Sunday, 28 February 1999

Samantha Leith Made Up, 28 Feb 1999

at The Laundry 50 Johnston St Fitzroy until Sat Feb 6, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

When cosmetics become high art, culture has surely reached a low ebb. Samantha Leith's show works from the premise of "make-up as existentialism". Does anybody else feel faint?

In Samantha Leith Made Up, her solo show, cabaret chanteuse Leith literally places cosmetics front and centre. She spends most of her evening of song and banter seated behind a table littered with a cacophony of lip and eye liners, mascaras, gels, powders and foundations. Less is definitely not more for this gal. Leith has no intention of becoming a "cosmetic bulemic".

She is fine belter with a big voice and she is better known in Sydney. This show opens here during Midsumma Festival before going to Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney during Mardi Gras. Leith's voice has been the theme song for the ABC coverage of Mardi Gras for two years.

While she trowels on the Ivory Bisque foundation she sings, ironically, numbers such as Bette Davis Eyes, Natural Woman, That's Why the Lady is a Tramp and Say a Little Prayer For You.

She reminisces about her childhood while singing Keep Young and Beautiful or Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon then bemoans working for Optus with Working Nine to Five and craves renown with When Will I, Will I Be Famous.

The show builds as she we wait as her character prepares to go on stage. She adds Big Hair which gives her a definite Drag Queen look and finally hits the dance floor with the first physical song, an 80's disco hit, Don't Go.

Leith is engaging and her singing is formidable but her patter, which craves editing, lets her down. She needs either better jokes or more acerbic commentary on cosmetics.

Her accompanist, Steven Ritchie, is a very skilful jazz pianist. He has taken over the Melbourne season this week since Leith's long-standing accompanist jumped ship to join the Navy. Really! Certainly a new slant on "Hello Sailor!"

The feature of the show is the songs. Leith is too inaccessible to us behind her table of cosmetics. Why not stand or at least sit on a high stool. It is too slow to build to its climax and the anticipated show within the show could be longer than a single song.


Wednesday, 24 February 1999

The Talented Mr Ripley, 24 Feb 1999

 by Phyllis Nagy
 MTC at Fairfax Studio, Feb 24 until March 27, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Tom Ripley is the quintessential psychopathic anti-hero. He appears to be normal but there lurks beneath his stylish, well-mannered veneer, a heartless, egoistic villain.

David Tredinnick (OK) is a cool, wry, petulant and dangerous Ripley in this MTC production of The Talented Mr. Ripley which was adapted by London-based US playwright, Phyllis Nagy, from Patricia Highsmith's novel (1955). Tredinnick may not have the suave sophistication of Alain Delon who portrayed Highsmith's"perfect Ripley" in the1961 film, but he has an oily, menacing quality that works.

Ripley features in five works of fiction by Highsmith who wrote Strangers on a Train, the inspiration for Hitchcock's movie. In this first manifestation he is an amoral, penurious, fraudulent, compulsive liar and unrepentant murderer.

Although Nagy employs theatrical structures, the play feels like a novel on stage with extensive narration and long, linear narrative to convey in 150 minutes.

Ripley diddles the IRS, leaving an innocent friend embroiled in the fraud. He dupes a Park Avenue couple ( Kerry Walker, Frank Gallacher) into believing he knows their dilettante son, Richard (Matthew Dyktynski), and embarks on his anti-hero's journey to Italy where he inveigles his way into Richard's life, home and eventually, his family and inheritance.

The ensemble, performing multiple roles, is excellent. Walker is exceptional and compelling as the dying Park Avenue dowager, the only character who elicits any amount of sympathy. Torquil Neilson, as various Italians, is hilarious and Gallacher is commanding as the New York shipbuilding patriarch.

Dyktynski, Lucy Taylor and Michael Robinson provide strong support. Roger Hodgman keeps the action moving on Tony Tripp's statuesque design that features the silhouette of Ripley's head. Jamieson Lewis's lighting is dramatic and music by Paul Grabowsky evocative but sometimes intrusive.

Most problems lie with Nagy's text. An adaptation must leap from prose to theatrical language. In part, Nagy has done this. However, large tracts of the play stall in self-narration and the second act flags with too much plot to manage on stage. Everything escalates to a rapid ending far too swiftly.

There is little, if any, sub-text and few likeable characters. The text has few surprises and we cannot even care about those who get ripped off or killed. This kind of thriller may be better served by the impending US film although Matt Damon as Ripley defies rationality. Ah, Hollywood!

K Herbert

Wednesday, 10 February 1999

Chilling and Killing My Annabel Lee, 10 Feb 1999

 by Aidan Fennessy
 Playbox Beckett Theatre until March 6, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 10 Feb 1999

A man confesses to a murder. There is no evidence, no body. Well, not for this particular crime. However, the murder of prostitute, Annabel Lee, at a nearby ice-works remains unsolved.

This is the stuff of murder mystery, thrillers and film noir plots. In his play, Chilling and Killing My Annabel Lee, writer/director Aidan Fennessy is influenced by all these related genres but adheres to none. The style is more abstracted, less linear in narrative and distinctly more comical.

There is something rather dreamlike about it, as if the characters are still in the process of being conjured up in the mist of the writer's mind: the minds of both the playwright himself and his fictional, unsuccessful novelist, Edgar(Marco Chiappi).

This style is echoed in the issues of language, plot, memory, romance and loss arising in the crime novels written by Edgar Lancedowne's dead lover, Christina Muzy. Melita Jurisic). Her surname, perhaps too obviously, is reverberant of "muse" while Edgar's name pays respect to Edgar Alan Poe's poignant if morbid love poem.

