• 26 Jan 2012 /  Reviews, THEATRE

    ‘Salve Magister!’ ‘

    Sedate Discipoli!’

    That’s what we used to say at the beginning of our Latin classes at school – yes I come from last days of Latin being taught and I remember only a couple of phrases, mostly to do agriculture and war. The above translates: ‘Good Morning Sir!’ or – perhaps – ‘Hail Oh Great Teacher!’ And then in reply – ‘Be seated students!’ This could be me talking to you? Though I think our relationship is more mutual.

    Or, more likely, theatre as an art form addressing moi – telling me to sit down and listen (and watch). The bulk of the wisdom I have accrued in my life time thus far has come, pretty much in equal portions, from my lived experiences (mostly my mistakes) in all their wonder and glory and the many lessons I have learned Read the rest of this entry »

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  • 18 Jan 2012 /  Reviews, THEATRE

    Time is the enemy of a writer covering a festival – here are two shows that deserve contemplation for all who see them, even more so from the commentators. This far into the 2012 Sydney Festival, reviewers are proving their stamina, or lack thereof. I tend to jog along with the second pack. Not out of the race, but struggling for air. I’d like to say a lot about these two shows: Never Did Me Any Harm  (Force Majeure and Sydney Theatre Company) at the Wharf and The Boys (Griffin) at the Stables. I’d also very much like to be at the Symposium today on Aboriginal Theatre. But normal life events – like seeing my GP whenever he can squeeze me in – also can’t keep piling up forever.

    Marta Dusseldorp, Alan Flower and Vincent Crowley

    Both of these shows are set in an Australian backyard. And, though very different in tone and form, each have significant creative histories. Force Majeure – Kate Champion (director) with Roz Hervey (associate director) and Geoff Cobham (designer) – has been evolving a performance language that combines movements Read the rest of this entry »

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  • 17 Sep 2011 /  Reviews

    “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).

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  • 13 Aug 2011 /  Reviews

    In all the too-ing and fro-ing  in recent months over the primacy of ‘original texts’ versus trendoid updates, the core of the issue has really been as old as – well let’s say the time I was on a Sydney’s Writer’s Week panel – some years ago now.  The other contenders for best celebrity one-liner were Richard Wherrett, Louis Nowra and Katharine Brisbane. I could have that wrong, it might not have been Wherrett – but anyway – someone in the director’s corner. Because the topic was: ‘Who’s more important: the director or the writer?’ For argument’s sake a suitable word-boxer in the director’s corner might have been Barrie Kosky. Though it wasn’t him coz he would have knocked us all out  – just through sheer verbal dexterity and condescending grandeur – and he would have won. And he would have one and I remember me winning. Brisbane of course had to keep a lady-like leg in both camps. Anyway, I think I won because after the writer and the director had finished telling us why HE was the most important, I suggested that in my view it was NEITHER of them. I have put this case before on this site in different ways but let me re-iterate vis-a-vis the Writers Festival anecdote.

    My case was this: that 48 hours after opening night, where were the writer and director? They were up the pub drowning their sorrows over beer and chardonnay respectively, proposing increasingly exotic ways of removing me – the critic – from the living world. My review had just come out that day and they were apoplectic with rage. So drinking it was – and a new-found camaraderie against was ever-so clearly a common enemy. All the while the actors were attending a fresh rendition of the work of art, of which each claimed to be the primary creator. Security cameras would prove, as the art took place, the writer and the director were not even in the room (theatre). I wasn’t there either, but an audience  – the people a critic represents – were.

    So here is my point. As much as I love writers and directors – let’s say equally as well as profoundly – neither is or are the primary creators of the art form, together or separately, we call theatre. Actors are! And not just actors. Not actors alone. In my conceptual universe – it’s actors and audience together who create theatre. On the night, each night. Each night a new and fresh work of art born in the imaginative space that sits – both physically and mentally – between the stage and the auditorium. Born and then dies as it is born. Somehow miraculously, when it is good, the experience leaving an imprint on our souls  – sometimes forever. The show that’s no good – on my body anyway – it doesn’t stick. So it’s not just that actors are more important than writers and directors, but that it’s actors and audience, together as a team who make theatre happen, especially the best theatre. The best writers and directors meanwhile – cf Shakespeare and Moliere – know this. Having trod the boards themselves, it was obvious. And it’s obvious in their scripts. As writers they worked as servants to the actor-audience relationship. From this I trust you can deduce that I respect good writing, I just put it in a different place in the working order of the theatre-making process. In relation to when the gongs are handed out and acclaim sets in.

    So how does this effect the debate we have had over the past few months over the fancy rejigging of Euro Classics versus the diminishing interest by the big companies in the living Australian playwright (in the old-fashioned sense of the word – he or she who comes up with their own story and writes it down)? Well it puts most of the main players in the debate – including those opposing each other – in the same corner of he ring. Basically, we in the audience don’t give a goddam where or how the material is sourced – just give the actors something good to work with. ‘Don’t give a goddam’ is perhaps an overstatement: as connoisseurs, devotees and recreational punters, of course we like to admire a good script in itself – as much as we admire good directing in itself. But the tail should never ever wag the dog. Nothing worse than theatre where actors are treated like shop dummies and the director considers the presence of an audience to be of minor importance or a major distraction.

    I go to the trouble to clarify my position because it has probably looked over the past few months that I have been slipping and sliding. In one post I am all for director as auteur, then I am missing my down-at-heel Aussie writer. It’s because I love them equally, and in my mind those loyalties don’t clash. What bothers me is when writers and directors gang up and claim supremacy of status over actor and audience. What was really wrong with The Business is that the acting was crap – and I don’t blame the actors for that. What they were asked to do was crap. So much so it was offensive to the audience – the shit of disrespect was being flung as far as the stalls. I liked The Seagull because I liked the acting – not everyone did. Many among out=r more discerning have experienced more nuanced readings and therefore felt the production schematic. I liked the acting because I thought it fitted well with director Andrews scheme of things – to me the acting worked with the directing (the unusual visual add-ons like the unexplained  ‘real life’ sign) to create a ‘whole of theatre experience.

    More Belvoir references: why did we like The Wild Duck? it wasn’t the groovy re-translation (few would have known the characters had been reduced in number by about half). It certainly wasn’t the somewhat irritating glass wall that turned every character into some kind of caged bird. It was the acting. Not just Ewen Leslie and Anita Hegh, but also in so-called lesser roles, Anthony Phelan and Eloise Mignon. Why did I like Neighbourhood Watch so much? Because the actors took me – and many (not all) of us in the audience – to a special place. So much so, I didn’t notice the shortcomings in the writing cited by others. Or if I did notice, I didn’t care. How brilliantly did Kris McQuade’s heart-rending Milova (officially a supporting role) hold up against Nevin’s tour-de-force?

    How do we get to the Sydney Theatre Company from here? Segue. Take a bus I guess. Coz what I want to talk about in this post – mostly – is acting at the STC. The good, the bad and the ugly. I need to preface these comments however (haven’t done enough prefacing, you ask?) I just need to say a couple of things before I get to the subject of acting. I was around when the STC was born and I lived through the era of every STC artistic director: Richard Wherrett, Wayne Harrison, Robyn Nevin and now Glitter and Fluffy – the Upton-Blanchetts. Each regime/reign has had its strengths and weaknesses, and on balance mostly strengths. All have run the company in their own quite brilliant ways. But I want to say this: no matter how well I got on with any of them personally, none of Wherrett, Harrison or Nevin ever took criticism with good grace. Not often anyway. Not from me, not from anyone. I think Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton should be given there due: whether it is for their decisions as artistic directors, or their creative work in the fields of acting, writing and directing they have always maintained an amazing openness to critical comment. Even Neil Armfield, equanimous in temperament in day-to-day life, has been known to bristle – rare as negative reviews of his work have been. And I would be the same. I am the same. The hairs on my back also go straight up!

    However Glitter and Fluffy feel in private, and at times it surely has to hurt, in public they keep up a highly principled courtesy. That has not stopped them being on the receiving end of some big serves, even from me. As artistic directors they have been hammered for some of their biggest choices. As artistic directors, for example, in the area of inviting in – sometimes dodgy – overseas talent. As an actor, Blanchett has found herself in several productions where, if not personally criticised, the show she has been in has taken heat – and as the show’s leading actress (inevitably) it surely must rub. I’m referring to say Streetcar here where many thought visiting director Liv Ullmann did a fairly crappy job. As a writer, Upton got massively rubbished for his own play Riflemind. And while Blanchett has ventured into directing modestly, Upton has taken on some huge texts – and his work on them has not always impressed. Namely, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

    Whatever the critical reception of one show or another, I am sure other reviewers in this city would generally agree, Upton and Blanchett remain committed to open dialogue.

