Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy 47th birthday, Doctor Who

I can't remember life before Doctor Who.

The iconic British science fiction program, which premiered in the UK on this day, November 23rd in 1963, has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. While there were periods where my love for the program waned (such as the mid-to-late 1980s, after I moved out of home in January 1986 at the age of 17 into a share house with no television, meaning that I missed almost all of the Sixth Doctor and the entire run of Sylvester McCoy's mischievous and manipulative Seventh Doctor; nor did I see the Doctor Who telemovie when it screened on the ABC on July 7, 1996, the day after my 29th birthday) the series - and its mad, time-travelling protagonist in his stolen blue box - has always been close to my heart.

According to my mum, our family accidentally discovered Doctor Who some time in the very early 1970s, when Jon Pertwee was playing the role of the Third Doctor. We were, she tells me, collectively hooked after just one episode, and thereafter it was a Watts family ritual to sit down to dinner at 6pm so that we were ready to watch the Doctor's latest adventure (or the endless repeats of certain episodes the ABC showed with monotonous regularity in the late 70s and early 80s) at 6.30pm, just before the news.

My sister, who is older than my by two years, says she, like me, cannot remember life without the Doctor.

While none of us can pinpoint the exact moment our family became Doctor Who fans, research leads me to believe that my family's accidental discovery of the Doctor - driven, I suspect, by my science fiction loving father, who similarly introduced me to 2001: A Space Odyssey and later the writings of Asimov and Clarke at an early age - may well have been in July 1971, shortly after I had turned four. It was that year that the ABC began to screen the Third Doctor's first adventures (in black and white, as the ABC didn't begin broadcasting in colour until 1975), starting with Pertwee's very first episode, Spearhead From Space.

While I can't remember it, it seems logical to think that the ABC's promotion of a new series of Doctor Who, with a new actor in the title role, would have caught my dad's attention; and once we'd watched the program, sparked my whole family's imagination.

Today, decades later, we all still love Doctor Who. My father died on March 9th 1989, but my mother, my sister, her husband and two children, and most definitely myself still love the program. As I write this, there are small figures of the Third, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors standing on my desk (together with a Cyberman and an even smaller TARDIS), and come Boxing Day I have no doubt that the three generations of my family will be gathered together to watch the new Christmas special, A Christmas Carol.

A time-travelling hero whose brains and non-violent approach to the universe around him will triumph over brawn, no matter whether his opponents are Daleks, Cybermen, Zygons or Sontarans. A clown, a dandy, a bohemian, an alien who can never quite belong to the world around him. A madman in a blue box.

Whoever he is, wherever his adventures in time and space take him, I will never stop loving Doctor Who.

Happy 47th birthday to my favourite Time Lord and to a remarkable, inspiring, entertaining and wonderful television program.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Interviewing Ryan Kwanten (naked)

This is Australian actor Ryan Kwanten, probably best know for getting his kit off in Alan Ball's Southern Gothic vampire series, True Blood:

And so is this:

And this:

That last photo is a publicity still for the new Australian film Red Hill, which opens in cinemas next week. Last Friday I interviewed Ryan Kwanten naked.

As in, I was naked, not him.

The phone interview was scheduled for 4.55pm, so at 4pm I went to bed for a quick power nap, with the alarm set for 4.30pm. And yes, I sleep naked, deal with it.

At 4.25pm I was woken by a phone call from the publicist asking if I can do the interview now. "Umm, give me five minutes," I mumble, half awake. I then proceed to race around my flat grabbing my list of questions, my tape recorder, my phone pick-up microphone etc. There's no time to get dressed before the phone rings.

Consequently, I interviewed Ryan - and Red Hill director Patrick Hughes, who I wasn't expecting to speak with - naked. Ironic, much?

Update: You can read my interview with Ryan here, at Citysearch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: The Animals & Children Took to the Streets

All cities have their slums. In The Animals & Children Took to the Streets, set in a prosperous and cultured city “where art is spelled with a capital R”, the slum’s dark heart is the festering and fetid district around Redherring Street, and in particular, the stinking, sprawling Bayou Mansions.

A cavernous and decaying apartment building where the rooms are so small there’s no room to swing a rat, the Bayou is populated by swarming cockroaches, curtain-twitching perverts, angry swarms of feral children, and the Caretaker – a miserable fellow whose only goal in life is to save up for a one-way ticket out of Redherring Street.

When attractive art therapist Agnes Eames and her daughter Evie move into the Bayou Mansions, the Caretaker suddenly finds himself with a new goal in life – especially when Evie Eames goes missing.

Like poor Evie, the Caretaker is swept up in the piratical plots of Zelda, the leader of a particularly anarchic gang of Redherring Street children, and the counter-plots of the city’s Mayor, whose nefarious plans are intended to quash Zelda's revolution utterly.

British performance troupe 1927 (writer/director Suzanne Andrade, designer/animator Paul Barritt, costume designer/performer Esme Appleton, and composer/performer Lillian Henley) last visited Melbourne in 2008, when the Beckett Theatre played host to the company’s award-winning debut production, the internationally acclaimed Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

Like their first show, The Animals & Children Took to the Streets is an ingenious and imaginative production featuring white face-painted performers who act out the melodramatic plot in front of digitally animated and interactive backdrops, accompanied by silent-movie inspired piano music played live by Henley.

Unlike Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea however, which was a series of short gothic sketches, this new production sees the company embracing a sustained narrative. While it lags a little in the middle third of the show, the evocative story admirably displays the company’s mordant wit and deliberately stagey performance style, and especially Barritt’s startling constructivist-inspired animations, which in conjunction with the performers' perfect timing and their interaction with the projections, bring Andrade’s outlandish story to vivid and remarkable life.

Continuing the social realist tradition of such science fiction classics as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (released, not so coincidentally, in 1927), The Animals & Children Took to the Streets is a deliberately unsubtle critique of the ever-growing gap between society’s haves and have-nots, and a delightful work of contemporary theatre.

Malthouse Theatre and The British Council present The Animals & Children Took to the Streets

Created and performed by 1927

Beckett Theatre, November 9 – 28, 2010

This review originally appeared on Arts Hub.