Thursday, April 24, 2008

Your reading for the day...

A new doco on Patti Smith, report at the Wash Post. Don't be put off by the teaser:
What happens when rockers grow old? The short answer is, they become ridiculous. Or that is how they are usually cast -- trapped in reruns of VH1's "Behind the Music," or endless reunion tours, all the sex and rebellion and talent spent, like royalty checks, ages ago.
And Adam Liptak at the New York Times reveals the killer stat: " The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost a quarter of its prisoners." It leads the world, he writes, in producing prisoners.
[The USA] has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)
It was a fairly constant 110 per 100,000 between 1925 and 1975.

On a lighter note, there's a pile of new Bob Downe stuff posted at Boob Toob.



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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Don't fret, Kaki!

UPDATE: second pic loaded (finally!) below.


"Whatever happened to knowing that this was forever?"
(Kaki King, photograph by Louis Teran, click to enlarge)


2 o'clock you're still sleeping,
When you wake up you'll be in such pain.
And I wait with the plate piled high with my love,
That you won't eat from.

Kaki King is comin' to town... Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane at least. In Adelaide (tomorrow night) and Brisbane (next week), you'll have to shell out to see the Foo Fighters to see her. A bizarro combination, I must say. King has solo performances in Sydney (Oxford Art Factory, May 1) and Melbourne (The Corner Hotel on April 27). See Pollstar for tour details.

King still has a way to go with her lyrics and singing (she sings on four of the songs on her just-released fourth set Dreaming of Revenge) but her guitar playing is bloody sublime, especially in the John Martyn-inspired '2 O'Clock' quoted above.

Also sublime -- and in this case literally fretless -- is Lebanese-born oud-player Marcel Khalifé. He leaves the poetry (mostly) to others, notably Mahmoud Darwish.

While Kaki King is finding her voice, Marcel Khalifé (often called Lebanon's Bob Dylan) is using his less and less. Khalifé 2006 release Taqasim -- which sets poetry by Darwish -- is entirely instrumental... more cool than exotic.

I have no idea what Khalifé is planning to play in Australia -- Sydney Opera House Concert Hall tomorrow night, Hamer Hall (Melbourne) on Sunday -- but I do know he's touring with his Al Mayadine Ensemble which includes Peter Herbert on double bass as well as Rami and Bachar Khalifé on piano and percussion respectively.

Hmm. Can't find a usable pic of the team. I guess you'll have to do with another of Ms King and her increasingly passionate relationship with her axe. (I swear to god, I typed 'ex' first time round!)

[Hmm, Google is pleading "internal errors" and is declining to load this one. You'll have to imagine a gorgeous, hi-key pic of KK in bed with a very beautiful glossy black guitar in a concrete walled room with a single pic of a child pasted to the wall above and a very groovy mannequin/hat-stand on the floor, prompt side, with a short stack of trilbies. I'll keep trying to add it... Watch this space.]


Kaki King, photograph by Louis Teran, click to enlarge

"There's no need to be so terrible when you know I would do anything for you. This is so laughable, whatever happened to knowing that this was forever? File off the sharpness of feelings so I'll be protected from all of your evil. When you come round my love, I'll be gone, finally done, never to come to your rescue." (2 O'Clock)

Photos courtesy of Big Hassle.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Finding the T & A in V & A

The Club Troppo team took one look at Cornelis van Haarlem's Venus & Adonis and captioned it, thus:


Venus and Adonis - interesting how ideals of female
beauty have changed so radically, from rugby league
front row forward with manboobs to anorexic,
while the male stereotype hasn’t really changed at all.
Why? Discuss.


So, this one, is for the Missing Link Daily boys...
Another take on Venus, this one by Titian.





And, at the risk of comin' over all Sister Wendy on youse all...



I was thinking... Praps van Haarlem was just trying to emphasise that Venus was immortal and Adonis was not. Venus could break the boy. Indeed, in the Shakespeare, she accidentally scorches his (dead) body with her intense and harried gaze.

And while we're talking about gays (please excuse the homophone link) (sorry, there I go again) it turns out Sister Wendy is not in the least bit averse to them hookin' up. Sorry, no link, just lots of chatter about comments she made to A&U (formerly Art & Understanding, America's AIDS magazine) about gay marriage not being the end of civilization as we know it. Nice!

{Thinks... I wonder if someone who has taken a vow of silence/solitude can blog?}

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The 2007 Green Room Award Winners have been announced...

2007 Green Room Award winners have been announced. For a full list of nominations and winners, go to the Green Room Awards Association's web site.

Notable winners include:

Meow Meow -- best show, ‘artiste’ and musical direction in cabaret for Beyond Beyond Glamour: The Remix.


Awards give me such a thrill, but awards don't pay the bills...
(Meow Meow, photograph: Karl Giant)


Eddie Perfect for Keating! (male artist in a featured role in music theatre)

Lucy Guerin picked up two-for-two in dance: the concept and realisation award for Pieces for Small Spaces and the ensemble award for her remount of Aether.

Opera Australia’s Rusalka scored five: for production, direction, design, lighting and female artist in a leading role for the exceptionally talented Sally Matthews.



Ranters Theatre’s indie drama production Holiday came home with excess baggage for Anna Tregloan (set), Patrick Moffatt (acting... a tough call in a two-hander), Adriano Cortese (direction) and Raimondo Cortese (the Association award for new Australian writing). The company also picked up the Independent Theatre production award. (Holiday has a return season at The Malthouse from July 16, 2008.)


