Sunday, 15 February 2015

"See, I'm Smiling": THE LAST FIVE YEARS from stage to screen

Jeremy Jordan & Anna Kendrick, The Last Five Years

When I wrote my review of Into the Woods, I thought a lot about adapting stage shows to film – and whether or not the musical genre, in particular, is next-to-impossible to translate to the big screen. If something is written with the stage in mind, sometimes it can be hard to open it up on film – and sometimes opening it up breaks the fragile reality created on stage.

Stage plays can suffer the move from stage to screen because plays are often static – a couple of scene changes or a small number of fixed sets. August: Osage County presented a large ensemble family drama on one set, but the film insisted on opening things up – and an odd tonal shift. God of Carnage benefited from the claustrophobia of one set; a film in one location is anathema to the form, but then the tension of the story can be lost.

Musicals, by their very nature, are theatrical. Singing the story isn’t natural, but it’s no more odd on stage than minimalist sets or a curtain or seeing a show in the round. This is not to say musicals can’t work on film, but as musicals have evolved, they are playing more and more with stage conventions – making the translation to film much more difficult.

The film version of Into the Woods struggled with a massive change in tone from Act 1 to Act 2. The film eschews the act break, obviously, but into trying to streamline the two parts into one whole, the shift is jarring – it doesn’t feel like a new chapter, it feels like a sudden left turn. Even some of the humour that works so beautifully on stage seemed to be missing in the film – a lot of the time it just felt like a joke played on stage just wouldn’t work the same in close up on a giant screen.

Today I watched the film version of another of my favourite musicals, The Last Five Years. In most ways, it survives the move from the stage to cinema. In many ways, it elevates the material – making a very rich film, indeed. 

Like Into the Woods, I’ve seen three productions of The Last Five Years – though I missed the Off-Broadway revival, and all three versions I’ve seen have been from amateur theatre companies. Though with varying definitions of what constitutes amateur. Just quickly: one production had a great Jamie, one production had a great Cathy and one production had an awful director. If we take it as written that Jason Robert Brown’s book, lyrics and score are stunning – and they really are – the show obviously relies on the other three pieces for it to work.

The Last Five Years is the story of Jamie and Cathy – their five year relationship, from beginning to end. Cathy’s songs tell their relationship from end to beginning. Alternating between Cathy’s songs are Jamie’s, which tell their relationship from beginning to end. They meet at the middle, when Jamie proposes and the two get married.

The film doesn’t struggle with the theatrical conceit of dual timelines, nor does it try to explain it. It just is how it is. It took me a few times of listening to the original Off-Broadway score to really appreciate how well-structured the show is and how everything fits chronologically. And when you have time and the inclination to think about it, it works – but the film (and the best stage productions) knows that you don’t need to understand how it all fits together, to realise it’s just about how these two characters are going in different directions.

On stage, the two actors are rarely on stage together. In the film, they are often singing to each other. My fear was that where the stage show isolates the two characters, seeing them together might rob the story of its power. It’s almost the opposite; the way the scenes are staged, we still see how isolated the characters become to each other, even when they are in the same room. There are scenes where it’s even more powerful than the stage version, because we can see how Cathy and Jamie really aren’t listening to each other.

In looking at Into the Woods, I was struck by the fact the film had some very well-staged songs – and some that were awful. Many of them were pedestrian. They might have been well sung, but they didn’t necessarily feel like great moments of film. Into the Woods might have been opened up, but it doesn’t transcend its stage origins.

The Last Five Years feels like one coherent piece. There are a couple of songs where I think the staging gets in the way, but most of them are strong – and the use of film language by director Richard LaGravenese, elevates the whole piece. 

Where minimalism works on stage, the fact that the director puts the show solidly into reality is a bonus. Where Cathy writes letters from Ohio in the theatre, in the film, she and Jamie Skype. This is partly due to the change in time since the show was first produced in 2002. But obviously Skype is much more visual. (There are a couple important letters still in the film – one of which bookends the film, the other appears as a post-it note.)

A lot of film musicals seems to fetishise the singing, over making it visually interesting. The film version of Les Miserables took this to the extreme – live singing on set, extreme close-ups on mouths. LaGravenese knows that we can listen to the lyrics, without having to see the actors mouth it. While I think the song “Shiksa Goddess” is a little bit too over-cooked with visual flair, remembering that we are watching actors means that Jamie can interact with Cathy without being bound by the fact the next lyric is coming along.

This happens throughout the film. LaGravenese isn’t worried about the audience, he trusts them. In some ways, because we are seeing things happening, we don’t need to hear every lyric. It’s fun to hear Cathy think/sing “why is the director staring at his crotch” – and this is one of those times where it’s also funny to see it. But early in the film when Cathy sings about “sitting on this pier”, it seems oddly heavy-handed to actually have them sitting on the pier.

Some lyrics have been changed because the references are dated. Some have been changed just to excise a few uses of the word “fuck”. On stage, there is very little dialogue. On film, there’s still very little dialogue – but the additional dialogue fits with the piece and most times even enhances it. Perhaps allowing LaGravenese to script the film meant he could break it open in a way that composer and creator Jason Robert Brown might not have been able to; sometimes you’re too close to your original conception. And Brown directed the recent Off-Broadway revival, so I’m glad the film got fresh eyes that enhanced the piece.

I haven’t even talked about the actors yet. And where to begin? The thing about a two-hander stage show is that both characters need to be equally strong and both actors up to the challenge. And a match for each other. The thing about the story of The Last Five Years is that every time I see it or listen to the score, I appreciate different things about each character. If you wanted to particularly analyse whether Jamie or Cathy is most at fault of their relationship breakdown, I could give you a dozen reasons from both sides of the arguement. Sometimes I come away thinking Jamie is the problem. Sometimes I think it’s Cathy. Seeing it on stage, your perception could change every night. Film seems like it might be a bit more fixed.

I’ve only watched the film once so far, but I cannot imagine a more perfect match than Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. I went in expecting that Kendrick would be adorable and Jordan would be a bit jerky – because those are the parts I have seen them play so well before. I was worried that I would automatically side with Cathy over Jamie. And while who is at fault isn’t actually the point of the story, it’s part of what makes the show so rich. Sometimes you sympathise with him more than her. Or her over him.

A lot of people will talk about Kendrick claiming the mantle she has been working toward her entire career. And they aren’t wrong. She gives a layered performance in Cathy that is quite stunning. Sure, she relies on her charm and cheeriness in a few scenes, but there are dramatic depths here that I never expected to see. Not that I didn’t expect her to be a great Cathy, but she found moments that I had never seen in the character before. It may not be surprising that Kendrick shone, but it is surprising that she has made Cathy her own. This is a performance for the ages.

But the whole thing cannot hold together without an equally stunning performance from Jordan. If Kendrick claims a mantle she’s been striving toward, Jordan strides in and takes the seat alongside her. Not that he does it effortlessly. Not that the jerky self-confidence he’s shown in other roles allows him to slide easily into the role of Jamie. The character is I think harder to pin down; he shifts all over the place. Jordan does everything he’s supposed to and then does more. He’s a revelation, particularly with the song “Nobody Needs to Know” – it’s devastating.

I could probably break down this film from scene to scene, moment to moment and talk about all the choices they made – the director and his two stars. I could talk about costumes and sets. I could talk about musical orchestration and sound design. (Seriously, one of the great moments is when Cathy snaps her compact shut, just before one audition – another moment where the sounds of reality creep in, where in lesser hands we would have only focused on the song she was singing and the music underneath.)

Here’s the thing – if there’s a particularly high degree of difficulty in moving a stage musical to film, that’s probably more likely to happen with a two-act blockbuster than it is a two-hand, one-act chamber piece. The Last Five Years has all the songs from the stage show and it still runs only 90 minutes. There’s no “unnatural” break to fix or forget. There are two characters and their two stories and five years of their lives.

If Jamie is “Moving Too Fast” and Cathy is “Climbing Up Hill,” the film is neither - effortlessly bringing us into their world.

If Into the Woods was not good and not bad, but just nice, The Last Five Years broke my heart but kept me happy. See, I’m smiling.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

See, Watch, Hear: January 2015


This year, I’m going to do a monthly round-up post called “See, Watch, Hear” covering the highlights in what I’ve seen on stage, watched on film or TV and listened to podcast-wise.


SEE

I’ve only seen two things on stage so far this year: I, Malvolio which I found disappointing, because I never engaged with it at all. Charming performance, but lacklustre show. 

Whereas Jumpers for Goalposts was a strong play, with a likeable cast in a sharp production at Red Stitch. I heard great things about the show last year and I’m glad I got to see the return season during Midsumma.

Red Stitch’s 2015 season looks really strong, too – so I’m going to try to get along to more of their shows this year. They really do produce some of the most exciting text-focused works in Melbourne.

Jumpers for Goalposts at Red Stitch

WATCH

Television

Parks & Recreation has returned for its seventh and final season and I’m looking forward to seeing how it wraps up. I think the overall quality of the six episodes so far has been quite variable but “Ron & Leslie” was so strong, it almost made up for it single-handedly.

Archer is back and might not be at its height, but it’s still hilarious – if a little predictable. Revenge is in full-blown soap territory now, but I am still enjoying the hell out of it. Looking isn’t quite as strong in its second season, but happy to watch where this season goes. Agent Carter is kicking arse, even if it won’t change the world.

The Daily Show is strong, but The Nightly Show is very shaky – I hope it picks up soon, but right now I can’t imagine watching it for much longer.

I finished a rewatch of Mad Men in preparation for its final season in May. And rewatched the second season of Hannibal before its third-season return later in the year. And I’m into the fifth season of The Wonder Years on DVD, which I mostly haven’t seen since it aired in 1991.

Archer season six

Film

Birdman is an incredible experience, which I enjoyed on multiple levels – just as a film, but also as a technical achievement, as well as making me really feel like I was in that place. It was a New York I felt like I knew.

Selma is an incredible film that takes the story of the Selma marches with Martin Luther King and really shows us how far Civil Rights have come in the half century since those events too place – as well as how much still has to change.

Into the Woods was better the second time I saw it.

Oh yeah, I finally saw Guardians of the Galaxy, which was a hell of a lot of fun.

Birdman, starring Michael Keaton

HEAR

This American Life is the high-water mark for podcasts, so it’s a wonder anything else can live up to it. After Serial last year, I got back into This American Life as a regular listener – as well as diving into their archives. May I recommend “180 Degrees”, “It Never Ends”, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS”.

After the “Batman” episode of This American Life, I started listening to Invisibilia – and I have mixed feelings. Each episode often has one strong story and one weak story. But I like the concept. Recommend: Histoy of Thought’s “Locked in Man” and Fearless’ “World without fear”.

I also listen to Scriptnotes, a weekly podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. And I tried out a couple of episodes of Bald Move's Mad Men podcast after my rewatch.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

And Gina Torres as Indiana Jones





A female Doctor. A black James Bond. Four female ghostbusters. And Chris Pratt as Indiana Jones.

One of these things is not like the other. Also, the first two haven’t happened yet. 

The last one is both a surprise and not a surprise. Remaking or rebooting Indiana Jones seems like a no-win situation; people love those movies and still watch them. Do they really need to capture a new audience when the films are already 80s action adventure pastiches of 30s movie serials?

Casting everyone’s new movie boyfriend, Chris Pratt, is probably the most obvious – and dull – choice that could have been made. His character of Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy is very Han Solo-esque, just a bit of a dick. And he’s just about to star in Jurassic World, another Spielberg franchise. It’s predictble and it’s probably the smartest and safest choice.

That’s what makes me excited about the new line-up for the next Ghostbusters film. If you’re going to remake something, go all the way. If you can’t get the originals back for a long-wondered-about third installment, start again. Be bold. Cast women.

But the Doctor has always been a man. But James Bond has always been white.

But the characters who fight ghosts with proton packs in New York City, they... see? Why not?

And you think the director of Bridesmaids teaming up with Melissa McCarthy for the third time and bringing along three Saturday Night Live alumni isn’t a really smart way to honour the original?

Theatre-makers both locally and internationally talk about gender and racial diversity on our stages. We talk about it a lot. We talk about systemic bias. We talk about colour-blind casting. We talk about casting white guys as the King of Siam.
 
We talk. A lot.

I don’t think the discussion happens in film as much. I certainly don’t see things changing on film very quickly. I think American television is getting much better at telling diverse stories. When Orange is the New Black won for Best Ensemble at the SAG awards this week, more non-white women took home SAG trophies in that one night than in the entire history of the awards before.

I think Australian television needs to look beyond its various shades of white, something we kept in mind during casting for Sonnigsburg.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was criticised recently for it’s entirely white line-up for each of the four acting categories. Someone pointed out that the 1939 Oscars were more racially diverse, given Hattie McDaniel’s win for Gone with the Wind. 76 years later, we can still have years that seem like  throwback to a century ago.

Right now, it’s too early to tell what the new Ghostbusters is going to be like. There’s no point overthinking it. Bad enough judging a film by its trailer, let alone its casting announcement. Except, of course, that in comparison to Chris Pratt as Indiana Jones, four female ghostbusters is kind of revolutionary.

Film studios are very protective of their properties. They don’t like to take risks and there isn’t a lot of opportunity to mix it up when it comes to their big name franchises. There have been more men step foot on the moon than have played James Bond. In comparison, there have been more men play the Doctor than have been on the moon. Still, though – all white guys.

Stage gets to be a bit more daring. Indigenous Lear. Female Glengarry Glen Ross. Black, male Witch in Into the Woods. Because there’s always another chance to have a go. And yet, with all the productions of Hamlet I’ve ever seen – I still have yet to see a woman in the role.

Tom Baker joked about a female Doctor when he left the role in 1981, but only recently has it seemed like a possibility. The co-chair of Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal, is on record as wanting Idris Elba in the role ofJames Bond. And as I keep saying, these are your new “Ghostbusters”.


If Hollywood must keep mining their back catalogues and rebooting their franchises. If Bond gets to live to fight another day, if the Doctor regenerates forever, why not take a chance on who plays them next? If stage actors all want to play Hamlet, why not let all film actors strive to be James Bond?

And why not let Gina Torres play Indiana Jones? It's a gender-neutral name, after all.


* thanks for Jill Weinberger for the suggestion of Gina Torres as Indiana Jones. Follow Jill on Twitter.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

2014: Tiring but satisfying


On the set of Sonnigsburg, episode 3.


2014 has been a big year for me. I am tired, exhausted, drained. But there’s also an extraordinary feeling of accomplishment that goes with everything I’ve done this year. More so than most years, I was very focused. I had to be, because I had so many things going on. Having multiple projects on the go, in various stages of development, taught me how to prioritise and how to make the most of my time.

I am often called prolific, but I’m not always disciplined. I like to have multiple projects on the go so that if I’m stuck on one, I can move onto another. Sometimes that just means I procrastinate with one thing by working on another, which might lead to lots of writing but not necessarily good outcomes.

This year there were deadlines: for submissions, for grants, for rehearsals and for production. Deadlines keep me focused. Deadlines keep me honest. Deadlines aren’t always met, but at least when I miss them I’m usually most of the way there. Just give me another week. I’ll definitely have it done in another week.

There were a couple of projects that stalled this year – because of missed-out-on grants, because of other people’s workloads and because of my workload. I’ll pick up a couple of those next year and see what happens. Given how much work I did have this year, it’s silly to gripe about work that didn’t happen. But the projects that didn’t go forward, I’m still invested in them – I don’t want them to just go away.

But the projects that did happen, the goals that were achieved, the development that continued – I am so thankful that I work with such amazing people, continue to be supported in doing what I love doing.

Doctor on Doctor action: spoilers for Who Are You Supposed to Be
Thank you to everyone involved in Sonnigsburg. This has been an amazing learning experience and continues to be. Can’t wait to show it to everyone in 2015, but so happy to be involved in such a great project. And thanks to everyone who has given to our fundraiser, so far.

Thank you to everyone involved in Who Are You Supposed to Be at Melbourne Fringe. It was lovely to finally see the show, after it premiered at Edinburgh last year. It was also great to get so many people along to the show, particularly people who wouldn’t normally attend a Fringe show.

Thank you to those who brought The Riverbank, Once More to life as part of Play Six. It’s so wonderful to be able to step back from my work and leave it to others to bring it to life. (If I hadn’t been so busy, I might have seen a rehearsal, but no such luck.) A lovely little production that I wish more people could have seen.

Thank you to all those who took part in the research reading of A Modern Superwoman at Playwrights Horizons in New York in June. To be able to work with such amazing actors and director on the other side of the world and present it to a select audience was a very special experience. Thanks to those of you who attended and gave me such great feedback after.

Thank you to my producer and director on The Dead End. Thanks for knowing when we should step back and when to regroup and keep going. Thanks for being encouraging. Sorry about the missed deadline.

Thank you to all the great people I met in Los Angeles and New York this year, many of whom I’ve only known through Twitter and Facebook before now. And thanks to my friend Lana, who traveled with me and introduced me to a lot of her amazing friends, too.

Thanks to Augusta, who offered me her spare room on my impromptu visit to Sydney for a theatre binge.

And thanks to the amazing Melbourne theatre community – those who make it, those who see it and those with whom I can discuss it afterward.

I fit a lot of things into 2014, some of which are certain to pay off in 2015. Some of which will continue to grow. This has been a crazy full-on year that won’t soon be forgotten, but I would like some rest now. But I still have to do my day job this week.

And I’ve still got some writing to do before the end of the year.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

My Favourite Theatre of 2014

For the last few years, my Top Ten has been listed in alphabetical order because I see no point struggling any further with ranking art. This year, more than most, any show in my Top Ten could have been my absolute favourite – and they probably were, until I saw the next one in the list.

I saw shows in Melbourne, Sydney and New York this year. I feel very privileged to have seen amazing theatre in all three cities; there are shows from all three places in the list. And I will never forget any of them.

THE TOP TEN

Bernadette Peters – Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne


How to describe seeing one of the great Broadway leading ladies from the front row of Her Majesty’s Theatre? Singing some of the most iconic songs of her repertoire, from some of my favourite shows? Making eye contact with me and talking directly to me at one point? Magical.


Cabaret - Broadway
Sam Mendes’ and Rob Marshall’s iconic production of this absolute classic musical has been revived yet again, because every once and a while people need to see Alan Cumming as the Emcee – a role he’s be returning to for twenty years. Seeing the show at Studio 54 in the “Kit Kat Club” cabaret seating was amazing.

Calpurnia Descending – Sisters Grimm, Malthouse
Sisters Grimm’s ode to screen divas and Hollywood bitchery was a next evolution in their development as one of the most exciting theatre companies in Australia. Ash Flanders and Paul Capsis were captivating. The whole show was mind-blowing

The City They Burned – Attic Erratic, Melbourne Fringe

Attic Erratic have been making great theatre for a number of years now – and their production of Fleur Kilpatrick’s The City They Burned, developed closely with director Danny Delahunty, will be talked about for years. Act one’s immersion was powerful. Act two’s intimacy was blistering.

Frankenstein – The Rabble, Malthouse

The Rabble continue to make theatre that is challenging, thought-provoking and troubling. Visually stunning with a sound design that was unnerving, to put it mildly, it also contained one of the most commited performances I’ve ever seen: Jane Montgomery Griffiths as the Creature.


The Glass Menagerie - Belvoir

I saw The Glass Menagerie at MTC a few years ago and Daniel Schlusser’s adaptation/homage, Menagerie, at Neon last year. Eamon Flack’s production at Belvoir this year prompted me to say that I never need to see the show again – because this version was perfection. Every element working in concert with every other like clockwork, and getting to the very heart of Tennessee William’s stunning work.

The Government Inspector - Malthouse

Out of adversity (a cancelled production of The Philadelphia Story) comes a triumphant show about that adversity – one of the most ingeniously theatrical shows the incredible Simon Stone has ever put together. And what a cast!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - Broadway

I am a big fan of the film version, but at never seen Hedwig on stage. Nothing could have prepared me for Neil Patrick Harris’s Hedwig on a Broadway stage. So much energy. So much rage. So many sequins. Such wigs. And there’s really nothing to compare to seeing two Tony-award winning performances (Harris along with Lena Hall) the very week they took home their trophies.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill - Broadway

Speaking of award-winning performances, Audra MacDonald won an unprecedented sixth Tony award for her work as Billie Holiday. If she’d never won a Tony before this show, she would have deserved six awards for this show alone. Audra was Billie. That show put us in that bar and grill in 1959. I have no more words.



Sleep No More – Punchdrunk, New York

I wrote about Sleep No More last week, as an answer to the question “What should I see when I’m in New York?” I love immersive theatre and this feels like the pinnacle; five levels of hotel in which to explore, stare, watch, read and interact. To have shared moments with a dozen audience members and a large ensemble of actors; to intimate one-on-one moments with an actor in a phone booth. And you would never see the same show twice. Stunning.

THE NEXT TEN


Green Screen – Sans Hotel, NEON Festival, Melbourne Theatre Company

Nicola Gunn’s meditation on creativity that was built and destroyed in front of our eyes.


Heathers: The Musical – Off-Broadway

No one is more surprised than me that one of my favourite films actually works on stage.

Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday - Malthouse

This show made me smile so much. Verbatim theatre at its finest.

Idina Menzel – Radio City Music Hall

I saw this show from the very back row of Radio City Music Hall, filled with six-thousand (?!) Idina Menzel fans. It was as amazing and as terrfying as that sounds.


Into the Woods – Victorian Opera

The sets might have wobbled but with a brilliant cast in a brilliant show, it’s hard not to get caught up in the many moments in the woods

A Long Way Home

A mix of verbatim & scripted theatre, Daniel Keene has crafted a fascinating insight into the psychology of soldiers returning home.

Matilda - Broadway

Nothing so delightful that sitting in a theatre filled with children loving theatre. Matilda is a triumph on so many levels. It’s fun for everyone.

Neighbourhood Watch – Melbourne Theatre Company

Lally Katz’s script is strong. Belvoir’s production under Simon Stone’s direction makes it stronger, even if it slightly loses its way at the end.


Once

This was on my list when I saw it in New York in 2012. It had to go on my list again this year, because lightning struck twice. But I arbitrarily decided not to put it in my Top Ten this time, given there were so many deserving shows. Once is that good twice.

Pacific Overtures – Theatre Works

I am so glad I have finally seen this show on stage, even though it will never crack my Top Five favourite Sondheim shows, it was a surprisingly effective production.

OTHER MEMORABLE SHOWS


The Book of Loco – Malthouse

Cock – Melbourne Theatre Company

Children of the Sun – Sydney Theatre Company

The Cripple of Inishmaan – Broadway

Groundlings – Los Angeles

Les Miserables – Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne

Photographs of A – NEON Festival, Melbourne Theatre Company

Pippin – Broadway

Purgatorio – Attic Erratic/5 Pound Theatre 

The Witches – Malthouse

Favourite Theatre of 2013

Favourite Theatre of 2012 

Favourite Theatre of 2011



Wednesday, 8 October 2014

I'll see you again in 25 years: Twin Peaks returns to the medium it changed


It took a long time for me to accept I would never get narrative closure from Twin Peaks.

I was a teenager when it first aired and I was obsessed with it. As obsessed as anyone could be back in 1991, when all you could do between episodes was discuss it at school or read reviews in the newspaper. And it was like nothing I’d ever seen. It was unlike anything else on television.

It’s not just that the show was cancelled – I was used to that happening, especially as a science fiction fan, watching series after series debut on FOX only to last a season and then disappear. They were looking for their next The X-Files. They never found it. Maybe, Fringe?

It was the fact that the ending was so bleak. So dark. So devastating. Evil triumphed. The town of Twin Peaks, torn apart by the murder of Laura Palmer, tried so desperately to recover – only to be consumed by the darkness that surrounded the town. And the series’ hero, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, was... well, even twenty-five years later, I’d hate to spoil it for you.

Two years later, I was able to finally see Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me – David Lynch’s prequel film, which was even darker. And cruel. And a revelation. It wasn’t the narrative ending I needed, but there was a small glimmer of hope in there. A story of resilience. And thematic closure, a closed circle. If nothing else.

I introduced a lot of people to the series over the years – mostly because I wanted people to experience the wonder of diving into a story that doesn’t prepare you for where it goes. It’s melodrama. It’s a detective story. It’s a horror film. It’s an oddball comedy. People should experience all of that in one package at least once.

But part of me wanted people to watch Twin Peaks just so we could comfort each other after that ending. And maybe, just maybe, if we found the right clues, we might figure out where the story was headed. And maybe everything would be alright. For the characters and the viewers.

After Fire Walk With Me divided critics and made no money at the box office, there was no real reason to believe the story would ever continue. I continued to discuss the show, once I got online in the late 1990s. I hung out at alt.tv.twin-peaks for years discussing the intricate details of the series and trying to decipher complex theories of what it all meant. I bought nearly every issue of “Wrapped in Plastic” magazine – which contained episode guides and essays about the show.

And once the show was out on DVD and I was able to introduce people to the series in crystal clear quality, Twin Peaks sort of receded into the back of my mind. Like a dream I’d once had and never forgotten. Not many series could withstand the scrutiny I had given it over the years – and the number of times I re-watched it.

When publicists began teasing the Blu-Ray release early this year, talk of a continuation popped up again. David Lynch has often said that he thinks the town still exists and that life goes on there; he’s just not there to film it. It’s a typically Lynchian idea – a narrative that continues without anyone there to see it.

After years of wanting answers and wishing the ending hadn’t been so tragic, I came to see the beauty of that kind of ending. Sometimes having unanswered questions is why things stick in your mind. Had it all been wrapped up, maybe none of us would be talking about it now?

Six months ago, had you asked me if I wanted more Twin Peaks, I would have said no. And yet on the release of the Blu-Ray set, with the ninety-minutes of unseen footage from Fire Walk With Me, I was able to re-enter that world and felt more keenly than I had in years what I had been missing. But it wasn’t that I wanted more, I was just grateful to have another taste of that cherry pie. And the damn fine coffee.

What a difference a few months and one single announcement makes. Twin Peaks is returning to television in 2016, fulfilling Laura Palmer’s prophecy that she would see Dale Cooper again in twenty-five years. And I couldn’t be more excited. A story I never thought I would see continue is coming back to television; a medium it changed so radically when it first aired. If we are in a new golden age of television now, Twin Peaks ushered it in.

I’m nervous, of course. Returning to fictional worlds can be disappointing (see the Star Wars prequels) or unforgettable (the Before series). But I bet David Lynch and Mark Frost are only willing to return now because they can see a way back in. They have found their way through the dark woods and know how to tell the next chapter in the Twin Peaks story.

Twin Peaks was ostensibly a soap opera. I can imagine the 2016 iteration being something more akin to the adult dramas that populate cable networks these days. Back in the early 90s, complicated ongoing narratives weren’t something that viewers were used to. Now, if a series doesn’t have a story that is laid out over an entire season, viewers change the channel.

