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keith gallasch: 2009 sydney festival preview

Erth, Nargun and the Stars

Erth, Nargun and the Stars

Erth, Nargun and the Stars

FERGUS LINEHAN COMPLETES HIS SYDNEY FESTIVAL DIRECTORSHIP WITH A MEATIER THAN USUAL PERFORMANCE PROGRAM, ONE POPULATED IN PARTICULAR WITH EPIC WORKS FROM FOUR TO NINE HOURS; A SLENDER DANCE LINE-UP (AFTER THE AUSTRALIAN RICHES OF 2008) ALBEIT WITH THE SUBSTANTIAL PRESENCE OF STAR UK CHOREOGRAPHER CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON (WORKING LARGELY OUT OF THE US); AND A CONTINUING PASSION FOR THE SERIOUS END OF THE POP MUSIC SPECTRUM. AS EVER WITH LINEHAN, SYDNEY ARTISTS OF ANY IDIOM ARE LUCKY TO GET A LOOK IN—ERTH VISUAL & PHYSICAL AND SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY ARE THE FAVOURED TWO IN 2009. THERE’S ALSO A WELCOME FESTIVAL KIDS SEASON AT RIVERSIDE THEATRE, PARRAMATTA, THE HIGHLIGHT BOUND TO BE ERTH’S ADAPTATION OF NOVELIST PATRICIA WRIGHTSON’S NARGUN AND THE STARS. HERE’S MY FESTIVAL WISHLIST.

robert lepage: lipsynch

Marie-Anne Mancio wasn’t convinced that the 8 hour 35 minute work by Robert Lepage’s Ex Machina altogether cohered when she saw it at London’s Barbican Arts Centre (RT 87, p3), but along the way there was much to appreciate. She wrote, “In order to concentrate on the notion that voice is genetic (almost part of the fabric of the soul, whereas language or speech is encultured) Lepage courageously eschews the stunning visuals for which he is known. So, sets are witty and efficient—the side of a plane morphing into a train—but not spectacular. Instead, there is a glut of sound from singing to speeches, to a baby’s cries, to advertisements, to canned laughter. In a Los Angeles restaurant, conversation is punctuated with simultaneous translation and ringing telephones. Characters switch languages as do actors—text is in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian. On occasion, where surtitles are unclear, we are immersed in pure sound and sometimes, as [one character] tells us, music transcends failing language. As her son departs for California, [another] sings from Górecki’s Symphony no. 3 the lament in which the Virgin Mary asks Jesus dying on the cross to ‘Share your wounds with your mother.’ In other episodes we learn: we can speak without saying anything (President Bush is quoted); the content of speech—however plaintive or important—can be reduced to an analysis of harmonics and frequency; by recording permutations for British Rail announcements, you could read your own obituary. And death does not mean your body stops farting.

“To its immense credit, Lipsynch is often very funny, moving, insightful and never boring. It deserves multiple viewings to appreciate all of its references and nuances, the motifs of loss, of absent fathers, biblical characters, dualism; the incredible performers who take us on journeys as their multi-faceted roles age, change context or gain knowledge.”

nature theater of oklahoma: no dice

Also focused on communication, this time around kinds of telling, is No Dice from New York’s Nature Theater of Oklahoma. Jana Perkovic in her review from Zagreb’s Eurokaz performance festival wrote, “Starting with traditional oral narrative as a model, No Dice is an epic, four-hour replication of hours of telephone conversations between group members (ranging from artistic laments to complaints about work, drinking and eating disorders, to ‘dinner theater’ experiences). It employs tropes of oral epic (repetition, variation) which clash with the tropes of Shakespearian theatre (acts, climaxes), which in turn clash with the overturned tropes of good acting (misplaced foreign accents, hyper-articulation, exaggerated costumes). Modes of communication split apart, nothing quite matching: even the gesticulation employed is their own confusing invention (including, but not limited to, the sign of the cross, thumbs up, mimed wall and some nameless but recognisable gestures, such as intravenous drug use). It is a legible, but closed system of references, until it suddenly opens towards the end: the actors take their wigs and sunglasses off and address the audience: ‘The question is, what do we require in order to enjoy ourselves?’ Communication itself, they conclude. Poignant, semiotically imaginative, intellectually provocative but emotionally rich, Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s performance—with its roundabout, illogical, confusing conversations—is a manifesto of faith in our ability to engage with each other through speech.” (RT86, p56). At only $25 a ticket (compared with Lip Synch’s $100-140), No Dice could be the festival bargain for the adventurous but cash-strapped performance-goer.

