The Writers' resource hub

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

KING LEAR

Contemporary Legend Theatre
Theatre Royal, Hobart
4th and 5th April
Reviewer: Gai Anderson

Taiwan’s Contemporary Legend Theatre formed almost 20 years ago to combine elements of Western and Eastern Theatre in their reinterpretations of the classics.
Their lavish, strikingly visual and spectacular production of King Lear, with solo performer Wu Hsing – kuo performing all 10 characters, is an astounding piece of theatre, which takes this classic tale of filial betrayal, love and power into the strange and wonderful realm of Chinese Opera.

Hsing –kuo strides onstage through billowing smoke and columns of dark red light which drop from high above like streams of blood. Wired to the max, his spinning, strutting, shaking embodiment of the crazed Lear is visually startling. His tangle of hair and silver beard almost sweep to the floor as he struts on high wooden clogs, ranting, singing, teetering, falling, calling to heaven and his lost Cordelia, his ornate red and black metallic costume shimmering and flashing about him.

The music is astounding. Lear is driven by the astonishingly passionate percussive music of the orchestra, just-seen at the side of the stage. The orchestra’s boings and twangs, drive, retreat and dance in dialogue with this other-worldly king as thunder and lightning flash and rain finally pours down upon him.

And that was just the beginning.

Inside a ritualised bubble I sit transfixed for the next 80 minutes as this astonishing performer transforms to inhabit the nine other characters, using the heightened language, stylized movement and archetypal characters of Beijing Opera.

Shakespeare’s story is sliced and rearranged, sung, spoken and translated in surtitles to keep us on track.

If you are very fond of Shakespeare’s text, this might not be the show for you as it is the striking physicality, the incredible score and the costumes that carry this classic tale to its dramatic conclusion.

Don’t miss it.

Gai Anderson is a writer and performer based in Cygnet, Tasmania.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

An Overview in 3 Acts plus Epilogue

Show name: National Play Festival
Company Name: Playwriting Australia
Venue: The Backspace, Hobart and various locations around Tasmania
Date: 26 March – 4 April
Reviewer: Mark Cutler

ACT 1: The Setting
Hosting this festival is PlayWriting Australia (PWA), the national peak body working with playwrights and the theatre industry to support, develop and promote writing for performance. This year’s festival in Hobart is only the second, following on from Brisbane in 2008. PWA has assembled an impressive collection of artists, supporters, plays and commentators to dissect and develop Australian playwriting. Falling under the wide umbrella of Tasmania’s biennial Ten Days on the Island Festival, the National Play Festival (I’m nearly festivaled-out already) is nevertheless a self-contained opportunity for the industry to take stock, connect and celebrate new work by some of Australia’s best playwrights.

In the program blurb, PWA Artistic Director Chris Mead says: “Tasmania occupies a very particular place in our national imagination – and for the two weeks of the National Play Festival it will become the engine room of new writing for the theatre. Come on, stoke the fire.” His advice was clearly acted upon ... how hot was it at the Backspace during the Showcase!

Even local Arts Minister Michelle O’Byrne chimed in with her blessing. “Tasmania has a rich literary history of its own and a unique character that has inspired many intriguing tales,” she says. “We warmly welcome the 2009 National Play Festival’s Showcase Season to our shores.”

The main venue was the Backspace in Hobart, but in order to reach a bigger audience, the festival travelled around the state with readings and workshops in Zeehan, Franklin, Stanley, Georgetown Bridport, Swansea, Launceston and Dunalley. Events ranged from workshops and performances to the keynote address from Rhoda Roberts, a young writers’ studio, one-on-one with playwrights Hannie Rayson and Angela Betzien, conversations with writers Sue Smith and Steve Rodgers and even plays for breakfast at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart. The term broad sweep doesn’t do the program justice.


ACT 2: The Playwrights
The Showcase season of six plays was the central point of the festival and by deduction the six playwrights were the epicentre - Patricia Cornelius, Marcel Dorney, Van Badham, Lally Katz, Jonathan Ari Lander and Elsie Hearst. All have extensive credentials.

Patricia Cornelius’s plays include Love, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?, The Call and Cunning. Her honours include the Patrick White Playwright’s Award, a Gold Awgie, The Jill Blewett Award and a Green Room Award.

Marcel Dorney’s works include New Royal and Thieves Like Us and he has received a Matilda Award and a Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Fellowship to study in St. Petersburg.

Van Badham’s plays include The Gabriels, Bedtime for Bastards, Petrograd and Letters to W. Among her many accolades she is the recipient of the British National Student Drama Festival Best Play award and the Sunday Times Harold Hobson Award.

