No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Geordie Brookman

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.

Review: Hedda Gabler

Kate Cheel and Alison Bell, photo by Shane Reid.

Kate Cheel and Alison Bell, photo by Shane Reid.

The house lights drop. The music rises, thumping through the auditorium. Half-light on stage. Hedda Gabler (Alison Bell) stands in the doorway. Stressed. Out of place. She moves the couch. It’s in the wrong place. Sits. Rubs her eyes. Stressed. Blackout.

Considered one of the greatest female roles of the repertoire, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler comes roaring into the 21st Century in this contemporary adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith, directed by Geordie Brookman. The dialogue is contemporary, formalities and the maid have been dispensed with, the characters wield iPhones, yet this faithful adaptation leaves the structure and major beats of Ibsen’s text intact.

While the characters keep their Norwegian names and the location is never explicitly stated, the spirit of Murray-Smith’s text is that of Australia, perhaps almost chiefly for Hedda’s relationship with guns. Murray-Smith’s Hedda is an anomaly in this society for owning guns at all, not simply for being a woman who owns them. Here, inherited and never registered, “you should have turned then in”, says Brack (Terence Crawford), a reference to Australia’s 1996 gun reforms. Indeed, because of this, it’s almost impossible to see this work having the same relevancy in contemporary America.

Perhaps one of the dangers in adapting Hedda Gabler to a contemporary context is the way that women’s place in society has changed in 120 years. Ibsen’s women, his Hedda and his Nora in particular, were revolutionary in their portraits of middle-class women unhappy with their lives, questioning society, and, ultimately, taking control of their own destinies – in radically different fashions. It would be all too easy for a contemporary Hedda to not ring true: while women are still under many pressures and societal expectations, today’s women are, on the whole, more activated both inside and outside the home. Yet, Murray-Smith’s adaptation brings with it startling relevancy, none more so in the ever-prevailing expectation and tension on women to become mothers: here, this conversation feels shocking but in no way false.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The City

This review contains minor spoilers to the plot and the production. 

When Christopher (Chris Pitman) went to work today, his swipe card wouldn’t swipe. No matter what he did, the door wouldn’t register him. The cleaners didn’t even recognise him. As Clair (Lizzy Falkland) waited for the train today, a man came up, worried he hadn’t had a chance to say good-bye to his daughter. Recapping their days, overlaps and intersections of the mundane and the important, husband and wife talk past each other more than they talk to each other.

Slowly, their lives dislocate: Christopher finds himself unemployed – was the failed swipe card a sign?; Clair finds herself drawn to the man from the train station, Mohamed; their lives are interrupted by strange tales and accusations from their neighbour, Jenny (Anna Steen).

Martin Crimp’s The City, here presented by nowyesnow and directed by Geordie Brookman is a tight and tense look at lives that, while, perhaps aren’t faltering, are wrecked with tautness and strain. Crimp’s text, tightly woven and obsessed with structure, holds its audience at arms length: there is a mystery to the work, but it takes much labour to find your way into his mind and the mind of his characters.

Despite all my preparation for seeing The City, I wasn’t on top of the piece until the final scene in this production. In Crimp’s world, eerie and out-of-balance, nothing can be assumed to be the truth. As soon as you come to this realisation, as soon as you start noticing the cracks in this world, everything that is said is questioned. Things that once seemed true become lies, things that seemed lies become true, and even as the play ends I couldn’t tell where the frame of the “real” world within Crimp’s work began, and an imaginary world ended. Was any of it intended to be true? Was the whole thing fallacy after fallacy, lie wrapped up in a lie?

Read the rest of this entry »

Interview: Geordie Brookman and The City

Already this year Adelaide theatre director Geordie Brookman has worked as assistant director on the Force Majeure / Sydney Theatre Company / Sydney Festival production Never Did Me Any Harm; directed the development and reading of Nicki Bloom’s 170 page, five hour long The Sun and the Other Stars for the National Play Festival in Melbourne; was the community coordinator at the Adelaide Festival club Barrio; and, in a “stupidly swift manner”, applied for and was announced as incumbent Artistic Director for the State Theatre Company of South Australia.

