Archive | November, 2015

Grey Gardens

23 Nov

American royalty. That phrase says it all: the paradox of the great democracy obsessing over the privileged minority.

With book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, Grey Gardens tells the story of a troubled mother and daughter relationship. This particular pair just happen to be Jackie Kennedy’s relations. But, as Noel Coward would say, even duchesses have problems.

The story is presented in two acts. In the first of these, set in 1941, mother and daughter battle out the younger woman’s right to a suitor. Beth Daly and Caitlin Berry do excellent work. And so does Simon McLachlan, who plays the suitor – Joe Kennedy.

Grey Gardens

Photo by Michael Francis, Francis Photography 

The next act is set thirty years on. We’re still in Grey Gardens, the family home, but things have changed. I’m not really sure how. It’s still the same mother and daughter and they’re still fighting, but they’ve become cat ladies, living in squalor. Standard music theatre fare this is not. The two roles are now played respectively (and powerfully) by Maggie Blinco and Beth Daly.

Directed by Jay James-Moody, the show is technically and musically tight. Squabbalogic have a reputation for quality and it’s well deserved. The show’s all class (though considering my earlier comments this might sound like a cheap pun.)

It was pointed out to the audience that the true cost of the production might be much more than will be recouped by ticket sales. Theatre’s a tough business and money must be saved where ever possible. For example, it appears Squabbalogic has purchased the rights for only two of the acts of this three act musical.

Of course, it’s not a three act musical – but the greatest challenge of Grey Gardens, or perhaps its most intriguing element, is that missing thirty years.

Veronica Kaye

Grey Gardens (Book Doug Wright, Music Scott Frankel, Lyrics Michael Korie)

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, til Dec 12

tix and info  here

Dot Dot Dot

19 Nov

New work! Thank God. And a big thank you to Gareth Boylan and the Old 505 for presenting it.

Dot Dot Dot by Drew Fairley is a murder mystery set in fin de siècle Australia. It’s a rollicking yarn with terrific performances and some beautiful set pieces. (In particular, one of these pieces is a very amusing, suspense building scene between two policemen, played wonderfully by Gerard Carroll and Matt Abell-King.)

The Crime genre often derives its appeal from its exploration of three concepts: Truth, Causation and Fear.

Truth: Whodunnit? In Fairley’s play we seek a murderer, the infamous ‘Noah’, a psychopath who kills people in pairs; two school girls, two policeman, two theatre critics (OK, maybe not the last pair – which only proves Noah is disturbed – but you get the idea.) But who can lead us to the Truth of the murderer’s identity? There’s the media, with a media baron portrayed with fitting smugness by Carroll. There’s a medium; a sideshow clairvoyant and raconteur played with a fascinating mix of fear and guile by Natalie Venettacci. And there’s the delusional dope addict, played as an intriguing battle between strength and vulnerability by Lucy Miller. But, Truth is a slippery fish; a product of the ocean it swims in…….but more on that later.

DotDotDot

Causation: the Crime genre needs connections. Actions must clearly lead to consequences which must lead clearly to other actions. The Crime genre does not do Random. The horrors of Life are not denied but rather made sense of – at least, on one level. This tidying up of the rough edges of Life probably accounts for much of the genre’s popularity. It also makes possible one of its most attractive features: the complicated plot. Fairley’s script delivers, with a plot which is both complex and intriguing, but ultimately crystal clear. Director Gareth Boylan weaves together beautifully the many moments, characters and locations.

Fear: this third in my trifecta of Crime might appear to contradict the second. But, of course, Fear is the disease for which apparent Causation is the cure. It is the exploration of Fear and the environment it creates (the sea the fish swims in) that lifts this play from its genre roots. Fear allows us to be manipulated. I suspect Fairley set the play at the eve of Federation to suggest that Fear is a congenital disease from which this country suffers. He could have further explored the idea that the historical Federation was indeed a direct result of Fear: the states decided to band together because of the illusory threat of the ‘Asian hordes’ that would supposedly overrun this tiny outpost of European civilization. He might have explored that idea……but his target is more contemporary than the fear mongers of the past.

Veronica Kaye

Dot Dot Dot by Drew Fairley

at Old 505 Theatre til 28 Nov

Tix and info here

Last Drinks & Two Mouths Four Hands

18 Nov

Whenever I see a local company produce a foreign play, or a play we’ve all seen before, I’m bemused. A part of me – a very large part of me – wants to scream ‘What’s that about?’

