Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

2009 – The Good, The Bad and The Bloody Marvellous [December 26]

As the young folk say – So Random! That’s how i always feel about the end of the calendar year. Why do we insist on these numerical markers of change, when really we’ll all wake up on Friday and the same sun will be shining and the same possum will have relieved itself inside my loungeroom wall cavity again?

And yet I’m always exhaustedly grateful for the end of the year and feel a whole lot fresher on January 1st. In spite of the possum piss. Go figure.

But no journalist worth their salt can let the year end without doing some kind of sum up of the highlights and lowlights.

So here goes:

THE BAD

– ‘Poor Boy’ – Melbourne Theatre Company musical involving a bunch of songs by Tim Finn (whose work i love and for whom I am always happy to go into bat in the eternal Neil vs Tim debate that rages around me) strung together by (usually brilliant) playwright Matt Cameron and featuring a big-hearted performance by Guy Pearce. But good songs and big-hearted performances are not enough. It all felt strained and at times really obvious. Unmemorable, I’m afraid. (So why am i reminding you of it, you may well ask?)

– The Victorian bushfires of February 7th. Hard to comprehend the level of horror for those involved – and we all know someone. My parents former home disappeared in the inferno. I still shudder to remember my relief when the wind changed direction at dusk. That’s when things went from appalling to entirely hellish just about a hundred kilometres from my safe little inner suburb.

– Art Garfunkel’s original songs, which he sang at the ‘Simon and Garfunkel’ reunion tour gig at the Rod Laver Arena. Listening to them felt a bit like eating way too much fairy floss and later on finding pink shards of it sticking to your clothes. Thank god for Paul Simon’s songwriting genius.

– Swine flu. Well, any flu really. And i had about three of them. In a row. Winter wipe-out. Blech.

– St Kilda losing the Grand Final. I mean come ON guys! To take us so far, so gloriously, and then to throw it all away with some slip-sliding away on the day. Winter wipe-out. Blech again.

– Some idiots destroying The Knitted Bridge, a key part of the ever-inventive Big West Festival, the night before it was officially launched. Made me want to weep. I guess it’s just ignorance. If you knew how much heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears had gone into knitting that bridge, you wouldn’t dream of wrecking it. Would you?

– Another year of failure to grasp the nettle on a carbon-reduced economy. Twenty years ago i was campaigning for the Australian Conservation Foundation on the so-called ‘greenhouse effect, and two decades on we STILL haven’t acknowledged how bad climate change is gonna get. Read Margaret Atwood’s novel ‘Oryx and Craik’ if you need some scary scenarios to get your campaigning juices flowing.

– The new fee structure for TAFE courses, announced this year and to be introduced by the Victorian Government in 2010. So now if you’ve had some education but want more, you’ll have to pay thousands of dollars. Wanna become a writer or an editor? Considering doing a TAFE writing and editing course? Start saving now, and maybe i’ll see you there in about a decade.

THE GOOD

– ‘The Flood’ – a gothic drama by playwright Jacqui Smith at La Mama Theatre which was one of a raft of shows i’ve this year about children in danger. (See the post below for a weblink to my article about this cultural trend). Great performances by the three female actors and i loved the set design – incredible that a black box the size of a large bathroom could be transformed into a whole farmhouse in the middle of the wide green yonder, inundated by flooding rains

– ‘Spontaneous Broadway’ – a comic impro show by a bunch of folk whose imaginative leaps take my breath away (or is it just that i’m laughing so hard i can’t get any air in?) Julia Zemiro is a goddess. The Goddess of Naughtiness. And John Thorn’s piano improvisations in the style of whatever-the-hell-you-like just get better and better. (And better.)

– ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ – Opera Australia’s production of Andre Previn’s version of Tenessee Williams’ play. What a great choice, to stick so faithfully to the original text. And what a great example of how new(ish) operas can still feel so fresh and relevant and theatrically satisfying and musically listenable. (See my second-last post for a weblink to my review in The Age). OA’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ was definitely in the GOOD basket too – sexy, silly and beautifully sung.

– ‘Dirtsong’ – the latest musical production by The Black Armband. Almost all songs were performed in indigenous languages. Moving, inspiring, and yet another interesting new development from this ever-changing ensemble. Congratulations to the BAB on being awarded a big fat dollop of Australia Council funding for 2010.

– A bunch of great new Australian films – ‘Blessed’, ‘Beautiful Kate’, ‘Samson and Delilah’, ‘Balibo’, ‘Mary and Max’, to name just a few. What a relief, to come out of the cinema feeling like your money’s been well-spent on a home-grown product. Go see’em, cobbers.

– A bunch of great Australian theatre productions, including the MTC’s ‘Knives in Hens’ and ‘My Year of Magical Thinking’, Theatreworks’ ‘The Lower Depths’, Malthouse Theatre’s ‘One Night the Moon’ and ‘A Commercial farce’, and My Darling Patricia’s ‘The Night Garden’.

THE BLOODY MARVELLOUS

– Travelling the world – this year i went to Italy (Sicily and the Amalfi Coast), East Timor (third trip), New Zealand (to play at the Christchurch Festival), Byron Bay, NSW (twice), Cabarita, QLD (surf heaven), Alice Springs, NT (and the community of Santa Theresa), Sydney, NSW (no Bondi Beach Rescue required) and Altona Meadows, Vic (often). Hello Samantha!

– Devouring entire TV series on DVD – ‘The Wire’ (all seasons), followed by ‘In Treatment’, followed by ‘Mad Men’ (can’t wait for season three). Why leave home? (and yet it seems i did, often)

– ‘Africa’ – the latest show created by theatre ensemble My Darling Patricia. To all Ye who scoff at puppetry – eat Thy words. There was more subtle characterisation in the little child-puppets in ‘Africa’ than i’ve seen on offer from many flesh-and-blood actors on the theatre stage. This tale of three children who are struggling to make sense of an often indifferent and violent adult world was entirely gripping. Funny, sad, nutty, abject and cathartic. Suburban Australia is more dangerous for many children than the wilds of Africa, and the Victorian Ombudsman has the stats to prove it. My Darling Patricia are one of the most original and inventive theatre ensembles in the country at the moment and I can’t wait to see what they will do next.

– ‘Progress and Melancholy’ – the latest physical theatre show created by director/choreographer Bagryana Popov. She took Chekhov’s play ‘The Cherry Orchard’, delicately dismembered it and sewed it back together again with its own movement language and a cast of performers who were allowed to simultaneously play themselves AND the characters in the play, constantly blurring the lines between the two. As a result, the ground continually shifted under our feet – just as it does for the members of the Russian aristocracy whose beloved cherry orchard is about to go under the hammer. Even the performance space (forty-five downstairs) became part of the fluid universe of ‘Progress and Melancholy’, with subtle comparisons drawn between the history-laden, rickety old Melbourne city building (presumably eternally vulnerable to re-development) and the hallowed cherry orchard. The ensemble cast of actors from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds brought their own rich emotional and cultural provenance to the production. The third wall crumbled, the audience talked back, the violinist serenaded us and Chekhov would have been waltzing with joy to see his play so (dis)respectfully treated at the end of the twenty-‘noughties.