I haven’t been writing much on what I’ve been seeing at this year’s festival offerings because, to be honest, up until now I haven’t known what to say. I am not seeing a lot of work, but I have been seeing the big theatre gigs and a pattern is starting to fall into place. Apart from The Fence which is home-grown and with which I have had an association, I’ve seen the Berlin Hamlet, the London Six Characters…, the New Zealand Tempest; and as of last night, the Dublin Giselle.
Six Characters in Search of an Author
Welcome to Sydney Lindy Hume! Hume is a practising opera (mainly) director of note, and her interest in radical interpretations of classic texts by gifted directors is certainly what holds the above-mentioned list of works together as a group. Hume also has excellent taste – if I may say so myself. This is not a festival where I, as a commentator, must imagine who the works might please – and dole out accordingly. As an audience member, for once, I can speak for myself, and say every single one of these works has been utterly engaging. All have been genuinely top-drawer international festival fare.
Which does not mean I have exactly liked them all; or that they have all been undiluted masterpieces. Nothing here like last year’s Hungarian Ivanov, which pleased absolutely everyone who saw it, and was indeed virtually perfect. Every work cited above has divided the core group of individuals I have had discussions with in foyers throughout the past two weeks. Among this group of committed theatregoers, every show has had it devotees and its dissenters. While I am happy to recognise the Berlin Hamlet as Picasso of the festival; the show that absolutely spoke to me was the Giselle from Ireland I saw last night.
I realise now I have been hungry for some tender emotion, a quality assidously avoided in the Hamlet, and never quite brought to the surface in the Pirandello. And while Giselle is many other things, crazily original and often very funny, finally it also opens up its heart – and much love and sadness flows. Just as I was surprised to meet people who ’loved’ the Pirandello without reservatrion; I was entirely thrown off balance to walk straight out of the Giselle into a tirade of discontent. Absolutely second rate, a waste of money, we have better companies. I was so shocked at the vehemence (passion) I had to withdraw from the scene. As if it had been a child just handed to me for for safe care, I felt a deep responsibility to protect my experience of the work. In my mind - young Giselle had not been properly looked after by those with the responsibility to do so in the story, and for that she herself pays the ultimate price. Death.
The point for now is this. Whether any one of us ’gets’ or or ‘does not get’ any of the above shows, at this festival, this is largely beside the point – in the context anyway of broader discourse. For once there is an opportunity for vigorous debate. About the work itself: and liking or disliking any of the above shows, more than someone else, had lead to some fascinating conversations. Conversations I have not enjoyed since the heyday of Adelaide Festivals run in previous decades by Anthony Steel, Jim Sharman and Barrie Kosky. To my mind, this is a true and proper festival. The real deal. I am sorry I haven’t got time to say a lot even today - I have got this other goddam assignment hanging over my head like a Sword of Damocles. But I will reflect more widely in a later post. I promise.
I am putting this up today as a means of reporting in – also to recommend Giselle to any of you out there who have found over time that you tend to share my taste. And while we are in the business of giving plugs – let me say from the day the program for this festival was announced, the work I have had my eye on is the Stravinsky/Peter Sellars double bill – Oedipus Rex and Symphony of the Psalms. It is yet to come. I will put more up on this also in a couple of days. But go Google for more on this show from the Festival website - find out what you can about this work and have a think about attending.
Oedipus Rex - Symphony of the Psalms
In terms of directorial reinterrogation of classic works, nothing beats my experience of Sellar’s direction of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress which travelled one year from Los Angeles to the Paris Autumn Festival. To give you a hint of the calibre of the event it was conducted by Pierre Boulez, starred Dawn Upshow, and was set in an LA Prison. Again, this time, we have Sellars, Stravinsky and a work emanating from Los Angeles. The work is scheduled for the closing days of this festival. It is not cheap. But it is also the sleeper event in this year’s program and tickets are still available. Can I suggest you have a think about this one: even if on the day of performance you go down to Half-Tix booth and pick up a bargain.
There’s my spruiking. I did say to Festival PR that I would give this show a plug as tix have not been walking out the door. But that conversation emerged from my enthusiasm, my expectation, my wonderful memories from the Sellars-Stravinsky encounter a few years back.