Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Maids at Sydney Theatre Company, 17 July 2013

I love theatre. I love the big gestures and big emotions - it's life amplified.

This performance has been anticipated as the highlight of the year for Sydney's theatre lovers: Cate Blanchett, French actress Isabelle Huppert and the young prodigy Elisabeth Debicki together on stage to play The Maids in an Australian adaptation of Jean Genet's classic written in 1947.

The play is loosely based on real events, where two maids and sisters murdered their employer. It is a sexually charged piece that explores the complex relationship of the three women. Solange (Huppert) and Claire (Blanchett) are subversive characters who have nothing. When their mistress (Debicki) is out, the two engage in an elaborate roleplay, one assuming the part of the mistress, the other one of the maid. They hate and depend on their mistress in equal measures, playing out sexual fantasies, but also a secret desire to kill the decandent oppressor.

Elisabeth Debicki is only 22 years old and working with two of her professional idols. She carries her role of the mistress with confidence and charisma. She is very tall, towering over the two other women, with the gangly, loose limbs of a dancer.

Blanchett's voice is remarkable (I've noticed this for the first time when she played Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings): sometimes booming and frightening, sometimes chilling and clipped, sometimes shrill, sometimes girlish. The same goes for her appearance: She can be plain and almost plump looking in one moment and of luminous, shimmering beauty in the next.

Huppert is like a naughty child - surprisingly small and slight, with the lithe body of a teenager. She is constantly moving, swinging from the clothes rack, frolicking in the big bed with her legs in the air, gesticulating and sticking her tongue out. She is hard to understand with her very strong French accent, but what courage of her to expose herself like that!

Part of the stage set-up are cameras taking details of the performance and projecting them on a big screen above the stage.

The cameras capture unexpected angles that are sometimes grotesque, sometimes painfully intimate, sometimes strangely random, like the shot of the yellow rubber gloves or one single shoe. At the same time this gives a sense of unease and building tension, the foreboding that a catastrophe could happen at any moment, from any corner.

The actresses are brave enough to let the audience see unflattering angles, sweat and faces that are no longer as taut as that of young Debicki. But they are still beautiful and at moments strangely innocent looking, yet so bitter, polluted and twisted in their murderous hate.

Huppert and Blanchett are incredibly courageous performers. They look exhausted and drained at the end, having hated, yelled, plotted and flirted for two hours straight.

I'm virtually on the edge of my seat for the whole time and find myself audibly exhaling at the end, being relieved for this emotional roller-coaster to end. And isn't this what art is all about? To suck you in, shake you up and spit you out at the end, dizzy from the experience.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Manu Chao at the Enmore, 27 March 2013

All good things happen twice. I have no idea if this is true, of course, but it's a way of weaving into the conversation that this is the second time I see Manu Chao perform live. The first time was his free concert in the Domain at the opening night of the Sydney Festival 2012. Tonight he is visiting the more intimate venue of the Enmore Theatre.

It's been an eventful day leading up to the concert. In the morning I had an interview for a job I really wanted and had veered all day between thinking I did ok and there was no chance in hell they would ever employ someone like me (spoiler alert: I got the job in the end!). So this evening finds me tingeling with exitement and eager to release some pent-up tension. And have I come to the right place!

Manu Chao is still the small, bouncing bundle of energy he was a year ago. He has the rather disconcerting habit of pretending his guitar is a machine gun, miming to shoot at the ceiling or pointing it at the audience, but other than that he is just pretty much jumping up and down throughout the whole concert, playing with pure, unabashed bliss that is inspiring and infectious in its joy.

Manu Chao performes with three band members, but at times it gets pretty crowded on stage: After a couple of songs he is joined by political activists he had previously invited who are protesting against coal seam gas mining. It slows down the momentum the concert had built up so nicely, but it's still admirable to give this group a platform to express their views. As we are in Newtown, they are of course preaching to the proverbial choir, earning cheers and loud applause. Clearly there are no mining magnates or conservative politicians hidden in the audience...

Towards the end of the concert there is another interruption on stage that is far more entertaining: A very agitated bloke breaks through security and dances wildly on stage. Then he takes off all of his clothes, continues dancing and proceeds to hug Manu Chao. The singer, who is clearly having a great time watching this spectacle, signals the stern security people that everything is under control. He hugs the naked guy back and smacks two kisses on both his cheeks.

Manu Chao, who was born in Paris to Spanish parents and has travelled the world with his music, clearly hasn't lost either his Punk roots or his political conscience. And apart from all that there is the simple pleasure of witnessing this force of nature on stage. Twice.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Cat Empire at the Metro Theatre, 1 March 2013

I love sad music. Always have, always will. Give me a voice full of sorrow, a haunting melody and mournful lyrics any day. One of my favourite bands is still The Smiths, for God's sake.
But this clearly isn't going to be one of these days. The first person I notice on stage this Friday night is a young lady in a purple sequin dress and a huge flower headpiece (this is called a fascinator, I think, and how pleasing it is to have such a fitting word for it). The lady in question is smiling sweetly and playing banjo. Barefoot. She is part of a band called Flap! from Melbourne, and they are here to set the tone for a night of singing, dancing and general cheerfulness.

If there is any music that is just meant to be played live, it is that of The Cat Empire. This eight-piece band oozes energy out of every pore from the first moment they come on stage. I'm here with a bunch of friends, and when trumpeter and amazing vocalist Harry Angus plays the first tunes of How to Explain, we are well and truly ready, with a pair of knees to spring and a pair of lungs to sing...

