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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.

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

 

 

Dirt 

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

Moonshine

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

Hamlet

4 Dec

Famous plays have baggage. They have a past. Which is, of course, what makes them interesting to a lot of people.

Having been produced so many times, each new production can end up feeling like a commentary on previous productions. (It’s one of the reasons I like new work. I don’t like to see that much theatre about theatre.)

When you produce Hamlet, a reasonable percentage of audience members will ask ‘Is this about Hamlet or Hamlet?’

Montague Basement’s adaption of Hamlet is a snappy, engaging 90-minute, five-character version. We lose (to name a few) Gertrude, Laertes, Fortinbras, Rosencrantz , Guildenstern and the players. Ophelia and Gertrude are melded and the result is curious. Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are combined and the result is intriguing. And the structure is altered; there aren’t just cuts, there are also rearrangements. And the end………..

If you’re familiar with the text the changes are massive, and ultimately stimulating. Do they simply make the play easier to perform? Or is there a method……… I won’t say to the madness (because friends who weren’t familiar with the play very much enjoyed it. And I’ll add that a woman in the foyer said it was the funniest Hamlet she’d seen.)

Hamlet MB Program-7314

Performances are high quality. Patrick Morrow as Polonius is very funny. Christian Byers as Hamlet is antic, energetic and highly watchable. Lulu Howes as Ophelia is terrific (especially considering the challenging decision to have her witness her father’s death, and then alone on stage descend into madness and commit suicide in a handful of minutes.)

Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s set, with its TV screens and strewn paper, suggests both a teenager’s bedroom and the weight of the thousands of previous productions.

I did miss Laertes and Fortinbras, who are such foils to Hamlet. (The latter especially lifts the play into the political realm; “madness in great ones must not unwatched go”). I did miss Gertrude (especially her response to the lost Ophelia; “I will not speak with her.”) And, most of all, I missed……… but, of course, talking this way only highlights the power of text, and the beguiling allure of the past.

Veronica Kaye

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (sort of)

PACT til Sat 5 Dec

tix and info here

 

 

Dinkum Assorted

1 Dec

Another play dominated entirely by female actors. It’s disgusting. All those millennia of oppression – for nothing!

Set in a country biscuit factory during WW2, the fifteen strong all-female cast provides a fun and thought-provoking night out.

Dinkum Assorted is part of that genre that treats war as though it were a natural disaster. And if you’re far enough down the pecking order, I guess it is. These women have to make the best of a difficult situation. And they do, with both fight and laughter.

There are some terrific performances: Colleen Cook as the down-to-earth forewoman; Debra Bryan as the maligned and misunderstood outsider; Bodelle de Ronde as the struggling young mother; Sonya Kerr as the sophisticate facing tough choices; and Amanda Laing and Hannah Raven as the effervescent youngsters dreaming of another world.

Dinkum-10

Photo by Bob Seary

It’s sort of a musical with all the songs at one end. The closing numbers have huge energy and Laing and Raven’s tap dance is brilliant. The costuming of these numbers, by Kiara Mullooly, is delightfully and gloriously over the top.

Some people might find the book a little dissatisfying; there’s so much in it that some parts can feel a little sparse, but Aronson and director Sahn Millington get the tone right. This is a story of Big History catching up with little people. Sure it’s a tribute to determination, but the play’s also a paean to innocence.

Kerr’s Joan says ‘Don’t make me something I’m not’. De Ronde’s Millie replies ‘It’s what people always do.’

Perhaps in the past we were innocent. It’s a myth we tell. It’s what we always do. I wonder why.

Veronica Kaye

Dinkum Assorted  Book, lyrics & music by Linda Aronson

at New Theatre til 19 Dec

tix and info here

Through a Beaded Lash

1 Dec

Four funerals and a wedding.

Well, not exactly. There are no funerals (on stage). There is a wedding (slightly off stage).

But, despite the humour, the atmosphere is thick with loss.

Robert Allan’s deeply moving play is about the struggle between the acknowledgement of grief and the quest for growth.

With two concurrent time periods, the play is a cleverly structured dialogue between the past and the present.

