• 30 Aug 2013 /  Reviews, THEATRE

    We bloggeroos are a fickle lot – I am getting close to Dame Nellie Melba’s record in the number of times I have declared my imminent/immolate retirement – and then along comes  a play/production that can’t be allowed to pass by without comment. I  have put aside my Library work for a day, at high risk (not really) coz I saw playwright Melissa Bubnic’s Beached the other night – in the last week of its run. And unlike some other reviewers, I thought it was a classy and engaging gig. On the encounter alone I was impressed enuf to feel I had to put fingers to keyboard. Then I read Kevin Jackson’s forensic demolition job. We had different reactions and I felt that would be an interesting subject to explore. We are a happy bunch of bloggers, Sydney onliners – and often refer to each other’s work in a spirit of goodwill and mutual respect. Encouraging readers to go elsewhere if they are interested in a different (even opposing) response. 

    Blake Davies plays 400 kilogram Arthur Arthur

    PR BLURB: “Arty is huge. Ginormous. Morbidly and grossly obese, he’s in need of a gastric bypass to save his life. At over 400 kilos, he’s the world’s fattest teenager. Arty is also being followed by a reality TV crew. Will he lose the kilos needed to have the op? Will he survive to eat another cream puff? Will Louise, his Pathways-to-Work officer, transform his life in ways he never imagined?Unapologetically satiric, Beached is also the moving story of a man imprisoned in his own body. It lays bare the mercenary nature of reality TV, and turns the microscope on society’s insatiable appetite for human misery.Beached won the 2010 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award and was shortlisted for the 2011 Griffin Award. It pairs the razor sharp wit of Melissa Bubnic with the imaginative direction of Shannon Murphy (This Year’s Ashes, Porn.Cake).”

    Playwright: Melissa Bubnic; Director: Shannon Murphy; Set and Costume Designer: James Browne; Lighting and AV Designer: Verity Hampson; Sound and AV Designer: Steve Toulmin; Dramaturg: Kit Brookman; Assistant Director: Liz Arday

     CAST: Gia Carides, Arka Das, Blake Davis & Kate Mulvany

    There’s the PR pitch and a list of the talent involved from Griffin’s own website. Mr Jackson clearly loathed pretty much everything about this play and production, and he goes about saying why (as he always does) with  the eye of a specialist in forensics. I have no doubt he meant every word (he never squibs), and I respect Mr Jackson for that. His review of Beached makes for quite a thrilling read. Just how many ways can one theatregoer hate a work? Go here and see! Different responses should be encouraged: no single reviewer is ever entirely right (except in the minds of the most feeble); and a range of views stimulates a richer public conversation.

    Cast: Blake Davies, Gia Carides, Arka Das & Kate Mulvany

    First up, in reviewing a play, we must remember that each performance is a unique work of art, merely bearing a similarity to the performance the night before, and other evenings yet to come. Then there’s the matter of what each of us brings to the encounter. Meaning: say Mr Jackson and I were there on the same night. It is still possible that our responses would differ.

    There is one other factor which, in this case in particular, I think we should consider. And it’s by chance. Mr Jackson, I believe, was there on Opening Night – usually my spot. And it is he who usually slips a week or so later – as I did this time. I have pushed my Library work to one side for couple more days to make mostly one simple but I think important point. Bubnic’s text is, in my view, unusually sophisticated and calls for much more in terms of staging than your average chatty realist new Australian play. For director Shannon Murphy this is her strong suit. Without bringing attention to herself as some kind of heavenly blessed auteur, she can wrangle quite demanding stagings into shape, going well beyond ensuring the words are enunciated ‘brightly’ by her cast.

    The cast: on set!

    It would be sad to see this play slip past, recorded as underwhelming, just because however many weeks of rehearsal it got, or number of ‘previews’, it was not ready in time for the reviewers on opening night. It’s happened before. Exhibit A – Phil Motherwell’s Dreamers of the Absolute. Phil who? you say. Dreamers what? you ask. My point exactly. Exhibit B: when are we going to see a fully fleshed out revival of Louis Nowra’s Visions which, under-prepared and under-resourced, brought the fledgling Paris Theatre Company to its knees before the company could even stand up. It was NOT the script’s fault! It just asked for more than the director and cast could deliver on time.

    I wouldn’t let off any script/production so lightly. But what I saw a few weeks into the run was a production and performances that had caught up with what the script appeared to call on. It was exciting to see Bubnic’s many unusual authorial demands succeed. How does one present a 400-kilogram character on stage?  How do we present his predicament seriously and keep the work entertaining. In the case of Bubnic the writer – a very quick and witty language surface. Once the cast is across this stuff, as they were by the time I got to the show, one could only admire the deftness fleetingly. If Bondi Beach were a comedy act, our heads were up out of the water on occasions for barely a breath, before we were hit by another zinger. Not all one-liners I might add. Just a writer at work who in her bones knows what options and complexities the stage can offer to tingle those in the audience with working minds. And as mentioned above, no-one better to deliver on this front than director Shannon Murphy. She is a ‘mistress’ technician. Her productions are characterised by their 3D clarity.

    Against all odds – they fall in love!

    Even the casting puts you on notice. These are unlikely choices – in particular your average-kid kinda guy, Blake Davies, as ‘Fatso’ (Arthur Arthur). The gap between him (out of the fat-suit in a fantasy dance sequence) and the character entombed in a costume that looks more like a Big Mac than flesh forces you to fill that space with thought. Something a German dude called Brecht once tried. Similarly Gia Carides as the doting mother is accused of being too broad. I thought it took a special sophistication (and a whole load of experience) to get that Westie Bogan mother so right. Remember Bubnic has packaged her core topic (dependency) in the fancy of the Reality TV show. Carides’ ‘enabling’ mother may not have been there to see in all her complexity on opening night. But I saw what I thought was a very fine performance – in particular how what looked on stage as ‘broad’, at the same time appeared convincing , even subtle and tender on the screen. Similarly, Kate Mulvany, particularly as the Centrelink staffer, brought comedy to the stage and at the same time producing a torn and confused mascara-smeared empathy on the screens.

    I probably should have said this earlier. While the action is set in Arthur’s bedroom (well he is an immoveable mass  - a ‘beached whale’), the TV show comes to him. Encroaching on all sides of Arthur’s place in the world, is a clunky moveable rig of lighting gear. It is this device (conceit?), this staging coup d’etat, that allows actors not called for in a scene to work the live camera feeds. It goes to the place where Benedict Andrews’ cameras in The Maids never even attempted. And what’s really shocking is the fourth and final actor: Arka Das, playing the TV producer is not white. His family origins are likely embedded in the several-thousand-year history of what we like to call the ‘Indian sub-continent’ or London East Enders might call a ‘paki’. There is no reason why he should be ‘white’. The script says nothing about the colour of this character’s skin. No reason for him to be ‘white’ other than is what we are used to. A brilliant example of what Lee Lewis (recently appointed Artistic Director of the Griffin Theatre) meant when she took on Australia’s theatre culture in her Platform Paper “Cross-Racial Casting: Changing the Face of Australia“. Das is as good as anyone else on stage. And the gap that opens up between us and the colour of his skin proffers further terrain for our minds to climb over on a sub-textual mountain range called ‘Being and Otherness’.

    Director Shannon Murphy with playwright Melissa Bubnic

    I am not giving the play or the production ten out of ten. Mainly because it ends with a whimper when it really needs a bang. I would have exploded that human burger and splattered most of the audience in chicken gizzards if I had been Bubnic the writer-terrorist. Sadly, an unrealistic proposition however appealing. But there’s no dodging the bullet: a play is only as good as its ending. It’s oh so easy to set stuff up. But it’s all about how you bring the doggie home. That said, I write this review as an act of encouragement to Bubnic (keep writing!) and Murphy (keep on directing!). I can see why Mr Jackson responded differently. I respect him for that, and find what he wrote interesting. It certainly helped me tease out a lot of what were mere half-thoughts in my own mind – and put those amorphous shapes to the test of argument. As above!!

    Go here – for Chris Hook’s review in the Daily Telegraph. He thinks what I think – just makes it more simple.

    Go here – for a review of the Melbourne production

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The script of Beached is a particularly idiosyncratic ; and if this work was not ready for opening night, it may well have come across as rather so-so.  It could very well have improved with age. What I saw was a very smart script. The way playwright Bubnic found a way to tell her story on stage, I thought, was impressive. A high degree of craft was involved stylistically and structurally. And the surface – the dialogue was smart and glittering with unobtrusive wit – as well as true to its cause. If it had not been smart and glittering on opening night, I can quite understand why a good number of people were under-impressed. And considered the play a bit loopy and ungainly rather than, as I found it, bold and fresh.

    It is of course the responsibility of the director to have the production ready for opening night. But few shows ever are and it’s the adrenalin of a first showing which often masks ill-preparedness. So maybe with the degree of difficulty required, director Shannon Murphy may not have quite got it there on time. Seeing now, weeks in, it’s clearly very well directed. And that Shannon Murphy was precisely the right person to take on this ply’s challenges.

    Secondly: as mentioned in  the official blurb above, Arthur’s life as a fat person  and his upcoming operation is the subject of a reality TV show. So we have two screens monitoring the live action. A device put to much better use than in Benedict Andrews’ The Maids. And (here I utterly disagree with Mr Jackson, I thought Zoe Carides mother was absolutely on the money, and her ‘to camera’ sequences were particularly good.

     

     

    and then as that wears off the feeble bones of the work are laid bare

  • 25 Aug 2013 /  News, THEATRE

     

    There is a meta-narrative under-pinning (over-riding) many theatre blogs which is the wailing and gnashing of teeth about not getting to enough shows, worse still trying to find the time to write about them meaningfully.  The diva, Alison Croggon, who tried the hardest most often suffered the most. Me, to get around the problem, I have mainly just skipped a  lot of shows, ushering in disappointment from fans, and privately great waves of guilt (more so given the generous support I get from all of the main theatre company publicists). We are in a situation now in our city/society where the print media contribution has become so minimal it is almost not worth mentioning. So it is left to the mostly unwaged bloggers, giving of their time to an often take-it-for-granted readership and a feeling-neglected theatre profession who desperately yearn for their work to be acknowledged. We bloggers are a troubled lot and I don’t think even the broader theatre industry quite realises what is currently at stake.

    The New Prince Alfred Park Pool

     I HAVE TAKEN UP AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHY – A FEW IN THIS POST FROM MY LOCAL AREA

    Exhibit A! I  have said it in the past: paintings and novels can lie around for years unacknowledged before being ‘discovered’. But in theatre-land, while an old script may be lying around somewhere, the actual artistic event which this script serves – the production – is gone. Long gone – lost in the mists of time and irretrievable. Without criticism (especially good quality criticism) no meaningful record survives.

    Yuppie breakfast at the new pool – poached eggs and smoked trout!

