Saturday, September 29, 2018


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:
Mary - Jesse-Belle Keogh.
Steve - Luke McMahon.
Joe - Valentin Lang.
Anthea - Elle Harris.

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


  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


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.


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.

The Misanthrope

Photo by Brett Boardman

Bell Shakespeare in association with Griffin Theatre Company present THE MISANTHROPE, by Moliere. A new version by Justin Fleming. In The Playhouse, at the Sydney Opera House. 28th August - 28th September.

Justin Fleming has created a new, Australian version of Moliere's LE MISANTHROPE. Lee Lewis has Directed it. This is the fourth Translation/Adadptation of a Moliere play that we have seen from Mr Fleming: TARTUFFE or THE HYPOCRITE, THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES and THE LITERATI - and there is another one coming next year, THE MISER, with John Bell. Lee Lewis has Directed three of these works. Peter Evans, Artistic Director of Bell Shakespeare, will have Directed two of them.

Bell Shakespeare has embraced the work of that Frenchman, Moliere, as an alternate Classical palette to their principal writer, Englishman , Shakespeare, for their audiences (Racine, too). And, although Moliere achieved his fame in the French Court of Louis XIV, and his famous plays appeared, mostly, in the 1660's (LE MISANTHROPE in 1666) well after the English Court of Elizabeth and her heirs, James I (with the Elizabethan and Jacobean Playwrights), Charles I and the closed theatres of the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell and his son, Richard, they, in their own way are as commanding in their intricacy and difficulties and in their political and social discourse and satire, as any in the Classic English repertoire, which may of course have taken influence, latterly, Moliere inspired, by the Writers of Charles II's Court, on his Restoration to the English throne, in 1660.

The Griffin Theatre, who prides its pursuit of New Australian work, has, under the Artistic Directorship of Lee Louis, counted the Adaptations of Justin Fleming as part of that enterprise.

THE MISANTHROPE was presented in 1666 and literary critics regard it as one of Moliere's most sophisticated works - if not his greatest. It concerns Alceste who hates false flattery and social niceties or compromise. Alceste insists on speaking the Truth and only the Truth. That causes Alceste much trouble, for the Truth can be confronting! As well, Alceste's Achilles heel is a devotion for a member of his society who is a notorious 'flirt' - a practice that Alceste is oblivious to. The Misanthrope, Alceste, is a figure that is difficult to discern, appreciate - is Alceste a hero or a fool? Should we admire Alceste for those strong standards of honesty? Or, should we regard Alceste as a fool for having such idealistic and unrealistic views about the regular conventions and behaviour of society? This play puzzled his audience, for here was a work that was not so obvious in its satirical targeting. Or, was it too, too, obvious?

Unequivocally, TARTUFFE (1664) and DON JUAN (1665) had been targeted at the hypocrisy of the Church and sexual exploitation. THE MISER (1668) would be targeted at Wealth, THE LITERATI (1672), at literary pretension and THE IMAGINARY INVALID*** (1673), at Doctors and medical practice (adapted by Hillary Bell as THE HYPODCHONDRIAC). THE MISANTHROPE has a more sombre tone, a more ambiguous targeting. For amusing, funny, as it is, it is also closer to the rub of the behaviour of most of us - the audience - in our negotiations with our contemporaneous worlds. It questions our practice of using 'little white lies' or 'big whopping ones' to facilitate felicitous relationships. WE ARE ITS TARGET?!!!! This play proved, relatively, unsuccessful in its premiere, and was quickly withdrawn. The world that greeted it was not absolutely sure whether they were the target of the wit and moralistic whip of the writer, and how dare he do so, if he was. It could be, was, is, quite confronting and disquietening.

Finding the 'tone' to deliver this play for our contemporary world maybe just as difficult, as it was in 1666, for it to be a universal success. Finding the right 'tone' for Australians in our present societal upheavals with the cracks of the Pillars of our Community - Church, Government, Banks, etc with revealing lies and deceitful practice - may be more than a trifle too awkward. Many a Banker (and other money men) and Lawyer were seated in the audience I was with! - and they may not like it. 'Is this entertainment?' they may well ask. We ordinary mortals, struggling with the nakedness, the openness that Social Media exposes us to and the invitation to participate in anonymous 'trolling' with fake 'news', uncensored, so easily available to our fingertips, Moliere's THE MISANTHROPE may be striking very near our 'bone' to have our appreciation. To be disturbed - is it 'stalked'? - at the Bell Shakespeare and Griffin, is that what you think is entertainment? At the Opera House, for goodness' sake?

