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Monthly Archives: August 2008

My Fair Lady

Last Saturday I spent a fortune on a ticket to see Opera Australia’s production of My Fair Lady, and although the ticket price isn’t usually relevant in judging a theatrical production, in this case there is an amusing irony in exhorbitant ticket prices that I’m sure escaped the producers’ attention.

We pay, of course, because we have high expectations of Opera Australia; and the extravagant sets and brilliant costumes combined with the magnificent performance by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra dazzle us into believing that we’ve had the best kind of theatre experience money can buy. And this is precisely the point of George Bernard Shaw’s original story.

A poor flower seller, often impugned as a Mayfair Lady, is taken in by an arrogant academic who wants to prove that he can pass her off as a duchess; and having done so, he finds himself in love with her. Her innate worth, which stood in question, is proven by the fact that she is loved best by the arrogant academic who knows her best.

Reg Livermore’s delivery of Henry Higgins’s one-liners was fine. Well-timed, and responsive to the audience, the performance bore all the hallmarks of a seasoned performer. It did lack, however, a fundamental understanding of the character. It was obvious that this was not Livermore’s ill, as the same could be said for Dolittle, Pickering, and perhaps, even Eliza. It would seem that neither producer nor director had bothered to scrape behind the surface of this deep, dark comedy. Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady was a superficial and entirely inadequate treatment of one of the most profound dramatic works to grace the Western Stage since Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

But who could blame Opera Australia? A high-brow institution without audiences seeking to generate cashflow by staging a popular musical. This was not an artistic endeavour so much as it was an exercise in marketing. And a very successful one. Every performance in Canberra was sold out, despite the exhorbitant ticket prices and the presence of a much more intelligent show literally next door in the Courtyard Studio.

Opera Australia have taken a shabby production, neglecting its more fundamental value, dressed it up in a spectacular fashion, and have charged us a fortune to see it. Just like Henry Higgins, they have taken something they assume to be worthless, they have added a superficial gloss, and have found it to be of value. And just like Higgins, they still misunderstand its innate worth. The irony is delicious. And devastating.

I am hoping for more from Canberra Repertory’s production of Pygmalion later this year. They have a much better chance of making their point, mainly because they’re not using a bastardised version of Shaw’s story.

There is also hope in the upcoming new film of My Fair Lady(scheduled for release in 2010), which is being penned by the very intelligent Emma Thomson and is intended to pay more respect to Shaw’s intentions.

 

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The Three Sisters

Chekhov bores me. There, I said it. I have spoken the unspeakable; Chekhov bores me. And yet, this play left me at a bit of a loss. How can you have a play that is thoroughly boring populated by characters that are infinitely intriguing? It should be an impossibility. But apparently it’s not.

To be perfectly honest, I thought Free Rain’s production of The Three Sisters to be the most profoundly astute and engaging interpretation of a thoroughly useless play I have ever encountered (and I have encountered many useless plays). Each character was carefully constructed, and portrayed brilliantly by a cast that has clearly engaged with Chekhov’s text on an intimate level.

Don’t take my description of Chekhov’s play as useless to be a negative thing. The play triggered thought, and because nothing seemed to happen, there was time to drift through thought without missing anything particularly important. Nothing was particularly important. At least, not to the mind of a cynical gen-xer like myself. But it would be nice if there were more opportunities to just sit and think.

This play is worth seeing twice, and I’m going back tomorrow. I’m hoping to be able to drift through those sections of the play that I didn’t drift through last time, and vice-versa.

Not the kind of play I would want to see every time I go to the theatre, but this was an opportunity not to be missed, and Free Rain should be commended on a splendid and invariably worthwhile production of something completely useless.

 

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Mrs Holt

Now, I’m not in the habit of commenting on shows that I’ve written myself, but I can paste here a transcript of Bill Stephens’ comments on Mrs Holt, which is one of my own shows, which is currently showing at The Street Theatre…

Canberra Dramatics are a local theatre group which is committed to the development of new plays by playwrights from the city of Canberra and the surrounding region.

Their newest production, which is currently running at The Street Theatre until next Saturday 16th August is Mrs. Holt…written by Canberra playwright Trevar Alan Chilver.

I went along to the opening night of Mrs. Holt last Thursday night and discovered a thoughtful, entertaining and engaging play – not so much about aging – which I might have expected given the setting is in a nursing home ward – but more about changing attitudes and expectations between the generations.

I particularly liked the performance given by Gay Evans as an irascible, old patient called – intrigueingly – Zara Holt …who is the subject of the play.

I have not seen Gay perform before, but she is obviously an experienced actress – who has the ability to wring every ounce of comedy – and pathos – from her role to invest it with depth and interest.

Pete Ricardo, as the male nurse Jack Harris, also impressed with a well judged performance…the other actors in the cast Sarah Daphne, Sarah Ritchie and Cerri Davis.

Staged in a simple – effective and appropriate setting, this is probably the best play I have seen so far from Canberra Dramatics.and although it would benefit from eliminating some of the long black-outs between scenes which allow the pace to drop seriously… if you are at all interested in local playwrighting it is well worth your time to get along and see it.

Mrs. Holt runs at the Street Theatre until next Saturday 16th August. You can find out details of performances and performance times by ringing the Street Theatre or visiting their website.

 
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Posted by on Monday, 11 August 2008 in Canberra Theatre, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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