"It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause."
-Theodore Roosevelt

30 July 2009


I really must come up with a good reason why I don't like follow spots and smoke. Normally my dislike of them doesn't matter, but in the case of Chess, they use them right at the beginning, and they use them well! Why is this a problem? Well, if you don't like follow spots and you don't like smoke, but the first thing in the show is a follow spot and smoke, it distracts you from the show. It's not a problem with a poor show, but unfortunately, The Q's production of Chess is not a poor show, so I feel I need to justify my dislike of follow spots and smoke. One day, my prejudice will have a justification, but this is not that day. Chess is just too good.

Chess is, in many ways, poles apart from Krapp's Last Tape, which I gushed about the night before, but it shares two important characteristics: it tells a remarkably human story, and allows an audience to engage in some depth with its central characters. That said, I think I missed some elements of that story, due to some distortion of Tim Rice's lyrics. I am unsure whether this was a problem with enunciation or amplification, but I suspect the latter. Of course, putting such complicated sentence structures into lyrics was probably a bad idea in the first place, but in this instance it was not a fatal one, probably due to the talents of this magnificent cast.

The ensemble gathered for this production must be one of the best I have seen in Canberra, but they were not a patch on the magnificent talents of principals Stephen Pike, Christine Forbes and Lexi Sekuless. Even an old cynic like me felt goosebumps!

29 July 2009

Krapp's Last Tape

Opening at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Krapp's Last Tape is one of Samuel Beckett's more well-known plays.

Sitting, as I am, and contemplating what I want to say about Krapp's Last Tape, I think about commenting on the set, the actor's performance, the lighting, the direction; but all of that seems to undermine this play. This is a story about a man who made a decision decades ago, and whose existence is not haunted, but shaped by the consequences of that decision. And nothing matters more than that character.
Of course, the design elements have to be properly balanced, or the character won't be visible. Ian Croker's set, Jack Lloyd's lighting, and Len Power's sound design are as important as Graham Robertson's performance, but all of these must be properly balanced, and nod gently to the presence of Beckett's 'hero'. I think this is the great strength of this production. All of these design elements are indeed balanced perfectly, giving the audience perfect access to the character.

I had read Krapp's Last Tape many years ago, and enjoyed it at the time. Like any of Beckett's work, it is difficult to read, but it absolutely sings when a performer embodies it. Graham Robertson is a veteran of the Canberra stage, and as one would expect, he brings Beckett's miserable Krapp to life. His engrossing performance is punctuated with perfect delivery of Beckett's dry humour.

I will argue to my dying day that the use of the word 'absurd' to describe Beckett's world view is absurd. He is a logician, and his work epitomises logic. It might baffle a person who tries to read it, but in performance Beckett's work is simplicity itself. And Krapp is a superb example of Beckett's magnificent capacity to tell a story. Nothing beats that.

24 July 2009


Canberra Repertory opened Deathtrap tonight. A comedy about an ageing playwright ready to kill to get what he wants.

What I found most interesting about Deathtrap was its style. This is a play by an Australian playwright, written in the late 1970s, and very much set in that time and place; but it has all the hallmarks of an excellent British comedy from the 1960s. The madcap humour, dialogue almost entirely dependent on wit, and a very conventional structure, all mark this play as something other than what it is, and were I not aware that it was an Australian play, I would have assumed it wasn't, despite the references to Sydney's northern suburbs.

It is a lot of fun: one of those plays that you could well come away from with a sore belly from all the laughing. I didn't, though. Maybe the timing was a bit off due to opening night nerves, or maybe I just like a little more meat on characters' bones than Levin provides, but it was good.

07 July 2009

Let The Sunshine

Opening night of David Williamson's Let The Sunshine and The Street Theatre was full. Well, you wouldn't expect any less for one of Williamson's plays, would you?

I would like to describe this play as an amusing double-autopsy of capitalism and socialism, but that hardly does the play justice. Williamson's superb play demonstrates the inability of these two-dimensional political ideologies to deliver what they promise their adherents, through characters who, despite being built on one or the other of these ideologies, are forced to grapple with humanity in three dimensions.

I think some of Williamson's best qualities as a writer are on display in this piece; the intricate crafting of character and plot is astonishing to reflect on. This, like most of his work, is a plot-driven story, but that plot is clearly driven by the characters, and their individuality, their connectedness and their ideologies dominate the plot. Without the cast of distinguished actors assembled by the Ensemble Theatre, the text could be very dense, but it resonates beautifully as a play for today.