The evening has a lovely, organic flow to it: The playlist is a satisfying mix of old songs and material from their new album that is due for release in May. Everything fits nicely together - all the songs are utterly danceable, or at least jump-up-and-downable, which is all I manage, squeezed in as I am among a very enthusiastic crowd. Harry Angus shares the front man role with the very handsome and very charming singer and percussionist Felix Riebl. One girl even throws her bra onto the stage, which seems to unsettle the poor drummer entirely, on whose instrument it lands. The girl later meekly (and unsuccessfully) asks to get the offending garment back.

My personal favourite song of the The Cat Empire is The Wine Song. It is introduced by a brilliant keyboard solo by the highly talented Ollie McGill, who very much reminds me of Schroeder from the Peanuts. This song is everything that the band does so well: simple lyrics that you can relate to, a rousing chorus that you just can't help singing at the top of your lungs and an irresistible rhythm that just makes you want to shake those hips.

The music of The Cat Empire defies labelling - it's a mixture of jazz, reggae, latin, hip hop and everything in between. It is, in short, one loud and joyful invitation to party. My taste for sad music will just have to wait until the next concert...

Saturday, 2 February 2013


Being present. Sounds simple, right? Well, I can tell you that it's not, at least not to me. This is one of the reasons why I love yoga and why it is sometimes so damn hard: It strips back all the layers and leaves you with the simple, unvarnished truth. This week's theme of the 40 day challenge is Presence (Come into your body).

To become fully aware of this moment without worrying about the future or reminiscing about the past is something children are really good at, but as adults we have all but lost the ability to just be. While I'm in the shower I remember that I need to buy toilet paper. While I'm cooking dinner I'm thinking that I really should organise the pantry, and why don't my kids eat more fish? While I'm reading my daughter a bedtime story I wonder if she's ever going to love reading as much as her brother does and if I should already get another couple of school uniforms for her, which reminds me that I need to tell my son to do his school project for next week, and I really should get my own website to get that freelance business going... And instead of savouring the delicious feeling of my lovely daughter's warm body next to me, I'm somewhere else, absorbed in things that aren't real.

So this week I'm trying presence. I'm meditating every morning, and while it's tempting to drift back into sleep, I have tiny glimpses into the calm, still centre of my mind. In the same instance I'm realising this, my "monkey mind", as the yogis call it, runs off and the stillness is gone. But that is also part of the process: to witness it without judging and to just bring my mind back to the breath and this moment.

On a more mundane note: I'm feeling pretty tired and not glowing at all this week. After fighting off my children's cold for weeks, it has finally caught up with me, and I have a sore throat and splitting headache. The last symptom could also be caffeine withdrawal. Not having any coffee is probably the hardest thing this week. I'm also a bit worried about my back, which pinches uncomfortably in the morning and after yoga practice. I've had surgery of my spinal disc last year, and going back to these months of unbearable pain is really the last thing I want.

I'm still glad I've started this journey, and I think I'm ready for next week's theme, Vitality...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

40 day challenge - The beginning

Tomorrow is my first day of a 40 day challenge. Sounds exciting, doesn't it! For six weeks I will practice yoga six days a week in my local studio (www.powerliving.com.au) with one day of rest. I will meditate twice daily, say good-bye to coffee and alcohol and just generally take a long, hard look at what my body really needs and what it doesn't.

Why do I do it? I guess the main reason is that I'm just curious how it will affect me. The program is called 40 day challenge for a reason. Will I cope or buckle under the physical and mental pressure? I also believe that it will kick-start this year and somehow help me manifest the perfect job and the perfect balance of making my family and myself happy. A teensy bit far-fetched? Ridiculous? Maybe, but there you have it. Well, and then there is obviously the sheer vain pleasure in getting fit and looking great. I dare anyone participating in the challenge to contradict me in this point.

So for the next 40 days (or 960 hours or 57,600 minutes...) allow me the weekly self-indulgence of only talking about myself: my mind, my body, my fears and failings and ultimately (hopefully!) my triumphant success. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Morrissey at the Enmore, 21 December 2013

I have waited for this concert for 25 years. When I listened to the Smiths for the first time, I knew that someone finally got it - the loneliness, the longing, the joy and pain and sometimes the shear boredem of being young. Be it "Mother, I can feel/ the soil falling over my head" or "When you walk without ease/on these streets where you were raised", Morrissey captured all these feelings poetically pitch-perfect.

So as I am standing in the Enmore Theatre, I feel like pinching myself: I can hardly believe that it is the man himself on stage, opening the concert with Shoplifters of the World Unite. It feels utterly surreal seeing him perform live the soundtrack of my teenage years. Although I haven't listened to some songs for a long time, I find myself singing along word for word.

Morrissey is all theatrical gestures and snappy one-liners. He throws in the odd dispariging comment about the royal family or dictatorships around the globe. His vegetarian anthem Meat is Murder is really too long and a bit tedious, but still chilling accompanied by footage of cattle being led to be slaughtered in the background. For Let Me Kiss You he throws his shirt into the audience and reveals a pretty trim body for his 53 years. People hand him books and flowers, something I haven't seen in a long time at a concert. He even invites a few fans on stage. Their reactions go from enthusiastic hugging to reverently kneeling before Moz.

Satisfyingly the playlist leans heavily on early Smiths material and ignores the worst of his self-indulgent smooth solo numbers. And when he sings the first tunes of Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want, I feel like crying: This is flawless and beautiful and just perfect.