Tag Archives: TAP Gallery

The God of Carnage

10 Dec

Two couples meet, with the intention of maturely discussing a fight between their children. It’s a neat comic set up, which playwright Yasmina Reza employs to good use.

It’s built upon an enduring myth, a common assertion: that what we call civilization is actually a thin veneer over our essential savagery.

So broad an assertion borders on meaninglessness. It certainly resists easy discussion of its truth or falsity.

So I’ll ignore its veracity, for now, and discuss its appeal.

Why might people choose to believe it? What is the possible purpose of this assertion?

Perhaps it’s an ethical indictment. There are harsh aspects of our society, but we either forget them or choose to ignore them. For example, most of us feel we live decent lives, even though we know there are people elsewhere who are quietly starving.

But there’s another possible purpose of the assertion that we are, in fact, savages. It justifies our moral failings. ‘It‘s just human nature, so how can I be to blame?’

God of Carnage

This production, directed by Steven Hopley, is high energy and good fun. The cast (Jacki Mison, Chris Miller, Hailey McQueen and Yannick Lawry) deliver lively, engaging performances. On the night I attended, there were a few problems with rhythm and pacing, but these are difficult to avoid considering the absurdly tight parameters Reza puts on the setting. Despite the building tensions, the characters must remain in close proximity.

In a single room.

In France.

This production transfers the setting to Australia. (Though there are some disquieting references to Le Monde and the repeated use of the word ‘madam’.) Are these characters Australian? You could question if the relocation works, if you assumed the play is meant to be representational.

Alternatively, you could let the play be an intriguing tease. It tantalizingly offers an old chestnut of reductionism, a broad generalization of supposed universalism, and laughingly asks “Is this really true?”

Veronica Kaye

 

The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

Downstairs TAP Gallery

26 Nov – 7 Dec. (This production has closed.)

Twisted Tree Theatre

Brother Daniel

26 Sep

How can we make our ideals become reality? It’s one of the great human dilemmas.

Simone Weil wrote that imaginary good is easy. While our ideas remain in our head, they’re obvious and unproblematic; simple, smooth and flawless. They haven’t yet had to face the roughness, the wild unpredictability, of the external world.

And, in a sense, perhaps all attempts to bring our ideals into fruition are acts of violence. We are, after all, trying to make the world fit our pre-ordained pattern. There’s a type of brutality to it. Like taking the gentle fractal intricacy of a snow flake and forcing it into a round hole. (Like those made by bullets.)

James Balian’s Brother Daniel is a fascinating and intriguing exploration of the complexity and challenge of political action. Director Travis Green presents the tale with tension and humour, and the cast produce some good performances.

Photo by Mark Banks

Photo by Mark Banks

Daniel, played by Adam Hatzimanolis, is being tortured by representatives of a repressive regime, the very regime that twenty years earlier he helped bring to power. Lucinda, played by Mel Dodge, is a young lawyer desperate to help him. She’s a member of a growing student movement, inspired by both the idealism of the earlier revolution and its actual impact. Women didn’t become lawyers in the old days, she reminds Daniel. But Daniel is deeply disillusioned, and not just because of the electrodes. Violence begets violence, but there’s more; the dreadful discordance between dreams and reality.

This is sophisticated theatre. The pleasure and depth of the play is that it offers no simple reading. It reminds us political action is utterly necessary, but won’t tell us how.

Perhaps any such crude certainty would only lay the seeds for future violence? Perhaps we must find our own way, gently.

Veronica Kaye

 

Brother Daniel by James Balian

TAP Gallery til Oct 5

http://www.tapgallery.org.au/brother-danial-8pm-wed-24-sept-sat-27-sept-tues-30-sept-sat-4-oct-4pm-matinees-sun-28-sept-wed-24-sept-upstairs-theatre/

Phaedra

22 Jul

This is a brilliant production.

I’ve made no bones about the fact I don’t like the Greeks. (Not the current ones. The ones who died about 2,500 years ago.  And, no, the bones comment wasn’t an intentional pun.)

