Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gritty Production of Cabaret in Sydney

Cabaret at the New Theatre in Sydney is not the glamorised 1972 film version of the Broadway musical. This is a darker, grittier production. For those only familiar with the musical numbers, the story abruptly introducing anti-Semitism and the Nazi rise to power can be a shock. However, in this production there is a sense of menace from the start. The performers of the fictional Kit Kat Klub are both sexy and threatening.

The story is based on two autobiographical novels by Christopher Isherwood and set in Berlin before World War II (the stage version changes the struggling author from British to American, whereas the movie changed him back to British). Isherwood describes arriving in Berlin by train and being befriended by a charming smuggler and drawn into a wild nightlife of Berlin.

Some of the places mentioned explicitly in the books and hinted at in the stage show are still recognisable in post-cold war Berlin. The Friedrichstrasse Station is still a good place to get a cheap meal.

ps: Isherwood gets an oblique reference in the science fiction TV show Torchwood, with one character exclaiming "I am a camera".

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

A shack from North Queensland, used as accommodation for cane cutters has been shipped to the Finnish Emigration Museum, to commemorate the role of Finnish immigrants in the sugar cane industry. However, as the play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll details, Australians returning from the cane fields to the south were treated as immigrants. Thursday night's opening performance of Lawler's 1995 play at the New Theatre in Sydney shows the relevance of the messages of alienation in 2008.

See also:

Books and plays by Ray Lawler

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mildly Offensive and Mostly True

On Saturday I attended the final performance of "Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue", a play based on the transcript of the inquiry into AWB at the CarriageWorks in Sydney. The play was okay and the venue is worth a visit anyway.

The pay consists of selected excerpts from the inquiry into payments to the Iraqi government by the Australian company AWB and the complicity, if any by Australian politicians and bureaucrats. While transcripts were used, there were selective and the playwright clearly was not happy with the outcome of the inquiry, which cleared the politicians, criticized the bureaucrats a little and the company people more.

A combination of acting acrobatics and multimedia are used on a large, mostly bare stage. There were two large screens dominating the room which showed documentary material to link the live material. TV displays showed an actor located out in the foyer at the bar playing the part of a slightly confused minister for foreign affairs (the best part of the performance).

There was a little too much of theater sports type improvisation for my liking. I would have preferred if the action had been grounded in a set designed like the courtroom like hearing room. (which was equipped with video screens and looked a lit like a set).

Some of the content was inexplicable, such as a cage with a mouse trap and an apparently real mouse (zoomed in on screen via a camera).

The action in the foyer of the CarriageWorks was more entertaining than the play. There were WiFi equipped people acting as characters in a video game being remotely controlled by players at flat screen displays, a performance of some sort of sculpture and a hole in the floor through which people kept appearing.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Damaged people in the play Damages

Last night I attended the UK play Damages by Steve Thompson at the New Theatre Sydney. This is set in the editorial office of a UK tabloid newspaper late at night before the deadline. The staff have to deal with issues of ethics, the public interest, the law and their own tangled personal relationships, while under the clock to get the presses rolling.

The cast of Michael Briggs, Alan Faulkner, Pamela Jikiemi and Matt Rossner do an excellent job, as did the set designer. The play does loose a bit in the translation from the UK, with some references to English locations having less resonance in Australia.

The play would make an entertaining and thought provoking night out for those in the media and the law. Even those working on web sites will find something relevant in this. Perhaps the New Theatre should have updated the setting of the play to the offices of a web publisher, like The minute details of what goes on in a newspaper office otherwise may seem a little "last century" to a 21st Century Internet audience.

While on the subject of new media, this is an area which the New Theatre is yet to explore. Perhaps they could start with a dramatization of the Royal Commission into the Australian Wheat Board (formally know as the "Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-For-Food Programme"). That would provide a ready made script , which some of the New Theatre actors have already performed for current affairs TV programs in reenactments of the hearings. The courtroom could be reproduced on stage and the large video screens which were part of the courtroom could display TV coverage of the events to provide context.

The projection technique was used to effect for the play "SHADOW OF THE EAGLE" By George Blazevic and Ingle Knight. The play was set in Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin's wartime office. A screen projected 1930s style newsreels to provide a context for the confrontation with General Douglas MacArthur.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ying Tong A Sad Walk with a Goon

Ying Tong (Play) by Roy SmilesThe current production of the play "Ying Tong - A Walk with the Goons" By Roy Smiles is getting a lot of attention for its Goon humor. But the Australian premiere in Canberra at the Street Theatre in 2006 was a very dark comedy.

Ying Tong is about Spike Milligan's struggle with writing and, in passing, his relationship with Peter Sellers. While Sellers went on to have a successful acting career, Milligan became trapped by his Goon past. While being a very successful and productive author, he was always seen as a former Goon.

The Street Theatre seems to specialize in plays about geniuses struggling with their inner demons, with their previous presentation of Peter Parnell's play "QED" about the life of physicist Richard Feynman.

QED burdened the audience with almost a lecture about Feynman's scientific theories. Roy Smiles only hints at Milligan's past in Ying Tong. This makes for a more accessible play, but still one really only decipherable by Goon Show fans. Non fans will have difficulty understanding what is going on, which of course, was always part of the fun with this type of humor.

If you want to hear Milligan at his best, read his seven volumes of war memoirs:
  1. Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (1971)
  2. Rommel? Gunner Who? A Confrontation in the Desert (1974)
  3. Monty: His Part in My Victory (1976)
  4. Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall (1978)
  5. Where Have All the Bullets Gone? (1985)
  6. Goodbye Soldier (1986)
  7. Peace Work (1992)

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Review of The Crucible at the New Theatre Sydney

Plays at The New Theatre (Sydney) can be hard work for the audience as well as the actors. The Crucible was no exception. Arthur Miller is said to have used the Salem witch trials to discuss issues in 1950s USA in this play. However, in the 1990s era of the war on terrorism, the issues of public fear of an unseen threat have a new resonance.

The actors struggled at times to keep up with Miller's dense dialog. The audience also had to keep up and we could have done with a second interval to rest and recuperate. The stark austere sets evoked a suitable brooding atmosphere. The costumes were suitably period without being overdone.

The most chilling point of the evening is when the senior judge of the witch trials is trying to maintain public confidence in the system, as more and more upright honest citizens are caught up in the panic and are lead away to their deaths. After one of his most trusted aids questions the justice of the system, the judge says: "your are either with use or against us". The parallels to President Bush's: "you are with us or you are with the terrorists" is very close. As Millier details in a time when you are facing an invisible enemy in your midst, be they witches, communists, or terrorists, is no time to expect rational thought.

It may have been interesting to change the setting of the final scene from a prison in Salem to one in present day
Guantanamo Bay.