Monday, October 24, 2011

'The play's the thing'

We went to see the Sydney Theatre Company production of Loot by Joe Orton this week. As ever 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 100m 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 Opera 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 judgemental, ‘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 mesmerised 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 riveted.
4. ‘The Producers’ – in Manhattan with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in a 6 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 as well and had to leave the stage to compose themselves
5. ‘Shadowlands,’ the intitial 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 20 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 20 years 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 11 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’

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shaggy dog with lame paw to rival Richie McCaw

Dog inspired by joy following our return from Northern Territory and his liberation from kennels, promptly put its foot in a rabbit hole and instantaneously turned itself into a three legged cripple. Good news was that Drama Queen no.2 misheard vet when he estimated the cost of operation and she went pale in the certain knowledge her parents would not be paying out tens of thousands of dollars to get the dog back on four feet. Bad news was that the correct figure was still enough to make me suck in breath with an audible hiss that had the dog jumping about on its remaining back leg. Good news again, is that dog is insured which is fortunate given his predilection this year for bizarre accidents – anaphylactic reaction to bee sting and expensive operations - anterior cruciate ligament (for the technically minded) this time round.

Dog has been knocked sideways by the operation– almost literally if you take the hopping motion into consideration. Owing to a frenetic desire to get his tongue round the stitches he is now sporting a giant sized cone on his head and to add insult to injury as three legged dog he can’t work out how to cock his leg for a pee - every bit of male dignity is affronted.

Whilst on the topic of invalids in household, the builder is back at work after an injury related 6 weeks off – not that he actually lives with us though I am beginning to think maybe mandatory detention until the job is finished may be the answer. I had a friend from our time in the US who summoned a bat man (I’m sure there is a technical term for this type of person) to deal with a bat that she spotted flying down a corridor in her house. In that obliging way of tradesmen he said he couldn’t find any bat so he would be off now, thanks very much, whereupon being a woman of spirit she reputedly announced he wasn’t leaving until he caught it and she would make up a bed for him in case he had to stay the night. If I remember right she was marching him upstairs, presumably towards the spare bedroom, when the bat sensing its moment, flew past them and he grasped it in relief. I’ve always loved imagining the “Sorry Darling, I’m not coming home. This woman won’t let me leave until I catch her bat.” conversation bat man would have had with his wife. I also think it’s a tribute to my friend’s strength of personality (or perhaps attractiveness) that he meekly fell in with her home detention demands.

NB note dog sitting in front of builder debris!

Rugby world cup almost at an end – sadly my support seems to be kiss of death to any team, as in quick succession the Scottish, English and Australian teams have trailed off the field of play, so I hesitate to announce that I’ll be barracking for the All Blacks. Perhaps I’ll just limit myself to hoping that the New Zealand captain Richie McCaw’s injured foot recovers faster than Pluto’s and that he doesn’t have to wear a cone on his head for the match.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Topping 'Top End' Times - Northern Territory Travels

Sad to relate on current progress I might be recording a Swell-tober on the weight front in October rather than the desired Drop-tober – but the good news is that this is the result of a fabulous two week holiday up in the Northern Territory, the famed ‘Top End’ of Australia where in true Paul Hogan, Crocodile Dundee tradition, men are men and crocodiles come in a more lethal form than the more common urban handbag and belt varieties. We were completely spoilt by the fact that we were holidaying with another family and Ross, the husband, had previously worked in Darwin and spent weeks putting together what felt like the ultimate, personalised itinerary for us all.

Starting off with a night in Darwin we then drove to Katherine, stopping at Litchfield National Park for a swim in rock pools and waterfalls – having carefully checked the crocodile warning signs. Fortunately the most frightening incident of the whole trip was passing a road train – one of the triple length trucks that hurtle at speed down the Northern Territory highways loaded up with freight. As we passed each other at speed it flicked a stone into our windscreen – creating a cricket ball sized dent in the screen though fortunately the glass held. I amazed myself by remaining calm and holding the wheel although mentally I was having an OMG type moment and flinging both hands above my head.

Following Katherine, we drove on to Kakadu after a swim stop at Edith Falls and spent five amazing days at Gagudju Lodge at Cooinda in Kakadu National Park. October is the end of the dry season, so temperatures were in the mid to high 30’s (100 oF +) most days, with the Kakadu landscape an astonishing mix of seemingly arid escarpments and plains crisscrossed by rivers, waterfalls and billabongs that give lushness a whole new meaning.

Around the waterways the birdlife positively teems, and wild horses and buffalo wander through verdant swathes of grass. Pink and white lilies carpet the water edges, providing a picturesque setting for the “snappy handbags” lying deceptively still on the muddy banks or floating goggle eyed just below the surface.

You know it’s been a successful holiday when you ask for highlights and even the teenagers are stumped to single out one event or activity because they’ve had such a good time. Honourable mentions for standout ‘Wow” moments would have to include Drama Queen No 2. catching (and releasing) a 73cm barramundi and the 65cm barramundi caught by 9 year old boy that the chef kindly cooked up for us the following night; the majestic filmset glamour of Jim Jim Falls as we all swam in the massive rock ampitheatre, and the Aboriginal rock art in both Kakadu and Arnhem Land, the Aboriginal owned region adjacent to Kakadu, the images both stunning and humbling in their antiquity. Spending a day in Arnhem Land, with Sab Lord of Lord’s Safaris, a man who puts the ‘real’ into the phrase ‘real character’ gave all of us an unforgettable flicker of insight into life at the 'Top End'.

We ended the trip at Wildman Wilderness Lodge just outside Kakadu, where we stayed for three days of what could only be classified as 'Glamping' in luxury tents. Imagine ‘Out of Africa’ crossed with a Ralph Lauren home living catalogue and you’ve got the general level of comfort. Unfortunately now we’ve given the Drama Queens a taste of high end camping I think our chances of persuading them back into the confines of the family tent are limited, and to be honest I’ll take a double bed and wooden floors over sleeping bag on the ground any time.