Tag Archives: ATYP

Platonov

10 Nov

People desiring but never acting.

Chekhov’s plays usually have me thinking about cowardice.

And one evening I will finally muster the courage to just get up half way through the first act and walk out.

Of course, I’m joking.

Platonov is early Chekhov, and more happens in it than usual for the master. (Perhaps too much. And there’s an atypical focus on one character; a young man and his relationships with women. Which I could patronizingly and erroneously suggest is typical of young male heterosexual writers.)

But I don’t want to overstate any of this. This is fascinating theatre, and not just because it offers an insight into the masterpieces that were to come later.

The language of Anthony Skuse’s adaptation is beautifully pitched. Grounded in the late nineteenth century origins of the play, it still speaks with a contemporary living voice.

Photo by Matthew Neville

Photo by Matthew Neville

But the primary joy of this production is the performances. Skuse has gathered an extraordinary group of actors and has created a space in which the entire cast create mesmerizing work.

I’ll mention only four. (It’s a fourteen hander. See it for a master class in acting.)

Charlie Garber gives us a thoroughly watchable Platonov. Part charisma, part moral outrage, part self loathing, it’s all leavened with just a sprinkle of humour. Many of the female characters love him, and I suspect so will the audience. As his simple, gentle wife, Matilda Ridgway is heartbreakingly phenomenal. Suzanne Pereira as Anna gives us dignity at odds with desire, and it’s a deeply moving portrait. Geraldine Hakewill plays Sofya with a tense stillness, an intriguing balance between empowerment and bewilderment.

It’s a big play, but I’ll end with reference to a single moment.

Platonov snaps “What God do you serve? What God do any of us serve?” It’s Chekhov’s challenge. Is this (and the plays that follow) an indictment of particular individuals or of an entire society?

We are flawed. The world is flawed. But do we make the world or does the world make us? This is the gloriously humane tension in Chekhov’s vision. It’s what makes him such a compelling dramatist. And it’s what this production captures so wonderfully.

Veronica Kaye

 

Platonov by Anton Chekhov

directed & adapted by Anthony Skuse

presented by Mophead & Catnip Productions

ATYP, Studio One til 22 Nov

http://www.atyp.com.au/

Sugarland

3 Sep

Is theatre a mirror,  reflecting our world as it is?

Or is it a window,  showing us a view of a world close by?

Or is it a telescope, revealing distant worlds?

Sugarland presents the lives of young people in a remote Australian town. It’s honest, confronting and hopeful.

Photo by by Tracey Schramm

Photo by by Tracey Schramm

Writers Rachael Coopes and Wayne Blair built this story after time spent in the Top End. Directors Fraser Corfield and David Page present it with great power and beauty.  Their ensemble is extraordinary, young and genuine. Dubs Yunupingu is brilliant. Her portrayal of Nina – of simple strength in the face of adversity – is deeply moving.

The youth of Katherine face a range of challenges; poverty, substance abuse, self harm, violence, and the spectre of racism. (One of the charms of the piece is, that for the most part, the characters see through the divisive aspects of race.)

Nina lives in a one bedroom house with twelve people. She has twenty stitches in the back of her head, courtesy of a female relative who’s thrown a brick at her.

Hunter Page-Lochard plays Jimmy, Nina’s cousin. He gives a powerful performance of a bright soul bustled by what the world has thrown at him.

Writer Rachael Coopes plays youth worker Penny. She encapsulates a patient, and inspiring, determination not to give into despair.

Of course, Sugarland is not ‘telescope’ theatre. These communities are our communities. (There’s a dreadful poignancy in the fact that the young people of the town are soaked in pop culture. Nina sings Rihanna’s Diamonds at the talent quest.)

This is a play to give confidence. There are things in our world to be fixed. But this play presents the challenges with heart-breaking honesty.

And honesty is a good midwife to hope.

Veronica Kaye

 

Sugarland by Rachael Coopes with Wayne Blair

ATYP Under the Wharf

til 13 Sept

https://www.atyp.com.au/whats-on/productions/sugarland

His Mother’s Voice

4 May

(If this response seems to range far and wide I apologise in advance. I write in response to the plays I see, and this one is big and bold.)

One of the greatest gifts of Marxism is the concept of ideology. One of the greatest curses was the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Firstly, the Cultural Revolution, where a half of Justin Fleming’s intelligent, thought-provoking play is set.

In 1966, Mao decided to purge China of influences deemed capitalist, reactionary, un-Chinese. The result was a human tragedy of heartbreaking proportions. Millions were persecuted whose only crime was to offer the gift of diversity. Fleming’s play focuses on the trauma suffered by one of these families, targeted simply because of their love of Western music.

Phot by Tessa Tran, Breathing Light Photography

Photo by Tessa Tran, Breathing Light Photography

Director Suzanne Millar and her entire ensemble do a fine job of evoking a society in crisis. The staging is simple, beautiful, and provides the perfect arena to present a truly awful spectacle; naïve exuberance overcome by dreadful paranoia. Renee Lim, as the music teacher determined to pass on her gift to her son, delivers a moving portrayal of steely resilience.