Lally Katz studied playwriting at London’s Royal Court Theatre. Her works include Frankenstein, The Black Swan of Trespass and Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart. She has also received a New York International Fringe Festival Producer’s Choice Award.

Jonathan Ari Lander currently tutors at UNSW in world history and Zionism. Lander’s plays include Broken Dreams, Redemption and Ezekiel’s Song. He was recently accepted into the 2008-2009 Griffin Writer’s Residency.

Elise Hearst is a young writer whose career was kick-started in 2006 when she won an award for the Monash University National Playwrights Competition for Apple. After relocating to London she has had work performed at the Soho Theatre, Hampstead Theatre and the Trafalgar Studios.


ACT 4: The Plays
Each of the six plays in the Showcase was hand-picked by PlayWriting Australia. They were then given two weeks of intensive rehearsals by some of the country’s finest actors and directors. The performances were polished readings, presented to the public for the first time.

The Berry Man, to quote playwright Patricia Cornelius, is about growing things and about growing up – taking all the elements of the past and letting them go, like scattering seed. It’s also about war and the effects on young men caught up in the nightmare. The cast included Ivan Donato, Margaret Harvey, Colin Moody and Bill Young. Director Susie Dee and Dramaturg Sam Strong.

Marcel Dorney’s Hypatia takes us on a historical journey to Alexandria when the greatest repository of knowledge in the West, the Library of Alexandria, was run by Hypatia. Her defence of the library and her subsequent death at the hands of a fanatical Christian mob in 415 AD provides the crux of this ancient story.
The cast consisted of Alan Andrews, Wadih Dona, Anita Hegh, Colin Moody, Yalin Ozucelik and Bill Young. Direction by Jon Halpin and dramaturg Sam Strong.

Three Short Plays About the Same Two People by Van Badham is about one couple, Tom and Eve, but also about Tom and new squeeze Manpreet. All are cool but a past incident in a London nightclub won’t let Tom and Eve move on.With Sibylla Budd, Baylea Davis and Chris Pitman. Directed by Tanya Denny and dramaturgs Polly Rowe and Sam Strong.

Return to Earth is Lally Katz’s examination of return and expectation. The play centres on Alice and her return to the small coastal town of Tathra where she grew up. Her parents have an agenda, her brother has an agenda and so too does her old school friend. But for Alice it’s more about falling in love and a shot at redemption. Director Jon Halpin, dramaturgs Sam Strong and Polly Rowe. Cast included Katherine Cullen, Sibylla Budd, Alan Andrews, Noreen Le Mottee, Yalin Ozucelik and Chris Pitman.

Jonathan Ari Lander wrote Revolution while teaching a university course on South East Asian history and reflecting on the anti-communist purge between 1965-66. The play is set in Australia as a new political force, New Australia, begins to take hold. How much is charismatic leader Imaduddin willing to personally sacrifice for his broad political aims? It’s a political thriller with an intellectual soul.
Cast included Wadih Dona, Baylea Davis, Michael Edgar, Anita Hegh, Xavier Samuel and Camilla Ah Kin. Director Tanya Denny and Dramaturg Polly Rowe.

Author Elise Hearst describes Dirtyland as a stark portrait of human frailty, resilience and treachery. It is also about massacre and its lingering impact. But despite these daunting themes the play has an element of playfulness and innocence.
With Margaret Harvey, Noreen Le Mottee, Xavier Samuel, Ivan Donato, Michael Edgar Katherine Cullen and Camilla Ah Kin. Directed by Susie Dee and Dramaturg Polly Rowe.


EPILOGUE
If only we could accurately measure the impact the National Play Festival will have on Tasmania. By its very nature though, such precise measurement is of course impossible. But in bringing such a diverse offering to the state it can safely be assumed that the Tasmanian theatre community will reap benefits.

Having access to established writers, watching accomplished actors at work, seeing how directors begin to shape new work and even having the chance to see that very same work change in the process is a rich opportunity. At the very least local crews were employed and tertiary theatre students were given exposure to best practise by being placed on productions.

However it is also important to ask what did the PlayWriting Australia get out of Tasmania? And did its relationship to Ten Days on the Island hamper or help the National Play Festival? I suspect the relationship was a healthy one. For starters the NPF was given a marketing boost by appearing in the widely distributed and very expensive Ten Days program. Also by coming to Hobart and touring to regional areas, PlayWriting Australia continues its charter to promote and foster Australian playwriting.

You can bet your last dollar the NPF will be in Sydney or Melbourne next year as it probably should, because the NPF is still in its infancy and big city exposure will help to cement its reputation. But not before we see some tangible evidence that the process undergone during the time in Tasmania translates into seasons for all or most of the six plays showcased.

Mark Cutler is a Hobart based writer/performer.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Critical Acclaim: Living and Dying with a Big Heart

Show name: This Is Living
Company Name: Big hART
Venue: Derwent Entertainment Centre, Glenorchy
Date: 31 March
Reviewer: Mark Cutler


This Is Living is self-described as a new and immersive performance piece. If you are puzzled by this description, let me put it another way. This Is Living is a theatre show born out of community consultation which explores ageing, love, connection, dying, the generation gulf between seniors and young teens utilising live music, poetry, skateboarding, stark staging, photography, dance and I’m sure I saw a kitchen sink in there somewhere! You get the idea ... it is a bold and complex show. But at its heart is a simple yet ever so compelling story of a lifelong deception/ revelation involving the three principal characters.

Writer/ director Scott Rankin is fast approaching the status of local/ national wunderkind ... yes, wunderkind despite his greying pate and the fact that he’s been at this sort of thing for over fifteen years now. His body of work with Big hART is impressive and the company has a richly deserved respect among the broad theatre community. However I suspect Rankin could not give two or even one hoot about reputation, for him and the company, process is the big ticket item here ... well involvement in the process to be more accurate. Whether it be aboriginal issues involving transience and cultural obligation for younger indigenous people (Ngapartji, Ngapartji), “autocide” among young Tasmanian men (Drive) or even plain old spectacle (Junk Theory), Big hART is in there, sleeves rolled up, asking communities to share their stories. Theatre with dirty fingernails!

But back to This Is Living. With a cast of at least thirty, involving only three principal/ professional actors, the show is the product of two years of consultation in four Tasmanian locations- Latrobe, Wynyard, Glenorchy and the Huon Valley. As with any show that includes such a high ratio of so-called amateurs, slickness can’t be the expectation, especially when the production insists on a rotating cast of elderly actors from each of the aforementioned locations. If you are going to involve community, better a pound than a penny! But it is no less affecting for making this choice. The central story I touched on earlier, has Morgan (a fabulous Bruce Myles) and wife Jan (the delectable Anne Grigg), mourning the passing of close friend Ron (the stalwart Lex Marinos). Morgan has recently retired as a photo-journalist and this vocational vacuum forces both he and Jan into confronting their simmering detachment. Wind back a few months to before Ron’s passing and the story unfolds with Ron’s relationship to both characters as the fulcrum.

Eerily interspersed with the central story are the vignettes provided by the thirteen elderly actors. Their presence is beautifully and touchingly ghost-like. Sometimes they create a haunting tableau, other times they move with a spooky detachment. Their muttered reflections are amplified with delay to further enhance a sense of otherworldliness. The production is all the richer for their contributions. The music and songs are provided by The Dunaways, a four-piece band whose score is always at one with the production.

At various times the depth of staging available at the DEC is opened up to reveal young skateboarders and ravers doing their thang in the background. This short, spasmodic involvement smacked of theatrical tokenism. However I must add quickly the production itself did not suffer as a result, more that I was left with a bad feeling of missed opportunity for them and an underwhelming feeling of ... so what! I’m equally sure the teens involvement in the project itself is of immense value to them on other levels.

Whether This Is Living finds a life outside the comfy confines of a festival is doubtful considering the emptiness of the DEC for opening night and the theatrical unsexiness of aging as a topic. This is a pity because, despite some rusty moments on the night, it is a piece both worthwhile and arresting and one that would grow into something better, even greater, given time.

Mark Cutler is a Hobart based writer/performer.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

CRITICAL ACCLAIM

Title: Who is the real Monster?
Show: Metamorphosis
Company Name: Vesturport and the Lyric Hammersmith
Theatre Royal
27 March to 2 April
Reviewer: Stephenie Cahalan
The ability to act well is a feat. The ability to act well upside down is truly great feat, and Gísli örn Gardarsson does both in his production of Metamorphosis. This collaboration by Theater Vesturport (Iceland) and the Lyric Hammersmith Theater (UK) has been acclaimed world-wide for this adaptation of Franz Kafka’s hundred-year-old novella.
Director örn Gardarsson plays Gregor Samsa, a hard working young man who wakes one day to find he has transformed into a some kind of insect-like thing. His family is variously horrified, repulsed and concerned but they join forces in pressing on with life, hoping to ignore the hideous thing that Gregor has become. Watching a split view in a two-storey set, the audience must suspend belief to let their perspective be turned upside down, just as the lives of the characters have. Gregor is transformed without so much as a costume change by the breathtaking ability of the actor to deliver most his performance from the roof of the set, not using wires and a harness but with his own circus skills, and the clever use of climbing holds as part of the set.
Subtle costuming helped carry the theme of change - the previously girlish sister emerges as the be-suited woman in control of the situation, Father, craving order, takes comfort in his bank minion’s uniform and Mother’s tragic loss of her son is reflected in her black dress.
The Samsa family and their prospective lodger, with their desire for social status and grasping for financial security, play their parts to the point of caricature. Meanwhile, the dehumanising of Gregor tracks the same course as the loss of refinement and sensitivity of the family. The production captures that shallowness of character that is both the bane and savior of the Samsa family. They are an unpleasant combination of Mrs Elizabeth Bennet and Piggy from Lord of the Flies. It begs the question - who is the real monster?
Nick Cave’s classic major/minor tinkle on the piano and Warren Ellis’ violin help to escalate the tension of a family aspiring to something beautiful in the shadow of a horrible secret.
The production is true to both companies’ commitment to making great traditional theatre in the digital age. However, the only disappointment was that there were times when the stage was just too dark. The sense of squalor and concealment was conveyed in the dimness, but would not be lost with just a little more illumination of the great performances.
Kafka’s repulsive creature in this play is a metaphor for a person who no longer fits into their social, familial or work environment. The theme of communication break down and lack of acceptance transcends time. Metamorphosis serves up a bite of Kafka’s exploration of isolation and alienation, with a dash of theatre of the absurd. It is funny, heart-breaking, and forces the audience to wonder - would I be any better?
Stephenie Cahalan is a Hobart-based writer and editor.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Critical Acclaim

Show name: Hatch
Company name: Auckland Theatre Company
Venue: Hobart Town Hall March 27-30 other venues until April 5
Dates: 27 March – April 5
Reviewer’s name: Kylie Eastley

Hatch is the story of Joseph Hatch, born in England, undertaking his apprenticeship as a druggist in Melbourne and emigrating to New Zealand, where he became a successful chemist, Mayor of Invercargill in 1877 and Member of Parliament. It was during his migration that he developed an interest for Macquarie Island and its natural resources.

Taking on the lease of the island he produced an industry rendering down seals and penguins, with a reported 3 million penguins killed over a 30 year period.

This one man performance at Hobart’s Town Hall is akin to a re-enactment of the original magic lantern lecture presented by Hatch in 1919 in an attempt to regain support for his now discredited venture. Elderly Hatch, played by New Zealand actor, Stuart Devenie, enters this ideal venue in character and is consistent throughout. His interaction and engagement with the audience is believable, at one point eliciting a ‘hiss’ from the audience.

It is well documented that Hatch was a charismatic public speaker. A skill he utilised when attempting to regain public support. Devenie equally elicits such charisma and humour, leaving the audience teetering between disgust, empathy and admiration.

Creating a sense of British Empire, Hatch’s character paces the stage aided by a few simple props and an impressive slide show. The photographic slides compliment his enigmatic oration, and create a theatrical and fascinating representation. Hatch oscillates between ruthless entrepreneur and vulnerable old man with a history of personal calamity and entrepreneurial hardship.

Devenie performs Hatch extremely well, touching on elements of his personality without becoming labored and sentimental. The inclusion and reference to other ‘colourful’ characters of the time such as Baron Rothschild, depicted in a buggy being pulled by a zebra, reinforces the type of world Hatch inhabits.

Devenie successfully conveys a sense of a man who is losing his grip on what he believes to be right. But the tide of public opinion is moving against him.

The script is extremely well written and well executed by the actor. There are moments of great tragedy in this story, but the script is loyal to the context in which this would have been presented. While there are moments of reflection, these are not over -sentimentalised, but assist in creating further depth to the character and the story.
The pace of the performance suits the content; with Hatch’s anger about what he feels is the injustice of his predicament giving way to moments of silence, reflection, grief and maybe even regret.

More than 70 years on from the days of stacking dead penguins ‘like bricks’ into the Macquarie Island digestors, the issue of humans plundering stocks of fish, animals and birds is one that is debated globally.

Kylie E Eastley is a freelance Arts Consultant based in Hobart, Tasmania.

This is a production from Aukland Theatre Company, which has toured throughout New Zealand and will tour to several towns as part of Ten Days on the Island 2009.


This review is part of arts@work’s Critical Acclaim program, designed to increase critical analysis of the arts.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

New Site Up!

Welcome to the new site and blog!