Archive | July, 2013

Dangerous Corner

30 Jul

Only God knows the complete Truth. And She’s not sharing.

JB Priestley’s brilliantly intricate play Dangerous Corner is a fascinating exploration of the concept of Truth.

The premise of the play is that everyone has secrets. It’s a popular myth, because it suggests we are more than we seem. It’s a myth that says, despite appearances, that we are actually endlessly fascinating and intriguing. “He must live a double life,” the more catty among us say, “because his life couldn’t really be as dull as all that.”

And much of Priestley’s play involves the unraveling and revealing of the character’s secrets. Director Peter Lavelle, with an intelligent light hand, makes this enthralling theatre. His cast very skillfully present characters torn between the desire to conceal and the seeming relief of letting it all come out.

Photo by Craig O'Regan

Photo by Craig O’Regan

But the play does more. It’s not just an Agatha Christie style whodunit. It raises some very thought provoking ideas about the very concept of Truth itself.

Any chain of questions aimed at discovering the reality of a situation must come to an end, and that end, really, is rather arbitrary. What we call the Truth is simply the point at which we cease asking questions. The Truth is merely the point at which we abandoned the search.

Perhaps only a four year old can perpetually ask ‘why?’ And perhaps that’s why we are told we must become like little ones if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Because all they know is that they don’t.

Veronica Kaye

Dangerous Corner

at The Genesian Theatre until 10 Aug

Snobbery in Theatre

26 Jul

(An article you’d read – if it was in the Sydney Morning Herald.)

Recently, an acquaintance asked me if it was true that the theatre world was filled with pretentious wankers and self-indulgent children.

‘Of course not,’ I answered, ‘You’re forgetting the stuck up snobs.’

Jokes aside, if you were to come across an example of snobbery or unfriendliness in the world of theatre, the understandable reaction (apart from surprise) would be to ask for its cause.

If snobbery does exist in theatre, it would be for the same reason it exists anywhere – a lack of confidence.

And, let’s face it, in the theatre world, there’s plenty of reason to lack confidence. There’s limited opportunities and loads of competition. Evaluation of our work is arbitrary and therefore unpredictable. And the majority of the population doesn’t even notice what we’re doing.

But why does a lack of confidence so easily lead to snobbery and a general unfriendliness?

In the simplest terms, we choose to fake it until we make it.  If we don’t feel superior, one solution is to act as though we do. Feelings follow behaviour. It’s a remarkably powerful psychological tool. And, in this case, a tragic one. If I choose to deal with the challenge of others by dismissing them, I’m committing a crime against humanity, and I’m the primary victim.

Choose the view

Choose the best view

Snobbery creates the shallowest of theatre. (And that’s probably the least of it.)

So what’s the solution?

Be more confident.

Is that ridiculous advice?

I don’t think so.

If I can decide to act as though I’m better than others, I can just as easily decide to act as though I consider myself their equal.

And then watch the theatre I make.

Theatre that speaks to my audience.

Veronica Kaye

Top Girls

25 Jul

Gender issues are not what I usually write about. For obvious reasons.

But it’s not something I’ve had to skate around that often. Which is rather sad.

So it’s an absolute delight to see a cast solely of women and a play that puts issues that women face centre stage.

Both heartbreaking and hilarious, Alice Livingstone’s production of Caryl Churchill’s play is superb. The cast are brilliant.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

Top Girls is a provocative, engaging and deeply annoying title. It encapsulates the thorny issue at the play’s heart, and the issue that makes this play of abiding relevance.

Every member of an oppressed group faces an extra challenge in addition to the many that make them a member of an oppressed group in the first place. That challenge is the responsibility they have to the other members of the group.  An unavoidable question must be faced: “If I personally can break out of the circumstances that previously held me back, am I obliged to help those I left behind?”

Am I an individual? Or am I a member of a group?

( Margaret Thatcher’s answer, it’s worth noting, was “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women.”)

For me, the most poignant moment in the play comes at the end of the second act. I don’t do spoilers, so go and see it.  Suffice to say, this moment encapsulates the very issue I’m discussing. It’s a line delivered by Julia Billington, whose entire performance is extraordinary. Billington plays Marlene, the top girl who exists in both the play’s present (Thatcher’s Britain), and in the play’s intriguing opening, a dinner party where the guests are a broad sample of women from the past. (The stories these women share around the table are enough to make you feel that the world really is a vale of tears. Or at least the world we’ve allowed to exist.)

But back to that moment.  Marlene’s line is about one of her relatives, poor simple Angie, played marvelously by Claudia Barrie. Marlene’s line is delivered with throw away perfection. For when our hearts have hardened we no longer have a use for them.

Sharply intelligent and deeply moving,  this play argues for softness but does it with an iron strength.

Veronica Kaye

Top Girls

New Theatre until 3rd August

Boutique Theatre

24 Jul

I like to tell people Sydney has a vibrant theatre scene.

Perhaps it’s true.

I say it because I’m working on the principle that if you want a child to be good you don’t constantly tell her she’s bad.

But what, exactly, would make a vibrant theatre scene?

A large number of productions?

A large number of ‘quality’ productions?

A large percentage of original works?

A large number of productions from outside the canon? (Perhaps some Japanese Noh theatre? Or some seventeenth century Spanish tragedy? Or even a production of Shakespeare’s King John?)

Here’s my suggestion for an essential component of a vibrant theatre scene – the existence of boutique theatre.

Ok, I’m coining a term here. What I mean by boutique theatre is independent theatre that does not see itself as a stepping stone to somewhere else.

I have no objection to small co-op actors’ companies putting on a Neil LaBute play in order to show off their wares. But if every indie production was this I think it would be a shame.

Similarly, if you write, direct and produce your original play at somewhere like TAP Gallery and only a handful of people come, it’s quite natural to want one of those handful to be either Andrew Upton or Ralph Myers. Andrew or Ralph or both will then be waiting in the little bohemian bar after the show and they will plead with you to allow them to include your work in their 2014 season. Who wouldn’t want that? However, and I have this on reliable authority, occasionally that doesn’t happen.

Boutique theatre appreciates that every play is not for everyone. It is satisfied with whatever audience it receives.  It does not constantly aspire. It does not say to the audience who do attend you are just part of my career strategy.

I appreciate that some people might find this attitude anathema.

If your small piece of theatre touches one soul, surely it would be better if it it touched more?

A vibrant theatre scene would be one where the answer to that question is allowed to be “No”.

Veronica Kaye


Thought in Theatre

15 Jul

The bias in theatre is that characters do not have ideas.

Characters are presented as beings who have desires, but not thoughts. Or, if they do have thoughts, these thoughts are merely rationalisations of desires.  Discussion involving ideas  are mined for their subtext.

This approach might be useful for actors, but it hides the power of ideas.

This is not some sort of mad call for the presentation of intellectuals on stage. Far from it. My contention, radical though it may seem, is that everyone’s head is full of ideas.

After hunger and thirst, ideas are the primary human experience.

Ideas determine how we see the world and how we act upon it.

So why do characters on stage so rarely discuss ideas?

There’s an obvious answer. (And it’s not that it makes for dull theatre.)

The answer is this: on stage there already is someone presenting a vision of Life, and that person is the writer. They don’t want competition from from their creations. Characters with ideas bear the same relationship to the writer as the monster does to Dr Frankenstein.

To ensure a writer’s vision of Life goes unchallenged she pretends there are no ideas.

Only an amateur makes the mistake of creating a straw man with ideas opposing their own, because even though such straw men are easily knocked down, the possibility there could be alternative ideas has been aired.

I’m fond of misquoting Shelley: “Playwrights are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”.

Why unacknowledged? Because playwrights present their ideas, their visions of life, surreptitiously.

Philosophers fight fair. That’s what makes them philosophers. In a fight, a philosopher attempts to punch you in the head.

A playwright punches you below the belt.

And so they are banned from the ring.

But the pugilistic tendencies remain, and will be indulged, in scrappy street fights and bar brawls – and in that most unlikely intellectual arena, the theatre.

And, as everyone knows, outside the protection of the ring, there is only one rule:

Never throw the first punch, unless you can be guaranteed it’ll be the last.

And, for a playwright, that punch is the complete play.

Veronica Kaye