Sunday, 18 April 2021

2021: seven methods of killing kylie jenner by Jasmine Lee-Jones - preview article

 

 

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner by Jasmine Lee-Jones.  Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre Company at Eternity Playhouse, Sydney, until May 2, 2021

Previewed by Frank McKone

Directed by Shari Sebbens
Associate Director – Zindzi Okenyo

Performed by Vivienne Awosoga as “Kara” and Moreblessing Maturure as “Cleo”


Twitter in the morning.  Twitter in the evening. Twitter in your dreams.  Who on earth is this #incognegro?

Surely it’s some racist git (that’s London Cockney for ‘idiot’).  Who is the Kylie Jenner that somebody wants to kill?  Is this meant to be funny?

Well, it’s often very funny, especially for the social media generation who get all the jokes in online language.  KMT (kiss my teeth!). JS (just saying!)

Why Cockney?   That’s because this exciting, irreverent and ultimately emotionally gripping play comes from the best of London theatre:

Jasmine was originally developed as a writer through the Royal Court’s Young Court programme and seven methods of killing kylie jenner was first commissioned as part of The Andrea Project – A day of free events inspired by the life, work and legacy of Andrea Dunbar. This work was part of the Young Court’s mission to expand the Royal Court’s commitment to new voices.
https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/sevenmethods/  

Andrea Dunbar (1961-1990),  wrote her first play at the age of 15, The Arbor, about "a Bradford schoolgirl who falls pregnant to her Pakistani boyfriend on a racist estate”. It received its première in 1980 at London's Royal Court Theatre. At age 18, Dunbar was the youngest playwright to have her work performed there.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Dunbar

This production of Seven Methods was destined for Belvoir Theatre in November – December 2020, but “Given the unprecedented global health crisis we currently face, Belvoir has made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel all performances of 7 Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner. We are being cautious and following the government’s directive to restrict public gatherings. The health and safety of our audience, staff and actors is always our first priority.”  So it is a coup for the diverse multicultural community which Darlinghurst Theatre Company represents to begin this year’s recovery with this outstanding example of committed theatre.  Masks are now voluntary, not required in NSW.

A remarkable feature of the show is the finely detailed choreography and timing of the action, combined with AV projections on a very unusual set design, which is very often ironically humorous in its own right, reminiscent of the best standup comedians.  Yet this style morphs into genuine and empathetic characterisation.  

The strength of the play and this production in particular is that the audience is taken on a journey to understand from the inside and identify with these people, so affected by the issues of racism and sexual preference, of historical and present-day abuse.

For Canberrans, many of whom may be regulars at Belvoir, now is the time to discover Eternity, the Darlinghurst Theatre Company playhouse in Burton Street, between the well-known Crown and Bourke Streets, just off Oxford Street.  

In addition, to see this play will give strength to Canberrans’ submissions to the discussion paper announced today on the new laws proposed by the ACT government to create a charter “that says the territory will support multiculturalism by promoting active citizenship and mutual respect regardless of background”: in Canberra Times News Page 3 [ https://www.canberratimes.com.au ]
.

And if, like me, you unfortunately missed the musical Once, “the only Broadway show to have music that won the Academy Award ® , Grammy Award ® , Olivier Award and Tony Award ®”, in 2019, Darlinghurst Theatre Company will this year take it on tour – to Canberra in August 26th-29th .


And, BTW, Kylie Jenner is real and apparently thoroughly justifies this play:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kylie_Jenner

Kylie Kristen Jenner (born August 10, 1997) is an American media personality, socialite, model, and businesswoman. She has starred in the E! reality television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians since 2007 and is the founder and owner of cosmetic company Kylie Cosmetics.

In 2014 and 2015, Time magazine listed the Jenner sisters on their list of the most influential teens in the world, citing their considerable influence among youth on social media. As of December 2020, with over 206 million followers, she is one of the most followed people on Instagram. In 2017, Jenner was placed on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list, making her the youngest person to be featured on the list. Jenner starred on her own spin-off series, Life of Kylie, which premiered on E! on August 6, 2017. In November 2018, New York Post credited her for being the most influential celebrity in the fashion industry.

According to Forbes, in 2019, Jenner's net worth was estimated at US$1 billion, making her, at age 21, the world's youngest self-made billionaire as of March 2019, though the notion of Jenner being self-made is a subject of controversy, owing to her privileged background. In May 2020, however, Forbes released a statement accusing Jenner of forging tax documents so she would appear as a billionaire. The publication also accused her of fabricating revenue figures for Kylie Cosmetics.

How good is the internet, hey?  Tweet, tweet.


© Frank McKone, Canberra

Friday, 16 April 2021

2021: Cosi by Louis Nowra

 

 

Cosi by Louis Nowra.  Canberra Rep at Naoné Carrel Auditorium, April 8-24 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 16

Director – Sophie Benassi

Set Designer – Andrew Kay; Sound Designer – Neville Pye; Lighting Designer – Mike Moloney; Costume Designer – Monique Doubleday

Cast: in order of appearance

Lucy – Emily Pogson            Lewis – Martin Fatmaja Hoggart
Nick – Alex Castello            Roy – Chris Baldock
Justin – John Lombard        Doug – Blue Hyslop
Henry – Max Gambale        Cherry – Steph Roberts
Ruth – Alexandra Pelvin        Julie – Isobel Williams
Zac – Elliot Cleaves

Photos: Helen Drum

_________________________________________________________________________________


The sincerity of Louis Nowra’s art flows off the stage in Rep’s thoroughly engaging presentation of Cosi.  The energy, commitment and sense of both enjoyment and satisfaction is surely the product of quality directing by Sophie Benassi.  I look forward in anticipation to a career firmly based in her BA and DipEd, and NIDA training, following her appointment as Co-Artistic Director of Canberra’s Mockingbird Acting Studio and Theatre Company alongside founder Chris Baldock.

I came away with a sense of a new generation in Canberra theatre and, as the Covid experience grinds on, my faith in humanity was reaffirmed.  

Cosi is fascinating because we find ourselves laughing, often very much out loud, at what characters are doing, at the same time as understanding empathetically their clinical situation.  This production works so well because not only is the acting consistent with Nowra’s intention, but so also is the casting – of actors whose physical features are exactly as I have always imagined for these characters – and the wonderful costumes, make-up and hairdos.  The characters we see look like the real thing, as themselves and in their roles in the final performance of their play, at the same time as symbolically representing the types of people they would have been in the period of the Vietnam War Moratorium Marches, the first of which in Australia was on May 8, 1970.  

Just look at Lewis’s wide-bottomed trousers, and anyone my age remembers – not just the fashion, but the ‘Arts’ university personality which I’m sure Louis must have been.  We can’t help but feel for his discombobulation when faced by the strength of character of people who have been classed and ‘sectioned’ as clinically insane.

Cherry confronts Doug in Rep's Cosi
L to R: Max Gambale (Henry), Isobel Williams (Julie), Blue Hyslop (Doug)
Steph Roberts (Cherry), Chris Baldock (Roy), Martin Fatmaja Hoggart (Lewis)

L to R: Blue Hyslop (Doug), Alexandra Pelvin (Ruth),
Steph Roberts (Cherry), Chris Baldock (Roy)

 

Though some characters are naturally likely to attract our attention more than others, such as the fire-bug Doug, the dominant Roy, the mysteriously silent Henry and the Wagner accordion player Zac, the value of this production is in the care taken to give equal standing to each part.  Julie’s somewhat distanced watching of the action early on and progress towards being discharged, Ruth’s obsessive compulsive disorder, and Cherry’s sexual fixation become the central throughline connecting Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte story – of how women are thought of by men and what women actually think of the inadequacies of men – to the modern situation women are in.  

