Posts tagged ‘The New Theatre’

PROBLEM CHILD

WOLF LULLABY
presented by the New Theatre, August 2014

There’s a lot going on in Hilary Bell’s deceptively simple Bedtime Mystery, not least of which the gripping plotline, but more importantly the questions the play brings to the fore about human behaviour. None of these are answered satisfactorily (if that’s your thing), or if an answer is attempted, it raises further problems.

The deepest questions touch on the vexed issues surrounding depression; with the potency of the “wolf” motif throughout looming just out of reach, just a stone’s throw from the more familiar image of the Black Dog found in the discourse du jour. For those who may have family, friends or who suffer from it themselves might find these kinds of symbols useful. In my case they are inadequate, only a partial representation of the “swallowing” effect a foul mood can have. For in the end, one is solely responsible for their thoughts and feelings, and especially the actions which may follow. The poetic image of the outside Wolf or Dog as a manifestation of the darkness we feel denies our own culpability and ability to control our choices. But that’s just me.

It may be that Bell is pointing to the deficiencies of questions surrounding ‘intrinsic evil’ (to borrow a phrase from the Currency House blurb), by framing it in an almost supernatural tone: were perpetrators of heinous crimes “swallowed” or possessed by otherwise inexplicable darkness would this exempt them? Or does this merely exempt us as a society from a tacit complicity in criminal behaviour?

This is the microcosm that the play presents, and the blame shifting that occurs surrounding the family and events of the play echo all manner of sophistry we might hear in the public discourse surrounding violent crime. The play is set in Tasmania and writ around the time of the horror of the Port Arthur shootings in 1996. It was said ad nauseum that was the day “Tasmania lost its innocence” (with the usual hand wringing speculation on the murderer Martin Bryant as “monstrous”). To set the record straight, this was far from the first of violent crimes committed in the area, it’s what we don’t talk about which is most revealing about the denial of our collective social conscience. I refer to the massacre the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and theft of their land by what amounted to the governing power in the day.

We as a nation are in the process of reconciling these crimes and I mention it in the context of this play because it relates directly to the notion of taking responsibility for our past actions. We may have committed them in the shroud of colonialism, a kind of formative cultural innocence – but we cannot deny them forever.

This production is aided enormously by the performances, and we will break tradition by examining the cast in some detail. The work they do is a significant element in the impact of the play, both drawing us in and repelling us to complement the script.

If you haven’t seen or read the play, plot spoilers may follow. It is at its heart, a mystery, so I recommend seeing it for the greatest impact.

At the centre of the piece is a nine year old child Lizzie Gael played by Maryellen George. Her portrayal is a conundrum, nearly pure innocence with flickers of childlike mischief belying the horror of what she is accused. When she refers to the “wolf” – it is a truthful fear of being swallowed up. More horrifying is that no-one wants to listen. This contradiction of guilt and naivety is a very nuanced performance that betrays the surface of childish simplicity.

The surrounding adults give almost no indication of a response to these cries for help. They will see her in the simplicity of appearances and facts. The eponymous wolf of her imagination is nothing to be taken seriously, instead they lurk and linger around the edges of what for Lizzie is the explanation they so desperately seek. The exasperation builds from the parents in the face of their daughter’s litany of explanatory secrets and lies. Lucy Miller and David Woodland give a truthful and moving account of this mounting tension and frustration and guilt shifting and eventual estrangement as they consistently fail to find an answer. Only in the final moments do we get a sense that the Wolf is real, with the darkness now consuming the parent as it did the child.

Peter McAllum brings his mellifluous vocal skill to the role of the Police Detective undertaking the thankless task of assessing the young girl’s guilt or innocence. The tensions in his characterisation – manifested from the early scenes where he’s almost bullying Lizzie inside a gaol cell, to their final scene where he’s far more soothing and gentle toward her, having taken an adoptive parental role (if not in officially, at least symbolically on behalf of the state) – capture much of what the play is asking us.

