Posts Tagged ‘Review

24
Dec
10

Uncle Vanya

I’ve been catching up on the the last couple of episodes of Rake and whilst watching Richard Roxburgh, it occurred to me that I really should tell you how wonderful it was to see him on stage as Uncle Vanya, for STC, last week. Interestingly, my mum (and others) didn’t agree; she took issue with (Director) Tamas Ascher‘s whole vaudeville-esque approach and is of the opinion that something (or someone) akin to Roxburgh’s Rake character, Cleaver Greene, would make a more likable fellow in the title role in Chekhov’s classic play. To me, Roxburgh played a Vanya on the verge (some would say broken already) and shared with us the full gamut of human emotion, winning our sympathy early…well, clearly, not my mother’s sympathy! But that’s ok! Because this is Theatre! This is Art! And we are each entitled to our own opinions!

Interesting to read, as I do, some other opinions. Let’s look at them later, shall we? The overall impression I got from this production was that it was reinterpreted and staged to entertain, rather than to educate, a new Chekhov audience. This was, I think, Chekhov’s original intent (the humour is very much embedded in the text) and has been forgotten by various companies (and universities) over the decades, who have given us the impression that the classics should be highly regarded, carefully considered and deeply felt, rather than recognised, appreciated and enjoyed. I was so glad to see (IMHO) STC treat it as a gift to be enjoyed.

My opinion about Cate Blanchett hasn’t changed. I admire and adore her. She is surely one of the most consummate actors of our time (this, when Judi Dench has been named best stage actor of all time). Her beauty is incandescent, her voice is sublime and her collective skills – employed seemingly effortlessly – to portray even the slightest hint of emotion, both on stage and on screen, cannot be contested. As Yelena, Ms Blanchett was beguiling and SO beautifully bored. In fact, I have decided that it is my ambition to be that beguiling AND that beautifully bored one day. Also, I would like, one day, to casually and seemingly effortlessly fall backwards through an open doorway without causing any injury or humiliation to myself or to anybody else whatsoever. Just saying.

It was a treat to see John Bell as the Professor, Jacki Weaver as Nanny and Anthony Phelan as Telegin. In fact, Mr Phelan reminded me of a delightful, gentle friend, with whom I used to work, so tender and amusing was he. It was a disappointment to me that Hayley McElhinney, with her long list of credits, including the honour of being one of the 12 contracted to The Actors Company, completely lost the depths and layers and contours of the final monologue, which I have always loved as it is written and loathed as it is delivered, in that classically-trained, dark and dismal, typically university-interpreted Checkhov voice; empty of the hope that underlies the acceptance of the working poor that life does indeed go on and thus, work must also, quite simply GO ON. There was the hard determination in her voice but none of the subtle, gentle joy and love and light simultaneously, which I have always felt needed by the end of Chekhov, in order to let us leave the theatre looking forward to the next day rather than dreading it. And I wanted her to have loved and lost and retained something. I’m thinking of Pippin’s Grand Finale. Not because I think every show should finish with flash pots and glorious death but with the hope that there are still the simple joys to be found in every day, if only we look for them, even in the face of despair. And after her tumultuous journey, I expected more…contrast.

To put Cate Blanchett on stage with Hugo Weaving was pretty much a stroke of genius. For me, the relationship between them MADE this production. What I want to see in any production is the connection between the characters and for each, a clear journey. The connection between Blanchett and Weaving was pure magic. Each had a journey of epic proportions, made up of the most minute detail. To join them for 4 acts meant a masterclass for actors, for the cost of a coveted ticket.

The tickets were booked a year in advance, as part of an annual sojourn to Sydney “to see Cate”, which, each year, involves my mum, my sister, various friends from editing and publishing as well as a bunch of other friends, who are now known in literary circles at least, as The Family Law.

We did not get (we did not try to get) anywhere near Oprah while we were there but we did spend hours wandering through Annie Leibovitz‘s life, at the MCA, which was inspiring and incredibly moving. In a room holding a series of photographs of her dying father and another series of her dying long-time partner, Susan Sontag, I was moved to tears and unable to look away…

This Vanya failed to stir in me the same emotions. Despite this, I loved it. For me, that is great theatre. For Jason Blake, of The Sydney Morning Herald, same (read his review here). Not so, for some of his readers and these are the comments I find fascinating. Hint: read Blake’s review first…

Then read…

Couldn’t disagree more with this review. The production was a travesty of Chekhov’s work.