    Alison Croggon, tearing out her hair on a pre-dawn basis under the weight of demand did her superhuman best for many years before giving up. Lucky for her, her readers, and for those looking back to this time in the future, Ms Croggon got hired pretty much the next day by ABC online. In Sydney we have a group of on-liners (a nicer word for blogger?) who together (as a mob) make a contribution that approaches Croggon’s Melbourne-based achievement. But it mostly comes without financial reward and, in a city as expensive as Sydney, the current arrangement cannot last. What we are seeing at the moment is the publication of a bunch of newbies  (admittedly some very bright newbies) submitting reviews to online publications for no more than a couple of freebie tix. But once they have cut their teeth, are moving on to greener (aka ‘waged’) writing pastures. Employed by a big theatre company or industry body to run its own blog –  basically PR, hardly a balanced view. Or getting into ‘PR’ itself, or ‘marketing’ or ‘philanthropy’. No single reviewer born of the current circumstances is likely to hang around long enough to offer quality product and/or attain a merit-worthy following born of years of experience and a thousand mistakes.

    Pasta Bros birthday party – run by two French guys – Devonshire Street

    As one of the more experienced ‘not-for-profit’ reviewers based in Sydney, I am currently facing my ‘Alison’ moment. The way I have set up my site, I simply cannot sustain it for much longer. In fact it’s kinda over. It’s not just because the pieces themselves take so much time: one of my bigger pieces might take three days. My slow rate of delivery also does not work for the blog reader. When they click on my site after yesterday’s curious reading, they want more. An impossible task for the sole trader. This one anyway.

    Puppy dog sun-baking on the pavement in Crown Street. Not long after this was taken he got hit by a car. A heap of floral tributes were left at his spot. Clearly he had a sizeable fan base – including me.

    Okay I am particularly slow. But that’s because I like to try and get to the ‘bottom of things’. On a good morning after a good show the night before perhaps the ‘top of things’!

    Back lane – even the Quakers make rubbish.

    Here’s my situation and what I plan to do about it. I said a little while back I  had to take some time out to get overdue National Library work done. I haven’t got very far – there’s still a backlog. So this time-problem remains for at least a couple more months. I’ve still got a pile of ‘Timed Summaries’ to type up. And then there’s the backlog of interviews to get stuck into. I am not complaining: I LOVE this work. But I can’t do both  jobs well at the same time, and only one pays the rent.

    I recently put in some window boxes to my 3rd-floor flat – the weather has got them booming.

    Here it is straight up. Writing lengthy, closely argued, time and brain-devouring reviews for free is not how I wish to spend the rest of my writing life. For charity, I’d rather throw a blanket over someone sleeping rough or toss them a few bucks. Yes I do like the intellectual challenge of writing these long pieces, and I wont stop. But I am going to redesign this site so it can carry other forms of writing – exactly what shape that writing takes is still in its foetal stage. No doubt I will draw on the best suppositories of knowledge I can access: including my famously unreliable memory. Some circumstances have changed which suggest I can make better use of  this web-site. Plus these photos are a bit of a hint. Also the ones I have put up on Facebook about growing up in New Guinea.

    Dude with coffee and laptop at Ampersand – the cafe adjacent to the Clover’s Surry Hills library

    Between 1983 and the launch of this site a few years back, I wrote a lot for various high-life and low-life print media outlets: theatre reviews, other features and interviews, and think-pieces relating to theatre and theatre practice. And on other topics ranging from travel to architecture, to the latest fashion in eyewear. I have edited parts of, and whole magazines. I have lectured at a couple of universities. My flat contains mostly a collection of boxes stuffed with cuttings and publications begging to be put into some form  of order. A reason to bother has recently come my way. 

    My bachelor pad with flowers.

    Some of you know, as of July 2013, my website has been included in the National Library’s online cyber collection – called Pandora  - and will be updated once or twice a year. In a lightbulb moment, after such flattering news, I realised this presents me a reason to bother sorting through my clippings. And posting them in an archive folder linked this site. So, if I am not posting something new, I can put up something from the past. Possibly with some notes added now on how I think the piece reads now, however many years later. 

    ‘Skipping Girl’ – Wilson Street Redfern. On the way to Carriageworks.

    How am I going to do it? Probably start a whole new site, differently formatted and designed – to hold more than one single thread. I have got as far as purchasing the domain name – jameswaites.com.au. To do this I need help. And that is available to me in November when my ex Brett (who helped in setting up this site from his base in faraway Milan) has some time to help out. I will move across the content on this site – jameswaites.com – and start all over again. It should be lot easier than redesigning this site, especially since it’s so intertwined with ilatech.org (the ‘patch’ this site after being ‘Trojan-Horsed’ by a video-store in China a couple of years back). It was a life-saving measure at the time, thank  you Larry; but it also adds an unnecessary layer of complexity.Especially for people searching.

    Nitro on the left and the white one is Amos – my flatmates. They look after me as well as each other. It’s a happy household!

    I hope to spread my wings a bit on the new site – meaning not just stick to big theatre items or even gross und klein theatre items. There is other stuff I want to write about. It’s like this, I have got to a point in my own personal time-line where there are more years gone than yet to come. I promised myself I would try to live an interesting life, even if that meant never earning much money. Admittedly, I was from an early age drawn to the life and characters inhabiting the ‘other side of the tracks’. But then how many other people can say they have dined alone, on more than one occasion, with reclusive novelist Patrick White and his boyfriend Emanuel Lascaris.

    Redfern Station – returning from Carriageworks

    The deal with the devil was that this might give me something interesting to write about . ‘So where is that writing?’ the devil laughs.

    Busker outside State Theatre – 2013 Sydney Film Festival

    And now another nudge. If you are still with me (lolling half-asleep in James’s very own Garden of Olives/Eden), you may well prefer to know (as opposed to not know) the latest. And it is to put to rest any unnecessary concern or confusion down the track that I want you to know. I would keep it quiet, but it’s going to get out and so I want to make my situation clear. Everyone knows I have a thick medical file. So much so I have for a long time expected that if I wrote about some of what I have encountered in my years on this planet, it would be difficult to get around saying something about illness and injury, about recovery and well-being.

    Wilson Street – also on the way to Carriageworks.

    After a several year-long battle to get over what I got to call ‘the incident on the train’ (which took a lot longer than  expected), I enjoyed last summer almost daily at Coogee Beach, in the water, in  union with my million-year-old chromosomal origins. Well into autumn, it just got more beautiful and more healing as the early days of global warming kicked in. I was so delighted with my progress I made the mistake of declaring on the Facebook (aka ‘the Illustrated Buble‘) that I was  healed. At last I’d got my life back! We had a warm winter. Then, at some point a few weeks, a bout of cold windy wet weather set in. And, to my utter shock and dismay, the straw-man that is little me got blown down – again. Back to the chronic pain – but more of it and worse. How was I going to rebuild the mental detachment I had previously discovered the hard way was vital to cope now I had brought the defences down. Pain and suffering you learn are two very different things.

    Victoria Park – adjacent to Sydney University

    So what a smack  across the face with God’s handbag it was when I was this time diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Don’t freak out just yet – there is quite a bit of  silver lining.

    Now I know why so many things have been going wrong for me, and  hitherto not made sense – even the difficulty of getting over the train thing. A person can live with this neural disease for quite some time before it starts to manifest in  the more obvious symtoms of trembling hands and/or a stutter and/or a stooped walk and/or forgetfulness. Where was I? Oh yes – this is my message and why I am outing myself. It’s like coming out Gay or left-handed to one’s folks. What I want you all to know, medical advances being what they are these days, is  that the medication I am on makes me feel great. Certainly better than I have for a long time. I can’t use chopsticks, my handwriting is akin to that of a five-year-olds, I clap with one hand while the left one just waits to be smacked (so no I don’t hate your show). But also I feel good in myself. The pain disorder has retreated once again. And as of this last week I am back to doing a few, very modest, yoga postures, and as of yesterday back in the water. This time, at last, Clover’s Piece de Resistance – the Prince Alfred Park swimming pool (see top photo). Just a bit of walking in the deep water and then a few modest laps. But gosh given the early spring weather we are currently and as a Piscean – how truly aqueous and astrological. And a fresh opportunity closer to home to stay as fit and mobile as I can for as long as I can.

    Homeless man – Taylor Square. I found him lying lost in his dream in the sun on a very hot day. I managed to wake him up and help him relocate to this shadier spot. He even trusted me with holding his bottle.

    Meanwhile I am grateful for the diagnosis, and the forewarning it brings. Thus I can sort out my priorities and get on with them (hence much of the above). One of two things is going to happen. 1. Medical science is advancing at such a rate, by the time I would otherwise be getting into trouble, a magic bullet may exist. That’s the medical gossip anyway. They are already inserting mirror-balls and even Priscilla buses into the brains of some sufferers further down the track than me. If not, well we all have to end our time on this planet one way or the other – and  the way is rarely of our own choosing.

    Busker – Devonshire Street tunnel

    My main point is this (said KRudd poking his finger through the TV and into my face): what I want you all to know is that my well-being is going to improve for a period of time before it’s starts getting worse. How long – who knows. No one can answer that – not even Godot. It is way too soon for anyone, even me, to start getting upset. I am outing myself here also because, having informed a few intimates, most of them confessed they had noticed odd signs but did not know how to ask or what to say, and were ‘very worried’ about me. So if you’ve seen me bent and slow struggling in the street against the wind (like some drag Miss Docker), no I am not jazzed-up to the hilt on methadone or absinthe or gone quietly mad or gripped by Abbott-fever. I am fine and right now, a month into the right medication, getting better everyday. Want to know more? Google Michael J Fox Foundation.

    Bachelor cooking – inspired by watching too many episodes of My Kitchen Rules!

    Meanwhile from me: here’s a bunch of haiku-sized responses to some of the shows I have recently seen. Eamon Flack did a great job with the massive Angels in America - with the help of a perfect cast including a super-spectacular Robyn Nevin in several Meryl Streep roles. Persona also at Belvoir was very interesting – certainly a refreshing change in terms of tone and timbre to what’s currently fashionable. At STC, a truly fun-filled brain-fracked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead with an all-star cast, niftily directed by Simon Phillips (welcome to Sydney – do come back). And Storm Boy- my apologies I took my new medication at the wrong time and I pretty much woke up at the curtain call. There was kid hanging onto a dead bird? What prefaced that situation I am not sure. But it must have been good since one of my besties – who collects children’s books – was sobbing as she exited the theatre.

    My latest bit of ‘found’ furniture – off the street!

    See you soon in a foyer near you. If not here sooner – then definitely around November sometime. I may not be able to resist commenting on the Simon Stone Hamlet starring Mr Toby Schmitz up the street from me at Belvoir! It’s being promoted as a ‘cure-all’!! Could be just what I am looking for!! ‘Let’s keep on dancing and playing the tune.’

     

  • 11 Jul 2013 /  News, Reviews, THEATRE

    Solange (Isabelle Huppert) on screen & sister Claire (Cate Blanchett) with back to audience.

    ALL PHOTOS BY LISA TOMASETTI

    Hello friends. I was asked if I would write a review of The Maids for the Australian Book Review. I may have the chance contribute an occasional few over the year to this a nicely respectable and somewhat upmarket site. It was not easy to come to an apt response to this latest imaginative and edgy production by Benedict Andrews, given the limited word count (800 words) – a discipline from which I had been liberated (for better or worse) since I launched this mostly theatre review blog. Here I am, for ABR, responding to a readership possibly quite different to my blog-reader regulars. No mucking around, I played my evaluative role very straight – ie: no wandering off topic. NO slacker style. I over-ran my word limit so there were a few cuts made - judicious I thought. A couple of bloopers (my fault for not properly checking the proof) have made their way through to the print version, but corrected here for this online version:  so please go to this link to read my

    The Maids review for ABR.

