peteg's blog - noise - theatre

NIDA: Directors' and Designers' Productions 2018.

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Booked 2018-11-24: $32.00 + 5.95 Service and Handling Fee = $37.95 for three of the six (?) showing. All in the Studio Theatre, notionally every hour from 7pm, but it took longer to adjust the sets than they allowed, so this opening night ended up dragging out well past 10pm. Every session was packed. In between I took a quick look at the costumery in the foyer, and the miniature set mockups where the cafe used to be. Loads of people; a big end of year scene.

First up was Molière's Le Mariage forcé ("the forced marriage"): well-executed commedia dell'arte. The set was fantastic and used to great effect by a tight cast. The usual stuff: a bloke (Tom Matthews) wants to get married until he doesn't. The bride (Charlotte Grimmer) says she expects tolerance and trust from her husband as she really wants to run off with her girlfriend. The father- and brother-in-law insist. A philosopher and a priest provide no help.

I was keen to see Hedda, based on Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, as the Norwegian has previously been a very reliable source of raw material. Well, this production bowdlerised that play to the point of vacuity; gone were the elliptic approaches and repeated motifs that repay close attention. I got nothing from this.

Finally, Big Blue Sky, based on Peter Garrett's autobio and a smattering of Midnight Oil hits. The last time I met such unabashed Oils fans was in 1996. The cast enjoyed themselves right from the opening frame: pub trivia about Garrett's bio, a game of backyard cricket, later a meat raffle drawn by Julia Gillard (represented by her hair for the most part). Most took turns to sing and perform Garrett's signature dance moves to a decent backing band made up of a keyboard/guitarist and drummer, and some of the cast playing bass and guitar. The only slightly bum note in this story of onwards and upwards was his self-righteous approval of a uranium mine as environment minister back in 2009. The minor use of video (to make an ad for his 2004 Kingsford Smith election campaign) was effective. They worked up a sweat in the audience too.

Sydney Theatre Company: A Cheery Soul by Patrick White.

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A beaut sunny day. I met up with Pawel for a mid-afternoon coffee at Cabrito and had another at the Studio Cafe at the Sydney Opera House closer to time, after reading a bit more Peter Carey in the Botanic Gardens. For some reason there were loads of dolled-up young ladies out with their oldies (mums and grandmums), gloriously, indifferently blocking the pedestrian flows. My bag got checked twice on my way to seat C13 in the Drama Theatre. That spot is B grade ($75 + $7.50 booking fee = $82.50, booked 2018-11-22) but OK if you're tall; the stage was slightly above my eye level, and I could see its floor if I stretched. Packed.

The draw was to see a Patrick White play I hadn't seen before. Briefly we get a woman of "militant virtue," Miss Docker, who outlives her landlady then outstays her welcome with a middle-aged couple only to end up in an old-people's home. The opening scene is one of 1950s realism, similar in this way to The Ham Funeral; the intricate rotating set has a period stove, and the housewife recounts the dishes from my 1980s childhood: lemon delicious, macaroni cheese. After that things get surreal and internalised, and possibly shocking in its day; now it seems dismal and dated. Humour flees at some point, and it is clearly difficult to keep this uneven piece moving along. The focus on the mores of the Anglican Church is very stale: there are plenty more things to do on Sundays now than endure an inarticulate pastor. Ultimately it degenerates to a series of skits with little discernible message for us. I found the witchy chorus tiresome, and Miss Docker mostly a pile of tics. This urban horrorshow is not very deep but probably easy for many to feel pity for or superiority to. It has a modernity like the Opera House: externally promising but internally inferior, ruefully signalling what once could have been.

On the redeeming side of the ledger, I did enjoy director Kip Williams's use of live video, which was more effective than the last thing I saw by him: some classic noir shots and effective compositions. Nikki Shiels, last seen in They Divided The Sky, was effective in all her roles, but had it better in that two hander. Bruce Spence stopped up many but not all of the gaps. The cross dressing sometimes worked.

I grabbed a quick Maccas after.

Jason Blake. Julian Meyrick on the play itself. Steve Dow spends more time on history than this production. John Shand was glued to his chair. Diana Simmonds. Kevin Jackson digs into Williams's preference for style over substance.

Griffin Theatre: The Feather in the Web by Nick Coyle.

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$20 rush, the first Monday for this production, and therefore about 80% full, 7pm. Rode over to Duff Reserve (was aiming for McKell Park) and read a bit more of my book on the Harbour. The on-and-off showers continued in the morning, but by 4pm had ceased where I was; I could still see other areas getting soaked.