In the past, we follow the developing relationship between Brent and Adam. Brent (Ryan Henry) performs as a drag queen. With the help of effervescent Zoe (Emily McGowan) and crotchety but lovable Phil (Roger Smith), Brent raises money for those battling the newly recognized Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A charming bumbler, Adam (Oliver Rynn), arrives. The attraction is obvious, but he’s out of his depth. There’s a war going on, and Adam – like so many of the population – has not caught up with the reality.

photo Clare Hawley

Photo by Clare Hawley

In the present, we follow Adam and Zoe twenty odd years on. Played engagingly by Cherilyn Price and Leo Domigan, their friendship has survived, but beyond the fun banter, there’s real tension.

Clever direction by Julie Baz highlights both the continuities and discontinuities between the two time periods and so brings to the fore the fundamental question of the piece: What is, What should be, What can be, our relationship with the past?

Both funny and touching, Through a Beaded Lash is a powerful call both to remember the dead and to remember to live.

And it’s a new play and I congratulate The Depot on that.

I began with a glib reference. Four funerals……..

In the 80’s, 90’s and today, here and worldwide, if only the toll was so low.

It’s more like forty million.

 

Veronica Kaye

Through a Beaded Lash By Robert Allan

The Depot Theatre til 12 Dec

Tix and info here

Grey Gardens

23 Nov

American royalty. That phrase says it all: the paradox of the great democracy obsessing over the privileged minority.

With book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, Grey Gardens tells the story of a troubled mother and daughter relationship. This particular pair just happen to be Jackie Kennedy’s relations. But, as Noel Coward would say, even duchesses have problems.

The story is presented in two acts. In the first of these, set in 1941, mother and daughter battle out the younger woman’s right to a suitor. Beth Daly and Caitlin Berry do excellent work. And so does Simon McLachlan, who plays the suitor – Joe Kennedy.

Grey Gardens

Photo by Michael Francis, Francis Photography 

The next act is set thirty years on. We’re still in Grey Gardens, the family home, but things have changed. I’m not really sure how. It’s still the same mother and daughter and they’re still fighting, but they’ve become cat ladies, living in squalor. Standard music theatre fare this is not. The two roles are now played respectively (and powerfully) by Maggie Blinco and Beth Daly.

Directed by Jay James-Moody, the show is technically and musically tight. Squabbalogic have a reputation for quality and it’s well deserved. The show’s all class (though considering my earlier comments this might sound like a cheap pun.)

It was pointed out to the audience that the true cost of the production might be much more than will be recouped by ticket sales. Theatre’s a tough business and money must be saved where ever possible. For example, it appears Squabbalogic has purchased the rights for only two of the acts of this three act musical.

Of course, it’s not a three act musical – but the greatest challenge of Grey Gardens, or perhaps its most intriguing element, is that missing thirty years.

Veronica Kaye

Grey Gardens (Book Doug Wright, Music Scott Frankel, Lyrics Michael Korie)

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, til Dec 12

tix and info  here

Dot Dot Dot

19 Nov

New work! Thank God. And a big thank you to Gareth Boylan and the Old 505 for presenting it.

Dot Dot Dot by Drew Fairley is a murder mystery set in fin de siècle Australia. It’s a rollicking yarn with terrific performances and some beautiful set pieces. (In particular, one of these pieces is a very amusing, suspense building scene between two policemen, played wonderfully by Gerard Carroll and Matt Abell-King.)

The Crime genre often derives its appeal from its exploration of three concepts: Truth, Causation and Fear.

Truth: Whodunnit? In Fairley’s play we seek a murderer, the infamous ‘Noah’, a psychopath who kills people in pairs; two school girls, two policeman, two theatre critics (OK, maybe not the last pair – which only proves Noah is disturbed – but you get the idea.) But who can lead us to the Truth of the murderer’s identity? There’s the media, with a media baron portrayed with fitting smugness by Carroll. There’s a medium; a sideshow clairvoyant and raconteur played with a fascinating mix of fear and guile by Natalie Venettacci. And there’s the delusional dope addict, played as an intriguing battle between strength and vulnerability by Lucy Miller. But, Truth is a slippery fish; a product of the ocean it swims in…….but more on that later.

DotDotDot

Causation: the Crime genre needs connections. Actions must clearly lead to consequences which must lead clearly to other actions. The Crime genre does not do Random. The horrors of Life are not denied but rather made sense of – at least, on one level. This tidying up of the rough edges of Life probably accounts for much of the genre’s popularity. It also makes possible one of its most attractive features: the complicated plot. Fairley’s script delivers, with a plot which is both complex and intriguing, but ultimately crystal clear. Director Gareth Boylan weaves together beautifully the many moments, characters and locations.

Fear: this third in my trifecta of Crime might appear to contradict the second. But, of course, Fear is the disease for which apparent Causation is the cure. It is the exploration of Fear and the environment it creates (the sea the fish swims in) that lifts this play from its genre roots. Fear allows us to be manipulated. I suspect Fairley set the play at the eve of Federation to suggest that Fear is a congenital disease from which this country suffers. He could have further explored the idea that the historical Federation was indeed a direct result of Fear: the states decided to band together because of the illusory threat of the ‘Asian hordes’ that would supposedly overrun this tiny outpost of European civilization. He might have explored that idea……but his target is more contemporary than the fear mongers of the past.

Veronica Kaye

Dot Dot Dot by Drew Fairley

at Old 505 Theatre til 28 Nov

Tix and info here

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

Roadkill Confidential

17 Nov

Cruelty’s a funny thing.

The great liberal project of the last 300 years has been to try to diminish it. And we’re making ground. For example, fewer children die in coalmines now, or at least in the nicer parts of the world.

But we’ve still got a way to go. And, like all political action, the job will never be done. We make the world every day.

“So, can Art help?” That’s what Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan got me thinking about. It’s a very clever, very funny black comedy presented with appropriate mischievous joy by Michael Dean of Lies, Lies and Propaganda.

Trevor (a very watchable, provoking bully played by Alison Bennett) is creating her new art installation. Made from roadkill, it will highlight the world’s brutality. But it’s not just small furry animals that keep dying, and so a government agent begins an undercover surveillance mission. Played with hilarious hyperbolic seriousness by Michael Drysdale, the agent’s a very amusing addition to crime fiction’s growing number of unreliable narrators: characters supposedly driven by morality, but whose sense of right and wrong is clearly wrong. “I’m a patriot”. Enough said.

Roadkill - 8

Photo by Emily Elise

As the agent attempts to solve the mystery, he monitors all the people in Trevor’s life. There’s William, her husband, an art critic for whom theory has replaced thought (played with appropriate soft-speaking pomposity by Jasper Garner Gore.) There’s her fame-obsessed teenage stepson, Randy (played explosively by Nathaniel Scotcher), perhaps a sharp pen-portrait of an entire generation. And there’s the bubbly, bumbling, socially awkward neighbor, Melanie (a comic gem created by Sinead Curry.) In this world, all of the characters are parasites who feed off Trevor, the artist. Like I said, it’s a comedy.

bAKEHOUSE’s new Kings Cross Theatre is a great place for performers to play, and set designer Catherine Steele keeps it simple and functional. The main feature is a large lit frame. It represents a TV screen offering daily horrors. It represents the screen of the agent’s hidden surveillance device. But it also evokes a picture frame. Perhaps surveillance and Art are close cousins? After all, watching and representing are both oddly passive, even creepy, actions. In a neat trick, Callaghan has Trevor realize she’s being watched. The result: she performs for the camera. This is not artist as great soul.

The question Callaghan’s play throws up for me is whether the artistic representation of cruelty and suffering awakens us or does it merely numb us? If we do build the world every day, how much do we need to look backwards?

Veronica Kaye

Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan

Kings Cross Theatre til 28 Nov

Info and tix here

 

Good Works

7 Nov

As a kid, I’d occasionally be dragged to Great Aunt Dot’s for slide night.

I’d fidget, as slide after slide of people I didn’t recognise slid by. Kat, who was second cousin to Joan. Or was it Shirley? Henry, who died young in a boating accident.