Interestingly, the only characters with whom we feel little sympathetic connection are the three sane figures: Lewis’ moratorium organiser friend Nick; his girl friend Lucy – who ‘sleeps’ with him but ‘has sex with’ Nick; and Justin, the social worker who represents the authority over the patients.  Though Alex, Emily and John played their roles perfectly well, they were hardly funny and are left somewhat in the shade – except for Alex as Nick when Max’s Henry very nearly throttles him.  That scene was horribly funny.

The set design was equally impressive, having been previously half-burnt down by Doug and so having unexpected holes for entrances and exits apart from the doorway in on our left and the clearly labelled “dunny” on the right.  I’m still laughing at Henry’s several times’ complete circumnavigation of his theatre, which included our auditorium, when he has to work off his energy because of his medication upset.

All round then, literally as well as metaphorically, Rep’s Cosi does justice to Louis Nowra’s ‘Lewis’, ending with Martin Fatmaja Hoggart’s quietly done and emotionally gripping return to reality as he describes what happened in later life to his two girlfriends.  That’s when the laughter stopped.  

The synopsis in the program says “Cosi blurs the lines between sanity and insanity, fidelity and infidelity, and reality and illusion”, but I think Cosi makes the distinctions clearer.

Elliot Cleaves as Zac - pianist and accordion player

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Thursday, 15 April 2021

2021: One Man In His Time by John Bell

 

 

One Man In His Time by John Bell and Shakespeare.  Bell Shakespeare at Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, Wednesday and Thursday, April 14-15, 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 14

Conceived and performed by John Bell

Lighting Designer: Ben Cisterne
Stage Manager: Eva Tandy

__________________________________________________________________________________
Actors are the only people who can be trusted, because we all know they are pretending.  But, said the actor John Bell, I wouldn’t trust an actor.

I’m not quoting his words exactly – my 80-year-old memory, two months younger than Bell’s, is a disgrace in comparison.  Not only can he give us many of Shakespeare’s most significant speeches, he makes One Man In His Time a masterclass study of that other actor/writer’s universal truths.  

His audience ‘got it’ when it came to issues like political leadership in modern times,  well before the ‘T’ word was spoken.  Manipulative advertising men as Prime Ministers didn’t even need to be mentioned by name.

Trust in Shakespeare is the message, as Bell has done throughout his life in acting roles, as a director and founder of the Bell Shakespeare theatre company, “Thanks to an innate love of theatre and the inspiration provided by two wonderful high school teachers.”  His show was devised to celebrate Bell Shakespeare’s first 30 years as arguably the longest-lasting and only truly national Australian theatre company.

I found myself feeling inspired by John’s elucidation of that other writer/ performer/ director man in his own time (probably b. April 23rd 1564 – definitely d. April 23rd, 1616); but I also felt that I would love to understand more about our own famous theatre man in his time (November 1940 – 2021 ongoing…, or at least since about 1955 when those teachers grabbed his attention).  

His illustrations from the History plays, the Roman plays and especially Hamlet, King Lear and The Tempest – and his demonstrations of how to play the enormous variety of Shakespeare’s characters –  revealed, with the immediacy of an actor we undoubtedly could trust, exactly the attributes Bell has described in his note “From John Bell”:

In putting together this meditative piece about Shakespeare I avoided structuring it around any one theme in case it got too academic.  Instead I have chosen to focus on just a few of his attributes: his compassion, empathy, shrewd understanding of politics and power structures, his earthy humour and, of course, his peerless poetic language which,” he says, “will go on living only if we go on speaking it and listening to it.

My interest in knowing more about the real John Bell has been stirred in recent times by reviewing what I have seen as a new genre which  I have named Personal Theatre.


The most recent is Stop Girl, a 90 minute piece at Belvoir, Sydney, written by foreign correspondent journalist Sally Sara.  Her central character, “Suzie”, is a true representation of Sally’s personal reaction, post traumatic stress disorder, following years of war-zone reporting.  Her play is double-edged, showing the horror of war for others as well as for herself, even as a professional objective reporter.

Another extraordinary piece, by Canberra dance artist Liz Lea reveals her lifetime experience, through a solo dance with spoken word, Red, of suffering from endometriosis.

An experience of a quite different kind, but again effecting a change of life, is shown in My Urrwai, in which Ghenoa Gela, again in dance and voice, tells her story of re-engaging with her original culture in the Torres Strait after a childhood in Brisbane.  This is a story of gaining new appreciation and personal strength, in life and as a performer.

I would look forward to, perhaps, something called When the Bell Rings.

I first saw John Bell when “In 1964 he was a sensational Henry V, with Anna Volska as Katherine, in an innovative Adelaide Festival tent presentation. The Sydney Morning Herald called him ‘a possible Olivier of the future’”.  Since then I have maintained an interest in his career before and after establishing Bell Shakespeare, and since my retirement from drama teaching in 1996 I have reviewed his work as performer and/or director of 9 shows, from King Lear to Carmen; from the Bell Shakespeare art exhibition The Art of Shakespeare to Christopher Hampton’s translation of The Father by Florian Zeller.
[https://liveperformance.com.au/hof-profile/john-bell-ao-am-obe/ ]
[https://frankmckone2.blogspot.com/search?q=John+Bell ]

Of The Father, I recorded “Of course, especially for John Bell playing Anne’s father André, the short scenes are not so simple.  As he has said ‘I find this text particularly tricky to learn – and I think I speak for the other actors as well – because it’s very fractured and you need to make your own links between phrases.  It’s just short grabs of text, which are hard to learn.  It’s easy to learn a slab of Shakespeare, for instance, or Chekhov.  They write these long passages that have an internal logic, that might even rhyme’.”  

Watching The Father, I also found myself, already in 2017, beginning to worry about how I might cope with the onset of dementia “when you, if you are unlucky, reach a late stage of dementia where memory becomes completely unreliable but your feelings in reaction to others – who are by now caring for you full-time – are just as strong as ever, even though you are misinterpreting reality.  It’s even worse when you realise that you don’t actually understand things at all.”  I was amazed at Bell’s performance, considering questions like what will John Bell do when his memory gets as bad as mine, and how does an actor know when s/he is acting or not; or knows, as my mentor Ton Witsel put it, when you are only ‘acting acting’?  

(Ton worked at the Old Tote as Mime and Movement Director in the 1970s with John, who had been the original Director, and was then Associate Director for the later tour to the South Pacific Festival of Arts in Suva, Fiji, of the iconic new wave Australian play, The Legend of King O’Malley by Michael Boddy and Bob Ellis).  [https://evols.library.manoa.hawaii.edu ]


So, maybe I was hoping for Two Men In Their Times – William Shakespeare and John Bell, but perhaps that’s an unfair expectation.  One Man In His Time at a time is surely enough.

© Frank McKone, Canberra



Sunday, 11 April 2021

2021: Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

 

Program cover for Sydney Theatre Company's
Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Photo: Prudence Upton

LtoR: Mandy McElhinney, Johhny Carr, Sam Worthington, Lucy Bell, Brenna Harding


 Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Sydney Theatre Company at Roslyn Packer Theatre, March 15 – April 10, 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 10

Director – Wesley Enoch
Designer – Elizabeth Gadsby; Lighting Designer – Trent Suidgeest; Composer and Sound Designer – Steve Francis; Assistant Director – Shari Sebbens; Fight & Movement Director – Nigel Poulton; Voice & Text Coach – Danielle Roffe

Cast: (as described by the author)
Mandy McElhinney – Antoinette “Toni” Lafayette: the eldest sibling, white, late 40s/early 50s

James FraserRhys Thurston: her son, white, late teens

Sam Worthington – Beauregarde “Bo” Lafayette: the middle sibling, white, late 40s/early 50s

Lucy BellRachael Kramer-Lafayette: his wife, white, late 40s

Ella JacobCassidy “Cassie” Kramer-Lafayette: their older child, white, early teens

Robbi Morgan (alt Joel Bishop) – Ainsley Kramer-Lafayette: their younger child, white, a child

Johnny Carr – François “Franz/Frank” Lafayette: the younger sibling, white, late 30s/early 40s

Brenna HardingRiver Rayner: his fiancée, white, early 20s but looks younger

Unacknowledged – Indigenous Australian young woman (final scene)



For me to “critique” this play and this production, as a white man brought by his parents to Australia under the ‘Ten Pound Pom’ immigration scheme, naïve at the time about its colonialist implications, may be inappropriate.  

