Archive | November, 2014

The Les Robinson Story and Belle of the Cross

25 Nov

Double bills are intriguing things. Two works that were created independently are suddenly placed together, resonating in unforeseen ways.

This is not a bad thing. To complain about it would be the equivalent of complaining about friendship. In friendship we become different. Our friends draw out certain of our qualities and suppress others.  In fact, it could be asked, what are we before friendship, or indeed before any of our relationships? How much sense does it really make to talk of our own self, independent of the world? Where would this self exist?

‘Oh, if only he/she/they knew the real me.’

The ‘real me’ is a fabrication.

Both of the plays in this double bill are (in essence) one-person shows about a person; which is what started me thinking about the above issue.

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

The Les Robinson Story written by Kieran Carroll and directed by Ron Hadley tells the story of one of Sydney’s iconic story tellers. I’d never heard of him.

Apparently, Les wrote prose in the modernist style, lived in caves, and was under-appreciated by the Great World. The first two aspects make him a character (more on this in a moment) and the last grants him universal appeal. Hasn’t everyone, at sometime, felt they’re under-appreciated? ‘If only they knew the real me.’

When I say Les is a character, I don’t mean the performance by Martin Portus isn’t rich or subtle. Rather what’s offered to us by this play is Les’ difference; how he was different from his world, and from ours. It’s nostalgic and sentimental, and many people will warm to it.

Belle of the Cross written by Angelika Fremd and directed by David Richie presents us with a woman slipping into homelessness. Gertraud Ingeborg’s performance is moving and engaging. Belle’s situation is not easy. She didn’t choose it. And, so we’re told, she dies without anyone knowing who she really was…….

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

This idea begins the play and ends it.

The beauty of this piece, and what resonates so magically and thought-provokingly with the first of the double bill, is this:

The second time* we’re told that Belle died unknown, we’re asked ‘Who hasn’t? Who won’t?’ And Ingeborg poses the question with a magnificent and mischievous twinkle in her eye, one encompassing both the pity and the glory of the human condition.

Veronica Kaye

 

The Les Robinson Story by Kieran Carroll

Belle of the Cross by Angelika Fremd

at The Old Fitz, until 29 Nov

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

 

* Apologies to Angelika Fremd for a quote which is probably a paraphrasing, and hopefully not wildly inaccurate.

 

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“Approval and Validation”

25 Nov

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 

JaneAustenCassandraWatercolour

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

Leaves

24 Nov

The title could be part of some meta-theatrical stage direction:

(End of Act One. Lights come up on stunned theatre reviewer. She Leaves.)

I didn’t. I stayed for the whole performance. And found it quite fascinating.

Recently, however, I have fallen into the dreadful habit of avoiding writing about shows. (And it’s not that I’m just following my mother’s advice: if you can’t say anything nice…….)

I even received an email from a publicist, who politely asked whether I was ever Ever EVER going to write about the show I’d attended.

I ignored her email. I went to other shows. I didn’t write about them either.

Eventually I wrote this reply:

“Dear Polite Publicist,

I’ve thought a lot about your show. 

To be honest, it wasn’t my cup of tea, so I would prefer not to write about it. 

I appreciate my response is utterly subjective, and as you might know from my previous writings, somewhat idiosyncratic. 

I wish the artists involved all the best.

I try to write about all the work I’m invited to, but occasionally I think it’s best to remain silent. As a working dramatist myself, there have been several occasions where I have wished a critic simply hadn’t written, rather than allowing their alienation from (or incomprehension of) the play’s themes to be expressed as shallow negativity about the production and the writing.

Apologies for any inconvenience.

Yours, V”

But I don’t do traditional criticism. (You know the type: Armed with cliches, and addicted to hyperbole, you relentlessly evaluate. Evaluate the acting. Evaluate the script. Evaluate the lighting. Evaluate the costumes. Hey, evaluate the seats if you’re on a roll.)

I don’t do that type of writing, so my excuse won’t cut it.

I write responses. I write about what the play made me think about.

Leaves by Steve McGrath is about three men hitting fifty. That’s the story – if that’s the right word for this extended sitcom.

Yes, they’re hitting the ‘Big Five  O’.

That phrase – ‘the Big Five O’ – was used fifty times in the play. (OK, I’m falling back on traditional critical methods). But at least I didn’t say the phrase was used ‘Five O’ times. I just said the word.

Which is my point. Diversion.

