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Tag Archives: Adam Salter

The Bird Man’s Wife

Whoa! Just when you think it’s safe to go to the theatre!

One thing needs to be said right up front: The Bird Man’s Wife is not a bedtime story. The Bird Man, for one thing, is not the pilot my mum sang to me about who had the penchant for flying upside down. And I think we can safely assume his wife is no Amelia Earhart, either!

Rachel Hogan’s psychodrama starts very slowly, but it heats up much like an Alfred Hitchcock film. The birds, however, are not the aggressors in this tangled web of psychoses. Drawn a little too deeply into a patient’s troubled and convoluted past, Doctor Walton (Adam Salter) finds himself embroiled in a web of deceit. His concern for his patient’s welfare drags him deeper into the futility, with tragic consequences.

The play explores a most interesting period in the history of psychotherapy, and questions the validity of many of our assumptions about mental health. Those with a stronger understanding of Freud may find themselves with something to argue about, but even for the ignoramus (yes, I fit this category, as, I suspect, did Freud himself) the theme is engaging and pertinent.

The exceptional cast of four is led by Alexandra Howard as Daphne, the bird man’s wife herself. The role is demanding and intense, and she carries it well. She is well accompanied by Phillip Meddows, whose dramatic intensity was fine, even if the pair needed a little more coaching in combat.

There is little I can say without divulging too much of the plot, but I found the play to be very engaging and well worth the excursion to Canberra’s far side… which is now even more deserving of that name for having hosted this play.

The Bird Man’s Wife closed in Belconnen tonight, but is said to be opening in Sydney in 2013. I haven’t been able to find the details, but if you like Lexx Productions’ page on Facethingy I’m sure you’ll hear about it in good time.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 8 December 2012 in Belconnen Theatre, Canberra Theatre, Theatre

 

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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

It never ceases to amaze me how often producers of musicals in Canberra select the most horrible musical in the canon and then cast highly-experienced and impeccable performers to work with expert crews to try in vain to turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse. I’m sorry, but I’ve already lost more than eight hours of my life to Cats, and if too many of my friends hear that someone’s doing it again this year, I will feel obliged to go along and sacrifice another four to that worthless tray of kitty litter that continues to blight our theatres. Thankfully, Phoenix Players have taken almost the opposite approach with the show I saw tonight.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a gem from that time when Broadway and Hollywood were genuinely in sync and both knew how to tell a story. In its script we meet lovable, hilarious characters who drive a generously funny plot forward with all the vim and vigour of Russell Crowe‘s interactions with service industry staff.

Chatting to first-time director, Richard Block, after the show, I was surprised to learn how many of the cast and crew were also first-timers. While there might have been the occasional glimpse of this, for the most part, these theatre virgins gave great performances led by Adrian ‘flawless’ Flor in the role of J. Pierpont Finch.

For me, the highlight of the night was definitely the rendition of Been a Long Day, which was simply charming, and really showed off the calibre of vocalists and actors this show boasts in Adrian Flor, Vanessa De Jager and Hannah Wood. The performance of this number was impeccable, not only for its vocal qualities but also because it was the only moment in the show when I felt genuinely engrossed in the moment and the characters’ experience rather than the writers’ conceit.

Unfortunately, no matter how much I enjoyed the performances of this very successful cast and their hilarious story, the misogyny of the three blokes who wrote it was never far from my mind. I have heard it said that it is a comedy, and should be interpreted as a mockery of sexist attitudes, but if there is any intention of this, it simply isn’t clear enough to allay my repulsion. Even at the time the play was written, the feminist movement was close to a century old, and it seems odd in such an age for chauvinism to be so firmly embraced, and made funny without really being mocked. So as much as I enjoy the show, its beautifully human story and its humour, the values it espouses just undermine my attempts to fully engage with its characters and their experience.

So, I have a bit of a mixed response to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. On the one hand, I think it’s a great musical, carefully constructed, with excellent music (and comparable lyrics) and it’s absolutely hilarious. On the other, I find it difficult to concentrate on the humour in the presence of such misogyny! I guess I may just take things too seriously for my own good. Regardless of my indecision, though, Phoenix Players’ production is a romp, and certainly one of the best choices of musical any musical production company in Canberra has made in the last decade.

 

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Playing Gertrude’s Horatio

Although I grew up in that period when Shakespeare was well and truly out of favour in New South Welsh schools, I have loved his work ever since I first gave Hamlet the time of day at the age of 21. This was the year when Kenneth Branagh put the whole damn thing on screen, and even that self-indulgent marathon wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm. Shakespeare’s plays, layered as they are with so many diverse readings, are always ready to yield another insight or provoke another idea. Among my favourite of Shakespeare’s provocations is Tom Stoppard’s magnificent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. This play, derived from Hamlet, features I think the best description of theatre ever devised. Offering a performance to a pair of potential customers, the leader of a performance troupe explains their creative oeuvre:

“We’re more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can’t give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory.”

The importance of blood, or more precisely, violence, can’t be underestimated in Shakespeare’s work…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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