No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Theatre Review

Review reposts

Some older reviews from Guardian Australia:

Jesikah review – a vivid portrait of adolescent trauma
State Theatre Company of South Australia, dir. Nescha Jelk, wri. Phillip Kavanagh 

Jesikah is a strong work which will find resonance with its young audience. This programming, along with 2013 education showRandom, by British playwright Debbie Tucker Green and also directed by Jelk, is a significant shift for the company. No longer an lesson in drama as history from Brecht or Pinter, this is an education in theatre as a living art form. This work for young people is telling them your lives are relevant, your stories are relevant, the theatre is a place where your voices can be heard. It’s an exciting development.

Dangerous Liaisons review – grand fun that’s all too fleeting
Little Ones Theatre for MTC Neon, dir. Stephen Nicolazzo, wri. Christopher Hampton

There are inherent clashes in Nicolazzo’s world and this is where his production delivers the most joy: we watch decadent ladies play on a gilded Connect Four, as sound designers Russell Goldsmith and Daniel Nixon roll synthesised baroque music into Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody. The exuberance of the performers does much to expose the power of Hampton’s text, which can feel surprisingly contemporary. But despite the provocative staging, most surprising is how little Nicolazzo plays around within that world once it is established.

Little Bird review — Paul Capsis as master of song and story
State Theatre Company of South Australia, dir. Geordie Brookman, wri. Nikki Bloom

Capsis proves he is an energetic and charismatic performer as he blushes with coy shyness or flashes a wicked glint in his eye. His performance alternates between brash and underspoken, but it is the quietness of Bloom’s story that ultimately comes through. With subtlety Little Bird reveals itself as a tale of how we deal – or fail to deal – with grief. A tale of the ways grief causes shifts in our relationship with the world, to question what we know and the ways we expect people to act. And finally, that sometimes it is necessary to return home.

Multiverse review — dancers play with 3D projections and optical illusions
Australian Dance Theatre, cho. Gerry Stewart

A major difference between the cinema and performance is how their creators control the focus of the audience. In performance, focus can be trained through lighting and blocking, while in cinema the audience focuses their vision around one point in the screen, with the director choosing what to show in each moment. Throughout Multiverse, it is largely the screen that remains the focal point of the work, and the work feels much more analogous to watching video than a live work.
Rather than detracting from the performers, though, the projections and dancers enter into an ensemble relationship, and it’s the communication between dancer and animation that gives Multiverse its strengths.

Keep Everything review — rejected ideas find brilliant second life
Chunky Move, cho. Antony Hamilton

As we observe the initial duality of possibilities in the actions of these cavemen/humanoid hybrids, the three dancers pull their bodies out from these low scavenging moves. Movement begins to pass between the three like a wave as they move apart and then come together. They begin to hit one another, and this grows in intensity, until it becomes rhythmic patting. Perhaps they are collectively preparing for a race.

As the three circle around the stage, sliding one foot in front of the other, their cavemen muttering grows into phrases, their actions changing to match the words. “Do you want some dinner?” they ask, a thrusting arm turning into a small point. “It’s all your fault,” is yelled as they lunge, filled with accusation.

 

Advertisements

The Importance of Seeing Earnest

‘The Importance of Seeing Earnest’: a review of The Importance of Being Earnest, produced by the State Theatre Company of South Australia, written in five-parts and conducted through email between me and my editor at the Lifted Brow:

Jane: Cecily is “eighteen, but admitting to twenty at evening parties.” Lady Bracknell suggests this means it will not be long until Cecily is “of age and free from the restraints of tutelage.” So 19 or 20, perhaps? I’d suppose a governess would be something a young affluent women without a mother would be expected to keep until she’s married off, but that’s just conjecture. And because of her grandfather’s will we’re told Cecily won’t come of age until she’s 35, so who knows what is realistic and what is an 1895 poetic license.

I wonder now if you could read the disconnect between her manipulation and her naïvety as a result of less well developed Bunburying – while the two men have created fully formed characters to allow them a degree of freedom, as a woman Cecily is denied this. She’s always trapped under her guardian Jack or her governess Miss Prism, and so her version of a Bunbury cannot extend beyond her diaries and letters. It’s without the ability to fully take this creativity into the world that these glimpses of naïveté slip through. I would have liked to see Fry take just a bit more of a claim over the character’s wit, though. She was so almost there, but there was something lacking in the balance. Still, the fact that it is this character I keep thinking about says a lot. Is there a character you’re focusing on? Or is it just because I felt I was familiar with these characters that I get to pick out one in whom I’m seeing something new?

