Archive | July, 2014

Phaedra

22 Jul

This is a brilliant production.

I’ve made no bones about the fact I don’t like the Greeks. (Not the current ones. The ones who died about 2,500 years ago.  And, no, the bones comment wasn’t an intentional pun.)

The great Greek dramatists explored ‘universals’, or at least that’s what we’re tempted to think. Distance has lent them a grandeur. But they wrote in a society every bit as fractured and filled with contention as ours, and much of what we have raised to the status of classics were in their day part of a hard fought cultural war.

In Greek society one of the great divides was that between the philosophy of rationality and the theatre of fate and deep dark forces. Socrates and Euripides were contemporaries.

When I see current productions of the ancient Greeks, I ask ‘Why are we interested in their myths?’

From a purely personal perspective, I’m suspicious of any view that sees the world as ruled by fate and irrationality. It seems like just one more way of disempowering ourselves, of trying to mask the fact that we enjoy lives of extraordinary privilege, and hence of unprecedented responsibility. If the Furies were to drag me off today and I was to die horribly, blind and in exile, it would not override the fact that up until this point I’ve lived 49 years without ever being hungry except through choice.

Photo by Sasha Cohen

Photo by Sasha Cohen

But I started by suggesting that Michael Dean’s production of Euripides’ play is brilliant. And it is. It’s extraordinarily inventive and a visual treat. The cast are marvellous. The individualised characters (Danielle Baynes as Phaedra, Melissa Brownlow as the Nurse, Richard Hilliar as Hippolytus and Katrina Rautenberg as Theseus) are played with a beautiful strength, which powerfully highlights the tragedy of the conclusion. The Chorus (Sinead Curry, Cheyne Fynn, Nathaniel Scotcher and Jennifer White) is wonderfully mischievous, both fun and foreboding. The use of pop music is frighteningly effective, suggesting the hidden menace lying behind our seemingly harmless daydreams and fantasies.

Phaedra is a reworking of Euripides’ Hippolytus. It’s a myth of the power of sexual desire. In the ancient Greek world, humans are the playthings of the gods. Phaedra’s passion is a divine punishment.

So what’s our modern myth of sexuality? A sort of flat biological reductionism. The consequence of our decidedly anti-existential myth is that sexuality is robbed of both its magic and danger. And where did our dull unhelpful myth come from? From the victory of the rational viewpoint. So perhaps the Greeks are worth a revisit.

Veronica Kaye

 

Phaedra (based on Hippolytus by Euripides)

TAP Gallery til 26th July

http://www.liesliesandpropaganda.com/

 

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Book of Days

16 Jul

There’s a powerful set piece in the first act of Book of Days. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say it deals with the way the announcement of a death is received. Beautifully staged and cleverly written, it perfectly presents the predominant theme of the play – hypocrisy.

Langford Wilson’s play is sort of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, but with murder. (It’s not an appropriation. It’s definitely a subversion.)

Both plays are set in small Midwest towns.

Photograph © Bob Seary

Photograph © Bob Seary

Ultimately, Our Town presents small town life through the lens of the eternal; its mocking of the parochial is gentle to the extreme, and the play firmly asserts the value of the everyday, and of every life.

Book of Days offers a vision far less comforting. There are some seriously bad people in this play – and they’re respected members of the community.

Some audience members might find the second act unusual, undecided about the way the play becomes somewhat smaller, folding down to a whodunit.

But I think that’s the play’s purpose. It’s part of the American culture wars. It’s saying ‘What’s wrong with our simple dream?’ And it finds guilty parties.

Elsie Edgerton-Till’s production is terrific and her use of the space is magical. The performances are sensational. Kate Fraser creates a brilliantly engaging Ruth Hoch, the salt of the earth no-nonsense truth teller. The conceit of this play is that Ruth is playing Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s play. And like Joan, Ruth fights both Church and State. I’d further draw the contrasts and comparisons between Ruth and Joan, but I’d be guilty of dreadful spoilers.

