TerrorismDinnerSweet Staccato RisingTwelfth NightCaresses ~ theatre notes

Sunday, August 29, 2004


Terrorism by the Presnyakov Brothers. Directed by Victor Bizzotto, designed by Douglas Iain-Smith, with Adam May, Romy Lor, Sophie Kelly, Paul Denny, Julie Eckersley, Paul Reichenstein, Lyndal Hall and Luke Elliot. Theatre@risk, Fortyfive Downstairs until September 12.

Writing plays is a delicately negotiated compromise between the subtleties of literary ambition and the pragmatic limitations of the stage. On the evidence of Terrorism, the Presnyakov Brothers negotiate with style. It has a brutal elegance, the kind of brilliantly nuanced crudity which heralds notable theatre.

The play opens with a bomb scare at an airport that sparks a banal discussion between three passengers on the nature of terrorism. Terrorism, we are told, gains its power by its reasonlessness: anyone might be its target, and being an innocent civilian is no protection. Its only aim is fear, by which we are manipulated and controlled...

This was one of a few occasions where I sniffed didacticism, feeling that I was being patronised by the writers. But on reflection, I suspect that this is a problem with the production rather than the text. The dialogue reflects the media-driven discourse around the word "terrorism" that the play is seeking to subvert, and I think is meant to function ironically, being the kind of anxious gossip that attempts to deflect or control fear. In this production, perhaps by default, it comes across as a frame through which the audience is directed to interpret the play. But as it unfolds, it becomes clear that Terrorism is by no means straightforward: by the end, it is not even clear if any of the events have actually happened, or if they have merely occurred inside the traumatised mind of one of the characters.

The play consists of six connected but autonomous scenes, through which the panic instilled by the bomb scare ripples and amplifies into something truly deadly. There are the adulterous lovers whose sexual games cross the line from play to real danger; the two grandmothers discussing murder; the boss who bullies his underlings to suicide; the brutal hazing of a soldier. In each of these scenes the Presnyakov Brothers peel back the veneer of normal social behaviours to reveal their potential murderousness. These scenes are where the real power of the play exists and, at their core, they are shockingly cruel. It is not so easy to sort out victim from criminal, the innocent from the guilty: everybody is implicated and no one, not even a child, is blameless. Terrorism is presented as a tyranny of fear which corrupts and brutalises even the most minute and everyday aspects of our lives.

The play is specifically Russian in many ways: its black absurdity, for instance, draws from a literary tradition as old as Gogol. The Presnyakov Brothers know that comedy is inherently cruel and voyeuristic, that the man slipping on a banana skin isn't as far from souvenir atrocity photos as we would like to think, and they fully exploit this knowledge in their writing. But the play's clear-eyed dissections of brutality strike uncomfortable resonances, and touch some of our deepest contemporary fears.

It ought to be both frightening and hilarious, but theatre@risk gives it a rather prophylactic production. Apart from the problems of a largely young and under-rehearsed cast, Victor Bizzotto's direction has a fussy, drama-school feel about it, with over-choreographed scene changes which diffuse the energy of the writing. There is also a strange sense of kitsch, an edge of camp: I suspect this is an attempt to grapple with the comedic aspects of the writing which substitutes for dealing with its confrontational brutality. As a result, performances waver in and out of focus, giving occasional glimpses of what the play might be; only Julie Eckersley consistently achieves the unsentimental accuracy which can release the text's comedy and pathos.

These problems are amplified by Douglas Iain Smith's set, which consists of a number of pastel-coloured canvases neatly hung around the white gallery space. The setting muffles rather than illuminates the play, containing its confrontations within a context of consumable cultural display. The seating is arranged lengthwise, perhaps the least felicitious arrangement for this space since, unless you are in the front row, there are almost no good sightlines. It also means that getting actors on and off stage includes a long walk, which slows down further the orchestration of the action.

The first thing I noticed when I got into the theatre was that the program was printed on high quality glossy paper. Not, to quote Seinfeld, that there's anything wrong with that; if the gloss had heralded a deeper lustre, this might not have lodged in my mind. A small but telling detail was the absence of any credit for the English translator, whom I assume is Sasha Dugdale, the translator for last year's production at the Royal Court in London. Lack of resources is a constant dilemma for independent companies, and it's understandable that they might aspire to a mainstream PR slickness. But given that the production of this very interesting play was so drastically undercooked, I wondered if this company's resources might not better be directed to the substance of its art.

Fortyfive Downstairs

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Dinner by Moira Buffini, directed by Julian Meyrick, designed by Ralph Myers, lighting by Paul Jackson. With Pamela Rabe, Neil Pigot, Alison Whyte, Brian Lipson, Stephen Curry, Robert Jordan and Ming-Zhu Hii. Melbourne Theatre Company at the Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, until October 2.

Dinner left me at odds with myself. On the one hand, I was neither bored nor pained, and, in a general way, enjoyed myself. On the other, it scarce ruffled the surface of thought; if I hadn't had to write this, I should have almost totally forgotten about it by now. Back to the first hand, why should I object to something so totally harmless? And on the other, how can I not object to theatre so totally harmless?

And again - watching Pamela Rabe being febrile, feline, sexy, desolate, acidly witty and despairing all at once is a treat. Rabe is an Actress with a capital "A", and in a long black evening frock with diamantes she generates the sort of presence that makes strong persons swallow hard and lesser mortals involuntarily bow. The play is a perfect star vehicle, and Rabe adorns it with a predatory glitter among a high quality cast who, if they seldom challenge Rabe's centrality, each shine in their own way. I couldn't help wishing all this talent was lavished on a more worthy object, but I seemed alone in my reservations (I often am). The full-house audience loved it.

You see my difficulty: it's not as if I don't enjoy fluff, or even pap, especially if it's presented with style. It's just that I would prefer it to have a little substance.

As its title promises, the play follows a dinner thrown for her husband Lars (Neil Pigot) by society hostess Paige (Pamela Rabe) to celebrate the success of his sub-Nietzschean self-help book, Beyond Belief. She (or Buffini) has invited some carefully chosen representatives of Britain's intellectual elite for what is, I suppose, a kind of existential dinner party, in that its culinary meaninglessness reflects the pointlessness of life. The lucky guests include a dippy visual artist Wynne (Alison Whyte), who also happens to be Lars' mistress. Wynne's politician lover is invited but absent, as their relationship has just broken up because Wynne exhibited a painting of his genitals. The electronic media is represented by bimbo newsreader Sian (Ming-Zhu Hii), and the sciences by her new husband microbiologist Hal, an old friend of Paige and Lars who left his ex-wife suicidal when he abandoned her for younger flesh.

As a necessary sociological contrast, working-class van driver Mike (Stephen Curry) crashes in the fog and, after he comes to the house to ask for help, is installed as a guest in the place of the absent Member for Camberwell Green (he of the unwillingly publicised penis). Finally, a sinisterly efficient and silent waiter (Robert Jordan), hired through a mysterious web page whose motto is "Let me hold your coat and snicker", completes the set up. As the motto is meant to suggest, he is Eliot's "eternal Footman", an avatar of death.

Naturally, as the play progresses we understand the hypocrisies of these characters, how unpleasant, weak, selfish and vulnerable they are, blah blah (at this point I found my attention wandering, like it does, in fact, at the sorts of dinner parties where competitive wit substitutes for actual conversation). Wynne claims to be an artist of eroticism, but unsurprisingly is distinctly prudish; Lars' pseudo-Nietzschean philosophy turns out to be really a front for his mean-minded egocentricity; the bimbo news reader is in fact the brightest and bravest of all the guests, and the working class van driver - who has possibly burgled the house next door - the most honest.

So far, so BBC situation comedy. Dinner is dressed up with lashings of literary allusion, but that doesn't lift it into the realm of the literary. The literary allusion might in fact be part of the problem - kind of like what faux Stoppard would be if Stoppard were not faux in the first place. The effect is as if Buffini had rummaged through the attics of Western culture, emerging with a text that's nostalgically encrusted with decorative trinkets from a time when high culture really mattered. But in fact, its aesthetic heart is firmly with The Good Life.

In Julian Meyrick's stylish production the play fizzes from witticism to witticism, lurching through Paige's surreal and disgusting courses (Primodial Soup, Apocalypse of Lobster and, for dessert, Frozen Waste, each as nasty as they sound) towards what you know will be a black conclusion. Meyrick and designer Ralph Myers boldly set the play in the round, on an unadorned parquet revolve. Although this mucks up Buffini's "Last Supper" metaphor - the play is clearly written to be performed on a proscenium arch stage, with Da Vinci's painting as a visual reference - it permits some pretty flash scene changes, with neurotic violin music by Tim Dargaville highlighting a choreographic satire of social manners.

