Sunday, 25 January 2015
Having heard of ‘Minto Live’ and the Urban Theatre Project’s (UTP) work, I was curious how this whole things works- months of community liaison to create a cultural and experiential street party. After attending their latest project, ‘Bankstown Live’, I can tell you that it’s a vibrant and diverse insight into not only the local area but also the integrity of UTP in finding authentic voices and expressions of the flavor and colour of the community and respecting the stories and benefits they bring. ‘Bankstown Live’ is raw, ragged and real.
Northam St in Bankstown provides our backdrop. Closed off to traffic and filled with beach chairs and seats, you move between people’s yards, footpaths and tree-lined street to engage with any of the nine activities taking place over the four hours. It’s well organized and even though there are glitches, like crackling headphones on the pre-recorded monologues from ‘The Last Word’ or the visuals and/or sound dropping out every now and again, it only adds to the experience of live community theatre and technical issues are soon resolved from the diligent staff on hand. Add to that, the chance to eat local specialties and a sneaky ice cream makes for a great way to further the delights of the area.
It all kicks off with the scaffold of a house carried down the street by some of the night’s performers, lead by an Aboriginal elder, paying tribute to country and those past and present with a smoking ceremony.
When Emma Saunders’ piece began, using local the Vietnamese community dancing on the street, it was endearingly charming and the warmth of support for the challenge of publicly displaying and coordinating their work was both beautiful in its awkwardness and commitment. The live music supplied by Toby Martin and guests was a lovely touch and had a CD been on sale, I would have happily snapped one up.
I also appreciated the 'Family Portraits' section of the night, where local activists or personalities set up their lounge room on the street and you get to converse with them about whatever takes your fancy- family, politics, culture. I had the pleasure of talking to Wafa Ziam (and the privilege of tasting some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, made by Wafa. Apparently the secret is the cardamom). We talked about issues for women in the local area, which seems to be the story for women everywhere, reminding us all that Bankstown is not so different as the suburb each of us have come from to attend the event tonight.
UTP also featured their film, ‘Bre and Back’ directed by Rosie Dennis. Projected in the middle of the street onto its calico backdrop, it was a moving tribute to two families, four women, and the relationships of mother and daughter. There was humour- I still have the line uttered by Noeleen Shearer, “Don’t need a fishing licence, we’re Aboriginal” in the context of the film a terrific reminder that law and culture have such beautiful contradictions. As a piece here, it felt slightly out of place but it's such a good piece of work, it didn't seem to matter.
One of the highlights of the night is Mohammed Ahmed’s performance of his book, ‘The Tribe’, devised by Ahmed and Janice Muller. It is worth joining the long line to enter the backyard of 156 Northam Ave to catch his exemplary storytelling and enter the world of growing up in his family’s tribe. Transformational, rhythmic and at times, non-linear, Ahmed weaves stories of his grandmother and family that echo his unique experiences with our own and we are totally engaged.
'Lullaby Movement' by Sophia Brous and guests was a haunting finish to the night and as quiet descended on the neighbourhood, her singing was joined by the crying of babies, of excited local children in their pyjamas coming to investigate the siren song and all noises blended to create a multi-dimensional soundtrack to the night.
‘Bankstown Live’ is much more than a piece of theatre. It’s a thought-provoking artistic community vision of cultural understanding and experience and should be a must do for the Sydney Festival.
Monday, 19 January 2015
Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play ‘The Winslow Boy’ is the story of fourteen year old Ronnie Winslow and his family’s fight to prove his innocence after an accusation of theft at the Royal Naval College at Osbourne. The play, based on a true incident, is full of subtle social commentary and moral dilemmas that encompass one’s duty to the heart and obligations to the family.
This production, directed by Nanette Frew, did fairly well to keep up with the pace of Rattigan’s writing and overall delivered a rather polished performance.
Unfortunately, there were a few little things that hindered the production from being ‘fantastic’.
In terms of blocking, you had actors moving mindlessly merely to accommodate other characters. After standing up from reading on the lounge to kiss her father, what motivation does Catherine have to move to the other chair to continue reading – apart from not overcrowding stage right?
Having said that, even when there was little blocking, it felt unnatural. Characters would stand facing each other in a way that seemed less due to a formality and more so of awkwardness, leaving the scene rather stagnant.
The blocking should generally accompany the script. Instead, what we had here at times was a gag emerging from the discrepancies – Violet asks Ronnie for a kiss, gets a hug. This would be fine given a little consistency – mother asks Ronny for a kiss, gets a kiss. I could pin it down to the closeness of relationships, but from the audience’s perspective (laughing) it just felt like a lack attention detail.
On that note, the devil is in the detail; so when Ronnie shows up “all wet” and “shivering” I expect the lad not to be bone dry. I can suspend my disbelief but not when the rest of the production was designed for realism.
Set design by Owen Gimblett was accurate for the period, but the actors’ interaction in the space did beg questions about his use of space. Although aesthetically pleasing and superficially quite practical, there was an awkward amount of movement behind this chair and that chair and around that area over there. Perhaps it was a lack of familiarity or maybe it comes down to the blocking, but it did seem like the performers had to weave through the set a little too conscientiously to be comfortable.
Grace and Arthurs Winslow (Lois Marsh, David Stewart-Hunter) were very well cast and fulfilled their roles to a tee. Sonya Kerr also gave a striking performance in her role as Catherine Winslow, Ronnie’s strong, independent and forward-thinking sister.
Tom Massey, who played Desmond, deserves a special round of applause. He made his narrative the most endearing but by no means the most important. He left me wanting him to be rewritten into more scenes, but didn’t detract from or undermine the plights of the other characters.
Likewise with Roger Gimblett in the role of Sir Robert Morton. Although a more significant part, he carried himself with such confidence and performed with a particular finesse which not only made his scenes more enjoyable, but the production as a whole.
The Genesian’s performance of ‘The Winslow Boy’ was true to the story and followed the line of most adaptations. Thanks to a traditional approach and a talented cast, this production didn't fall short of Rattigan's writing.
Thursday, 15 January 2015
‘Masterclass’ is the brainchild of actors Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber, currently playing as the opening act of the new regime and season at the Old Fitz. We enter an imaginative world where Davies plays an actor so powerful in his craft that his skill is not only formidable, for an audience it’s also potentially fatal. Garber, Davies’ soul mate character creation, is our guide to Davies’ history as baby, chorus member in Les Mis, actor and now reluctant master of teaching the craft itself. We are taken into the laboratory of backstory, the dream forge of the future and then thrown back squarely into the present. Think of it like ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a contemporary telling of boys’ own adventure stories.
Davies and Garber capture a sense of play in their one hour show that is reminiscent of those clever young men you sometimes have the pleasure of teaching, whose sense of the ridiculous becomes the catalyst for creating polished devised work, rooted in improvisation and designed to delight their friends and each other with their skill for the absurd and their commitment to take it all the way to the end. Energetic and focused, it can sometimes feel indulgent but they and their work are so infinitely likeable that it is easy to watch and enjoy and it is more than a pleasant way to spend an evening, even if they haven’t quite mastered the vulnerability needed to paint all the areas of this imaginative canvas. But this is a work in progress for the boys- this is their third incarnation of the show- and it will continue to grow and refine and no doubt, it will find a way to hit each note as it develops.
What Davies and Garber do draw upon so delightfully is a sense of parody of those dreadful acting classes that ask you to publicly unpack and re-enact your painful past, the more adversity and harrowing, the better. Much of the show is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the very style of exercise that is the equivalent of fingernails down a chalkboard but allows us to laugh at its function and affect.
These boys know their audience- stacked with actors who appreciate the levels in which Davies and Garber draw their material. But even the unknowing audience member can recognize the journey and enjoy it, like an episode of 'The Simpsons' where the superficial is just as pleasing as the in-jokes for a knowing and more mature audience and it heightens the humour of the material and delivery. Further to that, the camaraderie is obvious and adds to the cheekiness of interplay.
It’s nice to see the Old Fitz alive with a collective who are willing to risk, push, play and create with an affable charm. There’s a buzz running through the space, which will help to counteract the numbness of sitting on the wooden steps until they find a way to afford to put seating back into the building.
So be prepared to enter an imaginative space and laugh at its frivolity and charisma and welcome a new energy into the Old Fitz.