peteg's blog - noise - theatre

Throwing Shade Theatre Co.: The Caretaker by Harold Pinter at The Actors Pulse.

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Cheap Tuesday: $25 + $0.30 booking fee, booked 2017-11-27. I was a bit skeptical about whether this production would be worth seeing after going to the previous Throwing Shade Theatre Co. effort Down An Alley Filled With Cats, but, you know, this was Pinter's first big success and Jason Blake was effusive. I'm glad I went.

All three actors are brilliant, especially Nicholas Papademetriou as the homeless aspiring caretaker Davies/Jenkins, who is never short of a timely facial tick to kick things along. Andrew Langcake is incredibly passive, and yet earnt the biggest laugh when he calls time on the old man's residency. Similarly Alex Bryant-Smith is a classic English bruiser, mercurial and genuinely dangerous; never more so than when he sketches his plans for renovation. The set is overstuffed with junk and effective even from the worst seat in the house (where I was: front row, far right, on the wrong side of the draughty window). Courtney Powell's direction was perfect for the tiny space.

As Blake observed, this play is roughly 60 years old, canonically Pinteresque and very contemporary. Racism, real estate aspirations, brotherly disconnects, security, division without conquest are served up without a blink. The geographic references are pure London and perhaps I missed its subtext. It reminded me a lot of the performances I saw at A Red Orchid Theatre; in general, and not just their playful and (re-)inventive Celebration. Perhaps only American companies can serve up Pinter with the disrespect and levity he deserves.

The Old 505 Theatre: Plastic by Mark Rogers.

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A last-minute freebie from somewhere, 8pm, preview, first time at The Old 505 Theatre. This was closer to student theatre than the NIDA things I've been to. Structurally the raw material is quite similar to Birdland: we're mostly waiting for a man to receive his comeuppance, leavened with ladies. I was pretty toasted, even after a coffee from the cafe next to the Dendy, and didn't get into it much. The audience packed out the place and was often quite indulgent.

NIDA: The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.

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Booked on 2017-10-14 for $28.00 + $5.95 booking fee split with The Country Wife. I had my customary dinner at Pinocchio Sushi beforehand. About 50% full. I'd had a busy day and the evening was quadruple booked, which made this piece hard to follow. The set was minimal, the costumes appropriate, some of the acting was great, but the play itself was not well-suited to the strangely shaped Studio Theatre (far better use was made of it in 2012) and it didn't seem to speak to the present day much at all. I wonder why they chose it.

NIDA: The Country Wife by William Wycherly.

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Booked on 2017-10-14 for $28.00 + $5.95 booking fee split with The Changeling, which I'll go to next Monday. These are the some of the end-of-year productions for the second year (?) students; I went to the mid-year ones back in June. As always I took the opportunity to have dinner at the seemingly timeless Pinocchio Sushi beforehand. UNSW was overflowing with students pretending to study.

This was the opening night and they started fifteen minutes late. (They finished up around 10pm, thirty minutes late.) From the map I thought seat D-16 (centre, two rows from the front) would be alright but the eyeline is approximately at the shin level of the players. The set was a moderately sophisticated two-level balcony/staircase construction that effectively evoked the interiors of various residences but not really the mean streets of pivotal action. The acting was uniformly excellent, playfully hamming up what could have been some stodgy raw material; Tom Wright directed his cast brilliantly. They were (listed here because NIDA appears not to):

  • Margery Pinchwife — Emma Kew (made everything of her scenes)
  • Harry Horner — Andrew Fraser (effortless, lethally charismatic; Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire mode)
  • Jack Pinchwife — Joshua Crane (flawless, demonstrating a strong will to be cuckholded)
  • Sparkish — Jack Richardson (skillful; the character is too vapid)
  • Alithea Pinchwife — Chika Ikogwe (a difficult character: she escapes an "honorable" marriage for one with a man who seems quite shallow, though there are some good lines amongst the hand wringing.)
  • Lady Fidget — Laura Jackson (perfectly arch as an honourably randy lady, determined to get in first)
  • Dainty Fidget — Bridie McKim (a completely effective and amusingly ditzy wanton; I wonder how I can see her film work)
  • Mrs Squeamish — Daya Czepanski (fine, a largely auxiliary character)
  • Lucy — Heidi May (an effective too-wise lady-in-waiting)
  • Sir Jasper Fidget — Nyx Calder (solid; I think I saw him earlier in the year)
  • Frank Harcourt — Danen Engelenberg (a bit too quiet somehow; above it all)
  • A Quack/Old Lady Squeamish — Vivienne Awosoga (very good as the doctor; the other character seems completely dispensable)

It deserved a far longer run than it got.

