Poems for Pussy RiotReview: Top GirlsAcknowledging defeatMalthouse 2013What I'm doing right now ~ theatre notes

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Poems for Pussy Riot

As we all know, three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot were recently imprisoned after a farcical trial in which they were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. In response, English PEN's Writers at Risk is hosting Poems for Pussy Riot, initiated by writer and editor Sophie Mayer, to collect poems, translate them into Russian, and send them to the band as a gesture of support and protest against censorship. Poems for Pussy Riot will also be an ebook. My contribution, Dance of the Seven Veils, is here.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Top Girls

Okay, okay, I know I swore that I was writing no reviews for a month. But just this one, because it's important.

I was completely unprepared for the emotional impact of watching Jenny Kemp's brilliant production of Top Girls. It was as if an abscess of grief and anger were lanced deep inside me: all the things I already know, that are reconfirmed in the media every day, in casual conversation and trivial encounters, in a lifetime's experience of being a woman, were given form and focus and represented anew. It's a long time since I've read or seen this play, perhaps the most famous of Caryl Churchill's extraordinary oeuvre: but as Kemp and her team so lucidly demonstrate, it remains as powerful as it was when it was first performed in the 1980s, at the height of Thatcher's Britain.

L-R: Li-Leng Au, Anita Hegh and Maria Theodorakis in Top Girls. Photo: Jeff Busby

Most of all, Top Girls released an overpowering sadness. To be a woman in a male-dominated world is to be the second sex: millennia of cultural conditioning can't be overthrown in a generation, or even in a century. And what this play argues, with unwavering pitilessness, is that the subjugation of women can't be separated from the subjugation of class. It's a play driven by the "shuddering horror" described in a letter to her lover by Rosa Luxemburg, which the British poet Keston Sutherland recently quoted in a paper on Revolution and Being Really Alive:

"[T]his feeling of shuddering horror does not let go of me […] Especially when I lie down to sleep, this fact [of my mother’s death] immediately arises again before my eyes, and I have to groan out loud from pain. I don’t know how it is with you but I don’t suffer mainly from longing anymore and I don’t suffer on my own account, but what makes me shudder every time is this one thought: what kind of life was that! What has this person lived through, what is the point of a life like that! I don’t know of any thought that is so dreadful for me as this one; I feel as though it would tear me apart if I began to think about it, and yet it comes to me under the most surprising circumstances, at any moment."

There's some dialogue in the second half of Top Girls that so precisely echoes Luxemburg's letter, that I wonder if it is one of the seeds of the play itself. What kind of a life is that? And the passion and horror of this question tears apart the shallowness of popular critiques of feminism. It's all too easy for the western middle class - and especially for men and women who argue that feminism is over, that women are quite equal enough - to ignore the poverties that the west has outsourced to so-called "developing" countries, and even to ignore those that exist closer to home. Yet these poverties - physical, economic and intellectual - exist everywhere, inflicting their damage of millions of lives. And, as study after study has shown, it is women who bear the brunt. What can equality possibly mean if the glamorous board room success of a few does nothing to change the lives of the many?

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Acknowledging defeat

Dear everybody: as we all know, good intentions are the road to hell. And Ms TN is full of good intentions. I wrote them all out this morning, having cleared some space to catch up on the shows I've seen and not written about. And I realised I have to face the fact that I simply can't do everything I would like to: it's not really a question of time, but of mental energy. The truth is, as I have said in serial posts, that this has been a crazy year, and I have been writing like a maniac, and the sort of tiredness this induces is cumulative. The past month has been especially bonkers. Which isn't helped by sudden obsessions, like writing this review on Poetry, truthfulness and political speech.

For the past few months I've been trying to keep all the balls in the air, but a big part of the problem for me is that I just can't see the point of half-doing anything. I hate half-doing this blog, which is what has been happening because of everything else.

So here are the shows I've seen and not reviewed: Doku Rai at North Melbourne Arts House, Pale Blue Dot at Helium at the Malthouse, Angela's Kitchen at Malthouse Theatre, Happy Ending at the Melbourne Theatre Company, and the Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenin and Tchaikovsky. All of them were interesting, and deserve proper responses. I recommend all the shows that are still on: Angela's Kitchen begins as a conventional immigrant story about Paul Capsis's Maltese background and ends in a wholly unexpected place, both theatrically and emotionally, as a meditation on transience and grief; Pale Blue Dot is a fascinating movement piece which cuts together meditations on photography, film, space exploration to create a theatrical picture of consciousness and memory; Happy Ending is a slyly hilarious play about sexuality, women and cultural misunderstanding. I'm also booked to see Pinnochio at the Malthouse and Caryl Churchill's Top Girls this week, and the Melbourne Fringe is about to launch like a juggernaut.

Also, not unimportantly, I have this novel to write, and that has been suffering most of all. So I've made a stern and, in truth, rather difficult decision: TN will close down for the next month, and I won't be posting until the Melbourne Festival opens on October 11. I'll do my usual blanket coverage of festival shows, and then perhaps I might be able to strike some kind of (ha!) balance. I still have to finish this novel, and I have to make it a first priority. I'm happy to be asked to shows, for future reference: but for the meantime I won't be writing about them. Don't take this as a statement of intention about Theatre Notes: it's not. But I'm going fishing.

