Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Sydney Theatre Company (STC) presents CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, by Tennessee Williams, in the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. 3rd May -

Part way through Act One of the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Tennessee Williams, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, Directed by Kip Williams (and it was probably only twenty minutes or so into the text), I knew that I was having an experience in the theatre that was what I recognise as an experience of Grand Theatre. Watching this production of Kip Williams was the equivalent to me of what I have often experienced in the three hour or more in a Wagner Opera experience - a "Grand Olde Opry" experience, one that through its writing and the endurance of its time spread, was going to lift me to the upper echelons of exposed truths that would both burn my soul and still elate me to the joy of being witness of one man's genius in his distilled and earnest learnt vision of what it is to be human. A gift of earned insight seared from his pain for us as a gift to guide us through our own travails.

This production had the handle on the possibility of the writing and relished the words of Mr Williams' labour. This was what some would call Grand Old Fashioned Theatre. The play is written as one continuous act and is in 'real' time: three and a quarter hours long. I was witness to the huge scale of Tennessee Williams' conception. This play revealed itself as a Masterpiece and put into contextual shadow most of what we see on our stages in Sydney, as contemporary writing that in imaginative context and theme is in comparison banal, pygmy, empty, shallow. When did a new play, especially an Australian play, tell us that we were to deal with notions of existential DISGUST? MENDACITY? LIES? LIARS? GREED? Issues of our present day. Not for a long time in my experience. Let us not dwell too much on the mastery of language usage and character conception and realisation, and daring of the dramaturgical structure of each of the three acts of the play, for it is painful to know what we do not have enough of when we go to the theatre here.

Now, what I am raving about is the Play not the Production, for this production is flawed tremendously, with the ego of the Director, Kip Williams, though, relatively, it is surprisingly restrained in the exhibition of his usual 'tropes' to reveal to us his needs to make us aware that he is in charge of what we should appreciate. He signals with Sound Composition and Design (Stefan Gregory) and Lighting Design (Nick Schlieper) to intrude on the subtleties of Tennessee Williams' writing, and his confidence in our, the audience's, intelligence. It is gross overstatement of effort, over and over again, indulged with volume of noise and a huge wall of blaring light.

The Sound and Lighting being the most intrusive affect, for there are also visual missteps from the first reveal of the Set (David Fleischer), that despite the careful notes from Tennessee Williams in the text, is the Director's decision to set the play in 2019, which looks, in result, in the considered conversations of solution with the Director and Designer, like a high fashion furniture shop display room, with pieces of expensive (minimalist) bedroom furniture marooned in a vast landscape of blackness that has no walls or doors, a huge warehouse show room (one looked for the price tags). Black, white and grey - reflected in mirrors many a time - having a colour dominant 'coolness' with no suggestion of the humidity of this plantation, one of the finest in the South, with all of its fecund growth surrounding it, no humidity of the sexual tension in this bedroom. The logic of the gradual disappearance of elements of the objects of design throughout the three acts, during the night into the darkness, seems to be unfathomable except as design mistakes or shallow thinking with a necessity to get rid of it (which the actors stage-managed throughout this naturalistic play, along with their other duties which involved acting!). The bed, Brick and Maggie's bed, in this design is a flimsy piece in a contemporary minimalist scale without any of the deliberate symbolism of the ghosts of the houses' history permeating - no memory of Jack and Peter, the two old maids that once owned this bed, this estate, no Simon Schama (Tennessee Williams) Ghosts haunting this room or place.

And lets not dwell on the awful visuals of most of the costuming (Mel Page), especially of the women. (The men all get away with a look of reality and function).What was Mae (Nikki Shields) wearing? What of some of Magige's wardrobe of dresses that she paraded before us? - (oh horror, horror, horror). And the 'sausage skin', white tube, full length dress that Big Mama (Pamela Rabe) wore was a shocker of some note.

The long first act 'aria' that Maggie gives in Act One is full of daring physical choices from Zahra Newman. It is stuffed with the high energy aggression of a musical comedy inclination of dance choreography. Ms Newman, perhaps, taking a cue from her introduction engineered by the Director, by giving a 'campy' torch-song rendition of some of CRY ME A RIVER to introduce Maggie - for a moment I thought we were in for a cabaret version of the play! It is an astonishing performance but it lacks any, or most, of the tactics of the Maggie written on the page. It lacked the desperation of a worn-out woman trying to secure her future, her old age security, from a man she knows is not interested and is past care. This Maggie was a childish elf seeking attention relentlessly. It is not completely fair, but my memory of Kathleen Turner and the tremendous grief and fear of a woman that motivated her actions was completely absent from this performance and the memory of the Wendy Hughes sexual heat with her Brick, John Hargreaves, was not apparent. Energy galore, outrageous choice galore but little to no close reading of the text. It seemed to me a performance indulged by the Director.

Harry Greenwood, playing Brick, does not look as if he was ever an athlete and a figure of desire - a kind of god - his body looks clapped out and seems not to have any memory of the taut hurdler on the athletic field that we are lamenting. Mr Greenwood's theatrical intelligence is a kind of compensation and gives his all, but he seems to be way out of his emotional depth in securing the self laceration of a man that hates himself, that cannot face the possibility of his truth - his homophobic internalisation of his greatest fear. He fares much better in the second act when faced with the fierce heat and energy of Hugo Weaving as Big Daddy, for there is a spark of contact, a pain of history present between them that does not really reveal itself in the work with Ms Newman in the first Act.

Hugo Weaving is the other reason to see this production - he is, quite simply, magnificent. And the intrusive hand of Kip Williams which was so evident in their last collaboration: THE RESISTABLE RISE OF ARTURO UI, with his cameras, is absent from this production and allows us to enjoy every gesture of offer of this great artist, unimpeded with film editorial direction. We are not forced to choose of where to look.

Pamela Rabe, in the above mentioned costume, adds to her gallery of entertaining grotesques (read my blog on DANCE OF DEATH), in her decisions in creating Big Mama. Lumpy and bent-over, wig almost askew with a flourished handkerchief Ms Rabe wrinkles as much laughter as she can squeeze from the opportunities Tennessee gives her. It is a highly appreciated performance - some of the audience finding it hilarious. Its only competition in the laughter stakes is in the delicate and wise offers by Peter Carroll in the tiny role of the bewildered, limited churchman, Reverend Tooker. Ms Rabe could learn by watching the understatement of Mr Carroll in securing his laugh rewards with the role.

Nikki Shields, as Mae, despite the costume, and Josh McConville as her husband Gooper, succeed, in the third act, to make these two characters almost human and maybe motivated from 'good' and decent ideas. They give interrogated performances - then, they nearly always do.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the STC, worth catching. Read my blog of the Belvoir production to read my analysis of the play and my 'beef' about these auteurs of Sydney. The best thing about this production is that the love that the Director espouses for the Writer, in his program notes, allows the play to breathe at its own value. GRAND OLD THEATRE, the like of which one thirsts for in Sydney, and is happy to appreciate even in this flawed effort.

The writer is indeed GOD.

This production of the play uses the first published version of the text.


Photo by Prudence Upton
Opera Australia, present SALOME - An opera in one act by Richard Strauss. Libretto by the composer, based on Hedwig Lachmann's German translation of the French play SALOME, by Oscar Wilde, in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, throughout March, from 6th - 26th, 2019.

SALOME, an old Old Testament, bible story.

SALOME, a sensational poem/play, in French, originally, by Oscar Wilde from 1891 - banned, originally, across most of Europe.

SALOME, an outrageously daring composition and adaptation by Richard Strauss written in 1905. Banned, but appreciated and highly lauded, gradually, through the operatic world.

SALOME, a contemporary production by the brilliant Gale Edwards, for the what I imagine should be an eternally grateful Opera Australia, that is as outrageous in its intellectual and physical conception and execution, placing this female-'revenge' work undeniably in our contemporary era of the 'revolutionary' contemplation of the 'gender bubble' of the history of the male gaze on the other half of the species than any I have ever seen before. It is accumulatively a highly disturbing and thrilling experience. It is even more remarkable to meet such sexual relevance and power in an Opera House, where the heroine usually either goes mad, marries (usually unhappily) enters a convent or dies a tragic death.

This production, is not new, it has been in repertoire for a few years, but it had the foresight to herald the eruptions of the sexual power-politics of 2019, and it is simply shocking and exciting to see, today, Ms Edwards' prescience of mind with her fellow collaborators, Brian Thomson (Set Design), and Julie Lynch (Costume Design) and Choreographer, Kelley Abbey, in the creative act they have conceived and delivered is remarkable.

This 'showing' of this work has been 'staged-revived' by Andy Morton - which seems odd to me since Ms Edwards is living in Sydney and was/is available to keep it refreshed and true. It is interesting to note that there are regular revivals of Ms Edwards' highly-reviewed Opera Australia productions such as the ever revived LA BOHEME – where the present management, led by Lyndon Terracinni, have never ever permitted the original artists, despite their availability – to take responsibility in reviving their work for us. What are the 'politics' guiding this decision to deliberately avoid using one of the great Australian Musical artists and her 'team' from giving us the benefit of their genius? This is a question no one at OA seems prepared to engage with.

I felt the heat in the revenge of SALOME on the male gaze in the demanding of the head of John the Baptist, in the daring acting, choreography and singing of the role on this night, by Lise Lindstrom. The head of John the Baptist has probably never had such a 'reward' before! Not only the singing but the acting and daring choreography that possesses Ms Lindstrom is moving beyond belief- across a wide emotional range of response.

The masterstroke in this production of the famous Dance of the Seven Veils is where each veil reveals contemporary provocative images of women's objectification through Western history: from that of a little girl with her 'teddy' on the lap of her 'Daddy', to the brilliant choice of reviving the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe standing above the grate of the New York subway system with her dress billowing up over her head. The images are mind-blowingly arresting.

