Sunday, May 29, 2011

Being Sick.

I am a terrible person at being sick. I can't stand it and instead of retiring to bed I tend to take awkward angled naps on the sofa. I also tend to freak out a little about work commitments and everything else, when it is CLEARLY MORE IMPORTANT TO JUST GET BETTER. I also inject heaps of miscellaneous and nasty smelling things that are reputedly good for being sick, all at once into my mouth. [Note: not a good idea] So. Tonight I am not going to watch the delightful Castle on the telly. I am going to bed. Early.

Hamlet Review



Hamlet
MUSC and HE!ST PRODUCTONS
Union House Theatre

In the word of the University of Melbourne Student Theatre, there are institutions – the Melbourne University Shakespeare Company (MUSC) has become one of these companies. They regularly turn out quality performances twice a year, bringing William Shakespeare to student audiences. This semester MUSC teamed up with HE!ST Productions to co-produce a play that is an instition itself: Hamlet. The HE!ST team have an impressive history of shows such as Crook’d and Mysterious Mysteries that highlight both a delicious subversion of genre coupled with strong performances and writing. Hamlet is no exception, displaced into the unbalanced world of the Great Denmark Hospital it is clear from the very outset that we are not going to be witnessing an ordinary Shakespeare.

The audience is lead through the depths of Union House Theatre to the stage, where a small and intimate audience of fifty have a truly complete experience, immersed right into the twisted world of the play. As our senses were overwhelmed with dry-ice; sirens wailing and music pounding it was clear from the outset was that there was no escape: for us and the characters, this was it.

Melding schlock-horror with glam-rock in a grotesque hospital setting might seem like a difficult aesthetic to pull off, but kudos to the design team – it was fabulous. Everything was linked together with a ghastly-green vibe that distinctly unsettling. Amy Dyke’s initiation in costume design was a triumph and worked wonderfully with Robert Smith’s stark and adaptable set. The lighting of Matt Jones and Tom Fifield and the sound of Zoe Meagher also contributed to closely interconnected production design. Even the electric live music from the band was integrated into the action, with the lead singer insinuating himself as the ghost of Hamlet’s father and the musicians both contributing riffs and sound-effects. A strong and cohesive staging always contributes to a great show, and with slick accompanying performances Hamlet was a definite success.

At times an incredibly stylish Rock Opera and at others broad farce Hamlet contained some deceptively simple elements in the script. Jack Richardson’s additions to Shakespeare’s text worked especially well in the comedic scenes and Amy Hack and David Harris clearly delight in playing his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Actually the cast in general seemed to be having terrific fun, and this drew the audience into the work even further.

With this production clearly about being in the face of the audience it feels a little unfair, under the circumstances to thus complain that some of the characterisation lacked subtlety. But like it or not Hamlet is quite a complicated character, this didn’t come through at all. Jan Mihal played a very realistic and creepy mad-man (insane eyes!) but the time and space weren’t provided for a more rounded character to develop into this crazy psychopath. Literally injecting his madness, it seemed that this Hamlet was perhaps was waiting for the opportunity to unleash horror in this hospital; the death of his father an excuse to rampage rather than the reason. There was thus very little opportunity for the audience to feel any sympathy for him at all and at times it felt that Claudius of all people was the misunderstood character of the play!

This production of Hamlet was a highly charged performance and a worthy addition to the performance history of both HE!ST and MUSC. It was packed full of grizzly murder scenes; big hair; fluro blood exploding under black-lights; fantastic songs and the kind of energy that reenergises a source text that is hundreds of years old into an entirely new institution.

Monday, May 23, 2011

No Place Like Review

No Place Like.
Presented by Union House Theatre
Written by Chris Summers
Directed by Tom Guttereidge
Showing this week: ticket info


Dorothy in her sparkly red shoes would be slightly bewildered if she ended up in the Oz of Chris Summers’ imagination. No Place Like imagines a world where our very homes are the breeding ground for the dangers that our politicians insist haunt our ‘unsafe’ streets. From this “toxic scenario of the present” there is a post-apocalyptic extension to a Melbourne nineteen years from now where the entire state is now ruled by the man who initiated the horror of the first act. There is confronting and open violence in this work, but also insidious and creeping terror of inevitability: of how the today effects the tomorrow. Union House Theatre is to be commended for this commission and for producing a strident, strong and daring piece of theatre.

