Friday, November 11, 2022

In This Light

Photo by Robert Catto

Ca Va Productions presents, IN THIS LIGHT, by Noel Hodda, at the Flight Path Theatre, Addison Road, Marrickville, November 1st - November 19th.

IN THIS LIGHT, is a new Australian play by actor, Noel Hodda. This play has been "around the traps" as they say, for several years and at last arrives for audiences in the Flight Path Theatre, at Addison Rd Community Precinct, in Marrickville.

The play is in two acts, set in Paris, France and Canberra, Australia, late in the last century (there is no such thing as the internet or iPhone!) In the first act a very young Peter (Tom Cossettini), decides to leave country Queensland and travel, backpack, his way across Europe.  We meet him in Paris at the Louvre Museum, in front of a Van Gogh art work, with a family camera heirloom in one hand whilst searching for the Mona Lisa. He crosses paths with a young Parisian, Camille (Omray Kupeli), and with a dated French phrase word book in the other hand, begins a whirlwind acquaintance. It is most amusing, awkward and yet, attractive. 

Meanwhile, in Canberra brother Chris (David Adam), a parliamentary assistant, and his sister composer Sandra (Sophie Gregg), in a moment of shared grief make a pact with a handshake promising to care for each other to the end, even to euthanasia, if necessary. 

One couple falls in love. The other pair is shattered when one has a severe medical occurrence and is hospitalised.

Time passes. Years pass.

 In the second act, Peter, now an older reclusive sculptor, in country Queensland, is visited (invaded) by a young French woman, Clare. Clare arrives unannounced with photographs and an old camera and with much opposition and misgivings from Peter unpacks a possible history that could connect these two strangers intimately. For, Clare is, possibly, Peter's daughter - a being of whom he had had no idea of her existence.

Whilst in Canberra, Sophie has watched her brother deteriorate into such a state that she feels obliged to honour a long past handshake promise and with conflicting states of mind euthanises him. Chris's nurse (Kate Bookallil) is placed in a dilemma that forces a confrontation with her sense of duty and her personal compassion for what Sophie has done.  

Two continents, seven lives and twenty years meld into one transforming experience. IN THIS LIGHT, is a celebration of love, loss and reconciliation.

The first act of this play is constructed with the usage of many, many short scenes and, unfortunately, the Director, Des James, has unimaginatively decided that these scenes will be created by the exit and entry into light spotted areas. The Scenes can have dialogue or, on occasion, otherwise, simply visual statements of the character's journey. Mr James's direction requires the actors, even the actor playing the incapacitated Chris to walk onto the stage, lay down on a bench and cover himself with a light rug, to then have to stand and walk off into the wings of the space when the scene location changes.

My memory, and my companion's memory of the first act, is one of a bewildering, clattering 'dance' of entry and exit with the actors accompanied by a flurry of Sound (Jeremy Ghali) and the raising and fading of Lighting states (Grant Fraser), that reveal a pragmatic set of 'shapes' that may signify a bed, chair or table (Designer, Angelina Meany), with which the actor then must establish character, space identity, and the emotional state of the character with the responsibility of telling the story. That is, to tell us who they are, where they are, when it is (both the literal and, more importantly, the emotional when), in the arc of the journey of each of the characters, to reveal: what they want, why they want it and how they get it (the six basic Stanislavski questions that elucidate for the audience what is happening). 

In Shakespeare's play, Hamlet in his instructions to the actors whom he has employed to present the play, THE MOUSETRAP, to help him decide what he should do concerning his Uncle, the new King, Claudius, at the Ghost, his father's bequest, says "Let the words suit the action and the action suit the word" so that the playing by the actors has maximum clarity. Mr James with his decision for the actors to enter and exit for every scene, in the first act, perforce, creates too much physical action for the audience to be able to read comfortably what he has given them to see, and inhibits their ability to believe what they are seeing, as it has become muffled, even sometimes, opaque. Alternately, having the actors always present in their place on the stage with just the rise and fade of the lighting the dramaturgical demands that the writer, Mr Hodda, has made for his storytelling needs could be clearer - the text in this act seemed to be more a screenplay than a theatre play. The first act was bewildering.

In contrast, the second act had longer concentrated scenes of dialogue and dramatic development and therefore was more fluid in its storytelling reveals and, on the whole, was much more available to our having a comfortable and enlightening 'read' of the complexities of the characters. The play became a much more interesting experience because there was less physical action, less entering and exiting, less 'noise' to distract us from the intentions of the writer. For, there is an interesting experiment of form that Mr Hodda in the construction of his play is investigating : the games of the usage of TIME, as the two stories in each act are intertwined over the actual twenty years that the characters live through. 

The company of actors are uniform in their ability and have a committed and shared energy to the characters, the narrative and the stylistic demands that the playwright offers and the director demands.

Di Smith, the co-producer of this production, in a prologue before the audience entered the theatre, reminded us of the sacrifices all of the artists presenting this work have made - no one is paid - it is all a labour of love to present an Australian play that speaks with a national resonance, a national mirror for us to read, to see and take lessons from. Watching IN THIS LIGHT was another indication of the Cultural Leadership that is made in this city by the industry at large, the unemployed, the underemployed. Recently a community based theatre company: Endangered Productions presented a production of Ibsen's PEER GYNT with a cast of 90 performers onstage, including an orchestra of 30 musicians. Believe it or not, at the Paddington RSL Club! It was a moving experience. Not just for the impact of the  greatness of the text of the play PEER GYNT, translated by Australian May-Britt Ackerholt, but, also, for the commitment of all those artists, doing it for NOTHING. Only 4 performances but all sold out with many luminaries of the
industry in the audience attending this premiere season. It was the first time in Australia where the play by Ibsen and the score by Greig was played live, together. An extraordinary achievement. 

Ms Smith pointed out, this company, CA VA, has six actors on stage, unlike the major professional company of this state: The Sydney Theatre Company (STC) - funded by our State and Federal Governments - who have more often than not, only one actor or two or three on stage (thereby, perhaps, signalling to the acting profession in this city - that has suffered untold loss of opportunity because of the pandemic demands and restrictions - that they are dispensable). It seems the STC is a Director's and Designer's theatre - for and by Auteurs. The writer and the actor are subject to manipulation by these two other elements (even employing film techniques - Cine-theatre, the Artistic Director of the STC, Kip Williams, has styled it in a recent 'magazine' feature - to edit out some of the actor's offers).  I've always believed the Writer is God and the Actor the Sacrifice supported for clarity in the storytelling by the Director and the Designer.

By the bye, I have often wondered at the size and budget cost of the administration of the STC, its staff, and of the expense of the Design and Lighting elements of the recent STC Productions (just the cost of the electrical bill - of the carbon foot-print - for a single performance of the much lauded THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, for example, or STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE), that can then only employ ONE or TWO actors. (Actors that, contractually, are employed per production - with no holiday pay or holiday benefits etc. in contrast to the administrative and artistic permanent staff?) There does not appear to be a sense of Cultural Leadership emanating from the STC Administration or, importantly, from the STC BOARD Members, towards the acting profession. Less set Design and more actors on stage, please.  I mean, 3 actors serving Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR. Really? In a city with a large pool of actors available. Even if you were paying Equity minimum there are actors galore, available, waiting to explore their skills in the service of the audience in Sydney to join together to tell Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR. How embarrassing it is to see the National Theatre Broadcasts at the Dendy Cinema and see 20-30 actors taking a curtain call compared to our 1 or 3 or 6 or perhaps 10! on the STC stage. 

On opening nights, the STC having stacked the house with free tickets, I often wonder how many actors are invited as compared to how many administrative staff or the Influencers on the Internet, dressed to the nines and not really concerned with the Art of the Theatre at all - the stand-up and applaud every production at the STC (as if it was a cultural requirement), like the 19th Century 'bribed' theatre claques, no matter the actual quality of the performance? It drives me CRAZY. I'm, also, certain those actors sitting in the theatre with the free ticket, generously given by the STC Administration, would much prefer to be on the stage.

Therefore, I recommend a night at the modest Flight Path Theatre in Marrickville, to see the modest but determined production of a new Australian play by one of Sydney's striving artists, Noel Hodda. Take a friend and thank, by your support, the artists of Sydney, attempting through self sacrifice, to give you a broader experience in the theatre than the, generally, moribund work that the STC gives.