But before any of this came along, Geordie and wife Nicki Bloom had planned a year’s worth of work for their independent theatre company nowyesnow, for which they are co-artistic directors. I meet with Geordie twice in the last month to discuss directing nowyesnow’s first production for 2012, Martin Crimp’s The City.

Chatting on the second day of rehearsals in March and during bump-in to the theatre three days before the first preview in April gave me the opportunity to learn more about how a work is approached at the beginning and end of a rehearsal process, and (here’s hoping) gave me an opportunity to come to a clearer understanding of the work before seeing the piece and formulating my response to it (which you can now read here). The traditional approach is, of course, there is no connection between the artists and the critic before a work, as if conversations will some how “taint” the opinion (or, at worst, “subjectivity”) of a critic. But trying to stand completely outside of the theatrical culture in Adelaide is rather impossible, and I’m also interested in the place a critic occupies between the “audience” and the “artist” and how, by forming a clearer picture of intents and processes, the gaps on all sides (between audience and critic; between critic and artist; between audience and artist) can become smaller.

How this works in practice is something I’m still working out, but I’m glad to have artists who will help me in the process.

Geordie previously directed Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life for STCSA in 2008. “He’s always struck me,” he told me at our first meeting.

“Whenever I read something of his it always has an impact, and it doesn’t mean every word of his is perfect, but every one is so finely wrought and so deeply intelligent and so determined to simply be what it is. That beautiful thing in an artist: he doesn’t try to please anybody except himself, and he just allows the audience to come to him.”

Of The City, Geordie said the work is “a really quiet, really controlled, very very very intimate piece of chamber theatre that maintains that wonderful, dark, wicked sense of humour that he has, but makes no apologies for being deeply intelligent and highly cerebral.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Speaking In Tongues

Andrew Bovell is probably Adelaide’s most well-known and respected playwright.  His most recent play, When The Rain Stops Falling opened at the 2008 Adelaide Festival of Arts, before touring Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, finishing in Alice Springs.  Other productions played in cities including New York and London, and perhaps most astoundingly, it will be getting a new Australian production with Black Swan State Theatre Company in 2011 – a second main-stage production of a new Australian work in just four years.

Speaking in Tongues is receiving somewhat of a revival this year in Australia with the 15th anniversary of its original production at Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney, and now playing at the State Theatre Company of South Australia.  With these productions helmed by the younger generation of directors with Sam Strong and Geordie Brookman, respectively, I think this truly marks the transition of the play into an Australian classic, taken into the arms of a new generation.

Bovell is known for his tricky use of language, his stylized and theatrical overlapping and intertwining of dialogue, repletion over scenes which sit lineally in a play, and scenes which overlap within it.  He deliberately withholds from his audience, secrets coming forth with the unwinding of the play and the densely packed dialogue.   But for this theatricality and coincidence, Bovell still manages to create characters that seem to naturally express themselves in their Australian idiom.

The play is best known for its adaptation in to the fantastic Lantana, directed by Ray Lawrence, which takes the disparate and overlapping themes and stories of the play and shifts them into a linear narrative.  When comparing the film to the stage, it’s a beautiful representation of how powerful the characters and stories are when left to do their thing in a more traditional setting.  When comparing the stage to the film, it is a beautiful demonstration of how Bovell’s manipulation of language can enhance the stories of suburban Australia.

Lantana Movie Poster

But from these stories of suburbia, perhaps bizarrely, for Speaking In Tongues you need to almost disengage slightly from the dialogue.  From the back row of the stalls of the Dunstan Playhouse where I watched Brookman’s production, while watching scenes where the characters speak over and with each other, when straining too hard to figure out exactly which half of which couple was speaking which line, the overall feelings and intent of the characters is lost.  It was through stepping back slightly from the lines themselves, you can appreciate the characters through the actors’ presentation, rather than the true lines.

Perhaps it was this slight stepping back, perhaps it is my age and so my lack of stories of heartache and relationships, but I came away from the production having enjoyed seeing and listening to a great play (Australian or otherwise), but never feeling like I truly connected with the characters.  A sense of remove between the play and myself never left.

