Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Ghost Writer – Date Night – Dragons et al


I have moved to Hong Kong. How exciting! I will be living here until October next year, at least. Hong Kong is a vibrant place, full of culture, good restaurants and very international crowds. It’s also centrally located in Asia, and I am planning to explore the region as much as possible. I will let you know how it all goes, of course. The flight from Sydney yesterday took about nine hours, which gave me plenty of time to catch up with movies I hadn’t had time to see in the mad rush prior to the move.

The first inflight movie I watched was The Ghost Writer, with Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, directed by Roman Polanski. A writer is hired to fix the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, following the (not so) accidental death of the previously hired ghost writer. While the former Prime Minister gets embroiled in an international scandal, the innocent writer discovers that the memoirs in question constitute highly sensitive material. I won’t say more, I don’t want to spoil the story. I liked it. The plot is good, the acting fine, and you are kept guessing until the last minute about whom the real culprits are. The movie is based on a novel by Robert Harris.

The second inflight movie was lighter. Date Night, a comedy starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey. In New York City, a case of mistaken identity turns a bored married couple’s attempt at a glamorous and romantic evening into something more thrilling and dangerous. As I said, this is very light, and if you don’t want to, or cannot, see it, you won’t be missing much. Enough said.

The last one I watched on the plane was How to train your dragon, the animation movie based on a novel by Cressida Cowell. A young Viking who aspires to hunt and kill dragons befriends a dangerous beast and discovers that everything the village thought they knew about dragons is entirely untrue. In his quest to convince his peers that dragons are not the dangerous creatures they are supposed to be, he fights the (evil) mother of all dragons and wins everlasting peace for his village. Of course, he gets a date in the process! This is a lovely story that will delight both children and adults. The dragons are actually a lot of fun, and the Scottish accent of some characters is to die for. Against my expectations, I really enjoyed it.

I have just finished reading Breath, by Tim Winton and will soon post a review. At the moment I am reading Blackwood Farm, by Anne Rice, and loving it. Watch this space…

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Talc


Sam and Kate have just moved in together. Sam is over the moon but Kate seems a little unnerved… Her new diamond ring, given to her by Sam to celebrate their recent engagement, is causing her grief, but not the kind of grief you would expect from a piece of jewelry. Kate very quickly enters a downward spiral of guilt, which will end in the unspeakable.

I won’t spoil the play, in case you want to go and see it. Talc is a powerful piece, which focuses on the demons buried deep inside us; it reveals how fast one can go down and how helpless the world around them can prove to be in such a situation. I loved the structure of the play, how the first and last scenes fit together, and how the intensity of emotions increases with each scene. The writing is excellent, and the sparse, white setting enhances the emotional aspects of the play. I adored the bed scene, played entirely standing against a wall. Lucas Connolly and Jo Richards do a very good job – you’re there with them all the way.

Talc is produced by Subtlenuance (www.subtlenuance.com) at the TAP Gallery, 278 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, written by Daniela Giorgi and directed by Paul Gilchrist. It finishes on 1st August, so hurry up if you want to see it. Tuesday to Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm.

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According to Kit


Kit loves to dance. But she lives on a farm in Vermont with her mom and dad and it is winter – cold, snowy, and sad like the heart of Kit’s mother. Kit’s life is simple, almost boring and revolves around farming and homeschooling, a decision from her mom. Kit escapes her world through dancing. The arrival of Luis and Clara, professional dancers who will serve as substitutes for a sick teacher at the studio, transforms her life, fills her with hope, and lets her see what her future could look like. But things seldom unfold as planned, and Kit will experience exactly this.

Eugenie Doyle has written a beautiful coming-of-age story with believable characters and vivid pictures of the Vermont winter. The life on a farm feels more real than real, and Kit’s young eyes are a fantastic tool used to see the world around her. Her family, her friends, her dance teachers, all are analysed and described in the simplest way, though perfectly. The story is clearly structured, the plot is good, and the resolution is satisfactory. I just wish the story’s pace was not quite as slow, but once again, it’s probably just me and my love of fast stories that influence this judgement. A good read.

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Playtime


What is Playtime?

Playtime is an initiative of  The Wall with Actors Anonymous, a collaboration of some of Australia’s finest theatrical talent has produced a brand new format for presenting theatre in Sydney. A selection of short plays that are pre-rehearsed with directors, then read by trained actors to an audience in the fully licensed World Bar Club Room.
For more information about Playtime visit their Facebook page.