Add the modernity of shifting the genders of most of the characters, as suggested by Ms Lewis to Mr Fleming, and another layer of confronting production concept may assert itself. Alceste, THE MISANTHROPE, or THE CANTANKEROUS LOVER (the full title of the play) has re-allocated gender and is played by Danielle Cormack; too, Philinite has become Phillipa, and is played by Rebecca Massey; while the female protagonist, Celimene is now Cymbeline, a preening male Rock Star, played by Ben Gerrard, and Arsinoe has changed sex and become Arsenio, played by Simon Burke. The play contains the frisson of heterosexual love, bi-sexual love and homosexual love without comment or excuse - it is the way of this world.

The world of this production is mostly played in the Rock Star's film studio, before, during and after the recording of his latest visual contribution to the Music World. Beginning back stage in the studio cluttered with the paraphernalia of props, furniture and costume, clearing for the rehearsal and recording, in front of a white rolled-out back-drop with the spectacular entrance of a huge white unicorn, all meticulously Designed by Dan Potra, and lit by Matthew Marshall, this adaptation of Moliere's play by Justin Fleming, is crackling with his usual wickedly witty, distinctive Australian eye (and ear) and clever flair for the difficult translating of the Alexandrine French poetry to capture with inventive rhythm and rhyme an Australian equivalent that communicates story, character and coruscating satiric comedy and observation. The original text and this new mode is not as laugh-out-loud as the plays we have seen and heard in the recent Moliere triumphs by Mr Fleming, but, is, rather seriously tempered for its societal critique, bristling and barbed, with satisfying accuracy and empathetic intention.

Moliere/Fleming is not for the lazy, or the members of the audience blighted with an attention deficit disorder, for the concoction of the language juggles are dense in their structure and are demanding of your full attention - if you are alert, the evening is extremely stimulating, witty and provocative, and makes you believe that you are indeed a clever fellow/person. The usual contrivance in play literature of the pursuit of sex and or love as the spine of the storytelling is there, conventionally necessary and entertaining but becomes subservient to the gradual revelation of the 'monstrous' but True societal observations and critiques.

That feeling of self-congratulation at one's cleverness is, of course, the result of the hard work of the actors in their intellectual perception and skill management of the material to seamlessly manipulate you into that zone of concentration that completely (mostly) absorbs you and gives you the clues to focus on the nunaced development of character and story to entertain and enlighten you - reflect a mirror image to you - for you can leave the Playhouse a properly provoked person, perhaps even, a changed person, at least a more observant human with sensitive attenae alert to the little and big falsities that one may practice in one's own life to facilitate an easier voyage through the 'storms' of just living in this complicated world.

Particularly immaculate in communicating Mr Fleming's world is the clever physical posturing of gesture, accompanied by a poignant, intelligent, use of the language to web us into the play, detailed with an active layer of inner monologue in listening and responding to the offers of the other characters that his Cymbeline meets, is the performance from Ben Gerrard. He captures the self-centred narcism of this preposterous invention as if it were a true part of himself - the controlled power that he physically achieves in the Choreography created for him by Kelley Abbey, and his internal ownership of the lyrics of the song (Mr Fleming) and Music Composition by Max Lambert and Roger Locke are riveting - for their beauty of action and for the observation of an ego running egregiously rampant.

The 'strained' scene of confrontation between Cymbeline and Arsenio, played flawlessly, and with subtle thought processes as sharp as a rapiers edge, intent in wounding deeply, but with the surface composure of the 'innocent' butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth 'dandyisms' of a super-precise intention by Simon Burke was the highlight of the night - interesting, for it is a scene usually played by two women - neither, of these men in this world show outward bruising, but the internal damage must be a spectacular bleed. Cymbeline and Arsenio do not much like each other.

Wonderful, too, is the work of Rebecca Massey as Phillipa, the devoted and querulously restless 'friend' of Alceste - one came to care for her choices in her life - there is great clarity in her character's intellectual and emotional life. While Hamish Michael, in two wonderfully conceived manifestations of poetical conceit and possible mediocrity in his carefully crafted characters Cleveland, and especially, Orton, gives a confident delight at every offer he contributes to this production. Catherine Davies (Eleanor) and Anthony Taufa (Angus), in smaller roles made supporting contributions, the former of a yearning heart, the latter, of an over-inflated mediocrity.

Danielle Cormack, handsome in her green velvet three piece suit, in high heeled boots and with a thick curly leonine blonded hair, topping off the 'look' (Brilliant Costume Design also by Dan Potra), and providing the opportunity of a characteristic physical gesture of finger-raking in moments of stress for Alceste, focuses with a gripped intellectual firmness the density of Alceste's fulminations. The character from the page to the stage requires a stamina of acuity and vocal skill of some dimension - unfortunately, Ms Cormack's voice was sounding worn and not always resonant in the tonal control needed to keep the audience completely intent on the 'arguments' of the protagonist - The Misanthrope. Ms Cormack seemed to tire, as well as the time passed. The play should cascade from the prominence of the power of the actor playing The Misanthrope, this was not always so, on the night I watched. There is promise of magnificence but it was, as yet, hampered by the wearying vocal sounds.

