|Front: Gareth Davies & Geraldine Hakewill; Back Paula Arundell, John Leary, Megan Holloway, Jimi Bani, Harriet Dyer & Meyne Wyatt, Peter Pan, Belvoir|
photo Brett Boardman
Belvoir takes children’s play as a creative template for this fun-filled, endlessly inventive Peter Pan in an adaptation by Tommy Murphy based on the 1904 pantomime rather than later, denser versions and their musings on childhood. It’s a brisk 90-minute production deftly directed by Ralph Myers and designed by Robert Cousins. As you’d expect of Belvoir there’s a strong sense of domesticity (will the cast for Neil Armfield’s Ring Cycle for Opera Australia be fitted out in t-shirts and thongs in a school hall setting?) creatively exploited to the max while still hovering somewhere between Edwardian England and now.
In an adroit move, the production never has to leave the children’s bedroom since their play has the capacity to transform everyday clothing, furniture, objects and rituals into an imaginative wonderland. A painted cardboard box worn like a helmet becomes the snapping jaws of a crocodile, the fairy Tinkerbell manifests as flickering table and bed lamps, and an uncooperative shadow is playfully childlike (the flying however is less inventively realised and gotten out of the way promptly). All that’s needed to create mermaids and seals are scuba-diving flippers; a cupboard stacked with other furniture becomes a ship or an island; an umbrella handle is Hook’s hook. The imagination has taken over by engaging with and manipulating the things of the world, rather than leaving them behind, say, for an animator’s spectacular fantasia.
|Meyne Wyatt, Peter Pan, Belvoir|
photo Brett Boardman
Peter and Wendy are the only characters who are solely themselves; in this bedroom-cum-Neverland, everything is transformable, making the ambiguities of traditional role doublings even more meaningful, representing the kinds of distortion, condensation and slippage that occur in dreams, as delineated by Freud in the same era as Barrie’s making of Peter Pan.
Charlie Garber doubles well as a very funny, nervous Hook and a weak-willed but sensitive Mr Darling so that there’s some emotional bleed between the characters.
In a dextrous ensemble that includes Gareth Davies, Megan Holloway and John Leary, Harriet Dyer is hilarious as both twins as well as playing four or five other characters. Jimi Bana reveals a fine comic sensibility after playing many serious roles on television, such as Eddie Mabo in Mabo. Paula Arundell gently captures Mrs Darling’s sense of anxiety about the outside world but also her wisdom. Geraldine Hakewell’s Wendy is genteel relative to Peter, whose first appearance in a window overlooking the streets of Redfern outside the Belvoir theatre suggests a street kid.
The ending, where Wendy, now a mother, allows her barely pre-adolescent daughter (an eager if spikey one who will not spring clean for Peter and the boys and appears unlikely to play mother), feels increasingly uncomfortable as the decades past. What precisely did Wendy’s adventure with Peter do for her? Intimate the possibility of romance while unleashing her imagination at the moment when it was likely to be crushed by the weight of domesticity and marriage? Or did it offer a lesson in how to deal with a man who will never grow up; perhaps all men, and that these boy-men have to be lived with and loved? For Barrie, Wendy’s victory is that she actually grows up, while Peter cannot. Peter Pan remains very much of its own period, offering a certain timelessness in the exultation of play as felt in this Belvoir production, admirably of the kind children might actually make.
|Amber McMahon, Matthew Whittet, Luke Smiles, Jonathon Oxlade, School Dance|
photo Lisa Tomasetti
These boys don’t need a Wendy-mother, but someone who will rescue Matthew. She takes the form of a schoolyard enabler who subsequently transforms into a unicorn and draws Matthew’s mates into the quest—Luke (Luke Smiles) as an action character, Jonathan (Jonathan Oxlade) as a giant Telebubbie. In the process, Matthew rescues the lost girl and discovers romance: in the end the couple happily dance together with all of Matthew’s twitchy moves.
Whittet has deftly collaged a multitude of fairytale, game and quest motifs and tropes in order to create a hyper-charged, comic narrative about the drawbacks of adolescence and the need to face up to them alone and together. Set in an immaculately realised school hall (designer Jonathan Oxlade) with toilets either side representing ‘interior’ spaces of male and female fear and anxiety while the understage provides a rack of BMXs on which the boys momentarily escape the intimidating school dance. Amber McMahon, embodying ‘the female,’ convincingly switches roles from schoolgirls to unicorn to invisible girl (and other roles) with incredible pace adding to the sense of the potential for transformation. Other tight cueing comes in the form of beeped-out swearing, some wild dancing and Whittet having to double as the ‘invisible’ girl in the hall toilet before she actually disappears. The small ensemble of players delivers a virtuosic performance which engaged the almost totally adult audience with whom I saw School Dance—the pop culture that Whittet grew up with in the 80s is densely referenced and easily recognised. It would be interesting to see what an audience of 14-16 year-olds would make of it (many of the cultural icons persist, though a Nora Ephron reference might not connect). My only misgiving was a not-so-funny voiceover (MacMahon again, this time as an interfering narrator) which is given a laboured postmodern treatment.
