Tuesday, 26 March 1996

The Black Sequin Dress, March 26, 1996

by Jenny Kemp
At Playbox Merlin Theatre until April, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around 26 March 1996

Jenny Kemp is an angel in our theatre and in The Black Sequin Dress we hear her wings fluttering. It is a hypnotic exploration of the Jungian landscape of a woman's mind.

 A woman of 40-something wearing a black sequin dress walks into a night club, crosses the polished ebony floor, experiences a sense of dread, looks back, turns and falls.

Nothing happens but everything is revealed. It is all strangely, sublimely, distressing. She is damaged, alone, venturing out at "that confusing age", luminous on the outside but inside, a "cess pool" of terrifying images.

We revisit the fall over and over. Each female actor re-enacts it. She is all four women . One memorable moment is when the man (Ian Scott) who is attracted to her in the club, sits with all four women who speak for one.

This is a visually striking show. Film footage accompanies voice-overs of the life of Undine and her daughter in her brick-walled suburban home.  The stark grandeur of Jaqueline Everett's stage design and Ben Cobham's evocative lighting are intrinsic components in the atmosphere of this beautiful production.

The ensemble (four women, two men) is exceptional, with a particular accolade for Margaret Mills who glitters with a strange ethereal light on stage. They work in an abstract foundation of movement and impulse and the outcome is rich, disarming and moving.

There is something profoundly female in Jenny Kemp's concept and realisation - and I do not mean humourlessly feminist or prettily girlish. It has a purity of vision which simply touches womanly ideas, sensitivities, images, sexuality and dreams. It almost bypasses the intellectual process to reach one's core.

Its penetration of the psyche was complete. My companion slipped and fell to the floor on leaving the theatre. Subliminal messages? It somehow completed the evening.


The Blue Hour, March 23, 1996

 By  IRAA Theatre (Renato Cuocolo)
7 Lowther St Alphington 
March to until April, 1996

Generally, one advantage of being a theatre director is that you do not have to be on stage every night. In The Blue Hour by IRAA Theatre, director Renato Cuocolo is on for the duration.

This show, which is the Part One of his first Melbourne production, Far From Where in 1988, is based on his own recollections, images and photos of his family in Italy. It is about memory and attachment. "Is memory something we have or something we have not?" It begins at 8.20 pm, twilight which is close to the peculiar mood of memory.

 Cuocolo controls his past by snapping his fingers, calling up his father, aunt and uncles and Nonna and using them almost as puppets in his mind's eye. We watch them relive episodes in their lives before he was born. We see their grievances, jealousies, resentments and joys and it all ends with a family Last Supper.

There is text taken from Joyce, Kis, Kantor and a chunk of Chekhov towards the end. The style is a homage to Tadeusz Kantor, the Polish director who died in 1990. The action is repetitive, stylised and rich with both humour and anguish. The appearance of the family is repeated in the blue light of the sliding upstage doorway.

They leap or stroll, glide or rush into Cuocolo's present to begin anew each scene. They fall, he moves them about, they try to decide where they belong, where they were all situated. Memory is a fickle lover.

The design (Jorge Merjer) is simply chairs, table, and bed: domestic images of childhood memory. Costumes (Kate Pitman) owe a great deal to Kantor's originals.

There are repetitive actions which typify each character: the moving and stilted march of Georgio Cuocolo (David Pledger), the wafting hands of Melita Jurasic as mother Maria, the hysterical photography of the inimitable Catherine Simmonds as Aunt Stefania. The ensemble is excellent and the whole piece is poignant and crisply directed.


Inja by Hildegarde, March 23, 1996

At Theatre Works until March 30, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on March 23, 1996

Folk tales and myths are the stuff on which we build a culture, raise our children and feed our common psyche.

Inja is a Bulgarian folk tale about a violent man who becomes an heroic leader of his people only to face karmic retribution for his previous sins. It is a passionate tale told through repetitive physical imagery by Hildegarde in its Australian-Bulgarian co-production under the co-directorship of David Wicks and Vaskressia Viharova.

Zarco Ouzunov's design uses matchstick screens set askew, giving us glimpses of characters from village life. Actors chant, stamp and sing resonant Bulgarian songs. We are witness to women water-carrying, bathing and mourning Inje's death and his son's childhood mutilation.
The simplicity of moving buckets of water, the stark horror of raw clay as mutilated flesh and the child-like joy of the village women playing and splashing, give this show a lyrical earthiness.

Bagryana Popov and Angela Campbell from Hildegarde perform with commitment and warmth while the Bulgarian actors were characterised by wit, charm and poignant performance.

Communication problems arise because the tale is not ours and the significant use of language is Bulgarian - a surprising choice in a bi-lingual show. This is not to suggest that a foreign language production cannot communicate volumes. The intention can be clear with foreign language or no language at all.

 Rather, the problems arise from breaking down the tale into snatches of narrative, moments which are not highlights of the story, making it too cryptic. The images are attractive but not so powerful as to compensate for the obscurity of the narrative. Perhaps having two directors with language, cultural, or theatrical differences is a tall order.

This is an interesting and evocative piece of theatre which lacks some of the usual clarity and definition of Hidegarde. See it anyway.


Tuesday, 19 March 1996

My Father's Father, March 19, 1996

 Written by Janis Balodis
 Melbourne Theatre Company, at Fairfax Studio, until March 30, 1996

There is a company of very fine actors on stage in My Father's Father by Janis Balodis. Unfortunately, they are speaking words of clay in a text begging for a savage edit.

This is the third in Balodis' trilogy about the experience of Latvian migrants which is based on his family experience. The parents with an adult Australian-born son, return to Latvia to face their pasts.

It began on a light, accessible note but quickly lapsed into the portentous and turgid.  Relationships were contrived and narrative confused. There were occasional jokes but generally the humour was lame and almost embarrassing.  At times it collapses into near melodrama.

The script is a tangle of disorderly threads which create a messy narrative. There are too many plot lines: the family's return to Latvia, Carl's father's death, Uncle Edvards death, the ghosts of his drowned wife and her lover, Ilse and Edvards affair, Carl's sister and nephew's poverty, cousin Anita's acquisition of their land. Finally, there is the Leichhardt story.

Why Balodis has persevered with this oblique, irrelevant and incomprehensible sub-plot of the explorer's final doomed journey is a mystery. It was out of context and unsuccessful in the previous play and is completely disconnected here.

The dialogue is awkward and informational with no distinctive character voices. It became unbearably repetitive. Emotion is described and dramatic tension is completely absent.

The actors have an uphill battle with this text. Paul English makes a fine fist of the role of the son even though there is no development for him. Peter Adams is forced to play a drunken boor all night. Others have to struggle with dialogue riddled with platitudes and repetition. The whole production is static and lacking any dynamic drive. Even the design does not serve them well. These actors should be commended.

This was a very long night in the theatre.

By Kate Herbert 19 mar 1996

Stowaways by Phillipe Genty, March 19 1996

Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne Until April 6, 19966

In every production by Philippe Genty I cannot help gaping at the sheer audacity of his illusions. It is as we are children again in state of wonder at the pleasures and miracles of this world. His Australian show, Stowaways is no exception.

The stark stage space is transformed by superb lighting design (Phillip Lethlean) and the impeccable visual images conjured up by the company under the auspice of the deity, Genty. People disappear down invisible holes in the floor, are eaten by a huge sea-brain monster or are transmogrified into cardboard cut-outs to be folded up and carried away. 

Images are mutable. As in Drifting two years ago, puppet-people are interchangeable with real people. Grotesque clowns mutate into able-bodied people, faces turn to clay, legs are ripped off, a tiny man grows like Topsy. Two puppeteers-stage hands inhabit a nether-world beneath the stage space, forcing creatures up to the surface and dragging them back down again.
Admittedly, the opening segments are so startling they are almost too consistently miraculous to beat. Stowaways is somehow less consistently powerful than previous Genty productions but no less magical.

The more lyrical section on the ocean bed, rocks and shore comprised less illusion and more dance which at least allowed me to give my gaping mouth a rest.

This Australia ensemble has an astonishing array of physical and manipulatory skills but my eye was constantly drawn by Meredith Kitchen, dancer. She is magnetic.

There is a great joy associated with abandoning oneself to illusion and astonishment. Genty gives our child-like selves freedom to roam about in an animated world.


Tuesday, 5 March 1996

Berlin by Sydney Dance Company, March 5 1996

Comedy Theatre until March 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on March 5, 1996

Berlin is a stark, often overwhelmingly angst-ridden collage of choreographic scenes piercing the core of war-time Berlin.

Graham Murphy's latest production for Sydney Dance Company drags together the threads of brutality and tenderness which epitomise human behaviour in its most intense moments: moments such as sex and war.

Berlin is blindingly beautiful and poignant, incorporating so many simple, evocative and unexpected physical images. I loved the unity of the show which runs 80 minutes without interval. Without being linear or literal, it integrates a narrative built on characters.

It utilises the characteristics of dance and its intense physicality and rigour in addition to the richness of a text-free theatricality and characterisation.

There are the stereotypical Berlin characters: the cabaret singer, the drag artist, but there are also the street people, the lovers, the circus performers, the tough child and his father, the waif and her mother.

There is corruption, decadence, loss and confusion. The people are in pain, they are ragged, degraded, tormented and seduced by soldiers but somehow, in all this pain, they maintain some dignity which is the only way to survive.

All this can be done in theatre, in documentary footage on war-time Berlin but the pure passion and excitement of Murphy's choreography cannot but make it all the more confronting, desperate and challenging.

The company of dancers has great skill and a rich cultural and physical diversity which gives breadth to the images.

Musician / Composer, Max Lambert and singer Iva Davies are inserted into the design amongst the dancers and the detritus of the ravaged city. Lambert's striking music and Davies songs are well-placed in the context both physically and emotionally. 

 The design by Andrew Carter is powerful and John Rayment's lighting was striking and often frightening.

Berlin is steeped in imagery and humanity. It is passionate, intense and speaks clearly with a physical voice. It is truly Dance Theatre.