Once upon a time, O my best beloved, when the jungle was so primitive that not one animal had an iPhone, Ms Alison did one thing at a time, and that thing was mostly poems. But the gods of boredom, or the current economic imperative, or fatal curiosity, have meant that over the years Ms Alison has divided and multiplied in an amoebic fashion into all sorts of different Mss. This has all been great fun, and most deeply interesting, but it does result in periods of deeply uninteresting strife, when all the different Alisons start fighting among each other, and the Boss Alison can't get any of them to shut up and behave themselves.
|Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word: L-R, James Henry, Christopher Green as Tina C, Auriel Andrew|
The only answer to such a situation is to start doing something else. (Obviously.) So, in a sudden clarifying blaze of financial panic, I began another novel. In her transcendent wisdom, Boss Alison also accepted an invitation from Overland Literary Journal to review poetry regularly for their blog. My first review, of UK poet Sean Bonney's collection Happiness: Poems After Rimbaud, was uploaded yesterday. Meanwhile, an offering from another Alison, an extract from the libretto for the opera Mayakovsky, is in the Autumn issue, which has just been published. You should all subscribe: not because I'm in it, but because of everything else that is.
Meanwhile, Ms TN, the Alison who attends to this blog, has found herself severely behind her own schedule. So she begs, as she emerges in a disheveled fashion from the recent scuffle holding a steak to her eye, that you excuse her brevity. She hopes she will not be forced too often to short notices, but what with one thing and all the others, that is how it is at present. Herewith is a brief record of the past fortnight's theatre attendances. I can't find a through line: these are all completely disparate experiences.
Last night I went to see Tina C: Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word at the Malthouse. Country star Tina C is the invention of British theatre maker Christopher Green, and she brings an excoriating experience of cultural imperialism to her hapless audiences. Just as the intrepid explorers "discovered" Australia and scrawled their own names over the map, ignoring the perfectly good names that had been used for thousands of years, Tina C offers us an Australia redrawn through the naive gaze of a celebrity outsider.
Armed with research conducted by some nice Indian people at $4 an hour (you send books over and they send back summaries), she offers us some Aboriginal (rhymed with vaginal) facts in her "Aboriginal Monologues". She offers some useful new terms - "Old Australasians" and "New Australasians" - that we can play with. She urges us all to include the Indigenous people, who had an unfortunate habit of not buying anything and sharing what they had, in our constant struggle to support the GDP, instead of leaving them out of our capitalist society. In the best tradition of American feel-good revivalist meetings, she makes the audience hug each other. In short, she's a monster: an often hilarious caricature of white Australia's attitudes to our Indigenous people.
The other aspect of this show, the authenticity that sparks against Tina C's outrageous inauthenticity, is the immediate emotional power of country music itself, which has been one of the favoured cultural expressions in Aboriginal society. Tina C is backed by James Henry, grandson of the famous Indigenous country singer Jimmy Little, and the show features a spine-tingling guest appearance by another country star, Auriel Andrew, from the Arrernte people in Alice Springs. Andrews' version of Bob Randell's classic Brown Skin Baby, the anthem of the Stolen Generation, is devastating. It's worth seeing for this performance alone.
It's a show that holds together despite everything that threatens to make it fall apart, and I can't deny that I enjoyed it; but it strikes me as a bit of an oddball inclusion in the Malthouse's current season. The direction is scrappy: the performance was too often fighting against the open, stripped stage in the Beckett Theatre, which muffled its focused energy, and I wondered what it would be like on a stage that was more obviously cabaret. But Green has a voice to die for, an irresistible presence and an odd, spiky physicality that adds a sense of vulnerability to his monstrous persona. I'm still not sure about the collision of energies at work here: they claim to resolve in a healing moment of understanding (through, of course, music). And there is, of course, a truth in that; but I wonder if it's too easy a truth.
|Andrew Collis (Nick Shadow) and Benjamin Namdarian (Tom Rakewell) in|
Victorian Opera's The Rake's Progress. Photo: Jeff Busby
Victorian Opera's The Rake's Progress, directed by John Bell, is different order of experience altogether. WH Auden and Chester Kallman's libretto springs from Hogarth's famous series of paintings, which follow the story of a rake who turns away from true love to squander a couple of fortunes in in debauchery and excess, only to end up in a debtor's prison and, finally, Bedlam. Auden and Kallman turn from Hogarth's grim, theatrical realism to make a moral allegory very loosely based on the paintings, with Tom Rakewell, the determinedly decadent villain of the paintings, transformed into a misled boy.
