Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Baggy Pants by Sue Giles, June 29, 2004

 Baggy Pants  by Sue Giles 
North Melbourne Town Hall, June 29 to July 10, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Baggy Pants is a visual theatre play for children over five years although there were plenty of younger children attending and attentive at this performance.

The play is under an hour and designed for school holiday family viewing. The two central characters are a pair of baggy brown pants and a little white singlet. Baggy Pants and Singlet are friends but the more adventurous Singlet runs off to discover the world with a naughty and provocative neon Coat Hanger.

Not only are the lead characters animated articles clothing, the entire set is comprised of old clothes. They are suspended on clothes lines and are piled in heaps on the floor. There are even two clothing monster characters who clump about changing scenery and gallumph in piles of loose clothing.

Baggy Pants, or Trousers as he is sometimes called, pursues his little white friend through bizarre lands.

There is a world of Hip Hop clothing creatures that dance to rap music and another is inhabited by a fake fur coat that behaves like an operatic diva.

White underpants fluttering like butterflies elicited giggles from the children and two little sock and bonnet critters are very cute.

There is a clan of soccer hooligan-like trouser that cheer and chant as a pair of trouser creatures do a dance off.

Singlet follows Coat Hanger up a mountain, into a world of flying, crying baby clothing and then to a dangerous metal coat hanger land with a giant metallic Queen who takes a liking to Singlet.

The final rescue and reunion between Singlet and her loyal little friend Baggy Pants, is warm and charming.

The design, by Vanessa Beck, is fascinating and puppet construction by Graeme Davis is ingenious. A complex sound composition by Jennie Swain helps establishes location.  Sue Giles direction is clever and appropriate for the young audience. Puppeteers Gerard Van Dyck, Megan Cameron, Justin Holland and Jacob Boehme are skilful.

The narrative is a little unclear but this seems not to deter the children who are riveted from the beginning - all except one faint-hearted three-year-old who was carried out crying " it's too scary."

LOOK FOR: The trouser soccer clan

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 26 June 2004

Amigos, David Williamson, MTC, June 26, 2004

Amigos  by David Williamson 
Melbourne Theatre Company
 Playhouse, Vic Arts Centre,   June 26, to July 31, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is something hollow about David Williamson's latest comedy, Amigos. It lacks heart and leaves us feeling we have eaten nothing but soup.

Amigos is peopled with dislikeable, self-promoting, shouting characters all suffering from Status Anxiety. It is a play about power, competition, jealousy, betrayal and friends one would not wish on one's worst enemy.

Jim (Gary Day) is a callous, shameless, sickeningly wealthy investment banker who prides himself on destroying people's livelihoods with his corporate takeovers.

In 1968, Jim and his three rowing cronies won a bronze medal for Australia at the Olympics. One team member died from AIDS, another, Stephen (Garry McDonald) is grieving for his dead son.

Dick, (Tony Llewellyn-Jones) a successful heart surgeon, is the only one of the team that Jim bothers to see. They call themselves friends but they deceive and manipulate each other. Dick is a Companion of Australia and is now on the Honours selection panel. The unscrupulous Jim will do anything, including blackmail, to get an AC after his name.

When Jim invites Dick and his wife, Hilary, (Wendy Hughes) to his extravagant beach house, things go awry Jim's trophy wife, Sophie (Natasha Elisabeth Beaumont) and Hilary are in a bitter stand off.

When Stephen, the last of the team, arrives uninvited, he triggers a series of revelations of long held secrets and everyone runs for cover. The plays gets more interesting at this point.

Jim has no redeeming features. He is an ugly corporate raider, his wife is an ex-hooker and fortune hunter. Dick and Hilary boast of their positive qualities but are no more likeable. Only Stephen has a moral core and even he takes his petty revenge.

The plot lacks substance, subtlety or credibility and relies too heavily on unlikely revelations, secrets and cheap gags. The final scenes are disconnected from, and unbelievable in the context of the earlier scenes. The pace of the second half is more varied.

