26 July 2010

The Great Gatsby

The passion and scandal of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, The Great Gatsby, is brought to the stage in a thrilling new adaptation by Ken Duncum (Cherish, Flipside, Blue Sky Boys), directed by David O’Donnell (Hollow Men, Yours Truly, Collapsing Creation). Senior English Lecturer at Victoria University Anna Jackson took some time to share with us a taste of the insight and magic behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glamorous fa├žade of the American Dream.

The Great Gatsby
By: Anna Jackson, Senior Lecturer in English, Victoria University of Wellington

With The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald took, as novelist Edith Wharton put it, "a flying leap into the future."  In comparison with his intricately patterned representation of jazz age society, she declared, he made the late nineteenth century novelists such as herself and Henry James look like "the literary equivalent of tufted furniture and gas chandeliers."  The landscape of The Great Gatsby is a modernist landscape of billboards, highways, and industrial waste; the references to magazines, musical hall songs, automobiles, and party scenes all insist on a modernity that to an older generation felt like "the future."   More importantly, Fitzgerald was the first writer to describe the new generation who came of age in the 1920s after growing up during the confusion of the war.  Fitzgerald himself declared it the "wildest of the generations," which "brusquely shouldered my contemporaries aside and danced into the limelight."

The Great Gatsby is set in this limelight where the women "dramatised themselves as flappers" and the whole generation "eventually overreached itself less through lack of morals than through lack of taste."  It is a novel about enchantment, Gatsby's enchantment with Daisy and Nick Carraway's enchantment with Gatsby, and it is a novel full of the romance that characterised the 1920s.  But the story is told retrospectively, after the enchantment is over, from the perspective of Nick's later disenchantment with the "vast carelessness" of characters like Tom and Daisy.   It was after the economic crash of 1929 that Fitzgerald came to see the generation of the 1920s as having overreached itself, yet The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, already addresses the lack of morality and taste that left this such a lost generation.   

One of the most talked about nonfiction books in the 1920s was Walter Lippman's Drift and Mastery, which argued that Americans had become uncritical drifters without direction or purpose.  We see this "drift" in the scenes where the characters of The Great Gatsby keep driving  back and forth from the Buchanan’s estate to New York city, for no apparent reason except to keep driving, and hear it in Daisy's plaintive question, “What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?  And the day after that, and the next thirty years?”  At the end of the novel, Nick Carraway retreats to his family home out west, wanting "no more riotous excusions," wishing the world would stand "at a sort of moral attention forever."  But Gatsby remains exempt from his disenchantment, Gatsby and his "extraordinary gift for hope." 


The Great Gatsby opens at Circa on 31 July and runs until 28 August. Anna Jackson will be a special guest speaker at The Great Gatsby Cast and Crew Q&A Session - Tuesday 10th August – after the 6.30pm performance. Tickets are available at www.circa.co.nz or by calling the Circa Box Office at 801-7992.

20 July 2010

Parlour Song is choice.

By Gavin Rutherford

It's a glorious way to make a buck, this acting thing. Walking towards Circa on a sunny, if cold, winters morning along the waterfront thinking how privileged and lucky I am to be able to work in this environment. Circa is one of the most luxuriously positioned theatres in the country. I help myself to a very glamourous instant coffee out of the co-op box in the kitchen after pushing myself through the rowdy loud Great Gatsby cast who have been working hard singing and dancing since nine (we start rehearsing at ten 'cause we work gentleman's hours), and stand out on the deck with my cast mates watching early morning kayakers. After morning talks (translated as gossip and a catch up) we go over some notes in the rehearsal room while we wait for the kids show audience downstairs to arrive for the Improvisors kids show Gnome on the Roam. We have to delay the start of the rehearsal run because apparently the kids have been frightened by our banging and crashing overhead. Take a deep breath and into Parlour Song. "It started small" says Dale played by Chris Brougham. Ned (me) is tense but excited, then nervous and desperate, then confused and scared, then exhausted and breakable. I indulge in being the audience, watching Heather O'Carroll and Chris doing the scenes when I am not on, and am frequently reproached by Chris for laughing too loudly at their comedy. It's that delicate time when we are all still finding it knife edge funny. The hour and a half flies by while we are acting but I feel it at the end of the run. Rubbing my neck after the mental and physical exertion the fantastic script demands. After some discussion about costumes or set elements it is lunch (sometimes I am lucky enough to meet up with Gina and our two girls) and then back for notes on the run and working a few scenes that need detailing. The ending is a tricky one because the style of the play changes and we are all looking forward to getting downstairs into the theatre to see what the lights, sound and audio visual elements will add. At the end of today I am buzzing. I am overexcited about this play and maybe a little overtired so I start to talk about how much fun I am having and how much I am enjoying working with everyone. Jen Lal (our lighting designer) makes it clear to me that I am talking too much and that 'love ins' should be saved for after a few beers on opening night. So if you are there on opening night and I have had a few beers, watch out 'cause, if all goes well, I might be boring.

