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Sunday, 12 February 2012

That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play performed by Workhorse Theatre Company & dissected by me.

Excuse me in this review if I start by comparing myself slightly to the Workhorse Theatre Company and their debut play 'That Pretty Pretty'.

A new voice prepared to tackle subject matter generally taboo in the current scene. Check.

A complete shellacking from sources that overlook the very real content and style of the work and concentrate on a superficial understanding of what that work is attempting to do or engages in a personal attack in which to discredit them and their work. Check.

Currently embroiled in a media scandal that propels them into a frenzy of free publicity and drives people to see them in action and creates a bigger fan base as a result. Check.

Art imitating life? It's pretty pretty clear where some of the other theatre bloggers would like to stick that grenade.

Now to the play: this is a bold choice for the new Workhorse Theatre Company. They have clearly branded themselves as an ensemble who will favour alternative styles, structures and writings with a subversive flavour. And as someone who likes to chance it in a generally conservative environment and rock that damn boat in my most provocative "mumsy school teacher" twin set, they have my vote.

Workhorse is a mix of experiences brought together by common artistic goals. Director Netta Yashchin, whose theatre background is grounded in Tel-Aviv and who recently graduated from NIDA’s directing course has given her cast the confidence to explore this polemic play in an intimate but difficult performance space. The sightlines sometimes hinder action and it felt there was a fair bit happening on the floor (cue jelly wrestling) that all but the front row could clearly engage in. However, it didn’t detract from what was an otherwise humorous and polished rendition of New York playwright Sheila Callaghan’s play.

There is an energy in pace and range in this anti-realism piece that the cast manage to sustain, much to their credit. Playing a multitude of characters and variations or interpretations of the one role meant that the play, structurally, gave the audience work to do in figuring out what version of the story’s thread they were engaging in at that point in time, but the cast do a commendable job of keeping their audience in the loop. The choice to even sometimes cheekily direct dialogue to us as if we were part of their narrative increased the connection in embracing the subversive structure of the play.

Most impressive was Kellie Jones in her roles as Jane Fonda/Jane (and I’m not just saying that because it’s my name). Her comic timing, commitment and playful charisma of Fonda as opposed to her role as the intimidated victimised maid demonstrated a skilful range of abilities. All the cast demonstrated a strong skill set in this episodic play.

‘That Pretty Pretty’ is, at its heart, a play that explores the misogyny of male dominated narrative obsessions and pushes it to its extreme. Scantily clad women, shootings, rape and the other penetrating issues of the work are juxtaposed with homage to 80’s icons and pop culture references. It is a pastiche that doesn’t always hang together and this seems more in the writing than direction. It feels like every inspiration Callaghan found amusing, appalling or interesting found its way into this play and that someone needed to give it an edit, like in Owen’s monologue unpacking his blockbuster narrative that went on just a little too long and then the interview scene at the end that didn’t quite feel like it wrapped up the play.

All in all, Workhorse should be pleased they have managed to stir the pot. I’d like to see them succeed in this tough business and so thank you Daily Telegraph. I think you’ve given them a wonderful step up to do just so.

And for those keen to follow this penetrating provocative reviewer, I am now on twitter. Follow me on @janesoyp.


17 comments:

  1. You've named something. That perhaps the emperor (or princes) wears no clothes. Other commentators, AC on Theatre Notes especially is upset because she's the prince's favoured tailor.

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  2. One could also say that Ms Simmons is a middle aged failed actor who is taking out her envy and resentment on a generation of younger and more successful theatre workers. But that'd be a cheap shot, wouldn't it?

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  3. Well, as they say - those who can do and those who can't teach or become critics! HA HA
    Jane - now you are so "famous" how does one send you an invitation to a theatrical event for your comment/review/resentment/envy...

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    1. It seems all invitations are being done through the media these days Anon. Don't you have a 'journo' friend you can ask to run a scurrilous article about me that will grab my attention?

      Failing that, if you can't leave your email address here in case you attract any hate mail and you can't find me via twitter, let me know via a comment here and we'll figure it out.

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    2. Terribly sorry Mr/Ms HA HA ANON -I've posted this reply at a later spot, and realise it should be here. Apologies to all for the repetition, and Jane, please feel free to remove my later, identical comment, which is thus:
      The "those that can't, teach" argument is so old, so insulting,so stupid, so untrue (they are not the same thing for a start) and completely at odds with the reality of the employment opportunities in the performing arts in this country it is a joke and I believe it lowers the person whom utters it-which would be you. The fact that you think your comment is witty proves only that you do not know this-go do some training.
      A person needs training to teach and they have to be good to be employed at a good school. They have to go to UNIVERSITY to LEARN the craft, and, ye gods, the history of that craft-crazy isn't it? Unfortunately, training is not compulsory to direct, to critique, not to perform-and when there is none, how good is most of the work? A rhetorical question.
      Go tell Ellen Burstyn, currently teaching a class in Australia, that she's a has-been, tell that to every other actor/director/designer who supplements their income, which most HAVE to do in this country, via teaching that they aren't doers BECAUSE they teach. Tell it to the teachers which trained every excellent actor at Julliard, RADA, The Actors Centre, LAMDA, NIDA, Le Coq etc-that they don't know anything. Grow up.

