Tuesday, 31 October 2000

The Unexpected Man, Oct 31, 2000

by Yasmina Reza
at Fairfax Studio until November 4, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

When a skilful playwright meets a director and two actors of matching talent, it is a recipe for success.

The Unexpected Man combines French playwright, Yasmina Reza, Melbourne director, Simon Phillips and Sydney actors, Kerry Walker and John Gaden.Voila! Vive la recipe!

Reza's basic premise of a man and a woman sitting on a train together without communicating could make a frustrating and static play. But Reza creates their inner life by writing in a series of internal monologues as the pair travel by train together from Paris to Frankfurt.

Phillips production is innovative. The entire 75 minutes are set on a beautiful, square revolving stage designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell. Each actor, seated on a wooden chair, also revolves independently. This creates a dynamic physicality in a word-based play.

The journey is further evoked by the thud and rattle of Ian McDonald's atmospheric score, by the gravel railroad surrounding the revolve and Nick Schlieper's continual stream of passing railroad lights.

Reza makes this seemingly banal situation fascinating. Paul Parsky is a famous novelist. His fellow traveller, a middle-aged, middle-class woman, is one of his devoted readers. She is coincidentally carrying his latest book, The Unexpected Man, as reading material.

The drama arises not from their interaction or conflict, but from the tension as we wait for them to speak. She is too embarrassed, shy or polite to accost him with fandom. She will not even take out his book in case it causes awkwardness.

He is initially self-absorbed then later compelled to find out about this cool and attractive woman.

Gaden is compelling as the ageing and bitter writer. he captures his profound sense of regret and cynicism about his life, work and the world at large.

Walker is composed, amused and surprising as she shifts between being dignified and almost child-like and adoring.

Reza's writing is based in a stream of consciousness narrative style but her dialogue is laconic, poetic and witty. It echoes the bristling dialogue of her most successful play, Art. Both characters wander around in their minds, revelling in their pasts, lost friends, antagonisms, obsessions and loves.

Finally the suspense is relieved. They speak. She reveals her ardent admiration and fantasy about him. He laughs. End.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 26 October 2000

How to Shop , Oct 26, 2000

by Bobby Baker
at Athenaeum I until  October 31, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Have you ever been scared to enter a supermarket? In her show, How To Shop, British performance artist, Bobby Baker, has handy and peculiar advice for those with shopping paranoia.

How To Shop is actually presented as a lecture complete with lectern, slides and short film images as well as a cooking-show-style overhead camera for demonstrations.

Baker is a charming, warm and funny character on stage. She is a weird blend of UK comediennes, Victoria Wood and Penelope Keith.

The first fifteen minutes are quirky, satirical and promising as unusual comic entertainment. What follows does not live up to expectations. It lacks structure and the presentation is loose beyond the point of being post-modern or funny.

The basic premise of ridiculing shopping is a good one. There are some wonderfully oddball ideas and images but it never quite hits the theatrical or comic mark.

Her style is steeped in pure English irony and she satirises not only the suburban shopping obsession but those intellectuals who raise the banal to philosophical heights. She quotes theorists on shopping. Who spends their time writing those theses?

 She feigns academic qualifications as she leads us through her bizarre and loosely structured rave. As we are taught to negotiate a supermarket we discover how to reach a state of heavenly bliss.

In order to reach such shopping nirvana, we must go on a religious quest for the seven virtues. She does so with slides of her personal journey  through The Co-op Supermarket in Croydon, London.

We seek humility in parsley, Obedience in anchovies, Patience in shaving cream, Joy in apples, Courage in olive oil, Compassion in red wine. Our final challenge is to find Love that evidently is secreted in the freshly baked bread.

Baker engages in plenty of odd on-stage action that is amusing but often directionless. She stuffs an anchovy tin in her mouth on God's command, slurps soapy water, slops shaving cream over herself, bathes in red wine on screen and sings seductively to a toffee apple.  We also hear an elderly woman sing Dance Little Fishies.

