvey Fierstein - and in the larger scaled Design of this production in the Eternity Theatre is, relatively, weak in consistent vocal communication. As a result the necessary central drive of the 'big' personality of Arnold is under delivered and prevents this production from completely 'taking off'. The performance has heart but not the required volume of chutzpah of affect. This was not observable the last time I saw Mr Cornfield in this play in the smaller Hayes Theatre space, a few years ago.

Mr Colyer has brought a complex Set Design for each of the plays with Imogen Ross and its details are many, and as I stayed in the theatre during the second interval and watched the BIG change emerge as the cast and crew put it up together, I was mightily admiring of it. The Costume Designs are neat and pertinent for the stylistic conceits of the overall concept of the production. While Bejamin Brockman creates Lighting pictures that enhance the production glowingly.

At 225 minutes one was certainly given 'quantity' for money (only $44.00 concession) and one was won over gradually to the 'quality' of the experience, even if one had qualms about the consistency of the writing qualities. The 'parts' cannot bear too close an analysis but one surrenders to the 'whole'. However, I don't believe I need to ever see this play again.

If you've never seen TORCH SONG TRILOGY you'll not see it more lovingly made than with this production.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Long Forgotten Dream

Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and Allens present, THE LONG FORGOTTEN DREAM, by H Lawrence Sumner, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. July 23 - August 25.

THE LONG FORGOTTEN DREAM, is a new Australian play, by H Lawrence Sumner.

On the windswept coastline of South Australia's Coorong region, in a house distant from the local town, a local 'black' man, Jeremiah Tucker (Wayne Blair), has isolated himself from community, intensely absorbed in constructing 18th and 19th century European model sailing ships. The coming of old age - perhaps death - has subtly stirred him to the 'things' he has not addressed, confronted, dealt with, in his life: those events of his family heritage, and in his own life, that have been neglected and now have begun to haunt him.

Jeremiah is cared for by his sister, Lizzie (Ningali Lawford-Wolf), pragmatic and loving - for she has embraced the classic capitalistic values of the white culture in the selling of 'artefacts' (Dot Paintings) of her Indigenous culture to any dupe with 'white guilt' to make money and who, in her happily assimilated way, is constantly bringing food from the local supermarket for her isolated brother - no bush tucker for him.

It is the return of his daughter, Simone (Shakira Clanton), from a two year study in Britain, where she has been researching a PhD in archaeology and tracked down the stolen remains of 'King Tulla', Jermiah's grand-father (Ian Wilkes), and organised their return to the ancestral country, that causes the spirits of the passed/past to manifest. As the male elder of his family it is his duty to speak over the bones at the ceremony. He is resistant and only gradually do the 'summoned' spirits lead him, terrified, to the formal 'welcome home' organised by the local pastor, his now estranged white school friend, Henry Giles (Justin Smith), the heir to the pastoral property, historically wrested from the traditional owners.

The past is always present and is complicated, and, it has never being laid to rest.

The difference of culture, the difference in the ways of understanding the 'worlds' we share, we live in, the displacement of one culture through the latter day colonisation of another people: the 'First Peoples', who have occupied this land for 40,000 years prior to the recent - just over only 200 years - 'white' arrival, is at the centre of this heart felt lament from the writer H Lawrence Sumner.

The insistent claim of the 'invaders' culture and its rites to create a means of reconciliation over and above the rights/rites and traditions, with no respect or true knowledge of the First People's needs, is what Jeremiah rails against. But, with the return of 'King Tulla's' bones, his true past has been conjured and pertinently invades his rigid claims, for those raised spirits, reveal his personal history, that he has suspected and has agonisingly intuited: that he is the son of Indigenous and Invader blood, generated from a forbidden union between his ancestor, 'King Tulla', and a white English woman, working on the Giles property, Gladys Dawson (Melissa Jaffer). He is not of one culture but of two. Of two traditions and not one, that he must embrace, perhaps, to be truly whole. He must find some spirituality of equability - can he do so?

This quest, question, concerning the ways and means of moving forward with the assimilation of the two cultures - that of the Indigenous owners and the Western invaders is at the centre of 'literary' conversation at the moment, and hopefully, culture/social change to come, sooner rather than later. The recent television series MYSTERY ROAD on the ABC, 'drifted', slightly, into this place of observation, and the 2018 Miles Franklin nominee TABOO (2017), by Kim Scott, is eloquently wrestling with the same issue. The novel, THE MAKING OF MARTIN SWALLOW (2018), by historian, Peter Cochrane, and THE SYDNEY WARS (2018), dealing with the conflict in the early colony between 1788-1817, by Stephen Gapps, have occupied some of my reading in the past month. So that this play, THE LONG FORGOTTEN DREAM, is a continuer of that part of my anxious consciousness and hope.

Essentially, this play is a personal struggle, set in the domesticity, the house of the 'hermit' protagonist, Jeremiah Tucker. This production by Neil Armfield, on the other hand, in the broad width of the Drama Theatre stage, has embraced, forestaged, the whole width to represent the house-shack room, to tell the story, in exaggerated scale for the actors to traverse, whilst setting the rest of the depth and height of the stage as an optical illusion of epic land and sky scape.

The Designer, Jacob Nash, the house Designer for Bangarra Dance Theatre, who, together, use this theatre as their base for presentation (e.g. the recent prize winning BENNELONG (2017) and DARK EMU (2018)), has created a look for the play that has the promise of a 'balletic' dance-movement (and, indeed, occasionally, the eight actors are deployed in movement and imagery to promote that kind of epic presentational style.) The theatrical hoisting/rising of a cloud/desert cloth that shifts and moves above the action of the play promotes, a subterranean sense of this epic scale of a brooding, ghostly world.

This domestic play, with dreams/nightmares of the past, has been transposed to an operatic/balletic scale - of an emblematic stature of meaningful symbol which, then, seems to encourage some of the actors (especially, Mr Blair) into an operatic gesture of voice and body, a mode of delivery that employs robust vocal orchestration. There is a live accompaniment by Composer and Musician, William Barton, 'broadcast' into the auditorium accompanied with choreographic non-naturalistic gestures from the actors. That all the actors are also wired for microphone, means there is offered a kind of scaled artificiality, a mechanised dependency of the human voice, that removes the characters from a flesh and blood presentation, that shifts the humanistic qualities of the writing into a grandeur of image and sound. These stylistic choices, seemed to me, to undermine a work that has a more human passionate and vulnerable tenderness of pain and loss that could talk of 'real' pain and pump 'real' blood expressed in 'real' gesture and true, plain voices - voices that are less 'performative'.

