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.
Friday, 22 May 2015
The Rivers of China, May 22, 2015 **1/2
By Alma De Groen, by Don't Look Away Theatre Works, May 21 to 30, 2015 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Fri May 22 Stars: **1/2 Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Monday May 25, 2015 & later in print. KH
Alexandra Aldrich & Rob Meldrum pic George Darsas
misty, smoke-filled performance space is a fitting reflection of the opaque and
metaphorical story of Alma De Groen’s 1986 play, The Rivers of China.
play is a poetic, feminist, revenge-story set in two time periods and, although
it won two Premiers’ Awards in Victoria and NSW in 1988 when it was considered
experimental, in 2015 it seems peculiar and dated.
Groen’s central character is Australian-Kiwi short story writer, Katherine
Mansfield (Alexandra Aldrich), who travels to Fontainebleau in the 1920s
seeking treatment for her tuberculosis and ‘a cure for her soul’ from charlatan
healer, Gurdjieff (Rob Meldrum).
in a dystopian world of gender inequality where women have total power and no
male writers exist – even in the past – a seriously injured Man (James Cook)
awakens in a hospital bed and declares that he is really Katherine Mansfield.
Phil Rouse’s direction, the first half has a mesmerising quality, a measured
pace, poetic, metaphorical language and the performances, particularly those of
Aldrich and Meldrum, are compelling; we want to know what happens next.
the second half does not fulfill the promise when Mansfield and Gurdjieff’s philosophical
debates about the paradox of identity and slippery notions of ‘self’ become
mired in a confusing plot and clumsy solutions to Mansfield’s identity crisis.
is difficult to care about any of the characters, no one is changed and the
narrative threads are rather tenuously drawn together by the end.
a scene that bears no relation to any part of the story, two men film a snuff
movie featuring a girl who lies bound and gagged on the floor. Why?
plays Mansfield with composure and dignity and almost makes us believe in the
dodgy treatments at Gurdjieff’s Institute of the Harmonious Development of Man,
a 1920s version of a hipster health spa.
is compelling as Gurdjieff with his sonorous voice, commanding presence and
impeccable delivery of poetic dialogue, details of quack health regimes and
chauvinist theories about women’s subservience.
rest of the cast begin well but struggle to make the dialogue and story
imaginative design (Martelle Hunt) splits the space into a pebbled garden and
an elevated hospital ward but the concept and layout do not support the play
and interfere with the actors’ movement.
its initially hypnotic atmosphere, The Rivers of China leaves one wondering
what it was trying to say about life, art, the self and Katherine Mansfield.
Alexandra Aldrich pic by George Darsas
Gurdjieff: Rob Meldrum
And: Tom Heath, Claudia Tory, Kim
Denman, Ollie Coleman, James Cook