Friday, November 12, 2010

My Name is Rachel Corrie... at last.

Like Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children: a play for Gaza, the Rachel Corrie thunderclaps arrived long before the actual play. And, I confess, my initial response to My Name is Rachel Corrie -- sitting in the dark -- was along the lines of "this is just a play." Not in a bad way, but more along the lines of "what was all the fuss about?"

It’s utterly unexceptionable. A bit didactic at times, but hardly what you’d call tendentious. Was that the reason for the stink perhaps? That is couldn't be dissed -- or dismissed -- as propaganda?

Anyway, as theatre, this is a strong show. The production is more than equal to the honesty of the writing.

Here’s my Herald Sun review.

In March 2003, a 23 year-old American woman was killed in Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza strip where it border with Egypt. She was protesting the demolition of homes when she was run over by an armoured bulldozer operated by the Israeli defence forces. My Name Is Rachel Corrie brings to the stage her diaries and emails.

Like the best journalists, Rachel Corrie assumed an intelligent but not necessarily informed audience. Even if she had been a tub-thumping revolutionary, there’s less chance of that showing up in an email to her mother!

Corrie’s writing captures in strikingly effective parables the injustice of Israeli’s action in Gaza: from the breaches of international law and convention (the destruction of water supplies, farms, livelihoods) to the building of a wall to divide the people of Rafah from the Mediterranean sea. “I can leave. I’m allowed to see the ocean.”

Unexpectedly, the play -- and this remarkable production -- also captures the blindingly bright passion of youthful activism: its idealism, its holiness, its martyrdom... and its refusal to capitulate to bullies.

Daniel Clarke’s production never lets us lose sight of the fact that we’re watching a vulnerable, passionate and oh-so-human girl. And Hannah Norris captures our attention (and our hearts) the moment we walk into the space with a performance that’s closer to being than mere acting. It’s like a tracer bullet or a flare arcing overhead.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie. Edited by Alan Rickman & Katharine Viner. Lighting and sound design by Ben Flett. Video by Annamarie Kohn. Directed by Daniel Clarke. At fortyfivedownstairs until November 14, 2010.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fiona Scott-Norman: The Needle and the Damage Done

If your idea of The Worst Song Ever is "I've been to paradise, but I've never been to me" or "We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)"... well, I understand entirely! But there's a whole galaxy of ghastly -- a black hole of unholy -- that's been suppressed. For compelling reasons.

There are songs and albums that are so bad, so toxic, that the Monty Python sketch about the "Killer Joke" (developed for use on the Germans in World War 2) seems like a pretty good analogy. Fiona Scott-Norman -- of 3RRR's Trash Is My Life fame -- is our tour guide through the history of the vinyl solution.

She starts with good ol' fashioned racism and sexism -- taking us from the deleted verse of Rolf Harris's 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport' to some Southern-fried wife abuse -- and then on into some seriously freaky unknown territory. It's not for the faint of heart... or weak of urethra.

Less the star of the show than its hostess, Fiona Scott-Norman redefines the word laconic. She welcomes us to her nightmare with a surprised, toothy smile, a bloody brilliant frock and a ready laugh. (Actually, it's more like a slummy British 'larf'.)

The Needle and the Damage Done lumbers from idea to idea, but it clubs each one to death with all the colour and gleeful zeal of a seal pup hunter. A bloke two seats up from me laughed his teeth out. Thing is, they weren't false.

The Needle and the Damage Done by Fiona Scott-Norman. At Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street Prahran, until Sunday. Early and late shows on Friday and Saturday.

This review was published in the Herald Sun on December 19, 2008.

UPDATE: Fiona Scott-Norman's next show The Vinyl Solution, for the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, takes its title from a line in this very review. Consider me chuffed.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne. At the Regent Theatre, Collins Street, until April 29.

All the swans are men, true, but let's get one thing straight: Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is no travesty. This isn't Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo; there are no tight tights and there's very little mincing. These are definitely straight-acting boys -- barefoot and bare chested in their shaggy shorts -- whatever their sexual inclinations.


Yes, Bourne's mummy's boy Prince (Simon Williams) decides his ideal chick has a bit more meat on the bone than the average wannabe queen, but he stars in a ballet with enormous commercial appeal. Young and old, male and female, gay and straight, balletomaniacs and first-time balletgoers will get plenty from it. This is a clever and often rip-roaringly funny ballet. And, best of all, it's quite the sexiest Swan since Warwick Capper.

In look and concept, it's remarkably like the work Graeme Murphy was creating for Sydney Dance Company twenty-five years ago. Choreographically, it's conservative; psychologically it's rich; morally, it's kinky. As an adaptation, it's less contrived than it is profound.

Instead of falling for a white swan and getting conned into protesting his love for the black swan, Bourne's modern-day Prince -- who is dating the commonest of commoners (the dishy and deliciously funny Nina Goldman) -- falls in love with a hairy-chested bloke (Alan Vincent). (In the third act, we get to see the Evil Parallel Universe version of our swan, in leather pants and dress coat no less... He's very impressive!)

The Baron Von Rothbart in Bourne's version is the Prince's attendant, danced by the saturnine Ashley Bain. He's one part Dr Freud, one part Dr Coppelius. He's contemptuous of his charge's need for affection and he cruelly tricks him.

The first shadowy glimpse we get of the flock is through a scrim. The Prince has been beaten up in a bar and has fled to a nearby park. Full credit to Bourne, the swans seem utterly alien. Otherworldly. Supernatural. Extraordinary. We're as captivated and amazed by them as the Prince is.

And that, finally, is what makes this a mighty Swan Lake. Something familiar -- something overly familiar -- has been transformed into something thrillingly new. It doesn't matter how often you've seen Swan Lake or how many different versions you've seen of it -- Murphy's or Dolin's or Mats Ek's or Kevin McKenzie's -- or even if you've never seen it at all...

This review was published in the Herald Sun on Friday April 13, 2007.

Friday, March 16, 2007

La Mama: Asylum by Kit Lazaroo

Asylum by Kit Lazaroo. Directed by Jane Woollard. Performed by Glynis Angell, Tom Considine, Fanny Hanusin and Tim Stitz. Winner of the 2005 Wal Cherry Play Of the Year. Produced with the support of Arts Victoria, the City of Melbourne and the Sidney Myer Foundation. At La Mama, 205 Faraday Street Carlton, until April 1, 2007.

At heart, this is a one-joke play. A woman begging for asylum in Australia is really in need of a different kind of asylum. Political asylum, mental asylum. It's not even a good joke... just a play on words.

This is a playful play, given a deliriously dotty production. But it's about as funny as detaining a mentally ill German-speaking Australian in a facility for illegal immigrants until she's really really ill, or mistakenly deporting one of our own citizens.

Playwright Kit Lazaroo covers her proverbial behind by slipping in a line: "How can we make the world a better place when our hearts are so heavy?"

I'm no expert when it comes to Buddhism, but I'm fairly sure that we're only permitted to laugh at our own misfortune, not the misfortunes of others. For that, we risk a really rotten rebirth.

This play is set four years after the pro-democracy movement in China was annihilated in Tiananmen Square. Four years later, in 1993, the temporary visas granted to Chinese students by the Hawke government are about to expire.

Unquestionably, Yu Siying (Fanny Hanusin) is a nutcase. She's paranoid, unpredictable, violent. But is the persecution she fears real or not? That's what psychiatrist Lally Black (Glynis Angell) must determine.

Dr Black has a few loose demons of her own. Immigration official Turlough Dando (Tom Considine) is, himself, barking mad. But at least he realises he needs help. By comparison, Black's brother Smudge (Tim Stitz) is merely traumatised.

In this world that demands black-or-white decisions be made, all is gunmetal grey... except for Yu Siying's outfits, which are embarrassingly and passionately red.

But there's little clue as to the time and place. (And without knowing that it's the early 1990s, the play just looks clueless or, worse, callous.)

At every level, the execution of the play is first rate. Sometimes clever, sometimes truly inspired. But the play itself is an admission of defeat. We laugh, but our hearts stay heavy.

An edited version of this review was published in the Herald Sun on Friday March 23, 2007.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

For whom the cash register tolls: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

"Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer."

-- A Grief Observed, CS Lewis, 1961.

"Will nothing persuade us that they are gone?" CS Lewis keened after the loss of his wife, Helen Joy Davidman, in the pseudonymously published A Grief Observed.

Lewis's loss is especially poignant. Not because he lost a life partner. Quite the contrary. He met and married "H." in his late fifties. As with Christianity, Lewis was a late convert to love.

They married in 1956. Helen died in 1960 of the bone cancer she already had when they met. Lewis himself died in 1963, barely 65 years old. "Oh, God, God, why did you take such trouble to force this creature out of its shell, if it's now doomed to crawl back -- to be sucked back -- into it?"

Lewis's memoir is a rare Hopkins-like outpouring in the modern world, at least in the West. Rare in its intensity -- god is, variously, a vivisector, a "Cosmic Sadist" and a "spiteful imbecile" -- but rare, too, that it exists at all in a world where death has been taken out of the home and where mourning has become (in anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer's words) a morbid self-indulgence.

Yet grief -- in art at least -- is all around us: big screen and small, fiction and non-fiction, poetry, drama... you name it.

More surprisingly, perhaps, it's doing more than just striking a chord. The best examples of works that mine this rich seam are both popular and critical successes. In the 21st century, grief is good.

60 year-old Irish author John Banville is the current literary master of mourning. Though he is best known for his fictional biographies of scientists, spies and killers, grief is the one theme that keeps dragging him back. His latest novel, The Sea, winner of the 2005 Booker Prize, forensically examines the impact of grief on identity. For the narrator, reality is a distant and evanescent echo of staunch memory instead of the reverse.

In Banville's earlier novel Eclipse, one of the great novels of the last hundred years, Banville's narrator, apparently, is in mourning for his life. But this is not some Chekhovian ennui. In a terrible, fatal twist, the mourning becomes justified.

Even in Australia, grief and mourning are players. Think of Tony Ayres's chain-rattling 2002 film Walking On Water and the unexpected (if well-deserved) recent success of Look Both Ways.

Think of the deeply affecting television drama Love My Way and Trisha Broadbridge's clear-eyed account of losing her footballer husband -- eight days after their marriage -- in the Boxing Day tsunami, Beyond The Wave.

Joan Didion's recent memoir about the grave illness of her daughter and the sudden death of her husband has sold an amazing 200,000 copies in hardback in its first two months. (Bizarrely, Didion has been asked if she will adapt the her story for Broadway. English playwright David Hare, reportedly, has signed on to direct.)

Didion's story begins five days after Christmas, 2003. Five days after her daughter Quintana was hospitalised with flu-like symptoms which had exploded into pneumonia and life-threatening septic shock.

Home after visiting Quintana in the intensive care unit at New York City's Beth Israel North hospital, she and her husband of almost 40 years, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, decided to stay in. They built a fire and made some dinner. There, at the table, Dunne slumped, dead of a massive heart attack.

There begins Didion's year of "magical thinking." It's not the usual blame game -- "if only I had done/said/thought/decided..." -- Didion is informed enough, and logical enough, to know that nothing short of a fully-equipped crash cart and immediate intra-venous medication could have kept her man alive for "more than one more day."

But she can't bring herself to give away his shoes, he might need them. She entertains fantasies that would not have been out of place, she says, at an Irish wake. She can't let him go.

With her rolling, precise, commaless sentences, Didion presents well... as they say. Brilliantly. Lucidly. But her compelling story has its blindspots. It seems incredible that a New Yorker post-9/11 could accept, without question, that "one no longer has the right to say [the whole world is empty for you] aloud." That "dwelling on death" and public displays of mourning are indulgences to be avoided; equivalent to wallowing in self-pity.

True, her steely and disciplined gaze and her utterly controlled writing makes this appalling tale something that can be endured, even watched like a richly metaphoric European film with its burning buses outside churches and air-ambulances in cornfields. And one can't help but admire the way Didion has not tried to con her readers any more than she could con herself.

It is no consolation to her whatsoever that her ageing husband died without agony or protracted illness. It is no consolation that their magic circle lasted as long as it did; that they spent almost every available hour of every available day together... editing and commenting upon each others works, living the Hollywood and Manhattan high life, acting -- and thriving -- on inspiration and whim. For forty whole years.

Indeed, it is these very fractures -- these most human of flaws -- that makes Didion's skewed self-analysis so impressive and ennobling.

Each of us deals with grief uniquely. But rather than isolating us, that realisation allows us -- and should encourage us -- to be open to those infinite variations. To be accepting of and sensitive to different needs.

The first step is to acknowledge that death isn't something that "happens to other people."

The Year of Magical Thinking is published by 4th Estate.

Sydney Theatre Company's production of The Year of Magical Thinking (starring Robyn Nevin and directed by Cate Blanchett) runs from March 25 to May 4, 2008.

This piece was published in the December 17-18, 2005 edition of the Australian Financial Review.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Profile: Sally-Anne Russell goes the full Monteverdi

It's a Friday afternoon in school holidays when I meet Sally-Anne Russell, and the Yarra end of Melbourne is in complete gridlock.  Disney On Ice is in town, Melbourne Park is full, and thousands of increasingly agitated parents are street crawling for parking around the MCG and Jolimont.  But Russell is bang on time. 

The Adelaide-based mezzo is no stranger to Melbourne's "upper east side" where we meet for high tea.  We're metres away from Her Majesty's and The Comedy Theatre, and a block away from the Princess Theatre where Russell had her first long-term professional engagement: Phantom of the Opera.  She was a swing -- an all-purpose understudy -- ready to cover any and all of the main female roles.  And, indeed, she once stepped in for one of the men in the Don Juan scene! 

Russell, you see, is no stranger to trousers.  The first time she was reviewed in AFR, more than a decade ago, was literally scaling walls and leaping off them as Siebel -- the student boy in love with Marguerite -- in the Victoria State Opera production of Faust.  (Oddly enough, the director of that production, Ian Judge, listed Hamlet On Ice -- I kid you not -- in his recent credits!)  And she's lined up to play a sword-wielding boy in another Gounod opera, Romeo and Juliet, later this year.

Russell is anything but boyish in the flesh.  She arrives in a fashionable overcoat with a Madame Butterfly pink scarf, all gauze and cherry blossom.  She's more girlish than womanly, and quite petite for an opera singer.  But the voice...  Even her speaking voice is a fathom below mezzo.  She makes me sound like a treble.  Her voice is open and full, agile and rich.  She's every bit the alto. 

Her voice as been low since she was a child, she explains.  While still at primary school, Russell was told by the music director of a theatre company: "Oh, yes, yes, you're a contralto." 

She does a fine old impression of his jolly jumbuck baritone declaration then adds, matter-of-factly: "I was nine." 

But, back then, panto was her passion, and becoming a dancer was her goal.  By 13, she was putting in an extra-curricular "three or four hours a night" into dance.  A serious knee injury the following year, and complications which put her in plaster for months at a time and took her out of the classroom for an entire year, derailed those ambitions.  With a leg out to one side, stiff to the ankle, she shows me how she learned to play the piano at home. 

Russell learned from her young piano teacher that she could enroll in a single studies program at the Con.  Her audition was successful and, at the age of 15, she had private lessons, could audit classes and had access to masterclasses. 

But it's only in the last few years that JS Bach has replaced L Frank Baum in her affections and Pergolesi has eclipsed Irving Berlin. 

She was hooked young.  "I still remember going to see Wizard of Oz and getting the fairy dust from the box office to put under your pillow so you could make a wish.  I must have been really tiny.  And they'd all come out after the show and they'd sign autographs.  Still in costume.  Full slap.  It was magical!" 

As a teen, she and a mob would make pilgrimages to see Cats in Sydney.  "I loved every second of it."  She adds with a chortle: "I think I could almost sing you all the words!" 

After a hugely successful two and a half year run with Phantom, Russell auditioned for the Victoria State Opera chorus, deciding not to follow the production to Sydney whether she was successful or not.  As it happens, she did one better than the chorus.  She was offered a place in the VSO's young artist program and went on to take several featured roles, including Kate Pinkerton in Butterfly and Siebel in Faust. 

Never one to be tied down, Russell has lived and worked -- here and abroad -- largely as a freelancer.  She moves easily between the concert platform (Bach masses and Mahler symphonies) and the opera stage, with recent engagements in Washington and Spoleto. 

"You need to go away and study, do all those usual things I suppose.  It's a tricky industry.  You need all the support you can get." 

At 35, Russell still rates as a young mezzo.  Like many singers, she speaks of her voice as something separate from herself, as the 'instrument'.  "It's developing.  It's still really opening out." 

Her choice of repertoire in the next decade, she knows, is critical to the direction her voice takes.  A six month engagement with Opera Australia, this year, has already had a marked effect. 

"You're working six days a week, lots of performances, different operas back to back...  It changes your voice.  The sound changes.  It fattens." 

With soprano Sara Macliver, Russell began recording some baroque duets for a new ABC Classics CD late last year.  They recorded Pergolesi's Stabat Mater then.  When it was time to record some even older music, some 17th century arias by Monteverdi, in March this year, an exasperated producer begged Russell for "a little more Monte and a little less Verdi!" 

"I may need to make a decision as to whether I want to do opera all of the time or keep the voice a bit more 'white', for early music.  Bach is my biggest passion.  If I had to just sing one composer for the rest of my life I would happily sing Bach.  Matthew Passion is right up there." 

That's a brave choice for a good singer with refined and saleable acting talent and above-average movement skills.  "I don't really mind what I do as long as the work keeps coming and it's interesting." 

With a twinkle and a girlish laugh, she adds: "I'd be old enough to do Grizabella now!" 

This article was published in the Financial Review on July 16, 2005. 

Monday, April 04, 2005

Castlemaine Festival: The Tell-Tale Heart by Dennis Vaughan

The Tell-Tale Heart by Dennis Vaughan and Edgar Allan Poe. Produced by Melbourne Opera and the Castlemaine Festival. At the Wattle Gully Mine Shed. April 2, 2005.

Well, here's a performance to stun Melbourne Opera and VicOpera doubters into awed silence. Take it from me, cos I'm one of those doubters... even if I am rarely silent.

In a tin shed at a working mine a few kilometres west of Chewton, near Castlemaine, Melbourne Opera gave a full-blown performance of brand new "gothic horror for tenor and orchestra" by Dennis Vaughan on Saturday night. (The second -- and final -- performance is this coming Saturday [April 9, 2005].)

