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The Greek Project: Antigone

antigone 1It’s with some discomfort that I admit, despite reading it at uni quite some time ago, I never followed the story of Antigone. I have, I think, nodded my way through many conversations, wishing I knew what people were talking about (and I apologise, dear reader, if you’ve been the speaker and interpreted my nodding as comprehension rather than a timid shame). The truth is, apart from some vague awareness that Antigone is the centre of a great tragedy and that she epitomised the Ancient Greek ideal of womanly virtue, I never managed to follow the plot.

Until now.

Canberra Youth Theatre’s production is an engaging and moving piece of theatre that liberates the story and presents it in a manner that is accessible and clear to a twenty-first century audience. It also gives me the impression of being truly believable as a 2,500 year-old play from our antipodes. That in itself is an impressive paradox.

Kitty Malam, in the role of Antigone, is technically solid and anchors the action brilliantly. I would have appreciated, given how much the Thebans honoured her, stronger engagement with the audience. Richard Cotta’s Creon, on the other hand, was brilliantly balanced: truly arrogant and inaccessible one moment, he nonetheless elicited true moments of sympathy, having had his own pride back him into a corner. This was a theme that resonated particularly well this week in this city, as we’ve watched our prime minister severely humbled in circumstances that should have been within his control.

Between these two contenders for our sympathy, the remaining cast engage brilliantly. The decision to present as much of the story physically (eschewing the Ancients’ love of just saying many words while standing still, much like the aforementioned prime minister) was the right one: it liberates the story from the weight of words it was originally created with. Given the collaborative nature of the project, the production truly shows this to be an accomplished cast. Their performance skills do much to affirm the quality of actors coming from Canberra Youth Theatre’s brilliant program. None moreso, perhaps, than Isha Menon, who strikes just the right chord as the paternally-authoritative Tiresias.

But what is truly impressive is the depth of expression these young people have developed in presenting this story in modern Canberra. They have not merely been led by someone older and wiser to portray Sophocles’ characters, but have explored them with the curiosity and drive that most young Canberrans reserve exclusively for hunting Pokémon. Canberra Youth Theatre has done the hard yards, and no longer will I nod pretentiously: thanks to this production, my nods about Antigone will either be deeply meaningful or superficially polite, but nevermore pretentious.

 
 

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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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Short+Sweet Canberra 2013 (Week 2)

20130812 Short+Sweet 074asOkay, so it’s been a while since it ended, but I’m finally writing about Short+Sweet Week 2. Partly, this was because since the end of the festival I have been rather overwhelmed with family duties, but I also needed some time to lick my wounds.

So though neither of my plays got much attention, they were in some great company. Nothing really stood a chance of outstripping Last Drinks; Greg Gould’s catchy and trim script coupled with Margaret Allen’s taut direction and the impeccable timing of Caroline O’Brien and Jett Black were a force to be reckoned with.

Another very amusing piece was Good Cop Mad Cop, which I also enjoyed thoroughly. Paulene Turner’s clever script was performed energetically by Helen Way, Jonathan Garland, Paul Hutchison and Elizabeth Lamb.

Ruth Pieloor wrote and performed Vanity Insanity, with the support of Catherine Hagarty as director. Though very funny, this piece dealt beautifully with notions of self esteem and ageing, and I enjoyed it every time.

I never tired of seeing Paul Hutchison’s Bendigo Banjo Sails the Day, either. This piece could not be entered into the competition since a director had been unavailable and Kate Gaul, the Festival Director, salvaged it to ensure it was performed. We were all glad she did, as it was a great way to begin a great night of performances.

But the piece that truly moved me most was Written in Stone, written and directed by Evan Croker. This was one of the Wildcards that got through to the final, so not really a Week 2 play, but I found myself intrigued by it. The performances were great, the script is brilliant, and the play really deserved more recognition in the final than it got.

So that’s it for another year… though the Merimbula festival is less than a month away, and Melbourne follows soon after that and before you know it Sydney will be happening! And while all of that goes on, Crash Test Drama will surely keep us entertained! Many thanks to everyone for a great festival, and well done to all the winners!

 

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Short+Sweet Canberra 2013 (Week 1)

Brendan Kelly and Neil Parikh rehearsing for 'Abel C. Mann, Processed Offshore'Right before heading along to the Week 1 performance of Short+Sweet tonight, I squeezed in a short rehearsal with my cast for next week and snapped this great image. I had just picked up the bicorn from the post office, which had arrived from the UK just in time, and I was feeling great about how the play started coming together once the props started to give us some clarity of movement and intent.

