Posts Tagged ‘Sam Strong

18
Mar
17

Constellations

Constellations

Queensland Theatre

Bille Brown Studio

March 9 – April 9 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Humans are meaning makers.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director QT

 

You may have had to learn the dance routine slowly and in its component parts, but in the end, you had to let go and dance.

Howard Fine

 

The universe doesn’t care about time…

Kat Henry, Director

 

We have all the time we’ve ever, and never had.

Marianne, Constellations

 

Nick Payne’s award winning Constellations is an extraordinary play, and Kat Henry’s world class production for Queensland Theatre and Queensland Museum (and a major coup for the World Science Festival) is nothing short of astonishing, challenging actors and audiences to truly be present, live in the moment, and make the connections between seemingly random occurrences before opportunities (and loved ones) become lost to us.

Essentially, Constellations is a beautiful and complex love story, but it’s also about the choices we make and the infinite possibilities presented across ‘multiverses’.

Historically, physics has explained time chronologically, as in the “arrow of time”, charging forward in a single trajectory, however; an alternative view sees time as something immediate, infinite, without beginning or end, presenting endless opportunities. In A Time Apart, Paul Chan describes the quality, not quantity, of time as “A kind of time charged with promise and significance.” Upon further reading it becomes clear that the two types of time are entangled and while some may regard time as something to be kept, others derive greater satisfaction in its release…

The creative team behind Constellations is a scintillating meeting of minds, bringing the abstract and complexity of quantum mechanics, string theory and relativity, and the challenges of the unlikely relationship between an apiarist and an astro physicist into a reality accessible to all. (Can you lick your elbow? Try it!).

Within a deceptively simple design lies lots of clues: the dots we connect to make meaning from the play, in the same way, if we’re living mindfully, that we’re able to make meaning of our lives. Anthony Spinaze’s design draws on the visual representation of the scientific theories, the hexagonal spaces of bee hives and a smooth, shiny, deep blue undulating surface, beneath which we sense a tumultuous emotional landscape. At any given moment, the actors appear to be standing in space, or on the peak of a mountain, or within any interior indicated in the text. We are anywhere and everywhere all at once. Spinaze’s aesthetic is one of the most inspired, intelligent and effective designs we’ve seen for a long time, and so useful in terms of giving the performers a real-surreal place in which to play. 

Ben Hughes’ lighting is inherent in the design, built into the landscape and shining like streams of starlight from the wings and the rig above. The side lighting is particularly effective as we settle into the rhythm of the play and watch the relationship dance across various universes, and immensely satisfying is the final effect, covering the floor with the constellations of the title. A swirling black hole exists out of sight and yet right under our noses, continuously appearing in segments during the repeated motifs, the impressive choreography of the performers (how are they finding their marks in the dark?!) incrementally leading Roland and Marianne toward their inevitable fate. Guy Webster’s original compositions and a salient soundscape take this production into another realm, sending us at the speed of light between alternate worlds, poignant moments.

Lucas Stibbard and Jessica Tovey are perfectly cast, generously offering beautifully nuanced, incredibly rich material to one another and making every second vividly real, despite the challenges, which are more often found in film, presented by so much repetition in the text. This play could easily be a disaster of monumental proportions, and boring to boot, but Director, Kat Henry, is in possession of directorial superpowers. She employs a couple of them by crafting just enough of each vignette (we see an extraordinary 59 – or is it 60 – scenes in all), giving the actors clear boundaries, literally, within the space, delineated by lines and light, and also enough space between these boundaries and the actors’ bodies in which to allow them room to recreate each part of the story in a fresh, new way. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it, certainly not on a Brisbane stage. And the blocking! (Because even within these scenes, driven by impulse, there is a certain amount of direction to get them to where they need to go). 

When speaking about working on this play on Broadway, Jake Gyllenhaal observed, “There’s no moment for autopilot. It demands a constant presence,” and while this is true of every acting job, Constellations showcases the incredible skill and highly attuned instinctual natures of these two performers. To put it in a film context again, it’s as if we’re seeing every single take during a shoot, but every single take is being captured for a different film, depending on the choices made by the characters (and by the actors embodying those characters). It’s next level Sliding Doors. Bravo, Kat Henry, for diving in so deeply. We’re able to plunge the depths of human existence with Roland and Marianne, and come up for air at the end of the night in a state of serene acceptance of the tragic circumstances because, as incredibly moving and devastating as this conclusion is, we completely understand the way everything just is…and always was and always will be.

