Some time ago, I pulled this quote from a longer article by John Lahr – The Illumination Business: why drama critics must look at and look after the theatre. I came across it again as I was reviewing another piece I’m working on. It continues to resonate for me, but the quote itself couldn’t have come at a better time as I sat down to record my response to Maxine Mellor’s play Trollop, the winner of the Premier’s Drama Award 2012-13 and receiving its premiere, world performance at Queensland Theatre Company.
Reviewing assumes that the plot is the play; criticism, on the other hand, knows that the plot is only part of a conversation that the playwright is having about a complex series of historical and psychological issues. The job of the critic is to join that conversation, to explore the play and link it to the world. The job of the reviewer is to link the play to the box office.
Mr Lahr is clearly not keen to be described as a ‘reviewer.’ I don’t particularly care one way or the other; a critic by any other name will smell as pungent. Anyway, I did rather like the bit that notes the critic’s job in joining in the conversation. I’ve always been more interested in conversations with playwrights than budget bottom lines and I agree that plots are not the play, which is just as well. Continue reading Review: Trollop – Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio
Images: Rob Maccoll
The last time Herr Brecht and I crossed paths was in a high school drama room, some 16 years ago and, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t taken with his work. Come opening night of QTC’s indigenous production of his most famous play, and all I could remember about Brecht was that I was supposed to remember something about Brecht. Nonetheless, as the corrugated iron curtain flew up on Mother Courage, I was put at ease. These people I knew.
Probably his best known play, Brecht’s epic Mother Courage (1939) is set on the battlegrounds of the European thirty years’ war, 1618-1648. This production, adapted in a new translation by Wesley Enoch and Paula Nazarski, is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, a world where ‘government is lost and human greed takes the form of mining armies.’ The indigenous population is clearly divided and, like the original, this Mother Courage is making her living – surviving the impossible odds – by profiteering from war. Continue reading Review: Mother Courage – Queensland Theatre Company and QPAC at The Playhouse, QPAC
Image: That Production Company (RUINED)
It’s so easy to get caught up in attempting to define and partition off the kinds of theatre we produce. We tend to box, define, create matrices of the way stuff works, test things against check lists of expectations: professional, amateur, pro-am, community, independent …
Western theatre is no stranger to evolutionary processes; it’s one of its great strengths. Right here, right now, it’s clear that, as part of the wider arts-industrial landscape and the generational change in arts leadership, theatre makers are experimenting with the how and where of creating theatre. New alliances that enable greater participation are being thought about and enabled – look at the way the main-house companies like QTC and La Boite are opening the portals – something which, even a few years ago, was unthinkable. Many of the boundaries that used to exist are porous if they haven’t already been dismantled.
The notion of a ‘full ecology’ of theatre existing out there was put by Wesley Enoch (AD of Queensland Theatre Company) recently in a Facebook discussion. But it’s not so much out there as in the things we talk about in foyers, in the rehearsal rooms we occupy, the chat about shows we see. Wesley goes on to compare this ecology with the kind of easy acceptance of the range of activities in sport in this country and wonders why art-making hasn’t been as accommodating. It’s a good question and one that’s part of the thinking I refer to above.
Why no easy access as Wesley asks? It has, I think, as much to do with the ongoing struggle that art and artists in this country have had to ‘prove’ their worth. But it’s a big question that goes to the heart of Australian culture and will continue serving as food for ongoing discussion, but not here right now. I’m interested in the ways and means and the impact this movement is having in and on the wider theatre community here in southern Queensland. Continue reading On putting the community into theatre
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 play.
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
A few months after I was married I happened to be on tour for Queensland Theatre Company in one of their far-ranging theatre in education teams. This is the mid-1970s, by the way. Out little three-person troupe was playing far northern and central Australia in a play about a white boy who had run away into the bush. I remember he faced his demons and a very large (puppet head) crocodile (pre-Dundee days) during his adventures and, by play’s end, returned back home ready presumably to face whatever life threw at him. I remember the kids in the mission stations around Cape York screaming in delighted terror when I would emerge as the crocodile.
So it was at QTC’s latest offering Alana Valentine‘s truly wonder-filled play A Headful of Love directed by Wesley Enoch that I found myself witnessing another Australian play that follows a now-familiar track – the going ‘away’ from the known into the unknown (city to desert heart) to escape something. Typically, protagonists are either destroyed or resurrected in some way. It’s a theme that post-colonial Australia’s still obsessively examining in its navel-gazing, self-identification quest. I remember our primary school social studies courses being jam-packed with stories of doomed and dying explorers who had ventured into the centre of the vast continent without a clue. They were presented to us as heroes, and it was the kind of mad, boys’ own adventure, the sort that had infatuated imperial Britain.
Australian drama across the years has been quite keen on this trope which is, of course, drawn from a far earlier literary theme that examined the differences between city and country and ‘civilised’ v ‘uncivilised’ behaviour. Women and children in the landscape find their way into Australian art and literature in the 19th century. In dramatic terms it’s a set up that just works; the juxtaposition of fragile things against a rugged, harsh, and unforgiving landscape – the ‘feminine’ and ‘domestic’ entering the ‘masculine’ world of colonial pioneering. Putting an outsider into unfamiliar territory can make for tragic or comic material. In the case of Ms Valentine’s play – a little of both. Continue reading Review: A Headful of Love – Queensland Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC
I’m interviewing Wesley Enoch in his inner-city apartment in Brisbane – 5 minutes on foot to Queensland Theatre Company headquarters on South Bank where he is Artistic Director, and 7 minutes to the Airtrain connection at South Brisbane station – important when you do as much travel as he does. He loves walking to relax although he confesses he doesn’t do as much as he should. ‘I’ll get back to it now the warmer weather is coming in.’ Whilst Wesley doesn’t own a car, he does have some wonderful pieces of art. We’re surrounded by prints, paintings, photographs, ceramics – all Australian and many by indigenous artists – on walls and shelves. Each of them has a story and, when I first arrived, he took me through them one by one.
He’s been on the job now just over a year – he took up his appointment on 19th of July 2010, although it’s been in a full-time capacity since the beginning of this year only. I’m keen to learn more about how it’s going, to hear Wesley’s thoughts on the business of being an Artistic Director today, and what it’s like being back home after all these years.
He’s a Stradbroke Island man, educated and raised in Brisbane and a graduate of QUT with a BA in Drama Majoring in Dance. Wesley then went on to do an Honours year at QUT – and his dissertation topic? Establishing a context for the understanding of contemporary aboriginal arts.
Wesley was the first indigenous Australian appointed as Artistic Director of a major theatre company. I ask how important it was to him. He responds, ‘It really hadn’t occurred to me until Neil (Armfield) rang and congratulated me. I was more focussed on a personal ambition to engage with a wider audience.’ He shrugs, relaxed about it, ‘people had been waiting for it to happen, and it did. One of the outcomes has been that more of the discussion about establishing a national indigenous theatre company now seems to be flowing towards QTC.’ He adds, ‘I was talking to students recently and saying that when you are in your 20s you’re radical and revolutionary but in your 40s you’re more evolutionary. The radicalism of my 20s is now the evolutionism of my 40s. I’m thinking now of how we work on the aesthetics and not just the politics. The 20 year old has achieved the goals.’ Continue reading Wesley Enoch (Interview 28 )