The plot twists and flaps like a wet fish in the hand. It is not an homage to "noir" movies so it can takes liberties with form. However, any depth or clarity in characterisation is clouded by clever quips and absurdist influences. The female characters are thinly drawn but Jurisic, who plays all four, shifts skilfully from exotic to charming, brusque to fragile.

What might have been maintained more rigorously from "film noir" is the archetypes: vamp, hard-bitten detective, eccentric alternative suspect. It lacks an evil, shadowy character and rich emotional layers in its central characters. But this is being picky. It is not written as a homage..

This production looks beautiful. Phillip Lethlean's lighting is evocative and dramatic, highlighting the mysterious, grim interiors. Matt Cameron's design recaptures grubby offices, bleak apartments and dim streets of the city.

The performances are strong. Robert Morgan as Calminer, the gruff detective, is the most sympathetic character. Wayne Hope is very funny as the mysoginist cop as is Francis Greenslade as Kilty, the publisher. Chiappi makes a feast of the idiosyncrasies of the tormented Edgar.

If your tastes are for hot crime thrillers with dense emotional layering, watch Linda La Plante. Although Annabel Lee emphasises style over content, you should enjoy the jaunty ride.


Thursday, 4 February 1999

Kill Hamlet, 4 Feb 1999

Kill Hamlet by Zijah A Sokolovic
at La Mama until Feb 21, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 4 Feb 1999

To analyse theatre may be an act of despair or hilarity. Kill Hamlet is both. The actor (Daniel Schlusser) capers and pontificates, chats or declaims, disecting the theatrical process and challenging our pre-conceptions. Such a work could only be the product of years of disillusionment and love for this artificial world.

 Zijah A Sokolovic, an actor from Sarajevo, wrote and performed this cunning, self-reflective solo piece of theatre 2000 times in Yugoslavia.

Acclaimed Austrian actor, Justus Neumann, performed it in German then brought it to Australia where he now lives on Bruny Island creating theatre in an idyllic, remote setting.

Theatre is a fluid, multi-skilled profession so Neumann has switched roles for this latest Australianised production, now directing Schlusser who is better known as a director.

His performance is relaxed, intelligent and very funny. We become intimate friends, responding to his quips about arts bureaucracy, "poor theatre" and the plight of the artist. Some audience members even play a forest while the rest create a storm. The intimacy of the piece works perfectly in La Mama. We can feel the sweat of the actor in this heat..

The love-hate relationship an actor has with his job is highlighted. He craves approval from his father but knows acting is not a "real" job. He lives for his work but it brings him close to madness. After all, he makes up stories and pretends to be other people. Some would call that mental illness.

This is not a narrative play although the story of the actor who greets us is the thread that holds it. It falls into five distinct sections, some containing references to other plays such as Macbeth and Endgame. This gives the text a slightly clumsy structure but the great advantage is that it allows the actor to shift pace, keeping energy high and the audience involved.

The opening reveals that there will be no big production. Funding was not forthcoming. Actors in the audience giggle or groan in recognition. We must imagine all the trappings and emotions of a huge show in "three long acts". We all know, he says cynically, "The more powerful the catharsis, the higher the ticket price."

Neumann's crisp, clever direction has a strong sense of the pace and rhythm of the piece which obviously comes from performing it himself.


Tuesday, 2 February 1999

Dusty, Doris and Me, 2 Feb 1999

Dusty, Doris and Me
by Wendy Stapleton At Caper's until February 20, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Singer Wendy Stapleton is the latest musical act to grace the stage of Caper's Dinner Theatre in her peppy new show, Dusty, Doris and Me. Much of the program comprises signature tunes of Doris Day and Dusty Springfield peppered by some of Stapleton's own favourites.

Under the management of Paul Baden, the most engaging host in town, Caper's has taken off in the past eighteen months as a cabaret venue. It boasts warmth, great food, recent renovations and classy acts including Julie Anthony, Jeannie Little and Combo Fiasco who soon do a return season after their hit New York tour.

Stapleton, with her accomplished accompanist Dean Lotherington and directed by Terry O'Connell, fits the bill with an entertaining evening of song.

Dusty, Doris and Me is not a huge theatrical production as was Stapleton's very successful show, I Only Want To Be With You - The Dusty Springfield Story. Here, she does not attempt to recreate the famous songstresses and their lives. It is more 'up close and personal'.

Opening night was a little nervous as rehearsals had been interrupted by renovations. A couple of audiences will solve that. Stapleton relaxed noticeably in the second half and .her smoky voice was in fine form for songs such as My Colouring Book, Windmills of your Mind and Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself.

Stapleton has selected a couple of Stephen Sondheim songs and she sings his work well. Just A Housewife (from Working) and his very witty The Ladies Who Lunch (from Company) were a hit as was Sondheim's hilarious satirical take on The Boy From Ipanema, in which the boy hails from some unpronouncable Hispanic village.

The Doris Day hits include Calamity Jane's Deadwood Stage, Black Hills of Dakota and Secret Love. This is a really a singalong program so we hope Wendy doesn't mind the singing along.

A feature of the show is Dean Lotherington's thrilling and perfectly clear-toned voice. He perches behind the grand piano singing harmonies but his three solos are compelling. He does extraordinary versions of Old Friend (from Getting My Act Together), Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars and a compelling rendition of Even When I'm Sleeping (by Leonardo's Bride).

Director, O'Connell, might have found a better balance for the show. Its structure is bumpy and the order of songs has no logic and does not ebb and flow well. But this is an evening of great songs and food.