Sporrans of optimism ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sporrans of optimism

The Malthouse Theatre launched its first 2009 season last night, with a bunch of kilted bagpipers doing the full skirl. The pipers cued enough mysterious references to Scotland for a conference on Macbeth, but nary an explanation passed the tight lips of Michael Kantor (or his henchmen or women). However, there's a hint in Robin Usher's Age preview today that these vague allusions might have had something to do with the Edinburgh Festival and a possible interest in the big show of the season, Optimism, an adaptation by Tom Wright of Voltaire's Candide, to be directed by Kantor.

Whatever the case, we got to admire the Highlanders' kilts and spectacular socks. And sporrans, of course. But on with the season, which looks good even through the fog of hangover.

First cab off the rank is Georg Buchner's Woyzeck, a play often cited as the beginning of modern theatre, in an Icelandic adaptation that premiered at the Barbican Centre. This version features songs by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, which for this production will be performed by Tim Rogers. There's a new collaboration from Lally Katz and Chris Kohn, a step back to Melbourne's vaudeville history called Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd, which stars Julia Zemiro, and a new play, A Commercial Farce, from Peter Houghton (who can be presently seen in The Eleventh Hour's brilliant festival production of Endgame).

Acclaimed British actor Kathryn Hunter is performing Kafka's Monkey, her adaptation of Kafka's short story, A Report to An Academy. And the Malthouse is also remounting the Fringe hit, Adam Cass's I Love You, Bro, which is a show I missed but which prompted a lot of enthusiastic emails to the TN inbox.

In case people think the Malthouse is getting all logocentric, there's also a showcase of our lively contemporary dance scene, Dance Massive, which is an exciting initiative that formalises the company's continuing connection to dance. It kicks off with Chunky Move's Mortal Engine, which follows on from the exquisite Glow to explore the choreographic possibilities of responsive technology, and Brisbane-based Splintergroup's Lawn. And Rogue, a season in the Tower theatre, showcases the work of some of our most promising new dance talent.

Changing the subject, sort of, I was wondering whether to respond to Peter Craven's odd attack (or was it?) in yesterday's Age on the Melbourne Festival and all things Avant Garde. Under the headline "Avant Garde is all very well, but what about the rest of us?", he reprises his tired argument about how "post-Edmunds" Melbourne ought to get all mainstream. Edmunds, he says, ignored the great writers. Aside from Shakespeare, of course. And they should have stars, like Patti Smith. Oh, they did have Patti Smith. And the Romeo and Juliet was pretty good, actually. Where were the Young Turks? (Aren't Young Turks by definition Avant Garde? - Ed) Or Jack Hibberd or Hannie Rayson? But still, mumble mumble mumble... Actually I couldn't make head or tail of it. Which makes it hard to take issue with.

www.malthousetheatre.com.au

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

On Craven, absolutely. I couldn't make head or tail of it either. He seemed very confused about whether stars are needed in a festival. Surely it's obvious that a festival and a season are different beasts with different programming requirements. Linking stars with excellence seems like linking politicians with decision making; a tenuous link to say the least

TimT said...

However, there's a hint in Robin Usher's Age preview today that these vague allusions might have had something to do with the Edinburgh Festival

Because Bagpipes = Scotland? Hmmm, that's an odd algebra...

Maybe we're getting an old-school military tattoo at the Malthouse! Pipe bands from all over the world!

Alison Croggon said...

Bagpipes + lots of tantalising references to something about Scotland that can't be revealed...yet...

I'm joining the dots to Kosky's The Tell-Tale Heart being an Edinburgh Festival hit this year and Usher's "speculation" about Jonathan Mills's interest in Optimism.

Alison Croggon said...

...maybe Craven's stymied a little because the people with the most lively interest in classic texts seem to be the so-called avant gardists. And isn't that a tired phrase? How does it even apply any more? But perhaps Craven still thinks Beckett is avant garde...

Jana said...

Craven's is a very strange text, but one that doesn't need to present a watertight argument, because it touches on all the common places of the prevalent superstition against the arts. You read it and through the recognition, echoes of themes you already know, you join the dots yourself.

Fundamentally, the text seems to say, we need more theatre of the kind that people like Craven would enjoy, and that people like Craven think a less enlightened theatre audience would enjoy. British National Theatre, local straight drama (how strange, to diametrically oppose new Australian writing with avantgarde, don't you think?), and if it needs to be 'foreign' (non-English), let it not be more foreign than Chekhov! If we need to go below the level of people like Craven, make it Hollywood stars, not any plebeian pop culture.

This is the text by someone who went to Melbourne University. Someone utterly confident that their taste is representative of the world's. Someone, I dare say, who doesn't deal with pluralism of opinion very much in their daily life.

Alison Croggon said...

Well analysed, Ms P. You're right, it is basically a whole lot of pshaws that indicate a subtext of U and Non-U.

Perhaps you're a little unfair on the good minds who survived Melbourne University... but by now we've probably thought a lot more about that article than Craven did.

Jana said...

I was not surprised to find out Mr Craven is indeed a Melbourne Uni alumnus. It is an attitude highly typical of the place. Not the scholars, mind you. But the students. The sponsors. The middle management.

And a terrible, terrible way to write about the arts.

Geoffrey said...

And I've got Microsoft Word documents of the same kind of hyperbolic shambles. Maybe I should email them all off the The Age at .025 cents a word? What a load of staid, stentorian old coddswallop!

Thank you Alison for your marvellous efforts at the festival. I greatly appreciated the time you took and the window to it all you opened.