Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Bougainville Photoplay Project

When I first saw The Bougainville Photoplay Project at the Olf Fitz last year, I was blown away. I expect to like version 1.0 (which I learnt recently is spelt with a non-captialised vshows, but they always manage to surprise me. I wrote a bit about it for this blog at the time which you can find  here (in the same post I damned Streetcar… controversy-monger that I am). When it was announced that Belvoir were presenting the show for another season, I was pretty stoked. Firstly, it was another chance to see one of my favourite pieces of theatre and secondly it meant a chance for my friends who had missed out previously to see the show. I had one concern, and that was the size of the venue. Part of the show’s charm was its personal nature and I was worried that in a bigger venue the personal connection between Paul Dwyer (performer and writer) might be lost. In hindsight, this was a fear fuelled by ignorance. The show has been touring at various times for three years now and has been performed in a variety of venues of differing sizes. Never mind the fact that in Dwyer’s role as a university professor he has no doubt lectured to similarly large rooms. The show worked beautifully in the upstairs space, and both the laughter and the weighted silences stretched from the front row right up the back.

In my very short review of the Old Fitz incarnation, I focused on the content of the show and I imagine that most other reviews have done so. The issues are fascinating after all, from Dwyer’s personal recollections, to the stories of his father, to the horrific facts about Australia’s recent colonial past, you can’t leave unaffected. However, I feel that something that often gets overlooked is the construction of the piece, which is nigh on perfect. Hence, that’s what I’ll be devoting this reflection of the Belvoir production to. (If you’re after a simple judgement “should I see this or not?” sort of review, the answer is yes you should).

As good a place to start as any is the vision which handled by version 1.0’s regular video artist Sean Bacon. Whenever I have to write about his work I always come up with the word “measured.” I’m sure I’ve written about this before but video in theatre is very easily overdone. It’s often horribly integrated and distracting and rarely creatively useful. More often than not I feel like it’s there for the sake of having technology in the project. This is not the case with version 1.0 shows however, and that is because of Sean Bacon. He always finds the perfect balance between intrusion and insignificance, hence I think of his work as perfectly measured. In this project his role is relatively simple (certainly compared to the last project he undertook at Belvoir, Bendedict Andrews’ Measure For Measure) and often he is simply showing pictures or video at the request of Dwyer. But there are moments when he has a little bit more freedom, when he reminds of images we have previously scene, or carefully scrolls through particularly evocative pictures that we realise Bacon is more in control than we realise.

This brings me to the images that are shown. At first the photos and close-ups of documents seem simply expository, however as the play continues there are some important parallels that are drawn. The most telling of these are the two sets of images that Dwyer feels the need to warn the audience about, the process photos of his father’s surgical work and the images of the aftermath of a massacre at a church in southern Bougainville. Both are photos that involve blood and the stark reality of our anatomy. What is particularly telling to me is that the surgical photos are perhaps more gruesome than the photos of those injured and killed in the violence. Images of violence abound on our televisions, cinema screens and newspapers. Yet the reality of life-changing surgery, the blood, the holding of skin, the implements used, these are the images we are not accustomed to. However, it is by far the photos of violence that are more affecting. When the images of surgery are shown, the audiences allows themselves many sounds, a few groans, squeals and even laughter at the excessive redness of the image. When we are shown a picture of man who no longer has a head due to an explosion, the room is completely silent, as the weight of the moment rests of every single person.

Another part of the show’s construction that I find fascinating is all the “things” involved. I suppose you might call them props, but as more often than not the objects are relics of Dwyer’s childhood I find it hard to think of them merely as props, yet I suppose that is what they are in this context. The first two props we are drawn to are those that Dwyer enters with, a human spine and a briefcase. This serves several purposes. It introduces Dwyer as an academic, who else would be walking around with a spine and a briefcase? It also serves a practical purpose, with the briefcase containing a slide projector which is used later in the show. The briefcase also inspires images of travel, whilst the spine introduces us to one of the play’s other key themes, the work of Dwyer’s father, although we are yet to realise this. The spine is never mentioned again, but its presence serves as a symbol of the biology beneath our skin that binds us together as humans. Other props of note include an authentic set of vertebrae which Dwyer performs an operation on, a noticeboard full of maps and newspaper clippings ranging in subject matter from Dwyer’s father to the Bougainville Crisis and a table which serves a variety of purpose including briefly that of a hospital bed. What I love about all these items is that they are never removed from their place. No attempt is ever made to clean the space after a prop has served its purpose. Instead by the end of the play the objects in the space serve as the landscape of the hour and half journey the audience has just travelled. Perhaps I am pushing this too far, but it became for me a perfect mirror of the events of the play. Just as the props stay on stage as reminders of past action, the open-cut mine, the battle scars and the life-changing orthopaedic work of Dwyer’s father remain in Bougainville, as reminders of past battles and bravery.

The work done by both David Williams and Dwyer in the meshing of the stories and the pacing of the work is also superb. The way the personal stories of Dwyer and his family are used to draw you into the work before the political implications of the story are raised is classic version 1.0 and you can see why the company has made a name for themselves discussing these sorts of issues. The ebb and flow between exposition, humorous anecdotes and tragic events is beautifully managed so that one is never left feeling like they’re being bombarded. The fact that despite the show’s somewhat lecture type feel, the more theatrical moments such as the room going dark whilst Dwyer recounts a journey by torchlight, do not feel out of place is a testament to the show’s skilful construction. Pacing is another area that has clearly been paid a lot of attention to. There are times when Dwyer is veritably flying through the material, particularly when creating the nervous mood of the unsure traveller, and others when the audience clearly needs more time to comprehend the material. The final build is particularly skilful, with the audience in darkness, the mood of fear and eventual relief that is created is positively palpable.

It is due to all these beautifully crafted measures that Dwyer’s stories, and the moving content of the work is so affecting. This is not the sort of show you want to miss.

- Simon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Apologies, The Trial & Namatjira

It seems that more than not when I post something on this blog, it starts with an apology for a lack of updates. Sorry about that, maybe I should just stop promising these things! Unfortunately for you readers, it’s been a very busy few weeks, between the Sydney Fringe Festival, This Is Not Art Festival (which you should definitely check out the results of at Applespiel's blog - you can download the show we did... awesome., and just a general amount of crazy things happening in our personal lives, that things have been put on the back burner here at The Perf.

What I offer to make up for it is a quick wrap of a couple of shows that I’ve seen lately. I might get around to doing a closer analysis of other seasons as well as post my long-awaited opinions on the Belvoir Downstairs changes, but I guess I have to start learning to make fewer promises.

The Trial – STC

Let’s put it out there – I’ve been excited about this production since it was announced last year. More Ewen Leslie in my life can only be a good thing. When the production rolled around however, I realised that there was even more amazing acting to be had with a fantastic ensemble of John Gaden, Peter Houghton, Rita Kalnejais, Belinda McClory, Hamish Michael and Igor Sas. I mean, they’re all stars in their own right really, so it was pretty exciting to have them all together, and this was really what I took away from the production. I thought the production was strong, and vividly created the increasingly maddening world of Joseph K. Unfortunately it dragged and there were definitely times when I dropped out of it and started thinking about other things. However, the further I get away from the show, the more I simply remember the fantastic performances and intelligent stage design. The final stage trick, whereby what was previously thought to be a backstage area was revealed through a dropping of curtains to create an almost cathedral like feel in what is not one of Sydney’s most giant theatres, was quite an achievement and more than brought me back into the world of the play. I left impressed. From what I hear though, others did not, let me know why!