If someone in the team didn’t write the play, it just doesn’t seem like the real deal. It feels like an attempt to cash in on someone else’s reputation or authority.  Or like the whole event is just a showcase of the director or actors’ talents; a step in a career, as against a work of art.  Sometimes I’ve even wondered if it’s actually a type of mysterious ritual……. if we repeat these words, repeat these movements, then the world will be right. Like a rain dance. Or a Catholic mass.

In the past I’ve referred to non-original theatre as ‘cover theatre’; in the same way that The U2 Tribute Show is commonly called a ‘cover band’. I’m not really sure why what’s considered secondhand in other art forms is acceptable in theatre. (I’ve written a lot about conservatism in theatre –   here )

Brave New Word produces new work. Thank God. I wish there was more of it.

Their current double bill at Balmain’s Exchange Hotel has a lot of laughs.

Last Drinks

Photo by David Hooley

Last Drinks is a sitcom written by Jordy Shea and directed by Luke Holmes. Three blokes meet in a pub, which like them, has seen better days. The play’s an intriguing exploration of masculinity; its knockabout discourse (“Chin up, prick”) and it’s rather curious loyalties (children, alcohol, but not women.) The cast (Bob Deacon, Steve Maresca and Christopher Nehme) embrace these deliberately cartoon-like characters and it’s all very watchable.

Two Mouths Four Hands.jpg

Photo by David Hooley

Two Mouths Four Hands by Nicole Dimitriadis and directed by Bokkie Robertson also follows the sitcom form. However, this time, it’s not the world of masculine dumb; this two-hander is a girl’s night in with her gay male friend. They drink. They talk sex and love.  Once again, there’s some good laugh lines, and some provocative questions are thrown up: Does it really make a lot of sense to build our self worth from our sexual experiences? Is friendship really just a type of power play?  Actors Georgia Woodward and Alex Beauman give energetic performances of these youthful characterizations.

The space is used well. The first piece is set in a bar – and we’re in a bar! We’re ushered out at intermission and return to find the second piece quite effectively set in a lounge room.

Pub theatre is good fun. Original theatre is just good.

Veronica Kaye

Last Drinks by Jordy Shea

Two Mouths Four Hands by Nicole Dimitriadis

at the Exchange Hotel, Balmain, 17-19 Nov & 24-26 Nov

Tix and info   here

Roadkill Confidential

17 Nov

Cruelty’s a funny thing.

The great liberal project of the last 300 years has been to try to diminish it. And we’re making ground. For example, fewer children die in coalmines now, or at least in the nicer parts of the world.

But we’ve still got a way to go. And, like all political action, the job will never be done. We make the world every day.

“So, can Art help?” That’s what Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan got me thinking about. It’s a very clever, very funny black comedy presented with appropriate mischievous joy by Michael Dean of Lies, Lies and Propaganda.

Trevor (a very watchable, provoking bully played by Alison Bennett) is creating her new art installation. Made from roadkill, it will highlight the world’s brutality. But it’s not just small furry animals that keep dying, and so a government agent begins an undercover surveillance mission. Played with hilarious hyperbolic seriousness by Michael Drysdale, the agent’s a very amusing addition to crime fiction’s growing number of unreliable narrators: characters supposedly driven by morality, but whose sense of right and wrong is clearly wrong. “I’m a patriot”. Enough said.

Roadkill - 8

Photo by Emily Elise

As the agent attempts to solve the mystery, he monitors all the people in Trevor’s life. There’s William, her husband, an art critic for whom theory has replaced thought (played with appropriate soft-speaking pomposity by Jasper Garner Gore.) There’s her fame-obsessed teenage stepson, Randy (played explosively by Nathaniel Scotcher), perhaps a sharp pen-portrait of an entire generation. And there’s the bubbly, bumbling, socially awkward neighbor, Melanie (a comic gem created by Sinead Curry.) In this world, all of the characters are parasites who feed off Trevor, the artist. Like I said, it’s a comedy.

bAKEHOUSE’s new Kings Cross Theatre is a great place for performers to play, and set designer Catherine Steele keeps it simple and functional. The main feature is a large lit frame. It represents a TV screen offering daily horrors. It represents the screen of the agent’s hidden surveillance device. But it also evokes a picture frame. Perhaps surveillance and Art are close cousins? After all, watching and representing are both oddly passive, even creepy, actions. In a neat trick, Callaghan has Trevor realize she’s being watched. The result: she performs for the camera. This is not artist as great soul.

The question Callaghan’s play throws up for me is whether the artistic representation of cruelty and suffering awakens us or does it merely numb us? If we do build the world every day, how much do we need to look backwards?

