|Photo by John Marmaras|
Red Line, under the Artistic Directorship of Andrew Henry, after a Director had to withdraw from the project of a production of KRAPP'S LAST TAPE, by Samuel Beckett, due for performance at the Old Fitz, in late November, after consulting with the actor already engaged, Jonathan Biggins, reached out to Gale Edwards, to see whether she was available at this short notice to take on the task. She had just returned from Directing two one act operas for YARRA VALLEY OPERA: THE CORONATION OF POPPEA (1643), by Monteverdi, and in contrast, on the same program, a Children's opera for discerning adults: THE ENCHANTED PIG (2006), music by Englishman, Jonathan Dove.
Now Gale Edwards, just based on statistical facts is the most illustrious Director, Internationally and Nationally, Australia has ever produced. EVER PRODUCED. (Why she does not have, at least her portrait celebrating her achievements, hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, beside the other commissioned portraits of Women Artists and Contributors to Australia Culture, is beyond my comprehension. Or, is it because she is - dare I say it - just a woman and can be neglected as per the tradition of the usual practice?) You would think she would be well known and lauded with honour for what she has achieved. Achieved working beside some of the greats, and by reputation, vernacularly also known as the 'monsters' of the theatrical world, in their pursuit of excellence: Trevor Nunn (LES MISERABLES), Andrew Lloyd Webber (WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR), Sir Cameron Mackintosh, etc.
Ms Edwards has worked in Musical Theatre all over the world, including London's West End and Broadway, and in Australia. She has worked in the United States of America in several important centres Directing Shakespeare (THE WASHINGTON SHAKESPEARE THEATER COMPANY, for instance). She was, in fact, the first woman in the world to Direct on the main stage for the ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY (RSC) at Stratford-on-Avon, and has done so many other times since. She has Directed productions that have been part of the London West End commercial theatre. She spent a year in China having been commissioned by the Chinese Government to write and Direct a major musical for them.
Ms Edwards has Directed for all the major theatre companies in Australia, many, many times: the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC), The State Company of South Australia (STSA), The Queensland Theatre Company (QTC), at Belvoir, at the Griffin. She was a leading Director for Opera Australia (OA) for many, many years. Her LA BOHEME is still programmed and is almost in annual revival, usually bringing in the New Year celebrations (despite the fact she has not been permitted to re-produce it for the company for many years now, even though she lives in Glebe, just around the bay from the Sydney Opera House, and has been available.) Similarly, her production of SALOME was revived for OA to glowing reviews again (not under her hand), a year ago. In my estimation a production so astonishing and prescient to our volatile sexual political times in its intellectual concept as to surpass any other on the world stage at the moment. Her productions for the Handa Opera seasons on the Harbour, for instance CARMEN - It has been staged TWICE and AIDA, were two of the greatest successes that the OA have ever had.
It was Gale Edwards who developed a production - co-wrote and Directed - at NIDA with Nick Enright and Terence Clarke the Australian musical SUMMER RAIN, in 1983, which, subsequently was re-developed for the professional stages around the country.
It was Gale Edwards who alongside Nick Enright and Max Lambert coaxed and developed in 2003, the original production of THE BOY FROM OZ.
It must not be forgot that Gale Edwards and her remarkable achievement in working with George Palmer, on libretti and book, as well as Directing the operatic version of Tim Winton's CLOUDSTREET, that featured at THE ADELAIDE FESTIVAL in 2016, for the State Opera of South Australia, with whom she has a history, having given the Australian premiere of the John Adams' Opera NIXON IN CHINA in 1993. CLOUDSTREET has been rumoured to be planned as a part of a national season soon to come, if the OA and Lyndon Terracini can come to agreement with the original collaborative artists. CLOUDSTREET, seems reputationally to tower over this year's OA production of a new Australian work, WHITELY. (keep everything crossed,)
Ms Edwards was available to accept the offer from Red Line at the Old Fitz as she is not working at the moment. She was eager to come to the tiny Independent theatre space at the Od Fitz , despite the great theatres she has worked in, because she loves to WORK - it is her raison d'etre - the charge that stimulates her to living. The Old Fitz and its scale, she reminisces,brought her back to her experiences, the roots of her early career when she and the Company - Energy Connection, in Adelaide (her home town) - she had created way back in the late 70's/early 80's.
Gale Edwards, in my experience of her, is an artist with a formidable reputation. I reckon that reputation has been forged by an instinct to achieve greatness. Interestingly, I was listening to Perter Eyers Award winning Podcast: STAGES this week and heard an overseas Director discussing the Australian Actor Syndrome, that he and others have observed, that the majority of Australian artists are quite comfortable to work at 70% of their capacity. This, I too, opine. It is one of my sorrows in working with student actors in Australia who have some fantasy that Acting does not require continued HARD WORK, to be great - or, even just to be able to secure a JOB opportunity. I, on meeting my students, direct them - professional artists, as well - to an extraordinary documentary film EVERY LITTLE STEP (2009), which follows the audition process and rehearsal of a recent Broadway production of A CHORUS LINE. In it one is flabbergasted at the standard that the American Broadway actor AUDITIONS at - at a level that I have rarely seen even in the final production performances on our Australian stages. One gasps and wonders what then will the Company rehearse for the next six months since they present offers at audition level that are astounding.
It is interesting to talk to some of the artists who return from the wider world having not succeeded in the realms of Hollywood, New York, London and Great Britain etc, and talk of what they have observed, learnt, whilst competing at an International level. Ms Edwards, similarly encounters this when she returns home and tries to encourage a 100% commitment - this can often be seen as intimidating, confronting. She is asking for all her collaborative artists - Actors, Designers, Technical Staff and Management - to explore and take risks of failure - a frightening concept for some. Certainly, other artists who work on the International scene when they come home to Australia are also attempting to lift the quality of work and, too, are regraded as intimidating, DIFFICULT - but they are mostly men and therefore are not regaled - neglected - in the way that, perhaps, Ms Edwards has been. Again, I ask is it because she is just a woman and power, a fierce demand for excellence, is not a feminine domain? It is an almost tragic curiosity that Gale Edwards has not Directed on the main stages in Sydney for nearly a Decade? Why? I merely ask for information.
Andrew Henry and Jonathan Biggins know of Ms Edwards commitment to her work. They are aware of her intense and formidable approach to her work. They seem to value the quality of what Ms Edwards can do, what she knows from a career of constant work. They respect the body of her work and the force of creativity she can bring to the work. Mr Henry wants a product in his tiny theatre to continue to establish this company's continuing rise in esteem in Sydney, if not anecdotally, around the art centres of the nation.
I find it interesting that Mr Biggins one of our esteemed performance artists - especially for his Revue work, in the creation of many satirical portraits of our political and cultural world - has searched out the opportunity to explore his 'chops' as an actor, not just performer, by choosing to work on one of the great works of Samuel Beckett's oeuvre in a sixty seat space in the Independent scene in Sydney, in Woolloomooloo, around a few bays from the home of the STC, his usual stamping ground. Is it that the company, the STC, that has been enriched and enlivened with his long running annual Wharf Revue could not facilitate his need to 'apprentice' himself to a completely different mode of approach to the performing art to stretch his theatrical gifts and muscularity into the demands of contemporary classicism? That he has decided that the Old Fitz will be the best place for him to do this, is a curious wonder.
I have, of late, in the avalanche of the sustained, relentless promotion of the young emerging artists in Sydney and around the country, felt that as a counter balance to what feels like Ageism Discrimination (neglect) that I should set up a NEARLY DEAD ARTIST THEATRE COMPANY! Let's bring those highly experienced artists centre stage to exercise their knowledge and skills to crowd the theatre with the opportunity of bringing back that elder echelon to mentor the young by example. In Great Britain the Elder Actor is seen on regular stages: Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Simon Russell Beale, Kenneth Branagh etc. Where are our Australian Elder Artists to be seen with any regularity?
