The Brag

Fresh Film & Theatre Reviews

In Arts, Blog, Brag 323 (August 3), Film Reviews, Theatre Reviews on August 3, 2009 at 4:48 am

We review: Saturn’s Return [STC] + Dealing With Clair [Griffin Theatre Company] + Tyson [Hopscotch] + Beautiful Kate [Roadshow]

Matt Zeremes, Toby Moore and Leeanna Walsman in Saturn's Return

Matt Zeremes, Toby Moore and Leeanna Walsman in Saturn's Return

Sydney Theatre Company
Saturn’s Return
Reviewed August 29, 2009

Written in his 29th year, Saturn’s Return is Tommy Murphy’s meditation on that tumultuous time of change that takes place in your late twenties – except that it is neither meditative nor especially tumultuous. Instead it is an extremely funny and surreal portrait of a couple in crisis.

At the outset, Zara (Leeanna Walsman) and Matt (Toby Moore) are confronted with the prospect of baby-making sex, as they clean up after a nephew’s visit. Matt has made an extremely detailed spaceship out of cardboard, but Zara has other things on her mind – like threesomes. She tries to engage Matt in her fantasy, but his idea of spontaneous has become a romantic weekend in the Blue Mountains, booked a week in advance.

When Matt tells Zara he loves her, and she hesitates in answering, this “question mark” proliferates into many uncertainties, and by the end of the play Zara’s tenuous hold on “reality” is manifest in the transformation of their flat into a space ship, besieged by a “nasty skull-clanging alien.”

Murphy has a great ear for everyday dialogue, and an eye for the details of everyday experience and relationships that ring true: the jealousies between lovers, insecurities about career, parenthood, owning your first home. Murphy also joyfully embraces the bizarre – a fantasy in which Zara appears to role-play a Dutch prostitute, repeatedly calling Matt “sexy-bum”; a scene in which she has apparently kidnapped a baby from a junkie, and presents it to a visiting ex-boyfriend as her own child, with Matt playing along in dumb amazement and confusion.

Saturn’s Return was originally performed as part of Sydney Theatre Company’s 2008 Wharf2LOUD program. Since then, it has been workshopped at the National Theatre Studio in London, and the script has undergone rigorous revisions.

Curiously, some scenes still feel too long – the extended hotel-room scene where Matt and Zara appear to be role-playing his (failed) fantasy of being with a prostitute; the end scene where the couple are pinned to the lounge room surfaces by “gravity”, their fantasy threesome transformed into a parenting nightmare. Both scenes are hilarious, but start to sag before they end, leaving you wondering if they are sustained by necessity or just indulgence.

Nevertheless, there is enough humour and pertinence and plain fun to sustain Saturn’s Return – and Leanna Walsman and Matt Zeremes are particularly fun to watch.

Saturn’s Return is a sharp satire on Generation Y, on relationships, on modern life – but without the emotional impact I expected from a play about this thorny time of life.

Dee Jefferson

”]Laura Brent in Dealing with Clair [Photo by Alina Gozin'a]
SBW Stables Theatre
Dealing With Clair
Reviewed July 30, 2009

The Clair of the title (Laura Brent) is a real estate agent who is handling the sale of a property belonging to a well-heeled young couple, Mike (Ed Wightman) and Liz (Sarah Becker). The couple express their desire to “behave honourably” with the sale, and accept an offer of the stipulated sale price from a couple in Queensland; however, when a mysterious buyer, James (Boris Brkic) offers to pay cash for the house, Mike, Liz and Clair cant resist the temptation to exploit the situation. By the end of the play any sense of honour has well and truly flown out the window.

Dealing With Clair is just as pertinent in the current economic climate as it was twenty years ago, when Martin Crimp wrote it. Director Cristabel Sved has taken advantage of this by working with Crimp to update details like the locations and the housing prices, so that they make sense for a Sydney audience.

On the one hand, Crimp’s play is a biting satire on our culture of economic greed. Noxious yuppies Mike and Liz prattle on about housing prices, interrupted only by the inconvenient wailing of their 6-month-old baby, who remains out of sight and largely out of mind, and interruptions from their underclothed and underpaid Italian nanny. Becker and Wightman play out a bleak version of marriage, laced with spite and resentment. She caricatures the uptight, emotionally frigid suburban mother, and he a sort of vapid, well-intentioned weakling –probably in some sort of midlife crisis.

On another level, Crimp’s play is almost a thriller. As the play progresses, there is an increasing sense that something much worse is going on underneath the surface of real estate negotiations: who is dealing with who, and how? Crimp’s script lays down the clues right from the opening monologue, with sinister double entendres. Nothing is ever explicit, however, and the audience is left to draw their own conclusions.

