Archive | November, 2016

Summer Rain

29 Nov

I should hate this production.

Not because of the performances, which are extraordinary. This cast is all class.

Not because of the direction: Trent Kidd’s debut is wonderful. In everything, from tone to tableau, he has created a beautiful piece of theatre.

Not because of the choreography: it’s delightful. (And also the work of Kidd.) I’d come back just for “Watch The Puddles”, performed by Catty Hamilton and Nat Jobe.

Not because of the music by Terence Clarke: Tim Cuniffe’s band is marvelous, and the singing gorgeous.

Not because of the set and costume: Mason Browne’s design is magnificent, and intriguingly versatile – at times evoking a Drysdale rural streetscape, and at others, the main bar of a country pub.

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Photo by Chris Lundie 

No, I should hate this production because of the script.

For me, it’s the archetypal example of a certain school of theatre: one that values nostalgia, sentimentality and simplicity.

Set in rural Australia in 1945, but written in 1983, it harks back, ever back, to something we imagine we have lost, but we’ve probably just imagined. And, in telling the story of a family of travelling performers who shake up a small country town, it’s dreadfully self serving in its vision of theatre. And the characterization? Everyone has passions but no one has thoughts. (The feelings are laconically expressed, of course. The playwright was certainly a master of the Aussie vernacular.)

As I said, I should hate it.

But Nick Enright knew what he was doing. Like The Tempest, the work of the mature Shakespeare, Summer Rain is a deeply humane gift, a tale of wonder and of reconciliation. They’re great dramatic themes, some would say the greatest. The play is an invitation to open our eyes to joy. And I say Whacko to that.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Summer Rain 

Book and lyrics by Nick Enright, Music and arrangements by Terence Clarke

at New Theatre til 17 December

tix and info here

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The Screwtape Letters

23 Nov

When I read The Screwtape Letters years ago I loved it. C.S. Lewis is a first-rate Christian apologist and an incomparable stylist.

What is an apologist? Apologists defend the claims of Christianity, but not by a call to faith, but rather by historical evidence, philosophical arguments and the like.

Apologists attempt to make the magical appear possible, the absurd seem reasonable.

What Lewis does in The Screwtape Letters is save the Devil.

What I mean is that he saves the concept of the Devil from contemporary cultural forces that would have us view temptation as exciting and evil as transgressive.

Lewis presents Satan as hell bent, not on some metaphysical concept of damnation, but rather on human misery. As one human soul says, as he finds himself in Hell, I have arrived here by doing neither what I ought nor what I enjoyed.

Screwtape is a senior devil dispensing advice to a junior devil on how to best make the human soul in his charge damnable – that is miserable.

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Photo by John Leung

It’s a cute conceit, and one of Lewis’ neat tricks is to make Hell a bureaucracy. Sharp letters go back and forth between the departments, and it’s all great fun, but the result is that we’re given some wonderful insights into how we can potentially waste our lives: in sleepwalking habit, in obsession with trivia, in petty vanities. (A simple example: Encourage your human charge to read, suggests Screwtape, though not for enjoyment, but that he may say clever things to his friends.)

There have been several stage adaptations of the book, and this version by director Hailey McQueen works well. This is an achievement; the original source material is not fundamentally dramatic, nor even a dramatic monologue, but rather a set of essays framed in Lewis’ ironic epistolary form.

To make it work, you need a top notch cast, and Yannick Lawry and George Zhao provide the goods. As Screwtape, Lawry is suitably dapper and articulate, classically and coldly reasonable…until provoked. Zhao as Toadpipe gives a wonderful physical performance, his clowning providing the necessary texture which allows us to appreciate Lewis’ rich, beautiful prose.

Do you have to be Christian to enjoy this?

I’m not and I did.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (adaptation by Hailey McQueen)

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Tuesday 22 November- Saturday 10 December, then Melbourne and Canberra.

Tix and info here

Tiny Remarkable Bramble

21 Nov

I’m going to pretend I understood this one. Not that understanding is crucial for theatre. Or enjoyment. Or life.