Sunday, November 6, 2022

The Caretaker

Photo by Prudence Upton

Ensemble Theatre presents THE CARETAKER, by Harold Pinter, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 14th October - 19th November.

The Ensemble Theatre has asked director Iain Sinclair, who brought Arthur Miller's play A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, a little while ago, to the Ensemble Theatre,  after its initial 'life' at the Old Fitz in Woolloomooloo, to a vivid rendering, to revive THE CARETAKER, by Harold Pinter, for us. 

THE CARETAKER had its first production in 1960 at the Arts Theatre Club, in London, and was transferred to the Duchess Theatre in the West End and ran for 444 performances. This play was Pinter's 6th play but his first significant commercial success. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, written earlier in 1958, after withering reviews had closed after only 8 performances. However, an influential critic, Harold Hobson, stood out on his own against the other London critics of the time and enthusiastically praised the writing and predicted a great future for the writer. This review gave Pinter the grit to persist.

Over 50 years Pinter wrote 29 plays as well as screenplays, teleplays, radio plays, short stories, theatre sketches, essays and poetry and was awarded in 2005 the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Legion d'honneur, in 2007. He also directed or acted in radio, television and film productions of his own and other people's works. He was a fierce, controversial social activist and his speech at the Nobel Prize giving is worth visiting. Despite debilitating illness he persisted performing and in a wheelchair gave a short season of Samuel Beckett's KRAPP'S LAST TAPE in 2006. He died in 2009.

THE CARETAKER is set in West London in the winter of 1960. Aston (Anthony Gooley) has invited an older homeless man, Davies (Darren Gilshenan), into his attic room flat. Soon Aston's brother, Mick (Henry Nixon), turns up and a power struggle, a tussle of personalities, begins. These three men have navigated a life path in post war London with different degrees of success. We are invited to witness three damaged and lonely men in truly bleak circumstances attempt to develop opportunities for survival over three acts.

Surprisingly, the experience of the play has room for comedy despite the pessimism that emanates from the vision of the distressed junk filled room (Set and Costume Design, by Veronique Benett) and the costuming of the actors. Davies, as played by Darren Gilshenan, dressed in hand-me-down, found clothing, with no shoes (rather sandals), carries physical tics of nervous stress with an observant and cunning mind - he seems to be constantly looking for the main chance and quickly and relentlessly attempts to assert his dominance over his host, Aston. Aston, contrastingly to Davies, is dressed in a tidy manner and has a living tempo that seems to be artificially becalmed, though benign, patient and generous. He tells us late in the play of an operation that has had a tremendous influence on his life. Mick, Aston's brother, is the sharpest of the three and appears to be a canny street operator with a sense of responsibility for his brother. He reveals in his actions to have a sense of being the caretaker of the "kingdom" that he and his brother have and of the life long relationship they have made. An intruder who attempts to unbalance that world of the brothers may find themselves caught in a 'conspiratorial' fix. When danger of an acquisitive Davies asserts itself, the two brothers glance at each other and stare and smile, before turning to the hostile visitor, together. Who is caretaking who? 

(I've always imagined Pinter's Aston and Mick could be inspired by the Kray twins - Reggie and Ronnie, gangsters in the London East End in the late '50's and early '60's. Those two 'crims' especially celebrated by Pinter's audience members - the rich and famous {some Royalty, we read - naughty Princess Margaret} by keeping up to date with them in the gossip pages of their evening papers, or visiting "The Firm's" nightclub in Soho. On meeting Henry Nixon's Mick, at the Ensemble the other night, it became a real possibility I thought [without the murdering, of course], he been laden with latent violence and a wicked sense of menace. Tom Hardy's performance playing both twins in a very under-rated film called LEGEND [2015], is worth catching. Can you read Mick and Aston, into Mr Hardy's on screen magic? A titillating thought - Pinter inspired by the London life about himself).

Pinter's early plays are regarded as 'Plays of Comic Menace' - a label that Pinter eschewed vigorously - plays that begin in apparently innocent situations that escalate into both a threatening and absurd place. Plays that reveal recognisable individuals in physical circumstances that we can know of, that invite us to relax and enjoy the idiosyncratic fun. We find ourselves gently smiling, even chuckling on acquaintance. We do, indeed, find ourselves even laughing. Though we laugh because of the safety we have in the distanced space between the 'life on stage' and our audience seat, for a creeping atmosphere of uncomfortable tension has subtly grown between our new friends. Pinter seemed to enjoy writing in his early plays [e.g. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY (1958), THE DUMB WAITER (1959),THE CARETAKER (1960),THE HOMECOMING (1964)] in this creeping unease laced with comedy, much like Alfred Hitchcock did in his films of suspense.

The dramaturgical construction of the emotional pressures of the worlds of the plays are carefully laid - brick by brick - with the witty use of language suited to the class of the participants that permits both enlightenment and entertainment. He gives an opportunity for the theatre artists to create a sense of danger in the midst of comic gestures. They need, however, to be careful of playing his works too earnestly or portentously but rather to find as much humour and humanity as possible. Balancing the heartache and laughter. Pinter warns in his notes to production of his play: "THE CARETAKER is funny up to a point. Beyond that point it ceases to be funny and it is because of that point that I wrote it."  This note is applicable for all his work.

Audiences on seeing these plays on the stage for the first time, fifty years ago, did find themselves in much confusion in their observance of the complex intentions of the writer. Pinter was much influenced by Samuel Beckett and in the movement known as The Theatre of The Absurd led by Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Edward Albee, Arthur Adamov, Slawomir Mrozek, Alejandro Jodorowsky, N.F. Simpson, among others, and focused on ideas of existentialism and what happens when human existence lacks meaning or purpose and communication breaks down (a PTSD symptom) - it was a movement emanating, mostly from Europe, in the post World War II environment. Pinter reflecting on his 'growing up' in post-War Great Britain wrote plays in search of establishing the restoration and the dignity of man. Pinter did not write plays like Terence Rattigan, or Noel Coward, or John Osborne, or even Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller. He wrote differently - he was the leader of a pack in the "modern" times of the 1960's in the English speaking world.

In the 'sophistication' of living through 50 years these plays, in the hindsight of much knowledge, are no longer as complex a puzzlement that they once were (at least for me) and the pleasure of the revival of Pinter's play for today is in the appreciation of the 'genius' of Harold Pinter exhibited in the quality of the writing, especially, when given in such a highly respectful production approach as these artists give.

Each of the actors in Iain Sinclair's production at the Ensemble, give meticulously observed externalisations of character and are wonderfully adept in their handling of the language of the play and have a keen sense of the mechanics of the dramaturgical construction. I, however, was not completely moved. I felt a disconnect between the characters  that prevented me from surrendering to an alarmed empathy for the battle between each of the men as they attempted to claim the role of being the caretaker of this flat, of this 'tribe' of survivors. What I felt lacking was a sense of the backstory of these men. I understood their place in the 1960 setting of the play, on the Ensemble stage, but I could not 'read' their past that had brought them to this impasse. I never felt that the actors had really 'lived' the character's lives up to the point to their existence when the play begins.

Davies', for instance, has lived through two World Wars and huge national economic challenges, Pinter says, "An old man" and in the world of 1960 Britain, I couldn't read the reason for his accumulated motivation. Nor of the other men (in their thirties)  as to why they were struggling to find a security for their future. I admired the characteristics that Mr Gilshenan had invented but I had no sense of the actual past hardships that had resulted in the physical actions for the character. It seemed to be a wonderful detailed observation but it was a display rather than a lived result of social survival/conditioning. This was less true of the work of Mr Gooley and Nixon, but they were, for me, still, mere physical portraits of great observational skill but not connected or motivated from their character's lived history. The actors giving  us externalised 'tics' rather than defensive growths developed from an internalised life to assist in their day-to-day survival in a post-war London environment.

As well the actors appeared to be disconnected from each other on the stage: three satellites whirling in their separate spaces but not necessarily in the same play. Oddly, they were isolated individuals rather than an ensemble of living humanity, of actual cause and affect, of not knowing their future together, as yet. They were not in the moment of living beings but rather actors of skilled artifice knowing and 'playing' to the ending of the play.

This production is still a worthwhile experience for there is much to enjoy. The production appeared to be a deliberate revisionist read of the play. It hurtled at speed through the text and I felt an absence of the proper observance - time length - of the famous "Pinter Pauses" scattered throughout the text which, then,  prevented us from having the proper space/time to enter the thoughts and dilemmas of the characters that, then, undercut our unconscious (or conscious) identification and empathy for these men - I was prevented from having a catharsis at the men's difficulties. I looked at them, watched them, but in an objective state, not ever in a proper, truly concerned subjective state of moral concern. Maybe this was why I felt disconnected? Because the "Pinter pauses" were elided and not used. The sub-text of the play was not easily made available for me and the prevention of that 'entry point' is why I felt the production was a literal read rather than a deeply researched and owned, an alive, in the moment, journey. There was only one layer of experience going on, we were not invited into the sub-textual layer.  (The reviews of Pinter's memory play BETRAYAL, on Broadway in New York, 2019, also seemed to indicate a revisionist textual speed and the loss of the timing of the "Pinter Pause" - a 90 minute, no interval race through).

I recommend you catch THE CARETAKER (even if it is to see if I am delusional, again).

N.B. Just a little History. John Clark, once Director of NIDA, in his new book AN EYE FOR TALENT, remembers his time in Bristol and working on Pinter's first play, THE ROOM. He was the Set Designer. It was Directed by Henry Woolf - a fellow student, friend, rival.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

End Of.

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre presents END OF. , by Ash Flanders, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 13th October - 5th November.

END OF. is a new monologue written and performed by Ash Flanders, Directed by Nicholas Nicolazzo. Here is what you can expect to see after you have climbed the stairs at the SBW Stables Theatre

Says the publicity blurb: 

"There's no crueler thing you can say to an actor than 'Don't give up your day job'. Fortunately, thanks to cover bands and theatre restaurants, ASH FLANDERS never needed one. But after years of glittering appearances on stages and school gyms across the country, Ash unceremoniously finds himself seated at a computer terminal in a decidedly un-sparkly corporate office. No longer an acclaimed playwright, Ash is now a legal transcriptionist  - typing the words of suspected criminals who are not nearly as fascinating as TV suggested.

As Ash painstakingly types out the narratives of petty crims, he begins to interrogate his own poor choices. That thing he did in an abandoned carpark. The visit to the horse knackery. Those people at the old folks home. All of it in the service of one thing: making people laugh.

But as his own transcript unravels, Ash realises it's about making her laugh. His toughest audience. A heavy-drinking, chain-smoking behemoth named Heather Flanders. And her health is so dire it's, well ... laughable".

"ASH FLANDERS (Black Blackie Brown) is a consummate showman - an awarded writer, actor, and elder millennial shaman. But in END OF.  he is stripped uncommonly bare. Under the dreamy direction of Stephen Nicolazzo (The Happy Prince) Ash has created an honest hilarious gut punch of a one man show. ... END OF."

End Of. is an hour long standup comic turn in the theatre. It is all of the above, delivered with a 
'campy' demeanour and bitchy, bitter wit. Musically the content is delivered in a loud piercing high pitched voice without much sophistication in variety of choice either in volume or range and is further accompanied with seriously limited physical gestural offers. What this artist asks us to 'read' from all of  his craftsman's offers is a trial to endure. The expressive skills of voice and body are so narrowly limited. The comedy is mainly tiresomely arch - "OUTRAGEOUS" - in delivery, and with the promised "UNEXPECTED" turn in the latter part of the monologue as he approached the "CONFESSIONAL" part of the night he took us into passages of almost embarrassing bathos, deeply committed to a capital A for Acting style as THE METHOD might have invited at the recall of emotional memories for a year one study exercise at a drama school. The emotional life as Ash presented it seemed to be absolute pretence. It was difficult to believe. Difficult, in fact, to watch. Was it a deliberate facetious act, one that was in harmony with the self-conscious comedy of the earlier part of the performance style of END OF.?

The Set Design by Nathan Burmeister is rather dour in colour palette  and choice of 'furnishings', except for a puzzling set of curtain drapes at the back of the raised platform that Director Stephen Nicolazzo has Mr Flanders at different moments tying back - I wondered if it was a signal for us to endow as moments of emotional character/mood reveal? The Lighting by Rachel Burke changing colour throughout, too: suggesting dramatic 'dreamy' change by the director, perhaps?

The Artistic Director of the Griffin Theatre Company, Declan Greene, a long time friend and collaborator of Mr Flanders (We have seen some of their work under the banner/guise of the SISTERS GRIMM either at the Sydney Theatre Company or the Griffin: SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN: LITTLE MERCY; CALPURNIA DESCENDING in years past):

From Declan: 
At the age of [redacted], Ash is the youngest grand dame of the Australian stage. He can bring an audience to side-splitting laughter with the raise of an eyebrow, the flick of a wrist. But in END OF. he refocuses his comic gifts to offer up a tender meditation on ageing, parenthood, and the big "end" we all face.

This may be an explanation of the curation of this work as an offer on the SBW Stage from the Griffin, for up till reading this in the company's online notes about this production I was unsure what this work was saying. On the night I attended this production I perceived little of the supposed "tender meditation" either in the content or, particularly, (I do mean "particularly") in the performance style of the performer - this was hardly a meditation but rather a standup Comedy routine for a cabaret type space. I noticed END OF.  was presented at Darebin Speakeasy, a year round independent performance development program offered at Northcote Town Hall in Melbourne and was nominated for a Green Room Award as an Independent Theatre for Best Production and Performer.

It may be a cultural thing as to why I found END OF. an unrewarding hour. You know, the oft rumoured different given circumstances of the social/political/cultural zeitgeist in the city of Melbourne as compared to that of Sydney.

Maybe. That's it!

The dramaturgical mode of END OF. is not an unfamiliar one in Sydney. One act, one person monologues are not rare in our city.

For instance I have watched on this stage a one act, one person monologue called PRIMA FACIE, by Australian writer Suzie Miller and had an invaluable, profound meditation about the injustice of our law system and the treatment of women within that system. Recently, at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company's Eternity Theatre I had experienced a profoundly moving one act, one person work OVERFLOW by a British black Trans artist, Travis Alabanza, revealing the dreadful hurdles facing our brothers and sisters struggling in our society with a different sexual orientation. GROUNDED, by George Brandt, a one act, one person monologue gave us the story of a woman who because of her pregnancy is removed from her position as a fighter jet pilot, permanently, and faced with the knowledge of the tragic employment of drone bombers, which she launches remotely in a 'shed' in the desert of LasVegas and witnesses the actual devastation she has inflicted on innocent passer-by's - the moral dilemma excruciating. (The Russian/Ukrainian conflict flashes in my memory banks). Tom Campbell performing a self-written work, a musical, concerning the performing arts and disability called ONE HANDER.  All these works NOT presented (bar One) at the Griffin Theatre. All these works that stand head and shoulder in content and performance above END OF. 

Would END OF. get a go at the Royal Court in its program of new work? One can only look at their cultural/social/political writings occupying their stages with envy, even despair. It is tragic to hanker over the next screening of the National Theatre Broadcast in our local cinema to find quality writing and performance in the theatre. And at only $27.00 a pop so much better value for money. One can wonder why our theatres are half empty or less. It is not Covid alone that has changed the habits of the Sydney audience. It is as well the mediocrity of the work we are offered. The new criteria is word-of-mouth recommendation from friend's we can trust. Time and Money cannot be wasted. The Griffin Artistic team ought to be more responsible as to the quality of the work we are invited to pay to attend.

After daily watching flood devastation; Climate change; drought; food shortage; supply obstruction; homelessness; violence against women and children; Government corruption and scandal; corporate corruption and scandal; religious institutional prejudice and discrimination, corruption and scandal; the tragedy of the Ukraine invasion; the people's voting swing to the right; the continuation of "fake news" and the threat of civli war in the United States;  the Covid response; the Indigenous First Nation struggle for their Voice in our constitution - all this and more, and yet the Griffin can only find the content of END OF. to occupy their stage.

One wonders after this night in the theatre whether anybody at the Griffin reads (or attends) other people's works. Or, is it all it takes to get one's work (and self) exposed on one of the most influential spaces in Sydney (supposedly), is to be a friend of the Artistic management? The text tells us of Ash's good friend Declan and reminds us of his own performance as HEDDA GABLER, (oh, my) at the Belvoir a few years ago. Ash Flanders "a consummate showman", "a millennial shaman", "the youngest grand old dame of the Australian stage"? The rigour employed to vet the quality of work, the writing and the performance, seems to be very odd indeed. Indeed!

Am I the only odd one out? 
See for yourself.

Our response is, I know, made up of the sum total of our experiences (and expectations) in the theatre - a totally subjective thing.  You mat find it an end of year relief.

Let The Right One In

Photo by Robert Cato

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, in a theatrical adaptation by Jack Thorne, at the Eternity Theatre, Burton St. Darlinghurst. 7th October - 20th November.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Lat den ratte komma in), is a Gothic Horror novel by Swedish writer, John Ajivide Lindquist, published in 2004. The novel re-enlivened the Vampire mythology, such that the artistic rights were swiftly bought for a film and brought it into the modern scene. The screenplay was written by Lindquist and Directed by Tomas Alfredson and released in 2008. It was an international success, praised for its writing, ravishing cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema and Musical score by Johan Soderqvist.

The principal casting was lauded as well. The central characters are required to be played by two young actors (12-13 year old in appearance) and the history of the extensive search for the 'right' actors to create, inhabit, these characters is now part of the legendary history of the making of the film. A young, bullied boy, Oskar, in his loneliness meets his new next door neighbour, Eli, who in appearance seems to be a 13 year old girl. Kare Helelbratt played Oskar and Lina Andedersson played Eli. The pairing of these two young actors produced a miraculous chemistry that carried the story and created an indelible memory for any who have seen the film. The angelic and touching innocent beauty of these two actors against the startling white snowed foreground in the forest-park of the early scenes of the film are unforgettable and were (are) an incredible tool that drew the audience into the magic and growing tension of the development of the relationship of this pair, surrounded by the bloody presence of a suspected serial killer in the western Stockholm suburb of Balckenberg in 1982.

The memory of this cinematic experience was a draw card to want to engage, once more, in the storytelling of the novel in the Eternity Theatre. Preparing for the evening I researched the reviews of the theatre adaptation in the UK, by highly credentialed Jack Thorne, and had most doubts swept away. I was eager to see it.

I noted, as well, that local 'star' Alexander Berlage was Directing this Darlinghurst Theatre Company production and it also seemed to augur well,  for he has amassed a very positive success rate in the Sydney Theatre scene in the past few years.  Though, mostly working in the Musical theatre realm - this ought to have registered some 'red flags' (although, his production of GLORIA [Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins], in the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Theatre was a success).

Alas, this play text and its demands has resulted on the Eternity stage for fans of Mr Berlage's artistic sureness, an immense disappointment. The Director seems to have made so many missteps in the collaboration to succeed with LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, that little pleasure, or even the desire to stay beyond the Act One curtain was experienced. It was a slow torture. A growing disappointment.

The Set Design by a regular member of Mr Berlage's creative team, Isabel Hudson, (she is also the Costume Designer) has produced a silver columned and overhead beamed structure that sits with an immense factory or deserted medical laboratory presence on the wide stage, partly shrouded with opaque plastic sheeting. It has a weightiness that does not easily identify, for the audience, the many locations required for the many shifting scenes of the text in its storytelling plot - it remains throughout the course of the night a monolithic static blight for the imagination of the audience that became, visually, an obstacle but, also, created sound muffling in some of the enclosed and distanced spaces that made the auditory offers of the company difficult and unattractive. (The actors were also burdened with the unnecessary task of maintaining a Swedish dialect (Linda Nicholls-Gidley) - some actors were successful some were distractingly inconsistent). The lighting from the usually reliable Trent Suidgeest was generalised and just as ineffective in helping us to locate the environments of the plot. The hurting throw of the blinding white light into the auditorium as a prologue to the action and as an interval cover was not an invite to enjoy the Lighting Design at all.

The 'architecture' of this Set design is a colossal failure as it also required time to be spent in setting up each of the locations as well as to accommodate the changing of costumes (because of the doubling up of the roles played by the small company), into a time consuming hurdle that interfered with the musical structure - the rhythm of the piece - in building the tension of the storytelling. The design caused the production to idle in long waits of organisation that dissipated the energy of the playing.

This problem is covered by Mr Berlage in his collaboration with the Composer, James Peter Brown  (a usually sensitive and impressive talent), and the Sound designer Daniel Herten, to distract us with a highly theatrical score that intrudes at a noisey bombastic level. With no action on stage for many, many significant lengths of time over this near 3 hour sitting, we become increasingly aware of their offers that lead one to an anticipation of a follow-on in atmosphere and storytelling manifestation of an epic LORD OF THE RINGS scaled adventure - quite the opposite to the almost naturalistic suburban creep of the writer's original novel and film.

The principal success of this production is a chemistry between the two leading actors, that is achieved, mostly, by the generous and enigmatic presence, beautifully constructed, subtle physical movement of Sebrina Thornton-Walker as the vampire Eli. This is despite the forced Acting (with a capital A) of 24 year old Will McDonald who strains to create a 13 year old. Mr McDonald is cute but not believable. Endearing but not believable. The lack of sophistication of his acting offers underwhelms the plot of the play's romantic and terrifying seduction of the innocent by a creature some hundreds of years old in pursuit of a new partner to kill and supply the blood necessary for her (his!), Eli's continued survival. The ugly, tragic storytelling of the final scenes are muffled and made opaque by the inability of the actor to create a truthful boy/man. The horror of Oskar's future is blunted or made unknown to the audience. 

"What happened?", I heard many people asking as we descended the stairs to the exit doors. 

"Well, in the film ... blah, blah, blah"

."Oh. Really?"

"Yair. Watch the movie - It's great."

None of the other actors are convincing either, playing character solutions that are shallow representations of character types with next to no backstories to clarify their motivations. They appear to be invested in 'bad'  Musical Theatre shallowness - in obvious cliche. They merely fulfil the scripted functions of the many characters that they have been asked to play and Mr Berlage seems not to be able to assist them. Most of these actors have a solid history of skilful performance, so, what went wrong?

I am noticing that I am protesting that the usual standard of excellence from most of the experienced  professionals involved in this stage production of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is lacking. Is this adaptation too difficult for this producing body? When reading of the UK production it seems there was a budget that could accommodate the demands of Mr Thorne's vision. Was lack of budget a crueling factor? or, was it lack of time?

 The  audience I saw this work with were enthusiastic in response. My partner and I were underwhelmed and unpersuaded. Relievedly, other friends agreed with us. It was not just a jaded old gal and bloke response. Phew!

We thoroughly recommend that if you have not seen the Swedish film, seek it out on one of your platforms. Do note the original translated title for the Swedish book (2004) and film (2008) is LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. There is an inferior American film version called LET THEM IN  (2010) and a television series will be released on October 9th 2022.

It is a great story.

No need to see this production except out of loyalty to the new management of the Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Give them some rope. Not to hang themselves, of course. Rather it is to give them some 'slack' to get back onto a more considered choice. There has been a wooing of a younger audience in this venue of late. I hope the standard set up through the splendid Play and Production of SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER***, in May 2021, is appreciated by the 'youngsters' and can be sustained by the Artistic company management. ... KYLIE JENNER was certainly a high benchmark for myself, and I hope it has become a bench mark of excellence for those relatively new to the theatre. The theatre's future depends on it!


Photo by Robert Cato

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents OVERFLOW, by Travis Alabanza, at the Eternity Theatre, Burton Street, Darlinghurst. 9th - 25th September. 

The Darlinghurst Theatre Company has curated a play written by a black British writer - playwright, poet -/performance artist/theatre maker, Travis Alabanza (they/them) called OVERFLOW (2020). Set in a fashionable gleaming night club bathroom we meet a trans femme, Rosie (Janet Aderson (she/her), who has locked herself in the bathroom and begins talking of 'the joy of the pre-emptive piss' that leads to many further anecdotal recall of the personal distress she has experienced in such spaces - this politically sensitive liminal space - that emotionally triggers a reaction that causes her to block the sinks, toilet and floor drain with paper and turn on the taps that over the 60 minutes or so of the monologue flood the room in an overflow that releases her to acts of further vandalism by throwing sodden paper onto the walls and leaving lipstick graffiti messages on the mirrors. 

Whilst cribbed in this luxurious space Rosie illustrates the human cost of the daily difficulties of confronting a sexual identity that is different from our society's binary norms when revealing oneself as a transitional being in her community. Rosie's stories gradually shares with us that she is not defined by trauma and she is not defined by victimhood alone, but actually, is also defined by joy and friendship. Overflowing with the catharsis of emotional release reacting against the intrusive outside thumping of the night club music and the persistent battering of the door (Sound design and Music by Danni A Esposito), Rosie, splashing in her boots in the rising waters, exits. 

Then, a blackout follows.

A silence.

The anger, and its polar opposite: the ironic laughter that Rosie has shared with us has led us into a place of the echoing knowledge of our own careless and shameful inhumanity that only the act of SILENCE seems to be the acceptable response. A shocking, confronting response.

Recently, I had watched a television program on ABC iView, an AUSTRALIA STORY from 2014 with Georgie Stone, an Australian actor, writer and transgender rights advocate, who at the age of 10 was the youngest person to receive hormone blockers in Australia, which set a precedent that eventually changed the law that compelled transgender children and their families the necessity to apply to the Family Court of Australia to access stage one treatment. I was moved by the courage and power of that young woman. That she was awarded, in 2020, a Medal of the Order of Australia, it gave me a fillip of excited hope for the future. This award was one of many observing her deserving recognition.

OVERFLOW, then, is a contribution in our theatres to encourage us to open our hearts, our minds, to a just and compassionate modern community. The Darlinghurst Theatre Company has embraced under the behest and excited 'pitch' of Director, Dino Dimitriades (They/them) to present this one act play with a company of trans artists (and their supporting comrades, Benjamin Brockman (he/they). The foyer, the public toilets, the whole of the public Eternity Theatre spaces had been prepared by trans artists of Sydney to welcome the audience into an immersive experience that was enlightening and positively hopeful in anticipation of the main event.

The political acumen of this production house is relevant and exciting. There is no denying that and is applauded.

The Company had made an online call for trans actors to audition for the role of Rosie. I was disappointed then that the performer chosen was a third year Acting Student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. Out of all Sydney's trans talent pool the best applicant was a student actor still engaged in training. (I am surprised.) For, as courageous as Janet Anderson was, there was a weakness of vocal skill that denied the poetry of the Travis Alabanza play to 'sing' to the audience. The voice in this hour long work lacked range and variety of action and ceased to hold one's attention to the source inspiration. One heard the content but not, consistently, the poetic language choices that the poet/author had laboured to create. (This actor's CV in the program told us that she had played HAMLET!). As well, I felt neither the actor nor director had the wherewithal, the dramaturgical skill, to shape the work into a completely satisfying experience for the audience. Without the active assistance of the Director the actor plodded from one anecdote to the next, in a simplistic chronological order but did not clarify the artistic objective of the work - shape it as part of her craftsmanship as an actor - did not build the accumulation of the emotional state of the storyteller. I did not come away from the performance with a shaping of the writer's intention. What, other than the shocking anecdotes do I take away from the performance of this play? I was puzzled and let down. The actor seemed to give each anecdote/episode the same emphasis and the same weight. Rosie was, relatively, as placid at the conclusion of the monologue as she was when we first met her, teasingly defining the pleasure of the pre-emptive piss.
I am surprised that Dino Dimitriades was not able to find a more able, experienced performer in all of Sydney. I could mention, for instance, that Georgie Stone is a working actor. And, though Rosie written by a black queer trans woman was played in the premiere of this play at the Bush Theatre in London by a white trans actor, Reece Lyons, I could name several black actors in Sydney who could probably honour the work at hand (maybe, availability was the problem).

The best work given by Dino Director was the Set Design and the engineering/plumbing of it - this Design pre-occupation, was also true, in my observation of their work on LADY TABOULI (for the National Theatre of Parramatta). A skilful Set Design but an underwhelming ability to dramaturgically serve the writer's play and to assist the actor.

This production of OVERFLOW, for me, was a political necessity at last confronted, however, was an underwhelming artistic experience. 

Disappointing. Disappointed.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Soprano: Australian Brandenburg Orchestra With Samuel Mariño

AUSTRALIAN BRANDENBURG ORCHESTRA, presents, THE SOPRANO : Samuel Marino, at Sydney City Recital Hall, in Angel Place. Thursday,1st September. Tuesday, 6th September. Wednesday, 14th September. Friday, 16th September. Saturday, 17th September Matinee at 2.00pm and night, 7.00pm. 

Life is full of plans with "twists and turns' unexpectedly pointing one to adventures that can be either a positive or negative event. Recently, two acquaintances were unable to take up their Subscription Tickets to a concert at the Sydney City Recital Hall in Angel Place, and gave them to another friend who, then, been rebuffed by a 'gentleman caller' asked if I would like to accompany her instead. Indeed, I could. I had no knowledge of the program I was to attend but really chuffed to meet and greet my friend and hear some music with a live orchestra. A special bonus was that the concert featured the Baroque repertoire.

My friend and I sat in the stalls fairly close to the stage - how exciting! I learnt in the pre-concert gossip that we were to hear a male Soprano voice - yes, a MALE SOPRANO voice - curious. We were to hear Samuel Mariño, a 28 year old Venezuelan who began his training at the National Conservatory of Music of Venezuela with piano and voice, where with his extraordinary vocal gift first performed operatic repertoire with the Camerata Barroca in Caracas. This awoke a passion for the baroque repertoire and inspired him to further his studies at the Conservatoire de Paris. Two months ago he released a new CD on Decca Records, and it has sold, already, 3 million copies. Mr Mariño's career has ignited. He has a plan to perform in the coming months in Canada, the USA; and make his UK opera debut at the Glyndebourne Festival as Iris (Semele - Handel, 1744).

The Artistic Director of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Paul Dwyer, had invited Mr Mariño to Australia several years ago but Covid-19 interfered with the planned schedule. Persistence and the confluence of the Musical Gods arranged that fate would allow him to travel, at last, and here he is.

The audience gathered, the orchestra entered, the musicians played, under the spell of an enthusiastic conductor, Mr Dyer, a work by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). During, quietly, Samuel Mariño entered in a spectacular tartan skirt with shirt, jacket and other dressy accoutrements - e.g. a very bright red shoulder bag - as well as fingerless black gloves (leather?) and high, high heels. He was coiffed beautifully, subtly make-uped, with a youth-filled, youthful smile that was as flirtatious as one could be. I'm certain it was I he was flirting with but my companion differed and told me that it was she that he was shining at. I grasped, competitively, that each of us and all of us in the Recital hall were being touched by this flirt.  And then....

Then, he began to sing. 

THEN, he began to sing, sing an aria from Vivaldi: In furore iustissimae irae (translation:in a fury of righteous anger) :

In a fury of righteous anger
You are divinely powerful.
When you can punish me in my guilt
The very crime you bear is merciful. 
Righteous Anger.
Divinely Powerful.

All flagellant sounds making poetic welts, almost indecently, but, in recovery, we observe, not indecently, but with a musical sensitivity that reaches out to our vulnerability that he has given cause to be awakened within us. He held the key to our awestruck presence and turned it on, oh, so quickly and generously. His openness caused us to mirror his sacrifice, and together we revealed our mutual usually shy truths at the command of the music and the sounds of a foreign and ancient language of a long time ago. He awoke us to the music of the spheres -  timeless - to the other worldly, via the pleasure of good/great musicianship of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and their guest, Samuel Marino.

A miraculous soprano sound swept us with a passionate exposure that could only induce in each of us an awe and a joy. We were his surprised slaves. Slaves, so quickly. Surrendering, so quickly. And definitely not looking for mercy, for if this were a punishment: BRING IT ON!

