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Artists, prams and halls

It has felt like something of a whirlwind for me, being caught up in a production pretty much as soon as I arrived in London. When I saw an ad on Arts Jobs at the end of April for actors with Prams in the Hall, I was immediately struck by the aims of the company and how necessary this kind of opportunity is for parents. Of course at that stage I wasn’t familiar with Roisin Rae’s play, and how much the story resonated with both the aims of the company, and my own experience as a father who, by necessity, has needed to treat his greatest passion, playwriting, as a hobby for so long.

For my friends back in Canberra, who were all too lazy to come to the antipodes to see the play, The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor presents the story of an artist who has put her career on hold to raise children. A new opportunity draws out her inner, artistic life, and shakes up this lifestyle. So the play explores how she pursues this opportunity and the impact that pursuit has on her and her family.
Sound familiar? Those who know me know that I’ve had to deal with similar challenges, just like many of the creatives I’ve worked with over my years in Canberra.

For me, the production wasn’t an easy one. Two of the four characters I played presented substantial challenges. Andrew, husband to Sophie, had to be presented in a way that made him neither guilty nor innocent in the difficulties Sophie faced, and his similarity to my own circumstances often made it difficult for me to allow for a reading of the script hat wandered from my own experience.

And the other challenging character, their son, was five! While I had thought it would be fun to play a child since seeing a documentary about Company B’s London run of Cloudstreet over a decade ago, I hadn’t expected I would actually do so. It was, of course, a lot of fun. And a number of rehearsals were genuinely cathartic, as Karin Fisher-Potisk, our movement director, helped us discover our children by taking us back to childhood memories. I found myself quite wistful following one rehearsal in particular, due to the vividness with with I was able to remember my father, who I lost almost a decade ago now.

The Space

The Space

The performance venue was likewise both challenging and exciting. The Space is a performance venue on London’s Isle of Dogs, a former Presbyterian church repurposed as a theatre. It is full of character and has a quaint little stage with a marvellous proscenium. In the week before our performance I came with my daughter to see a production of Romeo and Juliet where the space was used in reverse, with the audience crossing the stage to enter it; it really is a nice performance space, even if you need to put up with the noise of a busy cafe kitchen in the wings!

I certainly didn’t expect that I would be treading the boards during my short stint in London, but I’m glad I did. This experience introduced me to some great creatives and the production was a blast from start to end.

Cast plus director for The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor.

Cast plus director for The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 8 June 2014 in British Theatre, Prams in the Hall, Theatre

 

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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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Short+Sweet Canberra 2012 (Week 1)

Connie challenges Charlie in ‘The Fence’

Last night I had one of those moments. You know, when something you’ve been working on for a while has come to fruition and is about to end. Theatrical folk do tend to go a little over-the-top experiencing these moments, but it is genuinely sad when you see a cast perform a show you’ve been working on for the last time.

So it was with The Fence and The Commuter in this year’s Short+Sweet. I didn’t realise until just before the lights went up on The Fence for the last time that it was the last time I’d see it. And then I realised it would be the last time I’d see them too (even if they get into the final next Saturday, I can’t be there because of a family commitment). For me they were the culmination of five or so pretty intense weeks of casting, rehearsing, preparing, and of course lots of laughing.

The cast I worked with on The Fence was just great. They were extremely committed to the show, so when the Murphy’s Law of Theatre (that if anybody can get sick s/he will) took effect, it was great to see the cast rally around, make changes to the schedule as necessary and finally plough right on through. The actor in question, Tony Marziano, was a trooper and a director couldn’t have asked for more in terms of commitment and effort, and the result was great. Katarina Thane gave a lot to the role of Connie, and I was so pleased to see the vision I had of this kind of suburban Lady Macbeth realised. And it was great to be able to catch up with an old uni friend, Arne Sjostedt, who played the neighbour, John, with great humour.

I hope it did justice to the writer’s vision. It was difficult to have to ask Coralie Daniels, the playwright, if we could cut the script when we found we were quite significantly over the ten minute time limit. The cuts we finally made did make a significant difference to the play’s reference points, but they gave us a stronger ending, and of course brought us within cooee of the time limit. My last play in Short+Sweet, Mr Fixit, was found to be significantly over the time limit, and the cuts were quite brutal. Not so with The Commuter, which I carefully restricted to seven pages (though it still comes close).

The Commuter deals with a strange kid and an American tourist.

I will never get tired of seeing characters that started as a vague image in the dark recesses of my mind come to life on stage. Arne was in this one too, bringing my American tourist to life, and young Henry Maley made a great precocious eight-year-old, with Gabriel Strachan as his aggressively protective mother. But of course it all came down to Simon Clarke’s portrayal of the commuter himself, and I was very pleased that he didn’t turn out to be either too ocker, or in any way a bleeding heart. This character could be portrayed in many ways, and I was really pleased with how closely Simon aligned the character to my vision.

The calibre of plays being performed in this week’s Short+Sweet really is impeccable. I was a little surprised, to be honest, having read Gerry Greenland’s script for Driving the Holden, with how well it translated to the stage. Sometimes you just don’t see the characters in reading the play, and Lis Shelley’s direction has served Dan Holliday and Nick Foong’s efforts well in bringing this story to life. It’s a very strong start to the festival. On opening night, it was disappointing to see the cast of A Short History of Weather drop a line in the middle of their otherwise impeccable performance, and I was so pleased to see the play again last night without the cicadas. They deserve an encouragement award for powering on, especially since the result last night was so effective.

But I think the play to fear in week one is definitely Spit for Tat. The sight gag of lovers spitting water all over each other is funny enough, but performers Scott Rutar and Caroline Simone O’Brien have backed it up with stellar performances that demonstrate some fantastic character development. Despite the somewhat fanciful nature of the script, they’re completely believable in every moment, and deliver what for my money is the standout performance of week one.

Short+Sweet has been a lot of fun, and I’m so glad I managed to participate this year. The Commuter will be available on my scripts page in a day or two, but it’s better to see it than read it, and unless the judges choose it for the Gala Final, tonight’s your last chance!

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 25 August 2012 in Canberra Theatre, Short+Sweet, 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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42nd Street

Erindale was alive tonight with Philo’s opening of 42nd Street. The froth and bubble of Broadway is generous if not really enlightening, and the cast delivered a fine performance of a quaint old musical.

The story is that of a talented girl who dreams of singing on Broadway. Her talent noticed, she lands a role in the chorus line and when she accidentally trips the leading lady, fracturing her ankle, she manages to take her place. Woops, did I give away the ending? No, I think that was the writer…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 10 March 2011 in Australian Stage, Canberra Theatre, Musical Theatre, Theatre

 

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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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Jazz Garters

Well, I’ve finally done it. More than twelve years after moving to Canberra, I have finally been to one of Rep’s winter variety shows. I recall that it was originally recommended to me in 1998 as an undergraduate beginning a Theatre Studies major at the ANU, as an excellent example of the music hall tradition, so there’s something bittersweet in having finally attended in the same week that the ANU’s Theatre Studies major met its demise.

The cast certainly delivers. After a slightly flat first half, which could be put down to opening night, the second was quite magical. Ian Croker’s rendition of Minnie the Moocher got the audience engaged, and Christine Forbes followed this with a beautifully theatrical The Girl from 14G, about which she bragged that she was overjoyed to be able to wear her pyjamas on stage!

I felt my personal cringe factor rise when we were informed that the finale was to be a rendition of Peter Allen‘s perfectly horrid canticle I Still Call Australia Home, but it dissipated completely with the cast’s magnificent send-up of the song’s overwrought history.

A variety show stands or falls on the energy of its cast, and this cast certainly works hard for their applause. After a flat start, the energy flowed and made Jazz Garters a fun and entertaining show, well worth a night out.

 
 

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Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom poses that age-old question about how many blood spatters are too many. I suspect that the creators were attempting to use blood spatters as a visual motif, as most of the spatters were of a similar consistency, evenly spread across a contrasting surface, but ultimately they just echoed the naff nature of the film generally.

There was a lot of potential here. After a slow start, the film did engage, and it did manage to take me to that serendipitous point at which you have to know what happens next, and the screening environment just melts away. A magnificent cast with a wealth of experience is admirably lead by newcomer James Frecheville. His treatment of the morose character he landed is remarkably compelling, and I think the cast is this film’s saving grace.

But overall, this is a truly disappointing film; not because it represents nothing of value, but because it really had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to. An engaging story and some of Australia’s best actors are let down by a slow treatment in the editing suite and mundane cinematography. This one’s definitely worthy of a remake, perhaps even with the same cast, but it needs a more compelling treatment by the creative team.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 28 May 2010 in cultural cringe, Porchlight Films

 

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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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Thoughts on Directing ‘When He Was Famous’

Well it’s time for another first… but this is scary!

I have just handed over a show to my assistant director, Seth Robinson, before the last two dress rehearsals! Now, I can’t complain too much. I’ve done this because I’m off to Fiji to attend my nephew’s wedding, but it really is scary to think that this show will go on without me. Even at opening night!

It’s not that I don’t think the cast is ready; they could open tomorrow and be fine, I’m sure, but I’m not ready to let it go! I mean, I’ve slogged away for the last two months with them, and they’re about to step up and perform, and I won’t be there to enjoy it!

Still, that doesn’t mean the rest of Canberra shouldn’t; so if you haven’t booked your tickets yet, call the Tuggeranong Arts Centreand tell them you’re coming!

 

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Impro: On The March

Another great show from the Impro Theatre ACT guys tonight. I have unfortunately missed the shows for quite a while, and I’m very impressed with both the standard of performance and the format used in tonight’s show. The show was non-competitive, and was centred around long-form improvisation. The long form very much suits the ensemble’s style, and the smaller presence of the MC also retains a greater degree of focus.

