Some theatre each day keeps the doctor away…

Critique: Sydney Theatre Company 2011

with 4 comments

It’s an interesting title page.  The yellow part, you see, is actually the inside page – there is a hole in the cover.  So obviously Ned Kelly has been a strong influence on the designer this year – let no one say that the Sydney Theatre Company is not an Australian company.  (Not that, I think, anyone was saying it, but nevertheless.)

But the cover is black for a reason – black is simple.  The single colour of black makes for easy viewing.  It is black for another purpose – to prepare the audience for the onslaught that awaits them on the next page.  Shall we open it up?  Yes, we shall.  Steel yourselves.  Grab onto something solid that’s attached to something else that’s solid.  Here we go.

Oh!  Oh!  The horror!  It’s like the designer got a bunch of flies, gave them psychedelic drugs, cut out their eyes, stitched them all together, and made them into a quilt.  Or maybe it’s the seats of a theatre as seen through a kaleidoscope, the instrument somehow managing to visualise what having a whoopee cushion on each seat would look like.  Or perhaps it’s what an army of Martians would look like, assuming they had extremely bad taste.

And it’s not just horrible in two dimensions, ladies and gentleman, but can be viewed in three just like those Magic Eye pictures that were very popular last decade.  It’s not a particularly interesting 3D image, but it is 3D nonetheless.  And now I’m getting a headache.  And now my eyes aren’t focusing very well any more.  Nothing a good cup of tea won’t fix.

That’s better.

You see, as horrible as this design pattern – this terrible tessellation (oh shut up) – is, there is reason behind it.  I can see that intelligent life has designed this.  Let’s take a closer look:

There are three elements to each node, each tile in this tessellation – round, trapezoidal, and spiky.  Round is the blue, trapezoid the green, and spiky the red, in case you needed me to spell it out for you.  These three elements represent the ‘three acts’ that are mentioned on the page.  Indeed, the ‘three acts’ refers to the three theatres that the Sydney Theatre Company will be presenting their main stage plays in this year.  The round represents the Sydney Theatre.  Trapezoidal the Drama Theatre at the Opera House.  Spiky the Wharf 1 Theatre.  Don’t ask me why.  I suspect it was an arbitrary choice of shape.

There will be proof of this throughout, but if you need more convincing – look at the three wiggly lines in the yellow box above – spiky, trapezoidal, round.  Enough said.

Anyway, I don’t want to make too much of this – I’m merely pointing it out for those of you, who, flicking through your booklet madly to see what plays were on next year, may have missed the subtleties that exist.  Of course I realise the irony in saying ‘subtleties’ when describing something that would not look out of place on the walls of a Play-Doh factory after a bomb blast – but here we are nonetheless.

I should be an art critic, I should.  Yeah. Moving on.

A prize to the first person who can guess in which theatre each play will be performed. Anyway, here we have the ‘message’ from the artistic directors.  Of interest:

A “darkly alluring apartment block”?  Sounds like the Commonwealth Games village at night.  But all the same, still inspiring, at least in an “I’ve been a Christian all my life but suddenly I have this urge to try some absinthe, smoke an expensive cigar, buy myself a mysterious trench coat and hat to match, and visit a brothel to deal with my feelings of rejection after breaking up with my girlfriend last week” kind of way.

Not that I’d know anything about that.  Next, a picture by James Gulliver Hancock, who is an “image maker” according to his website, which I suggest you check out – it appeals to my inner “I love complicated pictures” geek:

Spiffing.  Note that ‘Sydney Theatre’, ‘The Wharf’, and ‘Drama Theatre’ are in their respective colours – design consistency, what.  I especially like how it shows you the different paths you can take to each theatre – though I haven’t seen any black lines on the ground when I’ve been walking around The Rocks…

Next, ‘twelve good reasons to nab a 2011 season ticket’:

It’s like the twelve days of Christmas but not as musical.  Or exciting.  Or memorable.  Still, number ten does concern me:

“Our informative Main Stage production programs.”  Please note the choice of words here – not ‘entertaining’, not ‘insightful’, not ‘engrossing’, but ‘informative’.  Do you know what else is informative?  Shopping lists.  Mathematics textbooks.  Test results for sexually transmitted diseases.

Indeed, one would hope that programs would strive to be a little bit more than just ‘informative’.  To say that this explains so much would be quite the understatement.  Who wants to guess at what last year’s booklet said about the programs?

Methinks that to fix the programs we need to start with changing the mission statement, yes?  Just because something is ‘informative’ doesn’t mean it has to be dull and lifeless. So, as I doubt that the STC will be hiring me at any time in the future, this is what I’m going to do – as we go through the plays for this season, I’m going to give suggestions for what could be included in each play’s program.  You know, so I don’t fall asleep during the interval. Anyway, there’s one more page before we get onto that.  First, the Sydney Theatre is introduced:

In the article on the left, John Birmingham describes how The Plague ravaged through The Rocks, how The Rats around there carried and spread The Disease and so forth, how it caused a lot of The Death.  When I went to the opening of August: Osage County I sat on the point of The Rocks to have a sandwich beforehand and to admire the view of the harbour.  There was a rat running around a tree near me.  I thought it was somewhat cute.  After reading this, though, I’m not sure that I want to go to the Sydney Theatre any more.  Does anyone have a HAZMAT suit that I can borrow?

Note that the background is blue.  And the icon is round.  Well, almost.

Anyway. We’ve finally made it to the first play:

The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov in a new version by Andrew Upton.  Directed by Andrew Upton.  Designed by Alice Babidge.  Lighting by Nick Schlieper.  Composition by Alan John.  With Jonathan Biggins, Patrick Brammall, Alan Dukes, Darren Gilshenan, Cameron Goodall, Miranda Otto, Richard Pyros, and Tahki Saul.  11 June – 10 July.

Now this – this is a dream come true.  Assuming that my dreams are as dull as wanting to see a play that I was aware got rave reviews in London.  Which, to be honest, they sometimes are.  Although last night’s dream, though I can’t remember much, I can remember needing to get a pair of pants on, but having trouble because the pants were made like a chef’s jacket – you know how you fold one side over and button it up and then there’s another bit that goes over that and you button that up as well, and it’s all at an angle, and…nevermind.

So.  Program ideas.  Let’s get the easy ones out of the way first: director’s note, writer’s note (which in this case is one person, Andrew Upton – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there needs to be an amalgamation like you get with presents when someone’s birthday is close to Christmas), lighting notes, sound notes, set notes, and costume notes.  Six things and I haven’t even taxed my brain yet.

The blurb starts as follows: “Few citizens of the Soviet Union would have been audacious or foolhardy enough to write a letter of complaint to Stalin but in 1930 writer Mikhail Bulgakov did just that.  Well.  Why don’t we put that letter in the program if we have it.  Or a diary entry.  Or an excerpt from another of Bulgakov’s works that relates to the production.

“The play is set in the Ukraine, where the Russian Revolution is sweeping towards Kiev.”  An article – sorry, essay (article makes it sound like I would be wanting something small and brief, which is not the case) – on the Russian Revolution wouldn’t go astray.

Given that this is a period piece – perhaps some background on the period – there was recently released a number of colour photos from Russia in the year 1900 (or some time around then) – taken by a budding photographer keen to try new technologies.  They would seem to be quite suitable.

Then, perhaps, an essay on Bulgakov himself by a critic or academic – something that tells us what makes Bulgakov different from other writers, what makes him stand out, and so on.  A proper biography of his life would be welcome as well – something spanning more than one page, like most of the writers in STC programs get (unless you’re more than 200 years old, in which case, forget having a biography at all), and which, for the main part, doesn’t involve just listing his works, date of birth and death, and nothing else.

If one could find a review or two of the play from its original premiere in Russia, perhaps they would not seem out of place in the program.

That’s enough to go on for now, methinks.  Onto the next play:

The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.  Text by Raimondo Cortese, lyrics by Jeremy Sams.  Directed by Michael Kantor.  Conducted by Richard Gill.  Set by Peter Corrigan.  Costume by Anna Cordingley.  Lighting by Paul Jackson.  Choreography by Kate Denborough.  With Paul Capsis, Eddie Perfect, Dimity Shepherd, Grant Smith, and John Xintavelonis.  Music performed live by Ensemble Weill.  3 September – 24 September.

A Brecht!  Goodness gracious.  Never seen a Brecht before.  There are two this season.  Looking forward to them.

And yes, my inadequacies as a critic are broad and extensive, like a king of a small African nation who thinks that he knows what it feels like to rule the world.  Sort of.  Anyway, program ideas.

Queue the notes.  Add two for the translators.  Add one for the conductor.  And one for the choreographer.  If none of these people have writing ability, interview them, or get them to write something and then pretty it up – surely there is a writer somewhere at the STC?  It so often seems that no one but the director and the writer exist when one looks through the program.  On one occasion did I see notes from the set designer.  Let’s let the creatives out of the basement, yes?

What else…  A proper biography of Brecht.  An essay – essay – on his ‘epic theatre’.  An essay on the context of the play when it was first premiered.  An essay on the context of the play now – critics are useful for more than just reviewing, you know.  (This is not me trying to get a job.  There are critics far more qualified than me to do stuff like that anyway.)

Anecdotes from the composition of the piece by Brecht and Weill, if they exist, would be interesting.  Excerpts from more of Brecht’s work.  An essay on the music in the play.

Moving on.

Gross und Klein (Big and Small) by Botho Strauss.  English text by Martin Crimp.  Directed by Luc Bondy.  Costumes by Alice Babidge.  Lighting by Nick Schlieper.  Assistant Director/Dramaturg Marie-Louise Bondy.  With Cate Blanchett, Anita Hegh, Belinda McClory, Josh McConville, Katrina Milosevic, Richard Piper, Richard Pyros, Sophie Ross, Chris Ryan, and Martin Vaughan.

On the left we have Cate Blanchett demonstrating why one shouldn’t go into a tanning salon with large sunglasses on.  On the right, the name of the playwright, Botho Strauss – never heard of him.  Whatever.  The play is being directed by Luc Bondy, who has directed all but one of Strauss’ works – Gross und Klein being the final one.

So.  Program stuff.  At the risk of repeating myself (and, to be honest, there is no ‘risk’ involved at all – I’m going to say it every time) – notes.  I think I’ve given enough of an indication of what would be useful when sourcing or commissioning or writing ‘context’ essays.  So – contexts.

Given that the director has made what would seem his life’s work to direct every play written by Botho Strauss, and this is his final play, one would think that an essay on that might be a good idea.  Perhaps pictures of these other productions could be included.  Maybe an interview with the director, apart from his notes, would be a welcome addition.

Perhaps a speech by Herr Strauss would suffice – he has won many awards, and surely has had to make a speech at at least one of them – one would assume that on winning an award you may be required to speak a bit about art, for instance?  That would be most interesting to read.

Anyway, that’s enough.

And that’s that for the Sydney Theatre.  Before we move on to the Drama Theatre, please notice that the borders of these pages were all round.  There’s that design again.

On the left – an article by Tegan Bennett Daylight (I am so stealing that name for a novel some day – the Bennett-Daylight part, at least – very Austenian England with a touch of farce) in which she describes the process by which the box office workers at the Sydney Theatre Company rush to fill up the seats of the new season as the season tickets pile in.  Top stuff.  On the right, a trapezoid, trapezium, or whatever you want to call it.  The shape could very well be important when considering the borders of the next lot of plays, don’t you think?  Onto the first:

In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl.  Directed by Pamela Rabe.  Designed by Tracy Grant Lord.  Lighting by Hartley T A Kemp.  Composition and Sound by Iain Grandage.  With Josh McConville, Mandy McElhinney, Jacqueline McKenzie, Helen Thomson, and Sara Zwangobani.  11 February – 27 March.

Firstly, there are three actors attached to this project who have a surname starting with ‘Mc’ – surely this is a sign of the apocalypse (unless you’re in Scotland, of course, in which case it’s a sign of the times, one suspects).

There’s a blurb on the right,
as I’m sure you can see,
so you go get a light,
and then read it to me.

Said Dr. Seuss.

It includes this interesting morsel of prose: “Her plays…have prompted reviewers and peers to crown her the queen de jour of whimsical theatre in acknowledgement of her uniquely light touch and gentle sense of humour.”

Oh.  God.  I’m striving to be the ideal critic here, but to say I hadn’t already prejudged this play would be, well, a lie.  That quote makes Sarah Ruhl sound like Joanna Murray-Smith on happy pills.  And we all know what I think of Joanna Murray-Smith (and if you don’t, then you can probably guess).

