Holding noteReview: National Interest, Keep Everything, Glory BoxReview: MacbethReview: Another Lament, Starchaser, CIRCANext Wave: Monster Body, Dewey Dell, Justin ShoulderNext Wave: Shotgun Wedding, Physical Fractals, Wintering ~ theatre notes

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Holding note

This week has been unexpectedly busy (in a non-theatrical manner), as the final copy edit for Black Spring arrived, marked "urgent", and has taken all of my time. And I also had to review Kate Lilley's fascinating book of poems, Ladylike (review now uploaded at Overland Journal). So I've been deleting commas and pondering Freud instead of writing about Roland Schimmelpfennig's The Golden Dragon, which opened last week at the Melbourne Theatre Company's Lawler Studio. It's on the to-do list, but while I recover my sanity, get thee a ticket.

As a slightly irrelevant PS, I have a poem in today's Australian. I can't link, as poetry is too oldfashioned to be on the internets.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: National Interest, Keep Everything, Glory Box

First, an apology and an explanation. Your humble blogger is heroically attempting to get out less, but Melbourne, you make it hard. I seem to be presently measuring the worth of Melbourne performance by the quality and number of invitations I am forced to turn down. I feel a twinge every time I refuse an event that ticks my boxes of potential interest, and there have been a lot of twinges lately. Extrabloggish activities - talks and panels, literary reviewing and countless other sundries - are certainly gobbling much of my time. But the major distraction is making a living, which for me means novels.

Finucane & Smith's Glory Box

Looking back at the halfway mark of 2012, I realise this year has been pretty busy. My British publishers, Walker Books, have this month re-released my Pellinor quartet, in schmick new editions, with new translatory introductions (and a light edit). My Gothic novel Black Spring will be out in Australia at the end of this year with Walker Australia (early 2013 in the US and the UK). Last month I finished a new novel, Simbala's Book, another stand-alone speculative fiction work, which is now with my agent. And I am presently about a quarter of the way through a Pellinor prequel, which I haven't titled yet - titles are a constant bother for me - but which I hope will be finished to first draft status by September. Somewhere in between all the writing and editing, I also wrote a libretto for composer Gerardo Dirié, head of music studies at Queensland Conservatorium, for an opera project called Flood.

It adds up to a lot of words being pounded out on this old keyboard. I am very loath to stop seeing theatre, which gets me out of the house and which - most crucially - is not about my own work. Writers spend a lot of time in their own heads, and a large part of the value of theatre for me is that it gets me out of mine. A selfish motivation, I agree, but it probably explains why the blog is still alive after all these years. All the same, it's fair to say that at the moment I am feeling the pressure. I am considering shutting the blog down soon for a few weeks to enable me to get some serious pages under my belt, and to catch my breath.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: Macbeth

In Macbeth, the ruling metaphor is darkness. Macbeth's "black and deep desires", pricked into life by the prophecies of the witches, overthrow the deepest oaths of feudal manliness: loyalty to king and tribe and, perhaps the strongest tabu of all, to a guest under his own roof. As bloody ambition seizes Macbeth's mind, the clear boundaries of daylight vanish in the murky shadow. The solid earth is not what it seems: it "hath bubbles, even as the water has", and quakes with portent. Even the sun is hidden: "By th' clock 'tis day," says Ross. "And yet dark night strangles the traveling lamp."

Macbeth (Dan Spielman) and the witch (Lizzie Schebesta) in Macbeth

This brooding sense of infecting darkness makes Macbeth the most claustrophobic of Shakespeare's plays. It's also one of the shortest, tracing a swift trajectory of temptation, corruption and fall. For all its feudal morality, it remains a compelling and intimate study of the paranoia of tyranny, which sews its downfall into its very fabric. Macbeth's initial murder of King Duncan to gain his crown ensures the crimes that follow, which in turn spark the rebellion that destroys him. But more germanely, as is compellingly clear in Peter Evans's lucid production for Bell Shakespeare, Macbeth's murder of Duncan is equally a violence to himself. "To know my deed 'twere best not know myself," he says, contemplating his bloody hands. It's that zombie conscience, as ruthlessly put down as the rebellious thanes but never quite dead, that drives him to madness.

In Evans's production, Macbeth becomes the hallucinations of a tormented mind. Anna Cordingley's strikingly elegant design summons mediaeval Scotland with a bare stage of rank grass. It's roofed by an angled mirror that reflects obscurely what happens beneath it, just as in the play the heavens reflect the dark acts of men. The night is made visible by a lot of haze and Damien Cooper's moody lighting, which shifts between brutal exposure and enscarfing shadow.

