Thursday, 28 February 2002

Counting Icebergs by Frances Rouse, Feb 28, 2002

The Shed Theatre at Captain Cook's Cottage 
until March 24, 2002
Mott's Cottage Port Fairy Festival March 9 & 10
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Captain Cook's Cottage is a pixie house for tiny people who sleep in short beds. The basil-scented garden is an enjoyable environment for a site-specific historical play.

Cook and his wife, Elizabeth never lived in the cottage in the Fitzroy Gardens. He lived on the high seas or in exotic places most of the time.

She, poor, tortured, sad woman, stayed at home in England waiting for his return to get her pregnant once more.

Frances Rouse's play, Counting Icebergs, directed by Gillian Hardy is about Elizabeth's long life alone at home. It attempts to make a dramatic meal out of a very thin stock.

The problem is that Elizabeth's life was not interesting. This is not to say that an ordinary life cannot make dramatic fodder. The issue is with how a life is presented.

 A biography is 99% drudgery. If it is edited, or if one short period is amplified, it can make drama.

 What is poignant and most dramatic in Elizabeth's life is the death of all of her five children and the murder of her husband. She is interesting for her awful grief.

The tragic month during which Elizabeth's husband is savagely murdered in Hawaii in the same month as her eldest son dies at sea would be a perfect dramatic choice.

James Cook's stories and diaries, the deaths of her other children could be interpolated into the shorter time frame.

All the action happens off stage - probably a hangover from earlier drafts for radio. There is little physical stage action and no onstage dramatic action.

The playwright presents the three ages of Elizabeth simultaneously: the young wife, (Donna Matthews) the mid-life mother, (Brenda Palmer) the old woman who reminisces. (Esme Melville)

This is an interesting device that allows observations, hindsight and commentary to filter through the fragmented, sometimes lyrical dialogue.

The play is non-naturalistic in style. The women read from Cook's diaries and tell tales of his adventures.

It is difficult for the actors to get their teeth into character because they are very sketchily drawn. But Matthews particularly is vocally strong and gives her character passion.

The writing is better suited to listening. The ebb and flow of Elizabeth's life and repetitive quality of the narrative are better suited to radio.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 25 February 2002

The Race to Create: Shire of Nillumbik Ephemeral Sculpture


February 23 to March 4, 2002
Tony Beilby's perspex box is at Dynamic Vegies shops 2 & 3, cnr Beard St & Main Rd Eltham Open Mon-Fri. 8.30am-6pm, Sat 8am-2pm
Writer: Kate Herbert

If you are confused about the term ephemeral art, you are not alone. Ephemeral art has a limited shelf life and artist Tony Beilby takes this idea literally.

On February 23 a big, fat porker of a sausage in a plastic package with a use-by date of March 4, was placed in a small, sleek airtight perspex box, 25 centimetres square  at Dynamic Vegies store in  Eltham.

It is part of "The Race to Create", an Ephemeral Sculpture show mounted by the Shire of Nillumbik.

The criteria for the exhibition were, " To create, on the 23rd February, a three dimensional sculpture which can exist and survive in the environment for 10 days."

This work is more eccentric because Beilby is not in the country. Although from Melbourne, he directs it by remote from Berlin where he works.

Shop owners, Greg Martin and Sam Staley  provided the location. Beilby's brother placed the sausage into the cube and delivered it. Everybody became a contributor.

"The box arrived on Saturday.  Six minutes later I got a call from Berlin from Tony checking whether it was there," says shop co-owner, Greg Martin.

There was one last minute problem. The original cheese sausages were accidentally eaten before installation. Oops. The new, very meaty snag has a further irony in an organic vegie shop.

Beilby jokingly describes the work as "a virtual-retro-interactive piece."  

A vital component is interaction with the viewer. Visitors to the shop are invited to write responses, thoughts, and criticisms on the perspex with black or white marker pens provided.

Greg Martin observes, "Some just look. Others boldly grab the pen and write on it."

"I am hoping", says Beilby, "that the comments made will slowly obscure the original object......As the number of comments and critiques grow, the artwork will become obscured and, at this stage, the comments themselves will form the artwork."

Voila! You become part of the artwork.

On day three, a flock of people fluttered around it. Written comments were funny, poetic, rude or gently critical.

'Poor sausage.' 'Silly sausage.' 'Art lives but does the sausage?' 'Is this Art?' and my favourite, 'Curly penis', a rather accurate reference to the shape of the big curled banger.

Beilby calls the piece a 'ready-made', referring to the term coined by French artist, Marcel Duchamp  early this century. The object already exists and is used for another purpose in an artwork.

Duchamp said it was possible to declare something an artwork even if the artist was in another country and had not seen it.  Curator, Chris Marks  and organiser Sonia Turnbull,  said Beilby's absence would be no problem.

"I often use the external constraints of a festival as the starting point for an art work", Beilby says.

"One piece which hung in the Berlin Underground wasn't allowed to stick out more than 2.5 cm from the surface. Here I covered the entire 4X2meter surface with about 90,000 strips of typewriter ribbon, all cut to 2.5cm lengths."

Sixteen artists are represented in parks and public locations around the shire. Stephanie Mew's,  outside Eltham Library, is a pile of books that were to be trashed.

 "Excited people are walking by and discovering the work and getting involved and wondering what's going on," says Chris Marks.

So do we get to eat the big snag on March 4?

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 9 February 2002

Moon Babies, Feb 21, 2002

By Patrick van der Werf 
 at La Mama until March 3, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert, Feb 21, 2002

Actor, Don Bridges, gives a compelling performance in this production of Moon Babies by Patrick van der Werf and directed by Peta Hanrahan.

He plays a peculiar old derelict, looking spookily like Old Steptoe, who wanders into an abandoned shack inhabited by two odd young brothers. (Tom Davies OK, Cameron McKenzie). 

Bridges is totally believable, controlled and sympathetic. He handles with great aplomb the abstract and the poetic language as well as the Australianised dialogue.

His physical presence is magnetic. He is crippled, wizened and scruffy, limping and crawling on his skinny tinder-like legs.

The old man is hunting for his long-lost brother. He reminisces about him, about his own time in hospital and about sex. He drools over his little pleasures: a square of grubby chocolate, a cup of golden tea and a jam sandwich.

Van der Werf writes some interesting material in this script. The narrative stalls about twenty minutes in when it starts to repeat itself and not advance the relationships, the plot nor the violence that sits so close to the surface.

Of the three characters, the old man is the most fully realised. The two young men, Grub  (Davies) and Tic  (McKenzie) are less satisfactory.

Grub is the older and wields power over the simpleton, Tic. Both speak in bastardised Australianisms. Grub locks his brother in a cupboard, shout and terrorises both him and the old man with a stick.

Which brings me to the major flaw in this production. Davies shouts the entire time, mistaking stridency for passion.

His performance is on one note for most of the 75 minutes and McKenzie seems to be trying to meet him on the decibels. It is so unpleasant my guest and I had to block our ears.

Davies appears to have little vocal or physical control of his performance. At one point he smashed his stick repeatedly and a large chunk flew at the heads of the audience. This is unacceptable.

The lighting design by Rebecca Etchell  is effective and the distressed  walls of the set by Hanrahan are evocative.

Bridges' work makes this piece worth the visit. With some greater control by the other two actors, it could be a good short work.

By Kate Herbert

VCA School of Drama Directors' Season, Feb 9, 2002

Ticket to Ride -VCA  School of Drama Directors' Season
Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell
Journeys in a Suitcase  by Tanja Beer
One Good Useless Man by Michael Block
Grant Street Theatre  until February 13, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert, Feb 9, 2002

One important skill of a director is the ability to choose a good script. Director, Diane Gavelis, selected Andrew Bovell's Speaking in Tongues  for her graduation production at VCA.  

The play is a stylish piece of writing upon which Bovell's award winning film, Lantana,  is based. Gavelis directs parts two and three of the play and uses its idiosyncratic structure to great advantage.

The narrative, about a woman who disappears one night when her car breaks down, is broken into four strands.  In part two, four characters inhabit separate but overlapping sectors of the stage and reveal their own obsessional stories.

Bovell's clever construction creates dramatic tension. The pace of this production is sluggish in its first half and some of the acting is awkward.

Part three is well paced with two delightfully committed and credible performances from Mark Tregonning and Christopher Brown.  A sparse design, (Iain Smith)  evocative lighting (Dan Sheehan) and sound design (Jethro Woodward) enhance the production.

Tanja Beer  in her project called Journeys in a Suitcase  chose a completely different style of work and process of development. With a group of six teenage women she devised a movement-based work around themes of travel.

The continuing visual motif is suitcases. They are packed, sat upon, carried, ridden and used to expose or conceal.

The young women take turns, perhaps too predictably, to present their characters' fears and excitement about travel, escape, alienation and lost luggage.

The piece makes good youth theatre but needs a more coherent through line to increase its appeal to a broader audience.

One Good Useless Man is a three-hander written and directed by Michael Block.  It is a futuristic, absurdist story about a man living in a Big Brother-Brave New World environment ruled by TV commercials and bureaucratic controllers. He discovers life and love with a new model of robotic servant.

The script is quirky and entertaining but it is not a new topic and it lacks the substance to make it compelling as a socio-political commentary.  The frequent and lengthy scene changes and blackouts need to be tightened to give the piece a swifter pace.

By Kate Herbert
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