Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director; produced playwright (21 plays). Scripts pub. Currency Press. She worked as actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate was Head of Drama/Teacher, NMIT; Coordinator of Prof. Writing/ Editing, Swinburne Uni. Read her reviews here or: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron Playbox Theatre and Neonheart Theatre
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, July 30 to August 16, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 30
The topic of child abduction is not a comic one but Matt Cameron's cunningly written play, Ruby Moon, manages to be successfully and sensitively grimly funny.
Aidan Fennessy's sleek production boasts two exceptional performances from peter Houghton and Christen O'Leary as multiple eccentric characters who typify Cameron's style.
It is absurd and abstracted, reminiscent of some of his other plays, particularly the dark narrative of Footprints on Water. In addition to the pathos of pain and grief, it has some broad comic elements.
This bleak, fractured fairytale is about Ray (Houghton) and Sylvie Moon, (O'Leary) parents of Ruby, a six year old who disappeared wearing a red spotted dress while en route to Grandma's house at the end of a street.
Yes, the Red Riding Hood references are intentional. Fairytales are often violent and frightening.
O'Leary plays Sylvie with the high-pitched peculiar tone of a woman about to snap. Sylvie pretends Ruby is alive, calling on the phone, knocking at the door or practising her piano in the next room. The grief of the parents is palpable and poignant.
Houghton, as Ray, is a man trying to hold not only himself but his wife together but glue is coming unstuck.
The pair play a daily routine of pretend and meaningless chatter after Ray comes home from work on the train. Anything to avoid the reality of Ruby's absence.
Both actors play multiple characters whoa re the couple's neighbours. The transform physically and vocally in moments with only a simple on stage costume change.
Houghton's rapid fire routine as Sid, the Clown, is a supreme moment of comic timing and caricature. His limping ex-soldier, Wizard and mad amateur astrophysicist are delightful.
O'Leary shifts from Dulcie, the bible basher with a fake parrot, to Dawn, the shabby baby-sitter. But her highlight is veronica Vale a sultry chanteuse. Her torch song is breathtaking.
Fennessy's direction is slick and pacey. Philip Lethlean's lighting creates a landscape of moods, interiors and exteriors along with Christine Smith's cluttered flotsam set design.
Andrew McNaughton's music echoes the escalating madness of Ray and Sylvie's imaginations. Ruby Moon is a must-see in Playbox's season.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre Rear
2A Chapel St. St. Kilda
July 25 to August 17, 2003
Herbert on July 25, 2003
There is an ominous feeling from the
very start of Dirty Butterfly. We sense that someone is to be damaged
Debbie Tucker Green, tells her story about violence and voyeurism in two parts.
The first peers into the world of the three young neighbours from an apartment
block with very thin walls.
Stewart) Amelia (Ella Caldwell ) and Jason (Vince Miller)
live adjacent to each other. Jason suffers with a
stammer and is socially isolated. He spends hapless hours with an ear pressed
to his dividing wall listening to Jo's sexual activity with her abusive
The opening act is
abstracted. We see all three in the space as if in their own apartments but
communicating directly as if in the same room. Jo tells that, in
the early morning, she crept from her bed to crawl to the toilet, afraid to wake
her volatile lover. She taunts Jason with her sexual exploits, knowing he is
obsessed with her.
Amelia has already moved
downstairs from her bedroom to sleep on her sofa to avoid the sounds of lust
through her wall. She wants Jason to do the same. We wonder, are Amelia
and Jason friends or ex-lovers? Do they know Jo or not?
Jo wakes up every
morning feeling as if it is going to be her last. Each day she could be right
but we do not know if we are about to witness her final hours.
The second act is
shorter and more realistic as Jo arrives, early in the morning, bloody and
beaten in the café Amelia cleans.
Kat Stewart is
compelling as the beleaguered Jo. She explores a range that runs from the
seductive to the shattered and victimised. Caldwell is
sympathetic as Amelia, the young Cockney who wants to avoid all the horror of
Jo's life but cannot seem to separate from her.
Miller plays the
repressed and trembling Jason as an obsessional but sad young man. Martin White's direction accentuates the strangeness of the play and the fragmented nature of
Tucker Green's dialogue.
The play intrudes on
these miserable and fallible individuals' lives, peeling back the layers of
their raw humanity. The lives of these
three are as flimsy and vulnerable as the walls that separate their flats.
The global social phenomenon
of women's beauty as a commodity is the subject of Call me Komachi.
Although the three
women written by Christie Nieman and played by Kaori Hamamoto are Japanese, we recognise similarities to
our own culture. Kinu, a sweet innocent schoolgirl, finds a new
best friend, Reika , in a new city at her new school. Reika has already lost
her innocence. She has chosen "Enjo Kosai", a sponsored relationship with an older
form of sexual usury of young girls became common in the mid-90s in Japan.