The great Greek dramatists explored ‘universals’, or at least that’s what we’re tempted to think. Distance has lent them a grandeur. But they wrote in a society every bit as fractured and filled with contention as ours, and much of what we have raised to the status of classics were in their day part of a hard fought cultural war.

In Greek society one of the great divides was that between the philosophy of rationality and the theatre of fate and deep dark forces. Socrates and Euripides were contemporaries.

When I see current productions of the ancient Greeks, I ask ‘Why are we interested in their myths?’

From a purely personal perspective, I’m suspicious of any view that sees the world as ruled by fate and irrationality. It seems like just one more way of disempowering ourselves, of trying to mask the fact that we enjoy lives of extraordinary privilege, and hence of unprecedented responsibility. If the Furies were to drag me off today and I was to die horribly, blind and in exile, it would not override the fact that up until this point I’ve lived 49 years without ever being hungry except through choice.

Photo by Sasha Cohen

Photo by Sasha Cohen

But I started by suggesting that Michael Dean’s production of Euripides’ play is brilliant. And it is. It’s extraordinarily inventive and a visual treat. The cast are marvellous. The individualised characters (Danielle Baynes as Phaedra, Melissa Brownlow as the Nurse, Richard Hilliar as Hippolytus and Katrina Rautenberg as Theseus) are played with a beautiful strength, which powerfully highlights the tragedy of the conclusion. The Chorus (Sinead Curry, Cheyne Fynn, Nathaniel Scotcher and Jennifer White) is wonderfully mischievous, both fun and foreboding. The use of pop music is frighteningly effective, suggesting the hidden menace lying behind our seemingly harmless daydreams and fantasies.

Phaedra is a reworking of Euripides’ Hippolytus. It’s a myth of the power of sexual desire. In the ancient Greek world, humans are the playthings of the gods. Phaedra’s passion is a divine punishment.

So what’s our modern myth of sexuality? A sort of flat biological reductionism. The consequence of our decidedly anti-existential myth is that sexuality is robbed of both its magic and danger. And where did our dull unhelpful myth come from? From the victory of the rational viewpoint. So perhaps the Greeks are worth a revisit.

Veronica Kaye

 

Phaedra (based on Hippolytus by Euripides)

TAP Gallery til 26th July

http://www.liesliesandpropaganda.com/

 

My Name is Truda Vitz

27 Jun

My Name is Truda Vitz, written and performed by Olivia Satchell, and directed by Pierce Wilcox, is a moving exploration of personal ties and the power of imagination. With stunning visual images and Satchell’s performance on the cello, it’s also a treat for the senses.

Satchell tells the story of three generations; herself, her father Paul, and her grandmother Truda. She slips between the characters with an unadorned simplicity. She forces nothing. These characters – these people – are granted dignity.

The most fascinating aspect of this personal history is that Satchell never met her grandmother. The closest she will ever get to her is in this play, she says.

Her grandmother’s personal history is therefore imagined. There are ‘facts’: the date Truda fled Vienna as a seventeen year old in order to escape persecution as a Jew; the date she was married; the date she was finally accepted as a British citizen after years of being an ‘illegal alien’. But the majority of Truda’s story is invented. As Satchell says, even if it didn’t happen to Truda, it probably happened to someone.

TRUDA7

One of the greatest tensions in life, and one that fuels the dramatic impulse, is that between otherness and empathy.

I sometimes suspect that every dramatist is a solipsist is denial. After all, how can we really know other people? I can never see through someone else’s eyes or walk around in their body. In fact, one of the most important gifts we can give someone else is an acknowledgement of our own limitations. I don’t know you. I can’t predict your behaviour. You can surprise me. I accept your otherness.

The other side of the coin is that we must make assumptions about people. If we don’t, our ethical systems falter. I have to be able to predict what causes you pain or gives you joy. And since I can’t know these things infallibly, or even contingently, it’s up to my imagination to make the human connection.

Ignorance and imagination. I don’t know you but I’ll try to guess.

