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Category Archives: Pure Theatre

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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Short+Sweet Sydney 2013 (Week 4)

The fourth week of Short+Sweet’s Sydney festival opened tonight, and it was an opening I could hardly wait for. My play, The Commuter, is in this week’s line up, so it was always going to be an exciting night.

It surprises me how deep the emotion runs of seeing my vision for a play realised on stage. The cast Luke Berman pulled together for The Commuter gave me one of the greatest buzzes I’ve experienced in a long time, and I think Adam O’Brien captures beautifully the nervous white guilt phenomenon I was exploring in this play. It doesn’t wear off, that cathartic feeling of seeing something you imagined into existence come to life on stage, and I feel truly indebted to these performers for the work they’ve put into the play.

I knew Geoff Sirmai from his performances in Canberra of Joanna Weinberg’s Every Single Saturday, and was very pleased to see him deliver the American Tourist in The Commuter with such great energy. Charlotte Connor admirably balances the manic and focused nature of the mother, and Nik Nikitenko is amazing as the eight-year-old boy whose instincts spark the commuter’s catharsis.

I have something of a bias perhaps, but I think The Commuter is a great way to end this week’s Short+Sweet offering. It is preceded by some excellent plays, particularly Jilted, which starts the second act. Kerrie Spicer’s script is hilarious and it is delivered with great timing by its cast. Sarah Knowles in particular should be commended for the difficult task of delivering her character’s pathos honestly enough for Sam Smith’s humour to shine.

I was also particularly taken with Hide, a very dark comedy that blurs notions of shelter and protection, in which Laura Holmes and Chris Miller keep the audience on edge for just the right amount of time (which in a ten-minute play festival is probably about nine minutes). Josh Hartwell’s script for A Different Client is both raw and heart-warming, which is a rare and challenging combination, and Greg Wilken and Roberto Zenca have drawn Hartwell’s characters out wonderfully.

But nothing outshines the joy of seeing my script come to life again, and its position at the end of the evening just adds to the pleasure of seeing the thing realised.

This week’s offering from Short+Sweet runs til Sunday, and there are four more weeks of short plays before the Gala Finals in March. Bookings and more info from Short+Sweet.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 in Festivals, Pure Theatre, short plays, Short+Sweet, Sydney Theatre, Theatre

 

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Makan Nangka Kena Getah (The Blame Game)

This post is coming all the way from Singapore, where I’m holidaying! And it has been a feast for the senses. While food is high on my list of reasons for visiting this amazing little island, I have heard good things about theatrical activities here for some time. When I checked my dates, however, I found very little to whet my appetite. What I did eventually find was an interesting piece produced by a Peranakan community organisation to explore how a traditional theatrical style works in modern Singapore.

First, I might digress a little to put some cultural context around this. Singapore’s Peranakan community is a Chinese cultural group within Singapore’s amazing cosmopolitan microcosm. They constitute a sizeable
proportion of the population, and are otherwise known as the Straits Chinese, as they descend from Chinese migrants to the Straits Colonies of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia during the colonial era.

I would also like to make the point before expressing my opinion on this play that there is much that I will have missed or failed to understand because I am not familiar with the particular theatrical tradition this play
flows from. This is also the first time I have been to theatre anywhere in Asia, and I may be influenced by irrelevant Australian expectations. Much of the audience talked about the play as it was being performed, which I would have expected to draw the odd tsk tsk from an Australian audience, but it seemed natural here, and after a little time it didn’t even bother me. It may be a Singaporean tradition (my theatre history reminds me that in the period in which the English dominated Singaporean social life, talking in British theatres was likewise acceptable; perhaps this didn’t change in Singapore?). It is also worth noting that as I do not understand any
Mandarin, Malay, or Patois Peranakan, I was dependent on the subtitles through much of the play.

The play itself is probably not a masterpiece. Written by local Peranakan teacher, Victor Goh Liang Chuan, it is an attempt to modernise a long-standing Peranakan theatrical tradition that the student of British Theatre might recognise as having much in common with the Well Made Play. A core element of this tradition, however, is humour, and even this ignorant Aussie found much to laugh at in this production.

The story is readily relatable. Madam Tay has raised two sons and a daughter since the death of her husband, and in adulthood feuds break out. The eldest son isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, the next son is clever but
disloyal, and the daughter, though a university graduate, is waiting for the right job to find her while she freeloads off her mum. With two daughters in law to contend with and the area’s busiest busybody for a best friend, it is only a matter of time before the stress of life puts Madam Tay into hospital.

I’m sure I’ve seen something like this on the SBS.

