Archive | December, 2014

Tell Me Again

11 Dec

It’s difficult to avoid spoilers with a production like this.

Both the structure and the subject matter attract them.

But I’ll try to resist the temptation, and so will no doubt write a frustratingly obscure response.

Firstly, I’ll consider the structure.

The play consists of a large number of very short scenes. There’s a pleasure in attempting to work out how these scenes might connect.

Like a cryptic crossword. (A phrase, which if it were question, some might reply with a ‘No thank you’.)

You could argue that empathy is sacrificed to curiosity.

Tell Me Again

I’m assuming that the play’s structure is a gimmick, that it’s purpose is to titillate. But perhaps it’s meant to represent an aspect of human experience.

If so,  it’s not an experience I’m familiar with.

But I suspect some audience members will connect this presented experience with the fate of one of the characters. Which would make for an oddly first person play. (Aside: 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. It’s how Life is observed. So, both artistically and philosophically, Jeanette Cronin’s play is exceedingly intriguing.)

Now that I’ve discussed the structure with a criminal level of obscurity, let me move on to the subject matter.

A couple has a playfully gladiatorial relationship. She, in particular, is a pedantic language user. She derives power from it. She believes language is concrete. This vision eventually seems both ironic and tragic.

Performers Jeanette Cronin and James Lugton are marvelous.  They delicately weave in and out of scenes of humour and pathos.

The whole production, directed by Michael Pigott, has a transcendent beauty. In what could have been disturbingly frenetic, there is a poignant stillness.

Veronica Kaye

 

Tell Me Again by Jeanette Cronin

Old 505 Theatre til Dec 21

http://www.venue505.com/theatre

 

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The God of Carnage

10 Dec

Two couples meet, with the intention of maturely discussing a fight between their children. It’s a neat comic set up, which playwright Yasmina Reza employs to good use.

It’s built upon an enduring myth, a common assertion: that what we call civilization is actually a thin veneer over our essential savagery.

So broad an assertion borders on meaninglessness. It certainly resists easy discussion of its truth or falsity.

So I’ll ignore its veracity, for now, and discuss its appeal.

Why might people choose to believe it? What is the possible purpose of this assertion?

Perhaps it’s an ethical indictment. There are harsh aspects of our society, but we either forget them or choose to ignore them. For example, most of us feel we live decent lives, even though we know there are people elsewhere who are quietly starving.

But there’s another possible purpose of the assertion that we are, in fact, savages. It justifies our moral failings. ‘It‘s just human nature, so how can I be to blame?’

God of Carnage

This production, directed by Steven Hopley, is high energy and good fun. The cast (Jacki Mison, Chris Miller, Hailey McQueen and Yannick Lawry) deliver lively, engaging performances. On the night I attended, there were a few problems with rhythm and pacing, but these are difficult to avoid considering the absurdly tight parameters Reza puts on the setting. Despite the building tensions, the characters must remain in close proximity.

In a single room.

In France.

This production transfers the setting to Australia. (Though there are some disquieting references to Le Monde and the repeated use of the word ‘madam’.) Are these characters Australian? You could question if the relocation works, if you assumed the play is meant to be representational.

Alternatively, you could let the play be an intriguing tease. It tantalizingly offers an old chestnut of reductionism, a broad generalization of supposed universalism, and laughingly asks “Is this really true?”

Veronica Kaye

 

The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

Downstairs TAP Gallery

26 Nov – 7 Dec. (This production has closed.)

Twisted Tree Theatre

The Legend of King O’Malley

1 Dec

The Faust myth is oddly enduring.

It’s fascinating how we’ll repeat stories in which people sell their soul to the devil for earthly rewards; fascinating because who actually believes in the devil? Or, indeed, the soul?

So what’s its meaning? That if you achieve anything (knowledge, influence, sexual allure) you must pay an enormous cost? A cost so disproportionate that you’d have to be mad with self importance to agree to it in the first place?

Nietzsche might call it a slave philosophy. It seems to suggest that anyone who succeeds in this world is inherently evil, and evil will inevitably come to them. A philosophy like that can only be of comfort to the powerless. (Or those wishing to pretend they are more powerless than they actually are – which I usually argue is pretty much anyone who has the time and money to attend theatre in Australia. Myself included.)

In The Legend of King O’Malley the titular character sells his soul for wealth and power. It’s a particularly strange take on the myth because O’Malley was a real person, an American preacher who migrated to Australia and was elected to our fledgling federal parliament.

As O’Malley was a real person, I think it’s safe to assume that the writers, Michael Boddy and Bob Ellis, have invented the whole ‘deal with the devil’ bit. I’m not sure why. (I’m also not sure why the first act, which deals with O’Malley’s time as a preacher, is as long as it is.)

Photo by Afshar Hodar

Photo by Afshar Hodar

Director Phil Rouse’s production is a relentlessly raucous ragtag rat bag revue. (OK, despite being wonderfully high energy, it’s not actually relentlessly raucous. I just got on a roll with the alliteration.) There are beautifully vibrant performances from the entire cast, but there are also some moments of stillness and emotional impact.

James Cook as King O’Malley and Matt Hickey as Billy Hughes do terrific work in the playful scenes, but they change gear magnificently to provide the dramatic heart of the piece.  (Spoiler Alert) It’s during World War One. Prime Minister Hughes supports conscription, but O’Malley does not. O’Malley resigns from Hughes’ cabinet, and then fails to win his seat at the next election. Or indeed any election after that. (O’Malley lived till 1953, and at the time of his death was the last surviving member of our first national parliament.)

When the play was written, in 1970, conscription was Australian policy. We were sending our young men to fight in Vietnam. I suspect this is what led Boddy and Ellis to choose O’Malley’s story. As a piece of political propaganda, arguing that the state exists for the individual and not the opposite, it’s effective and intensely moving.

And perhaps, despite my earlier questioning, the play’s form serves a purpose. Boddy and Ellis’ O’Malley is a shyster and raconteur – so much so that only an appropriation of a grand myth could make sense of him. But he still put us “lazy, dumb” Australians to shame.

Or at least shook us up.

Of course, the Australian people never did vote ‘Yes’ to conscription in the First War. And in 1972, two years after this play was originally presented, we finally voted in a government that ended conscription’s most recent incarnation.

This production is a timely reminder of the power of our elected representatives, and how it’s our responsibility to continue to push them to create a more just society.

Veronica Kaye

The Legend Of King O’Malley by Michael Boddy and Bob Ellis

Seymour Centre til 13 Dec

http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/the-legend-of-king-omalley/