Archive | March, 2013

Theatre and Theology

29 Mar

In the Gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Judas wails:

“Jesus!

You’ve started to believe the things they say of you,

You really do believe this talk of God is true.

And all the good you’ve done will soon be swept away,

You’ve begun to matter more than the things you say!”

Which sums up many a modern attitude to Christianity.

It’s the ethical teachings of Jesus that are the important part, not the ontology. And these ethical teachings can be distilled down to ‘we should be nice to each other’ – and we hardly need Christianity to tell us that.

The dismissal of the onotological is fascinating, not because I believe Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnation of the divine, but because of what it suggests about our culture.

And I want to explore what it suggests about our theatre culture, in particular.

I don’t write theatre reviews, but rather what I call responses. I bang on about what the plays say – at least, what they say to me. I’m interested in their ‘ethics’, so to speak.

But what about their ‘onotology’? Their attitude to being, so to speak.

We give this little thought, just as we give little thought to the claims made about Jesus.  In fact, like the claims about Jesus, we’re not even sure what we’re being asked to accept.

The onotological claim made about Jesus is that he was both human and divine.

What is the ontological claim made about theatre?

That it represents some aspect of reality. What we see on stage is meant, on some level, to reflect an aspect of human existence.

This might seem obvious. After all, it’s why we can admire a juggler, but despite her obvious skill, won’t consider her work to be theatre.

So, by making theatre, we’re saying something about the nature of existence.

A piece of theatre says existence is like this.

Or it’s like that.

Today, I don’t want to quibble about the this or that.

I just want to point out that theatre is always saying existence is like something.

And what’s the word that keeps repeating in this formula?

Existence is like….

What enormous weight is being carried by that one little word – like.

 

My Easter mystery.

 

Veronica Kaye

 

 

 

The Credeaux Canvas

25 Mar

A captivating tale, performed beautifully; what more could you ask for?

But naturalism in theatre is perfectly positioned for even more: the exploration of some pretty big questions.

Naturalism takes as its fundamental premise that there’s a Truth, and so no form is more suited to the exploration of “what is true?”

And The Credeaux Canvas by Keith Bunin does this in a way that’s utterly entertaining and entirely accessible. Funny and very moving, it’s an exquisitely crafted piece that asks ‘what is real?’

What is real art?

What is real love?

Director Byron Kaye’s production is simple and engaging. The performances he elicits from his cast are wonderful. The shifting relationships between lovers Amelia (Kitty Hopwood) and Jamie (Richard Cornally) and artist Winston (Alex Shore) are marvelously realized. Jennie Dibley, as Tess Anderson Rose, the art dealer they’re attempting to con, delivers a strong portrait of a surprisingly complex woman.

smlprod15

(A philosophical digression: the worm at the heart of naturalism is its desire to look backwards, to say ‘this is a record of the world’. But it ain’t over til it’s over, and so no record can ever be complete. Naturalism ignores the unpredictability pregnant in Time. This makes its theatrical incarnations only the more fascinating, as theatre is wedded to presenting change. And so theatrical naturalism is committed to saying that it’s change we could have seen coming all along. So, in one sense, no change at all.)

The fascination of The Credeaux Canvas is that it subverts naturalism in another way. It reminds us that reality, Truth, is a made thing. We don’t just discover the truth, we create it. We don’t just witness reality, we love it or hate it. We are not outsiders. We are in it and of it.

The Credeaux Canvas offers insights into why we attempt to capture Life at all. And it reminds us why it’s such an magnificently alluring fool’s errand.

Veronica Kaye

The Credeaux Canvas 

at TAP Gallery til 6 April

http://www.tapgallery.org.au/2013/02/sure-foot-productions-presents-the-credeaux-canvas-from-20th-march-2013-to-6th-april-201/

Knowing Your Stuff

23 Mar

Recently I  inadvertently called Martin McDonagh Mark McDonagh.

It was a silly mistake and one I shouldn’t have made. I was appreciative of being corrected.

What interested me was that because of this dumb mistake  I was accused of “not knowing my stuff”.

At this point, I’m supposed to list my qualifications. The 4 years I spent at NIDA. The Masters degree I have from RADA. The Phd I’m working on at Julliard.

