Ian Dickson

As our government prepares to increase our involvement in a Middle Eastern disaster we should never have taken part in, Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children seems more pertinent than ever.

The theatre of Bertolt Brecht has always pr ...

The fact that two of Australia’s major theatre companies are performing Endgame concurrently is, one hopes, merely a coincidence and not a reflection on the national Zeitgeist, for the play is one of the bleakest works in Samuel Beckett’s not exactly sunny canon. If Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot cling desperately to some hope, their co ...

Leading arts critics and professionals nominate some of their favourite performances for 2014.

... (read more)

For a man who has repeatedly been described as America’s greatest playwright, Tennessee Williams’s reputation has fluctuated as wildly as his notorious mood swings. In the decade after the war he was celebrated. ‘Mr. Williams is the man of our time who comes closest to hurling the actual blood and bone of life onto the stage,’ wrote Walter Kerr of the first production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). By the time of its 1974 revival, Stanley Kauffmann spoke for most of his colleagues when he said, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire is truly an American tragedy and The Glass Menagerie stands, even if a bit unsteadily, as one of the few successful poems in our theatre’, and then implied that everything else in the master’s output was downhill. The gleefully savage venom with which the critics greeted his later plays takes the breath away. Of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963), Richard Gilman wrote: ‘Why, rather than be banal and hysterical and absurd, doesn’t he keep quiet? Why doesn’t he simply stop writing, stay absolutely unproductive for a long time in Key West or the South of Spain?’ Reviewing Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980), Robert Brustein suggested that he should book ‘a flight to Three Mile Island on a one way ticket’. The tall poppy syndrome is not merely endemic to Australia.

... (read more)

Miracle City

27 October 2014

As I sat through the standing ovation that greeted the performance of the Nick Enright/Max Lambert musical Miracle City that I attended, I wondered why it is that some productions seem to get a free ride. Few regular theatre-goers would disagree with the contention that we are at present in Australia living through a golden age of acting talent. The huge boos ...

By now we know what to expect from an Andrew Upton adaptation of a Russian play – brisk, overlapping dialogue with anachronistic turns of phrase and use of four-letter words. With the Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya (2010), this approach, in combination with Támas Ascher’s brilliant production, worked superbly to blow away the miasma of gloom and torpor that usually blankets anglophone Chekhov. It was considerably less successful when the STC turned to Mikhail Bulgakov’s wonderful play The Days of the Turbins (2011) and the novel on which it was based, The White Guard. Here the loss of Bulgakov’s elegant, elliptical, slyly humorous style was compounded with a messy production and a cast that was, on average, a decade too old for their roles. With Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, the results are mixed. The modern language adds immediacy but it is jarring to hear a refined sheltered woman of the turn of the last century use the word ‘fuck’.

... (read more)

The Santa Fe opera house has a location as dramatic as Sydney’s. Perched on the top of a hill overlooking the town, it looks across the valley to the Sangre de Cristo mountains. What started out in 1957 as an open-air theatre has over the years grown a roof which covers the stage and auditorium, but the sides of the auditorium and back of the stage are still open ...

Hedda Gabler (1890) occupies a somewhat schizophrenic position in Henrik Ibsen’s work. On the one hand, it is normally seen as the apotheosis of Ibsen’s realist period, his sardonic homage to the fashionable ‘well-made play’ of the time. But, on the other hand, from early in its theatrical life there have been productions which have reacted against the naturalistic style in which the play seems to have been couched.

... (read more)

In the heyday of Manhattan hotels, the Chelsea Hotel had its own special niche. The Pierre exuded wealth and exclusivity, the Plaza a sort of bourgeois glamour as the place where the bridge and tunnel crowd would throw caution to the wind and rent a corner suite for big occasions, and the Algonquin, with its round table and Hamlet the cat, radiated intellectual chic. The Chelsea had a sleazy, dangerous style, a place where almost anything went, where famous edgy artists got up to no good. It is no surprise that when, on a hot summer night in 1953, Gore Vidal and Jack Kerouac decided that they owed it to literary history to have it off, they chose the Chelsea for the momentous coupling. Even in late 1970s Manhattan, among a certain group to have sex at the Chelsea was considered almost a rite of passage.

... (read more)

Hobart is the ideal place in which to have a festival. Big enough to have other attractions but small enough so that the festival becomes a major event rather than just another diversion. A walk through Battery Point, followed by a long lunch at Salamanca Place with congenial fellow festival goers, or a trip out to MONA to wander through the psyche of David Walsh ar ...