Tribes

Tribes, as produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company, creates an engaging family portrait that – despite falling into the pathways of constructed family dysfunction – constructs a narrative that reaches outside of the domestic unit and into the world of the Deaf community, reflecting the suffocation that sometimes comes with those who ‘try to do their best for you’.

An upper middle class family of Jewish intellectuals, the family unit in Tribes use argument and verbal patter as their main form of communication and identification. At least, this is the way they would all like to tell it, the exception being the youngest son, Billy (Luke Watts), who was born deaf and who spends most of the time sitting silently amongst the chatter – an act his relatives take for complicity in the family dynamic. This changes when he meets Sylvia (Alison Bell), a woman heavily involved in the Deaf community. Born hearing, but having deaf parents, she is in the middle of losing her hearing completely. This relationship opens Billy up to the Deaf community, which his parents have deliberately kept from him. In their view, connecting Billy with people who are like him would ‘hobble’ him somehow, pushing him down the path of hearing aids and speech therapy.

For many, this play would act as an introduction to the politics and prejudices surrounding deafness, as well as Deafness. Billy’s increasing awareness of how his family’s good but severely misguided intentions have caused him to miss out is thoughtfully set up in the first act – although the increasingly horrible commentary from his father, Christopher (Brian Lipson), on what he thinks of the Deaf community is often almost too much to take in order for a point to get across. But that is what this commentary, this talk, reveals itself to be; this bluster with lack of tenderness means that not only is Billy’s deafness discounted, but so are the opening paragraphs of his mother Beth’s (Sarah Peirse) first novel, and so are the increasing voices in his brother Daniel’s (David Paterson) head. The family is bound in the field of linguistic battle, but no ground is ever given in the name of empathy; they can argue until they’re blue in the face about the free play of signs and signifiers, but the only signing that Billy is truly interested in is summarily dismissed as a dull pantomime, a pale imitation of the English language.

It is the entrance of Sylvia that interrupts and awakens Billy, and Alison Bell encapsulates the heart of the show with her brilliant performance. Her character pulls all the threads together, with her knowledge of hearing and not hearing, as well as being the outsider who must be begrudgingly accepted into a home that defines itself through verbal cruelty, an act she equally dismisses and struggles to protect herself from. Bell has created a restrained and utterly engaging performance, gathering the audience as well as the family around her, hanging on her every word as she is transformed from a conduit for Billy and a representation of the Deaf community to the very woman who both embraces, and disassembles, the motivations and affectations behind the family’s very dysfunction.

I was greatly encouraged to watch a domestic ensemble piece coming out of the MTC. With an increasing, and occasionally worrying, trend towards spending more time on sets than scripts, this was an interesting and engaging piece of theatre, performed by a tightly bound, very talented ensemble that hopefully has scratched the surface of a few issues that, up to now, have not been properly explored. One jarring note was the ending, which felt oversimplified, in some ways embarrassing an up-until-then well written script.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tribes
By Nina Raine
Director: Julian Meyrick
Set Design: Stephen Curtis
Costume Design: Louise McCarthy
Lighting Designer: Matt Scott
Composer/Sound Designer: Tim Dargaville

Cast: Alison Bell, Julia Grace, Brian Lipson, David Paterson, Sarah Peirse, Luke Watts

The MTC Theatre, Sumner
4 February–12 March, 2012
Bookings: www.mtc.com.au

See the original post here: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/tribes-187580

The Clive James Collection

Clive James has a special place in my heart, and in the heart of every one of my flat mates, who at one stage or another during my ten-hour viewing marathon of the recently released Complete Collection exclaimed the same sentence: “Oh, I used to watch him with my parents when I was little.”

The pudgy, deadpan Australian – a precursor to today’s Louis Theroux – charms his way across continents, lifestyles and sexy foils, all the while retaining an 80s sense of wonder at the ever-expanding world the baby boomers were born into, and have tried to overrun. And after watching ten straight hours of his commentary on everything from Japan to the Playboy Mansion, I have an internal monologue in his tone of voice that I seem unable to snap myself out of.