The plot is predictable, and the characters very thinly drawn, but the performers do a great job with what little they have to work with. There is something very genuine and heart warming in this production, and it may just
flow from the oddity of having the audience chatter through the whole play. I felt at the end that I’d just spent a couple of hours amongst a true community. And I’d tolerate the silliness of the whole thing to be a part of
it again.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 12 October 2012 in Pure Theatre, Singapore Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Imaginary Invalid

What a shame not to have made it to opening night for this fun little gem! The Wednesday night audience I joined was rather small and far too subdued for such a funny play so energetically brought to life by Centrepiece Theatre, but it was a lot of fun anyway.

I think this may be the third production of Moliere‘s work that I’ve seen from Centrepiece. The Miser, staged in 2005, remains one of my fondest memories of a night of comic theatre, and I think there was another in between. It has been some years, though, and too long to wait for another instalment.

This largely-forgotten and very old play rests on the even older plotline of marriages arranged by parents that don’t meet the expectations of the betrothed, but its genius plot twist is that the central character, Argan, is the imaginary invalid of the title, a wealthy hypochondriac trying to marry his daughter to a doctor in order to save money on medical bills. It was Moliere’s last play, and though he was playing the lead role in its premiere, he collapsed during the fourth performance and died shortly afterwards. Some say this is irony, but it seems Moliere’s malady was apparently not adequately imaginary!

The cast deserves a medal for their magnificent performances. Erin Pugh would upstage the entire cast, were her over-the-top mannerisms not generous to a fault. Her ability to be so very expressive (and excessive) while still drawing attention to other performers is remarkable, and I am not trying to dismiss the high calibre of performance delivered by all members of the cast, but this production definitely belongs to Pugh!

I am not intimately acquainted with the script or story of The Imaginary Invalid, but it struck me that, in comparison to the performances of the rest of the cast, Tony Turner’s Argon was rather subdued. Perhaps this is part of the text or a directorial choice, but it seemed to me a rather significant gulf. Not an entirely inappropriate one, though; just slightly unbalanced and maybe a little awkward.

The cast worked tirelessly to raise the energy levels, but it was a tough ask with such a small audience in such a large auditorium, and the performances fell short of their potential not through a lack of quality material in the script or technical difficulties or a lack of talent, but simply because the energy levels of the performers really need, in a production like this, to be matched by the energy levels of the audience. It really brings to the fore the difficulty of finding an appropriate venue in the capital. For this production, The Q was just too large. The Courtyard at Canberra Theatre Centre would probably have been better, but that’s awfully picky. It would be better yet if Canberrans would simply turn off The Voice (that steaming pile of… nevermind), get off their lazy arses, and go see some performers with both talent and an eye for a good material. But we all know that’s not going to happen, which is why I think we need more smaller venues. We have nothing really to match Sydney’s Belvoir or Stables theatres, and that’s a shame, as these theatres have just the right sort of atmosphere for our ‘crowds’.

But I digress. This production is all about a little bit of silliness, and it is admirably carried by a spectacular cast whose generosity in engaging the audience is faultless.

 
 

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Crushed

Life is made up of a few critical moments separated by a lot of thinking about how we should have responded in them. Melita Rowston‘s play, Crushed, now playing at New Theatre, explores the struggle of dealing with regrettable decisions when they coincide with a disaster.

Crushed is the story of three school friends reunited 22 years after the disappearance of their mutual friend, Susie. Susie’s body was never found, but her shirt—that characteristic late 80s ‘Poison’ shirt—has just been discovered and the case is reopened. Kelly returns from Prague and finds a bed at Jason’s house first, then ends up moving to a room in Dazza’s pub. Sexual tensions between the three are never resolved, but that pales into insignificance against the doubt…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 30 May 2012 in Australian Stage, New Theatre, Pure Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Dark Side of Midnight

Political turmoil is an incubator of dramatic writing, and historical plays about moments of political change are relatively common. Less common are plays set in moments of political turmoil that are about the lives of people who lived through these moments, rather than about the political agitators who created them. This is a shame, as Tessa Bremner’s play The Dark Side of Midnight demonstrates with its very heartfelt story about British colonists living through the Partition of India…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 28 October 2011 in Australian Stage, Free Rain Theatre, Pure Theatre

 

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Love Song

The warmth of John Kolvenbach’s play Love Song is brought to the fore in Centrepiece‘s production, which opened at The Q in Queanbeyan tonight. This play brings a vibrancy to themes that can be cold and stark, drawing humour and humanity into some otherwise dark places.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Look Back in Anger

Ten pound Poms let out of the nursing home may enjoy a trip down memory lane with Paris Hat’s production of Look Back in Anger, but there is much more to this play for those of us who didn’t live through post-war England. This is an opportunity to experience a first-rate performance of a play that was pivotal in the development of modern theatre…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Manly Mates

Sir Robert Askin was the longest-serving premier of New South Wales in the twentieth century… as long as you don’t count little Bobby Carr, who served eight months longer, but whose term unfortunately stretched into the twenty-first century. It will not be news to many that such petty distinctions actually matter to the ruling class. It certainly wasn’t to me; which is why, when Frank Hatherley’s play Manly Mates landed on my desk, I was keen to see it produced in Canberra.