Parlour Song is choice. I'm loving it. Sue Wilson (the director) has created a rehearsal space that is open and collaborative and supportive. It means we can create and discuss openly and thoroughly and try things on the floor. And it shows. I hope you enjoy the end result of a great creative team and marvellous theatrical environment. I'm a lucky man, doing this acting thing. I try and make sure I never take it for granted. It is a privilege.

Parlour Song opens in Circa Two on 24 July and runs until 21 August. To book your tickets, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or visit www.circa.co.nz.

12 July 2010

Gnome sayin'?

Halfway through their second kids’ show ever, The Improvisors are delighting audiences with their tale of Norman the Gnome and his quest to get home. Improvisor Greg Ellis tells DOTW all about Gnome on the Roam and what is was that made The Improvisors break into the world of children's theatre.

DOTW: Tell us a little bit about Gnome on the Roam – what is the general story?

GE: The general story is about a bored garden gnome called Norman who wants to travel. He gets his wish but is stranded in a strange land and needs to find his way home.

DOTW: I understand that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, at Circa during the last school holiday, was The Improvisors’ first foray into the world of kids shows. What made you guys decide to put on a show for kids?

GE: We’ve gone from being a company of largely foot-loose and fancy free singles, to getting married and having families. We wanted to do shows our own kids could enjoy and understand the silliness of their folks’ profession.

DOTW: What can you tell us about your experience in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?

GE: It was great fun! We enjoyed doing the shows much more than we imagined. Kids are much more unpredictable than adults and kept us on our toes!

DOTW: What are the differences in putting on an improvised show for children versus doing one for an adult audience? Which is more challenging?

GE: The great thing about improv is that you work with whatever audience is in front of you so there’s not much difference.

Except for the odd bit of self-censoring.

DOTW: What age range does Gnome on the Roam appeal to?

GE: We’re aiming at 3-10 but were surprised last time with how many older kids came and enjoyed it. The thing that we are aiming to do is work on lots of levels so there’s plenty for all ages.

DOTW: As you said, many of The Improvisors have young children of their own. How do your own kids respond to the shows?

GE: We had many of our kids along to rehearsals as test audiences and some of them managed to go to Sorcerer’s four times during the season as well!!!

My little girl George is a particular fan and loves the song from the new show so much we recorded her performing it for a web trailer!

DOTW: Is there anything else that audiences should know about Gnome on the Roam?

GE: The show is great fun for everyone. It’s a given that the kids will enjoy it but we just want the adults out there to realize that there’s plenty for them to enjoy too. Often adults would rather eat their own heads than sit through a kid’s show – this is not one of those!!!

DOTW: Where do you hope Norman ends up on his travels away from the Armbrewster’s garden?

GE: We don’t have any particular hopes –we’re ready to be surprised. Bring it on!

Gnome on the Roam is on at Circa until 17 July. For tickets, call 801-7992 or visit http://www.circa.co.nz/.