Vaughan is a double bass player -- an associate principal -- with Orchestra Victoria. About the meanest thing I can say about the opera is that the music is a bit too likable!

For his libretto, Vaughan uses Edgar Allan Poe's creepy short story in which a man describes how he coolly decides to kill an old man because of his "Evil Eye". The eye, he tells us, of a vulture.

Like many modern readers, Vaughan appears to have made the mistake of not taking Poe's work seriously enough. In 1843, a journalistic-style first-person narration was revolutionary. And this is almost a quarter century before Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov pleaded temporary insanity for killing an old woman with an axe.

Vaughan's music is a bit too tongue-in-cheek. It's just not terrifying. There are roiling references to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries in the opening bars, a nod to Hitchcock's best composer Bernard Herrmann, some ghostly whisper music on the small but highly effective squad of strings (two violins, viola, cello and bass)... you name the trick, Vaughan uses it. He even breaks out the harpsichord. It's more like a Simpsons Halloween special than a horror show.

By contrast, the sung line is overly agitated. It's only at the bitter end, in the story, where the narrator really loses the plot.

This is, however, an interesting way of distinguishing between the narrator's mental state as he perceives it -- like all good psychos he doesn't know he's a psycho -- and his mental state as it appears objectively. The music is wide-eyed and does the finger-twirling "cuckoo" gesture at the narrator.

James Egglestone is the lone singer in this hour-long opera. He has a soft, boyish tenor that kicks easily and effortlessly into falsetto. Egglestone is unusually good at singing English, it's rare for our language to sound so natural and clear. And he's a strong physical actor.

As I say, this is a production to silence Melbourne Opera's critics. What a shame, then, that so few of them were there. No-one from the state or federal governments or arts ministries; no-one from the panel entrusted with the task of deciding which opera companies are worthy of dividing the spoils of public funding... They might have been part of the earth-shaking, stomping ovation that greeted this world premiere.

This review was published in the Herald Sun on April 8, 2005.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Tolarno Galleries: Bill Henson

Bill Henson. Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, until June 26.

It's thirty years this winter since Bill Henson first exhibited in a group show at the Ewing and George Paton Galleries in Melbourne; thirty years since Henson turned his back on two of the three primary colours and blue-shifted the world.

Even his early work in black and white is leeched of sunlight and red blood. Using filters, underexposure and overdevelopment, Henson's monochrome photographs are contrasty and thick. Cadaverous almost. Beyond the ravages of time.

It's odd that the photographer should be presumed to be obsessed with the pornography of youth -- with licentiousness and passion -- when he is so obviously fascinated with cyan: the colour of the skin in the moment between the last pulse of oxygenated blood through the arteries and the flat-line of brain death.

Henson photographs adolescence precisely because of its obliviousness -- its apparent imperviousness -- to mortality. He doesn't see the skull beneath the skin so much as the marble waxiness of flesh in the cool light of night.

Henson doesn't idolise youth, by any means, but he has an uncanny ability to isolate and capture something angelic, something numinous, in his young subjects. Think of the cherubic little girl (with her supernaturally red lips) about to breathe into the ear of an oh-so-mortal man in the Paris Opera series, circa 1990.

In Henson's theatrical (but oddly passionless) Purgatorio, sleep is a rehearsal for death. Here, in this largely unseen set of images, sleep is also a rich -- and grand -- metaphor. But for what?

In Cat. #6 (Untitled 1998/1999, CB/KMC SH 86 N 27A), we are captivated by the tension between the girl's complete vulnerability (asleep in her ratty, moth-eaten, threadbare singlet, exposed to the elements) and her absolute self-possession.

In the gloom in the upper right of the frame, lurks the spectral image of a boy, watching her intently. He's hardly present, bony and insubstantial. Yet he is as startlingly alien as a biomorphic study by American sculptor Louise Bourgeois.

His role, too, is chillingly ambiguous. Is he a guardian angel protecting the sleeping girl or a vulture about to swoop in? Is she unthreatened or merely unaware of any threat?

From a distance, our eye is drawn to the brightest areas: to the glow of the girl's upper thigh and the horizontal wave of life-light in the centre. Up close, it is a constellation of tiny pearl studs in the girl's right earlobe that begs to be decoded.

From the same series, Cat. #4 (Untitled 1998/1999, CB/KMC SH 111 N 34A) is a fascinating variation on another of Henson's great themes: the transubstantiation that comes through moments of complete openness. In the last five or six years, Henson has captured moments of astounding intimacy; made them visible. And this is his great skill. His unique skill... night vision.

Ten of the eleven images in this exhibition are available in editions of five, at $14,000 apiece unframed. The three metre by 1.85 metre one-off work, Cat. #2 (Untitled 1995/1996), previously exhibited at the 1996 Melbourne Festival, has a price tag of a cool $250,000.

This review was published in the May 29-30 2004 edition of the Australian Financial Review.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Inside 03: The Technology Project (Playbox & Melbourne Festival)

Most people hear “technology” and think mechanical, industrial, scientific... But the root of the word is techne, Greek for ‘art’. Technology is about applying art in a systematic way. It means doing what you know. Practising, not preaching.

The first work in this satisfying triple bill is a hi-tech masterpiece which skillfully melds animation, projection, a crunchy original score, a 2D cut-out set and a live -- make that very live -- dancer in Cazerine Barry. In Sprung, the “dream home” of the fifties has become the impossible dream of the new millennium, a nightmarish and frustrating quest.

 Next up, and the centrepiece of the program, is Gerard Van Dyck’s Collapsible Man. Aside from the ultra-modern sound and lighting, Collapsible Man is about as low-tech as theatre gets. It’s all pratfalls and brilliant silent movie-style ingenuity, mime and craft. Why use a VariLite when you have a cannibalised overhead projector to send a twist of light into the air?

Van Dyke is both stuntman and magician. But there’s a poetic innocence in his act that elevates it far above mere slapstick. This is an absolutely delightful hour of theatre that would finish up close to the top of any festival’s short list of highlights. It’s also an impossible act to follow, making Christopher Brown’s Mr Phase, the last piece on the program, look utterly naff.

Photo of Gerard Van Dyck by Nat Cursio

Inside 03: The Technology Project. Playbox in association with the Melbourne Festival. At the Malthouse, South Melbourne, Friday October 10. Season ends October 18.

An edited version of this review was published in the Herald Sun on Tuesday October 14, 2003.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Sydney Dance Company: Underland by Stephen Petronio

Underland by Stephen Petronio. Sydney Dance Company. Sydney Opera House until June 14, 2003. Then Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, June 18-28; and State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, July 3-12, 2003.

I made the mistake, at first viewing, of taking Underland rather too seriously. That's partly the fault of video artist Mike Daly, who contributes a backdrop of immense power and unease, especially in the opening scenes with their accelerated and subliminal snatches of urban anxiety (crash-test dummies, madly wriggling sperm, you name it) and images of full-blown internecine holocaust.

Some of the blame also lies with choreographer Stephen Petronio's choice of Nick Cave songs (remixed and soundscaped here by the original producer of the songs, Tony Cohen, and Paul Healy, respectively) and the order in which they are played.

If, rather than ending with it, Petronio's Underland began with the lugubrious, Kirin-soaked-karaoke-song 'Death is Not the End' (complete with We Are The World-style dirge-vocal contributions by Shane MacGowan, Blixa Bargeld, PJ Harvey, Anita Lane, Thomas Wydler, and the saccharinely-sober Kylie Minogue) we'd have a better idea of how to take the piece... With a glass of water at bedtime. To re-hydrate after a huge night out.

"...any second not spent watching Chatfield was a pointless second. A lost second."

But the bulk of the blame lies squarely at the winged feet of Bradley Chatfield. He dances so embarrassingly well -- with such thrilling corporeality and spine-bending, time-bending ease -- that it is an act of professional hara-kiri just daring to appear on the same stage with him. Indeed, on opening night, any second not spent watching Chatfield was a pointless second. A lost second.

Chatfield, alone among the dozen and a half dancers, became the dance. While others around him mimicked it, acted it, hammed it, aspired to it, and very occasionally just did it, Chatfield embodied it. Was it.

Not that the other dancers executed Petronio's choreography badly -- though it must be stated that the level of performance rose spectacularly between first and second performance -- but their repetitions of (and variations on) the movements that Chatfield pioneered looked like a corporatisation of an original impulse: as banal and mechanical and hypnotised as fashion. The very opposite of spontaneity. Indeed, I was beginning to wonder if this was the choreographer's wry subtextual moral.

When Chatfield flicks his leg below the knee -- ballistic and barefooted -- he looks like a pro-poker player dealing cards. When the others do it, they look like they're warming up for the Cowtown Hoedown. Their attitudes lack attitude. When Chatfield twists and spins, it's a kind of physical calligraphy. When the rest do it, it's just a trace; a drawing made with a Spirograph.

Petronio's choreography is impressive, if not especially well-suited to the company's skills. He turns the sign of the cross into an nonfigurative horizontal wave. He abstracts the gestures and actions of crying and punching, dressing and caressing, fucking and failing. Many of his metaphors can't easily be turned into words. But they communicate to us, nevertheless. None better than a lunging, back-arching thrust forward from the pelvis, executed en masse.

But the segue between Wild World and The Carny (from Cave's album Your Funeral, My Trial) is quintessential Petronio: formal, sculptural, blocked and cast as diligently as a shot by a great film director. Tracey Carrodus stands with her back to us, legs scissor-crossed, her right arm held up high, her wrist and flat palm tilted to the right. Behind a neutral scrim, she is lit-up and shining. To her left is a trio on the diagonal. Up stage of her, facing us, is another trio which, after a moment, storms downstage.

Also in The Carny, on-screen plumes of blue flames burst in perfect sync with the synth-tympani of the music. Katie Ripley's fine solo, which follows, turns The Weeping Song (from The Good Son) into a kind of mime, full of wordless arcs and crescent arms, breast caresses and figure eights.

Katie Ripley (click to enlarge)

In many ways, what follows is the low point of Underland. It's post-holocaust chic. The dancers wear (Imitation of Christ-label) khaki rags, the screens show multiple nuclear bursts, and all the dancers get to do is emote and slouch. A palm-up gesture of supplication turns to one of grief. Only Chatfield has the gravitas to turn a mute animal act into something resembling truth.

Petronio compensates us with a blowsy, intoxicated setting of Cave's Ship Song (which follows The Weeping Song on The Good Son). This is Swan Lake's four cygnets for Generation-X-tasy: a mixed-double of groping youngies who look like they've had a huge night out and a few too many tablets. Petronio's melodrama and gentle whimsy is strangely faithful -- even reverent -- to Cave's lushest ballad.

Another high point is the section danced to the limited edition EP-version of Mercy Seat (with Cave singing over piano and acoustic guitar) in which the dancers snake in tight formation, their movements bound.

Though Underland is pretty trivial, on the whole, and lacks the complexity that is repeatedly implied by the video and present in Cave's often awesomely poetic lyrics, this dense 70 minute work is still well worth seeing. Just don't expect to find anything but landfill.

The review was published in the May 31-June 1, 2003, edition of the Australian Financial Review.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Bell Shakespeare Company: Hamlet (Take 2) (Melbourne, 2003)

Hamlet. Bell Shakespeare Company. Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, May 24, 2003. Season ends June 7.

For comment on Bell Shakespeare's 2008 production of Hamlet, click here.

In his magnificent four-hour film of Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh tackles one of the thorniest issues of the play head-on. How is it that after the death of a King, a younger brother has taken the crown rather than the son and heir?

Branagh hints that young Hamlet is, in fact, bastard son of Claudius, the usurper, rather than the son of old King Hamlet. In which case Claudius would be the rightful heir...

Like Branagh's film, John Bell's stage production of Hamlet also plays up the similarities between Claudius and Prince Hamlet. They don't look alike (as Branagh and Derek Jacobi do) but conscience has made cowards of both.

When this production premiered in Sydney, Christopher Stollery played Claudius as a go-getting usurper, someone who patently deserved to be King, while Leon Ford played Hamlet as a young man beginning to doubt his own sanity. He wasn't going to murder his uncle just because a ghost told him to! He wanted proof.

Three months into the tour, both Claudius and the Prince are doing a whole lotta hand-wringing and not much else. Stollery is a little too low-key for my liking. Ford's navel-gazing, at least, sucks us into the very depths of his anguish and confusion. And, for all his gloom, Ford's Hamlet is a likable guy.

The cast, on the whole, has a good grasp of the language and speak it rather than reciting or declaiming it. The one great exception, regrettably, is Anna Torv as Ophelia. For audiences that can still remember Cate Blanchett's devastating Ophelia on the same stage, Torv's Ophelia is worse than disappointing.

Robert Alexander's Polonius, by contrast, is exemplary. Fast, clear, droll and glibly funny.

All up, this is an impressively clear and easy-to-follow production. It's great fun, too, believe it or not. It is also complex enough, and a strong enough reading, to capture the imagination of the Shakespeare aficionado.

This review was published in the Herald Sun on May 27, 2003.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Bell Shakespeare Company: Hamlet (Sydney, 2003)

Hamlet. Bell Shakespeare Company. Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, March 14, 2003. Sydney season ends April 17. Then Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart and regional centres.

For comment on Bell Shakespeare's 2008 production of Hamlet, click here.

John Bell's production of Hamlet is a revelation. Yet it is one of the simplest, most literal takes on this play of infinite variety.

Instead of portraying Hamlet as some mincing boy incapable of 'manly' action, Bell does something almost shockingly obvious. He demands that we consider things from Hamlet's perspective.

The young man has seen the ghost of his dead father, old king Hamlet, who demands that the boy "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder." The ghost accuses Claudius, the dead king's brother, of that murder. Claudius, in the meantime, has seized the throne from young Hamlet (the rightful heir) and married the widowed Gertrude, his own sister-in-law and Prince Hamlet's mother.

In John Bell's production, the prince wants proof of his uncle's guilt -- proof that the ghost is not some malevolent spirit tricking him into committing an evil deed -- before he murders a king.

If Hamlet were a ballet, Mats Ek would give us Hamlet the schizophrenic: I killed my uncle because the voices told me to. John Bell's version is backed up by several dormant passages of the play. It is -- no more and no less -- a close and intelligent reading of what is written.

So why does it feel so modern? So revolutionary? Perhaps it's like Samuel Johnson's Rasselas. It breaks convention. Once we're in a ghost story, once we have accepted the rules of engagement, having the sanity of those who see an apparition questioned is a shocking spoiler. And still is.

Yet, here, it is liberating. Here, it breaks the convention that Hamlet is a wuss. Intriguingly, we are still left with the "objective correlative" problem that TS Eliot characterised as the "artistic failure" of Hamlet the play. Put simply, Eliot argued that young Hamlet is "dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible because it is in excess of the facts as they appear."

And Bell's production doesn't dodge this. When we first see Hamlet, played by Leon Ford, he is seized up with emotion; catatonic with conflicting feelings; "blasted with ecstasy".

This is a brave move, theatrically, as it looks to audiences that the role is simply beyond the young actor. Even "to be or not to be", is sacrificed to the paralysis. Yet there is a hint in the mechanically chewed consonants of "too too solid flesh" in the first soliloquy that betrays the actor's technique and an overarching strategy.

By the time Ford gets to the "what a piece of work is man" speech, he has the glittering intensity of man suffering from an illness which is resolving itself into a mania.

He's definitely not insane as he accuses himself of unpacking his heart with words, like a whore. He's bitterly self-mocking. Likewise, his attack on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is scintillating and acute.

To make this a fair fight, and a satisfyingly complex ethical battle, Bell presents Claudius (Christopher Stollery) as a worthy king. A powerful usurper. A decisive and charismatic man. In the English court, say, he would be the rightful and unchallenged king. Why shouldn't he rob the crown and the still-desirable queen (Linda Cropper) from his whingeing brother and the eternal student son of his? Any Richard worth his lion heart would.

Neither is Polonius presented as a complete buffoon. Robert Alexander has an impressive and endearing gravity as the lord chamberlain whom Johnson characterised as "confident of his knowledge, proud of his eloquence and declining into dotage."

Anna Torv is an interesting choice as Ophelia. She is an actor thrillingly capable of conveying complex and shifting emotional states. Her Ophelia is a woman new to womanhood. A girl whose greenness is constantly belied by the assertiveness of her speech. And, when it comes to the crunch, in the "O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown" speech, she is as disconnected and unfeeling as the prince in his opening scenes. But, here, it rings decidedly false.

Blemishes in this production are few. And rarely more than negligible. Apart from the mechanical flickering accompanying the first appearance of the ghost, lighting is magnificent. Laurence Eastwood and Peter Neufeldis create swathes and cubes and landscapes of light. Eastwood's set, too, is compact and effective. Alan John outdoes Michael Nyman in his tactful but compelling incidental music.

Here is a production to rival the very best Hamlets seen in Australia in a generation. It's up there with Armfield's for Belvoir (Roxburgh, Blanchett, Wenham, Rush) and Wherrett's for Nimrod with John Bell himself. Idea for idea, if not word for word, it eclipses the Old Vic's Hamlet (Derek Jacobi) and other significant touring productions.

This review was published in the Australian Financial Review on March 22, 2003.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Sydney Theatre Company: The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute

The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute. Directed by Jeremy Sims. Designed by Fiona Crombie. Lighting by Damien Cooper. Original music by Aya Larkin. Sydney Theatre Company. Wharf 1 Theatre until Sunday March 16, 2003.

"I don't like art that isn't true."
-- Evelyn, The Shape of Things

Had Leonard Radic reviewed the premiere of Hamlet, four centuries ago, I'm convinced he would have written something like: the tragedy of Hamlet is not that the young prince dies in the final scene of the play, but that he dies at the very moment he is capable of becoming a great king. Great insight, shame about ruining the ending.

In commenting meaningfully on the Australian premiere of Neil LaBute's play, The Shape of Things, I run the risk of compromising the impact of the plot by commenting on its structure and hinting at its twists. So, let me begin with the executive summary. You can decide to read on or not. In three words: see this show.

