30 September 2010

Marion Potts Lecture and MTC 2011

How can it already be time to think about 2011?

If you're thinking about what theatre subscriptions to give as the big December present, MTC 2011 is now open and Malthouse is teasing us with their new Artistic Director. 

Marion Potts is the new 2011 Artistic Director of Malthouse Theatre and presented the 2010 Rex Crompton Memorial Lecture last week. Don't worry if, like me, you missed it because Malthouse have given us the pdf of her speech. I'm excited.

The MTC also recently announced their 2011 season, Simon Phillips' twelfth and last season with the company. 

Of course, it'll be a hoot and a half to see Geoffrey Rush as Lady Bracknell and Ewen Leslie as Hamlet, and it's wonderful to see new works by Melbourne writers (and darlings of the independent scene)  Robert Reid and Lally Katz; especially as both are directed by Aiden Fennessy, which makes me smile.

But nothing has made me as excited and terrified as Don Parties On. Oh yes, David Williamson has written a sequel to Don's Party. Garry Macdonald is in it and Robyn Nevin is directing. If it's as brilliant as the original, I'll take back everything I've said about Williamson's recent works. If it's the biggest car crash to ever hit an Australian stage...well I won't be the only vitriolic blogger.

29 September 2010

Review: Bare Witness

Bare Witness
La Mama and fortyfivedownstairs
22 September 2010
season ended

I couldn't see Bare Witness until its last week and so hope we see it return as it's a moving, relevant and original piece of theatre with memories that creep up on you days after seeing it.

Mari Lourey wanted to write about photo journalists in war zones. She isn't one, so she spoke to journalists and documentary makers who have been in places and situations that most of us can't imagine – and wouldn't know so much about had these people not been there. Their authentic voices lead Lourey's powerful writing.

Bare Witness is the story of fictional Danni who goes from her cadetship to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 90s. Here she is confronted by notions like moving a body to get a better picture and the horror of knowing that a child saw herself dying in a camera lense. She also met people who were determined to document the genocide. Associated Press buy a photo from her and she "hardens up",  becomes a well known photographer and travels to Iraq and East Timor, where she's personally confronted with the impact of her profession.

This is a story about photographs that uses words to depict the images. The script has been intricately whittled down to its essence with each word chosen for its impact. But words are an inadequate substitute for the visual impact of photos.

It's the understanding and overcoming of this problem that makes Bare Witness connect so strongly with the emotional intent of its writing.  Director Nadja Kostich, composer extraordinaire Jethro Woodward and the design team (Marg Howell, Michael Carmody and Emma Valente) create a world that fills in the visceral and emotional impact of photos and combines it with the overwhelming fear, speed and tension of being in a place where the threat of death is normal.

The physical performance is choreographed, but unlike dance, the movement underlines and supports the script and the heart-piercing performances of Isaac Drandic, Daniela Farinacci, Adam McConvell, Todd MacDonald and Maria Theodorakis.

A friend of mine, who sadly isn't with us any more, was a photo journalist who had been to places depicted on the stage. Within minutes of meeting, he told me that once he was back in safe Melbourne, he was compelled to take photos of car accidents and accepted his post traumatic stress as part of the job. Later he chatted about trying to get into Iraq even though journalists were banned and then stopped and said to me, "You must think we're mad."

Bare Witness captures that madness; a madness that's made of compulsion, compassion, bravery and singleminded determination. I've never been to a war zone, and I think this work shows us what it feels like in the heads of those who have been there. But what makes it such an emotional experience is its capture of the offstage characters: the confused, the lonely and sometimes angry voices of families and friends who wonder who is baring witness to the lives of their loved ones, whose singleminded determination can forget about the home waiting for them to return.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

28 September 2010

Review: Short Pants No Holes

Short Pants No Holes
Barking Spider Visual Theatre
28 September 2010
La Mama Theatre
to 1 October 2010

Having recently bought 10 kg of juicing carrots at the farmers' market, the Short Pants No Holes set looks a bit like my kitchen – without the unwashed dishes and the cat food bowls.

Barking Spider Visual Theatre make unforgettable worlds and stories from objects and puppets. Short Pants No Holes lets its young audience create stories that are improvised by Penelope Bartlau and Rachel Edwards. 

There's no putting up you hand and hoping that you're right in this show. It's about yelling out ideas and knowing that they're awesome just because you thought of them. And don't worry if you're not the loudest kid around; you'll still be seen.

By giving ideas, names or places and offering objects to make the stories, the audience (even the grown ups, who are allowed to join in if they behave) create and own the stories they see. There's a lot of skilled improvisation happening on the stage, but the audience are the creative sparks – and not just the kid who wanted all of this afternoon's tales to end with a fire... 