Namatjira - Belvoir

This show made me feels some things very strongly. The strongest of which was a sense of absolute regret for not seeing Ngapartji Ngapartji. It must have been a phenomenal show. Trevor Jamieson is amazing. He is amazing physically, he is an amazing storyteller, he has amazing comic timing and he is amazingly honest. What this translates to is an incredibly engaging performance. For the two hours of the show you are absolutely in his hand, following along as he recreates the story of Albert Namatjira, Australia’s first Aboriginal citizen, and one of our country’s finest painters. The content, which Scott Rankin has done an amazing job of synthesizing, is absolutely astounding and depressing at the same time. All the things that you go into the show expecting will make you happy turn out to be sad. The fact that was the first Aboriginal citizen is countered by the fact that this was simply allowed so that the government could tax him, and it also placed him between a rock and bottle shop in his community, where his newfound ability to buy alcohol (a privilege only extended to citizens) made him a lackey to the many people who saw him as their uncle. His meeting with the Queen is countered by a radio report of his visit to Taronga Zoo which describes how the other animals got very excited at having a creature that was closer to them in their midst. The fact that his artworks at one point epitomised the height of Australian art culture is obscured by his inability to buy land that would allow him to support his community. In fact all of his achievements are left marred by the revelation that despite all his fame he died poor, and unhappy. It is these paradoxes of his life that Rankin has so effectively highlighted and Jamieson masterfully brings out, putting forward a few paradoxes of his own. One particularly memorable moment was when Jamieson explains that Aboriginal practice of leaving behind elders who have grown incapable of keeping up with the tribe. He doesn’t pass judgement on the practice, but instead turns the moral question onto the audience asking, “Would you take them in? Surely, if an old Aboriginal person knocked on your door asking for help at 2am you’d welcome them into your home.” However, Jamieson’s perfect manner of audience interaction is impossible to adequately describe here, instead, I just recommend you get along to this show in its final weeks if you haven’t already.

It would also be remiss of me to not to mention Derek Lynch, who does a superb job of playing all the characters around Jamieson. His turn as the queen is particularly memorable, and it gave me an odd jolt of patriotism knowing that I live in a country where an Aboriginal man can portray our female head of state with no more recourse than hysterical laughter from the audience.

Perhaps even more exciting than the show itself however, is the community project around it. Check out the details RIGHT HERE.

Hope that’s enough to keep you interested for a while. Hopefully have more for you soon.

Oh, and Applespiel have a show tomorrow night, it’s free, in Sydney, and a whole lot of fun. Check out the details here: We're very excited to be presented by Performance Space.

Hope all is well!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tis The Season... (Belvoir Season Wrap-Up)

It’s that time of year! Theatre season time. Pretty much everybody in Sydney has now announced what’s going on in their 2011 seasons and isn’t it all very exciting? I know I’m a bit late to this particular party but there’s the small matter of the Sydney Fringe festival which has been taking up a significant amount of my time, (*Cough* Come see Appleloft please *Cough*). I’m going to start with Belvoir and hopefully work through the other major players in the coming days. So with further ado…

I was trying to think of a cleverer superlative here but I’m just going to say the first thing that came to mind… holy crap on a stick! The new Belvoir season is phenomenal. Aside from the not so small matter of the changes to the Downstairs theatre set-up (which I intend to devote a whole post to some time soon) I could not really be more pleased with the offering Ralph Myers has thrown up in his debut season. It’s a such a strong start you’ve got to wonder whether he’ll ever be able to follow it! Let’s go through the plays one by one.

12 February – 27 March
Written and Directed by: Simon Stone (after Henrik Ibsen)
With: John Gaden, Anita Hegh, Ewen Leslie, Eloise Mignon, Toby Schmitz

From the moment the picture of Toby Schmitz and Ewen Leslie came up on the screen, I knew we were off to a good start, I just didn’t know how good. Simon Stone and the Hayloft Project have made a name for themselves with their investigations of classic texts. If you feel the need to reacquaint yourself, head back to our review of the Only Child from last year. The man has done some solid work, and if we only lived in Melbourne we would have seen even more of it. Now he’s the resident director at Belvoir and his first play in the role is set to be a solid start. Now I can’t say I’ve read the play, nor am I a huge Ibsen fanboy or anything, but what excites me about this play is the cast. THE CAST. Seriously, if I was asked to list my favourite actors write now, it would read Ewen Leslie, Anita Hegh, Toby Schmitz (the order would change depending on the day). Add to that, the ever reliable John Gaden (who is currently tearing it up in The Trial) and Eloise Mignon, who is better known to Sydney audiences for her TV work, but who we’ll soon get a glimpse of in STC’s The Grenade later this year, and one can only assume that this show is going to be golden. It would take some dramatic self-sabotage for this project to turn sour with such good ingredients. I’m pretty freakin’ excited about this one.

An Ilbijerri Theatre Company Production
30 March – 17 April
By: Jack Charles and John Romeril
Directed by: Rachel Maza-Long
With: Jack Charles

Autobiography shows are something I have always found intriguing. Whether it’s William Yang, or it’s The Bouganville Photoplay Project (soon to be seen at upstairs Belvoir), there is something incredibly powerful about having someone tell you a personal story, offering insights only they, the protagonist, can give. One can only imagine that with a life as vibrant as Jack Charles’, this format will be all the more rewarding. This is also the first play in the season to show that Belvoir don’t intend to be criticised again for a lake of female directors on their stages.

CUT (Downstairs)
7 April – 1 May
By: Duncan Graham
Director: Sarah John
With: Anita Hegh

The creative team of Sarah John and Duncan Graham were last seen at downstairs Belvoir in April last year with Ollie & The Minotaur. That show was memorable, not least of all for its all female cast, but also for it’s moving script and tight performances. Now the Adelaide crew will have another chance to impress us with their new show Cut. Rather than the gritty naturalism of Ollie, this show is described as a “theatrical riddle” that walked the line between fantasy and reality. It’s great to see Myers pulling in great artists from out of state, and as I’m sure you’ve already gathered, I’m pretty happy with the casting as well.

23 April – 29 May
Based on: Vassa Zheleznova by Maxim Gorky
Adapted by: Jonathan Gavin with Cristabel Sved
Directed by: Cristabel Sved
With: Russell Kiefel, Sarah Peirse

This is one of the projects I’m not quite as sold on. Relocating a play based in early 20th Century Russia to Australia in the eighties is always going to be a dangerous move. But that is perhaps what makes it exciting. Gorky’s reputation precedes him, and for anyone who saw Gethsemane last year, which I hope most of you did (see the archives for my thoughts) you’ll be aware that Sarah Peirse is an amazing actor to watch. She dominated the ensemble cast in David Hare’s play and I can only imagine that she will bring just as much gusto to this new project.

THE KISS (Downstairs)
12 May – 5 June
By: Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, Peter Goldsworthy and Guy De Maupassant
Director: Susanna Dowling
With: Danielle Cormack, Catherine Davies, Yalin Ozucelik, Steve Rodgers

This is without doubt the bravest of the season’s offerings. Dowling spoke at the launch about how this project, where four short stories with the common name “The Kiss” are retold word for word, was partially inspired by Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz. I was not able to see this show, but from what I’ve heard, which you can see for yourself by reading Mark’s review from last year, what began as an exciting experiment dissolved into hours of tedium. This is however a quite different prospect, calling on the work of four authors, and what I imagine will be a slightly different setting. The goal here I assume is to reacquaint ourselves with the power of the written word, and with yet another strong cast (I suppose you do expect that from main stage companies) one has to hope it will come off. For more info on the director’s previous work, check out my review of Yellow Moon from only a few weeks ago.

