• 12 Nov 2012 /  Reviews, THEATRE 1 Comment

    By long overdue I mean I should have written about these shows weeks ago – if only life and work were as easy to meld together as one would wish. In terms of one-again off-again, Blogs just don’t work. You take a break – you lose your readers. Do they ever come back? Now is not the time for negativity. What I do want to say is that after a year of debating the viability of this site I have decided to give in one more go. Filling in a few bits meanwhile but starting properly in January 2013. All sorts of factors have held me back. But in my silence people have come to me in foyers to say that they miss my words. So I guess there are more people out there reading me that I thought  – and I need to know that. There is no point giving three days on a blog post if nobody is reading it. I do encourage you all to post a comment now and again: even if it’s just ‘Hi Jim – that was crap.’ Just to reassure me that I am not simply barking at the moon.

    Genevieve Lemon and Colin Friels – Photo by Heidrun Lohr

    For now, an simple acknowledgement of some shows I have seen of late. At Belvoir, Death of a Salesman – I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve changed my mind. I was greatly influenced by Kevin Jackson’s review (no bad thing in itself). But I have decided to stay with my own original view that the ending was just fine. Jackson’s review is fascinating and his argument compelling. But if the end was faulty – as he claims – why would it still be with me so many weeks later. We didn’t lose out in the process of upgrading the text for our own time. And so, I have settled now on the view that this was a fine production, well directed with a fine cast – led magnificently by Colin Friels.

    So much commentary over the past two years has been often focused on this new fashion for ‘mucking around’ with the texts. Text as in what the playwrights wrote. It has to be obvious by now that this is not a passing fad, but a shift in the way theatre is conceived and made – at least in Sydney. It is, as they say in political circles, a ‘new paradigm’. And it is only to be expected that people who come from another time are having difficulty with it. So too are critics. Even enthusiasts like me: because we have not yet worked up a language to appropriately address this re-jig of means and purpose of theatre-making. I have encouraged a new generation to step up to the plate.  Accepting the invite to dinner, it is not my job to then tell them what to out on the banquet table for us to east. Only whether it worked for us or not.  The fact is the era of Neil Armfield and the likes of me are over, as culture changers. We have in 30 years made our bed  and so we must lie on it. Quite proudly I think. And what we are seeing from the best of the next generation is work, at it’s best, takes us to great places, by a markedly different road map.  This does not mean I am not looking forward to Armfield’s 2013 Sydney Festival, a stage adaptation of  production at the STC of Kate Grenville’s wonderful novel The Secret River. I have said a few times in the past, that if Neil Armfield had not contributed so significantly to the era now drawing to a close, I may well not have bothered to proffer my comments from the side-lines. It is true, by now, I can second guess Neil’s approach to staging. And still love it. But it certainly won’t look anything like a production from Simon Stone or Benedict Andrews.

    I thought the production to follow Death of Salesman, that being a ‘version’ of Noel Coward’s comedy Private Lives, was very well done. Here we had another example of, not so much a fad, but changing times. The matter of ‘multi-skilling’ effects so many aspects of the lives of young people these days, why wouldn’t it spill over into theatre making. Actors are writing, writer’s are directing, directors are writing, actors are doing screen as well as the stage. Meanwhile some of them are working  all over the world, but coming home every now and again for something special here. It is no longer a question of:  ‘Is this this approach to theatre-making  valid?’ But rather: ‘Does this example of the new ‘multi-skilling’ and mix-mastering the original script succeed. Benedict Andrews’ Every Breath, which he wrote and directed, did not get over the bar. On the other hand, his recent production of Private Lives, directed by Ralph Myers dis – and at quite a height. And this was, so far as I know, Myers’ his  main-stage directing debut (better known as a gifted designer and currently also Belvoir’s Artistic Director). Not surprisingly Myers designed the set and it fitted the production hand-in-glove. My link widget isn’t working today – so for more detail go to Lloyd Bradford-Syke’s at Crikey. Or go to Belvoir’s website which will link you to other reviews as well.

    Zahra Newman with Toby Schmitz

    Creating comedy is not as easy as it looks, and Myers’ production was  not only radically updated, but light of touch, amusing and very well paced. He had an lovely cast in Eloise Mignon, Toby Schmitz, Zahra Newman, Toby Truslove and Mish Gregor- who gave of themselves full. They were all the right people for these roles: they knew what was expected from them and it caused the production to sing. An aesthetically united production team as well: costumes – Alice Babidge, lights – Damien Cooper and sound – Stephan Gregory. If these names are starting to sound familiar at Belvior, well why not? There’s something to be said for team-work especially in theatre-making, and Armfield had his favourites too for the same reason. The show has just closed – but it was a a great way to broach the end of the 2012 season. One last show left for Upstairs opening 17 November – Beautiful One Day – based on a notorious ‘ death in custody’ case on Palm Island a few years’ back.

    Ryan Corr with Jacqueline McKenzie – Sex With Strangers: Photo by Brett Boardman

    Ian Meadows in Between Two Waves

    Readers I wanted to go on and write about the STC’s production of Sex With Strangers with Jacqueline McKenzie and Ryan Corr – masterfully directed by screen-director Jocelyn Moorhouse. And Griffin’s excellent production of Ian Meadows’ new play Between Two Waves, with Meadows in the lead role. But I keep crashing and I am afraid I will lose all the above at any minute. So I will post what’s here today. Get on with some prep for a National Library interview booked in for this afternoon. And get back to the other two productions as soon as I can. Both deserve high praise. With regard to the latter, my understanding is that Meadows did not expect to play the lead role – and had to be coaxed into it. That was a good idea – but Meadows has been multi-skilling as an actor and writer for some time now. It’s a very sensitive realisation of a troubled character – I have to admit one whose concerns I share and often also find disabling.

    Posted by James Waites @ 9:50 am

One Response

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  • simbo Says:

    It’s interesting how controversial the “actors in their natural accents” performance style has been – with Private Lives, it felt like the play was stripped back and exposed for the first time in ages (it became far more noticable, for instance, without the tuxedos and cut-glass accents, how the central relationship is both verbally and physically abusive). It’s interesting how the removal of one distancing mechanism (the accents and styles of another culture) makes you actually look at how the play works at its core.

    I find that a lot of reviewers seem so stuck on this that they don’t actually see where the production does spring from the text (for instance, Death of a Salesman’s central use of the car absolutely springs from the first conversations in the script – to quibble about the reality of Willie Loman’s insurance situation seems to be displaying wilful ignorance that the production’s working on the level of symbolism and metaphor rather than strict realism). It

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