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