Jochanaan (John, the Baptist) is wonderfully sung with an alabaster torso gleaming seductively through the costuming and staging in the 'ownership' from Alexander Krasnov. While Andreas Conrad creates a hectoring and saturated evil as Herod. It is no fault of his that the seedy and decadent presence of Claude Rains permeates my memory from his performance in the 1965 George Stevens epic of the life of Christ in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD - a Herod of evil, oozing its way off the screen into my clammy alarm of infected dampness of rot.

Less successful is Jaqueline Dark (I last saw her as the Mother Superior in THE SOUND OF MUSIC) as Herodias, who seems to believe stock melodrama effects in response to the events of the opera are enough to fulfil a contract of belief for her audience to the machinations of a woman scorned and full of revengeful hate.

 Too, the Design image of a freezer of hung corpses looming over the action of play may now seem more than a trifle over-the-top in its constant presence - its opening impact quickly becomes a bore of visual oppression and dullness: time as wearied this concept. The costuming concept now seems dated for the other minor characters covering the ages of history, and today seems to be an intellectual over-statement.

I regard The Metropolitan Opera in New York as the Best Theatre Company in that city. The quality of the skills necessary to make opera work are available and rich in its reach of talent but is managed with contemporary design and intellectual rigour of stunning relevance on a consistent basis over the wide and extraordinary genres of the opera form. Ms Edwards' production of SALOME, seems to have satisfied my receptors with high approval and with adjustments to the passing of time in her team's visuals could well sit comfortably in that company's work.

Just why Ms Edwards sits in her home in Glebe, a stone-throw away from the performance venue where her work is re-shown in by a clearly pleased Opera Management, while others attempt to recreate her work is a question we, who travel the world and believe in the opera as a viable contemporary form need explanation, don't you think?

Gale Edwards' SALOME, you just need to see it when you can.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Every Brilliant Thing

EVERY BRILLIANT THING, by English writer, Duncan Macmillian, with the original actor/performer, Jonny Donahue, in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, 13th March - 31st March.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING, is a one person play - at Belvoir it is played by Kate Mulvany; on its Riverside season, which follows, it will be played by Steve Rodgers. So a gender fluid role. At the age of seven our actor is told that her/his mother is in hospital. Concerned, she is told by her dad that 'mum' has found life difficult to experience. So, in an act of loving support, our little girl begins a list of Every Beautiful Things, for her mum: 'Ice cream', is number one on the list. As the play proceeds, the list grows in the face of her mum's life-long depression and tendencies towards suicide.

The play is a conversation about mental health issues. The Co-Directors, Kate Champion and Steve Rodgers go on to say in their Notes for the audience:
...Whether it be first hand or through a loved one or friend is a recognisable part of being alive and human. Yet we rarely treat it as such a common occurrence. We give our failing bodies far more press than we give our fragile minds.
The Stage Design at the Belvoir, by Isabel Hudson, is built to place the audience in a theatre-in-the-round mode, with the Lighting (Amelia Lever-Davidson) on, for most of the performance, as some of the audience have been given cards that, on cue, from the actor, are read as part of the action. A couple of audience members, also, get to 'improvise' with the actor as characters (dad, boy friend/husband, veterinarian etc). It is a very naturalistic, 'folksy' atmospheric mode. We meet Ms Mulvany on the steps on the way into the theatre - we all feel special and personalised - disengaging us from the usual actor/audience role-play.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING, is a 'worthy' piece of work and does give, depending on the depth of your own personal experience of the subject matter, I imagine, salve and needful comfort in the recognition of the shared journey we are taken on. On the other hand at almost 85 minutes running time on opening night - it was signalled in the foyer to be only 60 minutes long - the text could become 'cute' and even, at extreme, 'mawkish' - that list of Every Brilliant Thing got to be quite 'stretched' and 'long-winded'. That became my response mode in my growing resistance to the night, I'm afraid.

There were many, many, many deeply moved audience and I was much reflective of that.

One of my problems during the night was the highly contrived efforts by Co-Directors Kate Champion and Steve Rodgers to take us into a Belvoir, community, 'folksy' relationship - we all saw each other and felt we were all 'bonded' by this naked audience relationship, charming, warm, friendly, enabled, to feel together the 'actor's' experience over her life with her family.

It was disconcerting, for me, when Ms Mulvany, in 'difficult' moments of the character's journey would drop into contemplative 'indicating', demonstrating', of 'telling' us, by 'showing' us, the pain of it all - twitches, frowns. turn-down of mouth - giving us something to LOOK at instead of to 'read' and endow from our lives with her. The choices became patently 'theatrical' and counter to the production construct. I jumped out of the production - and looked at an actor at work instead of being embedded with a fellow sufferer. Why Ms Champion (who began her career as a choreographer) and even more surprising to me, why Mr Rodgers ( who is one of Australia's great 'naturalistic virtuosos) had not advised, Directed, Ms Mulvany just to do 'the famous "GARBO NOTHING' - the last moments of the QUEEN CHRISTINA , 1933 movie - be simple, so that we, the audience, who were 'travelling' with her could imagine and own our own pain to endow, share the moment, so that we could experience the personal 'BEING" with her (each individual alone, together with her), I don't know.

It flawed my appreciation.

Mind you, Ms Mulvany, is so greatly loved and appreciated by her audience, that on Opening Night, when she made her real entrance to begin the play in the playing area, they gave her an, almost, standing ovation - the poor actor had hardly begun, and yet had earned this reception. As an actor she had hardly any more steps on her ladder of technique to need to win us over - we were already at her feet, and most of us believe(d) she could do no wrong.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING. Personal response/recognition will be the decider to your satisfaction.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Wyngarde! A Celebration, and Queen Bette

G.bod Theatre, Old 505 Theatre, and 2019 Sydney Mardi Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras present, WYNGARDE! A CELEBRATION and QUEEN BETTE, Devised by Peter Mountford and Garth Holcombe and Jeanette Cronin, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St, Newtown. 19th February - 2nd March.

WYNGARDE! A CELEBRATION and QUEEN BETTE are two one act monologues, Devised by Director Peter Mountford and the two actors, Garth Holcombe and Jeanette Cronin, staged as part of the Mardi Gras Festival. QUEEN BETTE has been presented earlier in 2015. WYNGARDE! A CELEBRATION, premiered as part of the Sydney Fringe last September.

It is so interesting to see these two works together and observe the gifted 'sleight-of-hand' that Mr Mountford brings to both the works, as a Writer and a Director. Seen individually, the skill of the artist might not be really noticed, seen as a pair, his skill shines through and deserves full appreciation. The angle from which he approaches and enters the lives of these artists and the balance of text, mime, 'dance' and costume changing to create mood and propulsion for the storytelling are all moderated into theatrical gestures that give pause and, maybe, depth, to the proceedings.

Peter Wyngarde is a curious choice to celebrate and spend so much time with in the writing and living. He was a man of moderate talent but with obvious physical charm and a flare for appearance, who became famous as television character, Jason King, first in DEPARTMENT, and then in a spin-off television show of 26 one hour episodes (one Season) called JASON KING (1971-72), that was appreciated as much for the 'spoofy' games of this novelist/detective in the action of each episode, but also in the 'campy' costuming and make-up, hair style of the performer. Jason King/Peter Wyngarde became a kind of fashion icon, mobbed by the Australian female public when he visited. (Mike Myers claims the decorative appearance of his Austin Powers was inspired by the inimitable Jason King and vapid panache of Mr Wyngarde.

In the inter-active touches with the audience, Mr Holcombe brings the hauteur of the early '70's self-amusement of Peter Wyngarde, as well as a deepening sense of melancholy on consideration of the result of his life work. Always, at least on stage, the second-tier actor, surrounded by friends and talents as significant as Alan Bates, Richard Burton. Peter Toole, and in pulpy throw-away television, the shadow of the possibility of mediocrity haunted him. Too, he, late in life, revealed his homosexuality and his fear and shame may have 'forced' him to a living lie, preventing real truths to support his striving for the quality wanted in his work. He finishes alone. He finishes an alcoholic. He finishes sadly. Mr Holcombe gives a consummate performance.

On the other side of the interval, Jeanette Cronin, once again embraces the star quality of the ferocious and driven Bette Davis. It is a tour-de-force of intelligence and energy supported by an uncanny resemblance to the actual woman that can startle one into a kind of awe - "You" it says, "are in the presence of Miss Bette Davis, so, don't look away or I'll devour you!" The Playwriting insists the actor to avoid the typical 'campery' of verbal quotes and caricatured physicalities that might tempt a less interesting actor and, instead, focuses on the core of this artist and the purity of her actions to create art. This is Bette Davis the actor not the commodity. This Bette Davis is not the actor/priestess at the altar of Thespis but is, rather, the sacrifice on the altar. She gives her all, professionally and personally, to bring a story to an audience and demands that all of her fellow collaborators who come into her sphere of creativity to do so too. Ms Cronin fearless demands it of you. Notoriously, Ms Davis took no prisoners if you didn't hit the mark. She was not necessarily the Studio's favourite actor. But her indelible achievements lie in the film 'chests' of history for you to appreciate, to see what was what, in her time. No matter the undoubted melodrama of some of her vehicles there is no escaping her daring, brilliance. Her timeless appeal to her audiences.


The Moors

Photo by Clare Hawley

Siren Theatre Company and Seymour Centre present, THE MOORS, by Jen Silverman, in the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, City Rd, Chippendale. 6th February - 6th March.


The Moors.


I saw this production of THE MOORS, a play written by young New Yorkian, Jen Silverman, several weeks ago. It is a production from Siren Theatre Company, Directed by Kate Gaul.

THE MOORS, what to write?

Ponder, ponder, ponder.

What was my response? I have found myself in turmoil. Not in any negative manner but in a turmoil of a whirl buffeted by this contemporary take on THE MOORS. I have a history with the Moors - though I have never been there myself.

