Monday, 5 December 1994

Kate Herbert's Theatre Picks 1994 - The Melbourne Times Dec 1994

Herbie's Theatre Picks 1994
by Kate Herbert
December 5, 1994
published in The Melbourne Times, Dec 1994

My theatrical highlights for 1994 have surprised me. Three are overseas product, three are from Melbourne Theatre Company, one is from Sydney and only one of the five shows produced in Melbourne are locally written.

Top of my top ten list must be the Canadian Opera production of Bluebeard's Castle Ewartung. The highlight was the visionary direction by Robert Lepage making his opera debut with extraordinary stage imagery complemented by dramatic lighting creating an intense psychic landscape. The surreal illusion of Bluebeard's dead wives emerging from under water, dripping blood was a blinding inspiration.

I was mesmerised by the simple, poignant beauty and deceptive naivete in the writing of Tim Winton which director- actor Richard Roxborough captured in his adaptation of That Eye, The Sky for the Melbourne Festival. I sat with my jaw on my kness at its physicality and the truthful recreation of Winton's emotional landscape, his ‘Magic Australianism’: the visions, hallucinations, poetic language and broad Australian colloquialisms stirred into the one sweet tragedy. It was thrilling  charming and a true ensemble piece.

The next eight or so on my list all rest are in no particular order but I was transported in some way by all of them. I begin at La Mama early in the year with Marguerita Duras' play, L'Amante Anglaise which is a superbly crafted piece of writing about murder, madness and mystery. It was rivetting character drama, a production of inspired simplicity with the audience in full light almost in the laps of actors, John Flaus and Brenda Palmer who talk, seated opposite each other for 90 minutes.

Director, Bruce Myles is responsible for two of my hits. Someone Who'll Watch Over Me (MTC) he directed simply and stylishly in a terrifyingly truncated rehearsal period. He coaxed magnificent performances out of Richard Piper, Melvin J. Carroll and the inimitable Frank Gallacher, as the volatile and maddening Irish wit. It is based on the real experiences of hostages by extremists in Beirut. We are voyeurs who witness their wrenching, existential pain. Myles other success was Shadowboxing by James Gaddas with a rivetting Robert Morgan. It was an emotional and physical rollercoaster, an intimate and frenetic performance about a young boxer trying to make a career and discovering, in this macho boxing world, that he is gay.

A Room of One's Own ( MTC) , a solo by Pamela Rabe, was directly adapted from the writings and lectures of Virginia Wolff about Women in Fiction. This had me weeping for the sheer power of Wolff's words and her wonderful mind. Rabe's depiction of Virginia Wolff was magnificent, revealing, energising, intelligent and witty.

 The MTC also re-staged a magnificent double of with exceptional performances and writing by Tony Kushner, which shifts from the lyrical and poetic to the stridently political to the fantastic. The mind of this man is the Eighth Wonder.

The only classical text on my list is Renato Cuocolo's adaptation of The Bacchae - but IRAA never does a traditional production. In The Bacchae: Burning by Water, Cuocolo sets the whole performance in a shallow pool. What stays with me is Robert Meldrum's rich honey voice and the sensual and lyrical reflections of light from the pool over the bodies of the actors. It left me gaping and hypnotised by the evocative atmosphere and the "psycho-physical" performances of actors.

 IRAA is also responsible for bringing Otto Lechner, an impish Austrian piano accordion player who transforms the accordion from bad talent quest material to a sexy and hilarious hour of jazz and musical satire. His send-up of Viennese waltzes is legend.

 Falling From Grace, Hannie Rayson's new play for Playbox, is uncannily accurate in representing the worlds of four modern women fighting forty who have busy, successful, complicated, often fraught professional and personal lives. The characters are never predictable but heck, are they familiar!

I must mention Phillipe Genty's Forget Me Not from France. His whimsical combination of visual theatre, movement and spectacle is extraordinary. There were moments when I could not tell the people from the puppets.

Visiting overseas shows are generally already huge hits with even huger budgets but is the Melbourne theatre scene already suffering from the low or non-existent budgets, short script development and rehearsal time and lack of sponsorship and support for local product? Here's to more local and exceptional product in '95.

Kate Herbert 5/12/1994

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