Thursday, 30 December 2004

The Wind in The Willows, Dec 30, 2004

The Wind in The Willows 
adapted from Kenneth Grahame 
The Australian Shakespeare Company
Botanical Gardens, Melbourne Gate F, Dec 2004 to January 31, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Each summer, The Wind in the Willows is invariably a popular family show.

The script may be the same each year but each group of actors brings a new face to the show and introduces topical gags that appeal to all ages.

Adults and kids are all labelled 'Rabbits" and then the fun begins.

Our MC, The Head Chief Rabbit, is Rosco Mathers who has cheeky repartee and a comfortable manner with the littlies.

His nemesis is Weasel  played with plenty of snivelling and twitching by Robert Jackson. They make a wonderful double act both comically and musically.

Mathers plays trombone and accordion and Jackson backs all of the songs on either clarinet or electric guitar.

We are invited on a journey to meet the legendary and very pompous Mr Toad. Played with blustering vanity by Trent Baker (OK) The audience is kept alert with three location moves and a parade of new and even more daft characters.

At first we meet the retiring Mole  (Perri O'Connor OK) who is obsessed with cleaning and wants to go on an adventure.

At the River, (played beautifully by the Lake) we have a treat in store. Jolly old Ratty,  (Ezra Bix OK) appears in his rowing boat and offers us all a picnic.

Bix has the style of the show down pat, employing delightful physical detail in his role as the very social and leisurely water rat.

Next we find wise old Badger asleep on a bench. Alan King  plays him with a booming voice like a fusty old Brit.

Otter is portrayed by James Stafford, another fine singer who doubles as a Copper and the Judge who puts Toad in jail.

The entire show is peppered with audience participation  and cheerful songs.

The songs  range from the opening "Waggle your ears, wiggle your nose" to Badger's  song about Toad's exploits and Toad's own self-serving song called "The Famous Mr. Toad."

Some cast changes in this season improve the characterisation and the new ensemble peps up the pace.

The banter between the actors is always a hoot for adults and the cast captivate the children with the dilemma of Toad hall being invaded by rascally Weasels.

The characters are smug and charming and very, very English. But who cares? It's great entertainment.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 16 December 2004

Box Set, Rawcus, Dec 16, 2004

Box Set  by Rawcus    
Theatreworks  16 & 17 December, 2004 only 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 16, 2004

Box Set is a delightful collection of solo and duo pieces devised by Rawcus with seven guest directors.

Rawcus is an ensemble of actors with and without disabilities.

In the Box Set project, each member had the opportunity, over nine rehearsals, to pursue areas of their own interest, to explore different performance styles and to develop an intimate performance in a creative process. 

Each piece is a gem in its own way.

Royal Command Performance (director: Chris Kohn) is an absurdist piece featuring Raymond Drew and Dan Tobias.  One is a disembodied head sitting on a silver platter on a dining table arguing about the Queen and singing with his pal, the ukelele player.

Steve Ajzenburg and Kellyann Bentley perform Wonder Thing, (director: Mandy Pickett) a poignant and gentle movement piece based on Steve's story about his right arm which was disabled in a car accident.

Louie Riisik  (director: David Wells) relishes playing The Angry Old Woman who slopes around in her dressing gown and rollers, drinks too much, hates Christmas and rants about her son.

Three recorded songs create the foundation for Let's Dance, another movement piece (director: Ingrid Voodendt ) by Clem Baade and Nilgun Guven.  One effective element is the design composed totally of red helium balloons floating around them

Il Maestro Tonso ( director: Nick Papas) is an hilarious clown routine by John Tonso who parodies a smug musical soloist preparing to play Mozart on the trombone. His antics with a music stand, mobile phone and the trombone are very funny.

The master -servant relationship with Papas as Tonso's assistant is a highlight.

Twisted Sisters, the final piece, (director: Clare Bartholomew) features Rachel Edward and Kerryn Pe in a silent clown piece with a dark comic edge. One sister ( Edward) continues to attempt to kill her sister ( Pe) with poisoning, stabbing, strangling and finally, pushing her under a train.

The story is simple and very funny and the performances of Pe and Edward are a delight.

The collection of seven short works ranges in style from movement to clown , monologue and absurdism.

Rawcus created this charming show over nine Saturdays. Box Set is a tribute to the ensemble and the seven guest directors. It deserves  a longer season.