How to Shop, commissioned by the London International Theatre Festival in 1993 and developed with Polona Baloh-Brown, is the second of a series of five pieces in her Daily Life series.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday, 22 October 2000

The Gilbert and Sullivan Show, Oct 22, 2000

 by The Production Company
at Regent Theatre until October 27, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Gilbert and Sullivan Show is a light-hearted, delightful night. Director, Roger Hodgman, creates a musical salon atmosphere on the Regent Theatre stage as the exceptionally skilled orchestra and singers present songs from favourite G and S shows.

Iolanthe, Gondoliers, HMS Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance, The Yeomen of the Guard, Patience and The Mikado are all represented. The ensemble of musical and operatic stars features Dennis Olsen, Roxane Hislop Tiffany Speight and Gary Rowley.

Olsen, in his inimitable fashion, cavorts and gambols about the stage as he sings When I was a Lad and I Am The Monarch of the Sea as Sir Joseph Porter (Pinafore). He is an electrifying and comical presence on stage throughout the night. Each character, even in this truncated concert version, is fully developed and hilarious.

Tiffany Speight has a bright and moving soprano. She is magnetic and manages to be both gloriously seductive and sweetly innocent in roles including Josephine from Pinafore (Sorry Her Lot), Yum-Yum from Mikado (The Sun Whose Rays) and as Mabel in Pirates singing the sweet and compelling Poor Wandering One.

Roxane Hislop is in fine voice singing I'm Called Little Buttercup and as Phoebe from Iolanthe when she sings When Maiden Loves.

Gary Rowley is a wonderful Captain Corcoran (Pinafore) and David Gould's strong bass provides a very funny Police Sergeant in Pirates.

Other supporting roles are sung superbly by Barry Mitchell and Troy Sussman.

The orchestra captures the tone of S and S and is magnificently directed by Guy Noble.

The evening finishes with a trio of finales from Pinafore, Mikado and Gondoliers. The entire show has flair, joy and a punchy larrikin feel to it in spite of its stylish 19 century salon design ( Leon Salom) and its decorative costumes. (Hugh Colman)

Gilbert and Sullivan have reached a wider audience recently with the release of Mike Leigh's movie, Topsy Turvy which deals with the creation of The Mikado.

Popular music buffs may scoff at G and S songs as old-fashioned, elitist, silly or middle-class. However, Sullivan was a classically trained and gifted composer while Gilbert was a phenomenon in the creation of complex and comic rhyming lyrics. This pair was a match made in musical theatre heaven.

By Kate Herbert
for 2 pages:

Food of Love, Oct 22, 2000

 by Seduction Opera
at Beckett Theatre until October 28, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

"If music be the food of love play on,'" said Duke Orsino in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Seduction Opera's show, Food of Love, is a peculiar but satisfying miscellany of music, food art and political comedy.

It is an effective collision of three artists who work virtually independently on stage: actor/singer, Jan Friedl, political comedian, Rod Quantock and classical pianist, James Voss playing Bach's Partita no 4 in D.

Director, Brian Lipson, cleverly and often wittily weaves the three discrete components into a cohesive if not always coherent whole.

The piece opens with Friedl lying in her white pyjamas on a double bed under beams of stark white light. She talks to us about food, her childhood, her musical history, her parents, dreams, teaching and students.

 It is a disconnected and dislocated stream of consciousness rave that bears little direct relation to Quantock's part of the show.

Light and fascinating and evocative slides of the galaxy designed by Jens Milbret and other images, spill across her as she drapes herself upon the now upright bed.

Quantock's comic pratings are a continuation of his stream of invective directed toward the incompetence and cowardice of the Howard government and the uglification of the architecture of the city of Melbourne.

In addition to his architecture lecture, he gives a coherent and informative and funny lecture-demonstration of Pythagoras' Theorem of triangles, irrational numbers and the structure of musical notation. How he gets gags out of these is a mystery but he does.

Throughout these two intermingled raves, a laconic Voss moves from grand piano, where he plays Bach with exceptional virtuosity - then he prepares and eats a cheese sandwich or orders a pizza. All three performers shift, apparently aimlessly, from bed to telephone to desk, interjecting, cooking toast, making coffee and eating.

This is an odd-ball show which is clever, funny moving and musically superb. It is not a play but a collage of images and ideas that intersect in a novel way.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 20 October 2000

Huge by Jez Butterworth , Oct 20, 2000

By Mossrat at Athenaeum II until October 21, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you've ever contemplated a career in stand-up comedy, think again. Be an accountant. be anything else. It's too hard. The two characters in Jez Butterworth's play, Huge, are proof.

Warren and Clarke (Justin Ratliffe, Mike McLeish) are two aspiring comedians who move into a flat in London, write a comedy double act and sit waiting for the phone to ring for their first try-out gig.

We never know whether their material is any good. We never hear it.We see them writing, giggling at their own jokes, bickering and despairing when their first radio try-out is edited out of the BBC show.

The fragile egos of comics are at the core of this narrative. They are liable to spontaneously combust at any moment - and their relationship certainly does.

Butterworth's writing is funny, John Paul Hussey's direction is swift and both actors are strong although they shout too much.

By Kate Herbert

Fletcher's Spontaneous Broadway, 2000

Fletcher's Spontaneous Broadway at Czech Club until October 20, 2000

Fletcher's Spontaneous Broadway, compered by Russell Fletcher,  is an adaptation of an improvised musical form devised in New York and also performed in San Francisco.

A bunch of improviser-singers, a different group each night,  take ideas from the audience, improvise songs with musical director, John Thorn, on keyboard and then create a one-act musical based on one of the improvised songs.

The audience loves this form of non-invasive participation. They get to suggest song titles for singers, they are asked to vote for the song which will be the basis of the second half of the show.

Opening night was a little muddled but the crowd enjoyed it. The musical chosen was Who Am I, with the main song being My Wife Thinks I'm Crazy but He's Wrong " (Genevieve Morris) - a gift of a title for a cross-dressing musical story.

It included songs such as: There's Worse Things, At Least He Loves You, (Christine Keogh) Who Am I and the hilarious, I Still Love You More Than Your Clothes. (Paul McCarthy)

It's a new show and cast each night so get a look at it.

Kate Herbert

Thursday, 19 October 2000

Happy 1000, 1000 Bahagia & American Dreamchasing, Oct 19, 2000

Happy 1000, 1000 Bahagia by Peter Turrini
La Mama at The Black Box until October 22, 2000

American Dreamchasing by Mark Hansen
North Melbourne Town Hall until October 22, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Happy 1000, 1000 Bahagia is performed in Indonesian, English and Australian deaf sign language. (Auslan) Ironically, the play, written by Pete Turrini, is originally in Austrian.

Not only is Turrini's text demanding and provocative, but the collision of three languages, the physical style and dramatic content create a riveting performance.

The form is abstract. A man (Wawan Sofwan) decides he will kill himself when he finishes counting to one thousand. Two women (Jodee Mundy, Tiffany Ball) count with him in English and Auslan as he counts in Indonesian.

Yes, they really do count the whole way to one thousand but there are diversions into the man's last days, his memories, images of walking in the street, meeting neighbours and trying to maintain his translation job for a newspaper.

The counting becomes mesmerising. It numbers off his last moments as he marches toward suicide. The three count in rhythm, the numbers are counterpointed like a musical score. The man holds a gun to his head reminding us of his impending doom.

The performances are compelling particularly of Sofwan who is a sparkling presence on stage. Mundy has a brightness which enlivens her physical performance in Auslan and Ball provides the connection for those understanding only English.

The direction by Sandra Long is inventive and takes advantage of the abstraction of the script. She finds innumerable ways to colour what could be lifeless enumeration.

Turrini writes with beauty and conviction with a rich sense of the power of the mind in a state of depression and obsession.