Then I’m supposed to mention all the well known people I’ve worked with and the ground breaking critically acclaimed projects I’ve done.

But I won’t do any of this.

I have absolutely NO experience.

And I have absolutely NO qualifications to write about theatre.

NONE WHATSOEVER.

Except what I share with the rest of the human race.

Veronica Kaye

The Pillowman

23 Mar

It’s funny what we’ll laugh at. Context has a lot to do with it. I usually don’t find torture and the murder of children especially amusing.

But in the context of a finely produced, thought provoking play, I apparently do.

Director Luke Rogers’ production of Martin McDonagh’s play is a top night of theatre. The cast is uniformly excellent.

The Pillowman promo Web (1)

The Pillowman explores storytelling. Katurian is being interrogated about his fiction. What drives him to tell stories? What are the consequences of listening to them?

The answer is a rather vicious circle. It’s what the world inflicts on us that drives us to create stories. And our stories, in turn, affect how we see the world, and what we inflict on it.

In The Pillowman, all of the characters write stories, tell stories, or eagerly listen to them – with, admittedly, some pretty dreadful consequences.

The play presents us as a story driven species.

And that’s a story we’ve been telling ourselves quite a bit lately. It’s the idea behind much  of post-war European philosophy and contemporary American pragmatism.

Of course, it’s not the only story we can tell ourselves.

I often think that the difference between conservatives and progressives is summed up in their attitudes to narrative.

The progressives acknowledge that we tell ourselves stories, all the time. And they tell the tale that all stories are equal.

The conservatives assert there’s only one story, but argue about which one it is. And prefer to call it The Truth.

I tell myself I’m a progressive. It’s a story that boosts my ego.

But, after 140 minutes of high stakes storytelling, The Pillowman left me feeling that perhaps I’m neither progressive or conservative. It left me feeling that maybe there is something to Zen Buddhism and the ideas of Simone Weil. It left me feeling that perhaps we need to learn to shut the f*#*# up.

This is not a criticism. You gotta pay a play that’s utterly absorbing in performance and deeply troubling in the days that follow.

But The Pillowman did make me question the value of stories. It made me feel that perhaps we need to learn to stop the chatter, that maybe we need to learn to be quiet, and wait.

Veronica Kaye

The Pillowman

at New Theatre til 13 April

http://www.newtheatre.org.au/

Doing it yourself

3 Mar

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that whenever a playwright writes a good play, she will be vigorously pursued by prestigious theatre companies.

“My dear Mr Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Prestigious Theatre Company has a new artistic director?”

Mr Bennet replied he had not.

“Apparently,” returned she, “he is very interested in new Australian work.”

Mr Bennet remained silent. His wife took this as invitation to continue.

“Interested in new Australian work! What a fine thing for our girls!”

“How so? How can it affect them?”

“Mr Bennet, how can you be so tiresome? You know they are all playwrights. This new artistic director will no doubt want to produce their plays.”

Mr Bennet returned to his book.

“Now I’m the first to admit,” continued Mrs Bennet, “I find Lizzy’s plays a little confusing. Other people find them amusing, but to my mind, she never seems to be saying what she really means.”

“It’s referred to as irony,” Mr Bennet stated flatly.

“I know that!” replied Mrs Bennett.

“Of course you do, dear” said Mr Bennet, even more flatly.

Satisfied, Mrs Bennet continued. “And Mary’s plays are so wordy, and I can’t quite understand them, but they’re very clever, I’m sure. And Lydia’s plays are skittish, the work of an immature artist, but they were good enough for Short and Sweet. And Jane, quiet unassuming Jane; she’s always done the right thing. Who wouldn’t want to produce her plays?”

– from the manuscript of the (unpublished) Jane Austen novel Approval and Validation 

Sometimes you just gotta to do it yourself .

You can write a damn good play and it still mightn’t get produced.

Maybe it’s political. And I don’t mean who owes who, or who’s competing with who, or even who’s sleeping with who. I mean political.

Every play is an attempt to convince the audience to see the world in a particular way. Every play is an attempt to affect the world. Your plays will be put on by people who share your vision of the world. And, if there already are a whole lot of people who share your vision, you probably wouldn’t have bothered writing the play in the first place.

So be prepared to do it yourself. And be proud of it.

Veronica Kaye