Tag Archives: Genesian Theatre

Much Ado About Nothing

1 Feb

Needless to say, this is not new work. The play was written in 1598. It’s been performed a few times since then.

This production, by director Deborah Mulhall, is fun and intriguing.

When you choose to produce a play like this you’re in an interesting situation. Your audience will be made up of a whole range of people, some of who virtually know the play off-by-heart and others who are experiencing it for the first time. You’re either in conversation with a vast tradition or casting fresh magic.

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Photo by Grant Fraser

 

Mulhall finds in the play not just the oft played “merry war” between the sexes but also the fight for equal rights for women. There’s scriptural basis for this. Beatrice makes the impassioned plea “Oh God, that I were a man!” But the nub of this interpretation is the characterization of Hero. Here’s her journey in a nut shell (yes, a spoiler): She’s wary of marrying her suitor, but accepts him anyway. She then happily helps in the light-hearted plot to get a husband for her cousin. At her own wedding, she is defamed by her foolish fiance, and is so shocked she struggles to defend herself. When her husband-to-be is forced to acknowledge his breathtaking injustice, she criticizes him for his behavior, and marries him anyway. And then in the final moments she playfully teases her cousin for falling in love. Back and forth between refusal and acceptance of societal expectations; which is no problem, except Shakespeare only gives her sixty lines to do it in. Catherine Lewis as Hero is wonderful, an engaging stage presence, but if the character is to symbolize the struggle to end gender inequality perhaps the role is being asked to do too much. If you’re part of the great conversation with the text, it’ll give you plenty to talk about into the night. See it and make up your own mind.

But, as I said earlier, it’s an enjoyable night. Mulhall elicits some good performances from her cast. The comedy works well – not always an easy feat with Shakespeare.  The two characters who have long dominated the way the play is received, Beatrice and Benedict, are played marvelously by Emma Wright and Ted Crosby. They‘re articulate, charming and smart.

Possibly Shakespeare’s greatest insight into the human condition is that love, which can seem a type of madness, doesn’t necessarily make us stupid. We can both woe and be wise.

Paul Gilchrist

Much ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Genesian Theatre til 25th February

Tix and info  here

The Winslow Boy

28 Jan

Terence Rattigan is often considered a master craftsman of the ‘well made play’. As a natural result, his work goes in and out of fashion.

Adding to this potential for supposed redundancy is the fact The Winslow Boy is set in the years before the First World War.

But the play is a historical drama. It was written a quarter of a century after the time it is set. If elements of the plot and aspects of the characters seem quaint they’re deliberately so. It’s as though Rattigan is looking back at a past era with a gentle nostalgia.

And it’s an oddly gentle play.

Or should I just say it’s odd? Not the overly simple ‘well made play’ the fashionable might dismiss it as.

What’s it about?

Ronnie Winslow’s reputation has been besmirched and must be cleared. It’s a fight for justice.

But the play’s not a court room drama. Set entirely in the Winslow’s sitting room, we’re not seriously expected to follow the legal machinations.

Plenty of people tell the Winslow’s not to bother, so perhaps it’s an exploration of an obsession with justice and its cost.

But the stakes are deliberately set low. Ronnie Winslow is a school boy who is accused of stealing a postal note and is expelled. “Let right be done” becomes the catch cry. But the sacrifices needed in order to achieve this ‘right’ are much smaller than might be imagined. Indeed, it’s quite possible to argue that many of the characters are better off because of their sacrifice, and I don’t mean on some nebulous quasi-spiritual level, but rather on a mundane common sense level. And it’s rather telling that little Ronnie is not particularly concerned about the outcome of the case.

So am I criticizing the play?

Perhaps.

But I can’t overstate how engaging it is. Rattigan seems incapable of writing a dull scene.

Photo by Mark Banks

Photo by Mark Banks

And this production, directed by Nanette Frew, is a very enjoyable night of theatre. The cast provide some excellent performances. David Stewart-Hunter as Ronnie’s fixated father delivers an intriguing mix of humour, pigheadedness and pathos. Sonya Kerr as Ronnie’s suffragette sister Catherine is intelligent, witty and humane. It’s a beautiful role and Kerr does it magnificently. Roger Gimblett’s Sir Robert Morton is brilliantly articulate and perfectly pompous. Tom Massey’s Desmond Curry is a wonderful portrait of the likeable loser.

(Considering Catherine’s relationships with these three men is hard to believe Rattigan hadn’t swallowed his copy of Pride and Prejudice whole.)

But back to my discussion of the play.

What’s it about?

About two and a half hours of enjoyment.*

Veronica Kaye

The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan

The Genesian Theatre til 14 Feb

http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/

* Like Rattigan, I’ve done some swallowing and regurgitating with this line.

Amadeus

30 Oct

Envy is a stupid vice.

Perhaps all vice is. Plato certainly thought so. And he’s not alone.

It’s a common belief that reason and virtue are inextricably linked. To this school of thought, vice is simply the result of faulty thinking.

Envy is usually based on the belief that life is a zero sum game. In other words, your gain is my loss. But is this actually the case? Why would your happiness exclude mine? And, really, how happy could I be if I knew you weren’t?

Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus is a brilliant study of envy, and this production by director Stephen Lloyd-Coombs is terrific.

Amadeus Sal and Vent

Salieri, played wonderfully by Nick Hunter, is faced with the phenomenon that is Mozart. To him it is obvious Mozart is the better composer, and it destroys him. The strength of this play is that Salieri is not reduced to mere cattiness. He’s cold and clear. But his envy is convoluted with his concept of justice. Rather than perceiving justice as something human beings must strive to create, Salieri makes the mistake of believing that it’s a quality inherent in the universe. Such a belief is a recipe for tragedy.

