About crafty theatre

I love theatre, history, science fiction and visual arts. My heritage is Byzantine, my faith is Orthodoxy and my obsession is asking questions. Psst ... my Gravatar is Karagiozis.

1. Community Theatre: The Turtle and the Empty Stage

This year I’ve attended and reviewed a lot of community theatre. I love it. I love it that there is so much of it around Sydney. I love it that it brings people together to create theatre and to watch it. In our smart phone world, the physicality of live theatre is fresh and vital and compelling. Done well, it’s a wholly engaging form of storytelling that pulses before you.
It’s not always perfect and there are certain foibles that recur across different forms of community theatre and styles of presentation. I thought at this time of the year I’d reflect a little on them.

The Stage tells a Story – Creates a Theatrical Illusion
Key to creating good theatre is the aim to immerse the audience in the glamour – the make-believe illusion of its reality. All the actors onstage have to be engaged with this reality whether they have an action to convey or not or whether they are speaking or not. If a performer is on stage they must always remain in character.
It may sound obvious and automatic but it’s not.
Active Listening is Important
Active listening happens when a performer being spoken to listens and response with their entire being to a speaking actor or action onstage. If you don’t have a speaking part – how attentive is your character to what is being conveyed – can the audience see with your stance, posture, gestures how the information / action is affecting you? Are you conveying the importance of what the speaking performer is saying by your attentiveness?

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster)

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster) photo credit: Craig O’Regan

At the current production of Rockdale’s Guild Theatre’s Silent Night, Lonely Night I was thrilled by the performance of lead actress, Peggy Leto. Her character listened to monologue after monologue of text and was absolutely engaged by it – we saw it in the way her character was affected by what was being said in her gestures and facial expressions. When her character’s turn to audibly respond came, her words didn’t gush out like a newly released dam. In keeping with her character, her responses were measured and timely. When she spoke on the phone, the silences in the half imagined-dialogue had a natural duration – the audience could make out the exact responses of the invisible, inaudible other side of the phone line.

Being this comfortable on stage comes with the confidence of knowing lines early in the rehearsal process so that your character and her/his relationships with other characters can be shaped in rehearsals and continue to grow in performance.
Advice to actors – know your lines as early as possible in the rehearsal process – when you don’t it shows.

A mark of a good performance – the mark of a good cast – the mark of a confident director is the use of pace and silence. If your cast can maintain the illusion of the story when they are silent on stage, the stage can support great moments of dramatic tension that come with silence. A dramatic high or low has been reached – the playwright is making his/her big statement – then let it sink in. Don’t denigrate it by rushing over it. Silence has impact – so long as all on stage remain in character.

See Peggy Leto in Silent Night, Lonely Night at Rockdale’s Guild Theatre until 24th November 2018

Next – in 2. Community Theatre- The Turtle and the Empty Stage acting appendages – accents, disabilities and the empty stage

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Can Romance Thrive over the Course of a Marriage?

Silent Night, Lonely Night by Robert Anderson

Director: Jim Searle

26 October – 24 November, 8pm

The Guild Theatre, Rockdale

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster)

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster) Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

Can romance thrive through the course of a marriage? What happens when it takes a sabbatical? Does infidelity necessarily spring solely from wanton abandon?

In 1959 sex could cast a long shadow away from a dawning horizon and into the lingering night. Love, sex, marriage and fidelity were inextricably bound. Indulging sexually could set your life’s course because of the pervasive belief that sex belonged wholly in holy matrimony. Extra-marital liaisons were considered wanton at the very best. To partake outside the circumscription allowed social expectations to dictate the “what’s next” in your entire life’s path.

Robert Anderson’s play delves into the nature of romantic love, the consequences of sexual relations in a society scaffolded on Christian morality and contrasts these traditional notions with the uninhibited ability of the sexual act to be a source of comfort and communion with another person. In 2018, with our freedom to speak and explore, and the offering of life choices in pluralistic plethora, the play still holds a message. It explores the fragility of romantic love in a long term relationship and loneliness, in its absence.

Off to see a movie reel, Barry Mc Master (John) and Peggy Leto (Katherine)

John and Katherine, off to see a movie reel, Barry Mc Master and Peggy Leto, Photo Credit: Darren McDowell

It’s Christmas Eve. One of the loneliest nights of the year for many. Katherine (Peggy Leto) has come to visit her son in a small American town where he attends school. He is in the school infirmary and she must see him off to meet her husband in London. She won’t be joining them. She refuses her husband’s call. We aren’t told why.

Having already asked the newly-weds also staying in the hotel to join him that night, self-professed widower, John (Barry McMaster) loses no time in infiltrating Katherine’s solitude and dinner in her suite. An incurable romantic he regales her with the story of his great love for his wife and his loneliness, his pain. She listens. Her experience of marriage is contrasted with his, and so is her personality.

The play is delivered with humour, intellect and sensitivity. Barry McMaster’s gregarious portrayal of a middle-aged American man, confident in his ability to engage with people and unquestioning in his entitlement to do so, is vivid and convincing. His stories and his person fill the stage.

The Newly-Weds, Phillip (Russell Godwin) and Janet (Eloise Tanti)

The Newly-Weds, Phillip (Russell Godwin) and Janet (Eloise Tanti), Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

Peggy Leto’s Katherine is John’s foil. Reserved and anxious, she gradually warms to John’s presence in her suite. Her delivery is subtle and restrained. Despite her American accent there’s a decidedly understated, Australian character about her delivery. She’s a joy to watch. Often silent for long stretches of John’s monologue Leto communicates with gesture and movement – silently acknowledging what she’s heard, urging him to continue with a nod or questioning his veracity with her eyes to comic effect. They are joined by a capable supporting cast.

Director, Jim Searle delivers a reflective night at the theatre with quite a few laughs thrown in. Silent Night, Lonely Night is just the play to ease you into the fast approaching Christmas season as you join John and Katherine in a small rural inn in New England.

Bookings can be made online at www.guildtheatre.com.au or (ph) 9521 6358.

1. Searching for a Secular Byzantine World

Who were the Byzantines? I mean, really, who were they?

It’s been said that the Byzantine Empire flourished while the rest of Europe languished in the dark. That the Byzantines safeguarded the texts of the Ancient Greeks to eventually inspire the Western Renaissance. That the Byzantines were the vanguard of the physical defence of European Christianity. And almost unchallenged is the pervasive belief that the Byzantine community was one that was dedicated to God, where each daily practice was infused with Christian–religious significance.

They’re all such big statements. Looking at the art and artefacts of a society can tell us how a society or individuals wanted to be represented and understood. Looking at the tools and utensils and such that they used in their daily lives can give us an idea of what they needed to get through their day. But what of their hopes and aspirations? Their literature should help but you’d have to be a scholar to know titles for which to search.

So when I look for the Byzantines I encounter a wall beatified with sainted icons and illumined religious texts. Beyond this impregnable iconostasis there is military and political history and ornate jewellery, often featuring religious motifs.

Until one day I came across the 13th-14th Century pottery from Cyprus.

Bowls, slipware depicting people – the yous and the mes – not saints. Naïve, linear depictions that appear hastily drawn and at first glance, ugly. I was at once fascinated and disappointed. How far had ceramic decorative arts fallen in the hands of the Byzantines since the Hellenistic Age? I couldn’t believe what I was presented with. They had to be an historic aberration – a solitary transgression of artistic progress. They had to be from just one site – one workshop, the work of one potter. But no, there were others, not as prolific but there.

Familiarity breeds content – in my case charm and fascination. Looking closely I saw romance and flirtation, a dancer and sportsmen and soldiers. A healthy attachment grew in my heart for them and I began to ponder why they were made? Were they supposed to have a decorative function? Were they a socio-political artefact? Was food served on them?

I understood their function was to share, so I’m compelled to share them with you.

These are some of the wonderfully informative and at the same time cryptic bowls that I’ve come across.

Romance

By far the greatest representation of images I’ve found on the internet are what I’m assuming are wedding portraits. Representations of the men and women are standardized. Men’s cloaks just cover the knee. Clean shaven, they wear their hair in a bob, a part of their legs is rendered, at least their feet but most often from the knee down. They may or may not be brandishing a bardoukion (the flanged mace favoured by soldiers of the Byzantine army) or sword. The women’s cloaks match the men’s in their decorative patterning – Byzantine ‘His and Hers’, however their skirts generally cover their feet but not always. The women aren’t always depicted with hair but wear a floor length scarf/veil. Adding to the sense that two people are in love or of one spirit is their conjoined chest cavities and one set of arms between them – they will no doubt toil together through life’s challenges. In an example held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, the couple’s combined chest is tied together with crossing straps. In these “wedding portraits” the couple hold aloft a bough of some sort – wheat? A symbol of celebration and fertility? They stand under its arch.

Bowl

Bowl C.83-1933,© Victoria and Albert Museum, London http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O143970/bowl/

Flirtation is the attraction of this quirky example of brown and green slipware that seems unique held in the Bank of Cyprus collection. This one, unlike the “wedding bowl” type appears to depict a courtship.

Sgraffito Slipware BowlGP 1999-337, Bank of Cyprus Collection

In a scene that brings to mind Greek folk songs, the girl, fan in her upstretched hand, is being pursued through a field of flowers by the young gallant whose kerchief she seems to have procured. His upstretched bardoukion isn’t intended to beat her but more an identifier that he is the male in the picture. He holds a seistron – a percussion instrument that was shimmied or rattled to create music and also used to attract prey in a hunt. Is she the bird he is preying upon? the One he wishes to attract? It seems he has succeeded or did she first elicit his attention by taking his kerchief?

The kerchief “mantili” she holds in her right hand, mayn’t be his, but I can’t stop thinking it is because of the proliferation in folk songs, admittedly of a much later period, where the “mantili” is a euphemism for love/sex. The patterning of their costumes don’t match, there is no bough above them and there’s distance between them, all of which could indicate, drum roll… a pre-marital liaison or extra-marital courtship.

Romance, love, flirtation in a secular Byzantine world are just a taste of what these bowls offer. I find them bewitching; I hope you do too, as I hope to feature more of them on this blog soon.

Tearing Down the Fourth Wall

Pushing Up Daisies vs A Comedy of Errors

“O! I’m going to the theatre, Darling. The cinema is sooo plebeian. Mink or Chinchilla to guard against the cold?”