The Shape of Things is a mighty play, a classic of modern commercial theatre, and one of the best scripts to come out of the United States since The Crucible. Though Neil LaBute can hardly have the same impact on theatre as Caravaggio had on art, there is something comparably shocking to contemporary audiences in the way that LaBute peoples his mythological stories of vast and unspeakable evil with the most human -- and most recognisable -- of faces. Think of Judith hacking the head off Holofernes in Caravaggio's painting... The girl next door has a machete. And a glint in her eye.

As baroque as the story of The Shape of Things is, in abstract terms, the details are utterly naturalistic and thoroughly modern. The lead couple might be named Adam and Eve -- Adam and Evelyn actually -- but this is a post-modern take on Pygmalion. For a start, our sculptor king is a sassy young woman in the throes of completing an MFA degree in applied criticism and literature.

This Pygmalion finds her Galatea -- her sculpture to be crafted and moulded -- working as a security guard in a gallery. Adam's also a student: an unprepossessing, diffident, overweight, badly-dressed, pizza-eating specimen of spotty, post-adolescent manhood.

He catches Evelyn about to spray paint a "dick" on a statue. But her motives are, apparently, pure. The "anatomically correct" statue of a god has had a plaster leaf applied to it. Not by the artist, but by one of the embarrassed faithful, years later. Seduced by the anarchist artist, Adam lets her deface the statue. And queues up to be next.

Now, in the original Greek version of the story, the King of Cyprus, Pygmalion, falls in love with a statue of Aphrodite. Ovid's reworking is much juicier. The king sets out to sculpt an idealisation of womanhood and beauty, calls his creation Galatea, falls truly-madly-deeply in love with her. Mighty Aphrodite (Venus, of course, in Ovid's Roman version) takes pity on the smitten king and brings the statue to life.

LaBute's Pygmalion, Evelyn, is the one doing the moulding, but it is her Galatea, Adam, who falls in love with the sculptor, not the other way around. Evelyn gives Adam the make-over of his life. Thanks to her art of persuasion, he gets fit, eats well, sheds 21 pounds, trades his shockin' lived-in farm jacket for something out of the "yachtsman line", he has a nose-job and sheds his closest friends... She names it, he loses it.

Adam can't believe his luck. He's hit the romantic jackpot. "Ask," she says, "and you shall receive." With his heart on his sleeve, he voices his doubt; he voices his feeling that he doesn't deserve to be with someone like her. She reassures him thus: "Don't worry about 'why' when 'what' is right in front of you."

In case the name LaBute hasn't rung a bell, don't presume that writer has a thing against women. Most infamously, LaBute wrote and directed the 1997 film In the Company of Men in which a pair of professional men cynically agree to date and dump the one woman. Because they can. And because they want to. Cruelly and senselessly.

And while it is tempting to impute a moralising agenda to the playwright -- especially when we learn he is a Mormon convert -- I reckon these twisted plots are just emanations of LaBute's (doubtless morbid) fascination with the pathology of human romance. And with pulling the wings off flies.

Whatever his motives, his writing is awesome. It's dense, smart, evocative and triggers ideas in our minds like cascading fireworks. Without any visible attempt at showing off, LaBute comments on art, truth, relationships, the fickleness and damn-fool bravery of the human heart and wo/man's infinite capacity to rationalise appalling behaviour.

His characters ring clear and true, on the whole, though in this production, Alyssa McClelland struggles to flesh out the character of Jenny (Adam's ex-girlfriend) who needs to show naivete and a simple integrity in equal parts. Nick Flint is impressively and leeringly nasty as Adam's old friend Phillip.

Leeanna Walsman (left, with Brendan Cowell, photograph by Tracey Schramm) inspires absolute confidence from the first seconds of the opening scene as Evelyn. She sucks in a breath, sucks our attention, and doesn't relinquish it for two whole hours.

Next to Walsman's technical perfection, Brendan Cowell paces his performance so that it gets more and more refined as Adam gets done over. I mean "made over"... of course. By the final scene, through sheer emotional torque, Cowell gets line honours over Walsman. They are as mighty a pair of young leads as one could dare hope to find in a single production.

Jeremy Sims directs the play with spectacular confidence and verve. With its various domestic and public zones (designed by Fiona Crombie) like stations of the cross, or an atrocity exhibition, the production is a work of art to look at.

Even the transitions between scenes are memorable thanks to Damien Cooper's impressive lighting and the specially-composed song links by Aya Larkin. The former Skunkhour singer-songwriter brilliantly juxtaposes tight and loose, expectant and troubled, in these lavish, beautiful and evocative stings.

All in all, The Shape of Things is a production by a company with a great budget, even greater taste and the utmost confidence in its abilities. As foolish as it is to say something like this so early in the year, I very much doubt that this production will be topped in 2003, anywhere in Australia.

A shortened version of this review was published in the February 22-23 2003 edition of the Australian Financial Review.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Laurie Anderson: Happiness

Happiness by Laurie Anderson. Hamer Hall, The Arts Centre, Melbourne. Saturday February 15, 2003.

"Hatred can be a beautiful thing. When it's as sharp as a knife and as hard as a diamond."

Apart from the "I'm a little teapot" and "hey nonny ney" bits of 'One Beautiful Evening', from her 2001 album Life on a String, Laurie Anderson hardly sang a note in Happiness, the one-woman show which touched down in Australia for a lightning-fast three-city tour.

Some of her poetic lyrics -- such as the rave about hatred quoted above -- were worked into the 100-minute monologue, but the bulk of the material was precision story-telling and beautifully-crafted anecdote. And most of it autobiographical.

The title, Happiness, is ironic. It is not a state, it is the object of a quest. The only direct mention of the H-word was in the context of a man suing the State of New York for compensation for loss of happiness after he was hit by a police car and lost sexual function.

Yet flowing powerfully under the surface, was Anderson's restless search for peace. A desire, perhaps, for desirelessness. For quietude. She told us of time spent with an Amish family; of a Buddhist river journey through Utah; of inventing history.

Each time, invariably, something went horribly wrong. The lesson she learned is that "worth" is not real. History is mere speculation. Technology is nothing but a marketing campaign. Even story telling is a kind of deception. Perhaps the worst kind, as it involves self-deception. It dulls the truth. "Every time you tell it, you forget it more."

Anderson appeared alone, on stage, playing celestial DJ to her own unique brand of art-rap. She played her violin two or three times, and accented the programmed synth arrangements with some keyboard playing, but everything was in the words... in her delicate, evocative, cajoling and oh-so-lyrical voice.

Apart from some sloppy and boomy sound when she played her violin, the show was close to flawless. Paradoxically, it was both indelible and impermanent -- as a dream.

An edited version of this review was published in the February 17 2003 edition of the Herald Sun.

See also Laurie Anderson talking about Homeland, touring in 2007 and 2008; my review of that show; lyrics from 'Only an Expert'; and more from our conversation here and here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Peter Ackroyd's The Mystery of Charles Dickens

The Mystery of Charles Dickens by Peter Ackroyd. Performed by Simon Callow. Theatre Royal, Sydney, until October 27, 2002. Then Athenaeum Theatre, for the Melbourne Festival, from October 29 to November 16, 2002.

Reviewing a biography of actor Charles Laughton for The Times, in 1987, Peter Ackroyd quoted Charles Dickens: "The more real the man, the more genuine the actor."

In a twist extravagant enough to have been thought up by Dickens himself, the writer of that biography, Simon Callow, is now starring in a play penned by Ackroyd in which the "more real the man" quotation serves as its starting point.

Ackroyd, the Times' chief book critic since 1986, also writes biography. He is the capable -- even renowned -- biographer of Pound, Eliot, Dickens, Blake and the city of London itself, no less. Perhaps the most interesting (certainly most bizarre) of his literary portraits is of Charles Dickens, published in 1990, in which Ackroyd set out to "evoke the spirit of the novelist as well as the Victorian period itself" by "writing in a deliberately Dickensian fashion."

A literary mimic of formidable skill, Ackroyd writes that he even considered writing the biography as if it were a novel by Dickens himself. Though that, he adds, has already been done.

Given the marked similarities between Dickens and his characters, and the many fascinations Ackroyd and Dickens share, it is an obvious step for Ackroyd to want to turn biography into stage play.

The resulting work, The Mystery of Charles Dickens, is no dramatic masterpiece, but it is above average for this kind of bioplay. It is engrossing and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, whether you are a fan of the Cockney visionary's writing or not. An intimate knowledge of the Dickens oeuvre is not a prerequisite, and you will probably come away with an increased appreciation and understanding of the man and his universe.

Ackroyd quickly and deftly makes his case: that Dickens' characters are just seams in the "streaky bacon" narrative of the novelist's life; that Dickens exerted control over his past through his plots; and that his invention was an inextricable part of his authenticity... the more genuine the act, the more real the man.

Ackroyd shuffles biographical details and brief scenes from novels with such deftness and speed that fact and fiction blur and finally fuse. We hear of the 12 year-old Charles being swept from his idyllic childhood in Chatham to a London blacking warehouse, where he must work ten hours a day, then are shown David Copperfield visiting Mr Micawber.

We leap from an autobiographical line about being common to the scene in Great Expectations where Pip "catches" contempt for his class from Miss Havisham and Estella. We also hear about the "lifelong contempt" that Charles learns for "the representatives of the people" in his time reporting House of Commons debates for The Morning Chronicle.

This is no hagiography though. It presents Dickens warts and all. If anything, the novelist is his own worst enemy. His opinions of his own worth are like Oscar Wilde epithets without the relief of irony. "I was a great writer at eight," he tells us. "I could write anything."

Ackroyd, sensibly, declines to turn the play into an apologia. He buttons his authorial lip when he could be explaining that Dickens was a product of the gothic novel; that the aggravating collisions of thigh-slapping farce and tear-jerking melodrama, of gloomy social comment and bathetic sentiment, were but a part of his cultural heritage.

Ackroyd, however, doesn't know where to take us in the second half. When he could be clinching his thesis, or throwing us into dramatic hyperspace, he seems to lose his nerve. The second half of the show is a series of dramatic divertissements; bravura scenes which Dickens used to read to rapt audiences on his punishing national and international tours.

One can't be too critical of a playwright when he is writing for an actor of Simon Callow's calibre, however. Callow animates the pantheon of rogues with awsome ease and alchemical skill. He even makes the dodgier passages sound reasonable. (What other British actor could deliver a line about "fanatical attention to detail" without it sounding like the Spanish Inquisition sketch from the Flying Circus?)

Callow has been performing this piece for two years or more, yet he comes to each line -- each word -- in the same way that Billie Holiday sang standards. His timing is flexible, intuitive, sure.

With his mobile and almost luridly sensuous mouth, and that mulled wine voice -- all warmth and pungent spice -- Callow captivates us. Intoxicates us. Delights us.

This is not, by any means, an arrogant flaunting of his skill. It is no more -- and no less -- than alertness. Here, we have a rare opportunity to see an immensely skilled actor entirely in the dramatic moment. Poised. Poised like a goalie capable of stopping anything that is fired in his direction.

This review was published in the Australian Financial Review, October 26-27, 2002.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Howie the Rookie by Mark O'Rowe. Red Stitch Actors Theatre.

This play puts the steel cap into kick-arse. It's Dublin's answer to Trainspotting. As you'd expect from the Irish, a humble pint -- well several dozen of them -- replaces the syringe. And the sad-bastard tragedy is never less than pants-wettingly funny. If most theatre is for pussies, this play is for panthers.

David Whiteley and Vince Miller in Howie the Rookie

A feud begins with a burning mattress. The Rookie ("breaker of hearts and hymens") has left behind an infestation of scabies when he slept on Ali's mat, and fellow mate Peaches has since contracted them. The Howie (Vincent Miller) is conscripted to help Peaches exact brutal revenge. But within 48 hours, The Howie changes sides and all hell breaks loose.

Mark O'Rowe's words float like a butterfly and kick like a buffalo. He gives actors space in which to be immense. To dazzle. And Miller and David Whiteley seize those opportunities in Red Stitch's best show yet, and one of the very best shows of the year. Just when we thought we had the company pinned down, it invites Greg Carroll to direct... an inspired decision.

Howie The Rookie is a reminder of what theatre should be: vivid, thrilling and -- well, derr Chris!! -- dramatic.

Highly recommended.

Howie the Rookie by Mark O'Rowe. Directed by Greg Carroll. Red Stitch Actors Theatre. 80 Inkerman Street, St Kilda, until October 27, 2002.

This review was appeared in the October 9 2002 edition of the Herald Sun.

Friday, September 20, 2002

The Australian Ballet: Swan Lake by Graeme Murphy

Swan Lake, choreographed by Graeme Murphy. Australian Ballet. State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, until September 28. Then Sydney Opera House, from November 29 to December 18. Adelaide in February 2003.

For comment on the 2008 production, click here.
I doubt that the national ballet company has had an opening night to match Tuesday's premiere of Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake since the winter of 1988 when prima ballerina assoluta Galina Ulanova (one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century) coached newly-wed principal artists Lisa Pavane and Greg Horsman in the lead roles of Giselle. It's that long, certainly, since I saw a Melbourne ballet audience erupt. Stand. Cheer. Give the kind of ovation one wishes one had timed.

In a speech after the premiere, a buoyant David McAllister waved off compliments for having commissioned the production saying the decision to ask Murphy was a "no brainer". After Murphy's scintillating take on Nutcracker, it's hard to argue. But a Swan Lake without an Odile? Without a Baron von Rothbart? Without 32 fouettes?

This is not, I hasten to add, one of those grotesque perversions of a classic you might get from Mats Ek, say, whose Giselle (for Culberg Ballet) ends up harassed by an awesomely well-hung naked man rather than the Queen of the wilis, Myrtha. But Murphy, Janet Vernon and designer Kristian Fredrikson adapt the story very freely.

After a century and a quarter of balletic creationism, this Swan Lake is as revelatory -- and as revolutionary -- as science. Instead of blaming an evil genius (the Baron) for Siegfried's betrayal of Odette, Murphy boils the drama down to something simple but knotty; something that is both banal and infinitely fascinating; something all too familiar but utterly unknowable... a love triangle.

Here, Siegfried is a man torn between his young bride, Odette, and his older lover, the Baroness von Rothbart. Though the Baroness replaces the evil genius and to some extent Odile in this telling, Murphy's 'baddie' is not motivated by anything as abstract as evil. She might show a callous disregard for Odette's feelings, and indeed of her own spouse, but the Baroness is a woman in love rather than a schemer. And, as such, she's not easy to hate.

Odette is an innocent young woman marrying into a royal family that is as complicated (and as frosty towards outsiders) as Britain's royals. It's no coincidence, presumably, that Steven Heathcote's gestures and general mien as Siegfried are uncannily reminiscent of Prince Charles.

Additionally, this Swan is as much about depression and mental illness as it is about deception. It begins with a brief scene in which Odette explores the castle the night before her wedding. Meanwhile, the Prince is cavorting with the Baroness.

Odette's suspicions turn to paranoia on her wedding day. She draws shameful attention to the adulterous couple in front of an unamused Queen, snogs a few of the royal retinue to press home her point, and generally loses the plot. The only fouettes, here, are to clear some space for herself. Odette is locked up.

To this point, Murphy's choreography is as dazzling and clean as Fredrikson's hi-key Lake Geneva set. Always one for pairs of puckish men, Murphy has an Earl and his Equerry (Timothy Harbour and Steven Woodgate respectively) dance tight and spectacular formations like binary stars.

The other distraction from the main game is an unnamed duchess-to-be (a delightfully frisky Madeleine Eastoe) who literally jumps her Duke (Joshua Consandine) at every opportunity.

(Photograph: Rick Stevens)

The women dance as if buffeted by the wind, and are lifted and carried as if parasols or designer accessories. Lines of alternating men and women concertina and expand, twist and snake like the bellows of an accordion. In a stunning climax, the women are elevated in quick succession, their arms exploding up and outward like fireworks. It's dynamic and highly musical.

Odette (Simone Goldsmith in the first cast) is almost literally weightless. She curls herself around Steven Heathcote's arm in complete defiance of gravity. She is held aloft, at right angles to the ground, with her legs perfectly vertical. She is pliant and fearless.

The "other woman" is played by Margaret Illman, whose return to the company is a cause for much joy. Always a classy dancer, even when in the corps, Illman has developed into a most remarkable and poised actor. (I swear I saw her flush when she looked -- for the first time -- like losing the battle for Siegfried's heart.)

Act Two begins with a scene that would not look out of place in Some Rooms, which Murphy created for Sydney Dance in the early 1980s. Odette is put in a bath by a pair of nuns with extravagant Opera House head-gear. There's a huge intravenous drip-bag of water to shower her with. It's the one ill-judged note struck in the entire production. Mercifully, it is a brief note.

Odette soon escapes into a delusional world. The sanatorium walls open up to reveal a frozen lake; she trades her plain shift for a shaggy tutu. Here, Murphy gives balletomanes much to delight in: squads of ballerinas, two tall guardian swans and, yes, even a quartet of interlocked cygnets.

A great part of the pleasure of this production comes from not knowing what comes next, and exactly how it is to unfold, so the plot summary stops here. It will suffice to say that there is a crashed party and a black swan scene with some gloriously gothic matt-black tutus to follow.

The party scene would have to be one of the most dazzlingly and effortlessly sexy scenes in classical ballet. It's not one of those awful simulated orgies, it's all understatement and class. Great outfits, great choreography and great motivation. Murphy has the knack of wringing committed and truthful performances out of the company's dancers in a way that others -- with the possible exception of Stephen Page -- cannot.

Murphy also has a keen eye when it comes to casting, and making roles on specific dancers. His choice of Simone Goldsmith for the crucial lead role is no surprise, though it is an overdue opportunity for her.

In the third cast, however, Murphy puts his money on young soloist Elisha Willis. After the premiere, David McAllister promoted Goldsmith to the rank of principal artist. But, two days later, during Willis's first performance, a smaller star went supernova.

Galina Ulanova used to describe dance as "that which makes music visible". It could easily be Graeme Murphy's motto. With Tchaikovsky's entire score to play with, Murphy has excelled himself.

A shortened version of this review was published in the Australian Financial Review on September 21, 2002.

Friday, September 13, 2002

Queensland Theatre Company and Playbox: The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Michael Gow

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, written and directed by Michael Gow. From the novel by Henry Handel Richardson. Queensland Theatre Company and Playbox, in association with the Brisbane and Melbourne Festivals. At the Brisbane Powerhouse until October 5. Then the Malthouse, South Melbourne, October 12-26, 2002.

According to Bruce Steele, a key member of the research team behind Monash University's Henry Handel Richardson Project, Mrs Ethel Robertson insisted -- on her death bed -- that her real name be removed from the proposed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. Removed, even, from the contract, which was signed in February 1946, a month before her death. (MGM proposed screen hunks Greer Garson and Gregory Peck as Mary and Richard Mahony.)

"Henry Handel Richardson" was far more than a pseudonym. It was more like an alter-ego. Or a 'nomme de guerre' at the very least. One academic goes as far as calling H.H.R. Ethel's incubus. I can't describe what that particular variety of evil spirit does to sleeping women in a family newspaper... trust me. (It's not at all clear if we are meant to imagine HHR sleeping with Ethel, or HHR being Ethel's marauding Mr Hyde.)

Young Ettie, reputedly, was incensed with the lazy but rife sentiment of the day that women's writing was both different to -- and inherently less worthy than -- "serious" men's writing. But it seems safe to presume that the autobiographical nature of her writings, and the fictional appropriation of the lives of her parents in particular, necessitated the distance that a new name -- a new authorial voice -- could provide.

The three novels that make up The Fortunes of Richard Mahony could hardly be less thinly-veiled as biography. Ethel was born in Melbourne, in 1870. Like Richard Mahony, Walter Richardson was an Edinburgh-educated Irish doctor who met and married Ethel's English mother, Mary Bailey, in the Victorian goldfields.

Henry Handel Richardson's trilogy follows the erratic fortunes and grimly fluctuating mental health of Mahony, from shopkeeper in a goldfield settlement near Ballarat, through the establishing of his medical practice in Australia and spectacular financial speculation, to bankruptcy and insanity. Both real Mary and fictional Mary work, for a time, as postmistresses: Mary Richardson (nee Bailey) works to support her young children after Walter's death; Mary Mahony works to support herself after her deranged husband burns what few shares and assets they have left. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ettie casts herself as a boy in Fortunes.)

It's clear from HHR's letters and overtly autobiographical writings that she both favoured her father and thought Richard to be the more sympathetic character in Fortunes. But, as Germaine Greer argues so eloquently with regard to The Getting of Wisdom, HHR has been radically wrong before in assessing her own work. Unwittingly, perhaps, HHR has made the patient and long-suffering Mary Mahony into a wonderfully fleshy and utterly admirable character. She's indomitable -- unassailable even -- rather than being a Thomas Hardy-esque doltish stoic.

And, while HHR gives us some profound insights into the increasing paranoia and decline of Mahony's mind, he is an aggravating and unlikable monomaniac who treats his family like pets. He is a man incapable of taking advice from his loved-ones. And markedly less likely to take advice from a woman. Any woman.

Michael Gow's mammoth production of Fortunes, remarkably, preserves the exasperating complexity of Richard and Mary's relationship. His casting is crucial. Neil Pigot has a voice that inspires confidence, even when his body language and all of his actions belie that confidence. In a pivotal scene drawn from the centre novel, The Way Home, Richard learns that his oldest (and he imagines his closest) friend has made a pass at Mary. "You must tell me," Richard says to his wife when she hesitates to tell him what has happened. And Pigot's voice -- rich and almost serpentine in its timbre -- is irresistible. How can Mary not answer? Even if we know, instinctively, that he won't cope with the facts.

If anything, Anne Browning is even stronger as Mary. While maintaining an air of utter astonishment with the events that befall her, with glittering exhausted eyes, Browning never lets us underestimate Mary. It's all suggestion. It's so subtle that it might not be convincing -- or sufficient -- in a shorter play. It's also very much to do with husbanding energy in a role that is both huge and weighted towards the latter scenes. Mary's confrontation with Richard's lawyer, when she is determined to secure her husband's release from an asylum, seems to save the best for last. After almost three hours, Browning opens up her second carburettor. Dramatic fuel, and the air in the theatre between stage and audience, vaporise. It's as if, at last, the drama has begun.

But just as Pigot embodies the duality of Mahony, his gentleness and his short-fuse, Browning embodies Mary's ignorance of her own strength. It's a brave tactic by any actor to spend the bulk of the evening persuading us that she has limits, then blasting them away before our eyes.

Rumours were circulating prior to the premiere of this play that Gow had re-set Fortunes in an asylum from Ultima Thule, the final novel of the trilogy, and that the past was enacted in flashbacks by the inmates of the asylum, like Cosi or yet another Aussie Marat/Sade. [The full title of Peter Weiss's play says it all: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.]

Each of the nine panels in Robert Kemp's set has a heavy door with a barred window, the performers are got up in grey face (not quite white face, but ashen), and some of the acting is annoyingly sylised -- trivialised really -- as if the work of the mentally disturbed, but there is little cause to question Gow's dedication to telling the story. The whole damn story.

Sensibly, Gow hides a few theatrical Easter Eggs in his script amply rewarding those who have actually read all 800 pages, reminding us of the vast sweep and metrical precision of HHR's composition. And, I must say, Gow's deviations from the chronology of the novel result in a couple of the most lively and exciting moments. But, on the whole, Gow's direction is more impressive than his writing. He could easily cut a fifth of the words, which would give him more scope to increase the dynamic range. As it stands, there is so much territory to cover, that slowing things down and beefing things up are unaffordable luxuries.

But, hey, for all of its longwindedness, Fortunes has few longueurs. And despite its occasional and glib descents into Dickensian bilge, the production has a fistful of quite remarkable theatrical images: an unfingered accordion expanded and compressed evokes the rasping breath of dying men is one of the best. Gow has not distilled a simple moral, or a defining metaphor, from the landscape of Fortunes, but he engages his audience. And that, finally, justifies the immense exertion of time and energy. Theirs and ours.

This review was published in the September 14-15 2002 edition of the Australian Financial Review.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

La Mama: The Cool Room by Sivan Gabrielovich

The Cool Room by Sivan Gabrielovich. Directed by Deborah Leiser-Moore. At La Mama, 205 Faraday Street Carlton, until August 18, 2002.

Perhaps the most shocking moment in this anarchic and startling play comes when mention is made of peace in the Middle East; when someone dares to use the phrase "when peace comes..." It seems ludicrously unlikely that the cycle of violence will ever be interrupted.

But for one ex-pat Israeli, a young playwright who came to Australia when she was 21, Australia has given her room to dream. Room to imagine that reconciliation might just be possible. It has also given her the opportunity to hear the voice of the "enemy". And to see traditional foes living in relative peace.

Taking the 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon as her starting point (and making subtler references to the Israeli bombing of PLO headquarters in West Beirut in July of the previous year in which 300 civilians were killed) Sivan Gabrielovich locks two men in a cool room here in Australia.

Her protagonists -- a Lebanese Arab and an Israeli Jew -- have both fled their war-torn homelands to take refuge in Australia. Though one has apparently employed the other, their truce is uneasy. Now, together, they find their lives threatened. Senselessly.

They have nothing in common but their anger, their agony, their displacement and their mortal flesh. Not to mention their music. And their food. (One of the most delightful exchanges comes when Dror hails felafel as Israel's national food, to which Marwan snaps: you stole that from us too.)

The Cool Room is a brutal play, deeply and calculatedly offensive. It sets out to ruffle feathers -- in the same way that shooting at magpies with a 303 rifle would -- and succeeds. Yet I can't help but feel that Gabrielovich wanted to make more of the abattoir setting, wanted to make it more of a spatter-fest. Yet even as it stands, throwing plastic chops around and reenacting the aftermath of a suicide bombing was more than some audience members could stomach.

This theatrical missile could do with some laser-guidance, but it more than makes up for any lack of precision with its explosive force, its coarseness and its brutal impact. Having Matthew Crosby and Rodney Afif face-off as Dror and Marwan is this production's greatest asset.

Crosby is always a compelling and intense presence, with an awesome voice. Afif, however, matches him -- point for point -- in what is, in my mind, his best performance to date.

An edited version of this review was published in the Herald Sun on August 9, 2002.

Friday, June 07, 2002

Hoist Theatre Group: It's a Family Affair

It's a Family Affair by Aleksandr Ostrovsky. Directed by Daniel Schlusser. Set design by Simon Terrill. The Hoist Theatre Group. North Melbourne Town Hall until June 22, 2002.

According to the Russian censor: "All the characters in the play are first-rate villains. The dialogue is filthy. The entire play is an insult to the Russian merchant class."

It was banned for 13 years. The playwright lost his job and was disinherited after its publication. But, on the bright side, he was adored by the Moscow intelligentsia who demanded that he read his play all over town, and he began dating an actress.

He was more famous in Russia than Gogol and Turgenev, wrote almost fifty original plays. And, chances are, you've never heard of him...

But if it weren't for Aleksandr Nikolayevich Ostrovsky, Eisenstein might never have become a film-maker (he made an early short film for a production of The Wise Man) and Tchaikovsky might've remained a law clerk. (The 24 year-old student's first orchestral score was an overture based on Ostrovsky's The Storm.)

For its first outing, The Hoist Theatre Group has adapted Ostrovsky's second play, It's a Family Affair, We'll Settle It Among Ourselves, and turned it into a hyperactive and wonderfully exaggerated theatrical romp. It begins with a monologue by the daughter of the family, a dreamy fantasy about finding her Prince Charming -- preferably a nobleman -- and snaring him.

She announces, breathlessly, that she is the most beautiful woman in the world and the entire set shivers and sighs. We realise she's asleep and dreaming. And, indeed, she is caught wanking by her mother.

There are many brilliantly vivid scenes and moments of inspired silliness (Marco Chiappi's entrance on his arse, like a wormy dog, will go down in the annals -- ahem! -- of Australian theatre!) but the genius of the opening scene is unsustainable. Ironically, it is the production's determination to do the whole script that bogs it down.

The play's about a merchant (Chiappi) who is tired of having so much money owed to him. His solution? Ripping off the people he owes money to by declaring himself bankrupt. First, though, he puts his house and company in the name of his trusty (and equally corrupt) clerk. He also marries his daughter (Vivienne Walshe) off to the clerk, imagining that this will secure his future.

It's about the snobbishness of the upwardly mobile and the intrigue (and cash) required to cement a place in the upper middle classes.

The patchiness of the writing is not entirely overcome by the innumerable theatrical in-jokes (seagulls are shot between scenes) and all-round playfulness. Or by the incredible imagination shown in the direction (Daniel Schlusser) and set design (Simon Terrill).

But the acting is utterly delightful. Fiona Todd (in harlequin tights) turns into a hand-licking dog, wagging her entire body, by play's end. After far too much David Williamson naturalism, Vivienne Walshe revels in the heightened stuff of this production. All Amanda Douge needs is a pair of dark glasses to complete her transformation into Jacqui Onassis as the matchmaker.

It's a Family Affair is a theatrical feast, but it's one you might need to purge after.

A shorter version of this review was published in the Herald Sun on June 12, 2002.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Karen Finley

"Here's a woman who gets naked, covers herself completely in chocolate and sings. Does that appeal to you?"

"By and large I'm not wild about musicals."

That little exchange comes from a new episode of West Wing, screened last week. The show might be fiction, but the woman is real enough. Karen Finley is her name. And body painting is her game. Well, one of them.

Honey Dripper: Karen Finley in Shut Up & Love Me
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Chocolate, yams, eggs, dog food... you name it, she's applied it with soft toys. Finley is on her way to Melbourne to wallow in some honey. But be warned! She's no high-class mud-wrestler. She's a champion of free speech whose shows tell horror stories of what it's like to be marginal in a white, male, capitalist world; what it's like to be gay or black or HIV-positive... or, worst of all, female!

Finley, famously, had a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant withdrawn, in 1990, when her chocolate-dipped body was described as obscene by the ultra right-wing U.S. Senator Jesse Helms.

Finley won an initial court battle in the early '90s, restoring her grant, but the sequel -- which dragged on for another eight years -- was recently lost in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It was as if I was in a sexually abusive relationship with these persecutors. I was starting to act like a victim."

Her hard-fought loss capped off a horror run for the outspoken, forty-something artist. Not long after her marriage ended, Finley also lost her mother, with whom she and her young daughter were living.

But rather than be brought down by fate, or dwell on her misfortunes, Finley is determined to get through it. "I lost so much... I had to go to the place in me where the far right weren't going to take away my joy."

And that place is a playful one, inspired by Queer Culture and the '70s. By Mae West and Josephine Baker. Finley's new show, Shut Up & Love Me, sounds like a one-woman Mardi Gras. Since losing the legal battle, the pin-up girl for the First Amendment has turned pin-up girl for Playboy. Yep, literally.

And she's published the New Age take on Winnie the Pooh she wrote for her daughter. In it, Winnie has a serious eating disorder, of course; Tigger is manic-depressive, Eeyore has "esteem problems" and Rabbit is a Greta Garbo-styled queen. "You know: 'I vant to be alone, Tigger. Stop bothering me.'"

Is Winnie the reason she's wallowing in honey in the new show? She laughs: "Partly. When I roll into it, on a canvas, and dance about, it's fun and it's beautiful."

While we talk, Finley's daughter peeps in, wanting to be tucked in. "You wanna go to sleep, honey?" And, there, I have my answer. Honey.

It's more than the aphrodesiac effect or the look of an Adam-tempting toffee-apple body gilded and dripping in amber. It's about love and affection. About good old fashioned sweetness.

I ask one last question. Why do you keep smearing your body? "Why does Ringo play the drums?!" I dunno, I shrug. Sadism??

Karen Finley performs Shut Up and Love Me at the National Theatre, St Kilda, on Friday March 22 at 8 pm. Enquiries and bookings: National Theatre 9525 4611 or Ticketmaster7 1300 136 166.

See also: A certain level of denial.

Monday, January 21, 2002

Opera Australia: The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart

The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. Opera Australia. Sydney Opera House to March 7, 2002. Melbourne in November/December.

If it's humanly possible for you to get to the Opera House in the next couple of weeks, take your family, friends, colleagues and loved ones to see this production. It will delight and enthrall fanatics and novices alike. It might also restore the faith of those who, like me, believe that mainstream theatre is - on the whole - woeful and moribund.

Neil Armfield's production of this near-perfect opera reminds us why we have performing arts. To be touched, to be dazzled, to be moved to tears of joy, despair and recognition. We seek connection and catharsis; to be part of an emotional and intellectual discourse; to be privy to the play of ideas.

The Marriage of Figaro is a rare beast, indeed. Both Beaumarchais's play and Mozart's opera (his first with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte) create a stable but tangy compound out of a political satire and a domestic morality play; farce with a dark, dark edge.

One of the most admirable aspects of this new production is the way it slides along the tightrope dividing bitter and sweet. Between tragedy and comedy. Not with an insouciant swagger, but with quiet, easy grace. There's no over-arching theme in Armfield's direction beyond emphasising domestic struggle over class struggle. The action is set in a generic past, sliding easily between late Victorian times and 17th century France, closer to Moliere's time than Beaumarchais's: all breeches and powdered wigs.

As you'd expect from a production directed by an accomplished theatre director, characterisation is robust and refined, and acting is rarely less than excellent. Even the stock characters are fleshy and three-dimensional; none better than Conal Coad's scintillating Dr Bartolo.

Douglas McNicol's Figaro is rather foppish and naive, but not unattractively so. His slightly scornful bride-to-be Susanna sees the ever-popular Clare Gormley at her feisty and charismatic best. When the action begins, Figaro announces that he is delighted that their bedroom-to-be will be so conveniently wedged between the Count's and the Countess's. Too close for comfort, for Susanna, since the Master is keen to make a mistress of her.

Jeffrey Black plays Count Almaviva like an out-of-form Don Giovanni. (And Armfield has the Count suffering intense hay fever at every whiff of the "flower of virtue" he has so nobly restored to his people.)

The entire first act is like quicksilver, from the presto opening beats of the thematically self-contained overture. Simone Young rides the orchestra like a thoroughbred horse. She beats and whips them along so fast (and with such vigour) that she dare not use a baton; she could take somebody's eye out. And, for once, the tiny Opera House orchestra pit and stage gives a chamber feel - a real intimacy - to this opera of love and lust, jealousy, betrayal and forgiveness.

Young also conducts from (or rather with) the fortepiano, which inevitably will remind some of Barrie Kosky directing his plays from a barroom upright. (Kosky tackled Figaro for the VSO in 1991; it played in repertory - and shared a set - with a Melbourne Theatre Company-Anthill co-production of the Beaumarchais play.)

The Armfield magic cuts in when the Countess appears. Leanne Kenneally's first aria ('Porgi, amor') leaves the audience mute with emotion. Looking like a cross between Elizabeth I and Cate Blanchett, Kenneally acts as well as the latter with a dignity worthy of the former.

Content to delay showing-off the stellar quality of her voice, Kenneally trades vocal efficiency for heart-bursting emotion in this aria. It's a decision worthy of Callas. The comparison is not an idle one, as Kenneally serves as the emotional anchor for the entire production. (Even veiled, she manages to project her distress and anguish without the least coarseness or exaggeration.)

Gone is the Rosina of The Barber of Seville. She is now the lonely wife of a "modern husband: unfaithful and jealous."

Armfield's touches are everywhere. But they are in the fine print. The detail. (Well, apart from the scrotal pouch of money swung between thighs in a poignant reminder that power resides in the purse!) (And having Cherubino dry-rooting an ironing board. A fair illustration of his rampant hormones, maybe, but a little tactless!) He directs the opera as if it were a play in English. Gestures, action, blocking... All is natural and highly effective.

The fact that this long opera doesn't drag, even in the vocal divertissements of the fourth act, is a credit to the entire team.

I haven't yet nutted out the semiotic code of Dale Ferguson's set design - assuming it carries some significance - with its overlapping drapes of leather-look parchment; but it neatly frames the action while allowing us to glimpse other worlds and other lives.

It's time that we hailed Neil Armfield as our own Peter Brook. A magus. A visionary. A creator of miracles. His Turn of the Screw, his Markropulos Affair, and now his Figaro, are not only among the very best of the Opera Australia repertoire, they are among the very best theatre experiences to be had. Anywhere.

This review was published in the February 2-3 2002 edition of the Australian Financial Review.

The Marriage of Figaro returns to the Sydney Opera House on January 2, 2007.