No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: In Brief

Overheard at the theatre

During Grug and The Rainbow, from audience members approx. three- to five-years-old. 

When the actors pull out a record: “Ah. That’s a giant CD.”

When there is a storm: “Is that real lightning?”

When paint appears on the paint brush: “It’s magic!”

When Grug goes to bed: “Why is it nighttime?”

When Grug paints a house green: “Is that real paint?”

When Grug paints a house green: “That really looks like aqua.”

When Grug goes to the snow: “I want to go there.”

Apropos of nothing: “Mum! Give me money! Mum! Give me some money, mum!”

Perth Festival 2014

Perth Podcasting

As the Adelaide Festival is about to begin, the Perth Festival is entering its last week. I was there last week to catch a bit of the action (and a bit of the ocean) with Guardian Australia, and you can catch up on all of our coverage from PIAF here, and Perth’s Fringe World here.

You can read my reviews of PIAF shows:

And Fringe World productions:

I also took a look at:

On the podcast, I:

The live blog for Adelaide’s festival season kicks off on March 7. Would love to have you all following along here, and subscribing to the podcast here. See you then!

School for Birds

I’m up on School for Birds (one of my favourite arts blogs) this week, in conversation from December talking about criticism, critics, deadlines, theatre, and artists, saying things like:

I really believe that everyone has a right to talk about theatre. Everyone has a voice and it is valid. Perhaps, because artists have had a reviewer ‘not get it’ and because those reviews come with a position of power, some artists get this idea that they don’t want people to have an opinion because it might be ‘wrong’. I think that is really scary. You might be talking about a small group of critics, but when you extrapolate that out, it is your audience that you are silencing.

You can read the whole thing here.

Sydney Festival 2014

The bar at Carriageworks: a theatre home for the week.

The bar at Carriageworks: a theatre home for the week.

I’ve just come back from a wonderful week in Sydney covering the Festival with Guardian Australia. It was an excellent team to be working with, and you should certainly catch up on all of the coverage here.

While you’re doing that, you can read my reviews of:

And a couple of feature articles, where I asked:

On the liveblog, I:

On video, I:

And on the podcast, I spoke about:

We’ll be back at it all again in Perth in a few weeks. I cannot wait to get stuck into it.

Moving forward.

I’ve been trying very hard over the past three or four months to figure out what my blog “is”: for me, for my readers, for artists. How is it different than the work I do for other publications? Should it be different than the work I do for other publications?

Many reviews have been lost while I’ve been grappling with this, but I don’t think I want it to be just another space for 800 word reviews. So, I’m going to try something new. For now, this means my work here will only be longform. It will only take the big picture. I won’t feel guilty about not writing about everything. I’ll only write about things where I’m driven to write something that looks at the world as bigger than the stage.

This may mean seeing productions twice. This may mean referencing the script in great detail. This may mean referencing other reviews. This may mean none of those things. This may fail. But this is my public proclamation that I’m going to try. First piece up this week.

On facts and figures

Over at ABC Arts Online, Alison Croggon has done a brilliant write-up on figures we collated pertaining to the presentation of new plays in Australia. Here are the nuts and bolts of the issue:

Of a total of 93 productions mounted in 2013, we found that a healthy 54 were new Australian works – that is, almost 60 per cent. Two further productions were of Australian classics. International work (classics, adaptations and new plays) totalled 37 productions. Of the new Australian works, 25 were new plays, 19 were new adaptations of prior work and 13 were collaboratively devised. (The figures don’t add up because there is some cross-over in the categories). Six are collaborations between two writers, five of them a writer/director team. AMPAG companies produced work by a total of 34 Australian playwrights in 2013.

Says playwright Daniel Keene to Alison:

Let’s face it, it’s hard being a playwright. There are only so many stages, and only so many plays can be done every year. In order for your plays to be done, you depend on other people to realise them. And sometimes collaborations fail, as they must be allowed to do: but it doesn’t make things any easier.

Earlier this year I interviewed Matthew Whittet for a piece for Arts Centre Melbourne. We discussed how he is an early career playwright who has found great ongoing support from Windmill, who have produced three of his plays and have a fourth currently under commission. He told me:

You hear it constantly over and over and over: you need to find directors. Writers need to find directors. […] If you’re writing for theatre it almost means nothing, or it’s a very very difficult path to tread if you just want to be a writer who sends your work out for other people to do. You have to find collaborators. You have to find people. It’s literally just finding the right fit. The people who you speak to their work and they speak to what you do. It’s like anything, doing any kind of theatre: the best shows always for me always come from a group of people that you feel they enjoy working together, and there is a fit. It doesn’t matter where they’re from or who they are or what their experience is, that’s always a major key.

The theatre world is constantly shifting and changing, and we need a system that allows for flexibility – flexibility, even, in the definition of ‘new Australian work’, on how plays are made, and who makes them. It can be a hard industry for anyone, and when one section is pointed out as the ‘problem’ it’s easy for other artists and arts workers too look at that and prescribe it as the cause of all ills. Today that might be auteur directors; tomorrow it might be administrators; Monday it might be funding bodies. But, alongside flexibility, theatre is built from a community that requires collaboration.