There is no attempt, except in a poetic sense, to make a realistic world: contemporary costumes cut against the Elizabethan language to place it in no-time, a troubled dream of the present. The stylised Meyerholdian movement of the performances is studded with images of stark realism: Banquo's half-naked corpse, for example, boltered with blood, mouth grotesquely gasping, as he sits at Macbeth's table. The effect is, startlingly, to foregound the language: Shakespeare isn't naturalised, but made strange, and so brought into thrilling focus.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Another Lament, Starchaser, CIRCA

Over the past couple of years, Chamber Made Opera, under the direction of David Young, has been investigating domestic space as a means for creating contemporary opera, quite literally producing operas in people's houses. The results have often been stunning: Daniel Schlusser's Ophelia Doesn't Live Here Any More, or Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey's beautifully situated Dwelling Structure. I missed Another Lament on its first outing, when it was performed in a house in Malvern, but fortunately for me, Malthouse Theatre remounted it.

Another Lament at Malthouse Theatre

Another Lament is a collaboration with Rawcus, a company which works with performers with disabilities, that draws on the songs of Purcell. Emily Barrie's set recreates in astonishing detail a wood-panelled Malvern house, complete with all its chilly Edwardian formality: there's sliding doors that open on a huge hallway, a piano, a huge chocolate cake on a occasional table surrounded by china cups and saucers.  There are even sofas in the auditorium, to reinforce the illusion of being in a house.

Director Kate Sulan uses physical performance and the crafty articulations of Jethro Woodward's sound design to create a series of tableaux that manifest something like the repressed subconscious memories and desires of the house. The performance centres on the singer and double bass player Ida Duelund Hansen, who is riveting from the moment she opens her mouth. Baroque music has often been used as a means of illuminating the quotidian - I'm thinking here of Ranters' devastatingly elegant Holiday, or even Pina Bausch's Café Müller. The purity of its lyricism works every time to generate a poignancy that seems to flower from the very centre of the mundane, rather than as decoration.

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Monday, June 04, 2012

Next Wave: Monster Body, Dewey Dell, Justin Shoulder

Over the past few years, I've lost count of the number of columns I've read which lament the Youth of Today. Pundit after pundit has informed me that young people, Generation Whatever, are spoilt, self-obsessed, materialistic and non-political. This always makes me think of the poet Kenneth Rexroth, who as a fascinated elder statesman was one of the first people to chronicle the youthful counter-culture of the 1960s. Back then, as Rexroth reported with constant surprise, newspaper columnists also regularly lambasted the apathetic, non-political, self-obsessed youth of the day. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Publicity shot for Atlanta Eke's Monster Body

Like Rexroth, I think that underneath the surface, something interesting is stirring in Generation Youth. Of course, as in the 1960s, the majority of the population observes the status quo: what matters is the critical mass of those who don't. It doesn't take an especially sharp observer to see the symptoms of a new political urgency occurring everywhere: the raw protest of the Occupy movement through 2011, the resurgence of feminism and Marxism, the resistances against increasingly repressive regimes worldwide in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, the responses to increasing environmental crisis. As with the apocalyptism of the Cold War, coming out of the birth of the nuclear bomb and the disaster of the Vietnam War, there is a sense of global crisis driving politics now. And, as it was back in the 1960s, you'll only find the surface reflected in the news.

Given the tumultuous events of the past couple of years, it's unsurprising that much of the work in the Next Wave festival harks back to the art of the 1970s. The difference between what's going on now and what happened then is that this is a generation that knows what has already happened: it's perhaps the most historically self-aware generation we've had, with more access to more information than at any point in human history. At its most shallow, this results in the pomo irony of the hipster. But, as performance art works like Atlanta Eke's Monster Body or Justin Shoulder's The River Eats demonstrate, this awareness of the past can lead to something altogether more interesting.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Next Wave: Shotgun Wedding, Physical Fractals, Wintering

As you probably know, Ms TN has been trying to get out less. I am writing a novel which I'd like to finish before September, or at least in the next decade, and then there are all the numberless sundries that presently seem to be the texture of my life. I'm not complaining, you understand; for one thing, it's all my own fault, and for another, I love everything I do. But most of the time I feel like a mini-avalanche waiting for a jolly mountaineer to let loose a careless yodel. And then along comes something like Next Wave, trampling the heights with trumpets and elephants, and down comes the full disaster.

No Show's Shotgun Wedding

In practical terms, the past fortnight's shenanigans means that TN is about eight reviews behind. In the diary, this weekend is marked: "Catch up on Next Wave". Let's see how Alison runs, eh? If I'm a little breathless, you'll know why.

Last Saturday I saw No Show's Shotgun Wedding. Co-creators Bridget Balodis and Mark Pritchard have had an idea for a brilliant new social institution: how about we invent this thing called "marriage", right, a life-long union between "a man" and "a woman"? Let's randomly pick one of each from the people milling about on the pavement outside St Peter's in East Melbourne, and "marry" them. Let's divide the crowd in two, with half belonging to the "bride" and half to the "groom", and let's get going. Right? Right.

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