Tag Archives: Toby Schmitz

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



I want to sleep with Tom Stoppard

5 Sep

I don’t, actually. I’d settle for a warm handshake. And a little intellectual conversation.

So I don’t want to sleep with Tom Stoppard. Toby Schmitz on the other hand…..

I saw a preview of this show. But as many artists know, every performance is a preview. The real action happens later, in the audience’s hearts and minds. Perhaps in the foyer afterwards. Perhaps in the car on the way home. Perhaps when we next choose to replace a harsh word with a soft one, or a simplistic explanation with a gentle smile of bafflement.

I want to sleep with Tom Stoppard is replete with knowledge about the biz and that’s part of its charm. It’s well aware of the theatre world’s foibles, and of the many challenges faced by artists.

Schmitz’s script is clever and very engaging. There are some great situational set-ups and plenty of terrific one-liners. (In some circles, the one-liner is denigrated. It’s not part of naturalism’s doctrine;  it allows characters to be as intelligent as the artists who create them. And that’s a dangerous heresy, for how then would artists be special? )

Director Leland Kean has cast well and elicits winning performances from the entire team. I found Caroline Brazier as the actress (sic) particularly poignant.

Now, everyone’s a critic. Except me. I write about what plays make me think. (For the audience every performance is a preview.)

And what did I want to sleep with Tom Stoppard make me think about?

Early in the play the question of the value of theatre is aired. It then remains suspended in the play’s atmosphere, a thin mist but one impossible to avoid, regardless of the personal stories that unfold.

Of course, the question ‘what is the value of theatre?’ contains a category error. It’s like asking ‘what’s the weather pattern of Wednesdays?’ There’s no such pattern.

There is no ‘value of theatre’. There’s nothing so distinct and clear and unassailable that can transcend the flurry and fuss of life. Sometimes, at their weaker moments, artists would like there to be. Then their challenges – and they are many – would be easier to face.

But whatever value there is in theatre is dependent on too many variables, the audience being one. For every performance is a preview……

Veronica Kaye

I want to sleep with Tom Stoppard

Bondi Pavillion til 22nd Sept