A lot of enjoyment found in the series comes from James’ attitude. Whether it be approaching wild elephants on safari, challenging the motivations of charity-giving squillionaires in Dallas, learning to not only drive a car but race it in a celebrity grand prix in Adelaide or – my highlight – taking part in Takeshi’s Castle, a Japanese adventure game show, each journey seems to emerge as a result of him saying: “Why not?”

This question has traced the trajectory of most of his critical career, as he has written on the subject of art, poetry and badly made-for-television movies. If it’s something the public is going to want to watch and take part in, why not tag along, commentating with a critical eye? This conceit for adventure does seem to overshoot at times, as in each episode at one stage or another you will invariably find him with nearly no kit on, but I do admire his willingness to take on whatever challenges his subjects throw at him.

This being an 80s television show, and with James having made it when he was already approaching middle age, there are moments of generational cringe that are more obvious now my age has moved into double digits. It’s no more obvious than in the episode where he is welcomed into the Playboy mansion, where – entering the pool for a swim – he voiceovers about his company’s extreme good looks before challenging them, in a patronising tone, about their ‘betrayal of feminism’. While this makes me want to punch a cushion, James has enough saving graces through his adventurous spirit to be tolerated in his moments of thoughtlessness.

These moments that make you cringe are offset by the number of times he exposes himself to humiliation at the hands of his own un-worldliness, an old-world bearing that many were only beginning to emerge from, or were being allowed to emerge from, as a result of cheaper travel options in the 70s and 80s.

I can’t say enough about the importance of Clive James in the shaping of middle-class Australian identity at a time when confusion and cringe reigned in our cultural landscape. Though hopefully times have changed, and hopefully we have moved on somewhat in the past 25 years, this collection is a welcome trip into our recent past.

The Clive James Collection
UK, 1980s, 442 mins (three-disc set)

Out now on DVD
Distributor: Madman
Rated M

See the original here: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/film-tv-radio/the-clive-james-collection-186998?sc=1

After All This

After All This is an awkward, yet ultimately brave attempt to deal with questions of morality and mortality. The work, which had a short season at this year’s Melbourne Fringe, was created by Elbow Room, who are devising a multi-part work over the next year entitled Now More Than Ever, of which After All This works as both a warm up and a component.

The play is in three parts. The first features two children, played by adult actors, dealing with the early fumblings of religious belief. The second deals with mathematician George Price, and acts as a precursor to the loss of his atheistic ‘faith’, and religious conversion after publishing an equation that attempted to explain the biological and genetic background to the concept of morality. The third deals with a mass suicide in the USA in the late 1990s. In this the cast explains, as a collective, that although their faith is strong enough to go to the ‘next level’, they cannot explain it to those who are not receptive, i.e., the audience.

The initial scene in the play was worrying to me. My pet hate is contemporary theatre and literature using the concept of ‘the child’ as an extended metaphor of some sort of deep seated modern existential crisis. The ultimate culprit of this is Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, the ultimate children’s’ movie made for adults terrified of growing up. Both the opening scene of the play and the film make a misconception of the actual behaviour of a child. They do not go through existence with a sense of ‘wonder’; or if they do, seeing a toaster and seeing a unicorn exists on par. Everything is new to them. Surprise and wonder have to be justified to the letter to write from the point of view of a child, or else the purpose behind using someone that age becomes transparent – the writer, timid about becoming profound, worried about expressing any sort of concrete idea about the piece’s themes – mortality, morality, religious life – instead retreats into a manufactured innocence, as if they have forgotten the height and depth of emotions one feels as a child.

That being said, I was immensely relieved when we got on with the rest of the play. Although this withholding of resolution, or at least this lack of bravery in trying to come to terms with the questions being raised, permeated the rest of the scenes, Elbow Room were still posing interesting ideas, and did so with an excellent use of space. The middle scene about the mathematician was especially interesting in the sudden appearance of a Shakespearean ‘fool’, that informed both the audience and ourselves of Price’s fate. Evening out the delivery of some of the lines from the cult members would have been better in the final scenes, but overall – and playing to the impenetrable attitude towards the themes of the play – was effective.

I was greatly encouraged by seeing this production. A lot of contemporary art seems to be lending itself to superficial ideas or pop philosophy to reflect a fear of growing up spiritually. I felt that Elbow Room had the space to really go for it

in order to come to terms with their questioning of the human condition. Instead of pulling their punches, the company has the potential to knock us for six.

Rating: Three stars

After All This
Devised by Elbow Room
Dear Patti Smith, Lv 2, 181 Smith St, Collingwood
September 27 – October 1 

Melbourne Fringe Festival
September 21 – October 9

To see this original article, go here: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/after-all-this-185864

The Accident

Solo performer Jonno Katz tells the story of two brothers through dance, mime, and onstage transformation with his one man show, The Accident. Sebastian and Roy are brothers, without parents and relying only on each other. Sebastian, the younger brother, is a street statue who is creatively stalling. He turns to Roy, who he worships, to fund a new conceptual installation: a shit machine, a working version of the human digestive system. Roy, who doesn’t see the art but sees dollar signs from commodifying the work, agrees, and proceeds to destroy the integrity of the project by selling off ideas and cutting corners. Meanwhile his girlfriend Emily is distraught at his less than elegant marriage proposal and Sebastian, in an attempt to be the good guy in the situation, makes it so much worse.

Katz is a consummate performer. His use of dance, clowning and physical theatre to dress the story is bold and expressive, often saying more in a few movements than the script itself. His use of a recurring motif – miming an old man with a walker moving towards a light – is a welcome pause in the show, although sometimes this over-enthusiasm for the physical makes the production more elaborate than it needs to be.

Reliance on pre-recorded music is always difficult, especially in a new space, and some of the choices seemed to drown out the meaning of Katz’s movement, or literally drown out some of the spoken word sections. It has obviously been sound-mixed to fill the (at first overwhelmingly) large space, but it is soon demonstrated why such a big venue has been chosen. Katz fills it admirably, but, dressed as he is – and with justification – in a white shirt and black pants, there is always the risk that he is about to plunge into the space and disappear.

The story that is told is interesting, if at times confusing, and juggling the demands of the script as well as the intense physical demands of the piece is a challenge that Katz rises to, but doesn’t always pull off. The portrayal of Emily is frustrating due to her often clichéd construction, which paints her as stupid, shallow and vain. There is more of an emphasis on what she says than physically portraying her relationship to the other characters, whereas a lot was revealed about Roy and Sebastian’s relationship by simply showing Roy stomping along in the park with Sebastian pattering after him.

If the execution of the story of The Accident had been pared down, and had the execution of the piece been a little less ambitious, this would have made for truly enjoyable theatre. As it is, it’s a little overwrought and overdone, but with great potential.

Rating: Three stars

The Accident
Devised and Performed by Jonno Katz
Directed and Choreographed by Irene Sposetti
The Space Dance and Arts Centre, Prahran
September 22 – October 8 

Melbourne Fringe Festival
September 21 – October 9

For the original article go here: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/the-accident-185804

What I learned at the Edinburgh Fringe

The best time to philosophise about the pros and cons of travel to an international festival, or specifically Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is when you are in extended transit on your way home. Hungry, smelly, tired, and still yet to buy enough duty free alcohol to kill a Jersey Cow, now is the perfect time to reflect on the whirlwind of the Ed Fringe.

Our show, SNAFU Theatre’s Murder at Warrabah House, ran for approximately sixteen nights from the start of the festival. The beginning was when crowds were still getting into gear and there was a freshness to the whole event. As time wears on, audiences, as well as critics, tend to dig their heels in more. Trends appear. Doors to amazing and innovative ideas open. People get very, very drunk, all day long.

The final weeks of Edinburgh Fringe tend towards the more prestigious acts that have received a lot of buzz from previous success in the Fringe or from critical buzz generated from festivals in other cities, such as London or the Brighton Fringe. An example of this was the Belarus Free Theatre, a company whose leader lives in the UK in political exile and whose members suffer constant threats from the country’s dictatorship. From the outset this was a must-see show, developed in London and premiering only in the final week of the Fringe with heaps of publicity to back it up. The buzz was well deserved and left me needing a quiet sit down afterwards.

