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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 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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Virginia and Some of Her Friends

virginiaLa Mama’s Explorations series is a season of new and often experimental works that challenge theatrical boundaries and process and explore new ideas.

Virginia and Some of Her Friends is one of this year’s offerings, and while it is not especially innovative in style, it does combine theatrical techniques that are not often seen in harmony.

This piece sits somewhere between the musical and the play with music. Like a musical, the songs deliver a substantial component of the character and some plot. But like the play with music, the songs jar, altering the flow of action and realigning the audience’s attention not unlike Brecht’s verfremdungseffekt.

As for plot, there is little…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

 
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Posted by on Monday, 11 November 2013 in La Mama, Melbourne Theatre, Theatre

 

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Five years of Foyer Talk

It surprised me to learn that I’ve now been blogging for five years. What started as a little spark from a conversation about the tendency of Canberra critics to make every effort to discourage artists has become a nice little part of my life.
Since I started Foyer Talk, The Canberra Critic has come and (it seems) gone, and the anonymous Guy Who Watches Canberra Theatre has started writing very encouragingly about his experiences. The venerable clique, Canberra Critics Circle, have started their own blog, which is a vastly more comprehensive dossier of theatre productions in Canberra than my own. And both the Crimes and WIN News have curtailed their involvement with theatre criticism.
And for me, Foyer Talk has become a most enjoyable journey. I have explored what really makes me respond in theatre and cinema auditoria, and I think this has improved my writing. I’ve done this well beyond our energetic little theatre community here in Canberra as well. People often respond positively, occasionally negatively, and in the last twelve months in particular I’ve engaged in some great discussions following my posts.
And the highlights of the last five years? There have been many, but the best definitely include:

  • Floating, with its amazing, engaging playfulness and remarkable story.
  • Ngapartji Ngapartji, which really draws us towards a truly national theatre
  • Another contribution to our national story, Faces in the Street, which really grounded some of the less palatable aspects of the Australian identity.
  • An exploration of my own identity and the influences upon my cultural adherences, in the brilliant The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • One I have not stopped raving about, Animal Farm
  • A Korean version of Hamlet
  • Rep’s wonderful production of I Hate Hamlet (a statement I could never make!)
  • And of course The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, the one that kicked off this little blog five years ago today.
  • So I hope there are a few of you out there who enjoy reading my abuses rants posts as much as I enjoy being at the theatre and writing about it. I certainly intend to do it for another five years. I just hope blogging stays as popular as it is now!

     
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    Posted by on Saturday, 13 July 2013 in blog

     

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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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    Love Me Tender

    Love-Me-TenderIn preview tonight at Theatreworks, Love Me Tender explores a grab-bag of vaguely-related themes through a series of stories told sometimes in dramatic dialogue, and other times in literary monologue. The characters are mostly plagued by a lack of control of their circumstances and a sense of helplessness, and much of the exploration is a cavalcade of questions and of doubt, which doesn’t exactly make for riveting theatre.

    At a rather fundamental level, I have an objection to the mode of storytelling employed by Tim Holloway in much of Love Me Tender. This is theatre, but the events in the narratives are not actually performed on stage. Instead, performers tell their story, often in metaphor, mostly in direct address to the audience. The result is that what the audience encounters is not strictly speaking dramatic, but tends more towards the literary arts. We lose, as an audience, the capacity to read between the lines, the capacity to read the characters’ relationships, and the capacity to engage with the characters’ experiences as they experience them. Instead, we’re left with…

     

    The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

     
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    Posted by on Wednesday, 20 February 2013 in Melbourne Theatre, Theatre, Theatreworks

     

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    Makan Nangka Kena Getah (The Blame Game)

    This post is coming all the way from Singapore, where I’m holidaying! And it has been a feast for the senses. While food is high on my list of reasons for visiting this amazing little island, I have heard good things about theatrical activities here for some time. When I checked my dates, however, I found very little to whet my appetite. What I did eventually find was an interesting piece produced by a Peranakan community organisation to explore how a traditional theatrical style works in modern Singapore.

    First, I might digress a little to put some cultural context around this. Singapore’s Peranakan community is a Chinese cultural group within Singapore’s amazing cosmopolitan microcosm. They constitute a sizeable
    proportion of the population, and are otherwise known as the Straits Chinese, as they descend from Chinese migrants to the Straits Colonies of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia during the colonial era.

    I would also like to make the point before expressing my opinion on this play that there is much that I will have missed or failed to understand because I am not familiar with the particular theatrical tradition this play
    flows from. This is also the first time I have been to theatre anywhere in Asia, and I may be influenced by irrelevant Australian expectations. Much of the audience talked about the play as it was being performed, which I would have expected to draw the odd tsk tsk from an Australian audience, but it seemed natural here, and after a little time it didn’t even bother me. It may be a Singaporean tradition (my theatre history reminds me that in the period in which the English dominated Singaporean social life, talking in British theatres was likewise acceptable; perhaps this didn’t change in Singapore?). It is also worth noting that as I do not understand any
    Mandarin, Malay, or Patois Peranakan, I was dependent on the subtitles through much of the play.

    The play itself is probably not a masterpiece. Written by local Peranakan teacher, Victor Goh Liang Chuan, it is an attempt to modernise a long-standing Peranakan theatrical tradition that the student of British Theatre might recognise as having much in common with the Well Made Play. A core element of this tradition, however, is humour, and even this ignorant Aussie found much to laugh at in this production.

    The story is readily relatable. Madam Tay has raised two sons and a daughter since the death of her husband, and in adulthood feuds break out. The eldest son isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, the next son is clever but
    disloyal, and the daughter, though a university graduate, is waiting for the right job to find her while she freeloads off her mum. With two daughters in law to contend with and the area’s busiest busybody for a best friend, it is only a matter of time before the stress of life puts Madam Tay into hospital.

    I’m sure I’ve seen something like this on the SBS.

    The plot is predictable, and the characters very thinly drawn, but the performers do a great job with what little they have to work with. There is something very genuine and heart warming in this production, and it may just
    flow from the oddity of having the audience chatter through the whole play. I felt at the end that I’d just spent a couple of hours amongst a true community. And I’d tolerate the silliness of the whole thing to be a part of
    it again.

     
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    Posted by on Friday, 12 October 2012 in Pure Theatre, Singapore Theatre, Theatre

     

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