With and without fire, today's stories were brilliant. There was one that began with a tiny sticky pig who lived in bubble and ended with a family barbecue, and one about a family of Phlegmish cardies and a giant lint monster. You don't get that kind of mind-blowing originality at the MTC.

There's also a too-gorgeous "The Three Little Pigs" told with object puppets (tomatoes, carrots and a masher) and everyone gets to name, meet and chat with their own carrot puppet. I left mine for another show because if Clarence had came home with me, he would have been squished to bits in the juicer.

Short Pants No Holes is on at 2 pm until Friday. It's a wonderful introduction to theatre for younger ones and will have them making sure you always have carrots in the vege crisper.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

25 September 2010

The best story yet to be told

Two lines of buff, good looking men standing with their arms around eachother while two dudes strum guitars and sing an acoustic version of the national anthem. I'm so not at the theatre.

This is football. This is Round 26. This is the Grand Final. This is what makes Melbourne's heart beat.

The only Melbourne folk not watching are those at Melbourne Fringe matinees. Mad folk. How can they miss this?

As an arty creative type, I don't give a rat's tit about footy - but I wouldn't miss an AFL Grand Final.

Not only because my Melbourne citizenship would be re-voked.

Sport is passion. Sport is obsession. Sport is story that no one knows the ending. This match story hasn't been contrived and manipulated by some pale and spotty writer locked in a dark room hoping that their words will make the boy or girl of their dreams fancy them, instead of lusting after fit and pretty boys or girls who play competitive sport.

This story looked like the ending was known about 10 minutes in, but the Saints fought back and there's hope that they may topple the un-toppable Pies.

Saints V Pies. St Kilda V Colliingwood. The last time they met in a final was 1966. St Kilda won by one point. They haven't won a final since.  Collingwood last won in 1990. But this is the team that inspired the term collywobbles. Not only do they have a habit of wussing out in finals, they are the team that everyone except Collingwood fans loves to hate.

Everyone in Melbourne has two teams. Their team and whoever is playing against Collingwood. I support Port when they are playing Collingwood. (Adelaide readers will totally understand.) Collingwood fan's only see in black in white; they have no other team.

The stakes are high, the turning points are unexpected, the characters are known but unpredictable and  the narrative voice over fills in what we don't understand.

If we could write theatre filled with the complexity and tension of a final...

If we could write the type of stories that ignite a fraction of the passion that a round 1 match evokes in its audience...

Let us watch  and learn and maybe 100, 000 tickets will sell out instantly and people will sit outside theatre venues offering their life savings for a chance to see our stories unfold.

But right now, I just want St Kilda to play better.

5.22 Saturday

No one could have written that ending. See you next week!

Photo from The Age, Rebecca Halla 

Dear Melbourne Fringe...

Dear Melbourne Fringe,

You know I love you and usually spend lots of time with you, but we have to have a break this year.
It's not you, it's me. Really.
Time has conspired against us and I can't get to you this week. Maybe next week...
I feel bad and I already miss you, but let's plan to make up for it next year.


But everyone else can still see the wonders and horrors that are the Melbourne Fringe.

To see what real punters think of shows, join the Fringe's Facebook page.

And check out other blogs and review sites like:
Buzz Cuts
Man About Town
Capital Idea
Theatre Notes
Curtain Call
Arts Hub
Australian Stage
Theatre Alive
The Groggy Squirrel
Spark Online

Guest Reviewer: The Spaces Between

The Spaces Between
The Jane Austen Argument
22 September 2010
The Butterfly Club
to 25 September

Review By Karla Dondio

What exists in the spaces without love?
An unshakeable self-love.

For someone who recently had their heart broken, I felt like this show was written and performed just for me. The Spaces Between is a poignant and droll lamentation of what love doesn’t deliver measured by the void left behind as well as a celebration of the spaces in between where we find ourselves.

This could easily have been a show pontificating on spatial relativism as a metaphor for love and loss. But this was never going to be the case in the consummate hands of the Jane Austen Argument aka Jen Kingwell and Tom Dickens. As if their name doesn’t suggest an able handling of the context from the outset.

The Spaces Between is a stunning piece of cabaret/theatre. It’s clever, candid and heartfelt punctuated by many fine comedic moments. If only every writer/performer understood that you have to risk telling the bare bones of truth to really move an audience. This show does not shy away from humiliating moments nor does it dip its toes into the sentimental. It was never trying to be clever for the sake of being clever. It’s simply well written and proficiently performed, which demonstrates a depth of character you don’t often see in cabaret.

Both performers have bucket-loads of talent. Dickens has a voice that wavers between simulating the feeling of a lover’s hand running down your spine and, all too suddenly, the feeling when this is lost. I’m not ashamed to say this performer brought a few tears to my eyes.

Kingwell is no slacker either; she’s an accomplished pianist/songwriter and, when singing in her range, has a beautiful voice in her own right. This duo work so well together, at times they’re almost mirror images of each other in a light and shade kind of way. Albeit the banter between the two seemed slightly staged at times, all is forgiven because it’s their first show of the fringe season.

If there’s one show you have to see this fringe season it’s this one. The Spaces Between is the most exquisite cabaret you’ll ever see, and by far the cheapest therapy session you’ll ever have to pay for.

20 September 2010

Review: The City

The City
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
3 September  2010
Red Stitch Theatre
to 25 September


Fortunately there's still time to see The City at Red Stitch before the Melbourne Fringe takes all our free nights away.

If you haven't experienced a world created by UK playwright Martin Crimp, Red Stitch defty grasp the threatening tone, the unsettling humour and unnatural naturalistic style that make Crimp one of the most talked about writers, who is either loved or loathed.

Director Adena Jacobs says "I wouldn't dare attempt to explain The City. It is a puzzle not meant to be solved - entirely."

The puzzling mood begins with Dayna Morrissey's design and Danny Pettingill's lighting that brings dimension and scope to the tiny stage making it contradict itself by looking huge and feeling claustraphobic.

Clair (Fiona Macleod) works as a translator and has a comfortable life with office worker husband Christopher (Dion Mills) and her children (we see the daughter in a role shared by Fantine Banulski and Georgie Hawkins).  Living in an apartment over looking their garden is Jenny (Meredith Penman), a nurse whose husband is away at a secret war where he sees people cling to life. Jenny doesn't like hearing the noisy kids during the day and she looks remarkably like a woman Clair described from her morning where she met a famous writer at the train station.

Crimp never lets his world balance.  His not-right world is less obvious than rhinoceroses running around the streets, but just as perfectly confusing.  (Crimp is also known for his translations of Absurd king Ionesco's work, including Rhinoceros.) From the way his characters talk over each other with dialogue that indulges in repetition, or the audience trying to figure out how many kids are locked in the room without a key,  The City continually draws attention to its artifice and makes its audience re-think, re-interpret and re-remember everything they thought they understood.

The game pays off beautifully, but the satisfaction of finishing the puzzle is slightly soured by the realisation that the story was a game that didn't have all the love and self-reflection that we adore in theatre.

However, this production is such a winner, because Jacobs and her actors bring the heart back to the work. Each time I see Macdonald on a stage, she captures the essence of her characters and brings a depth and connection that makes me forget that I'm watching an actor. As Crimp's world reminds us that it's not real, Macdonald brings an emotional grounding to Clair that lets her sit in the centre of the whirlpool. Her scenes with Penman are riveting. They are one with Crimp's world, making every oddness and contradiction seem as natural breathing. There's a subtle difference in Mills performance, which is bloody good, but it doesn't feel part of the world. It's like Christopher, as a character, is in on the solution with Crimp, leaving Mills playing the end from the beginning, which feels more comfortable as the story progresses and his behaviour becomes more extreme.

The City is on for another week and might sell out, so it's best to book rather than waiting to see if you're in the mood.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

Here is Theatre Notes' terrific discussion about the The City.

DON'T MISS Edward Albee

MTC 2010 John Sumner Lecture: Edward Albee

It's not everyday that we get the chance to see and listen to Edward Albee. I'm excited.

He's in Melbourne on Sunday 17 October for the MTC John Sumner Lecture, where he'll  be asked about his half century of writing, his ongoing work encouraging and mentoring new writers and what might lie ahead for dramatists and theatre in the coming decades.

Edward Albee is a three time Pulitzer Prize winner and wrote wonders lie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?A Delicate BalanceThree Tall Women and The Zoo Story.  In 2002 he won a Tony Award for his play The Goat – or Who is Sylvia? and received the 2005 Tony Lifetime Achievement Award. Albee served as a Distinguished Professor of Playwriting at the University of Houston for 15 years.  

And tickets are FREE!
Call the MTC box office on (03) 8688 0800 

Albee will be in Sydney in October as a guest of Inscription to workshop six new commissioned Australian plays. The playwrights and works should be announced soon. Can't wait!

It's just been announced that Tee O'Neill won the AWG competition to the Albee workshop.

19 September 2010

Wheeler Centre forum: Critical Failure, Theatre

I was away for this, so thrilled to see it up on The Wheeler Centre's site.

Last week's forum asked if theatre criticism in Australia failing practitioners and audiences, and Alison Croggon, Julian Meyrick, Cameron Woodhead and Stephen Sewell assess the role of the critic in contemporary Australian theatre.