I know there’s a lot of noise outside but you have to close your eyes, by Zoey Dawson, Anna McCarthy and Allison Wiltshire. I’m Trying to Kiss You @ La Mama. 19 April to 5 May 2013.
The room is empty. Chairs stand incidental and haphazard. Too many chairs, and a few small tables. They’re all empty. The lighting is low and soft, old floor lamps mostly, red shades and orange. The corners, especially, are very dark. From upstairs, through the low ceiling, there’s a muffled confusion of voices, as of a party or exhibition opening.
There is no one behind the bar. Moon goes straight to the staircase at the back of the room. She pauses at the base of the stair, looking up, waiting. Then she climbs half way and pauses again.
“Well?” asks Natalie, still by the door, still holding it ajar, doubtful.
Her friend – they are friends – looks down, beaming, nodding. “Yes,” she says.
“Finally,” sighs Natalie, letting the door swing shut. They each make for the unattended bar, bottles winking on the shelf behind. It’s the winking time at this unattended bar, and for these two most of all.
Ostensibly based on Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, Nixon in China is actually a kind of American lucid dreaming, a self-conscious though still fantastic and at times surreal reflection on American foreign policy in the East, as well as a slightly kitsch celebration of détente.
Confidence is the motive engine of this dream, a quality which despite serious technical problems is ably communicated by this visually arresting and orchestrally powerful new production by Victorian Opera.
This is an opera with an essentially optimistic spirit, a work that seems to gaze east with all the bright hope of a liberated peasant on a shiny new tractor. Between 1972, when post-revolutionary Beijing was at last ‘opened’ to the West by Nixon, to 1987, when composer John Adam’s opera first premiered, there was good reason for this particularly American optimism. This was, after all, two years before the Tiananmen Square protests, a time when China was making enormous progress toward political decentralization and economic reform.
But while the repeating figures, relatively simple harmonic foundation and clear melodic lines do suggest the bold strokes and sunny affect of a propagandistic poster, American or Chinese, there is also, whistling at the edges, something very different at work in this opera, something off, something restless, some secret, elevating fascination of art: the dreamy structure, the unresolved progressions, the flashes of virtuosity, the unexpected variations and, most of all, Alice Goodman’s expressionistic libretto.
I’ve never seen Barry Humphries live. Before his most recent tour, Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret, I was told by a useful sort of critic that this was absurd. If I was serious about theatre or – dash it all – art, I had to see him at least once.
I said it was unlikely.
It’s not Edna Everage, I was assured.
I knew it wasn’t Edna. It was Humphries as himself – a rare glimpse – celebrating his passion for the music and theatre of Weimar Germany, joined on stage by Meow Meow and Richard Tognetti. I like Meow Meow. And Tognetti. And Weimar. I love ‘Da geht ein Mensch’ and Pirate Jenny. All that stuff.
What do you actually know about Humphries, asked my disbelieving critic-friend, a man not quite of the Peter O’Shaughnessy vintage, but not too far off.
I said I knew nothing but what I saw on the TV as a kid.
In other words, you know what everyone knows. Right, well, he beamed. He was happy now, the mystery apparently solved. I know what the problem is, he explained. You’re idea is too simple. Barry Humphries is more than Les Paterson or Barry McKenzie or Edna. I know you think it’s just loud comedy. But he’s actually a big deal. He’s like a Patrick White kind of big deal. You have to see him do a character like Sandy Stone to appreciate it.
Daisy, a young pop-anthropologist, has a theory that men will never commit to a relationship if their mother doesn’t approve the match. It’s a theory that, in book form, has made her a lot of money. The problem for Daisy is that the mother of her own husband-to-be is one of the country’s best known right-wing commentators. This is a problem because her father is an infamous talking-head for the left. To complicate matters, there’s an ex-alcoholic ex-boyfriend hanging about, trying to put himself back in the picture. Anyway. They’re all thrown together in Daisy’s apartment and Daisy’s thesis is put to its ultimate mettle. Cue the storm, oh, outside and in.
Despite the prodigious control of moment-to-moment superficialities, of tone and pace, True Minds, for all that it is a light comedy of limited ambition, at times brilliant, is fundamentally unconvincing. The problem, you suspect, is that for all her skill and lightness of touch, Murray-Smith is rather awkward when it comes to romance and warm sentiment. Venom, cattiness, pettiness, acid and snide she does with more fluency than most, but charm and warmth, not so much (pace admirers of Songs for Nobodies).
“What is the use of a comedy of love, since we hate each other?” wrote August Strindberg to his second wife, Frida Uhl, immediately before he abandoned her. “You hate me from a feeling of inferiority; I am a superior who has done you nothing but good; and I hate you as an enemy, because you behave like one.”
Most of Strindberg’s oeuvre is marked by something of this hostility and fear. Hate, open or understood, is the engine of his drama, if not his life, and nowhere is this more explicit than his marriage tragedy The Dance of Death (1900), a bleak study of the way marriage unnaturally contorts the souls of men and women alike.
The play was adapted in 1969 by Swiss writer Friedrich Durrenmatt who exaggerated its bathos and, in Durrenmatt’s own words, “developed a comedy about bourgeois marriage tragedies”, parodying Strindberg’s tragic hand-wringing on the marriage subject. Though scarcely an optimist himself, Durrenmatt had little sympathy with Strindberg’s histrionics of hate, and of none his mistrust of women or comedy. His adaptation – which he called Play Strindberg – is an essentially ironic, even winkingly cynical, take on the institution of marriage and the traumas that people – people like Strindberg – attribute to it.
This new production from RealTV is as good an example of Australian Gothic as you’re likely to find, with breathtaking performances by Hayden Spencer and Louise Brehmer.
Written and directed by company founders Angela Beitzin and Leticia Cáceres respectively, it mixes elements of underworld thriller, Indigenous ghost story and eco-political parable, a powerful tale of unhealed wounds and the narrow bush track that leads to redemption.
Belinda (Brehmer) is on the run after getting in too deep dealing drugs. She heads to Mount Morgan, once a major mining centre, now a town in terminal decline. It’s little more than an out-of-the-way tourist spot, site of one of the world’s largest artificial holes, the open cut mine.
Until Then, Then, by Nicholas Coghlan and Ming-Zhu Hii. The Public Studio @ La Mama. 06 to 10 Mar. 2013
After three years away from theatre, Nicholas Coghlan and Ming-Zhu Hii return with a veritable art-monolith on death and the vanity of human pursuits. And whatever else you make of this show, you can’t but admire the consistency and seriousness of its aesthetic argument.
In the program, Hii, director and co-creator, admits that “We aren’t certain that it’s theatre.” Well, I’m not certain that it’s theatre either. In fact I’m fairly certain it isn’t.
In a world teeming with post-dramatic hybrids, yes, it can difficult to know what nails theatre qua theatre, but a sense of shared theatrical space – the bare notion of a stage – would still seem to be essential. Here, however, there is no – or almost no – sense of stage. Until Then, Then is a polysensuous experience – visual, aural and conceptual – but it is not spatial. In that, it seems to share more with experimental film, installation art and the burgeoning field of animated projections.
Love Me Tender, by Tom Holloway. Mutations Theatre @ Theatre Works. 20 Feb. t0 2 Mar. 2013
Using the bright lamp of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, playwright Tom Holloway shines a surreal but terrifying light – a kind of antipodean deinois, that beautiful Ancient Greek word meaning strange, wondrous and shocking all at once – on the contemporary problem of sexualising pre-teen girls. Directed by Patrick McCarthy of Mutation Theatre, this production elevates the issue to the level of moral apocalypse, stranding the play’s few recognisable characters in a fire-blasted world where the prevailing logic is one of cruelty and sacrifice.
The scene is conjured for us by a chorus of two (Nick Pelomis and James Tresise). In a self-conscious, literary way, choosing their words with care, congratulating one another on fine turns of phrase and suggestive images, they describe for Agamemnon (Brendan Barnett), the moment of his daughter’s birth. Agamemnon is traditionally the king of the Ancient Greeks, but here he is an Australian fireman, a hero in his community. Right from the start, in the chorus’s skewed narration, there’s something intolerable about him, as though he were stalked by a nameless, obliterating guilt.
Few of Holloway’s other characters scan against Euripides’ cast. Sarah Ogden plays the fireman’s wife, uncomfortable with her husband’s relationship with their daughter, but unwilling to speak her fears aloud. Matt Epps plays a country cop coasting through a landscape of slaughter and insanity, looking for reasons in an unreasonable world.
Mid-February I filled in at the Age for a week while their two regulars were off drinking daiquiris or some such thing. Here are the blurbs.
Caravan Burlesque, Finucane & Smith @ Northcote Town Hall. 31 Jan to 09 Feb. 2013
As ancient Bedouin nomads made camp in the palatial foyers of Arabian princes, so Finucane & Smith have pitched their moveable salon, Caravan Burlesque, in the Northcote Town Hall’s vast main gallery, last stop on a tour that has taken them from “Portland to the Pilbara”.
It’s a buckle-tight adaptation of The Burlesque Hour, that prodigious beast now in its eighth year. The Caravan’s twenty-odd acts are a kind of sampler, making a show of the troupe’s versatility – vaudeville circus, lounge-style crooning, glittery dance routines and, of course, their famously opulent grotesques.