Archive | September, 2014

Through These Lines

30 Sep

Inspired by the letters of Australian women who served as nurses in World War One, Cheryl Ward’s Through These Lines is a very engaging and deeply moving homage.

Cleverly directed by Mary-Anne Gifford and brilliantly performed by a superb cast, this docudrama had me in tears.

Kate Skinner as Sister Florence Whiting gives a particularly powerful performance; she’s the sober soul navigating the awful, and absurd, tension between wooing and warring.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

The production plays with the usual tropes of the WW1 myth; larrikin Australians and incompetent brass, but does so with intriguing invention. It did bother me that the war was presented more as natural disaster than the result of human action, but I’m prepared for a lot more of this over the next four years of the centenary of the conflict. It’s an understandable response to the pity of war, and to the enormous challenge of accepting our role in Big History.

These nurses showed enormous courage. And that’s a virtue we certainly need now if we’re to accept our current role.

Veronica Kaye

 

Through These Lines by Cheryl Ward

Australian National Maritime Museum til Oct 5

http://www.anmm.gov.au/whats-on/calendar/through-these-lines

Brother Daniel

26 Sep

How can we make our ideals become reality? It’s one of the great human dilemmas.

Simone Weil wrote that imaginary good is easy. While our ideas remain in our head, they’re obvious and unproblematic; simple, smooth and flawless. They haven’t yet had to face the roughness, the wild unpredictability, of the external world.

And, in a sense, perhaps all attempts to bring our ideals into fruition are acts of violence. We are, after all, trying to make the world fit our pre-ordained pattern. There’s a type of brutality to it. Like taking the gentle fractal intricacy of a snow flake and forcing it into a round hole. (Like those made by bullets.)

James Balian’s Brother Daniel is a fascinating and intriguing exploration of the complexity and challenge of political action. Director Travis Green presents the tale with tension and humour, and the cast produce some good performances.

Photo by Mark Banks

Photo by Mark Banks

Daniel, played by Adam Hatzimanolis, is being tortured by representatives of a repressive regime, the very regime that twenty years earlier he helped bring to power. Lucinda, played by Mel Dodge, is a young lawyer desperate to help him. She’s a member of a growing student movement, inspired by both the idealism of the earlier revolution and its actual impact. Women didn’t become lawyers in the old days, she reminds Daniel. But Daniel is deeply disillusioned, and not just because of the electrodes. Violence begets violence, but there’s more; the dreadful discordance between dreams and reality.

This is sophisticated theatre. The pleasure and depth of the play is that it offers no simple reading. It reminds us political action is utterly necessary, but won’t tell us how.

Perhaps any such crude certainty would only lay the seeds for future violence? Perhaps we must find our own way, gently.

Veronica Kaye

 

Brother Daniel by James Balian

TAP Gallery til Oct 5

http://www.tapgallery.org.au/brother-danial-8pm-wed-24-sept-sat-27-sept-tues-30-sept-sat-4-oct-4pm-matinees-sun-28-sept-wed-24-sept-upstairs-theatre/

Jade Empress Discovers Australia

23 Sep

If you look to the right of my blog you will see that I divide my articles into various categories. One category is Interviews with Artists.

I do these interviews by email. I ask pretty much the same questions of everyone and then simply publish the answers. It’s an opportunity for artists to promote their shows. Each time, I tell the interviewee to write as little or as much as she likes, and I tell her to feel free to ignore any questions she thinks are just plain stupid.

And there is one question artists often choose to ignore: What would you like your audience to think about, or feel?

If artists do answer the question, it’s common for them to write that the audience can think or feel anything they like. (Which strikes me as simply stating the obvious. Of course audiences will respond in multiple ways to your production. But surely you had an aim.)

I’ve even had artists tell me they don’t want their audiences to think about or feel anything at all.

I find this sort of response extraordinary. Sometimes I imagine these artists have confused ‘think about’ with ‘think’. There’s a reluctance to present theatre that could be perceived as preachy. (Imagine, the audience might squirm uncomfortably in their seats.)

But if a play doesn’t lead its audience to think about particular things then perhaps it has no textual integrity. Romeo and Juliet is about love. What exactly it says about love might be a point of contention, but that’s what the play tries to do: get you thinking, and arguing, about it.

So what am I to make of artists who won’t answer the question ‘What would you like your audience to think about, or feel?’ That they have nothing to say? Or that they are frightened?

Photo by Diana Popovska

Photo by Diana Popovska

 

Neither is true of Jade Empress Discovers Australia.

This cabaret is genuine, heartfelt and courageous. (And it played to a full house. Including a newborn; her presence putting all our theatrical games into perspective.)

Jade tells stories from her life, beginning with her migration from Malaysia as a three-year old. There are stories of good fortune, of finding herself in a lucky country. And there are stories of bad fortune, as she and those around her find themselves victims of racism.

With clever appropriations and subversions of some classic Aussie songs, Jade questions whether Australia could do better. She questions our treatment of refugees and the poor, and asks how we can continue to work for reconciliation with the indigenous people of this land.

Jade has a strong voice, and the accompaniment by Pete Ogilvie is wonderful.

The piece as a whole could be more tightly structured, but it has a moving honesty. And it ends with a question that is simple, sincere and absolutely vital: What will you do to make our country a better place?

Did the audience squirm? Did they think ‘This is not what art is meant to do’?

There was applause, and cheering, and a baby cried.

Veronica Kaye

 

Jade Empress Discovers Australia

Imperial Hotel, Cabaret Room

The season for this production has closed.

https://www.sydneyfringe.com/whats_on/event/12a43b45-2734-42ee-bf3e-e5a84ad4d81e/

Four Dogs and a Bone

19 Sep

Brenda: I want to be famous!

Bradley: Why?

Brenda: I don’t know! *

First and third lines said with equal force.

This encapsulates John Patrick Shanley’s satire on the film industry.

This play is very funny. It’s jam-packed with tremendous one-liners.

Amanda Collins, photo Katy Green-Loughrey

Amanda Collins, photo Katy Green-Loughrey

It’s probably one of Shanley’s less substantial plays. The assertion that the film industry is laughable is hardly ground-breaking stuff. However, an enormous amount of money is invested in the triviality that is film while children starve (in the South Sudan as I write). So that means satires like Four Dogs and a Bone don’t lose their bite.

Shanley has created big characters and director Kate Gaul allows her cast to fill them. Design and blocking is kept appropriately simple, creating the space for linguistic brilliance and joyous hyperbole. There were a few opening night problems with pacing, but these will mend, and the cast will provide a terrific night’s entertainment.

Theatre’s revenge on film. Stage’s little brother is big on budget, but small on substance. And Shanley has fun with this. Victor, played by Paul Gerrard, is a stage writer hungry for money and therefore ripe for seduction by celluloid. Collette, played with glorious energy by Amanda Collins, is the star of the movie, but Collette is hampered by that most disgraceful of descents: she’s a theatre actor. Brenda is Collette’s support in the film and hence her rival in life. (Melinda Dransfield gives a delightful portrait of the nightmare performer: a façade of sweetness masking utter self obsession.) Belinda gleefully tells Colette that she looks grotesque in the daily rushes. As a stage actor, she is too big. A delicious irony – after all, regardless of performance style, big budget film rarely does subtlety.

Veronica Kaye

* Possibly a paraphrasing; my hunger for accuracy unequal to Brenda’s desire for fame.

 

Four Dogs and a Bone by John Patrick Shanley

Old Fitz til 27 Sept

http://www.sitco.net.au/

 

Europe

16 Sep

Old versus new. Stale versus fresh. Sophistication versus naivety. Decadence versus innocence.  Europe versus Australia.

One of these pairs is a false dichotomy: the last one.

Australia is European. (Or Europe is Australian, in case you’re tempted to think I’m making some sort of backward racist statement rather than philosophically dismantling an erroneous distinction.)

Michael Gow’s very funny and thought provoking play was written in 1987, nearly 30 years ago, and it feels like it. It harks back to the experience of an earlier generation, of the 60’s and 70’s, when every Australian intellectual fled to the Old World.

