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Member

memberpresspixI grew up in Sydney. I recall studying World War II in the western suburbs like it was a distant memory. I recall hearing about the Holocaust as if it was a side note to the war at school and at home as if it were an isolated and unrepeatable atrocity. I don’t recall ever contemplating whether such inhumanity could be perpetrated in the Sydney I lived in: it was simply beyond my conception.
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And yet, on so many nights when my parents tucked me safely into bed, men were beaten or murdered on the other side of the city because they were gay. The proximity of the horror is sobering. And it’s proximity that makes Member such a deeply moving piece of theatre.
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The protagonist is Corey, and we encounter him in an emergency ward, by the side of his adult son, who has been severely beaten. Encouraged by a pretty nurse to talk to his son, Corey describes a moment in his childhood that shaped his understanding of gay men, and determined his response to his son’s coming out.
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Ben Noble, who plays Corey in this one man show, delivers a brilliant, raw performance with his gut-wrenching script. He evokes a broad range of characters, many of them recognisable as archetypes and deftly held back from becoming stereotypes.
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Fairly Lucid Productions have failed, in this intstance, to live down to the standard their name describes. Indeed, the clarity with which this performance delivers its punch is amazing. I found it particularly difficult to walk out into the merriment of the bar, where everyone seemed oblivious to the horror that was just brought to life for us. I’ve long thought Sydney an ugly city with a heart of gold, but the Sydney I stumbled back into after seeing Member felt every bit as nasty as her neglected streetscapes have always looked.
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For me, the proximity of this story to my childhood home is deeply troubling. It further upsets my memory of what I perceived as a relatively tolerant and diverse society. But it also reminds us, and I think this is the intention of the title, that we are members of this society, and the responsibility for change rests with us.
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Plays like this are why theatre matters.
 
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Posted by on Saturday, 25 February 2017 in Blood Moon Theatre, Sydney Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Pride

the prideContrasting the closeted lives of gay men in the twentieth century with the more open lives of gay men in the twenty-first has become something of a sport. There’s a lot to celebrate, more to change, and of course, plenty we can learn. But I think we need to be careful about the sensitivities involved. The Pride is not insensitive, but it does come a little too close to preaching for my liking. A symptom, perhaps, of biting off more than can be chewed in a single play.
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Two stories, one about a pair of gay men who have an affair in the 1950s, and the other about a gay couple who break up because of infidelity in the present day, are interwoven to present the contrast. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is at once a celebration of the liberation of sexual identities, and a polemic against the cultural relics of the closeted past.
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Though possibly a little on the static side (events are often described rather than enacted), the dialogue is thoughtful and engaging. There is enough left to subtext to give the play’s five main characters some real depth, and to let Matt Minto, Simon London and Alexi Kaye Campbell show us their considerable talents. Unfortunately, Kyle Kazmarzik isn’t given the same opportunity, as his three characters are little more than caricatures.
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Minto in particular shows marvellous sensitivity in transitioning between his discreet 1950s character Oliver, and his rather more raging queen, also called Oliver, in the present day. The use of the same name is, I think, a clever device to remind us that the way we live our lives is largely determined by our cultural millieux. Minto certainly carries this well.
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Against Simon London as Philip, his closest friend and possibly even his conscience in the present day, he is brilliantly vulnerable and empowered. The 1950s Oliver also finds Geraldine Hakewill’s Sylvia, as the wife of his lover, a surprising ally in his weakness. Her weakness in this context as a straight woman is likewise measured and exuding wisdom. It is a well-balanced nuance to give her the final voice in the play.
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Despite some brilliantly nuanced characters, in building a picture of the damage caused by centuries of community denial of gay identities, I fear The Pride has become overly negative. It lacks, to some degree, sensitivity to the positive lives that the queer community have eeked out for themselves since they were sent into the closets. It does explore with both sensitivity and cynicism the lingering cultural relics of the closeted centuries, such as cruising and cottaging, but it walks a fine line between preaching and remonstrating, which I think labours the point somewhat.
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Overall, The Pride is an engaging story, and it has enjoyed a very sensitive and thoughtful production at the hands of Shane Bosher.
 
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Posted by on Sunday, 6 March 2016 in Darlinghurst Theatre, Sydney Theatre, Theatre

 

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Holding the Man

holding the manTimothy Conigrave’s autobiographical story of his love for John Caleo has turned into one of the finest Australian films ever produced. In fact, I should strike the Australian from that sentence, as it’s really one of the finest films ever produced in the world, but having seen it, I’m rather more proud to be an Australian than I was yesterday, so it’s staying.

Adapted for the stage (and subsequently the screen) by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy, Holding the Man follows the story of Tim and John from when they meet in high school and Tim pursues John. The story follows their love through homophobia, infidelity (of sorts), moderate success and finally AIDS. The characters are portrayed skilfully by Ryan Corr as Tim, and Craig Stott as John. Despite a strange, forced accent from Corr (he insists on pronouncing every T as if he were dining with the queen and it annoyed me throughout), their performances are truly impeccable.

The film matters in a sociological sense because it is set against the backdrop of the changing Australia of the late seventies through early nineties, which was when the bulk of social attitudes about the rainbow community shifted. And yet, despite the significance of these political shifts, this story is firmly grounded in the experience of the two men at the heart of this tragedy. And therein lies its greatest strength.

If you really hate spoilers, you might want to stop reading now, but really, the ending is clear from the very opening moments of the film, anyway. It is rare, I think, that this tactic works, but this is certainly one of the circumstances in which it serves well for keeping the story on track and focused. One of the benefits of knowing that John dies is that as the film delves into some very dark places the audience doesn’t question whether he will pull through. And because we know he is going to die, we are able to concentrate on the way in which the characters deal with their circumstances. It really is very strategic storytelling, and shows a master of the art was at work.

Despite the darkness of this story, this film is, at its heart, a celebration of love. It truly demonstrates a spectacular skill on the part of Tommy Murphy, to delve into such dark plotlines with such pathos and not lose sight of the heart of the story, which was the love between the two protagonists. Few writers can manage this with such dexterity.

I simply cannot recommend this film highly enough. Get it. Watch it. Share it.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 26 August 2015 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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Paper Planes

Paper_PlanesI think I need to begin this post with a warning: I may gush a little. This is simply one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Maybe I say that a lot, but it doesn’t make me like it any less. There’s a great deal of skill involved in balancing plot with character development, balancing pathos with humour and balancing light with dark. The creators of this film have done all three brilliantly.

Paper Planes is focused on Dylan, a 12-year-old who lives with his grieving father on a dilapidated farm near the fictional town of Waleup in Western Australia. When a strapping, visionary student teacher introduces him to the world of competitive paper plane-making, he enters that world with enthusiasm and brings a balance of humility and determination with him, which helps to draw his father back to life.

Ed Oxenbould‘s portrayal of Dylan is the linchpin for this brilliant film, and his ability to balance energy and pathos is remarkable for a 13 year old actor. He is supported well by Sam Worthington, whose character is sullen throughout without being entirely flat, which is quite an achievement. And light relief is all in the hands of the brilliant Deborah Mailman, who adds just the right spice to the mix.

The plot is largely predictable, but doesn’t suffer for it. Even the best of the humour is available in the trailer, so if you don’t like character and aren’t interested in their journeys, then maybe you shouldn’t bother with this film (if that’s the case, why would you watch films at all anyway?). The fact is, this is a light-hearted story that really gets to the guts of what life is about.

And more importantly, perhaps, this film is a testament to growing maturity in Australian storytelling. While it is distinctly Australian in character, it refrains from either romanticising or demonising the bush, and there’s barely a skerrick of cheap and nasty ockerism. There’s a hint of romanticism about Sydney (something I’ll never understand, having been liberated from Sydney myself), but what it does best is pitch a national identity that is quietly confident, but nonetheless cautious. I don’t think we’ve done that very much before.

I’m even willing to forgive some very substantial continuity errors, the biggest of which I can’t mention as it would spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it.

If the opportunity presents itself, don’t miss this one. If you’re the teary type, take tissues. If you like a good laugh, don’t put the popcorn in your lap. But either way, see it.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 11 January 2015 in Arenamedia, Australian Film, Film

 

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Deathtrap

Canberra Repertory opened Deathtrap tonight. A comedy about an ageing playwright ready to kill to get what he wants.
What I found most interesting about Deathtrap was its style. This is a play by an Australian playwright, written in the late 1970s, and very much set in that time and place; but it has all the hallmarks of an excellent British comedy from the 1960s. The madcap humour, dialogue almost entirely dependent on wit, and a very conventional structure, all mark this play as something other than what it is, and were I not aware that it was an Australian play, I would have assumed it wasn’t, despite the references to Sydney’s northern suburbs.
It is a lot of fun: one of those plays that you could well come away from with a sore belly from all the laughing. I didn’t, though. Maybe the timing was a bit off due to opening night nerves, or maybe I just like a little more meat on characters’ bones than Levin provides, but it was good.
 
 

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Floating

The Welsh are a strange people; not strange in an unpleasant sort of a way, just odd. Different. Unusual. And so it makes a kind of cosmic sense that Wales should be the first country to have one of their islands float off on a tour of the North Atlantic.

Tonight’s performance of Floating at the Sydney Opera House has been one of the most profound experiences I have ever undergone. It was theatre in a most pure and hallowed sense; unique, fleeting, and momentary.

Hugh Hughes, the protagonist, foretells this, referring repeatedly to connection, and highlighting our disconnection from the world by running around the auditorium, touching the three walls and pointing out how they disconnect us from the outside world. The interaction with the audience continues as he and Sioned encourage the audience to say hello to someone they haven’t met before and explain the structure of the show to come, handing around some objects relevant to the story. This introduction was said to usually last 20 minutes, but in our case, took 45. During this time, three groups of latecomers entered, the first of which was welcomed gently. When the second group entered, we were encouraged to applaud, but by the time the third couple entered, 25 minutes late, the audience needed no encouragement to give them a standing ovation, and Hugh generousy praised their courage at entering so late.

The humour was light and easy, not at all forced, and by the time Hugh and Sioned were able to begin their story, we were asked if we needed to go to the toilet. As an audience, we had formed a bond. Sioned passed around an inflatable globe, to illustrate how far from Sydney Anglesey was, and upon realising that it was a beach ball, the gentleman in the front row threw it into the auditorium and we tossed it around for some time. There came one point in the story when a woman in the row behind me was laughing uncontrollably, and an infection of laughter took over the entire audience for several minutes. Hugh engaged her in conversation and it became apparent that it was her birthday, so under Hugh and Sioned’s encouragement, we all sang happy birthday to Sue. There also came a time when someone needed to go to the toilet, and Sioned said she needed to go too, so we arranged an impromptu interval and Hugh stayed and chatted to those of us in the front row and a gentleman who had come from somewhere deeper in the auditorium.

The connections made were so natural and simple and honest that you didn’t realise what was happening until Hugh reminded us of the theme of connection that was at the core of this ‘show’. The story, while well-structured and relevant, was almost incidental to the entire nature of the evening, and when the show was over, and the audience offered an unequivocal standing ovation to the performers, who remained on stage, there was a sense in the audience that we wanted to stay. I know I sat back down after the ovation, and felt that I could remain here, as part of this audience, forever.

I don’t know whether it is the same at every performance, but since the Opera House’s documentation for the show says it lasts 75 minutes, and since our performance with its interruptions from late arrivals and an impromptu toilet break lasted no less than 120 minutes, I doubt it. Each performance is completely unique, and I could happily return and see another if the Opera House wasn’t so far from home. The hubbub from the receding crowd was much more enlivened than any theatre audience I’ve ever been part of, and the ease with which members of the audience, who had been strangers at first, chatted and engaged was remarkable.

Floating is theatre at its best. It engages, connects and responds in just the way that film doesn’t. And in doing this, it achieves something remarkable: it highlights the disconnectedness of our societies and worlds without judgement or reproach, but by simply presenting an alternative way to be.

I could not bring my dear wife to see Floating, and ringing her afterwards, I couldn’t explain what was so wonderful about it. I don’t think I’ve done it justice here, but this is a fleeting moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Unless, of course, I suffer amnesia.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 6 March 2009 in Sydney Opera House, Sydney Theatre, Theatre

 

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