Posts tagged ‘New Theatre’

“WOMAN THIS AND WOMAN THAT…”

TOP GIRLS

Presented by the New Theatre, July 2013

Top Girls. photo by Bob Seary

Top Girls. photo by Bob Seary

There remains no greater case to validate the work of the playwright than the presentation of their text as writ, no greater challenge to the actor or director to take on a cohesive writer’s vision and remain true to their intent. Such is the way at the New Theatre, no mincing about with rewrites or such periphery – their latest production in a series of good plays done well, opened to a well-earned third ovation and an opening night crowd (of the usual suspects) in a genuine conversational post-show buzz of ideas, politics, history and broad appreciation of the craft.

Still scalding some thirty years after its first showing, Caryl Churchill’s script treads between expressionism and vignette-realism. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, go and see this play immediately, for it remains one of the finest examples in the modern canon of bold social realist writing, with a representational aesthetic that forces audiences to examine what they see beyond the literal. The opening moments tell us thus, entering to a luxurious table setting in a dark parody of the famous game where one invites a group of historical figures for dinner. A shrewd device in this instance to create a socio-political context to shed light on the modern idiosyncrasies we will bear witness to in Acts II & III.  Churchill extending the metaphor in a truly fantastic (as in portraying the literal outcome of a fantasy) game of ‘what-if?’

In this case the women all represent different phases and elements of an historic and systemic patriarchal society.  Each reaching various dizzying heights of achievement within the worlds they inhabited, and yet always somehow defined by the male-dominated systems which surround them.  Much comedy can be found in the absurd expression of this familiar setting, the bristling and posturing of a dinner party made up of (shall we say) larger-than-life personalities.  We’ve all sat at this table at some point or another, although it’s arguable how many of these parties are held in the company of the famously dead.

The mercurial setting of the first scene thus offers a fascinating glimpse at history which allows the audience member to do their own excavation in light of the more immediately accessible second half. Paradoxically this modern account of the foibles of women’s liberation in the face of Thatcher’s Britain is a tougher theatrical journey to explore. Perhaps it’s the closeness to our own social experience which sits uncomfortably as social commentary?  Either way the expressionist grandeur of the opening salvo suggests the quiet familiarity of the domestic and workplace settings is not to be taken at face value. Churchill wants us to look at our own choices in the face of the impossible (as men or women) – whether it’s 13th Century Rome or Britain 1982, this sadly remains a markedly relevant question for Australia circa 2013. Especially 2013.

A simple, effective design scheme and some excellent dedication to the text from the cast make what seems short work of a very challenging and complex play. The careful dedication to the dialogue and timing and above all the engaging naturalism and warmth of the characters from the ensemble are, simply put: a joy to behold. We’ll be seeing it again.

Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Alice Livingstone, featuring Sarah Aubrey, Claudia Barrie, Julia Billington, Maeve MacGregor, Ainslie McGlynn, Bishanyia Vincent and Cheryl Ward. 

Playing at the New Theatre until August 3rd.

12/07/2013 at 6:43 pm 3 comments

HOW LUCKY WE ARE

LUCKY

New Theatre, October 2011. Presented by IPAN International Performing Arts Network in association with The Spare Room

The politicians don’t care for much beyond the populism of the day. The people tut-tut each other or heckle with home-made signs, and the boats keep smashing on distant rocks. There will be a day, we hope against hope, when the plight of international refugees will be acknowledged, and the western world will take on the responsibility it needs to face; globally, collectively, spiritually – to reach out to the downtrodden and persecuted peoples. Only when we fully accept the role such privilege plays in the global imbalances that create such desperation can we move forward. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but for the sake of our collective human soul. We must act with compassion. Not just in a “let them stay” kind of begrudging welcome (which is all we seem able to barely manage now)- but in a full acknowledgement of the privileges we are born to. To know just how lucky we are, we must face up to the misfortunes of others.

One can get on one’s high horse when it comes to people smuggling, whichever side of the fence one rides.

Lucky for us this play does no such thing. It brings the human stories, stripped down to their bare bones and rags, their most human of hopes riding waves of disappointment. It’s a difficult work to express, and director Sama Ky Balson has opted for simplicity in set and movement, allowing the measured, sparse poetry of the script to float around the production’s impressive physical and image theatre core. The third element in play is Joseph Nezeti’s sound design, comprising live vocals and harmonies that bring out the dreamlike qualities inherent in the script.

Dutch playwright Ferenc Alexander Zavaros has created a challenging piece for the cast to present; part realism part expressionism, and these challenges will translate for the audience as the cast bring a tone that recollects the detached voice of a poet reading their own work off the page. This, along with some slower pacing in the opening sequence means one needs to work that much harder to reach into the world of the play. But once we make that leap of empathy, the language and the semi-hypnotic physicality of the performance overcome the natural limitations this style of theatre can bring for an audience. One has to work towards engaging with the text, it’s deliberate that way – with poetry struggling against the possible, with the possible pushing up against the barriers of translation and the cut-throat desperation that comes with the will to survive.

So it isn’t much to ask an audience to sit forward and actively engage with this work. It’s not that difficult, but we cannot simply sit back and let this wash over us like so much entertainment. The play asks us to put in a little bit of work, and so it should, since the perils of asylum seekers and people smuggling will not go away without some effort on all our parts. But we shan’t get too preachy. People are not political chips, nor bodies piled up for one to take the moral high ground. This is quite a beautiful and rewarding piece of stagecraft, recommended for those of a mind for something that challenges without confronting, and probes without asking too many of the obvious questions. Go see.

Lucky, by Ferenc Alexander Zavaros. Playing at the New Theatre until October 22. Featuring Guy Simon, Drew Wilson, Hoa X with Joel Corpuz and Conrad Le Bron.

Photograph (c) Robbie Pacheco

10/10/2011 at 11:20 am 2 comments

THIS IS WHAT WE CALL FREEDOM

A Quiet Night in Rangoon
Presented by subtlenuance, at the New Theatre, August, 2011

Directly opposite the New Theatre is a shop window with a map of South East Asia facing the street. Upon leaving the theatre it becomes immediately apparent how close, and yet so far Burma is from the world we know. A place of unimaginable beauty and horror. A place that peppers our nightly news with sporadic reports of disaster, uprising or oppression, stories which quickly fade into distance as we tackle our more immediate First World Problems. Burma can wait. After all, it’s been under military rule for nearly fifty years, what’s one more day?

It’s this everyday tyranny where the play lurks. In the experiences of trickle-down corruption, in the human-impact stories of a place bound up in knots of idealism and fear. It goes into some interesting corners, meditating on the seeming impossibility of technology and the oppressive military state coexisting with the sensual and spiritual side to the city. The ever-present Lake and Buddhism serve as prominent motifs to counterpoint the brutality of the main narrative. The writing utilises an array of symbolic and expressionistic techniques to explore how such an entrenched military system has imprinted itself on every facet of Burmese life. Even the powers themselves cannot escape such vile, soul-destroying consequences as will come with any abuse of power. And let’s not tread euphemistically when it comes to the Burmese military. They have systematically assaulted, starved, abused and kidnapped the citizens in a callous defence of their own position. Bully Generals, every one. Under such a regime we must redefine our notions of freedom, of hope, of purpose, of humanity. For a westerner to bring ideals into this place would be hopelessly naive.

This is where Katie Pollock’s script opens itself up, her fish-out-of-water scenario is played out through the eyes of the archetypically clueless Australian ‘journalist’ (cheekily named Piper Marx), whose personal quest becomes simply dwarfed into irrelevancy by the circumstances around her. By acknowledging that the Western world has no answers, we are then able to simply see into the lives of the characters. With a minimalist approach to the set and direction, director Paul Gilchrist has put his fine cast front and centre, without over-milking the intensity of the script and letting the comic moments pierce through with a gentle truth. This is not an easy play to contend with. It will challenge any ensemble, and any audience – but to bear with the challenges pays great dividends, as it not only draws you in but educates, provokes thought and discussion. Important, political theatre that’s not clear-cut or moralising – a rare thing.

A Quiet Night in Rangoon plays at the New Theatre until September 10. Featuring Shauntelle Benjamin, John Buencamino, Felino Dolloso, Aileen Huynh, Sonya Kerr, Kathryn Schuback and Barton Williams.

19/08/2011 at 3:11 pm 1 comment

“We Were Meant To Be Explorers”

The Farnsworth Invention

presented by the New Theatre, July 2011

I really enjoyed this, it ripples with energy and character; the show has a cast of about eight million (performed by a modest ensemble of nineteen), featuring glorious little cameos and minor roles that pepper the main narrative as driven by the central conflict between Sarnoff & the eponymous inventor Farnsworth. The historical element is something of a fascination and Aaron Sorkin’s script deftly handles the elements of dry science behind the story of a troubled genius and his vision to create the revolutionary household device we know as the idiot box. There are obvious parallels with that other Sorkin penned story of late but the similarities end quickly as the duelling entrepreneurs here both carry far more charisma and empathy than their malignant modern counterparts of The Social Network. This story explores the tension between science and capitalism (sound familiar?) with a subtle hand, drawing a battle over intellectual property into a wider debate over commercial interests, collaboration and the ugly side of corporate politics.

One day someone is going to reveal to us the attractive side to this world, surely; but for this story we are vividly transported into the context of the nineteen twenties – and there’s an understated nostalgia which lightens the tone of what’s really a pretty vicious prize fight told from two very different perspectives. A neat trick to have the protagonists stop and argue the different sides of the story as the action unfolds, what could be a painful stop-start works a treat as director Louise Fischer keeps an almost rolling scene-change pace with her actors barely slowing down a jot – it’s almost too hard to keep up! With Sorkin you want it fast and tight and fans of his work will not be disappointed, newcomers are in for a treat and those just after a terrific night out away from the television should book this into their schedules. After all, what is life without a little exploration?

The Farnsworth Invention, at the New Theatre, plays until August 13.
featuring Shannon Ashlyn, Patrick Connolly, Robert Edwards, Errol Henderson, Lynden Jones, John Keightley, Naomi Livingstone, Corinne Marie, Ruben Neeson, Marty O’Neill, Samantha Roylance, Kate Shearer, Mark Sippel, Gary Smith, Damian Sommerlad, Chris Turner, Paul Whiddon, Amanda Wiltshire and Robert Zavadszky

14/07/2011 at 1:47 pm 2 comments


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