Monday, August 27, 2007

"Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue"

Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald. August 24, 2007

Would you bribe a dictator to sell grain? Our biggest corporate scandal comes to the stage.

David Williams and Jane Vaile in Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue.






245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh


24 August 2007 to 8 September 2007



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"It's a happy story about Australian successes," says Stephen Klinder from Version 1.0.

He's talking about the performance group's adaptation of the Royal Commission into the Australian Wheat Board's (AWB) rorting of the oil-for-food program. The Cole Inquiry found that AWB kicked back about $290 million into Iraqi coffers via a Jordanian trucking company while it made Australia the biggest seller of wheat to Saddam's regime. Bad politics, yes, but surely good business?

"Iraq was their most profitable market," says another Version 1.0 member, David Williams. "They were able to charge whatever they wanted."

Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue follows earlier Version 1.0 works in a genre called documentary theatre. CMI: A Certain Maritime Incident used transcripts from the "children overboard" inquiry, while The Wages Of Spin used Senate proceedings about the Iraq war.

Turning the 8500-page transcript from arguably the most boring of political scandals into something entertaining seems a mammoth challenge. Isn't it just a room full of lawyers talking about wheat contracts?

"It's a fair question," says Version 1.0's Kym Vercoe, "but we were about to go to war against Iraq and, meanwhile, one of our biggest corporations had given them $290 million, a company monitored by the Government gave our archenemy money. That's not boring, that's shocking!"

Surely it's all in legalese, a language designed for somnolent obfuscation rather than entertainment?

"Sometimes it's like a farcical courtroom drama," Klinder says. "We have interviews with Alexander Downer and he's really a parody of himself. I think there's a lot of comedy in Alexander Downer."

The play's title comes from Downer's response to accusations that Australia went to war to protect its wheat market.

"He'll be a great loss to the artistic world," Williams says of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Taylor says: "The only parallel I can think of is extreme sports. This is extreme theatrical sports - how do you [make it entertaining]?"

Members of Version 1.0 find using real transcripts lends rhythmic veracity to the dialogue.

"You've got people like [David] Mamet and [Harold] Pinter, who struggled their guts out to make [dialogue] sound like the stuff people say and in the way they say it," Klinder says.

Cognisant that they couldn't just have people sitting in courtroom chairs for 90 minutes, Version 1.0's members use sound, video - even live mice - and physical theatre to bring the concepts to life, such as a "living diagram" of just how the kickbacks worked.

Taylor says: "When we go onto the floor we have to physicalise it, that's why I called it an extreme sport."

So it won't be like watching question time?

Vercoe says: "We've done this because we trust that most sane people wouldn't want to read the entire Cole Inquiry. We think, as much as we forced ourselves to read it, we have particular skills - whether they fail spectacularly or not - of making that information digestible, entertaining and something that people can take away and think about."

With so many witnesses apparently suffering memory loss during the inquiry, there shouldn't be a problem if they forget their lines.

"You do get the feeling that they've had a big meeting and said, 'Let's see how far we can push this, how far we can pretend we just don't remember,' " Vercoe says. "If I forget my lines, sooner or later someone in the company's going to say, 'Get your lines down, we open tomorrow night.' That's pretty small in comparison to giving Saddam Hussein $290 million. It doesn't work when you get a parking fine - you can't say, 'I didn't have time to read the sign.' "

Another performer, Christopher Ryan, says: "We're human beings, we all f--- up. With the AWB, you've got somebody who's incredibly belligerent at one end going, 'I did nothing wrong, get off my case,' and you've someone at the other end having a mental breakdown. It's a huge classical thematic of human greed. It's fantastically meaty, ballsy stuff."
The timing is certainly fortuitous.

Williams says: "I don't know that political scandal will die if the present government isn't re-elected, [though] I'd hope there'd be fewer of them."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Preview - Survival Tactics

Survival Tactics

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, August 6, 2007

Is hip-hop theatre more valid for today's generation than Shakespeare?

Wire MC in Survival mode.
Photo: Bryan O'Brien


Back in the mid-'80s, talented young actor Morgan Lewis was performing mime at the Opera House and playing Romeo for the Australian Theatre For Young People. Meanwhile, streetwise B-boy Morganics was beatboxing and breakdancing to Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa outside Hoyts and at Circular Quay.

Lewis and Morganics were the same person and, through the emerging genre of "hip-hop theatre", they've come together - not that the paradox was ever more than geographical to Morganics.

"I moved from Circular Quay doing mime and popping and breakdancing routines to, at the age of 14, doing a 45-minute white mime show in the Opera House, so it just moved up the road a little bit," he says.

The 36-year-old has performed in shows such as Crouching B-boy Hidden Dreadlocks and Stereotype. He was in arguably Australia's first hip-hop theatre show, The Bridge, as part of the Metabass N'Breath ensemble in 1996. Reviewers in the US, where hip-hop theatre has become large enough for an annual week-long festival to be held in New York, have noted that the genre in which people speak in tight rhymes is reminiscent of Shakespeare's poetic Elizabethan language.

Morganics agrees with this observation.

"Iambic pentameter, yeah," he says. "I came up doing Shakespeare since I was 12, you're doing your bars and your counts. As artists today we have a new vocabulary and this vocabulary is now being put in a theatrical context.

"I think it's as valid, if not more valid, for us than Shakespeare. For us this is the stuff that we listen to, live, breathe, eat, sleep ... this is what's going on in our lives and we're trying to put it on the stage so people can feel it."

Despite starring in stage productions opposite Toni Collette, Morganics originally moved away from acting out of creative frustration.

"I found that actors didn't have any ideas of their own, which is not entirely true, but I found that if you had your own ideas you'd become a performer, and you'd start making your own work."

Morganics is currently performing in, directing and co-producing Survival Tactics with the Opera House Studio through his company, Invisible Forces. The cast is filled with some of Australia's finest B-boys, rappers, DJs, dancers and singers, including Sista Native (Bounty 75), B-boy Jay (Wicked Force), Wire MC, Nick Power (Gravity Warriors) and Triple J Hip Hop Show and Channel [V] host Maya Jupiter.

"Everyone [in the cast] generates their own work and has their own ideas," Morganics says.

The cast also represents the multicultural heritage of inner-city Sydney. Marrickville-raised Tongan soul singer Seini Taumoepeau, also known as Sista Native, says: "We've got myself, some Anglo-Australians from various backgrounds, an Aboriginal man, a Turkish-Latino woman, and a Maori-Romanian who's also part Polynesian."

Sista Native sees hip-hop theatre as a welcome move away from the materialism of much of the hip-hop scene.

"Hip-hop theatre is an area where we can just tell the story, where it's not about your CD or DVD," she says.

"It's a bit more simple in terms of, 'It's theatre, it's the story, and here's our story in this format,' and I think that people really dig it. And it's good getting off the mic, it's a bit more like hip-hop on the street in that sense."

Each performer has created his or her own character, whose story intertwines with the story of other performers. The result is a narrative about life in inner-city Sydney that culminates in a moment of violence.

"Some characters are very close to the performer and some are very different," Morganics says. "I'm not an ice junkie but in the show I am, because that's what I wanted to look at. Once you scratch the surface of that you become aware of more people who are doing that shit everywhere in this country."

Rapper and guitarist Will Jarrett, also known as Wire MC, plays Swerve, an angry young Aboriginal man who has to learn to give and accept trust.

"He's based on where I was at a young age, not letting go of anger and bitterness and letting that consume my life," he says, adding that reading helped him to escape that phase.

"I read a lot and I met a lot of people and I realised you can't blame people, you have to blame actions. That's what [Swerve] learns."