The adaptation, with indulgent Shakespeare references to boot, managed to lose all the depth of the Russian original replacing it with a Carry On! version full of slapstick. All the beautiful monologues washed over the audience and many of us left feeling gravely disappointed. Checkov should give you a kick in the guts by the end but all the beautiful monologues washed over to nothing and I left the theatre feeling gravely disappointed.

Bill Peters | Sydney – November 15, 2010, 8:29AM

And…

Some sanity – thanks Bill Peters!

I sadly feel as though many theatre makers are guilty of grossly underestimating the sophistication of their audiences and therefore feel the need to ‘panto’ shows up. You do not have to be a theatre buff (which I am not) to realise when you are being condescended to and when this occurs walking through the liminal door that good theatre (so I am told) should open is next to impossible.

The sycophants in the crowd irked me no end. It is as though they are all playing the part of theatre goers, all in on this bizzare conceit instead of ever truly engaging with the work. My relief upon leaving the theatre earned my sanity five stars!

Chris Hanrahan | Sydney – November 17, 2010, 3:51PM

And…

Embarrassingly, those ‘sycophants’ in the crowd were my fellow students from NIDA.

They were laughing up at every opportunity so people would look at them.

I too was bored with this show. If anyone saw the production from Maly Theatre a couple of years ago you’ll know what I mean. That production had me in tears, digging around in my bag for tissues, a cloth, anything.

I think everyone’s a bit starstruck.

NIDA Grad | Sydney – November 19, 2010, 8:07AM

 

I was determined to get over my starstruckedness because, let’s face it, I’m a forum bunny and you can imagine how excited I was about being there on the NwtA (Night With The Actors). I actually had a question! So I asked it! I asked, after a lot of other fussy queries about the inclusion of Shakespeare and about working with a non-english speaking director, about the company’s general approach to text and to working with each other. It was was important to me to verbalise what we have been getting nearer to defining as XS Entertainment‘s approach to our own creative process. Who better to answer than the Co-Artistic Director of the Company, Cate Blanchett?! She said, “Text is the bedrock. And then, as actors, we each bring to it what we will.” And I am so glad it is as simple as that!

After, of course I was totes inspired to spend a heap of money at the bookstore downstairs while my sister and co posed for pics outside by the poster…

I’m finally posting this on Christmas Eve and I hope Christmas and New Year’s Eve are wonderful for you. Poppy and I have just watched It’s A Wonderful Life and it really is the ultimate reminder of the season.

Next week, keep up with what’s happening out at waterlogged Woodfordia by following XS Entertainment on Twitter!

07
Dec
10

I Can Do That!

“Youth Theatre” is the bane of my life. It hooked me at 15 years of age, it kept me busy on stage and off until I was 30, and now, er…with another birthday coming up, it wants to take over my life again. But to Youth Theatre, I say NO! There are others! The grown ups have me now! I will coach you but I will not direct your productions! Unless, of course,  you pay me and then I will happily direct anything your young, enthusiastic, untainted hearts desire.

Please note: Youth Theatre is different to “Theatre for Young People“. The latter enjoys (a little) government funding and (some) support in (some) schools and venues.

In the Australia Council for the Arts Review of Theatre for Young People in Australia (December 2003), the Executive Summary states:

Among other factors, early exposure to positive arts experiences correlate to later interest in and engagement with the arts. It is one of the reasons that Theatre for Young People (TYP) is so significant, why the nature and quality of contact with this work matters. For some, the rationale for engaging with young audiences, and supporting other specialist theatre companies to do so, is enlightened self-interest—the cultivation of tomorrow’s audiences. But there is an equally cogent argument—that children and young people are entitled to the same cultural rights as adults. They are not the audiences of tomorrow, they are the audiences (and participants) of today. On this basis, the same resources should be devoted to TYP and other means of providing access to quality theatre experiences as are devoted to adult, mainstream companies.

About one-third of Australian school children take part in organised cultural activities outside of school hours, according to a survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2006. Growing up on the Sunshine Coast, theatre was just that other thing; the organised activity we did if we were not doing one or most of the following:

  • Swim Club
  • Surf Club
  • Netball Club
  • Rugby League Club
  • AFL Club
  • Soccer Club
  • Little Athletics
  • Ballet, Jazz and Tap
  • Gymnastics
  • Callisthenics’s

It’s a very sporty place.

