No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Belvoir

No Plain Jane around the web

On Vitalstatistix’s Adhocracy for the Adelaide Review:

The landscape of the arts in Australia is changing. Increasingly, artists aren’t making works that can be easily defined as theatre or visual arts, etcetera, but instead work across art forms and disciplines. It is in this spirit many of the works at Adhocracy will be developed.

Emma Webb, Vitalstatistix’s Creative Producer, says programs like Adhocracy are part of a “growing movement to engage with how we make art, and art’s position in the world”.

On the excitement I felt of the ‘Australianess’ of Belvoir’s Angels in America for the Guardian:

Angels in America is certainly not a new Australian work in terms of its text, and the production makes no pretensions to be. The story may not be ours in 2013 – and probably never was ours even when Tony Kushner wrote his story about AIDS in a 1985 New York City. But the theatre of the piece feels firmly ours of today.

It’s both surprising and exciting how Flack’s production has this spirit to it, and he has found this largely through an Australian irreverent sense of humour. While Kushner said it’s “okay if the wires show” in his stage directions, in this production Flack’s stage magic is, for the most part, so delightfully rudimentary there aren’t even wires to hide.

A review of You, Me, and the Bloody Sea in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival for ArtsHub:

The Space Theatre for the Cabaret Festival was the wrong venue for You, Me and the Bloody Sea. We needed a pub.

The kind of pub where the wind howls by outside, its salt stinging faces as they hurry inside to where bodies pack under the slightly too dim lighting. As the band plays, we want not so much as to watch them perform but to feel them. To stamp our feet and clap our hands and yell and sing along; or to tightly wrap our hands around another and softly sway.

An interview with Anna Krien about her book Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport for Artery:

Exploration of these themes has lead to a book that is frequently uncomfortable, and I wondered if Krien needed breaks from the material in developing the work. ‘You just kind of wade into it’, she replies.

‘I can’t get out of it. There is no real point in taking a break from it because it kind of consumes me, so no. You just go into that dark place and dig your way out.’

A review of The Comedy of Errors from the State Theatre Company of South Australia and Bell Shakespeare for the Guardian:

[...] scenes happen under the glow of a tanning bed, in 24-hour table tennis halls, and under the flashing strobe of a night club. It’s Shakespeare shown at his crudest and broadest, and his text feels comfortable in this world. At times the language is near impenetrable, at others it feels startlingly contemporary – but Savage’s production finds most success and its biggest humour when it goes beyond the text and into the physical.

And I’ll leave you with these sentiments from an unpublished (big on the One Man, Two Guvnors spoilers – shoot me an email if you want to read it) interview with Richard Bean for Arts Centre Melbourne’s Artist to Artist critical conversations:

“One thing that maybe this play has brought back into the tool kit of a playwright is the aside,” he tells me. “We’ve completely lost that from modern theatre – comedy or drama. There is absolutely no reason you can’t do a very serious play about a very serious topic and have asides. It doesn’t have to be comedic. And I think it’s quite refreshing to see this. It’s not the expansion of the form because it’s always been there, but the recovery of different techniques is going to be with me forever now. Why isn’t the actor talking to the audience?”

“It may have ruined me”, he finishes, thinking he’ll never be able to do a work without asides again. This draws contemplation to thoughts about what other facets of theatre have been dropped for being old fashioned or out dated, and how they can be re-employed in contemporary work.

Crack Theatre Festival (This Is Not Art)

Three hours on a train up from Sydney are some really wonderful beaches. On the October long weekend there is also an arts festival. But, let’s be honest, mainly there are beaches.

I was asked to come up to the Crack Theatre Festival with This Is Not Art to talk on a panel about blogging and criticism. Normally when I got to a festival I do everything and drive myself insane and to the point of exhaustion. However, TINA found itself at the end of several exhausting months and at the beginning of a month of festival related travel, so I decided to take it slow.

How slow? In four days I went to: seven shows, one walking tour, two launches, one closing party, one workshop, four panels (plus the one I was on), and one rooftop market.

Slow.

But it still, somehow, felt nice and slow. I spent time walking around Newcastle and its beaches, I went to the museum, I had long breakfasts and long lunches and long barbeques.

To Quota or Not To Quota was perhaps the healthiest panel on representation of women and culturally diverse backgrounds in theatre I’ve been to. Maybe because Crack is such a youth-oriented festival many of the artists in attendance have only just started to come into their professional practice, and they have come into a world where the conversation – and the numbers – about women in theatre in particular have been at the forefront.

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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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Festival Review: School Dance; and investing in joyous artistic visions.

Sydney-based actor and playwright Matthew Whittet has enjoyed a perhaps disproportionate amount of his success as a writer Adelaide.  Twelve, his first play was workshoped at the National Playwrights Conference in Perth in 2006, and his first produced play was Silver, a monologue which Whittet also performed, at Downstairs Belvoir in 2009.  His latest work, Old Man, will again be playing in Belvoir’s downstairs theatre this June, but between these Sydney outings, three of his works have had main-stage productions in Adelaide.

Two of these plays were presented in very quick succession in 2010, with Windmill Theatre producing Fugitive in August, and Brink Productions producing Harbinger in September.  While the shows weren’t without their issues (particularly in the final scenes of Harbinger), Whittet did in many ways cement himself to Adelaide’s audience as someone with a unique mind, twisting slightly off centre into bizarre universes filled with awkwardness, and with love.

School Dance, again produced by Windmill, premiered in the Adelaide Festival this year.  While this work still sits very early in Whittet’s career as a playwright, it was embodied with a wonderful of air of trust on behalf of Rose Myers and Teena Munn, the Artistic Director and General Manager / Executive Producer of Windmill, respectively.

Like Fugitive, School Dance has been directed by Myers, and above all else feels like Whittet was given the absolute freedom to make a work to his vision. The resulting play is one that, as soon as you start to detail it on the page, sounds so peculiar, so unconventional, and so illogical that it wouldn’t work; and yet through this trust is borne something that works absolutely.

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2011: A year in reflection

In 2011, I saw straight plays, musicals, cabaret, modern dance, ballet, puppetry and an opera. I saw monologues and collections of monologues. I saw Shakespeare and Katz – but no Brecht. I saw new Australian work and old Australian work. I saw development readings in rehearsal rooms, independent productions in basements, immersive works on the street, and multi-million dollar musicals in 2000 seat theatres. I saw professional productions, amateur productions, and student productions. I saw 114 performances of 106 works.

In chronological order, these are the six shows which, as I stand in December and reflect on a year which was, stand out with their shoulders above the rest. The heaviest on my brain; the lightest on my heart. Many which made this list had what is ultimately for me, an undefinable quality about them. Two I penned responses rather than reviews. Two I didn’t review at all. Each one made me question how and why I write, made me question my skills to put words to art: for that I am grateful.  I don’t think I always rose to the occasion of writing about them, but I grew in the attempt.

A Comedy – Brown Council, presented by Vitalstatistix

Four women. Four hours of performance a night. Countless bananas, tomatoes and cream pies. A Comedy was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Did I “get it”?  I don’t know. I don’t care.  I sat for four hours (and then an extra fifth) participating in one of the most demanding, hilarious, debaucherous, bizarre, and unknown nights of theatre I suspect I will ever have. Among other things: I threw a cream pie, got covered in a cream pie in retaliation, threw money and peanuts for the dancing monkeys, and was ventriloquist for the voice of a tampon. Bananas and I still have issues.

Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel – Teatret Gruppe 38, presented by the Come Out Festival

A work I couldn’t write about – and not just because during the Come Out Festival I saw fifteen shows in six days.  I tried many times and never found the right words.  A transformative work, part participatory theatre, part art installation, this show made me feel like I was eight: smelling the thermos of coffee of a couple’s love, touching the plate of ice of a snowman’s melting heart, seeing the Emperor’s New Clothes.  We were invited to the dinner table of Hans Christian and his stories, distilled down to an essence and shown in miniature.  It was made of the magic of stories, of a light hand, of asking an audience to open their eyes and look – and we did.

Thick Skinned Things – Stella Denn Haag, presented by the Come Out Festival

In what is very possibly the first time in the history of the theatre, the curtain is going up early.
I find out as I make my way down North Terrace, a leisurely stroll interrupted from a panicked call from my friend Chloe “Are you nearly here?  It’s starting early.  We’re trying to wait for you…”
I kick off my shoes, and I run.
I run down North Terrace, I run down the stairs in to the train station, I dodge commuters, I run into the Dunstan Playhouse foyer.
An usher beckons me “Are you Jane?  They’re waiting for you.”
We run upstairs to the second usher, “I’m sorry; it’s just began, I can’t let you in.”
“Are you sure?  It’s not supposed to start for five minutes; can I stand in the back?”
“Well…”
A pause.
It’s a long pause.
“If you’re quiet.  And you take off your shoes.  And you don’t take your bag in.  There is a bench that goes around the side.  If you are quiet and sit where no-one can see you; you can go in.”
And so, slightly out of breath and slightly sweaty, I leave my shoes and my bag and I creep into the dark.
There, under a naked globe, is a woman telling us of her story.  A story locked behind closed doors, a woman scared of the outside word, a woman hurt by the people who live there, a woman who is in love with the man next door and his perfect garbage bags.  A woman who is lost when he is gone, a woman who can’t live in the world any more, and instead becomes a mole, burying herself in a labyrinth of tunnels in the dirt.  It’s nothing more than a monologue. Words, told with a slightly veiled accent, told with very little movement and very little light, and an undeniable emotional wallop.

The Seagull – Belvoir

2011 was a year of Chekhov: to Sydney for The Seagull, to the cinema for the National Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard, and to the Dunstan Playhouse for The Three Sisters.  But what The Seagull gave me was an understanding, an infatuation, a fascination, and a connection to this text which has been produced for over one-hundred-years.  When the lights rose at the end of act one I thought their must have been a mistake: we’d only just sat down, the play had only just begun!  But no, over an hour had passed without me batting an eye.  The Seagull felt rawly honest, remarkably natural, and above all, more than any other play I have seen from its era, it felt right.

The Book of Everything – Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image / Belvoir, presented by Windmill Theatre Company

The third work made for young audiences on this list.  Theatre which captures the heart is a glorious thing.  This show was a burst of magic for me and my co-reviewer date Aria.  We sat transfixed in the world of the pages of Thomas’s diary from Amsterdam in 1951; we were transported.  We laughed, we yelled, we shielded our eyes, we were a plague of frogs, we wiped away tears, and then the two of us wrote.  I left feeling strengthened, re-invigorated, loved, and hopeful.

boy girl wall – The Escapists, presented by La Boite Theatre Company

In many ways an ode to theatre and to those who go to theatre.  A story about love, but not a love story.  A story about our characters, but also our narrator, and our audience. At one point, Lucus Stibbard quipped a small joke and I was the only person in the audience to let out a small laugh. He turned to me, caught my eye, and smiled the briefest of smiles: a flittering acknowledgement of a tiny moment shared.  I don’t remember the joke: perhaps it wasn’t one at all and my laughter was completely out of context or unexpected. But  boy girl wall is about these moments in life which are unexpected. Life can be shit: you don’t need your boss, you don’t need your writers block, you don’t need magpies, you certainly don’t need Mondays.  But in between these moments, you can smile, and laugh, and fall in love.  And that’s precisely what I did in that theatre.

Thanks to you all. I’ll see you in a theatre in 2012.


Review: The Dark Room

The room is small.  One of those pokey rooms where you hope the sheets were changed from the last occupant, because the carpet certainly wasn’t vacuumed.  Brown is the colour of choice: patterns make it easier to hide the stains. At some hopeless attempt at natural light, a small boundary of windows lines the top of the room – but they really only let in the fluorescence of the car-park.  The television looks like it was picked out of the hard rubbish.  The bathroom is economical, which basically means it wouldn’t be a stretch to use the shower and toilet at the same time.  The overhead lights bulbously protrude from the ceilings in their fishbowl-like plastic covers; they are both too dim to properly see what you are doing, yet manage to cast a harsh light on the already harsh location.  It’s the sort of room you would expect to smell stale – of stale perspiration, stale cigarettes, stale sex, stale dreams from stale lives.

This room is no-one’s first choice in accommodation.

The Dark Room, Anna-Lise Phillips.

Grace (Billie Rose Pritchard), face hidden in a mask crudely made from a pillow case, doesn’t want to be there.  She knows youth worker Anni (Leah Purcell) promised to take her home, once.  Anni remembers this promise differently: she can’t take Grace to her house.  But where else can she go?  She can’t return to her abusive mother; no-one will take her in; can Grace send her back to the group home where she was sexually abused?  The hotel will do for the night; more of a plan will come in the morning. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

A preamble: Writing this review almost feels like I am writing an essay for high school drama class.  Not that I ever did write about The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in school.  I have never seen, studied, or read The Doll in any significant fashion.  I suppose this makes me some what of a freak in the world of Australian arts writers.  But, no, I feel there is an air of high school because of this worrying of what might I leave out, what will I forget to say?  Who is judging me and my interpretation of what is the most famous play of the Australian theatrical cannon? So then, there is this.  Sometimes slightly more a personal study of characters and the text than I normally dwell into in a review.  But there you have it.  The myth of The Doll lives on.

The seventeenth summer Olive (Susie Porter) will spend with Roo (Steve le Marquand) is beginning: the summer of 1953.  Every year, women of the city Olive and Nancy welcome Roo and Barney (Dan Wylie) down from the Queensland canefields for the five month layoff between seasons.  Five months of spending money, living the city life, partying with the women, being looked after by these women, and by Olive’s mother, Emma (Robyn Nevin), and dotting on the girl next door, Bubba (Yael Stone).

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll: Pearl and Bubba at the table

But the seventeenth year will be different.  Fed up with the nomadic lifestyle of her man, Nancy has gone off and married; she won’t be joining in the antics this summer.  In her place is Pearl (Helen Thompson), the widowed friend of Olive, who doesn’t quite seem sure about the arrangement at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Book of Everything

With special guest reviewer Aria Noori, aged 11.

"You're a very special boy, you know." (Whittet and original cast member Yael Stone as Eliza.)

The Book of Everything review by Jane Howard, aged 22

It is the summer of 1951, and we are in Amsterdam, Holland, Europe, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, Solar System, Galaxy, Universe, Space.  We have a birds-eye view of Thomas Klopper (Matthew Whittet) aged nearly ten, and his book of everything.  Pappa (Pip Miller) says all good books are about God, but Thomas isn’t quite sure what his book will be about yet.

Thomas sees things that other people don’t see.  In his imagination, he sees terrible hailstorms in the Amsterdam summer; he sees tropical fish, his favourite guppies, in the rivers and canals.  In his house, he also sees things that aren’t seen outside those walls: he sees his father hit his mother (Claire Jones).

Based on the book by Guus Kuijer, The Book of Everything is delightfully funny, heart-warmingly touching, and heart-achingly sad.  It is brave theatre; theatre for children, about children; theatre which at times is hard to watch.  More sad than it is scary, Richard Tulloch’s adaptation tackles some big issues: domestic abuse, questioning and redefining faith, protofeminism, unlikely friendships, lasting effects of World War Two, love.  It is certainly a piece for older children, and one that saw many shielded eyes, but through the sadness seeps through an undeniable bravery, the strength that children can find in themselves, the happiness that is waiting for them. Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts: The Seagull

Almost a month ago, I travelled to Sydney to see The Seagull at Belvoir.  I absolutely intended to write a review of the show; in many ways I wish I had.  But somewhere in between being caught up in the excitement that was a weekend in Sydney, and the overwhelm I felt from the production, every time I sat down to write something it felt like an impossible task.

Had it been in Adelaide (a small town, with fewer critical voices, and where most of my readers are) I’m sure I would have found a way to say what I could.  It being in Sydney both gave myself a remove from the need to write about the production, and reviewers whom I keenly agree with: I feel James Waites in particular had a very similar experience as me, and wrote about it more eloquently than I could have.

Judy Davis as Arkadina and David Whenham as Trigorin.

But this week a friend asked me if I would describe Benedict Andrew’s script as a new Australian work.  Saying no, he pressed me for a more detailed answer.  Here was my response to him, mixed in with some of the thoughts I’ve scribed down over the past month whenever I’ve given this write-up a try:

To define Benedict Andrews’ The Seagull as a new Australian text or not inherently hinges on your definition of what exactly is a new Australian text, which to me implies a uniqueness of character, a separation of itself from works which came before it.  If Andrews had used Chekhov’s script as a launching point to craft an original work, then perhaps my answer would be different.  But for me, a true strength of the work was that Andrews was so faithful to the original as to truly highlight the timelessness and universality of themes on youth, art, country towns, and, with particular significance to me, of writing.

What Andrews did with Chekhov’s text is to set it in an inherently, unabashedly and unashamedly Australian setting.  I, admittedly, don’t have an overly large knowledge of Chekhov, but it felt so honest and faithful to Chekhov I can’t believe it was anything but.  He brought forth a contemporary context and an Australian vernacular to the work, but within this it still felt like a translation rather than an adaptation: he was just translating more than the language, he was also translating years and countries and context.

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A brief note on our new ADs

I am so excited by the current changing of the guard in Australian theatre. I’ve posted links to speeches by Marion Potts of Malthouse before and I just find her ideas about art, theatre, and the creative avenues we can go down compelling and inspiring; a couple of weeks ago I briefly met and spoke to Ralph Myers in the Belvoir St foyer, a theatre which has such a strength in programming this year, and he had a fantastic energy about him and brilliant thoughts to theatre; and tonight, I again briefly met Wesley Enoch of the Queensland Theatre Company after hearing him speak on a panel on the ‘Significance of Indigenous Art in Contemporary Society’ at the Festival Centre, and he is bring such a strong vision and exciting direction to that company.  We might be at the start of something big.

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