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Scandalous Boy

scandalous boyScandalous Boy is a brave piece of work with the ostensible objective of realigning western perspectives on homosexual love. It makes its point very clearly, and possibly succeeds as a polemic, but largely fails to deliver the pathos I yearn for from the stage.

It is principally the true story of the love between the emperor Hadrian, and Antinous, his Greek eromenos, but it is framed in a twenty-first century setting with the statue of Antinous coming to life in modern Australia to tell his story. He wants to assert for us that he is not the “shameless and scandalous boy” Christian historians have claimed he was, and assert the appropriateness of his choices and actions in a pre-Christian Roman Empire. He punctuates this by comparing modern and ancient attitudes to public nudity, but kindly dons a pair of sequined hotpants to relieve our discomfort.

Yes, it’s one of those history plays. Set in ancient Rome, but using the language of modern Australia, replete with references to Hollywood’s Golden Age and punctuated with the homo-pop vocals of Kylie Minogue and the like. Had I realised it was one of those, I may well have opted for Supa‘s production of La Cage aux Folles for my Golden Drink Voucher expenditure this week, but that’s just the way the marble crumbles I guess. It nonetheless delivers a striking story that is valuable for a modern audience and finely pointed as a polemic for an Australian government struggling to follow its people’s leadership.

David Atfield’s script unfortunately doesn’t deliver the emotional punch necessary to make this story fully relatable. The dialogue feels forced and its distinctive modern vernacular doesn’t help as much as I think Atfield hoped it would.

But I think the greatest fault lies in the narration. It leaves no space whatsoever for subtext. Every thought, every motivation, every thing the characters don’t say, is described to us, rather than shown to us. There is simply no space for intuition, and this, mounted so firmly in an Australian context, makes the play feel just too preachy.

Surprisingly, though, this doesn’t completely ruin the play. The characters retain some capacity for engagement and I really did care what happened to them, I just wanted to care more. I wanted to feel their pain rather than merely being aware of it.

Had Atfield followed the Golden Rule and shown us, rather than told us, I think perhaps this would be a very moving play that could, perhaps, just change a mind or two. As it is, it is simply affirming of the LGBTIQ polemic in an Australia that still discriminates between loves.

The character of the audience left no doubt in my mind that, on the night I went at least, Atfield was preaching to the choir (if you’ll pardon the Christian metaphor). The audience, well over 90% male, seemed to hurl itself outside at interval so they could all suck back a cancer stick; I have never seen The Street Theatre’s foyer so empty during interval with a full house! And on their return one of them was kind enough to call out “okay, quiet now” for us as the lights dimmed, because apparently none of us knew what that meant.

The unfortunate reality is that too much of the audience was probably attracted by the promise of the naked Ethan Gibson, and while they may be encouraged by this polemic to fight for the rights of the LGBTIQ community, I just think that the story deserves a more diverse audience than this is likely to attract.

Regardless of my misgivings, I am grateful to David Atfield, his cast and the creatives behind this brave production for staging it. Antinous’s story is one that should be told more often.

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What the critics are saying:

 
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Posted by on Friday, 21 November 2014 in The Street Theatre, Canberra Theatre, Theatre, Street 1

 

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Gone Girl

gone girlEvery now and then a movie comes along that just hits all the right notes. For me, when this happens it is usually a film that defies categorisation. Gone Girl is such a film.

Engaging, endearing and focused turns to confronting and unnerving as this two hour adventure unravels. Just as you feel you’re approaching a defined denouement, the film takes a wild turn and plunges you back into uncertainty. It is very cleverly crafted to ensure that you know just enough to want to know more, but not enough to sit comfortably.

The film clearly presented its marketers with lots of challenges. It defies categorisation into a genre. It has multiple climaxes. It can’t be said to be “Film X meets Film Y”. And it twists like a cut snake. The resulting marketing guff that claims this story gets at the heart of a modern marriage, then, is hardly surprising. Of course it does nothing of the sort, but it does present one of the most intense and surprising films I’ve ever seen, regardless.

