Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hey Theatre! (and Circus)

Hey, theatre! What’s with the not-being-that-good – except sometimes! I’ve been with you for ages now and I think we’ve been out 68 times this year not that I’m counting. Well, obviously, I’m counting. And you’re still not that good, sure. But we’re old friends. Like, I’m the old friend who turns a blind eye to your staggering inadequacies and you’re the old friend who promises to turn up in a tailored suit for an evening of sparkling wit and fancy-dancing and ends up falling out of a taxi with vomit on your Crocs and a banged-up tale of how you got waylaid by Billy Bragg and a Russian wolfhound and then proceeds to label your drunken alley-bound urinary antics “theatrical graffiti”.

Even though a goodish part of my life is misspent knocking elbows with theatre crowds, I’m not really one for plays. Plays have all these hang-ups about characters and story and theme which really get in the way of a good production. Not that those things don’t interest me, but it’s obvious that nineteenth century realism left a big dirty pawprint that no amount of modernism has managed to squeegee away. And modern theatre, too, has a lot to answer for, but I’ll conduct that trial another day (perhaps employing The Trial as an ironic model, but more likely just pretending that the inclusion of the term “trial” and some shitty acting and a judge in a bowler hat will allow me to review my uninformed rant as “Kafkaesque”).

The idea of psychologically “real” characters, for instance, would be the first casualty of my fantasy one-man crusade against theatre. Actors are as intrinsically fascinating as anyone else who walks past my window, but usually when I see an actor trying to cosset themselves into the character a playwright has managed to burp up, I feel like I’m watching an Hieronymus Bosch painting being used as a placemat. I guess that’s the point of acting, though. If someone we met was painfully trying to appear to be someone else, we’d likely edge away slowly. The miracle of theatre is that we pay for it.

Finally, most plays just don’t speak to my demographic. That might be a demographic of one, but I don’t really care to see stories about most of the things that plays seem to be about. I’ll put it bluntly: I want to see plays about monkeys, robots, ghosts, and zombies. Of that list, I’ve only seen two shows about monkeys in the past month and nothing dealing with the rest. And contemporary theatre pretends to speak to the people.

I was a bit wary of The Devil’s Dictionary for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s by a first-time playwright. Secondly, the promotional material noted that it deals with big themes like Ambition, Art, Law and Marriage. Thirdly, it’s a play.

Thank god it was pretty good.

I don’t know much about Ambition, Art, Law or the other thing. I don’t know much about anything capitalisable.

The Devil’s Dictionary is exactly what the MTC aims for but fails to deliver when it programs David Williamson. It’s a complex and sophisticated think-piece shrink-wrapped into the kind of accessible packaging even the simplest viewer could enjoy – Sex and the City in the hands of Sondheim. Easy laughs with an undercurrent of contemporary urgency. Theatre, are you starting to redeem yourself?

At 61, this is Helen Heritage’s first play. I was worried at first, not by Heritage’s age but by my own fear of first-time playwrights. I’ve been one, once. I was rubbish. Heritage is better.

Recently I made it to the opening do for Circus Oz’ 30th Birthday Bash. It was a lot like my 30th, but with more people and a massive freak-out circus. Not much like my 30th then, but there were no animals which wasn’t unlike my 30th (as I pointed out to an ABC doco crew who seemed uninterested in interviewing me).

The Circus Oz 30th Birthday Bash was pretty sweet. I’ve seen C-OZ do better. But then, I’ve looked out my window and seen uni-cyclists casually pedalling their way to non-stardom, and six-year-olds quad-back-flipping their way to anonymity. Right now there’s a man in a three piece suit bench-pressing the grass while a three-year-old makes sport of his dog. Australia knows how to circus, and Melbourne is the hub of it.

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