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Category Archives: The Street Theatre

Scandalous Boy

scandalous boyScandalous Boy is a brave piece of work with the ostensible objective of realigning western perspectives on homosexual love. It makes its point very clearly, and possibly succeeds as a polemic, but largely fails to deliver the pathos I yearn for from the stage.

It is principally the true story of the love between the emperor Hadrian, and Antinous, his Greek eromenos, but it is framed in a twenty-first century setting with the statue of Antinous coming to life in modern Australia to tell his story. He wants to assert for us that he is not the “shameless and scandalous boy” Christian historians have claimed he was, and assert the appropriateness of his choices and actions in a pre-Christian Roman Empire. He punctuates this by comparing modern and ancient attitudes to public nudity, but kindly dons a pair of sequined hotpants to relieve our discomfort.

Yes, it’s one of those history plays. Set in ancient Rome, but using the language of modern Australia, replete with references to Hollywood’s Golden Age and punctuated with the homo-pop vocals of Kylie Minogue and the like. Had I realised it was one of those, I may well have opted for Supa‘s production of La Cage aux Folles for my Golden Drink Voucher expenditure this week, but that’s just the way the marble crumbles I guess. It nonetheless delivers a striking story that is valuable for a modern audience and finely pointed as a polemic for an Australian government struggling to follow its people’s leadership.

David Atfield’s script unfortunately doesn’t deliver the emotional punch necessary to make this story fully relatable. The dialogue feels forced and its distinctive modern vernacular doesn’t help as much as I think Atfield hoped it would.

But I think the greatest fault lies in the narration. It leaves no space whatsoever for subtext. Every thought, every motivation, every thing the characters don’t say, is described to us, rather than shown to us. There is simply no space for intuition, and this, mounted so firmly in an Australian context, makes the play feel just too preachy.

Surprisingly, though, this doesn’t completely ruin the play. The characters retain some capacity for engagement and I really did care what happened to them, I just wanted to care more. I wanted to feel their pain rather than merely being aware of it.

Had Atfield followed the Golden Rule and shown us, rather than told us, I think perhaps this would be a very moving play that could, perhaps, just change a mind or two. As it is, it is simply affirming of the LGBTIQ polemic in an Australia that still discriminates between loves.

The character of the audience left no doubt in my mind that, on the night I went at least, Atfield was preaching to the choir (if you’ll pardon the Christian metaphor). The audience, well over 90% male, seemed to hurl itself outside at interval so they could all suck back a cancer stick; I have never seen The Street Theatre’s foyer so empty during interval with a full house! And on their return one of them was kind enough to call out “okay, quiet now” for us as the lights dimmed, because apparently none of us knew what that meant.

The unfortunate reality is that too much of the audience was probably attracted by the promise of the naked Ethan Gibson, and while they may be encouraged by this polemic to fight for the rights of the LGBTIQ community, I just think that the story deserves a more diverse audience than this is likely to attract.

Regardless of my misgivings, I am grateful to David Atfield, his cast and the creatives behind this brave production for staging it. Antinous’s story is one that should be told more often.

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What the critics are saying:

 
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Posted by on Friday, 21 November 2014 in Canberra Theatre, Street 1, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Fridge

fridge_covThe latest instalment from Made In Canberra, The Fridge is an amusing piece of work that manages to avoid the worst of predictability but doesn’t quite distinguish itself with dialogue that encourages the suspension of disbelief. With characters that all seem to say exactly what they mean all the time, there is not a lot of room for the cast to perform. The words take over, and even the best one liners fall flat.
The program and advertising makes reference to Monty Python repeatedly, and attempts to position the play as a continuation of this tradition. This may go some way to explaining the lack of subtext. Python was certainly capable of developing great characters with little or no subtext, but here it…
The rest of this post is published over on Australian Stage.
 

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Frankenstein

frankensteinMary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not conventionally what we might refer to as a timeless work of literature. It is clearly a product of its time, fashioned from the particular obsessions of its age and demonstrating the changing view of science that characterised the early nineteenth century. It is true that the themes of Frankenstein have made it relevant through the generations, but Nick Dear’s script is a sublime theatrical blueprint that draws the focus to those themes that truly resonate in our age.

Lee Jones tackles the role of Frankenstein’s creation with an amazing energy. He approaches a long exposition with no dialogue beautifully and shows the growth and development of a man born as an adult reasonably well. There are perhaps some timing issues with this as the ebb and flow of his development seems somewhat curtailed…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Richard, Professor of Literature

richard professor of literatureThose who enjoy a good lecture will be decidedly disappointed by this seminar on classic Shakespearean plots. Those who detest a good lecture, however, should be tickled pink by the Professor’s quirky wit and humour, and his delightful playfulness with improvised puppets.

The Professor introduces himself as he enters the auditorium. One audient at a time. That is, until he realises just how many audients there are…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 4 April 2013 in Canberra Theatre, Comedy, Street 2, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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Finucane and Smith’s Glory Box

Finucane and Smith’s Glory Box has one of those great titles that sits in front of a rather poorly-conceived production. I might have thought a more accurate description would be ‘Finucane and Smith’s Lucky Dip’, but that probably wouldn’t have drawn the crowds, would it?

I am unsure of the value of such performances as Finucane and Smith’s Glory Box. It seems to me I have just sat at the window of a room and looked in while a few people play dress ups and do silly little routines for no reason other than their own amusement. Apart from a couple of engaging performances, this really didn’t strike me as being a professional production at all. In fact, I wouldn’t even credit most of these performances as a worthwhile party trick without…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 in Cabaret, Canberra Theatre, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Bugalugs Bum Thief

Playing at The Street Theatre this week is Monkey Baa’s latest incarnation of one of Australia’s best-named plays, The Bugalugs Bum Thief. No, it’s not quite Shakespeare, but it’s closer than one might assume.

Its central character, Skeeter Anderson, just one young member of Bugalugs’ coastal community, wakes up one morning to find his bum is missing, which proves inconvenient for him. He soon finds that just about everyone in town has had their bum stolen, including his friend Mick Misery, for whom it is not so inconvenient, as it means his mum can’t smack him. The advantages of life without a bum, however, do not prove to outweigh the disadvantages, and Skeeter sets out to identify the bum thief and locate everyone’s bums.

The entire town is brought to life through the generous energy of just three performers who present mums, dads, teachers, police and sailors as well as their main role as a child. It may not be universally accepted as a compliment, but Gideon Cordover, Carl Batchelor and Mark Dessaix make excellent children, which is particularly helpful when…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Brecht: Bilbao and Beyond

In a very short season at The Street Theatre is Brecht: Bilbao and Beyond. Not a play, but a series of songs, fables, poems and excerpts of plays, all written by the impeccable German wordsmith, Bertholt Brecht, and performed by two veterans of the stage whose presence is gentle, inviting and absolutely engaging.

Tracing elements of Brecht’s life and work from birth to death (and then back a little), we are treated to just a few gems of his amazingly generous humour and capriciousness…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Four Flat Whites in Italy

I suspect this may be the first time I’ve seen a New Zealand play on an Australian stage. It’s a novel irony to hear actors we know to be Australian making disparaging remarks about Australia in a New Zealand accent!

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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MP

As a playwright who calls Canberra home, the thought of writing a play about politicians or politics has crossed my mind a few times. I’ve even started once, before giving up in disgust at the depressing result of that folly. I’m glad, though, that Alana Valentine gave it a better shot when she sat down to write MP.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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22 Short Plays

Opening with a convivial vibe at The Street Theatre tonight, 22 Short Plays by David Finnigan is a series of shorts carefully drawn together from longer works and staged by Melbourne’s MKA.

It should not be taken as a bad thing that I really don’t want to see the more complete scripts these shorts came from. As they stand in this context, they’re often funny and always clever. While most of the characters tend towards either caricature or the absurd, there is the odd moment when something jumps out as rather more insightful, and the absurdity of the real world dwarfs the absurdity on stage. But it’s not often this kind of concept drama plays out well in long form, and perhaps Finnigan is a master of the short form.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Love, Lies and Hitler

How often have you wanted to have one of your heroes sit on your shoulder and tell you how to make decisions about your life? Wouldn’t it be nice, just occasionally, to have George Calombaris in the kitchen while you cook, chatting and offering helpful advice? Or to have the ever-so-experienced Henry VIII providing his support during a marital spat? Decision-making would be so much easier with such a support mechanism in place. As long as you were willing to surrender something of your own will to this mentor…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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The Clever Country

It is unusual, I think, to hear about a play inspired by a statistic. It is not encouraging, either. Nonetheless, Bruce Hoogendoorn‘s play, The Clever Country, currently playing at The Street Theatre, takes as its theme Australia’s falling science enrolments, and does so—perhaps surprisingly, considering its inspiration—with great humour and an intriguing plotline…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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The Girls

We have a fascination with firsts. Having our first female prime minister has a sense of novelty about it, which would probably be equalled by a first Aboriginal prime minister. Both the reality and the possibility, however, are little more than symbols of a maturing atmosphere of equality; they offer nothing of real substance in themselves. The Girls, I think offers something of greater substance in its diverse vignettes around the theme of womanhood in a postmodern world.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Winter’s Discontent

Every now and then a play comes along that leaves you feeling like you’ve just witnessed something important, but you’re not sure what. Winter’s Discontent is one of them. It is coherent, intelligent, demanding of its audience and at times funny, but I still feel like I missed something. Like there was something substantial, important, that the writer was trying to communicate, and I’m a bit of a goose for missing it…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Love Cupboard

Love Cupboard can be neatly summarised as the story of an adolescent girl who isolates herself from the rest of her life to live with her boyfriend (hence the love); and to avoid discovery, hides in a cupboard in his lounge room (hence the cupboard). The story is as quaint as its title…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Faces in the Street

Henry Lawson’s legacy is not an easy one to identify. It is wrapped up in the mystery of the Australian identity, which is now, as it was in Lawson’s day, straddled across the divides between urban and rural, between civilised and free, and of course between global and local. Max Cullen’s play, Faces in the Street, somehow manages to explore these weighty notions while remaining firmly grounded in the story of Lawson’s life…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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Let The Sunshine

Opening night of David Williamson’s Let The Sunshine and The Street Theatre was full. Well, you wouldn’t expect any less for one of Williamson’s plays, would you?

