Friday, September 7, 2012

Thoughts on: God/pool (no water) /Midsummer Nights Scenes /Ngapartji Ngapartji /South Pacific /The Memory of Water.

by Alanna Maclean

Seen a lot in the last few weeks and feel the need to comment on a few shows.

Everyman Theatre’s sharp and funny double bill was a ‘letting the hair down’ kind of night with directors Duncan Driver and Duncan Ley having a lot of theatrical fun, first of all with Woody Allen then with the rather nastier humour of English playwright Mark Ravenhill.

God is a piece of anarchy with a Woody Allen-type character at the centre of it. Philosophy and history and Classical Greek theatre come into it, but basically it’s a bemused look at existence and theatre with the poor old Actor (Jarred West) caught in the middle. He has to cope with the ego of Hepatitis (The Writer) (Duncan Ley) as they try to put on a play that involves some of the usual suspects,  The Fates (Euan Bowan and Amy Dunham). The Guard (Zac Drury) and The King (Euan Bowan), while the ‘know nothing/know it all’ Chorus (Wayne Shepherd) lurks around (mostly upstage avoiding trouble).

This got the fast and furious treatment with clever updates and local references making it a good warm up for the real meat of the evening, Ravenhill’s pool (no water), an absorbing, funny yet repellent exploration of morality. A group of friends reunite with a friend who is a much more successful artist than any of them, despite ambition, can hope to be. Are they her friends? Is she theirs? Jarred West, Steph Roberts Amy Dunham and Zach Raffan worked as a tight team, almost at times as one entity, as the play twisted its way through complex viewpoints. All of this was done on a very spare set with multiple locations often suggested by the movement and position of the actors themselves. Their movement was sometimes as convoluted as the twisting plot.

There’s always a sense of assured theatrical polish and intelligence in an Everyman show.

CYT’s A Midsummer Nights Scenes worked in a rougher, more risk taking way but left a similar sense of intelligence. For two nights only the Teen Ensemble set Shakespeare against the screen, running pieces of A Midsummer Night’s Dream against an intriguing selection of recent film takes on love. A cunning set put characters like Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius and Oberon, Titania and Puck into the local multiplex where their forest struggles with love and jealousies and misunderstandings were played among the vocal popcorn eating audiences for films like Titanic and Ever After and Four Weddings and a Funeral. As should be the case the whole lovely tangle was topped by a grand Pyramus and Thisbe, with a stalwart female Pyramus offset by a Thisbe who brought the theatre to a hush when he took off his wig and reverted to his usual voice partway through the finding of the dead Pyramus. The boy actor became the boy and the tragedy struck home.

Big hART’s Ngapartji Ngapartji has had notice before in this blog but it sat beautifully in the Canberra Playhouse, reminding audiences not to forget what was done at Maralinga. (I used to feel very reassured that the British had ‘tested an atomic device’. At least it wasn’t an atomic bomb, I would tell myself.) Trevor Jamieson is an unforgettable storyteller, as he was in Namatjira. Poetic, important, unmissable work.

South Pacific has had enthusiastic reviews and as a child audience for the first Australian production where father was driving a follow spot in Sydney I certainly found myself absorbed. I was struck back then by two things, Bloody Mary (Virginia Paris) being hypnotic in Bali Hai and the bloody great brooding volcano of Bali Hai on the backdrop.

Opera Australia opted for much less brooding and a rather visually pallid approach to the robust light and vegetation of places like Vanuatu but I suppose this is a post modern approach. At least it was uncluttered and the set changes went with a speed that ought to be studied by any theatre group still in the throes of the black out and the black clad holding up the action. Yes, the Opera House does have quite a deal of stage machinery that helps but there are ways.

However, Teddy Tahu Rhodes’ deep and effortless voice as Emile was worth the trip to Bennelong Point and the sections of typescript MSS from James Michener’s Tales from the South Pacific which were on the opening and closing act drops were grand and moving. I kept wishing the audience would stop to read them. But no, it was musical comedy time at the preview and they were mostly chatting to their neighbours and singing along with the overture and even applauding at various points in it. I also wish our audiences would learn to wait until a number has actually finished before clapping. As for the disastrous practice of clapping along with the music, yes, it surfaced in South Pacific (bet Teddy Tahu Rhodes never gets that in Don Giovanni). I know the male chorus encouraged it in a bit of pre act two business and it was not happening during the singing, but it is an intrusion even during curtain calls. 

As musician and humorist Martin Pearson once said while ticking off a Canberra audience with similar proclivities, ‘I might try it without your kind assistance…’

Everyman Theatre’s Two Comedies: God by Woody Allen directed by Duncan Driver /pool (no water) by Mark Ravenhill directed by Duncan Ley at The Courtyard Studio Canberra Theatre Centre, July 19-28.

Midsummer Nights Scenes. Directed by Alister Emerson and Craig Higgs. C-Block Theatre, Canberra Youth Theatre. Gorman House, August 24 -25.

Ngapartji Ngapartji

South Pacific 

And here’s a link to my Canberra Times review of another recent excellent production, Canberra Rep’s Memory of Water.