Monday, December 31, 2012



Best Production - The Method Gun (The Rude Mechanics)

Best Play - La Voix Humaine (Motherboard Productions/La Boite Indie)
Best Professional Work - The Method Gun (The Rude Mechanics)
Best Independent Work - Knee Deep (Casus)
Best Student Work - The Country (SUDs/Festival of Australian Student Theatre)


Best Song - And I Will Kiss (Underworld)

Best Recording/Album - Passion (Stephen Sondheim)
Best Instrumental - And I Will Kiss (Underworld)
Best Soundtrack - Moon (Clint Mansell)
Best Live Artist - Warmwaters (Warmwaters/Room60) [?]


Best Day of the Year - November 9th

Best Word - Ineffable
Best Exhibit - Cross Stitch (MetroArts)
Best Movie - The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki (Mamoru Hosoda)
Best Event - A Tribute of Sorts Opening Night (Monsters Appear/La Boite Indie)
Best Book/Text - The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)
Best Game - Guild Wars 2 (ArenaNet)


72 (includes repeated viewings, not including productions operated/performed in)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Orphan of Zhao - A Dream Come True

The Orphan of Zhao promotional artwork (Source: Royal Shakespeare Company).

About three years ago I read Arthur Murphy’s The Orphan of China, and since being taken by the story I’d dreamt of seeing it on stage. My dream came true this week when my Dad and I took a roadtrip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see James Fenton’s new adaptation The Orphan of Zhao. Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company under the direction of Gregory Doran, the new production is a sumptuous and vibrant staging of an extremely compelling, epic story, performed by an exquisite ensemble of actors.

The play is often compared to Hamlet due to its epic narrative – the real parallel can be found in the theme of revenge. Following an elaborately staged shaming by The Emperor’s usurping minister Tu’an Gu, the disgraced Minister Zhao’s entire clan is annihilated from history with the exception of his wife, the daughter of The Emperor. Matter are complicated further since the princess is pregnant, and when she gives birth Cheng Ying, a doctor, rescues Zhao’s son by sacrificing his own child to ensure the Zhao line can live on, and so that the Zhao clan one day can seek out their revenge. Although it loses a bit of momentum in the second act, the piece is extremely compelling work. There has been a lot of churlish bitching about this behind this production before it even began, which has viciously attacked RSC for only casting three Asian actors in this production. It’s very clear that rather than adhere to a gimmick, attempting to present an austere and gruelingly traditional staging of the text, race has been cast aside as a casting criteria and only the best, most talented actors into their respective roles.
Joe Dixon as Tu'an Gu (Source: Royal Shakespeare Company)

On that note, the ensemble cast are easily the strongest I’ve ever seen on stage, with multi-talented seventeen performers handling puppetry, voice acting, and movement all while managing to navigate around the theatre and entirely engross the audience. The ensemble are well used and all have a moment which shows exceptional talent, including mimicking the cries of a baby, bringing a ferocious dog to life, and executing precise choreography and stagecraft to evoke assassinations and duels. There are a few stand-outs due to their significant roles, where Jake Fairbrother’s pure and serene Cheng Bo is slightly effeminate but somehow beautifully other-worldy, and Graham Turner’s unwavering sense of duty as Cheng Ying also communicates his suffering in every line he speaks. Joe Dixon steals the stage and is a phenomenal highlight as antagonist Tu’an Gu – his portrayal of the character is unlike anything I expected from the role, while being calculated and virile, but also managing to be wickedly comical where appropriate.

Paul Englishby’s score is beautifully appropriate, with many soft passages presented with subtle Chinese rifts and flavors with the live orchestra mixed with some authentic instrumentation. This adaptation also included translations of the original songs, which I had not heard before and was very surprised (and glad) to hear. Niki Turner’s design is gorgeous, including a simplistic but striking architecture based set which allow actors to travel into and through the audience to fill out the entire theatre, and beautiful and authentic period costume designs.

The piece is everything I hoped it would be and more. Fenton’s new adaptation and Doran’s vision to the piece is an utter revelation to the original English translation. This epic is brought to life through an incredible cast, surrounded in a beautiful design with wonderful live music. It’s regrettable that the production has been attacked for a trivial matter of casting, since this production is oozing with talent and is easily one of the most gripping pieces I’ve seen perhaps not just this year, but in my life. I feel so lucky to have seen this piece, and wish I could see it again. 