I don’t think there’s much value in the question most of this play’s commentariat seem to be drawn to about “inherent evil” and such. Reading the various responses and even promotional material surrounding the play it’s a recurring theme. Maybe there is such a thing, and maybe there isn’t. The debate will go on for years to come as it has for millenia past. More pressing, as raised by the rather frightening picture of the girl Lizzie taken away from her parents, and condemned to a life of confinement and misery – if an otherwise innocent child commits a crime – what can we do about it? Our systems of justice and rehabilitation in this context seem woefully inadequate.

This play is a dark path, but one worth exploration. Powerful performances highlight a difficult, compelling script and the play is as good as its reputation precedes.

Wolf Lullaby, By Hilary Bell, featuring Maryellen George, Peter McAllum, Lucy Miller, David Woodland. Directed by Emma Louise. Playing at the New Theatre until September 13th 2014.

26/08/2014 at 2:05 pm Leave a comment

YOUR FACE, IN THE GLASS

THE HAM FUNERAL
presented by The New Theatre, April 2013

ANZAC Day. We remember the fallen. Reflect on our past. For me, it’s a memorial to something I never knew – for others, something more personal, a display of history and pride. For some it’s a demonstration of our national character (whatever that means), or just a day off work to get smashed and gamble. There’s a lot of hand-wringing over words like ‘celebrate’ or ‘militarisation’. Jostling for moral high-ground, politicising the dead, even one ill-advised tweet suggesting Two-Up winnings might be used to purchase a particular brand of burgers. And don’t even start me on Christopher Pyne (no, really, start me on Christopher Pyne)… Everybody seems to want to own a piece of the ANZACs, or tell you how to remember, or how to feel. It really is – if anything is: “A funeral for the living”.

Whether by accident or design this Patrick White play opened last night (April 25th) in the historic New Theatre, and we couldn’t help but extrapolate the metaphor to the pseudo-intellectualisation of something we will never really understand. Whether it’s War or History or The Classics or a Loveless Marriage, White’s play relentlessly mocks the self-absorption-of-the-artist-as-a-young-man trying to go through life as an exercise in studious query. The hubris is dizzying.

Our self-announced protagonist: the Young Poet. Educated, Well-Read, Articulate, Perceptive, full-of-Ideas, Never-Had-a-Real-Job.

Sound like anyone you know?

Meanwhile, the action centres around the basement kitchen-table-war-zone of Mrs Lusty and the eponymous funeral for her husband; her joie-de-vivre is an inspirational counterpoint to the middle-class pretensions of her tenant. The play doesn’t shy away from pouring acid onto the working classes either, but its expressionistic tone gets one wondering how much of this occurs in the mind of the bourgeois reader*. The exaggerated filth of the Two Ladies, the leering, sneering relatives, all press on the Young Poet’s fear and privilege. Their aphorisms are certainly no more or less in weight than his (although one or two carry a brutality of truth he seems incapable of finding) – on the other hand, the aspirational truths spoken by the mysterious Woman-Next-Door offer an impossible fantasy, enticing him out of the slum to which he is so drawn. These conflicting worlds-within-worlds create a tasty tension between what is real and what is projected. Honey on salted ham.

As such the play reflects the Australian self-conciousness of identity as a vital, visceral grotesque, ‘real and unreal as your face in the glass’. The darkness perhaps overpowering the light (on the night I was present at least) as the sheer vertiginous language can make short shrift of an actor caught napping. Here are plenty of laughs amongst the poetry and vicious swinging barbs. It’s a whirlwind. Despite these challenges the ensemble work is strong and beguiling, and (as overheard in the foyer afterwards) “with a degree of difficulty of 10”, there’s plenty for the team to work with. Special Mention must be given to Lucy Miller – we so rarely single out actors – but this is a consummate performance of a hugely demanding, once-in-a-lifetime role. If you’re unfamiliar with Patrick White (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), this is a great opportunity to dip your toe in the muck.

The Ham Funeral by Patrick White, playing at The New Theatre until May 25th, 2013. Featuring Danielle Baynes, Rob Baird, Steve Corner, Brielle Flynn, Zach McKay, Lucy Miller, Kallan Richards, Karina Sindicich, and Benjamin Vickers. Directed by Phillip Rouse.

*with apologies to Sonic Youth

26/04/2013 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

that would be a happy ending

The Pillowman.
New Theatre, March 2013.

A must see for theatre writers – The Pillowman is a modern horror classic in the vein of – actually we’re stumped here – Frankenstein? Nosferatu? Accidental Death of An Anarchist? The Trial? Stephen King’s IT? None of them quite match. There are even shades of Havelian absurdity but Martin McDonagh is a true original, weaving together something akin to a Grimm’s Faery Tale of courage and imagination. This is true horror in that what is not said, what is not seen is so much more brutal than what we do. It’s such a fine line between revulsion in black comedy and the production does not mess around, delivering a tight back and forth of shock and laughter counterpointed with some meta-text that is both chilling and provocative.

Outside time, without extension* the world of the play switches like a light between the dank cells of an unnamed police state and some of the more depraved paths of the human imagination and storytelling we’ve taken. Immediately there are comparisons with public debates on hot-button issues such as police brutality, censorship and media regulation, and the always popular right-to-silence / free-speech double whammy. Context. Think that’s enough for one play? Just wait. You will be challenged on your beliefs on these subjects by curtain. The ensemble delivering on all fronts to suspend all kinds of disbelief while also balancing the kind of audience dislocation necessary for the material to work.

This is not a play for the faint-hearted. There are child-assault triggers and explicit language that will shock. But not in the way you expect. The beauty of the words here demonstrate the power of literature in performance that three little words, followed by silence and a look between two men can destroy even the staunchest of audience. Totally absorbing, this is what we look for in a play, to challenge and suggest alternative realities, to provoke the heart and mind and soul. Another quality production from the team at the New. Recommended.

*with apologies to Beckett

THE PILLOWMAN by Martin McDonagh, directed by Luke Rogers. Featuring Julian Dibley-Hall, Lauren Dillon, Michael Howlett, Peter McAllum, Jeremy Waters, Oliver Wenn.
At The New Theatre until April 13.

Continue Reading 23/03/2013 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

pay attention to the details…

THE WEIR
Presented by The New Theatre, March 2012

Now in it’s final week, The Weir is a fine production in the vein of claustrophobic and comedic menace a-la Brendan Behan or (more recently) Martin McDonagh. The play is less action-heavy than one might expect of a play clearly influenced by the Irish Masters, instead drawing its narrative cloak across the past histories and ancient legends of the deathly quiet moors of the fabled green countryside. It gently fuses the staple small-town Irish foibles of boozing, frugality and pointless rivalry into a creeping series of supernatural mythologies of the land, gradually shifting from the worlds of fantasy (although one tends to believe every word) into the more familiar flights of fear that brush against us in the wee hours (usually to do with love and liquor – not necessarily in that order)… One forgets which metaphysical frights are more forboding; those of ancient lore, the night-faeries of folktales; or the modern banshees of the heart, loneliness and loss. Which send more chilling rhythms into your soul? With unobtrusive direction and an exquisitely detailed set, this small-town bar is a refuge against the dark and cold, one held together with the mortar of community, without which the really frightening question is just where would we be without it?

One cannot go past the lineup of actors for a great night’s entertainment. If you haven’t seen one or more of these fine thespians treading the boards in Sydney recently; then you haven’t been hitting the non-mainstream circuit (for shame!) and this production offers a fine taste of the talents available when one strays along the road-not-taken. To be sure, all are terrific storytellers on their own. This is the kind of performance when a simple anecdote becomes a world of its own and in ensemble; with the kind of half-nostalgic eeriness of the text you are guaranteed to be taken into another world. Catch a glimpse of this before it disappears…

The Weir, by Conor McPherson, directed by Alice Livingstone; featuring Patrick Connolly, Barry French, Lynden Jones, Peter McAllum and Amanda Stephens Lee. Plays at the New Theatre until March 31st.

25/03/2012 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment


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