Waiting for the man: STC’s Waiting for Godot

First performed in Paris in 1953, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is one of those cultural phenomena that can be endlessly referenced, adapted and mimicked by just about anybody and yet none of its original power or intent is lost. Essentially the story of two displaced people, tramps we could suppose, it is, famously, a play where ‘nothing’ happens, twice over. Initially opening to hostile reviews in London in 1955, Beckett’s play went on to break the mould of the “star-actor’s theatre,” and pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved in playwriting and in theatre, both linguistically, performatively, in a script, as well as “the expectation of success from stardom.”
The story of Vladimir and Estragon, Waiting for Godot is a perhaps a kind of Groundhog Day for these two tramps, an endless succession of phrases and ideas, actions, beats and moments, that never really seem to mean anything at all. And yet amongst this nothingness, there is a kind of warmth, a kind of shared humanity between us and Vladimir and Estragon, the hapless Lucky and the rotund Pozzo, the messenger boy. Presented here by Sydney Theatre Company, and directed by Andrew Upton (after Tamás Ascher was rendered unfit to travel), this Godot is a treat to behold.


Debauched with the wind: Griffin Independent & Sisters Grimm’s Summertime in the Garden of Eden

Imagine Gone With The Wind. Now add hanging baskets of flowers, biblical allusions to Eden, a dash of gender-blind casting. Throw caution to the wind, stir, and perform. Only then might you come close to Sisters Grimm’s Summertime in the Garden of Eden, currently playing at Griffin Theatre. It’s gloriously colourful, a riot of stereotypes and clichés, a relentless assault on the Southern (as opposed to the Western), and it’s an absolute treat.
Written by Ash Flanders and Declan Greene (the Sisters Grimm), Summertime in the Garden of Eden is a melodrama in the fullest sense of the genre, gloriously played to the hilt but never to excess. Performed in their home-cultivated brand of “queer DIY drag-theatre” (as perfected in their previous shows), the Sisters Grimm are a pair of cult theatre-makers with imaginations that would make Lewis Carroll blush. A bit like a pantomime and a gender-blind costume drama, it is a ridiculous amount of fun, even if beneath its ludicrously homemade aesthetic lies the uncomfortable an unavoidable reality of the gender, race, sexuality, and cultural-political issues of the Southern. Skewing and perhaps ridiculing them whilst simultaneously drawing attention to them makes for unsettling viewing, but the relish and delight with which the cast play out the story is enough to make you forget the sting of the play’s subject.


Very Saturday tea-time: Chasing the magic of Doctor Who

“It all started out as a mild curiosity in the junkyard, and now it’s turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure.”
– The Doctor, The Sensorites (1964)

A letter to Who,

When you exploded back onto our screens eight years ago, your Northerner’s voice asked us to join you on an adventure. “Do you want to come with me?” you asked us, before issuing a caveat. “Because if you do, then I should warn you – you’re going to see all sorts of things. Ghosts from the past. Aliens from the future. The day the Earth died in a ball of flame. It won’t be quiet, it won’t be safe, and it won’t be calm. But I’ll tell you what it will be: the trip of a lifetime.” We followed you then, thousands upon thousands of us, faithfully, blindly; trusting you with our own lives and our Saturday evenings. We followed you to the end and back again, many times over, and you never let us down. 


To be, or Not Toby: Belvoir’s Hamlet re-Daned

On 25th October, Belvoir announced that Toby Schmitz would be leaving the role of Hamlet early due to a scheduling conflict. Schmitz was to be replaced by Ewen Leslie, another of Simon Stone’s usual cast members. Like Schmitz, Leslie had previously played Hamlet, for Melbourne Theatre Company in 2011, and would be stepping up to the mark from 19th November. Curious to see how recasting the titular role would affect the production, I went along. And it was actually better the second time around.


Bell Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors

From his earliest plays, Shakespeare was transfixed by the ocean and its capacity as a catalyst for change and or rebirth. Plays such as The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Pericles and The Tempest are all infused with the rhythms and responses to such a vast unfathomable body of water such as the Mediterranean, and The Comedy of Errors is no different. One of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, The Comedy of Errors was written in 1594, and draws its inspiration from two of Plautus’ plays, Menaechmi and Amphitruo. However, Shakespeare – being Shakespeare – sees the inherent theatricality in Menaechmi’s separated identical twins, and doubles it, thus creating a scintillating whirlwind of farce, comedy, identity, tragedy and pathos and his now trademark humanity and warmth.
In Bell Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, however, the farce is perhaps overplayed, the action too breakneck, the whirlwind too impossibly fast that we lose sight of the people at the centre of Shakespeare’s play. A comedy in name and style, The Comedy of Errors – like every other of Shakespeare’s comedies – walks the knife-edge between comedy and warmth, and tragedy and sadness, and I couldn’t help but think there was something missing from Imara Savage’s national tour production for 2013.


Food for thought: Belvoir's The Cake Man

Set against a backdrop of an old tarpauline, a ring of old packing boxes and crates, jerry cans and metal drums are set around the tiny Belvoir Downstairs space. As items are bought on – a cardboard box, an iron, a chair, table cloth, blanket – we see the beginnings of a house emerge. It could be a stage anywhere, a makeshift space made from whatever is at hand, and it seems perfectly suited to the warmth and intimacy inherent in the space. The first scene – a clever and sly depiction of a pre-invasion culture – soon gives way to a heated and politically-charged vision of Christian missionaries in Aboriginal communities, and we are thrust into the middle of The Cake Man’s grist, its political and social backdrop writ large upon its face.
A co-production between Belvoir and Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, The Cake Man was written by Robert J. Merritt in the 1970s, and was the first full-length play staged by the National Black Theatre in Redfern. In the intervening forty years, we are ashamed to realise perhaps how little has changed, how racism and intolerance is still ingrained in our way of thinking no matter how much we’d like to think to the contrary, and The Cake Man becomes a sly indigenous perspective on white paternalism.

Leap of faith: STC's Vere (Faith)

Here are three facts:
In January 1836, Charles Darwin, naturalist, stood at Govett’s Leap in the Blue Mountains and first speculated that the Earth had evolved over millions of years.
In 1957, Vere Gordon Childe, archaeologist, fell to his death from Govett’s Leap, in an act that is considered by many to have been suicide.
In a university somewhere, a physicist at the top of his game is given a devastating diagnosis and his world falls apart.
In a co-production between the Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company of South Australia, playwright John Doyle has used these three facts to create a timely and ultimately quite moving, eloquent and human meditation on science, faith, dignity and love. Vere (Faith) is indebted as much to Darwin and Hawking as it is to the strength and reflexive defensiveness of familial ties, as well as to Doyle’s wit and skill as an educator and broadcaster.