For, as well, the beat of this more than 400 year old music was absorbed by his body, invading him, taking, unequivocally, possession of him, so that it registered in expression as if he were in the centre of the Disco Beat at the greatest dance club in the contemporary world. We learnt from conversation later that Ballet was Mr Mariño's early inclination, and evidently he can move, but fortunately his Doctors on examining his vocal equipment recognised the possibility of a modern phenomenon. The voice, the body and the passionate, controlled dexterity, reveals a great actor bringing the character of his music vividly to life.

Phenomenon, undoubtedly. Samuel Marino, in his youthful time ought not to be missed. And that's whether you are classical music fan or a popular primal music fan. 

He is clearly a humourist. Considering his extraordinary gift, the uniqueness of it, one can imagine the passage of his 'growing up': The pain of the bullying, the prejudices, the aggressive fears which the ordinary has thrown at him. Humour became his way of surviving. For that pain has been turned by this artist into a gift for his audience. The conclusion of the first act in a work by George Frideric Handel (1685-1750): Quella fiamma from opera ARMINIO, Act 2 Scene 8, HWV 36 :

That flame, which ignites in my breast,
nourishes itself in my heart's blood.

May that fire shine so brightly,
that it becomes the fuse that feeds my passion.

And, indeed, the fuse that has (historically) ignited Samuel Marino to feed his passion, bursts onto this platform/stage, so that the furious heat of the lyrics are smelted, counterpointed with a comedy act of almost burlesque greatness as he sings in a fiercely contested musical duel with the Baroque Oboe played by Adam Masters. Each of these artists challenging and lifting the stakes of the encounter. Tit for Tat. Thrilling! The laughter they create together, also, brings tears, that one young man could have so much to give. An unforgettable performance.

It is apparent that Samuel, if I may be so bold is, or,  could be, a handful of brilliant temperament. Fiercely, humorously, his costume changes are a provocation of wonder. Following the full-length tartan 'frock' the second costume is teetering on heels once again, beneath tight white patterned 'stretch' pants, with a sheer, almost see through long sleeved top with a necklace of silver glimmer that has one distracted in moments as to wondering about the body beneath the clothing. Which is answered, perhaps, in the next set of 'vestments' that he dons to close the concert. 

With the extraordinary power and dexterity of his vocalisations he supports it with intelligence and political wit. The courage that Mr Marino required to accept and grow into his gift, the patience he has had to endure the pain, is employed with the sure action of positive intelligence and wit to master all of his obstacles - personal and societal - is a wonder to contemplate. He is a cause for honest wonder and gratitude. A kind of beacon in the darkness of our contemporary life. An artist to celebrate.

Paul Dwyer and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra ought to be congratulated for the recognition and pursuit of this artist at the beginning of his career. One can only hope that he will visit again. He says he has an ambition to sing Lucia. With what his will and training have so far achieved it is a possibility, maybe, a probability. Who would have thought that this might be a possible path for such an artist - a Male Soprano? Not too many years ago, Samuel Marino may have been seen on a stage as a sensation in an underground cabaret. Today, in 2022, he stands on major concert platforms around the world and may be seen on the major opera stages around the world creating with the same passions Verdi's great and tragic hero: Lucia de Lammermoor.

I wept with awe and jealousy a great deal of the night at the gifts that Samuel Marino gave me, us. I wished that I had had them. Even one eighth of his courage to begin with. Not since the Audra McDonald Concert a few years ago have I been so emotionally breached.

The gift that my friends gave me is an instance of wonder, of chance, and provokes in me once again a comprehension as to why life is worth living. I can not thank them enough.

If you could go. I would. If not just check Youtube or Google to see what you missed. A little OTP, Kevin? No one iota, I promise.

P.S. Thanks, Richard, John, (Terry) and Maggie.

Photograph 51

Photo by Teniola Komolafe

Ensemble Theatre presents PHOTOGRAPH 51, by Anna Ziegler, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 13th September - 8th October.

PHOTOGRAPH 51, is an American play by Anna Ziegler (2008). It is a one act work of about 90 minutes length and it focuses on a remarkable scientist Dr Rosalind Franklin (Amber McMahon), leading a team of male comrades in the investigation into the "secret of life" using x-ray crystallography to reveal the atomic structure of DNA - the famed Double Helix.

This discovery happened in 1951 in the King's College laboratory in the city of London which was still recovering from the collateral destruction of that city via the second World War. This discovery won the Nobel Prize of 1962 for three of the male collaborators. Doctor Rosalind Franklin had been forgotten, relatively, and probably, because she had died in 1958, at the age of 37 of ovarian cancer, which may have been contracted during her research developments. This play attempts to bring this woman into the light - to tell HERSTORY rather than history alone.

It may have been her manner : 

As a girl I prided myself on always being right. Because I was always right, I drove my family near mad by relentlessly proposing games to play that I'd win every time [...] And when I was at University, and it was becoming clear to my parents, as it always had been for me that I would pursue science, I left Cambridge to meet my father for a hiking weekend. And atop a mountain in the Lake District, when I was eighteen years old he said to me, "Rosalind, if you go forward with this life ... you must never be wrong. 

And in her lifetime behaviour she believed she never was - and this was an irksome trait for a woman (and especially a Jew) to have in the British halls of science in the 1950's.

Reports of her brilliant research work in Paris caused an invitation for her to join a team of fellow scientists in London, working in the same territory of investigation, only to discover that she was invited not as the leader of the research but as just one of a team. Considering the contextual. social and political mores of the period she experienced outrageous chauvinism, misogyny and 'casual' sentiments that amounted to anti-semitism. This was not news to her and because of a lifetime of negative experience she had donned a personal defence mechanism (armour) that courted no such permission for it to be seen and heard and she shame-faced her fellow scientists to respect her and to do as she suggested. Her manner was a shock and caused her to be declared, steely, demanding and cold - not to be trifled with.

The science in this play is handled by Ms Ziegler so that it never becomes an issue or a reason to not to attend. Be not afraid, it is handled with a simple clarity that is never condescending but often full of comprehensible humour. In a dramaturgical structure that unravels with interactive engagements between the characters and, as well, as a fourth wall breakdown where each of the characters narrate, explain, comment straight to us, the audience. it is a disarming and clever range of choice in the otherwise complicated landscape of the play.

The 'objective' coolness of the behaviour of the scientists in the competitive, passionate pursuit of the step-by-step advancement of research and experimentation is lightly handled, it has no heavy burden of didactic detail or explanation. It has, instead, a lucidity and a 'joyful' feel in the pursuit to prove that there is a Double Helix of DNA - the secret of life - proved in a photographic image taken by the laboratory assistant, the humorous Ray Gosling (Gareth Yuen) : the famous Photograph 51.

As well, throughout the play of the scientific interactions there is a subtle reveal of the 'subjective' obstacles, behavioural quirks of each of the scientists that gives another dimension to the pursuit of the 'meaning of life' : the breakdown of marriage and personal relationships and struggles of doubt, or of the love that our driven heroine has for nature that is the flora and fauna, the rise and setting of the sun, as seen on a hiking trip to mountain tops, or in a theatre watching actors in the guise of being Leontes and Hermione, bring Shakespeare's THE WINTER'S TALE to life, presenting us with another 'double helix' - the double helix of the scientist's joy and the simplicity of each humane individual who are part of a species that consciously pursues meaning in just enduring the length of our lives. This play by Anna Ziegler has a creeping reveal that brings an observational and experiential warmth to take home : The complications of understanding the biological key to the formation of life - the first helix - and in the just living our lives - the second helix. The double helix of the objective approach and the subjective one. The 'thinking' one and the 'feeling' one.

The characters are carefully brought to life by this team of actors with great joyful accuracy in the crisp, astringent verbal comedy of each: Garth Holcombe creating Maurice Wilkins, the old fashioned stiff-upper-lipped English scientist boffin, attempting to move in the new post-war world where the old 'ways' are been harassed and superseded. The telling of the witnessing of THE WINTER'S TALE at the same performance that Doctor Franklin attended is moving in all the repeated restraint and unacted-upon passion that the two sexes have in the famously painful David Lean film, BRIEF ENCOUNTER, by Noel Coward. The clumsy confession of this experience by Wilkins is agonising in its telling - it is, we all know, too late.

