Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Love Already (Workshop Prod. of India Song by Marguerite Duras) Review

Commissioned by the National Theatre in the 1970’s Marguerite Duras’ play India Song has never yet been performed in England. Love Already director Ben Webb proposes that the main reason is the “formal challenges of staging” the play. In this workshop performance at the Ovalhouse Theatre the actors, designers and directors are “exploring” these elements of production, to great effect.

Central to the premise of the play is the writer’s wish that there is no live sound on the stage, with the exception of two occasions when sobs cut through the night – the liveness puncturing the soundscape. Properly executed this has an extraordinary effect because it necessitates recorded sound. What results is the startling intimacy of a radio play that whispers in your brain at the same time as you see the unfolding action on stage.

Director Ben Webb is clearly passionate about this project. In the Q&A discussion after the performance he enthuses that the play “teaches you how to watch it, or to listen to it.” So much thought and production work has gone into this workshop production, it really shouldn’t be surprising how impressive it is.

Adam P McCready provides this essential sound design. What he delivers is an intricate and relentless collage of voices and sounds that builds a world around you. It is deceptively simple and incredibly effective layered soundscape. There is transient quality to the play, as if Duras might be trying to write memory and the sound design really works and plays with this. In the feedback session one audience member described the state she entered as a trance; dreamlike in how she became absorbed into the rhythms of the play.

The space was discussed in the Q&A in terms of the limitations on the directing and the cast, but what they lost in room, increased the intimacy. Although perhaps the edges of the space could not entirely blur into a liminal ‘other’ space, the fact that it was short and wide worked well compared to a long and thin space where the walls encroach on either side. It is also well lit so whilst the production team might be concerned about the exits most of the audience are appropriately captivated. Tom Cooper’s lighting is very evocative and dramatic with sharp shadows lighting the characters. A particularly lovely motif is the fan spinning in a yellow light that visually supported the soundscape and is instrumental in building dramatic tension and giving a sense of the unbearable heat before the rain. With considerable dramaturgical skill the lighting is woven into the layers of the work so it is integral to the performance. 

It is to all the actors’ credit that you don’t ever dissociate them from the voices. Emma Pallant as Anne-Marie Stretter is mesmerising. Watching her move, interact and silently ‘be’ in the space it was easy to imagine a woman such as Anne-Marie Stretter evolving into what is left onstage. A shell of sorts, but somehow as entrancing as ever.

Orbiting around her are three men. Her established lover Michael Richardson – played Chris Bone – seems content to love her as she is. He cradles her in the rain and shows tremendous tenderness even though he must know she cannot return what he seeks. Jonathan McGuinness as the Vice-Consul gives a tremendously understated performance, whether weeping over her bicycle or shouting her name through the streets of Calcutta he delivers his love and understanding with great precision. He is the only one who truly understands her but he is unable to act on that understanding. William Wheeler plays the Young Attaché who is in many ways our introduction to Anne-Marie Stretter because within one word – love already – his life is inexorably changed. He offered a tantalising introduction to the world as well as maintaining a delicate observational balance. He is the only one certain to be in Anne-Marie Stretter’s future, but his presence is conditional, and he knows this.

This workshop production is part of the Ovalhouse FiRST BiTE and involved a really great discussion afterwards. The program is really important as it provides a space for theatre makers to explore their work and craft in a supported environment. I don’t say this lightly, but seriously, Love Already was the most interesting, innovative and dynamic piece of theatre I have seen in a long time. Look out for a full scale production of it, it’s one to watch (and listen)!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Freedom, Books, Flowers, and the Moon Review

In the second play produced by Paradigm Theatre Company we again are treated to new writing. Freedom, Books, Flowers, and the Moon by Artistic Director and Playwright in Residence is an adaptation of two short stories by Oscar Wilde: The Nightingale and the Rose and The Happy Prince. Each story forms a stand alone play but they are connected in context and tone and complement each other well. Importantly they are also not just stagings of the stories but properly transformative adaptations.

Waterloo East Theatre is an interesting space, it’s long and thin but still manages to create a delightful intimacy. The rumble of trains overhead also provided ambient noise that at times really complemented the action. It lent a sinister overtone to both pieces. There was trouble brewing in this world and no one; however idealistic they were could escape that reality that was coming. As writer Sarah Pitard writes in the program these adaptations “ground the fairy-tales in reality...a much harsher reality” in the lead up to World War II the rise of the oppressive Nazi regime, rumblings from above work well in this context.

In the first play Besnik, a gypsy is in love with Helen, a Rich German and he has little hope of wooing her. She gives him an ultimatum to find her a rare red rose or she will not entertain even the thought. Florica, also a gypsy loves Besnik and determines to prove her own love to him by stealing the rose that he needs, at great sacrifice to herself.

In the short story we are left under no illusion of the sacrifice that the nightingale makes for her love. In this adaptation we do not return to Florica’s fate, I feel that perhaps we needed to see the ugliness of that unnecessary violence on stage to contrast of Besnik’s rather poetic broken heart. His ‘loss’ is made after all more poignant if we are reminded at what he has truly lost. It would have been an ideal opportunity to maybe return to space behind the beautiful gate and for us to witness Florica behind bars in dramatic contrast to his declaration of love.

