Tuesday, 2 June 2009


This week I’ve been recovering from one of those weekends when too much theatre is not really enough. On the Friday night I went to a showing at the Fraser Studio OFF THE SHELF PROJECT (run by Queen Street Studios)

There were five shows of around 20 – 30 minutes each, of varying quality and ambition presented by a disparate group of mostly young and emerging writers, actors, directors. I hadn’t been to the Fraser Studio before (14 Kensington Street, Chippendale). It’s a fantastic space – big, barny rooms set up with basic theatrical facilities, plus even a small outside square of garden. It's always great to see what people are up to, but, apart from the specific personal connection that got me there in the first place, it wasn’t so much the shows themselves that I loved as the occasion...Persons collected together by a passion for expression that could only be fulfilled by – a space, some players and an audience. It’s the ambition, I think, of making something from nothing and then sharing the event. At whatever stage of your theatrical life you may be at – that’s the thing that first drew you in.

The next afternoon I went to the Patrick White Prize announcement, won by Nicki Bloom (with whom I also need to declare a connection), with the subsequent reading of her play, BLOODWOOD (commissioned by Griffin Theatre Company.) http://sydneytheatre.com.au/

Once again it was a combination of passion and ambition that got to me. The play we heard was a first draft, so it will change quite a lot before production I’m sure, but what impressed me – apart from the language, which is flexible, allusive and works on a number of levels - was that the play is wildly ambitious, particularly for someone’s second ever theatre piece.

That night I went to a bare bones performance of Maxim Gorky’s SUMMERFOLK, put on at the Belvoir Theatre Rehearsal space, directed by Eamon Flack, with a cast of seventeen (?) actors all performing for free. It is a monster of a piece – thoughtful, controlled, elegiac, passionate, a drama of lost dreams.

I was lucky enough to see the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg’s production of Chekhov’s UNCLE VANYA a couple of Sydney Festival’s ago and then, last Sydney Festival, the Katona Jozef Theatre’s IVANOV followed this year by the fascinating Downstairs Belvoir production of Vassily Sigarev’s LADYBIRD, directed by Lee Lewis, where it seemed to me that the undercurrent running through was once again, as in Chekhov, as in Gorky, the monstrous, ongoing hibernation of the Russian bear, this fierce strange, unwieldy, unconscious ice-gripped society where passion and despair stumble hand in hand.

And again – even apart from the play - which it was a privilege, actually, to see – there was the feeling that here were a group of (this time) established artists who, for sheer passion for the medium had gathered together to mount a piece that should be seen every few years approached by a range of directors and actors and styles and companies but which, because of our shallow culture, we will not normally have access to. It was great, and liberating, too. Sometimes just the engagement with the material is enough.

Verity Laughton

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