Has Australia become more European in that time? (Is that my ridiculous thesis?) Of course not, but the tyranny of distance has weakened, and we’ve grown more confident.

And that’s the value of James Beach’s very entertaining production; it explores that confidence.

Photo by Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Photo by Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

In the play, Aussie fan Douglas chases European actress Barbara. They’ve had a brief fling when she toured Australia, and he sees no reason why it shouldn’t continue. She’s less certain. (The performances by Pippa Grandison and Andrew Henry are wonderful.)

Just as Barbara is about to go on stage she says ‘I’ll drag my body through this classic again’. (All my quotes are paraphrasing.) She wonders what would happen if she changed the end this time. But, alas, the audience has come to see that particular play. Again. A type of cultural obsessive compulsive disorder?

Barbara continues ‘We constantly redo the classics. Reinterpret them, reclaim them, reject them. And the new plays are just echoes of the old.’ (More paraphrasing.)

Why are we in love with the old? And, no, I don’t buy the whole ‘universals’ argument.

I started this response by suggesting that the obsession with Europe was a thing of the past. But I see the same thought patterns, the same conservativism, repeated every time we choose to produce another Patrick Shanley, Sam Shepherd or Neil La Bute play. (These productions, no matter how well done, often feel like cover bands; the theatrical equivalent of a Madonna Tribute show at the Rooty Hill RSL.) And it’s the same for the rewriting of the classics. Borrowed glory. (And, of course, highly effective pre-marketing. Postmodernism is not the reason why the Broadway musical is now inevitably an appropriation of an earlier text.) And there’s a similar conservatism lurking in our desire to create an Australian canon.

So maybe it’s not Europe. But it’s usually somewhere else, somewhen else. Not here. Not now.

But it could be.

And that’s what this very clever, beautifully performed production made me think about.

Veronica Kaye

 

Europe by Michael Gow

Seymour Centre til 27 Sept

http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/europe/

Year of the Abbott

9 Sep

Seriously, sometimes Sydney theatre can seem like a thought-free zone. Leave your intellect at the door.

But this is an intelligent production; sharp and very funny.

Year of the Abbott begins with Brent Thorpe as Deidre Flick, ‘self funded retiree from Mosman’. She chats to ‘Alan’ on talk-back radio. It’s a beautiful skewering of the uninformed Right.

Year of the Abbott GS pix IMG_0421

The majority of the show is Shane Addison and Timothy Hugh Govers presenting what looks like a TV talk show, but is actually a wonderfully performed satirical revue of the last year of federal politics. They chat to each other and to some fascinating guests. The impersonations of both Rudd (Nathan Lentern) and Abbott (Jonas Holt) are superb.

A show like this reminds us of the power of good satire: we laugh at certain individuals, but the laughter empowers us. We’re not left cynical about the political process; we’re reminded how truly fascinating the whole thing is, and how important.

Veronica Kaye

 

Year of the Abbott

The Den (Chippendale Hotel)

Sat 27 Sept 9.30pm

https://www.sydneyfringe.com/whats_on/search/presenter/24521f7d-3831-4bf1-b67d-4a2844e79484/

Harry and Liv

5 Sep

Harry and Liv are brother and sister, played with delightful irony by brother and sister Evan and Charlotte Kerr.

There’s a playful exuberance to this cabaret. Musical virtuosity is neatly balanced with fun, silly banter.

The venue, despite its lighting and acoustic challenges, has a lounge room charm.

harryliv1

Charlotte Kerr’s opening number, a gentle ballad, reminded me what an extraordinarily beautiful voice she has. As the show continued, I occasionally wished the pace would slow, so I could savour that beauty even more.

However, these two performers have a vibrant, utterly engaging stage presence. They close tonight, but hopefully they’ll be back with more.

Veronica Kaye

Harry and Liv

closes tonight 6 Sept

Glebe Justice Centre (37-47 St Johns Rd)

https://www.sydneyfringe.com/whats_on/event/3b7cc7f9-73f6-4c6e-9e1f-7c7aab51cb2d/