SummitryI read it in the newspaper...La Mama for saleThe Met in downtown CarltonReview: Holding The ManReview: Comedy FestivalAdvertisement for MyselfVale Paul ScofieldReview: Moving TargetReview: NightshiftThe heat is onBrief hiatusReview: Love SongTartuffe revisitedReview: Chekhov Re-Cut: PlatonovShall I compare thee...? ~ theatre notes

Monday, March 31, 2008


I'm afraid I'm going to talk about me, so I can push me out of the way and get on with some proper work. I have an excuse: last week was passing strange. Ms TN, blogger, poet and pulp author, is used to existing in the margins, a shadowy figure who lobs the odd grenade into the soft furnishings. But the past few days have seen a concatenation of invitations: among them, requests that I judge awards, or sit on panels, or be a two-minute talking head on the ABC's Sunday Arts program (next Sunday afternoon, if you're interested, as part of a feature on La Mama) and, the big surprise, that invitation to the 2020 Summit, which places me, according to The Age, among Australia's new A-List.

My initial response to all this niceness was to relapse with a cold, so instead of writing reviews of shows I saw last week, I spent the weekend in bed sneezing and reading Flann O'Brien, whose absurdities seemed peculiarly appropriate. My second was to remember Steven Berkoff who, when he was made head of the National Theatre, and was asked what he thought about the establishment, answered: "I am the fucking establishment!" My third was to recall Seneca's scepticism about worldly success. "No one is worthy of a god," said the good man, "unless he has paid no heed to riches. I am not, mind you, against your possessing them, but I want to ensure that you possess them without tremors; and this you can only attain in one way, by convincing yourself that you can live a happy life without them."

I am not so churlish as to complain about good fortune, even if it feels a little alarming. Luckily, there's always Andrew Bolt to keep me real. (As an aside, Diamanda Galas - who is, in a wholly Nietzschean sense, a redoubtable female - takes an entertaining swing at Da Bolta in the SMH this weekend. Atta girl! No pulling punches there!) In any case, the best cure for collywobbles is, in my experience, to get down to work. First, those tardy reviews, which will be up soon. And I'm working on a TN wiki for the 2020 Creative Australia summit, which I hope to upload by next week. The idea is that, once I clarify some preliminary thoughts, you lot can get into the act and make your own suggestions. I'm curious to see how we might harness the Web 2.0 hivemind: the convenors are claiming that every idea will be on the table, so let's take them at their word and see what happens. So start polishing your brains now. The Creative Australia topic list is here; my major focus will be in points 1, 4 and 5. With a little space for my obsession about discourse...

And PS: thank you to whoever nominated me.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

I read it in the newspaper... it must be true. Your faithful blogger is, it seems, off to the 2020 Summit in Canberra next month to debate future Australian arts policy on the Creative Australia panel under Cate Blanchett. At least, my name is on the list of delegates announced today. And it's even spelt correctly.

They haven't quite got around to telling me in person, hence a certain sense of unreality. I am going to have a good stiff drink and look again. Maybe I'll see myself twice. Maybe I am hallucinating. While I reorient myself: other Melburnians named today in a diverse list that - hearteningly - includes a lot of artists, include MIAF artistic director Kristy Edmunds, Malthouse executive producer Stephen Armstrong, former MTC associate director Julian Meyrick and director Barrie Kosky.

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La Mama for sale

Our favourite shirt factory, La Mama, is up for sale. But those who fear that this might mean the disappearance of one of Melbourne's oldest and most loved theatres can breathe easy. The most likely buyer is La Mama Theatre itself.

Artistic director Liz Jones says that the company has a three-year lease on the building, and in the meantime is investigating every possible avenue to fund the purchase of La Mama, from state and federal government funding, to the Melbourne City Council, to private enterprise, to philanthropy. "It might end up being a massive public appeal," she said. "Everything's on the table. It would be really, really brilliant if we could own it ourselves, and be our own landlord."

The owners have asked the management of La Mama to value the property and to make an offer, and they are now in the process of doing just that. In the meantime, it's business as usual.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Met in downtown Carlton

So you were thinking you'd like to see the New York Metropolitan Opera, but you can't afford the (plane) ticket? Fear not, opera fiends: you can get out your fake furs and paste diamonds and head off to the Cinema Nova in Carlton (or the local equivalents in Orange, Tamworth or Wagga Wagga), where they're doing the next best thing: the Met 2007/8 season is being presented in HD video concurrently with the NY season. You've missed the first few, but Peter Grimes is coming up on Saturday. For what it's worth, the London Observer's critic says, in critic language of course, that the HD experience is way cool.

Details of all participating Australian cinemas here. And thanks to George at Superfluities for the heads up.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Review: Holding The Man

Holding The Man, adapted by Tommy Murphy from the book by Timothy Conigrave, directed by David Berthold. Set design by Brian Thomson, costumes by Micka Agosta, lighting design by Stephen Hawker, composition and sound design by Basil Hogios. With Jeanette Cronin, Nicholas Eadie, Guy Edmonds, Eve Morey, Brett Stiller and Matt Zeremes. Melbourne Theatre Company in association with Griffin Theatre, Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse. Bookings: 1300 723 038

There are few more isolating experiences than sitting unmoved in an auditorium that echoes with muffled sobs. Critics are supposed to be carved of flint, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that I sat through Holding the Man with scarcely a flicker of emotion. But given the passionate responses this play has elicited, such indifference feels slightly disturbing. I didn't especially dislike it. I just didn't feel anything much at all.

I don’t doubt for a moment the reality of the feelings prompted by this show, nor the sincerity of those who made it. And it's clearly struck a chord in a wide audience: this MTC season is this production's sixth, after four hugely successful seasons in Sydney and another in Brisbane. Review after review, tribute after tribute, lauds its profound emotional impact. So what am I missing?

As theatre, Holding The Man seeks to touch a particular constituency – by which I don't mean the gay community, but a certain kind of theatrical audience. As I am clearly not within this constituency, I can't but feel that these impassioned responses are less to the play itself than to its subject matter, and are validated by a sense of its authenticity. Holding The Man carries the potency of witness reports: this is real, this happened to real people.

