Category Archives: Theatre

Year’s end lists 2017

It’s been quite a year. As it comes to an end the Emerging Artist (now with an MFA) and I have drawn up our Best Of lists.

MOVIES
I saw 64 movies, including a number watched on YouTube such as Godard’s Le mépris and Eisenstein’s October, the EA slightly fewer. It was a year of wonderful movies, as well as a handful of crushing disappointments, but here’s what we managed to single out.

The Emerging Artist’s top five, with her comments:

Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan 2016): I liked the slow, meditative build-up to the reveal and the ultimate resolution of the past that allowed the character to keep living.

The Salesman (Asghar Fahadi 2016): Tense, intense and brilliant. The visuals were wonderful, from the woman in shocking red against the grey of usual clothing to the tightness of action carried out in multiple stairwells.

Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt 2016): Many friends didn’t take to this film, and we saw it at a disadvantage on a very small screen. Three interlocking stories each gave small moments of pleasure, especially the last.

A Man of Integrity (Mohammad Rasoulof 2017): We saw this gripping Iranian film at the Sydney Film Festival. It has a universal theme of how to live a moral life when survival depends on going along with corruption. Deeply human, and also claustrophobically Kafkaesque.

Living/Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa 1952): What a delight this was. We saw it at the SFF. In three long sections the main character explores how to live well. Being a bureaucrat isn’t the answer.

… plus a bonus documentary for the EA

Nowhere to Hide (Zaradasht Ahmed 2016): A visceral look at northern Iraq through one man’s eyes, a paramedic trying to stay in his town as ISIS moves in.

My top five (chosen after the EA chose hers, avoiding duplicates):

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins 2016): Marvellous film, very slow. One of my companions said that it was like a behind the scenes look at The Wire. Three wonderful performances as the boy who becomes a man, perhaps especially Trevante Rhodes who shows the small frightened boy inside the streetwise drug lord.

Denial (Mick Jackson 2016): A very methodical film, written with great clarity by David Hare and featuring an excellent cast, this is a timely look at the importance of evidence-based thinking as opposed to adjusting the fact to accord with one’s political interests.

Silence (Martin Scorsese 2016): An old(ish) man’s deeply felt exploration of his Catholic heritage. Timely to be reminded of the intensities of Catholic belief when the institutional church’s failures around child sexual abuse are being exposed.

 I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck 2016): James Baldwin was brilliant, and this film does him justice. Favourite quote: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it has been faced.’

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve 2017): Is there a word that means ‘bombastic’ but has entirely positive connotations?  That’s the word I want to use about this movie. And as someone asked on Twitter, ‘What happened to Deckard’s dog?’

… and a favourite moment:

In Hope Road (Tom Zubrycki 2017), at one point in his arduous fundraising walk, Zachariah Machiek (one of the ‘lost boys’ of South Sudan) strays onto private property and meets a couple of rough looking types who exude menace worthy of any Hollywood thriller.

Worst film of the year:

We both picked the same one, Sea Sorrow (Vanessa Redgrave 2017). Me: This started out as a fundraiser for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, in which a number of big name actors did bits from Shakespeare and other turns. Vanessa Redgrave wanted to reach more people with her passionate message of compassion and worked it up into a film. Sadly it’s hardly a film at all. Emerging Artist: I’d have to agree. Though we did see a few really bad films, this one rated as it was so anticipated.

THEATRE

All but two of our theatre outings this year were to the Belvoir. It was a very good year – we only left at interval once. These are our picks:

Ghosts (Henrik Ibsen 1882): Eamon Flack’s director’s program note says this production isn’t set in 1881, but in a room that hasn’t changed since 1881. Like Tony Abbot’s mind. The sarcasm of that note is nowhere to be seen in the production, but it’s accurate anyhow. Pamela Rabe is brilliant in a very strong cast. The set refers to the detail of Ibsen while being quite spare. There’s a marvellous theatrical moment involving ash.

The Rover (Aphra Behn 1677): Aphra Behn was quite a playwright, and Eamon Flack and his physically diverse cast have a lot of fun and give a lot of joy in making it new. At the very end there were a couple of bars of Nino Rota’s film music, and we knew we were all on the same page.

Mark Colvin’s Kidney (Tommy Murphy 2017): Directed by David Berthold with Sarah Peirse and John Howard as the leads and set designed by Michael Hankin, this is a terrific play. I would have gone home happy at the end of the first act, but wasn’t disappointed by the rest. I went in thinking I knew the story and expecting to be mildly engaged, but I was bowled over.

BOOKS

Fiction:

The Emerging Artist’s top three:

Elizabeth Strout, Anything Is Possible: A lovely meditation on life and death and ageing. I read it in hospital after major surgery and it fitted my mood. I loved the interweaving of the characters and the story is excellent.

Michael Chabon, Moonglow: Telegraph Avenue is still my favourite Michael Chabon novel, and I loved this because it had many of the same qualities.

Nicole Krauss, Forest Dark: She’s a very quirky writer who takes the reader into weird places. This book possibly had too much Kafka in it but it was still a very enjoyable expedition.

My top three (linked to my blog posts about them):

Halldór Laxness, Independent People (©1934–1935, translation by James Anderson Thompson 1945, Vintage edition 1997)
Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta 2016)
Ali Alizadeh, The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc (Giramondo 2017)

Non-Fiction

The Emerging Artist’s top three:

Kim Mahood, Position Doubtful: My favourite book for this year, it has all my favourite things in it: art, maps, an attempt to come to terms with the relationship between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people. And it’s respectful of everybody.

Hannah Fink, Bronwyn Oliver: Strange Things: At present Bronwyn Oliver is my favourite Australian artist. This book gives insights into her work, her practice and the tragedy of her life. It looks at the dangers of the artist’s life, in particular the use of toxic materials, which contributed to her early death.

Susan Faludi, In the Dark Room: A wonderful interweaving of the history of Hungary, anti-semitism, male violence, trans politics and a daughter–father relationship. It’s got everything.

My top three (once again, apart from excellent AWW books listed yesterday; linked to my blog posts):

T G H Strehlow, Journey to Horseshoe Bend (©1969, Giramondo 2015)
Svetlana Alexievich, Chernobyl Prayer (1997, trans Anna Gunin & Arch Tait Penguin Classics 2016)
James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life ( 2016)

Poetry
(I choose reluctantly, placing it behind most of the AWW poetry books):

Ted Hughes, Tales from Ovid (Faber & Faber 1997). I recommended this enthusiastically at our book swap club. Someone picked it and then rejected it because I’d failed to mention that it was …. poetry.

Comics

Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen and others, Descender Volumes 1–4 (Image Comics 2016, 2017), my blog posts here and here.
——-
Happy New Year, dear reader. May 2018 see #metoo bear marvellous fruit. May the world become less racist, more peaceful and more just. May all the detainees on Manus and Nauru find safety somewhere very soon.

Year’s end

In Melbourne where the
jacarandas still flower
at December’s end

a pub in Carlton
promises European
yum cha on Sundays

With an afternoon to spare in Melbourne the Emerging Artist and I have drawn up our Best of 2016 lists.

Movies

Feature films (I saw 36, the EA slightly fewer)

The Emerging Artist’s top three: 

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch 2016): ‘A wonderful portrait of someone with a rich internal life integrated with normal functioning.’

Spotlight (Tom McCarthy 2015): ‘This was taut as a thriller and had new things to show about how the story of child sex abuse in the Boston Catholic Church was brought to light. A reflection on institutional power.’

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi 2016): ‘Made me laugh.’

My top 3:

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach 2016): Some people have described this as relentlessly grim. I know what they mean, but what that description leaves out is its tremendous warmth.

One-eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando 1961): I saw this with my big brother more than five decades ago and didn’t understand his reverential tone. Seeing it again at this year’s Sydney Film Festival was a joy.

Rams (Grímur Hákonarson 2015): So bleak and bitter cold, and so full of humanity.

Documentaries (we saw 13):

The Emerging Artist’s top three: 

Constance on the Edge (Belinda Mason 2016): ‘Constance is a wonderful character. The film shows the trauma of war and its after effects, especially for women, once you’ve settled somewhere peaceful. The loss of cultural identity in the process of becoming a refugee and how hard to create a new one. Also, how the CWA is changing.’

Sonita (Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami 2015, seen at the Sydney Film Festival): ‘A most amazing film. Where did this young woman emerge from that she had the confidence to hold out against so many cultural taboos against singing, let alone rapping. She was exuberant and full of life.’

Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore 2015): ‘This is one of the best of MM’s films. It reminded me how much we’ve lost in Australia. It’s good to get a perspective on how other places do things differently from what we take for granted.’

My top three:

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (Ron Howard 2016): I was in a monastery during the Beatles’ touring years; for me this was a surprisingly moving and explanatory visit to my contemporaries’ teenage years.

Weiner (Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg 2016): Funny, tragic story about the devastating effects of a sexual compulsion.

Wide Open Sky (Lisa Nicol 2016): Michelle Leonard teaches music to children in remote and isolated northwest New South Wales. The movie follows four young people from audition to performance in her choir, and we learn an awful lot about music education, about being different in a small community, about discipline and expectations, about many kinds of big-heartedness.

Worst film of the year:

The Emerging Artist: Sunset Song (Terence Davies 2015, seen at the Sydney Film Festival): ‘It was just so bad. I don’t know where to begin. Where were the other women in the main character’s life? The lingering drone shot over the corpses was so terribly done with that shocking music behind it.’

Me: Up for Love / Un homme à la hauteur (Laurent Tirard 2016). I didn’t understand what many people in the audience were laughing at. Maybe it lost a lot in translation, or the idea of a very short man is irresistibly funny to some people, or (a kinder hypothesis) they were fans of the lead actor and were constantly amused by the trickery used to make him look short.

Theatre

DroversWife.jpgWe both picked The Drover’s Wife (written by Leah Purcell, directed by Leticia Cáceres at Belvoir Street): ‘Completely riveting, powerful theatre that worked on so many different levels, and Leah Purcell in the title role was stunning.’ I’d add that it worked beautiful variations on the Henry Lawson story of the same name, and played wonderfully with audience expectations by having an Aboriginal actor playing a character who has always been assumed to be non-Indigenous.

Books

Fiction:

The Emerging Artist’s top three:

The Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert 2014): ‘Having hated Eat, Pray, Love, I picked this up with low expectations, but found myself enthralled by a story of mosses, scientific discovery and a woman out of her own time.’

Purity (Jonathan Franzen 2015): ‘Nothing much to say beyond that I really loved this.’

The Museum of Modern Love (Heather Rose 2016): ‘A fabulous find. An Australian author who is very daring: she approaches Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present from many point of view, and gets to the heart of what was happening in the piece both for the artist and for the people who sat with her. Equally interesting for people who know nothing abut Abramovic’s work.’

My top three (links are to my blog posts about them):

A Brief History of Seven Killings (Marlon James 2015)
Fables Books 6–10 (Bill Willingham and others 2005–2008)
The Natural Way of Things (Charlotte Wood 2015)

Non-Fiction

The Emerging Artist’s top three: 

The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq (Emma Sky 2015): ‘I heard Emma Sky at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The book is a detailed picture of life on the ground in Iraq after the invasion, and helps to make sense of the news stories.’

The Art of Time Travel (Tom Griffiths 2016): ‘This is a beautifully written story of how Australian history is still being discovered and is so different to what I was taught in school. It has inspired me to go on and read the historians he talks about, including Grace Karsken’s The Colony.’

Hope in the Dark (Rebecca Solnit 2004, 2016): ‘I’ve read this book maybe five times this year and each time it’s like getting another vaccination against bleakness.’

My top three:
Talking to My Country (Stan Grant 2016), especially as followed up by his Quarterly Essay, The Australian Dream
Missing Up
(Pam Brown 2016)
The Art of Time Travel (Tom Griffiths 2016)

I feel obliged to say that such ‘best of’ lists are pretty arbitrary. No sooner had I drawn up these lists than I was aware of so much joy and enlightenment that had been left off them.

Happy New Year, dear reader. May 2017 be filled with good things and victories against the forces of darkness, some perhaps decisive.

Coming Soon

If you live in Sydney, you ought to know about two fabulous things coming soon.

1.
HIDDEN: Rookwood Cemetery, from sunrise to sunset
Friday 18 September to Sunday 18 October
ENTRY IS FREE!

The Hidden website says it well:

Hidden is an outdoor sculpture exhibition that takes place amongst the gardens and graves in one of the oldest sections of [Rookwood] Cemetery. The exhibition invites artists to ponder the notion of history, culture, remembrance and love and allows audiences to witness creative expression hidden throughout Australia’s largest and most historic cemetery.

This is Hidden’s seventh year. I’ve been in previous years, and there’s something  marvellous about the sculptures placed among the tombstones. (It’s in an older part of the cemetery – no one will see the grave of someone who died recently being visited by an antic Don Quixote or a bright perspex rainbow.)

This year the Emerging Artist formerly known as the Art Student is part of the exhibition. Her piece, Bush Memorial, comprises two giant ceramic banksia seeds. Yesterday we installed it.

