Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Depression's a funny thing

Ha ha

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Time is Not Yet Ripe

The Time is Not Yet Ripe
Louis Esson
Presented by Here Theatre at La Mama
Until 13th of September

If one listens too closely to the rhetoric and attends too many forums on the state of Australian theatre one could be forgiven for thinking that nobody ever set foot on stage in this country before The Legend of King O’Malley. The New Wave have become the old guard and our cultural amnesia has set comfortably in now at a blurry distance of roughly forty years.
Thankfully however there remains one or two who have done the set reading and Jane Woollard is clearly amongst them.

It’s a little uncharitable to the author to suggest that Woolard has unearthed Esson’s fine work but before Here theatre’s remarkable production of The Time is Not Yet Ripe, who would have done more than wonder for whom the Prize for Drama was named?

Yet, in 1920’s Melbourne, Esson and his Pioneer Players were the independent theatre movement of their day. At a time when little confidence was placed in the validity of the Australian writer, when few new Australian plays were being staged and fewer published, it fell to Esson with his friends Stewart Mackay and Vance Palmer to champion new Australian writing - would that we had a few more Essons and Palmers with us today.

A lively farcical satire on the nature of modern politics, The Time is Not Yet Ripe pits the daughter of the conservative Prime Minister and her lover, the dilettante radical socialist, against each other in a battle for the hearts, minds and votes of Australia and the electorate of Wombat. Writing nearly a hundred years ago, Esson displays a remarkably prescient understanding of Sound Bite politics. Notably, he also takes the same relatively easy way out as many of our modern political satirists, condemning all politicians as equally as bad as each other. It’s not hard to understand why of course; as doing so leaves the audience feeling like the writer has made a serious political point without actually having had to make one.

Woolard’s direction of the piece is energetic and lively and as the cast clearly have a ball we do too. Kurt Geyer is impressively pompous as Sir Joseph Quiverton, Prime Minister, Ming Zhu-Hii as the ditzy Doris Quiverton betrays a natural intelligence and charm that is perhaps less the characters and more her own and Grant Cartwright as the socialist Sydney Barrett is an hilariously foppish maverick intellectual who manages to passionately stand for absolutely nothing. Particular mention must also be made of Georgina Capper as the delightfully pinched Miss Perkins, secretary of the anti socialist league. Rarely has such a sour faced character been played so sweetly.

The Time is Not Yet Ripe was rightfully given the Green Room Award for Best Ensemble production in the independent theatre category when Here Theatre first staged it in 2006. Given Esson himself grew to dislike the play, erring in his career towards heavier fare, Here theatre’s production might well give him pause to reconsider. At the very least, the revival of this classic Australian play, more relevant now than ever, should be a demonstration to all of us that there was theatre in Australia before the doll.

Danny Episode

Red Sky Morning

Red Sky Morning
Tom Holloway
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Until September 27

Having won a slew of awards with Beyond the Neck and Don’t Say the Words, Tom Holloway is fast emerging as one of our rising star playwrights. Good for him.

Red Sky Morning is not one of those award winning plays, or at least it shouldn’t be though it probably will due to the mindless follower nature of our awards bodies. Danny has a feeling, though he can’t check Google because his internet is down, that it already netted Holloway the RE Ross.

Not for lack of talent in the writing however, let’s not get caught up in semantics. Holloway is a very fine writer and this play too demonstrates it. His weaving together of the choppy and broken dialogue is skillfully handled, though it is seriously over used. The test of Red Sky Morning is less a symphony and more a cacophony but writers are sometimes wont to overuse a simple device and drive it into the ground.

More questionable is his repeated hammering of his black dog motif (I wont insult my readers by explaining the tired symbolism). In a play about depression and it’s potentially disastrous amplification in the typically communication paralyzed Australian country family, having each of the characters interact or hallucinate a large black dog just reeks of laziness of thought.

Indeed, typical is the best way to describe the portrayal of depression in each of the characters. Mum’s a physical affection starved alcho who can’t talk to her family, daughter’s troubled young lass who beat the tar out of her best friend at school because she can’t handle the emotional turmoil of her home life and Dad’s a taciturn country type who can’t talk to his family and ends up on his knees in his shed with a gun in his mouth. The shed’s a particularly nice touch of banality in these home and away suicides waiting to happen.

The performances from Red Stitch, as always, are faultless. David Whitely, Erin Dewar and Sarah Sutherland all handle the text like pros and bring a touching humanity to their performances. Whitely in particular approaches heartbreaking with his soft spoken and gentle father. Sam Strong’s direction is at its best in its stillness. Some of the movement is a little awkward but is compensated by the depths he and his actors find in their characters.

