• 03 Jan 2012 /  Other 4 Comments

    I slipped into 2012 like a green tree snake – slithery and quietly and happy in my own skin. Due to the convergence of any chance elements I found myself at the moment of transition on a balcony of an apartment on the bend in Mcleay Street that takes you from Potts Point into Wolloomooloo Bay. With a group of truly lovely friends we were guests of a 93-year old gentleman – a widower – who had been in the building since the 1950s. The spic interior looked as if it had never be altered in those years. His flat jutted like the front of ship into the night air. And how balmy was it? So I got to see the Newson fireworks from a most spectacular angle and prefect distance. We could see the whole panorama from stuff shooting off city buildings across to the bridge – all its goings on – and what seemed to be about five main sites stretched all along Sydney Harbour – was Fort Denison one of the take-off sites? Anyway – we got the lot.

    Yesterday then involved a little picnic in Prince Alfred Park, a swim at Coogee and a 8pm turning up at a run-down pub in Chippendale for the end of a Kooky party – a scene that collates a bunch of this city’s most harmless if colourful oddballs – and one of the very few ‘branded’ dance events I could ever find myself these where 1. I know people and 2. feel even slightly comfortable about wriggling my limbs to a funky tune without feeling foolish! Kevin Jackson wrote some months ago of the You Little Stripper crowd at Red Rattler. Much the same gang tho this was a more low-key ‘recovery’ type affair. So there you go – a brief insight into my exotic lifestyle beyond theatre foyers. Not usually so interesting I should add, but a nice start to the year.

    Before 2012 Sydfest swoops into action in a few days let me do a bit of catch up. Brief, but I just want to get this stuff up and out. That may sound a little ungracious – but I hope you get my meaning. I am trying to get into the habit of waking up every morning and going pretty much straight to my desk – or wonky depending how dodgy I feel. But to the matter – some recent shows I have seen and don’t want slip into the past unacknowledged. First up – Phil Spencer’s The Great Apeth.

    Anyone who sees me at opening nights would know I often attend these events with actress Maggie Blinco. I’ve rarely mentioned her name on this site, because the ‘personal’ for me has mostly been about ‘me’, when a more interesting personal all along would have at least included  ‘my friends’. This is a tricky aspect to the business of writing however: to what extent one can and should put out stories (however near or far to factual) that touch on other people’s real lives. Not Maggie, far from it, but many of my friends live somewhat controversial lifestyles – and how much does a friend who happens to write have a right to put their stuff out there. Maybe I should ask Helen Garner!

    The Great Apeth was one of about ten playlets on an autobiographical theme curated by Phil Spencer at the old Fitzroy under the banner of The Horse’s Mouth. I went down particularly to see Spencer’s own piece, The Great Apeth, mostly because Spencer had cast my friend Ms Blinco to play his grandmother.

    A rif on Madame Blinco.

    Ms Blinco with her pal the bloggist - photo by Brett Monaghan

    A truly wonderful women with such an enormous life force – hardworking, joyful, kind and generous. Maggie Blinco has become so much part of my life this past half a decade, and kept a close watch over me these past several years while I have been struggling more than usual. A women full of courage and laughter and magnificent joie-de-vivre – who also just happens to make the best chutneys and often cooks fabulous meals for large groups of friends. Most importantly Maggie Blinco is an actress. An actress who featured in some of then most interesting and successful production on the days of the Old Tote and Nimrod. Including Pearl in Richard Wherrett’s Summer of the 17th Doll at the Nimrod in 1973, Rex Carmphorn’s 1985 production of Nowra’s The Golden Age in Melbourne, and the STC’s production of one of David Williamson’s most talked about plays, Dead White Males. Always one to keep up with the young, in recent years Maggie has acted in a number of successful Indie gigs including The Beauty Queen of Leenan, Stories From the 428 and Kiss Me Like You Mean It. She has recently started work on a new play called Biddies (the female partner to Codgers) which will tour nationally. Maggie was also the sexy lady selling Tim Tams on tele last year. Sales went through the roof!

    So there – that’s a little bit about the person I am so often seen with in foyers. And despite seeing her in many shows this is the first time I written about one of the productions she Maggie has been in.

    Victoria Sponge - takes a lot of beating!

    The Great Apeth was a sweet little piece which, by way of metaphor, included a real Victoria sponge that miraculously emerged from an oven towards the end of the play – to be enjoyed by some lucky members of the audience. Ms Blinco made this cake for each performance, though sadly it was all gobbled up before the plate got to my row. I saw Spencer’s lovely homage to his relationship to his father, called Bluey, about a year ago, which included a puppet Chimp. So we go from a great ape to The Great Apeth (the meaning of which I have forgotten – it’s regional slang for something). This was a more modest piece, but also a first showing, where Bluey has been around a while. Ihht certainly revealed enough potential to merit further work. If I had a dramaturgical comment, it would be that while Spencer focuses on ‘his relationship’ to his grandmother, she does not quite get to tell enough of her own story. Understandably The Great Apeth is conceived and delivered through the grandson’s eyes, but at some point you start to want the character of the grandmother to tell more of her own story. I wouldn’t say Blinco is obliged to work with crumbs, but the drama itself may benefit from whomever is playing the grandmother to have access to a larger slice of the cake. (I write this without having discussed this with either Spencer or Blinco – it’s my view, not as a friend of the actress playing the grandmother, but rather as a veteran theatre-goer with an interest in what sort of writing craft leads to good theatre and leverages the bestest performances.)

    The playlet, like the cake, was rather a light slice of life but rich in gentle charm; and the fondness Spencer and Blinco enjoy for each other’s company clearly mirrored the play theme – a bond many of us have likely had with an elder in our family – if not grandmother then a great aunt. I had such one, my Aunt Patricia, with whom Maggie Blinco shares the same birthday (Cosmology?). Blinco was ideal for the role, not least because the character epitomised a mental adeptness and physical sturdiness, along with a dry wise sense of humour. All traits Blinco drew on with an effortless charm that caused audience members to ooh and aah. Spencer meanwhile was his delightful ‘boy-next-door’ self.

    Phil Spencer - looking serious!

    The Horse’s Mouth included ten works in all, of which I saw three: along with The Great Apeth the night I went included Zoe Coombs Marr’s monologue, I‘ve Been Everywhere Man, a road-trip adventure (often misadventure) as a solo lesbian to Cooper Pedy – very drily told and a lot of fun. And Tim Spencer’s  ‘interview’ with a gay hooker called Show Me Yours, I’ll Show You Mine – with actor Charles Purcell in the pay-per-view role. It was quite an original take on what could have been quite a predictable sojourn, so in all a good night out.

    I’m not really into critiquing these works, just saying I saw them and acknowledging the ever-growing scene of indie productions of new writing. Obviously, the more opportunities to road test developing material the better.

    Posted by James Waites @ 9:01 am


4 Responses

  • Augusta Supple Says:

    Another wonderful post, James. Thank you.
    I too adore Maggie Blinco – as a human and as an artist – and I have often been locked in the spell of her story telling and wisdom and delicate laugh.
    The title of the piece The Great Apeth (if memory serves) refers to a slang term deriving from the “ha’penny” – similar toto an insult which may equate to “someone who is not the full quid” – an idiot or a simpleton.
    I will say that in dramaturgical defence of the Great Apeth, I believe the focus of the story is that on Phil – not the grandmother character – it is Phil who paints himself as the simpleton of the title role – deferring to the wisdom and cake making skills of his grandmother.
    It is about him. Not her. It is about him – a young charming man encountering the robust and sometimes racist and ever-alert character of his grandmother and a disintegrating language. it talks of his tantrum about his “dolls”, it speaks of his appendix being removed, it speaks of his mission to make a show. It’s not about her.
    And it is a shame. Because the grandmother character is so fascinating. And Maggie is so magnetic.
    In fact for me, my favourite moment in the sliver of what I saw in that “festival” was when phil introduces Maggie as Maggie – and tells the story of how they met and how much Maggie hates that part of the show when the character is dropped and the TRUE actor is revealed.Vulnerable. Shy. Slightly cranky at being exposed. In THAT moment I was utter engaged, swept away by the discomfort and the quiet, patience of Maggie. In that 30 second bit – a whole world opened up – i saw something strange and vulnerable and volatile and I was utterly trandsfixed. And it woas worth attending the rest of the show – just for that moment.
    So in defence – I believe that dramaturgically Phil followed auto-biography – BUT it is easy to be confused that this was a piece of biography about his grandmother- it wasn’t. (Well, at least not in my mind.) But I think, perhaps, it should have been – the grandmother AND Maggie are both VERY fascinating characters and I too wanted more of and from them.

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  • James Waites Says:

    Yep I think your analysis is superior – I left it a few too many days to write and my memory not so good – I didn’t connect the ‘great apeth’ with the author/grandson xxx

  • Candida Baker Says:

    Hello James

    You are a great blogger! Well done for hitting the keys so early in the year…my mother used to affectionately call us ‘great apeths’ if we’d done something she considered a tad daft…”Candida, you are a great apeth,” she fairly often said, so perhaps I was fairly daft!
    I enjoyed your descriptions very much…



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  • James Waites Says:

    I am trying to warm up for Sydfest – i kinda dropped the ball last year – xx thanks for dropping by

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