Nauseating!

“It’s a Brechtian interpretation. Perfect for my essay on comparative approaches to theatrical storytelling on the early 20th Century Stage.”

Alienating!

“Ohh, goody, there’s a hearing loop in the auditorium!”

Tragicomedy!

“Chookas, Sweetie. I’ll be in the fifth row, towards stage left.”

Familial, fidelity.

“How could he be cast over me?????”

No Comment.

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

 

Theatre audiences haven’t always fallen into such broad categories. Look around an auditorium and you will see a refined bunch of people with seemingly singular taste. But they’re a small umbrella group. Of course, I’m not referring to the big musicals that seem to break out and draw people in – crossing boundaries of wealth, sub-cultural fixations and education, and beyond the community of theatre practitioners who love and support the craft and each other.

Spending two to five times as much as the price of going to the footy to see a drama or an opera, can be an edifying, fulfilling experience but it won’t provoke the same audience response and loud catharsis that the footy can. Oops! Isn’t the theatre supposed to be cathartic? Hasn’t that old Greek word entered the English language to describe what goes on in your heart when theatre is at its best? When it lifts you, makes you see yourself and realise that you have changed or can change or that somehow life can be better?

Catharsis in the theatre is a very personal thing. It quietly slips down your cheek when no one is watching.  It wasn’t always the case. In Shakespeare’s day it was caterwauled at the performers, its heckling parleyed back and forth between the auditorium and the stage along with a barrage of soft tomatoes, and it could take to the streets in insurrection.

I don’t think you have to go so far back as Shakespeare to find audiences so engaged with performances – perhaps only back to just before the advent of television. When theatre was the only choice of dramatic storytelling for all.

In modern presentations of plays directors and their troupes try to instigate some of that interaction.

Shakespeare wrote the asides, as if they were improvised, to address his audience directly into his texts. At the Pop-Up Globe the performers run through the groundlings’ standing pit, and the stalls. They invite the audience to photograph them mid performance; they hurl fruit into the audience and lewd staging is used to raise laughs and lower everyone’s inhibitions. The twenty-first century audience smiles in appreciation of their nod to historical performance peccadillos and laugh too, but say nothing in response.

The Cast of Pushing Up Daisies aka Ta Radikia Anapoda (Hellenic Art Theatre)

The Cast of Pushing Up Daisies aka Ta Radikia Anapoda (Hellenic Art Theatre)

What would happen if the audience did respond? and as often as they were invited to and, when they weren’t invited.

Over the past week I have attended two very different productions. Both were comedies. The first was Shakespeare’s classic, A Comedy of Errors in the Pop-Up Globe and the other was Pushing Up Daisies or Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα, by the Hellenic Art Theatre. In the first production, the ensemble dared the audience to interact. In the second, they had to deal with it as a matter of course.

How to cook with no ingredients - feeding the hungry in Athens with the Chef (Nick Tsioukanis)

How to cook with no ingredients – feeding the hungry in Athens with the Chef (Nick Tsioukanis)

Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα, by Γιωρου Γαλιτη,  under the direction of Stavros Economidis satirises stereotypes found in modern day Athenian society. It does this by a series of monologues presented as eulogies to the newly departed. Each eulogy is honest rather than diplomatic and more revealing about the living than the dead. Among the different types we hear from is a thief, a bishop, a socialite, a politician, a surgeon and, poignantly, a chef (Nick Tsioukanis) who advises how to cook for life under the austerity measures imposed on Greece in the wake of the economic crisis.

The stage is bare, dressed with only two coffins, diagonally pointing into centre stage. Each monologue is delivered between these two coffins beginning with the personification of death himself.

The nature of monologues is to be addressed to the audience directly as much if not more than the stage environment. Conventionally, the audience sits up and listens closer. In this production the audience is alert and engaged from the get go. As Death enters and requests mobile phones be switched off, the pre-show chatter is diverted and acknowledges his request. Chatter isn’t entirely quelled and remarks fly on every entrance by a subsequent performer.

The Metropolitan (John Daviskas) eulogizing the assets of the holy departed.

The Metropolitan (John Daviskas) eulogizing the assets of the holy departed.

“Ah, here she is! It’s Evelyn.”

“Hmm, Stavros has lost weight.”

It’s clear there is a familiarity between the performers and their audience that has been accumulating over years of offering and attendance.

When each eulogy begins with an address to the deceased, someone has to voice the audience concerns that the latest performer has made a mistake. Clearly the dead man was named for someone else.

“Get it right, it’s so-and-so in that coffin.”

“No. It’s supposed to be a different person, now.”

As each monologue is given, audience members comment and add short anecdotes among themselves. It’s clear and loud that they can relate. Occasionally the performers were heckled within the context of the character that they were presenting.

Without even having to try, the fourth wall is down. Why did the Pop-Up Globe troupe have to put such an effort? Could it be that the answer lies with the audience?

The widow

The Widow (Evelyn Tsavales)

I’m apt to hypothesize that a lot has to do with the fact that the Hellenic Art Theatre have a relationship with their audience that spans many decades. There is a familiarity of faces across the fourth wall and also between the pews of the auditorium. They are not the disconnected group that attend the larger commercial theatres of the city. They share the migrant experience that binds them whether its mink on the shoulders or uni books in the backpack or personal connections to the company. There is security in this familiarity.  It’s something that I’m betting this audience shares with that of the audiences at the Globe in the age of Elizabeth and James. Then, there was the homogenous experience of being citizens of London who waited for the theatre for their drama where for decades HA Theatre’s audience waited for HA Theatre to be the sole provider of theirs.

A lot has to do with the comedy as well. When they offer Euripides’ tragedy, The Trojan Women later in the year, I can’t imagine that there’ll be heckling.

With such an abundance of audience banter – how do the performers deal with it?

The General

The General (Stavros Economidis)

It would take a seasoned performer with the resilience of a street performer or swift repartee of a stand-up comedian to take it all in stride and keep the momentum of the written text going. That’s how I imagine the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, to have been like. The exercise of the same members of the ensemble, play after play in front of a familiar audience would insite asides, heckling and banter that Shakespeare never recorded.

The cast of the Hellenic Art Theatre take it all in stride and offer a very enjoyable night at the theatre.

Pushing Up Daisies or Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα is playing at the Mantouridion Greek Theatre at the Addison Rd Community Complex in Marrickville until 30th September. English surtitles are projected throughout the performance. Bookings: www.hellenicarttheatre.com.au

The Pop-Up Globe is offering Shakespeare in Moore Park from this September and October.

Pop-Up Globe: A Comedy of Errors

“The Best Night of Theatre Ever” – Australian Stage on Pop-Up Globe Melbourne

“This isn’t dusty Shakespeare. This is now. Alive. Like a Party”

“LIMITED SEASON, STARTS SEPT 5”

Read the hype. Are you excited? Do you absolutely have to go? If you miss the Sydney shows will the only alternative be flying the 21+ hours – if you’re lucky to get a direct flight – no stopovers – to London? Will your experience of Shakespeare ever be the same again? Following this train of thought I had to go. I had to go now – like the persistent urge to pee that’s never sated, my anticipation ran at a cross-legged stampede through my patience. Opening night wasn’t soon enough. It had to be, now, now, now.

So it was I saw a matinee preview and thus couldn’t enjoy the best night. What about the best day?

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

New Zealand’s Pop-Up Globe company have put the latest research from Sydney University into what the second Globe Theatre would have looked like into their construction of their demountable theatre. The second Globe Theatre stood longer than the first and would lave seen a greater number of performances of Shakespeare in the Jacobean Era before the closure of the Theatres in the 1630s. For this reason they tell us they chose the second Globe over the first to emulate. The groundlings stand before the thrust stage and each level of stalls provides seating with appropriate price fluctuations. Draughty and wet at times, towels brought along could be needed as well as a pair of sunnies to proof against the stealthy sunlight chasing through the scaffolded stalls. But the experience is about emulating that of the early 17th Century and it seems to do just that.

At eye level with the thrust stage: discovery space and entrances on the back wall, structural columns break up the performance space and scaffolding on the right supports the stalls for the audience.

Taking away all hype and advertising, if I were to stumble upon this theatre I’d be very, very excited. Much has been said of the lack of props and setting on the Shakespearean stage but their lack doesn’t justify performers having to work within a pool of light in a nebulous black void filled only by their costumes and presence, as we often see. That’s not the Jacobean stage at all. No, what is missed is that the entrance doors and discovery spaces – both the central double doors and the balcony alcoves over the stage proper – have roles to play. They conceal and they reveal. The columns of the entrance porch and the columns supporting the ceiling all break up the space and lend the actor their presence to be reimagined.

The Pop-Up Globe’s, Southampton’s Company, under the direction of Miles Gregory use all of these architectural features to bring to life the plot. They don’t limit their playing space to the stage but traipse through the stalls and ground entrances claiming all areas. They extend the reality of the play into the groundlings throwing produce and asides their way. What’s wonderful – fresh and classic at the same time – is their ability to step out of the reality of the plot and refer to themselves as players without breaking the illusion of the play. I imagine this to be experience with the other plays on offer over the next six weeks: Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice.

From the programme and publicity leaflet

A Comedy of Errors was a lot of fun. Few opportunities to extend the play with visual gags and slapstick were passed up. The cast have a lot of fun with it. Ryan Bennet and Blake Kubena as the twins Dromio are perfectly cast. They look enough alike to pass as twins but differ enough to be told apart. Both are wonderful comic actors who project the same incorrigible comic soul. Watching their antics is pure joy. Serena Cotton’s Luciana is exuberant, energetic and endearing. Romy Hooper’s gloriously uninhibited Adriana is sure to raise eyebrows.

A lot of the laughs come from visual extensions that move beyond the intension of the playwright. Shakespeare was a bawdy fellow if his scripts tell us anything about him. This is a bawdy interpretation and very funny but the physical extensions of the script don’t necessarily aid the understanding of the relationship between Adriana and her husband that Shakespeare intended. Shakespeare’s bawdy wit is obvious in his words. When his words dictated the visual gags, I found the humour more gratifying.

The action is set in the Ottoman court under whose jurisdiction Ephesus was in thrall when this play was written. Musicians aid the exotic setting with drums and flute. An arghile pipe stands with the band and wafts its incense through the air. Colourful costumes represent a mish-mash of cultures ruled by the Ottomans, Sufi’s, Bulgarian, Romanian, Greek and the Duke who is dressed as a Turkish Pasha. The costumes are so exotic where the courtesan is dressed as a 1960’s socialite and Aegeon wears a modern-day con’s coveralls I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. But just a little.

The Pop-Up Globe is here for the next 6 weeks. To experience Shakespeare in this replica environment is a real treat. As promised, The Comedy of Errors was alive, like a party – a well dusted one. It’s left me itching to see more.

Online Bookings can be made at http://www.ticketmaster.com.au/popupglobe

The beautiful canopy/ceiling above the stage, with the upper level discovery alcoves and balcony.

Review: Tales of Hoffmann

Rockdale Opera Company

August 18-26, 2018, Rockdale Town Hall

Musical Director: Luke Spicer

Director: David Brennan

Looking for a good night out? Boo! Did I scare you? No? How ’bout…”OPERA!!!!” Scared now? What about, “Ernest Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann!” Yes? Edgar Allan Poe, better? No? Hoffmann is scarier – his stories have been operatically realised by the great romantic composer, Jacques Offenbach.

Okay, “OPERA! HOFFMANN! OFFENBACH!” Now you’ve got to be scared!

Mention a good night out and most people won’t immediately think of the Opera. It’s that thing that happens in that funny looking building on the Harbour. It’s performed in a foreign language. It’s expensive. Everyone speaks with an apple in their mouth and they’re just the audience. And the sound is…different – sonorous singing complementing a rich instrumental accompaniment – not the usual demonstrative rapping or tuneful skipping out of lyrics meant to be bopped to. It’s decidedly not pedestrian and not easily accessible.

Olympia (Camilla Wright) and Spalanzani (Michael Handy), image courtesy Heymish PR

Olympia (Camilla Wright) and Spalanzani (Michael Handy), image courtesy Oscar Smith

But what if it was? What if it were in English and each act opened with a dramatic introduction setting the scene about to be sung? What if it was offered in suburban Rockdale, with plenty of free-parking and easy public transport? What if Musical Director, Luke Spicer, presented a superb orchestra to uplift highly trained and talented singers? What if the Director brought with him the experience of years as a principal at Opera Australia as David Brennan has? What if the core of the Rockdale Town Hall resonated with the song of disparate lyrical organs expressing their joy in concert with each other, in concert with Offenbach?

It would be a shame to miss it.

The Rockdale Opera Company’s, Tales of Hoffmann, offers all of this. If you haven’t experienced opera before, this production is all too easy. An act by act synopsis is offered in the programme and just enough time and ample lighting to comfortably read it in the scene changes. Adjusting your ear to the style of singing may take a few moments – like accustoming yourself to Shakespearean English –  but it’s worth it.

Benjamin Oxley as Hoffmann, image courtesy Heymish PR

Benjamin Oxley as Hoffmann, image courtesy Oscar Smith

The poet, Hoffmann, walked away from his creative muse to pursue love with disastrous and macabre results. Three of his exploits detail his bizarre infatuations: with a life-size, battery-operated doll; a Venetian enchantress who steals his reflection and hopes to steal his soul; and the lovely Antonia who loves him but risks her health when she shares his music with him.

Benjamin Oxley’s Hoffman is sympathetic and real. The warmth of his voice and the sureness of his pace and actualization endear us to his plight. Camilla Wright mesmerises with her realisation of the doll, Olympia. Her robotic movements and painted smile fool few beside the lovelorn Hoffman. There is much to admire in her delivery, she enchants with her acting and musical humour.

Nicklausse (Barbara Jin) watches over Hoffman (Benjamin Oxley). Image courtesy Heymish PR

Nicklausse (Barbara Jin) watches over Hoffman (Benjamin Oxley). Image courtesy Oscar Smith

Barbara Jin, portrays Nicklausse, a student who the Muse has charged with looking out for Hoffmann. She physicalises her character’s emotions roundly, communicating her state of mind emphatically without hamming. Ray Dubber, a company veteran, delights as the near-deaf servant, Franz. He has a larrikin’s face for comedy and is a delight to watch, a delight to listen to.

Franz (Ray Dubber), image courtesy Heymish PR

Franz (Ray Dubber), image courtesy Oscar Smith

Opera poses many challenges for its performers: they must sing the right notes; carry the tune at volume; and bring across their particular character. In a couple of instances towards the end of the second half, the strength of the full orchestra posed a challenge for the performers. But the feelings were there.

This opera was unfinished by Offenbach at his death. We are told that the act in Venice was left the least developed. Dramatic tension within this act could perhaps have been better utilised with a bigger delivery of the dastardly Dapertutto, the purveyor of reflections and souls – perhaps from costuming or make-up? Perhaps the blocking of his movement and interactions?

The costumes are evocative of the early 20th Century and aid in setting the production. The set itself is stripped back and striking – a lit backcloth and black silhouettes creating the Tavern and Venice effectively.

All in all, the Rockdale Opera Company’s, Tales of Hoffmann is a good night out, even for the uninitiated. Very enjoyable.

Tickets can be booked online. Phone bookings: 02 8197 1796

Hurry, the run closes August 26!

 

Review: I’ll be Back Before Midnight

The Guild Theatre, Rockdale
Director: Jennifer Gilchrist

This was first published in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, online edition.

The coals are lit, the broth is brewing, the Guild Theatre cauldron is fed a dash of Beetlejuice, a flower from the attic and a sprinkle of Sherlock Holmes to offer up Peter Colley’s international smash, I’ll be Back Before Midnight. This black comedy, sans satire, is seasoned with a little drama, plenty of plot twists and a revelry in horror movie tropes.

I'll be back by Midnightcouch

Lani Crooks as Jan Stapleton and Robert Mason as George Willowby, photo courtesy of the Guild Theatre

Jan Sanderson (Lani Crooks) is a neurotic wife who has just been discharged from mental care after a nervous breakdown. In spite of her anxiety, her husband, mild mannered archaeologist, Greg (George Gleeson), takes her to the country. It’s Jan’s hope that they will reinvigorate their marriage. Laura (Natalija Karna) arrives with a mind to renew her relationship with her brother as well. George (Robert Mason) is the hands-on landlord/caretaker with an incorrigible black sense of humour, an easy yarn and a wicked laugh, who checks in on them from time to time.

Jan and sister-in-law, Laura (Natalija Karna)

Jan and sister-in-law, Laura (Natalija Karna), photo courtesy the Guild Theatre

What begins, somewhat, as a psychological drama soon develops into a thriller as we question where the action is really taking place – in reality or in Jan’s head? Is her sister-in-law really playing with her mind? What’s really going on between the siblings? Natalija Karna’s Laura is needy and conniving. George Gleeson cruises along evenly as a likable Greg, until… da, dah, daaaah – no spoilers. Robert Mason embodies the rustic farmer with country charm from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. He has a lot of fun with George and so do we.

Archaeologist, Greg Sanderson (George Gleeson) and his landlord, George Willowby (Robert Mason), photo courtesy The Guild Theatre

Archaeologist, Greg Sanderson (George Gleeson) and his landlord, George Willowby (Robert Mason), photo courtesy The Guild Theatre

Painted in sepia, Bill Ayers’ and Jim Farrow’s set design is deceptively ordinary. This 80’s living room comes alive with clever sound effects and various lighting techniques that complement each other to offer the kind of haunted house you’d experience watching an old movie. The house extends past the stage with exits in the usual places but each closed door or drawn curtain holds expectations as the house and performance gradually comes alive with suspense and sinister purpose.

The sound effects pervade the house spreading unease. Mundane noises, aptly timed and curtly delivered, are incorporated to help put you on the edge of your seat, and unexpected exits and entrances to jolt you out of them. The central sliding doors become a focus of suspense in the second act as Lani Crooks hits her stride when the canard woven around Jan begins to fray.

If you like haunted houses, old horror movies and plot twists you’ll enjoy, I’ll be Back Before Midnight. It’s playing at the Guild Theatre, Walz St, Rockdale throughout August, closing on September 1. Tickets can be booked on ph: 9521 6358 or online http://www.guildtheatre.com.au/2018-season/ill-be-back-before-midnight/

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The Sound of Music

Bankstown Theatre Company

July 27- August 5, 2018
Bryan Brown Theatre, Cnr Rickard Rd & Chapel St
Director: Glenda Kenyon; Musical Director: Ian Buchanan

Julie Andrews’ and Christopher Plummer’s most beloved musical, The Sound of Music has arrived at the Bryan Brown Theatre. Wait, shouldn’t that be Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music? So you would think, however, so ingrained are the portrayals of Maria and Captain Von Trapp by Andrews and Plummer that any production since that movie has to deal with many expectations: how the cast should look, act and sound. But how do you meet expectations when casting requires strong, lyrical voices and chemistry between the players?

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Maria (Lauren Eade), the Captain (Peter Sahlani) and the Von Trapp family children

Director, Glenda Kenyon, has been gifted with the considerable vocal talents of Lauren Eade as Maria. With eyes open you may see Eade but close them and you’ll hear Julie Andrews. Eade’s stage presence charms throughout the 3 hour production. When the children, pining for their missing governess finally hear her make her return, their joy is easily transferred to the audience. In a production that translates the iconic scenes from the movie onto the stage the children’s delightful choreography will cuckoo childhood memories from the cobwebs. The children shine.

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Lauren Eade as Maria and Dale Selsby as the Mother Abbess

The sound of voices are the strength of this production. Peter Sahlani plays his emotions on his sleeve while his voice is a nice complement to Eade’s. Dale Selsby encapsulates the Mother Abbess – her still authority and her compassion. Her characterization is flawless. The deep resonance of Daniel Rae’s (Rolf) singing is powerful as it’s unexpected. I wanted to hear from him.

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Courtney Emmas as the 16 year old Leisl and Daniel Rae as her beau, Rolf.

There are a few surprises for those who haven’t seen the stage show before. Did you know that the Baroness and Uncle Max sing? Taking license from this difference between stage and screen, Simon Fry’s Uncle Max is a distinct departure from the austere impresario you may expect. Melissa Goman’s calculating Elsa sheds some of the icy chic for a song and dance with Max. Generally, the production pays homage to the movie from the characterisation of the nuns to the look of final scene in the abbey garden.
It’s an ambitious production. The Bryan Brown theatre, for those who haven’t patronized it before, is a comfortable, air-conditioned modern, facility with ample underground parking in the heart of Bankstown. The stage sports a wide apron of seating that keeps the audience close and performances are afforded a certain amount of leeway for intimacy despite its capacity. However, the stage itself is not deep. The staging and cast size of this production exceeds the limitations of that depth. The operatic scope of the set would have better been realized on a bigger stage.
Fans of the movie will find much to enjoy in this family classic. I challenge anyone to see it and not have joyful echoes of,  “Doe a deer …” ringing around their thoughts for days afterwards.

Matinees and evenings showing at the Bryan Brown Theatre, Cnr Rickard Rd and Chapel St, Bankstown until Sunday August 5th.

Tickets are available online or by phone: 0481 869 858

Photo Credits

HeyMish PR

A version of this review, catered for the St George and Sutherland Shire communities was first published in the online Leader.

 

That’s NOT Baklava!

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Traditional Greek Baklava – walnut and cinnamon, The Sweet Spot. Patisserie, Randwick

“That’s NOT Baklava!”

I don’t know who was more mortified – the bakery serving Sydney traditional Greek baklava since at least 1962, my mother-in-law who was the recipient of the, to-her-mind, transparently absurd suggestion, or me.

Non-plussed but armed with the fortitude that the costumer was always right even when they were wrong, the baker was very politely going to right her customer’s wrong.

“This is how baklava is made all over Greece.”

“But is not real Baklava. Real baklava is from Mytilene.”

“Of course Mytilene makes delicious baklava but isn’t it just local variation?”

“Hmpft…” My mother-in-law pointed to a box. “Has butter?”

The baker subtly tilted her head.

“Pft… Walnuts?”

Another tilt of the head.

“Pfffffft…That’s not Baklava!”

Authentic Turkish Baklava with Pistachio, Mastika Ice Creamery, Belmore

At a family gathering a close friend with a fine nose for flavour and a passion for postmodern cuisine brought over her latest culinary accomplishment – hazelnut and rose water baklava. Oops! I forgot to warn her not to offer said mother-in-law any.

“That’s NOT Baklava!” rang through my kitchen. Profuse apologies, red faces and awkward silence followed. Unfortunately the discomfort wasn’t memorable enough for the offense not to be repeated or me to issue warnings at the front door. The next time almost caused an international incident.

Armed with the only true baklava, my mother-in-law offered her signature dessert to another baklava aficionado.

“Baklava!!!! That’s NOT Baklava. Real baklava comes from Turkey, from the town of Baklava!”

“Not Turkey, Mytilene!!!@!@!!”

That was it, I had to hit Google. I had already enjoyed the light delight of Lebanese Baklava, or more correctly, Baklawa as it’s pronounced in Arabic, but I wasn’t aware of its spread across the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa. I found surprising mention and recipes for Egyptian Baklava, Bulgarian Baklava, Jewish Baklava, Morrocan Baklava, Iranian/Persian Baghlava and Armenian Baklava.

Traditional Lebanese Baklawa with Cashews, Ibrahim Pastries, Rockdale

Historical hearsay is rife regarding where it originated. Was it Armenia? Persia? Greece? or in the Ottoman Empire? Local stories and cultural beliefs are full of bias fueled by modern day nationalism, but is there any truth to any of them?

Armenia, the first kingdom to install Christianity as its state religion claims baklava as a sweet tied to its Christian Easter lent – 40 layers of filo for the 40 day fast. 49 CE is the date of Armenia’s conversion and also its inception of Baklava. Did it enter Armenian cuisine the same way the Gospel’s did – via Jerusalem? If so, then logically baklava originated in Israel. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that it’s a dessert found throughout the Arab world without determining an origin. This makes sense when Morocco and Egypt are brought into the equation. Does this then make it a Persian sweet? The Persian Empire extended throughout the Middle East but didn’t quite get to Morocco, but the Caliphate did. Perhaps baklava isn’t as old as Christianity.

Clearly the bulk of websites discussing the matter favour the Ottoman Empire with its origin. One website credits the kitchens of the Turkish Sultanate in Istanbul with the development of a similar Ancient 8thC BCE Assyrian sweet into Baklava. However, with apologies to my guest, the internet wasn’t able to produce a town called Baklava in Turkey but the sound of the word, Baklava brings Turkish to mind.

Could the Ottoman Empire be a short odds guess? The repetition throughout all of the recipes and websites of the Greek word for leaf-thin layered dough, filo, led me to ask whether it may have a Byzantine origin? That Empire did reach Morocco but not since the 6thC C.E.

Wikipedia tells us that the oldest recorded origin sweet for baklava was made by the Romans in the 2nd century BC. Placenta is mentioned by Cato and is believed to have developed in Roman/Byzantine kitchens before being refined by the Ottomans. It goes further in saying that on the Island of Lesbos there exists a baklava type sweet that is still called Placenta…Lesbos. Of all of the Greek Isles, why Lesbos???@!!@! Lesbos, aka, Mytilene, my mother-in-law’s home island! I ran it past my mother-in-law. Yes, there are some villages on the island that call baklava, placenta.