(Hilarious photo)

4 June – 17 July
By: Anton Chekhov
Director: Benedict Andrews
With: Emily Barclay, Gareth Davies, Judy Davis, Maeve Dermody, John Gaden

It’s truly odd that considering the fact that for all writers at the Perf (past and present) Benedict Andrews constitutes one of our favourite directors, that only one of his shows (The City) has ever been written about here. Well, just to get you up to speed, we’re all pretty big fans, and so the prospect of Andrews taking on Chekhov’s classic with such masterful actors at his disposal is a pretty exhilarating one. There’s not really much else to say. Oh, this play does mark the first, but certainly not last, appearance of another of our favourites, Gareth Davies, in the season.

23 July – 28 August
By: Lally Katz
Director: Simon Stone
With: Charlie Garber, Heather Mitchell, Robyn Nevin

Lally Katz, why aren’t you brought to Sydney more often? Who knows, but let’s just be happy for the ones we get! This play, which Katz wrote specifically for Nevin, is set to be hilarious, and as with all things hilarious, it will be great to have Charlie Garber along for the ride. Simon Stone wins again, getting to direct one our finest actors in a role that is set to stick in the memory for a long time to come.

WINDMILL BABY (Downstairs)
28 July – 21 August
By: David Milroy
Director: Kylie Farmer
With: Roxanne McDonald

Continuing the drawing in of talent from all over Australia, this project comes from Perth-based playwright David Milroy, whose new script has already been seen and read all over the world, from Paris to Ireland. Somehow, Sydney has always been left out, but Belvoir are jumping in to fix that. Along with Jack Charles vs The Crown, this show reaffirms Belvoir’s commitment to supporting Indigenous stories on Australia’s main stages, and considering the play has already won the 2004 Patrick White Award and the 2005 Equity Guild Award, I think we’ll all be better for it.

A Lucy Guerin Inc. and Malthouse Melbourne Production in association with Perth International Arts Festival
31 August – 18 September
Choreographer: Lucy Guerin
With: Stephanie Lake, Alisdair MacIndoe, Talitha Maslin, Harriet Ritchie, Stuart Shugg, Jessica Wong
Hold your hourse, what’s this? Cross-artform programming at Belvoir? This is a new age indeed! Perhaps that like the theatre that this work premiered at (Malthouse) Belvoir is going to become a place for more broader sort of theatrical experimentation. By all accounts this show should be pretty phenomenal, an exploration of the bombardment of media in our society, and again shows that this season is set to be one of the most varied Belvoir seasons yet.

A co-production with The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm
15 September – 9 October
By: Gareth Davies
Director: Thomas Wright
With: Gareth Davies

If there is one show in the season that I am perhaps more exciting about than the Wild Duck it is this show. I have been reading reviews of Black Lung shows for years now and could not be more excited for them to finally come to Sydney. Gareth’s second entry in the season is a one-man plea for respect. I only hope that this production is chaotic as all the descriptions I’ve read of other Black Lung shows. If what I’ve read and heard is true, we are sure to leave this performance truly affected.

24 September – 13 November
By: Ray Lawler
Director: Neil Armfield
With: Robin Nevin, Yael Stone, Helen Thomson, Dan Wyllie

As far as texts go, this is the play I’m least anticipating. The HSC has a way of draining the life out of many things and this play is one of its victims. However, the fact that Neil Armfield, who is barely out the door, is at the helm gives me hope. To quote one of my previous reviews “I’m yet to see an Armfield show I dislike”, and with a cast this strong I doubt I’ll change that opinion. Particularly happy to see Yael Stone working with Armfield again after her brilliant turn in Scorched two years ago.

THE DARK ROOM (Downstairs)
3 – 27 November
By: Angela Betzien
Director: Leticia Caceres
With: Brendan Cowell

Bringing the tally to five out of eight of Australia’s states and territories represented in the season, this new work from the founders of Queensland theatre company Real TV sounds fascinating. Billed a work of great emotional complexity yet theatrical simplicity, my interest has certainly been piqued, not least of all because of the casting of Bredan Cowell, who let’s face it, was totally awesome in SBS cult series Life Support.

19 November – 24 December
By: William Shakespeare
Director: Eamon Flack
With: Alison Bell, Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber, Shelly Lauman

I think I’ve gushed enough already, so all I will say about this last show is that you should go and read my review of the Flack’s Midsummer from December last year, and you’ll know why I’m keen for this new Shakespearian outing. The show completes Gareth Davies acting residency at the theatre this year, one assumes that he will have set up some sort of tent in the rehearsal room by this point.

All in all, I think Myers has delivered a season that answers all the critics. If you want more new Australian plays on our stages, they’re there. If you love the classics, they’re there. If you want more female directors at Belvoir, they’re there. There's even some dance just to mix things up. If you read this blog you’re probably aware I have a pretty strong pro-Belvoir bias, the humanity of the plays offered gets to me pretty much every time, but even I was stunned by quality of the works on offer next year. It’s diverse, drawing on artists from all over the country, and there is not one play that I don’t want to see. Let’s hope they deliver on the hype (that I am creating for myself). If you’re still reading, thanks for putting up with my gushing.

- Simon

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Helpmanns and helping ourselves.

What’s that? There was a big theatre awards ceremony this week? Surely as a blog that presents itself as a place for theatre commentary, “The Perf” should be writing about it (I hear you say). Well guess what, we are! Sort of.

First off, I know most theatre commentators have already discussed this topic, but I feel the need to get something off my chest…

Things that make me happy: The ABC news covering a live performance awards night - did not expect that.

Things that make me unhappy: Half of that coverage being “OMG I can’t BELEEV CATE BLACNHET wasn’t EVEN NOMINANTED>>>>WTFBBQ”. (They seriously talked like that. I could tell they were making spelling mistakes from their tone).

I expect this crap from News Corp, but seriously ABC, if you’re going to cover the thing, which like I said, I was excited you did, then cover the event! Not a meaningless story that was created by the media as an excuse to talk about Cate Blanchett. (I feel I should at this point clarify that I am a massive Cate fan. She is an incredible actor and deserves to be discussed in the media, just not in this ridiculous context). Props on the interview with Ewen Leslie though.

Other than that I really don’t have that much to say about the Helpmanns. There were no big surprises for me, and as I said when the nominations were announced, the most frustrating thing for me is the constant reminder that I missed MTC’s Richard III. Sydney Festival planners, if you’re reading, please bring Richard III to this year’s Sydney Festival. The winner I was most excited about was Version 1.0 who won Best Visual or Physical Theatre Production for their show “This Kind Of Ruckus”. If you read this blog at all last year you’ll know that we’re kind of big fans. Hopefully they will now be commissioned to create new works at all the major theatres. I was also happy that Ewen Leslie won, because I’m also a fan of him (looking forward to The Trial), and that Neil Armfield is as well received in the opera world as he is in the theatre world.

In other exciting theatre news the Sydney Fringe Festival has begun! This is very exciting for a few reasons namely, the three project that we here at the Perf are involved in:

Nathan and myself are in this one! It’s going to be an awesome night of baked goods and short performance works culminating in a festive dance. Good times will be had.


Rip Whitening’s Synchrodestiny Experience
These two are Jenni’s festival babies. The first she assistant directed, and she has produced both of them. Very exciting times for every so please get along to them. In case you haven’t realised, the titles are links to the Fringe page which has times, dates and ticket details.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short bit of self-promotion. You should be getting a review of the Trial sometime next week, so keep checking back for that. Also, there’ll be more self-promotion in a couple of weeks as Applespiel heads to the This Is Not Art in Newcastle straight after the Fringe. Stay with us.

- Simon

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yellow Moon - B Sharp

It’s funny the way by pure accident shows with similar themes can end up being on at the same time. In some cases it even happens that the same show ends up being done within a short period of each other. In my first year of uni, I think there were three Virginia Woolfs going on in Australia at the same time. In my second year, it seemed as if the broader theatre scene was looking to our university for inspiration, as just after we did productions of Titus and Antigone, Bell Shakespeare and Belvoir followed suit. This year, it seems that after however many years of absence there are not one, not two, but THREE Howard Barker plays happening in the region (again, two of them are UOW productions). Now, after only having seen Tusk Tusk at the Wharf a couple of weeks ago, I found myself at another play about teenagers. Oh and the same play was JUST performed in Perth.

Apart from the main characters being troubled youths however, there isn’t much else that ties the two plays together. Whereas Polly Stenham is interested in the failure of middle-class families, David Greig’s poetic play is about a couple of individuals with very different backgrounds. “Stag” Lee (John Shrimpton) comes from a troubled family. With a depressed mother, an uninterested would be stepfather, and no biological father in sight, he is pretty much left to his own devices. This leads to many an altercation with the police and family services. All you need to know about Lee is that he never takes of his hat. It’s embroidered with an image of a proud male deer which as well as looking like an advertisement for a low-carb Toohey’s product, is also where young Lee he gets his nickname. Silent Leila on the other hand is the daughter of migrants, we think, she does after all dress a bit like a Muslim. No one is really sure, all they know is that she never talks. The two are brought together by coincidence, and bound together by crisis. Then follows a relatively standard coming of age story complete with a near-death experience, a hard-working montage, and a shocking revelation.

Told through narration, the play is essentially four actors in a room telling you Leila and Lee’s story, although there are clear characters throughout, there are times when it is actors describing action rather than actors playing actions. This allows a certain freedom of character, with the two older cast members moving fluidly in and out of the various adult roles that have an impact on the lives of the two young protagonists. This narrative style means that the language holds a lot of power in the text. Action is not always necessary for it is often perfectly described with language and to try and represent it would only take away from that description. However, there is always a balance that has to be struck between the narration and the acting to ensure that emotional investment is kept and Greig’s text finds this balance pretty well throughout the play, although there are times when you wonder why you’re being told things rather than just shown them. But it does offer its own beautiful moments where the characters take control of how they are depicted.

Originally written for a youth theatre company, there is a certain immaturity that remains in this script, which is at times tiresome, but also works to the advantage of the main roles. So often when scripts are written for teenagers by adults, the teenagers are either wise beyond their years, or caricatures of teenage angst. Here however, I found them quite realistic. Sure, they are extremes of teenage behaviour that are explored, but they also hit the nerve right on the head with a lot of the little details, starting with Lee’s refusal to take off his hat (the amount of fights that people got into in high school over people stealing their hats was ridiculous).

The cast is quite strong with the two young leads in Estasy and Shrimpton finding a beautiful chemistry together, brewing with hormonal desire. Their older counterparts in Danielle Cormack (who I can’t help but mention used to be in Xena) and Kenneth Moraleda bring an equally playful energy to the small stage.

The most exciting aspect of this production which I probably should have mentioned by now is the physical language that the creative team have brought to the work. Much talked about in the promotional material, but not overbearing at all in the final work, director Susanna Dowling and choreographer Johanna Puglisi have worked with a soundtrack by sound designer Ekrem Mulayim to bring a dance-like physical fluidity to the work. The result is some beautiful illuminations of the poetic text. I found that this attempt to physicalise the subtext of the work was particularly effective for Leila’s character. Given that she is such a reserved presence, there was more to learn about her through this process. When Estasy and Cormack work together this technique is especially beautiful. This physical approach was best used when it was at its most removed from plot points. Occasionally it was used to simply indicate action or place and this was when it sometimes proved unnecessary. However, overall, I was delighted by the subtle investigations into the text which the movement highlighted.

Oh wow, I just remembered that I forgot to mention that there is regular A-Ha referencing in this play. A definite positive. Kenneth Moraleda's heatfelt rendition of "Take On Me" was truly a highlight.

 - Simon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gwen In Purgatory - Belvoir

I am not normally the sort of person to complain about a lack of “Australian stories” on theatre stages. I have a certain amount of belief in the universality of the human race and don’t really care where a play is written or who it is written for as long as it’s good. I’m much more critical of television in this respect, and get really excited whenever home grown shows do well – I was over the moon the other day when I found out that Gruen Nation won the ratings for Wednesday. I think this differing standard is due to the fact that television has a larger audience and stands to affect our culture more dramatically. Anyway, this is getting off topic. The point is that I don’t give plays extra brownie points for being written by Australian playwrights. I think this is perhaps also related to the writing I normally like which is generally more international issue based than local problem based. However, in the case of Gwen In Purgatory, I felt a definite sense of pride that it was written by an Australian for an Australian audience.

If I’m honest with myself, there is one big reason for this – the play is set less than an hour away from my hometown of Goulburn and Goulburn even warrants a mention in the play (even if it is only for our gaol). I’m sure for people who live in New York or London it would be exhausting to get excited about every new film or TV series or play that mentions your home city, but for me, it is downright exhilarating to hear the words “he went to Goulburn” on a stage. Apart from this irrational excitement, it also means that I get most of the local references, which is nice, but far from enough to carry almost two hours of theatre. Fortunately however, Tommy Murphy has written a delightful play with characters who are fascinating and perhaps more to the point, familiar.

Gwen is 90 and has just moved into a new house. Not just any house, but rather one of those new development type places that exist on the edges of towns and look like they were bought from IKEA and then simply put together on site. The sort of place one drives past and thinks “who would ever want to live out here?” To which one answers, “I guess rich retirees who want to get away from the city”. Gwen is certainly not rich, but she is definitely a retiree, perhaps several times over. As we watch this slice of life, we soon discover that her children’s stories are just as important here and are in fact at the centre of the drama that drives the play. What makes it so compelling is that every person who is shown on stage is someone that you’ve met. You’ve met the troubled grandson who’s job has saved him from worse, you’ve met the slimy uncle who’s out to make a buck wherever he can, you’ve met the worried mother who’s trying for a new life. Perhaps the only person one is likely to not have met is the Catholic priest who’s come over from Nigeria, and he is certainly someone worth meeting. This is not to say that they are stereotypes, far from it, but rather that in this case, we are seeing art reflecting life in the positive sense of the term.

It is the characters’ likeability that gives the play its success. With perhaps one exception, I found myself drawn to everyone who appeared, desperate to give them all a fair hearing. I found myself particularly drawn to Peg, whose story of a life dedicated to others I found most touching. Neil Armfield, as always, has brought out the humanity in the play to its fullest, and I can’t really imagine the work in any other director’s hands. It is a compliment to the production that rather than coming out in awe of all the actors, I was simply left with love and affection for the characters. So much these days I spend my time admiring craft rather than content, but there was none of that here, for the stage was too well inhabited.

In the end however, I found myself dissatisfied with the play’s conclusion. It seemed to me that Murphy had created this fruitful situation full of beautifully real and fleshed out characters, only to have it all end rather abruptly. It all went quite fast for me, and I was genuinely waiting for a second act when the lights came up. I knew there was no interval and thus assumed that there was going to be some sort of theatrical break. This is quite an achievement really. I genuinely thought there was at least another 40 minutes of play to go. So to make an hour and 40 feel like only an hour is a tribute to both Armfield and Murphy. But it was also truly disappointing that there was no more material.