I think it says much for the great set that it sparked further imagery (at least in me) beyond the play. Zanna Mercer’s design is very effective and evocative. The main set piece is a large iron gate – that doubles as a door in the second play. It gives a solid presence to both works and a visual focal point to the action without imposing an arbitrary symbol.

The second play involves the Richest Man in Germany – Mr. Prin giving away the last of his wealth to save those most in need. Isabella, a gypsy child is his means to deliver his wealth. But she is dying and they are both racing against their ailing health as well as the tide of Nazism and intolerance that is sweeping the country. In this play, the consequences are dramatically played out and we witness their actual pain as well as experience it through Isabella’s friend Kurt.

Cat Robey demonstrated an assured Direction of both works and an instinctive grasp of the special potential in the set in the second play. It gave a nice balance to the staging having the actors work at the front of the raised stage and was a neat way of transforming the space beyond the house and into the wider town where Isabella can venture but Mr. Prin can no longer go.

The entire cast of this production are excellent, both of the plays called for double casting and this is worked in well and is never distracting. I would make particular mention of Bethan Hanks (Isabella) and Theo Ancient (Kurt) who pull off very convincing characters much younger than themselves without ever becoming cloying or cute. Both of these children know that their love will not survive her illness or his country’s need for hatred but nevertheless their wide-eyed characters were delightful and ultimately very moving.

In an industry where new voices and new writing often struggle to find a platform it is good to see a new company taking chances with Rep theatre and producing new work. However in its own right Freedom, Books, Flowers, and the Moon is a very satisfying evening of theatre, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Freedom, Books, Flowers, and the Moon is currently playing at the Waterloo East Theatre and you can book tickets and find information here.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Dumb Ways to Die Metro Song Commentary

Metro an international company that just so happens to run the suburban trains in Melbourne - like any private transport operator it is fighting a constant battle against the fact that trains are delayed, the system is out of date, the services aren't all that reliable and the public get angry. Hardly the material for PR.

Anyway, they've just released this and it is going to be huge.

It absolutely ticks every box it could possibly tick in terms of online marketing.

Cute - check!
Slightly creepy (but also cheeky) animations- check!
Incredibly catchy song - check!
Ear-worm chorus repeated (and repeated and repeated)- check!
Leaked online to Fairfax Press before official release - check!
Slightly outrageous/potential for being controversial .... CHECK!

A Metro spokesperson was quoted in The Age being upfront that this was not about poking fun at those effected by accidents on their train system and that they were very serious about Rail Safety. There are going to be a few who think this is poor taste but they will be in the minority - this will rise above it. I think we can deal with it, Edward Gorey got there first and proved this sort of thing captivates our imaginations.

But you know what is perhaps best of all? They haven't tagged onto the Gangham Style or Call Me Maybe Parodies bandwagon - many of which are genuinely good - or have done something dumbed down and cliche. This is creativity plain and simple.

And if it gets kids to take out their headphones before darting across the closed crossing it will be worth having  the tune stuck in your head all week. And maybe just maybe, you yourself might think twice about doing stupid things around public transport.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In support of Union House Theatre.

To Whom It May Concern,

As an alumnus of the University of Melbourne and as a member of the international Theatre Industry I am distressed to read of the proposed changes to Union House (UHT).
This is a response to specific sections of the paper in relation to the proposed changes to UHT under the new management. It aims to address the misinformed assertions of the document against the existing model of Student Theatre at the University of Melbourne as well as the problems with the proposed restructuring. I would argue that the paper actively indicates not only a clear misunderstanding of the operations and management of UHT but also of the many Student Theatre Companies and the way they operate. This letter aims to address these assertions.

The University of Melbourne has unique student theatre structure in that it is formed of a central theatre company that has a core staff that operates and maintains the theatres, as well as mounting productions and continually liaising and working with many smaller student theatre companies. 
Below is an extract of my summary report to the University of Melbourne Theatre Board after attending the Festival of Australian Student Theatre organising conference (21st-22nd August 2009, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane).

The FAST Conference was essentially an initial consultation with the wider student theatre community to develop the idea into a realised proposal that will become the impetus for next years Festival. Universities represented at the conference included University of Melbourne, Latrobe University, Queensland University of Technology and Queensland University. There was also written submissions tabled from Sydney University, the Artistic Director of the National Student Theatre Festival in the UK and a phone conferencing session with Charles Sturt University
After initial introductions we spent time going through how student theatre was run at each represented University. The following is an excerpt of what I had prepared:

“At the University of Melbourne student theatre is essentially run through Union House Theatre – a theatre company in its own right (with paid staff) that produces shows but also offers discounts, venue hire, advice, services etc to affiliated student theatre companies. In this way student theatre is vibrant and varied – yet is coordinated and streamlined by UHT. Student groups that are non-affiliated are welcome as well to perform on/off campus but they do not receive the benefits or priority in UHT venues.”

I also talked about the state of Theatre Studies; the current situation at the VCA; MUDfest11 and a little bit about how the funding for UHT comes through University of Melbourne Theatre Board and UMSU. It became very clear that system in place at the University of Melbourne to support student theatre is an incredible resource for students – this was highlighted when contrasting models were presented to the group. Most Universities have one or two student theatre groups that may receive partial funding through the Union but essentially are struggling to survive.

What I further emphasised was the diversity of student theatre companies. No other University in the world can boast of such variety.