Though the play is American, written by an avowedly black author, set in “The living room of a former plantation home in southeastern Arkansas”, Noonuccal Nuugi man, director Wesley Enoch, has placed me at risk of appearing to be just another whitey who claims not to be racist.

In Appropriate, the script ends with describing the stage set of the house literally falling to bits after the departure of the absolutely dysfunctional white ‘family’.  The sound of cicadas which began the play starts up again.  Then lights go off, and on again.  “A knocking is heard at the front door.  Someone says, ‘Hello?’  Beat.  Then more knocking.  But no answer.”

There are seven more blackouts, representing years of passing time, with more parts of the stage set breaking away and “starting to disappear”.  Then “One day, lights immediately come up on a stranger in the middle of the living room, taking notes on a clipboard.  He inspects the room with a flashlight, takes a couple of pictures.  Just before he leaves, he takes a look around, thinking.  ‘Look at this place.’ He leaves.”

Enoch chose to make this stranger a young unnamed adult Australian Indigenous woman whom we have not seen previously, shaking her head rather than saying what she thinks out loud, as she leaves through the front door and closes it behind her.  

Without previously having read the script or even very much about the play – including avoiding reading the program until after the performance – I took the meaning of this ending to be possibly more than a mere shaking of the head at this family’s failure to deal reasonably with each other in a settlement of the property bequeathed by their father, known as “Daddy”, after his recent death.

She seemed to be assessing the property.  Was she a tax office agent, since there had been talk of selling pictures on the black market of lynching black people found in Daddy’s stuff?  Was she a criminal investigation officer chasing up the drug/alochol/sex crimes committed by Franz/Frank?  Was she a bank insurance officer or real estate agent assessing the value of the property for sale to recoup the over-valued mortgage Daddy had taken out.

Or was she a black person assessing white inequity?  A black person in paid employment to take on this task?  A black person, in fact a woman, in an important responsible decision-making position?

Does she represent Wesley Enoch himself, a justifiably proud Aboriginal man born on Stradbroke Island in Queensland. “Growing up gay and Aboriginal in a bi-racial family, Wesley Enoch struggled to understand who he was. But theatre helped him break a pattern of violence and find his voice.”  Isn’t he now a highly respected leader in Australian society – and in paid employment to take on this task, as indeed he should be?
https://www.sbs.com.au/news/how-wesley-enoch-broke-a-chain-of-violence-to-become-sydney-festival-director

This brings me to consider whether I agree with a review published in New York Vulture magazine  Mar. 16, 2014 that  says Appropriate Explains Too Much and Says Too Little, by Jesse Green. https://www.vulture.com/2014/03/theater-review-appropriate.html .

The play, she says, “is as overstuffed as the house, but at least the house gets cleaned during the action. The play just gets more cluttered.” Green asks, “Is Appropriate a comic tragedy? A tragic comedy? No, just a mess, undercooked and overexplained, with enough pregnant symbols (dark lake, shrieking cicadas, two graveyards) for an Ibsen festival."  "Granted,” she says, “great plays have been written about some of the same kinds of characters: viragos, pedophiles, wingnuts, dingbats. But in — let’s say — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or How I Learned to Drive,  the playwright finds ways to seduce us into accepting his creatures as real and even attractive. That doesn’t happen here. The Lafayettes are under no one’s control; all you want is to get away from them. Fortunately, people like that don’t live in real houses.”  

And, importantly, Green concludes “They live only in theaters, and you get to leave them there.”

Although, after my leaving the theatre 24 hours ago, the unforgettable bravura performance of Toni, the sister from hell, by Mandy McElhinney stands out as the driving force keeping the production on track. But I felt, while watching, as Jesse Green had in that original Signature Theatre production.  The characters are cyphers rather than real.  The plot consists of injections of issues contrived by the author but without finding “ways to seduce us into accepting his characters as real”.

When you do read the program, you find an interview with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins published in 2013 by Signature in which BJJ says “I ended up deciding I would steal something from every play that I liked, and put those things in a play and cook the pot to see what happens.  The characters in Appropriate are somewhat inspired by characters from the family plays; for instance Franz and River are cousins to Vince and Shelly in Buried Child, and Toni is a little bit Blanche-y and also like Madame Ranevskaya from Cherry Orchard.  And then Bo and Rachael are kind of like Mae and Gooper from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof…also like the in-laws from Dividing the Estate.  ‘Greedy in-laws’ are pretty much a staple of the genre, I guess…”

And there’s the reason for my concern.  It’s called appropriation, in my view.  Compare this play with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for example, and you can only wonder how Jacobs-Jenkins could have been awarded the inaugural Tennessee Williams Award.

Of course, the central issue of the old Arkansas family’s history, one-time wealth and modern dysfunction being based in slavery, racism, and sexual depravity needs to be presented in powerful theatre, but despite the best efforts of Wesley Enoch, his actors and designers – and those efforts are top-class – the play is not a comic tragedy; not a tragic comedy. “No, just a mess, undercooked and overexplained” as Jesse Green wrote.  

But, to Enoch’s great credit, that little touch at the very end gives a meaning to the play which the author may have wished for – to make us think more deeply and seriously about how we, personally, relate to people who have grown up in cultures other than our own on a basis of equality and respect.  



© Frank McKone, Canberra

Sunday, 28 March 2021

2021: Stop Girl by Sally Sara

 

 


 Stop Girl by Sally Sara.  Belvoir Theatre, Sydney, March 20 – April 25, 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 28

Director – Anne-Louise Sarks
Set Designer – Robert Cousins
Costume Designer – Mel Page
Lighting Designer – Paul Jackson
Composer & Sound Designer – Stefan Gregory
Associate Composer – Hamed Sadeghi
Movement Director – Nigel Poulton
Video Deviser & Cinematographer – Jack Saltmiras
Video Content Creator & Systems – Susie Henderson

Cast:
Suzie (Foreign Correspondent Reporter) – Sheridan Harbridge
Bec (Feature Writer) – Amber McMahon
Atal (Afghani Asylum Seeker) – Mansoor Noor
Marg (Suzie’s Mother) – Toni Scanlon
Psychologist – Deborah Galanos
AV Actors – Hilal Tawakal; Aqsa Tawakal; Aisha Tawakal; Najiullah

“Connecting is never a mistake”.  Coming to understand what this means for Suzie, returning home to Australia after a year reporting on the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, is the key that unlocks this important, at times horrifying, drama.

Though the play ends with a kind of resolution for Suzie, I was taken by surprise to find how shaken I was when walking away from the theatre into the normal Sydney evening buzz.  I had, following my usual principle, deliberately not researched the writing of the play or other reviews – and felt a heightened concern for Sally Sara, clearly represented on stage by 'Suzie'.