Our protagonist, Alice, seems to need help in order to face the world.  At hand are a kooky collection of characters, played with appropriately high energy by Cathy Hunt’s cast. (I’ve been a fan of Hunt since I saw her Judith at the Bondi Pav a few years back.) Thomas Campbell plays a terrific toy soldier. Lucy Suze Taylor is a delightful vamp. Michael Whalley is a gorgeously awkward geek. Contessa Treffone is a charming innocent, bright-eyed and bubble-wrapped. (Yes, she actually is.) Catherine Terracini is the slogan-speaking motivator, engaging to us, maddening to Alice. Geraldine Viswanathan plays Alice with an intriguing mix of cynicism and vulnerability.  She’s in a sort of Wonderland, and soon it becomes apparent that these crazy kids are in as much need of help as she is. They’re hiding from the outside.

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Photo by Clare Hawley

Someone smart, someone like Picasso, said something like “I don’t paint what a tree looks like. I paint how it makes me feel.”

So, as Jessica Tuckwell’s Tiny Remarkable Bramble is clearly not a piece of naturalism, what aspect of human experience does it explore?

Perhaps it’s a riff on how the world can feel overwhelming, and on the potential for the mind to transcend this feeling. The script is jam packed with snappy dialogue, half-gag, half-nonsense (or perhaps all-gag if you’re in the likely position of being smarter than me.)

The characters are preparing for a talent quest. “It’s all a talent quest out there.” It’s a stimulating metaphor, though not one that especially resonates with me. (Life, for me, is that ocean swim where you don’t know which way is land. Or it’s a bunch of us on a raft, rationing the resources, and trying to get on.) But Life as a stupid compulsory competition probably seems a good description for a lot of people.

Paul Gilchrist

Tiny Remarkable Bramble by Jessica Tuckwell

Kings Cross Theatre as part of Invisible Circus

Tuesday 22nd November, Friday 25th November

Full program and tix here

Let’s Talk About You

21 Nov

‘I contain multitudes’ sang Walt Whitman.

Let’s Talk About You is a distillation of this idea.  Elaine Hudson and Anne Tenney portray different parts of the same person. I could simplify even more, and suggest Tenney plays the grander parts of the soul and Hudson plays the lesser. (This degree of distillation can be either potent or unpalatable, depending on how much you’ve already drunk.) Taylor Owynns plays the generous spirited friend attempting to make sense of her conflicted companion. All three actors give astounding performances, physically engaging, and vocally delicious.

Rivka Hartman’s script is full of sparkling one-liners. Is the divided self conceit just a device for making jokes, or is it an exploration of the human experience? This is light comedy. But though there are plenty of froth and bubbles, lurking below, in the back stories, are some rather frightening (male) sharks.

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Photo by Vicki Skarrat

The play is a paean to self-reflection. Like Socrates, I believe an unexamined life is not worth living; but I do feel it should be a take-home exam. Much of the play’s fun comes from the fact that the divided character’s very necessary self-examination is being practiced at exactly the wrong time. It’s difficult to have two conversations at once, and to be good in company, you must first learn to talk to yourself.

Paul Gilchrist

Let’s Talk About You by Rivka Hartman

The Depot Theatre til 26 Nov

Tix and more info here

The Angelica Complex

16 Nov

Early in this production the character says words to the effect: “As a woman, you can be either strong or vulnerable. You can’t be both.”

And then we’re gifted a performance that is both strong and vulnerable: strong in that Kym Vercoe is an extraordinary actor whose vocal and physical work is of the highest quality; vulnerable in that we’re given a heartbreaking insight into the challenges facing a woman who has newly become a mother.

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Kym Vercoe, photo by Phil Erbacher

 

Part of Invisible Circus, a festival of work by female theatre practitioners currently at KXT, Sunny Grace’s The Angelica Complex is one of the voices we need if our theatrical culture can claim to be truly diverse. (Though the fact I can use the word ‘diverse’ to label a work that explores such fundamentals of human existence as birth and breastfeeding suggests we might have a way to go. I blame society, not myself; in polite company, that’s always best.)

This is a powerful tale presented with both humour and pathos. Director Priscilla Jackman uses the traverse stage to full effect. Sometimes it’s a theatrical space for an individual woman’s intimate sharing of her joys and desperate challenges. At other times it becomes a symbol of a social space offering no escape from the gaze that sees only the role and never the person. Lucia May’s live video feed effectively captures the tension of a particular woman put on the spot, while Naomi Livingston’s vocals beautifully evoke the forces that tug at the boundaries of individuality.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Angelica Complex

Priscilla Jackman (Co-creator & director)
Sunny Grace (Co-creator & writer)

Kings Cross Theatre

Saturday 12th November, Tuesday 15th November,Friday 18th November, Thursday 24th November and Sunday 27th November

As part of Invisible Circus. Full program and tix here