At the time Judy Garland was destroying herself behind closed doors and on stage at Talk of the Town nightclub during her last concert season I also happened to be in London.
It was the winter of 1968-69 and I remembered seeing snow then for the first time. I didn’t, however, see any of Ms Garland’s shows during that 5 week season not only because I couldn’t afford it, but also because I wasn’t interested. Judy Garland was somewhat passé, known less for her artistry and more for the sad scandals that continued to plague her life – a bit of an embarrassment, really and old, after all.
I remembered hearing about her death in 1969 and, although finding it sad, was not surprised. At the time of her death aged 47 – what I had thought of as old – she was already iconic but the legend that was ‘Garland’ – the tragic, self-destructive artist – continued to grow after death. It was via the legend that I got to know about Judy Garland and heard her songs and saw her movies and watched black and white documentaries of her performing solo and with daughters Liza and Lorna and then Liza talking about ‘Mumma.’
Main Image: Jerome Meyer and Alec Snow. All images by Al Caeiro
I confess to loving a good play title; it can occupy a fruitful seminar for ages – that’s the recovering academic in me talking.
I’m also very fond of theatricalism in design and execution – the challenge and frisson created when it bumps up against realism in a production and, as it pulls naturalistic acting into its embrace, gets to be over the top and obvious, understated and true. Sometimes you can be wrong-footed but the dance is always enjoyable. And so, on opening night of La Boite’s latest Season 2013 offering Holding the Man by Tommy Murphy and directed by David Berthold, I found a lot to like.
Mr Murphy’s much-admired play has a new production by Mr Berthold who has directed it previously to great acclaim: at Griffin Theatre and the Opera House in Sydney (2006) and subsequently in Melbourne, the Brisbane Powerhouse and in London (2010). This was my first time. The play has been adapted from the late Timothy Conigrave‘s biography of the same name. It is also unknown to me though it’s gone to the top of the must-read list. I want to hear more of the singular voice of Conigrave who, in the play at least, is not the most likeable of characters but certainly a most compelling, and isn’t that the way with so many of the best roles going?
Alec Snow, making his professional debut at La Boite, is cast as the man who is held by John Caleo (Jerome Meyer) the light to his dark, the chalk to his cheese, the athlete to his artist. Mr Meyer is also making his first professional appearance in this production. And here’s where the play’s title is food for thought. ‘Holding the man’ is a term taken from AFL football – it defines a transgression that incurs a penalty. Conigrave the actor and Caleo the footballer (and Essendon fan) were lovers. The many personal and societal transgressions that accompany the lives of the protagonists from childhood through adulthood provide the narrative with its subject matter and tension. Continue reading Review: Holding the Man – La Boite Theatre at the Roundhouse
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
Main Image: Bryan Probets (Touchstone) | Images: Al Caeiro
David Berthold is quickly setting up a tradition for La Boite: opening a season with a Shakespeare, directed by the Artistic Director himself. As You Like It was preceded by Hamlet (2010) and Julius Caesar (2011), in which Berthold proved he could bend the material to his will, creating sexy and contemporary productions. Make no mistake, As You Like It has a completely different feel, and is a more cohesive production than its La Boite forefathers. Indeed, it feels as though Berthold is infinitely more comfortable in the comedy of Shakespeare, and the result is superb production.
As You Like It centres mainly around the love quest of Rosalind (Helen Howard), the daughter of a Duke who has been usurped. Rosalind is banished from the new Duke’s court and takes her cousin Celia (Helen Cassidy) and the court’s jester (Bryan Probets) with her. In order to escape persecution Rosalind disguises herself as a man, and leads her band of exiles through the Forest of Arden in an attempt to find her exiled father (Kate Wilson). But the real spice of the plot lies in Orlando (Thomas Larkin) who is forced to flee the court when he is rejected by his older brother Oliver (Luke Cadden) and then upsets the fascist usurper Duke (Hayden Spencer) by challenging and defeating his wrestler, Charles (Thomas Carney). But before he flees, Orlando and Rosalind fall in love, only to be reunited once again in the Forest of Arden, but with Rosalind in a man’s disguise. Commence Shakespearean gender-bending comedy.
The show is stolen, in my opinion, by an absolutely spell-binding design. Renee Mulder’s costumes and set are absolutely breath-taking.
This is theatre design at its very best, peppered with all sorts of tricks and surprises that the audience never see coming … it’s a spectacular achievement.
Mulder’s work is accompanied by sublime music and sound from Guy Webster, and incredibly clever lighting from David Walters. Together, the trio create a forest of Arden that is warm and inviting. The evocation of a campfire makes the potentially cold La Boite theatre feel small and intimate. The gypsy aesthetic of the the exiled Duke and his kingdom has the appeal of a charming, cleaner Woodford Folk Festival. It’s a spectacular achievement. Continue reading Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse
I’m conscious that this interview has been quite a while in the write-up. Of course, I have no one to blame but myself and the busy-ness of life since I sat down to talk with David Walters beside a cosy fire after a delicious dinner on the last day of July. However, I’m also going to blame him (at least in part) for the vast amount of fascinating material I’ve had to sift through; I recorded our chat and took copious notes that night.
David Walters is a softly-spoken, articulate, and passionate raconteur. He is also particularly modest about his own achievements and I had to probe to find out more about his work. That night he was genuinely enthusiastic in sharing his vast knowledge on the subject of light itself, something that clearly engages him. What I had thought would be a simple chat about his work as a lighting designer and the challenges of Water Wars – the show we were both then working on – became a wonderfully rich tutorial for me on the philosophy of light, technology, art, and sustainability.
I feel privileged to be where I am right now. I have at my disposal ways of creating light no one else has ever had.
As we get started, David sets the scene like an expert tale-teller. He riffs on the philosophy of light as a metaphor for goodness and knowledge, and moves on to the social history of light creation.
In order to light cities some species of whales were hunted to extinction for their oil, and I learn that the probably well-lit streets of Denmark in the 16-17 centuries were fragrant with the smell of cod-liver oil! Candles were once a marker of wealth – ‘Staying up all night was very fashionable in the 18th century,’ he tells me, ‘if you could afford it.’ Such conspicuous consumption means that one night’s revelling could burn up the equivalent of a worker’s annual salary. However, this form of lighting was also a sustainable product. ‘People ate their tallow candles when times got hard.’ We head then towards the introduction of gas lighting, and I find out why ‘limelight‘ got its name. We move right along in lighting history to the coming of the incandescent bulb and the invention of whole new kinds of light throughout the 20th century. This culminated in the development of the LED (light-emitting diode) which, David tells me, has been around for a while, at least since the 1990s. ‘We’ve learned how to mix white via the RGB spectrum but,’ he notes, ‘LEDs were not very powerful or useful.’ Apparently it just took a bit longer to learn how to ‘cajole more light from them using chemical elements.’ At the mention of physics, my eyes may well have glazed over, so David moved on swiftly to art history. Continue reading David Walters (Interview 27)
Greenroom’s interviews and reviews have been on hold for a bit – as you may have noticed if you are a regular reader here. I’ve been in the trenches known as ‘production week’ for Umber’s production of Water Wars by Elaine Acworth, which played up here on the Darling Downs at Oakey on Wednesday and Thursday. Oh, by the by, there’s nothing quite like an out-of-town opening on a cold winter’s night to bring out theatre’s true believers and supporters – just saying!
The entire company appreciated enormously the effort our stalwart first audiences made to complete the theatre-making circle for us before we head to Brisbane to be part of La Boite’s Indie season next month. Anyway, this post is not about Water Wars but, If you do want to read up on what’s going on, you could check out Umber’s blog or their Facebook page where you will find videos and pictures, and interviews as well as comments on the tech side of things for Water Wars – which are just plain amazing, by the way – definitely more on that to come.
So, the tyranny of distance being what it is, I’ve missed some of the plethora of good things happening on Brisbane’s main stages and in indie theatre this month: Dead Puppet Society’s The Harbinger – sold out much to the glee of La Boite Theatre’s marketing department (good on ’em); some of the Queensland Music Festival‘s offerings including Drag Queensland (where I would have paid anything for a ticket to see a glittery Lucas Stibbard don falsies); the new-in-town-Antix company’s Speaking In Tongues by Andrew Bovell – a chance to see this next week, maybe; Secret Bridesmaids’ Business at the Brisbane Powerhouse; and the 40th anniversary celebration performance of The Removalists at QTC (though I will get to a day-time showing next week). Aside: I got married in the week my husband directed QTC’s first production of this in 1975 – talk about theatre getting in the way of more important life matters – but that’s another post.
Next month rolls out more and more theatre so I’m wondering whether Winter really is Brisbane’s theatre ‘season’. I guess it is.
Oh, and don’t be misled by my use of the word ‘trenches’ above. The experience of working on a new play with everyone involved in the Water Wars production company has been thrilling – hard work, yes – but also a huge buzz. And I got to meet and get to know that lighting genius David Walters. Aside: David is another USQ Theatre graduate from the first year – 1975 – the year QTC first produced The Removalists and my life changed. Loving being back …