Skip to main content

The Bull, The Moon and The Coronet of Stars

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company, HotHouse Theatre and Merrigong Theatre Company present the World Premiere of THE BULL, THE MOON AND THE CORONET OF STARS, by Van Badham at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

THE BULL, THE MOON AND THE CORONET OF STARS is a new play by Van Badham.

Ms Badham is a playwright, novelist,screenwriter, critic, social commentator, broadcaster, dramaturg, director and cabaret performer. And, although I have known of her, taking particular note after having read her play, BLACK HANDS/DEAD SECTION (2005), about the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and seen some provocative Badham political sketches in revue/cabaret (for instance, WOMEN, POWER, CULTURE – a program developed at the New Theatre in November, 2011, a sketch called I THINK THE INTERVIEW WENT WELL MUM), this is the first production of one of her plays that I have seen. It is a most unexpected text from this writer – it is a love story, summed up on the Currency Press publication play/book cover as “whimsical, sensual and charmingly humorous … a love story of mythic proportions …” , and that, “It will lure you into an orgy of antiquity, cupcakes and beachside frivolity.”

I was so surprised by Ms Badham’s play, that I decided to “google” her,  just to check my impression of who I thought Ms Badham was. Sure enough, there is a history of her education when she became involved with left-wing activism, leading her to become an “avowed anarchist” – becoming a member of the NAL, the Non Aligned Left. In 1999, she began her journey into the theatre and had her award winning play, THE WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS presented at the Sydney Theatre Company in the Wharf Studio, mentored/encouraged by Nick Enright and David Williamson. Her play, KITCHEN (2001) – a play about marriage as a metaphor for capitalism – became a highly successful introduction to the British theatre establishment, where she stayed for some time. So, to quote from the Wikipedia entry: her plays “are typically concerned with the legacy of personal and political violence, critiques of Western consumer capitalism, dichotomies of middle-and working-class values, roles assigned to women and the relationship of art to history.”

THE BULL, THE MOON AND THE CORONET OF STARS had its origins in the debris of a personal heart break and is the result of a challenge from fellow Australian writer, Tom Holloway, (this play is dedicated to Tom Holloway), who encouraged her to re-visit a short play about adultery that she had written in 2011, under commission from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, using the images from a shard of Greek pottery, of a bull and a man. I guess, the personal is political and this play, which she unabashedly calls a “love letter”, is both. I guess.

This play is about Marion (Silvia Colloca), who we meet as she takes up an artist-in-residency at a museum of Greek antiquities. Marion lives with an artist/sculptor but is waning in her attraction to him and finds herself attracted to the Publications Officer, Michael (Matt Zeremes), a married man. An act of sexual transgression eventuates one night in the darkness of the museum amidst the Greek ruins and a skein of red wool – adultery on the part of Michael, which ends in unhappiness for both, causing Marion to move on, with a cold and broken heart to a Welsh resort/hotel, the Portmeirion Village, where she is employed to lead the Drawing Club for Ladies. Here, she mightily resists the siren call of Mark (again, Matt Zeremes), the sommelier in the restaurant. The siren call becomes stronger, too strong, and after many a teasing tribulation, including a bacchanalian disco/drunk fest with the drawing club ladies, Ariadne=Marion succumbs to Dionysus=Mark, and they look at one another and share two kisses as a provocative Blackout indicates the end of the play, leaving us with fanciful “love” projections.

This is a kind of love prose/poem, if, sometimes just a little overstuffed, with language and references entangled in Greek mythologies, with names like Ariadne, Dionysus, Theseus and the Minotaur scattered  liberally throughout the text, for those in the know of such things. So, it can have the sensual sublimations of the mysteries of ancient antiquity and the strong whiff of  steamy sex with mythical gods and their human ‘toys’. Ovids’ THE ART OF LOVE and the thrilling shape changing ‘love’ stories in THE METAMORPHOSES, kept echoing as I watched. I gathered a full-on acknowledgment to the soft porn of E.L. James’ BDSM trilogy, beginning with FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, as well – (the only one, I struggled through, I assure you).

On a raised stage platform carpeted in green, surrounded by some varnished, geometrical, wooden shapes, that are organised and metamorphosed into various shape functions during the 80 odd minutes, two actors come on stage and begin before the lighting is taken down. They are in a play using ‘novelistic’ techniques, that is, the actors describing events, offering observations as characters, as well as employing ‘mimicry’ as the actual characters – stepping from one form of address to the other, directly, seamlessly, to us, the audience. It is a form of stage writing that I have become extremely tired of. A kind of postmodernist form that is now a little over worn in its affect. Once amusing, principally for its novelty effect, now not so much – I find it’s once ‘chic’ cheekiness a little tiresome and, dare I say … post!?

Lee Lewis, the director, moves these actors skilfully through their tasks and she has dressed them elegantly and never indulges in any temptation to vulgarise the material with gratuitous sexual, visual taunts. These two actors are handsome and virile enough to fantasise about without revealing anything further than them, fully clothed and kind of chaste – the big sex scene is described to us in a complete blackout – not even the exit lights on – the imagination invited to take its cues from the description, breathy with anguished verbalisations, emanating from the actors. It all looks, with the gleamingly beautiful lighting of Ms Hampson (even the glitter balls sparkle warmly), tasteful. The composition sound design by Mr Francis, gently, commercially witty, “safe as houses” in its comforting communication of mood and textual underlining. Production all in place: lovely set, costumes, lighting, sound, intelligent and restrained directorial choices, beautiful actors.

The experience of the production/play, however, sagged.

The origin of this play is an audio play called THE BULL (2011) and this ‘child’ of that invention still feels like, sounds like, a play for voices. Voices for radio. (The play, is reminiscent of Dylan Thomas’ affect with his UNDER MILK WOOD.)  The emotional blurrings of the text by these two actors does not allow clear storytelling, imagistic clarity. The speaking voices must be of a charismatic, attractive quality with vocal technical virtuosity to hold our attention. The voices should reverberate with deep ‘amber’ tonal warmths – range skills. Our ears must become our eyes.

These two actors do not have those vocal gifts.