I came to this production understanding that the moors of the title were the Yorkshire Moors. The Yorkshire Moors, in my imagination, are wind swept valleys and steppes swathed in heather. Rain clouds of a tempestuous temper, weighted, oppressive and yet exhilarating. Clothes, cloaks (heard gear) all straining and fighting the passionate, violent airs of the scenery to try to maintain sapien decorum - Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon running across the (studio) scenery in1939. It, all emanating from the wilderness and wilds of nature whirling about the oppressive religious constrictions of the household of the Bronte family of Thornton and Haworth, on the Yorkshire Moors. Nature and nurture in high conflict producing in the 'rub' the inspirational imaginative gothic romantic literature that holds sway in any mind of worth and joy. I was brought to the moors (Or, at least the Hollywood back-lot version of the Moors), by the Hollywood films of the Bronte Sisters' novels, particularly JANE EYRE (1943), by Charlotte Bronte and spectacularly, WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939), by Emily Bronte.

My imagination, however, was burnished into 'colour' visions when, at school, when WUTHERING HEIGHTS, was the novel prescribed for our final year exams for our Leaving Certificate (LC, we called it). WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1847), became the bible of my intense preoccupation - my 'good' Catholic, religious teachers (my English teacher, Brother Christopher, was also, ironically, our Religion Teacher, at the time), probably, had no idea of the flames of rebellion and passion that were lit by the study of this novel, that were to become the first steps on the pathway to my 'liberation' from the Christian Gentleman that I had, all my little life, otherwise been groomed for. Or, did he know? (MACBETH was our play text!)

The characters of the novel, contrasted, for instance, by the simpering and relatively bloodless virtuous, Isabella and Linton, to the tempestuously romantic (thrillingly gothic) Cathy and Heathcliff, situated in the landscape of the wild, wild moors were burnt indelibly into our imagination and aspiration for a kind of happiness - no matter the pain (Oh, but that is very, very Catholic, isn't it? - check out my blog on LA PASSION DE SIMONE.) The final moments of entwining rose bushes from the graves of the heroine and hero, Cathy and Heathcliff, represented the utter satisfaction that the difficult, the 'other', and this what my 'nature' was beginning to become aware of about its differences, will survive beyond time and place. ("Buzz off, Ms Austen. If we are going to be different, be rude about it," I reckoned. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; EMMA, great, but bring on the gothic disruptors.)

Then, shamefully, I must confess, reading the novel of JANE EYRE, for the first time only a few years ago, I was ignited to great surprise and admiration of that heroine, who had always been the 'lovely' version allowed by the soft glowing talents of Joan Fontaine and the glowering Orson Welles and the Censorship Boards of the times (1943). I was ignited to the surprise and awe that Jane in the raw hand of Charlotte Bronte, spoken in the novel as a first hand autobiographical telling, was an uncompromising, thrilling, 'Monster' of will and determination (my excited view!), unsettling the world about her - who was all the more GREAT because she was a woman in an oppressive world where the only way to redeem a character of this kind in the Victorian Era, was to have her die, or, enter a convent, or, disappear mysteriously as a governess to Europe or, the New World, or, to go into a madhouse, or, worst of all: MARRY. (Jane chooses marriage, but it is to a burnt-out, blinded husk of manhood, taken, maybe, under-her-wing as one might a wounded pet.) Following, closely, JANE ERYE, was my reading of Anne Bronte's THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL, and just its very title should give some shivers of iconoclastic expectation. When, becoming aware of the life of their brother, Branwell, the strength of these sisters who were all educated to be Governesses in the Households of their Betters, becomes magnified intensely. The Bronte Sisters are icons of rebellion and survival.

Surrounded on three sides by seating is a reflective surfaced revolve - Set Design, by Kate Gaul - with a long set of diaphanous drapes, behind on the 'fourth wall' - very Kate Bush-looking, for they will billow and billow wildly on dramatic cue. The revolve is employed very niftily to keep the propulsion of the wordiness of THE MOORS afloat and 'cool'.

On it we meet the people of the play. The first dominant is an efficient young woman in a lemony-yellow dress (costumes, by Eva Di Paolo, of varying conviction), with her blonde hair wound tightly in a mid-Victorian fashion. Her name is Agatha (Romy Bartz) and she is a writer, and has been in a letter exchange in search of a Governess for her younger less organised sister, Hudley (Enya Daly) - a young fantasist in pursuit of her unique writer's voice - does it ever come? Some thirty-five or more letters have been exchanged with Emilie (Brielle Flynn), the prospective Governess, who believes she has been intimate with the man of the House, Branwell. Unfortunately, Branwell is not fit company and has been installed, hidden in the attic. Emilie has been writing, flirting, with Agatha. Emilie on discovering this shocking truth, has to confront, perhaps, her same-sex attraction. Both, Agatha and Emilie, do. The sexual dynamics of the MOOR heats up in a very 2019 way.

The household staff, we meet, is played by one person, 'Marjory'-upstairs, who in the flash of a costume change, becomes 'Mallory'-downstairs (Diana Popovska), with two conflicting trajectories: one of them is pregnant, the other has typhus! Latterly, we discover that she too has kept a diary- journal of the events of the house in a very Dr Jeckyll/Mr Hyde kind of way - and on this evidence may end up being the best writer of this company.

These hapless sapiens burdened with the curse of being animal with libidos to follow and fulfil - 'go forth and multiply' - create a kind of havoc with their instinctive lives, on the moors, and because they have been 'cursed', as well, with what some call 'a big brain', they have devised a moral code that becomes a throbbing thing called 'conscience' that leads them to unconscionable torture - pain. This is the essence of the human element of this household on THE MOORS. Suffering, sex, suffering.

However, in this house, as well, there also lives a Dog, Mastiff, (Thomas Campbell) who has, like Snoopy, in Peanuts, the gift of the sophist. He has an eagerness to teach the meaning of it all, of life, of the great existential questions, and comes across a Moor-Hen (Alex Francis), who takes to listening (out of fear? and instincts to survive?) They develop a kind of relationship driven by cerebral disquisition. Moor-hen barely able to keeping up. Mastiff, becoming more and more self-possessed with his intellectual superiority, has the elegance to talk Big Ideas while choosing a perfect green grape from a beautiful bunch in a bowl that seduces the moor-hen into a place of trust and repose.

But they are, both, let us not forget, of the animal kingdom, and it all ends with the Darwinian urge to kill, asserting itself. The brightest, no matter the insightful insights he 'spouts' as incontestable 'truths' and guides for our future survival, is also, in the 'scheme' of things a ruthless killer - it is an intrinsic part of his DNA inheritance. The survival of the fittest. The black feathers stuck with blood around the mouth of Mastiff may be the most shocking entrance in a play you will see this year - it certainly outplays anything recently described in the telling of THE ILIAD, by Homer, and you know of its infamous poetic injuries and glories - hours and hours of it.

The world of THE MOORS of the Brontes, without ever being directly referenced to, is tossed upside down, and the writing gift of Ms Silverman supersedes one's objection of being tricked by the subverting of my/our Gothic Romantic memory inheritance to create something new. (A New Genre?) It is the bare brazen consistent cheek of the writing that wins one over. Like the STUPID FUCKING BIRD adventure from Aaron Posner, last year, THE MOORS yields an amazing time in the theatre. THE PLAY IS THE THING. And, once again, it dazzles.

There are problems with this production. The acting is good but extremely uneven in quality. At the top of the heap is Thomas Campbell in a virtuosic turn as the dog speaking of god. Thomas Campbell -  the Charles Laughton of this generation, the new Simon Russell Beale of the English speaking world? is so, in my mind, without any doubt. Romy Bartz, similarly, has mastery of her tasks if not the same intellectual bravado. Their performances are two further reasons, after the writing, to make a point to see this production.

While, at the bottom of the 'heap', Enya Daly, in a key role as Hudley, reproduces her comic skills that we have seen in all her other work, from REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN, to her time at Drama school (NIDA), in a production of TWELFTH NIGHT. All her offers tend to rely on her comic stand-up skills, rather than that of an interrogative actor searching for truths in range.  (I have the same concern with the work of Annie Stafford.) This 'habit' is nakedly realised in the choices that the Director and the Actor has made in the manner of delivering the 'hip' songs, singing routines. It is inconsistent in style and is distracting of purpose.

If you know and love the Brontes, you will get the cleverness.

THE MOORS, By Jen Silverman, is more than interesting.

P.S. If you are from a crippled literary heritage and know not the Brontes - get cracking - I promise you will, if you have wisdom, gain entries to being more alive in your past, present and futures. These women, the Brontes, will open doors for you - they have done, and are still doing, revolutionary things, after each new reader, has finished one of their books. Climb-up on their shoulders and look at the vistas they are pointing out to.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

My Night with Reg

New Theatre presents in association with Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, MY NIGHT WITH REG, by Kevin Elyot, at the New Theatre, King St, Newtown. 5th February - 9th March.

MY NIGHT WITH REG, by Kevin Elyot, in 1982, is a prize winning play that has often, still is, revived around the world. It is made up of three scenes in the apartment of Guy (John-Paul Santucci), a single gay man, and a group of friends who intermittently, but loyally meet up. Time wise it covers several years.

Reg never appears in the play but has had an impressive set of relationships with nearly everybody else in the play. It is set in the times of the rise of the HIV epidemic, though no-one ever names that devastation. We gather through the conversation of the men in each of the scenes of the death swathe that has been going-on, literally behind the scenes - in the wings, so to speak. The content of the play is a witty comedy of manners with different 'types' of Gay' men represented. It is charming, funny and, ultimately, soulful.

This production, Directed by Alice Livingstone, set in a very inviting living room, tastefully decorated and discreet (Set Design, by Tom Bannerman), with muted, soft Lighting (Mehran Mortezaei), is gentle in its pacing, played by a team of actors who are comfortable with the politics, the milieu and the comedy technique demanded. They seem to be so comfortable as an ensemble.

