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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.


  1. Yes! She's back - I was getting tired of 'Nice Jane'.



  4. I'm with the first guy.

  5. How do I contribute to putting you into that pension home....??

  6. You read just like Liz Lemon sounds like. And I loooove Liz Lemon. ' Is this sunlight I see before me? '

  7. Best thing I've ever read about Belvoir. You took the words right out of my mouth. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

  8. Jane, have you seen Thyestes (AKA Baal II)? OMFG. The only thing that distracted me from the agonisingly slow movement of the hands of my watch was the moment when the grand piano appeared on the stage. How did they do that? How tragic it is that such a trick could be my highlight of the night? Apart from the dicks of course and the guitar feedback and the boys kissing boys. Theatre at the moment seems to be diving head first into a time warp, where audiences can still be shocked by loud noise and nudity and nobody wants to be bored by old stuff unless it's re-imagined by an adolescent brain. You're right about The Doll. Neil shows how it should be done.

    1. Last night I saw Thyestes my first visit to a theatre for ten years.
      The experience was a sad let down I thought things might have moved on from four letter words, scat jokes, nudity out of context etc.
      The faces of the audience on the opposite side were more interesting than the performance.

  9. SO RIGHT!!!!! I LOVE THIS.. belvoir has been taken over by the hipsters at the expense of decent theatre!!!!

  10. I agree with your comments re the 2012 Belvoir Street Theatre season - that's why I didn't subscribe!

  11. Belvoir = closed shop.
    Unless you are part of the Myer/Stone/Flack inner (male?) circle.
    Not inclusive at all.
    Unlike Griffin, which does actually foster new work by a variety of artists.
    Thank God for Sam Strong and Co.

  12. It is so interesting to read this. As a young actor/theatre-maker currently studying at the VCA (a place that is proud to count Simon Stone amongst its alumni), we are encouraged to look up to him as one of the leading lights of the industry, and as an example of how we, as mere peasants, can go out to change the Australian theatre scene.
    But I don't agree.
    I adored "The Wild Duck", I thought it was one of the most beautiful, moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Mostly due to the performances of Ewen Leslie and Anita Heigh. But also due to the simplicity of the story telling, and the willingness of the director to rely upon the strength of the actors to tell the story, instead of relying upon cheap theatrical tricks.
    I think Australian theatre is currently experiencing a disturbing and unproductive trend of "director-based" theatre. That is, theatre that is driven mostly by the vision/aesthetic of the director, not necessarily by the vision of a writer.
    In my mind, the primary visionary and creator of a work is the writer. The writer provides the key component in a piece of work, and it is up to the director, actor and designers to interpret the text, and devise the clearest and most effective way to communicate the playwright's intention. Too often in this country is the work driven by a director with a strong aesthetic, but with no respect or reverence for the text and the narrative.
    It is easy to underestimate the effect that this trend has on the future of theatre in this country. The voices of playwrights are being totally stifled. The longer we continue to cultivate these so-called "visionary" directors, and ignore the work of new and emerging writers, the harder it will be to find new writers in the future. Why do Stone/Flack/Myers find it hard to produce new Australian work? Because their dedication to aesthetic and their own tastes is slowly killing any hope for emerging Australian playwrights. Why would you bother to submit your new, exciting script to Belvoir if you knew that, if produced, it would be transformed by some young egotistical director, keen to make his own mark by establishing his own aesthetic, instead of working to protect the vision of the playwright.
    Respect for writers in our theatres is being totally lost, and this is to the detriment of our theatrical landscape as a whole.
    Let us pray that there soon comes a day that the writer comes first. Not the director and their ego.

    1. I couldn't agree more James. And tomorrow I see Andrews' 'Every Breath' and I think it will confirm everything you've said.

      There seems to be a contempt for writers that permeates the Sydney scene- the director as auteur is King. If the cast is experienced, it can afford them some creative control and sometimes help navigate the ego of the director onto re-focusing on the text & less on tricks (which I think happened in Wild Duck). A younger, more impressionable cast- no chance.

      Someone grab the emperor's crown and strangle him with it please

  13. C'mon Jane ... time for a 'I told you so" about Benedict Andrews new offering at the Belvoir. ..