I was particularly impressed with the ability of this cast to reincorporate earlier plot lines, and tie up loose ends that had been left earlier in the show. I recall a few moments in the middle of uproarious laughter wondering why I was laughing, and realising that the humour was in the simple reincorporation of a theme that had been lost previously. This is one of the golden aspects of improvisation; that the enjoyment of the piece often has more to do with our engagement with the performers than the show itself.

Must get back to Impro more often…

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 14 March 2010 in Theatre

 

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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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2009 CAT Awards

While it might be an exaggeration to say that Parkes scooped the 2009 CAT Awards, their achievements were certainly the main highlight of the night. The town of 10,000 may be one of the smaller in the Canberra Area Theatre (CAT) Awards’ broad catchment, but it is certainly punching above its weight in impressing the judges…

For the rest of this article, go to Australian Stage

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 in CAT Awards, Parkes Musical and Dramatic Society

 

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Review of Arts in the ACT

This afternoon I participated in the democratic process. Sounds very noble and boring, doesn’t it? Actually, I joined a whole bunch of other arty types to talk about arts practice in the ACT and government support for it. It was an interesting discussion, although it will be far more interesting to see what our great and mighty leaders do with our input.

The event was a consultation session run by a private firm contracted by ArtsACT to conduct a review of the arts in the ACT. Amongst a little bit of outright whining, there were some interesting discussions about the way in which governments support the arts, and how arts funding could best be utilised to the benefit of the arts community.

There were a few comments about the level of importation of art product, and the proportion of government funding that flows out of Canberra to artists based interstate or overseas. There was also a particularly interesting point made about the lack of support for arts businesses, which are, presumably, one of the most sustainable forms of arts activities.

But I think the most interesting point made, from the perspective of someone who has only been in Canberra for a little over a decade, was that Canberra had a much healthier and more robust arts community in the 80s and 90s. While I was well aware of most of the organisations, what these ‘older’ Canberrans were reminiscing was an atmosphere of creativity that could rival that of Seattle or Paris. At least one person who had lived through it remarked that she hadn’t thought about it for years. It made me sadly jealous of those who have had a longer association with the city.

Still, I can hold out hope that a new era of cultural vibrancy may yet dawn on our little concrete jungle. The group I found myself in this afternoon certainly has more than its fair share of optimism. One of them was so optimistic that she even thought it possible that our elected officials may one day actually take pride in the achievements of creative Canberrans. I’m optimistic, but not that optimistic. As long as the minister for the arts is a lawyer with a strong cultural cringe against his constituents, I hardly see that happening.

What I hold out hope for is a revival of creative energy. I am in one sense thankful that I don’t have an older picture of what a creative Canberra looks like, because a new era of that kind of culture is sure to look very different from the old one. I was surprised to learn that Happy Feet was largely created in Canberra. That is certainly a different image of creativity from what must have gone on in the 80s and 90s, but that kind of creative energy is something to get excited about (as long as they can find better script writers, because Happy Feet was crap in the dialogue and plot departments).

At any rate, if you would like to contribute your $0.02 worth to the debate, it’s not too late. You can get along to the last consultation session on Wednesday 4 November at Belconnen Arts Centre, or you can complete the survey.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 28 October 2009 in ArtsACT, news

 

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Agamemnon

Anyone who’s ever spoken to me about authors knows that the author I loathe most is Tolkein. I hate Tolkein’s work because I can’t understand how someone who fails entirely to grasp the idea of interworking exposition with climax can sell a single book! These people may also realise that I have a double standard insofar as my hatred of Tolkein for this reason has not caused me to dismiss the playwrights of Ancient Greece. The fact is, the Ancients wrote for a different purpose and a different audience, but Tolkein was just a babbling fool. Aeschylus, of course, was a master playwright, who had a justifiable reason to write an enormous quantity of vaguely interesting, but largely confusing, expository matter and interspersing it between some good dialogue and interesting plot. What I like most about Rachel Hogan’s adaptation of Agamemnon is that she has managed to distil the essence of Aeschylus’ tale into a performance that is widely accessible.

In doing this, the focus is drawn carefully onto Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra, particularly her interpretation of Agamemnon’s actions, and her primal response to his slaughter of their child. These characters are portrayed exquisitely by the performers in this production, who balance the intensity of their emotions well with the need to edify the audience, as was the tradition of the Ancients.

The interplay between what we can control and what we can’t control is one of the things we humans find most difficult to get a grip on. For the most part, we get the things we can control confused with the things we can’t; and even when we do know which one is which, we still instinctively try to control the things we can’t, ignoring the things we can. In some ways, Agamemnon’s story is that of a king who spent ten years doing something about what was out of his control, while unwittingly losing his grip on what he could have had. But then again, Agamemnon was never really about Agamemnon.

Although I may have retitled it Clytemnestra, I love what Rachel Hogan has done with Aeschylus’ play, perhaps enough to hail her as the anti-Tolkein. Of course, she may take offence at that (I don’t know how she feels about Tolkein) but it is intended to be the compliment of compliments!

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 20 June 2009 in adaptation, Canberra Theatre, Theatre, wethree

 

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