Here, at the Old Fitz, at last, the nearly 'dead genius' of Elder artist Gale Edwards, who has called on Elder 'dead genius' Designer Brian Thomson, to help hone the instinct and skills of the Elder 'nearly dead' artist Jonathan Biggins, on a play that is 'Elderly'- some 61 years old. The experience of years of practice bring this important work to life and it is to be savoured for the rarity of the foresight that Mr Henry has demonstrated to engage with the waiting resource of the experience of years to bring onto his stage a production of radiant clarity.
More power to Red Line. Ageism will no longer be a weapon of discrimination?
We shall see.
I find it a relief.
The 'nearly dead' artists of this city and country have a treasure trove of insight and experience to maybe mentor the emerging artists that dominate the 'talent' pool used by the present theatre companies - to have them realise that the 'wheel has been invented' and some advice is available to help facilitate constant quality. One cannot see the generation of our elders practising on our stages, often enough. How exciting, then, to see the choice at Belvoir of the Caryl Churchill play, ESCAPE ALONE (2016), a play for Senior artists: Judi Farr, Kris McQuade, Heather Mitchell and Helen Morse. (I have seen it in its first outing at the Royal Court Theatre, in London.)
Ms Edwards is a meticulous creator and works religiously with the written instructions of the writer. And Beckett is one of the writers that is demanding in the detailed instructions for his artists when they attempt to bring his play from the page to the stage - even down to the timing of a Pause in increments of specific timing.- seconds, even. Ms Edwards regards the writer as God - the originator and reason that the work exists. Each moment of this production is interrogated deeply, obviously highly researched in its preparation and resultedly, the performance given by Mr Biggins is nuanced and personalised to a searing degree of angst. He manages to scale and render the heights and the depths required to reveal the personal devastation of KRAPP'S LAST TAPE. The personal exploration and courage to expose his own life to create Krapp is the development that one can see informing the result of Mr Biggins' work. No easy thing to risk and do - especially, night after night. And so different a technique needs to be reached for him to convince us, so different to that that he has regularly used for his usual immaculate performances in revue satire.
Krapp arrives in a room, Design by Brian Thomson, stacked with draws of files and on a table has a tape recorder to revise a tape and produce a new one. These tapes are a record of his life and we are witness to his reporting on the turning point in his life when he turned away love and made a choice otherwise - to pursue his passion, to write..
Edna O'Brien, the Irish novelist, has on a wall in her home the famous photographic portrait of Samuel Beckett and she has remarked his lined face reveals a psyche that 'must have wrestled for every second of his working life with the cruelty, crassness and barbarity of mankind'. Read my WAITING FOR GODOT Blog
Written in 1958, KRAPP'S LAST TAPE is the third in the quartet of great plays beginning with WAITING FOR GODOT in 1953, followed by ENDGAME in 1957, and ending with HAPPY DAYS in 1960. KRAPP'S LAST TAPE, however, differs from those other three plays in that Krapp explores the personal value that love has in contrast to his determination to be a writer. It deals with the 'little' picture of his life dilemmas rather than the great existential world view of the other three plays. It is a powerful, personal examination - comment, exposure - on his own relationship with women, excusing himself from that encumbrance that could undo his real passion. It is an autobiographical portrait. He had written long novels: MURPHY (1938), MOLLOY (1951), MALONE MEURT (1951) WATT (1953) and THE UNNAMABLE (1953) and hadn't found a publisher. GODOT had become a cause celebre but played in theatres mostly the size of the Old Fitz - no money to cover his living needs.As an artist writing this play he was staring into the relative abyss of neglect and despair which manifested, ultimately, in a movement forward to minimalism even to silence - plays without words, just an image.
We witness this sad and tragic 'confession' that comes to Krapp as an aged man who reflects that at the age of 39 he had 'divorced' himself from love as a choice in life. Beckett has Krapp stare straight forward contemplating the significance of such an action on his life, the choice of an arid life style so as to be able to create in his writing output.
Mr Biggins, reveals his potential to scale the great roles of maturity.
Hail Beckett, Edwards, Thomson, Biggins and Andrew Henry.