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Wednesday 12 October 2011

Loot & STC's 2011, dissected by me.

Oh dear. Clunkety clunk clunk. The first half of STC’s production of Orton’s ‘Loot’ has the pace of a Cliffy Young shuffle in what needs to be a Usain Bolt sprint.

Partly the problems with this play are due to some of the dated shock value. There was a time it relied on the 1960’s conservative backlash & outrage at the issues of promiscuity, homosexuality, police corruption with a bit of murder on the side. Now, well, it’s the bread and butter of Channel 9 programming so it’s hard to be indignant. In fact, if it doesn’t come with a lot of titty action, it feels decidedly old fashioned.

The other big issue in this play is Caroline Craig. I hate to say it but she was like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. Complete lack of commitment to role, inability to capture the rhythm of the play and looked bored, reflecting my own expression, for the entire show. Craig was a mincing piece of dialogue in a funny accent, devoid of character or energy. And given she has to drive the first half, the whole play stalled, much to the dismay of a fine cast as those boys did their best to compensate for her efforts.

The second half picked up a bit as McConville, Zappa, Gilshenan & Jones took a bigger role in the play’s denouement. But it was no surprise to hear the audience bemoan a lack of engagement in the action of the play, especially as the play was so reliant on physical humour, timing and wit.

This play is symptomatic of STC’s entire programming this year. One big yawnsville. And I can’t even blame Andrew Upton’s direction. I’m still getting therapy from last year’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into the Night That Never Bloody Ends’.

So let’s do a year in review of the boring turn out of STC’s year…

’In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play’ quite a promising start. Strong female cast and good writing.

‘Zebra’- Bryan Brown turned this play into a wooden casket, threw it into the fire and cremated any promise it ever had. Possibly the gong for the worst acting I have seen so far this year.  It didn’t matter who else was in the show- you can’t act against a tree.

‘Baal’- well, you’ve read my review. Pretentious piece of pooh.

‘Terminus’. Imported from overseas. Thank God.

‘The White Guard’. Who cares?

‘Edward Gant’. Missed everything to draw the pieces together and make this play work.

‘Blood Wedding’- suicided in the second half.

‘Threepenny Opera’. Actually heard this was good and Perfect was perfect & when Capsis hit his stride, also great.  Sorry I missed it.

‘Bloodland’, ‘No Man’s Land’ & ‘Gross and Klein’ yet to hit the stage but let me pre-empt my feelings on a couple of those. If I see John Gaden and Peter Carroll in one more show, I’m going to hurt someone. So to put them both together is double the torture. I will pluck out my eyes and throw one at each of them if I am trapped watching that show. And I so wanted to see Pinter’s play but you couldn’t pay me to do that to myself.

As for ‘Gross & Klein’, I was looking forward to it too…and then they appoint Benedict Andrews as director when Luc Bundy dropped out. BYO neon lights and incongruous German references in an Australian context. Don’t forget to take your BATSHIT bingo cards, available online soon. I’m hoping as he wasn’t able to import his creative team and cast the play that it might survive the BATSHIT experience. We’ll see…

So if ‘Loot’ is still showing when this review goes up, don’t bother. Go and see what’s showing at Griffin instead. You’ll pay half as much and get twice as much engagement.

Monday 3 October 2011

Belvoir's 2012 program, dissected by me

Firstly, I have to ask, has Belvoir been taken over by the faux-bearded, cardigan-wearing, soy-skinny-latte-drinking, 20+ something set?

I mean, please...why is it that every classic play needs to be re-written so a contemporary audience will understand it? How stupid do they think we are? Seneca, Euripides and Eugene O'Neill are getting their work overhauled by Simon Stone and others in 2012 after Ibsen and Chekhov got hammered this year. And if next year's works reflect this year's reworks, as an audience you can expect to be left out of the equation altogether. After all, we are philistines who wouldn't understand the resonance of the classics in the modern world and should just move our antiquated arses aside for the new breed who are deep inside the belly of the common man, man. Right. And nothing says common man like Myers, Stone, Andrews et al and their intellectualised tirade of barely coherent, socially inept unpacking of the season at the launch. I only hope Myers can direct better than he can speak in public.

It seems ironic that the best work Belvoir will stage in 2011 is Armfield's direction of 'Summer of the Seventeenth Doll', a beautifully crafted seminal piece of Australian work by a man who knows the integrity of the work, when to manipulate it and when to leave it alone. The boys of Belvoir don't seem to be able to keep their hands off it.

Never underestimate the willingness of your audience to engage in sophisticated work, whether it be contemporary or classical. Just stop performing for what entertains you and start thinking about your audience. There are times I wanted to smash a brick through your fourth wall and hurt somebody with the trite on offer but it would have bounced back from the perspex wall and clobbered me on the head and I figured you'd already done that with the work in the first place.

So, apart from the re-written classics, what am I concerned about in the 2012 season? Well, Benedict Andrews writing and directing this year. I won't be needing to ingest any metamucil that week. It'll be flowing straight out of the glass box, past the raining ash and pissing itself up the wall, joined by the money I've just forked out to watch it. Don't expect to understand the production. Only the faux-bearded set and their entourage will get it (or pretend to) and you'll be made to feel like an idiot or a relic of the boomers or even generation x if you question it and the critics will wank all over it and you will ask yourself, 'Is it just me? Did I just not get it?'. Answer: no but thanks for your $60.

I will be developing the ultimate Benedict Andrews bingo cards to take to his shows from now on so at least you can amuse yourself by crossing off the Benedict Andrews Theatre SHows Intellectualising Tricks (BATSHIT). I will expect calls of Bingo to be heard in every show. You can't imagine my horror at discovering Luc Bundy was replaced by Andrews for STC's Gross & Klein this year so I can only imagine how the cast felt. Profound disappointment I would think.

