Melbourne Festival TV: Never Did Me Any Harm

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Kate Champion & Gregory Crewdson chat on Radio National

Kate and Gregory Crewdson are two artists who work in very different ways. She’s an Australian choreographer and he’s a legendary American photographer but they have two things in common: both of their works have very strong visual elements and both are highly staged. They were also both in Melbourne for the 2012 Melbourne Festival. Kate for Never Did Me Any Harm, and Gregory Crewdson for his exhibition, In A Lonely Place.

You can listen to their interview on Radio National here:

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Review: 2012 Melbourne Festival: Prelude or Overture? Force Majeure’s Never Did Me Any Harm

By Chris Boyd:

A couple of weeks ago on Facebook, Brian Lucas posed a challenge:

I’d love responses to the following statement:

The most interesting/engaging/exciting ‘dance’ being made at the moment is happening within the ‘theatre’ sphere, and the most interesting/engaging/exciting ‘theatre’ is happening within the ‘dance’ sphere…..

My favourite response came from Amanda McErlean: “Sorry, my head just exploded“.

I know the feeling. I reckon I see as much dance and theatre as just about anyone. More than any sane person would. But I’d be very reluctant to generalise. It’s easier to focus on individual works that work — or not — and ask why.

My hunch is that theatre has more to gain from dance than dance has to gain from theatre. Mainstage theatre, I reckon, has largely forgotten the essential force of the body in space, to its detriment. I can’t overstate that. That force is sine qua non. Without it, theatre is baggy TV.

By contrast — and paradoxically — dance has more to lose from theatrical pretensions. Let’s be blunt. It’s easier for a trained actor to dance competently than it is for a trained dancer to act adequately. But what I’m describing here — dancers speaking — is probably not what Lucas had in mind. And good theatre, of course, is so much more than the spoken word.

Lucas himself would have made a scintillating actor in the silent era. Such a freakishly expressive face and physique. Lucas has been in some of the very best and the very worst examples of that weird and temporary emulsion we call dance theatre: the sinister miniature Disagreeable Object (with Michelle Heaven) rates as one of the best, KAGE’s Appetite rates as one of the less best. (I can’t bring myself to knife it one more time. Go here and follow the links to the less-kind-than-mine reviews.)

The 2012 Melbourne Festival got away to a premature start last night with one of the most polished and accessible examples of mainstage dance theatre as you are likely to see. It’s the apotheosis of Kate Champion’s long, long quest to achieve a stable fusion of dance and theatre. Shrewdly, it’s being staged in the MTC’s Southbank Theatre and should find an appreciative audience there.

It won’t disappoint a dance audience either. Sarah Jayne Howard’s in it. (Enough said!)

Never Did Me Any Harm is an open-ended response to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. It’s about parenting and conflict over parenting; about the nanny state mentality which rewards all children equally and prevents them from climbing trees; it’s about parents treating their children like puppies, wanting them to be friends rather than disciplining them. It’s also about choosing to be childless. (Tracy Mann’s monologue about that is a blinder.)

The balance between words and gestures is finely tuned and close to perfect. One rarely detracts, or distracts, from the other. Opening voice-overs are illustrated by the gestural dance. It’s as if we are watching a speech simultaneously translated into the most elegant sign language by Sarah Jayne Howard and the equally remarkable Josh Mu.

Champion’s casting is excellent: dancers at one end and actors the other, with a few cross-over artists. Actor Alan Fowler is a natural mime and comic — watching him play a chimp and a nose-picking toddler is a joy — dancer Vincent Crowley has a strong dramatic presence and a good voice.

Marlo Benjamin is such an expressive dancer, I left believing I had seen her act. (Her lipsync’d speech was quite perfect.) She plays the insistent, exuberant, narcissistic, demanding, aggravating child. She reveals the scalpel edge dividing play from tantrum. Catherine McClements does much the same, a moment later, as an annoying, teasing, tickling girlfriend… a slayer of solitude.

