Fringe/Festival Adelaide 2018

This is a WIP of shows we are going to.

F20 7.30pm Bakehouse 60 minutes
The Unknown Soldier

F24 2pm
Great Detectives

F24 6pm Barr Smith Reading Room
A Medieval Market Place

F25 4pm 90 mins Grace Emily
Ukelele Death Squad

F25 7.45 Band Room Crown and Anchor
Marathon

F26 6pm 70 mins Buckingham Arms Hotel
Dickinson’s Room

F28 6pm Bakehouse
Gratiano

F28 7.30pm 65 mins Bakehouse
Shell Shocked

M1 7.30pm Bakehouse 60 mins
Mengele

M3 2pm Gallery Room National Wine Centre 60 minute
Box and Cox

M3 7.15pm Producers’ Warehouse 235 Grenfell St, Adelaide
The Ballad of Frank Allen

M4 3pm Holden St
Hitchhiker’s Guide

M4 4.30pm Holden St
That’s a Fact

M4 6pm Holden St
Flesh and Blood

M7 7.00pm 65 mins Garden of UD
Fleabag

M9 6pm St Stephen’s Lutheran Church
Another G&S for you

M9 9pm Bakehouse
Between the Crosses

M11 6.30pm Holden St
Once Were Pirates

M11 7.45pm Holden St
That Daring Australian Girl

M12 5pm 4 hours Festival Theatre
Kings of War

M14 Garden of UD 9.30pm
Rich Hall

M15 2pm Banquet Room at Fullarton Park Community Centre
Three Little Sisters Come to Unley – An Andrews Sisters Tribute

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Recent theatre in London

We went to three shows on the weekend.

Stewart Lee at Leicester Square theatre. Stewart Lee’s new show is hilarious. Not uniformly so, one gag went on for far too long, but gee whiz he sets a high standard. And as he said, we bought tickets for his experiments for a new TV show. He was within his rights to lie with his back to us farting for the entirety. And I dare say that would have been fairly amusing too.

Oresteia at Trafalgar Studios. There are two major productions of this going on at once in London. One is at The Globe. The other is an Almeida show, originally on in Islington, but moved to Trafalgar Studios, a new venue for me. I stand corrected in thinking that the new MTC playhouse has the stingiest legspace imaginable. This space could actually be worse. At least, however, Trafalgar is a small theatre in the first place. The MTC is enormous and should know better.

As for the show, I was a little disappointed, finding it cold and rather inaccessible with no chance to sympathise, let alone empathise with any of the characters. On top of this, Electra mysteriously disappears at some point. I have yet to come to the bottom of that.

Horniman’s Choice at Finborough Theatre. It was going to see this that confirmed my suspicions about Oresteia. I guess all theatre that came after Orestea took its cue from it. Here we have some of the same themes explored, but in a starkly different context. Orestea is a tragedy – that is to say, it is about kings. Horniman’s Choice is life in the poor North of England. It’s about the mines, soldiers coming back from WWI and the terrible choices faced by women: the workhouse if old, the streets if young. It’s about God.

I should say ‘they’re’ not ‘it’s’ since this is a collection of one act plays. Bloody brilliant they were too. The Finborough is a teensy theatre up a rickety staircase above a pub. It boasts on its site that these are the first professional UK productions of these plays for more than 90 years. The result is outstanding and one wonders, not for the first time, how much theatre that is utterly deserving never sees the light of day past its debut. Oresteia had three and a half hours to draw me in and failed. These intense miniatures grip from the start. I dare say I wasn’t the only one who had tears starting now and then, really an achievement to go from stranger to that in a few minutes.

The Battle for Troy at the Stork theatre

My brother Bernard put his finger on what was wrong with this reading. One of the actors acted. I’ve never thought to articulate this before, but it is quite a different matter to read a part than to act it. Probably you have to be a reader to appreciate this and coming from a family who read out loud as part of growing up, this should have been obvious to me.

How lucky are we in Melbourne to have the Red Dwarf hologram, Jane Montgomery Griffiths, now resident here? She read, read fabulously and to be honest I would have been content for her to do the whole lot.

As usual for The Stork, and deservedly so, the performance was packed out. Even though it missed the mark for us, it was still well worthy of seeing. In fact both Bernard and I came home planning to pull out our Homers. Enough said…

West East theatre starts up in Melbourne.

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness
fortyfivedownstairs
45 Flinders Lane Melbourne

Three men sit in front of you in chains for a couple of hours.

If you want to know what it is like, the situation of hostages – it could be anywhere, but this time it is Beirut – go to see the dramatisation of it. This imaginary world is real. The real world you see on the television is not.

In that sense this play reminds me of The Pilot, which Red Stitch put on a few years ago. Seeing a man captured and tortured in front of you is so much more real in pretence than it is in actuality as observed through the antiseptic medium of YouTube and TV.

Richard Stables, Trent Baker and Ezra Bix make up the cast – wonderful job. The play’s proven itself long before it has made its appearance in Melbourne. It’s a triumphant start for the newly established West East Theatre. Created by Baker and Stables, who were founding members of Red Stitch, they say:

Ultimately West East seeks to transport the audience to another place, another world in which they are totally connected; emotionally and spiritually.

In this aim they have certainly succeeded. The audience is privileged to be sharing space with these unfortunate souls as they create an imaginary world which must make do during their years of incarceration. Maybe why we are so moved to laugh and cry with them is that these are just ordinary people. A doctor, a journalist, a teacher – Ezra’s character Michael is very confused when he first wakes up in this room in chains. He is in Beirut because he can’t get a teaching job in England. He was only making a flan for guests and needed to buy pears. How does one get from that position to chains in a dungeon? And how can one possibly survive 4 years of it?

Do go and see it to find out. It’s on until May 17.
Bookings at fortyfivedownstairs

What if Emma Bovary had seen Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk?

On Thursday I had the good fortune to see Shostakovitch’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It was the depiction of a woman in the provinces of mid-nineteenth century Russia married to an impotent dullard, with a father-in-law whose own lecherous feelings towards her made him see her as a licentious whore. If she is not one in practice, he knows she must be one in intent. The father-in-law keeps constant watch on his daughter-in-law to make sure she is not doing with another what he wishes to do to her himself. She is unfulfilled in every sense and knows there must be something better in life. Eventually, despite the menacingly watchful guard of the father-in-law she manages to take a lover.

The scene in which she first meets her lover impresses upon us just how appalling her predicament is. The men under her husband’s employ are gang-raping a servant girl. Fifty or so men are on stage inciting the soon-to-be lover of Katerina into the rape. He has set about his task enthusiastically. Katerina is such a strong, confident woman she is able to walk into this situation and take control of it, saving the girl. Yet she is so powerless that she must fall in love with this man, even as she watches him rape another, because he is actually the best of a remarkably bad bunch. Such was the Russia that the Bolsheviks wished to transform.

The lover is good-for-nothing. A woman less desperate would have been able to see that. If Emma Bovary had been watching Lady Macbeth, at that point when she attends the opera, she would have recognised it too. She would, like the rest of us, have been pleased when Katerina kills her father-in-law after he discovers her lover and has him brutally flogged. When Katerina next kills her husband this too would have seemed – if not quite morally correct, then certainly a very understandable way to proceed. We want happiness for Katerina.

But at some point, as Katerina begins to pay the cost for what she has done, through her enduring guilt, would not Emma have called out to Katerina ‘don’t take that path’. To be bored, unfulfilled, to live a mean life – all would be better than the path she was instead choosing. Katerina’s murders are discovered. As she ends up in a convict labour camp watching her husband making love to one of the other convicts, would not Emma have thought to herself ‘Thank heavens I have a husband who loves me? A husband who is able to bear me children. Sophisticated and cultured surrounds. Thank heavens I am not Katerina’.

We, the observer, can see that distinction. We can see that life in the Russian provinces at not such a different period of time from that of Emma’s, is a nasty brutish violent existence. We can see that Emma is surrounded by culture, material comforts, company, purpose in life, albeit in menial domestic roles. We see, further, that Emma can have – and does have – both domesticity and romance. What would Katerina have given to have Emma’s life? A husband who loved and cared for her, the possibility of children, and lovers if need or whim dictated. Luxury. Would Katerina have admonished Emma?
‘Stop, go no further along this path of self-destruction, be happy with what you have, it is so much more than it might be.’

Yet even though Emma’s life is as blessed as Katerina’s is wretched, even though we feel that Emma chooses her fate, whilst Katerina’s is forced upon her and even though we feel that Katerina has a nobility of spirit keeping her pure even as the scummy world around her drags her down, a spirit that is not obvious in Emma, still we empathise with Emma.

And, in fact, it is precisely that Emma does choose her fate which makes her character admirable. Never does she give up on her dream and hopes. The lines that stand out for me in the book are:

They knew one another too well for any of those surprises of possession that increase its joys a hundred-fold. She was as sick of him as he was weary of her. Emma found again in adultery all the platitudes of marriage.

