Monday, December 7, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Belvoir Downstairs

Midsummer (as I shall henceforth refer to it as) is essentially a best man speech. It was probably originally performed at a wedding which it was written specifically for and therefore is full of in jokes that we can’t possibly get, as we’re somewhat lacking in intimate knowledge of the betrothed. All the cracks about single life are equivalent to the “he’s getting married – ball ‘n’ chain mate, ball ‘n’ chain” humour that romantic comedies have led me to believe all best man speeches must include. This is the context that director Eamon Flack is drawing on with this production, (most of these ideas are lifted straight from the programme), attempting to bring that sense of frivolity and play to the now very old text, and to be honest I think it’s probably the way to do Midsummer. This production is thoroughly silly. As we entered the theatre Cindy Lauper’s opus “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” greeted our ears, and the play began with Theseus singing a love to song to Hippolyta accompanying himself on the Casio keyboard (the same keyboards which my father has taught many a primary school student to play). This sets up the mood for the rest of the show, which is essentially a romp through the Shakespeare text.


This is where the whole thing could fail. If you don’t know the text, I think it’s possible you’d get lost in the tightly choreographed mess of this production. The plot is sometimes put behind the curtain while a moment of comedy brilliance occurs, but that’s the feel of the piece. Just as the best man will undoubtedly digress to tell the story of some drunken misdemeanour, Charlie Garber (who never really seems to be off stage) breaks out of character to fall in love with an audience member. I pretty much think that as long as you were aware that there was a bunch of lovers, a bunch of actors, and a bunch of fairies, you’d probably be able to make it through this show without being too confused. Except for whenever Gareth Davies is on stage. After an amazing performance in Hayloft’s “The Only Child” earlier in the year on the same stage, Davies has again proved that he is a tour de force of comedy. His Thisbe was truly a sight to behold, and I even saw off-stage cast members cracking up at his performance. However it is Garber who is truly in control of the piece playing Bottom and Puck. His comic timing never falters but it’s his absolute control of the Shakespeare text that I find so impressive. It is a credit to the other members of the cast though that despite the innate presence of these two performers, the other actors never get lost in the mix. I could probably go on for a while about all the performers but that would get very boring as I’m somewhat limited in my positive adjectives.

Essentially this play was pretty darn funny. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, and I was never bored in the two and a half hour running time. But I think that it also achieved that other goal of a best man’s speech, it had its touching moments, such as Titania’s (Katherine Cullun) final speech, which drew me in beautifully. I was really impressed because honestly, I’m not that big a fan of the play. When it’s performed “faithfully” I think it’s a pretty boring clichéd love story. That’s what happens when you ignore the fact that it was probably intended for a bunch of drunk rich people. This production tries to bring that feeling back, and does so with glee.

- Simon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review: The Mysteries: Genesis

Mysteries: Genesis is a strange monster to be walking into on a Monday night at the Wharf. In three parts, directed by Matthew Lutton, Andrew Upton and Tom Wright respectively, Mysteries tracks the opening moments of the bible, from Creation through Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Noah’s ark. I call it strange not only because of the conceit of the work (somewhat like Hayloft’s 3xsisters; same actors, 3 directors, three different takes on the same progression, except with the bible and no fake blood) but also because of the fact that I was viewing it as part of STC’s mainstage season. This feeling continued through the night, a strange mix of radicalism and conservatism.

Wharf 2 has been completely transformed for this performance. The audience surround the space on two levels, ground floor and upstairs, in the centre we look onto the playing space. The blurb states designer Alice Babidge took inspiration from “old courtyards, bear-baiting pits, cloisters and coaching inns of the medieval world.” and this rings true, although I was also reminded of an underground parking lot or food court at any multi level mall. While I had thought that sightlines would be a nightmare in this space, such was the confidence in design that I never felt I was missing anything, despite staying on the ground floor and hugging the walls most of the night. It is a credit to Babidge and each director that the space was used in vastly different and developing ways across the three sections of the piece, I felt only at the very end had I seen a trick before.

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Matthew Lutton’s Eden is a square of white confetti, populated by the naked Adam and Eve (Cameron Goodall and Sophie Ross) in glorious white wigs, a fluffy suited penguin and hanging from a rope in the corner of the square, is a plastic apple filled with milk, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Lutton’s piece is the most aesthetically assured of the three, establishing a theatrical language almost immediately as the lights slowly rise on God, slumped naked in a chair. The performances are heightened, as is demanded by Hilary Bell and Lally Katz’s highly poetic text, Lutton matches the poeticism of the text with a formalism of gesture, repeating certain actions that we become familiar with the meaning of. Because of this the piece takes on a sort of distance, and we become sucked into the theatrical world of Eden, the text and movement of the naked bodies lulls us into an almost meditative (perhaps religious) state. This serves Lutton brilliantly as paradise is stripped from it’s inhabitants after Eve succumbs to Lucifer and the serpent, rendered here as a lock of black hair. The text shifts into purer action and so does the performances, we see Adam and Eve shiver from cold and beg God for one last hug before they are cast out. In this first section of the Mysteries, Lutton has created a stunningly confident and rather unsettling opening. And while the piece is occasionally marred by weaker passages of language and some fairly indulgent acting to match it, I think I may be starting to “get” this Lutton thing.

After a fifteen minute break head back in for Upton’s After the Fall, which is, I have to say, pretty rock and roll. There are a few balloons strewn around the place and the cast (STC’s residents) are belting out a version of Velvet Underground’s Run Run Run from the upper and lower levels of the space. Upton’s piece is performed in promenade and the performers move and appear amongst the audience as Adam and Eve (now a dysfunctional Australian family swearing at each other) lament their great loss while their son’s Cain and Abel feud over their respective harvests. Through this landscape stalks death, a girl with her pony tail hanging over her face, claiming everyone as the end comes to them as murder, suicide or old age. The actors are here given license to play clear, somewhat realistic actions, Adam bitches about Eve, Abel teases Cain and Seth wanders around trying to calm everyone down. This is a massive relief after Lutton’s formalism, and while Upton lacked Luttton’s aesthetic confidence, it certainly gained something from this shift. The space is used well and the performers seem to relish the opportunity to be so close to the audience, allowing a different sort of communication, I always get a kick out of laughing and having the actor look straight at you to share the moment. It’s magic: television can’t do that. The audience seemed fairly bemused by the staging, and for the most part they steered clear of wandering around to get a better look at the action. This is so far removed from the world of promenade performances at PACT or Performance Space, where the audience is more literate in this style and will move freely to view more or even to test the limits of the performers. The strange mix of radicalism and conservatism was no where more prevalent than in Upton’s section, made more obvious by some clunky sections of text intoned once again to great virtuosity but little effect, set against really powerful images and kick arse music. Stranger and strangerer.

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The final section dealt with Noah and his ark. Here Noah is a bedridden obsessive compulsive listening intently to the radio as his wife pleads with him to come down and back out into the town. Tom Wright’s set is a pile of mattresses in the centre of the stage on which Noah remains for the entire piece. His daughters coming to him from the depths of the sheets and God appearing to him through the radio or from the foot of his bed. Wright’s piece is the weakest of the three, suffering from further ponderous sections of text and some fairly unsubtle choreography. I am also totally sick of revolves and as soon as the mattresses did so I switched off, content to watch the lights in the ceiling and listen to the loud amplified rain instead of what was happening onstage. The strength of Wright’s section was in how he combined formal elements from the other sections and reused them so as to illuminate the story of Noah, it was a fitting end to the whole performance as it reminded us of what had gone before and suggested beginning anew after the flood.

The Mysteries: Genesis is an amazing thing to be occurring as a part of a main stage season at STC, The Residents (STC’s new crack team of young theatre makers) are committed and sometimes thrilling performers, the direction is playful, assured and considered and the language, while sometimes ill formed, invokes a certain tone of spirituality that is invaluable to the work. It is flawed, in some places quite deeply, but nevertheless it is a landmark thing to be occurring at a flagship company and deserves support for this kind of programming. It is the most interesting thing I have seen at STC all year, and I hope that their 2010 season can come up with something just as interesting, by the looks of it… maybe not, but fingers crossed anyway.

Also sorry for being out of the loop for ages, I had shows and assignments. Here is a picture from Elephant People by Daniel Keene, which I directed with 2nd students at UOW.