LOOK FOR: Il Maestro Tonso and the Twisted Sisters.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

The Best and Worst Theatre of 2004, Dec 2004

 The Best and Worst of 2004  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert, Dec 15, 2004
 Published in Herald Sun, Dec 2004

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, OK) 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 OK)

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 OK)

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

Monday, 13 December 2004

Kate's Theatre Wrap up for 2004, Melbourne, Dec 13, 2004

Theatre Wrap up 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

2004 was not a feast of fine theatre but there were some treats on the table.

One hit was John Bell's Servant of Two Masters, with the consummate clown, Darren Gilshennan as Arlequino. Virtuoso, Justus Neumann, performed The Last Days of Mankind, peopling the tiny La Mama with dozens of characters.

Brian Friel's compelling Afterplay was a perfect vehicle for the exceptional Lewis Fiander and Lyndel Rowe and The Cherry Orchard was a charming surprise at fortyfivedownstairs.

Twelve Angry Men featured a skilful cast in a marvellous play while Mel Brooks' The Producers was definitely the most fun.

Although there were few good female mainstage lead roles, we enjoyed feisty Caroline O'Connor (Bombshells), a pert Christen O'Leary (Urinetown) and Nicki Wendt. (Memory of Water)

On the Fringe, Lyndel Rowe was deliciously underplayed as the ageing Chekhovian Sonya, in Afterplay, and Jenny Lovell was rivetting in Iron. (Red Stitch) The women in A Moment on the Lips deserve a mention.

Commendable male actors include Richard Piper (Daylight Atheist), Ben Mendelson  (Glass Menagerie) and Lewis Fiander. (Afterplay

From overseas, Talking Heads boasted superlative acting (Maggie Smith, Margaret Tyzack) and an impeccable script. (Alan Bennett) Ronnie Burkett's Provenance was magical puppetry and Ideas Men (Ridiculusmus) was sheer comic madness.

The year's biggest howler was David Williamson's Amigos with Anthony Crowley's The Frail Man a close second. Bell Shakespeare's Twelfth Night reduced the dark comedy to Benny Hill.  Some fringe shows felt like North Korean torture. (All's Well That Ends Well, Re-Stumping Suburbia, Goodnight Desdemona)

The most over-rated overseas show was XXX (La Fura Dels Baus) while The Buskers' Opera (Robert Le Page) and Vanishing Point (Philip Genty) were disappointing.

Kate's three top shows for 2004
Servant of Two Masters by Bell Shakespeare (Playhouse)
Afterplay by Stable Productions  (fortyfivedownstairs)
The Last Days of Mankind by Justus Newmann (La Mama)

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

Machiavelli, Machiavelli by John Upton, Dec 9, 2004

 Machiavelli, Machiavelli  by John Upton
La Mama, from Dec 9, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Machiavelli, Machiavelli, by John Upton, seems to be running on a path to a tragic ending for its solo character, Leah Hunt. (Libby Stone) Happily, the pessimism turns to a more cheering and optimistic ending for the protagonist.

In fact, Lean Hunt could be called an antagonist. She is certainly a provocative and gladiatorial character, an almost copybook local government Labour Party politician. She lost her local government election on a controversial platform of de-sexing stray cats.

On the way to tis up beat ending, Upton's play, rather confusingly, has several unintentional false endings where Leah looks about to give up the fight to survive.

It is a tall order to hold an audience alone on stage and Libby Stone looks a little uncomfortable in this production directed by David Myles.

 It is particularly noticeable in the scenes that involve flashbacks or the character talking to a second invisible character.

In some of these scenes reminiscing about a long past lover, a voice over by Leah as a younger woman or representing her thoughts is an awkward stage convention that leaves the actor looking like a shag on a rock. Some clumsy lighting changes do not help.

Leah is the outgoing Mayor and she is not happy about her election loss. She held the mayoral position for thirty years until this day and her entire world and identity are crashing around her. Even the cab drivers are no longer respectful. She drinks whisky, and babbles to her goldfish and her bird called Mr. Town Clerk.

We see her almost imprisoned in her cramped and untidy little living room, changing from dressing gown to street clothes.

She desperately seeks some acceptance of her change in status, attempts to understand the election loss and tries to find meaningful work in a fickle political world that seems to have abandoned her immediately.

Although stone works hard throughout, there is little light and shade in her performance of this evidently volatile and voluble local identity. What we crave is some heightened emotion, some compelling passion and despair to meet Leah's sense of loss.
 Upton has a strong sense of the petty bickerings and napoleon complexes of local government officials. His dialogue however, is not rivetting and the production lacks dramatic tension.