Steve Corner (hunky, lustful Benny), James Gordon (four square handsome, everybody's 'dream-boat', stunted by a lack of a developed emotional intelligence, JOHN), Steven Ljubovic (campy Daniel, the air line steward, carrying all that that cliche profession may endow him with), John-Paul Santucci (shy, vulnerable, almost closeted, Guy, everybody's host), Nick Curnow (Bernie, boiling with suspicions that are disastrously self-punishing) and Michael Brindley (Eric, the youngest of the group on a slow journey of awakening), are clear in their dramaturgical function and status in its construction.

Mr Brindley, catches the eye with his detailed ownership of Eric, and gives a very satisfying performance, as does Mr Curnow as Bernie, in a much less featured role. Interesting, as well is the nervous touch that Mr Santucci brings to Guy - he raises one's curiosity and empathy.

MY NIGHT WITH REG, is a gentle, good if not, necessarily, great production at the New Theatre. It is a very good play that deserves its constant re-appearances on the stages of the world. It is the New Theatre's annual contribution to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.

Friday, February 15, 2019

If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How Much I Love You

Green Door Theatre Company presents in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre, IF WE GOT SOME MORE COCAINE I COULD SHOW YOU HOW I LOVE YOU, by John O'Donovan, in the Kings Cross Theatre, (KXT), Kings Cross Hotel. February 8th - 23rd.

This is the first play of Irish writer, John O'Donovan (2016). IF WE GOT SOME MORE COCAINE I COULD SHOW YOU HOW I LOVE YOU, is a two character play, of one 90 minute act. Set in a country environment, Mikey (Eddie Orton) a young twenty-something, of a spikey and belligerent disposition (his fists have won his status), along with teenager, Casey (Elijah Williams), are introduced to us crashing onto the roof top with a cacophony of rock and roll, police sirens and hectic drowned conversation, of a local terrace house, after botching a robbery of the local petrol station. Surrounded by cops they wait it out, hoping to get down to make it to a 'full-on' party. Part of their loot is a bag of cocaine.

On the roof top design by Jeremy Allen, lit in the twilight and fading day time and occasional bursts of fireworks, by Kelsey Lee, dressed in trendy track-suit clothing, masks, and head coverings (Stephanie Howe), and giving an atmospheric and naturalistic Sound design, by Melanie Herbet, these two amateur 'grunts' of aspirational crime skills, talk, as all Irish seem to be able to do, endlessly, about the past: of past events, of past friends and foes - both extended and real family and of their same-sex attraction to each other. "I Love You". Each gets to say it. "I Love You". They have the painful gift of the blather - the gab - and playful menace bristling with the volatile energy of muscled physical threat and danger.

On and on they talk, in an Irish brogue, of some kind that really is an obstacle to understanding what is being discussed and moving us to a place of "I don't give a fuck!" which takes you to: "I don't care!" Warwick Doddrell has elicited a commitment of some force from both actors and initially there is some compensation when watching the actors - for listening to them blather on at an incomprehensible welter of noise was disposed of really, really early on. One had time to ponder and to become concerned at the shouted volume of these men's conversation on the roof of this house at night, and wonder why the neighbours haven't reported to the cops the noise of these two 'idiots' and sprung them. The cops do, at last, return and action does take place, heralding, thankfully, the end of the play.

This play is part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival, and has at its centre two rough -trade, working class boys swinging from threatened violence to tender aspirations that may have a sexual patina of sad-masochistic thrill - like that that the characters from the worlds of Joe Orton, Harold Pinter can elicit in the shrouded mystique perfumes of, perhaps, of what it might have been like to meet the Kray twins in Soho (especially if they looked like Tom Hardy: LEGEND) or some underworld figure, who was paying some extravagant attention to moi, in the BIRDCAGE nightclub in Taylor Square in the early seventies! But it is, in the KXT, only an intermittent experience, for it is soon quenched in the weathering rabble of words, words, words - unintelligible noise, noise, noise.

I recommend that you find Francis Lee's 2017 film, GOD'S OWN COUNTRY, for a more rewarding night than that here at the KXT Theatre. Working class men, awakening. Leaves BROKE BACK MOUNTAIN for dead. Trust me.

IF WE GOT SOME MORE COCAINE I COULD SHOW YOU HOW I LOVE YOU, is a title of challenging verbosity that besides being, arguably, the best bit of the writing, ought, also to have twigged me to the kind of night I was going to have. I wished that I had had some cocaine to be able to say HOW MUCH I LOVED IT. I didn't and I can't.

The Bed Party

OLD 505 present. THE BED PARTY, by Sophia Davidson Gluyas, at the Old 505 Theatre Eliza st, Newtown. 12th - 16th February.

The Set has a large bed. On it gathers a group of five friends, five lesbians. We are at a Bed party in a shared house.

Jasmine (Brigitta Brown) arrives with her latest date relationship, Finn (Alex Moulis). They are interrupted by long time school friend of Jasmine's, Tara (Suz Mawer), who lives in the house, having declared herself bi-sexual, and is in a kind of permanent crisis of identity. An excited woman in the throws of a new last night romantic meeting, George (Mathilde Anglade), bursts into the room with an irrepressible fire-cracker energy, and in contrast, Bri (Julia Billington) fleeing a relationship with her recent partner, Kelly (Margarita Gershkovich), that has political rifts of different needs, joins this assembly and has an almost stream-of-conscious disquisition about life and living.

During the spread of time over a day or two which we spend with this group of women, those of us who are not intimate to this female world are taken into the argot, physical relaxations and friendships that are subtly nuanced in there similarities and many differences to the hetro-world and the male gay world that I participate in. One learns a lot in a very easy way. They talk uninhibitedly about many things going from 'thing to thing' and we listen with a fascination for the new - ears trained - for their personal stories, steeped in revelations.

THE BED PLAY, is a very good play. It is a refreshing exercise in the theatre and this play is wonderfully written in its covering of so may gamuts of revelations. There are no false notes of dramatic impasse, there is reasoned talk sauced with a comfortable doona that encourages true care and love. The characters, naturally, tell and deliver, quietly, a perspective from a part of our society that has felt locked away, repressed, invisible. Here is a world that is anything other than a Pandora's Box of confrontation. It is funny, wise, and best of all, normal. Oh, wow! The webbing of the unknown unravels a little and lets us in to see:  Lesbians, together, are just like anyone else when they are together. Humans trying to work it all out from their life point-of-view and honest selves.

The writer has also Directed this play and does so with some confidence if not with consistent finesse. The performances are all 'charming' and effective within the range of the various actors skills and ease. All, however, are not equal and this is where the dynamics of the writing is sometimes made opaque. It does not disarm the performance but it weakens it.

Mathilde Anglade, as George, gives the most natural and complete performance having an ease, a sense of wit and daring of detail, spiked through with intelligence that is unselfconsciously charming and seductive. Julia Billington's Bri hits her stride in the politically fraught and fascinating conversation with her ex-partner Kelly in the latter scene of the play, as does Suz Mawer when the emotional world collapses around her, Tara, with a long time coming revelation.

The season is short but, truly, is arresting and enlightening. Catch it if you can.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Photo by Robert Catto

Darlinghurst Theatre Company present, THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE, by Jim Cartwright, at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 1st February - 24th February.

THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE, at the Eternity playhouse, is a revival production of a play written in 1992. The writer, Jim Cartwright, specialises in bringing to life the travails of the British working class and drew attention with his play ROAD (1986), set in Lancashire during the impingement of the Margaret Thatcher government and policies on the people of that Island nation. ROAD's anger and ruthless observation has turned it into a classic, often revived. THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE, when first presented, carried some cache in the slipstream of that earlier work. However, watching it in 2019, it is an almost unbearable examination of the fury of a human's frustration and the actions employed to redress, to distract, from the aching pain of their own personal class distress and oppression.

Mari Hoff (Caroline O'Connor) reveals the consequence of the disbursal of outrageous spousal abuse. In the bleakness of her own choices, Mari seeking comfort in promiscuous and adulterous sex and uninhibited imbibing, destroys her marriage: her meek husband escapes his household and retreats into a chamber room taking his Daughter, mockingly called LV - for Little Voice (Geraldine Hakewill) - with him, where they 'hide' and indulge in the playing of recordings of the female singing icons, seeking refuge with them, in an effort to drown out Mari's raging comedic verbal vulgarities which are supported by evidential physical louchness, in the blighted suburban decay of this family's working class castle.

It is in this refuge that LV learns to mimic, the musical genius of such performers as Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, for her father. Her studied renditions are superb. In this production even the iconic physical features of the artists are easily recognisable (just where or when LV, who is a recluse, a 'hermit' from the realities of life outside this musical room, learnt or observed that physical 'life force' accuracy is rather an unexplained question that is part of the faulty dramaturgy of this production - they are recordings - Long Playing records - not videos that dad and LV have used to escape with.) When this play begins, dad has died and LV has been isolated from human touch, left to survive in these circumstances alone. LV has no voice of her own that can be heard above the ructions of her mother and her 'guests', having only the mimic volume and content of the voices of her idols.

One of Mari's 'guests', Ray Say (Joseph Del Rio), a low life talent scout, overhears LV lamenting in her room upstairs in the voice of Judy, Shirley and Marilyn, and nurtures the chance that that voice will be his ticket to fame and wealth in the world of Show Business - beginning in the world of Mr Boo (Kip Chapman), a local entrepreneur of talent, in his pathetic club/pub of entertainment. Excited ambition and blind greed takes Ray, Mari and Mr Boo, on a voyage of destruction boosted by hope and faith in their own warped perspicacity. What unfolds is a story where no-body wins or survives well the consequences.

