Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Jenny Kemp's Madeleine opens tonight

The second installment of Jenny Kemp's On The Edge cycle, Madeleine, opens this evening at Arts House (North Melbourne Town Hall) and runs through to Sunday.

The first work in the 'triptych' was Kitten, which opened the 2008 Melbourne Festival and caused quite a stir, here ["yet another Malthouse Emporers New Clothes wank fest" writes an anonymous commenter] and there ["The whole is informed by an excruciating sincerity which... makes the show almost unbearably dishonest" quoth Alison.]

That first link is to my thoughts on the night, where -- rather bizarrely -- I liken the show to the Geelong Cats losing the 2008 AFL Grand Final. (Kemp's work, in my defence, has a way of ricocheting through one's head and heart and history, like a free radical or some unstoppable subatomic particle... it also causes one to hopelessly 'mex' ones 'mitaphors'.)

After the jump, my Herald Sun review of Kitten.

Kitten by Jenny Kemp. Malthouse Theatre until October 25. 2008.

At its best, Jenny Kemp's work for theatre is like an Impressionist painting made three dimensional, or a dream made substantial. It's poetic. Sensuous. Enveloping. Full of alarming longings and intense desires.


Lady In The Water (1947) by Antoinette Frissell Bacon aka Toni Frissell

Kitten is not one of those works. So adjust your expectations.

A man is missing. Probably drowned. Possibly suicide. The wife Kitten is in shock and the best friend Manfred tries to comfort her.

In the past Kemp might have given us a meditation on grief or loss, or searched for a quintessence of emotion. For something universal. But, here, she offers us something surprising. And a bit mad. Kitten a pin sharp study of how one woman fails to cope with loss.

It's also one of the most graphic and remarkable studies of mania I've seen on the stage. Rather than accept her husband's death, Kitten tries to enlist the help of some dolphins to help find him.

This latterday Dr Dolittle tries to do rather too much. And rather too fast. And Kitten rapidly becomes a candidate for a CAT team. She plans to fund her rescue attempt by staging some benefit concerts. Jenny Kemp's dreamy twist is that music, finally, saves Kitten. Kitten the person, that is.

What rescues Kitten the production is the acting of Natasha Herbert, Kate Kendall and Margaret Mills who all play Kitten. Simultaneously. Herbert's voice is astonishing, gutteral then dreamy. But all three Kittens are utterly fearless. They don't meow, they roar.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Sappho Unravelling by Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Stork Theatre)

This is a review of an earlier version of the show that opens at the Malthouse this week, SAPPHO... in 9 Fragments.

Sappho Unravelling, written and performed by Jane Montgomery Griffiths. The Stork Hotel, 504 Elizabeth Street Melbourne, November 2007.

"Believe me," wrote Sappho of Lesbos, "in the future someone will remember us... because you love me."

How right you can be!

Despite the fact than only fragments survive from the nine volumes of verse she was said to have written, Sappho's fame -- her infamy -- has lasted more than 25 centuries.


Sappho by Charles August Mengin, 1877
(Manchester Art Gallery collection)

Aside from the fact that her poems are all about love, we know next to nothing about Sappho's life. The stories about her, stories made up centuries after her death, are many and varied. And totally contradictory.

Lesbian, wife and mother, exile... a woman who supposedly committed suicide for a lowly boatman. The stories are more fantasy than fact. Some of the stories even suggest that Sapphie wasn't a 'ho at all!

As many translators have had a crack at turning her Greek into English as historians have in telling the story of her life. So the moon, in fragment 3, is variously 'fair', 'beauteous', 'lovely', 'refulgent' or -- in Tennyson's translation -- just plain 'beautiful'.

Jane Montgomery Griffiths's one-woman show Sappho Unravelling is a double helix. One thread is devoted to Sappho herself as she rummages through the stories that have been written about her since her death.

The other thread presents a brilliant modernisation of Sappho's poem about Atthis. Here, a lowly actress -- a member of the chorus -- falls for the lead in the cast of Phaedra. They have a short-lived and tragically one-sided affair.

The first thread is frisky and brilliantly clever, full of erotic puns and wordplay. Really filthy puns, I've gotta say! But the scenes between the two women touch us in a way that is more theatrical, touching and satisfying.

Writer/performer Jane Montgomery Griffiths neatly demonstrates that the only way we can learn about Sappho herself is through her poetry. Through her fresh, shatteringly authentic and eternal verse.

This review was published in the Herald Sun on November 21, 2007.


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