Williamson's social satire deteriorates into cheap jokes and two-dimensional characters and the dialogue feels unauthentic particularly for the women.

A striking set by Michael Scott-Mitchell features painterly backdrops behind stark, stony walls although the conveyor belt carrying actors and furniture is over-used.

Director Jennifer Flowers, struggles to find any subtlety or variation in this script and the cast of fine actors fight with flimsy dialogue to find any depth for their characters.

LOOK FOR: Michael Scott-Mitchell's design

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 25 June 2004

Afterplay by Brian Friel, June 25, 2004

Afterplay  by Brian Friel
Stable Productions
fortyfivedownstairs, June 25 to July 11, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is rare and energising to see skilful writing, acting and direction in the one production. Afterplay is such an experience.

The writing and performances are deceptively simple. A man and a woman meet for the second time in a café in Moscow around the turn of the 20th century. They chat and reminisce about their respective and apparently separate lives. What makes it delicious is that we are in on a secret the pair will never know. They are both characters from two different Anton Chekhov plays.

Irish playwright, Brian Friel, bases his play on a chance meeting, twenty years after Chekhov's plays, of Andrey Prozorov (Lewis Fiander) and Sonya Serebriakov (Lyndel Rowe). The beauty of the play is its quiet, almost melancholic, Chekhovian quality. Friel pays homage to the Russian playwright.

Not only does Friel give Chekhov's much-beloved characters a prolonged life, but he revives Chekhov's own style of language, quirkiness and unpredictability in ordinary people.

Sonya the plain and simple farm manager from uncle Vanya recalls her uncle, the damage done to the farm y her father visit with his beautiful young bride Elena and her unfailing love for Doctor Michael Astrov.

Andrey, the promising older brother from The Three Sisters, still plays violin and is adored by his now middle aged sisters. All his potential has long faded and he resorts to little fictions about his life to impress Sonya.

Rowe and Fiander perform these complex characters with impeccable technique and great detail. We see every inner emotion play across their faces as they inhabit the present and remember their pasts. Rowe is still and warm as the resigned Sonya and Fiander ripples with nervousness and vulnerability as Andrey.

The wide, narrow space at fortyfivedownstairs is set with only four old wooden café tables. The action, if we can call it that, takes place at the tables.

The action is emotional rather than physical. Afterplay is a sneak view of the psychological landscape of this couple as they struggle with their demons and fight to advance beyond their pasts. We hope they will fall in love, that there will finally be a happy ending for these jaded survivors of Chekhov's harsh world.

Perhaps we will be disappointed or perhaps, this time, the Afterplay will enable them to be find happiness.

LOOK FOR: The pure and detailed acting between the words.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 17 June 2004

The Pelican Solos by Trefor Gare, June 17, 2004

The Pelican Solos by Trefor Gare 
by Eclectic Pelican
Chapel off Chapel, June 17 to 27, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Man's historic fascination with flight becomes an obsession in Icarus, Naked With Feathers , Part One of a program called The Pelican Solos.

Trefor Gare is alone on stage in Icarus but plays multiple roles. The central character is a dotty professor, a lecturer in Mediaeval physics, who is engaged in a university research project to develop a heavier than air flying machine. Gare also plays the professor's faithful assistant who secretly dotes on him.

Another character is the pompous Dean of the faculty who summons the professor into his office to admonish or praise him for his mad flights of fancy. Another is a chirpy, blues singing bird who is captured by the Professor who believes he can plunder its secrets of flight. The bird's song is a peculiar collage of contemporary music.

Gare performs on a an empty stage with a beautifully rendered canvas backdrop derived from Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings of man and his flying machines. One of the most successful elements of the play is Gare's physical creation through mime of one flying machine after another: canvas and wood, feathers and glue and, finally, four steam engines.

The Professor cannot penetrate the aerial secrets of the bird he caged nor of Leonardo's Renaissance designs for magnificent flying machines.

When each flight fails, Gare uses an effective theatrical device. As the professor leaps, a spotlight focuses on Gare's two fingers that become a micro image of the Professor falling through air to earth.

There is a wonderful moment of lighting magic when Gare flaps his wings and his shadow on the Leonardo backdrop appears to be a bird in flight.

The multiple characters could be better defined. As Gare shifts from Professor to Assistant, from Dean to Bird, his voices need greater differentiation and physicality could be clearer in each change. Some of the dialogue needs editing and a more extensive soundscape might fill a few flat moments.

Gare is an engaging and warm performer who steps in and out of the theatrical landscape to guide us through his world.

Icarus, Naked With Feathers gives us a quirky insight into the obsession of pre-aeroplane inventors with flight.

Part Two of the Pelican Solos, King's Player, runs from 23 to 27 June.

LOOK FOR: The illusion of flight in shadow

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 10 June 2004

Mishima in the City: Duets of Desire, Liminal, Jun e10, 2004

Mishima in the City: Duets of Desire
Stage 1: Kantan and Sotoba  Komachi  by Yukio Mishima 
by Liminal Theatre
Yarraville, 10-20 June, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

With these productions of Kantan and Sotoba Komachi, emerging company, Liminal, embarks on a series of eight plays by Yukio Mishima. Contemporary Western artists embrace Mishima, a 20th century Japanese writer who committed Hari Kiri in 1971.

His plays draw on traditional Noh Theatre stories, but Mishima's own obsessions with death and desire are at their core. The central characters in both plays are unwilling to live fully. The language is spare and poetic and the plays are riddled with the angst of modern urban humanity.

Directors, Mary Sitarenos and Robert Draffin,  and the ensemble of seven performers, penetrate the inner world of Mishima's characters. Both plays have a languid quality and an underlying rhythmic pulsation of sensuality. The cavernous space of the run down old Yarraville Ballroom lends itself to dream-like images, shadows and ghostly appearances from its dim edges.

In Kantan, Jiro,  (Simon Aylott) a young man, visits Kiku (Alan Knoepfler) an old serving woman of his family. He is weary of life and demands of the submissive, frightened Kiku that he sleeps on her mysterious pillow. What follows is a fascinating dream world of rich imagery.

Sotoba Komachi features another young man, a Poet, (Luke Mullins) who meets Komachi, a ninety-nine year old former beauty who warns him that to call her beautiful would mean his death. The cast represents her as five female archetypes. (Jodie Harris, Paul Robertson, Ivanka Sokol, Amanda Falson, Knoepfler)

This is a seamless ensemble with shared performance vocabulary and fine physical and vocal skills. Knoepfler and Mullins are particularly compelling.

Luke Hails' stark and dramatic lighting design heightens the other worldliness of the plays. In Kantan, characters in dim light are backlit, creating shadows and silhouettes or heir faces are framed in a spotlight. Attendants who crawl around the floor with hand held lamps provide much of the close focus lighting in Sotoba Komachi. Darryl Cordell's set is striking and costumes by Jessie Willow Tucker are complex and beautiful.

Both plays are underscored by evocative live music by Jethro Woodward.

LOOK FOR: The five female archetypes in Sotoba Komachi.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 9 June 2004

Re-Stumping Suburbia, La Mama, June 9, 2004

 Re-Stumping Suburbia 
by Kieran Carroll and Mark E. Lawrence  
 La Mama 9 to  20 June, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The stories of four characters comprise Re-Stumping Suburbia. Their lives never intersect but their monologues are interwoven so that we presume they will.

The Man, (Mark E Lawrence) a failed poet, sits on a toilet atop a tall platform looming over the other three characters and us. He methodically peels and eats bananas - lots of bananas - and slurps from a wine bottle.

In various stages of undress, he complains of the loss of his youthful poetic potential and the rampant success of his colleagues and friends. Below his platform is a Woman (Meredith Lewis) languorously sipping wine and preparing for a party. It is 1983, she wears her favourite lime green scarf and travels by tram to the Carlton party with her friend.

The Girl (Jane E Thompson) is eighteen, middle class and a heavy drug user. She awaits a phone call while she tells of her drug and sex addiction and consequent arrest. The final character, Ajax, (Jacob Oberman) is a violent drug dealer who visits parties and clubs to ply his trade and assert his power. He pounds up and down the stairs intermittently in search of drugs.

The acting lacks light and shade and Lynne Ellis's direction seems too static for such a wordy piece. It needs some air breathed into both the production and the script.

There are occasional witty lines in the script by Kieran Carroll and Mark E Lawrence. There are laughs of recognition at references to inner urban life.

The Man's wallowing in the numbing boredom of his life is often funny. "I try," he says, "to guess the exact minute of the hard rubbish collection." The characters are clear presentations of a particular part of our underground culture but none is likeable or sympathetic. The party-going Woman is the least fully drawn. However, none of the four is a three dimensional character.

Jason Nelson plays sonorous jazz trombone throughout the short play. The music is interesting but often makes the actors inaudible.

Each of the four monologues has a simple story arc but the combination of the four never really satisfies.

LOOK FOR: The bananas

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 5 June 2004

Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, Melbourne Opera, June 5, 2004

Rigoletto  by Giuseppe Verdi 
Melbourne Opera Company

Where and When: June 5 to 13 June, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 5

Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto is a commendable sequel to Madame Butterfly for Melbourne Opera Company's 2004 season.

Armando Krieger  conducts the Melbourne Opera Orchestra with taste, control and sensitivity. On alternate evenings Resident Conductor, Greg Hocking conducts.  Leading roles alternate performances also.

Verdi wrote Rigoletto in forty days in 1851. It is an energetic and masterly score with arias recognisable even to non-cognoscenti.

The hunchback, Rigoletto, is jester to the rakish Duke of Mantua (Aydin Ustik) who violates anyone's wife or daughter. Rigoletto mercilessly mocks everyone until Count Monterone (Manfred Pohlenz) curses him for his heartless ridicule of Monterone's daughter's abuse.

Gilda, (Vanessa West) Rigoletto's sweet daughter, he protects like a precious jewel only to face her abduction and ruin at the hands of the Duke and his vile courtiers. In the title role is Andrea Rola whose warm baritone was only minimally affected by a recent virus.

A feature of the production is West as Gilda and the delicate, flute-like tone of her sweet and controlled soprano. She is subtle and understated in the role. West sings Gilda's love aria, Caro Nome, with perfect simplicity and naivete. Her duets with Rola are compelling, as is her love duet with Ustik.

Ustik has a soaring and bright lyric quality to his tenor voice. His version of La Donna e' Mobile (Women are fickle) is rich and passionate with a rivetting final held note.

In the last act we have a treat with mezzo-soprano, Roxane Hislop, singing Maddalena, the seductive sister of the hired assassin, Sparafucile (Jonathan Truscott). Her voice has warmth and power and her performance is convincing.

Director, Greg Carroll, is directing his first opera, which, at times, is evident. The production works best when he concentrates on the sexuality in the play during the chorus scenes, focussing on the seduction and abuse of innocents. The leads, particularly Rola, seem physically static on stage and do not fully inhabit the characters while singing Verdi's wonderful music.

Melbourne Opera Company works on a simple set designed by Peter Corrigan with wonderfully dramatic and often stark lighting by Paul Jackson. The focus is always on the music rather than set or costuming which is a welcome change.

LOOK FOR: A beautiful rendition of Caro Nome by Vanessa West.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 3 June 2004

Happy New, Brendan Cowell, June 3, 2004

Happy New by Brendan Cowell
 Store Room, 3 to 20 June, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In Brendan Cowell's Happy New, directed with energy by Ben Harkin, the compelling part of the true story emerges very late.

Two brothers, Danny, (Dai Paterson) and Lyle, (Angus Sampson) were left locked in a chicken pen by their mother for months. Not only did the 10 and 12 year olds eat all the chickens, but they adopted chicken behaviour.

