I do love a love story. I’m always happy to surrender to an evening of investigation into the struggle and elation that love brings. I think it’s an important part of theatre’s role in society to remind us of that which is the most powerful influence and an endlessly fascinating driving force – Love. And the challenge of artists in the face of love is how to make fresh and new the topic – which is as old as baby-making. I’m also, luckily, not a genre snob. In fact, I love a comedy -which is a good thing because it provides my wild, rambunctious laugh an outlet. How could I resist a double bill at Darlinghurst theatre – Drake the Amazing and La Dispute?

Before I continue to write about this show I need to declare my hand – It’s a full hand and I would feel very uncomfortable writing about this production if I didn’t…

Firstly, I have known the director John Kachoyan since 2003 – when he made the brave leap into the unknown with one of the first plays I had written…and have worked with him a couple of times that year. And as things go – international curiosity pulled us in opposite directions – and soon I was off to Canada (with a Lonely Planet John had given me tucked under my arm) and he was off to london. Since then, now and again, we’ve bumped into each other in foyers and it’s always a pleasure to hear of his adventures and acheivements – far and wide. And his bio speaks of bold brave strides into the UK scene – directing plays by some of my favourite Aussie writers – what’s not to love?

Secondly, I know the producer Michaela Kalowski – who when i started in this industry (as a stagemanager) we got along great guns. For this project there was a bit of back and forth about helping them find a stage managers. It’s not something I helped with really – despite her perseverence… She knows what she’s doing as a producer – she doesn’t produce theatre very much , because she works at the ABC as a producer and she’s great at her job. There’s one thing for sure, it’s going be a well facilitated show.

Thirdly, the actors in this show are some of my all time favourites – some are writers in their own right and several have been on board various projects I have fronted. Talented, charismatic, intelligent…. and more than that – as people (not just colleagues) they are top-quality folk who I am destined to drink tea with … they are lovely. no question.

So on this occasion I was all set to be swept away. And in part I was. But there was a part which wasn’t. I was fairly disengaged with the work- and didn’t laugh. I also didn’t fall in love… I was all set to – but it felt like I had been set up on a date where within the first few minutes it was clear – there are some fundamental philosophical differences that are insurmountable.

And it has nothing to do with the actors, or the performances – largely the style (declamatory and large) fits the genre. As you all know I love actors – and there are so many in this cast that are doing an absolutely triumphant job making the material work. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the design. It looks great -and as a side note costume designer Marissa Dale-Johnson must be the hardest working designer in Sydney at the moment with design work popping up all over Sydney. It had to do with the plays. The writing and the choice of plays. The content of the work.

There is one major dramaturgical flaw in Drake the Amazing and that is it’s start. When we see the end – it’s hard to be curious about seeing the beginnong – unless the beginning is super spectauclarly surprising. The acting is amazing – I believe kate Skinner, Andrew Johnston and Scott Sheridan and Nicholas Papademetriou are incredible performers they made the script seem more interesting than it really is.
And then La Dispute. Well – it’s a very old premise and this is Andy Hyman’s version. And for me I found it hard to understand why this version was superior to other versions floating about. The actors did an amazing job with the material they were given. And that’s why I love actors.

So post event I looked a little further into the supporting material to see what this philosophical disjuncture was.

And I found it.

Looking through Kachoyan’s directors notes I saw alot about the artifice of theatre – about the audience about the affect cpmedy has on people and the purpose of comedy. But nothing about the actual subject matter – what does Kachoyan believe about love? Or relationships? What does he believe about the gender battles? What is he communicating to us about the world – about the heart of the subject matter?

I believe art (and entertainment) is at it’s best when it risks something. When it is bold and when that boldness is undeniable. I believe to ask an audience to attend a play is to offer them more than what they already think/know/feel/have in their lives. Art and art as entertainment is at it’s best when it is dangerous. When it is risking. When it is risky.
What was John risking by directing this show?

The simple answer is reputation. Or career.

And largely that is what the director’s notes talk to – is the making of theatre. Likewise the writer’s notes talk not about the ideas, but the making of theatre.
And that seems to me to be focus of the work – a focus on production – on the object of theatre- not the purpose of theatre – to enlighten, transform, question life and love as we know it.

And then I researched and read Kachoyan’s SMH interview – please read here: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/about-town/life-on-the-fringe-20110726-1hy8u.html

And I wouldn’t consider myself an honest person if I didn’t voice my firm objection to some of the opinions or at least the tone about the Australian theatre industry aired in this article.

“All this love and guts and money went into indie shows” reflects John. “I thought ‘I can’t do this for the next ten years. I’m too ambitious. It’s too discouraging.”
My response to that is this – that to be an indie artist is to be endlessly ambitious. To be commerical – to be a director for hire by a major company is less ambitious – because it comes loaded with it a lot of social capital and alot of resources. The risk in Indie shows is financial, personal, and artistic…
And furthermore, I believe that Life is discouraging – and yet we as humans are innately optimistics because we defy death and plan and live as much as we can in the face of tragedy and disappointment.
Life is discouraging. Art is difficult.
And the grass is NOT greener. It’s just different and forces you to react differently.

Therein lies the difference in the two cities John feels.

In London, Fringe Theatre is on the fringe of something. “The fringe is much more connected to Edinburgh or touring shows. There’s much more connection.”
“There’s more gatekeeping in Sydney. [In London] you don’t just work in the Fringe and leave it and never touch it again. You might come back to do something really important or different.”

There is a fringe theatre scene in Sydney – and it is on the fringe of something – the CITY! The fringe here is geographical. Head to Casual, Bankstown, Penrith, Parramatta – look at the work and and residencies – look at Urban Theatre Projects or Blacktown Arts Centre….There’s also lots of touring – Critical Stages are awesome legends! Also the fringe circuit is very mobile right now – let’s not forget TINA, Melbourne and Adelaide Fringes and the troubled but determined Sydney Fringe. There’s also many spaces for hire – and more site specific work happening in Sydney than ever before.

“It’s amazing, I went half way around the world to find an American playwright, to debut a play in Scotland just so I could get it up in Sydney” muses Kachoyan.
Why? I ask. Why? Look at the amazing playwrights you’ve worked with – Tommy Murphy, Josh Lawson and Brendan Cowell, Melissa Bubnic, Jack Hibberd, John AD Fraser. Why are we having this work on stage – this very unsurprising, pedestrian safe work when the Australian writers here and now are SO intense and risky, edgy and amazing? I just don’t get it.


So that’s my response.

And I can’t wait to see Kachoyan’s Australian offerings – I’m just sad he has to do it in London. Because really, with the scripts I am reading at the moment – there is no room for any more average American plays. I want to see the plays that makes Kachoyan’s head spin – I want to see him frightened and shitting himself on opening night because he is scared because he is risking all of himself – all that he beleives. All he wants. All he desires. I want to see something that isn’t safe. I want more from Kachoyan because I reckon he’s capable of it.

And now that I have written this – he’ll hate me.

The actors and the team might hate me. But this is what I am risking.

I’m risking this bad opinion because I care.


And I love my industry and theatre commmunity, with all my heart… and I want it to be braver, sassier, brighter and riskier.