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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Short+Sweet Canberra 2012 (Week 1)

Connie challenges Charlie in ‘The Fence’

Last night I had one of those moments. You know, when something you’ve been working on for a while has come to fruition and is about to end. Theatrical folk do tend to go a little over-the-top experiencing these moments, but it is genuinely sad when you see a cast perform a show you’ve been working on for the last time.

So it was with The Fence and The Commuter in this year’s Short+Sweet. I didn’t realise until just before the lights went up on The Fence for the last time that it was the last time I’d see it. And then I realised it would be the last time I’d see them too (even if they get into the final next Saturday, I can’t be there because of a family commitment). For me they were the culmination of five or so pretty intense weeks of casting, rehearsing, preparing, and of course lots of laughing.

The cast I worked with on The Fence was just great. They were extremely committed to the show, so when the Murphy’s Law of Theatre (that if anybody can get sick s/he will) took effect, it was great to see the cast rally around, make changes to the schedule as necessary and finally plough right on through. The actor in question, Tony Marziano, was a trooper and a director couldn’t have asked for more in terms of commitment and effort, and the result was great. Katarina Thane gave a lot to the role of Connie, and I was so pleased to see the vision I had of this kind of suburban Lady Macbeth realised. And it was great to be able to catch up with an old uni friend, Arne Sjostedt, who played the neighbour, John, with great humour.

I hope it did justice to the writer’s vision. It was difficult to have to ask Coralie Daniels, the playwright, if we could cut the script when we found we were quite significantly over the ten minute time limit. The cuts we finally made did make a significant difference to the play’s reference points, but they gave us a stronger ending, and of course brought us within cooee of the time limit. My last play in Short+Sweet, Mr Fixit, was found to be significantly over the time limit, and the cuts were quite brutal. Not so with The Commuter, which I carefully restricted to seven pages (though it still comes close).

The Commuter deals with a strange kid and an American tourist.

I will never get tired of seeing characters that started as a vague image in the dark recesses of my mind come to life on stage. Arne was in this one too, bringing my American tourist to life, and young Henry Maley made a great precocious eight-year-old, with Gabriel Strachan as his aggressively protective mother. But of course it all came down to Simon Clarke’s portrayal of the commuter himself, and I was very pleased that he didn’t turn out to be either too ocker, or in any way a bleeding heart. This character could be portrayed in many ways, and I was really pleased with how closely Simon aligned the character to my vision.

The calibre of plays being performed in this week’s Short+Sweet really is impeccable. I was a little surprised, to be honest, having read Gerry Greenland’s script for Driving the Holden, with how well it translated to the stage. Sometimes you just don’t see the characters in reading the play, and Lis Shelley’s direction has served Dan Holliday and Nick Foong’s efforts well in bringing this story to life. It’s a very strong start to the festival. On opening night, it was disappointing to see the cast of A Short History of Weather drop a line in the middle of their otherwise impeccable performance, and I was so pleased to see the play again last night without the cicadas. They deserve an encouragement award for powering on, especially since the result last night was so effective.

But I think the play to fear in week one is definitely Spit for Tat. The sight gag of lovers spitting water all over each other is funny enough, but performers Scott Rutar and Caroline Simone O’Brien have backed it up with stellar performances that demonstrate some fantastic character development. Despite the somewhat fanciful nature of the script, they’re completely believable in every moment, and deliver what for my money is the standout performance of week one.

Short+Sweet has been a lot of fun, and I’m so glad I managed to participate this year. The Commuter will be available on my scripts page in a day or two, but it’s better to see it than read it, and unless the judges choose it for the Gala Final, tonight’s your last chance!

