Yes, I know...Thursday portmanteauKantor to leave MalthouseHousekeepingReview: One Night The MoonReview: PerséResponse from Neil PigotDrama as literatureOff the shelfMini-review: God of CarnageMonday morning rantaroundMTC TheatreReview: Oedipus - A Poetic RequiemVale Hilary CramptonSeen last week: and The Question of The IntellectualCriticism in the age of PR spinReview: The Lower Depths, The Colours, En Trance ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yes, I know...

Ms TN has been taking care of some extra-blog deadlines this week. As well as sneezing copiously and considering her upcoming stint as an International Poet of Mystery, which is coming up alarmingly soon. I have managed to attend a couple of events of a Fringe nature all the same, and will report In Due Course. For the record, both - the Ridiculusmus Readings at La Mama and the Melbourne Town Players' Attract/Repel at the Store Room - got ticks from me.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday portmanteau

'Tis the season for launches. Last night the Melbourne Fringe Festival launched itself into the giddy stratosphere. More than half a million people watched more than 4500 artists at around 100 venues last year. That's a lot of stuff, and explains why Ms TN - a delicate creature at the best of times - gets out her sal volatile before she consults the program. As I recall, last year she threw up her hands in despair, crumpled into a foetal heap in the corner, and just stayed home being fed grapes by various slaves family members. This year she'll do a little better (frankly, it would be hard to do worse) and will see, well, a few shows, thanks to Fringe AD Emily Sexton, who made soothing noises and guided Ms TN's trembling finger to the "program highlights". But the blog-hungry should keep an eye on the hubsite Spark Online, where our blogging confreres Neandellus and Jana will be logging shows, and of course the indefagitable Richard Watts, who is prepared to fry his brain and see the requisite thousand shows a day. I suppose, as Fringe chair and awards judge, he's obliged.

The night before, the MTC launched its 2010 season with the obligatory fountains of champagne. 2010, which kicks off with the Australian premiere of the Broadway hit The Drowsy Chaperone (starring Geoffrey Rush) is certainly various. Hannie Rayson and David Williamson fans are well-served, with new plays from each (Williamson's Let The Sunshine premiered at Sydney's Ensemble Theatre last year). There are a couple of unknowns to me which spark my curiosity - JT Roger's Madagascar and Tony McNamara's The Grenade - and a lesser Mamet, Boston Marriage, which on the other hand features Pamela Rabe. And there are some potential gems.

Ewen Leslie - an absolute revelation in the STC's The War of the Roses - will star in Richard III, with a stunning cast of women, Jennifer Hagan, Deirdre Rubenstein, Alison White and Meredith Penman (who'll be familiar to Hayloft fans). I'm looking forward to an adaptation of Pedro Almodovar's film All About My Mother - which as you might know, features a production of A Streetcar Named Desire - and Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone - Ruhl does a genuinely deft and graceful line in contemporary American surrealism. Joanna Murray-Smith has Songs for Nobodies, an intriguing theatrical conceit that is a Bombshells-type vehicle for the extraordinary singer Bernadette Robinson, and Daniel Keene is there with his existential comedy Life Without Me, which features a stellar cast - Greg Stone, Deidre Rubenstein, Brian Lipson, Kerry Walker and Rob Menzies. And it finishes with a production of Marius von Mayenburg's The Ugly One at the Lawler Studio. This is a fantastic play, and I was kicking myself that I missed it at the Royal Court last year, when I saw Anthony Neilson's Relocated instead.

Before I forget, which I have, let me remind you about the Cybec Readings at the Lawler Studio. If you haven't kept your eye on them, you'll have already missed Nicki Bloom's Tender (the Captain helpfully reports here, with a bonus fascinating discussion on text and theatre) and Ian Wilding's The Water Carriers. Which gives you no excuse to miss Robert Reid's The Joy of Text, coming up on September 29.

Meanwhile, the Belvoir St Company B season launch has prompted a lot of disquiet. Where, a lot people want to know, are the women? Do we not write? Do we not direct or design? Nicholas Pickard has the story here. And Katherine Lyall-Watson has some useful basic facts at her Performing Arts Blog.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kantor to leave Malthouse

Hot off the Malthouse's press machine: Michael Kantor today announced that he will depart the Malthouse at the end of 2010, after six years as artistic director and CEO of the company. He'll be leaving to pursue other opportunities as a freelance director.

"Theatre is the most malleable and mercurial of artistic forms, and needs to constantly reinvent itself to stay alive and relevant," said Kantor in today's statement. "My hope is that Malthouse does exactly that, while continuing to surprise and astound audiences with theatrical journeys in the dark that enliven the mind and enrich the imagination, both on its stages and as it takes work around Australia and to the world."

Since taking over the Playbox in January 2005 with executive producer Stephen Armstrong, Kantor has introduced diverse and flexible programming and a series of mentorships and artist residencies. He instigated the ‘Malthouse Greenlight’ project towards ecological sustainability and has toured Malthouse productions nationally and internationally.

By the end of 2009, he will have overseen the world premiere of 36 new Australian works, with Malthouse productions playing to over 250,000 patrons in Melbourne, and many more in 25 seasons in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane, Auckland, Vienna, Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur, London and Edinburgh. Most recently Kantor’s production of Optimism played to a sold out season at the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival. That show will tour to next year's Sydney Festival, and his production of Happy Days opens at Belvoir Street Theatre this October.

As Malthouse chair Simon Westcott says, Team Kantor has positioned the Malthouse as one of the most energetic, innovative and collaborative in the country. A new AD will be appointed in early 2010, with the position advertised late this year. With Neil Armfield's departure from Belvoir St next year (programming as his swan song a remount of his masterly Diary of a Madman, starring Geoffrey Rush), this opens the door to a new era in both Sydney and Melbourne. And opens a rich field of speculation about who will take over these signal positions.

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Monday, September 21, 2009


A reminder that the easiest way to navigate reviews on this site is to go to the review listing page (link in the sidebar), which lists every TN review and also various essays since 2004. And which I have just updated.

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Review: One Night The Moon

The lost child is an iconic, even obsessive, figure in Australian folklore, the subject of song, story and painting. Frederick McCubbin’s 1886 painting Lost encapsulates the myth: a young girl stands hesitantly, almost invisibly, in bushland, on the verge of being swallowed by the trees. The story focused a settler’s anxiety in a land which refused to obey the known laws of European agriculture, in which even the seasons were upside down. Settlers entered an environment that faced them with climactic extremes – flood, drought and fire – and which was unfamiliar and harsh to eyes coached by the domesticated landscapes of England. And this anxiety was underlaid by grim reality. White children commonly did wander into the bush, often with tragic results.