Just because the Romans documented a ” juvenilia” version in the 2ndC B.C.E. does the present day sweet without its key ancient ingredient, cheese, make it true Baklava? The Mytileneans have kept the Roman name for it alive but removing the cheese shows that it’s undergone some development,

If I had to pick a culture that has embraced this sweet and really celebrated its variety it would have to be Turkey. They will offer you pistachio, cashew, walnut, tahini and molassas, chocolate, sour cherry, apple and cinnamon, rhubarb…etc. varieties. Can they all be considered baklava?

Sour Cherry baklava with baklava ice-cream on the side - Hakiki, Enmore Rd Enmore

Sour Cherry Baklava with Baklava Ice-cream on the side – Hakiki, Enmore Rd, Enmore

Ok, so my mother-in-law’s baklava may have the earliest recorded roots. I’ll admit that. It doesn’t mean that everyone else’s baklava isn’t real baklava – just different. I’ll have them all with my Greek, er, Turkish, er, Lebanese, er….. extra short, black, muddy coffee.

Which is the real baklava…baklawa…baghlava? Aren’t they all unique as the variations in their name? But where did it originate?

Well…

And the moral of the story is, don’t ever argue with your mother-in-law. Er, maybe, just don’t argue with mine.

A big thank you to my fb friends and friends general with their suggestions of what baklava should be and where to find the best baklava in Sydney – Eleni, Costa, Cindy, Heidi, Sophia, Theo, Esen, Stella T, Georgia, Daniela, and Nic.

Revisiting the Nemes Crown

It’s been over two years since I began making the first Nemes crown to interest my son in Ancient Egyptian history. Since then the posts on my thoughts and process have been viewed many times more than I could have anticipated. Initially, they were getting too few views to persist with, but I did. I was entrenched in a 12 hour a day job in hospitality and believed that if I didn’t keep blogging that I’d lose whatever ground I had made with it and perhaps forget how to write. I had to publish something. Reading over them the other day I cringed. What has made them so popular?

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I ended up making two crowns as I wasn’t happy with the first and blogging about both of them. What intrigued me at the time was the difference between Tutankhamen’s crown and other King/Pharaoh’s. There was the uraeus and vulture coupling at the forehead and the ponytail at the back. I encountered many considerations in making them sit evenly:-

  • should I use a support for the fabric – as starching fabric didn’t come into use until about the 16th century CE in Europe
  • ensuring that the stripes presented correctly
  • ensuring that the shoulder lappets stood perpendicular to the face and sat on the shoulders
  • ensuring the lappets didn’t flap
  • and an unexpected one, making sure that the crown didn’t ride back.

I had to consider the possibility that the golden crown was a figurative representation of a religious idea – that the pharaoh shone golden light. The problem was in choosing a fabric – what colour should the stripes be – golden thread and applique would not come into use until the time of the Romans.

With all of these considerations, wouldn’t it all be easier if it was made out of gold? And if it was to be gold why didn’t they just bury it with him when the time came?

Two years down the track and I’m faced with another possibility. Recently there has been an announcement that the artefacts from King Tutankhmen’s tomb will be making their way Down Under in 2021. Very exciting news – more work for me. You see, if I were to take my son to see the exhibition wearing either of the Nemes Crowns that I made, he would look ridiculous. He has out grown them already. Twelve years old when I made them, he is now nearly fifteen. His age coincides with that of King Tut when he reigned. If Tutankhamen wore a linen Nemes crown then several must have been made for him over the course of his reign. I wonder whether there will be a few in the exhibition if any at all.

I hypothesized at the time that perhaps King Tut never wore a cloth Nemes Crown. As a child growing up, wouldn’t it be convenient to have an official pharaonic mask and crown that someone else could wear on ceremony for him? How awe-inspiring could a child-king be? Could this be the idea that has inspired interest in visitors to this blog?

Or could it be questions about the coupling of the vulture and uraeus. Looking at many images through Lionel Casson’s Time-Life Books, Ancient Egypt,  and confirming my suspicions with google image searches, and Pinterest searches I noticed that the vulture on his Nemes Crown only appears on his funerary artifacts – something that he couldn’t have arranged for himself. Why would his successor, Ay, have instigated this? Was it politically motivated to present a united Egypt – each animal representing a different half of Egypt? Did it have more to do with added protection for the boy-king in the afterlife?

What I’ve taken away from the exercise which saw me comparing crowns from different eras of Egyptian history is the belief that in the Old Kingdom Nemes crowns were linen and the king didn’t necessarily have to wear a uraeus. By the time of the New Kingdom –  I will believe until I get to that exhibition in 2021 – the uraeus was entrenched in the presentation of the Pharoah and his crown was made of gold.

An index to all of my Nemes Crown related posts appears at the end of the post, King Tut’s Crown: A Lapidary Jeweller’s Perspective.

My interview with History of Egypt podcaster, Dominic Perry, appears here. I was listening to this wonderful podcast while I was crafting and researching my ideas. Joyce Tydlesley’s Tutankhamen’s Curse and Carl Roebuck’s World of Ancient Times were also very informative and thought provoking.

Now my challenge is to write something just as interesting, if not more.