Friday, August 23, 2019
Opera Australia present WEST SIDE STORY. Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Choreography and Direction by Jerome Robbins. In the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. 20th August - 6th October.
WEST SIDE STORY debuted in 1957 on Broadway. Four genius artists somehow subdued their egos to collaborate as an Ensemble to produce one of the great works in the Musical Theatre canon: Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. A motion picture version was made and arrived in 1961 winning 10 Academy Awards - it created a permanent number of indelible moments. (please read my 2010 review of another production of WEST SIDE STORY*** to get my grasp of this work's greatness).
This production led by American Choreographer/Director, Joey McKneely is the second version of this iconic work presented by Opera Australia (OA) this year. The other was the Handa on-the-Harbour in February. This Design is by Paul Gallis, utilising some magnificent historic photographs of 1950's New York to sustain the visual context for the location of the work with two portable side towers/constructs of quasi scaffolding to represent the housing of the denizens of this world at war: two gangs of youth contesting their right to territory, The Sharks and The Jets - white ethnic second generation Americans versus recent Puerto Rican immigrants. Arthur Laurents used the framework of William Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, and then bent it for these artists needs to tell a contemporary story.
From the first Musical notes from the OA orchestra led by Donald Chan there is a thrilling nostalgia awakened in all of us in the audience and the words of the famous songs are shaped silently in our mouths alongside the performers on the stage. The great demand of this work is that the triple skills of the Musical theatre performer; that of been able to Sing, Dance and Act, is required from almost every character on the stage (the older background characters are excluded).
The OA Company is a very young one with a great number of the artists making their debut (first) outing onto the professional stage. One can see these artists in their singing and, especially, dancing, performing at optimum levels of skill. They are striving with fixed concentration to 'conquer' the demands of the work and one can feel that they have little or no reserve and it is that potent visible fragility that undermines the impact of this show. This company is good but not great. They are 'kids' at the start of their careers - the OA claims that casting these youngsters fulfils the age requirements of these gang members and thus claims a positive credence whilst lamenting the usual casting of older (more experienced) performers in the gang - but I believe the film casting of the gangs despite the discrepancy in the age look works more than convincingly. The experience of those actors/singers/dancers does not allow any doubts of credibility from entering our aesthetic appreciation and belief in the drama of the work. I reckon we lose out in not having consistent assured quality in the casting of this OA production.
They, of course, are not assisted by the Design side pieces that crimp the open dance spaces and inhibits full flight and even complete take-off in the choreographic demands - the Joan Sutherland stage space is so 'tiny' and becomes an obvious flaw in the aesthetics of this production in this theatre. It is the reason that one prefers, when one can afford it, to attend the Australian Ballet in the Melbourne Arts Centre - dance space scale. This theatre, belatedly called the Joan Sutherland, was never constructed for the Opera or Ballet, it was originally a Dramatic Theatre Design intention, superseded by the demands of the powerful Symphony Orchestra politics of the times. The decisions about the Concert Hall and Opera Theatre was and is a great disservice to the quality of the Arts presented in this building.
The best of the performances in this production comes from Chloe Zuel in the dynamic role of Anita, in all three demands of the Musical Theatre artist. She is outstanding. Of the straight acting roles, Ritchie Singer, as Doc, gives a performance of some passionate insight.
In this performance Todd Jacobsson, the scheduled leading performer for Tony was re-placed by Daniel Assetta, who gave an assured but nervous interpretation and showed some uncertainty in his top notes (at least early in the night) and a lack of blending skills with the rather noisy overwhelming operatic sound (or is it a Sound Design mixing problem from the desk of Matt Grounds?) coming from his Maria, sung by Sophie Salvesani - who is a little short of the top Dramatic Acting skills to convince us and/or move us, in the tragic climax of the work. The climax is, rather, all dramatically expressed as routine from all the company on the stage (except the work of Doc), which, unfortunately, robs this WEST SIDE STORY of its powerful statement - it limits the profound influence of the drama of the creators' intentions. The musical scoring that one remembers from the Robert Wise film is rushed through here by Mr Chan and does not allow the tragedy to pierce the audience's consciousness about the futility of violence. (The speedy tempo hiding the weakness of the company's acting skills?)
If you have never seen WEST SIDE STORY this near faithful revival of the original work, led by Mr McKneely, will still impress you, for this is a theatre work that is up there as one of the greats. Its greatness lies with the inviolable vision of the four creators. If you have seen it and love it from before you may be underwhelmed. (All I can add is, there were no flying LED screens to distract us from the stage. What a relief that was - see my review of WHITELY and ANNA BOLENA!)
|Photo by Robert Catto|
RAINBOW'S END, is a play by Jane Harrison, author of STOLEN (1998). Both of these plays have become part of the school HSC syllabus. RAINBOW'S END, written in 2005, is an evocation of the lives of three generations of First Nation's women: the Yorta Yorta nation, in the 1950's, in the Northern Victoria region of Sheparton and Mooroopna, on the banks of the Goulburn River. It is the gentle and tender telling of some social studies indigenous history. The history of the women seeking justice by voicing the need for better housing for their families, and finding that power through the opportunity of better education.
Nan Dear (Lily Shearer), the matriarch of the family, holds firmly to the status quo, fearing the loss of all if the family become to conspicuous in their seeking better conditions. Her Daughter, Gladys (Dalara Williams), a highly intelligent and ambitious woman, handicapped with a lack of a proper education (she cannot read or write) pursues the rights of her family and attempts to guide her daughter, Dolly (Phoebe Grainer), to opportunities that will give her agency for self-realisation. Amidst the action of the narrative we meet, the deadening effects of the wilfully ignorant, racist government representatives, all inhabited by Frederick Copperwaite. As well, a young white salesman, Errol, played by Lincoln Vickery, who falls in love with Dolly, that adds complication (serious and amusing) to the situation.
The dramaturgy of the writing of the play, by Jane Harrison, is anachronistic in formula and style. It is as if it were written in the 1950's, with short linear scenes of naturalistic action, that are handled by the Director, Liza-Mare Syron, in an unimaginative period style, in a dated design approach by Melanie Liertz, that causes an unbearable number of entrances and exits up and down a series of platforms, partly decorated by trees, lit empathetically by Karen Norris. The play and Direction reminded me, much, of the Clare Watson clumsiness in the current production of The Torrents for the Sydney Theatre Company - an actual play written in 1955.
The acting is also handicapped with a wide variation of ability, from a superficial ownership of character from Ms Williams and Grainer - mostly, simply, mouthing the textual responsibilities, to a tentative line dropping and 'cardboard' ownership by Ms Shearer in the pivotal role of Nan Dear. It is a very curious experience in a contemporary theatre and is at tremendous variance to the recent Sydney Festival production by Ms Syron and the Moogahlin Performing Arts Company of THE WEEKEND, by Henrietta Baird.
RAINBOW'S END is interesting for the telling of a very important social history, and a friend recently becoming an Australian citizen and ignorant of most of Australia's social history found the experience educational, but the formula created by the writer is so old fashioned that it hardly merits attention, except as museum theatre, from regular theatre goers.
Up at the SBW Stables Theatre now is a very important and passionate contemporary First Nations play by Meyne Wyatt: CITY OF GOLD (not to be missed). THE WEEKEND, THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS,and some of the output of Nakkai Lui represents the present maturity of Indigenous theatre writing and production now, and this contribution by RAINBOW'S END, to the conversation in contemporary times feels very oddly dated.
|Photo by Brett Boardman|
Belvoir Theatre present LIFE OF GALILEO, by Bertolt Brecht, adapted by Tom Wright, in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, Surry Hills. 3rd August - 15 September.
LIFE OF GALILEO, by Bertolt Brecht has been adapted by Tom Wright for this present Belvoir Theatre production. My introduction to the Galileo play was through the British translation into English by John Willlett. It was this that I first read as an acting student years ago, and re-read before seeing this production, along with the translation that Brecht had worked with the actor Charles Laughton that premiered in Los Angeles in 1947. Brecht had exiled himself from Nazi Germany with the rise to power of Adolph Hitler, and while in Switzerland began working on this play between 1937-39, it having its premiere in Zurich, in 1943. He moved further to the United States ending in Los Angeles during the war.
The new adaptation by Mr Wright was a fairly interesting one in comparison and had, I thought, a respectful approach that con-temporised the play without straining to making too obvious an Australianising that, for me, blighted his work on the Sydney Theatre Company production of THE RESISITABLE RISE OF ARTURO UI last year.
The Director, Eamon Flack in his program notes tells us:
... why the LIFE OF GALILEO is such a formidable work: it knows what it is talking about, it knows about exile and cunning; it knows about truth and lies; it knows about compromise and ideology; it knows about the beauty and exhilaration of thought; it knows about the corruptibility of human knowledge; and it knows about the species' unique capacity for destruction. ...Colin Friels tackles the formidable challenge of Galileo in this production and has a clear-eyed handle on the arguments and compromises of his man, and manages to manoeuvre us, the audience, through the intellectual journey with clarity and alacrity. Mr Friels manages to keep us all engaged with the playwright's interests and he provokes a thought stimulation from us leavened with wit and a basic humanity that appears to be thrilled and humbled by thinking that lead to discoveries, that is pained by the compromises and feints that one may have to make to be able to continue to contribute to the progress of man, despite the tidal force intent from the authorities that ignores proof so as to be able to maintain the status quo and hold onto power.
The other eight actors play multiple roles, and in this production modishly shift gender - at least from male character for female inhabitation (none the other way round): Laura McDonald, Peter Carroll, Miranda Parker, Damien Ryan, Damien Strouthos, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Sonia Todd and Rajan Velu. Usually the play is cast with eighteen actors and possibly, extras, to tell this story in the Brechtian Epic Theatre style. With this minimalist production there is a general competency of clarity with arresting work from all, but especially from Ms Todd, in a gender swap role as the Vice Chancellor; Mr Strouthos, as Ludovico; and Peter Carroll in a number of scene stealing opportunities with a special relish in the famous dressing of the Pope sequence (a debt seems to be owed to the 2016-17 television series THE YOUNG POPE, Created and Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, starring Jude Law, courtesy of the input in this Belvoir instance, by choreographer, Kate Champion and the music scoring by Jethro Woodward.)
Belvoir has brought back the theatre in the round mode that we saw earlier in the year with the EVERY BRILLIANT THING play production, Designed, in this case, by Zoe Atkinson. Ms Atkinson also Designed the post-modernist contemporary mix of costume for the actors. In adopting this mode the production is minimised and feels as if it were a kind of Reader's Digest 'lesson', lacking the scale and impact of an Epic Power and energy, that one may see in the Berliner Ensemble Theatre, for instance. In a few weekends time I am attending a concert given by The Metropolitan Orchestra of Mahler's enormous Fifth Symphony with eighty musicians. Watching this production of LFE OF GALILEO is a bit like what I would imagine the effect would be if the orchestra in the Eugene Goossens Hall were reduced to thirty instruments: a diminishment in power!
The content of Brecht's LIFE OF GALILEO is powerful in its current relevancy and in this production elucidated with marvellous skill by Colin Friels who gives an intellectual clarity to the density of thought and situation of the play. Two reasons to see the production, perhaps.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
|Photo by Robert Cato|
WINK, is an American play by Jen Silverman. Earlier in the year we saw a production of another of her plays: THE MOORS.
Sophie (Eloise Snape) and Gregor (Graeme McRae) are recently married but now drifting apart. Sophie has a cat. For Gregor, Sophie's attachment to their cat Wink (Sam O'Sullivan), is too uncomfortable for him to endure. He skins the cat - murder's it - and keeps it's pelt of fur in a box that becomes a sexual face-stroking turn-on!
Sophie and Gregor coping with the loss of the cat see their therapist, Dr Frans (Matthew Cheetham), who becomes illusionarily attached to WINK, manifesting materially Wink into a growing relationship. Dr Frans loves Wink. And ditto!
You must see WINK so that you can make head or tail of what is going on. It is a very intriguing proposition that Ms Silverman offers you in the form of a black, surrealistic comedy that may be dealing with contemporary urban relationships of a certain generation.
The acting by all the company is complimentary and charming in its understatedness and Director, Anthony Skuse alongside his Designer, Siobhan Jett O'Hanlon, make you comfortable with the circumstances of the playing space that is eerily lit by Phoebe Pilcher and is underlined with a wonderfully evocative Sound Design by Ben Pierpoint.
"WINK: THE SKINNING AND MURDER OF A CAT AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF THOSE WHO KNOW HER."
An interesting and oddly, satisfying night! What with TREVOR, the talking monkey, and now WINK, the talking cat, the KXT is serving in spades, someone's fetish (not mine).
P.S. These artists have not given any biographical acknowledgement of the writer in the program. Very Sydney!
|Photo by Stephen Henry|
CITY OF GOLD, is a new Australian play written by actor, Meyne Wyatt - his first play. And what a debut play it is!
Writing a play was a plan that Meyne Wyatt had thought would happen in the future when he felt more established as an artist. He was not yet ready. Then, a 'perfect storm' of personal events caught him off-guard and accumulated into an overwhelming state of depression that conjured a responding energy, driven by a 'rage', that forced him to sit down and write.
Writes Meyne in the program notes:
So, I did what many first-time writers do, and are encouraged to do. I wrote from a place of experience. I wrote about my grief for the loss of my dad. I wrote about my work in this crazy business they call the entertainment industry. I wrote about the place I call the 'City of Gold', Kalgoorlie! And I wrote about the biggest stain that afflicts this country to this day: racism and my never-ending battle with it. ... I've grown up with it. I experience racism on a weekly basis. Even where I live now - Sydney - and I am sick of it. I have worked as an actor for nine years, and in that time I have been fortunate enough to have worked pretty consistently. I understand because of that I have a responsibility to represent my community. I have a platform and I must use it. That's what this play is. This play is me doing just that. CITY OF GOLD is an act of rebellion. It is a revolt. It is me using my platform to hold a mirror to Australia and ask it, do you like what you see? ... I ask questions. I don't give answers. ... I am not arrogant enough to know the answer to the questions I pose in this play. I don't have the solution. But hopefully the questions the audience members ask each other after the play will give the glimmer of hope and change that is so desperately needed. ... This play is hard work. I hope you like it. I hope you hate it. Just don't feel anything in between. ... Because there are things in this world that are wrong and we all have the responsibility to try and make them right.
Meyne Wyatt's CITY OF GOLD erupts from a raw and passionate place ignited by painfully lived truths refined, however, by a scintillating intelligence, crafty wit and empathetic grace that prevents it from being just a cascade of rage recrimination. This is a play about the state of a nation where the 'blacks' and the 'whites' may stand opposite to each other with suspicions, but, also, a play about a family, the Black family: Breythe (Meyne Wyatt), Carina (Shari Sebbens), Mateo (Mathew Cooper), Cliffhanger (Jeremy Ambrum) and Dad (Maitland Schnaars) who, also, may stand opposite to each other with suspicions.
The play is made up of two acts of twenty scenes. It is a mix of naturalism, magic realism (spiritualism) and monologue, ranging across domestic comedy and bitter political confrontation of subtle and not so subtle racism and family division. The dramaturgical structure is surprising and keeps one, as an audience, deliberately, provocatively, attentive. Just when you believe you have the measure of the stylistics one is thrown out of one's comfort zone.
These stylistics combined with acting that is clear sighted and highly impassioned, especially in the bindings that Mr Wyatt, Cooper and Ms Sebbens bring to their sibling relationship - marvellous acting (how do they do it seven or eight times a week? - it must cost!), and the ugly conviction of racial tension and tragedy from all the cast, including Christopher Stollery and Anthony Standish, reveals the power of CITY OF GOLD, so that one feels that one is witnessing an important production, Directed by Isaac Drandic, of a play that is timely in its presence. Important. Important for the health of family and nation.
Mr Wyatt in speaking out shakes the world we all live in and if we all who have witnessed it can simply listen, perhaps some glimmer of hope of change is possible to believe in. Encourage all you know to see this work - it speaks for us all and none too soon.
The Griffin this year have spoken for our community: Omar Musa's SINCE ALI DIED; Betty Grumble's LOVE AND ANGER; Suzie Miller's PRIME FACIE and now CITY OF GOLD. Plays and productions that ought to be a part of everybody's conversation.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
White Box Theatre Company in association with the Seymour Centre presents, TABLE, by Tanya Ronder, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 25th July - 17 August.
TABLE, is a 2013 play by British playwright, Tanya Ronder.
David Best builds a table in London somewhere. It is later taken to Tanganyika, by a family member, Sarah, as part of her missionary 'dowry'. It shares in the 'adventures' of this family and in due course returns to South London. A table, six generations. A table that witnesses the dramas and triumphs of the family Best.
The play is a neat old-fashioned evening and has the talents of the actors playing 23 different characters over a century or more to bring it passionately to life. Julian Garner is most impressive as Jack and especially Gideon where he has a spectacular dramatic tension with Danielle King, as Michelle.
The rest of the company: Stacey Duckworth, Chantelle Jamieson, Matthew Lee, Brendan Miles, Nicole Pingon, and a pleasingly restrained Annie Stafford, with always reliable and winning Charles Upton, give good illumination to the Direction of Kim Hardwick who has lavished great care onto this play. The Set and Costume Design is by Isobel Hudson, enhanced by the subtle and detailed Lighting by Martin Kinnane. There is a fairly robust Composition and Sound Design from Nate Edmondson that places with aural mood and detail the history of the table and its locations.
This play though lovingly cared and rendered by these artistic creatives was a slight and romanticised exercise, for me. I longed, as the night passed, for the rigour and surprises of the memoir story of THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES. Written by Edmund de Waal, it tells of the confiscation of the property of the Jewish family, Ephrussi, and the survival of 264 Japanese Netsuke (miniature sculptures), and their hidden journey through Odessa, Paris, Vienna and Japan across the century, 1871 until 2003, and its influence on the people who kept them together, over a time cover similar to the TABLE.
The play and this production is a pleasant evening in the theatre. I, perhaps, unreasonably, wanted more said, with less cliches of the dramatic concerns.
Sydney Theatre Company presents William Golding's LORD OF THE FLIES, adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams. At the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay.. July 23 - August 24.
I had just finished my schooling in a traditional Catholic school and was investigating what 'real' life was like outside the indoctrinations of that institution, at Teacher's College and University. I was only 16 turning 17 but even then I had become a cinema addict - escaping real life?, how immaturely ironic, eh? - and although my breeding, of late, was mostly school holiday Disney or Jerry Lewis comedies (except, of course, the free-to-air television repertoire), I took myself off to one of the 'risqué' Cinema Art Houses (The Savoy?) I had read about in The Daily Mirror, in Sydney, in 1965 (or so), to see a controversial-near-banned film by a famous British theatre Director, Peter Brook, called: LORD OF THE FLIES.
It was in a 'contemporary' in-yer-face black-and white mode with some very young boys who had never acted before - the film is/was very emotionally raw and scary. I had not read the novel - imagine, having it in our Catholic school library! - so, the film was a total shock to my system. Probably, because I recognised the bullying and the violence in my own classroom and school in the graphic detail on that screen. And, although, in the scenario of the LORD OF THE FLIES it was taken to truly grotesque extremes it was, for me, no exaggeration of possibility - what happened in that film could of happened in my own classroom - to some degree did happen (I wonder what ever happened to Peter Hooker?). I identified, I think, as "Piggy", the quintessential outsider, respected by the dominant group but not quite trusted.
LORD OF THE FLIES was a traumatic experience and my fear of the piercing of the thin veneer of 'good' behaviour has always been part of my risk assessment when contemplating the investigation of exploring new environments, new acquaintances. Can you imagine how much further I was disturbed when watching in 1968/69 Lindsay Anderson's film IF, starring Malcolm McDowell (add awakening sexual tensions, mine and their's), and, in 1971 with McDowell again, in Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and those Droogs, particularly, because I felt I was surrounded by them in the Barclay Cinema , they are hooning the rape scenes! I had to slink unnoticed out of the theatre for fear of unwanted attention and skid-daddled up George St.
In William Golding's novel, a group of snotty-nosed primary school boys (6-12 year olds) survive a plane crash on an island and grapple with how to behave. They do not do well. Mr Brook's version captured that well.
Kip Willliam's has a group of eleven young adult actors of all contemporary 'gender' in contemporary rehearsal clothing (Costume Design, by Marg Horwell)- in their 20's - gathered onto the empty stage space of the Roslyn Packer Theatre, with some pieces of scenery, and, later, found properties (Set Design, Elizabeth Gadsby), that will be manipulated in improvisation, as they explore, within the boundaries of the theatre adaptation of the novel by Nigel Williams (2005), some of the premises, as it occurs to them, of the novel.
After the lights go down in the auditorium, a series of mimed actions signal us into the crashing of a plane onto an isolated island, with the actors marauding, flocking, the stage in fiercely physical states. We meet, Mia Wasikowska, who identifies as sensible, Ralph, as he buddies up with be-spectacled, wise "Piggy", inhabited by Rahel Romahn who carries the conch of debate/reason. Then, actor Contessa Treffone, who identifies as Jack, the head bully of the troupe, aggressively barges into the scene and in a vocal volume of 9.5 decibels claims leadership and directs the honing of spears to kill the' beast'. Jack breaks the stranded island collective into two factions/ two tribes, and as the synopsis breakdown in the STC program warns us: "More than just pig's blood will be spilled before long."
Ms Treffone, under the Direction (permission) of Kip Williams takes charge at 9.5 decibels in the first 15 minutes, or so, of the performance, that will be given without interval for one hour and fifty-five minutes. I cogitated that if you begin at 9.5 decibels there is very little room for nuance of expression or energy for the rest of the night. Ms Treffone takes us swiftly, unerringly. into bullying chaos and then sustains it for the rest of the night. Her stamina is breathtaking, I wished, as an audience member, I could have stayed interested enough to sustain it with her. It wearied me, mightily, and I couldn't. Looking back at Ms Treffone's offers in past production it seems to be her her go-to choice for solving most of her characterisations: an 100% energy effort.
Just what this production has to say to us in the Roslyn Packer Theatre is not rendered with clarity for it is, mostly, just a blaring kind of overwhelming noise. For Jack's allies follow, taking their performance mode from his example of a kind of a long-sustained hysteric mania: Justin Amankwah (Henry), Nyx Calder, (Bill), Yerin Ha (Maurice), Mark Paguio (Sam), Eliza Scanlen (Eric) and Nikita Waldron (Percival), and differently, Joseph Althouse (Simon). They all appeared to be having a terrific time.
It was a relief to have Mia Wasikowska (in her debut theatre role) as some kind of ballast to the bombastics of Ms Treffone and her allies. Her powerful stilled presence and unfussy reading of Ralph is a life raft of sanity throughout the night. This is supported by Rahel Romahn as Piggy. Mr Romahn is so centered, witty and intelligent, apparently, an infinite well of compassion, that all of his work remains with one in one's consciousness when one meets again.
This is the third (or fourth?) production of this text by Mr Williams - I have seen two of them - and I don't know if Mr Williams has ever revealed just what he wants to tell us or make it evident why this is a story that we must see now. He is mightily obsessed. The washing machine chaos on the Packer stage is memorable for me, for the spectacle of the Lighting Design of Alex Berlage - who, as we know is a very interesting Director, as well. The floating fluorescents and the patterns of image, that he creates are arresting and distracting in their contribution to the night as the production descends into more and more mess. All that noise, all that movement, all of that gloom, all of that distracting lighting spectacle that leaves most of us asking, "What the f.ck is happening?"
There are better ways to spend your time and money, I reckon. I, personally, believe it is hard to beat the impression of the Peter Brook cinematic rendering if you don't want to read the novel to grasp Mr Goldings insight to our species.
Opera Australia presents a World Premiere of WHITELY, an Opera with Music by Elena Kats-Chernin. Libretto, by Justin Fleming. In the Joan Sutherland Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. July 15,18,20,24,27, and 30, 2019.
Three years in the making (not very long, really) Opera Australia (OA) commissioned a new work with Music by Australian Composer, Elena Kats-Chernin, with a Libretto by Australian Playwright, Justin Fleming, focusing on the life of an iconic Australian painter, Brett Whitely.
Whitely, in life, was a controversial figure. He is, still, a controversial figure. His art however, has grown more and more powerful as time as moved on. Born in 1932, he died young at the age of 53. The death as a result of a drug overdose. Whitely had become in 1985 an incurable addict.
The Opera Australia Company, under the Direction of Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini, has invested in a very complex and impressive Digital Art form to visually support the storytelling - it has become the dominant part of that company's Design. A large number of LED panels, fly in and around the stage (the tracking must be very complicated), illuminated with imagery that purports to support the events of the stage.
Several weeks ago I invested to see OA's production of ANNA BOLENA. It resulted in a very mixed experience, the principal difficulty being the use of the LED Digital imagery that seemed mostly to lack clarity in its support of the opera, driven, I have speculated, by a limited budget that hindered the choice of the image content (not enough variety or content source) and the TIME required to rehearse the effects for a consistent, 'second by second' contribution. I have not seen the AIDA, or MADAME BUTTERFLY, that, also, is dependent on the Digital technique to facilitate the visuals of the storytelling.
Watching the spectacular success of the Production Design, by Dan Potra, with the Digital Content arrived at by Sean Nieuwenhuis for WHITELY, one may wonder if this new Artistic Imperative given by Mr Teraacini, may have been made with this new opera in mind. Having the licence to pluck from found family and documentation film video, plus, the extraordinary range of the paintings resource available to the Designer and his assistants, the 'pool' of content must indeed be vast. The result we have is to take us into the 'summery' colour palette of Whitely to allow the Director, David Freeman, to stage with simple properties, some very beautiful stage environments. The visuals are enhanced with the sensitive Lighting design by John Rayment.
Mr Freeman has not really directed, but, mostly, unimaginatively, grouped the singers, (principals and chorus) in positions to deliver the libretto to the audience. The Libretto, by Mt Fleming, is a really an old-fashioned auto-biographical (Wikipedia-thin) collection of some of the facts of the events of the life of Brett Whitely, from that of childhood to his demise, skimming the main bourgeoise expectations of living in Australia, and then the rest of the world, with a set of artistic skills that distinguished him from most of the 'folks' about him, with superficial aplomb.
Whitely's sense of antipodean awe and encouraged curiosity has him as a kind of naive Alice-in Wonderland figure meeting and greeting, this city, that gallery, this museum, that painter, that painting, those colours, that person, the villain, an evil-one that contrasts with that saint, that gives balance to what it is to be a human, (what a relief), and an introductory embracement to some 'philosophical' readings, that 'justifies' some of the madness of his mind and especially his reason for indulging in those drugs - the world of perception that they grant to the taker, ah, indeed: an inspiration!
The OA Whitely, is in Mr Fleming's libretto a rather flat rendering of a history figure, telling us: that this happened and then that happened which meant that that, of course, happened next. What happened was sometimes 'good' but also, sometimes 'bad' - as baldly as that. There is very little interrogation of any 'turning points' in Whitely's life, or of the struggle that they may have had. There is very little drama in this libretto. It is all kind of, in compound, boring, and has us with a 'hero' (anti-hero?) who seems to be, in total, a superficial 'wanker' who it becomes rather an embarrassment to have spent so much time with.
In that last quartet of the opera, spotlighting his mother, Beryl (Dominica Matthews), his daughter, Arkie (Natasha Green), his wife, Wendy (Julie Lea Godwin) and Brett, the artist himself (Leigh Melrose), across the width of the stage, a sudden grasp of what has been wrong or felt wrong most of the night with this meeting in the theatre, was that this opera should have been called WENDY - now, there is a hero, a hero who is still standing and still creating - a living garden - having survived all the dependencies that Whitely made on her and all the others to keep his art going. At what cost to her? Now there is a libretto.
Mr Fleming's work is a great disappointment. Sitting in the theatre and looking at all the colours of the LED support, around the dutiful singers on the stage I was struck with my remembrance of one of the great novels about an artist: THE MOON AND SIXPENCE, by W. Somerset Maugham (1919), which was written as glimpses into the mind and soul of its central character, Paul Strickland, based on the life of Paul Gauguin. Oh, what perceptive, dramatic and fierce darings from the Master Maugham. Is there not some potential in dealing with the life of Brett Whitely in that way?
Is it possible to have Whitely struggle with the demon by making a bargain of selling his soul to be able to create work such as the Composer Adrian Leverkühn in Thomas Mann's great novel DOCTOR FAUSTUS?
Or, a character treatment such as Pam Gems gave the British painter, Stanley Spencer, in STANLEY (1996)? Where the cost to all the women he collected around himself is used as a scaffold for Spencer's output. Just a thought!
Mr Fleming's libretto is such a safe boring approach to the life of a very curious artist in obvious self-conflict. Was it too daring a life? Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. Did that perspective need more than three years to yield any stage possibility? For what the OA has given us is a pocket diary of the main events of the Life of Brett Whitely (without interrogation, or comment). Not much interesting going on here to interest any international stage, I should think. Everyone lives a life in that kind of package - it is in the details that originality may appear, is it not?
This work will stay safely here. Will be let sit in the cupboard and moulder away because it is so, collectively, ultimately, dull in its content and structure. Seeing it once is enough. One heard all it had to offer the first go round. Truly. Money has been thrown at the production for sure, but, no courage at all.
How did we Australians end up with a building as astonishing as the Sydney Opera House? Where is the equivalent Jorn Utzon on this project? Who had the commissioning courage to insist that they think outside the box for this project? Not Lyndon Teracinni, it seems, or any of his acolytes at any level in the OA structure, who seem to have kowtowed and said "Yes sir, three bags full, sir. Whatever you say, sir."
For this WHITELY is a dud.
P.S. Sorry Elena, give me your ballet score for WILD SWANS any day.
Monday, August 5, 2019
|Photo by Prudence Upton|
Ensemble Theatre in association with Red Line Productions presents, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, by Arthur Miller, at the Ensemble Theatre, Milson's Point. 18th July - 24th August 2019.
This production, of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, by Iain Sinclair was first presented at the Old Fitz Theatre in Woolloomooloo, in 2017. There has been some major casting changes with Anthony Gooley now playing Eddie Carbone and Scott Lee essaying the antagonist, Rodolfo. Otherwise, Giles Gartrell-Miles (Louis), David Lynch (Alfieri) David Soncin (Marco) Zoe Terakes (Catherine) and Janine Watson (Beatrice), are re-creating their original contributions.
Written By Arthur Miller, originally as part of a double-bill programer (A MONTH OF TWO MONDAY'S, the other half), in 1955, it was revised into the form that we see here at the Ensemble Theatre. A one act play that plays for, almost, two hours without interval, and has the growing presence of unfortunate catastrophe gathering, to cast a shadow of disaster, pulsing with the flesh and blood of the men and women of the story, that will be sacrificed for us in an inevitable shattering climax.
Miller's work is generally inspired by his obsession with the social agenda plays of Henrik Ibsen and the responsibility of the artist as storyteller (shaman) for his 'tribe', braced in the power of the primal, great Greek Dramas of 2000 years ago.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN (1949) and THE CRUCIBLE (1953) are two of the perennial plays of his that can be found to be on the constant revival schedule/wheel of theatre companies, and still are as powerfully relevant for the audiences who attend to the work today, as those who attended over the past sixty-odd years. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, has grown to be part of that reputation. The recent Young Vic production, that was broadcast in the local cinemas as part of the National Theatre program, and which I saw, as well, live in New York, Directed by Iva Van Howe, a few years ago, is evidence of that growing history - a memory that is indelible.
Put these great plays on the machinery of the theatre production track, cast them with creative artists and actors of courage, who are inspired not only to show the 'visible', but who, also, need to dig deep for the 'vision' of the play/the playwright, to bring to the light the responsibility of the cultural necessity of its confronting 'visibility' and an unforgettable 'lesson' will be made. (It is what I protested about with Neil Armfield's treatment of Andrew Bovell's THINGS I KNOW TO BE TRUE - a production that diminished the cultural necessity of its need to be told.)
This is what Mr Sinclair has done with this revival of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. On a bare setting of wooden floor and walls with only a single wooden chair and a switch-blade knife as properties (Set Designer, Jonathan Hindmarsh), in period costume (Costume Designer, Martelle Hunt), one leaves the Ensemble Theatre shattered but exhilarated.
Life can be extraordinary. The human species is flawed but majestic when framed with such dedicated ambition and skill.
Most of this production's artistic values are in tack, but there is still room for discussion and disagreement, if one wants to have close discussion in the coffee shop or bar, afterwards. But, whatever your point of view may be, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, ought to be in your diary as an unmissable experience.
Saturday, August 3, 2019
Sydney Theatre Company and Black Swan State Theatre Company present, THE TORRENTS, by Oriel Gray, in The Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 18th July - 24th August.
THE TORRENTS, is an Australian play written by Oriel Gray. It was the joint winner of a prestigious playwriting award from the Playwright Advisory Board (PAB) in 1955, sharing with SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL, by Ray Lawler. The Lawler play began a rich Australian production history in 1955 that took it onto the National and International stages: London, New York, and, still appears regularly today as part of the Australian Theatre Companies repertoire.
On the other hand, Ms Gray's play was almost entirely neglected, forgotten, and did not receive a professional stage production until 1996 in Adelaide. Although, there was a television broadcast in 1969 of the play by the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) in a six play anthology, called AUSTRALIAN PLAYS, Directed by Oscar Whitbread, starring Barbara Stephens, Ken Shorter and Alan Hopgood. (Those were the days, eh?, when the ABC was indeed loyal and adventurous about their responsibilities to the Australian writer). This co-production in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, by Black Swan Theatre Company and the Sydney Theatre Company is its second professional staging. Sixty four years after its prize winning bow. How that has happened will be the centre of many thesis dissertations to come, I am sure.
I had read the play and always had an affection for it, particularly, as I have been a regular contributor to the New Theatre as an actor and Director, the theatre that Oriel Gray had been firmly attached to in 1947 when she was a gauche 17 year old. Then, the New Theatre was affiliated with the Communist Party and the repertoire was focused on political agitation and propaganda serving the working classes of Australia - a definite belief in Socialism as an alternate doctrine for successful government. The theatre and all involved were, of course, suspect and were kept under surveillance by the Federal and State Governments. (The New Theatre was founded in 1932 and is the oldest theatre in continuous production in New South Wales). Ms Gray, later did grapple with the Communist Party philosophies and eventually quit the Party in 1949, though her social justice preoccupations never disappeared from her writing.
It was an anticipatory excitement I carried into the auditorium to see THE TORRENTS, at last.
It is a production by Clare Watson, the Artistic Director of the Black Swan Theatre Company (Perth), the co-producer of the project. The play is an example of the solid 4-square dramaturgical structure of the 1950's, peopled by familiar character types suitable to the environment of the play, and Ms Watson with her Set and Costume Designer (Renee Mulder) have striven to re-create, visually, a 'museum' accuracy for a newspaper office set in a Western Australia country town of the 1890's - a fictional town called Koolgalla, that is on the wane after the glories of a Gold Rush have diminished.
The play is a period melodrama that conjures the comic socialist work of G.B. Shaw with hints of the influence of the agenda theatre of Henrik Ibsen. So, THE TORRENTS, has an uncanny reference to contemporary issues such as 'gender politics, mining versus sustainable environmental practices and the power of money to corrupt truth in our media'. The capture of water the central concern of the characters in the play - water is more valuable than gold. Ask the denizens of the Murray/Murrumbidgee Rivers. More valuable than gold.
It is a story of the New Woman confronting the muddling patriarchy with zeal and values. It requires a galvanising, radiating energy at the play's production centre. It needs a performance that lights up the stage and manages the 'leading lady' responsibility with zest, confidence, grace, charm and wit. Cast in the central role of J (for Jenny).G . Milford is stand-up and television comedy star, Celia Pacquola (UTOPIA, ROSEHAVEN).
This production begins with Ms Pacquola, in contemporary clothes in front of the red curtain, beneath a pink neon lighting feature (illustrating the signature of the author of the play, Oriel Gray), with a microphone in hand, in a bright spotlight, introducing the history of the play, author and production, interacting, improvising, with the audience with charming, comfortable comic ease. She left the stage, the curtain rose and in the fashion of the1950's period dramaturgy we are introduced into the necessary given circumstances of the play's world and its dramatic concerns, through the interactions of quickly identified character types - familiars - building inevitably to the (late) entry of the star (catalyst) onto the stage for the comic/drama to be ignited.
Ms Pacquloa, now appears period-dressed in dowdy browns and cream, with brunette wig, and reveals a dimmed stage wattage/presence (so unlike her confident swaggering pre-curtain standup persona, when she had no script, only her ready wit, with microphone and spotlight). Her vocal equipment, that despite artificial electronic boosting (all the company are adorned with facial microphones), is underwhelming in its ability to capture an audience to a state of breathless 'star' awe. The skill technique for the theatre is so different for the standup or television performer. Ms Pacquola has little technique for her efforts of inhabiting an exhilarating persona for J.G. Milford.
That the two Production companies have cast a commercial television star, much appreciated by her fans (I, being one) to 'sell' their show, (to put bums-on-seats?) seems to be a cynical strategy so as to explain what we experience in the Sydney Opera House. Ms Pacquola does not have the experience of a skilled actor held within the demands of a writer's script, to reveal the joys of Ms Gray's heroine in this neglected play. What we really need in J.G. Milford is the energy of say, a Rosalind Russell comic skill, exampled in her female journalist role in the Harold Hawks, screwball comedy, HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940). Ms Pacquola's performance is charming but merely capable. Not uninteresting just lacking in the techniques to create and sustain a tantalising presence to reveal the dramaturgy of the play over an interval free, one hour and forty minutes marathon.
There is otherwise some good old fashioned acting going on from most of the rest of the company, serving the play as it requires in its period truth and stylistics, to convince in its entertainment and social ambitions/agenda. Tony Cogin, as the confronted newspaper editor, Rufus Torrent, who has the malleability to grow beyond his prejudices, spurred because of the oppositional blustering, bullying energies of the 'moneyman' (villain) of the town, John Mason, created with similarly unerring accuracy, by Steve Rodgers.
They are surrounded by a supportive trio of comforting character familiars played with witty confidence by Sam Longely (Jock McDonald), veteran, Geoff Kelso (Christy) and ingenue, Rob Johnson (Bernie).
The gradual blossoming of the town beauty into a spirited feminine independence, Gwynne, under the tutelage of Jenny, is nicely handled with a knife edge wit and set of intelligent choices by Emily Rose Brennan, that, resolvedly gives us a convincing 'period' gentlewoman, yet with an added subtle, sly contemporary comment. Unfortunately, she is not well served, dramatically, with the offers of Gwynne's two romantic suitors, Kingsley, uncertainly embraced by Luke Carroll, who is not totally comfortable with the imaginative adaptations required to capture this 'stock' character, that definitely belongs to a by-gone era. While the comic schtick of Gareth Davies, that he predictably chooses to use, is technically clever, and is rewarded with audience laughter (and admiration), the cleverness, the 'mannered' stylistics, draw more attention to the skill of the actor than as a true contribution to the realisation of the potentially complex burdened son and heir of fortune and advantage in the town of Koolgalla, Ben Torrents. Ms Brennan has to do much to create Gwynne's journey, successfully.
This production of THE TORRENTS is a disappointment but not a complete failure to invite us to an appreciation of the skill and intentions of Oriel Gray. The play and the playwright still intrigues and perhaps, in the sometime future we will see a more rigorous, enlightened production that could lift the play into something more than a curiosity, wronged by history. This evening in the theatre is a safe entertainment.
|Photo by Robert Catto|
OMAR AND DAWN, is a new Australian play by James Elazzi.
Dawn (Maggie Blinco) is an 80 year old widow, and following the death of her son, is living alone in a three bedroom home, who has made it her civic duty to foster care young adults living under stress. It gives her a life challenge. She has a brother, Darren (Lex Marinos) who runs a garage and feels that Dawn ought to consider moving into care herself. Her latest responsibility is Omar (Antony Makhlouf), a young seventeen year old man of Lebanese/Australian and Muslim background from a broken family, who because of his 'gay' predilections has been exiled from his community. Carrying a deep rage at the world he lives in, his only true companion is Ahmed (Mansoor Noor), and together they have survived on the streets as sex-workers 'serving', mostly, married men 'under the bridge'.
James Elassi, a writer from the Western suburbs of Sydney, is claiming space as a voice for the marginalised Lebanese Muslim culture - especially of the sexual outsiders - and courageously has determined to tell stories that he has observed in his world with an uncompromising truth. It is unusual to have central to the narrative these young men and an older woman who has a toughness equal to anything that Omar, especially, can confront her with. Dawn can give Omar as good as he can give - there is on the KXT stage the meeting of an irresistible force and an immoveable object. Something will have to give.
The work is much like the output of Patricia Cornelius in that the world brought to the stage is that of an underclass of our society rarely examined, but unlike Ms Cornelius, looks at a masculine concentration, whereas she has focused, mostly, on the feminine crises.
DAWN AND OMAR, is an eighty minute play of many, many short scenes - it seems more a tele-play or screenplay (most scenes are no longer than 3-4 minutes) than a work for the theatre - and shifts into many locations. The language is an argot of relentless profanity fuelled by the blind rage of the young men: sharp, blunt and ugly and without the poetry of the Cornelius output that helps to make her texts palatable without reducing their challenge.
The physical setting designed by Alesi Jelbart, has created a raised platform covered in gravel, with a central kitchen table and chairs, and a refrigerator and locker to store the properties when needed, with stools in the corner edges. Because of the dramaturgical structure of the playwriting, the Director, Dino Dimitriadis, has had to find a method to keep the stage action fluid, and as the work is essentially naturalistic with props - food and liquids - has had to accomodate the shifts from kitchen to a commercial garage to the sex refuge 'under the bridge', and has done so by creating a feature of the scene changes accompanied by a repetitive drone (Sound by Ben Pierpoint), that has a tempo effect that is glacial in its command, under mood Lighting shifts from Benjamin Brockman.
This is not the first work of Mr Elassi's that I have seen and OMAR AND DAWN is consistent in his 'missionary' zeal of subject matter concerns. All the work is posed in this cinematic scene length and is ultimately the main source of difficulty for maintaining an audience's concentration in the theatre.
Maggie Blinco, as Dawn, is a glowing presence radiating a lived life of trials and tribulations determined to make a positive contribution while she can - stubborn, compassionate and fearless - the performance full of subtle detail to build a 'heroine' role model of gracious humanity in the cruel world of old age and cultural poverty. Lex Marinos provides support as Darren, both, to irascible Dawn and explosive Omar.
The problem of the production is the offers from Antony Makhlouf, as Omar, which is mostly manufactured from the rage of the young man that has little variation of intensity - it is fierce, almost psychotic in its flarings. The performance is limited, there is little range or breadth of other qualities, with little or no nuance to give an audience a reason to have empathy for Omar's position. This is especially obvious as Mansoor Noor in the supporting role of Ahmed, in contrast to Mr Makhlouf's offers, has been able to create not only the exterior of the man but also insight to the motivating interior, that invites the audience to identify and engage with his character's dilemma. It is a performance that is consistent with his other work: e.g. THE LADEN TABLE, an STUPID FUCKING BIRD. A very interesting actor.
That Mr Elassi is an alternate voice revealing lives in the Australian community rarely seen is to be encouraged. But the dramaturgical demands of the theatre play needs more attention - I long to see a scene longer than 3 minutes, a one act structure, perhaps, and a more sophisticated vocabulary usage, so that the repetitive expressive pattern of the pain of his principal character has more nuance (the poetry achieved in the writing in the intimate seen between Omar and Ahmed, late in the play, needs to be heard more often). Too, this production of the play needs a more skilful performer at its centre or otherwise the experience could become what some might call, in its intensive relentless concentration and language haranguing, 'misery porn'. It sometimes felt like that.