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Thursday 29 May 2014


It’s Dark Outside examines human nature and our desire to seek what is beyond us – always in the pursuit of something. It explores the fragility of human life and the lack of control we have over the course of our existence. This is done through the case study of Alzheimer’s disease with specific research having been conducted into the curious phenomena of Sundowner’s Syndrome. Sundowner’s Syndrome is a medical term for this desire, showing how, when our faculties begin to escape us, we attempt to escape our familiar environment. We begin to wander and with this comes the disintegration of relationships and former personality traits, and the gradual regression to a primal state. Once civilized and sophisticated people are reduced to a simple body that is fuelled by animalistic instinct and an insatiable desire for a realm beyond our own.

Created and performed by Arielle Gray, Tim Watts and Chris Isaacs, the trio devised a brief but captivating piece using puppetry, multimedia effects and music composed by WAAPA  graduate, Rachel Dease. A wise decision to avoid dialogue, the piece functioned in its own world of powerful imagery and sounds.

Despite the complexity of the subject matter, this performance was one of ease and sincerity. The simplicity of the images the trio constructed had symbolic value that much of the audience was able to connect with. The images were able to capture the very essence of existence, the dichotomous concepts of simplicity and complexity that plague our lives. In a state of constant flux, these concepts are applicable to every individual’s life, manifested in many different forms. In this performance, the chase for a certain something is put in perspective – as we are able to step outside the natural course of existence and experience another’s life.

The details in the mask were perfect – down to the very last wrinkle. But the details of old age were expressed through the performers’ movement and engagement with the minimal set and props.  The puppetry itself was splendid and the manipulation of the puffs of memory, the transformation of objects to life, the comic intertwined with the tragic, all succeeded in taking its audience into the conceptual world of a lost reality.

The transitions from the multimedia screen to the live puppetry were seamless and cleverly executed. The images created by the performers were relayed to the screen and fluidly reversed, smoothly passing between the two mediums. The fluidity of the piece was its strength. But this fluidity should largely be attributed to the sensitive soundtrack of the piece.  The music was an integral part of the performance’s success. Inspired by the spaghetti western setting, the music was soft and subtle at times – helping to project the lonely and heartbreaking emotions onto the puppet’s lifeless face – and at others it was bold and breathed life into an otherwise dull scene. 

As people suffering from Alzheimer’s often regress to a child like state, the creators endeavoured to capture this playful and humorous quality – balancing out the dark subject matter with simple gags, guaranteed to make the audience laugh. But there was no saving the emotional outpour. As elderly couples either side of me clutched each others’ hands and held back tears, younger audience members bawled behind me. This piece was intended for everyone and hence resonated with everyone. For the victims and their families, those who know the feeling of slowly losing someone and those who don’t. For all those who’ve ever felt the yearning for something beyond the here and now. This show is for everybody.

Saturday 24 May 2014


This was my first official foray into the new Eternity Playhouse and what a terrific restoration/renovation it is. I hear it’s a nightmare fight for space back stage but from an audience’s perspective, it’s a great space.

OK…so if I’m procrastinating talking about the actual play, take that as a sign that I didn’t love it. I also didn’t hate it if that’s any consolation. The truth is that ‘The Young Tycoons’ has plenty of great lines and strong performers but as material, CJ Johnson’s play, or ‘ruthless comedy’ as it’s dubbed, is thin in structure and complexity of characters. It’s a pleasant parody of the Packer and Murdoch empires and their business and family dynamics.

‘The Young Tycoons’ may have been suffering from second night blues and the audience were down in numbers and energy from the opening night and the actors seemed to be a bit off their game. When I looked around and saw people texting or having their own personal conversations, the play was not doing its job or you've got the worst audience you could hope for. Lots of stumbles over lines, the occasional dry and technical hitch didn’t help add substance in a play that relies on pace, comic timing and hitting each gag as if it was accompanied by the boom tish of percussion. No doubt director Michael Pigott, who is revisiting his direction of this play for the third time, must have recognised that it was not the strongest of nights.

Structurally the play feels more filmic that theatre. The constant entrances and exits to play short vignettes does slow down the pace of the show and must put enormous pressure on its cast in the small backstage space to sweat out hitting each mark and swiftly make adjustments to the set like pro’s. And bless them, they really did. But it takes its toll because it feels like we are watching an elongated sketch show, episodic, tagging each scene with its pre-requisite joke. 