In this play, there are characters guilty of far worse: Kyle Walmsley gives a chilling portrait of the intelligent, urbane and frighteningly calculating Reverend Bobby Graves. Simon Davey creates a marvelous portrait of a manipulative snake of a politician.

And a final word on Georgia Hopkins set design: a beautifully space to play, clean and pure, punctuated by only a single tree. The Garden of Eden? The Tree of Knowledge? The Fall from Paradise?

Veronica Kaye

Book of Days by Lanford Wilson

til 9 August

http://newtheatre.org.au/

 

Every Second

9 Jul

There are a lot of angry and envious people in this play.

Ok, there are only four characters, but they’re all in the same situation; they desperately want children.

I’m the worst possible audience for this.

I don’t understand the basic motivation of the characters. I want a child about as much as I want a rhinoceros.

Photo by Louis Dillon-Savage

Photo by Louis Dillon-Savage

So, on one level, I found the whole thing rather frustrating. There’s a grand secret but I wasn’t let in on it. The only explanation offered for the character’s desires was that everyone else had children – which, of course, wasn’t meant as an explanation at all.

The characters are middle class Australians. In one sequence, Georgina Symes’ character says she can control everything except her own uterus, which is a statement of staggering self delusion. It’s a pity this incredible power is not being used to slow climate change or solve third world poverty.

Vanessa Bates’ play is cleverly constructed with plenty of good laugh lines. Shannon Murphy elicits from her cast strong performances. But I couldn’t like any of the characters. (Yes, I’m a bad person – the weirdo who doesn’t want children.)

The set by Andy McDonell is intriguing. It suggests the lake in the park. It suggests a woman’s reproductive organs. It suggests a vortex, dragging the characters down.  This is not a play about finding, or sharing, joy.

Veronica Kaye

 

Every Second by Vanessa Bates

Eternity Playhouse until 27 July

http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/

 

La Ronde

6 Jul

Written in the late nineteenth century, the question any current production of this play asks is its relevance.

This production contemporises costume and place names.  It’s happening now.

Foucault threw out an extraordinary challenge when he published The History of Sexuality.  Excluding the deep time of evolution, what history can sex possibly have? Isn’t sexuality just biological, not cultural? Isn’t it a timeless universal?

This production of Arthur Schnitzler’s play is fascinating because it makes an audience question whether a clear-eyed look at a supposed universal can, in fact, be historically specific. Forward looking in its time, is the play backward looking now? (It’s worth noting that the play is decidedly heterosexual. And, one would hope, the dynamic of class has changed.)

laronde-05

But the play is certainly about sex. Each of the scenes has a similar structure: pre-coital discussion, blackout for the act, then post-coital discussion. (The fact we don’t see the act itself is a powerful comment about its ineffable nature.)

The other aspect of the structure that’s intriguing is the suggestion of frequent infidelity. Perhaps not every one of the ten characters is actually being unfaithful, but each appears in two scenes, with a different lover. This highlights the strangeness of sexuality, so personal yet so ubiquitous.

The performances are good, both touching and funny (an achievement considering the tricky acoustics of the venue). Brendon Taylor as the Writer, Amanda Maple-Brown as the Actress and Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou as the Sweet Girl are particularly engaging.

Steven Hopley’s direction is simple and highly effective. He presents the play in the round and this evokes the dance of the title, and intensifies the oddity I referred to earlier: we watch beautiful young couples navigate the most private of moments and at the same time are aware of the social gaze of other audience members.

Is sex the place where the particular and the universal collide? (Or perhaps more accurately, rub up against each other?) And, if so, is this why sex is so crucial to both our sense of identity and our sense of connection?

Veronica Kaye

 

La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler

til July 12

Coronation Hall, 95 Lennox St Newtown

Performances – July 9, 11, 12 – 8pm

Book Now at www.stickytickets.com.au/enigma