Thursday, 30 September 1999, Sep 30, 1999

by Peter Webb 
at La Mama until October 17, 1999
 Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It was only a matter of time before the 90's cyber world collides with theatre. In Patrick Marber's play, Closer, we see an on-line Sex Chat Room. In (sic), the protagonist, Mick (Steve Mouzakis) is trying to create a snuff video project to download onto his personal website "for everyone."

Mick is not a happy camper. He locks himself into his flat, resists answering the door or the phone, plays video games and toys with his computer. He is depressed and almost totally disengaged from his world and his friends.

"Friends" however, may not be an appropriate word to describe the young couple who arrive, to niggle, dispute, taunt and tease him late one night. Simon, an electrician (Tobi Webster) and his girlfriend, Kat, (Miria Kostiuk) are intrusive, rude and insensitive. In fact, all three characters are self-indulgent and pretentious with an inflated sense of their own importance.

They mouth platitudes, spout pedestrian philosophy, compete with each other to be the most interesting and "out there". They manage only to be obnoxious and terribly annoying. 20-Something inner-urban angst is fascinating to other 20-somethings. Anyone beyond that age finds it predictable and boring.

Webb has written some entertaining dialogue between the three and director, David Symons has kept the energy high. The most effective – albeit completely irrelevant – scene is the arrival of Ian, the plumber (Tim Ratcliffe) to fix the toilet. The dialogue is swift and simple while Ratcliffe's performance is detailed and hilarious.

Mouzakis rides the emotional roller coaster of Mick's mind, dealing with his howling, raving and weeping. Kostiuk finds a bubbling and conceited persona for Kat. Webster has some funny moments but his performance seems out of control at times.

The more obvious problems arise during the prolonged and clumsily written monologues which preach some very ill-founded ideas. The final monologue from Simon is long and anticlimactic.

It is unclear what the writer's intention is in this play. If the play is an exploration of depression, it is often inaccurate. If it is an examination of youth alienation and culture, it is shallow. The writer has no distance from the characters to make them come to life.

by Kate Herbert

Funny Girl, Production Company, Sept 30, 1999

Music by Julie Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, Book by Isobel Lennart.
The Production Company at Melbourne Concert Hall Sept 30, Oct 1 & 2, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Caroline O'Connor is a card-carrying musical comedy phenomenon. As Fanny Brice, she is stunningly versatile, attacking with equal skill, gags or drama, choreography or song. It is as if we are seeing ten different women on stage.

Funny Girl is the third in The Production Company's concert series and arguably the best. Gary Young (Les Miserables) directs the show and creates a pulsating extravaganza without all the trappings of a complete stage show. Who needs 'em! We've got voices, actors, musicians and choreography.

Fanny Brice was Florenz Ziegfeld's prize comedy girl early this century.
She stormed onto the New York stage from the lower east side with her skinny legs, plain face and big hooter of a nose. She was a hit! Her one tragedy was marrying Nick Arnstein, (John O'May) a handsome, smooth-talking gambler who was finally gaoled for stock fraud.

O'Connor plays Fanny as cheeky, funny, warm hearted, loyal and just a bit dumb. She falls for Nicky and almost relinquishes her career to satisfy his ego. He loved her but could not deal with her being more successful than him. So what's changed?

O'May is adorable as the roguishly charming Arnstein. His warm voice is a fine complement to O'Connor. Nancye Hayes, as Fanny's mother, is the vibrant heart of the hens of Henry Street.

Her clan includes Joan Sydney who is delightfully Irish as Mrs. O'Malley, and the hilarious Susan-Ann Walker as Mrs. Strakosh who rivals The Nanny's mother for interfering.

Jack Webster is lively and engaging as Eddie Ryan and David Ravenswood is a hearty, powerful presence as Ziegfeld. A musical highlight is the bell-like tenor of David Rogers-Smith singing You'll Make a Beautiful Bride and The Australian Theatre Orchestra is wonderful under the skilful musical direction of Guy Simpson.

But the star is definitely O'Connor, winner of two MO Awards. She pours her soul into songs such as People and Don't Rain on My Parade and hits comic heights as a pregnant bride amongst the flurry of gorgeous brides in You'll Make a Beautiful Bride and as a Woody Allen look-alike soldier in Rat Tat Tat.

