peter A cross

ramblings from a troubled mind

Would Neighbourhood Watch Have Prevented Underbelly?

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I’ve been reluctant to post, review or even put finger to keyboard over the last few months for a variety of reasons – mainly I would say laziness but also I have been underwhelmed by so much of what I have seen that my enthusiasm for theatre has sadly been dissipated by the amount of schlock I have sat through.
I know I’ve said it before but Terminus has left me with such high expectations that most everything else has paled in comparison.
However Belvoir Street has gone a long way with its latest production Neighbourhood Watch’ in restoring my faith in new theatre and especially new Australian theatre.
Written by Lally Katz, directed by Simon Stone and starring Robyn Nevin, in what should go down as one of her best performances. ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, which is now deservedly sold out, is a simple story told quietly without all the flash and trappings that have marked some productions in Sydney.
There is a certain freedom in allowing the audience to ‘imagine’ scenarios and settings rather than feeling the need to cover weak narrative or shallow characterisations with flashy sets and expensive costumes. Of course I am referencing my BFF play ‘Terminus’ here but also giving more than a passing nod to ‘Wild Duck’ (also directed by Simon Stone) as examples of good, simple story telling – allowing actors to act with honesty and integrity.

Kris McQuade as Milova

Most of the other reviews I have read have said everything that needs to be said about this play if you want to read one of the better written reviews I would suggest  http://jameswaites.ilatech.org/?p=6822    however I did want to make particular mention to an almost unrecognisable Kris McQuade as the thankless Milova.

After thought: I was reminded of the STC’s production of Thornton Wilder’s play ‘Our Town’.

So thank heavens for Belvoir Street, one for restoring my faith in Australian writing and two for getting my fingers twitching again.

“And now to the  movies Margaret”

“Thanks David”:  One of the great things about being a reviewer (yes you can argue the point) is that you get asked to many different types of  events.  In the last couple of weeks I have been privileged (and it is a privilege) to see screenings of two new movies – well they were new at the time – Green Lantern’ and ‘Horrible Bosses’,  one a big budget, CGI, 3D, blockbuster glam movie premiere and the other a character driven black comedy in the style of ‘The Hangover’.

‘Green Lantern’, forgetting Ryan Reynolds in body hugging, form-fitting tights, is an expensive attempt to jump on the current super hero band wagon that seems to be sweeping the celluloid universe. NO amount of smoke and mirrors can hide the fact that without a story and character that some movies should not be made. Thin plot, shallow characters and no emotional connection, this movie hits the trifecta.

‘Horrible Bosses’ starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and a potty mouthed Jennifer Anniston is a modern, darker version of ‘Nine to Five’. Now this movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is – a misogynistic, nudge nudge, wink wink, embarrassing pleasure. It’s a groan out loud and laugh – with some great cameos and some truly awful gags. I am embarrassed to admit just how much I enjoyed it.

(One movie to keep your eyes and ears peeled for is ‘The Staff’.)

Underbelly: Razor – Channel 9’s much hyped and heavily advertised reputation saving (hopefully) latest installment of the Australian crime franchise. As a longterm resident of Darlinghurst I’m always excited to see my ‘hood’ on the telly but really this sexed up version of Darlo in the twenties is one storyline too many. The first ‘Underbelly’ was groundbreaking, professional and passionate TV now it seems to be heading down that road to ‘period soap opera’. I have to admit I spent most of the time wondering why they were all smoking filter tipped cigarettes which didn’t really take off until the 1950s rather than rolling their own and pondering why the streets were so busy during the day rather than focusing on the plot. Engaged – no, entertained – no, will I watch the rest of the series – doubtful.
Such a shame, still it rated well when combined with The Block giving CH 9 an overall 46.9% of viewing public. A record audience.

However all is not lost in the wonderful glare of the cathode ray box that dominates every house in every street across this wide brown land of ours. I can highly recommend ‘Misfits’, a series about five British kids caught up in a freak weather event that gives them each a special power, ranging from invisibility to being able to wind back time. Good, strong characters with strong plot lines; it’s worth looking out for.

Written by peteracross

August 22, 2011 at 16:41

Four a.m.