    In the past year, I have not had a chance to review in full as many STC shows as I have wanted to. For some reason life sometimes just gets in the way – and so here is a bit of catch up. I scribbled out a few mediocre comments on  Zebra and an a equivocal ‘I dunno’ in response to Baal. Hardly a reflection of what the STC has been up to in the past year.

    I was overseas when Uncle Vanya opened, and it as made known to me when I returned that the artistic directors wanted me to see the production. I think they were truly proud of it. I had a few small reservations, but there was a lot to like. I am not surprised it has been received so well in Washington, this week. After all director Tamas Ascher is not only a fine director, he is a director who puts his actors centre-stage. It is a given that we have a hoard of fine actors in the country (as we do sportsmen and women – is there a connection?) Vanya has in it – Blanchett, Bell, Roxburgh, Weaving – do I need to go on? I should have written pages about this production, and now is not the right time. Though on the subject of acting – how brilliant was John Bell? Bell is always good, but often no better than good because, when he can, he tends to to play it safe. Ascher, I am told, pushed him into that zone (as Kosky did in the Bell Shakespeare Lear) where Bell was awesome. As were the other actors named above – Blanchett, Roxburgh, Weaving.

    In terms of giving credit where it is due, little was made of Andrew Upton’s adaptation. We have a problem here. Basically none of us here who swan around publishing critical commentary are qualified to evaluate the many translations/renditions/adaptations of this run of Euro-classics we have had of late (Uncle Vanya, The Wild Duck, The Business, Baal, The White Guard) and now playing in STC Wharf One, Lorca’s Blood Wedding (directed and adapted by Iain Sinclair).

    The Vanya is Upton’s adaptation. As was the version of The Cherry Orchard we saw in the final years of Robyn Nevin’s reign. I mention this because the British director, Howard Davies, re-used Upton’s Cherry Orchard script for his production at the National in London (Zoe Wannamaker as Robyn Nevin) – and some us got to see that, screened (it had been filmed) at the Sydney Theatre, a few weekends back.

    In all, Upton has created at least seven adaptations of major classics including, for Howard Davies at the National, Gorky’s The Philistines (2007) and Bulgakov’s The White Guard (2010). Both attracted critical comment Upton’s textual contributions, much of it positive – some of it less so. The naysayers mostly followed arguments we have had here about taking so-called liberties with the original. Our arts reporting is so dire here these days that most people wold not know what Upton is best known for internationally – these adaptations. And it’s funny that we have had all this hoo-ha about the pro’s and cons about rejigging the classics for out times (and our city) – and Upton’s name had hardly been mentioned.Though this nicely balanced piece of commentary by Jo Litson was published on the STC’s own website.

    I say ‘hardly mentioned’ because the forensic Mr Kevin Jackson did recently take a close look at the same subject in his review of The White Guard. In a wide-ranging piece, which picks up a number of threads online theatre commentators in Sydney have been pursuing of late, he also cites specific examples of where Upton has intervened quite creatively with the literal translation. If you go to both this above mentioned links, I think many of you will find the answers you have been looking for. Or at least some smart healthy discussion. My point here is to merely highlight Upton’s international reputation as an adapter of now a large number of classic texts.

    Back to acting. Can I say, while I liked Upton’s script, I found the acting in the National Theatre’s production of The Cherry Orchard overly predictable. To me, it was ‘how you do Chekhov well’. But to such an extent i could predict just about every hand gesture or fleeting glance Wannamaker made. I imagine those who disliked the acting in Andrews’ The Seagull would have preferred this for its nuancing and consistency. Personally, give the acting surprises in that Seagull any time.

    So to my topic – my title: ‘Whatever Happened to STC Acting?’ Let’s consider those STC shows where the acting as been a feature: A Streetcar Named Desire, A Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Uncle Vanya. All three served up huge scoops of first-class acting. What was weird was that two of the directors  – Ullmann for Streetcar and Upton for Long Day’s Journey were inexperienced relative to the heftiness of the texts and the casts – and overall size and status of the shows. And it showed – lowering the peg of overall achievement for both. In Vanya, the fact that Upton’s adaptation had such an Australian feel rubbed up against director Ascher’s Hungarian origins at times. My best example for this was the very broad accent asked for from Hayley McElhinney as the sister Sonia who lives on the farm. Other have commented on the attempt to make class/culture distinctions in this production through the use of different Australian accents. But what would the Hungarian Asher know about this, hew would have had to be advised. In the case of McElhinney, I don’t think it was good advice. Her flat broad country sound belied her well-to-do upbringing, and was even more harsh than that of the peasants and underlings working for her. I only mention this because I thought it denies this highly sensitive chance to go to a place in herself that would have allowed Sonia’s famous last scene to sing.

    Reservations I had about any of these three shows is small beer compared to their overall achievement. All three were unforgettable achievements. Even though I was very tough in my reviews of both Streetcar and Long Day’s Journey, both productions have stayed with me. And more to the point here, all three of these shows featured great acting – great Australian acting. And I am not at all surprised that all three of done so well on their USA tours.

    What I want to ask is what has happened to acting at the STC more recently. While some debates the pro’s and cons of the Zebra script, most were underwhelmed by Bryan Brown’s acting. For a show with only three actors this was an issue. The core problem with Baal, in my opinion, was the acting. There was none – just a bit of hanging around on stage. The biggest acting problem was Thomas M Wright in the lead role who was meant to be a character of Pied-Piper like charisma. So lacking in pulling power was this performance – how could any of the characters be drawn to THAT! – I stalled in my response wondering if this had not been a deliberate decision by the director to mindf*ck us. In some bizarre intellectual way, turn our expectations upside down. But no one else on stage, from an acting point of view, was worth the price of a ticket either. Pretty young people walking around naked is not acting. The set was the star – and I will come back to that.

    Then came The White Guard, discussed at length above. I think I have said enough about Andrew Upton’s adapting skills for it to be clear I hold the man in high regard as a writer. Is he one of the world’s great directors – no. Should he, as artistic director of the STC, be taking on such big directorial gigs as Long Day’s Journey and The White Guard so early in his progress – I think not. For an artist who displays no arrogance as a human being, I don’t understand why Upton has not chosen to take a more cautious path into the word of directing – if that is where he wants to go. He’s nothing like Robyn Nevin – and yes I am going to say it after 10 years of silence on the matter – who hogged every major role for a senior actress in her time as AD of the STC. And being so busy running the company and directing herself, rarely delivered at full capacity in any of these parts. Different now she is back to being freelance, which only proves my point.

    Not only was The White Guard ordinarily directed, the acting was almost without interest. Darren Gilshenan did well to hold up his part, and there was a certain quality to the performance of Miranda Otto. But after that I never believed there as a war taking place outside. To what extent the director takes responsibility for this is hard to know. A better director would have got more from this cast, but this cast in itself was hardly what you would call major fire power. Featured in the cast were the male members of the STC Residents. And this, in fact, is the trigger to this long post. What is going on with this STC acting ensemble, this group of wannabe kids who replaced the incredible if controversial STC Actors Company? We have read virtually nothing about them in the press, not even that at least three of the ensemble have left – without explanation. Nor have these three been replaced. And what about their journey as actors? If their work in The White Guard is anything to go by, they have made no progress at all. Not wanting to jump ahead too much – but the same concern arose this week when we saw the female members of The Residents at work in Blood Wedding? We have given this group of young actors a lot of time, but we are yet to see them work together in away that suggested an ‘ensemble’ quality. And not a single one has risen from the ranks to suggest even a semblance of star quality.

    Not long ago we had a production of Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness. Beautifully costumed, but again oddly cast and the acting didn’t grab. There is a reason why I have not been reviewing STC shows in full of late – none have inspired a response in me

    After the desultory experiences of Baal, The White Guard and Edward Gant who could have thought the company could stoop to such an artistic low as Blood Wedding. Another Euro classic! Yes we should see them, but only if we are fairly sure we can do them well. ‘Spanish’ is a big cultural stretch for us, and this production gets nowhere near what this play by Lorca needed. That we had a Spanish play calling for high formality and HUGE passions was always going to be a big ask for any Australian troupe, laconic in temperament as we are. But to muddy the water by inviting in a Polish-trained designer: not of the minimalist Grotowski school, but the type that love’s silly over-elaborate masks, and other forms of loaded imagery – that suggested neither Australia nor Spain. Gifted as the designer may be – this was, to my mind, the wrong person for this job.

    Not that the designer was the show’s biggest problem, again it was the acting. Some big-armed gestures from Leah Purcell. But after that? The casting of Resident Sophie Ross in all her peach-skinned Celtic splendour was just nuts when you could have had Zindzi Okenyo, another Resident, who at least shows some semblance of being hot blooded. Overall, you go to see a play by Lorca to be blown away by the ‘passion’ – the very subject of Blood Wedding is passion. And to get this lame facsimile was very disappointing. After months of sullen silence, a question in my head began to take shape.

