Lucy Miller (the artist) as Galactia (the artist) photo katy Green Loughrey

Lucy Miller (the artist) as Galactia (the artist) photo Katy Green Loughrey

For those unfamiliar with Howard Barker’s work, it’s an unusual blend of narrative and image theatre into a stricture of social commentary and investigation. It’s not simply plotline-with-tidy-resolution to keep us in attendance until home-time. That is not the nature of his work. There is a story, and stakes are raised, and characters are tested – to be sure, but any ensemble presenting will be met with the severest of inclined text, each level providing steep challenges; layering complexity of language, subtlety in characterisation, clarity of metaphor, boldness of costume and design, fluidity of composition, philosophical reach, truth-seeking, wickedness in humour… The kinds of things one expects from a powerful night at the theatre.

On a technical level – these are the multiple competing texts found in theatre which make the form so compelling for artist and audience alike. A three-dimensional canvas of word, sound, voice, music, gesture and image to shift beneath such tectonic elements as plot, setting or character. The story is a cracker, but the challenge of the artistry is found in the underlying tensions in form, the convex mirrors enable its imagery to take on a kind of megalithic cultural significance. Objects may seem larger than they appear. A great play such as this is not merely a set of events, or a set of characters, or even a set of ideas; it is a blueprint for a visual and aural and verbal assault on the mind and soul of its audience.

To say “this is a good play” or “it is well done” is not enough. To say “I could have been better” is just shallow (disclaimer: one should announce when one auditioned for the play at hand, but was refused! Alas). Let us be clear – quibbling about issues of performance style, vocal technique or lighting design will be on the agenda for some, but amount to a selfish vindication of the critic’s role. We will not flatter the artist with a false praise either, but admire their ambition. There are difficulties in a play as complex as this. They can be overcome. The ensemble, on the night I saw the play, are still rising to the challenges of the language. It is a muscular script and demands slavish attention to enunciation, tone, rhythm, and detail. Nothing less will suffice or it will beat you down like a Greco-Roman wrestler with a grudge. Certain scenes are spectacular in delivery, others are still finding their depth and lustre but I have no doubt this will happen – such is the commitment of the cast. Let us not dwell but instead focus on a far more resonant concept – that of value.

“Value” is not an idea to throw around lightly in the arts – despite publicist’s best intentions it is not a well-priced ticket or the discounted laksa-and-a-show (for which the Old Fitzroy is famous) – we must abandon such pettiness (however delicious and affordable) when we speak of such things. Value for audiences is found simply because the art is there. We may value some art higher than others, we may see a particular work as representing a set-of-values and thus pass a moral or aesthetic judgement on it. Lord knows there’s plenty of that going on. But these amount to “I am a better artist” or “he does not occupy a prominent enough position” (and so on) precisely the point that Barker is attending; to engage with art one must seek value outside the frame as well. It is there, it is poetic, therefore it has value.

To extrapolate: the painting at the centre of the drama, one single frame, contains multitudes of values for its audience. It has value as a thing of beauty, demonstrating mastery of technique, and years of training one must undertake in the discipline. It has value as an historical document, capturing the moments of the battle it depicts, the pain and suffering of war. And it has value as a unique object, an individual expression of the artist, unlike any other.

That it is also imperfect does not matter. That it does not satisfy all the requirements for its entire audience does not reduce its value. If anything, the opposite, it inspires discussion, philosophy, it makes us weep or tingle as it dials into new paradigms. Imperfection is in fact art’s defining grace.

The controversy surrounding the events of the play are apparent when these values compete for prominence. Each character places a different weight on different aspects of the work, to the point where the artist is literally sidelined and we are left with a kind of clinical dissection of meaning, of the art-as-social-construct. Such as it is with an audience of fifty, at an opening night, with fifty sets of competing evaluations reflecting fifty people’s reaction to a particularly complex set of ideas and representations thereof. Look Further. In the face of a political evisceration of public funds for Creative Industry (see last Tuesday’s Federal Budget) – where is the independent, self-funded theatre sector on the scale of things-we-think-are-important?

Do we value something more or less when we know it is run by volunteers or those who are paid to be there?

Art is in fact so influential that political power will perpetually attempt to control and dominate its will. Yesterday’s Doge of Venice is today’s Board of Directors or Australia Council, slaving for their corporate sponsor masters, ensuring ______ is prominent enough in the frame, that ______’s friend gets a particular role. This is nothing new, the corrupt influence of the powerful over the artist has peppered history, even shaped it. Let us be adult about it. Even critics become notable because they are favoured by certain companies, reputations gather reputations and we celebrate fame while our most revolutionary talents die starving, unknown, ignored.

Through the annals of time we have become so obsessed with the notion of artist-as-philosopher-shaman we have forgone much of the value of the art. We are less concerned with the art than we are the personality behind it and as such the Value of art has suffered. Witness shrinking coverage in mainstream press. Witness increasing “profile” type coverage consistently replacing in depth discussion of context. Audiences will turn up to see a play purely on the basis that ______ is in it, and this is a perfectly acceptable corporate strategy to engage a significant box-office return.


Witness the Australia Day fiasco at the QTC just a few months back.

This is not Moliere vs The Catholic Church in 1664.
This is not Diego Rivera vs the City of New York in 1933.
This is Australia 2014.

And art is still being consistently devalued to the point of simplicity, a transactional tool for profit. An apolitical distraction for the masses. But as the play aptly demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth.

If you have any doubt about this please engage with the discussion below. But first, go and see this play. It’s a brutal, sexy, and confrontational mud-wrestle between art and language, with some of the most visceral and funny dialogue on offer. It’s not perfect, but who cares, it’s a rare chance to see and hear one of the great moderns in flight from one hell of a cast and as a great man once said: “the supreme vice is shallowness. Everything realised is right.”

presented by Tooth And Sinew and SITCO
directed by Richard Hilliar, featuring Lynden Jones, Mark Lee, Peter Maple, Brendan Miles, Lucy Miller, Katherine Shearer, Jeremy Waters and Nicole Wineberg. Playing until May 31st at The Old Fitzroy Hotel

The 1999 film Cradle Will Rock directed by Tim Robbins explores the history of art and political censorship, including a fictional account of the Musical of the Same Name and the aforementioned Diego Rivera scandal in the City of New York.

See also PEN International http://pen.org.au/ an organisation dedicated to freedom of expression and which lobbies for the release of imprisoned writers and artists worldwide.


16/05/2014 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment


Belvoir St Theatre, April 2014

It’s possibly the best kept secret in showbusiness that directing a play is 1) the easiest job in the world and 2) essentially an act of fraud. Just turn up and give them a script, preferably one that’s pretty good, and if the actors are worth their salt you’ll walk away looking like some kind of Sorcerer of Magick. Never mind set and costume and whatnot the real work is in the wrangling of the bag of cats that passes for what’s known in the industry as “talent”. Actors are notoriously shallow, fickle and hopelessly insecure. I should know. I’ve spent twenty years trying not to become one. There’s a special kind of egomaniacal joy in the moments backstage, or in rehearsal, a sense of self-importance and swagger that can only come from something so utterly meaningless as Art.

Difficult to explain, but I’ve seen actors threaten to refuse the stage without their jacket. I once shouted at a technician for not playing the correct warm-up music in the ten minutes just before the house went live (and that was just in the past month). Because although there are literally thousands of us walking the streets of any given city the show is quite impossible without us and as we know all too well, to paraphrase Mr Coward: it simply must go on. And this show does, for a quickfire 80 minutes or so of a play about a play within a play that may or may not have played out but for the concerted efforts of the cast who in rehearsal for two plays play out a joyful body of work. So altogether there’s three plays in one. I think. Possibly four. It’s complicated.

As the beleaguered Bob Menzies (he’s *very good* in this show) explains in the opening salvo of the production this may not be the play you turned up expecting to see. The Parry Estate refused permission to perform the originally scheduled production as advertised The Phildelphia Story – but fear not, because the minds at Belvoir have crafted a forensic theatre verité depicting the goings on behind the scenes, a real insight into the delicate art of programming and rehearsal, the intricate process behind the magic of show. The careful development, the incremental choices which build throughout to become a work-of-art, all is laid bare. The actors are playing themselves (they’re all *very good* even if not much “acting” is required) – and while Writer/Director Simon Stone does not (lamentfully) feature as himself, it is clear he is taking great risk in exposing his much-lauded process of adaptation to the microscope. And for this I salute him.

It’s all so very, very true to life. A fascinating study for any student theatremaker or person-on-the-street to enjoy, a veritable verbatim open-house and we thoroughly recommend you go and see it for yourself.

The Government Inspector by Simon Stone and Emily Barclay after Nikolai Gogol Instead of The Philadephia Story by Philip Barry after His Wife (Not The Episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which goes by the same name), devised with the cast. Directed by Simon Stone (if that is his real name), featuring Fayssal Bazzi, Mitchell Butel, Gareth Davies, Robert Menzies, Zahra Newman, Eryn Jean Norvill and Greg Stone, featuring music by Stefan Gregory.

rating: *Very Good*
*warning* contains occasional use of gold flutter.

11/04/2014 at 12:41 pm 1 comment


Three microphones, three male voices, a tale of a time gone yet just within grasp of living memory, and by making this reach we might peer further back into the years before, centuries perhaps, of Hamlets, MacBeths, Bottoms, Falstaves and Cassieia. This kind of theatrical telescope into the past can reveal all manner of insight into the word as spoken – alive again in the prism of Gielgud’s particular vocal method.

The text is by arrangement of Bob Ellis, weaving the anecdotal with the classical, the casual aside with the musical, and the historical with the modern. It is easy to cast yourself adrift in the sea of pentameter in this whistlestop steamboat cruise, a sampling plate of Elizabethan delights.Yet just as this rhythm starts to wash across there will be a change in tone or shift in tempo, or a phrase out-of-time to crash you back into the experience anew. The passing comment comparing Henry VIII’s brutal treatment of adulterers with the Taliban springs to mind – such is Ellis’s turn of phrase he perhaps matches the mentor for imagery, without letting his careful segues take the limelight from through some of the Bard’s most memorable characters and the scenes which some lucky actors might carve their likeness into the sandy shores betwixt the tides of time.

For as we well know theatre is such an elusive game, and only the rarest of us have ever caught Sir Gielgud in full recital mode (I am not one such creature) – but this might be as close as you can get, three voices in carefully trained mimicry of his style, each finding their own truth or bouncing off the other. It is a stark contrast with the Shakespeare of today and such an important historic counterpoint that is a must-hear for any student of the craft to fully comprehend the significance of the shift toward the conversational tones that are du jour. There is a cultural memory here -or perhaps one from watching BBC dramas in discontented wintry schoolrooms – but the marked and pointed vocality of Sir Gielgud is a kind of lightning rod for today’s casual emphasis toward the everyday. It’s highlighted with some archival footage of one such black and white film – a monologue of the lean and hungry Cassius, imbued with such epic intensity, barely a facial twitch with cross the screen, it is all in his eyes, and that voice – one cannot help but submit to be slain by the voice.

