Quick hitsMarion Potts: Rex Cramphorn Memorial LectureFringe: The Arrival, Home?, The Endarkenment, TestimonyFringe review: ThyestesAnd what is this blog about, Cameron?Australian theatre & nationalismReview: The City/Bare WitnessThe return of the amateur criticCombing the Fringe...Review: Twelfth Night, Mix TapeQuick hit: Critical FailureHolding noteMelbourne Festival: The TN preview ~ theatre notes

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quick hits

Sometimes a gal just has to do the bullet-point thang, even if I'm not quite sure how to get a bullet point on blogger and have to settle for an asterix instead. Here's a catch-up list of interesting stuff that I've been noticing around the FaceTubes:

* Fringe: As y'all know, Melbourne has donned its party hats for the Fringe. Ms TN has done her share of reviewing, with more to come, but (praise the Lord!), despite rumours to the contrary, she is not the entire Internetz! For more reviews of more shows, check out my blogger colleagues John Bailey at Capital Idea, Neandellus, Crikey's Curtain Call, The Groggy Squirrel or Drew Review. And feel free to post other links, if you know of them, in the comments.

* Did I tell you that Edward Albee is coming to Melbourne? One of the major figures of contemporary American drama, Edward Albee will be discussing his half century of working in the theatre at the Melbourne Theatre Company at 3pm on October 17. Expect sparks - Albee often delivers them. The event is free, but bookings are essential.

* The SMH's Jason Blake offers up an interesting analysis of the Sydney Fringe, which made its debut this month to a mixed reception. The comments are also worth reading.

* Don't miss George Hunka's moving tribute to one of my own favourite critics, Jan Kott, on Superfluities Redux:

There are a lot of walks in Kott’s more autobiographical essays: walks with friends, through old neighborhoods. Bearing Kott’s thoughts within my own on my walks through the streets of New York, even as I lack the resources or the status to see all of the theatre I might like to see (and as indigent dramatists do, I borrowed this book from the public library too), he accompanies me and teaches me to see, as he does, the theatre in the everyday, the everyday in theatre...

* From the sublime to... well, other critics, anyway. Those who don't start twitching at the mere whisper of "internet v print" might be interested in checking out Chris Wilkinson's latest response to the Woodhead/Croggon wrangle on the Guardian Theatre Blog. (They might be even more interested when they read the headline - "Why Sex Is Better In The Theatre"... though sadly it's not as exciting as it sounds). Meanwhile, the Thread That Will Never Die: The Sequel continues on TN... though there are far more interesting conversations elsewhere.

* Among these conversations are those sparked by a recent Blogging Unconference hosted by the Wheeler Centre (check for report and follow-up links), a follow-up to the Wheeler Centre's Critical Failure series, which started the whole damn thing. Best of all, the busy pencil of Crikey's Culture Mulcher, W.H. Chong, captured us all in glorious black and white; which, we all agreed, the interwebs most certainly are not.

* And finally, the social pages: Angela Meyer of Literary Minded reports on the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, where your humble blogger was hobnobbing as an instamatic hipster on Tuesday night.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Marion Potts: Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture

Direct your browsers this instant to Marion Potts's robust and optimistic Rex Cramphorn Memorial Lecture, delivered yesterday, which is now online at the Malthouse site (pdf file). Aside from giving a glimpse into the creative philosophies that will be powering the Malthouse 2011 season (due to be announced in November), Potts casts her eye over a rapidly changing theatrical landscape, in which many major theatres will be seeing changes of artistic leadership next year.

"How often," asks Potts, "do we see the brilliance of an idea undermined, not by the limits of our imagination, or our lack of talent, but by the pressured environment of its creation, by insufficient interrogation, lacklustre thinking?" She looks instead to what we can aspire to be, arguing for a diverse and rigorous culture, and most of all for a theatre of agency and transformation, in which practice embodies value.

And I almost forgot - the big news is that Matt Lutton, AD of Perth company ThinIce whose work was seen here most recently in The Trial, will be Potts's associate director.

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Fringe: The Arrival, Home?, The Endarkenment, Testimony

You can tell it's spring, because the ants are co-ordinating a spirited insurgency in the bathroom, and bare branches everywhere are bursting into blossom. Most tellingly, the Town Hall in North Melbourne is overrun with young people in black eyeliner, who are spilling down the steps and colonising the pavement cafes.

Ms TN has been slapping on her eyeliner with the rest of them and thronging the halls, albeit in a sober fashion suitable to her advancing years. I read a couple of years ago that Guardian critic Lyn Gardner sees six shows a day during the Edinburgh Fringe. I couldn't do anything remotely like that without the inside of my skull turning into something like mashed banana. So there's inevitably a chance element to the few shows I see out of the several hundred on offer, and they can hardly be thought of as representative: for those contemplating Fringe visits, the wisest strategy is to grab a program or browse the website.

Also, the performing arts continue outside the Fringe. I saw Bangarra Dance Theatre's Of Earth and Sky on the weekend: if you can beg, borrow or steal a ticket (or possibly buy one at the box office) before it closes next Saturday, do so. It's extraordinarily beautiful. I'm hoping to write more on Of Earth and Sky later this week, if I can think of the words: but today, let me briefly bring you up to speed on Ms TN's Adventures at the Fringe So Far. And I mean briefly. Ms TN is unseasonally under the weather today.

The Arrival

Shaun Tan’s moving graphic novel about the experience of immigration, The Arrival, is adapted for the stage by new company Mutation Theatre, under the eyes of emerging directors Sam Mackie and Patrick McCarthy. Getting to the venue was an adventure in itself: as the skies darkened over the surreal landscape of Docklands, half industrial chic and half just industrial, we encountered lonely bowler-hatted figures waving signs in the dark, to guide us to Shed 4. It almost - but not quite - felt like being on a strange film set, half Coppola, half Tati.

The show takes place in a gigantic metal warehouse, in which is erected a tent-like structure. Around 18 bowler-hatted young actors enact - now with carnivalesque excess, now with lyrical poignancy – Tan’s simple story of a man arriving in a strange country, having left his family behind. Tan's drawings are projected onto the ceiling of tent, as a counterpoint to the performances on stage. The result is an ambitious work of physical theatre that is often completely enchanting. Its strengths make you forgive its unncessary length and lack of focus as youthful excess. If this is the new generation of theatre makers, the future is looking good. Sadly, closed.


