Festivally notes ~ theatre notes

Friday, August 22, 2008

Festivally notes

As you all know by now, it got through: this week it was announced that Melbourne is now, after Edinburgh, the second UNESCO City of Literature. Let's hope we can live up to it, although there's no way we can claim the kind of literary heritage Edinburgh has. And there have been unkind comments in the Australian about the Melbourne Writers Festival. Well, whatever you think of the festival, you can't claim that the 2008 program isn't big.

If you're going cross-eyed trying to work out what to see, never fear: Ms TN has filleted out those sessions of interest to the thespian-minded among us, which is why both of my pupils are now riveted to my nose. Observations about there being a lot of nose to look at will hereby be treated with the hurt disdain they deserve.

This Sunday, there are a couple of sessions for which it should be well worth making the trek to Federation Square. Barrie Kosky, fresh from wowing the Scottish with The Tell-Tale Heart at the Edinburgh Festival, will be in conversation with theatre historian/director Julian Meyrick about his Melbourne University Press book (I'd call it a booklet, if it were not not quite right) On Ecstasy at 10am at ACMI 1.

Barrie will be talking later the same day with the distinguished director Jim Sharman - whose memoir Blood and Tinsel (a weighty tome, rather than a booklet) is also just out from MUP - about changes in theatre over the past couple of decades. I'm sure that will be worth hearing - I'd be surprised if there weren't provocation in bucketloads. That's at 5.30 at the BMW Edge, and will be mediated by broadcaster Julie Copeland.

I'm chairing a session next Friday, August 29, in which theatre historians Julian Meyrick and Gabrielle Wolf - who have respectively written histories of the Nimrod Theatre and the APG, the leading theatres of the 1970s New Wave - will be discussing their history and impact on present day theatre. That's at 2.30pm at ACMI 1.

It's not all directors and historians. Joanna Murray-Smith will be holding up the playwright end in a session on Monday, August 25,that explores "issues of identity and belonging" with Waleed Aly and Diana Sandars. 6.30pm at ACMI 2.

Going beyond talk sessions, comedian/librarian Josh Earl will be doing his stand up act at the Festival Club from tomorrow night. Meanwhile, if you have a spare $130 a head, you can eat a meal and be entertained by "dramatic readings" by some of our best actors, including David Tredinnick, Jane Clifton and Paul English, at the Bottego Restaurant for Beyond Cuisine.

As for me: my other dates are all poetry. Tomorrow at 12 noon at the Festival Club I'll be reading at the launch of Over There, an anthology of Singaporean and Australian poetry published by Ethos Books, along with Edwin Thumboo, Alvin Pang , Madeline Lee, Aaron Lee, Angeline Yap and Isa Kamari. This one is unticketed, so come along for free wine and free poems.

At 5.30pm on Thursday, August 28, at ACMI 2, I'll be talking about contemporary Australian poetry with Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Justin Clemens and Robert Gray. We're supposed to predict the next big thing, but who knows? I certainly don't, so I'll talk about something else.

And finally, a session I'm really looking forward to - on Friday August 29, I get to discuss Anna Akhmatova, one of the great lyric poets of the 20th century, with the eminent Russian historian Orlando Figes in a session chaired by Ellen Koshland. It's a chance to read some of Akhmatova's work out loud, which will be a pleasure. 4pm at the BMW Edge.

And then it's September, when I can hang up my Author hat and go back to being an obscure and private writer. I hope.


Anonymous said...

Anna Akhmatova, as it happens, is also the subject of the first essay in Clive James's Cultural Amnesia. And the essay, as it happens, is online.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks for that, Matt. I read it with interest, and it leads me to ask: why does that essay annoy me so? Things like: "She was a vamp by nature. If there had been no revolution, Akhmatova could have made her seductive nature her subject, in the manner of Edna St. Vincent Millay but to even greater effect. History denied her the opportunity to sublimate her frailties. It made her a heroine instead." How far is that from Zhadnov's attack on her (the notorious article which spelt the end of her publishing life under Stalin) describing her as a cross between a whore and a nun - only in James's case meant as a compliment?

I much prefer Marjorie Perloff's maybe more forensic but less sentimentally ideological approach in this essay, also available online but in a pdf . James is as ideological as the apparachiks here, witness his reductive explanation of Mayakovsky's suicide as political remorse (he too was unhappy in love, but because he was male I suppose he's allowed not to be a tragic vamp). Grrr. For arguments on the value of humanism, give me John Berger or Edward Said any day...

Perloff on the other hand understands tact as a critic and does not presume. Instead of James's salacious romanticiisng, Perloff considers the virtues of the poetry itself: and in a brief summary of her life, also recalls unsentimentally some of its realities. "In August 1920, a former mistress of Gumilyov (A's former husband) turned apparatchik found the once well-off Akhmatova in her pitiful apartment, 'emaciated and dressed in rags, boiling soup in a borrowed saucepan'." Which conveys more to me of Akhmatova's courage and stubbornness than of of James's flip phrasing.

End of rant!!! Sorry. Couldn't help it.

Anonymous said...

Having read both (are you referring to this article, Alison, available in .html?), I must ask: which translations will you be reading? (Very sorry not to be attending.)

And, as already mentioned here, I believe we tend to romanticize Dissent (and Heroism) as something done by other people, possibly Russian, good-looking, charismatic and noble, with moral integrity the strength of a solid kitchen table. And it's a rather unromantic, ugly life.

Alison Croggon said...

I'm not sure yet, Jana - we're meeting up next week to discuss these things. And hopefully we'll (not me) will be reading one in Russian. I have both Stanley Kunitz's and Judith Hermschemeyer's translations (I refused to buy DM Thomas's because he calls Akhmatova a "poetess" in his forward, despite her very public dislike of the term). My favourite translations are actually a slim selection by Jane Kenyon, which Perloff doesn't discuss.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alison
Just thought I'd throw some thoughts at you re the theatre history session. For, while I'm quite unaware of the APG book mentioned, I did review Meyrick versus Tim Robertson back in 2002 (see Canberra Times 27/2)- finding vastly more pleasure in the contents and absences from Robertson's Pram Factory book than in Meyrick's PHD trawl through the archives of a Nimrod he'd never actually experienced. Some interesting judgements, but - such as "Nimrod reified its own contributions to the art form's development"!
Why is Robertson missing from your panel?

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Jeremy - well, it's not "my" panel. I'm merely the chair/facilitator, and the event is in fact auspiced by Currency Press, who published both books (Gabrielle Wolf's came out earlier this year). I think you're rather unfair on Julian Meyrick's book; fwiw, I think it very good indeed - one of the most acute and intelligent analyses I've read of Australian theatre history (and refreshingly well-written, even if he uses words like "reified": at least he knows what it means). Yes, it's a history, not a memoir; and this is a panel of historians, not participants, which is I guess the point. We need both perspectives. Meyrick's book is dispassionate and thoroughly researched, and places Australian theatre in a complex and international context. It's one of the most illuminating studies of Australian theatre that I've read.

Geoffrey said...

Sorry to be like a bee in a jar, but I'm still waiting for the unabridged Tennessee Williams review.

Geoffrey said...

... so if you must,
let me down gently.

Alison Croggon said...

Geoffrey, I'm really sorry; I don't think I'm going to get to it. I just don't have the mental space. But if things calm down and I'm not reading US proofs or editing (a different but nicely short) story or trying to think up intelligent things to say about Australian poetry or Russian poetry or Australian theatre, while at the back of my mind a completely different story keeps waving its hands, wanting to be written - if/when all these things begin to make sense, I might just do a piece on Tennessee. Why not? He's one of my favourites and it would be an excuse to read him again. Just don't hold your breath - though I won't mind if you remind me now and again...