PS: Yes, I'll still be on twitter at @alisoncroggon. And will tweet any shows I see.  No substitute for considered comment, I know, but less exhausting!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Malthouse 2013

'Tis the season for theatre launches, which gives Ms TN ample opportunity to exploit her genius for SNAFU. Recently my trigger finger gave the MTC's pr department conniptions by blithely tweeting their entire Neon season before its formal announcement. (Lucky you can delete tweets, huh?) The Malthouse wisely emailed the preview of its season with a big sign saying EMBARGO that even I couldn't miss. In this case I told everybody that I was going to the launch last Thursday, when it was in fact last night. This tells you everything you need to know about my present state of mental dishabille. Anyway, I have checked the date three times and am almost sure that I can now write about it.

Meredith Penman and Karen Sibbing in Adena Jacob's Persona

2013 features some eye-catching shows. It looks like Marion Potts's strongest, and certainly most diverse, season so far. To almost nobody's surprise, given the persistent rumours that Persona would return next year (and given it wasn't in the MTC's season), Adena Jacob's brilliant production is getting a run at the Beckett. If you missed its Theatre Works season (or even if you didn't), this is a must see: it's probably my show of the year so far, even with some stiff competition. Michael Kantor is back at his old stamping ground with an ambitious reworking of King Lear, The Shadow King. This will be performed in a mixture of Indigenous languages and modern English, and has been created in close collaboration with Elders. Again, a must-see. Likewise, mark your diaries for a new show on superheroes by Back to Back Theatre, Laser Beak Man, which promises "parallel realities": well, that's what you always get with Back to Back, surely our most significant independent theatre company.

There's a wide range of plays, which together reflect an overt political engagement. The season opens with the timely return of Stephen Sewell's 1990s play Hate, a work that critiques the dynasties of political and corporate power. Look out for Matt Lutton's production of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Dance of Death. Darkly, wickedly, despairingly funny, Dürrenmatt is yet another playwright done all too seldom on our stages. Marion Potts is directing Evgeny Shvarz's The Dragon, a play and playwright with which I am completely unfamiliar. This was premiered in 1944, at the height of Soviet Stalinism, and is a fairytale satire on totalitarianism. Also reaching beyond the Anglosphere is a premiere of Iranian Nassim Soleimanpour's White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, which appears to be an exploration of scripted improvisation. On the feminist front, Van Badham has adapted Angela Carter's explorations of the legend of Bluebeard for The Bloody Chamber.

Intriguingly, Lally Katz is stepping forward as a performer, and presenting a one-woman show, Stories I Want to Tell You in Person. I have no idea at all what that will be like, but I can't imagine that anyone will want to miss it. Other performance includes a puppetry show for young people, Hard Rubbish, by Men of Steel, which pits Ikea against old, unloved furniture. And excitingly, Dance Massive is back, with works by Chunky Move's new director Anouk van Dijk, 247 Days, and Larissa McGowan, Skeleton.

In short, get to it. You can explore the Season 2013 online here.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

What I'm doing right now

Regular readers will be chortling into their coffee to hear that Ms TN has been yet again ruefully contemplating her total inability to control any aspect of her writing life. Viz: yet again, or still, I am wallowing in the slough of overcommitment. (And that's even with putting Teh Novel aside for a couple of weeks to - cue hollow laughter - "clear the desk". Also, I got stuck.) I suspect that the Melbourne Writers Festival, where I had several sessions to prepare, was the straw that broke the camel's back; but I have been writing reviews in other places too. Perhaps you'll forgive me for prioritising reviews for which I actually get paid; but the truth is also that I think it's quite good for me as a critic to pay the kind of attention that reviewing poetry demands. And it is. But it also quite demanding.

Anyway, for those interested: I reviewed the three books shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Poetry Awards: John Kinsella's Armour (which I liked very much); Michelle Cahill's Vishvarupa (which I also enjoyed) and John Mateer's Southern Barbarians (where I had a few questions). (Scroll down for the reviews). This week I am writing my monthly blog review for Overland, and pondering my quarterly column, which is due soon. And I'm also writing up an interview for another publication. And beginning the publicity for my novel, Black Spring, which is due out on October 1 from Walker Books, and which seems to involve other kinds of blogging. Yes, the literary world is throwing out its siren lures and seducing me.

I have been seeing some theatre, all the same, and am plotting to see more. Doku Rai at North Melbourne Arts House was astounding, fascinating theatre: the anarchy and theatrical invention we expect from Black Lung, but with an extra political edge brought by the East Timorese companies Galaxy and Liurai Fo’er. I'm hoping to get a chance to think through this experience. I went to see Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina, which is kind of brilliant imperial kitsch that seduces with the passion and rigor of its performance and theatricality. And, to answer some people who have asked, I have yet to see Top Girls, but do you think I'd miss Caryl Churchill? And I'm hoping to get to Optic Nerve's Pale Blue Dot, the latest in the Helium season at the Malthouse.

My inbox is flooded with invitations, especially as Fringe looms over the horizon, and I regretfully will not get to see most of them. I'm still not sure how to sustain this blog, but so far I'm clinging on with my fingernails. In moments of stress, I just visit this essential website. You should too.

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