Brendan Kelly (foreground of this image) had a curtain call, and I followed him to the Courtyard where I was lucky enough to snaffle a last minute ticket to the first week (I will be better prepared next week!).

I am always impressed by the format of Short+Sweet. The ten minute play is a great form, and the variety in any show is incredible. There was a broad range of styles in this year’s week 1, so I wasn’t disappointed, but there are always standouts.

Finnius Teppett from New Zealand was in attendance for this performance of his play, Reading Lamouche, and it was a novel little experience to see the irony between Brendan Kelly’s roles in Reading Lamouche and Abel C. Mann, Processed Offshore played out, but I was most impressed by the quality of humour in Tepputt’s buzzy little script, which was directed very nicely by Ryan Pemberton.

The ten minute form lends itself to comedy in a particularly natural way, probably because we’re largely used to seeing short stand up routines and sketch shows. I tend to lean towards comedy in my shorter plays (oh heck, I lean towards comedy anyway), but there is something courageous about attempting a fully-rounded character in a drama in such a short space of time. I was impressed by Margaret Allen’s script and performance in House of Cats, which was based on the blog and life experience of Nicole Lobry de Bruyn. The exposition in this piece exhibited a great balance between delivering basic necessary information and engaging the audience in the character’s existence.

And the night ended with one of those ‘plays we had to have’, in Here to Serve You. An unattended shoe in an airport sparks a security scare, and some unconventional sod decides to use common sense, upsetting the status quo, as it were. Yes, it was as predictable as you might guess, but snappy dialogue and nicely balanced performances made it one of the most enjoyable pieces of the night.

As usual though, the judges and the people disagreed with my assessment! Only Reading Lamouche got into the final next Saturday, with these other two noteworthy plays finishing here. And now the pressure is on. I have two plays in next week’s line up, and I’m nervous about both of them, but of course, looking forward to the energy and buzz leading up to Tuesday’s opening. Go to the Canberra Theatre Centre to book your tickets.

 

Correction: I have been put right by no fewer than three more observant individuals than myself! Here to Serve You did indeed make it through to the final, so the only one of the three that made a big impact on me that didn’t make it through was House of Cats. Hopefully House of Cats will get another run at later festivals in the Short+Sweet family!

 

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Two Gentlemen of Verona and Kupenga Kwa Hamlet

Two GentsThe Street Theatre has brought to Canberra two of the cleverest interpreters of Shakespeare’s work who ever trotted the globe. Two Gents Productions hails from London, and are being hailed the world over for their intense physical rendering of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Hamlet, which play in repertory this week at The Street Theatre.

For The Two Gentlemen of Verona the two performers, Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyebvu, change between characters using the convention of a single costume piece to indicate each character. In the early stages they also call the name of the character as they take on this piece, and the custom is charming, and breaks down some of the nervousness about being able to follow such a pared down rendering…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 in British Theatre, Theatre, Two Gents Productions

 

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Henry 4

henry 4A post-industrial landscape meets a little Brit kitsch in Bell Shakespeare’s latest work to grace the stage of Canberra’s Playhouse. Opening with the dissonance of early Brit Rock and the destruction of a massive Union Jack (a very pleasing sight), Bell’s Henry IV is young, pithy and full of the muck, mire and joy of life.

Not one of Shakespeare’s better-known plays, Henry IV, which was written in two parts but is here presented by Bell in one, tells the story of King Henry IV’s efforts to restabilise his kingdom and rein in his recalcitrant son and heir. Led astray by the inimitable Falstaff, Prince Hal confides…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 in Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, Theatre

 

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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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Short+Sweet Canberra 2012 (Week 2)

Week 2 of the Short+Sweet Top 20 began in a very different fashion from the usual festival, with Joe Woodward sitting in a bath wearing a pair of angel’s wings and philosophising about the great question. It was a great start to a great evening of theatre, and I’ll admit I did get a little sentimental.

Short+Sweet really lends itself to great moments. The performance quality varies and the scripts are incredibly diverse, but even when the plays don’t live up to what you might hope for, there is often something that emerges statue-like from the stack. It puts me in mind of Patrick White’s metaphor of a squirming mass of eels from The Ham Funeral (if you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour).