    I put quite a bit of thinking into it and finding the right words. Please note -just as Claire and Solange alternate identities as well roles. so do I . I have fixed the add-on pars here (and photos) .There are a couple of occasions in the ABR when I confuse Blanchett’s Claire with Huppert’s Solange. Just mentioned are the roles each plays. While we are at it, I want to post a link to Lloyd Bradford Syke’s review  at Crikey online. Not only does he get the casting right and agrees with me on several points. But he adds something missing from my review which has been weighing on my conscience since I posted it. For all our reservations about the production (and Syke is tougher than me on director Benedict Andrews), he gives over some paragraphs to the acting  - the excellent, verging on brilliant performances by all three actors: Cate Blanchett, Isobel Huppert and Elizabeth Debicki. To come in so hard on some aspects of the production and not acknowledge its areas of achievement is both insulting to such high-calibre actors and poor criticism (if that’s how writing about this work online can fairly be described). So I encourage you to go to Syke’s review – not just for the ‘negative’ points we agree on, but also take a look at his paragraphs on acting – which with, in hindsight I whole-heartedly concur. When a friend in the profession kindly pointed out my mixing  up of names, he reminded that my blog has one eye on the historical record. That’s true, so a good reason to get the casting right. But also fill in the yawning gap: regarding references to the performances. In whatever circumstances wee were lucky to have three such fine actors all on stage in Sydney together.

    Huppert & Blanchett – conspiring sisters deep in role play

    One paragraph I cut from the ABR review before I presented it to them, for want of space had to do with  the casting. Say if you are stuck with the inevitability of Cate Blanchett, Isabelle  Huppert and newcomer Elizabeth Debicki. We have a situation here on stage that many have commented on: the ‘maids’ did not look anything like sisters (Blanchett and Huppert), and further credibility is diminished in the fact that we have one sister (Blanchett) speaking Australian. And the other (Huppert) not only in English with a heavy french accent, but also so fast, many of her lines were lost – on the opening night audience at least. We also have a beautiful blonde (Blanchett) and Huppert with dark hair and rather plain looking (I don’t quite know how that is achieved given Huppert is one of France’s more visually spell-binding screen actresses?)

    That we have a problem  - and a suitable solution – arrives when young Elizabeth Debicki flaunts in midway through the action. For a newcomer, up against two superstars it’s dazzling to watch her maintain total power. Blonde and beautiful and with  an Aussie accent I think ‘Debicki could easily be Blanchett’s sister’. If six inches taller.

    Debbicki (as Madame) makes her entrance.

    Debicki (as Madame) makes her ‘classy’ entrance

    So here was my thought. Why wouldn’t you cast Debicki and Blanchett as the sisters. And Huppert as Madame. She’s on stage for less time, but you could hardly say the role of Madame is less significant. More importantly, her different’ look’ would make more sense. More so her French accent, which could be genuine or ‘fake’ (put-on to delineate superiority), would transform itself into a very big positive.

    Debicki (Madame) & Blanchett (Claire) could easily be sisters.

    That’s all for now. I hope you do go read my review for ABR link above. And can I say in passing. Just as this posting is way over due, so is my review of Angels In America – which in a single word is ‘fabulous’. Want more? ‘Perfectly cast’ and ‘very well directed’ by Eamon Flack.

    “Drowning’ in work!

    Why the delays? My National Library work at the moment – the typing part – is taking up pretty much all my time. As my source of income (and fascinating work it is) I am way overdue with a pile of stuff. Some good news (I hope), quite soon my website is going to be redesigned with more options for me as post host and for you as reader. More stuff, a wider range of subject areas,  more often, in various categories and formats. So don’t give up on me just now. Keep an eye out – this site will probably flip over to its new look in about a month. That’s the plan – will report in on progress here and on FBook.

     

     

     

  • 09 Jun 2013 /  Reviews, THEATRE

     

    John Bell in full command!

    As every mood or odd behaviour is given a name (diagnosis) these days and a pill to match, there must surely be something coming down the line for the panic and guilt of theatre (reviewers) onliners who just cannot keep up with the number of shows worth substantial comment. There are about six shows I’ve seen of late I would like to write about but will never get to. And a pair of big ones in the writing pipeline: Angels In America at Belvoir which I have seen and is very good; and The Maids at the STC which I saw last night. Also good in a mightily different way.

    The modern mess-of-a-society set – designed by Stephen Curtis.

    But to my purpose. No matter what burdens and excitements an online reviewer might face, his or her world simply has to stop to make way for the very rare moments when greatness is witnessed. Especially on this site, which concentrates on value (in the long and short term) rather than a quick thumbs up or thumbs formula. Consequently, I have a duty to and the honour of acknowledging John Bell’s extraordinary rendition of Falstaff in the recent Bell Shakespeare production of Henry IV. It’s a condensed version of Part One and Part Two (separate plays) and for modern audiences it’s a good idea and in this version works well. The production as a whole is good and lively in the way one might expect of a production John Bell also directs, with support in detail from Sport For Jove’s Damian Ryan. I’ve rarely loved Bell’s directing as much as his  best performances. And when it comes to acting he has two speeds: 1. respectable and 2. mind-blowingly brilliant. Of the latter that I have seen that immediately come to mind are his original Arturo Ui, his Cyrano, his Kosky Lear, Astrov in Mellor’s Uncle Vanya in the dying days of Nimrod, Prospero on Armfield’s Tempest. Oh and a gloomy, abrupt, daunting Sebryakov in Tamas Ascher’s recent STC production of Uncle Vanya, with its all-star cast and overseas tour.

    John Bell as Richard III (Bell Shakespeare Company).

    This Falstaff has received little fanfare – maybe I have not been paying attention. In the fair world it should be the talk of the town. In earlier decades it would have been.. Even I only heard about this career high point in time to catch the last performance. It is a dark broody, funny exasperating, physically ruined but mentally superior,  perfectly articulated Falstaff. You only have to look at a few photos of other attempts to pick up the Santa-Clause belly-wobbling ho-ho jollity favoured by tradition. Bell knows his Shakespeare to his bones: not just the works themselves, but he has a deep intuitive feel for the sensibility, intent, mood and mind of the greatest ever of playwrights.

    Falstaff is traditionally played as a bloated piece of fun – and that’s just too simplistic. He is vital to our understanding of Hal’s journey from boy to man, prince to king. Bell sets himself apart from above-mentioned theatre-lite cliche. He knows that to truly pull off the study of Hal’s shift from youthful self-indulgence to sobriety and respect (now king) for the the traditions he previously mocked, Shakespeare relies on Falstaff crucially as  mirror and a foil. Casting out of court his great fun-buddy, cohort, and father substitute, Henry V does so resoundingly in very few words at the coronation, is one of the most important scenes in he play. (Images above include some from productions of Verdi’s opera and famous paintings, but they all reinforce the point  - that Falstaff is too often portrayed as Santa Claus).

    In battle – for what?

    In this version, Falstaff’s downfall is as cutting as politics gets. And we feel its brutality because of the very complex, heartfelt, beloved and flawed Falstaff Bell has created. Pathos, bathos, hilarity, dignity, as gross as it is elegantly drawn.

    Fallen from a great height.

    As is the case of many a Bell Shakespeare production, and these days I dont see them all, the casting is uneven – and it shows in the performances. I don’t like being unkind to young actors who may yet  blossom, but Matthew Moore barely makes a mark as Hal.  It’s good but lacking in largesse. So sadly, much of what Bell delivers falls flat due to lack of reception. That’s a pity and may be why more has not been said/written about Bell’s performance. I don’t mean to pick on Moore, it’s not his fault. But you have to ask where is the fire in thee belly. Who can forget Joel Edgerton in the part for Bell Shakespeare (both Henry IV plays in full)? Most of the younger actors in this production produce underwhelming results, More senior actors meet standards commensurate with their age and experience. And as a whole, the evening is pretty good.

    Matthew Moore as Hal – a good effort if not quite rousing enough. In the moment here…

    This isn’t a full review, it’s just a chance taken to put on the record a performance by John Bell at his greatest. I feel grateful to have seen it. and it will stay with me among other treasure in my small chest of great theatre encounters.

    Dressing room honours for the great John Bell.

    Meanwhile here’s to the great master John Bell. A big tick for bringing to life yet another of theatre-writing’s great characters!

    For more on John Bell’s acting career go to this essay by Louis Nowra published in The Monthly in 2011 – it’s a very discerning evaluation.

     

  • 22 May 2013 /  Reviews, THEATRE

     

    Sarah Pierse and Robert Menzies

    ALL PHOTOS BY LISA TOMASETTI

    Fury, currently playing at the STC Wharf One is both an impressive achievement and an interesting slap across the face for me – or at least someone I used to be. On the former – the achievement, read more below. But let’s just set this up. As part of my journey as a reviewer, over many years now, I have probably spent as much time lying on the couch looking for answers from the ceiling, as I have spent on seeing shows or writing about them. I have built into me now a set of ‘foundations’ and ‘principles’ from which emerges my reading of any new production. It’s my own self-help guide constructed mostly out of trying to rectify mistakes. Near the top of the list: early on I realised that the call for objectivity from a critic was utter bunkum. The more realistic path, wherever possible, was to attempt to show your hand. Never to assume that one’s owns views are superior, but that in explaining how one came to these conclusions one might create some interesting reading. 

    This should mean that even a reader who disagrees with what you have to say can come away from your review stimulated by that experience. You may move some to a position closer to your own, or you may not. That is not the point. The point is that reviewing is a highly ‘subjective’ act. The question is not ‘what’ but ‘why’: why do we prefer one production-script-performance over another? It is in part a delusional exercise because one can never really know. For example: what is taste and its role in one’s critical tool kit? Or sensibility? Or what we had for dinner before the show? Hence the hours on the couch. In the very least we must attempt to reman alert, keep an eye out for our blind spots even though we will never come to know all of them. 

    Joanna Murray-Smith’s Fury takes me to the heart of one of my most frequently exposed built-in blind spots. From my earliest writing I have had little interest in the problems of the ‘well-off’. To the point where it took Mozart to convince me open my mind to the work of other art and artists supported by royal courts across Europe in that time. To this extent I fit into the generational mould of the parents in Murray-Smith’s Fury. Okay, I have not done quite as well as they have financially over the ensuing decades. But back in my university days I was similarly influenced by the view that ‘direct action’ was needed and possibly justifiable to bring down the ‘establishment’. It was a global movement, most intensely embodied in groups like Italy’s Red Brigade and Germany’s spin-off, the Baader-Meinhof group. It was the birth of modern ‘terrorism’: it drove the Black Panther movement in the USA and the IRA in Ireland. Direct action rarely went to such extremes in Australia (although there was the ‘Hilton Bombing’ in Sydney).

    I think I baulked sat the idea of bystanders as ‘collateral damage. But I do remember sitting around a table of university comrades smoking marijuana ($30 an ounce back then) and supping red wine from a flagon, discussing who we might blow up if we were terrorists. My suggestion, a young woman of roughly our age, who reeked of privilege – otherwise sinless  apart from being her father’s daughter. In 2013 she is now Australia’s richest woman/person (worth over 20 billion dollars – four times wealthier then her closest competitor Frank Lowy). How good was that for a pick, way back then, if you were out to shape the course of history. Or simply eliminate a creepy person from her position of influence in today’s Australia. On the up side, had I ‘enacted’, we may never have enjoyed the Dallas-like shenanigans that followed the employment (initially hired by Gina) of a Filipina maid named Rose (or the musical starring Paul Capsis that begs to be written by someone – one day I hope).

    PS: to this day I say jokingly (perhaps not jokingly): ‘If I wasn’t a pacifist I would be a terrorist.’

    Okay money can’t buy happiness in its entirety, but it can minimise a lot of the pain poorer people are born to suffer. Fury is a play about problems in a well-off family. I have become less strident with the years (which is common) and I’ve known for some time that the life of any type or class of person can rightly merit the attention of a playwright. And many rich people do a lot of good with their money. And I am sorry I had not yet come to that view in my early days as a reviewer in my 20s when I savaged so much presented in Richard Wherrett’s era as artistic director of the STC. That said, I may still come to the same evaluations now. Because it’s not that so many of these plays (by David Williamson and others) were about a well-off class people, but that the characters in these stories in the end were so often let off the hook. Infidelities to one side, the institution of marriage upheld, and the family returned to the dining table ready to break bread and enjoy one of father’s better wines from his cellar. As audience members we had been teased and mildly provoked. Acknowledging our imperfections, we drove home to our lives unchanged, our foibles more-or-less ‘endorsed’. Resolutions utterly at odds with the brutal endings being produced by the best filmmakers from Germany and France and Italy at the time: Schlondorff”s version of Heinrich Boll’s novel The Lost Honour of Katerina Bloom a favourite for me on the topic of the ‘down’ side of terrorism. The more recent Spanish film El Lobo, ‘The Wolf’, based on a true 1970s story also captures the gripping taste of the terror. 

    Sarah Pierse 

    Joanna Murray does NOT let her family off the hook in Fury. She presents good lovely educated tasteful people – and they are all those things. But one can never presume seemingly good people have led entirely good lives. Her study does not lack  compassion but nor does it wimp out.

    I won’t go into the plot (it’s not for spoiling – with its artfully constructed narrative line). But let’s just say Mum and Dad are shocked to discover their perfectly brought-up son has done something wrong. Utterly, and seemingly inexplicably, at odds with everything the family believes in and, up until now, presumably these values have been absorbed by their son while growing up? The parents are not impressed and they let it be known. No matter how drunk, influenced by others, or just plain silly a mood he was in – there was no excuse. Emotionally the boy is shunned. Meanwhile the parents look elsewhere for others to blame.

    Well then – as we find out. How about what Mum did when she was about the same age? When all that comes out, Dad comforts his wife. ‘They were different times.’ ‘That was part of the era.’ In the end this unfair protection racket put up against the sins of the son in favour off the mother’s fails to hold up. No walking away from the ending of Fury free and easy. There were loud painful gasps of what felt like self-identification in the withering closing scenes of the play. I certainly felt them in my stomach. This is a play worthy of high praise, not only for taking on the bourgeois mould and unpacking it. But to do so, it needed the skill of a surgeon. I gather director Andrew Upton did encourage Murray-Smith to trim off a little of the play’s flesh before opening. If so, it was a job well done because the passage of the play remains taut, and the bones that hold it together at a structural level are there for us to see. For playwriting craft, it is as close to Ibsen as I have encountered in a long time. In preparation for something I have to say at the end, let’s also remember director Andrew Upton might be new to directing, but his metier is playwriting; and and more often than not in the area of script doctoring – which to me includes his translations into English of, now, a good number of other language classics. I have not seen a lot of Joanna Murray-Smith’s work, and of that I have seen I was aware that I had to take into account my built-in prejudice against plays about the sufferings of the well off. That acknowledged, I still remained ‘iffy’ about some of her work. Quite clearly not this time. This is the world she knows, was brought up in – and it’s mostly best for writers stay as close to that as they can. But taking the bourgeois model, placing it there up on stage before us, and then exquisitely dismantling it, scene by scene, makes this not only a great play. But a breakthrough moment for Murray-Smith.

    Harry Greenwood, Geraldine Hakewill, Sarah Peirse and Robert Menzies

    I could say a lot more about  Fury, but I have already spent days in trying to get right the little that is here. I am presuming readers here on my site seek out other opinions as well. Please go elsewhere for more detail and likely different. So just a few other brief – not unimportant – acknowledgements. Andrew Upton does a fantastic job directing this play. Everyone knows I have got a bit sick of the recent fashion for multi-skilling. And as a writer and translater he did not have enough directing experience to pull off directing Bulgakov’e large-scale The White Guard, a play he had translated for the National in London, where in the hands of a more experienced director it was well received. Fury is a better choice. The cast is smaller, the drama is – while at times explosive – well contained. It’s in Wharf One not the huge Sydney Theatre across the road. And most importantly, it’s a play that requires a director with the thinking power to match that of Joanna Murray-Smith. What this play has to offer its audiences rings out loud and clear, nothing messy, under-realised or over-stated.  I feel a huge personal relief to put those words into print, because Andrew Upton has been on the receiving end of some tough words from me. To his credit, he has remained professionally respectful, indeed welcoming and cheery when our paths have crossed. Here is a job by Upton very well done.

    One last comment. It’s a good cast all round, but one particular performance stands out. Of course one can never go past the work of Robert Menzies, who plays the father. But it is the performance of Sarah Peirse I want to privilege. New Zealand born and bred, she is well known there for her  work. I first encountered Peirse in Neil Armfield’s production of David Hare’s Gethsemane – where she certainly caught my eye – ‘classy’ I thought. Her next Sydney encounter, also at Belvoir, was in the dreadful Business. That production offered her nothing to work with and I would not be surprised if it was an experience she would rather forget. Now here, in Fury, she is offered a fabulous role and it plays to her strengths. Peirse, whatever else she has in her bag of tricks, appears naturally sophisticated, stylish, worldly-wise and in full command of her body as an instrument. There are little things she does with her hands and her head, and the way she begins a sentence which in a less-skilled actress might appear as ‘ticks’. But in Pierse, guided by years of experience, she knows not to rely on her best moves to keep her afloat, but more judiciously picks the moments when we realise only Sarah Pierse can get away with that (something similar could be said of Judy Davis at times). I know I might have been going a bit actress crazy of late. Most recently putting Helen Thomson up on a pedestal. For credibility’s sake, let’s call that the pedestal for ‘a young actress’. So for Sarah Pierse we need another pedestal – for an actress ‘at the height of her powers’.

    Sarah Pierse and Geraldine Hakewell

    As you can tell, I had a good time at Fury. I was fully engaged as well as impressed. And I loved how it forced me back into the cauldron of my working principles – reminding me that judgement is always driven by hidden forces. We can never know them all, but  we must do our best as critics – to continually ask not ‘what’ so much as ‘why’. The STC is having a great year. It’s been a long time coming, but not for want of effort. Looking ahead, I would be very surprised if there is not going to be more good stuff for us from the STC this year.

    The ‘something I have to say’ referred to near the top has to do with the editing of Tom Holloway’s Forget Me Not. It’s a play and production that merits a fulsome response. Separately and together, both have very many virtues. I am a big Tom Holloway fan. And I know it’s not fair to leave a comment like this hanging. Where is the ‘why’? But I did wonder about the trimming of that script – was too much taken out? Unlike the excellent editing of Fury, it felt like bits of Forget  Me Not were missing. And I know it was trimmed at some point in the development process. My feeling was that the gifted Colin Moody was not given enough material to work with – whether they were cuts from his own role or that of his long lost mother. I don’t know when I will get to that play/production – I may not – but if I can I will.

     

  • 18 Apr 2013 /  News

    Hi kids,

    this is a note to say I will be off this site for a little while as I have to catch up with some National Library work (and earn some money).

    But there is good news. I am pretty sure I haven’t said anything about this before. A different unit (I work in Oral History) at the National Library called Pandora holds a collection of cyber works (writings on the internet). They have requested if they can include my website in their cyber collection. They sweep the internet annually to pick up new work and the first time for me will be June 2013.

    The National Library of Australia

    That’s all very nice and good. But it also offers me another opportunity. It will be complicated initially and arduous – and I will need to find the right tech savvy people to help me do this. But what Pandora offers is a chance to transform the best of my clippings into a form that can be posted on my website in a new folder called something like Archives.  In time, what survives barely now as a pile of oddly shaped bits of rotting paper can be turned into a body of work online. This is a big deal for me. Not only is my current work kept foRever in a safe and respected institution, I can now also  do something with my earlier scribbles.

    Despite the hard work this involves (and not sure how it will be done), this transforms posting on my website from a chore to a great opportunity: a whole lot of my work from over the years into one place. While Pandora will only collect annually, once I get the technology sorted and find the right geek/s to help me, I will be able to post some of my early work in those quiet weeks where I have nothing new to post. A blog is a hungry animal – people expect more and fast and short. I haven’t succumbed to that formula. I don’t gives marks out of ten and I rarely help sell tickets, I don’t rush and I use as mant=y words as I feel like. What I am trying to do with this site as well asthee odd interesting read, is give inspiration to the emerging generation – connecting them where I can with the past, and second leave a record that will be of use to readers in decades down the track. Once this new project is up and running, you will get more posts to read more often. Furthermore I can comment on  these old pieces  - what I  think of them now. Any context I might be able to add. Did I get something wrong, place the post in some contcxt.

    That’s it for now. A review will get posted if something important comes up. But meanwhile for a few weeks I better get on with typing up my Oral History Unit Timed Summaries. The hard part of the job.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • 14 Apr 2013 /  Reviews, THEATRE

    Not since the 2009 Sydney Festival presented Tamas Ascher’s Ivanov (with his Budapest-based ensemble company Katona József Theatre) has this city seen such a meticulously honed comedy. Though at least two locals works should be respected in this context. John Bell’s  2007 two-man version of The Government Inspector starring William Zappa and Darren Gilshenan, and Richard Cottrell’s 2009 production for the Sydney Theatre Company of  Tom Stoppard’s Travesties with a stellar cast including Toby Schmitz, Jonathan Biggins, Blazey Best, Rebecca Massey, and again William Zappa.

    Owain Arthur

    ALL PHOTOS BY LISA TOMASETTI

    One Man Two Guvnors is a bold (indeed brilliant) reworking by Richard Bean of the plot of Carlo Goldoni’s 1743 Commedia dell’Arte masterpiece, Servant of Two Masters. When I say reworking, I mean the elaborate comedy featuring pace, identity confusion, sight gags, witty double entendres, audience interaction and stereotypical characters are maintained. The difference here is re-setting almost the same story in the ‘swingin’ 1960′s seaside resort town of Brighton. The ‘stereotypical’ characters, in this version are drawn from a long British comic tradition going as far back as the Restoration, especially the  Carry On movie series, and more recently On the Buses, George and Mildred, Fawlty Towers, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and Are You Being Served. There is even a nod and a wink to this tradition (along with other Stoppardian cultural plundring) in Travesties. No other country produces anything else like it, with Australia specialising in a more laconic self-deprecating style. And America’s love of laughing at other people, especially those less ‘advanced’ (The Gods Must Be Crazy II on tele last night).

