Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Sixteen-month review

September 17, 2008

This blog is now four months into its second year.

I have included the fourteen-month review figures in parentheses for comparison and the one-year figures in brackets.

Total Views 32,563 (24,027) [18,542]

Best Day Ever: 379 Friday 25 July 2008 (200 — Tuesday, June 10, 2008) [174 — Sunday, March 9, 2008 ]

Top Posts

Pedophile “monster” knee-jerk reaction, 3,238 views (2,287) [1,220]

The following two posts are jostling for second place

Never fall in love with a prostitute,  1,092 views (887) [712]

Pussy porn, 1,067 views (901) [813]

Most of the increase in traffic coincides with the Sydney International Piano Competition and my series of posts on that. The end of the semifinals accounts for the best day. Things have steadied quite a bit since then.

Fourteen-month review

July 16, 2008

This blog is now two months into its second year.

I have included the first year review figures in parentheses for comparison.

Total Views 24,027 (18,542)

Best Day Ever: 200 — Tuesday, June 10, 2008 (174 — Sunday, March 9, 2008 )

Geoffrey Leonard has streaked ahead of all competitors as a subject of interest. 

As my dashboard tells me:

Top Posts

Pedophile “monster” knee-jerk reaction, 2,287 views (1,220)

Pussy porn, 901 views (813)

Never fall in love with a prostitute, 887 views (712)

(geoffrey leonard, Geoff Leonard, kim walker plagiarism)

Operation Centurion’s topicality is a further indication of the perennial obsession with sex (or as he puts it, “sexuality”)  which Jim Belshaw has regretted, though I think this is hardly limited to Australia. I expect it is common at least to all developed countries.

There is always a trickle of searches for “Icarus” and similar terms, mostly related to Auden’s poem which touches on that subject, to which I refer in my post on the movie, The Paper will be Blue.

Total views for months 13 and 14 are therefore 5,485, compared with  4,145 for months 11 and 12, 2,967 for months 9 and 10, 2,666 in months 7 and 8 and about 3,500 in months 5 and 6. This time my census point is a little early compared to the last point, so the result is a little understated.  Most of these views occurred in month 13 (my months awkwardly don’t coincide with calendar months). The figure for the calendar month of June was 3,000.  The monthly average over the 14 months as a whole now stands at about 1700 (1500).  This doesn’t include “syndicated views.”  I’ve never been too clear what they are, but I like them because they feel like a bonus.

Annual review

May 18, 2008

This blog has now turned one year old.  That’s a lot of time wasted

At the time of writing (Sunday), the position for the year was:

Total Views 18,542

Best Day Ever: 174 — Sunday, March 9, 2008

Geoffrey Leonard continues to be my most popular (in a manner of speaking) subject, followed by a misleadingly-titled post about my cat.

The dashboard now confirms this:

Top Posts

Pedophile “monster” knee-jerk reaction, 1,220 views

Pussy porn, 813 views

Never fall in love with a prostitute, 712 views

Top Searches

geoffrey leonard,  Geoff Leonard,  kim walker plagiarism

Total views for months 11 and 12 are 4,145 compared to  2,967 for months 9 and 10 and 2,666 in months 7 and 8 and about 3,500 in months 5 and 6. However, my census point is a day or so late, so I am overstating the true result.  The monthly average over the year as a whole is about 1500.

Love for Love at NIDA

April 10, 2008

On Monday night to the Parade Theatre to see NIDA’s production of Congreve’s Love for Love.

This was my first visit to the new Parade Theatre. It can’t be right, but I feel that the last time I went to the old Parade Theatre was in about 1972 or 1973 when the Old Tote Theatre Company had their last season there before (ill-fatedly) relocating to the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre. The theatre may be new but I swear they are still brewing the same terrible urn-stewed coffee. It could have been stewing for all that time, but time lends colour rather than flavour or aroma to the brew.

The theatre itself is rather splendid. It seems a shame to leave it to NIDA, though I recall that some attempts at commercial productions may have foundered on the out-of-the-way location, just as things always seem to have difficulty at the Seymour Centre. It must be unique in Sydney as a horseshoe theatre with two balconies – the auditorium is a more hospitable shape than the Sydney Theatre, though the stage is probably not nearly well equipped and its seating capacity is smaller.

Most of the front of house staff appeared to be made up of students, probably on a voluntary basis. The greater part of the audience were either students or people on comps. I spotted John Gaden, looking smaller in real life than he does on stage.

Despite boastful statements on the web page about productions selling out (counterproductive, in my view) and statements by the ticket seller that it was quite a full house, this was far from the case. Tickets were not sold for the balconies. The only excuse for the very crumby seat I was sold (near the end of row F) could be that there were heaps of uncollected comps.

It did feel rather like a school play: first, because of the extreme youth of the entire cast (including one particularly unconvincing old man) – especially at the start when it was all young men (though as a consolation, plenty of what D and I are inclined to refer to as “cuties”); and secondly, because of the loud and appreciative laughter from members of the audience who I can only assume to be the performers’ friends, amused to see them in costume and not as their natural selves and doing funny things. I found the laughter a little off-putting. I do hate being unable to share others’ enthusiasm.

Restoration comedy is rarely assayed in Australia: the director confessed in his program note that this was his first go at it, and I suspect the actors were even more in the dark.  It was difficult for the wits to appear other than hopelessly camp, or for the women to appear as anything other than total bitches of a late seventeenth century Ab-Fab variety.  The decision to put a lot of the characters in wigs that made them look like clones of Robin Nevin added another level of confusion. 

One mystery of the play is why Angelica, the main male character’s love-object, should appear so ambivalent towards him for much of the play – until, that is, her true plan is unveiled right at the end.  This poses some quandaries so far as the tone of her performance is concerned, and I didn’t feel that the actor or the director had quite settled the question. 

Just occasionally there were mysterious moments where the tone of the dialogue changed completely.  These were meant to be the love or sincerity moments, I think.  The secret of these is, I suspect, rather like changing dynamics or moods in Scarlatti: the switch must be instant and magical.  Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it felt like just a slackening of dramatic impetus. 

NIDA is an institution with a powerful self-myth, but the truth, readily revealed by looking at the serried production photographs around the walls, is that only some of its students go on to even a mildly glorious career in theatre or the theatrical arts. I’m not sure how fair it would be to predict any future winners in the lottery of theatrical fate based on this performance, since clearly it depends on casting decisions and the choice or roles which may or may not suit individual students’ strong suits. On this occasion, it was those playing the rustically-spoken characters (inexplicably tending towards Irish, perhaps because the easiest off-the-shelf accent) who made the strongest impression, and in particular those who played Sir Samson Legend and his younger, seafaring son, Ben, save for an excruciating excursion into song by the latter.

If I can find the program amongst the detritus in my car I will update with their names.

Ten months review

March 17, 2008

At the time of writing (Sunday), the position was:

Total Views: 14,397

Best Day Ever: 174 — Sunday, March 9, 2008

The best day came from a sudden interest in Geoffrey Leonard, possibly because the you-tube footage of his A Current Affair outing achieved new currency for some reason. 

Total views for months 9 and 10 are 2,967 compared to about 2,666 in months 7 and 8 and  about 3,500 in months 5 and 6.  Obviously, the ten-monthly average of 1,439 (2-months: 2,878) is easy to compute.  On that basis, the last 2 months are just above average, though overall, allowing for the opening position, I’d describe the situation as steady.

Twelfth Night

March 11, 2008

Last Thursday to Twelfth Night, produced by Siren Theatre at the ATYP .

I went on the recomendation of Nicholas Pickard, who wrote (in part):

“Walking into Twelfth Night in the magically transformed theatre of Australian Theatre for Young People in Walsh Bay, you immediately feel like you are entering a very special world.”

It may have been magically transformed, but it still left something to be desired. The theatre itself is enclosed by a kind of slab wall (you can see the late afternoon light coming in through the cracks) underneath the main concourse level of the Wharf Theatre. Further up the wharf, the Sydney Dance Theatre conducts dance classes. Those attending the classes then hang around outside the theatre and shout out and call to each other – all fairly clearly audible inside the theatre. Maybe they should try a “Quiet – Performance in progress” sign outside rather like the signs outside exam rooms. I found the noises off quite distracting.

As I have commented on Nicholas’s blog, there was a lot which was commendable about the performance/production, but I didn’t find it such a stunning success as Nicholas did. Perhaps I get to see less theatre than he does, and either I am less of a buff or else I see less really terrible stuff than he does. Though these needn’t be mutually exclusive, I favour the first explanation: if I were more of a theatre enthusiast, I would see the glass half full of the good aspects of the performance, much as I probably would for a similar level of musical performance. Otherwise, perhaps the moral is that a performance which is worth $25 (that was the ticket price, and I’m not saying it wasn’t worth the price of admission) is unlikely to be worth it for me. This was roughly the reasoning on which one friend turned down my suggestion that she come along with us.

There were only 7 actors. This also imposed an extra level of difficulty in terms of appreciation, although there was one rather good piece of business playing against that when Sir Anthony Aguecheek and Sebastian (played by the same actor) fought each other by “exchanging” blows and emerging from behind a curtain with instantly exchanged hat and other costume accoutrements.

The main thing this production made me appreciate was the extreme difficulty of creating what I think of as the necessary lyricism (itself a compound of many things: I’m not saying there is only one way to get there) for Shakespearean comedy. Kate Gaul (the director) had lots of good ideas and the production was headed in the right direction, but for me it didn’t quite get there unless I willed myself to go there with it, which still felt a bit of a strain. It made me appreciate what Bell Shakespeare managed in As You Like It all the more in retrospect. Some of it is probably resources; some of it is probably experience; and some of it, I suspect, is just good old fashioned technique. This is not to say that the actors in this production were lacking in that, but they were still a young cast.

Others in the audience enjoyed it more than I did, though I also suspected that rather a lot of them may have been friends and relations.  There was a bit of a “luvvie” atmosphere afoot.  The woman who sold us our tickets laughed the loudest.

The Long Boom comes to an end

March 5, 2008

On Monday night I went to hear the Goldner Quartet with pianist Stephen Osborne at Angel Place City Recital Hall – a Musica Viva concert.

That I went owes something to MV general manager Mary-Jo Capps’s devilish cunning: having accepted a free ticket from her last year after complaining to her about the heavy-handed promotion of this -year’s Musica Viva series, I felt somehow obliged to take things further.  Anyway, the program was attractive, even allowing for the incredibly awkward 7 pm start time which required me to rush home very early indeed for the requisite nap and, because of a (possibly unfounded) fear about parking at that hour, take the train back in.

In the foyer, I ran into Justice H, whom I had appeared before earlier that day.  He told me that his wife takes his mother-in-law to the MV concerts, but that G QC (whom I also know) usually had a spare ticket, and he was hoping to get in by this means.  This struck me as a remarkably insouciant attitude, but also confirmation of the 6-degrees-of-separation thesis that the rich most like giving favours to each other.  I saw later that H J had successfully made contact.

The program was:

Richard MILLS
String Quartet no 1(revised 2007)
Performed by Goldner String Quartet

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH
Piano Quintet in G minor, op 57

Claude DEBUSSY
Préludes (Book 1), nos 6–10 (1910)
Performed by Steven Osborne
[Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow): Triste et lent
Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the West Wind has seen): Animé et tumultueux
La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair): Très calme et doucement expressif
La sérénade interrompue (Interrupted Serenade): Modérément animé
La cathédrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral): Profondément calme ]

Robert SCHUMANN
Piano Quintet in E flat major, op 44

Mills is Musica Viva’s featured composer this year. Dene Olding gave a narrative account of his quartet which would probably madden Mills. It started from the well-known characterisation of a string quartet as a civilized conversation, and warped this into a drama of a bridge game between two couples (the Goldner Quartet, who are also the string core of the Australia Ensemble, is two married couples) which goes rather badly wrong, leading to some heated recriminations before, as Dene put it, everything being made right on the way home in the car. I couldn’t really put that quite homely (if rather Musica-Viva oriented) narrative aside and listen to the music properly at all after that.

The Shostakovich lived up to expectations, but (possibly because I was thinking of the trio) ended more mildly than I expected.

It was odd hearing a slab of Debussy preludes in this way. That said, Osborne’s approach really grew on me, and by the end of La cathedrale engloutie (which was obviously where he was planning on heading when he chose these 6 preludes) he had the audience eating out of his hands – even some chronic and unmuted coughs did not break the culminating “profound calm.”

But it was really the Schumann I had come to hear, and I was not disappointed. I remember EN once offering the opinion to me that Schumann was really rather a minor or second-rank composer. At the time I thought he was wrong and this performance reminded me why. I think that is an impression based on a superficial assessment of composers’ pecking orders based on well-kn own orchestral works. For a pianist, it is a difficult view to hold, and equally if one takes into account the richness of his vocal and chamber music legacies. The quintet is thoroughly engrossing, in a dramatic and romantic way.

At interval, I also ran into J and Lx.  They are now both AIDSocrats.  We discussed the David Russell case (because G QC is appearing in his appeal) and also the more recent (so far as the denouement is concerned) and tangledly tragic Robert Sharwood case (you’ll have to google about this yourself for the time being because there is no single convenient link) in the train on the way home.  It may have been too much for some of our fellow travellers.

This is not intended as a boast, but because of the Mardi Gras film festival and associated events, not all of which I have yet blogged about here for an obvious reason, this was (starting on February 15) the 18th straight night in a row when I had been out for some kind of entertainment – that is, either a film or a live performance. I am sure that this is a record for me. It has come to an end: on Tuesday night I stayed at home.

Margaret Cho – “Beautiful”

March 2, 2008

On Wednesday I went with D to see Margaret Cho.

The show was at 10pm and as we arrived the 8pm show crowd were just spilling out onto the street.  It was perhaps the gayest theatre audience I have ever seen, except for the audience for the 10pm show, which was even more so.  D wondered at it.  Where did all these handsome men and cuties (not entirely mutually exclusive categories) come come from?  How come we hadn’t seen them at the Mardi Gras film festival?

I can only speculate, but a few stabs at an indirect answer to D’s amazement are:

  1. there were quite a few American expatriates in the audience (one, not necessarily in this category but probably so since otherwise a bit of a poseur, even had an “Obama 08” t-shirt);
  2. judging by the audience response, not only the expatriates were US-savvy – are these returned (from the US) expatriates? or are these cable watchers who get more detail on US culture than I do?  For example, they knew the name of the congressman busted in the toilet.  I knew the story well, but not the name.  It’s clear they also watched TV shows which I don’t watch.
  3. Cho is an international celebrity (in the sense of coming from outside Australia) and such a visit and live appearance have their own draw-power;
  4. People dress up more for a $60-65-a-head live event than for a $10-15 a head film.

Margaret Cho was supported by Ian Harvie, a female to male pre-op transsexual lesbian.

I was a little disappointed in the evening  It wasn’t so much the performers as the genre.  I am not sure if I have ever been to a night of stand-up comedy before but this event made me realise why if I have I have forgotten it and if I haven’t why that is the case.  There is a kind of mass-hysteria when a bunch of people get together in a room determined to be amused, and a kind of mutual desperation then seems to yolk performer to audience.  I didn’t think everything Ian or Margaret said was all that funny, and some of the ploys (including no small amount of audience flattery on Margaret’s part) struck me as pretty transparent.  (It must be rare that a comedian does not tell his or her audience that they have been terrific, but the flattery went further than that.)  So even when I got close to abandoning myself to mirth, I still felt self-conscious and as though I was in some way forcing it.  I have enjoyed Cho’s filmed shows on TV.  Maybe this is a rare occasion where I will enjoy the film (which can be edited for the best takes or versions of the jokes over a number of performances) over the live gig.

Perhaps my expectations are too high.  Maybe whatever it was is my problem, a bit like when I had to leave Nigel Kennedy’s concert last year because I couldn’t bear him cheering the audience along and telling us all what a good time we were having when I didn’t find his playing quite so remarkable at all.  Nigel and Margaret have uncovered my curmudgeonly streak.

I don’t want to overstate this.  I did laugh, and over all, a good time seems to have been had by all.

Carmen

March 2, 2008

Last night, D and I went to see Carmen.

For some reason, Opera Australia doesn’t treat the series I subscribe to very well at all.  Even though it is the Saturday night series with the most operas (and the most apart from the opening night series), we always get the second cast of the second summer opera (and possibly some others).  So this time we missed out on the much-touted Kirsten Chavez and instead got Catherine Carby in the title role.  CC was OK.  She didn’t make the strongest of impressions in the Habanera but warmed up in her next number, where she Tralalalas in dumb insolence to the soldier’s questioning.  She seemed more tomboyish than seductive. Even so, she failed to live up to the following rather outlandish stage direction:

(Elle casse une assiette, avec deux morceaux de faïence, se fait des castagnettes et les essaie…)

which requires her to break a plate and then use the pieces as a castanet.  I don’t think I’ve seen any singer manage this.  Catherine’s castanet technique was even a little deficient, so china would have been out of the question.

Of the others, Rosario La Spina was as enormous as ever, but the French style imposed more refinement than usual on his vocal manner.  Joshua Bloom started off well as Escamillo though his voice seemed a little light for the role – more a matter of texture than volume. He approached some higher notes with a kind of trepidation (a sort of faking, almost) and a bit of what I call 78 -rpm tremolo entered his voice which prevented him from making as strong an impact as he has for me on previous occasions.

The big thing about this production (how naive are we all?) was that it included a live donkey and a live horse – the latter carrying Escamillo on in Act II and Carmen in Act IV. (If there were chickens, I missed them.)  Pathetically, given what this says about us, this did contribute to the excitement, and especially the horse, even though it also served to emphasise just how small the Opera Theatre stage is.  At interval, D complained that the costumes were too drab, but I took this as a type of proto-verismo

The production was based on that originally directed by Zambello for Covent Garden and Opera Norske. The most exciting scene was Act II, and particularly the opening dance number.  Not just for the dance itself, but rather for the entire effect. For the sake of this I am prepared to forgive Zambello the ineffective last scene (I’m sorry, but I don’t think Micaela looking on over the back fence of the bull-fighting arena is a substitute for the crowd spilling out and finding Don Jose red-handed). But the production as a whole did not really move me, and I’m still trying to work out why. Even the psychological crux of the production, which is that Carmen has already fallen out of love with Don Jose before she even begins to try to tempt him off to the mountains, was not really revelatory. The music, of course, is terrific, but that too does not come as a surprise, although I was able to savour the orchestral detail which is very characteristic of Bizet (lots of quite detailed but light and lithe figuration).

Amidst the quasi-verismo, two particular incongruities stood out.

In the first act, a gang of street urchins imitate the soldiers as they are changing guard. (Like the ballet, it seems the children’s chorus was at one stage an obligatory element of operatic spectacle.) In this production, there is a degree of business where, as part of this play, they take aim and fire, using sticks or crutches (some are beggars) as guns. Anachronistically, some of the boys seem to have imagined that their “guns” were machine guns.

In Acts II and III, Don Jose is obliged to run away with the gypsies, who are engaged in smuggling over the mountains. Unless I am missing some kind of devilishy cunning double bluff here, I would have thought it unlikely that smugglers would embark upon their enterprise with long wooden crates which are obligingly labelled “Esplosivos.”

