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The Judas Kiss

In the light of the civil rights movements of the last five decades, the various ways to interpret the facts of Oscar Wilde’s life seem almost kaleidoscopic. Even in the two decades since David Hare wrote The Judas Kiss, our perspectives on queer rights have moved so dramatically that material of this age frequently jars current sensibilities. Perhaps because of its subject matter, but probably more because of Hare’s focus on the people he was writing about, the play doesn’t suffer from any such awkwardness.

The first act is encountered in a single scene in which Wilde has the opportunity to flee England and escape arrest for gross indecency. Those who hold influence over him try to persuade him in different directions before it is too late, and the wordy dialogue presents a number of reasons for him to stay or to go. Whether Wilde allowed the police to arrest him in a misguided belief that he would never be incarcerated, or in a rather premature expression of gay pride, his courageous foolhardiness shines through brilliantly.

And it is this courageous foolhardiness that I find most inspiring about the Oscar Wilde presented in this production.

David Hare’s heavily verbose script is lightened by inspired direction from Karina Hudson (with the support of Alexandra Pelvin). Despite the weight of words Hare burdens the actors with, each of the three central characters shine through with a life and vivacity that is rare with such a piece.

What is perhaps most surprising is to see the conflicts that currently play out within the queer community about how we engage with the societies we live in, playing out in a story twelve decades old. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For me at least, this was a deeply moving production of a carefully constructed play. It honours Wilde’s memory while also recognising his humanity, and you can’t ask for more than that.

 

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Mary Magdalene

Landscapes and coastlines reminiscent of southern Australia give this film a grounded feel that exceeds most other depictions of biblical stories. Even the perspective lent to this story by looking at it through the eyes of Mary of Magdala puts me in mind of the strong and courageous women of the Australia Henry Lawson depicted.

In this harsh environment, Mary’s voice emerges subtly and beautifully over the course of the film. Rooney Mara depicts her with a graceful sensibility that builds in courage and awareness as the story progresses.

The male disciples appear as little more than a contentious rabble, much like the church they founded. They tend to follow Jesus about, rather than travelling with him, which is a different way of depicting them than I’ve seen in the past. They argue with each other, ignoring him largely, and it is Mary who points out after Jesus’ resurrection that in their fervour they’d forgotten to listen to the man they — rather pretentiously — called teacher.

This film, though, is more than merely a feminist reading of the gospel. Jesus certainly isn’t depicted here as a feminist, and nor is he depicted as omniscient. Instead, the messiah is shown as a man who was accessible and responsive to others; one aware of the people around him and open to a greater understanding of their experiences. This, really, should be central to the Christian faith: while denominations of the church continue to argue amongst themselves about petty nonsense like whether to worship on Saturday or Sunday or whether vegetarian Catholics should take communion or whether queer people should be treated like human beings, this film depicts a Christ with ears as well as a mouth. It shows him as a man listening: in all my years listening to a myriad of teachings about Jesus, I’ve never once heard a sermon about the example he set as a listener. And yet the gospels, both canonical and apocryphal, frequently depict him listening.

I feel that this film depicts the events of the gospel — canonical, apocryphal and fictional — in a wholly engaging and enlightened manner. And most importantly, it does so from the perspective of one of the most important participants in the events themselves. Truly enlightening and exciting.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 18 March 2018 in British Film, Film, Porchlight, See Saw Films

 

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Oedipus Scmoedipus

Blood, as Stoppard’s tragedian says, is compulsory.

The auditorium at the Playhouse goes dark for a moment before the curtain shoots into the fly tower and two women wearing white are flooded with blinding white light in front of a white backdrop and a white stage. The audience gasps as their eyes react to the onslaught and giggle a little while they wait for something to happen…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

The greatest joy in visiting a fringe festival is being able to wander into a show with little to no awareness of what it’s about. Not every show turns out to be worth the time of day, but frequently they’re as good as Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

I had a couple of hours to fill between shows I’d booked, and had only glanced at the description, but it was cabaret, and it was soon, and it was close, and it was free, so it hit my favourite fringe criteria perfectly, I just hoped there weren’t too many references to imperial measurements to confuddle me. Wandering over to the Crown and Anchor, I got myself a cider and sat down outside the band room. I’d been there but a moment when an attractive gentleman wearing a tuxedo print t-shirt introduced himself as Mark Metaphor, the performer, and sat and chatted for a couple of minutes before heading in and inviting me to proceed.

