Opening nights can be times of high anticipation or high anxiety depending on which side of the stage you happen to be. They are never dull and are usually also suffused with excitement especially if it's a world-premiere and, in Australia, if it's a new David Williamson
So it was on Thursday at the Playhouse in Brisbane for Managing Carmen
which we all knew well in advance from the marketing is a play about a champion AFL football player who likes dressing up in frocks. Cue dozens of blokey jokes ...
The fact that Williamson has written a sweet and clever morality tale with tolerance at its heart is a measure of how the big man of Australian drama can catch a moment in that fabled zeitgeist
out there and spin it into a yarn that's funny and true. He's done that throughout his career, been labelled at one time as 'the Chekhov of Australian drama' for the way he lines up aspects of Australian culture and its middle-class foibles and then pokes mullock. The comparison, like all such, are odious. He's Williamson and critics have had their way with him over the years. Like his work or not, consider it trite or profound, berate him for the lack of epics or large-scale social criticism in his astonishing output, Williamson's work is something to celebrate. His latest is a gem to treasure. Continue reading Review: Managing Carmen – Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC Playhouse
Image: Katy Curtain and Norman Doyle - Photography: Amelia Dowd
In a city that looks remarkably like Brisbane, cameras are watching your every move. Riots are escalating beyond control. More and more people are disobeying curfew. In an unremarkable cinema, a political (or pornographic?) film is shown to an ideologically divided crowd. It’s the beginning of an evening that will spin out of control.
This is the world of He’s Seeing Other People Now, written by theatrical rising (and shooting) star and actress Anna McGahan. This is Ms McGahan’s first work as a playwright, and it's directed by well-known local emerging director Melanie Wild.
Overall, the play is dangerously under-developed. The ideas and characters that are presented here seem half-formed and often superficial. Navigating the expositional landscape is difficult. I think the central premise of the play is that the citizens aren’t allowed to touch, but I’m still uncertain.
Unfortunately, Ms Wild’s direction does little to help the audience out. The two performers are asked to play a variety of characters. Some are recurring, others don’t appear more than once. Figuring out who is who is a confusing process. In addition, the staging means a small and two-dimensional performance space. What should be a physically tense hour ends up not packing a punch.
But all of that out of the way, this is a play you should see. I need to admit a bias here: I’m very good friends with optikal bloc, the team behind the projection design. This bias unfortunately means that you may interpret my following comments as disingenuous. I promise I’m being sincere when I say that this is one of the slickest audio visual designs a Brisbane stage has seen in years, let alone for an independent theatre program. The transitions between scenes are sublime and are the hi-light of the production.
The lighting design from Daniel Anderson is beautifully under-stated and intelligent. Phil Slade’s compositions are predictably accomplished and lush. Jessica Ross’ design binds these elements together into a seamless technical package that is simply outstanding.
Norman Doyle and Katy Curtain, the two performers, do their best with what is given to them. Katy Curtain does particularly well to find fantastically comic moments for her characters that give life and badly needed energy to scenes. Barbara Lowing and Lucas Stibbard provide well-performed, funny voice-overs.
There’s a strong theme of meta-theatricality running through the play that I can’t really comment on without spoiling wonderfully surprising elements of the show. The show’s attempts to didactically link its themes to reality lack a clear direction and purpose. I will say this: the final five minutes of this show are worth the ticket price alone. It’s ambitious. Successful or not, it’s sure to be a conversational landmark within the theatre industry for years to come. He’s Seeing Other People Now is sure to start an interesting debate about the limits and purpose of meta-theatre.
Go and see this show if you like to be surprised and you’re part of the Brisbane theatrical community. Being theatre-literate isn’t compulsory, but it certainly helps. If you’re a theatre student, you should absolutely see this piece for its important and unique contribution to new Queensland works. The play’s deficiencies are compensated with a short run time and exquisite technical design. He’s Seeing Other People Now will certainly be talked about.
He's Seeing Other People Now by Anna McGahan plays at Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre till 21 July. Details on website.