Giant Dwarf Radio Play

“This could be really good or really lame”, I said to my friend Michaela the other week when I invited her to join me for the “Radio Play” at Giant Dwarf Theatre. I’d read about the event a few weeks ago on Eventbrite, and I heard Tom Ballard who wrote/directed the event on 702 ABC Sydney this morning.

“You know, we’re the only people old enough to actually remember radio plays”, I said to her as we met at the theatre. The crowd was very twenty-something, though we did spot a bloke who was actually older than us. “He’s here with his daughter”, Michaela noted.

The whole idea around tonight was to do a night of “modern radio theatre”, and I suspect it was a passion project, more than something which was seen as commercially viable. That said, there was a reasonably good crowd at the Giant Dwarf tonight.

As “modern radio theatre”, the concepts behind the sketches was also very modern: a sketch involving an orgy on the Lower North Shore, a piss-take on “Serial” (the new podcast from “This American Life”) which was really, really funny and, to be honest, a third sketch which I don’t actually remember a couple of hours later (obviously because we’re so old).

We sat right up the front and chose a seat which WE THOUGHT would avoid some degree of audience interaction. How wrong we were. “I hate audience interaction. Don’t go there”, Michaela told the host/writer/creator, Tom Ballard when he singled her out for some audience interaction. I’ve previously seen him doing standup and thought he was pretty average, pretty lame, to be honest. In contrast, we both agreed tonight was surprisingly good. In parts, it was probably a little over-written. But overall, it was a really great night of theatre, written and performed with passion. And it was great to see a bit of live radio theatre. Apparently, it will eventually turn up somewhere as a podcast. I’ll edit this item and post a link if/when it turns up, because it’s worth a listen.

Sondheim on Sondheim

Sondheim on Sondheim

My friend Colin had a framed type-written signed letter from Stephen Sondheim on the wall of his apartment. He also had one from Dame Judi Dench also, but that’s just bragging :) I don’t remember exactly what the letter said, though I’m guessing, since it was Sondheim, it was probably beautifully written, sensitive and with a twist of humour. I don’t imagine it was a form letter.

The reason I feel this way is because I began to understand a little more about his character from attending “Sondheim on Sondheim”, a musical review featuring some of the best of his works, currently playing at Sydney’s Seymour Centre. The songs are accompanied video inserts of Sondheim himself providing a narrative, talking about his works (the good, the bad, the indifferent) and his feelings about them many years later. The narration is very funny, often touching (as he spoke about being raised by Oscar Hammerstein, for example), and always witty and intelligent.

The performances in this particular production are stellar. “There wasn’t a single dud amongst them”, a friend who is a performer told me during intermission. Great voices. Great harmonies.

Though it could have been little more than a “hits and memories” musical, this particular review steers clear of that. Sadly for me, the production failed to include some his bigger hits, “Another Hundred People” and “Ladies Who Lunch” (for example), instead featuring some of his more obscure works. One song, for example, we’re told was only performed once and then dropped. There’s also a segment which takes the piss out of arguably his best known work, “Send In The Clowns”. Very funny.

If you love musical theatre, I’d highly recommend seeing it during its short run at the Seymour Centre. Colin would have loved it, I’m sure.

Image from Belvoir Street Theatre.

Glass Menagerie

In the back of my mind, there’s a vague fragment of a slither of a memory of having seen a production of “The Glass Menagerie” about twenty-five years ago (or more likely more) at a theatre in Brisbane. La Boite Theatre, maybe? Even so, my memory doesn’t extend much beyond the image of a woman sitting at the front of the stage obsessing over her small glass figurines. Without much of a memory beyond that, being Tennesee Williams, I just assumed there would have been repressed homosexual men with alcohol problems and unsatisfied women with mental health issues. I’m being silly of course, but you have to admit, these are characteristics you do find in other works by him including “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” which are two of my favouite plays of all time.

As we made our way to Belvoir Street Theatre last night, Sue read out loud the article on Wikipedia outlining the plot until the point where we both decided we had reached “spoiler” territory. But in short, and without a spoiler, it’s a play set in 1910/1920s America, the South, about a woman and her two children, none of whom are very happy with their lives. The mother was deserted by her husband many years ago, forcing her to raise her children by herself, both of whom she describes as “not normal”: the daughter has a slight disability, and the son goes out drinking most nights, with a slight suggestion he might also be homosexual. The plot-line centres around the mother’s desire for her daughter to be “married off before it’s too late”.

