All posts by Markus Webber

Markus Weber, born 1953 in Hall in Tyrol. After his drama-education at the Otto Falckenberg Academy in Munich he has worked as an actor, director, dramaturgy and musical-producer at numerous European and international theatres. In addition, he is the successful author and translators of plays, musicals, opera and ballet-librettos. His rock-musicals for children, Jungle Book and Koala Joe, were international successes and are presented regularly. His play End of Dreams won the German Theatre Association Award for Best New Play. After over 150 professional theatre productions in Europe and 35 years of living like rover on highways and in too many hotels, he decided to embark on his biggest dream ever – live and work in what he calls the home of his heart: Australia. He now lives in Sydney, specialising in Arts Management.

SHORT AND SWEET 2012 WEEK 3

Gabriel McCarthy in SOMETHING TO BE DONE. Pic Kerry Fluhr

And six more weeks to go. After the hype of the first two weeks week three comes on a sudden low. Low in content and lower in audience numbers. Let’s face the facts. 180 new short plays in the ten weeks leading up to the finals needs dedication and enthusiasm. Audience numbers clearly depend on what the participants can generate.

In week one and two I did not see people leave the show at interval. Not so in week three. Many people just come to see the show of their loved ones. In addition, they only voted for the show that they had come to see.Some audience arrives during the break since their interest is showcased in the second part of the evening. A suggestion to avoid such procedure might be to only allow votes at the end of the evening? Otherwise, the end result might be biased?!

This week six plays by NSW authors are accompanied by efforts by writers from VIC, ACT, UK and USA. Impressive. However, the standard of the first two weeks cannot be reached. There is something dull about the selection of plays and the audience reacts accordingly. Gone is the cheerful laughter, the moments of reflection, the surprisingly witty plots, and the roaring applause. There is nothing we have not seen before.

Just The Ticket by Sally Davies, directed by John Wood, with a composition by Peter Wood and featuring Michelle Pastor as the Parking Inspector and Ben Tranter as Dave, the offender, is about what all of us have tried once before. Avoiding a parking ticket. Hm. Short, but not sweet.

You Can’t Eat It (meaning the Soul) is yet another take on the struggling youth with no news attached. Director Carol Dance and her actors Emmanuelle Mattana and Melissa Spiteri do their best to breathe some life into the script by Carol Dance.

The concept of pairing an Auschwitz survivor with a recent evictee from Big Brother in Other People by Mark Andrew (from VIC) does not really have much to say about the development of freedom in the past fifty years. Directed by Alan Chambers and played by Jess De Gouw (Nina) and Kelly Paterniti (Candy) it just feels out of place.

Through the Chair by Mark C. Bourne, directed by Tracey Keene and performed James Belfrage (Roger) hints what this is all about. Amateur Theatre Society.

In Mother Love writer Katie Whiffen touches a delicate matter, very common in our society. The conflict between upbringing mother, biological mother and the child in between could make an interesting and thoughtful plot. It actually is material for a full-length play. The director is Frances Gates and Chantal Roberts (Danielle), Sandra Velini (Prudence), Annette van Roden (Lucy) do their best to make this little play believable.

Last Man On The Moon by Glynn Oram (from the UK) might be funny, but is it? We all know that the first landing on the moon was filmed in the dessert of Nevada . Director Felix Carlyle and his space crew Daniel Felkai (Neil Armstrong), Mathew Cook (Buzz Aldren) and Simon French (Michael Collins) seem to have fun, which does not come across to the audience.

Nice Shoes. Wanna Fuck? follows a well-known and too often tried concept. I prefer “Wanna come on a trip around the world with me” as a genuine pick up line. The play by Angus Algie from the ACT is directed by Greg Eccleston and executed by Rhianne Evelyn-Ross as Julie and Christian Redy as John, Rebekah Watson as Julie again.

Something to be Done is exactly what the punch line says: One man, searching for inspiration. Yet, like many before him, he struggles to find what he’s looking for. That’s all there is. Writer: Sepy Baghaei (NSW) Director: Sepy Baghaei Cast: Gabriel McCarthy (Gabatwa).

Seth Freman’s MacSpin has made it from the USA to our shores. It is directed by Sharlene Zeederberg and features Brooke Davidson as the Lady, Peter Morris as Mac, Madison Mckoy as Parker and James Hartley as Brandt. I only can say, Woody Allen knows better and more about spin-doctors.

The evening is concluded by Are They. Aiden Cairns gives Director Andrew Kingsford Smith the story of Aiden Cairns as Aiden Cairns to play with.

At the end, the applause sounds more like applauding the end rather the evening. The foyer is empty quickly. Actors from plays earlier in the program have left quickly after their appearance. And here is the second “Hm” from the reviewer. However, such things happen. They are the daily bread of the performing arts. It is a constant rollercoaster. That’s where the fun is. And seven more weeks are to come until the finals.

Short and Sweet Week 3 opened at the King Street theatre, corner King and Bray streets, Newtown on Wednesday January 18 and runs until Saturday January 21, 2012.

© Markus Weber- EMU Productions (theatre and music) Pty Ltd

21 January, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- Short and Sweet Week 3, King Street theatre, Markus Weber, Kerry Fluhr.

LA PUTYKA

A scene from LA PUTYKA

Normally we do not quote other reviewers. In this case, it is necessary to point out that not everything on paper is anything but the truth.

In her review for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Charlotte Smith writes: LA PUTYKA is a teasing and meticulous circus performance. Skilled and alternative, it has been put together with a professionalism that seems almost too big for its Fringe venue. This group are champions of their idiosyncratic world.”

SMH reviewer Jason Blake sees this differently, and I quote: “For the most part, the performers are not life-long circus folk and the cast has, in the main, accumulated their skills in the course of their association with the company. What they have achieved is admirable, though it’s fair to say they’re not up to the standard of the LA CLIQUE shows at previous festivals, or of CIRCUS OZ. Without that ”wow” factor, all the staggering, jabbering, swaying and braying soon wears thin (likewise the falsetto scat singing by the band’s vocalist), leaving you free to wonder if the lack of acrobatic finesse resides exclusively in the show’s drunken conceit”.

The show I saw was not too big for the venue. The venue fitted it perfectly. The skills of the cast are staggering. The band, and especially the singer, is a revelation and hugely entertaining. LA PUTYKA (THE TAVERN) is easily and may be even of higher standard than LA CLIQUE.

When it comes to CIRCUS OZ, there is no comparison to make. Oz is a Circus and LA PUTYKA turns a pub into a circus. Two very different aspects. This ensemble of 13 actors, singers, dancers, acrobats, entertainers and drunkards is highly gifted, innovative and visionary. They present a hilariously funny and breathtaking show. They connect to the audience before the lights dim. There is not a single dull moment and no one in the auditorium is able to wipe the smile of his or her face.

LA PUTYKA is the perfect example for what theatre is all about. Let there be laughter, let there be sadness. Surprise the audience, send shivers down their spines, make them breathless and full of joy to be part of an epoch making adventure.

Parramatta can feel privileged to have been the host to this formidable event. May be the people of the West are not yet as self indulged and hypocritical as those who only can accept true thespians when it is bigger, grander and better, more mainstream, more in vogue and a more trendy “It” event?!

May be true theatre lovers should conclude to seek satisfaction far away from the CBD?! In places where true artists are able to move their audience into the land of enlightenment. Where a dedicated and mischievous Ensemble from the Czech Republic inspires us to get on our feet to applaud them and no Stage Manager turns on the lights to chase the clapping people out of the theatre. Let them bow. The longer they bow, because we are enthusiastic, the more chance we have to live life and not just survive it!

LA PUTYKA opened at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta on Friday January 13 and played until Tuesday January 17, 2012.