“Due to the variety of smaller affiliated groups – there tends to be a lot of different specialist theatre groups. Ie. Musical Theatre, Chinese Theatre, German Theatre, Classical Theatre, interpretive dance works, Farce, Shakespeare, experimental. Colleges tend to do one musical and one play per year.”

Any fool can see that the diversity in theatre companies allows not just a wide selection of theatrical presentations in the student theatre spaces but for diverse student engagement.

The University of Melbourne is also home to the largest student run bi-annual arts festival. At the 2009 FAST planning conference this is an extract of my presentation in relation to MUDFEST opportunities:

“Festivals on campus like MUDFEST11 offer unique opportunity for everyone to perform, however expansive an idea may be – we currently have several performance pieces that are staged across campus.”

At this stage, MUDFEST was coordinated by outside staff. In response to funding issues, internal politics etc MUDFEST has since become an example of the arts returning to student hands. In many ways the resulting success might look on the surface to support the recommendations of this report. Upon closer inspection the result actually reveals a parallel situation to how UHT currently (and successfully) works with student theatre companies.
In many ways, the MUDFEST 2011 production team worked in a similar way to an affiliated theatre company, receiving considerable mentoring and support from UHT in the running of the festival. I would highlight in particular Gus’ assistance with the production management of venues across campus. As a minor member of the MUDFEST Production Team I acknowledge that UHT staff were integral to the production process and operations of the festival.
This is an example of how Union House Theatre is an invaluable resource, whilst MUDFEST technically returned to student hands; these hands were duly supported when necessary by experienced professionals who worked closely to ensure a successful festival. In the same way as student theatre groups are not led by UHT staff, neither was MUDFEST 2011 but that doesn’t mean that they are not involved. It is precisely because team are not outsiders and yet are a fully operational theatre company that they are able to provide such support.

It is a fine line that UHT manages between facilitating theatre and creative output of student theatre companies and maintaining itself as a credible theatre company. It however achieves just this but continually working with students on both accounts and never separating out each role from the other.
I actually find it considerably offensive that the working document suggests that UHT moves to a model of “doing to enabling.” It is clear from both the mission statement of the company and the day-to-day running of the company that it prioritises working with and supporting students.
What the report seems to take issue with is that UHT doesn’t exist just to mentor and support student theatre companies and their independent productions but actively creates student theatre itself in mounting two productions a year. However, the main focus and point of the production of UHT’s own works is still the students. As a company UHT consistently produces excellent theatre – and every single production remains student focused.
There is no wall between the staff and students in these productions. Not since the production of White with Wire Wheels have has a UHT show sourced outside actors for a show[1] and this 2009 production of the Jack Hibberd classic did involve student crew, designers and members of the production team. Under the Artistic Direction of Tom Gutteridge UHT has moved even deeper into student involvement on every level of UHT productions. There has been considerable support for new original student writing and a tendency towards devised and workshopped performance pieces that have pushed boundaries and redefined what student theatre can be.
The collaboration with International Cabaret/Butoh performer Yumi Umiamare for Trans-Mute is an example of how an internationally renowned industry professional collaborated with UHT and students to create a truly dynamic work. This piece would not have been possible had it not been for UHT. UHT functioning as a host company also acts as bridge between student theatre and industry.
Apart from anything else UHT shows are fertile ground for collaboration between students from different groups. You will get performers from Musical Theatre groups working with those who love Shakespeare and with assistant direction from the head of the Chinese Theatre Group. There is truly an extensive student theatre community at the University of Melbourne but its heart beats in UHT – as demonstrated in the annual awards celebrations.
To separate the doing from the enabling is a ridiculous assertion that serves to highlight just how much this proposed document fails to understand the operations of UHT. 

An on campus fully functioning theatre company that actively produces student work is unique in Australia. La Boite in Brisbane (QUT) comes close, but it is a separate professional company that does not have a huge amount of interaction with the sole campus student theatre group Vena Cava. Just about every single working theatre space has a host theatre company, it is as much about running and maintaining a working theatre as anything else. With the Guild Theatre and Union Theatre (and to a lesser degree The Open Stage) the University is blessed with great theatre venues.
Under the proposed model, who is to support and manage the technical crew for the on campus theatres? Who is to provide the specialised training, inductions and supervision of the spaces? The suggestion that “facilities and infrastructure” personal from the Union could partially fulfil this role belies the fact that maintaining working theatres is a full time job – it isn’t some part time casual nod as part of another one.
The people in these jobs, know these theatres like the back of their hands, they have unparallel years of experience in maintaining the spaces – they can patch a light, work the flies, train casual theatre workers as well as providing technical support to student theatre companies and shows. In fact it would be a considerable risk to student safety to under-staff the theatre spaces. The phrase in the proposal: “shift in the focus of operations” is a complete joke. There simply will not be a fully operational theatre space if there isn’t the staff there. It wouldn’t be a safe environment.
“Increased student participation and engagement” does not start with money handouts to student theatre groups; it begins with investing in the theatres themselves and UHT is the best investment both the Union Theatre and Guild Theatre have.

The assertion in this proposal that the University of Melbourne moves towards more of “a student led model of student theatre” painfully demonstrates the lack of understanding of student theatre at the University of Melbourne. Individual theatre companies are almost entirely made up of students, but they are able to draw on the invaluable resources of UHT. In an attempt to support the restructuring other University models of student theatre. The report details:

“At the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales student theatre productions are staged through a single student club or society.  There are no staff in the relevant student organisations dedicated to the support for, or production of, student theatre performances.”

This Club and Society model at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales models is completely impractical for Melbourne University. UMSU already supports a separate Clubs and Societies system and it would be disastrous to try and incorporate student theatre companies into that. The author’s of the proposed document have little understanding of how the underwriting system of Student Theatre Companies works at the University of Melbourne. I would suggest that future consultations begin with understanding the current system before making comparisons.

The other example raised in the report runs as follows:

“The Monash Student Association operates Monash University Student Theatre
(MUST) and engages an Artistic Director and a Technical Manager to support its
operations. ‘MUST encourages and mentors students to expand their knowledge and enhance their uni experience with the creation of art and performance.’”

Whilst nominally this example seems commendable, it doesn’t exactly explain why this model is preferable and different to the current UHT model at the University of Melbourne. On the surface the inclusion of this statement appears to be alluding to the fact that Monash student theatre is student focused and employs less staff – whilst potentially insinuating that this is not the case with UHT.
This completely disregards the fact that the Monash Student Theatre is essentially run and cultivated through its Performing Arts degrees. The groups are formed from the Performing Arts students, many of the performances in the space are actually assessed work and whilst there is a dynamic and thriving theatre community it does not have the variety of the University of Melbourne student groups – or the capacity to support the overall participation numbers.
Monash University Student Theatre also, whilst having a rather neat small black-box theatre and access to a larger space (also hired out externally and available for lectures etc) does not have two fully operational theatre spaces available to students for the full academic year.
After the closure of Creative Arts (and the subsequent graduation of the remaining Heritage Students) the University of Melbourne does not have any campus based performing arts students left. Even before this department closed the majority of participating students were not performing arts students. You would find companies of Law, Science, Maths, English, Engineering and Commerce students on the Union stage. This was and currently is actively “expanding” and “enhancing” the experience of many students across different courses. Members of student theatre companies are continually “creating art and performance” whilst being mentored by the staff at UHT.
In fact this extract of the mission statement from MUST is so closely aligned to the existing model of UHT its inclusion in this working document is almost irrelevant unless it is supporting the wider general aims of student theatre. Also it bears mentioning that the two staff members that do support the running of the MUST are that of Artistic Director and Technical Manager, two of the roles currently being proposed for termination.

Throughout my time as a student at the University of Melbourne the Student Union facility I used most (when I voluntarily paid my Union fees for four years, and then one year as an alumni Union member) was Union House Theatre. I was involved on stage, backstage and in the production teams of student theatre companies throughout this time however in terms of professional development support it is in my capacity as a playwright that UHT has supported (“enabled”) my professional development.
In 2009, it was UHT with Finished/Unfinished that produced my very first rehearsed reading, my short play Dora’s Tears. This play was since performed in 2010, at the Short+Sweet Melbourne Festival, Directed by Joseph Appleton at Chapel Off Chapel; and in 2011, in Short+Sweet Sydney, Directed by Sadashivam Rao, Newtown Theatre. It was also later reworked into I Am Not Your Art which directed by Ariel Navarro was performed as part of the Norwich and Norfolk Arts Festival in 2012.
The 2010 O-week program at UHT included a 24hrPlayProject. It was also the first time I had seen saw my work performed. In 2010, with UHT support I also attended the inaugural Festival of Australian Student Theatre as a writer and producer. In 2011, having completed my degree, I was supported in producing the staging of three original pieces for MUDFEST 2011. All of these works have built the professional development of my writing. Plays don’t exist in a vacuum – it needs people and if some of those people are professional and part of an established and working theatre company, all the better.
Artistic Director Tom Gutteridge also wrote Letters of Recommendation in support of my applications to various Masters Courses in Scriptwriting in the UK. He has also been a willing and excellent referee on other applications.
I doubt that I would have the capacity or the skills to have co-founded a play reading group without my dealings with UHT or had the confidence to independently produce my contribution to the Norwich and Norfolk Arts Festival. This year I completed my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, during which I dramaturged UHT’s devised work The Fury. This was rewarding and a welcome practical application of my growing dramaturgy skills. I am now living and writing in London.
In the time since I have left, UHT have facilitated writing programs with professional writers, commissioned students to write shows to produce and have continued to provide additional platforms for short student written works. I have maintained contact with the company would work with them again in a heartbeat.  

In conclusion, this working proposal document is short-sighted and clearly is from the perspective of people who have never worked closely with the student theatre community of the University of Melbourne. I would strongly urge a consultation with the actual community the Union is representing before any of the suggestions are taken to the next level. The University of Melbourne prides itself as being the best University in the country. It currently has the best of the best in UHT and is seriously risking the quality and quantity of student theatre. Let’s not forget that Melbourne Theatre Company grew out of student theatre at the University
But you know something, part of me wants to thank the consultancy firm that provided the impetus for these absurd proposals – it has prompted me to reflect back on my time at the University of Melbourne and how UHT was such an important part of that. They always were reliable, there and willing to listen and support. It heartens me that they exist and that I am not alone in my shock and dismay at the ill-informed proposals of this report. Out of these reactions perhaps a constructive dialogue can be entered into about how to best continue this tradition under the new UMSU management.

