peteg's blog - noise - theatre

Griffin Theatre: Diving for Pearls by Katherine Thomson.

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With Tigôn, $20 rush tickets, bought before midday (!). She had a Coopers green, I had a too-sweet imported cider. We walked there from Glebe via the Botanic Gardens. The domain travelator was defunct.

This play is about the decline of steady jobs, masculinity, family values, industrial semi-skilled labour, life possibilities and how ill-suited some (or most?) people are to these sharky risk-laden days. Northern Wollongong provides the setting. The leading man (Den, a natural Steve Rodgers) anchors things, aching to be a father as he realises his life hasn't really started and he's fifty. Ursula Yovich fiercely animates Barbara, a woman he knew from long ago who just might be up for something when they meet at a funeral. Jack Finsterer (brother of Anni and married to Justine Clarke) is intense as Ron; there's a sincerity to his performance that is slightly at odds with him being an experienced consultant with little skin in the game. Ebony Vagulans is magnetic and very fine as the daughter, and Michelle Doake owns her scenes as the matronly Marj. The acting was uniformly excellent.

James Browne's set and Benjamin Brockman's lighting made excellent and versatile use of the Griffin's tiny stage. Darren Yap's direction was note perfect.

Tigôn found Barbara too strident, and it is one of the few weak points of Thomson's script that need and hunger are so unsubtly portrayed. Conversely family traditions are brilliantly evoked, as is the fragility of what Den has; I guess he would now be advised to get into bespoke artisan coal trucks. In some ways the themes echo David Williamson's The Club.

Reviews were universally laudatory. Jason Blake. Ben Neutze. Diana Simmonds.

Darlinghurst Theatre: In Real Life by Julian Larnach.

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A freebie from somewhere, 7:30pm, with Dave, my first time at the Eternity Playhouse. (I used to go to Darlinghurst Theatre fairly regularly when they were in Elizabeth Bay.) I had an early dinner and walked over from Glebe on a suboptimal route. It was about 80% full, and mostly grey haired.

Like The Nether, the raw material is not great: this is about the imposition of tech on our lives, the eternal tropes of the younger gen versus the older (and specifically mother and daughter dynamics/histrionics), conservatism that creeps with age, the realisation of the vacuity of a life's work, healing via alcoholism. Fortunately the two actors (Anni Finsterer and Elizabeth Nabben, the latter vividly evoking several characters) eeked some humour from the script. I had some hope that the third character — "the drum", a Facebook stand in — would morph into a Dalek and give them both something to really think about. Perhaps this was targeted at the audience who showed up: a somewhat abstracted presentation of tech issues and utopianism, arch dismissals of the arch dismissals of the world weary youngster, a way to talk to your grandkids.

For all that I agree with Dave that the set (Georgia Hopkins) and lighting design (Sian James-Holland) and sound design/composition (James Brown) were great; this is a valliant production.

Jason Blake.

Belvoir: Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen.

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I booked this a long time ago (2017-05-27) with some expectation that the raw material would be good after seeing Ibsen's A Doll's House in Chicago a few years back. This was a preview, $40, seat J24, and my first visit to Belvoir in a long while. It was packed with generational lifelong theatre goers; are Sydney productions generally too expensive or too conservative for young people?

The set is simple, not so different to that for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Pamela Rabe anchors the piece wonderfully, and the entire cast worked well. It is indeed a play for the ages: ideas that shook the foundations of society in the 19th century depressingly still need championing in the 21st.

Jason Blake.

Seymour Centre: The Nether by Catnip Productions.

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7:30pm, Reginald Theatre seats E16/17, a freebie from somewhere. Somewhat packed with most coming right on the starting time, like a movie, and similarly the ladies behind me decided the two-thirds mark was a great time to unpack snacks from noisy wrappers. As it was a preview, I'll refrain from commenting on the production beyond observing that the acting and set are well conceived and totally fine.

The play itself (by Jennifer Haley) is fair game though. It aspires to transfuse Mamet's revelatory power-struggle seesaw Oleanna with the absolute and timeless transgressiveness of Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita (but not its poetics), all while holding things at the remove of virtual unreality, of realms where consequence is neutered. (That this play has a plot shows that the author doesn't take that claim too seriously; but surely we can call the internet the internet in 2017.) The use of big button-pushing topics struggled to make the audience uncomfortable however, and precluded the big theatrical moves (nudity, language, circus, ...) that may have lifted the piece. Often it felt like an undergraduate philosophy seminar, or perhaps an ethics debate at Facebook: a bit too abstract, privileged and question-begging.