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Mark

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Catch-up: The Bougainville Photoplay Project, Gethsemane, A Streetcar Named Desire

Wow, it’s been a long time since we’ve done any real blogging. Both Mark and I regret the lack of sweet blog times on offer lately, and you’ve already heard our excuses before so I won’t bother giving them again. Instead what I do have to offer is a quick wrap of a few things I’ve seen lately that I wanted to comment on. It goes back a while so I thought rather than doing full reviews that nobody is going to bother to read about shows that finished a month ago, I’d just write some comments about a few different things that hit me about each production. I’m sure Mark will get some writings up sooner or later, even if only to say “holy shit man, Körper changed my world” (although he’s a little busy right now directing the English language premiere of Daniel Keene’s Elephant People). Anyway, let’s get to the plays…

The Bougainville Photoplay Project – Version 1.0 at The Old Fitz

This was truly an extraordinary night of theatre. The concept is quite simple. Paul Dwyer recounts some stories from his life based around his trips to Bougainville, a small region of Papua New Guinea. In the course of doing so, we learn about his father’s work as a surgeon, the various human rights abuses that have been perpetrated in Bougainville, and the amazing reconciliation process that is now occurring in the region. The stories themselves are amazing, insightful and at times truly horrifying. The delivery is honest and is set against the backdrop of the physical objects of Dwyer’s memories – newspaper articles, photos, and even a set of bones that his dad once used to demonstrate surgical techniques. There are several visual aids to the storytelling, from an old slide projector, to Sean Bacon’s video stylings which were perfectly measured as usual. However, the true victory of this show is that amidst these many technical elements and dramatic techniques, the story is what comes through. It is because the show is so tightly crafted that the message comes through pure and strong.
For more info about Bougainville, one can consult the ever-useful wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Bougainville

Gethsemane – Belvoir St

I know I’m coming incredibly late to the party, but I think I just might be a David Hare fan. After seeing this show I finally got around to reading The Vertical Hour which I bought a few months back, and I was impressed by both, and if the hype is anything to go by I haven’t even got to his best plays yet. I was expecting a lot from Gethsemane. I cared a lot about the subject matter, the problem of corporate funding controlling political parties, and I’m yet to see an Armfield show that I dislike (Scorched in particular was an affecting experience).
For the most part, the show delivered. The script was tight, and merciless, going for the jugular of a variety of political players, the direction cool (setting props by lighting rectangles? Very cool…) and the performances were mostly memorable. In a weird turn of events, it was Charlie Garber’s Fran Pegg, the irrepressible butler, that stole the show, with Garber turning one word answers into moments of comedy brilliance. In fact all the younger players were impressive, with Emily Barclay simply stunning as the troubled teenager of the home secretary, played with equal skill by Sarah Peirse. However, Claire Jones as sympathetic teacher was anything but sympathetic, and Dan Wyllie’s journalist never seemed real to me. Hard to reconcile from actors with such strong history.

Unfortunately, the play lacked a strong ending, something I found similarly problematic in the Vertical hour. It seemed in both texts as if once Hare had finished his political discussions he struggled to conclude the personal stories, and in turn the plays. I’ll keep an eye out to see whether this is a theme that runs throughout his oeuvre.

A Streetcar Named Desire – Sydney Theatre Company


Now we come to one of the most anticipated theatre events of the year. Cate Blanchett as Blanche. This was the show that more people in Sydney were going to see than any other, and therefore the biggest theatrical opportunity of the year, and in my opinion it was wasted. There is no question that the acting was top notch. With the exception of a few of the bit parts, the performances were solid and beautifully crafted, and yes Cate proved once again that she is truly a chameleon, this time eschewing her powerful low register to take on the soprano range of the faux-timid Blanche. What was so frustrating though was that the play was really, really slow. I got bored, regularly, and maybe that’s because I’m born of the internet generation that as a result of tabbed browsing and violent video games can’t pay attention to anything for longer than 30 seconds, or maybe it’s because I’ve studied the text twice at different institutions. Maybe it’s because I missed the details of the relationships, or because I’d driven 2 hours in the pouring rain and was a bit stressed and was therefore distracted easily. But maybe, just maybe it was because this main stage production, which sold out before it opened, whose budget I can only imagine, was directed by a first time theatre director, was horribly paced, and failed to find anything new or insightful in the text, and instead simply came over as a bit bland. I was hugely disappointed. I have been defending Cate and Andrew’s decision making to the more cynical of my theatre friends all year, and was disappointed to not have a gem in the crown of my argument. I just hope star-studded Uncle Vanya next year doesn’t prove to be another lifeless staging, a fear that will perhaps be confirmed or denied when the director is finally revealed.

Well that’s all I have for now. I’m off to the next in the Appleloft series, a performance night presented by everyone’s favourite performance collective Applespiel.

- Simon

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quick Post - The Bougainville Photoplay Project/Angels In America

More apologies for the lack of blog action of late. You know the drill: uni, grad show, honours applications, it's all been piling up and sadly reviewing has lost out a little. But don't worry there's going to be an update storm anyday now...

However, I did want to mention Version 1.0's the Bougainville Photoplay Project before the week got too old. I will have a full review coming soon, but as it's only got this week left in its current run at the Old Fitz I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage anyone who's thinking about going to go. If you only see one show this week and it isn't Angels In America at PACT (our grad show) then you should see the Bougainville Photoplay Project... It's quite simply a beautifully crafted moving theatre experience that should be had by all. Just in case you missed my incredibly subtle linkage you can find all the information here:

The Bougainville Photoplay Project
http://www.versiononepointzero.com/index.php/projects/the_bougainville_photoplay_project1/

Angels In America
http://www.uow.edu.au/crearts/performances/UOW068184.html

If any of you do come to our show this week, be sure to stay around and say hi afterwards. Hopefully there'll be some more stuff to read soon. Thanks for sticking with us through the downtime!

Cheers,
Simon

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sorry for the lack of excitement...

Hi All,

This is one of those lame "sorry we haven't updated the blog a lot lately, we're really busy" messages. Mark and I are being kept pretty busy by our uni degree at the moment so unfortunately we probably won't be able to get any new reviews up until next week. Get ready though, we have the big This Is Not Art report coming up as well as hopefully a review of Gethsemane and perhaps some comments on Streetcar... The UOW season is now well under way so we also might get around to writing about those shows as well. This is if we can fit this all in between finishing our last session of study and putting on a grad show.

In the meantime, here is some shameless advertising for our uni and our graduates... enjoy!

Bake Sale For Art have another Monthly Friend coming up, and this time it's being presented by our friends over at Quarterbred. Here's the flyer and press release. Or you can just use the handy link on the right hand side of our site to go straight to their blog.
The author is dead.
The aura is dead.
The critic is dead.
God is dead.
Theatre is dead.
Art is dead.
Bela Lugosi is dead.

But hey, let’s not get overly maudlin. The theme for this Monthly Friend, ‘Dead or Alive’, questions our conception of how ideas, forms, texts and spaces may ‘live’ or ‘die’. Are these bold proclamations of death premature? (The author is still very much alive in mainstream theatre and literature, at least.) And what is the flipside of death? When the author dies the audience becomes alive, and that ain’t so bad is it? Monthly Friend October also celebrates the merging of live and not-live forms. Contemporary arts need not these distinctions! So ah, let’s all take a leaf out of George Romero’s book and let the dead live again. And let the living dead suck the brains out of the living, so that the living die and eventually become the living dead and go out looking for more living. Hope to see you there.

Meanwhile, the UOW season has already begun! Over this week and next we've got two second year shows. Check here at the Faculty website for further details of Dario Fo's Trumpets & Raspberries, and Catherine McKinnon's As I Lay Dreaming. If the beach wasn't already a good enough reason to visit Wollongong, you've now got two more incentives...

Hope to see you all soon,
Simon

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Brand Spanking New (New Theatre)

Opportunities to show new work are both exciting and important. For a start they give everyone a deadline, something to work towards. But most importantly it’s a chance for artists to test out their ideas in front of an audience. It’s all very well for something to work in your brain or on the page, but it’s another thing altogether for it to make that next step to performance. This is why performance opportunities are so important, this is why we here at The Perf are great supporters of initiatives like Bake Sale For Art’s Monthly Friend series, or the recent Applelöft where a bunch of our fellow artists got together in a house to share new ideas. These sort of low risk events help to create a strong community of support for new artists as well as serving as a breeding ground for new talent.
Which brings me to Brand Spanking New, a two-week festival of new writing put together by Augusta Supple at the New Theatre in Newtown. This time it’s the writing that is on show, with both established and emerging writers offering their wares to the good people of Sydney. What was exciting for me was that it was often the names I didn’t know, at least as writers, whose scripts I found the most interesting. Highlights for me across the two weeks were Kit Brookman’s “if i could be anything i would be something different” with director Mark Pritchard carefully wedging the actors into the space, Jonathon Ari Lander’s “Measure” which looked at the aftermath of years of pain in Cambodia, and Sonal Moore’s “White Wedding”, a tender look at marriage in another culture.

