Thursday, 27 March 1997

Below The Belt, Handspan, March 27, 1997

Short visual theatre pieces by Handspan Theatre
Melbourne Comedy Festival
Melbourne Town Hall 11pm until April 20, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around March 27, 1997

Picture this. It's approaching midnight. A steamy striptease turns violent. The slavering club bouncers are attacked by the exotic dancer. Then she peels off her pasties, her feather boa, her g-string - then her legs, her pelvis and finally her pert breasts one by one.

She is a life-size puppet and the bouncers are three women in drag, "manipulators" from Handspan Theatre: Liss Gabb, Katrine Gabb and Heather Monk.

This collection of three short visual theatre pieces is a study of sexuality and seduction. It opens with Waiting by Heather Monk who is ravished by a rampant and lewd lobster puppet. This is as strange as it sounds and is successful in part. It felt too long.

The high point was Gilda, written by Rod Primrose and performed with John Rogers, both of whom are highly skilled puppet-masters and makers with a long history with Handspan and other companies.

Gilda is a miniature female in sequined gowns who sings her way from the Gates of Hell through various trials.  She is trapped under a rock, walks on waves and drifts in an ocean. The whole piece is set in a mini Victorian theatre set which transforms.

The puppeteers are visible onstage and establish a sensual relationship with their figurine. They are her controller, her lover her saviour her critic her demon. The piece has a delicate beauty and romance as well as a mythic quality. It is finely wrought and the figure's manipulation is masterly.

Gilda is a transporting moment in the theatre. I wanted to be much closer to the stage to see the detail of this tiny character who sings as a sultry Eartha Kitt or as the innocuous Kylie Minogue. Versatility is the name of the puppet.


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