Archive | November, 2011

No Man’s Land

24 Nov

One of the characters asks “Does Art make us virtuous?”  The play answers “No.” Clearly.

At least three of the four characters have claims to being literary men, but Art has not helped them. They bully, they threaten, they ignore; they are not good. [Though they are certainly engaging, and wonderfully played by Andrew Buchanan, Peter Carroll, John Gaden and Steven Rooke.]

It’s not the ‘virtuous’ in “Does Art make us virtuous?” that Pinter is exploring. It is the ‘us’.

No Man’s Land is about continuity in character. Its argument is that we’re not all of a piece. Who we are depends on who we are with. Character is fluid. It is formed by power relations.

Once Pinter was asked by an actor about the back history of  a character.  He replied, ‘Mind your own fucking business!’ Not that the past is unimportant. It is – vitally – but as an extension of the battleground that is the present.

This present is dismaying, but oddly uplifting. For if character is not fixed – and Michael Gow leads his extraordinary ensemble through a tour de force of possibilities – than the future could be a different place than both the disputed past and the menacing present.

 The play begins with the down and out Spooner [Peter Carroll] telling Hirst [John Gaden]  “You are too kind.” He repeats it, several times. It remains a lie.

Pinter’s work will not make us any kinder. No Art will. But No Man’s Land reminds us that it’s an option.

 Veronica Kaye


No Man’s Land

Sydney Theatre Company, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Until 11/12


16 Nov

“Playwrights are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Percy B Shelley.

Ok, Shelley actually wrote “poets”, not “playwrights”, but then he wasn’t at New Theatre last night for the opening of Ben Elton’s Gasping. [Though, with the plethora of penis jokes, and a first name like his, he would’ve been right at home.]

Elton’s play is a powerful satire on greed, and its ostensible target is Big Business.

Director Helen Tonkin elicits engaging performances from her entire cast, with Oliver Wenn, Julia Kennedy Scott and Natalie Rees the comic standouts.

Comedy empowers. When someone laughs, as J M Barrie would have it, a fairy is born. And those little fuckers are magic, and they’re going to fix up the mess we’ve made of this world.

Ok, I don’t actually believe in fairies. Because we are the fairies, and when we laugh, the dead weight of habit is lifted from us, and we can fly.

Elton’s satire brings in to full focus not just imagined injustices, but also very real ones, and targets not just Big Business, but all those complicit in the society that fosters it. Comedy makes us feel we’re strong enough to change this world.

Now, have we got the will?

 Veronica Kaye


New Theatre

16 Nov to 10 Dec

“Approval and Validation” by Jane Austen; or Novemberism

15 Nov

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that whenever a playwright writes a good play, she will be vigorously pursued by prestigious theatre companies.

“My dear Mr Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Prestigious Theatre Company has a new artistic director?”

Mr Bennet replied he had not.

“Apparently,” returned she, “he is very interested in new Australian work.”

Mr Bennet remained silent. His wife took this as invitation to continue.

“Interested in new Australian work! What a fine thing for our girls!”

“How so? How can it affect them?”

“Mr Bennet, how can you be so tiresome? You know they are all playwrights. This new artistic director will no doubt want to produce their plays.”

Mr Bennet returned to his book.

“Now I’m the first to admit,” continued Mrs Bennet, “I find Lizzy’s plays a little confusing. Other people find them amusing, but to my mind, she never seems to be saying what she really means.”

“It’s referred to as irony,” Mr Bennet stated flatly.

“I know that!” replied Mrs Bennett.

“Of course you do, dear” said Mr Bennet, even more flatly.

Satisfied, Mrs Bennet continued. “And Mary’s plays are so wordy, and I can’t quite understand them either, but they’re very clever, I’m sure. And Lydia’s plays are skittish, the work of an immature artist, but they were good enough for Short and Sweet. And Jane, quiet unassuming Jane; she’s always done the right thing. Who wouldn’t want to produce her plays?”

– from the manuscript of the (unpublished) Jane Austen novel Approval and Validation  

Sometimes you just gotta to do it yourself – that’s from the website of Novemberism, a month long festival of new playwrighting organised by the playwrights themselves. 

Check out the program here

I haven’t had a chance to drop into the Old 505 yet, and I better hurry, as there’s less than two weeks of the festival left.

I don’t want to suggest that my opinions are those of the dynamic and talented team behind the project – I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to them – but I absolutely love their chutzpah.

 You can write a damn good play and it still mightn’t get produced.

Maybe it’s political. And I don’t mean who owes who, or who’s competing with who, or even who’s sleeping with who. I mean political.

Every play is an attempt to convince the audience to see the world in a particular way. Every play is an attempt to affect the world. Your plays will be put on by people who share your vision of the world. And, if there already are a lot of people who share your vision, you probably wouldn’t have bothered writing the play in the first place. 