N.B. The Callisthenics’s kids never really fitted in either.

There was only one place to go – if you really wanted to be taken seriously as a performer – and that was BATS (Buderim Amateur Theatrical Society). Those were the days! We would get hot chips, tomato sauce and tubs of Homer Hudson ice cream from the shop on the corner (the site is now home to a fancy French restaurant, a salon and a couple of old lady boutiques), which we shared outside, lying about on the grass, just as we did later, at uni…hmmm. There was nothing better for young voices! And faces! And figures!

We had cool teachers, who let us finish our ice cream inside. It was fun. And I learned early that you didn’t have to face the audience to say a line, which was a point of contention at school. (At school, I also argued about beginning sentences with capital letters. Thank you, Veny. And the existence of God. Thank you, Lutherans). We gained confidence, friends from other schools, regular performance opportunities and some of us even got our homework done in between rehearsals! We really did have some fun at BATS.

Some might say nothing has changed. I would say a hell of a lot has changed, however; BYTE (Buderim Youth Theatre of Excellence), based at the same hall in Buderim, run by Robyn Ernst for over 10 years has stayed the popular option. One of those cool teachers of mine, Ian Austin, had this to say, back in the days when he was given a say, about BYTES:

BYTES offers students from 5-18 professional studio training in acting, dancing and musical theatre with several public performances every year.  This esteemed training ground, enriches and builds talent and perhaps more importantly personal character.  BYTES showcase presentations add the imperative gloss.” Ian Austin Review Sunshine Coast Daily

And he’s right. I get to their shows pretty irregularly and when I do, I see this to be true. Basic character is evident, as is the self-confidence (some might say over-confidence). The kids learn their lines, they deliver them in well-projected voices, they sing mostly in tune (thanks to the talented teaching team, Scott and Libby Gaedtke) and they are always dressed magnificently and lit quite adequately. I am aware that there are other productions throughout each year, which might showcase a wider range of acting ability, however; I haven’t seen any lately and the last one I did get to – I think I mentioned in a post at the time – had cast members blacking up for To Kill a Mockingbird at the same time a production of Miss Saigon went on in Hobart without any Asians in the cast! Just saying! Nevertheless, the productions provide the performance opportunity and the gloss that kids need, to feel the magic of the theatre and to be able to say, when they see something they like and aspire to, “I can do that!”

The Pirates of Penzance was perhaps an odd choice, with so many male roles and – typically – very few males available to fill them. I always loathe girls playing boys unless the context can be updated and we get to enjoy the legalisation of gay marriage for the finale. Obviously this messes with the original book and a particular demographic in the region.

In the show that I saw on Saturday afternoon, the cast featured Brandon Maday (Frederic), Eloise Mueller (Mabel), Robert Steel (Pirate King), Daniel Moray (Major General), Brianna Schlect (Ruth) and Phoebe Sullivan (Police Sergeant). I have to tell you a) I know Eloise and b) Eloise was the stand-out. Her mature vocal work was matched by Brandon’s (and what a relief that was)! The ensemble were enthusiastic and the company clearly enjoyed themselves. And that is really important. Some parents would say that their child’s enjoyment of the activity is the most important thing. But what if that fun, enthusiasm, confidence and the opportunity to perform can be tied in with some basic stagecraft and performance etiquette?

That is precisely what my friend, Mary Eggleston, is doing at SODA (School of Dramatic Arts). She runs classes in Buderim and Coolum and she is really, for youth theatre, the hottest new kid on the block. SODA’s inaugural showcase, on Saturday morning, was testament to Mary’s ability to use original material and the talents of those kids involved. We saw younger students share The Rime of The Ancient Marinater, which is like giving your primary school production of Alice in Wonderland a bit of a Tim Burton slant! It’s not light stuff and the 7 performers handled the text and the context well.

A cast of 16 slightly older students re-told the story of our local lass, Eliza Fraser, as penned by Sue Davis. The material, Figments of Eliza, was originally performed by Mary as part of the NeoGeography project  and it was interesting to hear her voice-over relay some of the story as part of this re-interpretation. And it was a pleasure to hear the familiar qualities of another of Leah Barclay‘s original compositions as their underscore. As well as teaching these students basic stagecraft, voice, movement, discipline and performance etiquette, Mary has encouraged one of the students to develop his technical skills and so Tully Grimley, for this show, became Lighting Designer and Operator.