    What is also worrying about the STC right now is the imbalance between the very high production values and all this under-whelming acting. Great sets (Zebra, Baal), great costumes (Edward Gant) and incredibly well-made but aesthetically inappropriate design features in Blood Wedding only served to highlight the fact that the company is losing a grip of its sense of what good theatre is made of. Can think about getting back to basics – the core artistic promise. the actors and his/her relationship – on the night – with their audience.

    ADDENDUM (several days later)

    A colleague wrote in to say this story felt as if there was more to come. When in the back of my mind it was my retirement speech. Not quite – but more of that in my next post.  And he was right. There were a few issues left lingering in my mind. The two subjects I want to touch on stand at opposite ends of the theatre-making scale in Sydney (in it’s current creative climate). After dumping above on so much STC product from a great height, I wanted to mention two shows I neglected to mention that I really liked. They were both directed by Pamela Rabe: Elling and In The Next Room (or the Vibrator Play). I know that sentence is immediately going to surprise some people – re The Next Room. Pamela Rabe got her first chance to direct while a member of the STC Actors Company. Now in theory an actor should bring certain skills to the rehearsal room that a director who’s come straight from an Arts degree at Sydney Uni make lack. After all they have encountered the specific challenges an actor faces; and they’ve usually had both good and bad experiences working with directors. It doesn’t always translate because there’s more to directing than understanding acting – there’s the handling of time and space, and in most of our theatre the ways and means of communicating ideas apart form that which can be expressed through actors bodies.

    In the case of Rabe, the requisite package of gifts seems to hold. I’m not talking about how good or bad the scripts were. A whole coterie of people found the writing on In The Next Room lacking, not in craft, bit in progressive political dimension, if I can put it that way. Many felt that some of the roles were cliched stereotypes (ie the man who enjoyed the anal probe as an ‘artist’), worst of all that a play that purported to be FOR women, folded the women in the story back into very conventional social roles by the end. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s put the politics of the writing to one side. Both Elling and In The Next Room offered great acting opportunities – in the style with which our major companies are familiar. And this is where Rabe, as a director shone. For Elling Rabe selected a lovely cast – Darren Gilshenan, Lachy Hulme, Glenn Hazeldine, Frank Whitten and Yael Stone – and from the stalls, they were a delight to watch. the same is true for In The Next Room. Whatever you thought of the play itself, the acting was first rate – especially among the women – Mandy McElhinney, Jacqueline McKenzie, Helen Thomson and Sara Zwangobani.

    I am sorry to have punctured the pride of director Iain Sinclair in being so blunt about my disappointment in Blood Wedding, but after a series of disappointments with the acting in STC productions of late – unfortunately it become the one, in terms of timing, to find itself sit firmly in my sights. Was The White Guard any better directed – no.  Was the acting any better – no.

    I guess I built entire post on a promise that remains, until now, unstated. That Australia produces, and boasts among its ranks, so many wonderful actors. I’ve mentioned, many names in this piece. I could mentioned as many again twice over. We are physical people, just as we produce great sportsmen and women, we produce great actors. the difference is we support out actors, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Imagine if NIDA enjoyed the budget and highly trained staff of the Australian Institute of Sport. Whatever a sportsperson needs in the country to win a gold medal, they get – experts in nutrition and mindset experts alongside, scientists and physical trainers. Some of out actors win gold – Logies, Emmys, Tony’s, Academys – but they get there on their own-some. And usually by giving up on Australia and taking themselves of to success and acclaim via Los Angeles.Why Australian actors do so well in the USA is a question I can’t answer. But when the likes of Robyn Nevin in the Long Day’s Journey tour, or Blanchett, Roxburgh and Weaving are similarly acclaimed during their recent Vanya tour, I am not one bit surprised.

    Let me go to my second point. I’ve been talking about the big end of town. Just by chance as I was finishing off this piece last week, I went out to see a tiny little show out at Parramatta. The show was called Unsex Me and  it played in the smallest room in the Riverside complex – I think it’s called Raffertys (which is a really dumb name for a venue – especially the token ‘experimental’ space – given the that the first thought that comes to mind is ‘Rafferty’s Rules’ – aka disorder/shabby. After all I’ve said about the importance of actors and their inter-relationship with audiences here was a stunning example of what I have been talking about. Okay, so there was some direct audience interaction, but that’s not what I as talking about. Quite simply very little of this show could come to life, or make sense, without the presence of an audience. Which for a very little show on a tiny budget, would not have made rehearsals easy.

    But that’s not my main point here. I’ve heaped a lot of praise on Australian actors and acting here. But truth to tell, even our best actors only use some of themselves – given our house – or National – style. It’s still effectively ‘talking-heads’ theatre. The full resources of an actor’s body are rarely called upon in Australian theatre culture. And that’s what was so mightily impressive about Unsex Me. Modest though the show was in every way, it was a very rare reminder that there is a lot more to acting craft then what we get to see in either our big mainstream shows or in our low-budget Indie gigs. Unsex Me was very obviously co-created by director Michal Imielski and actor Nick Atkins. Imielski was trained in Poland, but unlike the designer of Blood Wedding, he’s from the ‘poor’ theatre tradition of Grotowski where the resources of the actors body are mined relentlessly. There were other aspects to the stage ‘grammar’ of show – some well-deployed props including a giant balloon and a set of wine glasses, and sound/music is also a strong feature. The work explored aspects of a young man’s courting rituals, but in ways that constantly surprised and across a range of moods from serious to whimsical and downright silly.

    Imielski could not have created this work without  Nick Atkins. This young actor is at the beginning of his career, but if this is anything to go by we have the prospect of a major talent. Not only is he good, but also just so different. There were parts of the show where what Imielski required Atkins to push his body in ways that reminded me directly of Grotowski – lean, athletic, precise, strict. There were other sequences where Atkins played directly with the audience and even called them up onto the stage. Every audience member’s worst fear. What was interesting, at least on opening night, was that such a trust had been established, I think anyone in the audience would have have felt fine. By that I mean even me – we felt we were being ‘looked after’.

    I am not going to suggest that Unsex Me is the greatest show I have ever seen. It is what it is: an experimental piece created on a small amount of money by an almost unacclaimed director and a very young actor. Not all the show made sense, and on opening night a whole bunch of technical tings went wrong. But it didn’t matter – for me there was something so refreshing about this show. However modest, and whatever its shortcomings, Unsex Me embodied that secret x-factor I keep looking for in my theatre-going experiences. And usually never get. For a fulsome report on Unsex Me go to Augusta Supple’s site.

    What is that ‘x-factor’ that unique theatre-as-art-unforgettable gene? I can only allude to it, hint at it. You touch it, you name it – it disappears. It is by very definition elusive – that’s the secret to its identity. It’s a matter I’ve touched on in the past. Just as I mentioned at the top the primacy of the actor-audience relationship. The next question to ask is: what is born of that relationship? Something clearly very real – otherwise, why would we go back and back. But unreal to – it’s both three-dimensional and without dimensions at all. This is the best way I have found to describe the theatre experience: and to do so I have to resort to allusion, enter via poetics.

    Co-created, theatre is born in the empty space between actors and audience. As the more physically active partners, the actors throw it out there – hopefully the audience identifies and responds. The question I have asked myself many times is not so much ‘what do we remember – but ‘why’? So I come to this: theatre is a photograph printed on our souls. A lousy print, it’s faded by the next day. A good print stays with us – like a tattoo or an x-ray. The memory stays burned on our bodies – on the bodies that exist inside our bodies – the people deep down we really are.

    I can understand why, after so many years of attending theatre sometimes several times a week, so much of it is lost to me. The question I ask is why are there some moments I can still remember – as alive today as they were unfolding in front of me.  How do you make theatre like that? You can’t force it. You can’t make it happen – but you won’t even begin to succeed if you don’t try: eg Unsex Me. These guys are trying.

    By way of a more renowned example, let me cite what I guess would be my favourite – and most memorable – show ever. It played at an Adelaide Festival, I guess sometime in the 1980s. It came from Japan and was called Mizu No Eki (To The Water Station) created by Ota Shogo. I am not going to say any more here, but to point out just one feature of this incredibly powerful and evocative work for the stage – it used no words, though there was and still is is a playscript. As much as I love words, I am well aware of their limits. And they certainly are only one resource available to people who wish to make great theatre. The rle words paly in a threatre script would need to be the subject of another whole discussion: perhaps another day. For more on Mizu No Eki, go to this site. Try not to be confused, while some of the commentary (Mari Boyd) is about Ota’s production, this site is linked to a research project looking into the work – the video material is not from Ota’s original version. I am sure if you want to know more, you will find more.