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 25 August 2012 in Canberra Theatre, Short+Sweet, Theatre

 

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Wyrd Sisters

Tuggeranong Arts Centre‘s Women’s Theatre Forum is creating some great opportunities, and it’s encouraging to see regular performances in Tuggeranong’s magnificent theatre. My opinion is that in terms of space, acoustics and relationship between stage and auditorium, this remains the single best theatre space in Canberra, and it’s unfortunate it’s been such a struggle to see it used more. The set for Wyrd Sisters is one of the best I’ve seen in this space, so I was very pleased to see the auditorium so near to full for tonight’s performance.

They were a very responsive audience too. The sisters of the title did a great job with Stephen Briggs’ very clunky script, and attracted plenty of laughs with the one-liners scattered through it. Briggs really hasn’t given any of Pratchett’s characters much to work with, and a few moments fell flat on the back of his spartan and somewhat filmic dialogue and scenography.

The play has a huge and diverse cast of characters, and director Kerrie Roberts did very well at casting performers with complementing multiple characters, which can often be a confusing task. Overall it’s an impressive cast, although comic timing may not have been everyone’s forte.

As a play for the Women’s Theatre Forum, I am not sure it quite gives adequate focus to the witches, or to Duchess Felmet. The action and plot really centre on the ineffectual Duke and his fool, played by Tony Cheshire and Jonathan Sharp, both of whom I’ve had the pleasure of directing in other productions. Despite the strength apparent here, I would certainly have enjoyed seeing greater depth and greater attention for Janine O’Dwyer’s lovable Nanny Ogg, Elaine Noon’s forthright Granny Weatherwax, and Tracy Thomas’s young and idealistic Magrat.

Nonetheless, Wyrd Sisters is a funny and enjoyable show with an enthusiastic cast intent on engaging with their audience. You’ve got two more performances if you want to see it.

 

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Short+Sweet Brisbane 2012

Hearing that my play The Commuter had been chosen for the Wildcards in the Brisbane Short+Sweet Festival, I made some changes to a work trip and tacked on a weekend in Brisbane. So you can imagine my disappointment when I sat down in the theatre with the program, and couldn’t find my play listed!

I learned later that the cast had pulled the plug at the last minute, and there was nothing the organisers could do. So as disappointing as it was, all that was left for it was to enjoy the wild card entries that had made it. Not a particularly difficult task.

I was impressed with the calibre of these ten minute performances, most of which I’d have thought would have been worthy of the top 20.

Copstitutes told the story of twins who had inherited their mother’s brothel only for their first client to drop dead, turning them into instant private detectives. The performances were impeccable, and the energy admirable, right up until that two-thirds-through point when the action seemed to get lost. It seemed to me that maybe someone had fluffed a line and the cast list their mojo.

But for me the pick of the Wildcards was Tagalong Theatre Company’s It Came From the Couch, in which the cast’s incredible energy and focus told of impeccable direction from Dee Dee Shi and a tightly wound script from Chris Kestrel.

The one that took the position mine lost was particularly good, too. In On The Shelf an enthusiastic carrot and disillusioned celeriac meet a young cauliflower who has just arrived on the supermarket shelf and eagerly anticipates a nice cheese sauce. This one boasted a great script and some very generous performances from Brea Robertson, Bek Groves and Chris Charteris.

It was interesting to be around the theatre before the Gala Final too. The number of people who arrived and greeted each other like old friends really demonstrated one of the best aspects of Short+Sweet; the way it develops a community around it and brings the whole experience to life.

So despite my disappointment, it was a great show, and I’m glad I got to see it. I’m more keen than ever to see how The Commuter goes in Canberra this week, and today I’ve got a first draft of another script ready to submit for Short+Sweet 2013.

Short+Sweet Canberra opens on Wednesday 22 August at the Canberra Theatre Centre, and The Commuter is in the first week of the Top 20.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 19 August 2012 in Brisbane Theatre, Festivals, Short+Sweet, Theatre

 

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The Omega Quest

Opening to an enthusiastic crowd, it was difficult not to marvel at the novelty of The Omega Quest. All manner of lighting tricks, cultural references, and visual gags are brought together beautifully by some very talented puppeteers in this very modern incarnation of a three hundred year old storytelling tradition.

Borrowing its style from the seventeenth century Japanese Banraku tradition, and its story from the twentieth century American space epic tradition, The Omega Quest is novel, but it’s more than a novelty…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 15 August 2012 in Melbourne Theatre, Revolt, Theatre

 

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The Sapphires

 

We’ve seen plenty of films centred on the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. Most are quite interesting but the bulk of them seem to float in the ether of the social and political significance of their subject matter, and don’t make a particularly smooth landing in the grit and grime of reality. That criticism can’t be levelled at The Sapphires.

Inspired by the true story of the writer’s mother, who toured Vietnam during the American WarThe Sapphires portrays three sisters and a cousin, young Aboriginal women who in 1968 are discovered by a drunk Irishman who can barely hold down a job but has a great passion for Soul music and recognises a talent. Auditioning for an American military talent scout, they are recruited and find themselves on their way to a war zone.

The story veers close to the heavy themes of racial discrimination, the Stolen Generation, and the moral predicament of the Western powers in Vietnam, but deftly avoids wallowing in them, instead focusing on the narrative of a family. It is remarkably how carefully balanced this story is, since it could so easily drop into a tirade on the heavy themes it skirts, but instead focuses on the triumph of hope and perseverance.

The Sapphires is distinctly the product of the early twenty-first century. It looks back at this period as a critical juncture in world history, a point when the usual shift in cultural values across the western world took on seismic significance and fundamentally altered the way we see things. And unlike most films that try to do this, it doesn’t preach, it doesn’t overstate the political and cultural significance of its subject matter. It just tells the story of five young people experiencing change at the crossroads of world culture. This is cinema at its best.

 

 
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Posted by on Friday, 10 August 2012 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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The Way

There seems to have been a slew of films about journeys or pilgrimages from American film makers lately. Either that or I’ve just started noticing them. At any rate, I haven’t seen any as good as The Way.

The film, written by Emilio Estevez (who I had no idea could actually write), is the story of a man who finds himself walking El Camino de Santiago following the death of his son on the pilgrimage, and whereas most of these pilgrimage films I’ve been seeing are either a little light on character or a little too heavy, The Way has just the right balance, and drives forward beautifully, even surviving some very obvious product placement.

It could be a tearjerker if you’re that way inclined, but unlike others that could fit that bill, it doesn’t go out of its way to try to generate a deeper pathos than is necessary, and this is so very refreshing, especially from the Americans. This is the kind of story I want to be able to write.

Of course, the problem with pilgrimage films is that they give me itchy feet, but I always seem to be wanting to go somewhere, so I don’t suppose that matters much. Anyone want to join me in Spain in a decade or two?

 
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Posted by on Friday, 3 August 2012 in American Film, Film, Filmax Entertainment, Icon Entertainment

 

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The Mousetrap

Taking over (quite ironically) from Ngapartji Ngapartji on the Playhouse stage, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is a tightly-directed period piece as formulaic as it is popular. Come this November, it will have been playing on the West End for 60 years, and already boasts in excess of 24,000 performances.

This quintessential murder mystery funnels a number of Europeans into one room, kills one of them off, and eventually reveals who done it. The complications to Christie’s basic formula in this instance include a couple setting up shop as a guest house; a range of guests, each with their own oddities; a blizzard cutting them off from the outside world; and a potentially intriguing story about a tragedy from almost two decades earlier that took place on a farm neighbouring the guest house. These additions constitute one of Christie’s better contributions to the murder mystery genre, and make The Mousetrap a memorable play.

In this production, a talented cast delivers admirably on Christie’s characteristically verbose script. Christy Sullivan, in the role of Mollie Ralston, holds the play together, and Travis Cotton’s Christopher Wren breathes a little life into the production, but on the whole the performances seem altogether too mechanical, lacking a depth…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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