One Night The Moon – originally a 2001 film that was it itself inspired by a documentary – is loosely based on one such story, when a little boy was lost in Dubbo in 1932. When the police force’s Aboriginal tracker, Alexander “Tracker” Riley, was called in, the boy’s grandfather refused to have a blackfella on his property and conducted the search himself. Transposed into fiction, it’s a story which highlights how the resistance of indigenous knowledge among Europeans led to tragic results for both black and white. And it shows how the mythology of colonisation in Australia, wretchedly similar in terms of the state’s dispossession of Indigenous people, differs from the United States. There the major annual holiday, Thanksgiving, celebrates the life-saving offer of food by Native Americans to starving settlers.

One Night The Moon emerged from a collaboration between director Rachel Perkins and a distinguished creative team that included songwriters Kev Carmody, Paul Kelly and Mairead Hannan. That movie in turn has inspired a work of music theatre, adapted for the stage by one the film’s original writers, John Romeril, and directed by Wesley Enoch. Here this story, transposed to the Victorian Grampians, becomes a fable of the gulfs between two cultures. And yet its very aesthetic, which knits together traditions from both cultures into a highly original work, is an expression of hope for some other way.

Perhaps what is most striking about One Night The Moon, now on at the Malthouse, is how Romeril and Enoch have created a work that is profoundly of its medium: this is, from the ground up, pure theatre. Enoch and Romeril have brought together their different sensibilities to create a fascinating hybrid of theatrical influences that are fused together in a work of deceptive simplicity. Both, in different ways, return to theatrical roots.

Romeril has long been influenced by Asian theatre, most explicitly in works such Miss Tanaka and Love Suicides. This interest is perhaps an extension of the Brechtian emphasis in his work. Like other modernist theatre artists - Artaud, Piscator, Meyerhold - Brecht was heavily influenced by Asian theatre: his “alienation effect” emerged from his seeing the Peking Opera in 1935, and he adapted Noh techniques for his Lehrstücke, or learning plays.

Likewise, the theatrical shape of One Night The Moon draws heavily on Asian influences: as in traditional Asian theatre, the band is on stage, and the narrative unfolds through music and song rather than dialogue. But perhaps it is most visible in its slow, inevitable dramatic movement: this is a work that builds steadily to emotional climax, and which bypasses conventional western techniques of affect. Character, for example, is not a major concern: the figures are symbolic and representative, rather than psychological portraits.

Enoch, on the other hand, returns to Indigenous ritual. He frames the show with a “welcome to country” smoke ceremony conducted by Ursula Yovich, and includes sand painting – a traditional part of Aboriginal ritual – as a key visual element. When Albert, the police tracker (Kirk Page), dresses for work with the help of his wife (Yovich), it has at once the sense of Indigenous ceremonial preparation and a European echo, as if, as an arm of the law, he were being draped in the robes of a judge.

In part, this show is a dialogue between Aboriginal and European representations of landscape, just as it is a tragic fable about miscommunication between black and white. Just after the smoke ceremony, in one of its more spectacular moments, Yovich sets fire to an early drawing of the Grampians by Eugene von Guérard, and throughout the show are glimpses of a comprehensive selection of colonial landscape art. These elements are combined seamlessly with some beautiful 3D animation, which itself draws from the iconography of European fairy tales, and are heightened by some superb multimedia. The music also expressively combines diverse influences.

It all sounds a lot more complicated than it is in execution. The set is a high, bare stage with steps down to the floor where the ceremonial elements take place. Anna Cordingley’s flexible design - a series of screens that lift and fall, gradually exposing the depth of the stage - brings all these different elements together, heightened by some moodily expressive lighting from Niklas Pajanti.

The songs both drive the action and are the chief means of emotional communication, and it’s in the songs that the performances find their heart. The dialogue doesn’t wholly escape a vexing sense of alienation caused by the use of mikes, but the cumulative power of the four performers winds up to a shattering, iconic climax. The result recalls most compellingly the work of Robert Wilson, but Enoch evades the sense of slickness that can mar Wilson’s theatre. There’s a complexity of thought in this work that lifts it beyond cliché, but it still retains the potent simplicity of fable. A fairytale for our time.

This review was published in Friday's Australian.

Picture: One Night The Moon. Picture: Jeff Busby

One Night The Moon, adapted by John Romeril from a film by Kev Carmody, Mairead Hannan, Paul Kelly, Rachel Perkins and John Romeril. Directed by Wesley Enoch. Composed by Kev Carmody, Mairead Hannan and Paul Kelly, musical direction Mairead Hannan. Set and costumes Anna Cordingley, lighting design by Niklas Pajanti, sound design by Kelly Ryall. With Natalie O'Donnell, Kirk Page, Mark Seymour and Ursula Yovich. Malthouse Theatre @ the Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse, until October 3.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Review: Persé

Theatre is, perhaps more than anything, an act of translation. Acts are translated into words, words translated into actions and images. Watching any show means deciphering, consciously or not, a number of languages: the semiotics of space, lighting, choreography and gesture, the meanings of spatial relationship between performers and audience members, the inflection of a myriad of theatrical traditions through new technologies and techniques and ideas.

In the absence of a general theatrical literacy, this can lead to problems: it's common to encounter people who can watch experimental movies without blinking, easily processing the sophisticated and complex language of film, but who are baffled by the most basic techniques of creating theatrical meaning. It's not because theatre is inherently more mysterious; it's because our culture is soaked in the language of film, but the language of theatre has nothing like the same cultural status. The best education, as with all art, is to go and see a lot of it: screen culture is so hard to avoid that we absorb its language through a process of osmosis, but the language of theatre has to be consciously learned.

The primary language of theatre is still popularly considered to be writing: mention theatre to the average punter, and he or she will think of plays. And often our more experimental artists want to give this perceived dominance a good shake, and to foreground the other theatrical languages. This can lead to fascinating results, among them some of the best work I've seen in this city. But it's a process fraught with peril, which as often can make the whole much less than the sum of its parts.

On the question of text in theatre, I'm more or less with the German writer Robert Musil, who wrote in 1926: "The actor's theatre, the director's theatre, the theatre of acoustic form and that of optical rhythm, the theatre of visualised stage space, and many others have been offered to us... They have taught much that is worthwhile, but about as one-sidedly as the assertion that one should throw a man who has a cold into the fire, which is also fundamentally based on a correct idea. The experience of our senses is conservative... what is to be understood through seeing and hearing cannot be too far removed from what is already known."