    PS: I’s like to put some photos to this post, but it would take another two days. Maybe I’ll get a chance another time. I don’t like like leaving work looking like this, but that’s life. Sometimes you just can’t do everything.

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  • 03 Jun 2011 /  Reviews

    I’ve have been struggling with this one for weeks, it’s been like having an albatross hanging round my neck and getting stinkier by the day.  I’ve decided to burn all previous drafts cut the dead body off and toss it back into the sea. If it floats, well and good. If it sinks, so be it. I know the problem: while there is much I admire and respect about this production,it also happened to leave me unmoved. Positive or negative – I can find little in me to generate a response. So whatever comes out here is by way of effort and a sense of duty, not enthusiasm or outrage.

    Some packaging. I wrote a very tough response recently to The Business, and since Baal is in many ways it corner opposite, the presumption would be that I would come out raving. But art is rarely so simple, nor writing about it. Both works are by what I guess we are now calling the new generation to float to the top of the profession here in Australia. And there are some commonalities. Both work are radical rewrites of minor texts by famous writers. And bother are shows that are very strongly director and designer driven. In other ways the two shows could not be more different. If The Business, whatever anyone else says, was shrill and ill-prepared, Baal is a thoroughly considered project and well worked through. Secondly, it is much easier to write about a show if you react to it with a passion – either way (positive or negative). In that sense I found it easy to write about The Business because it stirred a reaction in me. That did not happened to me watching Baal. I thought it was classy, but I came away unmoved: neither shaken nor stirred.

    Baal and a victim: photo by Jeff Busby

    It may well be that this was its point. The creators seemed to deliberately choose to work against certain conventions and emotional expectations. With so much of what is popular in theatre – like big emotions – surgically removed, we were being pushed, I think, to think. But what about?

    Let me say early up that, with all the baalihoo about the current trend fort rendering-renditioning-stealing-translating-reworking-adapting (call it what you will) of classic texts, I chose on this occasion to experiment by taking the work for what it is on stage now – unfamiliar with Brecht’s original. I have never seen a production nor read a translation. This seemed an important opportunity, given the course of the current debate. Most ticket-buying punters are unfamiliar with the ‘originals’ on which many of our more important current productions are based. And I know, from my own experience, it does have an effect. Tom Holloway’s Love Me Tender was inspired by Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis. I knew the source text and – talking to others who had seen the show and been quite confused by it – I realised that my familiarity with the Euripides helped me ‘read’ and appreciate Holloway’s script. And hence the production. I remember people involed in the production saying, ‘oh you don’t need to know the original’. Although I never reviewed this production at the time, I have been waiting to say this: yes you do, yes you did!

    We all bring different pasts into the theatre, and theatre-makers can never ensure we all start on the same page (as it were). But theatre is a communal event, and in the debate about this new fashion for re-fashioning classic texts (remembering all translations are re-fashionings to some degree) I think a simple fact is being overlooked. Yes, of course you can re-jig the heck out of an old script for contemporary purposes. But I do think artists need to remember that in stripping and honing, in cutting and re-arranging, in adding and subtracting they are spending a lot of time with the original and are getting to know it very well. One of the reasons why I liked The Wild Duck is, not only was it emotionally engaging but, having some familiarity with a couple of conventional translations, I was able to admire what the writers had ‘done’ in bringing their version to life for a 21st century audience.

    It also had what I personally enjoy in the theatre – big honest emotions. Now I that may well be a matter of personal predilection – yes I live out  a big slice of my personal inner life by going to the theatre. But I am not sure the general ticket buying public (and they are a very mixed bunch), are always getting what the artists are setting out to create in these new ‘readings’ of classics because there is a backlog of knowledge packed into the scripts’ origins to which many are not privy. And then the double whammy in Baal, a whole bunch of – let us call them cliches about traditional theatre making – are surgically removed. So what we have is as new as the newest work of art in an art gallery. Unfortunately, a work of art in an art gallery can sit there for decades until people catch up with it. Theatre, I would argue, has to pick people up from where they are now and lift them to a new place.

    Of course this is getting more and more difficult when the way we experience the world is getting more and more individualised – no more talk around the water cooler at work about last night’s hit television show because we were all watching something different. And anyway, who works in an office – personally, I don’t see people for days. The closest I get to sharing whatever happened to me last night is on Facebook (and that usually involves me taking a photo of one of my cats and hosting that up via various forms of technology).

    Then there is the ‘cold fish’ argument. It is a valid endeavour, but to and one pursued by Brecht himself. Remove the big emotional responses, so we can better observe or study that is happening to the characters. I am denied my cheap thrill, that’s okay. But what happens if I am being delivered food for thought and I see nothing on the plate to digest. Not nothing I want to digest – that would be like being to scared to eat peas (like poor Wozzeck). But nothing – I emerged from this production in a zombie state. Neither alive nor dead.

    That is not how it has been for others. Some have loved the show – people with fine minds and lots of theatre experience. other with fine minds and less experience. I don’t know many people without a fine mind, so I can speak for them. But equally there are others who have not cared for this work in quite a passionate way. For good leads, I recommend you read both Alison Croggon and Kevin Jackson. Both are impressive responses, if very different. And you will likely get more from reading both those reviews back-to-back than you will from reading what I have here. Certainly what I write here is somewhat contingent on those responses.

    Director Simon Stone worked with Chris Ryan on the script for The Wild Duck. here, with Baal, Stone worked with Tom Wright, the writer best known in Australia for working in this new field of radical rewrites. Croggon has some great insights into the strengths of this production and Jackson puts up some great counter-arguments. Jackson makes one very interesting finding, a personal one – which has opened a door in my thoughts. Jackson expresses a weariness with the many portrayals we have been getting with what’s wrong with the world (existential angst), and wonder when we are going to get top see a show that laughs in life’s face (my words) or offers us some way out  – say we all become Buddhists or give in and mass suicide at the end of the show (my suggestions).

    Jackson and I are not so young and it’s likely we’ve both seen a bit doping life’s rounds. And I guess that’s where I had problems with this show. For me it as like – big deal! There is a massive story in here – about the power charismatic people have over even the best of us. And it important message got through to some people. But for me, Baal – in this incantation – had no charisma. And I presumed that was what the cutting-edge artists involved in this production aimed to achieve. No outbreak of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ to stir our loins. So the masses today are drawn like moths to the flame to people without charisma? It’s true they are – you only have to look at the Lady Gaga phenomenon. But this play is not going to speak to Lady Gaga fans, and those of us devoted to art theatre (well me anyway), I am walking out wondering why I didn’t stay home and watch Masterchef (thoughts of food if not food for thought).

    It’s one thing or another – and I am stumped because I am unable to read the artists’ intentions.

    One: either the artistic team has gone put of its way to eliminate as many obvious emotional triggers as possible. The rock star sings some songs, but they hardly have emotional wrench of ‘Bali Hai’  from the musical South Pacific. If this had been been a Kosky production, by way of some lite relief, I can see the naked female chorus knocking off a juicy version of ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair – and Send Him On His Way’. Which of course the female characters should have done with this boorish Baal: sending him packing and go off on a Slutwalk! But no they succumbed - everyone of them – to his pulling power. Until one of them is dead in a river. Meanwhile one buddy starts dressing up as a chick to see if that can catch Baal’s eye that way. But to no avail as Baal starts pursuing an affair with a nuggety 100 percent bloke. It’s all very daring and unorthodox – that is, if you’ve not lived much of a life.

    This is where Kevin Jackson and I join ranks. This is such a piss-weak version of ‘outrageousness’ (my words again), if you have any idea of what goes on out there in the real world. And has been for several dozen centuries. Nudity – so what. Rape and pillage – so what. It’s like it’s all so yesterday to imbue such events with emotion. And okay, if we have to trade emotion in for idea – that’s fine. But what’s the idea? What are we meant to be taking away from this show? I’m not being rhetorical – it’s a genuine question. If this show hit you between the eyeballs – let me know. Tell me why.

    While I am delighted that this highly literate generation of well brought up kids are interested in making theatre (as opposed to just movies and video clips), I do wonder sometimes about what is going on in their heads. I know it’s a generalization, but have you noticed how many of our young theatre-makers right now are not only male (yes that old whore horse), but have double degrees, speak several languages, don’t smoke, drink, eat meat or commit adultery. Had great parents and went to good schools. Most by 25 are (happily) married with one kid. They work hard and are very nice. But few seem to have suffered. Not something I wish on anyone, and I accept you don’t have to have done it to know it. But  interesting, in this context, the excerpt (below)  from a story in The Australian that appeared before Baal’s Melbourne premiere:

    ‘Stone prefers to adapt the work of others rather than write original plays, he says, because his privileged upbringing meant he has nothing to struggle against. “One reason why I still work on classics and don’t write truly original plays is because I don’t really have that much I’m dying to say about my life, which is fairly boring and ordinary.”‘ I admire Stone for his honesty (as well as his talent). But does that mean that he and those working on this show see the featured nudity and orgy scenes as ‘exciting’. That is the other option: that the work is highly exciting to some people – just not to the likes of Jackson and myself who both endured a ‘whatever’ reaction.