The cast have their work cut out for them, articulating Crimp’s precise dialogue while acting out the emotions that lie just below it – and they all rise to the challenge, although Josh McConville, who recently appeared in The Call, seems to have the most fun – and is the most enjoyable to watch – in his two small roles. More bleak than it is funny, this is a challenging night of theatre, but worth the effort.

Dee Jefferson

Mike Tyson in James Toback's Tyson.

Mike Tyson in James Toback's Tyson.

Opens August 6

Many people will reject a documentary on Mike Tyson based purely on the fact that they don’t like him. Most people closed the book on the boxer after his rape conviction in 1992. On the other hand, a film by indie wildchild James Toback, director of Fingers (1978) and passionate films like Exposed and Big Bang – let alone one that was selected for Cannes Un Certain Regard in 2008 – is worth a look.

Furthermore, The Wrestler has shown us that the indignities suffered by washed up fighters make powerful screen fodder. And yet this is not an exploitative film. Toback has a long-standing relationship with Tyson, and the boxer’s startling vulnerability during the interviews indicates a high level of trust between him and the interviewer out of frame.

The film consists of footage from Tyson’s memorable fights, interspersed with him talking about his career. It amounts to a fascinating character portrait of a complicated, conflicted and extreme personality.

Born in Brooklyn in 1966, Tyson was a large child who was teased constantly by his classmates. He talks about not being able to understand why a stranger would steal his glasses. But the first, fortuitous, time he beat an older child in a fight, he realised that things could be different.

At twelve he was large for his age, and a petty thief – if you can call ripping of dealers and carrying $1500 cash in your pocket “petty”. This teen liked pretty clothes, cars and girls – and money. Repeatedly institutionalised for crime, Tyson was eventually taken under the wing of a boxing instructor at a New York State correctional facility– who passed him on to Cus D’Amato, who had coached Floyd Patterson to the heavyweight title.

This father-son relationship with Cus sustained Tyson towards his professional boxing debut in 1985 – and the WBC Heavyweight title the following year at just 20 yrs old – the youngest champion ever. D’Amato’s death in 1986 is the beginning of Tyson’s downward spiral, as his immature, volatile personality collided with fame, fortune and the fast life.

Toback gives us a fascinating portrait of one of boxing’s most vicious, animalistic champions. The unexpected please is Tyson’s thrilling way with words. You can laugh at his poetry, but there is no denying the electricity of his descriptions of his fight style (“hitting with bad intentions and the speed of the devil”) and ex-friends like Don King – a “wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker.”

Tyson is by no means perfect. He claims he never committed rape – and the fact is, we will never know. He describes his accuser as “a wretched swine of a woman.” But the boxer’s imperfections, contradictions and emotional vulnerability – even self-awareness – make this a fascinating story.

Dee Jefferson

Sophie Lowe in Beautiful Kate.

Sophie Lowe in Beautiful Kate.

Beautiful Kate
Released August 6, 2009

In her adaptation of Newton Thornburg’s novel, director Rachel Ward’s great achievement is tackling a touchy subject with sensitivity and without prejudice. By refusing to impose morality on her characters or her audience, she creates a poignant story of a fragmented family in outback Australia.

Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) returns with his girlfriend to his family home to see his dying father, Bruce (Bryan Brown) at the behest of his younger sister, Sally (Rachel Griffiths). Ned is a writer, and hence must be a bitter and complicated soul, though his resentment of his father and family stems more from a pivotal event from his adolescence: his other sister, the beautiful Kate of the title played by Sophie Lowe, died tragically.

The events that lead up to the pivotal moment are told in flashback as Ned struggles to repair his relationship with his father – each blaming the other for what happened. Though Griffiths feels oddly ill at ease, Mendelsohn is the standout in an otherwise uniformly fine cast. His simultaneously blunt but well-intentioned Ned helps make this potentially difficult material engrossing and engaging.

The Flinders Ranges are outstandingly photographed by cinematographer Andrew Commis, the remote setting effectively reflecting the characters’ desolation. The flashbacks are shot in a more haphazard improvisational style, making them distinct but no less effective.

What’s unsettling or perhaps surprising is that the love story that emerges is equal parts unsettling and seductive, and completely understandable given their limited exposure to the outside world and infusion of adolescent hormones. It’s this story of sexual awakening that is the most profound and provocative. In comparison, the more traditional reconciliation between father and son feels more routine, but no less organic or inevitable.

Joshua Blackman


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