Monday, 22 May 2017

Wld Bore, May 19, 2017 ***


Created and performed by Zoë Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez & Adrienne Truscott; produced by Malthouse Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until June 4, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 19, 2017
Stars: ***
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts on Monday May 22, 2017 and later in print. KH
 Ursula Martinez (wearing a 'bumhead') –Tim Grey Photo
‘You will probably be offended. Actually, you will be offended,’ says the publicity about Wild Bore by Zoë Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez, Adrienne Truscott.

And I was offended – but not by the plumply jiggling, naked bottoms perched atop a trestle table and talking into microphones.

Nor was I offended by the performers’ full frontal nudity or the scatological language or the swearing or even by the chocolatey stuff squeezing out of the padded ‘bum-heads’ that masked the performers faces (or should that be ‘faeces’?).

And it wasn’t the rambling, post-modern, self-referential, gender-political, meta-theatrical (Yeah, look that term up ‘cos they use it repeatedly) monologues or the absurdly silly dancing.

And I certainly wasn’t offended by their vehement and often hilarious attacks on theatre critics who have ridiculed or dissected former productions by these artists and others.

What offended me was that they didn’t quote me! Clearly, I’m just too dull or too nice a critic to be quotable. Of course, I expend a lot of energy avoiding being quotable because critics are misrepresented and misunderstood as often as are these performers.

Now, how do I write a critical commentary on a show that is a critical commentary on critics’ critical commentary on critically awful shows? I can’t so I won’t.

Writers like to be memorable, so plenty of critics write riotously scathing and unforgettable criticism that artists dismiss, so I try to write criticism that artists may heed – if I’m lucky and they are listening.

So, amongst the bums and puns and rants and dancing and finger pointing and gallumphing around the stage, there are some golden quotes from critics.

 ‘Al Pacino walks like an anchovy and looks like an unmade bunk bed.’ Oh, how I wish I’d written that! That’s Rex Reed’s achingly funny and vitriolic review of Pacino in David Mamet’s China Doll.

Martinez slices and dices a critic that accused her of building a brick wall ‘for no apparent reason’ in a show, and Coombs Marr has a go at someone who couldn’t tell the difference between ‘dramaturgical design’ and ‘whimsical incompetence’ in her previous production.

Anyway, there’s no point explaining or critiquing anything in Wild Bore except to say that some of it is really funny and some is desperately dull and indulgent. You may love it if you work in the theatre, or go to the theatre a lot, or love these three performers, or are just a sticky-beak. And it’s short!

By Kate Herbert 

PS: There’s one famous book of ‘the worst theatrical reviews in history’ and it’s called No Turn Unstoned and it was edited in 1982 by Diana Rigg – yes, Mrs. Peel from The Avengers (the proper Avengers from the UK in the 60s).
Oh, and I did write a scathing review once but you’ll need to scour every single review in my blog to find it. It was a beaut!


 Adrienne Truscott, Zoe Coombs Marr_Tim Grey Photo
 Adrienne Truscott, Ursula Martinez& Zoe Coombs Marr_Tim Grey Photo

Friday, 19 May 2017

Minnie and Liraz, May 18, 2017 ***


Written by Lally Katz, by Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until June 24, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Thurs May 18, 2017
Stars:***
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri May 19, 2017 and later in print. KH
 Virginia Gay, Rhys McConnochie, Nancye Hayes - photo Jeff Busby
If black humour about old age, serious illness, death and funerals makes you laugh, then the folks and jokes in Minnie and Liraz may tickle your funny bone – or your bad hip.

Set in the Autumn Road Retirement Village in Caulfield, Lally Katz’s latest play pokes fun at the strokes and heart attacks, deafness, widowhood, grandparenting and horribly failed hip replacements of the various geriatric residents.

When Minnie Cohen’s (Nancye Hayes) long-term Bridge partner dies unexpectedly, Liraz Weinberg (Sue Jones), whose Bridge partner is also recently deceased, proposes they join forces to win the hotly contested Australian Seniors Bridge Tournament.

Minnie reluctantly agrees to partner her former rival on the proviso that Liraz introduce her single grandson, Ichabod (Peter Paltos), to Minnie’s unmarried granddaughter, Rachel (Virginia Gay).

Some people mellow with age, but Minnie and Liraz buck that trend, with Minnie being ambitious, abrasive and quietly critical while Liraz is loud, mean, crass and competitive to the death.

