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.