    All that said,  this is very beautiful to look at.  The production is immaculate – even the filth is immaculately done. The set is a tour-de-force and the lighting design (both by Nick Schlieper) blasts your eyeballs out of your head at times with its astonishing brilliance (both meanings). But one should not leave a theatre singing the sets, as the saying goes. I am not disparaging the work as I did The Business. I respect this production, I just didn’t get it. It went right past  me like a curved ball. Sorry if I’ve seen too much of life for this particular version of angst and suffering to make much impression on me.

    Can I just add, in defence of this Baal. Not all shows are created with the view of personally pleasing me, and or anyone in particular. And the artistic vision of the STC at the moment is quite different from what we have had before. The programs of previous regimes have been strongly stamped by the personality of the artistic director. The company is so big now, and working out of so many venues, it is taking a different path – and that is not to please some of the people all of the time. But rather, many of the people some of the time. And if we critics put the boot into STC for producing In the Next Room, which we regard as bourgeois and shallow. Or bite it on the for bringing in so much stuff out from overseas. The we have a duty to support the company’s decision to give this bold home-made production a chance. Whether it speaks to me personally is beside the point.

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  • 17 Mar 2011 /  Reviews

    Why did I cross the road the other night? Because Zebra is playing at Wharf One. Yeah I should be a stand-up comic.

    Anyway I am glad I did. Mueller is an Australian writer who’s work I’ve not seen before, despite is gathering reputation for a string of works including Concussion, Glory, The Ghost Writer and Construction of the Human Heart. Of all the current crop of up-and-coming, emerging and/or struggling Australian writers, Ross Mueller is the lucky one to score a mainstage gig at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2011. The play selection by our theatre companies – large and small, funded and unfunded – has always, and should excite discussion. All the more so when the company is big and funded, like the STC. Audiences feel they have a right to ask: why was my tax money (on top of the ticket price) spent on that? It’s a tough for artistic directors because you can almost never please all of the people all of the time. Which I guess is today’s theme.

    I skipped over a full review of In The Next Room by Sarah Ruhl, currently enjoying an extended season at the SOH Drama theatre due to public demand (lots of happy people) , though I made some negative references to it in my recent posts on David Williamson – re: dramaturgy. My focus was on playwriting craft and whether the play lived up to its own inbuilt claims and aims. It was a play that had distressed a surprising number of my more discerning colleagues – male and female, older and younger – who judged it as unworthy of receiving attention at all. Their main question being: why should an unimportant work from an overseas writer get such a lavish production at our expense? Surely, there are plays of greater cultural significance, possibly even Australian made that deserved more attention.

    Helen Thomson with Jaqueline McKenzie (In the Next Room) talking about zebras

    Personally I enjoyed In the Next Room, not least among the reasons the chance to see Pamela Rabe direct again (she did a beautiful job – a very caring hand); and watch some delightful acting – in particular for me, from Helen Thomson, whose superior intelligence and wit allows her to bring to life such a scatterbrain as Mrs Daltry. Marilyn Monroe was also great at this: being very smart at playing dumb.

    I will let others prosecute their particular case against In The Next Room. If the STC is to keep different interest groups happy then this crypto-feminist blancmange was going to do that: and it has, as ticket sales prove. But now to the current case – closer to home. Of all the new Australian plays being posted to, or even commissioned of late, by theatre companies: when the STC does get round to producing one – is Zebra the most deserving? How would I know – compared to what? I’m not going to sit down and read a hundred other scripts. And that would be just my opinion. But such questions do arise when the ‘good faith’ of a company is under pressure. And I guess some people have a problem with the STC’s overt interest over the past two years in American plays (and actors and directors). In The Next Room being just the latest in a string of them.

    Does Zebra reveal a writer of promise – to be encouraged? Yes. That said, while it is better than many new Australian plays one encounters on the Indy scene (where most new Australian plays premiere), it does not sit with the best of the best of the past few years. That was Bang! – which I constantly bang on about. Take a wider time frame: is Zebra as good as say Coralie Lansdowne Says No, by Alex Buzo, which premiered at the old Nimrod in 1974? It too was a ‘feminist comedy’ written by a young bloke with a gift for fresh dialogue. I think, yes, Zebra is as good as Coralie and that’s taking into account that our expectations are higher these days. Was I engaged watching Zebra? Yes.

    Bryan Brown (Jimmy) and Colin Friels (Larry) - old zebras ready to fight

    Two men walk into a bar – separately. There’s a barmaid in there. An hour and forty minutes later, one guy leaves and the other gets on his knees and asks the woman to share his life with him. What else?A lot of talk about money: the play is set in a new York bar in the immediate wake of the GFC – a form of money rubber chicken that a lot of outlets ran out of a few years back making a lot of regular customers, including Jimmy (Bryan Brown), pretty upset. The other guy, Larry (Colin Friels) has somehow hung onto his rubber chicken, a whole lot of it, and is pretty happy about that. The women, Robinson (Nadine Garner), has been over-fried and looking to shut down shop. Larry, while doing a heck of a lot of chat, including talking himself up, ends up helping them both out. And himself in the process. So its a comedy, if you feel the need to tick a box.

    Mueller’s nifty dialogue covers a lot of territory, and while enjoyable as it rushes past, you do wonder if the writer is ever going to get this ship into port. There is more symmetry to the play than first appears: both men are waiting to meet a guy in this bar. It takes them, and us, quite a while to realise they are waiting for each other. That’s because the rich guy is waiting to meet the young dude who wants to marry his daughter. He (Larry) does not imagine this clapped-out Australian (Jimmy), closer to 60, however good-looking for his age, could possibly that guy. The revelation comes as quite a shock. But at the same time, Larry is getting more and more interested in the women behind the bar and, at some point, lays a bet with Jimmy that he can score (or whatever the correct turn of phrase is these days). While the play looks to be all about money, it turns out to be also about love. And symmetry in two old guys, each of whom is making a bit for a lass, more than half their age: two different lasses, only one of whom we get to meet. One bloke is cashed up, the other skint. Does money play a role in the human calculations? You need to go the play see to find out. ‘Yes and possibly no’ in one instance (Larry); and ‘no and possibly yes’ in the other (Jimmy).

    Boys will be boys ...

    Opening night foyers can be great fun after a show because a lot of people in the crowd are regulars and they like to throw their opinions around. Thanks goodness – lively chat! It’s fascinating to encounter the similarities and differences in evaluations. Most people thoroughly enjoyed In the Next Room, the Drama Theatre lobby was fairly buzzing that night. But the few who did not care for it were in a very dark mood. And among the were some of our smarter younger women. They disliked with an intensity that’s rare, seeing it represent some kind of betrayal of the causes they live for.

    Unanimous approval is rare, though it did happen at the opening night of the Budapest Ivanov that toured to the Sydney Festival a few years back. You could understand why its director, Tamas Ascher, was invited back to direct to Sydney to direct Uncle Vanya this year for the STC. Yet that production got a mixed response. I didn’t see it on opening night, but opinions from across the season varied wildly. While everyone was blown away by John Bell and Hugo Weaving in particular, there were divided views on Richard Roxburgh in the title role, and generally there was less enthusiasm for several of the female performances. Yet, my understanding is the the STC artistic leadership were very happy with the show and it’s off to Washington DC! So who’s right and who’s wrong? For me it was a mixed bag with some wonderful highlights. But with Chekhov, of all writers, you are of course reaching for as bast you can a highly unified field.

    xxxxvvvv

    More guy zebras: Richard Roxburgh & Hugo Weaving in Uncle Vanya

    The reaction to the opening night of Zebra was mixed. I think most people I spoke to were happy they crossed the road, but there were reservations – and some quite contradictory. Some thought the maths of the money divided by romance equation added up – I did. Others saw some clunky number crunching.

    Some had problems with Bryan Brown. If you’re going to cast an Aussie guy close to 60 who is going to appeal to a smart 20-something young woman, how could you go past casting Bryan Brown? That’s who Bryan Brown is – the last sexy man of his generation left standing. Only trouble was, Brown wasn’t too sexy on opening night. I was happy to give him a few days grace because it’s that kind of x-factor – charisma – that is going to evaporate in the face of nerves, if anything, on an opening night.