It’s this gentle, warm balance that makes My Name is Truda Vitz such a beautiful piece of theatre.

Veronica Kaye

 

My Name is Truda Vitz by Olivia Satchell

Somersault Theatre Company

at TAP Gallery til July 6

http://somersaulttheatre.com/my-name-is-truda-vitz/

Amanda

15 May

Transgressive theatre dissolves received wisdoms in an acid bath of wit.

An old tension in psychology is that between nature and nurture. Are we born a particular way? Or is it our experiences that create the person we are?

Writer/director Mark Langham has presented a very funny, very clever play that pushes this tension centre stage. And then pushes it right off.

Amanda2

Amanda, played with an energetic kookiness by Amylea Griffin, is being held by the police for questioning. She has committed some heinous crime, though no-one seems quite certain what it is. In a series of flashbacks, both amusing and disturbing, Elizabeth MacGregor and Paul Armstrong wonderfully portray crazy characters who inhabit Amanda’s back history. This personal history is so wacky we’re clearly not getting reality – whatever that could be.

The concept of identity itself is being questioned (whereas the tired dichotomy of nature versus nurture merely takes the concept for granted and hence perpetuates it.) Langham’s thought provoking play highlights this exploration with a playful recurring motif, that of molecular transfer. If you sit on a bike, there’s a transfer of molecules; the bike seat becomes a little ‘human’, and the human a little ‘bike’. The hard and fast sense of identity is dissolved.

Langham further works this vein by incorporating Brechtian elements into the production. The stage manager (Noemie Jounot) grumbles hilariously in and out of the action. It’s a powerful reminder that this is all verisimilitude; the actors are only playing at creating characters or identities.

And then, thematically, there’s a tension that tears complacent realism apart. The question is raised: What part in our lives is played by fear? What by hope?

(Personal digression: Hope is the most radical of the three Christian virtues. The other two are Love and Faith. Love can speak for itself. Faith is out of fashion; it’s an assertion of knowledge we feel we have no right to claim. Hope, on the other hand, is a glorious unknowing, an appreciation that our visions of our world, and ourselves, are always incomplete.)

Hope is our forgotten virtue. Its very openness makes it difficult for conventionality to portray.

And it is impossible to own.

It requires a letting go.

Veronica Kaye

 

Amanda by Mark Langham

at TAP Gallery til May 18th

http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=81259&embed=81259

Construction of the Human Heart

18 Apr

What are stories for? What does language do?

Ross Mueller’s Construction of the Human Heart is a witty, rich and humane exploration of these questions.

Two playwrights live together. They share their experiences of Life, and of its possible opposite; writing.

It begins as though it’s a staged reading, and then becomes beautifully messy.

Director Dino Dimitriadis allows a splendid simplicity, and with masterful restraint creates a space where actors Cat Martin and Michael Cullen can deliver superb performances of Mueller’s provocative script.

Are our stories an attempt to deal with the world? Or are they an attempt to control the world?  Are they coping mechanisms? Or something more sinister?

How much can words capture? And is Life, like so many wild things, simply unable to breed in captivity?

Image ©Matthew Duchesne/ www.milkandhoney.com.au

Image ©Matthew Duchesne/ http://www.milkandhoney.com.au

The title of the play is deliciously ambiguous. Construction? Does this refer to the heart’s inherent structure? Or our deliberate, desperate building of it?

The play deals with fraught emotional issues, but let me focus on something a little smaller, but hopefully still illustrative of the fascinating questions Mueller raises. There’s a series of very funny exchanges about breeding. For example, what would the child of Stephen Hawking and Elle Macpherson be like? So, the issue of pedigree is aired. And then the play is the story of two playwrights. What exactly are playwrights? (They’re even contrasted to TV writers.) Are playwrights something essentially different from other people? What story are we telling ourselves when we make the assertion “We are artists” ? And for what purpose?

What do our stories do?