Veronica Kaye

Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan

Kings Cross Theatre til 28 Nov

Info and tix here

 

Good Works

7 Nov

As a kid, I’d occasionally be dragged to Great Aunt Dot’s for slide night.

I’d fidget, as slide after slide of people I didn’t recognise slid by. Kat, who was second cousin to Joan. Or was it Shirley? Henry, who died young in a boating accident.

Now and then, when a random image did finally hold my childish attention, it would quickly slide away, replaced by another, and then another.

And Aunt Dot, God rest her soul, had no sense of chronology. Poor young Henry would be lost, and then he’d return, smiling confidently at the camera, seemingly magically unaware of what lay ahead. At the time I giggled; Aunt Dot was dotty. But now, older if not wiser, I guess at her purpose.

Nick Enright’s Good Works felt like one of Dot’s slide nights. Enright’s slides are far better composed, but they do just keep coming.

Director Iain Sinclair builds this challenge into a beautifully fluid production and the performances are wonderful. ( I could watch Toni Scanlan do her stuff eight nights a week.)

Set in old time Anglo Australia, Good Works is a meditation on class, family, and authentic moral behaviour. (‘Good works’ being the very Catholic assertion that our salvation is tied to our actions, not – as those horrid Protestants might have it – only to our faith. Of course, there’s a troubled heart to this doctrine. Good works, when so bound up with our own salvation, our own vision of morality, can struggle to seem a genuine attempt to reach out and help others. The tension between one-time childhood friends Rita and Mary Margaret provocatively suggests this issue, and it’s performed movingly by Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby.)

Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby. Photo (c) Helen White.

Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby. Photo (c) Helen White.

This play typifies a strand of Australian theatre for which I am not the audience. It’s nostalgic. It’s non-cerebral. ( Nostalgic? Doubly so. Enright wrote it 20 years ago, about an Australia 30 odd years before that. And it’s non-cerebral because in a world defined by sex , repression and physical brutality, some of the characters may be canny, but none is allowed an intellectual life.)

These two elements combine to create a sentimentality that speaks to me as much as one of those slide nights. A night of people I didn’t recognise, sliding by in the darkness. But like Henry, whose smiling face would always make Aunt Dot’s eyes shine, they’re clearly recognisable to others.

Veronica Kaye

Good Works by Nick Enright

Eternity Playhouse til 29 Nov

Tix and info here

Duck Hunting

5 Nov

In my responses to theatre I try to refrain from profanity. I don’t mean when I’m actually in the theatre. There, I believe, a little colour sometimes enlivens the proceedings.

No, what I mean is that I try to avoid swearing in my written responses. But for Duck Hunting, I’ll make an exception.

Let me invent a term: the ‘Dickhead play’.

The plays in this genre feel like theatre in First Person. All the attention in a Dickhead play is on a sole character – a male protagonist who treats other people really badly yet the focus is on his suffering.

Despite my derogatory terminology, a Dickhead play isn’t necessarily a bad play. It can be a form of cautionary tale.

Contemporarian Theatre’s Duck Hunting by Aleksandr Vampilov is an intriguing night of theatre. (And I do mean night; it’s over 3 hours long.)

Vampilov’s play has been contemporized. We follow Craig Stephens as he does horrible though mundane things to other people. Unsurprisingly, he finds this a dissatisfying life.

Christian Heath gives a very watchable performance. He’s in every scene; it’s a major monster of a role, and a minor monster of a character. (Though I think Craig calls every female character in the play a ‘slut’ for doing no more than he has done, so perhaps he’s best described as a garden variety misogynist.)

Christian Heath and Paul Gerrard (c) Toby B Styling

Christian Heath and Paul Gerrard (c) Toby B Styling

The rest of the cast do good supporting stuff. Directors Shai Alexander and Toby B Styling have created a stylized world; one that’s deliberately short on natural human connections. In some scenes, the movement is a type of mechanical ballet. In other scenes, the characters make no eye contact. (The occasional use of projection also adds to this lack of connection, but not between the characters, between the audience and the play.)

Part of the intrigue of this piece is the tone. It goes to a very strange place by the end. I wasn’t sure what to feel. Was it comic? Was it tragic? But I guess that’s one of the defining elements of the Dickhead play: follow a dickhead around all night and you’ve got to laugh, and you’ve got to cry.

Veronica Kaye

Duck Hunting by Aleksandr Vampilov

King Street Theatre til 29 November

tix and info