The play moves in fits and starts but thankfully finds its positive ending.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 3 December 2004

True Adventures of A Lost at Sea by Kit Lazaroo, Dec 3, 2004

True Adventures of A Lost at Sea by Kit Lazaroo
Here Theatre
Trades Hall, Old Council Chambers,  December 3 to 19, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The genre of Kit Lazaroo's True Adventures of a Lost Soul has a tang of magic realism. It is lyrical in its language, isolated in its location and mysterious, although not mystical, in its narrative.

These elements contribute to both the successes and failings of the play.

A young girl, Ollie Fletcher, (Hanusin) believed drowned, washes up on the shores of her home, a mythical coastal town in 1852. She is found by Constable Dougal Morris (Amor) and cared for by him and his wife, Dido. (Zemiro)

Her father disappeared in the same boating accident but initially, Ollie has no memory of that day nor of where she was for forty-two days.

What unfolds is a peculiar fairy tale like story; her unbelievable emerging memories of being taken and cared for by an underwater creature.

What follows is a series of mythical events, odd characters. Her story is doubted, then evidently proved and finally shattered by scientific evidence.

The production has strong performances from all four actors (Julia Zemiro, Lliam Amor, David Adamson, Fanny Hanusin OK) in a very broad, sometimes comical style.

Zemiro plays the brusque, ambitious and unloving Dido, with flair and humour. Amor has terrific comic timing and is aptly bemused and warm as her long-suffering husband.

Adamson is amusing as the eccentric and disaffected doctor Rufus Plank and Hanusin, although awkward with the dialogue at times, is peculiarly interesting as Ollie.

Oddly, we have no sympathy for anyone except perhaps the kindly Constable Dougal.

We witness actors both on state as characters and off stage perched on a bench observing the action.

Director, Jane Woollard, has the actors create an evocative live soundscape with vocal sound effects, the air pump of piano accordions and scrubbing brushes on Amanda Johnson's wonderfully assymetrical wooden table.

Intermittent onomatopoeic language echoes ocean and wind.

The rhythm of the play is fractured and the very domestic and the mystical scenes need to be dovetailed together more convincingly. The genre seems muddled.

The story is a fanciful and light myth but it lacks any real resonance. We wait for the tale to reflect our world. Perhaps it does in its shattering of people's dreams and the manipulation of the weak.

LOOK FOR:  Live soundscape.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Descent Five: Mata Galup by Robert Reid, Dec 1, 2004

 Descent Five: Mata Galup 
by Robert Reid  Theatre in Decay
Where and When: Theatreworks, December 1 to 12, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on December 1

The title of Theatre in Decay's new production, Mata Galup, translates from Indonesian to, 'the darkening of the eye'.

It suggests revenge, and makes it an apt epithet for Robert Reid's play depicting a view of the global aftermath of September 11.

The play is part docu-drama and part domestic soap opera. It is the news documentary components that are most successful.

Reid present in radio news style, a series of voice overs with facts from the past three years since September 11.

There are some captivating images in this production, directed by the writer. Members of the large cast o extras appears as a team of scientists, wrestling with an enormous replica of the Doomsday Clock that looks like the face of Big Ben.

They stand silently holding lit candles in a vigil for victims of September and they are a crowd of dancers falling to the floor dead in the Bali bombing. They enter in stark white chemical hazard gear to combat the anthrax scare.

There are some striking puppets including a small figure waking in its bed on the morning of the Twin Towers strike. There is a giant George Bush head spouting garbled rhetoric and giant metallic war birds. A solo martial artist flails a sword in a magnificent dance.

The problem is that most of these images are so fleeting that their dramatic impact is wasted. There is great potential for powerful political commentary using solely the imagery and movement. These images end up being fleeting or superficial and comical.

To give these images more weight and time world provide a more compelling visual story than the shallow domestic drama of Micky (Elliot Summers) and Elishaba (Miranda Nation).

The death of the pair's dysfunctional relationship runs parallel to the global story of terrorism and mounting fear. Micky works away from home on train engines or on oil rigs. Elishaba whines about his absence and works in a café until she falls pregnant.

A micro domestic story could act as counterpoint to the macro political drama but this one does not amplify the global situation in any significant way. The whole play lacks a cohesive through line and a dramatic arc. The dialogue is thin and the acting of the two leads is unimpressive.

Mata Galup is a great idea with some smart images but it lacks a clear vision.

By Kate Herbert