Two other women, who have created theatre about their own lived experience – in  their cases performed by themselves – came to mind from my previous reviews.  In 2018 I saw Red by Liz Lea, a dancer who suffers from essentially untreatable endometriosis; and My Urrwai by Torres Strait Islander Ghenoa Gela, returning to her home island after growing up in Brisbane.  I wrote of their work “which seems to me to be a new original and significant form, which I’ll call Theatre of the Personal Self.”

Though Sally Sara has made her experience into a play performed by others, Suzie’s response emotionally must surely be as close to Sally’s as theirs was to Liz and Ghenoa.  They took us into their confidence through a combination of words, music and dance.  

Sara’s piece is superficially a more conventional series of short realistic scenes, backed by sound effects, video and sharp lighting jumps from bright light to absolute dark.  Our feelings become those of Suzie / Sally.  We feel with her and for her, and fear that we can so easily make those kinds of mistakes ourselves.  Have we always properly respected other people, in life and in death?

There is an irony here in my being a reviewer of another person’s sense of shame, almost in parallel with her being a reporter filming, asking intrusive questions, and sending back to ABC TV her live reports on people as they are injured and killed.  Keeping her distance emotionally, choosing her shots and her words to fit the expectations and conventions of “objective” reporting is a requirement of success as a professional journalist.  And, indeed, Sally Sara is one of our most respected journalists.

It’s scary, then, as her play shows, that maintaining the proper professional approach can turn into a case of post traumatic stress disorder.  But what can a PTSD counsellor advise when she – despite having seen the Foreign Correspondent reports on TV –  could not possibly imagine the horrors of what Suzie/Sally has actually seen, and done, or not done, in Afghanistan – and in Sierra Leone, and in so many other places fraught with war and poverty?

Suzie has at least her long-term friend Bec, her assistant/translator Atal, and finally her mother to make connection with.  Watching that story play out is what makes the drama work on stage.  I’m left just hoping that Sally is OK – perhaps the writing of the play is proof of that.

But the awful feeling of despair remains in the title, spoken in his language and translated by Atal, by a father walking away from his wife because she has just borne a daughter, who is therefore worthless to him.  “Stop girl!”  

Sheridan Harbridge’s tour de force performance of Sally Sara’s 'Suzie' puts that man and that culture, wherever and in whatever degree, to shame.

Sheridan Harbridge in Stop Girl by Sally Sara
as Suzie, on location in Afghanistan
Photo: Brett Boardman

 

 

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Friday, 26 March 2021

2021: The Beauty Thief by Rebus Theatre

 

 


The Beauty Thief: Reflections on a fairytale, by thespians with differing abilities. Rebus Theatre, at Belconnen Community Theatre, March 26-28, 2021

Directors – Robin Davidson and Sammy Moynihan
Music Composition and Performance – Marlené Claudine Radice
Lighting Design – Ali Clinch; Costume Design – Victoria “Fi” Hopkins
Stage Management – Dr Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak
Music Operation – Melissa Gryglewski; Photography – Joachim Ellenreider
Projection Operation – Nicole Seifert
Video Documentation – James Matthews

Cast:

Louise Ellery, Lucy Raffaele, Simone Georgia Bartram, Peter Rosini,
Joel Swadling, Grant McLindon, Kimberley Adams


Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 26


To make a drama is to make meaning from an “insubstantial pageant” – for those who perform and those who observe.  

In many ways The Beauty Thief reminded me of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, where Prospero speaks of the insubstantial pageant fading, and says

 “…These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air.”

Rebus describes itself as a “mixed ability company using theatre for social change…[looking] at issues surrounding the challenges faced by people with a Disability, Mental Illness or lived experience of any type of marginalisation, inviting the audience to help us find the solutions.”  

By taking elements of several European traditional fairytales – a king, a queen, their baby girl, a jealous wicked witch, a woodsman with his axe, a wolf, a thief who would be king, a crowd of village women – as director Robin Davidson describes of the group “We found characters, tried out scenes and wove together a story.  We never talked much about what the story meant, only asked – what would this character do?  What is an interesting next scene?  And yet we happened upon a story that resonated, that had something to say, about beauty, about power.”

What it said to me was that people of “mixed” abilities have their own beauty – and aren’t we all mixed in our abilities in our different ways?  And about power, it said we all must not let jealousy and cronyism rule our lives; but we must take responsibility for ourselves and towards everyone else, joining together in community – and not take the easy way out of relying totally on a leader, even if they are genuinely empathetic.

That seems a pretty substantial achievement in making this drama, when director Sammy Moynihan says “As directors, Robin and I simply elevated the existing magic of the cast to shape a performance-ready piece of theatre.  This was also a beautiful experience, floating through the chaos of it all and being guided by the cast as much as we guided them…a testament to collaboration, fearless expression and the joys of embracing the beautiful unknown.”

The process is there in the product, so watching is not about following an exciting pre-determined page-turner.  You will need patience, allowing yourself time to absorb the sounds, the colours, the movements, the unexpected laughs, the spoken and the unspoken, while you wait with a sense of mystery.

And in the end, there is a political message for you to interpret in your own way: something about democracy and leadership came to my mind, seeing our Parliament House here in Canberra “floating through the chaos of it all” with its chorus of women standing up for power as the play’s final text slide advises.

I think these Rebus actors’ spirits will never melt away.  

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Saturday, 13 March 2021

2021: Platform Paper No 63 - Review

 

 

Katharine Brisbane
by courtesy Currency House

On the Lessons of History by Katharine Brisbane: Platform Paper No 63, Currency House, Sydney, March 2021

Reviewed by Frank McKone


Only once in these 82 pages did I catch a glimpse of the daunting task that Katharine Brisbane has undertaken, having just turned 89 years this January, when she admitted ‘trudging’ through the previous 62 Platform Papers.  You will not ‘trudge’ through No 63, so skilfully written by the eminent theatre critic I well remember from the early 1960s.

Yet it is true that the content of the history of the arts, especially the performing arts, from  PP1 ‘Our ABC’—A Dying Culture? (Martin Harrison 2004) to PP62 Performing Arts Markets and their Conundrums, (Justin Macdonnell 2020), still leaves me to hope as Katharine writes: “My hope is that, as we come out of this dark period in our history, Australia might take the lead in the challenge to make the world a kinder, more inclusive place than it has been. By living too fast we have come too quickly to the end of the road. ‘A Change for the Better’ is the Platform Papers’ motto.  All we need is the courage to make it.”

From the creation of the Australia Council for Arts in the mid-1970s through social, economic, political and even viral changes in all directions, for better and for worse, artists and those of us – that means all of us – who need the arts, still need courage and hope to make that change.  

Brisbane selects from a wide range of the topics covered in Platform Papers (the complete list is in the Endnotes) to reveal thematic developments in the history, beginning with why the Papers were needed.  

“In the 1970s, arts support expanded under the aegis of the Australia Council, and by the 1980s artists and arts organisations were largely dependent on regular government grants, but when funding began to contract in the 1990s, this dependence made  practitioners fearful of speaking out….So in 2001 my colleagues and I began a monthly discussion club in Sydney and called it Currency House. We became a not-for-profit affiliate of Currency Press, which also gave us a home.”  

Currency Press, the major publisher of original Australian plays, of course, had been founded in 1971 by Katharine Brisbane, then national theatre critic for The Australian, and her late husband Philip Parsons, a lecturer in Drama at UNSW who worked passionately to bridge the gap between the university and the profession.  [ www.currency.com.au/about-us/ ]  These quarterly essays, “dedicated to the working life” of artists were a natural development and Brisbane’s analysis makes essential reading – as much for me to understand what was happening when I was teaching and reviewing drama from the mid-1970s, as it does for younger and future practitioners.

