Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

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Aliens , Ghosts and Vanushings is a wonderful book by the talented and fun-loving tweens author, Stella Tarakson. She looks at creepy, spooky, reality-pushed stories that have passed into Australian folklore. She presents these stories that are so beloved you just want them to be true in a manner that suggests they are and then gives the other-hand, scientific-historic explanation as well. It’s up to the reader to decide what they will accept.


There’s the Westall High School UFO sighting where 200 witnesses saw a UFO land and take off in a field near the school; the apparent discovery of a massive vein of gold outside Alice Springs in Lassester’s Reef and the location’s subsequent loss; bunyips and drop bears and many, many more curiosities.

The UFO story I find most convincing was caught on radar in 1954 and remains unexplained -the Sea Fury Incident. The disappearance of Harold Holt and Azaria Chamberlain are in there too.


My favourite story by far is the Princess Theatre ghost. She tells the nice side of the story. The story that won’t frighten away theatre-goers from attending the theatre nor actors and crew from working there. It’s a little scarier than that I found out when I was a prop girl on the Phantom of the Opera many years ago.

Stella Tarakson will be doing a book signing at the Berkelouw in Cronulla Mall this Saturday at 1 pm. A great time to pick up a copy, meet the author and get your copy signed.

Archive Book Review • ONE NIGHT STANDS – British Theatre, 1971-91 via— Rogues & Vagabonds

There are two great pleasures to be had from reading Michael Billington’s first collection of theatre criticism, One Night Stands 1971-1991. The first, assuming you are old enough to have been going to plays in the Seventies, is to be reminded of some wonderful, occasionally mind-blowing, evenings in the theatre. Written in the wind as […]

via Archive Book Review • ONE NIGHT STANDS pub. Nick Hern Books • Michael Billington • 2008 — Rogues & Vagabonds

Theatre Review: Twelfth Night

Belvoir St Theatre until 4th September
Directed by Eamon Flack

Twelfth Night

Shakespeare: boring; archaic; staid; difficult; artsy-fartsy; a chore. Not this production of Twelfth Night! Pacey. Clever. Colourful. Hilarious. A wealth of comic timing and techniques delivered expertly by well-training, long-practised artists. Jokes and wordplay written 400-plus years ago made clearer and extended by a physicality of performance and stage business that milks visual comedy. The cast is having a ball and the audience is invited. This is the Shakespeare production you drag your friends to so they can experience exactly why you like Shakespeare. They’ll love him too.
It’s so much fun, it’s easy to forget that Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, that it’s questioned as to whether it’s a comedy at all. There is a depth in the play that this performance doesn’t touch. It’s a director’s quandary that to go the full distance with the questions that Shakespeare asks will destroy its happy ending. What’s a comedy without a happy ending? You see, Shakespeare questions who we love, why we love and can we love on demand? By tying up most of the loose ends at the end, the reader of the text can feel deflated. Antonio who bares so much love and risks his life for the young Sebastian is cast off in the slacking of Sebastian’s new-found lust in Olivia. Olivia, mistaking Sebastian for Cesario, spirits him off to a church. When Sebastian’s identity is revealed she accepts that he is not the person whose proxy-wooing captivated her and accepts him because he is male and looks like Cesario/Viola and they are now married. The purity and passion in these same-sex relationships is cast aside for a facile heterosexual denouement.
Is there satisfying elements to the ending of the text? Yes. Orsino, who has been denying his attraction to Cesario/Viola can safely love the female Cesario/Viola and Sir Toby Belch marries his match in hijinx, Maria. In reading the text one wonders whether in a freer society if Viola would pursue the bond she makes with Olivia or Orsino. This production doesn’t go that deep. Eamon Flack’s interpretation stays on the surface of the text. It’s the right decision for a satisfied audience at the end of the show. Not that he doesn’t touch on same-sex love at all. Casting a female, Amber McMahon, to play Sebastian may incite questioning along that line as much as it gets a laugh when Olivia, Anita Hegh, kisses him/her. It does create challenges for the actor playing Cesario/Viola, Nikki Shiels.
Cesario/Viola spends a large chunk of the play onstage. It is her journey that we follow and that drives the play forward. By choosing to keep the interpretation on the surface she spends a long time in bemusement at Olivia’s advances. It’s a really hard intension to maintain and maintain interest in. A subtlety in response to Olivia’s poetry is lacking that would have enriched the performance for the actor and the audience. Similarly, Sebastian could have been more fleshed out. But how far do you go before a comedy in performance becomes the tragi-comedy of the text?
It’s often asked, does it really matter who wrote Shakespeare’s plays? Would it change our enjoyment of them? Would it change their interpretation? In the case of Twelfth Night, William of Stratford is such an unknown creature that we can make of the play what we will. However, if the bisexual Earl of Oxford were believed to be the author then it would be harder to keep the interpretation on the surface. It would be seen as part of a tradition of plays that are homosexual in theme and openly questioning sexuality. But I digress.
While all of the performances were really good and the comedy well timed I have to make special mention of Keith Robinson as Feste. He entertained the audience as the court jester as much as the court of the play. In coming back from the intermission he opened the second act in a sit-down – stand-up of jokes of a contemporary nature that then blended back into the text really well. His facial expressions, his timing – he had the audience. Anita Hegh as Olivia made great contrast of austerity and unbridled passion that resulted in many laughs. Movement Director Scott Witt had the ensemble cast moving in a choreography that was always purposeful and visually effective. The cast dressed as clowns in a sanatorium and moving in a colourful but starkly bare stage reminded me of an ancient chorus. Their movement physicalized the inner life/turmoil of the shipwrecked Viola and compensated for the lack of props and setting elements a more realistic set could have offered. Witt’s movement direction completed Michael Hankin’s set.
Any production can be knit picked but this one is just too engaging. It’s just wonderful.

Thank you to Elly Baxter from Belvior Publicity and Public Affairs for permission to use their photos.

Theatre Review: The Little Prince

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s The Little Prince adapted from the book by Antoine de Saint-Eupery; Directed by Michael Barlow, Adapted by Simon Clarke

Performed by Jacob Lehrer and Jessica Lewis

If you have ever created theatre for little kids you know that there are no rhetorical questions in the theatre. Throw a question at a very young child and it will answer it. If the child doesn’t hold with the actions a character makes it will call out ,”No!”, “Don’t go!”. “She’s hiding in the box”, etc.. They are the first to giggle, clap and get up and dance. If they don’t understand a theatrical convention, they will demand of the performers, “What are you doing?”, “What’s that?”; quite distracting for the rest of the audience. Whatever you do in staging, don’t lose their attention. They will let you know: “Can we go now?”, “I’m bored!”

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Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s production of the French classic by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is delivered with panache to the 4+ crowd. It has everything to sustain a very young child’s attention: big facial expressions that are felt and real, short scenes interspersed with music, a variety of puppets and styles of performance,  plenty of colour and sensitivity in the realization of the handing of the puppets and an enigmatic, amazing, quixotic, unfolding set.

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It is a thoroughly entertaining production . . .  although, is Antoine de Saint-Expery’s message going over the tiny heads of its audience? It is a philosophical parable aimed at adults and the more mature of the younger set told in a naïve manner. Think of The Alchemist by Coelho. To counter this each short scene that reaches into the deeper reality of the play is followed by a sung refrain of the point being made. The message that what is valuable cannot be seen is repeated over and over. The audience is given every opportunity to absorb these words. But is the target audience to young to understand their meaning?

In its determination to hold the attention of its youngest audience members and adhere to tried and true practice for that age set, some of the magic of puppetry is lost.Necessarily a 50 minute production, the unpacking of the set, a compact crate filled with boxes and their surprises was rushed. A greater belief in the wonder of stage business and its ability to hold an audience’s attention would help to slow this down.

Between each message-filled episode of the Little Prince’s journey he would be floated away to the strains of, perhaps, discordant music that contrasted with the melodic tune of the scene just played out. The brevity of each scene interspersed with these interludes kept the  fast pace in the overall delivery. These interludes would have been much more effective with a slightly older audience where the more mature child would have a space to absorb the pithy parable before being engaged with the next episode.

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The lighting design was effective and helped to allot the many levels of reality their own place in the sun or space (or head space). Perhaps a smaller pool of light would have aided the delivery of scenes meant to be focused on the intimate interaction of just the puppets with each other. By this I mean I would have preferred to see less of the expressions of the performers when the puppets were interacting with each other in conversation. It was difficult to enter their reality when focus would slip between the puppeteer and the puppet in a weighty moment. The interplay between puppets and human characters was lovely. The relationship of the two human characters was a little nebulous but entertaining – what was their relationship? Were they stage hands? Random teenagers ready to play?. The selfies and adolescent stage business got the older child.

But these criticisms would be more apt if the performance was directed at an older audience. It’s not. I would love to see it directed at an adult, high school and older primary crowd – my eleven year old got it and enjoyed it.

It is beautifully presented. It is entertaining. I highly recommend it for a young and up to primary school age audience.

The Little Prince is playing in the Monkey Baa Theatre at Darling Quarter until 9th July.

Thank you to Liz Raleigh, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and Monkey Baa Theatre for their production photos.