Friday, 31 December 2010

Song of the Bleeding Throat ***

Song of the Bleeding Throat
By David Tredinnick, by The Eleventh Hour
 170 Leicester St. Fitzroy until Feb 12, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you don’t know Thomas Carlyle, the conservative, 19th century, Scottish historian, you will after seeing Song of the Bleeding Throat (David Tredinnick). You will also gain another perspective on Abe Lincoln.

The strength of this production for The Eleventh Hour is its actors (Richard Bligh, Anne Browning, Neil Pigot, James Saunders). They relish its often-convoluted language and stylistic idiosyncrasies. Director, Brian Lipson, colours their performances with quirky details, comical physicality and simple, surprising theatrical devices.

The show is two separate plays: the first is about Carlyle (Bligh) and his long-suffering wife, Jane (Browning) while the second is about Lincoln’s (Pigot) assassination by John Wilkes Booth (Saunders).

The overly-long first act is a parody of a portrait of Carlyle in his sitting room. Bligh captures the blustering vanity, violence and arch-conservativism of Carlyle. Browning is wry but sympathetic as Jane who quaffs increasing doses of opiates and communes with her dog, played by Saunders as a loyal, working-class bloke who adores Jane but fears his master. Pigot, dressed as Lincoln, is a peculiar and reluctant stagehand.

Lincoln’s anachronistic presence culminates in the second act when he looms above us, perched like a rag doll in a huge, white bed. Pigot’s Lincoln is addled, childlike, struggling to recollect his past, to grasp the gravity of his death and to defend his political decisions about slavery and democracy.

This act layers Walt Whitman’s (Bligh) poetry with Lincoln’s political speeches, Wilkes’ ravings, quotes from Shakespeare, references to Liberty (Browning) and contemporary song. The balance of the absurd, the historical and the literary is more successful in this half and the stretching of the moment of death is an effective device. Comedic elements provide a strong counterpoint for the tragedy of Lincoln’s demise.

Tredinnick constructed his script from non-theatrical texts. It is described as a “burlesque … a caricature of serious works.”

The content is sometimes incoherent, the language impenetrable and the structure not cohesive in this satirical commentary on democracy and freedom.  However, this show is a testament to the impact of powerful and skilful acting in a simply staged production.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Theatre should get back to basics

Theatre should get back to basics
Looking Forward to 2011 by Kate Herbert
A version of this was published in Herald-Sun, December 28, 2010

2011 promises to be a year of spectacular revivals, adaptations and sequels in both musicals and theatre. In musical theatre-land, we have our own productions of shows that are making splashes overseas.

Doctor Zhivago arrives in a blizzard in April at Her Maj, with Anthony Warlow as the Doc wearing some hapless, furry creature as a hat. This is yet another movie adaptation, although the original inspiration is Boris Pasternak’s book.

The phabulous Phantom is back in Love Never Dies in May at the Regent (Perhaps not so phab when overseas productions are labelled “Paint Never Dries”).

Rock of Ages, from musical theatre wizard, Cameron Mackintosh, will rock our world with its revival of rock tunes from  80s in April.

Xanadu leaps off the movie screen and into a Marquee at Docklands in March. This peculiar, skating musical is based on the Olivia Newton-John movie that had questionable reviews.

Does anyone have an original idea any more? Even the MTC is doing David Williamson’s sequel to Don’s Party in January. Must directors and writers hack up someone else’s work and call it their own? Oh, I am happily anticipating Next To Normal, the original, Tony-Award winning musical about a depressed housewife.

And I’m sick of indulgent, navel-gazing and attempts to shock us with grotesque, violent, blokey bulldust. Can anyone create unpretentious theatre? Oh, yes, Ranters Theatre. Their small and intimate shows are always a treat. It seems that companies either program the most commercial work or the ugliest, most unpleasant work and nothing in between – except extreme technology.

Much as I love a spectacular show, I got tired of theatre looking like cinema. Technology dominated new work this year. I was so busy trying to work out how the digital set design worked in Hairspray that I forgot to watch the actors. The Blue Dragon, by Canadian Robert Lepage, overlaid its very thin narrative and dialogue with elaborate film and technology. 

Stiftes Dinges (Melbourne Festival) was so obsessed with technology that there were no humans on stage at all. Even many of the small, low budget shows in Melbourne spent more time, money and energy on video, lighting and soundscapes.

What moves me to go to the theatre week after week, year after year is the hope that I may see actors transforming before my eyes, peopling an empty stage with characters, creating a soundscape with nothing but their voices and transporting an audience to other places and times with nothing but their imaginations.

I crave the simplicity of British director, Peter Brook’s “Empty Space”, an empty stage that is filled by actors and their skill. Brook’s two-hander, Love Is My Sin, performed in Brook’s raggedy Paris theatre, had two actors, two chairs and a rug and was one of the most memorable nights in the theatre that I have ever witnessed.
By Kate Herbert