But in the end it is not the specific works which make the festival worthwhile. It is the theatrical community coming together to give emerging artists a chance for their work to be seen and critiqued. It is also a chance for new actors and directors to be seen on a Sydney stage. Experiments like this should be the rule not the exception, and hopefully, they will be successfully and spurn more opportunities for new work of all varieties. The second week programme opens tonight, so you've got four nights to get in there and support it.

- Simon

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Peter Craven's Total Bullshit

Here is a link. Read it then read on.

http://www.nationaltimes.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/the-trouble-with-australian-theatre-20090930-gbkn.html

In his article Peter Craven derides a new trend he percieves in Australian theatre, a trend which he lables as "talented directors who feel they are above realism and well-made plays." Talented directors like Benedict Andrews and Barrie Kosky. According to Craven their productions War of the Roses, Season At Sarsparilla and Women of Troy are some of the worst offenders in a director led revolt against the text. He suggests that these directors "often...cut their teeth with student theatre and have been too narcissistic to grow up" and indeed that "It's much easier to treat student actors like puppets and to improvise a text than it is to treat Judy Davis like that. Most cut-and-paste postmodern tinkerings with classics make Joanna Murray-Smith look like Racine on a good day"

As a burgeoning director, working at present in student productions, cutting my teeth as it were: I think Peter Craven is full of shit. His article shows a willing blindness to new playwrighting, an obvious penchant for the naturalistic and perhaps worst of all an outdated attitude to the artform itself. Poisonous attitudes such as his are what stunts the theatrical community, and are not (as i'm sure he sees it) a heroic belief of the sanctity of illusion. Any person working in the artform that dismisses the work of Robert Wilson as "mime-oriented experimentalism" is not only ill-informed and a lazy researcher but a complete fucking idiot, and the fact that his pompous wank of an article was published at all is what is indicative of real issues in Australian theatre.

His article bears several similarities with David Williamson's back earlier in the year, in which the big DW accused the STC of only programming capital T theatre, the theatre of Barrie Kosky. At the time on theperf I accused DW of being an antiquated tit-mouse, not knowing what a tit-mouse was, but finding the insult fitting nevertheless. Since finding out a tit-mouse is actually a small insect-eating passerine bird of the family Paridae, found in woodland areas throughout the world, maybe i missed the mark a little. But I think the sentitment was still there and as such I would like to declare that Peter Craven is too, an utter tit-mouse.

What he is suggesting about student theatre is so patronisingly infruiating that it needs to be explored further. I think that (in between the lines) he's calling me young, telling me to grow up, get a real job, get into realism, direct Joanna Murray-Smith, forget about Sarah Kane, forget about Performance Space, Romeo Castellucci and The Black Lung, forget about 3xsisters and Marius Von Mayenburg, forget about the Sydney Front and Robert Lepage and Open City, you'll grow out of it, wake up to yourself, tuck your shirt in, all the people you admire are not artists but arrogant wankers, what you like will take you nowhere, give up the dream, give it away, theatre is not for you Mark Rogers, you who cannot write for the stage and as such must to find other ways of communicating, theatre is not for you, it for other people, it is for Joanna Murray-Smith and for the big DW, it is a literary theatre where you Mark Rogers have no place.

Well Peter... get fucked.
I direct plays, plays written by writers, but I try to bring to plays written by writers an attention to aesthetic detail, an interest in formal innovation, an awareness of the power of direct audience contact, a willingness to delve into abstraction, a search for some kind of truth however we get there, a hope not to create a theatre that has been perfected, but one that is ever evolving and fluid, one that listens to the artists around it and filling it and one that doesn't simply put all the faith into one individual writer. Theatre is made by many people, not one, and they are all important.

I listened to a radio national podcast of Edward Albee's recent talk at STC a while ago and when he said that directors are interpretive artists and not creative artists (or something to that effect) i thought; how interesting to hear this kind of statement, he thinks about it like a heirachy, wow, that's not the way people think anymore. But obviously I was wrong. Peter Craven does.

Now that was a rant, yes. But am I unjustified? Is this what he's saying? Shoud I just wake up to myself and get my hands on a copy of Don's Party? What does everyone else think? Please comment, I need to talk about this.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A two way interview with Simon and Mark, regarding The Hayloft Project’s The Only Child.

M: Simon. The Only Child?

S: Good play. I had a really great time, I loved the comedy, thought the acting was all quite strong and design was beautiful. There were some glorious images (flowers) and the whole thing felt pristine.

M: Pristine? Do you care to elaborate?

S: You walked into the intimate Downstairs Belvoir theatre, to the serene sound of a shower running into the stark porcelain of a claw foot bath. The bath sat atop perfectly polished floorboards. Obviously, this was the bathroom of someone successful. We soon learned that it was the home of Rita and Alfred, a well-to-do couple with a harrowing secret.

M: I’m yawning already.

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S: I know right? When you dumb it down to its simplest elements, it’s a fairly conventional plot. But the story itself in fact takes many twists, and at times a dark comedy comes out moving it away from the simple story it could easily have been

M: It’s an Ibsen adaption yeah?

S: Yeah, not that I know anything about the original, which doesn’t seem to be a problem with this production as the story is quite far removed from the play that inspired it.

M: What did you like about it?

S: I’ve talked already about the comedy, which I think was one of the most striking elements of the play. I’m a great lover of awkwardness on stage, and the character of Henrik (Gareth Davies) was awkwardness personified. It was as if he was in a different play altogether, but rather than this being a problem, it in fact provided a great counter point to the heavy burden the text placed on the other characters.

M: Heavy burden you say. What burden?

S: Alfred and Rita have a child, Eyolf, who at the beginning of the play is missing. This is all the more worrying because Eyolf has a disability, one of his legs is crippled. The play begins with Rita and Alfred’s sister Asta in the bathroom discussing the incident, as well as Alfred’s impending return. It is clear from the start that Alfred and Rita’s relationship is far from harmonious. This is then compounded when Eyolf is declared dead, and we watch as Alfred falls to pieces, unable to leave the bath, let alone the bathroom. Throw into the mix Henrick, who is in love with Asta and gloriously unable to deal with people, and you have The Only Child, an hour and a half long investigation of guilt and recrimination in modern relationships

M: Did you love it? Why don’t you marry it?

S: But there’s the frustrating thing. It was so close to being marriage worthy, but it never quite got to the altar. Was this your experience? Am I being too harsh?

M: No you’re not too harsh. I thought it was great too. But I left wishing it’d been better. In the language, the content, the images, the form was such potential. But ultimately I felt like I’d seen the veneer of a show, the surface of an emotional impact. Never something as raw and painful as I was sure it would be. I think it glossed over all the nasty bits.

S: Do you mean in the text or the production?

M: Well the text was nasty as fuck. Thomas Henning and Simon Stone’s adaption of the Ibsen is a cutting look at moral collapse with a vicious wit and sly humour. So that rules out the text.

S: So it was the production then?

M: Set and lighting you mean?

S: Yeah, and the direction.

M: Direction then. All the theatrical elements made this play easier to bear. As you’ve mentioned they were gorgeous and really effective. But to the wrong end. The transition states, the ethereal images and stage pictures made the raw content disappear. I wanted to be rubbed raw by the uncomfortable truth of Alfred and Rita’s relationship, by their inadequacies mirroring my own personal failings but instead, everything was working to placate me.

S: Even the nudity, did that feel like gloss? Surely that was visceral. For those who haven’t seen it, there was a fair bit of nudity.

M: The naked bodies were beautiful first, visceral second. And this was to do with how they were framed. Despite Downstairs Belvoir being a tiny little space and even though I was two feet away from the naked actors, they seemed pictorial and not physical beings. Beautiful but, AHHH, I didn’t care. Is that fair enough, am I just insane or something. They were naked for ages why didn’t I get the sense it was raw?

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S: I think you’re right, and I think it was partially to do with the beautiful framing, the warm lights shining back of the polished floor to give their bodies a sort of sheen rather than leaving them stark and grotesque. With the possible exception of Henrick’s initial forays into nudity.