This production, of Mr Armfield's, seems to have hi-jacked the experience of the play, unnecessarily 'heightened' it, for I intuit that, perhaps, it is a simpler naturalism that will get to its purity, and give us the opportunity to endow the painful confronting issues with the demands of an excruciating  honesty. I am not saying that I did not have an experience of sensation with this production, but I wondered, while I sat there, whether a more stripped back, raw and vulnerable naturalistic style would have carried more theatrical wallop. (The Lighting Design, by Mark Howett covers the production both epically and naturalistically. The Costumes, by Jennifer Irwin, are the most useful element of the Design.)

Wayne Blair is majestic in the statuesque 'Lear'-like ravings of his Jeremiah, that is contrasted with his touches of 'silly' comic relief, tended by the naturalistic burbling of the happy sister, Lizzie, given by an impressive Ningali Lawford-Wolf. Whilst, Justin Smith is his usual modest self in subordinating the actor to the empathies and function of Henry Giles to great effect - comically wry, sensitive and truly baffled by the 'setting' of his old friend, Jeremiah. Melissa Jaffer is utterly agile in her direct wonderment as the love centre of the play, the ghostly, 102 year-old Gladys Dawson. Shakira Clanton grows quietly more confident as the story moves on as Simone, the catalyst for the crisis of the story, subtly supported by an amusing cameo from Nicholas Brown, as the English/Hindu professor returning the remains of 'King Tulla', which are impersonated, as a spirit, by Ian Wilkes. The character of Young Jeremiah at my performance, by Wesley Patten, seemed to be superfluous to the action.

THE LONG FORGOTTEN DREAM is a well written naturalistic piece of writing that also moves into times past and into a spirit world with dramaturgical ease. It is confident and sometimes extremely passionately eloquent.

N.B. Ticket $99.00, plus $5.00 more for the pleasure of my arriving and paying for a ticket, in cash (not credit card!) - all MY effort - for the service that the Sydney Opera House offers: printing the ticket.
$12.00 for the program! - I could have bought a novel for that cost at a second hand store.
$13.50 for a sandwich and coffee, as dinner, prior to the 6.30pm showing.

The financial cost totally, not counting transport, a whopping $129.50.

Is it a wonder that one depends more and more on word of mouth (or real cultural curiosity) to endorse a work as a must see before forking out such a cost?
Who can afford subscription faith in the curating of the BIG companies anymore? Especially after the disaster of some of the artistic choices over the last decade or so. Both the STC and Belvoir!

$129.50 is a great deal of my so called disposable income to hand over, willy nilly, in good faith.
I also have Power Bills, to pay.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mum, Me and the I.E.D. - Director's Notes

I am Directing a new Australian play at The Depot Theatre in Addison Rd. Marrickville. It previews Thursday night, 16th August, and opens on Friday, 17th August, playing Wednesday to Saturday, until September 1st.

MUM, ME and THE I.E.D. is a new Australian Play by James Balian and Roger Vickery. Produced by Collaborations Theatre Group.

The actors are Phillipe Klaus, Elaine Hudson, Matilda Brodie, Martin Harper and Joshua Shediak.

The remarkable Creatives are Martin Kinnane (Lighting), Ben Pierpoint (Sound Design), Rachel Scane (Set and Costume Design), Lydia Kelly (Stage Manager and Operator), Julia Cotton (Movement Advisor) and Anthony Babicci (Scenic Painter/Advisor).

All of these artists have been remarkable to work with.

It is inspired by a short story written by Roger Vickery based on the circumstances of an acquaintance of his. A mother, who has a son home from war.

Like Arthur Miller's stylistic conceit in his play, AFTER THE FALL, this play is told through the mind set of its principal character, in our case through Rob Harrison - a soldier (Medic) returned from several tours for the Australian Army in Afghanistan. Rob is struggling with injuries of the mind, what has been, in our modern times, identified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD. PTSD is an illness that is of the mind that when 'triggered' takes the individual out of their 'present' and back to the 'past', to the trauma(s) of origin. Beside the violence of the psyche which is often demonstratively distressing, the unpredictability of the triggers are a principal 'danger' to the person.

This new Australian play takes us into the mind of a particular soldier as he attempts to find a way to acquire an equilibrium to be able to function in his world. He is, like all of us, an unreliable narrator. Recalling and shuffling his 'triggers' that may make sense for himself of what has happened and what IS happening to him. We only have one voice in a conscious PTSD state talking to us. Most plays, that I have read around this issue, avoid the mention of PTSD. Mr Balian and Vickery's play bring it to vocal underlining - it is said out loud, often, it is not a mysterious unnamed illness. The audience will experience the result of psychological injury. It is a roller coaster horror story.

I have been concerned for some time about the relative lack of support for the mentally 'injured' soldier who has until recently been stigmatised as a 'malingerer' or 'pretender' of injury. The Australian Army, the Australian Federal Government seem, to me, to be publicly recalcitrant in its  belief in the scale of the issue of the soldiers who have returned with this 'injury'. A missing leg, arm, eye, any Physical evidence is regarded with some kind of undeniable respect and compensation - but that of the mind is suspicious and debatable. It is, probably, a serious BUDGET issue for the Government and Defence Force, and to deny, or under report the issue is a pragmatic action of immense expediency (and cruelty.)

It is urgent for me to bring onto the stage an Australian play that may be a conscious source to begin a more public consideration/conversation about this terrible problematic 'epidemic'. To give aid and compassionate respect to the veterans of our services.

