No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Month: September, 2010

Review: God of Carnage

Well, God of Carnage:  it is nice to finally meet you in the flesh.  Your reputation precedes you.

They almost look pleasant. Set by Morag Cook. Photo by Matt Nettheim

I read a lot of reviews: because I’m just generally interested in theatre, because there are many reviewers I enjoy simply as writers (my current blog roll, right, needs to be updated to reflect all the bloggers I currently read), and because it is part of my “education”, if you will, in improving myself as a critic.  So when Yazmina Reza’s God Of Carnage has played on the West End in 2008, and on Broadway and three separate productions in Australia in 2009, I have taken in many a review.

It is an oft mentioned criticism of the script that it needs a strong cast to carry it, and this is accompanied by “so it is a good thing they found a cast so strong”, or “so the script tends to fall down when…” Since that is considered such knowledge, it is then remarkable that I never even thought, “it’s a good thing we have such a good cast”, for indeed when this cast, under Michael Hill’s direction, really bite into the heightened reality, the cracks which others mentioned failed to show.

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In Short: Marion Potts and God Of Carnage

If you haven’t been passed it on yet, make sure you go and read Marion Potts’ Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture, which can be found here (downloads a PDF).  Potts is the incoming Artistic Director at Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne, and she gave an inspiring speech on theatre in this country: its past, its present, and what she hopes to see in its future.  The ideas she will be bringing to Malthouse sound so amazing, I am half tempted to pack up my bags today.

This idea of theatre as the place where we vent, explore, deliberate, imagine who we want to be needs to be at the heart of the company’s work. I want it to be reflected in the collegial and collaborative way I work, not set out as some kind of charter. It needs to be borne of what we do in the rehearsal room, to extend and permeate through the company’s culture in everything from our Education Program to our HR practices. It needs to be felt by our audiences, not told to them, it needs somehow to seep out of the bricks and mortar of our building.

Also, I saw the very funny God of Carnage at the State Theatre Company last night, and my mother says she “thinks it is the funniest play [she’s] ever seen.”  The cast are great, and handle the brilliant melodrama which is Yasmina Reza’s script with aplomb, and I laughed a lot, quite loudly, and it may have afforded me some strange looks from the woman in front of me.  Review to come, but clearly it comes with my recommendation!

Review: Harbinger

I’d been suffering with a fever and stomach bug the week before I saw Harbinger, and it was rather horrible, but coming in waves, so I started Harbinger okay.  It then hit me again towards the end of the play, so there was a portion which I struggled to absorb.  It then stuck around for most of the week after I saw the play, and when I finally thought I’d kicked it, it came back while I was writing this review.   I apologise in advance for the level of delirium this was written in.

The Harbinger promo flyer

A short re-enactment, detailing where the marketing for Harbinger came from (in a way which actually, I am informed my Matt Whittet in the comments, is not the way marketing happens at all.  Life is so much funnier in my own head!)

In 2009

Sean Riley: “Look, I’m really sorry Chris, I know I said I would have Skip Miller’s Hit Songs for you, but it just isn’t going to be ready by next year’s season.  Do you think I could have some extra time?  Just until 2011.”

Chris Drummond:  “That will be fine, Sean.  We’ll find someone else to write a play really really quickly.”

Back in the Brink office

Drummond:  “Who do you think we can get?  That Whittet kid, he’s writing something for that Windmill lot, isn’t he?  If we overlap their season with our rehearsal period, we wouldn’t even need to pay for his accommodation to be in Adelaide or anything.  And Windmill always gets good reviews, so we can surely sell some tickets off that!”

He calls Whittet.

Drummond: “Matthew!  Look, we’re not going to get this play we’re supposed to show next year ready in time.  I know we usually go through a long and exacting development process, but you can write us up something really quickly, yes?”

Keep Reading! (I promise there is an actual review in here)

Review: Sex, Death, and a Cup of Tea

Sex, Death, and a Cup of Tea from the Tasmanian Theatre Company, is ultimately a night of four underdeveloped short plays, painting a very bleak painting of Tasmania. While steaming off a nice idea: sending four playwrights to live in and write about four Tasmanian communities, the resulting scripts particularly lacking in key details of setting and relationship, along with a lack of finer attention to details. On stage, they also suffered from this lack of attention to presentational details (the audience should never be distracted by an unswept stage or an unremoved price tag), and a lack of clarity in direction by Robert Jarman.

