The Horror, The Horror: NIDA’s October Season

Were Cymbeline put anonymously in a play competition, it would be the first culled. Were it shown to a theatre company with Moliere’s name on it, or Tennyson’s, or Rattigan’s, it would be contemptuously rejected. Were it called a ‘work in progress’ by Hare, or Stoppard, or Brenton, it would not be funded. This is because it is an awful play, a dimwit, clubfoot soft-shoe shuffle, in Samuel Johnson’s words, of ‘unresisting imbecility.’ Its plot, Othello meets As You Like It meets Guys and Dolls, is tasteless, pantie-sniffing and bizarre.

Why then is NIDA producing it? The young actors in it are being airbrushed from world history by its awfulness, however talented they are, or may be. The designer, director, lighting man and composer are stained by it forever. Why do this to them? Is the administration insane?

Sucking Dublin prompts this question too. In accents no non-Irish can understand, this dimlit cacophany of ranted soliloquies by prosperous drug addicts, one of whom rapes his girlfriend’s sister while rap music pounds and jaded women chunder, affords some fine young actors no other option but to repel all sympathy and, in the audience, all possible future employers; and I don’t see the point. Is the NIDA board mad? Just asking.

My diatribe, howbeit, stops here abruptly, with good news elsewhere in the building. Woyzeck, a dark slumside musical by Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan and Robert Wilson from a play by Georg Buchner and trailing whiffs of the subsequent opera, is as good as theatre gets and it vanishes tonight. Were Brecht and Weil resurrected, and the Berliner Ensemble of 1956 set working on the Buchner text, they would harass and engage and uplift us no more surely than this company and this director. The cast are Christian Charisiou, Zoe Jensen, Matthew Predny, Olivia Charalambous, Jason Kos, Jessica Vickers, Skyler Ellis, Emele Ugavule and Emily Havea, and the musical directors Andrew Ross and Nigel Ubrihien, and the director (already as good as Peter Brook) Imara Savage. It deals with suicide, wife-murder, slum prostitution and an impoverished whore with a baby, and its violent Hogarthian darkness reminds us of both Brecht and Blake — to whom Tom Waits’s grimy, soaring lyrics are sibling-close; he has long seemed to me a late eighteenth century London poet, slipped in time.

Rarely have I been so dumbstruck and purged in musical theatre, and my fellow witnesses Jim Sharman, Ron Haddrick and Chris Puplick agree with me.

Hinterland, by Jane Bodie, a former NIDA teacher, is, however, if anything, even more impressive, at least on the level of intellectual debate. Set among primeval rocks and lagoons and sudden gusts of rain in the Atrium, an outdoor space adjacent to the foyer, it concerns a heretofore unsuspected fair-skinned tribe of forest-dwelling Aryans and their end-of-time religion, and as well some timid, uncertain anthropologising documentarists keen to discover them, learn from them, and, perhaps, either willingly or unwillingly, erase their way of life.

Ambitiously, the story is told backwards, and we see in the second act the moral altercation that precedes the expedition, the high-minded millionaires that fund it, and the lacerous, lashing doubts of Ruth, a perhaps unstable defender of wilderness people hitherto disrupted, lied to, displaced and exiled by oil companies and other corporate imperialists from the only reality they know, and who believes, with anguished caveats, the expedition should not take place if she does not lead it and control it.

Experienced in this order the first scenes, involving a hanged man on a rope and a naked young woman walking slowly towards a brimming lake, an unfathered pregnancy and a secret journey to a remote and sacred destination, have Biblical force, and though the situation thereafter slowly clarifies, the first, fine rapturous impact is not, I think, diminished by what follows. Like an Arthur C. Clarke book, or a Werner Herzog film, or the recent adaptation of The Secret River we are drawn into a moral universe beyond our metropolitan suppositions, our post-Christian sympathies, our correctness, our lazy, shallow table-talk and foyer-talk, and we do not know what to advise.