Simon: I thought the slightly strange dynamic between Lane and Algernon was quite telling in this sense, actually. Rory Walker’s Lane displays just enough begrudgment that I almost wondered whether he would do something to upset the butler/master dynamic—but then he covers for Algernon when Lady Bracknell asks after the missing cucumber sandwiches, and you realise that everyone in this society is a Bunburyist of some stripe, no matter their place in the hierarchy. (To repurpose Algernon’s famous line: “if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?”)

But as you point out, not everyone has the same Bunburying options as Jack and Algernon. I agree that Cecily’s age and situation necessarily limited her in this regard, and maybe if she had the autonomy of a Lady Bracknell she could outdo Algernon and Jack altogether—she certainly has the imagination for it, after all. (Thinking as a lawyer, though, I did have a strong suspicion that Cecily’s grandfather’s will couldn’t possibly affect her legal right to marry – and consequently I read that whole argument as an enormous bluff on Jack’s part!)

 

Sign Up! The Importance of Seeing Earnest

Jane is a theatre critic. Last Tuesday, she saw The Importance of Being Earnest for the fourth time. The script is the last script on her bookshelf, as the last script in the Collected Plays of Oscar Wilde. Not many playwrights come after Wilde in the alphabet.

Simon is her editor. Last Tuesday, he saw The Importance of Being Earnest for the first time. While his bookshelves are vast, they don’t contain the Collected Plays of Oscar Wilde.

After they left the theatre, Jane and Simon stole wine and oysters from opening night drinks. After opening night drinks, they spent five days emailing each other about the production. They discussed all the things you’d expect in a theatre review, took a few tangents besides—translation! Monty Python! linguistics! 19th century probate law!—and collectively developed a sense of Earnest, and what it means to see it for the first time, and the fourth.

The Lifted Brow is inviting you to eavesdrop on this conversation. Go on. Subscribe. One review, two critics; five emails, five days. The conversation starts this Saturday 9 August.

Subscribe here.

On classic texts and single gender casts

Among several themes circling around Australian theatre at the moment, two that are particularly prominent and I’ve written about recently, are the adaptation of classical texts, and works exploring gender theory and sexuality. These works exist on mainstages with thousand seat theatres and in independently funded productions in backyard sheds. There is a dialogue existing between these works: the voices of independent companies rising to and becoming embedded with major funded organisations, and then new, younger independent theatre makers seeing this conversation and again playing with it themselves: be that with themes of gender, classics or, increasingly, both.

In the last eight months I’ve made particular note of three theatrical works from independent companies that combine both of these themes using single gendered casts. From Sydney’s US-A-UMThe Lord of the Flies; from Adelaide’s Foul PlayMacbeth; and from Melbourne’s 5Pound TheatreUbu Roi. These three companies place different emphasis on their solo-gendered casts with these old and familiar texts, and each come out with a drastically different message on gender with varying levels of success.

The work that has laid most heavily on my mind, and became the catalyst for writing about these three works is this unsuccessful Macbeth, under the direction of Yasmin Gurreeboo. Staged in warehouse space in the Adelaide suburb of Bowden, Gurreeboo asks her audience to sit through her production twice: once with an all female cast, and then repeated with an all male cast. The text, cut down to eighty minutes with a seemingly endless list of dramaturgs credited in the program, starts with ‘is this a dagger which I see before me, the dagger towards my hand?’, and is a confused edit playing with time and space that places Macbeth in a prison, seemingly recounting the events which lead him there with cast members doubling between characters in the prison and characters in the original story, with no obvious logic to when they are playing each.

Foul Play's Macbeth. Photo by Manda Webber.

Foul Play’s Macbeth. Photo by Manda Webber.

