No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Review reposts

Some older reviews from Guardian Australia:

Jesikah review – a vivid portrait of adolescent trauma
State Theatre Company of South Australia, dir. Nescha Jelk, wri. Phillip Kavanagh 

Jesikah is a strong work which will find resonance with its young audience. This programming, along with 2013 education showRandom, by British playwright Debbie Tucker Green and also directed by Jelk, is a significant shift for the company. No longer an lesson in drama as history from Brecht or Pinter, this is an education in theatre as a living art form. This work for young people is telling them your lives are relevant, your stories are relevant, the theatre is a place where your voices can be heard. It’s an exciting development.

Dangerous Liaisons review – grand fun that’s all too fleeting
Little Ones Theatre for MTC Neon, dir. Stephen Nicolazzo, wri. Christopher Hampton

There are inherent clashes in Nicolazzo’s world and this is where his production delivers the most joy: we watch decadent ladies play on a gilded Connect Four, as sound designers Russell Goldsmith and Daniel Nixon roll synthesised baroque music into Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody. The exuberance of the performers does much to expose the power of Hampton’s text, which can feel surprisingly contemporary. But despite the provocative staging, most surprising is how little Nicolazzo plays around within that world once it is established.

Little Bird review — Paul Capsis as master of song and story
State Theatre Company of South Australia, dir. Geordie Brookman, wri. Nikki Bloom

Capsis proves he is an energetic and charismatic performer as he blushes with coy shyness or flashes a wicked glint in his eye. His performance alternates between brash and underspoken, but it is the quietness of Bloom’s story that ultimately comes through. With subtlety Little Bird reveals itself as a tale of how we deal – or fail to deal – with grief. A tale of the ways grief causes shifts in our relationship with the world, to question what we know and the ways we expect people to act. And finally, that sometimes it is necessary to return home.

Multiverse review — dancers play with 3D projections and optical illusions
Australian Dance Theatre, cho. Gerry Stewart

A major difference between the cinema and performance is how their creators control the focus of the audience. In performance, focus can be trained through lighting and blocking, while in cinema the audience focuses their vision around one point in the screen, with the director choosing what to show in each moment. Throughout Multiverse, it is largely the screen that remains the focal point of the work, and the work feels much more analogous to watching video than a live work.
Rather than detracting from the performers, though, the projections and dancers enter into an ensemble relationship, and it’s the communication between dancer and animation that gives Multiverse its strengths.

Keep Everything review — rejected ideas find brilliant second life
Chunky Move, cho. Antony Hamilton

As we observe the initial duality of possibilities in the actions of these cavemen/humanoid hybrids, the three dancers pull their bodies out from these low scavenging moves. Movement begins to pass between the three like a wave as they move apart and then come together. They begin to hit one another, and this grows in intensity, until it becomes rhythmic patting. Perhaps they are collectively preparing for a race.

As the three circle around the stage, sliding one foot in front of the other, their cavemen muttering grows into phrases, their actions changing to match the words. “Do you want some dinner?” they ask, a thrusting arm turning into a small point. “It’s all your fault,” is yelled as they lunge, filled with accusation.


Upcoming Events

National Young Writers’ Festival Adelaide Launch
6pm Thursday 28 August 2014
Hello, Yes, Adelaide

The National Young Writers’ Festival team are proud to present our very first Adelaide program launch.

The evening will feature readings from local festival artists Raelke Grimmer, Grace Bellavue and Jane Howard as well as a comic workshop from Georgina Chadderton (AKA George Rex) and Owen Heitmann.

Come and enjoy a local slice of the NYWF and support our Adelaide writers!

FREE entry.

With thanks to the SA Writers’ Centre and literary supporters/nice guys Hello, Yes.