Veronica Kaye

 

Construction of the Human Heart by Ross Mueller

TAP Gallery til 3 May

http://www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com/construction-of-the-human-heart/

Dancing Naked in the Backyard

16 Apr

Not in my backyard. This phrase encapsulates both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity for civil society.

There are many things I dislike about ancient Greek culture (just look at some of my posts about their theatre to see what I mean). But one thing I think the Greeks got right was their attitude to the polis; the idea that we’re only whole when we actively take part in the community.

C J Naylor’s thought provoking new play is about Nimby-ism. A group of local residents are challenged by a planned urban development. Not in my backyard, they say. The threat politicizes them.

Is this a good or a bad thing? The play seems to put little faith in the political process. And the politicization of the locals seems to go little further than their own narrow concerns.

Perhaps high rise development is necessary. People do have to live somewhere. And how sprawling do we want our cities to become? The locals’ attitude seems to be based simply on the idea that they were there first. Are they claiming to be an unacknowledged indigenous group?

Dancing Naked

Naylor’s script is intriguingly ambiguous. Samuel Smith is the appropriately sleazy developer, fun to portray, easy to mistrust. But the locals are not particularly admirable either. Alan Long and Estelle Healey play mature residents with the script’s intended kookiness, which allows two possible readings of the characters:  that they are either lovable, or laughable. Zazu Towle and Matt Hopkins play a younger couple, likable but difficult to look up to since they seem to be fighting for their right to sit on their couch.

There are, however, some nice comic moments from all the actors. Sascha Hall as the council bureaucrat delivers some wonderful deadpan disdain.

This is Brave New Word’s third production of original Australian writing. It’s great to see a young company investing in this. There should be more of it.

With its simple, direct and unadorned dialogue, and its reliance on short scenes (which this production didn’t deal with well), Dancing Naked in the Backyard feels a lot like television.  However, that’s probably appropriate. After all, the theme is the challenge, and necessity, of political engagement, and that’s something that should be discussed in every Australian lounge room.

Veronica Kaye

Dancing Naked in the Backyard by C J Naylor

TAP Gallery til 26 April

http://bnwtheatre.com.au/dancing-naked-in-the-backyard/

Pinball

12 Feb

About twenty minutes into this production I began to cry. They weren’t tears of laughter, though the play is very funny. I wept at the story of injustice.

The play tells the story of Theenie and Axis. They face a society that can hardly acknowledge, let alone accept, their homosexuality. The focus is the custody battle for Theenie’s child, Alabaster.

Pinball

Alison Lyssa’s play was first presented thirty years ago. It’s witty, poetic and rich with allusion. Like some of Dario Fo’s work, it uses farce to explore serious issues, with an emotional impact that’s unexpected, and all the more powerful for that.

Sarah Vickery’s production is set in an almost cartoon-like early 80’s Sydney (except it’s painfully recognizable; I was there.) The production begins with video footage of some of the casually sexist ads of the time. We like to think we’ve moved on.

Despite some opening night hiccups (it being the first night in front of an audience) the cast do well. John Michael Burdon’s presentation of a range of patriarchal figures is highly amusing, but the pick is his all-too-familiar Kurt, Theenie’s bullying brother. Faran Martin gives a beautifully poignant portrayal of his wife; meek, dutiful and utterly lost.

Ali Aitken and Leo Domingan are Theenie’s parents. Their larger-than-Life presentations of smaller-than-Life lives should be (for all of us who live in our lounge rooms) cause for self examination.

Karoline O’Sullivan plays Theenie and Emma Louise her lover Axis, and they’re the emotional centre of the work. O’Sullivan gives a perfectly pitched journey. Louise’s anger tempered by affection is very watchable, and suggestive of a battle we must all face.

In Theenie’s battle, she must also face the law.

I’m fond of misquoting Shelley: “Dramatists are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Being a theatre practitioner myself, I guess I like to do this because it’s all very romantic. And completely self serving. There are REAL legislators, and we elect them, and we must keep them accountable. We MUST make our legal system a just one.

The joy of this play is its wonderfully radical sense that we can shape things. If the play has dated, it’s only because some of us have given up on this ideal. Or, from complacency and privilege, never held it in the first place.