A fictitious story based on posthumous accusations levelled at Askin, Hatherley’s play plonks the jovial premier into a hotbed of gambling, womanising and crime (sometimes consecutive, other times concurrent). Joined by stoners, journalists, cops and shonky American poker machine salesmen, the scene in the private Octopus Room at the Manly Hotel is all too reminiscent of more recent rumblings of the political machinery behind closed doors in both New South Welsh and federal politics.

For this production, which later came to be declared the last of Canberra Dramatics’ productions, I handed the reins to James Stevens, who has done a great job with an unwieldy script and a large cast on Tuggeranong’s small stage. The show rolls along from one laugh to the next, and on opening night, despite a slow start, they developed a full head of steam for the hilarious finale.

It is great to see Michael Miller, who has performed in many of Canberra Dramatics’ shows, reprise the role of Askin in the company’s final production; he has a swagger befitting any crooked premier, and is ably supported by Rebecca Nicholson, another veteran of Canberra Dramatics’ productions, as the enthusiastic Pat. Don Wilkinson also returned for this production, as did Robbie Matthews, and these friends were joined by a number of performers who had not performed with Canberra Dramatics before, most notably among them Margie Sainsbury who landed the enviable role of Lady Molly Askin, and lends her an air of forced grace.

Although I haven’t had a lot to do with this last production, it has been a pleasure to see some of the journey this cast and crew have taken. They struck me from the beginning as a very cohesive group, and I am especially glad that James Stevens took on the task of directing them. Cerri Davis, who has worked in a number of different capacities with Canberra Dramatics over the years, also did a fine job in her first role as Production Manager.

In all, it was a great pleasure to see this hilarious play staged in Canberra, and it is a great finale to five years of productions.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 27 January 2011 in Canberra Dramatics, Canberra Theatre, Pure Theatre, Theatre

 

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And Then There Were None

There’s a bit of a risk involved in seeing a show you’ve been involved with yourself. I did sound for a production of And Then There Were None in Theatre 3 back in 1998, when I first moved to Canberra, so there was no way I was going to miss seeing Rep’s production of it this year!

One thing that surprised me was how many lines I recalled. I had none previously, although there were plenty of cues. Still, you wouldn’t think I would recall them twelve years later with no contact with the play in the intervening years. And I really didn’t remember the outcome. Not a skerrick of it. At any rate, it was a trip down memory lane.

The risk, of course, is that my view of the play is coloured by my memories of the production I was involved with. Not that they should be compared. I was involved with a student production by CADS (the defunct Canberra Amateur Dramatic Society), directed by relatively inexperienced directors, whereas Rep’s production boasted the very deft hand of Duncan Ley as well as a host of experienced Canberra actors. And it showed. This was a great show that gave the play a lot more life than ours did. And it’s needed with Agatha Christie‘s dialogue. It gave the odd nod to Film Noir, which at times was just a little too much at odds with the text, but more often suited it well.

The set, as dark and gloomy as a stage set can be, didn’t seem to add much apart from making the Film Noir reference, but it suited the purpose and certainly gave room for the performers to die the most excellent deaths.

I love a play that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this is quite true of Rep’s production of And Then There Were None. Really, no Agatha Christie play can be taken too seriously; they get awfully dry awfully quickly otherwise. This production manages to hold the attention marvellously.

 

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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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Hamlet

Having secured what I knew to be the last available ticket for Yohangza Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet, I was surprised to find myself sitting next to the South Australian Premier and his wife for the performance. The irony of watching a king’s downfall orchestrated through a theatre production while sitting next to the leader of a state government in a theatre was not lost on me, but I doubt that Mike Rann and his wife felt the same pangs of guilt as Gertrude and Claudius.

Played by Eun-Hee Kim, this Gertrude is perhaps not as guilt-ridden as some I have encountered. But whereas Gertrude is often portrayed with an underlying sense of her own moral corruption, Kim has given her an aloofness, lasting until Hamlet finally reveals his hand following the theatre scene. I prefer this change, as risky as it might be. It holds more weight with Shakespeare’s text, and in this production, in this context, it provides a profound shift in the character that is necessary to add depth for its Australian audience. This is not a criticism of the performers, but a play performed in Korean for a predominantly English-speaking audience can’t skimp on such details.

Hamlet certainly doesn’t. Played by Jung-Yong Jeon, his vacillations are as palpable as that fatal hit, and his descent into madness is beautifully paced; almost undetectable. Claudius could perhaps have emoted rather more; by both dress and demeanour he emerged more western than the rest of the cast. But in all, this cast expended enough energy and elicited enough pathos to warrant a standing ovation from the opening night audience (though the premier, notably, remained seated).

A minimalist set spares no effort, with a centre rostrum raised in the middle of what must be hundreds of kilos of rice, and surrounded by traditional Korean artworks, and Korean percussive instruments. These instruments are put to excellent use by the cast, whose timing and energy is perfectly synthesised. More intriguingly, Korean Shaman rites are used to ensure the story is at home in its Korean context.

This is a remarkably sensitive production of what I think is Shakespeare’s greatest work. It is faithful, if such a word can really be applied to any production of Shakespeare’s work later than the seventeenth century, to the characters, their motivations, fears and desires; as well as their circumstances. And it dispels in my mind any doubt that the stories of Shakespeare are absolutely universal in their application to humanity.

 

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Do Not Go Gentle

Seeing Do Not Go Gentle was an experience. Not just because it’s a great show, but because I got the opportunity to meet Patricia Cornelius, the play’s writer, before the show opened. That, and the fact that fortyfivedownstairs is a fantastic venue with more character than a Shakespearean king.

Equally admirable were the performances of a fantastic cast, admirably lead by Rhys McConnochie, all bringing their characters to life in a way that should connect with audiences of all ages.

Freezing my way through a show is not normally my idea of fun, but it’s highly appropriate for Do Not Go Gentle, which focuses on Scott’s unsuccessful attempt to plant an Australian flag at the South Pole before the Norwegians got theirs there. And while fortyfivedownstairs may have been a bit of a cold place on the night, the lives of its characters are just as cold, but with a warmth that makes it all worthwhile.

The thing I enjoyed most about this play was its insistence that life is for living, a thesis well worth remembering on a cold Winter’s night in Melbourne.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 18 August 2010 in fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne Theatre, Pure Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Berry Man

I’ve never really liked stories about the Vietnam War. They have a tendency to either be so factual that they’re dead boring, or so esoteric that they’re unrelatable to anyone who didn’t live through that time. Patricia Cornelius has deftly sidestepped both potential faults in her heartwarming play, The Berry Man.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants

When the directors’s notes in the program talk about exploring things like anxieties, spirituality and purpose, you worry. Well, I do. I usually expect something that’s more like a ‘performance piece’ than a play, and something that, to quote an esteemed colleague, is ‘as deep as whale poo’. What I don’t generally expect is a play like Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants.
This play, staged at Wellington’s independent Bats Theatre, is the culmination of a collaborative project (I seem to be encountering a few of these this year), that has apparently involved a broad cross-section of the Wellington community. The action is set in Wellington, so I’m glad I didn’t see it on my first night here, because I would have missed half of the references! Nonetheless, I would still have walked out of the theatre a little dazed, a little confused, but nonetheless happy to have witnessed Julian’s story played out, and to have recognised something of myself in it.
Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants could reasonably be slotted into the Deep as Whale Poo genre, but this is probably the first play I’ve ever seen from that genre that has a (discernable) plot, as well as recognisable figures. Of course, the more intellectually challenged of my tribe would have trouble following the plot, but it is there, and it is both engaging and distinct. And as deep as whale poo.
 

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The Goat, or Who is Sylvia

I have long admired the work of Edward Albee. He’s pretty funny, for an American. And Moonlight’s production of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia was by far the most enjoyable thing I have seen on stage in Canberra since Rep did Noises Off last year. Wall to wall laughs were delivered by a talented cast under the direction of Bridget Balodis, who obviously understands timing and has an excellent command of the dramatic fluctuations of Albee’s work.

The play centres on the infidelity of Martin, and its impact on his small family. Jerry Hearn was assigned a difficult task in the role of Martin; to play a dramatic role in a comedy and do it well is an accomplishment in itself. Christa de Jager also toed the line very carefully between the intense drama of her role, and its comic one-liners. Sam Yeo, playing their son Billy, had a difficult time keeping a straight face as he began his hilarious journey, but his energy and timing, like that of the rest of the cast, was superb.

In all, a great night out. It was nice to be back in my old stomping ground of the ANU Drama Lab, but I was very disappointed with the enormous new seating: in order to avoid DVT I had to sit on an angle with my legs in the aisle, and crane my neck around to see the stage. The designers obviously didn’t consider the fact that many Australians are taller than a metre, or maybe they only expected children to be coming…

 

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