So be prepared to do it yourself. And be proud of it.

Veronica Kaye

Coup d’Etat

10 Nov

Generally, I try not to call out at the theatre. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate that there are some rules: The actors get to talk. I don’t.

But there was a moment in Justin Fleming’s Coup d’Etat when I was sorely tempted to stop playing this game. Set in Malaysia at a time of legal crisis, and peopled by characters of various ethnicities, one scene features an argument about the way different cultures treat women. After accusing each other of wilful exaggeration and gross simplification, the characters suddenly all accept a wilful exaggeration and gross simplification.

This is not a criticism. Stick with me.

I’m a sucker for a good ending. This play has one. By way of explanation:

My Indulgent Analogy No. 1. Enter the last digit of the combination. The door of the safe finally swings open. The treasure inside is revealed. The treasure of Coup d’Etat is its powerful final image, encapsulating the idea explored by the play. That idea is laws [and all other human made tools, such as culture] are beautifully brave attempts to do the impossible – to impose structure on the wildness of life.

 My Indulgent Analogy No. 2. When the holiday cruise ship of childhood, SS Certainty, finally sinks, we are all left to swim. Some of us try our best to imagine we’re actually doing laps in a pool. There are lanes. We can always touch bottom. It may be dull, but there’s a purpose, and it’s good for us, and, anyway, soon we’ll be out of the water and in the change room having a warm shower. Others accept it’s more like swimming in the open ocean. We have no idea which direction to go. There are unfathomable depths below. The sharks are gathering, and if they are don’t take us, exhaustion or the cold inevitably will.

Director Suzanne Millar elicits engaging performances from the entire cast, especially Cat Martin’s perfectly pitched portrayal of a woman who carries the fear of the ocean swim.

So why do I like a good ending? They’re beautifully brave attempts to do the impossible. And why, at that moment of wilful exaggeration and gross simplification, didn’t I call out? Because Fleming knows what he’s doing. He’s reminding us there may not be a warm shower waiting after all.

 Veronica Kaye

Coup d’Etat

November 8 – 13, Parramatta Riverside Theatres.

November 14 – 21, NIDA Parade Playhouse.

By way of a manifesto; or theatre is not Olympic diving

9 Nov

Manifestos are written by revolutionaries as they wait for the next shipment of bullets. Oh, and by reviewers waiting for the next play. Not that this will be a manifesto. But, then, I’m not a reviewer.

Which in two sentences [sort of] sums up my attitude.

I’m not in the slightest interested in judging plays. I’m interested in responding to them. I intend to write about what plays make me feel and what they make me think. I don’t intend to label them as failures or successes. Other writers can do that. And they will. And I don’t think it’s enough.

I hope to encourage the appreciation of plays as what I believe they are – sharings of our visions of the world.  They are not tricks that are done either well or not. Theatre is not Olympic diving.

Of course, theatre can be done horribly. But I’m not going to write about that. It’s tempting to be all Oscar Wilde for a moment and say that task can be left in far less capable hands than mine. But, it’s actually just a choice.

Theatre is not space flight. When you get it wrong, no-one dies. We just don’t get to visit new worlds. [So I suppose it is like space flight.]

 Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red

Shopping Centres and Gutters

8 Nov

People go to the theatre for all sorts of reasons. For me, one of the greatest attractions is the insight it offers into how the world is viewed by others. If we’re asked our values we’re often lost for words. It’s hard to sum up our worldview in a few pithy sentences. It’s like asking a fish to describe the ocean. [Feel free to test the truth of this analogy.] But when we make theatre, we consciously -or unconsciously- create a picture of how we think the world is, or an intimation of how we think it should be.

Valentino Musico’s new play Shopping Centres and Gutters presents contemporary Sydney as a city soaked in class-consciousness. It’s not a piece of naturalism. The characters, who hail from both the eastern and western suburbs, are stereotypes. Or are they? That, for me, was the power of the piece. Musico’s play asks us to question whether we really are, or should be, defined by envy and shallowness.

The director, Ira Hal Seidenstein, draws engaging performances from his entire ensemble. The highlights are Aaron Di Pietro and Letitia Sutherland’s blistering satirical battles.

Reviews can be fascinating to read because, like plays, they’re a short cut to understanding the values of others. I can’t resist at this point referring to another reviewer’s response to Shopping Centres and Gutters. I call it a response, because as he admits, he didn’t write a review, having left at intermission. The reason given: “The Tap Gallery is a charming venue. However, it is not equipped to call itself a true theatre”. You could spend a long time thinking about what that last phrase means – and amuse yourself that it was elicited by a play about snobbery.

Veronica Kaye

Shopping Centres and Gutters

Until 19 Nov

TAP Gallery, Darlinghurst