Young girls leave their details on a message line and men call and select one
to be their protegee - or victim.
Reika is cheeky and
charming. Her daddy adores her and calls her Komachi, the name of a great
beauty, a famous Japanese courtesan. Reika can indulge
her obsession with Valentino and
Vivian Westwood haute couture with finance from her middle aged sponsor.
alters when she realises she can no longer avoid sex with her sponsor at one of
Japan's Love Hotels. He pays for
her time and company. That means sex at lunchtime.
The third character
is a traditional Geisha. "I
was born a hundred years to late," she pines. She paints her face in the mask
of the Geisha, performs her Tea Ceremony. and reveals her sad, secret love.
This woman is an
object, the manifestation of "iroke", man's sexual fascination with
woman. Iroke focuses on the fragile impermanence of "beauty on the point
Kinu is the child
yet to become the object or victim of the male gaze that Reika and the Geisha
are. Kaori Hamamoto, a Japanese
woman who studied acting in Australia, plays all three characters
consecutively. She is convincing,
particularly as Reika, the naughty provocative fashion victim.
First time director,
Miki Oikawa allows Nieman's
monologues to take the focus. The problem is that there is little stage action
and sometimes too much talking. Unfortunately, when the
Geisha paints her face we are unable to see her or hear her clearly.
Although Call me
Komachi is theatrically limited, it is a fascinating glimpse into one part of the
world of women in Japan.
Music by John Thorn, Fiona Thorn Story
& lyrics by Guy Rundle John
Thorn, Fiona Thorn
off Chapel, July 17 to until
August 3, 2003
If you have ever
been hyped up about a new love affair - and let's face it, who hasn't? - All
Het Up will be a very entertaining night of song and humour for you.
Most of us have
listened to songs that touch a chord or tell our own story, particularly when they
are about love. We identify with the universal story of love requited and unrequited.
All Het Up is delightful
identification music theatre. The audience relates to the relationship
disasters and character foibles of the four protagonists.
Will (Colin Lane) is an emotional jellyfish
goes on a blind date to meet Kate, (Fiona Thorn) a bit of a loony who talks marriage on the
Kate's friend, Tash,
(Jane Badler) is a one of those hippy fascists who demand everyone believe in
their flaky ideas and is sexually adventurous. She meets Jack (Jeremy Stanford) in a club. He is
vain but groovy and good looking.
The love stories go
awry when the two couples finally get together and their sexual histories slap
them in the face.
The show is ninety
minutes of original songs with some hilarious lyrics that rival Gilbert and
Sullivan, Cole Porter and
Rogers and H. for their cunning
The songs cover a
range of styles from perky forties tunes, Cha Cha , romantic ballads, duets,
quartets and even one called Sex, the Madrigal - don't ask.
Titles include the Chat
Up Cantata, sung by all four, What
Goes on inside Their Brains, What About Those Pies sung by the men trying
to avoid talking abut being in love, Ring You Bastard which most women will recognise.
Thanks for the Angst
is a peppy number followed by When
the Bastard Becomes Tender Then I Melt. All are seamlessly linked
by some smart and witty direction by Wayne Hope.
The other linking factor
is the café waiter, played by Patrick Cronin. He is the chorus, the objective observer on the burgeoning
relationships of the two couples.
John Thorn, Musical
Director on piano, leads a small but exceptional ensemble of double bass, (Eli
Firestone OK) drums (Jeremy Hopkins) and Patrick Cronin joins them on
trumpet and percussion.
This show is clever,
funny, musically delightful and a whole load of fun for anyone who ever fell in
or out of love.
Book a ticket now
for Ian Wilding 's play, Below, by at La Mama. It has not only an exceptional
script but superb acting and skilful direction.
was part of the 2000 Griffin Theatre program in Sydney but in Melbourne it is to be seen at in the
intimate space of La Mama in an evocative design by Peter Mumford. It is a gripping, gritty
and often funny tale about Dougie (Joe Clements) and John, (Stewart Morritt ) two men from the North of England, and Dougie's
rather simple Aussie wife, Sarah (Lisa Angove ).
The two men work in
a coal mine in an unnamed Australian town. The labour is gruelling, the mine
dangerous and their spirits and health are failing.
Wilding peppers the darkness of their
world with some uproarious humour. It highlights the tragedy of their
relentlessly awful lives and the spider web in which they find themselves. Wilding unwraps the
story like a Russian doll. Each time we think we know their lives we aresurprised by yet another snippet of
information, another secret that one or other of the trio has withheld.
Dougie is a likeable
spiv who likes to visit the whorehouse and the pub at night. John is more reserved
and stays home with Sarah. There is more to this than Dougie knows. Their despair,
ignorance and desperation lead to a series of fatal choices on all their parts.
These people are doomed from the moment we see them kick off their shoes and
suck back a glass of stout.
Clements brings a warmth
and haplessness to Dougie, who, ironically, seems to hold the power in his home
but is victimised at the mine.
Morritt plays John
with a calm dignity and passion. He makes us hope John can achieve his dream to
leave the mine and the horrid town. As the submissive
and uncomprehending Sarah, Angove is sympathetic.
Roberts, allows the characters,
dialogue and relationships to do the work. He directs with a slick hand but
does not impose any unnecessary colour on this already vivid story.
The pace is cracking
and allows the natural dynamic range of the play to lead us on a helter skelter
journey with these maddening, lovable and damaged people.
The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, July 3 to August 2, 2003
Simon Phillips' production of Friedrich Durrenmatt's The
Visit is a theatrical feast marking the return to the Melbourne stage of
theatrical luminary, Zoe Caldwell. after a nineteen year absence. It is vibrant, funny
and dark, capturing impeccably Durrenmatt's grim cartoon style.
An ailing and aging
woman, Claire Zachanassian, (Caldwell) the wealthiest woman in the world, returns to
Gullen, her poverty-stricken
village, to offer financial assistance in return for vengeance against her
unfaithful former lover, Schill. (Alex Scott)
The village initially abhor her request
to kill Schill for her billion Deutschmarks but self-interest and greed rapidly
overcome their moral dilemma. The play is a fine
example of this 20th century Swiss playwright's "theatre of
Phillips directs it
with theatrical vision, rhythm and pace. He invites us in to a bizarre and
compelling world of absurd humour, quirky characters, dramatic tension,
intrigue and moral dilemma.
The cast of eighteen
is a well-oiled ensemble that draws together Australian actors of high calibre. In the foreground
stands Caldwell in vivid colour. Her presence is statuesque and riveting, her
timing precise and her voice fills the Playhouse.
playing Schill, Alex Scott returns to the MTC stage having been in the
company's first production in 1953 with Caldwell. Scott seems almost
not to be acting. His style is so subtle as the besieged old villager who must
pay with his life for his youthful negligence.
The entire ensemble
is exceptional playing eccentric characters but we cannot mention all eighteen
here. Lewis Fiander Kim Gyngell Tony Llewellyn-Jones Robert Menzies and
Alex Menglet play marvellously heightened characters.
Julie Forsyth and John-Paul Hussey provide a delightful clown pair and the
children of Schill. A high point
is Jim Daly and Bruce Kerr as the blind eunuch musicians.
Gabriela Tylesova designs the stage like a giant comic
book. All is black and white - until Madame Zachanassian arrives in full technicolour.
The stage landscape is lit evocatively by Nick Schlieper.
Ian McDonald's composition
is a clever twist on Germanic music incorporating accordions and brass and beer
house songs and dances.
The Visit is a fine
example of Durrenmatt's play shaped by the hands of a contemporary director and
a truly exciting ensemble.
Ben Ellis's writer's note states that the role of Falling Petals is "to make reality of metaphor" and suggests he wants to dispel stereotypes of the Bush.. He is unsuccessful in many ways.
The script is clumsily constructed, repetitive, inconsistent and often ridiculous. Its style flip-flops between realism, cartoon, social satire, parody and contemporary grotesque. Its repeated attempts to shock us with explicit sexual action fail perhaps because we are jaded or unshockable.
There is little to recommend this play apart from a valiant effort by director, Tom Healey, to make it up beat, interesting lighting by Daniel Zika, a simple graffiti littered set (Anna Borghesi), chaotic sound (David Franzke) sand traverse staging.
The story is incoherent and characters are relentlessly dislikeable. Very quickly we care about no one and nothing.
Initially, there is potential for compassion or even a clear narrative intention. We hear about the undiagnosed death of a child. More mysterious deaths and panic ensue amongst the townspeople.
Teenagers, Phil (Paul Reichstein) and Tania (Caroline Craig) are desperate to do well in Year 12 escape the small town life to go to university in Melbourne. Their schoolmate, Sally, (Melia Naughton) is uninterested in change. To save themselves and their tourism, the adults banish their children to bungalows or the elements.
The falling petals too obviously represent the deaths. Dying children may be a metaphor for the death of the rural sector but the parallel is laboured and awkward.
Characters are inconsistent. Phil tilts between blind ambition, weakness, obscenity, naïve virginal prudery and outright violence and verbal abuse. We see them travel no logical journey.
Sally goes feral and insane for no apparent reason. No other children seem to have had these symptoms. The panic provides an excuse for a lot of shouting and emoting. Tania is a shrieking, sexually driven harpy. None of these people have any redeeming features.
The actors do their best with a shabby and thin script and repetitive dialogue.
Melita Jurisic and James Wardlawprovide a range of adult characters but they are written with no depth or style so it is impossible to do much with them.
The message we are left with is that the most self-centred, arrogant, abusive and angry person will survive. This is an expensive piece of bad theatre.