Off-script: MKA & Griffin Independent’s The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’

Like the simplest acts of theatre, The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ unfolds upon the very stage in front of us, in something akin to real time. There is no hiding, no wings, no real fourth wall to hide behind; just five people on stage. Initially taking the form of a staged-reading of a new script, ‘Joe’ soon descends into an extended meta-theatrical exercise which will have you questioning the veracity of what you are witnessing. Is it really what it seems?
Written by Zoey Dawson and presented by Melbourne’s MKA: Theatre of New Writing and Griffin Independent, ‘Joe’ is directed by Declan Greene with his trademark verve and a glorious anarchic sense of self-satire. Not so much in his own work as a director and playwright, but within the theatrical landscape as a wider field. After an extended opening address by the director of the staged reading, the reading-proper begins and although it is funny, awkward and satirical, the lines between reality and artifice are irrevocably blurred, and – bravely – even the ending doesn’t provide answers.


Still single: STC's After Dinner

Written in 1988, After Dinner is Andrew Bovell’s first play. Set in a suburban pub bistro, five single thirty-somethings meet after work for Friday night drinks and a meal, and their very individual personalities and circumstances collide in an achingly brutal riot of sex, misdirections, and variations on the idea of friendship.
Best known for his plays such as When The Rain Stops Falling, Speaking in Tongues (later filmed as Lantana), Holy Day, and the recent adaptation of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Bovell is increasingly drawn to the turbulence and tumult of daily lives, the dark and gripping mysteries which lie concealed beneath a veneer of normalcy in each of our lives. Written when he was just twenty-one, After Dinner lacks his trademark finesse and subtlety; everything here is dialled up larger than it should be, all seems to be turned well past naturalism into a kind of crude grotesquerie. Presented here by the Sydney Theatre Company, it is one-hundred minutes of painfully coarse and blunt banter between the five lonely hearts, as their Friday night quickly deteriorates into a night none of them would want to remember in a hurry.

Still cooking: Sydney Festival’s The Kitchen

Staged in the Seymour Centre’s wide York Theatre, Sydney Festival’s The Kitchen – directed by Roysten Abel – is full of noise and light, but as a piece of theatre, it is strangely lacking.
The stage is dominated by a large golden tiered frame, seating twelve musicians, drummers, each playing the mizhav, one of the world’s oldest percussion instruments. The frame, like the drum itself, is shaped like a large pot-shaped vessel, and it resounds with the sharp metallic beat of the drums, pounding and resounding with intricate and furious rhythms. In front of the frame sit two cooks, each preparing a giant pot of payasam (a type of kheer), which is later served in the foyer following the performance.


An almost perfect score: Sydney Festival’s Kiss & Cry

It begins like a fairytale – two people meet, there’s the heady giddy exhilaration of falling in love; there’s joy, heartbreak, sadness; a tiny glimmer of something else. Except there’s a twist: the two people – figures – are not human, but rather two dexterous hands. In Jaco Van Dormael and Michèle Anne De Mey’s Kiss & Cry, playing at Carriageworks for the last days of the Sydney Festival, a romance is played out on a miniature scale whilst simultaneously being filmed and screened above the action itself.


All tip and no iceberg: Sydney Festival’s Tabac Rouge

Twelve years ago I saw James Thierrée’s Junebug Symphony at the Sydney Festival and fell in love with his unique – and often surreal – mixture of movement, dance, clowning, bodily contortions, and elaborate set pieces and stage machinery. While I don’t remember much of the show today, I remember two huge shadow-puppet beasts emerging from the wings of the stage, two performers at their heads, engaged in a dreamlike ballet or battle. I saw his Au Revoir Parapluie in 2008, and so the promise of another show as the centrepiece of this year’s festival was hard to resist. Unfortunately though, in Tabac Rouge we have not just another James Thierrée show, but rather The James Thierrée Show.


Unrelenting courage: Sydney Festival’s UKCHUK-GA: Pansori Mother Courage

Mother Courage and Her Children is perhaps Brecht’s most well-known play, written immediately prior to the Second World War in 1939, and first performed in 1941. Set in the seventeeth century, it is the story of ‘Mother Courage’ as she follows the Swedish Army during the Thirty Year War, eking out a living selling food and provisions to the soldiers. Like Brecht’s story, the Korean pansori also originated in the seventeenth century as an oral tradition of storytelling. Now a rigorous artform, pansori involves a singer and a drum, and combines a strong emotional stories with the ethereal vocal gymnastics of highly dedicated and highly trained singers. Currently playing as part of the Sydney Festival is UKCHUK-GA: Pansori Mother Courage, directed by In Woo Nam and written, composed and performed by Jaram Lee.


Chasing dreams: The Last Great Hunt’s Falling Through Clouds (Sydney Festival)

While Perth-based theatre collective The Last Great Hunt are a relatively new ensemble, their reputation and work is not. As the creators of previous Sydney Festival shows such as The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer (2011) and It’s Dark Outside (2013), they have forged a name for themselves as makers of highly theatrical means using little more than a blank stage, clever masking and projections, and the audience’s imagination. So it is with their most recent offering, Falling Through Clouds, presented at the Seymour Centre as part of this year’s About An Hour program.


“Selling you quiet”: The new frontier of digital theatre

This is a slightly edited version of an article written for the Australian Writers’ Guild’s Storyline magazine, published in January 2015 in Volume 34.

In a technologically-saturated age, when most art forms are moving towards modes of digital creation, distribution or enhancement, theatre is perhaps the only art form whose existence cannot be adequately captured or recreated in a virtual space. True, theatre is being filmed and broadcast in cinemas across the world and being made available online, both in Australia and overseas, but it doesn’t capture the same experience as being in a darkened space with a hundred other people, watching performers in a space in front of you. Perhaps the future of digital theatre lies not in accurately capturing the performance in a recording, but in something else, in the creation of a world in which the performance can sit.
Sydney’s Griffin Theatre Company, in collaboration with Google’s Creative Labs (henceforth referred to as ‘Google’), has instigated a digital theatre project which is attempting to test the boundaries of overlap between traditional theatre practices and the endless possibilities of digital technology. In short, their goal is to create a prototype in which the theatrical performance is just one element of a wider world, of a wider conversation about the performance, one which takes place on social media platforms, and actively encourages audience participation and interaction.


Alchemical love: Griffin, STCSA & Sydney Festival’s Masquerade

If you’ve read the little print at the back of a program for a Griffin Theatre Company production over the past five years, you might have noticed a play called Masquerade as being in development. In 2015, co-produced Griffin and the State Theatre Company of South Australia as part of the Sydney Festival, Kate Mulvany’s Masquerade completes its journey to the stage in a production bursting with life, colour, music and dance. But for all its joyous raucous rambunctiousness, there is a bittersweet and touching story which makes this story, this production, more raw and affecting than it might otherwise have been as a relatively ‘straight’ adaptation.


Not quite shining: Belvoir’s Radiance

Written in 1993, Radiance began its life on Belvoir’s corner stage, and after being produced around the country and internationally, and made into a film, this play about coming home comes home itself, just on twenty-one years later, to the place where it all began. Written by Louis Nowra, it is the story of three sisters – united by the death of their mother – as they gather together for her funeral after many years apart. Like so many theatrical stories of families, it isn’t long before the familial ghosts come out of the past and their reunion opens old wounds.


2015, the year in preview

In Sydney’s theatres this year, there are many shows to look forwards to – Masquerade, MinusOneSister, and 2014 Griffin Award winner The Bleeding Tree at Griffin; Beckett, Chekhov, Dorfman, Woolf, Shakespeare, Shaw, and new plays from Melissa Bubnic and Kylie Coolwell at Sydney Theatre Company; Radiance, Mother Courage, Samson, Mortido and Ivanov at Belvoir; and a year of staples – Hamlet, The Tempest, As You Like It – from Bell Shakespeare. There’s Sport for Jove’s Edward II; The ANZAC Project at the Ensemble theatre; James Thierrée’s Tabac Rouge, Falling Through Clouds, Kiss and Cry, and The Kitchen at the Sydney Festival, as well as the David Byrne/Fatboy Slim musical Here Lies Love for Vivid, Rocky Horror Show’s long awaited return, the Australian premiere of Matilda the musical, and several shows interstate.