The power of the personal was how I ended up sitting in a Saturday afternoon matinee of THE CARETAKER at Riverside Theatres. Nicholas Papademetriou talked me into it; you can see the interview with him here. For me, Harold Pinter’s classic work comes with a certain amount of baggage … leftovers from the 1960s when it was new, when the ‘Pinter Pause’ dominated, when abstract work and non-sequiturs were not as common on the stage. Instead of baggage, this production has clutter, dirt and performances groomed into deterioration. It is an achievement of modern relevance in a rigorously truthful reflection of the play’s heritage. Continue reading THANK YOU NICHOLAS. ‘THE CARETAKER’
Thrillers are tricky. TV only gets it right sometimes and even multi-million dollar movies can miss the mark. Go to the theatre to see a thriller and what do we want? For me, I want the experience to include some mystery, some high tension goings on and some unseeable, unexpected, plot twists. Throwing Shade’s DOWN AN ALLEY FILLED WITH CATS does a really good job putting all these on stage at King Street Theatre.
The self-named Timothy Timmony, an alchemist’s name if we ever heard it, appears to be a mild mannered, slightly absent minded and bumbling bookshop proprietor. As he is closing for the day, into his little shop bursts Simon Matthews, an adventurer of sorts with a rather odd desire for a book on the Napoleonic Wars. The mystery begins.
DOWN AN ALLEY FILLED WITH CATS is the little play that could. Written and set by Warwick Moss in the early 1980s in Sydney, it has had productions in London and off Broadway and one production received a favourable review in the New York Times in 1987. Moss has spoken in an interview about his love for the secrets behind cat’s eyes and how his book owner also relishes the ability of secrets to get you what you want.
The cast of Gabriel Egan (Simon) and William Jordan (Timothy) with director Tom Richards have created a production which balances the mystery of the developing storyline with the lighter moments as the unscrupulous young tomcat circles the streetwise and manipulative alleycat.
Egan brings that high energy on with him and manages the delicate task of keeping Simon dynamic without wearing out his audience or getting so big as to be out of character.
Jordan is equally effective at being openly secretive by engendering Timothy with the distinct impression he has just told a lie, even when being confessional.
The production elements tie in nicely to the 1984 setting and it’s worth staying in the theatre at interval to listen to some great Aussie rock tracks.
It’s quite a short offering but, apart from a dip in the second sequence, DOWN AN ALLEY FILLED WITH CATS is an entertaining pacey show.
DOWN AN ALLEY FILLED WITH CATS continues at King Street Theatre until 13 May.
After burning though my text data allowance, I eventually found a friend to come with me to see BLACKBIRD playing as part of THE FRINGE. Read the publicity; look up the Wikipedia article; skim reviews of productions past and it does not look like an entertaining night at the theatre.
And in the event it is true that the subject matter is reprehensible, the characters vile and some of the content revolting, yet good theatre can take the ugly and make it art. Entertaining is not an appropriate word for what Director Andrew Langcake has given to the audience with this strong production … instead it is the visceral complexity of vague, worrying and confusing emotions that he has brought out of the text.
It begins in a grubby workplace break room of some description and Una and Peter enter. She appears calm and self-contained, he nervous and fearful. Fifteen years ago, Una and Ray had a relationship. She was 12, and he was 40. He abandoned her in a grubby room, and they haven’t set eyes on each other since. Now by virtue of a photograph in a paper she’s found him again…
This two hander is playing in a small gallery space at the Off Broadway hub of The Fringe and the surroundings support the storytelling. There is a factory sense as the characters open the door to the laneway, planes fly low overhead and the hoons noisily rev down Pyrmont Bridge Road. Peter is very aware of where he is, of who might come in and disturb, catch, him.
Eleanor Ryan’s Una appears to be in command when she is directed into the room. Ryan has subtle command of her character, both physically and emotionally, and invests Una with the unstated questions about why she is there. Her character choices early create the conflict about Una that we take away after the shocking denouement. She is spare in her gestures and in that scarlet strip of a dress, there is dynamite ready to explode.
When Ryan lets emotions fly, she twists and hunches rather than opens out which increases the mystery surrounding the Una. It’s nicely done. Another directorial aspect I really appreciated was the way Una looks out for almost all of her dialogue, only occasionally allowing her abuser to see her face. It’s about the male gaze! Peter can’t keep his eyes off her.
As played by William Jordan, Peter is nervous all the way through and as he picks at his hands he does not seem to be capable of the atrocious behaviour that we are told of. His jail time has changed him but does he really believe that he is just a man who falls in love, rather than a man sexually aroused by children? Initially, Jordan does not completely invest this man with the complexity and depth that we might expect. There is a lot of surface and it’s very much the same. Towards the end of piece we do get a greater insight into what drives him and why the darkness within is so buried.
Peter is made doubly hard to interpret by the spare, staccato and halting way he is written. The play wins awards every time it is produced and one can see why. Hollywood has just released a film adaptation.
Commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005, playwright David Harrower created a searing and provocative piece with Scottish DNA. Interpreted by a native speaker, Peter’s lines would have more music to illuminate some beauty inside the beast. The blackbird is known for the beauty of its male’s song.
However the cast do well with the accents but it does take time to tune in. Langcake’s direction allows that time as the protagonists begin with limited movement and quiet interactions. He has also done an excellent job of guiding the actors through the interpretation of nature vs conditioning.
Peter is clear about what happened to him in jail and Una is honest about her perceptions about her 12 year old self. The audience must make up their own mind as director and cast are successfully neither ambivalent nor prescriptive in the way they present the inner torture.
While I did spend one sequence with my face buried in my brave friend’s shirt, I came away from the production with heightened senses and lingering questions. This simple, intimate production has both physical power and intellectual reach.
BLACKBIRD by Throwing Shade Theatre Company continues at The Off Broadway Hub as part of the FRINGE until 10th September.
Throwing Shade Theatre’s NO EXIT is good work. Written by Jean-Paul Sartre and famous for the line, “Hell is other people”, it’s a modern theatre classic which demands respect in the production. Yet, as written, it doesn’t quite stand on its own to a general public audience. The delicate balance is well achieved in this production which has a rich period feel with depth enough for an aficionado yet enough contemporary and narrative expression for an audience new to the work.
A nice room. A period room. Rich with velvets, a mantle and even a bronze. Into the room comes a butler with Joseph Garcin and from their initial dialogue, it becomes apparent that this is Hell. As the butler leaves, the newly deceased Garcin is entombed here. Where then is the torturer and his instruments of trade? When Inez arrives, she too wonders the same. The final of this ménage a trois is Estelle who arrives before her vision of the world fades and is able to see that no one is crying at her funeral.
Sartre is synonymous with Existentialism, a philosophy which considers each person capable of determining their own life through acts of will. What happens, then, when these 3 are overseen and choices for action are limited? Considered to be a reflection of Sartre’s ideas about oversight of Parisians by the Germans and his expounding of philosophy by stealth through stories, NO EXIT still has much to give a modern audience.
But … some of the ideas don’t work anymore. Hell is difficult enough to accept without assuming Sapphistry, cowardice or adultery would be condemned eternally. There are some other sins in NO EXIT which deserve their place though. In making the play more accessible without perverting the text as written, Throwing Shade have begun by ignoring the stage instruction that the butler (Jeff Hampson) has no eyelids. The viewing aspect is successfully covered in the Estelle’s search for a reflective surface. The well-appointed set is Victorian rather than French Second Empire and the costuming blends then and now. The accents chosen work well with the characters (Nick Curnow – dialogue consultant) and serve to support the period elements.
With an French upperclass accent, Courtney Powell as Estelle is light and fluffy, prideful of her appearance and expresses well Estelle’s need for reinforcement of what she is by how she looks. In her peacock green period costume, the established character carries nicely through the revelations and her lack of shame about what she has done.
Costumed in a period-indeterminate black block, Darcie Irwin-Simpson portrays Ines with little light and shade. The character has a hardness which doesn’t crack, yet some of the brittleness inside filters through. This is especially so in her responsive and reactions when observing the other two. She also has a clipped delivery which suits Ines well; some ideas require a full stop. Though I would have appreciated a bit more exploration of class in her accent. The working class unkempt Valet (Jeff Hampson) was an usual directorial choice but theme might have been developed further.
Harley Connor as Garcin reflected the facade that cowards can show until caught out. In a costume which gives some sense of modernity, he uses his lengthened speech to show the duplicity and lies behind his words. As the first of the three condemned, he takes control of the room and this makes his cowardly choice not to leave more understandable. The breakdown when it appears is well foreshadowed in the early character choices.
The blocking is tight in the tight space and the enveloping claustrophobia is skilfully manipulated by using the downstage area mostly. Director, Andrew Langcake also allows time for the 3 characters to just sit and think out loud as if sharing with the audience in some dark corner of a sherry sipping effete hostelry. At other times, especially early on, they successfully move around each other enlarging the acting area with their travels. Langcake keeps his cast on track for most of the longer sections but towards the end the energy does sag and there is somewhat of a soundwall effect. But as the climax is reached the audience appeared to engage once more.
On balance the production manages to put Sartre’s themes on show by allowing the text to speak for itself yet allowing intelligent design to guide the considerations and contemplations of a contemporary audience.
NO EXIT played a short season at The Factory, Marrickville and closes tonight.