Monday, 15 December 2003

Best & Worst of Theatre in Melbourne in 2003

The Best and Worst of MelbourneTheatre in 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert, Dec 15, 2003
Published in Herald Sun, Dec 2003

This year may have seen no exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime nights at the theatre but there were a number of fine pieces of work. Unfortunately, as always, there were a few screamers dotted amongst the goodies.

One name kept coming up in the 'best' column for both small and large companies: Tom Wright.  With director, Nick Harrington, Wright is responsible for two extraordinary, moving and grim plays at La Mama, both dealing with prisoners on Death Row in America.

This Is A True Story  featured Wright as a hapless, confused, uneducated man awaiting the Death Chamber in Mississippi.  It is a true story, which made the experience more eerie and mesmerising as Wright, in the dim, cavernous space, tells his desperate tale.

Wright and Harrington receive a second accolade for the companion piece, Lorelei,  another true story. Anna Galvin  was luminous as Lorilei, a woman with a big heart who is trying to save from Death Row the paedophile (Wright) who murdered her son.

Wright receives more high praise for sheer audacity and good fun for Babes in the Wood,  (Playbox) a political, absurd, rollicking good night out.

The Melbourne Theatre Company had several winners. Frozen  was another chilling story of a paedophile with compelling acting from Helen Morse,  Frank Gallacher  and Belinda McClory.  

Matt Cameron's  Ruby Moon  (Playbox) was another challenging play about a missing child.

Blue Room  (MTC) wins the sexiest play award for Marcus Graham's  impeccable performance while The Visit  (MTC) boasted the cream of Melbourne's older acting fraternity.

Bell Shakespeare  scored highly with its new Hamlet  while Love, Valour and Compassion was an hilarious, sometimes poignant play about seven gay men. (Midsumma Festival)

Several individual performances merit a mention. Canadian actress, Marie Brassard gave a consummate performance in the solo show, Jimmy.  Jonathan Hardy was hilarious and moving in Ron Elisha's A Tree Falling.  In Two,  another Elisha play, Bruce Kerr and Anastasia Malinoff  created a rivetting relationship.

Kenneth Ransom  was captivating as a genuinely likeable and charming serial killer on Death Row in Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train  (Red Stitch.

Jean Paul Hussey  was a human dynamo on stage in his solo work, Chocolate Monkey.

Another La Mama production, Below, deserved far more attention than it received. It was a gripping, gritty and often funny tale with superb acting, writing and direction.

There were fewer clangers this year. The musical, Cabaret, was not all we hoped it to be and Lisa McCune was not up to the lead role.

There are those who disagree with my assessment of the script of Falling Petals (Ben Ellis - Playbox) It is a play that won awards but it is poorly constructed and inconsistent. The director and actors did their best to make it work but audiences were disappointed.

One Night in the Well,  at The Courthouse, was a messy trio of short pieces. The music and video designs were effective but the disparate elements were not sufficiently well integrated.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,  a theatrical dinosaur by Dance Encore Productions,  New Zealand,  took the award for outdated writing, choreography and jokes. However, the little kids participated cheerfully and were more tolerant than my two companions who left apologetically in a hurry at interval.

The War Against Short Trousers was thin and dated political satire with predictable jokes peppered with the odd clever satirical moment. It was redeemed by a couple of good performances.

Another fringe show, Sideways, about two low-level drug dealers, suffered from too much talk and too little space for silent stage action or comedy.

Given the news headlines these days, the fact that Death Row, paedophiles and serial killers featured this year is not surprising but it is disturbing. Strangely, they made some of the most gripping nights in the theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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