However, I’ve come to accept lately that I hate most endings to plays. Good endings are just so hard to find, and especially in a slice of life style play such as this, it is always hard to find the point where that slice finishes. So I guess that’s my only real criticism… I wanted more from the characters. I wanted more story. I wanted a second act that delved even further into this family’s machinations. But for my only desire to be more of the same, I guess that’s a fairly laudable achievement.

- Simon

Monday, August 16, 2010

Woyzeck - B Sharp

I’m not going to lie. I feel a certain trepidation whenever I am told that a show will incorporate dance. It’s not that I don’t like dance, quite the opposite, some of my favourite theatrical moments have involved dance, (the friends who were unfortunate enough to see The Border Project’s “Highway Rock ‘n’ Roll Disaster” with me will never forget my visceral, joyous reaction to that show) it’s just that sometimes, I find that dance can be used very badly in theatre. I think it’s because of how out of place it can often seem, or tacked on, or that perhaps the best dancers in the world are not always the best actors. It may also be because I just don’t get dance and it never really seems to do for me what they director wanted it to do. At its worst it can completely take me out of the play, and even sometimes at its best it simply leaves me with the feeling one gets when watching someone play guitar really fast (Man I wish I could do that!). So I was a little bit worried about seeing Woyzeck, and as it begun with a series of dances in the Belvoir foyer, it took a short time for that fear to dissipate.

It didn’t take me long to realise that this would be the sort of play I would love to love. It does some interesting things (certainly the first show in my four year history at B Sharp that started in the foyer) has some great performances and is based around a great text which is far from treated with reverence. It’s the sort of contemporary investigation of a text that can be truly rewarding when done well. Unfortunately this one only makes it halfway. In her director’s note, Netta Yashctin says that “without forcing a concept onto the work, the audience are free to make up their own view of Woyzeck’s journey.” What this translates to is a complicated web of cultural references and theatrical techniques that often feels in need of a through line or clearer directorial vision. Instead, I was left feeling off-put as an audience member for pretty much the entire time, as each new scene came out of nowhere.

A problem I often find with work like this that when so many different techniques and references are used, with each new scene I am waiting for the trick rather than investing in the scene. Between Katy Perry, the Spice Girls and professional wrestling, to name a few there’s quite a bit of pop culture implanted into this show. Thus, with each new scene often feeling incredibly separate from those around it, I often found myself thinking “what’s the trick with this scene? Will it be a Venga boys dance number? I would really like a Venga Boys dance number” rather than worrying about the characters in the scene, or even the theatrical language. (For the record, there is no Venga Boys dance number).

However, this feeling of being on the backseat the whole time is perhaps Yashctin’s way of dealing with the presence of war in the play. This is another thing she mentions in her programme note as key to the work, yet I feel the production moved away from the physical and mental realities of war. I guess in an attempt to use a more theatrical language of movement and gesture, the harsh reality of war was softened. Instead perhaps, the feeling of unease that I felt throughout the play was the desired effect, the lingering presence of war keeping me on the back foot.

There is only one truly unifying force in this play, and that is Michael Pigott’s performance in the leading role. Woyzeck’s journey into mental decay is a hard one for any actor to take on, but Pigott does so with gusto, finding a perfect rhythm for the character’s decaying body. But more than anything else, it is his honesty in the role that really wins you over. It would be easy for Woyzeck’s metaphysical monologues to fall in posturing and falsity, but one never doubts Pigott as he negotiates the twisting and turning of Woyzeck’s existential arguments. It is Pigott’s consistency that one can hold onto throughout the show as it bounces from scene to scene.

Now I worry that this all sounds a bit negative when in fact I genuinely enjoyed the show. I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet, but there are great live musicians and for all my fears, dance was used really well. I was always sure that the next scene was going to be the one that would draw me in and leave me raving. But sadly it never quite made it there. Instead it is a production that is worth seeing for the performances, for the exciting approach to a classic text, for the opportunity to see a work that is likely to never be produced again on such a stage for a long time, but which failed to leave me in awe.


P.S. We don’t discuss this often on here, but this show has a great marketing image. This is an underrated achievement. I hate most marketing images. Perhaps not most, but certainly a lot. Thought it was worth a mention - Well done to whichever person in charge of marketing was responsible.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dirty Butterfly (B Sharp)

I remember when I used to dislike Wayne Blair. This negativity was mostly based on seeing him as the guest actor in “An Oaktree” two years ago, a show where a different performer was led through the play every night at downstairs Belvoir (go here for more info). I felt that Blair failed to make any interesting choices or take any risks, and as such, the show felt really flat. I had also heard horrible things about his direction of “The Removalists” at STC last year. In retrospect, to base my opinion of him on a theatrical experiment that was not his own, and a show that I didn’t even see was perhaps unfair. The last two shows of his I have seen have been truly fantastic. The first, being Ruben Guthrie, which I certainly spoke in adoration of to many of my friends but I think because of impending overseas travel I never blogged about, and now this new production of Debbie Tucker Green’s harrowing Dirty Butterfly. It seems my opinion of Wayne Blair is now distinctly positive.

Before seeing this play, I kept hearing that it was “forceful”. This is a pretty apt description. From the moment the actors enter the space, the audience is on the back foot. At first it’s because of the language. Debbie Tucker Green doesn’t waste time with unnecessary words. While she takes advantage of repetition, she doesn’t use excess flourish, but rather writes lines that cut straight through the excess of normal speech to simply state what the character needs to say, and it is certainly a need with these characters rather than a want. This play deals with the needs of three broken individuals. Every word they speak is a plea to another character, or perhaps to something larger.

Just as the language starts to settle with you, and you’ve got a handle of its rhythms and idiosyncrasies, the content begins to push at you. It becomes apparent that the conversation being had is not in relation to any small matter, but rather that of a continuously abusive relationship. The story of this abuse, and the other character’s contrasting responses to it, are then extracted from all three characters for the audience to experience. Then, just as the audience is beginning to come to terms with the story and deal with its horrible implications, the scene changes, we are given a moment of relief (with the best use of an S Club 7 track you will ever hear) before the physical ramifications of the story we have just been told are thrust upon us in all their horror. Wayne Blair doesn’t pull any of the play’s punches, and the final third of the play is played out on a pure white floor, whilst a broken and bruised woman bleeds all over this cleaner’s dream from her many wounds and possible miscarriage. At no point are we given the chance to feel comfortable as the play winds to a tragic close.

Dirty Butterfly is an unforgiving experience. It deals with some disturbing issues that our society normally tries to sweep under the carpet: domestic violence, sexual pleasure from violence, and the simple but unachievable dreams of the underclass. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few laughs, or heart-warming moments. But they are few and far between, and are more often created by the audience in a vain attempt to find some comfort in the content. Debbie Tucker Green’s interests clearly lie in the needs of the less fortunate and here their desires and frustrations are beautifully yet horrifically articulated. This was her debut, and it is not surprising that it made quite an impact. I’m very glad it finally made its way to Australia.

