Review: 3xSisters, Spring Awakening ~ theatre notes

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: 3xSisters, Spring Awakening

In his stories and plays, Anton Chekhov is a pitilessly intelligent observer of human beings. A writer of enormous moral scrupulousness, he lets fall a cruel light on the excesses of his characters without ever losing sight of their frailties and contradictions. He’s most often seen as a poster boy for naturalism, but this is inevitably reductive. A play like Three Sisters, for instance, can be seen as a moral tale about the decadence of the pre-Revolutionary bourgeoisie, or a nostalgic evocation of a society on the brink of collapse. But like any simple interpretation, this is far from the whole truth.

Its real fascination is in its details, how it is constructed as a kind of collage of social performance: each character’s self-insight is questionable, conditioned and repressed by his or her consciousness of the presence of others, and each is ultimately trapped in a state of existential solitude. It is this aspect of Chekhov which makes him so attractive to successive generations of artists, among whom must be counted Samuel Beckett. In last year’s drop-dead beautiful production of his early play Platonov, the Hayloft Project, one of Melbourne’s most vital new companies, began an excavation of his work.


Under the restless direction of Simon Stone, they’ve continued their exploration with 3xSisters, now on at the Meat Market in repertory with a remount of the Belvoir St version of their first show, Spring Awakening - a performance so radically changed (different script, different design, different concept, different cast) from its original Melbourne outing that it is effectively an entirely new production. Hayloft's take on Chekhov is an attractively ambitious conceit: three directors - Benedict Hardie, Simon Stone and Mark Winter – oversee different acts, effectively giving us three radically different interpretations of the play. But it's telling that the names of the writers who feature in this mini-Hayloft retrospective - Franz Wedekind and Anton Chekhov - figure nowhere on the program credits.

3xSisters is fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. The production shifts neurotically through three different sets, costumes and interpretations. Stone, who begins and ends the play, sets it in a place like a waiting room in an airport, under a row of clocks showing the time in Buenos Aires, Johannesburg or Moscow, with the characters in formal dress, as if waiting for some festive event. The actors speak straight out to the audience, their more intimate thoughts sometimes whispered through a microphone, their movements constrained by the narrowness of the stage. It suggests a promisingly stern aesthetic - Stone even inserts the famous quote ("Fail again. Fail better.") from Samuel Beckett's Worstword Ho - but, in the major problem that runs through this entire production, neglects to follow this promise through. The hint of Beckett remains merely decoration, and peters out in the end, disappointingly, into the borrowed emotion of Cat Power.

Hardie directs a deftly choreographed rehearsal of the play, complete with actorly interpolations. It's a reminder of the performance heritage that has so conditioned western interpretations of Chekhov: Chekhov's first and most famous interpreter was Stanislavski, one of whose most famous acolytes was Lee Strasberg, father of the Method. In Hardie's first scene, the black slacks and casual shirts evoke the 1950s cool of the Actors Studio; in the second, the actors have evolved into brainless noughties dweebs, dressed in "I heart Chekhov" t-shirts. This permits a metatheatrical shifting, a consciousness of artifice overlaying the moments when the actors step into character. It's not that new as an idea - David Mamet's film Vanya on 42nd St features actors workshopping the play, similarly shifting between their "real" and performative characters - but it's still effective, and perhaps in its minimalist approach the most satisfyingly thought-through of the evening.

The middle acts, courtesy of Winter, are a psychotic explosion seen through the mind of Solyony, an asocial soldier with Romantic delusions who ends up killing his only friend. Here Chekhov collides with Taxi Driver, with Travis Bickle’s slaughter presaging the Revolution’s murders of the Romanov family. This middle act is at once the most interesting and the most problematic of the lot: there are moments of genuine power, moments when the wholesale destruction of Chekhov suggests wider implications - the repressed violence and sexuality squirming beneath bourgeois social conventions, the classist cruelty that led to the Russian Revolution, even a reflection of how a production can be a forensic dissection of a cultural corpse.

But these possibilities are undermined by cheap gestures: its excessive bath of sexual transgression and violence ends up being brutalising and boring (and sometimes - what was with the Indian head-dress? - simply baffling). As with the rest of the production it's full of quotations, most obviously from Martin Scorcese, but also from a menu of pop cultural and theatrical references. Again, a directorial quote from Romeo Castellucci will mean nothing without the aesthetic rigor that underlies Castellucci's practice: and a swipe at Benedict Andrews is simply a gratuitous in-joke which illuminates nothing except the director's insecurities. At its worst, it justifies the outraged criticisms of those who claim this kind of theatre is simply self-indulgent bullshit only interested in generating offence, in the absence of doing something more challenging (such as engaging with Chekhov); which is a pity, because at its best it has the potential to be something far more substantial.

In short, the line between intellectual provocation and gratuitous shock-value is crossed too often, and the whole production oscillates between genuine insight and shallow gesture. It's interesting to compare these explorations, for instance, with Daniel Schlusser's recent production of Peer Gynt, or more directly, Chris Goode's transcendently beautiful ...Sisters, both of which radically dismantle a classic text. The difference is intellectual rigor, and an illuminating respect for the source text. All the same, I found 3xSisters riveting. The performers are astoundingly good (and very well cast - you can't help reflecting that a straight production with this cast would be really something), and Chekhov, tellingly, survives the rough treatment. It’s well worth seeing, if only for the arguments you’ll have afterwards.


Simon Stone's production of Spring Awakening is a far less problematic prospect. I was expecting a polished version of the show I saw at fortyfive downstairs three years ago, and found very quickly that I was mistaken: the Belvoir St version is a complete rethink, with Adam Gardnir's chicken-coop set literalising the social barriers that confine and destroy Wedekind's young characters. Stone solves some of the problems of the original text - most notably, the Man who appears at the end - by simply editing them out, transforming the play into a series of impressionistic dialogues and monologues.

The most compelling aspect of the initial production was the tension it established between sexual desire and childish innocence, a collision that was ultimately tragic. Literalising the subtleties of physical interaction between the actors, and perhaps even neatening up the original messiness of Wedekind's play, has a concomitant cost: it's undoubtedly more elegant, and perhaps more impressive, but it has lost something important. Innocence, perhaps.

A shorter version of this review is in today's Australian.

Pictures: top: rehearsal shot of 3xSisters. Photo Pia Johnson. Bottom: Production shot of Spring Awakening.

3xSisters from Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, directed by Simon Stone, Benedict Hardie and Mark Winter, additional text from the directors and cast. Set design by Claude Marcos, lighting design by Danny Pettingill. With Gareth Davies, Angus Grant, Thomas Henning, Joshua Hewitt, Shelly Lauman, Eryn Jean Norvill, Anne-Louise Sarks, Katherine Tonkin and Tom Wren.

