I’ve written previously that I was only going to concentrate on the big four this year – STC, Belvoir, Griffin and Opera Australia – and even their output is too much for one person to cover adequately. Anyway I just happen to have seen a mix of other shows over last weeks which I thought I would try to cover in one post. Following this I have promised Roger Foley (Ellis D Fogg) to put up some news about his upcoming special festival of events. Very keen to tell my younger readers about this – it’s a very rare chance. Then I’ve got two operas to write about (I’ll do them together). All in prep for the next big one - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - starring Jacqueline McKenzie and Ewen Leslie, Simon Stone directing and Robert Cousins designing. The cast includes Anthony Phelan as Big Daddy, a performance I await with interest. Unlikely casting but very possibly inspired.
Back to my speed date through these gigs I’ve seen of late. Peter Pan at Belvoir, School Dance at STC Wharf One, Rust and Bone at Griffin, Great Falls at the Ensemble, Milk Milk Lemonade at the New Theatre.
School Dance is an excellent study of pimple-age self-consciousness, written by Matthew Whittet (who also performs). It has been visiting Sydney from Adelaide, the creation of Windmill – a theatre company for young audiences and their families. Directed by the company’s Artistic Director Rosemary Myers. Sorry to have not alerted you earlier because it is one of the most tender, funny and well put together shows I have seen in a while – and for all ages. The Sydney season is now over. The best features of School Dance was the unity of its group invention and wide-open embrace of the audience. The cast reached out for us in the required first two minutes and kept us locked in engagement to the very end. A very fine show. People were talking about it in the same breath as The Secret River during Sydney Festival time.
Quite a contrast in value to the show I saw the night before, Peter Pan at Belvior. I had hoped to re-read J.M. Barrie’s much loved story before I saw the show. Curious to see how the translation from prose to stage (as in The Secret River) worked out. In retrospect I am glad I didn’t, because without such back-up I discovered this production simply did not communicate its story to anyone who was not not already familiar with the narrative line (I have run this question past a few people). A few names like Wendy, Tinker Bell (original spelling) and Captain Hook had some resonance. But with no memories of any story attached. Just names in the vast crowd of fictional and factional characters from books and films, newspaper reading and yarns over meals that hide in holes in walls in my brain – collected now for over 50 years: from Shy the Platypus to Hedda Gabler to Eddie Obied and the Faceless Men of Sussex Street. Some mouldy some fresh.
Whatever my past experience, it was up to the production to stand on its own two feet and for the cast to tell me the story afresh. That didn’t happen. The show has enjoyed excellent reviews (I am happy for that). But I am guessing most other reviewers and the bulk of the paying public enjoyed the show because they still have easy access to some imprint of the tale in their minds – onto which they could over-print with this production. There were some minor efforts at invention in the design. But overall, This Peter Pan it was a revealing as staring at a Rothko painting for two hours with my eyes shut. I am glad I emerged devoid of any experience to take home with me because at the bar there fell open an intense debate about gender roles – such as ‘women waiting on the desires of men’ (however old). Stinging criticism of the play’s under-text, which, I was relieved to discover, I had nothing to contribute. And so I could just listen and suck on the re-assuring nipple of a Coopers Pale Ale.
For me the cast failed to reach out for me in that crucial first few minutes and never after that. It was completely insular, performed as if no one else was in the room. By that I mean an audience. It wasn’t an A-list cast, and even though the casting of Meyne Wyatt as Peter Pan had caused a pre-show buzz, he needed more guidance. I think the director, Belvoir’s Artistic Director, Ralph Myers, might have got lucky with his previous effort (Noel Coward’s Private Lives) because that cast was much more talented and experienced. As I said above, I am glad most other critics liked it, and I presume most ticket buyers did too.But to suggest Peter Pan is up there with The Book of Everything, dearie me that’s utter folly: just like comparing chalk with brie. In my defence the photos look better than the show did on stage. It wasn’t an artistic mess, it was just a mess.
Let’s get down to the more Indie shows.
Rust and Bone at the Griffin intertwined three short stories by a Canadian writer Craig Davidson, the cutting and pasting by local (talented) playwright Caleb Lewis. This is man-eats-moose kinda stuff thrown on a plate by its creators akin to a late-night roadside diner feed on the highway to hell. Again I felt left out. I could find no reason why I should be listening to these boring tales or why Lewis would think them even more interesting on stage if convolutedly intertwined. The acting was pathetic. Lucky this wasn’t an official Griffin gig, but not many people would know that. The new people better not squander too much of the goodwill the company has acquired under the leadership of Sam Strong. In fairness, because I am not gong to bother to put a case, here is a link to a positive and well argued review from Crikey reviewer, Lloyd Bradford Syke.
Now to the taste-treat favourite of this lolly-bag of stage encounters. If you have any interest in theatre at all – especially writing and acting, I beg you, go see this. It’s heaven on a stick. A play at the Ensemble called Great Falls by American writer Lee Blessing. Not a familiar name but a master craftsman, and he has learned a lot about succinct, character intense, forward-driven writing in his close to 60 years in the game. IThe production is unobtrusively, yet very astutely directed Anna Crawford. The actors are Erica Lovell playing the grown-up-too-soon obstreperous step-daughter and Christopher Stollery is the never-can-quite-get-it-right, trying-to-make amends step-dad who decides they should go for a drive. To describe it as funny and heart-warming may make it sound like a slab of American Pie. If it is, then it’s very well baked.
I will let the first two names pass by - Crawford and Lovell – mainly because I am new to their work. But I have been watching Christopher Stollery for some years now, and particularly catching my eye of late for his stripped-bare, measured, ego-free honesty. A whole lot of giving to a series of slightly off-centre middle-aged men. The kind you find in the books of Don DeLillo. Apart from craft, Stollery also pours a whole lot of compassion into a man who just can’t ever get whatever he’s trying to do quite right. Maybe once, by the end: you decide.
Very impressive for newcomer Erica Lovell to keep up with Stollery all the way, with not a flicker of self-doubt. This is why I trundle off week-in, week-out, in all kinds of weather, just to catch, just a few times a year, acting that’s this unvarnished and eloquent. Great Falls is a lovely play as modern as it is old-fashioned; and here, at the Ensemble, very nicely done.
For my last play/production I am going to be as lazy as I can. The show was fab, i could go on but running out of steam. I have pulled this up from director Melita Rowston’s Facebook page. Just a few words from me straight after getting home from the New Theatre where thjis production is playing. Another American play, another good recipe if not quite as rich. This one’s called Milk Milk Lemonade by Josh Conkel. Why that title I have no idea because the play is set on a chicken farm. Again a deceptively well put together script.
It was my first taste of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras season 2013 and here’s what I scribbled to Melita: Jimmy Waites ’Adorable production – very well realised and a heap of fun – the love story was beautifully told by both the writer and the actors – and presumably input from you too - a gay play fit to be called a gay play. Go find and read a fabulous first novel called Lord of the Barn Yard. Not gay but just as hilarious and naughty.’ Trust me – if you’re in the mood for fun and you’re a gay or gay-friendly indie theatre lover. This one’s for you.