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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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Short+Sweet Canberra 2013 (Week 1)

Brendan Kelly and Neil Parikh rehearsing for 'Abel C. Mann, Processed Offshore'Right before heading along to the Week 1 performance of Short+Sweet tonight, I squeezed in a short rehearsal with my cast for next week and snapped this great image. I had just picked up the bicorn from the post office, which had arrived from the UK just in time, and I was feeling great about how the play started coming together once the props started to give us some clarity of movement and intent.

Brendan Kelly (foreground of this image) had a curtain call, and I followed him to the Courtyard where I was lucky enough to snaffle a last minute ticket to the first week (I will be better prepared next week!).

I am always impressed by the format of Short+Sweet. The ten minute play is a great form, and the variety in any show is incredible. There was a broad range of styles in this year’s week 1, so I wasn’t disappointed, but there are always standouts.

Finnius Teppett from New Zealand was in attendance for this performance of his play, Reading Lamouche, and it was a novel little experience to see the irony between Brendan Kelly’s roles in Reading Lamouche and Abel C. Mann, Processed Offshore played out, but I was most impressed by the quality of humour in Tepputt’s buzzy little script, which was directed very nicely by Ryan Pemberton.

The ten minute form lends itself to comedy in a particularly natural way, probably because we’re largely used to seeing short stand up routines and sketch shows. I tend to lean towards comedy in my shorter plays (oh heck, I lean towards comedy anyway), but there is something courageous about attempting a fully-rounded character in a drama in such a short space of time. I was impressed by Margaret Allen’s script and performance in House of Cats, which was based on the blog and life experience of Nicole Lobry de Bruyn. The exposition in this piece exhibited a great balance between delivering basic necessary information and engaging the audience in the character’s existence.

And the night ended with one of those ‘plays we had to have’, in Here to Serve You. An unattended shoe in an airport sparks a security scare, and some unconventional sod decides to use common sense, upsetting the status quo, as it were. Yes, it was as predictable as you might guess, but snappy dialogue and nicely balanced performances made it one of the most enjoyable pieces of the night.

As usual though, the judges and the people disagreed with my assessment! Only Reading Lamouche got into the final next Saturday, with these other two noteworthy plays finishing here. And now the pressure is on. I have two plays in next week’s line up, and I’m nervous about both of them, but of course, looking forward to the energy and buzz leading up to Tuesday’s opening. Go to the Canberra Theatre Centre to book your tickets.

 

Correction: I have been put right by no fewer than three more observant individuals than myself! Here to Serve You did indeed make it through to the final, so the only one of the three that made a big impact on me that didn’t make it through was House of Cats. Hopefully House of Cats will get another run at later festivals in the Short+Sweet family!

 

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The Reluctant Shopper

reluctant shopperAn enthusiastic audience welcomed Bruce Hoogendoorn’s latest play to the Courtyard Theatre tonight. A simple but effective comedy, The Reluctant Shopper kept its audience engaged and the laughs rolling freely.

Faced with the grim news that consumers aren’t spending, the local business council engages the services of Barry to blackmail one of the city’s more wealthy citizens, Sam, to spend his ill-gotten but sizable nest egg in their members’ businesses. In the course of this task, Barry manages to set Sam up with shopaholic Lisa, and the two find they have complementary interests: Lisa likes spending money, and Sam has a lot of money…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Henry 4

henry 4A post-industrial landscape meets a little Brit kitsch in Bell Shakespeare’s latest work to grace the stage of Canberra’s Playhouse. Opening with the dissonance of early Brit Rock and the destruction of a massive Union Jack (a very pleasing sight), Bell’s Henry IV is young, pithy and full of the muck, mire and joy of life.

Not one of Shakespeare’s better-known plays, Henry IV, which was written in two parts but is here presented by Bell in one, tells the story of King Henry IV’s efforts to restabilise his kingdom and rein in his recalcitrant son and heir. Led astray by the inimitable Falstaff, Prince Hal confides…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 in Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, Theatre

 

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Short+Sweet Canberra 2012 (Week 2)

Week 2 of the Short+Sweet Top 20 began in a very different fashion from the usual festival, with Joe Woodward sitting in a bath wearing a pair of angel’s wings and philosophising about the great question. It was a great start to a great evening of theatre, and I’ll admit I did get a little sentimental.

Short+Sweet really lends itself to great moments. The performance quality varies and the scripts are incredibly diverse, but even when the plays don’t live up to what you might hope for, there is often something that emerges statue-like from the stack. It puts me in mind of Patrick White’s metaphor of a squirming mass of eels from The Ham Funeral (if you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour).

Some moments are hilarious, and others are poignant, but in my mind they end up in a montage that makes me feel like I’ve witnessed a single, epic masterpiece. It’s those transcendent moments that make the trivial meaningful.

Ruth Pieloor’s caricature of the prime minister in For the Love of Their Country might have been the performance of the festival. Often I use the word caricature to denigrate sub-par performances, but Pieloor’s observance, emulation and emphasis of Julia Gillard’s mannerisms and very unique vocal qualities was identifiable, amusing and wonderfully distinct. It was caricature of the highest order, which is very difficult to achieve in live theatre.
I was similarly impressed by one of my former classmates from the ANU, Sam Hannan-Morrow, in The Brett I Haven’t Met. Simon Tolhurst could have directed his script in a very different way, with more direct action (as I understand it had been done in The Logues), but it would have lost the raw engagement with the audience that Hannon-Morrow was able to deliver.

There were a few moments, though, when I just wanted to get up and fix things. I loved Remy Coll and Sam Floyd’s concept for Insecurity Guard, and despite a couple of points where the dialogue didn’t quite carry the action, it has a pretty good script, but it really needed a director who wasn’t on stage. These two vey talented performers managed very well, but they needed that extra punch of clarity that an observing director provides.

There is no question that the final moment of the festival, the performance of Genevieve Kenneally’s Ah! was an inspired choice for that particular slot. The energy of Kiki Skountzos, Riley Bell and Elizabeth McRae was precisely what was needed at the end of such a varied night, but the highlight in my book was Smart Jimmy Slow Bob. Greg Gould’s great script was brilliantly delivered by a spectacular cast (Bradley Freeman as the unconscious boy was particularly impressive, I didn’t detect a breath!).

Everyone involved in this festival deserves a pat on the back, not just those I’ve tapped out some words about. Short+Sweet is a unique event in the annual calendar, and I hope it’s a permanent one. What impresses me is where the different people involved in the festival come from. Theatre folk whose paths don’t cross find themselves in the same dressing room for four nights in a row, and that can only be good for our theatre community. And of course with opportunities for those who prefer pure theatre to musical theatre dwindling, it is a particularly important event.

I have two scripts finished (at least to first draft stage) for the 2013 festival, and I hope the wonderful people who made this festival such a great success are around next year.

 

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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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Ngapartji Ngapartji

The Butterfly Effect is often used to describe the confluence of seemingly unrelated and remote causes to social, political or psychological effects that are otherwise beyond comprehension. On seeing Ngapartji Ngapartji tonight, my first thought is whether writer Scott Rankin was aiming to use Maralinga and its aftermath as irrefutable evidence of the Butterfly Effect beyond the realm of physics.

In this epic work, Trevor Jamieson tells the story of the Maralinga nuclear weapons tests from the perspective of the Anangu people of the Western Desert. Through narration, song, mime and film, Jamieson and the rest of the cast pull together loose threads of culture, language and political history into a compelling piece of theatre, but what is truly remarkable is how, from the Anangu perspective, the confluence of…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

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Richard III

In Richard III, Shakespeare has left us one of the greatest challenges to the willing suspension of disbelief ever created; Richard is a foul and loathsome character, and yet every time I see the play, I am amazed at how much sympathy I have for the detestable excuse for a human being I am presented with. Everyman Theatre has left me in this state yet again.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen’s novels don’t appeal to me greatly, but the quality of her wit is superb. Although Sense and Sensibilityis not a novel that readily lends itself to a dramatic adaptation, Canberra’s own Jodi McAlister has done a fine job of condensing Austen’s story into two hours of engaging stagework.

One of the most memorable characteristics of Austen’s work is the importance of the subtext, and the many paradoxes that are inherent in such a context. Drama, of course, thrives on paradox and subtext, but the sheer volume of these found in Austen’s work has been the downfall of many dramatisations of her stories. In this production, I think both Jodi McAlister and Liz Bradley are to be commended for their work in focusing the attention and keeping the journey of the characters paramount.
A great performance by the cast was punctuated by three stellar performers in the roles of the three Dashwood sisters. Alex de Totth, Ylaria Rogers and Nicola Grear are most notable in the degree to which they are able to balance the humour of their roles with the truth of their characters’ experiences. This is critical to Austen’s stories, and the success of this production owes much to these three performers.
I have never been a great fan of Austen, but have always enjoyed the quality and intensity of her satire, and am very pleased that this production managed to express it so well.
 

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The Alchemist

It took a while, I think, for both the cast and the audience to warm up to The Alchemist on Monday night. Maybe it was the day, or maybe it was not quite what the audience was expecting from Bell Shakespeare, or maybe it was simply the language.

There are a lot of people who find Shakespeare’s language difficult to understand. I have always found that the more I am working with the language, the easier it is to understand. It took some warming up, but I found Ben Jonson’s dialogue less dense, and more accessible for my 20th century ears, than I usually find with Shakespeare. Maybe it has something to do with the nature of the humour, which is more pithy than Shakespeare’s, and perhaps, as such, more akin to an Australian’s sense of humour. The interpretation of Lovewit, performed by Russell Keifel, certainly played this up, with his use of a laugh and accent reminiscent of Bob Hawke.

Whatever it was, Bell Shakespeare’s production of The Alchemistmet my expectations. It was thoughtful, intelligent, imaginative, unencumbered by preconceptions, and thoroughly entertaining.

 
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Posted by on Monday, 4 May 2009 in Bell Shakespeare Company, The Playhouse

 

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Stomp

How much money do you think you could make with your party tricks? The cast of Stomp have developed a series of party tricks (and they’re great party tricks), and have put them together for our viewing pleasure.

Apparently this happens every year, and the TV ad has been saying that Stomp 09 is fresher, faster and funnier, which is just as well because I got bored halfway through, and if it was any slower or less amusing I may not have sat it out. There are moments throughout that are indeed fast and funny (I’m not sure whether they’re fresh, you’ll have to ask the marketers what that means), and it was a fun night, but it left a lot to be desired.

Most of the audience loved it, three or four of the thousand people there even thought it deserved a standing ovation, and the raucous applause elicited an encore better than the show itself. Some children in the audience elicited some golden responses with their laughter, and the show would be excellent for a family, if you want to blow your entire stimulus payment on it, that is.

I don’t want to be mean; the cast is talented, responsive to the audience, perfectly synchronised, and very entertaining; but I just can’t help thinking that these are just glorified party tricks. They are great party tricks, they really are, but I just can’t help wondering why no one pays $80 to come and see my party tricks. Actually, no: if their party tricks are worth eighty bucks a view, mine would only be worth eighty cents, but it still makes me wonder, where’s my eighty cents?

So, the next time you’re at a party and someone starts banging on a garbage bin, remember to give them their eighty cents. Apparently they’re worth it.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 8 April 2009 in The Canberra Theatre

 

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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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