The wharf revue Unr-dact-d Nov.12th, ’19

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Brilliant doesn’t even start to describe the show and Simon Burke. I’ve recently been  – jokingly!! – accused of utter lack of objectivity concerning this certain actor, but then, there never was a reason for me – he never gave me a reason – to be anything but enthusiastically amazed by Simon’s incredible talent.

The wharf’s specific demands of not just acting/singing/dancing but also of a keen knowledge of world politics and the ability of mimicking personal quirks of politicians  on the other hand gave Simon Burke yet another opportunity to shine. His brilliant interpretation of Assange opposite an incarcerated George Pell – with unkempt beard and fake puss, lasciviously caressing himself – to the tune of Chicago’s jail block tango is hilarious. The triumphant “I’m PM!” by his bumbling Boris Johnson is so real, it’s actually scary. He’s dancing around, trying to hide his “wood”, and hoping his girlfriend doesn’t file those charges but till then he’s PM, and tears off his pants to strut around in union Jack undies. It’s brilliant.

And when he dons a crown of flowers to impersonate ScoMo (Scott Morrison) his evangelical vileness is revolting, as is his interaction with the equally awful “Clive Palmer”. There’s also a number about Donald Trump (impersonated by Helen Dallimore) to Lin Manuel Miranda’s  Hamilton in which he’s rapping in period uniform (a personal favourite I admit) about the non German German father of a shyster… – the words of Drew Forsythe really are absolutely brilliant and Simon’s interpretation makes them real and let’s them come alive.

When Burke and Forsythe impersonate generals of psychopathic Kim by adopting a British accent (and concluding: someone hasn’t thought this through) it’s riotous.

And then there’s “Faith” , an imaginary conclave between Germaine Greer (the fantastic Helen Dallimore) as a sister, but not a nun, Bob Carr (Forsythe) as an unspecified British cardinal Henry VIII period and Tony Abbott as abbott Abbott ingeniously played by Burke … again, absolutely brilliant.

His vile radio shock jock Alan Jones complete with bald head and disgusting attitude leads to his Mark Latham… a study in rage, yet still hilariously funny.  (Latham changed his political convictions as often as he changes his underwear  – hopefully – and has serious problems with his impulse control. But the way he prostrates himself in order to stay in power … absolutely AMAZING and again, scarily funny.

And yes, the team, Drew Forsythe, Lena Cruz, Helen Dallimore and Andrew Warboys (and Jonathan Biggins and Phillip Scott as co writers) is brilliant as well, having a go at the misogyny in every day life, at me too and inequality with fervour and talent and flawless comedic timing.

There’s numbers about the slaughter of the Rohinga, sung by “Aung San Suu Kyi” Cruz who justifies it by claiming she’s a purist (to Don’t cry for me, Argentina) and a beautiful Vale for the late Bob Hawke – thanks for the memory. There’s a lot of costume changes and wigs and it all comes together as a brilliant, on point, sharp and funny revue that has the audience in stitches.

Yep, I’ve seen it more than once. Yep, I would’ve loved to stay even longer. But it was a privilege to be there at all and getting an introduction to the peculiarities of Australian politics in politic central by an amazing,  incredible teacher (yes, I did get homework, was ordered to Google names in order to understand the intricacies and it paid off in spades) was absolutely brilliant for me. Thank you again, Simon.

Secret River Aug.29th, ’19

london west end

 

 

I really love the books by Kate Grenville. Not just because they were gifted to me, which made them extra special, but also because they were a like a door into a new world, a new line of historical interest for me. Yes, I really love the books, but I also understand why they might be a controversial read for indigenous people: when indigenous people are first mentioned in the books, it’s after two thirds of the story of Secret River has already been told, have we seen it through the eyes of a British convict, following his heroic fight for a new existence in a harsh foreign and violent new country. When Will Thornhill encounters the indigenous people for the first time, he sees savages with unpronounceable names who are too undeveloped to wear proper clothes, learn the civilized British language or even cultivate land. The name of their clan – Dharug – isn’t mentioned once in the books. Thornhill ignores the signs that he is wrong, that he does occupy land the Dharug have been custodians of and  harvested from for thousands of years. When he feels threatened he and his friends first poison, the finally kill the men, women and children of the mob. And while he does think about the slaughter of the clan from time to time, he builds his home, his wealth quite literally on the (burnt) bodies and sacred places of the indigenous people.