The Director, Shaun Rennie, suggests that THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE has a fairy tale ending to its 'horror' journey and the moral take-away that "it is the meek, the introverted and the quiet amongst us, who shall inherit the earth". It is a fairytale hope of Mr Rennie's indeed. "That the good end happily and the bad unhappily", says Oscar Wilde, "is what FICTION means." For it seems unlikely considering the little voice of the survivors of this play, who have no voice of their own really, despite that LV has inadvertently captured the attention of a telephone linesman, Billy (Charles Wu), who tentatively takes on the mantle of the rescuing white knight in shiny armour! to support her, while watched by a greek chorine like figure, Sadie (Bishanyia Vincent), in an almost wordless presence of witness. The explosion of speech that arrives from the mouth of LV, at the end of the play, does not seem to have any gained wisdom or knowledge, unlike that of the heroine Beattie Bryant, in Arnold Wesker's 1959 working class play, ROOTS. It is, rather, one of unleashed rage - like mother, like daughter, My Mother, Myself - one ponders and shivers. The abused abuses?

What may have worked in the theatre in 1992 seems to have been superseded by the passing of time and the evolution of politics and the social conscience of now, of 2019.

Caroline O'Connor, one of Australia's leading Musial Theatre stars (with an international history as well) does not sing at all - but is invited to release her famous power-house of theatrical energies to create this 'monster' of a wife and mother. Unfortunately, Ms O'Connor has no actor on stage that can match her offerings or energies and her performance becomes a one-woman demonstration that strikes the imaginative illusion of a powerful 4-wheeled vehicle whose wheels are spinning in sand, exploding with great affect, but not moving forward one inch on an absorbing narrative line. She is not able to find any traction, or obstacle to utilise to assist her to reveal dramatic clarity. The figure of Mari, becomes an isolated IED 'harridan' looking for a contestant to 'play' with. And there is nobody in this sandpit with her! None of the other actors have the same resources of power to match her and those lesser beings are bounced off the revving engines of this actor, seemingly, flat onto the floor, or  metaphorically, against the walls.

Geraldine Hakewill, is impressive with the singers she has chosen to mimic and the meticulous detail of her vocal and physical imitation is astounding. The voices are recognisably embraced. This skill of mimicry is the high point of the performance. From my point-of-view the rest of her work is also a studied mimicry. The post-traumatic-stress symptoms of LV seem to have been, similarly, observed and technically achieved, for what one watches is a mime at work. It is work that is all an externalised result, not ever motivated by any insight, any organic, imaginative truth of the psychology of the young woman and her deprivations of an emotional connection. This LV has no organic centre. LV does not live, experience, in front of us. Ms Hakewill, instead, demonstrates an icy but accurate eye for mimicry - and we are left looking, watching a 'puppeteer creation,' that has no internal, infernal engine - no reason to care - a Pinocchio-like figure before the fairy touches with her magic wand - wooden toy.

The first act of this production leaves one not really believing a single character on stage. The interval is a desolate time. The inhabitants of this world are isolated robotics of caricature and external expressions of abstracted observations. One does not see a history, that is experiencing a feeling, that is seeking the necessary thoughts, to find the expressive means to communicate spontaneous actions, to tell a story that of is of any deep human importance. Nothing much is at risk in the performances of these actors. Mostly, it is show, no truth reveal. Mr Del Rio, relatively, flounders in his responses to Ms O'Connor and is 'flim-flammed' around the Eternity theatre space; Mr Chapman gives some grist for the 'Entertainer' of a John Osborne model, just; while Mr Wu, simply presents, again, his charming, bumbling, inoffensive characterisation that we have been wooed with before, and before - often with a guitar in hand in some moment of the scenario (is it part of his contract?). It is a class act, when appropriate, but is now just grinding in repetitive craft usage. What you have seen before, you can, reliably, count on seeing again from Mr Wu. It is called in artistic lingo: 'a choice for range'. The Brando mantra: "What else can I do with this moment?", needs to be more rigorously employed.

In the second act of this production Mr Rennie, seems to be reaching towards the stratosphere of the melodrama of the old style 19th Century Grand Opera, and fails dismally to get it there, principally, because he hasn't ballasted any of his actors with any truths and has been content for a substitution, mostly, of puffing hot air. No substance, no bricks, to build with. None of the actors seem to have connected the characters to themselves and, certainly, have not been guided to connect to the other performers either, to help build their work from. (Sink or swim, is what we are watching.) There is no believable context on stage for any blossoming to happen.

This production has more excited aspiration than applied skills. The geography of the architecture of the Design of this flat (house) does not seem to have logical sense - entrances and exits are a trial. No matter the gestures of metaphoric design imagery, by Isabel Hudson, or the 'excited' minds of his collaborators, this production does not camouflage the problems of the dated conception of the writing, it, rather, highlights it. It is an agony to endure.

This play when made into a film in 1998, had a stellar cast: Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor and the incredible LITTLE VOICE of Jane Horrocks. This blockbusting talent worked well enough to please some audiences but even their expertise did not always quieten, disguise, an unease with the writing. This company, under the Direction of Mr Rennie, has a 'bollocks' of a go.

The best performance in The Eternity Theatre came from Bishyana Vincent, in an almost 'dumb', mimed role. Sadie, has an aching heart. We identify with her, kind of desperately, in the relative desert of identification with any of the other offers. Having watched Ms Vincent's work evolve over the last couple of years on the Independent Theatre Stages in Sydney, and especially after her marvellous work in NELL GWYNN, last year, and, on hear-say, her performance in EVIE MAY, at the Hayes Theatre, one wonders what she may have done if asked to translate THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Dorian Gray Naked - A New Musical

Photo by Clare Hawley
Popinjay Productions presents DORIAN GRAY NAKED - A New Musical. Libretto by Melvyn Morrow. Music by Dion Condack, at the LIMELIGHT ON OXFORD, 231 Oxford St Darlinghurst. 30 January - 16 February.

DORIAN GRAY NAKED, is a new Musical work by Melvyn Morrow and Dion Condack with and for Blake Appelqvist.

The novel of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, by Oscar Wilde, first appeared in 1891, after a scandalous debut in a magazine LIPPINCOTT'S in the previous year. It combines philosophical, gothic and gay themes under the guise of a romance. Dorian is a man of great beauty and having his portrait painted by a 'devoted' artist wishes that the painting would grow old while he would stay perpetually young. The wish is granted. He stays youthful while those about him age and the predicament of social exposure causes Dorian to live a double life: He is able to live in the world of influence whilst exploring the underworld of crime, sex and drugs. -a Jekyll and Hyde, variation. It has become a novel that has gained in status as time has passed and the moral sensibilities of the general public changed (matured?). In response to the virulent critique of the time, Oscar Wilde wrote a preface to the book form where Wilde proclaimed his gospel of art for arts sake, it becoming his literary and artistic manifesto.

Oscar Wilde, the creator and mortal, died in 1900. Dorian Gray, the creation has become immortal and still lives every time his story is read. In a letter Wilde wrote of the principal characters of the novel:
Basil (Halllward - the portrait painter) is what I think I am. Lord Henry (Wooton - the aristocratic mentor) is who the world thinks I am. Dorian is what I would like to be ...
To reveal art and conceal the art is art's aim
The writer is dead, but the novel lives, Dorian lives, and it is his chance to release himself without the editing of the writer, and show Dorian Gray naked, and present a disquisition on the disguises of Oscar as represented in this book. The art of the novel concealing the writer which is the aim of Oscar's art - all art, he believes is a reveal of the self. This Dorian just wishes to tell all. It is a heady and sometimes 'academic' detour into the novel (and I wonder if acquaintance with the book is a necessary requirement to enjoy DORIAN GRAY NAKED fully), and sometimes treads too long in a static place, but for all that, is a puzzlement worth wrestling with, particularly as the hero of this conversation is owned by a devastatingly handsome and intelligent performer, Blake Apppelqvist.

He has an ascetic presence that Oscar may have admired and certainly an accompanying grace of movement, that in the limiting cabaret space on the second floor of this new venue LIMELIGHT, strikes one with its physical beauty that tantalises with its swift changes from the high camp to the glorious natural (Choreographer, Nathan Mark Wright). He has, as well, a secure and beautiful range of voice and an ability to deliver the words with impinging clarity. The Musical Composition is by Dion Codrack, who also performs at the piano and verbally sings as an alter ego to Dorian. The score has its charms: PARTY, POSING, EROTOMANIA. The Director Melvyn Morrow with his two co-creators/artists are sure of their material and has guided it with a convicted belief in its moment to moment communication. (I am not as convicted.)

This is an 85 minute excursion into the novel of Oscar Wilde which has a father and son urging and the expression of the need to love as its central premise.

I enjoyed this new Australian work more than he highly praised HERRINGBONE, but then I might just be perverse. See for yourself. I found it, relatively, opaque but still arresting for all its difficulties.

Intersection 2019: Arrival

Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) presents, INTERSECTION 20—19: ARRIVAL, in association with the Griffin, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst.

INTERSECTION 20—19: ARRIVAL, is the manifestation of the ATYP Summer Program that has worked with a group of young writers of the 2018 National Studio, to develop some short plays dealing with the seminal arrival at the age of 17, and rehearsing the outcome with a group of young actors. It is an annual event.

Writers for 2019: Grace Chapple - SOMEDAY; Meg Goodfellow - DEAD THINGS; Emma Skalicky - PANOPTICON; Jasper Lee - THE ICEBURG; Joshua Allen - TWO HOURS AHEAD; Georgie Adamson - REAL DRY; Brooke Murray - PINK SOAP; Flynn Hall - FISH FINGERS; Sasha Dyer - GOOD BOY, PRETTY GIRL; Hannah Cockroft - A LITTLE DEATH.

The actors were: Teodora Avramovic, Marvin Adler, Salem Barrett, BeBe Bettencourt, Toby Blome, Ryan Hodson, Aspara Lindeman, Kelly Nguyen, Grace Stamnas, Sophie Strykowski, Harry Winsome and Emma Wright.

They play multiple roles and are part of the 'machinery' that shift the portable elements of the Set Design by Tyler Ray Hawkins, who, also has created the contemporary Costumes, facilitating quick changes with elan. The show is briskly moved along with the staging by Director, Sophie Kelly and is aided by an especially useful and detailed Lighting Design, by Martin Kinnane, aurally projected with the Sound Design of Chrysoulla Markouli.

In reference to past years, the texts deal with the usual dilemmas of 'gender exploration and race identity, female sexuality, family expectations, love, fantasy, death, grief, and loss.' Some of the writing took engaging entry points and exuded more humour than usual - there were some very clever 'belly laughs'. The actors were well prepared by Ms Kelly, their experience varied across the board, with relatively confident presence and skill from Toby Blome and Ryan Hodson (saw them both in different projects at the Old 505 last year) and particularly charming work from Teodora Avramovic and Sophie Strykowski.

This work is always entertaining, though it does have the feel of a student graduating outing. Too many scenes and repetition of content within the project. (0 minutes without interval.

For family and friends, especially.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Illiad – Out Loud

Photo by Jamie Williams
William Zappa and Sport For Jove, present, THE ILLIAD - OUT LOUD, adapted by William Zappa after Homer. In the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre, Surry Hills. 23rd - 27th January.

The ILLIAD - OUT LOUD, adapted from Homer's poem, began as an ABC Radio Drama commission seven years ago. William Zappa, using seventeen translations - from that of Alexander Pope's of 1720 to a more recent from Caroline Alexander - and advice from experts in this contentious field of study, has developed a three part preparation as an oral presentation. Its tradition is that of an oral poem (sung), not a literary work, stemming from, most experts believe, from the 8th Century BC. Zappa was determined to find the Australian voice for this telling - its musical rhythms and sounds, which is now accompanied by a score for 2 musicians: Percussion, Michael Askill; Oud (and other string instruments), Hamed Sadeghi.

Mr Zappa has invited three other actors, to read his compilation: Heather Mitchell, Blazey Best and Socratis Otto. It was presented, each part separately, on a different night, and, once, as a daylong cycle of 9 hours with three intervals - an epic experience for all.

THE ILLIAD, concerns itself with the telling the story of 40 days in the 10th and final year of the Trojan War in 24 Books. Essentially, it deals with the time of quarrel between the leader of the Greeks, Agamemnon and the great warrior Achilles. Of the fight for victory to take back Helen, the wife of Menelaus, kidnapped by Paris of Troy and the tragedy of the fate of Patroclus. King Priam's son, Hector represents the principal warrior antagonist, for whom we, too, come to grieve.

In this mix is the interference from the Immortal Gods who attempt to manage the actions of the mortals: The Trojan sympathy led by Zeus, Artemis, Apollo with the Archaeans represented in opposition by Hera (Zeus' wife and sister), Athena, Poseidon, among others. Homer separating the acts of the Divine and that of man finds that there is not so great a difference of motivation for action showing us that our mortal differences are no different at all to that of the gods - petty, emotional and competitive.

The petty rivalry among the Immortals and the Mortals, their distempered quarrels, the organising for war, the sacrifice for war, the poetic and precise detail of intimate battle with men-bearing arms, of the injuries inflicted, of the taking of hostages and the enslavement of women and children and the murder of prisoners of men and youths are brilliantly essayed by the poet. There is in the weight of the carnage, over nine hours of performance, no glorifying of war but a stealthy wonder and depression that the example of Homer from 3,000 years ago of the human species in action has not been heeded. One reflects on the war zones of our time and the intimate poetic precision of our entertainments that obey the command of our fingers on the the x-box buttons and cinematic screens, of that same inclination to self slaughter and debasing treatment of the defeated.

Organised and sung 3,000 years ago to entertain and inspire its listeners, a propaganda tool for the aggrandisement of men and politics and tribal dominance, its pertinence glamours and clamours in our consciousness.

My education began in the 1950's and I just missed out on the possibility of learning Latin an/or ancient Greek - which would have taken me into the tasks of translation from these amazing ancient sources, though I did study Ancient History and the works of Thucydides of the Peloponnesian Wars, so I never read THE IILIAD, or have I THE ODYSSEY, Homer's other surviving poem. Of course, I was saturated in the stories of the Old Testament and had read the gospels of the New. I have seen some of the Indian myths and figures of legend in the Peter Brook, theatrical telling of THE MAHABHARATA of the 4th Century BC; too, a theatrical telling of Ovid's METAMORPHOSES (which I have read) - THE LOST ECHO, Tom Wright and Barrie Kosky - translating some of the myths of the Greeks; I have read and re-read the Mary Renault Historical novels dealing with the mythical Theseus, and of the very real Alexander the Great; of work by Shakespeare, Marguerite Yourcenar, Colleen McCullough, Robert Harris, Gore Vidal and much else, besides re-reading at this very moment, THE MISTS OF AVALON (Mary Zimmer Bradley), another telling of the Arthurial legends (interestingly enough with the Mother Goddess at its centre!) All those Hollywood tellings of the past, myth and legend, have all been part of my imaginative construction. Attending a reading of THE ILLIAD was, is , a blessing, feeding my unconscious appetite for my ancestral heritages. I have peered into the East: China, Japan, Indonesia, enriching my life. And I have come doubly appreciative of the ancestor stories of my Indigenous brothers and sisters and grieve with them in their contemporary need for re-collecting and gathering, after a cultural containment and expungement by the new settlers/invaders. A history of most aboriginal First Peoples around the world.

So, in my privileged space, attending a reading of a digestion of THE ILLIAD, was a no-brainer. From this, I and my ancestors have sprung, trying to make sense of the world events through the telling of story.

This mission of passion instigated by William Zappa is a wondrous gift. The version he has laboured over is clear and moving, both, in its narrative and its perception and honouring of the poetics. The collaborators he gathered about himself are actors of high technical skills with an emotive and intelligent access to all of this epic whether it be Mortal or Immortal, comic, tragic or descriptive. They took aflame from each other as they took turns in carrying the 'baton' of their race to tell. They taught our ears to be eyes, hearing their 'instruments', we learnt to see. Their restraints highlighted our catharsis as we rushed in to their crafty invitation to fill the many many mighty, horrifying moments.

This was aided by an aesthetic design, organising the musical instruments in the background before bronze coloured wall panels that were lit, by Matt Cox, to aid in the confident temperature control of the narrative. In the foreground was a great pile of white sand that had different sculpture shape for each of the parts, acting as metaphors for the journey, cleverly envisaged and executed by Set and Costume Designer, Mel Liertz. It was a pleasant visual offer all through the long day.

The musical contribution by percussionist Michael Askill and Hamed Sadeghi on his string instruments (oud) was a narrative tool that moved from dramatic foreground to influential background that provided a secure envelope for the moods of the poem with the feeling of improvised energy highly harnessed in the discipline of 'scripting'. A long side the actors, these two artists were brilliant 'narrators'.

One can only have been impressed by this day for the poetry, the presentation, and the telling of some of the heritage that has made us who we are - of the shocking and the confirming. One presumes we will see THE ILLIAD- OUT LOUD, scheduled in some other Festival opportunity. It was worth it.

P.S. I was slightly unhappy that the voices of these actors were assisted electronically. Especially when the instrument occasionally failed and we heard the drawing intimacy of the natural voice of the actor that was so much more vulnerable and urgent, giving us more agency to work alongside the artists for their affect. we leant in to them rather than sitting back in our seats waiting for the 'sound waves'.

Are You Listening Now?

Fixed Foot Productions presents, ARE YOU LISTENING NOW?, by Xavier Coy, presented as part of Freshworks at Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St., Newtown. 29th January - 2 February.

ARE YOU LISTENING NOW? is a new one act play from Xavier Coy (approximately 60 minutes). Last year at Old 505, we were introduced to other of his works BURIED: TWO PLAYS - SANDPIPER AND SMOKIN' JOE. Mr Coy seems to be motivated as a writer to bring to discussion from life observation, 'philosophical' appreciation of the value of every kind of life no matter the difficulties encountered by that life force or the resultant actions of his characters that we are exposed to. He seems intent for us not to swiftly judge but rather he intervenes to coax us to 'understand' his characters and their worlds.

Mr Coy, in his Playwright's note tells us:
When I first sat down to write this play I knew I wanted to address the growing class divide.
His omnes are, firstly, two petty criminals: Mez (Fiona Mahl), who has 'cased' a six-million dollar house to rob as the last hurrah to her career. Her accomplice is Gaz (Xavier Coy), the young 'muscle-man' of the duo, who has not, obviously, had much schooling but is surprisingly interesting because of his obsession about architecture - he has acute and keen appreciative observations of the design of this house - his look belies his smarts and it is the source of much comedy in the writing. In the midst of this luxury-house break, unfortunately, the owners return too soon: Charles (Martin Bell), a rich bloke who has a string of pubs in the Western suburbs, that he has worked hard to acquire and sustain, and his Liverpool-origined wife, ex-barmaid, Claudia (Emily J Stewart), who finds being wealthy a difficulty - such that she uses cocaine as a desperate crutch of distraction, even though she is shadowed by the death of her son, Alex, as a drug addict.

Being 'poor' is hard. Being 'rich', does not, necessarily, make life less hard, so it seems. Says Mr Coy, playwright:
People are complicated, full of contradictions and complications. It's a cliche, but it is a good one, you can never judge a book by its cover.
ARE YOU LISTENING?, is an underbelly melodrama of confrontation of the class divide, with complex character layers, that has a taut tension of action that unwinds to tragedy, that has a kind of throwback to a good episode of say HOMICIDE, but is more sophisticated as it is leavened wittily with comic humour and astute character observation.

Mr Coy continues to impress as a writer and should have attention paid to his output - (although the children story of MEZ's invention seems a bit of a character stretch!)