Now and then, when a random image did finally hold my childish attention, it would quickly slide away, replaced by another, and then another.

And Aunt Dot, God rest her soul, had no sense of chronology. Poor young Henry would be lost, and then he’d return, smiling confidently at the camera, seemingly magically unaware of what lay ahead. At the time I giggled; Aunt Dot was dotty. But now, older if not wiser, I guess at her purpose.

Nick Enright’s Good Works felt like one of Dot’s slide nights. Enright’s slides are far better composed, but they do just keep coming.

Director Iain Sinclair builds this challenge into a beautifully fluid production and the performances are wonderful. ( I could watch Toni Scanlan do her stuff eight nights a week.)

Set in old time Anglo Australia, Good Works is a meditation on class, family, and authentic moral behaviour. (‘Good works’ being the very Catholic assertion that our salvation is tied to our actions, not – as those horrid Protestants might have it – only to our faith. Of course, there’s a troubled heart to this doctrine. Good works, when so bound up with our own salvation, our own vision of morality, can struggle to seem a genuine attempt to reach out and help others. The tension between one-time childhood friends Rita and Mary Margaret provocatively suggests this issue, and it’s performed movingly by Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby.)

Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby. Photo (c) Helen White.

Taylor Ferguson and Lucy Goleby. Photo (c) Helen White.

This play typifies a strand of Australian theatre for which I am not the audience. It’s nostalgic. It’s non-cerebral. ( Nostalgic? Doubly so. Enright wrote it 20 years ago, about an Australia 30 odd years before that. And it’s non-cerebral because in a world defined by sex , repression and physical brutality, some of the characters may be canny, but none is allowed an intellectual life.)

These two elements combine to create a sentimentality that speaks to me as much as one of those slide nights. A night of people I didn’t recognise, sliding by in the darkness. But like Henry, whose smiling face would always make Aunt Dot’s eyes shine, they’re clearly recognisable to others.

Veronica Kaye

Good Works by Nick Enright

Eternity Playhouse til 29 Nov

Tix and info here

Duck Hunting

5 Nov

In my responses to theatre I try to refrain from profanity. I don’t mean when I’m actually in the theatre. There, I believe, a little colour sometimes enlivens the proceedings.

No, what I mean is that I try to avoid swearing in my written responses. But for Duck Hunting, I’ll make an exception.

Let me invent a term: the ‘Dickhead play’.

The plays in this genre feel like theatre in First Person. All the attention in a Dickhead play is on a sole character – a male protagonist who treats other people really badly yet the focus is on his suffering.

Despite my derogatory terminology, a Dickhead play isn’t necessarily a bad play. It can be a form of cautionary tale.

Contemporarian Theatre’s Duck Hunting by Aleksandr Vampilov is an intriguing night of theatre. (And I do mean night; it’s over 3 hours long.)

Vampilov’s play has been contemporized. We follow Craig Stephens as he does horrible though mundane things to other people. Unsurprisingly, he finds this a dissatisfying life.

Christian Heath gives a very watchable performance. He’s in every scene; it’s a major monster of a role, and a minor monster of a character. (Though I think Craig calls every female character in the play a ‘slut’ for doing no more than he has done, so perhaps he’s best described as a garden variety misogynist.)

Christian Heath and Paul Gerrard (c) Toby B Styling

Christian Heath and Paul Gerrard (c) Toby B Styling

The rest of the cast do good supporting stuff. Directors Shai Alexander and Toby B Styling have created a stylized world; one that’s deliberately short on natural human connections. In some scenes, the movement is a type of mechanical ballet. In other scenes, the characters make no eye contact. (The occasional use of projection also adds to this lack of connection, but not between the characters, between the audience and the play.)

Part of the intrigue of this piece is the tone. It goes to a very strange place by the end. I wasn’t sure what to feel. Was it comic? Was it tragic? But I guess that’s one of the defining elements of the Dickhead play: follow a dickhead around all night and you’ve got to laugh, and you’ve got to cry.

Veronica Kaye

Duck Hunting by Aleksandr Vampilov

King Street Theatre til 29 November

tix and info