This production succeeds almost exclusively because of its capable actors who give life to Katz’s comic caricatures and work like Trojans to milk every last laugh out of the rather obvious jokes and observational humour about old age.

Hayes is sprightly and refined as Minnie and plays her with a vibrating anxiety and acerbic tone that emphasise Minnie’s deep-seated fears about failing as a parent and her obsessive need to marry off her granddaughter.

Jones is a comic highlight as Liraz, getting huge laughs from her deft manoeuvring of Liraz’s motorised mobility scooter, her vulgar jokes, loud and rusty laugh and her feisty competitiveness.

Both Minnie and Liraz unashamedly use emotional blackmail to manipulate their family and friends, making them both thoroughly dislikeable – but comical.

Gay is very funny as the eccentric and clumsy Rachel, playing her with clownish awkwardness as she struggles to overcome her self-loathing and under-confidence, despite her success as the headmistress of a primary school.

As Ichabod, Liraz’s socially inept physicist grandson, Paltos channels the brainiacs in Big Bang Theory, getting laughs from his weirdly compulsive behaviour and his obsession with alternative universes, but his character remains two-dimensional.

Rhys McConnochie is sympathetic as Morris, Minnie’s lonely and long-suffering husband, while Georgina Naidu is relentlessly cheerful as the aged care worker, Norma.

Director, Anne-Louise Sarks, allows the actors to make the most of the gags, but her staging is unimaginative.

Although the revolving stage (Mel Page) provides multiple locations in the retirement home and the slow scene transformations initially mirror the residents’ pace of the life, these scene changes eventually slow the production to a snail’s pace.

Katz’s light, insubstantial, comic script includes occasional moments of pathos, such as Morris’s poignant war story told during ‘memoir group’ and Minnie’s revelation of her regrets but such moments are infrequent and the dialogue is repetitive.

The funereal humour and the digs at possessive grandparents are certainly funny, but this production succeeds primarily because of the comedic skills of its cast.

By Kate Herbert 
 Sue Jones, Peter Paltos - photo Jeff Busby
Cast
Virginia Gay - Rachel 
Nancye Hayes - Minnie Cohen
Sue Jones - Liraz Weinberg
Rhys McConnochie - Morris Cohen
Georgina Naidu ­- Norma
Peter Paltos - Ichabod Weinberg

Director Anne-Louise Sarks
Set costume Mel Page
Lighting Matt Scott
Composer Sound Stefan Gregory



Thursday, 18 May 2017

My Fair Lady, May 16, 2017 ****1/2


MUSICAL THEATRE 
Book and Lyrics by Alan J. Lerner & Music by Frederick Loewe
Produced by Opera Australia and John Frost 
At Regent Theatre, Melbourne, until July 27, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Tuesday, May 16, 2017 
Stars: ****1/2
 Review NOT published in Herald Sun. It appears only on this blog. KH
My Fair Lady, Anna O'Byrne & cast -photo Jeff Busby
Now, don’t pretend you’re too cool to sing along with the songs in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady because you know they are eminently singable. Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? and Get Me To The Church On Time stick in your brain like ear worms.

Julie Andrews, who is musical theatre royalty, was the first Eliza Dolittle in 1956, and she now demonstrates her directing prowess in this sleek, funny and stylish production that features Australian soprano, Anna O’Byrne, as the spirited Eliza, and Charles Edwards, British star of stage and screen, as the bombastic Henry Higgins.

Lerner and Loewe based My Fair Lady on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion. If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know the story, Higgins is a ‘phoneticist’ (he studies accents and language) who makes a wager with Colonel Pickering (Tony Llewellyn-Jones) that he, Higgins, can transform Eliza’s voice and appearance from a rough flower seller to a lady in six months.

Andrews pays homage to the 1956 production by reviving Oliver Smith’s set design that features London’s grubby streets and Covent Garden flower markets, as well as its opulent homes and extravagant ballrooms bedecked with chandeliers.

In an inspired choice, this production recreates Cecil Beaton’s incomparable costumes that range from the earthy tones and shabby fabrics of street urchins, to remarkable, lavish ball gowns and those unforgettable and exquisite black and white outfits at the Ascot races.
My Fair Lady cast -photo Jeff Busby
Edwards’ consummate performance as the arrogant, pompous Professor Higgins elicits the audience’s outrage at Higgins’ bluntness and insensitivity that borders on cruelty, then, with impeccable comic timing, tilts the crowd into guffaws at his self-absorbed, mummy’s boy behaviour.

Using a clipped, spoken delivery rather than song, Edwards highlights Higgins’ smug chauvinism in Why Can't The English? and A Hymn to Him, then, just when we are certain that we loath him, he turns us on our heads with Higgins’ warmth and secret longing for Eliza in I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face.

O’Byrne’s performance is assured and her voice is both powerful and sweet in tone, doing justice to the fanciful Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?, the feisty Just You Wait and Show Me, the triumphant The Rain in Spain, and the romantic and celebratory I Could Have Danced All Night.

Her Eliza is charming and her transformation from scruffy, rough-toned Cockney to articulate and elegant lady is joyful and entertaining, although the changes in her voice and behaviour from start to finish could perhaps be more extreme.
My Fair Lady cast - photo Jeff Busby
The audacious and hilarious Reg Livermore is delectably vulgar, cheeky and greedy as Eliza’s booze-soaked father, Alfred P. Dolittle, and his renditions, with chorus members, of With A Little Bit of Luck and Get Me To The Church On Time, are crowd-pleasers.

Robin Nevin is deliciously refined and wittily restrained as Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins, while Llewellyn-Jones is appealingly bluff and bumbling as Colonel Hugh Pickering, and Mark Vincent’s velvet voice expresses Freddy Eynsford-Jones’ puppy-dog adoration during On The Street Where You Live.

Under the musical direction of Guy Simpson, the orchestra gives an assured performance of Frederick Loewe’s inimitable music, while the accomplished chorus provides rich vocals and vivacious choreography (Christopher Gattelli) in the ensemble numbers.

There is something delightfully old-fashioned and endearing about this production with its picture frame / chocolate box, proscenium stage and swift scene changes that take place magically behind the lowered curtain.

It is difficult to fault this captivating production, and Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady certainly earns its place as one of the most memorable and exceptional musicals ever written.

By Kate Herbert

Cast
Anna O’Byrne Eliza Dolittle
Charles Edwards Henry Higgins
Reg Livermore Alfred P. Dolittle
Robin Nevin Mrs. Higgins
Tony Llewellyn-Jones  Colonel Hugh Pickering
Mark Vincent Freddy Eynsford-Jones
Mrs. Pearce Deidre Rubenstein

Creative Team
 Directed by Julie Andrews
Musical Director  Guy Simpson
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli
Set design Oliver Smith (from original)
Costumes Cecil Beaton
Costume recreation John David Ridge
Lighting design Richard Pilbrow
Sound design Michael Waters
  Anna O'Byrne & Charles Edwards  -Photo BrianGeach
  Anna O'Byrne  - photo Jeff Busby
Songs
Act 1
Why Can't The English? – Professor Higgins
Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? – Eliza and Male Quartet
With A Little Bit of Luck– Alfred Doolittle, Harry, and Jamie
I'm an Ordinary Man – Professor Higgins
With a Little Bit of Luck (Reprise) – Alfred Doolittle and Ensemble
Just You Wait – Eliza
The Servants' Chorus (Poor Professor Higgins) – Mrs. Pearce and Servants
The Rain in Spain– Professor Higgins, Eliza, and Colonel Pickering
I Could Have Danced All Night – Eliza, Mrs. Pearce, and Servants
Ascot Gavotte – Ensemble
On The Street Where You Live– Freddy
Eliza's Entrance/Embassy Waltz – The Orchestra

Act 2
You Did It – Colonel Pickering, Professor Higgins, Mrs. Pearce, and Servants
Just You Wait (Reprise) – Eliza
On the Street Where You Live (Reprise) – Freddy
Show Me – Eliza and Freddy
The Flower Market/Wouldn't It Be Loverly? (Reprise) – Eliza and Male Quartet
Get me To The Church On Time– Alfred Doolittle and Ensemble
A Hymn to Him – Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering
Without You – Eliza and Professor Higgins
I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face– Professor Higgins
I Could Have Danced All Night (Reprise) / Finale – The Orchestra



Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Awakening, MUST, May 11, 2017 ***


Written by Daniel Lammin
Adapted from Spring Awakening by Franz Wedekind
Presented by Monash University Student Theatre (MUST) and fortyfivedownstairs
At fortyfivedownstairs, until May 21, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars:***
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts week of May 15, 2017. (Not on line yet.) KH
Awakening_pic by Theresa Harrison

Ah, puberty! That volatile and bewildering time when childish bodies suddenly transform, sexuality awakens, emotions seem out of control, and nobody – especially parents – understands you.