There is a kind of poetic irony to be rehearsing and later, playing this work, in The Depot Theatre, in the grounds of the Addison Road Community Centre, which was once an army base. To enter the site one passes a Historical Guide Post/Sign that tells us of The Save Our Sons (SOS) organisation, set up by Nareen Hewett in the era of the Vietnam War, in June 1965, until, it finally ended in 1972. Said Ms Hewett
We wanted mothers to stand up and say, "I'm a mother and I don't want my son to go" or "I don't want any son to go, not just mine."
Too, we park our cars in what was probably the Parade Ground where the young 18-20 year old draftees and volunteers were inducted into the necessary automaton of Army Preparation and Service. Our Mary Ellen and our Captain Crowe, our Rob and Brownie, feel, spookily, the ghosts from the past been resurrected in Mr Balian and Vickery's play. We feel the responsibility of the conversation that this play in its pertinence is having.

I accepted to work on this play because I could not find a contemporary work that was Australian that could authentically speak to us today in 2018. THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD, by Damien Millar (2008), at the Griffin, and then THE LONG WAY HOME, by Daniel Keene (2014), at the Sydney Theatre Company, were the last Australian plays of quality that took me to a conscious space of social alarm. I was reading American and, especially, British plays that touched, investigated these themes. I needed to find an authentic Australian voice concerning the Australian issue.

PTSD is a modern term for what we, in my family called, "Shell Shock", that went back into the history of my family, back to my Great grandfather, a survivor of World War I, to my uncles and dad who survived the Kokoda Trail and the Navy, who behaved in most peculiar, moody, ways, especially on ANZAC DAY, when they seemed to lose the plot with their past comrades of war in drunken reunions. I thought they were just stupid men, and now in hindsight comprehend the horrors of war and the comradeship that was welded into their lives. The possibility that they were coping with shell shock, PTSD, never entered my head. It was the education I had had, my Primary School Social Studies classes, which never spoke about the real casualties of war and Empire making. It hid the permanent psychological damage: for the glories of Empire (British) were taught to us as achievements of greatness, which we excitedly celebrated with 'Cracker Night' on Empire Night (Later Commonwealth Night) around street bonfires! I need to assuage my ignorant guilt in my behaviour to my progenitors.

In reflection, I have come to appreciate the behaviour of Barney and Roo in the iconic Australian Play THE SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL, better. I long to see a production of the Australian play, THE TOUCH OF SILK, written in 1928, by Betty Roland, concerning an Aussie soldier returning from the Fields of War in France, with a French wife (it is not only a PTSD story, but also a Refugee story!).

This is 2018, one hundred years since the end of the First World War, the supposed War to end all Wars. How many men, generationally, apparently, returned from war physically uninjured, but, are living daily in 'tortured' states? Hiding in rooms, the bush, the outback? In our research for this play we have shared the poetry of writers of war experience.

"FOREHEADS OF MEN HAVE BLED WHERE NO WOUNDS WERE" - Wilfred Owen, Poet and World War I veteran.

This is still the stigma of the contemporary PTSD veteran. There are no visible wounds. It causes shame, guilt and anger in these men and women.

I have encouraged the writers of MUM, ME and THE I.E.D. to expand the impact of PTSD into the ripple affects on the family and community at large. With Katie Pollock as their dramaturge, the writers, James Balian and Roger Vickery worked through some 18 drafts of the text before they brought it to me. We are now working on what I estimate be the 26th Draft of the writing - amazing resilient, generous writers. AMAZING! The actors of this production with their voluminous research and discoveries becoming the latest urging and opening of the finished/evolving script.

We have come to realise that all of us whether war veterans or not, in the pell mell of our present pursuits of living in the modern world, consciously or unconsciously are walking through, metaphorically, fields of IED's that can trigger in our psyche and take us to places of danger and erratic behaviour, at any time.

Grief we are told will pass, but in truth it sits within us permanently and may be triggered by the most trivial experience as the recent play and production, AIR, by Joanna Erskine, at The Old 505, taught us. We believe we have 'moved on' from that trauma but in reality it sits permanently within us hidden, locked away, until it is 'triggered', sometimes by a trivia, and strikes us as an IED of the mind.

Of course, I have always pointed out that the writers FREUD and JUNG wrote to help, through therapy, to solve life problems for patients in their clinics, and at the same time that STANISLAVKI wrote his books to solve artistic problems for actors - skills for acting. The modes to solve these problems, for life or art, are extremely similar. The actor is always searching his 'past' to solve his 'present' needs to channel entry points to find truths to create for an audience. It is where the artist searches for the 'triggers' to creative belief. The actor needs to be mentally 'healthy' to willingly take on the risk of injury. It is one of the dangerous "mysteries" of the craft of the actor - the necessary channeling of our personal and cultural traumas to be able to tell stories convincingly. It is why acting is HARD.

I hope you can join the conversation with us in the coming weeks.


Kevin Jackson


PYT Fairfield presents. PLAYLIST, a group-devised work by the company, at the old School of Arts, 19 Harris Street, Fairfield. 2-11 August.

PLAYLIST is a new Australian work devised by PYT under the Direction of Karen Therese.

The company of five performers, five young women: Ebube Uba, Mara Knezevic, May Tran, Tasha O'Brien and Neda Taha, part of the diverse cultural community in the outer Western suburb of Fairfield, have developed a 'show' based on their conversation about the artists, not exclusively female, but mostly, that have helped shape their everyday lives and social and political worlds, under the guidance and Direction of Karen Therese, the Artistic Director of the company.

It is says the program:
PLAYLIST is a feminist adrenaline rush. It's Beyonce meets the women's marches meets Australian Idol. It's full of suburban dreams and pop star fantasies; a 21st century call to action about the critical issues of our times.
Who is going to shape the future for women in Australia? Living in the #MeToo world, PLAYLIST explores the experiences, ideas and power of young women. PLAYLIST brings together the diverse skills of the performers, street dance forms and pop songs to offer an unconventional dance form experience.
The movable Set blocks by Zanny Begg are manipulated by the company as a sub-conscious means of propelling the experience of the work with Show-Biz Lighting by Verity Hampson.

The strength of this work is the disciplined dance work of the company, Choreographed by Larissa McGowan, tight, spunky and seemingly effortless in its energies and rigour - the 'joy' of moving - the company love it.

However, the weakness of this work is the content of the material, prepared by Director Karen Therese, that though it is fun and delivers insights into the growing-up influences on these young women, is, cumulatively, shallow in its concerns and the politics feels 'grafted' onto the event.

Or, was it, at the performance I saw that the performers delivered an oral performative affect of a lightly, trendy, hashtag, robotic commitment that is being 'mouthed', rather than coming from a core revolutionary belief of their espoused politics? At my performance, at least, the text did not seem to be authentic, not organically revealing in-the-moment truths. It seems well-drilled but not owned - pop - popular - propaganda, which they seemed to 'flaunt'. We were definitely at a performance.

Unlike the integrity of TRIBUNAL or the authentic simplicity of revelation in the work JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER, PLAYLIST feels more like a Musical Theatre escapade. Of delightful fun and immense skill but not attached to the usual PYT sense of social and cultural 'mission'. Still worth catching.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Moby Dick

Photo by Marnya Rothe
Sport For Jove Theatre Co and Seymour Centre present, MOBY DICK, adapted by Orson Welles, from the novel by Herman Melville, in the Reginald Theatre, City Rd Chippendale. 9th August - 24th August.

MOBY DICK, adapted by Orson Welles, from the novel by Herman Melville.

When this project was announced, I was surprised and couldn't help wondering why would you do it? Orson Welles filmed himself performing scenes from the novel in a one man version; he presented for the stage, MOBY DICK - A REHEARSAL, in 1955; and prepared a film version that was left unfinished in 1971. (I cannot find the information that can tell me the actual origin of the text we are seeing at the Seymour Centre, this month.)

I have attempted the Melville novel many times but never completed it. I don't know many people who have actually read it - "A mighty messy book" is a quote from the program note. I know the story through the Hollywood version, written by John Huston and Ray Bradbury, Directed by Huston, starring Gregory Peck (1956), in which Orson Welles, incidentally, has a small role, Father Mapple. I have, vicariously, read literary appreciations of the novel of 1851 and have a sense of it, the breadth of the vision and thematic occupations of the author and the many genre styles, Melville engaged in. The novel is regarded as one of the Great American novels. One day, soon, I promise!

So, what intrigued me while watching this production by Adam Cook, for Sport For Jove, was the literary power and ethical debates suggested (if not fully engaged with) in this Wellesian text (though, knowing Welles, I should not be surprised at its erudition): The spirit of God and the Universe, the fear and power of Nature, Greed (capitalism) and the exploitation of nature, Race, Masculinity and the meaning of Whiteness, the disastrous disease of Obsession, of the need for Revenge and the consequent struggle between Good and Evil, the Young and the Old. The language is heightened, poetic and theatrical - the breadth of Shakespeare's thematics and contemplations in poetry, an inspiration for Melville - so, the scale of the text on the stage I found arresting and immensely stimulating. Of, course, the text at only 81 minutes, or so, is possibly, nay probably, a 'horrible' diminishment of the original. One day, soon, I will read the novel!

I can recommend this production for the experience of the text.

Adam Cook in his program notes tells us,
When Damien Ryan and I decided that MOBY DICK would be our next project for Sport For Jove, I knew I couldn't direct a production of the script as Orson Welles envisioned it. As a play written for an ensemble of a dozen white men and a token white woman playing a little black boy from Alabama. Nor did I have any interest in casting a dozen white men. The story that Herman Melville wrote describes a doomed whale ship called the Pequod crewed by sailors from every race and corner of the planet ...Our starting point was the cultures and national heritage that make up our cast.
And so, there is a racial, cultural representation in the casting - an example of the Australian "melting pot" of immigration policy that has given this country its diversity. As well, however, maybe, following the need to have gender parity represented as well in the casting - a contemporary political shifting - this production has engaged four women with their voices and feminine viewpoints to become part of the crew of the Pequod.

Crucially, there has been a cross-gender casting of the tattooed harpooner, Queeqeg - Wendy Mocke - as an islander Princess, so losing the homo-erotic tensions of the novel, between he and the narrator of the tale, Ishmael, that was infamously part of the novel's original controversy (Tom Royce-Hampton - who strips almost naked for us, in this production). Whilst, the young challenger of the Captain of the ship, Starbuck (buck not doe) is created by Francesca Savige, thereby losing the symbolic heightened tension between the idealistic and young whaler male with the madly obsessed older Captain of the Ship, Ahab (Danny Adcock), thereby dissolving a constant thematic of Melville's writing (famously, distilled in the characters of of Billy Budd and Claggart in Melville's last novel BILLLY BUDD); and Pip, the African slave cabin boy (Rachel Alexander) - in this production a South East Asian of no distinct sex. Too, Tashtago is played by Vaishnavi Suryaprakash. While all these actors give brave and committed performances the historic all male hot house environment of the world of the novel, the play, is, relatively, emasculated, and the dramatic impact of this story, its philosophic questioning, is diluted. Herman Melville's two great books, MOBY DICK and BILLY BUDD are symbolically made dangerously powerful within the all male world of the wooden keel of the nineteenth century ship.

As well, the company of young actors: Mark Barry, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Bryden White-Tuohey (as well as Mr Royce-Hampton) have voices of no deep sonority (bass) - rather light weight sounds (baritone/tenor) in colour and effect, and since their is much poetic verse spoken as a company, the aural masculine power of the writing is, further, with the cross gender casting, much more diminished - Mr Adcock and Jonathan Mills, have no sonorous depths to contribute, either. For me, the only authentic sound of this heightened masculine world was that of the percussive ship bell - its clapper ringing-in the world of a nineteenth century male domain on the high seas in the quest of whale - in this incidence, the fatal meeting with the Great White Whale, Moby Dick.

The contribution of the Designer, Mark Thompson: Set, gleamingly atmospheric with its mixture of wood (ladders) and metal; Costume, a subtle blend of quasi-period and the modern; enhanced by the lighting of Gavan Swift, along with the company choreographic-movement to create the great whaling climax confrontation with Moby Dick, himself, by Nigel Poulton, is visually impressive, accompanied by propulsive live drumming (Tom Royce-Hampton - a member of Taikoz), and a Sound Design by Ryan Patrick Devlin.

In the central role of Ahab, Danny Adcock, in gravelly voice, is possessed with the mania of revenge, balancing the emotional angst with the philosophic debates of the tortured soul confronting the wilds of nature, with a consummate intellectual clarity.