Before the play started last night the director came out to explain this was the first public preview after an intense week of technical rehearsals. “This could be really good or you might be witnessing one of the worst, most memorable moments of Australian theatre”, he joked. It was pretty evident shortly into the production why the technical rehearsals had been so intense: this production relies HEAVILY (in the first half at least) on video effects. Screens to the left and right of the stage feature images captured from on-stage cameras in the style, I’m guessing, of a 1940s movie. Sue and I both agreed the reliance on the narrator on stage to have to move the cameras around became distracting. We both found we sometimes spent more time watching him than we did watching the action on stage. The set, although really clever, was also a little distracting, as much of the action took place at the back of the stage behind a flimsy see-through curtain. We both really understood what they’re trying to achieve with the set and video, but it just didn’t do it for us.

Which is a shame, because it’s a really good play. “It’s much more complex than I’d imagined”, I whispered to Sue at one point. If you’ve grown up in a family with any degree of dysfunctionality, you’ll immediately realise how believably flawed the characters are. The performance by the actor who played the daughter, Laura was, in particular, really good: really honest, really authentic etc.

It will be interesting to see how audiences and critics judge the production as it opens in coming weeks, being mindful of what the director said last night.

The Chaser at Giant Dwarf

The Chaser’s Empty Vessell at Giant Dwarf

“Twenty years ago”, I told Ronni Khan from Ozharvest, “I worked at Coles New World, and one of my jobs was to document the shrinkage, and to make sure the bins were locked so people couldn’t steal food. Is that still the case, or are the supermarkets now on board? Who do you still get resistance from?”.

She knew exactly what I was talking about: shrinkage is what the supermarket chains refer to and what they mean is food they throw out, and indeed, many still have a policy of locking up their garbage bins to avoid so-called “dumpster dining”. She said with the exception of ALDI, the supermarkets “say they’re on board, but they’re not really, and we could use your help in convincing them to help out”.

In asking the question, I was mindful of an earlier comment from Julian Morrow that questions should be “more than just a statement about your own life, seeking affirmation” (or words to that effect). Having worked in the media for a long time, I’m conscious of how badly constructed are the questions of some journalists. They often asked closed questions to establish facts which could have been established differently. The best questions are usually those which seek to establish fact, but then gain further insights, and of course, they shouldn’t be questions which elicit the answers your already know. I think my question did all of those things (I hope), even though it was a double-barelled question.

Ronni is an interesting character, and so is Greg Combet, and so is Jeremy Moylan. Jeremy is an activist who famously pranked the media recently, Ronni is the founder of an organisation which feeds homeless people with food otherwise thrown out by restaurants, and Greg is a former ACTU boss and federal minister.

Greg was very much in “book selling mode”, as he has recently published an autobiography, focussing on his life generally, but more specifically about his years in the Rudd/Gillard ministry. Like a bunch of people – Gillard, Swan – he’s in reflective mode about the years of the Labor Governments, and in particular, about the impact of the dysfunctional relationship between members of the ALP. The only really interesting anecdote from him was about how, in front of Bob Hawke, he described Bill Kelty as the greatest president of the ACTU. “Bob looked pretty uncomfortable”, he said, but then argued it’s usually harder to be the President of the ACTU when you have a Labor Government in place”.

I’ve been to Giant Dwarf only once before, but enjoyed it very much. For about twenty bucks, you have an hour or two of great entertainment and interesting conversation. I suspect it’s the space where The Chaser team are trying out some new ideas for television programs. The space has been on my mind once again in the last week – at work, we’re planning to hold an event there – and so I decided I’d pop along to remind myself what it’s like as a venue. I’m also a fan of the work of The Chaser, so it wasn’t like it was only for business reasons.

Toast to Colin Anderson

Phantom Colin

Phantom Colin

“Colin would have loved this show”, my friend Michaela noted as we enjoyed a half-time drink at “Ruthless – The Musical” at Sydney’s Seymour Theatre tonight. The show was well acted, well sung, it was camp, and it was fun, but it was also deadly serious. It was the kind of show Colin and I would have bought tickets to see togther. Sadly, he passed away last night, and so tonight Michaela and I held our glasses high and remembered him.

I told Michaela tonight about the first time I’d met Colin. It was at the end of 1991 and I’d recently arrived in Wagga (from Renmark) and was invited by a couple of new friends to attend a party at Colin’s place. Although Colin was the Head of Drama at Charles Sturt University for many years, I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. I hardly knew the people who’d invited me. So when Colin walked up to me and asked (with a wry smile), “Who are you and what are you doing here”, I replied, “I was told if I wanted to meet anyone interesting in Wagga, I should meet you”. “You can stay”, he said with a laugh.