True radicality, Musil argues, can only occur in "immediate proximity to the word", because it is through the word that human beings mediate and quarrel with experience: it is through the word that we think, and it's through thinking that we abstract, rearrange and create work that is more than merely novel. Musil is not merely being logocentric here: he is too canny to suggest that meaning can only be communicated through written or spoken language. The clue is in that phrase "immediate proximity".

Which brings me at last to Iván Sikic's Persé, which is one of those experiments with classic texts that moves away from the text itself. Performed in the vaguely sinister environs of the disused Collingwood Underground Carpark, it's a work of theatre inspired by Jean Genet's 1949 play Deathwatch, a drama between three prisoners and a guard set in a claustrophobic cell. This production shows that Sikic is a directorial imagination to watch, but it also demonstrates that moving away from a text as complex and intelligent as Genet's can also be a way of moving away from its challenges.

Genet is one of the great moral imaginations of the 20th century. He embraced the negation of conventional moral values, searching instead for an authenticity of existence which united the sacred and profane, a blazing immediacy which went truly beyond good and evil, which resisted any vulgarity of motive, sometimes by entering the most extreme vulgarities. Genet found this possible transcendence in the abjection of criminality, and especially in the act of murder. But, as Deathwatch demonstrates, Genet had a hierarchy of criminality: the mere act of murder was not enough.

It's impossible to summarise the myriad and fascinating arguments about Genet's work here. Jean-Paul Sartre's giant and somewhat homophobic study of his work, Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr, examines the paradoxes and achievements of Genet's oeuvre, given that Genet was always the most unreliable of narrators. Sartre proclaims him as the acme of the self-defining existentialist man. George Bataille claims that Genet, for all his prodigious gifts, failed as a writer because he failed in his paradoxical quest for sovereignty, without which communication is impossible. According to Bataille, he fails out of an excess of calculation, a self-aggrandisement that is "eager for royal dignity, nobility and sovereignty in the traditional sense of the word" that compromises the "momentary grace" that is all we can actually know of sovereignty.

It strikes me that for all their profound meditating on Genet's work, both Sartre and Bataille fail to recognise the significance of Genet's attitude towards "misfortune". "You don't know the first thing about misfortune if you think you can choose it," says Green Eyes in Deathwatch. "I didn't want mine. It chose me....I tried everything to shake it off.... It was only when I saw that everything was irremediable that I quietened down.... It's only now that I'm really settling down to my misfortune and making it my heaven." In Genet's sub-lunar world, liberty and revolution - central to Sartre and Bataille, both mid-century French thinkers - simply don't exist; the abject human being is a man who has no choice.

The paradox of inverted morality, in which good is evil and evil is good, is not a means to freedom or revolution (nor in fact what Genet ultimately does, which is rather to rearrange the boundaries of the sacred). Rather than a rebellion against unjust reality, Genet's literary outraging of moral precepts is, paradoxically, a radical acceptance of injustice. And that is, to minds that perceive literature as a manly pursuit, an active force in the world, perhaps his greatest and most troubling moral transgression. Genet takes the privilege of literature, a privilege assumed by both Bataille and Sartre, and infects it with unprivilege. In doing so, he destroys its moral - and, not unincidentally, its gendered - assumptions. It's not surprising, considering this, that he spent the last decades of his life in political activism, although it might have surprised Sartre and Bataille.

If I have discussed Genet at some length, it is because this dimension of thought is what is missing from Sikic's production. Persé doesn't attempt a conventional production of Deathwatch; rather, in Sikic's words, "we scrapped the text and approached the story physically. I felt that in order to get a more visceral and less rational representation of the story, the actors needed to let their bodies guide their decisions. This way, they would not get caught up in the language, which can sometimes be a barrier to the true essence of what each character is going through, and what the story is trying to say".

One can respect the attempt, although I can't help wondering at what stage the text was removed, and what each participant thought the story was about. Removing the script has the effect that Musil warns against: what we witness is the conservatism of the body, its relaxation into what is already known. Thus the three criminals we are allegedly witnessing seem about as dangerous as damp flannels; there is nothing in these performances of the suppressed violence that exists in a prison environment. You don't believe for a moment that any one of them could have committed a murder, whether out of petty vanity, like Lefranc, or for diabolically sacred motivations, like Green Eyes. Genet's ritualistic fable is reduced to a simple story of competing sexual power and yet, for all its ambition to reveal the eroticism and viscerality that underpins Genet's play, it is curiously anerotic.

I suspect that sticking to Genet's text, rather than replacing it with largely banal dialogue, would have at least challenged the collective's imagination, and would have resulted in better work. But I don't want simply to condemn this production: spatially and visually, it had moments that were better than good. The set, lighting and sound design were superb, generating moments when you could glimpse the possibility of something that reached beyond the banal, exploiting the abandoned, echoing space of the car-park to create an abstract reality that was at times almost visionary. The best moments were when the actors weren't moving at all; they created tableaux that had something of the quality of the surreal industrial scenography in Tarkosvky's films, unsettling and epic theatrical landscapes.

For all this talent to mean something, it has to work in that "immediate proximity to the word", to wrestle with the challenges that writing such as Genet's issues rather than, as here, side-stepping them. I admire the ambition, even if in Persé it vaults over itself and ends in something like a pratfall. And I will watch Sikic's further work with deep interest.

Picture: from Persé. Photo: Daisy Noyes

Persé, inspired by Jean Genet's Deathwatch, directed by Iván Sikic. Assistant director Daisy Noyes, dramaturg Jess Murphy, set design by Michael Parry and Richard Pettifer, lighting design by Emma Valente, sound design and composition by Martin Kay and Nick Van Cuylenburg, costume design by Michael Parry. With Angus Keech, Richard Pettifer, Simon O. Chen and Sean Cairns. The Sikic Co, Collingwood Underground Carpark, Harmsworth St, Collingwood, bookings 0423 238674. Closes tomorrow night.

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Response from Neil Pigot

On Monday, I pointed to Neil Pigot's recent Age op-ed as part of a global sweep of items of interest, making a couple of brief comments. Neil wanted to expand his points, and asked me to post his response. So here it is, with a brief reply from me below.

It is difficult in this age of the blog to actually construct a sensible article for one of our daily newspapers. The Age has over the years stripped back the number of words available to the likes of me from 1,000 then 900, then 850 and now 750 words per piece. The problem becomes making a cogent argument about major issues in a format that doesn't really permit you to unpack anything. But a cogent and robust argument it must be.

The article that you have commented on in your Monday rave has I believe been misunderstood by you and I will assume that if it has been misunderstood by you then it may have been misunderstood by many. Without wanting to unpack the entire article and my deeper thoughts about Australian theatre I'll simply address your two major sticking points.

Yes, the Fringe Festival is a great time to be in Melbourne. I too get a great fillup from the work that appears on the Melbourne fringe year round. The point of the article that you seem to miss is the one that you make. Yes we have a vibrant fringe and yes we have a stable mainstream but we have no middle ground. Most of the work that takes place in this town is made for free, or just about for free. What you forget is that ten years ago we had a healthy mid range in this city of four million people. Five or six professional companies that produced work that paid people a wage and provided a stepping stone to the main game if you can call it that. The problem that you fail to acknowledge is that after the theatrical revolution of the 60s we had a period when Australian theatre was vital, relevant and more importantly paid.

What we see now is a perverse regression to a model that was dominated by the Tait Brothers and J.C Williamsons. For all of the first half of the twentieth century virtually no Australian theatre appeared in the big houses of this country. The Taits imported work from Britain and The US at the expense of Australian Drama. Any endemic piece was performed in back rooms and "fringe" venues much in the same way that it is now. We're more sophisticated these days. We have Jo Murray Smith writing new work that travels but the work that I believe is culturally representative is being done in Melbourne predominantly on the fringe. For free. To small audiences in productions that are often compromised by their circumstance.

We live in a state that proclaims to be Australia's cultural capital and yet we have only two fulltime professional companies. 4 million people with two theatre companies! This state government is the most fiscally stingy per capita in terms of real arts funding of any in the country. What governments fail to recognise and from your response I can only assume you miss the point too is that if all the organs of a theatre community are not in place, if one or other area is dysfunctional, then nothing works. Your reviews of MTC shows have to me revealed a person expecting more from a company that has nothing more to give. What you seem to expect from the MTC, and this is just a sense on my part, is what you should be expecting from a mid range scene that doesn't exist. The result from my point of view is an historical return to the bad old days before The Doll.

And this is where I begin to get a little bit annoyed with you, more so with Cameron. Your blog is very influential and whilst it's great that you rave about your love of the fringe, your work is pure comment. There is little analysis in your reviewing or posting. You have the power to be an advocate for a more holistic approach to the understanding of the form and yet you choose to simply be a forum for comment about what you like, don't like and are looking forward to. Yes, I'm looking forward to the fringe too, but I look forward to it knowing that the work that will be presented is created independently, with little money, being written by talented writers that will see little return for their effort financially, actors, directors and designers the same and not only that, the work will have little chance of progressing beyond the fringe and I know that many of those artists will fade not through lack of talent but through lack of opportunity.

No, I don't want you to take out the clapometer at each show but I would like you to consider the broader impact of the work intellectually and culturally in an increasingly marginalised profession. I guess what I'm saying is think less about what you like and a little more about what people are trying to do and become a little more active in this debate. For me that is your role as much as it is mine.

Neil Pigot

To which I say: My comment about the Fringe was not about whether I like it or not (the Fringe Festival is always a bit of logistical nightmare for people like me). I was merely observing a fact: that audience capacities in the Melbourne Fringe compare favourably with every other fringe festival in the world, which mitigates your claim that theatre is dying and that audiences are dying with it. One could point to other examples, including the increased audiences at the MTC and the Malthouse last year.

Certainly the ecology here (as I have often commented) has changed out of sight, and it is no longer the polar situation you describe. Yes, mid-range companies, as I have often commented, were destroyed in the mid-90s in an act of cultural vandalism by the Australia Council. Yes, it took years for the culture to recover. And now things are different. No, we don't have Anthill and the Church: we have a different and much more flexible structure, where barriers between independent and mainstream, or local and international, are much more porous. Which means that what you say about the inability for independent theatre to move to other audiences is simply not true, however true it is that it remains - as it remains everywhere - a struggle to make theatre. Independent theatre - again like all art - depends on a gift economy, but a lot of people are paid, and a surprising number of indie companies are full-time structures.

The Malthouse, the Arts Centre's Full Tilt program - and, if it gets the funding, I hope the MTC - provide main stages for independent companies around town
, and you must have missed that the Malthouse had a Broadway hit with Exit the King. The Malthouse in fact regularly tour their shows internationally. Local companies like Aphids (which recently traveled very successfully to Denmark with their beautiful show Care Instructions), Back to Back (international stars and festival stalwarts, most recently in Germany last month), Stuck Pigs (who won the best fringe show prize in New York) or Ranters (regular travelers in Europe) get out and find new audiences elsewhere. Those and others, like Red Stitch, or Theatre Works, which provides space and resources for an intelligently curated program, are the energies you're missing. Yes, there are problems; for example, I think we'll see the GFC hit the theatre scene in earnest next year, as sponsor contracts end, and that will have knock-on effects in all sorts of ways. But I just can't see the same clouds louring about our house as you do.

I don't really have anything to say about your comments about what I do here on the blog. But I do think that you must have missed a few things.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Drama as literature

Having spent today addressing an empty screen in the increasingly vain hope that the god of critics will bestow some benediction, or at least half an idea, it's a relief to know that somebody else has the motor running. In today's Crikey, Guy Rundle has weighed into the debate about the PEN Macquarie Anthology of Australian Literature. Literary types will know that there's been some to and fro about this anthology already; but here Rundle is looking at the representation of plays. And he doesn't mince words.

"It has to be said that in [the representation of drama] the anthology is a disgrace, an expression of a barely disguised lack of interest in the form by prose-and-poetry-centric editors," says Rundle, pointing out that, among others, Jack Hibberd, John Romeril and Alex Buzo are notably absent. "...One can’t help but look at the formally safe, polite, mildly fey drama selections and feel there is an active bias here by editors against a wilder, more energetic drama that nevertheless reads well on the page (better, in Hibberd’s case, than just about all the selections here) — and that also frequently channels a larrikin, masculinist language that captures Australian sexism, rather than trying to dust over it."

I don't know whether it's an overreaction to masculinism (White's plays aren't included either). I'd say it's more a more or less conscious decision that plays are "for the stage not the page", meaning they're not really proper literature. More on what I and others think in the comments, where editor Kerryn Goldsworthy swings in to defend her baby.

Update: in response to Kerryn in the comments below, I unpack my own criticisms a little, and reproduce them here. I'm sure making an anthology like this involves endless choices, which are all going to be under a spotlight. I don't have many quibbles with the other sections - there I can see the editors have done their best with such pressures of space and significance as they see fit. And fair enough. One can argue about the various choices, but in most genres they are recognisable representations.

Not so with drama. The passion occurs because it so clearly demonstrates how drama is a second-class literary citizen, at the least an afterthought. If the anthology didn't claim that it covered "all genres — from fiction, poetry and drama to diaries, letters, essays and speeches — [mapping] the development of one of the great literatures in English in all its energy and variety", perhaps that would be ok. But it does claim that. As Nicholas Jose says in the intro, "Our aim has been to represent the main currents of Australian writing and to indicate its diversity, including the work of less familiar writers alongside iconic works while also giving an adequate sampling of major authors."

This may be the case with poetry and prose, which seems fairly representative to me. But it is certainly not the case with drama: major authors have simply been left out, there is little idea of its diversity and there is absolutely no idea of what is happening now. It gives a very uncertain idea of what Australian plays both have been and are. I for one think it would have been better to leave drama out of it, rather than to represent it so half-heartedly. It would have at least made the status clear.

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Off the shelf

ABC Radio National's Book Show grabbed me during the Melbourne Writers Festival and, as we stood huddled from the wind in a corner of Fed Square, asked me what my four favourite books are. A difficult question at the best of times. They edited it nicely and broadcast it yesterday. If, like me, you missed it, you can listen here.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Mini-review: God of Carnage

By popular demand (or at least, for the three people who asked): my mini review for the Australian.

God of Carnage by Yamina Reza. Melbourne Theatre Company. Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne. September 3. Until October 3.

Two middle-class couples meet to politely discuss a spat between their 10-year-old sons. Predictably, order devolves to chaos – it’s not long before they’re puking over the art books and attempting to strangle each other – but Yasmina Reza gives the clichés a contemporary spin. This flimsy expose of the pretensions of the French bourgeoisie is a one-note show, an exercise in mannered naturalism played out in real time that, for all its hysteric activity, flounders towards tedium. Director Peter Evans classes it up with a slick production that features a stylish design and some enjoyable comic performances from a stellar cast.

Feel free to engage, Geoffrey! I just couldn't get excited about this one, and although I could extend what I wrote, I really haven't an awful lot more to say.

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Monday morning rantaround

The Public Intellectual (PI, for the acronymic among you) debate continues with a Guardian blog post by Andrew Haydon, in which he robustly - and rightly, to my mind - defends the role of the humble reviewer, the put-upon gumshoe of the profession who does all the legwork. George Hunka questions the assumptions of value in Village Voice critic Michael Feingold's essay on criticism in the internet age. And our Neil Pigot is in the Age today proclaiming the decline of Australian theatre, blaming the funding-led desire to "bureaucratise" the arts for a loss of artistic maverick outsiderdom, and a consequent loss of audiences. Or a lack of new audiences, anyway. An assertion which I wonder about, given the high audience capacities at the Melbourne Fringe Festival - yes, my annual aesthetic breakdown is on its way - which compare very favourably with every other fringe festival in the world.

Critics, of course, come in for a serve. "The situation is further compounded by misconceived theatrical reporting," says Pigot. "Reviewers often misunderstand live performance in the same way that governments do, rarely engaging with the creative ideas driving a project ... too often reviews appear that are an expression of a reviewer's personal feelings rather than an overview of public response to a show or a critique of its place within the contemporary theatrical and social landscape."

There's justice in all Pigot's observations, although I think they ignore a lot of robust vitalities also at work around the place, both in the theatre itself and in the responses to it. Jana Perkovic's new aggregate concept for Spark Online - still in progress - suggests some alternatives on the local criticism question. Moreover - and this is a rare point on which every critic would agree - it's certainly not a critic's job to give "an overview of public response". What, we go to every performance and do vox pops as the audience leaves? Take a clap-o-meter to opening night? (That's about as misleading an indicator as, say, not going at all).

While I'm here, let me point you to James Waites' reservations about Liv Ullmann's STC production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He's not alone - Art Kritique also has some stern words. Both wonder how this production will fare in New York (the phrase "coals to Newcastle" is being bandied about). A shame New Yorkers will never see Blanchett's Richard II in Benedict Andrews' The War of the Roses, but them's the breaks: celebrity directing is so hot right now.

And now, allow me to don another hat. I read two books yesterday. One was China Mieville's excellent The City & The City, which is, for at least two thirds of its length, a completely brilliant spin on the generic detective novel, a kind of fantastic existential thriller that weaves a darkly compelling metaphor about contemporary post-End-Of-History politics. Mieville is a ferociously intelligent writer who takes pulp fiction by the scruff of the neck and demonstrates the meaninglessness of snobbish distinctions between "literature" and generic writing. He's certainly the only writer I've read who created an epic fantasy about trade unions.

The other book, shamefully, was one of my own, The Crow. I haven't read it since I finished it (proofreading a text around nine times for three different publishers will do that to a gal). And, you know, it's pretty damn good. I'd forgotten. Unlike Mieville, it's trad epic fantasy for a younger audience, but it is also a passionate anti-war novel that features concentration camps, child soldiers and environmental degradation a la Chernobyl. If that's not worthy enough, there's some racial and sexual politics in the mix too. But what matters most is that it's a good story, and I really did love writing those characters.

That's why people keep buying it, and why - for the first time for around two decades - I'm making a decent living. And no doubt that is why I'm less insouciant about territorial copyright than Guy Rundle, who seems to think that removing it for Australians (but not for the British or Americans, natch) will be a blow struck for the internet age, dragging us out of mediaeval delusion into the brave new world of the global e-text.

Maybe it's a lack of personal knowledge of how international markets work that makes Rundle claim that writers are a bunch of deluded lefties howling for government subsidies. My genre novels, for the record, like the work of most of Australia's internationally best-selling but culturally invisible fantasy writers, haven't and don't depend on subsidy. They're bringing in much more money than they take out. Removing territorial copyright would probably affect me much less than some others, but I still think that leaving the Australian book market to the tender mercies of Dymocks, Woolworths and a bunch of multinational territory-protected UK and US publishers is a pretty dumb idea.

Yes, the international publishing industry needs to think hard about the impact of the internets. It needs to respond to it with more imagination and chutzpah than the music industry did, and to stop pretending that it lives in the 19th century - publishers all over the world still pay by cheques sent in the post! But kicking the guts out of the local industry isn't the way to international copyright reform. And what's deluded is to think that it is.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

MTC Theatre

My feature on the impact of the MTC's new Southbank theatre is in today's Australian.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Review: Oedipus - A Poetic Requiem

The unspeakable is spoken.
Howard Barker, Theatre Without a Conscience

The naming of the intolerable is itself the hope.
John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos

Liminal Theatre prints a long quotation from Howard Barker's collection of essays, Arguments for a Theatre, on the back of their program for Oedipus - A Poetic Requiem. It's from Barker's essay Theatre Without a Conscience, in which he condemns the "social hygiene" of a theatre which seeks to improve and enlighten and educate, a theatre which, as he says, "never sins". Barker, always the fiercest defender of imagination and beauty, demands a theatre that is a "black box", a theatre in which darkness reveals the inherent danger of play, and which seeks not the easy gratification of moral acquiescence, but the solitary terror of being.

What Barker proposes in part is the trangression of ritual, the dark transformation which unites the sacred and the profane. He interrogates the thrill that surges through our bodies as darkness falls in a theatre. "Why are we... half afraid? Is it because we are about to watch an actor? Yes, because actors are not entirely human, but more, it is the sense of attending on a sin, the possibility of witnessing a transgression..." Theatre, says Barker, is immoral; but he also quite clearly - and quite rightly - says that as a dramatist, he is a moralist. In fact, he is one of those artists whom George Bataille once called hypermoralists - artists like Jean Genet or Emily Bronte or De Sade or William Blake, whose attacks on the certainties of social morality are in the service of a more austere questioning, a rigorous and merciless calling to account of individual experience and thus of individual responsibility. The exact opposite, one might say, of moralising.

These reflections are certainly pertinent to the ambition of Mary Sitarenos' production of Oedipus. Sitarenos has taken Ted Hughes' free adaptation of the classic tragedy, Seneca's Oedipus, and transposed it into a choric lament by four women; the text has been edited but not substantially altered. Hughes' text was originally written for the National Theatre, premiering in 1968 in a production directed by Peter Brook. As Hughes said, his collaboration with Brook sought to "unearth the ritual possibilities" within the play. The result is one of the best things Hughes ever wrote, a play in which the words all but blister the lips in their speaking. Its visceral potency is still shocking: its invocation of an amoral, unjust universe blasted by plague and famine, of a life which makes death the lesser evil, remains terrifying.

Liminal Theatre creates Barker's black box, a work that plays like a nightmare across the retina of the subconscious. Sitarenos draws on Liminal's Asian influences - which have been internalised also in 20th century western theatre through Artaud and Brecht - to create a kind of theatre that is unique in Melbourne: a theatre that attends to its roots in ritual, and which here enacts the catastrophic edges of imaginative possibility. With Ivanka Sokol's dynamic video projections - fluid plays of abstract imagery that hauntingly hide and reveal and distort the human body - and Chris Wenn's driving sound design, which unites echoes of ancient Greek music with modern electronic sound - Sitarenos creates a kind of total theatre that engages all the senses. And it's performed in all its relentlessness without a trace of apology or irony (aside, of course, from the black irony of Oedipus's fate).

The play takes place in an intimate theatre that seats maybe 40 people at most, its walls defined by black cloth. A mask is projected onto black curtains as a pre-recorded prologue - a brief contemporary speech about the significance of the myth of Oedipus - crackles through the auditorium. Then two women, their white arms spectral against their black robes, draw open the curtains, revealing a stage naked but for a single leafless branch to one side. And we launch into the opening speeches, summoning us into a landscape of death, of dried springs and withered harvests and the reek of funeral pyres and rotting corpses.

The conception is at once simple and ingenious. Oedipus is represented by a simple mask suspended from the ceiling, and his speeches are recorded, his physical absence playing disconcertingly against the live enactments. Jocasta is also a mask, although her speeches are performed by one of the four performers (Ivanka Sokol, Jo Smith, Georgina Durham and Claire Nicholls). The action of the play is physically realised through stylised movement, white limbs and faces writhing out of darkness, that is given an unnerving textural variety (fleshly rottenness, flame and fire, the ambiguity of mist and smoke) by Sokol's video work.

The effect of all the different elements is to throw the emphasis onto Hughes' text, which at times - such as in the stunning scene when Manto describes an "evil" sacrifice to the blind Tiresias, or during the description of Oedipus's self-blinding - is almost as hard to bear as if we were really witnessing those terrible acts. In the face of so much achievement, it is a little churlish to wish that the actors' voices had been more compelling; but often the voices, while certainly adequate, left something to be desired. Even a little more actorly control and power would have made a great deal of difference.

No matter what the quibbles, the achievement and scope of this piece is astounding: here we gaze into the abyss that is tragedy, an abyss that is always and without exception an enactment of and a lament for our own inevitable deaths. Out on the edges of our culture, with the most minimal of resources, Liminal Theatre is making theatre of a rare ambition and seriousness. Attention must be paid.

Essay: The Irresponsible Mr Barker

Oedipus - A Poetic Requiem, from Seneca's Oedipus by Ted Hughes, directed by Mary Sitarenos. Set design by Mary Sitarenos. Videographer Ivanka Sokol, sound construction Chris Wenn, sound design by Chris Wenn and Mary Sitarenos, lighting deisgn by Damien Lentini. Chorus of women: Ivanka Sokol, Jo Smith, Goergina Durham and Claire Nicholls, with voices by Peter Finlay, Paul Robertson and Mary Sitarenos. Liminal Theatre @ J-Studios, 100 Barkly Street, North Fitzroy, until September 14. Tickets at Easytix.

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Vale Hilary Crampton

Sad news this morning on Chloe Smethurst's blog: dance critic Hilary Crampton died on the weekend. Crampton was a passionate educator and an influential and astute shaper of arts policy as well as a perceptive dance critic: she reviewed for the Age from 1997 until just before her death. A tribute on the Ausdance site lists her many achievements. "While Hilary was best known as a writer, educator and advocate," it says, "she primarily saw herself as an artist and an arts practitioner who could write, a sentiment well reflected in her insightful writing."

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Seen last week: and The Question of The Intellectual

Last week's shenanigans, in brief: Tex Perkins in The Man in Black: The Johnny Cash Story at the Athenaeum (Australian review in Friday's paper, here); Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage at the MTC, 100-word brief in the Oz shortly; and Liminal Theatre's Oedipus: A Poetic Requiem, of which more on TN once I deal with a pressing deadline. If you missed this fascinating production the first time round, it's running until September 14.