Her Introduction provides an effective overview of the whole 50 years, before delving into detail, where Brisbane’s journalist origins show through.  From 1. The Genesis of the Papers, through 2. Coordinating the Voices, to 3. Division and Cultural Unity we read the stories of the many real life characters and their reflections at their times of writing, as well as Brisbane’s headlined commentary to tie the complexity of history together.  Readability is the keyword; incisive observation is the result.  Understanding flows naturally.

Still hoping, as I am too, trudging along some nine years behind Katharine Brisbane as I turned 80 this January, it concerns me that it is true that we still need to push on with such courage; that we still feel that our ways of life, changing as they have and always will, do not yet integrate the arts into our political culture as they should always have been integrated.  

Facing up to that truth is what Platform Papers are all about – including No 63.  Yet this history has another lesson, about the complexity of culture rather than simplistic responses such as mine.  

In our newly electric world wide web, the effects of which Brisbane deals with in considerable depth, it is interesting to note that, in our green-hydrogen fuel cell, the current flows from the positive to the negative – on the way powering the motors of industry, including the Arts.  In history generally, out of the dark periods the arts grow in new directions, in new forms.  

In my youth, from my beginnings in the UK just after the early flurry of shots at the Battle of Britain, I found myself studying at the University of Sydney in 1960, not Australian Literature but the culture of Europe expressed by Eugene Ionesco turning all but one naïve recalcitrant into green rhinoceroses.  How would anyone imagine that Absurdism could become the key to British culture from Ionesco and Beckett, through to The Goon Show and on to Monty Python’s Flying Circus?  Yet it was the right artistic response to surviving World War II.

Today, as Brisbane notes also, since the dark days of colonialism, in a very messy process specific to Australia, since the beginning of the Black Theatre in Redfern in 1973 (I was firmly told not to make suggestions because I was white), First Nations’ artistic expression in literature, film and on stage now has a powerful presence, established and growing, in today’s Australian culture.

I once attended a drama teachers’ inservice class conducted by Wesley Enoch in Canberra (when he and I were much younger), and have not forgotten his spirit of respect which unobtrusively filled the space that day.  It is a great honour that he will launch Platform Paper No 63 in ten days’ time on March 24, 2021 at that very University of Sydney which did not teach Australian Literature 60 years ago.





© Frank McKone, Canberra

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Platform Paper No 63 - Media Release

 
MEDIA RELEASE                                        Wednesday, 10 March 2020

Currency House, Sydney.  Media enquiries to Martin Portus on mportus2@tpg.com.au or +61 (0)401 360 806


Posted by Frank McKone

LESSONS OF HISTORY FOR THE ARTS


As artists and companies emerge from the COVID crisis, veteran theatre critic and publisher Katharine Brisbane AM delivers a landmark new Platform Paper defining the major issues and disruptions facing Australian arts and culture this century.  

On the Lessons of History reviews the challenges raised by the leading artists and cultural experts who authored 62 diverse Platform Papers published by Brisbane and Currency House since 2004.  

Her provocative response will be launched by departing Sydney Festival director Wesley Enoch at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney at 5.30pm on Wednesday, 24 March.  

These writers have raised concerns and given insights into work practices, censorship, copyright, public policy, export, finance, environmental sustainability, welfare, indigenous work, diversity and all genres of the performing arts including film, television and ever-expanding digital media. All express the need for change.

“Currency House was conceived out of a conviction that the arts are fundamental to a civil society; that a society that does not value its own arts is a nation alienated from its own culture,” says Brisbane, aged 89.  

“But the survival of our artists – and many of our public institutions – is now more precarious.  This exploration left me with a major question. Why, when the Government set up a system to support the creative arts, was funding directed at the product rather than the creator?”   

Diversity, she says, has been weakened by hyper-division into art forms, major and minor arts organisations and by a new entrepreneurialism which encourages competition over collaboration.  

Brisbane reflects on Papers by Robyn Archer, Andrew Bovell, Alison Croggon, Kim Dalton, Wesley Enoch, Jane Harrison, Lindy Hume, Lee Lewis, Lex Marinos, Chris Mead, Leigh Tabrett, Lyndon Terracini, David Throsby and others.  

The March 24 launch will introduce the new Director of Currency House, Dr Harriet Parsons, who succeeds her mother, Katharine, who has retired as its founding Chair. Julian Meyrick, theatre director and Professor of Creative Arts at Griffith University, will also speak as its new general editor.

Following On the Lessons of History, a two-day convention in July is inviting all authors to debate how to create a paradigm shift in Australia’s view of the arts. It will be hosted by the School of Literature, Arts and Media at the University of Sydney, a proud sponsor of Platform Papers.  

The next Paper No.64, Changing Tack, by arts consultant Dr Jo Caust will chart this new direction in November.  


Platform Paper No.63 is for sale on currency.com.au  Enquiries 02 9319 4953     
 


Sunday, 7 March 2021

2021: Outdated by Mark Kilmurry

 

Rachel Gordon and Yalin Ozucelik

 Outdated written and directed by Mark Kilmurry.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, March 5 – April 17, 2021.

Previewed by Frank McKone
March 7

Cast: Rachel Gordon as Olivia and Yalin Ozucelik as Matt

Designers: Set & Costume – Simon Greer; Lighting – Kelsey Lee; Sound – David Grigg


Outdated is very much up-to-date.  A romantic comedy for our times, beautifully executed by Yalin Ozucelik and Rachel Gordon in a two-hander which requires absolute precision timing and detailed movement.  

It is not entirely laugh-out-loud because, as Shakespeare might have put it, the course of true dating on this fictional (I assume) You+Me app never did run smooth.  Both Matt and Olivia reveal their middle-age insecurities in a highly amusing somewhat satirical exposé of those who daily change their profiles to attract new dates: including one who lied about how old he was online to Olivia, but turned out when she met his family to be another ten years older even than that.  Rachel captures Olivia’s mixed feelings perfectly; as does Yalin when he finds that Matt has accidentally seemed to unfeelingly leave Olivia at the worst moment.

I’ve used the actors’ first names here because the quality of their dialogue and action immediately made me feel that I knew them personally.  The writing is especially interesting because Mark Kilmurry has the characters say out loud their internal self-critical dialogue, almost as if they are speaking to us directly, in amongst their actions and what they say to, and privately about, each other.  The resulting blurring of the ‘fourth wall’ draws us in, and we find ourselves often laughing along with Olivia and Matt even as they are making us laugh at them.

The title Outdated could have several meanings – perhaps even that dating online is a risk or even a kind of scam which people seeking to resolve previously failed relationships should not trust.  Perhaps we should not accept a romantic ending.  But for this couple a kind of inevitability grows, through all their vicissitudes.  

In my ‘I know all about theatre history’ mode, I thought of Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man and how Raina comes to realise that Captain Bluntschli, the chocolate soldier, is the right man for her; not the superficial conventional sword-waving Sergius she is expected to marry.  And then I thought of friends, in their 40s like Olivia and Matt, whose online dating has turned out to be the right thing for them.

Arms and the Man has been a popular success now for one hundred and twenty-seven years.  Here’s to the future for not so Outdated romance and comedy.  And make a note for yourself as you book at https://www.ensemble.com.au/shows/outdated/ .  Mark Kilmurry ends his program note : “And special thanks to my wife Jacqui for the idea of a jogging scene – she was right.”  My wife Meg was also right when she said this is the funniest scene.  Going to the Ensemble is like being with family – not to be missed.

 

 © Frank McKone, Canberra

Thursday, 4 March 2021

2021: Lamb by Jane Bodie

 

 

Emily Goddard as Kathleen, Darcy Kent as Patrick and Brigid Gallacher as Annie


Lamb by Janie Brodie, Music and Lyrics by Mark Seymour.  Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre (Melbourne) and Critical Stages Touring at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, March 4-6 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 4

Directed by Julian Meyrick

Music and Lyrics: Mark Seymour and the Undertow, Hunters and Collectors
Dramaturgs: Ella Caldwell and Iain Sinclair
Set and Costume Designer: Greg Clarke
Lighting Designer: Efterpi Soropos
Assistant Lighting Designer: Jacob Shears
Sound and AV Designer: Justin Gardam

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Darcy Kent – Patrick / Frank
Brigid Gallacher – Annie / Mary
Emily Goddard - Kathleen



This is a play about coming, going, and staying, not necessarily always in that order, from one generation to the next.  

Mary and Frank have three children: Patrick, Annie and Kathleen.  The structure of the plot in time-shifted scenes is intriguing.  Like the characters, as they work out what they understand to be truths past and present, we find ourselves putting the pieces of their puzzle together – and unexpectedly picturing the parallel puzzles in our own lives.  Lamb, for us, is like going on an uncharted bushwalk without a map or compass (and certainly no GPS).  Yet, mysteriously, we manage in the end to reach a place where we no longer feel lost.

On stage everything seems small scale, yet the implications about how relationships start, how children are born, and how families form are of great importance.  This play, including especially the songs, is an original work of art – Australian in attitude to life; universal in empathetic understanding.

The performances are outstanding.  Emily Goddard’s representation of Kathleen’s mental disability calls upon our sympathies but keeps our sentimentality at bay.  Brigid Gallacher’s Annie is clearly Mary’s daughter, not just in her recognition of her agency as a woman but as much in her rationality and common sense.  And she sings like her father had.  While Darcy Kent shows the subtle development from a father whose emotional sensitivity is his strength, yet leads to incapacity to cope; to a son who successfully finds his way by drawing upon both his mother and his father – even though he can never quite sing as well as Frank had.

The quality of performance is, of course, also an indication of the clarity of Julian Meyrick’s direction, and is supported by strong designs of lighting, sound, set and costumes.  

The presentation of such original Australian work, local and on tour, has long been a feature of The Q – a tradition that those of us in “the big smoke” of Canberra next door thoroughly appreciate.  Even the Lonsdale Street vegans who would feel sick at the smell of cooking lamb.  See the play if you possibly can in this very short season, and you’ll understand my meaning.



© Frank McKone, Canberra

Friday, 19 February 2021

2021: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams.  Canberra Repertory Theatre at Naoné Carrel Auditorium, Theatre 3, February 18-March 6, 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 19

Director: Anne Somes
Associate Directors: Alexandra Pelvin, Antonia Kitzel

Set Designer: Cate Clelland
Sound Designer: Neville Pye
Lighting Designer: Stephen Still
Costume Designer: Fiona Leach

Cast:
Maggie “The Cat” Pollitt – Victoria Tyrrell Dixon
Brick Pollitt – Teig Sadhana
“Big Daddy” Pollitt – Michaels Parks OAM
Ida “Big Mamma” Pollitt – Liz St Clair Long
Mae “Sister Woman” Pollitt – Lainie Hart
Gooper “Brother Man” Pollitt – Ryan Erlandsen
Doctor Baugh – Rob Drennan
Reverend Tooker – Saban Lloyd Berrell



I hope that Canberra Rep will continue, every twenty years or so, to put on Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to remind us how family life, sexual relations, money matters and sport are all tied up in the one terribly complicated knot.  This week I should also include a special reference to party politics and the treatment of women in a parliamentary democracy, which Williams could well have covered in his America in the 1950s.

The Rep 2021 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is very good indeed, tied together even more tightly, I think, than in 2001.  (Reviewed in The Canberra Times, April 28 2001; available at www.frankmckone2.blogspot.com.au)  

Even if often with pro input, in an amateur repertory company it can be a matter of good luck to find a cast that suits all of Williamson’s expectations.  But the difference in quality in these two Rep productions is nothing like as great as some people see between the original movie and the later one (1984) with Tommy Lee Jones and Jessica Lange, Rip Torn, and Kim Stanley, described on Youtube as “True to Tennessee Williams's original play (unlike the awful Paul Newman / Elizabeth Taylor movie from 1958)”.

Rep’s casting, characterisation and consistency of team work in this presentation is particularly satisfying.  Even the great recent Sydney Theatre Company production (reviewed here May 19, 2019) could be seen as concentrating more on the stars – Pamela Rabe (Big Mama), Zahra Newman (Maggie) and Hugo Weaving (Big Daddy) – rather than giving as much status to Brick, Mae and Gooper.  At Rep last night I came away with an equal sense of the importance of each one of these six central characters, and the solid support of Rev Tooker and even from the small part of Dr Baugh.  Rather than being overwhelmed by Big Daddy and Maggie, I felt I understood better, and with more sympathy, not only their needs and why they behaved as they did; but also the relationships between the brothers Brick and Gooper, their wives Maggie and Mae, and the essential role in the whole family of Big Mamma.

When it comes to detail, Williams did not make casting easy.  At the risk of seeming sexist, for example, I have to say that when Williams makes Maggie stand before a full length mirror and point out that she has not lost her figure, Victoria Tyrrell Dixon absolutely looked the part.  How Teig Sadhana could make his Brick unresponsive was a small miracle as I saw it.  

According to www.sparknotes.com/drama/cat/summary  at the end “Maggie thanks Brick for saving her face [after announcing she and Brick are to have a child].  Brick puts down three shots, finds his click, and exits indifferently.  Maggie forlornly gathers Brick’s liquor bottles and locks them away, refusing to release it until he has sated her.  Desperately she declares her love for him.  The distant Brick can only reply: ‘Wouldn’t that be funny if that was true?’”

However, www.gradesaver.com/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof/ says “In the published script, we are left entirely uncertain as to whether Brick will concede to sleep once more with Maggie and allow her to bear a child.  The text itself leads one to suspect that nothing is going to change, but with enough ambiguity that each production can choose for itself which ending will be implied.

“In the playing script, however [for the original Broadway production by Elia Kazan], Brick ends the act sitting on the bed – and although the dialogue is also quite different from the published script, it is this stage direction that significantly weights the dice in favor of Brick having a change of heart.”

Somebody said to me in the foyer on the way out: “Interesting ending!”  I felt glad with the ending Anne Somes chose.

And glad, too, that Michael Sparks played Big Daddy with an interesting mix of attitudes towards himself and Brick in their long duologue, in which I learned that he has more self-awareness than I had thought before.  It was a softer interpretation, and, I thought, opened up a better chance for interpersonal compromise.  This makes the play, firstly, perhaps more in tune with Tennessee Williams’ intention; and secondly makes it more hopeful for the future.

Perhaps this means that Williams was too hopeful, when we consider the experiences of Brittany Higgins, when she was a ministerial staffer in the Australian Parliament, and of others such as Dhanya Mani – whose article in The Saturday Paper February 20-26, 2021 is essential reading.

I must say that Ryan Erlandsen’s characterisation of Gooper, in tight formation with Lainie Hart’s Mae, gives me little hope that greed for money-grabbing is on the way out.  A certain Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and now threatening digital insurrection against the Australian democratic government, says that Tennessee Williams’ hope in this play that Brick would recover from his depression after the death of Skipper, and justifably inherit Big Daddy’s property, is no more than a romantic dream.  And maybe my dream will one day come true: when Big Daddies and Big Mummas – and Little Daddies and Little Mummas – learn to treat each other, and are treated by others, truly as equals.

Thank you all at Canberra Rep for such theatre, so well directed, designed and performed.


Canberra Repertory Theatre
Set Design by Cate Clelland
for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
February-March 2021
Photo: Helen Drum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 18 February 2021

2021: Wolf Lullaby by Hillary Bell

 

 

Wolf Lullaby by Hilary Bell.  Echo Theatre at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, February 18-27, 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

February 18


Director: Jordan Best
Set Design and Construction: Chris Zuber; Lighting design: Jacob Aquilina; Sound Design/Composition: Matthew Webster; Props: Yanina Clifton

Cast:
Rachel Pengilly – Lizzie
Natasha Vickery – Lizzie’s mother, Angela
Joel Horwood – Warren, Lizzie’s father
Craig Alexander – small town police officer, Ray

At the very least this is an interesting play to begin our year of vaccination.  There are so many viewpoints to start from.  

The policeman, Ray, in some ways is a bit of a plodder: I can almost hear him say, with heavy sarcasm, “That’s a likely story!”  How likely? is a question I have to ask.

Then I must think about Hillary Bell’s intention in making up a story about a nine year old girl’s inner wolf and her parents.  Has Lizzie inherited a dangerous mental state from her mother?  Have Warren and Angela created an evil child through their fractious relationship?  Can we ever know ‘the truth’?  Is the application of criminal law the only way society can respond, if telling lies is truly a natural element of the human condition?

The directing and design of the telling of this story on this stage must be considered in the light of this likely or unlikely child’s tale with its philosophical implications.

Then I might be able to say if this innoculation against the fear of childhood killing has worked.  

The set design image which seemed to place most of the action behind the wire of something like a refugee detention centre stirred my questioning.  That central space became Lizzie’s bedroom, the police office, Angela’s living room, the police interrogation room, as well as the remand cell.  Perhaps the image represented the idea that all the people in their different ways were trapped in a chicken-wire cage, including Angela and her daughter because of their psychological conditions; Ray as he had to interrogate only according to the book; even the dead child Toby was in there behind the community’s commemoration flowers and poems placed outside the wire.

But apparently not Warren who was so often, conveniently, ‘on shift’, to pay for Angela’s and his separate rents, or when it was the weekend – the court-order time when his daughter stayed at his place – and the parents’ arguments took place in open space around the central raised set as if in the street where the children’s hopscotch pitch was laid out.  On the sides, left and right, words about murder were projected, becoming meaningful later as Ray’s interrogation ‘progressed’ and Lizzie’s parents worked out what their daughter might have done.

This set, combined with an ominous background sound track of children’s apocryphal skipping rhymes, disturbed me in two different ways.

First, as I suppose on reflection I was meant to feel, it all seemed to be an omen of doom.  

But I also felt there was a mismatch between this use of symbolic image and space and the seemingly naturalistic presentation of the characters.  Rachel Pengilly played her nine-year-old Lizzie so realistically that I found myself worrying that such a young actor was being allowed to play such psychological trauma – only to find when reading the program after the show that she is old enough to have a BA degree from University of New England.

Craig Alexander’s Ray, again naturalistically, played out the policeman’s conflict of feelings towards this local young girl, whose family he knew: he had unbending evidence-gathering rules to follow, while feeling at times sympathetic in a kindly adult way towards Lizzie’s telling lies, as well as feeling stressed by the frustration of not being able to extract the truth.

Similarly, the coming together and blowing apart episodes in Angela and Warren’s feelings about each other were realistic and very uncomfortable to watch.

After overnight reflection, I wonder if the set design, still without any need to set-change from short scene to short scene, would have been better if it represented a plain bland small room with a small desk, a chair and single bed, in which the naturalistic acting would feel normal instead of somehow out-of-place in the chicken-wire setting.  

By amazing coincidence, the image I have in mind appeared in Canberra’s CityNews on the very day of Wolf Lullaby’s opening night.  In a highly unlikely story, a significant artist, Melissa Beowulf, has painted “Cottage Room” 2018, representing the room in which she was held in remand at the Alexander Maconochie Centre for 14 months on a charge of murder (acquitted at her trial). [https://citynews.com.au/2021/digital-edition-february-18/  Page 28 in “Effects of injustice linger for ‘powerless’ painter” by arts editor Helen Musa]

 

Image courtesy of Melissa Beowulf
CityNews Digital Edition February 18, 2021 P28

The surround-sound of children’s rhymes would still make the point, and make us feel concerned about the violence inherent in many nursery rhymes.  The words that Lizzie supposedly wrote might have been better projected above the stage, rather as Tennessee Williams did in The Glass Menagerie.  A photo of the flowers and poems for Toby could be projected perhaps on the room window, as if on TV news, when the adults in the dialogue become aware of what Lizzie had written, and her words could appear as if the news camera had zoomed in.

Perhaps my reaction seems a bit old-fashioned, but I think the playscript and our need to come to grips with the truth of the story is unsettling in itself.  The mismatch in the set design was an extra layer which disturbed my focus on the characters and the implications of their experience, though the directing and performance in the acting was excellent.

In other words, Echo Theatre’s presentation of Hilary Bell’s Wolf Lullaby at The Q, Queanbeyan is an interesting production indeed.  Innoculation is advisable.

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Saturday, 6 February 2021

2021: Fangirls by Yve Blake

 

 

Fangirls -  Book, Music & Lyrics by Yve Blake.  Directed by Paige Rattray.
Belvoir St Theatre -  A co-production with Queensland Theatre and Brisbane Festival, in association with Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP)

At Seymour Centre, University of Sydney, 30 January - 20 February 2021.  Also at
Canberra Playhouse 24-28 March 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 6

Cast:

Aydan (Harry); Danielle Barnes; Chika Ikogwe (Jules); Shubshri Kandiah (Brianna); Ayesha Madon (Lily); James Majoos (Saltypringl); Sharon Millerchip (Mother); Karis Oka (Edna); Tomáš Kant or Shannen Alyce Quan

Creatives:

Book, Music & Lyrics Yve Blake
Director Paige Rattray
Original Music Director / Vocal Arranger Alice Chance
Music Producer / Sound Designer David Muratore
Dramaturg Jonathan Ware
Music Director / Vocal Arranger Zara Stanton
Set, Video Content and Costume Designer David Fleischer
Video Content Design and Production Justin Harrison
Lighting Designer Emma Valente
Choreographer Leonard Mickelo
Sound Designer Michael Waters
Associate Director: Carissa Licciardello
Associate Choreographer: Sharon Millerchip
Lighting Realiser: Renae Kenward
Stage Manager: Khym Scott
Assistant Stage Manager: Julia Orlando
Front of House Engineer: Matthew Erskine
Head Electrician: Steve Hendy
Technical Coordinator: Tom Houghton


My dictum has long been, for new plays and new productions of plays I already know, to avoid reading about them before I review.  Having missed Fangirls’ first runs in Brisbane and Sydney in late 2019, fortunately Covid confusion took over.  So when Belvoir announced its success and another season to begin 2021, I still knew little while checking in the Service NSW QR Code at the Seymour Centre yesterday.

What I love about theatre is being surprised.  Fangirls turned out to be a great and very rewarding surprise.

Of course, if you follow my dictum, you should at this point stop reading.  Just go and see for yourself.  Then you might like to read my thoughts to see if you agree.

Booking at Belvoir, I couldn’t miss the basic info:

Edna’s fourteen and is head over heels in love with Harry- he’s beautiful, talented, perfect, but there’s just one problem: he’s also the star of the world’s biggest boyband. Getting Harry’s attention might seem impossible, but there’s nothing that Edna won’t do to prove to Harry that she’s the one.

Yve Blake’s uproarious musical makes its much-anticipated return.


Is this the show for me, I wondered, now I’m an octogenarian?  Surprise, surprise.  There’s much more than mere fun – the focus word in other publicity I had accidentally skimmed – in this seriously funny play.

