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Category Archives: Canberra Theatre Centre

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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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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Talk

I was more than impressed by the set when I entered the Playhouse for tonight’s performance of Talk. Two levels and three separate spaces fill the stage, and I anticipate a masterpiece, judging by this work of art.

By halfway through, I’m disappointed.

Jonathan Biggins’ script deals with heady themes that are particularly pertinent in the current climate. News cycles, declining newspaper sales, irresponsible journalism and public broadcasters all come under scrutiny. And the resulting cacophony is as vague and impenetrable as the world it attempts to critique.

The complex set, while impressive, doesn’t help matters. It is broken, really, into three ‘panes’, which don’t interact with each other. Granted, the story takes place in three separate spheres that barely intersect, but the end result is a disjointed plot, and that’s something I don’t really find endearing.

Biggins’ naturalistic and humorous dialogue, even when it was delivered so well by the talented cast, doesn’t quite overcome the disjointed nature of the piece, and although I was engrossed enough to want to know what happens, I’m not sure I really cared that much about any of the characters.

Talk is a valiant attempt to critique this point in our history, and the journalistic forces that are shaping it, but it falls a long way short of a masterpiece.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 2 June 2017 in Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, Theatre

 

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The Normal Heart

the-normal-heartAs the audience applauded outrageously, drawing the cast out for a well-earned third bow, I wondered whether it would be more appropriate, in this instance, for the cast to stand on stage as we all observed silence in honour of those who’d paid the ultimate price for their love. But of course, that would hardly work, given how deeply entrenched our social norms are.

And that, largely, is the point of Larry Kramer‘s play, very aptly titled The Normal Heart.

The ‘normality’ of the love portrayed is juxtaposed against the initial onset of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, where cultural norms prevented an expedient or even a compassionate response to research and prevention. The play portrays an increasing fear, and an increasing urgency to find a way to stop the as-yet unnamed disease, pitting allies against each other in their fight to arrest the disease’s spread.

The play broadly centres on the efforts of Ned Weeks, a character based on the writer himself, to spur both the gay community and governments to action. After failing to gain traction with the media, he manages to get a group together to establish an organisation aimed at building awareness of and fighting the growing epidemic. He is also spurred by Doctor Emma Brookner, a character based on Doctor Linda Laubenstein, a pioneering researcher into the epidemic. Weeks finds himself pushed in one direction by Brookner, and held back by his organisation, who seek to use more diplomacy than Weeks thinks appropriate.

The resulting conflict drives the play forward, and would present Weeks in a very ineffectual light, were it not for the love story that underlies his trajectory. While seeking media attention, Weeks instead elicits the attention of Felix Turner, and they develop a rather conventional (or as the title suggests, normal) affection, that grounds Weeks, and is, perhaps, the only thing that truly humanises the character. Inasmuch as The Normal Heart veers precariously close to being a mere polemic, Felix is most certainly the play’s salvation.

Will Huang honoured the role of Felix with a brilliant performance. His decline is measured, and his self-pity deeply empathic. I found myself often wishing the more polemic of scenes would zip by a little faster so Felix would come back. But then, in perhaps the most polemic scene, Michael Sparks delivers one of the most moving and convincing monologues I have ever heard, in the character of Mickey Marcus. This moment presented presents Weeks with his most articulate and encyclopædic challenge, and he is silenced. It is a truly remarkable monologue, if Weeks really is based on the author: moving and tragic, and so highly critical of its own writer that it stands out as distinctly un-American in its candour.

Indeed, the second act is awash with noteworthy speeches that cover the range of positions the characters took in response to the epidemic. Jordan Best brilliantly and emotively portrays the frustration of the medical fraternity. Christopher Zuber (as Bruce Niles) puts Weeks in his place without ever writing him off. And Jarrad West’s Weeks, increasingly frustrated and ineffective in his purpose, demonstrates the centrality of the heart, the element that shows this play to be something other than a mere documentation of a sad and sorry moment in human history.

This is a tragedy of Sophoclean proportions, and it is a story Karen Vickery should take immense pride in having directed.

So as this brilliant cast took their bows, I applauded along with the rest of the audience, and began to process the remarkable piece of theatre I’d just witnessed. The irony of being unable to honour both the performance and the story was not lost on me, and though the deep tragedy of the story had cut me to the core, I nonetheless felt it was entirely appropriate for the cast to be honoured as they were.

Still, it would be nice, just once, to forego the applause at the end of as tragedy such as this. To instead stand and honour the dead with a cast that has done them such an honour in presenting their story, would be a cathartic experience I suspect.

 

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The Glass Menagerie

the glass menagerieIt’s truly inspiring when a design just breathes new life into an old script. Michael Hankin’s design for this production has as much to do with its success as the brilliant performers who embody Tennessee Williams’ dark and soulful characters.

Like Shakespeare did so many times, Williams has landed on some truly universal human themes. No matter how far removed from the American south we might be, we recognise the mother whose concern for her children and whose disappointment in her own life leads her to place unreasonable pressure on her son and fail to recognise when her daughter is overwhelmed. We recognise the futility of an existence that provides just enough comfort to persist with, but doesn’t offer enough hope to spur us to action.

Pamela Rabe’s portrayal of Amanda Wingfield, the faded southern belle, is energetic and ugly. She truly manages to balance portraying the caring mother with the desperately incompetent. This balance is in turn critical for Luke Mullins’ deeply moving portrayal of the hapless Tom.

Even at the point when Tom drags his mother to the floor and confronts her with her ugliness, it’s hard to criticise him. He bears her histrionics with patience until he no longer can, and we can only watch as their fate unfolds. All of these characters are worthy of both compassion and criticism. Victims of circumstance, their pursuit of their dreams is as valiant as it is futile.

This futility is beautifully presented by a truly exceptional cast, and demonstrated by the use of a set that isolates the action into an apartment that sits on the stage like a rigid box, then lets us inside with the use of cameras and screens, presenting images unmistakably reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden age. The melodrama, ironically undermined by drawing the audience’s attention to film techniques, holds a grain of truth that justifies the emotive excesses of the dialogue.

Perhaps it is simply the case that Laura’s life, spent obsessing over her long-gone father’s records and her collection of glass animals, is the most complete of them all, the interruptions of her family merely pointless intrusions on the only thing that brings her peace.

 

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Short+Sweet Canberra 2015 Week 1

After missing a year, it has been a great feeling being involved in Short+Sweet again this year. The competition, as always, is eclectic.
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Photo 4-08-2015 4 15 53 pmI think one of the highlights this week has been The Adventures of Captain Midnight, in which Captain Midnight, a widower, describes his experience of moving to a retirement village and finding himself the centre of all the ladies’ attention. Don Smith as Captain Midnight strikes a very dignified presence with an air of David Attenborough examining the sex lives of the elderly.
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I’ve also been enjoying The Truth About Mum and Dad, yet another great piece by Greg Gould with some snappy one-liners and very relatable adult siblings who enjoy making a scene while learning that their parents may not be quite as prudish as they thought.
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Harriet Elvin’s Untitled was in good company with these offerings, too. What seems to be an art critic being harangued by a less appreciative gallery visitor turns out to be something far more amusing.
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I had the privilege of directing two very talented and committed performers in Robert Armstrong’s zippy little piece, The Interview from Hell. Alison Bigg and Oliver Durbidge took the production very seriously, and made the whole process very enjoyable. I also think the result was spectacular, but I’m biased!
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But the image that will stay with me after this year’s festival will certainly be that of Alison McGregor’s ‘Sparkles’, whose homage to love and chicken was simply gut-wrenching, especially the third time you see it! This one certainly deserved to take home People’s Choice!
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If this is the Top 20, there’s no way of predicting what will be in the Wildcards!
 

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Short+Sweet Canberra 2013 (Week 2)

20130812 Short+Sweet 074asOkay, so it’s been a while since it ended, but I’m finally writing about Short+Sweet Week 2. Partly, this was because since the end of the festival I have been rather overwhelmed with family duties, but I also needed some time to lick my wounds.

So though neither of my plays got much attention, they were in some great company. Nothing really stood a chance of outstripping Last Drinks; Greg Gould’s catchy and trim script coupled with Margaret Allen’s taut direction and the impeccable timing of Caroline O’Brien and Jett Black were a force to be reckoned with.

Another very amusing piece was Good Cop Mad Cop, which I also enjoyed thoroughly. Paulene Turner’s clever script was performed energetically by Helen Way, Jonathan Garland, Paul Hutchison and Elizabeth Lamb.

Ruth Pieloor wrote and performed Vanity Insanity, with the support of Catherine Hagarty as director. Though very funny, this piece dealt beautifully with notions of self esteem and ageing, and I enjoyed it every time.

I never tired of seeing Paul Hutchison’s Bendigo Banjo Sails the Day, either. This piece could not be entered into the competition since a director had been unavailable and Kate Gaul, the Festival Director, salvaged it to ensure it was performed. We were all glad she did, as it was a great way to begin a great night of performances.

But the piece that truly moved me most was Written in Stone, written and directed by Evan Croker. This was one of the Wildcards that got through to the final, so not really a Week 2 play, but I found myself intrigued by it. The performances were great, the script is brilliant, and the play really deserved more recognition in the final than it got.

So that’s it for another year… though the Merimbula festival is less than a month away, and Melbourne follows soon after that and before you know it Sydney will be happening! And while all of that goes on, Crash Test Drama will surely keep us entertained! Many thanks to everyone for a great festival, and well done to all the winners!

 

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