But we are already about to delve into the Edinburgh Fringe’s mess of contradictions. The real hit of the festival (or arguably one of them?) was a little show by a bunch of kids vaguely associated with the Bristol Old Vic graduate program called the Wardrobe Ensemble. Their devised musical called Riot! was about a riot that occurred at the opening of an Ikea store six years ago in London. The ensemble of eight talented and annoyingly youthful artists incorporated a thoughtful story with belly laughs, physical theatre, dance, music and simple yet incredibly effective art direction (including a canny use of Ikea lamps as their sole lighting gear) to make a great piece of theatre. The reason I went? Because a friend saw it and told me to. How many people did I tell to see it? Three. How many people did they tell to see it? Who knows. But Riot! got its consistently large audiences from enthusiastic word of mouth, as well as from excellent reviews that they seemed genuinely surprised and delighted to receive. And you know what? I saw them out flyering on the street as well.

Both of these shows ran in the early afternoon. A trend that we did not know about before, but have learned now, is that theatre is generally on from the early afternoon until around 6pm, after which the stand up comedy kicks in. The rationale in many audiences’ minds is that they can see theatre and bawl their eyes out during the day, and then cheer themselves up and get drunk at stand up that night.

For us Australians living a 26 hour flight then a five hour train ride away from the excitement and fun of an Edinburgh Fringe it’s easy to forget that there are a lot of people who choose the Edinburgh Fringe as the vehicle to mount their production simply because they live two hours away. Not everyone is sinking thousands of dollars and jet lag into appearing there. As well as the companies like Belarus and Wardrobe, there are also high school groups bringing up their plays, lots and lots and lots of sketch comedy; there’s buskers and puppeteers participating in the free fringe, and so many other types of performer. The quality and verve with which participants are involving themselves varies massively.

I will definitely participate in the Edinburgh Fringe again. However, thought needs to be given, perhaps, to the merits of Australian artists continuing to participate, or seeing the pinnacle of exposure within the confines of the Edinburgh Festival.

One of the things I found surprising during my time in Scotland was that those that ran the Fringe, as well as the audiences hitting the streets, were genuinely pleased and enthusiastic that anyone had turned up at all. Then there was the receptiveness and curiousity of the audiences. People bought tickets to whatever tickled their fancy, whether they knew the performers or not. There were certainly ‘hot tickets’, but the overriding idea was that everyone has their own tastes, their own ideas of what they would like to see. People saw shows because they could, not because they should; a motivation that I sometimes feel the Australian arts scene needs to work on.

The Edinburgh Fringe, like so many other Fringe and art festivals reflects that old phrase: If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own; that refreshing new hit, or special discovery is out there, you just have to take the chance and go out and find it.

Link to the original article http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/what-i-learned-at-the-edinburgh-fringe-185610

How to put on an Edinburgh Fringe Show

Firstly I have a few questions: are you into the arts? Do you have a sense of adventure? Are you relatively unafraid of ending up massively in debt? Do you like Sixteenth century architecture? Then the Edinburgh Fringe festival is for you.

The brief for this article was to tell the story of SNAFU Theatre’s journey to the warm rainy cockles of the Scottish heart of the Fringe, in the hope of encouraging and advising others to follow suit. But the only thing I know from running a theatre company with my friend May Jasper, who acts as our producer and playwright, and the many talented and dedicated theatre nerds we have met on our way, is that each person’s purpose and experiences behind upping sticks and getting a show on the road, whether it be to Edinburgh or Northcote, is different. And well it should be too.

The main thing about ‘getting yourself in’ to the Edinburgh Fringe, or to any Fringe festival for that matter, is that the big papery programmes that are printed each year are not releasing the names of the artists most meritorious of putting themselves under the banner of the festival. Every act, every show of the Edinburgh, of the Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe festivals, simply pays a registration fee and are therefore in the programme. From Simon Callow to North Carolina High, the initial registration fee, in relation to the rest of the costs you incur later in the show, is really a blip on the horizon.

Which leads to the advantage of launching your new piece in a Fringe environment; an idyll in the seemingly competitive field of the performing arts (competing for funding, reviewers, and often, as an afterthought, audiences).

Most audiences who ‘do’ the fringe see at least two shows a day, more often four or five, so by day three they consider themselves to be festival connoisseurs. To put it another way, punters may walk out of your show after five seconds if it doesn’t take their fancy, but it won’t be down to bitchiness or hard feelings, rather the incessant need for every footpath-hitting show-goer to see as much as humanly possible within the confines of August. Not that anyone has walked out of our show – that would be terrible.

May puts it much better than I, so I’ll paraphrase: If you have a show, an idea of a show, and you’re willing to do the work, and you have some semblance of an ability at fundraising (you’d be surprised how far selling boxes of Freddo Frogs goes), then there is nothing stopping you from putting on your own Fringe show. On top of that, the only way that you’re going to learn how to edit, produce, direct and act in a show well is by doing the work and being crap at the start. To paraphrase May again: making art is like making pancakes. The first one is always going to be soggy and inedible but when you get into the rhythm of it, you’re making a whole stack of perfect pancakes with bacon and maple syrup on the side.

To be slightly more practical
To be slightly more practical with this article, and to deal specifically with Edinburgh:

– Book accommodation early because it will fall through and by the time you find somewhere else to stay you’ll be so desperate you won’t mind paying to live in a closet for a thousand pounds a month.

– Don’t rehearse in your living room because it’s distracting and you’ll end up having to do twice the work for the same result.

– Look for a venue for a show early; those that run them will think you’re well organised and much more responsible than you really are, and in terms of Edinburgh’s geography with its winding stairways and bridges, the two points on the map that look close to each other may not be as close as you think.

– And finally when it comes to marketing, listen to everyone and no one’s advice, because there is no winning formula.

Don’t forget to delegate
Also, there is a lot of work on the producing side of the show, so don’t be a megalomaniac and think ‘the piece will speak for itself’. Delegate tasks as much as humanly possible, and respect the people who are putting together marketing and publicity materials. They are the ones who may well just find the right audience for you.

My follow up article might have a more philosophical wrap up once our Fringe run is over and I’ve had some sleep, but right now I’ve got to go to this show that’s starting soon and then I’ve got to go to this site specific thing that this random person told me was awesome. It’s at this vault and….

Murder at Warrabah House
SNAFU Theatre
TheSpaces @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
Time: 22.35 (55m), until 20th August (except 14th).
www.snafutheatre.com/

Read the article where it was originally published here:

http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/how-to-put-on-an-edinburgh-fringe-show-185180?sc=1

Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night

Ali McGregor returns to the Melbourne Comedy Festival with her Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night, a splendid way to check out all the acts MICF has to offer while not risking your bank balance on top of your patience.

Nestled in The Famous Spiegeltent, opera singer-cum-cabaret chanteuse McGregor, along with her butler Saxon MacAlistair (alter ego of the surprisingly canny and versatile Asher Treleaven), presented a truly varied number of acts, starting with US stand up Deanne Smith.

Smith cut right to the chase, effortlessly making sometimes uncomfortable social commentary on Australian life as an outsider whilst still making us laugh. And the fact that she made no attempt to win over the diverse yet (as usually comes with the Comedy Festival) relatively conservative audience in relation to her queerness or political bite, won the audience over in itself. She did play the very fashionable ukulele in her act, but you couldn’t hold it against her. Deanne Smith plays at the Victoria Hotel every night of the festival.

The incredibly chaotic magic act produced by Sweden’s Carl-Einar Häckner belies a very clever structure that had the audience slightly confused, but once hooked, in fits of laughter bordering on tears. His act relies on a great deal of clowning, as well as the wordplay that comes with having English as a second language. His surreal bent works best (as it always does) when it’s not highlighted as an integral part of the show. Carl-Einar Häckner performs every night of the festival in The Deluxe at Federation Square.

Irish comedy rockers Dead Cat Bounce have made a massive splash over the last couple of years. Tonight’s short stint may have suffered from their having just finished their own complete set at The Spiegeltent only an hour before. Even so, they’re an entertaining group that are as much about the tropes of an 80’s rock band as the lyrics that go with it.

McGregor herself is a dazzling and accomplished singer, and the main attraction for many of the attending audience, not only for her musical prowess, but for her self admitted love of increasingly elaborate shoes. She’s also an incredibly generous performer; with Saxon MacAlistair bouncing up and down behind her, throwing in a running commentary on the proceedings, she lets him run off his mouth to a great extent, to the benefit of the night as a whole – although recovering from the hilarious trauma of MacAlistair’s diablo act demonstrating ‘How to do Sex,’ will take some time.

Orginal Article: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/ali-mcgregors-late-nite-variety-nite-night-183622?sc=1

Rabbit Hole

The loss of a child is one of those subjects that makes you stop mid-sentence in conversation. It is a sublime experience, in the old fashioned sense of the word; one cannot quite put one’s finger on the feeling of it, and god help you if you are trying to connect or communicate with someone who has been through it.

In my mind, such a loss eradicates, as it should, the notion that one can find strength or growth in pain. Melvin Jules Bukiet put it better than me: ‘… the dull truth is that pain is tautological The only thing that suffering teaches us is that we are capable of suffering’. Anyone who says otherwise has never experienced the loss of truly someone close.

It is an insane idea to try and communicate this specific, tortuous form of grief on the screen. Director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus) does it, tries it, using the blank slates of actors Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart to navigate this subject, and very nearly does it very well.

Mitchell has been clever in some respects. Howie (Eckhart) and Becca’s (Kidman) four year old son, Danny, was hit and killed by a car eight months previously. They are two white, upper middle class Americans living in a beautiful home, able to afford to have only one of them working (Howie in a job that is never divulged in an office somewhere). Danny’s death was an accident; there were no questions about speeding or drinking; no neglect on the part of the parents. The set up then, in a way, is a blank slate. There is no messiness to Danny’s death, which means that Howie and Becca’s grief can be taken at face value. There are no secrets kept from the audience, only from each other, and only in saddening, but not necessarily completely damaging ways.

This placement of the main characters is both understandable and annoying, and I can’t quite decide what side of the two emotions wins. A lot of the resources and support and simplicity provided for Howie and Becca to do their hand-wringing in frustrates your ability to like either character as much as you want to. In some ways, though, I think that’s deliberate: both characters are played by actors who are very well known, but not for anything in particular, any ‘type’.

Both characters are, several times in the film, massive jerks. They, but especially Becca, use up everyone’s goodwill like such emotions are emotional Kleenex, while the usually mild-mannered Howie’s occasional explosions of anger are irritating in their predictability. Even Becca’s attempts to connect with Jason (Miles Teller) the troubled teenager who ran her son down seem less altruistic and more selfish than one might hope.

Rabbit Hole is an effective character study, expanded from its original Broadway incarnation by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who also adapted it for the screen; and an honest attempt to look at the absurdities that come about when really terrible, traumatic things happen. It’s thoughtful without being too difficult, and doesn’t try to leave us with a message. Coming out of Hollywood, that’s quite a relief.

Original article can be viewed at: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/film-tv-radio/rabbit-hole-183294?sc=1

Gwen in Purgatory

Gwen is ninety. Recently moved out of the now for sale family home, she is newly ensconced in a remote, newly built condo, complete with fan forced ovens and air conditioners, corresponding remote controls and maddening instruction manuals.

Set in real time, members of her family seemingly happen along on the now frail matriarch, carrying out a disingenuous performance of having her best interests at heart. Daniel, her grandson, is protective, unanchored by the loss of his mother to ambiguous circumstances. He has been brought up by his family, in particular his fussy Aunt Peg (referred to as ‘mum’) in a functional, yet ultimately inadequate way.

Peg herself seems to have fallen victim to ‘only responsible daughter’ syndrome, frustrated by the expectations of the family for her to take on the figure of ‘carer’, whilst simultaneously trying to embrace her independence before it is too late. Peg’s brother Laurie is the failed male figure of the family, an ineffective and selfish businessman, but as the sole remaining son he has been given the role of the patriarch, a position where he is completely out of his depth.

Observing the goings on is Father Ezekiel, a newly ordained Nigerian priest, well meaning but alienated from the interactions of this family, his goal throughout the play to sign off on blessing the new house and get to the local library so he can Skype his family. You hate to use the word ‘innocent’ when describing his character, but in many ways that is how he is written, or rather is used to further push the idea that this family, with their flapping dance around Gwen, is completely oblivious to the ways in which their attempts to care for each other actually inflict great pain.

