Tuesday, 15 April 2014

SPOILER ALERT: George RR Martin is not Shakespeare



Note: there will be no spoilers in here for “Game of Thrones” but there will be for some of Shakespeare’s work, specifically Romeo & Juliet.

Romeo & Juliet: not yet dead in this picture
Something happened on last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones”. A momentous twist in the make-up of the show. I haven’t seen the episode yet, but I have already been spoiled. Though Twitter blew up with spoilers yesterday, it was mainstream media outlets that let the cat out of the bag for me. Not so much because of what they said, but what their headlines implied. I get subtext, guys. I can read between the lines.

This led not to a discussion about the storytelling in the show, which can be a minefield at the best of times, but to the subject of spoilers: who should reveal them and when. And are spoilers from a fourteen-year-old novel really spoilers? Once they’ve aired on television, in one market, are they fair game?

Because Twitter is instantaneous, it’s only the East Coast of the US than can watch the episode without fear of spoilers. A few hours later on the West Coast can be too late, if you’re not careful. In Australia, there’s a couple more hours to wait if you can watch it live on a Monday afternoon. Or a few more hours if you have to wait until after work.

By that time yesterday, mainstream press was alluding to the plot twists. Mashable spoiled it in a headline. Stephen King had tweeted the spoiler. I hadn’t watched the first episode of the season, let alone the second – plus I was distracted by the “Mad Men” premiere. No spoilers for that here, either.

Sometimes plot twists seep into the culture. Some of the great works of literature and film cannot really be appreciated in the same way as they once were because we know the major reveals of the plot. That said, if a story is really good, it’s the detail of the story that should make it worth watching. Knowing what happened in last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones” shouldn’t ruin the experience of watching it – if it’s done well.

Someone I follow on Twitter said that reacting to a spoiler in a fourteen-year-old book is like saying that you’re surprised that Romeo & Juliet die. There’s a lot of things wrong with this, I think.

“Game of Thrones” is a different kind of story. Romeo & Juliet is a literal tragedy. We are waiting for that ending to come. Let’s not forget that Shakespeare spoils the ending of Romeo & Juliet in the prologue:

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life

He wants you to know it’s coming. He wants you to watch his characters meet their inevitable fate. “Game of Thrones” is on one-hand about political machinations. It’s about characters wanting to ascend to the Iron Throne. And there are dozens of characters vying for that position. We know the end game, but we don’t know who will be left to play it.

Cersei, not yet dead - as far as I know!
Cersei says in the first season of the series, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” George RR Martin is sticking to that promise – several characters playing the game have died. Often in shocking ways at surprising times. But because the narrative isn’t over – on screen or on the page – we can’t yet know which losses will impact the end of the story. The journey is barely half done.

“Game of Thrones” is not a tragedy, it’s more of a melodrama. It seems epic in the Shakespearean sense of the word – lots of characters, political and court intrigue – but it’s hard to judge a story on the revelations of one chapter. Yes, I’ve had last night’s episode spoiled for me, but will that ruin the experience of watching the series? Probably not.

Should people who haven’t read the books expect to remain unspoiled? I think so. Not everyone can read everything ever. And there are more people watching the series now than have ever read the books. And, in fact, it’s not the book readers who have been doing the spoiling over the last couple of days – it’s been TV viewers hell-bent on revealing that they’ve seen it first, everyone else be damned.

I try my best to avoid social media on days when I know it will be difficult to miss spoilers, but I’d appreciate it if mainstream media kept a lid on some of the reveals – at the very least until the episode has aired in each market. And don’t be too clever with your vague headlines, allusions can spoil as much as outright declarations.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Thank you, 2013

Dear 2013,

I slowed down this year because there were things I needed to get done, needed to write and needed to contemplate. That means I didn’t see all the theatre I wanted to see or all the films I wanted to see.