Written and directed by Jono Burns, Home? must be one of the slyest shows of the Fringe. An unapologetically autobiographical account of Burns's time at New York's Actor's Studio, it is a hilarious take-down of the pretensions and absurdities of the acting life and, in particular, method acting. Burns gives a tour de force performance, embodying around a dozen unlikely characters, from Phillip ("Do you know how many red-haired Jewish gays there are in Minnesota? Eight!") to an abrasive busker in Central Park. It gradually becomes clear, however, that Home? is more than a fond satire of an interesting and sometimes confronting time: it's also a moving account of coming to terms with loss.

Ably supported by musicians Sunny Leunig and Cathryn Kohn, Burns gices a virtuosic performance: turning on a dime from hilarity to real poignancy, he compels your unwavering attention for the hour-long show without missing a beat. Given the similarities to some of Peter Houghton's one-man shows, it's not surprising that Houghton's collaborator Anne Browning should have directed it with such a deft hand. Small, but perfectly formed. Fringe Hub, until October 1.

The Endarkenment

The Endarkenment, a post-apocalyptic musical by young writer/actor Fregmonto Stokes with score by Angus Leslie and Julius Millar, is the sort of rude, disorderly show that embodies the spirit of the Fringe. It makes almost no sense at all, has some of the most absurd costumes I've seen, and is powered by a rough, irreverent energy (and three cyclists, who every now and then cycle up the watts for a couple of torches). A spirited piss-take of online worlds such as Second Life, here called Corporate Life, it takes the form of a liturgy in which the high priest, Bugsy (Peter J. Reid) conducts a ceremony designed to appease the angry post-capitalist gods Imacdonald, Harvey Norman and Old King Coal. His three acolytes Swatch (Amy Turton), Flappy (Rueben Brown) and Zak Pidd (Goose) enact their fall of from grace and the subsequent Minor Economic Correction that saw the world fall into darkness.

Accompanied by a band of what appear to be pixies playing some very wonky pop, the performers belt out some fun numbers with ferocious gusto. Its satire of 21st century excess is limited to a basic attack on the alienation of virtual life, and some (admittedly enjoyable) wordplay on internet acronyms, but there are a couple of moments that pierce through the nonsense into something genuinely uncomfortable. Fringe Hub, until October 1.


Testimony opens with a riveting image: we walk into the theatre to see a grotesque figure, dressed in what appear to be filthy white rags, standing on a podium, his back to the audience. When the lights go down, he turns to face us, and we see that he is abject indeed: his testicles, the size of grapefuits, dangle between his legs, forcing him to stand bowlegged, and his face is marred with what appears to be some terrible skin disease. This creature is, we learn, Octavio Asterius, the degraded modern remnant of the minotaur, the monster in the labyrinth of the contemporary imagination. Here, using an old convention of the theatre, he is on trial, with the audience as his jury and judge.

Graham Henderson's monologue was originally written as prose, and despite the best efforts of performer Matt Crosby and director Suzanne Chaundy, its transposition to theatre isn't entirely successful. The staging is simple: Crosby is framed by projections manipulated live on stage from a light projector, which are ingeniously various. Crosby's performance is detailed, brave and physically impressive; but his undoubted commitment is let down by some indifferent dramaturgy.

Testimony shows little grasp of dramatic structure, which means its energy really begins to sag in the final 20 minutes. Worse, the prose segues without warning from epiphanies of soaring poetic to moments of bathetic banality that recall nothing so much as a yoga meditation. If the text could be excised of its increasingly turgid repetitions, and could solve its problematically simplistic relationship to the audience, it might make a brilliant, albeit rather shorter, show. As it is, it founders under its own weight. Fringe Hub, until October 9.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Fringe review: Thyestes

Their flesh is heaving
Inside me.

Thyestes, Seneca, translated by Caryl Churchill.

An idea - the antagonism of the two concepts Dionysian and Apollonian - is translated into metaphysics; history itself is depicted as the development of this idea; in tragedy this antithesis has become unity; from this standpoint things which heretofore had never been face to face are suddenly confronted, and understand and are illuminated by each other.... "Rationality" at any price as a dangerous force that undermines life.... Christianity is neither Apollonian nor Dionysian; it negates all aesthetic values; it is nihilistic in the most profound sense, while in the Dionysian symbol the ultimate limit of affirmation is attained...

Friedrich Nietzsche, in Ecce Homo on The Birth of Tragedy

Since 2007, The Hayloft Project has established itself as one of Australia’s leading independent companies with a string of elegant, razor-intelligent productions. In particular, they've attracted attention for their reworking of modern classics, such as Wedekind's Spring Awakening, Chekhov’s Platonov and, controversially, a fascinating version of Three Sisters, 3XSisters. For Thyestes, Malthouse's Tower Theatre residency for 2010, director Simon Stone reaches much further into the past, to the plays of Nero's tutor and adviser, philosopher and sometime dramatist, Seneca the Younger.

He's linked forces again with Black Lung stalwarts Mark Leonard Winter and Thomas Henning. Others include Chris Ryan (seen most recently in Malthouse’s Elizabeth and Benedict Andrews’s Measure for Measure at Belvoir St), Hayloft dramaturge Anne-Louise Sarks, one of the brains behind Hayloft's Fringe hit Yuri Wells, and sound designer Stefan Gregory, who was responsible for the astonishing sound in the STC’s The War of the Roses. The result is Hayloft’s best work yet, and one of the highlights of the year. Thyestes is rock'n'roll theatre: confronting, transgressive, uncomfortably hilarious, obscene, horrifying, and desolatingly beautiful.

Yet it's hard to know where to begin talking about this show. Thinking about it is very like contemplating one of those breeding tangles of snakes that David Attenborough's Life featured a couple of weeks ago on the ABC: it's an orgy of forms and ideas, each writhing about the others, which makes the mind slide distractingly from one thought to the next. I think that above all, you're dazzled by the sheer outrageous excess of it, its shockingly wasteful expense of energy. And yet this impression of excess is created by what is surely one of Hayloft's most austere productions.

The austerity begins with the design, which is stark black and white, reflecting the absolute moral world of classical tragedy. The Greeks didn't do shadows: this is a universe of darkness visible, where the hidden is dragged into the unforgiving light. Claude Marcos's traverse set - effectively a black, narrow, enclosed box, with a white interior exposed by Govin Ruben's harsh fluorescent lights - embodies this sense of continuous revelation. When the blinds that serve as curtains are down, as they are between every scene, it's impossible to see the audience on the other side: each new scene reveals the audience as well as the actors. This becomes increasingly disconcerting, because one of the paradoxical effects of this show is to erase distances: between then and now, them and us, the actors and ourselves.