Who comes out of a play shouting to the world, “world, I’m so full of whimsy!”?  Then, perhaps, turning to the nearest street urchin and proffering a crumpled white paper bag to them: “dear child, would you care to partake of a gumdrop with me?”  Then, “la-lalalalalaLAAA!” as you sing off into the sunset.

Not that I’m not looking forward to the play, of course – blurbs rarely give one a good idea of the actual play.  And I’ve never encountered this playwright before.  But there are a disturbing number of warning signs that I do honestly hope will be proved wrong.  I mean, it was nominated for ‘both the Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize’, so, you know…  Whatever.

Program stuff, then.  Notes.  Context.  Extended biographies.  What else.

Oh, here’s a good idea – pictures of Victorian steam-powered vibrators.  Indeed, an essay on them.  I know they exist (don’t ask me how), and I would be terribly interested to read about them.  Of course, such things may not be thought suitable for a program, but I say pish-tosh to that.

An essay on female hysteria.  ‘Cause if there’s one thing that the modern man could do with nowadays, it’s knowing how to deal with female hysteria – am I right, guys?  (I’m joking.  Please don’t kill me, feminists.)  But yes, an essay on hysteria wouldn’t go astray – it provides a curious insight into the times and all that, hysteria being a blanket term for a number of problems that women had/have that now are recognised as proper conditions (post-natal depression, and so on).  I think.  I haven’t actually checked any of that – that’s just from my memory.

And, considering that the play’s ‘traditionally taboo subject of sexual pleasure’ will be, one suspects, quite evident to the audience, perhaps some limericks would not be out of place – a series of poems on the theme of Nantucket, for instance, would be suitable.

No, I’m not being serious about the limericks.

Next play.

Terminus by Mark O’Rowe.  Directed by Mark O’Rowe.  Set and Costume by Jon Bausor.  Lighting by Philip Gladwell.  Sound by Philip Stewart.  4 June – 9 July.

The last part of the blurb is of interest:

“Mark O’Rowe’s previous plays have included Howie the Rookie and Crestfall, and for cinema, he wrote the screenplay of the cult film Intermission.  In Terminus his writing is vivid, engaging, and technically brilliant.  Colloquial, contemporary language is sculpted into tight verse with exceptional skill to create an epic work of both extreme ugliness and beauty.  These vast, elaborate and enthralling narratives are presented with stark simplicity in a thrilling and breathtaking production.  O’Rowe’s fast, furious play is both unapologetically confronting and gloriously enlivening.”

Good lord.  So, according to the above, Terminus is a work that is: ugly yet beautiful, elaborate yet simple, confronting yet enlivening, and contemporary yet in verse.  Throw in ‘black yet white’ and you’ll have the complete set!

And do you think we can lay off the adjectives and adverbs somewhat?  Let’s list them, shall we?  They are: vivid, engaging, technical, brilliant, colloquial, contemporary, tight, exceptional, epic, extreme, ugly, beautiful, vast, elaborate, enthralling, stark, simple, thrilling, breathtaking, fast, furious, unapologetic, confronting, glorious, and enlivening.  That’s 25 descriptives!

And tell me, reader, just how long do you think a play would have to be to achieve all these adjectives?  Three hours?  Three and a half?

No.  For today only I can give you all these in not three hours, not two hours, not even one and three quarter hours – but ninety minutes.  That’s right, folks, in just ninety minutes you can run the entire gamut of the human condition, and all from the comfort of your seat!  Call now so you don’t miss out!  Even Shakespeare couldn’t live up to the hype of this play!

Anyway.  Programs.

Notes.  Contexts.  Extended biographies.  What else.

An essay on Irish playwriting, perhaps.  An essay on the history of this particular play, considering that it has gloriously enlivened and unapologetically confronted half the globe by now.  An interview with the playwright/director (same person) about the play in addition to the notes.

Perhaps an interview with the blurb-writer as well, given how gloriously enlivening this blurb was.  Next play.

Loot by Joe Orton.  Directed by Richard Cottrell.  Composition and Sound by Paul Charlier.  With Darren Gilshenan.  16 September – 23 October.

Richard Cottrell is directing this.  Richard Cottrell also directed Travesties.

I’m looking forward to this play.


Notes.  Contexts.  Extended biographies.

Articles, essays, whatever you can get your hands on, about Joe Orton’s murder by his boyfriend.  Nothing like a scandal to gloriously enliven your program, yes?

