Search results for 'conservatism'

Conservatism in Theatre 2

17 Jul

A post in which I use a capital T when I write the word Truth, and so prove I’m a serious Thinker.

I recently discussed the effect of conservatism on theatre criticism. Now I’d like to focus on its effect on performance.

We still work in the shadow of a great reaction – the reaction to nineteenth century melodrama.

In this reaction, Truth became the new standard.

It is still the watchword of most artists’ theatre practice.

But there’s a worm in its heart.

How do you judge if something is the Truth? [I’m going to deliberately ignore the issue of how do you then represent it.]

Something is True if it corresponds with what you already know. Perhaps you can see where I’m going?

Something is True in the theatre if it corresponds with what has already happened.

In other words, nothing that happens in the theatre actually matters.

Conservatism is the belief that all the important things have already happened and all the big decisions have already been made.* It’s the belief that they can’t happen in the theatre.

But they do.

Theatre makers don’t just reflect the Truth. We make it. Or, at least, we make something just as important.

When Jesus of Nazareth told his parables, or Aesop his fables, the response “that’s never happened” somewhat missed the point.

Plays present not just Truths, but also Ways of Seeing.

Ok, it’s a half a glass of water. But it’s not Truth that makes us See that glass as either half full or half empty.

So, if a piece of theatre doesn’t appear truthful, maybe its not.

Maybe it’s original.

 Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red

* Once I again think I might have borrowed this line – but I don’t know where from!

Conservatism in Theatre

12 Jul

What is conservatism?

It is the belief that all the important things have already happened and all the big decisions have already been made.*

It is the belief that the world is old and we are insignificant, and all that’s left for us to do is follow the path and observe the rules.

In theatre, one effect of conservatism is lazy and uninspired criticism.

Go to a piece of theatre with certain criteria to be met and you’re ignoring that the work itself may have no interest in your criteria.

In response to this overt conservatism, you’ll sometimes hear that a work should be allowed to set its own criteria of success. “What were you trying to achieve?” says the critic to the artist.

But I’m not sure that’s so very different. It assumes that what you experienced in the theatre is not the actual thing, but rather an attempt at the actual thing.

So where is the actual thing?

Ways of seeing that diminish the importance of the present deserve our distrust.

For everything that can be done, can only be done now.

Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red

* I have a feeling I’ve borrowed this line from somewhere, but I don’t know where.

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

Last Drinks & Two Mouths Four Hands

18 Nov

Whenever I see a local company produce a foreign play, or a play we’ve all seen before, I’m bemused. A part of me – a very large part of me – wants to scream ‘What’s that about?’

If someone in the team didn’t write the play, it just doesn’t seem like the real deal. It feels like an attempt to cash in on someone else’s reputation or authority.  Or like the whole event is just a showcase of the director or actors’ talents; a step in a career, as against a work of art.  Sometimes I’ve even wondered if it’s actually a type of mysterious ritual……. if we repeat these words, repeat these movements, then the world will be right. Like a rain dance. Or a Catholic mass.

In the past I’ve referred to non-original theatre as ‘cover theatre’; in the same way that The U2 Tribute Show is commonly called a ‘cover band’. I’m not really sure why what’s considered secondhand in other art forms is acceptable in theatre. (I’ve written a lot about conservatism in theatre –   here )

Brave New Word produces new work. Thank God. I wish there was more of it.

Their current double bill at Balmain’s Exchange Hotel has a lot of laughs.

Last Drinks

Photo by David Hooley

Last Drinks is a sitcom written by Jordy Shea and directed by Luke Holmes. Three blokes meet in a pub, which like them, has seen better days. The play’s an intriguing exploration of masculinity; its knockabout discourse (“Chin up, prick”) and it’s rather curious loyalties (children, alcohol, but not women.) The cast (Bob Deacon, Steve Maresca and Christopher Nehme) embrace these deliberately cartoon-like characters and it’s all very watchable.

Two Mouths Four Hands.jpg

Photo by David Hooley

Two Mouths Four Hands by Nicole Dimitriadis and directed by Bokkie Robertson also follows the sitcom form. However, this time, it’s not the world of masculine dumb; this two-hander is a girl’s night in with her gay male friend. They drink. They talk sex and love.  Once again, there’s some good laugh lines, and some provocative questions are thrown up: Does it really make a lot of sense to build our self worth from our sexual experiences? Is friendship really just a type of power play?  Actors Georgia Woodward and Alex Beauman give energetic performances of these youthful characterizations.

The space is used well. The first piece is set in a bar – and we’re in a bar! We’re ushered out at intermission and return to find the second piece quite effectively set in a lounge room.

Pub theatre is good fun. Original theatre is just good.

Veronica Kaye

Last Drinks by Jordy Shea

Two Mouths Four Hands by Nicole Dimitriadis

at the Exchange Hotel, Balmain, 17-19 Nov & 24-26 Nov

Tix and info   here

Theatre Red is Reopen for Business

13 Oct

Except, of course, it’s not a business. The whole purpose of this blog is to treat art as something other than a commodity.

I’m back in Sydney and looking forward to writing again about theatre – but I’m not particularly interested in evaluating it.

I’ll continue with my usual (some may say) self-indulgent approach. I will not grade theatre. I’ll write about what theatre makes me think about and feel.

Yes, I know, what an outrageously inappropriate response to art.

And a point of clarification: Veronica Kaye is not a pseudonym. My creator, Paul Gilchrist, doesn’t hide behind my name so he can write nasty reviews. I don’t write nasty reviews. Don’t believe me? Read everything I write and see. Please.

I am a character. I am not my author. For starters, I’m far wiser than him.

