Weaving A Spell

Hugo Weaving In Macbeth

Hugo Weaving In Macbeth© Sydney Theatre Company

Writing 101 today asks:

Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us. We are social creatures: from the family members and friends who’ve known us since childhood, to the coworkers, service providers, and strangers who populate our world (and, at times, leave an unexpected mark on us).

The most interesting person I’ve met so far this year. Well if we have a loose definition of ‘met’ then earlier this year I went to my first Sydney Theatre Company Pier Group Lunch.

These are organised by the STC Pier Group as a fundraiser. You get a nice lunch (at the Bar at the End of the Wharf), a glass of wine and a chance to talk to some of the creative people involved in one of the STC productions. I think they have four a year. This one was the ‘Macbeth’ lunch and I had a chance to listen to Andrew Upton, director Kip Williams, Melita Jurisic (who played Lady Macbeth) and Hugo Weaving (Macbeth himself).

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The Sydney Theatre Company 2015 Season

So I’m just home after the subscriber briefing and season launch for the Sydney Theatre Company.

First some organisational criticism (let’s get the small pains over early). We are all told to be there early to pick up tickets because it will start promptly at 5pm. Except that the doors to the theatre didn’t open till 5 minutes after 5, by which time people had been standing waiting by the doors for more than twenty minutes. Several of the older patrons were getting faint or ill being in a crowd over that time. As someone who is still post-operative a hip replacement my legs were getting tired from standing that long.

Second, Jessi and I intended to go to the Bar At The End Of The Wharf after the briefing for dinner and a drink (her 22nd birthday was the day before). We also saw at least a dozen more people doing the same. Unfortunately the Bar was closed for a private function. To make matters worse, while there was a sign at the top of the stairs to tell people there was no sign at either the top or bottom of the lift so people with movement difficulties had to walk all the way to the end of the wharf to find out. (Another unnecessary task for my new hip and easily tired legs.) So bad scheduling and bad signage guys.

Going to the subscriber briefing is great fun. Listening to Andrew Upton talk about the plays provides an excellent background. He tells you why a particular play, where it might sit in a playwright’s works, how he managed to get Hugo Weaving back for more Beckett. Then there is the excitement of discovering the actors and directors that will be gracing the stage next year.

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The Long Way Home

James Whitney in "The Long Way Home"

James Whitney in Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Defence Force’s
“The Long Way Home”
© Lisa Tomasetti

When I think of a soldier taking “The Long Way Home” I think of the lyrics of that old Scottish song “O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and Ah’ll tak’ the low And Ah’ll be in Scotlan’ afore ye”.

By tradition it’s sung by a Scot wounded on an English battle field to his mate. He’s going to die and the fairies will take him through their land along the low road back to Scotland while his friend will walk.

The same is true in modern war. Those that die find their way home long before those that live.

One of the things we have come to realise in modern warfare is that coming home often does not stop for the soldier when he walks off the plane from the battlefield.

So the play “The Long Way Home”, produced by the Sydney Theatre Company and sponsored by the Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley, explores both the reasons and the problems of Australian soldiers as they come back both physically and mentally from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The play was written by Daniel Keene after a many week workshop with returned soldiers who now fill almost all the roles in the production. The soldiers do an excellent job, it’s impossible to tell these amateurs from the professionals.

It’s hard to write critically about this piece of theatre since a weakness in a performance, a badly delivered line or bad stage movement, are both forgivable and almost unseen through the strength of the connection between audience, the performers and the work.

A simple set and simple costumes are enhanced by some vivid video and lighting changes. The production is well designed and well directed.

Almost from the first “The Long Way Home” deliberately grabs the audience and plays with it’s emotions, moving us through fear, sympathy, understanding and sometimes even love. The playwright and the performers have not shrunk from the task of making the audience understand all the dark times and feelings these men and women go through as they come back.

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No Shadow To Be Seen

Cover of "Groundhog Day (15th Anniversary...

Today’s Daily Prompt is “In the comedy “Groundhog Day” Bill Murray experienced the same day again and again, stuck in a time loop until he got the day “right.” What day would you choose to repeat until you got it right?”

This raises some interesting philosophical questions.

First, exactly what does Phil Connors (the character played by Bill Murray in ‘Groundhog Day’) experience. It’s not quite true that he experiences the same day again and again. The people around him, the rest of the universe if you will, experiences the same day but he is obviously a different person and does different things (and the same things in different ways) as he goes through the time loop. It’s not for him “the same day”.

Then we get to the concept of getting it right. Connors in the movie, indeed the movie itself, only considers “right” within the confines of the day and we have no knowledge of what might transpire in the future or any of the possible futures that Connors has given up – it may well be that if Phil had instead fallen in love with the waitress in the coffee shop their child would grow up to cure cancer while his children with Rita will have ordinary lives. We have no idea.

So it would prove for us if we took up the challenge. Looking back I’m sure we can find days we did things wrong or made the wrong choice. Days were it might be appealing to go back and do it over.

Back in April the Daily Prompt asked “Go back to a blog post you always thought could be better, or were unsatisfied with — now, fix it.” and I replied with the following:

As it says in “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”    The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, 
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit 
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, 
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.What, Tony? What are you on about?  Well as I looked at those blog posts I realised I certainly could rewrite one or two of them, make them “better” but to me that would feel dishonest. I am no longer the person that wrote those posts, the person that felt they were a good enough expression of his thoughts that they could be published here.

So, I believe, it is with this question. We are a different person to the one that “did things wrong” or “made a mistake” and if we go back to that day and “get it right” we do so as someone who knows perhaps too much. The moving finger, having writ, moves on.

Further, there is a real difficulty with looping just one day. Most of the days I would choose to do differently would be because they had an effect further down the road so knowing what is “right” for that day becomes difficult.

There are so many decision points where I might do something differently but then I would be a different person now. That person might be “better” for some values of better or “happier” for some values of happier but they would not be me. Indeed they might come, in that alternate now, to exactly this point and decide on an entirely different day to try over.

So given all that I don’t feel qualified to decide. I think, like Phil Connors, I will let fate decide which day to loop and what is “right”. Just one request, can I loop through with either Charlize Theron or Uma Thurman rather than Andie McDowell?

Are You Free Mr Braff?

Cover of "The Last Kiss (Widescreen Editi...

Cover of The Last Kiss (Widescreen Edition)

Today’s Daily Prompt – “Cast the movie of your life.”

What an opportunity! I’ll need to cast someone as me who is better looking but can get that scrawny, geeks look down. Jesse Eisenberg might be a bit young for the key moments of my life, I think Zach Braff would be about right. After all he got to have a love scene with Rachel Bilson in ‘The Last Kiss’, in the same movie he’s having a child with Jacinta Barrett. I’d love to cast Johnny Depp as me but I not even my mother thinks I’m that good looking.

I love Emma Thompson as an actress so I’ll have to find a role for her. She might do well playing my mother, though my mother had a physical frailty to her that Thompson does not have. Having cast her I could imagine Kenneth Branagh playing my father, Dad was handsome in a way that Branagh has and they both have a feeling of power and strength.

The two major women in my life would be hard. My ex-wife, Donna, might be a good role for Rebel Wilson if she can do as well with drama as she does comedy.

Casting Sonia, my last relationship that lasted several years, would be the hardest. A mid to late thirties Audrey Hepburn would be almost perfect (think of her in ‘Robin and Marian’) so we could go with Jennifer Love Hewitt but I’m not sure she’s a good enough actress. Alyssa Milano might come closer, she doesn’t quite have the build but she does have the pixie face and the ability. Rachel Bilson would be almost perfect but she is a few years too young. Anne Hathaway has the same problem. Let’s cast either of those two and make them look a fraction older with makeup.

There are any number of actors I’d love to have in smaller roles. I don’t know enough about movies to quickly rattle off the names of some men and women but I’d start by looking at some recently made British drama TV as they always seem to be able to find great actors for those roles.

Watching From The Wings

Sketch of William Shakespeare.

Sketch of William Shakespeare. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “If you could be a “fly on the wall” anywhere and at any time in history, where and when would you choose?”

Another superb question. So many possibilities!

As a total computer geek there are a number of events starting in the 60’s I’d love to have watched. Starting with Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritche developing Unix and C. Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn working on the first computer internetworks. Then, of course, to be in that garage when the two Steve’s built the Apple I and Apple II. I could watch as as the “pirates” developed Mac OS.

Though all those events are recent and quite well documented. You can be a fly on the wall by reading all the first hand accounts. They are also not that visual.

One of my loves is the theatre. I’ve had the privilege of seeing some great actors in some great plays starting with Judi Dench in an RSC productions of ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘A Winter’s Tale’ back in 1970 through to Cate Blanchett in ‘The Cherry Orchard’ two years ago and ‘Gross Und Kliein’ last year. Imagine though the possibilities, the rehearsals and performances I could choose to watch.

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Review: Adele Live At The Albert Hall Blu-Ray

English: Adele performing "Someone Like Y...

Adele performing “Someone Like You” during a concert in Seattle, Washington on 8.12.2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last Blu-Ray I reviewed on this site was KD Lang ‘Live In London’ and it is hard not to make a comparison. Here we have two strong female vocalists with strong emotional connections to their music and an obvious love for their craft performing in the same town. We also have two performers who rely on their voice alone with no large bands, light shows or a dozen backing singers.

Technically this is an excellent production with clear, well balanced sound across all five channels. The publisher has even thrown in a CD for you. Unfortunately the direction is off, the cuts are too fast for Adele’s style of music and the Director is throwing every trick in his book at this DVD. Luckily Adele’s performance is so good this is still watchable but half the cameras and a quarter of the editing would have produced a better video.

I have never seen Adele live and after this Blu-Ray she is high on my list of must-see performers. Her songs are highly personal and she gives a personal performance connecting with both the music and the audience chatting amicably and honestly with the crowd throughout.

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Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

The band, "The Craze", before the play (Photo: Jessica Williams)

The band, “The Craze”, before the play (Photo: Jessica Williams)

Last night I saw One Man, Two Guvnors, a production of Britain’s National Theatre bought to Sydney by The Sydney Theatre Company.

The show had hugely successful runs in London and New York before coming out to Australia for the Adelaide Festival and now Sydney.

Shifting the action of the Italian play A Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni to 1963 Brighton with visually bright sets and costumes. We are really only left with the plot of Goldoni’s play, but a superb plot it is.

This production is a masterpiece. From the moment you take your seat to the skiffle music of the house band you are entertained. The band will be back several times, often accompanying a cast member or three, during set changes and after interval giving the show a slightly vaudeville feel.

The play itself is a masterpiece of visual and verbal comedy, though the second act after interval doesn’t have the strength of the first which is a marvellous slow build to the last scene which had me laughing so hard I was in danger.

Owain Arthur as the servant, Francis Henshall, gives a brilliant performance throughout. He is backed by a marvellous ensemble from whom it is difficult to find a standout performance as all do so well though Mark Jackson, as 87-year-old waiter Alfie, is a classic clown with some superb physical comedy.

This was by far the funniest play I have seen on a Sydney stage in decades. It is the humour of Goldoni filtered through classic British comedy of slapstick, farce, sight gags and often just plain silliness.

My one complaint is that the sound was terrible with lines lost in some scenes and the lyrics to the songs often impossible to understand. Why it can’t be done better in production that has toured to many theatres is difficult to understand, both the production and the STC should have done much better.

Opening Is The Hardest Thing

J.R.R. Tolkein

J.R.R. Tolkein

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Barnado: “Who’s there?”

First Witch: When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Today’s Daily Prompt asks “Take the first sentence from your favourite book and make it the first sentence of your post.”

Well I’m sorry. Just one “favourite book”? Not possible, that’s like asking a mother to choose her favourite child, not only is it an almost impossible question it would constantly change and be unfair to the unchosen children.

I picked five opening sentences from three of my favourite novels and two of my favourite plays. You probably recognise most of them, in case you don’t they are from, in order from top to bottom, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (TLotR), ‘Emma’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’. All of these five pieces of literature have been my “favourite” for a time. TLotR was the first great love of my adult reading life back in my early teens, before that only juvenile literature had been loved though I had read much meant for older readers. The two Austen novels became my favourites later when I was a mature age student studying English Literature and the two Shakespeare plays somewhere in between, probably after I saw a great production.

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