No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Adelaide Festival Centre

Review in Brief: h.g.

hg

A solo audio and sensory experience for one, to write anything about h.g. seems to be saying too much, so this will be brief. It’s an unusual work that makes you want to say nothing when you leave, to want to keep your mouth closed and your thoughts to yourself, just a quick smile to those still waiting to go in, not wanting to spoil a thing. I am normally one of many words; but I want to hold this show in and only share with you a few.

For the duration of the show you are alone, only you and the world created by Swiss company Trickster-p. As you stray through the half-dark structure, through headphones on your ears you hear sounds so subtle they mightn’t be real at all; your eyes wander over the miniature creations; you turn the corner and an amazing smell confronts your nostrils; your hands reach out and stealthily touch a piece of the set.

The work feels less like a telling, or retelling, of the Hansel and Gretel story, and more a story that sits parallel to the original, taking you along the emotional journey through the forest. This world is about creating those layers of feeling, not narration. And while h.g. is deliciously dark, the chill that it leaves you with is perhaps forebodingly refreshing. There is a curious balance in the joy of good art and the themes that it rests on, as I left ready to take the world on anew.

Come Out Festival 2013 in association with Adelaide Festival Centre and Arts Centre Melbourne present h.g. by Trickster-p. Concept and realization Cristina Galbiati & Ilija Luginbühl, artistic collaboration Simona Gonella, sound space technical production Area Drama RSI, audio recording , Lara Persia, Angelo Sanvido, editing and mix Lara Persia. Co-production Trickster-p / Cinema Teatro Chiasso / Teatro Pan Lugano / Teatro Sociale As.Li.Co. Como in collaboration with Radiotelevisione svizzera-Rete Due.

In the Adelaide Festival Centre Banquet Room until May 29. More information and tickets. 

Then Arts Centre Melbourne August 8 – 11. More information and tickets.

Review: Bindjareb Pinjarra

Bindjareb Pinjarra

In 1834 in Pinjarra south of Perth, white Mounted Police carried out a deliberate and well planned attack on the local Nyoongar people. Armed with guns and with no warning, the white men easily outmatched the Indigenous people. This was seen to have been necessary action for the protection and claiming of the land for the white settlers. Bindjareb Pinjarra brings this story, often not spoken about, or whitewashed to the point of being explained away as a minor battle, to the stage.

The work spins together three stories – of the white European generals who instigated the massacre, a young man in contemporary Perth coming up against racism before finding out about his familial connections to Pinjarra, and a slightly confused story about a white man Daniel and two indigenous men presumably set in the 1800s – mostly confused because I couldn’t tell if Daniel was supposed to be a child or mentally impaired.

It’s most compelling, though, when the cast speak directly to the audience: of the white performers who weren’t taught about Indigenous history; of the Aboriginal performer who was told by his mother he could just tell people he was Greek; and an extract from A Short History of Western Australia – a book I sincerely hope has been pulled from school library bookshelves.

The company promotes the work as being “a comedy about a massacre” – and it is an interesting technique to tell a horrific story. The company does an admirable job of keeping the work connecting to the young audience through humour, while also carefully detailing the massacre, but too often the humour feels as if it is sitting apart from the work. It sits on top of the rest of the story; this uneven layer of humour to defuse the audience rarely feels integrated with the narrative.

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Review: Ode To Nonsense

Slingsby's Ode To Nonsense, photo by Andy Rasheed

Nicholas Lester and cast. Photo by Andy Rasheed.

Previous to seeing and reviewing the show, I spent a significant amount of time with the company in rehearsal. You can read my documentation of that in parts one, two, and three. This experience undoubtedly coloured the way I saw the work, so take from this what you will.

Edward Lear (1812 – 1888) was one of the first writers to create work specifically for the entertainment of children. His nonsense drawings and writings have lived on, endearing themselves to many new generations of children, while his paintings and illustrations of wildlife and landscapes command ongoing respect from a whole different audience. Ode to Nonsense is an ode to the life of Lear, from Adelaide theatre company Slingby, in conjunction with the State Opera of South Australia.

A significant departure for the company, this work moves from the intimate work Slingsby are known for – both in terms of performers and audience – into a production with a cast of eighteen and an audience of 1000.

Walking into the old Her Majesty’s Theatre under a garland of green flags and fairy lights, director Andy Packer and designer Geoff Cobham have created a world that speaks from the same world of their previous works. With much of the usual suspects in the creative team, including Quincy Grant as the composer, visually and aurally the work seems to capture the spirit of Slingsby that has brought the company such acclaim. In Ode to Nonsense though, there is something that doesn’t quite gel, and we are left with a work that is curiously flat.

Lear (Nicholas Lester) has returned to his adopted home of San Remo with his perennial servant Giorgio (Adam Goldburn) to see his love Gussie (Johanna Allen) – not that he could ever admit to that. While Jane Goldney’s libretto has found moments of great heart in these scenes, and moments of joyous frivolity in the embracing of Lear’s nonsense, the gap between these moments is never truly bridged, and so audience members are never truly immersed in either world: Ode to Nonsense never reaches beyond the proscenium.

It’s a work that perhaps is captured in nearly-theres. In exploring the world of Lear and his friends, Goldney’s work alternately suffers from under-exposition, requiring a solid knowledge of Lear’s life and work, then over-exposition with too much stake in explanation placed in a single song. Taken in isolation, Goldney’s scenes under Packer’s careful touch of direction paint insightful snapshots of old friendships, of never embraced romance, of the triumph of embracing worlds and words that cannot be truly grasped or explained. Built up into a narrative, though, neither Goldney nor Packer have solved how to stop the strands unraveling.

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Festival Review: Itoseng

This review was originally published on ArtsHub.com

In the South African township of Itoseng, a young man, Mawilla, sits on his trunk. Where he sits was once the shopping mall. Now, empty space. Scattered rubbish. A trail of fine sand. Nothingness.

For the people of Itoseng, the end of apartheid was heralded with great hope. But instead, the town found itself stagnant. With the shopping mall burnt down in a fit of youthful collective foolishness – brash noise with no real impetus – and nothing to replace it with, the empty space it left in the town was more than just physical. Gone was the entertainment, gone were the jobs.

Itoseng, written and performed by Omphile Molusi, is Mawilla’s story of his town and the woman he loves. Or perhaps, of the town he knew and the woman he loved: the thing most crucially lost is hope.

On the wide Space Theatre stage, a lane of fine sand extends corner-to-corner, footprints extending across the rest of the black stage surface. Through the production Molusi kicks up the dust, tracks of footprints building up a picture of the work’s blocking. Scattered through the space is rubbish: drink bottles, sheets of newspapers, plastic bags and old shoes. At times Molusi appropriates these for props and sound effects, but for the most part they are just part of the desolation that Itoseng now faces.

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No room with a view

This article was first published in the July 2012 Adelaide Review

Adelaide’s theatre community is in urgent need of space to rehearse their work.

Preparing for the world premiere season of Involuntary with the Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE program, director and choreographer Katrina Lazaroff found her company missing one integral feature: rehearsal space.

After “looking all over Adelaide” Lazaroff was lucky the Adelaide Festival Centre staff solved the situation by splitting rehearsal time between the Dunstan Playhouse and Space Theatre.  “It’s almost never heard of that you get to rehearse in a theatre,” she says.

In 2010, Arts SA prepared an audit into the lack of suitable performance spaces for Adelaide’s professional dance and theatre community. Alongside citing a lack of suitable venues, outdated technical equipment, and inadequate disabled access to performance spaces, the audit also spoke to a lack of rehearsal space.

Two years on, companies are struggling to find suitable space to develop and rehearse their work, and few are as lucky as Lazaroff. Chris Drummond, Artistic Director of Brink Productions, says every show “involves a saga where our production manager Françoise spends weeks and months looking for a rehearsal space.”

Their latest work, Land & Sea, was forced to rehearse in their performance space, the Queen’s Theatre. While an evocative venue, it is, in effect, an empty warehouse with a concrete floor and tin roof, which Drummond describes as “harsh, cold and incredibly noisy due to the building site next door”.

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Review: Namatjira

Watercolour landscape artist Albert Namatjira (1902 – 1959) leant how to paint under the tutelage of white Australian Rex Battarbee, who exhibited paintings at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission where Namatjira was born and raised. Namatjira’s paintings raised in value from being essentially worthless, to commanding hundreds of guineas; his work was famous globally; he became the major support for over 600 family members; he was the first Indigenous Australian to be granted citizenship – so he could be taxed on his income, but he was still refused the vote.

The story of his life is brought to the stage by Big hART, a Tasmanian based company which works in art and social change. Their work is predicated on embedding themselves into communities, to work with people on the issues that face their lives, to create art, share stories, and leave a lasting impact.

Starting performances with Company B (now Belvoir) in 2010 and now on a national tour, the work was developed with the permission and discussions with Namatjira’s decedents, and is part of a broader project which encompasses a watercolour exhibition, community development in the Western Aranda communities, and workshops in Central Australian schools in digital literacy and filmmaking, to just touch on a few aspects of the project. More can be discovered on the show’s website.

After seeing the work, the remarkable thing about the play, and the thing I feel least equipped to write about is how Scott Rankin’s script and Trevor Jamieson’s easy delivery in the lead performance tell Namatjira’s story with an air of easy irreverence.  I say “an air” because the work isn’t actually irreverent at all, it tells a story with some very sombre moments with respect; and yet the work is embedded with a light heart, a joy in its step, and is proud to carry the glint of a tear and sadness in its eye.

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Review: Involuntary

In the ongoing spirit of “embeddedness“, I interviewed Lazaroff while she was in rehearsals for this work. You can read my interview with her here at RealTime.

Dancer Veronica Shum is a picture of intense concentration, a devotion to the exacting choreography. These movements aren’t involuntary: they are highly choreographed, highly controlled, highly trained, highly rehearsed.

And yet, as Shum raises her leg to the height of her extension, there is a soft, involuntary shudder which ripples through her strong leg muscles.

As she stretches her foot, her arch is raised, her toes point to their full extent and there is a shiver we can see move through the ligaments as they curl around her bones.

Here, at the peak of a highly rehearsed movement, there is the smallest hint of Shum’s involuntary reactions.

These small moments are just that: small. But in some ways, they are the strongest in Katrina Lazaroff’s Involuntary. Lazaroff’s work, part commentary, more humourous observations, draws parallels between physical reactions which we have no control over and a society which is increasingly regulated to the point where we have no choice but to scroll five pages down and click “I Agree.”

And it is interesting to speak about those things in a work which, as necessitated by its form, are highly structured and measured. While we may feel the pressure of the clocks ticking on our lives as we notice the weeks are getting shorter and the things to be done in them are getting bigger, these dancers have one hour of dance to do in one hour. The lighting will change when it needs to, the projection will shift on the right beat, the dancers will move across the stage the way they have for weeks in rehearsals. And so in a work about the involuntary, the peeks at something small, yet involuntary (even if occurring as an exacting result of an exact choreography) become something amplified well above their usual worth.

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Review: Me and My Shadow

The Space Theatre is filled with the din of excited children. The Saturday morning outside is showing Adelaide’s first strains of winter: dreary, making the world in great need of a blanket and a cup of tea. But inside, children yell, bang their seats, pose for a photograph on their mother’s iphone, try and dissect what they can see on the stage: look, I can see a shadow! They hold none of the trepidation of the blustery Saturday morning.

In front of me, a mother shows her children how you would make your hands into a shadow for a dog: the thumb an upright ear, the index finger hooked to make an eye, the middle and ring fingers the snout, the little finger moving up and down for the mouth: yap yap yap.

The house-lights dim and turn off. There are a few startled cries from the very young; a few excited yelps from the older kids who know what’s happening: it’s about to begin.

The Girl (Emma Beech) sits in a pool of light, concentrating absolutely on her scissors and butcher’s paper. Snip here, cut there, off goes the off-cuts into a paper bag. Open up the sheet and reveal the line of paper girls.

It’s bedtime, but she and her paper dolls are not quite ready for bed. How could you ever be ready for bed when there is a world of things to discover, create, and play with? Out comes the torch, shining a spot light around the space; then it is a car, and then a rocket ship.

The pool of light moves so it’s shining on the Girl, and she starts to make shadows with her hands. She makes a dog, and the children in front of me turn to their mother excitedly – they just learnt how to do that!

The Girl’s body is then encased in light, behind her a shadow: a new play thing. With paper bags and a shadow for a friend, what more could a girl need?

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Critical dialogue about critical voices.

“Everyone’s A Critic” has been that ever non-specific and slightly annoying phrase on my mind lately, as May 10 I will be on a panel to discuss just that. You should join Alison Croggon (from the mother of all Australian theatre blogs, Theatre Notes), Marc Fennell (Triple J and self-titled blog), Samela Harris (The Advertiser) and me, with our host Fenella Kernebone at the Adelaide Festival Centre. Tickets are FREE (like this blog, hey! And who says there is no such thing as a free lunch?) and can be booked here.

Mostly, I think the actual conversation surrounding “everyone’s a critic” is a bit tired and done. Yes, everyone now has the platform to talk about art. We know this. It is a good thing. The internet has opened this up in a wonderful way which is still revolutionising the way artists, administrators, marketers and audiences interact as all parties learn and refine “social media strategies.” Much of the best arts coverage in Australia comes from online platforms where writers can respond with speed to news, with time to review, and without (too) restrictive word counts. Some of the finest work I read are long-form responses from individual blogs. For recent examples, take Jana Perkovic‘s essay on The Wild Duck (however much I disagree; I was blown away by the production), or Alison’s review of The Histrionic.

If anything, I think we’re still at a stage where not enough people are engaging in these platforms – theatre artists are all too reluctant to offer thoughts on art unless it is absolutely positive (and when it’s not, the silence can be deafening).

But the questions we need to ask are: a world where “everyone’s a critic” where do we find the support platforms for people who want to be more than the tweeters, or more than the volunteers writing consumer guides? In what ways can we expand the role of the “serious” arts writer or critic? How do we make robust critical discussion a vital part of the culture and community? Is it possible for the main-stream media to be place where we are going to get this? How do we make online platforms viable?

In short: how do we make today’s writers, today’s publications, today’s dialogue better?

I think the first thing we need to do is remove the thoughts that critics are somehow outside the rest of the culture. London theatre critic Andrew Haydon published an excellent blog last week about the idea of the “embedded critic.” Andrew, like me and many other writers, particularly in the blogosphere, are increasingly interested in tearing down the false separations between the “artist” and the “critic”: the critic coming in closer to the artists work, and creating better dialogue around it.

“Emeddeness” comes in many forms. Andrew spent every night at Forest Fringe at the Gate, a two week London residency of Edinburgh Fringe Festival institution, the Forest Fringe. Jake Orr (of A Younger Theatre) documented the rehearsal process for a new work by performance group Dirty Market. Being asked to blog through the Australian Theatre Forum was an opportunity for me to be embedded in an environment with some of Australia’s best theatre makers and administrators. Living and writing and working in Adelaide makes sure I’m always at least somewhat embedded in the local theatrical culture. While I don’t know everyone, the city is small enough that I’m not far off: I place myself in an active role in the forums, the panels, the foyers; I interview artists; all of a sudden I found myself production managing a fringe show.  I feel like I’m fighting for something here, and I have to go into that battle with the artists themselves.

Beyond Adelaide, I am currently one of six emerging arts writers (with Melissa Deerson, Naomi Gall, Rebecca Harkins-Cross, Anabelle Lacroix and Sam William- West) involved in Text Camp through Next Wave and the Emerging Writers Festival. Not only am I endlessly excited that I get to spend all nine days at Next Wave (The festival program is everything I want from art one festival. I may have teared up when Emily Sexton read out her launch speech.), but I am so exhilarated that this structure exists within a festival. We have been invited by the festival to be a part of the festival. We get to learn about and practice and stretch our own craft, but we get to do this as a recognised part of a sprawling beast of artistsresidentsadministrators and so on and so forth.

But even better, Next Wave’s commitment to arts writing extends beyond people in my role. Rather than releasing a program – short blurb, time, date, location – Next Wave released a magazine, filled with essays, snatches of writing, or photographs about and from the work and the artists. Communication surrounding the art is presented as an integral first step to connecting with, understanding, and finding the work.

We’ve created the very first Next Wave Magazine. With the guidance of Editor Alice Gage, we created a publication that introduces a new collection of people. That doesn’t try to sell you something. That doesn’t assume that you should know these artists – of course you don’t, they’re the next wave! Our magazine has our artists explain why they make art, how they’re coming to understand generosity, why what they have been making feels urgent.

-Emily Sexton, Change not yet able to be articulated, or, art

Particularly being from Adelaide, but even being from Australia, I feel a need (and want) to cover work in detail, to analyse it, to expose it, to illuminate it. We’re a small city in a small country, and to have a long-form record out there in the world that says this is what is happening in my city, this is what is happening in my country is crucially important. Isn’t this going to be more illuminating if I’m part of it?

The oft asked question is then but what about your objectivity? To which I say there is no such thing. This question, of course, comes from an assumption that consumer guide judgements are even interesting, let alone necessary: a notion I disagree with strongly.

As Andrew wrote on his blog:

Another aspect of “embeddedness” that I think worth addressing is whether, if a critic gets “embedded” in some way or other, it will make them view the work more favourably.

Well, here’s a thing. I reckon a critic’s actual *opinion* of a piece is frequently the least important part of a review. Yes, some people treat reviews as some kind of consumer guide. I suspect many of them might be the same sort of people who grumble if they suspect a critic isn’t “being objective”. They’re the people who prize the star-rating. And, having taken into account what I’ve said only a couple of paragraphs earlier about respecting the humanity of others, I still think those people are the wreckers of civilisation.

Ok, it is useful to know if something is good or not. But unless you’re actually the person who’s reviewed the show – or you have the magical good fortune to have a critic with whose taste yours corresponds exactly – the good/not-good question just boils down to that most mysterious of things; one’s taste.

The internet opens so many amazing opportunities for writing about art: everyone’s a critic. Not only in the idea that you don’t need permission or validation to comment any more, but also in the fact that you can do new things with the form. You can take a month to sort out your thoughts, you can draw crazy parallels, you can hyperlink everything you possibly can to make a point about how you can hyperlink, you can publish a telepathic interview, you can you can you can.

Why then in Adelaide do we see so much of the traditional same old same old? The 250 word (if that) consumer guide: thumbs up / thumbs down, make sure you buy a ticket / give this one a miss.

The recent Humana Festival of New American Plays hosted a panel called Critiquing Criticism: (re)imagining the future, and it is a brilliant discussion on criticism from artists, administrators, and writers well worth the hour listen. One of my favourite comments on the panel was a very succinct point from playwright Deborah Stein:

The consumer report question implies that there is a consumer, and we’re all in agreement with who that is, and I find that more and more to not be true.

Later, Sasha Anawalt, the director of the Arts Journalism course at USC Annenberg, pitched in:

Critics and arts journalists have audiences, too. And we serve our audience, and we’re figuring out who our audience is. Because you guys all want critics, you want to hear – that feeling that you had of being understood and you cried? – that’s the kind of criticism that I HOPE to create, and help others create. We just went through a dark period, where the critic had to be “objective” and held outside, and now we can come in. And everything is individual. Those individual critics in Boston and Austin and New York are DIFFERENT. And your relationship to them is individual and it’s different. So it really comes down to that one by one by one thing. And it’s very personal.

So in this world where everyone’s a critic, can we invite the critic in? Can we invite them into work, into conversations, into festivals, into support systems? Is there some way we can find an environment where critical dialogue surrounding art is seen as so crucial that it needs to be supported just as art is?

99% of the time writing about theatre is an act of failure. It’s never good enough. There is no way I can capture everything on – or behind – a stage. There is always more to be said. I think “embedding” myself further into the culture can only possibly be for the better.

As UK theatre maker Daniel Bye wrote in his response to Andrew’s blog:

The only way we can save criticism as an institution from the idiocy imposed on it by the marketplace and the broader culture is by giving it space, access and generosity. Criticism is in trouble as a serious form, and keeping it at a respectful distance from its subject isn’t going to help.

As I write this today, I’m coming up with much more questions than answers. Maybe if we discuss it we can start to flip that ratio? I’d love to know your thoughts, and I’d love to see you Thursday week fortnight.

Festival Review: A Streetcar

This review was originally published on ArtsHub

We begin Krzysztof Warlikowski’s A Streetcar perhaps somewhere after Tennessee Williams left off – Blanche (Isabelle Huppert) sits in a metal stool on a platform encased in glass walls, chrome fixtures, and fluorescent lights. Her body writhes, hands flapping, head moving around in all directions, eyes unfocused as her mouth sloppily chews, crumbs falling down her chin. Behind her, the black and white projected image of a close up on her face, her physical struggle filmed and recorded in real time.

The opening lines of Williams’ play begin: voiced in foreign French, but familiar in the surtitles, much seemingly taken word for word from the original. As Blanche asks for directions in Elysian Fields, and as she finds herself with Stella (Florence Thomassin) for the first time since losing Belle Reve, Huppert’s Blanche still sits, in her own world. She is part of these conversations, but only just.

Then, the Blanche of that world is lost, and she exists in the world of the play as we know it.

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