The Guild Theatre was completely transformed for this production with the type of set that draws the audience right into the action. It was immense in size, remarkably adaptable and when the insides were ripped out of the world it responded in kind. Quite simply the set designed by Tanja Beer deserves congratulations. It demonstrated creative vision, determination (to squeeze the design into the space) and worked tightly with the script to envelope the audience in the play. Who needs 3D cinema when you can be so involved with live theatre?

Script-wise No Place Like is dynamic. It moves through the action and scenarios with a confidence and brashness that reflects the harshness of the content. At times though it pulls back and is gentle, an example of this is the frequent drifting into song throughout the play. This gives a reflective flavour at times. As Melbourne emerges from chaos and into an accompanying schlock/horror aesthetic on the stage it is testament to the writing that this ‘New World’ still remains a plausible future of the “now. yes right now.” Structurally the play is impressive. It is always a pleasure to observe the links and connections within a work and the structure offered a satisfying narrative. On balance Act 1 was perhaps a little longer than it needed to be but perhaps that was just a response to wanting to inhabit the fantastical future Melbourne for longer. The coda Act 3 was a great metatheatrical conclusion to the work.

This play is packed with well performed and complex characters. They are inherently human and it is the extension of the best/worst elements of humanity that remain in the second act. The power hungry and ruthlessly ambitious PA is reduced to a hideous caricature, worshipping her new master as a Prophet. The entire ensemble was fabulous and they showed great depth in moving their characters through time. All elements of the production team of this work also need to be acknowledged for producing such a professional show.

The politics of No Place Like are societal and personal but they are also devastatingly interconnected. The parents in this story are unwittingly careless of their future. The mother who because she cannot face the past, cannot face a future; and the politician with a mandate for safety who presides over a home that festers with danger as his eye is elsewhere. Lives are destroyed and only those who can escape from home and create their own home survive. Integrity is an interesting concept when people are constantly lying to themselves and others. In a world where spin is how to win, it comes as little surprise that Finn who does not speak; who can not speak, retains her integrity amongst the chaos.

Powerful theatre has an important place in contemporary culture, even more so when the subject matter involves an extension into a future reality. No Place Like might not be our future but it should hopefully make us sit up, take notice and ultimately take action to ensure that it is not and will never be our home.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Closure.

Closure is such a peculiar term and has decidedly shady connotations with victims etc in the criminal justice system but sometimes these words are just appropriate. Totally appropriate. A while back I submitted a novel extract into a competition. Initially worn out and desperate to escape after submitting it, I stopped writing it and since then have not continued. The wait to hear the response - any response - was interminable and typical of the publishing industry. Now that finally I have a letter thanking me for my time and effort and go away and play now, I feel like I can write again. That it exists no longer in the hands of other people, but back in mine means that I can continue, I can edit it, change it it and I can write.

Unfortunately I am also finishing of a full length play before the end of May!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Curtains Review


Curtains (The Musical) presented by UMMTA

Union House Theatre

Curtains is a show that keeps you guessing. At times the audience is as unsure as the characters at what is going on. Concurrent with the opening/closing night of Robin Hood (set in Kansas – go figure) a murder occurs on the stage. As Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Josiah Lulham) enters to solve the murder, he also enters to solve the various problems facing the show. The producers Carmen and Sidney Burnstein despair but even without their leading lady their director Christopher Belling might just find a way. With the crew and cast all confined to the theatre there is little they can do because of course “the show must go on.”

This musical was well cast with a great and energetic chorus that reflects the depth of talent in the world of Musical Theatre. Everyone who sang produced a great voice and together the cast raised the roof of Union House Theatre. In a large cast it is always difficult to select out specific mentions but the characterisation of David Miles was once again superb; the fabulous dancing of Shannen Chin-Quan belied her young age; the heels of Anna Charalambous will go down in history; Josiah Lulham proved that he is at home in the lead’s role in any form of theatre and the rest of the principles was all excellent too. There are some great one-liners throughout the play and the character-roles are strong enough to hold their own against the nominal leads.

The production team at UMMTA is impressive. Bradley Dylan’s direction of this show was strong follow up to last years The Wedding Singer. This time he was ably assisted by Giancarlo Salamanca as assistant director and Lauri Uldrikis whose choreography showed both a talent and a tongue-in-cheek love of musical theatre dance. Anthony Cardamone and his orchestra were great too, it’s always nice to listen to it live rather than done with a computer. Incidentally it was lovely to see the orchestra for a moment after the interval – it might have been nice to see them a bit more, the liveness of the performance is always amplified when you can see where the music is coming from. It might have been fun too to incorporate them into production more.

Set-wise, Curtains is a difficult show to design as it is set in a theatre. For the most part the space was used very well and Caitlyn Staples’ scene set up in the flies was ingenious. The sets for the show-within-the-show Robin Hood were fun and appropriate however perhaps the Union House Theatre itself could have been more of a presence and the actual space more theatricalised for the scenes set just in the theatre. Considering however that along with Scott Marsh as Costume Designer this is a first time design both did very well.

And yet, all of this deconstructing of the different elements of the show does little to communicate how fun this production is. What was especially lovely to me was the progression of the song In the Same Boat. It gave the audience a sense of rehearsal within the show in such a neat way and it was a real pleasure to see a representation on the stage of how these things develop. It is also important to point out that despite being a little confused with the opening (yes, an honours thesis in metatheatre did little to help, honest!) and having to have it explain properly at interval this show was still engaging and my own logic created an alternative premise that fitted in anyway.

As a side note, according to the program Curtains was the last collaboration between John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago, Cabaret). It seems fitting under the circumstances that it contains a moving (and totally cutely performed) story-line involving the composers, with the song I Miss the Music especially resonant. UMMTA made a bold decision to stage the Melbourne Premier of Curtains and it paid off. Any other local company choosing to stage will indeed have “Tough Act to Follow.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bookshelf Love.

Bookshelves tell the story of a life. When you have genetic tendencies towards hoarding this fact is even more apparent. There is that enormous black bookcase that had to be sawn in half to fit through the door to your room. It now houses the categories Plays; Classics; Poetry; Short Stories; and Art. But also there are all those Tamora Pierce books that informed your early teens, a generous sprinkling of Bryce Courteny and the Harry Potter series. These elevated titles look smugly over to other teenage fiction relegated to the other side of the room. Here lurks three volumes from the Twilight series, accumulated from the discarded pile at work, amongst the better written and better loved. Their little case is balanced on another that houses much used University Readers that you continually use and reference as primary sources. The children’s fiction and picture books you still love are on the second biggest bookcase. There too, is non-fiction and reference but you don’t have much time for the real. The adult contemporary fiction sits in the spot that you first see when you walk into the room. It is overflowing above and below and is stacked in weird ways to accommodate. People walk into this room and know you are a reader. You walk into this room and know who you are.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Procrastinate.

Poetry? Really? And acrostic no less, has it

Really come to this point?

Oh you might disagree but the fact remains

Clearly this is not a good use of ones time

Real people don’t sit around writing

As if they were getting paid to when,

Seriously, you don’t (yet)

Tell them it’s practice, tell them it’s fun

I know better.

Nothing at all is really going on

At the moment, you are waiting and

This is just another pointless exercise in the

Endless excuses for not having a proper job!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Who is Patti Smith?

Patti Smith is an artist, a wordsmith and the one half of a most splendiforous memoir I have just finished. A longer review will follow but during the meanwhile just know that Just Kids is fantastic and that if you want to write you should read it. Who is Patti Smith? You must find out!

Closer by Patrick Marber Review

Closer.
By Patrick Marber
Guild Theatre
May 4-7, 2011
Four-Letter-Word-Theatre

Closer is an intimate play. It is a work that dissects and deconstructs the relationship between four characters. Whilst nominally about sex, it is far more about the “true things” and honesty that comes from within relationships. Can anything be true?

Dan rescues Alice, he is the knight and she is the damsel – a girl vulnerable enough to love him on the basis of his crust-less tuna sandwiches. She says hello stranger and he in return takes her life, steals her past and writes a book that he has always been dreaming of writing. She loves him and she is his muse: but it’s not enough. It never is with Dan. In a publicity shot for the book Dan meets Anna. A woman to Alice’s girl, he professes his interest and she discourages it ostensibly because she knows Alice’s story from reading the book. Obsessed with Anna to the degree of impersonating her on the internet Dan has cyber-sex with Larry who just so happens to have been the doctor who tended to Alice when Dan first rescued her. Having set up Larry with ‘Anna’, Larry actually meets Anna and they become a couple. Things come to a head at the exhibition of Anna’s photographs. Dan finally persuades Anna to embark on an affair and from there both relationships fracture; disintegrate and dissipate into the angry drama of extended break-ups.

The space designed by Robert Smith for this production was certainly a bold vision, large screens, one of plastic received projections from six projectors. At times this transforming space was a revelation. At others it felt too expansive for the close-quartered and intimate encounters with the couples. The strongest scenes dramatically were tightly focused by Kei Murakami’s lights and drew in the audience to the closeness of the action. Particularly strong was the ‘stripping scene’ where Larry discovers Alice performing in a spotlight that merges her alleged past and present. It was a tightly wound dramatic scene and testament to the emerging talents of first-time director Max Paterson and his assistant Corey Reynolds. The final encounter between Dan and Alice in a hotel room was another exceptionally strong scene. The tight focus in these instances (and some others) certainly did not leave the small cast floundering in an endless expanse of space as occasionally some of the others scenes seemed to.

The structure of Closer is fragmentary. It follows the characters over years, this did not come across too well in the first half but by the second half the rhythms of the production seemed have caught up with the script and it all tied together nicely. It is a quite hilarious script at points and at times the audience was laughing out loud even during scenes where the wit was clearly a counterpoint to poignancy. This is strong writing and served to carry the action through the somewhat selfish actions of the characters.

The female cast of Felicia King as Alice and Georgia Kelly as Anna did well to contrast their characters and still make them both believably attractive to both of the men. The chic lines of Anna’s costumes contrasted with Alice who was all legs and Doc Martins really assisted in this – so kudos to designer Claire Gawne. Dan played by Danny Ball was simultaneously infuriating and adorable with his love and his lack of understanding and Larry played by Angus Cameron was surprisingly and devastatingly vengeful. All the actors successfully played their characters in the beginnings of love and the fallout after love.

The duplicity of these characters at points was almost unbearable – Dan becomes incensed that Anna sleeps with Larry to close off their relationship forever and yet he has been ‘sharing’ her for over a year during their affair. The righteousness of all the characters is at times infuriating, but this goes to reinforce how lying in the first half is not ideal and neither is the truth in the second half. In both instances the other party is hurt. Only Alice recognises this and finds herself unable to tell the truth and unable to lie and as such she has to leave. And yet as the audience discovers what other characters have realised throughout the play, not even Alice is who she seems. Closer challenges its audience to see if anything is true.

However close we do get, there is always another kernel of truth, another level to our partners that we do not comprehend, that we feel the need to realise whatever the consequences, this opportunity to get Closer. Be warned, it didn’t turn out so well for Alice, Anna or Dan. And Larry? Well, Larry is a f****ing caveman.

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Tickets for the show? Click here for infomation

Monday, May 2, 2011

Season Seven Dr. Who. Review. #1

Right. So, I love Dr. Who and have done since the ABC played all of the Classic series at 6pm four nights a week. This new season promised to be epic. The first episode started with a great little montage and then > it hits you over the head and pulls the rug out of everything you know about the series. It might be spoilers to mention what happens but... it has gone to somewhere where it has never been before. It being the show and the character. Now change can be good, we know this and we adapt. However, I do not appreciate Mr. Moffatt (as talented and writerly masterly) as he is completely removing me from my comfort zone. But will I be tuning in to see how he intends to write his way out of this one. You bet.