It is most important that we all remember that the UHT door is always open not just to students but for students. And you know something? That’s family.

Yours Sincerely,

Tilly Lunken

Writer – Dramaturg
London, England.

[1] In this particular case it was an anniversary production of a show that was initially performed at the University of Melbourne in 1967 and then UHT Artistic Director Susie Dee brought a unique retelling of the play into a contemporary student space.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Changing Paradigm of London Independent Theatre

London has long been a theatre town, but in an industry that by its very nature should involve change it has become entrenched in established theatre practice. Perhaps it could even be described as a little neglectful of the Fringe underbelly that can so often inject vitality into the mainstream. Increasingly it seems whatever independent theatre makers produce; the rhythms of the main stages roll on regardless, for whilst many theatres boast of new writing and developing the next generation, the reality of the current economic climate is that risk is not ideal.

Into this context comes an innovative and recently established group who are bringing a different approaching to staging independent theatre. Self described as the only Fringe Repertory Company in London, Paradigm Theatre Company is redefining both artistic practice and the way the audience interacts with their shows.

Originally from Chicago Playwright/Artistic Director Sarah Pitard has implemented what she describes as a ‘Chicago Rep’ model that involves a company of committed artistic associates that generate four full new productions a year. In her spin on the template, two original new works, one original adaptation and a classic are produced. These plays are then grouped together into a themed seasons so there is a thread of consistency for the audience across the year. The current theme ‘the many faces of love’ may seem broad but Pitard enthusiastically ties it to each production: “invisible love… giving because of love” it’s what it’s all about.

Although once a mainstay of the industry, Repertory theatre is no longer fashionable, however Pitard details the many benefits to those involved with such a company. Each Artistic Associate can be involved in up to three of the four productions. Whilst others are brought in on individual shows, members are consistently involved throughout the season. In the upcoming production there is a cast of nine actors, three of which are Artistic Associates within the company for the year. There clearly needs to be a balance between an in-house production and engaging with the wider industry but Pitard is confident they have achieved this so far. She emphasises that whilst members may be working on other projects concurrently Paradigm is essentially an “artistic home” for all those involved. It seems as much about building a supportive community as it is about developing careers.

With consistent and long term programming, Paradigm Theatre Company is challenging and changing the way London interacts with independent/Fringe theatre. This isn’t a pop up group that will bubble and burst in the short term, as Pitard says they are “very, very different” from anything that is currently on the scene. They will provide a reliable platform for independent and emerging artists as well as consistently good theatre for a returning audience. It is a bold approach to take and they are looking to build on the success of breaking even so far.

Currently in production is Pitard’s play Freedom, Books, Flowers and the Moon an adaptation of the Oscar Wilde short stories The Nightingale and the Rose and The Happy Prince. Working with the strengths of the short form, each story neatly fits into one act. They are linked through the context of the persecution of gypsies during World War II, with the characters all human but perhaps not treated as such. Here they are “transported to a whole new place” where as a writer she felt considerable creative freedom. In fact she used “very little of the actual text, most of it is just me… but certainly the tone is the same as the stories” and they are textured with symbolism and delicate imagery that reflects the original concept.

Asked why she chose these stories in particular Pitard talks at length about The Happy Prince: “my dad would get to the end of it and then cry… I didn’t quite understand it when I was six but somehow I knew it was amazing.” She then describes discovering English Literature at drama school and keeping a “notebook full of words” to educate herself, it was this that led her to writing and also to revisit Oscar Wilde. Reading The Happy Prince again she understood her dad’s tears – “the ending killed me” and she knew she wanted to adapt these “deep and meaningful and beautiful” works.

Being Artistic Director as well as the playwright on this production you can see Pitard relishes the extra “bit of artistic control” she maintains over the show, however she insists that she is able to relax “trust my team” and doesn’t attend rehearsals. It’s refreshing to engage with a writer who is involved beyond the page: “I want to produce and I want to write” she says and Paradigm gives her the opportunity to do that.  

Her determination reflects a wider trend of theatre makers taking initiative and taking creative control of their careers. Paradigm’s Resident director Cat Robey has directed four independent productions in the last two months and Pitard herself works full time as well as writing and producing. Pitard laughs, it’s “intense but it can be done, you just don’t sleep a lot!”

There is something gritty about independent theatre and Paradigm definitely doesn’t have the slick glossiness that so defines our established theatres. However, you definitely get the sense that as they develop they’ll shine in their own spotlight and might – just might –be more artistically fulfilled for it.

The show runs the 6th-25th @ The Waterloo East Theatre
Tuesday-Sat @ 7:30pm; Sun @ 4pm
You can book tickets at and find out more information about Paradigm here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Feminist Theatre Politics

Some of the writing earlier on this blog had a bit of a Feminist side, there was commentary on various things, reviews of various books etc. Mostly though it is about theatre and books and writing, which is mostly what I am about – so it makes sense. However happily sometimes these things collide.

One of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in the past week came from this woman who is the Australian Prime Minister.

And it is this speech. It’s fifteen minutes worth watching.  

Now say what you like about Ms. Gillard about her politics (which are not so great on Education; equal marriage and asylum seekers – Labor Left? Seriously? Labor has never sat so close to the centre right of populist politics, urgh) but this speech is gold.

It tells it straight out that what Tony Abbott is – he is a downright rude, slimy person who still cannot bear that not only did he lose a close election but he lost it to a woman that defies what he feels a woman should be. Watch as she demolishes his façade and strips back all the slick politics and uses his own words against him. She hurls them back in his face. Flings the hurt and offence she has felt out at the world and forces it to listen.

The vitriol Ms. Gillard has endured since she was elected has been awful to witness; most of it is directed at her by middle aged conservative men and a lot of it is baseless and vindictive. This response takes it beyond politics with a capital P – it’s lowercase and transcends the parliament and the fallout of the debate that initiated the response.

I don’t see being a Feminist as a complex thing, basically if you believe in equality you believe in the foundation principles of the thing and that’s it. Nothing annoys me more than people equivocating that they sort of are Feminists or they don’t agree with the term. I mean yeah sure, some Feminists don’t shave their legs or wear bras, get over it! This isn’t an affront to being a woman, like humans, Feminism comes in all shapes and sizes. Me, I shave when I bloody well want to, I plan on getting married and having children and being a cranky old grandparent who wears flowers in her hat.

And not having a beard. 

This week I’ve heard people on BBC Radio 4 discussing the speech on two different programs and I have read American websites declaring Obama needs to “Gillard” Romney in the next debate and I have read much online opinion. This has got bigger than Canberra.

I think you should watch it for yourself, see her cut through the bullshit that surrounds politics so often and revel in the theatre that has gone beyond the parliament to a much wider audience.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut Review - Pleasance Theatre Islington

Casablanca – The Gin Joint Cut celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the iconic movie by re-imagining it onto the stage in a delightful rendition of the classic film.

The key thing writer/director Morag Fullarton understands is that it is necessary for a show such as this to break the illusion to create the illusion. So we are introduced to the actors who are playing actors who are then playing the many characters from the movie on the stage. This theatrical-awareness is integral to the success of this production – it allows the scenes recreated from the movie to stand on their own, with integrity that would not be possible if they were merely rehashed impersonations. As it is, we are free to indulge in the recreations and enjoy the process of them being created. It is also liberating to not sit there comparing every intonation with what you remember from the movie – instead you are lead through a nicely designed and neatly choreographed rendition that is thoroughly enjoyable in its own right.

In echoes of The 39 Steps the cast of three play many characters. All are accomplished performers with Gavin Mitchell giving us a worthy Rick; Clare Waugh a sympathetic Ilsa to contrast with her Nazi Major; and Jimmy Chisholm, a Captain Renault who demonstrates impeccable comic timing. Incorporating the double casting as part of the show works really well and it ties in nicely with the construct of the play.

This production also highlights some of the contemporary issues that surrounded the shooting of the Casablanca the film in ‘DVD extras’ and this also plays nicely into the world of the play. Pacing-wise perhaps peppering them throughout might work better than blocking them all together when the audience is waiting and anticipating the appearance of the main characters. However they were a nice touch and fleshed out the context nicely.

The inventiveness of the staging of this show is clever and comical well suited to the space and venue. It is easy to imagine this script being performed in actual gin joints, theatre restaurants and other Fringe venues.

It is not completely necessary to have seen the film to enjoy this production but having done so might increase your savouring of the recreated iconic moments. As it is, you don’t get to see Bogart and Bergman, but the greatest strength of this play that you don’t miss them and that is a beautiful nod to a beautiful film.

Having transferred from the Edinburgh Fringe Casablanca – The Gin Joint Cut is a Gilded Balloon production playing at The Pleasance Theatre in Islington until the 21st October. You can book your tickets here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dream Fire.

Next to an unlit bin-fire Beatrice is nested in her sleeping bag amongst a collection of cardboard, milk-crates and old brooms. As Bertie and Bernadette move past looking for another spot to stop for the night she calls out to them.

Beatrice:         Oi, love.

Bertie:             What?

Bernadette:    Yeah, what you want Grandma?

Beatrice:         I’m no ones grandmother anymore Alberta Rotherham.

Bertie:            It’s Bertie!

Beatrice:         I thought as much.

Bernadette:    Who are you?

Beatrice:         Beatrice.

Bertie:             Beatrice?

Beatrice:         That is my name.

Bertie:            Well, maybe we’ll stop a while Bernadette, eh? Have a cup of tea.

Beatrice:         Tea? Are you in the habit of carrying around a thermos?

Bertie:            No, but Beatrice by name, Beatrice by nature.

Bernadette:    Tea? Who is –

Bertie:            – Hush. I thought you were dead.

Beatrice:         I’ve come back to die.

Beatrice pulls out a thermos and prepares to share out hot tea.

Bertie:             I’d thought you left.

Beatrice:         I’ve come back.

Bernadette takes her mug and sits.

Bernadette:    Thank you.

Bertie follows suit.

Bertie:            Ta. Pause. If you’re not staying, why did you call out then?

Beatrice:         Why are you still on the streets?

Bertie:             Old habits.

Beatrice:         Rude questions.


Bertie:             What do you want?

Beatrice:         Have you seen the old bloke?

Bertie:             Who?

Beatrice:         You know.

Bertie:             I don’t.

Beatrice:         The Sweeper.

Bernadette:    The little man who clears up the streets driving that funny machine?

Bertie and
Beatrice:         No.

Beatrice:         I don’t understand.

Bertie:             You wouldn’t.

Beatrice gets to her feet.

Bernadette:    Right, listen here Bertie, the deal was that we stick it out together. If you’re just gonna bail on me and go buddying up with another granny then I’m leaving. Thank you for the tea, Beatrice, or whoever you are.

Beatrice:         She’s right.

Bertie:             What?

Beatrice:         You two have got to stick together. Safety in numbers, like we had. Sit back down girl. I’ll  tell you a story. Let’s have a last story round the fire.

Bernadette sits.

Bernadette:    The fire isn’t lit.

Beatrice:         It’s a dream fire. Keeps you warm inside.

Bernadette:    Is she –

Bertie:             – Hush.

As she sings Beatrice becomes more and more animated, as do Bertie and Bernadette, joining in with the song and the dance.

Beatrice:         If there was a time without wreckage
Before the cracked soul
We wouldn’t know
Yet we could still sleep
All through the those years

Into our dreams he always comes
Away from our dorm he leaves
Sweeping away without a thought
Echoes of our lost dreams

He hates people but we weren’t people
We were the rats, the dogs and pigs.
On the cusp of our thoughts
He waited with his broom
The sweeper of our dreams

Bertie:            And then we escaped!
Those smudges in the corner
And the shadows down the hall

Beatrice:         But that is not all!

Beatrice throws off her sleeping bag and leaps to her feet, suddenly nimble she grabs at a broom, throwing it at Bernadette who catches it and also gets to her feet. Beatrice starts to dance with another broom as does Bertie who claims another with Bernadette hesitating.

Dreams, oh yes then there were dreams
Of warmth in the dark
Of comfort in the cold

Beatrice pauses, there is a shift in tempo and Bernadette finds she can join in this dance.

And there between the cobbles
He danced with us all night
Safe in the assurance that we
Would forever forget

Bertie:             Forever forget. Need to forget.

Beatrice:         For when you fall from the sky
Or your feet spurt out blood
And vines they twist and they turn
You must not remember

Bernadette:    You need to sleep

Bertie:             We all need to sleep.

Beatrice:         And dream.

Bertie:             His hand-rolled cigarettes

Beatrice:         The hand-rolled cigarettes

Bertie:             And the dragon tattoo

Beatrice:         It was a boat, I’m sure.

Bertie:             We can agree on the broom.

Bernadette:    I’d assume.

Beatrice:         This older gentleman, you wouldn’t pass an eye on
 Respect him and he’ll sweep in
 Mention the weather and the late spring
 And he will –

Bertie:            – Rattle off the League statistics and the form for the week ahead. Before and after they happen he’ll know.

Bernadette:    I can see him now!

Bertie:            Of course you’ve met him too. Somewhere once.

Beatrice:         But you didn’t dance.

But then we had no more to offer
We became just people, everyone 
Who couldn’t see into the corners
Or the under the sleep
And he just swept away
                        To find new dreams

Beatrice stops dancing, suddenly tired and the other two help her to sit back down in her nest.

Bernadette:    What happened?

Beatrice:         We grew up.

Bertie:             Went away.

Bernadette:    Got old.

Beatrice:         No more dreams. We lost them all, didn’t we Bertie. Well all but him in the end. All but him. But now that I’m here I once again need myself a sweeper. I’m not going to be left behind this time.

Beatrice drifts off to sleep as the other two finish their tea.

Bernadette:    She’s actually gone to sleep. Bless, what an old dear!

Bertie:            Nothing dear about her. We were thrown out together and we had to survive. And we did thanks to her. And her stories.

Bernadette:    She’s fast asleep. Even in this cold.

Bertie:            And dreaming. Goodnight Beatrice.

Bertie kisses Beatrice on the forehead and she and Bernadette exit.

The Sweeper enters, with his broom. He calmly collects all of the scattered items around Beatrice, puts them into the bin and then sets it on fire: her sleeping bag, the brooms, her thermos, the crates and the cardboard. He then waits as she wakes up and as she does he offers her the broom. She accepts and he slow-dances her offstage.

Bertie and Bernadette hurry back in to the warmth of the glowing fire but nothing else.

Bertie:            Beatrice?

Bernadette comforts Bertie as they settle down for the night next to the embers of Beatrice’s dream fire.


This is a 'Mini Opera' based on The Sweeper of Dreams story by Neil Gaiman for the ENO. Details can be found about it here. Please excuse the slightly strange formatting - blogger isn't receptive to copying carefully tabbed MSword files.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Owls for Easter.

A little (late) eggciting something for Easter season.

For you, by me.
See a further few musings over at Love Letters to Melbourne.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Recruiting Officer Review

The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar has had an illustrious performance history, including being the first play performed in Australia 1789 one year after the colonialists settled in Sydney. This year, over 300 years since it was written, it returns to our stage at the Donmar Warhouse and immediately were we are immersed into the world by a fabulous and transformative use of space. Whilst remaining inherently theatrical Lucy Osborne’s design invites us to become part of the space. Beautiful and functional are two descriptions that apply to good design and her work and that of lighting designer James Farncombe are to be commended.

A definite highlight was the music that immersed this production. The combined talents of Tom Giles, Stuart Ward, Matthew Romain, Peter Manchester and Chris Grahamson made a truly wonderful performance in their own right to open the show and beautifully complemented the continuing action of the play proper. Live music is best incorporated into a performance rather than tacked on as a afterthought and The Recruiting Officer demonstrated just how effective it can be in both creating a world and layering a text. This was a strong decision from director Josie Rourke to use traditional and composed music by Michael Bruce and it paid off handsomely.

Despite being a play that that is plotted around a woman’s dilemma; The Recruiting Officer is strictly a lad’s play. The fun here is not in the determination of the woman to follow her love into the army – it is all about the officers themselves. Indeed the action turns on their loves, their loyalties and ultimately forging the best possible path through their circumstance.

The female roles in this drama were doled out in a predictable fashion as either conniving, stupid or naïve. Or all three! Whereas the male roles were much more complex, interesting and fun, no wonder we spend so much more time with them on stage. This is a feature common to a lot of Restoration Comedy; it isn’t an issue that only affects this play. The core dramatic incident of the plot doesn’t even occur on stage – we are not with Silvia as she decides to don her dead brother’s clothes and join up to her lover’s regiment to see both what he is really like and to find a way of spending her life with him in spite of her father’s wishes. We just witness the bloke-y reactions to this new upstart that on the Captains' recruiting ground. 

Luckily being superbly performed and directed gave vitality to the women that could have quite easily been completely absent. Rachael Stirling as Melinda was frustratingly hilarious; Nancy Carroll played the straight Silvia with quiet determination; the ladies maid Lucy played by Kathryn Drysdale was coy and yet incited great pathos and Aimeé-Ffion Edwards joyously cavorted through the play as Rose.

With much more to dig into the lads were reliably wonderful. We laughed along with the cheeky manipulative Mackenzie Crook as Sergeant Kite; tittered at the lovelorn despair of Mr. Worthy played by Nicholas Burns and giggled Gawn Granger as the delightfully indulgent and well-meaning Justice Balance. The actual recruiting officers themselves the dashing Captain Plume (Tobias Menzies) who is after Silvia and the dandy Captain Brazen (Mark Gatsiss) who has his sights set on Mr. Worthy’s Melinda have great presence and at times in their company it is easy to understand why the author preferred them to the female characters he had written.

Overall The Recruiting Officer was an energetic ensemble performance that at times slipped into broad farce but never totally descended into it. Neither the playwright or the director let us forget the context behind the fun and as we left the theatre there was little doubt that the recruited men would actually travel over the hills and far away to war and most would not return.

The current season has just finished at the Donmar Theatre but fingers crossed for a tour of this production.

Matilda The Musical Review

Being a favourite book can be a surprisingly cumbersome burden. Matilda by Roald Dahl has always been particularly special to me (not the least because the main character is an almost namesake). I mean, she practically was me despite my parents being normal; my school life not as dangerous and my genius levels never quite living up to magical powers. I loved it.

So little me was conflicted with my incredible enjoyment of this show – on ever so many levels it is fabulous. An intricately woven together, great staging and fabulous performances, what conflict could there be? Well they changed it. They were really naughty with it. I’m sorry, I understand (especially having seen it twice) why Dennis Kelly did this but part of me will never be able to accept that he did.

The additions that worked included the development of Mrs. Phelps the librarian and the parallel story world that Matilda creates in the library. However the tying together of this reality with Miss. Honey’s story came across as far too convenient, hammering a point home that was unnecessary. And speaking of unnecessary, the Russian Mafia? Really? It was objectively rather funny but what it did was present Matilda as the most splendiferous, wondrous, marvellous, glorious girl that ever existed. The point of the book that I had always taken is that whilst it is true she is special, every child is and the crime of her parents is not to recognise that. This would have been a crime whether she was reading Dostoyevsky or not. It’s not that she actually is a princess/prince it is that she is not regarded as one. Miss. Honey recognises this and loves her for who she is. A little bit of naughty goes a long way and for me this changing of essence behind the story almost ruined it. It was great testament to the quality of the show itself that it didn’t. 

The characterisation generally was great, the slight reworking of Mrs. Wormwood worked well, suited the medium and was energetically performed by Josie Walker and the dumbing down of Michael had many comic rewards for Peter Howe. Agatha Trunchbull was less the monster I remembered and more pantomime villain but the audience were generally on board with this and Bertie Carvel was greeted by cheers and boos when she stalked on stage. Paul Kaye as Mr. Wormwood was a highlight and Melanie le Barrie as Miss. Honey had a souring voice that lent an emotional depth to her role. The school children were all fabulous and Matilda especially in both performances was captivating as she had ever been on the pages of the book – as brought to life by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake.

Their original spirit of fun was embedded in all elements of this show. The choreography and direction was dynamic and the set by Robert Howell was impressively immersive. Tim Minchin has always been a favourite of mine and his songs lifted this Matilda above an adaptation. They were funny and cheeky and a little bit heartbreaking. At times hilarious and at times beautiful his music the perfect mix with Dennis Kelly’s script – which despite my misgivings was impressive. That it was performed by a live orchestra was a real treat, in fact, the entire performance was!

Hopefully the well deserved success of Matilda the Musical will get us all not just to read more but to go and see theatre as an alternative to TELLY. And even little me cannot find any fault in that story.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Winter Warmers.

So, these chaps are so two years ago but I love them so much and they are appropriately cold to be sharing now.