05 July 2010

"I love this play" - A view from inside Mauritius

By: Aaron Alexander

Generally speaking, play scripts are hard to read. With nothing but dialogue and the odd stage direction it takes a lot of work to conjure up an image of the drama in your mind. Without the descriptive prose you’d get in a novel it’s easy to lose track of characters, their attitudes and motivations from scene to scene.

Not so Mauritius.

Theresa Rebeck’s script was a genuine page-turner, far and away the most entertaining play I’ve ever sat down and read. Her writing is lean, smart, surprising and funny. Most of all, it’s the work of a committed storyteller. She strikes me as a playwright who knows it is a priviledge to have the audience’s attention for two hours and wants to reward them with an engaging tale that keeps them guessing till the very last moment.

She’s created five flawed individuals who, just like in real life, do things that make you like them, loathe them and pity them, sometimes all at once. All of them have shadowy pasts; a history of bad choices leaving secret scars. As the playwright says, with people, as with stamps, it’s the errors that make them interesting, and valuable.

Aaron Alexander as Philip

For us, as a cast and crew, the chance to build a show on this foundation has made coming to work a joy. On day one I was delighted to discover that the other actors had all found the script equally ‘unputdownable’ and were excited to get stuck in. Leading the enterprise was Ross Jolly, and we could not have been in better hands. It’s been my good fortune to work with Ross on a number of occasions and I’ve learned that the thing he cares about most as a director is the audience – what are they discovering in this scene, this moment, this line? His finely honed instinct for timing, placement and guiding the audience’s focus was a perfect match for Theresa Rebeck’s storytelling priority.

We five actors had a great time rehearsing this show. We discovered we’d been given characters who at first seemed simple almost to the point of being ‘types’, (the Nerd, the Gangster, the Conman, the Innocent, the Prude), but who quickly revealed a much subtler humanity. As the audience discovers through the course of the play, there is far more to these people than meets the eye. Theresa’s dialogue has all the sharpness of her TV background, and when we really got going it fair crackled along. Now, with the addition of the Circa audience, whose listening, laughing and rapt, bright-eyed attention lifts us to new heights, we are a deeply satisfied bunch.

I have the pleasure of sharing the stage with a phenomenally talented group of actors. Each night I get to be inexcusably rude to the charming but dangerous Danielle Mason, tremble at the approach of a fearsome Jeff Thomas, marvel at the energy and loquaciousness of Andrew Foster and be transported by the tragicomic tightrope walk of Lyndee-Jane Rutherford.

(left to right) Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Aaron Alexander, Andrew Foster and Danielle Mason

Our stage manager, Mr. Eric Gardiner, is the steady hand on the tiller of the waka during the season, not to mention the strong back behind the revolving set. Eric volunteered for the task of pushing the set around half a dozen times a night when it became clear days before opening night that our electric motor was not up to the task. Mechanical horsepower is no match for a stout English yeoman with a pair of gloves and an “I’ll do it m’self” attitude. Eric’s silent, invisible efforts that result in the gliding revolution of the set epitomises, I think, the huge amounts of unseen work that goes in to bringing you a stage production like Mauritius.

Personally, I’m very proud of what we’ve brought together in this production. It’s one of those ‘perfect storm’ scenarios where all the creative and technical elements (electric motor excepted) have fit together beautifully. The feedback from our audiences so far has been fantastic and, believe me, we can sense how much they’ve been enjoying it from the stage. I can feel the audience being drawn towards us and onto the edge of their seats in the climactic final act, and hear their gasps of surprise at every twist, turn and doublecross.

After opening night I sent a message to Theresa Rebeck through her website, not really expecting a reply. To my surprise and delight she sent a lovely note back, expressing how glad she was to hear from us in New Zealand. She finished very simply by saying:

‘I love this play.’

The fact that the writer has such unabashed affection for her script speaks volumes.

I hope you will come down to Circa and join us for an evening of thrills, laughs and rampant, no-holds-barred philately. I reckon you’ll come out feeling, like all of us from Theresa Rebeck on down, that Mauritius is a play that’s easy to love, and hard to forget.

Mauritius is on at Circa until 24 July. To book your tickets, please call 04-801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz.