Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Shameless Plug

Like anyone wanting stimulating material to engage with, turning on the television would be the last thing you'd try - and that would be only after you'd given up. Sure, the ABC and SBS may have some interesting documentaries or news and current affairs programs but failing that there must be some 'quality television' on one of these damn channels, surely! As oxymoronic as the phrase 'quality television' can sometimes seem it does occasionally bob it's head up for air amongst the ocean of drivel trying to drown it. You usually need to send out a search party - helicopters, boats, divers and all - to scour the depths and perilous conditions of late-night programming in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of a show wearing a life jacket. For that reason, I certainly won't be making a habit of delving into the world of television on this blog but for this show I must make an exception. Consider this my report on a successful search and rescue mission.

Shameless has to be up there with my all time favourite shows. Created by Paul Abbott (State of Play), Shameless focuses on the lives and antics of the Gallagher family who live on a Manchester public housing estate. Alcohol, drugs, sex, scams and crime are all unapologetically on display in this world of the British urban underclass. They're the sort of characters old ladies would tut at under their breath on public transport while clutching their bags a little tighter. You'd be 'disgusted from Camberwell (or wherever)' at the moral reprehensibility of it all if only it wasn't all so funny. It also helps that the characters are well rendered, very human and likable - although patriarch Frank (head of the family in name only) does his best at having very few redeeming qualities.

What I love about the show is that it doesn't treat it's audience like idiots. It doesn't moralise or pass judgement on the characters either. Things are funny because you know that they've perhaps been taken too far. The kids smoke, drink and swear because that's what kids do. And when one realises that he doesn't have a bike he is advised by his brother to, "just nick one." This isn't a blinkered view of reality. Nor does it shy away from showing the ugly side of these housing estates. When a mob get together, vigilante style, to try and find a non-existent paedophile the results are both hilarious and disturbing as any old bit of hearsay is violently acted upon.

"Frank Gallagher: We've just kicked a confession out of ice cream Alec, he's admitted to dipping his nob in the tubs.
Sheila Jackson: What, he took little Jody?
Frank Gallagher: We don't know till he comes out of theatre!"

Chatsworth Estate isn't half a world away from Cronulla it appears.

Shameless's frenetic, hyper-real style swings from comedy to high drama effortlessly; often with one heightening the impact of the other. It can seem exaggerated at times but you're quickly reminded that this is actually real life. It's messy, painful and fucking hilarious. If we can't laugh at the absurdity of our existence what's the point of living. If you watch thinking that the Gallaghers are more fucked up than your family, you're only kidding yourself.

In the pre-Christmas lull, I've been catching up on old episodes in anticipation of the third series which starts here Christmas day (10pm, SBS). It's been a lot of fun revisiting the Gallaghers' world. I can barely contain my excitement for the new series. Happily, I can report that the show is just as fresh on another viewing. It still makes me laugh out loud and I still care deeply for the characters. Bring on series three!

The first series is selling for a dirt cheap price on DVD at the moment. So what are you waiting for? Let the Gallaghers keep you company until the theatre starts up again. (Although my rant may suggest otherwise, I am in no way on the payroll of anyone associated with the production or broadcast of Shameless).

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Like Clockwork

Robin Usher is at it again. In a completely predictable turn of events, the day after it was announced that Kristy Edmunds would helm the Melbourne International Arts Festival until 2008, Usher offers us another taste of that same old argument about everything he thinks is wrong with Edmunds' programming of MIAF.

I get the feeling that Rob is on auto-pilot. Old favourites such as the 'paltry' $1.2 million return; hey, look at Sydney Festival! they bring out people who's names we know; and Edmunds 'inexperience'; are all exhumed and deemed worthy of another airing. But again it's not all that surprising when most of the article laments the disregard of festival traditions and past programming.

I will follow this up more in the morning...

As ever, Alison Croggon expertly dissects the argument at theatre notes with David Williams unravelling Usher's comparison to Sydney Festival, in the comments. As Alison correctly points out, the issue Usher has with Edmunds' programming is not a question of lack of variety or, insultingly, inexperience but of aesthetics. Usher is wrongly equating 'high art' with good art. High art is not a measure of quality, creative/technical prowess or intellectual depth. It is merely a word to group works which conform to recognised forms; eg. opera, ballet, a play. Judging by his examples of past festival highlights, Usher is particularly fond of events recognisable in form and large in scale. Events which usually come with price tags beyond what is affordable for those with average incomes. It seems to me that the "widespread criticism" Usher speaks of is confined to those who can afford to see these types of work. Now, don't get me wrong. There are merits to this type of work. And I love it too when done well but these are not the only forms. The arts change with time as does everything else. Edmund's festivals (and Robyn Archer's) have reflected this. How limited and uninspiring a festival it would be if only Usher's version of 'high art' was on offer.

Usher and co.'s inability to accept artworks taking forms not obviously recognisable seems so unadventurous and not dissimilar to John Howard's inability to comprehend new social forms since the 1950s. With so many provisos as to what they like, I wonder why they bother claiming to appreciate the arts. Surely openness to new ideas and willingness to engage with what we don't understand are essential to experiencing the arts. Edmunds may be alienating unadventurous types who don't understand that adventurousness was part of the deal in the arts. For everyone else, though, she curates a program that allows us to create new understandings not simply reinforce the status quo.

Unlike Usher, I look forward to experiencing the works Edmunds programs in Melbourne for the next two years.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Moved In: Open for Business

I think I am finally happy with the way this blog looks. Apologies to all two of you who were very patiently waiting for me to get off my arse and post something. Or to continue my metaphor from the last post; fling open the doors for the first day of business. Better late than never, eh?

I've added a number of lists to the side bar (all conveniently linked to further info - don't say cowboy mouth doesn't look after you) as a way of introducing myself and my tastes in theatre. The list reveals a penchant for more experimental and hybrid performance work rather than traditional script based theatre but don't let that discourage theatrophiles: I love all types of theatre. In case you need further convincing, remember that this blog is named after a Sam Shepard play. I'm not sure why I felt the need to make this distinction because I actually don't think there's much difference in the end for audiences. A good show is a good show. Anyway, these lists are by no means exhaustive. I could add many more shows including multiple shows by companies I already mention. I also feel I need to note that I am not exhibiting cultural cringe by not mentioning any Australian shows. The list is more a wish list of who I'd like to visit Melbourne or who I'd go see overseas. The fact is if a show is on in Melbourne I will see it. For example, I'm really looking forward to OT: Chronicles of the Old Testament by Uncle Semolina and Friends.

Anyway, in the next day or two look out for a couple of reviews/opinions on some shows I've seen recently. Also, coming soon, I will continue the fervent list-making with my top shows of the year and end of year wrap.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Moving In

Here I am in my shiny, new virtual office. The smell of paint is still fresh, I'm yet to finish removing the plastic from the furniture, there are piles of boxes to unpack and the phones won't be connected until the afternoon. And, of course, my first clients could be arriving at any time. Such is life in the virtual world. Please excuse the mess while I get this place sorted out (and watch your step).

With the mess cleaned up, I can then get down to the business of adding to the exciting and ever growing online conversation about theatre in Melbourne and, in general, all things theatre related. Occasionally, my focus will widen and include dance, visual arts, music and film. I look forward to the potential discussions.

So come back often and enjoy a chat over a virtual coffee (once I've taken the fancy, new coffee machine out of box and worked out how to get the milk to froth for cappuccinos).