Some moments are hilarious, and others are poignant, but in my mind they end up in a montage that makes me feel like I’ve witnessed a single, epic masterpiece. It’s those transcendent moments that make the trivial meaningful.

Ruth Pieloor’s caricature of the prime minister in For the Love of Their Country might have been the performance of the festival. Often I use the word caricature to denigrate sub-par performances, but Pieloor’s observance, emulation and emphasis of Julia Gillard’s mannerisms and very unique vocal qualities was identifiable, amusing and wonderfully distinct. It was caricature of the highest order, which is very difficult to achieve in live theatre.
I was similarly impressed by one of my former classmates from the ANU, Sam Hannan-Morrow, in The Brett I Haven’t Met. Simon Tolhurst could have directed his script in a very different way, with more direct action (as I understand it had been done in The Logues), but it would have lost the raw engagement with the audience that Hannon-Morrow was able to deliver.

There were a few moments, though, when I just wanted to get up and fix things. I loved Remy Coll and Sam Floyd’s concept for Insecurity Guard, and despite a couple of points where the dialogue didn’t quite carry the action, it has a pretty good script, but it really needed a director who wasn’t on stage. These two vey talented performers managed very well, but they needed that extra punch of clarity that an observing director provides.

There is no question that the final moment of the festival, the performance of Genevieve Kenneally’s Ah! was an inspired choice for that particular slot. The energy of Kiki Skountzos, Riley Bell and Elizabeth McRae was precisely what was needed at the end of such a varied night, but the highlight in my book was Smart Jimmy Slow Bob. Greg Gould’s great script was brilliantly delivered by a spectacular cast (Bradley Freeman as the unconscious boy was particularly impressive, I didn’t detect a breath!).

Everyone involved in this festival deserves a pat on the back, not just those I’ve tapped out some words about. Short+Sweet is a unique event in the annual calendar, and I hope it’s a permanent one. What impresses me is where the different people involved in the festival come from. Theatre folk whose paths don’t cross find themselves in the same dressing room for four nights in a row, and that can only be good for our theatre community. And of course with opportunities for those who prefer pure theatre to musical theatre dwindling, it is a particularly important event.

I have two scripts finished (at least to first draft stage) for the 2013 festival, and I hope the wonderful people who made this festival such a great success are around next year.

 

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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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Short+Sweet Brisbane 2012

Hearing that my play The Commuter had been chosen for the Wildcards in the Brisbane Short+Sweet Festival, I made some changes to a work trip and tacked on a weekend in Brisbane. So you can imagine my disappointment when I sat down in the theatre with the program, and couldn’t find my play listed!

I learned later that the cast had pulled the plug at the last minute, and there was nothing the organisers could do. So as disappointing as it was, all that was left for it was to enjoy the wild card entries that had made it. Not a particularly difficult task.

I was impressed with the calibre of these ten minute performances, most of which I’d have thought would have been worthy of the top 20.

Copstitutes told the story of twins who had inherited their mother’s brothel only for their first client to drop dead, turning them into instant private detectives. The performances were impeccable, and the energy admirable, right up until that two-thirds-through point when the action seemed to get lost. It seemed to me that maybe someone had fluffed a line and the cast list their mojo.

But for me the pick of the Wildcards was Tagalong Theatre Company’s It Came From the Couch, in which the cast’s incredible energy and focus told of impeccable direction from Dee Dee Shi and a tightly wound script from Chris Kestrel.

The one that took the position mine lost was particularly good, too. In On The Shelf an enthusiastic carrot and disillusioned celeriac meet a young cauliflower who has just arrived on the supermarket shelf and eagerly anticipates a nice cheese sauce. This one boasted a great script and some very generous performances from Brea Robertson, Bek Groves and Chris Charteris.

It was interesting to be around the theatre before the Gala Final too. The number of people who arrived and greeted each other like old friends really demonstrated one of the best aspects of Short+Sweet; the way it develops a community around it and brings the whole experience to life.

So despite my disappointment, it was a great show, and I’m glad I got to see it. I’m more keen than ever to see how The Commuter goes in Canberra this week, and today I’ve got a first draft of another script ready to submit for Short+Sweet 2013.

Short+Sweet Canberra opens on Wednesday 22 August at the Canberra Theatre Centre, and The Commuter is in the first week of the Top 20.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 19 August 2012 in Brisbane Theatre, Festivals, Short+Sweet, Theatre

 

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A new theatre blogger is about in Canberra!