Another performer who presents a potent obsessive presence is Mark Zonacat Hansen. His show, American Dreamchasing with Spirit Drive not Ego Jive, fits no mode of performance.

He chats about his Attention Deficit Disorder, his abstract random mode of thinking which he tries to fit into a linear form.

He tells stories about New Age theory, EST, self-discovery and the search for happiness in a world that thinks he is crackers.

As the only audience member, this was an oddly personal experience. It is not drama, nor is it comedy. It is not the most skilful of scripts or performances. But it is strangely compelling.

By Kate Herbert
for 2 pages:

The Small Poppies, Oct 19, 2000

by David Holman Company B Belvoir Street
at Playhouse until October 28, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Remember your first day at Big School. It can be traumatic. I fell on my head off the monkey bars. That explains a lot.

The small poppies in David Holman's play directed by Neil Armfield, are five year olds starting school.  These littlies grapple with isolation, separation from mum, loss of friends, making new mates. The story is simple. Clint goes to Big School without his best friend and must make new pals.

The school community is populated with bullies, cowards, altruists, swots, dummies, negotiators and romantics. It is a microcosm for the adult world, perhaps even for the world of international diplomacy with the prep teacher as the well-meaning but ineffectual United Nations.

The performances by this exceptional ensemble which includes Geoffrey Rush, are charming and beautifully observed. They capture the diverse and idiosyncratic qualities and behaviour of preppies.
Rush's silent, open-mouthed weeping as the friendless and frightened Clint, rings bells in everybody and his impeccable clown skills are hilarious.

Arky Michael'sbully, Shane, makes us want revenge. Debra Mailman's Cambodian refugee, Lep, twangs our hearts and David Field's Theo is needy, generous and warm-hearted. Julie Forsyth's prep teacher is hilariously goofy and recognisable while Rebecca Massey is versatile in several roles.

This show should be running early for families. It is an unusual show for the Melbourne Festival. It is uncomplicated, written originally for Theatre in Education in the mid-80s and has no esoteric content or style.

The script is made up of kids' jokes, rhymes, songs and chants. One of the funniest scenes is a mad song called Hippopotamus. Music by Alan John and Greg Sully and a prep classroom set design by Stephen Curtis, complete the atmosphere.

The play encapsulates Neil Armfield's drive to stage theatre that epitomises Australianness, as did his production of Cloudstreet. He pulls down the fourth wall of the stage so that the audience can be contacted. He steps away from theatrical artifice, vanity and elitism.

The play is superbly performed with an enthusiasm and love that spills into the audience. It does not push the boundaries of cultural commentary or theatrical convention, nor does it explore the darker areas of adult-child issues of Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills. It  is, however, a delightful night at the theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 12 October 2000

Meat Party, Oct 12, 2000

By Duong Le Qu 
Playbox at Merlin Theatre October 12 to 28, 2000

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Two differing styles meet in Michael Kantor's  production of Duong Le Quy's Meat Party. Kantor's direction is abstract, visual spectacular, drawing on the modern Japanese as well as Eastern European theatrical forms. Le Quy's text is political realism set in contemporary Vietnam.

Kantor, with dramaturg Tom Wright,  edited the script and created an atmosphere of mystery and violence. On a vast, sloping expanse of stage designed by Dorotka Sapinska  with epic lighting (bluebottle p/l) the cast of eight creates an almost mythic sense of landscape and war.

Mary, (Alice Garner) a young Australian cellist, travels to the White Sand Desert, a slightly unreal region in Vietnam. She seeks her dead father, Gabriel's (Matthew Crosby)  remains.

 He was an Australian soldier killed in Vietnam and a renowned flautist. Mary carries her own instrument with her on her quest for her father's flute lost in battle.

She enlists the aid of Quan  (Huong Nguyen) , the Chairman of the People's Council of the White Sand Desert. His father , Lam  (Tam Phan), is  a communist revolutionary war hero who is an autocrat and lives in the revolutionary Leninist past.

Mary also seeks assistance from An,  (Tony Yap) who collected belongings of dead western soldiers.

The war permeates the contemporary world in this Vietnam. Huge metal doors swing open to reveal starkly lit soldiers, smoking air and pounding gunfire.

All this is in contrast with a chanting madwoman (Yumi Umiumare) who prowls the sands, collecting whitened bones of the dead and nursing the bones of her children. This is counterpointed by the haunting song of Mai (Trang Nguyen), the dead Vitenamese girl who comforted Mary's father as he died.

The ensemble is very strong and the choral and movement basis for the style is evocative. Darrin Verhagen's  music creates a punishing atmosphere. The use of Crosby as translator in Vietnamese language scenes is an excellent device.

The stage is littered with symbolic objects: Gabriels' flute, hundreds of insence sticks, suitcases of the dead soldiers laid out like tombstones, Prisoner of War clothing dropping from the sky.

The Meat Party is a euphemism for The War. The county fed on its own flesh and its people suffered for 30 years.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 9 October 2000

Can't Stand Up for Falling Down

By Richard Cameron
at The Storeroom October 9 to 22, 2000
Bookings:  9658 9600
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Can't Stand Up For Falling Down is a play about three young women and their relationship to an abusive man in an English village. It is an insightful series of monologues about women written by a man.

Richard Cameron's writing is impassioned, moving and an accurate representation of these women's experiences with men.

Lynette (Sharyn Oppy) is the victim of her husband, Royce's domestic violence and drunkenness. Royce is a conceited rake and an emotional and physical thug.

Seven years earlier, he go Ruby (Bernadette Schwerdt) pregnant when she was 18 years old. He refused to admit paternity and she raised her boy, Carl, alone.

Jodie (Pamela Talty) is a hairdresser who does Lynette's hair. Years earlier, she befriended a disabled boy who was killed by Royce and his mates. Jodie eventually is the person who finds Lynette beaten and distraught in her husband's fishing tackle shop.

The outcome of Royce's violence is his death and the three women, by chance, come together to cover up Lynette's crime.

The play is written as three separate monologues. The actors inhabit their own locations within the empty space. Their realities finally collide in the last minutes.

Tara Power's direction is brisk, smart and simple. The ensemble is excellent. Oppy tackles with great skill the most challenging role of  the abused and fragile Lynette. She is a delicate victim with great emotional depth and power.

Schwerdt combines forthright independence with a neediness in Ruby, the single mother who has a history of unsatisfactory relationships with men.
Talty finds a sweet confusion and naivete in Jodie which gives her a compassionate character.

This is a fine production of a dramatic play with vivid and detailed characters.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 7 October 2000

So Full of Brave, Oct 7, 2000

 By Kharen Harper and Somebody's Daughter 
Oct 7 2000

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The women in So Full of Brave are just that: full of bravery. They are on stage in a show created by their company about their lives and the lives of other women who are or were prisoners at Fairlea.

The play, written by director/writer Kharen Harper with the cast, is a warm, gritty peek into the lives of a group of women who are in and out of prison.

Many are drug-users which is the major profile of women in our prisons. Some were abused by family and society. Others developed a revolving door relationship with prison. Teisha (Rachael Ward) feels safer inside than she does outside prison.

Meg, (Catherine Frith) a drug and alcohol counsellor, develops a relationship with Jazz, (Sam Davis OK) an ex-drug user and inmate. Viv (Karen Taylor)  is older and suffers, having given up her child for adoption as a teenager.

 Eddie (Debbie Murray) struggles to survive her dysfunctional family and change her life. Kym (Donna King) is forging a new life.

Billy (Toni T), still inside, tries to help Jane, (Niki Phillips) keep her kids and also attempts to keep in contact with her friends on the outside.

The play comprises of scenes, songs and direct addresses to the audience in the style of the 70s political and community theatre.

In the scenes the women struggle with their lives, addictions and pasts. The try to support friends in crisis and avoid reverting to old habits.