There are two other noteworthy points I feel I need to make about this production. Firstly, it had a majority non-white, majority female cast – an absolute rarity for the Australian stage and something it should receive just recognition for. Secondly, the acting. I have been very proud of the last two shows I’ve seen in Sydney. Like A Fishbone at the Wharf showcased two incredible performances from Anita Hegh and Marta Dusseldorp (more on that to come) and now this show, which demanded incredible dedication from its actors. Zoe Houghton, Dorian Nkono & Sara Zwangobani all pull out stellar performances, finding the sense and rhythm of Tucker Green’s often complex language. Whether it is the joy Zoe finds in her character’s harassment of the others, or Sara’s delightful description of how she sometimes pretends to be a barista, the actors bring an incredible energy to these dark stories. I only hope this trend of exceptional acting continues.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Starfuckers (Merrigong)

Gossip magazines are ridiculous. Seriously. Every time I go to the doctor’s or to Gwynneville take-a-way (for life), I am confused as to why I’ve begun to read about some d-list celebrity’s trip to the key chain store. I mean why can’t they just get their key-chains from friends as awkward “I didn’t know what to get you so I got you a key-chain” gifts like the rest of the world? Then we wouldn’t have to read about it. Instead we’d probably be reading about a c-list celebrity’s haircut disaster…

It is this sort of reportage of minutiae that is the basis of Laura Caesar and Malcolm Whittaker’s Starfuckers, a durational performance which was performed at Merrigong theatre in the Bob Peet Studio as part of the Independent Producer’s Programme. The set-up is very simple: Malcolm and Laura browse through gossip magazines and read from them, but instead of articles about celebrities, they read stories about their relationship, which has lasted eight years. Once they have finished reading the story, they rip out that particular page of the magazine and shred it in a document shredder. The shreds are then used to create paper-mâché models of famous couples from history, which are placed on a long table in the centre of the room. This process continues until the couple runs out of stories.

The result is mesmerising. I entered the space at 7pm, with the show finishing at about 9:50pm on this particular evening. The marketing makes clear that audience are willing to come and go as they please and stay for as long as they desire, but the desire to leave never took hold. The stories were honest and engaging and left me wanting to know more. Malcolm and Laura’s point about the needless voyeurism of these magazines was well made, for as the show continued, I became more and more desirous for anecdotes from their past. With both parties sharing their own side of the same story, there also developed a need to get the complete picture of any situation. If I were to leave, I’d never find out what Laura thought about the story Malcolm just told. If I stayed, there was a possibility I would hear her opinion. Also, as the piece went on and heard more and more stories from their relationship, I found myself reflecting on my own relationships and the similarities and differences I found.

The most interesting stories were those from the more distant past. Stories from recent times gave interesting insights, but there was something about hearing what these two people were like in their formative years that added another dimension to the experience. It is hard to reconcile your knowledge of someone as a performance artist with their stories of being a scout when they were younger. It was also the honesty of the stories that gave them their power, with everything from random fantasies about other partners, to masturbatory desires, to day-by-day frustrations one has with their partner being discussed. I think this played perfectly into the weird voyeurism of magazine culture that they were exploring.

This was my first durational performance. I’ve often read about durational works and thought “that sounds like a great idea, I wonder if it would actually be interesting to watch for four hours?” This one was, and I sincerely hope it will be restaged at some point so you can all get along to it.

- Simon

Monday, July 26, 2010

And we're back!

Ok so we lied. It’s taken a little bit longer than expected to get back on top of things here at the Perf, but back we are and I couldn’t be more excited. The reviews and commentary will hopefully come thick and fast in the coming weeks. As you may have noticed if you’ve been here before, we’ve changed the look of the Perf a bit. As we’re no longer students, I guess we’re trying to make the place look more professional or something. We’re also changing the purpose of the Perf a little bit at the moment so the new look goes with the new direction I suppose. This change has come out of a question we’ve been asking ourselves a bit…

Being both an artist and a critic – can it be done?
Last year when Mark and I started this blog, the idea was to reflect on plays in terms of our emerging practice as theatre and performance students. If we’re honest with ourselves, which we are, it was formed more out of a desire to get invited to Alison Croggon’s awesome blog barbeques and hang out with her and other cool theatre people than out of any great desire to write about theatre (whether or not Alison Croggon hosts such events is still a matter of contention). Once we started writing however, we really enjoyed it, and sometimes it provided a much needed outlet for all the thoughts that one harbours when they spend their days reading about, performing in and seeing theatre.

However, as we neared the end of our careers as students and began venturing out into the real world of the theatre, our fun was thrown into a very different light. We were certainly given pause for thought, when at our Equity day we were faced with a director whose play we had rather unfavourably written about. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems associated with being a creative and then ending up in the world of being a critic. My biggest worry is that one day I’m going to be auditioning for a play, and a director will recognise my name and call me out on the bad review I once gave them back when I was a theatre student. I’d like to think this wouldn’t happen, but it’s a possibility I have to accept if I want to keep reviewing plays.

I guess my response is that firstly, we here at the Perf don’t take ourselves too seriously and neither should you (if you need proof simply look to your right at our amazing photo). However in my discussions with the newest permanent member of the Perf team, Jenni (whom you may remember from our brief Sydney festival coverage) she brought up something else which I’d like to share with you here:

“When we review we do so as much to share a personal opinion as to create a discussion. We say something in the hope that someone will disagree openly because without honest commentary how can we ever hope to improve or really know how the theatre being created is being received and affecting people? If everyone smiles and says "good work" when is there growth? Should there not be an honest sharing of opinions that is not taken personally or as any kind of definitive statement but a starting point for discussion? When we stop taking offence and start openly discussing without worrying about repercussions, and if everyone starts doing the same, I think we start to create the debate and genuine sharing of feelings that good art should create in a community. And in not taking things too seriously this is possible.” 

I feel like we have this discussion about the nature and usefulness of criticism at least several times a year and must say it's a bit weird discussing it from the inside. But  I guess our hope is, as Jenni points out, that a sustained critical community will lead to a building, and bettering of the theatre community through discussion. That’s really what makes a blog different to a newspaper I feel. You can leave your responses straight after without having to wait for an editor to decide to print your letter. 

In line with this hope, I’m hoping that the Perf can become a place not just for reviews, but also for interviews, opinions and who knows, maybe even academic writings about theatre. We’re going to continue shamelessly advertising our own projects, (the photos that are in this blog post for no reason other than to make it look less like a mass of text are from Applespiel's recent hit "Snail Piece" which was performed at Underbelly Arts Festival) and those of other artists we love, and hopefully just have a good time while we do it. Please, if you have thoughts on this, hit us up with comments. We’d love to hear from you.

As well as this change in direction, which isn't that much of a change, we’re also having another changing of the guard. Mark is no longer writing from the Perf, and as I mentioned before, we’ve been joined by Jenni. If you would like to get into contact with us, or learn what we look like, those details are to the right of the screen on the home page.

It’s exciting times ahead for us. First review back is coming at any moment…

- Simon

Monday, May 24, 2010

Neglect and Excitement

So you're probably all wondering what's been going on with The Perf. More likely, you haven't even thought about us because we haven't been writing. I'd like to apologise for this. We're all crazy busy here with our various commitments (honours and America) but rest assured that when I return to Australian shores, there will be blogs ahoy!

As for the moment, I'm currently doing a theatre for social change trip in Guatemala. I thought it might be of interest to some of you. We're keeping a blog of reflections and outlines of the work we're doing so check it out at

Give me a month and we'll be back to regular updates and incendiary comments. It's gonna be fun.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tiny Stadiums

Tonight marks the start of Quarterbred's Tiny Stadiums Festival, taking place over the next two weeks in Erskineville.

The festival features new works from many interdisciplinary artists from Sydney, Melbourne and Wollongong. Our friends Tiger Two Times are presenting their work Nature League, and Mark and I will be there for most of the two weeks as part of Applespiel's Sexy New Urban Design Team... You can find us in the Town Hall, everyday, from 11am till 5pm. This Saturday I'll also be talking at the Future of Art Symposium.
You can find more information at

It would be great to see you there!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

(Belated) Sydney Festival Wrap-Up

Something of a nearly irrelevantly late post on the Sydney festival, and I apologise for that, offering pathetic excuses of University showings and preparing for Quarterbred’s Tiny Stadiums. But it was an enjoyable Sydney Festival for me, one where I managed to see a couple of things that tickled my fancy, and I know of a few other shows that friends saw and enjoyed, so I thought it would be a shame not to write about it.

Also, almost as a gentle reminder, I just received a Sydney Festival t-shirt in the mail.

Sydney Festival is a great time to not have much money. There are almost always things on that I want to see, and these things cost money. So one has to make some very tough decisions. I made it to four shows, and regrettably missed three, not to mention missing out on a lot of the free Domain action.


Thomas Ostermeier’s Hamlet, from the acclaimed German company Schaubühne, was the theatrical headliner of the festival. Big, fancy, foreign and cool. For me, Hamlet brought a standard that raises a lot of questions about Australian theatre. This level of theatre (not necessarily scale, but more the qualitative level) should be the rule, not the exception. There was a sharpness in this production, an immediacy and a thrilling sensation of theatre achieving great things, which I’ve only felt in a handful of shows (it’s quite easy to bring War of the Roses to mind). But perhaps I’m romanticising festival fare a bit too much. There was something to be said for the unshakeable feeling that this was a work that has now toured the world extensively; that the show itself was no longer the exciting challenge for the company that it may have been at the beginning - but does that matter to a new, Australian audience? Many of the moments of Lars stepping out of Hamlet to talk to the audience and make jokes, while done with an integrity that flowed through his entire performance, wore thin on me a little. And applause after jokes (in theatre and in stand-up) has always been a pet hate of mine. Perhaps I just felt slightly uncomfortable with how ‘cool’ the show was. And perhaps I am simply looking for things to criticise. Because I did think this show was fantastic.


A few days after Giselle, I saw Muziektheater Transparant’s Ruhe. After my initial excitement of Hamlet coming to Australia wore off, I started getting very excited about this show. And I was right, because this was my pick of the festival. This production was everything I wanted it to be, but I shall try and stop myself from waxing lyrical on it.
Ruhe is a combination of liedert by Schubert and Van Parys, and monologues drawn from interviews with ex-SS members taken in the 1960s. We enter University of Sydney’s Great Hall, which with its stained glass windows, huge organ and high ceiling is the perfect house for this show. Two hundred scattered, assorted wooden chairs for the audience form a giant circle pointing towards a small empty middle of the room. As we sit, eleven men stand on their chairs and begin to sing. Their voices are incredible, and on this Wednesday afternoon I find myself mesmerised by the sounds filling the building. Soon, a woman stands, and as the songs come to a close, begins to tell us of her childhood. She is dutch, and as a young girl, through completely normal and understandable circumstances became a member of the SS.
I am reminded on working on Talking to Terrorists with Mark Haslam last year. All the strengths of verbatim theatre are here; an easily relatable humanity and earnest desire to tell a story.
Both the performers, Han Kerckhoffs and Truus te Selle, are phenomenal. Real, honest, and fleshed out with a complexity and proficiency that honours the real life figures from whom the monologues have been formed.
Throughout the performance, there is a weight of history that I find tremendously interesting. It is serious, but not oppressively heavy as in the case that investigates subject material like this. The result was a liberation allowing insight into the people behind the history, culminating in the final song being performed next to a David Claerbout’s visual material, a haunting photo from the era with moving trees but statue-still people.
I cannot stress enough (though I did try not to) how beautiful, humbling and superbly crafted this piece of theatre was. Precisely what I wanted from my festival experience.

The Rest

I’ve already talked about Giselle, and Jenni has written of Six Characters (never have I wanted to leave a show at interval until that show). I wish I had seen Urban Theatre Project’s The Fence, I heard many good things about it and I had intended to find the time to make it. Similarly, apparently Oedipus Loves You was very interesting and I would have liked to have seen it. Finally, I missed out on Tempest: Without a Body and Fractured Again, both of which I read about after the event.

Did you see anything that we haven’t covered? Or maybe something we have? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Sydney Festival’s Giselle is a new interpretation of the romantic ballet brought to us by internation dance ensemble Fabulous Beast, heralded by director/choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan. Giselle traditionally tells the story of a young girl dying because of the selfish men in her life, and this production sells itself as giving the ballet a line-dancing face lift. As it turns out, I guess I really like line dancing. There just was a whole lot of the show I didn’t like.

Designer Sophie Charalambous and Lighting Designer Adam Silverman have done a wonderful job of creating a series of stunning images. From preshow, where Giselle and a lone telegraph pole give sharp silhouettes against the back wall, I was consistently impressed by the clarity and effectiveness of the design. Similarly I thought the sound was great, if a tad repetitive by the end of the show. It belied an urgency and gravity that dwelled beneath the narrative.

The narrative itself, however, was abysmal. When Giselle’s father, the narrator, climbed atop the telegraph pole and began to introduce us to the characters and their relationships, I was irked, but permissive. Surely this part is just putting the story into the space so that the imagery does not need to rely on storytelling? And surely the childish and slapstick exchanges being carried out between the performers to match the narrator are just a bit of fun as we warm into the piece? Alas, no. The entire first half was a messy, indulgent, and most importantly unfunny acting out of a reworked Giselle story. It felt like the ensemble was working under a “show AND tell” mantra, as the narrator’s unnecessary intrusions were then played out for far too long, with all the dramatic integrity and comic maturity of a year nine camp skit. I was quite prepared for this show to be light-hearted and funny, but as Pat Dunn’s butcher ad went nearly as long as the painfully juvenile sex scene, I just felt embarrassed to be there.

It wasn’t all terrible. The scenes between Giselle and her mentally-ill brother w
ere very solid, mature pieces of drama. Similarly the tragedy of the mute and outcasted Giselle came across with a very earnest clarity at times, but unfortunately the rest of the story in all its irrelevance ruined these would-be effecting moments. The line dancing too was amazing, but there just wasn’t enough of it (particularly considering the show was marketed on that).

But then Giselle dies from an asthma attack brought on by shock. And something amazing happens. The performance becomes breathtakingly amazing. We move from an awful rendition of the story to phenomenally beautiful dance, music and images. The spirits in the graveyard thrown dust into the side-lit air, and weave themselves across the space and through each other with sublime movements and huge noose-like ropes, accompanied by the angelic voice of a male soprano. The lights and music frame the action with remarkable efficiency, setting the tone for this second half of the Giselle story. Giselle’s brother enters and is gracefully dispatched by the spirits. The same nearly happens to Giselle’s lover, but she steps in, and the two share a beautifully choreographed ballet sequence. I was entranced the entire time. The performance ends with Giselle’s lover stepping back as she returns to her grave at sunrise.

This show was possibly the most frustrating performance I have ever seen. I felt insulted and embarrassed for the first forty minutes, and then the end featured an absolutely beautiful sequence of images. I worry that this is typical Festival fare where the strengths are outweighed by pandering to an audience that just isn’t there. But even though the first half did nothing to serve the piece, the finale brought a depth of beauty that I am very glad I witnessed.

- Nathan

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Six Characters In Search Of An Author
Thursday, 21st January

Hello again,

I will once more venture to "guest appear" on Simon and Mark's blog as I am in need of a discussion about the "Six Characters in Search of an Author" adaptation that is playing as part of the Sydney Festival. To break tradition, it is still on. So you can actually go and see this one and I look forward to hearing what people thought.

I was disappointed. Not to say that there weren't many excellent things about the production but just that in terms of what it was marketed as eg. THE PLAY and what we saw, it was different. There is much to be said about the positive impact a re-imagining of a classic work can have and I think this can work marvellously (as reviews of Hamlet this year have shown). But when the adaptation dampens what is at the heart of the work and its main thesis, there is a point at which I become a purist and get a bit disgruntled (excellent word).

The company "Headlong" has made the setting an office building and reset it as a film company who are editing their latest documentary when six characters enter demanding their story be filmed. The set is fantastic. It is detailed and layered with a corridor and whole other room visible from a large window in the set of the office created on the stage- used to great effect. Angled monitors ensure that whenever the action of the characters is being recreated for their film we are able to see this from a variety of angles even if our view on stage is obscured. In this way the text is updated to feature a commentary on multi-media authorship and not just that of the print writer. This premise was what disappointed me. The realisation using the various techniques introduced by employing cameras was often inspired but lost what I see as the central theme of Pirandello's work: the theatre.

There is an immediacy that is created when the six characters revolt against theatrical construction in a theatre itself that is lost when the bulk of the text is wound up in the screen medium. Had this been a film version I think it would have been entirely appropriate. Instead, until its conclusion, the audience is not made aware at all of the theatrical environment they inhabit. I will hint that this is addressed in part at the conclusion with a series of alternate endings, that become painfully self-reflexive, but the power is diminished substantially. I also felt like the role of the Son and Mother had been cut to make way for the Father and Stepdaughter which meant their purpose in being unrealised characters went unpronounced and they simply became so. Some of the actors were also very soft so words were lost and audience members reshuffled to get closer which is unexpected amongst an accomplished cast. While the acting was strong I found the interpretation of the characters to be two dimensional and while yes, this is the point of them to an extent, we still need/want to relate and sympathise with them. In making this too shallow we have no vested interest in them or their cause and I felt as if we should have.

The ending was inconclusive, but in the sense that I was unsure what the director/adapter intended the piece to be inconclusive about. I feel this is no longer a critique based on my own assumptions of what the play should have been, but a critique on the construction of the piece in general. As realities begin to collide it becomes more and more self-referential with actors discussing the Sydney Festival itself and a literal death of the author occurring. Seemingly this is to highlight the 'what is reality?' theme but it does so in such a blatant way that I felt like it actually mocked and cheapened the conventions that essentially it was using- and not in a sophisticated way.

To avoid being overly negative though, there are a lot of reasons why you should see this play. You should see it for the sets and to see the more clever uses of the film genre to adapt it and make it something entirely new. You should see it for the acting (The Emperor' from "Star Wars" playing the Father). You should see it for the sound design, musical interludes and for the movement work. These being used to destabilise the naturalistic devices and blur the realities of the Characters and the editing team and are very powerful.

While I could view it as a separate text, I could not help but think that the adaptation cut out a lot of reasons why the Pirandello text is meaningful in the theatre, taking away much of the depth and meaning. I think that making texts new and relevant is always important but not when you aim to produce a specific work and lose what it is that makes that work great. You should also see it so that you can disagree with me.


Friday, January 15, 2010

The Manganiyar Seduction
Friday, January 15th, 2010

Hi guys, This is Jenni here and as Simon just mentioned, I will be doing the "guest appearances" for the Sydney Festival which means that if you begin to be irritated by my posts, in much the same way as a TV guest spot would work, I will suddenly disappear in mysterious circumstances only to return years later with a new face and a completely different writing style which you will much prefer, possibly even becoming a permanent character. I enjoy writing overly long sentences with too many commas and have been known to create the largest paragraphs known to man- so I apologise in advance. In spite of this and to continue Simon's tradition, my first review is of a show that has closed. I am hopeful though that the company will return at some p
oint in which case I would encourage everyone to go see them.

The Manganiyar Seduction is a musical experience. A fully sold out show erupts to a standing ovation after 70 minutes of traditional Indian music that has steadily built from a sole musician to almost 40 musicians. Roysten Abel, the creator of the piece, has smartly placed each musician in a box, as you can see from the picture, which illuminates when the artist is playing. Until their debut a velvet red curtain covers the musicians. This creates suspense and the impetus to watch as we know that all will reveal themselves but not when or what kind of instrument they will be playing.

While aurally stunning, the light show that accompanies the well placed musicians makes it visually stunning as well. This piece could easily have been like so many things we see all the time. It could have been a traditional orchestral setup with chairs or build in a predictable way and as we expect this to happen our expectations are exceeded. The craft involved is clear when all the boxes have eventually been revealed and still we watch with anticipation as it continues to build and be interesting although seemingly they have shown all at their disposal.
It is a song of devotion and love, evident in the passionate delivery from all involved which is infectious with many in the audience clapping and moving to the rhythms.

The unique nature of the piece makes it powerful. Even if you were familiar with the music, the presentation is so innovative that this would be a new experience while its theatrical construction makes it accessible for even those unfamiliar. Abel, who speaks after the pieve, believes in the transcendental nature of the music, specifically referencing conflicts such as that currently occurring in Austrlaia with Indian students. I think that more immediately the impact lies in bringing to Australian audiences something that so openly celebrates and shares in a very culturally specific way a universal message. A dialogue is constructed between the performers in the shared space of the performance. Whether or not this transfers across to real spaces, it makes an impact for the duration and is a visceral experience that is completely moving and enlivening.

- Jenni

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We're still here!

Hey all,

Sorry there hasn’t been a lot of action here of late. We apparently decided to take a Christmas holiday without alerting anyone. Mark and I have been pretty busy with various things, such as family celebrations and TINY STADIUMS FESTIVAL. Well that last one was Mark. I have been busy getting ready to fly to America where I will be studying for 6 months. In fact, I’m already there (here). This is a photo of me on a chairlift at a ski resort in Utah.
Isn’t the internet amazing?

As some of you may know, or have guessed by now, this means there’ll be some changes here in Perf land. Mark and I are pretty keen to keep the blog happening, but with me on the other side of the world, and his career blossoming (read: doing honours) it’s going to be a little bit harder for us to keep up as the past few months have shown. Thus, to keep the blog sustainable, we’re adding another permanent contributor. His name is Nathan, and I’m sure you’ll here lots more about him soon. Perhaps we’ll even have an embarrassing photo to share.

Not only that! We’re also getting a guest in to help us ramp up coverage of the Sydney Festival, which is currently sweeping the city (of Sydney). That guest’s name is Jenni, and she is pretty awesome.

So in conclusion, hopefully there’ll be some excellent Sydney Festival reviews happening shortly, and perhaps even a “Hi, I’m Nathan” from Nathan. If no embarrassing photo is posted I suggest a mass comment petition for one. There’s only so much I can do from over here… for the record, I’m still going to blog about any theatre I see, it will just be more “this was cool” blogging rather than “you should go see this” blogging. Which to be fair, I never did that much of anyway because I generally wrote about shows that were closed.

So in conclusion, enjoy our new bloggers and show them you love them by commenting lots about how you disagree with everything they have to say. Also, thanks a lot to everyone who has supported us over this year. When Mark and I first threw this idea around in the car, we certainly never thought it would have anywhere near the impact on our lives that it has had. A long time ago Mark and I had plans to do a post of "hilarious photos of Simon and Mark". As a little memento of our first year in the blogging world, here's a photo that definitely fits that description.

- Simon

P.S. Did you know that Mark, Nathan and I are all members of the now renowned performance collective Applespiel, and that the now renowned performance collective Applespiel has a facebook page? Well now you do… it is located at: Right here. Alternatively, just search for Applespiel on facebook. However you find us, you should definitely become a fan.