We oldies may have forgotten how fraught life can feel at 14, but the university student actors in Awakening are not many years older than the troubled 14-year olds they portray in Daniel Lammin’s adaptation of Franz Wedekind’s controversial 1891 German play, Spring Awakening.

Lammin’s production channels the conservatism and repression of 19th Austria that Wedekind so scathingly attacked, but Lammin interweaves the contemporary experiences of 21st century teens who communicate through texts and Snapchat, take innumerable selfies and dance to 5 Seconds of Summer.

The six performers (Nicola Dupree, Samanth Hafey-Bagg, Eamonn Johnson, James Malcher, Sam Porter, Imogen Walsh) switch from 19th century dress to modern clothing in the second act, but the issues confronting these children remain the same: sexuality, depression, rape, violence, masturbation, sado-masochism and, ultimately, suicide.

They straddle the border between childhood and adulthood, shifting from chanting rhymes and playing games to struggling with bodily changes and the complexity of the adult world, all the while fighting to get answers to their questions about life, love and sex.

The play is episodic, with scene titles being projected on a rear screen in the style of Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre of the early and mid-20th century.

In this episodic structure, we witness teenage characters that represent the differing experiences of adolescents.

Melchior is the golden boy who is smart, handsome and confident, while his friend, Moritz, is academically weak, unloved and depressed and Hansy is rude, selfish and a cheat.

Amongst the girls, the naive Wendla’s life is shattered when she is raped, Marta assumes that being beaten by her father is normal, and Ilse is the promiscuous outsider.

There are several strong and emotive scenes, one being Moritz’s last, lonely moments balanced on the edge of a rooftop, texting his friend before he jumps, and another is the funeral scene when these young people wrestle with the concept of death.

In one horrific moment, we witness Wendla’s desperate cries when she is raped, and in another poignant scene she confronts Melchior who craves forgiveness.

A more positive moment is the cast’s rendition of Queen’s Somebody To Love with its impassioned lyrics and exhilarating harmonies.

Lammin’s directorial choice to have each performer playing multiple roles may give the sense that these teenagers share common experiences, but the performers lack the skill to differentiate between characters as they switch roles, and this is often confusing for an audience.

This contemporary adaptation is enhanced by the authenticity and energy of its youthful cast and it raises challenging social issues that echo the problems faced by the children in Wedekind’s 19th century Austria.

By Kate Herbert


Awakening was developed by Lammin with Monash University Student Theatre for its first season at Trades Hall in 2016.

Director Daniel Lammin
Lighting Shaun Haney
Design Julia Kaddatz
Costume Charmian Sim

Cast
Nicola Dupree
Samanth Hafey-Bagg
Eammon Johnson
James Malcher
Sam Porter
Imogen Walsh



Wednesday, 10 May 2017

'Gender in Australian Theatre', My first article for The Melbourne Times, March 1992


 I just found this article  in my files. It was the very first article i wrote for Arts Editor, Robin Usher, when i became Theatre Reviewer for The Melbourne Times in 1992. It was also the hardest piece I ever had to write.  

I came back from the 1992 Adelaide Festival where my colleagues and I had found the critical Arts commentary and theatre reviewing to be appalling. I called The Melbourne Times and Robin Usher answered. He had been in the Arts Editor role for only one month and he asked me to bring him some examples of reviews. 

I wrote several reviews on show I had seen in Adelaide. I took them to him. He didn't read any of them but he talked to me about the shows and about theatre and then he gave me this topic to research and write. he told me o see these three plays by women and write a critical article called Gender in Australian Theatre. 

Here it is.  I found only a photocopy of the article so I had to type it out all over again. All the errors are as they were when I wrote it.

Thank you, Robin, for setting me on my path as an Arts writer and reviewer. You taught me how to structure a piece, bury my quibbles, use my expert knowledge as a theatre practitioner to analyse and comment on shows, and how to be fearless in the face of criticism. 
Kate 

'Gender in Australian Theatre'
Writer:  Kate Herbert
The Melbourne Times. Published around March 1992
My first article ever for The Melbourne Times
Arts Editor: Robin Usher

The gender landscape approaching the 21st century is changing at such a breathtaking rate it is a wonder men and women recognise each other when they crawl into bed at night. Perhaps somewhere in unrecorded history, men and women negotiated shopping, work, child-care, sensitivity, sex and fidelity. Who can tell?

What the new men’s movement seems to be saying is that men are confused about traditional roles but have nothing with which to replace them. Men don’t know how they are supposed to act any more. Are they blokes or SNAGS? On the other side of the gender fence the role models that the Women’s Movement created in the 60s and 70s are no longer relevant in the lifestyle of women in the 90s.

The arts will always intersect withe the prevailing social and inter-personal patterns. Playwright, particularly, have the opportunity to explore human relationships in a way unavailable to any other art form, creating three-dimensional forms of  the complex lives of modern, urban people.

There has been a spate of local plays dealing with these issues. Liz Jones from La mama says she has been receiving an increasing number of such scripts, predominantly by women, about personal relationships.

Three plays recently i production in Melbourne, and all written by young women,, Wolf (being staged at Playbox) and Mistress by Tobsha Learner, and Ridge’s Lovers by Joann Murray-Smith. All three are depicting what is commonly and cryptically dubbed post-feminism. Each raises issues of relationships and gender confusion.

The irksome personal problems between men and women are not new fodder for the playwright. Look at Medea, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Nor and Torvald in A Doll’s House. Australian contemporary theatre has followed this noble heritage.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in the 50s looked at the working class and the long-term, long-distance relationships between two cane-cutters and their girlfriends.  The Removalists penetrated the violence of the domestic home in the 70s and put it under th microscope, while Don’s Party stripped off the veneer of the middle-class lefties and revealed their inconsistencies.

In the early 80s, Hannie Rayson’s Room To Move shifted the focus to the emerging new relationships of the time. Men were cooking, housekeeping and emoting. Women were working and asserting themselves. Love affairs were no longer just being ignored or simply tolerated, they were being negotiated, for goodness’ sake!

The women created by Murray-Smith and Learner epitomise the more recent struggle to integrate feminism with the New Conservatism of the 80s. In Ridge’s Lovers, Elle is an attractive, cool and decorative bitch who uses her lover for sex and adoration and shuns a domestic relationship. She defies most feminist principles except independence of spirit. Stephanie dreams about a career as an actor but fantasises about marriage and domestic bliss. Julia is simple but inarticulate.

They speak aloud some of the embarrassing fantasies and secret scripts of modern women. They dream of being stick-insect thin, being able to toss on any old thing and look fabulous, wearing lacy underwear (presumably without feeling foolish or guilty), and about the Latin lover who whisks tem off to an Italian villa.

The compromise continues. In Mistress Diana Cunningham subjugates her own career to her husband’s. His mistress, Helen, waits in the wings for him to leave is wife. The young Aphrodite treats her boyfriend like a demi-god. I Wolf, Damien Lupus’ wife, Deirdre, may be a successful politician but she suffers from Daniel’s continual affairs. Toni is constantly in love with unavailable men and the art school student uses Daniel to advance her career and has absolutely no sense of sisterhood. It’s enough to make die-hard feminists give up and wear frilly blouses.

These characters are still looking toward the old male models to rescue them. In the plays, a man representing a very traditional role is central to the plot and the women are like Russian satellites revolving around him. The pattern of women identifying themselves through men is ubiquitous. It is heartening that, at the end of Mistress, all three women try to extricate themselves from their dilemma.

The poor men do not fare so well.  They remain unresolved and unredeemed. Ridge searches for this ideal women in a composite of all three lovers, although he is interested in marrying the only one who does not want him. Familiar? Daniel Lupus is a Casanova, a ‘root rat’, a compulsive seducer who does not even have the imagination to think up new lines of seduction for each new conquest.  Familiar? Richard Cunningham is an unattractive example of the lapsed hippy-socialist that was breeding unchecked on university campuses in the 70s his politics lapsing conveniently with his Catholicism when he became a wealthy celebrity journalist.

All three men have an uncontrollable desire to possess squillions of women. Don Juan had nothing on these guys. In the end, though, they are more to be pitied than admired.

According to Rose Rothfield, a psychoanalyst, the Don Juan is a common male psychological phenomenon. “Don Juan is trying terribly hard to be a man and, to prove it, he sleeps with a lot of women. It’s not enough proof. He has to do it again and again.” He is a wolf. Learner says that women, too, may be wolves, but very few women make a lifelong vocation of it.

