Tuesday, 31 March 2009

So You Think You Can Cow, March 31, 2009 ****

So You Think You Can Cow 
By Margaret Cameron & David Young
Carlton Courthouse,  March 31 to April 11, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 31, 2009

So You Think You Can Cow is mad: actors in cow suits, audience shouting “Moo” and doing the Clip Clop dance, conceptual cows and buckets. It’s a performance like nothing you’ve ever seen – and it’s a riot. 

When we enter, Margaret Cameron and David Young greet us, dancing like cute lunatics and wearing suits of black and white Friesian cow fabric.

You can choose to be in the show.  In fact, audience members do most of the performing. Cow participant number one is dressed in a flashy suit of cow fabric, puts on sunglasses and headphones and responds to absurd, recorded instructions. “Wave your arms...Say cow like wow…Say moo like boo.”

We are fascinated to watch the unfolding madness. When cow numbers two, three and four emerge wearing the suit and headphones only they can hear their instructions. Each cow dances, shouts “Moo” and “Boo” to us, does the “Clip Clop” dance. One giggles and picks a man from the audience to join her. Another shouts and dances joyously calling out nonsensical phrases that begin to make sense to us as we enter the world of cow.

The madness continues with projected lines of dialogue and photos of someone in a cow suit complete with cow’s head standing on street corners, posed beside landmarks or lazing under trees or photos of dozens of little cow-shaped milk jugs.

This show is bonkers but it is worth it to be able to risk being hauled on stage to “Cow”, to shout out “moo” and to do the Clip Clop. I can’t explain all the ways this show is fun. Just go and see if you think you can cow.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Feast of Argentina Gina Catalina by Moira Finucane ***

La Mama, until March 14 to 29, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Moira Finucane never fails to amuse and amaze audiences. Her wild, contemporary burlesque performances are notorious and The Feast of Argentina Gina Catalina is no exception. Her creation, the vivacious and heavily accented Argentina Gina Catalina, is the central character and narrator in this intimate theatrical spectacle that incorporates storytelling with food.

Finucane tantalises us with her original brand of magical realism, sensual and passionate characterisation, religious references, extravagant costumes and simply delicious platters of food (by KT Prescott) delivered with a flourish by waiters between stories.

Her performance, directed by Jackie Smith, is almost as edible as the food.  Her style is histrionic, riddled with broad gestures, an hilarious Spanish accent and oozing sensuality. The earthy sensuality is underscored by music including La Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, a tarantella, a mazurka and Bolero.

The first colourful story, The First Temptation: Heat, is accompanied by glasses of Sangria. The ebullient Argentina, dressed like a sexy, Spanish peasant, tells about her ardent pursuit of an operatic diva who she seduces by dropping from a chandelier over the stage during an opera.

Following Heat is The Second Temptation: Meat, and we are indeed tempted by plates of cured meats, olives and breads. Argentina, now writhing and pouting in only a silky black slip, gnaws ravenously on slivers of prosciutto.

Wearing a flamboyant, red, flamenco gown, she spins her tale of Argentina’s oceanic encounter with The Pirates. In Miracle of the Markets she meets a toothless, old woman and is transformed into a bird by a little cake made of “fire and the love of the Virgin”. Of course we, too, eat chocolate cake.

In Ice, Argentina, dressed in a glorious, white bustier and long-trained skirt, is abandoned to the icy landscape by her trapeze artist mother and then raised by a she-wolf. And yes, ice cream follows, drizzled with raspberry coulis. Mmm.

Finucane’s gnashing teeth, swirling skirts and piercing gaze combined with the tasty morsels, make this a feast for all the senses.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 12 March 2009

And When He Falls, March 11, 2009 ****

And When He Falls 
By John Stanton
fortyfivedownstairs, until March 11 to 29, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 12, 2009

John Stanton has a voice like dark chocolate and his rich tones give resonance to the language of Shakespeare and Marlowe. Stanton investigates the Plantagenet Kings of England through historical narration and monologues extracted from the plays of these masters of Elizabethan theatre. The evening resounds with tales of bloody conflicts and inner turmoil that plagued the English Kings for centuries.

The title is taken from Cardinal Wolsey’s monologue in Shakespeare’s play about Henry VIII, a Tudor King. Wolsey captures pithily the collapse of reigns and the lost power of Kings when he says, “And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer, never to hope again.”

Stanton, directed by Jill Forster, gives a potted version of the history of each King’s reign between the speeches. The tone of these narrations is sonorous, even portentous, with only an occasional quip to lighten the mood and provide balance to the weighty speeches. There could be a little more light and shade.

Stanton begins with a lighter speech from Marlowe and has fun playing the overtly homosexual King, Edward II, as indignant, camp and slightly petulant. Edward III began the 100 Years War and we hear of the outcome of his exploits from a French mariner who reports to Phillip of France.

Speeches from Shakespeare’s Richard II are a substantial part of the evening. We see the stately John of Gaunt, who Shakespeare portrayed as noble and well loved although, historically, he is remembered as cruel and hated. His son, Henry Bolingbroke, usurped the throne and became Henry IV.