The direction, by Julian Meyrick and the acting by xxxx are superb. It is a play for the ages, and it should be seen.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Yes, bob, Cymbeline has a dreadful plot, but contains one of the most beautiful poems in the English language - Fear no more the heat of the sun. And at least Cymbeline, as with all the plays of Shakespeare,reveals a little more about the struggles Edward de Vere had with the emotional events in his life. Know the plays, know the man,

  2. Jim Sharman, best Adelaide Art’s Festival director (1982) of all time.

  3. No argument from me. Cymbeline was unfinished, and bears the scars of other hands “completing” it for performance. The Bard may have intended it never to see the light of day.

    Strangely enough, it apparently was one of John Keats’ favourite plays. I suppose tastes vary over the centuries; our tastes find it affected and lacking.

    But still there is redemption :

    Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
    Nor the furious winter’s rages;
    Thou thy worldly task hast done,
    Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
    Golden lads and girls all must,
    As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

  4. Nice to see a nod in the direction of Tom Waits on Table Talk, a man described by Rolling Stone magazine in the mid-seventies as the finest street poet of his generation.

    From the prologue to Woyzeck, Waits with Misery Is The River Of The World.

    • He’s the last Canguro; I’ve seen most of the people that I’ve wanted to see, except him.
      It’s a regret.

      My first time OS I picked up a cassette, remember those?, of ‘BIg Time’, and it soundtracked my next 3 months.
      I knew every word, every note, every whistle, every moan, every one of his between song gags - ‘is it possible to pregnant without intercourse? Well were gonna have to go all the way back to the civil war’.
      I still laugh thinking about it.
      Songs like ’16 Shells’ , ‘telephone call from Istanbul’, ‘down in the hole’ used to be my flavour but now I drift off into the quiet worlds of ‘Burma shave’ , ‘small change’ , ‘Kentucky Avenue’, and ‘Potters field’.

      He’s a wonderful storyteller and I regret not having seen him.

      Anyway, here is an old favourite, I hope you like it:

      • Is there a better musical opening sequence to a film than Down by Law?

        • BANG!
          And we got ourselves a winner ladies and gentlemen!

          This purdy lil thing, K.bites, from a town called Hattiesburg in Mississippi,
          you step on up her lil’ lady!
          c’mon now, don’t be gettin’ shy on us.
          That’s right, come on up.
          Congratulations darlin’, you win a 1976 yellow corvette for your post picking a god damn hell ride of an opening to a movie.
          man, i got me the jitters just thinkin’ bout it!

          “Bloody fingers on a purple knife
          A flamingo drinking from a cocktail glass
          I’m on the lawn with somebody else’s wife
          Come admire the view from up on top of the mast”.

          Hey Canguro!
          Looks like we got ourselves another chair for the table.

          A Keeper.

      • Hey Judd, I read your comments the other day but truckin’ trumped at the time, so here we go. It’s too bad you didn’t catch him when he was here in the early 80′s at the State Theatre. I was kinda mesmerised, he been introduced to me by a nursing colleague I admired, a guy steeped in depth and whose words mattered, and so it was a case of get on board if I wanted the conversation. But Tom’s a gift to humanity, for sure.

        It’s been more than thirty years since he was here, so I’m going to post a couple of links; one is an interview he did with someone called Zan at triple j in 2011, on the back of his latest album ‘Bad as Me’, where he’ll answer any nagging doubts you might have over whether he’ll ever return. Look for the flash link under the text and playlist.

        The other is a live version of ‘Circus’ from the 2004 album Real Gone. A great example of his inimitable style. Next post, since we can’t put two url links in the one.

  5. The actors in hinterland:
    Lucy Goleby
    Rob Collins
    Emily Eskell
    Rupert Raineri
    Troy Honeysett
    Lily newburyfreeman
    Ben winkle
    Kate williams

  6. I’m with Ellis on this one - Cymbeline is a silly play and should not have been produced by NIDA - I just felt sorry for the students who had to try and make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Who is selecting these plays 0 the same could be said for Kasimir and Karoline performed in mid year.

  7. This is just a test of glow worm’s video

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