Spring Awakening by Franz Wedekind, adaptation and direction by Simon Stone. Set design by Adam Gardnir, lighting design by Niklas Pajanti. With Andrew Dunn, Amanda Falson, Angus Grant, Shelly Lauman, Aaron Orzech, Russ Pirie and Edwina Wren.

In repertory at the North Melbourne Meat Market, 5 Blackwood St, North Melbourne, until May 10. Bookings: 9639 0096

54 comments:

Freddy said...

Hi Alison,

Just thought you might like to know that Mamet wrote the adaptation for UVo42St but didn't direct it. That was Louis Malle and Andre Gregory.

Mamet did direct a more 'trad' film version of Vanya using [I think] the same adaptation of the text.

Thanks for an amazing blog site.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks for the clarification, Freddy. Yes, Mamet wrote the film script; and the workshop performance was of his own translation.

Brian said...

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David Jays said...

I like the notion of 'rough ttreatment' in this review, Alison. It suggests, among other things, that Chekhov's deceptively loose structure and the way he distributes interest between so many characters allows contemporary theatre artists multiple entry points. And I also like the notion that, as with few classic texts outside Shakespeare, audiences can be expected to be alert to such treatments, rough or subtle.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Brian - Thanks, but TN doesn't do ads.

Hi David - I think any text has to be treated roughly, or at least with the robust disrespect that comes with serious interrogation (there is nothing more deadly than awed reverence for text). Great theatre texts will survive practically everything - I remember seeing a rambunctious school production of Mother Courage which reminded me how brilliant Brecht is. But then, there are degrees of roughness. The question is, and it's an open question: at what point should one stop pretending that one is doing the play? If the text is still being attended to, is it the play? Does it matter? You can argue endlessly about this... I personally find such assaults interesting, and when they work they can bring a classic text to a new immediacy. I guess my yardstick is whether what is done to the original text matches it in intelligence, insight etc - ie, whether what emerges diminishes the original artist, whether it ends up evading that writer's challenges rather than picking them up. And there are writers who are less assaultable than others. Chekhov is surprisingly modern in this way... Beckett is one of those hard to rethink, maybe the only theatre writer whom I think departing from his texts always makes them lesser, because of the fierce concentration of thought that has gone into making them. (But then, critics live to be proved wrong. Maybe the lifting of the Beckett estate's control will usher in a new era of thinking about his work.)

neandellus said...

I think that the Native American headdress bit was supposed to be Nobody's silent dance from the fil-um Dead Man. Nobody is, like, the one who says "Your poetry will now be written with blood." This seems a likely, like, source for Winter, Jim Jarmush on Blake, that is, considering the other references in this play, along with everything else, of course. I might be wrong. I don’t own Dead Man so I can’t check. It may be a fraudulent memory. I’d like to know, though, if anybody else does.

Shonky Donkey said...

Perhaps, but if Alison doesn't get it, who will?

I'm a groupie.

Jana said...

Forgive the 3am incoherence if it occurs, but I wanted to chip in before I launch into furious writing. I think 3xSisters is possibly the best thing I've seen in the Melbourne independent theatre since 2005. It is so courageous, and going against the grain of all the usual business that goes on on these stages. An experiment that's way more than the sum of its parts, and finally - FINALLY - theatre with a curious, playful and genuinely irreverent intelligence. For once, it's a real discursive production: it asks so many questions, from itself and the audience, and genuinely asks them, not just pretends to offer an even-handed debate.

Perhaps, somehow, in this mad pursuit of things to call beautiful and lyrical and whatnot, we forget to really unsettle our expectations. I thought Platonov, for example, was bourgeois theatre by-other-means, an inch from middlebrow. But 3xSisters... wow. Wow. (And not just because it clicks with my rarefied taste. My group of friends, all with rather less haught opinions on what theatre should be, all loved it.)

Alison Croggon said...

Dead Man and William Blake! Maybe... it sounds like a good guess. I don't own it either, and it's been a few years since I last watched it. Nobody must have some connection with Blake's God figure Nobodaddy. But then, how does a romance of American colonialism and Blake's Swedenborgian nuttiness feed in to Three Sisters?

Jana, let the argument begin. I had an interesting discussion after the show, with a group of people which included one person who loved it (theatre of the post-Simpsons culture - which, btw, is utterly bourgois) and someone who from 10 minutes in thought it the biggest load of crap they'd ever seen. But nobody was complaining that it ought to be "even handed". Tell me how it is "more than the sum of its parts"? Rather than, say, less?

Anonymous said...

http://neandellus.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/theatre-3xsisters/

... wow.

Alison Croggon said...

Platonic Symposium as theatre criticism! Fantastic! And a lot more interesting on theatre than Plato...

Here's a live link

Alison Croggon said...

...an afterthought: it seems to me that the theatre piece I've seen lately that's most unsettled expectations is the Beckett Shorts at La Mama. You expect radical young directors to be outrageous and controversial, and lots of colour and movement and transgression; silence is much more challenging. Great quote here from Heiner Muller (courtesy George Hunka, who has more):

... [Silence] in the theatre is impossible for audiences nowadays to bear. That's why I find it quite sensible for Beckett to stipulate precisely the length of his pauses. He knew from experience that director and actor are afraid of silence. Actors are even scared to do nothing for ten seconds, not to move, not to speak. It goes against the agreement, there are basic rules of the game: I pay and you work. I mean the actor works and I as a spectator pay. And I want to see him sweat for my money. Doing nothing for a few minutes is against the rules, they're having a rest, the bastards, can't have that, I've paid to watch you move and talk.

Jana said...

The Beckett shorts were quite an assault indeed. I'm glad you wrote about it.

I have one of those nasty weeks: reduced response here. But, just to answer, more rather than less than the sum of its parts because it is only in the interaction of the individual parts that the whole becomes something genuinely new and exciting. I found the direction of each bit to be a sort of shorthand for different types of aesthetic. Each one resulted in beautiful moments, but none alone would have held the play interesting.

Alison Croggon said...

Ye - es. I would far rather see something with the energy and occasional flashes of brilliance of the Hayloft's take than a straight, deadly production. But I'd rather see something that really met and struggled with Chekhov and all the constellation of ideas that surrounds his writing than both of those...

Your point about none of the three approaches being sustainable for the length of the play is telling, I think. I felt the same. I'd call it a noble failure.

Jana said...

But they were not making full, rounded plays - isn't that the point? You are usually an advocate of judging theatre on its own terms, Alison. Isn't the friction between the separate directorial approaches the basic thing to look at in 3xSisters?

As of Chekhov, I'll make the next point as a theatre nihilist. Whoever wanted to make truly courageous theatre in Melbourne right now would be well advised to set up a straight repertory theatre first, and for each brave show they do first put on a garden variety straight version first. I imagine it would make them rich too. The hunger for straight classics in this city is quite amazingly unmet.

Alison Croggon said...

