Archive | April, 2014

Macbeth: 9 Scenes Rehearsed

26 Apr

I’ve always thought of Macbeth as the epitome of the crime and punishment story. Macbeth and his wife do horrible, horrible things and so horrible, horrible things happen to them.

For this reason, I’ve often wondered at the presence of the weird sisters. They seem unnecessary, perhaps just a tantalizing tit-bit thrown in to please Shakespeare’s patron, James I, a self appointed expert in matters witchy.

Macbeth: 9 Scenes Rehearsed consists of scenes chosen from the play’s twenty odd scenes, and there’s an interesting focus on the sisters. They’re played with an extraordinary presence by Erica J Brennan, Kate Cooper and Fiona Green. This production is described as “an experiment in the application of the Suzuki Method of Actor Training.” This method has a strong focus on disciplined physical training. Its impact on the presentation of the weird sisters is to give them a reality that, for the first time, helped me understand their purpose in the play.

A rehearsal shot

A rehearsal shot

The crime and punishment reading of Macbeth has an inexorable logic: do evil and you will suffer evil. A sort of cold karma. But would evil be so common if its dangers were so obvious? This production’s weird sisters shine a dreadful darkness on the dilemma.* They’re an awe-inspiring presence beyond, and below, mundane experience, a nightmarish reminder of the turbidity of the human heart. The scene where Macbeth visits the weird sisters “to know by the worst means the worst” features the entire ensemble, and is brilliant, evoking true horror.

Despite being only nine scenes, the production is a very satisfying rendition of the story. The men in the ensemble (Grant Moxom, Gideon Payten-Griffiths and David Buckley) share the role of Macbeth, as the women do with his wife. This is intriguing in the comparisons it offers, but also thought provoking in its subliminal suggestion of the universality of the characters.

Director Shy Magsalin’s application of the Suzuki Method (to which I claim no expertise**) has created an evening of theatre that is beautiful to watch and bewitching to listen to.

Part of the Old 505’s invaluable Freshworks season, this is fascinating stuff.

Veronica Kaye


*Yes, I’m working the whole “fair is foul, foul is fair” conceit.

**I claim no expertise in any acting method. Or, indeed, anything else.


Macbeth: 9 Scenes Rehearsed

at The Old 505 Theatre til 27 April

Lies, Love and Hitler

21 Apr

It’s refreshing to see a play about ethics, one that puts the discussion of what’s right and wrong centre stage.

For many years I felt alienated by the obvious fact, that in our pluralistic society, there isn’t one common ethical system. People have different visions of what makes a good life. This troubled me, because it emphasized my youthful isolation.

Then I had a strangely liberating epiphany. I realized that not only do people have differing ethical systems, but they also place vastly different importances on them.

I realized ethics was like aesthetics: people have different visions of what is beautiful, but honestly, many people just don’t think beauty matters all that much. They’ll say, “Yes, the curtains are hideous, but who cares?” (All the while, there are other people who can’t sleep at night knowing those ugly curtains are there, waiting.)

Paradoxically, I was heartened by my youthful epiphany. If many people didn’t take ethics that seriously, then it might be of value if someone did. (Me.)

Lies, Love and Hitler by Elizabeth Avery Scott focuses on a man who took ethics very seriously – the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

The play begins by positing a simple dichotomy, one which presumably Bonhoeffer faced: Do we make our ethical decisions based on a set of predetermined rules? Or do we make our decisions based on what we imagine will be the consequences of our actions?

This is an old philosophical chestnut. Rules versus results.

I think it’s a false dichotomy.  I think virtually everyone uses the results model. But, of course, they judge the desirability of the consequences of their actions based on a predetermined set of ‘rules’.

This is what Bonhoeffer did. Living through the Third Reich, he made the decision that the Fifth Commandment could be broken in order to stop Hitler’s brutal lunacy. (I don’t know many people who’d have scruples about this.)

But the play is not primarily about Bonhoeffer’s life. The focus is the present, where a university lecturer and his student have to negotiate the morality of both their relationship, and society’s  sexual power games.

Bonhoeffer appears in the majority of the play as figment of the modern day characters’ imaginations. He gives them advice. He inspires them to confront the issues.

Some people might find this a little cutesy, and query whether the issues facing the two moderns are really commensurate with the trials Bonhoeffer faced.

But we all face ethical challenges, and we have to find support somewhere.

I began by suggesting it was refreshing to find a play that puts ethics in focus, but it’s also good to find one interested in the life of the mind. Not that the play is intellectually heavy. There’s plenty of humour, and some real passion. The performances are enjoyable, with James Scott as the lecturer being lovably goofy, and Ylaria Rogers as the student giving an impressive portrayal of youthful intensity. Doug Chapman as Bonhoeffer is particularly charming, combining intelligence and warmth. Director Rochelle Whyte’s engaging production of this clever play is certainly a conversation starter.

Ultimately, for me, the play is not about ethics. It’s about the idea of having intellectual mentors. And I think this is a vital concept. In a pluralistic society we often feel we’re doing it alone. Chats over coffee with friends or work colleagues somehow don’t always cut it. Our contemporaries are often as confused, and complicit, as we are.

But we live in a literate, historically-aware society and we should take advantage of it. The support networks available are wide and so deep. We’re potentially the inheritors of a vast hoard of treasures. The characters in the play find support from Bonhoeffer. My intellectual mentors are Simone Weil, Catherine of Siena, Joan of Arc, Gandhi and Ramakrishna.

At least thirteen years were spent teaching you to read. Do yourself a favour, and use that skill for something more Life-enhancing than newspaper articles, real estate ads and theatre reviews.

Veronica Kaye


Lies, Love and Hitler by Elizabeth Avery Scott

at the Old Fitz til 3 May

Construction of the Human Heart

18 Apr

What are stories for? What does language do?

Ross Mueller’s Construction of the Human Heart is a witty, rich and humane exploration of these questions.

Two playwrights live together. They share their experiences of Life, and of its possible opposite; writing.

It begins as though it’s a staged reading, and then becomes beautifully messy.

Director Dino Dimitriadis allows a splendid simplicity, and with masterful restraint creates a space where actors Cat Martin and Michael Cullen can deliver superb performances of Mueller’s provocative script.

Are our stories an attempt to deal with the world? Or are they an attempt to control the world?  Are they coping mechanisms? Or something more sinister?

How much can words capture? And is Life, like so many wild things, simply unable to breed in captivity?

Image ©Matthew Duchesne/

Image ©Matthew Duchesne/

The title of the play is deliciously ambiguous. Construction? Does this refer to the heart’s inherent structure? Or our deliberate, desperate building of it?

The play deals with fraught emotional issues, but let me focus on something a little smaller, but hopefully still illustrative of the fascinating questions Mueller raises. There’s a series of very funny exchanges about breeding. For example, what would the child of Stephen Hawking and Elle Macpherson be like? So, the issue of pedigree is aired. And then the play is the story of two playwrights. What exactly are playwrights? (They’re even contrasted to TV writers.) Are playwrights something essentially different from other people? What story are we telling ourselves when we make the assertion “We are artists” ? And for what purpose?

What do our stories do?

Veronica Kaye


Construction of the Human Heart by Ross Mueller

TAP Gallery til 3 May

Dancing Naked in the Backyard

16 Apr

Not in my backyard. This phrase encapsulates both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity for civil society.

There are many things I dislike about ancient Greek culture (just look at some of my posts about their theatre to see what I mean). But one thing I think the Greeks got right was their attitude to the polis; the idea that we’re only whole when we actively take part in the community.

C J Naylor’s thought provoking new play is about Nimby-ism. A group of local residents are challenged by a planned urban development. Not in my backyard, they say. The threat politicizes them.

Is this a good or a bad thing? The play seems to put little faith in the political process. And the politicization of the locals seems to go little further than their own narrow concerns.

Perhaps high rise development is necessary. People do have to live somewhere. And how sprawling do we want our cities to become? The locals’ attitude seems to be based simply on the idea that they were there first. Are they claiming to be an unacknowledged indigenous group?

Dancing Naked

Naylor’s script is intriguingly ambiguous. Samuel Smith is the appropriately sleazy developer, fun to portray, easy to mistrust. But the locals are not particularly admirable either. Alan Long and Estelle Healey play mature residents with the script’s intended kookiness, which allows two possible readings of the characters:  that they are either lovable, or laughable. Zazu Towle and Matt Hopkins play a younger couple, likable but difficult to look up to since they seem to be fighting for their right to sit on their couch.

There are, however, some nice comic moments from all the actors. Sascha Hall as the council bureaucrat delivers some wonderful deadpan disdain.

This is Brave New Word’s third production of original Australian writing. It’s great to see a young company investing in this. There should be more of it.

With its simple, direct and unadorned dialogue, and its reliance on short scenes (which this production didn’t deal with well), Dancing Naked in the Backyard feels a lot like television.  However, that’s probably appropriate. After all, the theme is the challenge, and necessity, of political engagement, and that’s something that should be discussed in every Australian lounge room.

Veronica Kaye

Dancing Naked in the Backyard by C J Naylor

TAP Gallery til 26 April

After Easter

15 Apr

After Easter is a brilliant play. It’s provocative and so very, very rich.

It’s fundamentally the story of Greta, a young woman beset by visions. Nominally of Catholic background, she’s not religious. She has no idea what to make of her experiences, nor do her family.

Our scientific rationalist society can only interpret such experiences as symptoms of mental illness. And, on many occasions, they probably are.

But they can also be indicative of a powerful imagination and a deep compassion.

Ask plenty of dramatists. They have visitations from their characters. Ibsen famously had conversations with Nora from A Doll’s House. (And it’s not beyond my own ‘spiritual’ experience.)

After Easter

Director Roz Riley has created an engaging production. She gets good work from her cast. Karoline Rose O’Sullivan is wonderful as Greta, playing her with a poignant bewilderment, filled with wit and warmth. She gets terrific support from Celia Kelly and Eilannin Dhu as her sisters, both delivering moving portraits of beautifully complex women.

Some people might see this play as a family drama, but it was not on this level that I found it so affecting; not unless by ‘family’ we mean the human family.

Set predominately in a Northern Ireland trying to find its way, this remarkable play reminds us of ways of seeing we often neglect. Not traditional religion, but ways of imagination and compassion. Inspired by such radical visions of the world is how we can find the hope to better it.

Veronica Kaye


After Easter by Anne Devlin

Star of the Sea Theatre til 3 May



13 Apr

The dialogue between adulthood and childhood is an endlessly intriguing one. Children learn from adults and adults from children.

But it’s also through this intergenerational dialogue that we define ourselves. Don’t be such a child, adults tell each other.

Cough is set in a daycare centre, and playwright Emily Calder’s presentation of the two generations is fascinating. Much of the humour in this very funny play comes from the immaturity of the adults. Concern has been corrupted into fear, and the parents fret endlessly about their children’s welfare. But the children’s lives are also filled with trepidation.

Provocatively, both generations are played by the same actors. This brings to the foreground the issue: Is fear a learnt behavior? Or is it simply the human condition? (These questions are highlighted by the hilarious discussions between the parents about child rearing methods. ‘That’s just a theory. It’s definitely a theory!’ they snap.)

Photo by Lucy Parakhina

Photo by Lucy Parakhina

The performances are fabulous, with Vanessa Cole, Tim Reuben and Melissa Brownlow slipping between child and adult in a splendidly subversive manner. Tom Christophersen is the fourth in the ensemble, and his creation of Frank, the creepy toddler, is comic magic.

Director James Dalton production is wonderfully inventive and a sensual delight (especially keeping in mind this is not high budget theatre.) He is aided admirably by his design team. Benjamin Brockman’s lighting design is brilliant. The soundscape by Tom Hogan is appropriately ominous.

Cough might be about fear, but it’s also about connections. The generations are inextricably linked, and there’s a real pathos to this. But, of course, there’s also something deeply moving. The play is satirical, but something more. The final image is a beautiful blossoming challenge. Tantalizingly ambiguous, it’s filled with foreboding, but it’s also suggestive of that other shared human characteristic – the potential for wonder.

Veronica Kaye


Cough by Emily Calder

107 Projects til 20th April

The Gigli Concert

10 Apr

To be honest, I didn’t understand this play.

A man suffers from depression. (I appreciate the clinical term can misrepresent the experience.) The man runs a counseling service based on Dynamatology, a system of seeming psycho-babble. He gets no clients. One day another man knocks on his door and asks for help. He too suffers from depression. (see note above). I’m not sure he warms to the label. He doesn’t like philosophy or psychology. What he wants is to be able to sing like the opera singer Gigli. Their sessions begin. There is no attempt to teach him to sing.

Photo by Wendy McDougall

Photo by Wendy McDougall

Of course, I’m being facetious. Again. The singing is a symbol – of a life lived fully and passionately; of an eternal ‘yes’ saying; of a type of healing. I think.

I also think the fundamental dramatic quality is multiplicity; multiplicity of voices onstage, and multiplicity of responses offstage. No play speaks to everyone. This one didn’t speak to me. I didn’t understand the challenges faced by the main characters. And so the evening seemed too long. But clearly it spoke to a large number of the audience.  There were plenty of laughs, and that pin drop silence that suggests intense fascination and total immersion.

The play is often considered Tom Murphy’s masterpiece and John O’Hare’s production is top class. The cast (Patrick Dickson, Kim Lewis and Maeliosa Stafford) give extraordinary performances.

So what do I make of a night like this? Do I wallow in the sense of alienation it creates for me personally? Do I recall other productions when it seemed I was the only sympathetic ear?

What I can do is make a recommendation: this is quality, thought provoking theatre. Go see it for yourself.

After all, if the play said anything to me, it was as a paean to the virtue of listening. Our Dynamatologist realizes he is out of his depth, but he listens anyway. And the results are beautiful.

Veronica Kaye

The Gigli Concert by Tom Murphy

at Eternity Playhouse til 4 May


Can theatre change the world?

8 Apr

Recently a friend told me if you want to change the world you need to do something more immediate than theatre.