Whether or not you’re a performer, Constellations is a masterclass in staying in the present moment, applying fearless choices and responding courageously, instinctually and intentionally to whatever’s happening in a given moment.

Constellations is astonishing work; it really could change your life.

Special Event
For two evenings only, do not miss the unique opportunity to attend a performance of this critically acclaimed play, accompanied by an onstage conversation between Constellations playwright Nick Payne and World Science Festival co-founder and physicist Brian Greene.  Following the performance, Nick Payne and Brian Greene will delve into our current understanding of the multiverse, the mysteries that remain, and why this theory captivated Payne’s imagination inspiring this theatrical tour de force. This exclusive event is a collaboration between World Science Festival Brisbane and Queensland Theatre. Book online

 

28
Feb
16

The Secret River

 

The Secret River

Queensland Theatre Company Presents A Sydney Theatre Company Production

QPAC Playhouse

February 25 – March 5 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

TSRSHOWPAGE

This place had been here long before him. It would go on sighing and breathing and being itself after he had gone, the land lapping on and on, watching, waiting, getting on with its own life.

– Kate Grenville

 

The Secret River is a difficult story to tell. For all the beauty, dignity and depth of this tale, it leads relentlessly into dark places… We want to sit respectfully and reflectively in mourning the genocide that has occurred across this land, but we also want to celebrate the survival of Aboriginal culture against all the forces of dispossession and denial.

And so we keep searching to make it right.

– Neil Armfield

 

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William Thornhill arrives in New South Wales a convict from the slums of London. His family’s new home offers him something he hadn’t dare dream of: a place to call his own. On the banks of the Hawkesbury River, he plants a crop and lays claim to the soil in which it grows.

But the Hawkesbury is already home to another family. A family from the Dharug people, whose existence depends on that land. As Thornhill’s attachment to the land deepens, he is driven to a terrible decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

There is no shame in this story that we haven’t felt already.

I feel a sense of grief and a deep, deep sadness that’s difficult to put into words. This is our story. This is our story too. I write this as a privileged white woman in the country I was brought up to believe I belong in, a place I’ve always felt is mine too. Not mine exclusively, but mine to share, with those who are descended from the original inhabitants, and those who continue to arrive from other places. I don’t think I feel a greater entitlement to this land than anyone else (why would I?), but I feel strongly that this country is my home as much as it is anyone else’s and that it’s okay to feel that way.

It’s really hard to talk about, isn’t it? And it’s even harder to write about. Because now I’ve gone on record to say, aloud online, that I feel I’m at home in this country that’s not mine to claim. And I don’t like to be made to feel unwelcome here, or to feel as if I’m only visiting. 

The children get it, of course, all existing in the same space together without suspicion or judgement or blame. They play and bicker and sort out their differences and continue talking and playing and… I wish we could all be more like the children.

A multitude of feelings rendered me speechless after experiencing The Secret River. It’s the first time I’ve felt an audience shudder and breathe as one, through a long, still silence at the close of a show, before the thunderous applause and a well-deserved standing ovation. This is a deeply affecting, life affirming show set beneath the enormity of a single white eucalyptus representing the entire country. When Thornhill insists on scratching his fence into it, just as his wife has marked every day on a wall since they set foot there, I can’t help but cringe.

This is the sort of theatre we all strive to make and we all want to see. It’s theatre that scratches at your skin and makes you cringe and maybe cry, and think more deeply than you did before.

Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel makes The Secret River a seminal work, the newest most important story in the Australian theatrical canon, carefully, thoughtfully and authentically presented, telling both perspectives of a tale so often skewed by the storyteller. There are no sides here, no bias. The tragic events unfold over everyone, and we’re immersed in both worlds. We’re not brow beaten, we’re not defeated…no one is forsaken or forgotten. We’re informed, affected and by the end of the story (for now), despite the inevitable, lamentable tragedy, despite a song of grief that will echo in my heart for years yet, we can choose to feel hope. Each soul is indelibly marked by the end of this show, and we feel we must, in real life, keep searching for a way to make our future together work.

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Ningali Lawford-Wolf (Dhirrumbin) “as if called by the song”, appears and shapes the story of the two families at home on the Hawkesbury River, telling it to stir hearts and minds, yes, but mostly so that it is finally told. She is omnipresent, bearing witness to the atrocities against her people instead of turning and running away because “someone had to see it”.

William Thornhill breaks our hearts and mends them with the same ambition, determined to make a home for his family in a land that is already home to so many. Nathaniel Dean nails this role, embodying every aspect of the complex character, from his love for his family and the land, to his pride, his sense of entitlement, his suspicion, compassion, fear, rage, revenge, violence and regret.

London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.

HORROR. BEYOND SADNESS. We’re so close we see Dean’s eyes glisten with the tears Thornhill refuses to shed. His is a measured and masterful performance. When he tosses an old jacket on the ground next to the broken, grieving Ngalamalum it might be the closest he’ll come to making an apology. It goes unnoticed. Ngalamalum doesn’t care. He needs nothing from Thornhill. We have nothing they need.

secretriver1

Trevor Jamieson (Ngalamalum) hands to us the heart wrenching end to the story in the form of a coda, which used to belong to the narrator, Dhirrumbin (in the premiere season in 2013). Jamieson’s rich, sorrowful singing voice adds gravitas as the lights fade to black. I didn’t see the original production but I feel that this must be the more memorable conclusion. Jamieson is, in this moment, the entire story, his people’s whole history. It’s an incredible moment, truly sensational theatre. No one moves, tears trickle freely down cheeks, mine included. No one cares if they are seen to be crying as the lights come up. It would be weird – monstrous – to remain unmoved.

Iain Grandage’s score is all encompassing and I hope he’ll record it, with the inclusion of some of the Indigenous language, perhaps with the ABC’s support, though STC would be wise to quickly and proudly claim such an album. Isaac Hayward plays a cello, percussion and an open piano on stage, coaxing voices from the keys and strings and hammers as if from the landscape itself. He’s truly gifted and what a gift he’s been given in Grandage’s evocative compositions. I also love hearing the musicality of the Dharug family language. There’s no need for surtitles.

Director, Neil Armfield has embraced this cast, this process, and most of all, Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s sweeping story. The result is a rich storytelling experience that leads us gently and firmly to a new foothold in Australian theatre. It’s a place where the Indigenous voice, though it be penned and directed in this case by non-Indigenous artists, rings out loud and clear. And you can say what you will about that, and what needs to happen next (what is already happening, if you’re paying attention, thanks to artists including Stephen Page, Wayne Blair, Wesley Enoch, Bangarra and many more like them), but I say it’s momentous; it’s where empathy and artistry meet.

Armfield has made minute detail epic, framed wretched ugliness within immense beauty, and we see it all through a perfectly clear lens. There’s nothing hidden here. Armfield’s finesse is visible everywhere, from the human connections on stage to the use of the actors as trees and rocks and dogs, to the addition of sound effects created live on stage as the men attempt to dig up the rocky ground. There is further detail in the integral elements of the set (fire, water, earth, flour, charcoal, rope), the smell of the campfire, eucalyptus, gunfire, the inspired costume design by Tess Schofield and lighting design by Mark Howett, and Grandage’s stunning score. The set design by Stephen Curtis cleverly reveals the secrets of the theatre, while retaining the mystery of the land.

The elements combine to create a harrowing, affecting, exquisitely crafted theatrical experience.

secretriver5

At the Opening Night party, after Sam Strong’s speech (warmly and generously offering insight into the journey the creative team had taken to get to this version of the production, and reminding us of the value of good long-term relationships), it was such a pleasure to speak with some of the cast members, incredible performers and beautiful human beings, all. Trevor Jamieson (Ngalamalum) agreed that it was a challenge to produce theatre to the scale of The Secret River and wishes there was a way to share this story under the stars with the wider community who can’t afford the ticket price. Colin Moody (Blackwood) shared with us some of the ways in which Indigenous culture had permeated the rehearsal process, with the company performing traditional smoking ceremonies to clear each sacred (theatrical) space of its negative energies. We talked about the beautiful, gentle ways that other countries embed their First Nations’ culture into curriculum, and community events. The way the Maori culture has become cool, with every kid learning the Haka and in doing so, learning that pride, not shame, comes with knowing and sharing the traditions of the land’s first inhabitants, whether they share their blood or not.

I saw Okareka Dance Company’s Mana Wahine on Friday, the final fitting offering to over 400 delegates from around the world, gathered in Brisbane for APAM2016. It was a fiercely powerful show, a similar spirit in it, a similar story involving courage, determination and fearlessness, but with a very different ending…

So who will see The Secret River? Who will have the honour and privilege of sharing this story? With such a short season in Brisbane and with such high ticket prices, who will it reach? Those who have seen it will agree it’s vital stuff; it needs to reach everyone, and yet it’s unaffordable for so many. I applaud the high production values but I lament the fact that thousands of people in whose hands the future lies, will miss the opportunity to see this show like this. I wonder if it could be filmed…

secretriver_dean

The Secret River is the ultimate theatrical experience, a complete production, perfectly combining all of the elements, down to the child actors, the musicians and the ash in the fire. Its ritual, rich symbolism, its sense of time and place, its gentle tides and powerful currents pulling us in and out of its story, and its light and unfathomable darkness impress upon our hearts, weighing heavily and making us ache long into the night. (There’s no better theatre than that which makes us ache and think and discuss and debate and dare to dream).

And yes, there is hope. It lies in the hearts and minds of the children, and the adults who will learn from them and choose to lead. Because with knowledge comes responsibility. 

We get home at 1am and I hear the sea’s fearless roar. I love its voice. In it is the vastness of this country, its potential, its desire for peace, and all the ancient magic of where we live, where others have lived before us. (We live in Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi country on the Sunshine Coast). We love it here too. How can we all live and love peacefully in this place? Maybe The Secret River has the answer. Maybe we already had the answer. Maybe we have always had the answer…

11
Feb
16

QTC is opening doors and dissolving borders

 

This is so exciting. Some of the best heads and hearts in the biz involved!

 

Queensland Theatre Company’s new Artistic Director Sam Strong is wasting no time in propelling the company onto the national and international stage in announcing the groundbreaking National Artistic Team.

 

nationalartisticteam

 

As a new Artistic Director, the most important thing you can do before your first season is to choose your artistic team.

– Sam Strong

 

Featuring an extraordinary lineup of artists from a deliberately eclectic mix of disciplines including actors, writers, directors, designers, dramaturgs, devisors, programmers and provocateurs, the QTC’s National Artistic Team includes: the next Chief in line of a Torres Strait Island; the director of the smash hit feature film The Sapphires; a leading New York literary director who now calls Australia home; the curator responsible for one of the most fertile periods of independent theatre in recent years; three great Brisbane artists who have been carving out careers interstate; one of the most important next generation voices on race and identity in Australia; and artists who between them have decades worth of commitment to the Brisbane scene. They are Jimi Bani, Wayne Blair, Margi Brown Ash, Marcel Dorney, Christie Evangelisto, Kat Henry, Nakkiah Lui, Annette Madden, Renée Mulder and Lucas Stibbard.

 

“We are throwing open the doors of QTC and involving more artists than ever before in key leadership positions in the company. This is sending a message about our commitment to lead from Brisbane and do things differently,” said Strong.

 

“This is a unique leadership team comprising 60% women, 30% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and 70% Queenslanders. They are the eyes and ears paying genuine attention to artists and their work in various cities throughout Australia, and overseas. They are the brains and hearts thinking about what Australian theatre needs, and sharing their intense passion for its magic.”

 

Strong will unveil his first Season (2017) this coming September, with all members of the National Artistic Team present.

 

Sam-Strong

 

“The National Artistic Team is a living, working example of the key principles of the new regime at QTC: combining great local and interstate talent as a means of nurturing both; bringing Queenslanders back to their home State; continuing the Company’s commitment to Indigenous voices (and embracing the next generation of those voices), and providing a first home for the brightest new talent from around the country.

 

“Especially important is the idea of thinking more expansively about theatre in Australia. I think it is fair to say that Australian theatre has occasionally been too pre-occupied with State borders, inter- and intra- city rivalries, and owning talent rather than collaborating to develop it. I want to change that.”

 

Strong also announced QTC’s new approach to auditions.

 

“In a few weeks we will throw open the doors of the Company to see the work of hundreds of actors. But, for the first time, we will do this together with our Brisbane colleagues La Boite, sharing resources, time, Artistic Directors and the challenge of developing careers.”

 

He said creating career pathways for artists was another key area of focus for the new National Artistic Team.

 

“A core part of the National Artistic Team’s role is to create opportunities for others and do more to look after people at all stages of their careers. While they are a form of inner sanctum, part of being in that inner sanctum is devising ways to make QTC as inclusive as it can be for artists and audiences.

 

“Leading the nation in the creation of career pathways for artists is also a means of addressing, concretely and from the ground up, the vital question of the diversity of voices on our stages. Every theatre company wants to narrow the gap between the people inside theatres and the people on the street outside. How that is achieved is the rub. QTC led the industry with the groundbreaking Reconciliation Action Plan developed by my predecessor Wesley Enoch and Executive Director Sue Donnelly. We want to build on that work and extend it.”

 

“This year we have National Artistic Team members in Far North Queensland, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and wherever else they might happen to find themselves – and …. we are paying attention. So if you are making a show anywhere in Australia, let us know.”

 

nationalartisticteam_qtc2016

 

QTC’s National Artistic Team:

 

  1. Jimi Bani – Torres Strait Islander performer and writer living in far North Queensland and working around the country and the world. Won acclaim for his performance as Eddie Mabo in the famous ABC TV series, and this year will perform at Belvoir in Sydney and the Barbican in London.
  2. Wayne Blair – actor, director and writer of stage and screen originally from Rockhampton. Director of the smash hit feature film The Sapphires and Redfern Now.
  3. Margi Brown Ash – Brisbane theatremaker and educator with a special interest in Artist Pathways. She has nurtured countless generations of Queensland artists and arts workers.
  4. Marcel Dorney – Brisbane writer, director and dramaturg now living in Melbourne and a previous winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award. Creator of award-winning work around the country with Elbow Room.
  5. Christie Evangelisto – former Literary Director at Signature Theatre in New York and director of Musical Theatre/Resident Dramaturg at Playwright’s Horizons. A world class dramaturg now living in Sydney.
  6. Kat Henry – one of Australia’s next generation directors and the former resident director at MKA New Writing Theatre in Melbourne and Alumni of MTC Women Director’s program.
  7. Nakkiah Lui – writer, performer and cultural commentator, Nakkiah penned Kill the Messenger and This Heaven at Belvoir. Also writer and performer for ABC’s Black Comedy.
  8. Annette Madden – curator, programmer and producer, former director of BSharp at Belvoir and executive producer of thePerth International Arts Festival.
  9. Renée Mulder – one of the country’s leading theatre designers, and former resident designer at STC, returning to her hometown Brisbane.
  10. Lucas Stibbard – actor and director known for his innovative body of work with the Escapists. A long-time contributor to Brisbane’s cultural landscape, he is currently undertaking his inaugural Masters of Cultural Leadership and is on stage in MTC’s production of North by Northwest.
22
Sep
15

Queensland Theatre Company Welcomes New Artistic Director, Sam Strong

 

QTC Welcomes New Artistic Director, Sam Strong

 

samstrong

 

A week after unveiling a much anticipated Season 2016 anchored by an important world premiere and a mainstage program featuring tales of change, Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) has announced their new Artistic Director will be one of Australia’s leading theatre directors and arts leaders, Sam Strong.

 

Sam has been the Associate Artistic Director of Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) since 2013 and is also currently Chair of Brisbane-based Circa. At MTC, Sam has directed multiple sold-out productions, reached a paid audience of over 145,000 people and directed the mainstage theatrical debuts of visual artist Callum Morton and screen comedy legends Working Dog. To say the team at QTC is excited is an understatement.

 

“After a national search we are absolutely delighted to be welcoming Sam Strong to lead this company artistically,” said QTC Executive Director, Sue Donnelly.  “Sam has carved out a stellar career in Sydney and Melbourne, making critically and commercially successful theatre as a director, and growing the audiences at Griffin Theatre company as artistic director,” Ms Donnelly said.

 

QTC Chair Richard Fotheringham said audiences were set for a rich adventure ahead. “On the back of launching our Season 2016 program last week which stars 10 powerful productions as well as another incredibly strong touring program nationally, we can now celebrate the appointment of Sam Strong; what a wonderful future QTC audiences can look forward to,”Mr Fotheringham said.

 

Ms Donnelly paid tribute to outgoing Artistic Director Wesley Enoch who departs to take up the baton at Sydney Festival. “Wesley Enoch introduced a new era of passion to QTC; a champion of local and Indigenous productions.  He has launched world and Australian premieres and shone the light on important actors, directors and causes. His work with Black Diggers was inspirational, and he was pivotal in bringing Michael Attenborough to Australia to direct Macbeth 18 months ago. The importance of his legacy at QTC cannot be quantified and we look forward to many collaborations with him in the future,” Ms Donnelly said.

 

On his appointment, Sam Strong said: “I’m delighted to be taking on the challenge of Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company. Wesley Enoch is an artist and a cultural leader I admire and it’s a rare gift to inherit a company in as great a shape – artistically and operationally – as QTC.”

 

“I’m excited about working with Sue Donnelly and the team to take the company to even greater heights. QTC is already a national leader in touring, Indigenous programming and working with young people. I want to grow this reputation and make QTC a national leader in everything it does,” Mr Strong said.

 

On moving to Queensland, Strong said Queensland represented a wealth of creative talent, one which he was thrilled to be working with. “My time with Circa has whetted my appetite to work in Queensland and with Queensland artists and I can’t wait to plunge myself into the Brisbane scene. I’m looking forward to teaming up with Queensland artists to take our theatre around the state, around the nation and around the world,” Mr Strong  said.

 

Prior to MTC, Sam was Artistic Director of Australia’s new writing theatre, Griffin Theatre Company. At Griffin, Sam tripled subscribers, expanded the program to include the revival of Australian classics, and directed the highest selling show in the company’s 35-year history. Prior to Griffin, he was the Literary Associate at Company B Belvoir, and the dramaturg in residence at Red Stitch Actors Theatre, where he co-founded Red Stitch Writers.

 

Sam won Best Direction of a Mainstage Production for The Floating World at the 2013 Sydney Theatre Awards, and has received multiple nominations for Best Direction at the Sydney Theatre Awards, the Greenroom Awards, and the Helpmann Awards.

 

He has directed many of Australia’s leading actors including Justine Clarke, Lucy Durack, Colin Friels, Noni Hazlehurst, Asher Keddie, Lachy Hulme, Robyn Nevin, Josh McConville, Luke Mullins, Pamela Rabe, Kat Stewart, Erik Thomson, Hugo Weaving, and David Wenham.

 

Sam’s directing credits include: Masquerade (Sydney Festival/Griffin/STSA/Melbourne Festival); The Weir, Endgame, The Sublime, The Speechmaker, Private Lives, The Crucible, Other Desert Cities and Madagascar (Melbourne Theatre Company); Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Sydney Theatre Company); The Boys (Sydney Festival/Griffin); The Floating World,  Between Two Waves, And No More Shall We Part and Speaking in Tongues (Griffin); The Power of Yes (Company B Belvoir); Red Sky Morning, Faces in the Crowd (Red Stitch) and Thom Pain (based on nothing) (B Sharp).

 

Sam joins QTC from November this year.

 

 

 

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Sam Strong & Sam Coward 2008

 

 

16
May
12

A Hoax

A Hoax

La Boite & Griffin Theatre company

The Roundhouse 

5th – 26th May 2012

In a pristine white setting (Designer Renee Mulder), against a photographer’s backdrop used in conjunction with images projected onto 2 screens (Music, Sound & AV Designer Steve Toulmin) to create “hotel room”, we meet four mismatched characters, each with their own issues and their own perfectly acceptable selfish agendas. One is a literary agent and one is her PA. One is a writer. No one has heard of him because he’s a middle class, white skinned social worker. One is an Aboriginal girl. No one has heard of her because she’s a lower class, black skinned Indigenous chick. They are all desperately unhappy in their ridiculous situations (ie normal life) and seek success and happiness via that dodgy vehicle, fame. And why not? Everyone’s a star! Aren’t they?

Now, don’t go blaming Andy Warhol! He was talking about 15 minutes. 15 MINUTES, PEOPLE!

(Thank you, that’s all we need today).

If you must create this future for yourself, here is what you’ll need:

  • A bit of ambition (it doesn’t take much, just enough to make you brave enough to take the first steps towards your new, incredible life as a famous person)
  • A supportive somebody (it doesn’t matter who it is as long as they promise to stick to the script)
  • A tough skin (never mind those cynics, they’re delusional themselves. Don’t they see what the public sees?)
  • Access to the media (and a YouTube account, a Twitter account and a Facebook page that are all regularly updated by your brazen manager, agent or their PA. See below)
  • A brazen manager or agent and their marginalised-in-whatever-way PA (none of them have to believe in you they just have to make others believe in you. They’re probably jealous of you anyway and will skim as much as they can off the top so you’d better be famous AND crazy wealthy)
  • A story to make ‘em weep (or cringe in horror. n.b. it doesn’t need to be true it just needs to be SOLD)

So, you see? Achieving fame and notoriety is easy! Everyone’s a winner! So we are led to believe. This modern restoration comedy smashes that perception and then, strangely, disturbingly, reinforces it.

The star of the show is the brilliant premise and it’s a doozy! Inspired by some of the great contemporary literary hoaxes (the misery memoir or fake autobiography), A Hoax proves that Rick Viede was not a one hit wonder with his Premier’s Literary Award winner in 2010, Whore but an up and coming ROCK STAR. I can perfectly envisage his career catapulting, at the same rapid pace and in the same general upward direction, as the fictitious character Currah’s does during the course of the play. Let’s hope there’s no mistaking his identity though!

Remember Barry Levinson’s 1997 film, Wag the Dog, about the creation of a war hero? A Hollywood producer and a spin-doctor dream up a fictitious war to distract the American public from a presidential sex scandal. It works! It’s marketing! It’s ALL marketing. Of course, on the other end of every successful hoax, there’s human nature. In any context, we all want to believe.

I love the play – with some reservations because any variation on Stockholm syndrome is unnerving and the notion of anyone taking delight in the horrendous abuse she’s suffered is completely unsettling – it’s refreshing, raw work of heightened realism, allowing a great deal of profanity and non-PC-ness (sexism, racism and issues surrounding homophobia are rife), which means it is bound to work equally as well, if not better, as a screenplay. Viede states in the program notes that he is happy with the political shocks in the play but at times the heightened delivery does him (and the play) a disservice by sanitising the shocking truth of our modern media-run world.

I found the world premiere a little clunky. We could feel the gears shifting, as if a Learner driver had gotten their hands on a shiny new Ferrari! Shame! A week into the run, I have no doubt that this will have been remedied. I feel that, in its baby state, the piece is overwritten and I expect the red pen will come out before A Hoax goes on in Sydney. Interestingly, in conversation during the interval, with Griffin’s Artistic Director, Sam Strong, he commented that it was good to see the work getting “a bit of a clean up” on the Brisbane stage. Director, Lee Lewis, has clearly allowed for some play time during the rehearsal process and now her actors need to settle in and play!

Overwritten, slightly self-indulgent scenes in Act 1, that languish over a singular point, sometimes feel drawn out and a little repetitive. Act 2, at a cracking pace, works better. The climatic scene works like a shock to the system and it visibly affected the audience on opening night. In an instant, uncanny silence replaced uneasy laughter. We know what is going to happen, we’re dreading the cruel inevitability (it’s set up extremely well) but even just the sense of it is enough for me, without having to sit through the entire humiliating scene. Truly squirm-worthy, perhaps that’s the point. Overload the senses, boost the shock factor, get the people talking and get the sales!

Shari Sebbens is a wonderful, real and really pretty shocking Currah. She’s the brash, loud-mouthed (foul-mouthed) stereotypical Indigenous kid, with a fabricated past and a bright future, as long as she can gain – and retain – control of it. Sally McKenzie is at her best, in her driest version of the stereotypical Sydney literary agent, Ronnie Lowe. There’s a plum role for Sally in David Williamson’s play, Emerald City. I know because I played opposite Robyn Nevin in the role in Noosa for a special event produced by the Corrilee Foundation and Noosa Longweekend. Interestingly, Glenn Hazeldine directed the Melbourne production of One Night in Emerald City at the Malthouse.

The arc of A Hoax gives Tyrell Parks the biggest journey and Eric Morris trained Charles Allen doesn’t let up or let us escape from his side for a moment. He gets under our skin as we bear witness to his meteoric rise from rags to rehab to riches. He who dares wins! There is some brilliant, crude comedy from Allen before he reveals Tyrell’s darker side. It’s Hazeldine however, as Dooley, who impresses most, quietly simmering and staying hidden in the shadows, supporting his “ward” as far as the public are concerned but sticking his white, middle class nose in where it’s not wanted, according to Tyrell and Lowe. In this role, Hazeldine demonstrates how to beautifully underplay the pivotal character.

It’s taken me almost a week to write this review (sorry), because I really loved it but didn’t really LOVE it, you know? But A Hoax is so real and at the same time, so OTT that others are bound to love it. If you don’t, let me know and we’ll discuss it over a drink. Viede has my utmost respect and A Hoax gets my vote for most surprising new work – there’s no doubt it’s a sure-fire hit – but it hasn’t got all my love…yet.

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!




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