Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Not Like Beckett, written by Michael Watts, is a little like Beckett – Samuel Beckett, that is. It deals with the absurdities of the human condition, an individual’s existential crisis, with isolation and despair. It also steeps these darker issues in a soup of slapstick and vaudeville – just like Beckett.
Watts’ script begins quite tamely then, in the hands of the versatile and eccentric Russell Dykstra, escalates into a cacophonous, outrageous and often hilarious ride.
Dykstra, wearing white face like Roy Rene as Mo, plays Wally Walloon Beckett. Wally declares he is a rabbit – and a stand-up comedian. Here begins the absurdity. This well-bred rabbit sports a rabbit-hunter’s metal leg-trap and is now trapped on a mountaintop surveying the beauty of his family’s adopted land. He calls for his beloved wife, a native bilby called Boo Boo, but she is nowhere to be found.
In his pain and delirium, Wally relates his history and flashes back to his lonely childhood, his discovery that he was funny, his heady days as a comic telling rabbit jokes and his marriage out of the rabbit family to the lowly bilby.
Just as we start to feel the play has nothing more to say, the show takes a startling leap. Wally appears in an outsize bunny-suit, in black face with a very good aboriginal accent and shocks us with a stand-up routine built on violent and racist gags about bilbies.
Suddenly, we are in the world of power and abuse and it becomes clear that this play is taking a turn for the grotesque and the political. We have an allegory about the invasion of Australia by Europeans and the subjugation of the aborigines.
An artist will try anything for his art, a comic will demean anything for a laugh and a colonist will invade anything for power and territory.
Dystra’s great clown skill is the highlight of the latter half of the play. He gags, dances, sings, gambols about on the Yellow Peril look alike and entertains us with his antics.
Anna Cordingley’s design, based on a replica of Ron Robertson Swann’s sculpture, Vault, (Yellow Peril) is an angular rabbit warren that provides hiding holes and many levels from which Dystra performs his vaudevillian routines.
Director, Michael Kantor, allows Dykstra his head and the second half rocks along at a cracking pace.
Not Like Beckett leaves one appalled by the things at which we can laugh.