The other half of the story is set in the 1980’s, in both China and Australia, and presents the long term consequences of the Revolution. Dannielle Jackson and Michael Gooley give intelligent, likeable performances as father and daughter, two Australians navigating their connections with people whose trauma is still raw.

For me, two lines from the play encapsulate its philosophy. (I know, it’s a minor crime in itself to attempt such a thing; to force a reduction on what’s decidedly a multi-voiced art-form.)

One of these lines is delivered by Gooley, as the crusty Australian diplomat. “We have to keep the door open,” he says. Discussions must continue.

The second of the lines is foreshadowed by a cool, frightening party official, played admirably by John Goodway.  Then Alice Keohavong, in a wonderfully amusing portrayal of a Chinese emissary in Canberra, snaps it out again. As they bargain the return to China of a talented pianist (played by Harry Tseng), trouble is encountered. Gooley suggests there are ‘contradictions’. “Contradictions? We like contradictions!” chirps Keohavong. The human spirit resists a tyrannous simplicity.

(I try to avoid quoting other writers in my responses, except the playwrights themselves, whom I no doubt misquote. And I apologise for that! But here I’ll quote Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity nothing straight was ever made.” And when we attempt to do so, we do nothing but violence.)

And now, finally, back to where I started, one of Marxism’s gifts: ideology.

In Marxist theory, ideology refers to the cultural norms that aid the perpetuation of particular economic structures. (Let me give a small example of my own. 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.*)

It was the belief that culture actually mattered that led to the Cultural Revolution. (Though Mao probably misread Marx; Karl was more inclined to believe that the economic structure creates culture, as against culture creating the economic structure.)

But the rub is this: how much do we think culture matters?

Mao launched a maniacal attack, and this sort of lunacy gives cultural introspection a bad name. It leads us to think it’s best to just let a thousand flowers bloom, without ever bothering to stop and smell them.

But surely we should think about cultural content, about the impact of our art? (As against merely the advancement of our careers.)

Mao’s mistake was to think this should be done by state edict rather than discussion. It’s as though he assumed there were problems to be fixed, as against possibilities to be encouraged.

And what does this engaging, exciting production by bAKEHOUSE offer the cultural discussion?

The gift of diversity.

Veronica Kaye

*I’m ignoring the whole (obvious) issue of the commodification of art and the reduction of audience members to consumers as against co-producers.

 

His Mother’s Voice by Justin Fleming

ATYP til 17 May

http://www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au/home/

Spur of the Moment

3 Sep

Spur of the Moment by Anya Reiss has a sparkling opening scene. Twelve year old Delilah is in her bedroom with three friends.  They’re young girls doing their stuff. They’re singing to High School Musical. They’re filming themselves on their phones. They’re talking about how the young man who boards in Delilah’s house is HOT.

Spur of the Moment is a simple tale, beautifully told.

I want to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say this play captures being twelve; the tweeness of it. Delilah is so obviously still a child, but …….

You’re in such a hurry to get older, her mother tells her, but when you are, you won’t want it.

The young girls are played brilliantly. Holly Fraser as Delilah gives an astounding performance. She’s innocent and vulnerable, but hungry to grow, and with that comfortable confidence intelligent children often have before the trauma of teenage years.

And Delilah’s world is changing, and the emotions and situations she must face are new, and raw.

Her parents aren’t much help. They’re lost too. Zoe Carides and Felix Williamson give wonderful performances, balanced perfectly between humour and pathos.

This play is about loving, and mostly about that overwhelming need to be loved. Do we ever shed it? Should we?

Is maturity when you realize that to love, as against be loved, is the most important thing? That’s the grand insight of many religious traditions – but it’s only made possible by the attendant belief that no matter what the world throws at you, you’re loved anyway.

But what twelve year old has got that far?

Holly Fraser

What am I saying? Who ever gets that far? We try. We try to forget ourselves. Or we try to define ourselves in ever widening circles. We try to teach ourselves to love.

But in childhood, being loved is crucial. Usually our parents do the job. Usually. But as we grow, we begin to feel their love is insufficient, and we realize the love we now crave is far, far less assured. We enter exciting but disturbingly uncertain terrain.

Director Fraser Corfield has done a marvelous job with this deeply engaging, deeply affecting play.

It comes to a climax on the morning of Delilah’s thirteenth birthday. Happy birthday? Oh, Delilah. The final image is heartbreaking.

Veronica Kaye

 

Spur of the Moment

ATYP Under the Wharf til 14 Sept

http://www.atyp.com.au/whats-on/productions/spur-the-moment

Fireface

6 Aug

Fireface could be read as an exploration of some pretty extreme behaviour.

But it spoke to me of a more universal experience – the eternal dialogue between childhood and adulthood.

To the child, adulthood is a foreign land, and the dubious passport into that land is sexuality. You’re a child until you’ve been with a man, mother tells daughter. It’s poor advice, and she takes it.

Her troubled brother is still in puberty. As he’s told. Repeatedly. As though that explains.

He’s a superb portrait of adolescent self righteousness, believing that only he tells the truth. But, in at least one insight, he’s correct – that it’s the adults who define normalcy, who determine what will be considered a proper life.

Children have an understandable dissatisfaction with this narrowness. Adult breath is stale, we are told.

But as the children’s behaviour increasingly becomes a challenge to the adults in the play, mother offers father a poignant paradox; the children are sacrificing themselves for us. It is children who give life to adults.

Photo by Phyllis Wong

Photo by Phyllis Wong

Fireface is a beautifully rich play, and this production is brilliant. The performances are superb and director Luke Rogers’ staging is a joy to watch.

Fireface leaves an audience with a lot to think about, from the extremities it presents to the eternal tensions that fueled them. It’s a cry from that distant land of childhood.

Or to indulge in imagery suggested by the play; it’s as though childhood were a fire, and we leave that fire unattended, in the belief it will simply die down. But it doesn’t, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

Veronica Kaye

Fireface by Marius Von Mayenburg (translated by Maja Zade)

featuring Darcy Brown, Darcie Irwin-Simpson, James Lugton, Lucy Miller and Ryan Bennett

at ATYP Under the Wharf until 17 Aug

http://www.atyp.com.au/under-the-wharf/productions/fireface

4000 Miles

7 May

Bad plays are hyperbole. Good plays are metaphor. (And, yes, generalizations are annoying.)

And the best metaphors are underplayed. They’re not allegories, but something more subtle and gentle.

We say plays are good

– and this one is. Very. And the production is superb. The cast is uniformly brilliant. And Anthony Skuse, once again, has shown he’s a magnificent director. As an example, the pacing of this piece is enough to make you fall in love with time. Like Philip Rouse’s The Ham Funeral, I’d see this production again purely to enjoy the director’s work; which is, of course, a ridiculous thing to say –

but, anyway, we often say plays are good, without saying how they were good for us.

I don’t mean on what personal basis we judge them to be good, but rather what good they do us.

Good plays help us. We leave the theatre richer than we entered it.

4000-Miles-Hero_EVENTPAGE_0

4000 Miles is a play that offers the gift of tolerance.

Tolerance is sometimes devalued as a virtue; as though it was the poor little cousin of Love. Tolerance seems somehow less passionate, less committed, less generous. But watch four brilliant actors (Diana McLean, Stephen Multari, Eloise Snape and Aileen Huynh) create characters who gently navigate their differences, and Tolerance becomes Love’s twin.

I began by praising metaphor. The old argument is that good plays, by taking a specific situation and presenting them simply, honestly and unadorned, are suggestive of much wider issues.

Amy Herzog’s play is beautifully rich in this type of metaphor.

But it’s also rich in another type, more literary, but subtle. I won’t discuss most of these for fear of spoilers, but I will mention one.

Diana McLean plays Vera, Leo’s grandmother. Vera is what she calls a political progressive. (Just to hear those words on an Australian stage is a delight!) Vera is ageing; she is losing her hearing, she is losing her memory. Sometimes she doesn’t have the words for things, for her political ideas.

But Vera still tries to find them. And still tries to act on them.

And that task isn’t just Vera’s.

Veronica Kaye

4000 Miles by Amy Herzog

until 18 May

http://www.atyp.com.au/under-the-wharf/productions/4000-miles

Great Expectations

12 Nov

Dickens was one of the great critics of nineteenth century capitalism.

But he goes in and out of fashion. For some, his characterization is too broad, his plots too neat, and his passions too sentimental. But I pray that his message – and, yes, like any writer worth their salt, he had one – never goes out of fashion.

Loudly and clearly, Dickens said cruelty was wrong. If that seems self evident to us, we have writers like him to thank.

In Great Expectations, Dickens explored one of the more subtle forms of cruelty that capitalism engenders. Capitalism broke down many of the old class structures. In itself, this was a good thing. But its dark side was that it gave rise to a new contempt for those at the bottom of the social pyramid. If society is freer then the lower orders have only themselves to blame for their misfortune.

In a wonderful piece of irony the main character, Pip, through no effort of his own, finds himself the heir to a fortune. And it’s through the lens of his great expectations that he then views his friends and family. His embarrassment at his step father Jo, the village blacksmith and the most gentle and caring of men, provides some of the most painful pages in English literature.

Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan’s stage adaption of the novel captures the power of the original.

And this production by bAKEHOUSE Theatre is fast paced, funny and very moving. Director John Harrison marshals a terrific cast and brings this magnificent story to life.

At uni, I was made to read Great Expectations twice. At 19 I was left cold. At 22 I thought it the funniest book I’d ever read, and one of the saddest.

This production is utterly accessible and a great introduction to a literary giant who saw further than many of his contemporaries.

May we all be blessed with his vision.

Veronica Kaye

Great Expectations

ATYP til 17 Nov

http://www.atyp.com.au/under-the-wharf/productions/great-expectations