Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Blog

March 5

Songs and Detention and Rock’n’Roll

On Monday 2 July 2007, Dr. Mohamed Haneef was arrested at Brisbane International Airport for allegedly assisting a terrorist organisation. Detained for 12 days, Haneef made history by becoming the first person detained under the extraordinary provisions of Australia’s new anti-terrorism laws.
Based on the transcripts of the following interrogation, playwright Graham Pitts and director Gorkem Acaroglu have turned Dr Haneef’s interrogation into a two-man play.

I saw the opening night of a short season of ‘Haneef: The Interrogation’ at the Gasworks Theatre in South Melbourne recently. Whilst it was interesting to eavesdrop on the interrogation techniques of an Australian Federal policeman, it didn’t work so well as theatre. The production claims to ‘raise the possibility of the extinction of civil liberties in an increasingly censored society’, a threat which i take very seriously. But this interrogation doesn’t offer strong evidence that such a threat is imminent. The policeman questioning Dr Haneef seemed to me to be simply doing his job, and in the absence of any outrage-provoking interrogation techniques, the writer was forced to create a small chorus of two commentators who try to persuade the audience that what they are watching is indeed outrageous.

The real outrage in the Haneef incident was in the way our conservative federal politicians used the case to provoke fear and xenophobia in the wider community, and how Dr Haneef was eventually deported from the country on the basis of selectively leaked information and innuendo. Now THAT would be an interesting subject for a work of theatre.

It will have another season soon at La Mama theatre in Carlton – decide for yourself.

Over at The Arts Centre, the Melbourne Theatre Company is offering a production of Tom Stoppard’s play Rock’n’Roll. It follows the lives of three generations of one English family caught up in the ideological battles of the Cold War, and of a Czech student who lives through the momentous political changes in Eastern Europe in the last three decades of the 20th century.

The acting is very strong; I’ve never seen Genevieve Picot do better work on the stage. It’s a long play, and at times the pace seems too hurried for the complex content – perhaps the director was worried about our short little spans of attention. But the intellectual and emotional content is fascinating – idealism versus the brutal reality of human political behaviour – Marxist communism versus the Stalinist corruption of that vision – and the anarchic, dionysian pleasures of rock’n’roll (and love) versus the authoritarian impulse to control and limit those pleasures. I came away wanting to read the script, at my own pace, to take it all in.

In the Fairfax Studio at the Arts Centre you can see ‘Love Song‘, a Seinfeld-meets-Woody-Allen-style American comedy about love and madness. It has a relentless kind of hysteria to it, and yet it’s also deeply sentimental. Funny, exhausting, and in the end not entirely satisfying. But Thomas Wright, who plays a vulnerable young man called Beane, is marvellous. Watch his hands closely, for a lesson in the craft of building up a character with physical idiosyncracies.

Paul Kelly: A to Z – “C” Songs Available For Free Download from March 1st

The rollout continues. On March 1 Paul posted new recordings of 8 songs starting with C and taking down February’s Bs.

A couple of songs released by other artists but not until now by Paul make their
debut – (The) Cake And The Candle first performed by Kate Ceberano and Renee Geyer
as well as Cradle Of Love by Ann Kirkpatrick and Kelly Willis. Coma, a tune
co-written with Professor Ratbaggy, is now a strange klezmerish mutation
with clarinet by Sian Prior. Check out Charlie Owen’s Slide Guitar, a
tribute to a man, and the stark and shivery Change Your Mind.

Click here to collect your free downloads.

February 24

Stage, Screen and Gallery update

For a long time now I’ve been planning to watch the Australian drama series ‘Love My Way’ on DVD. Having just seen the new adaptation of Moliere’s play Tartuffe at the Malthouse Theatre, written by the creator of ‘Love My Way’ – Louise Fox – i’m heading straight to the video store. Fox handles the English language like a Harlem Globetrotter handles a basketball – immense skill hidden behind delicious playfulness. This modern-day Tartuffe (Marcus Graham) has been transformed into a bling-wearing, Bible-bashing Don Juan. His victim, Orgon (Barry Otto) is a Toorak toady and the co-conspirator of a fictional fraudster called ‘Vizard’. It’s loud, it’s sexy, and it’s really really funny.