Angus Cerini in Chapters from the pandemic
(Pic by Marg Horwell, click on the image to embiggen.)


Angus Cerini's show Chapters from the Pandemic missed out on the concept and realisation award in dance, but picked up a couple in the Theatre (New Form) division: one for Marg Horwell (Set and Spatial Conceptualisation) and yet another for Rachel Burke (lighting design). Kelly Ryall really should have made that a trifecta for sound design, but that award went to the team behind The Quivering.


Martin Niedermair does Munch as Poe's psycho killer in
Barrie Kosky's adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart.


And in mainstage "company" theatre, Barrie Kosky's show for the Melbourne Festival The Tell-Tale Heart picked up a trio: for production, direction and music.

Bill Zappa and Alison Bell were also notable (and bloody deserving) winners.




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Friday, April 18, 2008

Meanwhile... Aleeoop & Yunyu

If you're in Sydney -- and free tonight -- this should be fun...



It's a pretty rare live outing for Aleeoop. Brass-master Lee McIver reckons that Sonar (at Luna Park of all places) has the best acoustics in Sydney. I saw him and the band (with the usual swag of guest) at the Basement in January.

Don't let them leave the stage without playing Tokyo Dawn, an oldie but a goodie. (It would be older than Aleeoop, I reckon.)

Their single Swelter is doing good business... especially in Darwin, by all accounts. (It's something of a radio anthem there.) It's not one of my favourite songs of theirs, but the Station2Station remix is a ripper.

Actually, I'd go to see the support act alone! I haven't seen Yunyu live. Think: post-mod Manga Dolores O'Riordan. I've been getting into her debut album Spiked Soul of late... (It's been out since August 2006... I've been slack.)



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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Malthouse Theatre and Bell Shakespeare: Venus & Adonis

Look, how a bright star shooteth from the sky,
So glides he in the night from Venus' eye.

When I go to a restaurant, I want the chef to be better at cooking than me. (Or I'll order stuff I'm not real good at, or can't be stuffed making!)

When I go to the theatre, I want the production team to know the text better than I do. I want them to dazzle me with their understanding of it, to give me insights into it, to give the thing a spin that's distilled from the text, not imposed on it...

I've always been in awe of directors who tackle Shakespeare. (And when I say 'Shakespeare', I mean the body of work we attribute to a bloke who apparently owned no books and had illiterate daughters. Yeah, right... he must be the one!) Even the worst of them know what every word -- every phrase -- means.

So, directing a 1200 line poem -- one of the earliest and simplest works of the Shakespearean canon -- should be a gimme.

But, man, I left this show thinking the director and dramaturg had no bloody idea what the words meant. (And I only have a passing familiarity with the poem myself!)

The first clue was the programme which uses Cornelis van Haarlem's painting of Venus and Adonis (left) on the cover. Now, van Haarlem's painting might be the closest to Shakespeare's poem chronologically, but it could hardly be less matched to it dramatically or psychologically. Shakespeare takes Titian's line on the story: Adonis resists Venus's advances. (Some academics have argued that it's entirely possible that Shakespeare saw Titian's painting.)

Van Haarlem's Venus holds Adonis lightly, her arm around the boy's shoulder. He's looking wetly at her. She's looking off into the distance. Titian's Venus is clutching her man for dear life.


Titian's Venus and Adonis

Shakespeare's Venus, likewise, locks her arms around Adonis -- "her arms infold him like a band" -- and she "locks her lily fingers one in one" to hem him "Within the circuit of this ivory pale." That's pale as in fence, incidentally, not just pale ivory.

"I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer..."

Again, the pun.

"Within this limit is relief enough." [My emphasis.]

This key section is botched in production. It's such a missed opportunity. It would take only the slightest mime to 'clinch' the point.

Inexcusably, the use of the words hollows/tombs/caves are all taken as euphemisms for what Hamlet would call country matters. They're not. They're references to Adonis's dimples. Yes, Venus wants to -- er -- fuck them (seriously) but Marion Potts (and presumably Maryanne Lynch) go for the d'ohbvious and far-less-interesting Freudian "let's go caving" gloss.

Another puzzling missed opportunity is the stallion section of the poem. It's a classic subplot. Venus hits on Adonis, literally stealing him from his mount, and he resists. He's not in the least bit interested in the goddess of love. He eventually breaks her grip -- breaks her spirit really -- and "hasteth to his horse."

Right on cue, Adonis's mount -- a hot blooded stallion -- spies a cute little filly (a Spanish mare, "lusty, young and proud") and, in the steamiest part of the poem, the beast breaks away to do what hot-blooded stallions do. Colts will be colts, an' all that.

But, importantly, the stallion now controls "what he was controlled with" -- i.e. the iron bit. This curves back neatly to the line: "Poor queen of love, in thine own law forlorn." Venus, goddess of love, is unloved. The very thing she's supposed to control... she is deprived of, forlorn.

The encounter between the horses is a sizable chunk of the poem. First the girly resists, is disdainful. The stallion gets angry, then dejected. The mare gives the stallion an inch and, well, he takes it... and quite a few more.

In Marion Potts' production, this entire section is reduced to a digital projection of one white horse humping another. A knight's tale reduced to mere porn. Poetry reduced to mere plot. And not a great deal of that.

If only this had been directed by Catherine Breillat... But then perhaps that's the point Potts and Lynch are trying to make. 'Romance', in the Anglophone world, is a French film they tried to ban.


Breillat's Venus... and her unwilling Adonis


My (rather feisty) review should be in tomorrow's Herald Sun.


P.S. I did like the snatch of 10CC ('I'm not in love') which aired in the seconds before the lights went down... very apt! ('Babe please don't go' wouldn't have been out of place either!)

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alan Ayckbourn by request... or "One more for my Abe"

The LA Times reports on the "U.S. premiere" of Alan Ayckbourn's Snake in the Grass, here. This will (most likely) come as a bit of a shock to Michael Mooney... who directed the play in New Jersey in 2005!

West Haven News is a lot more conservative in its reporting, crediting Ayckbourn with "over forty years" of audience delight. Fact is, it will be fifty years mid next year. (Assuming, of course, that the first play delighted its audiences.) (Yeah, it did.)

But you didn't come here for Multi Media Watch did you?

I'm actually fishing around for an excuse to run a Q&A with Sir Alan. There are always plenty of productions happening around the world, both new and old. (AA has 71 full-length plays to his name... count 'em!) I could mention that the West End production of Absurd Person Singular, just closed, will tour in the Northern Summer with a new cast. (Director Alan Strachan stays on.) I could mention that the production of The Norman Conquests which Kevin Spacey promised two years ago looks like it will finally happen at the New Vic Theatre later this year. (Jessica Hynes says she's been cast in it, along with Tom Hollander and Eddie Marsan. Matthew Warchus, reportedly, will direct.) They're both good hooks.

Even more newsworthy is the announcement, last week, of details of Ayckbourn's final summer season as AD of the Stephen Joseph Theatre. (AA has been Artistic Director of SJT for 35 or 36 years.) Ayckbourn will direct his newest play, Life and Beth, and a revival of his 2002 play Snake in the Grass.

But the best reason I have to run this is that Abe Pogos asked me to. So, here 'tis.

Sir Alan and I exchanged emails in December prior to the press night of his adaptation of Sheridan's A Trip to Scarborough, around the time Alain Resnais' Coeurs (a film adaptation of Ayckbourn's Private Fears in Public Places) had its Australian theatrical release. I begin by asking about his recovery after the stroke he suffered in 2006.

[Alan Ayckbourn:]

I'm rehearsing the Christmas production for the Stephen Joseph Theatre of A Trip to Scarborough. Which has its press night on 11th December [2007]. The play is my own take on RB Sheridan's play of the same name, which was in turn his take on Vanbrugh's The Relapse which was, in turn, Vanbrugh's take on a play by the Elizabethan actor Colly Cibber. I am about to go back into the rehearsal room, so please forgive the brevity.

[CHRIS BOYD:] HOW IS YOUR RECOVERY PROCEEDING? (ARE YOU TYPING THIS YOURSELF OR DOING A MILTON AND DICTATING IT?)

I'm recovering gradually, thank you for asking and, yes, I am typing this myself (but you should see the mistakes I make as I go along -- God bless computers, I say -- but I have done two or three productions since the stroke and plan to do a lot more next year, God willing. I have also written a new play which will also open here in Scarborough next year, a ghost story called Life After Beth. [N.B. Now called Life and Beth.]

WHAT'S LIFE LIKE NOW? ARE YOU SLOWING DOWN AT ALL?

Life is pretty good. I'm fairly busy and quite honestly, if I retired altogether, I'd probably go mad and possibly drop dead with boredom, anyway. It's being in the rehearsal room with a group of actors (most of them these days younger than I am) that keeps me going. That and writing keeps me going these days. I've always loathed holidays.

AS I UNDERSTAND IT, YOUR RETIREMENT FROM SCARBOROUGH BEGINS SOON?

Yes, I'm standing down as Artistic Director of this Theatre as from Spring 2009 which will free me to do the really interesting things like plays - as opposed to all the duty things that I took on with the territory, scheduling, day to day meetings etc. - which I certainly won't miss. I plan, if the new AD will allow it, to continue my creative relationship with the place as long as I can.

Ayckbourn is known for his elaborately plotted masterpieces such as The Norman Conquests: three self-contained plays which present one series of events and set of characters from the perspective of different rooms. A exit in one play corresponds with an entrance in one of the other plays. We're made acutely aware of life on the other side of the walls and of the serendipity linking lives.

But he's also a master of melancholy, with several nuanced and keenly-felt comedies of middle class. His women characters are especially well observed. In the mid 1980s, a male critic hailed Ayckbourn as the best contemporary feminist playwright! Also around that time -- in his Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern British Plays -- Times critic Benedict Nightingale wrote that Ayckbourn's plays work as comedies despite an intricacy of plot better fitted to farce, and themes more suited to tragedy. This is still largely true.

DO YOU STILL REGARD YOURSELF AS "A DIRECTOR WHO WRITES" RATHER THAN A WRITER WHO DIRECTS? (YOU HAD, I THINK, ONLY WRITTEN 30-ODD PLAYS WHEN I READ THAT QUOTATION!)

Yes. I think that's generally true, even after 71 plays. The two jobs over the years have merged so much that I can hardly tell where one starts and the other stops. I'm almost sure the rest of the team can't tell either.

WHEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK WITH YOU CAME UP, A FEW WEEKS BACK, THE ONE QUESTION I WANTED TO ASK (AND IT'S A QUESTION THAT I'VE HAD SINCE I SAW WOMAN IN MIND FOR THE FIRST TIME) IS: HOW DO YOU COME TO KNOW WOMEN SO INTIMATELY? DOES IT COME FROM -- IF I CAN BORROW AN EXPRESSION FROM PATRICK WHITE'S MEMOIR -- A LIFETIME OF OBSERVATION?

WHITE, YOU MAY REMEMBER, WAS ROUNDLY CRITICISED (ESPECIALLY IN THE UK) FOR HIS WOMEN CHARACTERS. THE WERE TOO STRONG, TOO DOMINANT. THEY WERE MONSTERS. THESE STINGING CRITICISMS PROMPTED HIS EXPLANATION. HE WENT ON TO WRITE -- AND I'M PARAPHRASING, HERE, FROM MEMORY -- WHAT MAKES AUSTRALIAN WOMEN COMPLEX AND INTERESTING IS THEIR MASCULINITY. WHAT MAKES AUSTRALIAN MEN SIMPLE AND UNINTERESTING IS THEIR MASCULINITY.


I attribute my understanding of women to a one parent childhood spent in the company of mostly women, strong and eccentric (especially my mother) for the most part. I also tap in to my 'feminine side' when I write.

Secretly, I've come to the conclusion that if you exclude the so called alpha males and omega women (whom I rarely write about, anyway) most men and most women are a lot closer than we think.

It's just that, though they have a lot in common, they approach things from entirely different directions. All I do if I want to change the sexual viewpoint is run out of the room and come in through another door.

CORRECT ME IF I'M WRONG, I BELIEVE THE ONLY PROJECT YOU'VE DIRECTED FOR SCREEN (GREAT OR SMALL) IS BY JEEVES FOR CANADIAN TV. WAS IT AN ENJOYABLE/FRUSTRATING/EXHILARATING EXPERIENCE? WOULD YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE IT AGAIN? OR WAS REVISITING JEEVES A LABOUR OF LOVE, A WRITING OF A WRONG?

Yes, quite right. I found the experience both exhilarating and frustrating by turns. Exhilarating because of the sense of sheer technological power! Frustrating because I hadn't the expertise to exercise this new-found power properly! After several years around the US and the UK productions, though, I'd had quite enough of the show!

DOES WRITING OR DIRECTING FOR THE SCREEN HOLD MUCH APPEAL FOR YOU? WHY/WHY NOT? INDEED, DO FILM OR TELEVISION HOLD MUCH APPEAL FOR YOU AT ALL?

Directing for the screen, I imagine, is the equivalent more or less of my own role in theatre as director/writer. I probably would have directed film if I'd had the opportunity to start early enough. But I'd feel hopelessly out of my depth now and besides it's so technology driven these days it isn't that interesting. I'd love to have made actor driven movies in the 40's/ 50's (black and white, of course!)

I GUESS THE QUESTION I'M SKIRTING AROUND IS: WHY THEATRE? AND WHY HAVE YOU STUCK TO THEATRE? (DANCE IS THE PERFORMING ART THAT REMINDS ME WHY WE HAVE PERFORMING ARTS... IT CAN'T BE FAKED. THE BODY IN SPACE CAN'T BE FAKED. GOOD THEATRE IS SIMILAR. YOU HAVE TO BE THERE. IT'S THE ULTIMATE IN 'LIVE' EXPERIENCES.)

Absolutely. All of that. And if you don't get it right tonight, there's always tomorrow. Whereas a movie is frozen in time. For better or worse. I guess, in my case, it would inevitably be for worse. Over the years tiny invisible cracks would magnify to become canyons in my mind.

I DON'T WANT TO TURN THIS INTO A MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTION, BUT HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A PLAYWRIGHT? AS A STORY TELLER? AN ENTERTAINER? A SUBVERSIVE? ARE YOUR PLAYS (MORAL? SOCIAL?) EXPERIMENTS? (DID YOU PULL THE WINGS OFF FLIES AS A KID? I'M GUESSING NOT... WELL, NOT LITERALLY!) HOW HAVE THEY EVOLVED?

I'm first and foremost a playwright. I think that encompasses the storytelling role (or in my case it does, certainly) which is essentially trying to keep several hundred people's attention for two hours without getting bored. I've done this job long enough and have this passionate obsession not to repeat myself that I'm always seeking out new ways to tell the stories. Experimental, therefore. I think the evolution was from the simple (learning stage), then becoming increasingly complex as I grew technically more confident and recently, simpler again, as I learn more what to throw away and what to keep.

WHAT DO YOU SEE YOURSELF OFFERING AUDIENCES? A MEANS OF ESCAPE? (EVEN JUST MENTAL ESCAPE FROM THE ENTRAPMENTS OF MIDDLE-CLASS, MIDDLE-AGE, MIDDLE-BROW LIVES?) A REMINDER THAT WE ARE -- IN SOME SMALL WAY -- FREE?

I don't know, really. It's for them to find. Parallels with their own lives possibly? A chance to look into someone else's back window? Often to see themselves reflected in the glass.

Coeurs has a tangled web of protagonists. Charlotte (Azema) works with an estate agent, Thierry, whose sister Gaelle goes on a blind date with Dan whose estranged fiancee is looking for a rental property... with Thierry's agency. Dan confides in his barman Lionel (Arditi) who employs Charlotte to care for his revolting old father, Arthur.

Charlotte is the most enigmatic character. She shyly offers a video tape of a songs of praise style TV show to Thierry. He sufferes the recording out of politeness, then discovers footage of an erotic dance routine which, apparently, features Charlotte.

WHEN YOU WRITE A PLAY LIKE PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES, WHAT COMES FIRST? AS A SOMETIME SYSTEMS ANALYST (WITH REALLY QUITE POOR SPATIAL SKILLS) I FOUND MYSELF DRAWING A FLOWCHART TO PLOT THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN CHARACTERS. (IT WAS UNEXPECTEDLY SIMPLE ONCE I GOT THE GRID RIGHT.)

Yes, it's a comparatively late play. The simple factor was starting to kick in, by then. Complex structure and (on stage anyway) comparatively unusual. Structure comes first. Well, usually. After theme and maybe one or two of the main protagonists.

DID ONE OR MORE OF CHARACTERS COME FIRST OR DID THE OVERALL SCENARIO? (I'M GUESSING CHARLOTTE CAME FIRST!) WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF CHARLOTTE'S MOTIVATIONS? HOW HAVE YOU DIRECTED AN ACTOR PLAYING HER ON STAGE? WHAT'S HER BACK STORY?!!

No, they all arrived together, in this case. They then developed separately and, for the most part, are also quite simple straightforward characters, though rather muddled, sad people. Charlotte is the rogue card.

I know what [Charlotte's] feeling, obviously I do, but I'd hate to cut her open in public. She's a very private person and only hints at her innner feelings. They're there to discover in the text. Let's allow her to keep her secrets and torments, shall we?

When Alain Resnais met Ayckbourn, he declared: "We are more similar than you think. You write films for the stage. I direct plays for the movies."

Twice now, Ayckbourn has allowed Resnais to adapt his work. In the early 90s, Resnais turned Intimate Exchanges into Smoking/No Smoking and, in 2007, Private Fears in Public Places into the film Coeurs. In a move calculated to appeal to the playwright, the 85 year-old French film director cast the stars of the earlier project: Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azima.

LIONEL, I THOUGHT, WAS BEAUTIFULLY REALISED IN COEURS. WOULD YOU CARE TO COMMENT? WAS IT A JOY TO HAVE RESNAIS WORKING ON ONE OF YOUR SCRIPTS AGAIN? (WITH, IF I AM NOT MISTAKEN, A COUPLE OF THE SAME CAST MEMBERS!)

Yes, Pierre [Arditi] is wonderful but then he'd previously done Smoking/No Smoking with Sabine, so I guess he's as close to my stuff as any actor gets. Resnais is a joy.

WHAT WAS THE IMPETUS FOR THE PLAY? THE GRIT -- THE IRRITATION -- THAT HAD TO BE WORKED OUT? IS IT EMOTIONAL? WHAT IS THE ORIGIN?

The idea that we are all more closely linked and therefore responsible for each other than we realise. Even indirectly for people we haven't met or ever will for that matter. Nothing blindingly new when you boil it down to that. But as the comedian says it's how you tell 'em. Each play comes from a different place. There's no celestial stockpile - at least I haven't found one.

COEURS SEEMS TO BE ABOUT TEMPTATION AND DAMNATION, FRUSTRATION VERSUS FEAR... WHAT MIGHT (IN A POP SONG) BE CALLED FROZEN LOVE. IS THAT VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE PLAY? (I'VE NOT SEEN IT STAGED.)

It's very close to the play. Structurally, almost scene by scene the same. I think that sums it up. Though I hate summaries. I feel that if it can be put as briefly as that, what the hell was I wasting all those words for writing a play?

I GUESS ATHOL FUGARD IS ON MY MIND... HE HATES WATCHING PRODUCTIONS OF HIS OWN PLAYS THAT HE HAS NOT DIRECTED HIMSELF. (EVEN WHEN PETER BROOK IS IN THE CANVAS CHAIR!)

SOMETIMES DIRECTORS GET IT VERY VERY WRONG, HE TOLD ME. "IT'S MORTIFYING SITTING IN AN AUDIENCE AND WATCHING THAT. THEY KNOW YOU'RE THERE, TO START WITH. SO WHAT DO YOU DO AFTER WHEN THE CURTAIN COMES DOWN? GO BACKSTAGE AND LIE, AND FEEL UNHAPPY ABOUT YOURSELF? OR TELL THEM THE TRUTH AND MAYBE MAKE IT DAMN DIFFICULT FOR THE ACTORS TO GO OUT THE NEXT NIGHT. SO I AVOID THAT NOW!"

IS THIS SOMETHING YOU CAN RELATE TO?!


Oh. yes. Movie versions put another wall between me and it. But on stage, secretly, I believe there's only one way to do my plays and that's the way I do them. I don't enjoy watching other versions much, even when they're very good.

DO PEOPLE REGARD YOU AS A CONTROL FREAK? OR ARE THEY HAPPY TO BE ABLE TO DELEGATE THE COMPLEX TECHNICAL STUFF?! (DID PEOPLE REGARD GEORGES FEYDEAU AS A CONTROL FREAK, I'M WONDERING... BUT THAT'S A RHETORICAL QUESTION.)

I am, though I'm also quite happy to let the whole team (chosen by me!), make their individual decisions and contributions to the show (within their own area of expertise) with considerable freedom. I reserve the right to give them the initial brief and, in the very last resort, the power of veto. But there's a great freedom in between, particularly with the actors, I hope. I work on the maxim that any decision an actor makes themself, freely and without apparent coercion (note the word apparent!) is worth ten decisions that have been imposed from the outside by a director. I loathe concepts, particularly directorial concepts. Writers are the only people who are allowed concepts.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTS YOU'RE PROUDEST OF AND WHY? PLEASE BE IMMODEST HERE.

I'm delighted to have got away with so much. Theatrically. Trilogies, plays with alternative endings, shows taking place in two auditoria simultaneously. Flooding the stage and then getting it really to rain during the action. Plays, when at times you only see people's feet or the top of their heads. And generally, to have caused so many people to have had so much - fun actors, techies and audiences. I hope, over the years, to have given a few really good parties.


Further reading:

There's a wealth of information by and about Alan Ayckbourn at his official web site. It's an extraordinary resource: yearbook, almanac, photo album, bibliography, calendar, you name it...

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

2008 Melbourne International Comedy Festival!

I have no opinion. I didn't go to a single comedy festival show. I chose life. (If you really want Comedy Festival reviews, check out the blog of the indefatigable Richard Watts.]

And here's my apologia... Actually, it's Eric Bentley's apologia. And I dedicate it to George Hunka, Alison Croggon, Mr. Watts and others with 2020 vision/tastes. (You know who you are!)


These stairs were made for fleeing...
Sydney Theatre. (Photo: Chris Boyd)



Professional Playgoing

George Jean Nathan long ago established the right of the drama critic to leave after the first act. The time has now come for the critic to claim the right to stay away altogether. Deciding what we can do without is, after all, one of the great tasks of living, and, unlike some of the others, it can be performed rather efficiently. Having noted the way John Steinbeck is going -- or Aldous Huxley -- pick a name -- I have decided not to read his next book. My decision may turn out to be mistaken. The next book may be a masterpiece. If it is, I shall hear about it, though; obviously I don't have time to read everything on the off-chance of stumbling on a masterpiece...

Few of the playwrights whose work is performed on Broadway have names one already knows. I decided whether to see their plays after reading the reviews of Brooks Atkinson, Walter Kerr, Richard Watts, William Hawkins, and whoever else is on sale at the nearest newsstand. When I've seen a play, I may realise I don't agree with any of these gentleman. But I can figure outfrom what they say whether I would agree with them. I know, for example, what kind of play strikes me as sentimental and strikes Mr. X as charming, wholesome, heartwarming, beautiful, and morally inspiring. I know what kind of play strikes me as boringly trivial and strikes Mr. Y as quite splendid because it illustrates the view that the age of Ibsen is over, that drama should be free of preaching...

Still, if they all like it, I go; if they are divided in their opinions, I go; it is only when they all -- or nearly all -- dislike it that I deliberately stay away. The critics' rejections are far less misleading than their enthusiasms. And anyway it is better to be misled a few times than go to the theatre too often. It is important that a theatre critic see as few shows as possible: the habit of regular attendance on complimentary tickets distorts the whole experience of theatre-going and can even kill the pleasure of it.

[...]

I prefer to leave when I am bored, to stay at home when I think I would be bored, and in either event not to go into print. That is why I am surprised when, having taken issue with a play or a performance, I am told: "You must have been bored." I take issue only when I am not bored. Dissent, surely, is a proof of interest. If you were the playwright, wouldn't you rather have a critic take issue with your play than be so ecstatic that you can tell he's making it up?


Professional playgoing is the first essay in Bentley's What is Theatre? Incorporating the Dramatic Event and Other Reviews 1944-1967. I picked up a copy for $7.95 from Clouston and Hall in Canberra. Bless! I checked just now and copies are still available at that price.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Donmar Warehouse: Guys and Dolls directed by Michael Grandage

Guys and Dolls: a musical fable of Broadway. Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Donmar Warehouse production directed by Michael Grandage. Australian production directed by Jamie Lloyd. Designed by Christopher Oram. Choreographed by Rob Ashford, recreated by Chris Bailey. Lighting design by Howard Harrison, recreated by James Whiteside. Music direction by Stephen Gray. Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Australian premiere April 5, 2008.

The Brits are doing it again: sending bagels back to Broadway. This Donmar Warehouse production (which premiered at the Piccadilly Theatre in London in 2005) is on its way to the Great White Way. But it's in Melbourne en route. To limber up. And the broads rule the boards at the Princess.


Marina rules the waves, too.
(Marina Prior, photo: Chris Boyd)
(Click on the image to enlarge)


Like the famed National Theatre production 25 years ago, Michael Grandage's production tackles Guys and Dolls as if it were a play by Arthur Miller. And Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows' book not only stands up to the re-examination, it actually comes to life. Or new life at least.

Best of all, Miss Adelaide and Sargeant Sarah take centre stage in this sly and sleazy world.

Adelaide -- the psychosomatically sick showgirl -- is the long-suffering fiancee of Nathan Detroit, operator of the "oldest-established permanent floating crap game in New York." She's been engaged so long, she's had to invent a marriage and five children in letters to her mother.

Sarah Brown is a prim Salvation Army missionary waging war on New York's deadliest sins: dice and drink. She becomes a pawn in a huge bet between Detroit and Sky Masterson, who brags that he can score any woman he chooses.

Desperate to raise $1000 as down-payment for a venue for his nightly crap game, Detroit calls Masterson's bluff. The mission he sets Masterson is to crack onto the holiest of rollers. And he has 24 hours to do it in.

In a traditional production, Adelaide and Sarah are mere pawns. Here, they're queens, the most powerful players on the board. We've seen great things over the years from Marina Prior (Pirates, Phantom, The Secret Garden, you name it) and Lisa McCune (from Sondheim to the Sound of Music), but their performances here rank with the best of their best.

Prior can do anything. We're used to that. But McCune raises the dramatic stakes. After the mighty crescendo of 'Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat', in which the gamblers end up at the Salvo's midnight prayer meeting near the end of the show, Adelaide and Sarah rock our hearts in 'Marry the Man Today'.

There's a new maturity in McCune's acting, a subtlety to match her scintillating physical acting. (Her first-time-drunk innocent-in-Havana catfight routine is the first act show-stopper.)

The boys are pretty damn fine too.

The film had Marlon Brando, the London production had Ewan McGregor, we've got Ian Stenlake as Sky Masterson. In Stenlake, this production rolls boxcars... that's two sixes in craps! He has the machismo of Marlon and the appeal and acting skills of Ewan. But Stenlake can do one thing either Brando and McGregor can't. (Or can't do well!) That's sing.

The same can't really be said for Garry McDonald whose insecurity of vocal line nearly overturned the boat in the second act. He ain't no Sinatra! But then he's not meant to be. Nathan Detroit is not some slick operator in Grandage's production. He's a gullible, indecisive, schmuck sucker. And McDonald gives Detroit a weakness which is both touching and contemptible... and ideal for the role.

Casting of minor roles is excellent. Wayne Scott Kermond and Magda Szubanski are especially good Benny Southstreet and Big Jule. But Bert LaBonté, Anne Phelan and Russell Newman all make telling contributions. And Shane Jacobson is a shrewd choice as Nicely Nicely Johnson.

The beauty of Guys and Dolls, finally, is that there's plenty to watch, for both Dolls and Guys. It's one of those rare musicals -- like West Side Story -- that aren't totally sappy and saccharine.


A slightly shortened version of this review was published in the Herald Sun on Tuesday April 8, 2008.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Jump in the lake, Odette!

I know I bang on an awful lot, but indulge me one more time. And there is some real content after the jump. Promise.

Following on from my previous rant about the "What the critic's said" (sic! I shudder even typing it!) release from the Australian Ballet...

I went to a performance of Swan Lake last month and had a flick through the cattle dog... to have a look at the mug shots, to swot up on who's who in the cast I was about to see.

Under a photograph of principal dancer Kirsty Martin was the quotation: "Heartbreakingly lovely... She seems not so much to cut the air, but carve it."

Ick, I thought. Why not "as carve it"? I suppose the comma is there for a reason. The quotation is attributed to the Evening Standard.

The [please engage your best Scottish brogue here:] "so chumpy you could carve it" sentiment seemed awfully familiar to me.

Bugger me, I thought after a second. Without my knowledge, the Herald Sun has been syndicating my copy overseas! Or, worse, some lazy bastard critic thought he could just lift a few lines from my review of Raymonda and pass them off as his own! Or... someone in the press office had blundered. I ticked the box marked 'C'.

The unexpurgated quotation reads:
"In the title role, Kirsty Martin is heartbreakingly lovely. Goddess-like. But she is not merely playing at being Grace Kelly. Martin gives us a sense of a inner longing. Yes, she can be overly precious when a fitting of her wedding veil doesn't quite go to plan, but her tantrum is a symptom of a more general feeling that she is losing her life.

Martin even manages to express this in her dance. She seems not so much to cut the air, but carve it. She shapes it -- turns it to butter -- with the cool slow swish of a limb. As if she can't let the moment simply pass."
Bit better in-situ isn't it?

So, dear Sydney readers, when you sit down at the Opera House this month and flick through your souvenir programme, think of me. Evening Bloody Standard indeed.

Swan Lake recently completed a third sell-out season in Melbourne, a mighty and well-deserved reception from the city where the piece premiered five and a half years ago.

Everyone I spoke to at the Monday night performance (including Meow Meow's fabulous mother) had seen Graeme Murphy's production at least once before. Me, I'm up to five or six. (Four or five different casts over the years.) Only once this year, alas. I desperately wanted to see Amber Scott and Adam Bull. But then I wouldn't have traded seeing Madeleine Eastoe as Odette. Not even for Amber Scott. And having already seen Kirsty Martin melt the air twice in the role -- betrayed (on-stage) by her real-life husbang Damien Welch -- I was happy to have drawn the first cast. Even at a twilight performance on a Monday night! Don't ever say that the youth night audiences are neglected!

Each cast has a strikingly different dynamic. This one -- with Robert Curran as the tall, dark and handsome two-timing Prince and Lynette Wills as the Baroness -- steers remarkably close to trad ballet. More so than any of the other casts.

As I mentioned in my review of the premiere, Murphy's take on the story isn't about good and evil. It's about shades of grey. It's about innocence and experience, disillusionment and opportunism. The Prince and his old flame do what they do out of smug, indulgent love, not cold hard malice.

Wills pushes the proverbial envelope. In her hands, the Baroness is a nasty piece of work. She treats the incoming princess vilely and her jilted husband with utter contempt.

I've gotta say, I didn't like this reading much. The contrast dialled up way too far. It was almost cartooned. Too too Grimm. It turned a sophisticated piece of dance theatre into grand guignol ballet.

But, remarkably, Wills wrests caricature back from the brink and turns gloating superiority into a plunging dive. When the Baroness realises that she has lost her Prince, lost her hold over him, her pain is acute. As obvious as her initial behaviour. Only a thousand times more affecting.

It's a remarkable performance from Wills, back on stage after becoming a mother last year. I haven't seen her perform better, technically or dramatically. She reminded me of Christine Walsh at her most glitteringly evil.

Murphy's production is an extraordinarily robust piece, capable of varied interpretations. And credit to the Australian Ballet, each cast reacts to one another as if they were performing a play.

When Odette/Eastoe is dragged away from her wedding to a sanatorium, the Baroness/Wills cackles with glee. Siggy/Curran is appalled. Then seduced by her lustful passion. Persuaded by its strength.

This interpretation twists Murphy's story to breaking point. It reveals hairline fractures in the logic of the piece we haven't seen before. For one, if Odette isn't acceptable to the Queen, why is Siegfried marrying her? And why isn't the marriage annulled? They obviously don't get as far as the bridal chamber...

Also, the flighty and exuberant behaviour of the unnamed Duchess-to-be -- a role Eastoe herself danced so brilliantly many years ago -- becomes hard to sustain in a court that is as icy and emotionless as this one. Only a dancer of the vivacity and skill of Gina Brescianini could go close to pulling it off.

Jane Casson's Princess Royal is as mean-spirited as the Baroness. Casson doubles as one of the Guardian Swans and, my god, she is magnificent -- embarrassingly good -- in the lake scenes. It's as if she's doing penance for her dastardly acts on earth.

Watching Mark Cassidy's Earl, I again wondered why Murphy never stole him for Sydney Dance. Murphy has always had a love of this kind of dancer, from David Prudham on. Cassidy was stunning as the gay Earl. Matthew Donnelly made an interesting match as his Equerry.

Having only seen one performance this year, I'm hoping this particular reading is exclusive to this cast -- there are three other casts doing the rounds this year including the Martin/Welch/Bell cast -- and not indicative of some retrogressive shift.

Anyway, we can all judge for ourselves next week as an Opera House performance is to be broadcast around the country: live to Fed Square in Melbourne, on a half-hour delayed start to ABC2 and -- in partnership with the Australian Film Commission and the Australia Council -- to various screens in the AFC's Regional Digital Screen Network (RDSN). Details below.

As of today, the Martin/Welch/Bell cast is scheduled to perform on Wednesday April 9, but that casting is always subject to change.

Odette: Kirsty Martin
Prince Siegfried: Damien Welch
Baroness von Rothbart: Olivia Bell

In 2004, I wrote about that they were the team to beat. (Well, they were that year!) "There is a fearlessness in Martin's duets with Welch that is utterly transfixing. Welch makes her look as weightless and as infinitely precious as a feather."


Now... to the press release, which I'll quote verbatim! (heh!)

"ABC2 will capture the excitement of the event at stage level with cameras positioned amongst the audience. During intermission, audiences will enjoy interviews with choreographer Graeme Murphy and the principal artists."

BTW, the cinema screenings are free, ticketed events. Makes me wish I was in Albany! (Yeah, right.)


"Live" screenings - Wednesday 9 April

- ABC2 8.00pm

- Federation Square, Melbourne, 7.25pm


Regional Digital Screen Network Cinemas:

Albany WA
Orana Cinemas
5:25pm (local time)

451 Albany Hwy, Albany
Bookings: 08 9842 2210
www.oranacinemas.com.au

Tickets available from Wednesday 26 March



Devonport TAS Sold out
CMAX Cinemas
7.25pm (local time)

5 - 7 Best St, Devonport
Bookings: 03 6420 2111
www.cmax.net.au



Hervey Bay QLD
Big Screen Cinemas
7:25pm (local time)

128 Boat Harbour Dr, Hervey Bay
Enquiries: 07 4124 8200
Bookings, on-line only: www.bigscreencinemas.com.au

Tickets available from Wednesday 26 March. Limit 2 tickets per booking.



Katherine NT
Katherine Cinemas 3
6:30pm local time (for 6.55pm screening)

20 First St, Katherine
Bookings: 08 8971 2522
www.katherinecinemas.com.au

Tickets available from Wednesday 26 March



Port Augusta SA Sold out
Cinema Augusta
6:30pm local time (for 6.55pm screening)

9 Carlton Pde, Port Augusta
Bookings: 08 8648 9999



Singleton NSW
Majestic Cinemas
7:25pm (local time)

21 Ryan Ave, Singleton
Bookings: 02 6571 5252
www.singletoncinemas.com.au

Tickets available from Sunday 30 March



Wagga Wagga NSW
Forum 6 Cinemas
7:25pm (local time)

77 Trail St, Wagga Wagga
Bookings: 02 6921 6863
www.forum6.com.au

Tickets available from Wednesday 2 April



Yarram VIC
The Regent Theatre
7.00pm local time (for 7.25pm screening)

210 Commercial Rd, Yarram
Bookings: 03 5182 5420
www.regenttheatre.com.au

Tickets available from Wednesday 19 March

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