Paul being less wise than me.

Paul being less wise than me

But can an ‘imagined’ character write about ‘real’ events?

Of course! What’s stopping me? (I mean apart from some really disturbing elements in our culture, like our love affair with authority, our fear of diversity and our deep, deadly conservatism.)

So here we go again………

Veronica Kaye

The School for Scandal

5 May

Changing sexual mores might lead us to think the concept of Reputation is old fashioned.

But, of course, it’s still going strong. Reputation, and its evil twin Scandal, have just moved on to aspects of Life other than what’s done between consenting adults.

In our fluid, supposedly-classless society, the disputed territory labeled Reputation now centres on our professional life. You only have to listen in a theatre foyer to sense the pleasure derived from destroying the good name of others.

Director David Burrowes’ take on Sheridan’s classic School for Scandal is a terrifically fun night of theatre.

The performances are brilliant. Sheridan is one of our greatest wits, and Burrowes allows that to shine. This is a night pleasing to the ear – and to the eye; Burrowes has assembled a cast of virtuoso physicality.

Eleanor Stankiewicz gives a tremendous performance as the gleefully manipulative Lady Sneerwell. She’s languid, confident and self assured. Jacob Warner as the conniving Joseph Surface is a delight to watch. As his plans unravel and his desperation mounts, even the smallest piece of furniture seems to get in his way. Sasha Dyer as Maria, despite being Sheridan’s designated ‘good girl’, gives a superb turn as the drunken teenager attempting to hide her intoxication. Her catching of a ‘dropped’ vase is worth the admission price alone. Marty O’Neill’s Sir Peter Teazle has made the mistake of marrying a woman thirty years his junior, and the physical dynamics between him and his wife, played by Madeleine Withington, are a master class in odd couple tensions and frustrations. Emma Harvie, as a servant girl, gives a brilliant comic portrayal of mechanical obsequiousness, layered ever so gently with a pathos that suggests a vast hidden emotional life.

(pic by Matthias  Engesser)

(pic by Matthias Engesser)

And the entire cast allows the very clever dialogue to crackle. Richard Cotter is marvelous as Sir Oliver Surface, negotiating his many disguises with joyous ease. Samantha Ward, as Ms Candour, is blithely verbose, delighting in the destruction of people’s reputations under the guise of friendly honesty. And Rhys Keir as Charles Surface, the supposed profligate, is charisma at its most agreeable.

Production designer Isabella Andronos gives us a simple white box, a chic minimalist aesthetic and costumes that are modern and very sexy. It’s beautifully done. It’s very easy on the eye, and it’s the perfect uncluttered space for the very talented cast to do their magic.

Sheridan’s play is satirical, and it only takes a little serious self-reflection to realise it’s still relevant. Why do we take such satisfaction in bringing others down?

But it’s worth noting that The School For Scandal is a traditional comedy with a traditional happy ending and (surely this is not a spoiler), the Truth being ultimately revealed, each character gets what they deserve. I used the word traditional – because the play can hardly be the final word on Reputation. The childish satisfaction we find in Scandal is something we obviously must grow beyond, but perhaps even the concept of Reputation, with its inherent conservatism, can be transcended……

Veronica Kaye

The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

at New Theatre til 30 May


16 Sep

Old versus new. Stale versus fresh. Sophistication versus naivety. Decadence versus innocence.  Europe versus Australia.

One of these pairs is a false dichotomy: the last one.

Australia is European. (Or Europe is Australian, in case you’re tempted to think I’m making some sort of backward racist statement rather than philosophically dismantling an erroneous distinction.)

Michael Gow’s very funny and thought provoking play was written in 1987, nearly 30 years ago, and it feels like it. It harks back to the experience of an earlier generation, of the 60’s and 70’s, when every Australian intellectual fled to the Old World.

Has Australia become more European in that time? (Is that my ridiculous thesis?) Of course not, but the tyranny of distance has weakened, and we’ve grown more confident.

And that’s the value of James Beach’s very entertaining production; it explores that confidence.

Photo by Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Photo by Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

In the play, Aussie fan Douglas chases European actress Barbara. They’ve had a brief fling when she toured Australia, and he sees no reason why it shouldn’t continue. She’s less certain. (The performances by Pippa Grandison and Andrew Henry are wonderful.)

Just as Barbara is about to go on stage she says ‘I’ll drag my body through this classic again’. (All my quotes are paraphrasing.) She wonders what would happen if she changed the end this time. But, alas, the audience has come to see that particular play. Again. A type of cultural obsessive compulsive disorder?

Barbara continues ‘We constantly redo the classics. Reinterpret them, reclaim them, reject them. And the new plays are just echoes of the old.’ (More paraphrasing.)

Why are we in love with the old? And, no, I don’t buy the whole ‘universals’ argument.

I started this response by suggesting that the obsession with Europe was a thing of the past. But I see the same thought patterns, the same conservativism, repeated every time we choose to produce another Patrick Shanley, Sam Shepherd or Neil La Bute play. (These productions, no matter how well done, often feel like cover bands; the theatrical equivalent of a Madonna Tribute show at the Rooty Hill RSL.) And it’s the same for the rewriting of the classics. Borrowed glory. (And, of course, highly effective pre-marketing. Postmodernism is not the reason why the Broadway musical is now inevitably an appropriation of an earlier text.) And there’s a similar conservatism lurking in our desire to create an Australian canon.

So maybe it’s not Europe. But it’s usually somewhere else, somewhen else. Not here. Not now.

But it could be.

And that’s what this very clever, beautifully performed production made me think about.

Veronica Kaye


Europe by Michael Gow

Seymour Centre til 27 Sept

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