"Time. Time. Time", sings Cymbeline as the last utterance of this production of the play. Indeed, time speeds by and human behaviour stays (tragically) static in its responses for survival.

I had a treat with Ms Lewis' Direction of this very difficult play and I recommend it, with the caveat that you go 'game-ready'. 'Game-ready' and it will be worth it.

N.B. There is no Bio-graphical note concerning the original writer of this work: MOLIERE. Hmmm? The writer, the originator of all this art and craft, ignored.

Saturday, September 1, 2018


Sydney Opera House present, Jakob Ahlbom's HORROR, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 28th August - 2nd September.

Olivia Ansell, the Head of Contemporary Performance Sydney Opera House, has curated HORROR, a work by Jakob Ahlbom , which she says
... was the cult hit of the London International Mime Festival, before taking Europe by storm.' This production has promised us that this stage show will help us 'remember the first time we experienced sheer terror ... with classic films like THE POLTERGEIST and THE EXORCIST ensuring young people never slept without a night light.
The hype must have worked because this show has sold out - on opening night they had even sold Standing Room! I guess there are a lot of Horror geeks out there - remember the popularity of the Ghost Train at Luna Park - who were prepared for the LIVE challenge of being made to experience 'The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind (which) is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.' I and my companion, in great expectation, bought our tickets (70.00 each) to have just such a terror filled night.

Unfortunately, this HORROR succeeds best as a curious entertainment that has fairly stock theatre/vaudeville, 'magic' tricks of Design, Lighting and Sound, and a troupe of competent Physical Theatre-Dance artists that make not a Homage to the horror genre but, rather, fleeting References to cinematic thrills that we have treasured.

The most fun or 'thrill' I had watching this show was trying to keep up with the many, many references.

  1. People in Red Raincoats: DON'T LOOK NOW.
  2. Black and White flickering video: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.
  3. A middle-aged woman dressed in a period black floor length uniform with severely coiffed hair, entering from a cupboard and holding young woman close : Mrs Danvers, from REBECCA.
  5. A 360 degree revolving head: THE EXORCIST.
  6. Music Box Lullaby Tune: ROSEMARY'S BABY - now that was legitimate thrill, that held a promise of memorialised terror - it's my favourite scary movie. 'La, la, la, laaa. La, la, la.'
  7. The pulling out of a victim's intestine and tongue and eating it: THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
  8. The Automaton People, coming from the bath tub: don't know that one - stumped! - and it became 'lame' when they turned on hand held torches.
  9. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Hey, to get us true HORROR fans on board you need more than this safe guessing competition and perhaps, a clearer story for us to travel with (there is no spoken dialogue) - and a lot more provocative grossness to truly shock us would have helped - how about throwing the intestines sprinkled in a shower of blood out to us, in the audience to gnaw on?!!!. (Opera House Workplace Health and Safety Issues, I guess).

If you are a regular theatre goer this show is fairly ho-hum in its skills, nothing 'wonderful' here. You would have to be a neophyte to be wowed by this company's skills, or to be 'suckered' into any of this as horror. As part of a MIME Festival entry (London), the genre that these skills are 'seated' in, might be a novelty, but as HORROR - NOT.

So, no.

Let's pack-up for a trip to New Zealand to see, experience, SPOOOKERS at that ex-psychiatric hospital that has been set up with a cast of participants to scare the 'shit' out of you as you walk through - they even have a Corn Field rustling outside. It is all LIVE and interactive. Florian Habicht's documentary on this venture - also called SPOOKERS, was screened as part of the Horror Films section at the Sydney Film Festival, in 2017.)

Mime Troupe: five out of ten (too careful in the fight sequences - one could see the technique at work. And, hey, could't we have had some women threatening a man, instead of the usual scenario of threatened 'rape', with three (four?) men versus one woman in a robust fight sequence, you know, just for a contemporary reflection's sake?)

Horror (Terror): One out of ten.

Us Horror geeks are hard to be conned.

Theatre geeks might be amused.

Mr Ahlhom's HORROR does not deliver what was promised: "Sheer terror" - NOT.

Hype, Hype, Hype.

She Loves Me

Hayes Theatre Co presents, SHE LOVES ME. Book by Joe Masteroff. Music by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Based on a play by Miklos Laszlo. At The Hayes Theatre. 24th August - 15th September.