(c) Markus Weber, EMU Productions (theatre & music) Pty Ltd

21 January, 2012

Tags: SYDNEY THEATRE REVIEWS- LA PUTYKA (THE TAVERN), Riverside theatre Parramatta, Sydney Festival 2012, Czech theatre.

SHORT AND SWEET 2012- WEEK 2

Kym Parrish and Robert Zavadsky in SIX SHARP WORDS. Pic Kerry Fluhr

The vibe is incredible. Once everyone has recovered from Christmas feasting and New Year’s Eve binging King Street Theatre, formerly Newtown Theatre, is abuzz. Even the dress rehearsal (reserved for Writers, Directors and Actors of S+S only) is a sell-out.

Opening night makes the theatre look like a Tokyo subway station at rush hour. There is a big compliment to make. The technical crew of S+S is functioning like a clockwork. No matter what glitch appears, they are on top of things at all time. Artistic Director Pete Malicki keeps his promise from week one. He even manages to enhance it by presenting ten little plays balanced like a tightrope artist.

At the end of the evening, there is not a single person that does not sport a smile on their face. Many audience members hang around in the foyer to discuss and inhale the atmosphere for a little bit longer. Astonishing.

The evening kicks off with THE INTERVIEWS by Victorian writer Andrew O’Keefe. I cannot say much about it since I directed this little gem. Marty O’Neilll as Jack (80 years old) and Keith Mcilroy as Tom (60 years old) are at their throats with enthusiasm and determination until the play comes to a surprising end.

SIX NAKED GIRLS AT A NUDIST BEACH is a mutation of cabaret, burlesque and silliness. Directed by Lucy Shepherd and featuring Hayley Kerrigan, Gretchen Mach and Jessica Heath. Sean Brandtman and the playwright Frank Dellano are the men opposite the barely dressed girls. Left & Right Productions turns on the heat with sound effects by Henry Benjamin edited by Reece Kirby. Costume designer Kat Chan obviously ran out of cloth and makes the best of it.

David ‘High Speed Train’ Atrill plays Keef in ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF KEEF; THE HUMAN RIFF. Written by Benito Di Fonzo and directed by Alana Hicks, the play celebrates Keith Richards and Atrill chases through the monologue, which easily could last for 20 minutes, with the speed of light, in a tour de force of its own kind. The play is presented by Fonzo Journalism.

NUMBER 4 IS THE ACTOR. Valentino Arico is struck by stage fright. Will there be an audience tonight? Yes, there is. Exactly 103 people in the sold out King Street Theatre. Jackie and Gerry Greenland and their Green Independent Theatre Company sign off on the production. Jackie Greenland contributes the writing and Gerry Greenland shines as director. Yet another worthwhile effort of these S+S veterans…

David Fingret’s SPARKLING EFFLUENCE concludes part 1 of the evening. This is a witty and engaging little play about moral issues and sewage. Drinking sewage that is. Raj Muneshwar cleverly directs it and Valentino Arico, Lidia Stojanoska and Eliza St John are a formidable cast.

SIX SHARP WORDS marks James Balian’ 9th Short+Sweet Production as writer/director. Robert Zavadszky plays Michael and Sally Kym Parrish is Sally who meets her ex-boyfriend in front of a piano bar two years after their break up. Is there a chance for reconciliation or is there not? Word can heal or kill. A beautiful piano soundtrack performed by Kym Parrish herself sets the mood for grand emotions.

Jennifer Faletto’s PRETTY BIRD is truly a Bird Play. Marriage can be frustrating. Sure. However, when it declines to daily consultations with Valentin the Bird it becomes devastating. Peter Morris as Dave, Lisa Hanssens as Olivia and Sepy Baghaei as Valentin are admirable. Rhéma Burns directs with the steady hand of her profession.

Queensland writer Allison Manson presents number eight, HYACINTH COURT. Larry Kelly, an S+S. all-rounder is at the helm of direction. Frank Davidson plays an old man nurturing a relationship of the special kind with a young girl, played by Elena Burger. Their relationship is haunted by the simple fact that the two of them have never met. An intriguing concept and worthwhile listening to.

JANE AUSTEN MADE ME DO IT is presented by Artermis Productions. Deborah Mulhall has written the script and also directs. Jane Austin is truly present on stage. Vincent Andriano superbly plays all the Jane Austen men Olivia Gailiunas as Olivia is in love with. Ms Gailiunas is also responsible for the delciater costume design. Original music composed by John Garden creates the atmosphere Jane Austin deserves.

The final play for the night is THE CAUSE. Jacob Boylan and Neel Kolhatkar wrote, directed and perform in the final play of the evening. They engage their audience from the first second and do not loosen their grip until the very end. There is a lot of laughter. Good laughter. The perfect end of a perfect evening. This for sure will be a classic.

In conclusion: Do not miss Short and Sweet 2012. There are seven more weeks to come and at the end, this season might be the best ever.

© Markus Weber- EMU productions (theatre & music) Pty Ltd

13th January, 2012

Tags: SYDNEY THEATRE REVIEWS- SHORT AND SWEET WEEK 2, MARKUS WEBER, KERRY FLUHR

SHORT AND SWEET TOP 100 WEEK 1 2012

A scene from,Week 1, Short and Sweet 2012. Pic by Yoni Slama

It starts with a bang. The program selection for week one of the world’s wide biggest Festival for short plays is superb. The new Artistic Director, Pete Malicki, truly has a golden hand in dramaturgically putting together an entertaining and stringent evening that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats. There is laughter, there is melancholy, and there is satire, drama, suspense, all facets of emotion and everything that makes a successful show.

I will report, not review, every week of the season, including the Wild Card performances. This festival climaxes with the presentation of the weekly winners and that will be the time to be critical or enthused. It is then when the top ten plays have to show their true merits. If Pete Malicki can keep up with his skilful programming, the Finals will be a must see event and show the power of emerging and established dramatists, directors and actors, worthy to be part of the vibrant Sydney performing arts.

Week One starts with Frank Leggett’s “Baccalaureate Mnemonic”. A gentle and surprisingly comical story, taking place at a High School reunion that ignites memories and desire to re-live what ignited passion 15 years ago. Helen Perris directs Deb (Clare Martin) and Michael (Daniel Placido) with profound skills.

Number two to get started is “Movie Date,” written and directed by an obviously talented Aaron Nilan. Mr Nilan not only writes and directs but also shows off his facets opposite Alastair Buchanan as an actor. It is all about sex and more and the audience gets quite excited and approving.

And here comes the Satire. “Mr Perkins” by Tom Jensen, a very popular writer amongst the S+S family, presents a disturbing solution to problems of the human kind. Jacque Vickers directs the eager cast Samuel McNair, Lorraine Young, David Nealon, Debbie Tilley and Kim-Cuong Do.

“Train Reaction,” written by Danelle Dobinson, based in Queensland and Karen Bayly, who is almost a S+S veteran. Suspense is hanging in the atmosphere and the end is surprising. The starring cast, Jade Yeong, Rhys McMahon, Darren Pinks, visibly enjoys the situation.

The first half is concluded by “The V-Word”. David Bulmer has multiple credits with S+ S, has written, and directed a huge crowd pleaser Kate Buchanan and Graham Yates star not only under the sheets.

The second half of the Evening, “Ill Met By Moonlight” by Jodi McAlister lights up the stage. This could be a winner, especially since directed by Luke Berman. The actors, Bel Delia and Chris Miller are in full horror mode and delightful to watch.

“Call Me But Love” by Sarah Connor, directed by Louana Sainsbury and performed by Sarah Connor herself and Ashley Watkins, presents a truly twisted version of Romeo and Juliet. This was a lesson in over-sized hatred and never ending love.

Kylie Rackham throws “On the Edge” into the competition. Scott Grimley and Dominic Witkop intensely portray two strangers on the edge. A stunning little play.