It’s a fine line – this assertion is also part of the emotional engine behind one of the most powerful theatre pieces I’ve seen, Ariane Mnouchkine’s Le Dernier Caravansérail – but too often work underpinned by these notions of authenticity can become a kind of emotional pornography. I’m not one who believes in art for art’s sake, but in things artistic I agree with Oscar Wilde’s observation that “in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”

Tommy Murphy's play is adapted from Timothy Conigrave's memoir of the same name, a much-loved text that for many Australian gays articulated their experiences of the early days of AIDS. Published after Conigrave's death, it tells the story of his turbulent 15 year relationship with his lover John Caleo, from their first meeting in high school, to Caleo's death in the early '90s. As Nick Enright said in a short piece he wrote on the book, "it documents some aspects of life in our community in two particular periods of self-definition (seventies liberation and the health crisis of the eighties)". Its adaptation to theatre can't help but be reductive, and director David Berthold is quite frank about what the play was to be: "We wanted the love story".

So Holding the Man recounts, through a series of episodic scenes, the story of the love between Tim (Guy Edmonds) and John (Matt Zeremes). John remained faithful despite Tim’s serial infidelities, which gave him the disease that ultimately killed both of them. Murphy adapts the book as a conventional bio-play, moving chronologically from their first meeting. Aside from Tim and John, all roles are doubled, with the other three actors between them playing more than 40 parts. Edmonds and Zeremes give appealing performances, but they are the only actors who can: the other performers can do little more than bounce around like cartoon characters, providing a kind of animated background to the story.

It’s written for a certain kind of theatricality, which incorporates puppets and physical theatre in a swift-moving, impressionistic narrative. Although it moves very slickly under David Berthold’s efficient direction, it’s the kind of theatre that always calls up for me memories of Theatre in Education shows in high school. Everything is directed towards moving towards the emotional climax, in a dramaturgy that sacrifices depth in favour of surface movement.

Much of the script rests on the dynamic of recognition: there are rather too many in-jokes about Sydney theatre, for instance. Or a snatch of Supertramp here, a reference to Inflation there, and voila! it's Melbourne in the '80s. Perhaps if I had read the original book, my imagination might have supplied some of the complexity so signally missing on the stage.

As it is, the play is almost a text-book example of how sentimentality can be used to obscure the very issues it claims to be exploring. I suspect this is another reason it left me cold. Unlike, say, The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s powerful and angry play about the early days of AIDS and its devastating impact on the gay community in New York, there is no sense that its implications go beyond the merely personal.

Like Tommy Murphy, Kramer employs a narrative that is clearly autobiographical, of a love story between two gay men (one of whom is a writer and who, presumably, ends up writing the play we are seeing). And it is written with a directness, anger and love that pulls no punches: it's an emotionally gruelling play. But Kramer also creates a critique of institutional bigotry and indifference which remains as pertinent now – in the new dimensions of the AIDS crisis in Africa, for example, which chiefly impacts on women and children – as it was back in the 1980s, when the main victims of HIV were gay men.

There is no such possible connection in Holding the Man, where complexities are largely airbrushed out in favour of an idealised romance that does everything but stick love hearts around the stage. For all its frankness about things of the body - the details of sex as much as illness - it has an air of Disney about it, a feeling that all complexities, paradox, difficulty and pain are absorbed into a consoling emotional orgasm.

On the other hand, no artwork need be more than it is. And there's nothing essentially wrong with tragic love stories with huge emotional climaxes: they are, after all, the very fabric of classical opera and epic poetry. Whatever the reason, the earth just didn't move for me.

Picture: Matt Zeremes and Guy Edmonds in Holding The Man.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Review: Comedy Festival

Comedy Festival: Heard It On The Wireless: The Kransky Sisters, with Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Carolyn Johns, Athenaeum Theatre (season over)

The Jinglists
, directed by Ansuya Nathan, with Warwick Allsop and Tamlyn Henderson, Bosco Theatre, Federation Square until April 13.

The China Incident, written and directed by Peter Houghton, sound design by David Franzke, performed by Anne Browning, The Tower, CUB Malthouse, until April 12. Bookings 1300 660 013

Sometimes it dawns on me with disconcerting clarity that I am not the girl that once I was. It is a sadder and a wiser face that greets me in the mirror each morning. At least, I hope it’s wiser. It’s certainly more tired, which means I must have been doing something, and I should hate to think all that effort might have been for nothing.

What has induced this gloom? The Melbourne Comedy Festival, that’s what. It’s a young person’s game, and it forces me to admit that those halcyon days of yore are all kaput. When I’m stuck in an unmoving, sweaty mass that is attempting, step by tiny step, to escape a theatre, something in me begins to hate humanity. Humanity’s all very lovely at a decent distance (say, a metre or so) but those crowds around Collins Street or streaming in and out of the Town Hall bring out all my innate misanthropy. (I guess I should file these reviews under a heading like “reflections of a middle aged misanthrope”, but the fear that they might inadvertently enter an irony-free zone - Andrew Bolt, for instance - gives me pause.)

Festivals fill me with panic on principle: one look at a program with 200 shows in it and I begin to hyperventilate. I lack the stern fibre of proper critics, who stick out their chins and head off, elbows akimbo, to cover six shows a day. Even at my most self-deceiving, I can’t pretend I am actually covering the Comedy Festival. So here are reports on the three shows I managed to see; all of them, serendipitously, illustrations of the thesis that laughter is deeply related to the human instinct for cruelty.

The Kransky Sisters - Dawn, Mourne and Eva - are three black-haired, pale-skinned singers from “Esk, in Queensland”. They tour the rural roads in their father’s red Morris Major, bringing to eager audiences their idiosyncratic arrangements of songs that they’ve heard on “the wireless”. This evening begins with a slideshow of just such a tour – happy snaps of the unspeakable orange-coloured food in roadside diners, or roadkill, or the three grim-faced sisters squeezed into their car.

In their prim, high-necked costumes, they quiver with sibling hatreds (mostly directed at their half sister Dawn, the tuba player, who is held responsible for their father’s departure) and throbbing, repressed sexuality. The Kranskys are spookily innocent – television was forbidden by their mother, and they still sleep in their childhood beds. But the passions within them have never been quite extinguished, which results in some bizarre behaviours. And has incidentally fatal consequences for several small animals.

Their cruel and painful story unfolds between a song list that is as unlikely as the sisters themselves. Theirs has clearly not been an easy childhood, and their eccentricities are the scars of trauma. “Sticks and stones will break your bones”, says Mourne at one point, looking blackly at her sister, “and words hurt too”. If they weren’t so funny, it would be the saddest thing you’d ever heard.

Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Carolyn Johns are fantastically inventive musicians: their instruments include an old 60s keyboard, a toilet brush, tambourines, a saw and a saucepan, all accompanied by the lugubrious baseline of Dawn’s tuba. With these unlikely tools, they attack AC/DC, The Eurythmics, Russell Morris and (perhaps my favourite of the lot) Talking Heads, unpacking the tropes of popular music with a deadpan wit that, in a true theatrical paradox, somehow stays true to the anarchy in the heart of rock and roll.

Sibling passions and frustrated sexuality are also at the heart of The Jinglists, the second show from Warwick Allsop and Tamlyn Henderson. They brought us the surreal cabaret A Porthole Into the Minds of the Vanquished, which premiered at the Comedy Festival in 2006. While Porthole was a kind of riff off the subconscious, like entering someone else’s dream, The Jinglists is almost recognisably a play. At least, it has a recognisable narrative, and even characters.

The Jinglists is at once more serious and more ambitious than their first piece. In its evocation of agoraphobic childhood, it irresistibly recalls Lally Katz's play The Eisteddfod, which also explored the fantasy lives of two isolated enfants terribles. In this case, the two brothers Loman and Leigh haven't moved outside their apartment since their mother died. They make their living by writing advertising jingles, and the rest of the time live a distorted version of childhood, dictated by nursery routines of eating, bathing and sleeping.

In their own strange way, the brothers are quite happy in their hermetically sealed world. That is, until love knocks on their door and adult passions are wakened within their childish psyches. Performing in white-face, Allsopp and Henderson are sad clowns exposing the infantile emotional manipulativeness and barren realities of the world of advertising.

This show requires a more sympathetic venue; it's theatre rather than knockabout standup comedy. But Allsopp and Henderson are consummate performers, and against the odds they bring to their strange, absurd story a compelling poignancy. And some fatally catchy jingles.

Like Peter Houghton’s one-man comedy hit The Pitch, The China Incident originated at La Mama. It’s effectively a companion piece, this time with Houghton in the directorial seat and his partner Anne Browning, who directed The Pitch, as the performer. Anne Browning plays Bea Pontifec, a high-powered, emotionally explosive diplomatic consultant walking an increasingly narrow line between career triumph and personal disaster.

The play consists of one side of an increasingly frenetic series of phone calls. Bea has five different telephones, a mobile and an intercom, all of which ring constantly. She juggles calls from a blood-thirsty African dictator, the President (who wants to know about her underwear), her lover at the UN and her PA. As her job rockets into hyperdrive, so does her family life. Her counter-cultural daughter Penny is getting married, but Penny’s idea of table decorations gives Bea conniptions.

The basic danger with this show is a lack of range: on its first outing, there was a sense that, for all its energy, it was a little monotonal. Much of the comedy in The Pitch, a satire of the film industry, evolved from Houghton’s virtuosic performance of entire casts of popular movies, but here Browning has the challenge of performing a single – and rather unsympathetic - character.

But the show has developed from its initial outing last year, and Browning has invested Houghton’s monstrous invention with a little humanity. Even a touch of poignancy. Bea is a bigoted, cynical control freak, a woman to whom image is much more important than substance. She doesn’t care if her daughter is miserable at her own wedding, as long as the table settings communicate the right messages about power, privilege and elegance.

As a diplomatic consultant, her job is about spinning image to hide reality, an agenda she follows with ruthless cynicism. White guilt, she advises the brutal African dictator, will protect him from the criticism of the world community. Meanwhile, a little sexual blackmail ought to keep the Koreans under control… But, like her dysfunctional family, reality keeps intruding, with increasingly chaotic results.

And as her polished professional veneer begins to crack, Bea almost becomes a tragic figure, helpless in the face of the reality she has spent her life denying. It’s not as laugh-out-loud hilarious as The Pitch: the satire here is more bleakly savage. But it’s well worth a look.

Part of this review appears in today's Australian.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Advertisement for Myself

Today the excellent people at Ahadada Books have released my first venture into e-books, Torque. It is a selection of recent poetry, and is part of a chapbook series edited for Ahadada by Catherine Daly. It includes a sequence called Specula which I wrote as part of a tri-partite investigation of the Mediaeval women mystics (the other parts were an essay, published in the online magazine How2, and a radio play, which was broadcast on Radio National).

And, as all poetry ought to be, it's free. You can download Torque here.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Vale Paul Scofield

Paul Scofield, 21 January 1922 – 19 March 2008. I was saddened today to hear of the death of this consummate actor. He eschewed the celebrity of his vocation, turning down a knighthood three times with the comment: "If you want a title, what’s wrong with Mr?" Of course, he'll be most widely remembered for his film work, especially his role as Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons and his shattering performance in Peter Brook's film of King Lear. But I do regret that I never had the chance to see him on stage.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Review: Moving Target

Moving Target by Marius Von Mayenburg, translated by Maja Zade, directed by Benedict Andrews. Set by Robert Cousins, costumes by Fiona Crombie, lighting design by Paul Jackson, sound design by Hamish Michael. With Alison Bell, Julie Forsythe, Rita Kalnejais, Robert Menzies, Hamish Michael and Matthew Whittet. Malthouse Theatre @ The Beckett until March 29, Sydney Opera House April 2-13. Bookings: 9685 5111

The first thing you notice when you walk into the theatre to see Moving Target is that there is no escape for the actors. The six performers are already before you, in what appears to be a giant, open-fronted box. There are plainly no hidden doors, no moving walls. The actors could, of course, step out of the front of the stage, but the "fourth wall", the convention that separates the stage from the audience, is as tacitly constraining as any material barrier. They are thrust before us, trapped in our gaze.

On stage there is a red carpet, a table, a couple of chairs, and a red couch. There is an assortment of props - a sleeping bag, a doll, a toy dinosaur, some rolls of masking tape. And that's it. What follows is one of the most intriguing pieces of theatre you will see this year. The result of an intense collaborative process between the actors, director and writer, it reminds you of the multiple meanings of "play". Some sequences are sheer genius. And yet, frustratingly, it doesn't follow through the implications of its own process.

I was so puzzled the first time I saw Moving Target that I went back a couple of nights later. It was no punishment to do so: this is, for most of its two hours, a fascinating, funny, disturbing and sometimes beautiful show. But each time I saw it, a little dialogue from Beckett's Endgame echoed in my head.

HAMM: We're not beginning to... to... mean something?
CLOV: Mean something! You and I, mean something? (Brief laugh.) Ah, that's a good one!

If only Mayenburg had emulated Beckett's tact, Moving Target might have been revelatory theatre. But no, the text had to mean something. And as soon as this is clear, the glorious imaginative suspension of play that levitates this production crashes down to earth. Mayenburg is, without doubt, a poet of the theatre, and in Moving Target he demonstrates, sometimes brilliantly, his gift for unsettling, under-the-skin imagery and dialogue. But he needs more of the poet in his work, more of that blind, even foolish trust in the currents of process, if this work is to take flight, if he is to drop the conventions of writing a play in favour of playing.

To make things more confusing, the text on the page reads very well. But the problem with the show is not that the production doesn't serve the play. What is offered in Moving Target is something different and potentially more exciting: a work of theatre in which performance is an integral part of the script, in which gesture and words are organically linked, each emerging from each. And for most of the show, that is exactly what happens.

Its premise is ingeniously simple. Before us are the actors as themselves: each is called by his or her proper name, Alison (Bell), Julie (Forsythe), Rita (Kalnejais), Robert (Menzies), Hamish (Michael) and Matthew (Whittet). The performances emerge from the game of hide and seek, a game that has a certain poignancy already because in Robert Cousins's merciless white box there is hardly anywhere to hide.

The actors, who are all excellent clowns, become increasingly imaginative and absurd in their efforts to hide themselves. In these games, the stage oscillates between disorder and order: the furniture is thrown about the stage, the carpet is rumpled, the sofa up-ended and, in one case, an actor becomes almost terminally tangled up with a chair. And then, patiently, order is restored - to an extent. Part of the process of the work is the gradual breakdown of recognisable order, which is realised not only in the bad treatment of furniture, but in the heightening emotional dishevelment of the actors.

These enactments of childish pleasure and - increasingly - distress are counterpointed with the dialogue, in which the six actors become parent figures - each differentiated and yet not quite characters either - speaking about a problem daughter. It's unclear what is wrong with this child, who is at the unsettling age of prepubescence, at the threshold of adult sexuality. This girl, it appears, is dangerous: she makes stains appear on the carpet, she is surrounded by a mysterious energy, her touch can make metal hot. And always, everywhere, there are bloodied feathers.

The mise en scene is superbly choreographed by director Benedict Andrews, with a lot of unobstrusive detailing and a rhythmic authority that gives the impression that the space itself is animated, like some kind of meta-puppetry. This sense is reinforced by Hamish Michael's sound design, which uses mics embedded in the set itself and jagged snatches of music, to create a dense and sometimes punishing soundscape.

The actors have found a particular and very theatrical language of gesture, a mixture of exaggerated banality and child-like formalism (familiar hand games, for example, that as the parent of every toddler knows, must always be played the same way) that develops into a rich texture of performance. It begins as faintly hysterical, faintly neurotic, and gradually accumulates into a highly expressive mimesis of contemporary anxiety.

This anxiety is free-floating, all-pervasive, and all the more uncomfortable for its lack of focus. It builds up to an extraordinary monologue delivered by Julie Forsythe, who is perhaps the most compelling performer in this very strong cast. She tells a story, comically punctuated by sounds from the other actors, in which the anxious parent witnesses what appears to her to be an ideal family having a picnic together. They have been hunting, and are happily seated by their prey -

It brought tears to my eyes. And I asked my husband: when was the last time we had such a carefree picnic with our daughter? And my husband thinks about it and says: never, we were never carefree, even at breakfast, there’s a butter knife and I break out in a cold sweat, how does the father know that none of his three children will take the front charger and gun him down from the back, what a happy and healthy family for them to stroll through the tall grass with unsecured weapons and him not afraid that they’ll zero in on him and shoot his head from his body or follow a whistle command and riddle his thighs with bullets and leave him to bleed to death, or they plot it in advance and the best shot kills him with a single dry headshot through the silencer. No, everything is wonderful here...

As she takes us through the macabre absurdity of this vision, a sardonically twisted image of middle class family life, Forsythe summons an increasing sense of tragedy. It culminates in a piercing cry of anguish: "Why us and not him? Why us?" And it's heartbreaking, even though we don't know why she is so tormented, even while we register the horrific reality of the ideal family she so envies.

It's this kind of naked actorly presence that works so successfully in Moving Target. Andrews has assembled a brilliant ensemble of performers who are all capable of fulfilling Peter Ustinov's frustrated instruction to a method actor: "Don't do something! Just stand there!" (Which is much more difficult than it sounds). Rather than investigate character, Andrews exploits the individual performative strengths of each actor, and the result is richly rewarding.

Things begin to turn awry a little after Forsythe's monologue. It's as if the show loses focus: the lighting begins to be melodramatic, the game-playing begins to lose its earlier comic ease. The actors pull out paper and paints and do some finger painting, and the dreadful suspicion begins to form that this is, after all, merely self-indulgent.

Simultaneously, we begin to collide with the meaning of the text, which is spelt out for us by the playwright, and all the possibilities that have been opened up during the course of the show begin to be whittled down. We are speaking about terrorism, after all. We are examining how these public anxieties infect and eventually destroy the private sphere - or perhaps, it is the other way around - and yet, the focus of all this murderous terror is merely what a child puts into a box and throws away, the wounded bird of her heart. She is the blank doll on which the adult world projects its fear of its own damaged innocence. There are all sorts of ideas to unpack from this, of course, but they seem so much less exciting than what was promised earlier, when the possibilities of meaning existed in the imaginations of the audience.

It occurs to me that the central problem is that there are two possible artworks uncomfortably jostling in this show. They run parallel for some time - until quite close to the end, in fact - but then find themselves sadly at odds. The first is the work in which the text is integrated with the performances, in which gesture and and word, physical games and language, are each relating freely. While this is happening, it is tremendously exciting theatre. But towards the end, the writing asserts its dominance and narrative becomes the controlling impulse of the theatre. And at this point the energy whooshes out of the whole thing.

Yet Mayenburg has written a very interesting play that, if it were given a more conventional production, could make a compelling piece of theatre. The text has a poetic integrity, a delicate interlacing of mystery and revelation, that could, on its own, be more than enough. The problem with seeing it in this production is that you glimpse another possibility that is at once more disturbing, more exciting and perhaps more terrifying. The editor in me suspects that the problem in this production might be solved quite simply, with some brutal cutting. In this case, less might be much more.