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2.
THE WAY: Bankstown Arts Centre, 1-10 October. (It’s not free but it’s unbelievably cheap)

The WayThis is the third play in a trilogy that has grown out of a collaboration between BYDS (Bankstown Youth Development Service) and the Sydney Theatre Company.  I saw the second play, The Other Way, in 2013. The collaboration of professional actors with local community members, led by actor/ writer/ director/ musician Stefo Nantsou, produced a brilliant evening of theatre. Here’s a bit from my blogging about it:

This isn’t professional/industrial theatre, where success is judged by the length of the run and size of box office takings. It’s community, where the division between audience and performers is porous, where there’s an intimate sense that people are telling their own stories and those of their neighbours.
There’s a wonderful scene where a group of boys are teasing/harassing a group of girls, who are giving back as good as they get. In the middle of the chiacking and posturing one of the girls looks one of the boys full in the face and says, ‘Hello!’ and the group falls silent. The whole thing falls apart, moves onto a different plane. Sure, it was scripted and stylised, but it felt like it was really happening right then and there.

I gather that The Way has a similar structure to its predecessors: over a single day in Bankstown, storylines intersect as people from diverse backgrounds experience their multitudinous joys and crises. I’m looking forward to it.

The Other Way was evidently seen by a relatively small total audience over its short run. The Way has eight scheduled performances. If you live in Sydney I recommend that you put it in your diary and book seats soon. You can read more about it here. Bookings: 02 9793 8324 or http://www.trybooking.com/isqy

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlist announced

A bit late for anyone who wants to read the whole short list before the winners are announced next month, but the (very long) short list for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards has been announced. You can see the full list with judges’ comments on a pdf press release from the State Library.

Here’s most of it – all except the translator – with links to my blog posts on the few I’ve read, all of which have me nodding my head in agreement with the judges. (Maybe it will take grandchildren to bring me back up to date on children’s lit.)

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin Australia)
In Certain Circles, Elizabeth Harrower (Text Publishing)
Golden Boys, Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Australia)
The Snow Kimono, Mark Henshaw (Text Publishing)
The Golden Age, Joan London (Random House Australia)
A Million Windows, Gerald Murnane (Giramondo Publishing)

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing
The Tribe, Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Giramondo Publishing)
Foreign Soil, Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette Australia)
The Strays, Emily Bitto (Affirm Press)
An Elegant Young Man, Luke Carman (Giramondo Publishing)
Here Come the Dogs, Omar Musa (Penguin Australia)
Heat and Light, Ellen van Neerven (University of Queensland Press)

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non‐fiction
The Europeans in Australia, Alan Atkinson (NewSouth)
Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799‐1815, Philip Dwyer (Bloomsbury)
This House of Grief, Helen Garner (Text Publishing)
The Reef: A Passionate History, Iain McCalman (Penguin Books Australia)
In My Mother’s Hands, Biff Ward (Allen & Unwin)
The Bush, Don Watson (Penguin Books Australia)

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
A Vicious Example, Michael Aiken (Grand Parade)
Devadetta’s Poems, Judith Beveridge (Giramondo)
Kin, Anne Elvey (Five Islands Press)
Wild, Libby Hart (Pitt Street Poetry)
Unbelievers, or The Moor, John Mateer (Giramondo)
Earth Hour, David Malouf (University of Queensland Press)

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature
The First Voyage, Allan Baillie (Puffin Books)
Rivertime, Trace Balla (Allen & Unwin)
Figgy in the World, Tamsin Janu (Omnibus/Scholastic Australia)
The Duck and the Darklings, Glenda Millard & Stephen Michael King (Allen & Unwin)
Crossing, Catherine Norton (Omnibus/Scholastic Australia)
The Adventures of Sir Roderick the Not‐Very Brave, James O’Loghlin (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult’s Literature
Book of Days, K.A. Barker (Pan Macmillan Australian)
The Road to Gundagai, Jackie French (HarperCollins Publishers)
Are You Seeing Me? Darren Groth (Random House Australia)
Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)
The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Cracked, Clare Strahan (Allen & Unwin)

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting
The Code Episode 1, Shelley Birse (Playmaker Media)
Upper Middle Bogan Season 1, Episode 8: The Nationals, Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope (Gristmill)
The Babadook, Jennifer Kent (Causeway)
Fell, Natasha Pincus Story by Kasimir Burgess and Natasha Pincus. (Felix Media)
Please Like Me Season 2, Episode 7: Scroggin, Josh Thomas
Once My Mother, Sophia Turkiewicz (Change Focus Media)