While Peter Pan’s lost boys have been discarded by their mothers, the School Dance trio is largely lost to fumbling adolescent inadequacies (albeit socially punished ones), but it’s intriguing that, like Pan, they look to the feminine for rescue. But Whittet, a century on, allows for lost girls, and for the lost to be found. And it’s play that is key to rescue, although a scene in which the invisible Whittet and McMahon characters huddle under a large storybook mushroom reminds us that adolescent anxieties can be regressive. Perhaps regression is, at times, restorative if you’re looking to find yourself.
it’s dark outside
|Tim Watts, It's Dark Outside, Perth Theatre Company|
photo Richard Jefferson
From the makers of the much praised The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, It’s Dark Outside is another work rich in invention with its mix of performer, puppets of varying scale (operated by Tim Watts and Chris Isaacs largely in Bunraku style), large animated projections, shadow play and some fine cotton wool puppetry conveying clouds of thought. A slow old man is on the loose (though we’re not told from what), pursued by a spooky shadow man with a large butterfly net through a forest of red-eyed trees and across cowboy movie plains. In the cold of night a tiny tent appears, dancing like a friendly puppy one moment, a fine high stepping horse the next, the old man riding it past buttes and cacti.
His plight is sensitively handled. The expression “a head full of cotton wool” suggests fuzzy headedness but here, floating out of the old man’s head, it represents thoughts and memories that are being lost, drifting away or caught in his pursuer’s net. Some memories are momentarily retained, the clouds taking shape as a lively, fond puppy until the old man fumbles, knocking off its head—like a memory that’s fragile and vulnerable.
Expertly blending stillness and small movements, including those of a flexible mask, Arielle Gray superbly realises the old man, giving him quiet dignity and determination even as his escape into fantasy threatens to dissolve. The makers of It’s Dark Outside offer a gently if intense account of the subjective experience of Sundown Syndrome—when dementia sufferers wander away from home at twilight. Although this account can only be a fantasy version of something likely to be much more anxious—a physical search for what’s been lost—it nonetheless encourages empathy in its audience and exalts the power of the imagination, an issue addressed in enlightened treatments of dementia using music and art.
As Astrid Frances reported in her review (RT110) the sustained approach to the cloud-thought imagery finally feels over-determined; the drama of pursuit gives way to a more contemplative, if lovingly realised, exploration of the workings of the imagination, depriving the work of drive and muting the initial sense of suspense. But there’s much to enjoy in It’s Dark Outside (director Melissa Cantwell), the skill of its puppeteering in particular and Gray’s subtle performance as the old man realise a substantial sense of interiority, making a simple fable emotionally complex.
|Masi, The Conch Theatre|
photo Jamie Williams
the moment I saw you I knew I could love you
|The moment I saw you I knew I could love you, Curious UK|
photo Hugo Glendinning
the rape of lucrece
|Camille O'Sullivan, Rape of Lucrece|
photo Keith Pattison
sacre—the rite of spring
|Raimund Hoghe, Lorenzo de Brabandere, The Rite of Spring|
One of Ensemble Offspring’s greatest strengths is the way they encourage us to not lose touch with the great music of the second half of the 20th century. The best thing about their Ligeti Morphed was the relatively un-morphed acoustic works, Ligeti’s Piano Etude#2 “Cordes Vides” (scored for marimba, vibraphone and two violins by Bree Van Reyk) and Continuum (two marimba version) played by Van Reyk and Claire Edwardes. The lyrical etude rolls out in gentle if ever escalating tides that pause or retreat, with waves of strings and percussion crisscrossing. Continuum, as played by Reyk and Edwardes, is supple and athletic, exploiting the full tonal range of the instruments and at its fastest and highest, on both marimbas at once, magically evoking electronics. The electro-acoustic works, with Oren Ambarchi on electronic guitar and Martin Ng on turnables are enigmatic, partly because it’s not visually clear what sounds are coming from Ng, especially, and Ambarchi. I close my eyes. As in the etude, if much more dramatically, there are waves of sound in After Atmospheres (after Ligeti’s most famous work, Atmospheres, 1961), a collaborative creation between Ensemble Offspring, Ng and Ambarchi. In one of the most striking passages, high whining violins soar with near feedback electronics against trembling cymbals until vanquished by thunderous drumming. This engaging work includes a rip-roaring Le Grande Macabre style section, side by side with Atmospheres-type sustained ambience. As a totality however, appreciation will doubtless come with listening to After Atmospheres, and the other electro-acoustic works in the program, on the projected studio recording CD.
photo Susannah Wembley
Rhodes commences with a dull and surely disposable lecture on the history of murder from ancient times to the present, perhaps trying to get it into some kind of rational perspective, but before long he’s revealed to be a fantasist (images from his psyche filling a large backdrop) increasingly enmeshed in the psychosexual attractions of murder (including via computer games) and eventually forming a murderous partnership with a woman via an online chatroom. Rather than being a free agent exploring murder and its meanings, by the end he is manipulated by puppeteers as if in the grip of desires beyond his control. Signs of this are evident early, although difficult to track subsequently, when the narrator tells us that his mother was murdered when he was six and, therefore, the God who allowed this must be a murderer. A child puppet then appears to represents the narrator. This trajectory is not altogether clear but what is finally evident is that this man’s desire is not simply murder for the sake of it, but for revenge. The target’s visage, a spider-legged head, multiplies across the screen, amplifying our protagonist’s obsessiveness. However, the means of telling—life-size puppets and miniatures, a multitude of projections—make for a congested multimedia experience, especially when the script is already complicated. More overkill than murder. In its embrace of murder actual and virtual from from ancient tragedy to computer gaming and serial murderers and even euthanasia, Murder sustains a high level of bigger-than-life grossness with killings, cocksucking, torture (with a drill) and suffocation by cunnilingus. It rates as less an investigation of our murderous impulses than a celebration of their variety and appalling ingenuity—a funny and appalling reminder, as if we needed one, of the loss of rationality, empathy and civility that confronts us in the daily news. At best, with its fine puppeteering, like a horror film it makes evil laughable.
2013 Sydney Festival: Belvoir, Peter Pan, by JM Barrie, adaptation Tommy Murphy, director Ralph Myers, performers [see review], design Robert Cousins, costumes Alice Babidge, lighting Damien Cooper, composer Stefan Gregory, Belvoir St Theatre, from Jan 9; Sydney Theatre Co presents Windmill Theatre’s School Dance, writer Matthew Whittet, director Rosemary Myers, performers [see review] with Jack Wetere, designer Jonathan Oxlade, soundtrack Luke Smiles, lighting Richard Vabre, choreographer Gabrielle Nankivell, animation Chris Moore, STC wharf 1, from Jan 11; Perth Theatre Company, It’s Dark Outside, creators Tim Watts, Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs, music Rachael Dease, Carriageworks, Jan 11-15; Curious UK, The moment I saw you I knew I could love you, Helen Paris, Leslie Hill, Claudia Barton, Carriageworks, Jan 11-13; The Conch Theatre (NZ, Fiji, UK), Masi, director Nina Nawalowalo, co-director Tom McCory, illusion designer Paul Kieve, composer Gareth Farr, Seymour Centre, Jan 20-25; Royal Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, writer William Shakespeare, adaptation Eliza Freestone (director), Feargal Murray (composer), Camille O’Sullivan (performer, composer), design Lily Arnold, lighting Vince Herbert, Seymour Centre, Jan 22-25; Ensemble Offspring, Ligeti Morphed, violins Veronique Serret, Anna McMichael, percussion Claire Edwardes, Bree van Reyk, turntables Martin Ng, Electronic guitar Oren Ambarchi, Carriageworks, Jan 11-13; Sacre—The Rite of Spring, concept Raimund Hoghe, choreography & dance Raimund Hoghe , Lorenzo De Brabandere, pianos Guy Vandromme, Alain Franco, Carriageworks, Jan 5-8; Erth, murder, concept, direction Scott Wright, writer Raimondo Cortese, performers Graeme Rhodes, Rod Primrose, Michelle Robin Anderson, Gavin Clarke, Katina Olsen, design Steve Howarth and Erth Studio, sound, lighting design Phil Downing, choreography Kate Champion, puppetry director Rod Primrose, Seymour Centre, Sydney, Jan 5-19
RealTime issue #113 Feb-March 2013 pg. web
© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org