In this version of the story, Rakewell (Benjamin Namdarian) begins in love. The root of his evils is laziness: he wants marry Ann Trulove (Tiffany Speight), but her father Trulove (Jerzy Kozlowski) wants him to earn a respectable living. (In the paintings, Rakewell brutally attempts to buy off his pregnant mistress, refusing marriage for a life of debauchery). The catalyst for disaster is Nick Shadow (Andrew Collis), a mysterious and devilish figure who turns up with the promise of an inheritance, as long as Tom moves to London and leaves his lover. From there, of course, it's all downhill.
The story continues as an absurd, often self-parodying allegory about the dangers of abandoning true love, ending with a series of morals pointed out by the different characters, according to their various predilections. If the result lacks the drama of Hogarth's paintings, it does have Stravinsky's music, which draws on the wit and colour of Mozart, and it's here given a bravura performance by Orchestra Victoria, under the conducting of Richard Gill.
Leon Krasenstein's design opts for minimalist sets and maximalist costumes. The set itself is a stage on a stage. Its main features are an abstract doorway at the back that is very seldom used, until, maddeningly, you start wondering why it is there at all, and a pit to the left of the stage that perhaps is intended to be a grave-like reminder of mortality but effectively means that for most of the opera that part of the stage has to be studiously avoided by the cast. At its best, together with Matt Scott's inventive lighting and Bell's direction, the production generates some memorably striking stage images, but sometimes it just seems unfocused.
Bell's direction concentrates on the theatrical possibilities of the opera, keeping it swift and simple. The real strength of this production is in the performances, especially Tiffany Speight's Ann Trulove, which has moments of stunning clarity and poignancy, and Andrew Collis's sinister Nick Shadow. Well worth a look, before it closes next Tuesday.
|The Suitcase Royale in Zombatland's caravan nightmare.|
Lastly, I saw the return of The Suitcase Royale, musician/performers, Joseph O'Farrell, Miles O'Neil and Glen Walton, to to the North Melbourne Arts House with their horror melodrama Zombatland. This comes after a long absence from their home town, during which they've been touring the world and, following hallowed tradition, wowing Edinburgh. Permit me some dewy-eyed nostalgia here: I saw their first show, back in 2005, and was instantly converted to their ramshackle ingenuity. In Zombatland, they return to the hoary masculinist cliches of Australianness which they merrily undermined in Chronicles of a Sleepless Moon. But this time, they're exploiting that bastion of Australian suburbia: the caravan park.
Out at the Blue Lagoon Caravan Park, Mayor Crogan and his brother, cricket legend Darren, are the sole survivors of a park under attack from crazed zombie wombats. The arrival of the Stranger armed with a crumpet gun - the only means of killing the deadly zombats - prompts a dark journey to the subterranean world of zombiedom, achieved through some fun shadow puppetry, to rescue Darren from the claws of the Uber-Zombat. We find the evil genius of the zombats, hurriedly shrugging himself into a costume remarkably like a feral beanbag, plotting to take over the caravan park to create his own Zombatland theme park. And, naturally, witness the revelation of a dreadful secret.
None of it makes much sense, but it's contagiously enjoyable; and the satire of its recognisable stock figures is sharp and absurd. Here the monsters of the suburban imagination are writ large and loony across the imaginary of a gothic outback. The Suitcase Royale's bricolage of dodgy home-made sets, meta-theatrical tricks (at one point a loosely discharged crumpet gun brings a light crashing down from the rig) puppetry, and comic performance is stitched together by a blindingly good sound design, driven by high octane swamp rock. If you missed it, be sorry.
Note: The opera Mayakovsky, with libretto by me and score by Michael Smetanin, is commissioned by Victorian Opera.
Tina C: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, created by Christopher Green, performed by Tina C with Auriel Andrew OAM and James Henry. Beckett Theatre, Malthouse Theatre, until April 14.
The Rake's Progress, composed by Igor Stravinsky, libretto by WH Auden and Chester kallman. Codncuted by Richard Gill, directed by John Bell. Sets and costumes by Leon Krasenstein, lighting by Matt Scott, choreography by Steven Heathcote. With Tiffany Speight, Banjamin Namdarian, Jerzy Kozlowski, Andrew Collis, Jonathan Bode, Roxane Hislop and Oliver Mann. Victorian Opera at the Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre, until March 27.
Zombatland, conceived and devised by Jospeh O'Farrell, Miles O'Neil, Tom Salisbury and Glen Walton. Lighting design Scott Allean, Tom Salisbury. Arts House North Melbourne. Closed.