Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Shows I wish someone would do #2 - The Inheritance

 



Ok, it's going to be at least another month or two before I get to see anything on stage anywhere so I may as well do another installment in the series. This is one where nobody in Australia has yet done a production, and I can't necessarily guarantee it'd be box office for anyone, given that while it was a London success it somewhat tanked on Broadway ... plus there are other issues which I'll get into. Never the less, I really love this, all three times I've read it in the last three years. 

It's the story of a group of gay men in New York during the second half of the 2010s. Inspired and bouncing off the plot of E.M. Forster's "Howard's End", it looks at different generations of men growing up in a world where their forbears were largely taken by the AIDS crisis, dealing with love and sex and life without a firm history of how these things are meant to be done Matthew Lopez tells the tale in a mix of direct-address, scenes of wit and pain and angst and anger, and long rhapsodic monologues that delve into gay life honestly and without apology. There's clear acknowledgement of the source material with E.M Forster present to criticize and be criticized in return by the current generation of gay men, and there's scenes that reach beyond to capture recent social history in the strongest ways.

There are risks and limitations. The story is told over two parts, both around three hours in playing time, and the cast is overwhelmingly male - only one actress appears in the play, and she doesn't appear until the last act of the second part (though she does get a multiple page monologue to chew on). And it is six hours spent with reasonably-well-off Manhattanites talking about themselves in ways that may feel excessively navel-gazing to people who aren't into that (I, needless to say, am very into that, but I realize I'm not everybody and don't necessarily represent a budget-recouping demographic). Never the less the script really does ring my bell in every possible way and it's the kind of rich theatrical meal I can't wait to dive into when it shows up, hopefully, on the season of STC or Belovir or the Old Fitz in Sydney in the next couple of years. It's the kind of thing I ache for, and I hope the world comes back together and we're all back in theatres where we're supposed to be again

Saturday, 31 July 2021

I liked it but I didnt know what the f@!k it was about, Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre, July 30-Aug 1

 

Joel Bray's work-in-progress show is a mixture of standup and contemporary dance, using his skills in both fields to explore how audience reactions to contemporary dance, with the assistant of a musician, Jess Green (aka Pheno). I must admit I'm only a casual viewer of contemporary dance - I have occasionally thought about going deeper in but between the ticket costs of your average Sydney Dance Company or Bangarra show and my own lack of familiarity, this capsule piece provides a fun way to explore the field with a bit more knowledge and entertainment. This is clearly a work-in-progress show - a couple of bits need a little bit of tightening and development, but the concept and the passion is there with a vengeance and Bray is the right performer to do this kind of Contemporary Dance Missionary work. This is a very fun night out.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

I've been meaning to ask you, Canberra Youth Theatre, The Street Theatre and Critical Stages Touring, The Street Theatre, 8-10 July


 This is stunning theatre, full stop. Youth theatre can often be considered a ghetto or a training exercise for "The real thing", but this is clever, thought out work that absolutely belongs to the 17 young performers aged 9-13. Devised by The Good Room, a team of two Brisbane-based director/creatives, Daniel Evans and Amy Inghram, this show uses questions asked by kids of adults, and a couple of questions adults have asked back to kids, to provide a show that looks at the big questions of life, death and the human experience through a stunningly different lens. Plus songs and dances and interactive stuff.

The cast of 17 work as a true ensemble of individuals, all getting a chance to show their personalities and to embody the voices of the various poll responders, named and anonymous. For most of them, it's their first show, but there's no hesitancy or reluctance from any of them - they throw themselves into the show full throttle with energy, authority, charm and funky dance moves. For that I congratulate all of them. 

I also congratulate the multiple directors and creatives for building a show that is cohesive, insightful, emotional, spectacular and moving. There's some astonishing moments of ligting design and video design in the latter part of the show from Jason Glenwright and Craig Wilkinson which needs to be acknowledged, but this is a fine team effort from everybody involved. 

Canberra Youth Theatre is certainly kicking goals between this and "Young Girls Alone in the Woods" a few months ago. The next generation of Canberra and Australian Theatre is looking amazing. 

Thursday, 8 July 2021

The Penelopiad, Papermoon and Crouching Giraffe, Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre - 7-17 July

 

I must admit I've never read a Margaret Atwood book or watched either of the TV series based on her work ("The Handmaids Tale" and "Alias Grace"), so this is my first look at her work. She strikes me as doing the novel-to-play transition better than most writers, using one of the world's oldest performed narratives as a basis for speculation about the inner life of Penelope and her maids, those left behind while Odysseus went to Troy in "The Illiad" then took a long trip on his way back in "The Odysey". Using the format of a reflective Penelope in Hades looking back at the life she once led, with the maids as Greek chorus and reflection of the costs of her actions, we get a female-led look at the lives of those normally kept in the background of a grand heroic narrative. 

Kate Blackhurst's production brings this thrillingly to life - her 13 performers weaving in and out of different roles telling an epic story of mythological magic and petty jealousies, brutality and love, victories and sacrifices. There's a true sense of grandeur in the production, played in front of a giant Macrame backdrop designed by Cate Clelland, reflecting the weaving which is to be such an essential part of the narrative. Elaine Noon is Penelope, handling a marathon role who is pretty much always the centre of the narrative, whether telling her tale or reacting to the maids and their accusations, their songs and their behaviours with skill, compassion, care and humour. The dozen maids work as a unit so well it feels brutal to pick out individuals, though they pick out moments as individual characters in the narrative, whether it be Heidi Silberman's braggart Odysseus, Carolyn Eccles' extremely passive-aggressive nurse Euryclea, Martha Russell's headstrong Telemachus, Victoria Dixon's narcissistic Helen (yes, THAT Helen),  Sarah Hull's mystical Niad Mother, Sue Gore Phillips' self-important mother-in-law Anticlea, or the half dozen other small roles. It's a strong production using the power of a true ensemble in dramatic ways, effective in its narrative power.