Cowell's script accentuates the absurdity rather than the tragedy of this incredible story.
It is New Year's Eve in the boys' cramped apartment. They are now young men. They engage in a mutual cleansing ritual, concoct a disgusting celebratory punch and plan unlikely New Year's resolutions.

There is an obvious pecking order - Danny is top chicken. Lyle sits subserviently listening and deferring to him. There are hints about their having lived in dirt and being afraid to go outside. Disappointingly, the history of the boys is only dealt with at the end.

The second half is far more satisfying when we see Danny and Lyle as little boys trapped in their coop. Their damage and weirdness becomes clear and we care about them. The structure of the play is awkward. Much of the play is a series of ranting monologues.

Danny's opening rave is a muddled account of his desire for the Australian Dream: a dog, a filofax, children and love. Lyle rambles about being a corporate executive with an office by the photocopier. After his first kiss from Prue, he launches into a violent rave.

Danny' girlfriend, Prue, (Jude Beaumont) enters with a lengthy, vitriolic attack on the unfaithful Danny.

These absurd diatribes are often entertaining and Cowell has a flair for jamming on an idea until it is exhausted. However, his style is often verbose. The script needs a vigorous edit. It is so riddled with metaphor and analogy that it becomes impenetrable at times.

Sampson as Lyle, surprises us with his shift from cuddly and naïve to raging thug. Patterson is engaging but seems uncertain in the less defined role of Danny.

As Prue, Beaumont is a sexy fireball, believable as a self-seeking television executive. We wonder why Prue, a reality television producer who interviewed the boys immediately after their coop experience, is still visiting them. 

 Let us just say, all is revealed in the final moments.

LOOK FOR: The boys in the chicken coop

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 2 June 2004

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), June 2, 2004

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
by Anne-Marie McDonald 
 La Mama, Courthouse,  June 2 to 19, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) could be perceived as either a parody or an homage to Shakespeare's tragedies.

Canadian writer, Anne-Marie McDonald, uses excerpts from both Othello and Romeo and Juliet as the pivot of her play. However, much more of the script is her extrapolation in the style of Shakespeare's language. The play is intended to be a comedy but McDonald's dialogue is often slow and florid and Colin McPherson's production lacks the requisite comic timing, pace and rhythm. It emerges as a rather tepid farce with a few scenes that grab our attention.

Constance Ledbelly (Gail Beker) is a timid, aging Shakespearian scholar who ghost writes academic papers for her vain, incompetent professor (Chris Bunworth). Her own PhD is a very shaky thesis based upon an encrypted document written by an alchemist (Don Bridges). Constance believes this manuscript contains the comic source of Shakespeare's tragedies.

The premise that a tragedy becomes a comedy on the twist of a plot is an interesting but unoriginal idea. Presumably under the influence of the nicotine-chewing alchemist, a disillusioned Constance falls into her rubbish bin and arrives in the midst of Othello. Later, she drops in on Romeo and Juliet. (Kevin Dee, Fabienne Parr) In both plays she arrives at the crucial plot point that turns the play to tragedy.

By interrupting both plays, not only does she turn the narrative into a comedy but she becomes a character in the play. If the alchemy analogy is to be acknowledged, somehow this is a way of turning dross into gold.

There are some cleverly wrought sections of poetic dialogue but much of the script is over-written, laden with multiple metaphors or Constance's odd and irrelevant reminiscences. It is never made clear how alchemy relates to making Shakespeare's plays into farce.

Beker looks uncomfortable throughout in this difficult role.

The rest of the cast is uneven but Georgina Capper makes Desdemona a feisty warrior princess and Bridges has some good comic cameos.

This script never fulfils its promise. It is both too obvious and too confused in style and narrative and lacks the broad comic style that might make it work theatrically.

LOOK FOR: Georgina Capper's feisty, fighting Desdemona

By Kate Herbert