M: Yeah that worked. I feel guilty for slamming it this way. Because I think it is such an achievement to make abundant nudity onstage beautiful first, it never felt tacky. Always an organic development of the staging. It was stunning really. It’s just that it didn’t serve the text in the right way. It slightly backed off from really being effective.

S: I think that was the main thing that stopped this production from being absolutely devastating, was that it backed off at all the wrongs moments. Just as I was on the edge of my seat, there was a blackout or a joke to let me off the hook. The most obvious example was when Rita joined Alfred in the bath and began to seduce him.

M: And…….blackout.

S: I was left thinking why didn’t they just have sex? It would have horrific in the wake of what had come before. But we seem to have lost sight of our interview form. Did you have a problem with the transitions?

M: Not really. I accepted the blackouts as a convention that was consistent, they weren’t overly long. It was the inbetween images and subtle shifts that annoyed me. FUCK SIMON. This is so frustrating. I loved it. I loved The Only Child. It is a confident, aesthetically assured, devastatingly performed production by a young company under the restless direction of Simon Stone. I hated The Promise. I thought this Hayloft work was awesome. BUT. It could have been so much better and all I can think about is What If? What IF? WHAT IF? This sucks.

S: I had the same problem. In the past couple of days I’ve had several conversations about the play where half way through, I realise I sound like I hated it. Which I didn’t. It’s just that it could have been one of the shows of the year, and it just didn’t quite get there.

M: Everyone should see it though yeah?

S: Absolutely. They’re one of the most important companies in Australia at the moment, and this is further of evidence of that.

M: So we keep hearing. I’m glad that this time, Hayloft and Simon Stone lived up to hype. But they could have exceeded it.

S: ARGH! I’m normally frustrated when things are bad, not when they are good.

M: ARGHHHGGGHHHHH!!!!

Simon and Mark

Monday, September 14, 2009

UOW Report: grads around the country this september

Where are our grads at? Well apparently to opposing ends of the country. One up in Brisbane for Under The Radar 09 and another group down in Melbourne for the Fringe festival. And the shows are on a basically the same time. So if you have unlimited access to plane travel and are a UOW grad enthusiast then this is what you should do…

First up:

The Red Room by Malcolm Whittaker

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In The Red Room a solo performance is longing to and resistant to take place. It is a dance between the unexplainable desire for the spotlight and to hide in the black hole at its edge. It’s about looking, being looked at and love as much as it is fear.

“A stand-up comic quipped in a past US presidential election that the person who should run country should be the person that wants it the least, the person that has to be dragged kicking and screaming into The White House. I think a similar disposition is required of performance. A certain resistance to being in the performance situation. Part of you that does not want to there to hold up an integrity outside of oneself. This work is important to me because I believe there is a certain necessity for resistance and terror to stimulate creativity and sincerity in both process and performance. Working with the fear avoids the work slipping into a vacuum, exhausted of purpose, presence and necessity.” (Malcolm Whittaker, Creator/Performer)

Warehouse, Metro Arts, 109 Edward St Brisbane
Monday 21 September – Friday 25 September, 6:30pm
Booking: www.brisbanefestival.com

Malcolm’s been overseas for a while but has managed to line this up for himself. It’ll probably be awkward, low-fi and shitty looking but that’s what he does best. Sticking his head under a lampshade. Magic.



Next up, all the way down in Melbourne….

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Nature League in North Melbourne by Tiger Two Times (Amy Wilson, Georgie Meagher, Megan Garrett-Jones and Natalie Randall)

Retreat into the hothouse. Play in the garden. Help to cultivate a surreal world. Nature League are here to make you radiant, tranquil and relaxed.

Performance group Tiger Two Times merge installation and theatre in their investigation of constructed environments. Inspired by the ‘fake nature' found all over the city, from pot plants to community vegetable gardens, and even jungle-themed lounge-rooms, this work delves into human interaction with natural spaces. Questions arise over our desire for greenery - is it purely aesthetic, or environmental? And, how many pot plants are needed to offset your carbon footprint? Nature League is an inquisitive and earnest organisation. Nature League is a retreat. But what will happen when the reality of outside pervades this sunny fantasy?

Fringe Hub - The Warehouse521 Queensberry Street North Melbourne
25th Sept – 2 Oct
Booking: http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/nature-league-in-north-melbourne

This is the Bake Sale girls in creative rather than curatorial mode, and we think they’re awesome in both, so get along to see them if you’re down in Melbourne for the fringe.

love Mark

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This Kind Of Ruckus (version 1.0 and Performance Space)

S: I was really excited for this show. As in, the week before it opened I had a dream that I went and saw it. Sadly I don’t remember much about the dream except that the show included the cast climbing on a wall using magnets. Basically the wall was a massive sheet of metal and the cast held magnets in their hands and feet (in dreams people can hold things with their feet) and climbed on the wall. It was an awesome effect that sadly wasn’t in the real show.

M: Disappointing

S: I do remember after the show, in my dream, someone asked me what I thought, and all I had to say was “well it was no Deeply Offensive… but it was quite good”.

M: Are you sticking by that assessment?

S: Yes I am. When I saw Deeply Offensive in 2007, I was a first year theatre student with a better knowledge of west end musicals than the Sydney theatre scene, and it completely changed my concept of how theatre could be put together and what it could do; so I guess my expectations were kind of high for this show. Anyone who has read my Deeply Offensive… review (see archive) knows how much I loved their previous work. What about you?

M: I think it’s a pretty hard line you’re taking in comparing it with Deeply Offensive. This work struck me as being totally different, both formally and in terms of its content.

S: Absolutely, and if these two shows weren’t made under the same banner, I would never have thought to compare them. But I guess I had somewhat naively, considering I’d only seen one show, come to an understanding of what to expect from Version 1.0 and this was something different from what I had wanted. That being said, it was something else that I wanted.

M: After all Deeply Offensive was so clear in what it was doing that maybe it was hard not to see it as a company defining production. Essentially, This Kind Of Ruckus is an exploration of violence in contemporary Australia, or rather, as I saw it, attitudes to violence. Entrenched in a landscape of club beats, bubble wrap and sporting exercises spanning the depth of Bay 20; the work uses recent high profile sexual assault cases emerging from the football community as a catalyst in their work. We piece together this view from the personal stories of the cast, press conferences and possibly other media sources, as in this work, unlike Deeply Offensive, their research remain unnamed.

S: Which I was surprised to think was a good decision in this case. The sometimes bodiless voices made the piece more haunting than it would have been if every story was academically referenced.

M: Yeah, it wasn’t about lampooning certain individuals; that would have been too easy, stand up comedy material, even footy show material. Like I suggested earlier, this work was about attitudes towards violence not just who did what and to whom.

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S: The play essentially was split into two halves, of similar action, bookended by some cheerleader moves in front of a brightly lit curtain. The sporting theme informed the piece throughout, from the cast doing warm-ups to the half-time oranges.

M: Magic

S: Each half began with a personal story from a cast member which was then either interrupted or interrogated by the other members of the cast.

M: These moments were where I could most clearly identify these attitudes I’m talking about. When, after Danielle Antaki recounts a harrowing night with an ex boyfriend, Jane Phegan asks “What were you wearing?”

S: That was fucked.

M: For me this encapsulated something of both the Media’s attitude to victims of sexual violence and said something about club culture. A kind of disdain, an accusation that they’re asking for it, an easy shift of blame.

S: A similar moment was when Arky adorned Jane with a black eye (a simple make-up effect) then tried to justify it as an accident, “what do you want me to do? Do you want to spank me?”. His response just didn’t let up, until his questioning shoulders were almost above his head.

M: That was also, really fucked.

S: So much so the audience was split between gagging and laughing. But these small personal moments acted more as transitions for the major sections of the show which took place behind the curtain.

M: These sections were made up of repeated motifs and movements, gradually getting more and more brutal and uncontrolled. Each drawing of the curtain revealed David Williams on a chair staring directly at a prostrate, possibly unconscious Kim Vercoe. I want to say staring straight at her cunt. His face, along with other gorgeously time lapsed, delayed and live fed footage was projected onto two large white screens hanging over the front half of the stage.

S: Let’s talk vision for a moment. Sean Bacon makes video in theatre work. Projections can be really tacky and unnecessary but Version 1.0 use them perfectly. Throughout the piece a combination of live feed and recorded videos are seamlessly mixed to give us not only a different perspective on the work, but insight into the stage action that would otherwise be lost.

M: Here they contributed to the works swirling visceral nature, flesh on flesh, breathing. Bringing a liveness and weight to the action onstage. Yes I agree.