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So there’s this thing, you might have heard of it?  It’s called Fringe Benefits, and it’s okay, I guess.  I mean, if you’re in to that sort of thing.  Which I guess I kind of am.  Anyway…

It isn’t going anywhere in a hurry!

Why Fringe Benefits is important, and we’re going to save it

Edit: Saved. Good job, team.

Adelaide and South Australia had a disgusting report to wake up to on Wednesday morning.  310 pages on huge and unforgiving cuts to the arts, to the police force, country fire service, public service, almost every sector you can think of (well, except for sports).  In the arts, the Film Festival, Windmill Theatre Company (“the best children’s theatre company in the country” according to The Australian[1]), and Vitalstatistix Theatre Company were all slated for the axe.  Carclew was going to be sold off, the SAFC’s funding slashed, the Elder Conservatorium gone, Helpmann grants gone.  It was filed with repulsive suggestions, showing a complete lack of respect for everyone in this state.[2]

Waiting with bated breaths for the budget release at 3pm, the actual budget isn’t as bad as all that.  But the arts still suffers cuts to the air of $14.3 million over the next three years[3], and these are going to hurt small and medium sized companies the most.

Also cut, along with suburban touring Out of the Square and regional touring Local Stages, is Fringe Benefits, the free program offering discount tickets to people aged 18-30 in Adelaide.

But hey, at least the Festival of Arts can go annual with its extra $9.9 million over three years.

What Fringe Benefits does on behalf of the Adelaide Fringe is an acknowledgment that the arts in this city extend far beyond the Festival season. Adelaide comes alive during the Fringe, but the rest of the year amazing people with their Adelaide companies are putting on work.  This happens year in, year out.  What the budget fails to realise is this: we can’t be a “Festival State” if all we have are festivals.  We cannot have a strong festival without having a strong cultural backbone which extends the rest of the year.  We cannot become a city which imports its art and imports its audience four weeks a year, and abandons it the rest of the time.

Fringe Benefits does this.  Their website says “We live in a vibrant, amazing city full of creative people who are doing things differently – and Fringe Benefits is going to tell everyone about it.
”[4] They are about promoting this city, this wonderful city, and the art and creative people that it is home to: not just in March.

Part of the Adelaide arts scene since 2006, Fringe Benefits has sold 24,500 tickets, engaged with over 200 organisations, and 16,000 18-30 year olds living and working in Adelaide. [5] They are important for organisations, as an important marketing and support tool, and for us, as consumers, a “one-stop-shop” for our arts needs in this city.

The arts are expensive.  They are.  The price is prohibitive.  I am lucky enough now that I can choose to spend a lot of my money on theatre tickets, and I receive comp tickets when I review.  When I was a university student, I would add up while I worked I’ve now worked enough hours to by that ticket to the show I wanted to see this weekend. But even now, if it wasn’t for Fringe Benefits, I would see an awful lot less.   I can see a show for under $20 with Fringe Benefits, at the most $30, and more often than not I can get these seats in A Reserve.   We’re not shunted to the back of the gods because we’re in our twenties: the companies which put these tickets out respect us as audience members.

And Fringe Benefits respects us as audience members.

The other thing which is neglected as a “Festival State” are small companies.  No, the people at or ActNow aren’t making work which is strong enough for the Festival Of Arts.  They should be asked to be.  They are young companies of young people, who need that platform in this city to learn and to grow and create people who can work at the level of international festivals. Even beyond this ground, not all work is made for a festival audience, and it shouldn’t be.  Some things just don’t fit into the Adelaide Festival.  Trying to even define what does fit is hard, because with each new artistic director comes a new aesthetic.  Losing money for small companies for the sake of a festival dilutes the training ground and the experimental platform in this state, which causes an exodus of young creatives, and a city of arts which can’t grow.  Which can’t expand.  Which cannot create it’s own work for the Festival, and which dies: a Festival of imported work, for an imported audience.

This model causes the arts to change from being about the art to being about tourism. Art can of course be linked to tourism: the Save The Arts campaign in the UK is using this as one of their platforms, Melbourne appreciates this by running their Winter Masterpieces[6] series and investing heavily in producing large-scale musicals (Wicked, Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins). But the heart of the arts cannot be about tourism.  It has to be able local artists creating work to be seen by a local audience.

And Fringe Benefits respects local arts makers.

I work at the Mercury, and every time I have worked with someone at Fringe Benefits (primarily Lauren Presser), they have been nothing less than wonderful.  Enthusiastic, supportive, wanting to know what they can do to help us.  And they do help us.  As they help many other organizations.

