Over the edge: Belvoir's Miss Julie

On the heels of Simon Stone’s previous work, I was admittedly dreading his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, with its reputation as a “hallmark of the misogynist theatrical canon,” as director Leticia Cáceres puts it. In Cáceres’ hands however, this production of Miss Julie transcends its superficial labels and becomes a harrowing piece of theatre, one that problematises its subject matter and tries to unpick it, works to present a solution to it.
One of theatre’s ‘great’ feuding couples, Miss Julie is the story of Julie, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a prominent politician, and Jean, the man hired by her father to look after her. In the mode of writers like Chekhov or Shakespeare, Miss Julie is all at once about class and transcending the limitations of your class, while also not being about class at all but rather about lust and desire. It’s a toxic play, intense and unrelenting, but in Stone’s version – freely adapted from Strindberg’s 1888 play – there is something else, too. There’s almost a humanness that ripples through its two-hours running time, and in light of his previous work in Sydney over the last several years, it is something of a welcome relief, perhaps a maturation of his style. Of course, it could also be the hand of Leticia Cáceres, the production’s director, which has helped to balance out Stone’s trademark style into something more probing and pertinent than what it could’ve been if he’d been directing it himself.


Songs from the Wood: New Theatre’s Jerusalem

Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem is a twenty-first century pastoral hymn to a mythic England, a country fast disappearing under the greedy clutches of urban sprawl and gentrification, and is filled with an anarchic sense of life and carpe diem, of grabbing life by the horns and riding it until it stops. Consider, then, that the play was written in 2009, and despite being the subject of four subsequent seasons in London’s West End and on Broadway, this is it’s Australian premiere production at Newtown’s New Theatre.
Jerusalem tells the story of Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, a man who has lived in his caravan in the Wiltshire forest for close to thirty-odd years, becoming in the meantime something of a local legend, a rite of passage, and a surrogate father-figure to many local teenagers in his time. But on the morning of April 23, St George’s Day, a reckoning has been heard – he has twenty-four hours to vacate the land he is squatting on, or risk forcible extraction and imprisonment.


Pelican dreaming: STC's Storm Boy

We’ve all grown up with the story – the boy who raises three orphaned pelicans – and it’s become a steadfast Australian classic, a touchstone of our childhood and growing up. Growing up, I read Colin Thiele’s elegant story first in the edition accompanied by Robert Ingpen’s haunting weather-beaten illustrations. I read it again, several years later, in an edition illustrated with stills from Henri Safran’s 1976 film. And while I haven’t read it in something approaching a decade, the chance to see it on stage seemed too good to miss. In what could be considered a fiftieth anniversary productionfn, Thiele’s Storm Boy has been brought to the stage in a poetic and emotional co-production between Perth’s Barking Gecko Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company.


Uncertainty is the normal state: STC’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Ros. What are you playing at?
Guil. Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.

I’ve often found myself dumbstruck at the sheer ridiculousness of the largeness of Tom Stoppard’s capacious intelligence and the wit with which his plays hum and shimmer. There’s a capriciousness and cheekiness that seems to dance over and under and through his words and language with a barely containable verve. It’s a virtuosity that has made him a favourite of critics and audiences. But underneath his distinctive stylistic flair and mannerisms, there is a serious engagement and interrogation of not so much issues but ideas. However disorienting and impenetrable his works may seem on the surface, “the plays are highly ordered and underpinned with logic and a point of view;” nothing is accidental, arbitrary or apologetic in Stoppard’s work.
In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, written between 1964 and 1966, and first produced in 1966, Stoppard takes Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and asks what the relatively minor and interchangeable characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are doing throughout the course of the play while they’re not on stage. It’s been variously described as being ‘Beckettian,’ ‘absurdist,’ or ‘absurdist existentialism,’ but the truth is neither – rather, it’s Stoppardian, and therein lies the key to this, his most celebrated and produced play. A lot of the existential anguish which seems to run through Stoppard’s work is not, as has been assumed, indicative of a lack of meaning in the world. Rather, it is a lack of adequate comprehension of the world and its persistent niggling questions, and this is not critical but merely human.


The quality of mercy: Sydney Shakespeare Company’s The Merchant of Venice

Written in 1596, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is generally classified as one of his comedies, along with masterpieces such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing. While there certainly are comedic elements to Merchant, it is not altogether a comedic play in the definition generally used to classify Shakespeare’s work. While it does encompass many scenes of focused around the idea of love, the titular merchant is accosted by Shylock, a money-lender, because he defaulted on the loan of 3,000 ducats and is thus required to pay the bond – the infamous pound of flesh.
It’s a dark play, full of politicking and financial matters, but underneath it all is that wonderful Shakespearean sense of humanity and life, the very lifeblood that has made him and his works what they are today. In the hands of the Sydney Shakespeare Company, their Merchant of Venice is a clear, honest and simple telling of this problematic play, one which fills the tiny sixty-five-seat TAP Gallery theatre with a warmth and generosity of spirit which is often lost in the hands of others.


Hempen home-spuns: Bell Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream is certainly one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. I don’t think there’s barely a day that goes by without another production opening somewhere in the world. Yet despite its popularity, there is a robustness to it that withstands this very proliferation – no matter how many cuts or omissions are made to it, the inherent magic of it still stands, still transports audiences to the “palace wood a mile without the town” where the Rude Mechanicals, the four lovers, and a host of wayward fairies converge upon a midsummer’s night.
Presented here by Bell Shakespeare for a schools audience, it is characterised by cocooning warmth and a very earthy, tactile aesthetic. From the curved wooden wall of Teresa Negroponte’s set, almost like a ruined ship’s hull turned on its side, to the costumes and the actors’ physicality, the robustness of Shakespeare’s script bounces back at you, even if it is somewhat truncated and reshaped.