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They Divided the Sky: Souls divided beyond a Wall of suffering

They Divided the Sky
Downstairs, Belvoir
June 15
★★★

How's this for a first-date question: wha..

They Divided the Sky
Downstairs, Belvoir
June 15

★★★

How's this for a first-date question: what part of you makes you hard to love?

Stephen Phillips and Nikki Shiels in They Divided The Sky.

It is a question asked early in this piece, and one the young protagonist Rita has time to consider, and not only of her paramour.

For this two-hander is more than a tale of an unfolding romance. It is one in which lives and relationships are shaped by political circumstances, ideals and ideology.

They Divided The Sky is the tale of an unfolding romance.

Photo: Supplied

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Based on the 1963 novel by East German writer Christa Wolf, it is set in 1960 and 1961, the period the Berlin Wall was erected.

Rita is an idealist young socialist committed to the German Democratic Republic's ideals, Manfred a scientist. A decade older than 19-year-old Rita, Manfred remembers the Second World War and the image of Hitler in his family's house. He is also a man who rates his work over Rita.

As the Wall goes up and divides East from West Germany, the pair faces a decision: to go or stay. Ideological struggles of capitalism versus communism are mirrored in the shifting dynamics of the couple's relationship.

Told from Rita's perspective, the piece unfolds in short scenes and flashbacks as she recovers from an accident in the factory in which she toils to the point of exhaustion for a better communal future. Life is made up of little bricks of suffering, she says.

Nikki Shiels, as Rita, delivers a thoughtful performance as a woman who grows in strength and wisdom as she outgrows Manfred. Stephen Phillips as Manfred is well-matched as the brash, confident scientist determined to put his own future first.

Director and adaptor Daniel Schlusser has distilled Wolf's novel into a layered, brooding piece. In Rita's willingness to sacrifice herself, Schlusser draws interesting connections, in a program note, with her literary sisters, Gretchen of Goethe's Faust and Margarita of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, although these are implied rather than overt on stage.

Played in the round, with a bathtub in the centre – in which both are immersed – the atmosphere is unsettling and claustrophobic, aided by James Paul's complex sound design.

There are strong autobiographical elements in the tale by the socialist writer who opted to remain in East Germany, and who ultimately copped criticism from both sides of the political divide.

Her controversial work was seen as decadent by communist hardliners and she was decried as an opportunist who failed to denounce a corrupt dictatorship.

Wolf's death in 2011 has prompted a more nuanced understanding of the writer on the other side of history. This production is a welcome part of that reassessment.

Joyce Morgan

Joyce Morgan is a theatre critic for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former arts editor and writer of the SMH and also an author.

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Enviroment

‘Extended run’ of heat set to last all week

The heat that has plagued Australia’s south and west is set to linger. But when the mercury does finally drop, it looks like rain will replace the warmth – at least in the country’s south east.

Both Perth and Melbourne have both been solidly in heatwaves.

On Sunday, Perth recorded an extraordinary six days in a row surpassing 40C. That’s a heat feat not seen since a string of scorching days in Adelaide in 2009.

Some blessed relief from the unbearable heat in Perth is due for the coming days – it’s now just going to be moderately baking. But another 40C day is expected soon enough.

Melbourne hit 32.6C on Sunday following a 32.3C high on Saturday. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has said the city is set for an “extended run” of heat this week.

Most of Victoria and Tasmania will be in low intensity heatwave week with highs in Melbourne of 34C on multiple days.

But the monsoon is getting stronger in the country’s north and that’s sending rain towards the south and east as the week progresses.

Sky News Weather meteorologist Rob Sharpe said a low pressure system forming around northern Australia could deliver 100mm or more of rain over the Top End and had the potential to form into a cyclone.

“Tropical moisture is well and truly in the mix and is aiding the heavy falls we’ve been seeing in many parts of the country.

“That wet weather is generally edging slightly eastwards. So there’s potential for south eastern Australia to see a lot of rainfall towards the back end of the week, with heavy falls a threat,” he said.

But that’s not for a few days yet. Up until at least Thursday, Melbourne should be dry with 33-34C maximums most days and nights only dipping down to 21C or so.

The BOM has warned it will be humid and there is the chance of storms.

Temperatures could come down from Thursday with the possibility of some substantial rain leading into the weekend.

Across the Bass Strait and Tasmania is in the same heatwave, but the maximums will be far lower than Victoria.

Hobart is looking at a week of temperatures in the mid-twenties and dawn lows of 16C. Just like Victoria, the Apple Isle will be dry until the end of the week when some showers are likely.

Perth set to cool down … finally

On the tail end of the systems that’s caused so much rain in the centre of South Australia, Adelaide has seen some decent falls this weekend with 23mm of rain falling on Saturday and almost another 20mm on Sunday.

There will be some warmth and humidity to begin the week in Adelaide with a high of 29C on Monday rising to 31C by Wednesday before a few days in the mid-twenties. Minimums will be around 20C.

There could be some showers on Tuesday.

Monday could still a storm or two and some rain in areas most affected by the rain this weekend including Whyalla, Port August and Port Lincoln. Floods remain a risk in the mod north, Flinders Ranges, west coast and Eyre and Yorke peninsulas.

There is the possibility of up to 120mm of rain falling into Monday n some areas.

Across the Nullarbor and the low intensity heatwave should move away from Perth on Monday but could continue around the Gascoyne.

Monday to Thursday should see highs of between 31C and 33C in Perth with mid teen minimums. That’s far cooler than the last week. But come Friday and the mercury is set to rise once again with a possibility of 40C on Sunday.

Summery and settled in east

Wet in Darwin to begin the week with 10-35mm falling on Monday and a further 8-20mm on Tuesday. Thunderstorms could crop up most days. Warm with highs of 31-33C this week and 25C lows.

The east coast should be relatively settled and summery. This week will see a run of 30C plus days in Brisbane with 31C the norm. Overnight, it should dip down to 20C. Some showers are possible on Wednesday.

A possible shower or two in Sydney on Monday but nothing too heavy. The rest of the week is looking dry.

Maximum temperatures on the Harbour City of 26C on Monday rising to 28C on Wednesday and then as much as 30C on Friday. Lows overnight of around 19C.

Dry in Canberra with highs of 27-29C but potentially up to 31C on Friday. Temperatures should fall to the mid-teens after dark.

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Enviroment

So, we guess this means Beyonce and Jay-Z are OK then

The first couple of pop music took the world by surprise by dropping their first album together last..

The first couple of pop music took the world by surprise by dropping their first album together last weekend. As you'd expect, it's a statement.

There is arguably no couple better at controlling their own press than Beyonce and Jay-Z. When a video surfaced in 2014 showing Bey's younger sister Solange attacking her brother-in-law in an elevator, rumours of a strained marriage proliferated.

Rather than battle the tabloids, the spouses used the gossip to fuel the creation of two critically beloved, commercially successful records: Beyonce's Lemonade and Jay-Z's 4:44. And, in them, they offered just as many details about their private lives as they chose.

Beyonce and Jay-Z on stage in France for the 2014 On the Run tour.

Photo: Rob Hoffman

Now the couple have continued their domination of pop music, surprising the world last Saturday by releasing their joint album Everything Is Love, which is something of a sequel to those two solo records. Though they have collaborated for at least 15 years, this marks their first joint album, which they dropped under the name The Carters.

The record is a victory lap from a couple who have mined their relationship for universal truths and then presented them as art. It's a fierce love letter to success, to family, to blackness – but, most of all, to each other.

Artwork for the album Everything is Love by The Carters, aka Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Photo: Karl Quinn

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Lyrically, it primarily focuses on two aspects of the Carters' lives: their marriage and their success. (more…)

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Enviroment

Rachel Griffiths: female characters are finally getting real on screen

Almost a year into the #MeToo era, Rachel Griffiths believes the likes of Mystery Road, Wentworth, P..

Almost a year into the #MeToo era, Rachel Griffiths believes the likes of Mystery Road, Wentworth, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Top of the Lake show that female characters are finally coming of age on Australian screens.

In a spirited speech at the launch of a new state government scheme to support more women directors in television, the actor-turned-director said it was exciting to see female characters move beyond "the typical tropes of 'likable, f—able, adorable'" to "more complex depictions of female experience" recently.

Happy to see "more complex depictions of female experience": Rachel Griffiths (left) with Leah Purcell at the launch of #SheDirects.

Photo: Louie Douvis

While she acknowledged there were male directors who created fresh and compelling women characters, Griffiths said the "male gaze" often reduced them to colouring the characters of their male counterparts.

"[They are created to] make him hot, make him authentic, make him empathetic, make him fatherly, make him conflicted, make him grieve," she said. "In the male gaze, we are so often not the gatekeepers; we're not the ferryman. Sometimes the mentor but usually only ironically, like Judi Dench's M…

"Under-written and under-observed, brought into our sexual awareness precociously and prepubescent in order to accommodate the male libido.

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"Often in television we're used by lazy writers and producers who can think of nothing more interesting this week than 'let's have her have sex with X' or 'discover she's a lesbian – for an episode'."

Griffiths, who is about to begin editing the Melbourne Cup drama Ride Like A Girl after finishing the shoot, endorsed Hollywood star Sandra Bullock's recent comment that it was time for women to "stop being polite" about gender equality. (more…)

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