Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review: Basically I Don't But Actually I Do

Basically I Don't But Actually I Do
By Jochen Roller and Saar Magal

Earlier this year I read some kind of sciencey study arguing that the process of putting our gut responses into words often causes us to reverse that initial position; that is, in verbalising an instinctive reaction, we engage in some kind of interior dialectic that sees us taking up the side opposing ourselves. The people who took part in the study weren't critics, per se, and I've no idea of the validity of the testing, but it's an interesting conclusion, donchathink? Certainly one that most critics can probably find some connection with. It's a similar response to the one I had watching Jochen Roller and Saar Magal's Basically I Don't But Actually I Do. I distinctly recall feeling, during the performance, that much of it was naïve, confused, overly difficult, overly contrived. In the days since I've revised that opinion, and now I find a lot of intellectual pleasure in pondering the piece. Is that a bad thing? Is a gut response somehow more intrinsically authentic, more real? Maybe. But we don't live in the moment of reception; if I were to try to hold onto the feeling of that moment, I'd be writing my name in water.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Four Larks' Peer Gynt

By Four Larks Theatre.

I've seen all three of Four Larks Theatre's productions this year, and I'll be trying to get along to anything they do in the foreseeable future. But their adaptation of Peer Gynt, currently playing in the beautiful old building hidden down a Northcote laneway that they seem to call home, confirms just why the company is such a fascinating and frustrating anomaly in Melbourne. It's a case of extremes: what they get right they do better than almost anyone around, but the shortcomings of each work are just as pronounced. I can't think of any other group I'd subscribe to both because of and despite what I think I'll be getting.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: Electronic City

Preamble: I wasn't going to review Hoy Polloy's new production Electronic City because one of my oldest friends (and current housemate) is in it. This is, in the classic parlance, a conflict of interest. But it's had me thinking about that old doozy for a while, and of course it's something that every critic in Melbourne probably bumps their shins against once in a while. In a way, I think a critic who doesn't have conflicts of interest might be in a more difficult position than one who does. After all, a 'conflict of interest' can also be shortened to an 'interest' and the whole idea of the disinterested critic is, to me, a troubling one in an artistic culture of the sort this city boasts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Malthouse Theatre 2011 - season one

Malthouse Theatre's first 2011 season was announced last night – the first under incoming Artistic Director Marion Potts – and while I'll get to the line-up in a bit, I thought it might be worth a quick look at the company she's taking over and the fellers who are vacating the building as she arrives.

Friday, November 5, 2010

MKA Richmond closure (sort of)

When I first heard about the opening of new theatre/playwriting hub MKA Richmond I thought it sounded like the kind of ambitious venture on the young, drunk or mildly deranged would attempt to pull off, but I checked out the opening the other week and was impressed to see an ambition being realised in a pretty professional way. Lots of industry support, nice venue, plenty of credibility, not a lot of naivety. One of those so-crazy-it-just-might-work things. The first gambit was a month of new play readings, a different one each night, and the season sounds like it kicked off well with sellout performances.

I've just received word that after only two days, the council has told MKA to shut down. A couple of local residents complained about increased foot traffic in the street (it's a 44-seater, so that's odd). The MKA folks have already found an alternate space to carry out the rest of the month's shows - in the QV complex - and the Richmond space will continue to operate as a kind of lab for development.

The full release is reproduced below:


Melbourne’s only new writing theatre as of Thursday November 4 is at the behest of City of Yarra bureaucratic red tape. Despite the intrinsic role of local government to support the values and beliefs held by the community through a rich cultural program, City of Yarra has opted to close the door on a promising creative venture that is set to benefit not only its constituents, but artists nationwide.

MKA Richmond, an intimate 44-seat theatre, from the outset offered itself as a gift to the artists of Australia. Artistic Director Tobias Manderson-Galvin said in his inaugural message “MKA Richmond will support the growth and development of Australian playwrights and dramaturgical practice as never before. Our company is committed to developing and producing extraordinary Australian theatre from new and established playwrights, and we will be persistent in our mission to have these voices heard here and abroad”. MKA was established primarily to foster a burgeoning community of playwrights in Melbourne, a contribution to the local theatre scene that not only has been lacking to date, but that many have been crying out for.

It is therefore most surprising that complaints from two nearby residents about additional pedestrian traffic in the area would lead to the closure of such a valuable artistic enterprise. MKA’s neighbours on Tanner Street include a hairdressing salon, a commercial gallery, the Cricketers Arms pub, a design studio, a brothel, and local residents. In this mixed-zoning area, it is inconceivable that a small writers theatre should be under attack.

Preliminary discussions with City of Yarra Statutory Planning Office together with the Arts and Cultural Services Office were extremely positive, insisting that MKA Richmond would be waived usual requisites such as the want for additional car spaces, due to its convenient proximity to the major public transport thoroughfares of Richmond Railway Station and Swan Street trams.

Co-founders Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Glyn Roberts were assured by the Council that they were a 'rubber-stamp away' from a gaining a permit to operate the space as a permanent professional theatre. Body Corporate of 24 Tanner Street similarly expressed its support for MKA Richmond and, additionally, their delight in the presence of a new cultural hub within the building. These meetings instilled in MKA the substantial confidence to warrant forging ahead with a short month long season of rehearsed readings in its pre-built theatre space and licensed bar.

Like Sydney’s Nimrod Theatre in the 1980s (now Belvoir St Theatre), the inability to secure the venue’s longevity initially disrupted artistic practice. However, through a wave of support from the likes of Patrick White, David Williamson, Peter Carey and Max Gillies, the future of the prestigious company, which continues to operate out of the same building today, was secured.

Yet unlike Nimrod, MKA Richmond’s pressures come not from the threat of demolition, but from the City of Yarra’s lack of support for a plentiful arts precinct in Richmond. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights serves as a pertinent reference under these circumstances, for Article 27 stipulates, “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”. The trampling of a promising professional theatre operation in a densely urban locale is in clear breach of the basic human right to experience culture within the community.

On the same day that MKA Richmond’s Tanner Street home was silenced, the company was overwhelmed by tenders for the housing of MKA OPEN SEASON in alternate venues.

MKA will be temporarily transferring to a new location in Jane Bell Lane QV: MKA Melbourne. OPEN SEASON will perform the remainder of the rehearsed readings in this new venue, while MKA Richmond will continue to operate as the home of Melbourne’s new writing theatre.

If you feel inclined to rally against the City of Yarra’s decision, we welcome written gestures of support in any shape or form to All messages would be sincerely appreciated.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Melbourne Festival - After the Fact

Euyrgh – I sure failed in the blogging race this Melbourne Festival, didn't I? That's ok. It's not a competitive thing and the teeny-tiny seasons of most festival events make reviews more of a postictal twitch than anything else. Still, while the two and a half weeks are still relatively fresh I guess it wouldn't be too hard to make a few late comments on this year's extraordinary reception.

Extraordinary in its lack of contentment, is what I mean; much of Melbourne's critical and artistic community seems to have characterised the 2010 festival with a collective shoulder shrug. 'Is that it?', the consensus. This is quite a cruel and unusual response, to me, for the simple reason that if art can be averaged out, this was probably the most creatively successful festival since Kristy Edmunds' first, at least. The vast majority of things I saw deserved high praise and were very successful in what they attempted to do – I'd count in this category Stifters Dinge, Intimacy, Life Without Me, Adapting for Distortion/Haptic, Mortality, Opening Night, Northern Trax, Vertical Road, Epi-Thet, Jack Charles V the Crown, An Anthology of Optimism, Nyah-Bunyar, Carnival of Mysteries and Seven Songs to Leave Behind, at least. Some people weren't fully satisfied with some entries on this list, but very few would complain that any weren't worthy of inclusion in the festival. And the only show I'd definitely send to the wreckers – Tomorrow, in a Year – earned a decent number of fans and quite a few devotees. What that work did - bring in hundreds upon hundreds of people who'd never stepped into the State Theatre (fact) and have many heaving with ecstasy - is much bigger than what that work was (kinda rubbish).

So what's the problem? It doesn't seem that anyone is finding great fault in the general mass of works included in this year's festival. What's left people feeling short-changed is what was perceived to be missing, and I want to address two of the common laments because I think they're very interesting and I have a few minutes to spare and am feeling not quite belligerent, a head-shake short of a contrarian, but would like to be the devil's avocado or whatever that thing is.

First complaint: nothing had the wow factor a festival needs. This was pretty much Robin Usher's summation of the festival, and it echoes what a lot of people have said to me. I agree, to a degree, but I think there's a dangerous edge to the statement. The looseness of definition behind a phrase like 'wow factor' conceals the fact that it often refers to a very specific kind of experience, and it's not one that a festival should require in order to be successful. I had approximate 'wow' moments in Intimacy, in Haptic, in Stifters, and others. But wow factor is about scale. It's about an event big enough, in every sense, to make witnesses feel as if they're sharing some common astonishment that will never be forgotten. Astonishment – wow – poses some serious aesthetic problems.

The roots of the word astonishment stem from words suggesting a violent 'striking' but also a turning to stone: something that freezes the mind's ability to respond, that stills the tongue that speaks back. That's why the only reaction can be the meaningless 'wow'. What else can you say? But is that the height of art? One that silences all objection? Of course, there have been Melbourne Festival events with a power-punch wow factor that certainly warranted inclusion – Theatre du Soleil's Le Dernier Caravanserail changed my understanding of what theatre is even capable of. But emphasising 'wow' diminishes the achievement of works that aim for another kind of encounter.

I don't know that the Melbourne Festival needs an event that seems to stop the city in its tracks, because in a way that's not possible. When people refer to wow factor shows of the past, they're operas with overwhelming sets or plays with a multi-million dollar budget. That's fine. I love that stuff. But why is that the pinnacle of a festival's achievements? Take the recent Hayloft/Malthouse Thyestes – if it had appeared in the Melb Fest, it would have been received with the same raves it drew from Fringe audiences. There's a show with wow written all over it. But in the intimate confines of the Tower, it's not one of Mr Usher's 'wow factor' shows at all. It can't be. It's of a completely different order. The kind of event supposedly missing from this year's festival isn't one that you engage with in a small theatre, or your average gallery, or on a screen somewhere. It's one that you share en masse, and the strangers with which you share it confirm that something has just taken place worthy of astonishment (hence the spare critical comment given to Northern Trax, easily the 'biggest' show of the festival but lacking the aura of heritage claimed by works such as Tomorrow, in a Year).

Second complaint: there was nowhere to share the experience. This kind of boils down to 'there was no good bar'. Which is true. Seventh Heaven invoked the same pitiful wince you'd get watching a mosquito on a mummy. There was no venue which acted as a locus for conversation, debate, criticism, snarky comments, unqualified praise, drunken overstatement or quiet observation of the above. Except there was. This year's festival saw an unprecedented level of online activity. Every day there were tweets and facebook comments of a number that made it seem as if something was going on, and people were desperate to talk about it. Perhaps this volume was partly due to the fact that there was no real-life space in which people could spend all day saying the same stuff to actual, meaty humans. But it was there.

What seems to unite both of these complaints is a larger question not about what a festival is, but what a festival does. Or, rather, how the two can't be meaningfully distinguished. It's sort of the same with reviews and commentary - what a review says is just a subset of what it does, and even the most descriptive and non-analytic of responses, even a 140 character tweet, can do much more than you'd expect. So while I disagree with some of the more basic forms the above complaints have taken - not enough wow, not a great bar - they speak to something more fundamental that needs desperate address.

Should the Melbourne Festival galvanise a broad public into a molten, fused mass? Should it offer platforms in which we can each take a turn speaking our mind, if we wish to do so? Should it offer a panoply of encounters that don't add up to more than their own sum, don't (necessarily) have anything in common or any hierarchy of wow-ness? Dunno.

But thanks for asking, everybody.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Meeting Edward Albee

Edward Albee is appearing as part of the MTC's 2010 Sumner Lecture tomorrow at 3pm. Last week I was fortunate enough to spend a few days with him in Sydney and wrote the following as a result. The piece first appeared in The Sunday Age.

 Image copyright - it's the one that best captures the Albee I met.

“Any play that doesn't hurt you in some way has something wrong with it.” - Edward Albee

THE SCENE: Afternoon. An esteemed Australian actor's home in Bondi, Sydney. A small, diverse group of artists and professionals are scattered around a large table; outside a tropical storm rages. Front, a journalist, JOHN BAILEY, sits with 83-year-old American playwright EDWARD ALBEE. The younger man has just called Albee's cat a c-nt.

ALBEE (squinting askance): What did you say?

BAILEY (less confidently): I... you have a cat named C-nt?

ALBEE: I'm going deaf. Say that again.

BAILEY: (loudly) Your cat is named C-nt.


ALBEE: I had a cat named Cunegonde, many years ago. Perhaps... that's what you are referring to.

This wasn't how I'd planned things would unfold out during my first meeting with the man regularly described as the “greatest living playwright.” It's just that I'd heard that his cat was so named and after his surprisingly firm handshake reminded me of a recent wrist mauling I'd received from a feline, it sort of blurted out. And there I was, having just said – yelled, really – a word I'd normally never use, in a roomful of strangers.

Albee played me. The next morning I recall that “Cunegonde,” from Voltaire's Candide, was a pun on the French slang for female genitalia. As for his requests that I repeat the question more loudly: when he later pleads deaf to another member of our gathering, he turns and gives me a small grin. “Selectively deaf,” he says. 

I shouldn't be surprised if Albee set me up during our first meeting. I'm soon to learn that this is his method: constant quips, contrariness and, usually, that conspiratorial smile as punctuation. As he points out over lunch the following day, “I'm observing you right now.” By that point I'm well aware of it.

Albee has long had a reputation as fiercely belligerent. In the 1960s he was became known for his “barbed, poised and elegantly guarded public press style”; of his last play, Me, Myself and I, he tells me that “the intelligent people received it very well, the imbeciles very badly. There's lots of things that people don't like in it. Too bad.”

 Albee in 1962

He shot to attention with 1962's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an uncompromising vivisection of contemporary mores. The play's Pulitzer Prize was rescinded by the award's board, who found the play obscene. More recently, in Australia, his The Goat: or, Who is Sylvia? dramatised the sexual and emotional relationship between an architect and the titular bovid.

Albee says that mere shock has never been his intention. “Did I sit down and think 'I must now write a play about something so outrageous that it will make people reconsider all their values blah blah blah'? Of course not. No. I may have been aware while I was writing it that this may shake some people up, but that's fine. Bring it on.”

But the Edward Albee I meet the day after our Scene One is a distinct counterpoint. I'm sitting outside the Bondi Pavilion, where he's spending the next two weeks mentoring a hand-picked group of Australian playwrights. “Have you been sitting here all night?” he asks, shaking my hand again.

In the morning session he makes jokes, sometimes at his own expense, and appears anything but threatening. When we take lunch nearby, he opts for a tuna wrap and Pepsi – sugar-free, on account of diabetes, but he does decide to indulge in a blueberry muffin. Every time he sees a dog he becomes animated and rushes to pat it. 

He seems anything but a hellraiser out to milk the teat of notoriety; if that were the case, why spend so much time teaching younger playwrights? This is Albee's third visit to Australia under the auspices of Inscription, a Sydney-based company advocating the development of local scriptwriters; the trip has resulted in Inscription's new Albee Scholar program, which will provide one local writer a six-week residency at the playwright's Montauk artist's retreat in 2011.

The firebrand Albee is still in there, though. “The two most important phrases a playwright can learn,” he tells his charges on their first morning, “are 'No' and 'Go fuck yourself'.”

In one of Albee's earliest plays, the 12-minute “The Sandbox”, there appears the character of a grandma in her 80s. She is the only figure in the piece not obsessed with appearing proper; the wizened old imp showing up the foolishness of the inane and vainglorious. “The Sandbox” was dedicated to Albee's own grandmother: “She was very lively. I liked her a lot. I suppose in some ways I tried to emulate her and stay alive. Not close down. Be an outsider. It always helps to be an outsider.”

This sense of being on the outside has been a constant throughout Albee's life. His biological parents gave him up for adoption at birth, and he suspects that his mother never knew his father (though “obviously they must have known each other for a few hours.”). Under US laws of the time, adopting families were forbidden any knowledge of a child's original parentage – apart from two rules aimed at social segregation. Babies could only be brought into families of the same ethnic and religious background as those giving up the “little bundle of child.”

“How you would manage to have a faith at two weeks old I do not know,” he says. “What preposterous rules that kept so many kids from being adopted.”

From the outset he was a stranger to his new family. The Albees were a wealthy clan who owned a highly successful vaudeville company. They were also committed racists and possessed by outrageous notions of class: the Irish, for example, were only fit to work as servants. Edward spent most of his youth in boarding schools or with nannies, while the rest of the family was “busy being social, busy being rich.”

“I'm the only one left of the entire brood who survived,” he says. “Because I'm evil.”

Albee was told early on that he was adopted – another way his parents hoped to distance themselves from him – and was delighted to learn it. “'My god,'” he thought, “'I'm not like these people.' One of the virtues of being adopted is that you create your own identity. You're not subject to the blood of other people.”

In contrast – indeed in opposition – to his family, he developed a highly liberal political sense from a young age. His rebellious streak carried through his teens, resulting in numerous school expulsions. He was never terribly good at running away from home, though not for want of trying. At thirteen he tried to buy passage to London but was returned to the family home. Neither party was particularly pleased with the outcome, and his mother couldn't wait until he was old enough to be kicked out.

The moment he came of age, he legged it to New York's Greenwich Village, at the time a hotbed of contemporary art in every form. For some time he attempted to write poetry (“we all begin by writing poetry, don't we?”), even confronting W. H. Auden on his doorstep with a bundle of his verse. “We got over a very difficult problem at the very beginning, because he wanted to get me to bed,” says Albee. “I didn't. But he was very gracious about that and we stayed friends until he died.”

He worked odd jobs, including a long stint with telegram company Western Union. This often saw him delivering death notices which required signatures from their recipients, and the real people he met as a result later came to populate his early plays. To this day, Albee takes the subway whenever he can, since it allows him to observe the actual characters he writes. “One day I'm going to get hit by someone,” he says. “'Why you staring at me?' 'Because you're so fucking fascinating!'”

Albee denies that he has ever written himself into his work: “I don't put myself in my plays. How can I be objective about me?” But his childhood has been replayed throughout his career – the family so excoriatingly satirised in “The Sandbox” reappeared in a longer play soon after (“The American Dream”). His mother was the focus on his acclaimed Three Tall Women in 1990, and was reconfigured once more in Me, Myself and I.

The way Albee recounts his own life is equally rife with repetition and variation. Some anecdotes, even particular ways of phrasing them, recur in different interviews. The two apocryphal novels he wrote as a kid (“the worst two novels that any American teenager could have written”) he now describes as 1500 and 3000 pages long. In 1966, the same works were 700 and “a couple hundred” pages.

Is it possible that the “Edward Albee” in the public eye is not just the author but the result of his writing? A fiction that has been built up over five decades of revision? Or even a ruse? Those dogs he appears so humanly fond of – before we'd even spoken, he had seen me patting a pooch that had appeared on the scene of our first encounter.

Contradiction has perhaps been the one constant in this life – challenging his parents, his critics, himself. The echoes that connect the rebellious child, the enfant terrible of theatre and the still-fighting Albee of today are a challenge to time as much as anything else. At 30 he was writing of 80-year-olds; now, he says, “half the time I still think I'm about 15. 80 is a fact. It's not an attitude. Whatever age you are, you're a different age really.”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: Us


By Grit Theatre

It's always the same – just as the Fringe hits the home stretch some new horse comes flying out of nowhere to tear up the turf. This is that show, for me. Totally unexpected, completely irresistible. I loved it.

It's billed as an exploration of what it means to be in your early twenties but – WAIT, COME BACK! I know, I know, that makes it sound like another student production of He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, but it's nothing of the sort. It's a play, but only if you try really really hard to make it one. Rather, it's better understood through the logic of music (or perhaps even visual art). The 'story' is less essential than the rhythm, the harmonies and the sudden key changes that occur, or the relationships between elements and their gestalt production of a whole – its effects arise quite independently of any notion of character or drama or any o' that guff.

There's a lot of split focus and overlapping dialogue which is as skilfully deployed as anything I can recall seeing – we're guided from conversation to conversation imperceptibly, through minute changes in the volume of speakers' voices or subtle visual cues that grab our attention. At the same time, there's a sense of real anarchy and spontaneity throughout, and a great deal of humour.

Humour's not really the word though – it's closer to joy, and that's the lifeblood of this production. The closest relative I can think of is Ontreorend Goed's Once and For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen; where that show drove home the incredible richness of teenage life, Us does a similar thing to twentysomething-dom. It also bears close relations to Ranters Theatre in the casual, conversational style that conceals the sophistication undergirding all. There are a few 'theatrical' moments that come from nowhere, and they knocked me through the back wall.

It can be relatively easy to wow audiences with dark themes and watered-down versions of tragedy, but it's rare that a work can make magic out of sheer, unconditional celebration. This is ecstatic theatre and I would see it again and again and again.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Review: These Are The Isolate


By Mutation Theatre.

See this show and snap to it.

Another entry from Mutation Theatre, it's been my biggest surprise of the festival so far. Hunting around, it turns out that every review or mention of this piece has been hugely encouraging, but last night I was one of only seven or eight people in attendance and it deserves much better than that. It really is one helluva piece of work.

I won't write much about it now since much of what makes it worth seeing is the experience of discovering it for yourself. The writing is outstanding, with a kind of Schroedinger's Cat quality – you know the experiment where a cat in a box is both alive and dead at the same time until the moment the box is opened and uncertainty is reduced to reality? There are elements of uncertainty at play here, but unlike your standard narrative mystery which involves the withholding of vital facts, this one presents incommensurate realities simultaneously so the mind is forced to switch back and forth between possibilities that can't be reconciled. It's a bit like those pictures that are both a lamp and a pair of faces but the brain can't register both at once.

The performances initially came across as a bit mannered and over-blown but grew on me steadily – I'd say they're heightened rather than exaggerated. Certainly there are moments that really illustrate how the two actors have gone into great detail in their preparation, and it's a rare sight. Make this one a priority, folks. We'll talk more after.



By Paul Moder and Natalia Ristovska. Until October 7.

It must take a special kind of bravery to attempt to tackle the worst of humanity's capacity for evil through the medium of strip-tease, but that's what this show tries to do. There's a scene in which an audience member is invited to participate in a lap-dance, and when he does so is met by a women playing a little girl who is ordered to undress for him. She's clearly unwilling and finding the experience traumatic. Much of the audience has been in a similar state for an hour or so by now. After all, we've had plenty of rape, shootings and guttings already, so we're repressing in advance the paedophilic imagery we're about to be offered. Thankfully on the night I attended the poor soul plucked from the crowd had given up being offended at this point, and issued a jovial “righto – arms up!” to his victim.

And how else are we to respond when the top-hatted and waist-coated M.C. solemnly instructs us to “lift your eyes from the girl in budding form, and free that which you can never possess...” With laughter, mostly.

Atrocity attempts to resuscitate the Grand Guignol, the Parisian theatre of graphic horror that aimed to aimed to shock the living daylights out of punters. And there's plenty to shock here, though it's a shocking show in several senses. Some sequences are genuinely accomplished, such as one involving a woman appearing to tear off her own flesh. Others, not so much.

I really didn't need to be subjected to real photos of the dismembered and brutalised victim of the infamous Black Dahlia case – if the aim of this production is to have it's audience look away in disgust, mission accomplished. But these real atrocities were matched by moments of almost deliberately awful hilarity: a woman in Muslim headscarf and dress does a strip-tease dance before an American soldier shoots her and bludgeons her to death. We ponder this, and the choices that led us here (to be sitting in this audience, specifically).

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this production is its seriousness. Why are we supposed to feel complicit in these scenes of torture and terror? Why is this more important than the 'horrors' reproduced at your average theatre restaurant? Why is the M.C. singing a low-rent imitation of a 90s Nine Inch Nails song?

It's entirely possible that the grim, po-faced delivery of everything here is a put-on and that we're supposed to laugh. In a way this would be a pity, because the three female performers all show considerable talent despite the miseries they're asked to endure.

But in the end this is nasty, wrong-headed stuff inconsiderate of its audience and unclear of its intentions. I loved it for this and laughed uncontrollably, and I'm sure there's an audience looking for just that.

Review: Madeleine Tucker's Unfashionable Windcheater Factory


By Madeleine Tucker. Season ended.

I went along to this one after its producer mentioned that I had seen two of Madeleine Tucker's previous shows and had liked them. It turned out that I had and I had. I'm glad I went to this because I liked it too.

The earlier shows featured Madeleine Tucker as one third of the trio A Lot of Bread, who made hyper-whimsical comedies with cardboard sets and naff props and often lollies – almost unbearably twee but in a way I found very enjoyable. I thought this might be Madeleine Tucker's solo show but it turns out to that she just enlisted three different people to work with and has inexplicably put her name in the title. I don't know what happened to the rest of A Lot of Bread. Maybe they maintained a refusal to include Madeleine Tucker's name in the show titles and she wasn't having any of it.

See, what I love here is that anybody who doesn't know Madeleine Tucker isn't going to see the show just because her name is in the title, but it's in there anyway! And nothing else in the title actually appears in the show! And if you're offended by excessive use of exclamation marks, look out buster! This show is one big exclamation mark!

Madeleine Tucker plays Rodney the goblin. Rodney meets a fridge and a zucchini and a bunch of other characters. They do stuff and sometimes don't do other stuff. When Rodney goes to bed he cheers “Come on, sleep!” I laughed at that. Late in the show a very funny video is played based around the toy dinosaur paralympics. I laughed at that too. And the fridge's child (and child and child's child) were inspired, but obviously none of this is going to translate as particularly funny if you weren't at the show.

There's a particular genre of whimsical comedy that had an upsurge a few years ago, with comics like Josie Long at the forefront, but A Lot of Bread (and this show) seem to occupy a slightly different niche. It's a bit like a children's show turned up to a manic level – it occupies the same dayglo surreal-lite world and the performances are similarly exaggerated, even patronising of their audience, as if we're all a bit underdeveloped, but with no qualms introducing more adult jokes into the mix (and the bloody murder of a surgeon in this show was laugh-out-loud because of the surprising inventiveness of the way it was staged.)

Anyway, that's all! Good job, Madeleine Tucker!

Review: TPAN (the play about nothing)


By & All the King's Men. Until October 9.

This is an odd little show that's both ambitious and understated – ambitious in that it employs a cut-up, audience-participation method that means every show will be radically different, and understated in that the world it produces is just the very ordinary one of a couple of teenaged boys on a night on the town.

I suppose the title is a nod to Seinfeld, the show about nothing, but like Seinfeld that descriptor's a bit misleading. This isn't a show about nothing, just about nothing grand. It's honestly a world I've never seen recreated in a theatre before – I suppose I still haven't, since this was a long way from a 'theatre'. In a grimy, graffitoed room above a pub, the audience sat in the round wearing assigned costume items and clutching their props. We'd been issued a page of character instructions including commands as to how we were to respond at key plot points, but any fears that this would be an all-out bit of audience interaction were quickly allayed when the show began. It's a two-hander that occasionally calls on each audience member for a moment of involvement, simply to flesh out the other characters these dudes meet in their misadventures.

These included angry shopkeepers, petty drug dealers, bums and pot-heads and a range of dodgy mates. The audience-performers aren't required to be great actors or even particularly enthusiastic – the real actors are themselves so full of energy and so damn real in their roles that they carry the thing along briskly nonetheless. And it's to their huge credit that they manage to improvise so well, since other characters will come and go depending on the number of audience members on any given night. I only realised afterwards that entire sequences must have been omitted on the fly for this reason.

It's not something that deals with great themes but it's a surprisingly fun night that seems to have provoked similar reactions from other reviews I've read. And given that at least four of the six audience members were professional critics or writers on the night I attended, and there didn't seem an ounce of nervousness on the part of the performers, that's gotta be worth an extra tick.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: Thyestes


By The Hayloft Project/Malthouse Theatre. CUB Malthouse until October 9.

Everyone bangs on about the Greeks inventing democracy, but they also tried some other pretty nifty methods of governance too. After Thyestes and his brother Atreus kill their half-brother Chrysippus they end up taking the throne and decide to take turns being king. I don't know about you, but I reckon going swapsies on leading the country is an idea we never really gave a full go.

Thyestes decides he's really into the king thing and one day goes “nuh-uh, it's mine forever now dude” and steals Atreus' wife to boot. What a rotten skunk. Atreus eventually does some stuff that gets him back in power, but this is where the tale really gets nasty. Now that he's back in power and everything is pretty much restored to its proper equilibrium, you'd think the story would end with Atreus and Thyestes looking at the audience and giving one of those “whuddyagonnado?” shrugs. Instead, Atreus cooks Thyestes' little boys and makes him unwittingly eat them.

I'm pleased to report that I was offended by this production. There were a few points where I honestly found myself curling up and thinking “geez, that's a bit much, fellas.” Which helped me realise that I can't remember the last time I had such a reaction. It's probably partly because we've seen most things before and it's very difficult to really shock an audience with something genuinely new. Equally, admitting to being offended can seem like a failing, as prudish or conservative or naïve. We might call something offensive, but making the offence a quality of the thing at hand rather than a personal response distances us from our own involvement in the process.

Anyway, Thyestes is, for me, genuinely transgressive stuff. Not just in the sense that it traverses boundaries of taste, since that (again) is a pretty inconstant qualifier. Rather, it makes void those distinctions. I don't think this is a show that can be categorised as good or bad. That's its genius.

The terrible question that always haunts a critic and, I suppose, most members of an audience is: “Is this good or bad?” It makes as much sense to ask whether a work is good or evil. But it's a question that almost always asserts itself and I'd say the critic's job is to stifle that inner voice and remain constantly vigilant to its intrusions. There are other questions, lots of 'em, that are far more interesting.

And then there are works that strangle that voice for you. If someone offers you a free jet-pack, you don't ask what colour. Thyestes simply can't be understood as a good or bad production. It's brilliant and horrible and clever and brutish and pointless and necessary. There aren't that many words that don't, in some way, connote 'good' or 'bad' in the final account – but this production deserves most of them, from both sides of the fence. (And I've just noticed David Mence has had a similar reaction over at Theatre Notes).

I've found that violent abolition of quality judgements in some of the Black Lung's previous work – it's tempting to say that the contributions of a few Black Lung members to Thyestes have nudged it in the same direction but I think that would be to underestimate director Simon Stone's own accomplishments here. This isn't a Black Lung show at all – it's a Hayloft piece, with distinct connections to Stone's earlier work, which also suggests new directions he's interested in taking.

Enough of my squawking, though. Don't bother reading about this show. Just go see it.

Review: The Lounge Room Confabulators


So these two guys come into your living room and tell stories and sing songs and play with toys and stuff. That's the basic set-up here. It's also one of the most enjoyable works I've seen in ages.

It's greatest strength is in the writing, which maintains a literary complexity that's often lacking in theatre. It at first appears a series of short, unconnected stories, but quickly reveals itself as one long story told partially from countless different angles. The tale itself is a masterful mix of the gothic and the comic, developing a rich world based around the monstrous childhood of the two storytellers. Their skills as performers are wonderful, too, with just enough levity required to make the more brutal moments of the narrative almost touching.

I think the season's sold out, and given the conditions of its showing – you book them into your lounge room and invite your friends – that's not hard to believe. If you do get a chance to visit a performance, or if the season is extended, jump on it hard with both feet.

Review: Home?


By Jono Burns. North Melbourne Town Hall until October 1.

So far this Fringe the number of shows I've seen in which I've been given a piece of fruit to take home equals two. The number of shows I've seen with a title ending in a question mark also equals two. Home? makes both lists. But don't think that healthy-snack bribery or interrogative punctuation are the real selling points here – there's much more to this one.

It's a solo performance by Jono Burns (accompanied by two quite clever musicians). It's based around Burns' years in New York at The Actors Studio, but while theatre about theatre can be painfully self-indulgent this is more of a satirical look at the profession and the hopefuls it attracts.

Burns is a fantastic character actor – he takes on at least a dozen incarnations here and most are realised with great skill. The tale itself is full of hilarious moments, often no more than imitations of the people who populate New York. As a narrative it doesn't really amount to much more than a string of anecdotes; the insertion of some more tender mentions of his family and upbringing don't gel that well with the NY material. This doesn't detract much from the overall experience, however, and I'd love to see this reworked with a tighter editorial eye.

Review: Paradise?


By City of Voices. South Melbourne Commons. Season ended.

Any diet of theatre should include regular inclusions of community development shows, kids' theatre, high school plays, drama school presentations, stand-up nights, readings and other staples that remind you that not all theatre aspires to the same thing. They also keep you regular and make your hair more glossy.

Paradise? is firmly in the community camp – it's an ensemble work by South Melbourne's City of Voices, who don't seem to have any particular brief beyond making work that involves everyone who wants to be a part. The group features members with and without disabilities as well as spanning a broad range of age and ethnicity.

The piece itself began as audiences were ushered through an outdoor installation where the performers were stationed as witches and sprites and toys and clowns. Once seated inside a hall, these actors played out a series of scenes apparently inspired by Paradise Lost, though the narrative thread wasn't particularly obvious. In fact, I was never really sure why anything that occurred did so, but that's a minor quibble.

It wasn't an instant classic, though I only say that because I've seen a lot of similar community stuff that has embedded itself in my memory forever (in a good way). But I don't think that Paradise? was intended to be anything more than it was, so it's meaningless to compare it to what it wasn't.

Review: A Study in Scarlet (A Study Of)


By Robert Lloyd and Scott Gooding. Son of Loft, Lithuanian Club until October 1.

Robert Lloyd has been obsessed with Sherlock Holmes since he was a child; here he plays out the entire story that introduced Arthur Conan Doyle's character to the world while offering commentary asides and dipping into the reasons that the superhero detective made such an impression on the skinny kid growing up in Dubbo. These latter sequences are the most appealing aspect of the show, and I wished there was more of this material than we ended up getting. The performance of the story itself is well done but probably not enough to hang 90% of the actual show on. It's still a satisfying bit of storytelling, though, and certainly worth a cursory inspection.

Review: I Love That You Forgot


By Sarah Hillman-Stolz and Emma Fisher. At Yah Yah's. Season ended.

This is a very sweet and likeable show that left me totally stumped. I can't for the life of me work out what was common to all of the sequences it presented, which featured dance, storytelling, spoken word, projection, physical theatre and lots of other bits and pieces. Many were fine on their own terms, but there was no indication why any one thing was selected for inclusion over anything else that could have been. It was like a language without a grammar.

What I did get from the piece was that the two performers seem like very nice people who would be kind and generous friends. That's a pretty good thing to get from a show. But I'm not sure exactly what else I was supposed to take away from it (apart from a banana and a cupcake).

Review: The Lost Story of the Magdalen Asylum


By Peepshow Inc. Abbotsford Convent until October 2.

Peepshow Inc's previous production at the stunning Abbotsford Convent was a gorgeous spectacle of puppetry and live performance; this one doesn't meet the same high standard. The earlier work offered both a grander scale and a more affecting intimacy, whereas this one is often too literal in the way it conveys its melancholy story of the real history of the venue as a haven for girls who fell from grace (or at least respectability) in 19th century Melbourne. There are a handful of sublime images and original theatrical manoeuvres, but they don't quite add up to the moving experience that this might well be.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"I know some really stupid old people"

A few weeks ago I sat down with director Julian Meyrick and some of the cast of Do Not Go Gentle..., opening tomorrow at fortyfivedownstairs. At the table were:

Rhys McConnochie, 73

Malcolm Robertson, 77

Terry Norris, 80

And Mr. Meyrick.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Just kidding. Going overseas for a week and a bit so don't bother dropping by in the meantime. I've had plenty of reviews I haven't been able to get up here recently as well, but, you know. Of them I'd most recommend Gary Abrahams Something Natural but Very Childish on at La Mama right now - it's utterly charming. Otherwise, make your own fun for a little while. My next fortnight will probably be a bit more like this:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Intelligence Can Be Eaten

People often write about particular artists 'evolving' – I'm pretty sure I've done it myself – but a while back I read a nice comment by a science-wise person arcing up against this term usage. Species evolve. Individuals don't. An individual can 'develop' or 'grow' or whatever, but evolution is the process of change across massive populations of lifeforms.

I think that probably holds true for the arts, too. Unless you subscribe to some form of aesthetic creationism that upholds genius as the result of divine intervention. Surprising how much criticism does.

Reviews: Next Wave Festival

Dudes, I'm really sorry I didn't write about the Next Wave festival here. I was really busy, for real. Along with seeing Next Wave stuff almost every night I was cramming in Emerging Writers Fest events as well as normal, non-festival shows and keeping down a regular job. I even managed to squeeze in a film! A film! Films are a luxury I just don't get! It's like saying I found time to go to a four-hour, three-course dinner and show at a theatre restaurant! Which I also did! Twice!

And now the festival is over; but seeing as I've found myself with about three minutes to kill I'm going to post some notes on some highlights, just for posterity or some such.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


The Sydney Biennale opened last week and came to my attention via a strange bit of correspondence I had with someone involved.

Mieskuoro Huutajat (The Shouting Men Choir) is a Finnish ensemble that formed in 1987. They've gained an international reputation for their performances, which usually involve traditional or national songs made strange by being shouted and howled by a gang of several dozen guys in suits. It's an interesting project – firstly in the way the harsh chanting strips away melody while foregrounding the affective potential of pure rhythm, and secondly in the choice of songs, which take on new aspects when delivered in an almost militaristic, aggressively masculine fashion.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review: Private Dances


So, last week I was in a small room in North Melbourne sitting astride an oversized rocking horse while wearing a red crushed-velvet robe and being urged to spank “the mind worm” – a giant white phallic thing dangling in front of my face – by a trio of near-naked cultists writhing in front of a bank of bright flashing video screens to a soundtrack of soft-porn moaning and the kind of music usually accompanied by album art featuring men with broadswords and ladies cuddling up to dragons, and I thought: “Oh right, I see.” This mightn't have been the kind of enlightenment sought after by the experience but I'd heard a lot about it already and was pleased to finally understand why everyone was urging me to try it on myself.

“The happy Pony Club come in” was one of more than a dozen dance works that made up Next Wave's Private Dances. Choreographer Natalie Cursio invited a swag of emerging artists to create intimate pieces for audiences of one (or sometimes two or three) and the range of dance styles represented was broad – traditional Indian dance, krumping, contortionism, live art and lots of film. In one moment I was slow dancing with a gorilla to Bob Marley, in the next I was sitting in a van while three headbangers rocked out to Alice Cooper's “Poison”. One of the most satisfying numbers was a tiny number named “The Mint Thief” which created a complete experience akin to a movie trailer, cutting together a story of crime and pursuit at an astonishingly rapid pace (and complemented by a heady aroma of mint). And most of the works took place in camping tents barely tall enough to stand up in.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review-ish: 24 Hours

24 HRS

At Dancehouse.

I don't think I could be accused of sensationalism for suggesting that 24 HRS may spell the end of art as we know it. The brief is simple: four choreographers and some dancers have 24 hours to create a new dance work from scratch. But like most catalysts of the apocalypse (germs, asteroids, Hey Hey) it is this apparent simplicity that masks the real threat. Because really: if this godless experiment results in something truly dazzling, where will that leave all of the dance works that take weeks, months, years to gestate? And more importantly, where will it leave all the funding that goes towards those lengthy development periods that we all know involve staring moodily out of gabled windows while keeping a roaring fire fuelled by the wads of cash handed out by government bodies? (I don't mean that literally – plastic Australian money doesn't burn at all well and most artists are forced to spend it on easily-flammable first editions of rare books to throw in the hearth).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Review: The Persistence of Dreams: The Sandman


By IRAA Theatre.

If we'd seen that show in a theatre, notes a fellow audience member, we wouldn't still be sitting here talking about it. This is an hour after Roberta Bosetti and Renato Cuocolo have left the building and the building in question is the home of a friend. We'd had a big meal and some wine and talked a bunch of crap while waiting the arrival of The Italians who, at the appointed hour, knocked on the door and took over the house. Nobody knew much about what to expect of the pair and since the piece will undoubtedly have a future life I won't go into too much detail about exactly what they pull off here. It becomes clear early on, however, that to invite strangers into your home means giving up a certain amount of power which we take for granted in the safety of our living spaces and, indeed, our theatre.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Review: Cageling

By The Rabble.

The Rabble's production of Cageling at fortyfivedownstairs has sold out which is great news for independent theatre in Melbourne (is it me or has there been an unusual number of similar sellout seasons in 2010?) It's a reimagining of Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba with some pretty bold imagery and directorial choices, but for me it was marred for a few reasons I'll get to eventually.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Twitter and Censorship

I've been really quite disturbed since I heard about Catherine Deveny's sacking from her position as an Age columnist yesterday. I'm not sure why it's left me so unsettled – well, I am, but it's the number of issues that overlap here which is getting to me. I'm going to offer some thoughts on just two of these.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Malthouse Theatre's Season 2, 2010 launch

Hey you guys! Malthouse Theatre launched the second half of its 2010 season last night and various things were learnt (obv. not regarding the feckless deployment of the passive voice in opening paragraphs). THESE INCLUDED:

The CUB Malthouse is this month celebrating 20 years since the first production was staged there.

Michael Kantor can recover well after accidentally saying “incest” instead of “insect”.

Michael Kantor can turn that stumble into another joke when he is later required to actually say “incest”.

The notion of inadvertently eating your children after they have been baked into a pie will draw audible and repeated responses from an intrigued audience.

People who go to Malthouse launches really dig the catering and will yell at you if you cut the queue (this didn't happen to me but I have it on decent authority).

But enough of this flimflam. What's on the calendar for the rest of the year?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Review: When Will You Be Home?


By Forty Forty Home

In a review of this double bill Neandellus noted that both pieces would probably work just as well in the form of short stories and this is something we really need to address, colleagues, because it's affecting productivity and for the sake of clear-thinking and right-speaking we need to table some issues that have been ongoing and endemic in our organisation. I can't count the number of times I've heard comments like this in the tea room and the gym and that weird converted chimney where the mandrill hangs out (does HR even know about that?) and yes, in the interests of transparency I'll openly admit that I've frequently put similar sentiments out there, whether in writing or just emanated from my faintly luminescent body during the weekly deep-sea aquarobics outings. But what do we really mean when we say this?

Both halves of When Will You Be Home? are half-hour monologues which might explain things a bit. They're not especially physical – that is, there's no blocking which is indispensable to the experience and the bodily presence of the actors is also secondary. I suppose you could say that they're primarily focused on language or at least linguistic play. And though there is dialogue within each, locating these exchanges within the same performer might make the experience closer to reading, in which various roles are filled out by the one imagination. Again, this makes the drama internal to the language rather than arising from the possibility of real conflict between onstage agents (this isn't categorically stating that the individual can't contain multitudes, but I hope you get what I mean).

Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: Fame the Musical


Wrote William James on perspectivism: “We are practical beings, each of us with limited functions and duties to perform. Each is bound to feel intensely the importance of his own duties and the significance of the situations that call these forth. But this feeling is in each of us a vital secret, for sympathy with which we vainly look to others. The others are too much absorbed in their own vital secrets to take an interest in ours. Hence the stupidity and injustice of our opinions, so far as they deal with the significance of alien lives. Hence the falsity of our judgments, so far as they presume to decide in an absolute way on the value of other persons' conditions or ideals.”

Perspectivism as a philosophical tradition has a history way back to Xenophanes and is a fancy-pants way of suggesting that you may say “tomato” and I may say “tom-ah-to” and we can both be right. Anti-perspectivists might claim that if you go on to say “potato” and I respond with “po-tah-to” then you have every right to say “po-tah-to isn't a word, fool” and to assert that I have committed some kind of error here. Personally, in this situation, I'd be more concerned about my undiagnosed echolalia combined with an inability to pronounce the names of foodstuffs correctly.

In any case, all of this is one method of explaining why I can say “awkward misfire of a production” while you say “delightful musical romp” and we can both be describing the same thing. The thing in this case is Fame the Musical.

Review: Richard III


By Melbourne Theatre Company.

A few months ago I was having a conversation with my neighbour after our front windows were smashed on two different occasions. He's in his 60s and even though he left Italy when he was 11 he still has a really thick accent and some strangely pre-WWII attitudes. For instance, he's certain that the brick through his window was the result of a centuries-old, transcontinental enmity between Lebanese and Jewish people, and the idea that he's an innocent victim of a bizarre imagined race war makes for entertaining banter at least.

He's a lovely fellow with some odd opinions, is what I'm telling ya. When he started up about how he sadly had to hand over all of his guns during a firearm amnesty a couple of decades back, I got a bit concerned. He then went on to explain that if he'd caught the baddies he wouldn't have shot them anyway – of course – because that just gets you into more trouble. A better solution would be to do what they did back under Mussolini's reign: get a pint of castor oil and force the vandals to drink it. For the next six months they'd be crapping themselves several times a day, which would mean they couldn't hold down a job or live a normal life. That sounded like a suitable punishment, by his reckoning, and it's a sad thing that nowadays you can end up the criminal if you get caught forcing a man to drink a pint of castor oil. Look at Italy under Mussolini, though: no criminals there, he said.

And then came the clincher: “I'm not saying we need a fascist leader,” he explained. A shrug. “Weeeell. Maybe for a little bit.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Comedy Fest: Things Missed Along the Way

Golly gumbucks, it's over. There were craploads of shows I didn't get time to mention here so here's a quick purge of half-baked things that accreted along the way. There are another ten or so that don't get a mention (including some brilliant stuff) but hey, Capital Idea doesn't pay by the word and let's face it: more ill-thought-through commentary by me written for the sake of completeness isn't enriching anyone's life. If you do care to read on, knock yourself out.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010 MICF Barry nominees

I'll keep it quick. The shortlist for this year's Barry award are:

Asher Treleaven - Secret Door
Damian Callinan - The Merger: Sportsman’s Night 2
Josh Thomas - Surprise
The List Operators For Kids - More Fun Than A Wii
Sammy J and Randy - Rickett’s Lane
Wil Anderson - Wilful Misconduct

Some interesting facts: the winner(s) will be male and Australian. For the first time ever a kids' show may score the top prize. Or a puppet. None of the nominees are newcomers to the festival. Quite a few are playing relatively small rooms. They're all very worthy of the award.

Golden Gibbo noms are:

Asher Treleaven - Secret Door
Geraldine Quinn - Shut Up And Sing
Sam Simmons and David Quirk - The Incident
Poet Laureate Telia Neville - While I'm Away
Stevn Shefl And His Translator Fatima 

The winner (and winners of Best Newcomer, Age Critics Award, Piece of Wood and Festival Directors' Award) will be announced at some godless hour of Sunday morning next week.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Comedy Fest review: Andrew McClelland's Somewhat Accurate History of the Fall of the Roman Empire


Anyone attending one of Andrew McClelland's history shows is bound to learn something. I learned that I'm a bigger nerd than I'd previously realised. Also: some barbarians lathered up in their own shit before going into battle. Isn't that all I have to say to get you along to this one?

Comedy Fest review: Jon Richardson - This Guy at Night


There are two kinds of people in the world, says Jon Richardson, and I instantly cringe. But go with his generalisation and you'll find the key to his surprisingly engaging comedy. The tongue-in-cheek division is between Putters and Leavers. Ask someone where their keys are. A Putter will answer “they're where I put them”. A Leaver will reply “Wherever I left them!” Richardson is, unquestionably, a Putter. He's a man for whom everything must be Just So, and since things are usually a lot messier than that allows for, he's also a fairly miserable and disappointed finder of human failings.

Comedy Fest review: +1 Sword


If some wizened gnome had prophesied that I'd be fronting up to two comedy festival shows based on Dungeons & Dragons this year, I'd have laughed heartily. If the same godforsaken goblin had then told me I'd thoroughly enjoy both I would have had to deliver him a kick in the scrying ball. But what rude and arcane enchantment is upon me! I did like 'em! Liked 'em both!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comedy Fest review: Sam Simmons & David Quirk - The Incident


I mentioned in my last post that I'm not a hat-wearer but I should clarify that I do wear a helmet when I'm on my bicycle or in the bath. That doesn't count as a hat, though, because there's no way in hell you can tilt a bike helmet at a rakish angle without seriously compromising your road safety and I want to make clear that I don't condone that kind of recklessness at all. Also, you might want to wear a helmet to The Incident because it presents a reckonable risk of brain injury.