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  4. Jane,

    can you point to any evidence of there being a "media scandal" about this play. I read the Daily Telegraph story which frankly looks like a beat up. The supposed outrage they quote from the women's group Collective Shout seems to be a generic statement about exploitation and not specifically about this play. (One can almost guarantee that the first they heard about the play was when a DT reporter asked them to comment on it.) From what I can find online the play has generally had mostly positive reviews in the US without causing much scandal at all.

    For those interested you can read a selection of the overseas reviews at:

    criticometer.blogspot.com.au/2009/02/that-pretty-pretty-or-rape-play.html

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  5. Good on you! I come to you for honesty!

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  6. I believe you should know how to put something together before you decide you're entitled to pull something apart, and I don't mean "know how to" in the academic, theoretical sense. I mean it in the practical, hands-on, experiential sense, borne of putting one's neck on the chopping block in front of paying audiences, time after time after time, outside the educational environment.

    This blogger cannot claim that track record.

    Which doesn't mean she cannot have or express or disseminate her opinions, but it does mean she has the choice to temper that opinion with less armchair, from-the-sidelines energy.

    But I guess that choice might come with less tricksy word-play and less digs. Jane might be an expert in all the bags-of-tricks she sees in the Sydney theatre scene, but after reading a few of her posts I observe her relying on as many bags-of-tricks as she observes in others.

    I would like to know what Jane does to refresh her brain before seeing a show, which surely must be the job of an unbiased critic? If she does not do something similar (but instead invents bingo games to play while actors are performing), then she is developing a serious bias that needs tempering. Where is Jane's David to her Margaret? Where is the Perry White to her Lois Lane?

    There isn't one. There is her, and then there are the productions she sees, but nothing more. Journalism seeks truth above opinion by triangulating what it observes for the reader.

    She needs a third party, but would anyone work with her?

    Maybe she's not trying to be a journalist?

    Maybe she's just trying to be a voice?

    Does that exempt her from any rules of journalism? Of course it does!

    But does that make me want to read everything she says?

    No, I just don't trust her to decide where I spend my theatre dollars.

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    1. What a bullsh*t argument. If this philosophy held true, reviewers of television, books, films and art around the world would be turfed out on their ear.

      The number of critics who have actually staged theatre productions would easily be in the minority.

      To say that one can only be part of a club of critics when one has staged a production is just plain nonsense and elitist at best.

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  7. Paul, I only argue for some essence of journalism, even in blogging. In its best form journalism seeks the truth through eyewitness accounts (including the journalist's own), and existing critique, but it cannot rest at those - it must go at least one step further for 'the truth' to be tested and proven.

    Interviewing other people who saw the same thing; including images which illustrate an argument; factual statistics; these are all ways to evolve opinion into a journalistic argument.

    I do not see this blogger doing that. She rests on her opinion, and existing theories about theatrical production, and therefore should probably not use the word 'critique' in her intro. She promises both opinion and criticism, and I believe the latter is not delivered here.

    Perhaps the word theatre 'commentator' would have more integrity and lend this blogger more authority? After all, sports audiences are rarely subject to critics who have not been a part of actually playing the game, or those who have had some personal stake in it at some stage. Sports audiences would never tolerate that.

    Jane may one day be asked to write/critique for a publication, where the multiple stakes at work (from advertising, readership and subscriptions, strategic business relationships, house style, to basic access to the broadest scope of shows) will require her to adopt a more classic journalistic approach.

    It would be fascinating to read her critiques in that context, and watch them evolve to match the length of any tenure she secures in that environment.

    It's a very rare journalist who gets paid for spruiking an opinion. Opinion pages exist, yes, but they are extended Letters to the Editor content, and predominantly unpaid editorial.

    Opinion in blogs often smacks of anger and frustration, relying on name-calling and words like "nonsense" and "elitism" and "bullsh*t". Left at opinion, it's all just reaction, not critique.

    I came here seeking critique and I do not find it. That doesn't mean I find it in existing titles or other blogs Paul. I don't find it there either. I don't believe in critics. I like to make up my own mind. I like to be surprised. If I experience a turkey I just get over it.

    It is the easiest thing in the world to observe a piece of art (any piece of art) and tear it to shreds with opinion. Try making art one day, and then keep trying every day of the year, and then every year for a decade. That entitles you to an opinion, and if you can write objectively, it will entitle you to column inches under the banner of critique.

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  8. Oh Michael...really? Relax. Breathe. Have a cup of tea. Calm? Now be sensible.

