Over the past seven years, I’ve had the pleasure and fortune to see over three-hundred-and-twenty productions in
and interstate, across various mainstage, independent, and underground venues,
by a variety of artists and companies with diverse resources, and the results
contained within this blog speak for themselves. Sydney
As I write this, the future of this blog is uncertain – new adventures await, and I am putting it on hold until I can figure out the best way to continue it in the future. It will stay here as a record and a resource for theatre-makers and theatre-lovers alike.
Thank you to all the artists – mainstage and independent alike – who have invited me to your shows, who have taken the time out to share your thoughts and knowledge, and who have got in touch for one reason or another.
Sometimes you see a show that sticks with you for whatever reason hours, days, weeks, months – even years – later, and it is in honour of these shows that I have compiled the following list, celebrating the rich and wonderful hours of adventures I’ve spent in theatres over the past seven years. So, in a roughly chronological order, here are the brain-wormy experiences that comprise the spell of waking hours.
As with previous years, ‘The Playlist’ is a musical summary of the year’s theatre-going. The rule is (mostly) simple: find a piece of music that encapsulates either the production or my response to it, or both as the case often is. The only catch is I cannot re-use a piece from a previous year, even if it is the same text (return seasons of a production are excused).
Thus follows The Playlist for 2016.
Event(s) of the Year
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Shakespeare’s Globe
Golem – 1927, presented by STC
The Golden Age – STC
Fase, four movements to the music of Steve Reich – Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Sydney Festival
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Theatre for A New Audience
Thomas Murray and the Upside Down River – Stone Soup &
Inner Voices – Don’t Look Away
The Literati – Bell Shakespeare & Griffin Theatre Company
Babes in the Woods – Don’t Look Away
Dishonourable Mention (or The Shovel)
The Blind Giant is Dancing – Belvoir
The Great Fire – Belvoir
Twelfth Night – Belvoir
Power Plays – STC
Best (New Australian) Play
Skylab, Melodie Reynolds-Diarra (National Play Festival)
Thomas Murray and the Upside Down River, Reg Cribb
The Turquoise Elephant, Stephen Carleton
Picnic at Hanging Rock, Tom Wright, after Joan Lindsay
Best Design (Set, Costume, Lighting, Sound, Other)
David Fleischer (set & costume) – The Golden Age
Dann Barber (set) – Thomas Murray and the Upside Down River
1927 (projections/lighting/set) – Golem
Andrew Bailey (‘set’) – Lungs
Zjarie Paige-Butterworth (costumes) – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Gabriella Tylesova (set & costume) – A Flea in Her Ear
Luke Smiles (motion laboratories) (soundtrack) – Girl Asleep
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Shakespeare’s Globe (live web-stream)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Theatre for A New Audience (filmed)
The ‘Room Temperature’ Award
Arcadia – STC
Things I Know To Be True – STCSA & Frantic Assembly
An edited version of this piece was published on artsHub.
First produced in 2003 by Melbourne’s Playbox theatre company (now Malthouse), Tom Wright’s Babes in the Wood was a twenty-first century take on the colonial pantomime tradition, spiralling out of control into a hallucinogenic cornucopia of disreputability. Now, thirteen years later, Don’t Look Away – the company responsible for Inner Voices and The Legend of King O’Malley – have returned to the woods of the Old Fitz, and have brought us something approximating a sequel but also a more contemporary reinterpretation of the panto tradition and an interrogation of the milieu from which the Australian pantomime tradition sprang in the nineteenth century, as well as our own 2016 context. And even though it might look like it’s raided a Christmas warehouse for its set in the best possible way imaginable, it still packs a satirical punch and leaves you doubled over in laughter, appropriately heckling the performers and throwing cabbage. What’s not to love?
At the Adelaide Festival in 2014, a new play by Matthew Whittet was premiered. Forming the third part in a trilogy for Windmill Theatre Co. (what is now known as the The Windmill Trilogy), the play was the story of fourteen year old Greta Driscoll, her dreaded fifteenth birthday party, and everything that happened on that night. The play was Girl Asleep, and it went on to become an internationally successful film. When it premiered in
playing in rep with the rest of the trilogy, I missed it due to Hilary
Bell’s gorgeous version of The Seagull,
and the first instalment of the trilogy, Fugitive. But
two-and-a-half years and numerous successful film festival campaigns later, Girl Asleep rocks onto Belvoir’s corner stage in all its 1970s
glory, but I can’t help but wonder if it suffers from Whittet’s tendency to
wallow in a conceit without properly exploring and/or developing its structure
and the full extent of the world. Adelaide
About a month ago, I came across a review from the Locarno Film Festival about a film called Helena & Hermia. Loosely based on the eponymous characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was directed by Argentinean filmmaker Matías Piñeiro, and forms a continuation of his ‘Shakespeareada’ – an ongoing interrogation and recontextualising of stories taken out of Shakespeare’s plays (so far, only his Comedies), and placed in the suburban environments of Buenos Aires.
To date, Piñeiro’s ‘Shakespeareada’ consists of Rosalinda (2011), Viola (2012), The Princess of France (2014), and the just-released Helena & Hermia (2016). In both Viola and The Princess of France, the two of his films more readily available, the structure is essentially similar, albeit in slightly different augmentations: there is an extended sequence of material from the respective Shakespearean source-plays (in order, As You Like It; Twelfth Night; Love’s Labour’s Lost; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream), followed by a series of riffs, loops, fugues, and rhapsodies upon the material – both seen and unseen – by the characters.
An edited version of this piece originally appeared on artsHub.
One of the first productions I saw at Griffin was Ian Meadows’ Between Two Waves, a finely-wrought and emotional play about the personal toll of climate change. Four years later, Stephen Carleton’s Griffin-award-winning The Turquoise Elephant, is a play about climate change, egos, and running out of time; it explodes onto Griffin’s tiny stage with as much verve, farce, panache and delicious wickedness as it can muster, and it is in may ways both the antithesis and dark mirror of Meadows’ play, as well as being a darkly comic piece of absurdist mastery in the vein of Ionesco.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favourite of all Shakespeare’s plays. You can read me bang on about it on numerous occasions on this blog. This will not be another one of them. This is the fourth Dream I’ve seen this year, and it was also the most eagerly awaited, and certainly one of the most anticipated shows of this year. But as is often the case, the greater the expectations, the harder the fall, and the more painful it is when it doesn’t work. And so it is with Kip Williams’ production for Sydney Theatre Company.
This production seems to owe a passing debt to Peter Brook’s seminal 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company production which toured the world (you know the one I mean). But where Brook was rebelling – and quite rightly – against the accumulated gossamer and Romantic notion of the Dream that had built up in theatrical tradition since the 1800s, this production almost seems to want to shock us. In seeking to draw out the darkness within Shakespeare’s play and to serve, in some respects, as a corrective to the accumulated detritus around The Dream both locally and abroad, Williams and his team create a psycho-sexual space for the play to sit in and in doing so, impose a stark and austere world of lumpy fairies, hooded figures, and semi-Lynchian images upon the text without too much consideration for the textual engine at work beneath it. In doing so, Williams removes the ability of the audience to dream, and thereby denies the production its power; by being all intellectual and deliberate and calculated about it, it can only come of as quite superficial.
After going from strength to strength in their first two years, Sydney-based collective Montague Basement have decided to speak of ‘forms changed into new entities.’ In their adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, they have taken the fifteen books of epic Roman poetry and condensed them into seventy minutes of smart deconstructions and reversals; a smorgasbord of transformations and transgressions, a riot of godly shenanigans. “With sincere apologies to Ovid,” the disclaimer reads; you can almost see the “Not really” written in small letters underneath it. And while it works (and when it really does fly, it is marvelous), a lot of the references and parallels – the cleverness and intertextuality – comes from a familiarity with Ovid’s stories, something I don’t think we quite have as much of today as we’d like to think we do.