It was an evening of crashy hardware at Griffin Theatre: first their ticket machine wasn't printing, and during the performance their audio/visual computer packed up (three times!). The front-office lady made me a serviceable coffee, but despite it being my third I still wasn't up to enjoying this piece. It's a disjointed composition of sometimes no-more-than-skits that attempts to probe the acceptability of power and sexual relations in twenty-first century. A helplessly transgressive lost soul (Kimberly, played by Claire Lovering) falls in love-at-first-sight with Miles (Gareth Davies) when she crashes the party for his engagement to Lily (Michelle Lim Davidson). Earlier we got a car scene, a makeover, a shrink, and after a banal home life. Tina Bursill plays a few characters, including his mother. Some really got into it, others took notes. Loads of f-bombs. I struggled a bit with the strobe, perhaps because the tech failures made for an overly long period of arse work.

Apparently I saw Gareth Davies a long time ago at Belvoir. He keeps his clothes on here.

Cassie Tongue saw more in it than I did, as did John Shand. Suzy went to see. She reminds me that comedy has its own Overton window, and narrow it is.

Tasmania Performs: The Season by Nathan Maynard at the Seymour Centre.

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Another sort-of freebie from ShowFilmFirst, who trousered $3 on 2018-09-18. Everest Theatre, G9, 7:30pm, packed but with the first five rows strangely empty. I had my lunch for dinner in their courtyard. A bit cold; rode over from Randwick as I'd left it too late to walk.

This is a comedy about an Aboriginal clan who have a claim to a mutton bird rookery on Dog Island (which is close to Flinders Island in the Bass Strait). The humour is coarse and knowing, unapologetic. There is something of a handover from one generation to the next, seemingly suddenly, unexpectedly but unforced. Fun with an undertow of elegy.

Red Line Productions: King Of Pigs by Steve Rodgers.

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A freebie from the production company, 8pm at the Old Fitzroy Hotel. I had some dinner at the Tokyo Laundry above Gateway beforehand: I forgot that the central appeal of chicken karaage at Pinocchio Sushi is the sauce. The soba salad was totally fine in any case.

This preview was packed. Moreover as this production is the premiere of this new work, all I'll say is that it's promising: it's difficult to say much new about domestic violence. You can read Rodgers on his play at Audrey Journal.

After it opened: John Shand. Others note its worthiness and avoid assessing its artistry.

Seymour Centre: Which Way Home by Katie Beckett (Ilbijerri Theatre Company).

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Something of a freebie from ShowFilmFirst, who pocketed a $3 fee on 2018-07-19. Reginald Theatre, front-row seat A14, 7:30pm, a bit packed. I walked there and back on a mostly fine day; just a few splodges of rain later in the evening. Beforehand I pigged out on dumplings at Taste Legend, which always seems like a good idea until the food shows up.

The set for this piece has clearly been ported around Australia. The various boxes serve as a car that takes Tash (playwright/actress Katie Beckett) and her father (a preternaturally calm Djordon King) from somewhere in Queensland to northern New South Wales, at some point passing along the Darren Lockyer Way. Yes, they're Broncos and State of Origin partisans, and yet their Country is in another State. Along the way the conversation and flashbacks touch on many themes, but never digs too deep; for instance, the hypocrisy of the father's needs as a man set against Tash's growing womanhood. Oftentimes this work echoes the inarticulate masculinity of Erskineville Kings.

Quite near by seat was a pile of sand, with more flowing from the scaffolding, used to evoke the famous image of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. That is perhaps what makes this work so out of tune with Sydney: the lack of cynicism.

Jason Blake says it was better last year, at Belvoir. Nicole Elphick provides more details.

Mad March Hare Theatre Co: You Got Older by Clare Barron at Kings Cross Theatre.

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A freebie from Kings Cross Theatre, and a Steve Rodgers jag from Diving for Pearls. I walked over from Randwick via the venerable Indian Home Diner opposite the Verona on Oxford St. The bar at the hotel has nothing in the way of dark beer, so I headed in the opposite direction by getting an almost-colourless English pear cider, too sweet. For these reasons and others I was pretty sleepy throughout the performance.

This was the second preview, and completely packed. Notionally it ran from 7.30pm to 9.30pm with a 15 minute interval, which came so late (8.45pm) I figured they may as well have left it out. Briefly, the cast is quite large (7 players) for such a small stage. This being a preview, I will simply observe that the production makes the most of things.

In contrast the play itself is not strong: I kept thinking of August: Osage County from a few weeks ago: we get the daughter returning home to care for an unwell parent, extensive explicit dialogue about the randiness of said daughter, and little that is novel; most noticeably, the father/daughter combination here is so much weaker than the unhinged Violet, all by herself. The settings shuffle around Washington State. Charles Isherwood seemed similarly unpersuaded at the premiere in 2014.