The overall polish extends to the lighting and excellent sound design. Geoff Cobham’s lighting, however, is way too literal. It’s too intrusive, hell-bent on declaring and manifesting the tortured inner feelings of the protagonists: an agitated, epileptic grid one minute, words crawling down a tree trunk the next.

I also thought the dramaturgy was a little too slick. It’s not glib exactly, nor is it reductive, but it felt overworked. Perhaps that was part of the deal/arrangement with the Sydney Theatre Company, with whom Force Majeure has collaborated on this production.

Still, this is a thought-provoking, engrossing, entertaining and impressive production. A very satisfying hour and ten minutes in the dark. There are six more performances. See it if you can. It might not be the future of dance, but it’s most definitely a future for theatre.

Chris Boydl

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From an audience member…

Saw this show tonight in Melbourne – absolutely brilliant!  Loved the combination of dance & drama and personal recollection along with the magic set and lighting effects. Fabulous cast too. So many ‘ah ha’ moments – even though I’m not a parent, I do remember being a child – oh my goodness. Could easily sit through this shows many more times.  I’m a volunteer audio-describer with Vision Australia, which makes me view any show with slightly different eyes to the average theatre-goer.  I’m sure out VIPs(vision impaired people) would enjoy your show.

All success for the rest of this run and further afield.


“Modern children… have scant little respect for adult boundaries…”

“Modern children… have scant little respect for adult  boundaries…” so says Nikki Gemmell in the Weekend Australian Magazine. A timely article on modern-day parenting with Never Did Me Any Harm about to open in Melbourne for the Festival 9 October.

Time out!
By Nikki Gemmell

“Don’t make it too easy for them.” I contemplated that little truism following a despairing email from a father attempting some down-time with his wife, in their room, on a Saturday night. “Da-ad,” came the cry from outside. A child barged in. As they do. “Why have we allowed our kids to consider us always accessible?” he wrote. “Growing up I knew that once my parents’ door was closed, they were off-limits. Are we not instilling enough respect now for other people’s time and space alone?”

Mate, I’m with you. Contemplated your frustration as I tried showering in peace this morning but was constantly interrupted by shouts of “Mum, where’s my uniform?” “Can you pour my cereal?” “Did you organise the playdate?” accompanied by a symphony of toddler bangs on the door. It made me think of those reader tales of a peculiarly modern parental despair: going to the carwash just to read, because it’s the one place where the baby’s silent and contained; sitting in the playpen to escape while the toddlers rampage outside. Oh yes, there’s a whole generation of parents desperate to flee the kids, just now and then; to glean some precious drops of “me time” in the great mad whoosh of our lives.

How has the power balance shifted so dramatically in the parent/child dynamic? I’m often informed by my boys that I’m poned – “owned” in internet speak, got the better of – yet saying something like that to an adult, when I was a kid, would have been the height of insolence. There’s a cheeky, jostling camaraderie now but yours truly is always the fall guy in it; the embarrassing one who needs teaching in the ways of this world. According to psychology professors Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell: “Parents want their kids’ approval [now], a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval.”

Modern children seem so entitled, confident, wilful, with scant little respect for adult boundaries. Dare I say, the fault lies in the parenting. I’m not sure why we feel the path to success lies in micromanaging our childrens’ lives, but I’ve fallen into that trap along with just about every parent I know. We do so ridiculously much for them; intervene, meddle, hover. Yet I know in my bones that the ignored child is the more self-sufficient child, possibly the more successful child (just look at Churchill’s childhood of magnificently nonchalant parental neglect. They never made it easy for him.) We aim for calm, centred, self-sufficient kids – yet seem to have lost the know-how to nurture those qualities. Once it was parents yelling, “Skedaddle, and don’t appear ’til the street lights switch on”; now we’re too scared to let them meander to the corner shop in case they’re kidnapped, run over, lost. Yet they’ll never become adults if we don’t let them attempt some responsibility (thanks, Seth Rogen and the rest of you, I see the future and it scares me. Kidults, still, at 40).