Ed Wightman, directs the show with competence, on a Set Design of some simple elegance (for this venue, of string-budget resources), by Elle Vanderdeyl. It is brightly lit by, Kianah Marlena. The acting is sufficient and, relatively, secure. There is, however, an anticipation to reveal emotional state from all, rather than keeping it cooler with simple reveal of the information of the line of the text, to give the audience the creative participatory opportunity to find the character reveal themselves and enjoy the escalating stakes of the narrative, to give them a shared catharsis. We 'look' and admire rather than 'read' and invent, participate with the actors. We are 'distanced' rather than 'immersed'.

ARE YOU LISTENING NOW?, has a short season, as do all the works on show in this Freshworks Season at Old 505.

Watching this young writer, Xavier Coy, grow – is worth the time spent in the theatre.

Thursday, January 31, 2019


Photo by David Hooley
Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre presents in association with Kings Cross Theatre and bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company, HERRINGBONE - A Vaudevillian Ghost Story. Book by Tom Cone. Music by Skip Kennon. Lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh. At the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT) in the Kings Cross Hotel. January 18th - February 3rd.

HERRINGBONE - A Vaudeville Ghost Story, is a work by Tom Cone. With Music by Skip Kennon and Lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh. It first appeared in 1981 and this is its Australian Premiere. It is a one man performance. Jay James-Moody takes on its mantle. For ninety minutes he sings - 14 songs - and dances everything. He gets to create and play and sustain 11 characters. SYBIL (1976), may pop into your mind. Or even the recent SPLIT (2017), may do, too, such are the amazing number of 'possessions' that Mr James-Moody delivers in this production.

A ghost wearing a Herringbone suit, besides some grubby underwear, retells the story of a poor family in Alabama who in 1929 are disappointed with the benefits of the will of their recently deceased relative, who then, inadvisedly, pursue the training of their 8 year old son, Arthur, as an entertainer - an old vaudevillian, a midget who was once part of a duo act called The Chicken and The Frog, is induced to coach him, in the hope that he will make it, later, as a child "movie star" in Hollywood. (Great Depression Dreams.) The sub-title of the show ought to give you the inkling that not all goes well. Arthur can't stop dancing, (THE RED SHOES, pops into your mind), as he becomes possessed by The Frog-half of the old vaudeville act.

The subject matter of this Southern Gothic Tale drags one into an uncomfortable suspecting that what transpires in Mr Cone's Book is a terrible case of 'insanity' brought about by child abuse that ends in suicide with a jump from a 14th story window. It has the feel of horrors of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST - a 1939 novel by Nathaniel West, which was transposed into a great film by John Schlesinger in 1975: The character of Harry Greener, played by Burgess Meredith, a down-and-out Vaudevillian - surfaces into one's memory in Mr James-Moody's Lou. And, add the haunting figure of Homer Simpson (yes, that is the character's name), and, further add his last dreadful act, played by Donald Sutherland, and the imagery is complete. HERRINGBONE, unfortunately, has none of the literary sophistications of its predecessor. HERRINGBONE, is dross for the gullible.

Jay James-Moody has produced this show, and co-directs it as well, with Michael Ralph, who is also the choreographer. Plucking this obscure 38 year old work from obscurity would have been an irresistible tantalisation for any gifted performer for it requires a prodigious talent to venture this one-man piece and will demonstrate the versatility and stamina of the artist who dares. And, certainly, he who dares in this instance, wins. It is a breathtaking exhibition of Mr James-Moody's talent and potential.

This exciting exhibition is, unfortunately, expended on this work that is less than transparent and plummets into ill conceived narrative and does not seem to have much to say or illuminate - it gets into a 'squirmy' place with a sex encounter between 8 year-old George, possessed by the midget, Lou, and the front desk keeper of the Hotel, Dot. Dot, she, who demands to hear the child's voice repeatedly, to get off! The Book is 'freaking'-weak, to say the least. The Music and the Lyrics, are not memorable and, relatively, I would estimate as third rate. And really, and truly, Mr James-Moody need not have proven his gifts for us for we are in awe already: last year's dexterous characterisations in SHE LOVES ME at the Hayes Theatre, and his tour de force in the otherwise over burdened production of Patrick White's A CHEERY SOUL was a standout - there is much else, as well.

There is a three piece band: Natalia Aynsley (Assistant Musical Director and Keys), Amanda Jenkins (Double Bass) and Tom McCracken (Drums) under the Musical Direction of Benjamin Kiehne. Maybe, it is over volumed by Sound Designer, Jessica James-Moody. Benjamin Brockman has delivered a crack -a-jack Set Design and a Lighting Design that keeps, fortunately, everything alert. He is a boon to this show.

HERRINGBONE - A Vaudeville Ghost Story, is a production for the fans of Mr James-Moody - and who isn't? - who can, then, ignore the Play that is the framework for this - it must be - passion project (?) I can ignore the short-comings of the play and can still remain an avid fan of Mr James-Moody's gifts and talents.

The Big Time

Photo by by Brett Broadman
Ensemble Theatre presents, David Williamson's THE BIG TIME, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 18th January - 16th March.

THE BIG TIME is a new play by David Williamson. It focuses on the world of the entertainment industry. The struggle of the actor. The struggle of the writer. All of them trying to reach The Big Time. For, as Mr Williamson tells us in his Writer's Note in the program:
In the entertainment industry there's only one place all hopefuls want to be. The Big Time. If they make it, they become wealthy, but perhaps even more importantly they are finally treated with respect. ... That's why the competition to make The Big Time is so fierce. ...
He goes on to say:
Given that I've inhabited this world for nearly fifty years now, and that two of my sons are NIDA acting graduates, my daughter was an actors agent, and my wife was a drama teacher and a theatre critic, I know that in the industry that creates fictional drama, the real life drama can be intense. And that's what made it irresistible to write about.
So, based on a life time engagement in the entertainment industry - first hand and second hand - Mr Williamson draws on what he knows, firstly, as a writer himself, dealing with agents and producers, then, of his two sons' experiences as actors and his daughter's and wife's experiences as actor agent, drama teacher and critic. This, the truthful claim of ownership of this play's territory, was re-iterated in the press publicity for this production.

Vicki Fielding (Claudia Barrie) and Celia Constanti (Aileen Huynh) went to Drama School together - NIDA, Mr Williamson tells us (where both his sons went). Celia was the naturally gifted one with a genuine collaborative personality, who was comfortable with her talent and shone at Drama School, she got to play great roles: who will ever forget her layered student performance as Masha, confessing to her sisters in act three of THREE SISTERS?!!!! Vicki, was the feisty, difficult talent, genuinely unhappy with her opportunities and felt discriminated against in the system of Drama School - she got to play the maid in the same production of THREE SISTERS, for god's sake!!! (someone has to, I guess. Stanislavaki famously said "There are no small roles, only small actors". He, of course, was the Artistic and Financial support of the Moscow Arts Theatre, and was - how fortuitous - one of the leading actors, in his own company! Vicki, on the other hand, is just a struggling no-body talent in an unappreciative environment.)

Celia has worked in the industry and become a famous and secure talent - commodity - of the television world - a Logie, New Idea and TV Week covers etc. Her work is popular but unchallenging of her 'real' talent. Vicki, has had no easy time and to stay in the profession has worked in fringe work, earning barely a living, but in an artistic field of challenge and growth, as compensation, she believes. These two, who have managed to stay connected as friends over their career years are often at loggerheads as Vicki admonishes Celia, at their coffee-meet-ups, for her acceptance of the easy path at the expense of her talent. (She sounds like a caring, 'good' friend.) Celia confesses her comfort in what she is doing. Then, somehow, Vicki, with no Directorial experience but with a 'boots and all' personality has been given the opportunity to Direct an 'indie' film - a film script , of much promise. What a turn-up, eh?! What an unbelievable industry risk taking decision! A difficult actress given the Directorial reins of an "indie' film, with no practical credentials. Bravo, industry. (Believable?)

Vicki, abrasively, convinces the Producer of the film, Nate Macklin (Matt Minto), despite the fact that they have secured Rose Byrne and Hugh Jackman as the leads (it must be a great 'indie' film script?!), that they should test Celia for the lead. Celia, reluctantly does so, at the badgering request of Vicki and against her Agent, Nellie Brown's (Zoe Carides), inclination. Believe it or not - and we want to, for Celia is a very likeable person - she impresses Nate and he wants to go with Celia, instead of the box-office certainty of Rose Byrne (oh, really). But, Vicki says 'NO', that there is something absent from Celia's audition, even though she has promised, verbally, the certainty of the  role to Celia. Revelation: it is a blatant set-up and double cross of her so-called friend. The audience, I was with, drew breath at this audacious duplicity - it looks like revenge by Vicki for Celia's talent and life good fortune, and her own frustrations. By the end of the play we learn that difficult Vicki is a ruthless operator who has no qualms about her actions. For Vicki, the industry is a dog-eats-dog world. Know your objective and passionately, ruthlessly, pursue it (she did learn something at Drama School, it seems.)

Woven into this is Celia's partner of long-standing, Rohan Black (Jeremy Waters), who 15 years ago was a highly respected screen writer, but now is regarded as an industry 'has been' - no success for 15 years. He is spurned by the industry which connects us back to Nate. Nate baldly gives the humiliating disrespect-scene in an interview with Rohan at a 'pitch' meeting for a proffered idea. Rohan is devastated with this unequivocal statement of his industry standing. Added to all of this is that, his long time partner, Celia, wants a family, but really she is also the bread winner, and with Rohan not able to make an earning, it might not be possible! Strain on the relationship.

Rohan's best school friend, an ordinary blue-collar bloke, not working in the entertainment industry, Rolly Pierce (Ben Wood), who meet up at regular beer-catch-ups, confesses of the collapse of his real world - marriage, job etc. Oddly, at the end of this scene, we discover that Rolly - who has not had an inkling of a creative bone in his routinely educated body, til now - has jotted down some notes of an idea he has had for a television series which he got while overhearing a bus conversation (on a bus, of course - his marriage breakdown as not gone well financially, for him) and hands them to Rohan. Rohan takes the notes but forgets about them until he is pleadingly reminded by Rolly at another catch-up.