Audrey Journal, and later, Jason Blake. It turns out that many of the actresses I've seen over the past few months appeared together in Picnic at Hanging Rock for Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: They Divided The Sky.

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Booked in person at Belvoir to avoid their online surchage, 2018-06-17, $25. Closing night, perhaps 80% full and yet I still managed to pick perhaps the worst seat in the house: in the far right corner from the entryway, and I got to see the back of the performers quite often, despite their considerate almost-constant movement. It was video recorded (and fortunately not simulcast to us). Bliss is still playing upstairs to something of a crowd despite wide reports of it being a bust. I rode over and back in fine weather and light traffic.

Briefly: this piece is Daniel Schlusser's adaptation of the book by Christa Wolf. It's about a young East German couple who become entangled in the time-honoured way only to separate due to politics, history, career ambitions, and a decade gap in ages that eventually proves insurmountable. Nikki Shiels (Rita) and Stephen Phillips (Manfred) bring excellent chemistry to their roles. Rita's humour is verbal, true-believer-Marxist-materialist-realist: "what part of you makes you hard to love?" she asks, early on, a coquettish nineteen year old. Manfred's take on his own mother is brutal, and his preoccupation with Rita in the early stages of their romance, and always with his chemical engineering, is convincing and tragic. It reminded me a bit of The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez and Melissa's observation that the man looks at the world, and the woman looks at the man; perhaps so, until she ceases to.

The set consists of a bathtub, and indeed it does go off somewhere towards the end of the eighty-ish minutes. Amelia Lever-Davidson's lighting design was excellent. The production is tight, acting solid, and exhibits wistful nostalgia for Red Plenty, which I'm told is on the rise amongst millenials. The Sputnik moment is human: Rita celebrates Yuri Gagarin being the first man in outer space, and sticking it to the Americans.

An entirely Melbourne company, as I understand it. Jason Blake. Joyce Morgan. Cassie Tongue. Judith Greenaway.

New Theatre: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts.

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New Theatre, $20 on their cheap Thursday, booked 2018-06-15. Maybe half full. The rain had stopped by lunchtime and the clouds cleared, only to return a few hours later to smite the washing I'd hung out. I rode over to Newtown on wet roads, and home afterwards in some light fog.

This is a Southern Gothic from 2007, which apparently premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre. It's a bit transgressive but not that transgressive, mostly around the topic of aging women: Letts holds forth on the younger competition, going out disgracefully, eating fear, disintegrating sisterhood, disintegrating family, strung out matriarchy, spinsterhood, and just how great was the Greatest Generation anyway? — and so forth, a serve for everyone. It's long and thematically rich, only dropping into cliché with a serial sexual predator who is a bit too cardboard, and the Native American help is handled in a completely auxiliary mode. The three (Chekhovian?) daughters of poet Beverly and groupie (?) Violet anchor the piece with devices going off like clockwork. The twists are not always plausible or necessary, but at least the misdirection is not so bad that I felt cheated. Apparently there's a movie too.

This production featured a simple, effective set and a large, great cast with mostly fantastic accent work. Things shifted from cutting backhanded black humour to emotionally-accurate dead seriousness in a beat. It's quite long at about three hours, and fun in a did-she-really-just-say-that sort of way. The best thing I've seen at New Theatre.

Suzy Goes See. Jason Blake. Judith Greenaway.

NIDA: The Removalists by David Williamson.

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Booked 2018-05-16, $28.00, along with the other two NIDA student productions. I spent the afternoon in the UNSW Library, trying to hack. The Playhouse has quite full; I saw Colin Friels in Moving Parts there a while back. Apparently I saw this play at the Bondi Pavilion in 2013. I forgot about that.

This is an early piece by Williamson, dating from 1971. The themes are timely timely and have aged well, but Williamson's handling is often easy to dismiss by being too crass and stuck in some Australian dystopia long past, rather than the ever-present. The removalist himself (Nyx Calder, effective) would probably be a technologist now, spouting the ethical neutrality of whatever they've built, with similar eternal disengagement from the concerns of others. Does anyone go to the pub any more? Ned Napier has a career of cop shows ahead of him if he wants it, inhabiting the main character Simmonds perfectly. Mark Paguio struggled a bit with Ross, largely because I got the impression he is supposed to be a large bloke who can plausibly take it to Simmonds and Carter. Emma Kew is great as affluent dentist-wife Kate Mason, though constrained by the character's lack of humour. Nicholas Burton as Kenny Carter and Daya Czepanski as his wife Fiona are as solid as the script allows.

