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 IRAA , 7 Lowther St Alphington 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.