Archive | May, 2013

The Removalists

27 May

Full disclosure: I really like this play. I always have.

And Leland Kean’s production is terrific.

I like this play because I don’t like the characters.

I like that these actors let me not like the characters.

I like that the characters don’t like each other. There’s not a lot to like.

I’m thrilled by the revitalizing energy of a play and production like this.

REM 7 - Simmonds, Kenny & Ross handout

We are told at drama school, as we flirt, doze and doodle, that characters need to be sympathetic. Conservatives want it that way. They don’t want to be challenged.

It can be tempting to say: ‘I want to like these people, at least some of them, because I want to believe theatre is a mirror. If I don’t like them (any of them) there are two alternatives: either I’m not likeable, or theatre is not a mirror.

The first alternative does not bear thought.

The second alternative is a possibility, but it will leave me much poorer. That’s because theatre is a magical mirror that does a jolly good job of not just reflecting my momentary appearance, but seemingly the entirety of Life, and that such a thing could be captured and condensed is extremely consoling, for instead of fear at Life’s wildness and open-ended possibility, I can continue in my (privileged ) complacency.

So, if I don’t like the characters I won’t like the play. There’s too much at stake.’

But brilliant satire undercuts this easy out. And this is brilliant satire.

Williamson’s characters are gloriously unsympathetic; too weak, too violent, too selfish.

And Kean’s cast is wonderful. The performances are hilarious. The responses of Caroline Brazier as Kate are worth the price of admission alone. Sam O’Sullivan as Constable Ross provides top class clowning.

The changing power relations are fascinating to watch.  Anger and humiliation are perpetually paid forward.

In this cutting indictment of the violence inherent in our society, I have a favourite scene.  It’s when Kenny, knowing he’ll be beaten by the police, begs the hired removalist for help. And the removalist, the man with no real back history in the play, and so therefore everyman, says it’s not his business.

It’s not our business.

How often do we say that?

Veronica Kaye

The Removalists by David Williamson

at the Bondi Pavillion til 15 June

The Pursuit of Excellence

21 May

Friend: Veronica, you really should write drama.

Me: Why? So people can fool themselves I’ve got nothing to say?

Friend: No, you stupid grump. Because you listen to people. It’s rare.


The incident my friend was referring to – the one in which I’d allegedly listened – involved a mutual acquaintance commenting on a production we’d seen. “I couldn’t find anything to fault about that,” she said.


Friend: I don’t even remember her saying that.

Me: She did! It made me sick!

Friend: You didn’t like the show?

Me: I did! But not because it didn’t do anything wrong! (then in mock childish voice, you know, that sort of infantile whine that’s an unanswerable indictment of anything it’s directed at) “ I couldn’t find anything to fault about that.”

Friend: (pause) You know, Veronica, about that drink…. I’ve got an early start tomorrow. I better head.


The problem with the pursuit of excellence is not that you’ll never catch it. The problem is you miss so much else.

Doing something with out fault is a secondary virtue. The crucial issue is what you’re trying to do, not how well you do it.

Surely, it’s better to fail at something worthwhile than succeed at something worthless.

Do you really want to be remembered for producing the play that most effectively keeps the world small and cold?


Veronica Kaye



Theatre as just a Trick

11 May

Early in my education I came across a notion that deeply disturbed me.

A drama teacher told me, “It’s not what they say, but how they say it.”

As someone approaching theatre with what I can only describe as a ravenous spiritual hunger, I refused to see it reduced to a series of well executed tricks.

I didn’t want the ultimate accolade to be that a piece of theatre said well (efficiently? effectively?) what we all already knew.

There were (are) so many things I didn’t know. I didn’t want an art form that was so complacent. I didn’t want to be served stones when I needed bread.

Over time, I came to realise that large numbers of audience members see theme as just another technique. Just as a recurring motif, say the animal imagery in Macbeth, creates an attractive textual coherence, so apparently does theme. The fact that both Macbeth and his wife suffer for their crimes is not the meaning of the piece, but rather just a pleasing aesthetic tidiness.

Appreciating the view

Appreciating the view

As I have grown older this view of theatre shocks me less. I’ve come to accept that people will attempt to inoculate themselves from art. In terms of theatre, most people do this by not going. Those of us  forced to go – because of career, or the pursuit of career – adopt other methods.

Most of us don’t want to be changed. We don’t want to be challenged.

And, considering the lives of unparalleled privilege that most of us enjoy, that’s perfectly understandable.

Veronica Kaye

A Butcher of Distinction

9 May

You’ve got to be cruel to be kind. Kind of weird, that is.

Cruelty is the vice par excellence of our society. It has not always been thought such an evil. The medievals routinely used it to ‘purify’ souls.

Yet for us moderns, cruelty’s just plain sick.

But still it remains.

And so every progressive talks of how we must diminish it.

And so we desperately try to explain its causes.

A Butcher of Distinction by Rob Hayes is a very rich night of theatre; very funny, and deeply thought provoking.

It explores the sources of cruelty.

Is it simply that ‘they do evil who have evil done to them’?

Or does cruelty stem from a more deep seated lack of empathy? Is there an almost institutionalized damming of our ability to see others as completely human? Are we living through an Ice Age of the imagination, that leaves us frozen in our isolation, unable to truly connect?

Photo by Lucy Parakhina

Photo by Lucy Parakhina

Teddy, played brilliantly by Paul Hooper, is a rough tough pimp. To him, people are commodities. The play also asks ‘What are the consequences of this attitude?’

This is dark, dark comedy, directed dazzlingly by James Dalton. His cast (Liam Nunan, Heath Ivey-Law and Paul Hooper) deliver top performances; sharp, precise and bitingly funny.

Which brings me to my final point; if cruelty is such a burning issue in our society, it must be presented on our stages. But how is this best done?

A Butcher of Distinction is not a piece of naturalism. (Would we want it to be?)

But what can humour do with such emotionally charged situations as the ones presented in this play?

Laughter sparks us to think. It makes us glory and delight in our ability to connect.

And in connection is the death of cruelty.

Veronica Kaye

A Butcher of Distinction by Rob Hayes

Old 505 Theatre til 26th May

4000 Miles

7 May

Bad plays are hyperbole. Good plays are metaphor. (And, yes, generalizations are annoying.)

And the best metaphors are underplayed. They’re not allegories, but something more subtle and gentle.

We say plays are good

– and this one is. Very. And the production is superb. The cast is uniformly brilliant. And Anthony Skuse, once again, has shown he’s a magnificent director. As an example, the pacing of this piece is enough to make you fall in love with time. Like Philip Rouse’s The Ham Funeral, I’d see this production again purely to enjoy the director’s work; which is, of course, a ridiculous thing to say –

but, anyway, we often say plays are good, without saying how they were good for us.

I don’t mean on what personal basis we judge them to be good, but rather what good they do us.

Good plays help us. We leave the theatre richer than we entered it.


4000 Miles is a play that offers the gift of tolerance.

Tolerance is sometimes devalued as a virtue; as though it was the poor little cousin of Love. Tolerance seems somehow less passionate, less committed, less generous. But watch four brilliant actors (Diana McLean, Stephen Multari, Eloise Snape and Aileen Huynh) create characters who gently navigate their differences, and Tolerance becomes Love’s twin.

I began by praising metaphor. The old argument is that good plays, by taking a specific situation and presenting them simply, honestly and unadorned, are suggestive of much wider issues.

Amy Herzog’s play is beautifully rich in this type of metaphor.

But it’s also rich in another type, more literary, but subtle. I won’t discuss most of these for fear of spoilers, but I will mention one.

Diana McLean plays Vera, Leo’s grandmother. Vera is what she calls a political progressive. (Just to hear those words on an Australian stage is a delight!) Vera is ageing; she is losing her hearing, she is losing her memory. Sometimes she doesn’t have the words for things, for her political ideas.

But Vera still tries to find them. And still tries to act on them.

And that task isn’t just Vera’s.

Veronica Kaye

4000 Miles by Amy Herzog

until 18 May

The Ham Funeral

5 May

Several Australians have won the Nobel Prize, though Patrick White is our only recipient in the frivolous category of Literature.

Alfred Nobel reputedly instituted the prize to assuage the guilt complex he developed after inventing a type of explosive.

Ironically, this play is dynamite.

The Ham Funeral puts the fun back into funeral.

This is incredibly rich theatre. Enjoy the first viewing, and then come back for more.

Phillip Rouse’s director’s eye is magical. The cast is wonderful. Lucy Miller and Rob Baird give extraordinary performances, evoking an eternal battle.

That battle is the one between flesh and thought.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

“Thinking never kept anyone alive,” I probably misquote from the play.

Of course, the issue is whether such a battle is real or not. Why do we forever contrast the mental and the physical? I suspect it’s a lazy, unnecessary division. (And I suspect it’s the soul who’s experienced only scant pleasure in the one who would assert there was no pleasure in the other.)

Perhaps the perceived battle is a result of this insight: pleasures of the flesh seem honest. They are honestly self-serving. Great sex is great sex is great sex is…..

Pleasures of the mind often pretend to be more noble. ‘This is the Truth’ we tell ourselves, and don’t stop to question whether such a ‘Truth’ might simply be one that serves our own interests.

And hence arises the healthy, and deeply stupid, distrust of thought.

Veronica Kaye

The Ham Funeral

at New Theatre til 25 May