Oh, you pretty things: Puberty Blues

I’m not embarrassed to admit I’m quite a fan of the recent television series Puberty Blues. Perhaps for no other reason than because it is so good, because it stands out from the crowd, head and shoulders above the rest of the mediocrity on offer; because it is an engrossing piece of Television. 
Recently seen on Channel Ten, it is an adaptation of the 1979 book by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey. Written when they were just shy of twenty, Puberty Blues is a brutal and unsanitised portrait of seventies youth culture, a window onto a despairingly misogynistic world where (young) women were something worse than second-class citizens. In an episode of Australian Story from 2002, Kathy Lette describes the boys she grew up with in Cronulla as “[disproving] the theory of evolution. They were kind of evolving into apes. It would have looked much more natural if they squatted on their haunches and groomed each other.” It shows, both in the book and the television series. As an example of the vernacular of the time, especially in the surfing fraternity, the terms for sex were “‘rooting’, ‘tooling’, ‘plugging’, ‘poking’, ‘stabbing’ and ‘meat injecting’… And the terms for women were ‘bush pigs’ or ‘swamp hogs’; if you were very good-looking you got called a ‘glamour maggot’.” But as brutal as the book is in its depiction of the times and the attitudes towards women, it almost seems to be a caricature, the briefest of sketches. Maybe I’m too old or perhaps too cynical, but there is almost a lack of depth to the book which I was surprised at, considering its status as a ‘classic’, an important part of our cultural maturation. It focuses squarely on the (mis)adventures of the kids – whose ages are described as being thirteen in the book, but in the film and television series have been raised to sixteen – and everything life throws at them, with barely a mention of their parents or the adults in their lives.

The television series however, constructs the story as a set of two parallel narratives – that of the kids, and that of their parents – mirroring and contrasting one with the other. Produced by John Edwards and Imogen Banks, the pair responsible for much of the critically acclaimed television drama series’ of the early twenty-first century – The Secret Life of Us, Love My Way, Spirited, Tangle, Offspring – the series does not flinch away from depicting the times as they were, complete with their mannerisms, vocabulary, actions, and values systems, no matter how crude or backward they seem to us now. If anything, it perhaps works to its advantage, not to show us how far we’d like to think we have come, but to show us how far we haven’t. (Full points are also awarded for reintroducing the word ‘moll’ to the vernacular.) But the show belongs to the young cast who seem so uninhibited and natural; there’s an unadorned charm and intrinsic honesty to their performances, something that is definitely not acting so much as Being.


In too deep: Griffin's Between Two Waves

You think we’re like, actually all fucked? Like rising seas, and hurricanes and judgement and shit?

A white stage, a single lightbulb in the middle of the white ceiling. The black walls of the theatre. A blank slate, a fresh start. Except it’s not, not really.
Ian Meadows’ Between Two Waves is a bittersweet and immediately political relationship drama about climate change. It may seem an incongruous mix on the page – relationships and climate change – but when you think about it, it’s not that big a leap of the imagination to draw a direct correlation between the two. Seasonal Affective Disorder is not just a flippant way to explain away our despondency on a lack of sunshine or clement weather, something my good friend Rosie talks about on her blog. And as for climate change, we all know what’s happening – weather becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable from one year to the next; extreme weather events – floods, hurricanes, cyclones, drought, bushfires – becoming more frequent; temperatures rising unforgivably, unstoppably; icecaps melting, sea levels rising… They’re all phenomena which Ian Meadows’ Daniel has been researching and studying for ten years. Until the worst floods Sydney has witnessed destroys his research as well as part of his house. The irony isn’t lost on him, however, and as the play unfolds, we see Daniel’s grip on surviving in the face of catastrophe start to loosen. Something that isn’t helped by his partner, Fiona, when she tells him she’s pregnant.
It’s not just a play about climate change; it’s also a play about finding happiness and contentment in the face of uncertainty, of keeping calm and carrying on as the posters tell us. Originally written as a screenplay – a form to which it has aspirations – Between Two Waves is a gripping and engaging piece of theatre about the hereandnow, the very moment we’re being faced with now. Like so many books and plays and films out in the past six months, there’s a degree of anger and frustration to it, but it’s a passionate anger for the most part, anger at the way we’re dooming ourselves and the planet, hammering in the nails on the lid of our coffin with every passing day just that little bit more; anger at the lengths to which we’ll hide the truth, the way we interact with each other (or don’t), but there’s also a desperation – a need – to cling to those around us, to draw together when it all goes to shit.

On Reading, Part Six

I learnt a new word recently. Bibliobibuli. It means someone who reads too much. H. L. Mencken describes it as being “constantly drunk on books, as others are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing, hearing nothing.” For about a week at the end of August, that was me. For just one week, all I wanted to do was read, readreadread, read as much as I could and then keep going, straight on til morning. It was only when Mum told me to stop being so OCD that I stopped and looked past the end of the book and saw that it was perhaps true. This doesn’t happen often, in fact I don’t think it’s really happened before. And it only happened this time because of J. K. Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, which I talk about later.


What do you see?: Ensemble's RED

There is only one thing I fear in life, my friend…
One day, the black will swallow the red.

In the middle of his studio, Rothko sits, staring at a large (unseen) canvas, a cigarette burning in his fingers, his eyes eagerly darting around the large red expanse, the gaping hole on the wall. Around him lie the detritus and the carcases of his work: buckets splattered with dried and congealed paint the colour of blood; jars of pigments, boxes of receipts, bottles of Scotch, cartons of eggs; a phonograph, brushes, shelves overflowing. And behind him, a dropsheet covering a wall, spattered with dried paint in dark angry blobs. Enter Ken, Rothko’s new assistant, out-of-place in a grey suit. And Rothko asks him, ‘What do you see?’ 
It’s the underlying theme of the play – one of them, at least – the theme of looking, of seeing, of understanding and grappling with art. And, at times, it’s angry, it’s passionate, it’s impassioned, it’s frustrated, it’s defensive and defenceless; it’s human and intangible; emotional.