Over the next few years our friendship in Wagga blossomed. It was cemented when we both, at similar periods in time, moved to Sydney. With a bite to eat here, and a glass of wine there, we became good friends, sharing a common love of theatre.

In the last few years his health declined dramatically, and so he eventually moved back to Newcastle (to be closer to his family). It’s probably eighteen months, now, since we’ve enjoyed a night at the theatre together. I woke this morning and saw the late night text message from his niece, Helen, that Colin had passed. It wasn’t a surprise. I went to Newcastle on the weekend to say “goodbye”. Though unconscious, I hope he knew I was there. He had been in a lot of pain and discomfort. His passing was, in many ways, a relief. And then tonight, fittingly, I went with a friend to the theatre to see a show Colin would have loved, and toasted the life of a good friend of over twenty years.

Empty Vessell at The Giant Dwarf

The Chaser’s Giant Dwarf

“In the last twelve months two of the institutions I’ve given so much of my life and passion to have disappointed me deeply”, was the most memorable line from Kristina Keneally last night. The former NSW Premier was one of three guests for the “live chat show”, “The Empty Vessell” put by on by The Chaser at their new theatre venue, The Giant Dwarf on Cleveland Street.

Although there were a few moments when she went into “former politician mode”, I thought she was, for the most part, candidly honest. For example, when asked to comment on the current corruption hearing in NSW, she said she never had time for Eddie Obeid, but that she thought she KNEW Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly, and seemed disappointed in what’s currently occurring.

“For every Eddie Obeid, you have to remember there was a Carmel Tebbutt, a Verity Firth, a John Watkins”, she went on to say, arguing there were still lots of good people in the Labor Party.

“You forgive the Catholic Church for some things, but not the child abuse”, she went on to say about the other institution she said had disappointed in the last twelve months.

Maybe it was the glass or two of red wine she enjoyed as she sat on the stage that resulted in the candidness? Or maybe she’s reached the point where she doesn’t feel the need to justify everything the former NSW Labor Government did and didn’t do? She was unequivocal about NEVER returning to a political life.

The other two guests were Norrie May-Welby and John Watson.

Norrie was the person who recently won a case in the High Court to be formally recognised as “non-specific gender”. Whenever I’ve seen Norrie speak in the past there’s always been a bit of showbiz about the presentation style, as it’s usually been at a rally or something like that. Speaking/shouting in public isn’t usually conducive to honest reflection, which is what I saw last night. I always thought Norrie was slightly crazy, but have now developed a new found respect.

John Watson was the founder of boutique record label Eleven Music, whose artists include Gotya, Cold Chisel, Missy Higgins, silverchair, Daniel Johns, Birds of Tokyo. Of the three guests, he was the least interesting for me. Although I was really interested in the subject matter, I felt he was a little “rehearsed”. There seemed to be a lot of answers or anecdotes he had given previously which disappointed me a little.

Half was through the night there was also a really fantastic comic performance by an actor, writer and director I’d never heard of before called Nick Coyle @nickcoyles. Magic stuff.

Over the course of about two hours, it was really good to sit in a large theatre along with a couple of hundred people to enjoy some really good conversations, with intelligence and humour combining throughout. I’ll definitely be heading back some time in the future.

Charlie Hides as Cher

Charlie Hides

Charlie Hides has one of the funniest live shows I’ve seen in ages. He’s an English comedian – though originally from the United States – who dresses up and impersonates (with humour and affection) some of the great modern pop divas, including Cher, Madonna and Lady GaGa.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been enthusiastically sharing his Youtube videos with friends. The first one that made me laugh was a sketch about the apparent rivalry between Madonna and Lady GaGa. Since then, he’s gone on to incorporate a bunch of other characters including Lana Delray, Joan Rivers and others with the same level of affection and humour. Unlike many other comedians, I don’t think there’s anything nasty or malicious behind his humour.

In the last year or so he’s been doing live shows in London, and I’ve read about this development with a sense of longing and wonder. “There has to be a lot of video in his live shows to achieve what he does”, I whispered to Graeme in the minutes before his live show at Sydney’s “Gingers” began. There is. There are also lots of costumes changes, and a comedy routine which continues to shock and surprise over the course of about ninety minutes. He works hard.

The comedy of his live show was far more cutting edge, and definitely less politically correct, than you see on the Youtube clips. Overall it was a fantastic night which we both enjoyed very much. Hopefully he’ll be back for Mardi Gras again next year.