On TV, I loved Hannibal and Broadchurch and how Fringe ended and how Game of Thrones threw a wedding and House of Cards and Arrested Development’s odd fourth season. I really liked the Americans and thought Mad Men’s sixth season was really impressive, especially by the end. I saw Breaking Bad, but didn’t love it the same way so many people loved it. Justified wasn’t as great as it used to be, but still fun. Homeland went completely off the rails. And Doctor Who just isn’t the same anymore.

At the cinema, Before Midnight was almost perfection and Gravity was exquisite. World War Z was suprisingly good. Iron Man 3 was an excellent follow up to The Avengers. Thor 2 was just fun. Star Trek Into Darkness and Elysium were disappointments. Frozen was just delightful. And, given local release dates, Life of Pi was one of my favourites of 2013, too. Much Ado About Nothing was also a delight. And, oh yeah, Catching Fire was amazing! American Hustle, as well.


2012 was probably my favourite year, so 2013 was going to have a tough time living up to it. Some years you just have to slow down, look around and plan for the year ahead. I can’t always keep barrelling into new things; I want to plan things and make them the best I can. No point making things that aren’t the best they can be.

I have so many people to thank that I’ll kick myself if I forget anyone, so here’s an overview:
  • Thanks to everyone involved with Poems a Dead Boy Wrote at Sydney Short & Sweet
  • Thanks to everyone involved with Like a House on Fire at the Western University of Michigan
  •  Thanks to everyone involved with the reading of A Modern Superwoman at Cold Readings
  •  Thanks to everyone involved with the reading of Who Are You Supposed to Be in Melbourne
  •  Thanks to everyone involved with the workshop and reading of A Modern Superwoman by five.point.one in Adelaide
  •  Thanks to everyone involved with the production of Who Are You Supposed to Be in Edinburgh and London
  •  Thanks to everyone involved with Eight Minutes at Townsville Short & Sweet
  •  Thanks to everyone involved with About Time at Melbourne Fringe
And looking forward to 2014:
  •           Thanks to everyone involved in the creation of The Dead End
  •           Thanks to everyone involved in the ongoing development of A Modern Superwoman
  •           Thanks to those involved with the early stages of Who Are You and The House of Goodbyes


Yes, yes. That whole list is compiled from a year where I slowed down. Wait for 2014, when I pick up speed and go for broke.

Happy 2014 to all my readers!

See you in the new year.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

My Favourite Theatre of 2013

This year I saw shows in Melbourne and Sydney. The Top Ten are my favourite shows of the year, but the Next Ten are basically all in eleventh place. After a slow start to the year, the Melbourne Theatre Company’s NEON Festival kicked things into high gear – and after that, the rest of the year was full of exciting, imaginative, passionate and memorable theatre.

Note: these are listed in alphabetical order

THE TOP TEN

ANGELS IN AMERICA: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES & PERESTROIKA – Belvoir
The classic American play about AIDS in Reagan’s America in a stunning production at Belvoir.



BY THEIR OWN HAND – The Hayloft Project, Neon Festival/MTC
Hayloft shakes up Oedipus in this smart triptych.

LIFE AND TIMES, PARTS 1 to 4 – The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, Melbourne Festival
A ten-hour epic that played out in the Playhouse, bringing an audience of 600 together to experience a life (and their own lives) in a way we’ll never forget.

NIGHT MAYBE – Stuck Pigs Squealing, Theatre Works
It’s difficult to put into words how beautiful this show was, not to mention how moving and intelligent, passionate and insightful. Theatrical perfection.



NO CHILD... – Nilaja Sun, Theatre Works
Sometimes, all you need, is one woman on stage playing a couple of dozen characters. A tour-de-force.

ROOM OF REGRET – The Rabble, Theatre Works, Melbourne Festival
And sometimes you need a maze of rooms and corridors and a strong company to lead you through their unforgettable take on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

SAVAGES – Forty-Five Downstairs
Patricia Cornelius’ poetic and penetrating and powerful examination of masculinity and misogyny.

THE BLOODY CHAMBER – Malthouse
A masterful stage adaptation of Angela Carter’s short story. Theatre making at the absolute top of its game.



THE MAIDS – STC
Benedict Andrews. Andrew Upton. Cate Blanchett. Isabelle Huppert. Elizabeth Debicki. Jean Genet’s The Maids. Seriously, what else needs to be said? Black comic perfection.

THE SOVEREIGN WIFE – Sixxters Grimm, Neon Festival/MTC
Declan Greene and Ash Flander’s bring their unique sensibility to an epic story of Australia. A fitting end to the Neon Festival, with a few digs at conservative theatre companies for good measure. Hilarious and biting.


THE NEXT TEN

COLUMBINE – MUST Theatre, Daniel Lammin
Daniel Lammin’s devised and verbatim meditation on the Columbine massacre. Sharp and devastating.



CONSTELLATIONS – MTC
Sometimes life turns on the words you choose to say and those left unspoken. Parallel universes and a performance for the ages from Alison Bell.

MENAGERIE – Daniel Schlusser Ensemble, Neon Festival/MTC
A tribute to Tennessee William’s work and creative process. Brilliant and untamed.

ON THE BODILY EDUCATION OF YOUNG GIRLS – Fraught Outfit, Neon Festival, MTC
An almost silent meditation on youth, puberty and the traps of a rote education.

PALACE OF THE END – Theatre Works
Three tragic monologues that take three different points of view on the American invasion of Iraq. Performances and direction, magic.



PERSONA – Fraught Outfit, Malthouse
By every right, a stage adaptation of the film Persona should not work. Adena Jacobs pulls off the impossible.

SOLOMON AND MARION – MTC
A lovely little surprise at the Melbourne Theatre Company, that didn’t need star power to pull it off.

SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN – Sixxters Grimm, Theatre Works
Southern melodrama was never so hilarious. What a cast. What a script. What a crocheted set!

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE – Opera Victoria
Sondheim’s masterpiece on the creative process is precise and delicate and very moving.



THE CHERRY ORCHARD – MTC
Simon Stone is let loose at the Melbourne Theatre Company and while the arguments about adaptations continued around him, this show proved what a smart theatre maker he is.


THE HONOURABLE MENTIONS

BECAUSE OF REASONS – Five Pounds of Repertory Theatre

GYPSY – The Production Company

OTHER DESERT CITIES – MTC

ROTPETER – Butterfly Club

SHADOWS OF ANGELS – The Owl and the Pussycat

SONGS FOR EUROPE – Melbourne Fringe

STORIES I WANT TO TELL YOU IN PERSON – Malthouse

SUPER DISCOUNT – Back-to-Back Theatre, Malthouse

WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT – Malthouse

ZOO STORY – Revolt Theatre


Note:  Before you ask, I didn’t see The Rabble’s Story of O at the Neon Festival. Probably my biggest regret of the year. I also didn’t see much at Melbourne Fringe, but that was around the time I needed a break.

Favourite Theatre of 2012

Favourite Theatre of 2011

Sunday, 1 December 2013

2013: A year of development and planning ahead

2013 was always supposed to be a planning year. A writing year. I wasn’t going to put on any shows in Melbourne. I was going to write a lot and aim to get work on in 2014 and beyond.

The biggest project this year was “Who Are You Supposed To Be” for the Edinburgh Fringe. That was on the cards from late 2012, but even from a distance it felt like as much work as putting on a show here. It had to be written. Then Jen had to find a director and another actor. And I wrote press releases and sent them all over the place – trying to get publicity and critics to the show.

Being a Doctor Who-themed show, the publicity almost generated itself. 50th Anniversary. Change of actor announcement. And the director and other actor we found were perfect for the show.

Then the gang put the show on in London in November for a short season and it sold really well. And more great feedback from our audiences.

It’s weird that I didn’t see the show, but then that happened quite a bit this year. Short & Sweet Sydney. Short & Sweet Townsville. The University of Western Michigan’s Directors’ Festival.

The only production of a play of mine in Melbourne was “About Time”, which popped up at Melbourne Fringe as part of the Bite Sized Theatre series at Broken Mirror.

I did have two readings here, both at the Owl & Pussycat – a development reading of “Who Are You Supposed To Be” and as part of Cold Readings, the first public read of “A Modern Superwoman”.