Adding to the richness of the evening are Brooke Thomas's choreography, giving a strong ritualistic sense to the evening, plus Glenn Gore Phillips' musical settings of Atwood's words which allow the chorus to give glorious voice to songs of mourning, songs of innuendo and songs of reflection. Annie Kay's costumes provide visual richness and variety in allowing the cast to slip in and out of roles and providing a mixed palate for the story to play on.

Altogether this is a great night of theatre, thoroughly absorbing and well worth the watch 

Saturday, 3 July 2021

The Governor's Family, Canberra Rep, Theatre 3 - 30 June-17 July

 

When I saw it in 1997, "The Governor's Family" seemed to me a play of too much ambition failing to hit many of its targets effectively. Dealing with the legacies of Australian Colonialism in a vice-regal house near the turn of an earlier century, the polished Mountgarrets struggle against the emerging colony, four years before Federation, and its inhabitants, both the indigenous originals and the emerging white working class fighting for their own rights in a strongly stratified community. The older Europeans, Howard and Helena, hang onto their traditions and attempt to impose it on the next generation, while the younger children, wild with the privileges' their rank has given them, attempt to engage with the community around them in flailing, half-competent gestures that hinder as much as help those they try to engage with. Beatrix Christian writes in a rich, meaty theatrical style full of gothic foreboding, hidden secrets, pulpy Victorian-era language and emotional yearning, as the struggles meet with eventual disaster for everyone. There's enough material here for three or four plays, unfortunately none of them entirely get enough emphasis to come through clearly.

25 years later, I appreciate the richness of the text more, however I recognise the challenges of the play, as it requires a lot from a cast to capture a script that moves from drawing-room-wit to working-class political rhetoric to disturbing gothic fable, never quite settling on a single tone for very long. The cast of 6 and the director, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, handle the tonal shifts effectively, even presenting the most disturbing material head-on and with integrity (this is not necessarily going to be the easiest play for a Rep Audience - at my performance, there was a definite number of audinence members not returning for Act Two). There's great strength from Peter Holland as the imperious governor, aware of his past sins and determined to do what's right, unaware of how this may effect his position, and Antonia Kitzel's Helena matches him in inner strength, even as the script has her drifting off into laudanum-induced fantasies. The twins have an easy engaging style to them, Caitlin Baker's more direct, almost Katherine Hepburnish Lara, and Robbie Haltiner's easily lead romantic Gerald. As the two outsiders, Kiara Tomkins manages well with Frances's often fairly cryptic dialogue which tends to wander between abstraction and outrage, while Jack Casey's Tammy Lee Mackenzie has a direct charm as the one practical, capable person onstage, comfortably positoned to be ready for the future. 

Andrew Kay's design is gorgeous and manages the shifting challenges of the script with aplomb, similarly Chris Ellyard's lighting and Neville Pye's sound design capture the mood and emotions of the piece. This is an intriguing production that wrestles with a challenging text, delivering it in a clear and strong manner.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

The 7 Stages of Grieving, Sydney Theatre Company, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre

 

Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman's one woman show, "Seven Stages of Grieving", has outlived both of them, getting several productions with new actresses and directors discovering new elements of their original series of scenes looking at the topic of Indigenous grief - of the losses the last 225 years have inflicted on the traditional owners of this country, and of the scars that still remain. Elaine Crombie as actress and Shari Sebbens as director give this a new interpretation, played on a stage covered in mounds of dirt covered in shells, with Crombie providing the heart and soul behind the original words, providing humour, tears, rage and determination in her exploration of the text. There's also an added coda looking at the possible paths ahead, with 7 actions that can be taken to help heal, and like the best additions it feels like it should have been there all along. It's a powerful evening, both as storytelling and as a demonstration of Crombie's considerable skills as she engages and draws her audience in, making the show completely her own. 

Friday, 11 June 2021

Grace Under Pressure, Alternative Facts, The Q

 

This docu-drama comes from a series of interviews conducted in 2017 with various health care professionals about the stresses and pressures of the job - using largely their own words to tell the stories about the joys and the frustrations of having life and death decisions in your hands in an industry where often the worst care is held out to their own employees. It's a confronting set of tales, with shocking moments throughout of cruelty, bullying, emotional destruction and occasional personal dignity and self-respect. Simply staged by director David Williams, performed by a strong ensemble of four playing both the various interview participants and occasionally the interviewers, on a simple yet powerful set by Isabel Hudson, this is stunning direct theatre, storytelling at its rawest and most powerful. Williams has a strong foundation in this kind of verbatim theatre, being one of the foundation members of Version 1.0, who a decade ago were turning government inquiries into powerful theatre such as "CMI (Certain Maritme Incident") about the Tampa enquiry and "Deeply Offensive and Utterly Untrue" about the Coles Weapons-for-wheat inquiry and in this one he takes a more perisomal yet equally powerful look at the way society fails to care about those who care for us.