Saturday, July 6, 2019


Photo by  by Clare Hawley

Out House Theatre Company and Seymour Centre present GLORIA, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 6-28th June.

GLORIA is a play by one of the rising 'stars' of playwriting in the United States: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. His writing has garnished many literature Nominations and Awards: WAR (2014), APPROPRIATE (2014), AN OCTOROON (2014), EVERYBODY (2017), GLORIA (2018).

GLORIA, is set in a magazine office, where a group of aspiring young writers are working in jobs that are unexciting, perhaps even deadening: Ani (Annabel Harte), Miles (Justin Amankwah), Dean (Rowan Witt), Kendra (Michelle Ny), Lorin (Reza Momenzada) and Gloria (Georgina Symes). They fill out their day at their desks with their menial tasks, laced, some might say, enhanced, by bored though incisive interactions that only the really bright and frustrated can observe and dish out with careless abandon. They have all been at these desks far too long but the hope of promotion, artistic recognition and opportunity keep them hanging in there, hardly making monetary compensation for their daily 'torture'. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins once worked as an editor/writer of The New Yorker magazine - although he resiles that this play is anything like that experience.

Gloria has been in that office far too long. A decade or so longer than the other, relatively, younger perks. Gloria is regarded as an oddity of survival by her work companions. Gloria decides to give a party at her home. All the office is invited. Only Dean attends. Gloria is not happy. Gloria snaps and tragedy ensues.

Mr Jacobs-Jenkins has had us bubbling along to a witty, caustic American sensibility of acid cruelty in a familiar space with familiar character types. They have edge and precision. Take this bunch back in time and they could become, if history was kinder, a contemporary Round Table grouping - "The Vicious Circle" - with Kendra, perhaps in-training for the Dorothy Parker role!

The interval is heralded with a shocking office event. It would be an awful spoiler, to tell you what it is, other than it is a coup de theatre - an astonishing coup de theatre. It takes one's breath away.

The second half is set 8 months later and in three new locations. Dean has left the office and after a personal break has written a book about what happened. Nan (Georgina Symes), who was chief editor at the magazine, has also written a book, with authority, about her experience in the office that Gloria afternoon. But which she witnessed only peripherally. The lengths that people might go to to achieve fame based about their actual life, or borrowed life experiences, are satirically and cynically, robustly examined.

The humour that the playwright gives us in this second act is still wasp-edged sharp and funny - it has a sting in its tail - but the context now is coloured, soured, by the penchant of what might be said to be the bad behaviour of the grasping modern human. What began as a modern New York comedy (a la Neil Simon or Woody Allen) is now a biting comment about the deterioration of our species and our corrupted ethical boundaries. This is crack-a-jack writing that will give you real pause. Ambition, real ambition, seems to have no boundaries. Ambition, when it is an addiction, can be lethal. This play definitely holds a mirror up to the contemporary audience - it is an intelligent but bitter image to reflect on.

"Magazines all too frequently lead to books and should be regarded by the prudent as the heavy petting of literature." - Fran Lebowitz. 
"The lowest form of popular culture - lack of information, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people's lives - has overrun real journalism" - Carl Bernstein. 
"Facts tell. But stories sell" - unknown.

Directed, by Alex Berlage, this group of actors handle their roles (some have multiple responsibilities) with an adept precision, creating characters that could, recognisably have walked off the set of SEINFELD. The writing certainly is a gift for any actor with nous. Mr Witt is clever in the detailing of his man (men) and all of the company are impressive and respectful, with varying degrees of skill, of the writer's framework - how lucky are they to have such a writer.

Sets and Costume are from Jeremy Allen and serve the play's environments with economy and restraint. The Sound Design and Composition are by Ben Pierpoint and have his usual accurate eye and ear serving the writing and production without bombast. Mr Berlage with his Direction and Lighting gifts has employed an unusual restraint of 'dazzle' effects, and trusts that the writer will serve him well. That the writer is God - serve that God well and all will be well. Of course, the better the writer, the more sure you can be that you need not do much else, than reveal the text with clarity and insight to his appreciative intent. Just good taste and trusting restraint need be employed. This is the best writer, undoubtedly, that Mr Berlage has engaged with, in his outings in Sydney.

AN OCTOROON, was presented up in Queensland earlier this year and I wonder what they made of it. I hope someone will take up the challenge. Sydney could do with more of the calibre of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' mind and skill. I am sorry if you missed GLORIA - it did have an extended season. And as I've written before thank god for the enterprise of Outhouse Theatre Company (THE FLICK, THE ALIENS) - it's a godsend to have a company that reads plays and offers them to us to experience, for if we depended on the diet that The Sydney Theatre Company offers us we would be so much poorer and ignorant of the world of great contemporary playwriting.

The Return of Ulysses

Pinchgut Opera present THE RETURN OF ULYSSES. Music by Claudio Monteverdi. Libretto by Giacomo Badoaro. At the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney. 13, 15,16, 18 and 19 June.

THE RETURN OF ULYSSES, with Music by Claudio Monteverdi, using a Libretto by Giacomo Badoaro, was first performed at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Pacio in Venice in the 1639 - 40 Carnival Season. The opera was rarely performed until the late 20th Century and the work has been reconstructed from many sources. This Pinchgut Opera production has been laboured over by the Artistic Director and Conductor, Erin Helyard, utilising the Orchestra of the Antipodes, with guest artists Fernando Guimaraes, performing Ulysses and Catherine Carby as his patient wife, Penelope.

The work originates from the final chapters of Homer's THE ODYSSEY. After ten years of war at Troy and a further near ten years of wandering on the seas Ulysses, in disguise, returns to the island of Ithaca where he finds his wife Penelope besieged by suitors in the belief that she is a widow.

Gods and human characters of all kinds make up the action of the work where recitative, duets and ensemble are part of the musical formula of the work.

On the night I attended the first act of the opera was rather a tedium. The libretto was dull in its narrative and in its characterisations, with the Director, Chas Rader-Shieber, seeming to simply move the singers/actors perfunctorily around the space without much rhyme or reason. The music was arresting mainly because of the concentration of the members of the orchestra and its conductor, with the utilisation of the 'authentic' instruments to conjure a sound that was antique, an 'early' music fascination. As well, the Design, by Melanie Liertz, was not particularly useful as support for the story and mostly boring in its striving for an aesthetic arrest.

Unlike some others who had sat around us, we stayed for the second half.

The experience was like night and day. Whether it was the drink refresher or not during the interval, the second half had a coherence of readable narrative, blessed with emotional yearnings from, romantic to tragic, and leavened with a contrasting humour. One was induced to participate with the event. The design seemed to awaken to broadening and deepening its affects, with the Lighting ,by Nicholas Rayment, expanding that effect with casual, unfurling beauty.

The singing of Brenton Spiteri (Telemachus) and that of Fernando Guimaraes (Ulysses) was engaging and Catherine Carby (Penelope) added a yearning warmth that gave real satisfaction. The three suitors giving humour to their predicament. sang with perky alert contributions of style and effect. The Director handled this act with grace and sensitivity that the more perfunctory first act had none of. To be utterly pedestrian, the second act was, as well, considerably shorter than the first.

One was pleased that one had stuck it out and returned to the auditorium after the interval.

Pinchgut Opera produce this work without much (or any) subsidy. Watching the devoted concentration of the audience one was struck by the absolute need that this company and its field of interest have as a part of the fabric of the Sydney cultural scene, that undoubtedly, enhances this city and gives it a quality of life, that without it, would have not as much depth. Not to have this work and this company as a possible choice for the devoted (elitist) opera (music) goers would lessen the social capital of these devoted people and their influence. Not to have Pinchgut Opera would diminish this City, State and Country. When the NSW government spends many.many millions of dollars to tear down a sports stadium to replace it with another similar, one wonders why it cannot find some small subsidy to ensure that this jewel of artistic expression is given the means to sustain its contribution.

Conductor, Erin Hellyard and his orchestra, the Orchestra of the Antipodes deserves the assurance of continuity and opportunity. Their presence enhances the audiences lives and the cultural reputation of the City of Sydney.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Anotomy of a Suicide

Sugary Rum productions in association with Red Line Productions presents, ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE, by Alice Birch, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. June 12 - July, 6.

ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE, is a play by English writer, Alice Birch. REVOLT SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN was seen at Old 505 and her screenplay LADY MACBETH (2016) heralds a fearless writer examining the place and role of women in the world. ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE, places three women, Carol (Anna Samson), Anna (Andrea Demetriades) and Bonnie (Kate Skinner) on stage side-by-side in front of a spacious house which all three live in. The play unwinds with the three women speaking at the same time or separately, supported by a collection of seven other actors: Danielle Catanzariti, Jack Crumlin, Teale Howie, Charles Mayer, Guy O'Grady, Natalie Saleeba and Contessa Treffone, who create some twenty one characters that interact with the three principal women.

The play begins in a welter of text where the three principal women create a kind of chaos that might reflect the jumble of the mental state of the three spinal cores of the narrative, of Carol, Anna and Bonnie, as they negotiate their lives. Gradually, we begin to discern through absorbing the Costume design details and the mental sifting of the textual information that Carol is living in this house in the '70's with husband John (Charles Mayer), and following the expectations of her cultural time has a child: Anna. That she falls into a post-natal depression is not understood by those about her who diagnose that the having of another child might help to stabilise her. Carol, after bouts of wearying treatment in the medical system of the period, finally suicides.

Anna is Carol's child now adult and is living in the house in the '90's, a disturbed individual, a social rebel, who has embraced a heroin addiction to survive her emotional fragility, trauma, not understood by her ineffectual father, John. She meets Jamie (Jack Crumlin) who helps her clean-up and together they marry and move into the family house and, following the norms of the time, ultimately, have a child, too: Bonnie. It is the trauma of child birth and its upbringing that plunges Anna back into addiction and a life of erraticisms that leads to fierce treatments (e.g. electric shock therapy) that end in the option of suicide as the choice for survival.

Bonnie is the granddaughter of Carol, the grown-up daughter of Anna, living today or in the near future in the inherited house. She has become a Doctor and in the daily confrontational pressures of her work place and trying to solve her sexual identity finds herself spiralling into emotional vulnerability and possible inclination to suicide. Bonnie desperately tries to find a solution to what may be another family inheritance, beside the house: a propensity to suicide. But the authorities of her time hinder her ability to take the action she feels may protect her from her 'destiny'. Bonnie demands that she take agency of her body with sterilisation that may prevent what she suspects is a genetic inheritance, that of suicide. She wants the family 'trait' to stop with her. But her needs must be faced with obfuscating medical counselling, so Bonnie may not be able to survive that emotional demand.

The play finishes without resolution. Does it conclude with hope? One hopes so as the lights subtly change infront of us.

Alice Birch has thrust unequivocally three women and their issues centre stage and around them the worlds they live in with the social, cultural and political influences afflicting them in the ordinary living of life. Kate Skinner is outstanding as Bonnie, as is Andrea Demetriades as Anna, in the revelation of their women, with detailed and sensitively lived choices offered painfully to us - they are extraordinary in what they create (suffer) for us to identify with, while Anna Samson reveals a demanding immersion in created depression, but lacks the theatrical finesses, the refined edge of sharp storytelling-pointing, shown in the work of her two partners. Ms Samson's work is sustained and moving but is blurred in its clarity of objective intention.

The company of actors are astonishingly clear in their multiple roles and in the objective contribution to the thematic trauma of Carol, Anna and Bonnie. The many scene shifts and time adjustments are handled under the Direction of Shane Anthony with gathering purpose and nuance of clarity, instilled comfortably in his actors.

The other women in the cast are significantly eloquent in the action of their various characters with Ms Saleeba remarkably sure and convicted, while Ms Catanzariti is deeply moving in her principal journeys (including Anna as child). Ms Treffone has theatrical intelligence but often underlines the emotional journey of her women without sufficient character demarcation. The work evolves, mostly, from her own personality, with little focus on the differences of her several women: all three could be a singular persona.

The men of the company are, relatively, undercast and so the characters are, in contrast, mostly, only shadows of their possibility both in delivering dramaturgical function and fully owned character, and although the male characters are in the writing supporting roles they are important and ought to be better realised to maintain the density of the truthfulness of the three time zones and worlds. There is opportunity provided by Ms Birch but is not engaged in fully by the men to varying degrees of intent.

The Set Design by Shane Anthony and Gus Murray is a beautiful backdrop to the psychological action while the complicated and detailed Costume Design by Siobhan Jett O'Hanlon is a very important tool in supporting and clarifying Ms Birch's remarkable play. Lighting Design is by Veronique Benett. The Sound Composition is supplied by Damien Lane.

ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE, is worth seeing. I thought essential viewing for serious theatre goers. It is the kind of play that demands the audience to make active contribution for it to be fully appreciated. It gives us puzzles and invites us to solve them to gain the most from the two hour of stage time. It assumes that we are intelligent and does not resile from that complimenting assumption.

As with the recent production of PRIME FACIE this is valuable time spent, in a form that only the theatre can give you. The text is a formidable read in its layout, and so what Mr Anthony and his actors have done in staging this work is undoubtedly of a high order of theatrical nous.

Do go.

Saturday, June 22, 2019


Outhouse Theatre Co in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre co presents TREVOR, by Nick Jones, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), Kings Cross Hotel. June 14 - July 6.

Trevor (Jamie Oxenbould) is a 200 pound chimpanzee, adopted and kept by Sandra (Di Adams), in her home. She is a single 'parent', her husband having deserted the home front. Trevor has had a limited 'career' in the entertainment industry with his appearance on a talk show starring Morgan Fairchild (Eloise Snape), a one-time soapy star.

In this play by American writer, Nick Jones - mostly television;ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, GLOW - Trevor has an anthropomorphic relationship with us, the audience, as he confides to us his view of his life's given circumstances - his growing frustration with the continuing downward spiral of his 'acting' career that has not even provided recent audition opportunities and the resultant frustration of the non-recognition of his great talent. If you know some actors the text may sound as a familiar rant!

On the other hand Sandra and other humans in the sphere of Trevor's existence: next door Ashley (Ainslie McGlynn) mother of baby, Police Officer, Jim (David Lynch) and veterinarian Jerry (Jemwell Dannao), presents a contrasting point-of-view of Trevor's growing dangerous behaviour. These contrasts of the opposite, different perspectives of the events of the play provides the audience with a great deal of good-humoured comedy - and the fact that the play moves to a darker place of catastrophe does gives pause to the indulgent good humour that we have participated in giving to the play's narrative experience, despite our instinctual sense that this set-up will end very badly. Depending on how deep a commitment you personally have in your ability to positively anthropomorphise your pet or objects, you might be distressed by what happens.

'Does this play have a moral edge of confrontation?', you may ponder, 'or, is it just a light weight gesture of nonsense?'

If you lean towards the second choice of how to read this play's content, the compensation for the consumption of one's time spent in the theatre is in the appreciation of the usual wonderful work of Jamie Oxenbould as Trevor - his creation of his talking chimpanzee is so simply pleasing, that it commands awe. The consistency of Mr Oxenbould's talented offers in Sydney's theatre scene is further sustained here.

This performance is further balanced with a fully convincing naturalistic creation by Di Adams of Sandra, Trevor's keeper, that has all the compassion of a truly lonely figure reaching for a companionship - responsibility - that has, unfortunately, developed into a serious co-dependency, that weights her affections in her relationship with Chimpanzee Trevor, and blinds her to the alarms signalled by the other humans in the world about her.

The other actors in this production carry their supporting roles with an earnest reality and restraint that adds much to the 'tragedy' of this comedy. Garth Holcombe as Trevor's imaginary actor rival, Oliver, is also an amusing counterpoint - both their simian egos at competition with each other (very LA-like).

Set and Costume Design by Jonathan Hindmarsh is aided and abetted by the lighting of Kelsey Lee, and the Sound Design of Melanie Herbert, in creating a real world that grounds the play into a recognisable truth.

TREVOR, is an okay night in the theatre. The actors do so much to make the time spent with the conceit of the play relatively fun. As you like it.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Prime Facie

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre presents, PRIME FACIE, by Suzie Miller, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Nimrod St, Darlinghurst. 17th May - 22nd June.

PRIME FACIE, is a one hundred minute, one person play, by Suzie Miller. It won the Griffin Award for Best Play in 2018.

Tessa is a feisty young woman from a working class background who finds her talent in the practice of Law. In the journey of this play Tessa experiences what it is to be on both sides of the incidents of the court system. It becomes a devastating revelation.

Suzie Miller is a writer who has practised in Law to subsidise her first love: writing. Many a writer, especially the Australian writer, with this country's limited opportunities to be able to make writing the lone occupation of their industry and source of a sustaining income, have had to have a 'second' job. The Griffin Theatre have presented on the SBW Stables stage other works by this writer: CARESS/ACHE; SUNSET STRIP and her career has had support internationally, with many of her works having had nominations for awards of excellence.

For me, PRIME FACIE, is the 'flowering' of her gifts, it is a work of high quality, bursting with an intensity of a lived/observed experience and with a missionary passion of the highest integrity to talk about issues concerning the Law and its application to this country's citizens, underlining the injustice it can wield especially on women. It is a play that says something of great importance for our present day, fearlessly. It has, at its centre, a woman of high intelligence, ambition (and not a sportsperson!). A woman we come to admire and support in her daily interactions in a world dominated by men. What happens in the play becomes an almost unbearable angst for those of us seated in the audience. PRIME FACIE is the best of the theatre writing that I have experienced from Suzie Miller. Her courage to put this in the public domain is what makes this work glow with irresistible power.

PRIME FACIE, is posed as a one person monologue. It is a hundred minute journey. A Hundred Minutes as the lone storyteller on any stage is a truly daunting challenge. The solo actor has no other resource but themselves to develop a relationship with that unrehearsed other 'actor' - the audience, which is different every performance (and that is where the act of improvisation/being 'in the moment' becomes the other essential ingredient/thrill of being an actor) - to bring them into an empathetic state of sharing so they are able to invent and act the sub-text of what is said and shown to them.

It requires an actor of tremendous technical skill with the resources to cross a great landscape of emotional range and to have the courage to delve into the 'truths' of their own self to convince the audience to suspend their judgements, so that they are able to jointly participate in the story and take in the lessons of the play for their lives. Actors, good actors, quite early in their careers divine acting is not an escape from their own life. That it is not a game of 'pretend'. Rather, acting requires the actor to 'reveal' the first hand experiences of their own lives/identity to be the basis of their ability to tell the story of the character.

I have reckoned that the Best Resource an actor has is her/his self: their own life, which is made up from the experiencing and conscious gathering of their lived life, supplemented with the secondary resources of other lives which the actor has unconsciously (consciously) observed, with an added intense engagement with the other arts practised about them: dance, art, music, and absorbing what they have to say of our times. 95% of every character is essentially the particular actor engaged in the task of revealing the aspects of their self, that, with imaginative expansion or diminishing can create the uniqueness of the character. It takes courage as a craftsman to do such a thing but it is the essential element that is required for any performance to have the possibility of conviction and, sometimes, it can assume greatness.

Knowing oneself, having the capacity to be able to make selection and, then, the skill to edit/refine those details to piercing specifics, crowned with the COURAGE to do it every night, is what the artist - the actor - embarks upon every time they step onto the stage or in front of the lens. It is a frightening challenge that every actor takes on to story-tell for their 'tribe'. Sometimes, it becomes an ephemeral witness of Art. The actor permits the character to 'possess' them. It is a practice of great moment and risk to themselves. It is the exquisite 'magic' of the artist at vulnerable capacity. It is, for the audience, a gift that they may not always realise has been given them.

This is all leading to underline the astonishing performance that Sheridan Harbridge offers to the audience to illuminate the source material of Ms Miller's story (life experience). Feisty, funny, world wise, street wise, intelligent, committed, arrogant, confident, self aware, prejudiced, observant, skilful, compassionate, confronted, devastated, angry, outraged, courageous, stubborn, humility, are some of the facets that Ms Harbridge shares with us about Tessa, Ms Miller's woman. What is marvellous is the craftsmanship of Ms Harbridge's craft, its clever structured revelations that are presented with a sure integrity of judicious selection and restraint. Never does the acting of Ms Harbridge shift into sentimentality - it gleams with intelligence and wit, even taking us into a place of surprised compassion when her Tessa shockingly plunges into a raw emotional pain. We all, willingly, create with her, under her subtle control of our wills/focus, the heart centre of the play's injustice.

One knows that Ms Harbridge creates a 'miracle' of sage revelation when one realises that one has been watching this one woman for 100 minutes. The passage of time is so swift - Ms Harbridge's clever disguised detail at speed, induces us to reveal ourselves in identifying the commonalities of Tessa's experience (and gets us through a slightly didactic spell of indulgence from Ms Miller, late in the play), so that the busy contribution of our attention has been so intense that not a single minute of Ms Harbridge's offers allows us any mind wandering from the centre of the stage. Time had been suspended - a rare experience in the Sydney theatre going travails.

Lee Lewis, The Director, after the masterstroke of casting Ms Harbridge, has stepped back and allowed the actor to take possession of Tessa, and permitted the play to take hold of the audience. Her contribution is invisible, but, on reflection, firm. It is the opposite to the overkill that we recently had with the Sydney Theatre Company's production of A CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF under the hand of Kip Williams. Gentle visual choices of signage guidance on the walls of the space, along with just a slight, raised, circular platform, in shades of black/grey and white, Designed by Renee Mulder and lit by Trent Suidgeest, subtly Sound scored by Paul Charlier, are elements that support and focus the actor and the writing without drawing attention to themselves.

PRIME FACIE, is the play we have been waiting for. Ms Harbridge has created the role that should propel her into the front line of casting in this city: magnificent, astonishing. There was, and I hear, is, every night a spontaneous standing ovation for Ms Harbridge's performance. I teach that an actor is not the 'high priest' at the altar of thespis, but is the sacrifice. Ms Harbridge does that for us every night on the SBW stage and merits your attention in a very contemporary work of important debate.

Do not miss.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Made to Measure

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti
Seymour Centre present, MADE TO MEASURE, by Alana Valentine, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale.16th May - 1 June.

Alana Valentine, the writer, notes in the program:
Weight bias is a pervasive and destructive form of discrimination. Shaming and bullying people who are living in large bodies is common, callous and counter-productive to their life and health. But equally problematic is an attitude which advocates that people living in large bodies should just be left to their own devices, that when they ask for support and advice they should be ignored.
Tim Jones, the Director of this project, is also the Artistic Director/General Manager of the Seymour Centre and as part of his mission in those positions has determined to highlight the presence of the Seymour Centre as the University of Sydney's performing arts venue and connecting it to the many Departments of research of the University to encourage a joint development of communication through the theatre of their serious investigations and endeavours so that the general public can easily absorb and appreciate, be enlightened of the studies of the University. With this project assiduously researched by Alana Valentine, Steve Simpson and the many nutrition scientists and doctors within the university have made a focused and active support to the project.

The text is voluminous in its language density, although, nothing is offered that is not easily recognised and absorbed. It is an old fashioned theatrical set of argument and debate, that has a roller-coaster emotional 'ride' that forbids any indulgences of sentimentality.

This has to do, as well, with the incredibly generous and open facilitation of the material by Megan Wilding who inhabits the body and world of the character of Monica with a naturalness and confronting honesty that allows the audience to participate in the hurdles of her pursuit of a dress for her wedding/marriage. Ms Wilding has a remarkable persona of a woman who has dealt with welters of discrimination and yet has managed to find an intelligent, though, not un-pained journey to survive. One can sense, both Monica's and Megan's past and admire their present that seems to be open to public exposure as it serves their mission to inform the world of the lives of the marginalised ''other". Ms Wilding's sense of reasonable forgiveness and acceptance accompanied by a striking wit permeates this work but, in truth, has done so in all of her offers I have seen on our stages.

Opposite her, Tracey Mann, as the couturier, the designer and maker of the wedding dress, with her character's experienced confidence of adapting to the needs of her 'customer', is cool and empathetic, and as the dramaturgical antagonist of Ms Valentine's writing, holds a credibility and wonderful balance to the offers of the Monica character. This pair of actors are worthy and generous participants that keeps this robust exposure of discrimination and the hurtfulness of it, both from the outside and more tragically from the inside of the world of Monica.

Sam O'Sullivan in his two roles gives support to the machinery of the play without pushing for attention, merely supporting the central story revealed by Ms Wilding and Mann.

The Set Design and Costuming, by Melanie Liertz are, relatively, pragmatic in their effect.

MADE TO MEASURE is another fine contribution by Alana Valentine to the canon of Australian Theatre Writing, in her artistic mission to revealing the marginalised voices of our communities, wholly justified by her intense practice of 'massaged' verbatim after a very focused research plan in the world of each play's focus of interest.

American Psycho - The Musical

BB Arts and Two Doors Productions in association with Hayes Theatre Co presents, AMERICAN PSYCHO - The Musical. Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa, Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, at the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Ave., Darlinghurst. 16th May - 9 June.

AMERICAN PSYCHO - The Musical, is an adaptation of the 'infamous' novel by Bret Easton Ellis of 1991. It is a satiric observation and skewering of the American values of the 1980's in which the (anti-) hero, Patrick Bateman, a corporate aspirant, among many other idiosyncrasies, regards Donald Trump as a figure of admiration. It is an ironic note that we in 2019, 28 years later, are engaged with 'a media-saturated society where a narcissistic, greedy misogynist with severe status anxiety can become the leader of the free world'. Donald Trump is a prescient mentor, indeed, for the Musical's hero Patrick Bateman. This deliciously terrible outcome/parallel gives the musical adaptation some possibility of a fearful edge.

The novel became a film in the year 2000, starring Christian Bale, and was, interestingly adapted by a Guinevere Turner (an out Lesbian, so Google tells me) for Director Mary Harron, which gave the screenplay and subsequent film an interesting 'slant' to the over the top misogyny and toxic male violence of the original novel. The gay and feminist perspectives provided the material with a challenging context. I enjoyed the film very much way back, 19 years ago.

AMERICAN PSYCHO - The Musical, in the Book by Roberto Aquirre-Sarcasa seems to have leant further in that direction and in this production of the Musical by Alexander Berlage is embraced with the emphasis emphatically on the 'camp' aesthetic, in its design both Set (Isabel Hudson) and, especially, Costume (Mason Browne) - all three of these artists having so successfully collaborated last year in the wonderful over-the-top-campery of their production of CRY-BABY last year at the Hayes. Susan Sontag wrote that: the hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. And although Mr Browne does not have the budget to do it: Camp says Sontag, "is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers". Mr Browne does marvels with what he had to spend for what he wanted the show to be without the three million feathers. As does Ms Hudson and the choreographer, Yvette Lee, taking full advantage of the Designers offers and the undoing of the creative leash that Mr Berlage gives her to play in.

This aesthetic is carried on in the casting of Ben Gerrard as Patrick Bateman, who has made such a splash with his appearance and style in work such as I AM MY OWN WIFE, BUYER AND CELLAR, at the Ensemble Theatre, and, spectacularly in the recent Bell Shakespeare/ Griffin adaptation of Moliere's The MISANTHROPE, where his creation of Cymbeline seemed to be a flawless/seamless identification with the narcissistic inclinations of some of the world about him, with a performance that had the shirt off more often than on. Mr Gerrard followed on with an investigation of one of the leads in ANGELS IN AMERICA, at the Old Fitz. All in all, this CV is quite a collection of gay men of extreme temperament to work on - not that Patrick is gay, just that he has those exaggerated qualities - which this production shrieks out for. Mr Gerrard has had plenty of practice to get to Mr Bateman and toy with it under the permissive Direction of Mr Berlage.

Mr Berlage and his team, with a musical adaptation of the score by Andrew Worboys (there is no live orchestra), grab back to a Set Design that like Mr Berlage's first introduction to the Sydney Theatre scene with his graduation production from NIDA, THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX, (later seen at the Old Fitz), revive the trope of the continuous turn of a revolve to help create and propel the relentless energy of the work - one thinks, exhaustedly, during this performance: 'When will the revolve ever stop? and, later, 'Is there a metaphysical meaning to when the revolve reverses into the anti-clockwise mode, or not?'

All of the action is reflected in three rooms of mirror, creating an illusion of a crowded self-obsessed humanity that values image over any sense/glimpse of character depth or empathy. The shimmer of ice-cold perfection is the universe of this stage vision (perforce of the content of the novel), illustrated, amusingly, in the famous competition of the young corporates over the 'elegance' of one's calling card.

It is lit in support, startlingly, in primary colour, and fluorescent tubing, also by Mr Berlage, glowering in, mostly, a black-hole/abyss, to give a cutting edge to the look of all the bloody action of the story. This production of AMERICAN PSYCHO seems to be a natural for the present Sydney audience's pre-occupation that counts appearance/style over any serious interrogation of the content of the work.

Patrick Bateman is both the principal character in the action of the story as well as being the narrator. It confronts the actor with a demand to sit comfortably as the subjective experiencer of the events of the work as well as being required to step out of the narrative and take on a sardonic, dry, smart-mouthed objective commentator of the action. Slipping in and out of those guises is a kind of circus trick that makes demands for a technical feat of some skill. Mr Gerrard manages it with panache, using a repertoire of physical and vocal gestures that we have enjoyed in most of the work we have seen previously, in his stage (and television manifestations), but, which also could leave the audience in a disconnected position of nodding (I've seen this before) while watching the familiar mannerisms.

This was not, for me, too much of a problem, but was one that revealed the performance as lacking in spontaneity or originality, especially surprise, and when compared to the relative 'weakness' of Mr Gerrard's singing voice was almost not remarkable. Mr Gerrard is undoubtedly an accomplished actor but has, merely, an adequate singing voice. That that voice had to carry the central figure in a Musical who barely leaves the stage and has a huge musical demand, seems to be huge risk. For, on the night I saw the performance, he did not seem to have the added 'oomph' to pitch his sound over and above the accompanying chorus and orchestrations, and, so, relatively 'disappeared' in vital moments. It was never more worrisome than in the final song, 'This is Not an Exit', when Mr Aguirre-Sarcasa (Book) and Mr Sheik (Music and Lyrics), attempt to give Bateman a redemptive dimension and a gesture to suggest that he is a human just like all of us in the audience (in this production he leaves the stage and sits with his audience looking at the other players, identifying as one of us). Mr Gerrard did not have the vocal power or the warmth of sound to convince us of this contrivance - this pivotal moment fell flat - one was not convinced that Patrick Bateman was a human worth embracing or forgiving. Patrick Bateman remained a bloodless murderous psychopath - frightening.

The rest of the company are startling in the commitment to the demands of this production requiring them to shift scenery and location, change costume, sing untiringly,, and dance effortlessly while negotiating the ever turning stage-revolve. Shannon Dooley (Evelyn Williams), Liam Nunan (Luis Carruthres), especially, create characters that stick in the mind despite the obviousness of the dramaturgical function, while Blake Appelqvist (Paul Owen) steals the show with an ease of presence, having a physical plasticity and accompanying singing quality that could, perhaps, take on the role of Patrick Bateman with ease and power (recently I saw Mr Appellqvist in a solo role, in a new Australian musical DORIAN GRAY NAKED, and was mightily impressed - a Star?)

The 'politics' of the novel and the film, and, perhaps, even of this musical version of that source material that "ambition is an instinct necessary to survive, and empathy can be switched on and off when convenient. (and) Perhaps the only way to break such a cycle is to strive for authenticity and rediscover what actually makes each of us happy, mindful and above all else, human ...' (Program notes), seemed to me relatively elusive in this dazzling production. The textual content and its tools of telling seemed to be about a decade or two passé - the events and times have moved on. Of all the novels of that time the social impact and heritage of AMERICAN PSYCHO, may be, mostly, today, famous for the the sensation of its original scandal and the scary fascination that we have as a species for the bloody serial killer that may be stalking our neighbourhood. BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, the 1987 novel by American Tom Wolfe , a work studying the same times, sits higher as a superior work of satire and literature, I reckon - a Dickensian-like forensic study of a society in terrible straits (it was by the way, a terrible film).

AMERICAN PSYCHO - The Musical, at the Hayes Theatre, is a dazzling production, that is relatively empty in its content impact. Sydney should love it. I was admiring but unmoved.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Party (verb)

PARTY (verb) devised by William Yang, in the Playhouse, at the Sydney Opera House. 10th and 11th May.

I first knew of William Yang when he was Willie Young and part of the cast of the iconic original production of THE LEGEND OF KING O'MALLEY, written by Michael Boddy and Bob Ellis, in 1970, and recently re-staged at the Seymour Centre in 2014. Willie was part of the troupe that created, under the Direction of John Bell, as an an actor/singer/musician. Later, I remember him as part of the Rex Cramphorn Company in his Studio experiments on some of the Classical repertoire. Willie was never an actor really. Then, other than seeing photographs of him at dinners at Patrick White's he kind of disappeared from my radar. Later, he re-appeared in my life at public parties where he always carried a camera and clicked away at the scenarios. He always dressed as himself and seemed to be content just to wander around and click, click, click.

In fairly recent times, as William Yang, he has curated his photography to create published photographic essays in book form and launched a career on the stage showing, thematically, some of his photographic work - a kind of slide-night - (the quality of the photography as photography is debatable, but as historical record, invaluable) - where he acted as a verbal interlocutor to place the work in context. I have seen several iterations of this endeavour.

PARTY (verb), is the latest offer. It concentrates in presenting a photographic history/memory of the infamous Dance Party culture of Sydney from the early 1980's up until the present. There were only two performances. The night I went - the first performance - it was like being at a gathering of old friends come to remember those old times. One saw friends that one thought were dead as well as other friends who were at the last Bad Dog or Kooky Party a month or so ago. It was a family get together, it felt warm, inclusive and special. This was a family gathering come to relish and indulge in joint ecstatic memories - one was wondering who had been captured and, was to be shown, while secretly hoping, that they might be up there in one of the photographs.

Accompanied with a soundtrack presented live by Jonny Seymour and Paul Mac performing as as Stereogamous, standing to one side of a projection screen, William Yang in a flat and mostly lugubrious voice introduces and, sometimes, elaborates about the individual projected images and of the history of some of the participants. It turned out that this show of the Dance Club phenomena became also, sometimes, a very personal journey, for Mr Yang, as we meet ex-lovers and companions across the time era that included the AIDS epidemic. It became a little maudlin, though, highly respectful, and for some of us, ultimately, fairly moving.

If you have attended other iterations of this formula from Mr Yang, there was nothing really new here - it was fairly familiar in its mode with the curiosity of the selected image/memory the sustaining element that kept one present. At 80 minutes it only just began to wear us down- you know, like any slide night can do.

Most of us were glad to have made the effort to come even though in all of those photographs of the parties and the memory of being confronted by William's lens, one did not appear in the haze of the dance spaces over the almost 40 years of coverage of this show. We got to feel warm with our chosen 'family' and were happy to be re-acquainted and have our past drawn into the present.


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 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.