Tickets for Royal Shakespeare Company's The Orphan of Zhao are £16 - £38, and is showing at Swan Theatre until March 28th. Duration of approximately 110 minutes. Book by visiting Royal Shakespeare Company's website.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Year in Theatre (2012)

Throughout this year I've been working like a bitch on a number of shows. I've worked in community theatre, student productions, and professional and independent theatre. I've volunteed hundreds of hours for projects I've loved and been paid a little for others, and I've also given my time to ushering, facilitating, and teaching for many different organisations. I've also blogged for two professional theatre festivals and enjoyed blogging, either by invitation or just to share my thoughts on theatre, and supported a number of shows and collectives financially through Pozible and another fund raising schemes (buying lots of fund-raising chocolates . . !). So here is a comprehensive list and explanation of what I've been in - bring on 2013!
Sweeney Todd.

The first of show of the year had actually started rehearsals at the end of November of 2011. I was involved in my first musical, Ignatians Musical Society's Sweeney Todd where I was a chorus member among a cast of over 30. Although I was going to skip my audition, I ended up being offered a place in the ensemble and as a result spent over 400 hours in rehearsal, with included rigorous vocal rehearsals and exhausting all day rehearsals every weekend up until the show day. The show opened on March 21st and ran 18 performances until April 13th, and was my first time I had sung in front of a paying audience. I got to be creep around, wear a delightfully/dreafully tacky looking beard, get my throat slit, sing my favourite lines and run around the stage like a lunatic. Simply awesome, and if Ignatians stages any other Sondheim pieces, I'll be there (or if Passion comes up, watching the show and weeping gently every evening).

Of Little Matter.
Simultaneous with Sweeney, I was also involved in two other projects. One of which was helping Sarah Winter realise her incredible concept for a floating feast through her PhD studies. We had a week in February of trial and error, brainstorming, and realising things that were out of an enchanting dream. The project went on to become a dinner with gravity, which had a two week run at La Boite Indie across the 28th of June til the 8th of July later in the year. The other project was the first Vena Cava Production's show of the year, Of Little Matter, which had rehearsals through February and March and performed from March 26th - 31st. Under the direction of David Morton the show is one of the first of it's kind, a show with an ensemble of actors who helped bring a story to life by animating characters exclusively with their hands. Despite not being able to dedicate myself fully to the project, I was the composer and sound designer on the show, a couple of pieces being some of my favourite things I've written this year. Although I'm no longer involved with the project, it went on to do a creative development at Brisbane Powerhouse in November this year, and with it's potential it's not going to stop there. I also spent a lot of time during late February as a featured blogger in Brisbane Powerhouse's World Theatre Festival, where I saw A Spectacular of Sorts, the prelude to a very special show I would be later working on in October.

a dinner with gravity.
The next saga I got involved in was Copstitutes! Professional Lovers, Amateur Detectives! Concieved, written, directed and also partly acted by Nicholas K Watson, this piece had its read through in April before entering a very vague rehearsal process in May, where in performed May 25th for one performance, with an oversold audience that flowed out of The Studio. We reunited for another special showing after we were selected as a wildcard contestant in August for Short + Sweet. We had a good performance on the 18th, but were unsuccessful going any further (not really a surprise to us, though). During the entire Copstitutes process I was also writing reviews for productions in Anywhere Theatre Festival, a cute little emerging festival which aims to solve the issue of having independent theatre presented in a theatre by having them present anywhere - cafés, parks, roads etc.  Earlier in May we were also working on our Production 2 show, Performing, Seriously! which was facilitated by Benjamin Schostakowski and had one performance on the 30th (we got a very high mark for it!).

June and July rolled by with a dinner with gravity (which had a sell out season) and I also joined onto Vena Cava's third production of the year, Iphigenia 2.0, which was directed by Dave Sleswick. I was sound designer, composer and operator for the show, which was an adaptation of the original text Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides by Charles Mee. The new text is a vicious attack on consumerism and the evils of war, and the season ran from July 30th until August 3rd. After having fun with Copstitutes again, I hopped straight into doing sound design for David Stewart's honours piece, Cotton Pony. Following the unfortunate life of Ebony Zedler, the piece examined how far theatre could be taken before the audience renders it unacceptable. Despite its darker nature, the piece was very funny, and it was so much fun to be able to pick and choose any music I wanted without having to worry about copyright.

A Tribute of Sorts.
September (and later December) was the only month where I wasn't involved directly with a production, so I enjoyed seeing a lot of works at the Brisbane Festival. I did also volunteer the entire duration of the Festival of Australian Student Theatre (FAST) from the 7th-9th, which is a fantastic annual event which invites students from all over Australian to travel to Brisbane and present their work  at La Boite's Roundhouse Theatre. In October I started work on two shows, one of which was my best friend's writing/directing debut for a piece in 2high Festival called Propagation. I was sound designer/operator, although I'm ashamed to say that it was never priority and I wish I could have worked on it more - it was a big success though, and a lot of people were very impressed by its one showing on the 10th of November. In October I also started to work as an assistant stage hand (read: moving things around behind the seasons as quietly and quickly as humanly possible like a bitch) on my favourite show of the year. A Spectacular of Sorts changed into A Tribute of Sorts, which was written and directed by Benjamin Schostakowski with Emily Curtin and Dash Kruck. The narrative revolves around cousins Ivan and Juniper Plank, who take it upon themselves to coordinate a grim but hilariously inappropriate homage to children who find death "a little too quickly". The show's season, which ran from October 25th until November 10th, was an absolute sell out and the best fun I've ever had on a show - as Lucas Stibbard said, I'm very "heart sore" to see it go, but hopefully it will have another life somewhere, someday . . . :0).

And then the theatre world stopped. :)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Less Miserable About Les Mis Soundtrack

Cover of the Les Misérables highlights album (Source: Amazon).
Casting actors rather than singers in movie adaptations of musicals are always at best a necessary evil. Les Misérables has been one of the most anticipated musical adaptations of all time, and a lot of emphasis has been put on acting and pulling out emotion over singing. Unlike the usual filming process of recording tracks months before shooting begins, Tom Hooper's adaption of the world's second longest running musical featured actors singing in realtime on the set and then mixing an orchestra to suit the product after. Claims from the actors insinuate that this 'revolutionary' method allows more flexibility and emotion to be put into the singing, but the reality is that few manage to pull it off properly. Despite fantastic new orchestral arrangements and some wonderful chorus works, there is too much 'acting' in the singing, too many lacklustre singers and bad mixing really detract from what could have been an excellent recording - there are some great moments, however.

At the helm of the recording is Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, and he's just bad. He's acceptable on shorter passages and in songs that don't require such strenuous vocal demands, but star moments like 'Bring Him Home' and 'Soliloquy' are laden with dreadfully nasal vibrato it's unbearable, and he sounds like a squeaky puppy in phrases on 'One Day More' - he's also the worst contender for blubbering through lines and drawing out the emotion too much. Russell Crowe is awful - while no-one was expecting him to be Philip Quast, his gravely part-time rock voice is totally unsuitable as he lacks the vocal power that the role of Javert demands, but his timbre makes it sound as if just sounds like he is shouting as he clambers though 'Stars' and Suicide. It's remarkable how unmelodious his voice is, and shocking how amateur they both sound.

Elsewhere the cast are fine. Eddie Redmayne is surprisingly nice as Marius and Amanda Seyfried's voice is thin but lovely for a quiet Cosette, both are appropriately toned down for the movie but Seyfried is barely present on the recording. The same goes for Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter, who have the usual unremarkable vocal skills but communicate a good performance through the Thénardier characteristics. The two singers who have performed their respective roles on stage are less than stellar - Samantha Barks returns with her signature wooden-but-pleasent Éponine, as does Aaron Tviet as a passable-but-boring Enjolras who lacks any presence and authority since he sounds significantly demasculinized (look up David Thaxton for a good idea of how the role should sound). The star of the recording is Oscar touted Anne Hathaway as Fantine, who shreds 'I Dreamed a Dream' with ineffable passion and such conviction it's simply breathtaking. While she's not the definitive Fantine, her performance communicates an immensely impressive equilibrium which balances the harrowing anguish and pain of her character with a sensitive delivery of tone and melody.

