|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):
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.