The Victorian Opera recently celebrated Puccini’s 150th anniversary with a concert that mixed some operatic ‘greatest hits’ with his less well-known religious work, the Messa di Gloria. There were some exhilarating solos from bass Paul Hughes, tenor James Egglestone and soprano Rosamund Illing, but the highlight for me was the Victorian Opera chorus, a thrilling sound en masse, and proof that there are many more excellent singers in this country than there is work for them.

You might like to check out the Sidney Nolan retrospective at the Ian Potter Centre (National Gallery of Victoria). I saw the same show at the Art Gallery of NSW over summer, and though i confess to not being a passionate fan of this Australian artist’s work, the exhibition does show you the full arc of his career as a painter. Keep an eye out for an exquisite early painting called ‘Luna Park in the Moonlight’. Takes your breath away.

So many good films out there at the moment! The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is directed by Julian Schnabel and is based on the autobiographical book of the same name (in French – Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) by Jean-Dominique Bauby. It’s an intensely visceral re-creation of what it would feel like to be completely paralysed by stroke, with the exception of one eye-lid. Somehow Schnabel creaties lyricism out of claustrophobia. Max von Sydow, who plays Bauby’s elderly father, will make you weep.

And if you’re in a book club, go and see The Jane Austen Book Club. Robin Swicord has made a charming chick flick for the literary-minded, and there is a bunch of great roles for women ‘d’un certain age’ in this film – enough reason to support it, i say!

February 6

Outlaw or resistance hero?

Just back from scorching Perth, where i’ve been making a radio feature for the Artworks program on Radio National all about a new play called ‘Jandamarra’ that’s about to open in the Perth International Arts Festival.

It’s based on the true story of a Bunuba man from the Kimberley who was (depending on your point of view) either a murderous outlaw or an indigenous resistance hero.
The program will be broadcast at 11:05 am Sunday 10th Feb, and then repeated at 8:35 pm on the evening of Monday 11th Feb.

It’s an amazing project – written by Steve Hawke (Bob’s son) and performed in four different languages – including Bunuba. The Black Swan Theatre Company took it on, after Steve and his collaborators at Bunuba Films had been unsuccessful in getting the story up as a feature film.

It’s been directed by Tim Gutteridge (possibly the most patient man on the planet) and translations done by Patsy bedford, Mona Oscar, Selina Middleton, and the Chair of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, June Oscar (possibly the most patient woman on the planet).

I had the privilege of sitting in on rehearsals at Black Swan for a few days. Highlights:

– watching the kids of various indigenous cast members hanging around the edges of the smallish rehearsal room, snoozing, whispering on their mobile phones, watching the action. One tiny boy picked up a big fat script and, in imitation of the cast and direction team, sat holding it in his lap with pencil poised, ready to ‘take notes’.
– watching George Brooking, a respected elder of the Bunuba clan and a singer in this production, laughing silently from the sidelines as the non-Bunuba speakers in the cast struggled valiantly to get their tongues around the language he has been speaking from birth.
– hearing occasional thumping and shrieking coming from the ceiling above where, on the second floor of Black Swan’s headquarters in Nedlands (a former Masonic Lodge), another cast was simultaneously rehearsing The Caucasian Chalk Circle. hmmm… the irony of the title only just strikes me now.
– the cast leaning into big microphones, stirring buckets of pebbles, flapping pairs of old gloves, and popping balloons, to simulate the sounds of giant snakes slithering, startled birds flying and shotguns firing. Close your eyes and you’d think you were in Windjana Gorge.

January 26

Go Sees and Don’t Bothers

I’ve been to a bunch of shows at The Arts Centre in the last week, including some Don’t Miss This Ones.

The Season at Sarsparilla is a Sydney Theatre Company import for the Melbourne Theatre Company, and it’s revelatory. I’ve always been a bit lukewarm about Patrick White’s plays; in the wrong directorial hands, they can seem awkward and self-conscious and dated. But I loved every minute of this one. The set design is ingenious – one suburban house, three families, all inhabiting it simultaneously, even though they are actually neighbours. Live cameras are placed around the house, solving the ‘problem’ of the characters’ odd, poetic monologues – they are spoken straight to camera, like the ramblings of a video blogger sent off into cyberspace.
Acting – uniformly marvellous. Direction – by Benedict Andrews – clear, strong, sympathetic, emphasising the comedy without going for cheap laughs.

