Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Little Trojan in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre presents, ROSALINE, by Joanna Erskine, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT) 11th - 26th October.

In Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, Romeo, a son of the Montague's has been wandering in the woods alone, "[w]ith tears, augmenting the fresh morning's dew/ Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs." All, he thinks, for his love of Rosaline. Later, that evening he breaks into a party held at her cousin's Juliet's home to be close to his Rosaline - both women, daughters of the enemy family of Verona, the Capulets. On seeing Juliet, Romeo, instantly, falls in love with her and the prescient admonition - chiding - that Romeo's priestly mentor, Friar Laurence has given him "for DOTING, not for LOVING" Rosaline rings, fatefully, true. ("Dote" means to be infatuated or foolishly in love, or in love with the idea of love - it comes from the same root as the word meaning "to take a nap".) Romeo's 'love' has been an artificial one - he has been in a stupor, a dotage of adolescent indulgence. Rosaline is forgotten, post-haste, and Juliet becomes all.

In Shakespeare's play we never learn much about Rosaline. She is glimpsed, once, at the Capulet ball, but she is not a dramatic character in the play: she has no lines. What we know of her is Romeo's and his 'mates' projection. Part of Romeo's frustration (attraction?) with Rosaline maybe that she has "sworn that she will still live chaste", that she will die a virgin and without progeny - a challenge that any red-blooded Italian machismo might take up! (Juliet, then, on sight, seems to be an altogether different proposition/challenge.)

ROSALINE, is a new Australian play by Joanna Erskine. Since 2007 Ms Erskine has ruminated on how she can give a voice to the woman scorned in one of the world's great romantic tragedies. To tell Rosaline's story. For, Ms Erskine refused 'to believe that Rosaline simply disappeared'. The play, ROSALINE is, of course, Ms Erskine's contemporary projection of a possible alternative drama for Rosaline (Aanisa Vylet), involving Romeo (Alex Beauman), his friend Peter (Jeremy Campese) and a Friar (David Lynch).

The Rosaline, of this play, is furiously possessed - obsessed - in lust with her Romeo. She will have him and, she determines, y no-one else shall. This belief passion leads her to actions and extreme behaviours. Ms Erskine's play tells a story that is as predictable in its tragic trajectory as the original Shakespeare does when trumpeting his story in the opening sonnet-Prologue of ROMEO AND JULIET.

Directed, by Sophie Kelly, on a dour Set design (Set and Costume Design by Lucy McCullough) - a raised grey rectangle, encasing a pit, where most of the action takes place - the actors, in a collection of multiple scenes tell the story of Rosaline and her pursuit of her Romeo.

The difficulty, for me, was the acting style from all the actors of an almost unabated earnestness. The actors seemed to sit above the text and played the 'idea' of the characters and the dramaturgical intention of the narrative. There was, for me, an artificiality of sound and gesture, not, observerdly, sprung from any organic truths of personalised experience. I had an impression of actors with a clear romance with the missionary zeal of the play and Ms Erskine's 12 year yearning. Truth, evidence of a real lived experience (personalisation), owned vocal characterisations, were strangely rare in the 75 minute production of the play. The actors seemed to be talking at each other not to each other, no-one seemed to be affected by what they heard or saw - they were performing in a bubble. I could not believe the plight of anyone in the play. I was guided to the idea of the play rather than to experience any authentic 'happening' in the tragedy of this Rosaline.

Ms Vylet, who plays Rosaline, I remember essaying a passion not much different in energy and 'nakedness' in a production of THE GIRL THE WOMAN out at Riverside, Parramatta last year - her characters, in both instances, driven by a sexual need that, too, led to disaster. This possession of Rosaline, by Ms Vylet, did seem extremely familiar. (Oddly, I felt, there is no other female character in the play - one wondered if Juliet ought to have appeared, even as Rosaline does in ROMEO AND JULIET, a silent presence?)

In the time of my uninvolvement during the performance "Does it always need to be the case - that tragedy is the conclusion to a woman who pursues her free life choices? I have just finished Elizabeth Gilbert's novel, CITY OF GIRLS (2019), whose intention, partly, was/is to tell the story of a young nineteen year old woman - Vivian Morris - finding herself in the world of New York in the 1940's and decades after. A story of empowerment that includes wild choice that leads to consequences that are both near tragic but also, satisfyingly, concludes as a celebration of her freedom of choice in her complicated life.

ROSALINE, is the fruition of a 'passion' of writer, Joanna Erskine. Last year I was truly moved by Ms Erskine's play AIR and could recommend it unreservedly. This production of this new play I am less enthusiastic about. It plays at the Kings Cross Theatre until the 26th October.

As You Like It.

That play has a Rosalind - one of the great Shakespearen creations. His other Rosaline is one of the 'teases' to the gang of men led by Berowne in the comedy, LOVE LABOUR'S LOST.


Belvoir as part of the 25A program presents SLAUGHTERHOUSE, by Anchuli Felicia King, Downstairs Theatre Belvoir. 16th October - 2nd November.

Writer, Anchuli Felicia King, and Director, Bonita de Wit, two young Australians, both found themselves studying in the Performance Arts Program at Columbia University in New York (not that they hadn't tried to find a place in Australian schools to do just that - their resourcefulness in finding the alternative way to training seems to have forged some strong 'gifts', despite, I imagine, the great expense). Their respective American friends at school made sure they became acquainted and diffidently, at first, i've been told, they did. Great! One result is SLAUGHTERHOUSE, a new play by Ms King which is being Directed by Ms de Wit, in the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir as part of the 25A Program. The 25A Program is an opportunity for five young collectives of artists to emerge in a Production presentation supported by the Main House that is the Belvoir Company.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE, is a play about an 'ethical eating start-up' encouraging the world to be aware of the source of their food with an abattoir being at a frightening centre (having, the night before, been shocked by the 7.30 Report exposure of the latest racing scandal and the maltreatment of thoroughbred horses, it was an unpleasant and piquant confrontation) What could, therefore, be more 'trendy' and 'honourable'? But in this instance, as in my real TV life, something seriously has gone wrong with the experience of the organisation's aspirations.

Five actors present five independent monologues telling the unravelling 'event' that has undone them, from their individual point of view. We sit in a growing wonder as each character connects directly to us, having us develop identification - allegiance - or not, and having to decide which one is speaking the truth and which ones are pandering a verbal concoction of face-saving self interest. Who ever you lay loyalty too makes little difference to your experience in Downstairs at Belvoir, for you will have an inevitable reflexive comic response and a startling mental and visual stimulation of some rare quality.

First Bianca - the Social Media manager - gives us her horrified memory and we are introduced by Brooke Rayner to the spizz of a scintillating comic writer, Ms King. It is a dazzling comic opportunity and in the performance by Ms Rayner of this completely self-obsessed 'youngster' with hesitant twitches and rude habits of eating, dressed in orange clothing, we are supremely mesmerised to her spot-on hilarious creation. We subsequently meet the 'sexual-dick' of the collective who believes he is the answer to any woman's dreams inhabited frighteningly by Adam Marks. We meet Sasha, played by Stephanie Somerville, the bosses' Personal Assistant, in all her weaning ego, who gives stage space to drug enhanced DJ, essayed by Tom Matthews, with all of his delusions that gradually, subtly, wins some surprise of empathy from one - weird. At the top of this start-up's pole is Hannah a self-centred CEO who takes full advantage of her sexual energies to enjoy what she may gain from the 'greenie' and guilt laden conscience of the 'clients' that they have inveigled to join them in support. Romy Bartz has all the pseudo-modest sinuation of body and innuendo to provoke many a wet dream as she tells Hannah's version of what has happened.A performance worth relishing.

All of us have been manipulated into an exhaustive state that was in its 75 minute drive, glued together by chaotic crashes of Sound that blasts the aural senses accompanied by doubling and tripling visuals with video - live and pre-recorded - that keeps one from resting our attentions (Ms King not only has written SLAUGHTERHOUSE bu, also, has created the Sound and Video input!)

We are in the world of a stimulating contemporary comedy of modern cruelty and savage critique, with a Design by Brendan de la Hay that is startlingly white, doubling as screen for the video action, with the detritus of modern high tech gadgets dumped on the periphery edges in discarded abandonment. Everything, especially conscience, seems to be easily dispensable in this millennial world. The Lighting by Phoebe Pilcher supports the concept of the look of the show, brilliantly. The primary colours of the costumes, also by Mr de la Hay, spring out at us to create an ocular discomfort that the masks (PIG-man!) and other properties may have you recall your youth or the last queer party you attended - you know BAD DOG or CLUB KOOKY?!

This work by Ms King and the sure hand of the Director, Bonita de Wit, ensures no matter what generation you belong to an hilarious and witty night is on offer - a surprise of real quality in all areas that is worth seeing. Ms de Wit recently debuted in Sydney, on her return from New York, at the Hayes with her production of the new Australian musical RAZORHURST (it was not so sure an experience as this work is), while Ms King has had her play, GOLDEN SHIELD, just close at the Melbourne Theatre Company, and she awaits the opening of a co-production by the Sydney Theatre Company and The National Theatre of Parramatta, WHITE PEARL, out at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. Two artists worth noting, I reckon.

Go see. It plays until November 2 and is only $25 a ticket. A bargain, I promise.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cirque du Soleil, Kurios

Cirque du Soleil present, KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, at the Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney. 3rd October - 24th November.

KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, is a work from the juggernaut that is Cirque Du Soleil, a Canadian Company that has an astonishing network of creations performing all around the world.This work has been Created and Directed by Michel Laprise.

KURIOS, is a return to form for this company. The show before last was not so hot - the speciality acts great, the story fluffing it up, boring. Kurios is set in the late Nineteenth century (one supposes) and all the Design elements are of an extraordinary standard - a s steam-punk visual influence. Set (Stephane Roy) and Costume (Phillipe Guillotel). Amazing detail enhanced by Lighting of extraordinary effect. All this serving a fanciful story of an incredible Seeker, in search of wonders of this Victorian industrial world of invention, which he curates and stores in his cabinet of curiosities.

This story-line is simply decoration to help distract us during the huge Design changes that are carried out to permit the stunning virtuosity of a troupe of International artists to be shown off to maximum effect. In the case of KURIOS, the thematic fibres of the staging of this work, works. It is a brilliant conceit integrated flawlessly throughout the night masked by an incredible Sound Design from a live orchestra, timed to perfection to initiate the cueing for the actions of the speciality artists. The music is by Raphael Beau, Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, a kind of electro-swing fuzz with a jazz smother led by Marc Sohler and Singer Sophie Guay.

It is the calibre of the specialist artists that are always astonishing that one goes to Cirque du Soliel for. And with Kurios there is no let down. Fun percussionists and jugglers, a plastic and pliant foursome troupe of acrobats with bodies that do things that do not seem possible to be done, a chair balancing act mirrored in duplication from above, a duo of men swinging about us in a daring, flying ribbon act, a bouncing net act that has the participants flying about the levels of the stratosphere, a solo yo-yo artist that will leave you with your mouth agape. It is all so physically stirring - dare I say sexy! This is a show of two one hour halves and not a minute ought to be missed. Much more than what I have said happens, I hope you will be surprised and tantalised to a state of excitement and disbelief, not only with what I have 'spoiled' but, too, by what I have left out.

The show, Kurios, is the Full Deal. It is an entertainment for all generations and, truly, you are guaranteed a blast of a night. The Cirque Du Soliel aesthetic and it's design organisational skills for enchantment and wonder begins the moment you step into the huge tent that covers it all.

Do go. You will have an unforgettable time.

The Angry Brigade

Photo by Bob Seary
New Theatre present, THE ANGRY BRIGADE, by James Graham, at the New Theatre, King St, Newtown. 1st October - 2nd November.

THE ANGRY BRIGADE, is a British play by James Graham. It is a two act play. The Angry Brigade are a collective, a far left terrorist group, active in the late 60's. They were responsible for a series of 25 bombings. Their bombs caused mainly property damage, no deaths and only one minor injury. It caused the British Government, in 1971, to set up a specialist group - The Bomb Squad - within the Metropolitan Police to investigate these crimes of terror. It led to the development of a new investigative methodology to detect and arrest these terrorists of the streets of London. This Brigade were all arrested and imprisoned. The British Government were well prepared for the consequent IRA activity in London when it erupted.

In the first act of the play we begin at the formation of the team central to the investigation and then follow through, discover the procedural 'rails', that will formulate the investigative pattern of action. We meet Smith (Davey Segale), the appointed leader, Henderson (Madeline Withington), Parker (Sonya Kerr) and Morris (Benjamin Balte), and watch them coalesce over the period into a team with a mission that does its job and in doing so, also, unleashes them selves from the strict conventions of their own tight worlds into looser and contemporary revellers of the mores of the British 1970's.

This first act is more matters of fact than expansive insight that has a rather dulling effect on concentration, aided by the acting, generally, been permitted by the Director, Alex Byrant-Smith, to indulge in characteristics rather than in development of character and their arc.

During the interval the stage has been re-configured (Set and Costume Design, Sallyanne Facer). We had been in the basement setting at the Metropolitan Police for the first act of the play and in the second act of the play, a different number of locations, spread across a nearly bare stage. (Acoustically, the open stage hampers, sometimes, the clarity of text - it has an echo chamber affect.) The Lighting is by Michael Schell and there is a robust Sound Design by Glenn Braithwaite.

In the second act we now meet members of the Angry Brigade. We see the events from their, the young terrorists point of view. This is a keen strategy from the writer, Mr Graham, and as the principal four actors of the first act also carry the majority of the responsibility of the verbal action in the second act it causes us to imaginative engage with the actors in a very different way. Davey Seagle takes on John, Madeline Withington takes on Anna, Benjamin Balte plays Jim and Sonya Kerr is Hilary. We are surprised to understand that only one of the Brigade are from working class roots, most of them are disillusioned youngsters of the bourgeoisie.Mrs Thatcher must answer for her policies.

This company of artists have been imbued by their Director, Mr Bryant-Smith, with an energetic passion and commitment to the integrity of the writer and his intensions. This is the stirring, galvanising element of the night. These actors believe in what they have taken on and wish us to observe the relevancy to our own times of protest. There is a supporting cast that help sweep the night along: Nicholas Papademetriou, Kelly Robinson and Will Bartolo.

This is an interesting play by one of Britain's most politically engaged writers. His home country have responded eagerly to his out put. THE ANGRY BRIGADE was written in 2014 and is a lesser work than his spectacular award winning, THIS HOUSE (2012) and his play about Rupert Murdoch and his takeover of The Sun newspaper: INK. Only 37 Mr Graham has written some 22 plays and, as well, for television - QUIZ (2019) - and film. He, also, wrote the Broadway Book for the musical FINDING NEVERLAND. Prolific is one word. Talented is another. One is grateful that the New Theatre has curated THE ANGRY BRIGADE, for us Sydney siders to be able to engage with his work. One does long to see INK., THIS HOUSE, and perhaps (I haven't read it), LABOUR OF LOVE - a prize winning comedy.

The Real Thing

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti
Sydney Theatre Company, presents by THE REAL THING, by Tom Stoppard, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 9th September - 26th October.

THE REAL THING, is a play by Tom Stoppard, from the approximate middle period of his output - 1982. Prior to this it was the intellectual brilliance of his word play and juggling of various viewpoints that gave his work the effervescence of the best cold champagne that money could buy. Exhilarating nights in the theatre that made one feel smarter and wittier than one had suspected, known, of oneself ever being: ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD (1968); JUMPERS (1972); TRAVESTIES (1976). THE REAL THING, had all the wit as usual, but at its centre it had, as well, a sensitive beating heart that felt that it, at last, could feel the ecstasy of love and the bruises of despair of that same thing called love, and could safely, truly, express it and discuss it, in public, on the stage. Later work, ARCADIA (1993); THE INVENTION OF LOVE (1997); and the screenplay SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998), go on to illustrate that growth luxuriously and rewardingly.

The character of Henry in THE REAL THING is autobiographical to a large degree. The role of Annie, in the original production, was taken by Felicity Kendall with whom Mr Stoppard developed a relationship, both of them at the time married to someone else. Says Simon Phillips, the Director of this Sydney Theatre Company (STC) production:
THE REAL THING marked a turning point - a shift from using other people's ideas meretriciously to expressing his own ideas, and more importantly feelings, equally eloquently.
Lots of things are thrown into the disquisition of the playwriting in THE REAL THING, that keeps us engaged, but at the core of the experience we grapple with the puzzlement of what is love? and how do we know when the love we feel is the real thing? We learn that it is when experienced as ecstasy and also as despair and, yet, manages to sustain our partnership through the thickness of it as well as the thins of it.

We have seen this play on the Sydney stage many times before this version in The Drama Theatre. It still has its charms and can still hold the audience in its palm, although in this production it occasionally reveals its age and 'creaks', forcing us to be patient with some of its observations and theatrical tricks of structure. The play feels long, though it isn't, merely two and a half hours, including an interval. That feeling of length is a signal that something is not quite working, don't you think? It takes so long to get to the end - it seems to end many times. On my night there was an anticipatory exit applause given, despite the fact there was more - embarrassingly - to be said and done. We had to re-gather ourselves, those of us who had thought that exiting was the next move of the night! The amount of time built around the MacGuffin of the 'ghosting' by Henry of a play written by a working class Brodie, an imprisoned soldier, does, ultimately, stretch the limits of our attentiveness. And when Brodie finally does appear - metamorphose - none of us care too much, for we had already indicated that we felt it was time to go home, thanks very much.

Mr Phillips remarks that
If Stoppard sets challenges to your attention span, he sets equal challenges to his actors, demanding a mental acuity and an effortless command of high-tensile language.
This company of actors appear to have the "mental acuity" but not quite the "effortless command" of the high-tensile language. Both Johnny Carr (Henry) and Geraldine Hakewill (Annie) manage the commands of the technique Mr Stoppard requires, but, only just. Their effort to deliver is a visible strain and does not give us much luxury of confidence that they will get through. Other actors that we have seen in this play in other productions over the years, were, generally, much more experienced than these two young thespians. They give creditable performances but not absolutely confident ones - we cheer them on but we should not ought to have that responsibility. We are pleased that they have managed well enough.

The best performance comes from Julia Robertson, in a small supporting role as Debbie, and, happily, when Dorje Swallow does finally arrive as Brodie, his suavity and control of the scene has us wishing he had arrived earlier and had had more to do. Rachel Gordon (Charlotte) is adequate, so is Shiv Palekar (Billy), while Charlie Garner does not seem to be able to inhabit Max, the actor - the other betrayed lover - and who rather presents an oddly caricatured vocalisation as a substitute for a living, breathing man - the idea of this 'stagey' Englishman called Max (Maximilian, I suppose) as conceived by a satiric Australian comedian.

It is a very extravagant and contemporary design by Charles Davis, and we do get to watch it change 'shape' regularly during the performance, accompanied by James Brown's Sound Design and Composition, lit sumptuously by Nick Schlieper. Mr Phillips as a deft hand Directing this work but not the energy to lift the actors and production into an effortless brilliance, which is what THE REAL THING necessarily demands and we expect.

I like Stoppard's work a great deal. I am a fan. I flew to New York to see his trilogy of plays, THE COAST OF UTOPIA, dealing with the Russian philosophers and their entwined personal lives that would set the foundations for the Russian Revolutions in 2002, guessing that we would never see them in Sydney. Three plays. Nine hours long. A company of 30, or more actors. Never ever, in Sydney. I had a moderately fair night with this version of THE REAL THING.(Come to think of it, that maybe my usual remembrance of this play). I wish that the STC had cast the work with more experienced players, or, better still, were more courageous with presenting one of his other works that have never been seen in Sydney. There are many, many of them.