Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Weekend in Sydney: The Harp in the South parts 1 and 2 (STC) Candide (Sydney Philharmonia Choirs) Macbeth (Pop up Globe)

This is the way to spend a weekend; both parts of Sydney Theatre Company’s The Harp in the South followed by Candide in a concert version at the Sydney Opera House and Macbeth from the Pop Up Shakespeare out at the old Showground.

Brief notices only but four pieces all rather splendid in their own ways.

I can claim to have been born (but not bred) in 1940s Surrey Hills (Crown St Women’s Hospital) so some of the resonances of Ruth Park’s three novels (Missus/The Harp in the South/Poor Man’s Orange) and Kate Mulvany’s poetically and politically powerful adaptation certainly speak to me.
The struggles of the Darcy family get the knowing nods of those in the audience who know what kalsomine was but also what disadvantage might have felt like in the 1940s and 50s. Lost children, unwilling sex, the brothel, the power of the Catholic church, illegal abortion, gender inequity, violence, inadequate educational opportunities and powerlessness stand alongside love and the celebration of origins that are fading from first hand knowledge.  The Darcys have a slowly fading Irish heritage among the indigenous, the Chinese, the arriving Mediterraneans. And Surrey Hills itself changes as the sound of buildings being demolished echoes through the second play.
A large and splendid cast including the likes of Bruce Spence and Tara Morice with particularly striking performances from Contessa Treffone as Dolour, the younger daughter and eventual rock of the Darcys and Heather Mitchell as the luminous old Irish granny Eny Kilker kept two packed houses rapt for an afternoon and an evening. Tickets have a resemblance to hen’s teeth.

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ Candide has been and gone but proved an invaluable chance to see and hear a version of Leonard Bernstein’s take on Voltaire’s essay on optimism. Mitchell Butel directed the Sydney Youth Orchestra, a huge choir and a very deft cast in a costumed but concert version with Brett Weymark holding it all together as conductor. The restrictions of this occasionally felt as if they were holding back the performances but it was hard to resist a genial cast with Phil Scott as narrator/ Dr Pangloss, Carol O’Connor terse and world weary as The Old Lady, Annie Aitken as a hugely enjoyable Cunegonde and Alexander Lewis as a convincingly innocent and lyrical Candide.
The performances might have been straining to burst out of the concert format but the music was terrific, the chorus’ on stage costume changes transformational and the final number reconciled us to concentrating on cultivating our gardens.
Over at what I suddenly realised was the Royal Easter Showground of my childhood partly destroyed by the strangely un-entertaining fast food outlets of the Entertainment Quarter a Kiwi Pop Up Globe is hosting four Shakespeares, one of which is Macbeth.  The space itself has that intimacy notable in London’s reconstructed Globe and ought to be visited on study grounds alone.
This version of the Scottish play has few surprises unless you count having Lady Macbeth attempting to warn the Macduffs and the three witches occasionally seeming like a mediaeval Andrews Sisters tribute group.
However, it does not plod and has the added attraction for younger audiences of sword fighting and the flinging about of a lot of bodily fluids.  I would steer clear of the groundlings area if blood and urine does not appeal. The witches make especially good use of multiple trapdoors in the stage which also facilitate the disposal of corpses, there’s audience interaction and the whole thing moves at commendable speed.

They are also offering A Midsummer Nights’ Dream, The Merchant of Venice and The Comedy of Errors.

Alanna Maclean