A Number

Starring Marcus Graham (Yum, according to Jaq) and Frank Gallacher The final showing of A Number, by British playwright Caryl Churchill was at the Space Theatre last night. Without going into detail about how we went and saw it because Jaq is a big Marcus Graham fan (I’ve never even seen E-Street, but I loved Good Guys, Bad Guys), I’ll say that I enjoyed it. To begin with, we were right down the front, only metres away from the actors, and in the first scene, where they appeared on-stage quickly, made us feel like part of the action.

A number. I’m not sure how many. Several. Maybe 10. Maybe more.

Okay, the gist of the plot is that Marcus has just discovered that he is not unique, that several clones were made ‘of him’ when he was born. Or so we are led to believe. His father, Frank, is keen to call in lawyers and sue the doctor, and towards the end of the first scene it is revealed that Marcus isn’t in fact the original, but was a clone made of a previous son, who died in a car crash with his (their?) mother when he was four. Marcus expresses some desire to meet one or more of the other clones.

“Did you give me the same name as him?” “Would it make it worse if I did?”

But, Frank is still not telling the whole truth. The original Marcus appears in the next scene, and we begin to discover that the older Marcus was sent away, seemingly because he was a bad child. Eventually, we learn that Frank was not a good father of the first Marcus, and he stopped drinking, and made a much better go of the new Marcus. Naturally, the first son is concerned about the new son, and he expresses a desire to kill the child of the clone, if he has one. We discover during this scene that the mother killed herself when the first son was about two.

She threw herself under a train. You know when they say ‘Someone’s gone under a train, and the trains will be delayed’? She was one of those people.

I originally thought to myself “Why did they use the English accents?” When the second scene began, I thought (briefly) that Marcus had let his accent change, but it soon became apparent that this was the best way to delineate between the clones. It brought home to me the sameness of different Australian accents between even geographically disparate regions of our country, like Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. The third scene returns us to the younger Marcus, who has just met his older clone. And he is afraid of him. It turns out that he had good cause, because between the third and fourth scenes, the older clone murders the younger. The fourth scene is the older Marcus telling his father about the death of his son.

Are you going to become one of those … serial killers? Go around, killing the others one by one?

The final scene is the father meeting with another of the clones. At some point we learned there were 21 in total, including the first. It now seems that the first clone killed himself shortly after the conflict with his father, and the father has decided to meet one of the clones. This scene contains several clever lines, but I felt that Marcus played up to the audience a little too much. Again the accent of the character was different (this clone was a Maths Teacher, and very proper), and again the temperament of the character differed too. The father wanted to know more about his ‘other’ son, and never really seemed to be satisfied with any answers.

We share 99% of our genes with each other, 90% with chimpanzees, and 40% with a lettuce.

The play ended suddenly, leaving me with (besides an urge to tell everyone within hearing that we actually share closer to 99.5% of our genes with chimpanzees!) a desire to see more. The resolution just wasn’t there. Perhaps another short scene, where the father meets the next clone, implying he is going to meet all of them. Regardless, A Number was extremely enjoyable - if it plays near you, see it. (The quotes are just from memory - and may be slightly wrong.)

Review: Self-saucing Tripod.

For the uninitiated, Tripod are an Australian 3-piece band who compose and perform ‘comedy’ songs. Probably their biggest claim to fame is the Tripod Song In An Hour segment they used to do on Breakfast with Adam & Wil on Triple J. The hosts used to come up with a series of (unrelated) topics that the boys from Tripod then had to make a song about in one hour, and perform it at the end. The always managed to pull through and usually the songs were quite amusing. Jaq and I received some free tickets to see their live act Self Saucing Tripod, part of the Adelaide Cabaret _(Cabarette) _Festival., and went and saw them on their last performance, last Thursday night. Our seats were either excellent or woeful, we thought as we went into the Dunstan Playhouse: right up the front on Table 4. We managed to get there early, were first into the place, just to make sure we had the seats facing the stage, not with out backs to it. Lucky we did so, as the people in second place were the others on our table… Being right up the front was actually great! You could see the boys in great detail, and we didn’t get picked on at all. The only qualm I would say I had was that it wasn’t really possible to see more than one of the trio at a time - we were so close we needed to turn our heads (slightly) to see the others. Apparently Tripod have quite a following - lots of the girls audience were wearing t-shirts, and I’m sure they sold a lot more in the foyer afterwards.

We like your aura.  We hope you’ll see us outside afterwards and by a T-Shirt.   Or a CD.    Or a T-Shirt and a CD.     Or a…

Having only heard them on the radio (and only a few times, to be honest. I listen to Classic FM, not the Youth Network…), and seen one song on Video Hits - which they played incidentally - I sort-of knew what to expect, but I didn’t realise just how talented they were. Ignoring the fact they are comedians, they are fine musicians. Three part harmony, better ‘beat-box’ than Joel Turner and the Modern Day Poets, a talented guitar player (and another one who is alright…), and a trumpeter. Many of their songs start with lovely guitar playing, layered vocal harmonies, and kicker jokes. Which brings me to the biggest beef I had. I understand that many of the songs are designed to be interrupted, but it seemed to me that they only had two songs of any reasonable length. I wonder if writing biting social and political satire into songs is just so damn hard that they cannot do it for more than a couple of measures at a time. Do they run out of material, or is it a conscious decision to fit more songs into the show? Don’t get me wrong, I was not unhappy at all as I left the theatre, but it left me wondering: what would real songs from them sound like? They made a joke that the only reason they were still around today was:

Scod: Because of a rich aunt. Who used to pump money into the act, and asked for nothing in return. Yon: Except that I had to go around there every weekend and smear vegemite on her … Scod & Gatesy: Aaargh! Yon: …toast. Yon: And then I fucked her.

I wonder if that was true. Not necessarily about fucking the aunt, but if they would have made it as a real _band. Their two songs that went on for a longer time were both pure genius. One of them you may have heard: Make You Happy (The Xbox Song) is a sweet, balladic song about a guy and how much he loves his girl, and he’ll come to bed as soon as he finishes the next level. I think lots of people know how both characters in this song feel. The other one was, I thought, even better. The Hotdog Man is a happy (Frente-like?) song about aHotdog man, and how he loves his job, his customers and his family, but leads onto his darker side. I’ll not go into any more detail, like many comedy songs, listening to it the first time is the best. Which leads me onto another thing. Hearing many of these songs the first time is great, but they tend to have a short shelf-life. I can still listen to older music, over and over again. I don’t know that I’ll ever tire of Beethoven’s _Moonlight Sonata, or Paul Kelly’s From St. Kilda To Kings Cross, but shorter comedic works are a bit less lasting. (Pardon the pun). It will be interesting to see where Tripod are in ten years, and if anyone listens to their music. Regards, f you get the chance, run, don’t walk to see them. As comedic bands go, they are without peer. Except for maybe Kevin Bloody Wilson.

Livien - Journal of Jennifer Sando » Fearing August

Livien - Journal of Jennifer Sando » Fearing August

This weekend, I am going to see La Boheme. I haven’t been to see an opera in more than 5 years now - the last time was when I lived in Brisbane and it was La Traviata. I went with my family and we were all dressed up ‘to the nines’. (Geez, I hate using over-done phrases like the one you just read - but my friend said it to me earlier and now it’s just stuck there). I remember being stunned that the Queenslanders tended to see it more as a casual occasion.

I recall the first time I went to Queensland on a holiday being surprised at the patrons in the Casino not wearing ‘nice’ clothes. That is, they were in shorts, tee-shirts and thongs. This was in the Gold Coast though…

Review: Bombshells.

Caroline O’Connor is magnificent in Bombshells, playing at the Adelaide Festival Centre this week. It helps that she has been given a fairly solid play to work with, but her brilliance at bringing the various characters to life is stunning.

The play is a series of apparently seperate stories, but in reality they are all linked, in some way, and we see shades of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon in finding the links between them.

The story starts with Meryl Davenport, a busy mother - a bad mother, perhaps, who is more worried about what other people will think of her than anything else. Her day is full, and she never gets time to do everything she needs to do.

Jaq assures me that this is what life is like.

This first act is frenetic, and seemed to me like it went on forever. It was my least favourite part of the play, but it was still alright. We see a fleeting glimpse of a neighbour, who grows cactii. And who’s husband has just left her…

…and she is the star of the second act. Tiggy Entwhistle: a disgruntled wife who has found solace in her succulents, and wishes her husband loved her half as much as the cactii do.

The contrast between these two characters is strong. The busy, yuppie mum who doesn’t have time to have a coffee, to the brooding, emotional cactus-lover. Who even looks like a cactus with her furry green outfit. We learn a lot more about this character than the shallow yuppie mother. We learn how her husband has been flirting it up with a floozy. And we taste the bitterness as she finds out about it, via the ‘door-opening’ episode as a Mary O’Donnell was putting up posters for the talent show…

…who we get to know very well in the next act. This character is a bouncy, vibrant (primary school?) girl, who is about to perform in said talent show. We are treated to a lovely performance of Shaugnessy the Cat as Mary prepares her entry. Again, we learn about this character, and her arch-nemesis, who has ‘huge boobs’, and is performing just before her. Of course, said rival does the same song, and our new hero has to find a new song to perform on the spot. Nothing beats Shaft, especially as the cat’s tail becomes a long, black penis. Fun stuff indeed.

We didn’t get out of the seats during the interval. Already we were discussing the play, although I don’t think I had cottoned onto the fact all of the characters were related, as yet. That was all to change in the fourth act, as the bride preparing for her wedding was none other than the sister of the arch-rival from the previous act, Theresa McTerry.

A bride who is more interested in wearing the dress - apparently it’s all about wearing the dress - than marrying the man she is. As it turns out, she prefers the best man, and has shagged him in the past. If only he weren’t so tall…

I missed the connection to the next character, but this one was my favourite. A widow, all she does is hang around with “the widows”. O’Connors characterisation is truly magnificent, and you really believe it is a sixty-something woman up on stage. The sadness, the depth of feeling, and the excitement as something interesting finally happens to Winsome Webster, other than just going out with “the widows”…

…who happened to go to a show at “Star City” and see a washed-up American singer Zoë Struthers making a comeback. O’Connor slides easily into this character, and we again get a glimpse at another life, as she staggers about on stage - a ‘reformed’ alcoholic who can’t get her legs to do what she wants. Still talented as a singer, and even moving down into the audience, where a conveniently empty chair is the prop for a spectacular fall.

The finale was excellent.

As I say, I only missed the one connection. Meryl → (neighbour of) Tiggy → (husband seen by) Mary → (hates sister of) Theresa → (?) Winsome →(went to see) Zoë.

If anyone knows what it is, I’d love to know. None of the reviews I’ve found on the internet seem to have any mention of the connections. They were to me a key part of the cleverness of the play.

So, was there anything I didn’t like about Bombshells? I loved the connection between the characters, but I disliked the need to pretend it was all happening in Adelaide. From the half-dozen mentions of Golden Grove by Tiggy, to the Star City reference by Winsome, each of them implied - or in some cases stated outright - that these events were happening in the local town. With Zoë, part of the mention of Adelaide was a joke (“Nice to be here in… [looks at hand] …Adelaide again.”) But there were a couple of flaws.

Winsome went to read for a blind man, who lived in the inner city suburbs near the University. To put it blunty, there’s nowhere in Adelaide like that. The closest thing would be North Adelaide. But you wouldn’t call North Adelaide the inner city suburbs, you’d just call it North Adelaide. The parklands mean there’s no other suburbs really near the university. Maybe I’m just being pedantic, but I would rather they just didn’t mention any place names, and don’t try hard to make the audience feel warm and fuzzy that all of this stuff is going on in their home town.

Review: Influence.

John Williamson’s “masterful final act” (according to The Australian, but I didn’t know he’d stopped writing plays) Influence is currently playing at the Dunstan Theatre in Adelaide. Since we haven’t been to see anything since A Number, and Jaq won a raffle with a season ticket, we went to see it on Saturday night. John Waters is “Ziggi Blasco”, a conservative, hate-mongering talk radio host, along the lines of John Laws, Alan Jones and their ilk. His wife was a former ballet dancer - she was never really top of the heap but once performed the lead role of a production in London, but only because the two top dancers were both injured. Anyway, she is the most vile, vapid creature who is unable to believe that a) she isn’t going to make it big again, and b) other people have challenges in their lives that are much harder to live with. Things begin to get worse when Ziggi’s daughter from his first marriage, and his father, move into the Blasco mansion on the same day. Both have their own issues, which deepen as the story unfolds. This time of upheaval is made worse by the fact that Mrs. Blasco doesn’t seem to be able to find a good housekeeper (or, at least, one that will stick around), and hires a member of the “working poor”, a Turkish single mother of three, who has to travel hours every morning and night to and from work. The other characters are Ziggi’s sister Connie, a very left leaning psychologist, and Tony, the Blasco’s driver/butler/gardener. Most of the characters were believable, if somewhat stereotyped. I found John Waters a little hard to understand when he was “on air”, as his speech was somewhat unlike that of the “golden tonsils”, or most talk radio hosts whom he was based upon. But he was a perfect copy of Laws’ style of radio, with even the obligatory “Now just wait a minute, I was having lunch with some of my friends who are pharmaceutical company executives the other day, and they are really nice fellas.” Zöe Carides was magnificent as Zehra, the housekeeper who doesn’t seem to be able to say the right thing, ever. “Better not to be that good looking. More time to spend on doing schoolwork.” Not quite what you want to say to a (clearly) jumpy Year 12 student, who has just complained about always being called a dog by the boys on the train. Zehra, and Ziggi’s father (I’m not sure that we ever heard his name) nearly brought me to tears as they showed the depth of character that made them real. My only hassle with Influence was the cheap laughs. Williamson took the easy track in a lot of situations - he didn’t have to work hard at all to get laughter from the audience. Which really annoyed me, because at other times, he clearly had put the effort into making stuff genuinely funny. Or, at least I, and a couple of others in the audience, thought so. By all means, if you get the chance, go and see Influence. Laugh if you must, but don’t let that stop you taking away the message I did: Australia is in trouble now. I’m not sure how we stop the slide to right-wing nationalism, (aptly hilighted by Blasco senior’s dilemma) but I hope we can.

How actors remember their lines

Boing Boing: How actors remember their lines This is quite an interesting one:

According to the researchers, the secret of actors’ memories is, well, acting. An actor acquires lines readily by focusing not on the words of the script, but on those words’ meaning – the moment-to-moment motivations of the character saying them – as well as on the physical and emotional dimensions of their performance.

I think this is important because I know when memorising song words, I do exactly the same thing. How do I know this? I often sing the wrong words, that have the same or a similar meaning. For instance, well I can’t think of anything right now, but I do it all of the time.