Posts Tagged ‘sue smith

23
Mar
19

Hydra

 

Hydra

Queensland Theatre & State Theatre Company of South Australia

Bille Brown Theatre

March 15 – April 6 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

There is this woman, Charmian Clift. And I have to dress up as her and go out and be her.

 

 

A sea change. A haven for creatives. Heaven on earth. Until it’s hell.

 

Sue Smith’s Hydra is the new work we’ve been aching for. More than a simple drama built around the words of one of our most under-appreciated female writers, Hydra is a haunting, unsung song cycle actually, the imagery so Australian in its detail yet so universal in its broader sense. Its glittering prose wakes something. Inner eyes flash open, inner ears tune in and we become aware again of that sleeping voice inside beginning to growl and hum and trill with possibility, and also of that other voice reminding us, be careful what you wish for.

 

On the Sunshine Coast, we are the sea change that others crave. We never wanted to feel as if we were stuck in the city without space and sea and sky all around. It’s a choice to stay here. It’s why we live here. But the lure of the Greek islands remains real to us too, just as it must have been to Charmian Clift and George Johnston then, in the fifties; an ideal expat island lifestyle promising escape from the uninspiring daily drudgery of Australia.

 

 

Smith writes about artists as fallible human beings and not as mythical creatures, capable of changing the world one word, one song, one picture at a time, although once they believed they could. These are the artists who support artists. The women who support their men. The addicts supporting, and enabling, the addicts. And the friends, like family, who make a choice to walk away, finally, after nothing more can be done for the ones we love. And what makes us love them, anyway? Do we even remember? When the end comes, did we ever really know what it was that caught our attention, our whole heart? Does it even matter, when a connection runs so deep, when there is so much scar tissue, when there are so many stories to tell, that the wounds won’t ever heal while we insist on retelling them?

 

It’s not a happy story, although there is joy, wonder and contentedness in the tiny moments.

 

 

Anna McGahan shares Clift’s wounds and words in a way that fills us with wonder, delight, and yes, some despair. Her precise vocal work and the cadence of her speech is naturally lilting and wonderfully poetic without being predictable or pointed or laboured, finding entries into Clift’s language and imagery as if she is opening doorways to a fairy realm. And perhaps she is, giving us a peak inside her bohemian faery bower. Bryan Probets breathes a full life into George Johnston, her famous husband (the author of My Brother Jack), even as the character’s breath fails him. On multiple occasions I wish him ill, hoping his breath will catch for the last time, long before it is destined to do so. At one stage I think he’ll stumble into the sea and drown. Good! No. He stays and lingers, and seethes and rages, and slowly, too slowly, he rots and Clift remains by him.

 

Incredibly, Clift helps her husband to write the great Australian novel in lieu of her own, finally physically placing a canvas cover over her typewriter at one end of the table. The metaphor is plain, as she dulls her light to allow his to shine. And so it is in creative partnerships. Yet her turn will never come. Not really.

 

Narrated by Martin, the couple’s omnipresent Greek Chorus son ( a gentle, patient and emotional performance from Nathan O’Keefe), this tragedy of quite ordinary proportions – excepting the proportion of gin consumed, which is quite extraordinary indeed – is elevated by its language and the intensity of the relationships at stake. Vic, better known as painter, Sidney Nolan (Hugh Parker) and wife, Ursula (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight) are the best buddies who become distant friends, opting for sanity and a life beyond the heady days and nights on Hydra, rather than a sad extension of that period, which is impossible to transfer. The romantic artist’s existence becomes the nightmare of every waking hour; the mythical, miserly struggle just to survive, even in Australia, the lucky country. Let’s leave the discussion surrounding the inexplicable miscasting of the French and Greek roles until another time. Let’s simply agree that it’s always a delight to see Ray Chong Nee.

