Tuesday, January 31, 2017


                                                                  (rex hotel saigon)

It's hot, but not as hot as Sydney at the moment. And humid, though not as humid as Sydney at the moment. And it's still late winter morphing into spring or rather dry into wet seasons - but there's a heaviness in the air, air that makes you aware of itself, air you can't escape, air with unpredictable wafts of incense and the sounds of soft oriental harps from who knows where.

Moreover it's Tet - a word I've never understood except in the American war context (and it was the American War, not the Vietnam war into which I was drafted) but now I know it means the Vietnamese New Year, their most important cultural celebration. And it is in full swing.

We are in District 1, at the Rex Hotel Saigon, a comfortable early-mid 20th Century hotel (state run I am told) and it's very moi - a sort of French Raffles without the gardens. Wonderfully comfortable rooms.

It's straight up to the Rooftop Gardens for a drink and some breeze as below, on the Street of The Flowers, the crowds of families and young people mainly are swelling as night slowly creeps over this huge city.

By dark it's immense. Throngs. Watch your pockets.

This parade of lights and flowers goes for blocks, and blocks, as far as the eye can see and the ear can hear.  But we're fading fast - there's a four hour time difference and well, we're not as young as we used to be.

A few floors up on the other side of the street, up concrete stairs with heavy wooden railings, into another roof garden ...

... where, lo and behold, there appears two musicians and the source of that lovely harp music which lingered through the night and truly, was the first thing I heard next morning, somehow from somewhere, if not in a dream. I swear.

And all this is overseen, from his place in front of the law courts, in front of the hotel, by Ho Chi Minh

and by The State.

(Just for the record the hotel wi-fi is: download 48Mbps; upload 52Mbps; ping 3 ms. Think about that Malcolm Turnbull. Innovative my arse. Start with the basics, and sometimes, just sometimes, that means the private sector isn't god.)


We're off for a couple of weeks.

Last night in Oz - blistering heat lingering, and a blazing red sky. It worries me. There's nothing I'd wish for more than some steady rain.

Anyway ~~~

Seven and a half hours daytime flying time and our big burnt land seems forever away as we're coming back down through the clouds 

into the soft humid light of Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon / Sai Gon - the locals seem to call it Saigon) and its 8 million plus peoples splattered across the Saigon River on its way to the sea not far north east of the Mekong Delta.

The drive into town has all the thrill of a new city with the hot tropical crowded streets and parks reminiscent of many an old colonial town - Shanghai, Singapore, Mumbai - its fading past pushed aside by thrusting skyscrapers, and the miraculous flow of traffic and zillions of scooters (Uber scootering is the way-to-go!) seemlessly edging its way through and around.

It's New Year - Chuc Mung Nam Moi - and its BIG rooster season.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


                                               (on the train to berlin - show hadn't started yet)

Here's a quick shout-out for Cabaret at the Hayes Theatre - small in-your-face little theatre that it is. We went very early in the run. It doesn't need me to say what a great musical it is, song after song after song, and of course the story line as an echo of Isherwood is still, and increasingly, relevant today. This is the first time I've seen it live.

There's some very memorable casting of some of our greats, notably:

Kate Fitzpatrick ~ Fräulein Schneider
Marcus Graham ~ Ernst
John O'May ~ Herr Schultz, and - drum rolllll:

Paul Capsis ~ Emcee (born to play the role you would have thought)

Chelsea Gibb taking on the pretty difficult role of Sally

Jason Kos, and especially attractive Clifford

and a fabulous team of all singing' all dancin' standouts in the link above. And a great band. And fine choreography.

K thought it was "awesome" and would "go again tomorrow". Now, we've seen some pretty big shows in our time - pick a city, pick a composer - and that was a first.

I especially enjoyed Mr Kos's Clifford - restrained and very alluring in accent and stage style. Kate F's Fraulein Schneider was wonderfully subtle, and shaded with a past just below the surface and it was staying there. She looked, as usual, beautiful - those legs, still those fabulous legs (and great shoes). Marcus Graham - amazing, scary, what a great actor. John O'May simply wonderful too. We were seeing great performers doing great things with great characters.

For Emcee, Paul Capsis went big. Really big. Not frantic or manic big, but maniacal big. It was a leather cigar-smoking lesbian look, pretty unsubtle, and from the second row, much too strong for me. K didn't mind; it was all awesome.  I needed to sit back, or better still, this huge personality needed a bigger stage. In fact, the show had the stamp of transfer it out to a bigger venue about it, as they did with the stunning Sweet Charity (Verity Hunt-Ballard had Geoffrey Rush standing and cheering the night we went - don't think I ever blogged about it) in taking it to the Opera Theatre, where I'm told it lost a bit of the buzz, natch.

And if I learnt anything, I came to appreciate what a difficult role Sally is. It's the only good girls get pregnant scenario. Innocent, but well, not really, at least pretending not to be, probably naive, but how could she sill be, and in trying too hard to be not, in a loud more American than English way (or is that the long shadow of Minelli) .. or is it simply survival and ... anyway, she's going' like Elsie! Big Number that one. Chelsea Gibb may have had its measure, in a more wearing the part rather than inhabiting it kind of way, and she too went for bigly big - well you would up against Paul Capsis - and again I'm thinking she's playing to a big house. But this isn't.

This show doesn't come round here often, these talents aren't pooled often, and it is a great venue, but sit close AYOR.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven - Hail Mary Holy Mary - was in 1950 pronounced ex cathedra by the Vatican (Pius XII) to have been assumed into Heaven, body perfectly intact. For her, decomposition was too imperfect, too sinful, too earthly a fate.

"By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." 

1950 I'm here to declare wasn't that long ago, in fact within my lifetime. Yuri Gagarin was only eleven years behind, but he, without the cloud bearing angels, he was trapped by science (and sin) into a couple of orbits before plunging back into the land of the fallen while Mary made it through.

Little wonder science is still the bane of the religious fundamentalists.

Moreover, and within my lifetime, small wide-eyed Catholic children were taught we too would be united with our bodies, since perfected, when we reached Heaven - conditions apply of course: you had to make it. One way, a highly recommend way, was through Mary. She wasn't scary, wasn't too busy, and had that motherly understanding of what naughty children were like. Ask her for stuff, she'd have a word in His ear, and Heaven and a perfect body was on the cards. My problem was I didn't like my body then, and even less now. It was plainly rubbish.

It was this Mary, the Assumed Mary of Titian, together with the Tintorello Mary at the foot of the cross in the comfort of John the Beloved (Disciple), that preoccupied the Irish writer Colin Tóibín and finally saw him write The Testament of Mary in play, book, and novella form. And unsurprisingly, attract the ire of fundamentalists.

Unlike Titian's vertically accented loveliness, Tintoretto's crucifixion is wide screen and teaming with humanity. Mary and John the Beloved are isolated in a clutch at the foot of the cross from where the tortured slowly dying Son, Tóibín would soon remind us, would look down to say to them: "Mother, this is your son. Son, this is your mother".

John the Beloved is a wonderfully evocative title. I was in love with it when I made my First Communion, just after Pius XII made his declaration on Mary, and it still touches me somewhere deeply. Yes, my name is John, and beloved is absolutely what I want. Love, where are you.

It was after our First Communion, when in satin creamy white suits we sat down to break the fast, a nun came from behind and leaning over me, all black except for a soft unknown face, gave me a picture, mounted ready to stand by a bed, which it did. It was Jesus at the Last Supper with his arm around John. Kitch would just about cover it. It made me feel so special, and want to be a John like that, with Jesus's arm around me. I still do. I kept it for years, and years, and sometimes still hope it might turn up somewhere in a box in an attic, my special me in Jesus's arms.

And so it is with Specialness. And it is the Specialness of Mary that Tóibín unravels in his 80 minute monologue of the layered memories of a mother.

The marvellous STC team (and lots of good reading) behind this production is here.

From a marbled grotto stacked with candles (1 euro each please), it is the wholly impressive Alison Whyte who strips off the imposed specialness (stunning moments indeed), and takes on giving us the mother and her thoughts, from his conception, childhood, restless early years, picking up with misfits, tackling the establishment, to the climactic final declaration of his Godhead, and the certain execution the establishment will inflict.

It's a great role and she relished it. All woman, all mother, all human, all flesh. Imperfect flesh. There were a few word slips (early in the run) and an awkward moment when a young couple for no apparent reason other than boredom took it upon themselves to make a noisy exit from near the front of the house. Oh no. Some bigoted ranting wold have been preferable. Mary became Alison Whyte again, and with a whimsical smile and a gentle forgiving 'sorry', waited them out.

The closing  moments are where Tobin take us away from the dictates. When Mary and John flee in fear, finally settling at Ephesus (where too Tóibín sought inspiration) where this Mary would collect herself and deliver her truth in her words. Words which revealed a mother reflecting on the accretions of time and emotions, repressed and exposed, frail and strong, forgiving and not. Her final judgment on the worth of His life resonates still, days later, inside my head.

This was a woman who suffered.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


"Cardano was magnificent and eccentric mind - a prolific inventor and flawed father, solitary, aggressive, peculiar. A man who would listen to a guardian angel, swear by science, and dream of defeating time. He wrote the first texts on the mathematics of gambling, was a world-renowned surgeon, invented algebra, and was a pioneer of sign language."

It is Gerolamo Cardano (1501 - 1576) ~ a renaissance Renaissance man, philosopher, inventor and physician surgeon, and member of the Royal College to boot ~ who Sydney Chamber Opera, in association with Ensemble Offspring, brings to light with their marvellous first work of the year. I thought it a stunning piece of theatre. Like (say) Mayakovsky, Russia's everyman's poet and revolutionary, they find these great figures of great import to bring into our focus. I love it.

Wiki details on Cardano here.

SCO seem to be adopting an increasingly minimalist approach to their presentations, at least in these new works. Owen Wingrave by contrast was traditionally staged, for a tele-opera anyway. The Rape of Lucretia later in the year will be interesting, to say the least.  While not yet at the extremes of Noh theatre, that's the direction, and a good one too. The orchestra is (increasingly) visible on stage, sets non-existent, the action played out in the bare walled space, and props spare. The biggest prop for Biographica was a wheeled-on iron poster bed, archbishop therein. This puts tremendous pressure on the director - the incredibly effective Janice Muller from Malthouse - and the performers, deprived of gimmicky, illusions, and material emotional-triggering tricks. Except for lighting, simply but well designed by Matt Cox.

Music and Concept was/were in the hands of Mary Finsterer and Tom Wright owns the libretto. The amazing Jack Symonds was Mr Music. I found it all intoxicating - a relentless almost ecclesiastical beat of seductive textures, minimalist strings repeating themselves over portentous rumblings of tympani and percussion, inevitably dragging him/us toward the day of death, from whence it all began. It was a serious case of not-happy-Gerry, and then you're dead.

Enligthenment was a century or so away, and Cardano's world was that of Divine Order, the stars the supposed manifestation of His Brilliance. Little did they know what chaos is out there, disguised behind the mask of zillions of light years as dazzling rhythms and harmony. (By the way, for a marvellous read looking into the ring with Reason vs Faith having a round or two, try James Gaines if you haven't already.)

Anyway, little consolation to be found anywhere for Gerolamo, though he did sort out the Archbishop's near death from uncleanliness. As the programme notes point out, the search for knowledge helped little in the gaining of wisdom, as each of the twelve scenes presented underline. Like 'pictures in a gallery' we assemble some concept of this distracted mind, and perhaps a better concept of time, decisions plucked from some great data base onto which we continually stumble in a pseudo-linear framework.

Mr McCallum plays good tribute to each player hereSignificantly, Mitchell Butel's Cardano was delineated by being solely for spoken word which put tremendous pressure on the voice (not subtitled) to deliver the kind of emotional impact the vocal (subtitled) scoring could. Or rather, the other way around - it highlighted why we sing.

                                         (call - Jack Symonds centre, acknowledging the orchestra)

Packed house and much acclamation and enthusiasm.

So off we went, happy little vegemites into the hot summer's night only just descending. I wore shorts!

                                                          (and I wasn't the only one)