She knows what she wants is impossible and yet she will not give up. She does what we all want to do. Madame Bovary isn’t a study of boredom and frustration, nor is Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. They are about belief and about being true to one’s beliefs no matter what.

There is significant difference between us, the readers, and these two characters. We do not, in general, any longer hold with the practice of having beliefs. Consequently we would not be foolish enough either to kill for our happiness or to die for lack of it. We need to step outside ourselves to understand Emma. To be irritated with Emma is to be mean-spirited. We take it for granted that we will marry for love and that we will be in love with the person we choose to spend our life with. We fall in love whenever, and with whomever, we please. Don’t judge Emma in terms of what you are. Judge Emma for what you would be in her shoes.

That state of romantic love is entirely necessary to our being. We may not believe in it, but we nonetheless cannot escape it. Does anything make that more clear than the demise of Emma’s husband? It is not, after all, with Emma’s death that the novel ends. Far from it. We watch Charles suffer and die a perfect romantic death from grief. Ironically, it would have been enough to make Emma love her husband…if only she could have seen it.

So, what would have happened if Emma saw Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk? Would she have advised Katerina against several murders and suicide? No. She would have seen the utter inevitability of Katerina’s fate. What would have happened if Katerina had been magically transported into Emma’s place? She would have died for want of what she desperately desired and could not find. Their fates were both inescapable.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is on in Melbourne until May 9. If you only go to one opera in your life, make this the one. I’d use the ‘c’ word, if only it had not been abused so. Two people leave a film: ‘That was SO confronting’ ‘You mean, the way he asked for –‘ ‘Yes, milk in his long black’. But truly Lady Macbeth is a deeply moving, gut-wrenching production with fabulous music, a great libretto and a wonderful cast.

Who Killed Emma Bovary?
Adapted by Colin Duckworth in his usual impeccable manner it is on at Stork Theatre’s new home in St Kilda until May 10. Booking details below. Emmaline Carroll holds the audience throughout with her portrayal of Emma, while Adrian Mulraney plays all the other roles to perfection as usual.

stork-theatre1

Realism by Paul Galloway at MTC

I can recall the last time the MTC did something that excited me. It was Copenhagen and it was too long ago. If you want safe, professional theatre the MTC’s the place. If you want something that will excite you like you haven’t been excited since your first ever visit to the theatre, go to Red Stitch. The amazing thing is that Red Stitch, despite being brave, has almost no duds.

Still, the MTC has to come up with something special now and then and Realism by Paul Galloway is just that. I don’t want to describe it in detail as it will spoil the dramatic effect of what happens. Suffice to say it is hugely entertaining, almost a farce, while being as moving as a play must be which is fixed in Soviet Russia of the 1930s. It’s important that the cast is excellent: in the hands of lesser actors I don’t think this clever play would work.

Galloway talks about his life, writing and this play in particular here.

He says there that:

I love theatre because it’s not important. And long may it remain so. If it were important, Governments would be interested in it and they’d screw it up for everyone. In the Soviet Union under Stalin, the arts and literature became so important that people were murdered and imprisoned over it. Theatre should never be worth dying for. It should merely be worth living for—one of many things worth living for in a good and varied life. Who’d want it any other way? After all, what is pleasure but the feeling that arises from doing what you don’t need to do?

It’s a provocative thought and I can’t say that I altogether agree with it. It was the lot of the people Galloway writes about that they didn’t want to be important but were made so. Still, art – and theatre in particular – has from time to time seen its obligation to be part of a struggle. It has chosen to be there in the thick of it. Actually, the more I think about it the more I know Galloway is wrong. Theatre is important. Fortunately that does not mean it mustn’t be entertaining. I think Galloway, in Realism, manages to be both.

Stork Theatre is back!

This has got to be the highlight of the year for Melbourne theatre-goers.

My first experience of Stork was, alas, only a couple of years ago when I went to one of their famed Camus productions: The Outsider. I was hooked. Stork’s unique claim to fame might be that it specialises in the dramatisation of literature, rather than drama per se…or it might be that it is are just so good.

Last year saw the temporary demise of Stork Theatre when its home, The Stork Hotel, was demolished to build apartments. Clearly Melbourne needs more apartments while it has way too many small intimate theatre venues of quality. Melburnians will know what I mean…

It is so exciting to discover that they have finally found a new home in St Kilda and their first production of 2009 starts this Friday: Who Killed Emma Bovary? by the wonderful Colin Duckworth from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Who Killed Emma Bovary? 22 April-May 10 St Kilda
Who Killed Emma Bovary? 22 April-May 10 St Kilda