Tim Byrne

At one point in Boy on Fire, music critic Mark Mordue’s strange, hybrid biography and social history of the early years and musical development of singer–songwriter Nick Cave, Mordue describes his subject as ‘the nominal ship’s captain, a drug-spun Ahab running amok on stage and off’. It is a typically sharp image, but it may reveal more than was intended; for all that Cave is Mordue’s Ahab, he is far more like the white whale itself: a great and receding mythical creature that will swallow the world before giving up any of its secrets. For a long while, the reader is cajoled into thinking this work might be the first in an exhaustive series on the artist, but by the end the truth is revealed: the subject simply got the better of his biographer, who languishes still in the belly of the whale. After an unnaturally long gestation, it seems to have become a case of publish or go mad.

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Ratched 

Tim Byrne
Monday, 21 September 2020

How, precisely, does a character unmoor itself from its source material? And how concerned should we be to track its progress – or should that be retrace its steps? These questions bugged me as I admittedly devoured Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series, Ratched. Ostensibly a prequel, it re-contextualises and re-packages the unforgettable villain Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) for entirely different aims, so much so that the original feels hopelessly far away. In fact, there’s little evidence of Kesey at all.

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Late into Take Me to the World, the live-streamed isolation concert to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday, Nathan Lane quips that the composer has ‘been so under-appreciated all these years. I can’t believe there’s never been a tribute to this unsung musical genius.’ It’s a delicious routine, because every fan of the indisputable master of the American musical knows just how many Sondheim tributes are extant, and how unlikely it is that this will be the last. For a while it seemed as though this one might just slot in with the others, a standard – if, given the format, unorthodox – collection of musical performances showcasing Sondheim’s particular talents.

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It’s perhaps a dubious thought, but the life of an actor invariably triggers something prurient in the audience, some desperate need to peer past the mask, to see beyond the curtain. Books by and about actors indulge this prurience, whether or not they are intended to. Works like Konstantin Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares (1936) or Stella Adler’s The Art of Acting (2000) deal academically with the interiority and motivations of acting, but they still offer a glimpse into the process and the perceived trickery of creation. The most fun are the intentionally salacious ones, like David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon (1971) or Scotty Bowers’s Full Service (2017), which detailed the sexual proclivities of Hollywood’s closeted élite. Anything to get us closer, to get us into the inner sanctum.

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Torch the Place 

Tim Byrne
Monday, 17 February 2020

When attempting to cajole a compulsive hoarder into cleaning up, it’s advisable to start with the things are worth worth keeping, but it shouldn’t distract us from taking out the trash. Ubiquitous television and print personality Benjamin Law’s first foray into playwriting, Torch the Place, is one of four new works appearing in NEXT STAGE Originals, Melbourne Theatre Company’s new commissioning endeavour, the only one that doesn’t come from an established playwright. While there are several things to like in this début, there are a number that should be consigned to the skip.

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Kiss of the Spider Woman 

Tim Byrne
Monday, 25 November 2019

Argentine writer Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel Kiss of the Spider Woman seems to have shed most of its cultural specificity with each new iteration. Most people know it from the 1985 film that transposed the action to a Brazilian prison, for no conceivable reason other than the fact that the director was Brazilian (Héctor Babenco). The 1992 musical, with a book by Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, goes a step further, and sets it in an undisclosed South American country – as if all political hells were the same, as long as they were subcontinental.

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2019 Arts Highlights of the Year

Robyn Archer et al.
Thursday, 24 October 2019

To celebrate the year’s memorable plays, films, television, music, operas, dance, and exhibitions, we invited a number of arts professionals and critics to nominate their favourites. 

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Golden Shield 

Tim Byrne
Monday, 19 August 2019

The great Spanish novelist Javier Marías includes a scene in A Heart So White (1992) where a translator deliberately mistranslates a conversation between two characters who obviously stand in for Margaret Thatcher and Felipe González. He does this to send a coded message to the other translator in the room, his future wife ...

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Wake in Fright (Malthouse Theatre) ★★★★

Tim Byrne
Monday, 01 July 2019

The idea of the outsider is, of course, a concept shared by all living beings; the jellyfish and the silverback gorilla alike have trained themselves to distrust a stranger. But there is something particular about the Australian suspicion of otherness, a ruddy and avuncular mask that hides an abiding, almost pathological, wariness...

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‘Terrible rage.’ It starts as a question; rhetorical, perhaps. ‘Terrible rage.’ It grows into a statement of fact, an undeniable proof. ‘Terrible rage. Terrible rage. Terrible rage.’ Eventually – in a slow but frightening crescendo, followed by an equally slow but heart-wrenchingly pathetic decrescendo ...

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