"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

26 November 2010

And Then There Were None

There's a bit of a risk involved in seeing a show you've been involved with yourself. I did sound for a production of And Then There Were None in Theatre 3 back in 1998, when I first moved to Canberra, so there was no way I was going to miss seeing Rep's production of it this year!

One thing that surprised me was how many lines I recalled. I had none previously, although there were plenty of cues. Still, you wouldn't think I would recall them twelve years later with no contact with the play in the intervening years. And I really didn't remember the outcome. Not a skerrick of it. At any rate, it was a trip down memory lane.

The risk, of course, is that my view of the play is coloured by my memories of the production I was involved with. Not that they should be compared. I was involved with a student production by CADS (the defunct Canberra Amateur Dramatic Society), directed by relatively inexperienced directors, whereas Rep's production boasted the very deft hand of Duncan Ley as well as a host of experienced Canberra actors. And it showed. This was a great show that gave the play a lot more life than ours did. And it's needed with Agatha Christie's dialogue. It gave the odd nod to Film Noir, which at times was just a little too much at odds with the text, but more often suited it well.

The set, as dark and gloomy as a stage set can be, didn't seem to add much apart from making the Film Noir reference, but it suited the purpose and certainly gave room for the performers to die the most excellent deaths.

I love a play that doesn't take itself too seriously, and this is quite true of Rep's production of And Then There Were None. Really, no Agatha Christie play can be taken too seriously; they get awfully dry awfully quickly otherwise. This production manages to hold the attention marvellously.

18 November 2010

Love, Lies and Hitler

How often have you wanted to have one of your heroes sit on your shoulder and tell you how to make decisions about your life? Wouldn't it be nice, just occasionally, to have George Calombaris in the kitchen while you cook, chatting and offering helpful advice? Or to have the ever-so-experienced Henry VIII providing his support during a marital spat? Decision-making would be so much easier with such a support mechanism in place. As long as you were willing to surrender something of your own will to this mentor...

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

12 November 2010

The Sweetest Thing

Growing organically from its warm minimal set in the cozy downstairs theatre at Belvoir, The Sweetest Thing is a sad and funny story about the intersection between love and family. Playwright Verity Laughton weaves a complex tale that focuses on the emotional journey of its characters very strongly thanks to being relieved of the burden of chronology. Despite a dynamic plot arc and potentially confusing time changes, the story of Sarah, played by the wonderful Diana Glenn shines through with excellent clarity.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

25 October 2010

The Social Network

Despite a few moments where truth seems to win out over storytelling, The Social Network tells a genuinely engaging story and does so with some empathy for a diversity of characters. It does this with some rather dry historical material, and it does develop a very human story, although it is a little on the superficial side.

From the opening scene, which shows not only Zuckerberg's dumping by girlfriend Erica Albright but also the reason for it, this film is distinctively about Mark Zuckerberg. He would be an awfully boring subject, though, without the rest of this impeccable cast. The standout is certainly Andrew Garfield's performance as Zuckerberg's foil Eduardo Saverin, which almost singe-handedly salvages the damage done by the awkwardness of Jesse Eisenberg's Zuckerberg.

Eisenberg's depiction of Mark Zuckerberg is discomforting. Of course, it is not an easy thing to depict a living celebrity, and this particular celebrity, as the king of geekdom, must be a particular challenge, but I was left wondering what kind of human being I was seeing. At times, he seemed to be dealing with a condition on the autism spectrum, rather than merely being socially awkward, and yet even this was not consistent. At times he would suddenly animate, then return to a morose obsessive. Perhaps this impression was what was intended. For all I know, this could be exactly what Mark Zuckerberg is like, but whatever the reason, it was disconcerting.

The major strength of this film is that although it's a story about the development of Facebook intertwined with the story of a lawsuit, both of which threaten dullness, the human element is palpable and immediate. In fact (and I can't believe I'm saying this about an American film), I think the story could have benefited from a little more pathos around its central characters. There is a very human story here, and it barely emerges from the more technical process of depicting historical events.

I suspect that this film will date quickly. I would guess that, unless some major legal battle puts an end to Facebook, this story will be told again and again, and the best expressions of it are still to come. Hopefully some of them will be written with more concern for the characters, and will be performed with greater clarity.

22 October 2010

A Well Hung Parliament

Shortis and Simpson’s brand is safe with this latest topical offering, which provides plenty of laughs and many gentle jabs at Canberra’s more itinerant population. Rhyming Gillard with ‘kill hard’ and pointing out some of the delicious ironies of our new parliament (such as the two Wyatts and one Wong), these veterans of the Canberra stage were as amusing as ever, keeping the audience enthralled throughout.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

14 October 2010

The Clever Country

It is unusual, I think, to hear about a play inspired by a statistic. It is not encouraging, either. Nonetheless, Bruce Hoogendoorn's play, The Clever Country, currently playing at The Street Theatre, takes as its theme Australia's falling science enrolments, and does so—perhaps surprisingly, considering its inspiration—with great humour and an intriguing plotline...

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

18 September 2010

Tomorrow When The War Began

Tomorrow When The War Began is an iconic piece of Australian literature renowned not so much for its story, characters or fantastic writing as for annoying the heck out of high school students. John Marsden wrote it specifically for the high school market, aiming it at schools in need of an easy read for young adolescents. This ambit was successful, and as a result it is one of the most read stories in Australia, despite being dull, poorly-written and full of implausible circumstances and pointless guff. Needless to say, I didn't expect much from the film.

From inauspicious beginnings, apparently, great stories are born. The very act of adapting a story for film has a way of weeding out page-filling nonsense and implausible circumstances. A novel can get away with not mentioning visual elements, but scenarios undergo more thorough analysis in film. In the case of Tomorrow When The War Began, this process has thoroughly redeemed an otherwise unremarkable story.

The cast, who, with one exception, are far too old to be playing characters who need to ask their parents' permission for anything, are otherwise superb. Led by the magnificent Caitlin Stasey in the role of Ellie, they personify Marsden's characters better than Marsden did, and without any exception they sustain impeccable performances throughout the film. And yes, I even include a former Home and Away actor in this praise, which is remarkable in itself.

Like the age of the actors, the locations chosen for the film leave something to be desired, but are nonetheless redeemed. The Blue Mountains, instantly recognisable and distinctive, simply doesn't cut it for a random bush hideaway near the fictional rural town of Wirrawee. The sandstone cliffs of the Megalong Valley are simply too familiar, and the familiarity detracts from the value of setting the story in a fictitious Australian town.

The film nonetheless survives these faults, and is certainly the best saleable film made in this country for many years. The plot, characters and actors combine to produce a film that is far better in all respects than the novel that spawned it, making the tongue-in-cheek line from the film that all books are better than their films deliciously ironic.

This film may not win huge numbers of awards, but thoughts that it may be the beginning of the most profitable film series in Australian history could be right on the money. I certainly hope so.

17 September 2010


Having secured what I knew to be the last available ticket for Yohangza Theatre Company's production of Hamlet, I was surprised to find myself sitting next to the South Australian Premier and his wife for the performance. The irony of watching a king's downfall orchestrated through a theatre production while sitting next to the leader of a state government in a theatre was not lost on me, but I doubt that Mike Rann and his wife felt the same pangs of guilt as Gertrude and Claudius.

Played by Eun-Hee Kim, this Gertrude is perhaps not as guilt-ridden as some I have encountered. But whereas Gertrude is often portrayed with an underlying sense of her own moral corruption, Kim has given her an aloofness, lasting until Hamlet finally reveals his hand following the theatre scene. I prefer this change, as risky as it might be. It holds more weight with Shakespeare's text, and in this production, in this context, it provides a profound shift in the character that is necessary to add depth for its Australian audience. This is not a criticism of the performers, but a play performed in Korean for a predominantly English-speaking audience can't skimp on such details.

Hamlet certainly doesn't. Played by Jung-Yong Jeon, his vacillations are as palpable as that fatal hit, and his descent into madness is beautifully paced; almost undetectable. Claudius could perhaps have emoted rather more; by both dress and demeanour he emerged more western than the rest of the cast. But in all, this cast expended enough energy and elicited enough pathos to warrant a standing ovation from the opening night audience (though the premier, notably, remained seated).

A minimalist set spares no effort, with a centre rostrum raised in the middle of what must be hundreds of kilos of rice, and surrounded by traditional Korean artworks, and Korean percussive instruments. These instruments are put to excellent use by the cast, whose timing and energy is perfectly synthesised. More intriguingly, Korean Shaman rites are used to ensure the story is at home in its Korean context.

This is a remarkably sensitive production of what I think is Shakespeare's greatest work. It is faithful, if such a word can really be applied to any production of Shakespeare's work later than the seventeenth century, to the characters, their motivations, fears and desires; as well as their circumstances. And it dispels in my mind any doubt that the stories of Shakespeare are absolutely universal in their application to humanity.

19 August 2010

The Ghost Writer

To the extent that Americans love a good conspiracy theory, the Brits are equally keen on questioning the integrity of their Prime Minsters. Roman Polanski caters for both predilections in his magnificent new film, The Ghost Writer.

Ewan McGregor plays the titular character, a writer hired to massage the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister into shape following the mysterious death of another ghost writer. Gradually, and innocently (which is refreshing), he discovers a web of intrigue and finds himself reluctantly wrapped up in it, at his own peril.

However much I like this as a film, it's the story, penned originally as a novel by Robert Harris, that I find so magnificently intriguing. Remaining almost entirely fictitious, and needing no awkward date stamp, this story draws a shocking parallelism from the circumstances surrounding the era of fear following the 9/11 attacks. And surprisingly, since it parallels so literally the Anglo-American response, it is as relevant here in Australia as in the US and UK.

I can't say too much about it, lest I spoil it for you, but this is a great film, and you must go see it. That is all.

18 August 2010

Do Not Go Gentle

Seeing Do Not Go Gentle was an experience. Not just because it's a great show, but because I got the opportunity to meet Patricia Cornelius, the play's writer, before the show opened. That, and the fact that fortyfivedownstairs is a fantastic venue with more character than a Shakespearean king.

Equally admirable were the performances of a fantastic cast, admirably lead by Rhys McConnochie, all bringing their characters to life in a way that should connect with audiences of all ages.

Freezing my way through a show is not normally my idea of fun, but it's highly appropriate for Do Not Go Gentle, which focuses on Scott's unsuccessful attempt to plant an Australian flag at the South Pole before the Norwegians got theirs there. And while fortyfivedownstairs may have been a bit of a cold place on the night, the lives of its characters are just as cold, but with a warmth that makes it all worthwhile.

The thing I enjoyed most about this play was its insistence that life is for living, a thesis well worth remembering on a cold Winter's night in Melbourne.

05 August 2010

The Berry Man

I've never really liked stories about the Vietnam War. They have a tendency to either be so factual that they're dead boring, or so esoteric that they're unrelatable to anyone who didn't live through that time. Patricia Cornelius has deftly sidestepped both potential faults in her heartwarming play, The Berry Man.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

03 August 2010

Smart Casual

A great energy filled Canberra's southern reaches tonight as local comedians warmed up a more-casual-than-smart audience for Smart Casual. Jokes about bogans (and boganism) predictably abounded, and were well-recieved by their targets. As well as these almost-obligatory barbs there were quite a few gems, particularly from the very sharp-witted Tom Gibson...

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

30 July 2010

The Girls

We have a fascination with firsts. Having our first female prime minister has a sense of novelty about it, which would probably be equalled by a first Aboriginal prime minister. Both the reality and the possibility, however, are little more than symbols of a maturing atmosphere of equality; they offer nothing of real substance in themselves. The Girls, I think offers something of greater substance in its diverse vignettes around the theme of womanhood in a postmodern world.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

28 July 2010


Some films are a chore to watch, but many of these reward the viewer's effort with a character that lives on well after the film has finished. Greenberg is such a film. Its central character, who exists in a cloud of mental illness,  faces a banal life, overshadowed by his failures and their impact on those around him. Miserable, perhaps, but the character is not merely recognisable; he elicits an empathy that outlasts his film.

This character, Roger Greenberg, superbly portrayed by Ben Stiller (who I had previously thought a mediocre actor) finds himself resident in his brother's California home while the family is away after a stint in a psych ward in New York. His condition is never identified, and this is critical; he could be any one of us. Likewise the film's heroine, Florence Marr (played brilliantly by the little-known Greta Gerwig), presents another kind of mental instability, and elicits a similar empathy.

It takes a special kind of writer to come up with an engaging script around the theme of mental illness, but that is precisely what writer Noah Baumbach has managed to achieve in Greenberg. It's one of those films that survives being slow thanks to strong characters portrayed honestly and without a silly gush of emotion.

23 July 2010

Dreams, Visions and Constipated Old Farts

Images of an ageing Ghandi flit through my mind occasionally. They’re a cliché for political activism, akin to the image of Martin Luther King Junior’s infamous proclamation, “I have a dream”. These are epic images, and Ghandi’s in particular speaks of a life well-lived, and spent on something worthwhile. For the rest of us, our dreams—whether they’re as big as Ghandi’s or not—have a very tenuous relationship with the realities of our lives, but paradoxically these same dreams are usually the driving force in what an individual manages to achieve.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

15 July 2010

True Logic of the Future

Nothing pleases me more than to have my ideas of what constitutes good theatre challenged, and the talented and immensely clever cast and crew of True Logic of the Future have done just that. This is a creative and intricately constructed performance that presents many challenges for the reviewer, not least of which is the question of whether it should be reviewed at all...

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

06 July 2010

Gruen Nation

Wil Anderson is, in my humble opinion, Australia's most serious comedian. He may not admit it, but just about everything he says has a point, and most of those points are both scathingly critical and bitingly relevant. The only comedian that comes close to him is Paul McDermott, but his humour is very gentle by comparison, and almost exclusively aimed at politicians. Interestingly, both have spent formative years in Canberra, but the announcement that Anderson will be refitting the magnificent concept comedy The Gruen Transfer especially for the election makes me think twice about simply labelling him a 'comedian'. The Gruen concept, which allows Anderson to refrain from making too many comments that aren't funny, while still getting to a more salient point.

In the ABC's weekly newsletter, Gruen Nation is touted to dissect the advertising of the parties and "decode what's going on for the audience and point out the many strategies political parties use to influence voters". In his rather more forthright style, Anderson himself describes the show as the "national bullshit detector".

Analysing election campaigns is mostly about detecting disingenuity and calling candidates to account for their policies in the hope that voters may make an informed decision. Unfortunately, the media, which was enshrined in both our country and the Americans' as a balancing force in government, is not particularly good at this. Probably because they no longer have the time to undertake thorough investigation, their work is driven by media releases, which are innately untrustworthy. These days, dissecting how political parties construct a sales pitch in the context of an election is the best way to analyse their motivations and question their integrity. We may even find that this heightened scrutiny is a game-changer for federal elections.

And if not, it's still bound to be a great series.

19 June 2010

Winter's Discontent

Every now and then a play comes along that leaves you feeling like you’ve just witnessed something important, but you’re not sure what. Winter’s Discontent is one of them. It is coherent, intelligent, demanding of its audience and at times funny, but I still feel like I missed something. Like there was something substantial, important, that the writer was trying to communicate, and I’m a bit of a goose for missing it...