Funny and deeply moving, this is exhilarating theatre. It doesn’t merely say ‘this is what the world is’; it asks ‘what do we want the world to be?’

Veronica Kaye

 

Pinball by Alison Lyssa

at TAP Gallery until 28 Feb

http://www.tapgallery.org.au/pinball-11-28th-february-2014/

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow

15 Dec

‘What is sex for?’ adult Donna asks her father.

‘For making babies!’ he replies; an answer so shockingly and refreshingly obvious that it hides the very strangeness of the question.

‘What is sex for?’

What is it for?

What’s being expressed here is a powerful desire for structure, an overwhelming need for certainty. Donna is asking someone with supposed authority to tell her how the world is organized. She wants her father to say that things are this way, and not that way, or that way, or that….

John Patrick Shanley’s play is rich and thought provoking. His characters speak with a street poetry that overflows with gloriously fresh imagery. The play bristles and sparkles with the contrast between plain speaking and magical attempts to capture the unknowable.

Donna and Tommy are trying to work it out.  Should they be together or not? It would probably be easier if Tommy knew who he was and what he was responsible for. (Another strand of Shanley’s intriguing exploration of certainty.) It would also be easier if Tommy wasn’t sleeping with Donna’s younger sister.

Photo by Tom Bannerman

Photo by Tom Bannerman

Ainslie Clouston and Scott Lee give brilliant performances as the lovers, and Peter McAllum is wonderful as Donna’s father.

Tom Bannerman’s clever set brings the TAP alive.

Director Vashti Pontaks’ production is funny and deeply stimulating. (And not just because of the discussions of sex, though they’re interesting. Shanley’s vision of sex and romantic love is a controversial one. Of course, the play doesn’t really reduce desire to a mere component in biological reproduction. Indeed, to my taste, Shanley actually overstates the power and importance of sex in our lives. And yes, I know, that’s a bold claim to hide away in a set of parentheses.)

But the play is an exhilarating reminder of the danger of reducing anything to something else.

For when we rob Life of its richness, it is we who are poorer.

Veronica Kaye

 

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow by John Patrick Shanley

at TAP Gallery til 21st Dec

http://www.unpathed.com.au/

Triune

28 Nov

The myth I grew up with was that younger people were more radical than older people. As people ‘grew up’, they settled. They collaborated. They became the problem.

As I have grown older myself I’ve come to realise how self-serving this myth is.

More and more I’ve come to feel that many young people are actually conservative. It shows itself most clearly in the extraordinary snobbery of youth. Life (as well as everything else smaller on the scale) must be done a particular way. To use a trivial example, it’s in the small-mindedness of someone who says,  if you’re not performing at Griffin by 30, you’ve failed.

But snobbery can be forgiven. After all,  it’s just fear.

Triune by Brave New Word is an intriguing exploration of our changing expectations of Life.

It’s based on the conceit of one character having a three-way conversation with the younger and older versions of themselves. It asks, how do our values change and how do they stay the same?

I’ll admit I had trouble relating to any of the values held by the character at any stage in his life (too much interest in sex, drugs and travel, and as a result of the chosen structure, too much interest in himself.) But it’s the nature and worth of drama that it presents different world views, and it would be to fall into the very error of parochialism, that I began this article criticizing, to complain that the character on stage was not living Life as I think it should be lived.

Photo by David Hooley

Photo by David Hooley

This piece was devised by the company and there are some wonderful moments. It’s a quick one hour show, and I would’ve loved to see a little more stage time to develop some variations in pace.

The joy of this piece is its assertion that the older character of the triune is actually the wisest. This is a beautiful affirmation of the process of Life, a declaration that it’s not something to be afraid of. It’s a generous spirited acceptance that Life is always, and gloriously, greater than our vision of it.

Veronica Kaye

 

Triune

Brave New Word

TAP Gallery until 7 Dec

http://www.tapgallery.org.au/2013/09/truine-22-october-7-november/