Gareth Yuen playing Ray Gosling, the laboratory assistant, is delightfully nimble, utterly charming in his verbal comic timing as the 'gofer' for this team of demanding scientists - not least Doctor Franklin, herself. No burden is too much! No temper is revealed. Good will shines in this man.

The double act of the young American scientist, James Watson, inhabited as a juvenile patriarchal 'pig' with a skull of remarkable hair, by Toby Blome, in the most light hearted manner, alongside Robert Jago, as Francis Crick, a curiously mischievous observer of the 'manners' of Doctor Franklin, who, he believes, needs to be brought down from off her perch, create both cruel, stealthy and yet gradually human specimens of humanity - foolish and yet oddly, innocent, as a trait of male myopia domination.

Whilst, on the other hand, the gentle and love struck American scientist, Don Caspar, made by Jake Speer, has the beautiful arc of the 'husband-who-might-have been' if illness had not intervened. Mr Speer's warmth made us feel the sadness of Casper's loss before it could be declared fully in action.

Amber MacMahon is externally steely and defensive, and yet alerts us to the depth of this woman in her winning, comic verbal 'battles' for survival in this masculine room, and by employing the subtle and swift flashes of character vulnerability that unless you have been attentive you may have missed. It is the most intricate and disciplined performance that shows an actor of great insight with a 'tool box' of skills to pull it off.

Directed surely, helming this team of artists, is Anna Lednvich, on a Set Design that creates a comfortable (and practical) world of abstracted scientific apparatus and in a Costume Design of studied character detail, by Emma Vine, supported by the Music and sound design of Jessica Dunn, and the ever reliable lighting by Ensemble regular, Trudy Dalgleish.

PHOTOGRAPH 51, is the best theatre I have seen for ages. The talents and skills of all the artists serve the Writer well and the Audience spectacularly. Do go. It is a terrific night in the theatre and culturally, a great relief in the overwhelming mediocrity that one so often spends one's money on and, unfortunately, wastes one's time with in Sydney.

P.S. It was so stimulating to attend the National Theatre Broadcast last weekend of the Bridge Theatre production of David Hare's latest play STRAIGHT LINE CRAZY. It was not a perfect night in the cinema (theatre) but, by gosh it provoked a stimulating discussion afterwards. There was much to criticise and much to admire, that made that experience a wealthy time gained. Unlike most of the Sydney work, where one wants to flee quickly home, to that book or series to binge. What was there to discuss? 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Six, The Musical (2022)

Photo by James D Morgan, Getty Images

SIX, The Musical. Book, Lyrics and Music by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, at the Theatre Royal, Sydney. Originally Produced by Kenny Wax, Wendy & Andy Barnes, and George Stiles. Produced in Australia by Louise Withers, Michael Coppe, and Linda Berwick. 26th August-1st October, 2022.

SIX The Musical is back.

I first saw it in February, 2019, a few years ago (review here), in the Studio at the Sydney Opera House. It has, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, survived the battering and postponements of cancellations of performances to bounce back here in Sydney and to some of the rest of Australia. It has swept back into the West End in London and all round the UK and onto New York, Broadway, where it won two Tony Awards for Best Original Score (Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss) and Best Costume Design (Gabriella Slade). 4 Drama Desk Awards and three Outer Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Musical.

SIX, The Musical has book, lyrics and music by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. It is Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage and choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Set Design is by Emma Bailey, Costume Design is by Gabrielle Slade, Lighting Design by Tim Deiling and Sound Design is by Paul Gatehouse. The Orchestrator is Tom Curranad Musical Supervisor is Joe Beighton.

Last night at the Theatre Royal an excited audience, some dressed in costume, some in cutting edge fashion, the rest of us in 'daggy' support, witnessed an audience cheer and shout throughout the performance of SIX, giving evidence that the theatre is not dead, it is alive to the contemporary pulse of the young, swept to a roaring thanks and noisy standing ovation and encore as the final explosion of gold 'rain' fell into the auditorium. 

Six, The Musical tells the stories of the six wives of the Tudor King Henry VIII. It is told without a man in sight. Henry and all the other men have been expelled, for this is HERstory, not HIStory. Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.

Six 'glorious' women appear on a contemporary Set design that is a hyper replica of a Pop Concert stage, with all of its attendant Lighting options (tricks!) of flashing and pulsing pay-attention distractions to ensure that we, the audience, are never left to dream-off. This is a 75-minute, no-interval romping race to its end and we are magnificently manipulated to chase what is happening - no sleeping possible. Besides, the Musical Score is inspired by the canon of music divas, such as the likes of Adele, Lily Allen and Ariana Grande. Music that permits the lyrics the aural space, with microphones in hand, to tell of the dilemmas of each woman. Music that is still a bombastic blast that will certainly prevent sleep is directed from the stage in back-up, by Claire Healey with Heidi Maguire, Kathryn Stammers, Debbie Yap and Ann Metry. It is ever present in its support and contribution.

These six women are dressed "to kill" in costumes that are a flashy steam-punk adaption of the historical Tudor look, combined with the contemporary rock concert expectation, merely but wittily, referencing some of the iconic dress of the 16th century Queens. These costumes give room, flexibility, for these "Queens" to be able to fit the relentlessly demanding energetic choreography, that are both ensemble and character compilations, visual clues, to illustrate  the temperament and place of origin of each of these women: the Spanish Queen Catherine of Aragon (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza), the first English Queen Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare), the second English Queen Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter), the German Queen Anne of Cleves (Kiana Daniele), the third English Queen Katherine Howard (Chelsea Dawson), and the last English Queen Catherine Parr (Vidya Makan).

All of the performances seem effortlessly to capture the audience and career it into an ecstatic response. Take the young and know that the theatre experience will become a part of their inheritance. It's look, it's sound, its tongue -in- cheek humour, it's storytelling, it's unflagging energy makes SIX a Ten. Do go.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Peer Gynt

Photo by Marion Wheeler

Endangered Productions presents PEER GYNT, Play By Hendrik Ibsen, Music by Edvard Grieg at the Paddington RSL CLub, Oxford St, Paddington. 30th June - 3rd July.

A month and a few more weeks ago at the RSL Club in Paddington, Endangered Productions under the Direction of Christine Logan, 80, or so, performers took a curtain call which was enthusiastically given by an audience who had just witnessed an Australian first: a presentation of a performance (edited) of the play PEER GYNT (1867), by Hendrick Ibsen, Translated by May-Brit Akerholt, with the incidental music by Edvard Greig (1876) under the Direction of Peter Alexander. Meanwhile, the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), Sydney's Leading company and, arguably, Australia's leading theatre company, were showing their adaptation of Anne Bronte's only novel, THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL, adapted by Emme Hoy, and another Australian first, a new play, TOP COAT, by Michelle Law, with a combined cast of, perhaps, 20 actors (only). Both these plays it seems, were needing more time for more drafts (I've been told) to make them ready for the spotlight of the lavish budget of a heavily resourced STC main stage presentation. The contrast between the plans and objectives of these two 'production houses' and the result on the stages could not be more clear.

As I experienced the audience's excited response to the evening's events and watching the gathered artists joy at the reception they were given, I could only wonder at the power of a community that determines that the discipline of the performing arts is a necessary thread in the fabric of our civilisation and so, sacrifice time to a physical, vocal, mental and emotional demand to create a neglected and powerful philosophical work an airing, that in Australian terms is an endangered 'animal' as it disappears from performance memory because of the neglect of the major professional companies.

In this audience there were in attendance a crowd of professional people who had seen or performed in this work in times past, alongside a well read audience and their friends who were seeing and hearing this great piece (of almost impossible staging demands) of. entertainment and confronting intellectual provocations for the first time. A combination of poetic drama, dance and music, shifting through realism, social satire and surrealism, across the landscapes of the Norwegian woods, into the deserts of the Middle East - through the palaces of the mythical and historic residences via the witnessing of weddings, births and deaths, corporate greed and madness to predictions in pursuit of the meaning of existence through Peer Gynt's pilgrimage of self discovery. 

Under the aegis of the Creative Director of Endangered Productions, Karen Lambert and her partner (in crime) Christin Logan, who is also the Director of PEER GYNT, the performing company is led by Philipe Klaus, as Peer, and Elaine Hudson, as his mother, Aase. Both these actors shoulder the demands of leading this company of mixed experience and gifts by committed example through this work. The clarity and sprightly energy of Ms Hudson charges the narrative with energy and a peerless perception of the dreadful circumstances of this specimen of humanity, of a single parent having to struggle in a judgemental world to grow a man, a possible pillar of her community. Ms Hudson sparks, in the scenes with her son, lived by Mr Klaus, into a handsome and beguiling promise of leadership and courage in his telling of the hunting of  the deer, who then shamefacedly dwindles into a rascal in the early acts of the play - that sets up the tender and grief filled farewell on Aase's deathbed (assisted by the beautiful offer of Greig's Death of Aase) - and to propel his focus as he takes hold of the late scenes of the text, supported by a huge collection of other artists playing multiple roles, especially Alan Faulkner (Troll King), Jack Elliot Mitchell (The Thin Man), Katherine Munro (Woman in Green and Anitra), with a singer Emily Turner (Solveig) and the ebullient joy of Wei Jang in all of her character explorations, as stand-outs for me. 

The task of bringing all the parts of Ibsen's anti-hero to life and balance, through writing of comedy, satire, confronting realism and melodramatic, melancholic tragedy, to find the multiple facets of a complex human begging for the enlightening solution to the timeless riddle of the Sphinx, both unconsciously and consciously, so as to be able to comprehend the meaning of life and the philosophic landscape that Peer Gynt finds himself in, is a monumental one and Mr Klaus stretching and finding his artistic muscles maps for us clues that Ibsen himself seems to be just finding clarity for as he puts pen to paper, to embody a man, even if it is belatedly, in heroic manner and action. As with Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ibsen's Peer Gynt only finds a truth at the end of a long physical and emotional journey. Each challenge, each success and especially each failure maketh this man. Mr Klaus actor's intelligence and growing grasp of the greatness of his challenge was awakening gorgeously in front of us and will undoubtedly manifest itself more clearly every time he embarks and completes this enormous journey that Ibsen has given us. (Alas, there were only four performances.)

This production has been edited down to a three hour meeting that in the original is some five and a half hours long! What is not shown on stage at the Paddo RSL Club, may make a whole for the sense to reveal more easily Ibsen's intentions. However, this company to realise Ibsen's intentions has chosen a contemporary Australian translation by a Norwegian born writer, May-Brit Akerholt, who now lives, has lived, in Sydney's Blue Mountains. Fortunately for this Company Ms Akerholt has acted as Dramaturg as well as translator and was present throughout the whole process (at every rehearsal) to shape and edit and guide the Director in her choices that had to be made for this production to tell the story and thematics in a curtailed time frame. This translation is wonderfully funny (cheeky). Contemporary funny with all its social critique and wisdom still intact. (Ms Akerholt has had more than twenty of her translations produced by leading companies around Australia and some overseas. Ibsen, Strindberg, Jon Fosse have had her skill and devotion.)

Says Ms Akerholt: 

You cannot translate a piece of literature. You rewrite a work of fiction written in one language to another, with the aim of creating a new language that has the same effect on audiences or readers as it has in its original form. Ibsen's power lies to a large extent in his language, and in the way he manipulates it. ... Peer Gynt is written in a variety of verse forms ...

One of the most striking aspects of Ibsen's modernity was his mixture of the comic and the tragic. Peer Gynt is written with contagious exuberance and vitality. ... However, it is also a highly political and serious dramatisation of a life wasted in pursuing dreams, fleeing from responsibility, seeking power instead of love. ... (Peer Gynt is) a play full of metaphors and fairy tales and symbols. ... 

We accept the dream-like figures entering Peer's life, because the play creates strong worlds with their own 'inner logic', where characters and action become the logic. When the Button Moulder comes to fetch Peer's soul (to melt it down to start again), we go with the play into the world of legends, and in the whole of the last act, into the worlds in which folklore, myth, fairy tale and reality jostle for space. The trolls in Dovre Mountain are dramatisations of famous fairy tales and stories, but to Peer they are both alluring in his search for the princess and her fortune, and frightening because they become the barriers to his search for himself.

... what Henrik Ibsen's drama did (was to transform) drama and theatre at a time when the western stage still flourished with melodrama, French farces and romantic comedies into an art that laid bare a society based on hypocrisy and double standards."

The Choreography by Alison Lee brought thrills in the Company Dance of the Hall of the Mountain (Troll) King and in the sinuous Arabian scene featuring Anitra - the seductress of the desert  - and throughout the rest of the long journey of Peer, all supported by the 30 strong orchestra led by Peter Alexander gifting the audience with Edvard Greig's famous, romantic score, coloured further by the opportunity that Grieg gives the human voice, the Coro Austral Chorus - a chamber choir - led by Margot McLaughlin There are 26 seperate numbers, short and long, interspersed throughout the sprawling epic play. "In every instance", says the conductor, Peter Alexander, "(the music) intensify and magnify the dramatic situations." The inspiration of Ibsen's characters and story, struck a deep chord of emotional cultural identity in Greig and he ultimately wrote some ninety minutes of music. He, subsequently, organised some of it into two Suites that have become a staple for international orchestras and a part of my musical education in primary school.

The Scenic design on a tiny temporary forestage by Sandy Gray is more than just suggestible clues to location and is supported by the lighting of Michael Schell to create vivid atmosphere, that is, as well, sympathetic to the Visual Images created by Andrew Mill, with the Video and Projection provided by Wayne Richmond. There was a huge team resource of craftspeople to help realise the design of costume led by Miriam Lohmann

This production of PEER GYNT is significant for what it has achieved with little to no budget to reveal the great challenge of this play. It is even more significant as an example of Artistic leadership. The Leadership of a collection of mostly women, who decided to stage, to resurrect, a giant of a play, by one of the giants of dramatic literature, Henrik Ibsen, and a musical score of one of the giants of classical music, Edvard Greig. A unique presentation, a first in Australian history, a play with music that is capable of entertaining an audience and also through legend, myth and fairy story as touchstones for an entry point to provide a poetic critique of a society riven by hypocrisy, greed for wealth and power, that one hundred and fifty years later is still poetically able to be embraced and still found to be exhaustedly relevant in its societal present day boundaries.

Whereas, what has the leadership down at the kingdom of Kip Williams, down at the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) elected to present us as the best contemporary work available? Have you already forgotten?

The contrast of leadership values could not be more stark. 

The Professionals that were in attendance at the PaddIngton RSL Club at PEER GYNT's opening night was stacked with the great and interested. Subsequent performances (only 4) were also attended by the wise and thoughtful theatre audiences. Those of us who watch the National Theatre Broadcasts at the DENDY or the PALACE Cinemas (the Orpheum and the Ritz, as well) for $25-$27, to get our legitimate stage experiences were at the PADDO RSL CLUB. We were there less we forget what good theatre is. Lest We Forget.

Congratulations to the ironically titled ENDANGERED PRODUCTIONS, in their choice of play and courage to do it.

P.S. When I was a student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), my year of study performed the whole of PEER GYNT, under the Direction of Alexander Hay, our Head of Acting (1971). It began at 8.00pm and finished at 1.30am. There were five actors that played a portion of Peer. Tony Llwellyn-Jones carried an early Peer, that included the Deer Hunting speech. I got to play the whole of Act Five Peer Gynt. I began that responsibility at midnight after playing much else before and finished at 1.30am. Tony and I attended, together, the RSL opening performance, retrieving the pleasures of this play. (We also presented on the same set Dylan Thomas' play/poem: UNDER MILK WOOD (1954), to ensure that the full company of actors (in all 16 of us) got a fuller share of acting challenges.

Alex, a few years later presented with another year of students the whole of the cycle of five plays in G.B. Shaw's BACK TO METHUSELAH (1922) up in the Jane Street Theatre. Those were the days. When training was training. Indeed. By DOING.

John Clark, through Coach House Books (A new imprint of Currency Press), has just published his book: AN EYE FOR TALENT: A LIFE AT NIDA, which is a recollection of the History of NIDA (PEER GYNT is mentioned) and the SydneyTheatre scene. It is a comprehensive and informative work, which I highly recommend for any serious theatre person.