No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Mary Moore

Review: Top Girls, or, why I’m happy to be a young feminist

In 1982, the New York Times described Top Girls as “intent on breaking rules.” Thirty years later, Top Girls feels rather a lot like a Well Made Play. Playwright Caryl Churchill has been so influential on the current crop of playwrights that seeing her work on stage now as part of the canon it feels simply that – part of the canon, no longer radical.

And in that tradition, Catherine Fitzgerald’s production for the State Theatre Company is a well made production. Maintaining the eighties setting with shoulder pads intact, and with solid performances from the cast the show rips along much faster than you would suspect of its nearly three hours running time.

Mary Moore’s set keeps it mainly simple: a curved dining table in the first scene, several (computer-less, even for 1982) desks and a office percolator, a small wall for Kit (Carissa Lee) and Angie (Antje Guenther)’s hideaway, a couch and table in Joyce’s home; location settings somewhat unnecessarily indicated by large stagnant projections. The simplicity of Moore’s set – which places the characters and text at the centre of the production, is overshadowed though, by a confusingly literal interpretation of the “glass ceiling” metaphor.

At the dinner party the glass ceiling has been broken – although it is very clear that most of these women just managed to survive within the patriarchy, not beyond it: being stoned to death, giving up their children at the test of their partners, living as a concubine and a nun. At the office, too, the glass ceiling is broken – Marlene (Ulli Birvé) receiving a top job at Top Girls, this is clear enough. In Suffolk, at the home of Marlene’s working class sister Joyce (Eileen Darley), the ceiling remains intact and unbroken. Most confusingly, though, is when the glass ceiling descends during the last scene of the play (the first scene chronologically), as Marlene and Joyce talk. Saying what, exactly? The more time you spend in a lower class area the lower your ceiling becomes? The act of women talking to each other causes the ceiling to drop? The restrictions on the  working class Joyce are certainly greater than her now middle class sister, but why the lowering?

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Buried Child

And so begins David Mealor’s director’s statement, showing us that Buried Child can be summed up with the same plot as 90% of plays set in rural Midwest and Southern America.

The ideal or criticism of the Great American Dream runs through much of that country’s literature.  Written in the late 1970s, Buried Child came off the back of a nation recovering from the Watergate scandal, deep in recession and high in inflation, a country unhappy with the war in Vietnam. In his script Shepard is extremely critical of the mythology a country burying its past, looking forward to a new day.

In a gothic farm-house in Illinois, rain pours down.  Matriarch Halie (Jacqy Phillips) yells down the stairway onto the largely un-listening ears of patriarch Dodge (Ron Haddrick), as he sits and coughs on the couch, watching the television and swigging from a hidden bottle of whisky.  Their son, the lumbering and slow Tilden (Nicholas Garsden) appears, in his arms an old sack, bushels of corn plucked from the depths of the yard.

Over years, the family has become destroyed, fortunes trapped in a rural farm-house, dreaming of what has been lost and hiding away from what can never be regained.  Their other remaining son, Bradley (Patrick Graham), is an abusive lout, and Halie pains for the now dead son who was her great hope.  Halie and Dodge have for many years lived in separate rooms; her dreaming of a happier life that was and escaping the house for a happier life in town; he alive perhaps only by a stubbornness to not leave the house to anyone in his family.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Give and Take

Climbing the cooperate ladder of the Sydney sprinkler industry, somewhere along the line Don (George Kapiniaris) has neglected his family, and his family have neglected him.  Just as Don finds out he is among the top choices to take over as CEO, his three children have driven their mother to the airport, so she can fly to Tuscany to find herself (having sex with those sexy Italian men).  In almost a modern Australian take on King Lear (here I am thinking I’m so bright for coming up with that comparison, and Catherine Fitzgerald mentions it in her Notes From The Director!), Don then asks his children – body builder Damien (Chris Asimos), “anarchist” Neil (Matthew Crook), and corporate climber Julie (Rihannon Owen)-  to prove they love him for more than his money.  The problem is: they don’t.   That’s just the give and take.

The very model of a picture perfect family. I'm pretty sure Asimos stole Crook's arms, slapped toothpicks on Crook, and then tied the arms together to make his own giant arms. Science! Photo by Shane Reid.

Read the rest of this entry »

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