The gimmick of having the singing live translates poorly from the screen to this recording, and while it's apparently a revelation when it comes to filming, it rarely works to add to the independent musical experience. There are some awful musical decisions such as in 'Castle on a Cloud', where The Grudge graces us with an appearance to cackle "COSETTTEEEE I LOVE YOU VERY MUCHHH" in our ear - it sounds absolutely terrifying out of context. On the other hand, the revised orchestral arrangements are incredibly vibrant, sumptuous and thrilling. Disregarding the vocals, 'Confrontation', 'Look Down' and 'The Final Battle' have never sounded so exciting, nor arrangements like 'In My Life', 'Red and Black' or 'Javert's Suicide' so luscious.

Regardless of both positive and negatives, the recording isn't the most pleasant listen because the mixing is, unfortunately and predictably, awful. The wonderful orchestra is captured perfectly but the recording is marred by the vocals, which are captured with only basic microphones. The result means that there is a lot of hissing and scuffs, with extraneous noises featuring, like people kicking furniture, scuffs of shoes, and over dramatic breathing and lipsmaking. It sounds as though there has been no processing or editing of the vocals - there's not even a basic reverb to unify the numerous tracks together, and it would have greatly improved their placement in the mix - it's very unprofessional and it's irritating to listen to.

There have been some revisions and rearranging to the lyrics, and while they don't do anything major like change the meanings of the song, they're also so minor it didn't really seem necessary (ie. In 'At The End of the Day' - "The winter is coming on fast . . ." becomes "The plague is coming on fast . . .". What's the point? Winter sounds more poetic anyway). 'Suddenly', the new song composed in a scramble to win the Oscar for Best Song, has the complexity of a Christmas carol and is totally unnecessary to the story (if anything, a song should have been written for Cosette). It's not really anything memorable, and I hope it never gets added to the stage show.

All that aside, there are highlights for the CD. Anne Hathaway's incredible rendition of 'I Dreamed a Dream' is the jewel of the album, and anything with the chorus included is wonderful - 'At The End of the Day' and 'Red and Black' are magnificent. 'The Final Battle' is riveting with the sheer grandeur of the orchestra, and for the sake of nostalgia 'One Day More' is fairly good. My absolute favourite track is the 'Epilogue' which, despite its imperfections, is a luminous adaptation which features an elegant and beautiful orchestra arrangement, thunderous chorus, and includes - finally - the Bishop in Valjean's final moments (I can't describe what that means to me).

All in all, I'm less miserable about the soundtrack than I thought I'd be. There are some awful performances from some of the most prominent actors including Jackman and Crowe, but there are some acceptable performances and Hathaway absolutely steals the show with her rendition of 'I Dreamed a Dream', all backed by some glorious orchestration. While mixing is horrible and very amateur, when properly done the chorus shines, and there are a few great moments. This is also only the highlights album, so you can expect another deluxe collector's special Asian limited edition to come out featuring all the tracks at double the price. I'll probably buy that one too. All in all, if you're a fan of the musical then you'll be a sucker for this CD regardless. If you're a fan of the movie and love blindly following crazes, you'll probably like this too. If you enjoy singing rather than acting, perhaps not so much.

The 'Les Misérables' Highlights album is available worldwide December 25th, and is currently available on iTunes. Available on physical CD and digital download.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Re: Cardigan

The town - it is remote, isn't it?
And provincial, don't you think?
And everything so brown, the streets, the fields, the river even . . .
of course, there is the castle . . . the ruined castle. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some Thoughts on Children of War [*]

(Source: Facebook)
I found this in my drafts so I thought I might as well post it.

My thoughts on The Danger Ensemble's Children of War are about as messy as the piece itself. Performed by an impressive team of young actors, the piece is packed with potential and has moments of brilliance, but on a whole it's too ambitious. It tries to explore too many issues and agendas, the script doesn't allow focus on characters enough to develop a connection with them, and the design just isn't cohesive enough to cater for the entire production.

The actors are uniformly good, but none of them are really featured prominently since the cast is so big, and it feels like everyone is being given time in the spotlight but don't get enough to create a connection. Eva Rae Smith is magnificent as the tactical and graceful Iphigenia - she's also probably the only actor who can project properly - and Elle Mickel's performance of Polyxena was my favourite, as a cynical and ridiculously impractical character who has some of the best sassy lines. Hats off to Sam Barnett and Taryn Allen, who have a little bit of stage time, but then spend about an hour of stage time just looking blankly at projection screens.