Melbourne would appreciate a remount and longer season of this show.

by Kate Herbert

Sunday, 26 September 1999

Reverse World by Gumbo Japanese Theatre

Melbourne Fringe Festival
at North Melbourne Town Hall until October 3, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Think of the style of Monkey, the dubbed Japanese television series about the adventures of the Monkey King, and transpose it to the stage. You have something resembling Reverse World.

Angels, humans, martial arts combat, broad characters, loud costumes, noisy music and songs all combine to make up the work of Gumbo, the youthful Japanese theatre company which is doing the rounds of the western world's fringe festivals: Edinburgh, New York and now Melbourne.

Reverse world is their current show that is 75 minutes of grotesque physical comedy that incorporates classical and contemporary Japanese theatre styles. The five actors (Kayo Tamura, Kenichi Mabuchi, Kikuko Imai, Hiroyo Koyama, Noriko Ikemoto) are extremely physical and acrobatic.

They create choreography that owes a great deal to martial arts combat and they work directly to the audience with broad open clown-like faces. The five sing, chant and howl and Japanese percussion accompanies the whole piece, punctuating the action and providing a dramatic score.

In the story, the world of the angels collides with the human world when an angle falls in love with a human girl. It is a classic boy meets girl story. It is uncannily similar to the narrative of Parallax Island that is the show that precedes it in the same space on hour earlier.

The story satirises romantic love. God's angels control the humans who have no free will. the angels live an easy, joyful existence and attempt to eliminate all pain from the world of humans. The human girl objects to this trickery. She thinks we should face our fates.

This show is skilful, exciting to watch and often hilarious, both intentionally and unintentionally. The latter is due to the hilarity arising out of accidents with accent. It seems unnecessary for the group to work in English when they are not fluent. The piece relies heavily on physical storytelling so why not do it in Japanese? It is exhausting to listen to it in English.

by Kate Herbert

Saturday, 25 September 1999

Parallax Island, Oct 25 1999

by Maude Davey and David Pidd
Melbourne Fringe Festival
at North Melbourne Town Hall until October 3, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Have you ever looked at something through water or glass and thought it was much closer than it actually was? Well, that's the parallax view. It alters one's perspective, changes shapes and distances.

On Parallax Island, Maude Davey and David Pidd attempt, in a very gentle way, to shift perspective on gender and relationships. It is a charming little show with a few songs and no dense or heavy content.

There is a narrative through-line as well as several diversions. A man rowing a galvanised iron boat arrives on an island with a sole inhabitant: a woman. She tells him, in no uncertain terms, to go. He insists on staying. They are both there to be alone. They haggle over ownership of the island then over their roles.

She refuses to look after him then offers him food, water and love. When they decide to leave together, she feels as if she cannot win. If he rows the boat, she will be seen as a maiden being rescued. If she rows, she will be a "ball-breaker". Ah, feminism!  Nothing changes.

"Relationships make us into babies", the woman says. They bicker, behaving like children, taunting, scoring points and then forgiving. They tell stories about being male or being female. They swap roles/genders, use flashcards to tell the story and interrupt their journey to greet late- (very late) comers.

Both performers have an honesty, warmth and freshness that makes this enjoyable to watch. To quote the program notes, "This was an experiment to see whether we could make a show with the minimum of stress and worry. So every time we started worrying, we stopped." It shows.

One of the highlights is the songs. They create an a capella number out of the words "I love you" and accompany the opening and closing song (Sail across the Water by Jane Siberry) with a strange double bass built from a oil can and wood. (made by Guy Albert).

The set is simple, the message clear and the show short. You can't go wrong with this show in the Fringe.

by Kate Herbert

Sunday, 19 September 1999

Normie and Tuan, Sept 19, 1999

 by Alex Buzo
at La Mama until October 3, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In Australia, we may outwardly have a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan culture compared with that of 1969. We have restaurants and languages from 90 or more countries. However, racism has not been obliterated. It has merely expanded its targets to a greater variety of immigrants.

Alex Buzo's 1969 play, Norm and Ahmed, was about a back lane meeting between an Aussie bloke and a Pakistani immigrant. It was performed in the car park of La Mama and resides in La Mama history as the play which caused an actor to be arrested for saying "**** boong". He was arrested for the swear word.

In these days of more relaxed obscenity laws and more enforceable racial vilification laws, the actors are more likely to be arrested for the racial slur.

Normie and Tuan is Buzo's 1999 update of the original idea. A South East Asian character, Tuan, (Thanh van Nguyen) replaces Ahmed. It is a short, well-structured play with pithy dialogue and clearly drawn characters. Director, Greg Carroll, has set it in the lane behind La Mama.

It is after midnight in a quiet Sydney street. Tuan, a Malaysian-Vietnamese overseas student waits for a bus after finishing his restaurant job. Normie, (James Shaw) a cook in a Chinese restaurant, arrives playing Jimmy Hendrix at full volume on his ghetto blaster. He is a Vietnam veteran whose attitudes to Asians are unreadable. All we know is that he is volatile and frightening.

In a powerful performance, Shaw captures an edge of dangerous unpredictability and demonstrates the scattergun effect of Normie's anger at losing his job, his wife and his self-worth.

He taunts and teases Tuan, shifting between threats and jokes, questions and accusations, racism and mateship. As time passes Tuan begins to trust him and so do we.

Shaw's bluff blokiness is charming and dangerous but we hope Normie's friendliness is genuine. Nguyen is suitably youthful as Tuan, combining sweetness with tough ambition. Carroll keeps the pace rapid, the tension high and the action constant.

Take a coat on a cold night, but see this.

by Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 15 September 1999

An Accidental Departure, Sep 15 1999

by Mammad Aidani
 at La Mama in association with Footscray Community Arts Centre
 until September 26, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is not the role of theatre to make an audience feel stupid. It is certainly not the role of community theatre to mystify its audience. An Accidental Departure, by Mammad Aidani, does just that.

We are all meaning-makers by nature. Toss us a mad image, an irrational phrase or a fractured thought and we will make a story out of it. Watching this play, it is a struggle. Perhaps Aidani's other role as a poet interferes, making his text inappropriately fragmented for theatre. Whatever the cause, the script does not transfer from page to stage.

The problem is not simply that the text is non-linear, nor that it deals with esoteric issues: despair, dislocation, madness or miscommunication. The problem is the form in which these ideas are presented.

Seven actors appear and re-appear in pairs. A man and a woman (Carlos Sanchez, Domenica Ferraro) perch among cardboard packing boxes in the disarray of their marriage. "We all know what it is like to live in a box", says a man in a wheelchair who acts as an inner voice.

Another man (Craig MacDonald) struggles with the disarray of his mind while a veiled woman (Chi Vu) taunts him . Two young people (Tony Nguyen, Maria Papastamatopoulos) invade a house and talk. A boy eavesdrops on a woman who talks incessantly. Another woman (Susan Jones) tells of her past.

There is one scene which works dramatically. A man tries to impress, charm or love a woman who is uninterested. MacDonald gives the dialogue and the character life with a sensitive and funny performance.

The writing here maintains the fragmented texture of the rest of the play but it makes sense of character, relationship and themes of anguish and dislocation.

Director, David Everist enlivens these awkward, disconnected scenes and characters with  unusual entrances from under the sink, or down a rope through a roof trapdoor. He employs a surprising soundscape, (Susan Jones) a quirky design built around kettles and clay cups (Caroline Ho-Bich-Tuyen Dang).

Unfortunately, nothing can save this from being a very confusing evening at La Mama.

by Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 8 September 1999

Wilde Inside, 8 Sep 1999

Adapted by Frank Gallacher from De Profundis by Oscar Wilde
at Beckett Theatre, from Sep 8, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

How difficult it is to understand another's love, obsession and degradation. In his monodrama, "Wilde Inside", Frank Gallacher reaches inside the magnificent Oscar Wilde and shows us his torn and bleeding heart.

Wilde plumbed the depths of sadness by the end of his life. 'De Profundis", the title of his 80 page letter to his heartless, absent lover, Alfred "Bosie" Lord Douglas, came from the murky depths of anguish and pain as he languished in prison.

