A flurry of unusual performances has swept Melbourne in the past few weeks, and although I will not have time to pen an essay on every single one of them, I should give each a moment in the blogging sun. (In the place of an introductory paragraph, please reader content yourself with a bracketed explanation, equivalent of a rushed handshake and hug in the corridor or antechamber on my way out or in: if I write thinly on Guerrilla Semiotics, it is because I am writing and talking myself silly in other places. And I love to write, but I also need to sleep, deliver contracts, and watch Dylan Moran DVDs. Thanks.)
Richard III at the MTC, directed by Simon Phillips, opened on 29 May and running until 12 June. I don’t think I’m only speaking for myself when I say how happy I was to find out, after all these years of disappointment, that there is a highly capable director lurking inside Simon Phillips. The opening of Richard III was one of those novelistic theatrical moments, when a great play reveals new talent, and a star is born in front of a cheering town. It is a classical direction in the best of ways, wrapping Shakespeare in a thin film of relevance and contemporarism (it will go down in history as the ‘West Wing Shakespeare’), but it delivers an engaging, finely crafted, detailed and above all not incorrect interpretation of the play. Send your literature students, send your suburbanites, to see one of the seminal plays in the history of plays come to life. The cast, which includes many of Melbourne’s best actors, work together like a true ensemble to keep almost every moment of the historico-political saga nuanced and interesting to watch, but it is Ewen Leslie (who played Henry V in Benedict Andrews’s vast and glorious War of the Roses for STC in 2009) who really shines as Richard III. Leslie imbues every one of his scenes with taut humour and psychological meaningfulness that often gets lost between the windy lines of so many Shakespeare productions. Almost constantly on stage, he visibly lifts the entire production up an inch.
When Will You Be Home? at the Dog Theatre in Footscray, opened on 22 April and closed yesterday, is a night of two short plays, one-woman show each, by Forty Forty Home, an all-female company. While I find the difficulty of monodramas generally underestimated in the world of theatre – the difficulty to develop a reasonable plot, to maintain attention, to actually resolve what was complicated in the first place – and I rarely see a monodrama that genuinely becomes something more than a monologue, an expressive device for an actor, I was quite taken by the second of the two, Camberwell House by Amelia Roper. Shirley Cattunar’s performance aides the text enormously: there is an expressive spectrum only experienced actors have. It is a simple, short play about two old women living in the same Camberwell house, which meanders into stories of children, furniture, and one trying to poison another. It is a bit poignant, a bit funny, very well written, and keeps together very well. It reminded me of Anna Barnes’s writing: it was very tidy and very crafty, with excellent structure, but with hints of something mischievous (which usually means real, bleeding talent) that never quite got enough room to move. Amelia Roper, I may add, has just won a scholarship to study drama at Yale, and I will be very interested to see where she goes on from here. She is definitely a name to watch.
Waterproof, at Melbourne City Baths, running until tonight (sorry), is interesting for completely the opposite reason. Is there a renaissance of female theatre-making in Melbourne? After years of smart young men, are women finally collaborating too? Put together by Marita Fox, Waterproof is something very unusual: piling up Beckett, Plath, psychology and Japanese rituals among the inspirations, and with a voice-over clearly marking a connection to the world of drama, it is still, and mostly, a postdramatic event. (I was going to write theatre plus swimming, but that seemed glib and rude.) And one very unusual such event: a deadpan not-quite-horror, not trying to create illusions, and not stuck into some theoreticall alley either. I thought of Kafka, strangely enough. And I thought of Godard, particularly Alphaville: the way Fox played with the theatrical form, to create something that was partically ironic, partially deeply felt and partially just fun, reminded me a lot of Godard’s approach to cinema. I even thought of Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being, the swimming pool nightmares of visibility and responsibility. There were plenty of shortcomings to Waterproof, most pertinently that the motivation or sense of meaning got lost very early on, but that seems less important to me than the fact that it had an aesthetic (in this case, since it was anti-representational, a way of us all being in the same space) that was absolutely original and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Melbourne. In particular, if I may add, since Melburnian theatre women sometimes seem wedded to the most traditional ideas of theatre this side of Broadway, it was exhilarating to see something so boldly new coming out of a woman’s brain. I will be very interested to see where Fox goes next.
CAGELING at fortyfivedownstairs from 29 April until 8 May, is The Rabble’s take on Lorca’s House of Bernarda Alba, with the delightful Daniel Schlusser in the role of Bernarda. Sydney-based Nick Pickard has been praising The Rabble to high heavens, and this is the first fully finished work by the group that Melbourne has seen at least since I’ve been going to the theatre. I am not sure that I have had the time to consider what I think about it fully, so I will refrain from writing a half-baked paragraph, but it ends in a week and it deserves to be seen high and wide.
As of the rest, Next Wave is starting very soon, and I am only hoping I will have time to wrap up all my other work before I plunge into RISK, its theme for 2010. For those of us on the hybrid performance front, it is looking like a very busy year. Ah, and going to the theatre used to be fun…