Foul Play’s goal with this production, confusion in text aside, was to have the audience question how they perceive the story of Macbeth and the violence which is inherent in Shakespeare’s story when they view these actions performed by a man against performed by a woman. “I want to offer an audience the opportunity to be in a position to face their own prejudices head on by seeing the same roles, in the same production played out by a males and females,” Gurreeboo writes in her director’s statement. Unfortunately, Gurreeboo and her cast fail to escape the ideas and constructs of gender as written into the original characters, and so these prejudices can never be accessed by her audience. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Life & Times: Verbatim Review

As told to Jason Sweeney, my rambling rave of Melbourne Festival’s Life & Times: Episodes 1 – 4. In the spirit of the show, a verbatim review. Unedited except for Sweeney’s interstitial remarks. 

LifeandTimes

I’m really. I’m. I just. So I went. In Melbourne I saw a ten-hour play, um, The Life and Times. I actu— I think it’s going to be, like, one of the definitive theatrical experiences of my life. It was just. It was incredible. I was yeah, there, yeah, the whole time. I did the I did the marathon and it was … And I I I went in — I was really excited about it and I was talking to my mate that I was going with before we went in and I was going ‘this is the worst thing ever, I am so excited going in, I can’t get like I can’t feel better then this.’ Like. Ha ha. It can only be a disappointment because I’ve filled up so much of my head with like and you can’t do that and it just got and I just got happier and happier and more excited and more excited the more that it went on, and so I’m really excited by, like, long things.

There was this great review of um Angels in America which I also saw and I also did the the the whole day with that this year um and there was this great review I think it was in um Concrete Playground it opened with something along the lines of, um, ‘In this. In this day and age perhaps the best ways to experience art are in three minutes or seven hours’. Ha ha.

And I — Life and Times it was just incredible. And it. And I think like it was really funny. Like, I didn’t expect it to be that funny. Like, you don’t expect things to be that funny for ten hours and then the last twenty minutes it just it dissolves into this bizarre — it’s not even performance art because it’s not even performance really like it’s just the last twenty minutes is just insane. We all walked out and we were all just ‘I don’t think my brain’s working.’ Ha ha ha ha ha.

lifeandtimes2

So the last. So the first three and a half hours is done in the style of a communist musical, so like with rhythmic gymnastics elements. And none of them were trained dancers. So they’re doing rhythmic gymnastics. And then the second middle maybe two hours is done in the style of an eighties music video, and so it’s all. It’s a black stage with a mirror ball and they’re all in um velour tracksuits. And then the final third maybe two hours is done in the style of ah um Agatha Christie British like um drawing room mystery farce. Um and the set for that is very am-dram painted flats. And one of the. One of the best moments in the whole ten hours is one of the characters picks up a fire poker and starts poking the flats and like something else is happening on stage I have no idea what, with the audience is just dying at 11:30 at night we’ve been there for nine and a half hours and and I think the fact that the actor looks at the audience and then looks back ha ha as she’s poking the flat with the fire poker. It’s brilliant.

So that’s like the last two hours. So the last twenty minutes, maybe, the cast — so it’s yep, British farce, they do sit in this tableau on stage, lights go to green, bright green. Smoke machine. Half a dozen people in alien bodysuits come out and sit in this tableau and there is the voice over is talking about um making an insect out of a basil leaf in art class. And then it just sort of ends. Ha ha ha ha ha.

lifeandtimes3

The Life and Times: Episodes Melbourne just had episodes one through four. And eventually there will be ten episodes? So they want they’re going to what they’re going to they’re aiming to make it a twenty-four hour thing. They’re called the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. Yeah.

The. Yeah. And it’s just. Yeah. And it’s just amazing because like it doesn’t sound like it should work? Ha ha. It’s just like. It’s all verbatim from a phone call with one of the company members and so it’s her life story. So episodes one through four I think we went from birth to eighteen.

On Babyteeth: seeing a play twice, the nature of breath, balancing relationships, and why I don’t like the term life-affirming.

To listen as you read:

In this piece of writing, I talk about the beginning and the end of Babyteeth and all the pieces in between. This is not a piece of writing for the spoiler adverse. If you want to hold out and learn the story as it plays out on the stage, leave now. This is a piece of writing for those who want to pore over details: for those who have seen the play, and for those who have not.

Babyteeth photo by Shane Reid

In the beginning, we see the end. The end of the play; the end of a life.

A family starts just another day. A mother talks about making pancakes. A father has forgotten to put on his pants. The young man they barely know smokes his cigarette just outside the door.