A major reason for this sense of collapse between boundaries is Stefan Gregory's sensually enveloping sound design. Gregory shamelessly exploits the capacity of music to locate us ecstatically in the present: the soundtrack includes Schubert and Handel, Wu Tang Clan and Ice Cube, Roy Orbison and Queen. This connects with another convention - the use of surtitles - to make Thyestes seem like a kind of opera. It looks like theatre, sounds like theatre, but in its strangely abstracted narrative, and especially in its emotional excess, it works more like an operatic history.

And what of the story itself? Simon Stone and his collaborators claim their version of Thyestes is "after Seneca", but it's probably more true to label it "before Seneca". Seneca's actual play - notoriously "modern" in that very little happens aside from the climactic event - is enacted in a mere couple of scenes, right at the end of the show. The rest is an excavation of the bloody history of the House of Tantalus: the first and worst of all unhappy families.

From Tantalus himself, who stole ambrosia from Olympus and who most notably slaughtered and cooked his son Pelops to feed the gods, to Menelaus and Agamemnon, who besieged Troy for 10 years to recover the faithless Helen, this single family constitutes the DNA of what we think of as canonical western literature. The doings of Tantalus's descendents exercised, among countless others, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and, later, Seneca. And through his influence on Jacobean and Elizabethan tragedy, and especially on Shakespeare, Seneca is arguably the biggest classical influence on English drama. What Hayloft presents isn't recognisably Shakespearean. It's not particularly Senecan, come to that. And yet its effect is surprisingly close to both: which I think is a result of a complexity of texture on the one hand, and a primitive, unforgiving harshness on the other.

Its narrative genius is the surtitles, which flash up before each scene, describing the plot of the story, before the curtains rise on the stage, revealing another, altogether more mundane reality. It's a brilliant way of coping with the tale's anachronisms, which are mostly removed from the actual performances, and become instead a framing device. And this convention means that the dozen or so short plays or tableaux that make up the whole need not concern themselves at all with plot. When the curtains rise, we are suddenly pitched into 21st century Melbourne, into the unremarked spaces between larger, tragic events. What we see are overwhelmingly domestic scenes.

The story begins with the murder by Thyestes (Thomas Henning) and Atreus (Mark Leonard Winter) of their half-brother, Chrysippus (Chris Ryan), at the urging of their mother Hippodamia, who is angry that her sons have been passed over to inherit the throne. The first scene is brilliant in how it winds you into its double reality: the three actors perform with an almost documentary realism that at first almost makes you believe you're overhearing three young men passing time, late at night, at a party. Until, that is, Chrysippus turns his back, fiddling with his iPod to get a favourite song, and the two brothers stand up, suddenly full of menace, and pull out the gun, and the machinery of tragedy is activated. Oddly, not so much on stage, as in our minds.

It's clear from the beginning that this version of Thyestes is primarily about the relationship between two brothers. The show has a genuinely Freudian edge, and not just in its unafraid confrontations of sexuality. Its increasing sense of disturbance is in how it echoes those dark jealousies that only exist between siblings, and that can continue lifelong, coloured into adulthood by the uncontrolled passions of infancy. Chrysippus's murder is at first presented as the originatory crime from which emerges the others, but as this bloody family history unrolls before us, it becomes clear that even this is an echo of earlier crimes, that these brothers are trapped in a hell of repetition that is the curse of their family.

This understanding has both a symbolic and a literal value: we understand the story in wholly contemporary terms, in how incest, for instance, can be passed down from generation to generation, the parent visiting on the child his or her own suffering; and we also understand it as myth, as a representation of something larger than it is. This dislocatedness is why it is, at times, very funny indeed. Some of its most powerful moments are when these double recognitions, which weave a complementary dance through the show, suddenly unite into a single breathtaking image.

The most memorable perhaps is when the curtain rises on the suicidal Pelopia (Chris Ryan), singing a Schubert lieder: mother of a child who is the product of incestuous rape, she is the image of unhealable damage, lifted suddenly into an ecstatically operatic moment, pain and beauty united. In such moments - there are others - the performers embody Nietzsche's idea of the tragic: a Dionysian image of absolute negation becomes, through the ecstasy of performance, "the absolute limit of affirmation". It's a quality that Barrie Kosky also achieves, although in very different ways: and the secret is in the balance between restraint and excess.

Winter, Henning and Ryan are astounding, on the one hand achieving a naturalistic authenticity that locates these extreme events in the middle of the mundane present, without on the other losing a sense of heightened reality. We believe in these ancient tales of warring kings, because we also understand, through these performances, that betrayal, violence, sexual excess, greed, despair and madness are, in fact, the most ordinary of human realities. Scratch the history of any family, and you will find such behaviours lurking not far beneath the surface. I'm not the first, for example, to link Thyestes's eating of his children with incest: in Hayloft's rendering of the story, this connection is even clearer, as it becomes a mirror of Thyestes's rape of his daughter Pelopia.

There's much more to tease out, but I've probably said enough. If you can possibly get there, don't miss it. The word is out, and it is wildly good: and the critics are in unusually rhapsodic alignment. The season has been extended an extra week, so there is still a chance to see it. But I suspect you'll have to be quick.

A short version of this review was in Monday's Australian.

Pictures, R-L: top, Mark Leonard Winter and Chris Ryan; bottom, Mark Leonard Winter, Thomas Henning and Chris Ryan. Photos: Jeff Busby

Thyestes, co-written and directed by Simon Stone, after Seneca. Co-written and performed by Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan and Mark Leonard Winter. Set and costumes by Claude Marcos, lighting by Govin Ruben, sound design by Stefan Gregory. The Hayloft Project and Malthouse Theatre, Tower Theatre. Melbourne Fringe Festival. Until October 9.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

And what is this blog about, Cameron?

Update: The article is online here. With thanks to Nicholas Pickard. (Now with crunchy comments! [Further update: sadly, it seems that three comments is the most that Fairfax mods can deal with.])

This morning Age critic Cameron Woodhead takes aim at Ms TN with all guns blazing. But sadly, because the Age has not put this article online, I can't point curious readers in its direction: you will all have to go out and buy the paper. (Too bad if you're in Perth or London - I'll of course link at once if it is uploaded, so you can all read it for yourselves and make up your own minds.) My reportage will inevitably be partial, because I don't want to quote the whole damn thing. Suffice to say that Woodhead claims that he has been misrepresented. He has some justification for his complaint, although, as those who were at the Wheeler Centre's Critical Failure panel will know, not as much as he thinks.

I would not mind his defending himself so much, if he were not so interested in misrepresenting me. Woodhead describes Theatre Notes as if my major activity, in the six years since I began it, is to attack Mr Cameron Woodhead. A quick search reveals that this is by no means the case. This is the 929th post I have written for this blog: out of those, I can find six that mention Woodhead. Which is to say, he has occupied precisely 0.6 per cent of my blogly attention. These posts are all online, and you can go and read them for yourself. On the other hand, by tomorrow, unless it is uploaded to the Fairfax website, Woodhead's article will be available only to those who keep archives or who make a special library visit.

This suggests something about accountability, which is a major prong of Woodhead's attack on Theatre Notes (as singular representative, I presume, of the entire internet - the only other blog he mentions is the Guardian). He claims that as a blogger I am not accountable, and even hints darkly that I am unethical. "Croggon," he says, "seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that - because a blog, by its nature, offers a right of reply - she can evade the obligations that inhere in her critical authority." He lists the responsibilities a critic has: "checking your evidence has a solid basis; the accountability of putting your name to your opinions; being disciplined about your writing, always conscious of the responsibilities of having a public voice; respecting the law of libel".

This blog in fact observes all those responsibilities (especially the one about defamation). I'm pretty sure that, in my five years as a cadet and later as industrial affairs reporter on the Melbourne Herald, I have a rather stronger grounding in journalistic practice than Woodhead: and I use all those skills here. I moderate comments with a light hand, but I immediately take down comments that are defamatory (as a sidenote, mockery isn't the same as defamation). And as a blogger, I have an extra accountability that Woodhead does not have: towards my readers. If I make a mistake, a reader will point it out. If I enrage a reader, that reader will take issue with me online. If I don't continue to write stuff worth their time, readers will not bother to visit the site.

Everything I write here is under immediate scrutiny, and must endure sometimes very robust debate. (Check out, for example, the discussion about Martin Crimp under my recent review of The City, where I have been forced to vigorously defend my assessment of that play against, among others, Woodhead himself.) Woodhead seems taken aback by this robustness. I guess if you're not used to your lunch answering back, it must be a little disconcerting to be slapped by the salad. In any case, the one debate I am not interested in pursuing is a bitchslap between crrritics. Why? Because there are many more interesting things to discuss. Like theatre, for instance...

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Australian theatre & nationalism

A while back, I teased out some of my thoughts on nationalism in Australian theatre into an essay, How Australian is it?, for the 200th edition of the literary journal Overland. And being good chaps, they've now put it online.

To rephrase Borges: being Australian is either an inescapable act of fate – and in that case we shall be so in all events – or it is a mere affectation, a mask. The best of our contemporary theatre has dropped the mask. In the volatile performing arts, it’s difficult to forecast what will happen next; it’s possible that this renaissance, which has animated Australian stages for the past five years, will simply lose energy and peter out. It certainly has its detractors. But perhaps the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and our theatre has grown past the need to merely perform its national identity.

You can read the whole essay here.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: The City/Bare Witness

I'm loath to say this, for several reasons, but nevertheless: sometimes you have to point out the obvious. (In Ms TN's case, pointing out the obvious is my raison d'etre). The City at Red Stitch and La Mama's Bare Witness at Fortyfivedownstairs are productions which demonstrate that our indie women directors can be as ambitious, imaginative, intelligent, out-there theatrical and aesthetically tough as any man.

As soon as you write it down, it looks ridiculous and patronising. And, given that last week I saw Lee Lewis' Twelfth Night at the Arts Centre, and next year am looking forward to a Malthouse season curated by Marion Potts, it even sounds redundant. The problem is that if you don't write it down, this fact gets too easily erased. Anyone mumbling that women have a specifically feminine aesthetic that forbids them from the main stages, or that there aren't many woman directors around, or that only exceptional women have what it takes to fill a stage, or any of the other weasel reasons which add up to women, in defiance of demographics, being a "minority" in the decision-making arts, should get out and see these shows.

In the directorial hands of Nadja Kostich, Mari Lourey's play Bare Witness becomes an outstanding piece of physical theatre: a punishing, sensually immersive investigation of trauma that never forgets to be intelligent. The story tracks the career of a photojournalist, Dany Hall, from her induction as a naive rooky during the Balkans war of the early 1990s to the desert wars of the present day. There's an irresistible romance, even among journalists, around war reporting, and the subject matter is an ethical and aesthetic minefield. Bare Witness, to its considerable credit, avoids almost all the traps, from the first deadly sin of theatre - earnestness - to the Hollywood-style romanticising of journalists to the thoughtless exploitation of atrocity.

It's a seamless marriage of its various parts, which add up to an overwhelming work of theatre. Kostich has a first-class technical set-up: Marg Howell's bare but sensual stage design, seemingly made of crumpled paper; a broodingly punishing electronic and percussive score played live by Jethro Woodward; Emma Valente's ad hoc lighting, created on stage by the actors and Valente herself, with fluorescent strips, flash-lights and swinging lamps lifting a claustrophobic darkness; and Michael Carmody's fluidly abstract video, which combines footage of wolves (a ruling image of the press pack, who are both hunters and hunted), projected numbers or place names, or dissolving animations that recall the decaying charcoals of William Kentridge.

Against this richly suggestive theatrical field, the bodies of the five performers - Isaac Drandic, Daniela Farinacci, Adam McConvell, Todd MacDonald and Maria Theodorakis - play and transform. This is among the most exciting physical theatre I've seen - inventive and exhilarating, demonstrating how the precision of actors' bodies is quite different from the miraculous accuracy of dance: more vernacular, perhaps, in its comparative coarseness, but when as passionately and skilfully performed as here, every bit as compelling.

As Bare Witness argues, war reporting is very like an addiction, and perhaps stems from the same kinds of emotional poverties and alienations as drug addiction does. And it can be just as fatal. Meanwhile, are journalists self-interested predators, or idealistic seekers of the truth, or adrenaline junkies? What difference does getting the news out actually make, in feeding the ravenous maw of a media machine hungry for the next image of atrocity and human suffering? In an image-saturated, media-manipulated world, how truthful can a photograph actually be? And what is the personal cost of a restless fascination with violence?

These questions are, for the most part, lightly raised, and the show evades moralising and sentimentalising its subject matter. In questioning the media, it also keeps in play the equally knotty question of artistic exploitation, which is no less distasteful. I found that its emotional impact registered just as the lights went down at the end, not during the course of the show. Its pace gives no time for reflection or thought, which, given its subject matter, seems wholly appropriate. Kostich's production is perhaps most exciting in its unapologetic seriousness: it's a relief to see a work that so directly, without naivety or cynicism or face-saving irony, addresses the complexities of real world calamity.

