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sydney festival 2012


black cultural capital

keith gallasch: 2012 sydney festival


I am Eora I am Eora
photo Prudence Upton
COMPLEMENTED BY GARY FOLEY’S SOLO PERFORMANCE, FOLEY, AT THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE, BLACK CAPITAL, THE CENTREPIECE OF THE 2012 SYDNEY FESTIVAL AT CARRIAGEWORKS, OFFERED AUDIENCES RARE INSIGHTS INTO THE ABORIGINAL HISTORY OF SYDNEY AND OF REDFERN IN PARTICULAR.

My hours at Carriageworks were well spent: there was much learnt and even more that was deeply felt. Elsewhere, Force Majeure’s Never Did Me Any Harm, Rosslyn Oade’s I’m Your Man, Philippe Quesne’s L’Effet de Serge and Rimini Protokoll’s Radio Muezzin were my festival highlights while Chunky Moves’ Assembly, Cheek by Jowl’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and Belvoir’s Thyestes appealed with their intense theatricality and inventiveness.

i am eora

The engulfing stage design for I am Eora comprises two huge planes that meet deep upstage; one, the floor, tilts down towards the audience, the other rises high to create a deep sky-scape of the same slate-like texture as the floor while both double as a vast screen. It’s like peering into distance without end, but also into memory, legend and history.

A lone man (Matthew Doyle) in ceremonial attire burns eucalyptus leaves on the far side of the stage and exits. Another man (Luke Currie-Richardson), elegant in a suit, appears centre stage, takes his shoes off, stares at us, flexes his feet, removes and neatly lays out his clothes. He is naked save for white body marking. “I am Eora” is written via projection on the sky. The man’s nakedness silently suggests at once comfort with his skin, pride, a challenge even and a return to the past.

A suited Jack Charles berates a crowd of performers from the auditorium: “You can’t live in the past. Time to move on you mob.” “Shut up you old cunt,” one of them yells and Charles is struck down. He recovers, recalling meeting King George III, telling the monarch he needs to give back some of the taken Aboriginal land, that scars don’t heal. Charles is embodying the spirit of Bennelong, whose compromises with white invaders are not always admired. I am Eora then moves on to dramatise the archetypal power of the legendary, not mythical, historical Aboriginal figures Pemulwuy, Barangaroo and Bennelong. Pemuluy, the guerilla warrior, is represented by singer-composers Radical Son and Nooky as a modern rapping hero in not always distinguishable lyrics in a raw opening night sound mix. Pemulwuy was eventually killed by troops: “Boy you gotta hold your own, your daddy ain’t comin’ home.” Tomorrow’s Pemulwuy emerges as a small boy in a Superman outfit while Radical Son’s antecedent—“All the brothers, women, children who died just to be civilised...I don’t ever want to feel like a Bennelong”—is shot by a policeman. It’s clear by now that I Am Eora is neither history lesson nor simple story-telling, far from it. It assumes some knowledge of the historical figures (aided by the printed program) but otherwise leaves the audience to make connections.

Represented by a solo performer (Miranda Tapsell), Barangaroo’s spirit is largely evoked by action around her—the flow of sustaining water projected above (Barangaroo was a fisherwoman), the voice of Mum Shirl, the powerful singing of Wilma Redding (“Don’t close the door on me”), Linda Burney MP repeating her inaugural parliamentary speech and a group of women gesturing chorally and affectingly in support of Barangaroo. When the nurturing, pregnant Barangaroo does speak, her voice rises into a wild, barely intelligible cry from the heart. This constellating approach to evoking Barangaroo works here and there but is sometimes a testing mix of the literal and the very lateral, of the subtle and the overwrought.

Bennelong returns, repeating his opening words of warning, but now despairing of the loss of stories, of place names (“how will people know they are from here?”) and anticipating his death: “I know this is the night I will die...our footsteps will be swept away...all this I have seen,” suggesting that his attempts at reconciliation were driven by the need for cultural preservation. He dies, and in an act of reconciliation internal to Aboriginal society, Radical Son/Pemulwuy takes up Bennelong’s body.

