Doctors in the House (Interview 38)

I became aware a few months ago of a new crop of doctoral graduates whose names were very familiar to many of us in Queensland as performing artists and creatives.

The reasons for taking on such an enormous, all-consuming project – one that can occupy years of research and writing – is something that each prospective doctoral student mulls over well  before signing on the application’s dotted line. In fact, most university graduate schools provide a period in which the candidate has to research the topic, pitch the idea to a panel and go through other academic hoops before the candidacy is approved. It’s a bit like the audition, call-back, second call-back etc., before you get the gig. And then it starts – for many, the longest production period you’ll ever know.

I wanted to chat with three of the most recent theatre doctors: David Morton, Katherine Lyall-Watson, and Andrea Moor all of whom are busy, practising artists. Katherine Lyall-Watson’s latest play MOTHERLAND, a Patrick White finalist opens its season tomorrow night at Metro Arts. Andrea Moor is appearing in QTC’s DESIGN FOR LIVING, and David Morton, the AD of the busy independent company Dead Puppet Society, has just finished a residency with the South African company Handspring (you may know them for their work in WARHORSE) and is also working in NYC. And this is rather typical of their arts practice. Apart from anything else, where did they get the time?

I wanted  to get a sense of why they decided to start out on the academic track and how, if it all, it had changed their own artistic practice. Was it a hunger for learning or a more pragmatic desire i.e., to create another career path?  One thing is certain; everyone attempting and successfully completing a PhD or a professional doctorate is never the same again!

Here in their own words are their responses.

Congratulations to them all and to all those others out there working away on their own doctoral productions – chookas!

Continue reading Doctors in the House (Interview 38)

Review: The Lady of the House of Love – Queensland Music Festival, Brisbane City Council and Metro Arts – Sue Benner Theatre

You go away for a bit and, when you get home, find out from friends just how many good shows you’ve missed. It’s inevitable, I suppose; Winter is the busiest time of the theatre year in SE Queensland. The indies are out in full force right now joining the main-house and touring productions at QPAC – harbingers for the coming Brisbane Festival and its accompanying fringe events in early spring.

It’s not hard to miss a show or two in Brisbane these days. The range and general quality is impressive. Greenroom has missed a couple or come to them late in their season – no bad thing of course, although it does mean you have rather missed the bus when it comes to getting a review out in the usual time frame for such things. As a side note, I managed to catch the marvellous Venus in Fur from Queensland Theatre Company before it closed last week. The reviews were universally glowing, and deservedly so for David Ives‘ intellectual hijinks superbly directed by Andrea Moor and magnificently played by Libby Munro and Todd Macdonald. People are still talking about it; I don’t think they knew what had hit them. Plays like this confirm why we love theatre. As do productions like The Lady of the House of Love an equally beautifully realised fantasy but in another theatrical key altogether. I also came late to this production and I am so glad I did not miss it. Continue reading Review: The Lady of the House of Love – Queensland Music Festival, Brisbane City Council and Metro Arts – Sue Benner Theatre

Review: Romeo and Juliet – Queensland Theatre Company at Playhouse QPAC

This is a big, elemental production. It is austere and physical, stripped back to the essentials. There is no blood, little adornment, no shoes even. The focus is on the actor’s body – its material and vocal expressiveness in service of the text. In so many ways it reminded me of Poor Theatre’s stripping back to the fundamentals of performance in, as Grotowski attempted to describe it, a ‘… discarding of masks, the revealing of the real substance: a totality of physical and mental reactions.’

Director Jennifer Flowers has produced a Romeo and Juliet that will appeal to those who like their Shakespeare and their acting unvarnished and quick. Certainly, this production is all of that. Playing time is under 2 and a half hours with no interval.