    Amy Booth-Steel, Colin Mace and Owain Arthur

    I am not going to go on at length about this production but to simply say it  is dazzlingly perfect. With triple the challenge of keeping us engaged because, unlike Ivanov, it is almost entirely devoid of ‘serious’ content – what we might call a ‘serious  theme’. We are here to be drawn into a world fancy and fantasy and kept there to the very end by means of consummate technical execution. The production, I should say up early, was created/directed by the National Theatre’s top honcho Nicholas Hytner with the assistance of Physical Comedy Director, Cal McCrystal.

    Edward Bennett and Mark Jackson

    I can praise the technical accomplishment with confidence  because I saw a screening of a live performance of the National’s original production some time late last year in the same Sydney Theatre. So this time I could sit back and see how all the so many pieces of this Swiss clock were put together. To my delight, a couple of the biggest gags I had forgotten and swooped on me in seagull chip-stealing surprise.On the subject of technique. I can’t say how often we miss the mark in doing plays like this in this country. To give us our due, no other nation in the world would be likely to succeed with an attempt at Dimboola or The Hills Family Show. We do ‘messy’ very well. But ‘messy’ is death to this genre of British entertainment.

    Joshua Lacey, Owain Arthur and Edward Bennett

    Kellie Shirley and Rosie Wyatt

    I recommend this production to anyone who wants a good time. But more so to anyone in the business who thinks one day they may direct or act in a British comedy of this sort. Or even to anyone who has an interest in witnessing an example of theatre-making to perfection. I love the idea that a work for the stage can be so technically impressive, albeit steeped in tradition, entirely engage and need not carry a ‘message’. That low art can be elevated, through sheer execution, to high art. I know the tickets are not cheap, but if you are an emerging theatre maker I urge you to find a way to a performance  if you can. It’s like seeing, just once, Nureyev dance or Sutherland sing. That may be a slight exaggeration – or to might not. It depends to what extent you read this work to be a celebration of a special and very demanding theatrical genre. Like Butoh.

    Amy Booth-Steel

    Another lovely touch are the music interludes, mostly a look-a-like 60s pop band – but some of the actors get a chance at the microphone as well.

    Edward Bennett

    For the record the star of the show is Owain Arthur, in perfect collusion with Edward Bennett, Amy Booth-Steel, Sabrina Carter, Peter Caulfield, Nick Cavaliere, Alicia Davies, Richie Hart, Mark Jackson, Colin Mace, Oliver Seymour Marsh, Mark Monero, Alan Pearson, Kellie Shirley, Seun Shote, Billy Stookes, Philip Murray Warson, Russell Wilcox, Leon Williams, Matthew Woodyatt, Rosie Wyatt. This revival has been spiffily redirected by Adam Penford. The team: Designer – Mark Thompson. Lighting Designer – Mark Henderson. Music (including songs) – Grant Olding. Sound Designer – Paul Arditti. Fight Director – Kate Waters.

    Owain Arthur with full cast

    Another feature of this production I want to mention is its sustainability. It’s played at the National on the South Bank, on the West End, Broadway, and even in Adelaide before arriving in Sydney. It has more stops to go including Melbourne next. The work is hugely demanding physically, especially for Owain Arthur who is rarely off stage, and for most part at full speed and high tilt. Yet what I saw here in Sydney earlier this week was as fresh and alive as the version I saw in the screen from London many months ago. Pretty much every ‘improvised moment’ is pre-set.  How the cast keep up this illusion deserves a gold medal. No slumming it for the colonials.

  • 03 Apr 2013 /  OPERA, Reviews

     

     

    Opening Night – Photo by James Morgan

    When I read Kevin Jackson’s review of Carmen on the Water I thought to myself: what else is there to say? I agree with all his major points, and cannot improve on his translation of those thoughts into words on the page. What he regards as good and important is good and important to me too. Quibbles over some minor matters in the middle about electronic sound –  I hold a different view. As to his views on the varying vocal strengths and weaknesses, especially among some of the lead men, I probably agree. But I decline to go there officially (as have mentioned before) for lack the  art-of-aural expertise. Above all else, it is Mr Jackson’s ravishing praise for Gale Edwards as a director that I whole-heartedly support. And about which I want to say a bit more at the end. In the main – re:  Edwards and her core design team – and the significance of their achievement in taking on this work in this particular way. It’s not against anything Mr Jackson has to say. It’s just that here I take a different tack from Mr Jackson, my own little bit. But I believe my comments will be make more sense after you have had a good read of his review.

    Carmen costume design by Julie Lynch.

    Carmen costume design by Julie Lynch.

    Apart from that, my only contribution to this re-posted post is decorative. The repressed magazine designer in me – also a person who simply loves good pictures –  has added some images of the show in the modest belief they can capture information that cannot always be stuck to the page in words. So here is Mr Jackson’s review with images added by me.

    Carmen

    Posted: 30 Mar 2013 12:52 AM PDT

    Choreography by Kelley Abbey

    Opera Australia presents Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, CARMEN by Georges Bizet.

    All costumes designed by Julie Lynch

    Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH) presents its second season, following on from last year’s LA TRAVIATA, with Gale Edwards’ spectacular production of CARMEN by Georges Bizet (1875).

    In the open balmy air of a late Sydney summer, on a stage suspended over the Sydney Harbour foreshore, at the site of the colony’s first farm: Farm Cove (how startled would the ghosts of that first settlement and the indigenous population be tonight?) surrounded by the contemporary skyline of the city of Sydney, with the glowing sails/shells of the Sydney Opera House to one side, in the background, with the passing of harbour ferries and other flotilla, reflecting off the moon struck/lit surface of the harbour waters.

    In keeping with CARMEN’S military theme, HOSH marshalls a veritable army of artists, performers and technical crew, … Regiments include 154 performers kitted out in 284 costumes; 490 staff and crew, together with 50 volunteers. Their arsenal of weaponry includes 1320 metres of LED lighting and two 24-tonne cranes reaching 26 metres in height. While the top brass principals are bunkered down in dressing rooms beneath the stage, the enlisted men and women of the chorus occupy 16 shipping containers set up like barracks beneath the audience seating. At musical HQ, the orchestra pit has been expanded and reinforced to keep the troops happy under the vigilant baton of their musical general.

    Escamillo: another outstanding costume drawing by Julie Lynch

    A spectacle of an opera, indeed. An epic effort of organisation on a scale of shocking dimension and organisational ‘nightmare’ harnessed under the aegis of Ms Edwards. It is a success on almost all value systems.

    SPECTACULAR is the word.

    Brian Thomson’s bull ring

    Brian Thomson has designed a massive abstracted red ringed ‘bull ring’ with a black surfaced (historically, black and red, is, almost, this designer’s signature) raked floor, tipping the cast towards the audience. We see the back side (and, so,back-to-front) huge signage of the name of the opera CARMEN, covered from our point of view, by ladders and platform scaffolding, on which the chorus can look down and participate in the action. The dark outline of a bull sits waiting for its cue to ignite in red neon-like splendour. A centre piece of the upstage of the arena can open hydraulically into a kind of vomitorium, for the entrance and exit of the cigarette girls and patrons of the bullring. Practical, large scale properties – a tank and truck of the era of the Franco war in Spain are craned-in, spectacularly, from opposite sides in act one; as is a large shipping container for the act three warehouse. To capture all of this and support the emotions of the story, the lighting by John Rayment is dramatically bold, matched by costume designer, Julie Lynch, with iconic character splashes of colour:  e.g. blue for the ‘good girl’, Micaela; red for the ‘bad girl’, Carmen and “realisms” of the soldiers uniforms, etc. Clear design solutions for such an epic visual scale problem.

    Installing the Carmen Letters 

     

     All these photos by James Morgan

    To make this operatic piece work at this location, location, location – imaginative staging is demanded. Ms Edwards triumphs in the first three acts with deft and brilliant organisation of the massive ‘crowd’ scenes. But, even more fortuitously, her skill creates dramatic focus and power in the intimate character scenes as well. In the open air with all of the visual dimension of a Sydney night in one of the most glamorous locations in the world, simply with two actors/singers tied to each other, each at one end of a taut rope, Ms Edwards burns into our concentrated memory retinas the great duet between Carmen and Don Jose in act one – it is one example of unforgettable visual staging and powerful storytelling, that she conjures for us throughout the night. Assisting the impact of the work is the Choreography of Kelley Abbey. The opportunity to use the uncurtained space with the densely atmospheric scoring in Bizet’s music preludes and entra-acts are not wasted by these two artists, but seized excitedly, and a thrilling, and sexually propelling blood pump is given to the performance with dynamic dances and dancers (Mr Bonachela-eat your heart out - DE NOVO!!! ). Even the chorus is managed to move as one – a miracle. That that this does not carry through to the last act after the stunning solo of the flaming red ‘skirt’ (Kate Wormald) with the arrival of the bull fight’s crowd, flags and all is, sadly, anti-climatic (perhaps time became a problem?) Fortunately the music is compensation.

    Rinat Shaham sings, dances and moves as one dreams Carmen to be. A great, daring, sexually explosive performance. Dmytro Popov as the hapless, mummy’s boy, psychopathic killer, Don Jose, grew and grew musically through the opera to great account. Nicole Car sang ‘goody two shoes’ Micaela, beautifully – it is, to my ear, the least interesting music. Andrew Jones was a disappointing Escamillo, for whilst looking the part, he did not have the vocal excitements that the role has to give. He could not either with precision or power match his fellow’s powers. Musically the performance dimmed. I also enjoyed Samuel Dundas as Morales, and Adrian Tamburini as Zuniga, both these men, singing and physically emanating immense sexual power.

    The orchestra hidden beneath the stage, conducted by Brian Castles-Onion, gave a wonderful sound, communicated to us, as were the singers by the electronic wizardry of Tony David Cray. Mr Cray must be worth his weight in gold to Opera Australia for the sound was accomplished, indeed – it matches his work that I heard last year in DIE TOTE STADT. I don’t much like the use of electronically amplified sound – there is no real choice, of course, for work on this scale, and, as I have said, well done here – but when the chorus in act four sing the supporting noise in the ring, contrasting to the drama of the final bloody duet on the stage between Don Jose and Carmen, it did not work at all dramatically. The sound is, though softened, still projected at us, and one is not required to endow the moment with a scintilla of our emotional life. Dramatically, the opera performance begins to go off the boil in this production’s final act, and one is not moved, one simply watches – distanced. The sexual empathy of the deaths of Don Jose and Carmen indicated in the pulsing of Bizet’s score and in the action of the libretto, is not posible. It sounds all too mechanical – too, ironically, dead.