To answer my question of why to do, to see this production: It is to hear the poetic erudition of this adaptation - (Reader's Digest in form, and vocally underpowered, though it may be) and the commitment of Mr Adcock.

N.B. It is once again my lamentable duty to point out that the writer, the adapter of this play, Orson Welles, has NO biography in the program - a very, very Sydney thing - to render the writer invisible - unknown.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Nell Gwynn

Photo by Chris Lundie

New Theatre presents, NELL GWYNN, by Jessica Swale, at the New Theatre, King St, Newtown. 8th August - 8th September.

NELL GWYNN, is a British play by Jessica Swale. The play won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2016.

The play in a very large number of short scenes - it is in two acts and is almost three hours long - brings to life the career of Nell Gwynn (Bishanyia Vincent), a young woman who grew up in Cheapside experiencing the rough side of life with her 'old Ma Gwynn' (Susan Jordan) and sister, Rose (Eleanor Ryan). The sisters became orange sellers (!) in the Kings Playhouse, Nell attracting the amorous attention of the leading actor, Charles Hart (Rupert Reid), who besides 'bedding' her, encouraged and trained her in the Arts of Acting - with the Restoration of Charles II to the English throne, amongst many sweeping reforms, he permitted women onto the stage, which he had become enamoured of in his European (French) exile.

Nell first appeared in John Dryden's (Steve Corner) INDIAN EMPEROR at the age of 15, and over time became a leading comic actress: "pretty witty Nell" as Samuel Pepys recorded in his famous diary of the times. At the age of 17 she became the mistress of the King, Charles, in 1668, and grew a loyal place in the heat and heart of the King, who ensured that even after his death (1685) she would be kept: "Let not poor Nelly starve" his last words, it seems. The heir to the throne, James II, in brotherly respect, paid off her debts, which she had accrued through a very generous life style, and gave her a pension. She died at the age of 37 - well beloved by the public.

This comic invention by Jessica Swale, creates a feisty young woman of wit and charm, giving the episodic development, a modern-day 'spin' of a 'feminist' at work in a patriarchal world. The writing style is briskly modern and, relatively, lightly sophisticated - straight to its contemporary 'political' points. It has the repartee of amusing banter - badinage - 'down flat', able to be grasped by all, mildly similar to that of the cheeky pertness of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton's television series, BLACKADDER, starring Rowan Atkinson.

Ms Swale's play does not at all reflect the language of the period, the complicated comic circumlocutions of the actual Restoration play e.g. Wycherly's, THE COUNTRY WIFE (1675), Etherege's, THE MAN OF MODE (1676), Aphra Behn's, THE ROVER*** (1677) or, Congreve's, LOVE FOR LOVE (1695), nor the contemporary brilliance of writer, Stephen Jeffreys', exampled in his play of the Restoration Theatre: THE LIBERTINE*** (1994) - which, generally, in this modern world, seems to be a literary and comprehension challenge, both, for most contemporary actors and contemporary audiences, with their technical skills dictated by the iPhone twittering in their back pockets, training and gratifying their short attention spans by prohibiting their ability to speak, communicate, listen beyond a certain number of allowable words! - letters of the alphabet, is it?

The Director of this production, Deborah Jones, has taken on the challenge of the episodic structure and many Set locations of NELL GYNN, (Set Design, by John Cervenka), that requires a cast of 16 actors in Restoration 'drag', being verbally witty, and occasionally having to sing and dance (Choreography, by Virginia Ferris). Ms Jones copes within the limits of budget and available talent, and for the most part delivers a very pleasant winter's night in the theatre - although, the clothing defeats her and her Costume Designer, Deborah Mulhall - it is, collectively, a visual 'nightmare', individually, though, some good work - and one felt that the last hour or so of the play needed more rehearsal - attention - as it began to lag in contrast to its earlier energy and crispness - as an audience member one began to tire.

Bishanyia Vincent has the intelligence and attractive light witty comic style to sustain the journey of Nell throughout the play - to be its, necessary beating heart - and handles her surrounding supporting actors with generosity and good sense. There is, especially, good theatrical 'chemistry' between her and Rupert Reid, who warmly creates a man of patience and gentle wit - it is not so obvious with her other major partner, Lloyd Allison-Young, as Charles II, who gives offers to his partners in the play but rarely receives, listens, or is affected by the return gestures. Steven Ljubovic, as the displaced actor, who has impersonated the women in the company's plays - Edward Kynaston - is amusing; Shan-Ree Tan, in a fairly thankless role as theatre company manager, Thomas Killigrew, creates an impression, as does Eleanor Ryan in a non-comic role in a comic play. All the company seem to be having a good time and that is infectious to the 'colour' of the production for their audience.

NELL GWYNN, is a light-weight comedy easy to digest. One wishes that Ms Swales' character had some of the verbal grit (feminist grit) that Elizabeth Barry, another actress of the Restoration period, had in Stephen Jeffereys' play, THE LIBERTINE. We have seen other female characters of the stage of the Restoration period in PLAYHOUSE CREATURES***, by April De Angelis (1993), that gave us Mrs Betterton and another version of Nell Gwynn. There is still another woman who made her mark in what once was an exclusive realm of the man, Anne Bracegirdle - and, with such a nomenclature could be an interesting exploration.

Thank goodness for the 'small' theatres in Sydney (supported by the artists without recompense - because of their necessary need to practice their craft), that curate contemporary work for Sydney audiences from the bigger world, that otherwise in this self-proclaimed INTERNATIONAL CITY would never be seen. Is it enough to have an architectural wonder, such as Utzen's so called Opera House, to draw the international tourist, to declare that Sydney is a cultural destination of note or importance? - I don't think so. I mean, that building is a wonder but what happens inside it is often an embarrassment of a wonder of another kind. My international guests are often startled with shock and disappointment. One, further, does wonder about what are on the Sydney Theatre Company stages (DINNER***) and at the Belvoir- A TASTE OF HONEY***, at times, as well, with such good contemporary writing available.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

King of Pigs

Photography by John Marmaras

Red Line Productions presents, KING OF PIGS, by Steve Rodgers, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St. Woolloomooloo. 1st August - 1st September.