Gielgud cuts a fragile enough figure onscreen and is thus difficult to picture in the kind of commanding presences we have come to expect of today’s romantic casting we will often see in leading roles. There exists no footage of his stagecraft (not even for ready money) so one must imagine, and with a little help from the talents of Messrs Clarke, Burke and Ellis, now one can. The staging is of such simplicity our imaginations are forced into the kind of overdrive Shakespeare’s language will dictate. No flourishing sets or modernist imprimatur – Ellis remarked in a post-show conversation this is a “counter-revolution” against the kind of auteur Shakespeare we have come to know of late. And we enjoy as much, but to fully comprehend what we have won with such expressionistic leaps and bounds one must also take account of what we have lost. Which is, sadly, Gielgud’s particular emphatic approach to each and every word, then in sequence to the grander epic emotional reality of the world he would inhabit. To have glimpsed it is a revelation in itself.

Part rehearsed-read, part archaeological archive; “Anthology Theatre” is the term being used for this approach to a nostalgic review of a theatre icon – in homage to his muse William Shakespeare and fascinating vignette into the style with which Sir John Gielgud approached his immortal words, and such, his life. For the serious theatre historian, student or casual listener it is a vital piece of the tenuous lineage now some several thousand years in the make, for the art of live performance is one best handed on face-to-face. It is the second such arrangement of these scenes and fragments of note, the first in 2013 being The Word Before Shakespeare down at The Bondi Pavillion some windy Tuesday eve. My understanding is there are several more in process, all similarly themed or named from hitherto unheard of Ludlum Trilogies; The Olivier Expansion, The Shaw Revolution, The Beckett Tautology, The Milligan Conundrum, The Scott Morrison Dancing Bear Show
And So On…

The performances are intermittent so keep an ear out. The next reading for Gielgud is this Sunday April 13th at the Hughes Gallery Sydney. Further details here. Featuring Simon Burke, Terry Clarke and Bob Ellis. Recommended.

07/04/2014 at 3:50 pm Leave a comment


presented at the Old Fitzroy hotel March 2014

A fine ensemble cast assemble for this modern naturalistic take on women’s issues (Feminism? Femininity? Gender?) The script offers sizeable chunks of dialogue for the women to sink their teeth into and seems to tread a tight rope between a stark naturalistic representation of its characters and a kind of deep parody. Which makes for some exciting conflict but also a tricky, problematic set of questions for interpretation.

The humour can be disconcerting are we laughing at them or with them? Are we laughing at ourselves? Are we laughing at women or is there a broader spectrum of values being mocked. These are of course more than just a set of female characters, they are journalists, artists, lawyers, sisters, partners, lovers, strangers and friends. They are ambitious, they are kind, they are cruel, they are confident, they are insecure, they are just a little bit self-centred with just a touch of casual racism and a hint of homophobia – they are a myriad of interlocking facets; all of which speaks volumes about the complexity of the performances on offer.

This is an elusive quality to pinpoint so instead best ride through the waves of scene by scene as the culture of career surrounding these women their ambitions and challenges they face in vignette glimpses as their successes and fears ebb and flow like the changing tide of fortune.

You can’t help feel the inherent mockery of middle class privilege underlying the message. Is this a play supporting women or does its frame a more difficult question surrounding the aspirational values they embrace? The dialogue edges on issues such as class, cultural privilege marriage equality, terrorism, violence against women and racism – dipping its toe from time to time into difficult waters “Do you have a problem with globalisation?”

It never really dives into a full cultural critique of political structures. Instead the focus is on the personal and the interior lives of the women which populate this world their ambitions and their foibles. And boy do they have foibles. Much of the conflict comes from these women’s capacity to lie to each other or to themselves. This makes it difficult to be sympathetic when mistakes are so, so middle-class. But there is a certain amount of intrigue as to where this will end up and (spoilers aside) the charisma of the performances carries more than you’ll want from a night at the theatre.

Questions of feminist representation, sisterhood and patriarchy are raised (the play is writ by a man, Jonathon Gavin and directed by another Mackenzie Steele), and should provoke some interesting post-show discussions without necessarily forcing the issue. Jodi McAlister touches on these in her critique here, and these questions are worth asking, although I certainly don’t know the answers. But you need to see it for yourself before wrestling with this too much. And I suggest you do.

This is an actor driven piece borne out of another all-female cast production: Top Girls at the New Theatre. Three of the cast members were a part of that production – it’s clear that part of the motivations for doing this play is to showcase the talents of the cast, with seven strong female roles to explore. The direction and design is unobtrusive and do the actors work justice; who in turn serve the script as well.

This is straight-up naturalism done well, so if you like your theatre engaging and driven by intelligent dialogue with strong characters and a social awareness this is for you. It’s replete with Sydney references and in-jokes, very local, very nouveau-modern, turn of the millennia chic with fine production values and excellent casting.

A Moment On The Lips playing at the Old Fitzroy Hotel until April 12th, 2014.

Presented by Mad March Hare Theatre Company with Sydney Independent Theatre Company, featuring Beth Aubrey, Sarah Aubrey, Lucy Goleby, Sabryna Te’o, Ainslie McGlynn, Claudia Barrie and Sonya Kerr. Written by Jonathon Gain, directed by Mackenzie Steele.

31/03/2014 at 3:17 pm 3 comments



presented by subtlenuance at the TAP Gallery, March 2014


” ‘Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange! “

Lord Byron, Don Juan



pictured: Peter McAllum (photo courtesy Zorica Purlija)

It’s not a new tradition, by any means, but certainly a trend in the local independent theatre sector; the re-emergence of the monologue as dramatic form, and particularly the re-telling of the personal. Recent months in Sydney have found theatres small medium and large hosting a variety of curated (collated? collected?) works of the simple yet eminently complex and yes, strange tales told by actors, alone or with chorus; true stories from their lives.

One isn’t privileged enough to travel interstate or overseas to know if this trend is global yet – it feels very Sydney, very Right Now – to reach and look into the personal journeys of the people who make this city what it is. A year ago with The Political Hearts of Children this phenomena was observed, but since then we’ve also seen Performance 4A’s Stories Then And Now (using the “William Yang method”) – featuring incredible family histories and conflicts leading into more personal and moving journeys as the actor relates the tale of their happening to be here, in Australia, at this time.  These are vital histories for the city’s coming of age; a step toward a true embrace of our diverse roots, and storytelling is so bound up in this land that the intimate circle of the small theatre has begun to gel into a ritual engagement of sharing. 

It’s something that will grow and evolve as teams of writers and actors and storytellers and theatricians collaborate with each project. But the broad strokes are forming.  A writer is teamed with an actor or director to find a set of truths to convey, or question, or ignore, however they might. Sometimes it’s within a broad theme and curated for context (like Augusta Supple’s productions of recent years Singled Out or A View From Moving Windows) – slices of modern life, cut into individual short tales of fantasy or memory.

The trick with these monologues is that it doesn’t matter which parts are true. Which parts are impossible.

The trick is that it’s not even a trick. Know your audience, and the monologue is a communion.

We are there with these actors, we are there with the impossible, the fantastic, the remote.

The German theatre historian and theorist Max Hermann noted: “The most important aspect of the theatre art is the performance” (Research on the History of German Theatre in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance,1914). Distinguishing from the notion of the “classic” academic theatre text as literature –  and identifying the ritualistic elements of the performance proper as a text unto itself. This duality of text / story vs text / performance is key to the emergence of this personalised framing of theatre art.

Simply put it is the confluence of actor and audience in the ritual space which makes these works so powerful.  Add that we can reach into the personal journeys of seven (using the Gilchrist method) tales at once creates a tapestry of the personal, spiritual, philosophical and emotive memories that make us who we are.

The stories are unique to the actors, translated back by seven different writers with care and diligence and craft, and then translated once again to the performance realm.  And as audience we are taken with them into the most uncharted and dangerous and moving territories, into the realm of the impossible, the irrational, beyond death, into questions of free will and fatalism. 

Hard to believe some critics did not find this “confronting enough” – but in a world so desensitised to possibility, so attuned to cynicism, I supposed some people just want their art to be less subtle, more “Piss Christ“.  Not this time. Gilchrist has weaved a truth of wonder and confusion, not a beacon but a kind of blanket, that maybe on the cold nights of winter we might find comfort we are not alone.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Mark Twain

HIGH WINDOWS LOW DOORWAYS presented by subtlenuance

Written by Ellana Costa, Noelle Janaczewska, Jonathan Ari Lander, Mark Langham, Katie Pollock, Alison Rooke and Melita Rowston. Performed by Kit Bennett, Matt Butcher, Alice Keohavong, Naomi Livingstone, Peter McAllum, Gavin Roach and Helen Tonkin. Directed by Paul Gilchrist, until March 30 at the TAP Gallery.

24/03/2014 at 1:54 pm 1 comment


A PRIORI – “What Comes Before”

As the founder of a startup theatre company I thought it would be worthwhile to pledge some Principles of Operation with respect to casting, cultural policy and programming choices. This is a draft version so any contributions or helpful pointers or general discussion is most welcome.

Open Casting
We aspire to allow all actors the opportunity to work with us, regardless of cultural background, gender or disadvantage. We wish to celebrate difference and diversity and as such, there are no barriers for an actor or collaborator who can bring their full devotion to a role.

Casting will occur in two phases. Firstly an open one-on-one discussion about the project, the schedule and concept behind the production. The actor and director will be able to contribute with the producer and ask questions in a equal footing before deciding if they wish to take the time to audition. The second phase – if an audition is feasible – will consist of a prepared scene and small workshop as per standard casting procedure.

Protocols of Cultural Respect
When dealing with stories from different cultures to our own we will always consult with people linked to that culture to ensure the appropriate respect is due (and paid).

New Work
Finding and developing New Work will be a defining principle of our programming choices, to complement the production of pre-written texts.

We will always seek to produce work that is relatively simple in presentation and format, avoiding complicated stagecraft the emphasis will always be on actors-in-a-room, highlighting the skills and performance elements over large-scale technological components (deus-ex-machina and so forth)

Actor-Text relationship
As an actor driven company we will prioritise the relationship between the performer and text in all major decision-making.
Audience comes Second.
Directors come Third (sorry).

All collaborators will have a share in the production and as such budgets and expenditures will be undertaken via a transparent accounting policy for all stakeholders.

Challenging ourselves
We will always aspire to choose and program work which is the Hard Option, to push our comfort zones and boundaries beyond what we already know.

what do you think?

27/01/2014 at 2:48 pm Leave a comment


Challenge as set on twitter during random discussion around “classic” plays – a two day turnaround to create an essential must-read catalogue for a theatre canon. A concept at odds with itself given the archaic notion of “canonical” in 21C and my own fractious relationship with the idea of “theatre text” in general – the tension between subjective and objective is palpable even before we have begun. My own list will be different to yours (ooh, subjectivity) whereas the very concept of “classic” implies an objective, historical consensus. An absurdity given the highly localised nature of theatre and sense of community resonance certain plays will have in certain regions but not in others.

Moreover, concepts of authorship and “text” have their own contentious place in the modern classic ouvre. it’s a topsy-turvy argument, with the popular citation that the “Author is Dead” (blithely followed with a pretentious reference to the author of that phrase). But let’s not go there right now. This exercise is more about must-reads for appropriate knowledge of theatre convention and history. Classics are defined by their influence.
And so, we begin at the beginning:

Constant re-interpretation of a tale that was a classic before it was ever writ down and thus taking the estimation of “Literature” before Literature existed as a concept. The complex dramatic ironies set around the epic Trojan War foreshadowed all Athenian dramatic convention and Achilles’s ‘lost-boy’ rage became the template for tragic heroism. It also opens up notions of authorship story would evolve and adapt for different audiences over generations in spoken word form regaled in tavernas before it existed as Homer’s ‘text’.

A rare Satyr play with a direct link to Homer’s Odyssey. Hardly ever done but vastly influential on the likes of Aristophanes.

The mother of all romantic comedies. Ted Hughes’ translation is to die for. So to speak.

Our personal favourite of the Greeks and something less of a tragedy than ancestor to the horror genre. Euripides’ vicious breakdown of the God vs State power struggle is currently undergoing the Sancez treatment for modernisation; with a tale involving a *religious foreigner*, some *psychic powers* and an outbreak of *hypersexual women* in the context of a *strictly conservative and repressed leader* [GASP].

As epic trilogies go this one spawned more imitators than Star Wars and Lord of The Rings combined. Everyone from Seneca to Sartre has had a crack at translating/retelling/adapting/updating this post-war tale of the fall of the house of Atreus. It’s like a thing.

If ever a play demonstrated the function of art as social critique and conscience this is it.

But which version?

Love it or hate it this is a very clever play subverting (or reinforcing?) the traditional role of women in Athenian politics. The quintessential farce.

“Shall I begin with the usual jokes at which the audience never fail to laugh?” Aristophanes demonstrating a capacity for meta-theatre and post-modernity before even hipsters thought it was cool.

Again Aristophanes with an expressionistic vision of conceptual metaphor as social critique. Way ahead of it’s time. Or maybe Everyone Else is just way behind.

Not every Shakespeare is a classic. Some are a kind of terrible crowd-pleasing fap [Romeo & Juliet, anyone?] But Lear is in my top ten plays of all-time.

In conversation at the Opera House a couple of years back Tom Stoppard was asked to reduce this play to a single word. He chose the word “if”. Well it would save a lot of time, anyway…

This simultaneously bold, visceral, absurd and hilarious literary lark is everything a play should be, and nothing a play can ever really capture since.

Probably one of the Bard’s more visionary and exciting plays with resonances well into today’s politic. In a word? Boats.

A play so dark we dare not speak its name. For the uninitiated:
Breaking Bad with witches and iambic pentameter. Say No More.

Anything that can be turned into a Rolling Stones song has my vote. Again, a defining characteristic of the classic is the universality of its retelling.

The first play ever to be put on in New York and the first play ever to be put on in Sydney (and subsequently spawning OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD).
Irrespective of quality, a classic.

“Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.” And there you have it.

Points purely for getting banned by the wealthy French factions but Moliere’s devastating critique of hypocrisy and religion demonstrates just how dangerous comedy can be.

A pleasure to read – and to watch – was privileged enough to see Bille Brown in the title role at Belvoir St in Kantor’s prodction. Alfred Jarry opened the door towards dada, surrealism and the most influential 20th Century movement: Absurdism. Fearless and joyful.

Hedda might be better but A Doll’s House broke the necessary ground by becoming the most influential text of the modern era. It speaks volumes that writers still ape his technique, and the Realist form is now the most conservative type of theatre writing you will find – practically the rule for ‘safe’ dramatic form. But only exceptional writers have been able to match Ibsen for his ‘drama of ideas’ fusing socio-political critique into painstakingly constructed dialogue and radical representation of action. A better model for circumspect use of stage direction is lacking… “That slammed door reverberated across the roof of the world.”

Strindberg was at his best when he wasn’t jealously trying to mimic Ibsen and this (pretty much indecipherable text)

If I haven’t had at least one riot following my play I will consider my career a failure.

A play that must be performed perpetually. Not by the same actors or directors, a revolving troupe. Right? This is the kind reform our industry needs. Am I getting through?

More proof that farce and comedy rule the pre-modernist epoch. It feels dated no but the critiques remain relevant, even if the form is not.

Nothing against Shaw but he’s largely derivative of better writers. However this play has so many imitators and revisions it’s made the list.

The play, the film, the musical, the dance moves, the iconic jazz-handed red-and-black spectacular- the original was writ as a class assignment for Yale Drama School by journalist Maureen Dallas Watkins based on the true story of two allegedly murderous ‘jazz-babies’. Goes to show: take that drama school shit seriously.

TS Eliot’s gorgeous modernist poetic script on Becket and his struggles against authoritarian rule is too rarely done and I cannot imagine why.

Probably the first great European modernist work, subverting form, genre and content in a radical way that quickly took hold. Read all of Brecht but read this one more.

Powerful, inspirational stuff.

Another ‘based on a true story’ this play is a master class in playwrighting as the execution of conceptual metaphor. This is not nor ever was the story of the murderous French maids that scandalised the Paris aristocracy but a ritual dance teased out from the very idea that the working class might dare such a thing. Genet knew any attempt to act on class rage with violence or murder can only end terribly, and so depicted a cycle within a ritual within a wheel, wrapped in fur and flowers.

One’s ability to say a single word to convey reams of meaning defines the classic. In this instance, a masterpiece of American postwar ennui.

Ditto. Yeah but still kind of depressing.

One of the first plays I ever read, and re-read, and read again. Probably why I’m a writer.

I want to arrange a production of this in real time. Over six hours before dawn, with monstrous pauses and real booze. Should be good.

“Your monocle is in the wrong eye”

Take note. This is how you write an adaptation. Sideways. Anything less is derivative claptrap.

A delightfully cheeky comedy about price gouging. On an unrelated matter it is never put on at major theatre companies in Oz.

More wilful political farce from the Italian Nobel Prize-Winner. It’s scandalous his work is not done more often in Sydney.

The only Australian writer to be included on the list but this rare, adventurous play says much about our development as a nation, culture, our insecurity about finding our voice and our struggle with reconciling the past.

I’m biased. Because I’m currently touring this and our next performance is in just a month at 505. But it really is a brilliant modern classic and Berkoff is unmatched by any writer of the day. Come and see for yourself. The text is like climbing a small mountain – but the view is exhilarating.

See my response the recent production at the New Theatre

You thought I’d forgot about it? Never. If imitators and adaptations by numbers define a classic, this one defines itself. You cannot mess with the best. And Beckett is a once in ten generational genius. Untouchable.

These are not my *favourite plays* (some are) but the ones you have to have read a few times to stnd a chance at writing anything vaguely original. Hopefully that helps. Read them all immediately.

Honourable mentions go to a bunch of writers for whom I had not the time to narrow down and exhume the quality of their work; Jack Davis, Sarah Kane Harold Pinter, Buchner, Eugene Ionesco, Yasmina Reza, Corneille, Lope de Vega, Calderón, not to mention some fabulous modern writers of the last twenty years. But the exercise was to turn it around in just two days. Also it would be disingenuous to claim a play less than twenty years old as a “classic” when by definition I am looking beyond populism and especially for revolutionary or stylistically ground-breaking works. There is also a lack of women and a deliberate overlooking of classic Eastern texts, Kabuki and traditional Hindu theatre are two areas I have only passing knowledge so would baffle to guess which are the most radical or influential texts from those regions.

As I stated at the outset: notions of canonical lists are abstract and weighted towards systemic power structures. Men have the lion’s share because for thousands of years men were given positions of influence within the theatrical community. So they were influential. You will notice a similar trend upon viewing the upcoming work by POST interrogating canonical works (Oedipus Schmoedipus; playing at Belvoir in January) I had almost this exact discussion with the two women devising that piece when I interned with them last year…

So we (those of us with appreciation of post-modern etiquette) abandon adherence to the canon as less than useful as a guide but more as an historical facet of the craft. For if we cling too tightly to the past we will never find the future. Imitation is flattery – but innovation is battery. That is all.

03/11/2013 at 8:34 pm Leave a comment

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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