Monday, April 30, 2012

Analysing playwrighting - thirsty work

Get yourself some wine and prop yourself up in bed. Or beer and an armchair. Or Gatorade and a rocky outcrop. Whatever makes you feel nice. I have been transmogrified from the latent, non analytical theatre goer that you used to know into a THEATRE ANALYSING MACHINE. All caps.

I used to be full.
How did this happen you ask? Possibly you might ask that, or possibly you were wondering if "latent" was quite the right word to use up there in association with me, either way I'll forge on - time's a wasting and these chocolates aren't going to eat themselves.

What? No, I mean this post isn't going to eat itself.  write itself. Lord, you'd think that I had a Tupperware container of chocolate to my immediate right, distracting me.

Ignore that Tupperware container (that was for me, not you). So theatre and theatre-going, indeed. Let it not be said that I have failed to think about what I am watching in the past, or that I haven't given due diligence to structure and content etc. It's just that, generally speaking, if I liked it I said "That was very good" and if I didn't like it I said "that was shit". Whether those phrases were true or not for anyone else matters not, they were true for me in that moment. So, now, I am learning to be a bit more considerate and attuned in my criticism. I am learning to look at the theatre piece as an exercise in how I can be a better playwright.

Julian Meyrick is mentoring me, he is a very smart, nice man who knows a lot about plays and has read a vast, towering pile of them and has also written them. He is quite well known around these parts. The other night we journeyed off to see Australia Day a piece by Jonathan Biggins who writes a lot of review style comedy in Sydney. It was showing (and still is, if you'd like to go after the following thoughtful and analytical remarks) at The Playhouse - one of the bigger stages in Melbourne. We were seated about four rows from the front in the stalls, there was a very mixed crowd attending. It was opening night and every single person there knew every other single person. It was like a very happy, warm party in which we all faced forward.

Australia Day is a comedy, it is billed as a comedy and by the title alone we can gather that it might be some sort of commentary on the concept of Australia Day or what it means to be Australian. It opens with a short film designed to set the scene in a smallish country town. We meet the local committee for organising Australia Day - The Chair and also the Mayor of the town, a well meaning Liberal voting late 50's male, then his right hand man, Liberal 50's, then a local farmer, National voter 50's and a CWA member - female, National voter 50''s. Into this throw a mid 20's Vietnamese man and a early 40's Green party member woman "from the city" and perhaps you have a rough idea already as to the timbre of joke. Julian urged me time and time again to look past what seems obvious, and most easily laudable, and instead try and look at what the playwright was actually working with. The idea of Australia Day - clearly, politics - certainly, a sort of country vs city energy (and extending from that the haves and the have-nots) and among that tackling morality and the notion of morality. I'm not saying that any if it was handled deftly, just that it was handled.

It was interesting to break the play down like this and in fact made the night more bearable for me. We moved to the back row of the dress circle after the first act and watched it from a new perspective. It was interesting to note that the play immediately feels too small for the space (something that was only hinted at when sitting closer). It would have been better set on a smaller stage - it's naturalism and one setting staging meant that the focus was keenly on the performers. Who, I have to say, for the most part did a good job.

So why is this not a good play? It did not handle it's political humour or agenda gracefully or with subtlety. It did not particularly cast light on Australia Day, beyond the suggestion that we don't really know what it's for (perhaps that's the most interesting the thing the play has to offer). The interpersonal relationships and tensions were resolved too easily and in a pat manner. Any chances for actual interesting conflict to be teased out were continually nipped in the bud. What was left was bland, trying too hard to make pointed statements about Australia, except that we've heard them before and much better expressed elsewhere. At best it could be described as well meaning, at worst buffoon like.

The best part about it was a sign that was filmed at the beginning which read "'Bloody' Good Firework. The placement of the quotations marks was truly delightful.

So am I rapier like? Am I swift like justice, sharp like Parker and sparkling like Tattinger? At the very least  it was a new and interesting way for me to look at theatre. And I can immediately see how it will benefit me as a writer. If only in the sheer mechanics.

For those of you already sick of theatre talk, I will be posting about "Surprise Raspberry and Chocolate cake" on the other blog. So hold onto your socks for that one. The surprise is really *astounding.

*You know it isn't astounding I am just creating suspense.