Wesley Enoch and fellow writer Anita Heiss have taken on a huge challenge in eschewing story-telling and focusing instead on the evocation of three key figures in local Indigenous history, using a collage of song, dance and spoken word (at its best in Charles’ Bennelong) supported by a talented live band and the Stiff Gins, and layered with projections (including, for example, names writ large and then erased, as history does). Enoch, as director, is to be congratulated for melding hugely disparate elements. That they didn’t always cohere and that the performers could not always meaningfully fill Stephen Curtis’ impressive stage was perhaps inevitable on a first outing. A tauter version and a clearer delineation of the tension between the three archetypal figures (especially as it relates to the Bennelong heritage) might make for an enduring work which, as it is, delivered a grand, impressionistic celebration and a sense of heritage that most of us know little of, let alone feel part of, but is offered for sharing in I am Eora.

travelling colony

Brook Andrews’ Travelling Colony comprises caravans painted in the artist’s trademark patternings such that they cluster into a single artwork filling the vast Carriageworks foyer. Likewise, as you move from caravan to caravan, relaxing into a chair or on a bed, you gradually accumulate a history of Redfern as told by its inhabitants on video monitors. Some of these people played key roles in the development of Redfern, recalling childhood years, industries that provided work when there was none in the country, the impact of Charles Perkins, the Block as the first Indigenous landholding, the founding of child care, medical and legal services, the profound Black Theatre years, the terrible drug blight and the death of young TJ Hickey. Speakers believe the latter was the trigger for reform: “it pushed us to turn it around.” The pride in Redfern is palpable: “What happened in Redfern benefited the whole country.” It’s seen as the place where leaders learned to lead, where culture has won out over drugs, where young artists learn their craft in a safe place, says rapper Nooky, while an older male, a community bus driver, admires “the young blokes and women comin’ through” and pays tribute to the role women have played in Redfern’s evolution. Travelling Colony is an ingeniously immersive and educative creation from a leading Indigenous artist. See it now.

181 regent st: addressing black theatre

Also fascinating and informative in a more conventional model is the Rhoda Roberts curated exhibition focused on the National Black Theatre in Redfern in the 70s. I can do little justice to its scope but to acknowledge its tribute to the artists well outside the mainstream who provided the impetus for the flowering of black theatre from the 70s to the present. There are video projections of dramas and documentaries, excerpts of staged play readings, photographic portraits of leading figures and images from key productions, reviews, articles and scripts. In the audio recordings from ABC Radio National’s Awaye, it’s sad to hear late playwright Kevin Gilbert speaking of his need to keep writing and painting inside prison and out given “the horrors I saw and still see and will continue after 1988 [the National Bicentennial]” which he attributes to the absence of a truly national spirit. 181 Regent St is an inspiring celebration. I’m hoping a book or DVD will emerge from it.

foley

If not formally part of Black Capital, Foley at the Sydney Opera House segued beautifully with I Am Eora,Travelling Colony and 181 Regent St. Gary Foley’s personal account of his own history is embedded in and integral to the development of black politics in Australia. As a young man, inspired by Charles Perkins, he found his way to Redfern, became part of the black theatre movement and emerged as a leading activist. The show is an informal lecture with Foley the historian guiding us through sometimes unfamiliar events, from the visit of black American boxer Jack Johnson to Australia in the early 20th century, encouraging the strengthening of social and political organisation, through to Foley’s childhood and on to Redfern, the National Black Theatre, Black Power (wickedly funny) and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy which is central to his vision.

Describing himself on stage as “an aboriginal historian in his natural habitat” (the set is built from the cardboard boxes that have held his library and copies of his ASIO files), Foley is consistently and pointedly witty. But always with an edge, sniping at Neville Bonner, Noel Pearson, “1988—the great masturbation of the nation,” and delineating the failure of Labor governments to grasp the need for land rights, not native title. He declares, “The struggle goes on...we changed the world, only trouble is the world changed it back.” If now imbued with wit and wisdom, Foley’s anger is still palpable. The show should travel to a wider audience, and it could make a great film given the ample audio-visual material that Gary Foley and director Rachael Maza put to fine use on stage (Foley drolly indicating that working to cue keeps him on track in a delightfully discursive performance).

never did me any harm

Never Did Me Any Harm, Force Majeure & STC Never Did Me Any Harm, Force Majeure & STC
photo Jamie Williams
Force Majeure’s Never Did Me Any Harm is an engrossing reverie replete with dream-like discontinuities and the irruption of strange images into an inviting everyday backyard setting. As in much of her work, choreographer Kate Champion draws us into states of being where time is suspended, with either a moment of trauma writ large as in the individual crises of the subjects of Not in a Million Years (2011) or the collective anxiety of the post-crisis Already Elsewhere (2005), or more intimately in the personal reflections on age in The Age I’m In (2008). As with the latter, the recorded utterances of volunteers reflecting on their lives anchors this reverie in everyday reality. This time the subject is parenthood.

