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

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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

Frankenstein in Love

The Monash University Student Theatre production of Frankenstein in Love, performed for the Melbourne Fringe at Collingwood Underground Carpark, is an ambitious, visually strong, yet ultimately uneven horror story that misses its mark when it comes to the plot in a manner that distracts from its potential.

The play – an early work by writer and filmmaker Clive Barker (The Books of Blood, Hellraiser) – takes place in a Central American country in the midst of a coup led by the mysterious El Coco (Benjamin Marshall). It is quickly discovered that under the previous dictatorship, an exiled European doctor, Josef Frankenstein (Thomas Middleditch) has been allowed to carry out human experiments on enemies of the people. Now the maimed and monstrous survivors of the doctor’s experiments, including El Coco himself, are after revenge.

The play’s use of visual elements is very strong, with the chorus painted in make-up reminiscent of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and the gore being actually gory, with ripped out hearts and flayed characters shouting for revenge being run of the mill events in this unapologetically lurid play. The lighting is also, for the most part, effective and seamless, working well with the use the actors make of the underground venue: slowly creeping out of the dark, the audience seeing them before the other characters do. With all of these elements in play, it was curious that the delivery of the text was decidedly un-camp, with the exception of Tegan Harrod’s Lazaro, who nailed her Igor/Renfield-like character with a great mix of physical performance and vicious buffoonery.

I would have understood the choice of a serious portrayal of all of these elements, had the potentially strong thematic content of the script been explored. At a time when Central America seems to be tearing itself apart, at a time when torture and body horror is the norm for both filmmakers and government superpowers, at a time when fresh batches of war criminals continue to be unearthed from conflicts that ended not so long ago, it seemed a shame that none of these modern anxieties were used to lend a helping hand to the production in any consistent way.

Ultimately, a choice had to be made on what everyone was to run with. Uttering thematic elements as tokenisms is not the same as a thorough and thoughtful exploration of them. Auschwitz, coups, human experimentation, all within an unstable Central American government; so many strong ideas were circulating under the surface of the script. A utilisation of the elements of horror, coupled with some reference to the sociological anxiety or disruption in which most horror stories are contextualised when they are written, was obvious in its absence in this production.

Rating: Two and a half stars

Monash Uni Student Theatre present
Frankenstein in Love
By Clive Barker
Directed by Emma Palackic and Sophie Phillips
Production Design: Sophie Phillips
Lighting Design: Jason Lehane
Sound design/Composition: Ross Unger
Cast: Benjamin Marshall, Alexanda Wynne, Rosie Noone, Joel Skurrie, Thomas Middleditch, Tegan Harrod, Josh Karlik, Nick Fry, James jackson, Henry Brooks and Isobel Roberts-Orr

Collingwood Underground Car Park
September 16 – 17 and 19 – 25 

Melbourne Fringe Festival
September 21 – October 9

See the original post here: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/frankenstein-in-love-185671

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

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