Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Shadow House Party comprising
A KREWD Incarnate by KREWD ( founder – Bambi Valentine)
Trinculo’s Shadow by Joe Woodward (Shadow House PITS)
Ophelia’s Shadow by Lucy Matthews (Acoustic Theatre Troupe)
The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, January 17 (preview) to 21, 2017.
Commentary by Frank McKone
KREWD and Acoustic Theatre Troupe are among the current regular reincarnations of young adult theatre companies, following a long tradition in Canberra; in these cases also incorporating rock music/theatre bands.
Usually, in the past, such groups were quite fiercely independent. I recall, for example, Freshly Ground Theatre in 2009, Bohemian Productions around 2003, and even Elbow Theatre in 1998. Canberra, being the city of transients, spawns new groups at the time of their young lives when the excitement of creating new work by and for their age group is a valuable contribution to our cultural life, and often triggers a career in the long-term. Elbow’s Iain Sinclair is now an established regular director for the major companies in Sydney, just to select one example.
To keep a new small experimenting theatre group going for any length of time in Canberra is not easy financially, let alone for the other main reason – that people complete their studies here, or find employment in other places, and move on.
It is therefore a good thing that Joe Woodward, with his strong interest in imagist and multimedia theatre, has stayed on teaching drama for so long here, after his early acting career at La Boite in Brisbane.
While his Shadow House PITS theatre has over the years presented a number of original works, often derived from the concepts of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, on this occasion Shadow House PITS has assisted the two young companies by acting in the role of producer, arranging practical things like a venue and insurance cover. He also provides a change in focus and depth of philosophic thinking for the second Act in this show, and a degree of mentoring and personal encouragement.
The result is a night of three quite different types of theatre, each with genuine intentions.
In Act 2, Woodward’s “Trinculo” character finds himself thinking he is Marat about to be murdered by Charlotte Corday, and therefore (in an odd kind of way) analysing the nature of those individuals who believe they are born with a right to have power thrust upon them – up to and definitely including Donald Trump.
The presentation of a demagogue’s type of speech (including recordings from Trump's election campaign) which Marat meditates aloud upon, and then invites members of the audience to join him around, on and even in his bath and raise questions for discussion, is a model of theatre which questions the relationship between actor (as himself acting a role), the role he acts, and the audience who participate in the act (partly as if relating to him, the actor, and partly to the characer Marat), while the rest of us watch and react to a theatre experience.
A KREWD Incarnate in Act 1 has already begun something of this process, beginning with actors in character as humanoid animals, inviting us to join them in the acting space and act out our responses to them each individually during the half hour as we arrive before the second section of the work begins. Here we remain as audience seeing the animals perform their routine roles (in both sections using very loud largely rap-based recorded music) as humans whose behaviours are socially determined.
I found the idea in theory interesting, but theatrically I needed a lot of patience to maintain the interest in practice.
Then I found the same problem with the final act, which was a very interesting work, in a kind of rock-opera form, beginning with the point in Hamlet where he discovers Ophelia is being buried and her brother Laertes confronts him, and then flashbacking to explore how Ophelia reached the point of suicide. The effect was to make a new play in which Ophelia is the central character.
However I found that the work needs a great deal of trimming so that the drama moves along more grippingly.
But finally, a very important aspect of both companies’ work in Acts 1 and 3 was to demonstrate the strengths especially of the young women who have devised the material and perform, as singers, musicians, in movement and voice often with great power, confidence and authority.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
6D World Tour of Australia by The Listies. Who are wee? Matthew Kelly and Richard Higgins.
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, The Q Theatre, Thursday, January 12, 2017 – Saturday, January 14, 2017
Reviewed by Frank McKone [Sorry about the mess on this page, but this is sort of how the theatre looked by the end of the show]
“Stop Laughing – this is serious” is my trope today. In my dinosaur days I would have said ‘theme’. I bet ‘trope’ is not listed in The Listies’ recent Penguin publication: Ickypedia: A Dictionary of Disgusting New Words. But it should be because, as my 1981 Macquarie Dictionary explains, ‘trope’ is no more than a smart-aleck rhetorical twist or ‘turn’ (Gk trópos), “a phrase, sentence, or verse formerly interpolated in a liturgical text [merely] to amplify or embellish”.
