So, what happened? ~ theatre notes

Thursday, December 04, 2008

So, what happened?

At the end of every year, one has the same conversations. "I can't believe it's nearly Christmas! Wasn't it March only a few days ago?" What happened, we wonder, to the spacious durations of yesteryear, when twelve months seemed an eternity?

My theory is that mischievous elves in the eleventh dimension are cranking up the time machine. Either that, or the expanding universe really is speeding up. A second is not as long as it was a decade ago. An hour passes by in the flash of an eye. And a year is now a lot shorter than it was. A few weeks ago, 2008 breezed in, all bright and shiny. And now it's already breezing out.

Despite the shrinking seconds, I saw a fair bit of theatre this year. And I liked a lot of it. Nothing has changed my feeling that we're in the middle of a particularly rich period of theatre-making. There are wonky bits, to be sure; but on the whole, there's much to feel upbeat about: the theatre I've seen this year - a representative slice, admittedly, rather than a comprehensive overview - demonstrates that the local culture is diverse, intelligent and alive. What has emerged in alarming focus are the wider challenges that face art-makers in Australia; and the question in my mind is whether this richness can not only be sustained, but be permitted to evolve. (I wrote at length about these issues recently, so won't reprise here).

So, to the specifics. I thought this year I'd baldly list my favourite works of theatre, with links to my reviews for the curious types who want to know why I liked them. In no particular order, these are the shows that made me think that theatre was a pretty good place to be:

Women of Troy Malthouse/STC
That Night Follows Day Tim Etchells/Victoria, MIAF
Endgame Eleventh Hour, MIAF
Corridor Lucy Guerin Inc, MIAF
Food Court Back to Back Theatre, MIAF
Life is a Dream Victorian College of the Arts
Blackbird MTC
The Serpent's Teeth STC Actors Company
Holiday Ranters/Malthouse
The Season at Sarsaparilla STC/MTC
Chekhov Recut: Platonov Hayloft Theatre
Avast & Avast II Black Lung Theatre, Malthouse
...Sisters Headlong Theatre, Gate Theatre, London
Just Macbeth Bell Shakespeare
Vamp Malthouse
Red Sky Morning Red Stitch
Axeman Lullaby Ballet Lab
Yes OpticNerve Performance Group, Fortyfive Downstairs
Ollie and the Minotaur Floogle, Fortyfive Downstairs
Venus & Adonis Bell Shakespeare/Malthouse
Moving Target Malthouse
Care Instructions Aphids, La Mama

(I admit, a show I saw in London got in there too, but I couldn't leave it off. And yes, another was written by my husband, and for that reason I almost excised it, although it had the necessary impact on this aesthete. But that seems a paltry reason to pretend it didn't happen, especially as it will be produced in Europe next year.)

That's slightly more than a quarter of the shows I managed to see, which strikes me as a very respectable proportion. I liked them for vastly differing reasons. But each experience, even when I had reservations - which I did with some I've included here - widened my view of the possibilities of theatre. I left feeling more alive, which is really the only thing I ask of art.

Crunching the figures, you can see the nodes of vitality. About half of those shows emerged from independent companies, often in tangent with the main stages, and the VCA is very visible among the producers. A quarter came under the aegis of Kristy Edmunds' final Melbourne Festival - three of them, notably, local productions. What's encouraging to this chicken is that the mainstage companies are producing vital work: the MTC's production of Blackbird was one of this year's top highlights, and Bell Shakespeare, the Malthouse (especially, with six shows) and the STC all came up with the goods.

Speaking personally, 2008 has been, to say the least, an interesting year, often in the sense of that famous Chinese curse. Mostly it's been a bit like Italian bread, good but tough. There was the bizarre public circus of the 2020 Summit, exhilarating and disappointing in equal parts. There was the vicious media storm around Bill Henson, in which I had some small part. Immediately after that horrible punch-up, I fled these shores for England, heavily disguised as a poet. There I soberly discussed environmental apocalypse at the University of East Anglia and then, somewhat less soberly, caught up with contemporary poetry in Ireland.

I came back relatively uncrumpled, but that didn't last long. Two books that were long in the completion were finally published - The Singing, the final book in my Big Fat Fantasy quartet, and Theatre, a slim and classy poetry collection that represents about five years' work. As is the way with these things, The Singing hit bestseller status here and in Britain (it comes out in the States and Germany next year), and Theatre is yet to be reviewed, although keen book-twitchers have spotted it shyly lurking in shops.

All this activity involved lots of ancillary stuff - public appearances, endless and still-ongoing proof-reading, blah and blah. But somehow in between I saw about 85 shows. And wrote thousands of words about them.

How the hell did I do that? Looking back, I have no idea. But I do know that I'm tired, which no doubt accounts for the rash of symptomatic typos that have been bedevilling recent reviews. So Ms TN is shutting up shop for a couple of months for some R&R, and maybe to rethink her life. I'll be the one in the bathchair and tartan blanket, flirting sedately with the attractive young attendants at the local Roman spa.

As ever, I owe a few thanks. First to my readers, for coming here. The TN hit counter for 2008 has already surpassed last year's figures, and has bumped 500,000 hits (almost 200,000 unique visitors in 2008, apparently, with about 40,000 regulars). And thanks in particular to the commenters and fellow bloggers who have made the blogosphere such a stimulating place to be (and who have patiently corrected my mistakes).

And thanks too to the many people who have supported this enterprise - the companies who provide tickets and, in particular, the many artists who have encouraged me through many periods of biff, even though I'm only here to be picky. You Know Who You Are. You make it all worthwhile.

I'll be back in February, when the weather cools down and the theatre season begins to heat up. In the meantime, enjoy yourselves. I know I will.


Gabi said...

Thanks for all your work this year Alison. As a regular reader, I have really appreciated your engagement with, enthusiasm for and indulgence of our theatre scene. I hope that your break is all you could wish for.

Chris T said...

An emphatic 'amen' to the above comment.

Thanks Alison.

Stuart said...

Feeling privileged to be in the 40,000. Thanks for enlivening the aesthete within.

Alison Croggon said...

My pleasure, indeed. And many thanks.

Alison's Sub said...

Slight emendation: "Yes" was not, strictly speaking, produced by VCA. For its fortyfivedownstairs season, it was produced by OpticNerve Performance Group.

Lindsay Price said...

That's a nice sized list of likeable theatre! Congratulations on your publications as well.

Chris Boyd said...

Speaking of time...

I'm trying to remember what we used to do before TN. (And, indeed, what we would do without it... god forbid.)

Thanks. Just thanks.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks, subbie. Fixed up now.

I can't remember what I did either, Chris! I think I'm trying to remember... Kisses to you.

richardwatts said...

Enjoy your break, Alison - though knowing you I'm sure there will be 50 other projects on the boil between now and February...

Alison Croggon said...

True, my holidays from writing tend to be different kinds of writing. But I am going away to the beach for a week, for a daggy family holiday with board games and cards, and have promised to leave my computer at home.

Christine B said...

Hope you enjoy your well-deserved break, Alison. Thanks for your fabulous blog!