Well, you’ve been waiting for this and I have no doubt that the’ razzies’ of the Sydney Theatre, the worst five shows I encountered this year will actually be of no surprise to you because some of them will feature heavily on your own list.
As I mentioned in the previous post, there was more to like on the theatre scene this year than last year so that’s a win in itself. There are still shows that struggle to free themselves by bad choices- whether they be in design, direction, writing, acting or all of the above, there were a few shows out there that probably ticked one of those boxes but redeemed themselves in the others and so I have let them slightly off the hook. The ones that made the list are there because they made giant mistakes that either disregarded the essential nature of the play or the audience or were so bad they were crying out for a mention. They are Bjork’s swan dress, Lady Gaga’s meat dress or they stepped out into the light naked and tried to convince us of their glory ala Emperor’s New Clothes.
I have spared some amateur shows like ‘Into the Mirror’ because there was heart in it, even if it fell over in content and Tim Winton’s ‘Signs of Life’ only barely escaped. I left half way through some shows like ‘Under Milk Wood’ because I was falling asleep through sheer boredom and whenever you light a show to be in semi-darkness, it’s asking for my circadian rhythms to go into snooze mode. It was visually interesting initially but then felt repetitive and I don’t know that it transferred to the stage in a form to keep me engaged. But none of them made the bottom five and so here it is…
5. ‘Pygmalion’. Look, in all honesty, it only just made it onto the list because I felt there was some decent acting in there that really worked hard to keep the play afloat in extremely adverse conditions. But given that Shaw is a gift in regards of a script to perform and an STC audience are always going to be on your side because a number of subscribers were actually born when Shaw first wrote his plays (a slight exaggeration to hammer home the demographic but you know what I mean), the choices made by director Peter Evans in creating a design which was, well, non-existent in a stage crying out for it meant that the play lands in the list. The sound reverberated in this cavernous space when the lines weren’t delivered via microphones off to the side. Add to that some bizarre choices with video feeds and an ending that left the audience confused by the turn of events and bang, welcome to the number five spot. Let’s not even flag what STC charge to see their plays because it makes it a little harder to justify such poor experimentation with the classics and then try to sell it to us as 'we have made these choices so as not to distract the audience from the issues'. How stupid do you think we are?
4. King St Theatre brought us a show called ‘Deeming’ earlier this year, a show so diabolical in its script and acting that the audience sat in stunned silence during interval and only the lighting operator clapped at the end. It was so very bad and actor Anthony Hunt stuck the knife into Frank Gauntlett‘s weak writing and then turned it until Hunt’s intestines vomited onto the stage in every moment he tried to remember a line or fake an interest in showing affection, although could only muster repulsion, to the woman who was meant to be his wife. Yes, the show was amateur but to do justice to most amateur work, this play’s production standard was like watching people perform who would rather have been undergoing surgery than hop up on stage. It was pure amateur melodrama. Unfortunately it was not strictly meant to be.
3. Darlinghurst Theatre pulled out a piece for the Mardi Gras season called ‘The Paris Letter’ which failed to capture the gay experience with any form of belief whatsoever. Poor acting and Stephen Coyler’s direction of a script by Jon Robin Baitz that felt passé and pedestrian guaranteed a spot in the list. The show was lucky enough to fill the house with a troupe of very forgiving gay boys and perhaps that is because a play that deals with men trying to live in denial of their sexuality is rarely heard. But I’d like to point them in the direction of ‘Angels in America’ to see how it could be done with some level of sophistication. For the most part I was not alone in my scathing criticism of it and it did provide me with a wealth of amusing re-enactments at dinner parties so it wasn’t a complete loss, except as a piece of theatre, where it lay in a pool of its own blood on the Darlinghurst stage.
2. Belvoir’s first mention is in its second place spot. The semi-devised and semi-written piece by Raimondo Cortese and UTP called ‘Buried City’ has well and truly earned its position. Do not be talking to me about community theatre on the Belvoir stage because there was very little to engage any community with this show. ‘Buried City’ felt like it should have been a good idea and then whether it spiralled out of control and there was a grab for ownership until stakeholders gave up on it, I don’t know. It felt like nobody wanted to really own this show and although some of the actors tried to inject some energy into it, it couldn’t replace a decent narrative, a clear through-line or an actual objective or intent to the play. This 80 minute play felt like it was twice as long. A very bad start to the Belvoir season.
1. Surely you knew it would be here, luxuriating in its number one spot. Ladies and gentleman, please congratulate ‘Every Breath’, written and directed by Benedict Andrews as supported by his mates at Belvoir. I think ‘Every Breath’ may have been the wake-up call Belvoir needed to remind them that an avant-garde director does not necessarily a writer make. Belvoir’s arrogance and closed door policy that only allows the most miniscule of entry into the creative forum of their stage and is peppered mainly by their ‘friends’ means there is a chance you are watching a lot of the same, show after show. There was a time I was calling it the Simon Stone Theatre Company as he directed almost half of their shows this year and what he left for others to pick up were snapped up by Andrews, Flack and Myers with a couple of community projects as crumbs to fight over. But whilst this three-dish-only-theatre-tapas had some redeemable moments, nothing could save ‘Every Breath’. Nothing. I think it must have been like when you were a kid and learning your dad does not know everything or for a moment Andrews must have felt like Tony Abbott in that parliamentary smack down by Julia Gillard. It didn’t matter there was no interval- people walked and were very vocal about it. My review of this show is close to one of my most popular posts because people needed to read about what it was they just saw. Even the mainstream critics struggled to say good things about this theatre corpse. This show wrote its own review and that review read like this: Kill me. Put me out of my misery and then let’s never talk of it again.
And so that’s it. The bottom five in all their glory.
Of course theatre needs to walk a line of experimentation and risk. I think these shows made the list because they slapped the audience in the face by trying to pretend that it was the audience who didn’t understand theatre instead of recognising that what they had presented was a very poor form of art.
So I look forward to what 2013 has to offer. I’ve minimised my subscriptions for next year and probably won’t be seeing as much so if you’ve got a free ticket and desire a bit of SOYP company, tweet me and I’ll be there to relish the offerings of Sydney theatre 2013.
Happy New Year everyone!