Emerging Writers’ Festival Adelaide Roadshow: The Writers’ Masterclass
10:30am Saturday 6 September 2014
Fifth Quarter, Bowden


What does it mean to write for the stage or screen, crafting words for others to enact and characters for others to inhabit? Has new media made playwriting obsolete, or is the ‘undownloadable’ aspect of theatre precisely what makes it so special and exciting? Professional playwrights and critics discuss what ‘performative writing’ means to them, and how we can all build notions of performativity into our own repertoire as writers.

Jane Howard (Chair), Phillip Kavanagh, Michèle Saint-Yves, Ben Brooker

The Importance of Seeing Earnest

‘The Importance of Seeing Earnest': a review of The Importance of Being Earnest, produced by the State Theatre Company of South Australia, written in five-parts and conducted through email between me and my editor at the Lifted Brow:

Jane: Cecily is “eighteen, but admitting to twenty at evening parties.” Lady Bracknell suggests this means it will not be long until Cecily is “of age and free from the restraints of tutelage.” So 19 or 20, perhaps? I’d suppose a governess would be something a young affluent women without a mother would be expected to keep until she’s married off, but that’s just conjecture. And because of her grandfather’s will we’re told Cecily won’t come of age until she’s 35, so who knows what is realistic and what is an 1895 poetic license.

I wonder now if you could read the disconnect between her manipulation and her naïvety as a result of less well developed Bunburying – while the two men have created fully formed characters to allow them a degree of freedom, as a woman Cecily is denied this. She’s always trapped under her guardian Jack or her governess Miss Prism, and so her version of a Bunbury cannot extend beyond her diaries and letters. It’s without the ability to fully take this creativity into the world that these glimpses of naïveté slip through. I would have liked to see Fry take just a bit more of a claim over the character’s wit, though. She was so almost there, but there was something lacking in the balance. Still, the fact that it is this character I keep thinking about says a lot. Is there a character you’re focusing on? Or is it just because I felt I was familiar with these characters that I get to pick out one in whom I’m seeing something new?

Simon: I thought the slightly strange dynamic between Lane and Algernon was quite telling in this sense, actually. Rory Walker’s Lane displays just enough begrudgment that I almost wondered whether he would do something to upset the butler/master dynamic—but then he covers for Algernon when Lady Bracknell asks after the missing cucumber sandwiches, and you realise that everyone in this society is a Bunburyist of some stripe, no matter their place in the hierarchy. (To repurpose Algernon’s famous line: “if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?”)

But as you point out, not everyone has the same Bunburying options as Jack and Algernon. I agree that Cecily’s age and situation necessarily limited her in this regard, and maybe if she had the autonomy of a Lady Bracknell she could outdo Algernon and Jack altogether—she certainly has the imagination for it, after all. (Thinking as a lawyer, though, I did have a strong suspicion that Cecily’s grandfather’s will couldn’t possibly affect her legal right to marry – and consequently I read that whole argument as an enormous bluff on Jack’s part!)


In Brief: A Response to Julian Meyrick’s The Retreat of Our National Drama

While I have been vocal about my thoughts on Currency House’s Platform Paper #39: The Retreat of Our National Drama, by Julian Meyrick, I haven’t written on these thoughts outside of twitter. I have now briefly commented on a new article about the paper in The Conversation, which I am republishing here. I should have also mentioned statistical work I did with Alison Croggon in 2013 was cited in the paper, which Croggon revisited in this response to Meyrick. My response to Angels in America was also cited.

I was one of those who criticised Meyrick’s data, quite simply because it was incorrect, and I felt it irresponsible of Currency House to have not edited and vetted his work thoroughly. As someone who works in statistical analysis of artistic programming (I have worked with AusStage, but not directly with their database; and have used the database to support research for various clients, including the Australia Council), I was highly disappointed that no one involved thought to check the validity of AusStage’s database. All researchers should know that tertiary sources of information (of which AusStage is) need to be validated through primary sources. It was clear on my reading the Paper that this had not happened.

