Archive | October, 2016

Rats (Dirt)

31 Oct

I’m sitting in a park. In a few hours I’ll be in a theatre, but now I’m outside. It’s a magnificent spring day, the sort of day that makes you think God has bought herself a new Photoshop suite and is having some fun. The green of the trees and the blue of the sky vie with each other in brilliance. I’m not alone in my enjoyment: children play in raucous excited groups; parents gather in twos and threes and fours, chatting, smiling, laughing; and older people sit quietly, sunning themselves in the warmth. This park is in Hurstville. Demonized recently by Pauline Hanson, the suburb is the epitome of a gloriously diverse Australia.  It is difficult to picture a more beautiful scene: the trees, the grass, the flowers, the sky, the children, the howitzer.

Yes, tucked away in the corner of the park is a howitzer. It sits on a pedestal, but there is no plaque. It’s a veteran of I don’t know which conflict. The children are oblivious to it. Why is it here?

A few hours later I’m at the Old 505. It is the premiere performance of a new Australian work. I know many of the cast and the writer director. I’m excited about the show and I’m not disappointed. Chris Huntly-Turner has created a piece that’s ambitious, energetic and engaging. It’s an exploration of the experience of Australians during the siege of Tobruk in the Second World War. There are two plays in repertoire; Dirt, which explores the experience of the men at the front, and Moonshine, which explores the experience of the women at home. Tonight is Dirt.


Photo by Liam O’Keefe

It’s the story of Little People caught up in Big History. (These men are not in a park in Hurstville in 2016.) The division of Rats into plays dealing with the male and the female experiences reaps fascinating dividends in Dirt. These men face real current danger, but what are the expectations from home? And are they real or imagined? Why are we here? To do our duty? And what, exactly, is that?

I’ve never been a fan of World War Two. (Neither were most of the people who fought it.) It lends itself too easily to simplistic readings. Like some children’s book, the enemy seems too clearly bad, and we seem too clearly good. Every sabre rattler evokes WW2. But Huntly-Turner and his terrific cast and crew do a great job in exploring the treacherous nature of the terrain.

Our duty, whatever that may be, is difficult to map. But we will attempt to connect our suffering, our sacrifice, our sins with something larger. We will try to make sense of them.

And so a howitzer sits in a park in Hurstville.

Paul Gilchrist


Rats (Dirt) by Chris Huntly-Turner

fledgling theatre company

Old 505 Theatre til Sat 5 Nov




Tue 25 October 7pm, Thu 27 October 8pm, Sat 29 October 8pm, Tue 1 November 8pm,Wed 2 November 8pm, Fri 4 November 8pm and Sat 5 November 6pm


Tues 25 october 7pm, Wed 26 October 8pm, Fri 28 October 8pm, Thu 3 November 8pm and Sat 5 November 8pm

The Wit and Wisdom of Veronica Kaye

26 Oct

The trouble with reviewers is that, ultimately, they’re always writing about themselves. Every evaluation is simply their world view writ large. The more sophisticated critic will acknowledge this, but rarely in a review (usually in a bar).

I, however, will not hide behind any pretense of objectivity.

If it’s going to be all about me ULTIMATELY, then it may as well be all about me INITIALLY.

So, while other theatre writers might present lists of the best they have seen, I prefer to present the best of what I have written.


The Wit and Wisdom of Me

“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.)” By Way of a Manifesto

“We judge art so it does not judge us.” To the Death, 2011

“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.” StoryLines, 2012

“We should be wary when too many of our conversations about theatre sound like demarcation disputes, performance reviews, price negotiations, quality control panels, courts of petty session and magistrate’s verdicts. Only one conversation is vital. And it happens in the desert, when the artist battles with the devil – alone, naked and true – and in that battle forfeits her ego to win her soul. And tired but free, she returns to the city, and scratched in the dirt if necessary, she offers a vision of the kingdom of heaven.” Let the children keep their paint boxes

 “‘I’m only being honest,’ says the bully……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.” A Hoax, 2012

 “The obsession with acting in the drama theatre is like an obsession with anesthetic in the surgical theatre. Of course, you have to get it right, but it’s hardly the point of the process.” Masterclass, 2015

“There have been times and places where drama has been entirely banned. If you can’t see why, you haven’t seen it done well.” The Venetian Twins, 2012

“Reviews are our revenge on theatre. (And not just when we dislike it; after all, even 5 stars is rather parsimonious, considering how many stars there actually are.) In answer to the beautiful multiplicity of theatre, reviews offer a stern monotone. Which is why no-one takes them too seriously. Which is why I don’t write them. (They’re like trying to catch starlight in a jar.) When the Rain Stops Falling, 2012


Now, where are those pigeons?

“To be honest, I find it difficult to be overly interested in judging the technical details of a production.  Maybe I lack something. But I want a play to give me more than the satisfaction that I am superior to it and its creators. No-one survives this life, but I intend to go down fighting. I want a play to arm me for that fight. I want to leave the theatre with more than I entered. And that “more” is not disdain – or even admiration – for the artists. The plays I need are fuel for life; logs to feed our open fire. They give warmth. They give light.  So we’ll gather, in silent fascination, and watch. And as one flickers out, we’ll throw on another, and no two will burn the same. And so we’ll pass this night, the dark and the cold all around us, and know that no dawn comes, except of our own making.” But What’s It All About?

“If a piece of theatre doesn’t appear truthful, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s original.” Conservatism in Theatre 2

“Whenever someone begins a comment with ‘I see a lot of theatre’ I’m left wondering whether it’s a claim to expertise, or just a cry for help.” The Small Poppies, 2013

“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.)” Shopping Centres and Gutters, 2011

“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 without 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?”  The Pursuit of Excellence

“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.” Theatre as Just a Trick

“Only God knows the complete Truth. And She’s not sharing…What we call the Truth is simply the point at which we cease asking questions.” Dangerous Corner, 2013

“Remember when the most important question was ‘What is to be done?’, rather than ‘Who am I?’” Indian Embrace, 2013

“We reviewers need to keep in mind that if the artist really valued our opinion, they’d ask us to read the script before the production, or at least get us along to a couple of rehearsals. As it is, they ask us in when they’re finished. Obviously, they don’t intend taking what we say that seriously. (Analogy: We think we’re specialists, yet we’re only ever called in for the autopsy.) What are reviews for?

“It’s difficult to see you as serious writer if you won’t help mount a production of your play that could be truly awful. Worthwhile writing challenges established values, so a writer seeking status is as absurd as a spy wanting recognition. ‘But if it was any good wouldn’t someone pay me for it?’ That attitude is loud and clear in our society, and perfectly designed to silence dissent.” Natural Born Producers

“In a capitalist society, co-operation is not encouraged. Competition is. Careerists – people interested primarily in personal advancement – are held up as model citizens. To support this world view, it’s expected that writers about theatre will focus on evaluating performers and productions, as against discussing ideas. And so the prevailing economic structure influences everything; even trivialities like theatre criticism.” His Mother’s Voice,  2014

“Theatre’s particular oddness is that it is not first person. Theatre presents Life from the outside, which is decidedly not how Life is experienced.” Tell Me Again, 2014

“Every evaluation is a political act.” Truth in the Theatre Foyer

Veronica Kaye

Reviewers say the darndest things

14 Oct

Over the last 8 years I’ve been reviewed as a writer and director over 200 times. The vast majority of responses to my work have been very generous-spirited, and some of them have even been intelligent.

There have been exceptions. At times, I’ve been described as unimaginative, mean-spirited and self-indulgent. And I’ve been branded a coward, a racist, a misogynist and a homophobe.

(The last three accusations all came in a single review. Admittedly, it was the work that was so labeled, not me; but when you’re the writer and director of the production such a distinction seems somewhat irrelevant.)

So what do you do when you get a review like that?

I complain.

Of the derogatory reviews listed above, only once did I fail to take the reviewer to task – the time I was accused of cowardice. Insert own joke here.

Each of my complaints was successful, in that the reviewer was willing to discuss the issue in a public forum, or in the case of the alleged racism, misogyny and homophobia, the review was withdrawn.

I want to make clear that I haven’t complained every time I received a less than glowing review. Who’s got the time?

What I do want to suggest is, that every time I elicited the type of response I’m discussing here (that is, a personal moral attack), it was perfectly obvious to me that the play had hit home. It had angered someone. That was never all that happened in the audience; each of those plays received glowing reviews from other critics.

But that anger? Was I pleased about it?


And yes.

Paul Gilchrist