In 2011, I saw straight plays, musicals, cabaret, modern dance, ballet, puppetry and an opera. I saw monologues and collections of monologues. I saw Shakespeare and Katz – but no Brecht. I saw new Australian work and old Australian work. I saw development readings in rehearsal rooms, independent productions in basements, immersive works on the street, and multi-million dollar musicals in 2000 seat theatres. I saw professional productions, amateur productions, and student productions. I saw 114 performances of 106 works.
In chronological order, these are the six shows which, as I stand in December and reflect on a year which was, stand out with their shoulders above the rest. The heaviest on my brain; the lightest on my heart. Many which made this list had what is ultimately for me, an undefinable quality about them. Two I penned responses rather than reviews. Two I didn’t review at all. Each one made me question how and why I write, made me question my skills to put words to art: for that I am grateful. I don’t think I always rose to the occasion of writing about them, but I grew in the attempt.
A Comedy – Brown Council, presented by Vitalstatistix
Four women. Four hours of performance a night. Countless bananas, tomatoes and cream pies. A Comedy was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Did I “get it”? I don’t know. I don’t care. I sat for four hours (and then an extra fifth) participating in one of the most demanding, hilarious, debaucherous, bizarre, and unknown nights of theatre I suspect I will ever have. Among other things: I threw a cream pie, got covered in a cream pie in retaliation, threw money and peanuts for the dancing monkeys, and was ventriloquist for the voice of a tampon. Bananas and I still have issues.
Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel – Teatret Gruppe 38, presented by the Come Out Festival
A work I couldn’t write about – and not just because during the Come Out Festival I saw fifteen shows in six days. I tried many times and never found the right words. A transformative work, part participatory theatre, part art installation, this show made me feel like I was eight: smelling the thermos of coffee of a couple’s love, touching the plate of ice of a snowman’s melting heart, seeing the Emperor’s New Clothes. We were invited to the dinner table of Hans Christian and his stories, distilled down to an essence and shown in miniature. It was made of the magic of stories, of a light hand, of asking an audience to open their eyes and look – and we did.
Thick Skinned Things – Stella Denn Haag, presented by the Come Out Festival
In what is very possibly the first time in the history of the theatre, the curtain is going up early.
I find out as I make my way down North Terrace, a leisurely stroll interrupted from a panicked call from my friend Chloe “Are you nearly here? It’s starting early. We’re trying to wait for you…”
I kick off my shoes, and I run.
I run down North Terrace, I run down the stairs in to the train station, I dodge commuters, I run into the Dunstan Playhouse foyer.
An usher beckons me “Are you Jane? They’re waiting for you.”
We run upstairs to the second usher, “I’m sorry; it’s just began, I can’t let you in.”
“Are you sure? It’s not supposed to start for five minutes; can I stand in the back?”
It’s a long pause.
“If you’re quiet. And you take off your shoes. And you don’t take your bag in. There is a bench that goes around the side. If you are quiet and sit where no-one can see you; you can go in.”
And so, slightly out of breath and slightly sweaty, I leave my shoes and my bag and I creep into the dark.
There, under a naked globe, is a woman telling us of her story. A story locked behind closed doors, a woman scared of the outside word, a woman hurt by the people who live there, a woman who is in love with the man next door and his perfect garbage bags. A woman who is lost when he is gone, a woman who can’t live in the world any more, and instead becomes a mole, burying herself in a labyrinth of tunnels in the dirt. It’s nothing more than a monologue. Words, told with a slightly veiled accent, told with very little movement and very little light, and an undeniable emotional wallop.
The Seagull – Belvoir
2011 was a year of Chekhov: to Sydney for The Seagull, to the cinema for the National Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard, and to the Dunstan Playhouse for The Three Sisters. But what The Seagull gave me was an understanding, an infatuation, a fascination, and a connection to this text which has been produced for over one-hundred-years. When the lights rose at the end of act one I thought their must have been a mistake: we’d only just sat down, the play had only just begun! But no, over an hour had passed without me batting an eye. The Seagull felt rawly honest, remarkably natural, and above all, more than any other play I have seen from its era, it felt right.
The Book of Everything – Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image / Belvoir, presented by Windmill Theatre Company
The third work made for young audiences on this list. Theatre which captures the heart is a glorious thing. This show was a burst of magic for me and my co-reviewer date Aria. We sat transfixed in the world of the pages of Thomas’s diary from Amsterdam in 1951; we were transported. We laughed, we yelled, we shielded our eyes, we were a plague of frogs, we wiped away tears, and then the two of us wrote. I left feeling strengthened, re-invigorated, loved, and hopeful.
boy girl wall – The Escapists, presented by La Boite Theatre Company
In many ways an ode to theatre and to those who go to theatre. A story about love, but not a love story. A story about our characters, but also our narrator, and our audience. At one point, Lucus Stibbard quipped a small joke and I was the only person in the audience to let out a small laugh. He turned to me, caught my eye, and smiled the briefest of smiles: a flittering acknowledgement of a tiny moment shared. I don’t remember the joke: perhaps it wasn’t one at all and my laughter was completely out of context or unexpected. But boy girl wall is about these moments in life which are unexpected. Life can be shit: you don’t need your boss, you don’t need your writers block, you don’t need magpies, you certainly don’t need Mondays. But in between these moments, you can smile, and laugh, and fall in love. And that’s precisely what I did in that theatre.
Thanks to you all. I’ll see you in a theatre in 2012.