Yes, we all recognise the Don Juan, and the females in these plays may be vocalising he deep and dark secrets of women out there. Audiences may recognise themselves in the stereotypes on the stage. But do these stereotypes challenge our ideas or broaden our thinking, or do they simply confirm what we believe to be the truth? Does it matter?

Write and lecturer in Women’s Studies, Phillippa Rothfield, suggests that theatre can deal with issues and concerns, or it can merely depict. She questions whether it is sufficient simply to portray these gender-role confusions. 

Here we stumble upon the glaringly obvious question: should theatre written by women be feminist in perspective and political in intention? Must it be emancipatory? Indeed, is theatre written by women the same thing as Women’s Theatre?

Whether theatre can affect the very fabric of society is a moot point. It may simply reflect previous change through a warped mirror.

Is it unreasonable to expect theatre written by women in Australia in the 90s to have some impact on the gender debate? Phillippa Rothfield says that women’s theatre is not just one thing any more. It is no longer just Agit-Prop political statements of liberation.

But she also says, “There is a responsibility to bring issues to bear in as open as possible a manner,” She dos, however, have concerns about feminist authoritarianism and policing tendencies. Writing by women is policed in a way men’s writing is not. Women will just not let up on each other.

If we take these three plays as examples, women will not let up on men either. The images of the 90s are disheartening. Is it possible or appropriate for women to write characters representing the modern man? Much f the dialogue about gender in society has emanated from the feminist writers. We have a great deal of information to act as signposts for women but men have, until recently, left each other out in the cold.

Peter McMillan, writer of Men, Sex and Other Secrets, says, “Men are angry at women saying over and over again that men are this and men are that.”

He thinks it is pointless for men to complain about what women are saying if they refuse to participate in the dialogue between genders. “If they don’t like what’s being written or said they need to give a positive model and a rational response.” If women playwrights are not writing accurate representations of the 90s man, then men need to write them themselves.

This is not to suggest we need fewer plays from women. We have not seen enough new works from women yet.  Fidelius Morgan, in Female Wits (Virago 1980), write that on the London stage from 1920-980, fewer plays by women were performed than were played by the two major theatre companies from 1660-1720. It would seem those figures have been replicated during the same period in Australia and little has changed.

More women writers are emerging now who warrant support from th local theatre community. To state the obvious, women and men are different and we need as many and as varied voices as possible writing bout them for the theatre.

In this post-feminist era, it is not clear if playwrights have a responsibility in relation to gender issues. Art has always reflected life but it has not necessarily mirrored positive images. People are finding it difficult enough to keep up with the heady rate of change in both societal and personal arenas, let alone trying to create art which accurately represents the complexity of gender roles.

Theatre may choose to comment on th gender conflict. It mat also continue simply to entertain us. There is nothing wrong with entertainment. The label ‘post-feminism’ may mean that feminism’ has finally passed us by. It may simply mean that we should expect to receive the occasional holiday postcard from it!

By Kate Herbert April-May 1992
First article for The Melbourne Times

_END

















Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Away, May 4, 2017 ***

Written by Michael Gow, by Malthouse Theatre 
At Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until May 28, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***
Review also published at Herald Sun Arts online on Fri May 5, 2017 and later in print. K

 Julia Davis, Marco Chiappi, Natasha Herbert, Heather Mitchell, Glenn Hazeldine - photo Pia Johnson 


Imagine Christmas holidays with stinking hot, summer days spent in a tent or caravan then add a cyclonic storm and fraught family relationships, and you have Michael Gow’s 1986 play, Away.


Set in the summer of 1967, when the previous, older generations collided with the modern, youthful 60s and Australian boys were dying in Vietnam, Away follows three families on their various summer holidays where they confront their grief and the fragility and changing nature of their lives.

Because of its abstract style and its focus on issues including family, grief and redemption, Away is popular with schools and often studied in VCE.

Julia Davis and Wadih Dona are warm and engaging as English immigrants, Vic and Harry, who maintain a relentlessly cheerful demeanour to avoid facing their son Tom’s (Liam Nunan) ill health.

Glenn Hazeldine balances playfulness with sadness as school principal, Roy, while Natasha Herbert portrays his grieving wife, Coral, with an eerie, disassociated distance that embodies Coral’s depression.

In perhaps the most fractious relationship, Marco Chiappi’s Jim is gentle and tolerant with his peevish and maddening wife, Gwen, played by Heather Mitchell with barely masked, seething rage that Gwen directs at everyone and everything, including her daughter, Meg (Naomi Rukavina).

Matthew Lutton’s stylish production is most successful in the early scenes before the holidays begin, when the entire cast performs a hilariously shambolic high school, end-of-year version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and we witness the families preparing for their trips.

The anxious atmosphere in each household suggests hidden issues and hints at the impending, grim and explosive problems confronting these temperamental families.

The atmospheric lighting (Paul Jackson) and stark stage design (Dale Ferguson) elevate the almost supernatural quality of the production, accentuating the sense of dislocation and confusion of the characters.

The stylisation of Lutton’s direction is often visually interesting, but ultimately and perhaps frustratingly, it is unclear what Gow’s play is really trying to say, it is also unclear whose story it is, and the threads to Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest, King Lear and The Dream, are tenuous at best.

Further problems occur towards the end of the play: both Gwen and Coral recover and learn to commune with the rest of the world rather too quickly and effortlessly, and the final scene is almost absurdly melodramatic when Tom ‘walks into the light’.

Despite its flaws, Gow’s popular play has become part of the Australian theatre lexicon and this production succeeds to a great degree because of its capable cast.

By Kate Herbert
 Marco Chiappi, Heather Mitchell, Natasha Herbert, Wadhi Dona, Julia Davis & Liam Nunan_photo Pia Johnson

Matthew Lutton - Director
Dale Ferguson - Design
Paul Jackson - :Lighting
J David Franzke - Sound

Cast
Julia Davis - Vic
Wadih Dona - Harry
Glenn Hazeldine - Roy
Natasha Herbert - Coral
Marco Chiappi - Jim
Heather Mitchell Gwen
Liam Nunan - Tom
Naomi Rukavina - Meg


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Sex Diary of an Infidel by Michael Gurr, review fom July 1992


Dear all, I found a photocopy of my original review of  Sex Diary of an Infidel by Michael Gurr. 
It was printed in The Melbourne Times in July 1992. I have transcribed it here for you. 
Thank you, Michael. xxx

 Sex Diary of an Infidel by Michael Gurr
Playbox Theatre
Beckett Theatre until July 18, 1992
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on or about July 2, 1992
Published in print in The Melbourne Times in July 1992

There is quite a lot of sex on stage in this new play from Michael Gurr. Not the lurid se x one might expect from a story of exploitation in the Philippines but surprisingly, the sex hat comes of immediate attraction or intimacy.

Jean, an award-winning journalist (Janet Andrewartha), takes her devoted lover and photojournalist Martin (Kevin Harrington), to investigate the sex trade in the Philippines. She interviews Max, an Australian expatriate played with a delightfully wry touch by Roger Oakley, who runs an escort agency. His ‘special’ worker is Tony, the Philippino gender-bender played tastefully by Anthony Wong.

There the story about the ‘trade’ ends. This is a play which looks at the infidelity of the title in the broadest possible way. Disguise, deception, lies and manipulation seem to be rife. Some are victims, some perpetrators. The story becomes an expose of the tricks of the relationship trade rather than the sex industry.

Michael Gurr’s writing is sensitive and funny. The dialogue is subtle, layered and riddled with irony. Characters build slowly and the story is revealed in surprising and short bursts, like the guerilla fire of the Philippino insurgents.

Bruce Myles’ very stylish direction keeps all characters onstage throughout in an almost voyeuristic role. They peep and eavesdrop on each other’s conversations but the director never allows them to intrude on the dynamic of the scene. This is enhanced by a very interesting and flexible stage design by Judith Cobb.

 Performances are very strong in this company, indicating intelligent casting and direction.  Kevin Harrington’s Martin is appealingly gauche and adoring, and Janet Andrewartha is a sound lynchpin for the story. Anthon Wong lights up the stage on each appearance and is effectively balanced by his pimp, played by Roger Oakley.

Some script problems arise in the second half. Action escalates too quickly. Information about the pasts of the characters rattles along like gunfire but it seems that the story turns on some rather unlikely or, at least, unclear events and both story and characters become a little muddy.

This is a fine new play for Melbourne’s flourishing theatre scene. It is engaging, clever and – whose sex diary is it anyway?

By Kate Herbert July 1992