    Rinat Shaham as Carmen – Photo by James Morgan 

    (Diversion: It is my observation that the musical theatre has lost its appealing power as a result of a dependence on the electronic amplification of the singers and the orchestra, (the disaffection from musical theatre began for me with the electronic presentation of the orchestra with Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s PROMISES, PROMISES (1968) – remember, that orchestra were in a covered pit too? although, there was a plastic bubble, center-pit, so that the conductor’s head and shoulders could be seen by us!) At the musical theatre today the music is projected AT us.Washing unremittingly, over us, whether we want to hear it or not. No effort is necessary from the audience to engage in any concentrated way. It lands on us unflinchingly. I love it when the performers ‘unplug’ (remember that moment in the Barbara Cook concert at the Lyric Theatre, a few years ago, when, after a long night ofelectronically assisted singing she unplugged for the encores – what a difference in temperature in the audience – how we listened, how we joined Ms Cook in the performance – the contract for listening was changed – it was amazing), and I have noticed when this does occur, all of us audience participants do, lean in to the music, and make a contributive effort to hear the communication. We are invited to work with the unassisted singer/orchestra and real theatrical exchange happens. A Shared Experience.)

    My first introduction to CARMEN was listening to an old 78rpm recording of my dad’s with Lawrence Tibbett, singing on one side of the record, the Toreador Song, from CARMEN, and on the other side, the Te Deum at the end of act one of TOSCA – thrilling. I played it over and over again. I remember the CARMEN JONES (1954) movie musical version with Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte (sexy film I remember. I was young and probably didn’t know what sexy was, of course! , but I was , strangely, moved) and, perhaps my first full scale opera version of CARMEN was at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1982 with, the only thing I can really recall, the Josef Svoboda design! – I do remember being disappointed. The film based on the Hemingway novel THE SUN ALSO RISES (1957) with Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power and Ava Gardener and the Pedro Almodovar film, MATADOR (1986) have always evoked the CARMEN story. Bizet’s L’ARLESIENNE SUITE has always thrilled me. THE PEARL FISHERS, except for that duet, always a bit boring. CARMEN in contrast, always a popular choice. That Georges Bizet died at the age of 36 in 1875, on the 33rd performance of this opera is, surely, one of the great tragedies of operatic history.

    Rinat Shaham as Carmen – this time in power red – Photo by James Morgan 

    In the essay in the Handa Production program, Philip Sametz tells us:

    “To put Bizet’s death in perspective, had Verdi died at 36 his final opera would have been LUISA MILLER (1849). No RIGOLETTO, no LA TRAVIATA, no IL TROVATORE – no OTELLO ! At that age Wagner had just completed LOHENGRIN. CARMEN was Bizet’s first masterpiece, and his last work. Even at this remove, it is tempting to speculate on what he might have created with the new-found brilliance that calls out to us from every bar of the score.”

    Nicole Car as Micaela & Dmytro Popov as Don Jose

    The international ABC of the Opera repertoire, box office money makers: A for AIDA; B for LA BOHEME; C for CARMEN. Gale Edwards has for Opera Australia given a cash cow, and, by the way, an acclaimed artistic success, with her recent and present version of LA BOHEME. Now with CARMEN another exemplary artistic success – box office too, it seems, looking around me,  no empty seats on the night I went! And, as well, last year, a critically stunning success for one of the world’s most difficult operatic works, Strauss’ SALOME. Dr Haruhisa Handa, the founding Chairman of The International Foundation for Arts and Culture (IFAC), the major sponsor of this work,  and the Opera Australia Board led by Ziggy Switkowski, with Lyndon Terracini as Artistic Director, must be congratulated for the vision and trusting faith that they have had in this great Australian artist. A for AIDA is the only one of the magic three that Ms Edwards has not yet done for the company, it must be next, I guess. One would be foolish not follow through – for the company and the audience.

    To marshall all this company for this HANDA OPERA ON SYDNEY HARBOUR production of CARMEN, from the smallest contribution to the larger contributions, and succeed, requires an artist of great vision, will, know how, and tenacity. A personality and passion driven by the muses of the theatre.

    Gale Edwards, deserves congratulations.Bravo.

    Brian Thomson and Gale Edwards with the set model and Julie  Lynch’s costume drawing

    WHAT I WANTED TO ADD IS THIS – AND IT DEPENDED ON YOU HAVING A GOOD LOOK A SOME IMAGES OF THE SHOW

    As Mr Jackson points out Carman along with La Traviata is one of the world’s most popular operas. And without taking anything away from them artistically as complete works of art, it is easy to not pay attention to the actual stories being told. So popular are the tunes. And what we think is our familiarity with the the stories.Gale Edwards is right, the themes in Carmen are progressive even for today – regarding the status women – and the call to arms for those with the opportunity and strength of character to take on patriarchal dominance. In a very wise artistic decision, Edwards moves the time-setting forward from the 1870s to the time of the Franco’s Spain – let’s just say roughly 1940s. Not only are we closer to the story historically, it offers immense freedoms to the designers and choreographer to apply a very fresh and appealing look.

    What we get from set designer Brian Thomson is the best of his personal aesthetic writ large. Mr Jackson talks of the ‘simple’ bull-ring. The red lettering of the name CARMEN 13-metres high is a shout of feminist power cross the harbour addressed to the citizens of Sydney in general. From the audience’s perspective we get the name in reverse (a classic Thomson device) but also a wall of scaffolding that can easily carry at any one time a great number of the production’s 150 approx performers. And the outline of a bull which comes to life at just the right moment. I also really liked how the  back wall (the scaffolding and the letters) not only served to bounce a lot of the sound back to the audience. And equally, how this year the set blocked any view of the Opera House. That’s a big statement to make. That the SOH, in these circumstances, serves as an unhelpful distraction.And that An Opera Australia production can stand on its own two feet (is that four with the bull?) without having to bow and scrape to the Utzon masterpiece.

    Andrew Jones as toreador Escamillo – Photo by James Morgan

    From designer Julie Lynch a much more sexy Modernist look; and the same goes for Kelley Abbey’s fabulous choreography. From lighting designer, John Rayment you get one of the country’s best (in great modesty) ‘serving’ the work of the other creators. You can see from the pictures that the lighting is incredibly spectacular, but it never serves itself. First and foremost, Rayment brings the work of Edwards, Thomson. Lynch and Abbey life. And when i say life – this is a show brimming with passion and life-force without ever stooping to the banal or obvious.

    Chorus – Photo by James Morgan

    Where I differ from Mr Jackson, is that I loved the sound. That’s mainly because (too many rock concerts when young) I rarely find the sound levels in the Joan Sutherland (Opera) Theatre at the SOH big enough to hold my concentration, and I end up spending most of the time studying the directing and acting. Which is fine but I also want to acknowledge this production’s sound designer, Tony David Cray. Some traditionalists my baulk or have quibbles. It’s like moving from test to  one-day cricket. But for me the amplified sound is not just louder. The clarity is also extraordinary and I was drawn much closer to the the listening bit of opera making – probably its most important feature.

    Clearly great progress has clearly been made in ‘sound’ department  of live stage production. Well I can’t imagine Madonna or U2 settling for anything but better than the best.  I mean – when you think of the conditions – outside, wind, the noises fom the harbour and the city. Also placing the subtitles on the lower rim of the slanted platform stage is a plus, easier to read and you miss less of what’s happening on stage. As for the seating, eating, drinking and bathroom areas, lessons were clearly learnt from last year. In 2012 Ross Wallace did a fabulous job in very difficult circumstances. This year Eamon D’Arcy has been able to make improvements. Like the bathrooms with black & white tiled floors even.

    Dmytro Popov as Don Jose & Rinat Sharam as Carmen

    What I am leading to is this. Even if Carman has strong anti-authoritarian feminist themes, much is gained in the telling of this tale outside like this –  ’writ large’. Not all operas could cope with the expansion. But in this instance, I think Carmen is better told big! It’s not just a story about two men and two women – it’s about the society in which they are trapped. And with size the society becomes a much stronger character in its own right.  I think Carmen is improved played outside like this  - at this size (and quality). The large groups of dancers or soldiers are not just there to fill up space or supply a bit of ‘fun’. They give the characters a much more vivid social context. Opera Australia isn’t slumming it here, trying to pull in a few extra bucks, or offering those untutored in the elegance of attending an opera in the Joan Sutherland Theatre a way in. Just as Slumdog Millionaire took movie-making to a new level in the way it used size and numbers to a purpose. So too here. I don’t think every opera would survive the transition, so I look forward to finding out what the choice is for next year. I also think Opera Australia has found the perfect team. Edwards-Thomson-Lynch in particular are definitely a highly prized unit.  And you would pushed to find another team of three in the world who could pull off with such finesse a production of the size and artistic flair as this.

    Photo by James Morgan

  • 12 Mar 2013 /  News, Other Art Forms

     

     GRAND OPENING – THURSDAY MARCH 14    

    6:00PM-9:00PM. Licensed Bar

    To be opened by

    Jon Lewis, Artist & Professor Ross Steele AM, Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.

    Master of Ceremonies: Edwina Blush

    EDWINA BLUSH

    I have been promising Roger Foley (Ellis D Fogg) and my readers to expand in my one-page notice of this event for more than a couple of weeks. I have a bunch of support material which says a lot. So I think I will put all that up first and then see what else is needed. As I mentioned last time (perhaps on Facebook) the late 1960s and the 1970s were an extraordinary era for Sydney. And hugely influential to me. So much grass roots creativity, so many old rules broken and very wild ideas about art and living flying in every direction. Roger Foley loved lights and he’s made an international career out of playing with them. He was there at the beginning which lets say is the closing era of the Push (grog) and the birth of the hippy aesthetic (marijuana and LSD), perhaps most significantly marked in time with the opening of The Yellow House in Macleay St Potts Point – a living museum merging communal art and life creation. Original participants including Fogg, Martin Sharp, Richard Neville and filmmaker Albie Thoms. Thoms died last year – a very important figure in the creative story of Sydney. A book - My Generation - by Thoms  has been posthumously released and I think this festival of memories is in part in honour to Thoms’ contribution and legacy.

     TALES FROM THE FOGG

    My Life and Loves

     Roger Foley-Fogg aka Ellis D Fogg

    psychedelic exhibition – free admission

     

     art, posters, odd objects, books, costumes, films and a bizarre-bazaar

    everything is for sale

     Friday March 15th to Easter Monday April 1st

    12PM Noon to 5:00PM Thurs Fri Sat Sun and Monday, April Fools Day

    107 Redfern Street, Redfern, 107 Projects Lounge Room Gallery,

    good cheap food nearby – bring a takeaway and have it in our Lounge Room. 

    An early work by Ellis D Fogg

    A SUCCINCT VERSION  OF THE PROGRAM

    The exhibition will be accompanied by live events and films from the 60s – bookings below 

    hear what it was like and talk to people who were there.

    Fri 15 – 6:30PM – The Ides of March, meet JIM ANDERSON of the London Oz Obscenity Trial with the sly wit and smooth sexy songs of EDWINA BLUSH

    Sat 16 – 6:30PM, WORLD PREMIER OATS – Once Around The Sun, with Co-Director David Huggett. The long awaited film of the Ourimbah Pop Festival.

    Sun 17 – 6:30PM GRETEL/MADAM LASH Sylvia & The Synthetics DANNY ABOOD, ADULTS ONLY.

    Fri 22, – 6:30PM meet JOHNNY ALLENNimbin Aquarius Festival + special guestJEANNIE LEWIS

    Sat 23 – 6:30PM – meet JIM ANDERSON with EDWINA BLUSH

    Sun 24 – 6:30PM – UBU Films – tribute to Albie Thoms “MARINETTI” EXPANDED with David Perry.