The angle seems to be that technology will further democratize repugnant transactions, just as cheap airfares have democratized planetary destruction, and that the libertarians are going to need better arguments than those presented here if they are to avoid corporate vengeance. Kobek presented a far more nuanced present-day version of this in i hate the internet, which I'd summarise as: there's an apocalypse going on, and it's still going on. See Ben Brantley at the New York Times for more; he too considers this at most a play for the moment. Jason Blake concurs that the production plays it too safe.

Briefly: where the theatre once mythologized, now it struggles to neologize.

Guild Theatre: The Rose Tattoo by Tennesse Williams.

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A bit spur-of-the-moment after a day at Centennial Park and UNSW, which was having its open day. 8pm, $25, seat B10, closing night down in Rockdale. I tried booking on their website and got an email asking me to call them back, or to simply show up at 7:30pm or later. Finding a coffee was a little tricky; a lady with a cute little European-style food joint sorted me out on the far side of the Rockdale train station.

This was a community theatre thing. The lead actress (in the role of Serafina Delle Rose) was solid and even better when she had someone else to act with, such as the bloke playing Alvaro Mangiacavallo. I found the audience a bit rude, often talking during the action. Not the best raw material, being somewhat dated and pointless, but somewhat fun nevertheless.

David Kary.

Griffin Theatre: Rice by Michele Lee.

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7pm, a freebie from bAKEHOUSE theatre company. Dinner was a bento at a Japanese place on Darlinghurst Road. A preview, I think, and packed.

I went in with no expectations but had heard of its sold-out season in Brisbane. The setup is two women bouncing off each other, shifting amongst a small set of characters with different concerns and stakes. There's a lot of swearing that was probably supposed to be somehow authentic and arresting, and too much histrionics in the mode of Home and Away. I found it all a bit cliched, but did appreciate the efforts of the two actors (Kristy Best, Hsiao-Ling Tang) to inflate the stagnant material. It's a long way from The Ham Funeral in almost all theatrical dimensions.

Ben Neutze. Jason Blake.

Jack Rabbit Theatre: Front at The Depot Theatre.

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5pm, a freebie via the Kings Cross Theatre newsletter, with Lev, who was in Sydney for the school holidays. This was a bunch of young kids in solid Have a Cigar territory (hey, I never realised that was Roy Harper out front on that song). It's episodic, with some now-cliched temporal mixing. The performances were good, and the set effective, but the raw source material cleaved too close to the unsurprising. We were clearly there to make up the numbers of what was essentially a friends and family crowd. The lead bloke had a three-by-three muppet portait shirt on and it took me a while to realise that I couldn't name any beyond the first row.

NIDA Student Productions: Eurydike + Orpheus.

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Booked with The Caucasian Chalk Circle, same deal: $56.00 for two, 2017-05-27, booking fee $5.95 covered both. 7:30pm start, the Parade Theatre, but a little late. Again Pinnocchio's for dinner, and this time a coffee from the UNSW gym, where the kids sure can scream, and their mothers have sharp elbows. I would've respected them more if they'd rucked me to get at the lollies.

Somewhat like All our Tragic, Jane Montgomery Griffiths munged some Greek classics into an hour and a bit of circus set in the underworld. For mine there were too many words, and drawing a connection with mathematics is almost always a too flimsy gambit. (For instance: the Kepler conjecture is no longer a conjecture, and packing spheres isn't easily or effectively connected to packing Hades with the dead. Let's quietly ignore clangers like "the equation for love.") Why they don't ask a maths student for help I don't know. The sets were impressive.

NIDA Student Productions: The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

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I booked this very early, back on 2017-05-27: $56.00 for two people and a $5.95 booking fee for this and the next night's one. 8pm start, but not particularly timely: and the students carried out a tendentious pseudo-debate about asylum seekers before getting the action underway. I had dinner at Pinnocchio's beforehand, and tried to hack in the UNSW Library, and more effectively, at NIDA. The dear old cafe there is gone, but I did score a drip coffee from a nice bloke at the bar.

