“The Play's the Thing”

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We went to see the Sydney Theatre Company production of Loot by Joe Orton this week. As always, there is something magical about arriving at the Opera House by ferry on an evening where the setting sun gives Sydney’s major icons an extra burnish. Although before I paint too idyllic a picture of my ferry trip I should point out that true to form, I was running late, literally in this case and rather than stepping graciously up the ferry gangplank had to do a hundred-meter dash, arms circling wildly in a fortunately successful effort to implore the captain to wait. Once I had recovered my breath, and managed to find the rest of the party in the bar for a quick pre-play glass of wine, I was in the mood for what was billed as a dark comedy. I did in fact enjoy the production, but it seemed to move quite slowly, perhaps because in the intervening years since it was first performed in 1965, dramatic humour has become increasingly rapid fire so at times the dialogue and jokes felt a bit laboured. Having said that, I did laugh, quite a lot, and can still remember a couple of lines—always my test of a good book, film, play, or conversation, but I would still rank Loot as “Good Entertainment” rather than “Fabulous”—which of course got me thinking, which theatre productions I would put in my own highly selective, not to say judgmental, “Fabulous” category:

  1. August: Osage County by Steppenwolf Theatre Company who brought it to Sydney last year. The travails of the dysfunctional family had me mesmerized and definitely got my vote as the best thing I saw last year.
  2. Bell Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, one of our houseguests took me to this as a thank you present (fab idea) and I laughed so much I had to go back a second time with all the drama queens and Husband in tow—and they loved it too despite at least two thirds of the drama queens being in an academically induced state where the mere mention of the name Shakespeare is enough to bring them out in the verbal equivalent of prickly heat.
  3. Black Watch by the National Theatre of Scotland, which was on tour in Sydney—visually and emotionally stunning drama focused on the Black Watch regiment in Iraq—any production that warns of risks of explosive bangs and flashes during performance creates a certain frisson of excitement in the audience, and the language didn’t pull any punches, but it was such a creative and compelling performance that we were completely mesmerized.
  4. The Producers—in Manhattan with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in a six-week revival of their roles—I can quite safely say I have never laughed so much. Even though it was a Sunday matinee, a performance time that I’ve always viewed as the graveyard shift, the level of hilarity was such that the Broderick and Lane succumbed to hysteria themselves and had to leave the stage to compose themselves
  5. Shadowlands, the initial stage version with Nigel Hawthorne as C.S. Lewis that Husband and I went to in London as a pre-marriage Valentine’s Day treat, but were reduced to emotionally wrung out sobbing (in my case) wet rags.

Five “Fabulous” out of the last twenty years of intermittent play going is probably more a reflection of how truly intermittent it has been in the past rather than the state of modern drama; and if I were Meatloaf, I’m sure I could conjure up a song along the lines of “Five out of twenty ain’t bad” and I am more than happy to sit through numerous “Good Entertainment” category plays in the hope of hitting another “Fabulous.”

In fact, I am feeling very bitter that I have of course left it too late to get tickets to one of the eleven performances in Sydney of Richard the Third directed by Sam Mendes, with Kevin Spacey in the lead role, that judging by the reviews in London looks as if it might be a strong contender to join the “Fabulous Five.”


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