No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Matthew Whittet

On facts and figures

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

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

Says playwright Daniel Keene to Alison:

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

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

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

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

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

Festival Review: School Dance; and investing in joyous artistic visions.

Sydney-based actor and playwright Matthew Whittet has enjoyed a perhaps disproportionate amount of his success as a writer Adelaide.  Twelve, his first play was workshoped at the National Playwrights Conference in Perth in 2006, and his first produced play was Silver, a monologue which Whittet also performed, at Downstairs Belvoir in 2009.  His latest work, Old Man, will again be playing in Belvoir’s downstairs theatre this June, but between these Sydney outings, three of his works have had main-stage productions in Adelaide.

Two of these plays were presented in very quick succession in 2010, with Windmill Theatre producing Fugitive in August, and Brink Productions producing Harbinger in September.  While the shows weren’t without their issues (particularly in the final scenes of Harbinger), Whittet did in many ways cement himself to Adelaide’s audience as someone with a unique mind, twisting slightly off centre into bizarre universes filled with awkwardness, and with love.

School Dance, again produced by Windmill, premiered in the Adelaide Festival this year.  While this work still sits very early in Whittet’s career as a playwright, it was embodied with a wonderful of air of trust on behalf of Rose Myers and Teena Munn, the Artistic Director and General Manager / Executive Producer of Windmill, respectively.

Like Fugitive, School Dance has been directed by Myers, and above all else feels like Whittet was given the absolute freedom to make a work to his vision. The resulting play is one that, as soon as you start to detail it on the page, sounds so peculiar, so unconventional, and so illogical that it wouldn’t work; and yet through this trust is borne something that works absolutely.

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Review: The Book of Everything

With special guest reviewer Aria Noori, aged 11.

"You're a very special boy, you know." (Whittet and original cast member Yael Stone as Eliza.)

The Book of Everything review by Jane Howard, aged 22

It is the summer of 1951, and we are in Amsterdam, Holland, Europe, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, Solar System, Galaxy, Universe, Space.  We have a birds-eye view of Thomas Klopper (Matthew Whittet) aged nearly ten, and his book of everything.  Pappa (Pip Miller) says all good books are about God, but Thomas isn’t quite sure what his book will be about yet.

Thomas sees things that other people don’t see.  In his imagination, he sees terrible hailstorms in the Amsterdam summer; he sees tropical fish, his favourite guppies, in the rivers and canals.  In his house, he also sees things that aren’t seen outside those walls: he sees his father hit his mother (Claire Jones).

Based on the book by Guus Kuijer, The Book of Everything is delightfully funny, heart-warmingly touching, and heart-achingly sad.  It is brave theatre; theatre for children, about children; theatre which at times is hard to watch.  More sad than it is scary, Richard Tulloch’s adaptation tackles some big issues: domestic abuse, questioning and redefining faith, protofeminism, unlikely friendships, lasting effects of World War Two, love.  It is certainly a piece for older children, and one that saw many shielded eyes, but through the sadness seeps through an undeniable bravery, the strength that children can find in themselves, the happiness that is waiting for them. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Harbinger

I’d been suffering with a fever and stomach bug the week before I saw Harbinger, and it was rather horrible, but coming in waves, so I started Harbinger okay.  It then hit me again towards the end of the play, so there was a portion which I struggled to absorb.  It then stuck around for most of the week after I saw the play, and when I finally thought I’d kicked it, it came back while I was writing this review.   I apologise in advance for the level of delirium this was written in.

The Harbinger promo flyer

A short re-enactment, detailing where the marketing for Harbinger came from (in a way which actually, I am informed my Matt Whittet in the comments, is not the way marketing happens at all.  Life is so much funnier in my own head!)

In 2009

Sean Riley: “Look, I’m really sorry Chris, I know I said I would have Skip Miller’s Hit Songs for you, but it just isn’t going to be ready by next year’s season.  Do you think I could have some extra time?  Just until 2011.”

Chris Drummond:  “That will be fine, Sean.  We’ll find someone else to write a play really really quickly.”

Back in the Brink office

Drummond:  “Who do you think we can get?  That Whittet kid, he’s writing something for that Windmill lot, isn’t he?  If we overlap their season with our rehearsal period, we wouldn’t even need to pay for his accommodation to be in Adelaide or anything.  And Windmill always gets good reviews, so we can surely sell some tickets off that!”

He calls Whittet.

Drummond: “Matthew!  Look, we’re not going to get this play we’re supposed to show next year ready in time.  I know we usually go through a long and exacting development process, but you can write us up something really quickly, yes?”

Keep Reading! (I promise there is an actual review in here)

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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