On one level, I have no argument with this. Direct political action and social service are indisputably more important than art. Don’t write a play about the homeless. Volunteer for a soup kitchen.

But on another level, I think my friend’s well meaning comment is only half the truth.

Firstly, our values need to come from somewhere. I believe one place they spring is from our stories.

I believe we should produce theatre that shares beautiful and empowering ways of looking at the world. As I’ve said elsewhere, we need to make theatre that reminds the miserable of happiness and the happy of misery.

We should aim to produce theatre that adds something useful to the cultural toolbox. (Of course, this can be done in many ways besides theatre. Perhaps to have the biggest cultural impact you should create an internet meme.)

Even by doing nothing we have an impact

Even by doing nothing we have an impact

Perhaps this is an overly sophisticated view. Perhaps we are noble savages, born perfect and corrupted by society. In which case, theatre (and all art) is at best an unpleasant noise, and at worse an inducement to evil.

Which leads me to my second objection to my friend’s well meant comment.

I think everything we do changes the world. Or perpetuates it. The world is made by us. Or, at least, an enormous part of it – the human part. (And increasingly large parts of the non-human world, too. There’s an old joke: everyone complains about the weather, but no-one does anything about it. Human-made climate change has stripped the giggle out of that one.)

Our choices matter. We should choose to be – and to encourage – curiosity and joy, compassion and tolerance. And we should do it in the way we talk, how we vote, in what we choose to eat, how we spend our money, and in the making of our art.

Veronica Kaye

To Kill a Mockingbird

8 Apr

To be honest, I’ve never especially enjoyed the novel. It’s too episodic. And then there’s the whole told-from-a-child’s-point-of-view thing. It’s not the way I like my politics.

And there’s the message. And there is a MESSAGE: that you need to walk in someone else’s shoes before you can judge them. So bleedingly obvious!

Of course, I’m being facetious. I’m one of the many who’ve been unconsciously shaped by this classic.

Photographs © Bob Seary

Photo © Bob Seary

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most popular stories of the 20th Century. It encapsulates the drive for social justice that’s one of the crowning achievements of our culture. Or, it could be strongly argued, the novel didn’t so much encapsulate as cause. Like Dickens in the 19th century, Harper Lee was one of those voices that pushed our society to something better. (Yes, I believe literature can change the world.)

Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation retains the power of the novel. Annette Rowlison’s production is amusing, engaging and very affecting. Lynden Jones as Atticus Finch has an extraordinary vulnerability that makes his performance deeply moving. The child actors (Teagan Croft, Hudson Musty and Kai Lewins) must carry a large part of the story, and they’re some of the best young performers I’ve seen. Dave Kirkham’s Sheriff Tate is a wonderful portrait of the simple but good man struggling with issues he’d rather avoid.

Set designer Sasha Sinclair gives us the town of Maycomb as a series of run down houses, evoked by their front doors. This might seem awkward when the story becomes a courtroom drama, but ultimately it’s an incredibly effective image. To Kill a Mockingbird is not really Scout’s story. It’s Maycomb’s; the larger world’s. Maudie Atkinson is given a narrator’s role in the stage version, and she’s played with a warm intelligence by Sarah Carroll. Maudie has the feel of the omniscient stage manager from Thornton Wilders’ Our Town, and her voice reminds us it’s Maycomb that’s really on trial. That the town can’t stand Atticus’ defence of Tom Robinson shows it’s guilty of a social blindness that’s deep and abiding.

Exactly how far we’ve come in the last fifty years regarding racial bigotry is an open question.  But theatre like this leads us to continue to ask that question. And to ask where else our blindness might lie.

For in fifty years, will later generations say that we had our doors shut tight, blind to the bleedingly obvious.

Veronica Kaye


To Kill a Mockingbird

New Theatre til 19 April

Subverting the Review

4 Apr

Recently some of my theatre-making friends have been complaining about the standard of reviewing in this city. Not that they’ve been marching in the street about it. And I doubt they’ve sent off any terse emails. They’ve just been grumbling over their post-show drinks.

They’re not complaining that the reviews are unfavourable. They’re complaining that they’re badly written.

What makes a good review?*

Now, that’s a good question. Who gets to determine that?

Now, where are those pigeons?

Now, where are those pigeons?


It’s commonly said, that in their judgement of productions, reviewers can be neither right nor wrong. It’s accepted that their evaluations are subjective.

Clearly, this ‘problem’ also faces anyone attempting to define what a good review should be.

And let me go further. If I was to go to a play determined that it should fit certain parameters or structures I’d be missing the whole point of the creative endeavour. And that, I believe, is also true of writing about theatre.

Theatre is magic making, life giving, world creating. An insistence that reviews be a certain thing is a refusal to play. Don’t be the shy kid who won’t join in.

Veronica Kaye


*I guess they could start by being literate. Though I’m not sure who gets to determine that either.