• 17 Sep 2011 /  Reviews 16 Comments

    “What else should our lives be but a series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become.”

    This sentence by David Malouf caught the eye of Patrick White who used it to introduce his novel The Tyborn Affair. That’s where I first saw it and, being a going-backwards kinda guy, I have returned to this sentence many times over the years. Of the goodness knows how many sentences my eyes have traversed, this is one that I find I can turn over and over like a pebble, or is it a jewel – as I hold it up to catch the light. Note to self: the point, I guess, is to move forward – or at least with the times.

    Anyways that’s where we are the-smorning. I drew a line in the sand with my last post, and I knew then that on my return to this site I would have to get out the little boat that is me and give it a shove – out into the waters called today and tomorrow. I haven’t been writing because there has been so much to tell you, or at least for me to think about; and not knowing how to find the words. How do you spell cosmic shrug when staring into the sometimes mess of life?

    Let’s get down to business. Like a pair of lighthouses up the coast, I could see between the bobbing waves, two theatre events that were destined to bring me, momentarily at least, back to shore. Landfall. In reverse order, last night the premiere of Loot at the STC. Joe Orton was just 32 when this, his second play, premiered in I February 1965. Two-and-a-half years later he was dead. The end of career as promising as that of Heath Ledger. Both died in bed – at the very beginning of their careers. To say ‘cut short’ in either instance is an understatement verging on the absurd. Orton’s demise, bludgeoned to death by his jealous boyfriend, more obviously shocking (though not more shocking – pace Heath Ledger).

    If you don’t know anything or very much about Joe Orton, go Google, enough is easily there. He grew up a working-class kid at a time and in a country where class division was formidably enshrined. And gay to boot. So when he discovered he had a writer’s voice, boy did he sing out. We are all so cool and evolved now, but no better as human beings. Which is testimony to Orton’s gift: that, life conditions of his own time aside, a play like Loot can still speak to us now. We won’t we outraged by its specific disrespect for the Church or the police or family values. But, those digs aside, we are freed up to admire the principle of disrespect for authority more openly – in an age when we are all but totally bowed to the psychological, financial, spiritual and social hegemony of systems that even run the daily lives of our ruling elites.

    What we have here is a superb production, faultlessly realised by a gifted cast in the knowing care of director Richard Cottrell. English-born Cottrell has made Sydney his home for many years now, and he is one of those special theatre beings both loved and admired. A kind soul with a cheeky laugh, Cottrell knows the art of comic stagecraft probably better than anyone in this country today. All very well that kids have taken over the asylums here and he is their senior; but Cottrell would be a star any firmament of professional theatremakers, whatever their vintage. A combination of brain power and devotion, and the years of practice – no one in this county was better placed to take on this production than Cottrell. And it leads, as if inevitably, on from his superb production of Travesties.

    Richard Cottrell on the set for Loot

    We live in a time of slacker ethos – unshaven men in cardigans rule, artistic directors who can’t be bothered to prepare a speech, jobs are flung to mates like the spoils of a raid on a school canteen. And disrespect – for audiences, staff, playwrights, actorsad infinitum – knows no bounds. In this context, Cottrell’s achievement with Loot is particularly poignant. Clearly proving the point that you don’t have to be under 35 to be at the top of your game.

    Craft is a keyword today. Looking at Loot, and listening to it, you might be forgiven for thinking it flew off the pen – just so. Not at all, it went through many revisions to emerge the polished gem it is. In the version that played prior to first transferring to the West End, the lynch-pin character of Inspector Truscott had only eight lines in the first act. Prior to the 1966 revival, Orton cut around 600 lines. In the way that two other ‘over-35s’ directors, George Ogilvie and Aubrey Mellor, carved out high reputations in this country for their fine realisations of Chekhov, Cottrell handles laughter like Adriano Zumbo whoops up pastry. Technique – and then some. Cottrell  happens to also know a lot about staging Shakespeare, but there is no one in this country who can put a cast through the canine-like training hoops of high comedy a play like this requires. Precision is everything.  Also tone. Okay, I mean style. Who knows, maybe Cottrell sometime soon can show how to present a farce Feydeau.

    Of course you need actors up to the task, and this Loot is impeccably cast. Most notably Darren Gilshenan as Truscott. If we didn’t know this actor had worked so hard to get this good, we would simply say he was born for the role. This is a stand-out performance that’s so well-drawn it overshadows neither the other fine performances nor the shared business of getting out a story. I talk often of our many gifted actors, this cornucopia of talent we so undeservedly enjoy. And here are some of them. William Zappa as elderly, if the newly widowed, McLeavy. Some will remember Zappa working with Gilshenan previously in Bell Shakespeare’s glorious two-hand version of The Government Inspector (actually that was directed with consummate comic craft skills also – by John Bell. Meanwhile Zappa is heaven in this – always alive and fresh but never straying.

    And then to the kids: Caroline Craig as the scheming nurse Fay, Robin Goldsworthy as the naughty son Hal, and Josh McColville as his bad-assed side-kick, Dennis. All three hilarious, separately and together. In a cute supporting role, Lee Jones as Constable Meadows. All, I have no doubt would have stories of not only the fun (this show shines with good-will) but also the hard-work that went into this production. ‘Repetition, repetition, repetition’ said Cottrell after the show when describing the means by which one brings a play like this to life. Plus ‘truthfulness’ – never playing a line for laughs.

    It’s a cute set from Victoria Lamb – deliciously unrealistic realistic. Lamb also designs the costumes: I especially liked Hal’s braided ‘Sergeant Peppers’ jacket – that’s a bulls-eye. Comparably apt support from everyone else involved in design and technicalities.

    To pull the lens back and put this production in context. The qualities I said were missing from recent STC production in my missive (missile) on the company’s output this year (‘Wotever Happened to STC Acting’) – they’re here. A wonderful play, artful directing, quality acting front and centre. Once again everything is right with the world. Thankyou very much STC.

    Yes, I mentioned another lighthouse sailed by this week. I will describe that different, but equally luminous travel encounter next time. Clue – my family favourites: Big hArt (and their Canberra season of Namatjira).

    Posted by James Waites @ 10:03 am

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16 Responses

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  • Chris T Says:

    “Darren Gilshenan as Truscott. If we didn’t know this actor had worked so hard to get this good, we would simply say he was born for the role.”

    Welcome back. That jacket was perfect wasn’t it. Part of a perfect whole, right down to the mold in the dark corners of the house & the jaunty tempo of the refrain preceding each act.

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  • James Waites Says:

    Yep it was a good night out – improved by the company!! And hey I got up and 5am and wrote …

  • Ajay Says:

    I love Joe Orton’s LOOT, and Richard Cottrell is a brilliant director – his production of TRAVESTIES is one of the best things I’ve seen in Sydney, but oh dear, this production is a HUGE disappointment.

    I found the cast really second rate, with appalling accents – the dialect coach should be sacked – and playing for laughs. William Zappa was the only one playing with any truthfuness.

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  • Rowan Greaves Says:

    Although I am truly looking forward to this production it seems odd that the STC has done Loot twice in its relatively short history.
    I hope that one day they may program an Entertaing Mr Sloane – which has not been done professionally in Sydney since the late ’60s (starring a peroxided John Ewart, Ron Falk and Gwen Plumb) and was last seen in a Rocks Players production at the Bondi Pav which you favourably reviewed in ’82. That one launched the career of a very young Genevieve Lemon (who Rodney Fisher then immediately cast in Steaming) – playing a role more than twice her age. It would be great to see her reprise that great performance now that she is more “age appropriate”. (Are you reading this Andrew & Cate?).
    Also, it would be terrific to see a farce master like Mr Cottrell tackle What The Butler Saw – especially as its last two Sydney stagings (mine at The Wayside Chapel in ’97 and Mr Sharman’s at Belvoir in ’04) both suffered from some casting and/or design problems.
    And there has never been an Australian stage adaptation of Orton’s very kinky unfilmed Beatles’ screenplay Up Against It – which, indeed, opened with the Fab Four in bed together.
    Anyway, it’s great that you were inspired to be up and writing again – especially at 5am.

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  • James Waites Says:

    I don’t agree with you at all. You couldn’t get a better Truscott than Gilshenan. Let’s see what others say as we go along…

  • James Waites Says:

    Rowan you have a better memory of my career than I do – no recall of Sloane in 1982. What to do at 5am – normally i just role over and squash the cat…

  • Rowan Greaves Says:

    Dear Jim,
    I presume your above comment was in response to Ajay’s criticism – and not my little spiel about the need for more Orton on the STC stage. The fact that you and I both posted (“came forward”?) at exactly the same moment could surely be considered Orton-esque in its timing.
    Ro.

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  • Dennis Lieberman Says:

    I’m sad to say that I completely agree with Ajay. I hadn’t previously seen a production of LOOT but I had read it many years ago and enjoyed it very much. This production was a real disappointment for me, I’m afraid… I found that it hit entirely the wrong note, made little attempt to capture the spirit of the 60s (beyond the token Sgt Pepper jacket) and lacked the edginess inherent in the text. I thought the comic timing was uniformly off and never more obviously than in the case of Truscott. I’m sure Darren Gilshenan is a fine actor but on the night that I saw it, his performance rather smacked of a night at the local rep. On the few occasions that I did laugh, it was AT the text and DESPITE OF the performances. I rather suspect that I saw the show on the same night as Ajay and on a different night to Mr Waites, as it does feel as if we’re talking about two very different productions. All that said, I’m still a fan of Mr Cottrell’s previous work and look forward to his future efforts. Thanks for the review and the comment space.

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  • James Waites Says:

    Hi Dennis, I find it fascinating when people have different experiences from me. I would never presume I was ‘right’. I find it quite exciting on these pages when reader’s responses reflect varying points of view. We all learn so much from each other.

  • James Waites Says:

    Yes Rowan, I don’t understand why my relies come out in random sequence. More Orton any time – LOL. And asI said your memory for details – going way back – remains astounding…

  • John Says:

    Although I am truly looking forward to this production it seems odd that the STC has done Loot twice in its relatively short history.
    I hope that one day they may program an Entertaing Mr Sloane – which has not been done professionally in Sydney since the late ’60s (starring a peroxided John Ewart, Ron Falk and Gwen Plumb) and was last seen in a Rocks Players production at the Bondi Pav which you favourably reviewed in ’82. That one launched the career of a very young Genevieve Lemon (who Rodney Fisher then immediately cast in Steaming) – playing a role more than twice her age. It would be great to see her reprise that great performance now that she is more “age appropriate”. (Are you reading this Andrew & Cate?).
    Also, it would be terrific to see a farce master like Mr Cottrell tackle What The Butler Saw – especially as its last two Sydney stagings (mine at The Wayside Chapel in ’97 and Mr Sharman’s at Belvoir in ’04) both suffered from some casting and/or design problems.
    And there has never been an Australian stage adaptation of Orton’s very kinky unfilmed Beatles’ screenplay Up Against It – which, indeed, opened with the Fab Four in bed together.
    Anyway, it’s great that you were inspired to be up and writing again – especially at 5am.

    +1

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  • Nick Says:

    “We live in a time of slacker ethos…”

    Love it.

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  • James Waites Says:

    I wasn’t picking on every bearded wearing cardigan! lol

  • James Waites Says:

    Your memory banks remain a theatrical treasure in their own right!

  • Ira Seidenstein Says:

    Hi James, “Beginnings…settings out into the unknown” and “you don’t have to be under 35 to be at the top of your game.” Thanx James says me at the very edge to arrive at 60. Saw Loot last night. Why? Never seen it before. Darren, who was one of the mobs I taught at NIDA, when I was 34. For his group’s 2nd yr, I was asked to teach “Clown”, and also “Acrobatics”. Amongst the wonderful students in that group were at least two others who excell both in acting and in comedy – James Wardlaw (again with BSC) and Debra Unger (Hollywood-er). I have 3 items about to be at the Tap Gallery a) “Just Clowning” a showing featuring 2 actor/clowns whom I have directed. I appear to present and in the 1st sketch (excerpt The Tempest) to intro the two clowns. I play the straight man, Prospero. The rest of the show is the fine duet in a variety of petite and delighful surprise reprises. OCT 22, Saturday, 3pm Donations at the door $10 b) “Shakespeare’s Clowns Workshop” with my Colleague – Prof Tom Bishop (Co-Editor Shakespeare International Yearbook). Oct 25,26,27 4pm to 6pm. c) the new play I am directing “Shopping Centres & Gutters” – a no frills, inconclast, reworking of the classic ‘Aussie’ story of us all-sorts. All at the TAP GALLERY. Nice t b back in Sydney and was a ‘good night out’ at the theatre. x ira

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  • James Waites Says:

    Hi Ira, so you are the guy guy behind this grown clowning stuff. I am, busy working long hour on a full -time job atm – but will try and see your show – for old times sake – lol …

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