I am no nationalist, and abhor nationalistic arguments about art. But Dinner reminded me that we are a colony: we still bow to the Queen of England, although our interest is now lodged in the US Reserve Bank. Even if it did live up to its pretensions as social satire (the jury's out on that one), Dinner is so specifically English that it's hard to see the point of producing it here.

After all, what has Cool Britannia, Tony Blair's amoral and materialistic Brave New World, got to do with us? Our local brand of moral bankruptcy is of an entirely different breed: lacking the strange arrogance of having lost an empire, our crassnesses are underlaid by insecurity - what Donald Horne once famously dubbed the "cultural cringe". One of the cringe's symptoms is, not unincidentally, the way that insubstantial West End hits are picked up for our main stages. Dinner is as determinedly superficial as its characters or the social milieu it purports to criticise, and while it aims for the profundities of tragedy, can only attain the brief frisson of shock or surprise. Its pretensions towards absurdist drama can't excuse the emotional falsity of some its dramatic surprises, and it's this lack of emotional torque which makes it so forgettable.

If Dinner were a more profound play, it wouldn't matter where it was set. Unlike the work of Chekhov, or Orton, or Wilde, Buffini's play doesn't transcend its specific origins to enter the generous amplitudes of art. An afternoon's diversion, for sure; but one that painlessly drains out of your psyche, changing nothing.

Melbourne Theatre Company

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Sweet Staccato Rising

Sweet Staccato Rising by Robert Reid. Directed by Lauren Taylor, with Hamish Michael and Lauren Urquhart. Theatre of Decay at The Store Room, until August 22.

Talking about my g-g-generation: nothing is calculated to make me feel more like J. Alfred Prufrock than some bouncy young artist insisting on his or her youth. It is unarguable that 40 is older than 20, and I guess quoting Eliot says it all: how last century can a creaking old ague-ridden carcass get?

But I can't help it, the ague or the age. So here one stands, rolling up the bottoms of one's trousers, checking out the crows' feet around one's eyes and that lascivious softening of the flesh that occurs around one's middle, if one pays too little attention to lifestyle clubs and botox. It is indisputable that I am over 38 (eew, old! they say with disgust of 38 in Sweet Staccato Rising) and wear my age gracelessly, if only to point out that disaffected youth didn't spring new-minted from the ground in 1984. And if Robert Reid's play Sweet Staccato Rising makes me feel my age - so what? Was it worth the discomfort? Or - perhaps more pertinently - was it in fact as discomforting as it sought to be?

Sweet Staccato Rising covers familiar territory. It tracks the alienated young lovers Gunner (Hamish Michael) and Slitfish (Lauren Urquhart) as they implode in mutual self-destruction. It's that old romance of sex and death, Bonnie and Clyde or Sid and Nancy for a new generation. I've never really bought into the generational concept, which seems to me a device invented by market researchers, but, for the record, Reid claims to speak for those born in the mid-80s "between two Gulf Wars", articulating a familiar nihilism which is nevertheless aggressively particular to contemporary Melbourne.

The play's parochial focus gave me pause, for a number of reasons. One danger is that its brand of suburban angst runs the risk of seeming little more than self-indulgent, a cry of rebellion which turns out to be no more than "nobody loves me". (But is there anything more, after all, to the young Brando's iconic sneer?) And admittedly, the endless eastern suburbs of Melbourne, especially when seen from a train window, are bleakness itself: the heartland that spawns Neighbours and Kath & Kim is mile after mile of identical suburbia, sterile and heart-shrinking, the only sign of vitality the graffiti which blazes garishly along kilometres of fencing. It's not surprising that, in this landscape, youth suicide statistics are among the highest in the world.