Tommy Murphy has touched on these themes of family before in his 2005 play Strangers In Between. In that play the gay main character Shane has escaped his rural NSW home town after a beating from his brother, a trope that is both activated and subverted within the text. That lack of clear judgement is emphasised by an almost complete absence of stage directions save entrances and exits. In reading the text it means that you find yourself reading it too fast, too quickly jumping between the characters, but it is an exciting prospect for the interpretation of this play by anyone producing it. This ambiguity in the characters’ intentions can be coloured and emphasised as it fits that particular production, and in a reading of the text on an academic level, it can achieve much of the same.

In Gwen in Purgatory, as the foibles of the seemingly caring characters emerge in the text, you find yourself searching for someone to blame, a bad guy. You search for an overarching comment on the treatment of the elderly in society. Tommy Murphy, and by extension the characters refuse that, the play emphasising the inherent brutality of being human, of the need to serve yourself before others. Laurie and Peg are no more guilty than Gwen of damaging the ones closest to them through ‘trying to do the best for them’. It is an ugly truth, but one that draws humour, and a sense of humanness into the text.

Published

Tommy Murphy

Currency Press | 978-0-86819-894-1 | PB

$21.95 inc GST

Original Article: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/publishing-and-writing/gwen-in-purgatory-183060?sc=1

We are Doing Well

I’d heard a lot of good things about prolific theatre group Forty Forty Home, which unfortunately may have raised my expectations to unfair levels going into We Are Doing Well, their Melbourne Fringe Festival production. A production heavily relying on preconceived signs and signifiers, a sympathy towards the glitch aesthetic and an assumption of collective left wing groupthink meant that the production, while not bad, didn’t leave itself to actually say anything despite its myriad of intentions.

We Are Doing Well starts with Mel, your typical current affairs, Naomi Robson-esque newsreader having a meltdown on air. Horrified and embarrassed, she flees the studio only to come across a room that she’d never noticed before, inhabited by Jen, an ambiguous figure from television’s past, and a beach ball called Helvetica. Both are soaking up the rays of a videotaped tropical island paradise.

Jen invites Mel to stay, brings the beach ball and an apricot Danish to life, and all try to explore the nature of modern news reporting. Ideas about regret surface, the impact of lies. Part of the problem however, was that I knew what the subtext was going to be because I read the program. The actual execution of said subtext wore itself a bit thin on the ground, turning the actual play into a bit of a one note song, its padding out with the use of surrealism only effective to a point.

The surrealism was a big sticking point for me, especially since the presence of a newsreader, filled with regret at misreporting a story of neglect, has a tremendous amount of weight to it. You don’t write a play with a character, or more aptly, a symbol like that without doing something with it. Mel, however, spends most of the play in an ineloquent freeze-frame, only articulating the aforementioned feelings of shame and regret in the final moments in the piece. This leaves the audience wondering what her unarticulated angst means for most of the play, although it seems we’re supposed to know the source, that ‘current affairs newsreader’ automatically signifies ‘bottom feeding story fabricator’. Yes, that is true, that is what the majority of the people in the room probably did see in Mel’s character, but you either wanted that thought expressed in the text or, if a mutual assumption has already been made about them, an extension of the thought beyond that. Neither was achieved. Instead, when any headway was made, a segue to the beach ball coming to life or a surf rock dance would happen instead, manufactured whimsy which is often hard to nail.

The video projection, reminiscent of the website Everything is Terrible, had a homemade twinge to it. The vision stuttered, the sound pitched; a reminder that this island paradise is not real, is impermanent. Then there is the content, the newsreader and the morning show host. Their main conflict is guilt, the narcissistic realisation that one’s life has been created out of lies, that the other’s has been created out of a dissatisfaction with their chosen career. The job has become boring. I feel like I’m lying to my kids. I am unhappy. The only solution is to escape into a fabricated world. But even there you are not safe.

All these ideas have resonance, but without the emotional attachment to the characters, it’s hard to bring yourself to care whether they leave the room or not (another big sticking point, Mel continues to complain that she wants to leave, but doesn’t, even though there is nothing stopping her, physically or emotionally). I wanted more from this production than what it gave its audience, and I think Forty Forty Home are capable of a lot more.

Forty Forty Home present We Are Doing Well at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall. Season concluded.

Written by Ella McDonald and Erin Kelly

Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks

Melbourne Fringe Festival, September 22 – October 10

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/we-are-doing-well-182580?sc=1