Less ham, more glam

SALLY BURTON is a former patron of Black Swan Theatre Company, runs her own production company Onward Production, and was the last wife of Hollywood great Richard Burton. In this week’s SPEAKER’S CORNER she ponders whether the state’s premier theatre company’s new season has missed the mark and whether there’s enough old favourites to get “bums on seats”.

OVER the past few weeks, there’s been a groundswell of criticism of Black Swan State Theatre Company from many who work in the theatre industry. 

The object of their vocal criticism is the recently launched new season. 

I will set out my stall by asking the obvious question – “What is a tax-funded state theatre company supposed to do?”

First and foremost I would have thought it was supposed to offer an audience what they want to see. 

Unfortunately this season feels as if we are being offered what the artistic director and the board of Black Swan feels we should see. 

It is taxpayers’ money that is funding Black Swan so use it wisely and try to please your audience, not yourselves.

Let’s look at what Aurelien Scannella has achieved at the WA Ballet.

Crowd pleasers

As artistic director he understands his audience. He regularly schedules the crowd pleasers. 

This year we have had The Nutcracker and La Sylphide; classic ballets that little girls in their pink skirts and their parents love to see.

In theatre parlance, they get bums on seats. Then you can schedule Dracula.

Asher Fisch will be celebrating his tenth year with WASO next year.

Mr Fisch schedules the crowd pleasers but he also introduces other work.

Wagner is a towering composer, but not to everyone’s taste. The recent WASO performance of Wagner’s Isolde was the best performance I have seen from the orchestra during my time here.

There are many actors living in Perth who look to Black Swan for employment. 

Is using members of community theatre rather than professional actors a cost-cutting exercise? 

I must point out here that amateur actors have their place and I do not use the word amateur in any derisory sense. 

Amateur actors do what they do for the love of it. They are not paid professional actors who have trained for years.

There is a difference and while the artistic director may like to mix it up, I think such an experiment should not be part of the remit of a taxpayer-funded state theatre company. 

I wholly agree that a vibrant part of theatre should be experimentation. 

The Blue Room consistently turns out wonderful new experimental work.

Black Swan does not need to be an expensive version of The Blue Room. 

I do believe there is a place for bringing professional actors and community actors together. 

Some of the mystery plays would well fit into this category and where better to perform than The Quarry or Rayne Square.

Theatre has been with us since 440BC, when Plato, Sophocles and Euripides came up with the idea of theatre to explain their theories of humanity, ethics and philosophy. 

In the years following, Shakespeare poured out his great canon. 

Many recognisable writers followed until we get to contemporary time.

Why does good writing appeal and why should we see it? That’s easy, it’s because all good writing is about the human condition.

You see a good play and it touches your soul. You see a bad one and you never want to go into a theatre again.

This is crucial point. There’s only one chance to catch a new audience so don’t blow it.

Neil Simon died recently. Are we going to see any of his poignant comedies in the years to come? 


What about the work of Alan Bennett? There’s Alan Ayckbourn with his astute characterisations, and David Hare with his keen political eye.

Are any of them going to get a look in? Or are they old hat? Arthur Miller was a supreme playwright and all his work has resonance today.

There’s Chekhov, there’s Ibsen, there are so many wonderful writers and so many plays and why do they work?

They work because they are brilliantly constructed and that is why audiences understand and enjoy them.

Do not make the mistake of thinking you can’t put it on because it is old, or if you put it on you have to create a new version. Audiences do not make that distinction. They want to see and enjoy supremely good plays. 

Simply put, the offering this season smacks of the artistic director and the board not knowing the actors and talent in this city. Above all, have they considered what the ticket-paying public want?

I fear we are heading towards the final phase of audience alienation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s