This attitude’s leaching into the adult world – in outbursts of rage on the road, trolling on social media, bullying on the airwaves. What is it, above all? Juvenile. A society that’s not letting its youngest mature naturally into adults with all the decorum, self-possession and restraint that’s meant to entail. Just writing this column makes me all hot and bothered.
Several kids in this house were recently naughty and a new punishment was instituted: the Foxtel card was confiscated. For a week. Cue howls of outrage. Reader, it worked. After the initial protests a soldering calm settled on the house, a vast blanket of peace. The kids retreated to rooms, were bored but found their way into reading, drawing, dreaming. It felt wondrous and rare and old-fashioned; like our world exhaled into order. But soon, I know, we’ll slip back. We’re modern parents after all.

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Catherine McClements joins cast for Melbourne Festival season


The wonderful Catherine McClements will be joining the cast of Never Did Me Any Harm for the Melbourne Festival season along with fellow Melbournites Josh Mu, Sarah Jayne Howard & Vincent Crowley.

Never Did Me Any Harm: At Melbourne Festival October 2012



We’re thrilled to be taking NEVER DID ME ANY HARM to the Melbourne Festival this coming October. And here’s a little of what Melbourne Festival has to say about the production…

“Here’s a subject everyone has an opinion on: parenting.

“Never Did Me Any Harm confronts this social battleground head on, tackling the incendiary topic of parenting with verve, humour and insight. Taking Christos Tsiolkas’s literary phenomenon The Slap as its starting point, it is a powerhouse co-production between Sydney Theatre Company and Kate Champion’s Force Majeure ensemble.

“This is a moving, funny and intimate performance delving in to the all-too recognisable web of the relations between fathers, mothers, sons and daughters; melding theatre, movement and film into a single compelling entity.

Developed in conjunction with dramaturge Andrew Upton – recently appointed the Artistic Director of Sydney Theatre Company – this is theatre with the full force of Australia’s greatest dramatic traditions behind it. Having played to rapturous sold-out houses at the Sydney and Adelaide Festivals, it’s now Melbourne’s turn to grapple with this engaging and vivacious work.

The show features a stellar Australian cast including Tracy Mann (Laid, All Saints), Catherine McClements (Tangle, Rush, The Secret Life of Us), Marlo Benjamin, Vincent Crowley, Alan Flower, Sarah Jayne Howard and Josh Mu.

“Don’t miss your chance to experience Australian theatre at its most provocative and personal.


Never Did Me Any Harm
The MTC Theatre, Sumner

Tue 9 – Sat 13 Oct at 7pm

Thu 11 & Sat 13 Oct at 1.30pm

Tickets $25 – $70

Ticketmaster 136 100


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SMH Essay: Spare the Rod, Spoil the Planet

By Elizabeth Farrelly, Sydney Morning Herald
Weekend Edition, May 5-6 2012

A plague of unwhacked children. Is it possible that, in an array of future threats that includes climate change, financial collapse, sprawl, greed, war, pestilence and famine, humanity’s primary problem will be none of these but, rather, the global generation of unwhacked children?

”You all did perfect today!” The nice young swimming tutor, waist-deep in water, farewells his preschool flock. It’s not true of course. They didn’t all do perfect, and none of the adults present, neither parents nor teachers, believes that they did.

It’s a typical bunch of kids – some athletic, some weedy, some plump, some hopelessly timid. None of them can swim. One or two did reasonably well, considering. Most were (by definition) average and a couple, including the one who screamed steadily throughout, were appalling. Yet everyone present colludes in the lie, believing it to be for the best. Best, that is, for the children.

This has become the prevailing educational dogma of our time. Pain of any kind must be avoided, at all times and at all costs.

High school science is taught via the baking of cookies, literature by watching movies and maths by playing animated video games. Many schools, many parents, believe it is ”cruel” to reveal children’s marks to the class. Fine for everyone to know who’s the best swimmer or footballer, but when it comes to Latin verbs or differential equations, evident inadequacy could be scarring.

If it’s not altogether fun and feelgood for the kiddies, it’s not acceptable. In many ways this might be seen as democracy’s inevitable endgame, but the unspoken rationale goes something like this:

One. Happiness is more important than anything; more important than goodness, decency, wealth, duty, achievement or knowledge. More important even than friendship or love, which matter only insofar as they bring happiness.