I have a soft spot for Brecht from vague recollections of a NUTS production of In the Jungle of Cities back in the late 1990s. This one was firstly about the struggles of a woman taken to be an unwed mother, and secondly the Solomonic "chalk circle" that resolves the question of the maternity of the bloke in a (kangaroo) courtroom, but really is about the law being an ass. The acting was great, and the props and effects fantastic: they skillfully evoked rain, wind, lightning in a dirt-floored tent outside, in NIDA's Atrium. (I half expected the mechatronic dragons from the Chopin to put in a showing.) I'd say the first act dragged a little as it was almost uniformly hopeless, whereas the second was comedic; the lead actor (whose name I didn't get) could probably have made Shylock amusing.

Miranda Otto apparently starred in a production of this back in 1989. There's a photo near the box office.

Siren Theatre Co: The Ham Funeral at Griffin Theatre.

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7pm, $20, bought at few minutes past midday; it seems strange to sell rush tickets online. The ride over was pretty quick, and I got a park on top of the tunnel on Kings Cross Road. There's a chill in the air now that seems more serious than the cold snap of a few weeks ago. It was my first time there since Summertime in the Garden of Eden, a more modern piece of subversion.

This is Patrick White's first play from the 1940s, and while no one is going to be shocked by it now, it still has some bite. I sat in the front row, which I wouldn't recommend: the odd-shaped stage is not very suitable for this kind of closely staged work, and at least some of the time I was looking at an actor's back while the action continued behind them. The cast was fine, especially Eliza Logan in the lead as Mrs Lusty. There's some trashcan action at the start of the second act that reminded me of Beckett's later Endgame. Things held together pretty well up to the last movement, where the poet (Sebastian Robinson) is chased by Mrs Lusty around the table, and things got a bit limp. Jenny Wu played ethereal fluff like it was Shakespeare; perhaps there's a Hamlet out there in need of her skills.

Ben Neutze. Jason Blake. Cassie Tongue. I saw the New Theatre production of it back in 2013, as did Kevin Jackson.

Headed up to Café Hernandez afterwards, for a drink with Dave, back from Melbourne earlier in the evening.

King Street Theatre: Down An Alley Filled With Cats by Warwick Moss.

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$35 + $0.30 transaction fee, booked 2017-05-12. King Street Theatre is pretty much in St Peters. I think Judith Greenaway's review sold it to me; in any case I was misguided. (Other reviews are similarly incoherently tepid and boosterish: Matthew MacDonald for instance, gives it three stars but highly recommends going.) She was right about the 80s classics during the interval (Redgum, Midnight Oil, etc.) but the play itself was not that close to her description. Sure, there's two blokes in a bookshop (filled with anachronisms for 1984), but they tend to shout at each other and ham it up in between. I couldn't tell if it was the production or the play itself that was letting things down, so perhaps both. The spontaneous revelations were nowhere plausible.

The writer and (I think) director were in the audience for this closing night, which lead to an awkward outro.

The Depot Theatre: Educating Rita.

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I scored a free double pass to this preview (or one to the opening on Friday, but Dave was heading out for a tango that night) from somewhere; I've subscribed to too many arts newsletters, and still I hardly go to anything. The Depot Theatre is in the same community area as The Bower, on Addison Road in Marrickville. I hadn't seen the movie. We grabbed some dinner before (a decent laksa at the Mekong Noodle Bar in Marrickville, near the post office) and a coffee from Pagoto gelateria on Victoria.

We had perhaps the best seats in the house (right from the entry corridor, front row furthest along). Like the last thing I saw (A Clockwork Orange, two months ago!), this one is venerable and stood in need of some modernisation, or at least adaptation to the current day. The acting was solid (Emily McGowan, David Jeffrey), and the set worked well, and I wasn't at all bored with the episodic nature of it. It now seems so tame when set against something more recent like Oleanna. These days it's probably more typical to go looking for a self to actualize, and after coming up empty-handed proceeding to vacuous power games; things no amount of Blake is really going to help with.

SUDS: A Clockwork Orange.

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$10 + $0.30 booking fee, booked 2017-03-17. As always, I booked before I'd really thought it through. Opening night, a sympathetic crowd, packed, late start. The Cellar foyer was stuffy but we were OK once seated.