Playtime 5 took place last night, with one of my plays in it, What if it’s bad news?”

Here was the full programme:

Jesus Hates You, by Robert Shaffron, directed by Amelia Tranter,
Cast: Cindi Knapton, Peter Talmacs, Kate Buchanan.
“An obsessed ex-gay couple celebrate their wedding anniversary by learning to embrace a little good old-fashioned self-loathing.”

Tissue of Lies, by Jackie Greenland, directed by Beverley Callow,
Cast: Carlos Sivalingam, Valentino Arico, Erin Bruce.
“A box of tissues brings a judge to his knees, a doctor into disgrace and hope to a convicted prisoner”

Good Woman Smoking, by Gina Schien, directed by Ron Hadley,
Cast: Kay Simons, Stella Di Zotti.
“Sally worships her new rock-star boss, but can she cope with her bizarre backstage rules?”

What if it’s Bad News? by Jerome Parisse, directed by Stephen Carnell,
Cast: Alana Wesley, Ted Crosby.
“An unopened letter is about to change someone’s life forever.”

BREAK

Mates, by Kate Toon, directed by Craig Delahoy,
Cast: Matt Thomson, Wayne Underwood.
“Stevo and Davo meet every week to watch the footie. This week, Davo has something to say.”

Three in a Departure Lounge, directed by Melissa Lee,
Cast: Alastair Buchanan, Kristy Payne, Dudy Jap.
“Backpacking in Asia, Gerard and Mitzi have lost their money — will this misfortune bring them closer together?”

Size Matters, by Craig Delahoy, directed by Liane Norman,
Cast: Kate Buchanan, Alana Wesley, Matt Thomson.
“Obsession and self-esteem are so subjective. Unless they’re your own.”

First Assignment by Frank Davidson, directed by Melissa Lee
Cast: Steven McGrath, Rebecca Elliot, Aaron Nilan, Garreth Cruickshank.
A young journalist’s first assignment is to interview Hitler.

Playtime takes place every month. Make sure to book a ticket for the next performance, it’s always full!

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It’s all about words


I’ve just been for a swim – twenty laps, my usual. It’s winter in Australia at the moment, so I went to the indoor pool near my place. The water always feels a tad too cold there, and it takes me about four laps to warm up. To forget about the cold, I usually focus on a chosen topic and let my mind go free. The choice of topic depends on a variety of factors, ranging from home cooking to books and writing (of course), work (yikes), friends and family, travel, money, colours, printers, trees, possums, lorikeets… you name it. Today, it simply was about the use of certain words and expressions.

The reason is that as I was about to jump in the water, I caught a few words uttered by a man standing on the edge of the pool. He was saying, “And I thought to myself…” I’m not sure if it’s just me or if it is a worldwide phenomenon, but people seem to be saying, “I think to myself”, more and more often these days. Of course, what they should be saying is simply “I think”, because you can’t think to anyone else than yourself. Thinking is a quintessentially individual and personal process, unless you’re thinking aloud or you’re brainstorming ideas in a group. Another expression that gets me going every time is, “nodding one’s head”. What else do you want to nod? Your knee or your thumb? I also have a problem with people confusing “it’s” (as in, “it is”) with “its”, and “there” with “they’re” or “their”. What worries me here is that they are grammatically very different things, and the fact that people are confused means they don’t really understand what they are saying. The same thing happens with the confusion between “have” and “of” (The horror!). Sometimes, it’s more benign: all my colleagues at work keep writing “compliment” when what they really mean is “complement”. But look who’s talking! As a non native English speaker, I do make mistakes as well. However I find English so much more powerful than, say, my native French, to express ideas. The French Academy is rigid and all it does is impede the language from evolving. As a consequence, French has been dropped a long time ago as a vehicle for writing about science. English, not having any Academy to impede changes, evolves faster. This evolution is what gets some of my friends going. A large number of them condemn the use of “youse”, which is spreading in Australia. They see it as a lower level of speech (even if what it actually does is fill a vacuum: there is no difference between you (singular) and you (plural) in English). This came up at the office last week, which made me realise that we all have our language use pet hates. One of my colleagues can’t stand the dropping of the apostrophe which happens more and more often in everyday Australian. Another one confessed that she hates the increasing use of the word “awesome”. “It’s American,” she says, “it’s terrible.” I have to admit she lost me here. I cannot agree with her about the fact that saying “awesome” means the end of our Australian culture. True, language and culture are intrinsically linked and influence each other, but isn’t that a positive? Don’t we want to evolve and adapt to our linguistic world? Try to write a review of “Twilight” in Latin, and you will understand what I mean. I’ve only got one word to say to you: awesome!

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Deed to Death


I’ve just finished this one, Deed to Death, by D.B. Henson. Unfortunately, it was somewhat spoiled by the last book I read (A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore) which was so beautifully written. It’d be hard to compare. Deed to Death is a mystery / crime novel, easy to read, with a good plot (The plot is actually the best part). I found the characters too black and white, without enough depth, or maybe it was just the way their background was described early on, exposed as mere facts. I would have liked more subtlety. Having said that, if anyone’s looking for a bit of suspense and some good twists, and is not too worried about the writing, this is a safe bet. Once I forgot “A Gate at the Stairs”, I found myself wanting to know the ending. Always a good sign.

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The art of flying


I flew from Sydney to Perth and back in the last two days, which meant around ten hours of flying in twenty-four hours, just for a three-hour meeting. Perth is a wonderful city and it’s always a pleasure to go there, weren’t it for the long flight. On my flight back last night I was sitting next to a giant. So tall that I thought his head was going to go through the ceiling. I watched him sit next to me in his economy seat and try to fold his legs to make them fit between his seat and the one in front. Alas, this didn’t work and he had to encroach on my space with half of one of his leg. I wasn’t going to say anything, I felt bad enough for the guy. And then he started working on a big file, underlining words in yellow stabylo boss and constantly turning pages, which meant that I was getting his right elbow into my ribs every time he made a move. He tried to change position, I tried to change position, to no avail. I ended up having to move forward and to the right ,to avoid being hit. The flight felt very, very long. Other than that, generally speaking, people were well behaved. A woman complained that there was no more space in the overhead compartment… Where was she supposed to put her TWO large bags? She pushed everything around and forced her way through, ending up nowhere apart from starting a fight with another woman whose bags were being squeezed into oblivion. A flight attendant had to come to the rescue. There was also the conversation between the man and the woman behind me about the birthday party for a three year old they had just attended. I had to listen to all the details about the cakes, the children, Stephanie’s tantrum and Josh’s urgent big poo. Then there was this boy a few rows in front who forgot that he had his headphones on and insisted on telling (screaming) someone about the dum movie he was watching. The person he was talking to must have had her/his headphones on (or earplugs), since they made no attempt to stop the yelling. Painful.

Flying for me always feels surreal. Pick 300 or 400 people who have nothing to do with each other, who have never met and will probably never meet again, and make them sit them next to each other in a metal box with absolutely no room, then send the box into space for at least twelve hours and watch the result. Flying boxes full of rows and rows of strangers filling the sky. It’s a miracle there aren’t more murders in planes! It beats the office and work colleagues big time. Here are a few of the stereotypes whom I have met and can make travelling by plane hell. See if you can find others. Please let me know…

  • The small bladder person who goes to the toilet every half hour and is sitting in a middle seat, forcing you to stand up every time they have to go to the loo.
  • The kid sitting next to you who keeps moving, hitting, screaming and who splashes you with his food when he/she eats.
  • The kid’s mother.
  • The baby who keeps crying (You can’t really blame her!). Of course her cot is right under your nose (You thought you were going to have more leg room, and you end up with a baby cot and the crying monster instead).
  • The baby’s mother.
  • Large people who sit next to you and generously overflow onto your seat.
  • The giant I was talking about before.
  • The sniffler who’s never seen a tissue in his life.
  • The passenger behind you who keeps hitting your back with his knees.
  • The entire row of passengers behind who grab your headrest when they want to get up and wake you up every time.
  • The passenger who’s sick with gastro and used the toilet just before you.
  • The flight attendant who pretends to forget your request every time.
  • The passenger in front who decides to lie down and recline his seat when you’re having dinner or watching that can’t-be-missed action movie.
  • The football team who’ve just won the match of their lives.
  • The gaggle of teenage girls who’re going on a three-day, girls only, weekend (And of course you have somehow ended up sitting in the middle of the group).
  • The “talkative” who insists on telling you her life story.
  • The stinker who’s never seen a stick of deodorant in his whole life.
  • The honeymooners who keep pashing next to you during the entire flight.
  • The passenger who doesn’t turn up on time and whose luggage needs to be identified and taken out of the plane, delaying the flight by one hour at least.
  • The sick passenger sitting to your left and who makes ample use of the air sick bag.
  • The passenger sitting next to you, falling asleep on your shoulder (and most of the time dribbling, too).
  • The loud snorer (They’re everywhere!).

I’m facing fourty-eight hours of flying in the next month or so. Wish me luck!

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A Gate at the Stairs


“Are rabbits nocturnal?” I asked.

“Yep.”

“Well, why do you see them in the day as well?”

My father was quiet for a long time. “They work in shifts,” he said finally.

I love this extract from A Gate at the Stairs By Lorrie Moore, which I have just finished reading. It is a coming of age story, situated in the American Midwest. Tassie accepts a job as a nanny for the African-American adopted baby of a couple, whose dark past we slowly discover. The story is told from Tassie’s point of view and tackles issues of racism, adoption, social differences and coming to terms with life, love and hate. The characters are all beautifully drawn and the story keeps getting better. But it is Moore’s writing which makes the book a great read. Moore has a knack of choosing the right words, of expressing things in a visual, witty and emotional way. Pictures form before the reader’s eyes. She also puts her characters in funny, yet also tragic, situations. I love the first meeting between Tassie, Sarah and the first birth mother: I was literally laughing when reading the scene. Moore’s style is bright, clever and subtle. I will definitely be looking for more of her work.

There are, however, a few elements in the book that disappointed me. First I never really warmed up to Tassie, the main protagonist – I also wondered if she didn’t speak a little too cleverly for who she was. I also found that the story gets sometimes bogged down – the middle of the book in particular is too slow. Some dialogues could definitely be cut down. Elements of the plot failed to convince me, such as when characters drop out of the story without clear reasons (the baby, Sarah, the brother…) Last, the writing is beautiful, yes, but ironically enough, sometimes too beautiful for its own good; it attracts too much attention and relegates the story to the background. In spite of these flaws, the book is a great read.

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Twitter: the art of (non) conversation?


I read an interesting article about Twitter and some of its benefits in last weekend’s Spectrum (Sydney Morning Herald). The article focussed on the creation of communities and the discussion on art forms Twitter engenders among theatre goers or musical comedy adepts. An increasing number of people tweet their friends during performances, to share with them their excitement or give them a review of the show they’re seeing. And this is what production companies are increasingly taking into account, hoping to build a larger audience and spread the word. I can’t help wonder if the “conversations” the article refers to are really conversations and not just one-directional comments. I may be old-fashioned, but for me a conversation is more than a simple exchange of a few written lines. How do you listen, respond and build a credible point of view when limited to 140 characters? True, the limit is only temporary, as shown by the Royal Shakespeare Company which performed a retelling of Romeo and Juliet over five weeks with 4000 tweets in April this year. Wow. I’m starting to take notice. And what about London’s Royal Opera House which, last year, performed an opera with the libretto sourced from tweets received from the public? These uses of Twitter baffle me and fill me with hope. Initially, I was a little skeptical of Twitter and thought it was mainly another marketing tool. I still think it is, at least for many of us, and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. The Spectrum article wanted to make the point that Twitter was a conversation tool, and it cited the example of Company B at Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney: “The minutiae is often the most interesting stuff. It’s a mistake to think of Twitter as a marketing tool. It has to be a conversation.” The article continues by saying, “To that end, Company B at Belvoir Street Theatre makes a point to replying to everyone who asks a question on Twitter and it re-tweets any positive mention of its productions.” If we’re really talking about a conversation tool here and not just a marketing device, then why not re-tweets the not-so-positive mentions? Let’s not fool ourselves. Twitter is, and will remain without doubt, a marketing tool. Luckily the creative minds have been at work and its uses are constantly expanding.

I use Twitter too, of course, and this article will be posted on Twitter, as with all my blogging. I find it a useful complement to other online communication tools, but for me it is only, for the moment at least, a complement. According to a 2009 poll, those aged 45-54 are 36% more likely to visit the Twitter site than the rest of the population. I can’t help being surprised by this figure; not at all what I would have expected. I am definitely reviewing my initial judgement. And when I think back to the Royal Shakespeare Company and London’s Royal Opera House examples mentioned above, I can’t help feeling excited. I have decided to give Twitter more attention from now on.

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Emotions-Couleurs: an exhibition


Acrylics, watercolours and mixed techniques by Chantal Parisse

La Garde-Adhemar, Provence – 24 July to 1 August – Opening 24 July 6pm

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