Cargo by Sarah Cathcart and Kerreen Ely-Harper. Performed by Sarah Cathcart and Kerreen Ely-Harper. Design by Anna Borghesi, lighting design Rachel Burke, score Elizabeth Drake. Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse until March 12.
Sarah Cathcart is one of those fiercely individual solo talents that Australian theatre seems particularly good at creating (and, it must be said, neglecting). Some of the best shows I've seen over the past two decades of peripatetic and irregular theatre going have been solo performances.
I'm thinking here of performers like Margaret Cameron, Howard Stanley, Carolyn Connors, Justus Neumann or, among younger artists, Stuart Orr. I suspect this phenomenon occurs here because such talents find it difficult, in the relatively small arena of Australian theatre, to create a niche that permits them to fully express their theatrical visions, and so they are forced to go it alone.
It's perhaps symptomatic that Sarah Cathcart, after the success of her shows The Serpent's Fall, Walking on Sticks and Tigerland, has had a hiatus of a decade between productions. And bouquets to the Malthouse for dragging her back to the stage by commissioning Cargo.
Here, Cathcart turns her attention to the early settlement of Australia, when the First Fleet under the command of Governor Phillip made its almost catastrophic landing at Sydney Cove. Cathcart has plundered contemporary documents, especially those of ship's officer Watkin Tench, which vividly portray the hardships the early Europeans faced in the first few years of settlement.
Cathcart narrates the story of the Cornish convict Mary Bryant, transported for robbery, who achieved fame through a remarkable feat of seamanship - with her husband and two children, and two other convicts, she stole the Governor's cutter and escaped from the penal colony of Botany Bay, navigating the 5000 km to Timor. It is blackly ironic that, after surviving the travails of that journey - on a par with Bligh's journey to Timor after the mutiny on the Bounty the year before - her children and husband died when they were captured by the British. Bryant returned to imprisonment in England and, after the writer James Boswell took an interest in her case, was eventually pardoned.
As in her earlier work, Cathcart's and Kerreen Ely-Harper's text makes an imaginative and poetic collage of the source documents, extending them into a textured dramatic monologue in which she performs a variety of different voices - Mary Bryant and Watkin Tench primarily, but also a wide variety of lesser roles. Cargo is, among other things, a fascinating essay on the complexity of colonisation - the sheer brutality of the British penal system against the basic human decency of Governor Phillips and Watkin Tench; the bewilderments, comic misunderstandings and eventual cruelties of first contact with Indigenous Australians; most of all, the shock of alienness that greeted the colonists when they first arrived.
Here was nothing they could recognise; even the seasons were upside down. For many convicts this was compounded by their urban backgrounds: they had less than no idea how to fend for themselves in the wild. The colony very quickly faced the prospect of outright starvation. Bryant, being a fisherman's daughter, was rather better prepared than many, and learned from the Aboriginals what fish to catch, where to catch them, and what their seasons were.
Historian James Boyce, speaking of a similar time in the early settlement of Tasmania when the colony was so desperate that the authorities armed the convicts so they could go hunting for food with the local tribes, calls this an "indigenising process". He sees it as the beginning of an new and subversive envisioning of Australia that began as "the result of a deep interaction with the land and its Aboriginal owners". This process was sharply suppressed by the British authorities, who saw, it quite rightly, as a threat to their monopoly of power. Bryant - rebellious, self-reliant and resourceful - is an embodiment of this alternative and subversive possibility.
Cathcart performs her counter-history across a set which features the famous early map of Sydney Cove, the first inscription of European names and power over the Terra Nullius that Australia was deemed to be. It is a bravura performance that builds over its 80 minutes to moments of high comedy and deep pathos; Cathcart uses all her resources of theatrical imagination and physical skill to embody the contradictory realities of early settlement.
Only one thing bothered me: being of Cornish background myself, Cathcart's uncertain Cornish dialect - and perhaps more importantly, the lack of the signal Cornish endearments such as "my handsome" or "my lover", phrases which warm some of my earliest memories - interrupted my immersion in the realities Cathcart was invoking. In a small but telling way it generalised this story, which otherwise is so much about specific and seemingly trivial detail, the concrete actualities which prick apart the blandly generalised narratives of Australianness that are currently urged upon us in the name of patriotism. The Australia offered us in Cargo is at once darker and more human than such official histories can admit: crueller, sadder, funnier, and much more beautiful.
Picture: Sarah Cathcart in Cargo. Photo: James Davies
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Cargo by Sarah Cathcart and Kerreen Ely-Harper. Performed by Sarah Cathcart and Kerreen Ely-Harper. Design by Anna Borghesi, lighting design Rachel Burke, score Elizabeth Drake. Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse until March 12.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Your faithful blogger is playing panel host for the next Things on Sunday event at the Malthouse. I'm hoping to host a fascinating conversation between two very interesting minds, Paul Carter and Richard Frankland. And there will be colour and movement too - we're promised a little bit of multimedia. So do come.
The press release runs thus:
“History,” claimed Voltaire, “consists of a series of accumulated imaginative inventions”.
As the first of the 2006 Things on Sunday program at the Malthouse Theatre, join our esteemed panel in exploring the curious journey to establish historical truth’. Writer and artist Paul Carter, as well as indigenous film maker, playwright and activist Richard Frankland, are led by writer and poet Alison Croggon as host, as they discuss this fine line in how Australians imagine our past and present.
Paul Carter is the author of many books, including The Road to Botany Bay (1987), The Lie of the Land (1996) and Repressed Spaces: the poetics of Agoraphobia (2002). As an artist he has collaborated with artists including Bharatam Dance Company, and Lab architecture studio where they designed Nearamnew, the ground pattern at Federation Square. His most recent book is Parrot (Reaktion Books, 2006).
Richard Frankland is one of Australia’s most experienced Indigenous singer/song writer filmakers. He has written, directed and produced a wide range of video, documentary and film projects including the award winning Who Killed Malcolm Smith, No Way To Forget, After Mabo and Harry’s War. Recently he wrote and directed the award winning play Conversations With The Dead and in 2003 his stage show An Evening With Richard Frankland was performed at the Sydney Opera House.
Merlyn Theatre, The CUB Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank 3006. Sunday 26 February at 2.30pm.
Almost a decade ago, when I first began exploring the net, theatre seemed like the last bastion: so deeply rooted in real time and physical space, perhaps, it's been slow to catch up with the prose and conniptions of cyberdiscussion. Poets, being unwanted anywhere else (I joke! I joke!), moved there wholesale; poetry zines, blogs, forums, listserves, author pages and so on are out there in (literally) their millions. But no more: it's standard for theatre companies now to run websites and theatre zines and forums are flowering like Paterson's Curse - recent new Melbourne additions, both responses to a lively independent scene, are Theatre Alive and Melbourne Stage Online, which I'm told will soon introduce a discussion forum. And, of course, blogs are spreading like an ever more insidious virus. As some of the mainstream press indulges an ever more flippant philistinism (check out this belief-beggaring piece, only the latest of a series, by Age arts editor Raymond Gill) real discussion - enlivened by the possibility of interaction across continents - moves ever more steadily onto the net.
So permit me to point out some recent items of interest, the mere tip of an iceberg. George Hunka of Superfluities is dragging us further into the 21st century with his first Podcast, a review of Odchodzi (Passing Away), a show by a Polish company based on the poetry of Tadeusz Rozewicz, now on at La Mama in New York. Check out as a matter of priority Chris Boyd's fascinating interview with Athol Fugard on Camus, truth, reconciliation and freedom at his blog The Morning After, and while you're at it read his review of Mummenschanz's 3x11, now on in Melbourne. As usual, debate has been running hot on Scott Walters' blog Theatre Ideas - Arcticactor has a good summary of a blogosphere discussion on theatre criticism at his BLOG!.
Slightly aside from theatre, playwright Jasmine Chan and her partner Miles are keeping fascinating (and awesomely well-written) travel journals at their respective blogs, Endpapers and A Confrontation with Falling. After a colourful time in South America, they're now in London. Ben Ellis, another Melbourne Playwright at Large, is currently hiding out at the Cites des Artes in Montparnasse and blogging on Parachute of a Playwright. And lastly, a note which has nothing to do with theatre at all, I was chuffed today to see my translation of Rilke's Eighth Duino Elegy quoted on a very classy blog, Wood s Lot. Must get those translations into a book one day...
So get clicking!
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Can't Leave Tomorrow Alone by Vanessa Rowell, directed by Emma Valente. Design by Kate Davis, lighting by Rebecca Etchell. With Ma-an Adriano, Jasper Bagg, Alexis Beebe, Athony Cleave and Nicola Gunn. Hoist Theatre @ Theatreworks, until February 25. One Way Street by David Grieg, directed by Chris Bendall. Design by Kirrilly Brentnall and Isla Shaw, lighting Nick Merryless. With Simon Kingsley Hall. Theatre@Risk at 45 Downstairs
The revenge tragedy, as exemplified in the Jacobean plays of John Webster or John Ford, is a place of fabulous excess. These works excavate sexual passions and political intrigue from the darkest corners of the human psyche, and play them out remorselessly in a dystopian reality that permits no redemption. In the world of the revenge tragedy, there is no such thing as innocence: everyone is implicated in the carnal realities of this fallen world, and the price for the ecstatic revulsion that its base materiality evokes is always blood.
It is a theatre of extremity and, crucially, a poetic theatre: a forerunner of Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty and Howard Barker's Theatre of Catastrophe, or of plays like Peter Weiss' Marat/Sade or Sarah Kane's Blasted. Which is to say that Vanessa Rowell's Can't Leave Tomorrow Alone can't be faulted on its ambition. A contemporary inflection on revenge tragedy, it brings to its portrayal of middle-class suburbia the erotic darkness of sexual cruelty and exploitation.
The set-up - which swiftly reveals that Jason (Jasper Bagg) is having a passionately obsessive affair with his adopted Asian daughter Chantel (Ma-an Adriano) - made me wonder fleetingly if this was an "issue" play about sex slavery. Then, when the sado-masochistic nature of Jason's relationship with his wife Abigail (Alexis Beebe) unfolds, and Chantel runs off and is imprisoned by an inscrutably asexual lover, there is the issue of male violence. But thankfully, the play never pretends to portray documentary realities: the language is heightened and poetic, unafraid of attempting almost Elizabethan flourishes or of pushing beyond the tragic to a black, ironic vision of absurdity.
Whether Chantel, the spoilt adopted daughter, is any less of a sex slave than the women illegally imported into Western countries and forced brutally into prostitution, is a question that runs underneath the skin of the action, as does the issue of domestic violence. But it becomes clear is that everyone in this play is violent, including Chantel herself, brutalised by a brutal world in which the only possible beauty is transient. And even the perception of that possible beauty is, ultimately, isolating: it solves nothing. However, for all the bleakness of its vision, it is not a bleak experience of theatre.
The main problem with the play is not inherent in the language itself, which is impressive: Rowell writes tough, poetic dialogue and has a good ear for both the sublime and ridiculous. It's that she has little control of the architecture of the drama, a quality that is crucial to tragedy, even in its postmodern incarnations in playwrights like Howard Barker or Sarah Kane. The structure, even if it is fragmented, needs to move like a pitiless machine towards its apotheoses of pathos or horror or fear; but here it seems to collapse or meander, muffling the force of individual scenes.
Emma Valente directs with a spare hand, invoking from her actors the extremities the script demands: such artifice requires, paradoxically, a great deal of emotional honesty. None of the actors fails to meet the challenge, though there are times when manneredness substitutes for nakedness, loudness for passion. The stand-out revelation of the production is Ma-an Adriano, in her first acting role: she combines an electrifying physical presence with emotional fearlessness, tempering the whole with a fine irony that makes an exact sense of her role.
Kate Davis' set, like the direction, is spare: the cavernous space of Theatreworks is halved by a coarse hessian curtain, dimly lit from behind to permit glimpses of shadowy figures. The Elizabethan tenor of the play is highlighted by the neck ruffs and subtly archaic style of the costumes. The forestage area is divided by asymmetrically diagonal poles of scaffolding, which abstractly define playing spaces. The lighting - which includes effective use of footlights - focuses the solidity of the real objects that stand in isolated pools of light: the rowing boat which represents the marital bed, the lush colours of vegetables in a basket, the bodies of the actors themselves. The effect is at once sensuous and dislocating.
Scottish playwright David Grieg's One Way Street is, in contrast, by a writer in full control of his material. It's a monologue narrated by one John Flannery (Simon Kingsley Hall), an escapee from Lancashire who is hiding out from his repressively English family in Berlin while attempting, somewhat fecklessly, to live the bohemian life of a writer.
The play is structured on a simple premise: Flannery has been given a paying job and has been asked to write write up ten walks for a tour guide to Berlin. So there are ten monologues which meander imaginatively through various districts of Berlin, visiting the Jewish Cemetery, hanging out in cafes in Prenzlauer Berg or visiting the red light district. The walks become the occasion for Flannery to view a retrospective of his life.
And a fairly mediocre life it has been, he realises: he has neither money nor self respect. His family fills him with horror: he refers to it as a "black hole" and, in his panicked resistance to its collective gravitational pull, he has succeeded in blighting his own life, fleeing emotional challenge or commitment for an empty illusion of freedom. He is presently spending his time drinking too much in cheap bars, having abandoned his pregnant German girlfriend Greta (or driven her crazy, which perhaps amounts to the same thing). The play charts his his movement through self-contempt towards a sense of self-knowledge, a tentative understanding that the emotional poverties of his family need not determine the shapes of his subsequent relationships; but this is clearly fragile, a beginning of hope rather than a sense of happily ever after.
With sardonic asides on writing, relationships, the history of Berlin and political tyranny, it's a witty text which wears its seriousness lightly. And it is a gift for an actor, demanding he exercise all aspects of his art: his ability to switch instantly from one role to another in a series of dialogues, to move back and forth in time, to invoke both comic deftness and pathos. Simon Kingsley Hall is most certainly up to it.
Chris Bendall's direction is deft, moving the play quickly and seamlessly through its variations. The design uses street signs, tables, a patch of grass or a railing to signal specific locations, and is augmented by projected images, which may be unnecessary - I'm not sure how much they really add to the production - but which unobstrusively counterpoint the text. For all its comedy and undoubted energy, it's curiously meditative theatre: the stage as a machine for both memory and imagination.
Picture: Jasper Bagg as Jason and Ma'an Adriano as Chantel in Can't Leave Tomorrow Alone. Photograph: Erin Davis
Monday, February 13, 2006
Further to some recent discussion here on commercial shows mounted by subsidised theatre companies: the Sydney Morning Herald runs a story today which says that the STC is posting its first deficit for a decade. And it is not alone: several other mainstream companies are struggling.
They are collectively calling for a 25 per cent increase in their funding. As the SMH reports:
The STC is among five major performing arts companies struggling to make ends meet that are expecting a combined loss of up to $1.5 million for last year, despite boosting sponsorship by 98 per cent and box-office takings by 60 per cent since 1998.
Other companies facing a loss are Company B, the Queensland Theatre Company, Circus Oz and Bell Shakespeare.
A survey by the Australian Major Performing Arts Group found has found the percentage of government funding has decreased, while reliance on box-office revenue has risen. This has forced companies to produce less adventurous work, according to the companies. Most say they have had to program more conservative repertoire, including light comedies or Broadway hits, to ensure their ticket sales remain strong.
The article reports that the STC's subsidy is a footling 7.5 per cent, compared to subsidies in Britain of 40 to 50 per cent (don't even think about Europe, where funding can be 80 per cent). Furthermore, the Herald Sun this morning reports that although MTC box office takings have gone up 66 per cent since 1998, from $21 million to $33.2 million, average show production costs have been cut by 9 per cent. And because large cast shows are getting more and more difficult to mount, acting jobs in the major companies are down by 15 per cent.
I guess these figures speak for themselves. And these, remember, are the "rich" companies.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Virgins: a musical threesome by Mathew Frank and Dean Bryant, directed by Dean Bryant. Musical director Luke Byrne, design by Adam Gardnir. With Esther Hannaford, Rosemarie Harris, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Amanda Levy and Kellie Rode. The Tower Theatre @ the Malthouse until February 11
I am becoming rather thoughtful about musicals; there's a lot of them about these days. And I wonder...
The richest Australian prize for music theatre, the Pratt Prize, is slanted toward developing one particular genre of music theatre, the Broadway musical; founder and philanthropist Jeanne Pratt said when the prize was launched that she "was more or less trying to find an Australian Irving Berlin". To the end of promoting this artform, the Pratt Foundation (which of course has every right to encourage whatever it likes) has a company, The Production Company, which last year ran a season of performances of Oklahoma!, Kiss Me Kate and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard.
No one is going to sneeze at a $80,000 prize; and the sheer fact of it must be exercising a magnetic pull on Australian music theatre. The argument is that the Australian musical (which has had a fairly disastrous history, from the famous debacle of Manning Clark's History of Australia to the enthusiastic kitsch of Eureka! a couple of years ago) needs all the help it can get. This may well be true. But music theatre is a broad church, inhabited by many more forms than the traditional Broadway musical, or its contemporary off-Broadway offshoots such as Urinetown. Although, of course, it behoves me to remember indigenous shows like The Sapphires, or the cabaret of Eddie Perfect or Paul Capsis, I find myself worrying about ecological diversity.
Don't get me wrong; it's not like I think the musical should not exist. But if that broad church "music theatre" tends, particularly in its fringe manifestations, primarily to the poles of Broadway and the West End, I believe that it's a problem. I'm thinking rather wistfully of the energy and inventiveness of Australian music theatre in the 70s and 80s - John Romeril's rude and crude The Golden Holden Show, produced in 1975, or Daniel Keene's Cho Cho San, Madame Butterfly reimagined with banraku puppetry and a score that mixed jazz, rock and opera, which was the theatre hit of the 80s.
It's a question even in New York: critic George Hunka, surveying the New York Fringe Festival, comments sardonically that for all its pop and verve, the program is populated by "knowing, sly" musical comedies, all vying for a slot on Broadway, or at least off-Broadway. The writers of Virgins, Mathew Frank and Dean Bryant, have, in fact, already had a musical produced in New York, and the gravity of the American Dream looms large in the three pieces presented here. I guess that Melbourne is about as off-Broadway as it gets.
The show is really three mini-musicals, of which only the first, The Virgin Wars, is overtly American. It's an amusing skit which exposes the conflicting messages given to young contemporary women who must, in a culture saturated with images of sexuality, preserve their chastity. Five young women are touring American high schools, using their cheerleader sassiness to promote the excitement of preserving oneself for marriage. Meanwhile, their bump'n'grind routines convey entirely another message - and it seems that some of the girls are not as pure as they make out. As it were.
The next two pieces directly address media representations. Girl on the Screen concerns a woman journalist assigned to investigate soft porn websites run by women. Are they, she asks, empowered by what they do, or are they merely exploited by a world shaped only by male desire? The straightlaced journalist finds that the truth is more complicated than she imagined - and worse, that her employment by a multinational media company is a more profound form of prostitution.
The final show, Jumpin' the Q, invents the ultimate bad taste reality show: singing asylum seekers from a variety of countries (Russia, Columbia, Iran and Zimbabwe) compete for a visa, a recording contract and a new life in Australia. The exploitative voyeurism of of reality tv is here lifted to new heights, although it's actually not that hard to imagine such a show being seriously mooted: some things in our modern world are beyond parody.
Each of these shows is inventively directed by Dean Bryant, with a minimal but effective design that permits the Tower seating to be rearranged twice in the course of the evening. And performances are without exception full-blooded and fun: there's a lot of talent on show here. The five-piece band grinds out an entertaining marriage of rock and musical numbers, and if there are dramatic longueurs, especially in the final piece, they are largely compensated for by some spirited singing and dancing.
The Virgin Wars is the most successful of these three, perhaps because the ideas it addresses are the most apt to its form. In the other two I found myself contemplating an uncertain marriage of form and content: the attempt at serious social commentary collides heavily with the entertainment aesthetic of the musical. In the middle is, perhaps inevitably, a soft centre.
Are the asylum seekers amusing caricatures of different nationalities (notwithstanding that the Zimbabwean is a white refugee), or people whose histories and personalities should rouse empathy and understanding? The production oscillates uncomfortably between these questions, never quite resolving them. Jumpin' the Q has enough intelligence to avoid the worst traps that lie waiting for it in tackling this subject but, perhaps out of an admirable respect for the issues it addresses, it fails to be bold enough to pull off its own conceit. Part of me wished that it was much crueller, that it dared to follow to the end the logic of its own bad taste.
Perhaps being under the rubric of "entertainment" means that one cannot create too much offence: and certainly it is difficult to pull the emotional gems of real drama out of the froth of musicals. Which isn't, of course, to say that it can't be done. But that's another argument.
Chris Boyd's review at The Morning After
Friday, February 03, 2006
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin, conception Rebecca Feldman. Directed by Simon Phillips. designed by Dale Ferguson. With Marina Prior, Tyler Coppin, Bert Labonte, David Campbell, Christen O'Leary, Tim Wright, Magda Szubanski, Natalie Mendoza and Natalie O'Donnell. Playhouse @ the Victorian Arts Centre, until February 25.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has been a phenomenon on Broadway, and it's easy to see why: it's a bright, appealing show in the best traditions of American musicals, with enough satirical bite to avoid the saccharine. Think Little Shop of Horrors, with its light comic digs at American materialism and off-beat love story, replace the gothic elements with a parody of contemporary small town America, and you have the tenor about right.
It takes that most American of inventions, the competitive spelling bee, and wrings surprising dramatic mileage from this simple idea. The spelling bee is, of course, already a performance, where a hapless child stands in front of an audience and tries to spell increasingly obscure words. When they get a word wrong, they're eliminated from competition, and the winner is the last one standing. It is, in many ways, a precursor of the Big Brother/American Idol "reality" shows, and with the same ruthless subtext of predatory competitiveness.
And, as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee or, indeed, Big Brother, demonstrates, any situation in which contestants are placed under pressure opens rich possibilities for emotional revelation. The successive rounds of the spelling bee include dramatisations of the children's inner thoughts as they stand in front of the microphone, groping for some clue on how to spell a word like "xanthosis" or "appoggiatura". These vignettes reveal the complexities of their lives, and in the process offer up a breezy portrait of the neuroticisms of middle class America.
Logainne Schwarzandgrubeniere (Christen O'Leary), for instance, has to be a poster girl for her two gay fathers, who are anxious to show what a successful child they have raised. Leaf Coneybeare (Tim Wright) is from a large home-schooled family, and feels outshone by his bright siblings. Marcy Park (Natalie Mendoza) is a prodigy who longs for the liberation of failing, and Olive Ostrovsky (Natalie O'Donnell) misses her mother, who has gone to an ashram in India for nine months. And then there's William Barfee (Magda Szubanski), obnoxious, arrogant, clever, asocial and lonely, and the former spelling bee champion Chip Tolentino (David Campbell), who is tormented by the travails of adolescent lust.
The spelling bee itself is run by Ms Peretti (Marina Prior), a former champ herself who scatters seductive charm over any male within smiling distance, and Vice Principle Panch (Tyler Coppin), who is as asocial as some of his pupils. And the whole is watched over by the ironic eye of the streetwise Mitch Mahoney (Bert Labonte), who is doing community service for unknown transgressions as the "comfort counsellor". His job is to console the losers although, as he says, he'd like to see what would happen if they had to cope with something really bad.
To be a loser is almost synonymous with sin in a society where Donald Trump is the model for ultimate success. The irony is, of course, that the children who win are the misfits and the socially inept, "losers" in almost every other sense.
Simon Phillips has put together a classy production with an excellent cast, and it bounces along entertainingly from the first number, neither insulting your intelligence nor boring you. The set is a basketball court-cum-school hall, with a curtained stage at the back, behind which sits the band. The stage is used inventively and flexibly: the playing space includes the auditorium, for of course we are the fictional audience of the spelling bee as much as the actual audience of the musical. This complicity is underlined by a bit of audience participation: four contestants are drawn from spectators. They compete and are eliminated (in one case, with a particularly good speller, with some difficulty), comforted and sent back "home".
The band is tight, the music catchy, the singing (especially from Marina Prior) glorious. And the performances are essays in comic deftness: just this side of caricature, with enough depth to generate moments of real feeling. In short, this is a show with bags of charm, and an undoubted winner for the MTC.
Is it churlish of me to cavil at this point? No doubt...but let me be a churl anyway. It's my job. What is the MTC - the largest subsidised theatre company in the southern hemisphere - doing putting on what is, by any other name, a commercial musical? Surely this is the kind of decision that has actual commercial producers gnashing their teeth? The fact that I know a lot of the answers - looming large among them the parlous funding for even the large state companies - doesn't mean that the questions go away. Primary among them is, why have subsidised theatre at all, if it is only to produce commercial shows?