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Theatre

Was there ever an Australian poet who drank so deep of that turbid spring, enthousiasmos, Aristotelian enthusiasm, as Dorothy Porter? From the grungy vitality of her early collections, to the exuberant embrace of popular genre fiction in her five verse novels, to the high, passionate tone of her lyrics, libretti, and later collections, she was never less than ...

How is it that the sordid ‘familial romance’ of Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus, or ‘daddy, mommy, and me’, came so completely to define the concept of desire in the modern West? For Deleuze and Guattari, authors of The Anti-Oedipus, that is the true sphinxian riddle at the heart of the Oedipus materials, the myth, and its subsequent interpretations from Sophocles to Freud and beyond. Forty years after the publication of their famous broadside against mainstream Freudian psychoanalysis, and notwithstanding a significant and growing body of sceptical opinion, the Oedipal complex is still widely regarded as humanity’s universal history. In fact, argue Deleuze and Guattari, it is nothing of the sort. Rather, they say, Oedipal desire is an historically contingent, socio-cultural consequence of capitalism. When psychoanalysts, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, ethnologists, and even dramatists reach for an Oedipalised analysis of social relations, they not only violently disfigure our understanding of desire, but also reinforce and normalise the omnivorous progress of capitalism and its patriarchal social forms.

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‘An admired talent for the theatre / Even when I was small / A man born of the stage you see / Histrionic / Setting snares even when very little.’ Such is the epigraph to Thomas Bernhard’s The Histrionic (Der Theatermacher), drawn from the play’s principal character, the megalomaniacal Bruscon. The image of the snare, or trap, is a common one in the work of Bernhard, typically figuring a moment of exposure: the individual left open by falsehood or deceit to the calumny of the world.

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To Her Majesty’s for the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. Pinter’s sixth play, it opened in April 1960 and ran forever (444 performances), his first commercial success, though by no means his first critical one (Harold Hobson had famously extolled the short-lived Birthday Party two years earlier.)< ...

I first saw Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1957 in London, of all places. I remember feeling some pride in seeing the symbolic kewpie doll presiding over the New Theatre in the heart of the West End. June Jago’s performance as Olive has stayed with me over the years; Philip Hope-Wallace, the Guardian reviewer, described her as ‘all chin and elbows, but as genuine a dramatic actress as you could find’, which suggested an element of surprise that she should be ‘found’ in Australia. Jago had been in the original 1955 Union Rep production and placed her stamp on Olive: she was to be a hard act to follow. When The Doll came to London, it had already won itself a unique place in Australian drama, but there had been some concern about how the Brits would receive a play about rough canecutters and free-and-easy barmaids. But critics like Hope-Wallace – and the influential Kenneth Tynan – hailed ‘this harsh, cawing, strongly felt play’. The imperial imprimatur sealed the success of The Doll. Its later failure on Broadway could be dismissed as a judgement on American audiences rather than on the play.

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I first saw Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1957 in London, of all places. I remember feeling some pride in seeing the symbolic kewpie doll presiding over the New Theatre in the heart of the West End. June Jago’s performance as Olive has stayed with me over the years; Philip Hope-Wallace, the Guardian reviewer, described her as ‘all chin and elbows, but as genuine a dramatic actress as you could find’, which suggested an element of surprise that she should be ‘found’ in Australia. Jago had been in the original 1955 Union Rep production and placed her stamp on Olive: she was to be a hard act to follow. When The Doll came to London it had already won itself a unique place in Australian drama, but there had been some concern about how the Brits would receive a play about rough canecutters and free-and-easy barmaids. But critics like Hope-Wallace hailed ‘this harsh, cawing, strongly felt play’. The imperial imprimatur sealed the success of The Doll. Its later failure on Broadway could be dismissed as a judgement on American audiences rather than the play.

... (read more)

I hesitated before deciding to see Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at La Boite in Brisbane this year. Revivals, even under ideal circumstances, can be chancy. The author, Ray Lawler, had reservations about the presentation of his signature work in the round, and so did I. More than fifty years had passed since he wrote it and since I saw it performed behind a conventional proscenium arch in Brisbane, with Lawler himself playing Barney. A story about manual cane-cutters would seem to my children as remote in time and place as one about stokers on a steamboat would have to me, when I first saw the play. Then, there were few, if any, mechanical cane harvesters. There was still plenty of work for rural, manual workers. These were hard, strong men who bankrolled themselves in the season in order to take their leisure afterwards in the big smoke: not just cane-cutters but also shearers, drovers, fencers, fruit pickers and contract miners in Mount Isa and Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill and other distant places.

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With 827 pages of entries on individual performers, shows, composers, lyricists, directors and choreographers, together with almost another hundred pages of appendices covering the chronology of musicals, guides to recordings and awards, a bibliography and an index, this compilation is an impressive volume to appear under the name of a sole author. Thomas Hischak has already published more than a dozen works on various aspects of the American musical, and the present study is as comprehensive and many-sided as the genre itself.

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Bertolt Brecht: Journals 1934–1955 edited by John Willett, translated by Hugh Rorrison

by
July 1994, no. 162

Bertolt Brecht’s poem, ‘To those born later’, contains the following line: ‘For we went, changing countries oftener than our shoes.’ The publication of this translation of Brecht’s Journals 1934-1955 (written in an e.e. cummings-style lower case throughout) provides an abundant fleshing out of that line, giving a detailed sense of what it meant to Brecht to be an artist in exile, denied the comforts of his culture and language, denied the possibility of seeing the plays he was writing rehearsed or run-through, a process he always regarded as the final stage of writing: ‘all the plays that have not been produced have something or other missing. no play can have the finishing touches put to it without being tried out in production.’

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