Earlier, I used the term meta-theatrical, and it’s this very element that made this piece so intriguing.

Steve McGrath’s character at one moment avoids a difficult topic with a quip. He does it a lot. But this time he openly acknowledges it’s exactly what he’s just done.

Which seems to me what the whole play does. Avoids serious issues.

I turn fifty this week. (Seriously.) The issues of the characters are not mine. Unless it be the inability to honestly face what really matters.

Leaves

I grew up wanting to believe humour was subversive. I wanted to think it mocked the grown-ups, indicted the power holders, toppled the pompous.

But I’ve come to realize that the opposite, and many would say the obvious, is also true.

As well as subversion, humour can be diversion. Don’t think about this, don’t address that, just look over there!

The play has some excellent one liners and it’s thought provoking for that reason.

Ironically (or not), the stand out performance moment is McGrath on film. (I can’t tell you more, because of the spoiler rule.) The film projections that are peppered through out this production have the effect of making what happens on stage appear even less real, even more off the point.

There’s also inordinate talk of women. None of whom are present. But then none of the three male characters really are either. These characters are overgrown children. A question: Does comedy require that?

But the more pressing question is, at fifty, or indeed at any age, have we acknowledged what matters, and are we engaging with it?

In its paradoxical and playful way, this production left me with some serious thoughts about being funny. (And so inspired the following bad pun.)

Humour as diversion. Entertainment. Come in to the theatre. Leave your troubles outside. Enjoy.

Humour as subversion. Exittainment. You’ve seen the show. You’ve been empowered. Now leave. And change the world.

Veronica Kaye

 

Leaves by Steve McGrath

King Street Theatre til Nov 29

http://www.kingstreettheatre.com.au/

The Way Things Work

12 Nov

Ever since Dorothy Parker quipped of The House Beautiful that it was the Play Lousy, the more attention seeking of the critical fraternity have dreamed of such gift titles.

And so, if I was of this infantile nature, I would pounce on The Way Things Work and say that it’s Not The Way Plays Work.

But Aidan Fennessy’s play is intriguingly nontraditional in its structure. Two actors play six separate characters in three distinct scenes. The satisfaction of character development is sacrificed for the pleasure of discovering plot connections.

Leland Kean’s cast has fun with the comedy. On opening night there were fluency issues, but these will iron out.

In the first of the triptych, Nicholas Papademetriou is a state minister accused of corruption. He claims that corruption is endemic and systematic whenever there’s a hierarchical power structure.

Photo by Zak Kaczmarek

Photo by Zak Kaczmarek

Without denying the need to explore other possible power structures, the minister’s argument is rather absolutist. A little like saying that human beings will inevitably suffer disease so why bother looking after your health? Or I’ll be tired tonight so why get out of bed this morning?

Corruption is real. But cynicism merely justifies it. It’s one of the ideologies that enables it.

In the final scene, in a deliciously provocative moment, Ashley Lyons plays a hit man searching for a type of honour. The character refers to the Anzacs. ‘They did what was right.’ Does he clearly connect this with what actually happened to them? If this is honour, who’d want it?

A play like this sends you off into the night (a night perhaps both literal and metaphorical) asking whether we have developed the ethical tools to build an honourable society?

Veronica Kaye

 

The Way Things Work by Aidan Fennessy

A Rock Surfers Theatre Company production

Bondi Pavilion til Nov 29

http://rocksurfers.org/

Platonov

10 Nov

People desiring but never acting.

Chekhov’s plays usually have me thinking about cowardice.

And one evening I will finally muster the courage to just get up half way through the first act and walk out.

Of course, I’m joking.

Platonov is early Chekhov, and more happens in it than usual for the master. (Perhaps too much. And there’s an atypical focus on one character; a young man and his relationships with women. Which I could patronizingly and erroneously suggest is typical of young male heterosexual writers.)

But I don’t want to overstate any of this. This is fascinating theatre, and not just because it offers an insight into the masterpieces that were to come later.

The language of Anthony Skuse’s adaptation is beautifully pitched. Grounded in the late nineteenth century origins of the play, it still speaks with a contemporary living voice.

Photo by Matthew Neville

Photo by Matthew Neville

But the primary joy of this production is the performances. Skuse has gathered an extraordinary group of actors and has created a space in which the entire cast create mesmerizing work.

I’ll mention only four. (It’s a fourteen hander. See it for a master class in acting.)

Charlie Garber gives us a thoroughly watchable Platonov. Part charisma, part moral outrage, part self loathing, it’s all leavened with just a sprinkle of humour. Many of the female characters love him, and I suspect so will the audience. As his simple, gentle wife, Matilda Ridgway is heartbreakingly phenomenal. Suzanne Pereira as Anna gives us dignity at odds with desire, and it’s a deeply moving portrait. Geraldine Hakewill plays Sofya with a tense stillness, an intriguing balance between empowerment and bewilderment.

It’s a big play, but I’ll end with reference to a single moment.

Platonov snaps “What God do you serve? What God do any of us serve?” It’s Chekhov’s challenge. Is this (and the plays that follow) an indictment of particular individuals or of an entire society?

We are flawed. The world is flawed. But do we make the world or does the world make us? This is the gloriously humane tension in Chekhov’s vision. It’s what makes him such a compelling dramatist. And it’s what this production captures so wonderfully.

Veronica Kaye

 

Platonov by Anton Chekhov

directed & adapted by Anthony Skuse

presented by Mophead & Catnip Productions

ATYP, Studio One til 22 Nov

http://www.atyp.com.au/

Daylight Saving

10 Nov

Sometimes I wish I was one of those writers who confuse mean-spiritedness with wit, and word games with truth. If I was, I could have begun my response like this:

“Daylight savings; it’s so confusing! Do you gain an hour? Or do you lose an hour? See this production for the definitive answer. You lose two hours twenty.”

What critics forget, when they write this sort of nonsense, is that these jokes have no doubt already been made in the rehearsal room.

Daylight Saving by Nick Enright is simply a good bit of fun. And Adam Cook’s production is deliberately and delightfully daggy.

Photo by Helen White

Photo by Helen White

At the end of the show you do have to put your watch forward 25 years – because the play’s sensibly been left in its late eighties setting.

A light weight meditation on fidelity, loneliness and lost time, it’s peppered with crazy characters. A celebrity chef, a Wimbledon champion, a Stanford professor, and a host of others sit down to dinner around a table in Pittwater.

The cast have appropriate larks with all this. Rachel Gordon and Christopher Stollery get both laughs and sympathy as the troubled couple. Ian Stenlake is suitably charming and repulsive at turns as the visiting Yank. Belinda Giblin is a wonderfully audacious lady who lunches. (Diana Simmonds deserves a special mention as the voice of the interviewer. The ungenerous might say her performance was such that she was hardly present, but my tip is watch for her name at the next Sydney Theatre Awards.)

Enright’s play is conservatively structured, but shot through with giggle lines. And he gets the last playful laugh. Sitting in the middle of this (now) nostalgic extended sitcom is a thought-provoking exchange:

‘The play’s a crock of shit isn’t it?’

‘Yes. It’s a national classic.’

Veronica Kaye

 

Daylight Saving by Nick Enright

A Darlinghurst Theatre Production

Eternity Playhouse til 30 Nov

http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/

Are literary awards evil?

4 Nov

I was recently asked this question by a close friend, Paul Gilchrist of subtlenuance.

Well-meaning but naïve, Paul shares the qualities of many dramatists. He has a taste for hyperbole, exacerbated by a lack of a consistent moral compass.

Apparently, subtlenuance is soon to administer the inaugural Silver Gull Play Award. This award will recognize a play by a local writer that explores philosophical and political themes. It will be sponsored by the wonderful Buzz from Sydney.

In the hope of intelligent conversation, I asked Paul why the idea of an award bothered him.

He said it didn’t.

And then he referred me to my previously published comments about competition in art.

(Which can be found here https://theatrered.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/the-dreadful-legacy-of-the-greeks/ and here https://theatrered.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/by-way-of-a-manifesto-or-theatre-is-not-olympic-diving/ )

Contemplating evil

Contemplating evil

Most working writers are ambivalent about awards. For them, competition is at best a distraction and at worse destructive. Yet they’ll take the prestige, and the money. They know there’s little danger of being spoilt.

To me, it’s blatantlyobvious why subtlenuance would administer such an award. (See what I did then?)

subtlenuance focuses on political and philosophical theatre.

A clear-eyed pragmatist would say they’re simply attempting to raise the status of their preferred genre.

(A mean-spirited pessimist would say that before promoting intelligent theatre to Australian audiences, those audiences need to be made aware that such theatre is actually possible.)

I wish subtlenuance luck.

Veronica Kaye