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Oct 14, 2013


The cast of Fight The Landlord | Carriageworks

Ah, Carriageworks. You never quite know what you’re going to get. And, I must say, that element of relative surprise is one of the things that draws me back, like a magnet. We don’t get to see much Chinese theatre in this country, despite our official determination to upgrade our trade. Fight The Landlord (Do Di Zhu) is both a card game and, now, a theatrical work, co-produced by Carriageworks, Pan Pan Theatre, Ireland (of all places) and Beijing Square Moon Culture. The moon may be as square as that prime boxhead that legend has it is now the PM, but the large card table plonked in the much larger still Carriageworks bay was as round as the Treasurer once was.

Sun Yue has written and Gavin Quinn (co-founder of Pan Pan) directed this piece, designed by Aedin Cosgrove (his partner, in Pan Pan) and Gao Yiguang. Sun also performs, alongside Wang Jinglei and Zhu Yutong and, it must be said, much of the appeal and interest of the work lies in their charismatic presence. When they put on their panda suits, we have to confront our own backsliding into stereotypes, as we intone, “aw, aren’t they cute?!”. It’s a powerful moment; in retrospect, if not while you’re standing in it. This, because it results in an acute awareness of and awakening to persistent prejudice.

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Oct 3, 2013


The cast of Doku Rai | Carriageworks

I lived in Darwin for going on five years. Apart from putting me more in touch with Aboriginal Australia, it made me more acutely aware of Timor, little more than a stone’s throw from the northernmost mainland capital. Performing arts from both cultures seemed to be characterised by a distinctive energy; perhaps a necessitous, stemming from  ongoing, unrelenting struggle. Now comes Doku Rai (You, Dead Man, I Don’t Believe You), a co-production from The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm (an independent, Melbourne-based production company with a reputation for brave, experimental work), as well as Liurai Fo’er (which translates as “King of Rubbish”, referring to the found objects the company deploys) and Galaxy (also from Timor Leste, a band put together by two of the performers in a bombed-out house in their hometown of Lospalos, just before independence, that’s become one of the most respected in the country); backed by festivals and other organisations from around this wide, brown land.

It’s a baby that was two laboured months in gestation (though it took a full four years to get the finance), in an abandoned colonial hotel in a remote island off Dili, under the watchful eye of director, Thomas M. Wright. Performers Thomas Henning and Melchior Dias Fernandes have remounted the work. The impression left by the finished product is blood, sweat and tears have been invested.

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Sep 17, 2013


Katherine Beckett in This Fella, My Memory | Carriageworks

This Fella, My Memory is the first major work to be presented by Moogahlin Performing Arts. Moogahlin is a Yuln word, meaning to play, or muck around; the company isn’t yet six years old. And as you’d expect with any six-year-old, it hasn’t, necessarily, quite reached its full potential. But it can be clearly seen. And this, make no mistake, is a bellwether, being the first all-Aboriginal Sydney theatre production in 40-odd years. On the strength of This Fella, I predict big things.

It should be said there’s something more significant than mere theatre going on here, for Moogahlin brings together the minds and willing hands of theatre makers and community workers, who pay homage to the National Black Theatre, a strong voice for Aboriginality, land rights and other political and social justice imperatives which saw the rise to prominence of Bob Maza, among others.

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Aug 12, 2013


Sydney Chamber Opera seems to have sprung up rather suddenly and from nowhere. For this, we ought to be grateful, since it’s doing things that are brave and distinctive.

A case in point is its latest production, Owen Wingrave, written by “the most important British composer of the 20th century”, Benjamin Britten (with librettist Myfanwy Piper) and based on a Henry James short story, as a reaction to, or against, the Vietnam war. It was to be the second last opera Britten would write, his 85th opus and an important expression of his lifelong pacifism. It hasn’t exactly been overexposed since its debut on BBC-TV (which commissioned it) in 1970, making this production that much more significant and of even greater interest.

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Jul 15, 2013


The cast of I'm Your Man | CarriageWorks

I confess: I’ve seen and reviewed I’m Your Man before. I came back for more. Same again, please. And I got it. The old one-two. Well, not that old, having been originally staged at Belvoir St, downstairs, early last year. Given that it’s entirely possible for me to see five or six productions in almost any given week, the fact that this one has lived so vividly in my memory (not much does, these days) for that long is testimony in itself to its exceptional quality.

Created and directed by Roslyn Oades, its comeback is as laudable as Big George’s hiatus of 20 years as heavyweight champion of the world. It’s actually the final instalment in a trilogy, having been preceded by Stories of Love & Hate and Fast Cars & Tractor Engines. The linking theme is courage and all are verbatim; the actuality being communicated to the actors via headphones. Suffice to say, I don’t think you need to have seen the first two episodes to appreciate the last.

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May 30, 2013


Then-ness attaches itself to rosy nostalgia, as well as a deeply poetic sense of tragedy. In then-ness, everything tends to become bigger, better, bolder and braver. Black-and-white photographs of forebears stiffly striking poses for portraits, with their tints and taints (the photos, not the forebears) are, in their way, so much more colourful. This is the gift of the past, in storytelling. Now-ness, by dint of newness, is starker, sharper, more mundane. Or so we think, when we’re standing in it. But, of course, it, too, will give way to the romantic, for those who come after us and, like us, look back.

Annette Shun Wah and William Yang’s Stories Then And Now revives the intention of their earlier work, Stories East & West, under the auspices of Performance 4A, a company dedicated to “producing inspiring Asian-Australian theatre”. In both works, the company’s objective has been richly realised. The latest has curated and nurtured six personal journeys, related by the very people who’ve taken them. These have been broken down into Then & Now segments, to lend a gentle kind of suspense. The only ‘props’ are evocative family photos, projected on two huge screens behind the storytellers.

The first journey is Jenevieve Chang’s. It’s one that begins with her characterful great grandmother and an aristocratic upbringing in Hunan, south central China; the spicy province, if you want to pinpoint it in culinary parlance. And the birthplace of Mao, at whose hands Chang’s grandmother suffered. Mao might’ve thought it poetic political justice she be incarcerated in one of her own wheat silos. Politics weighed heavily on the Chang family, who were forced into decisions they mightn’t have otherwise made. Chang’s story is imbued with so much sadness, it’s almost a ready-made, tearjerking screenplay and, were it not true, it’d take the most gifted writer to contrive it. Chang’s grandparents journey to relative freedom meant leaving a daughter behind. Another died soon after. But their ‘little emperor’ and only son, Sam, survived. Happily for Jenevieve, who wouldn’t be here to tell the tale, otherwise.

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Mar 20, 2013


Life As We Know It | Carriageworks (Pic: Heidrun Lohr)

If one were cynical, one might suggest putting seven seniors from south-western Sydney, apparently without any performing experience, in a work of theatre is a recipe for a grant. I hope this wasn’t uppermost in the creator and artistic director of Urban Theatre Project’s mind when she conceived it. Mind you, when the company’s philosophy is to afford people who don’t typically have a voice just that, economic rationalism has to be firmly held within one’s consciousness.

And the fact is writer/director Rosie Dennis has delivered something remarkable, on a number of levels. By no means “professional” in every sense, but remarkable.

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Mar 11, 2013


Brian Lucas in Performance Anxiety | Carriageworks (Pic: Fiona Cullen)

Carriageworks’ Bay 20 had been converted to The Loser’s Bar, for Brian Lucas’ Performance Anxiety, part of Performance Space’s current season entitled “Matters Of Life And Death”. On entering, Lucas was visible, amid the cabaret tables, prostrate, on a plinth. His apparently naked body was swathed in a sheer crimson concertina of silky fabric. He appeared to be almost in pain. This was but one of several characters presented to us in his 90-minute, one-man show, all plagued with anxiety.

It’s a pervasive, now historical, Howard era-inspired non-specific anxiety that has found focus in various realms: personal safety; national security; refugees and borders; children; the future; the past. It was inimical enough then. The bad news is it seems to have lived on. The now tangible effects of climate change don’t help, of course. Nor do prolonged contests on My Kitchen Rules, presumably.

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Dec 4, 2012


CarriageWorks’ Bay 12 seating was packed to capacity for the official opening night of the world premiere season of CarriageWorks’ resident company Stalker Theatre’s Encoded. Stalker has married physical theatre (mainly aerial dance and martial arts-influenced acrobatics) to cutting-edge interactive technologies (largely in the realm of 3D photogrammetric projections) to create a truly immersive, transcendent, mind-bending digital landscape that’s responsive to the movement of performers.

The only negative legacy is that the technologies threaten to overwhelm the human performance: the latter seems to be in the service of the former, rather than the other way around, as you might reasonably expect. But, as my companion pointed out, we teeter on the brink of singularity, so why not reflect on the risk to man’s dominion over machines in this way?

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Nov 29, 2012


Alexander Knight, Daniel Macey, Mitchell Riley in The Lighthouse (Pic: Louis Dillon-Savage)

Considers the relative prevalence and popularity of chamber music and it begs the question: why isn’t there more of it?’ Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse is one such and, if the still nascent Sydney Chamber Opera has its way, I presume there’ll be more. I hope so, as artistic director Louis Garrick and music director Jack Symonds have got it very, very right, from woe to go. It’s encouraging to see the City Of Sydney, Carriageworks and the University Of Sydney Union getting right behind this ambitious boutique company, too.

The Lighthouse consists of a prologue and one act and runs 75 minutes. But don’t assume it’s lightweight. It’s intense. Dramatic. Challenging. But not without a leavening sense of humour, as Davies barrels in with references to shanties and music hall. The 12-piece orchestra even includes honky-tonk piano and, wait for it, banjo. As Symonds points out, this is a score utterly devoted to the service of the narrative. As such, one shouldn’t expect ravishing tunefulness, in the style of classic Italian opera. Don’t keep your ears pealed fro a flower duet; it’s not going to happen. Indeed, it’s been eloquently said Davies “rejects the consolation of melody”.

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