stc actors company: the war of the roses

Another welcome epic, The War of the Roses will allow us an extended glimpse (at eight hours) of rarely performed plays by William Shakespeare that offer a view of English history that is at once idiosyncratic and predictably Tudor. The cutting and pasting and editing of these sizeable plays (to make the playing time manageable and the history presumably comprehensible) is by Tom Wright (most recently Barrie Kosky’s collaborator on The Women of Troy) and the show’s director Benedict Andrews, who can always be relied on to create lateral but faithful and telling interpretations of classic works. The STC Actors Company, in their last outing, is joined by Cate Blanchett and Robert Menzies (Brutus in Andrews’ Julius Caesar) and the design is by Alice Babidge, who impressed with her set for The Women of Troy. The War of the Roses Part 1 includes Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, Part 2: Henry VI, and Richard III. The rise and fall of kings and queens, their allies and enemies on fortune’s wheel, and of their own volition, right or wrong, is the grimly exhilarating stuff of the younger Shakespeare’s vision and will doubtless achieve additional topicality in the hands of Andrews and Wright.

morphoses/the wheeldon company

This is bound to be a fascinating program, not least because it’s the Australian premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s own innovative company, such a rarity for a ballet choreographer these days, and includes the exacting Slingerland Pas de Deux (an excerpt from the truly surreal full-length postmodern ballet by William Forsthye, music by Gavin Bryars) alongside Wheeldon’s own creations, Fools’ Paradise, accompanied by a chamber orchestra, and his acclaimed Polyphonia, set to piano music by György Ligeti.

malthouse: the tell-tale heart

Barrie Kosky’s account of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart for Melbourne’s Malthouse with the virtuosic Martin Niedermair as the haunted murderer and director-adapter Kosky on piano (for songs by Bach, Purcell and Wolf) has induced trepidation and excitement wherever it’s been played around the world. John Bailey wrote, “This is a theatre of ellipses, in which the unsaid holds as much weight as the spoken word” (RT 82, p8).

katona józsef theatre: chekhov’s ivanov

Budapest’s Katona József Theatre and director Tamás Ascher set Chekhov’s early play Ivanov in the context of Hungarian rural culture after the Soviet Russian crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. If we see Chekhov’s plays as precursors, in a metaphoric rather than literal sense, of the Russian Revolution, then this version of Ivanov makes for an intriguing reversal of expectation. Here the focus is not “the fading Russian bourgeoisie” but is “planted…firmly within Hungary’s ascendant peasant classes of the 1960s.”

belarus free theatre: being harold pinter

Company B are hosting Belarus Free Theatre, an underground theatre project formed in 2005, and still banned, to battle the censorship imposed by dictatorial President Alexander Lukashenko. Being Harold Pinter draws on the playwright’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech and uses excerpts from his plays to reflect on life under dictatorship. In Belarus, the company continues to perform in homes and other unadvertised locations despite police harassment and job losses in a culture where theatres are otherwise state controlled. The Free Theatre’s performance style is reputedly raw and anarchic, winning praise for its performances in the UK. Sam Marlowe wrote in The Times (Feb 20), “Beneath a photograph of Pinter’s own watchful eyes, the cast of seven, dressed in grey suits…create a nightmarish kaleidoscope of darkness, light and blood-red. Their hands are stained as if by stigmata; their delivery is packed with punchy aggression, and the menace of Pinter’s writing becomes uncompromisingly overt.” Being Harold Pinter will also play at Q Theatre Penrith.

erth: the nargun and the star

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A classic of literature for children here in Australia and the world over, Patricia Wrightson’s Nargun and the Stars (1973) was awarded the Australian Children’s Book of the year (1974) and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal (1986). When a boy’s parents are killed in a car crash, he is moved to a sheep farm to live with cousins he doesn’t know and there encounters and befriends mythical Indigenous creatures. But development in the area unleashes a vengeful spirit, the Nargun, in the form of a giant murderous rock. The boy must act, to save lives, but also the land. Adapted by playwright Verity Laughton and directed by Wesley Enoch and Erth’s Scott Wright, and blessed with Erth’s considerable skills at creature making and large scale puppeteering (like their baby dinosaurs for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles), Nargun and the Stars should be a festival highlight for children and adults alike.

2009 Sydney Festival, Jan 10-31, www.sydneyfestival.org.au

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 10

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2008