When we became the pop-star show audience, (nearly everyone decades younger than me), and everyone did a Mexican wave with their phones lit up (I’d switched mine off, of course, as normal theatre convention requires), I began to think about the nature of theatrical illusion.

As the story developed, and Act I ended with a brief appearance on stage of a tied-up Harry, I was suddenly reminded of events in the real history of fandom.

In this story, Edna is from a single-parent family.  Her mother has to work, often long hours, and tries to provide everything her intellectual daughter needs.  Perhaps Edna falls in love with the publicity image of Harry, though she can’t afford to go to his concerts, because she has lost her father-figure.  We could get into Freudian psychology at this point, but this is not raised in this script.

However, Edna has won a scholarship which means she can continue in high school and meet up with another intellectual, a gay guy known as Saltypringl.  He becomes her adviser as she writes her story of how she will meet Harry; he will return her love when he looks into her eyes; and she will persuade him to ‘run’ with her to escape the pressure of fandom.  How can she put her story into practice, is her question to Salty.

What if, though, she can’t persuade Harry to run with her?  Salty takes a while to think things through, and at last says the only answer would be to kill him.  Where the Fangirls script has been essentially an amusing satire of fourteen-year-old girls’ behaviour to this point, in the second half the play becomes a farce.  

Edna can’t get to the concert, but she organises the kidnapping of Harry after the show; ties him up in her bedroom; tries to persuade him to run from the pressures of the fan culture; and ends up more or less accidentally killing him, in company with her two (less intellectual) girl friends. On their suggestion and with her mother’s help, the body is taken ‘to the woods’. Being a farce, in the very end we find that the girls were not jailed because the court could not believe that a girl could have done the kidnapping.  That is, it is implied that girls are not expected to be able to do things like that – only men can.

And so, Fangirls turns into an unexpected study of the destructive emotional and persuasive effects of popular fandom, while maintaining a political stance in favour of gender equality.  At the end last night the audience – with a clear majority of young women –  was still laughing uproariously and cheering the performers and the show for what it meant to them.

The cheering was absolutely justified for another surprise for me.  As a musical, the singing, dancing and acting was top quality; but the stunningly successful integration of the internet culture into the audio-visual design made this show relevant to a modern young audience far beyond anything I could have imagined.  

I may be 80; I may have seen earlier clunky attempts to use live digital effects which distract and undermine the work of the actors; I may have even seen very successful use of live camera work such as in Sydney Theatre Company’s Suddenly Last Summer; and in 2020 The Wharf Revue’s Good Night and Good Luck used pre-recorded video very effectively for getting the message across.  But Fangirls builds the video, sound and music into the live singing, acting and dancing – including scene changes and props – so well that this show becomes ‘total theatre’ of a most modern kind.

And what was it about the real history of the pressures of fandom that came to my mind as Harry’s head dropped forward in death?  By the late 1960s the Beatles had become disillusioned with the effects of fandom, and I remember the hordes of fourteen-year-old girls’ extreme emotional reactions which you can see in many video records, including some used in Fangirls so I have read.  But move on to the 1980s and read this about John Lennon’s death:

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-assassination-of-john-lennon-1779404

Mark David Chapman: From Drugs to Jesus

Chapman came to see himself as a real-life Holden Caulfield. He even told his wife he wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield and would rage about the phoniness of people and of celebrities in particular.

Hatred of John Lennon

In October of 1980, Esquire magazine published a profile on John Lennon, which portrayed the former Beatle as a drug-addled millionaire recluse who had lost touch with his fans and his music. Chapman read the article with increasing anger and came to see Lennon as the ultimate hypocrite and a “phony” of the very type described in Salinger’s novel.

He began reading everything he could about John Lennon, even making tapes of Beatles’ songs, which he would play over and over for his wife, changing the tapes’ speed and direction. He would listen to them while sitting nude in the dark, chanting, “John Lennon, I’m going to kill you, you phony bastard!”

When Chapman discovered Lennon was planning to release a new album—his first in five years—his mind was made up. He would fly to New York City and shoot the singer.


My thinking was certainly a great surprise, with a new sense of dread, thanks to Fangirls.





The cast of Fangirls
Photo: Brett Boardman

© Frank McKone, Canberra






Saturday, 23 January 2021

2021: Kenny - on stage

 

 

Kenny adapted for stage by Steve Rodgers from the movie Kenny (2006) by Clayton and Shane Jacobson.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, January 15-27, 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 23

Solo Performer – Ben Wood as Kenny Smythe

Director – Mark Kilmurry    Assistant Director – Warwick Doddrell

Designers:
Simone Romaniuk – Set & Costume
Damien Cooper – Lighting
Nate Edmondson – Composer & Sound
Mic Gruchy – Video

Photos by Prudence Upton

I arrived early, knowing everyone had to QR Covid check-in.  With time to spare, keeping my distance, I took a turn outside.  A pleasant cool sea breeze – Ensemble was once a boatshed – and a surprising announcement.  Welcome to IPSC, the International Portable Sanitation Convention.  Woops!  Isn’t Kenny on after all?
Ben Wood  as Kenny
Ensemble Theatre
Photo: Prudence Upton

Even more surprising when I find after the show that SPLASHdown Corporate Bathroom Rentals is real, and are given special thanks for their expert assistance. 

I guess that was for providing the portable toilet that Kenny persuaded an audience member, Paul, to put his arm down.  He had to retrieve the big stuff first – a bottle of wine as a reward for his bravery – until he found the wedding ring, just like the one Kenny had had to retrieve in his story of the woman who lost hers down the toot – and then couldn’t touch it, even though he sterilised it, until he wrapped it in toilet paper, leaving without thanking him because she couldn’t stand his smell.

We were, of course, all attending the IPS Convention.  Kenny was certainly the most entertaining keynote speaker I’ve ever come across.  In fact he came across as among the most humane and sincere.  

I have never seen the movie, I think fortunately.  In this adaptation, where Kenny tells us all about his experiences, and even his personal and family responses, in professionally providing and servicing portable toilets to large gatherings around the world – rather than our being voyeurs watching a movie – it seemed to me that Ben Wood was the real deal.  

At the end of this comedy with serious implications, I felt as much respect for the plumbers on whom we all rely – and for all those other frontline workers we have all become so suddenly aware of through this pandemic – as I felt for the actor.  Wood’s representation of all the layers of Kenny’s emotions, second by second, as he works directly with us as participants, was quite extraordinary.  When he showed us the slide of the women toilet cleaners – the Untouchables, of course – in India, I felt as everyone did around me, for their awful plight, with a sense of guilt for our easy lives.  Then, I realised, that Sulabh International, to whom Kenny asked us to consider donating, is real.

Sulabh International “is an India-based social service organization that works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education. The organization counts 50,000 volunteers.”  Suddenly Kenny and Ben Wood are one.  The fiction of theatre becomes real in the world.  [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulabh_International]

I have noted before the work of Steve Rodgers in working directly with his audience in Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing at Belvoir (reviewed on this blog January 12, 2020) and I’m sure I see a link when Kenny gives out cards recording children’s responses to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up” for people in the audience to read out.  When it is revealed that none of them wanted to be a plumber, the point is made about dignity of the person and dignity in their work.

So this production of Kenny is both highly entertaining, as I’m sure the movie is, but even more engaging because of our personal interaction with Kenny’s very-Aussie character full of positive humour and because we become committed to humanitarian ideals like those of Sulabh International.

When I say “not to be missed”, I really mean it.  And am I glad to be back in a live theatre!

Ben Wood as Kenny
Ensemble Theatre
Photo: Prudence Upton

© Frank McKone, Canberra