BELVOIR’S ‘BURIED CITY’

There’s a six minute lockout at the start of Belvoir’s ‘Buried City’.  I suggest you take advantage of it and leisurely finish your dinner or simply enjoy the emptiness of the foyer before going in, if you must, to see the show because once in there, the painstaking crossing of the stage by Perry Keyes before he picks up his guitar and starts singing, will make you feel your tolerance of the world is ebbing away.
Also be warned, there’s no interval, so pray you get a seat discreetly close to an exit or strap yourself in for 80 minutes of hearing yourself sigh and looking at your watch every two minutes in the hope that you have entered a time warp and the show will miraculously end soon. 
Look- it’s not all bad. Some of the actors give it their best. It’s one of Russell Kiefel’s strongest performances and relatively new talent Meyne Wyatt also gives a fine turn out. But really, if you are looking for a night of entertainment, this is not it.
Let’s break it down.  Writer Raimondo Cortese seems to specialise in intimate small cast pieces that are more conversational than plot derived and this means his stories are almost on the verge of going somewhere but they rarely do. It’s like waiting for the tag in the joke that never comes. His plays take you nowhere and very early on you realise the pointless message is tied up in the writing and the cast and director can try whatever they can to make the play feel like it’s building tension but the only journey it will take you on is tedium. And not in a Beckett way. It’s more like a ‘not-particularly-clever I-don’t-give-a-toss-and-why-am-I-trapped-in-a-seat-restricting-my-ability-to-stage-a-walk-out-and-reclaim-my-life’ kind of way. Does anyone remember his play ‘Holiday’ from Griffin a few years back. Duologue of sheer inane-ness.  And I so want to like him but I just can’t help being bored witless by his work so I’m officially giving up trying. Cortese bores me. There. I’ve said it.
So, as result, the whole play suffers.  Oooh..the world has rapidly changed. No-one cares anymore. Unions are dead. It’s all about money. We’re all alone. Who are we? What’s the point? Why can’t we sleep? Why can’t we connect with each other anymore? There we go people. No need to see the show- I’ve just encapsulated it for you for free.
I know the cast had some input into the play and that’s obvious by the fact that they all retain their real names as the characters. Honestly, the show feels like a final year school piece, polished yet unoriginal. You’re not going to care about the characters and the play itself won’t take up valuable brain space shortly after you leave the theatre. For the most part, it’s a big fat ball of yawn.
Design wise you are confronted with the scaffolding of a stalled building site with all the characters stalled there as well in the mess of the site, as a metaphor for their lives, which becomes increasingly more broken as they play continues. And apart from drawn out conflict of stolen phones, ex-girlfriends, etc ultimately everyone will find a corner of the set and stay there. And they’re the lucky ones. At least they had easy access to the exit. I had to pay to stay and watch them stay too until two standard curtain calls later. Life is so unfair.
What is hammered home in this play is that an audience, we are so polite. Where are the groans from the audience to get on with it? Where’s the obvious stand, boo and exit. Can someone start that club? I’m happy to enrol in that support group. How on earth can we communicate to our theatre companies that the work they are putting on is giving theatre a bad name. There are so many people out there that believe theatre is tedious. Why give them a play that confirms that theory?
Shame on you Belvoir. You are capable of much better.

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15 comments

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Anonymous February 6, 2012 at 6:14 am

Have you seen any other Urban Theatre Projects shows? Do you think you would have reacted differently if this show had been away from the comfort of a bourgeois inner city venue and at a site-specific venue in western Sydney, as most of their shows are?

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bontaks February 6, 2012 at 10:56 am

Anonymous, what is your point about the theatre of Western Sydney? That it's okay to stage mediocrity as long as it's 'out west'? It wouldn't have mattered to me if it was in a site-specific venue down the road from where I live – the venue wouldn't change the quality of this production. I left after 40 minutes, although I wanted to leave after 5!

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Iceberg, meet tip February 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Writer Raimondo Cortese seems to specialise in intimate small cast pieces that are more conversational than plot derived…

Wow, that's a bit like saying: "Yeah, Picasso, he always paints in blue."

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Anonymous February 7, 2012 at 12:30 am

I'm suggesting that it was all a little bit rough and ready for your middle class sensibilities and Jane would change her tune if it had been site specific theatre.

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Rachel February 7, 2012 at 4:50 am

I don't think putting this show on anywhere else would have made it less tedious. The youngest character's dance moves were pretty good but that's a pretty poor highlight for the play.

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Anonymous February 8, 2012 at 3:27 am

"we are so polite. Where are the groans from the audience to get on with it? Where’s the obvious stand, boo and exit. Can someone start that club?"
I'll join. Call me old school, but 25 years ago we'd boo and walk out. I was IN some of those productions. But you're right… why are we so fucking polite now?

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bontaks February 8, 2012 at 6:58 am

"YOUR middle class sensibilities"?? I assume you mean mine? Hmm. You don't know me, and have no idea of my sensibilities, middle class or otherwise. Why not keep the comments about the theatre?

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Mycroft Snooks February 9, 2012 at 4:54 am

Mycroft Snooks wholeheartedly endorses the idea of booing this play, no matter where it is performed. While sitting through it, I for one wished it was being performed somewhere else while I lazed by a pool and pondered how to be a more complete Philistine.

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Anonymous February 9, 2012 at 9:29 am

Well said. Watching this play was torture. I'd be happy t expand on that, but I've already wasted far too much time it.

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Anonymous February 10, 2012 at 3:25 am

thank God! I thought it was just me! this was so bad that the audience didn't even realise the thing was over. Perhaps, like my partner, they were all asleep. embarrassing, awkward moment before someone (i think the person at the control booth thingy with all the buttons and switches, or possibly even the director) started clapping. Two two curtain calls were clearly led by cast family and friends!

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Midi February 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

This was a truly awful experience. In 40 years of subscribing to several theatre companies I doubt that I have seen anything less engaging. We attended to pre-play briefing which was singularly uninformative with the exception that the panel told of their 'contempt for writers' AND that this play had been devised by an improv committee. Okay panel lose the contempt for writers, because generally writers write for the enjoyment of an audience as opposed shock value wanking alone. The play went for 1hr and 20mins and without the F word (which is fine in it's place, don't get me wrong)would have run for a simple 20 minutes – making it 4 times less torture!

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Scott Crozier February 22, 2012 at 5:51 am

Having read a few of these reviews now and the Global Mail tribute to a "great teacher" – all I can say, as a teacher of drama in Victoria, I am glad I am not involved in theatre making in Sydney to allow Ms Simmons anywhere near it. Great to start a conversation but why do you bother going to theatre you seem totally disenchanted with he possibilities of it all.

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Mara February 22, 2012 at 5:54 am

I too really disliked this play and was disappointed as I've seen other UTP works I really enjoyed. I agree with your assessment of the performances – I thought Russell Kiefel and t Meyne Wyat were some of the only good things about the work – but then again some of the performances were pretty dire.

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Anonymous March 2, 2012 at 7:03 pm

A theatre is a site, so technically the play WAS site specific and it sucked. If only it was performed at the train station or outdoor location, all the audience could have simply walked off. I've seen plenty of outdoor performances that were very polished, and plenty of 'rough and ready' shows that were wonderful. This was a big pointless Yawn.
Hate to think how much money Belvoir gave these amateurs.

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Eugene April 17, 2012 at 8:51 am

Was this play really only 80 minutes long? it felt like 8 fucking hours.

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