Gongland ~ theatre notes

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gongland

Yes folks, it's time for the thrill and glamour of the Helpmann Awards, which are presented tonight at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney. Having suffered through a couple of AFI award nights - I think I've never quite got over the tacky gilded pillar that optimistically graced the 2004 event, a night of such catastrophically soul-excruciating boredom I should probably never complain about theatre again - I can't say that award nights fill me with excitement. Still, they are symptomatic of something. Though it's hard to say quite what.

Nobody's suggesting that finalising nominations for a national award isn't a headache of major proportions. Still, as Chris Boyd points out in a handy analysis of the nominations, Melburnians have a right to grizzle. Out of 24 nominations for theatre, we scored three Melbourne-exclusive gongs, compared to 15 Sydney-exclusive. Anyone who thinks that's a fair reflection of the theatrical energies in these respective cities needs to get out more. The SMH's Bryce Hallet reports on "heated and fraught" selection processes for the theatre and music theatre categories, but somehow fails to mention the Sydney bias. To be fair, perhaps it was Melbourne-based producers who refused to nominate their shows for consideration... Ho hum.

15 comments:

nicholas pickard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
frances said...

i can't stand these performing arts awards ceremonies. take something as subjective as theatre that can change from night to night, is subject to the torture of crappy funding and microsecond rehearsal periods, and compare it with another show that has been toured around the world and is the darling of the british council … just yuck. i don't want anything to do with it. same goes for the green room awards and any other 'celebration' of the arts by turning it into a competition for who's best.

me cynical?

Alison Croggon said...

You? Cynical? Nevah!

But I too distrust the idea of art as competition. How do you judge which is "best" out of apples and pears and lichees and oranges and dragon fruit and Chippendale chairs and semiconductors? I mean, really?

Btw, did you enjoy The Deathly Hallows? I gave in and read it in one sitting, it was impossible to put down...

Diana Simmonds said...

1. Is there any other way to read HP but in one sitting?
2. Rather than competition, I'd like to think the Sydney Theatre AwaRds (STARs!) - giving out their 3rd annual expressions of admiration in January - are about recognition and saying "thanks" to all theatre workers, on stage and back stage. Sure, decisions are made, but ... I think not having any kind of awards for the ten years prior to our getting it together again has not been very encouraging for Sydney theatre practitioners.
3. Sydney-centric ... how about just plain peculiar? Melbourne was fortunate in not seeing Pippin - which unaccountably scored 3 nominations. WTF?

Anonymous said...

Diana - you crakc me up. WTF indeed. JK

David Williams said...

hi all,

I did try and post a segue comment from award ceremonies to Deathly Hallows, but due to personal stupidity, it didn't upload.

The gist was: award ceremony bah humbug. But I do agree with Diana (yes, remembered the 'a' this time, apologies for last time!), the revival of the Sydney Theatre Awards were long overdue. Small scale, city-based awards make sense to me, even though the judging process will always be problematic (I understand that the awards fell apart last time because the critics circle had seen too few shows in common to meaningfully adjudicate, which didn't surprise me given the fractured niches that constitute arts practice in this town. Crossovers have been few and far between, though interestingly in the last couple of years there seems to be more of that, and a far more fascinating local artistic ecology developing... but I digress.

Deathly Hallows was indeed a compulsive read, and a fitting narrative finale to the series (on a side note, Diana I must say I quite admired your review in the Oz that managed to not mention any of the plot! Quite an achievement to avoid spoilers!) But for me, Rowling could have taken some more narrative time to focus on the at times relentless parade of loss, to give us series readers some time to say goodbye to many characters lost on the wayside, from about page 5 onwards... Rowling, in my opinion, doesn't quite have the emotional affect of Pullman or Phillip Reeve, both of whom write youth fiction that is both fantastical and kicks you in the guts. I'd add John Marsden to that list as well, though I know he's not to all tastes. Rowling's gift is to make us care about a group of lovable characters in a ever-darkening world, but despite that I found the book pretty emotionally safe, which was a surprise. Still, as the famous review of Robert Ludnam goes: "It was so bad that I had to stay up all night to finish it." To which I might add, "and then spent an hour or so discussing it with my Mum in minute detail, while my Dad looked baffled." Harry Potter as community builder?

Awards, bah humbug! where's mine?

x David

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Diana & David

My small experience of the Green Rooms tells me that it's extremely hard work, and it seems to me an honest process that's thrashed out through much discussion. The good thing is that there are lots of categories, even if they themselves are fluid. I've judged a couple of Premier's Prizes and (not any more) poetry competitions and I often find it frustrating, you might end up with ten things that deserve special notice and only three can be mentioned, and it seems to falsify the economy, as it were... But as David said, local awards seem to reflect something of the theatre that I experience. Pippin sounds like a spin-off from The Lord of the Rings, but maybe it was just a bad apple...?

Yes, JK Rowling is quite particular. I thought this one a return to form, after a big slump in Book 5 that meant I didn't read Book 6 until the HP bug infected me. Well, it did seem like I was the only person in the world who wasn't reading it, and how I hate to be left out...

Diana said...

Hi Alison - Bad apple ... nyuk nyuk nyuk. Not really: it was a grade 2 show first time around and guess what ... age did nothing but weary it. It was an unaccountably odd choice for a show with which to launch a "national" musical theatre company. The second offering - Company - was (a) a better piece of work and always was, and (b) beautifully put together by Gale Edwards and a crash hot cast. What happened next (blush, cringe) merely suggests the company was misnamed and is actually a rather well-endowed amateur dramatic society ... at least in terms of its management, that is.
Re awards ... it's never going to be a perfect process, nor even satisfactorily imperfect, but I think we (in Sydney) need to try and try honestly and carefully to come up with something credible. We surely owe it to the people who make the magic to at least do that.
My only sadness at the moment is that Tony Sheldon's extraordinary performance in Priscilla has coincided with a particularly strong streak of shows and performers. It might seem an odd thing to say, given the role and the show, but his subtlety, humour and strength as Bernadette makes the character a 3-D human being who breaks your heart. He is the anchor, pivot and power of Priscilla.
David - thanks for kind words re Harry reviews: determination not to join the spoilers was paramount. I love Harry and admire JK immensely, but Philip Pulman is something else. As you probably know. His Dark Materials comes to a multiplex near all of us this Christmas as The Amber Spyglass. I can't believe they cast ... groan ... Our Nicole as Mrs Coulter. I guess Our Cate wasn't available.
BTW is it true that Hugh and Deborra-Lee will be taking over from Siiiiimon soon?
Finally ... fantastic insightful, intelligent review of Sir Ian etc, Alison. It's the kind of writing one hopes to read and rarely finds. Thank you.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Diana - whew! And thanks...

I just wrote a longish essay on His Dark Materials (the poetry in it, of course) for an anthology coming out in the States to coincide with the film - The Golden Compass, actually, though I don't know whether it's just Book 1, better known to us non-Americans as Northern Lights, or if it's the whole deal. Hopefully the former. I've had a look at the trailer and I am so there, it looks beautifully designed. I actually think our Nicole is excellent casting - her beauty is much colder than Ms Blanchett. And she can act if called upon. So fingers crossed.

The quality of JK's writing seems to exercise so many people and, in a way, I'm not sure why.It's not as if she pretends that she's writing Great Literature. (Though her writing style was a real bother for me in Book 5, I admit). If she writes books that transcend their marketing to enthral millions with their story and charm, good on her! I've certainly never resented her success, whereas in weaker moments I'd sneer at Dan Brown. Fwiw, I rate Ursula Le Guin way above Pullman in the style/depth departments, she's something else. Pullman's good, but not great. Whatever that means.

frances said...

hi alison,

i loved the deathly hallows. the last one by the time i got to the end i was just glad it was over, too much and so in need of a merciless editor with a knife. this time though i was just entranced - though spent three days teasing it out with peanut butter sandwiches and afternoons in cafes. there was a tension in it i don't remmeber since prisoner of azkaban. and no she doesn't pretend to be a literary genius but still, for me if reading a book doesn't conjure some internal film or performance it's no good, and she's always been able to do that.

i thought maybe she should have killed off ron or a few more central characters. anyway now looking forward to iain banks' latest (while re-reading the bridge)

TimT said...

By gar, it's a good old Sydney-Melbourne conspiracy. It's been a while!

FantasyWriter said...

I can't stand Pullman, comes across to me as far too pretentious, second only to Isabel Allende in this regard - I mean in her books for the young. For sheer fun I'll take Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl over Pullman any day. For exquisite writing it's hard to beat David Almond's Skellig.

Alison Croggon said...

I am a HUGE David Almond fan: he's an exquisite writer by any standard. Though I think my favourite book of his might be Heaven Eyes. Or maybe his short stories. Hard to pick...

Actually, he's written a completely beautiful play for young people, called Wild Boy/Wild Girl. Do you know it?

Casey B said...

Re. the Melbourne-Sydney divide: of course it's hard to handicap a national event with so much space between the cities, but yes, it seems that by and large if something from outside Sydney doesn't tour to Sydney then it doesn't have much chance. And when criticisms of this are met with "hey, don't pick on Sydney just because it's got the best theatre", then, as Alison said, those folks need to get out a bit more. There's healthy parochialism and then there's blinkers.

Not that I'm complaining about the Helpmanns this year! I thought the judges exhibited remarkable taste! :-)

FantasyWriter said...

Afraid I haven't read Wild Boy/Wild Girl or the short stories but I'll look for them now. I do have all his novels, I'm a big fan too!