The ninth play is already a winner. It won the People’s Choice Award and Best Play at S+S Newcastle 2011. Written by Mark Konik and directed by Keane Williams, “From A Great Height” gives Glen Waterhouse and Jo Ford the perfect platform for outstanding performances. You have the chance to meet your dream girl but actually are not ready to do so? See this play to get the answer.

Last but not least comes renowned playwright Ron Elisha’s “Crime Scene.” Directed by Rose Cooper and played by Damian Fitzpatrick and Daniella Hoffman ‘Crime Scene’ has the audience wrapped.

Short and Sweet once again proves that there is a huge reservoir of talent to be discovered and encouraged. The first week program promises a season to remember. Watch this space to find out more about the upcoming weeks.

For the full program and details of all other 90 Top 100 plays check the Festival’s website at http://www.shortandsweet.org/sydney

© Markus Weber- Emu Productions (theatre and music) Pty Ltd

6th January, 2012

Tags: SYDNEY THEATRE REVIEWS- SHORT AND SWEET TOP 100 2012 WEEK 1, Peter Malicki, Ron Elisha, Damian Fitzpatrick, Daniella Hoffman, Kylie Rackham, Scott Grimley, Dominic Witkop, Sarah Connor, Louana Sainsbury, Ashley Watkins, Jodi McAlister, Luke Berman, Bel Delia, Chris Miller, David Bulmer, Kate Buchanan, Graham Yates, Danelle Dobinson, Karen Bayly, Jade Yeong, Rhys McMahon, Darren Pinks, Tom Jensen, Jacque Vickers, Samuel McNair, Lorraine Young, David Nealon, Debbie Tilley, Kim- Cuong Do, Aaron Nilan, Alastair Buchanan, Frank Leggett, Helen Perris, Clare Martin, Daniel Placido,

PIPPIN

SQUIRREL

8/12/2012. Sidetrack Theatre 7:30 pm. It rains in buckets. The Jumbo jets roar away as if on a crash course with the Addison Arts & Events District. The potholes are deep and overflowing from the never-ending heavy rain. Good weather for a heart-warming musical like PIPPIN. The production is scheduled for 8 pm, 90 straight minutes through with no interval. 8:15 pm, it still rains and the small crowd is patiently waiting to be seated. May be we are waiting for the many people lost in traffic and the rain. Or, for yet another musician to arrive late, like the double bass player who hurried in about 15 minutes before performance start. Life isn’t easy. 8:18 pm, the door to the auditorium opens and a jumbo jet roars over the theatre as if applauding. Magic. We quickly enter and swiftly take our dry seats, eagerly awaiting the magic of Pippin to unfold.

Pippin only once became a mainstream musical. That was back in 1972, when the magical Bob Fosse directed, choreographed, and took his audience on a surreal and disturbing journey that lasted for 1,944 performances. (PIPPIN still holds rank 31 amongst the longest running Broadway shows of all time.) He took the show and concept to London in 1973 and managed to produce one of the shortest runs in West End Musical history. The show closed after 85 performances. Probably the Londoners could not find the theatre in the everlasting famous British fogs. PIPPIN never had a really successful professional production after its humongous Broadway run. However, hundreds of amateur theatre groups worldwide have taken the musical to heart since then. 40 years later the show has not lost its sneaky cuteness and naughty tendencies. The plot still holds and Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics are as haunting as ever.

However, not when his music is butchered like here. CrinkleCut Productions, the Producer behind this effort, lives up to its key slogan: …the greatest productions are not always straight-cut – sometimes they’re a little CrinkleCut. And that is what happens here. The production crinkles, wobbles, splinters, drowns and irritates. CrinkleCut has done everything possible to create a highly professional show. All 10 actors are equipped with state of the art microphones. There is a six-piece band. Director Benita de Wit has developed a feisty, comprehendible and fast moving concept. Simone Salle provides a rich, colourful and witty choreography. Stage and Costume designer Marissa Dale-Johnson created a multifunctional set and engaging costumes. Everything seems good enough to guarantee a smash hit. So what is wrong?

Firstly, the band led by musical director and keyboardist Andy Peterson. The decision to place the band at the left side of the stage and too close to the audience may have started the problem. Here we are, lucky enough to have a band at hand and not the much cheaper alternative of a backing tape and the benefit turns into the biggest doubt of the evening. The band is too loud, the acoustic guitar is tuned a quarter tone lower than the violin, the violinist struggles to find her pitch and at times sounds like a first grade beginner and the man at the electric piano hammers away as if he has to smash concrete to pieces. When Andy Peterson is in full action, his band members may as well stop playing all together.

And, there is the Ensemble. All of them lovely individuals of their own kind. Sadly enough, most of them are not used to working with sophisticated sound equipment as mentioned at the beginning. The lack of fallback speakers and the position of the band does not make their life easier. The microphones at times become disturbing. They also brutally unveil that some of the actors actually cannot sing. The cast is a weird mixture of professionals, amateurs with rich stage experience and true theatre fanatics that just have a ball being on stage. Therefore, they walk into furniture, lose their props, get breathless in dance routines they are not built for and cut off lines before it is their turn. However good choreography may be, it will crumble to amateurism if not performed by dancers of highest standards.

There are two outstanding dancers on stage, which have to carry the rest. Cat Hoyos is one of them. She is extraordinary and shows what a showstopper Simone Salle’s choreography could have been. They are joined by three actors. A brilliant one, another one is a revelation, and one, Zach Smith, is on his way to brilliance. His interpretation of the little boy Theo is heart-warming, precise and very moving. In addition, he can sing. Gaynor Tension as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe is the revelation. He wastes no time in becoming the comical highlight of the evening. He takes the stage, makes it his own and gets the audience on their feet. Thank you.

The others work hard. Mitchell Lagos as Pippin is a natural charmer who lacks the vocal chords to nail his songs. He is believable as the young man on his quest to find a fulfilled life. David Atrill, as his father King Charlemagne, never should sing and visibly is in trouble with the complexity of his part. Amie Timmins Cathrine, the mother of Theo and desperately seeking a man to warm her lonely heart, tries her best to come to grips with the ballads she has to sing. Erin Bruce (Fastrada), Phil McIntosh (Louis) and Sam Larielle (Magician) complete the cast and give what they can.

Finally yet importantly, there is the above-mentioned second outstanding dancer and brilliant one actor. Benjamin Hoetjes is the leading player of the evening. That he, the brilliant one, has taken the part of The Leading Player is therefore no coincidence. He is brilliant for one simple reason: He can do it all. He can sing beautifully, he can dance like a Dervish; he is an acrobat, not only physically but far more as an actor. Forgive me the comparison but he does what Cate Blanchet does in Gross und Klein at the STC.

His body language is immaculate. His repertoire of gestures is endless. His intellect is as sharp as a razor-blade. His timing impeccable. He is a comedian, can easily play RICHARD III and make any musical part he will be allowed to challenge his very own. He is simply magic. He opens the show with ‘Magic to Do’ and sets a standard that no one else can reach throughout the evening. Each and every agent in this city and the rest of the world should come and see this young man. And so should you, before you will have to fork out a lot of money to see him. He is fearless, got the talent, owns the aura, is devil and angel in one and even got the looks, everyone is so eager to have nowadays.

Benjamin Hoetjes is proof that PIPPIN’S conclusion that maybe the most fulfilling road of all is a modest, ordinary life is correct for all those who have stopped to live the dream. And he is proving that there is an institution in this country that provides the dreamers with the tools to make dreams come true. He is not a NIDA man. He is much more. He is a WAAPA!