Ralph Myers will be making his mainstage directing debut with Coward's 'Private Lives'. If he leaves Toby Schmitz to just do his thing and leaves Coward's work in tact, the show should take care of itself and no doubt he will direct it to maximise his set. I'm sure it'll be fine but I have to ask, how indulgent is it of Myers to have as much of the cake as possible? I'm sure if he could star in all the roles as well, he would.

Simon Stone. Writing, directing, wanking. Need I say more? Sometimes aided by Chris Ryan. Put me in a pension home now.

Death of a Salesman. OK. I'll go but gee, I'll be glad when this text gets a little rest. Didn't Ensemble only do this play a few years ago? I thought they made a good fist of it. Time to get it off the HSC text list so we can look at Miller's other plays. And I hope Colin Friels enjoys this one more than the last play, 'Zebra', he did with Bryan Brown at STC. It was sleepwalking on stage. He is capable of such great work but if he smells a stinker or is acting against a piece of wood, you won't see his magic on stage, it'll be dead man walking.

Lucy Guerin getting another shot. Nice. But the pressure is on to make sure we see theatre in the dance a little more this time.

There's a couple of Indigenous plays. Check. A few contemporary works, devised from community projects that will feature downstairs. Check.

So, in summary- positives may be the great amount of local works being staged. Negatives may be the people who are staging them. All I know is this, I've sent in my subscription and am taking a chance on every show (with bingo cards in hand) so you can look forward to more blogging happening next year.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Griffin's 'Smashed' directed by Clare Watson & dissected by me

This short play, showing at the Stables Theatre and directed by Clare Watson is a reproduction of the first staging of the play in 2005.

Watson refers to the collaborative approach to creating this work and the play does exude that sense of ensemble, sometimes at the expense of polish or coherence. But having said that, I found some of the moments of the play interesting, such as the idea that friends live in our memory and even when they don’t exist in our lives anymore, they still have impact in our choices, actions and future.

I enjoyed the non-linear approach to narrative in exploring the relationships between characters. This is a hard technique to pull off and it didn’t always work but kudos to writer Katz for the attempt and using it to question our own accuracy in recalling events and the stream of consciousness and triggers of our own memory.

This production brought back memories for me too- I thoroughly enjoyed the trip into 80’s music, especially Toto’s ‘Africa’.  There’s nothing like the 80’s to make you reminisce about your own past and those who impacted in our lives and paths.

I liked Miller’s set that attempted to crystallise the ideas of the play- model dollhouses representing places and times past as well as youthful innocence and the notion of looking into our lives as ‘grown’ outsiders. It was visually interesting and even though the set wasn’t fully realised in the play’s direction, it did give moments for the actors to interact with their memories in this small rough stage space.

Actors Suzannah McDonald and Katherine Tonkin showed skill in breathing life into these characters. The farmyard horror stories were a highlight, as was the ending of stripping off Hazel’s costume and ‘leaving it by the road’- a lovely directorial decision to impact Hazel’s end and Ruby’s grief. I will say that 6 years ago when these actors were straight out of acting school and performing this the first time round that the characters may have had more currency because in this production they felt a bit too old for the roles.

Overall I enjoyed this production. Katz has had a very good year on the Sydney Theatre scene and certainly seems to be a talent on the rise. I commend Griffin’s choice to invest in upcoming Australian writers and charge realistic admission prices. Even though their shows can be hit and miss, the rationale of supporting the local scene will keep me subscribing.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Belvoir's 'Human Interest Story' presented by Lucy Guerin Inc & dissected by me

Hello Upstairs Belvoir. What's going on? Your downstairs experimental work is finding its way upstairs and I'm not unhappy about this.

'Human Interest Story', choreographed and devised by Lucy Guerin and cast is a foray into dance and physical theatre, aiming to 'synthesise the many relationships between the news and our experience'.

I found Guerin's show fascinating in its referencing dance and movement to express our everyday exposure to the media and the dichotomy and then sometimes correlation between our actions and our world. Perhaps Guerin's point of showcasing our privilege of prancing juxtaposed to the dangerous or current events outside our own door was explored most effectively in Stephanie Lake's freedom of movement and disinterested responses to the chorus of questions posed by the television-hypnotised, robotic company. The humour of this moment was further enhanced with Anton Enus giving such newsworthy credibility to the trivial and banal lifes of the troupe in their everyday interactions.

The 'power' moment came for me in their deconstruction of the print media, carefully laying out each page of the broadsheet before leaping, shredding and stuffing it into the costume of performer Alisdair Macindoe and then sprinting around him and pushing him to the floor. This frenetic and hostile impulse to the news and its carriers or those who dress in its words was an incredibly engaging moment.

My attention did wane in the last 20 minutes through the deliberate repetition of the news and action and although the point wasn't lost on me, my focus and attention was tested and it made this 70 minute show feel considerably longer. However, I accept that this was the point but it did test the generosity of its audience and probably detracted from creating a thorough and completely powerful piece of theatre.

The experienced theatregoer used to popular realism will struggle to shift into the world of contemporary dance. Dramatic expression in this form of this stylised movement is not restricted to communicate traditional narrative based action. This can mean that as an audience member I am trying to read meaning and understanding in every gesture and it is hard to let that go. So I didn't always follow every moment with dramatic coherence and had to abandon style to engage in form.

If Belvoir are going to aim for a younger vibe in its audience, it will best be achieved through works like this and not butchering the classics and dumbing them down for the masses.

Bravo Belvoir for taking the road less taken.