Friday, 2 December 2022

2022: Emilia by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

 

 

 
Emilia by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm.  Presented by Essential Theatre and Canberra Theatre Centre at The Playhouse, December 1-3 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night December 2


Creative Team

Playwright: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (UK)
Director: Petra Kalive; Movement Director: Xanthe Beesley
Set Designer: Emily Collett; Costume Designer: Zoë Roüse
Composer & Sound Designer: Emah Fox/Sharyn Brand
Lighting Designer: Katie Sfetkidis
Production Manager: Rockie Stone; Stage Manager: Olivia Walker
Deputy Stage Manager: Rain Iyahen; Assistant Stage Manager: Amy Smith
Co-Producers: Amanda LaBonté, Sophie Lampel, Darylin Ramondo and Sonya Suares Associate
Producer: Trish Carlo

Cast

Emilia 1: Manali Datar; Emilia 2: Cessalee Stovall; Emilia 3: Lisa Maza
William Shakespeare / Man 2: Heidi Arena
Lady Margaret Clifford / Midwife / Man 1: Emma J Hawkins
Lord Alphonso Lanier / Lord Collins / Emilia (Othello) and others: Catherine Glavicic
Margaret Johnson / Mary Sidney / Hester: Carita Farrer Spencer
Judith / Priest / Lord Henry Carey: Genevieve Picot
Lady Cordelia / Lady Anne and others: Jing-Xuan Chan
Susan Bertie The Countess of Kent / Mary Bob: Amanda LaBonté
Lady Katherine / Desdemona (Othello): Sonya Suares
Lord Thomas Howard / Dave / Flora: Sophie Lampel
Eve / Lady Helena: Sarah Fitzgerald

Understudies: NazAree Dickerson and Izabella Yena

_____________________________________________________________________________


Bruce Lehrmann / Retrial won’t proceed after prosecutors drop charges for alleged rape of Brittany Higgins

When I read this headline that night in The Guardian I felt sickened and angry.  

When I read why this woman would not receive justice, my anger was not abated. The ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold …. said he still believed "there was a reasonable prospect of conviction at a second trial".

But he said he had to consider the public interest in proceeding, given a retrial would pose a “significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant”. [My emphasis]

“I’ve recently received compelling evidence from two independent medical experts that the ongoing trauma associated with this prosecution represents a significant and unacceptable risk to the life of the complainant.”

Though the evidence made public during the aborted trial could hardly be seen in any light except that though the woman was at the very least mistreated, it is the man who becomes the ‘defendant’ in court as if he is the victim and she the aggressor.  But how else can she get justice except by laying charges?  

And then to have a juror break the jury room rules by introducing material beyond the evidence heard in court!  My anger only grew as I wondered who this juror was and what was their motivation.  Reading more – as the prosecutor says “During the investigation and trial, as a sexual assault complainant, Ms Higgins has faced a level of personal attack that I have not seen in over 20 years of doing this work…. She’s done so with bravery, grace and dignity and it is my hope that this will now stop.” – and I can only feel horrified and even more angry that the law cannot find justice for the woman while all the man has to do is to continue to maintain he is innocent.

So when at the end of Emilia, Lisa Maza as Emilia in her later years expresses her deep anger at the refusal of men to treat women as their equals, with an image of hot anger like the heat in the centre of the earth, I understood what she meant.  She spoke directly to us, asking us did we feel that anger?  The first time just one woman’s voice broke the silence, “Yes”.  When asked again, all the women’s voices filled the Playhouse, “Yes!”  

This is the woman, Emilia Lanier née Aemilia Bassano, described in Essential Theatre’s program: “poet and revolutionist in 1609 and her sisters reaching out to audiences across the centuries with passion, fury, laughter and song as they inspire and unite to celebrate women’s voices through the story of this trailblazing, forgotten woman”.

In this remarkably complex script, intertwining the words of  Emilia with those of William Shakespeare, taking up the possibility that she was his ‘dark lady’ – his inspiration and likely originator of speeches in many of his plays – writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm stands alongside other women whose works I have mentioned on this blog site: Pat Barker (April 2022) in her two novels about the Trojan War: The Silence of the Girls (Penguin 2018) and The Women of Troy (Penguin 2021) and Maggie O’Farrell (June 2020) in her story of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet (Tinder Press, UK 2020).

The production of Emilia is certainly done with “passion, fury, laughter and song as they inspire and celebrate”, in an amazing array of costumes and a simple but cleverly designed set, with excellent lighting and sound.  The show is exciting to watch, engaging us with the issues in a very modern way in an almost cartoon-like picture of the English court in the time of the Lord Chamberlain’s Players, Shakespeare's theatre company.  Often very funny, yet with times of despair, we are taken through the experiences of this fascinating character Emilia, determined to be a writer from a demanding seven-year-old (Manali Datar) through growing up and maturity against the odds (Cessalee Stovall), to a very justifiably angry older woman (Lisa Maza).

Perhaps you may want to criticise me for writing more detail about the real Bruce Lehrmann case than about the performance on stage, but this is a polemical play.  The truth is that in my threescore years and twenty – older than King Lear – the poems of Emilia Lanier, nor even her existence, have never been brought to my attention.  The silence is the injustice, just as it is for Brittany Higgins.  The headline on the front page of The Canberra Times, December 3, 2022, reads “Higgins in hospital, case dropped”.

But thankfully today we have Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emilia_Lanier and AZ Quotes https://www.azquotes.com/author/69017-Emilia_Lanier  to tell us more.  If Emilia Lanier had no part to play in Kate’s ironic speech to women at the end of The Taming of the Shrew, I would find it hard to believe.  Emilia Lanier wrote

Then let us have our liberty again,
And challenge to yourselves no sovereignty.
You came not in the world without our pain,
Make that a bar against your cruelty;
Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
Our being your equals, free from tyranny?

William Shakespeare’s Kate says, and means it:

My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm has written Emilia to break 400 years of silence.  So far its run has been at the Playhouse Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne, November 11th to 27th, and now at Canberra Theatre Centre. Commissioned by Shakespeare’s Globe, where it premiered in August 2018, Emilia then transferred to the West End, "becoming the hottest ticket in London". Surely this Australian production must at least tour this country.  The Canberra season is far too short.

And I hope for Brittany Higgins’ full recovery and that she will receive the justice she is due.  



Essential Theatre Company

My suggested follow-up movies: Margrete Queen of the North and She Said.

 © Frank McKone, Canberra

Monday, 28 November 2022

2022: New Platform Papers Vol 2 - Currency House

 

From the Heart - The Voice, the Arts and Australian Identity

 
New Platform Papers Vol 2, 28 November 2022: Currency Press, Sydney.
242 pages in pdf format.

General Editor – Julian Meyrick
 
Currency House, Sydney, in association with Griffith University, Queensland.
This volume has been published with the generous support of the University of Sydney, School of Art, Communication and English.

Media Contact: Martin Portus 0401 360 806; mportus2@tpg.com.au

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Arts, Culture and Country
Josephine Caust:  ‘Arts, Culture and Country’
Tyson Yunkaporta:  ‘The Trouble with this Canoe’
Noel Pearson:  ‘J’accuse: Australia’s great crime against the jobless. The
creation and perpetuation of the passive welfare underclass
and the urgent need for a universal job guarantee.’

From the Heart: the imperative for the arts ~ the sector responds
Eddie Synot:  ‘The Meaningful Expression of Indigenous Sovereignty through the Uluru Statement from the Heart’
Sally Scales:  ‘Art, Culture and the Voice’
Rachael Maza:  ‘Re-RIGHT-ing the Narrative’
Liza-Mare Syron and Harriet Parsons:  ‘Power, Culture and the Search for Legitimacy’

Wesley EnochTake Me to Your Leader: the dilemma of cultural leadership (reprinted)

Submission to the Government on the National Cultural Policy
Currency House Board and Editorial Committee

____________________________________________________________________________


If you are keen to know the state of the live on-stage play and all those attached to it, and perhaps of our political future, you might like to begin with this quote from Josephine Caust:

A report by Bill Browne, published by the Australia Institute
in May 2021, calculates that if the Federal Government had
invested $2 billion in the arts and entertainment sector instead
of the construction industry in 2020–21, it would have created
8,593 jobs: twice as many jobs for men and ten times as many
jobs for women. Women represent only 12% of the workforce in
construction, while in arts and entertainment the gender balance
is 49% men and 51% women.

Julian Meyrick explains:
Welcome to Volume 2 of the New Platform Papers with essays by Josephine Caust, Tyson Yunkaporta and Noel Pearson; the keynote speeches of Eddie Synot, Sally Scales and Rachael Maza from this year’s Authors Convention, From the Heart: the Imperative for the Arts; Wesley Enoch’s landmark essay from 2014 Take Me to Your Leader (reprinted); and the Currency House submission to the federal government on the National Cultural Policy consultation.

He continues:
In the National Cultural Policy consultation, the first goal those making submissions were asked to address was drawn from Creative Australia: to ‘recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity’. It is the view of Currency House that this is not an additional policy goal but rather the gateway through which the vital question of ‘Australianness’ in our arts and culture should be properly understood. In other words, the full and free expression of First Nations culture is a matter that affects us all ….Taken together, [the essays] are a signal indication of the spiritual expansion that is taking place in our ‘national imaginary’ to include and own the real story of this continent, its First Nations and our modern Australian nation.

Josephine Caust goes on:

In early 2020, the ABS revealed that ‘arts and recreation’ had
been the sector hardest hit by the closures in Australia with 94%
affected.  The Grattan Research Institute estimated that up to
26% of Australian workers were likely to lose their jobs due to
lockdowns and restrictions, but in the creative and performing
arts this figure jumped to a whopping 75%.  Yet Coalition politicians
continued to portray the arts as a ‘lifestyle’ choice.

The value of the Currency House Platform Papers, from No 1: ‘Our ABC’: A Dying Culture? in 2004 to this year’s second volume of New Platform Papers, is to be found in the range of issues and experiences that make up that “spiritual expansion” in “our ‘national imaginary’” – and as Caust makes clear – in our concrete reality.

This body of work is all about knowing our past so we may improve our future. Tyson Yunkaporta expands my non-Indigenous understanding of those Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers, when he writes about having trouble with his canoe:

Ours was a give-and-give economy, not give-and-take, as those
who believe in ancient free market instincts of reciprocity like to
tell us. There was no invisible hand entity guiding us, only the
Law of the land. In embassy and trade, we shared this give-and-give
relation across the sea to the north. This relation enriched us,
not with growth, but with increase. Our increase-based economy
measured wealth in the multiplication of connections rather than
the hoarding of resources and credit.

I’m having trouble with this canoe, because it exists now in a
skewed give-and-take economy. It is art now, because there are
layers of abstraction and extraction between the canoe and the
ocean of life it is supposed to travel.

Noel Pearson makes that art as concrete as the destruction of life in:

If leaders are dealers in hope then the unabating problems of
despair in Australia’s remote communities, exemplified by the
recent media concerning Yuendumu [Northern Territory police
officer Zachary Rolfe has appeared for the first time at the
coronial inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker
15 November 2022
], leaves the nihilists who say
‘fuck hope’ in commanding authority—because the facts on the
ground support them, rather than those erstwhile leaders like me,
who try to deal in hope. Yuendemu is only the latest instalment
in a decades-long story of despair and long tolerance of misery
and destruction of lives.

The Platform Papers are invaluable for me, this invader, however unwitting and naïve at age 14 in 1955 - a £10 Pom.  The expansion of First Nations culture out of their tens of thousands of years of tradition in song, storytelling, dance and visual arts into creative writing and theatre began for me with the National Black Theatre, established in Sydney’s Redfern in 1972, and in a significant way by Sam Watson, a Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba man, who had blood ties to the Jagara, Kalkadoon and Noonuccal peoples, who wrote the novel The Kadaitcha in 1990.