This was the issue: an academic, writing for a serious publication, did not feel it necessary to perform research in a proper manner. There were egregious errors. To say Belvoir – where some of the most glaring mistakes were made – produced no “New-Australia” work in 2013 was simply wrong, and ignores the very real work of the playwrights who had premieres with the company that year: Nakkiah Lui (This Heaven), Lally Katz (Stories I Want To Tell You In Person), Kit Brookman (Small and Tired), and Tom Holloway (Forget Me Not).

For Meyrick and subsequent editors at Currency House to have not noticed the discrepancy in the data saying the company produced no new work that year made me concerned, furthermore, on from what perspective they were viewing theatre in this country. It is baffling and concerning that no one involved has a strong enough knowledge of Belvoir’s work to have picked this up.

Everyone is done a disservice by the suggestion this data was dismissed because it was disliked. The trouble is not how to lie with statistics, but how to use them correctly.

If Meyrick does not like quantitative data, I suggest he stays away from it. The fact of the matter is his paper didn’t rely on the data he attempted to present, he didn’t rest his larger arguments on it, and didn’t refer back to the figures throughout the rest of the text.  I was mostly confused why these figures were published at all. He, and Currency House, would have been better served if Meyrick had argued where his strengths lie.

Sign Up! The Importance of Seeing Earnest

Jane is a theatre critic. Last Tuesday, she saw The Importance of Being Earnest for the fourth time. The script is the last script on her bookshelf, as the last script in the Collected Plays of Oscar Wilde. Not many playwrights come after Wilde in the alphabet.

Simon is her editor. Last Tuesday, he saw The Importance of Being Earnest for the first time. While his bookshelves are vast, they don’t contain the Collected Plays of Oscar Wilde.

After they left the theatre, Jane and Simon stole wine and oysters from opening night drinks. After opening night drinks, they spent five days emailing each other about the production. They discussed all the things you’d expect in a theatre review, took a few tangents besides—translation! Monty Python! linguistics! 19th century probate law!—and collectively developed a sense of Earnest, and what it means to see it for the first time, and the fourth.

The Lifted Brow is inviting you to eavesdrop on this conversation. Go on. Subscribe. One review, two critics; five emails, five days. The conversation starts this Saturday 9 August.

Subscribe here.

OpenSourceHome: A response

Last week, Fee Plumley took over the Queen’s Theatre for OpenSourceHome, a three day event talking about her project reallybigroadtrip, “an experiment in nomadic creative digital culture”, and invited me in to respond to the event. Here is that response.



When we were children, my sister and I had a fight over who would inherit our parents’ house when they died. She took a piece of chalk, wrote her name on the red brick, and declared I wouldn’t want it now she had written on it.


More than anything, OpenSourceHome seemed to be caught up in definitions. What is a home? What makes a home?

When you think of home, what do you think of?

A house? A city?

A bus?

Fee’s current attempt to answer the question stood red and proud in Queen’s, a converted bus called homeJames, named for her friend James Mellor, who passed away just as Fee was getting started on her journey. For Fee, this bus is her home. But it’s also impossible to not acknowledge the name as a directive: “Home, James,” called to an imaginary driver, imagining there is some home to which the bus can deliver her passenger.


When I was in year eight, my English class went to see Rabbit Proof Fence. One component of our assignment was to draw the home the children were taken from. I painted an abstract picture with symbols enclosed in a gold heart.

I did this because I knew I could manipulate a better grade if the teacher thought I was thinking metaphorically.

It paid off. I got very good marks for that piece.


Fee applied to NAVA, the National Association of Visual Artists. They rejected her application. You are not an artist, they told her.

What makes an artist? Fee discussed this incident with Vicki Sowry and Lubi Thomas, as they tried to drill down into what reallybigroadtrip is.

Do you get to choose to call yourself an artist, or is that something only other people can bestow on you? Is there a certain type of work you need to make to be considered an artist? A certain volume? A certain documentation?

