Tag: Kirsten von Bibra

Review: The Cane

A teacher gets ‘cancelled’ by his students for historic acts of violence

By Lois Maskiell

“This will seem like something from the past, cruel like sending children up chimneys,” the father says in Mark Ravenhill’s The Cane. It’s a phrase that resounds throughout the play, which was first performed at London’s The Royal Court two years ago, before having its Australian premiere at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre.

The drama starts when Edward (Dion Mills), who is the husband of Maureen (Caroline Lee) and father of Anna (Jessica Clarke), prepares for his retirement after teaching at the same school for 45 years. However, plans for his farewell celebration are thrown into disarray when a mob of students, brought to life by Adam Casey’s sound design, descend upon his house. Jeering from outside, they hurl a brick through the window.  

Tension climbs in this lean two act play when the couple’s estranged daughter Anna unexpectedly arrives. Demanding to know why the students are outside, she learns that they’re protesting against her father’s use of the cane some thirty years ago, when corporal punishment was still legal.

Whether the past can be measured against today’s moral standards is the question the play probes. It’s a dilemma that persists, along with themes of patriarchal authority, violence and gendered power dynamics.

Kirsten von Bibra’s sophisticated direction unlocks a contrast between the naturalistic family drama and the text’s stylised dialogue; the result elevates the experience well beyond the mundane.

The set and costume design by Lara Week charms with its colours and simplicity. The compact stage features a staircase that rotates across the floor in an innovative transition accentuated by Bronwyn Pringle’s lighting design.

Screen and stage actor, Caroline Lee, performs Maureen with vocal prowess. She captures her sense of duty as a wife, despite her husband’s bouts of rage. Dion Mills hits a nerve in his performance of Edward. Mills’ delivery ranges from piercing to funny, as he explores the emotions of a man making a messy transition to retirement.

Jessica Clarke delivers a strong performance of the daughter Anna. Assertive and demanding, she challenges much of what her parents consider customary, including the school system her father devoted his working life to.

In its first in-door event since the latest coronavirus restrictions eased in Melbourne, Red Stitch delivers a clever production that draws on the timely issue of cancel culture. Whether they’re forms of violence in schools or racial stereotypes in books and films, not everything accepted in the past ages well. What’s less certain, however, is how far the public should go to denounce what it believes was wrong.  


Sophisticated, gripping and with an ending that doesn’t disappoint, The Cane makes for a satisfying theatrical experience.

The Cane runs from April 7 to May 9 at The Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre in St Kilda. Tickets are available here: https://www.redstitch.net/the-cane-2021

Photography by Jodie Hutchinson

Red Stitch Presents SUNSHINE

Dawning potential as four lives interweave

By Caitlin McGrane

There’s something about Red Stitch that always keeps me coming back. It might be the way their plays seem to be selected deliberately and with precision, or the very, very fine performances that they nearly always seem to produce. Sunshine by Tom Holloway opens with four performers lying on the ground on stage where they seem to come to life one-by-one and speak their lines lyrically and with intense musicality.

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Each player moves in their own world; even when it becomes apparent later that they’re interacting with one another, it’s like they’re in layered alternate universes. I was reminded of the ‘real’ world compared to the ‘Upside Down’ in Stranger Things in the way the characters moved around each other, near and almost touching but never quite. Direction from Kirsten von Bibra was superb and sublime – the delicate and precarious way the actors spoke and moved around each other was masterful. The four-hander cast, Ella Caldwell, Philip Hayden, Caroline Lee and George Lingard, are all tremendous, very much each making the most of their character’s individual trajectory.

For me, however, the writing was disappointing. The dialogue was highly stylised, and for a time it was really interesting and beautiful, but after about half an hour my head began to ache and I found I was having to do a lot of work to remember what was happening with each character. As my head whipped back and forth trying to keep up, I started to lose interest in the onstage goings on.

The dialogue would have been easy enough to let go if the individual stories amounted to more than the sum of their parts, but for my money the playwright missed an opportunity to look at a really interesting relationship between Man 2 (Philip Hayden) and Woman 2 (Caroline Lee). Hayden and Lee had far and away the most nuanced and interesting characters, and their limited interaction showed the kind of writing of which Holloway is capable.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention that embedded within the writing is the character of a homeless man who ostensibly lives in the same universe in which the play takes place. He has no lines, no face and is referred to only as a plot device (to do what exactly, I’m not sure). Homelessness is an increasing problem in Melbourne, and it was extremely disappointing to see yet another misrepresentation of homelessness as male, drug-affected and living in a park. People who are homeless deserve better and fairer representation, and it smacks of lazy writing to use people who are already socially invisible in this manner.

All that said, there was a lot to enjoy. The set and lighting were expertly crafted by Matthew Adey – the staging in particular showed real ingenuity. Elizabeth Drake made some interesting choices for the play’s composition and sound design; her dreamy ethereal sounds were reminiscent of Blade Runner. Costumes (Matilda Woodroofe) were simple, fitting the minimalist theme of the play, and didn’t distract from the drama. Overall Sunshine shows great potential, not least from Holloway who I hope will continue to grow and experiment as a writer.

Sunshine is now showing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until 5 November 2016. Tickets and more information: http://redstitch.net/gallery/sunshine/