“A Modern Superwoman” also went to Adelaide for five.point.one’s Reading Sessions. And I went over for that.

Development of “A Modern Superwoman” is nearly two years old now, though the story dates back a long time. And I’ve recently secured a director to direct its premiere production... in 2015. When you want to work with the best, sometimes you have to wait. And I’m happy to wait.

But in the meantime, we’ll use 2014 to make the play as good as it can be – and try to get some development funds to work with the dream cast we’re hoping to put together.

The other project I’ve been working on is a film script. One of my goals for this year was to write/develop/make a short film. Which reminds me, I’m actually working on two film scripts at the moment – a short film version of a short play of mine (that’s never been made) and a feature film script.

I’m always hesitant to talk about works-in-progress, especially when scripts are in flux and you never know what projects are going to go and which ones are going to stall. I’m pretty confident both of the film scripts are in good hands.

Making a short film (which I’ve done in the past, but only as part of the 48 Hour Film contest) was for me to have a project I could show to the world. Theatre shows close. Filming them doesn’t replicate the experience. And a short film seemed like a reasonable way to accomplish what I wanted.

I’ve been hesitant to spend time writing a feature film script, because I spent a lot of my twenties doing that – only to have it not lead anywhere. Plus, if I write a play, I can stage it myself if I have to. Films take a lot more time. And having not written a feature length screenplay in a while, the process of writing it is a lot harder. Not that my plays don’t torture me sometimes, but this screenplay was tough. But, first draft done. And I like re-writing a lot more than I like writing.

I was approached to write this feature by a producer friend of mine, who had a director friend that was looking for a new project. They approached me with a concept and then allowed me to take that away and add in elements that would make it feel more like a project I wanted to write. Not that I didn’t love the concept of what they came to me with, but it took some thinking about.

We worked on the story together – originally it was only going to be a short, but after I wrote up the treatment it was a lot longer than a short. And then we decided to make it a feature and we discussed how to flesh out the concept.

And then I had two months to write draft one. Having outlined the whole film, which is something I don’t tend to do on projects I initiate myself, the writing of the first draft was relatively fun and easy. But it seemed to get harder as it went along, just simply because a film is so different to a stage play – and the genre of this piece is wildly different from anything I’ve written before.

But I love a challenge. First draft is done and emailed to producer and director tonight. I await their notes. The working title is “The Dead End” – but that’s all I want to say about that right now.

And while I’m waiting to develop “A Modern Superwoman” and re-writing “The Dead End”, I’ve started to develop a new immersive theatre work with my old theatre producing partner, Wallis Murphy-Munn. That’s been on the drawing boards for a while now, but the idea is starting to click. I’m a bit protective of that project, so I don’t even want to tell you the working title.


It’s been a really fulfilling year for me creatively. A lot different from 2012. But I’m always trying to flex different creative muscles and that’s what has been satisfying this year – trying new things and spending time making projects they best they can be before releasing them to the world.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Visiting Jesse & Celine: Before Midnight

Celine & Jesse watch the sun set
I’ve known Jesse and Celine for eighteen years now. I met them at the right time, I think. We were similar back then. Their passions and intrigues and romantic notions were similar to mine. They are two or three years older than me, but that’s not much in the scheme of things.

I don’t remember who I shared their first story with. My friends from the mid-90s say they don’t remember Jesse and Celine. Perhaps I met them with a friend with whom I’ve lost contact in the years since? Much like Jesse and Celine lost contact after their first meeting in Vienna.

Nine years later, I saw with the couple again. This time, their lives and my life were very different, though our concerns were still similar – our fixations on the troubles of the world and our discovery that our lives weren’t going to turn out quite the way we expected.

I had, admittedly, never expected to see them after they parted ways in 1995. When I heard they were reuniting in 2004, I was worried. What if the second time wasn’t as good as the first? What if they’d changed too much? What if they didn’t like each other or I didn’t like them?

But as I left them alone in Celine’s apartment, even though that moment was ambiguous, I knew we would see them again. I knew, at least, this time they would not lose touch.

I saw Jesse and Celine together again this year. This time, in Greece. A lot has changed in their lives. A lot has changed in mine, too. They are in their early 40s – I’m not quite there yet. They seem settled, but maybe not comfortable. Their relationship seems stronger, and more brittle at the same time.

No, not brittle. It’s full of the emotional connection that time brings. It’s volatile because of the history they have and the commitments they have made. It’s passionate because it’s love.

The details of my life and their lives are entirely different now. I still love them, though. I’ve known them for eighteen years, after all. I can forgive them their foibles and their bouts of selfishness. I know, deep down, that they love each other. And when they fight, they are the arguments of people who fit together and who work together.

Even when Jesse calls Celine “the mayor of crazy town” and Celine tells Jesse she doesn’t love him anymore, I know it’s borne out of two people who have a lifetimes’ worth of ammunition. Sometimes they don’t know when to use it and when to hold back.

What I liked about catching up with them this time was seeing them not only in a new place but in a new context. We meet other people who are part of their lives, both familial and friendly. This is not just one night in Vienna or ninety minutes in Paris. This is a full day, the last day of a holiday – with  all the joy and regret the final day of vacation can bring. Yet again, they aren’t in their real lives – they are on the precipice of going back to work, taking new jobs and returning to a routine neither of them are quite satisfied with.

They are, after all these years, still a pleasure to be around. They might argue now more than they ever have before, but they also know each other better than anyone else in the world – they can make each other laugh, they are so comfortable with each other, they fit. Sure, there are tensions, but what relationship doesn’t have little tensions throughout a day.

It took me a while to write about reuniting with Jesse and Celine this year. On first thought, it was a bit too painful; it was worth doing, but it was raw in a way my other visits with them never have been. And that negative emotion overwhelmed my memories of that day we spent together.

Thinking back only a couple of months, I have to remember that this time is much like the last two times. This is just a day in their lives. This is just another day out of hundreds of days. If it were just the third in a film trilogy, it might be a dramatic finale. But if it is just another chapter in a book – or another book on Jesse’s bio page, it’s not the beginning or the end, but just the middle. The continuation of two lives.

And if it is just a continuation, if it is just another day, if I get to meet Jesse and Celine again in nine years time, the pain of the arguments they had on that last day in Greece will dissipate. And as with every time I have left them before, I’m never sure if it’s the end for them or not. I guess that’s fitting.

Monday, 28 October 2013

A remarkable ode to the unremarkable: Nature Theatre of Oklahoma's LIFE AND TIMES


One of my favourite novels & films about the act of writing is Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon, where the character of Grady Tripp is in the midst of writing his second novel – which has reached thousands of pages long with no end in sight. The key moment in the story is when Tripp realises that writing is about making choices and the mid-life crisis he’s having is blocking is ability to make those choices, both in life and on the page.

Nature Theatre of Oklahoma’s Life and Times (Parts 1 to 4) is full of a lot of very deliberate choices, particularly in the creation and development of the script – but also in its direction, production and acting styles. But where it reminds me of Wonder Boys is in its unfinished nature and its insistence that it not conform to typical narrative tricks or structures.

Life and Times is the story of the life of one of the ensemble of actors who works with the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. She has been interviewed by phone by the artistic directors of the company and the show has been developed around these recordings. Parts 1 to 4 comprise a marathon 10 hours of theatre, though it was presented in Melbourne in both three parts across a number of nights – as well as the full four parts in a day, which I attended last Saturday.

When the project is completed, there will be anywhere between 10 and 16 parts that stretch across a full twenty-four hours of experience. Part 4.5, for example, is a short animated film. Part 5 is a book for the audience to read in the theatre. Melbourne Festival only presented parts 1 to 4.

What we see on stage is a replication of these recording about this life, a typical middle class, white suburban life. The stories are embellished by theatrical trickery, to enhance our experience of interacting with these words – but in another way, what we get is very raw.

There’s been no attempt to sanitise the language or polish it up to make it feel theatrical or dramatic. As many of us would do, when trying to recall all the parts of our lives from birth through the later teenage years (the show so far), the speaker punctuates a lot of her stories with “ums” and “like” and nervous laughter.

Early on, I thought I might get tired of hearing so many of these awkward moments – moments that playwrights would normally polish out or not even put on the page to begin with. Dialogue on stage is most usually artiface, even when a writer is striving for naturalism. Life and Times strives for hyper-naturalism with the recreation of this exact phrasing, even though the rest of what we’re watching on stage is as far from natural as you could expect.

But as the show progressed, I fell under its spell. It is genuinely funny and uplifting. There are moments of darkness, but it doesn’t tend to dwell in them. The actors are fully commited to telling this story, while also embodying this woman’s life through deliberately choreographed movement and dance – and in parts 3 and 4, parody and farce.

The thing about telling the story of an unremarkable life, though, is the many moments that evoke memories of the audience themselves. As a playwright, some of my writing is inspired by moments in my life – even if it’s just based on a feeling, rather than anything resembling my actual experience. And in writing, I strive to tell stories that will connect with audiences. Usually, though, the point of storytelling is often to transport the audience. With this show, it feels genuinely like they want the audience to regress, to remember and to fill those awkward, repetitious moments with memories from their own childhoods.

The ten-hour marathon was broken up by three intervals, including a dinner break where hamburgers were prepared by the actors in the show. And much of the audience at the Saturday marathon was made up of actors, writers and directors of the Melbourne and Australian theatre-making scene. The sense of community was palpable. We were in this for the long haul. We wanted to be witness to this life and where it was headed.

Of course, unlike most theatre where stories end, Life and Times is still part way through its creation. The subject still lives. The show is still in development. And it’s a long way from completion.

But,  in the meantime, the first four chapters of this unremarkable life is told in a theatrically remarkable way. And all those “ums” and “likes” and awkward “hahahas” are gaps into which our own memories flood, making connections in her life, in their lives and in ours that were not apparent before we were witness to this extraordinary show.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

What I saw, you won't see: The Rabble's ROOM OF REGRET

Room of Regret
Photo by Guy Little


I want to tell everybody to rush out to see The Rabble’s Room of Regret at Theatreworks.

But I need to warn them they will not see the show I saw.

I want to try to explain what I saw and how I felt.

But I don’t want to give anything away.

I want to see it again.

But I don’t.

Room of Regret, The Rabble’s response to Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” is an immersive theatre piece that explores notions of vanity – but refuses to let you see the whole picture. The audience is broken up into small groups, led to one or other of the many rooms – and then the show asks the viewer to confront hilarious, graphic, absurd and brutal scenes, while refusing to give anything away. At least, to begin.

And yet I know some audience members never left the seat they were first assigned. I know some who were given freedom to explore, didn’t explore. I know there were moments too gross to watch and some too brutal to look away from.

Our reaction to theatre is always our own. We bring our own lives to that performance. Critics can’t be objective; their reviews are subjective – beholden to their own experiences. And theatre, that tricky and ephemeral beast, is always changing, never static. Each night will be different, because live performance changes with the energy of the actors and the energy of the room.

An audience can always change a performance. Do they laugh at the right or wrong places? What are the right and wrong places? Do they engage with one actor’s performance or another? Do they allow being taken by the hand from one room to another and another? Or do they slink quietly into their seats to just observe?

There was a moment early in my experience of Room of Regret that was dark and intimate and very confronting. And because of that moment, the rest of the show resonated with me in a deeply personal way. Had I been deprived that one moment, I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed the show. I’m not sure how I would have experienced it at all.

But because the veil had been lifted and my eyes were clear, I felt more deeply what they were saying about vanity and celebrity and self-perception and sexuality – in The Rabble’s own dreamlike/nightmarish way.

I could tell you about Room of Regret, but I’d only be telling you about the show I saw – which will not be the show you see. What I saw, I loved.

But, if you missed it, I couldn’t even tell you what you missed.


Room of Regret runs until November 3. I saw it last night at its first preview.