Skip to main content

Uncommon Things: The Seizure, The Heretic & The Goat


1.

Photo by Lachlan Woods

Ever since seeing their production of Thyestes, I have made it a point to see every production by The Hayloft Project. With the independent theatre scene flourishing in Melbourne, it’s impossible to see everything – even by companies I admire. But Hayloft is as restrained in the number of productions they do as they are in the productions themselves, so seeing all of their work in Melbourne is easy to do. And such a pleasure.

Writer and director Benedict Hardie’s The Seizure, is a take on the myth of Philoctetes – after Sophocles, who tried his hand at writing a play about this story twice in his long career. Hayloft’s work is often defined by its minimalism, but I think this production is its most subtle and graceful yet. The set – charcoal drawings on a white floor/ white wall - evokes the image of a beach on an island, without a grain said or a tuft of grass. The cast of four are rarely on stage together and the dialogue they have is sparse and precise. It’s both the story of Philoctetes and a sliver of the Trojan War myth, narrated by Odysseus, who is merely a supporting player here.

I love stories that are propelled by the force of history, characters living their lives in period settings, unable to stop what we know will come to pass. Here it is the force of myth instead, but the stories are so ingrained in our storytelling and mythmaking, the force is no less strong for it. Another stellar outing from Hayloft.


2.

Photo by Jeff Busby

Director Matt Scholten is a prolific director on the Melbourne independent theatre scene and his work with Daniel Keene is transcendent and rightly celebrated. The other shows I’ve seen him direct are strengthened by his vision. His work on The Heretic is no exception. Unfortunately, even for such a visionary director, it’s easy to see that he had his work cut out for him here. Richard Bean’s play is problematic.

Sure, I wasn’t too thrilled by the notion of a climate-change denier character being the centre of the narrative, but Noni Hazlehurst was sure to make her character more sympathetic than it is on the page. I thought perhaps the story might have challenged Diane’s worldview, but she never so much as wavered from her dogma. And even if I could look beyond the lazy arguments Bean writes for his lead character to spout, I’m not sure the play has anything much more to say.

I was truly puzzled by the point of the entire second act. I tried to see it as an argument between logic and passion. I wanted to know if it was perhaps about the rational scientist versus the irrational lovers. I wondered if maybe it was about how science is supposed to rely on proof but it can often be misinterpreted by wilful people. But none of that works with what is presented.

Scholten and his production team do make the show move – I never once felt like I was struggling  with this two-and-a-half hour show – and feel immersive, with its use of the Sumner theatre’s surround sound system to evoke a thunder storm and helicopters hovering overhead. Otherwise, the sets are functional and uninspiring – and only Noni as Diane has anything very meaty to work with.

3.



I am fairly ignorant of the work of Five Pound theatre, though I am well aware of co-founder Jason Cavanagh’s acting work outside his own production company and his position as owner/operator of The Owl & The Pussycat in Richmond. I am also acutely aware of director Christine Husband’s work as an actor and as a director. 

Disclaimer: Christine directed a show of mine at the Owl & the Pussycat last year and was in Painting with Words & Fire earlier this year.

Five Pound has stepped outside of the Owl & the Pussycat for its production of Edward Albee’s The Goat (or, Who is Sylvia?) and has submerged themselves in the Collingwood Undergound Carpark for this black comedy about love, tolerance and understanding.

Inside the cavernous and echo-y space, Christine has used these elements as strengths and virtues of this production. With audience on both sides of the performance area and the open set (designed by Emma Warren) allowing the space to be observed from all angles, this is voyeuristic theatre at its best. The act of observance suggests that we might all be driven by how people observe us. Is that the tragedy at the heart of this play? Not that a man falls in love with a goat, but that other people might find out about it and judge him?

Susannah Frith and Jason Cavanagh are the stand-outs in the cast, doing most of the heavy-lifting here, as wife and husband, Stevie and Martin. They have to maintain a delicate balance between keeping the performances realistic without the show becoming too dark, too dramatic. There are some great laughs to be had in Albee’s dramatic set-up.

The echoes in the carpark as the actors shouted and cried and grieved draws the audience even closer. Characters appearing out of the darkness and the void which surrounds the performance space was thrilling. A great play in a great production in a great space.

Unfortunately, Five Pound have announced they are postponing the rest of the season – transfering The Goat from the Underground Carpark to the Owl & the Pussycat. It’s a pity, because the show works so well in the carpark space. Sometimes I’m all for performances being up close and personal (I love the Owl & Cat, don’t get me wrong), but sometimes sitting in a cold carpark, wrapped in a blanket, drawn to the only light in the cavernous darkness does something to a show and says something about it. Hopefully more audiences are drawn to the particular light of this production when it moves to Richmond in late June.

