RSS

Tag Archives: Theatre

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Wednesday, 20 September 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
Plays like this are why theatre matters.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Saturday, 25 February 2017 in Blood Moon Theatre, Sydney Theatre, Theatre

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

     
    3 Comments

    Posted by on Saturday, 13 July 2013 in blog

     

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

    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.

     
    Leave a comment

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

     

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

    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.

     
    6 Comments

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

     

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,