Although children have a role in the show—performers transform into amusing or scary children—the work focuses on adult problems and disappointments: a father who manipulates his child’s playfulness to the point of violently shaking her; parents who lose their emotional and physical intimacy; others worn down by the challenge of rearing an autistic child. Suppressed violence is vividly represented by the projection of a pulsing digital grid that envelops the backyard, quaking beneath the performers with a deep sonic rumbling and vibrating their bodies.

I was particularly taken with a scene where Josh Mu as an autistic boy (or as Kate Champion explains in her RealTime online video interview, it could be any child) pushes his comforting mother (Heather Mitchell) down as if to kill her. Doubtless that’s what she might feel about his demands regardless of her love for him. Is this her nightmare? Just as disturbing is the subsequent moment when a home movie image is projected onto the boy’s t-shirt. He takes it off, gently folding it as if to hold on to his past. His shadow, bizarrely white, momentarily parts company from him and has to be retrieved in one of the most memorable images in the show, as if the boy is dancing into a sense of wholeness and independence.

Other scenes are much less mysterious, more literal—a father’s (Vincent Crowley) increasingly loud and bitter speech to the audience about parents who have forgotten their own childhoods, who chauffeur their children in SUVs, who sexualise children, and his concern that no one celebrates having an average child. There’s the scene where projected words like ‘money,’ ‘accessories,’ ‘bored,’ ‘grown-up’ and ‘damage’ magically slide down the tree trunk onto a couple as if to suggest forces at work of which they are unaware. The oscillation between these relatively literal moments and more enigmatic ones provides a strong framework for evoking complex issues and emotions not so easily represented.

Dance doesn’t appear utterly central to Never Did Me Any Harm. There’s Kirsty McCracken’s dancing child and Sarah Jayne Howard’s pregnant mother. But an overarching choreographic sensibility informs the work—it’s evident in the engaging gestural conversation that opens the show, the tussle between father and daughter, the funny family photo scene, the episode where the boy’s shadow peels itself away, and elsewhere. Actors Heather Mitchell, Marta Dusseldorp and Alan Flowers are seamlessly integrated into the movement. The embracing dance in Never Did Me Any Harm is between bodies, voices, images, sound (Max Lyandvert) and design (Geoff Cobham) in a dark if sometimes humorous foray into the private worlds of parenthood.

In my video interview with Kate Champion, made after I’d seen Never Did Me Any Harm, I ask her to respond to some of these observations. Her comments are fascinating.

thyestes

Thyestes Thyestes
photo Jamie Williams
With its virtuosic theatricality and taut ensemble playing, Thyestes is a bracing contemporary rendering of the Ancient Greek myth of the rivalry between the brothers Atreus (Mark Winter) and Thyestes (Thomas Henning) culminating in a meal in which a vengeful Atreus cooks and serves up his brother’s children to their father. Instead of adapting Seneca’s play, the writers (Winter, Henning, Chris Ryan and director Simon Stone) go at the myth quite laterally, detailing the unfolding story in brief digital readouts between six scenes and then abruptly working back from the twelfth scene to the horrendous, pivotal sacrifice.

The ghastly meal aside, the events in the readout are mostly not portrayed on stage: it’s “the moments between atrocities...play[ed]...in as modern and realistic way as possible” (director’s program note) that provide the work’s focus. The temporal disjunction, on the other hand, is aimed at revealing the causes of the deed and then its consequences (for example, the death of Atreus at the hands of Thyestes’ bastard son) before we witness Thyestes gobbling up his bolognaised children. It’s a strategy that might confuse even an alert and myth-informed audience member, not least because the myth and the contemporary scenes are for the most part at such a great remove from each other. Still the work coheres and is compulsively watchable as the three performers (Ryan playing one male and three female roles) indulge in Tarantino-ish conversations typically imbued with popular culture references, obsessive repetitions, psychotic turns and implicit threats. Or they simply play table tennis (Thyestes and Atreus in exile). Or quietly or overtly torment each other (some nasty business with a strap-on). Raw rock alternates with excerpted classical compositions and Ryan, as Pelopia in an oddly Kosky-an moment, sings Schubert’s “Der Doppelganger” at a grand piano (the characters otherwise show no inclination to high art, quite the opposite).

The ingenious set is a black-framed white box with the audience on either side, looking through. Dark curtains rapidly rise and fall to mark scenes in which, miraculously (behind the aural mask of loud music), surprising new stage arrangements are realised with cinematic verve. Thyestes is like a hyper-archaeological dig: we read beneath the surface of this impressionistic, blokey world, searching below the accretions of contemporary culture and its technologies, from iPod to piano, past Romanticism and the Baroque, to find mere fragments of a mythic world of power hungry, rapacious kings. Now stripped of the mystery of distant time, of any sense of tragedy or even pathos, these men are revealed to be as cruel, manipulative and banal as the powermongers who live amongst us today. Only in the conversation before Thyestes eats his children, where he and Atreus recall their childhood, is there a fleeting sense of brotherhood. But the joy of vengeance outweighs the familial bond. Thyestes is a bold, complex and challenging creation: just what it adds up to is food for further reflection. Mark Winter’s manic but superbly controlled performance as Atreus (who is at the centre of this ‘telling’ of the Thyestes myth) is chilling, Henning is contrastingly cool and Ryan effectively plays the women with a simple directness (the inherent mysogyny of the myth is amplified in this play but, at the same time, it’s perhaps undercut by the casting choice).

radio muezzin

Radio Muezzin Radio Muezzin
photo Jamie Williams
There’ll be a detailed response to Radio Muezzin in RealTime 108 from Meg Mumford and Ulrike Garde, who have spent time with the producing company Rimini Protokoll (Germany) and they’ll also look ahead to the company’s 100% Melbourne in May this year. As feature-length documentaries play in cinemas and non-fiction moves to the front stands in bookshops everywhere, so has theatre invested increasingly in staged documentaries in a variety of forms with increasing realism—real people, as it were, on stage.

In Radio Muezzin, we meet three muezzins from Cairo who are losing their jobs to a fourth (who has left the show—his words are read to us and we see him on screen, championship weightlifting and winning a Qur’an reading competition in Bangkok) who broadcasts daily prayers to mosques. The three men, one of them blind, one with a damaged leg, another with a day job, speak with humility about their careers, families, status and the Arab Spring (which they welcome) along with revealing incidents from their lives told against a screen the width of the stage. We glimpse their younger selves and the flow of Cairo street life. One muezzin takes two hours to get to his mosque each day, one still works at the holy task of baking, another’s mosque is the size of a tiny room while the broadcasting muezzin has an audience of tens of thousands.

The significance, and challenge, of growing a beard is discussed; ritual ablutions are carefully demonstrated; salary discrepancies (from no pay to a lot) are detailed, and we hear the haunting sung prayers. A set of ceiling fans turn above the carpeted stage to convey, with the projections, just a touch of Cairo. While it’s disappointing that the fourth muezzin doesn’t appear (projected text explains that he was in dispute with the other muezzins in the show) it’s sadly apt that his close-miked, dulcet toned, recorded reading gradually overrides the live voices of his peers at the end of Radio Muezzin. This is affecting theatre, unsophisticated, awkard at times, but it never pushes the muezzin to be anything other than who they are, or as much as they are prepared to reveal. Congratulations to the Goethe-Institut, its partners, and the Sydney Festival for presenting us with this unexpected pleasure—theatre that while un-cathartic is quietly engrossing and culturally disorienting.

anatomy of an afternoon

Paul White, Anatomy of an Afternoon Paul White, Anatomy of an Afternoon
photo Prudence Upton
In Anatomy of an Afternoon, a work inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun (originally set to Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun), dancer Paul White very slowly emerges from tree-like stillness into a creature, initially appearing to discover balance and shape (peering down at his body to see what it is doing), walking on all fours, tongue protruding, becoming increasingly animal-like and crawling rapidly towards us as the music from the three onstage musicians intermittently hints at Debussy, the fragmented, sensual ebb and flow of their score equally taking its own shape.

Standing again, White is suddenly alert to his feet, as if they’re alien; he staggers, hops and turns; he quite unconsciously discards his clothing; he doesn’t understand how trousers work—thinking they should slide on of their own volition.He reminds me of the protagonist of Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, a man discovering himself and the world, if not manners—White bares his bottom at us and sniffs his fingers. If Nijinsky’s faun flirted with nymphs and naiads, White engages instead with the audience, peering with curiosity, looking at us upside down between his legs or from an extended miraculously slow-turning headstand, the music now fully-textured in this reverie of self-awareness.

I saw Anatomy of an Afternoon at a disadvantage, from the back of the Opera House’s Playhouse auditorium, deprived of the intimacy the work seemed to warrant and not terribly aware of White’s facial expressiveness mentioned by other audience members. However, White, as ever, moved superbly in a work that perhaps evolved too slowly to be consistently immersive and was curiously lacking a third dimension usually evident in the creations of choreographer (and RealTime correspondent) Martin del Amo. But I’d love to see it again, up close.

i’m your man

I'm Your Man I'm Your Man
photo Heidrun Löhr
The first thing that hits you in I’m You’re Man is the smell of linament, the second is the pummelling of punching bags in the small Belvoir Downstairs Theatre converted into a gymnasium walled with posters of famous boxers past and present and inspirational texts: “The more you sweat the less you bleed.” Loosely built around the career of a young boxer, Billy Dibb (Michael Mohammed Ahmad) aspiring to be world champion, I’m Your Man is a weave of verbatim utterances from boxers about their lives channelled through iPods worn by performers who reproduce what they’re hearing, picking up the pauses and hesitations, the changes of tack and rhythm, the colour of accent. The sense of pride and of ambition (whether for fame or a family’s survival) is as palpable as the punching, push-ups, virtuosic skipping and floods of sweat. We learn about being hit (“It’s the thump, not the pain”), wounds (“you could see the cracks open”), decay (“it’s my eyes, it starts from there”), deaths, constraints on sex and alcohol, defeat, nightmares and the big night. Perhaps on his way to the top, Billy fantasises victory, he’s “willing to die” and his support team anxiously spill out conflicting advice and fears. “The time for talking is over!” yells the coach and the waiting crowd roars. And the audience in this tiny gym-theatre roar too, in approval. I’m Your Man’s is pretty relentless but the pressure is eased by some quiet, amusingly lateral dialogues. As for the headphones, so confident and fluent are the performers that you forget the device and marvel at the brute reality endured as a sport.

l’effet de serge

L'effet de Serge L'effet de Serge
photo Martin Argyroglo Callias Bey
L’effet de Serge (France) was a festival highlight, a quietly immersive, slow burn, idiosyncratic performance about a man who lives on his own and invites friends singly or in pairs to visit for one-off events and occasionally a larger one, bringing all his acquaintances together. Serge’s actions are most easily described as DIY-at-home Live Art. His long workbench is cluttered with a TV (which he watches while silently working) and numerous tools with which he creates his little actions. To the sound of old movie scores, a tall, loose-limbed actor (faintly reminiscent of Jacques Tati) announces that he will play Serge. Couples or individuals arrive at the barely furnished house at various intervals, seen through the glass door on foot or bicycle or in a (real) car, are offered a drink and witness a brief display—sparklers on a motorized toy car to music by Handel, for example. Or Serge in his guests’ car flashing head lights, parkers and interior light to the beat of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. His audience is allowed to finish their drinks and then are ushered out. Socialising is minimal.

Serge plays table tennis, solo. He sets up a more elaborate display (luminescent spectacles, glo-rope, laser effects, music by John Cage) for a young woman (there are the slimmest of hints of a possible relationship shaping up). Then there’s the big night, many guests, a bigger spectacle, much more sociability and played like the real thing, with much of the dialogue aptly just audible and not at all acted in the conventional sense. It’s not surprising to read that Serge clubs have been springing up across Europe. L’effet de Serge is a work of quiet intimacy, eccentricity and everyday performativity emerging side by side with the virtual fantasies of the digital world.

assembly

Assembly, Chunky Move Assembly, Chunky Move
photo Prudence Upton
From the opening, enveloping mass chatter to the sight of waves of choral performers flowing over the top of the steep, wide stairs that fill the stage, to a vocally aggressive stand-off between two sudden, huge factions, Chunky Move's Assembly conjures nothing less than the experience of watching the human crowd at a distance as just another animal species (a reminder of the imagery that saturates previous works, Glow and Mortal Engine). However, interpolated into these mass movements are carefully orchestrated patternings in smaller groups that suggest cooperation, care and intimacy (as well as occasional threat), while eight dancers, alone or in various permutations, become emblematic of the body's capacity to interact and communicate with wordless eloquence. The dancers glide, often while extended horizontally, with anti-gravitational ease, up and down steps, or fall from one level to another with occasional alarming thumps. The quite dancerly choreography, brief tableaux that recall religious paintings, the vocal beauty of some of the crowd sounds and music from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance yield a quasi-mystical ambience that elevates life and art to something more than mere being. Gideon Obarzanek makes the most of the design and of his large cast, exploiting all the opportunities they offer him aesthetically while evoking a certain thoughtfulness about the tension between individual and mass, between human and animal evident in images of panicky flocking or lyrical circling, like birds. Given the considerable physical demands The Sydney Philharmonia Choir acquitted itself more than ably (as it did gesturally for Peter Sellars' staging of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex for the 2010 Sydney Festival). Assembly is a grand work which fascinates with its interplay of ideas and images, both visual and aural.

a history of everything

A History of Everything, Sydney Theatre Company and Ontroerend Goed
A History of Everything, Sydney Theatre Company and Ontroerend Goed

© Brett Boardman 2012
A History of Everything is a romp backwards through human history to our single cell origins and the Big Bang. It springs from a young woman's fantasy, delivered at the show's opening, based on some dodgy science positing that at the point of utter entropy of the universe the flow of time will reverse. The performers unroll a huge map of the Earth across the stage and with a variety of props, including signs for wars and flags to denote nations, reverse time in some detail for recent decades (revealing what one has forgotten) and then in giant steps backwards. Direction and performances are endlessly witty and inventive, drolly noting the delivery of technological developments (revelatory at the time, slight in retrospect), pushing tiny boats backwards over oceans, shifting continents about on their tectonic plates, coolly delineating a hugely shrinking global population. Towards the end the young woman who we met at the beginning can declare that she's no longer frightened of the universe—there is something oddly comforting about conjuring a compact life of the Earth even if backwards. However, it's a show built on an exhaustible conceit and, once it arrives at pre-life, becomes calculatedly spectacular if reverentially grim with the Big Bang like an apocalypse in reverse. A History of Everything has nothing of the raw dynamism of Ontroerend Goed's (Belgium) previous Sydney offering, Once And For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen. However, all credit to the actors, including members of the STC's Residents, for their role in collaborating on the creation of a work packed with detail as well as performing it with such vigour and dexterity.

'tis pity she's a whore

'Tis a Pity She's a Whore 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore
photo Jamie Williams
Cheek By Jowl's consistently engaging but not entirely satisfying production of John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (1629-1633) is a pruned back version of the original, depriving the play of its comic sub-plot but unleashing the force of the central narrative by providing it uninterrupted continuity. This allows
the jilted Hippolita to take centrestage in a clear trajectory from her expression of emotional pain to her subsequent murderous plotting and eventual death. Thwarted desire is physically manifest in her sadistic treatment of her apparent ally, the Machiavellian Vasques, twisting his nipples and digging a stiletto heel into his hand. Suzanne Burden's Hippolita is powerfully realised as a strong if misguided woman. She is juxtaposed with Annabella, the play's adolescent co-protagonist (with her brother-lover Giovanni). Annabella's dismissal of Soranzo (Hippolita's ex) is conducted with dignity and wit well beyond the ken of this aristocrat suitor whom, in an act of desperate expediency, she has to marry anyway.

From then on the narrative drive is pretty much in the hands of Vasques until it escapes even his grasp when the obsessed Giovanni stabs Annabella and presents her heart to the courtly gathering. In the meantime Annabella had come to expect nothing less than death at the hands of the cuckolded Soranzo, but never Giovanni. Refusing her brother's love, her self-awareness is almost tragic and certainly alert to the additional disadvantage of being a woman in her circumstances. But, very oddly, Cheek by Jowl undercut Annabella's tragic potential by adding an attraction to, yes, knitted baby wear, as if she is willingly, perhaps delusionally, accommodating herself to a familial future with Soranzo—this puts her in the same basket as mad Giovanni. Instead of tragedy, we get pathos, losing the critical distinction between an insightful sister and a narcissistic brother, between a maturing woman and a sorry girl. Nonetheless Lydia Wilson's lithe performance as Annabella is the production's greatest asset, sensual and passionate, subtly realising her transformation, while Jack Gordon as Giovanni is, unfortunately, rhetorical in his delivery and much less certain in the delineation of his progress from lover to jealous murderer.

The pulse of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore beats fast from the very start, with its lucid narrative and its energetic ceremonial sequences—the whole cast in ramped-up, pop or folk-inflected dance numbers substituting for the original masques, including a Pina Bausch-Kontakthof swirling circle of gesturing suitors. But it's initially too fast, not allowing us to fully feel the passion between Giovanni and Annabella and, particularly, her surprise that her brother feels as she does. Instead it's dominated by adolescent physical playfulness. As well, the presence of ensemble players in early scenes they're not actually involved in, offering a sense of milieu, feels dated and overcrowded. Also overwrought is the scene in which the maid Putana has her tongue bitten out onstage once Vasques has wheedled from her the truth about the lovers (Ford has her blinded off-stage, Vasques preferring to have her keep her tongue so she can tell her tale to the authorities). While this gross act tallies with the director's publicised view of the Jacobean and Caroline stage's goriness it here becomes, along with the mayhem perpetrated in the barely offstage bathroom, a protracted indulgence quelling the play's thrust. Cheek By Jowl bring a welcome dynamism and fluency to 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, allowing the actors playing Hippolita and Annabella great range and depth but, in the end, reduce Annabella to a lesser being, dulling the play's power.


I Am Erora, writer, director Wesley Enoch, writer Anita Heiss, associate director, choreographer Yolande Browne, design, projection Stephen Curtis, associate designer Ruby Langton-Batty, video artist Mic Gruchy, music director Cameron Bruce, lighting Trent Suidgeest, associate lighting desinger Lindsay Williams, sound designer Paul Tilley; Carriageworks, Jan 8-14; Brook Andrews, Travelling Colony, Carriageworks, Jan 8-March 4; 181 Regent St: Addressing Black Theatre, Carriageworks, Jan 8-29; Ilbijerrri Theatre Company, Foley, writer, performer Gary Foley, director Rachael Maza, Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, Jan 24-29; Force Majeure, Sydney Theatre Company, Never Did Me Any Harm, director Kate Champion, performers Kristina Chan/Sarah Jayne Howard, Vincent Crowley, Marta Dusseldorp, Alan Flower, Kirstie McCracken, Heather Mitchell, Josh Mu, set & lighting designer, Geoff Cobham, composer & sound designer Max Lyandvert, dramaturg, Andrew Upton, associate director, Roz Hervey, Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, Jan 11-Feb 12; Stefan Kaegi/Rimini Protokoll, Radio Muezzin, Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre, Jan 16-21; Anatomy of an Afternoon, concept, director, choreographer Martin del Amo, choreographer, dancer Paul White, composer Mark Bradshaw, The Playhouse, Jan 9-11, 13-16; Belvoir, Thyestes, after Seneca, writers Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan, Simon Stone, Mark Winter, performers Henning, Ryan, Winter, set & costumes Claude Marcos, lighting Govin Ruben, composer, sound design Stefan Gregory; Carriageworks, Jan 18-Feb 19; I'm Your Man, creator, director Roslyn Oades, performers Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Billy McPherson (also boxing coach), Katia Molino, Justin Rosniak, John Shrimpton, sound artist Bob Scott, movement director Lee Wilson, lighting design Neil Simpson, Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre, Jan 12-Feb 5; L'Effet de Serge, conception, direction, design Philippe Quesne, performer Gaetan Vourc'h, Vivarium Studio, Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre, Jan 8-11; Chunky Move, Victorian Opera, Sydney Philharmonia Choir, Assembly, director, choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, music director Richard Gill, lighting Nick Schlieper, costumes Harriet Oxley, set design Gideon Obarzanek, Chris Mercer, City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Jan 11-14; Sydney Theatre Company & Ontroerend Goed, A History of Everything, director Alexander Devriendt, text by Alexander Devriendt, Joeri Smet?in collaboration with the cast, Wharf 2, STC, Jan 13-Feb 5; Cheek by Jowl, writer John Ford, director Declan Donnellan, designer Nick Ormerod, lighting Judith Greenwood, sound design Nick Powell, movement Jane Gibson, Sydney Theatre, Jan 17-21

RealTime issue #107 Feb-March 2012 pg. 3-5

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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