Ben Affleck is at his most intense, striking an excellent balance of pathos and not-really-giving-a-shit. His prevailing presence in the first substantial trajectory of the plot overshadows Rosamund Pike, who, when she gets a chance to shine, genuinely takes over as the lead character; the gone girl. Her performances truly hinge on what the audience doesn’t know, and the mystery in her character becomes the focal point as the film approaches its unnerving end.

Yes. If you like a nice and tidy conclusion to the plot, give this one a wide berth. But for a couple of hours on a roller coaster, you can’t go far wrong.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 in American Film, Film

 

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona

2014-08-23 USA 026asI was lucky enough to be able to sit in Central Park this afternoon and enjoy Barefoot Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than lazing about in a park while a bunch of very talented performers work very hard to entertain me!

Hard work is exactly what it looked like. The area they were performing in was a particularly busy area of the park, and contrary to the image New Yorkers like to project of their favourite open space, Central Park is not by any means an oasis of calm in the middle of the city’s bustle. To be heard, they had to compete with a loud concert barely 100 metres away, constant helicopters and sirens, and the occasional heckler. But they handled all of this with aplomb, especially Michael Pettey, in the role of Proteus, who improvised marvellously when a particularly rowdy bunch suddenly noticed that he was performing and announced it for all and sundry.

The rest of the cast also delivered an outstanding performance, and although I did struggle to hear above the hubbub of the park, I did manage to follow this play, which I was not very familiar with beforehand.

Courtney Moors also impressed with her portrayal of Silvia. The pathos in her responses resonated brilliantly above the hubbub of the park, and I was certainly taken along with her in her pursuit of Valentine (played by James Kivlen).

In all, a great way to encounter such a fun little play, and a great performance.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 23 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Burbage

burbageThere really is an over abundance of plays derived from the stories that surround Shakespeare’s life. Though I am getting a little bored of them, I am nonetheless drawn to further explorations of the context in which the Bard lived, and speculations about his times.

Burbage has been one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Essentially a one hour rant imagined from the realities of Richard Burbage’s life and the common themes of the actor’s existence, it explores these with some depth and develops a strong image of the man left behind as the great playwrights and actors of the Elizabethan era fell off the twig in the early seventeenth century.

Richard Burbage, for those who’ve either forgotten about him or never heard of him (really?), was an actor who performed lead roles in the premieres of many now-canonical works of Elizabethan drama. Playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe wrote roles with him in mind, and he was owner of the Globe Theatre with his brother.

In this monologue, he engages an imaginary young actor, Tom, who is seeking to continue his acting career past the roles of his youth.

Neil McGarry’s greatest achievement in his performance is creating a believable ‘Tom’ in the auditorium. While I am not a fan of monologues, and the idea of an invisible and inaudible second character in a monologue usually seems extremely naff, I was impressed to find myself fully engaged in the reality of the piece. The result is an engaging performance that gives humble recognition to one of the artists who contributed so much to the golden age of English theatre.

Despite some oddities of accent (which I will happily forgive with the knowledge that the English of Burbage’s day sounded a little more like the modern American accent than modern Received Pronunciation), McGarry was entirely believable and made a strong connection with his audience.

This was the last performance at the New York Fringe, but it’s likely to pop up again with the Bay Colony Shakespeare Company, and is worth a look if you’re an artist.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 22 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Cortez

cortezCortez is an engaging little story by Milkwood Theater told in a very physical manner, playing as part of the New York Fringe.

The story centres on Mike (played by an engaging David Riley), a marine biologist studying the tomatian, a species he claims is actively pursuing its own extinction. Riley portrays Mike with an endearing bumbling manner that deteriorates into unconscious undermining of his relationship.