KING OF PIGS, is a new Australian play, by Steve Rodgers.

This play has domestic violence as its target for discussion. Says Director, Blazey Best:
I've been hearing a lot about the 'Epidemic' of Family Violence and - faced with the statistics and the sheer relentless regularity of horrific stories in the news - it's hard to dismiss this as hyperbole. ... (KING OF PIGS) is not an apology for the perpetrators of violence, nor is it setting out to lay any blame on its victims. It's an invitation for us all to look at ourselves, our attitudes, and our prejudices.

Ella Scott-Lynch plays the Woman - playing five different women in five different scenarios with four different men: an uptight banker type (Ashley Hawkes); a young sex adventurer-addict (Christian Byers); a 'sporty' brutalist with a competitive streak (Mick Bani) and a therapist, father figure (Kire Tosevski) to a young primary school son (Thom Blake -at my performance - or, Wylie Best, the alternate).

A series of scenes over 70-minutes reveals to us a history of the arc of all, from the first meeting to the complications of partnerships that begins as love and dwindles to acts of violence. The time shuffled scenes are documentary/drama-like glimpses into the relationships. The men of the company play different distinguishable representatives - each an easily recognisable 'type' of man - with a committed honesty, revealing men entrenched in a culture that permits, enables, their unconscious entitlement, as the strong, the cultural patriarch, to vent frustrations with acts of violence, on the women, the weaker, the matriarchs.

Ms Scott-Lynch, as Woman, gives a performance of much virtuosity covering the plight of her five women without judgement or sentimentality. It is a demanding task delivered with focused energy, skills and creativity. A tour de force.

The play in its cool exhibition simply asks us to observe the women who weather the cultural inflictions from the male of our species. It seemed, to me, that the play was demonstrating -suggesting - that all of us, both the male and the female, must begin to take action, to talk, to protest, for change to happen. Both sexes must consciously awaken each other to the tragedy and injustice of this violence. A bridge between the sexes needs to be built and sustained.

Says Steve Rodgers of the advice given to him from his father, a counsellor of men who have anger management problems, some with domestic violence convictions: "When examining an issue that seems intractable, unchanging, and even hopeless, try to find some hope."

In the concluding scene of THE KING OF PIGS, the young boy reads a school speech for his parents - mother and father - that he has prepared. A speech about rocks, of the geology in the heart of this country. It is simply erudite, insightful and caring. Here is our hope, the innocent excitement of being alive, pure and optimistic, of a young soul not yet 'corrupted' into the status quo of the living human culture, appreciating the heart of his nation - "How', asks the mother,"can we keep him untainted?" - (I paraphrase).

Statistically, two women are being killed every week.

The play is Designed by Isabel Hudson, lit by Verity Hampson, with a striking score composition by Iota, that does much in keeping the night from becoming too grim. The Sound Design is by Tegan Nicholls.

KING OF PIGS, is a welcome and challenging night in the theatre, beautifully acted by all, notably, Ms Scott-Lynch and especially, Kire Tosevski.

Hell's Canyon

The Old 505 presents, HELL'S CANYON, by Emily Sheehan, in the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. 1st August - 11th August.

Photo by James John

HELL'S CANYON, is a new play, perhaps, a first play, by Australian writer, Emily Sheenan. 60 minutes long. Ms Sheenan in her notes for the program tells us that she wrote HELL'S CANYON 'to try to make sense of the grief and rage and pain I felt as a young person'.

Two teenagers, 17 year old Caitlin (Isabelle Ford) and 15 year old Oscar (Conor Leach) are weighed down with the angst of the recent circumstances of their lives. Hunter, Caitlin's boyfriend and Oscar's older brother, has hung himself from the rafters in the garage. Both these teens are coping with this tragedy as best they can, by themselves. Caitlin, however, is coping with even more, she has been diagnosed with cancer of the bone and is due for an operation almost immediately. This she tells Oscar on a flee from the world supports they have had about them. They struggle against a sense of joint despair.

The writing has promise, it has a poetic vision and a daring to 'play' in a place of surreal, as well as in the grim naturalism of the greater part of the play's circumstances. There is too much exposition that tends to repeat itself before it moves forward with the 'storytelling', and the tragedy sometimes becomes, in this production a kind of overstated 'melodrama'.

Ms Ford, as Caitlin, unfortunately, gives a performance that tends to play in a narrow vocal range and volume, with a tendency to 'pretend' - recite - her text for her journey, than to 'experience' it. Mr Leach's work is 'composed' on a, relatively, superficial and unsophisticated palette, trusting that his attractive energy will be enough to convince us to be concerned for Oscar. It does not.

Director, Kate Crawthorne, has staged the play but has not interrogated the play or required her actors to tell experienced truths. Intellectually, Ms Crawthorne's program notes has a sense of the dramaturgical potential of Ms Sheenan's play but she has not the penetrating skills to mine them for the audience with these actors.

What is best about this production is the determined effort by these fledgling artists to show the work. HELL'S CANYON is the first of many stepping stones, one hopes.

The Almighty Sometimes

Photo by Brett Boardman
Griffin Theatre Company presents THE ALMIGHTY SOMETIMES, by Kendall Feavour, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst. 27July - 9 September.

THE ALMIGHTY SOMETIMES, by Australian writer, Kendall Feavour, was first presented at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, in February, 2018. The Griffin Theatre Company is now presenting the Australian Premiere, Directed by Lee Lewis.

The content matter of this play is of interest in our zeitgeist. A young girl, Anna (Brenna Harding), at the age of eight has filled notebooks with writing that is extraordinarily advanced in its observational content - if not problematic in its violence. Is Anna unwell - mentally unwell?- or, a prodigy? Her mother Renee (Hannah Waterman), after Anna fails at a supposed attempt of suicide - throwing herself out of a one story window and breaking her arm - seeks consultation with doctors. After much interrogation, Anna, at the age of eleven, has being diagnosed with a range of mood and behavioural disorders and under the care of Vivienne (Penny Cook), a highly respected child psychiatrist, is put on a regimen of drugs.

