The Wit and Wisdom of Veronica Kaye

26 Oct

The trouble with reviewers is that, ultimately, they’re always writing about themselves. Every evaluation is simply their world view writ large. The more sophisticated critic will acknowledge this, but rarely in a review (usually in a bar).

I, however, will not hide behind any pretense of objectivity.

If it’s going to be all about me ULTIMATELY, then it may as well be all about me INITIALLY.

So, while other theatre writers might present lists of the best they have seen, I prefer to present the best of what I have written.


The Wit and Wisdom of Me

“Theatre is not space flight. When you get it wrong, no-one dies. We just don’t get to visit new worlds. (So, I suppose, it is like space flight.)” By Way of a Manifesto

“We judge art so it does not judge us.” To the Death, 2011

“Don’t give me that crap about theatre being the most natural thing in the world. ‘All the world’s a stage’ is just professional myopia. To footballers, all the world’s a game. To risk assessors, all the world’s an accident waiting to happen. To fishermen, all the world smells of fish.” StoryLines, 2012

“We should be wary when too many of our conversations about theatre sound like demarcation disputes, performance reviews, price negotiations, quality control panels, courts of petty session and magistrate’s verdicts. Only one conversation is vital. And it happens in the desert, when the artist battles with the devil – alone, naked and true – and in that battle forfeits her ego to win her soul. And tired but free, she returns to the city, and scratched in the dirt if necessary, she offers a vision of the kingdom of heaven.” Let the children keep their paint boxes

 “‘I’m only being honest,’ says the bully……It is naïve to think we communicate primarily to tell the truth. ‘Pass the salt’ is far more typical, and meaningful, than ‘That is the salt’. Truth maybe crucial but it is always secondary. We speak, we write, to impact on the world.” A Hoax, 2012

 “The obsession with acting in the drama theatre is like an obsession with anesthetic in the surgical theatre. Of course, you have to get it right, but it’s hardly the point of the process.” Masterclass, 2015

“There have been times and places where drama has been entirely banned. If you can’t see why, you haven’t seen it done well.” The Venetian Twins, 2012

“Reviews are our revenge on theatre. (And not just when we dislike it; after all, even 5 stars is rather parsimonious, considering how many stars there actually are.) In answer to the beautiful multiplicity of theatre, reviews offer a stern monotone. Which is why no-one takes them too seriously. Which is why I don’t write them. (They’re like trying to catch starlight in a jar.) When the Rain Stops Falling, 2012


Now, where are those pigeons?

“To be honest, I find it difficult to be overly interested in judging the technical details of a production.  Maybe I lack something. But I want a play to give me more than the satisfaction that I am superior to it and its creators. No-one survives this life, but I intend to go down fighting. I want a play to arm me for that fight. I want to leave the theatre with more than I entered. And that “more” is not disdain – or even admiration – for the artists. The plays I need are fuel for life; logs to feed our open fire. They give warmth. They give light.  So we’ll gather, in silent fascination, and watch. And as one flickers out, we’ll throw on another, and no two will burn the same. And so we’ll pass this night, the dark and the cold all around us, and know that no dawn comes, except of our own making.” But What’s It All About?

“If a piece of theatre doesn’t appear truthful, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s original.” Conservatism in Theatre 2

“Whenever someone begins a comment with ‘I see a lot of theatre’ I’m left wondering whether it’s a claim to expertise, or just a cry for help.” The Small Poppies, 2013

“People go to the theatre for all sorts of reasons. For me, one of the greatest attractions is the insight it offers into how the world is viewed by others. If we’re asked our values we’re often lost for words. It’s hard to sum up our worldview in a few pithy sentences. It’s like asking a fish to describe the ocean. (Feel free to test the truth of this analogy.)” Shopping Centres and Gutters, 2011

“The problem with the pursuit of excellence is not that you’ll never catch it. The problem is you miss so much else. Doing something without fault is a secondary virtue. The crucial issue is what you’re trying to do, not how well you do it. Surely, it’s better to fail at something worthwhile than succeed at something worthless. Do you really want to be remembered for producing the play that most effectively keeps the world small and cold?”  The Pursuit of Excellence

“I’ve come to accept that people will attempt to inoculate themselves from art. In terms of theatre, most people do this by not going. Those of us forced to go – because of career, or the pursuit of career – adopt other methods. Most of us don’t want to be changed. We don’t want to be challenged. And, considering the lives of unparalleled privilege that most of us enjoy, that’s perfectly understandable.” Theatre as Just a Trick

“Only God knows the complete Truth. And She’s not sharing…What we call the Truth is simply the point at which we cease asking questions.” Dangerous Corner, 2013

“Remember when the most important question was ‘What is to be done?’, rather than ‘Who am I?’” Indian Embrace, 2013

“We reviewers need to keep in mind that if the artist really valued our opinion, they’d ask us to read the script before the production, or at least get us along to a couple of rehearsals. As it is, they ask us in when they’re finished. Obviously, they don’t intend taking what we say that seriously. (Analogy: We think we’re specialists, yet we’re only ever called in for the autopsy.) What are reviews for?

“It’s difficult to see you as serious writer if you won’t help mount a production of your play that could be truly awful. Worthwhile writing challenges established values, so a writer seeking status is as absurd as a spy wanting recognition. ‘But if it was any good wouldn’t someone pay me for it?’ That attitude is loud and clear in our society, and perfectly designed to silence dissent.” Natural Born Producers

“In a capitalist society, co-operation is not encouraged. Competition is. Careerists – people interested primarily in personal advancement – are held up as model citizens. To support this world view, it’s expected that writers about theatre will focus on evaluating performers and productions, as against discussing ideas. And so the prevailing economic structure influences everything; even trivialities like theatre criticism.” His Mother’s Voice,  2014

“Theatre’s particular oddness is that it is not first person. Theatre presents Life from the outside, which is decidedly not how Life is experienced.” Tell Me Again, 2014

“Every evaluation is a political act.” Truth in the Theatre Foyer

Veronica Kaye

Reviewers say the darndest things

14 Oct

Over the last 8 years I’ve been reviewed as a writer and director over 200 times. The vast majority of responses to my work have been very generous-spirited, and some of them have even been intelligent.

There have been exceptions. At times, I’ve been described as unimaginative, mean-spirited and self-indulgent. And I’ve been branded a coward, a racist, a misogynist and a homophobe.

(The last three accusations all came in a single review. Admittedly, it was the work that was so labeled, not me; but when you’re the writer and director of the production such a distinction seems somewhat irrelevant.)

So what do you do when you get a review like that?

I complain.

Of the derogatory reviews listed above, only once did I fail to take the reviewer to task – the time I was accused of cowardice. Insert own joke here.

Each of my complaints was successful, in that the reviewer was willing to discuss the issue in a public forum, or in the case of the alleged racism, misogyny and homophobia, the review was withdrawn.

I want to make clear that I haven’t complained every time I received a less than glowing review. Who’s got the time?

What I do want to suggest is, that every time I elicited the type of response I’m discussing here (that is, a personal moral attack), it was perfectly obvious to me that the play had hit home. It had angered someone. That was never all that happened in the audience; each of those plays received glowing reviews from other critics.

But that anger? Was I pleased about it?


And yes.

Paul Gilchrist


4 Dec

Famous plays have baggage. They have a past. Which is, of course, what makes them interesting to a lot of people.

Having been produced so many times, each new production can end up feeling like a commentary on previous productions. (It’s one of the reasons I like new work. I don’t like to see that much theatre about theatre.)

When you produce Hamlet, a reasonable percentage of audience members will ask ‘Is this about Hamlet or Hamlet?’

Montague Basement’s adaption of Hamlet is a snappy, engaging 90-minute, five-character version. We lose (to name a few) Gertrude, Laertes, Fortinbras, Rosencrantz , Guildenstern and the players. Ophelia and Gertrude are melded and the result is curious. Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are combined and the result is intriguing. And the structure is altered; there aren’t just cuts, there are also rearrangements. And the end………..

If you’re familiar with the text the changes are massive, and ultimately stimulating. Do they simply make the play easier to perform? Or is there a method……… I won’t say to the madness (because friends who weren’t familiar with the play very much enjoyed it. And I’ll add that a woman in the foyer said it was the funniest Hamlet she’d seen.)

Hamlet MB Program-7314

Performances are high quality. Patrick Morrow as Polonius is very funny. Christian Byers as Hamlet is antic, energetic and highly watchable. Lulu Howes as Ophelia is terrific (especially considering the challenging decision to have her witness her father’s death, and then alone on stage descend into madness and commit suicide in a handful of minutes.)

Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s set, with its TV screens and strewn paper, suggests both a teenager’s bedroom and the weight of the thousands of previous productions.

I did miss Laertes and Fortinbras, who are such foils to Hamlet. (The latter especially lifts the play into the political realm; “madness in great ones must not unwatched go”). I did miss Gertrude (especially her response to the lost Ophelia; “I will not speak with her.”) And, most of all, I missed……… but, of course, talking this way only highlights the power of text, and the beguiling allure of the past.

Veronica Kaye

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (sort of)

PACT til Sat 5 Dec

tix and info here



Dinkum Assorted

1 Dec

Another play dominated entirely by female actors. It’s disgusting. All those millennia of oppression – for nothing!

Set in a country biscuit factory during WW2, the fifteen strong all-female cast provides a fun and thought-provoking night out.

Dinkum Assorted is part of that genre that treats war as though it were a natural disaster. And if you’re far enough down the pecking order, I guess it is. These women have to make the best of a difficult situation. And they do, with both fight and laughter.

There are some terrific performances: Colleen Cook as the down-to-earth forewoman; Debra Bryan as the maligned and misunderstood outsider; Bodelle de Ronde as the struggling young mother; Sonya Kerr as the sophisticate facing tough choices; and Amanda Laing and Hannah Raven as the effervescent youngsters dreaming of another world.


Photo by Bob Seary

It’s sort of a musical with all the songs at one end. The closing numbers have huge energy and Laing and Raven’s tap dance is brilliant. The costuming of these numbers, by Kiara Mullooly, is delightfully and gloriously over the top.

Some people might find the book a little dissatisfying; there’s so much in it that some parts can feel a little sparse, but Aronson and director Sahn Millington get the tone right. This is a story of Big History catching up with little people. Sure it’s a tribute to determination, but the play’s also a paean to innocence.

Kerr’s Joan says ‘Don’t make me something I’m not’. De Ronde’s Millie replies ‘It’s what people always do.’

Perhaps in the past we were innocent. It’s a myth we tell. It’s what we always do. I wonder why.

Veronica Kaye

Dinkum Assorted  Book, lyrics & music by Linda Aronson

at New Theatre til 19 Dec

tix and info here

Through a Beaded Lash

1 Dec

Four funerals and a wedding.

Well, not exactly. There are no funerals (on stage). There is a wedding (slightly off stage).

But, despite the humour, the atmosphere is thick with loss.

Robert Allan’s deeply moving play is about the struggle between the acknowledgement of grief and the quest for growth.

With two concurrent time periods, the play is a cleverly structured dialogue between the past and the present.

In the past, we follow the developing relationship between Brent and Adam. Brent (Ryan Henry) performs as a drag queen. With the help of effervescent Zoe (Emily McGowan) and crotchety but lovable Phil (Roger Smith), Brent raises money for those battling the newly recognized Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A charming bumbler, Adam (Oliver Rynn), arrives. The attraction is obvious, but he’s out of his depth. There’s a war going on, and Adam – like so many of the population – has not caught up with the reality.

photo Clare Hawley

Photo by Clare Hawley

In the present, we follow Adam and Zoe twenty odd years on. Played engagingly by Cherilyn Price and Leo Domigan, their friendship has survived, but beyond the fun banter, there’s real tension.

Clever direction by Julie Baz highlights both the continuities and discontinuities between the two time periods and so brings to the fore the fundamental question of the piece: What is, What should be, What can be, our relationship with the past?

Both funny and touching, Through a Beaded Lash is a powerful call both to remember the dead and to remember to live.

And it’s a new play and I congratulate The Depot on that.

I began with a glib reference. Four funerals……..

In the 80’s, 90’s and today, here and worldwide, if only the toll was so low.

It’s more like forty million.


Veronica Kaye

Through a Beaded Lash By Robert Allan

The Depot Theatre til 12 Dec

Tix and info here

Grey Gardens

23 Nov

American royalty. That phrase says it all: the paradox of the great democracy obsessing over the privileged minority.

With book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, Grey Gardens tells the story of a troubled mother and daughter relationship. This particular pair just happen to be Jackie Kennedy’s relations. But, as Noel Coward would say, even duchesses have problems.

The story is presented in two acts. In the first of these, set in 1941, mother and daughter battle out the younger woman’s right to a suitor. Beth Daly and Caitlin Berry do excellent work. And so does Simon McLachlan, who plays the suitor – Joe Kennedy.

Grey Gardens

Photo by Michael Francis, Francis Photography 

The next act is set thirty years on. We’re still in Grey Gardens, the family home, but things have changed. I’m not really sure how. It’s still the same mother and daughter and they’re still fighting, but they’ve become cat ladies, living in squalor. Standard music theatre fare this is not. The two roles are now played respectively (and powerfully) by Maggie Blinco and Beth Daly.

Directed by Jay James-Moody, the show is technically and musically tight. Squabbalogic have a reputation for quality and it’s well deserved. The show’s all class (though considering my earlier comments this might sound like a cheap pun.)

It was pointed out to the audience that the true cost of the production might be much more than will be recouped by ticket sales. Theatre’s a tough business and money must be saved where ever possible. For example, it appears Squabbalogic has purchased the rights for only two of the acts of this three act musical.

Of course, it’s not a three act musical – but the greatest challenge of Grey Gardens, or perhaps its most intriguing element, is that missing thirty years.

Veronica Kaye

Grey Gardens (Book Doug Wright, Music Scott Frankel, Lyrics Michael Korie)

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, til Dec 12

tix and info  here

Dot Dot Dot

19 Nov

New work! Thank God. And a big thank you to Gareth Boylan and the Old 505 for presenting it.

Dot Dot Dot by Drew Fairley is a murder mystery set in fin de siècle Australia. It’s a rollicking yarn with terrific performances and some beautiful set pieces. (In particular, one of these pieces is a very amusing, suspense building scene between two policemen, played wonderfully by Gerard Carroll and Matt Abell-King.)

The Crime genre often derives its appeal from its exploration of three concepts: Truth, Causation and Fear.

Truth: Whodunnit? In Fairley’s play we seek a murderer, the infamous ‘Noah’, a psychopath who kills people in pairs; two school girls, two policeman, two theatre critics (OK, maybe not the last pair – which only proves Noah is disturbed – but you get the idea.) But who can lead us to the Truth of the murderer’s identity? There’s the media, with a media baron portrayed with fitting smugness by Carroll. There’s a medium; a sideshow clairvoyant and raconteur played with a fascinating mix of fear and guile by Natalie Venettacci. And there’s the delusional dope addict, played as an intriguing battle between strength and vulnerability by Lucy Miller. But, Truth is a slippery fish; a product of the ocean it swims in…….but more on that later.


Causation: the Crime genre needs connections. Actions must clearly lead to consequences which must lead clearly to other actions. The Crime genre does not do Random. The horrors of Life are not denied but rather made sense of – at least, on one level. This tidying up of the rough edges of Life probably accounts for much of the genre’s popularity. It also makes possible one of its most attractive features: the complicated plot. Fairley’s script delivers, with a plot which is both complex and intriguing, but ultimately crystal clear. Director Gareth Boylan weaves together beautifully the many moments, characters and locations.

Fear: this third in my trifecta of Crime might appear to contradict the second. But, of course, Fear is the disease for which apparent Causation is the cure. It is the exploration of Fear and the environment it creates (the sea the fish swims in) that lifts this play from its genre roots. Fear allows us to be manipulated. I suspect Fairley set the play at the eve of Federation to suggest that Fear is a congenital disease from which this country suffers. He could have further explored the idea that the historical Federation was indeed a direct result of Fear: the states decided to band together because of the illusory threat of the ‘Asian hordes’ that would supposedly overrun this tiny outpost of European civilization. He might have explored that idea……but his target is more contemporary than the fear mongers of the past.

Veronica Kaye

Dot Dot Dot by Drew Fairley

at Old 505 Theatre til 28 Nov

Tix and info here