S: Visceral is exactly it, and I think this was largely to do with Gail Priest’s completely violent club inspired soundtrack.

M: Maybe not largely, I think it had more to do with the bodies of the performers. Whether it be dancing (aggressively) at each other or sprinting the length of the space or downing beer and fluoro coloured muck in plastic cups or punching each other in face as Jane and Kim did by the beer table late in the work.

S: For me though it was often the music that brought that feeling from the stage into the audience, the bass entwining itself in your stomach, as you watched the sometimes gross, but always bodily, action.

M: It’s interesting then, that we’ve already spoken about possibly the most visceral reaction in the audience, which was unaccompanied by music, just Arky’s shrugging shoulders.

S: True.

M: Point one Mark. Chalk it up.

S: Alright mate, well said. Alright, let’s get on with the show. (That’s a Ruckus joke for those playing at home). We haven’t talked about our favourite bit yet.

M: Oh yeah that was also fucked up. After David’s menacing stare at Kim, Jane facilitated a kind of reconciliation between them. Constantly interrupting a role playing conversation between the two of them. Asking, how they think it’s going. Pulling David up for doing the wrong thing.

S: But getting him to put it in positive turns, like a primary school teacher saying “let’s not have a rules list, let’s have a hopes list”.

M: Kim is frustrated to be in the same light as David and she hates it when he does that walking thing when he pretends he’s not walking. It’s very threatening.

S: He totally does that by the way, she’s not making it up.

M: You did see Deeply Offensive three times right?

S: Yeah but I’m not being a fan boy anymore because I didn’t think this show was perfect.

M: What was wrong with it Simon?

S: For a start I felt like there was a lot of wasted time. There were lengthy movements between images that I didn’t think helped build anything.

M: I appreciated the time to catch myself, and found that the break meant that diving back into the same kinds of issues/images made the work even more present. I picked up a paper the other day and reading the sports section, they actually had a cute little graphic saying “scandal free zone” next to an article on the footy.

S: I guess the other problem I had was with the content, and I that I felt it didn’t blow out the issue, so much as recap the attitudes towards it. Maybe it’s just because I’m at a university and in a course where we talk about gender politics all the time, but I just came out feeling like I hadn’t really heard or seen anything that I hadn’t thought about before. It seemed to me like the material was made for an audience that wouldn’t ever attend a Version 1.0 show. I didn’t see any football colours in the crowd.

M: Yeah maybe

S: But I guess it’s also important for this issue to not go away. I may be happy with my own attitudes and be willing to put the issues to rest in my mind, but there is still a lot of cultural change that needs to occur.

M: And that’s what I held onto as the most important statement the work was making. That a cultural attitude to sexual violence exists in Australia that means we expect to open the paper and see a scandal, and that these situations can be swept away with a few mumbled words. Embarrassing for all concerned.

S: But I wanted more engagement with why that culture exists and how we can move forward from it, or even how it is treated in the media, or how it affects the individuals who fight against it, rather than simply a portrayal of how horrible the culture itself is. I feel there was meat in the issues that they never got onto the stage.

M: You wanted documentary theatre, not a real exploration of the culture’s impact on bodies.

S: That’s because I’m Brecht and you’re Artaud.

M: (silence)

S: Simon evens it up, chalk it up.

M: …Fair call.

S: I did love a lot of the elements. I couldn’t stop talking about the video, and there were times when they made me feel absolutely horrible, some of which we’ve already discussed. David Williams and Jane Phegan have two of the most beautiful voices you’ll ever hear and I could listen to them talk in official tones for hours. But most of what I will take away from this production is theatrical, and with Version 1.0 I had hoped I would leave more affected by their politics.

M: Hmmmm. Maybe. I still think they nailed a cultural treatment of violence, and they nailed that through the theatrical elements, not despite them.

S: Indeed.

M: I guess we leave it at one all.

Simon Binns and Mark Rogers

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Once And For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen (Sydney Theatre Company/Ontroerend Goed)

Directed By Alexander Devriendt

Adolescence wasn’t really that long ago for me. I’m only two years older than the eldest members of the 13 strong cast of what I will from now on be referring to as Once and… The trials, tribulations and triumphs of this part of our lives are all recent history for me and rarely do I feel that they are well represented, on stage, screen or in other public forums. More often than not I see that representations and discussion are informed by outdated clichés, and I get the feeling that all those involved in Once and… feel much the same. This play has taken the clichés, mixed them up with real life experiences, and left you to figure out which is which. The result is a work which neither reinforces nor attacks popular notions of “teenagehood” but instead presents an honest portrait of the lives of 13 young Belgians.

The form is simple. A song plays. For the duration of that song, the 13 performers gradually emerge onto the stage, go through a series of actions associated with teenage life. These range from flicking a friend with a balloon to kissing a girl in a sleeping bag, to kicking over someone’s impressive pyramid of plastic cups. When the song ends a siren sounds and the performers clean up the stage and run off. After this form has been set-up with two pretty much identical run throughs, the action then takes place through different experiential ciphers. For example, there is one run where everyone is in love with each other, one where everyone is on drugs, one where everyone is ear-piercingly happy, one where no one actually comes on stage, and so on and so forth, until finally the magnitude of the action is increased tenfold, plastic cups have become water-cooler tanks, sleeping bags have become giant garbage bags etc. and the stage becomes a playground for some amazing(ly choreographed) chaos. The cycle is intermittently broken up by direct to audience monologues. When it’s all over and the bows have been taken care of, the cast then come out and start cleaning up.

I thought it was an interesting example of how to quickly establish a theatrical language. For the first run I wasn’t sure what to think. I was enjoying the experience, and there was a wealth of content on stage, but I wasn’t sure how to engage with it. Was this the beginning of a story about these kids? Were they in a classroom? Was the show just going to be an hour of kids being kids? How would I feel if it was? All these thoughts were running through my head while these kids laughed and played with chalk. However as soon as the process was repeated I instantly knew where I stood. Rather than attempting to take in the whole picture I started watching individuals, investigating the little moments they were having. This investigation was then taken over by the performers with each subsequent run as they revealed something new in the otherwise innocuous set of actions. Overall, I adored the form, its structured chaos the perfect metaphor for adolescence.

I also felt that the work had a really clear dramatic structure despite not having any narrative. The work was beautifully crafted by director Alexander Devriendt using what I thought was a pretty traditional three act structure of set-up, confrontation and resolution. The difference here being that the set-up is that of the form, the confrontation is that of the performers’ views on adolescence with popular opinion, and the resolution is that of the performers’ rights to their experiences.

Experiences that we both heard about and watched them have. Each cipher pinpointed the feeling of an experience of adolescence and then let this feeling drift over to the audience. The drug scene is the most extreme version of this obviously, with the loud music and visceral action demanding a reaction. But some of the simpler ideas, such as the performers simply saying their tasks rather than carrying any of them out, gave you just as strong an insight, in that case to the feeling of being robbed of your autonomy, as well as pointing out the paradox of the play itself which both freed and constrained the performers.

The monologues were perhaps the weakest part of the play. Charlotte De Bruyne’s opening was outstanding, performed with a naturalness that actors with far more training and life experience should envy. However, Jorge De Geest’s contribution was one of the few moments where the play lost momentum. Interestingly he is one of the performers that wasn’t in the original cast. The monologues were the only moments when you felt the work heading towards cliché, but luckily they were short enough that you either didn’t quite end up there, or the cliché was shown so that it could be addressed. They were also home to some genuinely heart-warming moments, which included getting the audience to scream fart.

I suppose the message of this play was that adolescence is a crazy time and to try and control it is counter-productive; that just because adults think they know what’s good for youths, that doesn’t mean they should stop them from learning for themselves. When I write it like that it seems really bland and far from groundbreaking. But after 45 minutes of this performance, this realisation was exhilarating. Watching the performers indulge in the ridiculous act of supersizing the performance in the final scene was pure vicarious satisfaction and the sense of joy that filled the room was palpable. The performance left me wanting only one thing - to see the show again many, many times. Unfortunately it closed two days later. The key to its success was simple really, the press release declared “you’ll think we’re super cool” and it was right.