There are genuinely funny moments and special mentions to performers Andrew Cutcliffe (Trevor Warburton), James Lugton (Dave Grolsch), Terry Serio (Donald Mayes) and Briallen Clarke (Kylie Strauss), although it is a well-assembled and good ensemble, who I think were having a rough night.

‘The Young Tycoons’ is infinitely watchable and I think the cast are thoroughly enjoying it. It was a pleasant way to spend an evening and I only wish I’d seen it on a night when everyone was on their best game. It’s just that the show is potentially thinner than this review and if they are having an off night, there’s nowhere to hide.

Check it out and hope for the best.

STC’S ‘MOJO’ dissected by me

Mojo (def): charm or spell cast, sex appeal.

STC’s ‘Mojo’ has little evidence of any of it.

To be fair, I saw it in previews and Sam Haft had pulled out of the play only five days before, in the first night of the technical run and Lindsay Farris had stepped in to play the role of Baby. So I strongly suspect it had some realigning to do, as well as normal preview bumps in rhythm.

But when I saw it, ’Mojo’ was devoid of much of its tension. ‘Mojo’ is set around the late 50’s in seedy London, teddy boys, tough talk, rock and roll and an underworld of gangsters caught up with a hope of youthful advancement any way you can get it. It is distinctly masculine and violent. 'Mojo' has all the ingredients for tension but the cake is yet to cook. Director Iain Sinclair has certainly pumped Jez Butterworth’s play full of energy and each actor seemed to be giving it all they had (and there’s no denying there’s some fine acting happening on stage- Josh McConville as Potts and Eamon Farren as Skinny in particular) but much like STC’s ‘Edward Gant’ from a couple of years back, it’s not coming together to transfer it into tangible engagement for the audience.

So I was left asking, why was there no tension? What is it about this production of Butterworth’s ‘Mojo’ that left me thinking ‘No Go’? Butterworth’s play is a precision in delivery of language, often compared with the rising tension of dialogue from writers like Pinter, who was undeniably an influence on the writer. Has the timing in Sinclair’s show been miscalculated? It fires the opening dialogue like a bull out of the gate and so there is a bit of catch up happening in the audience, post Silver Johnny’s assaulting rock performance and that pace rarely changes. Pip Runciman’s set design and David Fleischer’s costumes leave me no doubt that this is era specific and this dingy back club room holds a promise of ambition and deals are in motion. So I’m certainly aware of context and its driving narrative and floating ideas. I’m just not invested in it.

I think part of the issue of the play is its toughest character, Tony Martin (Mickey) is not intimidating enough and fails to seduce the other characters effectively. I don’t feel threatened by the unfolding events and thus I don’t believe the power he has over the other characters to decide their fate. I’m not convinced by whatever relationship he has with Skinny (Farren) that mirrors the departed Ezra and his son Baby (Farris) and so the ending feels problematic and I'm unaffected by Mickey’s response to Skinny’s dilemma. I don’t feel threatened by the possibility of Sam Ross taking over the club scene and nor do I believe the fear expressed by the others on stage for the possibility of their fate.

If this play is a black comedy, it hasn’t hit its mark because the tilt has gone off course.  Perhaps part of the issue is that a play set in the London underground night club scene of the late 50’s feels dated in this production, which is striving for authenticity to its middle-class Australian audience (or maybe just me). I couldn’t connect with it culturally, socially or historically and therefore it felt irrelevant. It didn't resonate with me and Sinclair's production didn't emerge from its original setting and speak to an audience of today.

In the end, I’m left with a play that has heart in its performances but no soul. I see people working for their money but not working for mine.

I hope it finds its feet and rhythm with this last minute ensemble change and I wish Haft a speedy recovery but ‘Mojo’ didn’t earn its ticket price when I saw it. 

Monday 19 May 2014

SOMETHING TO BE DONE dissected by Hayley

A lump of man writhed on the pallet bed. Encased in a sack, he flip flopped around in an effort to be born. He popped out from his sack and thus began an hour and fifteen minutes of mimed physical, surrealism. I had heard great things about Gabriel McCarthy's award winning ten minute version of this piece, originally staged at Short and Sweet. McCarthy depicted the birth and death of an artist in a beige themed, existential world. No dialogue. Just a man, a stuffed sheep and a bowler hat. 

'Something to be Done' is part Jan Svankmajer, part Mr Bean, and showcases McCarthy's body bending and moulding in an extremely physical piece of theatre. McCarthy is a gifted physical performer, his background in gymnastics apparent. His mime became at times a little too Mr Bean for my liking and felt more mimicry rather than artistry but McCarthy has skill, that much is evident. 

The audio design for the most part was great. At times it was a little behind its cues. I'll cut it some slack on its opening night, but due to the lack of dialogue, it is instantly noticeable if these cues are missed. However, I have no doubt it will tighten up in the later performances. I thought some of the songs might have also been a little cliched, using Massive Attack's 'Teardrop' for when McCarthy was in utereo case in point. Also I would be wary of using Clint Mansel's 'Lux Aeterna'. Unlike the other more generic classical music used, it conjures powerful imagery from major films it has been used in (Lord of the Rings and Requiem for a Dream). My mind was busy recalling the scenes in the films, dragging me away from McCarthy's world.

The program details that 'Something to be Done' is about risk. I'm not sure that came across clearly in the performance. The lack of dialogue in the piece was certainly risky if you can sustain a performance of that duration without speaking or needing dialogue, and some of the falls McCarthy took really made me concerned for his knees. There are times, as audience, you are more concerned for the actor rather than the character and I felt this. This is a physically taxing show. 

I felt like the creator's note teamed with the piece I saw tried too hard to attribute meaning just so the audience would get it. That can read conceptually try-hard, which is fine, but it is a little too easy to ascribe additional meaning to something to make it seem more important. Really, should it be the audience that need to find that meaning and your job to convey it in your piece? It might denote a slight sense of not trusting your material to get the job done. Admittedly I did struggle to find meaning in what I saw, but I had assumed that was intentional as it felt more like Bunuel surrealism than existentialism. Had I just been expected to sit back and enjoy the journey, I may have just been content with entertainment for entertainment's sake. It's the peril of taking a sketch and turning it into a full-length movie. More is sometimes less.

I mostly enjoyed the piece. As mentioned, I think it would have been stronger at ten minutes than as the hour and fifteen I saw. There were times when I drifted off and away from the stage. This could be because I am inherently a language person and I need some dialogue to engage me fully. The weight of the piece definitely lies with McCarthy's strength in physical performance.

If you want to see Mr Bean done as conceptual existentialism and for the most part, done well, then head along to TAP Gallery now to see it. 

Friday 16 May 2014

NATHAN VALVO'S 'BOY NEXT DOOR' as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival, dissected by Rhiona

You must think I never write reviews anymore and have completely outsourced the blog. That's partly true. I still write between the hectic routine of life but I've now got three generations of interesting female voices writing for SOYP and here's the latest. Let me introduce Rhiona Armont, Gen Z and a previous student of mine with an exceptional talent in theatre. Rhiona describes herself as follows:

I am 17 years old and I am a first year student at UTS, studying a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Journalism) and Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. I am a UNICEF Young Ambassador, Producer for 2Ser 107.3’s Breakfast show and I work part time at the Museum of Contemporary Art as a tour guide and event coordinator as a member of the Youth Committee. I have been engaged in the arts throughout my life – both as a performer and an audience member. I have a passion for art and music, live theatre and writing, and hopefully, as I get older, my connection with and involvement in this industry will only grow.

Here's what Rhiona thought of Nath Valvo's show:

I cautiously crept down the stairs, peeping around the corner of each flight, descending into the deep, dank bowels of the Enmore Theatre. All in the hope that I would stumble upon the claustrophobic cage that is the Laneway, and indeed, I found it. “Apparently the name Fritzel’s Rape Dungeon was already taken” Valvo noted in his opening lines. So he didn’t have me at hello, but it was close enough. It was true; the venue is somewhat reminiscent of a secret chamber reserved for the Phantom of the Opera but it has its charm with the…umm… Well, credit to him, he made the best of it.

Originally from Melbourne, Valvo recently touched down in Sydney after running his show in Perth. And yes, the jet setter did come by plane despite much joking about coming by boat. “There’s no way a gay could’ve come by boat – that’s Tony Abbott’s worst nightmare.” But as far as being gay goes, Valvo does it and he does it well. He has embraced his sexuality and it forms a large part of the hilarious material that is “Boy Next Door”. It is endearing and honest, relatable and raw, like any good comedy show should be.