They discussed needing to leave an ‘artifact’ from work for it to be art. There must be something that can be seen to exist after the fact, even if the work itself is ephemeral.

Fee, is this an artifact?


I remember very clearly using the word ‘writer’ to describe myself for the first time. It tumbled out of my mouth without me even thinking about it, without realising it was the primary action I had begun to define my life by. I don’t remember where it sits chronologically; was it before or after I started writing professionally? But I remember the emotions, and the unexpected relief in claiming that word to define myself.

This word allows me to think of the internet and the community I have on there as a strong component of any ‘home’ I could define.


Around the corner from homeJames stood the beach truck from Open Space. As people around me sipped champagne, I slipped off my shoes and my socks and stepped into the truck and onto the sand.

“Are you home?” asked the sheet of paper I held in my hands. I sat awkwardly looking at the two other people in the truck with me, them playing with the sand and me smiling in that way I do when invited into an art project but I haven’t quite yet figured out the ‘rules’.

I was invited to stand up at the microphones pointed out over this beach.

“What does the piece of paper you were given say?” asked Dario Vacirca.

“Are you home?” I said.

“Are you?”

“I’m not sure where ‘home’ is right now.”

And so we talked about home: about houses, and cities, and countries. Of parents and of communities and of wars.

And I wondered what it means to call Australia my home when I’ve never given another country a chance. I feel like there should be more of an active choice involved.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Fee trying to find a new home on a bus is she’s already found a new home in Australia.

And if she’d done reallybigroadtrip in Wales she could have driven from country to country to country. But now homeJames is stuck on this one.


My career is pulling me ever closer to the east coast. But if I pick another place to call home, I’m worried about what parts of Adelaide I’ll loose and I’ll miss.

My relationship with Adelaide as my home feels a lot more tenuous – a lot more painful – since my sister died last year.


Elliott Bledsoe isn’t from Adelaide. But still, he took us on a walking tour of the city. We started at Queen’s, which is branded as the oldest theatre on mainland Australia.

Elliott spoke about how there is no such thing as ‘public land’ in Australia. All land must be designated to belong to someone. For Fee, this means there is nowhere she can freely park – someone owns everywhere, and she needs to play by their rules. Which are probably ‘no parking.’

Until recently, there was a clause which said anyone could temporary camp on crown land if they were travelling to or from the gold fields, and Elliott and Fee tried to figure out how homeJames could always be travelling to the gold fields.

This clause was struck down recently.

The Queen’s Theatre opened in 1841. It closed in 1842. For most of its life it was a car park; it’s now a gutted shed.

Calling it the oldest theatre on mainland Australia is taking the definition of theatre a tad too far.


The week we were in Queen’s, 157 asylum seekers were being held on a ship by the Australian government.

Where is home when you’re in the process of leaving one country to find safety in another?


I played two games of tug-of-war at OpenSourceHome.

Art v life.

Past v future.

Some people hedged their bets and stood in the middle. I don’t think that’s fair. Pick a side.

I chose art and the past.

Most people chose life and the future.

I think people only joined my end when they saw how uneven the odds were.

Art beat life because the rules hadn’t been sufficiently discussed. Life thought it had won, and stopped pulling. Art kept pulling, and won because of life’s mistakes.

The future beat the past. Everyone was aware of the rules by this point.


The week we were in Queen’s, hundreds of people lost their lives and their homes in Gaza.

What is home when you might receive a text message saying your house will be destroyed in ten minutes?


The dress I wore on Thursday had a hole at the waist, but I wore it anyway because I knew it would be too cold to take off my jumper.

Sayraphim Lothian invited us to join her in visible mending – not hiding the holes we patch up, but claiming them proudly as documentation of a life well lived.

I wasn’t brave enough to visibly wear these notions of a life. I sewed up my blue dress with blue thread.

It’s not a perfect mend, because I mended it while I was wearing it. Perhaps this slightly lumpy documentation is enough.


The week we were in Queen’s, the world was dealing with the aftermath of Flight MH17 being shot down over the Ukraine.

What is home for the families of these people, when they know their roofs will never again shelter those they love?


Winter has properly hit Adelaide now. Queen’s, shed that it is, was home to people wearing winter coats and scarves and gloves. When the rain fell on the tin rood it echoed through the space, and kept some away. Better to eat lunch at your desk then go outside and get wet.

It kept me in the Queen’s. There was a bar, there were food trucks, there were good conversations, there were heaters.

That is enough.


I have a playlist on my computer called “Home”. It contains exactly the songs you’d expect. I’m not sure why or when I made it.

I’m not sure when I stopped making playlists.

Sydney Writers’ Festival

I just spent a delightful four days in Sydney with Guardian Australia for the writers’ festival around the wharfs on the Harbour – surely the most impossibly beautiful place to put a festival, and we had the most unseasonably warm weather to boot. I’ve left feeling exhausted and inspired, and with a reading list that has increased ten-fold. 

Here’s what I wrote while I was there:

David Malouf: my life as a reader

Growing up in Brisbane, he was eight when he first read Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, before his father bought him the complete works at aged ten. Since then, he says, he must have read each play “hundreds of times,” and yet, especially when watching Shakespeare in performance, Malouf continues to find lines he has never heard before. “There is nothing more extraordinary to finding your way into the mind of Shakespeare,” he says, still filled with awe. Shakespeare is, in Malouf’s estimation, the greatest writer the world has ever seen.

My Valentine, Sandi Toksvig review – a love letter to the world

The show is at its most touching when a homage to her friends and their adventures, and particularly the bond they often shared over the English language – and the puns that can be made with a language which is much more complex than Danish.

Thomas Keneally: ‘Joan of Arc was a stroppy sheila’

Watching Thomas Keneally in discussion with his biographer, Peter Pierce, you wonder if this is what their hours of interviews in preparation for Pierce’s Australian Melodramas: The Fiction of Thomas Keneally were like, or is this just a particular domain that rises between the pair when you place them in front of several hundred people, and tell them they only have an hour to look at Keneally’s 50 years as a writer?

Irvine Welsh, Sandi Toksvig and Gary Shteyngart on debauchery

Because of this, the most interesting things we hear are the anecdotes about life, rather than about writing: Shteyngart on his ex-girlfriend, who moved to Florida to date Shteyngart’s doppelganger, before she took his ear off with a hammer (“Maybe she just wanted to tell you apart,” suggests Welsh); one of Toksvig’s “few” drug stories, where she ate half a cannabis biscuit and went to bed; Welsh on discovering “let’s have a couple of beers” in America means two beers, “in the UK they mean two days”.

Culture: what is it, what’s it worth and who’s shut out?

Even as these panelists speak about listening to others, to observing how we all interact with the world, and about wanting to provide people with a voice, they are still finding they must question their own interaction with the culture. Speaking about how our society makes invisible thousands of seafarers who allow for global shipping, Rankin reflects on how he, too has made voices invisible. Recently reading Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, he was forced to question theatre he had previously made about Eureka. “How dare I exclude women from the culture?”

Tara Moss, Irvine Welsh and Damon Young on writing about bodies

Moss has been writing fictional characters for years in her crime novels, but here she discusses the analysis of the ways women’s bodies are perceived – and fictionalised – in society. Reading a section from her book, she relays quotes about women’s aptitudes and physiology from 1873 (Edward Clarke saying an education will steal blood away from women’s reproductive system), 1888 (Friedrich Nietzsche on women scholars having problems with their sexual organs), and 1915 (Charles L Dana and the impracticality of women’s spines for politics). Through this, the audience laughs – how archaic!