So I was scrolling through Facethingy for something interesting this morning, and lo and behold, I was successful. That doesn’t happen often!

I came across a link to a new blog about theatre in Canberra. Again, anonymous, and seemingly a little critical of Canberra’s slightly longer-standing anonymous critic, Max, who’s had a six-month head start and has ruffled a few feathers. This blogger, who goes by the title That Guy Who Watches Canberra Theatre is rather more modest and wants to increase conversation about theatre in Canberra, which I appreciate rather more than Max‘s claim that whatever s/he thinks is Gospel. Well, I congratulate That Guy on that, and wish him all the best. I also look forward to offering the odd pingback where we happen to post about the same show.

My one little hesitation is that I’m not fond of the anonymous critic idea generally. It has some merit, since it allows the critic to be completely candid about people s/he might otherwise just pay lip service to, but it also encourages that most useless form of criticism, the attack. Max has been known to tear artists down under the rather bemusing motto of being “objective, honest and accurate” (objectivity is of course impossible in a critic, who by definition must take a position; and an accuracy of opinion is hardly something to distinguish any individual critic from any other (for all anyone knows every critic’s expression of his/her opinion has always been accurate); though I value the honesty). Max is rarely as aggressive as the worst of the critics at the Crimes (a significant achievement!). So while I can understand why a critic might want to remain anonymous, and don’t really object, I just don’t see enough value in anonymity. If opinions are personal, they should be owned by a person and not paraded about as gospel.

I’m aware I’m sitting in a glass house here; I haven’t always focused on what I like, which was my intention for this blog when I started it four years ago. But nonetheless, I stand behind my opinions and own them. My real name is all over this blog and everything that links to it, and anyone can click through or search for my Facebook or Twitter accounts to hurl abuse right back at me. There are photos of my face so that if you don’t know me and you object to something I write you can approach me the next time you see me in a theatre foyer and punch it. Even my phone number is here, freely available for you! Anyone can post a dissenting point of view in response to my posts, and know who they’re having a conversation with. When I review for Australian Stage, I need to be more forthcoming, and I don’t get the privilege of simply not writing about shows I really don’t like. On my blog, though, I can just speak my mind about what I do like and save my vitriol for Andrew Lloyd Webber, who truly deserves it for his criminal aversion to character and plot.

At times, I’ve found myself and people I’ve worked with desperately discouraged by the Crimes’ most viscous and disreputable reviewers, and though their reviews aren’t anonymous, I fear the same level of vitriol could develop as a result of Max and That Guy‘s anonymity. It doesn’t really help, and this kind of critic potentially leads great artists to quit and exit the field based on one irrelevant person’s opinion before they’ve created their greatest work or found what they’re really good at. I prefer the philosophy of pointing out what I value and hoping the artist does more of that. I certainly hope that no artist I’ve been critical of sees my opinion as being more important than anyone else’s.

The two posts currently up on That Guy‘s blog are reasonably balanced and positive, so I guess time will tell whether the anonymity will be a blessing or a curse. I just hope it doesn’t become a haven for discouraging the wonderful artists who make up Canberra’s theatre community. Overall, it’s just great to have another blog about Canberra theatre around, and I’m looking forward to a greater diversity of opinions being expressed (especially because That Guy‘s no great fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber). Have a look at his review of Free Rain’s Cats here.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 22 July 2012 in blog, Canberra Theatre, news, Theatre

 

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Renaming my blog

The few people who read this blog may have noticed some changes. I recently moved it from Blogger to WordPress (which was a great move, by the way), and I’ve overhauled its categories and tags. That’s all pretty superficial though. The real change has been longer and more gradual, and represents an evolution in what this blog really is.

I started this blog four years ago following a series of conversations with Canberra theatre folk who were particularly disappointed with the quality of theatre criticism in Canberra. My intention was to do what most Canberra critics didn’t do: write nice things about good theatre. Of course there were a few critics at the Crimes and other media outlets who tried to be constructive, but most just berated performers, writers and directors and like many others I found myself on the receiving end of their overwhelming efforts at comprehensive discouragement. I wanted to be an encouraging voice.

So much for my good intentions.

I have tried to be positive in this context, and there have been plenty of times when I just haven’t written about a production because I found it actually lived down to the critics’ expectations[1]. But things change. I started writing for Australian Stage, and unlike a blog post where I can just be myself and say what I liked, in that context I have to be more objective. I also started writing about films, which I love just as much as theatre; and sometimes television can be just as cathartic a dramatic experience, so I started writing the odd post about television. And when my day job started flying me interstate every month or so, I started writing about shows outside Canberra.

And in the course of all these changes I also discovered that writing blog posts about what I liked had a really positive impact on my own writing. I knew more instinctively how to build characters and structure narratives because when I wrote about other people’s shows, I reinforced the positive responses in my mind. The very act of writing a blog has become something like a journal of my post-tertiary education.

And that’s why I don’t care that so few people read it.

But since my blog has become such a cathartic procedure in my development as a playwright, I’m starting to think I should be more deliberate about that. Although I’ve put up a page offering samples of my script, I haven’t written about the process of submitting those scripts to competitions in the hope that someone somewhere with the power to do something about it will do what needs to be done to get the damn thing staged. I should. And from now on, I will.

And that leads me to the request I started writing this post for. If you’ve read this far into my blathering about nothing much really you may have realised that ‘Foyer Talk’ is not a name that sums up what this blog has evolved into. I wasn’t even happy with it when I named it four years ago. I see blogs all over with much cleverer names, and someone called Trevar should definitely have a clever name for his blog.

So, I’m asking you; can you think of a better name for my blog? It needs something that captures the blog it’s evolved into. I’ve thought of “Caterpillar Dreaming”, but that’s über naff and not very clever at all. I also thought of “e-merging playwright” but that’s even naffer than the other, so I’m useless at this. It sometimes takes me months to name a play, so I’m in no hurry with this process, but I would love your help.

And if you happen to come up with the cleverest and not-at-all-naff name, I might just reward you by taking you to the theatre with me[2]. Or punish you by taking you to the theatre with me, if that’s the way you want to look at it. Either way, you’ll get something for nothing.


[1] NB there are other reasons why I might not write about a show, including my rule that I don’t write if I can’t do it within a few days of seeing the show, so don’t assume that if you’ve seen me at your show and I didn’t write about it that I didn’t like it! Or, if you know it was bad, maybe you can assume that!

[2] As long as you live in Canberra. If not, you’ll have to come visit me in Canberra. Unless you happen to live in an interstate capital where I visit occasionally. Or Singapore, where I’m going in October. Terms and conditions apply. I don’t know what they are, but I will figure that out when we come to it. Just suggest a name or two!

 
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Posted by on Friday, 6 July 2012 in blog, news

 

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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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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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Avenue Q

I think it was family loyalty that took me along to Avenue Q. That, and some pretty high recommendations on Facebook and She Who Must Be Obeyed telling me to go see it while I still had the chance. Honestly, the idea of yet another bit of children’s pop culture being appropriated for the adult market just wasn’t appealing.

But in true Canberra musical theatre style, our ‘amateurs’ have redeemed a rather dry book and presented something truly spectacular. Technically, it was almost faultless. Apart from a few occasions when I couldn’t hear the words over the band, I was blown away by how great these guys sounded. And it was a tiny band too; all I could see were two keys, two strings and a hitter who had plenty of space to rattle about in the pit.

The kudos, though, goes to a great cast, most of whom had to learn to control two bodies rather than the usual one. And it was fun just to observe as an audient that at first I had to keep reminding myself to look at the puppet rather than the actor! In time they blended, which just made the whole puppet/puppeteer thing work so well. At least in individual scenes it did.

As a whole show, though, Avenue Q just doesn’t hold together very well. Whose story is this? What is it about? And why couldn’t they just pick a story and stick with it? There are some interesting characters here that really deserve better treatment! But that’s musical writers for you; most couldn’t see a story if it played itself out on a stage in front of them!

I think, really, Avenue Q is a musical trying to be cutting edge and funny at the same time. It only succeeds in the latter, and occasionally fails at that because it’s trying to be cutting edge. Does that make sense? Probably not, but I know what I mean. And whatever it’s failings, Supa‘s cast and crew have outdone themselves. I had a ball.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 28 September 2011 in ANU Arts Centre, Canberra Theatre, Supa Productions, Theatre

 

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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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A Well Hung Parliament

Shortis and Simpson’s brand is safe with this latest topical offering, which provides plenty of laughs and many gentle jabs at Canberra’s more itinerant population. Rhyming Gillard with ‘kill hard’ and pointing out some of the delicious ironies of our new parliament (such as the two Wyatts and one Wong), these veterans of the Canberra stage were as amusing as ever, keeping the audience enthralled throughout.

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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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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