The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on January 6, 1997 · Page 17
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia · Page 17

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Monday, January 6, 1997
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Page 17
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METROARTS gfrlTED BY REBECCA LANCASHIRE MONDAY 6 JANUARY 1997 THE AGE B S Theatre: Sylvia profilereview Relishing a y JIM SCHEMBRI IN DIRE need of a coffee, a cigarette and a place to sit, Rachel Griffiths crashes up against the wall of the corridor at the Victorian Arts Centre. The previous night was only her second performance as the lead dog in A R. Gurney's hit comedy Sylvia, and she. was up until 4am. She wasn't analysing her performance or picking over the staging; she was playing with her dog Spun-tina, who had been a key research tool. ,..As Sylvia, a stray dog brought home by a disaffected middle-aged New Yorker to his less than welcoming, wife, Griffiths does not clamber about the stage on all fours in a dog suit . barking at people. She is upright for most of the piece and talks to the various humans she comes into contact with in a pretty convincing New York accent. -While Griffiths never chews on a bone, she does do some fairly canine things with great energy, such as jump on furniture, sit on the floor and thrust her face into the crotches of unsuspecting visitors. .Settled into her dressing room wjth coffee, cigarettes and some space to lie back, Griffiths gives a lot of credit to her own dog in preparing for. Sylvia. -"From my point of view, the one thing I have to really play is the kind of innocent unconditional love that a dog has for their owner," she says. "I've got an ex-stray and she's still gpfall the stray complexes. I've had her for almost two years and she adores me, but if I get up to go to the toilet she'll come with me. She's got to follow me all the time as if she's worried: 'Are you leaving me?'. "It's that abandonment complex. Stray dogs ultimately tend to not be .completely controllable. They do want to please you, but they have this history that makes them do things .that you will never really understand and can't really change. For instance, I will never be able to get my dog to stpp barking at waiters." One of the joys of the play is the way Sylvia seems to reflect the various anxieties of the characters who come into contact with her. Sylvia's utterances often sound like part of an internal dialogue the human characters are having as they deal with midlife crises, life choices and troubled marriages. It is this dramatic respect for the psychological level of the play that Griffiths says was missing when she saw Sylvia in New York. : .'"It was very funny in a broad sense, there were lots of laughs," she says. "But you didn't really care about the relationships. I felt it could Convention goes, entertainment flows Theatre HMS Pinafore; Tha Venetian Twins IF BAZ LUHRMANN can transform Shakespeare into a cult figure in a contemporary film, then these two productions that convert stage classics into pantomime-like entertainments are on to a good thing. There's little point in snobbish regret at the conversion from high to low culture; a new generation are connecting their own world .with earlier versions of life and art, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. .':hMS Pinafore is the third Gilbert and Sullivan production from Simon Gallaher, Jon English and company, following their extremely popular Pirates of Penzance and Mikado. The formula is now a very polished one. Tradition has been thrown out the door, plots, characters and music freely altered in the cause of comedy Qr .contemporary comment, the operatic qualities minimised and the yaudevillian ones maximised. ' It takes the kind of swaggering Self-confidence exemplified by Jon English to carry it off. It also helps to beef up the energy levels, mainly through the all-male chorus, who dance their pumps off while belting out song after song. Gilbert and Sullivan had tongues firmly in cheeks when they made their sailors such clean-living exemplars of British loyalty and duty. Gallaher's boys . more than hint at a camp subversion of the ideal, which provides a constant thread of comedy. ; Sir Joseph Porter's lascivious ' greeting Hello Sailor! to the handsome Ralph Rackstraw sets the yBtie, although he is also eagerly anticipating the joys of marriage with the captain's daughter, Josephine. She, naturally, is in love with Ralph, although filled with doubts about his ltflVer class position in society. The original satire of England's absurd class system lends Itself beautifully Mr an egalitarian Australian version that misses no opportunity to send .up the Poms. - One of the things this company Jias succeeded In doing Is creating genuine family shows out of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and the sexual innuendo Is no more than that. What they offer to children is the familiar currency of pop music and 'musical comedies: bright, loud, fun- i ' t teacup wr.xwk. fnuanmittuxiwcMatem . - -rv; -. , From film to fun "I rediscovered the have had more (artist Michael) Leunig in it more poetic breakdown rather than the mad American breakdown. "That's the different thing about this play. The central important thing is not Sylvia so much as the relationship that's in crisis and the man that's in crisis." Sylvia is the first play Griffiths has done in more than two years. She has spent the bulk of that time making . films, largely as a result of the attention her performance in Muriel's Wedding received, which won her an AFI award for best supporting ac ny, good-natured, with easily recognised villains and heroes, and a happy-ending. One of the most enjoyable additions is the employment of the gorgeous singing group The Fabulous Singlettes (here playing Sir Joseph's Cousin, Sister and Aunt), who have only one number of their own, but keep popping up to croon along with many other tunes. There are some fine voices among the principals.i'Gallaher himself gives the humble hero a ringing voice that can be both romantic and heroic. David Gould ,as Captain Corcoran has a luscious baritone that redeems his otherwise j rather wooden part. Helen Donaldson's Josephine sings like a bird, and she and Gallaher make the most of the fact that the young lovers get the benefit of the lyrical tunes. English makes a fine Dick Dead-eye, with many extraneous jokes about the rings under his eyes. Amanda Muggleton's gipsy Buttercup is clearly selling more than ribbons to the sailors, but she does at times seem trapped in a series of stereotyped gestures. You would have to be in a very grumpy mood not to enjoy this right, energetic and amusing Pinafore, which should enjoy the same success as its two predecessors. NICK ENRIGHT and Terence Clarke's 1979 musical comedy The Venetian Twins Is also at the Victorian Arts Centre and aimed at a holiday audience. I rather doubt that there will still be productions of this being mounted a hundred years I 1 , " dog elasticity you develop In theatre and tress. Having mainly done stage work before Muriel, it was high time after two years of solid film work to get back to the boards, she says. "My belief in myself as an actor can get eroded in the film process because of the difficulties of filming and the lack of rehearsal. I've done six films in the last two years and I do find plays fantastic for synthesising and consolidating your skills. "The great thing about a play is that you have four weeks. You basically are biting off more than you can chew on day one, but you have four weeks to get there." hence, although its precursors, Gol-dinl's The Servant of Two Masters and Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors have lasted several centuries. Musical theatre has been the most successful of the performance arts in the past 20 years. Audiences have happily accustomed themselves to spectacles on a grand scale. More modest products such as The Venetian Twins therefore have to offer different gratifications. The original production launched Drew Forsythe's career with a bang, and there he is, next door, playing Sir Joseph Porter. He is a hard act to follow for Paul Blackwell, who plays Zanettp and Tonino, the Venetian twins, the problem is not just one of style, but of time having passed and theatrical expectations having changed. The only way this play could overcome the limitations of its quite ordinary music and predictable plot would be to give it the manic pace and' style of farce that the original production possessed. Some members of this cast achieve it, notably Jon Bode as Lello and, occasionally, Lucia Mastrantone as Rosina and Jenny Vuletic as Beatrice. ar, o r oh film pepapmHMSPinafora.whil. 'frjl. kWL lkW M Mk (HV W sr'Tt Pf ml if Ik II 3 of about controlling the audience. You The creative strain of film began to show on Griffiths after doing four films straight: Cosi, To Have and to Hold, Children of the Revolution and the British film Jude. "After Revolution I could feel it. I did three films back-to-back and I knew less at the end of those three films than I knew when I started. My confidence as an actor when I was doing Jude was very, very low." Because of her intense film schedule, Griffiths began to worry she was losing some of the skills she had honed on stage. Sylvia has been helping sharpen them. Costume and set designers Dean Hills and Justin Kurzel have crossed the psychedelic '70s with 15th-century pantaloons and Australian car-tyre swans with Italian wedding-cake decorations an appropriate set of symbols for the text's amazing range of borrowings. Grand opera is sent up in Beatrice's Mad Scene, while the Italo-Australlan hero(es) define their larrikin credentials in the Jindyworoback song. Gilbert and Sullivan did much the same thing in Pinafore. Unfortunately, The Venetian Twins lacks Sullivan's musical genius, although it does display some wit and Is often good fun. Perhaps ft a role remember what timing is." "I rediscovered the elasticity you develop in theatre and about controlling the audience. You remember what timing is. Timing is very difficult in a movie because it's all chopped around, you're not in control of it, and there are only two people watching you: the actor you are with and the director. Everyone else is watching for aeroplanes or holding booms. "With film I find I get increasingly narrow in my view of the human condition because it is all to do with the realism of cinema. You begin to think, 'Oh, my character would never part of the problem is that it is mostly pastiche, lacking a sharp satirical edge and aiming its shots at dozens of targets, where fewer might have hit home more tellingly. It was only ever intended to be a piece of theatrical fun, and that it still is, but it lacks the sparkle it had 17 years ago. I should temper this negative judgment with the reminder that most of today's audiences would not have seen the original production, and that there is still much to enjoy in Nick Enrlght's play. Blackwell gives his twins an endearing warmth of character, particularly the dim-witted country bumpkin, Zanetto; Gary Down as Pancrazio managed A A e VJ do that'. As soon as you say that I reckon you've got to go off and play a dog!" She breaks for a laugh, then adds, "because we're not that predictable! I think that going into a film after doing Sylvia I'll be so loose and much freer, much less restricted by pop-psychology paradigms of what people do, because even the humans in this play end up on the f ing floor barking!" The Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Sylvia is at the Victorian Arts Centre until 22 February. the difficult balancing act of villainy and varnished charm creditably; Jenny Vuletic as Beatrice and Lucia Mastrantone as Rosina took their roles to the appropriate extremes of caricature; and Jenny Vuletic's voice was equal to the task of her operatic send-ups. It says a great deal about Tlte Venetian Ttvins that it has had a number of successful revivals over the years and I have no doubt that this latest production will also create some loyal and affectionate fans. HMS Pinafore, at the State Theatre, 31 January; The Venetian Twins, at the Playhouse, until 18 January juli s w. , sun i 1 VX I I Review by Canine i comedy a cut above i Theatre THIS play gives a new twist to 1 an old subject by transforming ' the Other Woman into a dog. The result is a warm-hearted" : comedy about a marriage that almost hits the rocks, but finally ,! survives when the wronged wife opts for a menage a trois rather than separation. Her husband's affair with his dog, Sylvia,' E roves too powerful to deny, ' ut he eventually shows his love ; for his wife with his preparedness to sacrifice Sylvia; only " then is he allowed to keep her. Actually, the play is really about the dog, rather than the marriage. In a casting coup, director Roger Hodgman has se-cured the wonderful Rachel Griffiths to play Sylvia, and it is impossible to take your eyes off her whenever she is on stage. Sylvia Is a dog with New York attitude, but she is also every man's dream of besotted love: her devotion to Greg, Kate's husband and Sylvia's owner, is total. Griffiths manages to be hilari-ously dog-like, her canine body language conveyed with restraint yet -total accuracy, but also completely female pro-, vocative, wilful, sensual and al-ways affectionate. Writer A. R. Gurney gives her precisely the " thoughts that besotted dog- ; owners attribute to their love . objects; that is, completely hu-:; man modvations, desires and intentions. . If, in the human characters, '. Gurney is mildly satirising New Yorkers' lifestyles and the deadly seriousness with which they take personal development, in -the character of Sylvia he is giv-., ing form to their alter egos, to an atavistic need for unquestioning love and loyalty. Dog lovers are asked whether affection for their dogs is altruistic . .. concern for a dependent animal, or whether the dog really just fulfils emotional needs of their own. ' Kate is beginning middle age'' facing the challenge of a fresh career after raising her children. . Greg's mid-life crisis takes the well-worn form of an 'affair, but -with a dog a more powerful rival for Kate than another ' woman. Caroline Gillmer handles the role of Kate with skill and sympathy she is, after all, probably the only sane charac- . ter on stage but Sylvia is so v ' totally seductive that a human, who nates her is not going to win any popularity contests. .- Gary Day is Greg, a character I with whom we sympathise slm- " ply because he is such a sucker -for a dog. Greg is as blind as any man in love to the idiot he is making of himself, and Day evokes just the right mixture of feelings for this character. . Kim Gyngell is marvellous in the three roles of fellow dog-owner Tom, for whom Bowser clearly represents a more liberated masculinity than modern-life sanctions; Phyllis, Kate's upwardly mobile friend; and Leslie, the gender-challenged marriage counsellor. In all three roles he conveys intense tunnel-. I vision that suggests all New r Yorkers are slightly mad. -: The sub-text, an under-devel- : oped one in a play that makes -few pretensions to depth, is the idea that dogs keep us in touch with our true, and better, selves. The totally unselfish love of; dogs for their owners elicits a reciprocal affection that also : could be an ideal for human re- lationships. Sylvia is a lightweight play, ', perfectly suited for summer en- tertainment, but it Is the wonderful acting that will recora- - mend it to audiences. It should not be missed by dog-lovers,; who will recognise not only some of their canine friends' ; i most characteristic habits, hi- lariously and endearingly de- ' . plcted by Griffiths, but they might also reflect on their own relationships . with man's best ' friend. , ' - At the Victorian Arts Centre, until 22 February Kevtew by Hat Open and shut Mtosunmar Night's Dream ::':. f ; Opens tomortm , .' IBotmledrndtnt VV 7 ' Hamtet " iVr bVpens zawmay, totanfc Garden ' vottm srnram ' : v ... ? Harriet Iha Spy" S Opena Thursday w - r 3 V" , .;,v The Art 04 Charles La Trotte lmtentMOMtty, MM) SwMb (The lafndM't vj'' r i ThoVlist

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