    Easter Fri 29 – 6:30PM meet  JOHNNY ALLEN “Nimbin ,Cabaret Conspiracy, Paris  Theatre”

    Easter Sat 30 – 6:30PM – meet JIM ANDERSON  with EDWINA BLUSH

    Easter Sun 31 – To Be Arranged

    Easter Mon 1st April 6:30PM April fools Day, A tribute to BLACK and WHITEFREEDOM on the 50th anniversary of OZ Magazine, Australia. SLAVERY TO STAR TREK introduced by HERE (CORRECTION REQUIRED) Francesca Emerson-Foley, closing party with licensed Bar and supper.

     TICKETS for evening shows, $20 and Cons with cards $15  Season Ticket all shows and grand opening $110, email request to fogg@fogg.com.au  –  Ticket price includes “meet the artists informal party”, exhibition viewing and a light supper.BOOKINGShttp://www.trybooking.com and search for foggENQUIRIES: 0409 229 282 and e: fogg@fogg.com.au

    Here is some other info for you to peruse and perhaps get  a better idea of who and what we are talking about.

    Roger Foley (Ellis D Fogg0 

    Ellis D Fogg is the pseudonym of Roger Foley (born 24 January 1942) who the National Film and Sound Archive have described as Australia’s “most innovative lighting designer and lumino kinetic sculptor.” The term Lumino Kinetic Art was first used in 1966 by Frank Popper, Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Paris.[1]

    Early life
    Foley was born in Cairns, Queensland and attended Newington College (1957–1959).[2] In the late 1960s he started designing rock concerts and psychedelic light shows. His experimental light shows through to the 1970s were precursors to present multi-media installation.

    Yellow House
    He was one of a group of artists who worked and exhibited at the Yellow House Artist Collective in Potts Point. The Yellow House was founded by artist Martin Sharp and between 1970 and 1973 was a piece of living art and a mecca to pop art. The canvas was the house itself and almost every wall, floor and ceiling became part of the gallery. Many well-known artists, including George Gittoes, Brett Whiteley, Peter Kingston, Albie Thoms and Greg Weight, helped to create the multi-media performance art space that may have been Australia’s first 24 hour-a-day happening.[3] Current work While continuing as an artist Foley is a producer of light shows and architectural theming for festivals and events. He was part of the Yellow House Retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1992 and was a finalist in the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 2003 and 2007.

    THE YELLOW HOUSE

    http://www.milesago.com/features/yellowhouse.htm

    The house at 59 Macleay St is a “Queen Anne” terrace, one of ten designed and built in the late 1890′s by architect Maurice Halligan. Its design was in many ways a wide departure from the ordinary style of terrace adopted across Sydney in that era, differentiated by distinctive gables and balconies set back behind roman arches. (Theatre lovers – note the reference below to Hair)

    Yellow House some years later. The building is still there with a cafe on the street.

    During the 1950s, No. 59 Macleay Street was a haven for many of Australia’s best-known artists. It was the scene for the emergence and acceptance of an important phase of contemporary art within Sydney. The property’s resident owner, writer Frank Clune, author of dozens of popular books on history and travel, started this artistic link. In 1959 the Terry Clune Galleries opened on the premises, exhibiting Sydney’s emerging abstract and modernist artists — John Olsen, Robert Hughes (now New York based art critic for ‘Time’ magazine), the late Robert Klippel, Stan Rapotec and others. During this period the Clune family house was also home to a number of artists, including Russell Drysdale who lived there for a short time.

    The building’s most colourful and famous period began in late 1969. Martin Sharp was frustrated by the traditional gallery scene, so he approached the owners to make use of the disused Clune Galleries space. Sharp had returned to Australia in early 1969 after spending several years in London. During his period in the UK he created posters and illustrations for the infamous Oz magazine (working with his friend Richard Neville) as well as designing the famous covers for Cream’s albums Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire. Sharp took up residency in the old Clune Galleries. Thelma Clune, the gallery director, had decided to sell the building, but was in no hurry to do so, so Martin was able to use the space to present his first exhibition after his return home. This was followed by ”The Incredible Shrinking Exhibition”, which comprised photographs of the first show re-exhibited in small gem-like mirror frames.

    These two exhibitions laid the foundations for The Yellow House. The project was inspired by an unrealised dream of Vincent Van Gogh, who had mentioned the idea in a letter to his brother Theo. Van Gogh envisaged setting up his house in Arles as a centre for artists to live, work and exhibit. During the late 1960s Conceptual Art had emerged as a major new movement, and novel combinations of music, theatre, film, slides, lightshows and live performances of music and/or dance — “total environment installations” or “happenings” — had. Public awareness of conceptual art in Australia was given a major boost by the French artist Christo, who came to Australia in late 1969 and created his famous “Wrapped Coast” at Little Bay.

    Vincent van Gogh – The Yellow House

    Sharp produced a catalogue and coordinated the setting up of artists’ spaces to be prepared for the Spring show of 1970. In many repsects, the creation of The Yellow House was the culmination of much of the activity on the Sydney “Underground” scene of the late ’60s. Sharp’s contact with the UBU film/lightshow collective led to several UBU members — Albie Thoms, Aggy Read, Phil Noyce — becoming closely involved in the Yellow House. The opening attracted considerable media attention. Sydney’s Sunday Mirror called it ..”the wildest, most way out happening of the week..”, and commented that “…the guests wore really wild gear, and many looked as though they had come from a performance of Hair … ” — which had opened a few weeks earlier at the nearby Metro Theatre in Kings Cross.

    The Yellow House was an innovative ‘multimedia’ space, perhaps the first permanent “happening” in Australia. It included artworks by Sharp, Brett Whiteley and others, a special sound system created by Aggy Read, films by Read and Philip Noyce, “Lumino Kinetic” lighting presentations by Ellis D. Fogg, tapdancing by Little Nell (aka Laura Campbell, who later played Columbia in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and photography by Greg Weight. Other well-known names associated with the Yellow House included painters Tim Lewis, George Gittoesand Bruce Goold (now one of the group of artists who contribute designs to the famous Mambo clothing company), and film-makers Albie ThomsPeter Weir and Jim Sharman.

    The rooms were transformed into a range of environments, many reflecting the influence of the Surrealists. One was an homage to Magritte, another a bonsai room created by Brett Whiteley. The Stone Room contained everyday objects made to look like stone. The exterior was painted yellow and the building became known as “The Yellow House” as a tribute to Van Gogh. The House took on roles which extended beyond a simple exhibition space and it increasingly became known for its music and performances by people such as Little Nell, Bruce Goold and George Gittoes; films were screened and classes in film-making and folk music were organised by Albie Thoms. As well as exhibiting there, Greg Weight photographed the interiors of the House extensively, documenting this exciting moment in Australia’s art history. Weight’s photographs record the wondrous environments of the Yellow House, such as The Stone Room, but are also artworks in themselves, tributes to what Sharp claimed to be “probably one of the greatest pieces of conceptual art ever achieved”.

    The Yellow House continued in operation for most of 1971, but during the latter part of the year financial problems and artistic tensions led to the departure of Sharp, Gittoes and Thoms. The House continued as a performance space for some time after, presenting acts like The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and Lindsay Bourke, but without a clear artistic direction it became little different from other performance venues and it closed towards the end of the year.

    The Yellow House was a milestone in the history of contemporary art in Australia and its importance was recognised by a retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1990, coinciding with the centenary of Van Gogh’s death in Auvers, France on the 29th July 1890. Today The property is a private boarding house.

    References / Links

    http://www.greenplanet.com.au/gallery/msharp/workin.htm

    http://www.kingscross.nsw.gov.au/tour/yellow.htm

    http://www.artwrite.cofa.unsw.edu.au/0019/2019_pages/contemp_photography_Close.html

    Real Wild Child CD-ROM (Mushroom Pictures – Pacific Advanced Media – Powerhouse Museum – ABC, 1998)

     

    HERE IS A DIFFERENT VERSION OF THE PROGRAM STARTING  THURSDAY NIGHT 14 MARCH

    TALES FROM THE FOGG - by Roger Foley-Fogg

    MARCH 14, 15, 16, 17,  22, 23, 24, Easter Weekend March 29, 30, 31 and  April 1

    at 107 Projects 107 Redfern Street, REDFERN. 

    Noon to 5:00PM each day

    AND different performances each night see :  http://www.talesfromthefogg.net

     A personal psychedelic exhibition and opportunity to purchase:

    Costumes and fetish wear clothes by Madam Lash. Clothes by Linda Jackson

    My collection of fantasy shoes include some with 8 inch heels, 

    Paintings and posters by Martin Sharp, Jim Anderson, Maggie Walsh and many others. 

    Rock and Roll and psychedelic posters from the 60s

    funky 60s theatre lights

    My photographs from The Spirit of the Gija series taken while working with indigenous desert Aborigines in the Kimberley.

    photo montages from The Spirit of India series by me

    Lumino Kinetic Artworks inspired by Indian culture by me.

    Same as above with more dertail nsd some groovy photos

    GRAND OPENING – with licensed bar

    Thursday March 14th

    the Psychedelic Exhibition 6:00PM to 9:00PM. 

    Opened by Jon Lewis and Prof. Ross Steele.

    With MC Edwina Blush.

    and then the following performances on the weekend which include a relaxed time after each show for supper and a drink with the artists.

    Friday March 15, 6:30PM live performance with JIM ANDERSON – An Artists Journey – illustrated,and EDWINA BLUSH see flyer below.

    Saturday March 16, OATS 6:30PM – the long lost film of the first pop festival in Australia at Ourimbah 1969 - WORLD PREMIERE – Once around the Sun and a celebration with Director David Huggett, licensed bar and light supper provided for ‘after party’.

    Sunday March 17, 6:30PM - live performance with MADAM LASH and DANNY ABOOD - a personal story with Sylvia and The Synthetics Danny Abood – a highly entertaining interaction. Followed by:

    8:30PM following Gretel’s live performance a free screening of ‘Thats Showbiz”, one of PHILLIP NOYCE’s first films. Starring Madam Lash and her ‘whip act’

    Exhibition continues the following two weekends: 

    Noon to 5:00PM thu fri sat sun with Mr FOGG – free admission.

    Live shows continue the following weekend with JOHNNY ALLEN’s illustrated talk about The Aquarius Festival-Nimbin, Cabaret Conspiracy, The Arts factory and Paris Theatre accompanied by the great JEANNIE LEWIS – Then an expanded screening of Albie Thoms ‘Marinetti’ introduced by David Perry followed by our tribute to BLACK and WHITE FREEDOM on the 50th anniversary of OZ Magazine with Francesca Emerson with HERE  -CORRECTION REQUIRED) Andreea Kindryd’s FROM SLAVERY TO STAR TREK.

    DETAILS and links to all the artists here www.talesfromthefogg.net

    BOOKINGS: http://www.trybooking.com/Event/EventSearch.aspx?keyword=fogg

    More information and pictures follow.

     

    Some of the costumes on display and for sale at the exhibition which including the’ Gown-less Evening Strap’ by Madam Lash.

    POSTER FOR JIM & EDWINA’S NIGHT

     

    Oz boys in London: admiring/pissing on? their own magazine promotion!

     

    advertisement in GO-SET for the Ourimbah Pilgrimage for Pop.

