In the early hours of June 4 1989, tanks rolled into
Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and declared martial law, shooting and injuring thousands
of civilians and students. In the intervening twenty-five years,
there has been a degree of cultural distance between China
even though the fortunes of our two countries are interlinked. Across the
cultural divide, Sue Smith’s Kryptonite
seeks to find a common ground of understanding and compassion, and through
her two characters, we slowly navigate this relationship between glimpses of
personal and global exchanges of love, information and resourcefulness. Australia
Every child reads Roald Dahl at one point or another at school. Anarchic and more than a little bit brilliant, Dahl’s stories operate in a world where children are victims and heroes, where adults do bad things, and there is danger inside every glance, every smile and every heartbeat, but more than anything else, Dahl’s stories are about the unexpected, and revel in a kind of child-like logic where everything can be something equally different, unique and brilliant. Perennial favourites include Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, my favourite, Danny the Champion of the World. Dahl’s books have also undergone a resurgence in recent years, with several making the transition from the page to stages around the world: Tim Minchin wrote the music and lyrics for the RSC-produced musical of Matilda; Sam Mendes directed a musical of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; and now The Witches bursts onto Griffin Theatre Company’s tiny Stables theatre just in time for the school holidays.
And what a play it is.
Tennessee Williams described The Glass Menagerie as a “memory play” – a play based on memory as much as one which unfolds from and like one. Its world is a private one, where “desire clashes with obdurate reality, [and] where loss supplants hope.” It is a play borne out of sadness and perhaps regret, a play about what might have been, what could have been, and it is in many respects a quiet play, Williams’ “first… and perhaps [his] last.” But out of this quietness, this inwardness, comes a desperate cry for help, for compassion and understanding, “so long as we are there to listen.” Belvoir’s The Glass Menagerie, directed by Eamon Flack, plays with the illusion of memory and truth, indeed with the illusion of illusion, and it is a play – a production – that is very much haunted. Haunted, autobiographically and in performance, by the character of Laura. Based on the plight of Williams’ sister Rose – whose fate had been decided by institutionalised care following a lobotomy – the play, and Laura, blossoms where Rose can and could not, and even though it is a heartbreaking portrait of a brother trying to give the outside world to the sister he loves even if she isn’t able to leave her own private world, it is a play ultimately about love, relationships and dreams.
In his writer’s note titled, appropriately enough, ‘Grappling with
,’ Andrew Upton talks about the optimism
of Russian writers. “But not blind optimism, an optimism despite the obvious
impossibility of salvation.” You can see it the work of Tolstoy, Pasternak,
Chekhov, Gorky. Not just optimism but a need to tell stories, to examine and
investigate the dynamics of human interactions and the world they find
themselves caught up in. Earlier in the year, I had the good fortune to see State Theatre Company of South
Australia’s production of The
Seagull in Gorky ,
and between that production and Sydney
Theatre Company’s Children
of the Sun, there is a precious kind of alchemy at work, a resonance in
style, a conversation between plays and ideas which is beautiful to behold. Adelaide
In 2010, the Bell Shakespeare Company toured Shakespeare’s mercurial comedy Twelfth Night around
Directed by Lee Lewis, the production was grounded in the context of the Black
Saturday bushfires of February 2009; the actors emerged out of the blackness,
exhausted and covered in soot, and proceeded to tell each other a story,
assuming the identities and roles of the characters in Shakespeare’s play.
Using costumes drawn from a large pile of clothes donated to charity set in the
centre of the stage and a scattering of cardboard boxes around its edges, Lewis
delighted in the playful theatricality of disguise, the simple answers to
switching identities at the drop of a hat, and made sure that joy and an
effervescent sense of life were never far away from the very tangible sorrow, melancholy
and heartbreak that sits at the core of all Shakespearean comedy. I mention
this production for two reasons: first, it was the first time that I saw a
production of Shakespeare and understood – felt – the story and the very real
humanness at its heart; and second, because Lewis’ Twelfth Night felt like a fresh new play, a play written
now, for a contemporary audience. Australia
Jennifer Forever, playing at the Old 505 theatre space as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, is not an easy show to watch. The story of an unnamed Man and Girl, it delves into the grey area of right and wrong, goodness and badness, societal definitions and behavioural quirks, and asks where we draw the line between tasteful and perversion?
I’m not normally one for the Greek tragedies. I don’t quite understand the validity and motivations behind the spate of recent modern adaptations of these stories or myths, especially the wider ethical and human ramifications of such stories when they are removed from their mythic settings. In his Director’s Notes, Saro Lusty-Cavallari discusses this very issue, asking “how do you tell this story? Why do you tell this story?” In trying to answer these questions, Lusty-Cavallari and his cast have created a piece of theatre which unfolds in degrees of increasing horror until it erupts in a revengeful rage.
Procne & Tereus is the debut production from new
collective Montague Basement,
and tells the story of Tereus who lusts after his wife’s sister Philomela.
Unable to control himself, he brutally rapes and mutilates Philomela, hiding it
from Procne, his wife, until the discovery reaps an unspeakably shocking
revenge. As with other Greek tragedies, Procne
and Tereus is by turns epic, human, full-blooded and, well, tragic. Where
the story could have become garish or carnivalesque in another’s hands,
Lusty-Cavallari keeps this production simple, clean and affecting, and it is
all the more powerful for being so. Sydney
This review was written for artsHub.
First performed in 1987, Europe is one of Michael Gow’s earlier plays, but to pass it off as merely an ‘early work’ is to do the play a disservice. Presented by Slip of the Tongue as part of the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre season, Europe takes you on a grand journey of the heart to the cities where love lives larger and, well, more romantically than perhaps anywhere else on the planet. But at the same time, it asks us whether we are truly content with what we have, or whether we need to chase something else, something bigger to make us feel alive?
This review was written for artsHub.
In 2011, ATYP began a series of residencies in the
Northern Territory town of . Using experiences and observations
gained overt the next two years, writers Rachael Coopes and Wayne Blair have created
a play in an attempt to understand what growing up in a remote Australian
community is like. That play is Sugarland. Sugarland is not sugar-coated, though, nor should it
be. True to its origins, it is about worlds colliding, about issues that are
not so much clear-cut black-and-white as they are big, immediate and
extraordinarily real. Following the lives of five teenagers, it is about growing
up in a country where rules and government schemes are often counter-intuitive
and do more harm than good. But amongst the politics and racism and
bureaucracy, we witness five young people navigating their way through this uncertain terrain with love, grace, humour,
resilience and a desire to keep going. Katherine