Picture: (L-R) Robert Menzies, Alison Bell and half of Hamish Michael in Moving Target. Photo: Tania Kelley

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Review: Nightshift

Nightshift, by Phil Motherwell, directed by Phil Motherwell and Shiralee Hood. Lighting by Gabriel Townsend, projections by Ian De Grucy, photography by Rodney Manning, music by Joe Dolce. With Gary Carter, Jack Charles, Isaac Drandich, Shiralee Hood and Bill Tisdall. La Mama until March 23. Bookings: 9347 6142.

Watching the news on television last week, I caught a glimpse of a devastated and frail Lou Richards at the funeral of his wife Edna. And it prompted a sudden vivid memory of when I moved to Melbourne from Ballarat and began work as a copygirl on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Herald. Edna Richards ran the Phoenix, the pokey pub across the road from The Herald's Flinders Street offices where the journalists hung out after (and often during) work. Like all Herald journalists, I spent a bit of quality time at the Phoenix, though the details remain rather blurred. It had very steep steps, and it's a wonder that I never broke my neck.

That was in 1979. My memories have the glazed feel of sepia photographs: there is nothing so remote, as Barry Humphries once said, as the recent past. I was 18 when I came to Melbourne, and I didn't have a clue that everything was about to change. I was among the last intake of cadets to run copy on The Herald, taking the slim slips of coloured paper from the journalists as they banged out their stories on deadline on those huge green Remingtons, and running them to the subs. I was one of the last generation who worked with the hot metal presses, admiring the typesetters with their spatulate fingers and amazing ability to read text upside down and back to front, and who felt the whole building thunder and shake as the afternoon editions were printed downstairs.

I came in at the end of a lot of things. A couple of years later, I saw one of the last shows at the Pram Factory, before it was demolished to make way for a supermarket and car park: a play about Oscar Wilde's last days by the poet Evan Jones, called The Real Life of Sebastian Melmoth. That was the only time I ever went to the Pram. It was only later, when I began to review theatre in the late 1980s, that I wanted to know what had happened there. And believe me, it was hard to find out. Back then, very little was written down, and what was available to a tyro critic was worse than inadequate. The critical histories are only now beginning to be written. If you wanted to know what it was like, you had to talk to people.

One name that cropped up a lot was that of Lindzee Smith, who inspired a generation of theatre makers, and whose legacy is a living, if largely unremarked, subtext in Melbourne theatre. It's there, for instance, in the drama graduates that have emerged in the past decade from the VCA, under Richard Murphet (a member of Smith's group Nightshift) and Lindy Davies - the raw, intelligent energies of companies like Uncle Semolina & Friends or A Poor Theatre. It's there in the writing of Daniel Keene, whose early work Smith championed, and who says that Smith was the person who showed him how exciting theatre could be.

And if you get along to La Mama this week, you can see Nightshift, an evening of plays written and directed by Phil Motherwell, which are mounted as a tribute to Smith on the anniversary of his death last year. It's as rough as guts, a theatre that is unapologetically about the performer, the text and the audience, and it depends on a current of energy that isn't always present in the actors. But this is theatre that was never about perfection; and when it hits the sweet spot, it's the real thing.

As Motherwell's poetic narratives themselves do, it reminds you that much of Melbourne's history remains obscure. When you look at the work Smith directed in Melbourne in the '70s, it seems extraordinary that he is not a household name: it includes not only familiar local names like Jack Hibberd (White with Wire Wheels) or John Romeril (The Floating World), but Rainer Fassbinder, Franz Xavier Kroetz, Sam Shepard, James Purdy, Peter Handke, Heathcote Williams, Maria Irene Fornes and Arrabal.

These achievements, along with those of the other APG sub-groups, have been largely sidelined in favour of the Williamsonian mythos, in which the most conservative theatre of the '70s became the dominant theatrical force in '80s and '90s Melbourne. Nightshift was regarded as an outlaw offshoot of the Australian Performing Group, a bunch of junkies and outsiders. Which wasn't entirely inaccurate, and perhaps explains a little of the obscurity, but is certainly reductive.

Age critic Leonard Radic characterised this work (when he noticed it at all) as "Internationalist", which he opposed to the nationalistic narrative of "Australian stories" that triumphed over the cultural cringe of the 1950s. But the truth is, as Richard Murphet suggests in his memoir of the APG, that the seeds of a mature and confident Australian theatre were sewn here. The "Internationalists", as Motherwell's plays remind you, were as intensely parochial as Lou Richards. But they were parochial in the sense that, say, Rimbaud was parochial: absolutely and specifically of their time and place.

Motherwell, who collaborated closely with Smith, deserves to be much more than a footnote in Australian playwriting. I once described Stephen Sewell as "the leftist firebrand we had to have". Where Sewell is the acceptable face of radical playwriting, Motherwell is a much more uncomfortable and anarchic spirit. He is also a far superior writer, eschewing the political lecturing that bedevils Sewell's work and with a poetic discipline Sewell signally lacks. To my knowledge, Motherwell's plays have not been performed beyond a small band of companies, and yet these are texts of deep theatrical and literary intelligence, among the hidden gems of Australian theatre.

Nightshift consists of three plays, woven together into a single shifting performance, interspersed with songs: The Fitzroy Yank, The Native Rose and Steal Away Home. The plays are introduced by the recitation of a poem by Motherwell himself, that literally sets the scene: urban, inner-city, working class Melbourne. All of them are memory plays, excavating histories and people that mostly remain on the verges of our national consciousness.

The first two are monologues. Fitzroy Yank, performed with a raw, irresistible energy by Isaac Drandich, is a jagged, vivid text that describes the violent inner landscape of a young man. The Native Rose, performed by Shiralee Hood, is the story of a war-time prostitute and junkie. Steal Away Home, a full-length play, is about a young thief who is a member of the Stolen Generation. It was first performed at Playbox in 1988, a decade before the Bringing Them Home report brought the issue of stolen children into the spotlight of public discussion.

In none of these plays is the outsider portrayed as a victim; these are stories - romances, even - of bright rebellion in the face of obdurate, wounding reality. Jack, the thief in Steal Away Home, is unrepentant - "stealing was fun", he says - and simply doesn't care at all about those he robs. At no point does he move to an integration with the society that rejects him, and nor is there any likely redemption. Motherwell gives his characters a self-sufficiency that looks to itself for validation, and the audience can decide what it thinks for itself. The closest he gets to a moral is at the end of Steal Away Home, when Jack's Aunty Pat says: "We want something different for [our children]. We want them to share with each other, look out for each other. We sing charms to make them generous."

