Archive | August, 2012

Blood Pressure

28 Aug

At times of acute stress I’m prone to foolish thoughts. Might a debilitating accident get me out of this? Could a shocking diagnosis suddenly absolve me of all responsibility? The hospital bed has a seductive simplicity.

Theatre that explores death can be escapist.

In asking ‘how are we to die?’ it can avoid an even greater question – ‘how are we to live?’

I have felt this at times, reflecting on plays about euthanasia. They frustrate me in the way that horror films often do.  They can be built on the premise that before the “monster” everything is dandy. There’s nothing to question. Life, with its myriad of possibilities, is a ‘given’.

Blood Pressure, a cleverly constructed two hander by Mark Rogers, asks us to consider the effect of sickness and death on the healthy. And director Sanja Simic draws top performances from Wade Briggs and Alexander Millwood.

There’s no greater isolation than that of the sick, and we will all die alone. But Life is a group activity, and every death diminishes us.

In this powerful piece, as one man faces the inevitability of his brother’s fate, a simple starkness gives way to a deeper insight: that none of us will experience our own death; it’s what we leave to others.

And it’s with that ‘given’ that we must determine how to live.

Veronica Kaye

Blood Pressure

til Sept 1 Old Fitzroy Theatre

To The Theatre God

21 Aug

Every night, as the lights are dimmed, little Veronica says her prayers:

“Dear God of Theatre,

You know what makes a Good Play,

and how it should be written.

You know exactly the way it should be rehearsed,

and when it’s performed Just Right.

Your opinions are Truth and Your preoccupations universal.

Dear God of Theatre, compared to thee I am nothing.

Have mercy on me and grant my one request:

That You remind me daily


And never have,

And never will.

Forever and ever,



Veronica Kaye

Vernon God Little

17 Aug

What do we value? Success? Glamour? Notoriety?

Based on the novel by DBC Pierre, and adapted by Tanya Ronder, Vernon God Little is a satire on all that’s crass, trash and shallow.

Director Louise Fischer has cast wonderfully – these incredibly vibrant actors have created a world of bold, bright, fun characters.

Poor Vernon, played marvelously by Luke Willing, is their hapless victim.

A lot of satires pull down – there’s always plenty of healthy demolition work to do. But this one also builds, offering a passionate plea for compassion.

But can I talk of one more value? It’s neither pilloried nor promoted [directly] in the script, but informs the whole production. That value is exuberance [or, perhaps more accurately, EXUBERANCE!!!]

There’s extraordinary energy on this stage, a beautiful vitality.

It is tempting to think honesty is found only in understatement. That quiet is somehow truthful.

But we all come kicking and screaming into this world – or that’s how it should be. And if Life doesn’t continue to shock us, surprise us, confront us – ravish us – then we’ve made an unholy, unhealthy peace with it.

It’s a strange expression ‘larger than life’. Life will always stretch to fit.

How high is the sky? As far as you can see.

Veronica Kaye

Vernon God Little

New Theatre til 15 Sept

StoryLines Festival

17 Aug

Why do we put on theatre?

If it was to make money it’d be an odd choice. Many of us would do better as lawyers, or selling mobile phones, or even waiting tables. Hey, you might even make more washing windscreens. It’s a lucky enough country that you could almost live on that. And lucky enough that most of us don’t need to try to.

So why do we put on theatre? It’d be easier not to. It doesn’t just happen. It can be like herding cats.

And don’t give me that crap about theatre being the most natural thing in the world. “All the world’s a stage” is just professional myopia. To footballers all the world’s a game. To risk assessors all the world’s an accident waiting to happen. To fishermen all the world smells of fish.

We put on theatre because we’ve got something to say. That something can be as sad and shallow as I didn’t get enough attention in my childhood and so I want it NOW.

Or it can be a gift.

Suzanne Millar’s StoryLines Festival is a beautiful gift. By giving voice to a range of minority cultures, it’s a timely sharing.

I was lucky enough to see A Land Beyond the River and Junction, two plays by Justin Fleming that are part of this festival. Both pieces were brought to stage by some marvelous performances.

Junction is a symbolic piece exploring the concept of responsibility. We make the world, it says – a dreadful dazzling duty.

A Land Beyond The River employs the conceit of a university production of To Kill a Mockingbird. It features the moving personal stories of three African refugees.

Here’s my memory of my favourite section [apologies to the very talented Justin].

You’re black, someone says to one of the African Australian actors. You should play the role of Tom Robinson.

And so he does – but, for a man faced with hanging for a crime he didn’t commit, a trifle too exuberantly.

WHAT was that? Can’t you understand the extraordinary prejudice Tom has suffered?   Couldn’t you be, I don’t know, more…. cowered?

I could try, I guess, replies the recently resettled refugee, but right now I feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world.

That is the beautiful gift: That we acknowledge our good fortune. And share it.

Veronica Kaye


Bondi Pavilion til 25 Aug [A Land Beyond The River and Junction til Aug 17]

Punk Rock

12 Aug

This is not a review. I don’t write reviews. But I do try to stick to the “no spoiler” convention. But, this time, I won’t. So please stop here if you don’t want to know what happens in the final third of the play.

Punk Rock is brilliantly directed and performed.