The speeches written for Gaunt’s son, Henry V, are some of the greatest in Shakespeare’s historical plays. Stanton delivers Henry’s famous address to his troops at Hafleur (“Once more unto the breech dear friends…”) with passion and royal commitment. He follows this rousing monologue with Henry’s more intimate St. Crispian’s Day speech to his soldiers.

Richard III usurped the throne several generations later and Shakespeare’s famous character is richly represented in the last speeches. Stanton does not attempt to create the lame walk or hunchback but simply tucks his left arm into his chest to depict Richard’s withered arm. He creates a potent sense of Richard’s resentment and ambition when he speaks about his brother, Edward IV.

Stanton’s performance is strongly supported and enhanced by pianist Tony Gould’s evocative but unobtrusive live music. This is a simply staged but vivid depiction of the Plantagenet Kings and their bloodthirsty reigns.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Salon de Dance, March 11, 2009 ****

Salon de Dance by Finucane & Smith
 La Mama, Wed to Sun until March 29
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 11, 2009

Salon de Dance, created by Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith, is not merely a show; it is a place, an experience, a salon in the French style filled with the flavour of cabaret, burlesque, and all sorts of dance and music. It is a sweet bag of mixed lollies to tantalise the tastebuds.

Following the shy hula-hooper (Jess Love), is our wry, cool hostess (Maude Davy) who introduces, with a recitative song, the Salon and its sultry dancers and proceeds to speak to us using slow, hilarious French. “Le Francais est mauvais mais les jambes sont belles”. (“The French is bad but the legs are beautiful.”)

In a satirical, sensual striptease, Paul Cordeiro, dressed (and undressed) as an exotic priest, peels off his vestments right down to the skin. Rob McCredie charms us with his naïve, open quality and his abstract dance, Here We Go, with its almost clown-like gestures.

In The Saints, Finucane appears in a dim light as a punk who drizzles cigarette smoke from her mouth while she circles in ultra-slow motion. Her movements are all based on various saints and martyrs such as St. Sebastian, although this is not evident to an audience.

Yumi Umiumare is a well-dressed woman who is trapped in a coat with a mind of its own. Two women wearing kitten masks (Holly Durant, Harriet Ritchie) perform a cute and peppy, rhythmic dance that ends up a competition to the death.

During interval, in the courtyard, audience members can buy a waltz with one of the dancers. What follows is The Banquet Room, a bizarre dance macabre by Finucane  and Umiumare. It is a slow and tortured dance of struggle that draws on the Japanese Butoh dance style.

Maude Davy sings the jazz ballad, Sugar, draped languidly on the stair banister. Durant and Ritchie do a comical dance in blonde wigs and fake boobs and Cordeiro’s Bollywood dance is delicious. Finally, we all get to dance to ABBA when the show ends.

Salon de Dance really knows how to show an audience a good time with a program of delectable and unusual acts.
By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Copenhagen, PMD Productions, March 5, 2009 **1/2

By Michael Frayn, Produced by PMD Productions
Chapel Off Chapel,  March 5 to 28, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March , 2009
Stars: **1/2

Two theoretical physicists in a social situation will discuss particle physics, just as two parents at a barbecue talk about their children. When Michael Frayn wrote about the 1941 meeting in Copenhagen between Danish physicist, Niels Bohr (Matthew Kenny), and his German former protégée, Werner Heisenberg (Tristan Lutze), he had no choice but to make Quantum Physics the main topic.

Frayn’s dialogue is built around the brain-addling notions of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Bohr’s theory of Complementarity. This play requires an attentive audience and actors willing to get their tongues around the concepts. It demands intellectual acuity to process elaborate explanations of physics, historical and political facts and the philosophical debate.

We learn plenty about the behaviour of particles, nuclear fission and nuclear research during World War Two. Frayn’s conceit is to replay Heisenberg’s visit to Bohr in an attempt to understand why the younger scientist made this trip to occupied Denmark to visit Bohr, a Jew, when he, Heisenberg, was working for the Reich.

After the visit, each gave differing accounts of their discussions. We know they went for a walk after Margrethe Bohr (Andrea McCannon) cooked dinner and Heisenberg departed soon after. Their friendship was over.

Frayn depicts four consecutive versions of the meeting. The first is dry, superficial and uninspiring. The characters are uncomfortable and their discussion awkward. Each ensuing replay of the evening challenges the characters to reveal their motivations, justifications and complicated secret attitudes about their shared history. They behave like the particles they study: unpredictable, illusive and framed in Uncertainty and Complementarity.

The performances in Paul Knox’s production are competent. Kenny is aptly shambling and old-fashioned as Niels, Lutze is boyish, earnest and needy as Heisenberg and, as Margrethe, McCannon is brittle and polite. Copenhagen is a difficult play to make emotionally engaging, but, by the final scene, the actors are comfortable with the more personal and volatile interactions of the characters.

There is no escaping the fact that the play is didactic, the dialogue informational and the characters mouthpieces for political, philosophical and scientific views. However it is fascinating, even compelling, to see their struggle to come to terms with their clash of opinions, their egotistical head butting and their childish need to be right. Only Margrethe, the outsider, finally has a credible explanation of their behaviour that night.

By Kate Herbert