All posts by Geoffrey Sykes

Over 30 professional theatre productions, as writer, producer or director, including La Mama Melbourne, Holden Street Theatre Adelaide, 707 Theatre Redfern Sydney, Tap Gallery Sydney, Teatrul Municipal Bacovia Bacau Romania, Inculise Bucharest Romania,People’s Theatre Sofia Bulgaria, Old Fitzroy Sydney, Art Gallery of NSW, Powerhouse Museum and National Gallery of Canberra. Video programs have been broadcast on ABC, SBS, Foxtel and New Zealand television, and screenings at NSW Art Gallery, National Gallery of Canberra, South Australia Art Gallery, S.H.Erwin Gallery, Holden Theatre Adelaide, Wollongong Art Gallery, Thirroul Excelsior, Project Gallery Wollongong, and other public venues. Commissions by Art Gallery of NSW. Sponsorships by Peabody Energy, IMB Bank, Lawrence Hargrave Centre, Anzac Commemorative Fund. Lecturer in media and communications at University of Western Sydney, University of Wollongong, Notre Dame University and University of New South Wales. Editor of Southern Semiotic Review journal.

THE FOUL OF THE AIR : AN ESOTERIC THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE

Artistic Director of Living Room Theatre Michelle St Anne

THE FOUL OF THE AIR eschews verbal language. Apart from a opening gambit, what little there is is skewed in guttural, incomprehensible whispers, a theatrical technique that is compelling in itself but leaves one wondering why spoken and written language, in its myriad sub-forms, which might help focus the work as a whole, is so erased or neglected. Michelle St Anne, the Artistic Director, works in a long tradition of performance art, much of which maintains an opposition to verbal and non verbal expression. Much of that traditional dichotomy was born out of decades of propaganda of war and oppression in Europe – however contemporary multiform expression plays with le plaisir du texte (Barthes) and perhaps it is time to revisit this opposition.  Continue reading THE FOUL OF THE AIR : AN ESOTERIC THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE

DEAD SKIN @ KINGS CROSS THEATRE

‘Dead Skin’ at the Kings Cross Theatre. Pic by Jasmin Simmons’Dead

DEAD SKIN is an impressive piece of Australian naturalist theatre, all the more so as it was written by a 17 year old. 

The two main female characters, both 17, are not stereotypes, neither is their infatuation with a girl/girl relationship. They speak in uncanny realistic elocutions, the plot although unfamiliar for many in the audience remains plausible, and characters and story are allowed to emerge through careful construction of language, scenes, and mise-en-scene. The carefully wrought script gives all cast space and impetus to act, and they rise to the occasion. 

Laneikka Dene shines in emotional and mental veracity to her alter ego Andie; and Ruby Maishman is drop dead funky and gorgeous as Andie’s wanna be partner in crime, Maggie. Camila Ponte-Alverez is seamless as the partner trapped under a very big pile of Andie’s past baggage; Sarah Jane plays the rival character Andrea with dexterity, and finally Abe Mitchell is convincing in the quite difficult, anxious male role of father, husband and partner, Henry.  Continue reading DEAD SKIN @ KINGS CROSS THEATRE

SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS : ST JOHN PASSION REIMAGINED : TRANSCENDANT

This was an exquisite and rare event, engaging Bach’s masterful two hour long St John’s Passion, mixed with new compositions by Joseph Twist and Brooke Shelley. The audience proved to be deeply delighted with this presentation, and rightly so.

There is a long standing debate about the relationship of religion and Bach, specifically his musical composition. This issue comes to the fore with his St John’s Passion, especially as presented by the Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers. The inclusion of new works, in homage to Bach and cut into the original text, as well as the faithful resonant rendition of Bach’s original composition, encourage interpretation that while Bach was a faithful believer in his Lutheran heritage, his creative works cannot be too readily circumscribed in form, ideas or motivation to this same heritage. Bach’s music supplements and indeed transforms traditions of liturgy and religious music, and invites close attention and wonder by audiences at the time of first performance at Leipzig in 1724, as much as Chatswood Sydney in 2021. 

Different music types are used to embrace different modalities of faith. In recitation it faithfully reproduces the story of Christ’s conviction crucifixion and resurrection, in terms of the direct speech of participants of the event. The result is a characteristically Protestant manner to the main part of the work – the story is personalised and owned realistically by individual agents of the narratives, covered by accomplished voices of Richard Butler (Evangelist) and Andrew O’Connor (Christ).  Continue reading SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS : ST JOHN PASSION REIMAGINED : TRANSCENDANT

ECHOES OF THE JAZZ AGE : INSPIRED BY A CLASSIC SCOTT FITZGERALD ESSAY

Simon Tedeschi, John Bell, Blazey Best. Photo Steve-Polydorou-

In content the show was a montage of material from the 1920’s, with quips by Groucho Marx, Mae West and Al Capone; interviews with Gertrude Stein, F Scott Fitzgerald and George Gershwin; poetry by T.S Eliot, piano music of Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong and James P Johnson, and songs by Gershwin, Ray Henderson and Fats Waller. This material and more was inspired by a renowned essay by F Scott Fitzgerald.