Meanwhile, UK critic Andrew Haydon has made a welcome return to blogging with the recent resuscitation of Postcards from the Gods. In today's post, he's picking up on a blog conversation started by George Hunka in New York and continued by Steve Waters in the Guardian blog, broadly asking where the public intellectuals are, and why they're not writing about theatre. In a thoughtful and complex response, Andrew responds baldly: "what public intellectuals?" And goes on to suggest that the kind of long-form responsive writing that Waters claims doesn't exist does in fact exist on blogs. (Waters describes blogs as "angry" and "circular", which seems a bit sweeping: Ms TN, to take an example to hand, might be angry, but she's more angular than rotund.)

We might ask the same question here. Are there any "public intellectuals"? Was Donald Horne the last of his kind? Is it, in fact, possible for an intellectual of the calibre Hunka is citing - Adorno, Sontag - to exist in any public way in our culture, given that "intellectual" is most often used as a term of abuse? Having watched Alana Valentine's talk on verbatim theatre on the ABC Fora yesterday, which was big on straw men, unsubstantiated assertions and cheap shots (gotcha Barrie Kosky, hur hur), I wonder. I don't have a problem with verbatim theatre per se - look at our friend David Williams and Version 1.0. But Valentine seems to inhabit a universe in which Peter Weiss - a pioneer of verbatim art - is a kind of ice cream. Sometimes I peep over the parapet and all I feel is despair - why are we still in kindergarten? Discuss while I get on with my own public hackery.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Criticism in the age of PR spin

Stephanie Bunbury today reports on the film industry's hard ball tactics with critics and journalists in today's Age, remarking that Australian newspapers are still refreshingly old-fashioned on the question of letting PR hacks vet stories or determine where they will run in the paper. And phew for that. Bunbury's story is nothing we haven't heard before, but it's still a bit jaw-dropping.

Ms TN has had her share of cold shoulders from those objecting to reviews that don't fit the publicity line, but that's par for the course. There was that notorious incident, back in neolithic times, when a prominent artistic director waged a long, public and unsuccessful campaign to get me sacked from the Bulletin. But although that campaign didn't work, others that attracted no publicity did: I know of several instances over the past couple of decades where local companies discreetly pressured editors to sack unfriendly critics. I still don't know how the same companies then have the gall to complain about the low standard of theatre criticism.

I like to think that things have changed in the past few years. Certainly the arrival of blogs has meant a shift towards an emphasis on critical discourse, and the proliferation of debate has meant that it's much more difficult for companies to control their PR, especially as it's impossible to sack bloggers. And there's a much wider perception among artists themselves that an honest and considered review, even if it's unflattering, is better than what John Clarke once memorably called "favourable crap". Not so, it seems, in Los Angeles, where what's at stake is millions of bucks. But it shows that the glossy capitalist machine called Hollywood is as effective in repressing dissent as any small-time ex-Soviet regime. No wonder the US screen talent has moved to television.

I have little time for snarky and shallow reviewing, but I wouldn't dream of calling for it to banned. What it ought to provoke is argument. And a little friction is a good thing: there will always be discomfort in presuming to comment on others' work. There will always be some who take serious exception, just as there are those who take it with grace, as part of the risk of putting work out in public. With Octavio Paz, I think that criticism is what creates a culture. Bunbury's story is a salutory warning of what happens when the balance goes out of whack. As Primo Levi said in another age, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. And yeah, I'm proud to be old fashioned.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Review: The Lower Depths, The Colours, En Trance

Yes, Ms TN has been whinging heroically this past fortnight, but that hasn't stopped her getting out to the theatre. Writing about it has been a different matter. But this morning she awoke from her slumber, brutally thrust aside the heap of used tissues that had accumulated overnight, and cried out: "Now or never!" Or something of the sort. (Witnesses differ: another report claims she actually said "Oh no! Not again!" Which reminds me of the Belgian theatre director who wakes up every morning, walks to his window, flings open the shutters, and shouts "Help!")

Existential angst is all part of life's rich whatsit, and it must be admitted that Ms TN does it exceptionally well. She does it, in fact, so it feels like hell. But it doesn't get the reviews done. So after a salutory kick in the arse from her alter ego, Ms TN will finally report on last week's theatre going. These reviews will be a little briefer than usual, for which Ms TN's better self apologises: but it's been a full week of mundane dread here, and that all takes up space.

First up was a production of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths at Theatre Works, which was on for a mere four days. I wanted to see this because of the personnel involved: it's a collaboration between John Bolton, Brian Lipson, Bagryana Popov and Joseph Sherman, with lighting by Shane Grant, and the cast included people from the St Kilda Uniting Care Drop in Centre. I expected something special, and I wasn't disappointed. Gorky's unsentimental expose of the Russian underclass had a production last year at 45 downstairs directed by Ariette Taylor (and there's more about the play itself in that review). Unlike Taylor's production, however, this company brought Gorky's preoccupations unflinchingly into the present day.

Bolton and his collaborators presented a savagely cut-down version of the play which lasted a little over an hour. It was promenade theatre, with the audience milling around with the actors in the large space at Theatre Works. The set filled the theatre with found objects that were probably rescued from rubbish dumps or skips, and bits of cardboard boxes, torn newspaper and rags covered the floor in a convincing simulacrum of squalor. In the centre was an area cordoned off by a walkway, in the centre of which was a bed where the consumptive Anna (Bagryana Popov) lay dying. Around the edges of the theatre were a series of booths or miniature stages. Phrases from the play and other kinds of graffiti were chalked onto the black walls.

It was one of those events which interlocked the fictions of the play with present-day realities, a decision reinforced by the qualities the non-professional actors from the drop in centre brought to the production. Working with non-professionals is a honourable tradition in realist art: neo-realist film directors such as Ermanno Olmi, for instance, worked with non-actors in films like Il Posto or The Tree of Wooden Clogs, bringing an unactorly authenticity to the performances which reinforced the political anger behind his films.

The effect of using non-professional actors in theatre is slightly different. On the one hand, it brings a direct immediacy of experience to the production; and in fact several of Gorky's monologues are replaced by the performers' own stories. But unlike film, theatre can't forget its own artifice. The performative effect is almost the opposite of authenticity: it's an unconscious artifice, a certain naivety, that paradoxically reinforces the emotional reality of the play.

Here these qualities - professional and non-professional - are skilfully woven together in a sharply contemporary work that seems very true to Gorky's bleakly humane vision, however radically it departs from the text. The Lower Depths has an organic vitality: the actors and audience occupy the same space, the actors watching as attentively when they're not performing, and emerging into focus when required. It seemed to me an exemplary work of community theatre, bringing together social and artistic ethics in a rare integrity.

It reminded me more than anything of the work of the British film and theatre director Lindsay Anderson. I never got to see Anderson's theatre (wrong age, wrong continent) but films such as If, O Lucky Man or This Sporting Life are brilliant examples of radical art. Like this production, Anderson's films examine human experience with a kind of tender democracy of vision that's underlaid by a clear-eyed social anger.

"Fighting means commitment, means believing what you say, and saying what you believe," said Anderson memorably. "It will also mean being called sentimental, irresponsible, self-righteous, extremist and out-of-date by those who equate maturity with scepticism, art with amusement, and responsibility with romantic excess. And it must mean a new kind of intellectual and artist, who is not frightened or scornful of his fellows." The Lower Depths reflects this kind of intelligent artistic commitment. I'd like to see more of it.

The following night I went to the opening of Peter Houghton's The Colours at the MTC's Lawler Studio. The Colours is the conclusion to a trilogy of monologues, made in collaboration with Anne Browning, that began with Houghton's hit satire The Pitch and continued through The China Incident (performed by Browning). The earlier two are concerned, in different ways, with the global US empire: The Pitch hilariously satirised the film industry, while The China Syndrome was about the PR spin of global realpolitics.

In this unexpected conclusion to the trilogy, Houghton summons the ghosts of the British Empire. He plays the reality-challenged Colour Sergeant Tommy Atkins, who is the final solitary remnant of Empire in a forsaken African outpost. Ventriloquising a dozen characters gives Houghton the chance to display his virtuosic comedic skills, and he’s a delight to watch. But the play’s more serious intent - an attempt to pay homage to the footsoldiers of colonial power – is undermined by sentiment: an edge of savagery is missing here, tipping its premise into naivety.

It's a fine line between paying homage to the bravery and belief of those who laid down their lives - usually unwillingly - for the British Empire, and sinking into a nostalgia that insidiously ignores some of the lessons of post-colonialism. Despite his parodic intent, Houghton falls off the tightrope here, although his evocation of Atkins, haunted by his dead comrades, is at times undeniably moving. And you can't but admire his control of the stage, shifting from pathos to comedy with razor timing. This is a brave play, if only for its defiant unfashionableness, but it left me feeling uncomfortably ambivalent.

Partly it's a feeling that I've seen this before, and done better: the 60s saw a lot of work which excavated the myths and price of the empire. Plays like John Arden's Sergeant Musgrave's Dance or films such as Joseph Losey's searing King and Country, which follows the court martial of a shell-shocked infantryman in the trenches of World War 1, tore apart the ideologies of empire building with intelligent anger. It's an anger that's missing in The Colours, for all its satire. And maybe the British Empire is still too close to home for me to forgive it so easily.

Finally, I saw Yumi Umiumare's En Trance at the CUB Malthouse. As its title suggests, En Trance is a work about liminal states, the thresholds of transformation between one mode of being and another. And it’s also a work that reaches for an ecstatic dissolution of the self, the loss of self-consciousness that occurs in a state of trance. Umiumare achieves these ambitions in a fascinating and complex one-woman piece that defies classification. Part dance, part theatre, part multimedia immersion, part dream, En Trance inexorably reels you into Umiumare’s subjective world.

Umiumare was a member of the influential Japanese Butoh company DaiRakudakan and moved to Australia in 1993. Here she extends the anarchic tradition of Butoh – a form of modern Japanese dance that emerged after the chaos of World War 2 – by introducing text and filmed images into what is ultimately a deeply personal narrative about shifting between different cultures.

En Trance begins with an almost classical simplicity. Dressed in a white shift, Yumi Umiumare enters a bare stage adorned with slim white columns, and tells us a surreal domestic story about her cat. Suddenly, in a moment that is like Alice’s fall into the rabbit hole, we are plunged into another reality. The stage is drowned in the harsh sounds and images of a city street, as Umiumare writhes and twists in a kind of panic, her body almost invisible behind the images that are projected onto her. This sequence is like an assault: the noise is alienating, the images confusing to the eye.

Just as suddenly, the performance transforms again. Umiumare changes on stage into a black, flowing costume, and becomes a whirling cat-like creature. This dance is where the performance began to come to life for me: Umiumare is riveting. Her body seems to defy its physical limitations, as if she is possessed by a spirit of transformation.

En Trance moves through several more sequences, each of them wholly unexpected yet each deepening the meaning of the others. In one, she explains the many Japanese words for tears. In another, she pounds out a hilariously kitsch Japanese pop song. In yet another, she combines Aboriginal and Butoh dance, reprising her earlier cat-dance, this time as a feral creature in a new landscape.

Bambang Nurcahyadi’s projected images and Ian Kitney’s sound design seamlessly combine with Umiumare’s performance into a singular unity of expression. It makes En Trance an impassioned and beautiful piece, constantly rich and surprising in its emotional range, and finally very moving.

Picture: Yumi Umiumare in En Trance. Photo: Jeff Busby

The review of En Trance was in Monday's Australian.

The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky, directed by John Bolton. Designed by Brian Lipson, lighting by Shane Grant, music direction by Bagryana Popov. With Brian Pigot, Brett A. Walsh, Stewart Weir, Tom Moleta, Joseph Sherman, Maree Wesol, Brian Lipson, Pat Nyberg, Abdul Hay, Rodney Dean Mcleish, Ant Bridgeman, Bagryana Popv, Sharon Kirschner and John Bolton. Theatre Works and participants from St Kilda Uniting Care Drop in Centre @ Theatre Works. (Closed).

The Colours, written and performed by Peter Houghton, directed by Anne Browning. Design by Shaun Gurton, lighting design by Richard Vabre, composer David Chesworth. Melbourne Theatre Company @ the Lawler Studio, MTC Theatre, until September 12.

En Trance
by Yumi Umiumare. Dramaturge and collaborator Moira Finacune, media art by Bambang Nurcahyadi, installtion artist Naomi Ota, costumes design by David Anderson, lighting design by Kerry Ireland. With Yumi Umiumare. Malthouse Theatre @ Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse until September 13.

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