Well, I'd say I was making my comments on what I perceived as the production's own terms. Nor did I claim it was without merit. I'm not asking (when have I?) for "full, rounded plays". I wanted what I saw in the most exciting parts - intelligent and deeply felt theatre. Probably the part I thought most interesting, where I had the best moments, was Mark Winter's; but for that reason it also disappointed me most, because those moments fizzled, amounted to mere provocation, superficiality, going for easy choices, epater les bourgeoisie. I mean, who cares? About the most that can be expected from some of the provocations is that they'll get up Cameron Woodhead's nose. I think there's more interesting ambitions, but they require a bit more searching; also a wider perspective. (On that, I doubt you'd beat me on nihilism Jana; it's only art. And if it's only art, then either it fucking matters or it fucking doesn't). If you think I'm demanding dreary authorial fidelity (which is in fact no kind of fidelity at all) then you are misreading me very badly.

Jana said...

I didn't feel that there were any overt provocations in any of the pieces, including Mark's (which, I agree with you, was the most interesting of the three, although all were interesting). What is your opinion? I thought the cardinal provocation was to stage them together, to remove that nice coherence of each by pitching them so forcefully one against the other. The main discussion was internal to the piece, which I find mesmerising, and very new to Melbourne.

The only person who I'd debate ad hominem would be Mr Woodhead, whose criticism strikes me as likely to harm the local theatre quite extremely. We rarely see such vicious reviewing, and it's usually directed at people whose reputations aren't made or broken in Melbourne (you know, Kosky, Andrews). It is a great way to ensure no one attempts to do something radically new in a few years to come, also because Hayloft commit financially, and in terms to publicity, to an extent that's rare in Melbourne. And how are we to get interesting theatre if the main newspaper will allow that nothing, nothing exciting was done there?

Thoughtful Theatre said...

Jana and Alison:

I am in Jana's camp. I felt the play was broken open and the guts thrown forward for us to look at.

I was simultaneously caught up in the story and the deconstruction of theatrical convention. It was exciting seeing what we expect, know and demand of mainstream theater thrown out the window.

I see this experiment as an step further from films like Mulholland Drive and Jonny Darko, where we are allowed to let go of a cohesive narrative to examine concepts, ideas, psychology, ways of existing in or hiding from the world.

The noise around Benedict's parts highlighted moments of profound beauty and philosophy of human thought and experience. The floated free and remained with me in a way words rarely do, even in high quality theater.

never fear Jana. There are those who will go forward and create interesting theatre, that many will hate and love, regardless of Woodhead! Just watch me

Gilligan said...

Hi Alison,
Thanks you for your brilliantly articulated review. Although there will be those who will argue, this production of 3 sisters was a horrible piece of theatre.

In the program it states that the directors didn't discuss ideas before they began rehearsals. However, they all must have gone to see Schlusser's Peer Gynt at VCA earlier this year, or perhaps his earlier work there, as this production was a half asked impersonation of his brilliant reworking of classical texts. However, as you pointed out, Schlusser deconstructs texts in order to get to the heart of them, and pulls out the fragments that resonate the most with contemporary audiences. This production was filled with self-indulgent wank that was imposed on the script in order for the cast and directors to show the Melbourne theatre scene how experimental and avant-garde they are.

As for Stone's concept- placing the characters in a literal environment of suspended transit and waiting in what seemed to be an airport lounge- how did he think up that piece of genius? Deep, right?

Hardie should be charged by the theatre police for committing one of the most sinful crimes: making theatre about theatre. As with MTC's Realism, audiences are subjected to a horrible piece of theatre that is all about itself and the people in it. This examining of the play and theatre's dynamics is fine for theatre makers, students and critics to watch, we get it. But audiences don't pay the entry fee to see actors waltzing around the stage pretentiously discussing how intellectual their art is. They pay to be affected. Hardie's section of the play did nothing but make the audience pray for some sort of connection to the power of the text, for the actors to go beyond themselves and reveal to us the power of the play's words and relationships. All they got was an in-joke that took them nowhere. Yes we get it- you love Chekhov- can we get on with it now?

And as for Winter- we see the biggest piece of theatre wank to grace the stages of Melbourne in years. Here we see a director and his ensemble hijack the subtext of a play to serve what they wanted to do in front of an audience. As you said Alison, the violence and sexual references- especially to "God's asshole" and having sex with children- are a cheap attempt at shocking the audience. Oh how they underestimate us.

And the plagiarism:
1. Random seizure from Schlusser’s Life as a Dream.
2. Loud gunshots to the head from Kosky's Women of Troy.
3. Buckets of fake blood from Titus Andronicus used in violent scenes.
4. Men in underwear covered in blood from Avast (The Black Lung boy's were obviously recruited for a reason).
5. The obvious stab at Andrews.
6. The tree from Yibiyung.
7. The frenzied make-out from Peer Gynt.

And there may be more.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for experimental theatre. I think Hayloft should be applauded for putting such an ambitious project on. But when experiments turn into self-indulgent in-house jokes performed only for the creative team’s circle of friends to enjoy and laugh at, as was obviously the case in the audience, we need to pull them up. Woodhead was right. If Melbourne theatre goers are looking for experimental theatre with substance, they need to set some standards. This show falls well below.

However, I do agree that the performances by the actors were very skilful. Everything is done with precision. There are moments of beauty in the second half of the production, when the text is more subtly and skilfully interpreted. And if they hadn't spent the first half of the show being so alternative and avant-garde we might have actually cared when these moments finally arrived.

Anonymous said...

Gilligan,

Please let me do away with this before I enter into any serious comment.

As far as I can comprehend random seizures, actual or feigned, gunshots to the head, near nakedness, dead trees and buckets of blood have been around of their own accord and as tools of genre longer than, and independent of, their being addressed in contemporary theatre.

And besides, consider any artistic movement or society of artists responding to a particular period of time and set of concerns, and turn your eye to the resonating and reoccurring references, themes, imagery, concepts etc. Your allegations of plagiarism are serious and are not to be taken lightly.

Further to that, your assumption that the directors work should be reduced to be understood only as a platform for recognition or a tool by which to shock is powerfully cynical. An artist does not work only from response to other artists, their audience, or for one another, nor to an intended effect, but too, from a deeply personal understanding or connection, intellectual or otherwise, to material.

Perhaps you haven't thought some of your comments through or perhaps you fail to consider that artists, directors, actors and makers come to this site as a forum, but your lack of understanding of artistic process and particularly your offhand sarcasm are beyond unpleasant, they are thoroughly unnecessary.

--

Alison,

I have to declare a personal interest in 3XSISTERS, being that I know a number of the actors and directors. That being said, I have to disagree with your interpretation of the work.

I feel that, had it been made apparent beforehand that the production was not an adaptation or interpretation, so much as a dissection of The Three Sisters and of the influence of the director on the written word, that the critical response would have differed.