But I wish I hadn’t seen the last two scenes. I wish they’d been edited from the play. I wish the behavior they present was edited from life. And, on this last point, I’m not sure who’d disagree.

I wish I had read a spoiler before I’d seen Punk Rock.

The play raises questions like “Why do people commit horrific acts of violence?” and “How can horrific acts of violence be prevented?” It’s said that it’s not a playwright’s duty to supply answers.

It is, however, mine.

So here we go:

Question:  Why do people commit horrific acts of violence?

Answer: They do evil who have evil done to them.

Question: How can horrific acts of violence be prevented?

Answer: Don’t commit any violence yourself. (And lobby for greater gun control.)

Question: Glib and simplistic?

Answer:  Let’s try it and find out.

And I think that’s what the play says (though not the bit about the gun control; at least not overtly).

pantsguys’ production of Simon Stephens’ play is harrowing. I wanted to walk out. I dislike violence on stage. But I prefer it there to anywhere else. And this play says, in no uncertain terms, let it stop here.

Veronica Kaye

Punk Rock

season extended til 18 Aug

The dreadful legacy of the Greeks

11 Aug

The ancient Greeks left us a terrible legacy – and I don’t mean the Olympic Games.

They gave us theatre.

It’s a strange art form. Thanks to them, we now take it for granted that we can posit other worlds – imaginary worlds – and then let them run on, night after night. It might be a deep error. After all, not every culture does it.

And theatre is premised on some rather dubious assumptions:

That we can, in any way, represent Life.

That the outside of things – our actions and words – is where we actually live.

That the stories of individuals (and fictional ones at that!) are somehow indicative of something broader.

But of these strange assumptions, more another time.

No, the dreadful legacy of the Greeks is that theatre should be competitive, that it is a type of sport.

At the annual City Dionysia, Sophocles won the first prize eighteen times. Aeschylus won thirteen times. Euripides only managed five victories, and was no doubt appropriately pilloried by his local medea. (Yes, that was a pun.)

So what is the problem with competition?

In a competition, competitors agree on the rules. The point is to be the best. Questioning the rules is not the point. But that type of questioning, of course, is exactly what art does do best.

(And any artist who creates desiring to be the best is already amongst the worst. Or at least the shallowest.)

Competition also devalues art in another way. It makes us focus on technique. But competency as a primary value is problematic. There’s little use in being the best misogynist, or a world beating homophobe, or number one racist. Competency is a secondary virtue. We need it, but not alone.

As theatre makers, we’re in a sad place if we believe that the key aspect of our work is whether it’s done well, or even worse still, merely done better than that of our contemporaries.

Recently, several commentators have compared our society unfavourably with the ancient Greeks (forgetting, momentarily, that the Greeks refused women the vote, kept slaves, and put Socrates to death for suggesting people should think).  But they did give gold medals to artists and we do not. It is assumed that competition, and the attendant prizes, means a society values art.

But there can be a different vision of artists. By focusing on valuing them (that is, evaluating them) we are denying that they evaluate us. They surprise, cajole and shock us into looking at our lives more closely. It is they who teach us how to more fully feel the world, to sing its praises and howl its discontents.

Art is not competition. It is war. A war against our own complacency and conservatism.

May we be blest with artists who do not compete, but who lay to waste our fortifications of indifference, storm our citadels of deadening habit, and in our inner fields of fear, where will grow only weeds, may they sow stinging salt.

Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red

A Hoax

2 Aug

There are two types of play – the ones journalists like, and the good ones.

Journalists like the unusual, the uncommon, the bizarre, the perverse.

The other type of play – the good play (or while I’m being facetious, the type of play liked by good people) – the other type of play is about everyday struggles and the magic found in the mundane. It is about the audience.

Journalists like the angle. The aberration they call a story. Let me give an example; “Journalist finds angle” is not a story because it’s what always happens. “Journalist displays depth” would be a story.

By ‘journalists’ I don’t mean career journalists. There are many eking out a living in the media who aren’t journalists by habit. And there are many of that habit who aren’t paid at all, except in the ever decreasing wages of titillation and cynicism.

Rick Verde’s play A Hoax is funny and engaging. Director Lee Lewis elicits wonderful performances from her entire cast.

But is it just a ‘journalist’s’ play? It tells the story of a fabricated memoir. And the story of those who turn a blind eye to that fabrication in order to profit from it.

These are journalistic concerns. They titillate the audience, feed its cynicism and then can be dismissed. “Nothing to touch me here.”

Or is there?

Telling a fabricated version of a life is not so uncommon. We all do it – as we build our sense of who we are. [Reading this post didn’t you consider whether you’re a ‘journalist’ or not?]

And in regards to profiting from stories, everyone can ask themselves “Why do I bother communicating?” Why do I write? Why do I speak?

“I’m only being honest,” says the bully, with that little “only” the clue that honesty is hardly her purpose.

It is naïve to think we communicate primarily to tell the truth. “Pass the salt” is far more typical, and meaningful, than “That is the salt”. Truth maybe crucial but it is always secondary. We speak, we write, to impact on the world. Sometimes we simply want more of its money. Sadder still, sometimes all we want is the approval of others.

But we can speak to make the world better. And play that reminds us of this is a good play.

Veronica Kaye

A Hoax

at Griffin til Sept 1