At the end, they are at a demonstration against mandatory sentencing. The cycle of arrest and incarceration starts new - even for a new inmate, Meg.

The scene is which Meg is strip searched is powerful as is the death of their friend, Jane. these women have seen a lot of death and suicide.

the passion and humour of the women make the show work both theatrically and emotionally. It is cheerful, funny, sad and political. The performances are raw but totally committed, engaging and energetic.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 6 October 2000

Crave by Sarah Kane, Oct 6, 2000

Crave by Sarah Kane
at The Storeroom October 6 to  22, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Sarah Kane writes about depression and lost love, abandonment and fear of death. Crave was first produced in the UK 1998. Kane committed suicide the following year. her writing could not purge her desperation.

Crave reeks of Kane's existential pain. Four characters speak in disconnected dialogue. They seem to be two couples or perhaps they are four totally separate individuals voicing the patterns of dialogue we all reiterate in our vain attempts to survive in relationships.

The four actors (Miria Kostiuk, Trudy Hellier, Neil Pigot, Michael Robinson) sit or stand in an empty space each in his or her own light. Each a discreet and isolated soul in a physical and emotional vacuum.

A young woman (Kostiuk) speaks about her abusive childhood, fraught adulthood, fear of death and damaged relationship.

A man (Pigot) Who may be her ex-lover, sits and weeps as he describes his dysfunctional relationship to his "dark angel". He grieves for the pain he causes both her and himself, for the loss of love, the need for love, the power of passion and despair.

Another woman stands under a single light and demands her lover leave - or stay. She feels little. She cannot love. The world is cold for her.

The man who seems to be her lover (Robinson) is the one who seeks a quick fix, who cannot attach, who is always romancing and speaking a foreign language.

The aching emotional pain is palpable but it is diluted to a bearable level by the abstraction of the overlaying of the dialogue of the four actors.

Janice Muller's direction is intelligent and crisp. She keeps the space empty and the characters full.

Even the unplanned refrigeration noises on the roof of the venue added some rough ambience to Kane's profoundly sad play.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 5 October 2000

Hamlet in One Hour AND This Distracted Globe, Oct 4, 2000

Hamlet in One Hour by Short Attention Span
at Trades Hall until October 21, 2000
This Distracted Globe  
at La Mama until October 15, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Fringe Festival is sporting two Hamlets. Neither is Shakespeare's version although both drawn on his text. But one performs it in red clown noses and the other adds electric music and both are comic.

The first is a fine and funny clown show, Hamlet in One Hour written and performed by Krisztian Bagin and Alice Carter. Bagin and Carter play about ten roles between them and all in red noses and often in the same scenes.
They change hats, breeches, crowns, swords, ghostly robes, curtains, horses and boats until the hilarious chaotic ending in which everybody dies at once with only two actors on stage.

Hamlet is directed by our consummate clown director and performer, John Bolton, who finds the comic detail in both actors so they may charm the audience.

There are some superb moments including the violent and sexy Punch and Judy show featuring Gertrude and Claudius, Hamlet's mother and uncle. The murder of Polonius by Hamlet while both are played by Bagin is a riot.

There is a series of hilarious clown characters from Bagin. His leggy peculiar Polonius, a Latin lover Laertes, a stuffy Fortinbras and his moon-eyed Hamlet. Carter's romantic dolly, Ophelia and her quick-change Gertrude and Claudius are effective.

The other Hamlet, directed wittily by Suzanne Kersten, is called This Distracted Globe.  It is entertaining but is more a mediaeval strolling players version from the streets of village England.

It is written in a peculiarly inaccurate mediaeval language which is at times funny. Three scruffy village players introduce scenes as if they are touring the countryside and have happened upon us in a village.

They force a poor unsuspecting Hamlet into the action and propel him to his unhappy end. Their TV screen puppet theatre is clever and funny and there is a clan of quirky little characters who are fun to watch.

The serious scenes slip into melodrama here and there though and the piece needs a savage edit to cut its time. The music is very special and the band should be commended.

By Kate Herbert

Remote AND Man, Woman, Sex, Revenge, Oct 5, 2000

Remote by Crow's Bar Cabaret
La Mama at Courthouse until October 15, 2000
Man, Woman, Sex, Revenge by Steve Wheat
at La Mama until October 15, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Remote is the latest cabaret production form Ella Filar's Crow's Bar Cabaret. It is a musical miscellany divided into three separate stories.

Filar's original songs are in the style of 30s Berlin Cabaret. They are raunchy, often political with witty rhymes, grotesque characters and vivid stories.

They are played by a live four piece band. (Filar keyboards, Ron Linser percussion, Billie Jean Clancy violin, Russell Praetz  sax/clarinet.)

On stage, in addition to the musicians, are four performers speaking the narrative, singing or dancing. (Tania Bistrin, Joanna Seidel, Hemi Titokurawu, Elisa Grey)

Part one has an intermittent narrative about a butcher, baby cow and vegetarianism.

Part two is less successful. It's songs are great but its short comic sketches about political and judicial corruption don't work.

Part three is the most theatrically successful segment. It integrates music, dance and narrative about a gypsy woman in a colourful and atmospheric scene.

Man, Woman, Sex, Revenge is a black comedy written and directed by Steve Wheat for Cloudburst. Simone (Sarah Chapman) is driven to revenge on Nigel, (Craig Goddard) her ex-lover, when he dumps her after two years.

We first see Simone with a gun, threatening both Nigel and his new mousy girlfriend, Michelle. (Karissa Clarke OK) She is angry, she is dangerous and the police are on the phone every five minutes to negotiate a release of her two hostages . They offer pizza in exchange.

This is suspenseful and witty piece from the company that brought us Cloudburst in 1996-97. The performances are consistent and impassioned although Michelle is a little too underplayed.

There is a great dramatic moment when the truth of the relationship is revealed. Simone is not the woman we think she is and Nigel will not  remain the man he is if Simone has her way with a scalpel.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 4 October 2000

The Good Thief by Conor McPherson, Oct 4, 2000

The Good Thief by Conor McPherson
at North Melbourne Town Hall until October 21, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you see nothing else in the Fringe Festival, see The Good Thief. It is uncommon to see a monodrama that is impeccably written, performed and directed. The Good Thief is such a play.

It is written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, performed by Desmond Connellan and directed by the highly skilled Maeliosa Stafford who was an actor and Artistic Director for Ireland's extraordinary Druid Theatre until coming to Australia in 1993.

The stage is empty but for a rough chair and table. Connellan plays a Dublin thug who intimidates people for his criminal boss. He embarks upon a simple threatening job which escalates into his killing three men with more deaths to follow.

We do not see any of the violent action but it is as vivid to us as if we were there with him.

As he unfolds his tale of violence, mistakes, confusion and horror, Connellan maintains a sense of warmth, innocence and hopefulness. In spite of his terrible crimes, we are somehow compelled to be sympathetic to his plight.

He is still in love with his ex-girlfriend, he tries to protect the wife and child of one of his victims and he mourns the murder of his friend's family.

Part of the horror is our thug's capacity to tell his story with a cool detachment. McPherson's narrative is clean, witty, surprising and filled with powerful and shocking imagery. The character is well-observed and detailed in both the writing and performance.

Connellan is a great find for the Melbourne stage. He maintains a charming, boyish exterior which is a perfect counterpoint to the character's violent unpredictable behaviour.

Stafford allows McPherson's dialogue to speak for itself by keeping the action uncluttered. He highlights the character and the escalating drama of the narrative. Each shift in thought is visible and every moment in the narrative is clearly drawn.

This is a real treat. Go see it!

