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Greece: an essay tour

I’m stepping away from my usual diet of plays and films for this post, as it just so happens I’m in Greece, and I’m the kind of nerd who must see a few special theatres when I find myself here.

As I write, I’m hearing the voice and remembering the style of one of my very favourite university lecturers, Emeritus Professor Michael Greenhalgh. I met him in my postgraduate years and he introduced me to something I never thought I’d bother with: Ancient Greek Art and Architecture. Though it’s been almost 15 years, I can hear him clearly and every stone or vase I look at here has me seeing him point excitedly and explain why it matters.

I shall try not to bore you, my dear reader, with the minutiae, but give you a bit of an overview of why I’m so excited to be here, and why I’m writing about my travel adventures on my theatre blog. The thing is, back in 2003, wanting a more personally engaging topic for the essay Professor Greenhalgh had tasked us with, I approached him and suggested I study the way theatres developed as an architectural form. He agreed, and the result became for me one of the most memorable pieces of academic work I ever undertook.

So when I found that the cheapest way to get home from Europe now is to depart from Athens, I set out my itinerary to take me to three of the most significant archaeological sites in the development of the world’s first architectural form devoted to an art form.

This post will be updated as I visit the three sites, with the story of my visit.

For the enthusiastic amongst you, you may also like to read the essay that inspired my itinerary, here. It’s not my best writing (I suspect my flair took some time to develop), but I still think it an interesting read, if you like that kind of thing.

 

Thorikos

Thorikos is the oldest surviving theatre in the world. Many theatres have been theatres for longer, but not in their original form, leaving Thorikos with the honour of being the oldest that still shows the rectilinear form developed in the Archaic period, before they started getting all fancy and round. Older sites saw further development into the classical and Hellenistic periods, and don’t retain this elongated shape.

I set out from Daskalio to find the ancient theatre of Thorikos, which I knew to be a relatively undeveloped site. Google Maps took me directly there, and the theatron jumped out at me as I drove my wee rental up the rough drive to find there wasn’t even so much as a defined parking area. I could easily have driven the wee beasty up onto the orchestra itself had I not known the significance of the place and recognised its unusual form.

Indeed, though there is one interpretive board on site, even it doesn’t mention how significant this site is. Knowing it, my heart skipped a beat. I battled palpitations as I stepped, carefully, from the orchestra (of which nothing remains but the space), into the 2,500 year old theatron and sat myself down on a stone bench.

I looked out over the port of Lavrios, and imagined a performance here. I walked the length of the cavea at its pinnacle, and again from the orchestra, then took a place at the centre and, not recalling anything more appropriate, I recited the prologue of Henry V for the stones.

I stood in the footprint of the Temple of Dionysius, of which all that remains are six or seven stones, and I thanked the gods for theatre.

Cavea in the hillside and the acropolis beyond.

Auditorium seating

Looking over cavea and orchestra to Lavrio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The built end of the cavea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epidauros

Arriving at Epidauros was a little more involved than arriving at Thorikos. For a start, Epidauros is one of the most famous historic sites in Greece, and it attracts hundreds of visitors a day, unlike Thorikos, which may possibly attract a visitor or two a week.

I simply looked into the opening time, and arrived ten minutes early, hoping to avoid a crowd. Arriving at 07:50, I found myself the third entrant (but the first Australian) of the day, and judging by the way things went, it was just as well.

I paid my 12€ and followed the Americans up the path. Just like at Thorikos, my heart skipped a beat when I glanced up and recognised the familiar cavea right in front of me.

For those unfamiliar with Epidauros, the theatre now here is important because it was built in the classical period, and was not significantly updated or rebuilt by the Romans. It is also one of the best preserved theatres of antiquity, providing us with probably the best indication of the way theatres were constructed in the classical period.

A group of puppies had followed the Americans and me up to the theatre and they gambolled as we explored.