Mary works with young people in the same way that Sam and I work with adults. I know this because as well as seeing the results in performance, I’ve taken classes for her a couple of times and these kids respond in the same manner. They are keen to perform and even keener to learn everything they can about themselves and the craft along the way. This is perhaps the difference that we are noticing now on the Sunshine Coast. The performers we seem to attract want it all. Those who stay away want just to be recognised for their performances, regardless of the end result. So we play, we have fun and we make up stuff all the time, just like those kids! We also notice what it is that the individuals bring to the ensemble, how they are connecting with themselves and how they are able to connect with others.

Kids who want more than just the gloss of the final performance should check out SODA.

Adults looking for something fun, interesting and a little more challenging should check out Sam Coward’s production of David Williamson’s INFLUENCE for Noosa Arts Theatre.

John Waters as Ziggi Blasko

 

Information Night: Friday December 10th 7pm at Noosa arts Theatre, Weyba Rd, Noosaville

Audition (Workshop): Friday December 17th 7pm at Noosa Arts Theatre, Weyba Rd, Noosaville

Season: April 20th – April 30th 2011

Casting:

Ziggi Blasko – early fifties, talkback radio “shock-jock”
Carmela Blasko – twenty-nine, Ziggi’s second wife, narcissist ballet dancer trying to return to form after childbirth
Vivienne Blasko – seventeen, turns out to be manic depressive
Tony – a taciturn man in his forties
Connie Blasko – forty-seven, social worker
Marko Blasko – dignified Croatian man of eighty-two
Zehra – forty-two, a slim Turkish woman

 

For more information email xsentertainme@gmail.com or check http://noosaartstheatre.org.au

07
Dec
10

The New Dead: Medea Material

I saw 3 shows on the weekend so I’ll tell you a bit about each one, over two posts. If I tell you a lot about any one of them, I will come across as being completely impossible to please. Wait. Too late?!

The truth is I am more easily pleased than you would think.

If a production delivers all it has promised to deliver, I’m a happy camper (and by “promised” I mean promised by the media too, inclusive of press releases and the early/out-of-town reviews. And by “camper” I mean theatre-goer, except when, once annually, I actually mean “camper”; the Woodford Folk Festival variety). If not, that is if it doesn’t deliver, I have to wonder why not.

For example, the show I saw on Friday night at La Boite – the last show of their Indie season this year – failed to deliver, despite being touted as one of the must see shows of 2010. In Brisbane, at least. And it should be noted that The New Dead: Medea Material came to Brisbane after seasons at NIDA (2009) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival (2010).

Kat Henry, Director and Artistic Director of Stella Electrika, has an impressive body of work behind her and a whole host of exciting projects ahead of her. I had (very) high expectations of her show.

Heiner Muller‘s text is extraordinary. I wanted to hear it more clearly and react to it more extremely. I wanted to be shocked and horrified and, well…SHOCKED. But there was all this stuff that got in the way of me feeling anything much besides a kind of fascination in the result of the creative process.

We know the story. The story is shocking. It was entirely appropriate to tell the story through a combination of electro-rock-pop-or-something, theatre and dance. It felt like there were many tricks tried and many attempts made to shock –  in fact, just about every device known to theatrical mankind was used, though rarely to great effect. The anime porn, for example, flickering across the screen, was a distraction and what’s more, it was completely superfluous. Guy Webster and Kimie Tsukakoshi had already demonstrated their ability to morph into dancers and I was baffled as to why, as opposed to sitting still and posing, locking eyes only, while the anime figures onscreen made a mockery of their passionate gaze, they did not use their bodies in some Matrix-cum-Karma Sutra inspired porn piece! Was that just me?

For Lucinda Shaw, despite her apparent energy, the show seemed to start half way through it, with the commencement of her stand-up routine. Even then, she took a moment to settle into the accent and never seemed to quite settle into the routine. It was a clever device that didn’t quite work because she appeared to be uncomfortable in it. In fact, she appeared to me, to be uncomfortable from the beginning of the show, with her anxious, frustrated scratching and scoffing of corn chips. In class, I refer to this style as “anxious, frustrated acting” (Julia Roberts’ name often comes up at this point) and I challenge actors to find a more organic, interesting state of being. Interestingly, this role was played originally by Emma Dean.