I saw this with Kate, under the influence, back in the late 90s, and had memories of being a little too close to the action that night; this time I was in the front row and oftentimes making too much eye contact with the cast, barely a metre or so distant. This revival was anodyne, and you'd have struggled to follow the plot without prior exposure. In particular they omitted the key scene where Alex attempts suicide towards the end. Some of the acting was solid. I'd remove the intermissions and maybe rework the narrative bits to paper over more of the discontinuities.

Last week I went to their Gaslight but left at intermission to go pick Dave and Evie up from the airport. Again a solid production, but I couldn't fathom why they'd put on something of the Saturday-night-on-the-ABC genre.

Back to Back Theatre: Lady Eats Apple at the Carriageworks.

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$40.01 = $35 + various surcharges, booked 2017-03-16 on fear of it being booked out (it was, and the session I would have preferred — Friday's Auslan-interpreted one — was too). It's been more than three years since I've been to the Carriageworks; their ritz bar doesn't do coffee at 7:30pm on Saturday nights, which makes reading Voss a little more challenging.

The sales pitch for this one was that it was developed collaboratively by people with and without disabilities. I enjoyed the one piece of deaf theatre I saw while studying Auslan in Melbourne, and Adam Hills makes much gentle, powerful humour from sign language and his missing foot. Of course placing young adults with intellectual disabilities at the centre of this sort of thing is challenging for all concerned, and one may wonder if the audience is going to feel things are too Ricky Gervais for comfort.

Well, two girls did leave during the performance. (Actually getting in was a bit of a challenge with all my gear as they forced us through an inflated airlock/vaginal type structure.) The headphones seemed spurious. The first of the three acts (An Insecure God) was something of a mashup of Christian creation myths, somewhat successful. The second (Matter Creates Matter) was a washout. I got thinking that it might have been due to my glasses having a polarization filter as I could make out some shapes clearly through my peripheral vision, but really there wasn't enough to get a grip on. Act 3 (The Human Bond) has the cast play contract cleaners, charting the paucity of personal growth opportunities (driving was verboten for the bloke with Down Syndrome) and in particular romance. It was somewhat effective: Sarah Mainwaring's diction is a wonder, so careful, precise, and evocative she should be making airplane safety ads. Seriously, I would pay attention to those if she was: her every word left me hanging.

I sat in the second row and was surprised to strike up a conversation with the Persian bloke I climbed over to get to a seat. (Theatre seating designers, think a bit about how general admission works, and don't stick one set of steps up the middle; put one on each edge of the risers.) He was generally quite down on Sydney. His partner was silent. Afterwards I rode down to the new-ish Max Brenner's in Alexandria, which strangely enough is open until 11pm.

Cameron Woodhead saw an earlier version in Melbourne. Jo Litson says the music for Act 2 was by Chris Abrahams. Jane Howard.

Red Line Productions: Crimes of the Heart at the Old Fitzroy Hotel.

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Last minute freebie. Preview, opens Friday. Straight southern gothic, oh my. The mostly-female cast was great, the production solid in this first outing. It was a bit weird being back at the Old Fitzroy Hotel; the coffee neon in the corner is still there, the bar about the same; it could have been 2005. The ride over and back was quite fun; the city is quite dead after 7:30pm, and the skies had been blue for a few hours. Got the CB400 up to 10.5k revs in first gear on the spaghetti monster flyover. :-)

Triumph by Louris van de Geer, at IO Myers Studio.

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$20, booked 2017-02-26. Stupidly I filled this first working week in a long while with night events. I'm toasted.

If one scene makes a play, the final movement of this three-parter, set in a misty eucalyptus forest, evoked by a smoke machine and the passivity of the cast, justifies going to this. The playwright is from Melbourne, and reviews of a production there make me think I missed a lot of what this is about. It's a cliche that people bound through adversity; perhaps there's a new angle in here somewhere. The production is part of the Performance Production course at the School of the Arts and Media at UNSW.

It's been almost 18 months since I last went to the theatre. Earlier this year I signed up to all the whats-on mailing lists I could find — though I expect most of the action is on FaceBook these days — and scored a freebie to a preview of Superhal at NIDA on Monday night past, which I went to with Sugam. I refrain from commenting on it as the performance was a preview; The Sydney Arts Guide reviewed it after it opened.

The Artistic Home: The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan.