The mother enters her daughter’s room, to find her daughter’s life has left her daughter’s body.

And at the end, when we again watch this beginning, I remain unmoved.

This is the story of a play I was hopelessly, achingly disappointed in. This is the story of a play that my friends said made them bawl. This is the story of a play my friends said they found beautiful. This is the story of second chances more than paying off. Of a play finding its feet.

This is the story of a play I saw twice.

On opening night, something was missing. No energy passed between the characters. No tension was traded between moments and scenes. There was a distinct lack of movement on stage.

On the page, Rita Kalnejais builds her world around people’s breaths.

Characters use commas like they use air. Often these people are breathless – a breath at that moment would change the course of history.

 But these characters I watched never felt breathless: they never felt like they had any breath to lose.

On opening night there was a medical emergency in the audience and we were asked to leave the theatre. In this makeshift interval we caught up with friends, we discussed the state of the world. We wondered, as time ticked on, if we would be invited back into the theatre that night, if the audience member would be okay, if the cast would be, too. But invited back we were, the cast picking up from the beginning of the scene they had to abandon.

And those first five minutes back in the theatre were the best five minutes of the play. In those five minutes the cast found tension. An energy crackled on stage as a petulant daughter scowled at her mother, as parents tried to settle a fight without showing their daughter that a fight was being had at all.

And then, as soon as we had it, it was gone. We were back in a world without breathing. There was no pull between the stage and the audience. The story was relayed to us in muted tones.

The world of Babyteeth was still.

And I left frustrated. Disappointed in a production that failed to find its way.

My friends started to go, and their reports trickled in. Am I the odd one out? I thought. It would hardly be the first time. But then should I go again? I asked one friend who raved. I heard that it was a bit cold the first performances, he said. Definitely see it again if you can. 

And so, one week after I went the first time, I went again.

It’s not unusual for me to see works more than once. Before Babyteeth, in 2013 I’ve returned to four productions: Hedda Gabler after a couple of weeks, Persona after a year. For works I am taken by, I enjoy the chance to pick up new details for the first time, to study the piece and pick it apart, to see how it changes after I’ve grown up a year, to see how it responds to a new space, to take friends along on the journey with me.

This, however, was the first time I returned after disappointment.

But in that week, the cast found breath. Not always. Sometimes the world built by director Chris Drummond still felt too still, but when it didn’t breaths circled up and around the characters, through the world, connecting the people on the stage to one another, the people on stage to the people in the audience.

Kalnejais’ Milla, played here by Danielle Catanzariti, exists in a world that is breathing. As she is losing her breath, she feels more acutely the breath of the world.

MILLA looks up through the smashed glass ceiling of the station, at the squall of pigeons, doomed skywriting plane, clouds, unbelievable space.

Hilary Kleinig’s composition brings much of the breath to this world and often when it is absent the world feels too still. Her rich cello swirls around and engulfs the theatre; her piano hesitant with breaths seeming to catch and fall between the notes. The music intersects with Geoff Cobham’s lighting design: soft blues and radiant yellows, unnatural and iridescent against the raw wood of Wendy Todd’s set.

Drummond’s work is most seen with Brink Productions. There, he directs plays that he has had a hands-on role since the very first devising workshop in the rehearsal room. He works with diverse playwrights with varying results, but you always walk away with a sense of his fingerprints to the work.

Babyteeth doesn’t come from this lineage. And yet, it feels uniquely appropriate for Drummond. The plays he has worked on through development often have a sense of times and places intersecting: from the eighty years and two continents we traverse in Andrew Bovell’s When The Rain Stops Falling, to the lives of strangers in the same city on the same day in Bryony Lavery’s Thursday.

Kalnejais plays with a similar sense in her text as scenes softly flow into each other, and this production is at its strongest when Drummond really works with these slippages of time and space. Outside Gidon’s door, Milla cries on a train platform. Anna stands up from Gidon’s piano stool and walks towards Milla’s bedroom door.

Occasionally this movement isn’t found. A full blackout feels out of place and lasts a few beats too long. Scenes don’t flow over and into one another: it feels we are being shown the quietness of an empty stage, rather than the quietness of a lived space.

In Belvoir’s original production these intersections and flows between spaces were solved through using a revolve. Here, the living space of Milla’s family, Gidon’s apartment, Henry’s office all share one space. Through slated wood we steal glances into the bathroom, through the smallest of slivers we can see into Milla’s bedroom, until the action takes place in this room and a bed rises from the traps system created by elevating the stage level in the Space Theatre.

Babyteeth four photo by Shane Reid

In the final scene, Kalnejais asks for the stage to be turned around: what we once watched from inside the house, we now watch from the garden. The benches in the family home lower, the wooden walls move out and cross the front of the stage, and suddenly we are outside looking in. It is intelligent and moving set construction.

Babyteeth is a lovely play to read on the page. Kalnejais writes impossible stage directions, there to expand the world of the piece in the mind of the reader, to give clues to the creatives.

She writes:

A crowd of greased-up, slick-back’d pigeons fling themselves at the sky. Feather and lice fall on the platform with their shadows.

She writes stage directions that bore down into the heart of the characters. She writes:

ANNA nods looking at the stream of water as if it were a skipping rope – as if with the right timing she could slip in without disturbing the stream of droplets.

Kalnejais’ Milla is softly haunted, grabbing glances at and hearing snatches from a world that exists beyond the world she currently lives in. And still, she grounds herself in an unadorned reality.

“A cloud like a … I don’t know. Just a cloud. Isn’t it? But very white.

I guess it could be a dragon. Or … I keep coming back to the fact it looks like a cloud.”

Catanzari starts her performance too naïve, her fourteen-year-old Milla too young as she meets Matt Crook’s twenty-five-year-old Moses. As the play progresses and Catanzari finds the ground that Milla stands on, this deep investment in reality, her performance becomes stronger. This strength of character battles against a growing weakness of body, Catanzari’s small frame seemingly trying to climb inside itself, a hunch in the back becoming more pronounced, a stoop in the legs struggling to hold her body.

Drummond gives just the slightest of hints of this haunting of Milla: once we catch the sound of a call to Milla as if traveling on the wind; sometimes Kleinig’s  music embraces notes like an ethereal voice; Cobham will place Milla in a bright yellow spotlight. But here, too, often the stage is too still, no hints are given to connect Milla from this world to that.

Kalnejais refers to this haunting as what the dead said moments, and passes the solution for staging them over to the production. When we read them on the page, there is a real sense that this is Milla’s story. The reader is offered insights into her life above all other characters, it’s her who we see the innermost core of.

On stage, however, you sense there is a balancing issue in this text. Too often Babyteeth doesn’t feel like Milla’s story at all. Through both Kalnejais’ writing and Catanzari’s performance, it is Milla’s relationships that are the most compelling. When she is with Chris Pitman as her father Henry, cautious and caring, a love encompasses the stage. As Milla sits in the lap of her mother Anna, Claire Jones gives us a woman that is nervous, often hesitant, sitting on the edgy of a bubble that threatens to burst at any moment letting her emotions get the better of her.

It’s the hugs and the fights between these characters that the work most comes alive in. These moments predicated on Milla’s illness, and those resting only on being a family with a young daughter.

Kalnejais’ takes us beyond this core family. She shows us Henry and Anna in strained, dulled conversations. Kalnejais then takes us into Henry and Anna’s worlds beyond their family, the foils for each of them there holding purpose in the text. In a burgeoning relationship with Henry, Alyssa Mason’s Toby is the young woman his daughter will never be and brings the promise of new life as his daughter loses grip on hers. Through the sometimes crass Latvian violin teacher Gidon (Paul Blackwell) and the young boy Thuong (Lawrence Mau / James Min) who he takes on, Anna must acknowledge she will lose a girl she perhaps never truly got an opportunity to know.

Babyteeth three photo by Shane Reid

But still, while we learn more about Milla’s family, a family of which Milla is always at the heart, it feels like Milla herself is too often relegated to the shadows.

At the centre of the play is Milla’s relationship with Moses, the young drug dealer who first meets Milla by helping her with a blood nose, and then asking her for money. Crook’s Moses may be wrong for Milla, making the best of a situation he has found himself in – a bed, a pantry stocked with food and with drugs – but he still carries himself with a generous heart.