I think since 1981 ‘trope’ has splashed itself across the language like snot. Here’s Rich
demonstrating spraying snot
It was impossible to stop laughing, but whatever happened to my serious theme?
Even in this photo, captioned The Least silly picture Rich and Matt have ever been in, snapped by Max Milne they don’t look very serious.
But their work as creators and performers is in fact highly skilled as theatre and highly educational about language – reading and writing. If you would like to check through my 20 years of reviews of children’s theatre (at www.frankmckone2.blogspot.com) you’ll see that I have been crucially concerned about three kinds of shows. There’s a sort of continuum from the worst end – shows at the children – through reasonable shows which are a bit condescending for the children, to the best educational learning about ideas – including about the nature of theatre itself – in shows which are with the children.
Richard Higgins and Matthew Kelly are right at the best end. They teach about reading, writing, spelling and story-telling consummately, they link everything they say and do to the experiences of their – modern – audience (including transference between the physical world and the world of the internet), and they open up the process of acting (better than Brecht :-) so that the children absorb the difference between reality and fiction.
So now you can stop laughing: this is really serious, and a great achievement by The Listies in 6D which is Twice as Good as 3D.
Review by © Jane Freebury
Why this? Why now? A singing-dancing entertainment brimming with optimism to close a tough, unruly year and open a new one that will take us who knows where? What timing.
It is curious that Hollywood musicals first blossomed in the 1930s along with gangster films, so James Cagney could cross genres and play either a gangster or a tap dancer. They coincided with times of social upheaval in the US and in Europe, enjoying a good run until they were seen off in the 1960s. Not that the musical has ever disappeared. Viva Las Vegas, Saturday Night Fever or Moulin Rouge anyone? While in Bollywood, the musical has long been part and parcel of the mainstream.
La La Land could usher in a new generation of musicals. While a single film doesn’t a revival make, we can expect to see more of them in the wake of this exuberant, uplifting new film from Damien Chazelle, who announced his arrival with Whiplash a few years ago. Light and airy until things become a bit serious, La La Land demonstrates how a 21st century musical can be contemporary, honour the classic tradition and still have a life of its own. And this is an original musical, not a film of a stage production. Terrific as they were, Les Miserables and Chicago of recent times had already proved their worth on the stage.
At the start, La La Land is determined to be upbeat and take us with it. We lurch into an improbable set piece at the start with the camera swooping through and around dozens of singing, dancing commuters during gridlock on a Los Angeles freeway. We could be forgiven for thinking the film is playing back-to-front, and the spectacle is the final curtain. After this, things settle down, as the set pieces are largely integrated and advance the narrative.
As jazz musician Sebastian and aspiring actor Mia, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone make a very appealing and plausible 21st century couple. They begin as the classic screwball mismatch, but there is common ground. Both are rigorous in their standards and look with nostalgia to the past, as Seb adheres to jazz traditions while Mia reveres the character actors of the Hollywood golden age. In the flat she shares with girlfriends, her room is dominated by a huge close-up of the actors’ actor, Ingrid Bergman.
LA may be the city of sun as the opening number declares, but it’s also a conduit to something else—a career. Mia’s job in a café on the Warner Bros lot allows her to eyeball some of the stars who drop by for takeaway, and to duck out when she gets a call from casting. Seb wants his own jazz club to showcase the music he admires, but he eventually bows to compromise when he joins a jazz-funk band that gives him steady pay, even agrees to bite his lip and look moody for photo shoots.
Dancing may be the vertical expression of horizontal desire, but their relationship looks charmingly chaste, so contrary to today’s mores. That emerald green dress than Mia wears on the couple’s first date recalled for me Cyd Charisse in green when she performs a smouldering showstopper with Gene Kelly in the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain. Nothing like that happens here.