- Simon

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Poppea (Sydney Opera House/Vienna Schauspielhaus)

Directed By Barrie Kosky

I have been scared about writing this review ever since I saw Poppea two weeks ago. This is because I didn’t really love it. I mean I enjoyed it, was glad I’d seen it, thought the performances were mostly of a great standard, but I left the theatre, not that bothered overall. Normally not loving a show is not that big a deal, and in fact can make writing a review easier. It can be hard to write a review of a show you loved without sounding sycophantic (a crime I am certainly guilty of, and one I expect to commit again when I review “Once and for all…” in the coming days). The difference with this production is that a) it was a Kosky, and b) EVERYONE seems to have loved it, from theatre critics, to my fellow undergrads, to my friends who I generally consider a good indicator of the fabled “general public”. It’s never easy being in the minority of opinion on a show; it makes you wonder what it was everyone else saw that you didn’t. When the show is directed by Barrie Kosky, Australia’s very own theatrical auteur, who occasionally returns from his post in Europe to offer Australia fresh insight into his genius, well let’s just say the stakes are somewhat higher. For one, no young theatre practitioner wants to be aligned with David Williamson…


Thus I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly why I didn’t engage with this work. The first problem I came across is that I simply don’t like opera that much. This perhaps a somewhat naïve statement, after all, Poppea is only the third Opera I’ve seen, although I’ve listened to quite a lot of operatic music, my father used to be an opera singer and I grew up with classical music around me. Also, the operas I have seen have been of quite a high standard. When I was travelling in 2006 I saw Carmen performed at the Vienna State Opera House. It’s a classic and was performed by some amazing singers, but I found it long and uninteresting. I got excited at the famous songs (I was the operatic equivalent of that annoying guy at concerts who only knows the singles) but the production as a whole failed to have any great effect on me. I think the problem with this opera was that it was so foreign to me. The music, the costumes, the acting style, none of it resonated. However, that was a pretty straight opera, an attempted “faithful” reproduction of a classic. Poppea was not. I figured that if anyone was going to inspire my interest in the form it would be Kosky, but unfortunately it was not the case.


My second main frustration was the text itself. I’m just not that interested in these ancient affairs. What’s more, the opera had been cut in such a way that for a long time the specifics of the story were quite hazy. But I suppose the story’s not really what’s important is it? Not in any sort of Aristotelian “we must have catharsis for it to be good theatre” sort of way anyway. It’s about what Kosky does with images and how he makes you feel right? Which is I guess why I was really disappointed. When I saw Kosky’s Tell-Tale Heart, and Women Of Troy, I felt things. I had feeling thrust upon me. Those works demanded my engagement, bodily, and I think that’s what was meant to happen with Poppea. It was certainly a very bodily work. One could say it was completely concerned with the physicality of the performers. If a character felt something, we saw it physically enacted, from Poppea playing air guitar, to Drusilla singing whilst on her tiptoes, not to mention all the sex. But none of this really did anything to me. There were definitely moments where I appreciated the craft of the actors, but I was rarely overwhelmed. I think this is partially because I was pretty much as far back as you could be. Perhaps if I had been closer to the stage the show’s physical nature would have had a stronger impact on me. Although at times I found the highly physical style of performance quite annoying. I simply thought Ruth Brauer-Kvam who played Drusilla was over-acting, and there were numerous other moments, particularly in the first half, that I felt lacked sincerity.


For all this negativity, there were things I adored. Kyree Kvam’s voice was tremendous, possibly the best singing I have ever heard, certainly in any recent history. His rendition of “So In Love” was jaw-dropping. Which brings me to my favourite aspect of the production – the Cole Porter songs. Most times they were used, I found them absolutely revealing, bringing out new meanings in the songs themselves and in the relationships of the characters. The strangling that accompanied “So In Love” was truly unsettling. As many a commentator has said, this show has changed the way many people will listen to Cole Porter. It was during these numbers that I felt most closely connected to the work, that I felt the tension coming off the stage. I’ve considered the possibility that this was simply because of the language barrier, that because in these moments I wasn’t being distracted by the surtitles I was better able to give myself over to them, but I don’t think it was that simple. I feel it was in these moments that Kosky was able to delve deeper into the action than the libretto otherwise allowed and find material that was genuinely surprising.

I found the second half superior to the first in its image work, which was certainly aided by the back walling lowering to reveal a wall of mirrors. This gave the stage new depth and a sense of openness, allowing the actors nowhere to hide. The final images of both acts were also fantastic, and the way that Kosky created them was beautiful. Before each ending he filled the stage with performers, only to remove almost all of them leaving us with a stunning stage picture as the curtain fell. At the end of the first it was Seneca’s corpse flopping awkwardly out of the bath that was his home, and for the second it was Poppea and Nero, sitting side by side as rulers of the Empire, now without need for physical affection. They were both chilling.


So what do we have in the end? A play that I quite liked elements of, but overall wasn’t that affected by - not exactly an odd night out at the theatre really. But I guess what makes it different and so frustrating is the weight of expectation I brought with me into the theatre. Barrie Kosky is an incredible director. His understanding of the power of music is second to none in the Australian theatre scene, and I found his productions of the Tell-Tale Heart and the Women Of Troy absolutely fascinating. As well as my experience of these two shows, Poppea had received absolutely glowing reviews from some of the harshest critics I know. I went into the theatre ready for something awe-inspiring, and came out largely disappointed.


- Simon

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Monthly Friend #2: Askew, Amiss, Awry

Last night the gals from Bake Sale For Art ran their second Monthly Friend. This time at another kick arse venue; Bill and George in Redfern, an artist run studio and rehearsal complex. Monthly Friend is an opportunity for young artists to show their work, as complete or as developmental as it is. It is also an opportunity for critical discussion, new artistic connections/collaborations and really, really excellent soup.

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Events such as this create a real sense of community, everybody is splayed out on comfy couches, sweet nibblies are abundant and so is conversation. This kind of support network is something that I highly value as I stare down the home stretch of my uni course. “The industry”; this thing we hear about from lecturers, grads and our parents; is a cruel, inhuman and vicious place, where we’re most likely to get torn apart and then shamefully crawl back to uni for a Dip Ed. But nights like Monthly Friend make it seem as comfortable as grandma’s biscuits, and I thank the Bake Sale crew for that.

The theme of the night examined all things wrong, slightly left of centre or not quite right. Things askew, amiss and awry. In keeping with the theme there were countless technical fuck-ups, awkwardly covered by Nat Randall MC; a stand up comic who sent a tape in place of himself; red wine appearing out of fish bowls of milk, and incredibly phat beats made entirely out of fruit. Despite all the memorable insanity however, it is the connections made and the joy of likeminded company that I really took from the night. Bring on Monthly Friend #3.

Mark

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thom Pain (based on nothing) - B Sharp

Written By Will Eno
Directed By Sam Strong

Monologues are hard. In my first year at university we put on a production of Gary Owen’s Ghost City, which is essentially a collection of 25 monologues. It was a very useful exercise for us in terms of developing as actors, and while I thought it was quite a strong show (some of my classmates might disagree) I spoke to a lot of people who simply thought, “two hours of monologues… not really a good thing”. I’ve often wondered why this is the case and I think it’s because in life, we rarely listen to one person speaking for extended lengths of time, there’s generally some sort of dialogue. If we are listening to the one person speak for an extended period, it’s generally in a classroom or lecture situation, experiences we don’t normally associate with captivation. That being said, last year I went to a couple of one-person shows that I thoroughly enjoyed. Radio at the Old Fitz, was a beautiful story, tenderly acted by Andrew Bibby, and My Name Is Rachel Corrie, offered a strikingly personal insight into the Palestine/Israel conflict that brought me to tears. However, even in these works, there were moments when the labour of listening to the same voice for over an hour hit home and I tuned out. Therefore, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached Thom Pain (based on nothing). I knew Luke Mullins was a talented actor, and I had also heard good things about Will Eno’s script, but would it be enough to keep me interested? In short, yes.

At the heart of Thom Pain is a story of lost love. It would perhaps be too simplistic to say that it is Thom’s story, because one is never really sure who Thom Pain is, and whether anything or in fact everything is personal. The telling of the story is broken up by moments of existential contemplation, stand-up comedy, and audience interaction. If anything, it is this relationship, between audience and performer which is the core of Thom Pain.

The stage is completely bare, apart from a chair and a glass of water and from the moment the lights go down, the audience is on the back foot. I find it highly disappointing that in these days of OH&S the head usher has to tell us beforehand that the play will begin with an “intense blackout” (as opposed to a more placid “greyout” I suppose) because it somewhat spoils the surprise. However, as I discovered earlier in the year at Benedict Andrews’ The City, blackouts can really affect you whether you know they’re coming or not. Something about being plunged into darkness for an extended period of time sets some sort of inner alarm bell off, warning you that you’re vulnerable. Perhaps this fear is why so many mobile phone lights were visible in the audience at this point. More likely some people are just shit. Regardless, there was something truly wonderful about Luke Mullins appearing out the darkness with the lighting of a match. It was even better when he returned to darkness and kept talking, asking questions about how he looked. This production stopped you from getting comfortable for a long time. For the first fifteen minutes you were never quite sure what was coming next, and it was only after you got used to expecting the unexpected that you allowed yourself to relax. This settling was of course subverted later on.