The terminal unromantic that I am, I get the feeling Milla knows this isn’t her true love. She seizes onto this young man because he is kind to her, yes, but also because he is there. Because as she feels the grasp she has on her life becoming ever more tenuous, grabbing onto this man feels like the safest option. She is living out her days hopeful for the world that speaks to her, for the love of her parents, for the jokes and the life they share, for a world where love is a grand adventure still to be explored. She holds on to this man not because she thinks he is her one true love – but because she knows he will be her one love.

The story, therefore, is of Milla’s romance. But it isn’t a romance. A tragedy, perhaps, that a young girl must try and manufacture a first love story, knowing it will be her last.

With Babyteeth, we are given the first production in the State Theatre Company’s new commitment to giving new Australian plays second productions. Under Artistic Director Geordie Brookman we are seeing the strongest artistic program in many years, and if reports are to be believed their strongest audience numbers. These productions are only one of the ways the company is working towards strengthening national connections, but for me it is the most exciting. It is a commitment to giving Australian playwrights pride of place, it gives playwrights the ability to revisit their work, and will hopefully allow the lives of some plays to flourish more fully.

Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play explores the nature of new play development and production in the American not-for-profit theatre sector: a sector that seems to hold many similarities to our own. In the study, the authors speak to the fact that productions begat productions: once a play is produced by three American theatre companies is more likely to find its way into theatres across the country. How these economies work in a country so much smaller I don’t know, but it will be exciting for Adelaide audiences to watch these plays come in – and hopefully go on.

Finally, I want us to take one step back from the play for a moment.

In relation to Babyteeth, I’ve been fascinated by the way people speak about death and loss. Or, more accurately, the way we speak about life in the face of death. From the marketing of this production, to the marketing of the original production at Belvoir, from reviews now and then, the play is repeatedly described as ‘life-affirming.’

Do we need to watch a play about a fourteen-year-old girl coming to grips with the fact that she can no longer fight for her life to have our own lives affirmed? Is it a strange cultural tick, this there but for the grace of god? Are we supposed to think at least it’s not me? Or is this a romanticisation of suffering: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Everything happens for a reason.

Do we need to find a happy and uplifting metaphor in the theatre to make it palatable? Is it not enough for a play to acknowledge the world can be terrible; terrible things happen; that is life. Is that not good enough for the theatre? Do we think that’s not good enough for audiences?

We live in a world of at times unfathomable tragedy. If its war or starvation or abuse or illness, if it’s a tragedy that is happening to a country or if it’s happening to a family: do we need to desperately search for some good in that? Does theatre need to pretend there is good in that?

I don’t think theatre should have to comfort us. It shouldn’t have to hold our hand.

The final strands of Kalenjais’ play show us that life moves on. Nothing more; nothing less. The world will keep spinning. Grief will keep consuming. Milla’s parents will live on because parents live on. Not because their lives are affirmed: because their lives exist.

GIDON takes the little Gliga violin from the case and fits it under THONG’s chin. It is as if this violin has been made for him.

GIDON picks up his instrument and plays with him.

ANNA places her hands on the piano. She takes a deep breath. They play and play and play.

The world Kalnejais has created is filled with laughter and with kindness. For Toby and Thuong in particular, it is filled by a grand and expanding future. Perhaps that’s what people mean when they say it’s life affirming?

For me, I’ve just found living in the face of grief to be life.

And for me, that’s what this play is. It’s not tragedy nor comedy nor romance, but life. As huge and a tiny as that is: it’s everything. I don’t need my life affirmed to appreciate that. I just need my life.

Babyteeth by Rita Kalenjais, directed by Chris Drummond for the State Theatre Company of South Australia in the Space Theatre, 16 August – 07 September 2013. Tickets available here.

Designer Wendy Todd, lighting designer Geoff Cobham, composer Hilary Kleinig, associate sound designer Andrew Howard. With Paul Blackwell, Danielle Catanzariti, Matt Crook, Claire Jones, Alyssa Mason, Chris Pitman, and Lawrence Mau and James Min alternating in the role of Thuong.

All quotes taken from Babyteeth (2012), published by Currency Press in association with Belvoir. Available here.

Music featured here by Hilary Kleinig. Photographs by Shane Reid.

Further reading:

Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play, a study of the Theatre Development Fund, written by Todd London and Ben Pesner. It is available here. 

On Guardian Australia, Alison Croggon writes on Second thoughts: return visits to favourite productions.