The play tries to avoid the points I just made. It starts with Thornhill, his wife Sal and their two boys picking a piece of land in the curve of a river. The adult white actors wear crude white facepaint to further their whiteness.  There’s a narrator, Dhirrumbin, she provides explanations, background a play can’t easily give. She wears white paint on her forehead, she is the link between the Dharug – who communicate in their language throughout the play, something that makes Sal Thornhill exclaim “Jack doesn’t know his name yet”, when Ngalamalum doesn’t react to her calls… it’s only the youngest Thornhill boy who makes fast friends with the children of the Dharug,  much to his parents’ dismay. He is the only one who mourns the death of the Dharug in the end. Ngalamalum is the sole survivor of the slaughter. He does not go away. He stays close to the Thornhills, severely disabled in the attack, a constant reminder of what has been done to him and his clan. Ngalamalum also delivers the last scene in the play, a chant/song that is so full of grief and sadness and desperation it ripped into my heart.

There was a well deserved standing ovation. But I  couldn’t shake my own deep sadness throughout the night.

There also was a talk I attended before the play. (Contemporary responses to indigenous history. Only the theatre’s tickets said: indigenous creatures. Which was an instant starting point for the discussion. The theatre emailed a lengthy apology to the attendees… ) the talk provided ( in my case much needed) background to the casual racism towards indigenous people and the atrocities committed against them over the course of British occupation that erased 50.000+ years of history within a few hundred years and almost eradicated the clans. Where does a belief system end up (or does it end?) when the sacred tree under which you are born is no longer there when you are supposed to be buried there? When a sacred rock formation is finally being closed to climbers and yet white people’s reaction is: it belongs to all of us, I will therefore climb it out of spite. When children from clans are taken away ?after birth and given to white couples in forced adoption?

I have a reading list, My People by Oodergoo Noonucal (her English name is Kath Walker) is on its way.

A view from the bridge July 26th, ’19

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I went into this play without prior knowledge  … Arthur Miller is only cursory taught at school and I hadn’t seen it before. That way, the play packed even more of a punch.

It’s about Eddie who with his wife Beatrice cares for his niece Catherine … until his fatherly concern turns into something much more sordid, something he doesn’t want to acknowledge but is there when he criticises the 17 year old girl’s way to dress or how she behaves towards men. When two cousins of Beatrice arrive illegally from Sicily and young Rodolpho catches Catherine’s eye, life escalates fast and ugly. Narrated by Alfieri, an Italian born US citizen and lawyer who tries to act as a bridge between the old ways of self imposed street justice and the new, civilized way of the law, we see how Eddie is torn between the upstanding way he wants to see himself and the jealous man he has become. Without thinking about consequences he anonymously reports cousins Marco and Rodolpho to the authorities.  It backfires spectacularly as he is shunned by all his neighbours while Rodolpho gets married to Catherine in order to gain citizenship.  When Marco finally confronts him,  he draws a knife… But he’s the one who dies in the altercation.

The play is riveting (and, funnily  enough written in 1955, just like the torrents and yet, so much deeper,  more brutal), dealing with age old concepts (misconceptions) of being stuck in archaic ways, the unjust power of men towards women and the way some men still resort to violence when they’re unable to communicate. Zoe Terakes (Catherine) is an amazing young actress, an exotic beauty who with a few gestures and looks brought the lanky girl on the verge of womanhood to life. I’ll have to check her out on social media because she’s certainly going to have a long and great career. Also, I was sitting front row, on an empty stage with just one chair as prop, and it was awesome.  Thank you for getting me this ticket.  Forever in your debt.

The Torrents July 25th’19

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The play by Oriel Gray is an oddity. Written in 1955 it won a prestigious prize and was almost instantly forgotten. Now it is more current than ever.

It’s the 1880ies in a gold digger town, where the gold is all but finished. New venues for wealth need to be approached, one of them a new radical system of water channels to ensure rich harvests in future years. The chief editor of the local newspaper, Mr Torrent Sr, dismisses the idea, partly because of its delivery, partly because the town’s biggest gold miner, who supports the newspaper with money, is against it. Torrent Jr, a journalist in the newspaper, is for the idea, writes an article he thinks will never be published.  But the new sub editor, a gasp WOMAN publishes it, setting in motion a new future for the town.

It’s amazing how little misogyny,  greed, power have changed over the years, how little women are still respected in certain fields and how archetypically stupid men were and still are. Me, I’m glad the play has been resurrected from obscurity, getting only its third run since it’s been first on stage. It ends on an optimistic high, which I am sad to say I cannot quite share, but I liked it. For a little while it’s still on at the drama theatre at the Sydney opera house.

Mary Stuart Feb 2019

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It’s Schiller’s play, revisited by the magnificent Kate Mulvany. And thus it is  amazing. It’s no longer spoken in verse (and thanks and many thanks for that),  and she took inspiration over translation (and many thanks for that as well), but the main focus points are the same as in Schiller’s play. Two women in power, and yet powerless, in a court of powerhungry, conniving men who view women either as frail and soft and therefore inferior or as dangerous witches who use their sexuality to lure men and thus have to be erased, at best in the name of god. It’s Mary’s kindhearted jailer Paulet who in his male centred way of seeing things finds the words in the end: if only you two women would have found a way of communicating. To which Mary answers, wearily: if only you men had made some room for us, we all could have thrived (I’m paraphrasing).

I have, because I am a nerd and also because everything else in this new play is absolutely fantastic, one little thing to bemoan. Schiller has Leicester fleeing the country after Mary’s execution, with one of the courtiers icily and bitingly and maybe just a bit gleefully declaring: Lord Leicester sends his apologies, he is on his way to France, when Elizabeth is asking for him. In this adaption Leicester simply walks away, larmoyantly uttering ‘home’ when Elizabeth asks where he’s going. I do consider Schiller’s approach better.

The story itself is even more poweful today, in times of #metoo and the heightened awareness of how men execute their male privilege over their female counterparts. A time where this was not only the rule but also the law, as seen by a woman writer/actor (who is a f***ing genius, btw) makes the story of two warring women even more poignant. It is also a gift when the two feuding women are played by Helen Thomson and Caroline Brazier. The men are written (and rightly so) as archetypical males, not stereotypes, but examples of common male behaviour. There’s Burleigh, the career politician with his own agenda, ignoring everyone else; Shrowsbury, the elderly philosopher who served for many years, who walks away in the end to wash his hands of what happened; Leicester, the lap dog who stoops low by finally even attempting to rape Elizabeth, but in the end gains nothing;  Mortimer, the hot headed and not very bright follower with the blue inked skin ‘with pretty pictures’ of Mary, who aimes too high and therefore loses; the ambassador whose skills leave him finally over yet another diversion tactic; and the new secretary, who breaks under the pressure an insecure/cornered queen inflicts on him. And then there’s Paulet, the jailer to Mary Stuart,  who after 19 years of looking after a then beautiful, spirited, intelligent woman has found affection for her, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughters. But he is also loyal to his queen and torn between two women who have more in common than first meets the eye. Simon Burke’s layered portrayal of power vs helplessness, affection vs rejections gives us more than glimpses into Paulet’s soul. Yes, I’m biased, as you all know and I don’t deny, but his acting lifts this character up and it’s a joy to watch. And yes, I did cry in the end – not for Mary, mind you, but for Paulet who was not able to save her and has to live with the knowledge of it….

Beautiful how Mulvany and the amazing director Lee Lewis create echoes that draw you in. There is the start of the play – total darkness, chopping sounds – it’s Mortimer, making kindle of a piano in search of Mary’s letters, yet another nail in the coffin of Mary’s case before the judges. The play ends again in total darkness, chopping sounds make the audience witness to a very botched (and historically correct, I might add) beheading of Mary.

And then there are the prayers. Because both women, so very different in their upbringing, their experiences, their lives, are deeply religious,  even driven by their different faiths that are so similar that when the two queens pray, they sound the same, they act the same, they gain the same kind of consolation from it.

In the end both women are alone. Mary, because she is isolated from potential co conspirators, and Elizabeth, because she can’t rely on any of the men in her court who all have only their own agenda in mind.

The men in the play stand for violence; violence against women and violence in order to gain power or love or both.

The women, always in danger of being crushed by the male power plays, peruse their femininity,  a more subtle approach yet equally or even more successful. Mary sweetly convinces Paulet she only wants to go home to Scotland, to her son, and only reveals her true feelings at the very end, when she is alone, as a final confession of her schemes to gain the throne she deems hers. Elizabeth ruthlessly uses her new secretary so that she doesn’t have to take responsibility for the death sentence to be carried out.

Paulet, played by a magnificent Simon Burke, is the beating, compassionate heart of the play. Clearly torn between his loyalty to his queen, Gloriana, Elizabeth, and the affection and admiration he harbours for Mary, he tries to mediate even though his efforts keep being in vain. In his last scene with Mary his good byes are heartbreakingly personal. Not only is he losing his purpose,  his work, if you like, but also a woman he perceived as a close friend, and as a challenge to his intellect – something his wife and daughters obviously aren’t able to be to him.  After all a single mistake of his could’ve lead to the death of a queen – hers or Elizabeth’s.  It’s not easy to be the keeper of queens! The way he brings the crushing loss he feels, the sadness and helplessness to life is amazing. He is a broken man with nothing left to live for.

In the end everybody loses. There are no winners in the dirty games of politics. (which hasn’t changed in the hundreds of years since the historic queens warred and since Schiller wrote his play).

Thomson and Brazier are amazing, two fantastic actresses who command the stage. Mortimer Fayssal Bazzi plays the useful follower who has no clue and dies without ever coming close to understanding. Leicester Andrew McFarlane … I wasn’t fond of the way he portrayed the queen’s almost lover. I missed determination and intelligence and don’t think it was an intended directorial choice. Burleigh – the actor was mostly screaming, probably mistaking volume with emotion.

The one dancing scene was beautifully choreographed, creating an enchanting fairy like scene on an empty stage.

My pet peeve with the Roslyn packer: it’s 2019, there’s still no WiFi.  Not good!

 

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice Feb9th,2019

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The story is set in the 50s, London, the new phone is being installed. Mum is drunk most of the time, dad died to escape the terrible marriage. And Little Voice is holed up in her room and doesn’t come out and listens to the same old records her father left her day in and day out. It is also the story of how not to deal with an autistic person. Because that’s what Little Voice is. When alone she sings the old records. Shirley bassey, Marilyn Monroe,  Liza Minelli, Judy Garland, come to life in her voice. She doesn’t speak, she borrows the voices of her vinyl idols.

When her mother brings home a guy who works in a nightclub, drama enfolds. While LV slowly starts to trust her new friend, one of the guys who installed the phone and also different than other boys, this new lover recognises the talent she has and wants to exploit it . Forced by her controlling and manipulative mother LV does perform in the sleazy bar. But only twice. Overwhelmed by the pressure and not able to handle the stress she vanishes with her friend, just as the apartment burns down. With everything gone – her mother destroys her records in a rage because they weren’t melted in the fire – LV finally breaks free. Together with her boy/friend Billy she watches his light installation and sings – for the first time in her real voice.

Caroline O’Connor is an amazing controlling, cruel, helpless mother, trying to find a little happiness for herself, but failing over and over again. Geraldine Hakewill dominated with a voice to die for and Joseph del Re was not just good looking and charming but also slimy and suitably nasty.  Great matinee, awesome production.

Oh, and there was Charles Wu as Billy who was absolutely sweet as the nerdy, insecure boy in love. Seen him in Doctor, Doctor and loved him there, but he’s also a highly accomplished stage actor! Loved him!

 

The Misanthrope Aug/Sept ’18

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misanthrope
ˈmɪz(ə)nθrəʊp,ˈmɪs(ə)nθrəʊp/
noun
a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society

 

Only that Moliere’s Misanthrope doesn’t avoid human society, he’s just really pissed at it. In 1666 Moliere wrote this masterful hissy fit of a play to get even on a society he didn’t agree with and – that didn’t agree with him quite often. At the time the play didn’t receive much accolade, probably because a strong female character, Celimene, gave as good as she got and strung along a line of contenders for her affection until she is put in her place by said men and the help of a pious woman (because women have always been their own worst enemy), so everything’s in order again on the 17th century front where women didn’t have any rights. The Misanthrope himself, Alceste, is the other extreme: Moliere portraits him as a man in search of truth and honesty and in love with a flighty woman, who gets cut down by a society that lives a double standard at the royal court. Talk to your face one way, stab you in the back the other. No surprise it wasn’t a huge success.  Nobody likes to look into a mirror and face their worst self.

In this new production, a fresh translation by Justin Fleming successfully transponds the satire into present day Sydney, the French royal court to a court of different royalty – the music industry. We are witness to the filming of the music video of a number one star, appropriating all the necessary looks and pieces to make it a success, gratuitous bare skin, Michael Jackson pose and even a unicorn included.

But Lee Lewis, the genial director, put yet another twist on the original: she brilliantly gender swapped parts of the cast, making Alceste the female producer in love and turning Celimene into omnisexual Cymbeline. Arsinoe turns into Arsenio, the boss, the money, the power … and the one jealous of Alceste’s love for Cymbeline.

The story is fairly well known, I guess: Alceste is facing court over some false accusations and enters the massively cluttered stage in a strop, stomping away from her – only – friend Philippa, also her lawyer, because Philippa was friendly with someone she, Alceste, didn’t like. She then proceeds to mock Orton’s new song, making yet another enemy in the process. We meet Eleanor (no genderswap) who has a crush on Alceste and is the secret crush of Philippa. Cymbeline is introduced as eye candy, shirtless, pouting into an imaginary camera, presenting his goods, a very clever analogy to his whole life – presenting his goods to everyone and anyone who is able to further his career.

And there is much feared Arsenio (who is played by Simon Burke who brilliantly takes on being cast as the ice cold, powerful a..hole) who arrives in time to scare away two more appreciators (Angus, Cleveland) of Cymbeline’s charms with just a look. He proceeds to emasculate Cymbeline with razorsharp wit only to receive the same treatment by the younger man.

The victory is Arsenio’s though, as he is able to present the coveted Alceste with written proof of Cymbeline’s infidelity. In a fast paced, cruel second part Cymbeline is confronted with various letters he wrote to various men and to Alceste, giving each one the impression he loved only them while dissing the others. The hardest blow lands Alceste who’d be okay if Cymbeline would commit to him on a deserted island, away from a nosey society, but not with marrying him in the public eye. On a now empty stage everybody leaves to fanfares of shame (and the roar of a very expensive car in Arsenio’s case, who exits after icely denying that he ever was even remotely attracted to Alceste, who had rebuffed him) until Cymbeline walks out to the thunder of oncoming rain. The only happy couple are Philippa and Eleanor,  the two level headed protagonists who think of others and not just themselves. Awwwwwwww

Now I admit to having a few problems with how the show is presented. I applaude the gender swaps. I love them. They make for beautiful bi and same sex relationships in the most casual way imaginable and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have seen them. I just find there’s two things that don’t work with it.