Afterwards I caught the farcical end of the Wallabies v Ireland match on web TV.

NIDA: Ex Machina.

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Booked 2018-05-16, $28.00. The Space was packed. I was sucked in by the promise of puppetry, which did indeed make some moments. Less scintillating was the use of LED-edge-lit sliding screens to create spaces, cameras and strobes ala The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, and an insufficient abstraction of the movie to this theatrical form. The dialogue was quite arch at times. All that gear must have cost a bit. I recognised a few of the actors from last year.

NIDA: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.

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Booked 2018-05-16, $28.00. The Parade Theatre wasn't that full. Having learnt from previous years I got a seat three rows from the front, dead centre.

I saw this play back in 2000, in a production featuring Bob Ellis at the Bondi Pavilion, and have vague memories of it being an irascible beast. Since then I've been to enough Beckett to sort-of put up with the bits I don't get; Happy Days by Theatre Y being a particular highlight. Andrew Fraser's performance of Lucky's thinking was electrifyingly first-rate; he was similarly excellent last year in The Country Wife. Jack Richardson as Estragon and Laurence Boxhall (Vladimir) burnt time as well as anyone can with rotten feet and a memory erased by nightly bashing-disturbed sleep. Joshua Crane is a natural for the demented landed gent Pozzo. The set was basic and effective: a tree, an elevated road, a stump.

I wonder if Beckett's estate insists on a traditional production; the Chicagoans had a lot of fun futzing with Pinter, and a similar approach to this work might lead to wonderful things: imagine a couple of blokes working the stop/go somewhere in an Australian city, a cockie and his chauffeur in a smashed-up Audi, all waiting for the light rail to be completed. Secular salvation: it almost writes itself.

Secret House: Troilus and Cressida by Shakespeare, at The Depot Theatre.

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A grim, grey, rainy day in Sydney, and not at all warm. Dave was down from Coffs for the weekend. We met up at midday for bún chả (pork rissoles and pork belly in a thin soup, vermicelli rice noodles, lettuce and herbs) at the very popular "VN Street Foods" on Illawarra Road in Marrickville. Tasty! — though their cat ate a good part of mine. After a coffee at the Post Office Cafe, we headed over to The Depot Theatre, near the The Bower. The 2pm matinee cost $64.60 for two, booked Friday May 11. This show has a very brief season.

The cast greeted us on the edge of their minimalist set: sand, and some concrete fixtures surplus to a building site, in something of an echo of the Greek epics I saw in Chicago. It was challenging to figure out what was going on: more framing might have helped, and perhaps longer pauses between scenes, to let us take a breath. Some of the actors were excellent, especially the bit players; but as I didn't get a program I don't know who they were. The drama is strangely unresolved: sure, Hector gets killed but the thing between Troilus and Cressida just evaporates. I guess the themes of lechery and war are topical. Quite long at two hours, with an interval of ten minutes, which was too short to find a coffee.

Jason Blake.

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: The Readers by Scott Smart.

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The ride down to the world near Cleveland and Elizabeth from the Hilton on the Harbour involved some hefty peak hour traffic. I had a same-old and entirely satisfying chicken kebab with rice for dinner at Din Din. $25 for a ticket from the box office on the night, maybe 40 percent capacity in the dear old Belvoir downstairs.

This workplace comedy is a new piece that canvasses the precariat and how rough the meter readers of Sydney have it. The humour is gentle, the key low, the stakes similarly low, but all done with intent that just might be the beginnings of a style. John McNeill plays the old hand to playwright Scott Smart's newbie; Anni Finsterer (last seen in The Nether) is so idle at the office she's often out chasing her captive men in the field. The premise is leavened with some age-old working place tropes, such as being well-read and having lethal comebacks ready to go. The minimalist set was very effectively used, especially once it became an underground space with a light on a hellishly too-short timer. I enjoyed it on its own terms.

I discovered it via a review by Jason Blake; see also an interview with Smart.

Sydney Theatre Company: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht (translated by Tom Wright).

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Stalls B Reserve, seat N32 (the plate reads "Gretel Killeen, Zeke and Eppie"; just a little far) at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, $99 + $7.50 = $106.50, booked 2018-03-31. I eyed this one off for while, mostly due to the price, then figured that I might as well and that sufficient sapience was most likely on Easter Monday: any given work night can turn out any which way presently, which is why I haven't been to the theatre in an age. Just quietly the production seems to be funded by UBS.

I rode the still-nameless CB400 up from Eastgardens after some decent progress with Gianpaolo on some second-order logic. I knew parking wouldn't be a problem as I ride past the theatre most days on the way to work. The place was packed — somehow there was a stray empty seat next to me — and most patrons seemed to use mobility aids. People climbed good-humouredly over each other to reach their seats. The actors and cinematographers warmed up on stage with the curtain up. I found the percussive music quite irritating, but that only lasted until the show started.

The main draw was Bertolt Brecht, who I somehow retain fond memories of despite Puntila / Matti, and a barrel chested Hugo Weaving in the lead. A bonus was Ursula Yovich, last seen by me in Diving for Pearls at the Griffin Theatre, where she was perfectly cast; this time not so much, as she is nowhere cold enough to convince as gangster muscle. Extensive use is made of a super high-resolution screen at the back of the stage, with cameras following the action like some vintage Version 1.0 show. I found it a bit excessive and often did not know where to direct my gaze, which is not the same thing as being unsettled.

I found the whole thing a bit drawn out with a few unconvincing segments; but when it worked it was sublime. The first scene, at a circular dinner table in Chinese restaurant, was quite effective but went only how it needed to. Midway in Ui hilariously learns how to strut and orate from a director (brillaintly played toe-to-toe by Mitchell Butel), and great use is made of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar which I'll now have to go see. Also the off-stage shaving/dressing scene made very effective use of the space and cameras. Conversely the courtroom scenes don't work so well: at times they reach for Tarantino levels of blood on the floor, and I kept hoping they'd make a total mess of things like in the production of Upton's The Jungle I saw or just about every Titus Andronicus ever, but they simply don't. We do get a rainy, somewhat brutal and very effective funeral scene however.

The piece itself is heavily referential, being about Hitler's rise, and of course Kip Williams has to add his own schtick: we get a snatch of Howard's winning "we will decide who comes to this country," a somewhat jarring You're the Voice excerpt, and the cameras recreated one of Agent Smith's more famous scenes. Overall there is a bit too much talking and not quite enough action.

After the famous "the bitch that bore him is in heat again" closeout, the actors cleaned up and returned for a Q&A with the audience, just like the good old Theatre Y days. Some of the questions were completely daft. Briefly: this thing is set in a filmic, imagined Chicago that Brecht never directly experienced, and hops genres like a kangaroo. Kip Williams is so young. The dialogue was affected but delivered in the style of realism; the space to get very arch was not taken, except by Hugo. Thematically it's about the manufacturing of power, which is shown throughout. It attempts to expose the artifice of the staged space. It involved loads of prep over several years. There was a concern that Trump makes the piece too obvious to perform at this time.

Afterwards I had a late dinner at Dae Jang Kun: a bimbimbab at a Korean BBQ on a tip from Dave. Chinatown was quite lively for a school night.

Cast: Mitchell Butel, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Ivan Donato, Anita Hegh, Brent Hill, Colin Moody, Monica Sayers, Hugo Weaving, Charles Wu, Ursula Yovich. It has great reviews, e.g. at Audrey Journal and by Rozanna Lilley at the Daily Review.

Jack Rabbit Theatre: Tonsils + Tweezers at the Kings Cross Theatre.

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A freebie from the company, 7:30pm. Second time around at the Kings Cross Theatre. Four players give us a story about bro-hood and being marginalized in high school. As it says on the tin. Notionally we're on a railroad to their ten year reunion. Macbeth is put to very amusing use, especially by alpha schoolboy, now Maccas location scout, James Sweeny. Megan Wilding is the solitary woman in this, and owns every chance she has; her physical comedy was ace. Travis Jeffrey is great as Tonsils, and Hoa Xuande has the most difficult role as the bloke who mostly gets acted upon. The first half was very energetic, but things flagged somewhat in the second. I left wishing Will O'Mahony had more to say, or at least something more pointed.

Jason Blake. Glen Falkenstein.

Red Line Productions: There Will Be a Climax at the Old Fitzroy Hotel.

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$28.00, booked 2017-12-29. Opening night. I screwed up my dinner timing and rode over just as the big storm broke; fortunately it was a quick trip from Randwick to Kings Cross. I got completely soaked as I didn't bother with my wet-weather gear, and left my soggy helmet with an agreeable bloke in the box office. This after a day of chatting with some ex-NICTA blokes and wondering when I'll next get into the sea.

The appeal of this was a bunch of clowns ex-NIDA telling a story on a rotating stage. The crowd was young and packed to the rafters. Memorable: the use of the turntable, the hair, and the attract/repel interaction with the audience, the footwork, coordination, balance required of and provided by the players. The narrative was all about escaping from their rotating universe along the vectors provided by the random detritus progressively dumped on it.

Elissa Blake. Auteur Alexander Berlage. Jason Blake.