Carmen is the first opera I ever saw from a really good seat.  I was at the opera with my parents (or possibly just one of them) and we ran into Gordon Samuels and Jackie Kott (or J Samuels, depending on the occasion).  Jackie was known to my parents from their youth at the University of WA and in the world of West Australian expatriates in Sydney they must have seen something of her in at least their earlier years in Sydney.  Gordon was doubtless a very busy man.  He muttered something about it being rather a second-eleven sort of cast, and I saw the remainder of the performance from their seats near the front of the stalls.  It was a revelation!

Not that the cast was totally second-rate.  I was very taken with Huguette Tourangeau (something of a Bonynge protege) in the title role.  Even if you don’t speak French yourself, you can tell the difference when the singer really does. No subsequent Carmen I have seen has surpassed the impact she made.  At the time the tenor situation for the Australian Opera seemed to be one of permanent crisis, and I don’t remember the Don Jose as being so impressive, which I think is what provoked the “second eleven” comment.  Dolores Cambridge was Micaela.  Or Mercedes.  Whatever.

I last saw Gordon, looking pretty frail and in a wheel chair, with Jackie at a concert of the Australia Ensemble last year.  He and JK/S were at the magnificent end of my parents’ range of acquaintance: I am not sure if I ever spoke to him except for the occasion when I got his ticket.  I would have liked to go up to him and thank him for the ticket all those years ago, but it seemed presumptuous.  Too late to thank him now.

Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival 3

February 28, 2008

On Tuesday, D and I went to see Breakfast with Scot.  Based on a novel originally set in Massachusets, and transposed to Canada with the addition of an ice-hockey sub-plot, the advertised premise was as follows:

Macho sports commentator Eric is in the closet. Hiding his boyfriend was hard. Staying in the closet was even harder when 11 year old Scot, the girliest boy in Canada, moved in. Scot’s love of all things pink and frilly freaks Eric and Sam out, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In other words, as a variant on the “[straight] parents find out their kid is gay” this film offered the twist of “gay [quasi] parents find out that that their kid is gay” – or at least, very very girly.

The boy who plays Scot is terrific.  But in commending him, I am aware there is some tricky territory which is also traversed by the film.  No-one really wants to say, and the film avoids saying, that Scot is “gay.”  It is sufficient that he is very girly.  The persecution a girly boy receives is precisely the same persecution as dished out to the effeminate and presumed to be gay older male, but no-one wants to be seen confirming the persecutors’ prejudices by labelling a kid that age as gay.  Being gay is not really such a good thing yet really.  On the other hand, although there are some exceptions, under present social conditions it is a reasonably fair bet that most girly boys will grow up to be gay men.  (Though not every gay man was a girly boy.)

And this is the tricky territory in commending the performance of the boy who played Scot, because although I do not doubt that he is a very talented actor, it is hard to imagine a boy of that age being able to play such a character if there is not at least a degree of type casting going on.  Think John Megna who played Dill (a fictionalised young Truman Capote) in To Kill a Mockingbird and who died, aged 43, in 1995.

On Thursday we schlepped out in the storms to Randwick for the last night of the festival: 2 Sides of the Bed, billed as a “Special Event.” I had never been inside the Ritz cinema before.  We sat upstairs – if only because we could.

The attendance didn’t seem as large as I would have expected, and then it became obvious why: this was a lesbian film. It looks like it’s the story of the Mardi Gras all over again: the boys provide the numbers on the street and on the seats, but the girls have the numbers in those darned committees. It was a cheerful Spanish comedy, and not too serious. It wasn’t even all that lesbian – two girls who left their boyfriends in favour of each other, but by the end one agreed by the end to return to her boyfriend for half of the time. The film’s motto seemed to be that everyone is bisexual – but what this really meant was the traditional twice the chance for a root or, in this case, a comic plot mutation.

They did have some quite amusing song and dance routines which, I understand, are actually parodies of Spanish pop songs.  I imagine that, if you knew the original songs, these would have been extremely funny.

Overall, I think Queer Screen could have chosen a stronger closer.

Apparently they had planned to have some kind of a party at the cinema but had not managed to organise it properly with the theatre management. We trooped up the street to the Royal Hotel for an impromptu swarming, but the atmosphere was not really right.