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting
Brothers Wreck, Jada Alberts (Currency Press)
The Sublime, Brendan Cowell (Melbourne Theatre Company)
Jasper Jones, Kate Mulvany (adapted from a novel by Craig Silvey) (Barking Gecko Theatre Company)
The Trouble with Harry, Lachlan Philpott (TheatreofplucK Belfast/MKA New Writing Theatre)
Kryptonite, Sue Smith (The Sydney Theatre Company)
Black Diggers, Tom Wright (Queensland Theatre Company)

Community Relations Commission for Multicultural NSW
Jump for Jordan, Donna Abela (Griffin Theatre Company)
Black and Proud: The story of an AFL photo, Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond (NewSouth Publishing)
Refugees, Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong (UNSW Press)
I, Migrant: A Comedian’s Journey from Karachi to the Outback, Sami Shah (Allen & Unwin)
The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama, Julie Szego (Wild Dingo Press)
Once My Mother, Sophia Turkiewicz (Change Focus Media)

Congratulations and good luck to all of them, and may the judges’ eyes and brains enjoy a rest.

Details Unknown

Last night we went to the Penguin Plays Rough event at the Justice and Police Museum: the Grand Finale of the Details Unknown evenings. On previous evenings in the series people have presented stories, songs, and videos inspired by this photo from the museum’s archives.

des_cos126

For the grand finale, PPR handed things over to unhappen, an experimental theatre group that used the 18 pieces produced for the previous nights to create an interactive evening of experimental carry-on. There was a weird pas-de-deux in which to actors dressed in nighties enacted a bedroom murder over and over, alternating the parts of visitor and murdered woman (it didn’t seem to matter that one of the actors was male, the other female), and varying their actions in accordance with words typed by audience members. There was a silly puppet theatre. In one tiny courtyard a 1940s police photographer took mug shots. We could stand around watching a tattooed prisoner languish in her cell, though other people told me that when they went into that room they were offered a stick of opium (which turned out to be a chocolate bullet). My favourite of the small sideshows was the interrogation room, in which, though we’d been promised that interactivity did not mean audience participation, relatively unsuspecting audience members were grilled by a slightly demented pair of detectives as possible witnesses to the woman’s murder – I saw at least four people being questions, and sometimes virtually accused, and was impressed by how well they reacted under pressure: other people ran screaming from the room as soon as they realised what was happening.

The museum was originally a police station, and included a small courtroom. In that courtroom we could sit in the gallery, or perhaps it was jury seats, while one actor after another read a story that told how the woman died. We could, if we chose, draw images on butchers’ paper as we listened, and those images were hung on the walls of the murder bedroom.

It was great fun. We were promised a reward at 10 pm, but my little group had been out to midnight the night before at Flickerfest and up early, so we sloped off after only two hours or so. Penguin Plays Rough’s future is not clear. If there is to be a hiatus, it’s good that they’ve gone out with such a bang.

Usually Penguin Plays Rough has a number of wild cards – people who put their names down on the night and read something. That didn’t happen last night, but I wrote 14 rhyming lines anyhow:

Details Unknown
She’s dead, and though it may seem foolish
to make up stories, sing new songs
about her image, even ghoulish
imagining what dreadful wrongs
she may have suffered, or what shocking
act may have unclipped that stocking,
what cruel or pathetic scene
involved that true-crime magazine,
her death derides out pale inventions:
silent, name and tale unknown,
this monument of film, not stone,
though made for plain police intentions
commands our eyes: Attention here.
A life snuffed out. Be still. Revere

The Other Way

Mostly my theatre outings are relegated to the blog that appears in the right-hand column here. But as very few of my readers will have a chance to see The Other Way, here it is in the main body.

The Other Way, written and directed by Stefo Nantsou, is the third annual collaboration between the Sydney Theatre Company and Bankstown Youth Development Service (BYDS). The ABC’s inferior replacement for Ramona Koval’s Book Show (no disparagement of the excellent Michael Cathcart intended – the Powers That Be seem to have declared non-fiction books to be off limits, a stupidifying limitation) ran an interview yesterday with three people involved in the show, which you can hear here.

The show’s cast includes five professional actors, 23 school students and seven other performers from the community, some of whom wrote pieces On Western Sydney (Westside Publications 2012), an anthology of writing from and about Western Sydney edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad & Felicity Castagna and produced under the auspices of BYDS. I mention the anthology because, although it wouldn’t be fair to say the show was based on it, there is a shared agenda of putting Western Sydney stories and story-makers into the public eye.

