Tag Archives: King Street Theatre

Down an Alley Filled with Cats

27 Apr

Talk to virtually anyone in the theatre world and you soon learn that there is a grand tradition of self-obsession.

This production refuses to honour this tradition, instead presenting the audience with a simple, engaging entertainment.

I, however, uncomfortable with such radicalism, will adhere to the time tested way.

I would not choose to direct this play – because it’s so difficult.

Down_An_Alley_Filled_With_Cats_Production_Photo_09

Photo by Andrew Langcake

Down an Alley Filled with Cats by Warwick Moss was first produced in 1984 and won the Premier’s Literary Award before seasons in the West End and New York. It’s a comic thriller. And that’s what makes it so challenging – getting the balance right between the playful and the serious.

This production has a good shot at it, but I’ll be honest, it took me a long time to pick the tone. Maybe I’m just slow. (See, it’s all about me.)

Actors Gabriel Egan and William Jordan easily hold our attention, but I suspect opening night nerves may have played a part in making vocal performances a little muddied.

The two participants in this cat and mouse game to possess a valuable object are (conveniently) locked together in a room. Dramatists love this trick of offering the characters no possibility of escape, and audiences often go along with it as it mirrors their experience of the theatre. But it’s a trick that demands careful consideration of the physicality of the performances; it’s inevitable that close proximity will have to reflect both intimacy and antipathy, and in so far as this genre is a distant cousin of naturalism, there’s enormous pressure to get the pacing right to make this appear believable.

Moss’ script uses other classic tricks – you might end up wondering with it’s intricately plotted or all just a sleight of hand – but it will lead to interesting post-show discussions. Were you taken in or not? Of course, if you’re part of the grand theatrical tradition, you never were, not for a second.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Down an Alley Filled with Cats by Warwick Moss

Directed by Tom Richards

at King Street Theatre until 13 May

tix and info here

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Blink

15 Feb

Blink, by Phil Porter, was first produced in the UK in 2012.

It’s a generous-spirited meditation on the nature of love.

We’re inclined to believe love is all about communication. But connection can be made in ways other than words.

In this love story, the two characters Jonah and Sophie talk more to us than to each other. Their relationship is based on attention.

She wants to be watched. He wants to watch.

Stories Like These presents Blink

Photo by Robert Catto

That our life is worthy of attention is, of course, greatly comforting. Until the advent of Jonah, Sophie had begun to feel she was invisible.

Jonah was raised on a Christian commune. Perhaps it was in this overly vigilant community that he learnt the power of watching.

(When faced with the criticism that their God is too judgmental, some Christians answer that the belief that someone is paying attention, and cares what they do, is exactly what they find so attractive.)

This production by Luke Rogers is very funny, utterly charming and deeply thought provoking. Charlotte Hazard as Sophie and James Raggatt as Jonah give beautifully pitched performances. They gently draw out what is laughable about these quirky characters, but also find the truthfulness that makes them deeply lovable.

I don’t want to give the impression this is some sort of religious play. It’s not. But it does explore themes that have drawn many of the great mystics, of all traditions.

Talking to the one we love maybe important, but the silent acceptance of their presence and the simple acknowledgement of their otherness is where love begins, and where it finds fulfillment.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Blink by Phil Porter

Kings Cross Theatre til March 4

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

A Flower of the Lips

16 Oct

Theatre’s greatness as an art form derives from its acknowledgement of Time.

Time means flux. Characters change. Theatre suggests the fluidity, and hence the ineffability, of Life. (How easy it would have been in the last sentence to use the word ‘captures’ rather than ‘suggests’; how easy, and how false.)

Our relationship with the past is like our relationship with other people – often crucial but never concrete. (To say to another ‘I know you entirely’ is not the language of love but rather of control.)

In Valentino Musico’s play A Flower of the Lips the playwright explores his relationship with a chapter of his family history. In Calabria, post World War One, Musico’s great grandfather was in the unenviable position of chasing down deserters.

It’s tense, intriguing and true…….if ‘true’ is the right word.

How does Musico ‘capture’ the past? He’s done the research and so the play is part-documentary. There is even a character representing the playwright, narrating the proceedings.

But Musico knows this attempt at objectivity is not enough. The past must be allowed its wildness, so Musico creates a theatrical world imbued with elements of both magical realism and commedia dell’arte. Poetry plays with supposed actuality.  Director Ira Seidenstein does terrific work with this engaging script, using simple staging and eliciting fascinating performances from the cast: Michelle De Rosa, Marcella Franco, Jamila Hall, Yiss Mill and Kiki Skountzos. The decision to cast female actors in all the roles other than the narrator is powerfully subversive.

Sometimes it can feel as though our past presses down upon us, dominating our present. To be reminded that the past is a story we tell ourselves, that omniscience is beyond us, is a beautiful acknowledgement of Time and its gift of Hope.

Veronica Kaye

A Flower of the Lips by Valentino Musico

King Street Theatre til 24 October

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

Beyond Therapy

4 Feb

The title is ambiguous.

Are these crazy characters so far gone they’re beyond therapy?

Or is the play offering a vision of Life that is beyond the need for therapy?

The characters are certainly out there. And they’re absolutely brilliantly performed. From his cast, director Johann Walraven elicits comic performances that are vibrant, energetic, and fully committed to the madness. They’re a joy to watch.

Beyond Therapy

David Hooley and Rebecca Scott as the unlikely lovers are utterly engaging – likeable and deliciously kooky.

Nadia Townsend and Andrew Johnston as the therapists in need of therapy are magnificently ridiculous.

Jasper Whincop (as the jilted gay lover) and Tel Benjamin (as the attractive waiter) take characters that are carefully constructed clichés and play them to the hilt, enthusiastically and gloriously.

Back to that title. Beyond Therapy.

(Here’s a working definition of therapy: therapy is the acknowledgement of our need for support in our attempt to live a life that is both fully conscious and deliberate.)

Does the play present an attitude towards therapy? Is it suggesting therapy is something we should go beyond?

In other words, is the play a satire?

I’m not sure.

Playwright Christopher Durang doesn’t provide a ‘straight man’, someone who might serve as the centre of our responses. All his characters are hilariously over the top. And there’s a deliberately playful meta-theatricality, which reminds us that it’s not ‘Life’ that Durang’s holding a mirror to.

So I’m not sure if it is satire.

But it’s certainly an immensely enjoyable 80 minutes of theatre.

Veronica Kaye

Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang

King Street Theatre til 14 Feb

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

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/

Trainspotting

9 May

Theatre is for people who can’t handle reality. But, though it can be mind altering, it’s a wiser choice than most illicit substances.

Thematically, this play shouldn’t interest me. I’ve never been much into drugs. (In fact, in 1996, whenever my friends would begin raving about the movie, I’d quietly slip away to the bar again.*)

But this production, directed by Luke Berman, is terrific. The cast of four create – with extraordinary energy, courage and commitment – the world of drug addled 80’s Edinburgh.

Trainspotting

Damien Carr plays Mark (whose story we most closely follow) with a winning, empathy-inducing stage presence. Taylor Beadle-Williams plays an array of ‘lassies’; beautiful portraits of tough women doing it hard in a misogynistic culture. Brendon Taylor’s scene as an unwillingly witness to sexist violence, with his fear that he must intervene, is magic. Leigh Scully perfectly captures a variety of imposing and physically threatening male characters, only later to display an extraordinary range when he so convincingly plays Mark’s mother.

Harry Gibson’s adaptation of the original novel by Irvine Welsh is episodic, wide ranging, and frighteningly effective.

When Life has become a disease, whose symptoms are boredom and disappointment, a cure will be sought.  This play presents the desperate measures people take to self medicate, often with catastrophic consequences.

This is confronting theatre. There’s sex, violence and two hours of Scottish accents. And it works.

It’s both funny and horrifying. It’s hard to imagine how anyone ever thought this tale glorified drug usage. It doesn’t preach – it’s far too cool for that – but honesty is the most powerful pedagogy.

As I began by saying, thematically this show shouldn’t be my cup of tea. I don’t have much patience with people who find Life dull and disappointing. (My parochialism, no doubt, the result of being privileged enough to sit around comfortably drinking too many cups of tea. And fine red wine.)

But this production is eye opening, sympathetic, electric.

And it does what theatre can do so well, throw open windows to other, sometimes harsher, realities.

Veronica Kaye

*Trainspotting is very conscious of the dangers of that most commonly abused of drugs – alcohol.

 

Trainspotting 

King Street Theatre til 24 May

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