23 September 2011, 1.30pm
Review: The Threepenny Opera, Sydney Theatre

On a lazy Wednesday afternoon, with mumma and best friend in tow, I had the good fortune to see "Die Dreigroschenoper" replete with "Mackie Messer" (as they say "auf deutsch") I had heard some unsatisfactory reports about it from two over-theatred friends, but they were obviously misinformed and should go and watch the production again - after reading this piece.

Brecht, writing in conjunction with the musical wizardry of Kurt Weill, produced this piece of social satire in 1928, five years before the Nazis seized power in Germany. It's wonderful to see the elements of social discontent which this piece presents - vivid in the theatrical medium.

All was not good in Germany before the Nazis seized power. In 1928, Germany, like many nations, was in the grip of a major depression; alas, the polity merrily persisted with the myth that Germany was the land of milk and honey, which, in the previous century up until World War One was Germany's reality. Germany was devastated not necessarily by the war itself, but by the economically crippling reparations demanded by the allies after the war. What Brecht presents with great honesty is a country with a huge underclass comprising the poor, the desperate and the degenerate. This is the real Germany of the 1920s, and Brecht does not sugar-coat society for polite, schnapps drinking, middle class audiences. Little did he know at this time what was to follow in 1933.

One of the tenets of Brecht's theatre is that the audience should never lose itself in the drama, in other words, the "fourth wall" (the front of the stage) should never become invisible. In this production there is a rope that hangs between the stage and the audience which reminds us that we are watching a piece of theatre, precluding us from losing ourselves in Mackie's story. Brecht's intention, perhaps didactic, is that audiences should learn from theatre; they should be enriched by the theatrical process, and not merely entertained by it. In this production, some very cute signs were held up by the actors before songs - these were used for the same purpose as the rope; technical people were visible; set changes were not hidden from the audience's view. The fourth wall was always visible in one way or another. Indeed slides and songs of Tony Abbott and Gina Rinehart were presented with froth and light heartedness, while delivering stinging Brechtian social commentary on the greed of Australia's middle classes!

The music was fabulous. Barbara's song was enchanting. I love Weill's music, the man lived from 1900 to 1950 (you will never forget that little bit of trivia!) Many of his lighter pieces have given us jazz standards like "Speak Low" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself". The orchestrations for such a small band were spine tingling.

I had a nice chat with Paul Capsis after the show (just thought I'd name drop, that's all!)

Go and see it again thou two bitter friends of mine! 9/10


6 September 2011, 12.15pm
The Universe

The universe is a large place and a lot has been written about it. Brian Greene has written about it in The Fabric of the Cosmos, and who is not aware of our amazing power to influence all our life events espoused by that Oprah-celebrated piece of light reading: The Secret (I have read both books, what a contrast!)

I have my own theory about the universe. Unhappily for some, it doesn't have much to say about what the universe actually is/does/hears/provides; rather, my theory is more about what one can do in it. Here we go...

Although the universe is seemingly limitless in size (perhaps it is constricted by its age, which would give it a diameter of roughly 26 billion light years) very few people decide to make even the smallest explorations into its depths. We get caught by our own stasis, metaphorically and physically. We take the same route to work, cook the same meals, have the same conversations. Life gets caught in a repetitive groove - the needle gets stuck. The universe, if left unchecked, seems to shrink around us, and very quickly our lives get funnelled into often very comforting yet repetitive routines. And then it shrinks again! Our lives, which are our greatest assets, become journeys along straight, undifferentiated paths; paths bordered with fear and habit; paths paved with the grey hues that herald the deterioration of imagination.

The solution is really quite simple. Do something different! Go a different way to work, join a new club every so often, learn something new, read a new book, see different people, go to new suburbs, explore, be big! Enrich yourself and others by bringing your "A" game to your interactions with people. Push the envelope of the universe back out; but beware! - It will push back, your world will shrink again, and again you must push out! Keep pushing! Pushing...!


28 August 2011, 11.25am
Lakme by Delibes: Opera Review

It's always a treat to go to the opera, especially when the tickets are free. A general rehearsal can be as good as the fully priced option, and this rehearsal (with the minor blemish of a technician appearing at the end of a passionate love scene with a cloth for a sweaty principal tenor) was a joy to hear and see.

Lakme is by the French composer Delibes; I might boldly say that I consider it to be "opera lite" for those who are used to the meatier flavours of Puccini and Wagner. You may even feel thinner at the end of a performance (unless you pig out on the sandwiches in the foyer because you didn't get to eat dinner because the general began at 6pm.)

The story is simple, you might even say simplistic. British soldier meets Asian girl (Indian? We don't really know!) and they fall in love. Asian daddy doesn't like it, and the Brits suggest that soldier boy gets back to soldiering and not worry about trivial pursuits like love. Well, they do fall in love. Daddy decides to shoot Lakme's soldier friend and Lakme and the soldier escape to the jungle where Lakme heals his wound with a magic plant. We discover, however, that Lakme is a bit clingy and after realising that soldier boy's face "has gone cold" (I love surtitle translations) she decides to eat a certain type of poison plant to kill herself. Soldier boy affirms his love, but it is too late, and she dies (happily) in his arms. At least she knows he loves her.

The music is sublime; the orchestrations sizzle. You may recognise two pieces from the opera: the British Airways commercial music, and the song Snow White sings to the birds. These are respectively, the Flower Duet and the Bell Song. Check out Florence Foster Jenkins' version of the Bell Song on Youtube, a murderous soprano who (when alive) gave a yearly concert at Carnegie Hall. Her "friends" attended.

What a nice night out!


15 August, 5.16pm
High Temperature and Low Temperature

I have been using the terms high and low temperature far too frequently of late. Yes, my friends were getting sick of my heat rating until they realised how subtly it can be applied.

For instance, it may be clear that to work in a job that is fulfilling and rich could be considered high temperature, unless someone else thinks that what you do is low temperature (already you can see relativity entering the fray; there is no absolute temperature in the world of metaphor.) Let's say that your partner has a job he hates. Does the combination of your high temperature career and his low temperature one mean that you are in (when considered as one entity) a tepid relationship? (What a tepid sounding word is tepid!)

Of course other aspects of life creep into the tally...

High temperature loves, looks, talents and conversations all have their lower temperature counterparts. Is reading a book hotter than watching its movie counterpart? Is classical music hotter than pop music? (Is writing music hotter than playing it?) Each of us casts our approval and disapproval over everything. And friends...We all have THAT friend we see when no one else is available. You know, the one we like to watch videos with.

My point, if I may give it my own meta-interpretation, is this: that we are always judging, weighing and less frequently, balancing . We weigh things uniquely and in combination. We can't stop. And more than this, we make decisions in a binary way; things are either good or bad to us. Yes...we wait until we hear that gentle sound - something like a "click" in us - that gives us the certainty we crave. It's a rare and courageous person who can live with ambiguity...for too long.

How did you find this entry? Hot, sizzling or volcanic?


8 August, 6.30pm
Movie Review: The Planet of the Apes

All movies of this ilk contain the same formula...Here is a guide for making money beyond your wildest dreams...

What you need to do:

Start with a premise...preferably one which the audience knows already - such as "What would happen if apes ruled the world?"

Act One: Have a nice bit of the film where we get to know and like the goodies.

Act Two: Make the mean character very powerful.

Act Three: Have a war.

Act Four: Offer an unresolved conclusion to allow room for a remake.

What you will get:

Lots of money!

An audience that will leave cheerily but vaguely dissatisfied.

...Who will go to the pub to discuss the movie's shortcomings and vow never to see another ape movie again.

When your sequel is released, these same people will suggest (in hushed and embarrassed undertones) to their friends - "Hey, why not? Let's not go and see another French art film about unrequited love, torture, self-abuse or generally nothing at all. Let's go and see the apes and the humans bash each other on the head! And let's see who wins!"

It's amazing how quickly a major event can take place in a movie. In this one, you can inject yourself with a green serum and wake up the very next day with your Alzheimer's cured (in 2012, the world was swallowed up in a day, in The Day After Tomorrow, global warming took a glacial three days.) There is no time like the present in movie making!

By the way, the serum which all the apes end up taking, the serum which makes them smart, also makes their eyes turn green and glitter slightly in the right light. Guess who has green eyes? (Though yes, they may be enhanced by tiny insertable plastic lenses.) Beware! All that glitters in life is not green.

(Well, it was rather fun...7/10)


27 July 2011, 1.40pm
My Theory of the Lounge Room
Do you have a nice lounge room? I hope you do, cause we spend a lot of time there.

I was thinking recently about an aquaintance of a friend of mine who spent 1.4 million on his home. It has lots of rooms, even spare rooms but when it comes to the one room in the house where he and his family spend the most time, I must confess, I was struck its complete lack of size, fittings and above all, atmosphere. Why spend any money on a house if the room you are going to sit in every evening is small, dingy and not even containing one lamp? A lamp only costs, let's say, $40. Give it a little globe and shazzam! You have a powerful tool for enjoying your evening - your very precious free time after a long day in the office.

This same person, earns a lot of money. Yet his office is the size of a broom cupboard and he spends probably ten hours a day in this uninviting venue. He doesn't dress especially well, eat out, or travel, and he doesn't seem to spend his money on anything else except paying off the 1.4 million dollar home with the dingy lounge room, in which he spends most of his time.

You may be wondering why I am hammering this home...It's simply to say or rather, ask, what good is having money if it brings you no joy? Why work laboriously at some pursuit for the sake of earning money? The most precious asset you have is your life...And if you spend those fleeting years in a lounge room with no colour, lamp, music and love, you are living no life at all. Harsh words, but don't get trapped!

27 July 2011, 12pm
Book Review: Blue Heaven by Joe Keenan

You may think from this short series of blog entries that I only read high-brow literature. Well, I am about to prove you wrong!

Blue Heaven is a merry romp through an early 90s New York. Replete with answering machines, electric type writers and camp, you become aware very quickly that we already live in an age vastly changed from one that existed merely 20 years ago. Indeed much of the farce of the novel relies on the fact that the characters can’t get information to one another quickly. Phone calls are intercepted via landlines, letters are sent to made-up addresses. It makes me wonder whether this sort of farce is even possible today - misinformation is not the theme of this, the second decade of our new millenium. 

The writer of the novel is the same writer who wrote Frasier, that wonderful comedy series based on the relationship between two brothers. As we know, those two brothers made a wonderful gay couple. Keenan is a clever writer who combines camp and farce especially well and has a gift for building a scene to its frenetic climax. There are three books in the series, this is the first.

I think I might get back to nineteenth century literature for the time being. It’s sometimes very peaceful to get away from phones.

13 July 2011, 3.30pm
Book Review: Ethan Frome by Edith Warton

I have just read Ethan Frome and I am surprised at one strong similarity which it shares with The Golden Bowl - I have been titillated by this interesting synchronicity and have felt compelled to share it with you! Both books share a guiding motif/symbol which takes the form of crystal: a crystal goblet (The Golden Bowl) and a crystal dish (Ethan Frome.)

The goblet in TGB represents the fractured nature of the relationships of the 4 principal characters of the novel. After The Prince and Charlotte decide not to buy the goblet, because of its floor, Maggie stumbles across the same object at the same shop and buys it, years later. Now three of the characters know that the goblet possesses a fatal floor...Another character, Fanny (Americans seem to love this name) after discovering the dirty history of this piece decides that it is best done away with, and she throws the bowl down, with vigour, onto the floor - and it breaks into 3 pieces. These presumably represent 3 of the 4 relationships in this love "square" between the Prince, the Princess, Maggie and Charlotte. Maggie picks up the broken pieces and puts them onto the mantelpiece. The goblet is not stuck together again; it remains broken after Fanny's destructive outburst. We may construe this outcome at the end of the novel to mean that 3 of the 4 relationships are permanently broken, or at least, destined to suffer from fatal "fissures."

In Ethan Frome, we encounter a precious dish which must not ever be used. Indeed, Zeena, Ethan's wife, didn't even use it when the minister came to dinner. The young (and pretty, yet destitute) cousin who stays with Ethan and his wife decides to use it when Zeena goes away to see a doctor about her "troubles" (sickness.) Needless to say, Ethan is a bit keen on Mattie (yes, it's a strange name for a girl) and they have some supper together. Yes, I know you may say that you know what is going to happen next, and yes, indeed it does, but this time, the cat did it (yes it really did!) The dish is broken, Ethan gets some glue and pastes it back together, and, well, let's be honest, it doesn't look so good. So, can you guess what happened at the end of the novel?... Use what you have learnt from The Golden Bowl... Time's up! Ethan and Maddie decide to commit suicide by smashing into a tree. But they don't die, they both get smashed up and live with Zeena and her troubles until they are old; the broken plate is transcribed quite literally into broken people.

So you can see why I was intrigued...

10 July 2011, 5.00pm
Premiere: Farnsworth, New Theatre 13 July 2011

Just to let you know, I have written some incidental music to accompany the magnificent play by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, the Facebook movie) which will premiere on the 13th. It will run for 5 weeks - Wednesday to Saturday. I think the music is quite tasteful, go along, and tell me what you think!

10 July 2011, 4.15pm
Book Review: The Golden Bowl by Henry James

Needless to say that there has been much written about this last of the 23 novels of Henry James. This is the second time I have read the book - you may think that strange in itself - but I knew enough about Henry's style to know that I would get a different ride the second time around. Henry lets the ambiguity of his writing take the reader where the reader chooses to go, not where the author directs him. In this way, Henry might be seen as the first of the Post-Modernists, writing 75 years before the beginning of that very confusing period we are still mangling our way through. Perhaps because I took a too rosy view of the novel when I first read it about 5 years ago, I decidedly tried to bury my face in the miserable flip side of a novel which invites a more insidious interpretation. What would you do if you knew your husband was having an affair with your stepmother? (It's yucky isn't it!)

But that's not what I want to write about here; I want to highlight some of the theatrical inclusions and references Henry inserted into the narrator's voice. Henry was desperate in the middle of his career to become a playwright. His novels never sold well (except for Portrait of A Lady, which sold a few thousand during his lifetime.) His first play, The American, did okay, but his second play Guy Domville was a miserable failure. I see the Golden Bowl as a play in novel form with scenes and lighting, speeches and props.
Henry laughs at the coincidence which brings Maggie in possession of the bowl: the Prince says "I agree with you that the coincidence is extraordinary - the sort of thing that happens mainly in novels and plays."

Maggie sets the scene as a playwright might: "...she passed round the house and looked into the drawing-room, lighted also, but empty now, and seeming to speak of all the possibilities she controlled. Spacious and splendid, like a stage again awaiting a drama, it was a scene she might people." Or again from Maggie, "They might have been - really certainly, as always, magnificently handsome and supremely distinguished - they might have been figures rehearsing some play of which she herself was the author."

A book everyone should read...Indeed if anyone should ask you one day, in hushed undertones, whether you have read The Golden Bowl, you should be ready to answer...yes...

16 April 2011, 5.15pm
Movie Review: How I Ended This Summer

This two hander is as spectacular for its suspense as it is for its unexpected storyline.
Set in an Arctic Russia, a staggering rocky coast line is teased by a fickle combination of winds, snow and rain. It is mid-summer and the white nights leave everyone a little tired and in need of loud alarm clocks.

An apocalyptic post-Chernobyl nuclear furnace burns freely at the top of a hill. A Geiger counter crackles with excitement when near. Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble!

A student, Danilov seems reluctant to fully engage with his posting (mind you the work he has to do, telemetry, whatever that is, seems rather dull, but those loud alarm clocks do help everyone to get back to work.) His only colleague, Gulybin, is gruff, physically aggressive and downright mean. I would be scared of him too. Danilov receives shattering information about the death of Gulbyian's family, but for some reason, he does not pass this on to Gulybin. Why? Because Gulybin is mean to him? However you might justify this rather unmotivated behaviour of Danilov, we need this little twist to kick-start the story. Let the merriment (or should I say horror) begin.

What happens next is a mixture of gun toting, poisoning, and exposure that helps nobody, especially when there are only two of you and no way of getting away. It's also not wise, when you are feeling the cold, to warm yourself by a nuclear furnace. Nevertheless the story sinks further into depravity and you are left with the feeling that both characters are a little deranged. Why? I don't know. Maybe their mothers didn't breast feed them as babies. Nevertheless, if you let go of the rather unhinged plot line and immerse yourself in the revenge before you, this movie is as scary as any.

Personally, I am always freaked out by gamma rays, especially when they are used to cook your trout for dinner. I much prefer a wood-fired stove.

Not bad! 7/10.


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