The action takes place in a single day, beginning with an old man summoning his family to prayer and ending with family prayer at night. In between, we see people commuting by train and going about their work days. Three main stories unfold, each involving children lost and found. In the most lighthearted, a woman loses her two small children in a shopping centre and they turn out to have been hiding for the fun of it. A second involves children being removed from a junky mother by Community Services and given into the care of a decent, loving couple. The third, which involves the family from the opening moment and nosy teenagers acting as chorus, has a young woman returning to the family after being missing for a long time. Alice Ansara has some big emotional moments of rock bottom despair as the junky mother, but it’s the story of the young woman returning to her family that is at the heart of the show. The responses of her siblings, her parents and her grandfather are richly complex (not glibly joyful, by any means). Only at the end do we discover why she left, and it’s a powerful statement about the difficulties faced by a generation caught between cultures and the vicious effects of anti-Muslim prejudice.

Binding it all together is brilliant hip-hop artist Matuse. He’s part of the family that prays; the returning daughter tells him her story; his songs provide the time frame and an exuberant conclusion; and his encounters with a little thief are a running joke whose punchline evokes not a laugh but breath of hope.

This isn’t professional/industrial theatre, where success is judged by the length of the run and size of box office takings. It’s community, where the division between audience and performers is porous, where there’s an intimate sense that people are telling their own stories and those of their neighbours. There’s a wonderful scene where a group of boys are teasing/harassing a group of girls, who are giving back as good as they get. In the middle of the chiacking and posturing one of the girls looks one of the boys full in the face and says, ‘Hello!’ and the group falls silent. The whole thing falls apart, moves onto a different planet. Sure, it was scripted and stylised, but it felt right then and there.

Just before the show started, a section, not of the audience but of the cast. I didn't get my hands on a program so can't say names, but from the left:

Just before the show started, a section, not of the audience but of the cast. I didn’t get my hands on a program so can’t say names, but from the left: a young man who did spectacular leaps to impress a young woman; two players of multiple minor characters; the junkie mother / train ticket collector; younger sister of the returning young woman / girl who was impressed by the boy’s athleticism; neglected son of the junkie;  Community Services worker / mother of the praying family / drummer; mother and two children from the lost-in-the-mall story.

The Other Way is on again tonight and tomorrow night and tomorrow morning (that is, Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 July) at the Bankstown Arts Centre where tickets cost $5 or $3 (book at 02 9793 8324), and then Friday evening and Saturday afternoon at the Wharf 2 Theatre at Walsh Bay where there’s no charge, but bookings are essential (02 9250 1777 or online) and maybe impossible.

On theatre blogs etc

Belvoir Street hosted a forum this afternoon about blogging and theatre criticism. There were two bloggers, two newspaper reviewers and the theatre writer from Time Out, who seemed to occupy a kind of in-between space – he has a word limit and a consumer guide brief, but there is a comments section.

Toward the end of the question time I felt a tremendous urge to grab one of the mikes and say some very interesting things. Luckily I’ve seen what happens when other people act on such urges (in case you’ve been spared the experience, I’m talking about those tedious types who talk about themselves to a hall full of people who are there to talk about something else). But this is my blog, so I’ll say my interesting things here.

One of my fondest memories of my eldest brother is walking home – it took nearly two hours – after seeing a preview of Steve J Spears’ The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin, talking our heads off. We thought the play had tremendous potential, Gordon Chater was wonderful, and the production was very interesting. We both agreed, though, that it missed the mark: the structure didn’t work, the morality was muddled, it tipped over into squishy self pity. Such a pity, we told each other. The pleasure with which I recall that walk, that conversation, that connection with my brother, is in no way dimmed by the fact that everyone else in the world saw it differently: the play went on to be a huge success, including a long season in New York.

By contrast I went to the Sydney opening night of The Rocky Horror Show with a newspaper theatre critic. We both enjoyed the show, but after we’d exchanged brief post-show comments, I realised that further discussion was being forcefully discouraged. She needed to focus, husband her responses, keep her next day’s review free of contamination.

In my mind these two evenings are emblematic of the difference between blogs and newspaper reviews: the former are about communication, connection, passion, excitement; the latter carry the burden of privileged speech – a readership with little or no right of reply, a position of influence that may of course be completely illusory.

Mostly these days I get my theatre criticism from blogs – Alison Croggon who sadly lives in Melbourne but made the trip up for today’s forum, and Kevin Jackson in Sydney, who sadly wasn’t there. Though I have profound respect for their ability to articulate and contextualise their experiences of theatre, I invariably argue with them, and occasionally even press send.