But I’m afraid it will lose something in the transition.

Comments

xofro said…
Sad that I missed two of these and saw the other one :-/

Popular posts from this blog

You are far away: Agent Cooper and his troubling return to Twin Peaks

“What year is this?” Dale Cooper asks in the final scene of Twin Peaks: The Return , the last of many unanswered questions left as the 18-part feature film concluded a week ago. It’s far from the first time we’ve seen someone who looks like Dale Cooper lost for answers over recent months. But it might be the first time we have definitive proof that he’s in over his head. Mr C, Dale Cooper’s doppelganger, who was first seen in the original series’ finale back in 1991, returned to the town of Twin Peaks with a goal in mind. Mr C was flexible, though. He had to be; he’d set so many things in motion over twenty-five years, if he’d remained fixated, he would never have come as far as he did. Dougie, Dale Cooper’s tulpa – created by and from Mr C, wandered aimlessly through life, but slowly made every life he touched better. Plans change and Dougie changed with them. Slowly but surely, Dougie pieced together Cooper’s past life and became richer for it. Agent Cooper, th

REVIEW: The Gospel According to Paul by Jonathan Biggins

Early on in Jonathan Biggins’ one-man ode to Australia’s best-dressed, collector-of-antique-clocks Prime Minister, the character of Paul Keating says that there has never been a great Australian PM. None on the scale of Churchill or Washington or Jefferson. And I wondered if the premise of the show was to submit Keating for consideration. Paul John Keating was the 24 th Prime Minister of Australia, elected to office in 1993, after ousting his predecessor, Bob Hawke, in 1991. He was a career politician from the age of 25, after managing a rock band called The Ramrods in the late 1960s. He was only Prime Minister for one full term and a bit, nothing like Hawke (in The Lodge for nearly 9 years) nor his successor, John Howard, who held the country hostage for nearly 11 . Keating was a member of the Labor Right; socially progressive but fiscally conservative. He’s famous for saying “the recession we had to have” during the economic slowdown of 1990, responding to the High Court’s Nativ

Careful the things you say... Joe Wright’s HANNA & the combination of genres

Once upon a time... I tried to write a film script that melded noir and Grimm’s fairytales, where the femme fatale , clad in a slinky red dress, was also (in a way) Little Red Riding Hood. Where the lover of a hit man discovered his true identity from something hidden under his mattress. Evil (step)mothers, adopted children, hunters, princesses and family fortunes. Noir and fairytales have a lot in common and yet... I had real trouble finding the right tone for the piece. And, in the end, my script read too much like I was trying to get the concept to work, rather than telling a compelling story. Saoirse Ronan as Hanna Joe Wright’s film HANNA , screenplay by Seth Lockhead and David Farr, finds the perfect balance between a high tension thriller and a fairytale coming-of-age story. And travels further into the story of this mysterious girl than the trailer suggests. Going in, I was worried this might be too close to Leon or La Femme Nikita – the original films of which I t

Walking out... I couldn't do it, could you?

Every so often, I think about walking out of a play, but I can't. I've never done it and I don't think I ever could. I've never walked out of a film, either. It's not in my nature. In the end, I'd rather suffer through the entire thing so I can criticise the entire play, rather than leave halfway and never know if it got any better or any worse. This has come to mind now, not because I wanted to walk out of Terence Malick's big budget experimental film The Tree of Life , but because apparently walk outs are becoming a phenomenon with that particular movie. And in a packed theatre at Cinema Nova last night, the walk outs were notable by their absense when the lights came up at the end. It certainly won't be to everyone's taste. It's very much an impressionistic film that explores grand ideas through mood and beauty, rather than telling a coherent narrative. But, even those moments in the film that were the most challenging on a "need for

Carrie Fisher: No More Postcards

Two Princess Leias, a medal and some broken jewellry Did I ever tell you about the time Carrie Fisher kissed me on the cheek? Stick around, I’ll tell it again soon. Carrie Fisher was Princess Leia; no getting past that. Except, of course, she did. And then she stepped right back into being her last year. She was the right person to play Leia because she was the right age at the time and she is part of Hollywood royalty. She was also the right person to have been Leia in retrospect, too. Can you imagine anyone else describing Jabba the Hutt as a “giant saliva testicle”? Anyone else who would bring an audience member up on stage to mount a Leia “sex doll” and whip it away before they get close enough to fulfil their childhood fantasy? Actors, even those of Star Wars­­­ -level fame, go in and out of the spotlight. Oh, you could spot Fisher on screen in the 1980s and 90s, but much of her hard work went on behind the scenes, as a script writer and script doctor. Hook , Sist

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: THE AVENGERS assemble on the big screen

I like superheroes. I grew up with reruns of the 1960s Batman TV series. The Superman films were released when I was really young. The Amazing Spider-Man , Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk were nighttime TV shows. And one of the defining motion picture releases of my teenage years was Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. I was never a big comic book reader as a kid – I’ve probably read more comic books, uh, graphic novels in the last ten years than any time before that. But superheroes were always very cool. And Burton’s Batman took my favourite superhero very seriously. Well, until Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins appeared – taking it ultra-seriously and much darker than I’d ever hoped for. As a non-comic reader, I find it hard to align myself as a DC ( Batman , Superman , Wonder Woman ) or Marvel Universe ( Spider-Man , X-Men , The Avengers and its consitutent parts) person. They appeal to different parts of my brain. In effect, DC’s superheroes are often lone warrior

Colder by Lachlan Philpott - Red Stitch

Colder Photo: Teresa Noble I’m there. I’m sitting there in the dark. Sitting there in the dark watching a play by Lachlan Philpott at Red Stitch. A child has gone missing at Disneyland but nothing evokes Disneyland for me, not even the actors wearing mouse ears. Especially not the actors wearing mouse ears and affecting exaggerated American accents. I want to feel what the mother is feeling, while officious behind-the-scenes Disney workers assure her everything is going to be fine. I want a sense of her being frantic and frustrated. But I don’t get this sense because the language of the play is putting me at a distance. The expository monologues don’t paint a picture or flesh out a world beyond the very basic (“padded concrete, padded seats”) and the facile (“padded people”). This choral arrangement of voices is not singing. Eight-year-old David remains missing all day and we learn that his single mother has felt separate from him ever since. We ar

REVIEW: let bleeding girls lie by Olivia Satchell

  Three. Three women. Three women sit silently, set an equal distance apart, each with a cannula inserted into their hands. Three women sit silently, set an equal distance apart, each with a cannula inserted into their hands, donating plasma at a blood bank in Melbourne. They are there when the audience walks into the theatre. They sit, reading a book or their phone, fidgeting as we find our seats and chatter amongst ourselves before the lights go down. The play has already started, of course. The thing about giving plasma is that the wait is part of the experience. You cannot go anywhere. You’re hooked in. They sit in a room surrounded by televisions, all tuned to the same network. Like donating blood at Harvey Norman. But they’ve come prepared to wait. Lou is writing in her journal. Grace is reading Go Set a Watchmen for her book club. Juice is scrolling endlessly on her phone. Small talk starts. It’s pleasant and awkward in equal measure. You never know if other peopl

REVIEW: Cactus by Madelaine Nunn

It’s 120 days (not counting weekends) until Abbie leaves high school, but she’s got a lot to tackle and endure in those final months. Luckily, she has her best friend, PB, by her side. Abbie’s period surprises her one day at school and she has to improvise, because she doesn’t have any tampons with her. PB hands her a roll of toilet paper under the stall and it feels like the pair of them are always there for each other in similar ways. PB seems to be more outgoing, forward thinking, forward trying, but that might be because Abbie is held back by the torture of endometriosis. High school and puberty are hard enough without feeling like there’s a cactus scraping at your insides. So, on top of the usual school dramas like exams and boys and emotions and sex and clothes and the school formal and self-defence classes, Abbie is facing the likelihood she’ll never have children. Something she has always dreamed and assumed would happen for her. Madeleine Nunn’s script is insightful, and

“Fate Will Twist The Both of You”: Twenty Year School Reunion and the party next door...

Twelve months ago, I premiered a short play of mine at The Owl & the Pussycat in Richmond. Titled You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia , the play was about how you can’t always live up to the dreams you had when you were fifteen years old. It’s definitely the most autobiographical of all my plays, dealing with one character at age 15 and at age 35, interrogating himself about where he’s been and where he’s going. It’s about finding your feet as a kid and finding your comfort zone as an adult. Paul Knox and Tom Carmody, You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia September, 2011 There was some fun to be had in the fifteen-year-old not understanding references his thirty-five-year old self makes. And some drama in the conflict between how the character had been as a teenager and how he’d wished he’d been. And the show was done in the round in the Owl & the Pussycat’s then-gallery space, as if the crowd was surrounding two kids fighting in the schoolyard. After the show, if