Friday, December 29, 2006

Mea Culpa. In 2006, I really should have reviewed...

Here Lies Love, a concert performance of a bizarro musical about Imelda Marcos by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, for the Adelaide Festival. Pros: world premiere of a poppy new work by David Byrne who (it must be said) is looking more like that actor who plays Grissom in CSI each day. Cons: Here Lies Love was considerably less interesting (musically and dramatically) than Evita -- no, really! -- it made no mention of Imelda’s shoe collection or her politics. It was just weird and half-arsed. And the fact that it was the weird and half-arsed product of a superstar doesn’t make it more worthy of analysis, does it?

Away, written and directed by Michael Gow for the Queensland Theatre Company. Pros: good play, well done, timely revival. It toured the nation for half the year and I was at the first performance. Cons: beyond saying: wow, the play really is about death, there was nothing to add but: good play, well done, timely revival.

Mother Courage and her Children, directed by Sydney Theatre Company AD Robyn Nevin. Pros: it was the much-anticipated first production by the new Actors Company. The acting was terrific. Cons: The production wasn’t terrific. All Mo-Co seemed to prove was that an ensemble is only as good as its director. I confess, I spent weeks mulling over the role of the director in response to this production. Nevin, curiously, had her actors drop out of character to perform their songs. I don’t know why. (And, I’ve since heard, the actors didn’t know why.) The best acting was in the mute role too!

I Am My Own Wife. MTC and STC presented this terrific one man show. Pros: great mainstage theatre. Great monodrama. Cons: none. Well, few... It was a piece of theatre designed for Michael Billington. Good meaty social studies, history, feel-good, yada yada yada. The photos were too f-ing big to upload.

Ditto The History Boys. Great theatre that just happened to be commercial. The National Theatre production visited Sydney, for the STC, before an extended Broadway season. I guess I’ll get the chance to bang on about it when the Melbourne Theatre Company mounts its own production of Alan Bennett’s play in 007.

Black Milk by Douglas Wright, performed by New Zealand’s Douglas Wright Dance Company at the Sydney Opera House. Pros/Cons: this was the show that Three Atmospheric Studies, Honour Bound, Blind Date and the countless other so-called political shows of 2006 failed to match for intensity, clarity, purity and rough-house anger. When it ended, I shouted a bravo and -- instead of the usual bump on the applause/noise meter -- the audience continued with polite (even chilly) applause. (You know, the “hated the text, but you guys did your damnedest”-style applause.) A couple of people whose opinions I really respect and admire disliked this show intensely. The dancers I know who saw the show were sharply polarised.

In general, I wish I had tackled more indie dance productions this year. Especially the shows that Arts House staged at the North Melbourne Town Hall.

More opera too. See here.

Ys, the new CD by Joanna Newsom.

Mea culpa... I didn’t have the time or the energy. (I typed e-nerd-y... twice!) I am a slow writer. A slow thinker, too. I process while I write. I’m not the kind of writer who can pump out quick thoughts. Well, I can, but polish/finish is important to me.

I was a little surprised to read that Alison Croggon saw 62 productions this year. That, for me, would be retirement. (Kidding, Alison!) Perhaps it is a case of diminishing returns. I got to 150 this year, counting return visits and different casts, a slightly lower than average number for me.

While I find that I enjoy television more and more -- I have been glomming four-to-six old eps of West Wing a day over the break -- theatre still does it for me, big time. Tonight, it was Entertaining Mr Sloane, an uncharacteristically disciplined production from Melbourne Theatre Company AD Simon Phillips... a touch of magic from a company I was beginning to think had forgotten the difference between stage and screen.

Trainspotters note: I have now seen every single MTC production the company has staged in the last 21 years. Gold watch time?

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

It’s a wrap #2 -- Dance

The following questions were posed by Dance Australia Magazine for the 2006 Critics’ Survey...

Highlight of the year

Glow by Gideon Obarzanek (Chunky Move, Melbourne)
Stau by Anouk van Dijk (anoukvandijk dc, Adelaide Festival)
Headlock (KAGE, Melbourne)

Most significant dance event

The Australian Ballet commissioning a new work from Phillip Adams for Bodytorque 3 -- face the music (and doing it well) rates pretty highly. The commitment of Arts House (at the old North Melbourne Town Hall) to staging and touring indie dance productions does too. The demise of Danceworks.

Most interesting Australian group or artist

Legs on the Wall made a terrific contribution to Opera Australia’s new production of The Magic Flute. Even when it fails, as in Devolution, ADT is still dazzling... But Gideon Obarzanek and Chunky Move are still the ones to beat.

Most interesting overseas group or artist

William Forsythe (Three Atmospheric Studies, Adelaide Festival) and Bill T Jones (Blind Date, Melbourne Festival) took a long hard look at war, but Douglas Wright and his company took the real risks with Black Milk (Sydney Opera House). The New Zealand Ballet also impressed with two thirds of its Trinity programme.

Most outstanding choreography

Gossamer by Narelle Benjamin (Sydney Dance)

Best new work

Glow by Gideon Obarzanek and Frieder Weiß (Chunky Move)

Most outstanding dancer

Alexa Heckmann, Reed Luplau and Bradley Chatfield (all Sydney Dance)

Dancers to watch

Company to watch, actually: Black Silk Dance Company in Brisbane. They’re doing accessible, low-budget ballet. Their Muriel’s Wedding take on Coppélia was great fun.

Also Tzu-Chao Chou (Australian Ballet), Lina Limosani and Kristina Chan.

Kristina Chan, stunning in Tanja Liedtke's Twelfth Floor
(Photo: Chris Herzfeld, click on the image to enlarge)


Complexions Contemporary Ballet provided the stand-out lowlight of the year: the choreography was tizzy, trivial, busy and badly executed. Kota Yamazaki’s Chamisa 4 degrees C (Melbourne Festival) was a close second. Both shows were torture.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

’Twas the night after Christmas and the call centre was quiet...

Confession time. When Playbox was metamorphing into Malthouse Theatre and Robyn Nevin was on the look-out for an Artistic Associate at the Sydney Theatre Company, some twat told me that Tom Healey had been offered -- and had accepted -- the STC position. (It was, of course, Tom Wright who got the STC gig!)

My reaction at the time was two-fold. How brilliant of Nevin to have chosen such a talent when he was peaking as a director. And, two, how sad for Melbourne that Healey would not be running the rebirthed Playbox. So, Tom, if you were wondering (after all this time) why I was congratulating you when you were about to find yourself between engagements -- as they say -- that is why.

Anyway, enough preamble...

Healey, on a late shift, doing some work-related research on the performing arts between sales, commented on my review of The Lost Echo by Wright and Barrie Kosky. But the remarks are well worth a thread of their own. So, here ’tis, in its entirety.

While I chew my intellectual cud over this, feel free -- one and all -- to buy into the debate.

So Chris, I'm sitting in "my" call centre and flicking through the blogs wanting to see what the wrap for the year is from you and Ms C (ah the glamour of being an artist in this country) when I stumble over your review - and revised comments - of The Lost Echo. I know you really liked it but I did want to pick you up on a kind of subtextual commentary in that review about the fact that Barrie repeats himself. Picking you up is a bit strong, it's just that I heard that from a huge amount of people over that production (as well as The Lost Breath and even as far back as his Lear). Maybe it's just because I'm a director myself and nervous of such observations but I find the repetitions and developments of ideas across a range of productions (or as Barrie puts it "a body of work") really interesting. It's something I first noticed with Neil Armfield when I realised that, with The Masterbuilder he had abandoned the shiny-black-floor, white light aesthetic for something different (and much less even). That turned out to be a stylistic investigation that climaxed (in my book) with the amazing ensemble year in which Company B did the revised Tempest, Hamlet and the totally unforgettable Blind Giant. Like you, I have been an avid watcher of Barrie's work since the late 80's and there are certain themes to which he returns; boxes, mutilation, bodily fluid, shoes, penises, schlock, vaudeville etc. Given. But let me ask you this: What is the difference between that and being able to walk into the Tate Modern and say, from two rooms away, "there's the Rothko!", or the Matisse, or the Mondrian..? You get my point. To me, putting Barrie amongst those artists (and indeed Neil) is not a long bow. They have a palette, like anyone, they have preconceptions and questions that haunt them and which they use their art to interrogate. That is who and what they are. I sometimes feel that repetition is used like a stick to beat people with (actors and designers as well). We all know what happens when theatre is not driven by such passion and vision.

Lucky for me that I am not a critic. I often wonder what I would print about the shows that I see, but for me The Lost Echo was a work of unqualified wonder which demanded surrender from me as an audience member. I didn't understand everything in it, but fortunately I didn't need to in the way in which I think I would have were I a reviewer. Like you, I was stunned by that simple opening and then thrilled when the "sex dolls" came in. It was visceral and mad. Barrie lurched us from tiny to huge, silent to deafening, erotoc to repulsive so quickly and deftly that I felt (really) physically dizzy at times. The total sadness and reflectiveness of part 4 left me devastated, even whilst I wet myself at Paul Capsis' interjections etc etc. The point I guess I am making is that some of that work - of his work - defies analysis. Going again to visual art, I could rave for hours about the line in Michaelangelo's Pieta, positioning yaddah yaddah but nothing can explain the surge of sorrow and empathy I experienced on the two occasions I have been lucky enough to be in a room with it. It is total. So it was for me with Echo, considered as a whole work of art. Sure there were bits I could pick at but why bother when the whole is so eminent, so visionary and so overwhelmingly moving? Leaving all these personal responses aside, do you think that as a critic it is possible/desirable to give yourself over to the work in the way in which Barrie demands or is that critical detatchment thing always going to factor? Question may be clumsily worded but I mean it philosophically rather than personally.

I'd be interested to know what your response to this is.

tom healey

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

It’s a wrap #1 -- Michael Gow, Neil Armfield and Australian opera

Has it been an eventful year? Or just a year of events... I’m thinking it’s probably the latter. So, what follows in the next few posts will be a kind of performing arts almanac, a shotgun blast of impressions, opinion, facts and figures from 2006.

My “good news” list is headed by the maturing of one director and the return to form of another.

First up, Michael Gow has, at long last, turned into a great director. A QTC production of his 20 year-old masterpiece, Away, which he directed, toured widely this year. It rates as best revival of the 2006. (Worst was Capricornia which Company B did at the Seymour Centre, mid year.) [“Worst” is a bit strong... let’s say “least worthwhile”!]

Gow is also Artistic Director of the QTC. On that first night in Brisbane, in May, the audience was ready to give him a standing ovation. For everything. But -- out of modesty perhaps -- he declined to take a bow. (At the function afterwards, celebratory as it was, we were already standing... so that didn’t quite count!)

Now, while I did not see the premiere production of Gow’s play at the Stables Theatre in January 1986 (directed by Peter Kingston for Griffin), I was at the premiere of Neil Armfield’s glorious, Peter Brook-like production for Playbox, later the same year. And, yes, we all stood that night. (A most uncommon thing in Melbourne.) Gow’s new production, it must be said, owes much to Armfield, the Magus of Australian theatre.

Which brings me to the other great news of 2006...

After a prolonged period off-the-boil -- several years really -- Neil Armfield created one of his trademark theatrical pageants earlier this year.

His production of Lope De Vega’s Peribáñez probably would not make a Top Ten list of his best shows, maybe not even a Top Twenty, but it’s as close as he has come to peak form since his production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro for Opera Australia, almost five years ago. Interestingly, Peribáñez was done in the big barn of a theatre at the Seymour Centre -- about as unmagical a space as one could imagine -- while Company B headquarters, at Belvoir Street, was being refitted.

Armfield also made a creditable debut as a feature film director this year, with Candy, which he co-adapted with the novel’s author, Luke Davies. (Armfield’s stage productions have been made into films before, and he has directed a couple of telemovies and one-off hour-long eps for television, but nothing quite feature scale until now.) One may not agree with his decision to turn Candy into a gorgeous honey-dripping junkie romance, but one can’t fault his execution of it.

A restaging of Marriage of Figaro has just wound up in Melbourne, and re-opens at the Sydney Opera House on January 2. I’m relieved to report that the Melbourne season this time around was almost as good as the premiere at the Opera House in January 2002. When this production first visited Melbourne, without Armfield’s supervision, it was barely a shadow of the Sydney production. I felt this acutely, I confess, as I had written a rave review of the opera for the Financial Review. And, yes, more than anything -- even more than premature evaluation -- the critic hates to overpraise. The production came to Melbourne wearing my review -- it’s still being quoted here and there -- but the production made a liar out of me.

Armfield directed that Sydney premiere as if he were directing a play. (And, indeed, he has directed the Beaumarchais original on a couple of occasions.) He focussed on the domestic struggle rather than class struggle. And his cast, especially Leanne Kenneally as the Countess, rose to the challenge. In the pit, Simone Young rode the orchestra like a thoroughbred horse... she didn’t dare use a baton lest she take out someone’s eye!

A gripe you will often hear in Melbourne is that Sydney gets the best casts and productions. The Emerald City certainly gets more opera productions, the massive Sydney Opera House tourist trade can be thanked for that, and some of the very best opera productions I’ve seen there haven’t toured at all... And, well, there are certain artists (like Sumi Jo and Bryn Terfel) who are prepared to come to Australia just so they can perform at the Sydney Opera House. It certainly is a venue to “notch up” for an opera singer.

But, often as not, the alt casts that Melbourne gets are also brilliant, just different.

Sometimes too -- rarely, I concede -- productions get better on the road. One such production was Sweeney Todd, directed by Gale Edwards, which premiered at the Opera House in September 2001. It was good, but a bit shrill. Rough around the edges. A few months later, in Melbourne, the production had kicked-in. It was overwhelming. Great theatre.

This year’s opera highlights were a brand spanking new David Freeman production of The Magic Flute, with physical theatre company Legs On The Wall, one of those Opera House-only productions; a revival of the Glyndebourne production of The Rake’s Progress (the David Hockney/John Cox production) in Melbourne; and the extraordinary mainstage debut of the new Victorian Opera company, in August, with a lean and elegant production of Così Fan Tutte directed by Jean Pierre Mignon. (Like Armfield, Mignon directed the opera like a play... and a dark farce at that.)

Lowlights were the tinselly new production of Delibes’ Lakmé by Adam Cook -- a director who, apparently, doesn’t have much faith in opera as an art form -- and another Glynedebourne production, of Jonathan Dove’s opera Flight, which visited Adelaide in March. It took close to two acts to realise that the opera is, in fact, intended to be a comic. Hmm.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

More stocking filler...

At Sarsaparilla, Galaxy reckons that year’s best columns are “stocking filler for editors.” But when you’re on the receiving end of those requests -- and I have five or six to do this year -- they’re a good opportunity for a stock take. To examine one’s critical conscience. To comment on the things not already reviewed. To look for trends and make comparisons between years. The results can be surprising.

One of my favourites wraps is, arguably, the nerdiest of them all. (And it’s one I don’t get paid for.) I’m one of a zillion reviewers around the country invited to participate in the Dance Australia magazine Critics’ Survey. I love the extremes of opinion, the surprise of finding who rated my favourite show the year’s disaster, and the greater surprise of discovering that the people whose opinion I admire (or not!) occasionally agree with me. It also helps that the survey results are printed in alphabetical order, so I tend to get read before fatigue sets in.

But I begin my wrap here, in what is supposed to be performing arts blog, with books. Why? To set the tone, really. When one reads “book of the year” columns, one is absolutely aware of the impossibility of one person being able to say with any authority: this is the best book published in 2006. Personal choice is foregrounded. At best, one can say: these are the best books I encountered -- from the tens of thousands published -- in the last twelve months. And I have the advantage of having a team of reviewers trawling through the new stuff for me...

But I want to add that this is also a criterion-referenced list. So, when I say that Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda’s Road to 9/11 was far and away the best non-fiction title I read this year, it is no match for Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival from last. (But that’s no slight, as Chomsky’s book was one of the most significant books I have ever read!) Or that Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, great as it is, might not be quite as good as Blood Meridian.

Conscious that this might sound like carping -- once a critic always a critic -- I probably should add that I’m only going to mention books that I admired and enjoyed. And each one is wholeheartedly -- and personally -- endorsed.

N.B. The top fiction titles have -- or will have -- links to reviews if you’re interested in following them up. Incidentally, the pseudonymous Cameron S Redfern’s book was reviewed before Sonya Hartnett was unmasked as Redfern’s true identity.


Ismail Kadare’s The Successor (Canongate)

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (Picador)

Andrew McGahan’s Underground (Allen & Unwin)

Cameron S Redfern’s Landscape With Animals (Penguin)

Philip Roth’s Everyman (Jonathan Cape)

Non Fiction:

Inga Clendinnen’s The History Question: Who owns the past? (QE23)

George Megalogenis’s The Longest Decade (Scribe)

Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda’s Road to 9/11 (Knopf)

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Cormac McCarthy: The Road

The Road
Cormac McCarthy (Picador, $A32.95)

The only colour in Cormac McCarthy’s wintry, apocalyptic America is the red of coughed-up blood and the occasional, stolen, life-preserving fire. There’s no surviving plant life -- no birds or insects or animals -- just ashes and the blackened remnants of trees. Even the light is gunmetal grey. The “banished” sun casts no shadow: it “circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.”

The Road is the mankind’s endgame. The few humans that still survive are feral: desperate pilgrims, marauding cannibals or despairing prophets. We follow the misfortunes of an unnamed widower determined to reach the gulf coast with his young son, perhaps six or seven years old. “Each [is] the other’s world entire.”

They’ve been on the road -- pushing a shopping trolley -- for months. Years. They scrounge and scavenge a living, somehow, from the looted towns and blasted landscape. Filthy. Ragged. Hopeless. Their faces masked to keep the ash out of their lungs.

Their only defence from the men that would slaughter them is a revolver and three rounds.

If the plot sounds like an odd amalgam of Mad Max and the Book of Revelation, the reality is both far bleaker and far more beautiful. McCarthy writes with gravity and superlative control, resisting the temptation to turn this sombre story into a political or religious parable. (An encounter with a latter-day Elijah is more whimsical than bible-bashing, more cute than corny.) This is simply the story of the end of civilisation. A nuclear winter without end. Amen.

McCarthy’s writing is vigorously and unpretentiously poetic. The creativity is sustained for 240 pages with nary a lapse. The dominant metaphor is blindness: the dying of the light, repeatedly, is expressed as a dimming of sight. Each day is greyer than the one that preceded it, a process McCarthy likens to “the onset of some cold glaucoma...”

The father is shocked at how quickly values and ideas and names (of dead loved ones, extinct species, obliterated cities and so on) fade from memory, “like the dying world the newly blind inhabit.” It’s as if those things never really existed. The new darkness is implacable.

The son was born after the “long shear of light” torched the world. And that makes the father’s stories wholly irrelevant. “He could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was ashes in his own.”

So they talk about their colourful dreams and nightmares and their apparently pointless journey. At one point the boy tells his father he wants to be with his mother. The father understands that the boy is saying he wants to be dead. (The mother committed suicide rather than face rape and murder.)

The one line of Thomas Hardy I can recall verbatim (a quarter century after encountering it) is his description, in The Woodlanders, of a sunless winter day -- a bleared white visage -- which emerges “like a dead-born child.” The Road is just as intense and devastating as Hardy’s single sentence... but writ large and long.

Yet this far from being a joyless book. Though it is sketched in the blackest of charcoals, the imagery is extraordinarily vivid. Spectacular, even. “The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor...” Or this description of a Daliesque office tower: “The melted window glass hung frozen down the walls like icing on a cake.”

The Road is brilliant, uncompromising, readable. As fearless and honest as its protagonists. And its author.

See also: best books of 2006

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Friday, December 08, 2006

The Sour Grapes of Wrath: A Short&Sweet Festival reader

If you still can’t make heads or (mink) tails of this saga -- which makes a teenage bitch fight on myspace look remarkably restrained and adult -- this information might prove useful.

Firstly, from The Arts Centre web site, about the 2005 festival.
Described as the “Tropfest of Theatre”, this innovative, raw and contemporary play festival was first presented at Newtown Theatre in 2002. Over the last four years it has grown into the world’s largest ten-minute play festival. Now, the Arts Centre hosts Victoria’s first Short & Sweet play festival.Mark Cleary, artistic director encourages anyone to have a go, “…no experience in writing for the stage is necessary, in fact Short & Sweet encourages those who have never written for the theatre to pick up a pen and write a play. Who knows you might just be the next David Mamet or Joanna Murray-Smith! While all plays in the festival are presented simply, with few sets or props, there is no limit on characters or restriction on style, theme or content – plenty of room for creativity and freedom of expression.” [my emphasis]

From The Australian, cited here.
“…an annual smorgasbord of snappy plays proudly catering to audiences with the attention span of a goldfish”

Short & Sweet was conceived by Mark Cleary and first produced at Newtown Theatre. This is from
Short & Sweet starts with a call for entries from playwrights and independent theatre companies, followed by director interviews and actor auditions, and culminates in a festival of a selection of plays. The festival is capped with a Gala Final at which fabulous prizes are awarded in various categories.

Short & Sweet has helped launch and further the careers of countless theatre professionals – playwrights, directors, actors, designers and technicians – and lifted the profile of many independent theatre companies.

There are several components to the festival:
* Call for entries playwrights from around the world.
* Proposals from independent theatre companies.
* Expressions of interest and interviews with directors.
* Expressions of interest and auditions with actors.
* Performances of the shortlisted plays.

Short & Sweet Melbourne 2006 will be produced and performed at the Arts Centre. Performances: 27 November to 17 December, 2006

Short & Sweet Sydney 2007 will be performed at Newtown Theatre and Seymour Centre Downstairs Theatre.
Performances: 16 January to 18 February, 2007, followed by the Gala Final in the York Theatre, Seymour Centre on 2 March 2007.

Now, I respect Ming-Zhu’s choice to take down her post, so I won’t reproduce it here. I would like to point out, however, that six or seven Anonymous comments were made late on the afternoon of December 5 which, apparently, quoted feedback sent directly to Short & Sweet. It’s impossible to determine where these messages came from, but I think it’s fair to say that their release had to have been authorised -- or made -- by someone involved in the administration of Short & Sweet.

Here is the email sent to various Short & Sweet participants:
From: "Bryan Innocent"
Date: 5 December 2006 6:51:59 PM
Subject: Short & Sweet under attack

Dear friends,

Amazingly one of the actors in Top 30, Week 3 of Short & Sweet has launched a scathing attack on Short & Sweet in a blog titled - Long And Acrid. You can find it at:

The basic premise is that the standard of work in Top 30 Week 1 - which most people thought was pretty good - was so poor she is calling on the whole festival to be scrapped and is now ashamed to be a part of it.

One of the Arts Centre Trustees stumbled on this and they are taking what she says into consideration - and are seriously considering the future continuance of the festival.

So if you disagree with her, enjoyed your Short & Sweet experience and think Short & Sweet should continue you need to visit her blog and let her know not everyone agrees.

The Arts Centre is monitoring the blog and whether Short & Sweet continues or not may well be decided by how many people get on to her blog and disagree with her.

So if you want Short & Sweet to continue please go to her blog now and let her know what you think:

If you want Short & Sweet to continue - act now.

Thanks for your time.


The flaming at Mink Tails began approximately 45 minutes later.

This one is verbatim. Assume there is a “(sic)” every few words...
This makes me so mad. Who gives you the righ tto decide what is good and what is bad ? Especially when you have been involved in some of the worse shows I have seen in the lasrt couple of years. Metamorphosis at the Malthouse - that was dreadful. As a week one writer I am deeply hurt and I might be acting a little knee jerk here but what makes you "the high priest of a scred art". Can't wait for your "contribution" in Week 3? If the Festival's sop bad why do you stay involved. Short & Sweet is better and more exciting that half of the crap I see at the MTC and Malthouse - accept what id directed by Julian Meyrick who is very talented. [Posted by Anonymous 5 December 2006 7:35:49 PM]

The “Well, derr!” line of the day has to be this one: “You only speak for yourself Mig (sic) - stop commenting for other people.”
Who says the industry at large is appalled at the standard ? There was a whole panel of media who came in to the first week who were all very impressed - just ask the publicists. In fact everyone who saw the first week was very impressed. Who are these legion of people who are so disgusted at the standard ? Ming Zhu and Chris Boyd - who hasn't even been this year !!! You only speak for yourself Mig - stop commenting for other people. [Anonymous 7:38:59 PM]

Another mighty contribution to the debate came moments later:
Are you just bitter about not getting any paid work ? Probably cause you're such a hopeless actress !!! [Anonymous 7:50:40 PM]

The intelligent and highly literate abuse continued:
I can't believe that this whole tirade has started because some forgettable actor watched a dress rehearsal. [Anonymous 8:02:49 PM]

What a terribly important opinion you are. [Anonymous 8:17:22 PM]

And cop this for clear thinking:
I'm sorry to be anonymous but there is so much venom here I'm surely afraid of being poisoned... [Anonymous 8:17:22 PM, again]

I’m guessing this one came from a school teacher:
[Ming-Zhu] can't avoid responsibility for her actions. And when someone uses the internet as a way to punish a group of hard working actors, writers and directors who are trying to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and at least do something. [Anonymous 9:09:34 PM] [my emphasis]

There were a small number of passionate, thoughtful and constructive remarks (from Adam Cass and Avi) which really attempted to advance debate while disputing Ming-Zhu’s criticism of Short & Sweet, and some gallant contributions from Ben Ellis in the U.K., but these were lost in the vile, abusive, bullying tidal wave.

The debate continues under the watchful eye of Alison Croggon, at Theatre Notes.

UPDATE: see also assessments by Daniel Schlusser and James Comtois.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A conversion to catolicism? Or show us yer shoes, Luce!

In honour of Lucy Tartan’s unprecedented contribution, yesterday, here’s a gratuitous cat post. Let’s call it a scratching post, shall we?

Let me assure you this is not the thin end of the, er, webge. When you come back next week, you won’t find any memes or bloggie “me me me me me”-style postings. (Nor will you find any protestations that the end of false religion is near! Or nigh.) You might find a Mimì. Even, at a pinch, a review of Mame. But only if I’m desperate. Let the true poets (like Tartan herself) sing songs of themselves. (I typed snogs... Hell, that’s another thing!)

As one or two of you would know, I have been adopted by some kittens. They were hidden away in the back corner of my rear jungle by their mother in a big old handbag (funny about that)... I’m guessing to keep them away from squads of rowdy, splaw-footed children in the family home.

They are providing me with hours of excitement and entertainment. (The kittens, that is. I don’t care much for said rowdy, splaw-footed children.) They’re also providing me with more than a few life-threatening scratches. (An improvement on the usual life-threatening paper cuts.)

I have Christened them Wraith (left) and Picket for reasons that will quite probably elude anyone not intimately familiar with Australian literature and media affairs.

Catolicism, yes. Solipsism? Not... yet...

So, er... Can anyone think of better names for them?

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Monday, December 04, 2006

“In most men there is a dead poet whom the man survives”

Now that I’ve got your attention with some Saint Beuve...

break out the Derwent pencils and colour me tickled pink!

There are two more courageous, thoughtful and articulate voices in the theatre blogosphere, that choir of dark angels. One, a brilliant mid-career director, Daniel Schlusser, back in Melbourne after a spell in Germany. (Daniel’s latest post is a great place to start.) The other is a young actor not content to merely do “good work”, she has to ask tough questions and agonise about the state of the art. Frankly, I don’t know where Ming-Zhu Hii (aka “Minkshoe”) gets the time. Her blog is called Mink Tails. (Click here for her latest rant!) [UPDATE, DECEMBER 6: The link has been broken and Ming-Zhu’s entire post deleted... For some background, try here.]

Their “advent” makes me feel a bit better about my recent silence. (Not that I was ever all that prolix!) It’s not that I don’t have anything to say at the moment. It’s just my head is crammed with “little” thoughts. Not worth whole posts.

It’s the opposite of Alison’s “logorrhea”. (Which I prefer to call “blogorrhea” in any case!)

She writes:
“You can tell that I’m writing a novel. It’s having lamentable affects. I’m (mostly) doing my 2000 words a day, but it seems to be sparking off a concomitant logorrhea in this blog. Just be thankful that you’re not my family...”
A few weeks back, I started reviewing books for the Financial Review. Not the odd one, mind, we’re talking up to three a week. And, well, that’s pretty harrowing. So instead of “word-flux” I have reflux! I’m binge reading, as it were. (So, look-out for the purges!) Only, the more I consume, the less I have to say. I am the ‘slave’ of other people’s creativity. My obligation is to respond to that. And, of course, the other cost is one of time. Lucky, I guess, there’s sod all on the teev right now!

I am planning, this month, to fill a few of the holes I left this year. Shows I should have reviewed, and didn’t. Good and bad. It might come out as a best and worst -- most memorable and most disappointing -- but don’t think I’ve abandoned this space if I don’t make much noise here in the next seven days. I haven’t come over all taciturn! With early Christmas and New Year deadlines, I have a power of a lot of reading to do. (Would you believe nine books in seven days?!) I might need laser surgery after that!

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Grrritics: interroge-toi quand tu ris... (or if you're happy and you know it, clap yourself on the back!)

I went to the Walkley Awards last night and danced ’til my feet bled. (Damn those shoes!) I kissed Maxine McKew’s hand -- I would have dried her feet with my hair I reckon -- dreaming that some of her peerless interviewing skills might rub off... and that she might reconsider her ‘retirement’. (Maxine, “case 1352”, left.)

There was a winner at my table, a jobbing journo from Bendigo whose exposé on the dire state of water supply to the town -- and the possibility of a simple and relatively inexpensive solution -- not only won him a gong, it also resulted in a single loose-leaf insertion into a recent state budget. A fix! A palpable fix!

This big, ruddy bloke -- not a young man by any means -- pinched back his tears and fled the room to regain his composure... only to find out (at the end of the night) that the presentation of his particular award had been edited from the delayed broadcast, on SBS-TV, because some pissed buffoon [of course I mean American pissed, as in angry, rather than Carlton & United pissed, in case the lawyers are reading] decided to storm the stage and manhandle one of the presenters. (It was on YouTube before the tables were cleared of dessert, I kid you not! God bless the media!)

Unlike the Pulitzers (which are named after the Hungarian-born newspaper publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer) The Walkleys, bizarrely, are named after the founder of Ampol Petroleum, Sir William Gaston Walkley, a man inexplicably fond of journos. But less about that in a moment.

It’s Bill’s great uncle Arthur, A.B. Walkley, theatre critic for The Times of London from 1900 until his death a quarter of a century later, who interests me right now. And, specifically, a published lecture of Walkley’s to the Royal Institution from the early 1900s which, if memory serves, was simply entitled Dramatic Criticism. (Alas, I cannot find it, on- or off-line, so no link.)

Now, unless you’ve been living on Mars, you will know that Theatre Notes’ Alison Croggon went, saw and was conquered by a play recently. She left at interval. An unexceptionable act, I reckon, for any human being. Unless you’re on duty... when you must stay to the bitter end. (The TN saga begins here and continues here. See also Ben Ellis’s contribution, here.)

A.B. Walkley, helpfully, reckons we have to distinguish between the response of the punter and the necessarily different thought process of the critic. It’s not enough for a critic to love a show, she must -- like Madonna’s beau/belle de jour in the song -- justify her love. Or in this case justify her loathing.

“Was I pleased?” is the sensualist playgoer’s mantra. “Was I right to be pleased?” is the critic’s.

(Walkley reckoned that Matthew Arnold purloined this distinction from Augustin de Saint Beuve and the line itself from Stendhal. Who am I to argue?)

But there’s another axis in this equation, I reckon, that Walkley doesn’t pin down. And it’s one theatre professionals -- be they playwrights, directors, choreographers, dramaturgs, designers, whatever -- will understand.

Instead of asking “Did it work?” -- something both punters and critics will probably ask -- the theatre pro/am will ask “Why (and how) did it work?” And that interrogation, normally, makes even the vilest of theatrical experiences a little less intolerable.

Not wanting to buy into this very particular debate, I do think it’s unexceptionable to decide after an hour -- or five bloody minutes as the case may be -- that a play/production is bad or incompetent. It might be a function of writing, the realisation of that writing by a director or the realisation of the director’s vision by the cast. Permutations and combination.

I do believe, however, that director Chris Bendall has misread Croggon’s comment about not leaving a bad MTC production. Bendall sees this as Croggon’s greater commitment to the flagship company. Croggon, clearly, means that she is more likely to forgive -- and therefore drop the curtain on -- a bad indy experience... which, of course, she hasn’t here! And there’s the rub.

Coincidentally, I was composing a post about the critic’s legendary and irrational fear of over-praising when this flap blew up, cross-town. (As it stood, my piece seemed too frivolous, too blithely disconnected from the real life drama which started unfold soon after I put finger to keyboard!) I will get around to rewriting and posting that little piece Real Soon Now.

One parting bitch... Given Sir William Walkley’s family line, why are there no awards for arts coverage? For criticism? The latter is bundled in with editorial writing and commentary, but there’s no gong for aesthetic criticism, only social.

Once again, if memory serves, the Pulitzer for criticism went to a car writer a year or two back. This, of course, heartily pissed off the cloak-wearing, cane-wielding thesps and cinéastes... Yet made perfect sense to me. The winning critic/journo wrote about cars in Los Angeles (again, from memory) and thus was writing about American cult culture in its very heartland. Great writing is great writing, no matter where you find it.

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