In style it is a hybrid of jazz club set, with a theatrical evening featuring two celebrities – pianist Simon Tedeschi and renowned Australian theatre lead, John Bell, along with guest artist Blazey Best. The staging, especially in the larger of the Riverside spaces, was simple, but accompanied by effective lighting. 

This show follows on from two others. One featuring John Bell solo, recently at the Sydney Opera House, was a journey through Shakespeare excerpts interspersed with his reflections. Its staging seemed even simpler than the Jazz Age event, yet his presence was no doubt personalised allowing his cultivated voice to be shaped around biographical, authentic storytelling, and script rendition close to his lifelong passions. Continue reading ECHOES OF THE JAZZ AGE : INSPIRED BY A CLASSIC SCOTT FITZGERALD ESSAY

GIRL SHUT YOUR MOUTH : A SHOW ABOUT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

This ensemble show has much to recommend it.

It was pleasing to see such a collaborative style, which featured each of the four cast members – Kaylee Ashton, Alex Gonzalez, Kobi Taylor-Forder and Antonia Korn – respectively and in nice company synchronised moments. All cast members were given a platform to demonstrate their skills, and after they had warmed to the task on opening night each of them, virtually equally, rose to the task. It is a compliment to playwright Gita Bizard, along with director Carly Fisher, to evolve a work that is so democratic in allocation of dialogue and the stage. All performers lead, in a moody, ambient show about violence against women, set in a future dysfunctional state, that provides a rich seam of polished monologues, precisely paced dialogue, and emotional range and depth as material for satisfying dramatic acting. I particularly liked Kobi Taylor-Forder: but to be fair each performer took turns as lead, and each was commanding.

The work used an abstract, almost absurdist genre. The director’s notes refer to “dark comedy”, but that term might not be entirely applicable given the sense of menace achieved in elaborately sequenced language, action, the lighting of Mark Bell and sound design of Georgia Condon. Regardless, the style was not realistic, and alluded more than referred to its context and meaning. It was nice that the playwright did this: it signalled a maturity of expression in the writing of emerging artist Gita Bizard that should continue to deliver strong works.  Continue reading GIRL SHUT YOUR MOUTH : A SHOW ABOUT VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

LIPSTICK : DIDN’T WORK LIKE A DREAM

When I was the same age as several of the cast of the Lipstick show, I saw the first version of Matt Rowley’s Boys in the Band (1970 – not the 2020 Netflix remount). For a fairly sheltered young adult knowing little of gay culture I found the work, with its depiction of a birthday party in NYC attended by a coterie of men, surprisingly engaging. This was as much to do with its artfulness as its subject matter. Indeed the artfulness proved a persuasive means of enabling a quite confronting story of a NY subculture to achieve a certain popularity in cinemas and in America generally, and iconic status ever since. Arguably the film had as much effect on public consciousness as a political campaign, although not enough of course to prevent Reagan’s manipulation of the catastrophe of AIDS in America a decade later. 

Diverse character types (there is only one camp personality in a room of eight men), a constant beat of sharply crafted and above all witty dialogue, surprising plot development in what seems a static one room claustrophobic situation (surprises that on several occasions come with an opening door), some real empathy along with abrasive mockery between characters, with a ambient set and music: as a soon to be theatrical writer the show for me worked a trick.  Continue reading LIPSTICK : DIDN’T WORK LIKE A DREAM

SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS : BERLINER MESSE @ ST ANDREW’S CATHEDRAL

For their first concert for 2021, and presumably first post Covid, the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs  presented their Young Adult (VOX) Choir in an outstanding program of spiritually inspired songs and choir works set in the grandeur of the apse and main body of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. The one hour program comprised nine pieces, and left the audiences with a rich sampling of music inspired and derived in the main from Baltic composers, including Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks, Erik Ešenvald, and Australian Latvian artist Aija Draguns. The program in its own terms aims to be an act of healing of the long Covid journey of the past year, and it must be said that that aim is amply and musically achieved.

The performance began with the evocative Acknowledgment of Country, Tarimi Nulay, by Deborah Cheetham & Matthew Doyle. “Long time here lived the people” the dialect commences, and the music carries on this organic and sensory short, but satisfying, ceremony.

All choir work offers a dynamic relationship between composition and written text, and this program was no exception. Pärt’s Berliner Messe is based on the eminent composer’s Orthodox Christian faith, and was commissioned for the Catholic Church for a 90th anniversary of German speaking peoples. Pärt is no stranger to religion and mysticism generally, being shut off from Western music and immersed in medieval and church traditions during his life under Russian occupation of his homeland of Estonia. Continue reading SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS : BERLINER MESSE @ ST ANDREW’S CATHEDRAL

SHADES OF LIGHT @ THE HELLENIC ART THEATRE MARRICKVILLE

 

Sam Cosentino’s play SHADES OF LIGHT is both thought provoking and challenging. The play centres on four characters of different ethnic origin who are thrown together through the tragedy of war. 

In Act 1, each character has a solitary moment on stage presenting a reflective monologue. These monologues are spoken in the original language of each of the four characters; Italian, Vietnamese, Armenian and Farsi – thus emphasising a cultural divide which is later negated by the universal connection of empathy and hope found through their shared experience. Continue reading SHADES OF LIGHT @ THE HELLENIC ART THEATRE MARRICKVILLE

CORAM BOY @ KINGS CROSS THEATRE

Coram Boy is a well-crafted, brave, bold and entertaining production. Its direction, acting, lighting and staging are all at an exceptional level. The show is worth seeing for several reasons. 

My first impression from promotional publicity, that the work is about child exploitation in the eighteenth century and the first stages of the industrial revolution. It was actually about a more extreme, criminal activity of baby farming – a practice whereby poor mothers were offered a bogus service of adoption, in return for a payment. There would have been genuine such services – but in infamous cases, the babies were killed and the money for their upbringing embezzled. There was case a case in Newtown NSW, where many new born babies were buried in a backyard. The practice was an extreme example of criminal horror – it was not widespread or tolerated in society, and hence is a limited theatrical basis for mounting a general study about social conditions – such as the phenomenon of child labour in factories.   Continue reading CORAM BOY @ KINGS CROSS THEATRE

ANVIL : AN EXCITING NEW AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL

On a cold mid-winter night in Gwynneville, an inner suburb of Wollongong, a major regional city of NSW, an uplifting and theatrically hot event occurred – the premiere of an Australian musical ANVIL written by South Coast creative arts teacher Stephen Goldrick. 

The premiere benefited from a long gestation of its 20 something songs by its writer, through folk festivals and concerts, starting with some kind of artistic epiphany in the Abercrombie Caves, where the bushranger Ralph Entwhistle and his “ribbon” band of followers from Bathurst held out against a formidable arrange of colonial military and police force. The show honours the fate and values of innumerable small players in Australia’s early white history, individuals faced with invidious decisions under the iron grip of British imperial power. 

The show is a surprisingly rich tapestry of music styles, including classical and modern folk, love ballads (“Seven Secrets”) blues (“Not Repeatedly Yours”) a rock gallows number (“Gates of Time”), opening and closing (“Beat the Drums”) anthems, Gilbert and Sullivan ditties, choric chant, improvisations and underscoring. The actual text of the final sentence of the bushrangers is accompanied by baroque harpiscope composition. All the music is a pleasure to hear.

A larrikin playfulness of acting style, that finally assumes a Brechtian non naturalist stance, allows the diversity of music and stagecraft. Some moments – such a hands fluttering from offstage as a comedy riff – are risky, but it all hangs in a light coherence, that treads deftly through a panoply of emotions and action – ranging from sentimental, romantic, authoritarian, comedic, and melodramatic. Continue reading ANVIL : AN EXCITING NEW AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL

HERE AFTER : A MASTERPIECE OF MODERN DANCE

HERE AFTER  is a finely woven tapestry of contemporary dance. It asks a lot of its ensemble of six dancers, who are on stage continuously for its hour length. Jennifer Horvath, Georgia Sekulla, Bree Timms, Abi Gasson and Karina Cruickshank were all accomplished and precise, with Maddie Tratt providing an additional and impressive solo.

The show however is a lot more than abstract patterns such as seems the case with much experimental dance. Various admirable elements – of lighting (Peter Rubie), sound, costume (Sally Andrews) and choreography – are tautly integrated around a cohesive sequence of life and death, bonded in an epic narrative of humanity responding to a life field beyond itself. The fluid variegated mix of innovative sometime original dance states range from the tribal and repetitive repetition of self-becoming or prostration of the start, to the ethereal operatic lyricism of the ending. The complex sound track by Paul Tinsley, consistently matched expressed emotions – even at maximum volume with human drama of “inner demons and angles” (program notes) it enhances, and does not substitute for, substance. Continue reading HERE AFTER : A MASTERPIECE OF MODERN DANCE