Schaffer’s other major theme is genius. Jasper Garner-Gore’s Mozart is eminently watchable, a big likeable child. Salieri can’t help but acknowledge Mozart’s ability, but is shocked to find him so crass. But why? Why should we be all of one piece? (Curiously, it’s the same type of thought structures that won’t separate reason and virtue.)

The concept of ‘genius’ – which is not used in the play – is an intriguing cultural trope. (I call it a trope because it’s not as if there’s a scientific test for it.)

Why do we like the concept of ‘genius’? What is this trope’s purpose? Does it help us relax, by telling us that we can’t possibly compete?

Or is the label an attempt to quarantine our evaluations from the disease of subjectivity? ‘It’s not just my opinion. He was a genius!’

Of course, an important aspect of the story is that Mozart’s ‘genius’ does go unrecognized, except by Salieri. It’s an appealing notion. Who doesn’t want to believe that their own genius has been under-appreciated? (That Mozart’s ‘genius’ did go unrecognized should make us realize that all evaluations are just human, all too human.)

Which leads me to more of my own evaluation.

The leads are supported by great work by the rest of the cast. Nicole Wineberg as Mozart’s wife, Constanze, gives a captivating portrayal of frisky fidelity. Anthony Finch and Claire Stewart-Moore are marvelously flamboyant as Salieri’s spies and representations of malicious triviality. The costumes by Peter Henson and the set by Ashley Bell are a visual delight.

This is a very entertaining and thought-provoking production.

Veronica Kaye

 

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer

Genesian Theatre

til Nov 29

http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/

 

Hotel Sorrento

21 Jan

Australia Day is controversial, especially because of the date we choose to celebrate it.  Are we being patriotic, or just parochial?

It’s curious that the people most keen on Australia Day are often the very people most cynical about the only thing that actually makes us Australians. And that is? The fact we vote, pay taxes and are under the legal jurisdiction of the federal government. Australia is a political entity.

Hannie Rayson’s play is not about Australia Day, but it is about being Australian.

Rayson’s characters argue about Australians; their attitudes to art and artists, and their supposed inability for emotional sophistication.

Meg is the Booker nominated expat. On one level, she has little time for what she sees as Australian smallness. Dick, a leftist journalist, argues passionately against her. How would you know? he says. You haven’t been here for 10 years!

Of course, the play itself is 24 years old. Are Meg and Dick both wrong? Have we changed as a nation?

Or are Meg and Dick both guilty of a simple category error? Is ‘Australia’, as a cultural entity, merely a generalization? How useful is the word ‘Australian’ at all?

This is far from a criticism of the production. It’s what the play made me think about. And if I’d paid for a ticket I would’ve said it was money well spent.

Photo by Mark Banks

Photo by Mark Banks

It’s a funny, moving and very thought-provoking night of theatre. Director Shane Bates has elicited some good performances from her cast. I especially enjoyed Melanie Robinson as Meg, Martin Bell as Edwin, her husband, and Rob White as Dick.

The play also made me think about representational art. Marge paints ‘still life’. At one point, she praises the ability of good art to capture the essence of things. Meg’s novel does this, we are told. As does the work of Helen Garner; it showed Marge something she had always been aware of, but had been unable to articulate or even acknowledge.  In the words of T S Eliot (quoted in the play):  “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. And, in the middle of this paean to representational art, Dick grabs an apple and bites into it, unaware that it’s part of the ‘still life’ Marge is trying to paint. It’s a cheeky symbol from Rayson.

Is representation what art should attain to? It would be churlish to suggest it wouldn’t be a magnificent achievement. I’m just not sure art can show us the Truth.

A vision of art as Truth is conservative, an always looking backwards, an approach that can inadvertently deny Life, and its possibilities.

Art might be a microscope or a telescope, but it’s also a kaleidoscope. Representational art takes elements of what previously existed and plays with them. Like the Uncertainty Principle in nuclear physics, when we describe the world, we affect it. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s empowering.

There is not an Australia to represent. Australia is not a thing, it’s a happening.*

Let’s see what we can make happen.

Veronica Kaye

*Apologies to E P Thompson, a writer Dick would be quite familiar with.

Hotel Sorrento

til 22nd Febuary at the Genesian Theatre

http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/

Dangerous Corner

30 Jul

Only God knows the complete Truth. And She’s not sharing.

JB Priestley’s brilliantly intricate play Dangerous Corner is a fascinating exploration of the concept of Truth.

The premise of the play is that everyone has secrets. It’s a popular myth, because it suggests we are more than we seem. It’s a myth that says, despite appearances, that we are actually endlessly fascinating and intriguing. “He must live a double life,” the more catty among us say, “because his life couldn’t really be as dull as all that.”

And much of Priestley’s play involves the unraveling and revealing of the character’s secrets. Director Peter Lavelle, with an intelligent light hand, makes this enthralling theatre. His cast very skillfully present characters torn between the desire to conceal and the seeming relief of letting it all come out.

Photo by Craig O'Regan

Photo by Craig O’Regan

But the play does more. It’s not just an Agatha Christie style whodunit. It raises some very thought provoking ideas about the very concept of Truth itself.

Any chain of questions aimed at discovering the reality of a situation must come to an end, and that end, really, is rather arbitrary. What we call the Truth is simply the point at which we cease asking questions. The Truth is merely the point at which we abandoned the search.

Perhaps only a four year old can perpetually ask ‘why?’ And perhaps that’s why we are told we must become like little ones if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Because all they know is that they don’t.

Veronica Kaye

Dangerous Corner

at The Genesian Theatre until 10 Aug

http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/index.php?mode=now