When the play begins, Anna is now eighteen, she is being moved to an adult psychiatrist - as the medical system requires. Anna realises that what happens to her is now her prerogative - she is an adult. She has choice. As a child Anna could write. As an adult she can't. "Is it possible?" she asks:
I have been on those pills so long, I don't know who I am without them - if the things I say or do are because of the medications or in spite of it - but what I do know is that before you put me on them I could write. It's the only thing I know about myself that is true, or real, or in any way authentic - and I was ... good. Better than good - I've been thinking for a while now that maybe I could have, or might have been, or am, or was, some kind of - I don't know ... some kind of - (prodigy?)" 
Against the wishes of her mother and psychiatrist Anna withdraws from her daily drug prescriptions, goes 'cold turkey'. Her behaviour takes on a radical trajectory almost immediately, and a new drug regime needs to be found because chemically the brain, as we understand it, has been potentially changed.

The play reveals Anna's, the patient's behaviour, under traumatic stress and the ripple effect of that on those about her: firstly, her psychiatrist who decreed the original drug therapy and now is under pressure to find a 'formula' to hopefully re-medicate Anna, successfully; secondarily, her mother who made the original decision to medicate her child-daughter and now is having to begin care all over again, for her adult-daughter - wracked by the efficacy - ethics - of her first decision that she made on her daughter's behalf; and, lastly, Oliver (Shiv Palekar), a young man who had begun a relationship with Anna, who has had a history of caring for the 'disabled' - his dad - and may be now too empathetically 'burnt out' to continue this new relationship - he struggles with his need to survive as an individual and undoing his habitual instinct, training, to sacrifice himself for the less able.

Ms Feavour in her notes in the program tells us that she began writing the play in 2012 in response to what was being debated concerning the so-called medication 'epidemic'. That her generation, 'Gen Y, had the dubious honour of being the most medicated in history' and that there was little to no research on the long term effects of psychotropic medications, or any suggestion of how many of these young people would continue their treatment into adulthood - maybe, into perpetuity. The fear that her play of 2012 might be dated was wiped away when she discovered Gen Z, Anna's generation, was far more likely to be medicated than her own. - it is still, in 2018, a vital issue.

Each experience of mental illness is different and some like Anna's are profoundly confusing as to their 'correctness' of diagnosing and medicating, and yet, on the other hand, there are many young people who have undoubtedly had their lives saved by medical intervention. To apply a medication regime is fraught with real and ethical dilemma.

What is it that we know of how the brain works? Not enough? Enough? Here is the dilemma at the heart of this play.

Ms Feavour's play is an emotional and simplified exposition of this debate. I felt that the first half of THE ALMIGHTY SOMETIMES was too long-winded in its exposition and it was not until after the interval break that the play became at all absorbing. I kept, mentally, referring back to the Lucy Prebble play, THE EFFECT, which co-incidentally was premiered in 2012, in London (the same year that Ms Feavour began her writing of this play). For, its examination of these same issues were presented in a more interesting and complex construct and execution. (Both Sydney productions of THE EFFECT were underwhelming and misconceived - relatively shallow in their investigation of the potential of the writing. I was fortunate to see a lucid and challenging version: the original production at the National Theatre.)

The actors in this production are genuinely involved and convinced about the debate at the interesting core of Ms Feavour's concern and have a kind of zealotry, and give a clear sense of the 'argument' of the characters (and play) and have an 'intellectual' grasp of the emotional potential of each of their people. However, the effect of the performances, I felt, were relatively superficial - 'theatrical' - in their reality.

Mr Palekar, plays Oliver, an intelligent 21 year old blue collar worker, as a slightly dimwitted 13 year old in his tendency to semaphore physically - facially and gesturally - 'demonstrating', his character's responses to the challenges of Oliver's journey.

Ms Cooke, as psychiatrist, Vivienne, is impressive in her technical and energetic delivery of the text, but the professional knowledge and skill of the character seemed to lack studied security of depth to convince me of an organic passion for Vivienne's professional diagnosis and frustrations which gave an impression of the character's 'arrogance' rather than honest belief in Vivienne's decisions/actions.

Ms Waterman, as the Mother, Renee, chartered her journey with a secure arc of storytelling but tended to sit on the surface of an emotional empathy - erring sometimes into a kind of sentimentality - asking for a sympathy for Renee's bewildered situation instead of revealing the complex motivations for her original decisions and the sustaining of her suppressed traumatic stress disorder - there is artfulness on show but not plumbed raw experienced truths. No doubt, Ms Waterman knows of them but is, relatively, resisting revealing them as a living life force (of her own).

Brenna Harding, in the very difficult and challenging central role of the unstable Anna, plays with a fervour of raw energy and passion from the 'get-go' that cumulatively becomes a sweeping force that, in the small space of the SBW Stables Theatre, is overpowering and ultimately opaque in its garbled and noisy volume for involving belief - it lacks control, gradation. There is a kind of impression that the textually referenced films GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1999) and FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) were the basis for Ms Harding's 'entrance' in creating Anna - for the control of the prepared storyteller was relatively absent from the work, and was rather substituted with frantic generalised symptoms of the character combusted by an excited passion for the opportunity that the writer, with this Director, has offered her. The performance can be admired for its energetic commitment but is distracting in its passionate, unsophisticated skill blurrings. One can barely empathise with Anna, for the information of her text is 'drowned' by a powerful demonstration of emotional states. We can observe Anna is emotionally disturbed but cannot, easily, discern Why.

Director, Lee Lewis, places the work on a raised white stage with a Todd-AO 70mm curved wall and, simply, a couple of chairs and a table, Designed by Dan Pottra, and lit, by Daniel Barber.

The content of THE ALMIGHTY SOMETIMES is pertinent but not interrogated too complexly. This production, seems rather more interested in the emotional opportunities it can provide for the storytelling, overwhelming the intellectual arguments provided. We get to watch the effect of the ploys of the 'victims' of this contemporary epidemic practice of chemical medicating of unsocial behaviours, sometimes at the expense of the real persona of the individuals.

The Griffin are giving us a sensation in their theatre. Passion is all. I became more admiring of Lucy Prebble's THE EFFECT and its relative balance of compassion and scientific debate around this social/political issue.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Cry Baby

Photo by Robert Cato

Producer Lauren Peters and Hayes Theatre, present CRY BABY, Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger. Based on the Universal Pictures Film Written and Directed by John Waters. At the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Ave, Darlinghurst. July 20 - August 19.

