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Despite many attempts on its life over thousands of years, the performing arts have survived.
When television started it was thought that would be their end as people stayed home to get their entertainment there. But nothing is as good as when the lights go down and the audience is transported into whatever world the author of the play provides.
During the COVID lockdown I watched great shows from theatres around the world on streaming services and they were very good but theatres have their own magic as the physical space in front of us takes us on a journey.
Some places still use the same methods that have worked for centuries but the large theatre companies use modern technology. Big shows such as Phantom of The Opera and Miss Saigon have had physical effects that have audiences in awe as chandeliers swing from the back of the theatre and helicopters take off from the stage.
We were one of the countries that were able to get theatres up and running early during the pandemic, albeit with largely reduced audience sizes, with mask wearing mandatory and the rules of social distancing closely observed.
Because I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, I have to be very careful not to catch COVID-19 so I decided not to travel to Sydney at those times and gave my tickets to a dear friend. They were very excited and pleased to see Anita Hegh in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and reported on how excellent it was. Belvoir was so pleased when the show booked out that it has put on a return season and, thus, I will get to see it soon.
Having seen Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree, which started life at the Griffin and later had a season at the Sydney Theatre Company, I was looking forward to Hugo Weaving and Wayne Blair in his new play Wonnangatta.
My friend reported that it was very atmospheric with beautiful language and superb performances and it overcame the size of the Sydney Theatre. My feelings about The Bleeding Tree were exactly the same. Belvoir’s production of Miles Franklin’s My Beautiful Career elicited a similar response with high praise for the performance of Nikki Shiels as Sybylla.
But then as things seemed to settle down, I ventured out, down to Sydney (in a mask), to see my first productions. While I was overcome simply because I was sitting in the theatres with others with that wonderful expectation you feel while waiting for the show to start, I was somewhat disappointed with the shows.
The Sydney Theatre Company did Rules for Living ,which sounded great on paper. A family gathers for Christmas and as they get together each member has rules as to what has/will happen. What sounded funny, wasn’t. Actually, I have seen school productions that were much better. Then Belvoir did another family gathering play, Cursed!, Kodie Bedford’s first play. This was about a mixed-race family gathering with Sacha Horler giving a very big performance that threw the play off kilter.
All was forgiven when I came down to see Kip Williams adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray starring Eryn Jean Norvill. She plays every role and the production is extraordinary.
This was a masterclass on production with the play being filmed in real time onto seven screens, which sometimes all flew across the stage.
Her performance was one of the best I have seen and the show was nothing short of brilliant. I have no doubt it will be picked up elsewhere, possibly in the US and London when they eventually open up.
Sydney Dance Company continued its brilliance with its latest work, Impermanence, choreographed by artistic director Rafael Bonachela and with live music written by Bryce Dessner played live onstage by the Australian String Quartet. I was overwhelmed with the production by this company, which I have followed since its beginning.
Sitting in a theatre wearing a mask is a strange feeling but is a small price to pay for the joy of watching the works of our artists. The theatres are being very careful to be COVID safe. The numbers in the audiences are increasing and if we ever achieve our herd immunity, we might be able to remove the masks. Harry Potter has reopened in Melbourne and Hamilton is about to open here. Please support our performers who have been treated very badly by our politicians.
Frank Barnes is retired and happy to be back and really looking forward to Playing Beattie Bow
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