Still, it was the stifling petit bourgeois respectability of Charleville which engendered the incandescent talent of Arthur Rimbaud, probably the first and still arguably the greatest of adolescent rebel angels. It is poverties of spirit that are germane here, not material poverty, despite the statistics about youth poverty flashed, a la Brecht, onto the theatre wall. Gunner and Slitfish are from the disenfranchised white middle class, not the underclass who inhabit towerblocks and caravan parks; they are not migrant workers or asylum seekers or disenfranchised indigenous people or, to begin with, homeless. Gunner might burn down his house, but he has a house to burn down in the first place: and it's a house with a lawn. Slitfish can afford a ticket to New Zealand, even if she is raped there. There are claims made for disenfranchisement which sit rather nervously over what is revealed in the play; I would have felt less bothered if there had been no claims, if I had been permitted simply to watch the story of these two abusive and abused young people. But this is theatre which seldom escapes a didactic edge.

Reid has written a series of dialogues which outline the limited arena of Gunner's and Slitfish's lives. They are given a high-octane delivery by Hamish Michael and Lauren Urquhart in two very interesting performances. Both are in clownish white-face make-up and lit only by white light in a black box theatre, and their physicality is jerky and artificial, as if they are marionettes or anarchic dolls. It's a risky strategy: these alienations only work sometimes, most effectively in the final scene, when the artifice of the direction and performance pays off in a true heightening of feeling. There is little attention to nuance in Lauren Taylor's direction, and although I admired the full-on, relentless assault of the energies of the performers and the play, the shock of dialogue delivered in a monotonal shout is one of diminishing returns. The effect is more often numbing than awakening.

The major problems with the production seemed to me to be in the writing itself. Sweet Staccato Rising aims for a tragic arc which drives towards a cathartic climax, but Reid has an uncertain grasp of the dramatic mechanics which make this possible, and the energies of the play are consequently largely dissipated in meandering dialogues. Despite a surface appearance of action, very little in fact happens until the final scene, where at last a real conflict occurs between the characters and the dialogue becomes forceful and dynamic and, dare I say it, moving.

The challenge in work like this is to create a mimesis of pointless and meandering lives without making the work itself meandering and pointless: it's a hard ask, and Reid only partially succeeds. I admire the ambition, which is the first ingredient of achievement, but I suspect this work is not ambitious enough. If it were, it might reach past its own naivetie, a nagging sense of narcissism which ultimately compromises its politics.

The Store Room

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Friday, August 13, 2004

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, directed by David Freeman, designed by Dan Potra, lighting by Nigel Levings. Bell Shakespeare Company at the Arts Centre Playhouse to 21 August, Canberra Theatre Centre 25 August to 11 September, Illawarra Performing Arts Centre Wollongong 15 to 18 September, Sydney Opera House 23 September to 6 November, Orange Civic Theatre 10 to 13 November.

Twelfth Night is a confection supposedly written for Queen Elizabeth I and performed on Twelfth Night, the last day of Yule, which was traditionally celebrated with plays and mumming. Shakespeare whipped up a syllabub of gender-bending, drunken foolery and loutish mockery, punctuated by some exquisite speeches and haunting songs. It's a charming froth to sweeten the end of the midwinter season, and while it doesn't make a lot of sense, it does make a lot of theatre.

David Freeman, directing his first Australian production since he left these shores for Europe more than 30 years ago, is not shy of its sheer theatricality. Instead of forcing a leaden metaphor onto the hapless play, "updating" it by making it "relevant", Freeman permits Twelfth Night to play in a purely theatrical space which exists only in the imaginations of the actors and the audience. Any pandering to the literal is off the menu, and the comedy, released into the absurd, takes wings. And it's gloriously, bracingly vulgar: my inner groundling was tickled into irresponsible happiness. If there had been orange pips to spit my pleasure, I would have spat them.

However, Twelfth Night is not just a play of bawdy jokes and pratfalls: like all Shakespeare's comedies, it has its own brand of enchantment. The famous opening lines in which Orsino declares his love for Olivia, surely some of the loveliest in Shakespeare's lexicon, set the tone:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

Signalling his intentions early, Freeman changes Shakespeare's beginning. Instead, focusing on the twins Viola and Sebastian, Freeman swaps the first and second scenes, and opens with Viola (Caroline Craig) washed up on the shores of Illyria and vowing to dress as a man and serve the man she loves, Orsino (Julian Garner), in order to win his heart. This permits a spectacular curtain raiser, with a storm and real rain - and it also makes a neat rhyme with the fool's closing song ("the rain it raineth every day"), when the rain machine is again called into action. Orsino's famous speech comes second, and is undercut by a joke - Orsino is hooked up to an i-pod. It gets a good laugh, but I still missed the poetry.

There's no doubting the success of the comedy. This is character clowning as good as it gets; Sir Toby Belch (John Batchelor, in a suit that gives the irresistable impression that it must have grease on the collar), his brainless sidekick, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Philip Dodd, replendent in black leather jacket and stove-pipe jeans) and Jonathan Hardy's Feste (in various states of tank-top-and-shorts undress) are the avatars of low humour, ably helped in ridiculousness by Billie Browne as Malvolio. The highlight of the night is the scene where Malvolio reads the forged letter which purportedly exposes Olivia's love for him, overheard by three conspirators unconvincingly posing as bushes. Here Freeman takes the unreality of the theatrical aside and pushes it to an extreme of absurdity, with Malvolio lounging against the very foliage that eavesdrops on him.

I couldn't help wondering whether the hilarity really had to be at the expense of the play's poetry: enchantment is as germane to this play as is laughter, and one of Shakespeare's masteries is that he saw neither quality as cancelling out the other. And it seems to me that there is a prurience in denying beauty as much as in the editing out of obscenity. Outrageous bum-flashing is, after all, always going to appeal to the hoi polloi, including me: and the introduction of a gratuitously Strine song after the interval, to underline the Australian-ness of this production, our necessity to recognise "ourselves" in it, made me suspect that the obscenity was pandering to the audience, rather than disrupting its expectations into delight. It's a fine line, after all.

For this is a Twelfth Night in which the poetry is strictly sidelined. I ought to explain that by "poetry" I do not mean a reverential rendering of the Bard's language: far from it. It is merely to remember that Twelfth Night is a romance as much as it is a farce, and that part of its power is in how, however lightly, it touches the heart. The despair of exile and alienation, the erotic obsessions of romantic love, the grief of loss, are all made minor themes, occasions only for the joke of the play. And consequently, the play's meanings are muddied: the romantic scenes have an air of confusion, unlike the comedy, in which every action is absolutely clear. For all the production's strengths as popular theatre, and even Caroline Craig's appeal as a lively and charming Viola, this is a considerable diminishment of the play's enchantment.

The way into this enchantment is, as Orsino's opening speech indicates, through music. Much has been made of James Reyne, of Australian Crawl fame, composing the songs for this production, and so it is a little disappointing to report that the music mostly amounts to fairly indifferent balladeering. Freeman has gone for a cracked instrument, malodorous rather than melodious, which is an idea not without potential. But in practise the songs are, like the loveliness and feeling of the poetry, again undercut. It's not until the finale, sung off-key by Jonathan Hardy, that this decision pays off: its plain rendering exposes the bones of the poetry, its sour-sweet melancholy filling the theatre with a true poignancy.

The costumes are eclectically contemporary, and Dan Potra's design is an intriguing and practical cross between a farce and the traditional Shakepearean stage. To reinforce the artifice of the action, the stage is dominated by a huge picture frame, which is itself a stage within the stage, with doors right and left that can be forced open and slammed shut with proper comic effect. I've seen more elegant designs by Potra, but this serves the production most efficiently. For all my reservations, it's by far the best Bell Shakespeare production I've seen, and delivers Shakespeare defiantly and greedily alive.

Bell Shakespeare

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Saturday, August 07, 2004


Caresses, by Sergi Belbel. Directed by Scott Gooding, with Simon Kearney, Danica Balara, Merrin Canning, Dawn Klingberg, Barry Friedlander, Tim Kelly, Kirk Westwood, Chloe Armstrong, Gareth Ellis and Penelope Bartlau. Vicious Fish Theatre, at Theatreworks. Until August 22.

Caresses marks my first acquaintance with the work of the Catalan playwright Sergi Belbel, for which I dips me lid to Vicious Fish. I am certainly richer for the introduction. This is tough, muscular writing, at once lyrical and obscene, humane and cruel, hilarious and tragic. Caresses represents the first part of an on-going commitment by Vicious Fish Theatre to Belbel's works, and I am looking forward to the next three productions of the Belbel Project with lively interest.

Sergi Belbel is part of a generation of playwrights which emerged in the 1990s. The international success of Catalan companies such as Els Comediants and others created a field where new writing could flourish, and this led to the development of a new generation of Spanish theatre writers, including Sanches Sinisterra, Angel Guimera, Benet i Jornet and Rodolf Sirera. Belbel is one of the most popular of these playwrights - Caresses has been performed all around the world and it was also adapted into a film by the Barcelona director Ventura Pons by 1998.

Its structure is taken from Arthur Schnitzler's 1896 play La Ronde, which scandalised fin de siecle audiences by tracking a series of sexual encounters through ten dialogues, in which one character from each scene moves into the next. It completes the circle of the title by coming back to the beginning, with the final scene including a character from the opening dialogue. It is an elegantly satisfying form, a dramatic equivalent of terza rima, which democratically gives each character two scenes each. It also has the virtue, like all interesting aesthetic decisions, of being a metaphor in itself.

Belbel's play has one more scene than Schnitzler's, and what binds the action here is not just sexual desire, but a complex dynamic of emotional dysfunction that often erupts into a blackly funny comedy of human absurdity. About five minutes into the play, I realised that the title of the piece is ironic. It opens with a dialogue which is apparently a conventional exposition of domestic violence, but this quickly mutates into a black satire on heterosexual domesticity. In the next scene, the woman from the first encounter is visiting her mother, who reads her an extravagantly poetic peroration on the night before the dialogue segues into a bitter conversation about their relationship, and the mother's decision to move into a home for the elderly. The following dialogue is set in the old people's home, and is between the mother and an old woman who was formerly her lover; but the old woman no longer remembers her. And so it swings from scene to scene, the disconnections as disconcerting as the connections.

Every scene enacts some moment of emotional extremity in which the characters are confronted by their inability to articulate their desires and react instead with violence and cruelty, the lees of love. Each dialogue is an attempt at love: between lovers, parents and children, siblings, or even the vagrant and fleeting love that is possible between strangers. But by the end of the play, I no longer thought the title ironic: the blows the characters inflict on each other are caresses, the stricken means by which they express their love, rather than love's lack. And the poignant final scene is tranformative and hopeful in a way which belies the apparent darkness of the play's vision.

This suggests a work of considerable complexity that operates at a number of emotional and metaphorical registers. Director Scott Gooding brings it to the stage with creditable style, although his cast doesn't always meet the mutiple resonances of the text, sometimes overstraining for effect, at others perhaps a little mono-dimensional. To fully explore the subtleties of this dialogue would require a longer rehearsal period than most Australian companies are funded for. Even so, there was no point where the energy flagged or I found my attention wandering: the inventiveness of the situations and the writing's theatricality are compelling, and there are standout performances by Barry Friedlander, Dawn Klingberg and Chloe Armstrong.

Kathryn Sproul's design fills the Theatreworks space with secondhand furniture: mattresses are stacked up against the walls, and the stage is full of old beds and bedsteads, tables, chairs, sideboards, wardrobes and battered suitcases. On walking into the theatre, it was impossible not to flash back to the earliest productions of the Keene/Taylor Theatre Project, mounted in 1997 at the Brotherhood of St Laurence's Fitzroy warehouse. The furniture donated there for those in need had a brief life as sets for a series of short plays by Daniel Keene, which were themselves concerned with the marginalised and emotionally dispossessed.

The KTTP connection is reinforced by Alison Halit's choreography. In the same way that Ariette Taylor used extras in many KTTP shows, Halit employs the actors not immediately involved in scenes to inhabit the space and amplify the action, creating the movement of a city around these isolated dialogues. To drive the connection further, Belbel's work is very reminiscent of Keene's. From this play at least, it seems that Belbel is stylistically less spare than Keene, more given to sonorities of repetition; but they share an ability to generate cruel humour while retaining a compassionate vision, and an unsentimental preoccupation with an urban geography of despair and alienation. Their connections betray a common lineage of European theatrical writing, of which Schnitzler is only the most obvious.

Gooding uses an English translation by John London, and I was slightly puzzled why he didn't change the specifically English references to more local ones; it would have been the work of a moment to convert pounds and pence to dollars and cents, and no middle class Australian woman refers to "Mummy" and "Daddy". It's a small quibble, but the poetic tightness of the writing does focus detail, and these slight hiccups in the lexicon seemed unncecessary.

Melbourne audiences can see Belbel's work thanks to Theatreworks' new policy of supporting innovative independent companies. So far, so very good: last month it hosted The Old Van's extraordinary production of Macbeth, and this play is a worthy successor. It reinforces my growing conviction that Melbourne's independent theatre scene is where it's all happening.


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