CRY BABY, is an American Musical of 2007. It is based on a John Waters film, as was the musical, HAIRSPRAY, of 2002. HAIRSPRAY played on Broadway for 2,642 performances. CRY BABY managed only 45 previews and 68 performances. One was a mega hit the other a mega flop.

However, CRY BABY at The Hayes Theatre belies those set of facts. For this production led by Director Alexander Berlage is a great big booming hit - (or, a great big piece of clever persiflage, perhaps?) It concerns the star crossed lovers, Allison (Ashleigh Rubenach) belonging to the pastel 'squares' of a Baltimore environ and the other-side-of-the-tracks vivid 'drape', Wade 'Cry Baby' Walker (Christian Charisiou). Like Juliet and Romeo they fall in love and nothing much runs smoothly until the end. The Eisenhower American Dream culture is being assaulted by a youthful revolution of a claustrophobic reality to the beat of the iconoclastic threat of Rock 'n Roll led by Cry Baby (a Johnny Ray sound-alike, a precursor to the full on Elvis swivelling hips and bombardment of sound), from Turkey Point, who with his 'kooky' (draped) crowd invade and uproot the dullness of his home town - but, not without punitive overload.

John Waters known as the 'King of Bad Taste' or the 'Pope of Trash' wrote and made the film CRY BABY in 1990, starring Johnny Depp, in the middle of his career when he had mainlined the mainstream and gone commercial - as far away, in tone, from the infamous PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) as the planet Uranus is to Earth. The musical is a sanitised Waters effort, made for popular consumption, that still, though, has enough subversive satiric (if not quite satanic) patter to keep a gurgling comic response coming from its audience - for, the ridiculous (read, stupidly funny) Book (Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan) and the smart Lyrics (David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger) are well served for clarity by the Sound Design of Tegan Nicholls (an unusual achievement in the Hayes in my experience.)

In this production, Isabel Hudson has created a Set Design for CRY BABY that has a bubble gum, candy stick explosion of red and white stripes, booby trapped with wall and floor door flaps for pop-out appearances from a tireless ensemble of incredibly energised 'youngsters', twirling, swirling about in eye-boggling, outrageously conceived Costumes by Mason Browne, some whip smart wiggery (Wigs by Vanity) and Make-ups (Oliver Levi-Malouf).

Mr Charisiou (Baby Baby Baby Baby Baby (Baby Baby)) and Ms Rubenach (I'm Infected) are incredibly gifted vocally, and within the cartoonish needs of this genre, give impeccable and well judged performances, that are extremely charming and lively - a secure central core for this endeavour. But, then, so do they all, right across the casting board: Joel Granger, as the sneaky goody-goody villain of the piece, Baldwin (Squeaky Clean); Laura Murphy, the screw loose nutter of the piece - serious stalker, Lenora Frigid (Screw Loose); Alfie Gledhill, the seriously talented 'Mercutio' support to the hero - Dupree (Jukebox Jamboree); and a wonderfully sustained performance of 50's caricature of hypocrisy, by Beth Daly, as Mrs Vernon-Williams - awful but likeable (I Did Something Wrong ... Once). There is a gang of seriously young groupies: Hatchetface (Manon Gunderson-Briggs), Wanda (Amy Hack), Pepper (Bronte Florian) and an Ensemble, led by wickedly 'camp' Blake Erickson, in a series of don't-blink-or-you-might-miss-'em cameos that inspires crazy but disciplined work from Brooke Almond, Hayden Baum, Aaron Gobby and Ksenia Zofi.

It is the sheer full-on energy of the production propelled by the gaspingly brilliant choreography of Cameron Mitchell - wait till you see the bravura piece: Jailyard Jubilee! (inspired by Elvis and his JAILHOUSE ROCK -1957?) - and the Musical Direction of Nichols Griffin with a small band of four that takes you by the scruff of the neck and hurls you into the mindless madness of this invention.

CRY BABY is not deep. The characters are 2D caricatures. There are no real emotional demands. The material aims at a 'campy' soft satire. Or is it cleverer than I think - disturbingly clever? Hmmm?

WHATEVER! There is talent galore on stage that serves the material impeccably and did overwhelm me - you. Well, you were cheering, weren't you?

Director Alexander Berlage has this year given Sydney: THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX, at the Old Fitz; HOME INVASIONS, at The Old 505 and now this. He has an ability to weld a company together and package a bright contemporary gleam to his work, for Mr Berlage is also an extraordinary Lighting Designer. For like CRY BABY these shows had a most pleasing aesthetic and energy - though, nearly all surface and, mostly, little meaningful content. Or, if it does have content, is it just overwhelmed with enthusiastic glitzy 'show-biz' indulgences? Is Mr Berlage aiming at entertainment of a startling pleasure that reduces, perforce of his skill, the works to being more, than less, empty headed in affect.

It was more than a little creepy to hear, after the horrible 'journeys' of murder, arson, deceit, injustice, persecution and lax moral compasses, that are the spine and activity of nearly all the characters of this 'satiric' story, to have a final song belted, optimistically, out to us from an American Broadway musical that NOTHIN BAD'S EVER GOING TO HAPPEN, in the future, without thinking of the U.S. of A. and the Trumpian tweets that invade our grip on the world, nearly everyday. Is it enough to have a good laugh at a large part of the American Dream gone to smash, dragging the rest of us to hell with it, to just have a quick image of a multi-coloured Mexican hat been squashed underfoot into one of the trap doors to oblivion to assuage the celebration at the end of CRY BABY? I don't know. I felt my ecstatic 'rush' at the end of the show might have been what Nero felt as he played his violin while Rome burned down around him. The terrible question is: Do I regret the time spent with this American 'propaganda' and have any guilt that I actually loved, loved, loved it? And, now recommend it to you?

CRY BABY was a late (hasty?) substitution for the first expected production of AMERICAN PSYCHO, after its rights were not available, for this team at The Hayes.

CRY BABY = AMERICAN PSYCHO. Cue the iconic Hitchcock PYSCHO Soundtrack quote by Bernard Herrmann as I ponder this more. (Shriek! Shriek! Shriek!)