I loved that Kimmie’s role required her to skate (though, for what purpose, across the space to start? To show us that she could skate?) and dance around a pole a bit BUT – and it’s the same point – why include it if it can’t be convincingly used? USE the pole! The routine was lackluster, underestimating (I’m betting) Kimmie’s ability. Regardless, if Jason were the man I thought him to be (no, not Bernie from Powderfinger, though you would be forgiven for thinking so), he would have left the drum kit for dust and fucked her right then and there on the floor. I’m sorry but there it is. Or was…not. SHOCK VALUE.

The device that really worked for me was the video footage (captured by Alex Duffy) during the final moments of the show, it’s an oldie but a goodie; it made the final horror all the more horrifying. Truly chilling, as it ought to be. Now, THAT is the kind of challenging theatre I had been expecting to see – and feel – all night.  That reminds me…watching Guy watching the screen at this point and earlier, watching him watching Kimmie across the space, we saw his best work; he was focused, connected and he was real and vulnerable.

In short, I didn’t feel that the characters were completely developed, nor that they had any real or lasting connection with each other. Having said that, all three actors are clearly multi-talented and did well to wade through all of the excess, all of the tricks…I’ve even thought of Barnum since.

The clever ideas in this production were like red weed, growing and spreading uncontrollably over everything that was good underneath. I wanted to see more of the good, organic stuff. I wanted to see a selection of the devices used to enhance the text, rather than distract from it.

22
Oct
10

[title of show]

[title of show]

Oscar Theatre Company

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

October 6 – 16 2010

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

titleofshow2010

The tag line reads:

This show fucking rocks!

 

And it does. Well, did. Too bad if you missed Oscar Theatre Co‘s recent production, downstairs at the Visy Theatre in Brisbane’s Powerhouse. I saw it on closing night and was surprised (and dismayed, Brisbane, DISMAYED) to see approximately 30 seats spare.

[title of show] is no ordinary show. I remember being intrigued and bemused by the very first YouTube appearance of Hunter and Jeff, in their pilot episode of what appeared to be a fun stunt, claiming to be putting their show on Broadway, despite the fact that it had not yet been conceived. I thought, “Brilliant! Good luck to them…maybe we should try that?!” (I WANT A GOLDEN PONY) and promptly forgot all about them.

The rest, as they say, is a phenomenon. The appeal of the show is that, while it stayed pretty true to form and content, it got a whole lot funnier than the YouTube posts. However, for non theatre-goers; maybe not so much. I do wonder how you would consistently get a normal crowd to see this show. Even I had to refer to the [tos]sery in the back of the Playbill to find out who Mary Stout is (and then I realised I’d seen her play random characters in legal dramas for years). The rest I got. I know other theatre freak friends who particularly appreciated the cell phone ring tones. There were many homages to some of the most popular Broadway musicals of our time that had me laughing out loud in between the witty one liners. Interestingly, the guy sitting next to me didn’t appear to react to anything at all. I wanted to say to him, “Hey, buddy, turn that frown upside down!” (because this show makes you want to say such things to sad people) and then I wanted to poke him (obviously, not in a virtual, Facebook kinda’ way – he’s clearly not on my friends’ list with a sense of humour like THAT –  but in a physical, actual way, you know; to see if he was alive). Anyway, he coughed in the middle of the opening song so I knew he was alive, though not quite normal. Seriously! It’s a funny, clever song and sets the premise for the entire show about two guys writing a show about two guys writing a show about two guys writing a show!

The rest of the audience was with me, loving every moment; applauding, shouting, whistling and screaming after every (upbeat) number and jumping to their feet at its conclusion in the most enthusiastic and genuine standing ovation I’ve been part of for a very long time.

And rightly so. The collective talent involved in this production is impressive. On stage, Dash Kruck totes stole the show for me, portraying Hunter Bell, with his endearingly cheeky, naughty approach to, well, everything in life, his Broadway moves and his ability to connect with those on stage and off. I’m confident I can recommend you go see anything at all that Dash appears in. This includes his kitchen when he is washing the dishes and IGA when he is doing the grocery shopping. Dash is bound to make any event just as entertaining. His wing-man, Kynan Francis provided some sort of balance, though he also managed to get away with equally zany behaviour, which became the norm for everyone, actually, very quickly. Watch the original pair in lieu of the totes over the top version, busting with parody-energy of THIS number. For the record, I preferred the totes OTT Oscar version. It fucking rocked.

I loved David Law as Larry (and able MD), although I wonder if it would be equally as effective to have the character engage a little more in the action…on the other hand, it might change the entire course of the show!

The girls started out as…supportive. And, thank Emily, fleshed out their roles a little more as they went along. I couldn’t help but feel as though the show still lacked a really strong female opportunity…unless it’s there in the book and it wasn’t quite grasped. This seems ridiculous to say because both girls certainly held their own, especially in their scene together towards the end of the show, featuring the song, What Kind of Girl is She, which was added for the Broadway run. One of Brisbane’s most adored performing artists, Liz Buchanan, in her animated (read zany and different animated to this one) rendition of Die Vampire Die might almost have given Susan Blackwell a run for her money. Don’t tell Susan I said that. Heidi (that’s Heidi Blickenstaff for those unacquainted with either the original show or the über-talented lady herself) was played appropriately, in turns, friendly-gently and fiercely-confidently, by Bernadette Alizart. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the two songs included to showcase Heidi’s/Bernadette’s voice were, at the same time, performed beautifully by Bernadette AND could have been two stronger moments in the show. Picky, aren’t I?

LISTEN CLOSELY.

Emily Gilhome’s directorial debut is an impressive effort, particularly in terms of the production values, which were basic and beautifully achieved by a tight team (SM Tim Wallace, Lighting Designer Extraordinaire Jason Glenwright, Sound Designer Lachlan Wallace and Designer Michelle Zahner) and the way the cast members connected with each other and with their audience, even – or especially – in the most ridiculous, zaniest moments, to keep it real. Of course, as I alluded to earlier, some of us may relate better than others to the concept and content of [title of show], which is set to enjoy a cult following everywhere.

Oscar Theatre Company has started out very quietly, with quietly confident visions of what sort of company they want to become and while they are still finding their feet over the next few years, I think they’ll find that Brisbane audiences are loyal to their quirky quality, rather than the ordinary quantity of some of the competition. Did I say competition? I certainly did! There is this gentle local urban myth at the moment (is it new? Probably not) that there is not enough good theatre happening in Queensland and, more specifically, in Brisbane. I say there is. I wouldn’t go so far, however, as to say that Brisbane is the new cultural capital of Australia. There are those who have done. To them I say, “THANK YOU.” And, “COME AGAIN.”

It’s true, you do have to be a bit of a Sherlock at times, to find out what’s on, though not if you’re a Facebook addict like me. And by addict, I don’t mean simply logging on every day for a fix, I mean finding the pages for the main stage and independent companies, liking them and hoping they are all tweeting and updating their moves like mad to continuously feed your addiction (oh, a marketing and social media blog post must be coming up)! Then of course, one must choose to go see their shows and book the tix and GO (oh, a supporting friends’ productions blog post must be coming up)!

From my vantage point on the gorgeous Sunshine Coast, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for whatever it is that our friends at Oscar Theatre Co offer us next.

[title of show] Promo Video : Oscar Theatre Company from Oscar TheatreCo on Vimeo.

Oscar Theatre Co [title of show]

12
Oct
10

Red Sky Morning

Red Sky Morning got me. It really got me. It really got me thinking. About all sorts of things. Bear with me…

THING 1

How close to self-destruction are any of us? Are we not all ever-so-slowly imploding silently over something? No? Not at all? Perfectly, delightfully happy in every way every day? Really? Okay. Maybe it’s just me.

But have you never thought (or not quite thought) while you’ve been driving, about letting the car gradually drift into the other lane entirely? Or off the road entirely and into the scrub and the trunks of the eucalypts? Off a cliffside and into a canyon? You’ve never had a Thelma and Louise moment? Not ever? Just me? No prescriptions filled twice over and no one at home to cook for? No walk-into-the-sea fantasy? No wish for a loaded gun? Just me. Okay. Well, clearly not I’m afraid, because this is something that Red Sky Morning dares to address. Or at least dares to dare you to consider.

Stop. I don’t want you to flood my inbox with ARE YOU OKAY messages because I’M OKAY.

The point of difference of course, between seeing these events in our mind’s eye and taking action to bring about these events must be somewhere vaguely in a place where we remember we are loved and we have an awful lot to live for. Or, if one can’t remember such a poignant thing at that point, perhaps it’s the fear of enduring any sort of real physical pain that stops us. Or the knowledge that those left behind will suffer unbearable anguish, unable to ever understand what it was we forgot there was/is to live for. I’m not sure. I’ve never stepped (or steered) quite that close to the edge. In any case, how do we stop time at that point, in order to reconsider and take that step away from the other place, the place of tragic – not always quite conscious – decisions about finally, one dark day or night, acting out our fantasies of self-harm or suicide? I can’t actually answer that. It’s heavy stuff.

Red Sky Morning is really heavy stuff. Tom Holloway has written nothing and everything about my life. And quite possibly about yours too. His ability as a writer is obvious and something that, during the afternoon’s discussion with the cast and the director, they kept coming back to. I could feel that they were, rightly so, in complete awe of Tom’s lyric. I’m fascinated that from a piece written originally in Word columns, for three characters to speak a monologue each, together in cacophony for the duration, a brilliant composition was structured and workshopped and re-structured and rehearsed and re-structured, to become distinct movements, delivered to stunning emotional effect. Sam Strong is a BIG fan of Anne Bogart’s work. So yes, you got those references there. I knew you would.

In turns, David (company AD), Sarah (company casting), Erin (company admin) and Sam Strong (director), explained the process by which this show came about. It became clear that it has been the collaboration, between writer, director, designer, actors and audiences, over a three-year process, that has made this piece so real and raw and really funny and completely devastating all at the same time. The cast, without exception, were simply outstanding in their vocal work particularly (um, rote learning lines my arse, guys; maybe to begin with, as one might learn poetry in the primary school but then there is talent and intuition and intellect at work!) and in their uncanny ability to match each other’s continuously changing energies, making physical and emotional connections (and complete detachments, sometimes almost within the same instant) without actually connecting with each other through touch, proximity or any eye contact. Ever. Seriously. I’ve only seen that level of intense commitment – I’m talking about that level of extreme character too – in the snippets of Alice Ripley in Next to Normal on Broadway, on YouTube. In actual fact, there are a few parallels there, between mother and mother, which would be apparent if you are a theatrical geek-freak, as I am, and you have perhaps watched said clips of Alice Ripley in Next to Normal on Broadway, on YouTube, something like, ooh, six million times.

I MAY HAVE EVEN POSTED IT ALREADY. HERE IT IS AGAIN BECAUSE IT IS SO GOOD.

BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE. NEXT TO NORMAL IS COMING TO A THEATRE NEAR YOU. That is, if you’re anywhere near MTC and the precinct next year.

THING 2

Red Stitch is my new favourite company in this country. In fact, I will attribute them with validating the way that Sam and I approach our work and with inspiring us to continue down this path, gather the right people around us gradually and produce great theatre in our own time, via our own non-methods, attracting and building our own audiences along the way. It is highly unlikely that anybody will really care about that now, at this point. I’m just saying. For future reference. For, you know, editorial, for when they’re searching desperately at deadline, for quotes and links to include in a feature story about the theatre-makers from Queensland. I’M JUST PUTTING IT OUT THERE. FOR THE UNIVERSE, YOU KNOW?

THING 3

See, now we’ve progressed beyond the Seuss Things.

The touring set is pretty much the original set. It cost the company $1000.

The reddish earth for the floor is sourced locally, wherever they go, immediately giving a great sense of place and somehow – not entirely sure what I mean – a sense of trust or normality (or something) and authenticity (or something) to this production, just by it being there, underfoot. I think it was the reality underneath, if you cared to look through the thick, murky layer of fantasy and smog (hello, Mt Isa memories) that served to ground us again, bringing us back to that safe, child-like place of trust and normality, just as the father craved, grasping handfuls of earth as he lay there upon it, just considering his place in this lonely place and just as the daughter craved, reacting violently to everything happening outside of her control by forcing a fight, in the dirt in the school yard, with her best friend, finally losing all self-control and regaining at least some sort of self-respect in the defense of her mother against the public taunts and accusations, which she had previously ignored.

Then again, the director and the designer may have had a conversation that went something (or nothing) like this:

DISCLAIMER: I did not hear Sam Strong say, “mate” in all the time we were there. It’s late. I’m tired. If it were a show about putting on a show (currently enjoying a Brisbane season), this is how it would play out.

 

 

Timber. Timber floor boards, mate.

No. Too warm, too friendly, too comforting. How about dirt?

Dirt. Soil. The real, red earth. The dust of life

No mate, that’s Bui Doi you’re thinking of; they’re doing Miss Saigon in Brisbane while we’re there, aren’t they? That’s a brave choice.

Yeah, yeah. Brave choice…

Dirt, mate; let’s get the local dirt and spread it across the floor. It’ll be even more comforting than boards.

Yeah, yeah, no boards; local dirt’s good. But you know it’s been done, mate.

No, not for ages, mate; not since Capricornia and that was only seen by the Brisbane peeps. Do the local dirt, mate.

Alright, mate, that’ll be brilliant. And local. Dirt.

 

 

ASIDE: When I notice that in the back of the cute little STC season brochure for 2011, in their clever little SUPPORT US YOU LOVE US YOU LOVE OUR LAVISHNESS (and p.s. don’t forget our efforts to recycle and greenify the company) the donations they received this year covered costume and set costs upwards of $20 000 for multiple productions, I realise what sort of company I would like to work…like. I would say work for, only you would not say no to an STC gig if it were to come up, would you?! Well I certainly wouldn’t. But by the same token, there is something to be said for the humble independents, draining minimal funding and producing exceptional theatrical work for their country, regardless. Hats off, I say.

So within the strict confines of an ingeniously designed venetian-blind-box, a little family, in a typical almost-outback small town struggles to simply be together. On the surface, it’s a play about survival. Under the surface, it’s about questioning the desire to keep trying…fighting to survive. Who can be bothered? And what (or whom) for?

A husband and father convinces himself that he is, in fact, “bloody lucky” and heads off to work each morning before his wife and daughter are even up and moving. They are both, however; wide awake and considering the day before them. The play is, to begin with, surprisingly…upbeat. The daughter, off to high school and, with a crush on her teacher, chatty and looking forward to getting out of the house and being amongst friends. The mother, off to the kitchen to…oh! just grab a beer before breakfast, after seeing an elephant in the hall before getting out of the house and going for a jog. And so it goes…but not like anything I’ve seen or heard before. And I was ready for it! Having spent the same afternoon on the fourth floor of the Judith Wright Centre with the generous cast, stage manager and director, discussing every aspect of the show, it came as an enormous shock on so many levels – and a total sensory overload – to actually hear two or all three of the actors speaking at once!

THING 4

In a dysfunctional family (and, let’s face it, that could be any family, really, depending on just how closely you look at it) how agonising is it to choose to go on with each day rather than to end the pain, frustration, confusion, miscommunication and missed opportunities – for everyone – in a life that hasn’t turned out quite the way you thought it would? (Did I mention boredom, resentment, regret, regression, manic depression and delusions of grandeur? Yep. That’s right. Remember, I’ve lived out west too). Well, we certainly saw the agony. We felt it. I felt it so that I couldn’t breathe. And because I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t sob, which is really what I felt like doing, as if I were in front of that heart-wrenching film, KOLYA, once again with my four-year old daughter asking, through her own desperate tears, “Mama, why won’t the mama take her boy?” (and her absolutely bewildered tears at the end of it, “Mama, how can the mama take her boy back now?!” Her capacity for sympathy and her depth of understanding confounds me).

Anyway, the last theatrical work to really get me like that was Steppenwolf’s production of Stockholm. At the end of it, I was a complete mess. And as an artist, I thought, “WOW…we can do that!” At the end of Red Sky Morning, I fell apart and, as an artist, thought, “WOW. HOW THE FUCK DO WE DO THAT?!”

The academic in me wants to sit in on everything this company does and just observe and absorb…and ask lots of questions about process and write it up for my thesis. The actor in me wants to do their very next production, whatever it may be, and work collaboratively to be a part of something amazing. And the director and teacher in me wants to work with new talent and use my non-methods, which of course pay homage to Bogart, Chubbuck, et al, to continue to introduce actors on the Sunshine Coast to this little world that we are trying to build here. What is, I realise, a microcosm of Melbourne’s Red Stitch community. That is, if I may be so bold as to claim any similarity to their ensemble philosophy and innovative approach whatsoever!

Brick by brick, somebody recently told me, though I think he referred specifically to building the Brisbane theatre scene at the time. Brick by brick. It applies wherever we are. So. I tell you what. We’ll give it another year here. One more year of bricks. Okay? Then…well, who knows? Brick by brick and day by day, I say!