Wednesday, 21 August 1996

Home Brew , Aug 21, 1996

By Peter Rowsthorn (With Simon Rogers, Ross Daniels, Robin Butler)
Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant, Aug to Sept 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 21, 1996

Peter Rowsthorn has been doing stand-up comedy around town for about ten years or more and he's still funny even when he's doing old material. It's his physical humour which makes him standout.

If you don't know him, Rowsthorn is a bit of a local Jim Carrey with his rubbery face and body, fast patter, silly accents and impressions.  His stage persona is more than a little wired pushing him to the edge of incomprehensibility and vibrating goofiness.

Rowsthorn conjures up Australian images of 40 degree Melbourne summer days running barefoot on burning asphalt or towel-hopping over 200 degree sand. He muses at beach fashion changes. The coolites at Middle Park beach now posture and pose in G-string, bum-hugging bathers that once were just called "wedgies" and Slip, Slop, Slap and Osh Kosh have replaced the token stripe of zinc cream on a nipper's nose.

The TV trivia quiz drew the refreshingly uninebriated Wednesday comedy night audience into Rowsthorn's warm circle. Audience is divided in two to compete for points answering questions about Mr. Ed, Lost In Space and that fabulously eccentric Japanese show, Monkey - with a few side references to my childhood fave, Shintaro.

His impression of E.T., complete with tubby tummy and flapping arms, is still hilarious as is his finale routine about the Royal Show and Luna Park. Chucking up on the Rotor and shrieking on the now defunct Big Dipper ride are terrific examples of his wild, nervy physical comedy.

It's the warmth and charm of Rowsthorn which works for him. Even when the material lets him down, he is able to keep charming the audience and send them home happy and cosy and all laughed out.


Wrung Out! Glynn Nicholas, Aug 21, 1996

Wrung Out! by Glynn Nicholas
Comedy Theatre from August 15, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 21, 1996
Director Terry O'Connell with Ann Wilson & Anna Mitsikas

Glynn Nicholas certainly knows how to work a crowd. All those years begging and doing classical mime on the streets of Adelaide and Paris paid off. Once a busker, always a charming-bloody-busker.

They were eating out of his hand and throwing money ("Wrap it in bills. It's safer.") and there was a standing ovation – but more of that later.

Nicholas manages to find the perfect blend of the schmaltzy-sweet and wickedly grotesque. His fascist kindy teacher, Pate' Biscuit, remains a timeless and vicious satire on all those repressed, angry, child-hating Playschool presenters worldwide. Pate' with Bongo, her silent, salacious puppet alter ego, has become a classic for Nicholas.

Another skilful and hilariously well-observed character is Sergeant Smith, the local copper who mixes his cliches, uses the "f" word (sans "f") every second '...uckin' word, and is a grotesque parody of every old school Plod.

Nicholas strings together these characters with an engaging personal story about leaving hearth and home to go on his restless young man's journey to gay Paris to study mime. He even pre-empts any mime cynicism in the audience with, "I trained with Marcel Cliche." He covers a bad gag with a coy apology or a gaze tossed to his musician (Ana Mitsikas).

He gets away with appalling puns and gross tits and bums humour by the skin of his teeth. The seamy jokes come as such a surprise we laugh and let him move on.

He re-incorporates gags, latecomers, characters and references throughout the show. He is able to demystify the bull-dust of theatre by allowing us into his world and then amazing us with magic and mime illusions. The crowd still responds with most gusto to his mimetic skills. His motorcycle cop catching a drunken driver is a virtuoso set piece of comic mime.

Less successful are the sometimes icky-sweet songs and the love story narrative about Marlon Hickey the pavement artist from Wollongong who brings a classy Parisian bride back to Wollongong to "leeeeave". The integration of a second performer, the very skilful dancer-singer Ann Wilson, is not quite complete but this may settle as the season continues. Mitsikas' musical accompaniment enhanced the show but the star is always Nicholas himself.

That's who the people stood up for at the end - even if he made us do it.

Thursday, 8 August 1996

Strangers In The Night, Aug 8, 1996

 by Abe Pogos
Playbox until August 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around/before Aug 8, 1996

Lower West Manhattan feels like Blade Runner dubbed into several foreign languages: incomprehensible, bleak, dangerous, poorly but stylishly lit. Everybody in the subways is a potential threat. So why go there? - to experience this very danger, according to Daniel  (Adriano Cortese), protagonist and writer in Strangers in the Night.

How thin is the line between abusive and psychopathic? Playwright, Abe Pogos probes this question with a stiletto blade which is all too popular in his New York.  Daniel Lewin's cousin, Sarah (Jacqueline Linke) advises him to "murder something", so he can write about things he has really experienced. He ventures out of the bosom of his clinging limpet Aunt Lina (Heather Bolton) and begins his heroic journey into the dark cave of the beast which is New York.

The tension shrieks. Victims stay too long with their murderers, the nephew stays with the annoying aunt. The weak, using emotional manipulation, become the powerful. The homeless guy tells his tragic story and wins, the Jewish aunt bleats about loneliness. She wins. Gerry whimpers, "You hate me," and wins.

Strangers is almost too gruesome, too violent and suspenseful, too intentionally claustrophobic for this squeamish audient, but it is compelling theatre with some impeccable and layered performances, crisp direction and skilful text. The dialogue is taut, the narrative has the tension of a guitar string stretched to snapping and the plot has a final twist followed by a double somersault with pike. We peer into people's apartments, perv through their windows, poke around in their minds, eavesdrop on their conversations.

Hugh Colman's design effectively represents midnight New York with the seeping walls of a public urinal. It divides the space into three which is useful in providing differing locations but fragments the stage leaving us distant from the performance, albeit safer.

Gerry (David Tredinnick) is a gay misfit from Milwaukee (where that?). His rank little apartment is the site of nasty habits which have escalated into the tragic and psychopathic. Daniel's quest for 'experiences" remains firmly in the voyeuristic until his path and the plot, cross with Gerry's.

Tredinnick is riveting, terrifying but maintains a child-like, if psychopathic, vulnerability. Cortese is sympathetic in the difficult role of ordinary guy amidst weirdos. Patrick Williams transforms with ease from charming gay to Rasta peep-show spruiker. Melvin J. Carroll's pornographic narrative was marvellous despite its repulsive content. This is not a play for the faint-hearted nor the easily offended - but it is good.


Maestro, Aug 8, 1996

by Geoffrey Williams
Courthouse until August 17, 1996
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Aug 8, 1996

There is a clause in small print at the bottom of every artist's contract with the devil which declares, "Create great art and be a tortured soul." Piotr Tchaikovsky was no exception.

Geoffrey Williams play, Maestro, focuses on the great composer's covert homosexuality, his love for pretty boy, Walsa Lekovsky (Richard Gyoerffy), and the torment this secrecy and deception wrought on his long-suffering wife, Nina (Kath Gordon). This sham of a marriage, designed to keep up appearances in polite Russian and French society, drove Nina to the asylum.

Williams uses the ravaged older and madder Nina as a constant presence and narrator after the fact. Although she talks of her marriage, we never actually see her with Tchaikovsky (Nicholas Stribakos). She wanders, dislocated, through the landscape of his past before she knew him and before she knew his secret.

The production fills the stage with numerous locations, characters and time frames. Its most effective moments were its simplest. Nina, alone at last in a single spotlight, speaks of her love of the piano. Later, Nadia and Alexei, Tchaikovsky's consumptive ex-lover, speak of their mutual love of the great composer. Less is more.

Its most effective moments are its simplest. Nina, alone at last in a single spotlight, speaks of her love of the piano. Later, Nadia and Alexei, Tchaikovsky's consumptive ex-lover, speak of their mutual love of the great composer. The rest of the time the production clutters the stage with numerous overlapping locations, characters and time frames. Less is more.

Nina is perhaps, the most complete character. Tchaikovsky himself is rather thinly drawn. It was surprising that he was not coloured more by his music which plays a significant role only in the second half as he writes Swan Lake for his patron, Nadia von Meck (Sue Dwyer).

Performance levels are uneven but Gordon plays Nina with a simple intensity which is very affecting, avoiding the "mad acting" of others which often upstaged her or made her words inaudible. Dwyer's Nadia is dignified and contained and manages the melodrama of later scenes with style.

This is a major shortcoming of this production. It lapses into overstatement and the melodramatic so that, at times, it is a period soap opera with too much shouting, coughing blood, whimpering under tables, tearing of hair and wringing of hands. The stage, particularly in the first half, is cluttered and the script could benefit from some rigorous editing of dialogue and some of its purple prose.