Of course you may say that you understood this implicitly in the structuring of the production.

It seems that the lack of information has led people to assume they are in for something comparable to The Hayloft Project’s production of Platonov. A fault that has to be considered, and a lesson learnt from the perspective of the company, a fact I'm sure they'd be the first to acknowledge.

It seems to me that 3XSISTERS is far more a piece about theatre, the means of the construction of works and the influence of reference and aesthetic in a directors presentation of a piece of writing.

I am not disputing that the production is flawed, although I found the piece brimming with wit, fire and a close understanding of the play. Perhaps at times the onslaught of contemporary references, metaphoric imagery and conceptual frames clouded and cluttered the depth of that understanding, though I commented afterward that for all the diversions and distractions, that I felt, saw and heard Chekhov and many of the characters with greater clarity than I had before.

I also took personal offence and was upset on the part of the production that you assumed the reference to Benedict Andrews to be an insult or a cheap shot, so too, the references to Castelluci to be somehow inferior in intent. The aesthetic rigor of Castelluci is dependent on a near Kubrickian model of authorial control, strong financial foundations, lengthy rehearsal periods and a dedicated operating and technical team, none of which are viable for independent theatre. Surely for a production to aspire to a comparable effect in itself deserves consideration if not commendation.

I found in the contrast and contradiction between the three interpretations a sense of brave exploration, necessity and of fierce commitment. I commented after the production to the makers that I felt the production to have set something of bar, at the least in terms of the productions conceptual strength, for all of us emerging theatre makers.

I hope I'm not getting us all into trouble,

regards,


Thomas Wright
The Black Lung Theatre

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Gilligan: well, critical though I was, I thought 3xSisters far from horrible. I think you do misunderstand a show that is basically a collage of quotation...itself problematic in some ways, but a basic tenet of modernism, first in visual art and poetry in the early 20C, then in interesting things like Benjamin's collections of quotations, which then becomes another autonomous text. It's not plagiarism; it's a crude literalisation of the cannibalism artists do (literature would not exist without other literature, etc). I'm often surprised when I find collage/quotation is still controversial, but from various shitfights I've been in in poetry, I've discovered that it is, and that this is always to do with a romantic idea of art's originality, as if it springs fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Which it doesn't.

Maybe the problem I had with 3xSisters was in the distinction Pound made: great poets steal, mediocre poets only borrow. There were things in this show I thought borrowed rather than stolen. But by no means all of them. And this distinction has nothing to do with plagiarism.



Thomas, why would you be getting any of you in trouble by extending the conversation? I'm glad you posted a robust defence of the show (not, I hasten to say, that I was by any means attacking it and certainly found things to commend): as I've noted, it's a show that generates a wide range of responses. You make an interesting point about contextualisation. Myself, I think it was clear the show was about direction: how could it be anything else?

Aesthetic rigor is first of all about thought, not budget. Budgets help, of course; but they don't save the MTC. And all my speculations about the show are at that level of thinking rather than actualisation; the production quality was very high, which perhaps leads to the Porsche effect: you notice more insistently the problems. And perhaps it's because of that I wanted more.

I'm sorry about giving personal offence, which except in very rare instances I never intend. How is one to take that box, then (from Benedict with love STC, not to be used, or whatever it said)? It will be read as a swipe, I think even Jana took it as that, whether or not that was intended. For me it suddenly brought things into local theatrical politics, exuberant perhaps but still suddenly in the realm of parochial rivalries. Other directors might have been referenced, but none of them were named... The quote from Beckett struck me as undigested; but I liked Winter's genre stuff. I've said about three times I thought it the most interesting: not apologising here for my criticisms, but wanting to point out that they are more nuanced than some people, of whatever opinion, seem to be taking them. I wanted all that to amount to something more than it did. I've seen a couple of brilliant straight(ish) Chekhov productions (most notably the Moscow Art Theatre's production of The Seagull in the early 90s) and this didn't come anywhere near it in fierce, memorable emotional power. The Cat Power song at the end did my head in: its being where you finish, it left me with this real sense of oh, is that all it is? All it amounts to? Maybe that was the intention... but if so, I begin to wonder why, and begin to worry that you might end up with empty self referentialities of BritArt, a whole lot of advertising that disappears up its own bum, which defends itself with a bunch of post-modern ironies (art is a consumable object, we're just satirising hyper-consumerism, etc). Again, I'm not saying that is what 3xSisters did: but there was enough of that sense in my experience of it to give me some disquiet.

Alison Croggon said...

PS Jana - re Cameron's review - I'd just say his response was predictable. Did anyone really think he would like the show? And in defence of Cameron, and critical response in general, if he didn't like it, he is obliged to say so. And I also suggest that although a review in the Age once did "make or break" a show in Melbourne, especially for so-called "fringe" artists, and the long reign of Radic had devastating consequences for the theatre culture here, I'd say that now that things are rather different. This conversation being one of the differences.

Jana said...

I read the review before seeing the show, so had no predictions up my sleeve. The dislike, understable. The vitriol? Not so much.

And Gillian, all the things you mention existed before the shows you saw them in. Shotguns were not put on stage by Kosky, and the stab at Andrews was quite lovely, considering that he stole the falling goldleaf wholesale from Europe (but most of us wouldn't know, would we?). Every image has a shelf life; this is particularly true of theatre images. With such a localized art, it's quite necessary to look at whether it works in the context first. How long have chairs stood centre stage, mind you? How long have the microphones been employed? Should we not finally do away with triangular blocking? Originality, particularly in Australia, is always very rare.

Alison Croggon said...

Funny, that's exactly what was said when my Playbox reviews became controversial: that what I said was ok, but not the vitriol... Argue with Cameron by all means; I usually don't agree with what he says, as you know. But you can't claim that he doesn't have the right to say and write what he thinks, or to follow his own taste, or the idea of critical discourse becomes a nonsense. And Jana, your own reviews might sometimes be said to be as full of vitriol as Cameron's! You can't demand trenchant criticism, on the one hand, and then say it goes too far when you disagree with it on the other!

I find myself kind of bridling at the Eurocentric cringe stuff in the rest of your comment... I have my problems with and criticisms of Australian culture, as you know. Originality is something I feel a bit ambiguous about; I think it's an overvalued or at least often a mistakenly awarded quality. Like Eliot, I tend to feel that genuine originality only happens when people have a profound understanding of cultural/aesthetic traditions (in this way I am probably betraying the "post" part of my post-romantic inclinations). Very often it seems to me there's a hunger for the novel that is nothing to do with actual originality. At the same time, I wouldn't say that originality - or original thinking, anyway - is particularly rare in Australia compared to Europe. There are conditions here which can in fact mean the opposite.

Chris Kohn said...

"Originality, particularly in Australia, is always very rare."