 

 

Director, Sam Strong, breathes gentle, respectful life into this version of events, crafting each of Smith’s scenes to stand alone in the storytelling, as well as adding, piece by piece, the detail that will urge us to look more closely at our own lives, our choices, our commitments…our worth. Almost in three parts, the journey for which we join these characters traverses oceans and years, and delves into their heaving, sighing, cracking, crumbling hearts. While it takes almost a third of the performance for the actors to settle and simply share their story, this is (unfortunately for first audiences everywhere) a bit typical of opening nights. The last couple of chapters of the story, set in Australia once the couple are perceived to have achieved a modicum of success, offers the most real, raw and honest performances of the evening. It’s almost as if we suddenly reach the real story. These are breath-holding, heartbreaking moments, and there are tears. It’s the women in the audience who are visibly affected. And McGahan’s gin-drunk dancing and weeping and collapsing will be mentioned in our Women in Theatre Bridge Club and various book clubs and other women’s circles, going down in Australian theatre history as one of those, “I was there. I saw her do that” moments.   

 

 

Vilma Mattila’s simple and elegant white design is a dream, so pleasing to those who have been to the islands of Greece and seen it before them, as much as to those who have not, and still long to. Nigel Leving’s darkness, creating the purity and peacefulness – and longing – of nights on the island, and sparkling white daylight, despite the perfectly timed thunderstorm outside in real life, which acts like a footnote from the gods at a crucial moment. Quentin Grant’s composition and sound design lures us into the dream before startling us out of it.

 

These words, though. These words of Clift’s, stitched seamlessly into the text by Smith, are like pieces of glass worn smooth by the sea. The memories of jagged edges are so distant that the gems they’ve become might never even have existed in that form, like somebody else’s version of past events.

 

There’s a deeply felt need here for the woman to exist on her own in order to create, just as Virginia Woolf wrote. For a woman’s most authentic work to be conceived and completed, she must exist in space and time for some time, supported, and utterly alone.

 

There is a sort of dreamlike quality in returning to a place where one was young. Memory is as tricky as a flawed window glass that distorts the view beyond according to the way one turns one’s head. Charmian Clift.

 

31
Jan
13

Strange Attractor – Sam Coward

Strange Attractor

Strange Attractor

A Chat with Sam Coward

 

It’s hard to catch my husband for more than 2 minutes at a time so we’re lucky we got this much out of him.

This weekend is your last chance to see Sam in what he says will be his final role on stage for a while. And he’s good. And I’m his biggest critic. You should see this production, it’s good; it’s Simon Denver’s staging of Sue Smith’s bold Australian play about a Pilbara community rocked by the unexpected death of their mate, Gus, played by Sam.

 

Tell us about Gus

Gus has a fairly fast decline from being enthusiastic and somewhat superficial about his role as the safety officer. He’s got an IQ of 133. And then all of a sudden we see his decline; he’s obviously been in the job too long and he sees the de-civilisation in the camp that brings him to breaking point. He resorts to drugs and alcohol, which leads him to doing something stupid. Perhaps if he weren’t depressed he wouldn’t have taken the risk, which ultimately led to his death. Did the drugs and alcohol make the risk possible?

 

How much has the environment contributed to the death of Gus?

Gus is a good man. You see him trying to fit in and he’s an Alpha but it’s not about intellect in that environment. It’s as superficial as “might has right” and it’s a Neolithic hierarchy. Placed in those extreme environmental conditions, combined with a lawless and loveless mental condition, basic instincts govern.

 

Are there any answers by the end of the play?

By the end we learn that relationships are all that matter but people are still going to be attracted to the bright lights and the promise of money. They’ll put themselves into shit conditions to make a lot of money fast. The resource boom FIFO jobs are traps. They sound like they’re a good thing for the family, they’re sold attractively but these jobs are just cheese in the trap. The alcohol, the drugs…

There must be people who find the lifestyle attractive. It’s empty, shallow, and it’s easy until you stop and think about it. It’s purely about the wants. There’s no love, there are just connections.

 

What’s it like to play a dead guy?

It’s funny. Because you’re one of the guys but you’re not performing as one of the guys. They’re all talking about me but I’m not there talking with them. I have a different relationship with them.

 

Tell us about working with SRT

The company is cavalier, crazy and raw. Whether the success of their shows is by accident or design we’ll never know. Simon says the success of a show is 99% casting and he’s right; that’s what we see him do.

There’s a high degree of trust in the SRT process, where actors in the fold are trusted and it’s more a baptism of fire for the newbies. Weaknesses are exposed, ridiculed, and laughed about until they’re not weaknesses anymore. It’s survival of the fittest. You can either work the way we work or you can’t. There’s no management and no handholding. Everybody knows what he or she is doing and they expect you to do the same. When you join SRT for a production it’s sink or swim.

 

So describe the rehearsal process…

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh. You mean Bump In and Tech? That’s it. No, really, that’s it.

 

Is this an important play?

Yes, it’s very relevant; it takes an up close look at the impact of the FIFO phenomenon on Australian families. There’s so much perpetuated about the mining culture and this is a glimpse at the truth.

 

What’s this about a Boys’ Shed at Noosa Arts Theatre?

The Mens’ Sheds comprise men over 60 who hang out and build stuff. The proposal is to start up a boys’ arm of the Mens’ Shed to provide role models for the sons of FIFO fathers, as well as opportunities to learn and apply new practical skills. It’s an old school idea for a new generation of Lost Boys.

 

What about a Girls Shed?

Well, they’re everywhere…salons, stores, and coffee shops.

 

Righto… What’s next? The Pirate Show is ongoing, at least until the 22nd. What do you have on after that?

Soiree_2013The Pirate Show is the first theatre restaurant concept the Sunshine Coast has seen for years so we hope to bring you a return season later in the year. We have some other concepts up our puffy pirate shirt sleeves too. Next Saturday 9th February the Sunshine Coast Theatre Alliance presents their annual Soiree, a night of fun and great food, and the season launches from our Alliance theatre members. Check out livetheatre.com.au for details on how to book and how to get involved at your local community theatre.

 

Following that, I’m involved behine-the-scenes with Noosa Arts Theatre’s West Side Story, directed by Synda Turnbull, and I’m directing opening and closing pieces for the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival and Floating Land. And you know XS has a heap of other projects, which we’ll reveal details about later in the year.

 

Book online for Strange Attractor

 

Book online for the Sunshine Coast Theatre Alliance Soiree

 

Find audition info for the Noosa Arts National One-Act Playwriting Competition and West Side Story here

 

 

 

28
Jan
13

Strange Attractor

Strange Attractor

Noosa Arts Theatre & SRT

Noosa Arts Theatre

24th January – 2nd February 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Unmoving figures – six silhouettes in hard hats – beautifully backlit in red, eliciting thoughts of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, appear behind a white backdrop out of the darkness of an almost bare stage. It’s already a tragic picture and I’ve come into this production cold. I’ve stayed away from rehearsals and other than the synopsis; I’ve not read a thing about Sue Smith’s Strange Attractor. You would think I might have heard updates or insights from Sam from time to time. You would be wrong. We are ships in the night when working on different productions.

 

A basic bar, a fridge, a punching bag and a few tables and chairs set the scene for what must be one of the most important newer Australian plays, about an unexpected death that rocks an outback rail construction camp.

 

It’s a pity that Strange Attractor runs for such a short season (and that the Sunday matinee was cancelled due to the storm), because so many will miss out on this moving drama. It’s not often Sunshine Coast audiences get the opportunity to experience something that falls outside of the farce or musical theatre genres and this is probably the best of its ilk you’ll see this year. (I guess we’ll see what else is in store at the Sunshine Coast Theatre Alliance Soiree in Mudjimba on February 9thhave you booked yet?). It’s a strong ensemble with powerful performances from some of the Sunshine Coast’s best actors; its strength is as much in its silence as in any of its conversation.