I thought the show around 20 minutes too long - there was a narrative detour around East Timor that edged the text into an earnestness and expositional looseness that it otherwise avoids. And work of this unrelenting intensity is difficult to sustain for more than around 90 minutes, without its effects becoming simply numbing. Even so, this is ambitious, smart, beautifully realised theatre. And quite unlike anything else that is on in Melbourne.


The City might be the best production I've seen at Red Stitch, even though, as ever with Martin Crimp, I came away feeling deeply ambivalent about the play. Adena Jacobs offers an uneasily stylised production which emphasises the brittleness and fractures of Crimp's dramaturgy, transforming the small space of Red Stitch into a haunting shadow box of middle-class nightmare.

I found The City intriguing, but perhaps not in the ways Crimp intended. (Although, who knows?) Ostensibly a play about an emotionally sterile marriage, it extends into a self-reflexive discussion of art. Clair (Fiona Macleod) is a literary translator, married to Christopher (Dion Mills), an office worker in the city who loses his job and ends up at the butcher's counter in Sainsburys. A third character, Jenny (Meredith Penman), is a neighbour - a nurse married to a doctor who is away at an unspecified and apparently secret war. There is a brief and unsettling appearance by a spooky daughter (Fantine Banulski/Georgie Hawkins), who has the alienated air of a demon child out of a horror movie.

By the end, I was all but convinced that this play is a confession by the playwright of his own psychic damage and aesthetic limitations. I would normally resist any such interpretation of a work as fatally impertinent: but here it's irresistible. The play progresses as a kind of self-interrogation, a dismantling of its own inabilities, until by the end its characters are questioning each other's reality. It finishes with a description of a war-devastated city, bombed flat like Fallujah or Grozny, that is the simulacrum of Clair's writerly imagination; and its final scene is of a child mangling a piece of piano music, presumably an illustration of what writers do to reality.

Clair's confession of her creative sterility, of her inability to create living realities, is too close to my major problem with Crimp's own plays not to give pause. Whether this is a fatally self-indulgent premise for a play is moot: in the hands of this director and cast, it creates some startlingly strange and unsettling moments of theatre. Yet even in this production, which brings everything possible out of the text, it never strikes deeply. The work is as it says it is - emotionally and intellectually cauterised.

What's troubling about this is that Crimp's confession of writing as an act of emotional nihilism is generalised to embrace all literature. Clair, for instance, is (as Crimp himself has often been) a translator rather than maker of texts. At the beginning of the play, she describes a chance encounter with a writer whom she later translates, Mohamed. Mohamed possesses all the authenticity that Clair, in her white middle-class comfort, feels she lacks: he is ethnically exotic, and has been imprisoned, tortured and exiled.

Yet this authenticity, as Clair recognises to her dismay, is as emotionally dead as Clair's. He can't work with his young daughter around, and so palms her off on his sister-in-law (a nurse, who regards him with contempt), and when he hears news of his daughter's accidental death, he feels not grief but exhilaration. Not only is he liberated from his responsibility, but he now has even more authenticity to throw into his creative mill. It's a bleak view of writing that is, in fact, a toxic romantic cliche: the problem is that you think that Crimp believes it.

The City opens with a domestic scene between a husband and wife that introduces one of my major problems with Crimp - that he so often seems like a cut-price version of Harold Pinter. Using a number of Pinteresque techniques - fragmented conversation, non sequiturs, declarations of emotion that in fact convey their opposite, narrative leaps and disjunctions - Crimp generates a sense of unease and anxiety. But I can't help asking, to what end?

Pinter miraculously (as in, say, Ashes to Ashes) uses these techniques to pierce through the protective carapace of denial to a place of real feeling, a moment of disturbing, sometimes shattering insight when perception suddenly and irrevocably shifts. Crimp clearly aims to do the same thing: but he mistakes nihilism for realism. If he's a lesser playwright than those he mimics - Harold Pinter and Howard Barker, in particular - it's because his plays lack the imaginative largeness to embrace human possibility: joy as well as pain.

For all their bleakness, neither Barker nor Pinter forget that love or justice are human realities, and that these realities are the only things that invest our crimes - intimate or global - with their proper outrage. (Echoes of Beckett: "But I do give a fuck!") After all, who cares what happens to numb puppets? Crimp, on the other hand, cannot seem to believe that love and justice, being human inventions, exist at all, which is quite different from writing about their lack or their failure: and in this, he shows himself to be a cynic. A carefully polished pessimism is, after all, seldom going to be proved wrong. On the other hand, it seldom has the foolishness that permits belief in fictions: and without that belief, a writer will never create a living imagined reality. Poets, as Heiner Mueller says, must always be a little bit stupid.

Clearly, this play intrigued me; in so frankly embodying its own imaginative and emotional failures, isn't it, by sleight of hand, retrieving a kind of success? It's certainly difficult to imagine a more intelligent production. Dayna Morrissey's design and Danny Pettingill's lighting tricks the eye, so that the tiny stage at Red Stitch suddenly has several extra dimensions, functioning as both a poetic and naturalistic setting. Jacobs shows a bold theatrical imagination, unafraid of stillness or of extending performative gestures, so there are moments of pure, abstract, theatre - Penman being eaten by a piano in the background of a bleak marital dialogue; the spooky child reciting obscene limericks.

And in this Jacobs is helped by her fearless cast, who handle the warped naturalism of the production with unfaltering assurance. The dialogue - which largely consists of fractured monologues spoken past the other characters - is addressed directly to the audience, its delivery switching between mannered excess and bitten precision. The result is often comic, in tandem with an increasing upwinding of tension that opens a sense of menacing estrangement. That this doesn't actually amount to much beyond a generalised expression of middle-class anxiety is the fault of the play, not the production. I noticed in the program that Jacobs is planning a production of Anne Carson's Elektra at the Dog Theatre later this year: it will be fascinating to see what she will achieve with a text that actually does something.

Pictures: Top, middle: images of Nadja Kostich's Bare Witness. Photo: Marg Howell. Bottom: Meredith Penman, Fiona Macleod and Dion Mills in The City. Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

Bare Witness by Mari Lourey, directed by Nadja Kostich. Composer/musician Jethro Woodward, set and costumes Marg Howell, video Michael Carmody, lighting Emma Valente. With Isaac Drandic, Daniela Farinacci, Adam McConvell, Todd MacDonald and Maria Theodorakis. La Mama Theatre @ Fortyfive Downstairs, until September 26.

The City by Martin Crimp, directed by Adena Jacobs. Set design Dayna Morrissey, lighting Danny Pettingill, sound design Jared Lewis. With Fiona Macleod, Dion Mills, Meredith Penman and Fantine Banulski/Georgie Hawkins. Red Stitch until September 25.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The return of the amateur critic

Update: The Wheeler Centre has uploaded edited videos of two Critical Failure sessions - film and theatre - on its website.

The ABC's opinion website, The Drum, today runs my piece The Return of the Amateur Critic, which is in part an extension of the discussion at the Wheeler Centre last week.

Does the digital revolution really represent the end of culture as we know it? Are the barbarians waving their iPhones at the gate, ripping up the sacred canons while the last bastions of light (represented here by such grave illuminati as Peter Craven and Cameron Woodhead) stand in the keep like Theoden King in The Lord of the Rings, strapping on their greaves while the forces of darkness howl for Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton?

Well… not really. I've been a keen netizen and observer since the mid-90s, and I figure that, as with the Bible, everything you might say about the internet is true. Yes, it is a bewildering sea awash with trash, populated by subterranean creatures with the social graces and charm of Darth Vader's TIE fighters. Yes, it represents late capitalism at its most pornographically decadent. Yes, its crassness and illiteracy can surpass belief.

And yes, the internet is where I can find some of the most dynamic and intelligent commentary on art and society. This is especially true of discussion about theatre, which as a sub-section of Showbiz has always been poorly attended in Australia's daily press. As a nexus for various arts - music, performance, visual art, literature, digital design and so on - theatre is an outward-looking culture. Unlike literature, its public is always present in the flesh. These immediacies mean that some of the most stimulating and profound thinking about art, culture, literature and society I've been reading in recent years is going on in the theatre blogs.

You can read the rest here.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Combing the Fringe...

Every September for the past five years, Ms TN has looked up from her desk to see the Melbourne Fringe Festival bearing down on her like an express train, or that rock that Wil E. Coyote intended for the Roadrunner, but which somehow is getting bigger and bigger in the air above him... And every year I hand in my Critic's Badge, and go and have a good lie down, because trying to choose between almost 5000 artists at around 150 venues makes my head explode.

This is where Fringe creative producer Emily Sexton comes in, because she's not only overseeing a festival which last year increased its box office by 42 per cent, and which seems to be miraculously combining the best of curatorial flair with the ideals of open-access culture: she has time to take the fearful crrritic by the hand, and to gently suggest some interesting pathways through the chaos. And this year I will share the TN recommendations with you all.

But first, get your shiny program, because it really is shiny this year, and a big felt pen. Ready? This is going to be fast.

Top of the list is a Melbourne Fringe venture conceived by Sexton herself. Visible City is a hugely ambitious cross-artform venture, employing 12 contemporary artists from Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and China to generate a new take on "live art" in the urbs. Visible City happens across the city, and is not being programmed: part of the fun will be finding out when and how, and you might just stumble across it by accident. Keep your ear to the ground for this one.

Some of the dance is happening just down the road from Ms TN, in The Substation in Newport. Intimate Exposure presents solo, duo and trio work from some of Melbourne's most exciting dance artists, Carlee Mellow, Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal and Amelia McQueen, with dance films by Dianne Reid. Also keep an eye out for Love Hunter, a fusion of dance, theatre and comedy at the Fringe Hub in North Melbourne, in which "friends talk, rave and whisper about love". Sounds intriguing.

There's plenty of circus, but look out for Mothlight, on at the Fringe Hub, which crrritic John Bailey describes as "absolutely at the razor's edge". And Suitcase Royale fans will be curious to see Royale regular Miles O'Neill in his first solo show, Miles O'Neil's World Around Us, at the Lithuanian Club, based on some old super 8 videos.

As for the theatre: the Dog Theatre in Footscray is presenting a la carte, an exploration of physical and visual theatre by Born in a Taxi, the Public Floor Project and Well & Son. La Mama is giving us Ridiculusmus in Total Football (some of you might have seen an early draft of this at last year's Fringe, and it should be a hoot). Telia Neville, winner of the best newcomer at this year's Comedy Festival, is presenting For Whom The Bell Tolls at the Lithuanian Club, which promises to be "an intimate look at the genesis of a genius".

Shaun Tan fans will be agog - I know I will - to see Mutation Theatre's version of his beautiful graphic novel The Arrival, which is on at the Docklands. And I am very excited to hear that Uncle Semolina & Friends are back, this time to perform Peter and the Wolf at the Collingwood Underground Carpark.

Malthouse and Hayloft are presenting Thyestes at The Tower, which, like all classical drama, involves fratricide, adultery, incest, betrayal, exile and other nice human behaviours. And I'm intrigued by the premise of The Endarkenment, a "pedal-powered opera" that summons up our post-grid future in what sounds like a Riddley Walker-type argot.

Look out too for Bambina Borracha Productions, with a one man show Words They Make With Their Mouths and an immersive production of Under Milk Wood. Lastly, the excellent Adelaide director Daniel Clarke is bringing his production of John Clancy's The Event to the Fringe Hub, which I reckon will be well worth a punt. Some of you will have seen Clancy's Fat Boy at Red Stitch earlier this year.

It's all beginning on September 22 and stops on October 10, just in time for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Yes, folks, Melbourne's annual cultural orgy is less than 10 sleeps away. And you can find details on all these shows and more, and book online, at the Fringe website. See you there!

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: Twelfth Night, Mix Tape

Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please...

The Tempest, Shakespeare

It begins, as all imagination does, in darkness and silence. A door opens at the back of the stage, and we hear footsteps; a single wavering torchlight lights a patch of colour here, an object there. In the middle of the space is a giant pile of clothes, maybe three metres high, thrown together hurriedly for some emergency, perhaps... Then other people stumble in, and begin to explore the space. They're clearly refugees of some kind, their faces black with smuts of ash. Someone finds a television, fiddles with the controls, turns it on, and as snatches of television news begins to buzz through the static, the frame begins to focus.

It's Black Saturday. The actors are people fleeing from the firestorms, waiting in a place of refuge for news, supplies, help. One actor finds a guitar and begins to strum some chords. Another, a young woman, listens to a news story about missing fire fighters, and breaks down. Someone she loves is missing... Meanwhile, an old man (Max Cullen) finds a book, and begins to read it out loud. It's the beginning of Twelfth Night. Someone else picks up another line... and gradually, out of the imagined reality of the bushfires, spirals another reality altogether: Shakespeare's comic fantasy, a gossamer nonsense of which the entire purpose is delight.

The young grief-stricken woman (Andrea Demetriades) becomes Viola, mourning her brother Sebastian, lost in a storm at sea. The other nameless refugees transform into characters from Twelfth Night - Kit Brookman becomes Olivia, the Duke Orsino (Elan Zavelsky, brilliantly doubling as Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Feste the clown (Max Cullen), Olivia (Kit Brookman), and the bluff Ben Wood as an unlikely but compelling Malvolio.

The real gift of Lee Lewis's Twelfth Night, which I recommend whole-heartedly, is the immediacy with which it demonstrates that theatre is an act of complicity between those who make and watch it. Half this production's charm and a great part of its hilarity emerges from its ad hoc theatrical wit: the actors use low-tech props made of cardboard or rags gleaned from op shops, inviting the audience to participate in their transparent manipulations. The laughter bubbles up through the cracks in the credible: the knowing adult and the open-mouthed child sit hand in hand, laughing at the stratagems, and at the same time entirely seduced by them.

The aim of this ingenious foolery is, as Prospero says, to please: but when it's as well done as it is here, the pleasure has an edge of profound poignancy. It's a quality that strikes me as especially actorly, and maybe most of all, in its doubled vision and fragile, ephemeral conceits, especially Shakespearean. Lewis's astounding cast of clowns - there are no weak links in this show - perform the set pieces sublimely. The deception of Malvolio, with his tormentors hiding in plain sight in absurd costumes made of cardboard boxes, is a highlight, and outrageously funny in how it pushes its own conventions to the point just before they break altogether.

The vulgar comedy, and its cruelty (the malice brought to bear against Malvolvio is cruel indeed) plays against some of Shakespeare's most beautiful musings on romantic love outside the sonnets. The poetry is, perhaps, underplayed; certainly, the romances between the various smitten lovers seem little more than occasions for gorgeous wordplay, rather than true feeling. But when Viola and Sebastian reunite, each having believed that the other was dead, it breaks your heart: here, the brother and sister make the true love story. And this brings the tale back to its first reality, the disaster of the bushfires, and the partings that haunted so many families. Beautifully done, and a must-see.


Mix Tape, part of Chunky Move's Next Move series, is Stephanie Lake's first full-length dance work. It's a very simple idea - Mix Tape uses fragments of recorded interviews and a straightforward mix tape sound track to explore the idea of romantic love: situating itself, as Lake frankly admits in the program, right in the middle of the cliche. The work has a deliberately domestic setting, with a bookshelf-cum-entertainment centre dominating the back of the stage, on which are various noise-making machines: a reel-to-reel tape, a turntable, a cd player. Each machine turns itself on and off as the soundtrack requires, and the work modulates between differing registers of feeling, from the comic to the sad to the desolate.

The four dancers - Sara Black, Rennie McDougall, Timothy Ohl and Jorijn Vriesendorp - perform with a coruscating energy that lights up Lake's intense choreography with an exuberance that only comes with youth. The movement oscillates between a kind of zombie-mode, where the dancers seem almost asleep or dazed, before an awakening into something wrenchingly violent, in which movement seems to ripple through the dancers's flesh and explode in a flash of kinetic energy from their arms and legs.

The erotic metaphor of a duet is foregrounded to the point where it becomes literal: dancers kiss, as if they are making love in front of us. And about half way through, I began to wonder why the duets were so rigorously heterosexual; the bodies are locked in their genders, locked in their sexes, locked in their roles, in ways that suggest romantic love is, as the ALP would have it of marriage, a matter between a man and a woman. It wouldn't have occurred to me if I had thought these were particular couples, but here they were representative, speaking generally about romantic love. Then I wondered if this question was part of the zombie-movement that plays darkly through the dance, whether, in fact, the heterosexism functioned as self-aware critique or frank oversight. I still can't decide.

In the same way, a couple of the more narrative songs - Bob Dylan's Shelter from the Storm, for instance - dominated the performance so strongly that I found myself above all listening to the lyrics. At these and other times, the dance seemed reduced to mere illustration, a literal representation or playing out of gesture, rather than a dynamic language in itself. Again, I couldn't tell if this was deliberate or not: if it is, it doesn't strike me as an especially fruitful tension. The peril of this whole conceit is of falling into the merely sentimental, the mere cliche, and I
'm not sure that Lake wholly escapes it. These reservations aside, all of which are to do with the framing rather than the choreography, Mix Tape is absorbing and often very beautiful: and the dancing is sensational.

Photo: Max Cullen as Feste taunts Malvolio (in the box) in Bell Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, directed by Lee Lewis. Designed by Anna Tregloan, lighting design by Luiz Pampolha, music and sound by Paul Charlier and Steve Toulmin. With Max Cullen, Ben Wood, Andrea Demetriades, Kit Brookman, Brent Hill, Elan Zavelsky and Adam Booth. Bell Shakespeare, Victorian Arts Centre, until September 18. Touring regional Australia, Canberra and Sydney until November.

Mix Tape, directed and choreographed by Stephanie Lake. Lighting design by Benjamin Cisterne (Bluebottle), sound design, Luke Smiles, costume design by Harriet Oxley. With Sara Black, Rennie McDougall, Timothy Ohl and Jorijn Vriesendorp. Next Move, Chunky Move Studios, until September 11.

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Quick hit: Critical Failure

Those who missed Tuesday's panel on theatre criticism at the Wheeler Centre will be able to catch up with it next week, when all the Critical Failure dialogues (on film, literature, theatre and visual art) will be put online at the Wheeler Centre site. Meanwhile, Crikey's anonymous theatre correspondent gave us a pretty positive review: "It turned out a wonderful little four-hander, almost like a well-made play, with secrets revealed, old conflicts revived, touching reconciliations, impassioned monologues, moments of general disorder, comedic repartee and plenty of merry-andrew buffoonery." Ha!

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Holding note

Although she is, in essence, the most retiring of violets, Ms TN has been gadding about town as if gads are going out of fashion. My final gad is tonight at the Wheeler Centre at 6.15pm, as people keep reminding me by brightly volunteering to help mop up the blood. I'm on a panel with playwright Stephen Sewell, director Julian Meyrick and Age critic Cameron Woodhead to discuss why theatre criticism "is failing us all". I expect I shall need a whiskey afterwards, preferably single malt, but mainly I'm hoping that my voice will be present and correct, as it's been a bit dodgy.

In fact, I lost my voice completely this weekend, which was dominated by the World Science Fiction Convention at the Exhibition Centre, my First Ever Con, where, among other things, I got to talk about Shakespeare, poetry, science fiction in the theatre and the impact of digital technologies on criticism. (Just like the rest of my life). Mere laryngitis didn't stop me, although at the end of Sunday I did have to cancel my last panel, a scholarly discussion on PL Travers and Mary Poppins. I was a wide-eyed noob, I frankly confess, and I loved being part of it.

At the Con, I met people who do nothing else except write novels. You know, I must be getting old. I suddenly can see myself wearing a floppy (or perhaps a flowery) straw hat and drifty layers of chiffon, snipping flowers and tending my herb garden and rushing back inside to write the next five hundred words, and not having six other deadlines as well... and the vision, I can tell you, is disturbingly attractive. Imagine not being constantly behind schedule, and scrambling to catch up, and just thinking about one thing!

Yet how can I give up the theatre? Even with all this extra activity, I saw two shows last week: Bell Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, directed with sublime comedy by Lee Lewis at the Victorian Arts Centre, and Stephanie Lake's first full-length dance work, Mix Tape, at Chunky Move. I was planning to write about them today, but frankly I'm a little tired: so allow me to recommend both, and perhaps I'll get down to it tomorrow. Mix Tape closes this Saturday, September 11, so hurry if you haven't booked already, and Twelfth Night a week later.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Melbourne Festival: The TN preview

This year's Melbourne Festival, Brett Sheehy's second, is a program that repays some attention. The more you look, the more exciting it gets: it may not seem especially spectacular at a cursory glance but, once you get down to brass tacks, there's nothing in the performing art program that I wouldn't at least be curious to see. And more than a few events that make me plain excited.

Sheehy is certainly ebullient about what's on offer for this year's festival. That's his job, of course, but he has a right to be pleased with himself. He's presenting a rich and diverse program, which offers a tempting meld of top quality international acts with some of our best local artists. There's a high percentage of local work - of the 908 artists on show, 658 are Australian.

"I feel fantastic," he says. "What a job - I love it. You'd have to be pretty miserable not to feel this way - you have a city here that adores its festival. It's the only city I've ever been anywhere where people have come up to me - even non-arts goers - say that the arts are a critical part of their city. It's only ever happened here."

Sheehy confesses frankly that it can be daunting for an outsider to enter Melbourne's complex and rich cultural networks. "The first year, I was just trying to get a feel for the landscape," he says. "I wasn't blind" (he refers to an Australian article attacking the festival as "unAustralian") - "It takes time, you have to feel your way, forge relationships, and so on. And this year I've got some of my favourite Australian artists in the festival."

My advice to anyone poring over the 2010 program is this: if you possibly can, go to everything. To my chagrin, there are at least two events, including David Chesworth's Richter/Meinhof-Opera, that, no matter what I did, I couldn't shoehorn into my schedule. But I know that not everyone can manage this, not least because I get review tickets (this time of year, I feel very lucky). So below the fold are my "don't miss" highlights.

I know he's not, strictly speaking, theatre, but: Bill Viola, Bill Viola, Bill Viola. (Did I say Bill Viola?) There are two video installations by this awesome contemporary artist/mystic on in the festival: Fire Women and Tristan's Ascension (image above) at St Carthage's Catholic Church in Parkville; and The Raft at ACMI. They're both FREE, so no excuses. Tattoo it on your hand.

Two big international theatre acts: Danish auteurs Hotel Pro Forma with their opera Tomorrow in a Year (image above). This is inspired by Darwin's perceptions of nature and time and is described as a "revolutionary electronic feast for the senses". Also, those who saw them on their first visit to Australia have been rapturous in their praise of this company. I missed that, so will be there this time.

The other is of course Robert Lepage's The Blue Dragon (top image). "This is pure theatrical magic," says Sheehy. "It's deeply romantic, intimate work that looks at the contradiction within contemporary China - the uber-capitalist society that is still, basically, a communist state." It looks ravishing and promises to be heartbreaking.

Like a good parent, Sheehy doesn't have favourites; but he is particularly warm about a couple of shows. Jack Charles V The Crown, a co-production between MIAF and Ilbijerrie Theatre Company, came about when Ilbijerri AD Rachel Maza approached Brett with Jack Charles's idea of telling his story. "It's one of the great Australian stories," he says. He's also very excited about Opening Night, by Toneelgrooep Amsterdam (image above), a theatrical version of John Cassavetes film in which director Ivo van Hove - "one of the great talents of our time" - brings film techniques into the theatre in fascinating and genuinely new ways.

I'm particularly intrigued by Stifters Dinge (Stifter's Things), a performance work by German "multimedia maverick" Heiner Goebbels that includes no performers (image above). "Nature butts up against pure technology," says Sheehy, "It's a unique experience - an installation, maybe, but it's a totally theatrical experience. It almost has a Gothic patina to it..."

Some strong dance too - the Michael Clark Company is out here with come, been and gone, a dance primarily based on the music of David Bowie and some of his key collaborators. Vertical Road, Akram Khan's investigation of angels - a symbol that occur in all cultures - is still being created. "I won't know what it is until I see it here," says Sheehy. "But I'm very excited by this one." Japanese multidisciplinary artist Hiroaki Umeda is bring out two highly technological pieces, Adapting for Distortion and Haptic, which look spectacular and fascinating.

On the writing front: I wouldn't miss Ranters' new show Intimacy, on at the Malthouse as their offering, which continues Adriano and Raimondo Cortese's exploration of the humble profundities of the human condition, or Daniel Keene's absurd Life Without Me, his MTC debut, which features an outstanding cast and, dare I say it, an outstanding text. The Beckett Trilogy, a condensed version of Beckett's novels Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable, is, says Sheehy, a "tour de force". And TN favourites Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith are doing the full extravaganza at Fortyfive Downstairs with Carnival of Mysteries. If you haven't seen their work before, get on down there.

I think I might have covered most of the theatre/performing arts program, which is not much good for those wanting highlights... and that's without looking at the music, and with only the briefest look at the visual arts. If you haven't already done so, you should check out the program yourself. It's enough to keep me busy for three weeks, anyway, and will of course all be covered here. All that remains is to hope it doesn't rain too much. See you all around our fair city, and perhaps we can argue about everything in the bar afterwards!

Coming up soon: TN preview of the Melbourne Fringe. Which is also looking shiny and super.

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