Who are the characters talking to? It seems as though they're telling us a story, but there's no consistency in who we are in relation to them.

The issue with the show is that it tries to explore WAY too many things, and despite the show clocking in at a devestating 130 minutes, its exploration and comments are too basic to have any real impact. The piece is replete with xenophobic, self image and homosexual connotations (to name a few), but they're only lightly explored in one or two character, and since it cuts between eight different stories, focus is very quickly lost and facts are forgotten almost as quickly as they're thrown at you. The text demands the audience to have a lot of prior knowledge, and if you don't have it, you feel really stupid. There is such a barrage of information delivered in the first acts including who is who, but it wasn't until a second viewing that I could really follow who was who and what their agenda was. There's also so much contradiction, mostly found in Iphigenia. I like the smell of gasoline - maybe this is a dream and we're still on the airoplane (I don't know!). She wallows on about how she hates war and is against violence and hates being used as a device of her father. But then she turns out to be a suicide bomber, killing many of her peers. What exactly does that achieve? Where did that come from!?

The timeline is frustratingly hard to follow. The characters act like children in the first half and then act like adults, although they are still in school and are concerned about the formal. When did the War start? They don't appear to have changed appearance or age since Agamemmnon announced the beginning.

Visuals are the director's forte, but there are so many bizarre symbolic portrayals in the piece and its quite esoteric. It seems like there's initially symbolism to be found in the colour of hair. The cast half have either blonde or brown hair; Helen has a mixture of both shades. There's apparently no significance. I didn't know what 'It Get's Better' was - and thought it was an integral part to understand Patroclus - but it turns out it's just a minor detail. I feel like the only reason Briseis walks around mouthing opera lyrics was so she could have some more stage time, because it felt unnecessary and if you took it out, not much would change. One example is there is a small amount of grass 'beyond the wall', which one actor enters into by running backstage and then emerging on to it through a specific entrance. Okay, it's established that characters, who haven't entered this space previously, can't enter this area of grass unless they take the route back stage. Then, irritatingly, a bunch of characters just step directly into it. It's little things like this that drive the audience crazy, because it's irritating to see the characters make rules in this universe and then break them almost immediately.

The media is okay, occasionally brilliant (the opening, the burning reveal of Iphigenia), occasionally looking like it was shot for ABC kids (Ascanius destroying Helen). I didn't understand the video footage of The Sims and custard being poured onto naked women. The music is big and powerful, industrial and gothic themed movements pop up all over the place, but its tie to the emotion and action of the piece is pretty shallow. The set design is frustratingly bare and not used very well throughout the piece. Initially, it's presented as if it's a playground - there is a slide that does very little, except obstruct part of the projections, and is used a grand total of twice in the first act before it disappears completely. There's also a swing which characters sit on, but it's unidentified where it actually sits in the world and what the significance of it is. It feels like there is a lot of potential and significance to be found in the playground theme, but it's not explored or utilised deeply enough.

Yes, there a moments of brilliance. The opening montage is propels your interest with the perfect mixture of video, sound and dialogue, there are some awesome lines ("History may not remember me, but I was fucking fabulous", or something similar), and a dress literally evaporates in front of your eyes. But it's not enough to save interest or provide anything compelling or engaging overall. A really ambitious project that is stretched too thin.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Adventures Elsewhere

Last week I spent a bit of time up in London, and I wanted to share some happenings.

While we did eat out at a few different places, most of the food in London were delicious sandwiches  from the eighty thousand supermarket chains, usually Tesco or Marks and Spensers. The best place that we came across was a place called Damson Café, which was a really lovely café on St Giles High St. The staff are super friendly without being annoyingly pandering and in addition to delicious coffee, tea and beer selection they serve some great unusual food. Dad and I both had an awesome larger which I've forgotten the name of, but we all had a bowl of the celeriac soup, which was awesome. My grandma tried a carrot cake which was also made with potato - I think I remember reading that potato helps to make the mixture denser and keeping it moister (hehe), and it tasted great.  We were so impressed we went back for a after-breakfast coffee the next day, and I really hope it does well since it was such a nice place, and in terms of pricing compared to Australia it seemed very reasonably priced.

