No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: inSPACE

No room with a view

This article was first published in the July 2012 Adelaide Review

Adelaide’s theatre community is in urgent need of space to rehearse their work.

Preparing for the world premiere season of Involuntary with the Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE program, director and choreographer Katrina Lazaroff found her company missing one integral feature: rehearsal space.

After “looking all over Adelaide” Lazaroff was lucky the Adelaide Festival Centre staff solved the situation by splitting rehearsal time between the Dunstan Playhouse and Space Theatre.  “It’s almost never heard of that you get to rehearse in a theatre,” she says.

In 2010, Arts SA prepared an audit into the lack of suitable performance spaces for Adelaide’s professional dance and theatre community. Alongside citing a lack of suitable venues, outdated technical equipment, and inadequate disabled access to performance spaces, the audit also spoke to a lack of rehearsal space.

Two years on, companies are struggling to find suitable space to develop and rehearse their work, and few are as lucky as Lazaroff. Chris Drummond, Artistic Director of Brink Productions, says every show “involves a saga where our production manager Françoise spends weeks and months looking for a rehearsal space.”

Their latest work, Land & Sea, was forced to rehearse in their performance space, the Queen’s Theatre. While an evocative venue, it is, in effect, an empty warehouse with a concrete floor and tin roof, which Drummond describes as “harsh, cold and incredibly noisy due to the building site next door”.

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Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Africa

This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au

Africa is a story of the resilience of children, of their ability to move into a fantasy world, to create new lives from tales on television and clutter in toy rooms. It is a story of neglected children, the painful life they lead; their struggle and the struggle of their mother, loving, yet leading a chaotic life and in an abusive relationship.

Photo: Jeff Busby

Alone in the house, again, two sisters and their next-door neighbour, sheltering from the abuse he endures back home, are given over to the electronic babysitter – the television. There they watch pictures of African wildlife: the balletic pink flamingo, the strong leopard, the baby zebra. As they watch, they are transfixed by the beauty of it all, of the beauty of a world with no adults, a world where children can do as they please.

As they are transfixed, the cluttered room (design Clare Britton and Bridget Dolan, props and set dressing Tim Mcgraw) begins to change, as up from one of the many levels on the set rises a great pink flamingo, created out of pieces of toys. Throughout the piece, the puppetry of the child characters is accented by the use of “found” items to create the African world the children imagine.

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Review: Blackbird

Misaligned expectations?  Perhaps.  After True West blew me away last year, so I was telling everyone with ears they must go and see it at the Fringe, and then running back to see it myself, Blackbird was always on my list of shows I was most excited to see this year.  It was disappointing.  I believe this team is better than this production shows, and therein lies the rub: this production doesn’t show it.

Looking at other reviews now, I don’t even understand what Peter Burdon from The Advertiser is saying in his review: miscast, yet must-see?  A very bizarre read.

In other news, I saw Ruby Bruise again, brought more people to share her with, and loved it even more.   Can’t get it out of my head.  If you want to treat yourself, go and see it.

Both of these play until Saturday.

This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au

David Harrower’s Blackbird is a script intended to be inflammatory, confusing, filled with heightened and varying emotions on behalf of the characters and audience members. Fifteen years after forty-year-old Ray abandons twelve-year-old Una in a boarding house, she returns into his life to find out: was it a malicious act of pedophilia, or was it more, was there a real connection?

Playing around within this, within the questions of can a grown man truly have feelings for a girl, regardless of questions about legality and morality, the play is intended to make the audience question themselves, to question their reaction to being told this was a true relationship.

It is a curious thing, being able to hear these beats in the script as written, but not being able to see them as performed in this production directed by David Mealor. As Terrence Crawfordplays Ray as the nervous, shuffling, pedophilic character with constantly halting language from the outset, the production does not have an opportunity to travel anywhere.

In UnaKsenja Logos takes more opportunities to show variance in character: in moments a tough exterior briefly gives way to show a traumatized young woman, but a true connection between Una and Ray is never felt. In Crawford’sinterpretation, Ray has nowhere to grow and change over the course of the production, and so emotion of the piece is essentially flat. This is not helped by Mealor’s direction that has monologues, moments of extreme emotion in the text, delivered to the audience.

The simple lunchroom designed by Mary Moore, bound in realism from the ugly institutional colours and cheap furniture down to the gratifying stick and squelch made of shoes in contact with spilled sugary drinks on the floor, is bordered by an external space of strewn garbage bags and rubbish.

For the first half of the play, it appears the fourth wall exists between the boundary of the stage proper and this border, until Logos steps out of the main space for her monologue. After this wall is broken, it is never mended, as the characters move freely between the lunchroom and the garbage, creating a confused stage.