The cast of twelve (8 men and 4 women) inhabit a world that is indeterminate; their unadorned costumes are of another time and place although in setting – elemental stone and water – designer Bill Haycock (with lighting by David Walters) has beautifully referenced the coldness of a classical citadel rather than the usual richness and warmth of Verona’s Renaissance city. It fits the rest of the production and provides a new viewing of a play whose story is so well known in our culture that even those who have never experienced it on page, stage or screen feel that they ‘know’ it. Ms Flowers’ production is a bold revisioning, and one that may take people by surprise. That’s no bad thing at all. Continue reading Review: Romeo and Juliet – Queensland Theatre Company at Playhouse QPAC

Review: An Oak Tree – Queensland Theatre Company @ Bille Brown Studio

QTC has kicked off its first production in the inaugural Studio season with An Oak Tree by Tim Crouch, a UK actor-writer. The play is directed in another first (his) by the Company’s new Artistic Associate Todd MacDonald. An Oak Tree has had a good performance track record since its first appearance at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in 2005. For QTC it’s played out over 75 minutes in a new configuration in the BB Studio complete with red curtain, a little stage, plastic chairs and small drinks tables – yes you can bring yours in if you like – there’s no interval, by the way. It’s rather like a cosy Leagues Club somewhere, which is handy, because we learn that is where this performance within a performance takes place.

By the way, there is a tree in An Oak Tree. It takes its name from an art work (1973) by Michael Craig-Martin. However, the play’s tree is one spun out of your own imagination – a virtual tree, if you like. Read the Wikipedia entry on Craig-Martin’s artwork highlighted above, or scan your programme and you will get some sense of what Crouch’s play explores: need, faith, the capacity to give credence to the impossible – like transubstantiation or a change in the form or substance of something. An example is the sacramental bread and wine which, during the consecration at a Catholic Mass, is believed to become the body and blood of Christ whilst maintaining its original appearance. From another angle, theatre makers talk about ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’ as part of the transaction between the work of art on stage and the audience’s reception of it. On a more human level An Oak Tree is about grieving and coping and the terrible vulnerability of the human condition.

An Oak Tree is a small but very rich and detailed work. It is not a play for the inattentive or the casual observer, or for actors afraid to step outside their comfort zone.

However, whilst it plays with your head and with dramatic structure and language An Oak Tree‘s narrative line is quite simple and, I promise, there are no spoilers if you read further. Two people – one, a hypnotist and the other an audience member – come together in what is, supposedly, a hypnotist’s act in a club – all for a bit of fun, ladies and gentlemen. Ostensibly strangers at this point, it turns out the pair have a shared history which is gradually revealed. The individual trajectories of their lives intersected at what dramatists used to call the ‘inciting incident.’ Here, it’s one which has devastated both. Their lives have continued, but each has been crippled by that moment in the past when both were forever changed. The content and subject of the play revolves around their interaction on stage and the playing out of their coping and survival mechanisms. Almost inevitably, their lives bleed into one another; we see their becoming as one-another by the play’s end. Continue reading Review: An Oak Tree – Queensland Theatre Company @ Bille Brown Studio

Review: Water Falling Down – Queensland Theatre Company

The time has come to declare the ubiquitous ’75-110 minute full-length play-without-an-interval’ as the norm on local stages. The hefty play from not all that long ago – the ones with an interval and sometimes even two – seem to have gone. The really old ones – the classics – are more likely to make their appearance in a ‘movie-length’, reworked adaptation like La Boite’s Julius Caesar or Belvoir Street’s recent The Wild Duck. Soon interval drinks will seem quaintly old-fashioned, something which front-of-house bar managers may, or may not appreciate. Of course, it makes for an earlier night than used to be the case, opens up getting home by public transport, and there’s more time for after-show get togethers. Such was the case last night at Queensland Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of Mark Swivel’s Water Falling Down (running time 90 minutes). QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre did the honours, and it was just about the perfect size and space for what is a very intimate take on love, loss and rocky father-son relationships.

Last night also marked Andrea Moor’s professional debut as a director with the state theatre company. Ms Moor is an accomplished actor and teacher of acting and, for the past couple of years, has been honing her directorial skills as an emerging artist with QTC as well as with independent productions in Brisbane. Greenroom had the pleasure of doing an interview with Andrea in 2010. Water Falling Down is Sydney-based playwright Mark Swivel’s fifth work presented first at the National Play Festival in 2010. The play’s subject matter reminded me, albeit briefly, of the bittersweet comedy of the television series of Mother and Son. It plays out in the same territory but in a more sober key – an ageing parent and adult child negotiating a relationship that changes by turn as child becomes parent and parent child. Water Falling Down features Ron Haddrick and Andrew Buchanan in two plum roles as the father and son on a literal and metaphoric journey together. The play’s events are sparked by the increasing frailty and aphasia of the father and by the son’s desire for love and understanding. The setting is a trip to Europe designed to bring the pair together and to revive memories before the progress of the father’s condition removes words and communication forever.

A side note – I must confess to being somewhat in awe of Ron Haddrick. He was one of the actors whose names were very familiar to me when I was growing up as a child of radio drama and black and white television back in the 60s. His voice and acting were always thrilling, and Mr Haddrick’s reputation in the Australian theatre industry remains second to none. He is greatly admired and loved by colleagues and was also a terrific cricketer – he represented SA in the Sheffield Shield competition in the 1950s. Last night I very much enjoyed seeing Mr Haddrick, one of our best senior artists working side by side with one of our best younger ones, Andrew Buchanan. Messrs Haddrick and Buchanan were beautifully cast in their respective roles and they brought their considerable individual and collective acting skills to bear on the work.

Andrea Moor’s directorial vision has wrapped Water Falling Down in a production which provides the dynamic missing in Mark Swivel’s play. The text is essentially a collage of scenes which seem very often repetitious and which don’t take the opportunity to examine further the relationship between father and son. As a result the action feels static, and dramatic tension dissipates in a series of stops and starts. This could also be part of the reason why the play feels longer than its 90 minutes of playing time.

Water Falling Down has a tender heart and it contains many beautifully written and nuanced scenes. I was greatly moved by one towards the end of the play when the father finally opens up to the son in a fleeting moment of lucidity – the words flow as he speaks of his limitations, lifelong fears and especially of the comfort of an understanding wife.  The richness of the writing here was matched by the finesse of the playing by both Haddrick and Buchanan. At the end however, there’s a feeling that the individual trees are more interesting than the whole wood which is Water Falling Down. It just doesn’t pull together.

Andrea Moor has picked an excellent production team for her debut for Queensland Theatre Company – some are collaborators from previous productions. Production values are always high with QTC and this production is no exception. Design for Water Falling Down by Ross Wallace and lit by Jason Glenwright is minimalist-elegant and visually very stylish. Mr Wallace’s video and still images are projected on to a giant bank of sliding screens and help situate the play’s locations. Along with Phil Hagstrom’s music, these contribute to the play’s atmosphere. A revolve enables ‘travelling’ and scene changes without hands-on assistance. Scene changes felt a little long, but perhaps this is something which the season will rectify as backstage changes speed up in what I understand is pretty much a black-out state.

For many in the audience the subject matter of the play will resonate strongly. Mr Swivel himself wrote the play out of the personal experience of his own father’s failing health and Andrea Moor writes in her director’s note of the relationship that was forged as she nursed her own mother in the last year of her life. The subject matter of the play is rich and affecting but, if I had a wish, it would be that the writer looks again at the resolution in the play’s final moments. For my taste, at least, this moment is overly-sentimentalised and reductive. Endings of all kinds are hard.

 

Water Falling Down plays at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane until 7 May

A correction brought to my attention by Ross Wallace, the designer of Water Falling Down – video and still images were created by Mr Wallace as the Designer and not by Declan McMonagle who is, as the program notes, attributed as ‘Assistant Video Editor.’ Greenroom apologies for this confusion and has made the appropriate correction above.