The family names Maza (Rachael) and Syron (Liza-Mare) link the From the Heart section of this Platform Paper immediately to the National Black Theatre and its development through connections with ABC TV and Nimrod Theatre, the precursor of today’s Belvoir, which through the Balnaves Foundation has put the spotlight on First Nations theatre for many years now.

Wesley Enoch (whose professional development workshop for teachers I attended, probably in the 1980s) has become a legend in himself, not only for the unforgettable The 7 Stages of Grieving (written and performed with Deborah Mailman), but as director of the Sydney Festival 2017 – 2021.

In other words, this volume of essays and speeches is, in bureaucratic speech, a change agent – about the changes in the Australian ‘national imaginary’ that have been and will continue to be under way.  Just so long as, at the political level, the put-downs and mistreatment of the arts as mere ‘life-style’ develop, as I hope they will with this year’s new government, into the cultural necessity which the arts are, for all Australians.

Go to https://www.currency.com.au/books-category/platform-papers/ to purchase hard copies.




© Frank McKone, Canberra

Friday, 25 November 2022

2022: That Was Friday by House of Sand

 

 

That Was Friday by House of Sand & Belco Arts.  At Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra, November 23-26 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 25

Director & Co-Creator – Charley Sanders
Choreographer & Co-Creator – Eliza Sanders
Writer & Co-Creator – Jack Sullivan
Performance Artist & Co-Creator – Amrit Tohari Agamemnoian
Video Designers – Laura Turner & Mario Späte
Lighting Designer – Tony Black
Costume Designer – Monique Bartosh
Company & Stage Manager – Dr Anni Doyle Wawrzyńczak
Associate Video Designers – Susie Henderson & Morgan Moroney

Cast:
Actor, ElizaEnya Daly; Dancer & Videographer – Alec Katsourakis
Dancer – Billy Keohavong; Actor, JackLachlan Martin
Dancer – Ryan Douglas Stone; Dancer – Jareen Wee; Dancer – Ella Williams
Actor, Mum & othersSara Zwangobani

_________________________________________________________________

Since I found most of what I was watching and hearing, on stage and on video, was incomprehensible, I can only tell you what it was supposed to be about by quoting the published program, which begins with the first spoken words:

Hey dickhead, pick up yer phone.  Mum’s dead.

“ We are shaped by the people closest to us.  Our blood family, our chosen family.  What happens when those connections become strained?  A mother desperately tries to keep her family together.  A son discovers the blinding force of love.  A daughter grapples with a life-altering surprise.  An artist lives in exile, their identity a crime in their homeland.  Through both autobiographical and fictional narrative, each asks the same question: how do we honour our past, while appreciating who we have become?”

Darkly humorous, joyful, and visually stunning, That Was Friday will take your heart and squeeze it.

My heart wasn’t squeezed, but my brain was twisted, trying to work out whether there was any point in keeping on watching.  After Part 1 Family (the dickhead with the phone appeared to be one member); a literally three-minute break (had the equipment broken down for real? – I couldn’t tell, but apparently not because the Short Break appears in the program); Part 2 Society, which at least had an Armenian history (the massacre of millions) and a person going through sexual transition, where discrimination and fear of genocide were real issues; and, after a standard interval, back in Part 3 to Beginnings – apparently about the two years of this ‘project’ up to when somebody said they couldn’t continue with it.

This apparently happened at the time when Part 2 ended.  So Part 3 was about what didn’t happen to get completed.

By the end of  Part 3, though, I at least understood that the ‘Mum’ of the first quote had fallen off her excercise bike and died.  I also began to gather that because everybody on earth is different, and no-one can really understand anyone else, since they haven’t had the same life experience; and that no-one can really even understand themselves and be sure of what it means to say ‘I am …..what my past says I am / what I have become’; then I may as well conclude that watching for two and a half hours (including interval) was really pointless.

So the best I can say is that this project is just a company doing art for art’s sake, claiming in their program that by “Layering dance, theatre and video, this ground-breaking new work fills the gaps between these art forms to create something entirely new”.  Well, the dance was largely what my family call ‘writhing’; the theatre entirely lacked any drama; the video was big and unavoidable (which meant my attention was often taken away from the ubiquitous dancing).

And now I’m even unsure what ‘ground-breaking’ means any more.  It seems to be a House of Sand indeed.

But don’t let my opinion hold you back.  Go make your own judgement.




That Was Friday - House of Sand at Belco Arts
Photo: Lorna Sim

 

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Thursday, 24 November 2022

2022: The Torrents by Oriel Gray

 

Lexi Sekuless as J.G.Milford in “The Torrents”.
Canberra CityNews - Photo: Tim Ngo

 The Torrents by Oriel Gray.  Presented by Lexi Sekuless Productions at The Mill Theatre, Canberra, November 23 – December 3 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 24

Director – Lexi Sekuless; Designer – Victoria ‘Fi’ Hopkins
Movement Direction – Netty Sharpe and Tim Sekuless
Musical Arrangements – Leisa Keen
Voice and Acting Coach – Sarah Carroll
Production Stage Manager – Zeke Chalmers
Mentors – Julian Meyrick and Wendy Strehlow
Sound Production – Andrew Brown; Lighting Designer – Stefan Wronski
Prop Design – Tracy Cui
Front of House – Katrina Williams, Branka Gajic, Fiona Wade

Cast:
Christy and Stuwell – Helen McFarlane; Bernie and Squires – Bronte Batham
Jock and Twimple – Elaine Noon; Gwynne Thomas – Jasmin Shojai
Kingsley Myers – Stefanie Lekkas; Rufus Torrent – Rachel Howard
Ben Torrent - Kat Smalley; J. G. Milford – Lexi Sekuless
John Manson – Heidi Silberman

_____________________________________________________________________

Theatre is all about style and the intentions of both the playwright and the director.  A director in today’s world may create a show in a way that the writer, long ago, could never have imagined.  Yet, a production should be in tune with the author’s purpose.  I think in this production of The Torrents the style is a mismatch, despite the director’s good intentions.

The good intention was to use the play to emphasise Oriel Gray’s purpose, in writing – in the 1950s as a Communist – about the right for women to have equal status with men.  There is an irony in the fact that Gray’s play employs only two women actors in a cast of twelve.  To employ women today to play all the male as well as the female characters makes sense.  To use as a theme Madonna’s song about being a ‘material’ girl in a ‘material’ world is a device which makes the feminist point.

The women’s singing, marking the scene changes, was genuinely beautiful – along with the amusing dance sequences – but, writing inevitably as a male theatre critic, I feel I may be on some shaky ground when I say the style of performing the play too much as a shouting match undermined an important part of Oriel Gray’s script.  We lost, not only often the detail of the words, but the sensitivity Oriel showed in the men characters’ development of understanding.

The important example, though the writing is often amusing, is that Rufus Torrent’s gradual recognition of J. G. (Jenny) Milford’s human quality and intellectual strength, and his coming to understand the value of his son – and his realising the importance of Kingsley’s water supply plan – is the key to appreciating Gray’s purpose.  She set the play in the previous century, at the time in real history when the idea of the ‘New Woman’ became established.  Her Jenny Milford is not a star-performing material girl, but a sensitive woman who we can believe in as she shows her capacity to help the men – the young Bernie and Ben – and finally even the boss Rufus, to understand themselves.  And, in doing so, she realises that she and Rufus are a pair, on a level of equal status.  

For me, then, when in this production Jenny rushes off in a teenage kind of excitement to go to Rufus as the play ends, as the shouting style comedy required, Oriel Gray would have shaken her head.  Her J. G. Milford, despite doubts about herself at some points, is now in charge, on an equal basis with Rufus because they both have come to understand themselves and each other.  This is the point of the play, growing out of the comedy and male competition, which this production missed.  

The other character of great concern for Oriel Gray is Kingsley Myers, the designer of the water supply scheme who is treated abominably by the men with the money.  In real history the model for his character was Charles O’Connor, whose 530-kilometre-long pipeline Eastern Goldfields Water Supply Scheme in Western Australia was finally completed, but only after his death, by suicide.  Though Gray did not take his story to its final conclusion, in the style of this production he is presented in a quite superficial way, rather than developing the depth of personal despair which Gray intended.

So my conclusion is that though I could see an interesting and worthwhile idea behind this production of The Torrents, and enjoyed the singing, and some of the comedy roles such as Helen McFarlane’s Christy as well as the straight presentation of the other woman, Gwynne, by Jasmin Shojai, I couldn’t enjoy the show overall because the style didn’t suit the play’s setting in its time and place in Australian history, nor the characters’ development as Oriel Gray intended in this play which in 1955 was joint winner of the Playwrights' Advisory Board Competition with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler.


Oriel Gray
(Doolee.com)

 

 © Frank McKone, Canberra

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

2022: God of Carnage / Le Dieu du Carnage by Yasmina Reza

 

 

 

 

 

Image: Jane Duong
God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza translated by Christopher Hampton.  
Echo Theatre at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, Wednesday November 23 – Friday November 25, 8pm and Saturday November 26 2022, 2pm  &  8pm.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 23

Director – Jordan Best; Assistant Director – Callum Doherty
Set Design – Jens Nördstrum; Lighting Design – Jacob Aquilina
Operator – Zac Harvey; Props – Jordan Best

Cast:
Jim Adamik – Alan Raleigh (legal adviser to a pharmaceutical company)
Lainie Hart – Annette Raleigh (wealth manager adviser)
Josh Wiseman – Michael Novak (owner of wholesale household goods company)
Carolyn Eccles – Veronica Novak (writer and works part-time in an art history bookshop)

Stage directions:
All in their forties.
A living room.
No realism.
Nothing superfluous.

In the original French the characters’ names are Alain and Annette Reille, and Michel and Véronique Houillé.  ‘Reille’ is a baby’s name meaning ‘angelic’; ‘houille’ means ‘coal’.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Though Echo Theatre’s promotional image suggests gluttony in a grand scale, and their program even provides a detailed recipe for the apples and pears baked French dessert of fruit clafoutis, the play is an often quite excruciatingly funny satire of the very French philosophy, à la (pardon: au) Jean-Paul Sartre, known as Existentialism.

It’s the sort of play that, in Australia, could have been written by David Williamson, but the central cause of dramatic conflict is reminiscent of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap – except that the ethical conventions arising from the fact that, as Veronica states,
At 5:30 P.M. on the third of November, in Telopea Park, following a verbal altercation, Benjamin Raleigh, eleven, armed with a stick, struck our son Henry Novak in the face
are turned on their heads as the two pairs of parents battle intellectually on questions of responsibility towards others (including Henry’s hampster).  It’s hard to imagine, or for me to describe, how their twists and turns over 90 minutes can turn out to be so funny.

Yet, weirdly, the play ends without ever reaching The End, because, as Sartre might have said, as Michael says:

MICHAEL. Chances are that creature's [Henry’s hampster’s] probably stuffing its face as we speak.
VERONICA. No. (Silence.)
MICHAEL. What do we know?

Getting to and getting that ending right, with a long almost embarrassed pause with no-one moving while the lights slowly fade to black, demonstrated the professional ensemble quality in the actors, clearly working with a director with a clear sense of the sublety of the French satire.  What do we really know of the nature of our existence,  after all?

Go to The Q this week, and find out whether Benjamin really is a savage, and what really happened to Henry’s hampster.



 

Carolyn Eccles, Lainie Hart, Josh Wiseman, Jim Adamik
as Veronica, Annette, Michael and Alan
in God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
Echo Theatre 2022

Photo: Canberra Photography Services

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Saturday, 19 November 2022

2022: Short Sharp and Shiny - Shortis & Simpson with The Shiny Bum Singers

 

 


 Short Sharp and ShinyShortis & Simpson with The Shiny Bum Singers

at The Artists Shed, Fyshwick, Canberra, Saturday November 19, 2022, 2.30 and 7.30 pm; 

and at The Loaded Dog Folk Club, Annandale Neighbourhood Centre, Sydney, Saturday November 26, 2022, 7.00 for 7.30pm (Bookings kxbears@ozemail.com.au )

Shortis & Simpson will also present another Under the Influence with special guest Blues and Roots singer Dorothy-Jane (DJ) Gosper at the National Theatre, Braidwood, Saturday December 10, 7.30 pm (Bookings: iwannaticket.com.au or phone 0455 832 979)

Contact The Shiny Bum Singers at www.shinybumsingers.com

Reviewed by Frank McKone
2.30pm November 19

Performers:

Shortis & Simpson: the well-known John Shortis and Moya Simpson, first performing as the Short and Curlies at the Queanbeyan School of Arts Café, with Andrew Bissett, in 1996.

The Shiny Bum Singers:
A secret selection, maintaining the Privacy Act, of Public Servant members of this choir, now an institution, formed when “Chris Clarke, Pat Ryan, Julie Barnes and Peter Munday put a joke application to the 1999 National Folk Festival organising committee for ‘The Shiny Bum Singers’ who did not exist, performing ‘the work songs of the Public Service’, ditto.”

_____________________________________________________________________

Margaret Hadfield’s The Artists Shed has a long history in Queanbeyan, moving into Fyshwick in 2019.  As a performance venue, thoroughly imbued with such colourful surrounding artwork-in-progress, there is a welcoming, social-gathering atmosphere very much in tune with having fun with politics, the focus of existence in Canberra, the Nation’s Capital.  There are still car numberplates extant, from the days of Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister, Kate Carnell, embarrassingly reading “Canberra – Feel the Power”.

There was plenty of power in today’s singing, including from members of the audience when slides showed the words of Shiny Bum choruses.  A special note was Moya Simpson’s lower register, with an extra special accent in the song Funiculi Albanese.

It was this song which made me appreciate living in our kind of democracy.  The question is how should we pronounce the Prime Minister’s name?  Albaneezy or Albaneez or Albanèse or even Albanaisie?  All with a gruesome Italianate flavour, of course.  It made me see Shortis & Simpson as a parallel to another Canberran award-winning satirical artist, the cartoonist David Pope.  Was this song racist?  Was the song which included how our politics is now Scott-free insulting to the previous Prime Minister?

Would all these amusingly critical singers be jailed in Russia, Iran, Myanmar or even Thailand?  Here? Of course not.  Perhaps I might be: for discrimination, because I imagined the pronunciation of  Anthony’s name could have been ‘not Albaknees’ in contrast to ‘Scott-More-on-his-knees’ when the influence of Pentacostal religious adherents in recent politics here and overseas was noted.

The point is Short Sharp and Shiny is a very funny show.  Though Moya claimed that the political knives were sharp and shiny, it is the shine in the humour which keeps the satire from being merely nasty.  

It has to be said, though, that this audience – mostly of my generation – enjoyed the 50th Year celebration of the It’s Time song of the 1972 Labor campaign which won government for Gough Whitlam, and hoped ‘Now we are Scott-free’ that things are going to be better as they sang ‘Advance Australia Where?’  There was just a degree of pressure as Treasurer Chalmers in Pyjamas in concert with the PM hung the Christmas stockings on the Speaker’s Chair, now that the other Speaker is no longer there.

The Public Servants backed the thought up with There’s a Hole in Your Budget – how are you going to fix it?  With taxes on the wealthy, but business won’t like it.  With squeezing the poor, but that’s not morally right.  As in the old song, the hole remains in the budget with no clear way it will be fixed.

There’s a song about potholes, of course; and S&S’s signature ‘Learless Feeders’, among whom is the Leans Greeder, Badam Ant; and a stack of others, with one on a genuinely serious note, Honeybee Blues.  The varroa might (mite) mean we have no honey, no veges, no fruit if we can’t control it now it’s arrived in Australia.

But in the end it was singing of Time for Freedom, for Old Folks, for Children, for Loving, for Caring; Time we Moved; Yes it’s Time – time for the new Labor government to move with the times after these 50 years – that ended the show on a high note.


© Frank McKone, Canberra

Thursday, 17 November 2022

2022: Book Review - Whitefella Way by Jon Rhodes

 

Frederick Brooks grave, Yurrkuru or Brooks Soak, Coniston, Northern Territory

 Whitefella Way by Jon Rhodes.  Published by Darkwood.


    Format Hardback | 275 pages
    Publication date 01 Sep 2022
    Publisher Jon Rhodes
    Publication City/Country Australia
    ISBN10 064680202X
    
Reviewed by Frank McKone

 

Mr. Waterhouse endeavouring to break the Spear after Governor Phillip was wounded
by Wil-le-me-ring  (Port Jackson Painter, Collins Cove, circa 1790)

 Jon Rhodes is a creative recorder of the past in the present.  In Whitefella Way he selects nine examples of points in time and place which document in words, paintings and photographs, a thread linking Blak and Whitefella cultural interaction 1788 to 2022.

This work is a development from his earlier highly acclaimed Cage of Ghosts (2019 Winner NSW Community and Regional History Prize) which followed his 2007 art photo exhibition of that title at the National Library of Australia.  The central image which stimulated his social and artistic concern is of ancient rock art and graves enclosed in protective barriers with the intention of preventing damage and disrespect.  He saw the irony of these cages for keeping ghosts safe.

Rhodes became interested in non-Indigenous people, amateur and professional archaeologists, who have recorded, for example, the rock engravings in the Sydney region.  My experience working with bushwalking colleague, John Lough, around 1960, led to my providing a section of Chapter Five in Cage of Ghosts, about the question “Who spent 25 years tracing thousands of Eora and Dharug rock engravings at night, and what became of his hundreds of meticulously drawn surveys?

Whitefella Way is laid out in a format similar to Cage of Ghosts, with each chapter followed by extensive numbered footnotes.  Each chapter begins with a question, this time focussed on history connected to an artefact and its place.  

Reading and looking at the artwork and photos is to read a story, of the past and often of the discovery of the past, to find the answer.  Then the Endnotes fill in the details, often with surprising information – and provide you with a sense of the depth of historical research that Rhodes has undertaken; and with the sources which you may like to follow up according to your particular interests and concerns about the relationship between Australia’s oldest continuing culture on earth and the most recent problematical import.

Each chapter begins with a map, of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) for Chapter One, where we ask the question about Bennelong and Collins Cove: “Why the confusion about exactly where the first Governor of New South Wales was speared on September 7, 1790?

Examine the map, and you will find the spot in question: “Kay-yee-my Collins Cove 1788 Manly Cove”.  Three names; two histories.  And much more in the answer than I was ever taught in Year 9 Australian History.

Each chapter has its own focus question, and so can be read as a story and historical study in its own right.  It seems a tenuous thread from one to the next, yet in the meaning of each answer, for both cultures, we come to understand what links the spearing of Capt Arthur Phillip to the simple but quite massive marble stone in front of the Australian War Memorial in the National Capital, Canberra:

THEIR   NAME    LIVETH    FOR    EVERMORE


Whitefella Way is intriguing to read – and crucially important to appreciate the need, now, for the truth-telling envisaged in the Uluru Statement from the Heart; especially from where I sit, in that National Capital, in Ngunnawal / Ngambri Country. 

 
The publication is so up-to-date it makes “MY CHALLENGE TO Anthony Albanese” its forceful conclusion.

Not to be missed.

Black’s grave near Pindari, Edward Thomson, circa 1848

 

 

 © Frank McKone, Canberra

Thursday, 10 November 2022

2022: Chalkface by Angela Betzien

 

 

Chalkface by Angela Betzien. A Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company South Australia production at Canberra Theatre Centre, November 9 – 12, 2022.  1 Hour 45 Mins, No Interval

This play premiered at The Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide On 9 August 2022
Supported By Simona Kamenev

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 9

Cast:
Steve Budge - Ezra Juanta; Pat Novitsky - Ana Maria Belo ( in place of Catherine McClements ); Cheryl Filch - Michelle Ny; Douglas Housten - Nathan O’keefe;
Denise Hart - Susan Prior; Anna Park - Stephanie Somerville
Understudies: Ana Maria Belo, Glenn Hazeldine, Shirong Wu
Photos by Prudence Upton

Susan Prior and Stephanie Somerville, book week
as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and ???
Chalkface 2022

Director - Jessica Arthur; Designer - Ailsa Paterson
Lighting Designer - Mark Shelton; Composer & Sound Designer - Jessica Dunn
Assistant Director - Clement Rukundo
Stage Manager - Bridget Samuel; Assistant Stage Manager - Sybilla Wajon

 

Chalkface: Arrival on Day 1 Term 1
Pat confronts the Principal
 

______________________________________________________________________________

“You must be mad to be a teacher”, since as everybody knows since my favourite playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “those who can’t do, teach” with its rather cynical corollary, “those who teach, can’t do”.

Chalkface, which includes this joke, is a farcical representation of a primary school teachers’ staffroom, over the year in which their most experienced teacher of twenty years’ standing, Pat Novitsky, engineers her departure when Hurricane Little is made to repeat Year 6, in her class, because he is too immature emotionally to start high school.

At this point I diverge temporarily while you check my correct use of the apostrophe, and note my minor lapse of style in my first sentence.  Pat makes the point that learning grammar is essential.

No farce is capable of providing solutions to real world problems, but the good ones – like Chalkface – can bring everything up (rather like the unfortunate child I saw this morning who spewed all over the bakery doorway).  Chalkface is more than suitably spewy, getting more and more madcap until its explosive penultimate scene (thanks to Hurricane Little and/or perhaps Devon’s father, the parent from hell).

The short reflective scene as Pat says farewell just before the final mayhem allows us briefly to return to sanity after experiencing the funniest play I’ve seen in years.

The top quality of Sydney Theatre Company’s actors was demonstrated especially by the understudy Ana Maria Belo who had to come on at very short notice because of Catherine McClements’ illness.  Not a beat was missed, as far as I could see, despite a terrifyingly complex array of actions and responses, let alone words, and the full-farce panoply of startling entrances and exits that all characters performed.

Beyond the apparently very ordinary staffroom set was an extraordinary sound and lighting design which, I feared, would light up literally as thunder, lightning and explosions became the order of the day.  But in the end applause, whoops and whistles won the night.  No worries.  Just enjoy – and have a few thoughts about what it’s really like to be a teacher.



© Frank McKone, Canberra

Saturday, 5 November 2022

2022: Utopiate by Rebus Theatre

 

 

Utopiate devised and performed by the participants and directors of Rebus Theatre’s Flair program with the support of Belco Arts.