An article about the Catholic Church that touches on the issues raised in the play.  Perhaps touches isn’t the best word to use there.

Considering that the program makes the comparison – an article comparing Joe Orton to Oscar Wilde, and how and why they differ, and how and why they are similar.

That’s enough for the moment.  Next play.

No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter.  Directed by Michael Gow.  Set by Robert Kemp.  With Andrew Buchanan, Peter Carroll, John Gaden, and Steven Rooke.  1 November – 18 December.

On the right we see the STC’s new policy on reducing costs – replacing actors with chairs.

This is a play by Pinter.  I’ve never seen a play by Pinter.  I am looking forward to seeing a play by Pinter.

Continuing the theme of analysing the blurbs, here’s something of interest: “Quintessentially Pinteresque, No Man’s Land is complex and layered in meaning.  The precision, playfulness, and humorousness of Pinter’s writing results in a piece of theatre that is as wry as it is perplexing.”

I can just imagine the blurb writer now, sitting down at their desk, struggling, after painfully eking out the gloriously enlivening blurbs beforehand, to continue, to go on and write something truly magnificent.  They see the title: No Man’s Land.  They see the playwright: Harold Pinter.  They ready their pen and begin the next paragraph: Quintessentially Pinteresque

My God!  What insight!  What clarity of mind!  Clearly the blurb-writer is in possession of a brain that transcends all others – their thoughts piercing through the fog of ignorance and getting to that kernel of truth that we all search for, but never find.  So succinct and yet so full of meaning and delivered with such impact as to shake the foundations of our very being.

I can almost not go on in the presence of such genius.  But I shall persevere.

Programs.  Notes.  Contexts.  Extended biographies.

Excerpts from Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Lecture would be interesting to read, perhaps.  An article on the famous ‘Pinter pauses’, maybe – indeed, Pinter himself thought that people took them far too seriously.  An essay on Pinter’s ongoing influence and how he revolutionised theatre and all that.  An article about his relationship with Samuel Beckett.

Next play.

Oh.  Right.  That was the end of the plays to be staged in the Drama Theatre.  Notice that the borders were trapezoidal in shape.

On the left, an article about “A complete ‘Sydney’ evening” – how the area around the Wharf theatres adds to the overall prestige and experience of a gloriously enlivening night out at the theatre, though one suspects that one will only truly appreciate the significance and majesty of all this if you, like the author of this article – a Professor and Dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment at UNSW – get your Rocks off by staring at buildings all day.  (See what I did there?  ‘Rocks off’ because the theatre is in The Rocks?  Oh, forget it…)

Anyway.  Notice the spiky thing.

Zebra by Ross Mueller.  Directed by Lee Lewis.  Lighting by Damien Cooper.  With Bryan Brown and Colin Friels.  10 March – 30 April.

The blurb begins thusly: “New York City.  Winter.  2009.”  Later we’re told that the play has a “distinct contemporaneity”.  Being set in 2009 and being written at around the same time will do that to a play.  Also, the play is “characterised by an acute sense of urgency”.  Probably because it’s trying to get staged before it loses its distinct contemporaneity, yes?

Still, credit must be given to the designer/photographer for the picture – I’m not sure if the neon sign is CGI or real, but it’s impressive either way.

Programs.  Notes.  Contexts.  Hmm.

Essays on the financial crisis, considering that the play seems to be delving into those issues.  Essays on Australia’s relationship with America, for the same reason.

Get a communist to write an essay.  Get a capitalist to write one as well.  The fall from “the dizzy heights of prosperity” would feed into that.

Next play.

Baal by Bertolt Brecht.  Translated by Simon Stone and Tom Wright.  Directed by Simon Stone.  Set by Nick Schlieper.  Costume by Mel Page.  Lighting by Nick Schlieper.  Composition and Sound by Stefan Gregory.  With Shelly Lauman, Mark Winter, and Thomas Wright.  11 May – 11 June.

Tom Wright is a writer/director.  Thomas Wright is an actor.  This could get mighty confusing at some point in the future.

The blurb talks about many things, including who is to direct the play: “Written before Brecht had fully formulated his concept of epic theatre, Baal is distinctly different from his other works.  Poetic and passionate, Baal has all the force and ferocity of the dynamic young man who penned it.  And who better to direct it than young talent Simon Stone (founder and Artistic Director of intrepid independent collective The Hayloft Project) who has gained a reputation for his fresh and exuberant interpretations of classic plays.”

Who better to direct it indeed!  I can think of at least three people that I’d prefer before I’d want Mr. Stone directing it.  Still, you know what they say – ask a rhetorical question, get a sarcastic answer.

This is the second Brecht of the season.  I’m not quite sure that is the wisest of choices – not that I’m particularly disappointed, as I’ve yet to see a Brecht play.  But it’s a curious choice nevertheless.

Programs.  Notes.  Contexts.

What did I say about Brecht’s other play this season, The Threepenny Opera?  Rinse and repeat.


Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson.  Directed by Sarah Goodes.  Designed by Renee Mulder and Romance Was Born.  21 June – 23 July.

Anthony Neilson, playwright, wrote The Wonderful World of Dissocia which was staged at the STC last year.  I wasn’t into theatre then so I can’t comment on that.  Still, according to the blurb it is “contemporary writing at its most exhilarating”, so one supposes that it must be somewhat good.  Note that it isn’t distinctly contemporary, though, even if we’re assured that while it “may be set in 1810…this is theatre at it most modern and vibrant.”  I suppose you can’t have everything.

Neither can you have an extra ‘s’ on the ‘it’ in that sentence to make it grammatically sound.  I found a typo, I found a typo, I found a typo!

Enough of this frivolity.

The last paragraph is noteworthy, and so I shall make a note of it: “For her Main Stage debut at Sydney Theatre Company, director Sarah Goodes has conceived a production that is visually rich, using costume to create Gant’s wonderous worlds, stories, and characters.  Her collaborators include Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett from fashion house Romance Was Born, whose outrageous and flamboyant clothing designs are known for their inherent theatricality.  Together this team will create a production that simultaneously embraces the mysteriousness of the play and relishes in its extravaGant humour.”


Fuck off.

Only one person in Sydney is allowed to make a joke like that, and his name starts with A and he runs a blog that starts with E.


I mean, I feel very strongly about this.  Very firm in my position.  You could even go so far as to say that I was Adamant about it.  Take that!

Anyway.  Programs.  Notes.  Contexts.

If there isn’t a six page essay for a costume designer’s note in this I will scream my lungs out of my chest.  Considering that a fashion house is working with the director, it shouldn’t be too hard to find some space, yes?

Perhaps an essay on travelling shows.  Travelling circuses.  The dynamics of that.

An essay on loneliness might be good.


Blood Wedding by Frederico Garcia Lorca.  Translated by Iain Sinclair.  Directed by Iain Sinclair.  Set by Rufus Didwiszus.  Composition and Sound by Max Lyandvert.  With Lynette Curran, Julia Ohannessian, Zindzi Okenyo, Leah Purcell, Sophie Ross, Kenneth Spiteri.  5 August – 11 September.

Hmm.  Blood Wedding.  Very…bloody.  Very…wedding-ish.  I don’t think I have anything else to say on this, apart from liking the fact that I’ll finally get to see a play by Lorca.

So.  Programs.  Notes.  Contexts.  Extended biographies.

Indeed, an essay on Lorca’s life would be good, as he didn’t have the best of existences, what with being executed and all that.  Plus there was a relationship (possibly) with Dali, who is someone I like, hence making Lorca and his relationship with him something interesting for me.

Perhaps an essay on whatever school of art Lorca belonged to.

Maybe include some of his poetry.  Poetry seems to have a way of finding itself in the STC programs.  Especially when there’s a page spare.


Bloodland by Wayne Blair.  Concept by Stephen Page.  Story by Kathy Marika, Stephen Page, and Wayne Blair.  Directed by Stephen Page.  Costume by Jennifer Irwin.  Lighting by Damien Cooper.  With Kathy Marika, Hunter Page-Lochard, Kelton Pell, and Ursula Yovich.  7 October – 13 November.

Well doesn’t she just look like a barrel of fun?

From the blurb: “Created especially for Sydney Theatre Company by director and choreographer Stephen Page and writer Wayne Blair, Bloodland promises to be a unique work of scale, ambition and cultural significance.”

Fascinating.  I mean, I would’ve thought that all plays could be described as “unique” works in “scale, ambition and cultural significance”, but apparently Bloodland is more unique than the others.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was gloriously enlivening as well.

On the right we have the title overlaying some sort of white text on a red background – I have no idea what the text says but I’d be very interested to find out.

Anyway.  Programs.

Notes.  Contexts.

An essay or essays on the aboriginal culture behind the play.  I’d go into specifics but I don’t know the specifics.  Surprise me.

Interviews with the Yolgnu people about stuff.  At least I hope it’s Yolgnu.  That’s what it said in the program.  Wikipedia, on the other hand, says that it’s Yolngu, so…

And – isn’t this interesting – apparently Yolngu means ‘person’ in Yolnu languages.  So when the program says “Yolgnu people” is that a bit like saying PIN number?  Kind of like Fuji means ‘mountain’ in Japanese, so saying Mt. Fuji is just saying Mountain Mountain.

Speaking of language, I’m sure an essay on the language and perhaps the pidgin English would be quite desirable as well.

And maybe some mythology if mythology exists.

And – and – that’s the end of the main stage season!  What a marathon.

Notice that there were spiky borders.

But wait – there’s more!

On the left, A Life in Three Acts.  Directed by Mark Ravenhill.  Produced by Hetty Shand.  Pictures Researched by Sheila Corr.  Associately Directed by Hester Chillingworth.  Performed by Mark Ravenhill and Bette Bourne.  4 January – 16 January.

It’s something about a conversation between Mark Ravenhill the playwright and his friend and performer Bette Bourne as they talk about their lives.  From the blurb: “Based on edited transcripts of a series of long, private conversations, A Life in Three Acts is a recreation on stage of two friends reminiscing about one of their lives.”

They’re not very private conversations any more, are they?

On the right, Bigger Than Jesus.  Created by Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks.  Directed by Daniel Brooks.  Set and Video by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson.  Lighting by Beth Kates.  Sound by Ben Chaisson.  Performed by Rick Miller.  18 January – 29 January.

From the looks of it, it’s a one man show that promises to be irreverent.  Joy.

I’d give program ideas but as these plays are part of the Sydney Festival, no doubt half the program will be taken up by the Premier’s Message, the Mayor’s Message, the Janitor’s Message, and so on, so there’ll be little to no room for anything else.

Also, please note that there is no round, trapezoidal, or spiky in the above.  Nor red, green, or blue.  We seem to have completely lost the design in these pages.

The Wharf Revue is on the next page but I’m too lazy to write anything about it.  Then, a message from ‘our principle sponsor’:

Interesting.  First, it’s my gloriously enlivening privilege to point you towards the photo:

Here we have Uwe Hagen, managing director of Audi Australia, giving us a prime example of why you never see dictators smiling in their propaganda posters.

Then, from the text: “For Audi, it is more than just a sponsorship; it is a committed partnership and a shared vision to bring innovative performances to the stage, much as our vehicles do so off-stage.  We look forward to strengthening the relationship between our two great brands in Australia as we deliver progressive performance.  Enjoy the Season ahead.”

Right.  Apparently Audi’s vehicles bring “innovative performances…off-stage”.  Exactly what is an ‘innovative performance’ for a car?  Not breaking down?  Then we’re informed that Audi will “deliver progressive performance” – so that means the cars are guaranteed to be able to move forward, then?

And for that matter, has anyone sat down and worked out what a ‘progressive performance’ means in relation to the Sydney Theatre Company?

The words…the words – they mean nothing!

Moving on, then, to that all important part of theatre, the community:

Ahh.  Some design consistency is returned – if you’ll kindly peruse the cartoon figures on the page, you’ll see that the heads are either round, spiky, or trapezoidal.  They also have shoes that correspond to the shape of their head.  Is this some sort of subliminal comment by the STC on how a person’s head affects what they wear?  Is the STC now classifying audience members into three distinct groups – the blockheads (trapezoids), normals (circles), and critics (spiky)?  Is this some sort of pseudo-scientific resurgence of phrenology?

No.  Probably not.

On the left we’re invited to “Join the conversation” – including having “Your Say” on each of the productions by submitting your reviews/opinions to a form on the website.  Such as this one, from Long Day’s Journey Into Night:

Now, “submissions may be published on this page of the website” might sound concerning to some of you who may have concerns about censorship and so on – what was it that Lenin said in Travesties… “Everyone is free to write and say whatever he likes, without any restrictions.  But every voluntary association, including the party, is also free to expel members who use the name of the party to advocate anti-party views.”  But fear not!  The Sydney Theatre Company is honourable and moral and would of course submit differing and contrary views.  Let’s just look at the 2010 season so far (I’ve taken the liberty of not mentioning any plays that had no comments):

Spring Awakening has 19 comments.  19/19 comments are positive.
Stockholm has 8 comments.  8/8 comments are positive.
Honour has 17 comments.  17/17 comments are positive.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night has 3 comments.  3/3 comments are positive.
August: Osage County has 4 comments.  4/4 comments are positive.
The Comedy of Errors has 2 comments.  2/2 comments are positive.
Tusk Tusk has 1 comment.  1/1 comments are positive.
Like a Fishbone has 7 comments.  7/7 comments are positive.
11 and 12 has 1 comment.  1/1 comments are positive.
Vs Macbeth has 2 comments.  2/2 are positive.

Goodness gracious.  Talk about a satisfied audience!  Even with the extended invitation in this booklet asking you to submit your “bouquets and brickbats” which are “there for all to see and respond to”, to have absolutely none of your commentators disappointed with your production is truly amazing.  I mean, personally, I’d be worried about the brickbat business in this city.  It might be needing a government rescue package soon.

Just remarkable.  Indeed, I’d even go so far as to say that it was gloriously enlivening.

Next page.

Good good.  Next.

On the left, a plea for donations.  Of interest:

First, the scale on your bar graph seems to be a bit off – what with $5,000 apparently being half of $500,000.

Secondly, $220,000 dollars to pay for the costumes for TWO plays?!?



I’m not even being sarcastic about this.  It really costs that much?  Yikes.

As for the $100 dagger, however – I don’t have the money to spare to donate that much, but I’ve got a knife at home that might suffice.  It’s not a stunt knife though – but think about how much of a saving you could make on actor’s wages if you used it!

Anyway.  On the right, we have a message from patron Giorgio Armani, who shows us how a message from a patron/sponsor should be done.  Read up, Mr. Hagen.

After that, stuff about the green policy of the STC.  Nothing particularly exciting there.  Two pages of sponsors.  Calendar of the year.  Ticket prices.  Suggested performances.  Access performances.  Venue information.  A rather nice map:


Notes?  Well if you insist…  I mean, I’m not one to unnecessarily foist my opinions on others, but if you’re sure about it…

I like the season.  I’m excited about it.  As for the programs – well, we’ll see.  It should be noted here that the National Theatre in London – home of the best programs in the world that I’ve encountered – make a profit on their programs.  I’m sure the STC does as well.  The National Theatre, however, commissions multiple essays per program.  And pays licensing fees for photographs.  And employs a number of people in a special and separate program department to do research.

Why…if only something like that were possible in Australia…


Needless to say, I look forward tremendously to both the 2011 season and the 2011 programs.

No doubt it will be gloriously enlivening.


Written by epistemysics

October 1, 2010 at 11:31 am

Posted in Theatre Reviews

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. RE: YOR SAY

    I hope you are not implying that the STC only posts positive feedback and naysayers are sent off to watch theatre at Belvoir?

    Perhaps we should sent in a selection of negative feedbacks – funny, sad, angry, ropeable, suicidal – and see if any of them get in?

    I a rather interested these days in how info is ‘controlled’ by theatre companies and even commissioning venues (SOH?)…lol

    James Waites

    October 1, 2010 at 9:34 pm

  2. I must say that I’m shocked, James – shocked – that you would be so cynical as to think such horrible things about our beloved theatre company! I mean, just because there’s not a single negative comment on their site doesn’t straight away suggest that there’s something awry going on, like a miniature version of the Chinese government censoring and torturing dissenters. Honestly! So cynical…

    But yes, we should send some in. Perhaps with secret messages encoded into ‘positive’ comments if what you think is true and they won’t post blatantly negative ones. (Not that they would, of course – the STC would never do anything like that!)


    October 2, 2010 at 1:59 am

  3. Ironically, when I was going to the wharf for Oresteia, a freaking huge sewer rat ran in front of me. Sydney theatre and rats- a conspiracy?

    Sophie Bruhn

    October 2, 2010 at 4:24 am

  4. I’m afraid that I’m not at liberty to comment on your rodent situation (non-disclosure agreements having been signed and whatnot).


    October 3, 2010 at 3:13 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: