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

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