Vaudeville X is part of the Full Tilt program, performed in The Black Box, and i laughed till i wept. Wickedly clever satire, from three blokes with great comic instincts. Dunno about Michael Dalley’s (writer/performer/director) politics – i suspect they’re often at odds with mine – but that’s the great thing about satire. If it’s good enough, you’ll still laugh, even if you’re being targetted. On till Saturday 2nd Feb.

Aeros was at the Hamer Hall and if you are old enough to remember 14 year old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comenica winning a gazillion gold medals at the Montreal Olympics, you’ll understand where the show has come from. Those Romanians must be good at handling pain, because this show must hurt. About 20 top-level gymnasts are choreographed into a fast-paced series of ‘dance’ routines which defy gravity. You know those dreams you have about being able to fly? Well these kids can.

Don Juan in Soho is another MTC production, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. Some dubious casting and some wobbly regional British accents undermined the performances in this Patrick Marber play, and quite frankly, i’d rather go and see Mozart’s version. The original story is communicated better, and the music in Don Giovanni is sublime.

And if live theatre’s not your thing, go and see Lust:Caution, the new Ang Lee film. A work of immense psychological complexity and subtlety – deeply disturbing, beautifully acted, and the art department must have been in seventh heaven, recreating Hong Kong and Shanghai in the 1940’s.

For those of you interested in good writing – reading it or doing some yourself – check out the State Library of Victoria’s Summer Reading blogathon. A bunch of very good local writers, including Alice Pung, Cate Kennedy and Kate Holden, have been putting down some really useful and entertaining thoughts about the process of writing – how to find ideas, and how to turn them into stories that people will want to read. And there’s room for you to comment on their thoughts, and join in the conversation about the pleasures and perils of trying to write.

January 16

Sydney Festival highlights

Just back from a week in Sydney, where i caught up with several Sydney Festival events. A few highlights:

Seeing Brian Wilson perform with a Beach Boys cover band in the Domain on a drizzly but warm Saturday night. One giant, sweet singalong, bringing back memories of the first time i was introduced to the BB’s by my step-brother on a long drive to the Flinders Ranges, circa 1975. Tempting to credit Good Vibrations with inspiring my subsequent addiction to choral singing. Thinking maybe we should introduce the Beach Boys repertoire into the traditional family Xmas carol singing session. If there was a God, i reckon she’d approve.

Seeing some of Australia’s best singer-songwriters paying tribute to Kev Carmody in the Cannot Buy My Soul concert at the State Theatre – a man of righteous anger and soulful consolation, whose presence managed to dwarf all those stars, even as he sat quietly on the side of the stage in front of a mock camp-fire. Such an important story, told so graciously by so many talented and generous people.

Watching a bunch of young Scottish actors channelling a bunch of young Scottish soldiers in Black Watch, a curious theatrical production that was part opera, part ballet, part community theatre project, part history lesson. Not ground-breaking, but it has haunted me ever since, especially when i watch the evening news.

Watching indigenous actor/dancer Trevor Jamieson taking direction from a group of his ‘aunties’ as they taught the audience of Njapartji Njapartji how to sing ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ in Pitjantjatjara language. A sprawling show, full of goodwill, and a virtuoso performance from Trevor J. See anything he’s in, if you can.

January 3

Melbourne University Up Close

In 2007 I hosted Melbourne University Up Close, a series of indepth interviews with Melbourne University academics, available as audio or downloadable as podcasts. Topics include medical tourism, post-natal depresison, mindful leadership, post-Soviet crime, and the geopolitics of global warming, and feature interviews with Artistic Director of the Melbourne Theatre Company Simon Phillips and internationally lauded French horn player Barry Tuckwell.

January 3

Weddings, Parties, etc.

In December 2007, I performed at the wedding of Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier in The Famous Spiegeltent.To enquire about my availability to sing at your wedding, go to the Contact section of this website.

January 2

Paul Kelly A – Z

In early December 2007 Sian performed with singer-songwriter Paul Kelly in his annual ‘A – Z’ shows at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne.