No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Sydney

Review: The Sea Project

Bob (Iain Sinclair) is a carpenter. He lives by himself, simply, near the sea. One day he finds Eva (Meredith Penman) washed up on the shore. She speaks with an accent; her memory and a finger are missing, no clue to where they went. Bob takes Eva back to his house. He sits her at his table, he gives her tea, he tries to be the best man he can be in this situation.

Eva stays, trying to piece things together. She friends a boy (Travis Cardona) on the beach, who collects things others have lost: music, shoes. She waits for Bob when he goes to work; she thinks of a future they could have together. Turning up at the house is Maciek (Justin Cotta). He, too, came from somewhere via the sea, he too speaks with an accent. He tells Eva stories of who she was, where she came from. Eva remembers, but only the edges. Small stories, the notes of a song that fill her voice.

In the seaside house, the three must negotiate their new relationships and their old histories.

Beautifully measured in all regards, in The Sea Project it seems at first as if writer Elise Hearst and director Paige Rattray are letting us peak in on a corner of the world which we exist in. As we move through the play, however, we watch as the boundaries we expect – the boundaries that we know bounder our lives – shift out, or slightly to the side.

The Sea Project is about many things in this world which are big: wars and the lives, loves, and memories lost; defining yourself and your place; the lines between the real and imagined. But the story Hearst tells us is of the small, contained. To write about it seems to almost give it more weight than the production itself gives it: in the end, despite all the journeys we take through the show, it feels like we’ve just had a glance at nothing more than the beautiful strands of a new relationship.

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Briefs: Face to Face; Into The Dark

I’m not entirely sure when my life got so busy. Or, perhaps, how I used to fit it all in. I’m currently in Newcastle to speak on a panel called I Started A Blog … Now I’m a Critic for the Crack Theatre Festival as a part of This Is Not Art. Over the next fortnight, I will be in Melbourne, where I am producing Sepia in the Melbourne Fringe, and then it is down to Goolwa for the Regional Arts Australia conference Kumuwuki / Big Wave. I then have a couple of projects I’m working on when I’m back in Adelaide, that I can’t wait to share.

In light of this, I have edited down two pieces I worked on and then were relegated to the “to finish when I have time” pile. I know I can be rather less than brief, perhaps this is the start of a new experiment.

Face to Face was the second stage adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film I saw this year. I unfortunately didn’t find the time or brain space to write about Persona at Theatre Works, but Alison Croggon does a wonderful job of capturing how the team took this story that was told originally in a film exploitative of the medium, into a play exploitative of its medium. In Face to Face co-adaptors Simon Stone and Andrew Upton approach from a similar place: taking the screenplay and not the film, they create a work which is of the theatre.

In Face to Face we watch the unraveling of the life, and subsequently the mind, of Jenny (Kerry Fox). Through the sparse set (Nick Schlieper), times and places roll over and into one another: the movement of sets on and off the stage in unison choreographed movement with the cast brings some of the most powerful visual images to the work.

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Review: The Splinter

This mother and father have much to be thankful for. Their daughter Laura, just four years old, has come back after who knows what she went through in the last nine months. She’s not talking. She’s taller. Harder somehow. But she’s back. That’s all that matters, isn’t it?

Until the questions start to pop up. Why isn’t she talking? Why does it appear she doesn’t remember who her parents are? Why does it all seem just a little off? For the mother this is easy: her daughter has returned, they can move on with their lives. For the father, it is not. Questions, doubts, apprehensions become bigger and bigger, until they are all he can see.

You can never return home, the saying goes. So when a lost child returns home, what home could they possibly be returning to?

The Splinter is a deliciously spooky play from writer Hillary Bell and director Sarah Goodes. In the intimate space of the Wharf 1 Theatre they have created a haunting work in which the world within the play, the world of the theatre, and time all seem to be stretched and played with. Although just 75 minutes, the world of the play seems to slow time: the unease of the play enveloping.

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90 hours and 137 cakes later

I am back in Adelaide after my whirl-wind trip to Sydney. I saw a few shows (a couple of reviews pending), caught up with some wonderful friends (including two favourite fellow arts writers), and spent over fifty-hours surrounded by cake and feminist performance art.

Over the four days, I asked who gets to call themselves a feminist? and does it matter if young women aren’t feminists?; I thought about the difference between a “cook” and a “chef” (and an “artist”); I interviewed a young show baker and the VP of the young, feminist, CWA, the Perth Belles; and I thought about the state of internet bullying. I summarised the room with 57 Hours, 46 Minutes, 38 Seconds to go; 42 hours, 51 minutes, 40 seconds to go; at the end; and out the other side.

I read-up on my favourite CWA cookbook rules; gave two notes on egg anatomy; linked to My Drunk Kitchen, and instructions for the perfect icing colouring. I documented what I didn’t feel like doing on my worst morning, and pushed through to write the piece I’m proudest of through the whole process.

If you have the time, please check out the whole website. There are hundreds of photos, many more essays from Ianto Ware, and quite the collection of baking-related youtube videos. You can also watch the final cake judging – an incredibly bizarre and regimented set of rule-based judging for a theatre critic to witness.

Thanks to those who followed along the way – we were absolutely blown away by the scale of online engagement. And massive thanks to Brown Council for having me – you can feed me cake and ask me to write about feminism anytime.

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.


Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations

However much I talk about youth issues in Adelaide, it is in many ways a city where it is great to be a young maker of things – because the generation above us is missing.  They’re living in Sydney or Melbourne.  It’s much easier to find yourself noticed or to raise your voice above the din when there isn’t much of a crowd which needs to be broken through.  But how is this impacting on the younger and emerging generations of artists?  Is the cultural drain, coupled with a lack of venues where independent artists can present – and where audiences interested in independent work can attend – and Adelaide’s insularity having a negative impact on the quality of art produced?

In both Brisbane and Sydney this year, I saw work by people who were once based in Adelaide, but now these writers, directors, actors, and stage managers, live and create work in other cities for other audiences.  This work ran the gauntlet from among the best (The Seagull) to among the worst (Woyzeck) I saw this year, but the point is I couldn’t have seen it at home.  I don’t blame them – I’m not planning on sticking around forever – but this has a two-fold effect on the cultural ecology of Adelaide.  Not only are we losing these artists and these voices, we’re also losing the effect these artists can have on the generation who follows them: the knowledge base and the talent which can be shared is lost.

It is, of course, a self-perpetuating cycle.  The “brain-drain” creates its own pull, the more creative people that leave, the more others feel they need to leave, too, to find new opportunities,  be them creative, employment, or creative employment orientated.   Then, particularly in the case of arts administrators, as people start to return to Adelaide to raise their families, having worked interstate almost becomes a prerequisite for many higher level jobs.  There is, it seems, even the perception that you must leave in order to advance in a career in Adelaide.

It is not only the artists who leave, it is the other people interested in punctuating their lives with arts and culture outside of the festival context.  The more these people leave, the harder it is for artists to find audiences, and the more artists leave to move interstate.

The pull of the Adelaide artists in Sydney or Melbourne grows ever stronger, the pull of Adelaide grows ever weaker.

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A Short Ode to Sydney

A draft of this summary of my weekend in Sydney has been open, courser flashing, pretty much since I got back. I would write sentences and then delete paragraphs. I can’t find the words to go with that city. I don’t know how it’s done it: how it has got under my skin in the best possible way a place can. So in lieu of a proper summary:

For a weekend, I breathed. I gave myself space I so rarely do. I walked, a lot, without a map and only in a general direction and a hope I wouldn’t get too lost. I sat in parks and read. I stood in art galleries and took my time. I ordered coffee and just sat with it.

I found my way past nondescript doors and up rickety elevators to a foyer of couches, divided from the theatre of thirty-seats by black curtains. I found an audience inexplicably filled with people from Adelaide. I found people who knew my name when I would have never expected they would. I found one of my favourite things: I found people making things. But more than that, I found people making things from the brand-new words people wrote.  NovemberISM was its name; I kinda love it.

I found people presenting Australian plays, in fully professional productions. I only saw Australian work. And even though nothing I saw blew me away, I am so happy to say I saw them. And they all blew some people away. Sometimes, that’s enough.

I spoke about Adelaide and blogging and theatre and art and women and film and science and Sydney and possibly a million other things with the incredible Augusta Supple. We hunted for fake bananas, and settled for the real thing. We drank coffee from bowls. She made me delicious eggs and spinach. She drew me maps and instructed me on the correct tunes to sing when following them. She made me love Sydney even more than I already did.

I told people I was going to Sydney for three days, seeing five shows. They would ask: is there a festival on?

No, I answered. It’s just Sydney.

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: This Year’s Ashes

This Year's Ashes Production Shot: Ellen and a one night stand.  This is not her place.

Forming a new relationship can be a funny thing.

Perhaps they’re a friend-of-a-friend.  Or a friend-of-many-friends.  You’ve heard their name in conversations, over rooms, seen them comment on facebook status updates, anonymously followed them on twitter.  You’ve heard great things.  Or the curiously intriguing I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

So you jump on a plane to Sydney, walk through the streets (with a detour by the Harbour – so much water is remarkable and incomprehensible), with one hand on the Maps app on your phone, trying to find the hidden theatre you’ve never been to before.  You find it, a darling little shack of wood, sticking out on a corner, double doors open looking out onto the small suburban street.  You grab your ticket and program (the script, no less!) and a glass of wine, and sit down and watch the shinny procession of glizty dresses, tendered dos, and high heels walk their way through the foyer: this is not the audience you’d expected to be sitting in.

Okay, so maybe this is just a little bit specific to my own relationship with This Year’s Ashes. Read the rest of this entry »

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