With a cast of four playing some nine characters, here some actors are more successful than others at differentiating between roles.  Leeanna Walsman is the standout in Jane and Sarah, creating the both most contrasting characters between acts, but also the most compelling.  From the slightly fuddy “plain Jane”, trying desperately to please everyone, as words and thoughts start to slightly trip on their way out of her mouth to the strong Sarah, confused about her choices in life, but not afraid to stand up and speak out for herself, Walsman simultaneously exudes the vulnerability of her characters, and the strength of herself as a performer.

Lizzy Falkland and Leeanna Walsman. Photo by Shane Reid

"Do you think your wife would ever do something like this?" (Lizzy Falkland and Leeanna Walsman. Photo by Shane Reid.)

The other three actors have the disadvantage of less contrast between their characters in each of the parts in the script, but, by the same token, don’t bring out as strong a difference as perhaps could be found.

Chris Pitman’s Leon and Nick speak with the same speed, pattern, and vocal inflections, with Nick transferring the vocals further up the nasal cavity, creating an all-together rather whiney man.   Pitman also occasionally has the tendency to ham things up: when Leon finds out he is talking to the man whose wife he slept with, the pain in his chest has him almost staggering to the corner of the stage.

Lizzy Falkland and Terence Crawford both give solid performances, but fail to be compelling.  Falkland’s Sonja and Valerie are both cold and removed from the other people in their lives, looking down at everyone with a clinical detachment, and an air of judgment in the same manner.  Similarly, there is nothing discernable between Crawford’s Peter, Neil, and John; his performances in all roles are fine (although at times an avoidance of eye contact becomes irritable), but simply fail to stand up to the neatly drawn differences Walsman has found.

The cast work well together as a unit, and there is never confusion as to who is playing what character: costumes are changed, names are used liberally in Bovell’s script.  It simply feels there was more to explore in the multiple roles than most of the cast have currently found.

The strength of this production lies in its second act.  Just on a text level, it is more satisfying, as the stories start to have resolutions and the strands pulled together.  But in Brookman’s production, it is also the second act where the design elements – set by Victoria Lamb, lighting by Geoff Cobham, and sound by DJ TR!P – are exposed to their best advantage.  Brookman’s productions always have an interesting eye to them, and this is in no small part to the design teams he surrounds himself with.  Cobham and Lamb are two of the strongest designers working in Adelaide, and working together here they have crafted setting of extraordinary beauty.

Lamb’s set seems to sit somewhere between old slate tiling, edges smashed away and chipped, seemingly exposing the granite layering as it moves towards the audience, and morphing into an old wooden jetty, smoothing away with age and sea salt as the flooring literally stretches up the stage, curving away as it starts to fade in to the back of the proscenium.   There is one moment, almost separate from the rest of the show, where during a set change the set is backlit in purple exposing the silhouette and the true craft of the design.

Terence Crawford and Chris Pitman. Photo by Shane Reid.

"She's not going to phone." (Terence Crawford and Chris Pitman. Photo by Shane Reid.)

As is to be expected of just about everyone involved – Bovell, Brookman, and Cobham – lighting is suitably moody.  Cobham lights with great dexterity as he lights the set and characters right down to hand-held bike lights, illuminating just faces in the otherwise dark.   While stunning to look at, Lamb’s set is stagnant and simple in its transformation between scenes, and the production largely relies on Cobham’s dynamic lighting to illuminate shifts in location.  An occasional shaft of light, pointing away from the stage, above the actors, and into the audience, can be distracting, but overall Cobham’s lighting brings a new layer of mystery to Bovell’s work.

After a noticeably quiet first act, where DJ TR!P’s composition is mainly incidental and playing between scenes rather than over them, in the second act the power of sound design is exploited.  When given this space to play with the actors and the script, rather than around them, DJ TR!P’s sound dramatically enhances the strength of Brookman’s production.  And here, where electronic music melds with instrumentals, where a deep thud can resonate throughout the audience, and where the breathing of characters eclipses the theatre – here, DJ TR!P can demonstrate the true power of silence.

As a stage play, Speaking In Tongues draws its strength from intersections of lives.  As a production, here it truly shines when the theatrically of Bovell’s script allows for the theatricality in the exploitation and integration of set, sound, and lights.

In Bovell’s script, the layers of incidental stories of one act are peeled away into the stories of act two, as lives intersect in ways that are seemingly of no great meaning.  But these stories have meaning, because they are the stories of another person – in this we explore outward layering stories of our world, one person’s anecdote is another person’s life.