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

Jazz Garters

Well, I've finally done it. More than twelve years after moving to Canberra, I have finally been to one of Rep's winter variety shows. I recall that it was originally recommended to me in 1998 as an undergraduate beginning a Theatre Studies major at the ANU, as an excellent example of the music hall tradition, so there's something bittersweet in having finally attended in the same week that the ANU's Theatre Studies major met its demise.

The cast certainly delivers. After a slightly flat first half, which could be put down to opening night, the second was quite magical. Ian Croker's rendition of Minnie the Moocher got the audience engaged, and Christine Forbes followed this with a beautifully theatrical The Girl from 14G, about which she bragged that she was overjoyed to be able to wear her pyjamas on stage!

I felt my personal cringe factor rise when we were informed that the finale was to be a rendition of Peter Allen's perfectly horrid canticle I Still Call Australia Home, but it dissipated completely with the cast's magnificent send-up of the song's overwrought history.

A variety show stands or falls on the energy of its cast, and this cast certainly works hard for their applause. After a flat start, the energy flowed and made Jazz Garters a fun and entertaining show, well worth a night out.

07 June 2010

Harry Brown

Harry Brown begins with one of the most guesome scenes of urban violence imaginable. The purpose of this scene, almost unrelated to the rest of the film, is perhaps to numb us a little for what is to follow. The violence of Harry Brown is, perhaps, of the same calibre as Quentin Tarantino's films, but Daniel Barber's use of violence is otherwise entirely incomparable. It is targeted, purposeful and meaningful to the same extent that Tarantino's is aimless and vague.

Michael Caine is at his best in this film. In case you were wondering, no, he's not funny; he strikes with absolute perfection that degree of pathos that could so easily turn into melodrama, without even a hint of going too far. He is supported by an impeccable script and visionary cinematography.

I have long been a devotee of those films that can take the most grotesque aspects of the human condition and appeal, even in that context, to our capacity for hope. Trainspotting was one of the first I encountered, and remains one of the best examples of the transcendental in film. Harry Brown certainly stands well beside it.

And in case you read my previous post about seeing Robin Hood at Perth's Picadilly cinema, you may be interested to know that Leederville's art deco Luna cinema was the perfect venue for a film of this calibre!

05 June 2010

Robin Hood

Robin Hood is a bit of a marathon, and if you have a comfortable seat and a few hours to spare, it's a vaguely worthwhile pastime. Unlike other renditions of the myth, this film draws its impetus from political machinations, and lets go of the story's usual plebian roots. Surprisingly, this is actually a good decision, as it provides not only a novel context for the story, but also broader relevance.

Russell Crowe plays his typical alpha male with a softer side, only this time with a funny accent. This novelty is complemented by extremely modern dialogue; making the film in many ways a counterpoint to films of Shakespeare's plays that place sixteenth century dialogue in a modern setting. This is the opposite; playing twenty-first century dialogue in a twelfth century setting, with the added irony of a post-colonial actor playing the Old Country's chief hero. My strange little mind would like to have heard Crowe's cultivated Australian accent placed into the context to see what other meanings could be derived, but of course that wouldn't do so well at the box office, would it?

And the box office is what this film is made for. It is formulaic, rudimentary and appeals to the same values as every other film about underdogs made in the last couple of decades. It does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from that genre, and sits somewhere in the middle of Ridley Scott's very palatable aesthetic.

Of more note than this film is the venue I saw it in. Perth's Picadilly Cinema is a quaint venue, reminiscent of Canberra's Electric Shadows. That's all well and good, but this film needs chairs with a higher back and a clearer view of the screen. I came out with a sore neck and tired knees. Every city, especially Australia's western mecca deserves a Dendy or a Limelight.

A good film, but a bit meh.

28 May 2010

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom poses that age-old question about how many blood spatters are too many. I suspect that the creators were attempting to use blood spatters as a visual motif, as most of the spatters were of a similar consistency, evenly spread across a contrasting surface, but ultimately they just echoed the naff nature of the film generally.

There was a lot of potential here. After a slow start, the film did engage, and it did manage to take me to that serendipitous point at which you have to know what happens next, and the screening environment just melts away. A magnificent cast with a wealth of experience is admirably lead by newcomer James Frecheville. His treatment of the morose character he landed is remarkably compelling, and I think the cast is this film's saving grace.

But overall, this is a truly disappointing film; not because it represents nothing of value, but because it really had a lot of potential that it didn't live up to. An engaging story and some of Australia's best actors are let down by a slow treatment in the editing suite and mundane cinematography. This one's definitely worthy of a remake, perhaps even with the same cast, but it needs a more compelling treatment by the creative team.

12 May 2010

Every Single Saturday

Before going along to see Every Single Saturday I must admit to a little apprehension. It is the same fear I face every time a conversation turns to sport or someone makes a comment vaguely sports-related and then looks at me as if I am expected to make a certain type of comment. That’s right, I’m a member of Australia’s smallest minority group: the Sports-Ignorant. Thankfully, although it really is all about soccer mums and dads, Every Single Saturday makes life easy even for the Sports-Ignorant. There’s even one of us amongst the characters!

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

03 May 2010

I Love You Too

I was one of the privileged hundreds to get free tickets to Limelight Cinemas' preview of I Love You Too, with writer Peter Helliar in attendance. After some inane and worthless chatter from morning radio hosts Scotty and Nige, who 'interviewed' the rather more intelligent Peter Helliar, this unfortunate train-wreck of a film was underway. Perhaps 'train-wreck' is a little harsh; I think this film is more like a series of minor derailments, causing some mayhem on the commute to great Australian cinema.

The plot, although a little cliche, is nonetheless engaging, following the story of Jim, a commitment-phobic man in his early thirties who is threatened with losing his girlfriend. It suffers, however, from that age-old scourge of the comedian-writer; being interspersed with one-liners, which may be hilarious at the time, but seriously interrupt the progression of the plot. It is a problem that may have been resolved, had the writer been an unknown, but perhaps there wasn't a dramaturge available who could confront Peter Helliar with the awful truth that some of these one-liners should have been ditched to protect the integrity of the narrative arc.

Admirable performances from Brendan Cowell, Yvonne Strahovski, Peter Dinklage and even Peter Helliar himself (who struggled to keep a straight face at times) couldn't save the compromised script.

Australian film went through a period of producing only one genre of film. It was a cross between comedy and drama that worked very well for the period we were in, but our industry has matured, and our films are now more complex, influenced by a wider range of international cinema, and reflecting a more diverse Australia. I Love You Too does none of this. It harks back to a naive and self-centred Australia from sometime in the 1990s. It has some redeeming qualities, most notably its engaging plot, but it just doesn't come together as a unified work, and is sorely disappointing.

30 April 2010

Love Cupboard

Love Cupboard can be neatly summarised as the story of an adolescent girl who isolates herself from the rest of her life to live with her boyfriend (hence the love); and to avoid discovery, hides in a cupboard in his lounge room (hence the cupboard). The story is as quaint as its title...

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

10 April 2010

Faces in the Street

Henry Lawson’s legacy is not an easy one to identify. It is wrapped up in the mystery of the Australian identity, which is now, as it was in Lawson’s day, straddled across the divides between urban and rural, between civilised and free, and of course between global and local. Max Cullen’s play, Faces in the Street, somehow manages to explore these weighty notions while remaining firmly grounded in the story of Lawson’s life...

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

05 April 2010

Thoughts on Directing 'When He Was Famous'

Well it's time for another first... but this is scary!

I have just handed over a show to my assistant director, Seth Robinson, before the last two dress rehearsals! Now, I can't complain too much. I've done this because I'm off to Fiji to attend my nephew's wedding, but it really is scary to think that this show will go on without me. Even at opening night!

It's not that I don't think the cast is ready; they could open tomorrow and be fine, I'm sure, but I'm not ready to let it go! I mean, I've slogged away for the last two months with them, and they're about to step up and perform, and I won't be there to enjoy it!

