THEATRE

Frank Barnes

It’s that time of the year when the theatre and dance companies announce their shows for the next year. I have subscribed to the Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir and the Sydney Dance Company since each of them started. I also see many other shows and probably most at the Hayes Theatre. As I don’t live in Sydney, I need to organise myself a year in advance. I generally try to fit two, and occasionally three shows into a weekend visit. I mainly attend matinees as I get way too tired to get to late evening shows. By booking subscriptions I save heaps.

The Sydney Theatre Company will have its first year under the artistic leadership of Kip Williams. The highlight will be the staging of The Harp in the South with Ruth Park’s novel adapted for the stage in two parts by Kate Mulvany. For this I will break my “only matinees” rule as I want to see the two parts in the one day. Other highlights will be Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Children by Lucy Kirkwood, Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Patrick White’s A Cheery Soul. The year will end with The Wharf Review which will begin a new era as Phil Scott will not be returning.

Belvoir, which is definitely having a renaissance since Eamon Flack took over the artistic helm, continues its commitment to diversity with My name is Jimi, Single Asian Female and Sami in Paradise, classics with An Enemy of The People and The Dance of Death and possibly Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey. Add to this the wonderfully madcap Hayes success from this year Calamity Jane and you have a year that is looking good. I love Belvoir and have sort of followed it from its origins at The Stables when it was Nimrod. It has always been brave and presented challenging shows. It is interesting to note the difference between the audiences here and the other companies.

The Sydney Dance Company has gone from strength to strength since Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon left and Rafael Bonachela came in on short notice following the sudden death of the original choice. Each year the company presents two shows and performances choreographed by members of the company called New Breeds. I am still breathless after seeing their show 2 One Another; 65 minutes of the most beautiful, thrilling, athletic and exciting dancing. It is a show that moves from groups of differing numbers to solos and duets and quartets all to a score composed by Nick Wales which covers new classical, Renaissance, and electronic soundscapes (at one point I thought I was back watching Arrival and Blade Runner 2049). There are moments of loneliness and frenetic orchestral works. The company, which now travels the world, is at its peak. They work brilliantly together and their dancing is close to perfect. They finished the work with “Vote YES!” lit on the LED light backdrop, which was the only scenery used in this astounding production.

The Hayes Theatre starts the year with Darlinghurst Nights, which is based on the book by Kenneth Slessor. They are also presenting American Psycho, In The Heights, which was the small hit from Lin-Manuel Miranda, before Hamilton, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love and Blazey Best in Gypsy. Since its first production Sweet Charity, the Hayes has delivered hit after hit and looks to continue that record next year. Now it has a reputation, it attracts people to work there. I saw Assassins there last week and this was a show that had a perfect production in every aspect.

Assassins

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman

Directed by Dean Bryant

Musical Directors Andrew Worboys and Steven Kreamer

Designed by Alicia Clements

Hayes Theatre Company

The timing of this early show by Sondheim is scarily perfect. It was originally performed in 1990 and has rarely been a success until recently. While I have known the songs I have only had the opportunity to see one other production before this extraordinary production. Extraordinary because the cast is perfect, the music is perfect, the set is perfect, as is the lighting.

What’s more, the sound people have found how to balance the music and singing in this small space. With the advent of Trump and the recent killings in Las Vegas, the show is more relevant than ever. It has of course always been relevant, as the show begins with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and finishes with that of JFK.

We are welcomed to a carnival by the proprietor of the shooting gallery who uses the trope, “In America, the land of the free, anyone can be President”, and hands each person, as they arrive, a gun and the suggestion their lives would be fulfilled by “killing the President”.

“Everybody’s got the right to be different, even though at times they go to extremes. Aim for what you want a lot, everybody gets a shot. Everybody’s got the right to their dreams.”

After introducing each of the assassins, or would be assassins, we meet John Wilkes Booth, who is an actor and a redneck who hates Lincoln and uses the opportunity to kill him while he is at the theatre. We then move through a series of revue style vignettes as a series of attempts on various Presidents. We meet David Herold, who was Booth’s accomplice, Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President James Garfield, Leon Czolgosz, who accounted for William McKinley, and Emma Goldman, an anarchist friend of Czolgosz. Then there is Giuseppe Zangara, who made an attempt on FDR, Samuel Byck, who completely stuffed his attempt on Nixon, John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate Reagan because of his absolute infatuation with Jodie Foster, Sara Jane Moore, who practiced on KFC containers (stark raving mad), and Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme, who claims to be Charles Manson’s girlfriend and attempt to kill Gerald Ford.

“It takes a lot of men to make a gun ... hundreds. Many men to make a gun ... one gun ... and all you have to do is move your little finger, move your little finger, and you can change the world”, which is one of the excellently performed songs done as a trio and quartet.

All this leading to the introduction of Lee Harvey Oswald, with the rest of the cast of killers and would-be killers encouraging him to his place in history by killing Kennedy. I think this is where the show should have finished. There is a beautiful song Something Just Broke.

“I was out in the yard, taking down the bed sheets, when a neighbour yelled across ‘The President’s been shot’. Something just broke.” I remember where I was when we heard that news.

This is brilliant but flawed theatre and I can say there would not be a better production. This is one of the best companies delivering a difficult show. It is not easy sitting there being told this knowing that it is highly likely it will happen again. This is America where the constitution says: “Everybody’s got the right to happiness. Everybody’s got the right to be free.”

I love Sondheim, his music is difficult and deceptive and he does not do light frothy shows. It was interesting listening to this score again and hearing the things I have learnt from his autobiographies and hearing styles and riffs used in Into The Woods and other shows.

The show is challenging as it does not offer any good reasons for the actions taken by these assassins. It poses that it could all be about fame or infamy, the search for power or simply the right to be able to do whatever you want, and if anyone disagrees then the right exists.

I think this is particularly relevant here as this immoral postal survey on same-sex marriage continues. I have been an activist for LGBTIQ rights for well over 50 years and have endured some horrible abuse, both physical and emotional. But during this past month, I have seen some of the worst hatred being exposed. I am glad we live here where the right to carry firearms is considered strange, not a right.

I also cannot let the opportunity go by without passing on congratulations to New Theatre, which is celebrating its 85th year. I am a proud Life Member of the New with which Federation has had a long relationship. There was a time when it was the only place you could find theatre about social issues and the only theatre doing Australian plays. Eighty-five and still going strong. Happy Birthday, New Theatre.

Frank Barnes is retired and also recommends getting to any theatre for enjoyment and of course discussion