Arts – Theatre

Hamlet 

by
13 May 2022

Back in 1991, Bell Shakespeare opened their very first season with Hamlet, starring John Polson and directed by John Bell himself; it deliberately highlighted the Australian vernacular, almost over-emphasising the flat vowel sounds and local cadences over the fruitier delivery we inherited from the British. It had a gritty contemporary setting, and garishly over-the-top costumes. It also wasn’t very good.

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Light Shining in Buckinghamshire 

Belvoir St Theatre
by
20 April 2022

Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, first performed in 1976, is a dense and difficult play set during the English Civil War. The period may be distant in time but Churchill, working in a broadly Marxist tradition, sees it as an era when fundamental questions of governance were tested by a mass of ordinary people. From whom does the state derive authority, and is a person bound to obey laws they find unjust? Does the existence of private property – those enclosed lands cultivated for the profit of a few – offend against the common good? Do the rich offend God? ‘For a short time when the king had been defeated anything seemed possible,’ Churchill wrote in a 1978 introductory note. The possibilities included, for some, Christ’s return and with it the instigation of an earthly Paradise.

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Heroes of the Fourth Turning 

by
28 March 2022

Not long into Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning a character brings out an acoustic guitar and is asked to play a song. He chooses Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Nothin’’, a melancholy ballad pulled from the annals of American folk music. When it was released in 1971, many assumed it represented Van Zandt’s struggle with drug addiction. In fact, as he explained two years before his death, the song was inspired by Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, a novel banned by the Catholic Church in 1955 for representing a Christ figure prone to human fallibilities.

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Opening Night 

by
04 March 2022

Although America produced other alternative filmmakers of his generation like Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren, John Cassavetes (1929–89) would have to be considered the doyen of the movement. Directors as diverse as Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Peter Bogdanovich, and Pedro Almodóvar have acknowledged his influence. Technically rough though they may sometimes be, Cassavetes’ films have a raw power that, in the words of Amy Taubin, ‘catch you up, turn you around, bore you a little, startle you, and throw you out upset and confused’. Opening Night (1977), a film that was undervalued when it first appeared and is now perhaps somewhat overvalued, is no exception.

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Girls & Boys 

by
03 March 2022

I’ve never cared much for first-person direct address monologues in the theatre. Too often, one feels talked at rather than implicated in the action, the interpersonal dynamics of multi-actor drama shorn away in favour of a kind of speechifying.

British playwright Dennis Kelly’s Girls & Boys – the ampersand seems to be official – is one such monologue. ‘Woman’ (Kelly doesn’t give her a name) is the narrator, a middle-aged PA in the documentary film industry who, having got a ‘drinky, druggy, slaggy phase’ out of her system, marries a handsome antiques dealer she meets at Naples Airport.

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Fun Home 

by
14 February 2022

Vladimir Nabokov, in his exquisite autobiographical work Speak, Memory (1967), says that ‘the prison of time is spherical and without exits’. It is an idea that animates Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home (2006), moving as it does in circular motions, enfolding its characters in an endless orbital spin through the years. Perhaps memory itself is like this, forever returning to our consciousness the painful and joyous things we’d thought we’d left behind, like moons in retrograde. It is no accident that the show’s opening number is titled ‘It All Comes Back’.

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Death of a Salesman 

Hearth Theatre
by
09 February 2022

Since its première in 1949, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman has managed to cling to cultural relevance with a vice-like grip. In 1975, New York Times critic Walter Goodman saw in its evocation of the American middle class the perfect representation of a nation-wide recession following the Vietnam War. In 1984, the play’s titular salesman, Willy Loman, became the symbol of a dwindling middle class under Ronald Reagan. And in Mike Nichol’s 2012 Broadway revival, Charles Isherwood transformed Loman into the perfect everyman for the Great Recession. That same year, Simon Stone staged an innovative adaptation of Miller’s masterpiece for Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre. It was Stone’s decision to have his actors speak in Australian accents rather than the conventional Brooklyn dialect that seemed to pry the play from its American origins.

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Into the Woods 

Watch This Theatre Company
by
24 January 2022

Great works of art speak to us regardless of circumstance, even if they have a tendency to take circumstance and fold it into their architecture. Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (1987) is such an expansive work – ranging over ideas of parenting and childhood, moral culpability, risk and renewal, death and community – that it will always feel relevant, a grand canvas of the human condition. And yet, in the midst of a global pandemic that is still shutting theatres and clogging hospitals, this work seems more relevant than ever. We have entered our own woods, and the way out is unclear.

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Death of a Salesman 

Sydney Theatre Company
by
09 December 2021

In his program notes, Kip Williams, artistic director of Sydney Theatre Company, talks about the need to ‘wrestle’ Arthur Miller’s great play ‘into the present’. But if ever there was a play that speaks, as the Quakers would say, directly to us in our condition, it is this one. When Miller wrote it, he assumed that the postwar boom would not last and that America would head back into another depression. In fact, the boom continued, and for the next thirty years the United States, albeit hesitantly, moved past the horrors of McCarthyism, Vietnam, and the brutal resistance of the south to the Civil Rights Act towards a more just and equitable society. But the election of Ronald Reagan and the last forty years of triumphant, unrestrained capitalism have led us to the Trumpian world where people are either winners or losers and are, in the gig economy, to paraphrase Willy Loman, eaten like an orange and thrown away like the peel. Miller’s play is a reminder that being human, in his words, ‘is something most of us fail at most of the time and a little mercy is eminently in order given the societies we live in’.

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Moulin Rouge! The Musical 

by
29 November 2021

The Moulin Rouge journey has been a complicated one. The show, based on Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie and produced by Gerry Ryan’s Global Creatures, opened on Broadway in 2019, when it won a swag of Tony Awards, including Best Musical. In July of that year, a date for the Melbourne première was announced. A year later, of course, the world was turned upside down. Reports of the cast caroming between Melbourne and Sydney, trying unsuccessfully to avoid snap lockdowns, suggest something of the chaos behind the scenes these last six months. Now, belatedly, the velvet curtain has gone up and audiences are tentatively flocking – the only way one can flock these days – to this irradiated red mist of a musical.

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