Lynch/Frost’s TV masterpiece was always ahead of its time – and that’s what doomed it. Maybe, more specifically, it was twenty-five years ahead of its time and 2016 will be its year.


I’ll see you in the trees.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Life in Living Colour, and What Happens Next: Melbourne's Mainstages 2015

It’s September and there are still some great shows to be excited about at Melbourne’s mainstage theatres. But it’s also that time of the year for us to look ahead – at what they have planned for 2015. Marion Potts presented Malthouse Theatre 2015 on Tuesday night. Brett Sheehy unveiled Melbourne Theatre Company 2015 tonight.

It’s like theatre Christmas. Some expected faces and some wonderful surprises.

Here’s what I’m most excited about (in order of first performance):

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, directed by Sam Strong
Starring Colin Friels, Luke Mullins and Julie Forsyth. Excited to see Strong direct Beckett and for Mullins to be on the MTC stage.
From March 21



Meme Girls by Ash Flanders/Marion Potts, directed by Stephen Nicolazzo
Pretty much Ash Flanders trawling through YouTube videos, right?
From April 8

Timeshare by Lally Katz, directed by Olive Butler
Set in a timeshare resort that’s situated on the International Date Line, it’s enough that this is by Lally Katz.
From April 23

The Waiting Room by Kylie Trounson, directed by Naomi Edwards
The combination of intimate drama and epic scope makes me excited already, as does seeing the MTC nurture female directors and lift up shows from their Cybec reading series into production.
From May 15

North by Northwest by Carolyn Burns (based on the film), directed by Simon Phillips
The Hitchcock film I’ve watched the most times, I’m excited how they will find a way to stage this – as well as find an actor who could even come close to Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill. But if anyone can do it, Phillips can.
From June 1

Birdland by Simon Stephens, directed by Leticia Caceres
I love Stephens’ writing and Mark Leonard Winter (Thystes) is a magnetic performer. This looks thrilling.
From June 6

Love & Information by Caryl Churchill, directed by Kip Williams
Churchill’s work just isn’t produced very often in Australia – and certainly not her recent work. I’m excited to see this 2012 play of hers, starring Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman and Alison Whyte.
From June 12

The Last Supper by Reckless Sleepers
Dinner in the Grand Hall of the Nation Gallery of Victoria. A banquet and the last words of the famous and the infamous.
From  July 1

I Am A Miracle by Declan Greene, directed by Matt Lutton
I loved Greene and Lutton’s previous collaboration, Pompeii LA and this one is presented in partnership with Opera Australia. Not to be missed.
From July 18

Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman, directed by Leticia Caceres
Starring Susie Porter. Dorfman’s play is incredible and I cannot wait to see Caceres’ take on it.
From July 18

A Social Service by Nicola Gunn & David Woods
I’ve been hearing amazing things about Gunn’s work for a while now and after seeing Green Screen at NEON this year, I’m eager to see more of her work.
From August 11

The Weir by Connor McPherson, directed by Sam Strong
This is a tough play, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Sam Strong. With Nadine Garner and Greg Stone in the cast, I couldn’t be more excited to see this production.
From August 14

Antigone by Sophocles, adapted Jane Montgomery Griffiths, directed by Marion Potts
Starring Emily Milledge. One of the great plays with this team? How can it go wrong?
From August 21

Betrayal by Harold Pinter, directed by Geordie Brookman
Brookman’s work always excites me and he’s working with Alison Bell and Nathan O’Keefe on a Pinter play. Yes, yes, yes.
From August 26

They Saw a Thylacine by Justine Campbell & Sarah Hamilton
I’ve been a big fan and supporter of Sarah’s work for a while and I was so thrilled to see this show, first presented at Melbourne Fringe in 2013, being elevated to the main stage.
From September 15



Buyer & Cellar by Jonathon Tolins, directed by Gary Abrahams
You had me at “starring Ash Flanders”.

From October 30