At this stage, I still had no idea what to expect, and was surprised to see a projector screen taking up most of the stage, leaving very little room for the handsome gent and causing me to hope I was still in my cabaret safe space. Nonetheless, he shortly took up a space beside the screen and introduced the show, thanking what seemed to be more than a few relatives and friends in the audience.

I was pleasantly surprised to realise that the show was going to present four television interpretations of Richard Matheson’s short story, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, while reading from the original text (impressively, he had much of it memorised). Snippets from the television interpretations spanned from the 1960s to the early 2000s, including live action and animations, serious adaptation of the original and comic spoofs. Mark’s screen mashup was timed brilliantly to allow for an impassioned reading of Matheson’s text, and the whole scenario was novel and rich and engaging.

I remained enthralled until a technical glitch with the puter running the projections broke the atmosphere, and the techie hurriedly attempted to get it up and running again. Mark carried on as any professional performer would, and eventually paused to realign his reading with the projection, quickly reestablishing the lost atmosphere. Despite this glitch, the show turned out to be a gem.

This is such a simple but novel idea, and one that could be so engaging. I hope I’ll see more of Mark’s shows at future fringes.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 18 February 2018 in Adelaide Fringe, Fringe

 

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Much Ado About Nothing

Canberra’s sunsets are a little short for Shakespeare, but the timing was pretty damn near perfect for Shakespeare by the Lakes’ debut tonight.

A bright and committed team of enthusiasts have brought back Canberra’s outdoor performances of Shakespeare, and they should be commended for the way in which they galvanised the community and pulled together such a great performance.

The costumes are reminiscent of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film, and Izaac Beach’s Claudio is, astonishingly, even more cloying than Robert Sean Leonard’s from that same film. Lexi Sekuless is the standout, I feel: one of the most beautifully balanced Beatrices I’ve ever encountered, and she’s matched brilliantly by Duncan Driver’s Benedick.

I especially appreciate the way in which the space is used. In front of Tuggeranong Town Park’s rather sad little stage, the performers engage the audience with direct address, entering the performance space through the audience and even extending in amongst the picnic rugs at times. It’s an authentic and relatable way to treat the bard we so often revere but rarely embrace.

I did have some sympathy for the poor sound technicians: the wind picked up in the afternoon and the performers’ mics told us all about it. It was at times difficult to hear the voices, especially when, to minimise the problem, the operators turned the mics off and back on as required, frequently suffering a lag in reconnection.

It is a big decision in this context whether to amplify or not. The use of microphones, even when there’s no need to compensate for wind, kills a lot of expression, and it is difficult to recover. But in an outdoor space like this, amplification is sadly necessary. It doesn’t help that the ACT Government, despite investing substantially in outdoor performance venues, couldn’t even be bothered applying the technology perfected by the Greeks 2,500 years ago. A simple amphitheatre would eliminate the need for soul-crushing PA systems, but we’re stuck with flat auditoria like a people who have no access to the wisdom of ancient civilisations! /rant

Despite this difficulty, a talented cast certainly made the most of the the deftly-trimmed script, and gave an appreciative audience a show worthy of the investment made by the show’s sponsors. I hope to be enjoying Shakespeare by the Lakes for many years to come.

 

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 14 February 2018 in Canberra Theatre, Shakespeare by the Lakes, Theatre

 

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Call Me By Your Name

I don’t like slow. I’m pretty sure I don’t like slow. But this film is slow. And I liked it.

It’s a summer in the early 1980s, and for some inexplicable reason a hunky Yank named Oliver turns up at an academic’s house in northern Italy and stays for the summer. As you do. For some reason the family speaks English with an American twang, and Oliver seems to understand Italian far better than he speaks it. The son in his mid teens, Elio, vacates his bedroom for Oliver, sleeping instead in an adjoining bedroom, which, apparently, is unsuitable for Yanks, given their delicate temperaments. And this exposition takes at least half an hour. Did I mention the film is slow?

I mean, any slower and I’d have popped out for a three course meal in the middle and probably not have missed any significant plot points. And yet, I stayed engaged. This surprises me. Usually I want the film to move, but I really didn’t mind the slow and steady building of character layers, the quiet, lounging nature of their days or the inconsistent progression of the central characters’ relationship.

Oliver and Elio connect, then disconnect. They approach an equilibrium, then are thrown off. Elio acts out, as teenagers are wont to do; Oliver doesn’t come home, as hunky Yanks are wont to do. Slowly (I did say it’s slow, right?), the unbalanced nature of this character development endears these two uncharming characters to me. I feel Elio’s angst as he recognises his attraction to Oliver, and I accept Oliver’s resistance to his own attraction.

This is, perhaps, one of the most endearing and relatable aspects of the characters: their internalised homophobia is something I recognise in myself. At no point in this film (and there was plenty of time to include it), does any other character make a homophobic comment. The only place homophobia appears is within the gay characters themselves. Elio’s parents push the couple together; other members of the community never pass any comments on their sexuality; and yet, the central characters resist their urges not only because of the age gap but because of their perceptions of right and wrong. It’s a deeply endearing process that breaks my heart.

SPOILER ALERT: Now, if you keep reading this post, you will encounter comments relating to the ending. If you’ve not seen it, stop, watch, and then carry on. The only reason this film is worth writing about is because of a magical moment of cinematic genius at the end, so I’m writing about it.

The long road to Oliver and Elio finally acting on their urges jars splendidly with the immediate nature of sex and dating in this century. That slow development is entirely foreign to younger generations, and to have it depicted in this manner is a valuable cultural record if nothing more.

But it is more. And as much as I rail against the slowness, as much as I just want something to happen, the languishing nature of the plot here leads to one beautiful moment of cinematic bliss. It begins when Oliver leaves to return to America: I felt the pain of that separation like it was my own. And it wasn’t just lovers: saying goodbye like that has been part of my life since I was 11 when a slew of deaths and departures began for my family. The gut-wrenching numbness depicted here could have been mine. And the moment when Oliver tells Elio that he’s getting married, the finality of that moment; the internalised homophobia inherent in the act; and most of all, Elio’s silent, howling alone-ness echoed in my heart like they were my own.

There, at that moment, is the genius of this film. The slow slow build, the euphoric collision of love and lust, and the sudden wrench of separation culminating in absolute despair resonate with my experience. And I sat in awe at how this film took me there so subtly, so deftly, so firmly.

Would that I had the talent of James Ivory Luca Guadagnino to recognise the value of slow.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 in Cinéfracture, Film, French Film, Frenesy Film Company, Italian Film

 

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Michael and Phillip are Getting Married in the Morning

Much of the publicity for Michael and Phillip are Getting Married in the Morning points to the December 2017 changes to the Marriage Act, which occurred between the writing of the play and its staging. Obviously the script was updated to reflect the changes, so I don’t think there really was a need to point them out. The publicity also bills it as a celebration of love, and although it does live up to this, there did seem to be some disagreement between the writer (who seems to have written a comedy) and the director (who seems to have directed a melodrama).

I don’t know how much it has diverted from the original plot, but the play centres on two men who are getting married in the near future (the title did leave me a little confused about the time line). Like all good romantic comedies, this central objective faces three major catastrophes: the interference of Michael’s best friend, the scheming of a pregnant bride-to-be who wants to marry Phillip instead and the re-appearance of Michael’s estranged and remorseful father.

The plot works. It chugs along nicely from one problem to another, emulating the best farces. The characters are relatable, even some of the minor ones, and they deliver pathos along with their humour. However, the direction has left the script without the energy it needed to get lift off. The delivery was slow, the comic timing almost always lagged and the business of moving from one setting to another brought any energy that was built thudding back down onto the stage floor.

Bayne Bradshaw and Ryan Stewart, playing Michael and Phillip respectively, portrayed their characters well, and though they were rarely on stage together, they had a great chemistry that made me wish they’d played opposite each other for more of the play. Anna Reardon was likewise admirable as Michael’s friend Tally, and fought valiantly to attempt to resurrect the play’s energy, but it was to no avail. Even the talent I could see in Bethany Griffiths, whose role as the bride is one of the most amusing elements in the script, wasn’t enough to build the energy  needed to get the audience laughing.

Michael and Phillip are Getting Married in the Morning should be a romp. The script is, despite a few unnecessary scenes, essentially ready to have us all rolling in the aisles, but this production had me checking my watch and tapping to see if it had stopped. Tighter direction and better comic timing would have saved it.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 18 January 2018 in Melbourne Theatre, Theatre

 

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