Motherwell writes in the tradition of outsider poets such as François Villon and Jean Genet, bringing to a diction and landscape that is purely Melburnian an authentic lyric radicalism. Anyone who has struggled through Sartre's huge and often deeply irritating volume Saint Genet will understand the perils of a bourgeois fascination with the trangressions of criminality, which in Sartre's case, for all his philosophical vocabulary, often seems like a teenager's awestruck hero worship of the bad boy in a leather jacket. Motherwell escapes that trap and a possible attendent sentimentality by, well, not being bourgeois, but this also means that his writings remain largely unknown and unpublished.

The shows are directed using Smith's spare production style, which Murphet describes as "a naked, raw mise en scene (eg a spotlight or slide projector light against a brick wall) that highlighted the individual on the edge, surviving through sheer force of presence". Images - trees, windows, Collingwood Town Hall, the Melways - are projected on the walls and floor of La Mama, and lighting is confined to simple spot lights on performers. The focus is directed entirely onto the performers and the text. This works well for the monologues, but considerably flattens out the theatricality of the longer play. There are longueurs, but equally there are moments - notably from Shiralee Hood, Isaac Drandich and Jack Charles - when Nightshift is simply brilliant theatre.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

The heat is on

It seems unfair that, after a week of writerly virtue - dogsbody stuff, filling in forms and painstakingly dotting tees and crossing eyes - the weather should reward me with the prospect of days and days of unremitting, exhausting heat. What happened to Melbourne's gentle autumns? Did I dream those gloriously mild, high-heavened days when the sunshine spilt golden over the green lawn and coppery leaves gently detached themselves from the branches and tinkled down onto the carefully raked gravel footpaths? I did dream them? Damn.

It must have been like that other dream, in which David Mamet was once a woolly-minded liberal. Now, according to the playwright himself, the scales have fallen from his eyes and he has seen the light. He is a tough-talking free-marketeer. He believes in Milton Friedman. He believes in the market. He believes in America. He believes that people are not nice. The only surprising aspect of this is that Mamet ever thought he thought otherwise. I mean, he wrote Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna, right?

Still, this doesn't prevent Michael Billington from lamenting the demise of a great playwright, which is apparently directly linked to his embrace of right wing politics. "The precedents for a shift to the right on the part of creative artists," says Billington, "are not exactly encouraging". I don't know why people from an alarmingly various spectrum of politics keep equating Art with Lefty Liberalism, when the briefest trawl of Western cultural history shows this is by no means a direct fit. There is any number of exceptions to the altruistic, progressive artist working for the Good of Humankind.

It seems to me that Mamet might have been more interesting as a playwright when he was less aware of what he thought, and that it is this self-recognition, rather than any essential shift in perception, that might be the problem with his recent work. There's a reason why poets are supposed to be blind. In any case, a work of art that strikes beyond the superficial simply isn't biddable to such simplistic divisions, however much commentators - flapping in from the right or the left - attempt to rip off its limbs in order to stuff it into whichever ideological box takes their fancy. But that's another discussion.

Meanwhile, back at my desk, last night I saw Moving Target at the Malthouse, the keenly anticipated new play by Marius von Mayenburg. It's a fascinating evening that left me feeling intriguingly ambivalent. It's a complex work, at once deeply exciting and deeply flawed, and I need to see it again - and, in particular, to think a bit more about the performance language that it creates - before I can write about it. So don't expect that review tomorrow or even the next day; it's a show that invites some serious interrogation. In the meantime, take my word for it that Moving Target is a must-see for anyone who's interested in theatre.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brief hiatus

Although it's been quiet here on the blog, it doesn't mean that my study isn't humming with activity. To wit: my novel has landed unannounced on my desk, marked up with urgent copy-edits that have to be checked yesterday. Consequently I've had to cancel a few outings: my apologies to those companies affected. Hopefully it's merely a brief hiatus. I'll be back here later this week.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Review: Love Song

Love Song by John Kolvenbach, directed by Craig Ilott. Designed by Nicholas Dare, lighting by Jon Buswell, composer Basil Hogios, a/v by Brian Hughes. With Caroline Craig, Greg Stone, Thomas Wright and Julia Zemiro. Melbourne Theatre Company @ the Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre until April 19. Bookings: 1300 723 038.

At first blush, it seems a little surprising that Love Song was premiered by the famously serious Chicago company Steppenwolf. After all, John Kolvenbach’s avowed intention is to aim straight for an audience’s “squashy middle” – the soft centre that thrills to pop songs and secretly weeps at Disney movies. (Come on, admit it, we all have it. As Kolvenbach claims, even the most ferociously unsentimental minimalist possesses a private cupboard somewhere full of old year books and billets-doux.)

An off-beat romantic comedy, Love Song concerns a small family - the ruthless and uptight businesswoman Joan (Julia Zemiro), her mentally ill brother Beane (Thomas Wright) and Joan’s husband, Harry (Greg Stone). When Beane’s poverty-stricken apartment is burgled, he meets the woman of his dreams, Molly (Caroline Craig), and falls in love. And suddenly his world is transformed: the grey veil of his depression lifts, and he finds himself exhilarated by the simple pleasures of being alive: the taste of sandwiches, the colours of sunlight, the warmth of human touch.

Beane’s joy is contagious, infecting his sister and her husband, who rediscover the love that still exists beneath their oppositional bickering. Beane and his sister are at different poles: Beane is startlingly unmaterialistic, living in a flat bare of almost everything except a rotting sofa and a spoon, while Joan is a tough, successful businesswoman. The action of the play is basically these two extremes meeting in the "squashy middle".

The play’s catch-cry is “Death to literalism!” And indeed, read literally (as, perhaps, a demonstration of how love is an instant cure-all for mental illness) it doesn’t make a lot of sense. And it’s here that it might be most justly accused of sentimentality.

However, Kolvenbach’s point is rather that love (like faith, hope and even theatre) might be an illusion, but that it’s an illusion that can generate its own reality. And that its erotic vitality is what makes life worth living. It’s a simple thesis, but here delivered with a disarming dose of peppery humour that doesn't (excuse the mixed metaphors) sit on the fence and undercut itself with defensive irony. Besides, what Kolvenbach says is true.

The result is an enjoyable fantasy that dances along the perilous edge of whimsy. Despite some wobbles - most notably in a couple of overlong scenes between Molly and Beane - it never quite falls into bathos: the play is saved by some deft comic dialogue and Kolvenbach’s considerable lyric gift.