It’s easy to get caught up in emotion; I’m glad Alison and I were able to inject some facts. Sometimes, these facts and figures support what people have been saying; here they don’t. Either way, they allow us to focus our conversations, and that is what will lead to a stronger industry.

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.


If you’re scrolling down this blog chronologically, the following posts on No Plain Jane came from chilly Canberra and the Australian Theatre Forum, where I was an official blogger alongside Augusta Supple. Please note I was “live-ish” blogging the conference, and as such many of these pieces were published within ten minutes of a panel ending; please try and forgive their flaws.

End of the Festival Season

Well. For all the craziness of festival season, this blog ended up looking quite neglected. I was too busy having the time of my life interning with the Guardian Culture team, over in Adelaide to cover the Festival. It was intense and wonderful, and – quite honestly – gave me the best festival season of my life.

Their coverage was far and beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed for the arts in this country, and to be part of it was a thrill. If you missed it – or want to relive it – you can catch up on the live blogs for week one and week two; go through the archive here; and read what I wrote about the nature of criticism and The Kreutzer Sonata controversy, a review of What The Body Does Not Remember, and an interview with a company member of Hotel Modern’s Kamp.

On the beautiful new ABC Arts Online website you can also read my reviews of Sylvie Guillem in 3000 Miles Away and Larissa McGowan’s Skeleton, and thoughts about the theatre program in the first ten days of the Festival.

In my other life, I was delighted to see the stunning Symphony of Strange come to life – I couldn’t have asked for a better creative team or a better presentation space, and I am very thankful to Gareth for inviting me in to produce. The show received five stars from The Advertiser and a nomination for Best Dance – so huge congratulations to the team.

There are a few Fringe shows that I should craft my notes into reviews but now the real world is back knocking on my door, to be completely honest I don’t know when you’ll see them. I’ve spent the last two weeks since it all ended in recovery mode: illness has followed illness, all minor but draining. I think it’s just my body’s way of telling me I’m heart-broken about the Festival season leaving us. Or, maybe, that I just need to get more sleep.

Goodbye ’12, Hello ’13

It’s been a bit of a hiatus here on No Plain Jane. I ended the year in what can only be described as theatre overload. I estimate I overdosed by four productions, and perhaps would have been better off bidding the year farewell in November. Nonetheless, three of these productions have reviews in various states of half finish on my trusty computer, so we’ll see if any end up here. Also in progress are the “best of” and “looking forward” posts – stay tuned.

Primarily I’ve been hibernating away the summer, but there are a few places my work has been showing up since last time I wrote here. You can find me writing for ABC Arts Online’s Out & About series, in the current edition of un Magazine, and still with the Adelaide Review. This Fringe, I’m again putting on my producer hat with Melbourne dancer Gareth Hart’s Symphony of Strange.

I’m writing this with my copy of un Magazine by my side, a gorgeous publication with STILL FREE written down the spine. While I think the internet and blogs are incredible platforms for sharing and storing writing, there is still something special about the hard copy: about how it leads you to reading what you mightn’t had otherwise, about the record it keeps, about the cataloging and classifying and curating writing.

In her book Seven Days in the Art WorldSarah Thornton describes art magazines as a place where “art is an excuse for words”. And for one reason or a million this is an excuse I love. But what of the future for it? When Alison Croggon wrote of the hanging up of her Theatre Notes hat, I shocked even myself by crying. Alison’s blog shaped the path for me and countless other writers and while for her – and her other writing pursuits – it is clearly a positive choice, it’s hard to see its loss as anything but sad for Australian theatre.

It’s easy in these discussions to get caught up in navel gazing, but what is the future of this crazy career path I’ve chosen for myself? How long can I afford sustain it? How long can the Australian theatre industry afford to not sustainably support it?

I spoke to Chris Drummond of Brink Productions in December for the February Adelaide Review. Talking about arts writing, he spoke about the record of Adelaide theatre being lost: “the critics and then the writers who record the history make the history and Adelaide hasn’t been good at recording the life of productions, where as Sydney and Melbourne are very adept at that.” Of Theatre Notes, he said “I can easily remember a pre-Theatre Notes era. And so it’s not that impossible for that to just go away.”

This isn’t only an issue which can easily effect smaller cities like Adelaide and Perth, but there are the questions of what work is being written about in all cities – are independent companies covered? will we be able to look back on the beginnings of careers? – and, perhaps even more importantly, where is the record of work being created in our regions going to come from?

In this internet age, much work will be written about. But will it be recording a history, or will it just be written for the here and now, for those with $20 or $50 or $100 burning a hole in their pocket, deciding which show to buy a ticket for?

These are the questions I’ll be carrying with me into this new year. I’ll try and keep on asking them, and maybe even answering them. See you in the theatres.


For further reading, if you missed it, Jana Perkovic asked some very pertinent questions about the future of Australian arts writing on her blog in an obituary to theatre notes, and perhaps to criticism, and in theatre criticism in australia: what is actually going on?, with some stats