It may be unfair to compare, though hard not to, the singing and dancing in La La Land with the work of Kelly, Astaire, Rogers and the set pieces Busby Berkeley created. Stone and Gosling are very talented dramatic actors who dance and sing well, and it's great to see how accomplished Gosling is on keyboards, but it’s more story and less spectacle here and where we have singing and dancing sequences, they are spectacular because of the staging, production design and the beautiful cinematography.
Of course, La La Land is an ardent love letter to the movies. To mount this terrific production, the American movie industry has mustered generous resources and assigned them to a relative newcomer. Faith rewarded.
It is easy to point to a certain self-regard in this homage to the dream factory, but writer-director Chazelle, the son of professors, doesn’t treat us as mugs. He reminds us we can still be lulled into fantasy with the brilliant ‘might have been’ montage that flashes before Mia’s eyes five years later. It’s not exactly an alternate ending, but the film is having a bit of fun with the wishes and expectations that we unconsciously create at the movies, anyway.
Also published at Jane's blog
Friday, January 13, 2017
The Season by Nathan Maynard. Elder/Cultural Adviser: Jim Everett.
Presented by Tasmania Performs and Sydney Opera House at Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre, January 10-15, 2017
Director – Isaac Drandic; Dramaturg – Peter Matheson; Designer – Richard Roberts; Lighting – Rachel Burke; Sound – Ben Grant
Kelton Pell – Ben Duncan, head of the family; Tammy Anderson – Stella Duncan, family matriarch; Nazaree Dickerson – Lou Duncan, Ben and Stella’s daughter; Luke Carroll – Ritchie Duncan, Ben and Stella’s son; James Slee – Clay Duncan, Lou’s son; Lisa Maza – Auntie Marlene, Stella’s sister; Trevor Jamieson – Neil Watson, Ben’s arch rival / Senior Ranger Richard Hadgeman
Reviewed by Frank McKone
This Sydney Festival has been a winner for me. My first three shows are highly valuable experiences, one French Canadian (Anthropologies Imaginaires), one European (Measure for Measure), both out of the box; and the third, Indigenous Australian – The Season : in its special way even more exciting.
I must first admit a potential bias on my part. My parents were £10 Poms paid for by the Australian Government in the mid-1950s to increase the population and prevent Australia perishing. Arriving as a young teenager I had no idea that the various Australian governments had been doing everything they could for almost 200 years to perish the original inhabitants.
My capacity to appreciate the continuing existence over thousands of years of Aboriginal mutton-birders on Dog Island near Flinders Island in Bass Strait, between Tasmania and the Mainland, with family names like Duncan and Watson, is inevitably limited. Having just seen the other two plays (reviewed here January 10 and 11) directed my understanding further away, outside the culture of The Season.
So, simplistically, the annual mutton-birding season seemed to me like the gathering of a family at Christmas. Will this year be peace and goodwill to all? How did things go last year? What about next year?
At this level, these modern-day Aboriginal people have to deal with modern-day issues. Lou’s son Clay has the same surname as his grandparents. Ben and Stella live in Launceston in Tasmania. Lou and Clay live in Melbourne. Clay is fixated in the belief that his father will magically appear on the beach, and lights a fire to guide him in. The wind gets up, the fire escapes – yet dealing as a family with such imminent danger sees them resolve differences.
We, watching, are relieved – but we can’t help but wonder what will happen next time. The joint management of the national park means the Aboriginal ranger will have to insist on conservation and heritage rules being obeyed by people who have successfully managed their land in their traditional ways from time immemorial.
Sex, alcohol and strong personalities all play their roles. Which sister rules the roost? How can a Duncan love a Watson, especially that reprobate Neil? How long can Ben keep up the workload in pulling up and preparing a commercial quantity of birds as age creeps on apace? Can Ritchie be trusted to take the lead? And can Stella honestly accept that her daughter will never fix Clay’s need for a father figure now that Lou has realised that she really is a lesbian? That word ‘Gay’, Stella repeats over and over, trying to get used to the idea.
But there’s something about the atmosphere in this play, surely emanating directly from the life experience of the writer, from the Maynard family, which escapes me and my European assumptions. There is a tremendous depth of humour built into even the most difficult points of transgression between family members. This was not a matter of the play being a comedy (there’s my genre-ism surfacing awkwardly). It’s not just a matter of how this particular family gets along.
The sense of humour is the core of culture. Watching, from the outside as I inevitably must, I felt the wonder of these people who belong in that place. Their humour shows how they belong. And so the play is wonderfully funny. Thousands of years’ worth of funny.
Then I think back to my European culture and feel the biting intellect of Shakespeare coming through that Measure for Measure, and the sharp satire of colonial academicalism in Gabriel Dharmoo’s Anthropological Imaginings – and I feel I’m missing something that happens in The Season.
I can’t define what it is, but it’s exciting, and I feel tremendously grateful to the writer Nathan Maynard, the elders represented by Jim Everett, the designing and directing team, and all the actors who just blew our minds away.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
The Listies 6D (It’s twice as good as 3D).
Written, directed and starring Richard Higgins and Matthew Kelly. Regional Arts Victoria. The Q Theatre. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. January 12-14 2017.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
You need to be switched on to a certain type of humour to really appreciate the comedy of The Listies. But then maybe I am just a Grumpy Old Gramps There’s no doubt that the young audience lapped up the lavatory humour from the opening fart and burp fanfare, giggled as “snot” shot across the stage, groaned as “vomit” spurted forth from a puppet’s mouth, screamed out in terror on cue, hurled teatowels at Nan and laughed out loud at the antics of Fall Guy Matt and Straight Man Rich.
The two stand-up comedians introduce a 6D (It’s twice as good as 3D) concept of the movies to entertain the audience from five to eighty. They teach the kids about the ratings of G,M,PG, R and a couple of their own – VAH (Vomit Arthouse), and their rating S for Stupid. And stupid it is! For an hour, actors Matthew Kelly and Richard Higgins spin out a string of stupid scenarios including an horrible Horror Movie, Curse of the Back Pack and their own clumsy concoction All Nanas Are Ninjas, with lots of participation to hold the interest and keep the young audience moving as Nan’s helpful minions.. Sure it is all wacky and weird and meaningless fun, relying on audience suggestions and participation to eke out a fishing line thin plotline to hook the audience and reel them in.
There is some clever stuff. Rich is turned into a puppet for eating a banana after midnight in Curse of the Backpack. The puppet bears a striking resemblance to Ernie of Muppet fame. There is clever play on words of a list of movie titles, such as Ironingman, Hairy Potter or Mary Poopins.And in a spectacular finale Rich and Matt snowmachine reamss of toilet paper over the audience. I barely raise a smile and I feel sorry for the boy who eagerly raises his hand only to be dejected when another member of the audience is chosen to be the evil Dr. Fluffles, Nan’s terrifying Nemesis.
Maybe I’m being unfair. If the kids were having a good time, isn’t that all that matters? After all, in the tradition of Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Morecombe and Wise, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis or Lano and Woodley, Kelly makes the ideal stupid, camp buffoon and Higgins his suffering companion. The show has been created to cover all the giggle and hoot things that make a young audience excited to be at a show. It keeps the show to an hour and structures it with a clear concept that includes all the gags, slapstick and mistakes that make an audience cleverer than the stupid characters on stage. All in all it’s a recipe for success – silly and senseless.
It’s refreshingly cool in the theatre, so I can’t blame my indifference on the oppressive heat outside The Q Theatre. Maybe I am too intellectually snobbish and would have liked a stronger plot line and varying moods, rather than a spewed out sequence of deliberately contrived devices to make an audience laugh. And what’s wrong with that? Perhaps nothing, but I would have liked something more challenging and original from two obviously able actors.
There are certainly enough reports to declare me to be a stuffy wet blanket. With the 2008 Melbourne Fringe Award for Best Emerging Producers, the 2013 Sydney Theatre Award for Best Production For Children and critical comments such as “If your kids have never been to the theatre before, do them a favour and make this their first experience. It’s something they’ll never forget.” The Scotsman.
So, who am I to judge? Let the audience judge for themselves. And the verdict is clear. The peals of laughter and squeals of excitement from the young audience rated me stupid for wanting something more from The Listies 6D.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare. Cheek by Jowl (Exec Dir Eleanor Lang) with Pushkin Theatre (Art Dir Evgeny Pisarev) (UK/Russia) at Roslyn Packer Theatre (home of Sydney Theatre Company), January 7-11, 2017.
Director – Declan Donnellan; Designer – Nick Ormerod; Lighting – Sergey Skornetskiy; Composer – Pavel Akimkin; Choreographer – Irina Kashuba
Photos by Johan Persson
Duke – Alexander Arsentyev; Isabella – Anna Khalilulina
Angelo – Andrei Kuzichev; Mariana / Mistress Overdone – Elmira Mirel
Claudio – Kiryl Dytsevich; Juliet / Francisca – Anastasia Lebedeva
Escalus – Iurii Rumiantcev; Lucio – Alexander Feklistov; Provost – Alexander Matrosov; Executioner – Ivan Litvinenko; Elbow – Nikolay Kislichenko; Barnadine – Igor Teplov; Pompey / Friar Peter – Alexey Rakhmanov
Reviewed by Frank McKone
I found myself unwilling to accept the style of this strongly Continental European theatrical form until perhaps halfway through its 110 uninterrupted minutes. But the fault was mine. Measure for Measure, indeed.
Shakespeare’s intellect is revealed in this production taking us far beyond what superficially seems to be a romance in which a moral dilemma is resolved to provide satisfaction all round – with three couples dancing happily: the put-upon Isabella with the Duke of reformed understanding; the illegitimate lovers Claudio and Juliet, and their baby; the Duke’s deputy, the unreconstructed patriarchal sexual predator, ironically named Angelo, with Mariana, the woman who secretly took Isabella’s place for Angelo to rape.
Using an expressionist approach drawn from the traditions established by such giants of European theatre as Bertolt Brecht and Jerzy Grotowski, the comedy of misplaced justice and governmental power becomes a forensic exposé, highly significant right now in Australian politics. The dancing at the end is tinged with dark edges, even for the unmarried couple now with their child who have received proper justice. What guarantee do even they have of genuine humane treatment as governments change?
Centrelink’s threatening form of letters making often untrue debt payment demands comes to mind, among other political issues this week.
By the time the play had ended I was thoroughly engaged among an audience giving rousing appreciative extended applause – at 4 in the afternoon, what’s more.
Reflecting on the experience, I see that it was the Brechtian ‘alienation effect’ that kept my empathy for the characters at bay. This was done by the whole cast moving as a group in highly choreographed formations to different locations, even including from downstage left and right apparently inspecting us in the audience. At points, one character would be left standing as the others moved on – the key figures of the Duke, the wealthy Escalus, the Friar Peter with a spare cloak for the Duke’s disguise, Angelo, and the unfortunate trainee nun Isabella, sister of Claudio, condemned to death for his illicit relationship with Juliet. And so our focus was heightened on the central characters in a complex legalistic moral argument, as Angelo tries to force himself upon Isabella, claiming that if she allows him to have his way, he will (acting on behalf of the disguised apparently absent Duke) let her brother live.
The clever aspect of the design and directing, as the Duke as Friar John watches events from the point of view of an ordinary citizen, was to maintain the focus objectively on the moral argument until the very end – the alienation effect – better even than Brecht himself had done. For example, if there’s one scene you will remember from Mother Courage and her Children, it is Katrin being shot as she drums to alert the village below of an impending attack. We identify purely emotionally with her and the villagers, and against the soldiers at this point. The ‘alienation effect’, of thinking abstractly about the power situation, has flown away – and Katrin’s mother seems nothing but hard-hearted in the final scene.
I suspect, though I don’t think anyone can say how Shakespeare’s audience saw the original production of Measure for Measure, that he would be pleased to see how Declan Donnellan has kept us on the edge as the couples dance into the blackout. Claudio and Juliet are engrossed in each other, but maybe not wanting to think about their future reality. Marianne takes Angelo in hand and makes him dance, like the uncomprehending puppet he really is. She wants him for her own purposes. And the Duke’s insistent expectation that Isabella, the woman who has had to twist and turn against the forces of overwhelming power, will now easily marry him, leaves her in shock. She hesitates to dance, and only does so on notice – though he doesn’t seem to notice her doubts.
The music is jolly, and we all found ourselves clapping in time and cheering for the third ‘curtain’ call – by then celebrating both the high quality of the acting and design, appreciating the practitioners at work – and recognising the intellectual stamina in maintaining a production to match Shakespeare’s best intentions.
|Anna Khalilulina and Kiryl Dytsevich|
as Isabella and her brother Claudio
in Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
Cheek by Jowl with Pushkin Theatre Moscow
Script and Musical Composition: Gabriel Dharmoo
Voice and Performance: Gabriel Dharmoo
Video/Sound Collaborators: Ménad Kesraoui, Paul Neudorf, James O'Callaghan
Actors (on video) as "specialists": Alexandrine Agostini, Daniel Anez, Florence Blain Mbaye, Luc-Martial Dagenais and Catherine Lefrançois.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
How to describe this exhibition in the “Memory Museum” is my first challenge. It’s essentially a soundscape which at first is intriguing, being created by a spotlit Dharmoo live on stage in front of a blank screen from which emanate mysterious background noises which may or may not be related to the live sounds. Weird rather than dramatic at this stage.
The audience of about 40 sat waiting, politely, unsure how to respond.
Fortunately, completely serendipitously, I realised I had two anthropologists sitting next to me (from ANU and Macquarie Uni). They had been talking of David Williamson’s Heretic, of Margaret Mead and Derek Freeman. I had reviewed that play (Canberra Times: Sydney Theatre Company at the Canberra Theatre Centre, Wednesday June 12, 1996. Directed by Wayne Harrison. Available at www.frankmckone2.blogspot.com) and knew the arguments about anthropologists making ludicrous assumptions about “primitive” societies, and being taken for a ride by the not so naïve “subjects” they interviewed.
Dharmoo’s “exhibits” were “mouth sounds”, perhaps forms of music, perhaps proto-languages from a series of rare populations, each with a very odd name. Real or fictional? We could not be sure as apparently academic experts appeared on screen giving their interpretations of these societies based on their cultures as expressed in their sounds.
At last one drought-stricken society’s ceremonial singing under water (Dharmoo bubbling and spluttering with his face in a bowl of real water) gave the game away. Our laughter took over and became the dominant feature of the drama from this point. It was such fun be fooled so cleverly. My anthropology neighbours laughed loudest. Dharmoo finally, in his role as a charismatic “primitive” persuaded us to participate in a kind of part-singing/mouth-sound-making session.
Through the laughter a theme began to develop, which could be seen to diverge. On the one hand we found ourselves enjoying making fun of the pretensions of “Western” style anthropology – made even funnier for those who spoke French, though my academic neighbours said the subtitles were pretty good. As we all knew, especially all the academics in this audience at Sydney University’s Seymour Centre, French speaking anthropologists are the most pretentious. I gather, too, the joke is particularly humorous in Canada, at least in English speaking regions.
But a twist came when the names and qualifications of the “specialists” appeared on screen. One was no better than the worst of all politicians – a seriously condescending and dour faced commentator earlier in the “exhibition”, she turned out to be the Minister for Assimilation. The implications for Dharmoo’s home country, Canada, are hardly less damning than for any number of our politicians here in Australia when we consider the attempts to “breed out” Indigenous people and devalue their cultures over the past two or more centuries. For me the laughter was brought to a sudden and upsetting halt at that point.
But it was this point that gave the drama strength.
Sound and video design and editing, and the acting on screen, matched the intensity and originality of Dharmoo’s performance, which was quite extraordinary, ranging from harmonic throat singing through to an amazing array of clicks, blurps, implosives and explosives, all accompanied by physical forms, movement and rhythms far beyond what I thought any normal person could be expected to display.
For my first show from the 2017 Sydney Festival, Anthropologies Imaginaires was a terrific lead-in – exactly why we should bring in acts from other cultures to show us new artistic possibilities.