Jana, please explain. Compared to where, exactly? I saw 3xsisters last night and enjoyed it very much, and was catching up on yours and Alison's responses, and enjoying that very much, but this line, even in context, had me gobsmacked.

Emily Sexton said...

Disclaimer - I'm seeing the show(s) tomorrow night.

But Jana while you're at it, I'd really like this comment explained:

"The main discussion was internal to the piece, which I find mesmerising, and very new to Melbourne."

Come on... new to Melbourne? There's a long and rich history here and this work must be seen in context.

Which thankfully Alison you are very good at providing!

Gilligan said...

Dear Tom and Alison,
Plagiarism was the wrong word. However, I feel that it is ridiculous to disregard the rather extensive list of images directly taken from other plays in Melbourne over the last 12 months as coincidence. Yes Tom, all of those things existed well before they were used in contemporary theatre. But these weren’t just similar to images used in the other plays I listed, they are practically identical, not new ideas inspired or informed by the current artistic climate in Melbourne. Alison, you didn’t seem to argue this point at all in your response.

You referred to this “borrowing” of images as a “collage of quotation”. But to this point, nowhere on this forum, or anywhere in the production program, has anyone been able to identify a reason as to why these images were “borrowed” for this “collage”. What do theatrical devices (to be diplomatic) from other shows in Melbourne over the last year have to do with 3 Sisters? If there is a reason, then it may be acceptable to have used them. But even so, only regular theatre goers with a strong memory of the images used would pick up on it. If there is no reason for it, then we have a problem. But it is the responsibility of audiences and reviewers to ask these questions and hold productions accountable for what happens on stage.

Furthermore, Tom, you seem to have taken both mine and Alison’s comments as a personal affront, where really they were intended as a critique of a production you had no personal affiliation with, other than that your friends were performers. Any reviewer has the right to say what they think about a show, whether it is Cameroon Woodhead, Alison, or anyone who comments in this forum. To suggest that people shouldn’t aggressively criticize productions they believe to be self indulgent disasters, because the artists involved use this forum themselves, is incredibly precious.

As for your claim that the Benedict Andrews reference was not a swipe, I would very much like to hear you rationalise the reasoning behind its inclusion in the production. To prevent the further perpetuation of the ‘in-joke’ meta-theatrics that are present within the close-knit Melbourne theatre community from continuing to alienate the general public, essential companies such as Hayloft must engage in theatre that concerns not only itself, but also the world in which it exists.

Those who have seen the show will be aware that the artists left a message for the audience on the ticket. It stated “The very nature of this project is to generate discussion as a community about theatre. About what you liked and what you hated. And why you liked or hated it. So please yell at us in the foyer, or buy us drinks, whichever you would prefer”. So Tom, your suggestion that my criticism of this play is “unnecessary” surely contradicts what this show set out to do. They followed up that request by saying “But let us know”. Consider my original post, and this one, me letting them know.

Tom, you said that this production set a bar for experimental theatre in Melbourne. As Ms Sexton pointed out, Melbourne has a long history of high quality experimental theatre. I would suggest that The Black Lung is in fact the most important of the experimental companies in Melbourne, and Hayloft a close second. I have enormous respect for Hayloft, and commended them in my first comment for putting on such a daring and ambitious show. I also stated that the performances were all of a very high standard, and that there were moments of beauty in the second half. However, this production didn’t set the bar for experimental theatre in Melbourne; it fell well short of the bar set by your company, as well as many others, including Hayloft itself.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Gilligan - most of the buckets of blood stuff seemed to me to be taken from Scorcese rather than local theatre directors (aside from the moment when fake blood was poured on the floor and the resonant beating as the actor writhed in it, which was straight Castellucci); the major reference was the murder scene from Taxi Driver, along with various Vietnam vet and Hollywood noir detective movies, or, as suggested above, Jarmusch, who seems a likely source for the southern grotesquerie, though at the time I was thinking Sam Shepard. I think the quotations need to be taken in their context - meaning that it wasn't just theatre productions that were (arguably, in some cases) quoted, including things like the Actors Studio, but also popular music (Patti Smith, Cat Power) and film... you could probably hunt down dozens if you cared to. So the show does generate a texture of collage/quotation with a much wider net than local theatre. I do think this is a legitimate way of making art, but that doesn't mean that it always works. In fact, for it to work, it probably requires a great deal of nice judgment. Tact, even. (Which I think is a much underrated quality in art).

I confess that there were times when I was quite lost about what some of these images - film or theatrical - did have to do with Three Sisters. There were also moments in Mark Winter's controversial section when I really did see the point, however through a glass darkly. The smallest acquaintance with the history of Russia might give one clue.

I think it's a good point that if people make theatre that aims to be provocative - and the makers of 3xSisters surely can't claim that they didn't intend provocation - they have to expect that people will be provoked.

Gilligan said...

Thanks Alison,
However, although you pointed out that you saw the connection between all of these images and 3 Sisters at some point, I believe you are yet to state it. If the only connection is with Russia's bloody past, then this is quite broad, and again we could say that Winter was hijacking vague elements of the play to do what he wanted on stage. I feel he certainly did this by grabbing hold of what he believed was the inside of Solyony’s mind to perform unnecessary violence and sex in front of an uninterested audience.

Furthermore, all the other references, such as Taxi Driver, Patti Smith and perhaps Beckett, are a part of popular culture or are at least widely known, and images from this genre are used by post-modernism all the time. However, the images from other productions are far too specific, and known only by a handful of theatre regulars in Melbourne, to fall under this category. So, again, why the borrowing?

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Gilligan - I didn't want to repeat what I wrote in the review: the "violence and sexuality squirming beneath bourgeois social conventions, the classist cruelty that led to the Russian Revolution, even a reflection of how a production can be a forensic dissection of a cultural corpse". Certainly the first two are in Three Sisters (check out some of Solyony's dialogue or the treatment of Natalia in the play), and the second is a perfectly fine way of critiquing a classic play.

Which images are you specifically speaking about here? I've seen all the productions you mention, and the only reference that really struck me was one you didn't list (Castellucci) and of course the notorious Benedict moment. I thought those others you mention came from somewhere else. Though perhaps only the directors really know.

Alison Croggon said...

...I should probably expand a little here: (and by "the second" in the par above, I of course meant the third point).

I suppose part of what constitutes a classic text is not only the text itself, but the history of its performance, which conditions how we perceive it. (Eg, what was Peter Hall doing when he restaged The Oresteia in masks?) That was certainly a conversation in the show, and I don't think it's an illegitimate one by any means, especially with Chekhov, who is (I believe) much spikier and tougher than is generally allowed in the melancholy Chekhovian twilight that surrounds him. Insofar as Winter's (and the other directors') provocations challenged this view, I was happy to follow them. Though as I said, the centrigfugal violence of that investigation I thought went way beyond that. And, as somebody pointed out last night, it might have been nice to see some real frictional traction happening between the three interpretations, rather than a flat presentation of them...