Still, that doesn't mean the rest of Canberra shouldn't; so if you haven't booked your tickets yet, call the Tuggeranong Arts Centre and tell them you're coming!

17 March 2010

Toy Symphony

There is an understated richness in every aspect of Toy Symphony. From the rigid, unforgiving box set, to the delicate simplicity of its marvellous performers, to Michael Gow’s unassuming dialogue, the play is replete with this marvellous juxtaposition of natural simplicity with deep pathos...

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

14 March 2010

Impro: On The March

Another great show from the Impro Theatre ACT guys tonight. I have unfortunately missed the shows for quite a while, and I'm very impressed with both the standard of performance and the format used in tonight's show. The show was non-competitive, and was centred around long-form improvisation. The long form very much suits the ensemble's style, and the smaller presence of the MC also retains a greater degree of focus.

I was particularly impressed with the ability of this cast to reincorporate earlier plot lines, and tie up loose ends that had been left earlier in the show. I recall a few moments in the middle of uproarious laughter wondering why I was laughing, and realising that the humour was in the simple reincorporation of a theme that had been lost previously. This is one of the golden aspects of improvisation; that the enjoyment of the piece often has more to do with our engagement with the performers than the show itself.

Must get back to Impro more often...

12 March 2010

Richard III

In Richard III, Shakespeare has left us one of the greatest challenges to the willing suspension of disbelief ever created; Richard is a foul and loathsome character, and yet every time I see the play, I am amazed at how much sympathy I have for the detestable excuse for a human being I am presented with. Everyman Theatre has left me in this state yet again.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

02 March 2010

2009 CAT Awards

While it might be an exaggeration to say that Parkes scooped the 2009 CAT Awards, their achievements were certainly the main highlight of the night. The town of 10,000 may be one of the smaller in the Canberra Area Theatre (CAT) Awards’ broad catchment, but it is certainly punching above its weight in impressing the judges...

For the rest of this article, go to Australian Stage

27 February 2010

Bran Nue Dae

Bran Nue Dae is a bit of a romp, but I’m not entirely convinced this film has survived some of its more irksome quirks. By and large the story sings, the direction is clear, and the cinematography is inspired, but a few lines of uninspired dialogue, a few missed beats, and the occasional diversion from the film’s primary mode of storytelling let down what is otherwise a light, unassuming comedy that would do the Australian film industry proud.

Ernie Dingo and Geoffrey Rush could be said to have saved this film. In the lead role is Rocky McKenzie, who can sing, but comes across rather wooden, even in singing mode. If it were a stage play, I would say it was over-rehearsed, but I’m not sure that’s possible with film. I would assume Jessica Mauboy was cast for much the same reason: her voice is spectacular, and this is one of the film’s redeeming features, but the moment she must speak it’s like she seizes up and loses all sense of her character. Missy Higgins is another actor who was surely cast for her musical talent, but whose performances as a character were charming, mesmerising and hilarious.

I don’t want to be too critical, because I actually really liked the film. It has a great story, some hilarious characters and scenarios, and some really great music. I just couldn’t quite relax into it. 

30 January 2010

The World's Fastest Indian

The Kiwis are an amazing bunch of creatives, and are certainly punching above their weight as far as film is concerned. The World's Fastest Indian is a magnificently-crafted piece of cinema that showcases the country's talent and attention to detail perfectly.

It's the true story of Bert Munro from Invercargill, who has spent decades carefully modifying his 1920s Indian motorcycle, and in 1967 travels to Bonneville, Utah to run it on the salt flats in the annual Speed Week competition.

Anthony Hopkins gives a splendid performance with a surprisingly appropriate accent, not only for the character's New Zealand origin but also his age and personality. And the precision of his performance is simply a footnote to the carefully composed script that really demonstrates the characteristic strengths of the New Zealand mind.

25 January 2010

Theatre offerings in 2010

It's shaping up to be a good year. I'll soon be starting work on the production of a new play by young Canberra playwright Seth Robinson, called When He Was Famous, which is going to be a lot of fun. So, I figure it's time I gave some thought to what I must see, what I should see, and what I may see on Canberra's stages this year.

The obvious place to start is of course the Canberra Theatre Centre, but after next week's encore performance of The Musical of Musicals (The Musical), I don't see an awful lot that interests me. Pennies from Kevin has one of those titles that makes you wonder whether the show can be as good as the title, and King Lear is for old people; it will be a while before I can make head or tail of it! The Walworth Farce, however, looks like a worthwhile investment, and I think the season may potentially be redeemable from total boredom by Bell's continuation of their cross-dressing theme in Twelfth Night and Andrew Bovell's When the Rain Stops Falling.

Canberra Repertory's closing play of the 2010 season has me very interested: I did sound for And Then There Were None in Theatre 3 while I was an undergrad at the ANU. I'm also looking forward to Moon Over Buffalo, a comedy planned for the brave month of May along with SUPA's production of Spamalot, which is sure to be a blast, especially since they were wise enough not to cast me! Queanbeyan Players, on the other hand, were wise enough to cast my brother-in-law in Fame, which is also one of those ubiquitous May shows!

Everyman Theatre continue their great run with Richard III in March, so I'll be looking forward to that along with Free Rain's classic A Streetcar Named Desire later in the year.

But by and large, the most impressive material I've seen yet belongs to The Q. Including a curated season of interstate productions as well as a few local offerings, I want to see just about everything in their aptly named Simply Irresistible season!

And that's not to mention the fact that I'll be taking the munchkins to Melbourne to see Mary Poppins on stage later in the year, that I just have to pop up to Sydney for Belvoir's Namatjira in September, or the great films I'm anticipating such as Bran Nue Dae (I know it's already open, but I haven't see it yet!), Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II. No doubt I will be enjoying some of these at Tuggeranong's new Limelight Cinema! Yes, I know it seems like a bit of a plug, but I'm in favour of anything that puts the boot into Hoyts!

So, I hope I'll see you about the theatres this year!

24 January 2010

Lucky Miles

If I told you I had watched a film based on trues stories about boat people entering Australia on the northwest coast, you'd probably yawn. I expected something more like a docudrama when I sat down to watch Lucky Miles, but was pleasantly surprised to encounter a comic drama set in the outback.

There is no sense of that superficial ocker-ness to this film, just a great story, impeccably filmed, and filled with dry, cackle-till-my-throat-hurts humour. Kenneth Moraleda gives an excellent performance as something of a straightman who balances the sardonic humour of the rest of the characters. He provides that balance between comedy and drama that Australian film makers have perfected.

This was a lucky find: I never heard about Lucky Miles when it was in cinema release, but wow! How do the greatest films always seem to miss out on media coverage? It's a crying shame; find the DVD!

01 January 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Film interpretations of literary works are unfortunately subject to comparison with their wordy counterparts and generally make a poor comparison. Sherlock Holmes' three writers deftly sidestep this risk by taking Arthur Conan Doyle's characters and situation and giving them a new plot. The result, I think, is a crime story that the master crime writer would have been proud of.

This film departs dramatically from the tradition of depicting Holmes as a Victorian aristocrat and instead shows him as a hero not unlike Spiderman or Mr Incredible, but with substantial flaws that both endear him and make him repugnant to a twenty-first century audience. Robert Downey Junior plays him admirably, but Jude Law's Watson is the star performance here. Just as in Doyle's novels, where Watson is the link between the reader and the aloof Holmes, Law's Watson gives the audience a central character that makes the detached genius accessible.

This film is unmistakably a product of the twenty-first century, but it manages at the same time to illicit that same sense of intrigue from me that reading Doyle's stories does. The makers of this film have been bold, even brazen, in their interpretation of Doyle's characters and situations, but the gamble has paid off, and Sherlock Holmes is, as a result, the first film to do Arthur Conan Doyle's characters justice.