Thursday portmanteau ~ theatre notes

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.


Gilligan said...

Why has only one play been programed into the Lawler? And it's not on until May. And it looks just like any play they would program into the main season.

Are they going to program more plays for the Lawler Studio at a later date? Seems odd that it would be left to sit empty for the rest of the year.

Paul T said...

Wow we're well served for the classics in Melbourne.

If I open my paper and see they're doing Schiller and Ibsen and Euripides and Pinter and so on in Sydney again I'll weep.

Sorry to be negative.
It's great to see the Mayenburg play, regardless of the venue. And Paul Capsis, wonderful.

Alison Croggon said...

I have a yen for Strindberg and Von Horvath... but hey.

Gilligan, the MTC has been quite upfront about its lack of money to program the Studio. We're lucky to get one play on there, and who knows what will be programmed else? Actors and production staff have to be paid. And - really - Mayenburg is standard MTC programming? I'd say that was stretching the envelope a bit. When the Malthouse did Benedict Andrews' brilliant production of Mayenburg's Eldorado, back in 2006, it was lambasted as self indulgent "fringe" fare by no less a pundit than Peter Craven.

Gilligan said...

Not bagging the writer, i'm solely going on the description of the show and the creative team.

If they don't have any money why don't they just provide in kind support, like give an independent company the space to put a show on without paying them a wage? I think most independent companies would love that, and it would save them the $3500 it costs to hire say, 45 downstairs for a week. Heck they could even take a slice of the ticket sales. Would just be tragic to have that amazing space sit there empty.

Born Dancin' said...

Maybe the cost of insurance, techs, people staffing the building when there might not be a show in the Sumner... I think managing a space as a venue for hire might bring extra costs in itself (just guessing with those things, though).

I heard a rumour about the marketing budget the Lawler had this year and was flabbergasted. I suppose if you compare the programs from the Lawler season with those for the bigger spaces you get an idea. Considering the MTC has been posting such financial successes of late I'd love to see some of the profits being channelled into the new space.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure neither of the quotes below were meant to read as patronising or a little bit off but they kind of did. Or is it just me? Lucy

'Daniel realised that he had to appeal to 500 people a night, rather than 100 at fortyfivedownstairs,' Phillips says.

Evans will also direct Daniel Keene's MTC debut, Life Without Me, which marks a departure from the playwright's overtly socially aware plays.

"He's left his favourite subset of people behind to scale up," Phillips says. "His setting is the lobby of a hotel, not a drainpipe on the edge of town."

Alison Croggon said...

I'm sure we'll find out re the Lawler. No doubt it will take a while to find its feet. I agree, it's a place with a lot of potential, and it would be great to see it imaginatively used.

Hi Lucy - it's not so much patronising as startlingly Melbourne-centric. I guess one can't expect people to know much about his work, since not a lot of it is published in English, but The Serpent's Teeth and The Nightwatchmen, neither of them set in drains, have both been done in Australia fairly recently, even if they were done in Sydney. And you don't exactly "scale up" to the MTC from venues like the Avignon Festival's Cour d'honneur, or the Theatre de Ville or the Theatre National de la Colline in Paris or the National Theatre of Brussells, or any number of other theatres which program Keene's work... but I guess these venues mean as much in Melbourne as the Sumner Theatre does in Europe, so it hardly seems worth pressing the point.

Stef said...

Wow I hadn't seen those quotes.

How patronising.

You're being very diplomatic Alison.

They must have been taken out of context. They could only be affectionate ribbing.

But they say a lot about the MTC's imagined audience and its responses.

Neil in Sydney said...

OK...versions of Wedekind, Voltaire and Kafka, plus Eugene O'Neill, Chekhov, Thornton Wilder, Aeschylus and Sam Shepard at STC.

With the obligatory McNamara comedy and Murray-Smith playing the role of David Williamson. And contemporary American and British plays.

You got what you wanted Paul. Here come the Dead White Males.

Alison Croggon said...

Not so much diplomatic as a little over repeating myself, which is the acme of dullness.

Born Dancin' said...

Alison, it would be wonderful (and not at all professionally inappropriate) if you could pen a post on how one of Daniel's works ended up in the MTC calendar. Definitely worth celebration. But I have to admit I was surprised, only because of the neglect his writing has often suffered locally, as you've often noted. I guess I'm just interested in how that situation reinvented itself - whether Mr Phillips invited him, or others pushed for the play, or whether the writer made contact with the MTC himself, etc. I figure you'd know... but of course it might not be your place to discuss as I'm sure there are a whole swag of concerns involved when it comes to a flagship company's inner workings.

Alison Croggon said...

Oops - I've been sternly corrected by the man himself. It wasn't the Avignon Festival's Cour d'honneur, which is reserved for the Great Directors of Our Time. It was a sold out season at the 2000-seat CĂ©lestin Cloisters. (Avignon 2002).

Alison Croggon said...

BD - I won't do a post, for both obvious and less obvious reasons. The programming came about, however, in the usual way - the new play is an MTC commission, and the MTC contacted him.