Tag Archives: Leland Kean

The Way Things Work

12 Nov

Ever since Dorothy Parker quipped of The House Beautiful that it was the Play Lousy, the more attention seeking of the critical fraternity have dreamed of such gift titles.

And so, if I was of this infantile nature, I would pounce on The Way Things Work and say that it’s Not The Way Plays Work.

But Aidan Fennessy’s play is intriguingly nontraditional in its structure. Two actors play six separate characters in three distinct scenes. The satisfaction of character development is sacrificed for the pleasure of discovering plot connections.

Leland Kean’s cast has fun with the comedy. On opening night there were fluency issues, but these will iron out.

In the first of the triptych, Nicholas Papademetriou is a state minister accused of corruption. He claims that corruption is endemic and systematic whenever there’s a hierarchical power structure.

Photo by Zak Kaczmarek

Photo by Zak Kaczmarek

Without denying the need to explore other possible power structures, the minister’s argument is rather absolutist. A little like saying that human beings will inevitably suffer disease so why bother looking after your health? Or I’ll be tired tonight so why get out of bed this morning?

Corruption is real. But cynicism merely justifies it. It’s one of the ideologies that enables it.

In the final scene, in a deliciously provocative moment, Ashley Lyons plays a hit man searching for a type of honour. The character refers to the Anzacs. ‘They did what was right.’ Does he clearly connect this with what actually happened to them? If this is honour, who’d want it?

A play like this sends you off into the night (a night perhaps both literal and metaphorical) asking whether we have developed the ethical tools to build an honourable society?

Veronica Kaye


The Way Things Work by Aidan Fennessy

A Rock Surfers Theatre Company production

Bondi Pavilion til Nov 29


Empire: Terror on the High Seas

7 Sep

I love genre studies. I love asserting which features define a particular genre. I love explaining the popularity of a particular genre. Basically, I love making ridiculous generalizations.

Empire: Terror on the High Seas by Toby Schmitz is part whodunit part slasher.

It’s also flamboyant and fun. And intelligent; wonderfully rich in playful historical allusion.


Set on a liner crossing the Atlantic in 1925, director Leland Kean’s cast have a ball with the larger-than-life characters. (Ella Scott Lynch and Nathan Lovejoy have particular fun with an RP accent and the beautiful comic juxtapositions it allows.)

Someone is killing the passengers and crew, and we don’t know who. So we try to guess. A whodunnit.

Whodunnits are popular because they suggest, despite the initial chaos, that order will be restored. The investigator, using reason, will bring the criminal to justice.

The slasher genre has no such faith in reason. It luxuriates in the physical; the sexual and, of course, the violent.

The whodunnit builds. The slasher genre tears down.

All philosophy could be described as the struggle between these two approaches; between the systematizers and the wreckers. They probably need each other.

And, in this play, the two have an interesting impact. Schmitz draws attention to certain values and asks us to question them.

Whodunnits, for example, rely on the power of reason, but what’s deemed reasonable is determined by the values shared by the investigator and the audience. ( Yes, Sherlock Holmes reasoning is so logical, but the whole point of that character was that he was an extreme. And, anyway, the audience can’t do the scientific stuff. ) As the audience guesses at the killer, they’re ‘proven’ to be reasonable people when their prejudices match those of the investigator. Except when  the investigator struggles to identify the killer. Then these prejudices are challenged.

The slasher strand is rather more obvious. Kill ‘em all, it says. As far as an indictment of values goes, it doesn’t get much more damning.

And what are the values questioned? In Empire: Terror on the High Seas they are a smug superiority, a privileged complacency, a casual racism.

And though the play is set in 1925, I fear the sun is still rising on that empire.

Veronica Kaye


Empire: Terror on the High Seas

Bondi Pavilion 28 Sept



The Removalists

27 May

Full disclosure: I really like this play. I always have.

And Leland Kean’s production is terrific.

I like this play because I don’t like the characters.

I like that these actors let me not like the characters.

I like that the characters don’t like each other. There’s not a lot to like.

I’m thrilled by the revitalizing energy of a play and production like this.

REM 7 - Simmonds, Kenny & Ross handout

We are told at drama school, as we flirt, doze and doodle, that characters need to be sympathetic. Conservatives want it that way. They don’t want to be challenged.

It can be tempting to say: ‘I want to like these people, at least some of them, because I want to believe theatre is a mirror. If I don’t like them (any of them) there are two alternatives: either I’m not likeable, or theatre is not a mirror.

The first alternative does not bear thought.

The second alternative is a possibility, but it will leave me much poorer. That’s because theatre is a magical mirror that does a jolly good job of not just reflecting my momentary appearance, but seemingly the entirety of Life, and that such a thing could be captured and condensed is extremely consoling, for instead of fear at Life’s wildness and open-ended possibility, I can continue in my (privileged ) complacency.

So, if I don’t like the characters I won’t like the play. There’s too much at stake.’

But brilliant satire undercuts this easy out. And this is brilliant satire.

Williamson’s characters are gloriously unsympathetic; too weak, too violent, too selfish.

And Kean’s cast is wonderful. The performances are hilarious. The responses of Caroline Brazier as Kate are worth the price of admission alone. Sam O’Sullivan as Constable Ross provides top class clowning.

The changing power relations are fascinating to watch.  Anger and humiliation are perpetually paid forward.

In this cutting indictment of the violence inherent in our society, I have a favourite scene.  It’s when Kenny, knowing he’ll be beaten by the police, begs the hired removalist for help. And the removalist, the man with no real back history in the play, and so therefore everyman, says it’s not his business.

It’s not our business.

How often do we say that?

Veronica Kaye

The Removalists by David Williamson

at the Bondi Pavillion til 15 June