Echoes of school? Of P&F meetings where a quick scan of the agenda sees the acronym STEM leap at you and you know, you just know, that the Arts are going to get screwed. Not here. EAR TO THE EDGE OF TIME is STEAM storytelling, meticulously researched, rigorously interrogated and crafted with a Whovian blend of art and science and contemporary philosophy. With a narrative inspired by real events and gender inequality in the hardsciences as the imperative, Sport for Jove, director Nadia Tass and writer Alana Valentine have constructed an engrossing and relevant treatise about humanity’s relationship to the scholarship of factual and creative disciplines.
Martina is a PhD candidate working in the field of neutron star physics. Enter Daniel, a poet. These two have been buffeted together by invisible forces. They have separately accepted an offer to collaborate on a poem for a collection inspired by the sciences. The project is driven by Physicist Prof Geraldine Kell-Cantrell and Daniel has travelled to Parkes and Ubered out to the dish to meet with Martina. Making first contact is not going to be easy as she squawks her reluctance to leave her work in the dark: a revelatory discovery is within her grasp and her supervisor, Steven, is not one to interfere. Not actively anyway. Continue reading EAR TO THE EDGE OF TIME: HUMANITY IN THE SPACE BETWEEN THE DATA→
Adapted in 1937, by Nobel prize–winning author John Steinbeck from his novella written the same year, this wonderful play tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced ranch workers in California, searching for a job during the Great Depression. The title comes from Robert Burns perhaps most used quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”
You know from the start that this complementary friendship between the intelligent but uneducated George and the gentle, developmentally challenged giant, Lennie is headed inexorably toward disaster. (The term ‘politically correct’ was not invented in 1937 and Steinbecks’ novella attracted a lot of criticism for using words like “Dumb” and Nigger!).
Dread and trepidation accompanied me as I took my seat last night in the Reginald Theatre down the stairs at the Selmour Centre. The idea of not controlling our destiny was echoed again in the program note about, “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
The moment we stepped into the theatre space we saw a very natural relaxed character playing slide guitar blues in the style of a panhandler straight out of the great depression. Then the unlikely pair of road travellers, George and Lennie, enter and put us at ease naturally with nicely crafted characters, regular humour and warmth that transported us with them to the promised land of the farm up ahead and the possibility of their own little ‘passle’ of land, a safe haven where Lennie can stay out of trouble and George can relax.
The stage then erupts with raucous farm hands transforming the space into the bunkhouse to the accompaniment of that natural guitar again and we know that we’re in good hands- but it’s gonna be a bumpy ride to drama and pain!
The cast are superb in every role. Andrew Henry delivers a sensitive characterisation of Lennie, a role which it would be so easy to overplay and lose empathy. Anthony Gooley is a wonderful, caring George. (I saw those tears at the end.)
Anna Houston was captivating as Curley’s plaintive desperate wife. Andre de Vanny played Curly, a villain to hate and Christopher Stollery played Slim, a solid support for George when needed.
John McNeil, Laurence Coy, Terry Serio, Charles Allen and Tom Stokes were all splendid and natural in character and performance. I make no apologies for reusing the word ‘natural’ to describe everything about this outstanding production.
We saw a simple but effective design from Michael Hankin, (I loved his design of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), enhanced by the lighting design from Sian James Holland and Nate Edmondson.
Iain Sinclair’s direction elevated this classic script to unusual heights, the use of naturally occurring sound in the background created atmosphere, and the audience’s commitment was palpable. I heard sighs and gasps at all the right times.
The last scene led to nearly half a minute of stunned silence, then the rapturous applause exploded. Then we all trooped out, moved but satisfied .. naturally.
A Sport for Jove production, Jon Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN is playing the Reginald theatre at the Seymour Centre until the 1st August.
On Friday, 30th January 2015, Steve Rodgers was awarded the inaugural Lysicrates Prize, receiving a full $12,500 Griffin Theatre Company commission, as voted by audience at Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The Lysicrates Prize was founded by Patricia and John Azarias, in conjunction with Griffin Theatre Company and the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. Mike Baird – Premier NSW, Luke Foley – NSW Opposition Leader, and Industry Leaders were amongst the audience.
Steve Rodgers was amongst three finalists who were shortlisted to submit the first act of a new play. The two runners-up Justin Fleming and Lally Katz each received a $1,000 cash prize. This innovative new Australian playwriting competition was inspired by the imminent restoration of an historic monument in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden: The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates.
The starting point to Nick Enright’s DAYLIGHT SAVING is unexceptional. A forties something North Shore married couple, Tom and Felicity, are struggling to find time together. Tom, a high profile sports agent, is always travelling overseas to cater to the whims of his clients. He is about to head off again and Felicity- nicknamed Flick- chides him, once more, with feeling.
Enright packs in plenty of ‘red herrings’, interesting plot lines, farcical situations, quirky characters and zingy one liners to keep audiences well entertained to a very neat finishing line.
This latest revival of one of Enright’s most popular works, first performed at Kirribilli’s Ensemble theatre in 1989, is given a warm, polished, vibrant production by Adam Cook who was a close friend of the late, master Australian playwright. Continue reading Daylight Saving→
Look, all you zombies, there’s a game changer in the retro time travel movie genre and it’s been made right here.
Written and directed by the Spierig Brothers, Michael and Peter, who freshened up the vampire genre a few years ago with Daybreakers, PREDESTINATION is a marvelous head trip that taunts, intrigues, entertains and thrills.
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.
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.
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.
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