     

     

     OATS or ‘Once Around the Sun’, The film about this festival, the first Rock/Pop Festival in Australia, has just been found and its world Premiere will be on Saturday March 16

    Once Around The Sun was inspired by the Pilgrimage For Pop Festival at Ourimbah near Sydney on a hot and sunny Australia/Invasion Day Weekend in 1970 – so the film is now 43 years old – and has finally made it to the screen, thanks to Exec Producers David Hannay and Jeff Harrison at Umbrella Entertainment. OATS was originally conceived and filmed by the late Gordon Mutch and the late Eddie Van der Madden in 1970. It has now been digitally restored on video by the original editor and co-director David Huggett, who worked on the project until it crashed in 1973

     

    Once Around The Sun is an evocative psychedelic joyride back to the heady culmination of the flower-power era and, assisted by the consciousness-expanding effects of psychotropic drugs, is a celebration of the dawning of the Space Age, The Nuclear Age and Aboriginal and Gay Liberation in The Cultural Revolution at The Dawning of The Age of Aquarius. Once Around The Sun contains unique performances in 35mm colour by some of the first Australian Rock and Blues icons: Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs, Jeff St John and The Copperwine, Chain, Leo de Castro, Tully, Wendy Saddington and Company Caine, Hans Poulsen and Max Merritt and The Meteors.The orchestral music score accompanying the flights of fantasy into the origins of life, the universe and everything, was written and conducted by Australian jazz/rock legend John Sangster.

    Madam Lash meets and wisely ignores Fred Nile

     A tasty enuf final image to tempt any of you? Remember exhibition during afternoons is free. And shows at night are very low cost. I am going to everything – to remind myself where I came from.

  • 11 Mar 2013 /  Reviews, THEATRE

    Hi, its now more than a week since I saw Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Belvoir. With a Mardi Gras Parade and Party in between. Plus Library work, plus other shows, etc. The good news is Alison Croggon who eventually caved into the pressures of blogging after I think nine years of devotion, has been salvaged by ABC Arts Online and she has a chance to do what she is so good at in another place in cyberspace. A good and proper result. Meanwhile I struggle , but let’s not sond like a tin drum.

    I thought this Simon Stone directed A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was one of the worst productions of a good script I have ever encountered. Stone is good and smart and I trust self-assured enuf to take a bitch slap from an old queen like me (on behalf of one of the great theatre queens – Tennessee Williams).

    Consolation for Belvoir is that, the night I saw it, the production appeared to be well received by paying punters. But to someone like myself who has seen a lot of theatre I could only watch in silent horor as this poor little ship of lost and confused characters drove itself into an iceberg. I’ve not seen the play onstage before, but anyone who has seen the film is well aware of the potential to bring to life fabulous characters in a gut-wrenching version of  ’a failing marriage’.

    “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a 1958 American drama film directed by Richard Brooks.[1][2] It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Tennessee Williams adapted by Richard Brooks and James Poe. One of the top-ten box office hits of 1958, the film stars Elizabeth TaylorPaul Newman and Burl Ives.”

    The play is fabulous and well-constructed, and the film has excellence written all over it. One could dare say the life story of the Hollywood marriage begins with Cat: Taylor (Maggie) and Newman (Brick) are incendiary in the intensity of their struggle to keep their young marriage afloat. In my view the sexiest paring ever in a Hollywood movie – maybe any movie. With the final collapse of the dream a mere eight years later with Elizabeth Taylor again, on this occasion an old marriage, paired with Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. A hundred-year history (say 1920 to 2020)  squeezed into less less than a decade – 1958  to 1966 – thematically speaking. In the first we have a couple who can’t conceive because the man does not want to have sex with his wife anymore, not since his best mate has died. A homosexual undercurrent (this is Tennessee Williams remember), quite explicit in the play. And in the film version of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, we see an older couple initially grieving over the loss of their child and we end up discovering there probably never was one. I know Elizabeth Taylor is much admired for many reasons, but to be remembered forever she would only have had to complete these two roles. I saw a superb stage production of Who’s Afraid..in London some years back at the National starring Paul Eddington and Margaret Tyzack, directed by a woman and designed by a women. A ‘womanly perspective’ was perhaps a key to that production’s wonderful ‘reading’, along with two superb leading  performances. So I know actors (apart from Newman and Taylor) can make this play work. In fact the Old Tote version in 1964 starring Jacqueline Kott, Alex Hay, Wendy Blacklock and Kevin Miles, directed by John Clark is still  remembered by anyone who saw it as one of the highlights of the Old Tote’s era.

    I was not expecting director Simon Stone to cast similarly on the pheromonal ‘richter-scale’ as the Cat film, but there is nothing at all sexy happening here between Jacqueline McKenzie (Maggie) and Ewen Leslie (Brick). They are two of our best actors. As much as a fan as I am of both, I could not see them in these roles – especially as a pair. And I am right, it doesn’t work out. Nopt necessarily their fault  - they appear to get little guidance (or the wrong guidance) from the director. In fact I am starting to suspect Stone (and designer Robert Cousins) when evolving a new show simply ask themselves a hundred times over: what will the audience expect? Well let’s just darn well do the opposite. McKenzie’s greatest stage performance that I have seen  in Sydney was her Joan of Arc – the very definition of NOT sexy. And having missed all Leslie’s Melbourne work of late, I go back to ‘his ‘star is born ‘ moment in The War of the Roses to know that he too is an actor of the highest calibre. My compliant has nothing to do with their private lives, personal  bedroom skills, or even the casting here. But when I saw the McKenzie/Leslie combo I did think: ‘I hope the director knows what he is doing’.

    Ewen Leslie (Brick) and Jacqueline McKenzie (Maggie) – photo by Heidrun Lohr

    On the other hand I was excited in advance in the casting of Anthony Phelan as Big Daddy and was disappointed to see him have to withdraw and be replaced by Marshall Napier – who did extremely well I must say at very short notice. There are other performances that hit the mark, noteably Lynette Curran as the begging mother and Rebecca Massey as the grasping sister-in-law.

    The most obvious problem with this production and just about every person has mentioned it – is the loss of the USA Southern drawl replaced by regular modern Australian. Anyone who reads me would know I have no problem with such a shift in theory.

    It’s also one thing to point to, in this instance, an artistic mistake. Quite another to unpack the reasons that might explain why. is it really or only a matter of accents? Such a discussion would easily  fit inside the larger one we have been having over the past few years on the ripping up, cut-and-past, abridged, edited, updating etc of playwright’s scripts by a new generation of young Australian directors. But why in the case off Tennessee Williams does it come off as such a gaffe. One possibility lies in the intricacy of Williams’ surface – his dialogue (and with that the original accent that goes with it). It’s likely (but not a scientific fact) that if you strip any one of his William’s plays of its high camp-Rococo surface, what lies beneath all  of a sudden appears pretty  thin. A brilliant example of  Marshall McLuhan’s 1960′s observation that ‘the medium is the message’. Extra reading includes Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’ and ‘Against Interpretation’. The latter being one of the most obvious influences, however out of date, of my way with ‘criticism’.

    For a clue to what I mean: have you have seen Almodovar’s All About My Mother? There are scenes of an actress on stage in a Madrid/Barcelona (I forget) production of A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a very camp production (in a very camp film). You dont have to be very smart to predict the result of combining Williams and  Almodovar in the cauldron of creativity. And more to the point just these few small scenes in the Almodovar movie carry a gravitas that on a set of comedic scales outweighs this current Belvoir production of A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof in Sydney by a square root of infinity to one. And note: there were no southern accents: the production was in Spanish. Possibly trash Spanish, I wouldn’t know. But we knew even by way of gesture that we were watching something very camp – within camp. The whole film is camp: and, here’s the droll irony, you wouldn’t have heart if you didn’t want to cry at the end of this film. As  we all should want to cry when we get to the end of pretty much any Tennessee Williams’ play.

    So to say the Australian accents is the primary flaw may not be true. Perhaps better to ask where was the exotica, the frills, the ‘campness’ that by way of contradiction creates the birth of empathy and ultimately grieving in the bodies of production’s the audience.. And if you think ‘camp’ is a derogatory word holding little meaning beyond a slight to a person attempting to light a cigarette a la Bette Davis – go read the other Sontag essay (on that subject) I sited above.

    I generally hold the view that you can do anything to or with a playwright’s script so long as it’s as good or better than what the playwright had in mind. In truth every production of every play, even every performance of the same production is different every night. So it’s not ‘difference’ from some sturdy template that’s been breached here.

    Words (certainly my words here) are ill-equipped to carry the meaning I would wish to capture here – so bear with me as I stumble while I try. In a way it’s the  same difference been believing in astronomy and being asked to believe equally in astrology. It’s by no means an effortless leap. And it takes us into the dark heart of making theatre. Can I defer to the words of a marketing guru from Conde Nast in New York, who came out to speak to those of us (back then) holed up in the grubby Atarmon Vogue office.

    He told us that every magazine title had its own built-in DNA and anyone working on that particular magazine had to submit to that scientific fact. By way of evidence he pointed out that the wrong photo on a cover could cost a million sales and the right photo could add a million sales. And here’s the rub of it: take the photo that failed on one title (say Vogue) and put it on another one targeting a different audience (say TeenVogue), you could have another big sales hit. So while a director may quite rightly refuse to see him or herself as a servant to the so-called ‘author’s intentions’, they may not have been left off the hook to do whatever they want. If you wish to do anything you wan you need to include ‘the words’ on your ‘to-do’ list. Because somewhere in a pre-existing script lies a tiny nano-molecule of DNA which, if you don’t respect it, this thing as tiny and as important as the Higgs-Boson particle will rise up like a fire-spitting gorgon and drag you down into Dante’s sixth (Heresy) or eighth (Fraud) level of hell. Pardon my lavishness.

    It’s a precarious case I put. And it goes hand in and with the other unscientific theory I have as of why we can still see in our minds-eye the best performances forever, while the rest fade away. I say they are printed like an x-ray on our souls. Well how flippy-floppy is that – yet in my view truer than true. Given that Simon Stone is still young and has had a few big hits as well as a couple of mega-misses I decline to pass any further judgement – for now. Other than he’s lucker than other directors of his potential in hitting the big time with so little behind him. Other than ask him to next time ponder prayer-like, as the Cardinals are doing right now in the Sistine Chapel, for even a glimpse of the theatre-art’s version of the Higgs-Boson particle in whatever the play-text he may wish to adore – or maul as is the case here. However Stone or any director goes about their theatre-making experiment, they need a collision – with something so tiny and not yet even certain to exist. But that collision remans a must. What we have here is a speedy whip around Switzerland and part of France – but no impact. Directors – you must look to the text’s DNA – once you have that in your grasp – party up as much as you like.

    At the end of every production of any Tennessee Williams play the audience should be left to heroically weep. I cared nothing for these characters, nor their predicaments. Even the candy-coloured party curtain is a mistake – it’s too strong. Far too dominant. We in the audience suffer no grieving in this version of the Cat On a Hot Tin Roof story. That curtain – the production’s only visual totem – doesn’t work as irony. And it’s surely not trying to tell us that all is well in Big Daddy’s Lear-like kingdom. That we can’t see through the curtain’s shrill cheeriness to what lies behind  is only one of this production’s many problems.