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 2 October 2000

Whore Whisperer, Oct 2, 2000

The Whore Whisperer - Confessios of a Madam  by Meshel Laurie
at North Melbourne Town Hall until October 21, 2000
Shows: 9.45pm
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

We expect the Fringe Festival to challenge us in all sorts of ways. Meshel Laurie's Whore Whisperer certainly does so with its graphic but comic content about brothels in Melbourne.

Laurie, with director Sioban Tuke, creates a comfortable stage style which shifts between the theatrical and stand-up comedy.

The sole character on stage is a receptionist in a brothel. Laurie herself supports her stand-up career as a brothel receptionist. Her personal stories told directly to the audience are eye-openers both about the working girls and their clients who are know as "mugs".

Laurie perches on a stool at a desk littered with Women's Weeklies, Tim-Tams, doughnuts and Minties. At intervals, a 'mug' enters and she goes through her arrival spiel:

"Have you been here before? It's $209 for an hour, $167 for three-quarters,  $126 for a half."... etc. It is dull, repetitive, annoying and often abusive work which seems to make women loathe men.

The piece is theatricalised simply and cleverly by Tuke by injecting taped introductory raves by hooker to 'mugs' about the kind of service they will offer. "No kissing" is common. It is too intimate for the women. Other more grotesque fantasies are offered for extra fees.

Laurie cites Super-modelling and prostitution as the two ways in which women can earn as much as men in a short time. A single mother can support her child on two six hours shifts per week.

The insights into the mechanisms of the brothel are fascinating and a little frightening. We feel like voyeurs or trainees. The receptionist's job is not glamorous. She manages moody girls or transsexuals hookers, copes with laundry (don't think too hard about that one!) with pricing, quiet nights, groups of lads and dissatisfied mugs.

The classier brothels have a pool table and lounge with gorgeous gals under 25. The suburban houses are less colourful. This is a risky show. One man even got up and stormed out when he thought Laurie should not be including his girlfriend's name in a joke. Unnecessary behaviour, but it shows how sensitive the issue is.

By Kate Herbert

Bag of Nails by Anthony Morgan AND Mind Eater Gumbo Theatre, Oct 2, 2000

Bag of Nails - A Life's Work in Progress by Anthony Morgan to October 21, 2000
Mind Eater  Gumbo Theatre to October 8, 2000
Both at North Melbourne Town Hall
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Anthony Morgan is back again. He says he retired from the comedy scene two year ago - but he forgot he had no skills to survive in the real world. Oops!

Bag of Nails relies on Morgan's natural wit and fast comic improvisation. His style is eccentric. He used to come on stage with one joke that lasted for 45 minutes.

In this show, he gets 20 minutes of material out of explaining why there is no Opening. Ric Birch did everything that could be done in an Australian Opening Ceremony.

The middle bit is taken up with an ongoing explanation of why there was no opening and he ends with a marketing strategy to sell CDs.

He prowls up and down the carpeted aisle in the room above the library at North Melbourne Town Hall. He is hilarious, improvising his way into new jokes about deadbeat fringe paraders who are half-way through the anarchists handbook or about heroin addicts, his own travels to Texas, land of country music and little else.

He reminds us of ignored Australian icons. Where were the holden utes in the opening ceremony, or the Monaro precision drivers peeling around little Nicki Webster?

Morgan is self-derisory, talented and under-used in the comedy industry of TV or radio. Somebody should wake up.

Gumbo Theatre is a group of looney Japanese performers who, in Mind Eater, goof around with a series of quirky comic narratives in a vivid style of physical theatre.

The first is the Mind Eater about a woman obsessed with dieting. Next is a woman looking for a soul mate who will sacrifice his life for love. Another is a road accident and trial then a man who loses his job, wife and life and a woman who needs cosmetic surgery. Another woman donates a kidney and is impregnated by the doctor.

The style is idiosyncratic and distinctly Japanese. It is comic grotesque, dipped in Japanese Butoh dance. The actors leap and shout, grimace and sing with some live percussive accompaniment and recorded music. the costumes are huge and compelling.

The show is often messy and loose in form but it is always startling, silly and fun.

By Kate Herbert