Markus Weber 8/12/2011

© 2011 Emu Productions (theater & music) Pty Ltd

HOW TO LOSE SIGHT

Cloe Fournier struggling in Michal Imielski’s HOW TO LOSE SIGHT

A small group of people waiting amongst people attending other shows at the Riverside Theatre Foyer. Then appears a floating white chair, accompanied by a graceful and charming woman and an over the top eager man. Our tour guides have arrived to lead us to our destination. I know that the performance will take place in a heritage house at the edge of the park. I immediately feel uneasy. I am not one of those happy people who love audience involvement. Without knowing, I had become part of the ensemble. I leave it to your own imagination what a small group of people, following a floating white chair, has to endure whilst wandering out of the Riverside Theatre and across the street to the performance venue lead by a white chair.

Michal Imielski is a magician. With an unexpected, but actually quite familiar trick, he has transformed all of us into his collaborators. The idea for HOW TO LOSE SIGHT was triggered by the story of a woman’s journey from light into darkness. It is an intriguing plot for a trilogy of plays about the people amongst us suffering sight impairment and total blindness in a fast moving and more and more careless society. HOW TO LOSE SIGHT is Part Two of Imielski’s work of art. He composed the music and wrote the script together with his cast and co devisors: Michal Imielski, Barton Williams, Cloe Fournier, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Julia Landrey, Odile Leclezio, Peter Maple, Pollyanna Norwicki and Shauntelle Benjamin. Designer Lucy Wong and Movement Advisor Cloe Furnier contribute ingeniously.

Once our little parade arrives at the charming cottage we are split into three small groups. The door opens and we enter the mysterious world of blindness. There is no escape. Each group is ushered into separate rooms and it becomes clear that we are on a ghost train trip. The rooms are tiny. The actors literally sit on our laps, or we on theirs. The closeness is intimidating, uncomfortable and at times frightening.

The show is an amalgamation of experimental physical theatre, art installation, musical rollercoaster, contemporary dance mixed with glimpses of comedy, however, always confronting and eye opening. We learn and start to experience what it must feel like to lose sight, never having seen light, being blinded through a violent attack, falling in love without being able to see what we love. At one time, we sit isolated in a room and listen to the reactions of the two other groups to what we had seen before. We are blind at this moment and only able to hear. A unique experience. I do not want to give away the stories. I believe that everyone who sees this production will have a different reaction and comprehension of what unfolds.

The stories have no connection, are raw material at times and on the edge of being banal. “I’ll never go on a blind date again.” However, the whole team is to be commended for the commitment, bravery and willingness to cross borders in their effort to make us aware of our own sightlessness. If you are voyeuristic, not afraid of intimacy, not claustrophobic and eager for audience participation this is your show. If you are afraid of all these things, this is your chance to overcome all those scary inner demons.

I still feel the fingers of that actress falling in love with my hairy arm, which made me ask myself why I did not wear one of my usual long sleeved shirts. I found the answer when I took my first deep breath after leaving “The House”. I did not know that I put on a costume when I chose to wear short sleeves on a mild and sunny day. So, no more shorts sleeves in the future.

A SHH Company in association with Blacktown Arts production, HOW TO LOSE SIGHT opened on Wednesday November 30 and plays until Saturday December 10, 2011.

© Markus Weber, EMU Productions (theatre and music) Pty Ltd

Tags: HOW TO LOSE SIGHT, Michal Imielski, Barton Williams, Cloe Fournier, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Julia Landrey, Odile Leclezio, Peter Maple, Pollyanna Norwicki, Shauntelle Benjamin,Lucy Wong, Cloe Furnier, SHH Company, Blacktown Arts.

GROSS UND KLEIN

THEN. Berlin. 08.12.1978, 11:15 pm. It is over. Dead silence in the audience. As if no one wants to breathe. Then we all got on our feet, applauded and cheered for 30 minutes. We just had witnessed epoch-making theatre directed by Peter Stein and celebrated by his impeccable protagonist, Edith Clever. We also witnessed a leading lady speaking in broad dialect in a German drama for the first time.

Two of our finest, Robert Menzies and Cate Blanchett in GROSS UND KELIN. Pic Lisa Tomasetti

NOW. Sydney, 19th November 2011, 11 pm. It is over. There is a moment of silence, and then we realise that this is how the play ends. Lotte bows and the crowd erupts in bravos, without giving a standing ovation.

We have just witnessed the last and biggest production of the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2011 season. GROSS UND KLEIN has been co-commissioned by Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, Barbican London, the London 2012 Festival, Théâtre de la Ville and Wiener Festwochen, and will tour internationally in the new year. That is Big. We also witnessed Cate Blanchett starting the play with a hint of Aussie slang, a Small sign that this production may have something to do with our own reality Down Under?

Lotte, a middle-aged jobless graphic designer, is facing the agony of an incomprehensible divorce. She suffers through a terribly lonely and useless holiday in Morocco only to return to Germany to attempt a reconciliation with her estranged husband. He brutally rejects her and she embarks on a fruitless search across Germany during which she looks for possibilities to reconnect with her husband, to find old and new friends, to seek a rock to lean on, communication, proximity and hopefully enlightenment.

The Ten Stations of her journey are filled with Bible quotes as well as hints from the history of philosophy. (Strauss is well known for his affection for the work of Theodor W. Adorno.) She wanders through the German world of labour, leisure and family disasters. The contemporaries she meets are all barely accessible.

At a locked entrance of a residential silo, at the bus stop or in a doctor’s waiting room: wherever she goes, even with all her desperate seeking, she encounters dismissive people who try to numb their own loneliness and inner emptiness with alcohol, drugs, abuse, or obsessive TV viewing, and by entrenching themselves behind intercoms, locked doors, or phones. Lotte, who constantly meddles because she means well, repeatedly is ruled out, but refuses to give up. Her faith to find companionship, sensitivity and humanity is unshakeable – until she starts to lose more and more of herself!

When Botho Strauss’ Ten Station Drama Gross und Klein premiered thirty-three years ago, the German drama critics were enthused. Strauss became an instant dramatic giant and Lotte! rose to be the deputy psychosocial figure of a present-damaged Federal Republic of Germany at the time. Strauss sceptically eyes his fellow members of the human race and comments on them with sarcastic and at times cynical punch lines. They still work and can make you smile and even laugh. But to burst out in laughter when there is nothing to laugh about? Maybe Benedict Andrews, who took over as director from the German directing giant Luc Bondy due to sickness, felt too Big or too Small to trust the text as is and opted for comic relief as his saviour.

Andrews also had to deal with the fact that he had to take over a set design, which Johannes Schütz created in collaboration with Bondy. Whoever directs the enormously complex and multi-faceted GROSS UND KLEIN, will inevitably face the decision as to how serious she/he will take the misery of interpersonal bleakness that freeze-shocks poor Lotte’s mind repeatedly.

More to the point could Lotte’s troubled journey really only happen in a contemporary Germany? Her home town of Saarbrücken could be Newcastle, Wollongong or Wagga Wagga. Essen might be Melbourne and the island of Sylt, could be the Whitsunday Islands. The previously mentioned hint of and Aussie slang then would make sense.

There is a moment when I see Andrews’ vision as a director. When the man at the helm of Station No. 8: Dictation turns into an elephant. A vicious Lotte just had pulled her dress over his head. He loads one of the desks on his shoulders and stumbles off the stage. An elephant labouring for his superiors! Before he had insisted that he is NOT a high commissioner, that he is NOT in charge of anything but a little, insignificant department at the local council. If all the set changes would have been executed like this magic moment, we would have been part of an epoch making Sydney theatre event.

With Schütz as set designer, the journey starts as expected with a startling and compelling imagination of an evening on the terrace of an empty Moroccan hotel dining room. A stark white low terrace wall across the front of the stage, framed by a thin white line around the proscenium, the evening star high above in the far distance, two hardly visible shadows walking up and down in the pitch black darkness and Lotte, aka Cate Blanchett, almost sitting on the laps of her audience.

The evening ends at that very same white wall, now functioning as a waiting bench in a family clinic. This simple wall symbolises the start and finish line of GROSS UND KLEIN. This is the art of stage setting at its best!

Schütz created stringent sets for all of the Ten Stations. Sadly enough, they were misplaced at times. In Station No. 5: Big and Small, the set is too close to the audience, when distance was needed to understand that Lotte’s effort to find communication via an intercom at the entrance of a residential high-rise could only be achieved by crawling through a rabbit hole. In addition, it does not help the imagination when the acting ensemble has to fill in as stagehands. Especially when they set scenes that they are not involved in, like in Station No. 8: Dictation!

Thirteen fabulous actors support Lotte on her disastrous endeavour to find acceptance in a wasteland of heartlessness. They are Lynette Curran, Anita Hegh, Belinda McClory, Katrina Milosevic, Sophie Ross Josh McConville, Robert Menzies, Yalin Ozucelik, Richard Piper, Richard Pyros, Chris Ryan, Christopher Stollery and Martin Vaughan.

They form a strong, honest and at all times extremely brave ensemble. They give us glimpses of tits and a dick. They are not afraid to be vulnerable, excessively brutal and abusive. They create the platform strong enough to carry the Colossus of Ródhos and definitely, Lotte plays Cate Blanchett plays Lotte.

I first saw Cate Blanchett on stage in 1993 playing the Bride/Felice in Timothy Daly’s Kafka Dances. She just had graduated from NIDA and filled the stage with a presence and aura bigger than the Stables Theatre. And here she is now. A Titan of acting. Her Lotte utilises every single register of her art. At times, it looks like she has a hidden freighter carrying her tools with her on stage.

Most of the 2 hours and forty minutes she captures the space. She starts Big and crosses the finishing line of this emotional marathon almost Bigger. Personally, I would have loved seeing her end it Small. She conquers the task with an almost brutal force and fearlessness. Even when she is dressed in an awkward golden glittering show costume and asks, “Why am I bleeding?” while realistic blood gushes down her legs, she stays in charge. (Costumes by Alice Babidge) Why she is wearing that costume is questionable!

Lotte does not need costume changes! She wears her soul on the outside. That is the only costume she needs. Ms Blanchett’s repertoire of voices, gestures, movements and emotions exceeds the commonly known facets of light and colours.

Andrews and Blanchett exploring Lotte’s troubled, complex world. Pic Lisa Tomasetti

Was this the problem for Benedict Andrews? When a director is faced with such, possibly untameable, talent he quickly has to find his own titanic powers. His decision, to transform the drama into a consumable comedy, allows Blanchett to portray Lotte as a slightly schizophrenic nutter sliding unstoppably into the darkness of unavoidable psychosis. It could have been the more touching and devastating decline of a heartbroken woman into the silence of speechlessness, caused by an unforgiving and self-centred society. Nevertheless watching Lotte playing Cate Blanchett playing Lotte is one of these rare moments of contemporary theatre. She is mesmerizing!

In one of his later works, Botho Strauss describes what it means to explore sensitivities, ‘It is like the attempt to nail soapsuds onto a wall.’ This explains it all and makes GROSS UND KLEIN timeless concrete.

If you want to catch a glimpse of the world you are living in, go and see GROSS UND KLEIN. If you are willing to understand how important it is to smile at a stranger when she/he does not expect it, go and see this play. If you can forget about seeing Lotte playing Cate Blanchett playing Lotte, go and understand how important it is to lend a hand when someone in distress is ready to jump into the abyss. If you are ready to think Big, take the ones you love, if you are able to think Small, take the ones you hate. If you are honest, you will feel Gross, if you think you are on top of it all, you may realise that you are Klein.

GROSS UND KLEIN at the Sydney Theatre Company is offering you a theatrical revelation. That is all that counts in contemporary drama. No matter how good or bad. I commend this production as being brave and true. That is more than we get in our daily news.

The Sydney Theatre Company’s production, in association with the USB Investment Bank, of GROSS UND KLEIN (Big and Small) opened at the Sydney Theatre on Saturday November 19 and runs until Friday 23rd December, 2011.

 

 

DORIS DAY- SO MUCH MORE THAN THE GIRL NEXT DOOR

Melinda Schneider supported by Sam Ludeman and Rohan Brown

MELINDA SCHNEIDER DOES DORIS DAY

It isn’t a tribute show, not a musical, it is just Melinda Schneider doing Doris Day in a narrative concert evening for the whole family.

Doris Day recorded 616 songs, starred, and sang in thirty-nine films. What a mountain to climb to narrow the material down to a two-hour concert. Ms Schneider created and co-wrote this evening with David Mitchell of Shout and Dusty fame.

The narrative is as straight and dry as it can be, except for three jokes and the surprise that, in spite of a last minute “pawdition”, she had to fly in her own two dogs to accompany her on stage at opening night. There is nothing spectacular distracting our focus on the star and her fabulous two supporting men.

The concert setting, (there is no stage designer mentioned in the program) is a three level platform with a minimalistic, raw stair in the middle, two backdrops and a phantom like Chandelier hovering above. The chandelier does not do anything but being a chandelier. One backdrop is white, to allow vivid colour changes, the other one is black with glittering stars.

Colin Alexander is in charge of the light design, which works perfectly for the mood of the show. The costume changes are limited and suggest a hint of Doris Day’s movie outfits. That is, except for the one opening the second half of the evening. Ms Schneider appears in a Janet Jackson shining black leather bodysuit. Justin Timberlake was not there so no costume malfunction was to be feared! That costume is good for one number and then she quickly gets off stage to “peal” out of it. Sorry, the costumes are not costumes but ‘outfits’ by Mathew and Beverly Smith and Mathew Aberline.

The eight-piece band, beautifully lead by the impeccable and superb Michael J Harding performs under the name “The Lyric Theatre Show Band”. I only know that because I studied the mammoth poster at the entrance to The Star. Strangely enough, they do not get a billing in the program. They should, since they are excellent, even though the brass section is a little “underused”. Many of the over twenty songs rely on piano, drums, guitar and bass only.

Sam Ludeman and Rohan Brown literally carry the show on their hands and shoulders. They can sing, they can do beautiful harmonies, they can dance, they can tap without taps, (Andrew Hallsworth provides the effective choreography), they can do American and English accents, and they can carry Ms Schneider around the stage when necessary. They are both solo artists in their own rights with a charisma that beams through to the last seat in the auditorium.

And there is the lovely, enchanting and admirable Melinda Schneider herself. As she says, at the beginning of the show, she is not trying to impersonate Doris Day. She is aiming to let us know some, even for me, unknown facts about Doris Day and the parallels that connect her and Doris.

So we learn that they both grew up in a German catholic environment. They both changed their names. Doris Day’s name change was forced upon her and the impressive Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff became Doris Day based on her hit song ‘Day by Day’. (As an Austrian I would have insisted to keep the “Von” in!)

Melinda was gutsy enough to ask her father, Mr Bean, to allow her to change her name to her mother’s maiden name of Schneider. Her father’s answer was as dry as British can be: So you are now a has Bean. (Joke number one).

Both ladies are divorced. Doris Day, a double divorcee by the age of twenty five, divorced her abusive and womanizing husband number one, the father of her only child, Terry, after two years, was estranged from her second after just one year, manipulated and sent into bankruptcy by her third partner and manager, and again betrayed and financially shaken by her fourth mishap, who tried to sell cans of dog food labelled with her picture but without any food inside!

Melinda divorced her husband after a grim battle which left her losing her two houses and being left with her two dogs only. (Joke number two: I got the better Deal!)

There is a spooky story about Doris Day’s son Terry. Terry was a highly successful producer for bands such as The Birds. He once let a man by the name of Charles Manson audition for him. Manson was eager to get his songs recorded. But Terry decided to let it go since Manson sounded like any other street busker. Manson, who masterminded the killing of Sharon Tate, may have attacked the wrong people. Polanski and Tate had rented the mansion from Terry who had moved out just a couple of weeks before the killing?!

We also learn that Doris Day, now eighty-six, still runs her Doris Day Animal League, accompanied by 16 dogs. She cooks for them in her Dog Kitchen, dines with them placing the food on individual footstools and sleeps surrounded by them. And finally yet importantly, they are both wonderful singers and strong, independent women.

Melinda Schneider’s voice is one of a kind. She may lack command of the higher registers but her timbre and bell like clarity is as soothing as a gentle mountain breeze.

Yes, there are many number one hits presented in this show. However, it is the not so well know songs that make this evening brilliant. Especially at the end when she sings Your Eyes Could Never Lie, her song for her dogs Rosie & Daisy! (Without the two dogs, mucking around her it would have been even better).

The second last song, ‘Wish you were here’ was dedicated to Rock Hudson and Doris Day’s late son Terry, and the eerie ‘I’ll see you in my dreams’, was used as her encore. There Melinda shows her best. When she sings ballads, she has the power to make you cry.

There is just one thing I believe Doris Day never would have allowed herself to say. Joke number three: “You must know that I sign almost everything. However, when it comes to the man who asked me to sign a dubious body part of his, I had to tell him that my name is too long for it”. However she delivers it is as sunny and sweet as if Doris was right by her side.

The Lyric Theatre at The Star may not be the appropriate venue for this show, especially as both dress circles of the venue were closed to the audience. For my liking, this evening with Melinda’s warm personality, her mother yodeling back to her, and with the President of the Australian Doris Day Fan Club being in the audience, would have been much more special in a more intimate, personal venue.

This show is not aimed at knocking you off your feet. It is a lovely and most appreciated evening. At the price of just under $ 60.00 for a ticket, it is a valuable treat. Even if you are not in love with Doris Day, you will love Melinda Schneider.

DORIS DAY- SO MUCH MORE THAN THE GIRL NEXT DOOR opened at the Lyric Theatre, Star City on Thursday 3rd November and runs until Sunday 13th November, 2011.

© Markus Weber, Emu Productions-(theatre and music) Pty Ltd

6th November, 2011

Tags: DORIS DAY, MELINDA SCHNEIDER DOES DORIS DAY, DORIS DAY- SO MUCH MORE THAN THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, Lyric Theatre, Star City, Melinda Schneider

SHOPPING CENTRES AND GUTTERS

David Attrill as Rocker Riordan in SHOPPING CENTRES AND GUTTERS

This is not a full review, there’s no criticism and certainly not a conviction. These are only a few personal thoughts of a theatre professional groomed in a different cultural environment than Australia. Why no comprehensive review? Because I attended the opening night of SHOPPING CENTRES AND GUTTERS but was unable to get involved. Why no criticism? Because I do believe that criticism at times does not help the project. Why no conviction? Because the conviction in this case is to tell all involved never to stop trying.

The five actors, Letitia Sutherland, Stefanie Funnel, Aaron di Pietro, Paul Newton and David Attrill are fine performers and deserve to be on stage. Ira Hal Seidenstein with no doubt is in command of his craft. He obviously holds fundamental knowledge about Shakespeare, Stanislavski, Grotowsksi and even Peter Brook. Are they really “the giant shoulders upon which we all stand”? What about Peter Stein, Zadek, Max Reinhardt? What about Goethe and Schiller or the artists Hundertwasser and Ernst Fuchs? Why do we (theatre practitioners) have to stand on shoulders when it is better on the grounds of our own reality?

Seidenstein calls the show a play and a project. And there is the point. What I experienced on Thursday was more a project than a play. In his special thanks the author, Valentino Musico, mentions Timothy Daly. Daly is certainly one of Australia’s leading playwrights and to encourage his fellow authors is one of his highest priorities. So, why is SHOPPING CENTRES AND GUTTERS still more of a project than a play?!

Probably because of the circumstances Australian theatre makers are faced with on a daily basis. Not enough funding, not enough audience support, not enough well equipped and affordable venues and too much focus on often shallow, but moneymaking “light” entertainment.

Musico has come up with an intriguing plot. It is surreal, almost clownish, with many very funny one-liners and sometimes philosophical depth. “Let’s all wear round our necks a sandwich board. The front board flaunts a birth certificate, showing the world where we’re from. The backboard declares: ‘This is me – love me or keep walking’.

The Tap Gallery is a charming venue. However, it is not equipped to call itself a true theatre! Musico’s play needs space, sound and predominantly light. The artist, Vince Vozzo, created a mural as background (set) for the production. It is clever and promises interaction of actors and set. However, without light and the necessary distance it becomes mere distraction. The space is so small that actors have to jump over the legs of the audience to enter the stage!

All the above is the reason why, at this stage, I could not be involved or nailed into my seat. I do hope that the season at the Tap Gallery will attract audience numbers that will enable the production to return in a venue where the potential of the play, the same production crew and actors can blossom and shine. Until then I shall keep on dreaming of an Australian Performing Arts Scene that allows artists to make a living from their craft and gives them the platform to stand on their own creative feet!

Valentino Musico’s SHOPPING CENTRES AND GUTTERS opened at the Tap Gallery, 278 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst on Thursday 3rd November and plays until Saturday 19th November, 2011.

© Markus Weber
EMU Productions (theatre & music) Pty Ltd
4th November, 2011
Tags: SHOPPING CENTRES AND GUTTERS, Valentino Musico, Letitia Sutherland, Stefanie Funnel, Aaron di Pietro, Paul Newton, David Attrill, Vince Vozzo, Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst.

THE LAND OF YES AND THE LAND OF NO

Charmene Yap and Richard Cilli. Pic Wendell Teodoro

A LAND OF QUESTION MARKS

“What happens if we hoose not to follow them” is a quote straight from the program. It took me a while to realise that it is just one of those mean little, printing errors the editor overlooked. Of course, it should read: “choose”. I may be picky here, however, this mishap triggers a flood of questions about Rafael Bonachela’s revamped effort for the superb Sydney Dance Company. Therefore, I choose the program booklet as a tour guide for this review.

Bonachela reveals that he is quietly obsessed with signs. Maybe that is the reason why this production looks like the work of someone who is still desperately looking for the sign which might lead him into the direction where he may find his very own unique inspiration? The sign that would point him to the fountain of a chorographical language his audience would understand and embrace with the enthusiasm contemporary dance deserves? Bonanchela visibly has plenty of borrowed choreographing skills at hand. However, there is nothing we have not seen before.

In THE LAND OF YES AND THE LAND OF NO Bonanchela predominantly remains floor bound. There are 2 ½ moments when a dancer is allowed to leave the floor and delicately gets airborne. The rest is monotone repetition, glimpses of minimalistic sign language and strangely enough a total lack of visible emotion. The dancers are forced to keep their faces as stoic and motionless as possible. The viewer is left only to indulge in watching them count in sync with the music.

The composer, Ezio Bosso, has titled his contribution “Road Sign Variations.” The only variation I was able to hear was a Hallelujah stripped to minimalism. Talking of minimalism: Bosso’s composition for “ten instruments and voice” sounds as if he just had discovered the likes of La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams, and decided to reinvent the art of post-modern Minimalism. When, at his prime, Baryshnikov used “bare necessity” by choosing his own heartbeat to be the “music” for his mesmerising solo it was epoch making. Here it just isn’t apt!

Like Bonachela, the production designer, Alan Macdonald, gets a whole page for his production design notes in the program booklet. Thanks for that. Nevertheless, what if someone cannot read, does not understand English or simply did not buy a program?! They will see a wall with vertical and horizontal fluorescent light tubes suggesting entrance and exits and giving a hint of what sign might be the theme of the episode we watch. They will not know that what they witness is “the city in a constant state of flux, and we need to translate and respond to this contemporary language.” It’s just awkward!

Theo Clinkard is the costume designer. “The audience can connect with the costumes, as a reflection of their own society, but I have shifted them into an almost futuristic abstract version of that world.” Really? To me they looked like a mutation of ancient Greek or Roman outfits with baroque kitsch angels. Probably I just do not like men in shorts that look like little frocks! The only beautiful aspect of these costumes is the fact that Fiona Holley lovingly tailored them. She is definitely a superb costume maker.

Guy Hoare is responsible for the lighting design. His credits must be so long that they only can be seen on his website in full. His design is as simple as can be, and utilises white, red and blue colour changes. It is disappointing that he forgot about footlights and left facial expressions in the shade!

Amy Hollingsworth is the Dance Director and her work finally brings us to the dancers. They are all beautifully trained and each of them is a brilliant. I would love to see them in a production where they can showcase their true talents and then we could give them a standing ovation. The program booklet has only two pages left for them. There are fifteen pictures and fifteen names. At no time, were there more than ten dancers on stage! Well, that is four more than in the original production. It is unclear who of the fifteen were on stage and in which episode?!

And this brings me to the last question in this Land of Yes and No. What would a choreographer be without her/his dancers? Fill a program booklet with academic effusions about what could be if there were dancers? Go on stage and tell the audience to close their eyes and imagine his vision? Therefor I only can remind all these fifteen dancers of what a little Greek gypsy girl once said to Pina Bausch: “Dance! Dance! Otherwise we are lost.” It was at this moment when Pina found her driving force was. “I am not interested in how people move, I am interested in what moves them!” Last night I only saw people move.

For all the hard-core dance freaks out there, this production may be brilliantly exhilarating because they cannot feel differently when it comes to dance. For all the others it might be a good remedy to avoid insomnia. The only thing keeping you in your seat for these, almost endless, seventy minutes is to fall asleep, as my wife did. And she actually loves dance.

The Sydney Dance Company’s production of Rafael Bonachela’s THE LAND OF YES AND THE LAND OF NO opened at the Sydney Theatre on Wednesday 19th October and plays until Saturday 29th October, 2011.

© Markus Weber
20th October, 2011

Tags: Sydney Dance Company, Sydney Theatre, Rafael Bonachela, THE LAND OF YES AND THE LAND OF NO, Enzio Bosso, Alan McDonald, Theo Clinkard, Fiona Holley, Guy Hoars, Amy Hollingsworth.

BLOODLAND

Elaine Crombie, Tessa Rose, Rorriwuy Hick and Balngayngu Marika. Pic Danielle Lyonne

Whenever we are confronted with artwork involving indigenous society, their history, heritage and ongoing striving to peacefully live on their very own land, we suddenly face our own guilty conscience. BLOODLAND is such a piece of art. For its production Stephen Page has brought on board some of the best contemporary indigenous artists and a handpicked cast of formidable performers. Together they take us on an ancient, mysterious and flabbergasting journey. Page’s vision is brought to life beautifully with no room for criticism or highlighting names. Everyone involved is part of the outstanding result. It deserves a standing ovation.

However, really, what are we standing up for?! This statement counts for everyone who is willing, and able, to let go and dive into the mysterious world of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders on their quest to maintain their dignity, whilst still battling their excruciating battle with a world so far apart from their traditional beliefs.

For this reviewer, coming from a European background where all art is considered free and deserving support, at all times, BLOODLAND once again is proof that as long as we are not able to communicate, no matter what culture, religion or language is involved, we will not be able to form a national identity that can be accepted by each and every single person in our country! As long as we distance whoever and whatever is different from our own decadent western beliefs, we will not be able to understand the people we borrow our country and good fortune from!

I would have expected that David Page, with all the education and passion for the performing arts that he has, by now would have found a stringent way to let us participate in his own interpretation of the struggle of his people!

Page is for sure aware of the impact, on the decadent frenzy for everything “classical ballet” of the “Western World”, that Pina Bausch and her Wuppertal Dance Theatre Company has had and will continue to have. I am surprised that he chose to go the “easy” way of collaborating with the well-established Sydney Theatre Company when he actually had the opportunity to, finally, put his stamp on contemporary theatre with his own style, expertise and artistic genius!

Why does he need hundreds of people, including indigenous cultural consultants?! Why do we have to sit through a performance where most of the language is presented in a language we are not familiar with?! As long as the many aboriginal dialects are not taught by default in our schools, how does the indigenous community expect us to understand what they are trying to communicate. Especially as long as we, the unknowing, are left with no translation because there are no subtitles during the performance, and no translation is made available in the program!

As said before, language is the key to communication. So is dance and music without words. This production looks to me as if there is no communication, interaction, understanding or invitation to audiences, unfamiliar with the Torres Strait Islands and Arnheimland cultures, to come to an understanding of the pain and isolation we have thrust upon them.

As long as Stephen Page does not stand up against the myth that in 1770, at Endeavour River, Captain Cook is supposed to have asked a native “What is that?” to which the reply “kangaroo”, supposedly meaning “I don’t know”, was given, what possibility is there for change?! The answer Captain Cook received was minha, “eatable animal”. Haven’t we westerners since learnt that kangaroo meat is actually very sweet and digestable?! Minha, it certainly is!

If you want to learn, close your eyes and listen, to the language, the music, the rhythm, the wind, the agony, the dreams filled with fear but driven by the eternal belief in their land and right to be. We are the visitors! The land and her people are our hosts. Let them teach us to understand what we never might be able to know!

Stephen Page, his collaborators and ensemble, will give you the key to understand, if you are up to it. They deserve to be called “The National Australian Bangarra Dance Theatre” and stand side by side with the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company. When this happens we finally may be able to see a true fusion of contemporary dance embracing our cultural diversity.

BLOODLAND opened at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, on Friday 7th October and plays until Sunday the 13th November, 2011.

© Markus Weber

14th October, 2011

Tags: Sydney Theatre Company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, BLOODLAND, Stephen Page, Elaine Crombie, Tessa Rose, Rorriwuy Hick, Balngayngu Marika, Captain Cook, Danielle Lyonne

MONEY SHOTS

Richard Pyros and Sophie Ryan in MONEY SHOTS. Pic Brett Boardman

The final production of the Next Stage Series 2011 at the Sydney Theatre Company can only be called an uplifting and inspiring experience. Not only for hard core theatre buffs but for everyone slightly interested in live theatre. The evening proves that one does not need exuberant sets and costumes to get the attention of an audience. The simplicity of the production allows full concentration on the plot, text and the actors. Sure, such minimalism could get tiring. Not in this case. Carried by the homogeny of the Residents acting troupe, the production is a gripping, shocking, tender, hilarious, perplexing and frightening eye opener. It is all about how money drives our lives. That could be depressing and devastating to watch. Not in this case.

The evening starts with HOW TO GET VERY CLEAN by Rita Kalneais. The play’s subtitle could easily be How to not comb a stranger’s hair. I have rarely seen such intimacy, despair and isolation on an almost bare stage. Julia Ohannessian is a startling revelation. Her warmth fills the stage like an ocean of candles. Cameron Goodall balances on a scary tightrope. At the end, one is relieved that he did not fall.

NO EXIT FROM THE ROOF by Duncan Graham is a painful puzzle about the impact of a unexpected job dismissal for a couple on the eve of their wedding day. Sophie Ross is delightful as the bride to be. That she has a devastating confession to make, one hardly can believe. Richard Pyros is the man on the roof with no exit. When he explodes into a onslaught of fxxxs he does it with the disgust and guilty conciseness we all have experienced at times. This is a truly discomforting play. A fearful reminder of how quickly the coin can turn and throw us into the abyss.

Tahli Corin provides the next surprise with her playful, lovingly giggling and devastating ending coming of age story THE ARCADE. I have seen Corin act and know that her complexity as a performer has given her the verve to accomplish this little pearl. Watching Zindzi Okenyo and Tahki Saul fooling around, testing each other and finding a way to the intimacy of love and sexuality they long for is as joyful as it can get. The gripping end leaves you baffled and speechless. No, we are painfully reminded of social injustice.

And there is DRILL DOWN by Angus Cerini. Incarcerated in a cage of eerie light Cameron Goodall unleashes a tour de force of questions with no answers, revenge with no chance to be successful and the eternal search for moral in a world of greediness and carelessness. Goodall’s performance nails you into your seat and leaves no chance to escape. A mesmerizing experience.

Sarah Giles directs these four mini plays with no compromises. Her feeling for timing, rhythm and focus on detail is impeccable. She dissects each situation and gives her actors opportunity to strive. She certainly deserves to have been honoured with the Richard Wherrett Fellowship.

The evening concludes with an unexpected mood change.

FIDDLER’S COIN is directed by Zoe Pepper, who also co-wrote the play together with the “Residents” and Brett Stiller. Where there was spellbinding intensity and concentration, now comic relief takes command. Really? Sure, the story about two brothers divided by overwhelming financial matters is loud, funny, satirical and brilliantly acted. However, in spite of all the fun, there is still space for reflection. Cameron Goodal’s transformation from Nick Cave to Ned Kelly is hilarious and a true show stopper. Zindzi Okenyo and Tahki Saul mutate their youthful spirit in the Arcade into the decadence and forlornness of a couple thrown from the shallow peak of a cash mountain into the drowning waters of bankruptcy.

All this said I only can congratulate the Sydney Theatre Company and The Residents on their ground-breaking work with this Next Stage Program. I could elaborate much more about these marvellous five plays. However, saying more at this point would spoil the surprise. Everyone with some spare time at hand should make the effort to go and see this production. It is utterly rewarding, no waste of time and money extremely well spent. MONEY SHOTS plays Wharf 2 Sydney Theatre Company until 15th October, 2011.

© Markus Weber

7th October, 2011

Tags: Sydney Theatre Company, Next Stage series 2011, MONEY SHOTS, The Residents, HOW TO GET VERY CLEAN-Rita Kalneais, Julia Ohannessian, Cameron Goodall, NO EXIT FROM THE ROOF-Duncan Graham, Sophie Ross, Richard Pyros, THE ARCADE-Tahli Corin, Zindzi Okenyo, Tahki Saul, DRILL DOWN- Angus Cerini, Sarah Giles, FIDDLER’S COIN-Zoe Pepper, Brett Stiller

FOOTLOOSE

Kennt Wormald shows a few of his moves in the new FOOTLOOSE

For reasons difficult to fathom Hollywood has released a remake of the 1984 film FOOTLOOSE. This is directed by Craig Brewer and stars an attractive young couple, Kenny Wormald & Julianne Hough along with Andie MacDowell and Dennis Quaid.

FOOTLOOSE is set in Bomont, a town that has banned dancing, and follows Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) as he settles into his new town & tries to overturn the ban.

The plot is predictable, clunky, illogical and possibly insignificant in a movie about dance. If the dancing was spectacular, sublime, innovative or had characteristics other than ridiculous one could overlook the clichés, the lack of logic and Andie MacDowell’s unending look of concern.

Some of the messages had the ring of an old propaganda film. The well intentioned but misguided preacher can be persuaded by a teenager quoting bible passages. Violence will resolve things in favour of the good guys. Dual left footed yokels will become great dancers & get the girl.

People who loved the original FOOTLOOSE will hopefully have the foresight to avoid this film and not tarnish their memories of the original. Hopefully, Hollywood will then look at making original films that treat their audience with respect.

©Mark Pigott

29th September, 2011

AND NO MORE SHALL WE PART

Russell Kiefel and Linda Cropper in Tom Holloway’s moving new play

Photo by Brett Boardman

We live in the age of multimedia bloat. Feverishly we try to cross borders that we have invented for ourselves. Everything needs to be super fast, super high, super far, super rich, super old, super long, super fat or thin.
Gone are the times of reflection? The superlative has become the credo of our striving.

Once you enter the auditorium of the Stables Theatre you will need to leave all the above behind. You will step into a very private world. You soon will feel like a voyeur, unaware that you are actually watching yourself. What you will witness is possibly an account of your own, very secret inner struggles. It seems like an eternity since I was privileged to see a play of such integrity, tenderness and ruthless honesty.

Tom Holloway has created a marvel. His play is so full of wit and compassion that it is breathtaking. Pam and Don, the protagonists of And No More Shall We Part, face the ultimate challenge of their long life together. The acceptance of mortality. To comprehend the meaning of dignity. To overcome useless selfishness and allow fear as remedy for speechlessness. Holloway’s feeling for effortless text flow and flawless timing leaves no room for criticism. Particularly he dissects the delicate matter and gives his audience the chance to come along on the long road to forgiving comprehension. And he succeeds in creating an atmosphere of acceptance, where there is normally only room for fear and ignorant defence. What an accomplishment.

Director Sam Strong and his team Victoria Lamb (Design), Verity Hampson (Lighting Design) and Kelly Ryall (Composer) have created an atmosphere of domestic cosiness. The set is homage to Naturalism. Everything has its correct place. There are even tissues on the mantelpiece. The décor still allows room to breathe and let your thoughts flow. The lighting design is appropriate and creates a perfect atmosphere for each emotional development. The music, in spite of its minimalism, is haunting and allows the audience to reflect, before crossing over into the next scene. Sam Strong directs his actors with ease and gives them a secure platform to shine. His sense for space and movement takes the audience on an almost 3D like performance experience. Even when the actors are off stage we still seem to see them. Effortless he guides Pam and Don through an ever changing variety of rhythms. He celebrates pauses so they can hurt. Almost as if he is conducting a complex symphony. That is directing craft at its best.

Linda Cropper plays Pam. No, she is Pam, the woman who had made the decision to depart. Her body language is immaculate. Her countenance is mesmerising. Here we have a fearless actress, not afraid to give away and share her deepest secrets in the most unrelenting way possible.

Russell Kiefel as Don is equally admirable. His polished skills are a delight to watch. There is not one moment his Don is not believable. His timing, his feel for pauses, his courage to let himself go. is amongst the finest I’ve seen.
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These two actors let us participate in a tour de force of almost unbearable measures. When they take their final bows they are visibly exhausted and shattered. They are the perfect example of Arts Gratia Artis and deserve not only applause but a truly heartfelt Bravo with many Da Capos to come.
Near the end of the play there suddenly is the moment of ultimate truth.
After all the forced humour, helpless anger and fruitless arguments Pam and Don quietly share their Last Supper. When both of them let their true, but hidden emotions flow, we witness one of the magic moments of life theatre. The absolute transparency of the human kind.

And No More Shall We Part is not the story of the ultimate exit. It is the legitimate account of the inevitable entrance. The centre peace in my study is an artwork titled Entrance and Exit. The artist, Alois Dorn, chose the method of woodcuts for his work. Wood + Coal = Diamond. When Dorn was eight years old he buried a box of tightly compacted carbon in his backyard, hoping, it would turn into a diamond in the years to come. Today it looks like he buried his little treasure box underneath the Stables Theatre. May be the Griffin Theatre Company is a mining giant in disguise? With the production of And No More Shall We Part Tom Holloway, Sam Strong and their marvellous team are certainly on their way to turn our self indulged Emerald City into the most precious of all:
A Diamond.

Markus Weber, 4 August 2011
And No More Shall We Part is playing at the Stables Theatre
from 29 July to 3 September.

© 2011 by Markus Weber, Emu Productions (theatre & music) Pty Ltd