I would like to describe this play as an amusing double-autopsy of capitalism and socialism, but that hardly does the play justice. Williamson’s superb play demonstrates the inability of these two-dimensional political ideologies to deliver what they promise their adherents, through characters who, despite being built on one or the other of these ideologies, are forced to grapple with humanity in three dimensions.

I think some of Williamson’s best qualities as a writer are on display in this piece; the intricate crafting of character and plot is astonishing to reflect on. This, like most of his work, is a plot-driven story, but that plot is clearly driven by the characters, and their individuality, their connectedness and their ideologies dominate the plot. Without the cast of distinguished actors assembled by the Ensemble Theatre, the text could be very dense, but it resonates beautifully as a play for today.
 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 7 July 2009 in Ensemble Theatre, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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Lotte’s Gift

Another uncomfortable trip to the theatre tonight. I am not entirely sure why I didn’t enjoy this play, because on one level, it has all the things I love; a good story, great performances, and a novel approach to storytelling. And yet, it just didn’t engage me.

The play is a one-hander, and it is the true story of the performer’s grandmother, told through a conversation between them where the granddaughter learns her grandmother’s deepest secret. And yes, a single performer with dialogue does mean that old naff idea of the person jumping from one character to another; but no, that’s not why I didn’t like it, because that performer, Karin Schaupp, manages to change character effortlessly, and David Williamson’s ‘dialogue’ moves slowly, allowing the audience to move with her, and engage with the story. At least I think that’s the intention. Having failed to engage, I’m not sure.
This is where Lotte’s Gift left me in two minds. A good story, well told, and expertly written by one of the country’s best playwrights. But it was just too slow.
 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 in Canberra Theatre, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Seed


Iain Sinclair says in his director’s note for The Seedthat it is “one of those special pieces that help us see with fresh eyes”. I will assume he is right, but for someone who has had little contact with Vietnam veterans or the IRA, fresh eyes are a given. And in these wars, which are both in a way secreted failures, some of us still need more information.

The thing is that while a little more exposition would have helped, it would also meddle with a well-balanced plot. You can tell a story about one of the World Wars of the twentieth century and assume reasonable knowledge, but these conflicts are a mystery to most Australians, even those who continue to feel their impact on their lives. Of course, that’s why this story is so necessary.
The Seed, ultimately, is not so much about these conflicts as it is about how politics impacts individual lives and families. I find this fascinating, because we in Australia, and, ironically, especially those of us who live in Canberra, are largely unaffected by the goings on in Parliament House, and there are many Australians who never even consider that in some countries a change of government can turn people’s lives upside-down.
While I found it somewhat difficult to relate to the solid and resonant performances of this impeccable cast of three, I felt that this was more to do with my own ignorance of Vietnam and the Irish struggle. I hope in time that we will experience many more stories of the wars that have been fought and lost.
 
 

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Big Voice


It’s a good sign when all a performer has to do is stand on stage to elicit a hearty laugh from her audience. And although it seemed that much of Shortis and Simpson’s fan club were sharing the auditorium with me, their laughter, tears and raucous applause were well-deserved.

Moya presents an autobiography, in a form I have never experienced before. She shares, mostly through music, and in a broad range of styles, I might add, her life. And as patchy as the story may be, it is told with a unique combination of elegance, wit, and pathos that warmly engages its audience.
Her description of her Surrey grandmother, whose accent made her sound as though she were singing whenever she spoke, was endearing, and I could not help but swell with anger as she related the story of how her year 2 teacher berated her for singing a harmony before the class had been taught it. Her journey back to a love of singing, and her rediscovery of it here in what was described to her as an ‘uncultured’ Australia, is the main theme of this show.
Moya says in the program:

“Whenever people hear that I started singing at age thirty-five, there is always the same astonishment. What I find astonishing is how many people have been stopped from doing something that I truly believe is a natural expression of creativity. It’s mostly a family member or a teacher that has intervened at a critical stage, made a judgement on a voice, and effectively silenced the flow, often for ever.”

While the style of the piece is clearly that of a baby boomer, Moya’s story resonates with a generosity and simplicity that is often lacking in theatre. It even appealed to a relatively cynical Gen-Xer like myself.
 

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