[I started writing this on my phone in the Belvoir foyer between the forum and the afternoon session of Babyteeth, and accidentally uploaded a fragment. Apologies to M-H and anyone else who got the fragment.]

Deep Suburbia

At a Sydney Writers’ Festival a couple of years ago Jennifer Maiden was reading at a Sydney-themed poetry session. She told us that she hadn’t been able to think of anything she’d written about Sydney. But when someone mentioned a couple of titles, she understood: ‘Oh, Western Sydney! I’ve got plenty about Western Sydney!’

20111105-111958.jpgThe show in the rehearsal room of the new Bankstown Arts Centre last night was all about Western Sydney, when five actors from the (not-Western) Sydney Theatre Company presented Deep Suburbia. In a nutshell this was a theatrical presentation of work from an anthology of the same name published earlier this year by the Bankstown Youth Development Service (mostly known as BYDS – I had to look up its full name).

The anthology is the third in the Westside Jr series, edited like its predecessors by Michael Mohammed Ahmad. It consists almost entirely of writing produced by school students during an artists in residence program that gave guidance and mentorship to the young writers over a number of weeks. Click on the image to the left for an e-book version – it’s a good read in its own right. The back cover isn’t wrong when it says that  its ‘writers and photographers channel the unique and often misrepresented  voice of Sydney’s infamous Western Suburbs’. Jennifer Maiden thinks of herself as a voice from Western Sydney. People who enthuse about Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap seem to read it as giving voice to a previously mute equivalent in Melbourne. This anthology and its predecessors demonstrate that given half a chance there’s a multitude of voices in the West ready to make themselves heard. I’ve been dipping into it for months, and always found something to enjoy, from sharp, short poems like this by Peta Murphy:

The mood turns from sympathy to scorn
when her end means the delay
of the 3:14 to Granville.

to longer tales of family life, or classroom romance/politics.

Last night was something of a revelation. The performers – Stefo Nantsou (who also directed), Arka Das, Elena Carapetis, Lindy Sardelic amd Miranda Tapsell – read the pieces with intelligence, humour and moments of great poignancy. They played around with form, so that the evening had a shape – among other things, the show finished with Filip Stempien’s enigmatically named ‘New Zealand Boys Drum’, a string of glimpses of the varied life of Bankstown, and we realise that a number of these glimpses have been acted out for us in the interstices of earlier readings. Most interestingly for me, the performances demonstrated something about the nature of young people’s writing. There were a couple of pieces, for instance – a rant about how annoying girls are (by someone who chose, perhaps wisely, to remain anonymous), a step-by-step account of a day spent obsessed with a boyfriend’s perceived bad mood (also anonymous), Kameron Omar’s recount of his mother’s time in hospital with an aneurysm – that one might be tempted to read as artless scribblings on the page, interesting mainly as sociological data. In performance, the depth of their creativity became blazingly evident: ‘Girls These Days’ sounds like Henry Higgins as Pizza Boy; ‘I Write to Remember’ does a brilliant job of mocking the thing it enacts; the beautifully understated ‘Aneurysm’ is permeated with quiet terror.

The show was only on for two nights. It was free, and food was provided. I’m sorry you didn’t make it. I’m very glad I did.

Bill Hunter

‘It seems everyone in Australia wanted to remember Bill Hunter this week,’ said Julie Rigg on the Movie Show yesterday. Well, for what it’s worth, here’s my 10 second encounter with him.

It was interval at the Nimrod Theatre, now the Stables, roughly 40 years ago. I was in my mid 20s, a nerd before the word – awkward, shy, and wretchedly lonely. (How glad I am not to be still in my mid 20s!) Enter Bill Hunter and two actor friends, all a little rowdy and more than a little tiddly. One of the trio was a reasonably well-known sexy comic actress. Somehow or other she and I found ourselves inclose proximity at the foot of the stairs leading up to the performance space. Seizing the moment for what was no doubt intended as a bit of good natured teasing, she turned her large mascara’d eyes on me and saying something like, ‘Hi there,’ moved very close, brushing against me with her fur coat in a parody of screen flirtation. I was mortified. And cornered. And it must have shown. She moved even closer. At that point Bill Hunter made me a fan for life by intervening. He took her by the arm. ‘Come on, Fifi,’ he said. ‘Leave him alone. You’ve had a few too many.” [He didn’t actually call her Fifi, because that’s not her real name.] And he led her firmly if a little unsteadily out into the night, leaving me with a story to tell and no harm done.

Five audiences

The Art Student doesn’t blog, except by remote control, as in saying to me, ‘You should write on your blog about…’ This is one of those posts.

In the last week, in spite of my otherwise debilitating head cold, we’ve been to five cultural outings. This is a brief review of the audiences. (Distances in brackets are from our house to the theatre.)

1. The Drama Theatre of the Opera House: Nina Conti’s Talk to the Hand (7.9 km)
We got a pretty good look at the front row of this youngish, well-heeled crowd, as Nina and her monkey held them up to ridicule one after another. The foul-mouthed monkey made a series of outrageous remarks, shocking sweet, well-bred Nina. ‘Are you married to her?’ the monkey asked one man, indicating the woman next to him. ‘Sometimes,’ the man said, which I think you’ll agree is a pretty good response. ‘What do you mean, sometimes?’ Nina asked. ‘Well, at other times she’s [insert your own misogynist end to sentence].’ Even the monkey was taken aback, and moved on quickly. The joke was in danger of failing as the audience promised to be even more obnoxious than the monkey. The same man called out further insults about his wife later in the evening. Of course, it would be wrong to tar the whole audience with his brush, but whenever Ms Conti or one of her dummies called for suggestions, the replies were mostly sex- or bum-themed. The show was fabulous, but the audience had a significantly vocal leavening of misogyny and middle-class yobbery.

2. Gleebooks: Gerard Windsor and Giulia Giuffrè in conversation about the latter’s book, Primavera (3.7 km)
The smallest, most serious and most mature of the five audiences. When we arrived, the two performers were mingling with the audience-to-be. Someone asked me, ‘How do you fit in?’ and told me Giulia had commented with pleasure when she saw some strangers arrive. (I probably count as a stranger: I met Giulia a couple of times in the early 70s, but she didn’t remember me.) Someone from Gleebooks  introduced the event in 10 seconds flat (‘perfunctory’ doesn’t begin to cover it), leaving Gerry to say who he was. This only deepened the sense that we were at an intimate gathering – friends, family (Giulia’s 20-something daughter was there, and spoke briefly), colleagues.

3. Seymour Centre: iOTA’s Smoke & Mirrors (3 km)
In many respects similar to the Nina Conti audience, this crowd were hip rather than heeled. An older woman in the front row opposite us kept her face fixed in a scowl the whole time except for one brief smile. She applauded politely at the end of most items, and winced when the stage lights fell on her, as they did often. But the great bulk of the audience applauded enthusiastically not only the songs, acrobatics and magic tricks, but also iOTA’s sexually ambiguous clown-crying-on-the-outside musical performance. When the lyrics got, as they say, explicit, the crowd was unfazed, but when a decorous striptease ended with the unveiling of the stripper’s beard there was no noisy clamour for more intimate exposure. This audience, with nothing to prove, seemed happy to be entertained and challenged.

4. Dendy Cinema Newtown: special advance screening of Sunshine and Oranges (1.6 km)
This was a 6.30 screening for Club Dendy members, of a movie about Margaret Humphries exposing the secretive deportation of 130 000 children from the UK to Australia. There was a lot of silver hair in this packed house and, at least near us, a smattering of English accents. The Art Student thought there was a preponderance of women, not young, but not yet of a certain age, who could have been social workers. I was struck by the number of phone screens that stayed lit up until the last possible moment, by which I mean several seconds after the film began.

5. The Factory: Fear of a Brown Planet Attacks (.7 km)
Another packed house. My guess is that the vast majority of the audience were young Muslim Indians or Pakistanis.Here we were definitely in the minority, as white people and also as people over 40. There were plenty of hijabs and other headscarfs, but I didn’t see any older women in saris or salwar kameez. Aamer Rahman’s performance of a Bollywood song in (I’m guessing) Hindi provoked a lot of recognising laughter. And when Nazeem Hussain, the other half of Fear of a Brown Planet, did a caustic impersonation of a white Australian calling him ‘Zeemo’, ‘Nazzer’ and so on, he had the audience right there with him. Racism was mocked. A child ran about noisily at the back of the large auditorium for most of the show’s second half, and no one got into a state about it. Perhaps the White People were a little more subdued than usual as we left, but my impression is we were among people who not only had been entertained but also had had significant issues named out loud.

All but the first of the events happened within walking distance of our house. It’s as if we live at the junction of different worlds. Ah, city life!