    I am a blogger. I have a specific style, which as you argue, does not appeal to you (and a few others obviously). So stop reading me. No-one has you Clockwork Orange style trapped in front of the screen, forcing you to imbibe my every word. Tune out and go to that happy place full of fence sitting, middle ground writers.

    I don't profess to be a 'journalist'- although I did laugh when you suggested "journalism seeks truth above opinion". Please! Regardless of integrity, there will almost always be bias. We are human beings. It is hard to hide our feelings and we manipulate our views into the material we present. I am just open and frank about mine and it drives my style.

    I don't have to give you a 3 page essay on the show. Go somewhere else for that (and if you don't 'believe' in critics and like to make up your own mind, what on earth does it matter what anyone else thinks or does anyway?)

    This is my voice...and News flash: I don't have to follow a guidebook on form and function in how I express it.

    Next, as much as you want to criticise me for being "just a Drama teacher" which is the implication from not being a 'slaving, starving Artist', can I point out that as a teacher I am often directing, writing, creating, coaching and staging many shows per year, in various styles and have been watching theatre continuously for over 25 years. Add to this I have been professionally improvising for decades and even if it is not your art, it still provides me with some understanding of performance and some production experience. I am also responsible for fostering a love of theatre to the next generation. Actually, you need me more than I need you, if you know what I mean, which leads me to..

    Most of the people who walk through those doors to watch the play are like me- not really connected to the Arts industry but paying customers who enjoy theatre and want to experience the medium of live performance and be enchanted by it, fuel a desire to know ourselves better and engage in the world presented. We want an avenue to discuss and express our thoughts and feelings on what we have just paid for. We are theatre's bread and butter.

    Unfortunately, your opinion smacks of theatre's greatest tragedy: elitism- "Don't voice your opinion unless you're in the business. To all others, shut up. You have nothing to offer that anyone wants to hear."

    And thus the reason for my blog. Thank you for reminding us all that it exists because people like you should not be the only ones who are allowed to have an opinion. If I wasn't speaking to some audience out there, I don't think it would have got the attention and support it did. And if I didn't also write positive show reviews when they deserved it, it probably wouldn't have lasted long either.

    I am not for everyone. I welcome the debate. I have wonderful friends whose opinions I respect who passionately disagree with some of my reviews and who passionately agree with others. We all have our opinions. Let's accept there's room to make up our minds whose opinions we most have resonance with, seek them out and enjoy them.

    Now go and have a lavender bath and a good lie down.

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  9. You can dole it out Jane, but you can't take it, obviously.

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    1. It seems you're the one who can't take it by sooking about someone else's blog. I guess you must've copped a spray through it at some stage. Or maybe one of your mates. Anyway, it's stupid to suggest a review is somehow completely different to opinion.

      I know myself that 98% of the reviewers who come into that auditorium have never participated in the staging of a production. It's moronic to think otherwise. Last I looked, there were no real qualifications to becoming a reviewer.

      Anyway, I would rather hear the honest, unfettered opinion of someone who calls a spade a spade rather than someone who buys into self-serving wankery.

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  10. Michael, if you're after a blogger/critic who is also a bona fide journalist and a theatre practitioner, you could try AC on Theatrenotes.

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  11. As a blogger myself (sorry about the plug for my own blog!) I thoroughly enjoy reading everything on 'SOYP', comments and all. I should add the disclaimer that I am not qualified to offer an opinion on anything I write about, including the enjoyment level I derive from reading this blog. It would be best for everyone if they do not read this comment at all. If you have read this far, my sincere apologies. I am not even qualified to be a Philistine as the course was full when I tried to enrol.

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  12. Alison on Theatre Notes, James Waites, and Kevin Jackson are all worthwhile theatre bloggers who have an understanding of theatre. There are without doubt many others. This female version of Mr G is not one of them.

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  13. Mr/Ms HA HA ANON That "those that can't, teach" argument is so old, so insulting,so stupid, so untrue (they are not the same thing for a start) and completely at odds with the reality of the employment opportunities in the performing arts in this country it is a joke and I believe it lowers the person whom utters it-which would be you. The fact that you think your comment is witty proves only that you do not know this-go do some training.
    A person needs training to teach and they have to be good to be employed at a good school. They have to go to UNIVERSITY to LEARN the craft, and, ye gods, the history of that craft-crazy isn't it? Training is not compulsory to direct (apparently for some), to critique, to perform-and when there is none, how good is most of the work? A rhetorical question.
    Go tell Ellen Burstyn, currently teaching a class in Australia, that she's a has-been, tell that to every other actor/director/designer who supplements their income, which most HAVE to do in this country, via teaching that they aren't doers BECAUSE they teach. Tell it to the teachers which trained every excellent actor at Julliard, RADA, The Actors Centre, LAMDA, NIDA, Le Coq etc-that they don't know anything. Grow up.

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