Amy Tan, Gary Shteyngart and Benjamin Law on being the children of immigrants

When Tan’s mother lived in Shanghai, she was a socialite. Moving to America for love to marry a poor minister, she struggled not only with the change in cultures, but perhaps even more so with the shift in status. Tan says it was in returning to China with her mother that she began to realise the complexities of her life. “I used to think she got into a lot of arguments [in America] because no-one could understand her English,” says Tan. “When I went to Shanghai with her she got into even more arguments, and I realised English only held her back.”

Emma Donoghue: ‘I didn’t need to take drugs – I had books’

The speech was written as she spent time in Australia this week at “the most fabulous of festivals. I’ve been to many festivals, and this is without peer.” She couldn’t have written it before arriving, she says, as “you should be a bit changed at the end of the Sydney writers’ festival.” And that change comes through: she references talks she heard and discussions she had with many writers over the week. She talks of Andrew Solomon’s opening speech, Sandi Toksvig’s Peas and Queues, Kate Ceberano discussing her daughter, and Nakkiah Lui on who gets to tell whose stories.

And do check-out all of our coverage from the four days at our live-blog, with many more articles about many more writers. There I have notes on Irvine Welsh being asked if people can skip his books and just watch the films; a short interview with Nakkiah Lui; a look at what festival goers are reading; thoughts on erotic fan fiction; and a short note of love to a brief glance at a first edition Enid Blyton. 


Next Wave 2014

In 2012, I attended the Next Wave Festival as a mentee with their Text Camp program for emerging arts writers and critics. It was incredibly special to return to their 2014 festival as a critic with Guardian Australia. The art and the people and the ideas of the past two weeks have left me feeling invigorated and excited, and my perceptions on the world are a little bit shifted. I may write up broader thoughts about the festival at a later date – after a few days off for recovery – but for now, here are the reviews I wrote over the past two weeks.

Wael Zuaiter: Unknown review – compelling story of an assassination

 Placing this audio work in front of an audience returns radio to a stage of shared experience that has largely been lost as we now listen to the radio and podcasts alone in cars or through headphones on public transport. Here, you feel the collective lean of the audience into Cox’s storytelling; a joke or a detail only fully appreciated by one audience member is highlighted as their laugh carries through the theatre. But in this live form, things are lost, too, and I can’t do what I love to do with a complex podcast that grabs my heart and my mind: press replay, and listen to it all again.

Madonna Arms review – feminist sci-fi parable misfires

A plethora of pop culture references – everything from Alien to Sarah Murdoch miss-announcing the winner of Australia’s Next Top Model – begin to feel exclusionary. If they go over your head, can you truly engage with the work? And when you don’t recognise something as a direct allusion, is that because it is unique to the text of Madonna Arms or is it yet another reference you don’t get?

SEETHrough review: unfocused portrayal of masculinity in crisis

SEETHrough plays with interesting ideas of an unrealised intimacy between men, framed by violence for fear of true physical closeness, and it has all the elements to create a strong work. Co-devised by Kinchela and Walters and directed by Isaac Drandic, the work fluctuates between staged poetry, a play and physical theatre. Unfortunately, none of these performance genres are explored with sufficient strength, and the themes of the work become lost.

Maximum review: two performers push themselves to exhaustion

Maximum isn’t dance which hides the physical toll on the body in the search for illusionary effortlessness. Instead, the toll is the point: the haggard breaths, sweating foreheads, shaking thighs. We see bodies pushed to the limits when we watch sport – and we may even push our own bodies there – but when we watch athletes we’re watching for their achievement and their completion of the task at hand: exhaustion is a symptom but not the goal.

The Club 3.0 review: theatre troupe tries to get audience to fight each other

I didn’t leave The Club 3.0 inspired. I don’t feel a need to fight to acknowledge the fact that one day I’m going to die. I don’t regret not choosing to get in a fight during the show. The artists didn’t earn the right to motivate me in change, or questioning, or action. Instead, I left dejected. If two young men want to set up a fight club with their friends, that’s one thing. To think the story of it makes an interesting stage work is another.

Hex review: the Aids crisis revisited through dance

Hex is a largely allegorical work, Welsby keen to explore and contextualise emotions rather than directly tell a story of the crisis. In this, he builds small worlds that are at times sad and at times joyous, often bringing up ambiguous emotions in their complex and painful story. His choreography is a tribute to those who have been lost, but also a celebration of the community they shaped, and which continues to grow. It is a powerful work.

White Face review: dance exploration of Indigenous identity

Slowly, Sheppard’s text shifts and this parody of perceptions of entitlement, and of choosing to identify as an Indigenous person for personal gain, turns into something more complex. She veers away from the satire as her character begins to realise the lineage and cultural knowledge she has lost: an experience and a pain that continues to be shared by many in Australia’s stolen generations. This tonal shift leaves a lot of room to be further developed, its intricacies explored, but in this short monologue Sheppard presents a very interesting voice.


Jane Has A Newsletter

Jane Has A Newsletter is an experiment and a challenge I’ve given myself for the 2014 Next Wave Festival, exploring a new way to respond to art by highlighting things the work reminds me of: perhaps that takes the shape of essays, or podcasts, or films. These responses will only exist as a newsletter and won’t be publicly archived. You can find out more and subscribe here; the first email will be sent April 30.

On writing an experimental theatre-review of Roman Tragedies

The Lifted Brow has recently re-launched their website, and are commissioning pieces which can only exist in the digital space. I find this incredibly exciting, because although most of my career is based around online-only publications (indeed, I find it rather novel and wonderful when my work appears in print) still the formula of reviewing is much the same today as it was mid last century. Online I am able to be freer with my word count (particularly when writing on my blog), insert hyperlinks, and (hopefully, sometimes) engage with commenters, but the overall form of theatre reviews has felt to me largely stagnant.

Last October, in preparation for a panel on ‘criticism in the digital age’, the Wheeler Centre asked me for some brief thoughts on writing reviews. I said:

Despite advances in technology opening up the possibilities of criticism, it remains very conservative. Largely, it hasn’t changed or expanded form, method or purpose in the transition from print newspapers to online platforms.

If we ask for – and witness – arts that push boundaries and forms but our responses to that art doesn’t, then the record of art left by criticism will be much more conservative than the art itself.

Criticism, when done well, creates a record that artists can continue to build on. If criticism isn’t building an accurate portrait of the most exciting contemporary art, and the strongest records are left of work that is most conservative, where does that leave anyone?

I think, for the most part, maintaining this lineage of review structure is the best thing for the art form: people who exist in the same job sphere as me do so because we believe art and the dissection of art is critically important, but also because we have great faith and love in the written word. On the panel (which you can watch at the above link) I spoke about games criticism, and the critics who are using YouTube and online video spaces to review these works: for these critics, the most pertinent and organic way to respond to the work is through video. Not being particularly versed in games criticism, I would suggest that most reviews still exist in a traditional text form, much like theatre criticism; and of course you could argue that reviewing through video isn’t particularly innovative except in the ways, like text, its production and broadcast are more accessible than they’ve ever been.

In theatre criticism, I’ve been loving Exeunt Magazine’s Doodle Reviews and, for something just silly and fun, Edinburgh Furinge, neither of which seem to be particularly dependent on the form of the theatre work, but have the ability to respond just as broadly as a traditional review. These examples, though, are rare.

Occasionally I’ve experimented with the form my criticism takes, always in response to the form of the work and always still in text. My review of Team Mess’ This Is It  was a response to the imagined film in the theatre work, and my review of Life & Times responded to the verbatim theatre piece by being a verbatim review – accidentally recorded at the end of an interview. While structurally quite traditional, my response to Shotgun Wedding endeavoured to take on extra meaning by being published on the date of my one year ‘anniversary.’ Working as a writers-in-residence on Brown Council’s Mass Action: 137 Cakes in 90 HoursIanto Ware and I were forced into a similar (but not as gruelling) endurance project as the artists, allowing us an ongoing and deepened relationship to the work we wouldn’t have otherwise experienced, and at one of my lowest points in the room I managed to craft a response to the work I am deeply proud of: a response that wouldn’t have existed had I been involved like a typical audience member. Then, too, there is “embedded criticism” which with Ode to Nonsense again I produced a traditional review, but after a relationship with the creation of the work.

With the exception of Ode to Nonsense, these reviews exist because they were able to directly respond to the forms of the works themselves. It is harder, therefore, to develop as a writer in these experimental forms because there are, simply, less opportunities, and because each must be a new organic response. I have no idea what, say, an experimental response to The Seagull would look like, because the traditional response to me seems the strongest way to respond to a traditional staging. Criticism is always a responsive form in which the art must come first, this of course means I have more opportunities to develop my craft in these traditional forms. (Although I’ve been lucky over the first three months of this year to contribute audio responses on Guardian Australia’s Culture Podcast, something I am certainly getting more confident and stronger in. You can listen to here or download on iTunes.)

And so for The Lifted Brow to formalise a space that asks writers to be responsive to digital platforms, and in my case responsive to art’s form itself, is a concept I find very exciting. My review of Roman Tragedies for the Adelaide Festival responds to this work from Toneelgroep Amsterdam by emulating their use of time and their invitation to use social media throughout the production. In just watching the piece I had to be hyperaware of my review – taking notes when I typically never do – and then I had to go an back-curate the tweets and instagram photos to integrate. After six hours physically viewing the show, the process of building the review took another several days, with the curation of the tweets and integration into the timeline being particularly difficult and protracted. Post the writing the review, I realised this was really a work that needed two people to create (plus a third in my editor, the very helpful Simon Collinson): one to review the show, and a second to solely curate the social media, ideally in real time.

My review begins with the voices of others:



Just as the show relies on its audience, my review relies on the audience I shared that room with.

Despite experimentation with form, perhaps the most liberating thing was complete freedom with word count in a commissioned environment: the piece was able to be precisely how long I thought it needed to be and I was able to write until I stopped, a freedom typically only afforded to me on my blog. My favourite piece of the review, though, is one that came up truly organically as a realisation I came across in the writing: the use of white space towards the end. This space replaced language when the I found the work emotionally overwhelming me. In this written form, I felt emptiness spoke louder than words. 

Although the tweets and intsagrams are so much of the digital space, it feels to me that forcing the reader to scroll past this nothingness was the most native to the online platform. In print, not only would my work not be able to take up the equivalent physical space, but also the way the readers’ eyes would jump from one piece of text to another, even over pages if possible, would feel inherently different, and I don’t know if it would carry the same impact that I hope it does here. Looking back at it now, I think I would have liked to have been even more ambitious with how much blank space we used, how much we forced the reader to contemplate the stretch of time in the work.

I don’t think it is entirely successful as a review: the form has its limitations as much as its advantages. Much was left unsaid, depths of the work are not truly explored as time forced my piece forward, wider connections to contemporary theatre are ignored, and as is typical my perspective on it is dampened by thoughts I’ve developed now but could not articulate by deadline. But, and I think this is particularly important when looking at a production that has been touring the world since 2007, I think my review offers something unique to the work and the global recording of its history. I think it’s a response, too, that offers something to both an audience who has witnessed the work and those who haven’t, and this is something I always strive to achieve in my work.

When will I next get the opportunity to write something like this again? I don’t know. Perhaps the work will jump out at me in advance or perhaps I will see a show and walk out thinking of the new radical way I can respond having not gone in with those thoughts at all. I don’t think the traditional way we respond to theatre is dying or needs reviving, but I hope innovative and truly digital responses can continue to develop and grow up alongside as a contemporary – and sometimes, as a rival.

You can read my review in full here. I am very keen to hear thoughts.


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