Lizzy Falkland and Leeanna Walsman. Photo by Shane Reid.

"I have to go now." (Lizzy Falkland and Leeanna Walsman. Photo by Shane Reid.)

But, for all this, here I never lost the sense of remove from the characters or production.  Speaking In Tongues is undoubtedly an important and interesting piece of writing; Brookman’s production has many strengths and I enjoyed the production, and especially the performance of Walsman.  I wonder if between the theatricality of the script and the theatricality of the production, connections with characters were lost.  I found myself distanced; perhaps somewhere between the dense script, the doubling of characters and the beautiful design there was room to pull myself back just a bit too much and so the total strength of any element wasn’t fully explored.

The State Theatre Company of South Australia presents Speaking In Tongues by Andrew Bovell.  Directed by Geordie Brookman, design by Victoria Lamb, lighting design by Geoff Cobham, composition and sound design by DJ TR!P, chororaphy by Andienne and Andrew Gill, Southern Cross Tango.  With Terence Crawford, Lizzy Falkland, Chris Pitman, and Leeanna Walsman.  At the Dunstan Playhouse until July 24.  More information and tickets.

2010, You’ve Been Good To Me

A Thank You, and the obligatory Best Of Worst Of lists

To everyone who has supported me and my blog and my other writing this year: thank you.  This year has been truly magnificent, and getting so much respect for my writing has played no small part in that.  When I decided to not pursue my Honours degree I knew I was making the right choice; I could have never grasped just how right that choice was.  To everyone who has read, commented, subscribed, or talked to me about something I’ve written, you blow my mind.   To the companies and artists in particular who have taken me on as part of the community, in my strange hybrid of administrator / writer / reviewer / blogger / fan, I am eternally grateful.

Even those of you who have given me bad feedback, the overestimation of the impact of this blog warms my cockles.  Those of you who got here by searching for naked pictures of actors or Plain Janes, you creep me out a little and don’t get my thanks, sorry.

After much hemming and hawing over how (and if) to do a Best/Worst of The Year, I eventually decided to just go for the traditional top and bottom five.   Not necessarily the best and the worst, but in a completely subjective analysis my favourites and my biggest disappointments.  I loved 54 of the 88 productions I saw, and most of the rest leaned towards the love over the hate side, so it’s been a pretty fine year.

Read the rest of this entry »

RightAct10 Day Two: Theatre and Social Change

Starting off with forum theatre piece Expect Respect, night two of RightAct10 followed up a panel focusing on Theatre and Social Change, with Christie Antony of AC Arts, PJ Rose of No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability, Geordie Brookman of the State Theatre Company, and Georgie Davil of Carclew Youth Arts. This night had a very different feel across it than Friday night: more collaborative, certainly, and I think more hopeful for what theatre is and can be.

Expect Respect is a forum theatre piece on rape and sexual assault, designed for high school students by ActNow Theatre for Social Change in association with the Legal Services Commission. In two halves, it discusses where “the line” is, legally and morally, and how people can actively change their behavior to enact change in others, as audience members are asked to call in and change the behavior of characters.

Read the rest of this entry »

Almost a review: romeo&juliet

It may be thought we held him carelessly,
Being our kinsman, if we revel much.
Therefore we’ll have some half a dozen friends,
And there an end. But what say you to Thursday?

– Act III, Scene IV

I think when you’re in high school, the texts and films you are exposed to in English and Drama tend to be either the best thing or the worst thing in the world. You’re a teenager: there isn’t a middle ground. It can be very dependent on the teacher,  but sometimes great teachers can assign terrible texts, while terrible teachers can expose you to playwrights, and knowledge about those playwrights, which still shape the way you look at theatre when you’re 21. Sometimes, they’re terrible simply because you have to read or watch them fifty million times, and you get asked inane questions on what the author was trying to deeply symbolise. My answers that maybe they just liked it, or “because it was funny” didn’t always go down a treat.

What good is Shakespearian tragedy without violence? Great movement choreography by Larissa McGowan. Michaela Cantwell as Romeo, Thomas Conroy as Mercutio and Mark Saturno as Tybalt. Photo by Shane Reid

Read the rest of this entry »