 

Moments of unease are relished; the characters wait between lines, without slowing the pace of the play, masterfully stretching the uncomfortable silence into the undeniable reality of the nightmare that follows a tragedy, breathing, waiting, considering, and content to disperse further unease with a look, before moving on. This takes a certain degree of discipline and experience and while the impressive results don’t surprise me, I’m once again bemused to see that the SRT Way just works. I’ll leave that for Sam and Simon to explain in another post. Suffice to say, the casting, by Simon Denver, is superb.

 

A beautiful, sophisticated soundscape by Howard Tampling layers haunting arrangements for piano (Darren Heskes) and guitar (James Allen) of classic Australian songs, the sounds of the storm, and weather updates during the Category 4 cyclone, which wreaks havoc on the camp and contributes to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of popular safety officer, Gus (Sam Coward). It’s nice to see Brad Thomson back treading the boards after a too-long hiatus, and reunited with Job’s Right boys, Sam Coward and Brett Klease. Joined by Clayton Storey as Rube, David Breen as Chilli, and Jodi Bushby, the token female in camp, known semi-affectionately as Truckie, this lot come with language that may offend (though not as much as I’d expected!), and a moving story that they tell with care and a sense of responsibility.

 

Unexpectedly funny, you’ll find it’s extremely real – the people represented are tragedy-raw and hurting, and yet their Australian larrikinism comes through in crass jokes and deft humour for which your grandma would rap you over the knuckles but which you know is your only coping mechanism – and you’ll recognise that and enjoy the challenging repartee more than you think you could. But it’s a cautionary tale, almost a warning… I wonder if Sue Smith intended it that way. It seems this director did. But while there’s treasure to be found under their feet, no disruption is reason enough for the likes of these characters to call it quits, give up the gold and go home.

 
STRA poster-1

Whether our sensibilities want to accept it or not – we are officially into the Chinese Century! This country once rode on the back of the sheep – we are now the quarry of the world. The reality of this is quite simple…the vast oblivious suburban mass of Australia live on the fiscal crumbs from the mining table!

 

Hard truth – sad fact.

– Director, Simon Denver

 

10
Jan
13

Strange Attractor coming soon to Noosa

Strange Attractor
‘WHEN the next generation research how theatre represented the state of the Australian nation in the early part of the 21st century, this new play by Sue Smith will be the flagship text they’ll turn to.’
Nicholas Pickard, Sydney Morning Herald, 2009
 
From Sue Smith, the writer of Bastard Boys and Brides of Christ, comes Strange Attractor, a gripping, contemporary tale of free-will and responsibility in the face of great temptation.
 
It opens at Noosa Arts Theatre on 24 January for a strictly limited two week season.
 
With explosive characters and a witty sense of humour, Strange Attractor is a stunning portrait of small-team camaraderie at the furthest frontier of the mining boom.
 
 
Deep in Western Australia’s mining country, against the blood-red landscape of the Pilbara, a cyclone has wreaked havoc in a remote railway construction camp.
 
Now, a small team of employees anxiously await the arrival of ‘the company man’, sent up from Perth to carry out his own investigation before a coronial inquiry. Dog-tired and in search of drink, they do their best to distract themselves, coming together in a makeshift mess hall. But a stormy evening of shared memories soon takes a strange and unexpected turn.
 
Strange Attractor is a beautiful play. It won’t shock and won’t challenge but it will enthral you. It’s sad and it’s guilty, but the bleakness is brought to life very well and this attractor makes for great theatre!’
Adam Moussa, musicfeeds.com.au, 2009
 
Simon Denver is directing this joint production of Suncoast Repertory Theatre and Noosa Arts Theatre.
Simon is well known as an outstanding director and has chosen a very strong cast in Jodie Bushby, David Breen, Sam Coward, Brett Klease, Brad Thomson and Clayton Storey.
 
This play is not suitable for children under 18.
 
Performances:
Preview: January 24 at 7.30pm
Evenings: January 25, 26, 30, 31, February 1, 2 at 7.30pm. Matinee: January 27 at 2pm.
Strange Attractor