Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reading as of Now: Atonement

AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really, really, really, really dislike this book. I threw it down, I swore at it fiercly, I skimmed chunks but I read it for the cause that is set reading for University. Briony is a unbelievable character and also an unbelievable little bitch. Atonement is annoying and as far as I can see so is the author. Mr. McKewen, right about somebody who is a decent human being and don't get 'all literary' with despicable ones. ick! I didn't like anyone in this book except for Robbie and he got treated like crap. So take your toungue-in-cheek-ode-to-tragic-English-Literature and stuff it. You'll find me reading Jane Austen.

Kerry Greenwood is a Fantastic Author

Not sure if I have mentioned on here how much I LOVE Kerry Greenwood's writing. It is sharp, snappy, full of cocktails and food and wonderful little stories where you care about everyone involved. Anyway, my mum has been reading (at my insistance) the Corrina Chapman series - which has in turn lead to me re-reading them all - out of order! This may seem strange, but it is so rewarding to dip in and out of these characters' lives. Please read it. It is worth it and you will enjoy yourself at the same time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Chooky Dancers!

This is the original uploading to Youtube of the Chooky Dancers (I think). There are slicker recordings but I love this one. At the moment I'd recommend not reading the comments it seems to have been hijacked by racist and expletive ridden arguments. Enjoy!

Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu [Wrong Skin]

Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu [Wrong Skin]
Malthouse Theatre
March 18-28 2010

Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu [Wrong Skin] is the wonderful result of what happens when an established and mainstream theatrical company works collaboratively with an Indigenous Australian community to produce theatre. Wonderfully dynamic and affecting exploration of what is it to be a young Indigenous Australian exposed to global influences and how embracing this contemporary music and aesthetic can not diminish the importance and relevance of their own traditional culture.

The story of this work is a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet onto Elcho Island where “the complex laws of ‘skin’ and clan define all relationships” and to love someone outside these is forbidden. This story falls neatly into a political and social critique of living conditions in the community, American Cultural influences, the Northern Territory Intervention, family, music and growing up. At no point are being lectured: the story, politics and the performance are melded seamlessly. A key visual realisation of this blend is seen in the continual use of multimedia images and sound on both a large projection screen and on seven smaller television sets around the stage. It is always a risk to rely on audio-visual but in this case it was integrated and worked very well throughout the piece. Particularly impressive was the aeroplane sequence; the use of the space behind the projection screen as an interior and of bring the television sets into the narrative itself.

Story and multimedia aside the real focus of this show was the dancing. The Chooky Dancers are international Youtube stars and have had success around the country performing at Galleries, the 2009 Comedy Festival Gala, music festivals, and most recently in the film Bran Nue Dae. (Great film, worth a look!) It is testament to both the quality of their dancing and the integrity of their performance that they have not been reduced to a temporary internet sensation but continue to share their unique fusion of traditional and contemporary dance styles for new audiences. They received rapturous reception to their Zorba the Greek interpretation and also demonstrated their skill wonderfully in delving into Bollywood, Broadway and hip-hop dance styles informed by their traditional dance backgrounds.

The detailed program notes for this production are especially important to understanding the level that Nigel Jamieson worked with the community on Elcho Island to create this work. It clearly was a collaborative piece and the result should be rewarding for all those involved. It certainly was rewarding to watch! It seems that this is the first season of the show and it is due to tour around the country. Personally I think that it is an incredibly important work and should be seen by as many people as possible. In times where Indigenous Australians are consistently been portrayed in the media as a desperate and desolate people it is even more important to have a message of hope. It is not that this production glosses over pain and suffering, indeed it confronts it, but it does not blindside the good work that does happen and it paves the way for new interpretations of issues from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives.

This show foregrounds Indigenous Australian culture as what it is: a continuing, present and adapting part of our society. It is not something left in the past, for the past is always with us. Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu [Wrong Skin] teaches us that culture is not static and both informs and is informed by the times we live in. Good theatre makes you think and even better theatre teaches you something about yourself and about your society. It wakes you up to the fact that Indigenous Australian culture has contemporary relevance for all of us and is most definitely worth celebrating as an integral part of our ‘national identity.’

Elizabeth - Almost By Chance a Woman

Elizabeth - Almost By Chance a Woman
(Quasu Per Caso Una Donna: Elisabetta)
Malthouse Theatre
by Dario Fo but "freely adapted."

There is a risk in theatre of setting yourself up for failure. Of proclaiming standards too high for what you are actually performing. Elizabeth is a classic case-study of the hype that can lead up to a show and the somewhat confusing fall-out of watching the actual performance. For example: if you are going to proclaim your show a Farce, it has to be funny. Very funny. If you do not take the presumptive step of grandstanding how Farcical it is: your audience does not face the awkward position of not laughing much at all in terms of a "funny play" but laughing quite a lot if it had been branded in terms of being a "normal-witty-somewhat-historical-and-satirical-play." It is true that Preview shows can sometimes lack the energy and slick timing of a Season show, but Farce is in the writing and situation, not just in the delivery.

Another example (before I move onto the actual performance) deals with the costumes. Malthouse shows always look fantastic, but proclaiming in Newspapers about the wonderful intricacy, expense and difficulty of the costumes and even using the impressive designs throughout the program as illustrations gave unrealistic expectations compared to what was realized on stage. A Malthouse audience takes for granted how great a show will look and it looked like any other Malthouse show. Nothing more, nothing less certainly and Anna Cordingley is to be commended for her efforts. But if the audience believes the extent of the PR in the lead up to a show opening then you leave yourself open to criticism.

To the Show!

Well, there is a phrase often bandied about – “it was a play of two-halves” – which is the sort of wanky claptrap I try to avoid using in reviews as it annoys me when I read it. Somewhat unfortunately it applies to Elizabeth. The first half opens promisingly enough but rapidly degenerates into a confusing rabble that takes place on a very claustrophobic and restrictive front part of the stage. Halving the stage space with pretty curtains works for short periods, not for an entire half: especially if they have to be moved aside every time someone needs a prop. If you have a wonderful big revolving stage – use it! The second half opened up the space in raising the curtains and with it the entire play opened up visually; in delivery and in interpretation. There may be an argument that without the curtains of the first half the second would not have been as impacting. Rubbish! Use lighting. (Deep breath).
Having said that the staging with ‘the heads’ was inspired and was a turning point in the show and demonstrated how when used sparingly curtains can be very effective.

I have no issue with course language or “ferociously foul-mouthed” characters. But to use a lot of expletives on stage requires creativity and it has to come from within the character, not an external force imposing it on the script. Swearing for swearing sake is not funny or amusing. It is clunky and unnecessary. Occasionally it worked very well, the line “oh, put my fucking face on!” was fantastic, but this was often lost in the steady stream of unfunny cussing. Considering the presence of Shakespeare on stage and in the script there was inherent potential in using various hilarious Shakespearian insults in combination with contemporary vocabulary. “Where the bees fuck, there fuck I” was in my opinion the best line of the play. It was funny, almost farcical, worked in context and had a beautiful theatrical awareness to it. I think in general there was a playfulness lacking in the language of the script.

The Dramaturge for the Malthouse, Maryanne Lynch asserts in her program notes that “every character [in the play] is as much an idea as a person.” Well, the tropes used I fear were underutilized. The right-hand-man-turned-villain and the Queen were fully realized. But I felt that the Fool and the Handmaiden and even Shakespeare himself were lacking somewhat. I wanted more from these characters and I think that if there had been more it would not have taken away from the focus on the Queen but instead formed a stronger basis for her Madness to flourish. Written during at the start ‘reign’ of Margaret Thatcher and the rise of New Liberalism in England the play has an acute political awareness to it that did not come through particularly strongly. Perhaps a way of combating this would have been to play up the idea of the trope characters and use their timelessness to inform the wider context of the text.

The actors were all good, especially Julie Forsyth who is an incredible actress and worthy of playing a Queen! We did miss the humour in some of Lady Donna Grozetta’s lines when Billie Brown became more concerned with ‘Dame-ing it up’ rather than articulating for the audience, but it was a minor blip and will resolve itself in the previews.

It seems this review has been awfully critical of what was a brave piece of theatre to stage. Once in Season this show might kick into a higher gear, certainly Director Michael Kantor gave a little speech explaining it was still being worked on. So a positive to finish: The singing was fabulous as was the Irish dancing.

Elizabeth: it is worth seeing, and you may well laugh and enjoy it – but don’t believe the publicity hype.