Some of my favourite moments in theatre are when you ask yourself the question was that meant to happen? Surely that can’t have been rehearsed? The most memorable for me was the time during Exit The King when Geoffrey Rush’s wig fell off and he quickly replaced it whilst mumbling, “You weren’t meant to see that. 1, 2, 3 and you’re back in the room!” The ultimate pay-off was later in the show when the wig was taken off to reveal Rush’s decaying body, one performer exclaimed, “That’s never happened before!” The solution to the problem was almost too good to be random. Throughout Thom Pain I found myself wondering time and again what was detail and what was accident. By the end I had come to the conclusion that nothing was left to chance, it was just good theatre. This included a great piece of audience plant work, where someone ran out of the theatre, and Mullins ran after him saying goodbye, only to remark unhappily “cunt!” while returning to the stage. For a moment I was genuinely fooled, and was sure that this “random” audience member had just got a text message about his wife being in labour. Unfortunately, the text went on about the exit for just a little bit too long, and I recall being very disappointed upon realising that it was faked. But you were just as unsure when the glass of water was spilt, or when a light came up on a different area of the stage to where Mullins was standing. Throughout, the audience expectation was played with, culminating in the final section of the play where an audience member was brought up onto stage to help Pain finish the story.

Luke Mullins’ meticulous performance was stunning. He had impressed me before, particularly with the STC Actor’s Company, but this was a new level of his work for me. I’m sure that that is in part due to the intimacy of Downstairs Belvoir, but I also feel that the text gave him a lot of room to explore to the full realm of his abilities. No gesture was out of place, and his voice moved through its registers as if he was singing. He gave the words sufficient bite to confront you, but he also kept the sense of intimacy required for us to care about his stories. He also generated a lot of trust, which was important because of the playful nature of the work. I didn’t really mind when he made me jump in my seat by screaming “boo!” in my face, and I was more than happy to watch him as he laughed to himself for a while after commenting “I have a vibrant inner life”. The details created a fascinating portrait of a man, who almost made not wearing socks with a suit look good.

After a somewhat disappointing finish to the last B Sharp season, I’m once again excited about this strong start for one of my favourite spaces. Will Thom Pain be another Ladybird, the standout beginning that was too hard for the rest to live up to? I guess I’ll find out at the Lonesome West next week.

- Simon

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: Knives In Hens (Malthouse - Melbourne)

Written by David Harrower
Directed by Geordie Brookman

Before this play, I had only heard brief allusions to David Harrower. I knew that successful productions of his Blackbird had been programmed by both the STC and MTC in recent years, and I had heard his named thrown about as the leader of a new movement of Scottish playwrights who eschew naturalism with poetic language. With these fragments of knowledge in hand, I was surprised at the opening scene of Geordie Brookman’s Knives In Hens. There was no poetry in the language whatsoever. Robert Menzies’ Pony William almost coughed out his words, while Kate Box’s Young Woman, was too lacking in knowledge of language to be able to treat it with care. Instead it seemed a decision had been made to ignore the poetic possibilities of the text and focus on physical presence, particularly in William’s attempted control of the Young Woman, and the industrial frames of the set’s impact upon the actors.

The set presented some nice opportunities, and I particularly liked the water at the front-right of the stage. I’m quite a fan of stage elements that can’t be faked. Everyone knows when an actor drinks a glass of wine on stage it’s probably iced tea or an equivalent, but with a large pool of water, you know their socks are getting wet whether they like it or not. I also enjoyed the sound as they walked through the water, in fact it’s probably the only sound I have any real memory of. I also liked the off-stage space of the stables created through Anna Cordingley’s ominous drainpipe. Unfortunately this dominating design robbed the play of a lot of its intimacy, as a well as requiring a lot of time between scenes as the actors moved about its various stage areas, which included an upstairs section for the Miller’s home.

Which brings me to my main reservation about the play, the pedestrian direction. I felt as if each scene had been directed without much care for those preceding or following it. There was very little build between scenes, with each instead seemingly treated as a self-completing entity. By paying too much attention to the ebb and flow of each moment, the overall experience was stilted. The audience was always given time to relax during the many transitions whilst the actors climbed ladders and battled with grates and doors making it very hard for the penultimate moments of the play to have any real impact. I never felt any moments of great dramatic tension, and they’re definitely there in the script.

In the end it was the text and Kate Box that got me home. Harrower’s deceptively simply story sent my brain off on many tangents about the importance of female education in a society (there is research to suggest that the only way forward with AIDS in Africa is to educate the women), and the freedom that language gives us to define our identity and experiences of the world. It reminded me of the angels in Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings Of Desire who only learnt to speak when the humans they had been watching since creation gained knowledge of language. I also found Box’s portrayal of the Young Woman, in constant struggle with her own ignorance, engaging in what otherwise felt a long and stagnant show.

- Simon

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: Spectacular (Arts House - Melbourne)

Created by Forced Entertainment (UK)


Spectacular is the latest work from UK theatre company Forced Entertainment, who this year celebrated 25 years together. The show is essentially one man in a terrible skeleton costume (Robin Arthur) describing a show that for reasons beyond our knowledge, and seemingly his, has failed to take place as usual. The set isn’t out, and the opening guy didn’t do his bit, so instead, this poor man is left with the task of explaining what we would normally experience. Other than his good self, the only element of the original show that makes it to stage is Claire Marshall’s epic death scene, which she undertakes for the majority of the show. The concept is not uninteresting and for a while I was completely engrossed. In a very understated English way, the beginning was hilarious. The way Arthur explained almost every minutia of the show was captivating and just as the energy was losing its way, Marshal entered and in the driest deadpan you’ve ever heard, announced the beginning of her death. Her violent throes provided an ideal counterpoint to the lulling monologue of Arthur, which was more than enough for an entertaining half hour of theatre.



Unfortunately, it continued for another hour after that (the programme’s promise of a 75 minute running time was either a poor estimate or a calculated lie) without change. No performer relationships emerged, there were no shifts in pace and only the smallest pay-offs for the effort the play demanded of its audience. In the play’s defence, the early morning flight to Melbourne had meant that I’d only gotten three hours sleep the night before, and instead of intellectually engaging with what the work was trying to do, I was instead thinking “eyes, stay open” and rueing my decision to sit in the front row. But I think that placing the blame on my interrupted sleeping patterns would be giving the show too much credit.

The play was attempting to investigate the idea of stage deaths and their inherent falseness. There are several deaths being explored, Marshall’s over the top theatrical death, the death of the show which is not being performed for unknown reasons, Arthur’s comical depiction of death, and then the death of the current show which peters out into nothingness. The work engages with these various deaths with what my friend described as “painful subtlety”, which I found simply translated to a boring show. I got so frustrated in the last half hour as I waited and waited for the play to do something, anything, to actually interest me. But instead I watched as a man performed a monologue he didn’t seem interested in, and a woman over-acted a death scene, which other than damaging Claire Marshall’s vocal chords didn’t achieve much. Now I know that this is probably the point of the work, that as we watched the play die on stage we ourselves died a sort of death, and what about the way they were deconstructing theatre as a form and aren’t all these things very interesting to think about? My answer is yes, these things are interesting to think about, but it’s also interesting to watch good theatre. My question is, what did Spectacular do in performance, that couldn’t have been done in a short essay? I would argue very little and that’s what I found frustrating.

Props to Arts House for their green ticket scheme, which meant that this disappointing experience was at least a cheap one.

- Simon

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Crimp Report

AT LAST! The long awaited Crimp report arrives. Earlier in the year Simon and I were delighted to see that Martin Crimp, one of Britain’s most critically lauded and uncompromising playwrights, was programmed on not one, but three separate seasons; at UOW, STC and Griffin. “Hurrah”, we thought, a chance to see what Australian practitioners can do with such a formally intriguing writer. We did have our reservations however. What about the language? Is it too British? How does one approach Crimp? Naturalistically? He does write about the domestic unit a lot, but would that kill the poetry? Who are the people in Crimp’s work? Are they Characters? Should we treat them as such? Are we getting a little too worked up over all this?