Rita Kalnejais’ first play BC, produced by Hayloft Theatre and Full Tilt in 2009, published by Red Door, an imprint of the Australian Script Centre can be read here.

Further listening:

We’re Gonna Die by Young Jean Lee, a theatre/cabaret piece about coming to grips with death and pain. “The thing everyone has in common: We’re gonna die. You may be miserable, but you won’t be alone.” Recorded with the band Future Wife, available in iTunes here, closing song available to listen to here.

I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die someday,
Then I’ll be gone and it’ll be it okay.
Someone will miss me, someone will be so sad.
And it’ll hurt, it’s gonna hurt so bad.

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.

Review: Random

Zindzi Okenyo. Photo by Sophia Calado.

Zindzi Okenyo. Photo by Sophia Calado.

debbie tucker green’s Random is a mammoth of a play for an actor to take on. It runs at under an hour, but asks a lot from its performer emotionally as she moves through the textually dense piece. Over the course of a day we follow a family – Mum, Dad, Brother and Sister – as they start their days, and then hear the news of a brutal, random knife attack on Brother.

Here director Nescha Jelk, making here State Theatre Company debut, also rests a lot on performer Zindzi Okenyo’s shoulders. In the first half of the play, Jelk places Okenyo in almost utter silence. Compounded by Ben Flett’s lighting that keeps Okenyo only lit from the waist up, Jelk is asking a lot of her audience, too, to train in and engage with the language of green’s text.

But lean in we do. green’s text brings a crammed, rhythmic poetry to everyday speech. This rhythm is intensified with the accents of the characters: the soft Jamaican lilt of Mum, the different tonal slangs of Brother and Sister. Some words are lost, particularly in the voice of Mum and at times it feels like the rhythm of the piece is more important to Jelk than the specific words.

In the first half, Okenyo fells most at home in the body of Sister – closest physically, but also the character she goes on to spend the most time in. Jelk gives Okenyo a breath between each character; transitions at first seem to be made too slowly, disrupting green’s internal rhythms. Lit by projections of blurred, muted colours as well as the rig, occasionally, too, transitions in the projection screens take away from the pace of green’s text. As the play develops, though, Jelk and Okenyo find the rhythms that speak through and they take over the performance.

Read the rest of this entry »

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: The Migration Project

For the last six months, theatre maker Alirio Zavarce has been an Artist in Residence at William Light R-12 School and Woodville High School. This residency has cumulated in The Migration Project in the 2013 Come Out Festival.

Arriving at the Torrens Parade Ground, we are each passed a migration card. It asks for our name, our date of birth, our method of arrival. Then the questions get stranger: are you blonde? A real blonde? What is better – lamingtons or pavlova? Would you be prepared to eat a whole jar of Vegemite to prove how Australian you are? Are you secretly racist?

We fill these in while waiting in line, and at the end stands Alirio Zavarce, asking each of us “What makes you Australian?” We again line up, this time in five queues, as we wait for the rest of the audience to be processed.

We are directed into the next room, dropping our migration cards on a table on our way in. The room is filled with circles of chairs, and in each circle is a student from one of the two high schools. We small talk: where in the world have you been? What hobbies do you have? They tell us a bit about themselves, where they’re from, and how we’re all a part of this big wide world together.

We move again, this time into an end-on theatre set-up. The high school students take their places on the stage, and the performance truly begins. Introduced and lead by Zavarce, the students tell us their stories of how they came to Australia, or how their families came here. They write words to describe Australia on blackboards, they pull props to tell their stories out of suitcases. Intercut through this are videos of other students talking about the world they live in: what makes them Australian? How does racism make them feel?

The Migration Project feels of the same central philosophy of Zavarce’s lauded Sons & Mothers: Zavarce taking an instance in his life – there his relationship with his mother, here his migration to Australia – and using it to instigate a collaborative community work. Where Zavarce created a space for the men of Sons & Mothers to truly own the work, though, that same space doesn’t feel like it is offered to the young adults at the heart of The Migration Project. Their stories are slotted into the work, but the work is never of their stories. In the end, we are left with just a cursory glance.

The piece is quite nice: we see some students telling their stories, and they do a lovely job of this. But in the subject matter – and in the students – it feels like there is so much more potential.

Read the rest of this entry »