Archive | January, 2015

The Winslow Boy

28 Jan

Terence Rattigan is often considered a master craftsman of the ‘well made play’. As a natural result, his work goes in and out of fashion.

Adding to this potential for supposed redundancy is the fact The Winslow Boy is set in the years before the First World War.

But the play is a historical drama. It was written a quarter of a century after the time it is set. If elements of the plot and aspects of the characters seem quaint they’re deliberately so. It’s as though Rattigan is looking back at a past era with a gentle nostalgia.

And it’s an oddly gentle play.

Or should I just say it’s odd? Not the overly simple ‘well made play’ the fashionable might dismiss it as.

What’s it about?

Ronnie Winslow’s reputation has been besmirched and must be cleared. It’s a fight for justice.

But the play’s not a court room drama. Set entirely in the Winslow’s sitting room, we’re not seriously expected to follow the legal machinations.

Plenty of people tell the Winslow’s not to bother, so perhaps it’s an exploration of an obsession with justice and its cost.

But the stakes are deliberately set low. Ronnie Winslow is a school boy who is accused of stealing a postal note and is expelled. “Let right be done” becomes the catch cry. But the sacrifices needed in order to achieve this ‘right’ are much smaller than might be imagined. Indeed, it’s quite possible to argue that many of the characters are better off because of their sacrifice, and I don’t mean on some nebulous quasi-spiritual level, but rather on a mundane common sense level. And it’s rather telling that little Ronnie is not particularly concerned about the outcome of the case.

So am I criticizing the play?

Perhaps.

But I can’t overstate how engaging it is. Rattigan seems incapable of writing a dull scene.

Photo by Mark Banks

Photo by Mark Banks

And this production, directed by Nanette Frew, is a very enjoyable night of theatre. The cast provide some excellent performances. David Stewart-Hunter as Ronnie’s fixated father delivers an intriguing mix of humour, pigheadedness and pathos. Sonya Kerr as Ronnie’s suffragette sister Catherine is intelligent, witty and humane. It’s a beautiful role and Kerr does it magnificently. Roger Gimblett’s Sir Robert Morton is brilliantly articulate and perfectly pompous. Tom Massey’s Desmond Curry is a wonderful portrait of the likeable loser.

(Considering Catherine’s relationships with these three men is hard to believe Rattigan hadn’t swallowed his copy of Pride and Prejudice whole.)

But back to my discussion of the play.

What’s it about?

About two and a half hours of enjoyment.*

Veronica Kaye

The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan

The Genesian Theatre til 14 Feb

http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/

* Like Rattigan, I’ve done some swallowing and regurgitating with this line.

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Puncture

27 Jan

In a lot of ways, a production like this is outside my brief.

To start with, no one talks. They dance. They sing. They do the most extraordinary aerial acrobatics. But they don’t talk.

It’s spectacular and beautiful. Director Patrick Nolan brings together the various elements wonderfully. Composer Stefan Gregory and choir director Elizabeth Scott create a fascinating world of sound which choreographer Kathryn Puie’s brilliant dancers inhabit.

It’s a tale of intimacy and desire, though tale is probably too strong a word. The various vignettes, inspired by an enormous breadth of time and place, suggest the connection between courtship and dance.

Photo by Prudence Upton

                Photo by Prudence Upton

I began this response with a mischievous admission of inadequacy.

And I’ll end it with another:
The human body; where would we be without it?

Veronica Kaye

Puncture

Riverside Theatre

21- 25 Jan

http://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/puncture-2/

Bad

16 Jan

There aren’t many shows in Sydney with a philosopher as one of characters. Alright, this is a clown version of a philosopher. Some people would say there’s no other sort. (An assertion which the rest of my response, with its usual intellectual pretensions, will no doubt provide supporting evidence.)

Penny Greenhalgh and Kate Walder’s Bad, directed by Scott Witt, is delightfully playful.

Cate Blanchett and Geoffery Rush are about to perform in that much under-rated classic, Mum Where’s my Bucket? However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the two great actors are now unavailable. Step in these two clowns. They find both the execution and the concept of acting challenging.

Photo by Yael Stempler

Photo by Yael Stempler

We usually assume the task of acting is difficult. That’s why we have the myth of the great actor, and fit people like Blanchett and Rush into it.

We don’t usually assume the concept of acting is problematic. We probably should. Pretending to be other people? Fine, if you can actually get your head around what other people are. Which is doubly difficult if you acknowledge you don’t really know who you are.

Bad is an exuberant, engaging subversion of our ideas about theatre.

Penny Greenhalgh’s philosopher is a gentle yet powerful parody of erudition and expertise.  Kate Walder’s stunt man is bouncy and almost irrepressible. He’s textured by the slightest hint of pathos. Dressed to be fired out of a cannon, and filled with the requisite thought-free positivity, just occasionally it seems he has intimations of his fate.

Both performers have a relaxed and deliberate imprecision. It’s as though their characters can’t keep up with the demands of the supposedly important roles they have accepted. This makes them joyfully human and the show a refreshing response to the over seriousness of theatre.

Veronica Kaye

 

Bad by Penny Greenhalgh and Kate Walder

Old Fitz til Jan 31st,  Late Sessions

http://www.oldfitztheatre.com/bad

Masterclass

15 Jan

It’s tempting to call this a masterclass in comic acting, and not just because as a writer about theatre my natural default position is banality posturing as wit. Created by Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber, Masterclass is very funny and brilliantly acted.

Davies and Garber give beautifully measured performances. Both their physical and vocal work has a wonderful texture. They know when to go exuberantly large, and they know when to defer to a casual everydudeness. (OK, that’s probably not a word. Or at least not til now.)

Davies plays a great actor. Garber plays one of his creations. Garber attempts to convince Davies to return to the stage. However, the actor feels the risk to a potential audience is just too high – because of the enormous power of his performances.

Photo by Marnya Rothe

Photo by Marnya Rothe

Some people might call it undergraduate humour. It delights in silliness. It takes aim at tropes that the more world weary amongst us have long recognized and now thoughtlessly accept.

The play is an exploration of our obsession with the great actor. It’s a disturbing element of our theatre culture, and here it’s playfully parodied.  (An analogy of my own perverse invention: the obsession with acting in the drama theatre is like an obsession with anesthetic in the surgical theatre. Of course you have to get it right, but it’s hardly the point of the process. )

Masterclass also raises interesting philosophical questions about the concept of character. Clearly, characters are not real people and the play has a lot of self aware fun with this idea. Characters lack autonomy. That’s the worm in the heart of our grand tradition of representational theatre: our ‘great’ theatre that purports to tell us the way things actually are. Of course, it doesn’t, and can’t; not if it struggles to present the dynamic of choice. Though some might say my argument is merely undergraduate.

Veronica Kaye

 

Masterclass by Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber

presented by Red Line Productions

Old Fitzroy Theatre  til 31st Jan

http://www.oldfitztheatre.com/tickets-masterclass