Unfortunately in this city of mindless barking sycophants Danny has little doubt that there will be moved silence and the odd bit of discrete weeping in the stalls of Red Stitch over the coming month. Everyone can indulge their empathetic and compassionate sides and have the depression lite experience for an evening. It’s only an hour long so it won’t even be too taxing. Particularly as the trigger never gets pulled so there’s no consequence. Holloway walks us breathlessly to the edge of the abyss and points down into it as if to say, it’s a long way down, and then backs us safely away again.

Red Sky Morning demonstrates no real understanding of depression and consequently offers the audience no insight beyond a surface description of the condition. We all know what it looks like, show us what it is.

Danny Episode

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Love Monkey

Love Monkey
John Paul Hussey
At the Northcote Town Hall
Until June 15

I don’t know if it’s important or not but I never saw either Chocolate Monkey or Spacemunki. It’s just how it is really, either you’ve got a show on or you’re recovering from too many shows, and you just can’t make it to see everything so you sometimes miss the big thing of the moment cause you can’t be arsed to go. You’ll catch the remount, you think, and then never do. Besides, not to put too fine a point on it, despite the publicity, Danny had not heard overwhelmingly spectacular things about either show.

Hence, with a due sense of foreboding, we sat front row at the Northcote Town Hall for the third in John Paul Hussey’s simian trilogy, Love Monkey. The twittering hip people behind us smugly demonstrating in a slightly too loud voice designed to be overheard that “Oh, JP will probably pick on me for some kind of audience participation” did nothing to improve my expectations.

I must say though that “with lowered expectations” is Danny’s favorite way to go into a show. Invariably these turn out to be the best experiences and Love Monkey was not the disproving exception. It’s been an unfantastic run of shows for the last couple of months, hence Danny’s reluctance to review, but the universe threw us a bone and Love Monkey was it.

Regardless of how you feel about monodrama you’ve got to give it up for a guy who can memorise an hour and a half’s text solo. Clever, though not overly clever, use of props and set sit Love Monkey just on the edge of that “Magical Theatre” experience that’s so popular at the moment because we can’t stand to look ourselves in the face and prefer to dance around with vacuum cleaners and the soundscape Hussey’s rant is set to is, in Danny’s opinion, one of Kelly Ryall’s best so far. One hesitates to call Hussey’s characters loveable because you get the feeling that JP isn’t the sort you want to meet in a darkened bar where you can’t see what he’s putting in your drink but there is an undeniably endearing quality to them which, when layered in with Ryall’s world of sound, some slightly less than inspiring digital projection and some cute observations about life makes for an entirely watchable show.

The sign of a great night in the theatre is so often not noticing every agonizing second slouch by and an hour and a half passes in Hussey and co’s company leaving you to bop out into the night whistling Supertramp (and thank god for Supertramp by the way).

The question Love Monkey leaves you with, of course, is which are you? Danny says Intense Dionysian Hobbit.

Danny Episode

Rio Saki and Other Falling Debris

Rio Saki and Other Falling Debris
By Shaun Charles
At The Carlton Courthouse
Until June 21

Where to start? Should I start with a positive? No? Well, let’s start with the writing then.

Firstly, Shaun Charles demonstrates a remarkably tin ear for dialogue some how managing to capture what people would say in a given situation and then torturing it into a rigid parody of actually human speech. Secondly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a narrative in which so little happens that is so heavily contrived. This characters girlfriend leaves him and goes and hooks up with that characters sister while that character ends up in a bar with the best friend of the first character, as interesting as a merry go round in Geelong.

By the way, incase the plays constant unvaried repetition of this single fact doesn’t clue you in; Rio Saki was known as the Artist of Love.

Directorially the play staggers along without too much intervention though the odd bit of slow mo walking at the back of the stage, occasional significance heavy blocking and an awful lot of unprompted and detached screaming

Detached is, in fact, an excellent word for the performance being given by the six actors involved. Not that they can be blamed. At some point in the rehearsal process ol’ Doc Episode himself would have mentally stepped out for a fag and never come back if he was acting in it. There’s just so little to hang your hat on emotionally. Which is contextually not surprising as the stakes are set impossibly high from the very beginning. It’s not giving anything away to tell you now that Rio Saki is set in a world fated to be destroyed by a meteor strike in four days. Consequently, as an audience member, it’s a little hard to care about the emotional ups and downs of these people on stage as we know that less than a week’s time will see them all ashes floating in space.

The design of the set is quite pretty in that post apocalyptic way but once you’ve taken that in you’re left with nothing to do but wait for the asteroid to hit and wipe us all out.

Danny Episode

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sammy J and the Forest of Dreams

Sammy J in The Forest of Dreams
At The Bosco
For Comedy Festival

If cute puppets that swear sometimes and take you on a bit of a magical journey that’s a little cynical at the same time, then Sammy J in The Forest of Dreams is for you. If you grew up force fed Disney movies till you wanted to choke on your own ink and paint puke, then you know you’re at home from the very first opening number.
Sammy J, Moosehead recipient and apparently a star of TV’s Spicks and Specks, teams up with award winning puppeteer Heath McIvor to present exactly what you expect from a cute musical comic and a collection of “each cuter than the last” puppets. Sammy J, in an attempt to escape an unpaid power bill, throws himself into a magical portal and ends up in the Forest of Dreams where he meets a succession of forest creatures, takes on the evil king, foments revolution and learns how to be less of a dick.
It’s fairly standard fair plot wise for a fantasy and that leaves us on comfortable ground to sit back and enjoy the puppety fun. The gags lag a little somewhere around the middle of the show which is more than likely due to the need to get on with the plot after a certain point. Of course the Bosco is hellishly hot on a sold out night, which it was and I suspect will continue to be, which probably doesn’t make it easy to keep up that sparkle white musical comedy smile around the thirty minute mark. Never the less, a little comedy paunch around the middle of the show is forgivable as the audience never gets actively bored and I’m probably a hell of a lot more critical than most of the audience who ooohed and awwwed their way right on through.
The songs are catchy, the puppetry excellent and if you don’t come away from the show at least humming Fuck You Disney then you weren’t damn well paying attention.
Of course, we never actually get to see Sammy J get home or to find out if the power company have turned his lights back on, but then I guess that leaves us room for a sequel. It’s a show that certainly deserves one.

Danny Episode

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Phil Motherwell
At La Mama
Until March 23

Nightshift is one of the seminal theatre companies you read about in second year Australian Theatre History, arguably born out of the Pram, at least partially funded by according to Tim Robertson’s book, arguably born directly out of Lindzee Smith and Phil Motherwell.

Like a monster of seventies stadium rock Nightshift reunite at La Mama for a come back gig in memoriam of their fallen leader a year after his passing. With such a sweeping sense of local history attached who could resist seeing the return. After all, in thirty years time, this is what the Melbourne Independents are gonna look like.

And the view isn’t pretty. I mean, these guys were never the beautiful people, but there was a fire of passion in the heart and a spark of youth in the eye back then that look to have both long since been extinguished.

Well, you can’t stay young forever.

Danny held off on reviewing Nightshift to the end out of respect for the gone dentist and his sense of past glory. Plus, also, he’s a slack bastard as I’m sure you the benighted reader are no doubt aware. But now we’re only a couple of days from their close, Danny’s gonna say what he thinks.

I’ll start with the positive stuff. Motherwells writing is extraordinary. Where oh where are the writers that can pull of such blatant down and out aussie battler-ish-ness without seeming self conscious. No where, that’s where. Only someone of Motherwell’s ilk can do it without seeming like a tool. Not only do Motherwells words sing and clash and riff and roll the way only the poetry of the loser can, they have that undeniable ring of authenticity Motherwell earned through really living that life.

But the highest compliment I can pay Motherwells writing is that it manages somehow to still be heard through the appalling acting, the half hearted direction and the general evidence of under rehearsal.

Actors stumble on lines, not once or twice but constantly, songs by Joe Dolce are tunelessly droned, and only one performer is at all watchable (with sonorous voice and giant stage presence from such a tiny body). It’s awful. It’s practically unwatchable. It’s ultimately a tragedy because Motherwells writing deserves so so much more than Motherwell’s directing can deliver.

Danny Episode

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Platonov at The Hayloft

Checkov Recut: Platonov
Antonin Chekhov
The Hayloft Project
Until 16th March

It is sometimes painfully evident that fashion in Melbourne theatre is predictably cyclical. Every few years a new coterie of artists emerges with their re-invented wheels and we all do the “Independent theatre’s been reinvigorated” two step.
And along comes the Hayloft Project reinterpreting the classics.
Simon Stone became the name to know with his purportedly brilliant adaption of Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. He returns to us this year with an adaption of Platonov in a brand spankin’ rundown ex industrial venue out in Footscray.
The venue is grungy and hip, in sight of shipping containers, and makes clever use of converted packing crates and school desks in the foyer. It would all be so exciting if it didn’t have the faintest whiff of been there done that about it. Cautionary words then for Simon Stone should be Wax and Storeroom.
To the production itself - I have to say that even though we’ve suffered a slew of well meaning issues plays over the last three or four years, I still don’t find the trials of bored middle class yobs particularly interesting. Certainly it’s an exploration of the darker side of desire and intellect, but in all honesty, shallow and mean people are shallow and mean people whether they’re brilliantly observed by Chekhov or luridly paraded by E News.
And perhaps it’s just me but isn’t there something a little self aggrandizing about the artistic director of the company, directing the play and casting himself in the main role? Particularly as it’s a role in which he gets to bluster about, be cleverly mean to everyone and snog all the pretty girls. Plus, watching Stone in the star role I just can’t help but think of James Adler’s fatal attraction to Hamlet.
But beyond issues of ego, Stone doesn’t quite pull it off as he’s consistently outclassed by he fellow cast members, though it’s hardly surprising when he’s surrounded by some of the most talented young actors in town, including Jessamy Dyer, Angus Grant and Meredith Penman.
Stone’s best bet would be to concentrate on his skill for adaption and interpretation. It’s not often I hate something enough in the first act to compare it to Don’s Party and then be defending it as genius by the second. But, while we were outside having a cigarette and deciding we should probably stick around (after all we’d come all this way) inside Stone had turned the play inside out with some very clever choices. Suddenly everything I’d thought was a tediously bad decision in the first act became an ironic stroke of genius in the second, forcing us to reflect on the nature of the middle class in Australia, and the range of pitch black emotion that it’s possible for actors to find in desperately uninteresting characters.
A play, and I suspect a company, not for the impatient nor for the general “I don’t usually get theatre” public, but a play definitely worth seeing if you think you know your shit. Ultimately, the word that keeps coming back to me to describe The Hayloft’s Platonov is “Clever”.

Danny Episode

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Bones Love Gringo

The Bones Love Gringo
Lady Muck
Already over, if you didn’t see it, you missed out buddy…

I doubt this review will do the guys at Lady Muck much good seeing as how their season’s already well and truly over, but maybe, just maybe, if they’re looking for quotes to put on their next press release, they can come to good old Danny and put up a television is furniture word or two. After all, to the best of director Sarah McCusker’s knowledge, no single other review dragged themselves out of the arts center to see the show and that’s a real shame.

The political imperative behind a David Hicks in Guantanamo play now that he’s out and home and being harassed by Today Tonight is questionable. Given the premise of the piece, two hapless aussies (and I use the term advisedly) blunder about Cuba ostensibly trying to rescue Hicks from captivity seems just that little bit empty when he’s just not there anymore. For the first third, as we’re introduced the comically mismatched characters, the buffoonish Australians, the suave and sexy Cubans, I debated whether there was any point at all in staging this work now and not four years ago when the subject matter was at least topical. However, the longer I watched and let my natural critical instincts relax, the more I reluctantly began to like the characters and care about the story, the more the pathetic ones desperate fantasy of a Cuban life and family seemed so much more vital, the more the stupid ones fantasy of heros and villains seemed more tragic. About half way through it dawned on me with the breaking light that shines only on the very stupid, that this was not a play about David Hicks at all – this was a very clever farce on the Western world’s idealization of the other, as represented by Cuba, communism and the salsa. All the things we think we are not, we think they are. We can’t dance but we think they can dance, we can’t kiss but we think they can kiss, we don’t know how to live but we think they know how to live. What we’re missing is of course that there is no us an them. We’re all just us, we have similar problems and desires affected by our situation. We have our fantasies about them as equally they have their fantasies about us, rich Americans with their furniture stores in Ohio of where ever it was, and that both our fantasies are born of the desire to escape – neatly bringing us back to Hicks.

I longed for the hero to break into Gitmo and discover an empty cell and I sort of got my wish. I wont say more incase it gets remounted, it damn well deserves a remount.

Tom Maclachlan, the writer, worryingly notes that the idea for the play came to him while being interrogated by Cuban lieutenant in Guantanamo bay. The thought of pie eyed Australians brimming full of their right on political outrage who swarming the shores of cuba and demanding to see David makes my skin crawl. Political naiveté at it’s best really, but then I fear I’m one of those folks who thinks political demonstration should be well orchestrated and on a massive and thought out scale to affect any real change. We’ve been conditioned as a society to see anything else as little better than university student posturing (largely cause in the end that’s what a lot of it turns out to be.)

But I digress. Maclachlan has an eye for the ironic and a promising command of the dramatic and these are infinitely more important tools to the playwright than his ideology. However, McCusker’s direction was the must see element of the piece. Practically no set or props or anything fancy, just the beautiful brickwork of the stunning fortyfivedownstairs downstairs theatre, lit amazingly and using every inch of the playing space. It really was a great piece of work, tucked away in the fringe, and it deserved a hell of a lot more reviewers than good ol danny.

Danny Episode