Review: No Man’s Land – Queensland Theatre Company & Sydney Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio

The last time I was at the Bille Brown Studio some weeks back it was in an unholy mess – the lads and lasses from The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Company had seen to that during the course of I Feel Awful. I wrote afterwards of feeling sorry for the stage management team who had to clean up after every performance.

Last night I walked back into an altogether different space. Designer Robert Kemp has transformed the BB’s minimalist black into the cosy living room of an upper middle class London home – the kind you see in movies where the whisky comes in cut glass tumblers and the soda splashes out of siphons. This is old-fashioned (if shabby) gentility on display. There is a huge back wall of bookshelves (complete with a secret entrance), a very well-stocked drinks cabinet. Rugs adorn the polished wood floor, and lamps of all kinds are on the shelves. There’s a comfy club chair to lounge in and, to complete the picture, a couple of China dogs – those most-assuredly English mantelpiece adornments. Get the picture? It’s all for No Man’s Land, Harold Pinter’s marvellous play about the decay of the British Empire – or is it? One is never quite sure with Pinter. However, I took my cue from the character Spooner (Peter Carroll) who leaps with delight as a metaphor escapes from the lips of Hirst (John Gaden) during the course of their extraordinary encounter in Hirst’s living room. With Pinter, you take all the clues you can get. Metaphors aside, the odd couple have met up on Hampstead Heath, and Spooner, a snowy-haired, greasy-suited pixie of a con-man – clearly fallen on harder times – has inveigled his way into the staid Hirst’s home for a drink and a chat. What happens after that is the substance of the play.

The Pinter trademarks are all there in No Man’s Land: characters confined to a single room, mysterious arrivals, and the sense of  menace in the air – even the towering shelves look as though they could collapse inwards and bury the protagonists. And then there’s the linguistic relish of dialogue which winds itself around Pinter’s favourite themes – memory, power and sexuality. However, in this production, the Pinter-esque pauses, beats and often lugubrious silences which pepper his plays – seem hardly noticeable. Either they’re not indicated in this particular script, or Michael Gow has decided to ignore them in the playing. Good decision.

The direction sets a cracking pace – 95 minutes without an interval – and it produces a delightfully quick-witted interpretation of a play which is also composed of plenty of darkness and no small amount of sombre inflection if that’s the way you want to go. What happens in this production is an emphasis of the light and the quick over the dark and the heavy, and it works wonderfully well. It is a refreshing contemporary take on a modern classic.

Michael Gow has wanted to direct this play for a long time and he’s cast it superbly. I can’t think of a better pairing than these two fine actors in the central roles of Pinter’s demanding play. They carve up the text and serve it with relish. Dangle a metaphor before Peter Carroll or a linguistic double-entendre before John Gaden and stand back. Their performances are nothing less than a combined master class in comic timing, stage craft, and the mastery of Pinter’s periphrastic turns of phrase and juicy linguistic circumlocution – yes, it’s like that at times, only really, really funny.

These two nimble-footed veterans are joined by the two lurking lads about the place who appear to be butler-manservant and carer-keeper. The performance space wasn’t the only thing transformed in this production. There is an almost-unrecognisable Andrew Buchanan as Briggs; he’s boof-headed and buffed and, my God, those arms, that chest! His sidekick Foster, the dangerously-silky, Chav-like enigma is played by a manscaped, elegantly oily Steven Rooke. Messrs Buchanan and Rooke, two of Brisbane’s best younger actors, are terrific matches for their elder colleagues; theirs are wonderfully original and sure characterisations.

This is the first time No Man’s Land has been performed professionally in Australia. Queensland Theatre Company’s co-production with Sydney Theatre Company is a ripper of a show. Don’t miss it.

No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter
Bille Brown Studio, Brisbane 19 Sept-22 Oct
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House 1 Nov-7 Dec (Check STC website for session times and details)  

Director: Michael Gow; Designer: Robert Kemp; Lighting Designer: Nick Schlieper; Sound Designer: Tony Brumpton

Kat Henry (Interview 16)

Photo: Kat Henry

Much of the talk in town and on the interwebs right now concerns gender equity in the theatre. Women playwrights and directors and actors continue to battle what many are calling, perhaps intemperately – but who can blame them – ‘the boys’ club.’ It’s not just here either; American and British women have their dander up as well.

When a woman succeeds in securing a paid job as a director or actor, or when she wins an award for playwrighting, then it’s cause for celebration. So it was last week when expatriate Brisbane writer (she now lives in Melbourne) Shannon Murdoch won the prestigious Yale Drama Series award for her play New Light Shine. As they used to say before digital technologies arrived to spread news in a flash, ‘the wires hummed’ with the news. Shannon was congratulated, contacted, and readings were being set up just-like-that. Hoorah! I’m told New Light Shine was one of the ‘must see’ works at this year’s National Play Festival. I wonder if it has been secured for an Australian production yet and, if so, who will direct? Whatever the answers, it’s a thrill to see Shannon Murdoch’s work being recognised in this way.

There are two women directors currently at work in Brisbane on productions: Andrea Moor on Water Falling Down for Queensland Theatre Company, and Kat Henry on The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg for the independent company 23rd Productions.  Greenroom interviewed Andrea last year when she was working on Tender – you can read the review here. I was delighted to meet Kat Henry a week or so ago at the theatre and to get her to agree to an interview. Continue reading Kat Henry (Interview 16)

Where do the writers come from?

This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Facts & Figures

As promised in the last post, here are the first of some stats as they relate to the 2011 programmed seasons of both Brisbane’s subsidised, professional theatre companies. This post is the first in a series for Greenroom’s readers, and forms part of my ongoing research into professional theatre in Queensland. I have used data relating to both company’s programmed works as it appears in published brochures or online: mainstage, education, studio, and ‘indie’ presenting partnerships. This work picks up on some research I did last year which related to the first 10 and the last 10 years of the repertoire for Queensland Theatre Company. You can check that out here and here on my personal blog. From this year I’ve included La Boite’s programming under current AD David Berthold.

Continue reading Where do the writers come from?

Clearly and simply: Andrea Moor actor, director, teacher (Interview 7)

Andrea Moor has been back in Brisbane for some years now, and she’s loving it – feeling privileged in fact.

‘The political landscape has changed so much since I was last here.  It’s a lot like Sydney felt in the early 80s – it’s such a supportive community.

The standard of acting in Brisbane is incredibly high, as good as any in the world, probably because local actors have been working constantly here and so practising their craft.

The standard of acting in Brisbane is incredibly high, as good as any in the world, probably because local actors have been working constantly here and so practising their craft.’

As an example she segues into last year’s production by Queensland Theatre Company of Arthur Miller‘s The Crucible directed by Michael Gow for which, incidentally, she won a Matilda for her portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor. ‘The big  … Crucible acting company (19) was composed of several generations, Queensland actors many of whom had gone away and come back.  It was such a harmonious and good feeling during that period, a microcosm of the theatre industry here.’  She goes on to note, ‘There’s a different focus here in Brisbane, not the preciousness and egos of those constantly being watched.  Here actors are genuinely happy to see colleagues get work, and on opening nights, it’s about the show.  Elsewhere,’ she says, ‘it’s about me – who’s out front to help me get my next job.  It’s liberating here … mind you,’ she adds drily, ‘ it’s not to say we wouldn’t like this.’ Continue reading Clearly and simply: Andrea Moor actor, director, teacher (Interview 7)

This Week in Queensland Theatre: March 8-14

Image via Wikipedia

For show times check company websites

The big wet continues in the south-east and west of the state. Wonder how, if at all, this has affected box-office figures for companies.

There’s one week to go for Hamlet for La Boite and The Little Dog Laughed for Queensland Theatre Company; both close on Saturday. Avenue Q at QPAC has had an extension to its season.

Click the date on Greenroom’s home page calendar to go to more details on each event.

Opening:

Flicking the Flint by Kate Lee !Metro Arts Independents (Brisbane) – Tuesday

Macbeth by William Shakespeare Jute Theatre (Cairns) – Thursday

Continuing:

Avenue Q the Australian touring production at QPAC (Brisbane)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare dir David Berthold at the Roundhouse (Brisbane)  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane dir Michael Gow at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

Other:

Staging Lives: in conversation with Michael Gow, Will Eno, and David Williamson. State Library of Queensland – Tuesday.

See QSE’s training program which continues throughout the month (Brisbane)

It’s QPAC’s 25th Birthday this year.  While you’re on the South Bank in Brisbane head into the Tony Gould Gallery for the QPAC 25 Exhibition.

… and check out the recently-opened Edge space further upstream – near the fabulous GOMA.

This Week in Queensland Theatre: March 1-7

Avenue Q
Image via Wikipedia

For further details check company websites

Another quiet week.  It’s mid-season for Hamlet and The Little Dog Laughed with two weeks of their seasons left.

Continuing:

Avenue Q the Australian touring production at QPAC.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare dir David Berthold at the Roundhouse.  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane dir Michael Gow at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

Other:

Check out QSE’s training program which continues throughout the month.
Play-briefing Thom Pain Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio (Monday).  Writer Will Eno in attendance.