Monday, 19 July 2004

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bell Shakespeare, July 19, 2004

A Midsummer Night's Dream  
by William Shakespeare
Bell Shakespeare Company
Alexander Theatre, Monash University, July 19, 200, touring show
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Bell Shakespeare production of A Midsummer Night's Dream captures the playful quality of the play.

Anna Volska, directs with flair Shakespeare's jaunty and popular comedy about love.

She places it on Jennie Tate's design of a round and empty stage space defined by enormous lengths of sheer white curtaining.

Characters appear and disappear through them, secrete themselves between their layers and create fairy bowers from swathes of fabric.

Most of the ensemble plays multiple roles. They are members of the Duke Theseus' court, (Luciano Martucci) of Titania's fairy tribe, (Michelle Doake) and of the group of tradesmen.

All three worlds are clearly delineated by both character and action.

Shakespeare employed every trick of the comedy-romance genre to entertain his audience.

We see confused identities, magical transformation, love potion, thwarted lovers and strange bedfellows.

But it is a love story on many levels. The Duke will marry Hipppolyta. Two other pairs of lovers must through trials in the fairy forest before their love interests are fulfilled.

Titania, and her Fairy King, Oberon, ( Martucci) are at odds and he taunts her with his magic and causes her to be infatuated with Bottom, the Weaver, (Mark Brady) who is transformed into an ass.

Volska creates a dreamy magical simply staged world of love and magic. The scene in which the four lovers fight over who will love who is very funny.

Little Hermia (Georgia Adamson) confronts gangly Helena (Kate Box). 

Demetrius (Timothy Walter) and Lysander (Simon Bossell) who so loved Hermia, now entranced, struggle over which of them will have Helena.

The fairy bower scenes have a light airiness in the constant movement and childlikeness of the fairy community.

Martucci is a regal and classical Theseus and Oberon. Doake is passionate and provocative as Titania.

But the high point, as always in this play, is the final royal performance at the court by the mechanicals of their 'tragical comedy' about Pyramus and Thisbe

Mark Brady as the insufferably conceited Bottom, is a consummate clown and makes a feast of the role's comic potential.

As his loved one in the play, Timothy Walter meets his level of clowning with a supremely comical death scene.

The entire ensemble has enormous fun and plays the comedy with great skill.

This is a merry, accessible, charming and hilarious production.

LOOK FOR: The death scene of Pyramus and Thisbe.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 16 July 2004

Iron by Rona Munro, Red Stitch, July 16, 2004

Iron by Rona Munro 
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Rear 2 Chapel St., St. Kilda, July 16 to August 8, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The quality of Rona Munro's complex and moving play, Iron, is equalled by the performances by Jenny Lovell (Faye) and Olivia Connolly (Josie).

Bruce Kerr directs the actors with a focus on the intense relationship.

Lovell is passionate as Faye, finding a depth and range of emotion and vocal and physical detail that makes the character credible and three-dimensional.

Faye is serving a life sentence for killing her husband fifteen years earlier. Her daughter, Josie, appears unannounced one visiting day and the pair embarks on a journey to get to know each other after years of separation.

Josie cannot remember anything of her life before her father' murder. She craves a past and only her incarcerated mother can provide it since the death of her paternal grandmother.

Their path is littered with obstacles. Each wears her guilt and loss like a shroud.

Lovell creates a potent sense of Faye's anxious, compulsive nature. The behaviour reflects her institutionalisation in her prison environment.

As Josie, Connolly balances the sense of a motherless child with the questing and competent twenty-five year old woman.

Verity Charlton and Ross Thompson are a fine support. They play two guards who are the closest thing Faye has had to a relationship during her imprisonment.

Charlton is credible as the chippy single mum, Sheila while Thompson, as the philosophical fatherly George, is delightful.

The dialogue is masterly. Munro writes a powerful, resonant scene when the two women meet for the first time over the visitors' room table.

 Faye is awkward, distracted and confused by Josie's reappearance in her life but Josie wants answers. Slowly and imperceptibly, they find their comfort zone.

Munro shows us their unfolding world beginning warmly and then turning to dust.

Josie cannot accept that Faye wants her to recount only wild, fun events in her life so that Faye can live vicariously through her.

After months of visiting, Josie's need to delve into her mother's ugly memories and her attempts to force Faye to appeal her sentence, create irreparable rifts between them.

Peter Mumford's stark design evokes the grim prison environment with simplicity.

The play is a tragedy but it is edged with great humour and humanity and in the hands of these actors, it lives

LOOK FOR: wonderful character development of Faye, played by Jenny Lovell.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 14 July 2004

Minefields and Miniskirts, July 14, 2004

Minefields and Miniskirts
adapted by Terence O'Connell from a book by Siobhan McHugh 
by Playbox Theatre
Merlin Theatre,  July 14 to 31, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Women in war are often a neglected chapter in history books.

Siobhan McHugh's book, Minefields and Miniskirts, is a volume of interviews with over fifty women who were part of the Vietnam War. Director, Terence O'Connell, adapted these recollections, merging them to form five Australian women whose lives were transformed by Vietnam.

The show is less a play and more a series of monologues linked by songs of the sixties. Most of the cast of five are singer-actors. Songs are a rich component of the evening. There could have been more songs and fewer monologues. The structure of monologues delivered to audience or to each other becomes repetitive.

The women's stories are arranged almost thematically: departure, naïve first impressions, witnessing death, romance, the Vietnamese, soldiers, children.

Finally, they tell of the chaos of returning home and the long-term effects of war. All are very young. Each experiences the death, injury, maiming and psychological damage of this senseless war.

Debra Byrne is the Nurse, a young Catholic woman who is bored in a hospital at home and wants some excitement.

The Journalist, played by Tracey Bartram, escapes from writing for the women's pages of a magazine to find that truthful stories of Vietnam are unwanted by her wire agency. The Volunteer, (Robyn Arthur) is a Christian dreaming of being a missionary like Ingrid Bergman in the movies and becomes enamoured of the Vietnamese.

The wartime Entertainer (Wendy Stapleton) is a trooper who sings all over the war zone for soldiers and never gets paid. The only woman who never sees Vietnam is the Veteran's Wife (Tracey Mann). Her story is about the effect of her husband's war trauma on her life.

This is not to say the stories are not moving and sometimes funny and often painful.

Phillip Lethlean's lighting is a potent component, establishing mood and temperament, location and time. The matchstick blinds and slow fans of Catherine Raven's design are a strong evocation of Vietnam.

Leaving on a Jet Plane, Circle Game and One Tin Soldier are all evocative of the period as well as the atmosphere of the play. Arthur, Byrne and Stapleton are compelling in the musical vignettes.

The songs are a welcome change and  but here needs to be more theatrical form to these stories to make this a play.

LOOK FOR: Debra Byrne's beautiful version of Saigon Bride

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 13 July 2004

Toby by Abe Pogos, July 13, 2004

Toby  by Abe Pogos 
La Mama, Carlton Courthouse July 13 to  31, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Abe Pogos's play, Toby, is a peculiar hybrid. 
 It merges a non-specific historical period with science fiction and comedy with underlying themes of outsiders. It works more often because of Catherine Hill's slick direction than Pogos's writing although the script does have some merit.

Toby (Tim Stitz) is like the village idiot. He lives rough outside of an unspecified town and is hounded by the sheriffs. Duke, (Adam Cass) wears the sheriff's badge and is obsessed with rounding up every gypsy in the region. The problem is that there are no gypsies. They are either a myth or have been exterminated long ago.

His younger sheriff, Christie, (Christopher Brown) feigns protection of Toby but he is the smiling villain of the piece. He wrestles with his childhood friend, the valiant solider, Garth, (Benjamin Fuller) and competes for Garth's warm-hearted love, Joan. (Tess Butler)

Hill keeps the pace rapid, music perky and scene changes seamless in this play that reads like a parable about difference and prejudice. With the performers, Hill finds an appropriate balance between the comic and the bizarre.

Brown plays the villainous Christie with relish and his character gives the play its core. Stitz is consistent as Toby but the tone and rhythm of the characters needs more variation. Adam Cass makes meal of the confused gypsy-hunter, Duke. His decline from powerful figure to ragged, filthy creature is enjoyable. Butler, Fuller and Janine Watson are competent in support roles.

Peter Mumford's set is a delight. The stage is in traverse - audience sits on both sides of the action - and the floor is thickly littered with plane tree leaves. Looming over the heads of the characters are branches and falling leaves. The forest is ominous.

The strangest and least effective components of Toby relate to some fleshy anemone-like tree parasites. And their relationship to a silver alien that appears occasionally towards the end of the play. These seem to be controlling the world of the characters for some inexplicable reason.

Toby is very funny in parts and the energy of the ensemble is strong and carries the play to tis rather odd ending.

LOOK FOR: Peter Mumford's leafy design

By Kate Herbert

Saturday, 10 July 2004

Actors for Refugees-Something to Declare, Michael Gurr (Article), July 10, 2004

Article/Interview about Something to Declare by Michael Gurr 
Actors for Refugees
Writer: Kate Herbert, July 2004

The term "queue jumping" took on a whole new slant while waiting for Something to Declare, a play based on testimony from asylum seekers.

The queue ran from the Melbourne Town Hall along Swanston, up Collins and into Russell.

An astonishing crowd, over 2000, flocked to support asylum seekers at this performance by Actors for Refugees on Thursday July 8.

Actors for Refugees is a loose coalition of actors who perform this play in order to raise awareness of the plight of refugees.

They did not charge for tickets but made $10,000 from donations at this one performance, says Christine Bacon, producer of Something to Declare.

When the group receives an email requesting a performance of Something to Declare, the wheels start rolling.

All you need is a date, venue and an audience to book the show., says Bacon.

Playwright, Michael Gurr who compiled the script, says, "Someone finds four actors and a musician and puts them in a car. It's a show that can be done in a shed or in the Melbourne Town Hall."

Actors, Alice Garner and Kate Atkinson came up with the notion of Actors for Refugees while working on Sea Change around September 11 and the Tampa.

They realised, says Bacon, "Actors can tell individual people's story …use their public profile…and counter the myths about asylum seekers."

After working with a smaller project for some time, Actors For Refugees approached Michael Gurr to develop a bigger project with a formal structure.

"I disappeared under a paper storm of research," says Gurr. "There was more research material than I have ever seen."

The material comprised letters and testimony from asylum seekers, reports from doctors who worked with refugees and psychologists and government information,

Gurr's brief, he laughs, was "To go away and turn it into an hour that's not depressing."

This says Gurr, "Is a critical point…If you leave having your indignation refreshed then the next question is, 'What can I do?'

"The central trick of this government, " He continues, "is to keep people faceless and voiceless…and hard to identify with."

"Actors can put faces and voices to these people…My imagination can't create anything more powerful than the truth."

Director, Bruce Myles with actors, Helen Morse, Pamela Rabe, Alison Whyte and Daniela Farinacci mounted this version with Alice Garner and others providing music.

The script is read rather than enacted. Gurr weaves transcripts of interviews with refugees amongst facts about asylum seekers, politicians' sound bites and references to government policy.

The spine of the play is a gripping story told by an Iraqi woman, one of only 45 of 400 asylum seekers who survived a sinking boat.

The gruesome details of the most punitive detention centres in our lucky country bring gasps of shock from the sympathetic audience.

We are reminded of children in detention and of people living on temporary protection visas with no rights and no security and treated as criminals instead of victims.

The play recently performed in Queenscliff, Perth, Brisbane and at Parliament House, Canberra for Federal politicians.

For information on Actors For Refugees or to book Something to Declare for your school, town or community group, contact or look at their website

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Something to Declare by Michael Gurr, July 8, 2004

Something to Declare by Michael Gurr 
By Actors for Refugees
Melbourne Town Hall, Thursday 8 July, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 8, 2004

The term "queue jumping" takes on a whole new slant while waiting for this play about refugees.

The queue for Something to Declare ran from the Melbourne Town Hall up Swanston and Collins and into Russell. The Hall was filled almost to capacityAbout 1500 people flocked to support the asylum seekers and the Actors For Refugees performance.

Four respected actors, (Helen Morse, Pamela Rabe, Alison Whyte and Daniela Farinacci.) and director, Bruce Myles, gave their time and commitment to this performance. There is also a singing group of six and four musicians who provide song before and after the play and music underscoring the readings.

The script is read rather than enacted. Writer, Michael Gurr, uses verbatim transcripts of interviews with refugees in detention in Australia.
He weaves between them snatches of facts and figures about asylum seekers, politicians' sound bites and bits of government policy.

The balance of these components is impeccable and Gurr's own occasional interpolated comments are witty and resonate with the audience. The spine of the play is the gripping and emotional story told by an Iraqi woman who was on a boat that sank as it approached Australia. All but 45 of the 400 smuggled asylum seekers drowned.

Helen Morse reads this role with great sensitivity and skill. She allows us to feel the woman's pain as she floats, watching people drown, wishing for her own death and searching for her son.

References to the Pacific Solution an Phillip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone elicit both laughs and groans. The gruesome details of the most punitive detention centres in our lucky country bring gasps of shock from the sympathetic audience.

We are reminded that children are suffering in detention and of the absurdity of some of the decisions by government agencies about refugee status.

We puzzle over the changes in Australian refugee policy as does the Iraqi woman.
People, we are reminded, live on temporary protection visas with no rights and no security. Some have been detained for four years and have become institutionalised and are afraid of the outside. Others resort to desperate measures to have their cases heard.

We are as confused as they are by their treatment as criminals instead of victims. This project is not only commendable but beautifully structures and performed by the cast of fine actors.

By Kate Herbert