1. A young “lad of 20”, a rising music star producing a hit song/video … would he really be slut shamed? Wouldn’t he rather be admired, sought out, getting advertising gigs et al in today’s world?

2. My biggest hang up is with Alceste though. The way she behaves, throwing massive tantrums on stage, lacking any diplomatic skills … in today’s world she wouldn’t have been able to rise to her position. It’s still very much a boys’ only club, and while the old rebuttal “you’re too emotional (are you having your time of the month?)” finally gets being called out, it’s far from extinct. Alceste even mentions that in her scene with Arsenio, that she would be called out by the upper echelons of the business and it’s clear that Arsenio comes to the same conclusion. But I also have problems with the actress’ mannerisms which are mercilessly made fun of by Philippa, Rebecca Massey.  I know it’s satire, I know it should be over the top, but no. Too much, no comical timing. She’s going for the easy laugh, but misses the mark when it comes to precision and pace. Add to that her voice which doesn’t hold up during 3 hours of fast dialogues and again and again goes hoarse, which is a shame. It might be called sexy on TV, but it’s bad vocal training on a vast stage in a large theatre.

I do love the set design. It very cleverly reflects the story as it unfolds, going from an overly cluttered backstage room to less and less props until all that is left is a large white backdrop that gives the actors a blank page to express themselves, to write on, (if they can 😉) a door and a chair.

Cymbeline, Ben Gerrard,  has a drop dead gorgeous body and rightfully uses it, being objectified and half naked most of the time. (I hear his rigorous diet didn’t go over well with his poor partner.) Cleveland, Hamish Michael (who also plays Orton) and Angus, Anthony Taufa, are funny, relatable characters despite being written as over the top (and yes, I love both Hamish and Anthony. Great comical grasp, hugely talented awesome people). Philippa, Rebecca Massey,  is by far the best female on stage. She’s flawless. Timing, posture. Love her. Eleanor is cute and sweet and very good, but doesn’t have enough chances to shine.

Arsenio. Oh he is magnificent. The character needs to be strong, ruthless, oozing confidence with a certain malicious streak and an ample dose of charm and Simon Burke excels in it. With razor sharp disdain for the rival of his interest in Alceste he eviscerates, emasculates the younger man with rapier like wit (I must say the lines “you are quite … for someone so underendowed. youth and beauty are hollow… you should learn to swallow.” And then, about his many lovers ” you are known to open doors, … your lovers sleep themselves to the middle” were masterfully delivered.) The contempt is real and the strikes against Cymbeline are hitting nerves. I consider the scene between Arsenio and Cymbeline as the strongest of the play.

There’s also silky light charm when Arsenio first tries to lure the trophy that Alceste would be and, when he’s not immediately successful , the honeyed cleverness of planting doubt in Cymbeline’s fidelity into her mind. Because of course he has proof. He is the power behind everything after all and manipulation is his second nature.

Now, I loved the flawless translation of the play, and think that the way Justin Fleming brought its rhymes to shiny new life is genial. But even though we live in a highly transparent time with all of social media making and breaking careers, and influencing our every move even though we might not even be aware of, I am not sure if I can relate to all the characters. It might be because Moliere’s play was written in another time AND place, it might be that some of the characters weren’t archetypal enough to survive, or it might just be that certain performers or rather a certain performer wasn’t quite up to the job of playing the lead in this play…

In this case though, you don’t have to believe me.

“The ‘strained’ scene of confrontation between Cymbeline and Arsenio, played flawlessly, and with subtle thought processes as sharp as a rapiers edge, intent in wounding deeply, but with the surface composure of the ‘innocent’ butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth ‘dandyisms’ of a super-precise intention by Simon Burke was the highlight of the night – interesting, for it is a scene usually played by two women – neither, of these men in this world show outward bruising, but the internal damage must be a spectacular bleed. Cymbeline and Arsenio do not much like each other.”

This is Kevin Jackson’s take on the play