Belconnen Arts Theatre, 4,5 and 12 November, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone, November 5


Cast & Crew

Aliens
    Sam Floyd                                Thorax Mansion
    Megumi Kawada                      Mars Bar
    Zoe Trevorrow                         Purple Raindrop
    Stephen Perkins                        Silver Star
Humans
    Edward “Woody” Menzies       Mitchell King
    Carol Jayne “CJ” McManus     Elsa Whitney
    Leanne Shutt                            Crystal Hart
    Josh Rose                                 Tom Johnson
Creatives
    Sammy Moynihan                    Co-Director
    Ben Drysdale                            Co-Director
    Melissa Gryglewski                 Assistant Director
    Marlëné Claudine Radice        Sound Designer
    Leah Ridley                             Costume Designer
    Fi Hopkins                                Costume Designer
Crew
    Rhiley Winnett                         Stage Manager
    Josh Sellick                              Audio Operator
    Stephen Rose                            Lighting Operator
Photos by Andrew Sikorski


Rebus Theatre’s cast of disabled actors, and actors with lived experience of mental ill health, in their invention of the idea of a planet, Utopiate, of perfect happiness for the people of painful Earth to escape to, have echoed something of Shakespeare’s play The TempestUtopiate begins with a storm of pain on Earth – of physical, social and emotional causes.  One could well be suspicious of the tv ad for space travel to Utopiate (is the non-human Thorax really Elon Musk in disguise?).

The cast as Humans on Earth in pain.
Utopiate by Rebus Theatre

And indeed, life on Utopiate, even with the good intentions of the Alien locals, Mars Bar, Purple Raindrop and Silver Star, but run by the quite dictatorial Thorax Mansion, turns out not to be easy – especially when the Humans begin to feel homesick for the pleasant memories of the natural world on Earth.

Leanne Shutt as Crystal Hart
Memories of Nature on Earth
Utopiate by Rebus Theatre

And so the Humans return to Earth with a message very much like the youthful Ferdinand’s words when he has seen Miranda, but must ‘remove / Some thousands of these logs, and pile them up’ in the hope her father, Prospero, will accept him as her suitor.

There be some sports are painful, and their labour
Delight in them sets off: some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone; and most poor matters
Point to rich ends.


Working as a group to create their play, the Rebus team leave us with the question “Can we truly experience growth and love without adversity?”  Like Ferdinand, they have found the delight in working hard to experience rich ends.  And, like Prospero, Thorax has to accept that being a dictator of happiness is an unresolvable contradiction.  As Prospero tells his audience:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own;
Which is most faint.


Despite the adversities that all the members of Rebus Theatre face daily, they have successfully created a play showing growth and love, tied together with a sense of humour.  Delightful theatre, in other words.

The Aliens on Utopiate
the planet of happiness

The Humans on Earth
the planet of pain

© Frank McKone, Canberra

Thursday, 3 November 2022

2022: Sunshine Super Girl by Andrea James

 

 

 


Ella Ferris as Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Sunshine Super Girl by Andrea James.  Performing Lines at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, November 2-5 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 2

Writer/Director - Andrea James
Movement Director & Additional Choreography -
Katina Olsen
Original Choreographic Concept & Initial Movement Direction - Vicki Van Hout
Set & Costume Design - Romanie Harper
Lighting Design - Karen Norris
Tour Lighting Design -
Ben Anshaw
Head of Lighting -
Steve Hendy
Composition & Sound Design -
Gail Priest
Video Media Design - Mic Gruchy
AV Technician -
Corey Wiles
Dramaturg -
Louise Gough
Mentor -
Paige Rattray
Production Manager -
Jason Thelwell
Stage Manager -
Jess Keepence

Performers - Ella Ferris
as Evonne Goolagong, Katina Olsen, Jacqueline Compton, Kirk Page, Lincoln Elliott, Sermsah Bin Saad
*
On opening night, Sermsah Bin Saad went on for Kirk Page, who was unwell.
Photos by
Paz Tassone



Sunshine Super Girl is a quite fascinating story of the tennis star Evonne Goolagong’s career, from batting a ball against a wall at age three.

I will call this kind of show Picaresque Theatre.  Evonne tells her story on a tennis court via a ‘chorus’ who play, in dialogue and often in dance, the central characters in her family and tennis life.

Though it seems a little like children’s theatre in style,  regularly receiving highly enthusiastic responses especially from younger members of the audience (while the use of microphones instead of live voices was a bit too distancing for me), the story makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of how the real Evonne Goolagong Cawley dealt with the pressures of professional tennis life, including sexual harassment from her strict demanding coach, falling in love, and racism.

As in those picaresque novels of the 18th Century (think of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, for example) episode follows episode, as in real life, without much sense of dramatic direction.  However, when in the end she has succeeded in winning a huge collection of ceremonial cups; and the love of Roger Cawley; and won on Wimbledon Centre Court – despite being forced to miss her loving father’s funeral; it is the strength of her character that wins the hearts of her audience.

What seems like light entertainment – essentially fun to watch – tells us what being a good sport is really all about.  It’s a matter of sunshine as a person, as a girl, and as an Indigenous iconic figure that makes Evonne Goolagong Cawley super.



© Frank McKone, Canberra

Friday, 28 October 2022

2022: Collected Stories by Donald Margulies

 

 

Collected Stories by Donald Margulies.  Chaika Theatre at Act Hub, Kingston (Canberra) October 27 – November 12, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night October 28

Director - Luke Rogers
Assistant Director - Caitlin Baker
Stage Manager - Sophia Carlton
Lighting Designer - Stephen Still
Sound Designer - Neville Pye
Production Manager - Sebastian Winter
Production Photography - Jane Duong
Promotional Photography - Sebastian Winter

Performed by Karen Vickery and Natasha Vickery

Karen Vickery as Professor Ruth Steiner and Natasha Vickery as her student Lisa Morrison
in Collected Stories by Donald Margulies
Chaika Theatre
Photo: Jane Duong

Collected Stories is a Pygmalion play in which “Ruth Steiner is a teacher and respected short story writer. Her student and protégée is Lisa Morrison. Over the course of six years, Lisa journeys from insecure student to successful writer. After publishing a well-received collection of short stories, Lisa writes a novel based on Ruth's affair with the poet Delmore Schwartz. The women deal with the moral dilemma of whether a person's life events are suitable for another to use in their own creative process.” [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collected_Stories_(play) ]

Professor Ruth Steiner is a lot like Professor Henry Higgins in personality: essentially self-centred and an ‘instructor’ rather than empathetic teacher.  Lisa Morrison has a similar determination to succeed and find her own way as does Eliza Doolittle.  Henry succeeds in teaching his pupil how to speak, but he is forced to let Eliza go in the end, now she is equal to and independent from her teacher/mentor.

Ruth succeeds in teaching her pupil to write, but angrily forces Lisa to go in the end, now she is equal and independent from her teacher/mentor. Ruth is angry, accusing Lisa of ‘stealing my story’ but in writing her fiction novel, based on the story  – which Ruth intended not to make public – of her affair at “a young 22” with an older man, Lisa did no more than Ruth had taught her.  Any good story is grist to a writer’s mill.

In both plays the end shows up the underlying insecurity of the teacher-instructor.  Henry Higgins laughs as Eliza goes, but we know how lost he feels.  Ruth Steiner sinks into despair as it seems her age is catching up with her.  We know how lost she feels.  Yet we are left not able to offer all our sympathy, because both of these Professors have brought their endings upon themselves, at least in part.

Now to the performances by mother and daughter, Karen and Natasha Vickery.  

For me to criticise would be an embarrassment after spending most of two hours sitting right next to Professor Steiner’s writing desk in her comfortable 1990s lounge room.  I could easily have picked up her phone for her when it kept on ringing as she slumped in depression when the final lights and jazz music faded.  I looked at her protégée Lisa and felt her sadness, yet understood her need to leave the room and the relationship with this woman who had become almost a mother for her.  She was now the teenager who had grown up.  It was time to go.

It goes without saying that their performances demanded, and they achieved, a high degree of professional skill individually and as an acting partnership.

Credit, of course, must also go to Luke Rogers and Caitlin Baker as director and assistant director for their detailed work with the actors, and for the layout of the action in this very much in-the-round staging which works so well in The Hub; as well as for such thoughtful design of the lighting by Stephen Still, and especially for Neville Pye’s choices of the integrated sound of modern jazz with all its blue notes which belonged to that period of social history.

Chaika Theatre is proving to be a well-worthwhile venture indeed.



Natasha Vickery as successful novelist Lisa Morrison and Karen Vickery as Professor Ruth Steiner
in Collected Stories by Donald Margulies
Chaika Theatre
Photo: Jane Duong


 © Frank McKone, Canberra

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

2022: The Wharf Revue: Looking for Albanese

 

 

The Wharf Revue 2022: Looking for Albanese.  Presented by Soft Tread Enterprises and Canberra Theatre Centre, at The Playhouse October 25 – November 5, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night

Writers: Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Philip Scott
Co-Directors: Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe
Musical Director: Philip Scott
Lighting Designer: Matt Cox
Video Designer: Todd Abbott
Costume Designers: Hazel and Scott Fisher
Photos by Vishal Pandey

 Performed by Jonathan Biggins, Mandy Bishop, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott


 Keeping the bastards honest since 2000.


As Covid and fear of impending Alzheimer’s has glued me to crosswords, one answer stands out time after time. Éclat.  The clue?  The brilliance of success.

Nothing else describes better this year’s Wharf Revue.  All the scenes from the open-mouthed clowns to King Charles III, from Albo in Wonderland (Queensland!) to when he faces Death in a nursing home in 2050 (after 6 terms, passing on the Prime Ministership to Jacqui Lambie) make up a crossword full of Éclats.  

But there is one very special scene where the brilliance of satire is set aside.  Channeling Fred Smith and his singing of Lee Kernaghan’s song Dust of Uruzgan, a returned soldier sings of Australia’s longest war, and simply asks the question “Why?”.  The dazzling wit of all the other scenes becomes highlighted in the contrast of their brilliance against the dark depth of feeling in that quietly sung question.  Our critical satirical laughter at politics needs the silence of the reality of the decision to go to war.  

Go to https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=dust+of+uruzgan+lyrics for the words of Dust of Oruzgan, including
Yeah, there's nothing about the province, that's remotely fair or just
But worse than the corruption is the endless bloody dust

and seek out Fred Smith’s CD.

That this amazingly skilled team could provide us with both the laughter and the silence is a measure of the value and importance of their work.  We need the Wharf Revue.  

We need to see Jacqui Lambie at her downright best (and join her Network); Katy Gallagher, the determined woman in charge of finance (even though the charming Chalmers gets the credit); the three previous Labor PMs, Julia, Paul and Kevin, enjoying a pleasant moment together; and the Wharf’s famous Pauline whose use of language this year even more subtly undermines her intentions than usual; – among a plethora of extraordinary political characterisations/assassinations.

Watching The Wharf Revue 2022 is literally exciting – both of our imaginations and our responses from unstoppable laughter to that quiet recognition of the truth.  Two decades of writing have honed the team’s scripting skills to a fine point, matched – this year especially by the range and depth of characterisation, quality of voice and movement by Amanda Bishop – in their musicianship, rapid-change costuming, makeup and hairdos.  All backed on screen by the Losers answering You Can’t Ask That questions – like John Howard unable to remember who was the longest serving Prime Minister!  I almost felt sad for him, recognising the onset of Alzheimer’s.

And do they find Albanese?   Yes, I think they do.  Pointed satire can be destructive, but this year’s Wharf Revue is a productive, even positive review of our world of politics – except of the Supreme Court of the United States, in a scene which I hope will be seen on Youtube by Joe Biden and Donald Trump.  Their response might be of the ‘Stop Laughing – This is Serious’ kind, though.

Don’t miss The Wharf Revue 2022.  

Julia Gillard, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd
in The Wharf Revue 2022

Jackie Lambie shirt-fronts the real Barnaby Joyce
Amanda Bishop in The Wharf Revue 2022

Pauline Hanson as the Red Queen of Hearts in Wonderland (Queensland)
Drew Forsythe in The Wharf Revue 2022

Albo meets the United Australia Party in Wonderland (Queensland)
in the Wharf Revue 2022




The cast of clowns
in The Wharf Revue 2022


© Frank McKone, Canberra