The letter was written during the last six months of his two years hard labour in Reading Gaol where he was imprisoned for homosexuality. Prior to this, in his tiny cell, he had access to no pen, paper or books. For Wilde, a man of art, wit and society, this was equivalent to a living death.

Gallacher, one of our finest actors, adapted the larger work, De Profundis, selecting sections of text suitable for the stage. His is a superbly crafted performance that sweeps gracefully between Wilde's passion and pain. Collette Mann directs him with great sensitivity. Together they have created a theatrical piece from the letter.

The cell is conjured by a wonderfully claustrophobic design (Gail Thomlinson, Donna McCrum) and complex, evocative lighting (John Hall, Michele Preshaw).

As Wilde, Gallacher prowls around his 3 square metres of cell or perches on the edge of his cot, speaking his heart to Bosie who betrayed, abused, manipulated and bankrupted him. At first, he speaks with passion and anger about his humiliation accusing Bosie of obstructing his creativity.

He tells stories of Bosie's abandonment and neglect of him. He tells of Bosie's father, the Marquis of Queensberry's, relentless quest to ruin Wilde and send him to gaol for seducing his son. This is a family that should have been slaughtered at birth. Both Bosie and his father are cruel, self-absorbed and untouchable. They are emotional psychopaths.

Wilde's rage shifts gears into religious fervour. He waxes lyrical about Christ, speaking poetically about sorrow and forgiveness. His public humiliation is an act of contrition, his weeping and loss of laughter a purge of his sins.

The horror of the piece is that Wilde, after raging at Bosie, is willing to forgive him. He loved Bosie blindly and tragically. Gallacher shows us this Wilde, flesh stripped back to the bone still willing to suffer more at the hands of his wretched lover.

by Kate Herbert

Saturday, 4 September 1999

Blood Sister, Sept 4, 1999

Blood Sister
 by Daniel Keene at Trades Hall until September 26, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The poor old Kelly clan was an unhappy one. Ned hanged, Dan burned, Mum gaoled and sister Kate drowned. There is nothing glamorous about their lives.

Daniel Keene has revamped his play, Blood Sister, written in 1989, for this production directed by Tim Maddock who directed Keene's play, The Architect's Walk for The Adelaide Festival last year. The show has unobtrusive lighting by Shane Grant and a simple design by Kari Morseth.

Blood Sister, written for four women, (Rhonda Wilson, Laura Lattuada, Josephine Fisher, Maryanne Sam) is a grim story constructed around Kate Kelly's "rest cure" in a sanatorium 20 years after her brother's hanging.

Kate (Wilson) is a drunk, an opium addict and a depressive who drifts in and out of reality and distorted dreams or memories of her lost childhood and her damned family.

The three other women act as a chorus in the style of the ancient Greek theatre. They chant, sing Irish ballads, ululate and wail in semi-darkness, speaking in verse, a mode that is one of Keene's trademarks.

As chorus, they criticise, support or taunt Kate in her delicate state

His dialogue shifts between the realistic and the poetic. These two styles are distinctive in all of Keene's writing but it is generally the gritty realism that is the more successful dramatically. This was the case in many most of the short plays in the Keene-Taylor Project.

The women play characters from Kate's life. Her sister Maggie (Fisher) appears in a dream, obsessed with death. A sanctimonious worker tries to support and advise her in the sanatorium (Sam).

The play remains distinctly humourless throughout, lacking the rollicking Irish humour one might expect, even in deep sadness. The exception is the scenes involving Kate's fellow drunken sanatorium inmate, played with comic relish by Lattuada.

Blood Sister provides us with a good deal of information about Kat and the Kelly gang, particularly the siege at Glenrowan at which Ned was captured and Dan burned to death. Kate was a witness to these horrors and spent the rest of her life trying to escape them. In the late 20th century, she would be treated for post-traumatic stress.

She rebuilt her life, marrying and living with husband and children in Forbes until an actress in a travelling show, called "The True History of the Kelly Gang," recognised her, leading to Kate being hounded by her new community. Is it any wonder she wanted to kill herself?

by Kate Herbert for 2 pages