So, we have Fringe Benefits supporting young arts goers, and arts organizations, year round, big companies and small companies. We have an asset to this state, and what I’m sure is the best program of its kind in Australian, and perhaps the world.  And what is its budget?  $50, $60,000 a year?  I don’t know, but whatever it is, it is an operation which works on the salary of one person, and then a shoestring.  To get rid of it is just petty.  It is petty, and pathetic, and we won’t stand for it.

We won’t stand for the mere proposal of cuts that were put forward for the arts.  And we won’t say “well, at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

Generally, I don’t subscribe to the idea that I am ignored as a 21-year-old.  I don’t feel like we are overlooked in politics.  But things like this show me that the Government don’t see us as voters.  Voters are families, not young, single people, who want to contribute to this state.   People my age are politically engaged: most of my friends voted below the line, something which I can’t say for my parent’s generation.  Two of my friends this year stood in the state election: Kelly made it to the senate.  We are young, and we are engaged, and we care about this state.

We’re going to fight for it.  Things like Format and Renew Adelaide are all about fighting for this city.  But we can only say we’re going to stay here for so long.  I love living in Adelaide, and I think it is a vibrant one with high quality art, and I think if it looses that I can’t stay here.  I can’t fight if there is nothing left to fight for.

So now is the time to fight.  And we’re going to.  We are standing up, and being counted and letting you know that we will NOT STAND to lose Fringe Benefits.

If you are running a campaign on this, I want to know about it.  In the next couple of days I will be drafting a form letter for individuals and organizations to complete and send off.  I’ve never done this before.  I want help, and I want to help you.

If I can get bar snacks in the Festival Centre, if I can save year 12 sports day, I can save Fringe Benefits.

We can save Fringe Benefits.

Join Fringe Benefits

Join the Facebook page (which, I was beaten to forming, go Adelaide!)

And fight.


Interview: Kym Begg and RightAct ’10

Harder to get an interview time with than Meow Meow, last Wednesday Kym and I finally met up to talk about all things RightAct ’10, the conference he is organising for ActNow in October.  The interview can be read here at Australian Stage Online.

I’m really excited about RightAct: everyone who I’ve met in the past couple of months who is involved is lovely and passionate and willing and wanting to share their friendship and knowledge and enthusiasm; there are some really amazing speakers involved; and I just love listening to passionate people talk and discuss and debate – when that’s about theatre I love it even more.

Click to enlarge.

If you want more information about the conference, visit the ActNow website, or to register for the workshops fill in the registration form.

Another thing which it is time to be excited for is 2011 Season launches.  Yes, they’ve begun!  Of course we get the Eastern states first, but that is just to whet the appetite, and I am very excited to know the Australian Ballet is bringing Stanton Welch Madame Butterfly to Adelaide, I haven’t seen it and cannot wait.   I have been lucky enough to be invited to BOTH of the State Theatre Company’s launches (yes, that’s right!  count them!  two!), with the launch proper on October 8, and the Red Carpet launch on October 14.

If you’re under 30 and want to come along to the Red Carpet launch, at the Banque in North Adelaide from 5:30-7:30, just rsvp to Robyn on 8415 5333 or email robyn at

I don’t know when any of the other Adelaide seasons (you know, because there are so many of them!) launch but I would appreciate invites tips!

Review: The Trial

Josef K (Ewan Leslie), awakes one day to find out he is under arrest.  For what, the arresting officers cannot say, but he is free to go about his life, until he must present for his trial.  From there, Josef K’s life proceeds to spiral out of control, as the impasse of being persecuted by an unknown power, for an unknown crime, takes over and destroys.  Kafka’s The Trial, adapted by Louise Fox and directed by Matthew Lutton, is an uncomfortable and inexplicably satisfying play.

Inexplicable, because as you can see from that lack-lustre of a plot summary, the nature of this story and its themes are hard to pin down and identify.  Yet, the collection of elements gives way to a fantastical production, helped in no small part by Leslie, who won his latest Helpmann for  Richard III as I wrote this.  Leslie gave a huddled performance, a man who was hushed and nearly defeated by life itself before we meet him, who becomes unquiet and tense as the absurdity of his trial takes its toll.  Simply a beautiful actor to watch, he has an energy which feeds into the audience, and carries the play.

Ewen Leslie as Josef K. He also, really distractedly, reminded me of my friend so much in mannerisms.

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