With Mike on his expedition into the Sea of Cortez is his girlfriend Heather, an enthusiastic humanist who gradually wearies of his pessimism, leading to the breakdown of their relationship. The air of timidity Heather (played by Heather Holmes) begins with is supplanted by a more relatable frustration over the course of events, and the relationship demonstrates some recognisable features.

Two crew members function something like a chorus to the pair, and their physicality punctuates the tension developing between the couple. The story is told quite cleverly as the action moves between the US, the Gulf of California, and La Paz, and allows for a particularly energetic story about the complexity of romantic relationships in a working context.

In all, this is an interesting play that doesn’t quite manage to get across the line of engagement. The relationship between Mike and Heather needs further development to become fully engaging, and the physicality is often too abstract to be of any value. But the bones of an interesting piece are here.

 

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 21 August 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Lion King

lion kingCostume designers, choreographers and technicians need to be reminded occasionally that nothing is more important than character and plot. Unfortunately, this clearly did not happen with this production, which largely fails to engage on the two substantive elements of dramatisation.

I don’t think it’s the book. The stage version adds a couple of numbers that seem rather superfluous and have no purpose other than to allow the promoters to differentiate it from the animated film, but they don’t really detract. And the costumes aren’t bad either, but when the audience erupted in tremendous applause for the mere appearance of a (magnificent) life-size elephant puppet, I started to get an idea of what this was about, or more importantly, what it was not about.

And there’s the rub. This show is just not about Simba. The Lion King is about Simba (or Hamlet (or even Joseph if you like)), but this show is about puppets and stunts. Simba and his story are a mere sideshow here, they’re not the main event at all.

I don’t know if it was a unique technical problem on the night, but the other contributing factor was the balance of the audio mixing. The singers were barely audible over the (brilliant) orchestra. Enrique Segura, playing Timon, certainly had his microphone turned on late a number of times, and occasionally cut out mid-song. But they all seemed to struggle with the crescendos of Tim Rice and Alex Menken’s music. I felt more and more deflated every time I heard a clipped attempt at emoting something of significance for the plot. It was clear the plot just didn’t matter.

But whether I liked The Lion King is another question. It is not bad as performance art, but it doesn’t quite commit. If you’re not going to bother with the characters, then how about some more acrobatics? If you don’t really care about the ebb and flow of the plot, why not bring the performers more fully into the space? If you’re going to reduce a dramatic masterpiece that is derived from one of Shakespeare’s greatest works and one of the most grandiose tales of the Judeo-Christian canon to a mere circus performance, why not do it with aplomb? It seems to me that the creators just didn’t quite decide whether this was theatre or circus. And that’s what left me feeling flat.

When’s a Canberra company doing this one? I think someone needs to show Broadway how it’s done.

My daughter posted about this show on our travel blog, Walkabout. You can see what she thought here.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Peablossom Cabaret

Peablossom Cabaret Sofa Press ShotAfter a false start yesterday, where the performers found out at the last minute that their venue wasn’t opening, I am incredibly glad we made it back to see this brilliant performance today. Unfortunately the alternate venue they had secured was an over 18s venue so I was unable to bring Offspring Number One along to that performance, and today we had to change our plans to get there, but get there we did, and it was well worth the effort.

The Peablossom Cabaret is cabaret improvised in response to conversations with the audience. And as such, it hinges entirely on the personalities and talents of the two performers, Dylan Townley as Mr. Pea, and Sylvia Bishop as Miss Blossom. These two consummate performers had their audience laughing before the show even started, and it only got better throughout with their clever banter, quick wit and charming voices.

The pair improvised a song about an audient’s sister reading her diary, then about a lad who admires his brother for not being boring. I could go on, but the very nature of improvisation means it would not be terribly interesting; you really have to be there. And the more people who are there the better; these splendid performers deserve all the applause they can get!

 
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Posted by on Monday, 4 August 2014 in Cabaret, Improvisation

 

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