SHE LOVES ME, is a musical appearing first on Broadway in 1963. Famously revived on Broadway in 1994. Roundabout Theatre again revived it in 2016 - all productions attracting Tony Award nominations - as did the Menuier Chocolate Factory in London. I first met the show as part of Neglected Musicals presented at The Hayes in May, 2012. Based on a play called Parfumiere, by Miklos Laszlo (1937), the plot and characters we know well from film adaptations: the Ernst Lubitsch THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan; the 1949 musical IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME, with Judy Garland and Van Johnson; and the Nora Ephron 1994 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan,YOU'VE GOT MAIL.

Originally written in 1937, by Miklos Laszlo (Hungarian of a German Jewish family), the play was made during the simmering European tensions fuming from the economic pressures of the Great Depression, the frightening rise of the force of Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler and the threatening power of the USSR, reigned over by (Tsar) Joseph Stalin. The plot and characters are entirely escapist and became and still are resonant touchstones of the humanist need to be loved and love.

SHE LOVES ME, Book created by Joe Masteroff with Music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF [1964] fame) is set in period and carries that romantic patina of 'it will all end well', in the end. With our own Democratic demonstrations of power in Canberra and Sydney, our economic wage-deprived times, the collapse of our confidence in the Pillars of our Community: Church, Bankers etc, and the tweet, tweet, tweeting of International and National policy push-and shove (does that equate as 'bullying'?) of President Trump, SHE LOVES ME, sometimes known as the 'Ice-cream Musical' (because of the Act two song: Vanilla Ice-Cream, sung by heroine, Amalia, played and sung by the inimitable Barbra Cook, in the original production), is a welcome respite - much like the pure joyous hysteria over at Belvoir, CALAMITY JANE.

This production at The Hayes Theatre, Directed by Erin James, has a draped red curtain awaiting to be 'swished' away to reveal a 'gorgeous' period setting by Isabel Hudson, built on a raised platform, with a flat floor fore-space for other 'ingenious' action, especially the lavish Choreography, by Leslie Bell. Ms Hudson is also in charge of the Costumes, which are beautifully detailed and many. The whole thing lit sympathetically, warmly, by Matt Cox.

The outstanding Musical Direction, by Steven Kreamer, with his 'band' of five instrumentalists: Sam Blackburn, Andy Davies, Bernard Lagana, Nicholas Griffin and Tracey Lynch, is wonderfully orchestrated to create a whimsical milieu to support the action of the play, that is almost a sung-through work - not quite, but nearly.

Only nine performers make up the cast and they all work to produce a marvellous 'machine' of almost flawless rhythm. All the voices are superb and the choreographic details are magical. Kurt Phelan (Stephen Kodaly), creates a marvellous turn demonstrating, with a lightness of touch, the necessary three needs of the Musical Theatre actor - the ability to sing, dance and act. So does, Zoe Gertz (Ilona Ritter), with surrounding supports Suzanne Steele, Georgina Walker and Tony LLewllyn-Jones (Zoltan Maracek). Whilst Jay James-Moody, supports as Ladislau Sipos, and then scene steals, deliciously, as the Waiter. Joel Granger (Arpad Lazlo), who has come from the recent CRY BABY, at The Hayes, makes another impressive contribution (an actor to keep an eye on). Rowan Witt (Georg Nowack) and Caitlin Berry (Amalia Balash) carry the responsibility of the star-crossed lovers, the principals of the show, with alacrity and clarity. It is a very talented group of performers.

This production of SHE LOVES ME has the high standard of quality care and presentation that The Hayes Theatre is becoming famous for. I wished that it was just a little 'softer', with the thwarted puzzled sentiment of the vital survival romantic need we all have, especially when we feel under duress, to be embraced. Not a sentimental but, rather, a vulnerable yearning for physical and emotional sustenance that the 'animal' in us seeks.

Is this Production, including the Musical Direction, just a little too Slick"? There is a gleam of precision and pace, sometimes too brittle an edge to the performance that dissuades us, prevents us, from completely endowing our own romaticisms onto the events and characters we, as an audience want to participate, create an experience, with. For instance, I felt the oft repeated refrain (4 times) of the shop workers to their customers as they exit: 'Thank You Madame' - an endearing simplistic moment of courtesy - had no telling dramatic development in the arc of this production, which I think it ought, to catch our hearts, not just our intellectual appreciation of it as a 'cynical' mock of commercial capitalism at its most manipulative, with its persistent intrusions. (N.B. The repeat of musical themes and text is a technique employed by these writers which they perfected , subtly, in their Musical which followed, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF). My companion and I had an enthusiastic discussion as we headed for our train, after the, relatively, pleasant night in the theatre.

This production of SHE LOVES ME, is another reason to explain why (justify, if you have to), The Hayes Theatre is a regular part of your near monthly theatre going calendar.