theatARGH

thoughts and frustrations on Melbourne theatre through bright young eyes

Slow death, new life.

I started theatARGH during the boring, sweltering summer of 2008. I had been writing lots about theatre – and not so much for theatre – the two years prior and had wanted somewhere to post my pontifications. I also wanted something that would force me to articulate my positions on shows, and their relationship with the theatre industry, with structure and precision. I wanted other people to read and comment and participate in debate. Hence theatARGH was born!

Sadly, as time has gone by, I haven’t had the same passion or dedication to writing about theatre. I’ve decided I’d rather write for it. My playwriting practice has taken precedence.

And so comes the time to take my pet theatARGH to the vet for a long, long sleep.

There won’t be any new reviews on theatARGH from this point forward. The old ones will certainly stay, though. If only for me to laugh at in the future (read: tomorrow) when I consider what a precocious little twat I was / am / can be. Some of them are interesting pieces of writing, I guess. They certainly make points that I still believe in. But lots are just uninspired drivel. Being a ‘critic’ is a hat I am genuinely interested in wearing at some point, but not at the moment. Not at this point in my artistic education. And especially not when things are starting to happen with my existing plays and new plays, and the people I am reviewing are starting to become my peers. For the sake of sanity, professionalism and transparency, it’s best I leave this theatARGH thing in the time and place that it was.

I love blogging, but I love tweeting more. I’ll occasionally tweet about shows that I’ve seen and what I thought of them – please follow me @christopherrrrr or http://www.twitter.com/christopherrrrr. I might return to blogging at some point in the near future, but it will probably be a more creative blog about personal process than a strictly ‘review’ blog. As long as I have an internet addiction, I can promise that I’ll be digitally around.

So that’s it for now, folks. Thanks so much for reading for the last three years, regardless of how erratic I’ve been. It’s been a pleasure seeing your shows and writing about them. I hope you’re seeing my shows soon. And reviewing me.

Lots of calm, placid love (not an ARGH in sight),

Chris x.

Quick Review of Moth, Malthouse Theatre

It’s an oft dished-out dictum: “your teenage years are the best years of your life”. For Claryssa (Sarah Ogden) and Sebastian (Dylan Young) of Declan Greene’s Moth, the response is a resounding: “fuck you”. Moth is a co-production between Arena Theatre Company and the Malthouse Theatre, and is also the much anticipated major stage debut of Greene, one of Melbourne’s most exciting young theatre artists. Worlds away from his work with Union House Theatre (Rageboy 2006) and his trash-camp company with Ash Flanders, Sisters Grimm, Moth is an intense and poetic exploration of isolation, insecurity and adolescence.  Rhythmic, tightly structured and then carefully unravelled (like the gloomy grey rolls of Jonathon Oxlade’s set), the real strength of Moth rests in Greene’s resistance to glorify or embellish not just teenagers, but ‘quirky teenagers’ too – Claryssa and Sebastian aren’t like Juno, the gang from Skins or the girls from Ghost World. They are complex, confused, charged and changing individuals who are also painfully, painfully alone. There is an honesty to the text, emphasised in the performances of Ogden and Young and the undercutting, haunting score of Jethro Woodward, that is affective, engaging and completely heartbreaking. The intelligent simplicity of Chris Kohn’s direction not only suits the work and the intimate Tower space, but allows for subtle moments of intense impact – stark sounds and bursts of light – to break through, even when apparently very little is ‘happening’. Moth is, much like a teenager, beautiful and uncompromising, challenging and disorienting, occasionally hilarious, raw and wild. It reaches to the margins of adolescence, the frustration and the fear, to tell a story that needs to be told.

May 13 – May 30, Tower Theatre, Malthouse.

Bookings at http://www.malthousetheatre.com.au

This review will be featured in Farrago, Melbourne University newspaper, edition 5 2010.

Interview: Lally Katz and the Revelations of the Fantastical Theatrical Interview

Last year over the course of a few weeks, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Lally Katz for the Emerging Writers’ Festival publication, The Reader (available for purchase here). With the 2010 Festival just around the corner, this year under the directorship of the ever-capable Lisa Dempster, I thought it’d be pertinent to post up the fruits of our exchange.  I present to you: Lally Katz and the Revelations of the Fantastical Theatrical Interview.

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Review of Apocalypse Bear Trilogy, MTC

Young people characters in popular culture tend to suffer one of two fates. The first, which we’ve seen since the fifties and perpetuated into the new millennium by the Disney Channel and High School Musical, is the glowing, effervescent, mostly-white, asexual charmer whose smile is so severe it threatens to pierce their unfathomably rosy cheeks. Even amidst all their adventures, troubles and strife, said youth is always looking out for their friends, and for that which is ‘right’ in face of ‘evil’ and the temptations of the ‘wrong’. Because, naturally, innocence is something that needs to be contained. The other is the youth turned more troubled and tortured, impossible and unrelenting, on the cusp of their pubescent explosion. The bigness of emotion and the fires of injustice and rage begin to surface; think Degrassi High or even the bitchy backstabbing and Machiavellian manipulation of The Babysitter’s Club. Sweetness is replaced with blots of sadness – suddenly the world is a far more complicated and dissatisfying place – and nobody, nobody, understands. How often, though, do we see youth characters which flit between these boundaries; which avoid the stereotypes of the angst-ridden teen and somehow deal with the fantastical and magical naivety, and wonder, of childhood that they are leaving behind, but which we know never really leaves us? Young people are, after all, a strange and mystifying bunch – their hopes, fears and insecurities are amplified and expressed in the most confusing ways – which somehow makes their contradictions and complexities all the more difficult to navigate. It is easy to see them one way or the other – to simplify them as separate from adults, and in their own chrysalises, waiting to discover their new bodies and emerge as mature men and women of the world. But to wrap flesh around their uncertain bones and to explore the darkness, the dreams and the chaos within – to really look at them, and see them for all that they are as youth – is so much richer, and also so very human, regardless of what we may find. Read the rest of this entry »

Review of God of Carnage, MTC and A Black Joy, fortyfivedownstairs

It’s a very old question, and certainly one that theatre makers, producers and practitioners in Australia and abroad have been asking, and feeling nervous about, for decades: what is it that audiences want from theatre? Perhaps more accurately, what is it that audiences will pay for? Is it a story, a narrative which they can follow, laugh with, become immersed in and relate back to their own lives? Is it an experience, intellectual, emotional, visceral or otherwise? The big-name actors, the auteur directors? Is it a cultural and social event? Of course, in Australia, without same level of government support and general mainstream interest in theatre, it’s a more pertinent question than, say, in the United Kingdom; there’s only so much that can be catered for, for so many people, at the one time. But with less money, fewer venues, and smaller audiences, you could be forgiven for thinking that the richness and diversity of theatre in Melbourne was far less than it actually is. There’s reason to be optimistic: Melbourne Fringe Festival is upon us, the main-stage seasons of Malthouse and MTC are in full swing, and the International Arts Festival is around the corner. It is the theatre season and spectators, regardless of their theatrical dispositions, are being treated across the spectrum. No better is this illustrated, perhaps, than in the concurrent productions of Melbourne Theatre Company’s drawing-room dramedy God of Carnage and Declan Greene and Susie Dee’s seething satire A Black Joy.

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Review of Wretch, La Mama Theatre

Friday marked ten years to the day that Sarah Kane committed suicide in the bathroom of her King’s College hospital room. To commemorate the decade since her passing, BBC Radio 1 aired Blasted: The Life and Times of Sarah Kane, a short documentary by the University of London’s Dan Rebellato about her work, its impact and its legacy in contemporary British theatre, which is available for streaming until the 26th of February. One of the points that it raised was that the posthumous mythologising of Kane as a morbid, tortured Queen of Darkness was to sell her short; to miss the implicit humanity and humour in both her character and her short body of works. Her friend Vincent O’Connel, in addressing what he calls the “authorised version” of Kane, stated: “As well as listening to Joy Division, she’d be equally likely to be dancing to George Michael or playing Miles Davis tunes on her trumpet. She liked dark humour, for sure, but she’d also laugh herself silly at Laurel Hardy or Fawlty Towers.” Critics were all too quick, particularly in the UK, to attribute Kane’s use of theatrical violence to the emergence and popularity of the in-yer-face playwrights: Ravenhill, McDonagh, Butterworth and so forth, which is debatable in itself. But as that movement has largely dissipated, it is interesting, and timely, to think how Kane’s influence and impact on theatre writing is now felt; whether a new generation of writers will consider, or reject, her approaches to the craft. Angus Cerini’s Wretch is certainly a case in study, and a uniquely Australian one at that.

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Review of Woyzeck, Malthouse Theatre

The last few years have signalled important, and exciting, changes in the approach to new Australian theatre writing that have, in turn, helped support a new generation of writers now on the cusp of local and international breakthrough. And while the changes have come from many levels; the continued resurgence of independent theatre, restructured and rethought bodies such as PlayWriting Australia and so forth; not all writers are satisfied with the direction that the bigger theatre institutions have taken. The transformation of Playbox into the Malthouse is, really, ancient history – it happened well before I even arrived in Melbourne. And yet frustration, even thinly veiled bitterness, remains fresh in those who so freely spurt about the glory days of Melbourne theatre and exactly what it was that the Playbox represented. I cannot test their claims, but I can see why the Malthouse season opener Woyzeck stands in such stark opposition to their writers’ theatre: this extraterrestrial oddity of a performance is an exercise across genre, discipline and form in which the writing definitely takes the backseat.

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