Friday, 30 August 2013

4 Shows: Savages, The Cherry Orchard, Columbine, night maybe

We’re two-thirds of the way through the year and a quick look at the theatre I’ve seen this calendar year, I’m almost certain that many – if not all – of my Top Five shows of the year, I have seen in the last couple of months. Across main stage and independent theatre, I’ve been quite disappointed in the quality of shows I’ve seen in Melbourne. Until recently.

The tide began to turn with MTC’s Neon Festival and ever since then, I’ve been much more impressed. Here’s some thoughts on shows I’ve seen recently.

SAVAGES


Patricia Cornelius and Susie Dee have designed a confronting but poetic examination of masculinity and misogyny at 45 Downstairs. The angled stage is disconcerting to look at even before the four men begin to prowl around it, but this simple design choice adds a lot of weight to Cornelius’ already dense script. The four characters are beautifully delineated, even though they have so many thoughts and instincts in common. What I loved most about it was Cornelius’ use of language, to heighten the experience, but to also dig under our skin and expose the dark heart of these average blokes.

Until Sept 8th at 45 Downstairs

THE CHERRY ORCHARD


Simon Stone may be controversial when the matter of adaptations arises, but when examining his work as it stands, he’s one of our most exciting directors. This somewhat modernised adaptation of Chekov’s classic play is entirely faithful to plot and character, but beyond that the design and direction is bold and very memorable. The stark white frame enlivens the comedy but makes stark the tragedy that is befalling the family. The cast is superb and I love the way that Stone plays outside inside the proscenium. This didn’t change my world, but it did reaffirm that Stone is an exciting director and his adaptations are fascinating.

Until Sept 25th at Southbank Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company

COLUMBINE


Director Daniel Lammin and students at Monash University have explored their memories and the evidence of the Columbine high school shooting in this perceptive and insightful piece of verbatim theatre. Lammin is an exciting director on the independent scene and this is his biggest work to date. He also calls it his most important. The show is both the actors recreating moments from that fateful day in 1999, reciting quotes from interviews, reneacting videos and talking about their own recollections of the events. The devised script and Lammin’s direction keeps moving, enhanced by beautiful performances, evocative lighting, affecting music and choreography that is sometimes frightening and sometimes amusing.

Until Sept 6th at Monash University Student Theatre

night maybe


I was so enamoured with this show, I saw it twice. I haven’t seen any other shows more than once this year, not necessarily because I didn’t want to but because I couldn’t (sold out) or I didn’t have time (so much theatre on in Melbourne; also I have theatre to make, as well).

Every element of this show comes together to enhance every other. It may have started with Kit Brookman’s insightful script about growing up, burgeoning sexuality, gender confusion and familial discomfort (and perhaps abuse), but it’s brought to life inside Mel Page’s incredible set and lit to perfection by Richard Vabre and evocatively scored by James Brown.

Luke Mullins’ assured direction pulls everything together, keeping the performances suitably restrained but always somewhat otherworldly. This play feels real and like a dream and like a nightmare, sometimes all at once. Central to the performances on stage is Sarah Ogden’s subtle, complex and layered turn as Sasha, who is both lost in the woods but also able to navigate her way through the trouble she finds there. Ogden is always magnificent, but here she flawless.

The rest of the cast are superb in supporting Ogden, Tom Conroy and Marcus McKenzie play multiple roles – Conroy standing out as Tom and Sally. Brian Lipson is suitably unnerving as a character referred to in the programme as “Ghost” but he’s much more menacing because he feels so real.

The play is non-naturalistic, though it tricks the audience with its somewhat naturalistic dialogue at the start. Some of the events seem muddled, but the production is so evocative in so many ways – and so beautiful to look at and to listen to and to watch, that even when you can’t quite understand what is happening, you can appreciate the beauty and feel the characters’ uncertainty anyway.

Until Sept 1st at Theatreworks

Sunday, 25 August 2013

About Time @ Melbourne Fringe, 27/28th Sept

Back in late 2010, I wrote About Time as part of the Melbourne Theatre Collective 48 Hour Playwriting Challenge. It got a reading at the end of that weekend, but hasn't seen the light of day since. It was re-written once in early 2011 and just this past weekend for its upcoming production.

As part of Melbourne Fringe 2013, Broken Mirror is staging a mini festival of short plays under the umbrella, "Bite-Sized Theatre". Like Short & Sweet, winners from the first two rounds are voted through to the third week finals by audience and judges. Unlike S&S, there are only 12 plays in this festival and can be longer than ten minutes.

Don Bridges will be directing the piece, which will feature in week two of the "Bite-Sized Theatre" programme: Fri Sept 27th, 9:30pm and Sat Sept 28th, 4pm and 9:30pm.

Tickets on sale for all three weeks of the festival on sale now.

About Time is the story of two women moving in together - and the exact moment six months later when one of them says she has run out of time. She has to go.

Starring in About Time are:

Whitney Duff as Megan

Lauren O'Callaghan as Layla

About Time will play during Bite-Size Theatre, at Broken Mirror - 27th and 28th September. As part of Melbourne Fringe 2013. Tickets on sale now.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Blogging about Lally Katz's Stories

Last night, I saw Lally Katz’s new show, Stories I Want to Tell You in Person. This isn’t a review, but a few things I was thinking about after. The show opens tonight at Malthouse. I saw the final preview.

I first became aware of Lally Katz’s work through The Apocalypse Bear Trilogy, which was presented at the MTC in 2009. That show featured Brian Lipson, who went on to appear in Lally Katz’s A Golem Story at Malthouse in 2011. The Apocalypse Bear Trilogy was a Stuck Pigs Squealing production. Their latest show – night maybe – opens at Theatreworks this week. Brian Lipson’s in that one, too.

Last night, Brian was in the audience of Lally’s show. After the show, Lally said she was trying to figure out a way to mention Brian in the show, but she decided to stick to the script. A script about her life. A script about writing and being a writer. Mentioning Brian would have fit right in.

Ever since the Apocalypse Bear Trilogy, I’ve been keeping an eye out for Lally Katz’s work – which became really easy in 2011, when she had three mainstage productions. A Golem Story at Malthouse. Neighbourhood Watch at Belvoir. And, finally, Return to Earth at MTC, which featured Anne-Louise Sarks, who directs Katz’s current show. She was also in the audience last night and is mentioned in the show. In the dramatic finale.

Lally Katz on "the phone" to Marion Potts

If it feels like I’m obsessing too much over connections here, I probably am. But that’s part of what this show is about. It’s about how Lally creates theatre. It’s how she battles with her subconscious. It’s how she uses people in her life to create the characters in her stories. We travel from the Apocalypse Bear all the way through her career to last night, final preview at the Malthouse theatre.

Lally Katz is an engaging speaker. I’ve read interviews with her. There are great interviews of her online. I’ve heard her speak at the Wheeler Centre. Stories I Want To Tell You In Person is an extension of her chatting about her life, just in a room full of – mostly – strangers. Some of whom have seen the shows she’s mentioned. Some of whom have been in them. And some who have been written in as characters.

What I personally enjoyed about the show was the connections I had to the moments she discussed playwriting, and the honest moments of reflection she had when talking about her career. And she answered several questions I had about her career in the show, specifically - what happens the year after you have three mainstage productions on? The show is mostly about that year and what led her to making this show.

Theatre productions are so often defined by the fact they are ephemeral. They exist for that season, then disappear. This is the second season of this show, after it premiered at Belvoir earlier this year. But because of the way Katz talks about her last few years, just the mention of A Golem Story and Neighbourhood Watch and the Apocalypse Bear make them seem more alive. When Katz reflects honestly about the critical failure of MTC’s Return to Earth, the truth is buoyed by the fact that this was the production that made her the most money in her career.

And all that money led her to a psychic in New York, where she asked them about lifting a curse… a curse that seemed to doom her love life, while her career was going great. The psychic stories are a good hook for the press release, but the reason I enjoyed the show was because I’ve been watching Lally Katz’s career for a few years now – and this show proved why. She’s a great writer. And a wonderful presence on stage.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Edinburgh #8: Rehearsal photos

It's almost here. Three days until Who Are You Supposed To Be opens at Edinburgh Fringe.

Jen, Cameron and Emrys are in Edinburgh now. Our amazing designer/lighting tech/photographer, Isabella will be joining them soon.

Here are some (dress) rehearsal photos...




And the amazing prop suitcase, made by Isabella from a case donated by Helen (who gets to keep it after)!


Sunday, 11 August 2013

A Modern Superwoman: Workshop in Adelaide


Last weekend, as part of Five.Point.One’s Reading Sessions, my play “A Modern Superwoman” was workshopped for a full day and then given a reading that night.

Readings are very helpful to guage audience reaction, whether it be laughter in the right place or noticing how well they are engaged or if they are restless. And the feedback afterward can be very helpful. I had a reading of “A Modern Superwoman” in Melbourne back in March – and the discussion and feedback afterward was very helpful.

The version that was workshopped in Adelaide last weekend was an updated version of the play, but it’s the first time I’ve sat down with a group of actors to discuss it, interrogate it and see how well it holds up.

The play has been in development for the past eighteen months or so. I’ve been working closely with actor Clara Pagone during the writing – from workshopping the original idea to making sure each draft got more and more clear in a narrative and character sense.

It’s now on its fourth draft, revised for Adelaide – and it was in pretty good shape before the workshop. When I write the fifth draft, I’m going to be very confident the changes I make will be for the better; I gained new insight into the characters from the actors who worked on it, as well as from the input from our director, Tiffany Knight.

Having talked to a couple of directors in Melbourne about the play earlier this year, the fourth draft has always felt like it was ready for the next step – getting it on its feet, working with actors to hear how it sounds and to get feedback about character motivation and narrative logic. Does each character’s story make logic sense? Emotional sense? Does the out-of-order chronology enhance or detract from the piece? Would everything track if the play was laid out in chronological order before being shuffled again?

The best part about getting actors involved is that they take ownership of their characters; they need to make connections that other actors don’t need to make. And sometimes they find motivations that I didn’t intend, but which strengthen the work. In particular, the character of Bernice – who has developed the most from her original conception – finally came into focus for me when Caitlin McCreanor talked about Bernice’s relationship to two other characters in the show: Marion (the titular Superwoman) and Richard (an off-stage character). I did some last minute re-writes in one of her scenes, to bolster her character and play down the character of Richard.

As we progressed through the workshop, we’d read a scene and then Tiffany would ask the actors involved in that scene where the character is emotionally – what has happened just prior to that scene, what state of mind are they in. Even if this play was played chronologically, there are large leaps of time in the narrative – allowing the actors to explore where they are both before and after particular moments in the story.

All of the actors had great observations to make – and if anything was unclear, I was asked to clarify my intention. That’s always a good moment in the creation of a work, because I need to be on my game, I need to be able to explain my choices in the writing. Admittedly, sometimes the actors made connections that made more sense than what I’d originally intended; occasionally I could fold that into my goal for the scene and sometimes I had to admit that what the actor brought to the scene made more sense.

I think there was only one scene where I just had to admit it needed a lot more work, because as it stands it’s confusing about its intentions. Or I was confused about what I was trying to achieve. We left it in for the reading, but it’s definitely the moment that stands out as needing more work.

In contrast to that scene, at least the rest of the workshop showed the script is in good shape. It needs work, but at least now I have specific goals to achieve for draft five.

Thank you again to five.point.one for the opportunity to workshop the show in Adelaide, as well as present it as a reading – which provided some good feedback, too. One man on Facebook called it “the highlight of the series so far”, which was amazing to hear.

And thanks again to Tiffany Knight, our wonderful director who kept the workshop moving – and somehow we got through two read-throughs and some intense discussion of the piece in the seven hours we had together.

And thanks to Sophie Bruhn, Claire Glenn, Matt Gregan, Roger Newcombe and Caitlin McCreanor – all of whom had great things to say about the play, their characters. Wait ‘til you see the next draft!