On Reading, Part Three

A colleague at work asked me a while ago how many books I’d read in a year. I replied that it was ‘a lot,’ and that I’d never really counted properly before. So, these bi-monthly entries are that attempt, a record of the books I’ve read this year with commentary and thoughts on the patterns, the images, the styles that I come across.

Perhaps the first truly noteworthy piece I read in this instalment was This Year’s Ashes, a play produced by Griffin Theatre Company in November 2011, written by Jane Bodie. It had received good reviews and I wanted to see it, but as with many things, time conspired against me and it closed before I could get a chance to find an evening to go. There’s something about reading plays that I find wonderful: on one level, I see them playing out as if in real life, like a film I spose, with the scenes being cut together without the blackout or change in lighting state and or costume that you get in theatre. On another level, I see them as they might have been performed in the theatre (if I didn’t see them performed, that is), and I try to imagine how they would’ve been staged, how it would’ve all worked. And on another level, I look at how the scenes are ordered, how the characters are written, how the play is written, how it all works, trying to work out what makes it tick.


A day at the festival

Each May, the Sydney Writers’ Festival rolls around and I look at the program of events, highlight a few that interest me and then… do nothing about it. I realized the other day that the last time I went to the Writers’ Festival was in 2004 with school, (I’ve still got the ticket stub for it somewhere).
But this year, seeing how writing is what I want to do and what I love doing, what I’m passionate about, I thought that it would be beneficial – productive – if I went to something. So I consulted the program and chose three events that sounded interesting (there were others, but other factors had to be taken into consideration) and, as luck would have it, they were all on the same afternoon. I’m not going to go into the nitty-gritty details of each of the three events because it won’t mean anything, but I do want to make a few observations.


Belvoir's Strange Interlude

The whiteness is total, all encompassing. Like a void, it swallows the vanishing point into its depths so you are convinced something strange is happening in the fabric of reality. Like the backdrop in a photographer’s studio, Robert Cousins’ set for Belvoir’s latest production (a Simon Stone rewriting of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play) creates a blank page in the open book of Belvoir’s corner. Ingenious in its simplicity, it recalls Peter Brook’s at-the-time groundbreaking A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1970, the foremost example of Brook’s ‘empty space.’ You might’ve seen the pictures – a white cube of a set, with doors and panels set in its walls, swings hanging from the flies, the giant red feather of Titania’s bower, the actors dressed in brightly-coloured costumes, purples, reds, yellows, blues, greens; a circus-like aesthetic, as it’s often been described as – and as the play progressed, you could tell that the audience too, was aware of the intertextuality, the meta-theatrical allusions at play. Much of what Brook wanted to do in his Dream, was to strip away the tradition of realism that theatre had become entrenched in since the 19th century, and liberate it into a heightened realm of metaphor and symbolism, where the audience was part of the theatre-making process, involved implicitly in completing the circle of theatrical illusion.


Cold Boiled Potatoes: Griffin's The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself

Few things feel as cosmic as a cold boiled potato at midnight. 

The first thing that struck me was how small the foyer was, how the theatre’s capacity ended up spilling outside (a street party in Griffin’s foyer). One hundred and five people in close proximity creates its own weird alchemical energy, almost as if you’re reading from the same sentence of the same book. I used to (and still do) think that Belvoir’s ‘open-book’ corner stage was intimate, but Griffin’s precious diamond, its wedge-like stage among the seating banks takes intimate to a new level. Which, for the productions they do, seems to work a treat.

In the program, musician Tim Rogers is described as a “prancing satyr,” and it’s actually not far off the truth. From his opening dialogue with the musicians (violin and double-bass), he had a puckish raconteur-like effect on proceedings, his eyes glinting mischievously, hinting at a secret truth. It was Rogers who kept the ball rolling when Mary MacLane (a wonderfully mercurial Bojana Novakovic) rebelled against the show and disappeared off-stage, returning with a green shopping bag filled with her own possessions and diary. The line between artifice and reality, show and life, was blurred throughout, and you almost got the impression that, if MacLane hadn’t been a historical figure from the early twentieth century, then she could have been an alter-ego of Novakovic’s without much of a stretch of the imagination. (Popular opinion has taken to calling Novakovic’s MacLane ‘BoClane,’ a rather succinct way of phrasing this duality.) “You see only an impression... the impression of an impression impersonated by an imposter... She is a stupid, pompous, pretentious actress," (p22-23) she says at one point, and it’s hard not to hear Novakovic talking here, perhaps when viewed in light of her diary, read by Rogers to mock-comic effect, which speaks of being bored and angry with the production, with being someone she’s not.