No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Sam Haren

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Are we not animals?

This article was originally published in the March 2012 issue of The Adelaide Review.

David Heinrich and Cameron Goodall. Photo Jonathan VDK.

Far away from the traditional proscenium arch of the Adelaide Festival Theatre, the 2012 Adelaide Festival is presenting a unique collaboration between independent theatre company The Border Project and the Adelaide Zoo. The partnership between the artists and the zookeepers has lead to I am not an Animal: an intimate but large-scale, site-specific theatre work in which the animals themselves take centre stage.

The project began over two years ago when Zoos SA CEO Chris West and Adelaide Festival Artistic Director Paul Grabowsky found themselves seated together at a lunch, and shared what West calls an “overlap in interest and concern in humanity”. After that lunch the conversation continued and a partnership developed between the zoo and festival, which then approached The Border Project about creating a work to be presented in the zoo.

There is enough open space at the zoo that a piece of work could play there with no reflection on its surrounds but The Border Project knew they weren’t interested in creating work, which wasn’t an interaction between performers, animals and an audience. In the words of production co-director Daniel Koerner: “There is no jazz band in the rotunda.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Festival Review: I Am Not An Animal

This review was originally published at the Adelaide Review

I am not an Animal, created by The Border Project under co-directors Sam Haren and Daniel Koerner takes Adelaide Festival audiences on a 75-minute audio tour of the Adelaide Zoo.  Here, the usual exhibits are supplemented by the unusual: the mountain goats are joined by a yodeler (Jude Henshall), the siamangs play with spacecraft.

The audio tour takes the audience on many journeys: connecting the world we live in today to the past we come from; the creation of life; human’s obsession with imaginary animals; the expendable nature of monkeys in the early days of space travel.  The Adelaide Zoo has been undergoing rolling exhibition upgrades over the past few years, and is a lovely place to walk around.

The show works best when the Border Project have taken adjuncts between animal and human behavior, relationships, and perceptions. Through these moments, they have found both humour, as in a scintillating if also slightly disturbing scene with rabbits (Alerio Zavarce) on a giant bed, and with pathos, as an “audience member” (Brad Williams) finds himself in an enclosure and is made to perform like a bear in a 1930s Russian circus.

Read the rest of this entry »

Australian Theatre Forum: Interdependence, or, what’s love got to do with it?

In this afternoon’s panel, Interdependence: Love, Money & Artistic Exchange, we were asked to consider the fact that the ecology should be characterised as co-dependence.  I came in from an afternoon talk on the place of critics in theatrical culture, and how artists support these: both fiscally and through giving them the tools and vocabulary to write about the arts.  More “amicable” than “terribly frank” as promised, talking about co-dependence I am reminded by one of my favourite quotes on the art of criticism and the intersection this has with the artists they write about:

“Is criticism less important than the literature it criticises? Oh, dear! What I think we should do with this question is reject it.  Though conceding that criticism is, if you will, a parasite upon which it criticises, as the misletoe upon the oak, one needs not declare the result inferior. If it has less of quality A, it has more of quality B. The oak may be king of the forest, yet it is the misletoe that one kisses under at Christmas. (What would it mean to say: oak is better than misletoe?)”

– Eric Bently, Thinking About The Playwright (1987)

But more on critics later. In lovely and frank conversations about the nature of a collaborative process, they were as much (or more so) a conversation about failures and hardships in collaboration in partnerships as the success story.  What it boiled down to was collaboration, like theatre, is a dialogue, and if one partner isn’t listening, if one partner stops talking, if the partners are actually having slightly different conversations, it is probably going to fall down.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Vs Macbeth

Vs Macbeth
(most of it) by Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Haren
Presented by The Border Project, The Sydney Theatre Company’s The Residents and the Adelaide Festival of Arts

Vs Macbeth was an odd theatre show: a production which worked the best in the constant reminder that it was a theatre show.  Rather than being sucked in by the characters and the story, rather than being exposed to a world and feeling that it is so complete, Vs Macbeth is about something much simpler about that: it is about actors acting.  About a group of people coming together to create something, but with the artifice of the theatre always present.

Cam Goodall shows off a brilliant unemployment beard. Theatre: the only place you can be paid and own one.

Credited as mostly written by Shakespeare, Vs Macbeth is a production of Macbeth with all of the mistakes left in.  Even amongst non-theatre people, the ‘curse’ of Macbeth is well known (if not completely understood – I had a friend mention it by name once and then apologise, profusely, even though we were far from a theatre): a play that is so plagued by death and accidents that its name mustn’t even be uttered in a theatre, and instead it goes by The Scottish Play.   Taking this idea and running with it, The Border Project and The Sydney Theatre Company’s The Residents (now there’s a name for you!) created a play which ‘tempted fate’, mistakes were chronicled, and put into the play.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Grug

L-R Grug, Nathan O'Keefe, Lucas Stibbard, Cara and Jude Henshall. Windmill Theatre. Photo Tony Lewis

This review originally appeared on Australian Stage Online

Ted Prior’s children’s series, Grug, has been loved by tens of thousands of Australian children since originally published over the period from the late 70s to the early 90s. Republished in 2009, and now with the help of Windmill Performing Arts and QPAC’s Out Of The Box Festival, a new generation of children are being exposed to Grug and his adventures.

Nathan O’Keefe, Lucas Stibbard and Jude Henshall operate the puppets in the show – designed by Jonathan Oxlade and remaining faithful to Prior’s illustrations – and all give delightful performances. The show, directed by Sam Haren, draws from several of Prior’s books, starting with telling of the creation of Grug (he began life as the top of a Burrawong tree which fell to the ground, and grew stripes, legs and a face) and following Grug as he has fun and solves simple problems.

Stories included Grug and His Garden, where Grug discovers a snail eating his garden, so he plants more so they can both be happy; Grug Goes Fishing, including a very funny sequence in which a goggled O’Keefe operates fish, seaweed and a crab; Grug Plays Soccer, where Grug and friend Cara the carpet snake (operated by the wonderfully expressive Henshall) play a game; and Grug Learns to Dance, in which the children in the audience all learn “The Grug”.

A simple narrative structure is used to introduce each story: O’Keefe is delivering parcels to Grug when he discovers they are all empty. So one-by-one he takes some items from a bag which seemingly belongs to an audience member, places them in the parcel, and they magically transform into the catalyst for the story: water from a drink bottle and a small toy fish become a fishing-rod, an ordinary apple grows into a giant apple. Similarly, the individual stories all end with the same structure, as Grug goes to sleep after his adventure.

This simple device meant the stories were all clearly defined, and more than that, it allowed constant surprise and anticipation as to what would come next.

The short show started late as late arrivals drifted in, causing some of the children who had been waiting to become restless, but once the show started they were enamored. Three-year-old Ruby couldn’t sit still through the show – not for being bored, but because she was straining to get closer to see what Grug and her personal favourite, the snake Cara, were doing. At the end of the show, the children were all invited to come a bit closer and say goodbye to Grug and his friends.

Windmill has again created a show in which children can wonderfully discover the magic and the fun and play in theatre. A show for Windmill’s youngest audience, one- to five-year-olds, the adults in the audience were having almost as much fun as the kids – both through watching the play, and watching the children become engrossed in the story and the characters. And, due to demand, a special performance for “original” fans of the books has been added to the Adelaide season: I certainly enjoyed rediscovering a childhood friend on stage.

Grug plays at the Forge Theatre, Maryatville High School, until April 24th, followed by a season in Studio 1, QPAC, from June 8-13th as a part of the Out Of The Box Festival.