The three productions that Simon and I saw over the past few months answered a few of these questions and quite often raised more. Sanja Simic’s The Country, Benedict Andrews’ The City and Cristabel Sved’s Dealing With Clair were all surprisingly similar interpretations of the same writer, with incremental differences in how various aspects were handled. Differences which Simon and I discuss below…….

S: The most impacting of the designs was undoubtedly Ralph Myers’ looming staircase for The City. As soon as the lights came up, the sheer size of the stairs which almost completely filled the Wharf 2 stage space, pressed upon you, especially from my front row position.

M: Mirroring the audience obviously.

S: It also demanded a certain physical approach from the performers who had to negotiate the large steps.

M: Like Colin Moody galloping around the stairs or Belinda Mccory having to pace herself when ascending wearing a particularly inconvenient skirt.

S: The design allowed for some truly wonderful theatrical tricks, most notably the piano which appeared seemingly impossibly at the top of the stairs.

M: That was awesome. A trick obviously allowed by the EXTREME blackouts. Which also provided a space of disorientation for the audience between scenes. Couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

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S: This I guess is where the problems began in terms of the impact of the text itself.

M: The text obviously works on various unsettling levels. First domestically estranged and uncomfortable then with increasingly bizarre images both in the language and in the doppelganger nature of the child figure.

S: However, because we were already unsettled by the design, the unsettling moments in the text had less of an impact.

M: Which is for me to do with a required level of naturalism in the work. You need a kind of base to work from. From where you can start to invade and fuck up the naturalistic world of the text.

S: On the opposite end of the spectrum you have Dealing With Clair which strived for naturalism at the expense of Crimp’s unsettling moments.

M: And at the expense of good design and theatrical sense.

S: Ouch. I agree. The Dealing With Clair set was stuck between trying for a beautiful theatrical image and trying for a realistic setting.

M: And so it basically ended up in no mans land. It was a little square carpet room

S: Filled with indicators of a family ready to move, such as cardboard boxes marked fragile, and lamps and laptops

M: And those black rope thingys

S: Cables?

M: Yeah was that it,/ Cables?

S: Maybe they were something to do with trains?

M: That’s a little obscure isn’t it? In any case they didn’t really do anything.

S: You certainly spent the entire play wondering if they were going to do something, but when they were finally engaged with, in what was meant to be a climactic emotional moment with Boris Brkic cutting them, it was just horrible.

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M: Yeah I think they made a real problem for themselves in boxing in the space like that, it meant that the transitions became stilted and awkward since there was just one entrance to the playing space. They were tripping over each other.

S: At first I was thinking surely that’s meant to be like that? That’s some sort of emotional world of the character right? The way they have to watch each other as they come and go. But no, it was really a matter of practicalities.

M: The metaphor got a bit swamped. So for me the level of naturalism in Dealing With Clair was almost too much. It didn’t allow the text to breathe poetically really. And so instead of seeing through the real estate world to the heart of human greed we got a very bourgeois dinner story about property investment. It was totally banal.

S: Which was really disappointing, because even though this is an early Crimp, written before he was critically acclaimed playwright “Martin Crimp”, you could see the hints of his unique style emerging, and rather than relishing them, this production bulldozed through them.

M: I got the feeling of being yelled at.

S: Why were they so loud?

M: I don’t know. That was full on. It was a feeling I did not get from watching The Country. Which I felt might have been closer to nailing the right level of naturalism in Crimp’s work. Obviously The Country, in looking at a domestic landscape, is a little more realistic than the imaginative warzone/thoughtzone of The City. But it struck me as finding the unsettling in less theatrical ways than Andrews’ production.

S: Well it was set on a traverse, with lighting bars shining at one end and a suspended tree emerging from a doorway at the other, The Country was obviously not attempting to create a realistic set, but at the same time, nor did it completely remove any sense of realism as in The City.

M: They sat on chairs and talked to each other.

S: They were always obviously in the same room, a physical room, and the hints of realism such as the chair and the phone anchored this sense of place.

M: So it became more about the language games that the characters play on each other. The wife against the husband, the husband against the lover, the lover against the wife. About tactics. Which the performers (Natalie Randall, Theresa Mullan and Murray Clapham) handled beautifully.

S: The emphasis on character kept the stories grounded, so that the relationships were never lost in the language. You were never swept up into Crimp land like in The City.

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M: The Country was my favourite text of the three.

S: Agreed.

M: Although I can see the danger in it falling into the Dealing With Clair pothole, and just being more of a dinner story. In Sanja Simic’s production however this was nimbly avoided.

S: Imagine if it had been placed in naturalistic home, with pots and pans and babies’ booties lying about the place. One of Crimp’s greatest strengths I feel is the imaginative world he creates for his audience, and to rob his language of that power is to do a disservice to the text.

M: Vomit.

S: You can’t run away from the domesticity of Crimp’s work. The City did this, and I think it definitely hindered the lasting impact of the work. The final scene failed to leave me with any lasting effect really; because I felt the same way I’d felt the entire time.

M: So you have to get the balance right. It can’t be too naturalistic because then you destroy the language and it becomes dull, but it can’t be too far into fantasy theatre land otherwise it stops being menacing and you miss what the texts are trying to say.
Despite The City being the most accomplished and visually stunning of the three (I remember really liking it as I walked out) it sort of faded away over the next few days.

S: Now that raises an interesting question about which response is the most important, the initial reaction or the more contemplative week later thoughts.

M: I guess it depends on when we write the reviews.

S: (laughs) Ultimately, The City was the most accomplished production, with fantastic performances

M: Colin Moody!

S: And sharp design, but it was almost as if Beno let his imagination run a little too far ahead of text, hampering its overall impact.

M: And Dealing With Clair was a little misguided, seemingly lacking an awareness of how to deal with Crimp’s language, opting to plough through it at super pace and volume, instead of excavating the gaps in understanding and communication that make it an interesting work. Whereas The Country managed to balance the unsettling with the domestic, demonstrating a more complete understanding of Crimp.

S: Allowing his distinctive style to have its full effect.

M: It’s interesting that these three works are the less formally stunning Crimp plays. Attempts On Her Life or Fewer Emergencies are for me far more intriguing works because of their disregard for character and conventional dramatic structure. I’d be more excited to see Beno do one of these, where I think his eye for image wouldn’t be quite so out of place.

S: It was certainly a different experience to watching War Of The Roses, where his images often gave the actors the power from which to work. I felt that in this production, the actors held his images together. Which was perhaps the biggest problem with Dealing With Clair. The decision to treat the text naturalistically had been made, but the acting simply didn’t match up to this decision.

M: Between the drunk acting and the game of snap I just wanted to kill them.

S: I couldn’t help but feel though that poor direction was the major problem though rather than any lack of skill on any individual actor’s behalf. Why hadn't they been instructed to actually play snap? Why had they been led to perform at a size large enough for the Opera House’s Drama Theatre, rather than at a more intimate level that a space like the Stables demands? There even seemed uneasiness in the bowing. I’m not sure if I imagined it because of my own experience of the play, but there seemed to be a lack of confidence in the work.

M: Yeah. We probably didn’t help by squirming throughout the play and half heartedly applauding. I feel a little bad actually since I’m sure they are not as unilaterally awful as that production made them seem. It really was just a few degrees off where it should have been. But after having seen The City and The Country, the difference just grated on me.

S: Hmmm

M: Yeah. Right. I think that’s it.


Your turn. The discussion can continue below…

Saturday, August 8, 2009

UOW Spring Season

Sorry for the recent neglect of the perf, Simon and I have been caught up in the usual early session rush of subject outlines, auditions and scrambling for tutorial times. Over the next week there'll be plenty of catching up to do with the blog. Crimp, Beckett, Simon's overseas adventures and we better both see te Kosky sometime soon as well.

In the meantime, UOW has lined up its spring season of performances. Make sure to check http://www.uow.edu.au/crearts/performances/index.html for dates and booking numbers closer to end of session, for all non gong people that's basically late October onwards.

The Pidgeon
Directed by Deborah Pollard
with first year students

Trumpets and Raspberries
Written by Dario Fo
Directed by Janys Hayes
with second year students

As I Lay Dreaming
Written and directed by Catherine Mckinnon
with second year students

Angels in America Parts 1 & 2
Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Tim Maddock and Christopher Ryan
with third year students

Attempts On Her Life
Written by Martin Crimp
Directed by Sanja Simic

Elephant People
Written by Daniel Keene
Directed by Mark Rogers

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Mark