It’s hard to imagine that it could have been given a better production. Nicholas Dare’s stylish design features a revolve, which permits fluid and various shifts between the play’s differing realities. Craig Ilott’s direction is sure and economical, wisely taking the play at its own value: he neither gives it a weight it doesn't have, nor flinches from its honesties. It only wavers in the overlong dialogues between Molly and Beane, where you have the sense that a lack of action in the dialogue leads to some over-compensation in its physicalistion.

The design is also notable for John Buswell’s expressive lighting and Brian Hughes’s visual projections, which unobstrusively permit the stage to alter from a spare naturalism to lyrical emotional environments.

But the evening really belongs to the actors. Stone and Zemiro are at their best here, and the erotic energy between them fairly crackles. Wright manages Beane’s extremes – from withdrawn interiority to excessive exuberance – with grace and emotional honesty. As Beane’s inscrutable lover, Craig has perhaps the most difficult role, but she creates an impishly appealing presence.

Love Song is hardly profound, and it manipulates your emotions in much the same way as a good pop song. But there's nothing wrong with that, when it's as well achieved as it is here: it doesn't insult your intelligence, and can even touch the edge of something true. It's certainly among the shortest two hours I’ve ever spent at the Fairfax.

Picture: Thomas Wright and Caroline Craig in John Kolvenbach's Love Song.

A shorter version of this review is published in today's Australian. And an update: I just noticed the oddest typo (which unfortunately made it into the Oz): instead of "death to literalism", I wrote "death is literalism". Take a letter, Dr Freud. Though I guess that it is exactly the kind of typo a poet would make.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Tartuffe revisited

So many people I respect, privately and online, have differed with me on my review of Tartuffe (closing this Saturday at the Malthouse) that I went along to a matinee today to check if I had been hallucinating. Or - a much more depressing possibility - to see if somehow my responses had been in bad faith.

To my relief, I enjoyed it just as much on a second viewing. It's wicked, vulgar, intelligent fun: a production that reminds you that Molière and company forged their success by simultaneously entertaining the unwashed commoners and the slightly less unwashed aristocracy. And I still think that it by no means traduces or reduces the play: all Molière's ideas, all his pointed social satire, are gloriously there.

As an aside, I watched it with a boisterous audience of school students, who laughed and clapped all the way through and at the end sounded as if they had been at a rock concert. Now, that's encouraging.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Review: Chekhov Re-Cut: Platonov

Chekhov Re-Cut: Platonov, by Anton Chekhov, adapted and directed by Simon Stone. Design by Evan Granger, lighting by Danny Pettingill, sound by Jared Lewis. With Jessamy Dyer, Amanda Falson, Angus Grant, Adrian Mulraney, Eryn-Jean Norvill, Meredith Penman, Simon Stone and Chris Ryan. The Hayloft Project @ The Hayloft, corner Harris and Whitehall Steets, Footscray, until March 16. Bookings 0435 165 117 or online

Platonov is Anton Chekhov’s first play and, in ways that recall Georg Büchner’s unfinished work Woycek, has a rather curious history. It was written in the 1880s when Chekhov was 20, living with his parents on the edge of the Black Sea in the village of Taganrog. He abandoned it when it was rejected by the Maly Theatre in Moscow and the play was forgotten until someone discovered the manuscript in a bank vault in 1923, 19 years after Chekhov’s death. It was first published in 1933, under the title Fatherlessness, but it didn’t premiere in Russia until 1957.

By all accounts, the original is a sprawling mess that runs for more than five hours. As the Russian critic Mikhail Gromov put it: "The play was put together with a profligacy that was inexcusable, and conceivable only in the writer's youth. At one and the same time it is a drama, a comedy and a vaudeville; or more accurately, it is not any one of these three. But that said, it is chaotic in a way that bore a remarkable resemblance to the reality of Russian life."

For a play generally regarded as juvenilia, Platonov is produced more often than you might expect. A full-length version was a hit at the 2002 Avignon Festival, and (perhaps ironically, given its rejection a century ago) the Maly Theatre of St Petersburg toured its celebrated production, now a decade old, to London last year. It inspired a celebrated film, An Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano, made by Nikita Mikhalkov in 1976, which in turn inspired Trevor Griffiths’ 1990 play, Piano. Michael Frayn adapted it in 1984, and David Hare in 2001. Which isn’t doing too badly.

Like Woycek, which was found in Büchner’s papers after his early death and has been the subject of endless dramaturgical speculation, it might be Platonov’s very disorder, this unfinished quality, which has ensured its continuing life more than a century later. Or perhaps the age has caught up with Chekhov’s instinctive dramaturgy: it could be that the play’s mimetic sense, the chaos that Gromov remarked as so realistic, appeals to contemporary sensibilities.

Certainly a sense of contemporary realism illuminates the Hayloft Theatre Project’s extraordinarily beautiful production, its first at its newly opened warehouse theatre in Seddon. As with this company’s impressive debut, a passionate production of Franz Wedekind’s Spring Awakening - itself opening at Belvoir St later this year - Chekhov Re-Cut: Platonov is elegantly poised between fidelity to the 19th century origin of the work and a very 21st century aesthetic.

Simon Stone’s adaptation cuts the play to a swift two and a half hours, with eight speaking parts instead of 20. I haven't read the original text, so I can’t comment on the details of the adaptation (in passing, it was brilliant to experience a Chekhov play with no idea of what was going to happen). But even so, Stone demonstrates – as he did with Spring Awakening – a sure instinct for filleting out essential action; and he certainly hasn’t messed with the original four act structure.

Platonov (Simon Stone) is the first of Chekhov’s disillusioned provincial intellectuals. He is the local school teacher, an idealist in his (very recent) youth, but already, in his late 20s, soured and bored by the comfortable meaninglessness of his life. He is fascinating because he is a totally passive protagonist: he permits events to happen, always taking the most yielding option, permitting the desires of others to dictate his flaccid will. For all his appearance of profundity, he is a man who takes on the colours of those around him. He most startling lack is an interior life: he is all surface, all reflection. And his inner emptiness has disastrous results for everyone around him.

None of the men in the play is immune to his charisma - even those he cuckolds still love him. And as he is desired by every woman in the play - even the chemistry student Maria, whom he treats with sadistic contempt - his love life is complicated. In a curious reversal of gender roles, he is the blank screen on which these women project their frustrated desires. He is a different lover to each of them – to Sascha, his wife, he is a faithful husband and father; to the general’s widow Anna (Meredith Penman) - an amazing character for the time, being both intellectually and sexually forceful - he is the image of a grand passion; to his former lover Sofia (Jessamy Dyer) he represents freedom from a stiflingly respectable marriage.

The play's melodramatic elements reflect the theatre of its time, but in this adaptation they are at once absurd and realistic, winding out of the tragic aimlessness of the characters' situations. Platonov demonstrates that Chekhov's gently merciless insights into human behaviour were there from the beginning: more than anything, it reminds you that in its less pleasant moments, life tends more to melodrama than to the grave horror of the tragic. Chekhov's enduring attraction lies in how he traces the absurd sorrow of modernity; he understood, with Oscar Wilde, that “the dreadful thing about modernity is that it puts tragedy into the raiment of comedy”.

The play is written with a youthful passion that makes it a peculiarly apt choice for this young company. Stone has collected a very fine cast, and elicits performances that impress on all levels - technical accomplishment, emotional accuracy, courage and nuance, the last being perhaps the most important element in acting Chekhov. They're so good that they rather show up Stone himself in the central role: although he is effective as Platonov, the original hollow man, he only just gets away with it, and certainly doesn't reach the lustre of his colleagues. The one problem with this production is that it's difficult to understand why Platonov is so irresistible: of course, it's understood that in a more exciting context he might not be desirable at all, that these destructive desires are frothed out of ennui; but as a man of surfaces he might glitter more fascinatingly. Stone might have to settle for merely being a brilliant adaptor and director.

Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay the actors is that they aren’t overwhelmed by the set. Evan Granger’s design, sensuously lit with an air of fin de siecle decadence by Danny Pettingill, is spectacular. The huge stage is defined by the ruinous walls of an elegant house, and filled with about a foot of water, in which are placed the tables, chaise lounges and standard lamps of a 19th century bourgeois home. The immediate effect is jaw-droppingly beautiful, but the set is much more than a gorgeous background: the water becomes an expressive part of the emotional action in ways that recall (forgive me, but it’s true) how water is used in Tarkovsky's films. As the actors wade across the stage, the ripples create a constant susurrus, and the splashing underlines the violence or gentleness of bodily gestures, just as the water's reflections suggest the deceptive, shifting surfaces of Chekhov’s characters.

It's an exquisite production and, as everyone is telling everyone else, you'd be mad to miss it. On a purely personal note, I'm delighted that it's happening on my side of town, and I'm hoping that all exciting theatre will now move westwards. The one disadvantage of the Hayloft space is the band that plays next door, mostly destroying Jared Lewis's delicate sound design all through the first half. Again, it's a tribute to the performers that they were both audible and unfazed, even weaving the ambient noise into the dialogue, and the band wasn't nearly as intrusive as it might have been.

I'm told that the space will be soundproofed soon: in the meantime, don't let a little unprogrammed music put you off. With Platonov, The Hayloft Project proves that it's the real thing, and that it's here to stay. This is a show that people will be talking about years from now.

Pictures: (Top) Chris Ryan and Meredith Penman. (Below) The cast of Platonov by The Hayloft Project. Photos: Jeff Busby

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Shall I compare thee...?

Sunday afternoon, and back from a pleasant amble in the sunshine with the mutt before heading to an early session of The Hayloft Project's Chekhov Recut: Platonov. Of which more in due course. However, during my wanderings I found myself musing, in Coleridgean fashion*, on some recent arguments on - or even off - this blog, and this led me to pondering some occasions where people have taken exception to comparisons I have made. I am always happy if people argue with me - if they are arguing with what I say rather than traducing my character, that is - but it occurred to me that some of these arguments might stem from a misunderstanding.

Comparison may be odious, but if you're a critic, it is also inevitable. Just as no man is entire of itself, neither is any work: it is part of the complex ecology of culture. One of the things I seek to do here is to sketch a map of relationship, with which I might speculatively trace the genealogy and context of a work. And a misunderstanding might follow from mistaking this kind of comparison for a qualitative rather than a descriptive claim. Of course, it may be both; but usually I am primarily attempting to be descriptive.

One example: I got some friendly schtick recently when I compared a short film to Tarkovsky, Malick and Herzog. Put baldly like that, it might seem over the top. But I actually said: "It's not hyperbole to say that this genuinely poetic film recalls Werner Herzog (it bears affinities with Aguirre: The Wrath of God, but lacks Herzog's Eurocentric shonkiness), or that in its poetic rhythms, particularly in how it makes landscape a character in the film, it has qualities you see in the work of Andrei Tarkovsky or Terrence Malick." After the poking, I read over my comments carefully, wondering if I had been having one of those "best actor of his generation" moments (yes, such statements make me blush in retrospect, however richly deserved they might be) and I remained unswayed. The film does bear affinities with Aguirre, and it does have those qualities. And that is what I meant.

Still, very few people will read with the same care as the anxious writer. I remember, chastened, the colleague who taxed me with the claim that I had said TS Eliot was a "minor poet". This was such a complete misreading of a complex and carefully qualified argument that I could only blink: where does one begin? Is it worth chastising myself if I lapse into windy generalisation or unsupported claim-staking, if nobody notices the difference when I don't? The answer goes both ways: if I wish only to avoid public censure, then of course it isn't worth it. But in the end, I guess I have to earn my own respect as well.

* Many a man, who has contrived to hide his ruling passion or predominant defect from himself, will betray the same to dispassionate observers, by his proneness on all occasions to suspect or accuse others of it. ...As long therefore as I obtrude no unsupported assertions on my Readers; and as long as I state my opinions and the evidence which induced or compelled me to adopt them, with calmness and that diffidence in myself, which is by no means incompatible with a firm belief in the justness of the opinions themselves; while I attack no man's private life from any cause, and detract from no man's honors in his public character, from the truth of his doctrines, or the merits of his compositions, without detailing all my reasons and resting the result solely on the arguments adduced; while I moreover explain fully the motives of duty, which influenced me in resolving to institute such investigation; while I confine all asperity of censure, and all expressions of contempt, to gross violations of truth, honor, and decency, to the base corruptor and the detected slanderer; while I write on no subject, which I have not studied with my best attention, on no subject which my education and acquirements have incompacitated me from properly understanding; and above all while I approve myself, alike in praise and in blame, in close reasoning and in impassioned declamation, a steady FRIEND to the two best and surest friends of all men, TRUTH and HONESTY; I will not fear an accusation of either Presumption or Arrogance from the good and the wise, I shall pity it from the weak, and welcome it from the wicked.

- from The Friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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