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Category Archives: Belvoir

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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The Sweetest Thing

Growing organically from its warm minimal set in the cozy downstairs theatre at Belvoir, The Sweetest Thing is a sad and funny story about the intersection between love and family. Playwright Verity Laughton weaves a complex tale that focuses on the emotional journey of its characters very strongly thanks to being relieved of the burden of chronology. Despite a dynamic plot arc and potentially confusing time changes, the story of Sarah, played by the wonderful Diana Glenn shines through with excellent clarity.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 12 November 2010 in Arts Radar, Australian Stage, B Sharp, Belvoir

 

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Ruben Guthrie

I want to charge Brendan Cowell with writing a masterpiece in Ruben Guthrie, but I fear that would undermine the intense humanity of this work. This is Australian playwriting at its best, exploring Australian society with no sense of cultural cringe, and no sense of being old fashioned or quaint.
The promotional material for Ruben Guthrie repeatedly asks whether it is unAustralian to refuse a drink, but whether it is Australian or not is not really a concern for the central character, who you might have guessed is called Ruben Guthrie. His main concern is staying sober, not only within a nation that loves a drink, but within an industry where alcohol consumption is a selection criterion, and within a family with a strong love of the bottle. Brendan Cowell has dealt with his story’s heady themes with a deft hand, plenty of humour, and stoicly (and wisely) refuses to answer the marketers’ question.
What I found most remarkable about this play was the way in which Cowell has managed to show the fundamental failings of social programs that seek to address addictions or compulsions (such as AA’s famous twelve steps), while also showing their effectiveness.
I recall reading some time ago Neil Armfield saying something about theatre being “necessary”. The terminology has stuck with me, because many people see the arts as an optional extra, something to make life enjoyable, rather than a crucial building block of a healthy society. Ruben Guthrie eloquently articulates the reason why the arts, and especially the narrative arts, are necessary to a society, and in the process, it also highlights the inadequacies of the social work profession.
But that doesn’t make it any less funny. In fact, it is yet another example of that spectacular Australian creation: the play that is, at once, both drama and comedy.
 
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Posted by on Sunday, 24 May 2009 in Belvoir, Sydney 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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