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Long, creased grey down turned sneer mouth tries to escape to
unshaven pock-marked neck.
Smell of piss.
Eyes turn back, stare back
glare back searching, demanding, commanding release.
Light reflects dull unblinking stained, pained, tobacco yellow, whiskey brown, vomit green.
porcelain white, Ajax white, sparkling white, so white you could fucking eat off it
white turns yellow.

Flower dried, a blight bleak landscape.
No escape.
Paint peels from wood cured in rain battered, wind scattered, shit spattered box.
Look beneath dig deeper, darker.
Watch the poison spread, veins pumping, reaching arching out
clasping, grasping, growing, growling spotted
arguing with the age rotted canvas leather tanned skin.

Is this the best, is this your challenge?
you fuck me because I fucked?

Written by peteracross

July 6, 2011 at 16:41

Posted in cancer

The Russians are coming and Gant’s mind is going

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I’ve been trying to work out why I have had so much trouble writing about the last two plays I have seen: The White Guard and Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, finally I think I have worked it out – they didn’t really move me. Well ‘der’ I hear you say. It’s no easy thing sometimes to work out, not what but why a certain play has or has not worked for you. Don’t get me wrong I mostly enjoyed them both but neither had a “wham bam, take that you sucker, now sit up and pay attention” affect on me.

I blame Terminus; it was such a standout that whatever has followed has been a let down.

The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov as envisioned by Andrew Upton:

Russia is falling apart and revolutions seem to be happening daily. In one house, in the Ukraine, Lena (Miranda Otto) tries to keep her ragtag family together through the threat of advancing and conflicting ideologies.

On the cavernous stage of the Sydney Theatre the warring armies of monarchism, socialism, democracy and communism all fight for dominance. A large(ish) cast of 14 strong do their best to describe the futility and farce of war and the importance of family and love. Otto, the sole female in the cast represents I guess some kind of mother Russia while her husband, children, nephews etc all rush headlong backwards and forwards singing songs and drinking vodka to an unknown future represent the past and possible future that would become the USSR. Okay even I think I am reading far too much into that metaphor.

The set, designed by Alice Babidge, and the music, Steve Francis, that accompany the set changes are really the big winners in this production. Yes there are good and in some cases strong performances, Patrick Brammall as Leonid but in the end, by the time I had reached the car park, I had pretty much moved the entire production to the back of my mind. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it – it just didn’t grab me in ‘me vitals’.

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson:

Emily Tomlins as Madame Poulet

A couple of years ago I was pretty scathing about a certain play or more correctly a certain production of one of Anthony Neilson’s plays. I remember leaving the theatre in a bit of a fury at, what I felt, was a badly directed piece of nonsense, I’m talking of course about The Wonderful World of Dissocia, so I had no great expectations of this night out to see Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness;(EGAFoL) – even just the name set my few remaining teeth on edge. The hardest thing in winter is to leave the comfort of the sofa and the lure of the telly, and venture out into the wind and rain to see a play. I’m glad I did – mostly.

Have you ever wondered what happens to a troupe of actors who have stayed too long in one show? EGAFoL is that troupe. Gant’s gallant troupe of troubadours has been touring for too long. Their simple stories of loneliness and unrequited love have taken an unnatural edge and become a mixture of madness and grotesque melancholia; from the girl with pock filled pearl producing face to soldier in love with the ‘jam tart’ tart.

In the style of Victorian melodrama with a dash of ‘Around the Horn’ and a hint of ‘Monty Python’ thrown in Neilson’s world unravels in front of us.

Now I love a tent show (set design Renee Mulder) as much as the next fellow and I do love a good frock on stage, and the frocks are VERY good in this production thanks to Romance Was Born balanced with strong performances from the tight ensemble of four so in theory we should be in for a very entertaining night out – and again mostly we are.

The strength of the story telling is more in the fantasy than in the reality. I know what the hell does that mean. Simply, I enjoyed the tall tales but true section much more than the cold light of reality thrown over us by a Little Nicholas Ludd (Lindsay Farris).