So, Rohan, at the rock-bottom of his own creative life, reluctantly reads and, guess what? - man, oh, man you wouldn't believe it - Bingo - an Eureka moment! Rohan finds an inspiration for a television series and not only that it has a great role for Celia and as she has given notice to her long running 'soapie' work this script is a possible come-back in a more meaningful work. Rohan the shining knight hero comes in for a two career bail-out! Celia, gets excited and  helps Rohan develop the script, especially the 'fleshing' out of the leading role.

The script is pitched to Nate and he loves it, and although, he has had to sack Vicki from her Directorial role on that 'indie' film at the request of Hugh and Rose - not done without acrimony, you can bet, considering Vicki's displayed temperament - he has recently seen her acting in a role on television, and strike her lucky - offers her the role.

Poor Rohan, he is then forced to decide between his personal demand for his wife to play the lead (which they wrote together), or, Nate's warning ultimatum that the project will be 'flicked' by Netflix, unless it is Vicki. Vicki has accepted it, it seems. Rohan, angsts, but concedes. Celia is destroyed, separation between the two ensues.

Then, guess what?  Vicki revenges herself on Nate, for her removal from that film as Director, and drubs Celia's ego further, by reneging on her decision to play the role and flying off, she believes, to happier creative climes in L.A. Celia, Nate, Rohan and Rolly (oh, by the way Rohan had denied his mate, Rolly, any credit to the product, and so, no financial redress) are left without a thing. Because, Netflix bales.

Mr Williamson has created a fictional creative drama out of what he knows, that, maybe, has some shadow of a real-life experience, study. A cartoon shadow, really -this is truly 'fiction'. For, THE BIG TIME, as entertaining as it sometimes is in its comic dialogue, has a very superficial, glib, bald dramaturgical structure. The narrative is packed with coincidental (contrived) events for dramatic impact (or, is it for exaggerated satiric effect?), that is risible. The context of the scenario's background in THE BIG TIME is mostly drawn by the 'name dropping' of famous industry figures and institutions to give it, it felt, some patina of veracity. The characters in the play are, archetypes, drawn with pencil thin background, barely hiding their dramaturgical function.

It seems everybody in the entertainment industry has a price to hit THE BIG TIME. And that price always trumps the value of trust and love for other human beings - whether they be your business partners, your best fiends or even your long-time partner. There is a speech in the play, tacked into the weave regarding a social comment concerning the woeful state of professional, contemporary, ethics and the accepting of normalising its place in the world. It is thrown almost nakedly at us, in a word-smith magician's flourish to, perhaps, hint, that THE BIG TIME is, indeed, a serious contemporary play of social and moral depth. It is unhappy that this notion does not come from within the action of the play but is tacked on as a kind of yellow paper stick-on.

Fortunately the Director, Mark Kilmurry, has the theatrical magician's trick of 'smoke and mirrors' and handles the action on the stage with ease, on a clean uncluttered Set Design and fresh 'modern' Costume Design, by Melanie Liertz, lit with a comfortable gleam to keep an atmosphere of fluid action on the go, by Nicholas Higgins. The show flows crisply and leaves little opportunity for any of us really to have time for pause at all the 'fairy-tale' contrivance dished up to us - and it does have, after all, lots of funnies -and we are happy enough, it seems, to be distracted from the bitter social commentary, that could have been the spine of the action.

In the central role of Celia, Aileen Huynh, has a pleasing presence and a sophisticated revelation of someone with a backstory - we come to care for her. Jeremy Waters, tackles Rohan with reserve and an easy, not to dark a turpitude - he is not a villain just a thoughtless and hapless, spineless 'goof'. Claudia Barrie, does what she can to bring dimension to the Vengeful Pyscho that is Vicki, but she is, relatively, up against it, the writing is stacked against her - Vicki ought to have played the 'scheming' Natasha in Three Sisters, rather than that maid at Drama School. It would have been preparation for Vicki's real evolving persona! - Chekhov's Natasha has her text stacked against her, too. Zoe Carides, has charm, in an underwritten role, and Matt Minto and Ben Wood, play function adeptly, their costuming helpful in creating character.

THE BIG TIME is a new play by David Williamson and this is its World Premiere. Mr Williamson has presented a new play once a year now for several years, like clock-work. They have become a box office staple for the Ensemble and are extremely popular with their audiences. The company usually has near sell-out everytime his work is curated in the Ensemble Season catalogue. It is an amazing and prolific output. Some may think it is too fast to maintain quality - the quality of the work is a poor compare with some of Mr Williamson's early career.

THE BIG TIME is a little better than some of the other recent yearly showings and not too difficult to enjoy if you don't look and listen too closely. It is, certainly, a better work than CELLULOID HEROES, Mr Williamson's 1980 play that dealt, directly, with the entertainment industry - the film industry.

I understand the production is sold out!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Beware of Pity

Schaubuhne Berlin (Germany) and Compicite (UK) present, BEWARE OF PITY, based on a novel by Stefan Zweig, in a version by Simon McBurney, James Yeatman, Mada Zade and the ensemble. In the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. 23rd - 27th January.

UNGEDULD DES HERZENS (THE HEART'S IMPATIENCE), the only novel by Stefan Zweig (1939) has been devised for performance, by two of the leading avant grade theatre explorers of Europe: Schaubuhne Berlin and Theatre Complicite of the UK, under the title, BEWARE OF PITY. It was first seen in Berlin in 2015, at the Barbican in 2017 and now, in Sydney, in 2019.

Simon McBurney of Complicite, working with the Schaubuhne for the first time, has led a team of seven actors: Robert Beyer, Marie Burchard, Johannes Flaschberger, Christoph Gawenda, Moritz Gottwald, Laurenz Laufenberg and Eva Meckbach into deconstructing the novel with James Yeatman (Co-Director) and Maja Zade, and has with, especially, the Sound Design of Pete Malkin, and his sound associate, Benjamin Grant, found a form that takes us concentratedly into the world of Lieutenant Anton Hofmiller, a member of a cavalry unit of the Austrian-Hungarian army based in a locational fringe of that empire, months prior to the assassination of the Arch Duke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, that brought the world into a cataclysmic disaster of four years of destructive war.

This production is performed in German and is accompanied by sur-titles in English. It is a two hour and fifteen minute journey without interval. The production is extremely faithful to the organising of the novel and has all seven actors on stage verbalising narrative as well as acting out scenes in character, both, with microphone assistance and deft physicalisation. The play has two actors engaged as our hero Hofmiller, Christoph Gawenda, as the 'framing' narrator remembering the story and Laurentz Laufenberg, as the enactor of the past events. Both are superb. All the other actors are excellent, shifting roles during the experience, aided by simple costume changes, Designed by Holly Waddington. It is on an open Set Design, by Anna Fleischle, that mainly is concerned with the pragmatics of the performance style rather than any period detail - a glass cabinet that moves on wheels in many imaginative transformations, a gurney-like table, also mobile, tables/desks with microphones on stands, chairs, music stands with copies of the script lit sensitively in an important and intricate atmospheric Lighting Design by Paul Anderson. The depth for the opportunistic imaginative immersion for the audience to create the actual world in the play's historic context, both, figuratively and emotionally, is in an intricately and versatile, brilliant use of Video Design by Will Duke.

Hofmiller, a young cavalry soldier from a family of no caste, is drawn into the circle of the only Family of significance in his Unit's placement, the Kekesfalva's. At a dinner to which Hofmiller is invited he makes a social faux pas when he asks one of the daughters of the house, Edith, to dance, There is an immense tension when he finds that he has asked a young cripple to do so. In abject embarrassment he attempts to apologise and sends her flowers the following day. Edith is impressed and invites him back to the castle and there begins a relationship of subtle affection and compassion - one that may be driven by pity for her on his part. Unfortunately, Edith develops a love passion, and Hofmiller under pressure from her family, becomes engaged to her as an encouragement for her to take a treatment for her affliction. She believing in him becomes more enmeshed in her feelings for him. He has come to find her touch repulsive. Publicly, within the unit and town, fearing ridicule and contempt, he denies his engagement. Hearing of this Edith, fluxes in the heated temper of the enraged ill, despairs and, through an incident of history - the Declaration of War, does not receive a re-assuring telegram from him, and ultimately, suicides. Hofmiller is wracked by guilt - Beware of Pity.

The sur-titles, placed at the back of the action, on the sides, are the security (the life line for us non-German speakers) of the performance, and the exercise of the experience is the necessity to read to give clarity to the action of the play. There is a very dense and detailed sur-titled element. It is rather like reading the novel in an intensified version accompanied, peripherally, by live and video action. Strangely, one becomes able - adept - to the reading and the watching, and both coalesced into a seamless concentration. The length of the uninterrupted performance was not a chore and I was surprised at my lack of time memory.

The play is an old-fashioned melodrama of the 1930's-40's style, made 'superior' and given depth with a moral 'struggle' and lesson. The production by Mr McBurney and this very assured company of collaborators, on the other hand, is stylistically contemporary and crisp in its highly efficient action/Directorial conceits. It is delivered with great confidence and and reveals an exemplary ensemble full of artistic cohesion and trust. It is cool and clean. It is immersively clear. It has a kind of demanding arrogance -'catch us if you can/will' - and has a rewarding pay-off if you buckle under, read the sur-titles, and go with it.

BEWARE OF PITY, a two hour traffic on the stage, that is absorbing. Mr McBurney, who usually delivers his works with a dense focus of technical innovation and contemporary tools, has weighted this production with the words from the novel, and simplifying his methods, encouraged true and thrilling performances from his actors. This is a production of the highest quality.