There are few really good plays or films about writers. Our craft, unlike those of painters or musicians, does not seem to lend itself to the visual or aural mediums. There is nothing to look at, and much less to hear. And yet the plays and films continue to be made. Writers, and writing we suppose, are important, even if we have little idea how to make this most interior of pursuits appear interesting from the outside except by way of melodrama: the tortured artist, cigarette in mouth and glass of whisky nearby, tearing sheets out of a typewriter and flinging them into an overflowing waste bin.

Sue Smith’s new play, Hydra, its première a co-production between the state theatre companies of Queensland and South Australia, is not immune to such clichés. It concerns the Australian writers George Johnston (Bryan Probets) and Charmian Clift (Anna McGahan), especially the ‘ten long summers’ the couple spent living out a bohemian fantasy on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1950s and 1960s.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Hydra (State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre) ★★★
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text

    There are few really good plays or films about writers. Our craft, unlike those of painters or musicians, does not seem to lend itself to the visual or aural mediums. There is nothing to look at, and much less to hear. And yet the plays and films continue to be made. Writers, and writing we suppose, are important, even if we have little idea how to ...

  • Review Rating 3.0

When Alison Croggon’s theatre review blog Theatre Notes closed in late 2012 after eight years in existence, its demise was met with a response akin to grief. The first blog of its kind in Australia, and one of the most enduring anywhere, TN became essential reading for anyone interested in Australian performance. Croggon’s often expansive and always erudite critical commentary earned her an international following (and, in 2009, the Geraldine Pascall Prize for Critic of the Year, the first time it went to an online critic).

Moreover, the reviews and essays on Theatre Notes were able to catalyse debate – much of it, in stark contrast to what usually passes for online conversation, respectful, informed, and cogently argued – in a way few comparable blogs have managed. If the typically unnuanced print versus digital debates of the mid-to-late-2000s were won and lost anywhere it was on Theatre Notes, a blog that, arguably more than any other, succeeded in combining the best traditions of newspaper criticism – curiosity, wit, and rigorous argumentation – with the internet’s most promising advantages, especially its potential for wideranging dialogue and community-building, and, above all, its unconstrained space.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text

    When Alison Croggon’s theatre review blog Theatre Notes closed in late 2012 after eight years in existence, its demise was met with a response akin to grief. The first blog of its kind in Australia, and one of the most enduring anywhere, TN became essential reading for anyone interested in Australian performance ...

  • Book Title Remembered Presences: Responses to theatre
  • Book Author Alison Croggon
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Currency Press, $39.99 pb, 320 pp, 9781760622121
  • Display Review Rating No
Thursday, 14 March 2019 11:34

Picaresque (Adelaide Festival)

For the uninitiated, a maquette is an architectural miniature of a monument or building. Small, made from cardboard or wood, and often able to be flat-packed, travellers have long collected them as souvenirs of adventures to faraway places. Robyn Archer, doyenne of Australian cabaret, has amassed more than most during her forty or so years of global touring (almost always for work rather than pleasure). Around two hundred of them – diligently assembled by a small army of volunteers, and ranging in size from the matchbox-like to a couple of feet tall – feature in the appositely named Picaresque, an episodic travelogue with the lovably roguish Archer at its Don Quixote. 

To enter the space, the audience must pass through the first part of the installation, designed by Wendy Todd. Comprising two walls covered in travel ephemera Archer never threw away – luggage tags, hotel slippers, do-not-disturb signs, laundry bags, boarding passes, eye masks, and more – it’s a vivid, if almost overwhelming, illustration of a life lived in transience.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Picaresque (Adelaide Festival) ★★★
  • Subheading ABR Arts is generously supported by ABR Patrons and Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
  • Contents Category Music
  • Custom Highlight Text

    For the uninitiated, a maquette is an architectural miniature of a monument or building. Small, made from cardboard or wood, and often able to be flat-packed, travellers have long collected them as souvenirs of adventures to faraway places. Robyn Archer, doyenne of Australian cabaret ...

  • Review Rating 3.0

The Cape Town-based Isango Ensemble is known for its South African-flavoured reimaginings of works from the Western canon. While Adelaide Festival audiences thrill to Barrie Kosky’s Magic Flute, others may recall the Ensemble’s version, its setting translocated to a South African township, from the 2011 Melbourne Festival. By contrast, the music drama A Man of Good Hope draws on a contemporary source: white South African writer Jonny Steinberg’s 2015 book of the same name, a work of narrative non-fiction based on extensive interviews with Asad Abdullahi, a Somali refugee.

Directed by Mark Dornford-May and developed with London’s Young Vic – currently under the artistic directorship of Kwame Kwei-Armah, who has Grenadian and Ghanaian heritage – the play relates Asad’s coming of age as a refugee in flight from the Somali Civil War. Buffeted by violence but propelled by a keen entrepreneurialism, he winds up in Nairobi, Addis Ababa, and finally Johannesburg, a perilous journey of almost 5,000 kilometres, seemingly beset at every turn by local militias, petty criminals, and corrupt officials.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title A Man of Good Hope (Isango Ensemble/Young Vic) ★★★★
  • Subheading ABR Arts is generously supported by ABR Patrons and Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text

    The Cape Town-based Isango Ensemble is known for its South African-flavoured reimaginings of works from the Western canon. While Adelaide Festival audiences thrill to Barrie Kosky’s Magic Flute, others may recall the Ensemble’s version, its setting translocated to a South African township, from the 2011 Melbourne Festival ...

  • Review Rating 4.0
Friday, 31 August 2018 08:58

That Eye, The Sky (State Theatre Company)

Although his natural humility would make him dislike my saying so, Tim Winton is these days omnipresent in our national culture. Anywhere you look there is bound to be a new book, a television or film adaptation, or a stage adaptation, as with the State Theatre Company’s revival of That Eye, the Sky, adapted by Justin Monjo and Richard Roxburgh from Winton’s 1986 novel and first performed by Burning House Theatre Company, with David Wenham and Hugo Weaving, in Sydney in 1994. It is easy to forget Winton was only twenty-five when he wrote That Eye, the Sky, part of a flurry of short early works that, in hindsight, look like a kind of apprenticeship for Cloudstreet (1991), the ‘slab of a book’ – since adapted for radio, stage, television, and opera – that confirmed Winton as a major Australian author.

That Eye, the Sky, like Cloudstreet, is an ebulliently vernacular story of a working-class family in crisis, grounded in what Tom Burvill has called ‘the myth of the loveable Anglo-Celtic Aussie battler’. Both are poised between the hard-scrabble of life in suburban or semi-rural Western Australia and the metaphysical realm, with its promise of consolatory faith. Characters on the cusp of adulthood are key (as Gail says in one of the short stories in Winton’s The Turning [2005], ‘every vivid experience comes from your adolescence’).

That Eye, the Sky, in the way of formative novels, is the more overtly autobiographical of the two. Its narrator is Morton ‘Ort’ Flack, a curious but obtuse twelve-year-old whose father, Sam, is paralysed by a car accident. A mysterious vagrant, Henry, enters their lives and offers to care for Sam, a saintly intervention that leads to the Flacks’ conversion to Christianity (‘Jesus, fix us up,’ pleads Ort, ‘we’re breakin’ to bits here’), save for Ort’s troubled, sexually precocious sister Tegwyn.

Sign up to the fortnightly ABR Arts e-bulletin for news, reviews, and giveaways

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title That Eye, The Sky (State Theatre Company) ★★
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Although his natural humility would make him dislike my saying so, Tim Winton is these days omnipresent in our national culture. Anywhere you look there is bound to be a new book, a television or film adaptation, or a stage adaptation, as with the State Theatre Company’s revival of That Eye, the Sky ...

  • Review Rating 2.0

Almost one hundred and forty years have passed since Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House shook the European bourgeoisie with its proto-feminist depiction of a woman walking out on her husband and children. Now American playwright Lucas Hnath has written a sequel of sorts, A Doll’s House, Part 2, which picks up Nora’s (Marta Dusseldorp) story fifteen years after she slammed the door on her loveless, suffocating marriage to bank manager Torvald (Greg Stone).

In Hnath’s play, which was rapturously received on the occasion of its Broadway première in 2017, Nora has become a writer, under a pseudonym, of best-selling ‘books about women’. Hnath’s play opens with a reversal of Ibsen’s ‘door slam heard around the world’: Nora returns (via an arresting video sequence) to the house she left to finalise her divorce from Torvald. Widely assumed to have died, Nora has in fact ‘done very well’, as she tells housemaid Anne Marie (Deidre Rubinstein), out of writing about the ways in which ‘marriage is cruel and destroys women’s lives’. But for the impositions of a still patriarchal society – her heroines must ultimately suffer for their liberation, dying of consumption and the like – Nora has become, it seems, every bit the independent, self-actualised woman suggested in Ibsen’s play.

If this sounds like an unpromisingly low-stakes foundation for a sequel to one of the pioneering works of modern drama, you’d be right. There is no great struggle at the heart of Hnath’s play, and little that substantially advances the arguments of the original. The plot is thin and sprinkled with unconvincing details. Psychologically, Nora’s wish to make the divorce official rings untrue, while Hnath’s making her a writer smacks of convenient invention rather than organic character development. In his stage directions, the playwright asks for a space like ‘a forum’, a clue to Hnath’s conceptualisation of the play as a vehicle for ideas, but the result is didacticism of a curiously hollow kind. The dramatic tension, such as it is, revolves less around the kind of world-making philosophical differences that drove Ibsen’s play than it does around sedate talking points and banal increments of plot (yes, Hnath knows his nineteenth-century Norwegian divorce law).

Sign up to the fortnightly ABR Arts e-bulletin for news, reviews, and giveaways

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title A Doll's House, Part 2 (Melbourne Theatre Company) ★★★
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text Almost one hundred and forty years have passed since Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House shook the European bourgeoisie with its proto-feminist depiction of a woman walking out on her husband and children. Now American playwright Lucas Hnath has written a sequel ...
  • Review Rating 3.0
Thursday, 26 July 2018 14:24

Creditors (State Theatre Company)

August Strindberg thought Creditors, which premièred in its original Swedish in Copenhagen in 1889, his ‘most mature work’. Sitting alongside the more often performed The Father (1890) and Miss Julie (1889) in the playwright’s middle, ultra-naturalistic period, the play is an attempt to theatricalise ‘soul murder’, an idea – one that fascinated both Strindberg and his contemporary Henrik Ibsen – that emerged in the psychiatric literature of the late-nineteenth century, defined as the purposeful depriving of a person’s basic reason to live. In his 1887 essay ‘Soul Murder’, in part a response to Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm (1886), Strindberg wrote that ‘there is nothing so destructive to the thinking process as shattered hopes, and a highly developed form of this torture can induce insanity’. Is it possible, Strindberg wanted to know, for someone sufficiently ruthless to drive another weaker-willed person into submission, and, ultimately, to kill them?

In Creditors, this dynamic is mapped onto the relationship between the older, Machiavellian Gustav (Peter Kowitz) and the young, impressionable painter-turned-sculptor Adolph (Matt Crook). While the original play’s setting is a seaside hotel, in Duncan Graham’s contemporised version, Adolph and his wife Tekla (Caroline Craig) are holed up in a sort of health retreat in the Australian bush (there is no mobile phone service and, unlike in the later psychological dramas by Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee and others that somewhat resemble Creditors, emotions are strictly water- rather than alcohol-fuelled).

Under Gustav’s cloying watch, Adolph is sculpting a rather modernist, headless bust with oversized breasts, while Tekla – a novelist and, unbeknown to Adolph, Gustav’s former wife – is attending a nearby writers’ festival. Iago-like, Gustav persuades the highly strung Adolph that not only is he ‘pussy-whipped’ to the detriment of his art, but also that his wife is unfaithful, and that – in another nod to Shakespeare’s Othello – he is on the verge of epilepsy. But where Iago’s motives are famously opaque, Gustav’s are clear enough: revenge for Tekla’s leaving him, and for Adolph’s usurpation of what he believes to be rightly his.    

Sign up to the fortnightly ABR Arts e-bulletin for news, reviews, and giveaways

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Creditors (State Theatre Company) ★★★
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text

    August Strindberg thought Creditors, which premièred in its original Swedish in Copenhagen in 1889, his ‘most mature work’. Sitting alongside the more often performed The Father (1890) and Miss Julie (1889) in the playwright’s middle, ultra-naturalistic period, the play is an attempt to ...

  • Review Rating 3.0

One would have hoped that in the four years since Jada Alberts’s fine début play Brothers Wreck premièred at Belvoir Street that its concern with the issue of Indigenous despair would have come to feel less vital, and yet the problem is as acute as ever. This week we learned that every child in detention in the Northern Territory, where Brothers Wreck is set, is Indigenous. Meanwhile, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people are ending their own lives at a rate at least twice that of the non-Indigenous population, with men under the age of thirty-five most likely to do so.       

Brothers Wreck opens with such a suicide, offstage but otherwise as harrowingly depicted as you could wish. Typically of intergenerational trauma, and the virus-like creep of hopelessness, six months later it is Joe’s cousin and friend, Ruben (Dion Williams), who is at risk. Tormented by guilt, the nature of which Alberts adroitly teases out over the course of the play, Ruben has withdrawn into a kind of dissociative state. His interactions with sister Adele (Leonie Whyman) and friend (and Adele’s boyfriend) Jarrod (Nelson Baker) are characterised by evasion and violence. He is on bail, having assaulted a policeman, and is receiving counselling from David (Trevor Jamieson), a gruff but father-like parole officer who draws Ruben’s ire for his perceived class privileges. Ruben calls him ‘Stuart Park’, a reference to the well-to-do Darwin suburb, telling him, ‘You had choices’. One of the great strengths of Alberts’s play is the way it complicates this statement, illustrating the grossly unequal distribution of opportunity and social mobility in Australian society but not losing sight of the power of individual or familial agency.

Family is everything. While the engine of the play’s drama is Ruben’s anger, it is his quietly determined sister and rambunctious, iron-willed aunt Petra (Lisa Flanagan, the only actor here reprising her role from the 2014 production) who are the vehicle’s chassis. In their resolve and generosity of spirit, they hold everything together without absolving the men of their responsibilities to the family and to themselves, shown for example by Petra’s fierce insistence that Ruben visit his adopted mother in hospital no matter the depression and alcoholism he has sunk into.

Sign up to the fortnightly ABR Arts e-bulletin for news, reviews, and giveaways

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Brothers Wreck (Odeon Theatre) ★★★★
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text

    One would have hoped that in the four years since Jada Alberts’s fine début play Brothers Wreck premièred at Belvoir Street that its concern with the issue of Indigenous despair would have come to feel less vital, and yet the problem is as acute as ever. This week we learned that every child in detention in the Northern Territory, where Brothers Wreck is set, is Indigenous ...

  • Review Rating 4.0
Friday, 22 June 2018 16:03

Gloria (Melbourne Theatre Company)

Ninety years ago, the British economist John Maynard Keynes forecast that by now, thanks to technological advances, we would all be working fifteen-hour weeks. Instead, we are drowning in work – much of it unnecessary – to the point of existential despair. According to recent studies in Britain and the Netherlands, almost half of us feel our jobs contribute nothing of value to the world.

Young American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s 2015 comedy-drama Gloria is set against the backdrop of this keenly felt corporate ennui – fecund comic ground for such era-defining television shows as The Office. Here, though, the alienation of white-collar workers from their labour and one another is given its full, tragic dimension in the shape of another peculiarly contemporary phenomenon: the mass shooting.

Jacobs-Jenkins’s petri dish is the culture section of a storied magazine based in Manhattan (its resemblance to The New Yorker, where the playwright was once employed as an editorial assistant, is unmistakable). Subeditors Dean (Jordan Fraser-Trumble), Ani (Jane Harber), and Kendra (Aileen Huynh) are approaching thirty. Having sought something, anything, to do after college, they find themselves trapped in spiritually enervating jobs, their aspirations – Dean, for example, is looking to publish a memoir – thwarted by the daily grind. Archly competitive and self-centred, they are model products of late capitalism. They fight like cats in a sack, all too aware of their slim leverage within an industry that is pitiless by nature and besieged by circumstance. While not exactly cruel, none, except sensitive intern Miles (Callan Colley), has any compunction about selling the others down the river in the pursuit of real or perceived career advantage. Their microaggression-filled banter, portending the tragedy to come with its allusions to hostages and terrorists – not to mention its offhand death threats – zips back and forth with a colourful ferocity reminiscent of David Mamet (Jacobs-Jenkins is also fond of, and adept at, the kind of screed-like monologues beloved of American television writers like Aaron Sorkin.)

Sign up to the fortnightly ABR Arts e-bulletin for news, reviews, and giveaways

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Gloria (Melbourne Theatre Company) ★★★★
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Ninety years ago, the British economist John Maynard Keynes forecast that by now, thanks to technological advances, we would all be working fifteen-hour weeks. Instead, we are drowning in work – much of it unnecessary – to the point of existential despair. According to recent studies in Britain and the Netherlands ...

  • Review Rating 4.0
Tuesday, 13 March 2018 09:28

Kings of War (Adelaide Festival)

In a Festival glutted with plays about war and the violence wrought by powerful men, Dutch theatre company Toneelgroep’s Kings of War stands tall. A four-and-a-half-hour conflation of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Henry VI, and Richard III, it is directed by Ivo van Hove whose monumental Roman Tragedies – which conceived Shakespeare’s Roman history plays as an immersive treatise on contemporary power politics – was seen in Adelaide in 2014 in a production that has, rightly, acquired almost legendary status.

Kings of War wears the same spots. Returning audiences will recognise Bart Van den Eynde and Peter Van Kraaijs’s lightly modernised text (Dutch with English surtitles), van Hove’s filmic sense of space, and his liberal use of live sound and supersized video, much of it captured by a roving cameraman. While both works are epic in scale and concerned with the machinations of leadership and power, Kings of War feels leaner, its sweep more contained, running almost two hours shorter and lacking some of the Sturm und Drang of its predecessor. The women’s roles are more attenuated here: good parts, like the fierce, intelligent Margaret of Anjou – superbly played by Janni Goslinga – feel less significant than they do in Shakespeare’s plays, and there is none of the Roman Tragedies’ enlivening gender-swapping, which saw, for example, a female Cassius in Julius Caesar.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Kings of War (Adelaide Festival) ★★★★★
  • Contents Category Theatre
  • Custom Highlight Text

    In a Festival glutted with plays about war and the violence wrought by powerful men, Dutch theatre company Toneelgroep’s Kings of War stands tall. A four-and-a-half-hour conflation of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Henry VI, and Richard III, it is directed by Ivo van Hove whose monumental Roman Tragedies – which conceived ...

  • Review Rating 5.0
Page 1 of 3