On the note of cakes though, I have to say that the vanilla baked cheesecake (the greatest of all cakes in the world) at Foyles (a staple visit for our family everytime we get to London) was incredible!! It was like a mixture between cheesecake deliciousness and the texture of a chiffon cupcake, impossibly light and very moreish. I want it every minute of my life - it was the most fuck-off incredible cake ever.

Panicking camel. 
Dad and I stopped off at the British Museum to take a look at some of the new exhibits, the feature exhibit that we saw this time were the use of Chinese seals, and their significance and history throughout existence. I really enjoy Oriental artwork and the precision and craft of the works are exquisite. We also walked around and saw the usual Egyptian exhibits, which still amaze me that we're in the same room as something that's 3000 years old - and it's in such good shape. My favourite thing was an exhibit in the Asia region, where we found a perplexing statue of what looked like a distressed camel. Super talent, yo!

I didn't manage to see a lot of theatre, but there isn't much on in London that I was interested in seeing this time. I did manage to go and see In the Republic of Happiness at the Royal Court Theatre, which was really fascinating. I wrote about it at some length here, but the piece is a surreal discussion on the nature of happiness. I managed to run into David at the same performance! I insisted on trying to get a photo since I looked very spiffy and was wearing a tie, but the lighting wasn't so great and the photo turned out with no facial features, and I have no proof that I was actually there with him. The play was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the music so much I went ahead and ordered a CD of songs from the show. I was going to try and see Uncle Vanya the next night but instead I got caught up buying some new business shirts (to go with my skinnys. Hah. Viva la revolution). When we get back to London next month we're going to see Cirque du Soleil's Kooza (a marginally better production than Ovo), and hopefully another piece (Slava's Snow Show?).

We also went to a lot of music events and concerts. We went to see the London Symphony Orchestra at The Barbican Theatre play the sixth and seventh symphonies by Sibelius, which also included his violin concerto performed with Leonidas Kavakos. The music was striking, very emotive and interesting but I was almost screaming at how tired I was and it was pretty distressing to be sitting down in a cramped position for so long. Someone came up and told me that I was sitting in their seats and all I could do was wail at them until they realised they had the wrong row. On my Dad's birthday we went to a lunchtime concert at Wigmore Hall to see Barry Douglas play some pieces by Brahms. Although he played beautifully and with a lot of feeling, I found it really difficult to enjoy any of the pieces since I was so unfamiliar with them, which was a problem that I also had with an organ recital which we went to in St. Paul's Cathedral. I was glad to go in and see it, because it meant that we got to go into St. Paul's without paying and I'd never been inside, but I found it difficult to engage with.

At the 'conclusion' of Wigmore Hall recital, the audience applauded excessively and Douglas took three bows before sitting down and playing an encore. After which, people clapped while others left, which implies at these sorts of events people pretty much expect an encore, which makes me think that the whole practise is irrelevant and a bit of an oxymoron. In my rage I vowed to myself that if I ever help create a theatre collective/group/company/whatever, I would call it 'Bow Once Theatre', and we would only ever bow once. VIVA LA REVOLUTION.

Me, looking adorable.
While it's not exactly in London, my Mum and I took a trip to Leavesden, where  is where the The Making of Harry Potter Tour at Warner Bros. Studio. Leavesden Studios was (were?) the principal shooting location for the Harry Potters films for over 10 different years, and now, after the incredibly hard task of managing to get to the studios - it took us about three hours to get there - you can now see the sets, costumes and props of the series up close and in their original arrangements. There are a few surprises to be experienced and there is a heap of information on how they manage to film and create certain scenes, including how Quidditch works, which effects are used to create spells, and explaining which scenes and scenery of the films are actually real or rendered. There's also a bunch of other fun things you can do, like walking through Privet Drive, Diagon Alley, and see a scaled down model of Hogwarts Castle. You can also try some 'authentic' Butterbeer, which was very nice but it was chilled, and on such a freezing day I would have preferred it hot (like mine). Although I fell out of love with the Harry Potter films, I used to love them like everyone I know, and I felt extremely nostlagic trotting around scenes from my childhood. Lots of things put me off the films to the extent that I didn't even bother seeing a few cinemas, like trashy hairstyles, bad acting, horrible plot cuts and generally being stupid - but regardless, I did really enjoy the tour overall. It's great value for Harry Potter fans, and you can take as long or short time to go around the studio as you like. Photo opportunities are such a novelty too!

I'm now down in Cardigan with my grandma, where we will celebrate Christmas, New Year and then her 90th birthday. It's a sleepy town, but very relaxing and the days are going surprisingly quickly.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thoughts In the Republic of Happiness

Promotional artwork for In the Republic of Happiness. (Source: Royal Court Theatre)
Martin Crimp's new piece In the Republic of Happiness is a fascinating and surreal discussion on happiness, exploring what it is and what it has the potential to become. With a fantastic cast, inspired concept, and a score of unexpected songs, the play presents the audience with a play in three phrases - happiness as it is when influenced by environment, how people personally perceive their happiness, and how happiness is dictated by other people.

I should probably preface this with two things, one being the show was still in previews (though unlikely it will change much, as the script is already published and being sold in the lobby). The other being that I was heavily jelagged, and I'd gone to bed about 4pm the previous day, so seeing a show at 7:30pm that ran to 9:30pm was devastating.

Crimp's idiosyncratic writing style is exactly what you'd expect from his plays, with reoccurring motifs, actions and subjects being shared by characters in a script that makes even the most mundane phrase have a sense of significance behind, while it's also crammed full of striking phrases ("I suddenly appeared.", "It's more than that/It doesn't go deep enough.", "I don't think you understand how happy you are."). Both are apparent in the premise of the piece, a slice of life realism and naturalism which quickly descends into the surreal when a bland Christmas dinner becomes propelled by uncomfortable and cracking tension through the arrival of the estranged uncle.

The ensemble during one of the brilliant musical breakdowns
(Source: The Independent). 
The second section abruptly segues the petite house into a sterile talk-show setting, and has the characters transform into representations of their respective age brackets - there's the young, old, middle aged, and 'about 30' year old personalities. Their commentary on achieving the five foundations of happiness is (obviously) reflective of the postmodern zeitgeist, and influenced by politics it's packed with consumerism and self satisfaction. Although the segment eventually loses momentum due to the barrage of repetitive political statements of freedom and happiness, it's a dazzling moment since it manages to be both profoundly uncomfortable but also an intriguing and somehow relatable experience. It's all topped off with bizarre karaoke interjections composed by Roald Van Oosten which are hilarious. The final segment returns to Uncle Bob and Madeleine in another sterile white room, which hints Bob being lost with dementia in a dystopian society. It's the quietest and most perplexing section in the production, and after the conclusion of 'The Happy Song' we're left in darkness to ponder what exactly there was to be happy about.

The ensemble cast, including Anna Calder-Marshall, Michelle Fielding, Seline Hizli, Ellie Kendrick, Stuart McQuarrie,  and Peter Wight, are all just fantastic, perfectly portraying their characters in correlation to their age and political identities with . In particular, Paul Ready as the sinister Uncle Bob is so compelling to watch, and his appearance and presence totally flips the style and mood of the piece. Michelle Terry, playing his wife Madeline, is also just as stunning, furthering the disruption of balance on stage and pushing the family into a deeper level of distress - her sudden break into singing was just hilarious and I adored and wanted to watch the scene over and over again.

In the Republic of Happiness is an intriguing and compelling production which examines happiness in a way unlike I've ever seen before. It's not Crimp's strongest work in that, compared to Attempts on her Life or The Country, it didn't manage to engage me for the whole duration, most notably in the middle which seems to meander too long on too many political issues. However attention is maintained through the excellent songs, and the opening scene is Crimp's typically brilliant style of hybridised naturalism with surrealism with many intelligent and humorous lines, and the pensive and unsettling ending leaves a profound impact in that is just baffling. I still maintain that Crimp is one of Britain's best postmodern playwrights, and although it's not easy to sit through it some times I recommend this piece just as much as any other of his previous works. It's poetic, brooding and compelling, and will leave you considering it for days.

Tickets for Martin Crimp's In the Republic of Happiness are £10 - £28, and is showing at Royal Court Theatre until January 17th. Duration of approximately 110 minutes. Book by visiting Royal Court Theatre's Official Website.