    It was the reaction to Colin Friels that was odd. I was pretty sure in Friels, as the rich guy Larry, we had just witnessed one of the great performances of the season. Bold, malleable, inventive, committed – and yes in the end – sexy! Even though that was a view of many, there were others who saw no magic on Friels work. Such is the mystery of the theatre experience. Personally, no -one is going to move me: I thought Friels was a knockout and I’d go back to see him do it again tomorrow. Meanwhile, Nadine Garner did a fine job in the female role, with not a lot of background to her character to work with. It’s not a showy performance. But it’s important that we respect this character as both good and knowing, otherwise the ending would end up being merely slight.

    Robinson (Nadine Garner): female of the species holds her ground

    Among the major pleasures of this night in the theatre was the experience of seeing an animal called Zebra, itself, get across the road. When you’re worrying that it has been ambling along the pavement, nose up, nose down. In the last fifteen minutes of the play, it picks up its legs and – quite remarkably – gets itself to the other side. This play is more than talk – something interesting happens. And, all credit to author that you don’t see it coming. You might see the question looming – will I or won’t I. But, for once, you can’t anticipate the answer. I thought: ‘Oh Ross Mueller, what a surprise – you’ve been in control all along.’ I was shocked that he pulled it off, I didn’t see it coming.

    But, to jump metaphors midstream: the writer has to thank Friels for landing his bat on a curved ball – and hitting it high over the boundary fence. I changed from Zebra to ball, because you wouldn’t want to hit a Zebra hard. Though in the landscape of the play, it turns out Larry and Jimmy are male Zebras, and apparently (like most males in most species) when it comes to the care and affection of the females of the species, they are inclined to get into fights.

    I have to make mention costume design because when is the last time Julie Lynch was asked to dress her characters ‘daggily’? She is the queen of high style – typecast for that. So that was nice a change. And then there was a personal delight in discovering a friend from way back, David McKay, who works mainly in film, designing the set. His theatre debut I think. McKay’s brief is to recreate a realistic New York Irish bar – and that he achieves, in magnificent detail. But McKay does something else: he reconfigures the Wharf One space in a way we have never seen before. This new look is achieved in collaboration with lighting designer Damien Cooper, and the result is fantastic. If you get to see this show, note how the characters enter in from the street. And the lighting, especially in the opening which goes with that.

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  • 12 Dec 2010 /  News, Reviews

    STC Open Day - Workshop in Action

    I got off the plane from Thailand, dropped my bags and headed down to the the STC Wharf – for what I thought was a performance of Phil Spencer’s Bluey - and indeed it was. But more! It turned out to be Glitter and Fluffy’s open day, where you could soak in the eco-friendly atmosphere and get doused in glitter if you were a kid.

    I wanted to see Master Spencer’s play because I had seen one of his shorter works as part of the 2010 Brand Spanking New season a couple of month’s back at the New Theatre. I thought that play as funny and showed talent. A  little time later, myself, Spencer and a gifted female playwright, Emily Calder found ourselves seeking out further alcohol in the Kings Cross precinct after a show at the Old Fitzroy. The show was Calder’s Flightfall. Being a good piece of writing for the stage, it was well worth the extra drinking/talking time. All this ties up with the fact that Spencer has recently been appointed Associate Artistic Director for Tamarama Rock Surfers – the company which runs the venue at the Old Fitzroy in East Sydney. Working alongside Artistic Director Leland Kean.

    Back to Phil’s play, Bluey. A Bluey is an official form of a letter you can send to someone in the British Army posted to some exotically dangerous locale like Iraq during the war there. Like Spencer’s Dad. But Bluey is more than a piece of paper in this play – it is a metaphor for the relationship, the special communication if you like that Spencer enjoys with his father. An army chef by trade, he is sent over to the war to keep an eye on the locals who had been hired to do the bulk of the feeding of the British troupes. In a gesture that perhaps best identifies his special brand of humour, Spencer’s Dad is played by a chimpanzee – a rather large puppet which the writer/actor handles adroitly. And the fact that, as a student during the time of this war, Phil is not exactly behind the war effort his Dad has been dragged into, leads to some lovely revelations about just how well the pair of them – father and son – get on.

    The Anti-War Activist: A Mispelt Youth

    I wouldn’t call Bluey a major work, but it it’s good and true. And it has a lovely ending, a tiny twist in the tail/tale, which reminds you that, jokes aside, you can’t have war without dying. Bluey, which has made a couple of previous appearances is directed by Scarlet McGlynn. On our drunken night out I asked what brought this lively English lad to our shores.

    Spencer Welcomes Oprah Winfrey to Australia

    Clearly Johannson isn’t the only Scarlet(t) beauty of our time – as it appears the McGlynn siren call had effected some stirring in Phil’s simple soul. Effecting in the purchase of a plane fare. That McGlynn can direct with such sensitivity to form adds a further bow to her string. Here is a review of Bluey from Australian Stage when it played at the Old Fitz earlier in the year. It explains a few features of the play better than I have here.

    Fools 4 Love: Spencer & McGlynn

    I have to be a bit honest here and say I have started to try to be nice 2 young people in the hope that one or two of them might bring me grapes in a few years when I am eventually put into a high insecurity nursing home. This has nothing to do with how much I enjoy the ‘life force’ of the under 20s/30/40s! Or that I am quietly excited that a rather wonderful bunch appear to rising up through the ranks of the Sydney theatre–making world. So it was fun to discover some of my best friends of this new generation were also seeing Phil’s show. I normally keep this quiet, but I spent the odd semester some years back teaching a course called ‘Nothing at Nepean’ – a very special syllabus that basically set forth the careers of the likes of the Umblical Brothers, Steve Rodgers, Joel Edgerton – and specific to this story, Vashti Hughes and classmate Sean Barker, who is married to Vashti’s talented sister the blues singer Christa Hughes.

    Fools 4 Love 2: Sean Barker & Christa Hughes

    Christa did me the honour of singing at a party I tossed last year for a couple of hundred of my closest friends – yes it was a good night! And since then we have all become a bundle of buddies. I am not sure how to take being known as ‘Auntie Jim’, though I do enjoy the many laughs and hugs. Anyways, Sean and Christa were there. Sean and Phil Spencer had been in a play together (BTW) at TRS called Rock Paper Scissors, I dunno about a year ago? At the show also was Craig Menaud, another ex-Nepeanite. With someone rather smart and sweet on his arm!

    Just Fooling Around: Tuyen Le & Craig Meneaud

    Anyways – such was the jolliness of the occasion, we bypassed the rest of Open Day and the bunch of us went over the road to an Italian restaurant for a noisy feed. I am not going to name the restaurant, coz i don’t know what it is. But it’s fantastic. I’ve been there a few times now. Not cheap cheap – but for the price amazing value. The place was clogged with wannabe’s and wannatable’s, yet we were very well looked after by the hugely busy staff and the food was great.

    There was more to this day, all within hours of landing in Sydney after my month in Thailand – it finished off with further wine women and siren song at a yuppie pizza place near my place in Surry Hills. That was with Jana Perkovic, bright young Melbourne person visiting, and my dearest friend Maggie Blinco – but that’s different story to tell another day. As I hoped, Maggie liked the silk scarf I brought back for her from Thailand. I trust this humble gift will make a foyer appearance in the not to distant future.

    Next story: Diary of a Madman. Yes – it is Very Good!

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  • 27 Oct 2008 /  Reviews

    THE WOMEN OF TROY

    Last week I attended two sobering events. One was director Barrie Kosky’s production of Euripides’ The Women of Troy at the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf One. The other, the next day, was a meeting at the Museum of Sydney for artists and others with a concern or interest in arts practice relating to the subject of the atomic bomb testings at Maralinga in South Australia. Both dealt directly with the aftermath of war.

    Two thousand five hundred years ago, in 415BC, Euripides scalded his home-town audience with an unflinching attack on the indifference of his fellow Athenians to the suffering of the citizens of nearby Melos. Just the year before, it’s not only that the Athenian army had thoroughly defeated the island in battle; but, in the wash-up, slaughtered every single male, and enslaved every female and child. What was doubly outrageous about the action of the Athenian army was that this brutal reprisal was enacted as ‘punishment’ for the Islanders’ ‘neutrality’ during this late phase of the crippling Peloponnesian War.

    Unable to speak of the matter directly, Euripides relocated his drama to the semi-mythological city of Troy. The first two works in what was a trilogy of plays have not survived, but the third – The Women of Troy – asks us to consider the aftermath of a war from the point of view of the surviving women and children. Co-adapter of the text for this production, Tom Wright, reminds us in his notes that there would have been many Athenian citizens watching his play concurrently enjoying the fruits of that pillage in the form the recent influx of fresh free domestic and farm labour.

    In typically unpredictable Kosky fashion, we have an ‘extremist’ theatrical event: in this instance, short, pungent, grueling, attenuated by great moments of aural beauty (the music/singing). Ultimately we are served an uncompromising physicalisation of the play’s ant-war theme. There are enough visual references to Abu Ghraib prison for us to forced to recognize that we are also looking at war in our own time. It is a testimony to Kosky’s profound appreciation of the core nature of art, that he is able to frame violence within an aesthetic that reminds us that it is beauty that holds the world together. Not brutality or force…

    It is really quite an awesome work for the stage where it seems almost disrespectful to begin pulling it apart to highlight individual achievements. So much foyer talk about theatre is usually about ‘the play’ or ‘so-and-so’s performance’, or walking out ‘singing the set’. It is high praise to say that doing so here makes me feel uncomfortable.

    A great work of art speaks entirely for itself.

    Robyn Nevin as Hecuba, Queen of Troy, with Jennifer Vuletic (background): Photo by Tracey Schramm

    On the other hand, it would be discourteous not to single out some highlights, tradition being what it is. We have Robyn Nevin back at last, for example, unencumbered by management duties, giving fully to her role Hecuba – Queen of Troy. It takes courage at this point her career to give herself over to requirements of working, not just on this fierce play, but under the baton of Mr Kosky. It’s a spare and humble and resonating performance. I wrote a little while back of the ‘x-ray effect’ of good theatre: and I can see Nevin cringing under the onslaught of her character’s predicament. Coiled like a frightened victim-child familiar to abuse, yet fearful that even worse – beyond her imagining – is likely yet to come.

    It’s an especially generous performance when you appreciate the space Nevin allows for the younger Melita Jurisic to ‘do her thing’! Jurisic is an extraordinary actress who, it appears, can’t help but work at the very frontier of her imagination. She get to play three roles: Cassandra, Andromache, and the beauteous Helen herself. That Jurisic is able to take us to such far off places, physically and emotionally, and yet never stray from the core themes of the text, is testament to her gifts of an actress. She must surely be one of the most extraordinary, bold and idiosyncratic, working on this planet.

    Melita Jurisic as Helen with Robyn Nevin: Photo by Tracey Schramm

    Among all of literature’s famous types, I admit to a special fondness for Cassandra. She who is blind yet can see too much. She who shouts warning, only to be ignored. It would be ridiculous to say I identify with her situation, but I do ‘feel for’ her predicament. Why otherwise would I ‘bang on’ endlessly, the way I do. My other favourite ‘persona’ is little Oskar in Gunter Grass’s novel, The Tin Drum. Banging away literally, but perhaps morally compromised himself? And no-one taking any notice. Dear me, the plight of the freelance journalist. I must write a letter about this to the SMH!

    It has surprised me that few have mentioned the work of the production’s third main actor: Arthur Dignam. A scary voice of anonymous ‘authority’, grave and heartless over the crackling loud speaker for the bulk of the play. And then turning up in an flash electric wheelchair (read mobile throne) as Menaleus, not only leader of the Greek forces who have turned up to thrash Troy (it took them years), but as the cuckolded husband of Helen. Talk about vicious and unforgiving. I could not praise Dignam’s characterization more highly in describing it as one of the creepiest I have ever witnessed in the theatre. A chuckle here, a cheery toss of the head there: meanwhile feeding bread crumbs to the enslaved women, their half-naked bodies mired and bleeding, as if they were mere pigeons in the park. As they say in the classics: ‘Revenge is best served cold”.

    Then there’s the choir, the chorus, the ‘ordinary’ women of Troy represented by Natalie Gamsu, Queenie Van De Sant and Jennifer Vuletic. In his own program notes, Kosky refers to the extensive music Euripides included in the original performance, suggesting tht ‘over half’ of it would have bee sung. Here we get madrigals and songs from John Dowland and Carlo Gesueldo, Mozart, Bizet and Slovenian folk songs.

    Queenie van de Zandt, Natalie Gamsu & Jennifer Vuletic with Robyn Nevin: Photo by Tracey Schramm

    It’s a wonderful design (sets and costumes) by Alice Babidge too: very locker room. A kind of a male jock porn setting – which is totally right for this sickening fable. It gets very freaky when you notice, who knows when it starts, a certain black muck oozing out of a high point on the right of the set. Is it crude oil? What are we fighting for anyway? Damien Cooper keeps moving up the ladder of eminence with every show he lights: here it is, not surprisingly severe and cold and unromantic.  And in the sound department, we have design by David Gifillan, with Daryl Wallis in view of the audience on live keyboard.

    it is not surprising that, early in the season, some audience members found the production a bit hard to take – and felt the need to exit. It is sad that this far into our theatre’s culture evolution, say since the overturning of the British matinee model in the 1970s, that there are still people who pay good money – possibly on a regular basis – who are are not prepared to give up the notion that the art they pay to see intended to do only one thing: which is to reinforce the social values they already hold dear. Or otherwise, in the very least, distract them for a few hours from daily life’s run-of-the-mill worries.

    What is amazing is that so many weeks into the season, you still have people walking out of this show. The night I was there, about twenty left.  On other nights, it’s been up to thirty. Just in dribs and drabs through out the entire event: at some point they’ve had enough. Where do these people live? I mean mentally. Is it not enough it know that if this is a Barrie Kosky production then you are up for for something that is certainly not going to be tame? Have they not been reading the papers or listening into dinner party chat for th past five  weeks sinc the show opened – not to have some idea of what attending this production was going to involve. How cocooned are these people? or willfully blinkered? Ultimately: how undeserving were they of the privilege offered them? I have little respect for them, and indeed not a lot of patience. Why not hand the tickets over to the kids or their more open- minded neighbours.

    This is without getting into the far more complex question of why such people feel the need to flee such a work. A work that is, like ‘Guernica’, ultimately very beautiful. What is it about their lives that thet feel so compelled to cling to? To the extent that a show like this threatens them? What are they refusing to let go of? What is it about sitting in front of this production that poses such a threat? And, yes: how can they not see the sorrowful beauty in it, like walking through a graveyard and reading the messages on the headstones.

    While The Women of Troy had just closed in Sydney, the good news for Melbourne readers is that the show opens at Malthouse on 6 November. Go to this, the Malthouse site for more information.

    Meanwhile, my next piece will elaborate on the meeting I went to about Maralinga; and the way a fascinatingly diverse group of artists are driven, by whatever, to take up this subject in their work. There is some incredible stuff going on. I know I am behind schedule with my work still, since getting back from the bush. The truth is, each post makes it own demands – and sometimes it takes more than a couple of days to put a piece together. I am hoping my regular readers will exercise some tolerance here: for better or worse, I prefer not to let a piece go until I am more or less happy with it.

    That said, I expect I will catch up with myself and what’s going on in Sydney town over the next few weeks. On another front, I am currentyl reading Fiona McGregor’s book, Strange Museums, about her trip to Poland with AnA Wojak – a journey which allowed them not only to see a lot of that country from unexpected perspectives but to present some for their amazing performance art on the way.

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  • 16 Oct 2008 /  News

    Okay you kids sit down and shut up. I tell you a story. Long long time ago there was a Whitefella place for Dreaming called Old Tote. It died like a sick old man and after a new special Dreaming place grew up out of the water now called Sydney Harbour on the lands of the Gadigal and Guring-gai people of the Eora Nation. Sometimes it is a very Sorry place and sometimes it has very good Ceremony.

    One day coming up you can go down there and see Whitefellas making their own Dreaming stories.

    Scenic Art Workshop: Photo by Brett Boardman

    Scenic Art Workshop: Photo by Brett Boardman

    SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY OPEN DAY

    Saturday 1 November 2008 from 10am to 4pm
    Sydney Theatre Company, The Wharf, Pier 4 & 5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
    Admission and all workshops, events and forums: FREE

    On Saturday 1 November from 10am – 4pm, Sydney Theatre Company is throwing open the
    doors of its home venue, The Wharf, the ‘engine room’ of the Company, inviting visitors in to
    explore for free one of Sydney’s most unique and beautiful venues and gain insights in to how
    the Company creates its shows. There will also be a range of free workshops, forums, tours
    and presentations at both The Wharf and at Sydney Theatre including; discussions about
    plans for the Company with Artistic Directors Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett; workshops
    in voice, movement and performance run by leading practitioners; ‘Meet the Artist’ events
    including sessions with some of Sydney’s leading actors, directors and a playwright; a free
    screening of the documentary In The Company of Actors; and children’s activities
    throughout the day.

    Visitors to the Open Day will be able to explore the backstage areas and talk with staff in
    STC’s scenic art, set construction, props and costume departments, rehearsal rooms, archives
    and other rarely seen spaces, as well as The Wharf’s two performance spaces, Wharf 1 and
    Wharf 2, where many of the Company’s productions are presented.


    Open Day 1 November 2008 10.00am – 4.00pm

    Tours of The Wharf

    Visitors can wander around and discover The Wharf at their own pace throughout the day. Special guided tours of the Wharf will be conducted every half hour, from 10am – 3.30pm. Tours can be booked in advance through the Box Office on (02) 9250 1777 or on the day if space permits.

    Costume Department: Photo by Brett Boardman

    Costume Department: Photo by Brett Boardman

    Workshops, Forums, Talks and Presentations
    In addition there are a range of free workshops, forums and presentations throughout the day:
    at 10:00 am
    - Presentation: Stage Make Up with Lauren A. Proietti in WHARF 1
    - The Actor Speaks: leading Australian actors discuss their craft in WHARF 2
    - Group Devised Performance Workshop with Stefo Nantsou* in the BIG REHEARSAL ROOM
    - Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett discuss STC plans in SYDNEY THEATRE (repeated at 2.30pm)
    at 12 noon
    - Greening The Wharf – Why? Forum in WHARF 1
    - The Director Speaks: theatre directors discuss the process of creating theatre in WHARF 2
    - Voice Workshop with Charmian Gradwell* in the BIG REHEARSAL ROOM
    - In The Company Of Actors, screening of STC documentary in SYDNEY THEATRE
    at 2.00 pm
    - The Playwright Speaks: a dramatist discusses the process of writing plays, in WHARF 1
    - The Actor Speaks: leading Australian actors discuss their craft in WHARF 2
    - Workshop: Movement with Fiona Malone* in the BIG REHEARSAL ROOM
    - Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett discuss STC plans in SYDNEY THEATRE
    * There will be three workshops run in each session. Please call the STC Box Office on
    (02) 9250 1777 to book. Please note: bookings are essential and participants must be
    aged 16 years and over.


    STC FOR KIDS

    STC for Kids – Costume, Face Painting and Street Performers SMALL REHEARSAL ROOM

    Food, Drink etc
    The Wharf Restaurant, Sydney Dance Café and Hickson Road Bistro will all be serving café-style food.
    Further food and drink stalls will be located around The Wharf. Gleebooks will also be open at Sydney
    Theatre.

    Transport
    Free shuttle buses are on a loop every 20 minutes, stopping at Wynyard (Carrington Street), The Rocks
    (George Street outside DFS stores) and The Wharf. The first bus will depart Wynyard at 9:45am and
    the last bus will depart The Wharf at 4:15pm.


    For more information and updates
    sydneytheatre.com.au

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  • 11 Sep 2008 /  News

    I’ve partaken in so many launches of late I could be mistaken for Cape Canaveral, or should that be a speedboat derby. I will ultimately get onto Jim Sharman’s biography, Blood and Tinsel, perhaps closer to Christmas shopping time. Anybody who puts a photo of me in their book when I was so young that there was still an ‘air of innocence’ about me is certain to get their product endorsed!

    Last week, Monday 1 September, there was the launch of the 2009 Sydney Theatre Company Season. The Upton-Blanchetts were in full glow, and a spirit of fun, excitement and enterprise filled the air of the Wharf Theatre Foyer.

    Glitter and Fluffy

    Glitter and Fluffy Launching Their Debut Season

    Cate and Andrew (aka Glitter and Fluffy), gorgeous little pussy cats that they are, can clearly be seen pushing the company in new directions. No upheavals or revolutions, but some conceptual tidying up and what looks on paper like some excellent team building.

    The company’s activities have been divided into three areas. Here’s a quote from G&F’s online message:

    “The major divisions are MAIN STAGE, NEXT STAGE (artists and artform development) and BACK STAGE (readings, forums, tours and more), not to mention our Education Program. There are various offerings and activities associated with each (and there are a lot). If you were really keen, you could probably find something to do here every week – we certainly do! You can learn about the Main Stage Season on this our brand new website. As for what’s going on with Next Stage, Back Stage and the Education Program – we’ll let you know the details later.”

    The MAINSTAGE program meanwhile is broken up into three categories by venue: Wharf 1, Drama Theatre SOH, and the wimpily (sic) named Sydney Theatre. (Why not the ‘Robyn Wherett Complex’?)

    With five gigs booked in, work at Wharf 1 has been branded: ‘Discover the Essence of Sydney Theatre Company at the Wharf’. These productions, I guess, will focus on those more intimate theatre experiences for which this venue is ideally suited. It includes, on the Australian-play front, a fresh rendition of David Williamson’s classic The Removalists, to be directed (NB) by Wayne Blair; and an upgraded version of Tommy Murphy’s new play, Saturn’s Return, which has just finished its sell-out debut season in Wharf 2. In regard to Saturn’s Return, it’s great to see the theory of working plays up, through process, being put into practice. It will be fascinating to see what this inventive new play looks like in ten months’ time

    Soft on Actors - Steven Soderbergh

    Soft on Actors - Steven Soderbergh

    2009’s celebrity guest, Steven Soderbergh, will also be creating a work for this cosy venue – a good subscription teaser! Coz you aint gonna get in any otherways

    With three gigs, the Drama Theatre is branded: ‘Have a Great Night Out at the Opera House’, kicking off with Tom Stoppard’s writerly pleasure palace, Travesties, to star Jonathan Biggins (currently at the height of his powers) and master craftsman, director Richard Cottrell. The pair recently worked exceedingly well together on the Goons gig, Yin Tong. With Michael Scott Mitchell on set design and Julie Lynch on costumes, I can’t see how the word ‘fabulous’ is to be avoided by those of us generally disinclined to hyperbole!!! Plus Blazey Best, Toby Schmitz and William Zappa among the other cast members. Can we have same NAMES please!

    The Robyn Wherrett Complex (ex-Sydney Theatre), is hosting two shows under the category ‘The Big Event’.

    Names Please! Joel Edgerton, Cate Blanchett and Robin McLeavy: Photo by Derek Henderson

    No Big Names? Joel Edgerton, Cate Blanchett and Robin McLeavy for A Streetcar Named Desire: Photo by Derek Henderson

    One of themis Tennessee Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire, to be directed by Liv Ullmann starring ‘Our Cate’, Joel Edgerton, Russell Kiefel, and rising mini-diva Robin McLeavy. That’s leaving out a bunch of other ‘hot’ names also in the acting line up. Ralph Myers is on set design, with Tess Scofield on costumes. Can’t see it myself – but I guess I’ll plod along.

    Show Pony - Dame Nellie Melba

    Show Pony - Dame Nellie Melba

    A point to be made here. Up until now, our mega divas (Judy D, Robyn N, Cate B) have been involved mostly in small productions at the Wharf. There were reasons for this – like allowing them to be ‘pure artists’, etc. But I can just imagine Nellie Melba looking across the road and saying’ ‘What’s wrong with that Big House over there!’ So with both The War of the Roses (SydFest 2009) and, in a much larger role, in Streetcar, we have Ms Blanchett rising to the challenge and clamour – and putting herself out there where the whole world can see. Bravo!

    Cate Blanchett has taken to her duties in her first year as co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company with remarkably good grace. She was obliged to endure some appallingly cheap hits in the print media early on. Her response was to smile and not bite back. Actions prove louder than words, and this – we are discovering – is her way. That she can segue from ‘global icon’ to ‘local industry team player’ by just pulling her back into a pony tail is amazing to watch. She knows when she has to turn her aura on, whenever this is required of her, and when she doesn’t. If she doesn’t have to, she don’t. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to run into the men’s room and hide. It’s the ‘heat’ – lol.  I sometimes think of her as the cinematic child of Kate Hepburn and Grace Kelly, sister of Catherine Deneuve. If cryogenics can allow that.

    It’s different for Andrew Upton, aka Cary Grant, who has been exposed to less ‘tall poppy’ crap. He, on the other hand, has probably got to learn how not to want to be ‘everybody’s best mate’ coz somewhere along the line he is going to have to make some hard choices – between one best buddy and another. Very State of Origin, if you get my drift…But hey, how about the enthusiasm and the smarts!

    Jeremy Sims - Cast to Type: Photo by Derek Henderson

    Jeremy Sims - Cast to Type: Photo by Derek Henderson

    The other comment one could make about the 2009 program is its focus on team building. This can be observed in who has been put to work together on shows mentioned above. Wayne Blair, of Aboriginal descent, gets to tease out the themes that hold The Removalists together. Including a couple that might have been overlooked in the past? By asking Blair to direct, we have a special interest in this revival. The entire talent packages around Travesties and Streetcar promote excitement. This is not a season where plays have been picked and then production teams put to them. Jeremy Sims stars in a play called God of Carnage. Say no more! Rather, a play has only made it onto the program if it was thought that the ‘right team’ could be found to bring the work to true life.

    There are a couple of one-off treats as well. Most notably, a new look Actors Company performing a mega-version of three Medieval Mystery Plays in the vaste expanse of CarriageWorks at Redfern. More on that another time.

    For a full run down of the main-stage program (Wharf 1, Drama Theatre SOH, and the Sydney Theatre) go to the STC’s website.

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