Sound design by Andrew Howard and composition by Quentin Grant is overwrought, as the entry and exit of synthesized notes are jolting, detracting from the story and highlighting a theatricality which in this play perhaps shouldn’t be seen. Choices in sound are also confusing: twice the characters reference the clock striking midnight, as a clock strikes three times.

Ultimately, it is not that Blackbird is a particularly bad production; it’s just that it is particularly monotonous. To buy into the conceit that Harrower tries to set up the play needs to show the audience the raw connection of characters. Unfortunately, this ineffectual production misses the mark.

Flying Penguin Productions present Blackbird by David Harrower.  Directed by David Mealor,  set and costume design by Mary Moore, lighting design by Mark Pennington, sound design by Andrew Howard, composition by Quentin Grant.  With Terence Crawford, Ksenja Logos and Scarlett Groom-Ransom

Review: Fugitive

TThe king has abandoned his kingdom, the knights have taken over, and tyranny rules the land.  Robin returns after a two-year absence, and quickly falls back in with his friends: Marion and Wil.  When Robin fails to save the life of a young boy, he and his band, joined by Little John, move into the woods and steal from the rich to give to the poor.  This is Robin Hood like you know it, and yet nothing like it.

Eamon Farren as Robin Hood.

With carpeted lounge, two walls with forest photographic wallpaper, some doors, chairs, and logs, in Fugitive Jonathon Oxlade has created a delightfully simple set: the changes in locations (along with many props) exist only in our imaginations, yet we are never left with any doubt as to where they are.   Exceptional lighting by Richard Vabre, and composition and sound design by Luke Smiles help to compete the puzzle, and are both as integral to the narrative as the dialogue.  It is a true testament to this production and team that these three arms of design never seem like distinct entities: they are constantly working in such an incredible balance it seems as though they were created by the one mind.  Coming together with these elements, the story and production doesn’t need to spell things out, because through this creativity a world much bigger than could ever be realised on stage is created.

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Review: Superheroes

I don’t know what they were for, but Superheroes on Thursday was proceeded by a really spectaular fireworks show over the Torrens.  I don’t know what it was for, but it was great, and should happen before all shows!  So perfectly timed, too, the last bang and then you hear the bells and “The Dunstan Playhouse is now open.”  Perfect.

This review was very hard to write.  I had so many thoughts after the show, good and bad, and I was deep in the middle of a great conversation about it when the other events of Thursday night happened.   When I came to write this, I really struggled to get those thoughts back in the same coherent way which I had been composing in my head.

This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au

Taking place over the course of a day, Superheros shows the life of five patients, their nurse, his nephew, and an un-localised rest home. As lines between reality and delusions, and who is a patient and who is staff are blurred, Stone/Castro attempt to “[explore] the chaotic human mess that us not only brought about by war but initiates war and violence.” 

Yet the script by Paulo Castro (who also appears in the play) chooses to spell out every thought and action of each character, to the point where nothing is left unsaid, and rather is repeated (sometimes word for word) multiple times. This style leads to stilted delivery on behalf of the actors, stiffening the connection that can be made with them, and thus a connection to the broad themes of the play.

But while the script may be lacking, the play carries with it many engaging visual moments, from the simple recreation of the Superman flying pose with Castro prone over a mobility scooter, through to stylised dance sequences, and video projections. Director (and cast member) Jo Stone’s choreography adds details to the situation and characters otherwise missing from the script.

The combination of live action and video media (designed by Nic Mollison) is used to show the delusions of an Iraq war veteran (Nick Bennett), as images of the war come to life through video and then expanded as a solider (Nigel Major-Henderson) physically moves onto the stage. These elements integrating with Wendy Todd’s design, a sparse and unloved rehab facility, gave the best insight into the mind of Bennett’s character, and to the themes of violence and what we will pass down onto our children.

Visually, the play succeeds where the text fails: the Director’s note talks of how “our ideals define the landscape of the world our children will inherit”, and the plot synopsis tells us the play “is a provocative reflection on the complexity of Globalization, the future, violence and war.” None of these ideas are fleshed out enough in the text to be truly provocative. The characters are too fallen; they lie too far to the edges of mental health that they and the themes they talk about are not truly relatable.

Nevertheless, when Stone uses the actors to physically express the story, strength in the themes is found, and if these areas were expanded and pushed further, with just a slightly pared back script, it feels as if then they could perhaps tell the story as deep as the themes it tries to be about.

Stone/Castro in Association with Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE Program Presents Superheroes World Premiere.  Written by Paulo Castro, directed by Jo Stone, design by Wendy Todd, lighting by Kerry Ireland, video by Nic Mollison, sound by Sascha Budimski.  With Paulo Castro, Jo Stone, Julian Crotti, Hew Parham, Nigel Major-Hederson, Nick Bennet and Lewis Rankin.