He began with “small talk”, a segment devised to make the audience recoil in fear of being picked on. In an audience of fifteen there isn’t much room to hide. Still, people averted their eyes and busied themselves in false conversations with their partners. Small talk: that awkward, unnecessary part of existence that we practise every day and yet are unable to master for the times it really matters. Good choice, Nath. Despite a harsh audience, unwilling to engage, he managed to squeeze out a few laughs.

Then he began his own story, in the outer-Melbourne suburb of Greensborough, complete with the unruly big brother, loving parents and childhood crush. Through love letters and telephone conversation points, we begin to understand Valvo in his childhood context.

The red letterbox stamped with the number 8 was a nice addition to the one square metre of set. As each new segment began, he pulled out a new letter or invitation to his successful brother (“who lives in London and works at Google”)’s wedding. It gave his material a sense of continuity, which it didn’t necessarily need considering he was working chronologically, but it nonetheless was a simple throughline that didn’t go unnoticed.

Despite the deterrent of his year five crush, Rebecca Spiteri, his gay neighbour, Michael, awakened Nath Valvo’s homosexuality. Visits featured games of Pop-Up Pirate and sing-alongs of Les Miserables and from that point there was no turning back. He delighted us with stories of Mardi Gras and near-one night stands with men nicknamed McDreamy.

He didn’t shy away from highlighting the highly promiscuous nature of the gay community, namely in Sydney. The culture is undoubtedly uninhibited and daring to say the least, but this is the identity that has been constructed and conserved. Valvo is as stereotypical as he is cynical.

There is a sliver of the distasteful, in good measure and good form, and the rest is good old-fashioned biographical recounts and self-deprecating humour. He compares himself to Missy Higgins/a child from the Make a Wish foundation (separately, very separately) and that was met with the most laughs. Refreshingly, he didn’t touch on anything too explicit and his profanities were kept to a minimum. There was a lot of room for it, but his flare and effortless delivery satisfied the audience to a tee.

Through curious observations and accurate insights into the true meaning of Tapas (Spanish for “go home hungry”) and uncomfortable comparisons of Tinder and Grinder, Nath Valvo shows how he is just like the rest of us.

Although the ending, featuring him attempting to catch a bouquet at the aforementioned brother’s wedding to the soundtrack of single ladies was terribly unrehearsed, it was a wonderfully successful performance by a very talented and insightful young man.

Tuesday 13 May 2014


This is one of those reviews where two of us got to see the show and so as to get a double opinion on the effect of the performance, we both took it upon ourselves to write a response. Here they are below:

Jane said:

Sometimes you see a play where you come out acknowledging that it was really good and utterly believable but that there were parts of the subject or characters you didn’t like because the reality presented makes you angry- angry at the fact that it’s exploring a hard truth and an ugly desperation and disconnection of life, love and the sexes. ‘Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography’ was one of those shows.

Declan Greene, from Sisters Grimm fame, has created something raw in this play, hereby known as ‘8 Gig’ (on a side note, I can only imagine Currency Press are having conniptions working with the play’s title in print and marketing). Whilst the play engages its audience and directly interacts with it, ‘8 Gig’ deals firmly with our two characters, Male (Steve Rodgers) and Female (Andrea Gibbs) and how they distract themselves from their own inadequacies or their inability to communicate their needs. Whilst ‘Male’ uses pornography to avoid reality or the breakdown of his marriage, ‘Female’ uses impulse shopping and in the process, amasses a huge credit card debt.

But that’s not what makes this play sad. What affected me most was that each was incapable of loving themselves or each other and when they do finally come together, it’s like a cyclone meeting a tsunami- a complete destruction of their own tenuous links on reality. It can only make them worse. Further to this, the idea that someone else can fill the great emptiness in the cavernous hollow of self-hate, lost hopes and desperation was so real in its black humour that the laugh is lost in the horror. I know people like this. Hell, I might be someone like this. This is not as funny as it should be. When Female says, “And this is the moment where I ask myself: Are you so completely lonely…are you so completely, totally desolate…that you will shelter this fat, miserable liar? That you will risk your safety, and the safety of your children, just for the chance to grow close to someone? The answer: Yes. A thousand times yes”  I judge them. I judge everyone like this. I think ‘How stupid are you?’ Yet, we’ve all been there. It’s when vulnerability meets insanity. And ‘8 Gigs’ exposes it all.

Director Lee Lewis has captured Greene’s words and given them the power to affect me and her audience to invest in these characters, even if I hate them. Whilst I thought Gibbs was great, I couldn’t help but see Rodgers as more playing himself than his character. There’s always a line between the actor showing me how clever he is and just getting on with doing it. I thought Gibbs was more inside her role or committed to her character than Rodgers was his.

Structurally I don’t think you needed to give me the scene numbers in production but in some ways I was relieved to know that we were advancing in the story so I didn’t have to dwell in each episode of misery too long before coming to terms with the next one.

This play makes me want to punch someone. It particularly makes me want to slap these characters into reality and given that I already know I’m watching artifice, that’s a good thing, right? For me to feel this way after theatre? Whatever its effect on you, see it with a friend so you’ve got someone to talk to about it later and think about what it’s really saying about our saviour complex, the great emptiness of existence and its distractions and our deep-seated and crippling insecurities. 

Hayley said:

I was nervous when the play started and the house lights were still up. I felt exposed, the actors could see me. When they addressed the audience they weren't talking to a flood light and some vague movement in the darkness, they were speaking directly to my face. It was unnerving. I am so accustomed to hiding in the darkness watching while removed, but the fourth wall was truly broken and I felt naked.

Like Bono hides behind his rose-tinted glasses, these characters hid behind their internet avatars. The script tells no lies- well it tells plenty of lies but they are the lies we tell ourselves everyday and so there is truth in them at the very core. The audience and the actors were exposed on stage with a minimalist set designed by Marg Horwell. Vertical blinds tinkled gently, frame wall-to-wall shag-pile carpet. I can almost hear the blow-flies' final death rattles on the window sills. A man (Steve Rogers) and a woman (Andrea Gibbs) turn to the internet for vices to help them forget. The man, internet porn and the woman, binge shopping. 

They meet on an internet dating site, and we watch their lives spiral as they refuse to face reality, sinking deeper and deeper into their cyber avatars trying to forget their flaws and mistakes.

I enjoyed the performances, I thought they were real and raw. This is definitely a comedy. A dark comedy, but still a comedy. I laughed as much as I was horrified, which I think was Greene's intention. I am not quite sure if the voice-over counting up the scenes was necessary. I didn't really understand its purpose. Perhaps I missed something.

I really enjoyed this piece, but it scared me.

Monday 12 May 2014


Alana Valentine’s ‘Parramatta Girls’ is a play that explores a theatricalised version of truth of the experiences of former inmates of Girls Training School (GTS), Parramatta and the destructive treatment of children in institutional care in Australian history.  Valentine points out “It is not documentary. It is not legal evidence. It is not biography or autobiography. It is a play about the nature of memory and the triumph of community” but actually it is more than that. It is a chance for theatre to do what it does best- highlight the human experience, no matter how disturbing, and shine a light on it so that we are witness to a version of events to remind us of our past and our role in it to make us think about the future we’d like to shape.

Director Tanya Goldberg has taken Valentine’s script and given it an outing at the Riverside stage, Parramatta and in some ways it feels like it has come home.  Production designer, Tobhiyah Stone Feller, has created an environment of half-torn buildings, like a bomb site, full of shadows, ghosts and debris, much like the women who have returned to the site of their childhood torment. This is further enhanced in Verity Hampson’s lighting, harsh and exposed but allowing places for the light to hide when needed. The set is hindered by just the one clear doorway and it does mean that the action stalls while we wait for cast to enter or exit. In fact, there are times when this production clunks along- the timing out slightly in some of the scenes of conflict between the women and this means tension struggles to build when you most need it.

Goldberg’s choice to play the time shifts of the girls back in their childhood as stylised action and characterisation means that belief is harder to achieve because the action is already heightened and in some ways, surreal, but the bridge between girls and women is handled well for the most part. There is plenty of energy and some of the stories are harrowing in their expression and so the play does keep you engaged, even if it lacks the power of execution.

The cast is an experienced ensemble and captures the diversity of characters as well as actresses. Christine Anu as Coral is the strongest, clearly communicating the toughness and leadership of a woman who has taken the damage inflicted and found a great resilience of strength and perseverance. But there are no weak links in the cast and there is camaraderie amongst the group that transfers well into the stories. They are supportive of each other and although I felt on opening night it hadn’t quite settled into itself yet, there was integrity evident on stage.

 I quite liked ‘Parramatta Girls’ but it still had a journey ahead of it to find the powerful audience response it needed to make sure that its intentions were felt strongly by those sitting watching it. But no doubt it will get there and with sold out shows and more added to the season, it has been well-supported and is a worthy play to see. 


Danny Boyle's 'Trainspotting' is one of my favourite films. It is one that has always frightened me by how much I seemed to romanticise heroin. The characters' freedoms and strong bonds seemed to nullify the dead babies and shitty toilets. The almost bleak world created by Irvine Welsh is always at the back of my mind and I often wondered if I should have “chosen something else”.

Emu Productions and Black Box Theatre's production of 'Trainspotting' at the King St Theatre was more true to Irvine Welsh's book than the film. I had a suspicion this might be the case. Although Renton is still our cranked-out protagonist disappointing everyone he knows, there are a few key characters from the film missing. Diane and Spud, namely. For those of you uninitiated to the vile world of 'Trainspotting', and after hearing a conversation in the queue at the box office I have come to realise these people do exist, I'll clue you in. The squats of Edinburgh play a labyrinth of homes to the comatose, disenfranchised, heroin junkies of Renton (Damien Carr) , Sick Boy (Brendon Taylor), Begbie (Leigh Scully) and Tommy (also Taylor). We follow them though their euphoric highs and ulcerated lows as they live a life of heroin dependancy.

The play also included an every-woman character, played by Taylor Beadle-Williams, that was absent form the film. Carr was the only performer to play one character with the other three bouncing from one character to the next, often within the scene. This was sometimes confusing. I found myself losing grip on the narrative as I struggled to work out who was who and whose baby had died. It is possible that director Luke Berman had set it up to deliberately confuse his audience, to immerse them into the addled and confused state of his characters, but he probably didn't.

The mise-en-scene was spot on. Part squat interior, part filthy toilet, part alleyway, the sets oozed squalor. Berman, doing his own set design, truly captured the rancid nature of Edinburgh's skag-dens. A standout moment for me and seemingly a gross-out moment for the rest of the audience, was the scene where Renton needs to recover his opium- rectal suppositories from a toilet filled with bog that clumped like oatmeal. It was vile. I loved it.

I enjoyed the music, though really it was just the film's soundtrack. I also thought some of the additional choices were a little anachronistic, for example Chumbawamba's 'Tubthumping', which was released in the late 90's, whereas 'Trainspotting' was meant to be set in the 80's.

As I walked home I thought about the premise of 'Trainspotting'. Was it that a life of drugs always ends badly? Maybe. Somehow I think the play manages to say “a life of drugs makes you more interesting.” Instead, as I headed home, I found myself thinking about the accountant's bill I needed to pay and how I probably need new boots. Should I have chosen a different life? I walked under the bridge near Central and past a woman slumped over, smacked out of her mind. Her skull visible though her skin, her arms a fleshy mess.

I pulled my hood over my head and chose to go home and write this instead.

Tuesday 6 May 2014


I don’t often attend ‘performance art’. There’s something about it that feels so contrived that it’s trying much too hard to prove itself worthy of recognition. I headed to Tacita Dean’s ‘Event For A Stage’ in Bay 17 of Carriageworks confident that I was going to see exactly that. Ego and wank personified. What I didn’t expect was how much I was going to enjoy it, how many questions it raised and how many ideas it generated. 

The ‘Artist’ Dean utilises the ‘Actor’, Stephen Dillane (yes- that’s Stannis Baratheon for all you GoT fans) to occupy the performance space, a blank canvas, theatre-in-the-round, banks of audience surrounding it. The ‘Actor’, as he is referred to in the piece, circles the space as audience enter and we are almost oblivious to the fact that the performance has already begun as two cameras plot his every move and we all scramble for seats that feel the least intimidating for what might happen in the next forty minutes. There’s a microphone hanging from centre stage and as we settle and become conscious of the Actor’s presence, we are ready to enter the contract between actor and audience and begin that integral or sacred relationship of the theatre.

The performance is essentially a monologue and yet it feels much more than that because Dillane is not the only person on stage, although he comprehensively fills it. There are the cameras, their operators and to the side, seated in one of the front rows of the audience, there’s the ‘Artist’, as she is referred to in the program, Tacita Dean. Dean hands Dillane pages of script throughout the performance and it leads him to segueway into the elements of theatre and the role of the actor within it and in due course takes us into another level of our own consciousness of the contract we sign as audience in what we accept on stage and what we don’t.

Dillane as the Actor bridges text between real life and the artifice of acting, the role as opposed to the man, and tries to explain not only his rationale for taking on this event for a stage but his awareness as he acts upon it. It allows us to question our role in watching it, or theatre in general, and makes us believe that in many ways, we are also a character in a play. The constant references to self-consciousness and being exposed is not unlike our choices as audience in where we sit and how we behave. This is drummed home later when we are left to our own devices as Dillane/Actor leaves the space and we sit in our own silence for some time, waiting for the action to continue. The cameras are still rolling. The performance is still going. We, however, are very conscious that any movement or sound we make will attract attention, raise our own level of self-consciousness and we therefore sit silently, not wanting to acknowledge how uncomfortable we are all feeling right now.

Dillane/Actor/Dean/Artist uses the contrast of material and narrative to explore lots of interesting questions or ideas- the role of memory, of imitation, of the tropes and rhythm of dialogue and conversation, of status, of text and of art and life and whether each makes the other better or at least bearable. This is a performance that asks more questions than it answers and we observe the Actor’s battle with the questions as they arise. It is part story-telling, part recounting conversations and part seemingly autobiographical. Most of all, it is captivating.

Dillane has a voice like honey- hypnotising and likeable from the onset and although he uses it with great variety, he is easy to listen to throughout. And I couldn’t tell you if his ‘real’ stories were in fact true and that made the artifice of the stage even more interesting- the blurred lines of art and life in action. Dillane is engaging and skilled and makes every moment count.

I’m so glad I didn’t let my own preconceptions of what I was about to see turn me off entering the space and taking the risk of watching this show. I was glad for the questions and the experience and although this event for a stage had a very short run here, I’ll be interested to see what comes out of the recordings and how it might further explore the self-conscious art of art itself. I was converted.

BAKEHOUSE THEATRE’S ‘His Mother's Voice’ dissected by Hayley.

Bakehouse Theatre Company’s schtick is multiculturalism. According to the program they are “committed to telling stories that more accurately reflect the cultural diversity of our community.” Fantastic. I was itching for some diversity and to see an original story. As I looked around at the mostly white middle-aged audience around me, I felt they might be too. Diversity was delivered. Unfortunately, originality wasn't.

The story of “His Mother's Voice” is very similar to that of “Mao's Last Dancer”, perhaps a little too similar. Shanghaien Yang Jia (Renee Lim) is a music teacher that goes to great lengths to teach her son Qian Lui how to play piano, during Mao's Cultural Revolution. Lui then meets an Australian translator, Emma (Dannielle Jackson) eventually marrying her and defecting to Australia.

The cast was larger than the script called for: twelve in total. Instead of re-using actors as per the script, Suzanne Millar chose to cast all the roles individually. The scenes where Yang Jia and her family are attacked really benefitted from the extra cast, giving the scenes more weight with a mob-like presence.

However in other parts I felt Suzanne Millar's direction was just a little off. All of the lead characters were too quick to yell in anger.  Anger and frustration are complex emotions and can manifest themselves in many ways, however in this piece they were always depicted by yelling and crazy hand gestures. There’s almost nothing more damaging to an audience’s belief than when actors play the emotion and not the intentions. This ultimately led me to disconnect with the characters. I didn't believe their emotional journey.

Having said this Renee Lim's performance was flawless. Her commitment to character never wavered. Her scream when her husband's throat was cut in the first act was of pure agony and I nearly cried for her. Whilst Lim’s portrayal was powerful, I felt disappointed that no one in this production could actually play the piano and it was done through a recorded track. It drove home that I was watching imitation and therefore kept the emotional connection further at bay. I understand that finding skilled pianists who can act might be a big ask but it would have allowed me to better enter the premise and plight of our characters had it been done.

So I left ATYP feeling a bit underwhelmed. It wasn't a bad show, it just wasn't outstanding. It is really great to see performers of Asian descent getting more stage time. I just wish it had been in play that brought something new to its audience. 

Thursday 1 May 2014


David Williamson fulfils the double whammy at the Ensemble this month by not only writing but also directing his latest work, ‘Cruise Control’. The play is set on a cruise ship and centres around three couples: one British, one American and one Australian and their relationships with each other as well as their cultural differences. I know it sounds like the start of a bad joke and Williamson’s play is like an elongated sketch with predictable stereotypes but it is infinitely watchable even if it’s as obvious as you’d expect from his body of work.

There are some genuinely funny lines. I think the lines referring to dentist Sol Wasserman (Henry Szeps) and his novella ‘molarcaust’ or Silky Wasserman’s (Kate Fitzpatrick) ‘snake-slithering’ insults may have brought the house down. And Williamson is not beyond poking fun at his own work. Novelist Richard Manton (played by Felix Williamson, keeping it in the family) speaks of how much critics enjoyed his early work and solidly damn his later writing and I couldn’t help but think some of that must have been self-referential and tongue-in-cheek. What Williamson does do well is build towards tension and then know when to break it. Whether it be a moment of domestic violence or sexual tension, Williamson has honed his craft and so regardless of the narrative or character flaws, the play’s structure holds an audience’s engagement throughout the course of the play.

Having said that, the last scene is completely redundant. I won’t give it away but it does not take a rocket scientist to work out what has happened- it is well signposted or implied in the narrative and so having to show us what we’ve already guessed feels not only a wasted chance to end the play cleanly but also suggests that we must be a bunch of idiots in the audience to not have figured it out.  And there lies the contradiction of Williamson. Whilst he creates plays with humour, he just doesn’t know when to stop. He needs a good editor or dramaturg who can help him find the lost art of subtlety. Williamson turns up the dial on each of his characters so that they lack credible belief. They are archetypes trying to be three-dimensional and not quite making it. Take Aussie Bra-boy Darren Brodie (Peter Phelps). Not only is the accent heightened and in his very first scene he is refusing to wear a suit to dinner with his Ascham-educated wife Imogen (Helen Dallimore) as he berates her for sleeping with his best friend but then Williamson tries to give him layers by having him use the occasional phrase or word of a university educated man and it feels completely out of place. It’s implausible and unnecessary. He’s a thug and a bully, even with heart, and the idea of a self-educated master of the Oxford thesaurus is far-fetched. Why do we need it? Does it matter if he's a literary luddite? Richard Manton is the consummate English villain, the Wasserman’s are the Jewish neurotic parents and that leaves us with Fiona Manton (Michelle Doake) who is Richard’s long-suffering wife, the damsel in distress, who can only be saved by the love of another man. The dial has been turned up to extreme and so the play is entertainingly superficial. It’s modern melodrama.

There are some solid performances on offer, particularly the women of the play. Dallimore, Doake and Fitzpatrick are far more polished and manage to deliver their characters with humour and emotion. Felix Williamson has also mastered the archetypal villain and is thorough in his execution of dastardly deeds. Szeps is still stumbling through the play- his lines don’t quite feel down and the gaps in delivery mean timing and rhythm also falter, and Phelps had lots of good moments but there felt like there were plenty of unfinished actions- he pulls out of committing right to the end of an action before the lights go down or the scene was finished. He needs to keep his intensity all the way to the end. Kenneth Moraleda’s Charlie, the on-board Filipino waiter, is merely there to contrast the opulent lifestyle we all take for granted and we can judge ourselves or our culture from each character’s treatment of him. He is functional more than fully-fleshed out. But Moraleda does what he can with what he’s been given and he’s likable even if he’s ‘thin’ in role.

Marissa Dale-Johnson’s set does manage to encapsulate the many locations using the smallest amount of space and she places us firmly on the ship using every level at her disposal. I would have liked less movement as a general rule as the play is trying to do too much with too little but Dale-Johnson’s set at least makes it possible to fulfil all of Williamson’s requirements.

I liked the play and looking around, so did the audience. I think it’s been well-cast and it’s got lots of Williamson humour and wit to enjoy. It’s superficial, archetypical and melodramatic but after all, you’re going to see Williamson. Surely this is no surprise.