And yes, there is a point where it ceases to be Chekhov, in which case it might be better to dispense with the text and just admit that one is doing something completely different. And there is a point where staged violence simply becomes boring and naff. I guess different perceptions about what those points might be (or whether they exist at all) is what stimulates a fair bit of this discussion... But I do confess, I don't quite understand your outrage about the quotations, wherever they might come from... which is not always easy to pin, without an insider's knowledge of the process. Why, for example, would the tree be from Yibiyung? Why would it not be Beckett's tree? (Did Enoch pinch Beckett's tree?) Or from a Tarkovsky film? Or any number of Russian romances among the birches?

Jana said...

We're having some wonderful discussion here, hey! Thanks, Alison, for being such a generous host!

I should probably come back to my sleepy comments post factum and clarify.

Emily: discussion internal to the piece I do find rare in Melbourne. The only recent example I can think of is Two Faced Bastard, and my chief problem with that work was that it leaned too strongly toward conflict resolution to stage a genuine argument, as I said at the time.

Chris, Alison: we are comparing a single country with a continent of ca 50, in most of which theatre is overwhelmingly seen as something important enough to receive lavish funding. More significantly, between these 50 countries there is an enormous amount of touring, of cultural exchange, while in Australia we tend to receive theatre visitors from cultures similar to ours, with similar theatre, and a great deal of it rather bland mainstream (a lot to do with the sheer financial cost of shipping a production to Australia). To substantiate: how often do we see Lithuanian theatre, among the most respected today? How often do we see Canadian theatre in comparison? Even more significantly, our documentation of our own theatre tradition is quite lax, and archives are not eactly in-your-face, not even those open to the public. Thus, our chance to see/learn different ways of doing things is somewhat diminished. Particularly, yes, compared to the touring circus that European theatre becomes in the festival season, where most theatres are wealthy enough, and the distances close enough to make travel between its 200 or so festivals easily and cheaply. It is a question of sheer numbers (distance/festivals/theatre workers). Alison, you are free to call it novelty. I should perhaps not call it originality; perhaps formal innovation is a better term. This is the rare thing.

There is originality that comes with isolation too, and I understand it is highly prized. However, when the local way of doing things is freshened up, even with second-hand influences, it must be a good thing. (I, for one, believe Australian theatre is robust enough to absorb influences and renew itself, not morph into un-Australian theatre!)

The point was made, though, mainly to counter the plagiarism argument. I am glad that one has developed without my input. Gillian makes a very valid point about the non-theatre audience reception, however. A company like Hayloft, that makes a very strong effort to get the mainstream, non-regular-theatre-audience interested in its work, should take her points into account.

Final note, Alison, on criticism and ethics. I allow myself outrage only with well-funded, mainstream theatre. I think I haven't written a damning review since Complicite/Force Majeure, and even that was mainly mournful. I don't review small theatre I completely dislike, and I refuse review comps for any show I want to see I suspect I may not like much. Even little bloggers have some small power in this world, and I try to use mine well. (Rather beautifully, the word verification I need to type in says 'purevank'!) However, as one cannot have an actual critical discourse with Mr Woodhead (not in the newspapers, at least, not on equal footing, not reaching that same wide mainstream) the axe that he wields is significantly bigger than anyone else's, and to use it with such brutality strikes me as... unethical, I's say. Unethical.

Alison Croggon said...

My pleasure, absolutely, Jana...I've found this discussion fascinating.

Point taken on the touring thing in Europe, which also means that successful productions have long lives there. But Australian travel a lot, many theatre artists work between Europe and Australia, and Australian productions also commonly tour in Asia, Europe and America, on that very same festival circuit. (Off hand, I can think of Chunky Move, Back to Back, Lucy Guerin, Ranters, not to mention a large number of peripatetic writers and directors). I don't think that tyranny of distance thing works any more in theatre as it once did, and certainly in these cyber days you can't assume isolation.

The sad thing about the lack of documentation of Australian theatre is that many of our more interesting artists slip through the cracks, ie, they simply don't figure in the histories except as much more than footnotes. I really don't know what you mean by "internal to the piece". Self reflexiveness, formal self awareness? I'd say there's been a fair bit of that here - eg, The work of Margaret Cameron over the past decades as performer and writer, or the sound work of Caroline Connors with innovative poetry, or many others, surely provides samples of that... ... as Emily said, there's a rich tradition of rich theatre here, and on more than a parochial level. Not that I despise the parochial - what else is there in theatre? But it can be very difficult to find out about it.

As for the ethic thing - that's a tricky one. Anyone who writes reviews (and who isn't a sadist) knows that it can be very difficult to write negative reviews, and sometimes it seems more merciful not to. I've done that on occasion myself, but I always feel uncomfortable about it.

I wouldn't say Cameron's review was particularly unethical. I'd say it was particularly cross. It expresses a particular point of view, that was probably expressed more eloquently the night I went by a couple of very ostentatious walkouts. What bothers me about Cameron's reviews, although I think they are better than they were, is not their frankness, nor their harshness, but their lack of curiosity: the assumption, for example, that anyone making theatre outside certain narrow conventions is just like Benedict Andrews, which is patently nonsense.

Yet the idea that if one can't say anything good one should say nothing at all is a problem: it's a prevailing ideology in poetry reviewing, which as I mentioned to you is in a problematic state, and where a negative review, no matter how soberly argued, will almost inevitably generate personal offence (for years, sometimes). It's not healthy for the art.

To hold off on small or young companies in effect would mean that people would get an easy ride until they hit the mainstream stages, when it would be open season. Is that a good thing? And I can't help feeling it's patronising. While I agree that you can't judge an unfunded, independent production on the same terms as a well-funded main stage one, there is something very democratic about theatre - talent and intelligence and passion and imagination count for much more than material resources, and money guarantees none of those things.

Alison Croggon said...

PS An aside for those interested in the whole question of criticism - a polemic on American poetry reviewing by provocateur poet Kent Johnson, with a variety of interesting responses, at Mayday magazine. The arguments are applicable to theatre, I think...

Gilligan said...

Alison,
I wouldn’t go as far to say I was outraged by the use of these images. In fact, this was far from the biggest issue I had with this production.

I’ll explain my experience of this production more clearly. I entered with high expectations, I’d heard great things about this show and am a big fan of many of the artists involved.

As I sat down and the play began, I was intrigued by what was happening on stage. However, as the first 10-15 minutes of the production unfolded, I realised what I was watching: A wanna-be Daniel Schlusser production. Not only that, but as the night progressed I was increasingly disenchanted with what was happening on stage, mainly because of the hugely self-indulgent nature of the performance.

It was obvious to me, and you picked up on it too, that the directors were attempting to do what Schlusser does when he tackles classical texts. However, Schlusser deconstructs texts and pulls out the images he believes resonate the most with contemporary society, making them engaging works for contemporary audiences. 3xSisters was a poor impersonation of this method. In fact, as the play unfolded, it became clear that what was missing was the deep understanding that Schlusser has of text, and also his relentless rehearsal process.

This all came to a head about half way through the production when one of the female characters went into a mad seizure. Instantly, I recognised this image from Schlusser’s work, and my friend next to me looked straight at me, having realised the same thing. This then made me aware of several other images that I recognised- most notably the man shooting people in the head with a revolver from Kosky’s Women of Troy. I listed others, and you picked up on more. Had these images stood by themselves in the production I wouldn’t have said anything. For instance, I only realised the tree looked very similar to the tree from Yibiyung after the other realisations. But the fact that there were so many made me question what it was all about.

This production is currently being praised by many people in Melbourne for being groundbreaking and experimental. These people need only look at a Schlusser play to realise that this approach to classical text has been happening in Melbourne for years. Chris Boyd should know this too.

Gilligan with a g

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Gilligan with a g - I basically agree with what you say here, bar some details that interested me...

Anonymous said...

Gilligan,

I’m not interested in butter-for-fat debate; my comment referred not to your criticism itself, which you are of course entitled to, as unnecessary, but your assumption of the intention of the directors and the offhandedness assumed in asserting that.

The comment referring to artists using this site as a forum referred to the critical debate, useable to artists, that should result out of a forum. Rather than construct a case for argument, you relied on derision and the accusation of what was ‘plagiarism’ now ‘borrowing’, once more, an assumption that the directors saw the productions.

Personally, I saw the reference to Benedict Andrews as a throwaway comment that should any director want to rain an effect, they would have to be aware of that reference to be supposed to be connected to Benedict Andrews, who has made considerable use, to great effect, of the device; and nothing more, other than perhaps that for an independent company, that effect is bloody difficult to enact, better to throw from a cardboard box. I don’t see the reference as isolating in intent, though the reference may be understood and appreciated by some members of the audience and not others. Although I would suggest that of attending audiences and practitioners, a great proportion would be aware of the recurrence of that concept.

It should be noted that I cannott understand the categorisation of the production as a ‘collage of quotation’.

On a personal note, The Black Lung Theatre has used dead trees, near nakedness, buckets of blood, random seizures and gunshots to the head similar to, before and without knowledge of the listed productions. Anticipating your response, we have not been referenced in the production.

regards,


Thomas Wright
The Black Lung Theatre

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Thomas.

The "collage of quotation" isn't a categorisation so much as an attempt at description. What I saw was - stylistically speaking, and textually as well - pretty much a collage collecting quotations from all over the place, which I won't bother to re-list. It seems natural to place that within a long tradition of collage and bricolage that began with Braques and Picasso, and which in literature included things as diverse as Eliot's Wasteland and Kurt Schwitters, and is also a particular feature of much post-modern poetry, such as the British poet Eric Mottram, or the pastiches of John Ashbery. It applies in other ways; Jacques Derrida says, "If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one's concept from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur." The discourse the directors were having with the text struck me as very much of that nature.

Does that explain it more clearly?

Gilligan said...

Thomas,
At no point did I “assume” the intention of the directors. I was simply expressing what I experienced as an audience member. Personally, I don’t care what the directors intention is, as an audience member all one can do is interpret the show as they see it. What I saw was a massively self indulgent piece of theatre showing little understanding of its source text, which I have expressed in previous posts.

Also I don’t think anyone has been interpreting the Andrews incident the way you expressed it. Either way, it’s an in-house joke that is only understood by those involved in theatre. If, as you suggested, most of the audience fits this category, then one might argue that this production has had little effect on society other than to stir up discussion on Theatre Notes. Jokes like this are alienating to the general public, and add to the perception that theatre is inaccessible to everyday people (as in not involved in theatre, or even regular theatre goers). For example, if someone who didn’t regularly go to the theatre saw 3xSisters, they wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on, and probably wouldn’t be returning to the theatre anytime soon. Conversely, a show like Ranters Holiday, which was experimental in form, would surly inspire further attendance as it is accessible to all people, not just a theatre in-crowd. This can also be said for the edgier Schlusser style.

Furthermore, if you are to dismiss the references I saw in the production, are you able to respond to Alison’s observation of the slipping in blood on the plastic sheet as being “straight Castellucci”?


Alison,
The forum on Sunday sounds intriguing. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it. Will it be awkward having Schlusser there after you agreed with my suggestion that 3xSisters was a poor impersonation of one of his productions? And will Woodhead be attending?

Gilligan

Alison Croggon said...

Why should the panel be awkward? We’re all grown-ups, no? I agreed that Schlusser’s productions of classic texts are much more profound engagements – something I said in my review. I’m not sure I agree that 3xSisters is an impersonation.

I hope it will be an interesting discussion. And I’d be extremely surprised if Cameron turned up, although that is of course up to him.

Thomas C said...

Thank you to the other participants in this discussion! Gilligan, the passion with which you have responded to 3xSisters has certainly made for interesting reading. However, there are a few points that you have made that I strongly disagree with.

The assertion that 3xSisters was an impersonation of Daniel Schlusser's work is, I believe, very misguided. To say that any piece of theatre that deconstructs, and tears apart the traditional text is automatically the same as Schlusser's approach to creating theatre is terrifyingly reductive. Schlusser is an amazingly accomplished director who is able to take a text and, through his working of the ideas/characters/narrative development, place it into a modern context. However, that does not automatically mean that any Melbourne theatre company who has a similar approach (aim?) with their staging of texts, are simply poor imitations of Schlusser's work.

What exactly makes 3xSisters an imitation of Schlusser's work, anyway? The fact that the line between 'actor' and 'character' is blurred? Or that the words that the actors speak depart from the text? Perhaps you are talking about Benedict Hardie's section? However, what Hardie and the actors were playing with was an explicit sense of self-consciousness from the actors that they were being watched. While Daniel has played with this in his work (at various moments in A Doll House and once or twice in Life Is a Dream), there is a strong sense of the fourth wall being firmly in place in his productions. The stage-personae act without a desire to be heard all the time.

Furthermore, I find it interesting, Gilligan that in your last comment you deemed 3xSisters a "massively self indulgent piece of theatre showing little understanding of its source text". To some extent, I can understand (though I largely disagree) why someone would have found 3xSisters to be self-indulgent. However, I think that each of the parts displayed a thorough understanding of the text. For me ACT II (Mark Winter's part) put on stage what is bubbling away under the surface in Chekhov's text. The beauty of 3 Sisters is that there is so much that isn't said. What was so exciting about Winters' part was how explicit and gratuitous everything was. His part was working on so many different levels. One of the things that I really appreciated about his work, was what I took to be the provocation of what would this family be like if they were placed into a 21st century context- the boredom, the sexual and physical suppression.

There is a lot more to say about this production. I went back a second time to see it. I'm glad that there seems to be a general consensus that the actors all did a wonderful job. It was a pleasure to see them working so beautifully on stage.

I'm looking forward to the dialogue tomorrow!

Gilligan said...

Hello Thomas C,
I obviously don't mean they literally set out to do what Schlusser does in his productions. But I think their intended result was very much in the same area. There are many ways of approaching a classical text, especially if your intention is to modernise it. For example, I think what Kosky did with The Trojan Women could be placed in this category, but the approach and end result was certainly very different to what Schlusser does. My point is that there are many ways to approach a text like 3 Sisters, and they seemed to be taking the Schlusser road.

I agree that there are things about this production that are very different to a Schlusser play, but there were many features that were similar. You pointed out many of them yourself. It wasn't so much the use of these devices that was the problem, it was the lack of execution.

Of course these devices aren't exclusively Schlusser, he got them from somewhere himself. But he has been a very unique artist in Melbourne for years, and this production, in my eyes, was someone trying to use his approach in their work to make a good piece of theatre. I have no problem with that. My problem is they did it for a desired end result without fully understanding the complexities of the process required for these tools to be effective.

In regards to my comments on the piece being self-indulgent:

You said that Winter's section was exciting because it was explicit and gratuitous. I felt the general mood and response of the audience to this section to be boredom. This might also explain why half of them left at interval. Yes, Chekhov is a great writer because of the subtext he creates. I think the general audience response was that they were craving for a breath, a moment or two within the madness to absorb the full impact of what we were experiencing. Without some sort of contrast the madness means nothing. Why not contrast this imagery with a moment of the dullness the sisters experience everyday? The lack of these moments throughout the whole production, for me, made it a very flat, uninteresting piece of theatre. It also showed a lack of understanding on the directors part of the mechanics of theatre. If they were experimenting with this, they failed. That's okay too.

Also, I agree the performances of the actors were outstanding.

Gilligan

tom said...

god this is exhausting! and exhilarating...

let me add this to the debate. I think what we are seeing is a sea change in the way theatre is made. I think we are standing on a fault line.

when i think back to early Barrie Kosky work (even though it was intimately connected to Peter King et al) i remember thinking that he was bringing something 'other' to the table.

benedict andrews was inevitably accused of stealing, as was daniel schlusser and michael kantor.

in my own practice - modest as it is compared to others mentioned in this debate - I consciously investigate the inspiration of others. you do this, I take it there etc.

the thing is, there is a chain of being in this debate. you can't have picasso without monet etc etc. In some ways artistic practice is a shared process, a chain reaction if you like.

what i feel is at the core of this debate is something i feel deep within myself - that the core of theatre making is shifting. That meyerhold has beaten stanislavski. that, in the great debate of style in the last century, brecht has defeated miller.

it's a thought that feels completely resolved to me, but appears to be radical to some.

i say bravo to all those artists involved in 3xsisters, hayloft in general, black lung and all the front line fighters who know that theatre must be redefined if it's not to turn into a museum form.

i say that melbourne theatre is richer not only for them but for michael kantor, stephen armstrong, maryanne lynch and catherine jones who have brought it, kicking and screaming to a subscriber audience.

i say that theatre is a leading edge form whose boundaries must be pushed - shoved if necessary - into places we do not recognise (leave the recognition factor for tv).

i say stop wanting so much reverence and respect. it belongs in church. watch the olivier (or equivalent) movie if you must.

i was so moved, so overcome by the ambition of this project, so humbled by its intelligence, its insight (and of course those actors about whom we all agree). it didn't all work, but the bits that did couldn't have without the bits that didn't.

it's an imperfect form, elusive and complex. counter-intuitive to our age of perfect reproduction. theatre is at its best in its guise of bastard child.

i'm not convinced that I will ever again be so moved by the final line which seems to sum up this debate: "if only we knew!"

i hope so, but it's set a very high bar for me.

humble regards, tom healey

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Tom! Certainly the making of theatre is shifting. Although I think it's shifting in all sorts of directions: watching Beng Oh's beautiful production of Kroetz's Mensch Meier for Hoy Polloy on Sunday made me reflect how these sorts of explorations throw into relief the question of naturalism, making it no longer a default choice. There's an urgency and ambition in that work too that seems to me equally necessary. It's a wonderful time to be watching theatre in Melbourne, I think...

Anonymous said...

Should music and text from other sources eg dialogue
and music from Taxi Driver be acknowledged in the program?Is it a free for all situation?

Gilligan said...

Hello Tom Healey,
Thank you for your passionate response. Yes we certainly do have many artists to inform and inspire us- Kosky, Andrews, Schlusser...Obama...

Anyway, I am quite shocked at your suggestion that one style has “beaten” another. Theatre isn’t a battle ground where practitioners fight each other until one’s methodologies are no more, this would lead to all productions being rather similar, which would be boring. Also, there are no absolutes in theatre. For example, without Stanislavski’s approach it is possible that many performances within non-naturalistic productions wouldn’t be as wholly realised. Different styles and approaches to theatre-making inform each other. This is an ongoing debate and investigation that will never be “completely resolved” as you suggest. Ideas in our art form must stay “radical”.


Question:
Can this production only be appreciated by people with an existing knowledge of Three Sisters and a working understanding of post-modern theatre?

I went to this show with a group of friends. A few of them hadn’t read Three Sisters before and had next to no idea what was going on for most of the show. At the end they were unaware of the significance of many of the relationships within the play and therefore many of the straighter moments in the second half, and also the ending, held little weight for them. Thoughts?

Gilligan

Anonymous said...

"Should music and text from other sources eg dialogue and music from Taxi Driver be acknowledged in the program?Is it a free for all situation?"

This omission was pointed out early in the run and later programs were updated to include acknowledgements.

4 Coffins said...

I thought it was an extremely well executed attention-grabbing stunt. I loved it! Congratulations, Hayloft?

James Waites said...

I worry about you Melbourne people: why don't you just air kiss and complain about the quality of the free booze like we do here in Sydney? Too much attention to detail....

Alison Croggon said...

It's all the black clothing, James. We think we're living on the Left Bank.

Thoughtful Theatre said...

It makes feel Less provincial, like we are part of the "real world" where all the "real art and culture" happens ;)

Alison Croggon said...

Oh, but we are! As Frank O'Hara said:

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out "I am
an orphan."

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!
Imagine!

Thoughtful Theatre said...

I'm sure you realized I was being tongue in cheek. i adore the arts culture here and feel so inspired and in the middle of a thriving, cutting edge scene. Not cut off at all!

XO
G

Anonymous said...

http://meanjin.com.au/editions/volume-69-number-1-2010/article/-like-this-little-spirit-that-wafts-contemporary-theatre-in-australia/