Two. Our primary job, as parents, is to maximise our children’s future happiness.

Three. Future happiness builds on present happiness.

Four. Present happiness requires self-esteem, maximum pleasure and, as nearly as possible, the absence of pain.

Pain prevention therefore becomes the parent’s paramount task.

This is fascinating. To most of us, now, it will seem obvious that minimising our child’s pain is a primary parental role. Yet this only shows how complete, and how quiet, the revolution has been.

To some extent it’s territory explored by Christos Tsiolkas’s book (and TV series) The Slap. But Tsiolkas’ interest is primarily in the personal and interpersonal ramifications of the physical act; relationship stuff.

What if it’s bigger than that? Much, much bigger? Political, environmental, spiritual? What if the proliferation of the unwhacked affects the very future of civilisation?

(I should add at this point that I use the term ”unwhacked” in part as a metaphorical shorthand to capture all those whose childhoods have been quilted by the various forms of pain-avoidance. I should note, too, that my own children – my own parenting – are by no means exempt. Indeed, it is my own experience of hedonic parenting that provokes my curiosity.)

Traditional modes of child-rearing have depended largely (and at times almost wholly) on the choreographed application of pain – humiliation, criticism, deprivation and actual, physical contact.

We are appalled. We see all infliction of pain, especially on children, as cruel and wrong.

In this we are influenced by two centuries of literature, from all the evil authority figures of Victorian reformist novels (Dickens’s frightful Mr Creakle and Charles Kingsley’s cruel schoolmasters and ”doctors who give little children so much physic” they should themselves be bled, dosed with calomel and have their teeth pulled) to Roald Dahl’s Miss Trunchbull, who discus-throws kiddies by their plaits or shoves them in the ”pokey”.

The inheritors and perpetuators of this save-the-children movement were, of course, the baby boomers, parents of today’s young teachers (including my swimming tutor). But to Victorian evangelism the hippie ”just-add-water” attitude to child-rearing admixed a further, crucial ingredient.

In baby-boom peacenik philosophy – I use the word loosely – the anti-cruelty push of the 19th century evangelists was entwined with a Voltairean naturism; a noble savage philosophy that flipped nature from being humanity’s perfectable project to being, in its raw state, the supreme good.

Civilisation flipped conversely, from being the ultimate goal to becoming itself a liability, viz. Paul Klee’s desire to ”unlearn” drawing, Ivan Illich’s best selling Deschooling Society and so on. It was a Wordsworthian inversion of original sin: that we come to earth ”trailing clouds of glory”, from which our birth is ”but a sleep and a forgetting”. This puts appetite, not truth or goodness, on the tip of society’s arrows.

It’s an idea that the reformers would not countenance. Kingsely’s children’s tale The Water Babies doubled as an anti-child-labour tract, a critique of simplistic scientism and an argument for Darwin’s controversial evolutionary theories.

Yet Kingsley rejected outright the idea of gratification as a path to goodness, or even happiness. In The Water Babies, a group of humans called Doasyoulikes degenerate, precisely because they do whatever they wish, into gorillas, losing the power of speech and eventually being shot by explorers.

In rejecting both wanton cruelty and wanton gratification, the 19th century reformers drew an elegant distinction – between pain inflicted for the pleasure or betterment of the inflictor, and pain inflicted for the good of the subject (or victim).

I see your incredulous response. Most of us grew up ridiculing the idea of good pain, and the bottom-smackers adage, ”this hurts me more than it hurts you”. In what world might pain benefit the victim?

Well, in our world. The real world.

As functioning adults we frequently distinguish between bad pain, good pain and pain that is morally neutral. Bad pain is destructive – as when you hold your hand to a flame. Morally neutral pain has no lasting effect, for better or worse – such as exercising stiff muscles already stiff from overuse, or walking up a ladder barefoot, or even the pain of childbirth.

Good pain, however, is that pain necessary to some greater goal; yoga, for example. Study. Piano practice. Obeying the boss – or God, if you’re religiously inclined. Calisthenics. Dieting. Staying sober at lunch in order to pick the kids up from school. Any of the dozens of daily moments when we enact the unwished for some greater good.

Yet when it comes to disciplining our children, this is a distinction we often fail to draw. People presume that the refusal to smack – the determination to shape the child using carrot only, no stick – reflects, if anything, excessive love and concern for the child.

You see people in the local park, pleading with their pets, arguing with them, telling them that barking at the neighbouring poodle is not nice. The dog remains unrepentant, unreflective and untrained. Parenting, similarly, it seems to me, is a form of Stockholm syndrome, where the bond itself depends on benign but unwavering control being from the same hand.

The historian Barbara Tuchman famously blamed the Middle Ages’ tolerance of cruelty on the huge rate of infant mortality and parents’ consequently low emotional investment in childhood.

Many have disagreed, but Tuchman’s theory suggests that perhaps we have moved to the opposite extreme. Perhaps our extraordinarily low infant mortality has produced an over-investment in childhood and an extreme reluctance even to contemplate inflicting pain, even in the child’s interests.

Yet it is still possible that some pain – some level, some kinds, carefully applied – is in the best long-term interest of the kid.

Parental discussions of the smacking question are informative on this point. Many people’s biggest objection is not that smacking might hurt or damage the child but that to do it feels bad. To hit a child in anger feels brutalising. To hit a child coldly, without passion, is almost worse.

Force Majeure’s wonderful Never Did Me Any Harm at the Sydney Theatre Company this year wove real voices together into a side-splitting exposé´ of parenting neuroses.

”Whenever we did it we’d feel quite upset,” says one. ”You actually find yourself disliking a three year-old … but we had a lot of trouble disciplining Jimmy cause … he can really push our buttons … ”

So is the anti-pain, anti-danger push in fact pro-child, or pro-parent? Was the bottom-smacker’s old hurts-me-more-than-it-hurts-you adage actually accurate? Is smacking actually worse for the parent than the kid, and is this why we oppose it?

Is the urge to cosset our kids truly about their happiness, or our cowardice?

To some extent the answer depends on whether childhood pain, in any of its forms, can be a force for good.

Let’s be clear. Pain is not always good, for adults or children, even in the long-term educational or spiritual sense. Sufferers of chronic pain are often worn down or destroyed by it, with no pay-off enlightenment. But it is also true that what might seem intolerable suffering at the time can turn out, in retrospect, to have been profoundly formative and fortifying.

This is the substance of the old proverbs and cliché´s, our old scoffing-posts; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, all that. But what if they’re true?

Some experts argue that, for boys in particular, a short sharp smack is greatly preferable to an hour’s parental talk. But that’s still measuring pleasure, not benefit. Yet, even when the pain is more intense and prolonged, even when there is genuine damage, the outcome can be good.

Fiona Scott-Norman’s recent book, Don’t Peak in High School, documents the (to us) counterintuitive phenomenon whereby pained and difficult childhoods – flavoured by bullying, loneliness, misery and even abuse – often generate wildly creative and successful adults.

Of course it’s impossible to demonstrate the causality in these things. But it is at least plausible that early hardship might build spiritual or moral muscle – resilience, at the very least. That those evil teachers and doctors of history weren’t all sadists; some, at least, were genuine educators.

The converse is clear; sparing the rod can spoil not only the child – brattishness, obesity, overweening entitlement and depression – but also the planet.

Many psychiatrists say their waiting rooms are lately filled with young adults who suddenly realise they’re not in fact geniuses and the world is not their oyster. Shattered, thus, they want instead to die.

I sympathise. Truly. But the planetary consequences are bigger still: excess entitlement, widely spread, can only exacerbate appetite-driven climate change.

Children who grow up with unearned self-esteem will not only cope less well with crisis when it comes, but will by their behaviours increase its likelihood and intensity. Triple whammy.

Perhaps we’ll stop short of Jonathan Swift’s proposal for ”preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country … ”

”I have been assured,” says Swift, ”that … a young healthy child, well nursed, is at a year-old a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled … ”

But maybe the odd smack?