The dreaming of William Dawes

Last September, I read Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant, a fictionalised account of William Dawes, Sydney’s first astronomer, and his friendship with an Aboriginal girl, Patyegarang. There was something in it that caught me, made me want to find out more about the man, their friendship, the story. The only trouble is that such knowledge is rather scant.
As with Arthur Stace, the ‘Eternity man,’ (another of Sydney’s key dreamers), it seems no history of Sydney is complete without mentioning Dawes, his little observatory on the headland now buried beneath the southern pylons of the Bridge, his brief relationship with Patyegarang, the Aboriginal girl who taught him fragments of her language.


On Reading, Part One

Summer is book time. Like winter, it’s full of long days in which you can read yourself stupid, though I don’t suppose that comes as a surprise to anyone. In between working and catching up with friends, I generally unwind with a book; the best way to fall asleep on a warm summer night is to read, to immerse yourself into another world and just let yourself go. (Another thing that I’m quite fond of is drawing connections between books, making links – either implicit or explicit – and seeing what can be made of them. But I’ll save that for later.)

This land is mine: STC's The Secret River

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River is not an easy book to digest. I wrote about it last year, saying that it was an angry book though Grenville does her best to disguise it at times; angry at the way white Australia has treated the original inhabitants of the continent, their stubborn iron-willed settlers who made little or no attempt to learn how to live in their new home. When The Secret River was published in 2005, historians jumped at Grenville’s ‘claims’ that her book was history (Grenville, however, never actually made such comments). Now, eight years later, the Sydney Theatre Company is staging a theatrical reimagining of Grenville’s The Secret River, under the pen of Andrew Bovell and the direction of Neil Armfield.
Coming at a time when we, as a nation, can no longer ignore the past, where we can no longer pretend these events didn’t happen; when there is an “inheritance of rage” at the treatment of indigenous people by white people, and a saturation point is reached, The Secret River then – as both book and theatrical event – are but two facilitators to help us as a society to look at the issues contained within them, to look to the past to find how we must [not] progress in the future. And it takes its audience to “a pretty confronting place,” to quote Bovell.


Tonight we fly: Belvoir's Peter Pan

It’s surely the best opening in literature: “All children, except one, grow up.” As J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, a tale of childhood and growing up – of dreaming and pirates, adventures and flying and giant ticking crocodiles – unfolds across the walls of your mind (and, appropriately, the open-book corner of Belvoir’s upstairs theatre), it’s hard not to feel as though you’re a part of it, whether you’re an adult, a child, or a child-at-heart.
Nothing compares to or prepares you for the homespun earthy magic of Belvoir’s production. Directed by Ralph Myers, Belvoir’s Peter Pan is just about the most beautiful piece of theatre you could see this summer, full of the crazy infectious kind of dreaming and playing and make-believe that children excel at so well, and it’s a tribute to the collective imaginations – of both the creative team, the cast, and the audience – that this production works as well as it does.


Casual brutality: Griffin Independent & Stories Like These's Rust and Bone

The short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson are not for the faint-hearted. In his collection of eight stories entitled Rust and Bone (also the title of the first story), there is a certain masculine façade, a swagger and bravado that is fiercely entertaining and quite alarmingly funny. There are boxers desperate to survive another round, their hands broken toomanytimes; pitbull breeders and killer whale trainers and sex addicts, their stories told with a bluntness that belies their strange brand of sensitivity. Chuck Palahniuk describes them as “[smudging] the line between cruelty and horror, comedy and mercy,” and that’s quite an accurate way to describe them.
From three of these stories, then, comes Caleb Lewis’ Rust and Bone currently playing at Griffin Theatre as part of their Griffin Independent season. It’s not a comfortable evening by any stretch, but it’s certainly not bleak; there is humour there but it’s confronting more than anything – are you meant to be laughing or not?


We can dance if we want to: Windmill’s School Dance

You’re in Year 9, a nerd. It’s the school dance. Your friends, also nerds (one’s a loser-nerd), are there. You wait outside, trying to pluck up the courage to go inside because, well, the school bully is in there and he said that if you were to show up tonight he’d break every bone in your body. And you knew he probably wasn’t kidding. Also, there are girls in there. And they’re dancing. Which is even harder.
This is the premise of School Dance – a play developed by Windmill Performing Arts and presented to much acclaim at last year’s Adelaide Festival – playing as part of the Sydney Festival by the Sydney Theatre Company. Written by Matthew Whittet, it is set “right [at] that horrible just-getting-into-girls phase,” and follows three awkward teens – Matthew, Luke and Jonathon (the play’s writer, composer and designer, respectively, playing semi-fictionalised versions of their fifteen year-old selves) – as they embark on a hormone-fuelled quest for social acceptability.


2013, the year in preview

I started this blog eleven months ago as a way to record my thoughts and engagement with the various pieces of theatre I saw, with the books I read and the films I saw, the things I found myself pursuing and enjoying. Now, at the start of 2013, I thought I’d take a moment to preview the year ahead, to see what’s on the horizon, if we can see that far.