Neilson is at his best when he lets his mind run free with a suitcase full of characters like ‘Ranjeev the Uncomplicated’ and the more bizarre the character the happier I was but somewhere near the last third of the play, after the story telling stops, the play runs out of steam – it kind of, sort of, you know stalls. Luckily the madness of the finale saves the play – or at least for me it did and I left in a much better mood than when I walked in.

And – how could I forget – Sarah Goodes direction was pretty darn slick. I can’t wait to see more of her work.

However I have been spoiled – spoiled by a trio of Irish actors who do no more than stand and tell a story for almost two hours. No tricks, no blood, no seeping pustules just a story.

I wonder if I will be over my love affair with Terminus by the time I get to see The Seagull?

Terminus

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Olwen Fouere (top), Declan Conlan and Catherine Walker

You can say what you like about the Irish and many do but they sure can spin a tale although I’m not sure that the fine city of Dublin would take kindly to the tale told by the fine young cannibals of The Abbey Theatre who in association with The Sydney Theatre Company present Terminus in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.
Boy that’s a mouthful.
I have to say that I loved it from first spoken word to last drawn breath I was with them every step of the way. Thank you, thank you thank you Abbey Theatre and thank you STC for realising that this is a piece that needs to be performed by the people who created it.
However it’s not enough for, and I use the term loosely, a reviewer to just announce that he or she loved a show or performance. I’ve got to give to you some solid reasons why.
Fair enough.
Terminus isn’t really a play, it’s more a triple monologue woven and connected together with the art of old fashioned fire-side story telling.
From the moment we enter the theatre we become part of the tale, the subliminal beat of the music (Philip Stewart), the fog filling the shattered proscenium frame and then running down across the lip of the stage we all had a prediction, our own pre-set fantasy of what was about to happen.
The beat of the drum louder and louder vibrating through the floor shaking us awake, the lights (Philip Caldwell) suddenly turned up and on us and then blackout. And most of our predictions and fantasies were knocked on their head.
Three actors: A (Olwen Fouéré), B (Catherine Walker) and C (Declan Conlon) stand alone on a fractured stage behind a shattered window/mirror and for 100 minutes they take us on a macabre tour of one night in Dublin. ‘A’, a middle aged woman, sits in her booth at the Samaritan’s counselling service when ‘B’, a young woman, who wants an abortion rings in while ‘C’, a man, picks up a girl in bar to have sex with and then kills her. Each character is connected and no story can exist without the other.
Mark O’Rowe writer /director has constructed a macabre world: demons and angels, lesbians and lovers, mothers and daughters, and using rhyme each tells their story, as one story reaches a climax the next begins and so on and so forth until the whole story is told.
After the initial shock it becomes the kind of night you can close your eyes, slide down in your chair, put your feet up in front of the fire and nursing a pint of whatever takes your fancy while the wind howls outside you let the story unfold around you.
Yes, in places, it’s self indulgent and yes it’s self serving in others but if you pay attention and go with the flow it’s a very satisfying, nourishing exhilarating ride. It is a masterful piece of story telling that is a tribute as much to the writing as in the telling – does that makes sense?
For me it was as glorious as Ginsberg reading Howl or hearing Burton in Under Milk Wood.
Terminus is playing in the Drama Theatre at the Opera House until July 9, 2011.

Baal

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Baal (Thomas M Wright) is all things to all people: visionary, rock god, lover, destroyer, creator and poet. Baal couldn’t give a shit – I warn you now there will be profanity in this review.   

On an empty stage bathed in an unflattering yellow light that washes up across the first few rows Baal lies next to his electric guitar making his poetry as we the audience enter his world. Immediately I think of George Harrison and his seminal song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” but there is nothing gentle about this cacophony, this aural rape, we are forced to listen to before the ‘play’ begins.   

One by one the middle-class sycophants of the gallery opening, cocktail party circuit join Baal on stage to bask in his originality, his dangerous talent and his sex. Baal wants to play his music, sing his songs, drink and fuck, anyone, anytime, anywhere with no thought of consequence. Each player is used and then thrown aside or in the end murdered by Baal.  There is a never-ending parade of cock and cunt for Baal to choose from. Everyone is fair game even his best friend, the one person who has actually loved him without any judgement Eckhardt (Oscar Redding) who seems to spend the entire play comfortably naked… and wet.   

Thomas M Wright

Baal is Dorian Grey without the picture to hide the flaws, Baal is Jim Morrison or Charlie Sheen, Baal is the hot guy across the bar who you know is bad and you know he will fuck you over and yet you still want him in you.   

Baal is also Brecht’s first play written when he was twenty just after World War 1. It is a flawed, angry piece that lacks a strong narrative structure yet it flows seamlessly down the path of self-destruction and offers no apology, no final act of public or private redemption. Baal dies as he lived his life – alone.   

Thomas Wright, same name as the actor but different person, and Simon Stone have given us a good adaptation of the original play – not that I have ever read the original in German or any other language for that matter.   

Stone has directed a no-nonsense, grinding production that has drained any possible thought of eroticism out. It is a harsh, unforgiving, cold night of in your face theatre.    

Some plays or at least some productions of plays invite you in, this production, like Baal the character, wants none of that. The staging the rain, the noise, the lighting and even the players distance themselves from the audience. Baal never asks us to like him or feel his inner pain or go on some ‘hero’s journey’ with him; he actually couldn’t give a fuck. He stands before us with his guitar, in the rain, and says ‘this is me and I don’t fucking care what you think or who you are. Accept me or not I couldn’t give a toss.’   

The set and lighting, designed by Nick Schlieper, is the other major character in this production: sparse white walls, devoid of furniture, the occasional mattress for the players to rut on. In the second half, after one of the best set transformations I have seen for a long time, the rains come; at first light and misty then heavier, pelting rain forcing the players to shout to be heard. Sure we may lose some of the nuances of the text but this is not a subtle production. The rain isn’t there to wash away the sin or cleanse the sinner but more to constrain and restrict them. 

Baal is a transfer from the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne and is currently playing @Wharf 1 Hickson Road until June 11

Written by peteracross

May 13, 2011 at 16:41

hmmm just a petite francaise s’il vous plaît

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Not every film should be a ‘Citizen Kane’ or an ‘Inception’, sometimes it’s a real pleasure to go to the movies and just let a film wash over you like a gentle brook in the late summer of the French country side. I know it’s too much but these are the kind of feelings that bubble to the surface when you see ‘My Afternoons with Margueritte’. No CGI, no spectacular sets, no scintillating drawing-room wit just good honest story telling from beginning to end. Director Jean Becker has created one of those movies that you know, almost from the opening scenes, how it’s going to end without ever being disappointed by the road it takes. The plot is simple, and I use the word simple in its most innocent sense, and it is a delight. To use the phrase that sends shudders of terror up your fellow scribe’s spines… it’s heart warming.

Germain (Gerard Depardieu) plays a mostly illiterate man in his fifties who has clearly had one too many baguettes; he meets Margueritte (Giselle Casadesus) an older and much lighter, brighter woman in the local park. She is air to his mountain. They strike up a friendship, as you do, and she begins to expand his mind as she reads aloud to him extracts from her favourite novels. Giselle, of course is beginning to lose her eyesight and as their friendship grows Germain takes over as her reader. Once thought of as the village buffoon Germain slowly begins to change as new worlds open for him and then, through him, for the others in the village.

It’s that simple, a love story without the complications of sex; a flirtatious tale of mutual respect.

Depardieu fits nicely in the role of overweight gentle giant with a boyish charm and Casadesus is an absolute joy to watch, under playing each scene brilliantly yet still acting the pants off her much younger fellow cast members.

Both Depardieu and Casadesus have worked with director Becker before so there is already a thread that links these three together and creates a bond that gives them the freedom to trust each other. And although Casadesus is ninety-five there is an incredible vibrancy and youthfulness in her performance.

All the supporting cast are strong but special mention should be made of Claire Maurier who plays Depardieu’s la mère’ and has a ball as the much maligned and slightly mad parental foil of this hulk of a man.

I know I’m going on about it a bit now but I really liked the gentleness, the soft touches and heart of the movie. I feel as if I should write so much more about it but it would just be padding.

If you want a pleasant afternoon or evening where you won’t be challenged but you will be offered the chance to just enjoy a movie again then this is for you. If you want ‘The Reader’ you’ll still go home smiling… in spite of yourself.

‘My Afternoons with Margueritte’ opens in limited release, from April 7 2011.

Written by peteracross

April 5, 2011 at 16:41

Zebras crossing… blunted swords

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Colin Friels, Nadine Garner, Bryan Brown

 

The theatre can be a zoo and not all of the animals are on stage. I certainly felt like a mindless sheep as I was herded in to the theatre to see the opening of the STC’s latest offering Zebra, by automated male and female voices all around the theatre annoyingly telling me every minute to “turn off my mobile phone”. It got my dander up. 

Zebra is the new play by writer Ross Mueller starring Bryan Brown as Jimmy, Colin Friels as Larry and Nadine Garner as Robinson and directed by Lee Lewis. Set in a neighbourhood ‘dive’ Irish bar in the post GFC and pre-Obama New York, 

The last time I saw Friels on stage he was with his wife Judy Davis in the STC’s production of ‘Victory’ and they were magnificent. I can’t remember ever having seen Brown on stage although I know he has done some good work or at least I am told he has. Garner has a resume that would be the envy of many an actor twice her age. 

Zebra attempts to tell the simple story of what price love. Can a failed Beach Volleyball player turned property tycoon from Australia convince a successful dot-com millionaire who had the sense to know when enough was enough that he really, really loves his daughter and is not just after that big pay-out. Larry (Friels) is horrified to find out that Jimmy (Brown), a man uncomfortably close to his own age is marrying his estranged daughter – is it for love or is it for the money? 

But something tonight didn’t gel. 

Mueller has written a lot of words in this play and for them to work there needs to be a rhythm, a dance between the characters. They seemed to be a beat or two off. Maybe that rhythm will come as they get in to the run and settle their characters. 

Set designer David McKay has created a sensational playground for these actors to play in, a neighbourhood bar that’s going bust, and they all strut and fret throwing back bourbon or scotch at 11:30 in the morning with free abandon to allow them to explore what has happened to the American dream, to manhood, to America – when cash, if you still have it, is king and if you don’t you can barter whatever you do have for it. All Jimmy has is the love of Larry’s daughter and the rest is a negotiation – what price is that love worth? 

Friels and Brown prowl the stage goading and prodding each other like two aging alpha males; who is the better salesman, who has the bigger balls? Friels is good but not great as the cash rich father of the bride to be and Brown is great but not good as the cash strapped suitor. Maybe it’s the age difference, maybe Friels isn’t quite old enough and Brown not quite young enough to make the scenario work. 

Garner plays the down on her luck widowed bar owner faced with foreclosure somewhere between victim and feisty and she plays it well but she has little to do in the big scheme of things. 

“A Zebra walks into a bar, up the wall and across the ceiling then out the door…” and so the gag goes. There are plenty of gags like this in Zebra; there are some genuinely funny moments but few moments of pathos to offset the boy’s own humour. 

Theatre by its very nature is contrived but there is a growing trend to a much more organic form of play/acting, think The Wild Duck, a more collaborative evening that involves the audience as willing participants in what is happening. In this play we are told to sit back, watch and let us the actors do the work for you. Sure we’ll throw in some Sorkin-esque dialogue and talk over each other as if it’s all happening real-time but we’re in charge and you are the audience. It’s almost as if Mueller has one foot in both camps and committed to neither. 

And something else was missing on opening night there was a warning that strobe lighting was to be used during the production, probably during a really ordinary fight sequence to help cover the fact that these two guys are not fresh from NIDA, I’m guessing about that, but no strobe, so there might have been a couple of technical hitches going on back of stage as well. 

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the production, because I did but as we made that long post theatrical walk down the wharf corridor we pondered that something didn’t quite work and we didn’t really know what it was – cast or play or direction or maybe just all three on the same night. 

Zebra plays @ The Wharf Theatre until 30 April 2011.

Written by peteracross

March 11, 2011 at 16:41