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Goldstar ticket: $14.00 + $4.25 service fee = $18.25. Rode the bike up from South Oakley. The forecast was for high teens but it turned into a beautiful Autumn day of light winds and twenty degrees. This was the first venue I went to in Chicago; their production of The Late Henry Moss put me off the rest of the previous season. I guess I was sold on some kind of nostalgia and a solid review by Dan Jakes in the Reader. This session was packed.

Well, I tried to get into it but was defeated by sleepiness. Should have had a caffeinated coffee beforehand. The play takes a similar ensemble form to Balm in Gilead but there is never more than half the cast on stage at once. The set perfectly evokes a dive bar down on the waterfront of San Francisco, 1939 (or so I imagine). The depression and coming war are in the background, and this is all small-scale trials and tribulations of people grafting in the neighbourhood, or getting in the way of that grafting. There's some very funny dialogue in the middle between the philosophizing longshoreman McCarthy and his childhood buddy Krupp, a cop. An anonymously rich man anchors proceedings, which is somewhat flawed as he almost always presents as the puppet master of his offsider.

Jacob Davis.

Theatre Y: An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences: Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger

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The last Theatre Y show at the Lutheran Church on Francisco Avenue near Logan Square, a preview. No tickets this time, and the customary free beer, before and after; a full house, an appreciative crowd. Where else were you going to be on this Friday night?

This play is about a Dutch librarian who thinks he is Poirot. That this is already a totally preposterous premise for worthwhile theatre should have you planning to be at one of the out-and-about taking-it-to-the-people editions. Darren Hill is the sole performer and perfectly inhabits the character. (The accent and mannerisms so obscure his native self that I wouldn't have guessed he was from Blackpool.) In the talk afterwards the production was unpacked as a collaboration between Darren, who had been fascinated by the play itself for several years, and Melissa, who as director helped him completely realize the Dutchman, in particular by constructing a vocabulary of physical tics that were startingly persuasive. The character's identity is ambiguous. Melissa observed that it was unusual for her to be part of a production that drew laughter from the audience. She said it was unlikely to be reviewed by the mainstream Chicago press as it was not in a traditional format, with a fixed address; I'm wondering how the bar-goers of Chicago are going to take it. Twin boys (age 12) framed it with ukulele-based musical pieces, in bluegrass (?) style.

My only disappointment about this show was in not seeing Melissa perform one last time. I managed to unload The Moon of Hoa Binh on Evan, and was the last to leave. It was raining earlier in the day so I took the bus and Blue line there, but walked home in clear skies.

Update 2015-10-03: Review in the Reader.

Oracle Theatre: This House Believes the American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro at the Public Access Theatre.

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Free, $20 donation at the end, booked 2015-08-27. Took the red line up as I was feeling lazy, and the weather was supposedly dicey. This was a recreation of a debate in the Cambridge Union in 1965. Apparently the original is online. The opening statements by the two Englishmen were provocative; for the negative, the argument was that the American Dream would be further along if the American Negro had been treated better. (The title elides "has been achieved".) The main part of it was essentially a pair of monologues from James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr, and I found neither particularly edifying. Buckley in particular made it clear how much American rhetoric rests on the invocation of tribal shibboleths that are substantially irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is perhaps why it is unconvincing to foreigners. I gave up trying to process his assertions very early on. But where are the contemporary debates held now?

The production is quite OK, and has been staged multiple times. Aimee Levitt at the Reader got right into it.

Profiles Theatre: The Jacksonian.

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Goldstar ticket: $10.00 + $6.50 service fee = $16.50, bought 2015-08-06. I met up with mrak and Ang for lunch in Chinatown. We took the water taxi back to Madison, and as I was too lazy to cycle I then took the red line up to Sheridan. Those stations are seriously not accessible; carrying the bike up and down stairs and squeezing through those gates is not fun. My old reliable Asian Mix Cafe was closed, this being the Sunday of the Labor Day long weekend, so I had to make do with a couple of donuts and a 312 beer. I got talking to Vicky, who wrote Late Night Catechism.

So, this is another Southern gothic with a girl running around a hotel room in her undies (at times). There's a demented dentist who loses it as his family life decays. The barkeep is a tad psychotic and the maid on the make. Yeah, it's a solid production of some tired and mediocre material. I saw Juliana Liscio in Take Me Back; here she has a meatier role but is still somewhat squandered.

The cycle home was pleasant, though there seemed to be a mild, steady southerly all day.

Tony Adler. And many others.