All worth fighting for: STC & STCSA’s Kryptonite

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 and Australia 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.


The night I was turned into a white mouse*: Griffin’s The Witches

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.

Blue roses and unicorns: Belvoir’s The Glass Menagerie

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.


Gorking: STC’s Children of the Sun

In his writer’s note titled, appropriately enough, ‘Grappling with Gorky,’ 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 Adelaide, 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.


Play-fullness: An Australian approach to the classics

This article was first published on NITEnewsSpotlight website in September 2014. 

In 2010, the Bell Shakespeare Company toured Shakespeare’s mercurial comedy Twelfth Night around Australia. 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.


The collector: Two Peas' Jennifer Forever

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?


Philomelagram: Montague Basement’s Procne & Tereus

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 Sydney 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.


All you need is love: Slip of the Tongue's Europe

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?


How do we fix Country?: ATYP’s Sugarland

This review was written for artsHub.

In 2011, ATYP began a series of residencies in the Northern Territory town of Katherine. 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.