New Theatre: Birdland by Simon Stephens.

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I hadn't been to New Theatre in an age. They're still Bolshie with their $20 Thrifty Thursdays, so I booked a ticket on 2017-10-14. The 7:30pm start inspired a dash after a work meeting drug on past its scheduled 6:50pm stop time; and this after I ran out to get some mediocre Thai from the place on Glebe Point Road. The place was half to two-thirds full; as packed as I can remember seeing it.

At two hours straight through the load on the lead Paul (Graeme McRae) is immense, but he's up to it. (In contrast I started exhausted and had some difficulty focussing throughout.) His rock-and-roll lead man schtick is a bit dated, but perhaps eternal. There is a Magnolia-style interview sequence (where he gets shirtfronted by Charmaine Bingwa, who plays a variety of characters, some gender bent). I found this more effective than the pre/post gig sequences where the emotional states of the artists didn't come over strongly. Some of it is comedic, some perhaps intended to be tragic or perhaps have a gravitas never entirely earnt. Matthew Cheetham is most successful at mastering his multiple roles; his efforts as Paul's manager are funny, and also as a fanboy from Scotland. Airlie Dodds had her Russian accent and cool-eyed looks down pat. The set was a mostly-effective piece of slanted used floorboarding.

Jason Blake talked it up. Kevin Jackson talks up the playwright.

MKA + Kings Cross Theatre: Puntila / Matti by Doppelgangster.

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Booked 2017-09-30, $35 + 2.76 booking fee = $37.76. First time at the Kings Cross Theatre, which is upstairs and around the back of the Kings Cross Hotel, opposite the (new) Coke sign. Closing night; about a third full with perhaps ten friends-and-family or other indulgent types.

I went on the basis of the blurb they flung about and Jason Blake's review, both of which I found misleading after the first five minutes. In brief: I found it boring. It felt more undercooked than experimental, and trite with little in the way of set or acting. Trolling and hassling the audience has always struck me as cheap, a cop out for those who cannot unsettle with powerful material or performance. Often the music is too loud to make out what's being said.

The cast: Tobias Manderson-Galvin, manically; Grace Lauer, who honestly does need a better class of gig; Antoinette Barboutis as the stage manager in a quiet, incompetent and totally cliched key. Notionally based on Bertolt Brecht's Mr Puntila and his Man Matti, but mostly incoherent and shotgun. Billed as 85 minutes uninterrupted, I was looking at my phone after the first 30 minutes, and they drug the whole thing out to two hours. I sat too far from the door to walk out. The only way to win was to not be there.

That morning Dave's mate Mona observed that most of Sydney theatre is $50 to see a bloke sitting on a bench, presciently describing something of better value than this.

Trajectory Ensemble: Afterglow: Home at PACT.

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A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab. 7pm, about half full, closing night. I caught the train from St James, where I left Tigôn to do some shopping and meet some relatives. Dinner was a burger at the venerable takeaway near the Rose Hotel (which has been heavily remodelled since I was last there a long time ago). The coffee at PACT was instant and fit-for-purpose.

This ensemble featured nine women, two blokes and another doing the music, all from Newcastle and thereabouts. The stories that stuck in my mind: the bus-riding automata, where the entire cast move about the stage; getting pregnant at uni and not finishing that degree; venues that drinking turns into somewhere else, not crap; the tai chai and broken up voice over; the railing against the boomers, the keenly-felt accusation of being the problem, but not really; being left in Broome by your parents with $53 in your pocket. One girl sang and played the keyboard. A bloke recounted the story of his parents fleeing Cambodia and eventually opening a fish-and-chip shop in Newcastle.

This reminded me a bit of Redlined.

Jason Blake.

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.