As at Thorikos, I delivered Henry V’s prologue, though this time the theatron was not quite empty. The Americans seemed to appreciate my monologue more than the puppies, though. They had tried testing the theatre’s acoustics, but didn’t seem to recognise that they needed to project. Guidebooks seem to give tourists they impression that the cavea and the stone does all the work, but it’s obvious to any actor that you need to work with the space. I launched into my usual teacher voice, but found I needed to curtail my volume to reduce the echo. Truly amazing to hear your voice fill the space, and to hear it working two and a half thousand years after it was built. I do wonder what the presence of 12,000 audients might do to the acoustics, though.

I also managed to take a few shots of the place before the sun began to cast a shadow, and decided I would remain at the theatre until it was bathed in sunlight.

After looking through the museum (which is less than impressive due to the most significant artefacts being on display in Athens) and also the Askeplion, I returned to the theatre to sit in the shade and wait for the sun to cover the site. As soon as I sat in the auditorium, a group of young Germans passed, and a few minutes later they assembled on the orchestra, and sang three songs beautifully. The assembled tourists demanded an encore, and they gracefully obliged. I was halfway up the theatron, and my camera’s dodgy microphone actually caught the sound beautifully.

I returned to the theatre late in the day, as the sun was about to set  unfortunately they close the site before sunset, so a real sunset photo is not possible for a mere commoner like me. And at any rate, I had a date with a moussaka I didn’t want to miss.

As I sat, I watched as several individuals got up and tested the acoustics. I enjoyed opera, people mindlessly yelling stupid things to their friends, a Frenchman who needed a lot of coaxing from an American he’d never met before he would stand and sing a little ditty, and a bit of hip hop, but the last was my favourite. Many of these tourists-come-performers took a little time to get comfortable but none so much as the last one of the day.

About twenty minutes before closing, I was left alone in the theatre. I enjoyed the silence, and started thinking about moussaka, as you do. As I made my way down towards the orchestra, a chap returned, who I had seen sitting alone and enjoying the performances just like me. He made a few tentative sounds by clicking his tongue, or clapping. As I passed the orchestra and moved towards the exit, I got the feeling he was waiting to have the theatre to himself. So of course, I let him think I’d left. I stood in a low position on the other side of the proskenion, where I was out of sight, and I took a few more snaps of the theatre.

As I did, he began to sing. He was nervous, even with the theatre empty, and he didn’t project especially well, but he warmed up. His wasn’t a voice you’d boast about, but he could hold a tune about as well as I could. And he gradually built in volume and had the theatron ringing.

I would hope that, in our own way, each of us would get a theatre ringing like that. That each of us would find a spot where we’re just pushing the boundaries of what’s comfortable. How many more smiles would we see if everyone just felt they could stand up and sing, however our voice sounds?

The approach to the theatre

One of the pups

Front row seats

Theatron, orchestra and proskenion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop… the Theatre of Dionysius in Athens!

 

Athens

Okay, so by the time I arrive at the Theatre of Dionysius us in Athens, I’m feeling a little old-rock fatigue. Yes, even I get tired of seeing more and more ruins of ancient monuments. So I’m glad I allowed myself plenty of time here.

My first glimpse of the Theatre of Dionysius was from the Acropolis itself, looking down into the cavea and orchestra, and what remains of the Roman period skene, with the magnificently modern Acropolis Museum beyond. It’s a beautiful scene, but not heart-stopping like the previous two.

I think just knowing the alterations that have occurred to this site over the ancient period dampens my enthusiasm somewhat, as does the fact that the second and third teirs of the auditorium have been pillaged at some point. The theatre really doesn’t give a good account of itself, though this may be in part me now comparing it to other sites. It could also have something to do with the hubbub from the tourists here.

The Roman skene, thankfully, doesn’t just honour the emperor (Nero at the time), but also (and even predominantly) features Dionysius himself. The reliefs from the stage left end are beautifully preserved and evoke pathos across the years even without their colours.

And of course, just a few hundred metres away is the Roman Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which demonstrates that next stage of development in the architectural form, with much of its Roman stage intact. Unfortunately, the weather was not my friend and the performance I was hoping to see here was cancelled.

Theatre of Dionysius, from the Acropolis

The fancy seats added in the Hellenistic period

Reliefs from the Roman era stage

Throne of the Dionysian Priest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so ends my pilgrimage. It’s been quite an adventure, and I would recommend it to other theatre nerds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 20 September 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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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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    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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    The Bugalugs Bum Thief

    Playing at The Street Theatre this week is Monkey Baa’s latest incarnation of one of Australia’s best-named plays, The Bugalugs Bum Thief. No, it’s not quite Shakespeare, but it’s closer than one might assume.

    Its central character, Skeeter Anderson, just one young member of Bugalugs’ coastal community, wakes up one morning to find his bum is missing, which proves inconvenient for him. He soon finds that just about everyone in town has had their bum stolen, including his friend Mick Misery, for whom it is not so inconvenient, as it means his mum can’t smack him. The advantages of life without a bum, however, do not prove to outweigh the disadvantages, and Skeeter sets out to identify the bum thief and locate everyone’s bums.

    The entire town is brought to life through the generous energy of just three performers who present mums, dads, teachers, police and sailors as well as their main role as a child. It may not be universally accepted as a compliment, but Gideon Cordover, Carl Batchelor and Mark Dessaix make excellent children, which is particularly helpful when…

    The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

     

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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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    Frankenstein

    A friend’s intention to go see the National Theatre Live screening of Frankenstein this afternoon prompted me to tag along, and am I ever glad I didn’t miss this masterpiece! I’ve been a fan of this story since reading Mary Shelley‘s novel while at uni (this was extra-curricular and yes, I’m that big a nerd!). I have also been impressed by a film adaptation, namely Kenneth Branagh‘s 1994 one, which really brought the novel to life, but I cannot say that either of these seemed more pertinent to my own experience of the world than this play.

    Nick Dear‘s script is a fascinating piece of material. A long portion of the beginning of the play proceeds with very few words, and as a playwright I know how difficult it is to craft a play without words. It is, in this instance, essential that this portion of the play not be crowded with words, not only for the sake of the story, but also to draw the focus to Frankenstein’s creation, rather than Frankenstein. It establishes a connection with this character that grounds the rest of the story, and really does take it to a different place from where Mary Shelley positioned her reader.

    And it is this positioning that really establishes Nick Dear’s play as a twenty-first century product. The play insists that the audient be confronted by the ethics of creation and the assumption of scientific logic as the supreme voice of reason. And yet, it does this in the absence of a divine. Humankind, refreshingly, is not repositioned as god (as seems to be the fashion), but instead as a more humble, responsible denizen of the world, such as would not have been considered in the early 19th century. Several critical moments of realisation for Victor Frankenstein, played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch in the version I saw, underpin this reading, and it is the sign of a talented playwright that the character can be so fully formed, and yet still embody such lofty notions without a little compromise.

    But all that is very philosophical for a Sunday afternoon. The real joy is seeing these themes explored with such unassuming grace. The set seems to remodel itself with ease (which of course indicates that there is nothing at all easy about it), and the music likewise supports these amazing performers to create magic. The NT Live recording of course doesn’t quite emulate what must be an amazing effect created by what must be thousands of incandescent globes above the stage and auditorium.

    What’s really impressive, though, is that a stage production is able to be translated to screen as well as this. Apart from a few moments when the editing left me feeling that a cut had been rushed, and what even the most pedestrian of actors (which these performers certainly are not) would have treated as a pause or silence was instead cut abruptly to the next bit of action, the translation of a stage production into, essentially, a film that can be screened anywhere around the world, is remarkable. I am astounded by the way it has worked, and although I had some hesitation about jumping on the NT Live bandwagon, if this is an indication of what they’re doing, I’m a convert.

     
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    Posted by on Sunday, 24 June 2012 in British Theatre, NT Live, Theatre

     

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    The Ballad of Backbone Joe

    This, believe it or not, was my first experience of cabaret. Well, at least my first experience of cabaret with the name ‘cabaret’ plastered all over the place. I’ve experienced cabaret before, it seems; I just wasn’t quite sure it was cabaret. This cabaret performance, however, was deemed to be cabaret by the people who run the Cabaret Festival in the capital city of the Festival State. Being quite unaware of what technically constitutes cabaret, I think these are the people to trust. And the experiment was worthwhile.

    The Suitcase Royale, creators of The Ballad of Backbone Joe, are a tidy little Rag’n’Bone trio from Melbourne who’ve played at a range of festivals and events around Australia, the UK, US, Ireland and Germany. For a taste of their sound, have a listen to this. Their music is right up my street, and given the nature of cabaret, that’s the best feature. I could have forgone the story of Backbone Joe, who I never really came to care about (or possibly even understand), and I would have enjoyed listening to a little more of the music these guys created with such incredible vim! I would have enjoyed just as much some more of their humour, which was impeccably timed.

    But seriously, I don’t see myself becoming a big fan of cabaret. Anyone who’s read more than one post on this blog knows that for me the holy grail of theatre lies somewhere between plot and character, so cabaret is always going to leave me a little cold. Nonetheless, the convivial nature of the form redeems it. In musical theatre, I often feel that when character and plot are too thin, a production just seems disingenuous; I don’t care about the story, I don’t care about the characters, and I have no reason to care about the performers unless I know them personally. Cabaret doesn’t suffer the same problem, because the performer connects with the audience regardless of the depth of connection I feel with the plot or character.

    I’ll be watching out for more of The Suitcase Royale; mainly for their great music, but also because if this is cabaret, I like cabaret.

     
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    Posted by on Friday, 15 June 2012 in Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide Theatre, Cabaret, Theatre

     

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    Brecht: Bilbao and Beyond

    In a very short season at The Street Theatre is Brecht: Bilbao and Beyond. Not a play, but a series of songs, fables, poems and excerpts of plays, all written by the impeccable German wordsmith, Bertholt Brecht, and performed by two veterans of the stage whose presence is gentle, inviting and absolutely engaging.

    Tracing elements of Brecht’s life and work from birth to death (and then back a little), we are treated to just a few gems of his amazingly generous humour and capriciousness…

    The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

     

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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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    The Phantom of the Opera

    I’m just home from Las Vegas where I had the opportunity to see The Phantom of the Opera at The Venetian. What I have found fascinating since first hearing about the production is the idea that a theatre could be constructed specifically for one show; it seems at once wasteful and devout. The ancient Greeks invented the notion of an architectural entity devoted to theatre, and three thousand years seems rather a long time to wait for a theatre devoted to one show. Las Vegas, apparently, boasts two, but I only managed to see the Venetian’s Phantom Theatre. It is a spectacular representation of Paris’s Opera Populaire, complete with wax vestiges of Parisian high society in the nineteenth century in the balconies.

    The custom build has allowed for some spectacular use of the fly tower to quickly present a myriad of different scenes and aid some very clever blocking. Effects including fireworks and flame throwers as well as a dancing chandelier and a rather clever gondola, not to mention the thickest smoke I’ve ever seen, cover a multitude of sins as the performers omit all pathos to avoid making a technical error. Not that it would matter if their performances were better; the audience simply wouldn’t notice with all the smoke and mirrors around (and, I might add, not all of the smoke is intentional special effect; Nevada’s lax smoking laws mean that cigarette smoke from the neighbouring casino fills the auditorium constantly).

    I’ve said in the past that I like museum pieces; and apart from some impressive special effects, there’s little more of value in this show. Any student of theatre should see it, purely to flesh out their understanding of nineteenth century theatrical culture and gain a sense of the theatre’s layout. Of course, if you’re going to Paris you could go see the real thing, and probably get a better show into the bargain. The Venetian’s production, though, is also a fine example of theatrical precision, and execution, but little more. Dead flat characterisation and mechanical and unfeeling theatrical precision from the performers sucks what little life Andrew Lloyd Webber deigned to sprinkle into his book, and leaves you with nothing more than special effects to keep you entertained.

    The big theatrical surprise of my trip to the United States is that the express version of Aladdin being performed twice daily (and often more) at Disney’s California Adventure Park shows the same technical precision and impressive technical effects while also portraying the story and characters with reasonable passion. It really puts the Venetian’s production of Phantom to shame. Still, that’s Las Vegas; the bright and shiny things are a very thin veil designed to distract the observer from the soulless decrepitude of the human condition. Andrew Lloyd Webber fits in perfectly.

     
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    Posted by on Saturday, 9 April 2011 in Musical Theatre, Theatre

     

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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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