Review: The Duke (Hoipolloi Theatre Ltd)

Venue: The Riverbank Palais (Adelaide SA), Mar 6 – 8, 2017
Playwright: Shôn Dale-Jones
Director: Shôn Dale-Jones
Cast: Shôn Dale-Jones

Theatre review
The Duke is entirely a one-man show, with Shôn Dale-Jones sitting at a desk, accompanied by two microphones providing variation to his voice (one with reverb, one dry), and a laptop on which he operates sound cues. Theatre is almost always a collaborative art form, but here, there are only the artist and his audience. It is a doggedly minimal approach for staging a play; all we have is a piece of writing, and the writer presenting it to us, without ever leaving his seat. A leftist aesthetic perhaps, which is probably the only appropriate style for a play that has the refugee crisis as its main propulsive force.

The play is about the tension between opposing sides of our conscience, clear and guilty. It explores the parallels between selling out as an artist, and our greed as nations vehemently protecting borders; all the twisted things we do for money. A further dimension of sentimentality is brought into the show, with a narrative concerning the author’s widowed mother and the replacement of a broken heirloom at all costs. Dale-Jones’ humour is poetic, sometimes charmingly wistful, and his ability to move us seamlessly from one reality to another, with only his words as a theatrical device, is quite magical. He proves to be a marvellously imaginative writer, with an engaging, although sometimes slightly caustic, presence on stage.

The Duke demonstrates that it is easy for us to know right from wrong, but in spite of our natural instincts to do good, we are often led down the garden path by fear and money. Instead of creating heated and condescending arguments that ask for greater compassion to those seeking asylum, Dale-Jones simply speaks to us with respect, understanding that our humanity is intact. It is political theatre, seeking to effect change, not only because half the box office takings go to the Save the Children’s Child Refugee Crisis, but it reminds us gently, of the things we should hold important in our lives. The show’s separate stories talk to us on different levels, and helps us consider the various spheres of our Western existence; the professional, the personal and the social, how we can find harmony in each, and how it requires us to dare to do good.

Review: Saul (Glyndebourne Festival Opera)

glyndebourneVenue: Festival Theatre (Adelaide SA), Mar 3 – 9, 2017
Music: George Frideric Handel
Libretto: Charles Jennens
Director: Barrie Kosky
Cast: Mary Bevan, Kanen Breen, Taryn Fiebig, Stuart Jackson, Christopher Lowrey, Christopher Purves, Adrian Strooper

Theatre review
Stories of narcissism are more relevant than ever. In our age of omnipresent cameras and selfie-fueled social media, we are made to look at our personal selves more intensely than ever before, with no belief system powerful enough to convince us of any detrimental effects that would come from this unnaturally high level of self-obsession. We are all kings and queens, in our own minds at least, always placing the preponderant I at the centre of our universes, rarely able to conceive of anything greater, beyond the immediate and the ego.

Saul loses his mind, when he thinks his kingship threatened by David, a younger, better version of himself, who had become the nation’s darling after slaying the giant Philistine Goliath. Seeing his subjects, and his children, becoming thus enamoured, is completely devastating to Saul, who proceeds to unravel, in a series of self-destructive manoeuvres that take him to his dramatic ruin. It is a highly moralistic tale, one that upholds a particular notion of purity, and that abominates vanity, but Saul‘s preachiness takes on new resonance in our advanced evolutionary state of self-interest, made even more pertinent by Barrie Kosky’s characteristically heretical direction.

The show (an English production) is lavish, lush and at times, scandalously lascivious. The approach can be seen as ironic; exposing a gay affair between David and the prince Jonathan, or having Saul suck on a witch’s nipple, then smothering himself in the bad woman’s milk. Costume and set designer Katrin Lea Tag, along with lighting doyen Joachim Klein provide thrilling imagery so decadent (we gasp when the curtains rise), that one is prevented from interpreting any of Handel’s religious instruction too literally. Instead, we luxuriate in the extravagance of it all, and let the morals be subjugated by the far more engaging, and sonorous beauty of the production’s remarkable artistry.

The enthralling Christopher Purves is a commanding Saul, his voice and charisma in constant competition for our affections. Mary Bevan and Taryn Fiebig are both impressive sopranos, who bring surprising authenticity and tension to their characterisations. Most memorable is perhaps the company of fifty from the State Opera Chorus, who overcome acoustic limitations of the auditorium, for a collective presence full of power and remarkable conviction.

There are sections in the show that are purposefully minimal in approach, but those require a standard of performance that is not always delivered by the cast. Although we alternate between engrossment and disinterestedness over its duration, Kosky’s Saul is unforgettable. The fierce sense of adventure in every one of its bold, inventive and playful expressions, demonstrates the brilliance that can come out of creative genius when met with corresponding resources. We have the talent and money here, but how we can make them converge remains an Australian predicament, on an operatic scale.

Review: Richard III (Schaubühne Berlin)

schaubuhneVenue: Her Majesty’s Theatre (Adelaide SA), Mar 3 – 9, 2017
Playwright: William Shakespeare (adaptation in German, by Marius von Mayenburg)
Director: Thomas Ostermeier
Cast: Thomas Bading, Robert Beyer, Lars Eidinger, Christoph Gawenda, Moritz Gottwald, Jenny König, Laurenz Laufenberg, Eva Meckbach, Bernardo Arias Porras, Sebastian Schwarz, Thomas Witte
Image by Arno Declair

Theatre review
In Thomas Ostermeier’s Richard III, the spirit of anarchy reigns supreme. One can easily think of Richard as a nihilistic figure, a rebel without a cause perhaps, in a constant state of discontentment. Enslaved by his atypical physicality, he has an insatiable need to antagonise and annihilate, but to what end, we can only speculate. It makes perfect sense then, that Ostermeier’s production feels like punk, and his Richard, a rock god that is all flamboyant angst and tantalising danger. The show is spectacular, thrillingly visceral, and profoundly inventive, challenging our senses to discern new from old, making us wonder what it means to have seen it all before, and why it is that we must always have theatre that exists on the cutting edge.

The production is designed to perfection, giving every action on stage an irresistible sense of drama, keeping us captivated without a hint of anything ever being too flashy or distracting, even though it operates stridently on an extraordinary level of sensory extravagance. Jan Pappelbaum’s set is versatile and purposive without requiring a single moment of laborious conversion. Understated contraptions facilitate an endless sense of movement, all achieved with the greatest of elegance and efficiency. Visually sumptuous, and incredibly cool, lights by Erich Schneider, along with Sébastien Dupouey’s video projections, provide the space with a dystopian air of foreboding, while imbuing a seductive glamour impossible to resist.

Leading man Lars Eidinger confronts us with a Richard that can only be described as blisteringly au courant, and dripping with sex. It is tempting to dismiss a star’s magnetism as somehow natural and an enigma, but Eidinger redefines the concept of an actor inhabiting a role, with this interpretation of Shakespeare’s notorious freak of nature. It is a phenomenal level of comfort and familiarity that is on display, with actor and character completely melding with each other. We feel his rigorous mastery but can only see a singular existence on the stage, with no whiff of contrivance, no sign of a man putting on an act. Eidinger is fantastically theatrical, but it never crosses our mind that he should only be pretending.

When the show comes to its inevitable tragic, and very gloomy end, we are forced into a shift in tone that must take place, in order that Richard’s unparalleled exuberance may be stripped away forever. Musicians Nils Ostendorf and Thomas Witte’s brilliant noises that had injected us with an almost orgiastic, bloody passion, are finally tamed, along with our mournful protagonist who must now cower to his fate. As he dies, we are left to lament the end of something unequivocally sensational. The last minutes may seem bitter in comparison, but there is probably no other authentic way that can conclude the story of our rambunctious king. Fortunately, as the poem goes, it is “not how did he die, but how did he live,” and even though there may be regret at his last breath, this Richard III leaves us only with unimaginable delight and breathtaking inspiration.