30 December 2006

Charles Dickens performs A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens performs A Christmas Carol
Eagles Nest Theatre

December 2006
Carlton Courthouse

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through The Courthouse
There was room for no more, not even a mouse.
The people had gathered for a great Christmas tale
Zachariah’s Dickens proved too good to fail.

The Eagle’s Nest Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens performs A Christmas Carol should be on everyone’s holiday list next year.
I admit I was hesitant to see a solo reading of a clichéd tale. However I stand totally corrected and could not have been more wrong. The night was as perfect as Mrs Cratchett’s pudding.

Over 150 years ago Charles Dickens gave solo readings of his own works. Accounts of the time attest that they were theatrical events with Dickens performing every role to perfection. Under the strong direction of James Adler, Phil Zachariah has channelled the spirit of Dickens and created one of the most engaging, powerful and suspenseful nights of theatrical story telling.

The audience were not the usual La Mama/Courthouse crowd. These were people who wanted to see this play and this story. When I arrived, there were already disappointed people being turned away. Those who made it in were more used to the comfort of The Arts Centre and quite disturbed by the crowded and hot Courthouse. However within five minutes of starting, every member of the audience was transfixed.

This was due to the outstanding performance of Zachariah, and the outstanding writing of Dickens. There is a reason this is one of the most re-told tales. The original story is filled with surprises and complexities that are missing from most modern versions. It’s so much more than a parable about the value of people over money. Scrooge is forced to see his on life from an outside perspective. This is, of course, an irresistible yet terrifying prospect. Dickens tells us that own lives and experiences contain the answer to all our questions– if we look in the right places.

Hopefully this crowd may be brave enough to return to the Courthouse to see more independent productions, and hopefully, the venues that this crowd usually visit will grab this unforgettable production for next December and allow it to be seen by many more people.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

14 December 2006

Short and Sweet 2006 Week 3 Top 10

Short and Sweet 2006 Week 3 Top 10
14 December 2006
The Arts Centre, Fairfax Theatre

Week three of Short and Sweet 2006 continues to surprise and show us of the intelligence, talent, originality and sheer guts of Melbourne’s theatre community.

This week’s top ten was not as strong as week one (sadly I had to miss week two), but the best pieces balanced out the weaker works and it was still a night to remind us how amazing a simple, well written, well directed, well performed play can be.

Many of this week’s plays were about issues of intolerance. These were the weakest works of the night. It is stories about complex people that make us care. These people can and should reflect the issues – but the issue should never be more important than the character and their journey. The most successful plays of the night were the ones about the quest for love. Does our dislike of conservatism ever overcome our desire for love and happiness?

Life as a Springer Show
The “Jerry Springer” host asks the audience to choose what happens to the non-descript latte drinking characters. We are given three options at appropriate places in the script. But this isn’t impro, so there is never the danger inherent in giving your audience some control. It would have worked much better if the characters actually cared about the scenarios given to them by the audience. A man reveals that he accidentally had sex with his mother the day before, but it worried him about as much as having low fat milk instead of no fat milk in his coffee. The outrageous revelations chosen by the audience had no impact on the characters or consequences to the rest of the story. So – we laughed – but we never cared what happened to them.

Terror Nullius
A couple dream that their unborn child has to undergo a test for its “aussie” values (just like anyone else who wants to enter and live in this country may soon have to do). It’s a great satirical joke which would have extended to a hilarious sketch, but it is not an interesting and dramatic ten minute story.

David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh and the Beard of Michael Rogers
Well staged and well performed, but a terribly predictable outcome and a script that got caught up in preaching about issues rather then telling a good story – and it was a good story. This was another work about conservative values in our society and their destructive consequences. Instead of painting such a black and white picture of us/young = right: them/old = wrong, I’d be much more interested in seeing the grey in between.

Billy Windlock
This was the first one person show I’ve seen in the festival. It was another play about intolerance, but this one told us an original and believable story that we cared about. The onstage and offstage characters were completely real and it evoked the sense of small town so well. My only concern is that it became the offstage character’s story, rather than the story of the woman talking to us from the stage. She’s so hurt and so angry that we want to know more about her. Your heart breaks for off stage Billy, but the audience’s empathy and sympathy is for the woman on the stage.

War Poems
Evocative, mysterious and beautifully staged. Two original, well presented characters, but they seemed to get lost in the dialogue and we were never sure whose story was being told. Whose journey was completed because of their meeting?

Uncomfortable Silences
This is what short play writing is all about. Our protagonist faces an obstacle and decision that is going to change his life. He is going to tell his best friend that he loves her and he knows he will lose the best friend he ever had – no matter how she reacts. He shows us their past interactions, but it is always his story, we are never confused by her story. His feelings resonate with everyone watching and we really care what happens to him. Directed, designed and performed to thoroughly engage and entertain us. This is one of my favourites of the festival.

Islands of the Good and Bad
Back to intolerance and racism. Characters created around (stereo) typical attitudes, rather than people who have these attitudes. This young girl had an amazing story to tell us, but we needed to get beyond the “racism is bad” message to empathise and care about her.

You Make Me
Well performed and a script that initially created mystery. We were very curious to know who the woman outside was, but lost interest when we knew she was being made up. As one character wasn’t real, we couldn’t hope for a future between them.

Sleepless Night
This was the second highlight of the night and some of the best writing I’ve seen in a short format. A complex, original and thoroughly engaging story, which never fell into the predictable and created empathy and emotion for everyone watching it. The supporting characters were brilliant, but never let us forget whose story we were watching. I’d vote it the best directed work of the festival so far, and maybe even the best ensemble cast.

It wasn’t the best thing ever written, but it certainly made us laugh. Great performances, great jokes and the best curtain call of the festival.

01 December 2006

Short and Sweet 2006 Week 1

Short and Sweet 2006 Week One Top 10
29 November 2006
The Arts Centre, Fairfax Theatre

Forget the big shows that are on at the moment, the best night of theatre in Melbourne for the next couple of weeks is at the Short and Sweet 2006 festival at The Arts Centre.
From over 800 entries, 60 short plays have been selected, which are presented in three weekly programs. Each week has a top ten running nightly and a Saturday afternoon ten play “wildcard” session. Of the 60 plays, ten are chosen by the audience and a professional judging panel to complete in the final.
With so many outstanding writers, directors and actors involved in the program, I can’t begin to name everyone, but must give suitable cheers and accolades to Carla Hartog and Alex Broun from the Arts Centre program team for creating and producing this positive, supportive and exciting program. Short and Sweet proves the abundance of original and well written work that is being created, whilst showcasing so many of Melbourne’s independent and emerging directors and actors. It’s fabulous.

Week One Top Ten

Beautiful, captivating physical theatre that proves you don’t need words to create emotion and capture an audience’s heart. (And choreographically – it does for couches what Fosse did for chairs.)

The 11 O’Clock
Wit and word play worthy of Shaw. A psychiatrist treats a patient who thinks he is a psychiatrist.

Moving Fast
What happens when you come home from getting milk and your unemployed husband has decided to convert to Islam, claim his aboriginal heritage and stage a political coupe? Absurdism is alive and well, but it would have benefited by a clear decision about whose story it is telling – his or hers?

When We Fall
Slow to develop, but worth the wait. “An angel is floating in front of me and waiting to fall.” Poetic without sounding contrived, with direction that allows us to care about each character, whilst slowly revealing their tragic connection.

The Emotional Anatomy of a Relationship Breakdown
Undoubtedly and deservedly the crowd favourite of the night. Standard dumper and dumpee story made complex and compelling by having six actors represent different facets of the two characters. This enabled a unique and complex picture of the each person, which was supported by a simple, yet perfect design, very tight direction and an excellent cast.

This one just got better as it went along. Three of the most unlikely characters create genuine tension, mystery and surprises.

Nice characters, well performed, but was too dependent on its offstage story and needed more of an onstage story to create the empathy needed with each character.

Eight Gen X Women
I’m too young to be a baby boomer and too old to be Gen X, but nothing ever changes about women talking about love, sex, men and babies. This was material that could have so easily been clichéd and boring, but it maintained a sense of humour and relevance and didn’t allow its characters to slip into stereotypes.

Jack Rabbit
Good performances and well written characters, but the writing seemed to concentrate too much on showing the similarities between the disparate group, rather than telling an engaging story about them.

Spring Session
Simply a funny, cleaver and original piece about Canberra, politics, picking up, work and dogs. (directed by Yvonne Virsik.)

Week One Wildcards

Miracleman – 1956
Possibly the most original staging I’ve seen in along time, but it didn’t work a venue with an audience on either side. A very funny and cleaver work about a 1956 comic book hero, but the staging didn’t allow for clear story telling and we never really got to know the characters. Right venue and a bit of a re-work will make this a winner.

Bound for Jerez
I really liked the concept of showing a woman’s changing perceptions from her latter years backwards to her to teens; each presented by a different actor. What didn’t work was telling the audience the end of her story in the first scene. We know that she never achieves her dreams, so are never allowed to hope for her on her backward journey. The writing also seemed to just be about women reacting to men. Of course, most writing is about relationships, but characters become more real when they are given a broader spectrum of experiences.

Black Dog
Well performed, with a surprising and fabulous twist. This piece shows the shame of depression and its external control on the sufferer. Where it did suffer was its concentration on the topic. It was a play about depression, rather than a play about Melanie – who suffered from depression. It needs to be her unique story to create the emotional impact that this work should have.

Is His Hers
Another physical theatre piece, with highly creative and engaging choreography that takes us on an exploration of what lies under the flannelette shirts of the ‘burbs.

North by East of Eden
Actors Studio versus Hitchcock……. What could have happened if James Dean had been cast by Alfred Hitchcock? It’s a great scenario and it a well written work, but the audience’s knowledge of the characters made it difficult to fully enjoy. In the end it wasn’t more than a set up for the final joke – which was funny – but could have been anyone – not specifically Dean and Hitchcock.

Mirrors and Smoke
Two actors face each other in a mirror. They are the same woman twenty years apart. This was another one that I really wanted to work, but it suffered the same problem as Bound for Jerez – we knew the end of her story, so how could we care what happened to her at the beginning? The flashback to her early marriage didn’t reveal anything new or offer any surprises.

Full Spectrum
Another work about women, but - finally - one not just about their relationships with men. Three women of very different incomes and “social standings” experience the loss of work. Written to show their changing expectations and show the unexpected similarity between having your AMEX declined and being forced into a homeless shelter. The direction allowed us to understand and care about each woman, without judging their lives or their choices. The writer also knows that drama comes when your characters face serious challenges and make unexpected choices. (Directed by Christina Cass.)

The Entrepreneur
Non-stop laughs, with broadly drawn characters that could easily appear on Kath and Kim. It would not have worked so well if the characters were not taken to the comedic extreme. The ending should have stopped at the punch line - the explanation of the final ironic joke (what was in the bag) wasn’t needed.

Celebrity is the New Bleak
One of the most original concepts I’ve seen. Magazines personified. It could have gone so wrong, but it went so right. Pure fun, topical, relevant to right now and the best plastic wrap joke ever.

Paradise Can
Acapella, pirates, bananas and disease! Another delightfully enjoyable and totally absurd work by another writer who understands that you have to do bad things to the characters you love in order to make good drama.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Story about Platform Youth Thearte

Story about Platform Youth Thearte

In the quest for aesthetic originality and perfect expression, it is easy to forget what powerful theatre is really about. An afternoon in the Platform Youth Theatre office reminds me that the best theatre tells an authentic story that is challenging, empowering and liberating.

Based in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Platform was formed in 1988. The company’s inclusive creative development and management model has made it a leader in the national youth arts sector.

With a motto of “Act Up: Speak Out”, the company welcomes and acknowledges the diverse ideals, values and creative talents of people aged 16 to 26. There are currently over 70 Platform members.

There is no audition process and the company aims to removes barriers that challenge anyone coping with physical and/or socio-economic disadvantages from taking part. No one is turned away and everyone finds their place.

With a program that includes mentoring, workshops and performances; skills development extends beyond acting. Writing and technical theatre are especially cultivated and over half of the company’s governing board consists of people under 26.

Platform’s original performance works are created though workshops. The young participants lead the creative decision making, under the guidance of professional directors, writers and designers. This collaborative process and ongoing community research ensures relevant content and authentic opinions are expressed.

Platform’s 2007 season started with The Golem of Rucker’s Hill, the final presentation of the Five Colours of Fear project, based on the colours of the USA Terror Code Alert System. Their next major project addresses gender issues.