Posts Tagged ‘stephen carlton

13
Apr
16

Bastard Territory

 

Bastard Territory

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

April 6 – 16 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Everyone I spoke with before attending this play was terrified by the thought of a 3-hour commitment! But Bastard Territory doesn’t feel too long, thanks to a reasonably fast pace and light-hearted moments landing amongst some heavy themes. Playwright, Stephen Carlton, explores thoroughly and fairly efficiently, identity, belonging, and not.

While Act 1 takes its time to establish the human context, the detail is probably necessary to give us a complete picture of Russell’s world and its inhabitants. He’s on a mission to find out who he is and who his biological father might be. He tells his story from within, and from just outside of it.

A different set of eyes on the text (or the luxury of a longer rehearsal period –  just two weeks were available for the remount of this production) might allow the time and space for Carlton or Dramaturg, Peter Matheson, to take to it with a red pen. Act 2 is the tightest and most engaging of the three, exposing the truth about complex relationships and identity. It seals the deal: if we’re not with Russell by now we never will be.

The final act deals with new and renewed alliances, the tatters of the old torrid relationships, post-independence political fragments and new possibilities, but a sudden ending leaves us unsatisfied. This is perhaps intentional. There’s a feeling that Russell’s quest must continue and yet…it feels rushed, contrived. In fact, the final scene undoes a lot of good, with the token reappearance of a suitcase Russell had packed when he was eight years old, and the gift of a CD, the original vinyl record broken by Aspasia in a fit of childish rage. But surely she would have thought of giving that gift already, when CDs first became available years before, and she, older and wiser, first felt inclined to replace it? It’s illogical. Following this clumsiness, I would like to have seen the mother return home, to simply appear at the door. An even bigger cliche? Well, she has her Nora moment, but honestly, who else but Nora actually leaves her children? (Lagertha always returns to hers)…

Lauren Jackson is a vibrant and emotionally vulnerable Lois, the mother of our narrator. At first forlorn, conservative and entirely dependent in Port Moresby, she embraces the freedom of a more bohemian lifestyle after dabbling in the local amateur theatre scene and art class.

Witnessed by Russell, she meets men whom, one after another, he supposes in hindsight could have been his biological father. She learns to live silently with her husband, Russell’s “dad”, Neville; the younger, Peter Norton & the elder, Steven Tandy. Norton is inconsistent in applying the after-effects of a tragic event he chooses to endure in the line of duty; he’s more convincing later, in the less obtrusive role of Russell’s boyfriend, Alistair. Tandy is a stern, self-righteous father at the end of his political career, conflicted, and stubbornly keeping a firm grasp on a long string of lies as it begins to unravel. By the end of the play he earns our sympathy as only Tandy can, with a single poignant line.

Bender Helwend makes a sincere, if somewhat insecure Russell, conversing directly with us and leaping in and out of his additional roles with aplomb. A drag act may come across more confidently by the end of the season (after all, he’s rehearsed it or performed it every Friday night since he was eight years old! It should be of Priscilla standard), and the references to Tennessee Williams’ work will probably sound less obvious and more natural in this time too. Additional roles (Cleo/ Tinneka/Aspasia) are played by Ella Watson-Russell, another Corrugated Iron Youth Arts (pre-drama school) product.

Nanette (Suellen Maunder) represents the unavoidable small town type and makes this character appropriately annoying. A caricature, larger than life, like the people from the past our parents tell us about; constructed memories, formed piece by piece from the stories told time and time again. Everyone knows a meddling, smiling assassin like Nanette.

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The style, sweeping across three eras, is very meta from the outset, letting us in on the making and staging of a play, with frequent reminders that it’s just a story being told and the details could be inaccurate, but it’s Russell’s story and this is the way he tells it. I love this relaxed style of writing, casually, persistently working its way around vital political and personal issues, the things we most often gloss over in real life.

It’s an epic story, spanning oceans and decades to remind us just how complicated real life – and the relationships that really matter to us – can be.

Sean Pardy’s warm lighting makes available every space, although the economic direction forgets sometimes there is an upper level, to which eight year old Russell sometimes retreats. Director, Ian Lawson, plays nicely with pace and handles with care the high stakes and political points, bringing our attention neatly to the plight of anyone under someone else’s rule, including the wives of colonial community military leaders. His respect for the work and the writer is clear. No red pen will have made it into his hand.

Penny Challen’s set design is immediately interesting: the 2-storey timber floored skeletal structure serves abstractly as the basic Port Moresby accommodation, the Darwin bones after Cyclone Tracy has hit, and the vaguely flamboyant renovated gallery and bar. Challen’s costumes are more authentic in form, with the men in shorts and long socks (the – a-hem – trend at the time, which my father adopted, day after day in the DPI. You’ll still see it if you’re lucky, in some government departments and state school staff rooms), and the women in floral frocks and later, the kaftans of the seventies. Guy Webster’s super cinematic soundtrack successfully takes us through the years.

Bastard Territory precedes another new Australian (and abroad) family and political saga, Motherland, written by Katherine Lyall-Watson and staged originally at Metro Arts. These essential tales are boldly told and not easily forgotten. It will be fascinating to see what has become of Motherland with the bigger state theatre company budget behind it. In the meantime, Carlton’s Bastard Territory is thoroughly enjoyable; well worth the three hour commitment to Bille Brown’s seats, which are much more comfortable than those elsewhere.   

Production pics by Stephen Henry

 

31
May
15

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

 

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

May 23 – June 13 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

INCEST ASIDE, IT WAS A GREAT WEDDING.

 

 

WHAT IF OEDIPUS LIVED NEXT DOOR?

 

 

MUTHAFUCKA

 

 

I never really liked Neapolitan icecream but when we were kids we would have it for dessert sometimes – a special treat – and now I’ll never eat it again.

 

 

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Daniel EvansOedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s an incredibly fast, funny, deeply affecting piece, which uses the ancient story of Oedipus to look at how we respond to unspeakable tragedy.

 

 

The winner of the 2014-2015 Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, the only writing comp in the country that guarantees a fully professional production of the winning work, this Oedipus is a disturbingly accurate contemporary take on Sophocles’ Theban plays. If you’ve never before been able to work out the complex plots, this production gives you all the clues to do so.

 

 

Transposed to an outer suburban neighbourhood somewhere in Australia (it’s one we might try to avoid visiting after dark), the unfathomable story suddenly becomes horrifyingly familiar – as familiar as any tragedy involving celebrities or royalty might seem via Facebook – as a chorus of four young actors rise from green plastic chairs and tell us simply and directly where they are and which role they’ll be playing in order to relay the shocking tale.

 

 

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is masterful writing, brought to vivid life by a brilliant team.

 

 

And speaking of teamwork, let’s not forget the Dramaturgs: Stephen Carlton, Saffron Benner and Louise Gough, who have helped to nurture the text through many stages of development.

 

 

I guess this doesn’t really require a mention either, but something about this production reminds me of another winner of this award so I’m going to remind you of it too. Marcel Dorney created an ancient world for his winning play, Fractions, directed by Jon Halpin in 2011. It had been in development for four years. “We all thought it was pretty special but were worried it was too hard, that the ideas were too difficult and too big and people would just switch off,” Halpin told Cameron Pegg. The boldness paid off, bringing us the big ideas and difficult lessons of an old story in a new framework. Halpin said of Fractions, “It’s set 1500 years ago but it speaks with an urgency and relevance to today’s world with more insight and profundity than any other new work I’ve come across.” I would say the same of Evans’ Oedipus.

 

 

The story is inconceivable, the stuff of the inescapable 24-hour click-bait news cycle but told this way, so cleanly and unapologetically, we believe it.

 

 

From the outset we’re drawn into a hilarious retelling of events (no really; it’s really horribly funny) with just a couple of amendments to detail, such as the pedophiliac father’s chariot becoming a car in a fatal crash.

 

 

A compelling scene toward the end of the play humanises things even more than the humour can do, in case we didn’t already feel something. To set it up, we live through the excruciating tension of a high school shooting orchestrated and executed by Eteocles and Polynices (the sons of Oedipus). The massacre is reenacted on top of a pulled-from-the-wall campus mud map. Again, as we’ve seen before, there is comedy in it that makes us feel inhuman for laughing out loud. It leaves me numb. I’m filled with dread in the moment before the final “bang” is voiced by one of the boys and then I feel sick to my stomach. This slow burn is a master class in tension and restraint, a perfect example of the restraint shown throughout by Director, Jason Klarwein. It’s his best work to date and it thrills me to think of what he might, as Director, be gifted with next.

 

 

The beautifully tragic scene-that-shouldn’t-work (and wouldn’t work in the hands of a less intelligent team) takes place in a deserted playground, in which Haemon (Son of Creon and Eurydice, engaged to Antigone, who is dead) sits silently on a swing while an unknown girl chatters away to him under the pretext of sharing the last can of rum from the carton at Haemon’s feet. Eteocles and Polynices have killed everyone else (BANG). The rum is…warm. The mood is…awkward. Burton is superb here, a gangly, desperately frightened teen unravelling for the longest time. She is mesmerising, expertly manipulating pace, pause and proximity. Suddenly, after his eerie extended silence, a single sentence tossed spitefully across the playground by Haemon destroys her completely and he exits and kills himself. It’s brutal, brilliant stuff.

 

 

The space is intimate and at the same time retains a vast, empty feeling, as if we are lost in time and space. Justin Harrison’s soundscape, comprising original compositions and precision theatre sound effects (is that even a thing? I’m making precision theatre a thing), matches the text moment-to-moment, beat-by-beat, leaving silences through which we can only breathe…or not dare to breathe. An intelligent lighting design by Daniel Anderson works like a spell to capture and focus our attention; it’s the best example I can offer to tech-obsessed students this year of the way in which the elements are used to enhance a production. That leads me to mention that although it’s a risqué show for secondary schools, that doesn’t mean students should stay away from it. While the school might not be in a position to take you, senior students, you should see this show. You’re welcome.

 

 

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The design, perfectly realised by Jessica Ross, is spectacularly simple, featuring fluorescent lighting to frame the action and a graffiti wall by Drapl, which is foreboding even in all its colour and humour, warning us like the Oracle and welcoming us like Laius into the cold, hard, clashing world of ancient and modern youth. The overall effect serves to focus our attention on the performers, an astonishing ensemble.

 

 

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Ellen Bailey, Emily Burton, Joe Klocek and Toby Martin are uncompromising in their multiple roles. If Bailey were a criminal she would be considered a master of disguise. Her ability to switch from one character to the next is impressive and always funny. Burton is a beauty, swinging from hysteria to thoughtful silence in a heartbeat. Martin sometimes shouts a little more than necessary but as Laius, King of Thebes, he successfully harnesses the craziest, creepiest kind of power imaginable over the young boy, Crysippus, and seers his image and evil energy onto our hearts. It’s Klocek we’ll keep an eye on though, because this 19-year-old achieves the same level of depth and nuance and variety with his characters as the others do with far less stage or screen experience under his belt. Here’s his bio:

 

 

Queensland Theatre Company: This Hollow Crown, Face It. Other Credits: QUT: Orphans, The Three Sisters. Film: Rome. Training: QTC Youth Ensemble, 2012.

 

 

THAT IS ALL. HE’S A NATURAL.

 

 

How exciting and frightening that the story of Oedipus who kills his father, sleeps with his mother and rips his own eyes out (the “professional opinion” here is a killer), can feel new and fresh and raw and completely relevant. I won’t give away the final moment but IT BITES. THIS PLAY BITES. WHO COULD WRITE SUCH A THING?

 

 

Well, Daniel Evans could and he has done, and if you miss it you miss bearing witness to a new, living, fire-breathing brand of Australian theatre that other writers are trying desperately to master.

 

 

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is an exceptional play and this is an electrifying production, which must be supported to have a life beyond its World Premiere run.